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Fear, weather and the worst storm in the recorded history of Madeira.

Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Feb 20, 2010 in Rants

I am not a person to get scared easily. But today, I felt fear – in a way I didn’t really remember feeling before.

I was in Funchal when the worst storm in the history of the island began to show its consequences (I had some classes to teach this morning, so I left home ealy) – but then, because of the intense rain and some blocked streets, the classes were cancelled. It was obvious that this was not our usual “bad weather day” – things were worsening quickly, and most of the main streets in Funchal started looking like rivers of mud and stones. Like this:

While trying to leave downtown Funchal and drive home – a couple of times I was stuck between cars, huge rocks, roadblocks, hard rain, flowing mud, dead animals, tree trunks, garbage cans – and felt panic creeping in. Thank God, I was lucky enough to arrive home safely, but here are a couple of photos from some of the scary moments, while stuck in a river of mud with other cars.

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Our island is a tropical paradise – with nice controlled weather and comfortable temperatures. I don’t remember such an intense storm, or seeing so many heavy damages done in such a short period of time.

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Huxley Was Right (3): Newspaper clipping

Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Jul 20, 2009 in Rants

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Do Diário de Notícias de hoje, uma citação do Provedor do Ouvinte: “Vivemos muito na sociedade do prazer, do passatempo. As pessoas consomem mais o fait-divers e o banal que as diverte”

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Podia estar a falar da sociedade apresentada por Huxley no seu ADMIRÁVEL MUNDO NOVO, mas infelizmente, está a falar da nossa sociedade contemporânea. Huxley escreveu o avisoe em 1931, nós não lhe prestamos atenção…

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From our local Newspaper, a quote that says “We live in a society of pleasure, of pastime. People consume the fait-divers and the banality that entertain them

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He could be talking about the society that Huxley presented in his BRAVE NEW WORLD, but unfortunately, he was talking about our contemporary society. Huxley wrote the warning in 1931, we didn’t pay attention…

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Valerie Page… and a lesson about integrity

Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Jul 13, 2009 in Comics, Rants

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One of the most important documents in all comic book history was written in toilet paper: the diary of Valerie Page, from the astounding Graphic Novel “V for Vendetta“, by David Lloyd and Alan Moore (here scanned from the original WARRIOR edition, that was gently given to me as a gift by David Lloyd himself):

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The text in this scan with the wonderful drawings by David Lloyd is readable, but I will type the words anyway, because I love each fragment of this text:

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having.

We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or woman. I may never see you. I will never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you.

But I love you.

I hope that you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again.

I wish I could kiss you.

Valerie.

x.

This lesson was branded with fire in my soul. The value of that inch. The only thing in the world that’s worth having.

Unfortunately, many people sell that inch, many people trample over coworkers, steal email content claiming the credit was from them, deny help to coworkers to claim the credit of what was done. We see people selling their integrity all over. What for?

I have no idea. But unfortunately I know people like that.

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Um dos documentos mais importantes da história da Banda Desenhada foi escrito em papel higiénico: o diário de Valerie Page, da estonteante Novela Gráfica chamada “V for Vendetta“, por David Lloyd e Alan Moore (aqui digitalizada a partir da edição original publicada na WARRIOR, que me foi gentilmente oferecida pelo próprio David Lloyd):

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O texto em inglês é legível, juntamente com os maravilhosos desenhos do David Lloyd, mas para quem tenha dificuldade em ler inglês, segue aqui uma tradução deste texto, que eu quase decorei palavra por palavra:

Uma polegada. É pequena e é frágil e é a única coisa no mundo que vale a pena possuirmos.

Nunca devemos perdê-la, ou vendê-la, ou dá-la. Nunca devemos deixar que no-la tirem.

Eu não sei quem és tu, ou se és um homem ou uma mulher. Provavelmente nunca te irei ver. Nunca irei abraçar-te ou chorar contigo ou embebedar-me contigo.

Mas amo-te.

Espero que consigas escapar deste lugar. Espero que o mundo gire e que as coisas melhorem, e que um dia as pessas possam ter rosas novamente.

Gostava de poder dar-te um beijo.

Valerie.

x.

Estas palavras gravaram-se a fogo na minha alma. O valor dessa polegada. A única coisa no mundo que vale a pena possuirmos.

Infelizmente, muita gente vende essa polegada, muita gente pisa os colegas de trabalho, rouba conteúdo de emails para ficar com o mérito do texto apresentado, nega ajuda aos colegas para ficar com os louros do que foi feito. Parece que vemos todos os dias pessoas a vender a sua integridade. Para que?

Não faço a menor ideia, mas infelizmente, conheço pessoas assim.

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Swine Flu (1): Primal Fears and Jack London

Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Apr 26, 2009 in Polysyllabic Spree, Rants

When I was younger (probably 11 or 12 years old), I was terrified of many many things. Due to my reading habits, there were several “larger-than-life” threats that seemed to hang over our heads like Damocles’ sword. Not the usual scary things that kids usually fear.

One of the stories that terrified the shit out of me when I was a lad, was “The Scarlet Plague”, a short story written by Jack London (that can be read for free in the Gutenberg Project).

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That short story terrified my 12-year-old brain in a way few things did. It begins in 2072, when James Howard Smith, a professor – one of the few survivors of the “Scarlet Plague” tells his grandsons (a group of savages) how civilization was in 2013, when the plague (pandemic?) hit our civilization:

“‘The fleeting systems lapse like foam,’” he mumbled what was evidently a quotation. “That’s it—foam, and fleeting. All man’s toil upon the planet was just so much foam. He domesticated the serviceable animals, destroyed the hostile ones, and cleared the land of its wild vegetation. And then he passed, and the flood of primordial life rolled back again, sweeping his handiwork away—”

So, many years later, every time I read the atrocities we were doing to the environment, I remembered Jack London’s story and a cold shiver went through my spine. We were screwing Mother Earth all over, and she could attack back with some uncontrollable disease… That scared me more than the creatures under the bed or aliens or monsters or ghosts that my friends said they were afraid of. What were those compared to the Scarlet Plague?

Obviously, when I was a child, I was a nerdy avid reader, so I read so many things that these primal fears suddenly vanished and were replaced by new stuff: like the “King of Terror” arriving from the skies in 1999 (thanks to Nostradamus’ Prophecies), or the possibility of an asteroid hitting earth (when I read how Dinosaurs died), or the appearance of extraterrestrial beings with superior technology (because of Wells’ War of the Worlds) and even Nuclear Holocaust (when I read a “Health Encyclopedia” my parents had at home, that being printed in the height of the cold war, included lots of information about preparing for Nuclear Catastrophe – and I was already thinking which place in my garden would be best to dig the Nuclear Shelter and how could I convince my parents to pay for that). Yes, my imagination used to be full of scary stuff most of the time, so full that Jack London’s scarlet plague went often to the back of my memory, only to be occasionally remembered:

“The world was full of people. The census of 2010 gave eight billions for the whole world—(…). Mankind knew a great deal more about getting food. And the more food there was, the more people there were. In the year 1800, there were one hundred and seventy millions in Europe alone. One hundred years later—(…), at 1900, there were five hundred millions in Europe—(…). This shows how easy was the getting of food, and how men increased. And in the year 2000 there were fifteen hundred millions in Europe. And it was the same all over the rest of the world. (…) yes, eight billion people were alive on the earth when the Scarlet Death began. “

Occasionally, when I read about the world population, I grab London’s book to compare his fictional data with the real stuff. In the year 2000, the population of Europe was 728 million or something, not the scary fifteen hundred millions Jack London wrote about in his fictional story. Whew. His estimates are still exaggerated right now, considering that probably right now world’s population must be some 6,7 billion or something. But every time I read about the world’s population, I would go back to London’s short story, and wonder what would happen if civilization ended and suddenly some strange disease stroke. After all, there could be an incubation period with no symptoms and we would never know:

“Yes, that’s where I was. A man did not notice at first when only a few of these germs got into his body. But each germ broke in half and became two germs, and they kept doing this very rapidly so that in a short time there were many millions of them in the body. Then the man was sick. He had a disease, and the disease was named after the kind of a germ that was in him. It might be measles, it might be influenza, it might be yellow fever; it might be any of thousands and thousands of kinds of diseases.”

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“Now this is the strange thing about these germs. There were always new ones coming to live in men’s bodies. Long and long and long ago, when there were only a few men in the world, there were few diseases. But as men increased and lived closely together in great cities and civilizations, new diseases arose, new kinds of germs entered their bodies. Thus were countless millions and billions of human beings killed. And the more thickly men packed together, the more terrible were the new diseases that came to be. Long before my time, in the middle ages, there was the Black Plague that swept across Europe. It swept across Europe many times. There was tuberculosis, that entered into men wherever they were thickly packed. A hundred years before my time there was the bubonic plague. And in Africa was the sleeping sickness. The bacteriologists fought all these sicknesses and destroyed them, just as you boys fight the wolves away from your goats, or squash the mosquitoes that light on you. The bacteriologists—”

“In spite of all these diseases, and of all the new ones that continued to arise, there were more and more men in the world. This was because it was easy to get food. The easier it was to get food, the more men there were; the more men there were, the more thickly were they packed together on the earth; and the more thickly they were packed, the more new kinds of germs became diseases. There were warnings. Soldervetzsky, as early as 1929, told the bacteriologists that they had no guaranty against some new disease, a thousand times more deadly than any they knew, arising and killing by the hundreds of millions and even by the billion. You see, the micro-organic world remained a mystery to the end. They knew there was such a world, and that from time to time armies of new germs emerged from it to kill men. “

And every time I reread the story, more scared I was, after all, this story told about one of our primal fears: we could already have some fatal disease and not even know about it. After all, some strange new disease sounded more plausible than octopus-like aliens with tripods. With Star Wars and Star Trek and all the alien-related entertainment, aliens seemed less and less scary… Until I saw Ridley Scott’s ALIEN on TV and I was reminded of how terrifying aliens could be.

Now, with news about the H1N1 virus started to invade our TVs and computers, my old primal fear about a scarlet-plague-like thing resurfaced. And for a short while, during this morning, I was monitoring every news website I could: CNN online, CNN via Twitter, Reuters, Yahoo News, the CDC website, and Twitter – reading stuff with the #swineflu hashtag. Suddenly, there was information everywhere, including a very useful map indicating the spread of the disease! and a What’s new page in the CDC website with last minute information. Oy. While reading all that stuff all over, all the bits of information that were popping, I thought again about “The Scarlet Plague” and the story that Professor James Howard Smith was telling to his savage grandsons:

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“We talked through the air in those days, thousands and thousands of miles. And the word came of a strange disease that had broken out in New York. There were seventeen millions of people living then in that noblest city of America. Nobody thought anything about the news. It was only a small thing. There had been only a few deaths. It seemed, though, that they had died very quickly, and that one of the first signs of the disease was the turning red of the face and all the body. Within twenty-four hours came the report of the first case in Chicago. And on the same day, it was made public that London, the greatest city in the world, next to Chicago, had been secretly fighting the plague for two weeks and censoring the news despatches—that is, not permitting the word to go forth to the rest of the world that London had the plague.”

But this overload of information is scary – suddenly the media seemed to be more and more alarming, showing us lots of mexicans with surgical masks (but then, TV news want us to STAY TUNED, so it is natural that it tries to capture our attention with powerful images and video footage), and stuff like twitter seemed to be spreading rumors and theories and alarming unverified information (adding to all my old fears and paranoia) – so, I stopped reading everything and following everything. It was too much, unverified and scary. I decided to focus on some useful resources (like the Mashable HOW-TO: Track swine flu online) where they said that “there’s likely to be much concern on social networking sites about public health incidents, it’s important to keep things in proportion, and go direct to the sources of news rather than spreading panic”. Good point. After all, it is very easy to be scared following Twitter updates, as it was perfectly explained here.

So, during the day, my childhood fears about the Scarlet Plague surfaced for a short while – and excess of information only worsened those. But there are differences between excess of information and useful information and it is really easy to forget that notion when we live in a peek-a-boo world, as Neil Postman said.

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