Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.
Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.
And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.
Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.
If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.
Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…
For those of us who actively seek out ladders under which to stroll, or who have completely forsaken blessing those who sneeze, superstition is a delightfully goofy window into the obsessive-compulsive static residue of the mind. What racist hoodoo has condemned genetically black-furred kitties to the bad-luck pile? Why does connecting one’s knuckles to a slab of dead tree ensure misfortune will be avoided? Does crossing my fingers in my Edmonton living room whenever Peyton Manning drops back into the pocket ensure a likely touchdown catch? Judging by my aching digits after last February’s Super Bowl, I’d say that’s a hearty no.
But as strange and inexplicably arbitrary as our goofy good-luck rituals may appear upon introspection, they would no doubt appear even more bizarre to an outsider. To demonstrate, I’m going to take the outsider’s approach and have a look at some of the traditional placations of imagined magic within the borders of our neighbor to the west (just past Alaska, of course), Russia.
Many of these superstitions are documented on paganism.msk.ru, which appears to my untrained eyes to be a legitimate source. Others have been splashed onto a Wikipedia page with no reliable citation. So, any or all of these might be fictitious, but for the purposes of fuelling our xenophobic need to giggle at other cultures, we’ll just assume them all to be accurate and practiced by every living Russian citizen. That way we won’t feel so dumb for French-kissing the underside of our Molson Canadian cans to ensure our hockey team scores on a powerplay. Or whatever we do.
Russians get to work early on children’s self-esteem. It is considered an invitation to rotten luck if a stranger looks directly at a baby before that baby has reached a certain age (somewhere between two months and one year). If the stranger does make eye contact, complimenting the baby is an even greater transgression. One should instead say, “What an ugly baby!” And if you want to buy that ugly baby a gift, you’d best wait until after he or she is born, otherwise it’s bad luck. For someone. Maybe for the mother, maybe for you, maybe for the ugly baby. Read more…
As the summer weeks amble past that first premature sploosh of sun, sweat and network television’s filler programming (the latest season of Fox’s 24 notwithstanding), we are reaching the time when the season becomes entrenched in whichever little cubbyhole we wish to place it. For some, it’s the season of swimming in a sun-soaked pool. For teachers and their flock, it’s the season of delectable freedom and a furlough from responsibility. For those of us who live with both a teacher and a student, it’s the season for drinking heavily to compensate for the globby paste of envy we feel at watching everyone else in the household sleep as we leave for work.
But for a number of geographically-encumbered folks, the sub-surface pillow-down of summer brings with it more grave and ungroovy consequences. Hurricanes and tropical storms are gearing up to spank the Gulf of Mexico with a debris-wreaking fist. Droughts will speckle farmland country, crapping its dusty fury upon a smattering of unlucky agriculturalists. And inevitably the funnel clouds will open up their peppery maws at the vengeful sky, bullying rural settlements and trailer parks alike on the ground.
Edmonton has seen but one tornado in our 100+ years as a city, and it left its mark on everyone who lived through it – even for those of us who saw nothing worse than the dog-spittle of rain against our windows. But in the interest of public safety – and as part of my court-ordered restitution for ‘liberating’ those pet store frogs into the IKEA ball-pit – here are some safety tips.
Remember that viral video in which a Kansas TV crew near El Dorado fled from a nearby tornado and took refuge beneath an overpass? Yeah, don’t do this. If you happen to be caught on an empty two-lane highway with a tornado sneering at the hairs on the back of your neck, you might be tempted to tuck yourself under a concrete canopy, but you’ll really only be worsening your chances of survival. That TV crew happened to pick a rather odd overpass – there was a hollow crawlspace at the top of the embankment where they could grab hold of the exposed girders to stay stable. Read more…
If I was asked, “Where in the world would you least like to live?”, I might reply with an active war zone, or one of those places along the infamous Axis of Evil (Iran, North Korea, and Foxboro, Massachusetts). But let’s narrow it down – where in the United States of America would I least like to hang my frayed douchey hipster fedora?
The crumbling ruins of Detroit? Nah, I’m one of those insipidly optimistic types who believes that Motor City will crawl from the wreckage and rise like a Phoenix (note – not like Phoenix, which has never had to demonstrate such resilience). Somewhere in the remote backwoods of the deep south? While my pinko-commie-homo-lovin’-Jesusless ways would make it uncomfortable, I’m such a fan of warm weather and delicious barbecue that I could still make that work.
But what about Diomede, Alaska? You will never find a more wretched hive of cold and tedium. Located so close to Russian turf even I’d be willing to make the walk (were the terrain not so watery), this is a village that by all logic shouldn’t exist. And while I’d never plant my permanent return address upon its infertile soil, the place still fascinates me.
On the left is Big Diomede, an island that was not included in the 1867 sale of Alaska from Russia to the United States. On the right, only 2.4 miles across the frigid Bering Sea, is Little Diomede. This miniscule slab of rock appears to have been specifically designed to deter humans from bothering it, surrounded on all sides by steep, unmanageable cliffs. All sides except for the one corner that houses the incomprehensible village of Diomede, population: about 110. Read more…
One day in the mid-1570’s, a Calabrian doctor named Aloysius Lilius deduced precisely how grotesquely wrong our calendar was. We had spent centuries dragging along this defective Ancient Roman relic known as the Julian calendar, completely mucking up the proper documentation of history. Easter wasn’t landing where it was supposed to, according to the original blueprints laid out by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and the spring solstice was showing up around March 11. Everything was, to put it in the parlance of the times, wack.
Lilius was given the thumbs-up from Pope Gregory XIII to sink his knuckles into the pasty goo of calendar reform. This was a huge deal, big-picture-wise, though its impact on the general populace was minor enough that a change was feasible. Folks weren’t as clingy to their calendars as we are today. Adjusting the calendar system wouldn’t affect prime-time television schedules, Super Bowl year numberings or even milk expiry dates (since at the time, the expiry date for most any perishable item was “right fucking away”).
And so began the most radical tweak of our datebooks in over a millennium, the last major adjustment to be overseen by the church and possibly the final and most accurate solution we’ll ever see. Possibly. But I don’t know if we want to go through something like this again.
The biggest problem with the Julian Calendar was its inaccurate calculation of the year’s length. 365.25 days is an easy and pretty number to use; it gives us a leap year every four years and that’s that. Except the equinoxes weren’t behaving. Lilius determined that the year is actually 365.2524 days long, and he proposed a rather elegant solution. In order to account for the 0.002% correction necessary to keep the equinoxes where they’re supposed to be, we’d just skip leap day (February 29) on years ending in a ‘00’, except for every 400 years. The elimination of those three days every four centuries would keep the system working. This is why there was no February 29 in 1900, but there was one in 2000. Read more…
By their very nature, kids are insane.
In grade school my friends and I magnified the potentially face-smushing violence of dodgeball into something we called murderball. In junior high, a number of us gave each other bear hugs to induce unconsciousness (though, to my credit, I knew well enough to hold out for the good drugs later on). In high school we drove like half-crazed grouse, wildly swirling upon ice and packed snow, riding precariously on one another’s car hoods or running boards in a scraggly zoo parking lot that we dubbed “Beggars’ Canyon.” Somehow we all survived to adulthood.
Thanks to a healthy brew of curiosity, consequence-blindness and morbid creativity, kids will find a way to dance as close to the brink of serious injury whenever possible. If they can, they’ll devise a means of elevating their precarious attempts at leisure into a competitive sport. That’s when the blood really starts to flow.
Most kids know better than to mess about with Russian Roulette or other such gun-related idiocy. But knives? Knives are awesome. Hence the invention of Mumblety-peg.
Mumblety-peg is the game for kids who feel that toes are the surplus extras of the human body. Players stand with their feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Each throws a pocket knife hard at the ground so that its blade embeds in the earth. The object is to be the one whose knife lands closer to your own foot. The loser must shamefully admit that they lack the knife-hurling skills, or perhaps the manly machismo of their opponent. If you actually stick your own foot, you win by default. But at a cost. Read more…
We live in the age of the celebrated antihero. A villainous protagonist like Tony Soprano or Walter White may vanquish our moral resistance, but those are fictional lawbreakers; in reality we want our deviants either behind bars or tucked snugly into the niche of the Robin Hood villain, should such a notion actually exist. Perhaps our Edward Snowdens and Julian Assanges are the closest we’ll get to a genuine, for-the-folks criminal.
Often a criminal’s edification as a philanthropic scofflaw arises through a population’s selective posthumous memory of the crook, or an outright misinterpretation of the truth. In the case of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, both factors appear to have been in play.
Soapy Smith was a con man, a swindler, and the closest thing to a mob boss as could be found in the post-Civil War frontier lands of the mountainous west. He didn’t so much terrorize Denver (among other places) as he came to possess them. And like any titan of the underworld, he started small.
He started with soap.
The scam was downright elegant. Smith would set up a display on a busy street corner, visibly wrapping numerous bars of soap in dollar bills, ranging from one dollar to $100. Each bar was then wrapped in plain paper and tossed into a pile with some soap without a prize. Smith then sold the soap bars lottery-style to eager passers-by for $1 apiece. Of course Soapy knew where the money-laced bars were, and with deft sleight-of-hand, he sold only the prizeless bars to the slack-jawed masses. His shills, fellow gang members dressed as ordinary citizens, would end up “buying” the prize bars, and would react with an appropriate jubilance. Read more…
I will admit to a moderate love/hate relationship with Edmonton, the city where I would hang my hat were I hip enough to own a decent hat. The ‘hate’ stems mostly from the weather, as the recent “warming” trend to near-freezing temperatures mocks me and subtly reminds me we’re only two months in to our six-month dog-fight with winter. I’m also perturbed by the excessive number of jacked-up pickup trucks adorned with decorative metallic testicles, but that’s a kvetch for another day.
But put aside the redneck hickery, tuck in that atrocious neighborhood sprawl and set the perma-calendar to an eternal July and this is one of the finest places a person can plant roots. Like most cities, Edmonton has shifted and adapted with time. When some lucky schmuck discovered oil nearby, our little skyscrapers started poking at the sky. When they built our primary tourist attraction (a giant shopping mall) in the west end, the neighborhoods out that way spread their borders like a vinyl-sided virus.
With some cities, you saw what they were going to be on the side of the box. They were built (or were almost built) with a blueprint. A concept. A pre-ordained destiny. Maybe it’ll be sci-fi and futuristic, the utopian embrace our cold, alienated shoulders have been longing for. Maybe it will inspire a new era, a new reality in urban awareness. Or maybe it’ll just be creepy.
Welcome to Celebration, Florida.
If this quaint little strip of Americana looks too perfect to be real, well in a way it is. Located right around the corner from Walt Disney World near Orlando, Celebration is the brainchild of the Disney Development Company. It was built in the 1990’s with the aim of contradicting the perpetual state of sterility and individual isolation that has been suffocating American suburbs over the past few decades. The theme is neotraditionalism – pedestrian-friendly, intrinsically self-sustaining, and ideally the kind of place where you’ll actually want to meet your neighbors. Read more…
When we last left our heroes (our heroes being those plucky little cannabis plants that were allegedly tugging at the tablecloth upon which the fine china of our fragile society was laid), things weren’t looking good. It was 1937, and the American government had come up with a complicated taxation-punishment strategy that didn’t technically make marijuana illegal, but came close enough.
Where once the plant had been offered up by the medical world for various therapeutic uses, now it was contraband, the stuff of pure evil. It lured young people into a Satanic spiral, driving them to unprovoked violent acts, inspiring unrestrained jazz-orgies and turning upstanding citizens into paranoid, sex-crazed rape-o-trons.
..with great pointy hair.
Along with the demonized wicked weed, the legitimate hemp industry was also kicked in the legislative nads by the Marihuana Tax Act. Back then, no one knew about THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes jam bands sound better than they actually are. All we knew was that cannabis was a drug, and since hemp and cannabis share the same fingerprints, it was all deemed to be bad.
People like to shoo away conspiracy theories, but there was no question that William Randolph Hearst was pumping as much bogus fear-mongering as he could fit into his empire of news-rags. Whether it was because he feared the newly-invented decorticator would make hemp-based paper cheap to manufacture and thus threaten his massive timber investments (which it totally would have), or whether he was truly afraid of the drug’s effects on society, that’s up to you to decide. Read more…