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…
Within the margins of human behavior, how is it possible for our hunger for self-awareness to coexist with our penchant for abandoning empathy and basic compassion? History’s most exquisite brains have combed the mines of knowledge and speculation in order to pilfer as much truth about ourselves as can be swallowed by mortal minds, yet in doing so they have occasionally stomped upon our collective dignity by treating the subjects of their study as though they belonged to an unrelated sub-species.
Ota Benga was just a dude. Had the trajectory of his existence not been marred by western interference, he might have lived a blasé life of hunting, storytelling and raising a family. Instead he was plucked from the lush, equatorial forests of his youth and made a slave, a sideshow wonder, and a zoological exhibit for slack-jawed tourists.
Most of the injustices thrust upon Ota’s arc were done with the false pretense of anthropological education, cloaked in evolutionary flim-flammery and racist eugenics. But what did we learn, apart from humankind’s tragically vast tolerance for our own assholishness?
A member of the Mbuti tribe in what was then called the Belgian Congo, Ota Benga’s life was first derailed by Belgium’s King Leopold II around the turn of the 20th century. Leopold had dispatched the Force Publique, a heavily-armed militia aimed at reminding the Congolese natives that they’d best remain devoted to producing rubber for Belgium’s financial gain. Ota was out on a hunt when the armed men showed up and murdered his wife and two children. When he returned to his village, he was captured as a slave. Read more…
Were it not for the six or so hours of procrastination that has siphoned away my productivity today, I might have ascribed a new disorder to myself, in that special way that we net-snooping nutjobs are prone to do. Anyone who has ever tried to diagnose themselves using WebMD or some other resource, only to find that their sore throat and unusually stiff elbow means they’re probably going to die within the next 20 minutes knows that this is not a wise choice.
Today my mysterious ailment is something called hypergraphia. The main symptom of this malady is an intense desire to write. Hey! That’s me! Well, except for today… never underestimate the power of distraction to cure what ails you.
No, hypergraphia is a more powerful compulsion to put pen to paper than this project could ever be blamed for. It’s not necessarily a desire for expression, or for achieving a finished product, but more of an irresistible drive to write. This symptom can appear alongside epilepsy, and it’s a big red flag for a personality disorder known as Geschwind Syndrome. If your non-stop writing only produces an endless string of erotic haikus, it might be a big red flag for something else.
All work and no play didn’t work out so well for Frank.
Some sufferers of hypergraphia (hypergraphics?) compose poetry, or vast creative works with some genuine literary merit. This is not a disorder that presupposes that the end result will be pages of scrawled gibberish; someone with a legitimate creative pitch to their mental whistle can produce some high-end text. It has been suggested that Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vincent van Gogh, Lewis Carroll and even Robert Burns were subject to this inescapable urge. Read more…
Today I’d like to talk to you about math.
Not “math” in the numbery, equationy, algebra-y way, but an ethical sort of math. Every time we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a moral conundrum, a little light flickers in our brain’s mathematical wing, weighing the heft of the pros against the heft of the cons. But is simplifying a dilemma into quantifiable terms really the best way to assess the situation?
Probably not. Each scenario has its own circumstances and personality, but that should never prevent us from making sweeping, knee-jerk generalizations – not to mention some judgy finger-wagging – to tell one another what we ‘should’ do. If ethics boiled down to nothing but math then the most soulless and sociopathic among us would have the easiest time at life. The heart always has its say.
But without the math, the heart would be the only one steering our moral ship and we’d never get anything done. No hypothetical ethical tightrope exemplifies this quite as well as the Trolley Problem. At least none that I found today, from the moment I decided not to write about the history of the mechanical pencil and instead opted to write about this.
The Trolley Problem starts out like this: there’s an out-of-control trolley racing down the tracks. No one knows why, maybe Daniel Tiger just decided he was fed the fuck up with King Friday’s tyrannical taxation and someone needed to pay – it’s not important. Five people are tied to the tracks and cannot escape the trolley’s path. They are facing certain death. Except you notice a switch within your reach. If you pull it, the trolley will get diverted down another track, where only one person will die. Do you do it? Read more…
While the bulk of our news sources have us scouring the globe for a missing plane, watching for the next drunken act of buffoonery by Toronto’s mayor or collectively pretending that Kim & Kanye’s pampered offspring has any relevance to anything, the mainstream western media has skipped a few stories. Perhaps not ‘skipped’, but ‘demoted’ beneath the whodunit-appeal of the Malaysian aircraft and the partisan theatrics in local and national politics. For example, did you know that 89% of the population of Veneto, the Italian province which includes the seductive city of Venice, voted to secede from Italy last week?
I will begrudgingly admit that my own ignorance is self-imposed. I plow through news-hungry waves, gobbling up current events stories like they were crab legs and bacon strips at the MGM Grand buffet. Then, once I find myself teetering upon the brink of abandoning all hope for humanity, I stop. I insulate myself with escapist entertainment and blissfully allow the world to shimmy and quiver on its own, on the other side of my heavy black curtains.
This is how I missed the extraordinary tale of Aitzaz Hasan. Here’s a kid who, at the age of fourteen years old exhibited a greater demonstration of pure cajones than everyone I knew at fourteen combined. It sickens me (with a slightly hypocritical acceptance of my own cross-cultural ignorance) that so many people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to watch an unrepentant douche like Justin Bieber in concert, yet they miss out completely when someone like Aitzaz makes the news.
Aitzaz Hasan was in the ninth grade, fifteen years old. He was a good student, perpetually busy and with no shortage of friends. His home was the Hangu District in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, where a number of Shiites live, and where the local government has come under fire for attempting to negotiate peacefully with Taliban militants. One such militant, a fetid splotch of sub-human filth who had aligned himself with the extremist Sunni group known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, crossed paths with Aitzaz on the morning of January 6, 2014.
(Perhaps this is what sours me on reading the news – most news sources will refrain from referring to people like this as ‘sub-human filth’, even when it applies.) Read more…
Whenever I’m assessing a question of morality, I like to assume the vantage point of an interplanetary visitor from an advanced race, dropping in to see how humanity stacks up to their alien equivalent. Don’t kill each other? I’m sure the little green dude agrees. Don’t pilfer one another’s wallets on the street? No question, Gleep would be down with that. Don’t allow parts of one’s natural form to be visible to anyone else, lest they succumb to evil, lust-sopped acts? He might raise a quizzical, crooked antenna at that one.
But our society has fought to uphold this denouncement of defrocking, this ban of the bare, particularly in film. It’s as though the collapse of our fragile culture could be set into motion by one wayward nipple. Sure, the pope probably gets naked, and so does every sign-toting, network-calling yahoo who feels their eyes have still not recovered from the excessive displays of side-boob on NYPD: Blue twenty years ago. But there’s a difference when it comes to being naked in one’s own home (or Pope-Fortress as the case may be).
Forget the fact that, with exceptions for size and possible skin conditions, butts tend to look fairly similar. And forget that the prohibition of anything (alcohol, drugs, looking at naked people) does nothing to quell the public’s desire for it. Our culture – and here I mean our global culture, because this is not simply a western taboo – spent decades frowning upon cinematic nakedness. Not too far back in our past movies could show blood from a stab wound by a homicidal maniac, but pubic hair? Hell no.
It should surprise absolutely no one who has watched the landscape of the internet develop over the past 20 years that nudity was appearing in films before actual film had gotten around to being invented. Eadweard Muybridge (and I should point out that ‘Eadweard’ is a name choice more parents should consider) created the zoopraxiscope, a projector that could display images etched onto a spinning glass disk. With his rapid-fire photography method, he could capture what amounted to the equivalent of a brief gif of a horse galloping, a donkey bucking or, of course, a naked person. The photo above is his own grizzly self-portrait. Read more…
Today many of my American counterpart civil servants are enjoying the joyous meaty pulp of a long weekend. I don’t blame you; for many, the deep-freeze has passed and it’s once again tolerable to expose one’s scalp to the outdoor elements. But today serves a greater purpose than allowing the opportunity to sleep in and maybe catch a late-morning broadcast of The Price Is Right. It’s important to remember that this is a day to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all the less-frequently-uttered names who poured their everything into the Civil Rights movement.
Today’s a day to bring to mind the atrocities that America had to go through just to reach the rickety rung of tenuous equality that exists today. Today’s a day to point out to your local white supremacist (and yes, they still exist) that the ‘Godless’ label they so carelessly slap on Muslims because of the suicide bombings and I.E.D.s overseas might as well be slapped on their forefathers, who held a similar value on human life that they myopically deemed to be less than human.
Today’s a day to remember that extremism of any kind is unproductive and dangerous. That the so-called enemy who doesn’t subscribe to your beliefs, who looks different, talks different, or who has a different idea of what constitutes ‘normal’ behind closed bedroom doors… that enemy doesn’t always look like you want them to. Sometimes they look like this:
Up in the top row, that’s Addie Mae Collins (age 14) and Cynthia Wesley (14). The two on the bottom are Denise McNair (11) and Carole Robertson (14). Their lives were snuffed out in the quick gasp of a hot wind when a time-delay bomb blew apart the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on a September Sunday morning in 1963. The reason for their demise? A quartet of locals weren’t fond of the girls’ skin color. That’s all, nothing personal. Read more…
No matter what you’ll be doing today, there will be no escaping that subtle shift in the light, the quirky zigzag of distorted collective energy – it’s Christmas, and the world always looks, sounds and smells a little different on Christmas. For some it’s a holy day, for others a welcome day off, and for many it’s simply a day to eat and drink to excess in an effort to counterbalance the unspeakable chore of having to spend the day with one’s extended family.
I don’t get sentimental around Christmas, a trait (some might say a flaw) that has caused my wife no end of irk. It would be foolish, however, to deny the power of the day.
Ninety-nine years ago, Christmas may have executed its most formidable coup, bringing an oasis of calm and reason to the most grotesquely bloody conflict in the history of the world to date, and providing a common ground – indeed the only common ground – among men who had literally devoted their lives to destroying one another. As cynical as many will be for the next few hours, there is nary a heart on this planet that couldn’t be softened somewhat by the tale of the Great Christmas Truce of 1914.
World War I was topping the hit parade in December of 1914, with German, British, French, Russian… well, mostly every European soldier trying to shoot some other European soldier. The war had been raging for five months, and the Germans had blasted through Belgium into France, only scantly repelled from entering Paris. They dropped back to the Aisne valley, where both sides dug their trenches and subsequently fell into a stalemate. No one could advance, and no one was willing to retreat. Read more…