Tuesday, January 26, 2021

That Clawing Feeling

It is said, if the earth were to experience all-out nuclear war, the only living things that would survive would be cockroaches. Some have said that lawyers should be added to the list, but others argue that they cannot be classified as living things. We hear that the matter has gone to court. 

If that were to be true, it would be worth proposing that the cockroach be the official life form of planet Earth, in the way the state bird of South Dakota is the Ring-necked Pheasant - an alien, introduced bird that dominates the agricultural center of North America, a region once teeming with Prairie Chicken, Long-billed Curlew, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Trumpeter Swan, Ferruginous Hawk, and a hundred others, no make that a hundred and four and one more line of type and it's a hundred and fifteen. 

Similarly, if Earth were to have a global animal, any competent ecologist would propose the ubiquitous French poodle, of the genus Canis, whose global range exceeds that of all other species with the exception of its host, the human being, Homo sapiens, otherwise referred to as bloke, dude, bud, tellurian, featherless biped, naked ape, soft machine, state-building animal, mall rat, or one who burns his own home. The poodle is genetically depressed, filled with maladaptations, sickly and frail, insufferably optimistic, with poor motor skills, vestigial frontal and temporal lobes, and whose persistence despite the pressures of natural selection vexes all zoologists who study it. It is a wonder why it hasn't been buried by time and pressed into flat pages of the fossil record and filed away in the basement of a shuttered museum. Its persistence threatens to unravel the entire intellectual construct supporting the assertion that natural selection produces fitter species. It is Exhibit A.  

If Earth were to have a global bird, a case might be made for the plastic bag, which is seen flying overhead in all regions that experience weather, but, despite its organic chemistry, filled with carbon rings and hydrogen, it does not reproduce, respond to stimuli, metabolize, or adapt to its environment. As a result of this, some proposed that the plastic bag is a form of lawyer, but the proposition was quickly withdrawn when it stimulated powerful, self-replicating litigations. At which point, a case was made for the drone, another ubiquitous species, now seen rapidly populating National Parks across the world. 

If Earth were to have a global flower, judging from economic impacts, it has been suggested that it might be some variety of Cannabis, commonly called Lime Pillows, Butter Flower, Shmagma, Sinsemilla, or Almohada, but there has been an utter and sustained lack of interest in the suggestion. How that is possible blows the mind. Field corn (Maize) would be another candidate. It is also known as steroidal grass, night squeak, gene pool red, and conscience plant, the one that gauges the moral character of civilization. When humans feel humane they feed it to the hungry, as they devolve into their reptilian state, they burn it as fuel, feeding this intercontinental species commonly called "the economy." 

Ah, the economy. Like it or not, whether or not the economy is a living thing has been a matter of debate for centuries, and the debate will likely continue into the future, right up to the point where the beast incinerates humanity in a blast of its hot atomic breath. The thing replicates like the European rabbit, overwhelming its habitat and spilling over natural boundaries, digging under fences, hitchhiking in shipping containers, crawling into airplane cargo bays, establishing indomitable populations on every continent, at every latitude, and every altitude. It is omnivorous, consuming everything in its path, inorganic and organic matter, abstract and concrete objects, the living and the dead - vegetation, animals, birds, copper, coal, aquifers, open space, privacy, patience, generosity, kindness, and peace of mind. The heat it generates is said to be so intense - get this! - it can alter the weather. It responds to real or perceived injury by inducing global panic, blockades, and war. And, most remarkable of all, it is nearly unidentifiable - ask any economist to describe it - being able to adapt to any environment, occupy all niches, switching with ease from predator to parasite to prey to keystone species and all points in between. While it slips from our mental grasp, it is gorging on scientific truth and excreting virtual mountains of vile, pestilential disinformation. Unfortunately, our relationship has become symbiotic, and we have developed a taste for disinformation just as it has developed a taste for us. The current theory is, natural selection, operating in a disinformation-biased environment, selected for humans with disinformation-tolerant genes. Gradually, humans developed a dependence upon an amino acid only found in disinformation. Diets lacking this amino acid have been shown to cause loss of hypervigilance, aggression, confirmation bias, and illusory pattern perception, traits that are highly advantageous in a disinformation-based ecosystem.

Well, it has been argued that the sole objective of the economy is to convince us that it is not a living thing. Corporations are corporeal. They have civilian rights. This thing is respiring, circulating its black, oily blood, shifting roles, developing resistance, metastasizing everywhere, metabolizing everything. It's alive, but not in a way we know or understand. Like the frozen monster in science fiction, it may look dead, but that's its competitive advantage, its advantageous trait, its survival strategy. It's alive. 

We know the feeling. There are tales of humans who were thought to be dead, who were buried alive, and clawed at the casket until they ran out of air. We are tailored for this earth, we fit well, a custom fit, like an Italian suit, a bright man-sized life. But the air is getting thin. We are running out of oil, water, timber, space, patience, peace, air, even adjectives to describe this whatever it is that is eating it all. 

Hey, but before we go, we have to say, it's no contest. The biological representative of our shrinking Earth, this transformed, terraformed, shell-shocked, anthropomorphized house, beset by centuries of radical reconstruction, nearly unrecognizable to anyone who knew it decades ago, it's the economy. No argument here, it's like we were made for each other. Now, if we can just claw us both out of this jam. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Parting Thought

 It is always a cheery thing to reflect on the fact that humans are not currently fitted with shock collars.  

As a crowd masses at an international border, pressing up against the gateway to a purportedly safer country, held at bay by armed guards, yet another stream of refugees fleeing from some armed conflict over differing versions of reality, a hawk flies over the crowd and enters the airspace of the safe country. It has violated the airspace, yet no passport was presented, no fighter jets scrambled, no shots were fired, and nobody was led away in leg irons to a holding cell. The hawk disappears over the ridge. Say goodbye. 

Zoologists will fit animals with radio collars to monitor their movements. Pet owners will fit dogs with shock collars to prevent them from traveling into a restricted area, like the neighbor's garbage can. Police will fit errant humans with ankle bracelets to monitor their movements and prevent them from traveling into a restricted area, like  Shorty's Tavern. Yet, we see no herds of migrating humans outfitted with shock collars. 

Incidentally, despite the short step from ankle bracelet to shock collar, most humans willingly fit themselves with cellular phones that monitor their movements. While our data is liberated from our accounts and pored over by men in trenchcoats with thick accents, we are deterred from entering actual locations and relationships. Don't walk on the neighbor's grass. Don't talk to the person next to you on the bus. Keep focused on the flat screen. Something follows this. We have all found out that the buzzing in the coat pocket often precedes an intense episode of humiliating interrogation by some older relative or salesperson. This is called conditioning. Do not imagine what is next.

Now, as noted, the restricted areas are often imaginary lines, ones invisible to sentient beings, with the clear exception of us wayward humans, who have the unique ability to perceive things that don't really exist and to wage war with those who perceive a conflicting unreality. This battle over unrealities is called the March of History. It is the unenviable load of historians to attempt to describe what is not actually there in such a way that the reader segregates it from fiction. This is unsustainable. This is why most history books are ephemeral, like a shimmering mirage in Death Valley, filled with the bones of millions of men and women who crawled across the sand convinced that it was a real freshwater lake filled with real schools of promise. Enter the next dynasty, the one with a conflicting version of unreality, and the books are revised, banned, or burned. A new mirage appears and another crowd forms on the imaginary shoreline. 

The fences in the field create fences in the mind. Thoughts in isolation do not thrive; this is not an original thought. It's like the ghost image of our schoolteacher that appeared when we closed our eyes after staring at her standing in front of a black chalkboard for 20 minutes. Life reproduces phantom life in the mind. 

Here is a paradox: inbreeding depression is the effect seen when a population becomes isolated and breeds with closely related individuals. They become unfit, less likely to survive. Thus, if children had been segregated according to hair color, while we would experience no suprise if blondes were to wage war with brunettes in the near term, in the long term, after several generations of blondes interbreeding with blondes and brunettes interbreeding with brunettes, we would expect bad traits to arise, an upwelling of deleterious characteristics. Sloped foreheads, brow ridges, palm hair, whippy little tails, and a host of deleted or duplicated parts like extra sets of legs, cartoon hands, or the proverbial Third Eye. 

Dagnabbit, this keyboard is too small for all these fingers. 

At the same time, isolation of populations is said to drive what is called speciation, the creation of new species, which develop traits and reproductive behavior that renders them incompatible with their parent population. Think leopards and jaguars, dingos and coyotes. 

Don't get too excited. Looming over all of this is the March of Science, in which the scientific method seeks to establish a more perfect conception of reality. Michaelangelo once stated, "The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material." That is art, that is science. The hard truth at the center may be: we are still in the quarrying phase. 

Despite the provisional status of ideologies, angry crowds full of assumption push to the front of the line. If variety arises from isolation while isolation creates unfit varieties, the question arises, What happens to us? Better check your watch. There is a huge mob forming at every international border and each side perceives the other side to have deleterious characteristics - their shape, color, language, gestures, height, weight, the way they laugh, the way they greet, the way they think. 

Militias arrive with truckloads of shock collars. Say goodbye. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

King of the Beasts

There is no doubt that the author of the book, The Ecology of Sasquatch, does not exist.

It is a fact, the evidence of the author is scant and what little is produced has been misidentified. Most experts believe he is a storefront mannequin, a shaved ape, a manatee, or a man-shaped balloon from the 1928 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade that came unmoored and drifted away, landing in Tercentary Theater at Harvard University where it was awarded an honorary degree in Hyperbole. That is not an exaggeration. 

There is a lot of wind in his book, enough, it is said, to power 1,600 wind generators, enough to power all the homes in the city of Denver, Colorado. Not only that, the wind is strong enough to force the winds coming out of Canada right back up into the Arctic, where it compresses and warms, adding to the catastrophic melting of permafrost. Global warming is caused by hot human breath!

This just has to be true because one can read it right here right now and this was passed along by 453 virtual friends - they could be if they were. This is the definitive description of nothingness, the absence of something.  

Looking to fill the void, one fires up the television machine, leans forward, and squints at the grainy, minute-long film of a man in a rabbit-fur suit, look, the zipper is visible in the front. There he is again, the ape-like creature, swinging his arms, punching Gorosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Gigantophis, Pterodactylus, sea serpents, and Godzilla. The imagery is high definition, the sound is stereophonic, and the subwoofer shakes the living room floor as he roars and stomps across the land. Our hands sweat, our heart pounds. 

The problem is, studies have shown that actors can actually get lost in a role, like that circus clown in the corner booth at the cafe who sprays the waitress with his lapel flower and eats his hat. A 2019 study concluded, "portraying a character through acting seems to be a deactivation-driven process, perhaps representing a 'loss of self.'" Another study from the same year observed, "simulating others changed self-knowledge, such that the self becomes more similar to the simulated other." Uh oh. 

There are two sides to this story. The man in the rabbit-fur suit made our palms sweat and heart pound. He transformed our perception of the world around us. This becomes clear after one has watched the ape-man terrorize members of the actors guild and the theater audience for two hours and then steps outside into the dark night. The shadows between the buildings, the rooftops beyond the streetlight, the dark, empty space between the parked cars, the back seat in our automobile, each has taken on a threatening aspect, has become less secure, less devoid of danger.

The problem is, we have learned that Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah are not real, no more than the lonely, impotent Mr. Sasquatch. A few miles down the highway, listening to elevator music, our mind ejects the ape-man in the back seat. He flies off into space. Our hands dry off, our heart settles down. 

In the 1940s there were newsreels that showed images of carpet bombing in Europe. In the 1960s, the nightly news showed identical images, in color, of carpet bombing in Southeast Asia. Acres of pockmarks, like ground acne, a moonscape right here on earth, air force lakes, Swiss Cheese School of Landscaping, just like Bonny and Clyde's bullet-riddled gangster car. Today, the nightly news shows images of a scarred earth, with roadside bombs, melting Greenland, oil spills in the Niger Delta, coral bleaching, mounds of plastic garbage on remote beaches, and the daily street battles between opposing ideologues pitching tear gas canisters at each other. 

One sits back and turns off the imagery. After a few miles, a few kitten videos, a few minutes of elevator music, his hands stop sweating and his heart settles down. He has recovered his self-knowledge. The monster is ejected into outer space again as he drives away. 

Brown Steven, Cockett Peter and Yuan Ye 2019. The neuroscience of Romeo and Juliet: an fMRI study of actingR. Soc. open sci.6181908. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.181908

Meyer ML, Zhao Z, Tamir DI. Simulating other people changes the self. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2019 Nov;148(11):1898-1913. doi: 10.1037/xge0000565. Epub 2019 Apr 29. PMID: 31033322.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Status Migrainosus

Languages die. Or it is has been said.

When a language falls into disuse, when the last native speaker has uttered his dying word, when there is no society to carry it, the language has become dead. Any interest beyond that is academic, like archeologists digging in a graveyard exposed during the construction of a museum. But deadness is highly prized, like cadaver teeth to a Civil War dentist. Dead things don't move, aren't subject to change, thus, a dead language is a very useful container for those who would want the linguistic meaning of their work to be stable.

Latin is a dead language, having fallen out of use centuries ago - with the exception of quaint Latin Clubs and the Latin Church, whose leaders bemazed onlookers with a theatrical display of it until the 1960s. That's the reason scientists selected Latin as the language to name and describe living things, geologic formations, and scientific processes. These words would be fixed and stable for all time. Yes, our name is Homo sapiens, and we are stuck with it until we de-evolve into simple primates. Comparatively, the English word "human" is subject to change. At this point in history, the meaning of that word has mutated under tremendous selective social pressure and it bears little resemblance to what it meant just a few decades ago. Just look around.

Memories evolve. Or so we think. Cornell University published a study in 2002 in which they showed participants an advertisement describing Bugs Bunny at Disneyworld. Bugs was called "an impossible character" because there is no Bugs at Disneyworld. Bugs is under contract with Warner Brothers, not with Disney. Were he to be spotted, he would be escorted from the premises, face legal action, and his stuffing would be found floating in a canal south of Lake Okeechobee - blown to bits by a cartoon bomb. Authorities said that this was the fate of Bug's older brother, Fritz, whose dismembered foot was found in San Francisco bay - attached to a chain. His movies were destroyed in the 1934 fire at the Burbank studio, destroying valuable evidence. Only some original production drawings remain.

By the way, after viewing the phony advertisement, thirty percent of the participants said they recalled meeting Bugs at Disneyworld as a child. The suggestion of an impossible event, bolstered by fabricated evidence produced a false memory.

To be a memory is to know war. From conception until death, memories are under fierce selective pressure. Only the fittest memory is able to survive REM sleep, the dark hours when the mind stalks and preys upon the daily storylines, purging the weak, culling the herd, a brutal nightly assault that makes us toss and turn, grind our teeth, and jolt up straight in bed, screaming at the shadow suspended in midair above our bed. In the morning, we don't remember a thing, but we have a slight headache. That's the hole where reality was. In the mind's war between reality and desire, the difference is what is recalled.

So we put our words in Latin, hoping to fix and stabilize the ideas, but Latin does not determine the nature of the idea. We only imagine that reality does not die. "Reality" is a word that has mutated under intense selective social pressure. At this point in history, the meaning of that word bears little resemblance to what it meant just a, well, a few nights ago. Just look around.

As we indulge our desires, knowing what we wish to know, sinking deeper into a post-truth world, where outlying data is given equal weight to the preponderance of data, where science is believed to be opinion, where the loudest voice is equal to truth, where two plus two equals five and it's that cabal of billionaire mathematicians just trying to control our minds, we are heading toward one massive headache.

So, as the reality of real reality escapes us like a madman twisting out of the grasp of hospital orderlies, running into the street, screaming, we imagine that he has lost his mind, but he is just trying to get away from us.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Vacation Getaway!

Well, the numbers are in and the winner is. 

There continues to be talk about a manned mission to Mars. It's been in the planning stage since about 1877. That's when Giovanni Schiaparelli described canali, or waterways on the Martian surface. In 1892, Camille Flammarion ran with that idea and described an entire race of superior beings. In 1950, Ray Bradbury chronicled his tours of the Martian cities. Over the years, various motion pictures were made on location. Many motion picture stars died in horrific battles on Martian soil and in the Martian skies. Alas. Today, millions of the faithful travel to Area 51 in hopes of spotting one of the reclusive aliens that inhabit the region, and if not, they may see a dead singer or two not far away in Las Vegas. 

Meanwhile, Venus goes unnoticed. Mars is half the size of the earth, further away from the sun, covered with red dust, no surface water, with an atmosphere about 100 times thinner than the Earth's, composed almost entirely of CO2, with an average temperature of minus 60 celsius. Still, there are thousands of people camped outside of the launch pad gates, hoping to be some of the first in line to buy tickets to fly to the Red Planet. Vacation in the red rocks, lose pounds instantly, get a tan, feel the stress melt away.

Venus, on the other hand, has a similar mass, radius, density, composition, gravity, year, and day as the earth. It is about 2/3 the distance to the sun. Leave the crowds on Mars - picture yourself out on your deck, cold drink in hand, basking in the Venusian sun. This could be you! 

We need to work out a few ergonomic issues with Venusian travel, however. The surface temperature averages 465 degrees celsius, the air pressure is 90 times that of Earth, the sky is obscured by clouds of sulfuric acid, and the windstorms are legendary, at least as bad as those in Livingston, Montana where it can blow 90 miles an hour on a clear day, and perhaps as bad as those in North Dakota, but we are not so sure since communication there has not advanced much beyond the telegraph - the singing wire! - and all accounts seem to have been inflated by at least as much wind as was said to be in the storms. We have heard that a North Dakota man lost his hat in one storm coming hard out of Canada, which blew his hat straight to the south. It went clear out of sight. He stood there and looked at his watch. A minute later he turned around, faced into the wind, and caught his hat blowing right at him from the north.

Anyhow, life on Venus is not. 

Returning to earth, where the aliens landed, apparently in search of oxygen and a spot of shade - and, we might add, apparently victims of species profiling because all humans seem to think that all aliens have teardrop-shaped heads, large glowing eyes, small mouths, wasting musculature, holes where there were once ears, and they whisper and point at everything - here, back on this climate-controlled earth, we find that our air conditioning has seized up and is pouring out smoke. 

The numbers are in for 2020: 

Total acres burned in the United States: 10,274,679. This beats the modern-day, Smokey-The-Bear-Era record set in 2015. And that's just the US. This year produced some grim satellite imagery of the earth on fire, from the Amazon to Siberia to Austraila and North America. 

I think I saw one of those aliens in that line at the launch pad.