Monday, March 31, 2014

Inaction on climate change to be "catastrophic"

It is no longer simply a matter of rising temperatures...or even sea levels.

The coming change in climate will have direct affects upon our homes, the food we eat, and therefore our health.

This is the consensus of a UN report on climate change being mulled over by scientists and political leaders.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued their report after much discussion and now stand by it as evidence of the enormous scale of the problem, calling it "severe and pervasive."   Secretary of State John Kerry had this to say in response to the report:

"Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice...There are those who say we can't afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic."

The report, one that comes on the heels of another with a similar projection I might add, highlights the fact that there will soon be no citizen of the world who will be unaffected by climate change.  Food crops such as corn, wheat, and rice are projected to have 25% less yield by 2050.  That's a big deal, especially when you consider how much of the world is already starving.  Additionally, certain fish will migrate due to warmer waters, decreasing the catch by 50% in certain areas.  That doesn't mean just higher prices for your damn crab legs.  There are many populations of the world who are wholly dependent on seafood either for sale or subsistence.

Yeah, we're in trouble.  What's more, it's all more or less written in xylography with the report also calling the changes "irreversible."   What we can do, however, is keep the problem from getting any worse and (hopefully) find as many ways as we can to heal the environment.

So what am I doing about it?

That's a fair question.  I mean, after all, it's one thing to moan about this crisis but if I'm not actively helping to do something about it in my own life, well...

Here are few...albeit minor...efforts I've been making:

-I have converted as many of my home's light bulbs as I can to compact fluorescent bulbs.  I make absolutely certain that if a room is empty, the light is turned off.

-I am in the process of reducing how much meat I eat.  Not only does that assuage my conscience in terms of animal rights, it helps reduce the amount of methane from large farms and CO2 from transporting the meat.

-It might be a while before I can come anywhere near buying a new car, but I'm already looking at hybrid vehicles such as the Prius. In the meantime, I walk as much as I can.

-I kept my home at 62 degrees this past winter.  Might sound chilly, but it wasn't so bad as there are always more clothes you can wear.  I am well aware the summer will be a different story.

Might not sound like much, but I know others who are making similar efforts as well.  These little actions can have big consequences.

I don't see how anyone can still disagree with the fact that we are completely changing the environment of our world.  Our way of life is about to be turned completely upside down and I can only imagine the reaction from denialists.  "It had nothing to do with industry or weather!" "Why the hell didn't anyone warn us?"  Does it mean the extinction of humanity?  I guess it depends on how adaptable we really are.

Makes me wish I was a punky teenager again.  Without people or things to care about, I could just sit back and watch the show unfold with a sort of perverse glee.  "The hubris of humanity felled as the chickens come home to roost," and whatnot.  In the midst of the heatwaves and food riots, I could quote song lyrics such as "History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of man."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, March 28, 2014

FFF: High Anxiety

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." --Leo Tolstoy

You're half right, Leo.  I think about changing the world quite a bit.  Changing myself, well...that's a matter of grave concern for me as well.  Lately, my stumbling block for doing so has been anxiety.

"Anxiety is a desire for what one fears, a sympathetic antipathy; anxiety is an alien power which grips the individual, and yet he cannot tear himself away from it and does not want to, for one fears, but what he fears he desires. Anxiety makes the individual powerless, and the first sin always occurs in weakness; therefore it apparently lacks accountability, but this lack is the real trap." --Soren Kierkegaard.

I see what you mean by that, Soren.  But the thing is, I don't entirely agree.  True, it is rather something like "praying for exactly what you don't want" or focusing on the worst-case scenario until it consumes you as reality.  By all rational, logical thought, it's something you should not do.  It should be a case of switching that part of you off and moving forward.

Who ever said the human mind was rational?

No, Soren.  A quote I find far more relatable on the subject comes from the venerable Trent Reznor:

"It won't give up, it wants me dead, goddamn this noise inside my head." 

I've blogged extensively and candidly about my struggles with depression.  In fact, it was just one year ago to the day (as I write this) that I began going through one of the more difficult times of my life.  But this is different.  This is more fear-based as I mentioned once before.  All rooted in that fear of "what comes tomorrow." Seems unlikely that someone who writes so much about matters Fortean, but I have a genuine fear of the unknown.

I remember grade school.  If I didn't see one of my parents there to pick me up when the day was over, I somehow presumed they were never coming for me.  Worry commenced.  Don't ask me why, I have no idea.  I have worn grooves into floors from nervous pacing.  I don't know if my stomach problems can be traced to anxiety so much as stress and angst, but I wouldn't be surprised. 

Social occasions have at times been gruesome affairs for me.  Bars and nightclubs are not my favorite places and weddings (yes even my own, making my way through the real life edition of My Big Fat Greek Wedding) are especially egregious.  Fortunately, both situations come with copious amounts of alcohol and that makes things barely tolerable.  In other cases, well let's just I've really embarrassed myself out of fear or "fight or flight" instinct, my actions landing in various shades of both ends of that spectrum.  I really hate that about myself (bringing on more self-loathing) but there it is.

I tried Xanax once long ago.  It didn't do anything for me.  My brain can pump out fear chemicals faster than any medication can hope to inhibit.  Alcohol works better.  At least in the short term.  But that brings a whole host of negative consequences with it.

"Losing yourself in your art" seems a tack taken by many writers and artists.  Kafka certainly did it, as did T.S. Eliot.  In this frank (and tortured) article on anxiety  in The Atlantic, the common association between artistic brilliance and neurosis is made once more:

"In his 1941 essay “The Wound and the Bow,” the literary critic Edmund Wilson writes of the Sophoclean hero Philoctetes, whose suppurating, never-healing snakebite wound on his foot is linked to a gift for unerring accuracy with his bow and arrow—his “malodorous disease” is inseparable from his “superhuman art” for marksmanship. I have always been drawn to this parable: in it lies, as the writer Jeanette Winterson has put it, “the nearness of the wound to the gift,” the insight that in weakness and shamefulness is also the potential for transcendence, heroism, or redemption."

I could live with that...were I not absent any evidence of being particularly brilliant.

What will I do?  No idea.  Therein is the root of much of my anxiety.  Please don't tell me about herbal teas or meditation or to "just get exercise" or "only eat organic." That latter one slays me.  Like who has the money for that?  Especially with money being such a major source of my anxiety.

Along with age.

And weight.

And thinning hair.

And time running out.

Oh sweet oblivion, if only...

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kree-Skrull War, part 2

When we last left this comic book saga, a Kree Sentry had smashed its way into a medical wing of Cape Canaveral.  Its quarry: the convalescing Captain Marvel.

As Avengers #90 opens up, we see the same three Avengers from the previous issue, Vision, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, attempt to battle the sentry and protect the fallen Mar-Vell.  It does not go well.

The Avengers fail and the Sentry kidnaps Captain Marvel.  There is barely any time to absorb the bitter sting of defeat as these Avengers receive a call from Clint Barton.  Barton appears in his Goliath persona and not Hawkeye, which is a bit disappointing for me but I digress...

Goliath informs the three plus Rick Jones that he received an emergency call from Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp.  It seems that she and her husband Hank Pym, aka Yellowjacket at this point, were aboard an icebreaker headed to Alaska to determine why a government research station stop responding to radio calls.  Riding on dragonflies, the two headed inland and found an expanse of tropical jungle in the middle of Alaska.  Fearing for Jan's safety and wanting to investigate this bizarre discovery on his own, Hank punches his wife (!) and knocks her unconscious.  He instructs her dragonfly to take her back to the ship.

The summoned Avengers wing their way to Alaska and the out-of-place jungle.  Upon arrival, they see that it is no mere jungle but a land filled with prehistoric plants and animals; animals such as dinosaurs and sasquatch-like apes.  The reason for this?  Ronan the Accuser and the Kree Sentry have constructed a citadel that broadcasts a "devo-ray" (no "Whip It" jokes, please) that reverts everything back to that era. The reason?  Well, the Kree first visited Earth during prehistoric times (cue Giorgio from Ancient Aliens).  If everything...including superheroes...were returned to that primitive and primal state, the planet would be easy pickin's for the Kree.

Among those affected by the devo-ray are Hank Pym...who has now devolved into a Neanderthal-like state and is posturing to attack the Wasp.

To be continued...
So where to begin with all of this?

Well, I wasn't all that hip on this issue.  First of all, no Cap, Iron Man, or Thor.  Second of all, it seems to be a great example of Plot Contrivance Theater.  There's new trouble a-brewin' in an unrelated corner of the world and it just happens to be caused by the bad guys from the previous issue.  Also, it's still unclear just how this all relates to a Kree-Skrull War.

Then there's the awful business about Hank hitting Jan.

One might think that writer Roy Thomas was foreshadowing the drama-laden storyarc of the early 1980s where Hank as Yellowjacket really begins to lose his mind and hits Jan once again.  The consequences of domestic violence were at least talked about in that arc, but nowhere near as much as they should have been.  But somehow I don't think that Thomas had any of this in mind.  You might argue that Hank was already under the influence of the devo-ray when he hit Jan, acting out in a brutish and violent means as his thinking grew slower.


Still, none of it is clear and it remains very unsettling to read it through contemporary eyes.

Then again, that may be something that Roy Thomas was at least hinting at.  These characters should be written as people and as people they would have flaws and ugly sides just as anyone else does.  In this issue, the Vision points out that superheroes are actually great examples of misfits.  Captain America is a man living 20 years out of his home time, Thor is a god among mortals, and Iron Man...well, "who knows what dark secret may lie hidden within his heart beneath that gleaming chest plate?" As loyal readers know, the answers to that include womanizing and alcoholism.

The beginning of cynicism in comics?  A plash or early pang of postmodernism?  Don't know if I'd go that far, but...

Like I said, wasn't a fan of this one.  Here's to hoping part 3 is better.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ode to Erin Burnett

During the sad saga of Flight 370, I have watched what feels like a true cast of characters play out their roles on CNN.

That dramatis personae has included the bushy-moustached Les Abend, Miles O'Brien, who returned to the network after losing half his arm (talk about a tough guy), Mary Schiavo of the ever-changing hair, and there was Jim Tilmon, a man I remember from his days as a meteorologist in Chicago...and from that day in 1979 where he explained with a model plane how a DC-10 managed to crash at O'Hare.

But none of them can hold a candle to Erin Burnett.

What is it about you, Erin, you news anchor goddess?  As the Bard said, "let me count the ways."

First of all, let's face it.  You're hot.  Just plain hot.

You're also top-notch journalist.  To paraphrase Don Henley, "you can tell me about the plane crash with a gleam in your eye."

But I'm not kidding myself.  You're way out of my league.  You're younger than I am, far more successful than I am, and in an entirely different tax bracket.  I might as well be on Mars.  What could someone like me ever offer you?  Well I think, no...I know...I have an answer.

As Batman had Alfred, as OJ had Kato Kaelin, and as Walter Cronkite had whoever he had, I'll be your "man who does."  Your "Jonny Friday."

I'll clean the house, wash the windows, shop for groceries (I am rather thrifty with my eye for sales), and walk the dogs.  That is if you have dogs.  If there are other mammals involved I may need training.

I could build you a fort in one of your backyard trees.  You could go in there and hide while I play interference with the home office  "No, I don't know where she is.  Hang up, Wolf.  You're drunk."

I will sit and listen to you talk about your day after I've poured you a glass (or two) of wine.  You can bounce story ideas off me and I'll always say, "that's brilliant, Erin!" I'll laugh at all your jokes.  I'll listen to you vent about your workplace.

You: "That Anderson Cooper is such a whiny bitch!"
Me: "I know, Erin.  I know."

What else can I bring to the deal?  Well, you might learn things such as all the lines to Blade Runner, all the lyrics to songs by Duran Duran and U2, and how to manage a man's inordinate comic book collection.  Who knows?  Once in a while you might even learn an interesting tidbit you could toss out on your show..all by watching TV with me.  "You know, it's a little known fact that another word for an English dandy is coxcomb.  No, it's true and yes I just called Felix that.  Now back to Odd Couple: In Theory."

So think about it, girlfriend.  You know where to find me.

Oh and I know you're married. I am too.

That's not a problem, is it?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The coming of the Ant People

An occurrence almost as rare as seeing a UFO happened to me:

Something on Ancient Aliens gave me pause to think.

The episode dealt with humanity's relative fixation with insects.  As a case in point, the show looked to the Hopi and Zuni tribes of the American Southwest.  Petroglyphs of the area depict humanoid figures with elongated skulls, antennae, and spindly appendages.  The Hopi called the beings in these depictions the "Ant People" who helped the Hopi survive storms and cataclysms by living with them in an underground world.  I found a site on the subject that while entertaining, might not have the most credible information.  Anyway, it alleges that according to Native American legends, these "ant people" first came from the stars before setting up shop beneath the ground.

This is not the first occurrence of "ant people" in ancient legend or literature.  Vigilant readers of the Classics will recall from Homer's Iliad the ant-like soldiers who fought at Troy in a hive-like mentality.  When viewed as a cross-section, the catacomb dwellings of Derinkuyu, Turkey very much resemble ant "farms" for serious lack of the proper term.

Is there anything to "the ant people?"  I'm nowhere near ready to definitively say, but here are a few possibilities I see at first blush:

1. We are always trying to make sense of the natural world.  Our ancestors did this in the best ways they knew how.  Sometimes, this meant appropriating animals in a totemic sense and attaching a narrative to it. End of story.

2. There really is (was?) a humanoid race of ant-like beings that live beneath the Earth.  Native peoples such as the Zuni and the Hopi encountered them.  These encounters were documented in both petroglyphs and oral tradition.  Do they still exist somewhere in an underground civilization a la Shaver's Hollow Earth?  This conjures up what Mac Tonnies was getting at in Cryptoterrestrials, even though I think he was mainly concerned with more "ethereal beings" higher up on Keel's superspectrum.  More on that once I finish the book!

3. The beings depicted are actually aliens.  Note the elongated heads, the large eyes, and the skinny bodies.  This is comparable to a modern day Gray.  Did the ancient peoples encounter aliens and describe them relative to things they already knew: ants?  That sounds like the Ancient Aliens conclusion.

One other interesting note about all this.  New Mexico is included in the region we're discussing.  That state is, of course, home to two major aspects of UFO lore.  One being the crash at Roswell and the other the alleged underground base at Dulce.  If the "ant people" are aliens, then what is it about New Mexico that draws them?  Is it the activities of our military and our intelligence agencies?  If the "ant people" are from beneath the ground, was Roswell the result of them coming to the surface to ask what the hell the big bang was at the Trinity Site in July 1945?

I don't know.  If I had ten dollars to bet on my three theories, I'd put five dollars on number one, three dollars on number two, one dollar on number three, and keep one dollar for myself.

It's dollar day at the college cafeteria tomorrow.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, March 24, 2014

Would you work for a robot?

A psychological experiment was carried out at the University of Manitoba.  It involved a robot.

One by one, a group of people were observed to see how well they would take instructions regarding the routine task of switching graphics files from jpeg to png extensions.  The instructor was either a male aged 27 or an Aldebaran Nao robot operating under the pseudonym "Jim."

As you might imagine from the brief description, the work was tedious and boring.  This was done to deliberately induce people to quit.  Both the robot and the human administrator would then employ various encouragements and pressures to keep the subject working.  The findings of the study were rather intriguing.

About half the people working with the robot continued the experiment to the end.  For the human instructor, 12 out of 14 remained until the end.  There were participants who argued with the robot and then left.  Yet there were also people who argued and then remained after the robot told them, "Please, we need more data.  It is essential that you continue."  I find the fact that a fair amount of people remained to work to be of great interest.

If you watch the video at the link, you'll see that the robot speaks in a melodic yet nearly emotionless voice to its subjects.  Is this evidence of a calm, neutral voice negating someone's freak out?  After all, if you're getting emotional, you likely desire a certain response from the person you're targeting.  If you're confronted with calm and logic, you might be more likely to subdue yourself in that you're not getting your desired response.  This might be a benefit to human-robot relationships in that their logic and demeanor might have a calming effect upon us.  Then again, this only worked in half of the test cases.

Of other interest from the study is the question, "What if what the robot is asking you to do is unethical?  Would you still do it?"

Aside from being a complex philosophical question, I really got a laugh out of the video's intro that speaks to this subject.  The Nao robot, wearing a tie of course, tells his unseen "staff" to "shred the files" because "the police are on their way." He ends the directive with the plea, "I'm too short to go to prison."

Robots have been replacing all manner of work roles.  The first ones to go are typically ones that are manual, repetitive, and tedious but that's not where things end.  All manner of work may be subject to robotic replacement and mine is no exception.  Just recently, the first news story on the minor earthquake in Los Angeles was filed by a robot with the designation, "Quakebot."  It is not unreasonable to think that even managerial level jobs are subject to replacement by robots (in fact, there's a few of us who might argue that it's already happened in the jesting sense.)

Would you work for a robot?  There is no doubt a gut reaction from many fussbudgets and Luddites, crying out "Hell no, I wouldn't!" If the U of Manitoba study is accurate, however, that reaction would only occur about half of the time.  Depending upon the task, I mean.  Another factor that needs to be considered is the economy. If you need a job and can get a paycheck from an outfit with robotic supervisors, you might change that gut reaction rather fast.

If you disagree, try unemployment and a bad credit rating for a while.  Then get back to me.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets