Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Continuing on my schizophrenia about environmental issues...
How many of you have heard the shocking true story of the Easter Islands? It's one of my favourites, since it's demonstrates so much about human nature.
So even though you can easily just look up the story elsewhere, I'm going to retell it for you in my own words.
The stuff about the statues being left (or inspired) by UFOs is, of course, crap. The stuff about "a primitive society could never have managed the engineering feat, yada yada" likewise crap. Long before we could write, we humans have been astounding ourselves with our knack for gargantuan engineering feats.
According to the pieced-together bits of oral legend and archeology, the Easter Island big head statues were clan status symbols. Like the Egyptian pyramids, when a clan leader died, his successor would demonstrate the wealth, power and status of the clan by ordering up one of these memorial statues.
They weren't easy to do. The soft volcanic rock used for the statues was found in a quarry in the centre of the island. The statues were carved on site and then slowly, gently rolled upright to their final destinations near the shore using a system of giant rollers made out of tree trunks. Mishaps were frequent, so any given statue project often had to be done over and over again.
That last part was where the entire Easter Island civilization fell apart. Not the rocks, not even the ridiculous expenditure of effort over a useless status symbol. The trees. Trees, or rather the lack of them, finally killed them. And, boy, did it get ugly.
They lived on an island. Their resources were limited. They didn't have good arboriculture and they only had so many trees. The "market" for big head statues grew. By the end of their culture, there was one statue for every 10 residents. The inventory of trees, on the other hand, did not grow nearly fast enough.
What astounds historians to this day is that they would have seen the consequences. Especially in the latter days, when statue building reached a frenzy, it would have been obvious over the course of a single human lifetime that the forests were getting smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. Finally, some dumb fucker must have been the guy who cut down the last tree on Easter Island.
No trees = no shade for tropical vegetation. No vegetation = no animals. No vegetation + no animals + no material to build fishing boats = No food.
The last oral legends of the great Easter Island civilization tell of a society that descended into total chaos, including cannibalism and endless clan warfare. The final "artistic" legacy (if you can call it that) of the Easter Island civilization is a set of bizarrely grotesque aphorisms about cannibalism e.g. "The meat of your mother sticks to your teeth." Um, good to know, I guess.
We don't know how much of these legends is true. What we do know: biologists tell us the island was once thick with palm trees and that the few now left are quite young. Archaeologists can tell us the population collapsed around the 17th-18th century and that there is physical evidence of famine.
And anyone can tell you that the human capacity for stupidity and self-deception is endless.
These are the facts.
On an unrelated topic, have you heard about the exciting new developments in oilsands recovery?
posted by Mentok @ 12:14 PM,
Monday, December 17, 2007
So, I was cleaning the china cabinet the other day and I came across a set of dust-encrusted brandy snifters emblazoned with the crest of my alma mater. Brandy snifters?!?
I vaguely remember buying them. It was right after I'd convocated and I was looking around the university gift shop for some sort of memento of my college years.
But brandy snifters? What was I thinking? Did I imagine that, in my grown-up, professional life, I would be hosting all sorts of swanky parties where people would sit around and quaff great quantities of brandy?
Well, that did not happen. In fact, the snifters have never been used. In fact, I don't really like brandy at all, never have. I don't think I even know anyone who likes brandy. My post-college parties, I'm afraid, have never gotten any fancier than some beer mugs and the occasional wine glass.
I've rescued one of the snifters and cleaned it up. I've decided to use it drink my Christmas rum. If I'm lucky, it will break sometime when it's being washed, thereby freeing up the storage space it was occupying, which would be far more valuable to me than the glass ever was.
And you folks? Any tales to tell of odd, useless objects you've found around your home?
posted by Mentok @ 10:00 AM,
Friday, December 14, 2007
Canada Post "heartbroken" over naughty Santa letters
OTTAWA - There was absolutely nothing Ho Ho Ho about the letters Rosalyn Da Costa's children got from Santa on Thursday.
In fact, they included filthy messages.
They are two of 10 inappropriate letters dropped into mailboxes across Ottawa in the last two days and there could be more. On Thursday, Canada Post shut down it's Write To Santa program across the city while it joins Ottawa Police to hunt down the rogue elf...
Da Costa was ... thrilled to see Santa had answered letters from two-year-old Maya and 10-year-old Colton...
"I told Maya: 'There's a letter from Santa just for you, let's read it'. We sat down on the couch, I opened the letter and began to read. My mouth dropped open. Oh, My God!"
Each Santa letter Canada Post delivers contains the same main message with a hand-written personal PS.
Maya's personal PS said: "This letter is too long, you dumb shit."
"I went straight to Google, got the Canada Post number and called," said Da Costa. "A very nice lady at a call centre in Fredericton, N.B. was shocked and when I told her I also had a letter for Colton and was planning to let him read it when he got home, she said I should open it now just in case."
Da Costa went downstairs, picked up the letter and returned to the phone.
What she read had both ladies gasping. "Oh! My God, Oh! My God," they kept repeating.
The personal PS to Colton's letter read: "Your mom s**** d**** and your Dad is gay."
This brought a Canada Post supervisor to the phone.
"My warning to everyone is: 'Open your childrens' letters first'," said Da Costa.
That will not be necessary for a few days in Ottawa because Canada Post has put out an alert for letter carriers to not deliver any Santa letters, to intercept any others in the system and to send them back. "We will check every one," said Canada Post's Daoust.
"And we will make sure we have enough volunteers to send out new messages from Santa," said a Canada Post spokesperson.
posted by Mentok @ 9:53 AM,
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Shared crack pipes spread hepatitis C, study says
Good lord, do they mean to suggest that smoking crack is bad for you? Who knew?
We need to get the word out about this to all those crack smokers out there. No doubt they think they are just engaging in a harmless past-time, but I'm sure if they were aware of the health risks they would stop right away.
And, boy, it sure makes me think twice about hiring a $50 crack-addicted prostitute. No way I want to get hep C! Yet another of life's simple pleasures down the tubes.
But wait! Here's another goofy headline:
CANADA DEMONSTRATES COMMITMENT TO UN CLEAN DEVELOPMENT MECHANISM
Unclean development? That will offend a lot of Muslims, won't it? Seems like an odd thing to brag about.
posted by Mentok @ 11:59 AM,
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Like most parents, we struggle with what we allow our kids to watch. We're not prudes, we're not bible-thumping nervous nellies, but still and all you have to draw the line somewhere and it's tough to know where that line should be. Hollywood isn't much help, but neither are the sometimes hypocritical morals of our society.
We've got three boys ranging from seven to 13 years. As brothers, they are (despite the shouting matches and occasional sucker punches) the best of buddies and generally like to watch things together. Trying to find shows that are suitable for a seven-to-13 age range is quite taxing, I can tell you.
Naturally, with boys, we watch a lot of action/adventure, both at the movies and on TV. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Smallville, etc. But, when it comes to violence, Hollywood seems to be pushing the envelope further and further in less and less appropriate places.
In one episode of Smallville, a villain is shown ripping the heart out of an innocent person (Correction: he ripped the heart out of a lawyer, but you get my point.) I don't care what the context is; I just don't think kids should watch someone getting his heart ripped out. You can put as many "may contain scenes of violence" warnings as you like at the start of the show, but, when it's a show about Superman, the producers really should be more sensitive to the fact that kids are watching it.
Nonetheless, we continue to allow our boys to watch any number of more or less violent shows. Sometimes, we even turn a deaf ear to shows that have a moderate level of foul language, especially since that has become increasingly common on network television.
But, like most parents, the one thing we absolutely won't let the boys watch is any show that contains nudity. Specifically, female nudity. At the first sign of bare boobs, the TV goes off. No arguments.
Over time, this rule has really started to bother me. I mean, geez, we're letting our kids watch a guy get his heart ripped out but not letting them see a naked woman? How does that compute? Of course, I wouldn't want my kids watching porn or anything ("No, no, that's Daddy's special private drawer, son"), but if it's just plain ol' nudity, isn't that better than exposing them to graphic violence?
There are any number of examples of movies that Mrs. Mentok and I think our kids should see, but we've held off because of some mild nudity. For example, da missus and I adore Love Actually.
I know, I know, there are many of you who hate that movie, call it all sorts of bad names and sneer long sneers at it. But those of you who think that way are full of shit, and I have the movie buff credentials to say so with some authority. It's a great movie. Mrs. M and I watch it every year at Christmas; to us, even after a zillion viewings, the jokes are still as funny and the sad scenes still as compelling as the first time we watched it.
The thing that I appreciate about it is that the vignettes show so many aspects of the human experience of love. Yes, there are parts of it that are typical Harlequin Romance fluff. But there are many other parts that show the unglamorous aspects of love - the pain it can inflict, the terrible compromises it can demand, the unusual forms it can take.
The values that movie conveys are very positive and I can't think of a better movie to show the kids at Christmas. But.... but it has that one plot-line, the one about the shy, awkward body doubles, that has a lot of nudity in it. And so our kids have never seen this movie we love and, frankly, that tears me up.
One of these years, maybe this year, we will show it to them. We'll just scene-select past the naughty bits.
Still, this doesn't address the underlying issue. Why is our society (North American society, anyway) so deathly terrified of boobs?
Not even the boobs. Network television is fine with women in skimpy, skimpy bikinis, sudsy bubble-baths, sheer lingerie, all sorts of situations that expose the majority of a woman's breasts. No, the ultimate target of censorship is the nipple. Ooh, the terrible, terrible nipple. The demon female nipple. One glance at it will turn you into a pervert for life. Boob flesh - OK. Buttocks (especially male) - OK. Male nipples - OK.
But not the female nipple. Never never the female nipple.
Why is it exactly that we view female nipples as being more shockingly corrupting to children than almost anything else in the world?
posted by Mentok @ 9:41 AM,
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Most climate change hysteria is a fraud.
There, now if that doesn't start active comment-box debate, I don't know what will.
Of course, I don't really mean it. I don't really believe in extreme statements on any topics. As someone who used to write (and sometimes still writes) shameless political rhetoric for a living, I have no tolerance for rhetoric and propaganda in my personal life.
Which is precisely why I roll my eyes and shake my head whenever anyone from either side of the climate change debate starts talking. I just can't help but think of that whole Y2K fraud.
Remember that one, everybody? Computers world-wide were going to explode. Civilization as we know it would break down. The food distribution system wouldn't work. Rioting. Mass starvation. All hell breaking loose. Stock up now. Buy a power generator. Build a shelter in your basement. Talk to your children now so they won't be so traumatized when the time comes.
And the arguments of the so-called experts were so convincing that accounting firms would actually refuse to sign off on audits unless companies signed a declaration saying that they had a Y2K plan.
What a farce. And now "the end is near" types (who have been with us since civilization as we know it began) have a new pony to ride and, dear gawd, they are sure riding it hard, aren't they?
I don't mean to suggest that climate change isn't happening. Frankly, the attitudes of the climate change "skeptics" infuriate me as much if not more than the attitudes of the alarmists. The "skeptics" to me represent the worst (and, in some ways, most humorous) aspects of human nature, namely greed, gluttony, self-deception, procrastination and short-sightedness.
I particularly find it hilarious that the "skeptics" invest so much time pulling down Al Gore, because he's not really an expert; he's just a lawyer/politician with an agenda. Yet many of these same "skeptics", when looking for validation, end up turning to Michael Crichton, a science fiction novelist who makes his living convincing people that things like dinosaur cloning and time travel are scientifically possible.
Of course, through all of this, I must admit that I don't have a sniff about the science behind this issue. But then neither does 99.99 % of the rest of the human race. We have to rely on the opinions of experts and, as Y2K proved, once a media frenzy gets started, experts can be just as prone to band-wagon mentality as the rest of us.
The one advantage I feel I have is that my writing work brings me into frequent contact with real-life climate scientists. I've researched and written entire "special issues" devoted to climate change, which involved interviewing dozens and dozens of ordinary working scientists - not media dandies, not corrupt corporate shills, just regular old science nerds holed up doing research. Their views, I've found, are remarkably consistent, very enlightening and surprisingly moderate.
So here it is, the Inconvenient Truth, Mentok-style:
- Climate change is definitely happening
- Partly, this is natural and can't be stopped
- Human GHG emissions play a major part, but no one knows for sure exactly to what degree
- Anyone who says he is "sure" about the causes, timing or extent of climate change is talking out his ass, because human understanding of climate systems just isn't that good (otherwise, we'd get better weather forecasts)
- Aggressive reduction of GHG emissions is a very good idea and absolutely necessary, since they're only making things worse but:
- Even if we banned the automobile and went back to living in caves, climate change wouldn't stop - partly because it's natural, partly because things have already gone too far
- This won't "kill the planet"; the planet has been through much worse. It will, however, challenge our ability to adapt
- Many of the negative effects of climate change could, in theory, be significantly mitigated by an aggressive campaign of building dams, retaining walls and water storage systems
- Very little of this boring, practical adaptation work is being done, because people are too busy running around being hysterical and predicting the end of the world
Again, I'm no scientist, so I have no basis to know whether this version of climate change science is any better or worse than others.
But the thing about this version that gives me confidence is that it says things that are certain to infuriate both the alarmists and the "skeptics". In my experience, the truth is usually in the middle, not the extremes.
posted by Mentok @ 10:34 AM,