To Your Health

Humans need four basic things: food, water, protection from the elements, and sleep. Ironically, these are the things we frequently deny ourselves in various combinations or completely. I, for one, frequently do not get enough sleep; instead, I sit here in front of my computer, writing well into the night. Some people have told me they never drink just water. Many people do not eat food, strictly speaking. And many of us fail to protect ourselves from the sun’s rays. We know the risks, and still the negligence persists.

So we’re told we should wear sunscreen, or stay out of direct sunlight, and yet Americans are vitamin D deficient. It seems you can’t win. The fact is, oxygen, which animals cannot live without, is inherently toxic. Yes, the very air you breathe is bad for you. And don’t get me started on carbon monoxide and methane emissions.

You can’t expect to live hundreds of years, or can you? Some are trying, but even if your mind could live on, our bodies are just not built to last. Until science can improve upon that design, we’ll have to just accept the fact that we have only so many years given to us. For myself, I am taking steps to maintain my health: I have never smoked, I don’t use drugs (aside from the garbage big pharma says is safe), I even gave up soda a year ago. However, I still drink alcohol, and I love chips (French fries). Oh, and I still eat meat.

Yes, meat. Truly one of the worst things for the planet: agro-industry. Pro-veg activists will tell you that eating a vegetarian diet will save the planet. However, others disagree. But the occasional ribeye isn’t going to kill me. I know plenty of people who smoke, drink, eat garbage, and never exercise, and they’re still with us. Well, that’s anecdotal at best, and who knows what health problems they have.

I’m kind of a rarity: I’m a man who gets regular checkups. Now, my doctor, who seems to have studied with Theodoric of York, would like me to lose weight and kindly bend over. I’m sure doctors have our health in their best interest, but I can’t help but feel they are in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry. It seems they want to experiment on me a little too often, as well. But what do I care? At least someone’s got my back, as it were.

So I carry on. It’s good that I’m abstaining from sweets. But I’ll keep enjoying wine. Yeah, I know. Did you read my post about bacon? It’s a compromise, as with most things. I don’t have the energy to be idealistic. My doctor is fortunate that I don’t eat Belgian waffles and chorizo for breakfast daily. Actually, that sounds kind of gross. My point is, there are far more important things that getting everything right. The human psyche is hard-wired to consume what’s in front of us. It’s not our fault that our nation over-produces. It’s very hard to abstain.

Humans need four basic things: we need to feel we’re in control when we never are, we need to feel that someone is listening, we need to know that we matter, and we need to voice our displeasure about everything. I’m not sure about that last one, but I know I am not the only one with the gripe feature enabled.


Living Wage

What if everything were free? I find myself offering my services free of charge from time to time. As a photographer, I have tried to practise a philosophy that dictates that no one should work for free. It is argued that you wouldn’t expect to go to a restaurant, have a nice meal, and leave, expecting not to be charged one cent. But many photographers complain that they are asked to provide their services for free by family and friends, as well as others. It’s commonly assumed that taking photos doesn’t really cost anything in the digital age; therefore, any time spent would not constitute an unfair burden. We weren’t doing anything that day anyway. But if a photographer were spending the day on a shoot for free, they could not possibly make any money that day. And that’s a problem in this economy.


But what if everything were free of charge? What if I could go to the supermarket, fill my basket, and leave without having to pay? How would that business pay their employees and buy products to stock their shelves? Well, what if they didn’t have to pay for labor or merchandise? Furthermore, what if the employees lived rent-free and never had to worry about paying for food and clothing?

You can see where this is going. I hate to delve into science fiction for an example, but here I go. If you have ever watched Star Trek, particularly, Star Trek: The Next Generation, you may notice, after watching several episodes, that members of the crew don’t worry about money, for the most part. There have been some curious moments, breaking up the continuity of this idealistic concept. But, overall, the creator of this world, Gene Roddenberry, must have imagined a future where money was irrelevant, and there was no accumulation of wealth. Evidently, greed will someday be a thing of the past. But until that time, human flaws are still very much with us.

The fact that economies exist is remarkable. No other species engages in this kind of enterprise. Some species, like squirrels, collect food and store it, or they hide it well. But, for the most part, only humans are concerned about amassing wealth, trading and building it up. Commerce is very much a human activity. It probably goes back beyond Homo Sapiens. Perhaps Neanderthals engaged in trade to some extent. Right now, here in this world, at least in the US, bartering is all but abolished. Shopping involves no haggling, no bargaining. But retailers know that customers shop for the best deal. Brick-and-mortar shops are finding it more difficult to compete with online merchants. And nobody knows how it will work out.

So I bring us back to the notion of never paying for anything. Of course, that means you can’t get paid, either. All of a sudden, money is irrelevant, as long as this ideal holds out. Karl Marx might have approved of the “Star Trek economy” where everybody has a job to do, and they do it for the good of the “state” (the Federation).  Since money was unnecessary, no one worried about earning. But would people still work hard knowing they could be slackers and still be able to eat? The threat of starvation is a huge motivation for all organisms. Sharks are on a constant prowl for food. Bears forage continually to store up for the winter. The same goes for seagulls, bacteria, mollusks, oak trees, and humans. We fight for our survival. Plants will dig deep to stretch their roots down to find water. And they reach to soak up as much sun as they possibly can. But all these organisms do this without spending a penny.

Like I said, imagine how it might work. I realise it smacks of communism, or more accurately, Marxism. And for ‘Muricans, that’s like the worst thing you could be, except for being a terrorist. But I imagine proposing to people in the 1880’s the notion that women should be able to vote, much less run for public office. You might have the same difficulty convincing the public during the 1950’s that people with light skin could marry people with dark skin. Progress is inevitable, but not everything just works itself out. Economic revolution is something that will be opposed, especially by the wealthy. The biggest problem I can see from something like this is that people who work hard will feel that they deserve more that people who are perceived to work less. Mark Twain writes about this in The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He suggests that a person who toils in the heat, digging and hauling and moving, ought to make more money than the person sitting behind a desk.

The problem is that certain trades are worth more to society than others. And we in the capitalist society seem to agree that this is fair. We say that anyone can dig a ditch. Not just anybody can fix a computer. Economic logic says that the computer specialist will make more money because there is more demand for his or her skills. I find this to be true, because I have that skill. Therefore, I can afford a bigger house and a nicer car. Is this fair? Is it fair that the next person is working for minimum wage, and he can’t afford to feed his family? Does he deserve this? Some would say he has the same opportunity as I do, but I’m not sold on this.

So, how bad would it be if I lived in a smaller house so someone else could have a house at all? How much food do I really need? I’m overweight as it is, mainly because I eat extremely well, and I drive to work, only walking when I want to. It’s embarrassing, really. Meanwhile, thousands of people are walking from Syria to Germany in hopes of, well, continuing to live. What if they could get what they need while I could have what I need?

What if no one had to pay for anything? What if money didn’t matter? I wonder how in the world it could happen?

A Trip to the Moon

I just watched Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune, produced in 1902, a year before Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic flight in Kitty Hawk, NC. The film was “rediscovered” in the late 1920’s, but only after much of Méliès’ work was destroyed. This silent movie is only 15 minutes in length, but considering what must have been required to film it, it is really outstanding.

It’s worth watching, and I’ve linked to the “colorized” version; an original print was hand-colored frame-by-frame. It’s funny to think about how people were thinking of space travel back during a time when homes were lit by candles, and people seldom traveled very far from the place where they were born.

Méliès acknowledged the works of Jules Verne as his inspiration, especially the 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon. Just about 100 years later, NASA astronauts would be the first to see the far side of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. No one really knows about Apollo 8. Of course we know about Apollo 11, the moon landing, one small step and all that. But in 1968, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were the first people from earth to ever leave earth’s orbit. They established orbit around the moon, where the famous earthrise photo was taken on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968.

Earthrise – Apollo 8 mission

It’s easy for us in the 21st century to imagine that we will return to the moon or travel to Mars or beyond. But unless you were a dreamer of the magnitude of Jules Verne, you could not envision such a trip. We live in an age of wonder, and yet we are obsessed with trivial things, fashion, celebrity news, and the like. I am confident that within my lifetime, people will walk on Mars. I don’t know what will happen after that, but I know what can happen. I know that we could reach other planets in our solar system. I know that colonies could be established. I know that great ships could carry whole communities to the stars. We just have to get past a few obstacles. The fact that scientists overcame seemingly insurmountable hurdles allows me to have this kind of optimism. It’s just a matter of time before someone figure it out.

When I look at the above photo, I think about what was happening on that little blue orb in December of 1968. The Vietnam War was becoming less popular in the US, Richard Nixon had been elected President of the United States a few weeks earlier, Led Zeppelin in the US, martial law in Brazil, and the Zodiac killer. Looking at the picture of our little planet, it’s easy to picture the events happening on it today: Syrian refugees streaming into Europe, ISIS, the Taliban, drug cartels, and the list goes on and on. Those three astronauts must have been thinking about their time as they circled another world which offered no life, just an inhospitable, barren and cold expanse. With all the world’s problems, it is still the only home we have, which is perhaps why the three men recited the first ten verses from the Book of Genesis, the creation story, while orbiting the moon.

The film is strange yet compelling. It reminds us how far we’ve come. The moon had been a mysterious place until about the time I was born, when humans began to realize they could go there. By the time I started school, NASA stopped sending rockets and astronauts. People lost interest. It became mundane. Imagine that!

I hope we return. I hope we keep traveling farther out. I can’t imagine it will be a waste of time or effort. Where else are we supposed to get our heroes from? Sports?

Moon Shadow

Less than two years from now, a total eclipse of the sun will be visible across 11 states in the US. In places like Salem, OR, Idaho Falls, ID, Jackson Hole, WY, St. Louis, MO, and Nashville, TN, people will see day turn into night for as much as 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the maximum shadow duration near Carbondale, IL.

Solar Eclipse Aug 21 2017

Some of my friends have said I am a little obsessive, and why would anyone plan something years in advance. The fact is, nothing on this planet has the power to stop an eclipse. It will happen, no question. In case you don’t know what a solar eclipse is, it is simply when the moon moves into a position between the earth and the sun in such a way as to partially or completely obscure the sun, casting a shadow on the earth. A total eclipse results in darkness, 100% of the sun’s light blocked. There are varying degrees of partial eclipse, including something called an annular eclipse, where the moon covers the center of the sun’s disc.

Solar eclipses occur two or three times per year, but they are not always visible from land. The 20 March 2015 eclipse was only visible from the Arctic Ocean. The last time a total eclipse was visible anywhere in the Americas was 1 August 2008, the moon’s shadow traveling from Nunavut, the Arctic region, to Russia. A total eclipse has not occurred visible within the US since 26 February 1979.

On 21 August 2017, thousands of people are likely to travel to places within the path of the shadow. The whole thing will last only a few minutes in any one location. Astronomers will be sure to have their claims staked out for best viewing. Scientists will certainly take the opportunity to study the sun while the moon is blocking its light. For most people, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Seven years later, another total eclipse will occur on 8 April 2024. It will also be visible from Carbondale, IL. The faculty at Southern Illinois University have already been preparing for this.

I wonder what the world will be like in nine years.