The End of the World?

Books, movies, TV. I could begin almost any conversation with these three media. Last year I read Frankenstein, which was written by Mary Shelley in the early 19th century, published when she was about 20 years old. I had wondered how someone so young could conjure up images like that, not that the creature is anything like the lumbering, green-skinned freak that we have come to associate with the name. In 1818, the world was already changing, even before railroads began criss-crossing our landscape. Steam engines were around since the late 1600s, and then Richard Trevithick was able to produce a full-sized locomotive as early as 1802, but is would be a while before the industrial revolution would be completely underway.

We have been conducting massive, earth-altering enterprises for 200 years now. Yes, China’s “Long Wall”, which is actually many walls, is much older (and it is not the only man-made structure visible from space.) I’ve mentioned in another post how humans have been meddling with things for thousands of years, which accounts for all of agriculture as we know it. The effects of global climate change are already being felt. Dire predictions are now being thrown around more dramatically; the klaxons are sounding. Scientists have been telling us for years, and there are some who think we’re seeing the next mass extinction. The most dramatic was about 251 million years ago, the end of the Permian period, when 96% of all species were lost forever. Amazingly, the earth did bounce back, that is until the next extinction level event occurred about 50 million years later.

But even if a huge asteroid smacks into ours, it  does seem like life will go on. Looking at all the calamities and absolute destruction of the earth’s environment during our planet’s long history, it’s hard to imagine it would rebound. And here we are on the precipice of perhaps the next world-shattering catastrophe, but I wonder if there is anything we can do that would render things irreparable. We’ll probably make the planet unlivable to us before any real destruction ensues. Of course this is a completely horrendous situation. There has been more than enough fantasy and science fiction around the dystopian, post-apocalyptic end of the world scenario where the human race has abandoned any hope of recovering what was. I believe them, you know. Not for any sense of accuracy or prescience, but because I accept that whatever changes occur we are going to be powerless to stop them. It will be beyond human capacity to reverse the damage we have brought about. We may never see coral reefs again, but they might come back in a few hundred million years, long after we’re gone. Yes, h. sapiens could vanish. (Not all dinosaurs evolved into birds, you know.)

Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill in Jurassic Park – Paramount Pictures

The sad reality is we will have to watch many species vanish before our eyes, collectively as a civilization over centuries, perhaps faster. Polar bears might disappear, but maybe they won’t. Yes, we wiped out the passenger pigeon. Something else may fill the void, like ladybugs. If polar bears become extinct there will be less competition for other arctic predators like orcas, Greenland sharks, and walruses. But these might also disappear in 100 or so years. It’s difficult to predict how our environment will be changed. Will the atmosphere have more nitrogen? More carbon monoxide? CO2 is the primary culprit blamed for climate change, and that’s already becoming a problem. Per Espen Stoknes and others are considering the urgency of our predicament. Predicament, like having a car stuck in the mud, or looking for a maternity wedding dress. What we have is more like the pressing intensity felt when a house is on fire. Your house.

Yeah. It is serious. But what are we going to do about it? Probably nothing. Not until we run out of oil and natural gas. Then we’ll panic and decide it’s important, and we’ll pass laws and people will stop eating meat. Then we’ll stop making things worse sometime in the 22nd century. By then, however, this world will be gone. I mean, the world we know now will become unrecognizable. But it’s probably going to get a lot worse before we recognize the threat. Frankenstein would seem like your kindergarten teacher compared to the mayhem to come. I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic. But perhaps pessimism is what we need. Our Pollyanna approach had not served to motivate us to act, and the PSA’s from the 90s were ephemeral. We cannot undo the harm we’ve done. Am I going to change the world? Should I bother? Maybe I should just keep doing what I do, being part of the problem. It really seems like that would bring about greater change. Crap, well now I sound like a Bond villain.

 

Advertisements

Prove it!

There are many people who follow conspiracy theories. I think for the most part it’s like entertainment for some of them. One of my friends likes Giorgio Tsoukalos and his theories about, well, many things. Sites like Snopes.com endeavor to debunk various conspiracy theories and, perhaps heroically, attempt to shine a light on the vast sea of ignorance and misinformation in which many find themselves adrift. I have considered that some purveyors of the, well, bullshit on the internet are really having a laugh at those of us who have all but concluded that they really believe in what they’re promoting. Their followers might not know what to believe, trusting neither their own perceptions nor their instincts, unsure about the difference between what is preposterous and what is plausible.

Then we have Bertrand Russell. Let me just fast-forward a bit so I can get to my point. Bertrand Russell submitted that if there were a teapot in an elliptical orbit between the orbits of earth and mars, assuming it to be of the standard 24 x 15 cm dimensions, it would be impossible to detect from earth with (in the early 20th century, and perhaps even today) the most powerful telescope available, no one could disprove his assertion. Even though it stands to reason that such a celestial vessel would be the definition of improbable, logically we must concede that there is no proof of its non-existence, that is until we invent some ceramic detecting scanner of some great precision. The paradox is that while it is absurd to think it could exist, a logical argument for its non-existence would also not hold up. Russell went on in his statement to draw an analogy to the existence of God. (This was where he lost me, but there is an immense store of material I have yet to write about the supernatural, God, and why there is no hell. So very much more on that later).

Russell argued that the burden of proof ought to be on the one making the claim, rather than on the person attempting to refute it. This seems to validate our judicial standards of criminal law, where a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor or the accuser. When someone makes a claim of something we should therefore never assume a defensive posture, bracing ourselves for a battle of wits or display of rational agility. We should instead say, “prove it.” I realize this might be an invitation to receive an onslaught of atrocious research, non-facts, and ridiculous suppositions. Second-hand accounts are a sure sign that something’s amiss: “they say that…”

I’m not an expert in logic. I think anyone who is would never claim to be. I never call myself an expert in anything, even the thing I get paid for. I think I just don’t want people to challenge me all the time on things I should know off the top of my head. I feel like I need to take my own advice, if can just remember to do that when someone starts to send me links to articles in an effort to demonstrate how incompetent I am.

Okay, wow! Well, it’s important to hold people to their assertions and claims, especially when they’re pretty far out there. A handful of people who are convinced the earth is flat (no links here). Others like to spread false information like how Texas is the only state allowed to display its flag at an equal height with the US flag. (Actually, this can be proven to be false quite easily.) My friend says he considers himself open-minded as he says the earth could be flat, not that he believes that it is. I don’t really know how to argue with that, but others on our 2-day hike certainly tried.

Whatever I believe that is not based on scientific evidence is simply my belief. It cannot be disproved or validated. Those other things that occupy so many Youtube channels are a lot of noise. I’m not even talking about politics. Oh, politics! The thing about misinformation is that all the world’s information (well, most of it) is available to most of the people on earth relatively instantaneously, given that the Republic of China restricts internet searches. Perhaps the people of ROC have some knowledge the west lacks, but there’s always the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. It’s one thing to deny something, but to suppress evidence and imprison witnesses, that is unforgivable.

If we want to ignore the truth or feign to believe there is another truth, I think that is relatively harmless until that kind of thinking spreads. That’s why communities celebrate Columbus Day despite the atrocities his men committed against the Arawak people (among others they encountered). Meanwhile, there are a great number of landmarks, rivers, cities, and at least one nation named for Columbus. Parades are held each year commemorating his arrival in the New World. Native groups, who feel slighted by such celebrations, often mark the occasion with protests, and it’s understandable why. Talk about a misinformation campaign!

By the way, there was and continues to be a popular misconception that Columbus proved wrong the supposed flat earth belief upon his return to Europe. The fact is that knowledge of a spherical world was widespread even in ancient times.

I don’t suppose Columbus, Ohio will be changing its name anytime soon. Nor will the Columbia River, or Columbia University. I guess it will take more than just his own journals and first-hand accounts to change peoples’ minds. The truth, it seems, is not simply difficult to accept, but must also be beyond belief at times.

 

How to Live as an Absolute Failure

I was just watching The West Wing, the episode where the president is having a session with a psychiatrist, played by Adam Arkin. Arkin’s character, Dr. Keyworth, was confronting the president about his past, and why he couldn’t sleep, any stress he might be under (as president?), and why his father never approved of him. The audience might have believed (at this time in history) that the office of the president of the United States would be enough to garner some respect, and anyone would be proud to have a child rise to such prominence. Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet seems to be tormented by the memory of his father, a physically abusive man who could not be pleased by any measure of success from his son. I know the feeling, as a matter of fact.

The shrink tells the president that his father would in fact never like him. I think the main reason for this is the man had been dead for a number of years. But the truth is that some of us walk around believing that somehow we will get the approval we always wanted from our fathers. We’ll get the job, or we will get the house or the prestige. But nothing we can do will magically change that person we are so desperately trying to please. And for the vast majority of us who are not president, there will always be that nagging doubt, “I could have done more”.

Fathers are a curious species. They have an extra sense – beyond those 5 we typically are endowed with – the sense of how disappointed they are with their sons and daughters. This sense is not prevalent in all fathers. Some don’t even show symptoms. But many fathers not only bear these traits, they might pass them on to their children. Fortunately for me, I will not be passing on my traits.

Parental disappointment is staggeringly difficult to bear. I have a sinus medicine that produces a hideous aftertaste. I sometimes describe it in terms of this unpleasant sensation, that of having let people down and now proceeding to live with it for the rest of your life. Yeah, kind of like that. Being a disappointment is probably worse than anything a person could do with their lives. If your parents are pleased with any choice you’ve made, perhaps you have either done exceptionally well or they are just a little too easy going. Parents are supposed to teach their children difficult lessons. Shielding them form harm only makes them unprepared to deal with life’s challenges, and they will surely be difficult. We needed to be toughened up a little. But where is the fine line between coddling and neglect?

I suppose I would rather have what I have been given in life. I can’t imagine it any other way. I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way, and knowing that I always had room for improvement helped me get right back up and keep going. I may not ever be a world leader or a cultural icon. But I can be satisfied with myself. I can be okay with my modest home and my workaday existence. I am pleased with my steadfastness in my marriage to my wife. I am more than satisfied with my extra-curricular activities, public speaking, performing as a singer. I am proud of my accomplishments. I think my dad is, too, although I don’t recall him ever saying so.

sigmund-freud-1

I may not need a psychiatrist to be able to recognize these issues, but it helps when Dr. Keyworth puts it in perspective:

This is a hell of a curve you get graded on now. Lincoln freed the
slaves and won the Civil War. "Thank you. Next! 
And what will you be singing for us today,
Mr. Bartlet?"
"Well, we've had six straight quarters of economic growth."

I don’t consider that I have failed. Have I succeeded in any way? Sure. But I don’t know who I am being compared to. My dad is retired and spends time volunteering at his church. What do I do? I work so I can pay my bills, one of which is a car payment so I can get to work. The cyclical nature of the rat race is not new, and I am not the only rat in the maze. And it’s not really a race, even though I competed against other people for my job. I’ve also judged speech competitions. You get used to it after about 18. My point is that we are all judged all the time, and we’re graded and scored. We’re profiled according to how conspicuous we appear when going through security at the airport. We’re inspected and rated online. We are analyzed and examined, we’re scanned and we are statistics. Everyone in our lives assesses us to some degree, which is core to our nature. Fathers are no worse than anyone else, including me. My dad probably wasn’t even aware how perfectly adequate his perfunctory guidance was in making me the satisfactory exhibit I am today.

It is difficult for many of us to tell people how we feel. Sometimes it comes from a fear of how the other person will react. Expressing ourselves renders us quite vulnerable, and any response we haven’t prepared for could wound us profoundly. It’s safer to keep it to ourselves. I don’t know how this trait serves humanity from an evolutionary perspective. Communication had to evolve as quickly as our technology. The more advanced we became the more precise language had to become. Something happened along the way, and now we have lost our ability to really tell people what we’re thinking. As a result, we hire psychiatrists to help us find our voice. It’s bad enough that the father couldn’t tell his son that he was proud of him. The son could never find the words to ask his father why.

Somnambulism

I discovered something very important. I have been sleep-deprived for a prolonged period of time, and as a result, I have grown accustomed to the minimal sleep I receive, perhaps even functioning with proficiency, or so I imagine. A truth emerged such that as I have begun going to bed early, I have actually become more tired than before. Perhaps this is some course of healing I’m going through, like recovering from the flu. I actually feel worse than before, and I’ve been cross and grumpy, walking around like a zombie.

That’s all I have time for tonight. Thanks for – hmmm, what was I saying?

Whither Saxophone?

I was watching a 30 Rock episode where some “ghosts” appeared: a travel agent, a US auto worker, and a rock-n-roll sax player. Therefore, I ventured down the YouTube rabbit hole as I am wont to do when I’m avoiding sleep. I first came across the Virgil to my Dante, Watch Mojo. I was reminded of a golden age of American music where a song was nothing without a sax solo. Bruce Springsteen, Men at work, Huey Lewis and the News, the list goes on. But with a very few exceptions, there seems no place for the saxophone in rock and pop anymore.

It’s not that those songs are such distant memories. On the contrary, they are instantly recalled when we first hear that iconic sax sound. “Never Tear us Apart” is instantly recognized by the opening synth chords, but oh that saxophone! The solo lasts nearly 10 seconds! But without it, the song would be missing a major component. It would be like a car with a missing door. Clarence Clemons was a prolific musician, playing with scores of other musicians and groups, including the E Street Band, over his career. He appeared on “Born This Way” along with Lady Gaga in 2011. That solo really fit perfectly in the song. I am not a huge Lady Gaga fan, but I really appreciated this collaboration.

Beyond rock music, the sax continues to be essential in jazz. This genre has a long relationship with the saxophone, and it is still an important part of jazz music today. Legendary players like Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan established a legacy for many to follow, like Moon Hooch. Don’t question this. It is the 21st century, and some things are inevitable.

What happened to the rocking sax solo, you may ask? Voici!

We Are the Champions

We saw Bohemian Rhapsody last weekend. I had been looking forward to seeing it, admittedly, based on trailers that featured excerpts of some of the music I grew up listening to, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, and of course the title track. Hearing these iconic songs took me back to middle and high school, but Queen wasn’t the most popular band in our dull, banal, suburban existence. Naturally, no one could resist the deceptively simple beat of “We Will Rock You”. Decades later and the stomp-stomp-clap is unmistakable.

Okay, I got distracted. Anyway, the movie was great. Critics will disagree with me, or 50% of them will. But I noticed that all the members of the audience who were not on their phones were enjoying it immensely. Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) was transformed into Freddie Mercury for his performance, and I am confident he will receive multiple awards for it. He did some great work, and he deserves a lot of attention. Amazingly, Dr. Brian May and Roger Taylor met with the cast of the film during production. It’s got to be intimidating when Queen shows up while you’re trying to portray Queen.

This music might have been ahead of its time, even if that is only in the sense that America has often been a little less progressive in its tastes than Europeans tend to be. The ostentatious showmanship of Mercury’s performing style put Queen in a class by themselves. Stylistically, I can’t name any other group who could captivate an audience, but really it was Mercury. The other members of Queen would agree (if you can ever get John Deacon to talk about it). Freddie emerged on the stage in Wembley Stadium in that 1985 Live Aid concert, immediately engaged the audience in a way that still astounds people.

Back in the 70s and 80s, all that tight Spandex and big hair was emblematic of rock-n-roll. But those things didn’t make the music. It’s hard to imagine “Bohemian Rhapsody” being performed by a bunch of guys in tweed. But Queen might have tried that, too, thinking it experimental and weird, and I might agree.

For the kids growing up with this music, some of us going gray, the days of rock anthems the whole crowd will sing may be behind us. It’s too much to ask that things stay the same. We can’t be that selfish. Everything changes, and we have to make room for the new even if we don’t like it. But I’ll be the first to defend my indulgence into nostalgia. You may be forgiven your guilty pleasure. Besides, it’s nobody’s business anyway.

There’s a lot, volumes in fact, that could be said and written about how Queen changed rock music for everyone. I think I’ll simply refer you to the video above, where they played in London for Live Aid in 1985. The performance is remarkable and surprising, especially when you see how Mercury commands the audience of 75,000 singing and clapping in unison. Amazing stuff. I think we will not see anything like this for a very long time.

 

You’re Doing it Wrong

I do a lot of things; singing, photography, cooking, making a spectacle of myself. But I make my living in technology, specifically the software side of it; however, I have helped out in other areas like networking and systems. Non-technical people just accept it when I tell them I work with computers. Then they ask me to fix theirs. That’s fair, I suppose. I sometimes get a nice meal out of it.

internet screen security protection
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Being asked to poke around in somebody else’s computer feels like going through their sock drawer; it’s more revealing than you might think. My friend’s grandmother invited me to come over to fix her home computer. Her other grandkids also used it, and it was almost completely unusable, riddled with malware and viruses. I knew from some of the spyware and adware on this machine that the grandchildren were up to no good. Some sites are like visiting a toxic waste dump. You come out of there with a lot of stuff on you, and it takes some effort to clean up. I spent about two hours cleaning up this computer. I installed a free pop-up blocker, as well as some anti-virus software and something to block spyware. I told the lady she should keep on eye on her grandkids.

That was a while ago. Many people are more savvy about the internet these days, or at least they listen to the stories and take some precautions. Still, I am confident that most people don’t know how vulnerable they really are. If you are cautious, maybe even a little paranoid, that can work in your favor. Being skeptical of whether a website is legit is at least the first step in protecting your self. It’s like knowing that taking a shortcut through a dark alley isn’t safe. It only takes one incident to teach a very valuable lesson. In the meantime, hackers and spammers are working just as hard, or harder, to break into systems and steal information. Big companies get attacked all the time, and they have to employ teams of experts – some ex-hackers – to stay one step ahead of them.

One simple way you can protect yourself is to choose strong passwords and change them periodically. That’s easier said than done, I know. There are several good password managers out there. They are trustworthy and secure. The idea is to keep all your passwords in a sort of vault or safe. The benefit is that you don’t have to write down any passwords, and you can have the password manager (PM) generate a complex password for you. Secondly, the PM program validates the site you are connecting to, keeping you safer from phishing and pharming attempts. When you log onto a website, the PM assures you that it is the correct one.

On the subject of secure passwords, security specialists have recommended passphrases as an alternative to randomly generated passwords. There is some debate around whether one is better than the other. In my experience, anything longer than 10 characters and containing some numbers and upper- and lower-case is secure enough to last a few months. I usually go with 21 to 25 characters, no special symbols, and 2 or 3 digits. How secure is your password? Here’s a variation of a password I no longer use: doorbell887Agitate. I entered this in the above link to check how secure it is. It was rated as “very strong”, with one suggestion to add a special character, and we know how I feel about that. On Howsecureismypassword.net the estimated time a computer needs to crack this password is 145 trillion years. I feel better. I’m changing my password again in a month anyway.

I’ve worked in offices where people wrote their password on a post-it note and kept it under their keyboard. Others used variations of the word password (Password1 is very popular). This is probably the worst idea ever, and I want people to know. The thing is, I am guilty of being stupid. Years ago, I did these idiotic things, and someone scolded me, and now I know better. People are stupid. We walk around thinking we’re doing the right thing when it came to outsmarting the bad guys, when all along we were playing right into their hands. Thieves are working hard on ways to break in. Sometimes we make it very easy for them.

So lock your front door, unless you live in a utopian wonderland. Lock your car or keep it in the garage. Don’t leave valuable items in sight where someone could be tempted to break a window and take them. And don’t leave your personal information where anyone could just snap a picture – everyone has a camera these days. Lately, I’ve been using only cash, lest my card gets skimmed. It’s a constant struggle. Stay safe. Be alert.