The Bituminous Future

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

We all remember departing 2016 remarking it as having been the worst year in existence, mewling and grieving and bitching and moaning. Somehow, I suppose we all knew—with the election of Donald Trump—such a sentiment could not have been true. Indeed, we may have jinxed ourselves, for each passing day we bitterly regret our premature Facebook lamentations.

I stand by my previous remarks about the loathsome pseudo-intellectual and incumbent Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson. Especially after reading such masochistic comments like the following:

“I would not have chosen him because of his lack of experience and his often troubling public statements over the last three years,” Brown said. “But despite my reservations and my disagreements with some of his positions, I’ll give Dr. Carson the benefit of the doubt.”

Why?

Drivel of this sort is the seedbed for the kind of ignorance and complacency that would see civil liberties erode, education crumble, and democracy falter. Perhaps I was too kind to the doctor; so, too, were the Republicans who posed rather weak questions during Carson’s confirmation hearing. In true political cowardice, Carson failed to answer a number of questions directly and wholly demonstrated that his experience as a neurosurgeon will translate poorly to his new position.

Speaking of crumbling education, Betsy DeVos—Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education—is another unsavory mortal whose intelligence is inversely proportional to her wealth. Need proof? Please watch this lengthy and sordid Senate confirmation hearing to learn that schools in Wyoming need firearms “to protect from potential grizzlies.”

It is difficult not to succumb to further pessimism as President Trump signs executive actions committing the United States to the unabating despoliation of the environment and sacred sites. What is to be expected from a man who believes global warming is a Chinese fabrication. And Trump’s potential picks for science advisor don’t bode well for the environment either, let alone humanity. The first is a physicist from Princeton who believes more carbon dioxide emissions “will be good for the world.” The second is a computer scientist from Yale who thinks Trump is “not just sharp; he’s thoughtful.” I wonder whether the president will select the jester or sycophant.

Alas, I’m sure Trump’s signatures have TransCanada and Energy Transfer Partners celebrating while environmentalists are incensed. Everyone should be incensed. Gloom approaches again, threatening to cloak our sun in ashen clouds and blanket our waters in inky expiry. This is unacceptable.

 

Improving Food Choices

In a world where wallet size dictates access to healthy food

This is post is adapted from a graduate paper I recently submitted. I thought it was important to be able to discuss it without academic constraints. (I primarily wanted to adorn my rhetoric with some wit, sarcasm, and expletives.)

Food. We need it. All the time. Not only for survival, but there are foods we turn to for emotional comfort and gratification—lascivious or otherwise. Thanks to advances in agricultural practices and the diversity of food retailers, the United States is rife with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. It is, therefore, ironic for a country considered part of the First World—that is to say, an industrialized, prosperous, and developed capitalist nation—to have an alarming number of its citizens starving, let alone without the pecuniary means to obtain salubrious foods.

Let’s face it… we all have food problems, whether of our devices or tainted supply lines. But the lack of nourishment is the gravest food problem of all.

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The Pseudo-Intellectuals Among Us

How pundits, quacks, sciolists, and charlatans subvert erudition and wisdom

I love books. Well… I’m obsessed, as I’ve unabashedly stated. I delight in learning new words—oftentimes in multiple languages—and I get strangely excited about their etymologies. But I also have a tendency to gorge myself in random—and arguably useless—snippets of information regarding all sorts of things. This is often guided by a mild case of self-diagnosed attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder; I’ll proffer an example for adjudication to demonstrate how far off the beaten track I can wander.

A few days ago, I was reading a book when I suddenly encountered a new word. I reached for my cellphone and opened my Merriam-Webster app. Before I my search could begin, I was distracted by the app’s Word of the Day: crepuscular. I clicked on the word knowing that I would be provided with an etymology of the word. I wasn’t disappointed. But I learned Latin had two words describing twilight, one which had kinship with the word lucid. This naturally led me to Lucifer (and his descent), then to luciferin, followed by bioluminescence, marine wildlife, and finally whales.

Braggadocio to Lucifer to bioluminescence to whales. And I was only interrupted by a phone call. My massive digression could have landed me in the darker recesses of the internet, from which few return.

I still don’t know how this happens.

So, I am acquainted with a panoply of ostensibly useless trivia. Jack of all trades, master of none. If we could stroll through the labyrinthine scriptoria of my mind, it would look as if an earthquake had struck the Library of Alexandria moments before the infamous conflagration. Bedlam. Chaos. Madness. Nevertheless, I’ve been assured I could possibly find limited success as a contestant on Jeopardy. Meh… who knows?

The loss of focus and seemingly haphazard detours are not without their triumphs. I am reasonably well-informed about current events—foreign and domestic—and can participate in all sorts of learned and quasi-learned conversations; I typically have much to say in all cases. Yet, I never claim to be an expert, even in areas which I have been formally educated—or which I fervently research. Indeed, I often wonder whether these superficial glimpses of knowledge make me a dilettante.

Unfortunately, we are familiar with those charlatans who claim to “know for a fact,” or have profound knowledge and wisdom we mere plebeians could never possess. (Or one could take the President-elect’s position: “nobody really knows.”) Few appreciate a know-it-all. Yet, fewer still wish to be considered uninformed or unlearned. I think it is this fear which spawns pseudo-intellectuals.

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Distorted Memories, Occluded Vision

“Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves.”

If the dead could roll over in their graves, I’m sure Nelson Mandela would have done a 720-degree turn by now. Once again, humans besotted with strenuous explanations and the Mandela Effect come to haunt us with more fallible memories. This article—published in the New Statesman just before Christmas—outlines some of the cries Redditors had about a movie called Kazaam, starring Shaquille O’Neal. (Anyone who saw the move can understand why one’s memory would be garbled beyond recognition.)

It turns out that many Redditors erroneously recall Sinbad—instead of Shaq—starring in a film called Shazaam, following the same premise and storyline the real movie Kazaam took. One crackpot, Carl (not his real name), was so certain Shazaam was real that he offered a $1,000 reward to the person who could present him a copy of his beloved childhood film.

“I was dumbfounded to see that there was no evidence of the movie ever being made,” says Carl. “I quickly searched the internet, scouring every way I know how to search, crafting Boolean strings into Google, doing insite: searches, and nothing. Not a damn thing.”

Alas, in the absence of evidence, Carl persisted in his erroneous belief and insists on a “timeline shift.” Perhaps Carl has been dwelling too much on the Flashpoint Paradox. Another person—one approaching the outer margins of reality—believes that the “film was recalled and destroyed.” There are plenty of movies which qualify for recall, if not incineration. But who would undertake such a strenuous effort? Of all the copies?

[Insert exasperated sigh]

It’s such anemic beliefs which prevent us from embracing the new year and thoughtfully approaching the horizon. 2017 is off to a great start, no?

Thankfully, one subreddit is devoted to debunking “evidence” adduced in favor of the Mandela Effect, claiming that such detritus is “clogging up the sub” rather than combating this nuisance on principle alone. However, I fear the other subreddits where Redditors can share their personal Mandela Effect experiences portends a recrudescence of conspiracy theories generally—in the media and elsewhere. And I’m fairly certain we could all do with fewer of those.

When will we stop perpetuating these false memories and face the fact that our memories just suck?

The Lamentations of 2016

“Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud, Turn forth her silver lining on the night?”

As if 2016 weren’t finished with me yet, infirmity comes to me with some ironic leniency: I only suffer from severe sinus congestion. The situational irony is made a little more distressing because infirmity seldom visits me.

Nevertheless, these are the kinds of lamentations one finds circulating social media, becoming more thunderous as we approach the final moments of 2016. Undoubtedly, 2016 has been unique, beset with celebrity deaths, a contentious election cycle, and vehement political protestations. Let’s not forget that crime, corruption, war, famine, disease (infectious and otherwise), racism, gender and sexual discrimination, and myriad other tribulations could not be averted, pacified, or eradicated this year. Not to mention, the scourge of turkey bacon and non-alcoholic beer still persists.

2016 sucks. Or does it?

Could this be one’s most difficult year lived? Perhaps. Could it get worse? Unfortunately, it is possible; it is also possible that one’s fortunes could only get better. Or is everyone just exaggerating their woes? These are intended as reflective prompts, for I cannot possibly answer these questions for the reader. Plaintive cries about how terrible this year was are only slightly lost on me, and not for lack of empathy; my mouth was certainly agape at some of the events that transpired this year. In particular, I acutely feel—and have felt—the sorrow and heartache of friends and family that have suffered great loss.

I, too, have lost. I have faltered. I have struggled. I have been mocked. I have been injured. But I have not quit. I continue resolute.

And perhaps this is the coda to my post. Mewling is only as useful as one’s capacity to reflect and learn from adversity. Grief is important and should not be stifled; the same is true of finding an outlet for one’s anger. But grief—and venting anger—differs greatly from bitching and moaning, lamenting that the world or the universe has conspired to make one miserable. Such thinking serves solely to hold us back from thoughtfully and constructively engaging the future. Trust me, I know.

2016 didn’t suck. It certainly had its terrible moments. However, this year is adorned with accomplishments, triumphs, and joy. I know people who proposed marriage to their partners and lovers. People who married, started new careers, became homeowners, became parents. To those who have suffered greatly this year, shed the frayed tatters of melancholy, for silver linings are often found in the darkest caverns. It takes hardship and strife to learn one’s constitution, to ascertain one’s true friends, to realize that setbacks are temporary.

Wiser and stronger—at least, I hope we are—than our former selves, bearing the scars of winters passed, let us enter 2017 with a little more hope. Let us enter with more strength. More courage. We can mourn our dead but still slog forward; the fallen have taught us much about life, but those lessons cannot be for naught. We are the architects of our own futures, and we, therefore, have the responsibility to rise from the debris, bandage our wounds, and rebuild ourselves. Our goals. Our dreams. Our lives. The gloom was certainly dark and heavy. But we must set our sights towards the horizon, for the sun yet rises.

Punch-Drunk

The curious case of dementia pugilistica

Sports.

Many people flock to stadiums and arenas where uniformed warriors compete in strenuous physical activities. Team sports require athletes be clad in all sorts of armor—some more than others—to prevent injuries. Contact sports like football and hockey demand heavy padding and helmets, while non-contact sports like basketball and soccer call for little more than modest uniforms.

Does it not seem slightly strange that boxers or mixed martial artists aren’t obliged to wear protective gear save for a mouth guard? Or is it because the goal is to injure and maim?

The importance of brain for daily living cannot be stressed enough. We use 100% of our brains. However, I suppose a compelling case could be made that some individuals indeed only use 10% of their brain. Nevertheless, traumatic brain injuries have seen more coverage lately as former football players gradually slip into depression and suicide and their families bring legal grievances against organizations like the NFL. Let’s discuss that.

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The Salt in our Blood

How halophobia killed the humble potato

What happened to french fries in America? Did I pass through some membrane into another dimension where salty foods are verboten?

If so, get me out of here!!!

In all sincerity, I haven’t truly enjoyed a french fry in quite some time due to the country’s growing halophobia. That’s correct, halophobia: the exaggerated fear of salt in one’s diet. Admittedly not a term currently found in dictionaries, but I can hope to introduce this word into the already bloated English lexicon. It is this fear of salt that threatens the nobility of the french fry as the crispy vehicle of ketchup.

I am obliged, insofar as I am able, to combat this lack of seasoning and see its proponents defeated. Who eats french fries with no salt? Who thought that was a good idea? That’s like ordering an iced tea without first saying ‘Long Island.’ Screw that noise. Pass the damn salt, please!

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