When Books Burn

Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

With the emergence of the reprehensible term “alternative facts”—we can thank Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, for this affront to truth—I couldn’t help but recall my reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It would seem I was not alone. I implore those who haven’t read the book to pick up a copy and compare the fictional work to our current reality under the Trump administration.

What a time to be alive.

With each passing day, we find ourselves in a world that more closely approximates the society in which Winston Smith lived, where Newspeak and doublethink are distressingly palpable. For example, the vetting of EPA information. The Trump administration ordered all information released to the public by the Environmental Protection Agency be reviewed. By whom, you ask? By bias politicians with little to no background or understanding of science, of course. It’s possible that the administration instituted this totalitarian edict only for the duration of their transition into power. Or perhaps this is an attempt by Big Brother and his cult to quash information against their interests, rewriting facts and history to fit their agendas.

I tend to think the latter is more likely. Get a load of this:

The only references to rising temperatures on the new Trump White House site are a commitment to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan”.

On top of the review process imposed on the EPA, the Trump administration would peruse all EPA webpages—especially those with information and data related to climate change—to remove anything unsightly. Can’t wait for Trump to hold a press conference where he declares, “no one does science better than me.”

I’m a member of the American Public Health Association and I subscribe to all their newsletters and emails. I awoke this morning to an explosion of cellphone notifications as my Gmail inbox was overcome by a deluge of exigent business. The emails contained various factsheets, links, and documents regarding climate change and its health implications, intended to create an offsite repository of crucial information lest it be extirpated by the current administration.

Did I wake up in the Oceania? What the fuck is happening?

Well, it’s not bibliocide in the classical sense, but a conflagration has started. The Trump administration is making big moves, some proving to be inimical to health and science—this much should be painfully obvious. With broad swipes, funding for important reproductive health services has been cut and the canker of fossil fuels can now spread unabated. And now, they want to get rid of climate change science altogether.

Although the Trump administration has abruptly halted its “book-burning” enterprise, we can only wonder for how long. As the Terminator warned us: “Judgment day is inevitable.” This is only the beginning. We would do well to remember that “it is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.”

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.

Continue reading “The Pseudo-Intellectuals Among Us”

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.

Stop the Mandela Effect (Take 2) 

So, excuse my last post. I didn’t write anything. That was intentional.

It was meant to highlight the fallibility of human minds. I made the title for the post and then had told myself I should write something about it later. I scheduled the post and forgot about it. It was all part of the plan.

I have recently been inundated with questions about the Mandela Effect. I had never heard of such a phenomenon, hence my surprise when several friends independently brought the topic to my attention. Any perceptive reader will perhaps be able to guess what my stance is on this ‘effect’.

It’s bullshit. Sorry folks.

Continue reading “Stop the Mandela Effect (Take 2) “

The Fall of Chipotle

Down for the count?

“How are the mighty fallen in the midst of battle! O [Chipotle], thou wast slain in thine high places.”

Okay. So, I certainly don’t intend for this post to be a lamentation or an elegy for a lost friend. In fact, I’m not even going to express woe of any kind. Rather, I intend to express something approaching the opposite for the company that reeks of self-righteousness. Let’s not call my expressions those of joy, eh?

I’ll start with the chipotle pepper. Basically, it’s just a jalapeño. Just ripened, red jalapeños that are dehydrated and smoked (which further dehydrates them) for several hours to several days. Of the two main types of chipotles, moritas and mecos, the former is the most commonly used in the United States. Moritas are produced primarily in the state of Chihuahua, located in the northern portion of Mexico which shares a border with New Mexico and Texas. Thus, it is no surprise that chipotles found their way into the United States. However, it has become inescapable. Rife in many Mexican derived cuisines (e.g. Mexican-American and Tex-Mex), the chipotle pepper has even found itself weaved into some unlikely (and ostensibly sacrilegious) edible forms. Who thought chipotle cookies were a good idea?

Continue reading “The Fall of Chipotle”

Fear 3.0

Zika. Sigh.

I have failed to contain the beachhead these wee beasties have established within the minds of Americans (See Fear 1.0 and Fear 2.0 for my vain attempts). Unlike Ebola, Zika means to stay and torment us indefinitely. And it has succeed at the task because it means to strike at our fecundity. Hell hath no fury like those with compromised reproductive capabilities.

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine asserts:

Zika virus infection (ZIKV) during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects, yet the magnitude of risk remains uncertain. Investigators studying the 2013–2014 Zika outbreak in French Polynesia estimated that the risk of microcephaly due to ZIKV infection in the first trimester of pregnancy was 0.95% (95% confidence interval, 0.34 to 1.91), on the basis of eight microcephaly cases identified retrospectively in a population of approximately 270,000 people with an estimated rate of ZIKV infection of 66%.

Continue reading “Fear 3.0”