Saturday, March 24, 2012

Oh the humanity!

Lobsters. I don’t dislike lobster but I don’t go crazy for it, either. Maybe my palette isn’t refined enough to taste the subtle nuances that constitute “good lobster,” but as far as I’m concerned, a lobster is just a melted butter conveyance. It’s a socially acceptable way to eat gobs of melted butter, as they look at you funny when you just spoon it up. (Much the same way cake is an icing distribution system.)
My question is: Why don’t we give lobsters any dignity? I’m not saying they’re pretty, but as reasoning, complex creatures we shouldn’t be judging something by its appearance. Just because lobsters are, by most standards, kind of creepy looking, is no reason to torture, maim, and humiliate them.
Humiliate them, you say? What would you call video taping the slow careful dismemberment of an organism, not for scientific discovery, but so the Food Channel can fill an hour-long “Lobster Cooking” episode? The chefs delighted in giving us the best way to crack the shell, cut out the innards, and remove all the “succulent meat” for later consumption. If someone did that to a human, we’d lock them up for life, and only HBO would show it.
Well, animals aren’t humans, you might say, a concept I agree with. I’m no rabid PETA member. Anyone who has read my blog knows that animals aren’t my favourite things in the world (though in all honesty, my complaints are generally with pet OWNERS rather than the pets themselves). But why are we okay with public vivisection of lobsters when there’s no WAY we’d do the same thing with a chicken. Or a goose. Or a pig. Can you imagine them trying to show the best way to remove the liver from a cow carcass on network TV?
What about seafood restaurant commercials? Red Lobster is very fond of showing us lobster fishermen, complete with rubber overalls and Newfie hats, holding up their days catch, one writhing lobster in each fist. Again, this isn’t something we do with any other form of living consumable creature. No rancher licking his lips while he pats the chubby back of a calf destined to be veal cutlets. We don’t see a shepherd dangling a lamb talking about how tender the loin is bound to be, “and only $17.99 for All-You-Can-Eat!”
All of this ignores the fundamentally sicko way we “prepare” lobster, “prepare” being a quiet euphemism for “dropped alive into a boiling pot of water.” Proponents of lobster-eating say the high-pitched squealing a cooking lobster makes is just air being forced out of their shell, NOT the death cries of a tormented crustacean. Lobsters are mute, they say. Fair enough. I do feel it’s only fair to point out that dropping a cat with no vocal cords into boiling water might also result in a lack of screaming, but no one would claim that the feline enjoys it.
I can’t answer why it’s acceptable in Canada to display steaming hunks of dead lobster to the viewing public but against the law to show a commercial in which someone drinks a beer. We have a strange, illogical, and fluctuating sense of decorum. Perhaps the secret key to unlocking the human psyche resides in the Lobster Paradox. Once we crack that, all the mysteries behind our lunatic behaviour will come tumbling into line, human suffering will end, and it will be the humble lobsters that showed us the way.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Faster than the speed of mock

I’m crushed. I can only hope that their results turn out to be wrong. Apparently, the ICARUS experiment has been unable to replicate the results of an earlier experiment in which neutrinos appeared to move faster than light. This makes me sad. While I don’t pretend for a moment to understand a great deal about particle physics, I do understand a little bit about interesting story concepts, and faster-than-light particles open up a whole host of potential story ideas.
This isn’t to say you can’t write a ripping science fiction yarn involving zippy “tachyons” (the Star Trek: TNG favourite) or “dashites” or whatever you want to call them, but it’s a lot nicer to be able to ground your sci-fi dreams in the harsh realities of science. And if the ICARUS people are right, speed-of-light is absolute.
When the original broke-the-speed-limit OPERA experiment results were announced, back in September of last year, scientists everywhere gave a collective “pffft” of disbelief. I get it. It’s their job to be skeptical. A gullible scientist has very little value to society. But reading their reactions I felt there was rather more scorn than curiousity. It wasn’t “This experiment flies in the face of all that we know, and will require stringent confirmation.” It was “This experiment flies in the face of all that we know, so it can’t be true.”
When scientists use the language of religious fanatics to argue their cases, it demeans the entire process. The examples of discoveries mocked, ridiculed, and then ultimately proven correct are legion. See the Doppler effect, Bakker’s idea about warm-blooded dinosaurs, and nonEuclidean geometry as just a few cases. (A Google search will net you hundreds more.)
All I’m saying is that the universe is an amazing, astounding place. Every time we think we’ve dug down to the root cause of something, the thing we discover splits open and winged monkeys (metaphorical winged monkeys, but wouldn’t it be cool if they discover the Higgs boson and it IS a winged monkey?) come flapping out. It’s conceivable there is a finite limit to knowledge, that eventually we’ll find out the answers to everything (it isn’t 42, sorry), but we aren’t anywhere close to that point yet. So why can’t neutrinos (or something else?) move faster than the speed of light?
Don’t quote Einstein, either. First of all, he might be wrong. Second, he never claimed the speed of light was an absolute barrier that can never be broken. All he proved was that you can never ACCELERATE past that speed; there’s nothing in his formula denying the existence of particles ALREADY moving lightspeed or faster.
Neutrinos might not be breaking the light barrier. But let’s show some respect for honest results gained ethically and shared broadly, shall we? The poor OPERA people have taken enough hits.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Parenting in a post-apocalyptic world

An argument could be made that we coddle our children these days. At the risk of becoming an old-man cliché, when I was a kid, I walked about two kilometers to school, by myself or with a brother even younger than I was. This wasn’t when I was in high school, mind, but grade school. Now kids are watched like hawks as they cross the street to their school, or given a ride three blocks. This is to avoid the predations of the sickos out there, and believe me, I understand. Every day when my son gets on the school bus, I squint suspiciously at the driver: “Is that the regular woman? Or an imposter who’s hijacked the school bus so they can collect a month’s supply of children for their evil desires?”
The world can seem a scary place. Granted, we live in Shangri-la in this country compared to the vast majority of the world, but still. It only takes one creep in a van to make an attempted child-snatching to freak the whole community out.
Or so I thought.
Like many nerds, I’ve been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead. I’m not intending to get into a blow-by-blow of what makes the show good and where it fails (that would be a REALLY long post). For those who haven’t seen it, it’s your standard “group of humans try to survive in a world filled with zombies” drama. The important things to know are that in this show, zombies are real, they can pop up anywhere, and when they bite you, they turn you into one.
Last week’s episode had a lot of screen time devoted to the last remaining child in the survivor group. He’s about 10 or so. In one episode we see him checking out the grave of the second-last child in the survivor group, roaming the woods, lifting a handgun from the saddle bags on a motorcycle, and taunting a zombie stuck in the mud. He does all of this BY HIMSELF. No one’s watching him. No one’s going with him. No one, in short, seems to give a crap that a pre-pubescent boy is roaming the zombie-infested countryside on his own.
This would be bad enough if his parents were dead, but he’s not an orphan. His mom and pop are still breathing and claim to love him. Yet not once do they ask “where’s our boy?” or “what have you been up to all day, son?” They certainly aren’t supervising him. What the deuce? Seriously? I have to say, Mom and Dad, if this is your idea of teaching valuable lessons on independence, your timing blows.
I can believe in zombies. What I can’t believe in is so-called “loving parents” who let their child wander by himself around a strange farm populated with undead monsters. How this drooling band of idiotic “survivors” managed to make it this far is beyond me, unless the whole “go on, son, why don’t you see what’s behind the barn” mentality is their subconscious way of saying “you were an accident.”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

(Not Captain) Kirk is an Ass

I grew up in the era of glorious sitcoms that not only included robust laugh-tracks but moral lessons as well. With about two or three minutes left in the show the music would swell into something schmaltzy and the characters would have an epiphany. These moments of clarity were always temporary, quickly forgotten, and shrugged off as easily as an extra-large moo moo. A life-changing lesson, no matter how profound, could be counted on to be utterly forgotten in only a week, when the “reformed” character would continue behaving exactly as he/she always had. No matter how many times Alex Keaton learned that money wasn’t the penultimate reason for existence, he could always be counted on to slide back to his pro-Nixon Republican roots in less than 168 hours.
Growing Pains, Family Ties, Different Strokes (“Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?”), Who’s the Boss? (ah, little Alyssa, who knew you’d grow up to bare your breasts to the world?), The Facts of Life… these were the glory of my youth. If I were to go back and watch these shows again, I’d probably hate them, but as a kid I thought they were great. Most of the actors involved have vanished or died or even, in some cases, gone on to bigger and better things. Some of have gone on to much, much worse things.
Which brings us to Kirk Cameron. He played the beloved Mike Seaver, the jauntily-smiling envy of lads and heart-throb of lasses. I have no idea what he’s been up to between then and now, but somewhere along the way he picked up a nasty case of Religious Righteousness, presenting most obnoxiously with Rampant Homophobia.
Sigh. Really? Another one? I only wish this were a rare enough attitude for me to be incensed rather than just wearily contemptuous. For those who haven’t seen his appearance on CNN, here’s the link:

Marriage was defined in the Garden, he says (one presumes he means the “Eden” variety), as between one man and one woman, and no one should try to redefine it. (I wonder if any of his six children were birthed with the assistance of anesthetic. If so, bad move, Kirk ol’ boy, as child-birth was ALSO defined in the Garden (well, immediately post-Garden, technically) and I have bad news for your wife: it involves pain, and lots of it.) I don’t want to dwell on the stupidity involved in defining your life’s morality on stories assembled and edited by human hands thousands of years ago: that could (and probably will) take up several entire posts. No, instead I want to touch on the death of my own personal dream, and the way in which Kirk has helped to put in yet another (the final?) bullet.
I never understood homophobia. It made no sense to me. Be afraid of HIV or hepatitis, sure, but gay isn’t communicable. It doesn’t rub-off. You can’t get infected by it. So why are people afraid of homosexuals? Is it because they worry gay men are just waiting for straight dudes to let their guard down—just for second—thereby allowing gay sex to happen? Or are they worried that if the benefits of homosexuality are fully explained to them (no surprise pregnancies, for example, and you get to instantly double your wardrobe) they’ll immediately switch teams?
As a younger man, I believed it was just a matter of time until all the bigoted attitudes, such as homophobia, went away. More precisely, died off, because I thought they were possessed only by the older generations. I knew there were bigots in my school, but I felt they were fewer in number and less vitriolic in their animosity. Each generation would get a little better and eventually we’d get over these ridiculous prejudices.
Well, that hasn’t yet come to pass. Maybe there is a slow trend in the right direction, but it’s sometimes hard to see when you read all the bigotry and hatred out there. Then Kirk shows up with his prejudiced bile, and I realize: he’s about my age. He’s my generation. We haven’t gotten it right yet.
Oh, I hope we do better with our children. Please.