Amarillo: Boondoggle on the Staked Plains

In trying to lay out hotel reservations for a long trip recently, I found myself in need of a place to spend the night in North Texas. Not a lot of choices: Amarillo was the obvious one. Yet I hesitated, because I dimly remembered some problem with that city a couple of years back when I was planning stops along the same route. Well, maybe there had been a convention at the time… so I tried again. Rooms at any place nicer than the Budget Super Zero started at $150: sure enough, that’s pretty steep. Must be because there’s literally nothing else by way of hostel or settlement in North Texas, and people cramming in a late summer vacation on their way to Santa Fe or Phoenix or the People’s Republic of California have no options if they don’t wish to drive all night.

Okay, $150. Then I make a few clicks and prepare to confirm, when I notice that the taxes piled onto the already rather whopping bill are… $75! The bill increases by fifty percent to pay the damn taxes! Why, why do you pay so much tax when you pass through Amarillo?

The only reasonable answer I can divine is that the windmill-building and fracking industries are booming in the area—and local government is doing everything it can to cash in on the bonanza while it lasts. After all, if you’re traveling in connection with a major energy-producer, your expense account will readily absorb an extortionate tax (since your company intends to turn around and extort the consumer).

Now, I have my reservations about fracking. The strange incidence of earthquakes in some areas where the procedure is performed (and very unusual near-to-surface earthquakes) is a worry. But at least fracking yields a tangible result that is creating substantial energy-independence for the nation.

On the other hand, if you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I go downright livid at the thought of windmills. They are not delivering sufficient energy to justify their existence; and by the time better technology exists, we’ll be stuck with thousands of these monstrosities in the heartland whose dismantling will be almost as costly as their assembly. Meanwhile, flatbed trucks are chugging and grinding to transport single blades out into the middle of nowhere, eating up diesel fuel every mile of the way.

On top of all that, I now realize (or am pretty darn sure) that local businesses and municipalities have probably lobbied for these gigantic exercises in futility. Ka-ching, ka-ching. If you still want to tell yourself that you support that endeavor because you believe in natural, renewable energy, then keep singing yourself to sleep with the same refrain… but you’d better keep your eyes firmly shut and the lights turned off.

“Planet-Saving” Scams: The Stupidity and the Outrage

In case I haven’t written enough about this before… let me urge anyone who reads these scribbles to view words and phrases like “environmentally friendly”, “sustainable”, and “renewable” with extreme skepticism when they appear in the context of energy. The California legislature, in its interminable and terminal stupidity, has apparently decided to require that all new houses be equipped with solar panels and that all farms devote 25 percent of their acreage to windmills. One idiot legislator was chirping about all the new jobs that will be created by the heavy-handed mandate; and when questioned about how the consumer will pay the roofing crews who profit from the artificial bonanza, he blithely responded that the federal government would pick up the tab in the form of tax credits and rebates. That means YOU, my dear, and I: WE shall pay for California’s decision to “act responsibly” and “save the planet”. I thought Californians wanted to secede… so what’s holding them up?

Umm, and about “saving the planet”… just a few words. The rare-earth elements with which solar panels are coated—delightful stuff like cadmium and mercury—are so toxic that they can’t even be mined legally in this country. In the Third World and China (i.e., where people will shorten their lives just to eat for what time they have, or where their government doesn’t give a damn if they live or not), the locations where such mining is done are known as “cancer villages”. The life expectancy falls well short of thirty. So the next time you’re congratulating yourself for being environmentally responsible and saving the planet, say a little prayer for the children whom your virtue sent to an early grave… would you, please? And by the way, the panels need replacing every twenty-five or thirty years. Their energy output is not indefinitely sustainable.

As for windmills, every time I drive west or up into the heartland, I’m infuriated. There are quite literally thousands and thousands of the things. The landscape west of Abilene was never lyrically beautiful, but it once had a kind of sublimity that I found uplifting. Now vast tracts of land from West Texas to… yes, California… look like some kind of Siberian gulag for misbehaving fans—or perhaps like an infinite gauntlet of paddles awaiting some class of sinners in Dante’s lower Inferno. I’ve never seen all of the blades turning at once, and few of them ever turn very fast. Imagine the rate at which a turbine would be spinning at the base of a mediocre waterfall, and then compare that mental picture to the pathetic gyrations of these regimented titans. It is simply inconceivable that the horde of creaky monstrosities will pay for itself in less than a century. Each blade exceeds the length of a flatbed truck and must be hauled expensively (using God knows how much gas, by the way) from whatever industrial hub produced it (using God knows how much oil or coal, by the way). And there they sit, thousands upon thousands of them, all but motionless and about as scenic as the smokestacks of nineteenth-century Manchester. So far, though many are perched in prime tornado territory, we haven’t seen the consequences of their huge blades being torn asunder near a population center. And in the very near future—far sooner than a century—when we have discovered some infinitely cheaper energy source, we will face the further risk and expense of having to take them down.

Meanwhile, the industrial donors to these idiot politicians who sell their “clean energy” programs to you, the idiot public, keep raking in the taxpayer’s cash. We are creating jobs, you know! And meanwhile, as well, those of the emoji generation who need to slap a little icon or bumper-sticker on their conscience to show that they care about the planet as they check their messages and scroll through YouTube have the drive-through fix they crave. At what a cost! But what do they care? Just as long as everyone knows they “care”.

Animal Planet Peddles More Unicorns

I think “cryptozoology” is a really fascinating subject. The assumption is always made by the general public (and usually fed by professionals in the sciences, who don’t like to admit that something might possibly lie beyond their ken) that we must surely have discovered by now every life form on Planet Earth. This is an ignorant, arrogant leap of faith. Because most of us have now squeezed ourselves into “megalopolis” or into one of the concentric rings of suburbia enclosing it, we can’t imagine any weird creature’s escaping detection. One thing we fail to consider is that our collective influx into cities has left rural areas depopulated. Yes, the explosion of human inhabitants in all quarters of the globe would seem to compensate for any relative diminution in the percentage of people filling this or that corner. I doubt that this proposition is unassailable, however. Comparatively few though we were a hundred years ago, our overwhelmingly agricultural society still concentrated its strength very heavily in the boondocks. Now any drive along a rural highway (and how many of us ever take such a drive?) reveals desolation on all sides. Abandoned houses are falling apart everywhere, and seldom does any new structure rear its satellite dish in their place.

People who should find themselves in the country for some reason are also less likely now to know its sights and sounds. They can’t tell a wolf’s cry from a coyote’s or a crow’s call from a caracara’s. The situation where a tenderfoot thinks he may have seen a chupacabra when he’s only run across a large stray dog often works in reverse, thanks to such ignorance: a person might see an unidentified species and assume that it is a familiar one. Witnesses in shooting incidents almost invariably say that they at first thought the gunshots were a backfiring car. The stronger tendency of the human mind is to blend the unique into the commonplace, not the other way around.

Thirdly, the encroachment of human beings on so many once-remote parts of the natural environment can create opportunities for more resourceful species that were formerly hard-pressed. Squirrels are much more abundant in suburbia than in the wilderness. Humans have chased off or killed most natural predators (foxes, snakes, hawks) while allowing the “cuddly, adorable” little fur-ball to chew up orchards and attics unmolested. If something extraordinarily perceptive and intelligent like a Sasquatch did exist, an invasion of humans that thinned out rival predators like panthers and bears while allowing food sources like deer and squirrel to proliferate might actually improve the outlook for survival.

All of this is merely to say that I was looking forward to the first episode of Animal Planet’s Destination: Mungo last Sunday. Quite a letdown. Once again, we are treated to a showman who expensively, ostentatiously makes his way to some forgotten corner of the planet… and then spends one night in the “hot spot” to see if his infrared cameras are activated by anything larger than a rat. Bwana Mungo hasn’t even heard of the coelacanth, apparently (and hasn’t yet figured out how to pronounce the word, either). In one scene, he contacts his biologist buddy in the States to ask if the Postosuchus, a Triassic ancestor of the crocodile, might really exist today, as Liberian locals are reporting. Responding via satellite through a laptop linked to a smartphone, the suitably bearded academic tells an inspirational story. “Have you heard of the coelacanth, Mungo?” “No, never. Tell me about it.” Oh, please!

In the first place, the coelacanth’s presumed date of extermination was considerably closer to our own time than the late Triassic (by a factor of close to a thousand). In the second place, coelacanths inhabit ocean trenches and would be virtually undetectable to human beings in the normal course of events. In the third place, of course Mungo has heard of the coelacanth! I learned of its lately discovered survival into the present when I was a young boy—a professional wildlife photographer and cryptozoology enthusiast could no more have remained ignorant of the subject than a physicist could fail to have heard of a quark. And finally, biologist buddy’s fishing stories transmitted by satellite, however inspirational, are insufficient reason for Mungo to rise from his laptop feeling new confidence in his quest. He hasn’t garnered a single particle of arcane information about tropical African fauna that might be seen as assisting his search. The whole exchange is highly staged and utterly ridiculous… almost as bad as a mockumentary about mermaids.

So… my quest of credible shows on the subject of cryptozoology continues as we permanently put the Amusement Park of Mungo at our backs. I’m looking for something rarer than a unicorn, it seems. In the meantime, old episodes of River Monsters are far less a waste of time.

As the Titanic Sinks, the Captain Worries About Flu Season

Since the subject of climate change arose the last time I wrote… why, may I ask, does the scientific community not apply its collective genius to solving crises that will certainly occur, quite possibly before the twenty-second century, and that may very probably become extinction events? As the ship sinks beneath us, why are we logging onto the Medicare site rather than looking for life vests?

We know that Yellowstone National Park sits atop the huge caldera of a smoking super-volcano. The giant has already exploded once in recent geological history: that’s why we have Yellowstone, with its vast mountain basin and restless geysers. The thing remains a ticking timebomb. Its next eruption will most certainly decimate life in neighboring regions almost instantly, its spreading umbrella of ash will plunge North America into nuclear winter within days, and its long-term effects over the ensuing decade might well wipe out most terrestrial life on the planet.

This eruption will happen, sooner or later. Do we have a plan on the drawing board for diffusing the pressure when magma starts to swell the chimney of a super-volcano (for there are several of these monsters around the globe)? Nope. Nada. So let’s just continue expending our time and resources on talking about how to keep Manhattan’s streets above water if the polar icecaps shrink.

Also a lead-pipe cinch to occur is a major asteroidal collision with Planet Earth. We don’t know “when”… but we do know that our Moby Dick is already silently cruising out there in the Asteroid Belt. Again, as with a super-volcanic eruption, the plume of ash following upon such a strike would envelope the world in a thick cloud within months, and virtually no eatable crops would grow anywhere for years. Most life would be exterminated. And the plan for averting the collision is… well, not even on any official drawing board at the moment.

But we’ll think of something when Moby Dick surfaces and we have about six months to Contact. The scientists will think of something. Let’s not pull them off the important work of trying to re-draw Florida’s coastline on the basis of certain computer simulations fed certain assumptions about climate change.

Query: why are extinction-risk events whose eventual likelihood sits at one hundred percent less important to the government-funded scientific establishment than the possibility of manmade climate change and its conjectured inconveniences? Could it be because designing a system to de-pressurize super-volcanoes or re-direct a looming mega-asteroid would not require intrusion into the life of every citizen, whereas the answer to climate change always seems to involve new government agencies and regulations that minutely monitor our individual activities?

The good news, I guess, is that if Big Brother’s encroachments worry you, his gluttony spells its own demise. All you have to do is dig a deep bunker and stock it with enough canned and freeze-dried food for ten years. Then, after the deluge, you’ll emerge upon a wasted, windswept landscape that will offer more freedom than you ever dreamed of… and far more than you could ever want.

Does It Matter Who’s Truthful When All Action Is Corrupt?

Have you heard why Megan Kelly really left FOX News? Or why Christina of HGTV’s Flip or Flop really split from her husband, or why the same station’s Joanna Gaines is in hot water for arriving late on the set of Fixer Upper? It’s the same reason in all three cases, according to certain stories that pulse along the side-panel of your screen: they were all so busy marketing the same company’s beauty secrets that the bonanza of prosperity distracted them from their boring day jobs.

This isn’t quite the same level of aggressive, in-your-face duplicity that characterized (for instance) the History Channel’s idiotic “mockumentaries” about mermaids, megalodons, and Sasquatches… but the kinship is of a first-cousin order. “Fake news” is now so embedded in our cultural consciousness that we have apparently given up being outraged by it. “Kim Jong Un just nuked a small Pacific island… and the only survivors were using Apollo Sun Tan Lotion (improved formula)!” We swallow the b.s. with scarcely a grimace. The most worrisome problem is that, should the chubby child of Dearest Friend indeed decide to vaporize an entire populace, we would already have been rehearsed in passing over the news and looking for the next thrill.

“The Boy That Cried Wolf” Syndrome has deeply infected us. I don’t even know if most of my freshmen would recognize the folkloric reference… but I do know that they’re convinced, almost to a boy or girl (or whatever lies between), that human beings are causing a disastrous climate change. Chemistry and biology majors cite data to me that I can’t dispute, since their fields extend far beyond my intellectual reach. So maybe they’re right. But then a celebrated academic appears on national television and claims that carbon dioxide is a more lethal toxin than sarin gas. Even a chemistry-challenged numbskull like me knows the difference between monoxide and dioxide—yet our guru was apparently conflating the two. Could his ilk have been among the teachers of my freshmen?

I don’t like cars. Never have. I probably walk more in a week than most atmospheric scientists do in a year—and I don’t consume jet fuel flying to conferences that might have been held on Skype. Reducing car traffic is fine by me. Why, however, can we not address the problem by scrapping our special-interest-fueled zoning laws and oppressive regulations that prevent people from running shops out of their homes? Why is the “green” solution always more government intrusion into our personal lives? And why are the insane windmills that now deface much of the Southwest a step forward when the effort of constructing, transporting, and rigging their blades requires more energy than they are likely to restore in a century of steady gales?

I will postulate, for the sake of argument, that the science behind climate change is compelling: then why are the measures that we take in consequence so patently ineffective and mired in sordid political boondoggle?

On this issue as on so many others, I don’t know who’s telling the truth, and I don’t think I’m capable of knowing—not in the earthly time I have left. I know this much, however. On one side I see lies proliferating as part of popular cultural and consumerist marketing; on another I see our elected “saviors” getting sleek and fat as specially targeted problems only worsen; and on yet another I see campus culture shutting down free speech with thuggery and shouting down open debate in fanatical zeal. Maybe the wolf is really coming this time… but when the watchdog is a hungry Bengal tiger, maybe I’d rather have the wolf.

More on Attention-Deficit Narcissism: Clemson’s Racist Anti-Racism

I keep running across exhibitionist behaviors that model what I’ve called Attention-Deficit Narcissism. The sufferer of ADN is so consumed with his own image that the rest of the world might as well not exist–or it only exists, we might say, to the extent that he can project himself into it, always in the very favorable light of a merciful, compassionate, enlightened person or the very poignant light of a cruelly martyred victim. Yet our wretch has such a shifting, sketchy sense of self (probably thanks in large part to social media) that he must be forever projecting new images on top of old ones, often without any regard whatever for the coherence of the whole package. Such walking insanity renders the afflicted wholly inept as students, writers, scholars, leaders, lovers, or friends. They are emotional powderkegs that ignite without rhyme or reason.

The chase after the golden mantle of cultural diversity, of which I wrote last time, has turned the Western world upside-down. Without the slightest real understanding of the group which they effusively (and briefly) patronize, the ADN-delirious rush in like the crazed followers of Dionysus, sporting sombreros or turbans or headdresses, and eat chili peppers or dolmades or toasted locusts for fifteen minutes. They create an image and move on. The elite strata of society, especially, teem with restless waifs who are thus inebriated, both because the pampered class is most immersed in technology’s toxic artifice and because it is most insulated from the real-life consequences of misjudging a particularly dangerous group (and, one might hazard, because its lives of fantasy are the most meaningless among our species).

I can’t think of any other way to explain how the elite brain trust at Clemson University could agree upon publishing a horribly, despicably, and genuinely racist announcement that students of African descent may not be penalized for showing up late to class. Supposedly, punctuality nestles in Caucasian DNA, but not in theirs. Did the pompous idiots who issued this decree stop to reflect upon the centuries of racial stereotyping that projected black people to be just such helplessly, hopelessly tardy dolts? Did they trouble themselves, for instance, to ponder the character of Lightnin’ on the old Amos ’n Andy TV show (originally created for radio)? Shuffling along and pushing his janitorial mop none too urgently, the brim of his baseball cap flipped up in the opposite of a “bear down” position, this unambitious young man couldn’t deliver the simplest message to Andy or the Kingfish without drawling a single sentence into half a minute, usually forgetting its beginning by the time he reached its end.

If you’re black, this is the kind of “consideration” you get at Clemson. I wonder if any student of African genes has come to a sufficient boil to wave aside all the freebies the ADN crowd wants to lavish upon him theatrically… and to file a lawsuit?

Life Isn’t Managed by a Diagnosis and Some Pills

I just read a student paper that discusses bipolar disorder at some length. We used to call it manic-depression. To my untrained mind, the latter sounds more like moodiness and the former more like some sort of cerebral malformation. Of course, that’s exactly the impression that the medical community desired to promote. You should be depending on your doctor, not yourself. It’s caveman logic to think that, if you’re having mood swings, maybe you should do some soul-searching. Delving into spirituality, taking pride in developing a tougher character, fighting your darker half, learning how to be your life’s hero… scary, primitive stuff, that.

For none of it sounds very “medical”, does it? Let’s call the dark place a disease, instead, and let’s prescribe lots of expensive drugs for it (with unpleasant, perhaps fatal side-effects: but to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs). The public, having long been primed to take the easy way out of every predicament—to believe, even, that the Constitution (whatever that is) guarantees a right to a corrective pill for every complaint—readily delivers itself into the hands of white-coated technicians. Add to that the glory and mystique of belonging to some class of “sufferer” (any will do—and the more, the better)… and you find Americans lining up to receive their “bipolar diagnosis” and its special batch of talismans and magic potions.

My student has confided to me that she, having herself received the diagnosis, bravely chose to fight her war through therapy rather than drugs; yet she has noticed that the medical establishment expresses ever less interest in tolerating this approach. Too much money to be made peddling the drugs… and, I suspect (since I’ve long concluded that the will to power is the strongest of all corrupt human motives), there’s too much joy in Medico-ville associated with know-it-all diagnoses and consequent prescription-writing. Why would a doctor seek to empower you when he can easily sweep up that portion of control and add it to his own plate?

I’ve probably fought depression all my life. I don’t really need a term for it, other than “the human condition”. I’ve never seen a doctor about it and never taken a pill for it (or booze, or a joint). I had two pretty close passes with suicide when I was young, and I feel that the ordeals made me far stronger and reordered my vision of reality.

When I made a very casual and fleeting joke about absenteeism in a class last fall, however, in which suicide played a part, I was hooted at by several students as some kind of insensitive brute. “Sufferers” must be cuddled in a warm blankie like little lost puppies retrieved from a hailstorm: they must be smothered in sympathy and nursed on carefully filtered optimism. My experience at the receiving-end of this spontaneous outrage played no minor part in my decision to retire this coming year. The feelings of that day will forever remain with me… and they will forever disgust me.

I am outraged at the outrage. Life is tough, and I have found it sometimes miserably so. But I don’t need a diagnosis and a fat bottle of pills, any more than I need big hugs and Teletubby-colored glasses… or a fifth of Jack Daniels, or a Sunday School sing-along. Jesus was crucified, and he promised us about the same fate if we walked in his footsteps. Mulling seriously over that has been the ultimate therapy for me.