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.

Dismissing Conspiracy Is the Shortcut to Being Duped

No one wants to be a “science-denier” these days. As insipid and fatuous as the phrase is (I thought that skepticism and receptiveness to revision were essential to scientific thought?), twenty-first century Americans accept it as an especially caustic version of “stupid idiot”. If experts in white coats tell us one thing in peer-reviewed professional journals, therefore, while relatively uncredentialed protesters howl away at them from personal websites, we smirk at the protest. What a bunch of losers! What a lot of wacko conspiracy-buffs and flat-earth troglodytes!

At the same time, we—the general public—are pretty troglodytic on any given issue. We really don’t understand the intricacies of the cyber world or the medical world. How could we? How could any one human brain? Perhaps a brilliant, devoted professional might understand in some detail the current state of learning in one advanced science; but of other sciences (and often ones related to his own field), he is necessarily as ignorant as a Dante scholar of electrical engineering. Ours is the age of the specialist—and as Ortega y Gasset noted a century ago, every specialist tends to think that he knows everything about everything just because he knows almost everything about one tony group of things.

Well, maybe that’s not quite true. I incline to believe, rather, that we invoke holy “science” in areas where we have none because we’re all too aware of our deficiency. By endorsing what the “scientists” have discovered in that field, however, we demonstrate to the world that we understand the pedigree of true knowledge. No, we’re not biochemists… but we’re smart enough to know when biochemists should have the last word, unlike those loony conspiracy-theorists!

This makes us easy prey for genuine conspiracy. Since our egotism inhibits us from asking such obvious questions as, “What if they’re cooking the books?” and, “What if no one dare blow a whistle lest he or she be forever banished from the profession?” we’re left sprawling in childish gullibility. We simply take it as an article of faith that the “science god” wouldn’t lie to us. What if the flu vaccine really isn’t any good, or what if chemotherapy is so liberally prescribed simply because the pharmaceutical-medical complex wants to recoup its immense investment in researching and developing a bunch of toxic drugs? How would we know… because professional ethics would compel the white coats to come clean? Really?

I suppose another reason why we scoff at wacko whistleblowers is what used to be called “whistling in the graveyard”. We need to put on a brave face… because if we once admit our enormous degree of unknowing and exposure, we’d hardly be able to shut our eyes at night. Better to stop our ears, shut our eyes, and repeat in a loud voice, “It’s science! It’s science! It’s science!”

And yet… quis custodes custodiet? Who will guard the guards?

Doctors: The Village Priests of the Twenty-First Century

It sounds really strange to people… but I haven’t seen a General Practitioner since I had to take a physical for my first job, about forty years ago. A doctor set my arm once upon a time when, as a kid, I broke it roller-skating. Thank you. A dentist once told me, when I was in my early twenties, that I’d had the world’s smallest filling. Now, I’ve never had a filling in my life—I think I would have remembered, and I didn’t have much to remember back then. Yet he was adamant, and… doctors are never wrong, you know.

Except when they are. An anesthesiologist almost sent my wife into a coma during what was supposed to be out-patient surgery. Another of the same noble calling shrank my father’s bladder to the size of a pea, so that he had to wear a catheter for the rest of his life. Several members of my family have been given prescriptions for blood pressure medicine which tormented them with unpleasant side-effects, and the few who finally refused to take any more pills never suffered any negative consequences. The flu vaccine has also introduced its share of miseries into my household… and who knows if it works? How would you ever possibly know?

The largest medical database in the world will categorically not consider any studies of homeopathic treatment, yet the medical-pharmaceutical complex’s standard approach to treating cancer—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—is itself dangerously carcinogenic in two of the three strategies. Indeed, the role of radiation in spawning cancer had long been known not only to include x-rays and radioactive material, but also electromagnetic energy in certain doses. While the public fear of power lines strung over one’s back yard has declined before a steady bombardment of professional derision, I well recall that children were warned back in the Seventies not to sit too close to televisions. The computer monitors before which I sat directly during the Nineties contained the same cathode ray tubes and affected my overall health in numerous ways. To this day I feel somewhat diarrheic if I sit for a couple of hours even before an iPad, and most of my computer work has to be done behind an improvised Faraday Screen. Yet medical minds of my acquaintance or that I encounter online continue to pooh-pooh my concerns. I’m a crackpot, and they know everything.

Why should I trust a profession like that? Now, there’s no denying that competent, conscientious doctors exist; but I’m nevertheless amazed at commercials that urge us to “ask our doctor” about this or that drug that will improve our mood, remove an irksome rash, or reduce our stress. If you listen closely, you can usually hear the narrator warn in a rapid-fire undertone of “harmful or fatal side-effects in rare cases” involving destroyed livers, kidneys, and stomach linings. And yet, I’m supposed to have “my doctor” ready and waiting for a quick consultation the way, in a different time, people had a village priest handy to hear a confession.

It’s the arrogance that bothers me the most. Any real person of learning isn’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” When is the last time you heard those words out of a doctor?