Peter Brannen Is Kind Of An Amazing Man

Date: December 1st, 2017

Other Title: My Interview With The Amazing Peter Brannen

Look how adorable he is!

Book cover: 

Peter Brannen is kind of an amazing man. Tis true, tis true. He is the author of The Ends Of The World, a book you must read now if you haven’t already. Here’s a link to buy it: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062364807/the-ends-of-the-world

The Ends Of The World is about the five major extinctions our planet has endured. It is highly scientific, but for me at least, it reads like a novel – rightly emotional, fun, sweet, dark at times, and uplifting in the end. I loved the book so much that I annotated it. For fun. I got a pen and sat wherever I was reading it at any given time and expressed my feelings about the book, in the book. No teacher told me to. Peter sure didn’t.

The man’s Twitter feed is miraculous (some are missing their pictures or context, click each for full tweet):

I had the great honor of interviewing him, and here it is for your reading pleasure:

1. On Twitter, in reposting this post (https://twitter.com/Paleocreations/status/928695855439376384), you said “Earth has been many different planets over its lifetime.” This is sort of a two parter…Of all the “planets” Earth has been, which one is your favorite? And where is your favorite place to be on Current Earth?

 This is a very difficult question for me to answer, because it tends to change based on which period I’m researching at that moment. Some worlds, like the Cambrian world (illustrated in that link), I just love because of how alien they are. It’s difficult to believe that that world and our own both shared this same little plot of real estate in the solar system, even if we are separated by hundreds of millions of years. Of the periods I highlight in the book, there is the same sort of alien appeal for me in the Ordovician: the continents were nearly as desolate as Mars, but underwater, in places like tropical Ohio, it was just this explosion of sea life, and almost all of it was invertebrate–bug, squid, starfish-like etc.—and our ancestors, the fish, we’re all but irrelevant. It’s just a totally bizarre planet. And although it’s more recent, the Permian-Triassic planet is similarly alien to me. I’m fascinated by this version of planet earth in a sort of macabre way. It just gets so unbelievably hot and desolate. In fact, in these huge lifeless expanses of Pangaea there’s evidence that at one point earlier in the Permian it got as hot as 163 degrees Fahrenheit!

My favorite place to be on earth today is in front of any new rock outcrop with a geologist who can tell me what I’m looking at, and there’s good rocks everywhere. Geology has made the whole world more interesting to me.

2. What is your favorite fictional kingdom? 

I was struggling with this question, when I suddenly remembered a series of books I had when I was younger called Dinotopia. I just google image searched it and the illustrations are as incredible as I remembered. That is a fictional kingdom I would like to visit.

3. Who was the kindest scientist you met on your journey of writing The Ends Of The World? And who was the most eccentric? (I think I might be able to guess your answer for most eccentric, but I’m gonna let you say it.) 

All of the scientists were exceptionally kind in letting me barge into their offices and accompany them on trips to the field, and for not rolling their eyes when I asked a dumb question, so I’m going to be diplomatic and not single anyone out. “Eccentric” might have a slightly negative connotation in this context so I’ll just say that Gerta Keller certainly has the most interesting back story. As you know from the book, she basically ran away from home as a child, traveled the world, was later shot in a bank robbery, and today is easily the most divisive figure in the mass extinction community because of her iconoclastic interpretation of what killed all the non-bird dinosaurs 66 million years ago (not an asteroid, she says). As a group of people who spend their lives traveling to extremely locations to piece together answers to the big questions about the history of the planet, geologists and paleontologists are, as a rule, interesting people. But even among them Keller stands out.

4. What is your favorite element on the periodic table? Why?

I was tempted to say something crazy like astatine because of this xkcd piece https://englishatlc.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/randall-munroe-periodic-wall-of-elements.pdf. But I will be less exciting and say carbon. We’ve all heard before that we’re carbon-based life forms, and that carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas, but I think we fail to appreciate just how central this element is to the whole crazy project of life on this strangely habitable planet. Through volcanoes it moves from the rocks to the air, from there it gets incorporated into our bodies, and, if we’re shell-building organisms, or we get turned into oil or something, it goes back into the rocks again. It keeps the planet warm enough to survive, and when it gets too warm it naturally subsides in the atmosphere. Only in extremely strange and rare episodes, like during the continental flood basalt eruptions associated with ancient mass extinctions, and in our own current effort to liberate as much of carbon from old rocks as possible by burning coal, oil and gas in power plants does it get wildly out of balance and threaten the stability of our biosphere.

5. What (who?) is your favorite prehistoric animal? 

Another impossible question. But I think I tend to gravitate towards either creatures that are underratedly terrifying, like Dunkleosteus which, as you know from the book, is this heavily-armored sea monster with a guillotine for a mouth, or animals that are truly bizarre. In this second category the Tully Monster comes to mind. I invite you to google it—the artists’ impressions of it are too strange to even describe. Others in the extremely strange camp that I love (to name just a few) are: Anomalocaris, one of the bewildering creatures that shows up at the dawn of animal life, and Tanystropheus, a marine reptile with a neck so incredibly long that it seems like the reconstructions must be wrong (they’re not). And like most people who enjoy visiting natural history museums I’m also drawn towards the extreme outliers in size, whether it’s Indricotherium, a hornless rhinoceros that was several stories tall, Leedsicthys, just this impossibly large, dumb-looking fish that lived in the Jurassic, or Quetzacoatlus, a pterosaur the size of a giraffe with a wingspan that rivals some small aircraft. Sorry to be so long-winded with these answers, there’s just too much from earth history to choose from.

6. During the researching and writing of the book, did you learn about something that particularly excited or scared you?

 I’m both excited and scared, in this perfect mix, by the vastness of deep time. I don’t think I fully appreciated it before. I think astronomy gets a lot of credit for being mind-blowing but I think geology does the trick just as well. For instance, I’m on the east coast (in Maine at the moment) and if I went for a walk with each step representing a century, I would be done with the history of human civilization by the end of the driveway. But I could walk across the entire country to Los Angeles without even getting back to the Cambrian period 500 million years ago. And even then I would have covered less than 10% of earth’s history! Now that I’ve fallen in love with geology I am constantly having that same mind-blowing experience every time I look at a rock.

7. In The Ends Of The World, on page 130, you say: “Though climate science was long an esoteric field, today a familiarity with the basics should constitute a core part of any responsible civic education for citizens of planet Earth.” Yes. Absolutely. Who or what inspired you to become so interested in climate science and extinctions? 

I’ve always been interested in the natural world, and I think my interest in climate science grew out of that. Like a lot of people my age I read Jurassic Park as a kid and was obsessed with dinosaurs. And then when I grew up I was a reporter writing about the ocean and all the modern changes we’re seeing to its temperature and chemistry. When I found out there was this deep connection between the subjects of earth history and climate change, that our experiment today with the climate has analogs throughout the history of life that we can look to for a glimpse of our possible future, it felt like a subject tailor-made to my interests.

8. In your opinion, is the problem with humans and global warming that we are capable of stopping it but generally apathetic, or that we are not capable of stopping it at all? 

I think we are physically capable of stopping human-caused climate change but I have strong doubts about the political will to do so. The most realistic path to reaching the Paris Agreement goal of limiting ourselves to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 requires the entire planet to completely stop using fossil fuels well before 2050, and then to somehow start sucking an incredible amount of CO2 out of the air every year after that with technology that (for all practical purposes) doesn’t exist yet. That is quite the tall order. At this point I think it’s a question of what degree of climate change we are willing to live with. At the lesser extreme we could get our act together and live in a slightly warmer world that—though it certainly will have more extreme storms, and droughts, and heat waves, and things like that—might be manageable for us to adapt to as a civilization (though there will still be losers, especially in tropical, poorer countries). And at the other extreme is the unthinkable: that we just keep burning carbon buried by ancient life, like coal and oil, and catapult ourselves into an alien greenhouse climate from tens of millions of years ago.

I don’t have the words to describe how catastrophic the second option would be, but I don’t think there’s any reason we would ever have to get to that point. It would require another century or two of burning everything we can find in the ground, and even in the current toxic political environment there are reasons to be encouraged, especially by younger people, that voters are beginning to take the need to transform our energy system seriously. That said, in the very long run, over thousands of years, even the small changes we make to the climate will have dramatic effects. A recent study showed that the entire ice sheet of Greenland could melt with as little as 0.8 degrees of warming. We’ve already warmed the planet 0.8 degrees and will likely warm it by much more. The good thing is that to completely melt the whole thing takes thousands to tens of thousands of years (the bad thing is you don’t have to melt all of Greenland to raise sea level a lot). As for ocean acidification (what happens when CO2 reacts with seawater) it will take something like 150,000 years for nature to restore the changes we’re causing to ocean chemistry today.

9. Do you think we, citizens of the U.S, will ever have a “scientist President”? Or even a “historian President?” Someone who understands and is interested in science and history and enjoys learning? Someone who is kind but who also tries to be somewhat logical? (If you think you could ever run for President, you would definitely have my vote.) 

Haha, that’s very kind of you. I sincerely hope we have a scientist president, and soon. So many of the problems we face today, and in the decades to come, will be scientific ones. And given the polling on questions like “How old is the earth?”, and an obvious dearth of critical thinking skills in the country in the age of “fake news”, it’s obvious that we’re massively underinvested in education. If I were president I would invest (probably to a slightly psychotic degree) on education and basic research. The National Science Foundation and NASA would do quite well in my administration. That said–and this is something of a digression–not all policy questions can be decided by science. There will always be a role for philosophy and ethics to play, along with a whole bunch of other subjects that I think too many scientists are too quick to sneer at as squishy.

For instance, Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently proposed a utopian society where every policy question is decided by data and scientific research alone https://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/reflections-on-rationalia/10154399608556613/. I think there’s a lot to recommend this vision of society, especially when you compare it to our current scientifically illiterate one. But there would be major limitations to it as well, some of which would quickly become ghastly. Take Tyson’s example on how we should decide whether to have the death penalty, which he says should depend on the data on whether it’s effective at deterring crime. But this data is useless without some prior system of ethics. For instance, there would likely be a strong deterrent effect on the crime of shoplifting if we made it punishable by death, but I don’t think that this would inform us whatsoever on whether it’s the wise or just path for a society to take. There will always be these moral questions for us to decide.

10. In your opinion, what was the worst mass extinction so far? 

The End-Permian mass extinction is the worst mass extinction in the history of life and there’s not really a close second. Enough lava erupted in Siberia 252 million years ago to cover the lower 48 United States a kilometer deep, and the volcanoes injected so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it caused temperatures to spike something like 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Up to 96% of life in the oceans died. Trees all but disappear in the fossil record for 10 million years after the mass extinction. Coral reefs are replaced with piles of bacterial slime. The planet basically had to reboot after the catastrophe, and it took millions of painful years to do so. It was the worst moment in the history of the earth. And yet, the earth recovered. And it did more than just recover. From the ashes of the End-Permian mass extinction blossomed the age of dinosaurs and, after that, the age of mammals, and everything we see living in our world today. Life is incredibly resilient and even after the worst disaster in its history the earth enjoyed its greatest flourishing. I think there are some lessons we can learn from our wonderful planet.

. . .

Peter Brannen is a huge nerd and a problem solver (and he referenced two of my other favorite people, Randall and Neil!). Like he says on page 130, I believe it is important to see the planet not as your world or my world, but as a planet. Operating on geological time, functioning as a whole. Seems obvious. Isn’t. I guess I love Peter so much because he is rare. He sees the planet as the whole that it is. He is both kind and smart, something you don’t often see. He recognizes the importance of the ocean, penis worms, and you and I.

And this is to remind you what he looks like.

 I ended up searching Dinotopia on Google Images. My favorite fictional kingdom is Britain as it appears in the Harry Potter series, but Dinotopia looks very cool. I might like to visit there if I could.

 

I Am With You, France, No Matter Where I Choose To Live

Date: June 5th, 2017

Emmanuel Macron put this on his Facebook four days ago:

In pulling the U.S out of the Paris Accord, Trump quickly went from douchebag to dangerous. This is not a series of jokes. This is a series of hard blows against our integrity, safety, and capacity for compassion. And this is a big deal. A big, scary deal. Let yourself get scared by this. You are afraid because you are aware, and because you aware, you have the power to fix these problems, however daunting they are.

But the funny thing is, the worse it gets, the better my outlook is.

These are just the first few results I got from Googling “companies and mayors paris agreement:”

1. Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord

2. PressTV-US cities, states, companies commit to Paris accord

3. US states and businesses will still meet Paris targets | Environment | The Guardian

4. Which Cities Have Pledged To Follow The Paris Agreement? Over 150 Mayors Have Agreed

(Please actually look at these links. I try to write about some good stuff, but I don’t know everything, so I cite people who know more than little old me. It’s educational, guys.)

This is happening, guys, gals, and non-binary pals.

Trump screwed up, and now, maybe because it falls on us no matter whether we accept it or not, we are taking charge. And then there’s my man Macron. He knows that the current President of the United States only represents a small but loud group whose headquarters lies in Trump’s hairy, wrinkly, orange armpit. He knows most U.S citizens share something powerful with most French citizens…and most Indian citizens, and most Chinese citizens, and most Japanese citizens, and most German citizens. There are going to be bad, sucky, horrendous people everywhere. No country is perfect. Not even Sweden. (However, Sweden is willing to admit it.) But there are also going to be good and great, innovative, kind people everywhere. Macron’s favorite type of person. Everywhere. Regardless of age, race, culture, sex and sexual orientation. It is all fine and nice to be patriotic, and it is wonderful to let the borders dissolve when we need to. Countries can be countries. We don’t have to try and build a world government (that would be disastrous). But countries and nations can and should work together without spite, because it is not the government or reputation that matters, it is the people. Every country holds people worthy of love within it. Not one country is better than another, not in that way.

The French spirit is the Brazilian spirit and the Morrocan spirit and the American spirit and the Bulgarian spirit and the Kenyan spirit and the British spirit. Because the best people share it no matter where they are. We are not our worst: The KKK, ISIL, Boko Haram, the Nazis – nope. And we are not our dictators. Saudi Arabia, the U.S, Russia…we pride ourselves on our best because we are forced to. We are not who is in charge.

Which brings me to Macron’s offer.

He asks the scientists, engineers, and designers of the U.S, the innovators fighting climate change in a sea of bullshit and hate, to come to work and live in France.

My point isn’t that I am not going to go to France ever. My point is that I am probably not going to France anytime soon.

I am a writer and designer, and I hope to own a bed-and-breakfast when I am older, so I may write and design when I want to as opposed to on a deadline. With that in mind, I can be relocated nearly anywhere, as long its pretty enough to support a cutesy bed-and-breakfast. And it is not as though I do not like France. I have never been there, but I have learned about the country from my French language class and – *sighs* – Google. It is very aesthetically pleasing, the schools are – generally – better, and they are prepared to deal with global warming. “As in the UK, France has adopted a series of carbon budgets with the first three running 2015-2018, 2019-2023 and 2024-2028. To meet its 2050 target the country needs to cut 9-10 megatonnes of carbon dioxide every year says the report, and cut energy emissions 96% by mid century.” From France delivers 2050 climate plan to UN.

But even though I can easily be picked up and plopped down somewhere else, there are still things I cannot control that keep me here. My parents need to be in Los Angeles for their work. Not only that. My school is here. And while the French education system might be better, this particular school I go to is one I’d miss. It is not traditional, very open, relaxed, and filled to the brim with use and value. How do you take a school with you on a plane? One of my favorite teachers just retired, but there are the students too, and my remaining wonderful teachers. My best friend moved away to Napa, and the other’s always busy – but Napa’s easier to visit than France! (Unless I kidnapped her and took her with me.) Then there’s my other friends, slowly becoming besties. I can’t make anybody move just because I want to. I suppose this is decision making, weighing the things in your life to help you decide what to do. But the decision isn’t only mine. As I may have mentioned, I have two parents I can’t get rid of until at least college. Each with their own lives, friends they won’t want to move away from, careers. Not too mention – we like our house. My house is a good one.

And then there’s the whole guilt/anger factor to moving away to “escape Trump.” Read: Movers And Shakers.

There is much to think about.

But if you do move, France is a great place to move to!

Maybe my family and I will move to France in a year. Two and a half years. Four years, after Trump is out of office anyways. Maybe we’ll move to Singapore, or Barcelona, or a part of Croatia. Maybe we’ll stay in the U.S.

But wherever we are, we will stand with France.

It is not one President we are fighting. It is a lack of progress. So whether you fight in the U.S or overseas, you are fighting with peace and love, and that is what matters.

I will stand with you, France. Stand with me?

#makeourplanetgreatagain

#vivelarevolutionforearth

Good luck, everybody.

This Is How We Fight

Everyone talks about going green.

But what about going blue?

“Going blue” already has a widely accepted meaning. It means, slang-wise, “being cold.”

Which is kind of a lovely coincidence.

What is the one thing on Earth, in the universe (multiverse?), that could scientifically be considered to have the power and reach of a god or goddess?

It’s water.

Water is the most valuable material we have. Water is a solvent, capable of cleaning plates and leveling cities. It is responsible for nearly every helpful feedback loop keeping Earth in check.

And we can use water even further than we have, but for good. Not for our own enjoyment – to help the planet.

Here are two ideas of mine:

1. Introducing A New Feedback Loop, Or Multiple

Movement cools.

Unless the air, or water, is just too hot, turbulence will always cool it down. Why? Forced convection sucks heat out of things.

Wave machines would do this with water, producing a cooling effect where it is most needed, and since waves affect movement of the air, this a very basic way to cool the earth. It would require a lot of sustainable, non-harmful engineering, and it certainly wouldn’t be enough, but it would be what we require – a start.

2. Building Better Dams

I had this idea in the bathtub.

Don’t worry, I am going to describe the idea, not my time in the bathtub.

I was doing a little rub-a-dub here, rub-a-dub there, when I realized – whenever I made a teeny weeny wave, the part of the wave going in between my legs grew higher than the part of the wave outside. My knees were bent, and so formed a near triangle with a path in the middle of two halves for the water to go through.

Hydroelectric dams rely on the kinetic energy of falling water to spin a turbine that powers the generator it is connected to. There are two types of dams, gravity dams and run-of-river dams. Gravity dams are the ones you’ve heard about. (Cool video on dams! Check it out, I’m probably not the best to teach you.)

My bent knees provided a slight ascent for the water, and the thin path increased pressure for the wave. My thighs are also rounded – because I’m not, y’know, a rectangular alien – and that provided the finishing touch. The water wasn’t hindered by the taller “structure” that gave it jumping power, because it was smooth, and it was able to glide along it for a short time, instead of stopping short.

My “dam” doesn’t block any river, doesn’t need any reservoir, and is a relatively simple, small engineering project. This means it won’t be a problem for wildlife.

In honor of how it was invented, I name the idea the Jumping Knee Dam. Pretty funny image there too. This is my original idea, if you want to build one, please talk to me.

Go blue.

Water still has secrets. If we can uncover them without hurting the planet, we have a chance of saving it.

 

A Letter From The U.S. To Her Citizens

Featuring original art.

Date: March 6th, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear – it’s only appropriate that I call you all this – Lovely Children Of Mine,

Being a single mother does not excuse what I’ve done, it does not excuse how bad of a mother I’ve been.

I am white. I am straight. I am cis. I am a woman. I am able-bodied. So many of my children have it worse – in way, yes, it is worse – than I do because of me.

I was born out of an angry three-way Spain had with England and France. I was very dysfunctional as an infant. I had difficulty understanding empathy.

I have been sexist.

I have been homophobic, and transphobic, and even, in my earlier years, Irish-phobic.

I have been racist.

I have been cruel.

And there is some sort of illness I have, similar to lycanthropy or alcoholism, where sometimes – most of the time in some places, almost never in others – I still am this way. This relapse happens often. But do I let it define me? Do I let it define us?

That is the philosophical argument I wake up every morning with.

The other countries hate me. I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve considered killing myself, ripping myself apart from the inside out, to save you, my children. The reason I don’t may be as simple as cowardice, but I like to think I have some future…out there…somewhere.

There’s no justification for all I’ve done. And I know that being aware of all that I’ve done doesn’t make it any better. I have to be cured of this.

There’s no way I can’t be defined as sexist, racist, cruel…broken. And this, my children, is why I wake up wondering if it’s worth it to try and make a new name for myself. Can I truly get better? With Dopleed Nurmp as President? With anybody as President? Can any President be a true cure? No one person can change me, even surrounded by good people who try their hardest, I’m still…like this. But I think, it’s because they’re not really trying their hardest to help me, and I’m not really trying my hardest to change. Even the Obamas, who worked their butts off (they actually gave me hope for the future!), couldn’t accomplish as much as if…everyone cared more. Cared enough to not just repost on social media. Cared enough to actually protest against, well, me, whenever I relapse. Cared enough to break the cycle of complacency. My children, you see my problems, my flaws, the truly bad ones, and you say, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll deal with her.” And I do not blame you at all, the fact is, I blame myself, but don’t you need me intact? Don’t you feel you should assist me in my rehabilitation? I cannot express how truly sorry I am, but I cannot function alone, I cannot feel sorry – I cannot feel anything – if I am not in a safe, welcoming space.

Oh, but here I go again, finding some excuse, someone other than I to blame, finding some reason to give me a “safe, welcoming space.” I was heartless – I still am! I do not deserve such a space! I need to do some growing up!

Children, I must ask that you lead the way. I do not suffice. You have to be a citizen of the world, not just of me. You have to love, and love more, and love even more. You have to think rationally and hopefully and intelligently and honestly. You must get better, so I can follow. You have to be architects and poets and activists and you have to disregard and go around the stupid white people, all the while enlisting the smart ones for help. You have to believe in yourself and care about yourself and be yourself and no one else.

Please.

I can’t fall apart more than I already have. I can’t lose you more than I already have.

And here we walk into the dark chaos ahead of us, fully aware of the danger…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sincerely,

The U.S.A

. . .

A note from ZMKF (who really wrote that letter): One of the best ways I express myself is through music. I am an expert playlist-maker. Here is my Trump coping playlist: Fuckface Von Clownstick. And here is the U.S.A’s “The U.S. Is Sorry/Strong” playlist: The U.S Is Sorry/Strong.

The Futuristic World: There Are Two Options Left For Us, As Far As I Can Tell

Date: February 21th, 2017

The Futuristic World: The world of the future will be a complex one, regardless of whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. Technology – a big pixelated hand of man created to do what man wants, evolving before our very eyes – and nature – the elements of the universe, or multiverse, the never-blank slate we were born into and have been toying with ever since, the illusion of a God, the methodology of being born to run and made to work – must find a perfect equilibrium for Homo sapiens (and the other species born on Earth, as they are no less important) to survive. We must help that process.    

According to http://ridesharechoices.scripts.mit.edu, “carpooling first became prominent in the United States as a rationing tactic during World War II. It returned in the mid-1970s due to the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis. At that time the first employee vanpools were organized at Chrysler and 3M.” (Exact phrasing of the information presented taken from the Wikipedia page “Carpool.”)

Carpool lanes, as a concept, were accepted world-wide for two reasons.

1. Everybody hates traffic.

2. To cut carbon emissions.

The latter is kind of a big deal, because everyone has carpool lanes in their cities, even in the South of the United States.

Carpool lanes do help cut carbon emissions, not by much, but it’s the little things that count, and we’ve packaged them as something that everybody can enjoy, even those who don’t believe global warming is a real problem! Everybody hates traffic. Emphasis on everybody. The pill in the peanut butter is a tactic my mom uses to feed my dog her medicine. My dog needs the medicine, but she sure as hell doesn’t like it. This is how we fix the world. Think about Republicans, conservatives – people who stereotypically deny the truth. (This isn’t a behavior all Republicans have in common.) Democrats and liberals do it too, except it is more insidious, because they’re supposed to be “correct.” Ask an average Southerner if they’re willing to do anything about global warming, racism, or gun control, and you are sure to get a “Expletive no, you expletive expletive.” People like this are so stuck in their ways that the only way to get them to help – and with the bigger problems, we need everybody working to solve them – is to trick them.

We are in dire need of solutions.

The Doomsday Clock is a scientifically accepted method for predicting when the world will end.

This is the timeline: Doomsday Clock Timeline.

Yep – two minutes (two and a half minutes, actually) left. (It would do you some good to research this “clock” extensively, it’s very educational, and surprisingly hopeful, in the sense that they believe taking action would help at all.) The factors the clock counts include nuclear weaponry, climate change, and bio-security. “Two minutes” left on this clock isn’t literally 120 seconds, but it’s still plenty worrisome, as it was 17 minutes to midnight in only 1995 – this clock doesn’t necessarily rely on time. Instead, it calculates risk. The closer to midnight, the bigger chance of disaster striking at any moment. (See the Doomsday Dashboard for the main information the clock uses for its calculations.) The clock isn’t always accurate, but almost nothing is, and this is one of the most reliable sources in the world, created by top scientists, some of whom worked on the Manhattan project.

This clock shouldn’t paralyze you with fear.

It is the inaction of being paralyzed, by any feeling – fear, sadness, rage, embarrassment – that is the true danger. If these problems deter you emotionally, you should work even harder to solve them, rather than retiring into nonintervention.

We’ve got two main options left, if we want to re-wind the clock:

1. A “City Of Ember” (written by Jeanne DuPrau) thing. Move underground. Destroy the aboveground power plants, dams, and cities, and leave the Earth to the animals, plants, and weather patterns for at least 200 years. Come back out when the time is right, and begin again.

2. A massive change to the way people think. Less procrastination. Less complacency. More thinking, more doing. Kindness and intelligence being priorities. Weird ideas – attaching microbes to fish teeth so fish can eat materials found in trash, maglev trains, apps meant to maximize philosophical thinking – that are so “far out” they just might work.

REWIND THE CLOCK.

Mars (The 6-Part Series By Nat Geo) Is The Best Thing Ever

Date: February 2nd, 2017 

I have been fascinated by Mars for a few years now. This blog was about Mars for a while. (This blog went through many phases, which is why the domain name has nothing to do with…anything.)

Mars is so fascinating to me because in many ways it’s just like Earth, but without any protection available. Same type of rocky ground. There are even weirdly similar landforms (I say weird because when you think of it the universe is a giant crap game, we’re lucky, but it’s kind of strange), like plateaus, canyons and mountains. With the right equipment and a good sense of time, you could go hiking – as a purely recreational activity. There’s enough gravity that you don’t fly off. In some places on Earth, you can look outside your window and go, “Hey, look. It’s Mars with a blue sky and some clouds.” But on Mars, your body is so tiny and so frail. The only thing keeping you alive is something purely external – your spacesuit, the walls of your home base. It doesn’t matter that “your lungs are still working, or would be, if not for…” You don’t matter on Mars. Throughout the Mars series, they repeat the metaphor that Mars is actively trying to fight them. That’s not how I see it. Mars just doesn’t care about you, your friends, your family, your old life; the elementary school you went to, your favorite color. Earth is a living, breathing organism. Not in the technical sense, no, but you have to admit something’s up – on Earth, everything…works. The systems in place never stop functioning – or at least they never used to, but we’ll see where global warming takes us – every single thing on the Earth is for itself and everything else. Mars, on the other hand, is apathetically failing. I am drawn to that type of planet, and the people willing to go and live on it.

Mars the series is quite the opposite of “apathetically failing.” It is sympathetically succeeding. Sympathetic in that you cheer when the characters – and real people, on the other side of the series – do, and the surreal, fast-heartbeat feeling hits all of you as they step on to that rocket for the first time. Successful in that Mars caught the attention of all the big news sources (think Forbes, WIRED, Variety, The New York Times) including this article from screenertv.com, titled “Is Nat Geo the next HBO?” (Click title for link to article.)

Mars is cool. One of the main reasons is that JiHAE is really, really cool. (Kidding, favoritism isn’t my thing.) The cast fits so well.

JiHAE is so good at portraying someone who wasn’t really supposed to be the leader, but had to step up. You felt the difficulty in every decision, and you felt her humanity. I’m describing both sisters. Joon and Hana Seung were both dreamers who grew into almost bitter pragmatists, and you have to respect their journey.

Ben Cotton is amazing as Ben Sawyer. I wanted to give him a big hug as he was dying. He cared so much about the others, and even when he was in pain, he put them before himself. He sorta reminds me of me. Or the Tenth Doctor (Doctor Who).

Alberto Ammann is, as they say in the fandoms, “my smol son.” I absolutely loved the “lavender moment.” And I like how pissed Javier gets at the smallest of things. It makes me laugh.

Clémentine Poidatz is wonderful, as the other half of Javier, and a beautiful (inside and out), intelligent woman herself. She’s good at what she does, so much so that she would be the one I’d trust to take care of me in space.

And Anamaria Marinca is so adorable. She reminds me of Felicia Day (seen on Supernatural as the the Queen, Charlie Bradbury). If Marta Kamen were real, she’d be my new best friend, and we would go out for ice cream and chat about science and our favorite TV shows.

Sammi Rotibi’s Robert has the bromanciest of bromances with Javier, and without him, the team just wouldn’t be the same. He is “the rock” and “the leaf.”

What I like about the cast is: not only is the cast “good,” the cast is realistic. Different colors, races, nose shapes, eyelids, smiles, personalities…they all compliment each other in the way real people do, and they’re all so dynamic – the cast of Mars is a great hypothetical stand-in for the waves of actual astronauts responsible for colonizing Mars in the future.

Here are some of my favorite moments from Mars:

1. Ben Sawyer, Dying And Dead (And Alive!)

Ben Sawyer is my new “character crush” (as opposed to celebrity crush), as is evident from my various pet names and exclamations during the duration of the first two episodes (“Nooooo honey no!” “My precious baby nooooooo!” “Aww, baby!” “NO BEN NOOOOOO!”). At first, he appears authoritative in the bad way, as though he will judge your every move. Then it is revealed that he is just as charming, cheerfully optimistic, and frankly…”cute” as the rest of them. Not only that, but he loves his crew, he loves his crew from the bottom of his heart and he hates to put them at more risk than they’re already at. He gives the regular speech about it (“you could die, yada yada yada”), but then makes it clear that he cares about his crew more than anything else, and that to me is so, so sweet…I love him. He sat and contained his pain for hours, helping them get to – relative – safety. And – yes – he is so handsome…I love him so much.

2. The Lavender Moment

Javier and Amelie are so cute together. Amelie helps the hilariously, constantly pissed Javier calm down. Javier is a good mechanic (is that what you would call what he does?), and he has a heart of gold inside of him. Lavender is now my favorite word in the entire universe. (That’s a slight exaggeration.) Lavender lavender lavender. Awww…

3. Paul Goes Bonkers

First of all, do not hire someone who talks to his plants.

This scene is trippy, and surreal, and heart-wrenching, and kinda awful – and I love it. It’s an example of what I was talking about earlier – you are not the special snowflake you were on Earth, and you can get killed via the wrong door being opened. John Light (Paul) is so innocent in his portrayal of Paul (Paultrayal, for those of you with an interest in portmanteaus) that you just can’t blame him, not really, but it’s always in the back of your mind that they shouldn’t have brought him along.

The Futuristic World: Man-man Islands?

The Futuristic World: The world of the future will be a complex one, regardless of whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. Technology – a big pixelated hand of man created to do what man wants, evolving before our very eyes – and nature – the elements of the universe, or multiverse, the never-blank slate we were born into and have been toying with ever since, the illusion of a God, the methodology of being born to run and made to work – must find a perfect equilibrium for Homo sapiens (and the other species born on Earth, as they are no less important) to survive. We must help that process.    

Date: January 26th, 2017

Man-made islands are not a new thing.

According WorldAtlas.com, ”Island construction dates back to pre-historic times in ancient Egypt, Ireland, Scotland, and Mexico.” They can be so small and relatively easy to make that they look primitive (the “Uros Islands,” see Figure 1), or so large and complex that it appears their only application is science fiction (the Palm Jumeirah, see Figure 2).

Figure 1. A picture of one of the Islas Uros.

The Islas Uros were created with people, basic tools, and buoyant totora reeds. The Palm Jumeirah was created with your usual, more modern set: a mixture of soil and sand, wood, metal – probably steel and aluminum, stone, etc.

The Manlands (my word for “man-made islands”) all have the bare necessities in common:

Figure 2. Palm Jumeirah…no, I’m pretty sure that’s actually the long-lost city of Atlantis. Just look at it.

– Reason for being off the mainland (with the Islas Uros, it probably had something to do with convenience for the fishing communities, and for Palm Jumeirah – well, they probably just though it was cool. They’re not wrong).

– Food and water. By which I mean, all manlands have an efficient delivery/farming/storing system for food and water. If your manland doesn’t have at least one of the three (having all three would be the best situation), permanent residence will provide serious problems.

– Satisfactory housing. Of course, the “satisfaction” level is all relative, so in this context I speak of the housing methods most satisfactory to the people living on that particular manland.

Beyond the bare necessities, one manland and another have about as much in common as a pig and a banana.

Even though manlands aren’t exactly new, they could be used for new purposes. The motors to keep the manland afloat if it is “free” from the ground, and to move it if the creators ever desire that, could – with the proper design – also serve as water turbines. The turbines would power the manland and its motors (movement causes more movement, don’t you know?), as well as sending power back to the nearest islands/manlands/mainland. Manlands could also serve as low-cost, high-density farms, hydroponic or otherwise, hubs for trade, and the most “basic” application: population holders…that’s an official name for it, but you know, it’s “where people live.”

Or, I suppose you could create a manland and make it your own little world. That’s more than enough. Sometimes, creative people don’t fit into a category like “fashion designer” or “sculptor.” Sometimes, creative people yearn to be “world creator.” (Think landscaper, architect, and artist all in one.) If manlands become a trend, white people won’t have to colonize the little worlds we find, we’ll be able to make our own! (That was…a joke. But that would be true. It might get us closer to world peace.) And there are ways to make sure these manlands help the environment rather than hinder it.

Manlands created by governments/companies/private individuals could make a deal with their retrospective countries/nations: Manlands could pledge allegiance, and they would be able to remain independent – eg. marijuana not illegal “at home” but legal on manland – but the country/nation would help the manland if the manland needed help, and in return the manlands would be counted in the population – including voting for the leader of the country/nation, and any ideas/technology developed or perfected on the manlands would be available on their country/nation for a much lower price, which should be valuable enough, as the “mini-socieities” are sure to be filled with geniuses.

Manlands created by governments/companies/private individuals could also have a shared “Manland” government, in which they would share ideas, supplies including technologies, whatever they used as money, etc, and help each other out militarily and politically when the time comes.

 

Native Americans*: We Screwed Up Big Time And I For One Apologize Sincerely

* And Descendants Of Said People

Date: January 23rd, 2017

The United States has so much potential to do good. We’re growing, slowly, getting better, even slower. I wouldn’t want to bomb this country into oblivion. And I don’t want to “leave the country if you don’t like it!”

But I’m white. And yes, I’m agender and female (gender and sex are different), asexual-panromantic, and a wheelchair user – don’t ask, that’s for another blog post, but the fact is, I have white privilege. “My people” hold the highest positions in nearly everything, and society praises them as superior. Even a homeless man looks more “pleasant” if he’s white, as opposed to black, brown, or frickin purple. “Your people” are scattered throughout the country, viewed as powerless although I know that is not true, made to live like illegal immigrants when really it was us who came in unwanted.

So maybe, I only think things are going well is because of my whiteness. Maybe I’m biased because I’m not treated like crap every day. I’ve got a great life, when I think about it. Great school. Really great family and friends. Great social situation. I’m…great. I’m so great that I’ve used the word great six – no, seven – times in this paragraph. Great. (Eight.)

When you guys first got here, you crossed the Bering Strait – maybe as early as 22,000 years ago – which disappeared after the Ice Age ended, leaving you to adapt to each environment you encountered. (You even learned how to hunt woolly mammoth – a pre-historic elephant-like creature with too much hair, and an attitude.)

You went from north to south, and developed into the American Tribes, as well as the Olmec, Maya, Aztec, and Inca. You lived on cliff sides and in canyon bottoms, and you had a multi-story buildings, and underground ceremonial chambers. You had complex governments, empires spanning thousands of miles, and I’m not even surprised about any of this. Of course, you’re just people, no one culture gets everything right, but you were fantastic. Better than we were. The more I read about you guys, the more “Sh*****t, we f*cked up!” is uttered from my mouth. I even made a playlist to express how sorry I am: I’m SO Sorry – from, Whitey. But I know my awareness doesn’t excuse anything.

So what can I do? To make it up to you, or, if it’s unforgivable, to prove that I would to make it up to you if that were possible?

It’s plain and simple that my ancestors were not involved. We came later, from Germany and Greece. But I still feel partly responsible. Is that weird?

Let’s have a thoughtful discussion about this.

This isn’t so I can feel better about myself. This is so I can make the world a better place.

What can I do?

I’m not willing to “fight” hard, but I am willing to write hard. I’m a writer. I wasn’t at the marches last Saturday because I was busy thinking up how to write this effectively. And writing, drawing, painting, works.

Now.

How may I be of service to the great number of communities we utterly destroyed?

I Have A Wonderfully Plausible Theory On How To PREDICT EARTHQUAKES

Date: January 20th, 2017

I have a theory. That nasty sewer rat might save your life.

How?

First, a brief review of earthquakes.

Japan, the U.S Pacific Northwest, anywhere there is a major fault line (see Figure 1), you could be fine one moment and dead the next. When you think about it, I’d be lucky to finish writing this article before an earthquake hits.

Figure 1: A graphic by the amazing Randall Munroe, from his book Thing Explainer.

The U.S Pacific Northwest is in the “danger zone” of two potential earthquakes, both very large.

The first one I was aware of comes to us via the San Andreas fault, lining the near entirety of California. This is the one everyone hears about, they even made a movie about it. The movie exaggerated a bit (see: 5 things the ‘San Andreas’ movie got wrong), but all hype comes from somewhere. This “somewhere” will kill you.

The second comes to us from an offshore fault, the Cascadia subduction zone, in the Oregon/Washington area. This fault has been waiting thousands and thousands of years to strike. The New Yorker calls this, if it happens, “the worst natural disaster in the history of the continent.” See: The Really Big One 

Both could kill thousands. If there is anything to take seriously in this world, the threat from The Big One (San Andreas) and The Really Big One (Cascadia subduction zone) would be it. And yet, we don’t have earthquake prediction down to a science. If you’re a scientist reading this, don’t worry. I’m not judging anyone in particular, I just find it curious that something so terrifying is a “we’ll sleep on it” thing. And forget about having it down to a science, we don’t even have it down to an art. All you see are articles with the conclusion being some variation of “we don’t know.” See either of these: Why Can’t We Predict Earthquakes? or Can Animals Sense Earthquakes?

“Earthquakes are unpredictable” may not be true for much longer.

This is my original theory so please enjoy: 

I came up with my theory in physics class, of course. My teacher Mary was explaining frequency. (See Frequency and Period of a Wave to learn about frequency.) If you’re not in the mood to learn that much, frequency affects whether or not you can hear something. We Homo sapiens can hear “middle” – it’s not really the middle – frequency (from about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, though we hear sounds best from 1,000 Hz to 5,000 Hz, according to DOSITS: What sounds can we hear?). We can’t hear lower than 20 Hz, or higher than 20,000 Hz.

As we all know, animals (most species other than us) can sense earthquakes. For a very long time, we’ve wondered how. But our conclusion stops short of an answer, as with the earthquake prediction.

I think they’re hearing it. 

I’m going to give you two links (please, please read them), and see if you can tell what these two articles have in common:

Animals CAN predict earthquakes by www.dailymail.co.uk

“Dr Grant, a lecturer in animal and environmental biology, told MailOnline that rodents seemed to be particularly sensitive and disappeared completely eight days before the quake.” (First article.)

Do Sound Repellent Devices Really Keep Rodents Away? by www.sfgate.com

“…repel rodents such as mice, rats, moles, squirrels and gophers.” (Second article.)

Rodents.

No one has put these two pieces of information together before. The first article states that animals could possibly sense earthquakes by way of ionization, and the second states that rodents react strongly to high frequency sound.

My theory: rats can hear an earthquake coming!

Rodents can hear the highest frequencies of any animal known to react “strangely” to an earthquake. You’ll notice that the first article mentioned that “they recorded the reflection of very low frequency (VLF) radio waves above the area surrounding the epicentre.” But knowing that rodents are most sensitive, low frequency doesn’t make sense, at least not as “the thing” they hear.

Let me walk you through a sample earthquake – from the all-knowing narrator’s POV:              

There is always going to be friction and pressure in the Earth’s crust. So the “white noise” will be perpetual, which is how the rodents get used to it, because they get used to repeating noise at a stable volume (which you’d know if you read the second article!).

But as the pressure builds, the frequency – and the “noise” itself – gets lower, louder, and weirder.

At around two weeks before the earthquake, the rodents start reacting.

At around four days, the “pet animals” – dogs and cats – begin to go hectic.

Now, I want you to think long and hard about what you read in the Discover article (Can Animals Sense Earthquakes?), the Daily Mail article (Animals CAN predict earthquakes), and the time frame I used.

This makes sense.  

Thank you for reading. And please, pay more attention to your dog – or gerbil.

By the way: I am totally open to feedback (comment or email me at zoefblog@gmail.com), and you can criticize the validity/importance of my theory, or give me new/better information (please email me, I don’t want that stuff in the comments).

I Am An Absolute Pacifist…Even During A Crisis

Date: December 16th, 2016

I am an absolute pacifist. (I love making playlists, so I made one for absolute pacifism: I Am An Absolute Pacifist on Spotify. Music is an excellent way to express the deepest of emotions.)

For anyone technical enough to want the exact definition of the word, the definition of “pacifist” is “someone opposed to violence as a means of settling disputes” according to vocabulary.com, and dictionary.com defines it as “a person who believes in pacifism or is opposed to war or to violence of any kind.”

I care about everyone. I am emotional. I find killing to be an unjustifiable, yet forgivable, act. I am just as “pragmatic” as anyone – I am an intellectual, and a philosopher, and that doesn’t mean I can’t be a fighter (to me, being an absolute pacifist means I will never kill anyone, but there’s still a multitude of painful things I can do to a person if necessary). I understand about “doing what needs to be done” – it is simply that I have found that there is never only one way to get it done.

The reason I write about all this now is because this past Wednesday, I had my last Model UN class of the semester. We talked about what’s been going on in Aleppo, Syria (obviously) and what happened in Rwanda a while ago (our Model UN class often goes historical, possibly so we have the benefit of discussing things in retrospect). We talked about political turmoil, and the causes and effects of it.

The teacher brought up an interesting hypothetical situation. She told us to imagine these events, in order: 1. Suddenly, a majority of U.S citizens cannot find jobs. 2. The economy goes downhill, and even those who have jobs leftover from before begin to lose money. 3. Welfare and other “poverty buffers” start to lose their power. 4. Food, shelter, and any form of stability become rare to all U.S citizens, except for the elite; just as rare.

The teacher then asked us to describe what would happen to society. (It was, and still is, my personal opinion, that nothing would happen to us per se, we would all just become libertarian farmers. Think of it this way: we all need food. So food needs to be farmed. Even if something was wrong with the food, it would be someone’s job to fix whatever’s wrong.) A consensus of opinion among the class was that “shit would hit the fan.” Utter chaos would ensue, and the U.S would become an abrasive, hostile environment (if it isn’t already). U.S citizens would “go back to nature” in the worst way possible – starving, desperate, and afraid, we would lose empathy for others and become not “humans” but “Homo sapiens sapiens” – the difference between the two, my friends, is that one is our name, and one is the name of a species of creature. (And just now I realize – crap, that is exactly what would happen!) A creature who not only kills for food, but kills those who have food to take it from them. A creature who succumbs to revenge until there is nothing left. A creature who sees their own world as the only world there is.

I spoke up. I said, as a sort of argument against the idea that every person would turn into this creature, “A few years ago, I made a promise. The promise was to never kill anyone, and to never let anyone die. It was a fail-safe mechanism. Even if I forgot why I made that promise, even if I ‘wasn’t myself,’ I would remember the promise itself. With that in mind, I doubt I would succumb to that kind of behavior.”

And almost everyone in that class proceeded to chime in with some variation of “You can’t do that.”

Mmmm.

Yes I can.

One girl was very polite about it. She was very careful to mention that “I don’t really know for sure what you would do because I’m not you,” but the basis of her argument was a non-verbal “Yes, I do know what you would do because you’re only human and you can’t escape that.” (Try me.)

The most common argument against my being a pacifist in times of crisis was that “a crisis is a crisis and you can’t think it away.” Growing up, I was always told to write like the person reading has no idea what you’re talking about, so – what they mean is that when you’re starving, desperate, and afraid, you lose the ability to think rationally. They’re saying I might be an intellectual now, viewing the situation from outside, but if I were experiencing it, I would behave differently from what I think, because what I think I would do has no bearing on what I would actually do.

That’s what the fail-safe promise is for.

I know that crises tend to push people to the brink. I know that prolonged crises can change people to a point where it’s hard to go back to their “standard” form. I know that I could be fine today but dangerously mentally ill tomorrow. And for crying out loud, I know that people tend to look out for themselves only when it comes down to it!

But you know what else I know?

I know that “morality” isn’t just some philosopher’s concept floatin’ up there in the ether. It is right here, right now. Empathy is your ability to recognize that yeah, other people’s lives suck too. You lose that; you become…scary. Let me give you all an example:

Zombie apocalypse. You and your group are wandering the streets, properly armed, yet in need of food. Your best friend’s little brother has a fever, and all the medicine has been contaminated, so he needs a little extra food if he’s going to make it through the coming winter. You come across another group, and you recognize the leader. This guy bullied you when you were in high school together. He’s still a bit of a dick, you can tell. And they’ve got all the food you need, plus a little more. You want their food and whatever supplies they have, but you know you can’t share, and you don’t want anyone trailing you looking to get back what you took from them. So after some consideration, you decide to kill almost all of them – or at least try and leave some of them for dead – but spare the little girl.

Sounds viable?

Okay, now read this excerpt, from the little girl’s POV, an hour after:

. . .

I shake Mommy’s shoulder. “Mommy, mommy, wake up!”

She doesn’t wake up. Her skin feels cold. I try again, and again, no results. I notice the dark red marks all over her chest, and remember what the man who left with all our things said: “Hey, kid…we only did it cause we had to. You’ll understand when you’re older.” Did what, did what, what did they do? Did they send Mommy, and Georgie, and Sam up where Grandpa went last year?

They did.

Mommy, Georgie, Sam, Wendy, Michael…no one responds when I call their name. Why let me stay here? My mother, my brother, everyone who took care of me, I needed them to help me, I needed them to give me hugs and tell me everything’s going to be okay, and now their skin is cold and they can’t say anything anymore.

What will I understand when I’m older? That everyone I loved is worth less than a few strangers?

. . .

This girl will take one item off each body left behind, a trinket or bandana or scrap of fabric, use her sewing needle and thread to put them all together – it is her hobby, after all – and then head off to the west with the memorabilia in tow. She won’t come across any humans for three more days, during which she will discover 1) she’s a good squirrel huntress, and 2) she’s afraid of the dark. She is 4 now. At 16, after all the zombies are gone and humanity is (relatively) safe again, she will give herself little scratches on her arms, hating herself for not remembering what her mother was like.

I’m not saying that “a few strangers” (the little girl’s name for your group) deserved to starve to death. I’m not saying that one little kid, the brother or the girl, was more important than the other. I’m saying…empathy, my friends, is here and now, it is no fairytale. The little brother and the little girl are both very human, and they both have their own unique perspectives.

It is time you realize that if you’ve got a little brother, someone is the little girl.

I am against the death penalty. Most often related specifically to the death penalty, another argument against absolute pacifism is that I “don’t know what really happened.” This is bullcrap. (I would say the s word, but children are watching.) Yes, I love to educate myself, I love to learn, and I do need to learn more, but not for that reason! I know what happened! Morgan Geyser (didn’t kill anyone but tried, very nearly succeeded), Austin Myers (technically did not kill, helped to kill), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (yes, he killed, very directly) – all these people – I know what they did! I know what happened! I know, I know, I know, I know!

I will remember my promise. I will tattoo the promise on my frickin arm if I have to. I will never kill anyone, or let anyone die.

I will always be an absolute pacifist.