Disaster Preparation 101

There’s a chance we’ll be demolished by an asteroid from space
There’s a chance a wayward comet comes our way
There’s a certain probability the dangers that we face
Mean tomorrow is our last surviving day

There’s the promise of a super-quake that shakes us to the core
Or the ultimate volcano of them all
There are dozens of diseases we are not preparing for
Even one would be a horror to befall

We are petrified of portents; we are terrified of signs
We are worried that predictions come to pass
Whether ancient Mayan calendars, or when the moon aligns
We’re convinced the cosmos wants to kick our ass

With the slightest provocation, we will panic in the street
Cos we’re utterly convinced that we are right
Spend our savings in convincing any strangers that we meet
That the world is going to end… and, yes, tonight.

But it isn’t really crazy—no, I’m skeptical, you know,
There’s some really stupid stuff I don’t believe
Like this global warming bullshit, while I’m shoveling the snow
And the vaccination doctors who deceive

Or a change in ocean chemistry, from acids in the air
That could stunt our biggest food chain at its source
There are scientists aplenty who will tell me I should care
But they’re shilling for the government, of course

So I’ll prep for Armageddon, or for zombies on the loose,
Or a multitude of aliens from Mars
But this climate propaganda is a thinly veiled excuse
For the government to take away our cars!

There are far, far greater dangers we are certain we might face
That would bring the population to its knees
So we fret about an asteroid destroying us from space
While we’re killing off our future, by degrees

I hope it’s just an availability heuristic thing, and a handful of unrepresentative stories in the media, but wow. People prepped bunkers for the Mayan apocalypse. Harold Camping convinced people the world was going to end…like, six times. On the strength of a splinter group’s interpretation of an ancient text, or a psychic’s premonition, or the ranting of a radio host who profits when you buy gold, guns, or dehydrated food, people are moved to prepare for the worst. But when the scientific consensus points to a far more likely (but long term and slower) disaster?


Not Sad, Just Amused

I got a payment from Lulu today (somewhere in the low double digits), representing my Christmas revenue from my books. Seven people got a copy of one of my books–in four countries on two continents! Which is really cool, actually. Ok, three of them got free copies (word to the wise–this means if you look in the right place, volumes one and two can be got for free), so a total of four people paid for my book this past Christmas season. And I love them for it.

You don’t get rich in the rhyme business. I figure I have earned roughly a dollar per original verse since moving here (excluding limericks, and excluding stuff from the old blog, the inclusion of either would bring the per-verse [not perverse] revenue significantly lower). This has allowed me to buy a few cephalopodmas gifts for the family I would not have otherwise been able to, and that is just fine.

But if any of you happen to be philanthropic billionaires looking for a tax dodge…

I’d shill for a shilling
But no one is willing
To pay for the things that I write.
I’d rant and I’d holler
For minimum dollar
But no one is offering, quite.
A couple of euros
To stuff in my bureau’s
Sufficient for verses like these;
Though some call it whoring,
I’m begging–imploring–
Come, sully my principles, please!
If someone would shell out,
I’d promise to sell out–
My standards, I’ll keep in my purse–
For now, though, I’m sighing
Cos no one is buying…
And all I can write is Free Verse.

Mind you, that one is from the old blog, so I don’t count it as earning me a cent. Oh, and the books are available at the “cuttlestuff” link at the top of this page, and it won’t bother me a bit if you hunt around for the free ones.

It’s A Cuttlefish Thing

It may seem outrageous; it may seem bizarre,
But sometimes that’s just how things are.

We can’t really question the things that we see
Or make a suggestion to change ‘em
The things that we note are the way things must be
We’re not gods, so we can’t re-arrange ‘em.

We each have our interests, our talents, our strengths—
These are hers, and these others are his
We could try to explain it, and go to great lengths
Or accept that that’s just how it is.

If men are outgoing, and women are meek
These are details which none could deny
And more differences, too, if you happen to seek
Just as long as you never ask “why?”

We can’t suggest causes; there’s no one to blame
Just describe what you see, to the letter
Don’t question; just follow the rules of the game…
And wonder why nothing gets better.

It may seem outrageous; it may seem bizarre,
But sometimes that’s just how things are.

You wanna know one of the great things about being around little kids? They never quit asking “why?”. And not the teleological, purpose-driven “why”, but the far cooler “how does this happen?” kind–“why does it snow?” wants an answer based on temperature, humidity, and the properties of ice crystals, not “so that you can make snow angels.”

And the questions can sometimes be embarrassing. Kids don’t care that you are trying to ignore something: “What are those two dogs doing?” “Why does that man smell bad?” “Why doesn’t anybody ever say ‘no’ to Grandma?” When we get those questions we don’t want, we might be tempted to give a non-answer, and hope the kid is satisfied: “Oh, it’s just a dog thing.” Which, if you are lucky, will get a louder “but why is it a dog thing?”, because you didn’t really answer the question.

The great thing about being in science is, you get to go back to being that kid. You see something neat, and you get to ask “why?” again. Why is that flower shaped like it is? Why is it getting hotter? Why is this rock different from that one? Why are men different from women? Of course, sometimes the questions are embarrassing, at least to some people, and those people will try to give non-answers: Oh, that’s just a climate thing; it goes in cycles, nothing we can do about it, nothing we did to cause it, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

But again, that’s a non-answer; the kid would say “well, why is it a climate thing?” If it’s natural, ok, great, what are the natural causes? Things are the way they are because they got that way somehow; ignoring the reasons means missing out on the answers to all the best questions. And hey, maybe it will turn out that you actually can do something with the answer you find, even if the question was embarrassing and you’d rather not have asked it.

In the long run, it’s better to ask and answer.

On Coping With Tragedy

Just pointing you to another in NPR’s series “Losing Our Religion”–today’s story centers on dealing with tragedy, without religion.

The series–and this story–focuses on just a handful of individuals’ stories, which is both nice (in that it allows for a richness of detail) and frustrating (in that a small sample will necessarily not represent the views of a great many in a varied population). And as always, the comments are worth diving into, both for touching stories and for knee-jerk tribalism. It being NPR, the level of comments is significantly more intelligent than, say, CNN or Fox. Actually, the comments there add quite a few more perspectives, fleshing out the small sample size of the story itself. If you have your own stories, feel free to post them here as well as there.

For myself, I linked to this one, which some folk have already requested for use at their own funerals.

Science Can’t Explain It!

The science of biology has things it can’t explain
Though it’s “Science has the answers!” as the boast.
You can search the latest journals, but you’ll find you search in vain
For the transubstantiation of the host!

The biologists won’t touch it; it’s a truth they’ll never find—
They refuse to even look for their solution
It shows that there are answers of a different, better kind…
And it clearly puts the lie to evolution. [Read more…]

If you ever get the chance…

… So, today, I spent some time at a tidal estuary, just at the turning of the high tide, in winter. My goodness, what a wonderful thing. Ice and snow covered everything, but (this being an estuary) none of it was what you might think of as solid. You could hear the water draining through the layer of snow, and every few minutes the ice would settle, as the stream slowly lowered. You could hear the trickling of water through snow, hear the shifting of ice, hear a waterfall, upstream and out of sight… You could hear seagulls arguing, and unseen songbirds making their presence known. A hawk kept silent watch on a dead tree, then disappeared while your back was turned. Canada geese kept flying, looking for open water.

Come spring, long-legged waders will show up, but this will be a very different sort of magic. The murmur of water moving through snow and ice, the desultory shifting of bathtub-sized floes, the whispering of the waterfall a hundred yards upstream, the sounds you can hear in the absence of the louder birds, waves, cars, boats, and people…

Spring will be beautiful, but it won’t be Winter. And Winter is beautiful. And if you ever get the chance to visit a tidal estuary in winter, and just hang around for an hour or two or three or four, my goodness you should do it. And if not, you can hang around a park, or a field, or a lake or river, or pretty much anywhere, for a few hours in the middle of winter. It’s a whole different world, and it is amazing.

Beats the hell out of staying indoors and watching television. So go. Take a break from all that other stuff, and just watch some birds for a while.

It is soooo worth it.

Colony Of Penguins Discovered, Thanks To Poop Visible From Space

Some scientists have figured out
A means of penguin-snooping;
A camera, beamed from outer space
Can see where they’ve been pooping.

The penguins stay on floes of ice,
For months in just one place
Which leaves a stain of shit so big
It’s visible from space.

The guano—smelly, reddish-brown,
Corrosive, salty goo—
Leaves such a stain, ten colonies
Were found when they were through.

Of course, the waste we humans leave
Is seen from space as well—
The lights by night, the smoke by day
(At least, in space, no smell)

I wonder, once we’ve run our course
And disappeared for good
Will, someday, trails of human waste
Be seen and understood?

Will future beings study us—
As findings will permit—
And learn how humans went extinct
By studying our shit?

In a follow-up to a story from 4 years ago, a colony of some 9,000 penguins was recently discovered in Antarctica.

Until last month, this group of 9,000 Emperor penguins had never seen a human being before. And no human knew about their existence either — until a satellite picked up images of their poop from space. That’s right. These penguins are so populous that their waste is visible from orbit. Though they were discovered in 2009, humans were not able to visit them in person until December 2012.

Of course, the waste from our own human colonies is also visible from space. As I wrote back in 2009, I wonder if some future species will ever learn about us this way. Seems only fitting.