Wednesday, December 15, 2010 5:18 PM
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a Bigfoot story. The idea that there is something that might be avoiding the long hand of scientific scrutiny makes my day. I smile when I hear of a new frog or monkey out there. But, it’s bitter sweet, as any new discovery reminds me that soon there really will be no place on this planet to hide.
Frank Bures, writing for Minnesota Monthly, comes to the same conclusion in his article “The Search for Sasquatch.” Bures’ desire to believe in such a thing as a “9-foot-tall monkey” led him into the north woods of Minnesota, along with 41 other fellow Bigfoot explorers, to try to prove what no one else has proved before. But through the course of his adventures Bures realizes that proof of discovery would mean one less magical thing left out there, away from human touch.
[W]hat would happen if we actually found Bigfoot?...
I felt a wave of sadness sweep over me at the thought. The reason I had always loved the idea of Bigfoot was that, if he was real, it meant the world still contained mysteries, things that were yet unknown and maybe even unknowable. It meant the woods were still big and dark enough to harbor something like Sasquatch. Bigfoot was like a hairy wood sprite loping through my dreams—the spirit of the wild! Find him and, well, he’d be just another monkey.
Across the globe another writer, Ben Judah, delves into the Romit Valley in Tajikistan in search of the Yeti. Like Bures in northern Minnesota, Judah meets many avid believers. Two hunters tell him, “He has wool, black wool, and these breasts…” and “Oh yes, I was up in the glade, and he attacked my donkey. It was very frightening. He looked like a wild man—or a clever monkey.”
Whereas Bures is left with a feeling of wonder when contemplating Bigfoot’s existence, Judah has a slightly different take away:
Living close to nature, without thorough schooling, peasants have always been frightened of the mythical wild man. In the 18th century, the oppressed central European peasantry was gripped by a terror of aristocratic vampires in the run-up to the French Revolution.
The hysteria raged for a generation. Thousands of sightings were reported. Villages swore by Christ they knew what they had seen. The Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa was concerned enough to dispatch her personal physician to investigate whether or not vampires existed. They were not real, but poverty, oppression, ignorance and superstition were.
With political reform across the continent in the 19th century, the swarms of fairies, Woodwose, beasts and ghosts that had inhabited European minds for centuries slowly faded away. But in Romit, I touched a living myth.
Judah begins his essay by telling us that “Dushanbe is not a real city. It isn’t a real capital and Tajikistan is not a real country.” That, in the end, is really what his story is about. He does not expect to find an ape-like creature towering over him in the mountains of Tajikistan. Rather, Judah is trying to figure out why people believe in things that are so clearly made up.
In the end, these stories are doing different things—both great in their own way and both highly entertaining. As for me, I think I’ll continue to hope that there are new frogs and cats out there, as well as something that might have gotten stuck somewhere on the evolutionary path between monkeys and us.
Source: Minnesota Monthly, Standpoint.
Image by Bob Doran, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 08, 2010 1:48 PM
"Globally, the IT industry produces about the same volume of greenhouse gasses as the world’s airlines do,” writes Jason Stamper in Standpoint. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of two percent of the modern civilization’s CO2 emissions.
Even your Google searches have a carbon footprint:
A Google search can leak between 0.2 and 7.0 grams of CO2, depending on how many attempts are needed to get the "right" answer. At the upper end of the scale, two searches create roughly the same emissions as boiling a kettle.
To deliver results to its users quickly, Google has to maintain vast data centres around the world, packed with powerful computers. As well as producing large quantities of CO2, these computers emit a great deal of heat, so the centres need to be well air-conditioned - which uses even more energy.
So here’s something funny: According to Google’s search trends database roughly 368,000 people search “carbon footprint” every month. You get where I’m going with this, right? Even the words “carbon footprint” have a carbon footprint! Ugh.
Image by GuenterHH, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 15, 2010 4:33 PM
The real cost of a new laptop, cell phone, or gadget may not be listed in the fine print of the agreement. Each new gizmo also has a “Malfunction Tax” on people’s time, spiritual health, and wellbeing. Writing for Standpoint, Lionel Shriver describes the hidden cost of the new doohickies, thingamajigs, and inanimate chunks of plastic that invade our lives. She writes:
Each time we buy another gizmo, we're not only committed to hours of tremblingly assembling its delicate snap-together plastic bits, loading its software and learning its often demanding technical protocols, but we're prospectively surrendering yet more hours of aggravation when despite our dutiful decoding of mockingly sparse instructions it fails to function properly. Thus all these dazzling inventions are far more costly than their price tags suggest. Why don't I have a mobile, much less an iPhone or a BlackBerry? While I can afford the mere economic expense of the accessory, I cannot afford the temporal and emotional expense when it doesn't work.
Image by youngthousands, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 07, 2009 4:55 PM
Writers overuse the em-dash—that all too convenient of punctuation marks. By employing the em-dash too often—whether out of laziness or a lack of creativity—they neglect the simple pleasures of the semicolon. Lionel Shriver writes for Standpoint:
These days, the semicolon exudes an aura of the fusty, the fastidious, and the defunct; of mildewed stacks, tight hair buns, and prissily sharpened pencils; of hesitancy, diffidence, and uncertainty, in contrast to the em-dash, which exudes a spirit of strength, flair, and decisiveness.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009 2:40 PM
Utne Reader librarian Danielle Maestretti shares the highlights (and occasional lowlights) of what's landing in our library each week. Utne's library is abuzz with a steady flow of 1,300 magazines, journals,weeklies, zines, and other dispatches from the independent press.
Featured in this week’s episode:
- "Why we make art," from Greater Good
- The Progressive on toxic computer-recycling programs at federal prisons (not yet available online)
- Dambisa Moyo, outspoken critic of aid to Africa, in the conservative British magazine Standpoint
- Pretty birds in Botswana, courtesy of Living Bird (not yet available online)
Sources: Greater Good, The Progressive, Standpoint, Living Bird
Friday, December 12, 2008 3:22 PM
“Finding oneself in a good conversation,” writes Alain de Botton for Standpoint, “is rather like stumbling on a beautiful square in a foreign city at night—and then never knowing how to get back there in daytime.”
In his fun and thoughtful essay, "It's Good to Talk," de Botton charts the way back, in the full light of day, to that beautiful square. Despite living in a society that prizes sociability, he argues, most of us are struggling amateurs at the art of conversation. Our first mistake is accepting the idea that conversational ability is a god-given talent, not a practiced skill. And then there’s shyness, the most frequent barrier to fruitful exchange.
His prescription: rules. He suggests that guests at a dinner party should be given a conversation menu with questions like, “‘Is sex overrated?’” to help them get over their inhibitions about broaching such subjects with strangers. While the idea may seem artificial, says de Botton, the result—access to the “elusive, spontaneous and sincere bits of ourselves”—could be worth it.
Image courtesy of jemsweb, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 12:35 PM
Yesterday at the United Nations, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy held out the carrot of immunity for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir if he implements “radical and immediate change in Sudanese policies.” Britain is reportedly in agreement with staying the International Criminal Court’s war crimes investigation. (China, Russia, the Arab League, and the African Union were already on board with the immunity deal.)
And so the organ of blind international justice is being reduced to just another political bargaining chip in a disastrously long conflict that’s proven immune to such wheeling and dealing. Just as bad, the approach could be completely misguided by removing what might prove to be one of the few effective pressure tactics on Sudan to date. An interesting piece in Britain’s new Standpoint magazine argues that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s much-maligned campaign for war crime charges against al-Bashir may actually be rattling Khartoum toward change.
Here’s Justin Marozzi, who spent the summer as a communications adviser for the joint U.N.-African Union force in Darfur, writing for Standpoint:
Many commentators fear [Moreno-Ocampo’s] decision will wreck any chances of peace, failing to note that there is no peace process to spoil. With his back to the wall, there is no accounting what Bashir might do, they argue, ignoring the fact that he has had carte blanche to do what he likes in Darfur since 2003. In fact, although it is early days, the fallout from the ICC’s landmark move towards the indictment of Bashir looks positive. A friend with access to the highest levels of the regime reports unprecedented conversations at the presidential palace.
“The government’s in meltdown,” he reports. “They just didn’t think it would ever happen. They can’t believe it. The four or five people who run Sudan are now saying to Bashir, look where your policies have got us. They’re telling him, you can go to your rallies and demonstrations, you can shake your fist and rattle your walking stick, but you shut the hell up.” ...
Now a national cross-party committee has been created to address the Darfur issue and end the conflict. Bashir has suddenly rediscovered an interest in Darfur, promising security, schools, roads and water. Window-dressing while the ICC judges ponder Moreno Ocampo’s evidence? Quite possibly, but these are suddenly interesting times. “There’s going to be a real push now for peace,” my palace mole reports. “Bashir’s got nothing to lose.”
Far from emboldening the Sudanese president and destroying a peace process that doesn’t exist, in other words, the ICC’s potential indictment may have been the best news for Darfur in years. Sudan watchers wonder whether Khartoum will finally ditch the president, who came to power in a 1989 coup, noting that the regime dropped the Islamic ideologue Hassan al-Turabi in the late Nineties in a bid to end its international isolation. Turabi, they note, was a far more important figure to the ruling National Congress Party then than Bashir is today.
Late last month, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting noted “rumblings of dissent” in Sudanese media and among fringe political circles in the wake of Moreno-Ocampo’s announcement to seek an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. Marozzi, however, goes further, placing dissent in the mouths of those with influence. Removing this key instigator of dissent—the threat of prosecution—could very well restore the status quo, which translates to more death and disaster for the people of Darfur.
Side note: If you’re interested in reading one of the best pieces written on Darfur in recent memory—yes, the genocide has tragically gone on long enough to justify that statement—check out this piece from Richard Just in the New Republic. A snippet:
No genocide has ever been so thoroughly documented while it was taking place. There were certainly no independent film-makers in Auschwitz in 1942, and the best-known Holocaust memoirs did not achieve a wide audience until years after the war. The world more or less looked the other way as genocide unfolded in Cambodia during the 1970s, and the slaughter in Rwanda happened so quickly—a mere hundred days—that by the time the public grasped the extent of the horror, the killing was done. But here is Darfur, whose torments are known to all. The sheer volume of historical, anthropological, and narrative detail available to the public about the genocide is staggering. In the case of the genocide in Darfur, ignorance has never been possible. But the genocide continues. We document what we do not stop. The truth does not set anybody free.
Image of displaced mother and child in North Darfur from USAID.
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