At Least One Lie
So yeah… I read comics. There's an extremely high probability that if you're visiting this site, then so do you.
Then me and you, we got something else in common; the reaction of others when you tell them that you read the funny books. Whether you're 14 or 40, you know what I'm talking about. While some times people smirk, the worst reaction (in my opinion) is when they're surprised. What you, you read comic books? But you seem so intelligent, or articulate or whatever adjective you'd like to put here that's the opposite of the comic geek stereotype.
Why does our cult of pictures and words elicit this reaction? Well, let's face it, in part because we bring it on ourselves. But let's not dwell on that. A good portion of it, though, stems from the fact that we deal in the truly fantastic; people with extraordinary powers, science that is far beyond today's, ordinary people pushed into outrageous and great situations. I take pride in this, that we're trying to generate new ideas and stories while others recycle such classics as Knight Rider and Dukes of Hazard.
But are our plots so fantastic, so unbelievable? I'd say no, just that the people who still think this aren't paying attention. Don't believe me? Well, this ongoing column is here to help persuade you. Consider the bits of reality below. But also bear in mind that, since we are dealing with reality here, at least one of these is a lie. A complete fabrication. Does that make it any less fantastic? Maybe or maybe more so. Regardless, I'll be bringing news of the weird on a routine basis to entertain, educate and, hopefully inspire (at least myself) to things that are truly fantastic. I'll try and sneak those in here from time to time, but given the state of the world today, I think you'll have a hard time picking them out.
When lasers were created in the '60s, no one (other than science fiction buffs) were quite sure what to do with them. However, lasers are now involved in everything from medical surgery to supermarket scanners. A team at the University of Michigan has recently created a laser that is capable of producing a beam of 300 terawatts. To put that in perspective, that's several hundred times the capacity of the United States' electricity grid. But it is focused into an area a thousandth of a millimeter across and lasts less than a billionth of a second. What good is that? Well, thanks to our growing understanding of quantum mechanics, it could be used to send entangled photons into space to provide incredibly fast means of communication. Since each photon in the entanglement carries a piece of unique information, it is also incredibly secure as disrupting the flow will destroy the entanglement and, thus, the embedded information. So we just took a jump from fast communication to quantum encryption. This could be awfully useful as Nobuyuki Sakai of Yamagata University has used models of the early universe to speculate that rogue bubble universes could be eating through into ours, bringing in God knows what.
But you don't need to look up into the sky to see the end of the world. Why is it that when people think about the apocalypse, no one thinks about the garbage? Naples, Italy, renowned for its beauty, is now renowned for the mountains of garbage that line its street. Incompetent government coupled with local mafia has led to several hundred thousand tons of illegal dumping. It has gotten so bad that runoff has poisoned local cattle with dioxins, even infecting the milk output. If that's what the normal garbage could do, what's going to happen when there's no one left to run all of those nuclear power plants? The more complex our society becomes, the greater is its fragility and the probability of its collapse. As if to illustrate this point, the universe sent a rather fat rat to shut down the city of Stockholm recently. When the furry fatty got trapped in an electric station it caused a three hour shut down of its central train station, paralyzing most of the traffic in the city.
Not long ago, the New York Times ran an on article on how troops in Iraq are fighting high levels of stress.
Seriously. Apparently, getting shot at in a foreign land by people who hate you is stressful.
Of course, that's been going on since man has walked the Earth. Recently, new cave paintings in France depict not just men hunting animals, but men killing other men, victorious in battle. 32,000 year old propaganda.
But men will always keep fighting as long as we keep giving each other such good reasons to do so. As if telling the living Buddhas of Tibet that they are required to obtain permission from the Chinese Communist Party before reincarnating wasn't enough, the Party is now are upping the voltage on its "patriotic education" helping monks become more "religion-loving and law-abiding" by denouncing the Dalai Lama and accepting the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, who has (one would guess) agreed to check in with the local bureaucrats before being reborn. I'm sure there's something about flaying yourself in there as well. Meanwhile in Iran, a once quiet new year and spring celebration called the Nowruz has turned into a dangerous cacophony. Coming from pagan and Zoroastrian times, Nowruz was once celebrated with gift giving, open-air picnics and special foods. However, when the Islamic Revolution came along and tried to ban it (or when that failed, taking a note from the Catholic playbook, replacing the holiday with a celebration of martyrs and imams) it jumped up several dozen octaves. It is now celebrated with pipe bombs, firecrackers and daredevils riding motorbikes through bonfires in the streets. It's called the law of unintended consequences.
So all of this is true. Except for one. Or maybe two. You tell me.
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