Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pigeon Problems




Once the urban bird population grew out of control, the City of New York contracted a biotech firm to introduce a gene that reduces aggression and in-flight defecation on people and property.

It had a different effect.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cosmic Blues


We take ourselves seriously and our pain personally. Preoccupied with a particular plight or cause, we elevate our own trials and overlook the trying position of others:

"My life sucks. No one gets me. You wouldn't understand."

"They're the enemy, not like us. Expendable! Do what you need to do."

"Listen kid, just wait till you're older with real, adult problems."

"Go ahead, dude. It's only a frog. I bet it won't even feel it..."

Of course, friction rubs us all.  Perhaps we're more aware of it than fish, and fish more aware than the coral they nibble at, but suffering is an interconnecting theme.  Presidents, bus drivers, cats, and trees―they each have bad days, obstacles to circumvent, entropy to manage. 

When we recognize that difficulty is shared, that our burdens are not unique, it humbles and connects us. In place of resentment and isolation, we develop empathy and community, which in turn encourages cooperation and peace.

First-world problems, third-world problems, otherworldly problems. Struggle is a universal constant.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dry


When the last of the water dwindles away, so will all that was born of it.

The future is a very thirsty place.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tender Little Geekling


Smallness seems inversely related to ugliness; it tends to neutralize otherwise unattractive features. The very same qualities that repel us in larger creatures become tolerable―even adorable―in tiny ones.

The fattest baby is first to be fawned over, but if she stays that way she'll be last to the prom. Likewise, the squashed, salivatory nature of a pug is irresistible while the equally droopy walrus is far less endearing up close. The pattern holds in fiction as well: E.T. was a slimy, gangly bowel movement with a kazoo voice, but he was totally cute relative to H.R. Giger's towering, exoskeletal Alien.

When he's fully grown, we'll likely flee in revulsion from this awkward, bucktoothed monstrosity. For now, though, he's just a vulnerable wittle weirdo to coo-chee-coo and talk to in a high-pitched condescending voice.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Sun Always Sets

Language is more than a sequence of identification symbols. When employed by an entire population over generations, words form a collective cultural mind that transcends dictionary definitions.  This is one reason why direct grammatical translation from one language to another often results in garbled nonsense.

I experienced this loss in translation firsthand during my year in China. Naturally, most information was in Mandarin. At times, however, I happened upon Chinese products with bits of “English” added for commercial appeal. My favorite was the packaging on a box of sweet buns in a Shanghai convenience store. I gathered the intended message was, “Hey, customer! Don’t miss this great product!” but what it literally said was, “Hi! Person don’t avoid!”

I get to relive such moments when I go for Chinese food in the states, as some of the most entertaining ambiguity comes on little paper ribbons housed in flour, sugar, vanilla, and sesame seed oil. The fortune cookie, carrier of incomprehensible wisdom: May your eggs hatch with honor. Last to eat is first in retreat.  An iron rooster clucks in silence.  Lucky numbers: 9, 10, 77, 1,000,001½.

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