Friday, Oct. 12, 42 A.D.
This Ain't No Disco, Either
I bought an orthoceras today. I've never bought one before. I didn't set out to buy one today, either - it just caught my eye, and then the $6 price tag closed the deal for me. Had I known they were so cheap, I might have bought one years ago. As it is, I didn't even know they existed until an unplanned trip to a very small mall revealed all to me this afternoon....
"The name 'Orthoceras' means 'straight horn' and was formerly used to refer to any straight-shelled cephalopod (cephalopods include the squids, octopuses, cuttlefish and nautiluses). Its proper use, however, is to designate a particular fossil genus of European and North African nautiloid cephalopods. Orthoceras was a predatory cephalopod which likely had large eyes, a sharp beak and tentacles. The Orthoceras animal constructed a long conical shell for protection and buoyancy regulation. Orthoceras, like its modern relative, the chambered nautilus, could regulate its position in the water column by affecting the pressure of gases within the shell's many chambers. The Orthoceras of Morocco make aesthetic and interesting display pieces when the dark limestone is cut and polished to expose fossil shells." - From the small piece of paper the clerk slipped into my bag
Other sources tell me that my orthoceras is nearly 400 million years old. This means I paid about one and a half cents per million year's worth of orthoceras. What a steal! After all, not only is it cute, but maybe - just maybe - it'll teach me how to construct a long, conical shell for my own protection.
NOTE: I also bought two pumpkins today. They were $2.89 each. I figure they're at most half-a-year old. All things being equal, this means I could expect to pay $5.78 for a year-old pumpkin, or $5,780,000 for a million- year-old specimen. A 400-million-year-old pumpkin would set me back about $2,312,000,000 (plus sales tax). NOW do you see what a bargain my orthoceras was?? Better write it down this time before you forget!
ANOTHER NOTE: The store that sold me my orthoceras also had coasters for sale - i.e., thin slices of rock with fossils in them which they expect people to set their water glasses down on. Apparently some people will actually desecrate the remains of a noble animal in order to protect their precious wooden tabletops from water damage. Isn't it enough that many of these animals are extinct? Must we also go out of our way to desecrate their remains when there are lots of plastic and glass and cork coasters in the world which we could be using instead?? I am so glad I rescued my orthoceras from that store before it could witness the sale of one more set of these coasters. I now pause to place a large book between this entry and the spot where its large eyes would be if it had any lest it read this entry and learn the truth about us human beings its very first night in my home....
YET ANOTHER NOTE: I haven't written much lately, have I? Some might say I'm not writing much now, either. I congratulate these people on their perspicuity! After all, it is now wartime, and in wartime one must be careful not to say or write anything which might help the enemy figure out our strengths and weaknesses. If I attempted to write - to really and honestly write - I might inadvertently spill the beans about any number of things. And then where would we be? Hmmmm?
A FOURTH NOTE: Oh, I know what you're thinking - "Dan, you have to have a bean to spill a bean." Well, I happen to have several beans, thank you very much, and none bigger than this one: Our president is an idiot. Last night he said that he was amazed that some people hate the U.S. - and he said he just couldn't figure out why. This amazed me since I don't get CIA briefings every day and yet I know why some people hate the U.S. In fact, I think I came up with 10 reasons right off the top of my head. 1) The U.S. is a long-time ally, heir, and soulmate of France and England - two colonial powers which rode roughshod over much of the world for centuries. 2) The U.S. helped create and continues to support the modern state of Israel - a nation imposed by outside forces on a land which long belonged to other people much as the medieval Crusades attempted to impose outside rule on the very same area. 3) The U.S. brought a brutal Shah to power in Iran and kept him there for decades. 4) The U.S. has long supported and continues to support brutal regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere because these regimes serve U.S. strategic and economic interests. 5) When the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an unarmed Iranian jetliner in 1988, killing some 290 people, the U.S. shamelessly blamed the Iranians and covered up what really happened. 6) According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the U.N., U.S.-backed sanctions on Iraq have resulted in the deaths of perhaps 5000 children a month, every month, for about a decade. 7) The U.S. has a long, nasty habit of invading countries like Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, and Haiti, getting rid of the irritant of the moment, and then forgetting the country and its people until the next crisis. 8) When U.S. forces sever a cable car cable in Italy, sink an unarmed Japanese ship in the Pacific, bomb the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, and engage in other negligently deadly behavior around the world without ever provoking an angry response from U.S. citizens which prompts genuine apologies and reforms, is it any wonder that some foreigners act doubly angry? 9) Even as U.S. influence in the world has grown, its foreign aid and willingness to abide by international rules have declined. 10) Even as U.S. power has greatly increased in the world, the people of the U.S. have remained painfully ignorant about that world and their country's impact on it.
FIFTH NOTE: A NEW ERA? OR A RETURN TO A VERY OLD ONE? In recent weeks I've heard many commentators say we've entered a new era - and in some ways we have. What's struck me in recent days, however, are the echoes I'm hearing of an earlier era - the era I experienced 20-30 years ago. Now, as then, people around me aren't talking intelligibly about events. Not really, not deeply - and more often than not, not at all. At best, they're briefly sharing their feelings about things - but at least half the time, the people I've encountered in social situations since Sept. 11 have acted as if nothing has happened at all. Maybe it's denial, maybe it's resignation, maybe it's the need to escape reality, but my sense is that this is a rather uniquely American reaction to war and that it springs from basic American isolation, provincialism, and ignorance. After all, one can't talk intelligibly about that which one doesn't know or care about. And it's rather obvious just how little most people here know or care about other religions, other cultures, other nations, or the past. Without knowledge of these things, what can one say but "Gee, wasn't Sept. 11 awful?" And since that's all too obvious, why bother to say even that? And that's what I remember most about the Vietnam War - the general silence born of ignorance.... The other similarity I'm struck by is the vastly different significance most Americans attach to American deaths and to the deaths of others. My paper continues to run photos and detailed bios of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. It ran the picture and the bio of the first (accidental) U.S. casualty in the current war. I search in vain for the names of the U.N. workers killed in Afghanistan by U.S. bombs. I notice how the media and the administration alike pretty much dismiss Taliban claims of civilian casualties as either uncorroborated enemy propaganda or unfortunate and unintended collateral damage - as if one might possibly bomb a country for days on end without there being some civilian casualties, or as if the fact that the U.S. didn't intend to kill civilian X makes any difference at all to that civilian or his or her never mentioned relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The U.S. killed millions in Vietnam - can any American tell me the name of ONE of those people? By what logic save the logic of the tribe does one elevate to mythic proportions the death of any of one's countrymen while utterly ignoring the deaths brought about by those countrymen? However understandable that logic may be, I find it unacceptable at some very basic level....
FINAL NOTE: Having recently heard about Congress voting $40 billion to help New York, and another $15 billion to help the airlines, and untold billions more for war, I read in my newspaper today that Ohio State University is going to eliminate some 800 jobs because of budget cuts. Higher education has gotten the short end of the stick here in Ohio for at least a decade now, with yearly allocations failing to keep pace with inflation. Tuition has been rising steadily to compensate until this year when - for the first time in OSU history - students are expected to pay for more than half the cost of operations. Relatively few Ohioans go to college as a result. In other words, government actions are making it harder for people to get an education even as the importance of education continues to increase with each terrorist strike and bombing run. It could be otherwise, of course. I could open my paper tomorrow and discover that Congress has decided to give $100 million, say, to OSU's psychology department to discover why people become terrorists or why wars break out. I could open my paper and see that Congress has voted to establish an Islamic Studies Institute, or a World Studies Institute, or a Peace Institute - or at least a blue ribbon panel charged with finding out why so much hatred and violence seems to spring from religion. Will I? I won't be holding my breath - except when I'm getting my mail, of course.
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(©Today by DJ Birtcher with renewed vigor now that he's
no longer the oldest fossil in the room)
PS - "This ain't no disco" was first sung by David Byrne and his Talking Heads as part of the song Life During Wartime. Other memorable lines: "This ain't no party, this ain't no fooling around." For others, click here. Who knows? Maybe you'll stimulate the U.S. economy in the process.