Jul 052008

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – July, 2008 (pdf)

BWS – Wizard – Mp3

One of humanity’s greatest heroes died just over a year ago. On June 12, 2007, at the age of 89, Donald Herbert Kemske passed away. He spent over half his life giving nerdy kids something to look forward to after they got home from getting beat up after school. He was Mr. Wizard, and he taught us that science is all around us, especially in the kitchen.

Mr. Wizard taught children about science, but in doing so, he did an even greater good for humanity. He made vast sums of money for the entertainment industry. From 1951-1965, Watch Mr. Wizard aired on NBC and introduced the baby-boom generation to the All-American science teacher. He was intelligent, engaging, charismatic, and Canadian, and he was passionate about science.

In 1971, Canada found out that Mr. Wizard was Canadian and revived the show, but the show’s Canadianness proved too confusing to audiences. Finally, in 1983, Nickelodeon aired Mr. Wizard’s World. The show’s seven seasons constitute an archive of cool and reasonably educational activities and experiments tailored for children. Before the internet, I’m not sure where else you could have found such a thing. Okay, the library, fine, but what if the library has snakes in it? Then what? Mr. Wizard, that’s what.

Mr. Wizard was teaching me about science before I could even read. Mr. Wizard was the Dumbledore of science teachers, and I was his Harry Potter, or possibly Tom Riddle. He taught me a fundamental lesson about science and about life: You don’t have to be a scientist to do science. Science can be performed at any time, on any ground, with anything, and to anyone. Science is mine and I get to play with it any time I want to.

Vinegar and baking soda make science. PVC pipes, compressed air, and potatoes make high-velocity mashed science that’s fun for the whole family. Anything that breaks, becomes obsolete, or looks at me funny when I’m bored is liable to become science. Nothing is immune to science, at least not when I’m doing it.

Admittedly, I do not represent legitimate science in any way. I am an amateur, hack, or mad scientist, depending on what I’ve had for breakfast. I’m okay with that, because it means I am free to ignore the letters of the laws of science and obey them only in spirit. Of course, it also means no one will ever pay me to do science or let me anywhere near hazardous materials, professional labs, expensive equipment, or anything else I’d need to do actual science.

Actual scientists and actual engineers are only distantly related to prehistoric tinkers, inventors, kooks, and crackpots, none of whom knew what they were doing or had very good tools. I am a direct inheritor of this ancient tradition of innovation. Like these original innovators, I don’t have very good tools, and I don’t know what I’m doing. I think that makes me even more actual than actual scientists.

You may be asking: What makes you so great, Mr. Smarty McNon-Scientist? What have you ever done that’s so special? Well, I’ve got nothing. I do take stuff apart, build stuff, read stuff, but mainly, I just talk about science a lot, so people think of me as a science person. Plus, I’ve got this column; it says “Science” right at the top. So if enough people think that I know more about science than you, I win. That’s the scientific method.

Of course, Mr. Wizard taught a purer approach to science, but you can’t believe everything you see on television. Interpretative disagreements aside, Mr. Wizard was a formative figure in my life and many others. In addition to empowering misguided loonies like me, he inspired a new generation of edutainment programming.

Beakman’s World aired on TLC in 1992 but was soon picked up by CBS. This show allowed children to learn real science while maintaining their attention by simulating a televised acid trip. Paul Zaloom played a fictional mad scientist, Beakman, who was a cross between Einstein, Albert Hoffman, and Animal from the Muppets. Zaloom himself was not a scientist, but he was, in fact, an actor and puppeteer. Like me, Zaloom is now a political and social satirist, though unlike me, Zaloom teaches cantastoria at elite universities all over the world. Cantastoria is a word I had to look up, but apparently, it is pretty much the opposite of miming.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy originally aired on PBS during the same period and starred Bill Nye, who is an actual science guy with an actual degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University. This show was not originally as well-rated as Beakman’s World, but it enjoyed longer-lasting success and is still aired in syndication. Bill Nye never had quite the same flair as Beakman, but his show didn’t have the budget for that much cocaine.

Today, the reigning kings of edutainment are the MythBusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. This show is dedicated to busting urban myths using science, or a suitably appealing alternative. Savage and Hyneman are special-effects experts. They blow things up. The show generally takes some care to explain that it is, in fact, “science” that blows things up, but they make sure science has enough juice to get the job done.

MythBusters is the new inheritor of the edutainment market that was primed by Mr. Wizard. While Mr. Wizard used an entertainment medium as a forum for teaching science, MythBusters found out that science is even more entertaining when you remove the emphasis on teaching and replace it with explosives and projectiles. The success of this show is paving the way for even more gratuitous use of extreme forces in edutainment. The new hit show Smash Lab,which is pretty self-explanatory, is an attempt to bring NASCAR sensibilities to even the most NASA-minded individuals.

Mr. Wizard paved the way. He taught more science than any science teacher has ever taught in the history of science teachers or in the science of history teachers. That includes Mr. Murrell, my 7th-grade Earth science teacher, who totally rocked, and Mr. Martin, my 11th-grade history teacher, who I still want to be when I grow up. Without Mr. Wizard, there never would have been a Mr. Murrell or a Mr. Martin. Actually, that’s not true at all.

Even with all the science I act like I know, I wasn’t absolutely certain that the earth would keep revolving around the sun after Mr. Wizard died. I’m still not sure we’ll make it two years without him. So far, though, science is holding together pretty well. I think most of that is due to real teachers like Mr. Martin and Mr. Murrell who get up and go to work every morning and deal with snots like me all day. In truth, they deserve all the respect I give to Mr. Wizard in this article, but none of you know who Mr. Martin and Mr. Murrell are…unless you do, in which case you should give them a copy of this article so they will know how much they are appreciated.

Jun 062008

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – June, 2008 (pdf)

If you are reading this article, then you indubitably have bones. That is not to say that literacy is entirely bone-dependent, but bones play a large part in the process. For instance, if you did not have bones, then the eyes you are reading with would be covered with large flaps of your face, or they might be displaced from their sockets by the pressure of your head collapsing into a loose wrap of flesh around your neck. Not to mention, your neck wouldn’t be much more than a limp tube connecting your squishy head to the rest of your squishy body. Suffice it to say: bones are important.

To contradict that last statement – it is not sufficient to say bones are important. Bones are really important. Of course, deriving the importance of bones by imagining their absence is not only gross but also quite meaningless. The human species could not have developed and/or been created without utilizing bones. In fact, the original draft of Genesis described how God initially tried Styrofoam®, rebar, carbon fiber, and LEGOs® as a skeletal structure for humans, but He settled on bone as the most cost-effective building material.

Bones also provide a good basis for understanding the path that intelligent design took after God relinquished control of the process to Mother Nature and Father Time, around four billion years ago. Though it has become clear that Father Time and Mother Nature padded their resumes in order to get hired on with God’s creation department, they’ve since demonstrated that they are a capable middle-management team.

The evidence of Nature’s and Time’s management techniques is in the remains of their creations. All things that are alive do a number of similar things. They live, eat, poop, and die. In these activities, living things leave notable traces, including tracks, burrows, poop, and conveniently, themselves, usually in the form of bones.

The people who study these traces are called paleontologists, and they are some of the most hard-core nerds in science. Respect. Paleontologists study fossils, which used to be bones; ichnites, which used to be tracks; and, of course, everyone’s favorite – coprolites, which were once ancient Browns headed to a prehistoric Super Bowl.

Paleontology is the study of ancient life, even though it has been dead for some time. The study of ancient dead things began, appropriately, with people who subsequently became ancient dead things themselves. The Greek Xenophanes and Chinese Shen Kuo both observed very early in history that some rocks had bones and shells carved into them, and they deduced that this was probably not the work of tiny sculptors.

With the 17th century came the amusingly classified “Age of Reason.” This is the same age that brought with it the Atlantic slave trade, colonial subjugation, and judging from the overwhelming whiteness of the era, probably mayonnaise. Despite the pervasive reasonableness in this century, the formative work of naturalists such as John Ray and Martin Lister was largely ignored. Ray and Lister proposed that fossils looked like bones because they used to be bones, but this theory was considered highly counterintuitive. Most people stuck with the more reasonable conclusion that, despite their clear similarity to bones, fossils are just clever rocks and have no organic origin whatsoever.

For centuries, the natural sciences competed with theology to explain why the heck God left all these crazy, bone-looking rocks laying around. Christian theologians explained concisely that God left these rocks here because He freaking felt like it, and if you ask again, we’ll send an inquisitor to beat some faith into you. This explanation was not satisfactory to some, and they endeavored to find more compelling explanations that required less beating to understand.

The conclusion that fossils are actually bones was eventually accepted. The problem that remained was that some of these fossils clearly did not come from any species that still lived. What kind of critter dies and leaves its bones, but doesn’t bother to reproduce so that its offspring have the opportunity to do the same? This question was eventually answered, but as with most answers, it didn’t satisfy everyone asking.

Charles Darwin, better known as Chuck D, published The Origin of Species in 1859. In so doing, Chuck pissed off the Western world on a scale we didn’t see again until Hollywood destroyed Heinlein’s classic novel Starship Troopers by turning it into a feature-length episode of Saved by the Bell.

The Origin of Species discussed what Chuck found when he chartered a Beagle conspicuously named H.M.S. Boat to paddle to the Galapagos Islands and bring back several finches. When the Beagle returned, Chuck found that the various finches on these islands had developed in such extreme isolation that they had become unique species.

Chuck used his findings to support a radical new theory: evolution. Evolution is the heretical idea that God did not use clay and magic to create life, but instead, He set in motion a complex developmental system based on physical laws which allows for perpetual alteration of creatures in response to their environment. Later, Chuck pissed more people off when he synthesized these ideas to encompass human biological development in his book The Descent of Man, a title his wife suggested as an alternative to the book’s original title It’s All Pink on the Inside.

Subscribers to Chuck’s theories initially faced ridicule and threats of excommunication. Even today, Chuck’s theories are scrutinized and debated. Supporters and opponents of evolution have come to utilize various bastardizations of the Ichthus, the Christian fish icon, to proudly display their common ignorance of symbolism and eagerness to segregate themselves by ideology. Though the respectable scientific community has declined to debate zealots on the issue, less respectable kooks are perfectly willing to fill the void and provide lively, bizarre, and non sequitur arguments so that people who don’t like to think can feel their positions are well represented.

In their quest to unearth evidence and truth about the history of life on earth, modern paleontologists employ seismic imaging, chemistry, and techniques learned from extensive studies of the Where’s Waldo? series. Patient, methodical surveys and digs, tireless cataloguing and analysis, and brilliant scientific observations and deduction lead to new discoveries in the field every year, yet paleontology is still very far from providing a clear and irrefutable explanation of how and why God created life. Unfortunately, all paleontologists are atheists, Cretans, and likely drug users, so they are unlikely to do anything other than piss off God enough to cause another mass extinction. Then His creations can get back to evolution without humanity constantly asking stupid questions about their existence.

May 022008

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – May, 2008 (pdf)

Gravity strikes without warning. It is the silent killer, the thief, the undertaker. It can be completely unpredictable, despite the fact that it has been doing the exact same thing for around 14 billion years. The human race has lost countless lives to the merciless will of gravity, and even today, it looms as an ever-present threat to all things that are made of matter, which most things are.

Human beings have feared gravity since the tragic realization that babies do not bounce. It was only a short time before prehistoric man related gravity to such disconcerting events as sharp pain, falling sensations, disfigurement, and, of course, sudden, traumatic (though occasionally hilarious) death. As civilization developed, we learned to cope with gravity more professionally. We built stairs and ladders, and we learned to climb ropes and cargo nets in gym class.

Early on, humankind cultivated a basic understanding of what gravity does. The question that dogged our ancestors, and sometimes jabs us today, is: Whenwill gravity do what it is so fond of doing?

Gravity comes and goes. It only exists when we pay attention to it, or when we don’t and it gets bored and grabs someone to play with. This seemingly random effect was first noticed by the ancient Chinese, who probably said something profound about it, as did the Greeks, Egyptians, Mayans (most likely), and, of course, Galileo, but who cares? It took a familiar, English-speaking Anglo-Saxon to come up with anything worth teaching in public schools.

Sir Isaac “Fig” Newton was, for all intents and purposes, the first person to say anything about gravity that wasn’t completely stupid and obvious, and that by a hair. Fig described gravity using equations stolen from a mathematics textbook he bought from Barnes and Nobles. Despite his flagrant plagiarism, Fig pioneered a brilliant and accurate method of predicting the behavior of falling bodies.

Fig’s greatest contribution to our understanding of gravity was to prove that gravity is always “on.” Fig asserted that, even though an object may not be falling at the moment, it would be, and right soon.

Fig’s gravitational laws also helped to explain the movements of the stars and planets. He calculated that the orbits and rotations of planets resulted from a force created by matter. This understanding was, functionally, at least, correct.

Fig’s formulas are still in use today for general ballistics and engineering purposes. The problems with Fig’s formulas became apparent when people began using them to finely calculate the vast forces and distances of the cosmos.

Anvils, cannonballs, flying nuns, and tossed midgets all conformed to classical Newtonian concepts of gravity. Things go up, and then they come down. Understanding gravitational acceleration on our familiar scale of perception is as easy as falling. However, astronomical observations of stars, planets, X-wing fighters, and the Silver Surfer revealed discrepancies in predicted velocities and distances. Physics was at a loss to explain these phenomena and, for a short time, considered employing Karl Rove to convince everyone they had something to do with homosexual Iraqis. Unfortunately for physics, Karl Rove was not born yet. Without a sufficiently brilliant liar to fabricate a plausible explanation, physics was forced to turn to the only man yet born who would ever approach the genius of Karl Rove.

Albert Einstein was a bad liar, he had a poor memory, he was a weak orator, he disliked engaging in meaningless discourse, and in general, he lacked all the necessary qualities a person needs to convince people of things that are not true. With this handicap, Einstein found it necessary to pursue truth and meaning vigorously in order to compensate. Einstein found the growing evidence of the flaws in Newtonian gravitation very troubling, and he sought to correct the situation the only way he knew how: by thinking about it very, very hard.

Einstein’s considerable power of thought had once led him to compelling deductions about light, energy, and relativistic motion which shocked and awed the world of physics. Only ten years after authoring the revelation that would propel the world into the nuclear age, Einstein dropped another bomb. (Einstein did not have anything to do with nuclear weapons! He hated the very idea! I’m sorry I used that phrase; it just happened.)

In 1915, Einstein unveiled his radical new understanding of gravity. The general public responded with a unanimous “What?” 1915 went on record as having the most reported cases of death by instantaneous brain failure in human history. Though his findings were initially met with blank stares, drool, and occasional seizures, over the years, Einstein’s theory of general relativity has withstood scientific scrutiny. It remains the accepted and practiced theory of gravitation. For this feat of intuition and logic, Einstein stands in the front row of the pantheon of great human minds, right in between da Vinci and Antisthenes, who keep making fun of his German accent.

General relativity provides equations that define gravity as a geometric link between matter, energy, and four-dimensional space-time. Loosely interpreted, general relativity describes gravity as a curving of space-time caused by the presence of matter. The curving of space-time results in the lovable effect known as “falling.” Falling becomes a very complex concept when you redefine your notion of “down.”

Everything is falling. We are falling, except the Earth is conveniently located under our feet and is agreeable enough to perpetually catch us. We feel this effect as “weight.” The Earth is falling towards the Sun. Fortunately, we are traveling on the exact vector we need to perpetually fall around the Sun instead of into it, which would hurt, briefly.

Gravity makes everything fall, even light. Light follows the curvature of space-time, so it, too, falls. The fact that light falls is just plain weird. The effects of falling light are straight-up crawfish-bananas.

Gravity’s interaction with light gives you pretty much everything you need for a riveting sci-fi plot: black holes, quasars, red- and blueshifts, gravitational lensing, time dilation, and conceptual warp speeds. The interaction of gravity and light is so impressively complex and counterintuitive that it is fully deserving of its own article, which I hope to write, but probably won’t very soon.

What do you want from me? I just wrote two articles on relativity. Seems like I should move on to other branches of science for a while. It’s “Blinded with Science,” not “Blinded with Physics.”

Apr 042008

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – April, 2008 (pdf)

The year is 1905. You are a zany German, working in a Swiss patent office. You are young, trying to impress women, and without warning, you grow a head of hair that challenges classical physics. All you want are fast women and fast, horseless carriages. Your hair wants to change the world.

This was Albert Einstein’s life at the age of 26. He was faced with a choice: cut the wild hair and get back to his life, or let it grow and allow each strand to wander into new dimensions of truth. Einstein made the choice to let his profound hairstyle define his life and, thereby, define a new understanding of nature.

Einstein’s exotic hair weaved knowledge into his mind, which he used to create a series of papers now called the Annus Mirabilisor “Miracle Year.” In these documents are revolutionary ideas on basic physics that are still pretty much incomprehensible to most people 103 years later.

The first of these ideas is the photoelectric effect. Einstein found that the luminous glow created by his hair was emitted in discrete packets of energy called quanta. Before this discovery, the infinite divisibility of energy was considered the basis of electromagnetism as understood by Maxwell, who apparently didn’t understand jack. Ironically, the idea that energy is discrete became one of the pillars of quantum mechanics, which Einstein often rebuked as “crazier than a straitjacketed Nazi in a French gay bar.”

In these papers, Einstein also discussed Brownian motion, for which he created a means of measurement on a relatively large scale. Brownian motion is a concept relating to molecular movements. That last sentence is so laden with potential for scatological abuse that I feel it’s best left alone.

The concepts in the Annus Mirabilis that had the most immediate and far-reaching consequences for physics are special relativity and the equivalence of matter and energy. One of the most frequently referenced formulas in science is E=mc2. This formula is only slightly less popular than the punch line to the classic Boudreaux and Thibodaux joke – pi(r) round. Both of these formulas describe the fundamental nature of the universe: one of them finds the circumference of a circle; the other finds the circumference of wasteland we can create when politicians and generals dictate the utility of scientific discoveries.

Contrary to popular belief, Einstein most certainly did not create the nuclear bomb. His contribution to nuclear warfare was much the same as the prehistoric inventor of the wheel’s contribution to rush-hour traffic. Einstein’s formula gave matter a rest energy, which was distinct from classical potential and kinetic energies.

The rest state of matter turned out to possess a metric ass-load of energy. Under the right circumstances, it was believed that certain elements could be induced to split or combine in ways that might release this energy. In a controlled reaction, the release would be steady and contained.

Of course, most people immediately began considering how immensely wicked it would be if we could start an uncontrolled reaction and drop it on people who mess with us. So, a bunch of people who weren’t Einstein set about using Einstein’s brilliant ideas to kill lots of people. Seems like, if Einstein was so smart, he would have seen that coming and just kept his mouth shut. All is vanity, but with hair like that, who can blame him?

When the move towards nuclear weapons began, Einstein made his feelings on the subject very clear with his famous quote: “Those who believe in the necessity of nuclear weapons have no penis.” Einstein was known to have several penises; each of them was over 10 inches long, and they boasted a collective IQ of 235.

Among Einstein’s many ideas and penises, he conjured perhaps his most famous and profound discovery of nature: Special Relativity. His discourse into this subject was titled “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” which is also the name of a new Cirque du Soleil performance in which several acrobats perform Lorenz transformations in mid-air using gravitational harmonics. If you know what a Lorenz transformation is, you’re cool. If you can actually calculate one, I love you. Really.

Classical relativity assumes that all inertial reference frames are subject to identical laws of physics. This means that, if you’re standing at the back of a short bus moving at 30mph, and you throw a tub of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste towards the front at 30 mph, the relative speed of the Butt Paste to a stationary observer is 60mph. That all sounds quite reasonable.

Einstein decided that it was entirely too reasonable and there had to be something wrong with it. Special relativity postulates that, while classical relativity holds true at all reasonable speeds, once you start moving at unreasonable speeds, unreasonable things start to happen. The speed at which the universe becomes completely unreasonable is c, the speed of light. If you want to know just how fast light is, look it up; let’s just say it’s freaking way fast. It is so freaking way fast that it isn’t really a speed at all; it is a speed limit. Nothing can travel that fast, except light, because it’s special. The specialness of light is not just due to the fact that it can go way fast. Light is special because it is always traveling at the same speed, to any observer, in any inertial frame of reference. I wish I could do that.

This time, the short bus is cruising at half the speed of light. You shine a Boudreaux’s Butt Paste flashlight towards the front of the bus. One might expect a stationary observer to judge the light from the bulb to be traveling at 1.5 times the speed of light. Special relativity states that the light from the bulb is traveling at exactly the speed of light to all observers. From what science can effectively measure, it has been proved time and again that Einstein was right on the money.

Big, unconventional ideas often spring from big, unconventional hair. In one year, Einstein and his hair documented logical and intuitive leaps that dwarf the lifelong efforts of some of the cleanest-cut minds in science. After this astonishing year of revelation, Einstein’s hair took about ten years off. He grew dreadlocks, got into Rasta for a while, and then decided that he and his hair had more riddles to solve. Gravity had always been a thorn in Albert Einstein’s side. His hair defied it, so he had no choice but to stand with his hair and face the challenge. Together, they battled Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Find out who won next time on…something about science…

Mar 072008

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – March, 2008 (pdf)

Life, like breakfast, is best when it begins with an egg. The egg is one of the most common reproductive formats. Even complex mammalian organisms such as humans have eggs somewhere, so I’m told. These mammalian eggs are only one part of the elegantly mysterious equation describing the circle of life, which, in our world, inevitably results in babies – plump, tender, delicious babies.

Babies, according to Wikipedia, come from mommies and daddies. These parental entities created us, and our brothers and sisters, in some ritual learned through years of difficult homework and chores, which eventually led to a trip to the hospital. Without going too far into the mechanics of this ritual, with which I am wholly unfamiliar, there is a singular effect of reproduction that is of some interest to science, and is, therefore, the subject of this article: life – specifically, one of the fundamental particles of human life: the stem cell.

Conception follows copulation, unless contraception captures the chromosomal carriers, contradicting the circumstances most conducive to creating the commonly celebrated “bun in the oven.” The climbing ratio of buns to ovens, and the overwhelming increase in unwed teenage ovens, has influenced government to get involved in the standardization of oven maintenance and care. The stem cell is the yeast that makes the buns rise in these ovens, and some time ago, our elected officials found that this yeast can also be used to make beer – cold, powerful beer.

Stem cell research is a field founded by Ernest McCulloch and James Till in the 1960s, a time during which the biological sciences were considered “trippy” and “out there.” Stem cells can be found in adult cells and in blastocysts, which are more commonly known in Star Trek lore as the troublesome Tribbles. McCulloch and Till retain plausible deniability of foreknowledge of the trouble with Tribbles due to the fact that they are Canadian. Though they may not have known it, during their march towards truth, these clumsy scientists stepped on a crack that continues to break mothers’ backs to this day.

Stem cells represent a state of life that is a potential. Embryonic stem cells even more so, because not only do these cells have the potential to become any kind of human cell, they have the potential to be American cells. Politicians know that American cells can eventually become votes.

The embryonic stem cell has taken root in the ripe soil of American social hypocrisy. This stem is growing into the trunk of a tree that I think it would be fun to hang a tire swing from, so real kids can play on it and possibly hurt themselves, because we constantly neglect them and focus on politics.

The ethical and political problem with embryonic stem cells is their source. To even think of gathering these living cells is truly an abhorrent use of the mind. It forces us to remember that the source exists. So, due to the detestable nature of the source and its offense to our souls, we ignore its utility to our bodies, the vessels of our so-often-offended souls.

Whatever your views on the subject of embryonic stem cell research, that part is not funny. The distinct unfunnyness of this conundrum results in people getting really mad at each other and doing a lot of preaching, sometimes in the form of jaded attempts at satire.

So here we are again, science on one side, religion on the other. The politicians are our athletes and champions in the new spectator sport of ethics and morality, life and death, gross and yucky. We cheer and boo at the arena, and then go home and live our lives. Daughters get pregnant: some become good mothers, some poor; some have abortions, some miscarry. Not funny.

It is all so intensely not funny that we can, at the same time, forgive nearly anything and forgive so very little. However, most of us just cheer and boo harder, and our politicians make laws for us so they can keep their jobs. Some of those laws protect life; most of those laws protect power. Central to all this turmoil and unfunnyness is a marginally funny fact: The political debate over stem cells boils down to babies, who cannot vote.

Rigorous scientific testing and analysis proves that babies eventually turn into us, and that we were, at one time, babies. We are not babies now, and babies are clearly not us, so it is our responsibility to see to it that they become us, or we may disappear, like Marty McFly fading from a causality-defying photograph from the future.

Babies have always been a problem in society due to their inherent cuteness and our irrational desire to protect and care for them at any cost. In prehistory, we paid the price for their safety in environmental risk, physical suffering, and mortal peril. Today we pay the price to protect babies by hard work, difficult choices, and occasionally sacrificing our reason in favor of the specter of setting a good spiritual example.

If we accept the utility of embryonic stem cells, then we accept or tolerate the acts that lead to their most heinous sources, but we already do that. So what do we do? We take care of babies so that, one day, they can deal with these ugly choices and not us, because thanks to generations of material success and assumed moral authority, we are irresponsible and unprepared. Let’s just hope that, unlike us, our babies eventually get tired of shiny toys and turn their minds towards more profound thoughts about life. Mmmmm, babies.

Feb 012008

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – February, 2008 (pdf)

Any geologist worth his basalt will tell you that the Earth is overdue for a Brunhes-Matuyama reversal. That’s when the Earth’s magnetic poles flip-flop like they’re running for office. This impending geomagnetic reversal means that, sometime soon, magnetic north will be south and vice versa.

Scientists are still debating what causes this event, let alone the consequences. The prevailing theory is that the Earth’s chewy, caramel interior ripens and becomes too delicious. This induces subterranean unicorns to poke holes in the Earth’s candy shell to equalize the flavor gradient.

There is a great deal of speculation about what consequences this shift may bring. Some say it will be another Y2K nightmare. Still others say that this event deserves a much more ominous acronym, something including a hexadecimal so only nerds understand it. However catastrophic the impending shift of the Earth’s magnetic poles may or may not be, the most catastrophic thing we can do in the meantime is not worry about it incessantly.

The Sun, the source of so-called “solar energy,” is actually a giant fusion reactor run by Entergy. It floats around in deep space and says, “What?! What?! That RIGHT, yo! I’m the Sun, beyotch! Ya’ best step!”

For all its boasting, the Sun isn’t really that macho and likes having friends like the Earth. The Earth is part of the solar system, and without a bumpin’ system, the Sun couldn’t impress other stars at red lights.

Turns out, the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t just planetary mating plumage. We have a symbiotic relationship with our Sun, but it is wicked powerful and likes to fling devastating radiation at us for no reason. To protect us from this lethal exposure, the Earth backs up her big, sexy, tight, round, magnetic field and takes one for the team.

When the Bruno-Whatever reversal takes place, the Earth’s magnetic field will temporarily weaken and become saggy, lumpy, sort of flat but still bulging around the sides, and all dimply. It will provide no protection when the Sun gives us a spanking.

Some scientists have concluded that the reversal will be slow and will not affect us for another thousand years. Other scientists believe that those scientists should get bent, because they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. These scientists have found evidence that God is pissed, and He’s about to get His wrath on.

The prevailing Caramel and Unicorn Theory suggests, by its nature, that this shift will be a rapid and apocalyptic one. Caramel is like Kryptonite to unicorns and so, to equalize pressure across the candy layer, they must poke holes rapidly through the shell. Scientists who support this theory suggest that the effects of this rapid poking will be initially satisfying, but may ultimately leave the Earth colder and less responsive to our needs.

If the Earth’s magnetic field is disrupted, even for a short time in geologic terms, it could mean the end of human civilization as we know it. Even if we could protect ourselves from exposure, the intense radiation would make any surface activity or communications intensely dangerous. Unfiltered solar radiation would cook electronic devices and electrical equipment instantly. It could also give you a deep, brown, luxurious tan – on your bones. Scary stuff. Scarier than Armageddon: The Musical.

Our mighty scientists have yet to offer any technological breakthroughs that could offer salvation. Einstein is dead and his brain is pickled. Hawking is still alive, but he’s too busy doing cameos and pissing off evangelicals to really tackle the issue. Not to mention, neither of them is a geologist.

With Einstein dead and Hawking gone all celebrity on us, who can we turn to for help in geology? Do you know any helpful geologists? No, they’re all running around, picking on helpless rocks. We could look it up on Wikipedia, but that is full of useless facts. What we need are opinions, loosely based in science, but interpreted for us so that they don’t offend or frighten us, unless it’s profitable or consolidates power.

The most trustworthy opinions come from people who are outside of mainstream science, because they are not subject to the “groupthink” that has come to be called “the scientific method.” That’s where I come in. You’re welcome.

I’ve come up with the most obvious solutions: build a giant magnet, or go underground and live with the unicorns. Since I am openly prejudiced against all unifolk, including Cyclopes, I support an initiative to build a giant magnet, possibly coercing unikind to serve as a labor force.

Fortunately for you the reader, it is statistically probable that you won’t have to worry about any of this nonsense. Even if this article weren’t a complete fabrication, loosely based on about three sentences of actual geology, statistics prove that most cataclysmic events take place in the future. The future is really, really big, and so is the past. Turns out, you don’t have to worry about anything big happening in your lifetime, because it just won’t be that screaming long. The likelihood of you being alive during any event on a planetary scale is astronomically low.

It’s okay to not worry about things that will certainly wipe out your species, as long as you’re sure you won’t be a part of that species when it happens. Truth is, the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal probably will not occur for thousands of years, and I’d hope, by that time, we’d all be able to cruise out to Proxima Centauri until things settled down. If not, our descendants will have to deal with it. Screw them; I’ve got rent to pay.

Jan 042008

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – January, 2008 (pdf)

Nerds like to look at their brains and say “Hey there, sexy, that’s a nice big brain you got on ya’.” Admittedly, I include myself in this group. I think my brain is sexy; I know it’s not the size that counts. I’m not going to say I’ve ever thought about the fact that my brain has cleavage, but I just did, so now you know something about me you didn’t want to.

I’m not just a neural narcissist. I like all kinds of big brains. Big, sexy brains make big, sexy ideas. Smart people who figure stuff out are my heroes, them and the cyclops from Krull, and Sloth from The Goonies. My highest respect is reserved for those big, sexy brains that try to figure out how big, sexy brains work. So, out of my respect for the endeavor to unravel the human mind, I am obligated to make fun of it.

The mind became a popular thing to study when it became apparent that it had the capacity to do really cool stuff – like make sharp things to poke with. The first renaissance in our understanding of the mind began when ancient Greeks asked questions like: What is the nature of consciousness and awareness? Where lies the soul? Why the hell is Leonidus bitching about “freedom” in 300 when most of the people in Sparta were slaves?

Psychology and psychiatry are words derived from the language of those inquisitive, Greek proto-hippies. They share the root “psyche,” which has an interesting variety of interpretations, including “animating spirit,” “breath,” “mind,” and “soul.” So, just from the word, you know psych-anything is going to be fun, because it lets you mess with people’s souls and still get credit for being all academic. It’s sort of like a televangelist getting to host the Nova series.

One prominent and memorable psychevangelist was Sigmund Freud, who is best known for his theories about your mama. Freud proposed that the primary motives of our lives are our survival and sexual drives. He called these Eros, which is also what he called his penis. Freud also proposed that cocaine is fantastic. Such propositions had a strong influence on other people with interesting last names, such as Carl Jung.

Jung, who preferred the pronunciation “hung” for obvious reasons, was initially a supporter of Freud’s theories about the psyche. Later, Jung found his own theories more convincing and began to question Freud’s fixation on boobies and blow. Unlike Freud’s theories, Jung’s are complex and fairly relevant, so they’re harder to make fun of. Jung is remembered primarily for his foundational work in analytical psychology, his synthesis of Eastern and Western philosophies, and developing the popular Swiss sport known as Freud Bashing.

Psychology has produced a wealth of logical conjecture about the mind, but studies in this field have always relied on behavioral signs and introspective, first-person reports. Other approaches to studying the mind utilize our most classic innovation: sharp things to poke with. Students of human anatomy learned very early on that the brain is located inside the head, and that, once past the skull, you’re pretty much home free. Much of our fundamental understanding of the brain came from deductions based on poking and electrifying parts of the brain and seeing what twitched.

Modern technology has given us new tools to understand the mind. We have advanced to the point where we can observe the brain’s activity, live and in Technicolor, with magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. The MRI was an initial disappointment to some neurologists, who really preferred the poking and the twitching.

With the advent of MRI, we’ve learned a great deal about where certain types of thoughts might come from. For instance, the thoughts you are having right now, while reading this article, come from the part of your brain where I planted a chip last night while you were asleep. I also took your last Hot Pocket.

Even with the combined efforts of psychology and neurology, we still struggle with our understanding of consciousness. Our mighty sciences have showed us the road to a full mastery of the brain’s basic structure and function, but they’re still having trouble explaining what thinking is all about.

Consciousness itself is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in that Hot Pocket I stole and ate while I watched you sleep. The awareness of one’s awareness is a concept that few in Western science have attempted to integrate into the discussion of the mind, mostly because it sounds a little Eastern. This is due to the fact that many Eastern cultures have been practicing and honing their awareness for millennia.

Tibetan Buddhist practitioners are renowned for their powers of visualization and control of attention. MRI technology has revealed that they are not just yanking our chain, either; they really can do pretty impressive stuff. The Buddhist understanding of the mind is integrally linked to happiness and compassion. This hippie nonsense is the primary reason that China stole their country. Science is working to understand how these Tibetan mental athletes attain such a degree of skill, but nobody buys the whole happiness and compassion thing. Pills have a higher profit margin than meditation.

Our trek across the grey, convoluted landscape of the human thinker has only just begun. Even after thousands of years of thinking about thinking, we still have a lot to think about. It is my hope that your thinker is as interested in thinking as mine is. You don’t have to think like me, just think. And for God’s sake, read something. Oh wait; you just did. I was talking to that person over there who’s not reading anything. Go give him this article and tell him he has to read it. Don’t make me use that chip I put in your head.

Dec 072007

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – December, 2007 (pdf)

The current political debate over illegal immigration has little to do with science, or reason in general. However, when you think of immigrants as “aliens” and allude that this group may include extra-terrestrials, the debate begins to fall within the realm of pseudo-science and metaphysics, or something like that. That’s good enough for me.

Illegal aliens come in all shapes and sizes, including brown, black, and off-white. The illegality of their alienness also comes in troubling variety. The most heinous aliens are, of course, the ones that are called Aliens and drip corrosive mucus and have mouths inside their mouths. These illegals are well-documented perpetrators of murder and kidnapping, and there has to be some sort of rape charge when an Alien baby chews through your rib cage.

The most insidious aliens, however, do not have the decency to drip viscous fluids and look all scary. Some aliens do not bother to hiss and spit to warn that they are about to tear you several new ones and probably enlarge the old ones. Some aliens are cute. There are two things I learned from Kirk: You shouldn’t trust cute without hot, freaky, alien sex, and you should never trust cute. Captain Kirk never had sex with E.T. Think about it.
E.T. had a seminal influence on our culture and the way we think about illegal aliens. Five years after the second celebration of the tenth anniversary of E.T.’s visit to Earth, it is time to carefully consider what effect his short stay may have had on our culture. To this end, the remainder of this article will focus on developing a fair and accurate, social and scientific profile of this enigmatic, visa-less visitor.
The first thing we know about E.T.’s activities on Earth is that he was accidentally left here by his friends, who were most likely fleeing in haste after committing some petty crime or vandalism. Instead of turning himself in to the proper authorities and snitching on his friends, E.T. chose to willingly defy the U.S. government and went on the lam to escape justice. These actions are clearly those of a dishonest and malicious individual. Little further analysis is required to establish that E.T. was a remorseless sociopath, capable of any depravity. After his arrival, E.T.’s activities on Earth became progressively more disturbing.

To elude authorities, E.T. snuck around the edges of a suburban, middle-class neighborhood, preying on young, impressionable children. They were enticed by E.T.’s disarmingly stubby stature, amusingly long neck, and large, compassionate eyes. Children were not threatened by E.T., so they provided him sustenance, supplies, and contextual information about humanity. They were encouraged to deceive their parents, because children saw E.T. as something between a friend and a pet. Knowing that adults would see E.T. as a threatening anomaly, they hid him from their parents and boldly lied to cover their tracks. With gentle coercion of children, E.T. adeptly divided loyalties between families, and even between our species.

E.T. used his influence over children to support his indulgences. It is clear from his choice of Reese’s Pieces as his favorite sugar fix that E.T. was a long-term addict. Demanding a specific brand of candy shows a highly developed level of addiction. Much like an experienced heroine or cocaine user knows the quality of his score, E.T. chose only the highest-grade confections.

E.T. made no effort to assimilate into our culture; instead, he exposed our children to his debaucherous and immoral lifestyle. When he was not indulging his shocking transvestitism in dolls’ clothing, he was flaunting his androgyny by walking around nude, without any form of distinct genitalia.

These dangerously antisocial tendencies cannot be taken lightly, because E.T.’s iconic status is so empowered by his use of alien, tele-psychic voodoo. There are several instances in which E.T. directly violated our understanding of physics. In addition to powerful telekinetic abilities, he demonstrated the ability to telepathically get a little kid drunk. The remote intoxication of a minor may seem amusing to you, but that’s just because you are a terrible person.

E.T. was also purported to have healing powers, but this is unsubstantiated. The U.S. Justice Department maintains that E.T.’s finger has no medicinal value and it is a proven gateway digit, leading to the use of harder appendages. E.T.’s seemingly miraculous revival from the dead was no more than a possum trick, contrived to further confuse people who think that life and death are already too confusing.

In perhaps his most brazen act of treachery, E.T. single-handedly created a device which violated every conceivable FCC regulation and international trade agreement, and probably a local littering ordinance. E.T. was a little, alien MacGyver. Unlike MacGyver, E.T. did not employ his astonishing resourcefulness and technical skill to perpetually confound evildoers like Murdock. He used his gifts to illegally text message his homies using a jacked-up Speak & Spell™.

Modifying consumer electronics for dubious purposes is suspicious. Making illegal transmissions to unknown forces beyond our borders is an act of war. Making the United States look technologically inferior to little brown people is heresy. The obvious conclusion is that E.T. was a harbinger of doom and destruction, worthy of no less irrational hatred then we have for most brown people.

I hope that this profile has helped lay bare the true agenda of an illegal alien who claimed to come in peace, but exhibited antisocial and psychopathic tendencies which have had a strong influence on young men and women, even to this day. This analysis should be held as a warning against welcoming anyone into our community who exhibits any form of foreign behavior. The sophisticated and ancient traditions of a foreign culture are only manifestations of the inferiority of all foreign people, including and especially brown ones: the freeloading Mexicaterrestrials and, of course, the freedom-hating terroristestrials.

Nov 022007

*originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – November, 2007 (pdf)

There are some universal truths that, once learned, become an undying light in your heart that you cannot contain. This light of absolute truth has found me. I am a lying, hypocritical,

tyrant of words, yet even I cannot spin the truth I’ve found into the freedom-hating, satirical terrorism that I so love to write. Conservapedia is a bastion of truth and open understanding. Pointing your web browser towards www.conservapedia.com takes you one click closer to the truth, and one click farther away from forbidden knowledge.

God put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden and told us not to eat its fruit. In today’s World Wide Web-connected e-Eden of free information, there grows a new Tree of Knowledge. The sour fruit it bears are the lies and slander that permeate the pages of Wikipedia. The serpents that tempt us to eat of this fruit are called liberals.

Okay, that’s about all the straight satire I can muster on this one. I’m just so glad I found this site, I had to share it with the world, or whoever made it to the second paragraph. Conservapedia is comedy and tragedy all wrapped up in a familiar Meta-Wiki website.

Conservapedia was set up as a response to the purported liberal bias of the totally open format of Wikipedia. Conservapedia strictly limits editing by blacklisting users and IPs, disallowing anonymous IPs, and protecting certain articles – notably, those titled “George W. Bush,” “Dick Cheney,” and “Republican Party.” Though Conservapedia defines itself in contrast to Wikipedia, it utilizes the same open source MediaWiki software package originally designed for open access to Wikipedia.

From my dangerously cynical perspective, using open source software to censor knowledge itself creates a delightfully ironic symmetry that just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Browsing the main page, you get a quick understanding of what’s going on with the site. The logo reads “Conservapedia: The Trustworthy Encyclopedia.” The page features a prominent link to the article “Examples of Bias in Wikipedia.” The cited biases include the following amusements:

“Wikipedia has a lengthy entry on ‘Jesus H. Christ,’ a term that is an idiotic mockery of the Christian faith. Wikipedia calls the term ‘often humorous,’ ‘joking’ and ‘comedic.’” Accurate definitions of common, if irreverent, slang are to be considered biased.

“Wikipedia promotes suicide with 21,544 entries that mention this depravity, including many entries that feature it.” Suicide is not a fact; it is a biased opinion that promotes depravity and suicide.

“Wikipedia uses guilt-by-association far worse than Joseph McCarthy ever did.” Conservapedia’s article on Joseph McCarthy states in the first paragraph that his suspicions about Communist conspiracies have been “proven correct” and offers little further comment.

“Wikipedia has a substantial anti-intellectual element, as reflected by silly administrator names and nonsensical entries. Check out Wikipedia’s entry for ‘duh’: ‘Duh is an American English slang exclamation that is used to express disdain for someone missing the obviousness of something.’” Intellectuals are never silly. The answer to life, the universe, and everything is not 42. D’oh!

“Wikipedia has a banner to criticize an American treatment of a topic: ‘The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.’ ‘A worldwide view’ is fictional liberal terminology for globalists.” Everybody is always picking on America. Poor, poor America. Wait! We’re rich and powerful! Why do we care what anyone else thinks? Get bent, rest of the world! Especially you, Canada – you buncha wannabes.

“Wikipedia’s entry on the ‘Palestinian People’ omits any mention of terrorism.” Because, as we all know, the Palestinian People as a whole are a terrorist organization. In another example of Wikipedia’s pro-terrorist agenda, the entry on “American People” omits any mention of the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh, or the popular television series 24.

“About 60% of Americans accept the account of the Great Flood in the Bible. But enter ‘Great Flood’ into Wikipedia and it automatically converts that to an entry entitled ‘Deluge (mythology).’” Sixty percent is also the percentage of Americans who accept that Christopher Columbus landed on Plymouth Rock.

“Wikipedia claims about 1.8 million articles, but what it does not say is that a large number of those articles have zero educational value.” Conservapedia claims about 18,500 articles, but what it does not say is how hilarious most of them are.

I won’t describe the articles in detail, but I highly recommend the ones on dinosaurs, homosexuality, evolution, and global warming. Flipping back and forth between Wikipedia and Conservapedia articles on any subject is a riot.

The administrators of Conservapedia have set up posting and editing guidelines for users. The guidelines, appropriately titled “The Conservapedia Commandments,” contain the following humor:

4. When referencing dates based on the approximate birth of Jesus, give appropriate credit for the basis of the date (B.C. or A.D.). ‘BCE’ and ‘CE’ are unacceptable substitutes because they deny the historical basis.

5. Do not post personal opinion on an encyclopedia entry.

I’m no history major, but I did graduate with a degree in history. BCE and CE do not deny the historical basis of Jesus; they deny a Christian-centric basis of history itself. The Latin “Anno Domini,” or “A.D.,” suggested by the guidelines translates to “in the year of our Lord.” Practitioners of Conservative Zoroastrianism who edit Conservapedia have complained that, even when referencing the birth of the historical Jesus, the phrase “our Lord” is a matter of personal opinion.

The “commandments” also threaten up to 10 years incarceration for lewdness, obscenity, and site vandalism, referencing 18 USC § 1470 and 18 USC § 1030. The site states that, in the event of violations, “The IP addresses of vandals will be reported to authorities. That includes your employer and your local prosecutor.” This implies that site administrators will independently research you and possibly notify your employer directly.

In case you are considering engaging in immoral e-vandalism of the site, you should know that 18 USC § 1470 outlaws using the post office to deliver explicit material to minors and 18 USC § 1030 pertains to fraud on secure computer systems, which a user-editable encyclopedia is not. Neither of these statutes may be constitutionally applied to prosecute anyone for editing Conservapedia.

Unfortunately, the Conservapedia article titled “Unconstitutional” declares that, within the U.S. Constitution, “there is little explicit basis” for the Supreme Court’s power to declare laws unconstitutional. So, once a lot of people start reading Conservapedia instead of the actual constitution, you’ll be prosecuted for doing just about anything that makes people uncomfortable. In my case, that may include living on this planet.

All I can say is check it out for yourself. I couldn’t make this stuff up. I hope, in writing this article, I have attracted at least a few web surfers to this site so that they, too, can enjoy reading.

Conservapedia is an invitation for everyone to participate in the narrow-minded and selective interpretations of knowledge that are leading to the intellectual decline of Western Civilization. Come join the xenophobic party and help make sure that, when Babylon falls, we take the rest of the world with us.

When you visit the site, please note that the familiar Wikipedia “navigation” panel has been replaced by a more commanding “Master Control” panel. Need I say more?

Nov 022007

originally printed in Red Shtick Magazine – November, 2007 – (pdf)

Everybody loves alcohol. It has helped us start and win wars, it’s why we changed the constitution twice, and it just makes sense. It is the social lubricant that keeps the cynically self-righteous, moral fabric of our society from chafing against the swollen genitals of our collective guilt and denial. Alcohol is natural, legal, and moral, and you can drink it off of parts of sorority chicks.

The alcohol we know and love is composed mainly of ethanol, which, despite sharing a number of chemical similarities with deathanol, is widely accepted as pretty good stuff. Ethanol is a proverbial fuel for the service industry, violence, teen pregnancy, regular pregnancy, and gay pregnancy. It is also a real fuel for burning in things that run on real fuel. Ethanol is becoming well known as a potential clean, renewable source of energy.

Ethanol is created in a process known as fermentation, which you should know all about if you paid attention in any life science class you took since 5th grade. The raw materials needed to create ethanol are sugars, yeast, water, heat, and an inflatable pool filled with baby oil and aggressive women. The sugars used can be anything from those found in corn to those found in that box of sugar packets you stole from Starbucks, even though you buy coffee at Perks. The sugars needed to create ethanol are found in the same crops we use for eating. For hundreds of years, human beings have used a variety of crops to produce enough alcohol to get hammered and still have enough left over to put food on the table…unless there wasn’t enough to put food on the table, in which case, we just fermented what we had and got hammered anyway.

With the prevailing winds of government mismanagement and corruption, we simply cannot grow enough crops to satisfy the demands of eating, drinking, and driving. To make ethanol a viable fuel source, we will need to find new raw materials from which to brew it.

The solution that has lingered on the horizon for decades has always been the prospect of cellulosic ethanol. Cellulose is basically what gets plants hard; it is chemically equivalent to plant Viagra. Cellulose is a long chain of tightly bound molecules that contains a great deal of energy. When this energy is released in reactions such as fire, the effect is what we have come to know as “fire.” Fire is the initial discovery that allowed humankind to dominate predators, nature, disagreeable people, and weaker fires.

Cellulose can be broken down into digestible sugars, which can then be fermented into ethanol. With current technology, breaking down cellulose is a difficult process, requiring expensive Oompa Loompa labor negotiations. Scientists are busy engineering new enzymes that will bypass the need for fictional labor entirely. If cellulose could be broken down cheaply and efficiently, we could create fuel from nearly any source of plant biomass, including the troublesome Oompa Loompas.

What? You didn’t know the Oompa genus is in the Embryophyte Subkingdom? Check your 5th-grade life science textbook.

Funding for research into cellulosic ethanol production has grown exponentially in the last few years. Funding has increased because we recently found our gonads wedged snugly between Iraq and the hard place we call the President’s head. Our elected legislators have heard the cry for cheap, clean, domestically renewable energy, and they have responded by spending our tax dollars on incentives to make companies spend a little money on stuff that makes us feel a little better about our insatiable addiction to foreign oil.

Cellulose-related research has been conducted in some form since the oil crisis of the 1970s. For a brief period, cellulosic ethanol was seen as a long-term solution to foreign oil dependence, lingering just beyond the horizon.

We learned from that critical time in history. Our leaders are adjusting the way they stay the course in order to address the emerging energy crisis. We learned that having a long-term solution lingering just beyond the horizon allows us to feel good enough to wait for oil prices to drop and things to get back to normal.

Cellulose research is, in itself, a solution, because it gives us a good excuse to discuss what we could do if we really cared about finding a solution. If we talk long enough, the problem will have gone away, and we will again have cheap, anonymous sources of blood-soaked oil to refine into cheap, taxable gasoline. That’s what happened in the 70s; that’s what is happening now.

Cellulosic ethanol research may or may not continue after we win the war on terror and secure enough oil to shut up and get back to some serious NASCAR. Without a need for renewable, clean fuels, we may find it’s better to leave cellulosic ethanol simmering on the back burner, in case we need a distraction next time we face a cataclysmic hiccup in the energy market. If research continues, it will be primarily relegated to pot smoking, environmentalist kooks.

Should cellulose ever become a viable source of ethanol, its primary application will most likely be to convert wood shavings into a tasteless, 190-proof liquor, which can then be sold to university Greeks for use in body shots and hazing by ritual self-immolation.