Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Insect Apocalypse

I shouldn't be so misanthropic. There's no reason to feel disappointed, for example, to learn that cell phones are not to blame for the decline in honey bee populations. But I do. It just would have been too perfect, you know? Imagine global food supplies crashing, exploding inflation, widespread hoarding, panic in the streets, total lawlessness because cell phones scrambled honey bees' on-board navigation. The apocalypse arrives not with a nuclear blast, nor a doomsday virus nor even a climate-change-fueled-mega-storm uprooting entire cities on both sides of the Atlantic, but on the wings of million, billion little yellow bugs dropping from the sky. And with something as stupid and petty and annoyingly contemporary as cell phones the culprit. Sigh. Too perfect.

The End may just arrive via insects anyway, though decidedly lacking in delicious irony. Anybody from anywhere in the American West in the last few years is already familiar with the mountain pine beetle, a nasty, tree-murdering little bastard currently experiencing his heyday as global warming pulls out the natural stops that once kept him in check. In the last ten years, they've infested more than six million acres in Wyoming, Colorado and Montana, making this current epidemic about ten times grander than any previous known.

Infestation is a death sentence for the forests they infect and the beetle's rate of expansion seems to be increasing exponentially. Of course, nobody has any real idea of what to do about it. Could be that if natural burn cycles were to take their course, a beetle-holocaust would right around the corner. Can't have that, though, seeing as how there's so many houses up in them hills nowadays. It's not just nature at stake anymore, it's property.

Let's not overlook the possibility, however, of these problems solving themselves. Apparently, pine beetles make for hungry bears, and I've always said that my favorite consequence of suburban sprawl pushing further and further into the forest was that of forest creatures consuming more and more suburbanites. It seems like a long shot, but if I hold out I might still just get a taste of that delicious, meaty irony I've been craving, sans-apocalypse.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Word up, Mr. Stanhope

I saw Doug Stanhope perform in the summer of 2009 and it was fantastic. He was drunk off his ass and the set started off a little slow, but by the time he got rolling the whole audience was being tickled to tears in hailstorm of spit and venom. This bit here was part of that routine.

As with everything else, he hits the nail directly: the media will never tell you what you really need to hear. Not because of any shadowy conspiracy or what could really be called an ulterior motive. It's simply that it would be bad business and major media outlets are for-profit businesses. That's no secret. The news has no problem giving the public truth, so long as it remains profitable.

Unfortunately, for all life on Earth, it doesn't just stop at making people feel bad about fucking in the front-hole. All environmental issues ultimately come down to questions of consumption and consumption is the motor that makes the system run. Media outlets rely on advertisers that rely on consumers consuming their products. If a media outlet tells you not to consume, advertisers must pull their support or face funding their own undoing. Therefore, when enough people are sufficiently freaked out by the global environmental crisis, Green Marketing is the solution. "Get by with what you need" does not sell anything. "Buy green" sells. Sadly, it is the antithesis of sustainability.

So, while scientists have been running around frantically for years trying to get people to own up to the reality of what's happening, the best you'll ever see on TV are the effects with no causes: towering trees crashing to the ground in South American forests, whales washing up on the shore full of toxic waste, great islands of plastic bags drifting through open water, little, brown children worldwide sick with typhoid or cholera or mercury poisoning, etc. Yep. It's a bummer, we say. Too bad there's nothing to be done about it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bad Dad of the Year

This past June 1st a friend of mine took me to Tepito to look for shoes. Tepito is a neighborhood in downtown Mexico City known well for its excellent deals on pirated goods, but known better for the frequency of murders, rapes and robberies that occur there. So notorious is the place that, although it's the largest market in the City, the vast majority of my Mexican friends had never been there and advised severely against it to any foolhardy outsiders. But, I was curious. And I needed shoes.

It was an unusually quiet day, so said my friend. The sidewalks were practically empty (by D.F. standards) and the vendors looked bored. We didn't think too much of it. We walked around for a while, I eventually got ripped off on a pair of counterfeit Adidas, and we left well before dark. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The reason the streets were so empty, come to find out, was the sizable demonstration going on just a few blocks from where we were, which eventually turned pretty violent, as can be seen

The riots, I was told, were due to the residents of Tepito being fed up with having their children murdered, harvested for organs and left eviscerated in the street. The reality turned out to be less scandalous, but only slightly so. (This sort of wildly sensationalized rumour being taken at face value is common in Mexico, but when you consider the kind of shit that actually does occur in this country on a pretty regular basis, who can blame them?)

What actually went down was that a couple kids went missing and their cause was taken up by the neighbors as representative of the plight of insecurity in Mexico City's poor neighborhoods. Kidnapping is a big problem in Mexico, especially in the City. Most commonly, the rich are kidnapped for ransom and the poor are kidnapped to be sold into sex slavery, but people go missing all the time and there's no telling what happens to a lot of them.

So, these kids disappear and the neighborhood, fueled in part by exaggerated claims of organ harvesting, takes the streets in rage. The protests end with molotov cocktails, a mob of youngsters hijacking a city tour bus, and seventy-some arrests. Many parents would have been touched by the outpouring, but it came out a week later that the kids' father, Javier Covarrubias, had in fact murdered his own children (both under three years of age) and hidden their bodies in different places in the City. His motive?
Economic hardship. (According to this article, Covarrubias regretfully admits to murdering his kids, but claims that he and his wife always got along great and hopes they can work it out.)

We can safely place Covarrubias high in the running for Bad Dad of the Year, but the incident brings up a number of more troubling issues. It could be pointed out, for instance, that this is a great reason to go ahead and keep sending welfare moms those government checks: "Look at what happens (sometimes) in places where the welfare state is only theoretically in existence." Horrible and true.

Desmond Morris, in The Human Zoo, writes that "the modern human animal is no longer living in conditions natural for his species. Trapped... he has set himself up in a huge, restless menagerie where he is in constant danger of cracking under the strain." And much of the deviant behavior that can be observed in modern man, according to Morris, stems from the stresses imposed by existing in this unnatural environment, and much of the misery present in modern society can be attributed to the effects of an over-abundant population. The inevitable result of an excess of humans, in other words.

Anyone who has spent time in D.F. can testify to the fact that the streets are littered with the living tragedies of an over-abundance of humans, the condition in which people become disposable. Everywhere is the open hand of weak, disabled or old people who have no one to take care of them. Thousands of parents employ their kids in begging on the corners of busy intersections and in the subways, young and not-so-young women (and sometimes men) line long, dark streets, offering their bodies to God-Knows-Who, and every morning the newspapers are splashed with the fresh gore of last night's innocent bystander. I tried my best to fend off the sickening acknowledgement of my own cultural bias, but after a few months I couldn't help but wonder what the hell all these girls on the rickety, overcrowded buses were doing with a babe in their arms and (almost inevitably) another one on the way.

In the same book, Morris writes "If prevention is better than cure, then contraception is the obvious choice. It is difficult to see how anyone could argue that preventing someone from living is worse than curing someone of being alive." Can we pin the problem of global poverty and all its subsequent nastiness on reckless baby-making? Of course not. Well, not entirely. There are no doubt points at which the two issues intersect. And I think it's time such intersections enter the conversation, liberal queasiness over cultural biases be damned.