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Remember When Antarctica Wasn’t Falling Apart?

There was no denying it.  Antarctica was falling apart, crumbling like a ball of dried out play dough.  The scientists took photographs and measurements and put together little animated graphics showing how much ice was melting.  The people finally took notice, and started buying pieces of Antarctica to keep in their homes.

Under the Emperor Penguin Accords of 1983, trafficking in pieces of Antarctic ice was illegal and punishable by fines, incarceration, and a process called “cold boot” where the authorities shoved handfuls of snow into your shoes while you were still wearing them.  But the demand for the ice was so great that the rewards outweighed the risks.  “Ice Poachers,” as they came to be called, started making trips to Antarctica and chipping off more pieces to sell.  It became a status symbol to have a piece of the southernmost continent in your home.  Of course to keep it from melting you had to keep the ice very cold all the time.  Wealthy people would build entire freezer rooms to maintain their chunk of Antarctica.

For people of more limited means, there were fewer options.  They had to obtain smaller chunks, small enough to fit inside a conventional freezer.  And then of course people had to keep less things in their freezers.  For many people, it became impossible to keep leftovers more than a day, and they all found themselves having to eat a lot more at dinner.

The black market for Antarctic ice thrived.  Buyers and sellers exchanged cash for ice in dark alleys and shopping mall parking lots, using codes in texts and on Craigslist, like, “Need some big ice.”  But after a few high profile arrests and reports that the laws discriminated against people of lower income because they couldn’t afford the elaborate disguises that wealthier people could use, like hiding the Antarctic chunk in a landscaping truck delivery of mulch, states began to take a softer stance.  Some states began to decriminalize Antarctic ice poaching and owning, some states making it a mere civil penalty, other removing all legal sanction.

It is still illegal under federal law to own a piece of Antarctica, no matter how large or small the piece.  Whether states’ rights in this area will prevail, only time will tell.

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Meliboeus


Meliboeus
Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena:
nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva;
nos patriam fugimus: tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.

(Virgilius, Eclogae I)

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Remember When You Had Never Heard of a Leap Second?

Today at around 8:00 p.m. everyone received an extra second.  Scientists do this every now and again to make up for the wobble in the Earth’s rotation.  Otherwise, in a few centuries sunrise would take place at noon.  So they add a leap second.  It’s a nice gesture, and my only complaint is that they don’t announce it in advance so that I might have planned to do something with the extra time.

Instead of adding the leap seconds piecemeal, they should save them up and then spend 15 or 20 leap seconds together.  I mean, there’s not a heckuva lot you  can do in one second.  One second is barely enough time to straighten your collar or check that there’s enough money in your wallet to go set a Slurpee or something.  But with 20 seconds – now we’re talking some real time.  You could microwave your coffee that’s been sitting on your desk unsipped because you keep getting interrupted by emails about a new “office refrigerator policy.”

Or you could floss in between a few pairs of adjacent teeth.  Probably couldn’t floss them all in 20 seconds.  But, then again, many people do not floss at all.  Imagine if a few times a year the entire universe of people who do not regularly floss stopped whatever they were doing and flossed for 20 seconds.  The trajectory of dental history would be altered forever.

Or we could even use the 20 seconds to recite the theme song to a television show we liked as children.  Twice a year people could plan what theme song they would sing in those 20 seconds.  They could even plan to gather in one place and sing the same song.  People who hardly knew each other could gather in the cereal section of the supermarket and sing the theme song to Charles in Charge.

Of course, the planning of how to use the extra 20 seconds would take up many non-leap seconds.  That’s the problem with these things.  People take it too far.  There would be books and podcasts and three-day webinars at $299 early registration, all promising to teach you how to get the most out of the next scheduled chunk of 20 leap seconds, “just like the pros.”

So much real time would be used in planning for the leap time that scientists would be asked to stop letting the leap seconds accumulate, and to stop announcing the leap seconds in advance.  And so little would now be said about the leap seconds that the scientists would forget to schedule leap seconds at all.  And after several centuries, we would all be sleeping until noon, which is what everyone wanted anyway.

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Remember When People Did Not Put Pictures of Their Kids On Facebook?

The young man lounged on the psychologist’s chair, looked up at the ceiling, and exhaled.

“I just couldn’t believe my parents would have put pictures of me on Facebook.”

“And does it bother you that they did that?” the psychologist asked.

“Of course it bothers me,” the young man said. “I mean, imagine you are going through life, thinking about what you are going to have for dinner, or whether it’s time to throw out the ice cream because it has that ice beard growing all over it, and one of your parents’ friends posts a picture of you on Facebook from when you were an infant and in a diaper, with the caption, ‘Remember those days!’ And when you investigate a little to find out how this friend of your parents obtained this picture and proceeded to post it without your written consent, you are told that the picture was already posted by your mother 25 years ago! And then upon even further investigation, discover that this was not the only picture she posted, nor the most revealing.”

“And you think it was inappropriate for your mother to do that?” the psychologist asked.

“How could it be appropriate? How would you like if someone was posting pictures of you without your consent?”

“So people do not post pictures of you now without your consent?”

“Oh, of course they do. Like, when we’re all out at a party or a bar or something. People take pictures of the evening and then post the pictures on Facebook so that the world knows we have a life. If I happen to be in the picture, then I get on Facebook. But that’s totally different. I knows what’s going on. I have some control over what I’m wearing.”

“So is it the not having control over your wardrobe what bothers you about your mother posting pictures of you as an infant?”

“That’s only part of it. Because it wasn’t just the pictures. As I started to speak, there would be these little snippets of dialogue that my mother would share with the world.”

“What were these snippets like?”

“Oh, you know. These little witty things, like ‘Mommy, how come the moon doesn’t fall down?’ or ‘Mommy, why does garbage stink?’ I mean, really, why did the world have to know that?”

“And you don’t think that the ‘world’ as you put it would think it nothing more than the ordinary things that a toddler would say?”

“But that’s just the point! There’s a permanent public record of me saying ordinary things to an ordinary mother who took the ordinary step of bragging to the world about the ordinary things her toddler says and does. If she had stayed silent, the world might have thought me extraordinary!”

“I see. So you believe that by posting your childhood pictures and verbiage on Facebook, your mother removed all the mystery that would have otherwise surrounded you.”

“Exactly!”

The psychologist nodded and jotted a few final notes. Then he looked at the wall clock.

“It looks like that’s all the time we have for today,” he said. “I’m a little jammed up next week so my assistant will call you to schedule your next visit.”

After the young man left, the psychologist went on his computer, logged in to his Facebook account, and started typing a post.

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, a patient comes in with a truly extraordinary complaint….

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