Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Less-Kind, Harsher America?

I'm 53, and I'm nervous.

Not for the usual reasons, mind you. My hair started falling out when I was 14, so that's a long-lost battle. Terrorist attacks? Always a possibility, but so are sunspots, the odd mugging, or running into some of my former girlfriends. My physical health is lousy, but I've resigned myself to all that. Actually, a longer life is not high on my Wish List, for reasons that will become obvious in a few minutes.

This happened a day or two ago. I was at my neighborhood convenience store, picking up a few bottles of Diet Pepsi [the only vice I still have worthy of note]. Like many of these stores, the check-out people change regularly. I was waited on by a man in his mid-20's, seemingly nice enough. We got to talking, and the subject of the Japan earthquake/tsunami came up. "I feel bad for the people there", he said, "but putting nuclear power plants in a country that has earthquakes and tsunamis regularly seems like a really bad idea". I pointed out that this particular trembler was of a once-in-maybe-a-thousand-years magnitude. He was certainly sympathetic, but still maintained that Japan was just a bad place for nuclear plants. I did see his point, but did have to straighten him out when he added that whoever put New Orleans where it was wasn't very bright, either.
Now, here's my concern: this man was part of the group of people who'll likely be running the Nation in a generation or so. No matter the knowledge or education level of this group of leaders, they will be seeing a country filled with aging Baby Boomers, crushing his friends with entitlements that will almost certainly suck Social Security dry by the time they would be old enough to draw on it. In an earlier time, we Boomers would have made as much provision as we could do care for ourselves. But, like domesticated animals, we no longer know how to care for ourselves financially, or in any other sense of that term. In a very real way, we need the protections the government has put in place for us. The problem is, the younger generations do not have enough potential workers to keep the money train running.
You might see where this is going; the New Leaders, noting that the Boomers don't have the means to care for themselves, could very possibly choose to put us on the mid-to-late-21st Century equivalent of an ice flow. And I don't care how patriotic they can make that act sound! I've lived my whole life in the Northern United States; when I die, I want to die somewhere warm, at the very least indoors.
A message to my fellow Boomers: be afraid. Be very afraid...
-Mike Riley

Friday, January 14, 2011

this is the dawning of the age of...what?

On my list of "usually harmless hokum", one of the top spots is reserved for astrology. Reputedly created in ancient Babylonia, it uses an analysis of the relative position of certain stars in the sky to predict the future. I suppose it's no more inaccurate a system than the casting of rune sticks, or divination arising from a study of animal entrails., both of which have been accepted means of prediction in history.
The main problem with the zodiac today is that the relative position of the stars has moved since the original charting, about the distance of one whole sign, according to some estimates. Obviously some adjustment was needed. But what to do?
Meet Ophiuchus [symbol, or one suggested symbol, anyway, at right]. One of three dozen possible constellations postulated by the Babylonian wiseguys...sorry, wise men, it has become championed by astrologer Parke Kunkle, who recently noted that the new sign's influence on the existing Zodiac explains many previously mysterious events in history. The rise of Lady Gaga, for instance, as well as the otherwise inexplicable audience for How I Met Your Mother.
Understand, I have no real objection to the update; new nonsense for old hurts a nonsensical system not at all. For the record, I find more truth in the so-called Chinese "horoscope", based around 12 animals. In that system, I'm a Rooster, and a Rooster I prefer to remain.
-Mike Riley

Thursday, January 13, 2011

...just what we need...the Fear Index...

Having been born and raised in Buffalo, NY, and living now in the nearby city of Niagara Falls, there are two things I am expected to be an expert at: losing the championship of the National Football League [see Super Bowls XXV-XXVIII, inclusive], and snow.

While "the streak" is a matter of public record, Buffalo's rep as the Snow Capitol Of America might be a little mis-guided. No one in this area would deny that it snows a lot around here [just over 74 inches of the white stuff last winter]. But that 74.1 inches would be good only for seventh place on last winter's tote board. Buffalo wasn't even the most snow-covered spot in New York State; Syracuse, as it usually does, topped the State roster; it also finished first in the National Snow Bowl with a mind-boggling 106.1 inches of semi-solid precipitation [it's said the Innuit people of the Arctic have more than 200 words for snow. Why is there never an Innuit person available when you need one?].

The difference comes in the area of snow removal. Since the "perfect storm" Blizzard of 1977, blamed for the deaths of 23 people, Buffalo and its surrounding cities seem to have taken a vow that they will never be shut down again as they were in that season [Ironicaly, the average amount of snow that fell was only about a foot, an unusually high amount for one storm, but by no means as crippling in itself as this blizzard turned out to be. The difference was the strong winds that built up drifts as high as three feet in more than a few locations.].

If you were one of many thousands stranded by last month's storm, or are currently cooling your heels in an airport hundreds of miles from where you want to be, curse the lack of equipment and training most airports have. Buffalo's is equipped with state-of-the-art plows and other specialized devices. Airport staffs from around the world come in during storms to watch the Buffalo crew clean up [and presumably, to take notes].

This got me thinking; because of the Blizzard of '77, the Buffalo area has committed large amounts of money to ensure quick snow clearance. Other areas, I would guess, make preparations based on the difficulties they most fear: I would think San Francisco, for example, spends large amounts on earthquake preparedness, while Florida would probably spend heavily on hurricane cleanup equipment and training. It would be a simple mathematic process [not for me, for real statiticians] to calculate what frightens any area in the world by figuring out which area of disaster preparation it spends the most on, exclusive of police and fire prevention and extinguishing [although both would likely enter into a community's disaster preparation expenses]. Anyone interested in finding out the paranoia triggers in their local is free to use this concept, without credit to me [as a matter of fact, the less you mention me in this process, the better]. The only thing I would ask is that the title The Fear Index be used for this process. Let's at least keep the name simple and explanatory...
-Mike Riley