The Blob

Friday, August 22, 2003

Arnold in teriyaki sauce

I just had to share this. It's Arnold Schwarzenegger like you've never seen him before - in Japanese TV commercials. They're hilarious! After seeing these, Gray Davis doesn't have a chance!

Want to see other TV and movie stars in Japanese TV commercials? Go here. They're amusing and interesting. Enjoy!

Do we need nature?

Each year, Shell Oil and The Economist magazine hold an international writing competition to encourage future thinking. This year's competition posed the question Do we need nature? For a first prize of $20,000, entrants were asked to compose a 2,000 word essay discussing and addressing the difficult choices to be made in politics, economics, society, public policy in maintaining a balance of the world's challenges. Should mankind seek greater control over nature, or should we seek to reduce our control? Below is my essay.

Does nature need us?

“Man did not weave the web of life - he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

- Seattle, Chief of the Suquamish Indian Tribe, 1854

Humans, I’ve always been told, are different from other animals. We’re smarter. We walk on two feet. We’re uniquely creative and expressive. With our intelligence, our imagination, our ability to make sophisticated tools, our ability to adapt, comprehend and travel, we have transformed our race to dominate this earth. We have plumbed the darkest depths of our oceans and climbed the highest peaks. We have traveled beyond our atmosphere and explored worlds beyond. And, we have discovered the largest of objects and smallest of subatomic particles. We are masters of our domain.

Or are we?

For all our knowledge, experience and discoveries, mankind has also made a mess of Earth. While improvements in farming beyond the plowshare have given us the ability to produce food more efficiently, we may be creating superseeds that have lost many of the attributes that made more primitive varieties resistant to disease. We have built massive dams that can change the course of mighty rivers, only to see the rivers adapt in other ways and cause disastrous flooding. We have created powerful antibiotics, only to see bacteria adapt into new varieties completely resistant to medicines created to stop them. We have created a petroleum economy with many wonderful benefits. But pollution, urban crowding and eventual exhaustion of oil and gas resources are the result of our deepening reliance. And we have harnessed the fusion power of the sun but in the form of weapons that could end all life on our beloved planet.

For all our intelligence, we are only beginning to discover that insects, plants, birds, mammals and undersea life are often more suited for a life on earth than man could ever hope to be. A tiny spider weaves a web of incredible symmetry, almost invisible to the eye. Yet the spider’s web is flexible enough to withstand violent winds, and is possessed with a tensile strength greater than Kevlar. A shark is basically a dinosaur of sorts, yet it has a remarkable resistance to cancer. A bear can dramatically slow its metabolism and hibernate, a process scientists are only beginning appreciate. Plants can thrive in the most extreme and harsh of climates, fueled only by the sun, air and modest amounts of water. The capacity of a plant to undergo photosynthesis and store the energy of sunlight is far more efficient than our most advanced solar cells. Undersea, sponges exist with flexibility and light transmission abilities that far exceed our most advanced fiber optics. And the simple cuttlefish displays an active, adaptive camouflage that makes a mockery of our most advanced military stealth technologies.

While mankind is awash in the hubris of our intellectual superiority, all around us are examples of plants and animals blessed with capabilities that far exceed our greatest inventions and technologies. For all our advances, we have yet to learn what practically every primitive earthly life form has long understood: how to adapt to this world without destroying it. And despite our motivation to triumph over nature, we have yet to comprehend how to live in harmony with the rest of the world.

More than ever, we need to understand the profound answers waiting to be discovered that are all around us. We urgently seek ways to sustain our growing population but in so doing, we may be destroying the very land and resources that would ensure our survival. We have created the means to fish the oceans with unsurpassed efficiency, but in the process, we have decimated the very source of food for much of the people of our earth. Mankind is rapidly consuming the world’s supply of oil, gas and coal to fuel our cities and our ambitions. But all around us is untapped energy in the form of persistent winds, ocean currents and the sun, lessons learned by plants and animals we consider primitive. Our faults are the faults of the choices we make.

For every creature and plant that we destroy or consume in our drive to advance humanity, we may be erasing a valuable clue to the means of the survival of mankind. It doesn’t always have to be this way. But coexisting better with the world around us may require changing the patterns of our society, politics and perhaps religion.

That won’t happen easily. We are vain. Selfish. Defensive and competitive. For centuries, we have fought wars in the name of religion, water rights, assertions to boundaries arbitrarily drawn but which, in the end, have no real meaning. We level forests for short-term benefits, which in North Africa or the Amazon has contributed to climatic change, growth of vast deserts and which threatens starvation for countless humans and animals alike. We are intelligent enough to realize this, yet we stubbornly resist making the difficult choices we need to make for the good of all mankind, plants and animals that coexist with us on Earth.

It’s ironic that the greatest motivator of change to try new ways is often not the good intentions of environmentalism or efforts to wage peace instead of war. Instead, the invisible hand of commerce may do more to encourage progressive thinking than perhaps anything else.

Where environmentalists have urged the use of alternative energy sources for many years, their efforts have for the most part never been realized. Instead, the persistent work by technologists to drive down the cost per kilowatt hour of energy from wind turbines or solar arrays to become competitive with oil may yet realize the green dreams of some. The coming practical applications of fuel cells could someday change how energy is produced and consumed at all levels, from the largest power utilities to cars, even small objects like cell phones and laptop computers.

Does this mean that the energy industry would lose in a zero-sum game? Not necessarily. Instead of depending exclusively on oil, natural gas or coal as traditional sources of energy, other sources such as wind, ocean tides, hydrogen and solar energy may eventually become the primary energy sources without so much as a second thought. That may seem politically controversial or farfetched, but in the not too distant future, we may wonder what the fuss was all about. What may drive this fundamental change is the pure economics of business, and a persistent trend toward efficiency and economy more than environmental good intentions.

Take garbage, for example. A generation ago, recycling was not part of our vocabulary. We consumed and threw the remains away without a second thought. But it had to go somewhere. We learned that many man-made materials, however beneficial, had a nasty habit of being toxic and non-biodegradable. Certainly environmental consciousness had much to do with efforts to clean up our landfills, our rivers, lakes and oceans. It was simply the right thing to do. But what has made recycling a common practice may have as much to do with commerce, the act of being able to profit from recycling, as environmental ethics and politics. There is profit in efficiency, and the profit motive can be an important driver of progress. Today, when we put our trash and recycling out on the street, we can look back and wonder why we were once so inefficient.

All this makes the ordinary tree look positively advanced by comparison. Deeply rooted into the ground, a tree can easily withstand violent windstorms and earthquakes that would flatten a house in an instant. Its leaves are amazingly efficient in transforming the energy of the sun into power that drives photosynthesis, in a way that makes our solar cells seem primitive. Its trunk can store water with an efficiency that allows a tree to endure withering droughts.

Working in harmony with nature, a tree provides shelter and shade to any number of creatures, who often return the favor by eating the very parasites that could threaten it. The leaves dropped by the tree decompose into the soil surrounding it, providing the nutrients to sustain its life and create offspring. And the tree provides seeds and fruit that spawn an ecosystem of creatures of every size and shape.

All of this happens silently in an almost casual fashion. With few exceptions, we take all this for granted. It’s a tree after all. But if we stop to think about it, the cycle of life an ordinary tree is something more profound than perhaps the most efficient of socially-driven recycling programs. It’s almost as if the Earth has thrown a party for which, after millennia, we humans are only learning how to dance.

Perhaps the greatest discoveries yet to be made are right in front of us. The insects we so casually step on may offer countless lessons and remedies to some of the greatest problems of our time. We take comfort in the beauty and music of ordinary birds, rarely taking notice of their amazing abilities of flight. The tiny hummingbird accomplishes feats of acrobatics that military aircraft designers can only dream about. A common duck, whose brain is the size of a walnut, is possessed with greater flying capabilities than the computers in our most advanced fighter jets. And when it lands, the duck casually morphs into a buoyant, aquatic creature completely adapted to its surroundings. Pine cones are designed for catastrophes, harnessing the tremendous heat of a forest fire to free the seeds that guarantee a new generation of towering trees.

We are only beginning to connect the dots and weave a web of answers. If we step back, we can marvel at nature’s complexity, for being far more creative and intelligent than we may understand. For as much as we may feel indispensable to the Earth, we overlook the reality that the Earth could do just fine without us. It always has. Our success in securing our continued survival on Earth could have much to do with our realization that nature is not something to be conquered, but understood instead. Perhaps the goal of mankind should be not to try to be superior to all of the plants and animals on this Earth, but strive more to simply be part of the greater whole.

Humans are unique in our ability to reason, to invent, to read and write, to express ourselves in amazing ways, to build vehicles that can take us to places that other creatures may only contemplate. But does that make us smarter? Better? Or does it show not only how powerful we are, but how foolish? Plants and animals don’t spend time dwelling on their greatness. They’re too busy simply living, growing, propagating and fulfilling the tasks that are part of the cycle of life. Humans can do much more than that, which is both a blessing and a curse. We are unique in what we can create, but the products of our creation may contain the seeds of our own demise.

If an unthinkable event were to wipe the human race from Earth, would that mark the end of life on this planet? Hardly. Life would go on regardless. That may be a humbling thought, that despite our great intelligence, we are not essential to the destiny of this Earth. But a healthy Earth is essential to our destiny. The sooner we humans embrace the humility of that thought and the joy of discovering the genius in even the most tiny and insignificant of creatures and organisms, we may yet find the miracles and answers that we have sought since the first human walked this planet. Perhaps it is time that we focus on belonging, to become, as Chief Seattle so wisely said, a strand in the web of life. It’s time we got in tempo with the music that is the remarkable chain of life on Earth.

Shall we dance?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

You're so vain

Clueless. That's the word that came to mind as I listened to a "make-or-break" speech this afternoon by California Governor Gray Davis. Instead of being an act of contrition about the incompetence of his tenure as Governor, Davis went on the defensive. Calling the recall election "a Republican power grab," Davis said, "...They don't give a rip about past mistakes. This is all about control in the future, seizing back the governor's chair..."

What Davis can't grasp is that this is not a Republican power grab, but a grass roots effort by the people of California (Democrats, Republicans and independent voters) to get control of their state back from an aloof, egotistical and incompetent politician deeply wedded to special interests.

"This recall is bigger than California," Davis said. "What's happening here is part of an ongoing national effort to steal elections Republicans cannot win."

Funny. In most democratic nations, it's called a Vote of Confidence. It's not the lack of democracy, but evidence that the people, regardless of their political view, are working determine the course of the state, not the Governor.

To infer that 1.6 million voters in California who signed petitions for the recall election are attempting to deny freedom of expression guaranteed by democracy is simply insulting. And it's interesting to note that most of the people on the recall election ballot are Democrats, not Republicans. If Davis had not made such a mess of things, this recall election would never have happened. Consider this:

- In search of the ever-elusive free lunch, California government increased spending in the last four-and-a-half years by nearly 40 percent, well above the 21 percent combined increase in state population growth and inflation. Governor Gray Davis, who entered office in 1998 with a $10 billion surplus, converted that into a staggering $40 billion deficit, a deficit larger than the combined deficits of the other 49 states.

- Most California businesses saw their workers' compensation insurance premiums double and even triple, while increasing payouts, despite the fact that the number of claims filed actually decreased.

- The state already imposes up to 9.3 percent state income tax, one of the highest in the country.

- California's sales tax is 7.25 percent - the nation's highest.

- Despite the governor's declared ''freeze'' in hiring, he added 44,000 people to the state payroll.

- For the first time since 1940, California lost residents to other states. Over the last several years, many businesses left California for business-friendly states like Utah and Nevada, resulting in a loss, since 2001, of nearly 300,000 jobs in manufacturing alone.

It's little wonder why Californians of different political views agree on one thing: Davis has to go. Instead of backing down today, Davis showed again how out of touch he is with the people of California.

Gray es Muy Macho

Do you see this news snippet about Gray Davis being a manly man? It's true. A torrid beachside affair between Gray Davis and actress Cybill Shepard was reported in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle:

Cybill Shepherd: Gray Davis 'Good Kisser'

At least one well-known Californian has found something to love about Gov. Gray Davis.

Actress Cybill Shepherd told the San Francisco Chronicle that she and Davis "made out passionately" on a beach in Hawaii 36 years ago when she was 16 and he, 24.

Davis was working at a travel company at the time, and Shepherd was vacationing with her parents.

Shepherd gushed that Davis was "such a good kisser," and that "his slithering forked tongue felt incredible."

"We made out passionately on the beach," she said, and "were covered with sand, seaweed and garbage that washed up, but didn't stop us."

The Governor's lovemaking abilities should come as no surprise to California taxpayers. After all, he's been screwing us for years.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Thought of the day

If California were in a deeper financial mess (thanks, Gray!), the state government would have to enroll in the Consumer Credit Counseling credit protection program. Well, an enterprising mind at the blog site Voyage to Arcturus came up with an idea to erase California's $38 Billion debt: have everyone in California file as a nominee for the gubernatorial recall election. Here's the logic:

California state debt: $38 Billion

California gubernatorial special election filing fee: $3,500 per person

Number of gubernatorial candidates required to erase California state debt: 10,857,143

That's less than one-third the population of California, which is pushing 36 million people (plus or minus several million undocumented illegal aliens).

Since just about everybody and their mother has filed to jump into the election, why not encourage more people? Given all the boneheaded ideas that keep coming from Sacramento, it seems like a pretty reasonable idea by comparison. So let's open up registration again. Keep that money coming, folks. Register early and often!

Is it just me?

When I saw Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic Party's relief pitcher candidate to back up the deservedly beleaguered, extremely Gray Davis in the California gubernatorial recall election, something told me that I’d seen him before. But I couldn’t place exactly where. Now I know. Check this out: I swear to God that Bustamante is actually Cosmo Spacely of The Jetsons, the evil boss of George Jetson, who is the spitting image of – get ready – Gray Davis.

Coincidence? You decide.

Say what you will about this Terminator feller, but something's happening. The future ain't what it used to be.