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Category: Culture

Brave New World
I’ve had an idea, and I’m looking for some partners to make it happen. They will have to be special people, I think, people with the courage to undertake a bold vision and dare to look beyond the conventions of inside-the-box thinking.

Let me explain. I have found myself fantasizing about the day I get vaccinated for the coronavirus. I imagine going back out into the world and doing all the things I cannot not do now. Even in my fantasies, though, I know that the world I re-enter will not be the same as it was when I left it. There will be changes to that world, and some of them are likely to be permanent.

One change will be a heightened awareness to the threat from viruses. You just know there will be more coming down the pike. Apparently, they are eager to upgrade from bats, pigs, and birds and land gigs with the human race. That is where the action is, right? There might even be more epidemics. If that happens, then masks and other safety measures are likely to become part of the new normal. I think we should be ready for that.

In the old days (a couple of months ago) I had assumed that someone wearing a mask was trying to protect themselves against the germs coming from others. Come to find out, their motives were altruistic. Those masks were meant to protect other people — us — from some contagion the wearer had. It’s always nice to get an upgrade to your faith in human nature, especially these days.

On the other hand, I was disappointed to learn that ordinary masks were pretty useless if you did want protection. That kind of mask is kind of expensive, it turns out, and pretty hard to get. Just ask the health care workers about the N95. Shouldn’t there be some kind of push to make these self-protecting masks available to everyone in the new future? You know, in case this happens again?

Which got me to thinking about nose hairs. I think we can all agree that, of all the hairs on the human body, none is more admirable than the nose hair. Its chief function, like that of the N95, is to deny admittance to any item that is not welcome in our lungs. When one considers what might be inadvertently sucked into our delicate inner passages, it’s hard to deny the importance of such work. Without the these gentle sentinels, anything from tainted motes of dust to swarms of murder hornets might be finding their ways into our soft private regions.

Nose hairs are the first line of defense against all potentially deadly intruders. I count in that dark confederacy the panoply of viruses that are out there plotting our misery. Including the damnable Covid-19.

So far, mere follicles have not been the equal of the clouds of tiny Covid globules now swirling among us in their menacing Brownian dance. We need something stronger and perhaps more dense to protect us. If masks are indeed going to be with us for a while, why not follow the lead of Mother Nature herself as we search for new solutions to the viral threat?

And so, my idea. It is, I dare to say, a possibly game-changing notion. With far-reaching ramifications. And nose hairs are at the very center of my vision.

Picture, if you will, a mask woven of the finest and most practical of natural materials - tightly knit nasal tresses. Yes, nose hairs! They have evolved over millions of years to perform the very task we now so desperately need. I am not suggesting that such a mask needs to be woven from your own nose hairs. Those hairs are busy doing their essential work 24/7. Instead, I propose that these incredible natural filterers be grown and harvested here in the U.S. using our abundant technical savvy — paired with good, old-fashioned American enterprise.

Good, you’re still with me. I salute your conceptual spunk. That kind of can-do attitude will be vital in seeing this project to its conclusion. So, what’s next? I’ll bet you’ve already guessed the answer. That’s right, nose hair farms! Where once there were amber waves of grain rippling in the sun, now imagine great rolling fields of follicles growing and thriving as far as the eye can see. All of it would be rooted in the finest man-made meat. That technology, we know, already exists. It just has to be scaled up to cover a third of our American land mass.

I may have lost a few of you with that last suggestion, but so be it. We are on the far frontier of public health theory, and it’s not for everyone. All right, then. We must dare to push on. Our next issue is keeping those millions of acres of meat moist — what I call the mucus conundrum. We’re going to need over 50 million barrels of it each year in order for this project to succeed.

Hey. Where’d everybody go?
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Probably not, I suppose. We don't have a common frame of reference.

Except we do. We're stuck at home worrying about cooties. Covid cooties. And I, at least, am thinking that I'm going to be here for a while. To be specific: I won't be coming back out until there's a vaccine.

That's over a year from now. Forget the apex, never mind the reopening, don't talk to me about returning to normal. And if you are now thinking that I'm a fraidy-cat, well, I can live with that.

See you in July. July 2021, that is.
Back (Again) to the Future
There was a time when I fretted that the proliferation of Star Trek spin-offs would dilute the glory of the original series. Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Voyager never matched the boldly go that Kirk and Spock delivered. The aliens in these shows, moreover, were substandard. A human with an ugly rubber forehead is not my idea of a little green man…even if he is painted green. Some of the science ideas were kind of interesting, but that’s only one out of the three legs needed to support my footstool of science fiction fandom. If you know what I mean.

I do not include the The Next Generation in that string of disappointments. It boldly went, and the acting wasn’t half bad for a space opera. It also got points for upgrading the aliens from the original (hi, Warf), and for introducing a high quality android character in Data. It also kept the nifty science themes coming, so I rate it right up there with Gene Roddenberry’s original creation from the 60s.

Discovery, sadly, did nothing to stem the tide of my despair. After Season 1, I had hailed it as the best Star Trek ever. I see now that my judgment was tainted by wishful thinking. The alien upgrades were good, and in Season 1 the science was cool, but the whole mess collapsed in Season 2. Spectacularly, in my view.

I was devastated. A long time had passed since the last TV Star Trek, and I was really hoping it would succeed. In the end, it did worse than fail. It killed my hope and badly damaged my love of science fiction itself. Until last night, I had even imagined that my inner trekkie might wither and die.

Enter Star Trek: Picard, and with it a new hope for the 24th century. I am on guard this time, but I can’t help but be encouraged by this new take on Roddenberry’s aging version of the future. For starters, the show logo uses the familiar Federation logo for the “a” in Picard. I bit hard on that. Then there’s Jean-Luc himself. Thanks to Patrick Stewart and his Shakespearean training, the now-retired Admiral Picard channels some of the best acting ever to grace the Star Trek universe. Plus, he’s a geezer now, which I count as a plus. Stewart, it should be noted, is also the show’s executive producer. What’s more, the writing is top notch. None other than the Pulitzer, Hugo, and Nebula Award-winning Michael Chabon is at the helm, and his chops are clearly evident…at least in the first episode.

As I have said, I am reserving judgment this time. Once phasered, twice shy, as they say. I see from the previews of Episode 2 that Picard will be accompanied on his current effort to save the universe by what appears to be a crew of misfits and oddballs. That concerns me. These characters may provide entertainment, but I worry that they might do something stupid and upend my footstool of fanhood.

Furthermore, there hasn’t been much of an alien presence as yet (unless you count Romulans, who are practically human anyway). Until I see what they’re offering as little green men this time, I am hesitant to go all in. There hasn’t been much in the way of science, either. Most of the quasi tech talk has involved android technology, and that brand of science gets pretty thin pretty fast.

And so, I wait…until the next episode. Hope is alive, but it will take more than flashy CGI and a parade of old actors from series past to win me over. I must be careful; I don’t think my inner trekkie can survive another letdown.
A Leg Up
If you’re like most folks, you feel a rush of sympathy when you see a three-legged dog. You might see one trotting along, limping badly but still moving pretty fast…for a disabled dog. “Poor guy,” you might say, automatically assigning a male gender to a dog. “I wonder what happened to him.” You can’t help but admire his pluck, though. He doesn’t want, doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy, thank you very much.

He might wish he had that missing leg back (if indeed dogs have such longings), but he is getting on with his life and making the best of it. What a good boy! What if, however, some other tragic misfortune were to befall him? What if, God forbid, he were to lose another leg?

Put yourself, for a moment, in Fido’s place. You’ve got three good legs. The two back legs are fine, but (let’s say) one of the front legs is missing. Now, here is the question I’d like to ask you, my furry friend: if you knew that you were going to lose another leg, which one would you prefer it to be? Take your time, please, because you’ll be living the rest of your life with just two legs. Which two you choose could make all the difference.

Before you make such a big decision, why don’t we take a careful look at the options? I”m not a dog myself, but I’ve done a bit of experimenting in my living room to suss out the issues a four-footed creature might face if it had only half that many. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

The main function of legs, as we know, is to move us around. For that reason, the obvious choice would seem to be losing the other front leg. There in my living room, I found it quite easy to move around on just two legs. Now, you might point out I am used to walking on two legs, but I have to tell you that it just feels so natural to me. I’m surprised, in fact, that dogs — or any quadrupeds — don’t do this more often. It would leave your forepaws available gesturing or shaking hands (a normal doggie activity, thanks to us) or games of pattycake.

You might further suggest that the hind legs of a dog aren’t really suited to upright walking. That is hard to deny, but I’ll bet those legs could be retrained to accommodate hopping. Kangaroos do it, and so do bunnies. Why not double amputee dogs? Then, instead of walking our dogs, we could “hop” them.

If you find nothing compelling about the two-hind-leg configuration, let’s examine the other two possibilities. Again, our main concern is locomotion, so which combination of one leg back and one leg forward would work best for such a purpose? In the course of my experiments, I found that it was much easier to stay upright having one limb on either side of my body. This arrangement is more stable for standing up, then, but what about for walking? How exactly would that work?

Not very well, I have discovered. Maybe if I practiced more I wouldn’t lurch into the furniture so often. In my mind’s eye, I can see a hypothetical dog tearing along at breakneck speed with one leg on either side of its body, but I have to admit that my mind’s eye will sometimes play tricks on me. So let’s try your minds eye. Okay, here we go…first the right front leg goes down, then it pushes off. The left rear has to hit right after that, or else the whole process will end in failure. And the right front has got to follow quickly after that, and so on. My mind’s eye is picking up something like an inchworm dancing the Lambada. How about you?

You’ve probably guessed that the last configuration — two legs on one side of the body — would present you with an even greater challenge. According to my research, you would be forced to run with exactly the same style and rhythm as you’d use with four legs… only twice as fast and twice as hard. Still, not impossible, assuming you were able to get started — which I was never able to do. For one thing, I had to tilt over to one side to keep my balance. If my calculations are correct, you could actually run that way, but it would only be in circles. Which, come to think of it, would be great for playing fetch. That, or two-legged dog racing, should it ever become popular.

So that’s it. Under the terms of our hypothetical, those are the only options available. We won’t talk about the two-front-leg configuration because, frankly, that might be thought of as cruel. So make your choice, if you will, and let me know what you come up with. All responses are strictly confidential. And if you are, in fact, a dog…thank you for your participation. Good boy!
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz