Another Tragedy

A very sad thing happened this weekend when the wife of a dear friend and co-worker, who was apparently an occasional visitor to this site, unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. I cannot imagine a family less deserving of such heartbreak, and I struggle to find some way to help them. At times like this there are no catch-all words of comfort for those left behind. I can only offer the following insight.

About three years ago I was in Bermuda with my friends Sean and Andrew. While there we foolishly rented motor scooters, even though only Andrew had any appreciable experience on any motorized vehicle. So it comes as no surprise to hear that I, ever the klutz, crashed my scooter and suffered a concussion.

Now, in between losing consciousness on the pavement and waking up with a paramedic peering down at me and tasting Andrew’s fingers in my mouth (don’t ask), I have vivid memories of a unique experience. In those brief seconds of blackout I remember long minutes of complete contented timelessness during which I was on a country road in summer with blinding brilliant white sunlight beating down upon me; and with me were the people in the world whom I loved the most. During this period, I knew that I was supposed to be somewhere else, but I was so completely content and happy to be on that road that I didn’t care what was happening in the “real” world.

I’m not suggesting that what I experienced was a near-death experience. I don’t know if my heart stopped. I accept that it’s entirely possible that my “hallucination” was caused by scrambled neurons and/or the subtle play of Bermudan sunlight upon the retinas of my still open eyes.

But all of that is beside the point. When I awoke I no longer had any fear of physical death. I still cling to life with all my might, and I’m terrified of life-threatening situations. But my only anxiety regarding my own death concerns the care and disposition of those I would leave behind; I am otherwise now convinced that the actual process of personal death is not necessarily a traumatic experience, but indeed is the “re-birth” that many traditions teach. I am not a religious man, yet I have personally encountered additional scenarios which reinforce the conclusion that physical death is not the end of the journey.

None of this, of course, helps my friend and his children in the short term. But I hope that, over time, as they come to deal with missing their departed love one, there will be some comfort in considering that death, while tragic, may not be the complete extinguishing of human spirit or potential, but merely its transformation to another place or form.

If anyone has any words of particular insight and comfort to offer my friend, feel free to add them as a comment, as he is a regular visitor.

Relief, Gates, Pies and Probes

We had two marvelous tsunami fundraising events in both Toronto and Ottawa last night. Thanks to all who organized them and who came out to be a part of our efforts. Meanwhile, the crisis gets more complex, with new reports of discrimination with respect to aid receipt: in India, for example, low caste individuals are being denied relief.

Back to Iraq: as many of you have no doubt heard, the US has officially called off its search for WMDs in Iraq. So there goes the #1 (and #2 and #3) reason for the invasion. So why is this not a big deal? Why is this not bigger than Watergate, Monicagate and Iran-Contra put together? Thousands of American lives lost; tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost; hundreds of billions of dollars spent; America’s reputation deeply scarred; and no one meaurably any safer. I ask again: why is this not a big deal?

Meanwhile, the knuckle-draggers write endlessly about the firings at CBS news in the wake of “Rathergate”. How is that for perspective? This is an excellent comparison between Rathergate and “WMDgate”.

Just a postscript to the Global Warming entry from yesterday… The two biggest and most cited climate change deniers are the late Julian Simon (an economist) and the living Bjorn Lomborg (a statistician). Here’s Bjorn getting a pie in the face:

Simon’s work is already well out of date, so the biggest amunition remaining to the deniers is Lomborg’s work, particularly his bestselling book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. But for any of you eager to cite this “seminal” work, please be aware that it has been refuted repeatedly by greater minds than mine. In fact, there are several websites dedicated to pointing out Lomborg’s errors; here is one of them.

Lastly, let’s celebrate over something, shall we? The European Space Agency has successfully landed a probe onto the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. This is something I used to fantasize about as a kid. Remarkable to actually see it happen in my lifetime. Can’t wait to see the images!

Global Warming. Again. Sigh.

Can we stop talking about the global warming “debate” yet? I continue to receive emails from people hearing about how scientists are “torn” on the issue. Let’s get something straight: the overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists (i.e., those working on environmental science projects within recognized universities and institutes) agree that this is a serious issue; detractors tend to be economists, statisticians, TV weathermen and employees of the energy industry. With that in mind, here’s the lowdown:

  1. Global warming is a fact. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the mean surface temperature of the earth has increased by about 0.6 degrees Celcius. Over the last 40 years, which is the period with most reliable data, the temperature increased by about 0.2-0.3 degrees. Warming in the 20th century is greater than at any time during the past 400-600 years.

    Additionally, mountain glaciers the world over are receding; the Arctic ice pack has lost about 40% of its thickness over the past four decades; the global sea level is rising about three times faster over the past 100 years compared to the previous 3000 years; and there are a growing number of studies that show plants and animals changing their range and behavior in response to shifts in climate.

  2. While the overwhelming body of evidence suggest a warming, there are but 2 studies that raise any doubts. The first is the satellite temperature measurements since 1979 which show a warming but only half the value of surface measurements over this time. The second is a 1991 statistical study suggesting changes in the cycle of seasons are responsible for the global temperature changes over the last 100 years. At present, neither study poses a threat to the ocean of other kinds of evidence.

  3. That human activity is the cause of global warming is still a theory, but a compelling one. A 2002 report to the United Nations presented by scientists working for the US government concluded that “human activities such as oil refining, power generation and car emissions are significant causes of global warming.”

    Our planet is still emerging from a mini-Ice Age which ended about 12,000 years ago. That might be the real base cause of the warming; I surely don’t discount the possibility. Or maybe it’s a combination of factors. Heck, it might even be a cyclical affair, with temperatures dropping again in a century or two. This point –the true cause of the warming– is the only one that is legitimately open to debate.

  4. But even if human activity is not the cause of global warming, the phenomenon might still be catastophic for human civilization, and thus requires our immediate attention. We can’t wait a century or two for temperature to maybe drop again. Imagine the Asian tsunami reproduced in every coastal city on the planet. Think our civilization can survive that?

Do you get it now, people? Even if the Kyoto Accords don’t end up affecting global temperatures significantly, they are surely worth the effort and pain. Heck, anything is worth the effort to slow down or eliminate this very real threat. Kyoto is only a start, and I admit it disproportionately punishes Western countries. But you gotta start somewhere.

Is This Because I’m a Lesbian?

Just finished watching this evening’s episode of Law & Order, at the end of which Assistant D.A. Southerlyn is fired for not showing enough dispassion in her job. In the closing scene she says to her boss, “Is this because I’m a lesbian?”

Where the f@ck did that come from?!

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