Monthly Archives: October 2013

Can We Please Stop Idolizing the Past (Example 587)

So Buzzfeed has taken it upon themselves to educate youth about the past phenomenon of video stores and, in the process, to confirm that nostalgic Millennials may be the most insufferable thing ever.

Yes, it’s cute, but it’s also saturated in sanctimony and grumpiness about kids these days and how their gadgets are making them spoiled and lazy.  Given how our parents fed us the same lines about our N64s and portable CD players, we ought to know better.  We are the digital generation; if we want to complain to someone about easy, instantaneous access to media, we ought to look at ourselves.

Indeed, the video has a distinct undertone of guilt, of regretting that we ourselves were so plugged in and consequently clinging to the one area where we still had to do things the old-fashioned way.

But, really, it’s past time we stopped looking at the idiosyncratic ways we did things in the past and going “Maybe things were better back then.”  Yes, you miss your corner video store, but you miss it for the same reason you miss your Trapper Keeper: Because you were a kid and it’s associated in your mind with all your warmest, fuzziest childhood memories.

The video manages to leave out the uglier sides of the video-rental industry.  There was the relentless–and successful–war that Blockbuster waged against the once-common small neighborhood video stores and the decade of virtual monopoly it enjoyed afterwards as one of the most ubiquitous soulless chain stores in America.  With no competition, it cranked up prices and late fees.

And then there was the economics problem.  Every movie in a video store took up physical space and consequently cost money; movies that rarely get rented were uneconomical and so stores dumped them.  This had two interconnected negative results for the consumer: First, stores stocked almost entirely hit new releases–new releases commonly took up half to three-quarters of the store, with dozens of copies of each new film but only a single copy of the most high-demand older films–and second, video stores actually had a vested interest in pushing everyone towards those new releases and discouraging them from renting older films to make for easier inventory management.  So, if you were a classic film fan, you could rent Gone with the Wind and Bridge over the River Kwai and then you were out of luck.

And God help you if you liked foreign films.

Let’s face it: Anyone from any era could make an argument about how things were better back then.  Once upon a time, you couldn’t just go down to the video store and pick out any movie you wanted (as long as it was a new release): You had to wait until it was rereleased in theaters!  And then everyone would go down to the movie theater, which didn’t cost $10 a person, and watch the same movie together and it would be a community experience because every kid in the theater was seeing Song of the South for the first time.  (This was back when you could still see Song of the South.)  Doesn’t that sound nice?

Also, stop acting like 10 years was a lifetime ago and nobody remembers it.

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Discovery

Pseudoryx_nghetinhensisWhen I was a kid, one of my parents’ friends would send me their old issues of Discover magazine.  A bit dense for an eight-year-old, maybe, but I enjoyed it, even if the articles about quarks and quantum teleportation went over my head.  That was where I read about the remarkable 1992 discovery of a new ungulate living in southeast Asia.  New small animals, especially invertebrates, are discovered every year, but mammal discoveries are rare, and the discovery of a 200-pound antelope previously unknown to science is completely unexpected.  Scientists had not actually observed the animal in the wild, but they identified it from a number of skins and skulls.  Science dubbed it pseudoryx, but its common name is saola, or more poetically, the Asian unicorn.

I looked it up again recently and was charmed to discover that, in the intervening twenty years, it has still never been sighted by scientists.  The shy saola is still extant and locals know of it, but it seems disinclined to be studied.

Olinguito_ZooKeys_324,_soloSome things don’t seem to want to be discovered.  Others are begging to, hanging around right under our noses, dropping hints and clues as to their existence, and yet we still don’t notice them for years and years.  The olinguito‘s habitat in the cloud forests of South America is remote enough, but it found its way into natural-history museums and even zoos long before it was finally “discovered” this year.

And then there was the time in 2010 when we discovered a new turtle in the Mississippi River.  And the world’s smallest frog, discovered last year.  The bird found smack in the middle of Phnom Penh.

Let’s never stop discovering.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

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What If We Were Transparent?

tumblr_mqg6y5s52w1sx0zdeo1_1280What if we were transparent?

What if we could see through our abdomens, except not through our arms and legs, and sort of through our breasts except not the nipples?

Would we all stop wearing clothes for some reason?

Would our faces be transparent too?  How about our eyes?  Could you see if your eyes were transparent?

Would it be hard to recognize people?  Or would we learn to identify masses of bone and muscle the way we can identify faces now?

Would we have no bones except the spine and pelvis?

Would our spinal cartilage be blue?  Would there be a big blue unidentifiable thing running down the top half of it?  Would we only have one lung?

Would surgery become really difficult?

Would X-rays become unnecessary?

Would our genitals smooth out into a discreet Barbie-doll package?

Would our organs be transparent too?  Would you be able to see the contents of peoples’ stomachs, intestines, and bowels?  Or would the uterus inexplicably be the only transparent organ?  Would you be able to see when someone was on zir period?

Wouldn’t fetuses be transparent too?  Or do they start out opaque and turn transparent sometime later–at birth, maybe, or at puberty?  At what age do the contents of a person start mattering more than the person zirself?

How would that fetus get out if we all lacked vaginas?

Would we lack muscles, tendons, and fatty tissue?

Would men be transparent too, or would there be an assumption that women were the only people you needed to see through?

Hang on, I may be getting a little off-topic.

Inspired by this, of course.

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