Monday, October 25, 2021

The Trouble with Normal

As I've gotten older, I've worried about my memory.  As far as I can tell, it hasn't gotten much worse.  I've always had trouble with some names, and when I catch myself fretting I remind myself that in my 30s I sometimes made large to-do lists that I'd tape up on the door before going to bed so I'd see them as I left my apartment each morning.  I don't feel the need to do that now.

If anything, I think other people need to worry more about their memories.  I quoted this in a post on this blog eleven years ago, for example:

At "Mechanical Devices, which supplies parts for earthmovers and other heavy equipment to manufacturers such as Caterpillar Inc., part owner Mark Sperry says he has been looking for $13-an-hour machinists since early last year," the Journal reports. Thirteen dollars an hour, 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year—that comes to an annual salary of $26,000. (In the adjacent Peoria, Ill., metropolitan area, per capita income was $39,965 in 2008.) Or take Emirates Airlines. When it held jobs fairs in cities like Miami and Houston, only about 50 people showed up, "compared to a global average of about 150 and as many as 1,000 at some events in Europe and Asia." The jobs don't require much in the way of education, and they come with benefits, free accommodations, and a starting salary of $30,000. But you'd have to move halfway around the world, to Dubai—an alien and expensive place. Would you uproot yourself and your family for $30,000 a year? Don't you think both of these employers would find many more interested applicants if they offered higher wages? 

That should sound familiar.  We're hearing roughly the same complaints about lazy Americans who "don't want to work" right now, from media and individuals who think that society owes employers not just a living but ever-increasing profits.  The pandemic blew a huge hole in people's mental space, and I keep hearing talk about "returning to normalcy" almost every day.  They have evidently forgotten a theme that even the corporate media played before 2020, about Americans "living paycheck to paycheck," that a sizable minority didn't have enough savings to cope with a thousand-dollar emergency, or even less.  Sometimes those concerns still surface in news reports, but always as artefacts of the pandemic and its effects in the economy, rather than issues that have been with us for decades.

Just a few weeks ago I was talking to a local bartender in her 30s.  She complained about the shortage of service workers in town, adding that people don't want to work, and blamed it on the additional unemployment benefits of the pandemic.  I pointed out that those extra payments had ended a month before, and reminded her about the paycheck to paycheck theme from before the pandemic; she said she remembered that, and looked thoughtful.   I told her about the great increase in people starting their own businesses in 2020, the increase in retirements, and so on, which she hadn't known about. 

Myself, I also remember that in the 1980s, after Ronald Reagan drove unemployment up to Great Depression levels to stop inflation, I heard breathless reports about the jobs recovery and dropping unemployment rates.  It was less often acknowledged in corporate media that the new jobs were mostly low-wage no-benefits gigs, often only part-time, so that many people were working two or more jobs to get by.  When it was admitted, it was usually in the context of an end to the fat, entitled post-World War II years, that American workers had become spoiled and took for granted that a man could support a family on his wages alone.  In fact wages had been stagnating since the 1970s, but Reagan, and Clinton after him, accelerated that trend.  It continued through the Bush, Obama, and Trump years until the COVID pandemic arrived.

That, I suppose, is the "normal" we're supposed to return to.  I'm glad that so many people remember it, and don't want to go back.  I'm not very surprised that corporate news media, whose job it should be to remember the recent past, have forgotten it; a lot of people never knew it, but the media reported the facts now and then.  That's why I rely on left media, who do the job so much better.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Literalism on the Left; or, Let Them Eat Squid

Alan R. MacLeod has done a lot of good work.  His book Bad News from Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting (Routledge, 2018) is an excellent exposé of American and British elite media propaganda against Venezuela, and his articles for Mint Press News are a very useful resource.

But nobody's perfect.  Sometimes his Twitter posts sink into schoolyard humor -- not that I'm in a position to cast the first stone -- and today he misread a corporate-media op-ed in a way that he'd pounce on if the roles were reversed.

MacLeod's target was a Washington Post piece by Max Boot, whose right-wing hackery has often been dissected by Daniel Larison among others.  "How," MacLeod thundered, "could anyone watch Squid Game and think 'the message of this is that the system is working well?'"

 
The article is paywalled, and even my university library account couldn't get me past it, but I was able to sneak a look at the first two paragraphs.  Boot acknowledges that Squid Game is a dystopian satire of unrestrained capitalism.  His point is not about the content of the series, but about the corporate machinery and international policies that made it available to US viewers. I suspect that MacLeod wasn't able to read the entire article either, but he doesn't even have the excuse that he failed to read past the headline, which states Boot's point explicitly; he just read sloppily, and wrote dishonestly.
 
That's not a defense of Max Boot.  Without being able to read the entire piece, I can't analyze his argument in any detail, but "free trade" is not what made Squid Game available in the US; not even "globalization."  The process of bringing a Korean TV drama to English-only US audiences doesn't seem to have involved "trade" at all: Netflix is an international corporation, so like much of what is called free trade, Squid Game was simply moved around within the company.  Promotions had to be repackaged and of course English subtitles had to be provided, but this is normal; Netflix must also subtitle its US products in Korean, for example, for audiences there.  Most Korean movies and TV dramas get English subtitles for DVD release, even or especially those with no US distribution deal.  There have been fan-driven organizations which subtitle TV dramas in English and other languages, including Asian languages for access throughout the continent.  Korean entertainment is very popular in China, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia. This process involves negotiating the complications of international copyright law -- remember that copyright, though defensible, is anti-free-trade -- and a huge company like Netflix has a taxpayer-supported advantage there.
 
As for "globalization," that's generally as much of a misnomer as "free trade."  Dividing the planet up and selling it off to huge corporations is something else, more like the Pope dividing the American mission field between the Spanish and the Portuguese.  Too many writers on the ostensible left forget this, often distorting the issue and letting the Right frame the discussion in a pre-emptive surrender.  We need to do better.  I just wonder if we can.

Most of the comments on MacLeod's tweet followed his mistake.  That's not entirely the commenters' fault, since MacLeod led them astray to begin with.  But that doesn't excuse the person who wrote that "The show literally proves that money is poison to friendship, just to name one of the things it has shown".  Fiction doesn't prove anything, certainly not "literally."  This has been a peeve of mine ever since I was assigned to write in high school English about how Silas Marner 'proved' that Good always triumphs over Evil.  (That commenter blocked me for pointing it out.)
 
MacLeod wasn't the only person who was confused, though.  Another commenter linked to a German media report on a labor demonstration in Seoul, in which union workers dressed as masked Squid Game employees: "They said they identified with the characters in the dystopian Netflix blockbuster."  So they identified with the executioners?  This is like anti-imperialist protesters dressing as Imperial Storm Troopers from Star Wars, and declaring that they identified with them.  Seriously, some hospitals bring in volunteers dressed as Imperial Storm Troopers to walk with children cancer patients when they go to chemotherapy: that's tone-deafness on a similar galaxy-brain level.

Then there were the Netflix executives who dressed in green Squid Game jumpsuits -- which are worn by the player-victims in the game -- for a Zoom call.  It's like Marie Antoinette and her court ladies dressing up as milkmaids, with whom they also no doubt "identified."  I know that many proles identify with the rich and brutal, from Donald Trump to Bill Gates and Elon Musk, which is part of the problem.  Maybe some in Squid Game's audience do identify with the executioners, who knows?  Americans, even progressives, don't want to identify with losers.  On the other hand, everybody -- no matter how rich and powerful -- loves to identify with victims.

Some apologists for capitalism did try to twist Squid Game's content into a condemnation of communism, but that's not what Max Boot did (this time, anyway).  MacLeod's rhetorical question, "How could anyone watch Squid Game and think 'the message of this is that the system is working well'?" has an easy answer: No one did.  At least, MacLeod hasn't shown me any.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Vrooom!

Marquess Brownlee produces the best electronics reviews I've seen.   They're so good that I'll sometimes watch them just to see what he has to say, even when I have no interest in the products he's discussing.  It has been over forty years since I owned a car, and the chances of my buying this vehicle are nil. If I had $70K to throw around I might consider it, though I'd probably wait for the upcoming SUV. 

I'm being only slightly snarky when I say that Brownlee's comments here about how quiet the Rivian R1T is offroad made me wonder if that's a negative for many (mostly male) potential buyers and owners of electric trucks. Every day I'm reminded that revving the engine, making lots of noise, and blowing out clouds of toxic black smoke are part of the pickup truck experience for many owners. The EV company that finds a way to include those features as an option, which could mostly be software, run through the kind of speakers shown for this truck in this video, will conquer the world.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I'm feeling cranky today, which means it's time to get started on this one.

NBC News reported on Thursday that a school administrator in Texas told schoolteachers who worried -- "terrified" was their word -- about the state's new "guidelines" regarding controversial issues in the classroom:

"Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979," [Gina] Peddy said in the recording, referring to a new Texas law that requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when discussing "widely debated and currently controversial" issues. "And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust," Peddy continued, "that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives."

"How do you oppose the Holocaust?" one teacher said in response.

"Believe me," Peddy said. "That’s come up."

Oh, I believe her.  This is America, after all, and that is Texas.  There's a lot of Holocaust denialism in this country, so I'm not at all surprised to hear that some parents have objected to their kids being taught about the Holocaust.  I'm concerned that these teachers don't know it, just as so many good liberals are determinedly ignorant about a lot of things they don't want to think about.

The rest of the article is mildly entertaining, in a horrible kind of way.  The meeting where Gina Peddy said this was recorded secretly, so the reader gets to watch numerous Texas officials and politicians scrambling to do damage control, and doing it badly, because that's the American way.

Just as bad, and possibly worse, is the way liberals react to bigotry: by panicking.  For example, this "Journalist & historian. Pub musician. Dad. Husband. I also do dishes" posted on Twitter:

It’s important as a historian to help people understand why and how people in the past understood themselves and made decisions. It is important to understand antisemites and racists and genocidaires and slavers. But not to teach as opposing and equal views, as controversy.

Yeah, no.  I've seen numerous attempts to solve the problem by definition, as here.  The word "controversy" doesn't remotely mean that the views at issue are "equal," let alone equally valid, as I think David M. Perry wants us to believe.  Nor does "opposing" imply it, as Perry seems to assume.  It just means that there's a disagreement going on.  (For example, the pronunciation of "controversy," but I'm not going to go into that.)  I wonder why Perry gets that so wrong -- no, actually, I don't.

The real trouble with "opposing," I'd say, is that it implies that there are only two sides involved.  Usually there are more, and often all of them are arguably wrong.  For example, in American controversies over slavery, not all white abolitionists wanted emancipated slaves to be free and equal American citizens: there was widespread sentiment, including in high places, for relocating them to Africa. Many white liberals have found this fact unsettling and have tried to suppress it, because it made history less simple and more confusing.  To insist on telling the historical truth is not even close to saying that resettlement is an "opposing and equal" position, and one should be suspicious of anyone who tries to end a dispute by pretending otherwise.

I'm not saying that teachers should keep books denying the Holocaust in classroom libraries.  I'm saying that teachers had better be prepared to refute Holocaust denialism among their students.  The same goes for erasure of American white supremacy; of Creationism and Intelligent Design; of opposition to masking and vaccination to contain COVID-19; of antigay bigotry; of anti-Islamic bigotry; of any and all historical or scientific distortions, because sooner or later they will come up.  That has always been my answer, in speaking to classes, when students ask why elementary school kids should be taught about LGBT issues: because the kids themselves will hear about them in the media, from parents and other adults, and from other kids, so teachers should be prepared to address them. Take the current hullabaloo over Critical Race Theory: it's not really teachers who are ensuring that students will have questions about the topic, it's right-wing racist media and parents.

As the teachers told Gina Peddy, they are frightened for their jobs, and they have good reason to be.  I don't believe Peddy when she told them that she and school administrations would fight with them: some will, I suspect most will not.  That means that teachers will need allies among parents and students.  Unfortunately many liberal parents sit out school board meetings, even before Joe and Kammy took office and those parents announced their determination to take a four- (or better, eight-) year nap free of concern about politics.  It seems, for example, that when Central York district in Pennsylvania "essentially banned" anti-racist books, parents did nothing until the students mounted a protest.

What really baffles me is that there's an obvious response to right-wing initiatives demanding "differing perspectives" on controversial issues.  I'm all for differing perspectives, and liberals pretend (as right-wingers also pretend) to want them too.  If your school's curriculum teaches that slaves were mostly contented and well-cared for by their kindly masters, demand that differing perspectives be given a fair hearing.  Demand that your state-approved textbook be supplemented by the differing perspective of the 1619 Project.  If your school's curriculum teaches Intelligent Design, demand that the differing perspective of Darwinian theory be taught as well.  If your school teaches that the USA is a Christian nation, if your school teaches Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, if your school teaches abstinence from all sexual expression until marriage, there are differing perspectives, and these laws and "Academic Bills of Rights" actually require that they be made available to students.

Of course this all means more work for parents and teachers and administrators and students.  I've acknowledged before that there isn't time to teach all the conflicts.  (Note: when liberals and progressives sneer at the idea of "teaching the conflicts," remember that they are authoritarians at heart and really don't care about freedom, including your freedom to disagree with them.)  Exploring complex issues will take time away from the standardized testing that right-wing authoritarians have imposed on our educational system, precisely and often knowingly to take time away from classroom time for actual teaching.  That means we have to get rid of those standardized tests, no small task.  

But there's a lot of bad faith in liberal objections to teaching the conflicts.  Some of it comes from simple authoritarianism, as just noted.  Some of it comes from ordinary human laziness and ignorance. Do those liberals who oppose right-wing objections to their beliefs do so because they've examined the evidence and arguments themselves?  Almost never as far as I have observed.  Often they're actively misinformed, as with avowed Darwinists who are really Spencerians or even Lamarckians, rejecting actual Darwinian theory unawares in favor of scientific racism.  And in general, like their opposite numbers, they have no idea how to debate: they can declare their beliefs and principles against their opponents, but neither side knows how you proceed after that.  (This is why I'm critical of Noam Chomsky's strictures on debate: Yes, many or most people do it badly.  The remedy is not to refuse to do it at all, but to learn to do it better.  One could say the same thing about thinking.  Chomsky's somewhat hypocritical, since he himself often debates, and not always very well.)

One of my favorite pastimes is observing people online who misread satirical posts, often from self-labeled parody or satire accounts, by taking them at face value. This is often known as being Waltered, in honor of the great account Walter(OwensGranp.  Admittedly, actual responsible media are generally beyond parody, which may make it difficult to tell if New York Times Pitchbot's "Whether it's liberals wearing masks outdoors or conservatives teaching opposing perspectives on the Holocaust, both sides have an extremism problem" is real or Memorex, but damn it's fun to watch people who can't parse sarcasm.

To be fair, sarcasm puts a lot of strain on cognition.  It takes young readers years to learn to recognize it, especially in writing where they can't hear the tone of voice that may signal it, and many adults never do. But it's a very common tactic on social media, especially Twitter, and even after it has been explained to them many times, many adults persist in take posts from the Onion as straight news.

Is it unfair to expect adults to recognize satire and irony?  I say it's not only fair but obligatory that they learn.  I've noticed that even scientists seem to dream of a world where all problems will present themselves neatly and cleanly, so that they can be solved like the most basic arithmetic problems.  (Though they also like to congratulate themselves on seeing past Nature's sneaky attempts at deception.)  Even when there's no attempt to deceive their opponents, debaters will often deceive themselves.  Critical thinking involves learning to recognize fallacy and error, even or especially when they aren't deliberate.  (It also involves learning to recognize fallacy in your own beliefs and arguments.)

So when liberals demand that satire and sarcasm be labeled for them so they won't get confused, they're not only undermining public discourse, they're announcing that they're too dull to read for comprehension above a first-grade level.  (I single out liberals here because everyone knows that this is true of conservatives.)  Yet these same people often congratulate themselves on their power to see past the lies and escape media brainwashing, which you can't do if you expect the media (let alone other people) to tell you in advance when they're lying or joking.  And don't right-wingers delude themselves that they have seen past the media lies?  If you read Twitter, or the New York Times, in the expectation that you can take it all at face value, you're going to fall on your face regularly.

An old friend, a graduate student in philosophy, used to chide me for being skeptical of religious claims, saying that she felt I was 'afraid of being fooled.'  As if that's an unreasonable fear, even if she were right about me.  It's a very common fear expressed by Christians, historically and in the present.  But that can only be part of it.  More of it is a self-critical desire not to be mistaken about the world I live in.  I'm not afraid of being mistaken, I want to learn from my mistakes, and I know that takes effort.  I can't think of many more valid and interesting pursuits for any human being, and I remain unable to understand why a philosopher of all people would consider that aim discreditable.

In any case, if you misread a satirical statement on Twitter, there will be plenty of people who will correct you, with varying degrees of empathy.  Most of them, whether they'll admit it or not, have been Waltered themselves at some point, and will be again.  And that most definitely includes me.

All this, I think, casts some light on why so many liberals are eager to suppress free discussion about disputed (I won't say "controversial") topics.  It's a desire they share with the Right, because they don't know why they believe what they do and don't know how to think about it.  The possibility that someone might disagree with them, rightly or wrongly, makes them very uncomfortable.  They don't mind making others uncomfortable, but they must never experience the discomfort of uncertainty or knowing they're wrong about anything important.  When they say that learning history should make you uncomfortable, they don't include themselves, just as when Trumpies say "Fuck your feelings," the operative word is "your."

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Standing Tall in a Kneeling Position

While I was downtown on Saturday I saw an elderly man (five or so years older than me, mid- to late 70s) shuffling along in a t-shirt that said:

I STAND for the Flag 

I KNEEL for the Fallen

So he kneels for Satan, the Fallen Angel? Or maybe he wants to insult our Fallen Heroes, because kneeling is an insult according to the racist Right?  Yeah, I know, the meanings of kneeling and standing are variable and context-dependent.  It's the racist Right that overlooks this, but that's not really it either: the racist Right deliberately chooses to ignore what kneeling athletes were saying.  No surprise there.

That leaves aside the fact that Colin Kaepernick and other athletes are kneeling for the fallen: George Floyd, Michael Brown, so many more.  The elderly vet doesn't care about them, of course. My question is not whether to mock people like him; it's how to mock them the most effectively.

Monday, October 11, 2021

"I Personally Vaccinated The Star of Bethlehem Against COVID-19!" Says Noted Expert

 Someone local shared this meme on Facebook today:

I recognized right away that it was about last year's much-publicized planetary conjunction, and indeed the original post was dated December of 2020.  The person who re-posted it didn't bother to look at the date.  But that's normal on Facebook.  Whenever someone posts a missing-person notice, I count it as a positive if it's less than five years old, and in almost every case the missing person was found a day or so after the original alert went out.

So I wrote a comment explaining what was wrong with this meme: not only was it out of date, but the conjunction of 2020 was not what it was cracked up to be in the first place.  Contrary to the gushing of some science correspondents, Jupiter and Saturn were never going to look like one spot of light, let alone "slow dance" or "kiss."  That was one alarming aspect of the whole thing, not only that religious hustlers were misrepresenting the event but that devout believers in Science, including some scientists, were doing so.

Why would they do such a thing?  I still don't know, but I suppose that it was partly a misguided or condescending attempt to show that Science and Religion are not necessarily enemies.  I don't happen to agree that misrepresenting the science is a good way to win over religious believers, but I'm not a scientist.  Or, just as likely, it was an attempt to market Science to the masses, again in a condescending way. What could show more contempt for laypeople than promising them that a highly exciting planetary pole dance was going to dazzle them and their children in the night sky?  (Maybe announcing that one had personally vaccinated Santa Claus against COVID comes close.)

A few other people pointed out that the meme was a year old, and I got a screengrab just before the poster deleted it, after she commented "Oh, darn, I was really hoping it was true!"  I really wanted to ask her why she hoped that, even apart from the fact that the announcement was a year out of date.  If the Star of Bethlehem appeared in the night sky in 2020, nothing happened.  Did she think it was a harbinger of the Second Coming?  If so, why didn't Jesus return when it happened in 1226?  In fact the same conjunction occurs roughly every twenty years, but rarely is it as close at it was last December (not very), and often it happens during the day so it can't be seen.  Maybe she just wanted to see this big sky spectacle, I don't know.  I was about to ask her when the post and all the comments disappeared.

As I reread my posts on the conjunction from last year, another thought struck me.  As I pointed out then, the Star of Bethlehem as it's described in the gospel of Matthew is a moving, low-hanging object that leads the Magi to the very house in Bethlehem where the baby Jesus and his parents were staying.  A conjunction couldn't do that; nor could the other popular "scientific" candidates purporting to explain the Star, such as a comet or a supernova.  The astronomers who've offered these pseudo-explanations don't believe that Matthew was remotely describing actual events, they're just promoting scientific authority to interpret the Bible. And that indicates that despite their valorization of Facts, they don't care very much about facts after all.

What's odd is that so many Christians are willing to play along, which brings me to something else I've noticed among conservative believers.  Okay, scientists may not notice that their speculations don't fit the biblical stories, but shouldn't Bible-believing Christians notice it?  Very often apologists trying to defend the reliability of the Bible distort their own sacred text in the process.  They don't really care that much about the inerrancy of the book they claim can't be broken.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Doublethink for Liberals

 

There's a genre of social media posts like this one, which depict right-wing media frantically giving free publicity to programs that in reality are very popular, among Republicans as well as Democrats.  It generates plenty of self-congratulatory snickering by liberal commenters, which is fun and fine.  In these dark times, we have to get our fun wherever we can.

It overlooks something important, though: ostensibly liberal corporate media have exactly the same take as Fox News on these programs.  It's why they boost right-wing Democrats like Joe Manchin as "moderates," who are merely concerned about how "we" are going to pay for these crazy socialistic pipe dreams.  (Meanwhile, they happily vote for even more expensive and wasteful military spending.)  It's why such media and pundits try to make it seem that a small hard core of communist Congressional progressives are trying to bully those reasonable "moderates" into accepting these very popular programs, and why those media were shocked when President Biden backed the progressives and stabbed the "moderates" in the back.

Noam Chomsky used to say that accusations against "liberal media" are very useful to the liberal media themselves.  They're perfectly happy to be regarded as the leftist extreme, because they see themselves as gatekeepers: we go as far as reasonable, responsible news media can go, and any farther is insane, irresponsible conspiracy-mongering extremism.  It makes them feel courageous.  And that's fine with me, because I don't have to accept their framing of the issues.  I know that they cover the news from the perspective of the investor class, which makes their positions entirely understandable.  Understandable, but dishonest and simply wrong.  Left-wing media, as I learned as far back as the 1960s, aren't always right, but their track record is much better than the corporate media's, and even if you aren't left-wing, you need to pay attention to the information and analysis they provide.  Most of the journalists I rely on aren't particularly left-wing anyway: they just look so by comparison to the "liberal" media.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Baby Please Don't Go

In an NPR interview this morning, the singer-songwriter Dar Williams recalled that in 1987 she took a class that introduced her to the concept of "global warming."  "And we were like, Noooo," she chuckled.  Was this because she and her fellow students thought of a world that stays forever the same and never changes?  I get the impression that many people think so, even environmentalists, and that is weird to me. As a fifth-grader in the early 1960s I read books on science that told me about the Ice Ages, among other things, how the glaciers had come and gone, and were still receding right now.  Not long afterward I read that the length of the day and the year had changed over time; I also read about the long geological and evolutionary timelines, not to mention continental drift: changes in the environment that happens over thousands, even millions of years.

None of this made me anxious.  I was an unusual child, of course.  But I found those books in the school library, in a small three-room rural school, and as I remember they had clearly been read before.  So maybe I'm not all that unusual after all.

Imagine my bafflement, then, when an algorithm led me to this article in The Atlantic, a classy magazine for smart people.  "The Moon Is Leaving Us," says the headline, "and we can't stop it."  You can't blame writers for the headlines their editors come up with, but the author of this piece, Marina Koren, set the overwrought tone herself.

Each year, our moon moves distinctly, inexorably farther from Earth—just a tiny bit, about an inch and a half, a nearly imperceptible change. There is no stopping this slow ebbing, no way to turn back the clock. The forces of gravity are invisible and unshakable, and no matter what we do or how we feel about them, they will keep nudging the moon along. Over many millions of years, we’ll continue to grow apart.

She's a bit defensive.

Given this rather melodramatic description, you might wonder: Don’t you have better things to think about than the moon? Well no, not really, because I’m a space reporter and it’s my job to contemplate celestial bodies and write about them. And also because a representation of this phenomenon recently played out in China during festivities for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which marks the full moon closest to the fall equinox. A giant balloon designed to resemble the moon, craters and all, broke free and rolled into the street. Video footage of the unscripted moment shows two people running after the massive moon as it tumbles away. Bye!
I don't think I'm being too harsh to say that this is magical thinking: the Chinese balloon is an omen of the heartless moon abandoning us.  It isn't a space reporter's job, I would have thought, to anthropomorphize natural phenomena and celestial objects: "'lunar retreat'—a delightful term, as I’d prefer to imagine the moon enjoying itself at a relaxing getaway, bending its rocky body into various yoga poses, rather than slowly ghosting Earth." But maybe that's why Marina Koren is a staff writer for a prestigious magazine and I'm not.

Of course scientists love to attack science writing for the ignorant masses, but they also love to try to frighten us, as they frighten themselves, about the runaway moon, the sneakiness of Mother Nature, the heat death of the universe, and the yawning depths of infinite time.  Koren warns her readers:

Someday, about 600 million years from now, the moon will orbit far enough away that humankind will lose one of its oldest cosmic sights: total solar eclipses. The moon won’t be able to block the sun’s light and cast its own shadow onto Earth.

OMFG, like really? What am I going to do for excitement on a Saturday night when there are no more total solar eclipses?  It's highly unlikely, to the point of certainty, that "humankind" will still be around in six hundred million years anyway.  But that doesn't mean we can't work ourselves into a snit about the existential loss.

Koren concludes her piece by telling about the first time she ever looked through a telescope, thanks to a neighbor who set one up on their building's roof -- "this weekend."  Okay, she's probably a city kid, never had the chance before, maybe she lived in a city with no planetarium or observatory or school astronomy clubs or any other public resources.  But still: a science writer, a "space reporter," never sought out an opportunity to look through a telescope until the past few weeks?  (I shouldn't overgeneralize from myself, but by junior high school I'd managed to beg a small, relatively cheap reflector telescope from my parents for Christmas or my birthday, and read books about grinding a mirror for a bigger one.  Which I never managed to do, but my opportunities were limited and I managed to use them.  Kids these days...)

Human-accelerated climate change is real, as is the incrementally growing distance between the moon and the earth.  But reading stuff like Koren's article makes me wonder how much of many people's concern about global warming comes not from the evidence but an apocalyptic panic generated from within.  The time is fulfilled, and the end of the world is only 600 million years away -- repent while there's still time!