Thursday, June 26, 2014

How to make a long flight... longer?

Mrs. Blog and I have been on quite a few trans-oceanic flights. When that's New York to London, not a huge deal. Read a book, watch a movie, eat whatever food-like substance is put on a tray in front of you, and boom: you're landing.

But Hong Kong to anywhere in the U.S. takes a little longer. Like 15 hours or so. The in-flight entertainment system becomes a necessity, because it's too loud to talk, too cramped to sleep well and often too bumpy for, say, a nice game of cribbage. And that system better have a wide variety of movies.

But British Airways has a different solution, suggesting variety might be overrated.

If you want, you can now watch a seven-hour, first-person, commentary-free film of a train ride from Bergen to Oslo. Here's an exciting preview:

... and by preview, I mean half of the actual film. Don't watch it if you want to avoid spoilers!

I guess it's the equivalent of white noise for your eyes. But there's something a little weird about trying to experience a train ride while you're actually on an airplane. And it doesn't do anything to make the food better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Wise man"? Really?

The idea that we, as human beings, are inherently rational (see the "sapiens" in homo sapiens) is being stretched to the breaking point lately for me. I say this because a sapient being--or a society of sapient beings--should be able to process tangible, real-world evidence, draw conclusions from it and plan future behavior based on those conclusions. That's how humans came to dominate the planet, after all.

But these days, that doesn't seem to be happening.

For instance, there are mountains of data showing that the Earth's climate is changing in direct correlation with the amount of carbon dioxide we're pumping into the atmosphere. And if that weren't tangible enough, there is also the small fact of Antarctic ice measurably and inexorably sliding into the ocean... which will raise sea levels by amounts ranging from problematic to catastrophic in the next hundred-plus years. Tangible. Real world.

But instead of guiding humanity to action, this stuff has become a political football. I can't think of another area of science that is so settled yet "debated" (note: those are irony quotes) so heavily along political lines. Look it it this way: denying manmade climate change puts you in roughly the same scientific sphere as believing vaccines cause autism and just a notch or two above denying evolution. Is that a good crowd to run with? Is that what we want to base policy on?

Here's another example: guns. I could go on at great length about this, but The Onion, as always, is able to wrap it up in a tight little satirical package:

No need for a caption.

In this case, the real-world, tangible evidence is an ever-larger pile of deadly shootings. It doesn't get much more tangible than that. Yet the U.S. has done basically nothing additional to regulate the instruments of those shootings. To the contrary, public discourse becomes flooded with  sophistic arguments about how the shootings are caused by anything but firearms. (Quick side note here, touching on something that fascinates Friend of the Blog Pete: I do enjoy guns and military hardware. The technology behind them is brilliant and the tactics and strategy in their use on the battlefield is engrossing. Yet, barring a zombie apocalypse, there will never be a gun in my home.)

And so homo sapiens looks at his surroundings and shrugs, figuring it's easier to make up his own reality. This isn't the attitude that made our species strong. But it may be the attitude that lays it low.