Sunday, May 29, 2011

Skullduggery in Paramus

Recently, my husband came home, very excited, because he was invited to a small gathering of people in Paramus who would be meditating with, and attending a lecture on, a crystal skull from Mexico. Steve was invited because he is psychic. While I am not, I decided to tag along, anyway.

Naturally, the first thing I did when I found out we would be attending this event was to research crystal skulls. That was a bit of a buzzkill. Two crystal skulls, one at the British Museum and another at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, have been determined fakes. The crystal quartz from which they were carved apparently came from Brazil or Madagascar, which were too far from Mesoamerican Indians to legitimately end up in their burial sites. The fake crystal skulls also showed evidence of workmanship with metal rotary blades which, it would seem, were not in use in ancient times.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”—Confucius

However, to be fair, the skull my husband would be communing with was verified as being carved from quartz that is indigenous to the area of Mexico in which it was purported to have been found. It has a more primitive appearance than the highly polished, well sculpted ones that used to grace some of the world’s finest museums. Is it a Mesoamerican artifact? Who knows.

History of the Crystal Skull

Many years ago in the Yucatan region of Mexico, a teacher traveled by bicycle from village to village tutoring the local Mayan people on how to read and write Spanish. Eventually, he moved his family to Mexico City, but he never forgot his old home. Wanting to share the culture of the area, he began organizing tours back to Yucatan, guiding visitors through archaeological sites. As the years passed, his travel business flourished.

Steve holds a smirking Pancho, The New Generation crystal skull.
One day, during a tour to Oaxaca, a mysterious man approached him with a large skull carved from pure quartz crystal. The skull was hollow, about 10” in height and weighed about 15 pounds. Everyone was fascinated by the piece.The man revealed to the tour guide that the skull had been found at a sacred site of the Zapoteca Indians. He had five smaller skulls made out of precious stones and other artifacts. The tour guide acquired them all. For many years, the crystal skull was kept in the private home of the family.

Eventually, the crystal skull migrated to the United States to reside with the eldest grandson, Mario Bojorquez, who inherited its guardianship. Mario and his family affectionately named it “Pancho.” It is also referred to as The New Generation skull. Mario travels around the country giving discussions about the indigenous Mesoamerican cultures of Mexico and crystal skulls.

“Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.”—Confucius

According to an ancient Mayan legend, when mankind is at the brink of destroying itself and the planet, 13 crystal skulls will come together with the purpose of giving humanity an ancient message that will prevent it from totally annihilating itself and the world. Good timing! If Pancho is a genuine artifact, then that would make him about 2,500 years old, and the Zapoteca Indians might have used him in ceremonies for creating unity within the tribe.

Meeting Pancho

Our appointment with Pancho was 3:30 p.m. in room 142 of the Courtyard Marriott in Paramus, New Jersey. Not the most mystical of venues—perhaps even tawdry—but that's where we met. Mario showed us to the room where the smiling crystal skull was set up on a coffee table surrounded by dozens of equally gleeful, smaller skulls carved out of various precious stones. Indigenous flute music played in the background.

Steve makes eye contact with Pancho.

Steve and I sat opposite the skull on a couch and stared at it. It stared back. After seeing we were settled, Mario left the room so we could have some alone time with Pancho. Steve placed his hands on the skull and immediately went into a meditative state. He lifted the skull so he could view him eye-to-eye for a while. When he quietly placed the skull back on the table, I thought I would take my turn giving our jovial friend a lift and see what happened. He was surprisingly heavy. Holding him aloft was like hoisting a bowling ball with two eye sockets and teeth. A novice meditator, I closed my eyes and saw a few fleeting images. We were told we could ask him questions, so I did. The answer came in symbols that were not immediately meaningful to me.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”—Confucius

Steve did a bit better and had full-length, epic messages to relate. Right before our half hour was up, he said he felt like the crystal skull downloaded a flood of information to him, but that it might take him a while to interpet all that he had gotten. Oddly enough, the experience seemed to instill him with a lasting sense of self-confidence and personal peace. I took a few snapshots, wished Pancho well and said good-bye. Mario said it was likely that Steve had had some involvement with the skull in a past life.

Perhaps while Steve was living that life as a Zapoteca Indian 2,500 years ago in the Yucatan, I was hanging out in Zhōu Dynasty China, decked out in a fine silk robe and dishing philosophy with Confucius and his disciples. Or maybe not. No matter. At the very least, paying our propers to a disarmingly grinning crystal skull took us out of our typical Wednesday afternoon work routinesand was other-worldly more entertaining.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Getting Biblical with Farming

For the last 25 years or so, I have been a shareholder in an organic farm run by a bunch of crazy eco-feminists who believe in organic food and world peace, and who also happen to be nuns (of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey).

The entrance to the mysterious Genesis Farm.
Their leader, Sister Miriam, told me that back in 1980, the Sisters wanted to start an organic farm and so prayed about it. Shortly, thereafter, they got a telephone call informing them that Rupert and Mary Von Boecklin had died and left them land in Blairstown, New Jersey—a farm, in fact. The Von Beokclins had lived on and farmed the 140-acre farm—which included rolling hills, woodlands, marshes, houses and farm buildings—since the 1940s. Previously, the farm had been owned by two other families. Over the years it had been used for cattle, dairy and sheep farming and was known as the Red Cat Farm to people in the area. But Red Cat Farm was not a good name for Dominican Sisters, so they re-named it something more Biblical—Genesis Farm.

Oddly enough, there had never been any association between the Von Boecklin family and the Dominican Sisters before they got that phone call, so I guess this is one of those times where the cliché “God works in mysterious ways” seems the only explanation.

Tenacious G, aka Grandma, posing by the food shed.
Why did a group of suburban nuns want to grab pitchforks and create an organic farm? According to their website: “The decade of the 1970s marked a growing awareness of the urgent problems that were affecting the planet worldwide. The pollution of air, water, and soils had been documented by Rachel Carson and a steady stream of other scientific and ecological writers. During the 1960s and 1970s the family farm crisis with its consequent effects of malnourishment and world hunger had also become evident. Racism and war had torn deep rifts in the fabric of our national life, and the connections between our local and global problems had become much clearer.” Basically, the world was going to H*ll in a handbasket.

The Dominican Sisters are an intrepid group of women who live what they preach. In fact, their farm not only grows the great local, organic food that I take home every other week, it also is an educational center. I learned to cook healthy food and bake bread there. They also have courses in living simply and Earth literacy. Most recently, I attended a slide show given by a young man who had traveled to India, South America and other countries around the world on a grant. His purpose was to study how indigenous cultures are fighting back against companies like Monsanto by preserving their seeds of heritage. It was a very inspiring talk.

In the United States, it seems that our government—and therefore any regulations that govern the safety of our food and environment—has been bought out by corporate financial interests. That’s right. People are so greedy that they are willing to produce cheap, unhealthy food for our nation to eat so that they can make a buck. While corporations argue that pesticides and genetically altered crops are necessary to feed the multitudes, studies are beginning to show just the opposite—that small, organic farms are more sustainable and productive than large agribusinesses with their pesticide-dependent monocultures. To read more about that, download Organic Food and Farming: Myth and Reality produced in the UK by the JMG Foundation and the Soil Association.

The American public is beginning to get wise to the nonsense going on in Washington. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are more than 12,500 community supported farms in the United States. As people begin worrying more about the contamination of the food supply, locally grown organic food is becoming more important to educated consumers—particularly those raising children. To find a farm in your area, go to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association website.

Let's face it. To eat food that is not contaminated with pesticides and genetic tampering, you pretty much have to find your own food source these days—which harkens back to our distant, peckish ancestors. Think of Community Supported Gardens not just as a source of wholesome produce, but as a fashionably retro, 21st Century version of foraging.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I’m feeling a bit rejected today. Yesterday—May 21, 2011—was the official Rapture date and, well… I’m still here. Suddenly, I’m getting flashbacks to being the last one picked for dodge-ball games, tapping my foot as I watched the popular girls being asked to dance at school functions and getting passed over for promotions because I did not possess the appropriate genitalia. A lifetime of being shut out of the ranks of the privileged based on superficial gender and geek-related issues is now being affirmed with the Ultimate Rejection—being left behind.
Left out, again. Look at all the fun they're having.
While I have not yet left my house to check out who specifically was taken up body-and-soul to heaven, I imagine many of my spiritually elite neighbors are currently having hors d'oeuvres with the angels and High Tea with their Personal Savior. In the meantime, here I sit, eating tuna out of a can and drinking tap water.

My cats are still here, so obviously they harbor evil thoughts. (Some religious people suggest that animals have no souls, but that's just messed up.) My husband is still here, quietly working on a jigsaw puzzle of The Beatles. Both of my daughters have apparently followed their mother down the wrong, wanton path as they have shown their presence by recently posting their activities on Facebook. Wait. You don’t think Mark Zuckerberg brokered a deal with the Almighty to allow post-mortem posting, do you? You never know.

Is heaven for nudists?
So I guess the Righteous have left town. No matter. Living in the New York City area, I have many Earthbound-Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim friends to hang out with until Judgment Day this October 21. And of course, there’s the Old Reliables—the Agnostics and the Atheists.

Unfortunately, for us, it's not going to help the housing market to have so many additional homes sitting unoccupied. Also, there will now be fewer patriotic Americans shuffling around the shopping malls to nudge the economy along by purchasing Victoria's Secret undies and big screen televisions.

But, hey, just because the End Time is near, that’s no reason to wear a Monday face. With all of the Chosen out of the way, the job market should open up quite nicely for the rest of us. Also, less people means our energy needs will be slashed, reducing our dependency on those who have been left behind in the Middle East. And perhaps best of all—my pulse quickens—with the depopulation of the U.S., this is an ideal time to visit Disney World, where the waiting time for the good rides should be substantially shortened.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tenacious G and the Cord of Eternity

“Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.”—Edwin Hubbel Chapin

This past Sunday, as with every Sunday, I dropped my mother off at the front door of her assisted living facility following a low-key afternoon together. We have a ritual for parting. First, she complains about how uncomfortable my car is and how difficult it is to get out of it. Then, outside the car, she smiles at me as she pushes the car door shut, dramatizing how heavy it is. She walks slowly to the entrance of the facility, then just before crossing its threshold she turns back, and seeing I’m still there, waves before she goes in. I wave back.

While this is happening, a ghostly memory from days past overlays itself on us both. I return to kindergarten. My mother’s car is big and uncomfortable. It takes some effort to lower myself out. I turn and smile at my mother as I struggle to close the heavy car door. Then, walking slowly to the entrance of the school, I turn to see her still watching me. I wave, she waves back and I go in.

Life has a peculiar way of reversing itself. Perhaps it’s generational karma.

This past December, my mother’s assisted living facility had a holiday program where its elderly residents sang Christmas carols for us. The singers donned Santa caps and rang hand bells at the pre-arranged moments in each song. They all searched the audience for family members as they sang. When they spotted their kin, they beamed with pride. At the end of the program, Santa came around and gave them gifts.

Tenacious G dressed for the Christmas program.
Again, echoes from my childhood stole into the festivities. How many Christmas pageants had I performed in at school? How many times had my eyes combed the audience for my mother, and finally connected with her, filling me with the joy that comes from knowing you're loved? How many times had a cheesy Santa walked around handing out presents to my classmates and me?

The first time I realized that my mother had become the child and I the parent, I felt profoundly sad. How could something so unnatural occur?

My mother was, and continues to be, an extremely intelligent woman. A brain hemorrhage several years ago impaired her ability to speak. Unfortunately, because of her speech challenges, she really needs to be in a protective environment.

Somewhere along the years, her world of politics and art and family gradually shrank until it became no larger than the confines of her assisted living apartment. Her sense of accomplishment now rests within those sheltered walls.

Mom has been at her facility for three years. It has been an adjustment for us both, but I no longer feel sad about it. Her life is relatively independent. Her caretakers are kind. And she has certainly not faded away. A direct descendant of William the Conqueror and the Viking Kings before him, she still asserts her feisty will with definitive judgments on food, people and the world. She lives defiantly within her limits—in the moment—daring to savor her vintage years with dignity and optimism.

Postscript: Today is her birthday. Happy 85th to you, Mom!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gardening with Babylon

Begonias, cosmos and clematis mingling around our deck.
Hail, the Ides of May. That is the official last frost date in these parts, signaling the beginning of planting season in New Jersey. Restless gardeners will be buying seeds and plants, breaking out their gardening gloves, reconnecting the garden hose and generally getting ready to play in the dirt.

Up until a few years ago, I was in charge of all landscaping on our property—which amounts to .33 of an acre minus a house and a tree-covered grade in the back yard. The remaining 25 feet or so offers a manageable space for minimalist gardening. In recent years, I have enlisted the help of my husband. Being the one with superior arm strength, he digs the holes. Being the one who does not mind getting dirty, I do the planting. We both go to the nursery to pick out plants. Unfortunately, our choices are rather limited.

First, our property is nearly all shaded, which rules out the majority of flowers that exist on this planet. Then there is the drooling area wildlife, who hungrily view our garden as their personal salad bar. Thus, we are shunted to a paltry list of shade-loving, putrid-tasting plants.

But enough about us. Here is a brief history of gardening. Special thanks to Tim Lambert, a major source for historical dates:
  • The earliest gardens were grown for practical reasons. People were hungry; they grew food. With civilization, came the obnoxious formation of the upper classes who had the leisure to enjoy purely decorative gardens. That's because they had servants (or slaves) to do the gardening for them
  • In the hot and arid climate of ancient Egypt, rich people liked to rest in the shade of trees. They created gardens enclosed by walls with trees planted in rows. They also grew vineyards. Much like today, beer was the drink of the common people, but the rich liked their wine
  • The Egyptians believed that the gods also liked a nicely tilled flower bed, so temples had gardens. Planting the right thing was important. Gods were quite picky. Different trees were associated with different gods
“When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”—anonymous
  • The Assyrians came from Iraq and in the period 900 BC to 612 BC they ruled a great empire in the Middle East. Upper-class Assyrians enjoyed pleasure gardens irrigated by water canals. They also created large hunting parks. (In case you are not familiar with the Assyrians, they invented locks and keys,  the sexagesimal system of time we use, paved roads, the first postal system, the first use of iron, the first magnifying glasses, the first libraries, the first university, the first plumbing and flush toilets, the first electric batteries, the first guitars, the first aqueducts and the first arch. Naturally, being the cultural center of antiquity, they were invaded and destroyed)
  • When the Assyrian Empire was obliterated in 612, the city-state of Babylon created another huge empire. King Nebuchadnezzar built the hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. According to tradition, his wife, Amyitis, missed the mountainous terrain of her homeland so the king brought the mountain to her by building a stepped terrace garden. Man-powered pumps watered it. (Even then, women could be high maintenance)
  • Why can't  my husband do this for me? Drawing courtesy of  Juan RA de Lara Sieder.

  • In 539, the Babylonian Empire was destroyed by the Persians who created yet another great empire. When they were not wiping out other civilizations, the Persians were superb gardeners. They built underground aqueducts to bring water to their gardens without it evaporating on the way
  • While they were good at just about everything else, the Greeks were not great gardeners. They sometimes planted a few trees to provide shade around temples and other public places but pleasure gardens were rare. Much like New Yorkers, when the Greeks did grow flowers, it was usually in containers. Actual gardens were reserved for practical reasons—generally orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens
  • When the Romans conquered Egypt in 30 BC, they picked up some eastern ideas about gardening. Rich Romans created gardens next to their palaces and villas. They were masters of the art of topiary. Their gardens contained a wide variety of flowers and were adorned with statues and sculptures
  • After the fall of Rome, gardening (along with just about everything else) declined in Western Europe. However, the church still maintained some gardens of medicinal herbs and of flowers to decorate the church altars
"Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing ‘Embraceable You’ in spats." —Woody Allen
  • Meanwhile in the 7th century, the Arabs busily created their huge empire. When they conquered Persia, they took over many Persian ideas about gardens. Islamic gardens were surrounded by walls and very often they were divided into four sections by watercourses. In the center was a pool or pavilion. Fountains were decorated with mosaics and glazed tiles
  • Gradually order was restored in Europe and by the late 13th century the rich were back to cultivating gardens for pleasure, medicinal herbs and vegetables. Gardens were walled both to protect them from wild animals and to provide seclusion
  • 14th and 15th century gardens had lawns sprinkled with fragrant herbs. They featured raised flowerbeds, trellises of roses or vines, fruit trees and sometimes they had turf seats
Just is case you were wondering, this is a turf seat.
  • Renaissance gardens were adorned with sculptures, fountains and topiary. Often they also contained water jokes (unsuspecting visitors were sprayed with jets of water; perhaps the precursor of the squirting lapel flower). Water organs played music or imitated bird song. Gardens also often contained grottoes (cave-like buildings) and hedge mazes 
  • In the early 18th century many people rebelled against formal gardens and preferred a more natural style. Gardens often contained shrubberies, grottoes, pavilions, bridges and follies such as mock temples
  • Meanwhile in the North American colonies life was, at first, tough but by the end of the 17th century the wealthy were at it, once more, creating pleasure gardens. Americans preferred more formal gardens than their European counterparts
  • In 1830, Edwin Beard Budding (1796-1846) invented the lawn mower, which would become the bane of many a teenage boy
  • In the 19th century gardeners began to build large greenhouses or conservatories (so Colonel Mustard would have a place to hang out). Well-trimmed lawns with beds of flowers became popular. Rock gardens were invented at the end of the 18th century but they became popular in the 19th century. Also the rage was Chinese- and Japanese-style gardens
  • In 1926, a German engineer called Andreas Stihl developed the chain saw (for which horror fans everywhere are eternally grateful)
And that brings us back to today—the Ides of May. A fateful day when we have just finished planting this year's garden. It is colorful. It is tranquil. The question that naturally follows, dear Brutus, is: What will kill it? Possible candidates include deer, hedgehogs, rabbits, too little sun/shade, lack of watering, our lawn service, locusts and/or some other unspeakable act of God.

No rush. We have an entire summer to find out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Coming of Rage (with thanks to KBE)

"When leaders act contrary to conscience, we must act contrary to leaders."—Veterans Fast for Life

The other day I was having lunch with a friend who is about my age. Like most of us watching the news, she felt discouraged about economic inequity and our increasingly poisoned environment, confiding that she felt powerless about them. This is a common feeling among Americans these days, as Congress and their backroom committees ignore the greater good of our country in favor of rich lobbyists. (Mind you, I'm not saying Congresspeople and the rich are badjust their behavior.)

I assured her that there actually was something we could do. It involves a spunky organization dedicated to righting wrongs—The Raging Grannies. The Raging Grannies was formed 24 years ago in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and continues to fight for truth and justice to this day. These wonderful women storm federal or regional venues to protest anything that could negatively affect the lives of their or other people’s grandchildren.
Move over, Hell's Angels. the Raging Grannies are in town.

Word of advice: Never get between a grandmother and her descendants.

The Raging Grannies quickly spread across Canada and down into the United States. The charter members were middle-class, educated and between the ages of 52 and 67. They had held occupations such as anthropologist, teacher, businesswoman, counselor, artist, homemaker and librarian. Originally part of a peace group, these women resented the sexism and age-ism within that group; members ignored their ideas and relegated them to making coffee. (Well, looks like someone needed to learn some manners.) Some of the women had a history of activism; some had none. Exercising the assertiveness often gained with age, they split off to form their own group.

The first action by the Raging Grannies took place on February 14, 1987 when they delivered an Un-Valentine to their Member of Parliament, Pat Crofton, then Chairman of the Defense Committee. The Un-Valentine was a broken heart symbolizing his lack of commitment and action on nuclear issues. (How thoughtful!) They wrote satirical lyrics to a lullaby for the occasion, which they sang crouching under an umbrella full of holes, a metaphor for the absurdity of taking shelter under a nuclear umbrella. Two weeks later, they joined a protest at the British Columbia legislature during the government hearings on uranium mining. The (are-we-taking-ourselves-a-little-too-seriously?) legislators were caught off guard when the Grannies showed up armed with a laundry basket containing a clothesline of women's underwear. Their presentation or "briefs" for the hearing were inside the panties. The crowd loved it, it drew media coverage and the Grannies realized the potential of the Raging Granny figure.

"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."—Louis D. Brandeis

Naturally, these women are my role models. They defy a society that devalues the experience of elderly women and pushes them aside. To the contrary, they boldly reclaim the primordial role of elders as leaders. And they do it so sweetly! Here are some of their escapades:
  • Riding to a military base in a horse-drawn carriage filled with flowers to voice their protest of nuclear submarines in a floral way. They were turned away at the gates. Nuclear submarines were welcome at the docks; flowers were not
  • Calling on the first trade show of high-tech military products in Victoria, which the organizers wanted to keep secret. Entrance to the event was free for those wearing military uniforms, so the Grannies got out their veterans’ uniforms or made them with things like cellophane and all kinds of gaudy baubles. Predictably, they were refused entrance, but they haggled long enough to attract cameras which revealed the “secret” event on the evening news
  • Nothing says Civil Disobedience like your neighborhood grandmother.
  • Enlisting for military service at the Armed Forces Recruitment Office as the threat of war in the Gulf loomed.  Baffled recruiters were unable by law to ask the Grannies their age,  so they went through the necessary paperwork straight-faced. One Granny was even invited back for a math test. A week later, knitting needles and wool in hand, the granny returned in her quest to qualify as a maritime officer. She displayed typical Grannies’ humor, describing herself “as a person who is experienced in conflict resolution. I qualify because I lived with a man for 40 years and brought up children”
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."—Bishop Desmond Tutu

Grannies typically generate publicity for their protests by writing funny lyrics to old songs and performing them for the news media and whomever else may be in the vicinity. So in their honor, I have written a brief protest song below. These lyrics should be sung to the tune of My Bonnie Lies O’er the Ocean. I have renamed this tune, (Fukushima) Daiichi Lies O’er the Ocean.

Daiichi Lies O’er the Ocean by the Jersey Rantor

Logo of the Westchester, NY, Raging Grannies.
Dai-i-chi lies o'er the ocean
Dai-i-chi drifts o'er the sea
From West Coast across to New Jersey
Dai-i-chi brings fallout to me.

Bring back, bring back, air that is isotope-free, to me
Hazmat my Red Hat, rads are not my cup of tea!

Doesn't that make you want to grab your shawl, pick up your knitting needles and take a pleasant stroll to the nearest protest?

The Raging Grannies website welcomes visitors with: “Please, pour yourself a cup of tea and join us. . . We are out in the streets promoting peace, justice, (and) social and economic equality through song and humour.” You do not have to have children or grandchildren to be a Raging Granny. You just have to be a mature woman with fire in your soul who wants to make a difference in the world while having a few laughs. According to the Raging Grannies International website, there is not currently a “gaggle” of Raging Grannies in New Jersey. The parent organization provides starter kits and collaboration for new groups. Anybody game?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Rising Tides of Climate Change

The Earth's glaciers--they're melting!
There’s a classic scene from the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy throws a bucket of water on the wicked witch and the viridian villain screams, “I’m meeeeel-tiiiiiing!”

That currently is what's happening on Earth, except the witch is the world’s glaciers and the bucket of water is climate change. Most controversies about climate change boil down to this:
1. Global warming is happening. Is it part of a natural cycle or a manmade event?
2. Glaciers worldwide are melting and the sea levels are rising. How quickly is this happening and what will the impact be?

Some studies track actual melting over time and others use models to predict melting—the latter being somewhat iffy. That’s why studies modeling sea-level rise vary in their predictions for this century from 12 inches to 5 feet, 3 inches. The fact is that not all study models hold true over time. Take the following:
  • The accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet will form a lubricating film under the ice sheet, causing it to slip more rapidly into the sea. False. Recent studies show that instead of that occurring, that higher volumes of meltwater form distinct channels under the ice, draining the water more efficiently and reducing the formation of lubricating film
  • Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035. False. In January 2010, scientists on the United Nations (UN) climate science panel made that erroneous prediction. They have retracted it
What do we know about glacial melting?
  • About 21,000 years ago, sea levels rose almost 400 feet. That occurred when a thaw at the end of the last Ice Age released vast amounts of water that had been frozen on land. Sea levels stabilized about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, with "no significant change from then until the late 19th century," according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN climate science panel
  • During the 20th century, sea levels rose about 7 inches. Since 1993, rates have accelerated to about 0.12 inches per year, according to the IPCC
  • The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets get the most attention from scientists and the news media because they comprise 99 percent of the freshwater ice on our planet, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center
  • Ice sheets are defined as being larger than 20,000 square miles, and only exist in Greenland and Antarctica, while ice caps are areas smaller than 20,000 square miles and exist at high elevations around the world
  • The Antarctic ice sheet measures approximately 5.4 million square miles, and the Greenland ice sheet measures 650,000 square miles
  • Sea levels would rise 20 feet if the Greenland ice sheet melted and 200 feet if the Antarctic ice sheet melted
"What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening. If present trends continue, sea level is likely to be significantly higher than levels projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007."—Eric Rignot, lead author, National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) study

What is happening with the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets?
Greenland is melting fresh water into the sea.

The temperature of the Antarctic Peninsula has increased by 4.5 degrees fahrenheit since the 1950s, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, according to a recently released, 20-year NASA-funded satellite study that tracked actual melting. Here's what they found:
  • In 2006, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets lost a combined mass of 475 gigatons (gigaton=one billion metric tons or 2.2 trillion pounds) a year on average. That's enough to raise the global sea level by an average of .05 inches a year
  • The pace at which the polar ice sheets are losing mass is accelerating rapidly. Each year over the course of the study, the two ice sheets lost a combined average of 36.3 gigatons more than they did the year before
  • Even the vast and frigid East Antarctic ice sheet is losing some of its mass to the oceans
  • If current ice sheet melting rates continue for the next four decades, their cumulative loss could raise sea level by 5.9 inches by 2050. When this is added to the predicted sea level contribution of 3.1 inches from glacial ice caps and 3.5 inches from ocean thermal expansion, total sea level rise could reach 12.5 inches
  • Extending this glacial melt to 2100, the sea level could rise 22 inches
A study led by Richard Katz of the University of Oxford and colleagues, observed the Pine Island glacier at the edge of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Among their results:
  • In 2004, satellites showed that it had started to thin, and that ice was flowing into the Amundsen Sea 25 percent faster than it had 30 years before
  • Data released in January 2010 suggested that the Pine Island glacier had probably passed a critical "tipping point" and was irreversibly on track to lose 50 percent of its ice in as little as 100 years, significantly raising global sea levels
"The glaciers have lost a lot less ice up until 30 years ago than had been thought. The real killer is that the rate of loss has gone up 100 times above the long-term average. It's scary."—Professor Neil Glasser, Aberystwyth University, United Kingdom

Why should we care about ice sheets and ice caps melting?
  • Flooding: About 70 percent of the world’s population lives in coastal areas. Rising seawater would result in the submergence of many island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans and low-lying countries like Bangladesh and the Netherlands. It would also flood many major coastal cities including New York City, Buenos Aires, London and Bangkok
  • Dying ecosystems: The Ward Ice Shelf once contained a unique freshwater lake. After it splintered due to melting, the lake and the ecosystem it contained drained into the Arctic Ocean. As a result, polar bears, seals, walruses and whales were forced to migrate to different regions in search of food. This made it difficult for native people to hunt these animals, thus making it more difficult for them to survive, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Heat map of the Gulf Stream currents off of North America.
  • Changed ocean/weather patterns: Ocean circulation modeling studies suggest that the increasing flow of fresh water into the Arctic Sea could ultimately weaken or switch off the Gulf Stream, according to The Gulf Stream is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that influences the climate of the east coast of North America from Florida to Newfoundland, and the west coast of Europe. The whole process could theoretically occur very rapidly, in the space of just a few decades or even several years
  • Extreme weather: The polar ice caps reflect 80 percent of the sunlight that strikes them back into space. If the ice caps disappeared, this same sunlight would be absorbed by the ocean, raising its temperature. Warmer ocean temperatures would lead to frequent and more intense weather events, according to The Harvard Medical School Center for Health and The Global Environment
How do we grapple with global forces?

From the studies currently out there, it is difficult to assess why the Earth is getting warmer. All we can say for certain is—it is. It is also tough to predict how quickly the sea levels will rise. All we know for sure is—they will. It is time for governments to stop debating what is causing global climate change. It doesn't matter. It’s here. Time would be better spent preparing for the eventuality of coastal flooding, water shortages and extreme weather conditions, if indeed, one can truly prepare on a massive scale for such things. Anything else—at this point—amounts to nothing more than futile, opportunistic posturing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seasonal Revenge

"The difference between a gun and a tree is a difference of tempo. The tree explodes every spring."—Ezra Pound

The seasons do not benevolently follow one another. They resent their small, 25-percent cut of the year and begin their reigns by wreaking revenge on the populace. Take spring, for instance.

Spring kicked off with a snowstorm, just to make sure we were not complacent about the frail promise of warmer weather to come. That was followed by the traditional monsoons in April with the usual sections of New Jersey flooding, leaving behind a panorama of gooey mud. Then, as the waters receded, there came the final insult—the yellow dusts of May.

"I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face."—Langston Hughes

Beautiful blooms or biological warfare?
After a winter of gray skies and brown, unconscious landscapes, life reasserted itself passive aggressively across the region. The trees bloomed in deceptively beautiful greens, whites and pinks, spewing an insidious coating of yellow pollen over cars, walkways and my face. My eyes swelled up, making me look like Yoda, and an uncomfortable tickle took residence in my throat. While others were dancing in circles, admiring the miracle of green splashing everywhere, I was busy putting ice packs on my face, filling my pockets with cough drops and taking homeopathic antihistamines.

"April comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers."—Edna St. Vincent Millay

Nothing says spring like poison ivy.
Of course, there is a bright side to all of this. For the first time since I planted them, my hyacinths were not eaten by the local fauna and I was able to admire them and my daffodils through narrow eye slits. My clematis vines suddenly returned from the dead with tiny leaves and buds. My exorbitant heating oil bills should go down when I turn the heat off in coming weeks. And eventually, the radioactive rains (courtesy of Japan) will wash away the pollen and my eyes will become functional again.

“In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours."—Mark Twain

Having buried us alive in snow, drenched us in relentless rain, surrounded us with oozing mud and poisoned us with yellow dust, spring has achieved its wicked best. Satisfied at having had its way with us, it can sit back and throw us a few gratuitous weeks to recover before her sister, summer, sweeps into town and takes her vindictive turn.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Royal Event Horizon

There are certain things that we must watch, if for no other reason than morbid curiosity. Those things include roadside accidents, YouTube laughing-baby videos and—the royal wedding.

Only in England could a millionaire’s daughter with a family coat of arms be regarded as a commoner. She also attended one of the most prestigious universities in the United Kingdom, which is where she met her future husband. Her simple wedding cost that country's taxpayers $20 million, but the cost was by no means limited to that.

After all, there was a fetching designer wedding gown, Rolls Royce and Bentley transportation through town to the church, live musicians and choirs for the service, a traditional 1902 State Landau horse-drawn carriage after the ceremony and enough body guards, foot soldiers and men on horseback to storm the Bastille.

Prince William maintains high standards in his cooking.
"He did cook for me at university… always with a bit of anger if something went wrong."—Kate Middleton (well, I think we can all agree that wrongly cooked food is a valid trigger for rage)

Let’s not forget, most brides expect such traditional floral arrangements as 20-foot potted maple trees lining the inside of the 10th-Century cathedral where they will exchange their vows. Acting out of conscience, this ethical couple chose a florist known for his sustainable approach to obscenely expensive flora. There was an estimated four tons of foliage, featuring live plants and trees rather than cut ones, with an emphasis on seasonal and organic flowers. Plants were nicked from the grounds of the royal estates as well as from British growers.

Maple treesthe traditional choice of young brides everywhere.
One million people lined the route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, according to the London Metropolitan Police, who were staffed 5000-strong. Three billion viewers worldwide shared the event on television or Internet streams, according to The New York Times. Over 1900 invitees sat in the church to witness the ceremony.

Afterward, the newly married couple traipsed back to Buckingham Palace. There they enjoyed a Royal Air Force fly by (a 66-year-old Lancaster bomber from the Second World War flanked by Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes followed by a modern jet formation) while everyone royal stood on the palace balcony, waving in a dignified manner to the unwashed masses below. The couple beat all previous records by kissing twice in front of a loudly appreciative crowd.

Around 600 people mingled at a lunchtime reception at Buckingham Palace given by The Queen. In a show of austerity, guests were limited to 15 hors d'oeuvres apiece. Then in the evening, in a more intimate affair, a lucky 300 close friends attended a dinner dance, also at Buckingham Palace, given by Charles, The Prince of Wales.

Nothing says long-awaited Royal Wedding like a Kate and Will clock.
All this carefully choreographed activity was recorded for posterity by 8500 journalists from around the world. The only unexpected moment was when the Prince and his bride took a several-block joy ride in his new 1969 Aston Martin. This gift from his father has its engine retrofitted to run on wine instead of petrol. Nice touch, Charles!

"I'd been planning it for a while but, as any guy out there will know, it takes a certain amount of motivation to get yourself going.”—Prince William regarding THE long-in-coming wedding proposal

Let us not forget that the Royal Wedding Day represents a day of triumph for Kate. She had shown extraordinary patience and unwavering courage in the face of William's matrimonial foot-dragging. Drawing on her British heritage, she steadfastly maintained a stiff upper lip for eight grueling years—no small feat for delicate facial muscles.

A trailblazer, the new Duchess of Cambridge garners some interesting distinctions. She is the first wife of a British monarch to have a university degree. She is the first to ever shack up with said ruler out of wedlock. She is also, at the advanced age of 29, the oldest bride in history to marry a future King of England. So she is the most age-advanced, best educated and naughtiest future Queen on record. All these are impressive accomplishments, upon which she can undoubtedly look back in years to come, with a deep sense of cackling satisfaction.