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Consumption, which was the common name for tuberculosis in its heyday, is an ugly, scary disease. It’s an aggressively contagious bacterial infection that attacks the heart and lungs, causing fever, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, and coughing up blood.

Thank God we’re not going to discuss that. Instead, let’s talk about a much more popular form of consumption: buying stuff. It’s a much more enjoyable topic, right? Well, not if I can help it, citizen.

There is no denying that consumption is most often thought of as a good thing. Upturns in consumer confidence, for instance, are seen as cheering signs, one of the indicators of a robust economy. After 9/11, George W. Bush called on Americans to spend their money as the highest form of patriotism. Shopping till you drop is considered by many to be the ultimate recreational experience. Consumption, then, is the sweet fruit of good times, right? It’s our duty and birthright as humans in good standing to consume to the max.

Let us agree that buying stuff does stimulate the economy. When you plunk down for that bright yellow Hummer Hybrid, all kinds of things happen. The salesman and his boss get fatter paychecks, and so do the folks at the factory. In fact, anyone who had anything to do with the creation of that product gets a fiscal shot in the arm. They all spend that money, and they hire new workers who in turn spend their money. The ripple rolls through the whole economy, splashes against the far side of the pool, and comes flowing right back. Pretty soon, you want a matching candy apple red Hummer for your mate. And on it goes; before you know it, the whole economy is humming like a Hummer. Birds are singing, children are laughing, and the world is a beautiful place.

In your heart, though, you know it’s all too easy. You think there has to be a higher price to pay for all this abundance, don’t you? Something beyond the mere sticker price? What about the cost to planet earth, for instance? Think of the last time you consumed a beer. Once you got to the bottom of the glass, that beer ceased to exist. There may have been other beers delivered to replace it, but that particular lager had disappeared, never to be seen again. It had been consumed — exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever.

So it is with the planet. Every part of that Hummer, from the triple-stitched manatee hide interior to the Tiffany taillights, will be headed to the dump someday soon, never to be used again. Oh, there will be some attempts at salvaging the metal bits, but everything else will have been exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever. There will be other Hummers, but that particular helping of nature’s bounty is gone. I hope you enjoyed it.

I submit further that the price we pay may be steeper still. If you agree that we are unique creatures who have evolved within this unique environment, then what happens when we destroy a chunk of that environment? Doesn’t each act of consumption, then, destroy a chunk of us as well?

Hold on, you may interject. Do you dare to suggest that we humans are being consumed by our own consumption? Let me assure you, citizen, that the answer is yes. Yes, we are the tubercular contagion infecting our own society. Yes, our compulsive urge to consume will cause our culture to be exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever. And yes, we will be run over by our own Hummers.

Never let it be said, though, that I have given up hope. If we all move back into caves, live solely on the bounty of native plants, and try to die (of consumption, perhaps) before we’re 30, there’s still a chance for us. But it will have to be soon, according to my calculations — probably before the end of July.

Old, and Weighing In
Youth is wasted on the young, they say. Well, allow me to suggest an update to that saying: wisdom is wasted on the old.

That’s because, dear reader, old people are obsolete. I like to think that there was a time long, long ago when the young deferred to their elders on a wide variety of subjects. The old were seen as the repositories, not just of high wisdom, but of ordinary practical knowledge as well. If you wanted to know how to track and kill a mastodon, for instance, you’d ask Dad for a few pointers. And when Dad answered, there’d be no eye rolling or copping of attitudes. Not if you wanted to eat, anyway.

With the rise of technology, however, the deference toward elders began to fade. All age groups had equal access to the latest thing, and Dad no longer had a monopoly on know-how. And now, with the advent of digital technology, the old are not only dismissed as sources of practical knowledge, they are also viewed as ignoramuses across the board. If you’re old, I’ll bet it’s a challenge for you simply to text OMG without flubbing a keystroke. Most five-year-olds, on the other hand, can hack into your bank account with an iPod. Compared to you, they’re geniuses.

And so, here we are in a new age, an era of high-speed, impersonal interconnectedness and non-stop sharing that only the young can truly appreciate. I’m not really complaining, though, because it’s all kind of creepy.

If you ask me. Which you won’t.
Somewhere out there, there is a comet with our name on it. Right now it’s hanging out in the Oort cloud, far beyond Pluto, where it’s hobnobbing with the billions of other comets. The time will come, however, when complex gravitational forces will nudge the rocky ice ball out of its position. It will then begin, as so many of its companions have, its long, curving trajectory toward the sun — except that this one will be heading directly at planet earth.

This should be a cause for concern. The last time something really big hit the earth, all the dinosaurs died. When the next big thing hits, some other dominant, pain-in-the-ass creatures will probably disappear. In case you’re wondering, that’ll be us, dude.

The last such collision, as it is generally agreed, occurred 60 million years ago when an asteroid smacked into the Yucatan. It kicked up so much crud that the sun was blotted out for years. That was long enough to lop off the top of the food chain and set up the steady rise of the hairless apes to the top spot. And now here we sit — a moving target, no doubt, but you can count on the universe to keep trying to knock us off our perch.

Asteroid strikes like the one that offed the dinos are more common than comets, of course, but getting whacked by a comet is a whole other level of disaster. The Yucatan asteroid, assuming it was typical, probably hit Earth traveling about 40,000 miles per hour. A comet would likely be going around 120,000 m.p.h. If you’re a bacterium buried deep in the earth’s crust you might walk away from such a collision without a scratch. The rest of us are toast.

The thought of such a cataclysmic event might be too horrible for you to imagine, but wait around for a year and a half and you may not have to imagine it. October 19, 2014 — that’s when comet C/2013 A1 passes directly through Mars’ orbit and may (or may not) clobber the red planet. If it hits, we’ll all have an example of the awful violence of the cosmos to study and ponder. The music of the spheres will be transformed for a time into a heavy metal rock concert.

We were given a similar opportunity in 1993 when Comet Shoemaker-Levy (the celestial body formerly known as comet D/1993 F2) collided with Jupiter. That was certainly a violent event, but it’s hard to identify with the damage done to a gas giant like Jupiter. Astronomers tell us that the scars left by the impact were truly horrendous, but the concept of damage to a huge ball of hydrogen was somewhat difficult to grasp. Mars is a different story. It’s somewhat smaller than Earth but just as solid. What’s more, it’s right next door; we’d have the best seats in the house.

I have mixed feelings about this hypothetical encounter. For starters, I have nothing against Mars. Some astronomers point to evidence that it may, in fact, have been the source of life on Earth. Under their theory, bits of life on Mars were dislodged by another cosmic impact long ago and spattered across the surface of this planet; we are the descendants of those splatters. In a way, then, Mars is home, and I’d hate to see anything bad happen to it. There is also a possibility that some form of life still exists there, and I don’t wish any harm to befall any of my relatives, no matter how distant.

Still, it would be a hell of a show. If you like explosions, you’d love the mayhem of this interplanetary train wreck. Waves of destruction and chaos would spread across the Martian globe, changing the face of the planet forever. Some think the climate will become warmer. Water could flow again. It might even become habitable.

All fantasy, of course, but we can be sure of this: some very big changes would come to our neighbor, and the event would provide one big celestial object lesson about what could happen to us once the comet with our name on it finally comes calling. Maybe the sight of it would shock us into a heightened awareness of how wondrous and precious and fragile our own planet is. Perhaps we’d be moved to change the trajectory of our lives here and stop ourselves from poisoning our own nest. At the very least, it might persuade us to work on our defenses against a similar cataclysm. The destruction of Mars, then, might help save the earth, and that would be a good thing.

In the end, though, I don’t want any of this to happen. I want comet C/2013 A1 to sail safely past Mars, crack the whip around Sol, and head back to the Oort cloud. I want Earth to plod on without needing an object lesson and simply do the right thing because it makes sense. I want the music of the spheres to play sweetly on, uninterrupted by the awful cacophony of violent, wrenching change. I want to be left alone and to live in peace.

The universe, I know, has other ideas. It has comets with my name on them, and asteroids, and earthquakes, and tornadoes, and Land Rovers driven by texting teens. If it isn’t one thing, it’s a whole bunch of things. No matter what happens to Mars, I’m sticking with the same game plan: keep my head down, my eyes open, and try not to do anything stupid.
Jesus H. Christ
There has been a storm of controversy over my recent blog, “The Nine Billion Names of God.” And by that, I mean a couple of people wrote in. Their issue, of course, was the “H”. What exactly does it stand for?

The fine folks down at the Internet have plenty to say on this question. For your convenience, I have discarded most of the suggested answers and now report that the likeliest answer has something to do with a case of mistaken identity of Greek letters in the minds of people who use only Roman letters. I won’t go into a deeper explanation of the confusion because it is way too boring, but the root of the problem is that the Greek eta (which looks like an “h”) began as a voiceless glottal fricative but later had an identity crisis and became a long “e” sound (as in Jeezus).

As I said, boring. I would have preferred Horatio as the actual meaning because I like saying Jesus Horatio Christ; it’s got a nice rhythm to it. Hell might have given the name a better-founded status as an oath of frustration. Highpockets, moreover, would have made historical sense as a nickname for the famously lanky savior.

Truth is, the origins of the “H” are uncertain. The earliest citation to it has been noted in Mark Twain’s autobiography in a tale from his youth from the year 1850. The reason the epithet has remained in use for so long, however, is quite clear. It’s a poetic device. That H supplies an opportunity for the cusser to take the expression of his frustration up a notch. Jesus H. Christ packs a bigger punch than plain old Jesus Christ. Furthermore, no letter other than “H” would serve so well. Jesus P., Jesus M., Jesus R.? They simply don’t have the oomph that only a full-throated glottal fricative can provide.

In fact, such a perfect curse might well persist even longer than a couple of hundred years. It has been suggested that the very first usage may have occurred more than two millennia ago. It is easy to imagine an exasperated mother, somewhere in Asia Minor, seeing that the door had been left open by her teenage son and exclaiming,

“Jesus H. Christ! Were you born in a barn?!”
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee