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Saturday, March 12, 2011


So here we are. 
It gives one pause when one hears that the coast of Japan moved 8 feet in a single day due to the devastating earthquake that led to the devastating tsunami that led to the almost-maybe-devastating-nuclear-blast. 
And not only do I feel horrible about this latest disaster-upon-disaster, one in an ominous long line of them in recent months and years, but I also feel horrible about my science brain.
For you see, my science brain -- a term I just now made up that refers to that small cluster of brain cells devoted to retaining information relating to all things science -- is coated with Teflon. Stuff just slides right off of it. That would be all well and good if one needed to cook an egg on my science brain, but of course even I know that this is not what a science brain is for.

It's a bummer to know that I’ll never make President Obama happy. He likes people with nice juicy science brains. He’s right to do so; they’re important. I like them, too. Don’t think I don’t. My Teflon science brain may be slippery, but it’s not ridiculous. Those with spongy science brains fascinate me. They’re so absorbent. 
Some of my brain is like that...absorbent, that is. The parts of my brain that remember when I took Continental Drift and Sea Floor Spreading (yes, that was the actual name of the college course) two decades ago with Professor Okal whose office was in Locy Hall and he tended to wear the same lumpy burnt orange sweater over a rumpled buttoned-down shirt every day and his dark hair was always tousled and he drew little fish swimming near the ocean floor on the transparency projector he used in lieu of a chalkboard and commented on said little fish in a strong French accent... those parts of my brain soak it all up nicely. But my Teflon science brain has long since washed away the stuff about the plates and the crust and the tectonics. (As with all things Teflon, cleanup was a snap.)
I didn’t spray the Teflon on my science brain myself due to apathy, either. I know that’s what you’re thinking. Would that I could chip it away, but alas. Baby, I was born this way. 
*shudder* Excuse me a moment while I wash off the Gaga. 
I’m back. 
I know it’s not necessary to understand the specifics of what causes natural (and unnatural) disasters in order to be horrified and empathetic and saddened, but we’ve always hungered for answers to the question “why,” even if the answers won’t satiate us. It explains why, in wake of such things, news programs dust off all the professors and experts they can find to try to placate us with facts and figures. But no matter how many times we hear about the plates and the crust and Pangea, it doesn’t help soothe our souls or un-break our hearts. We need a scapegoat. We can’t prosecute the Earth for lost lives. We can’t punish it, can’t hurt it back.
Or maybe we can... or already have. Maybe the Earth is fed up with our shenanigans and is fighting back. But, even my science brain knows that climate-related disasters and geological disasters are two different things with completely different causes.
In any case, regardless of the reason, the coast of Japan moved 8 feet in a single day. Chilean cities moved, too, after that earthquake last year. We know the Earth spins. We just usually don’t think about it moving unless we’re listening to Carole King. Moving means change, and change is scary enough when we’re the ones controlling it. But to think that there’s something rolling under us that we have no control over, something that could rise up and snap at any time, well... that’s pretty much defined life since the dawn of time, when Pangea was one big supercontinent.
We like to think we’re smarter than our ancestors who were buried in the magma at Pompeii, and maybe in some ways we are, but when it comes to the whims of our planet, we’re not. Because no matter how big or spongy someone’s science brain is, and no matter how many gigs are in your iPad, ain’t nothing gonna stop the coast of Japan from moving 8 feet if that’s what the plates want to do.
Sad, but true.
But you know what’s also true? Candy is delicious! And that’s something the folks in Pompeii never got to know. I guess that’s one way we’re smarter than they were. 
Considering the state of my science brain, I’ll take what I can get.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.

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