I created this blog (though I shudder to call it that) with the idea of it being an online journal in which I could document aspects of the world I believe indicate the world is insane. I never thought of it as a "blog" or site in which I'd try to have influence people. I just wanted a place where I could put my thoughts down, and if people wanted to read them, maybe there could be some interesting discussions.
I drift from that focus at times. It is the primary motivation for me writing here, but it is one that doesn't come through like I wish it would. In light of that, I'd like to take a little time today to go back to my roots and just say: "What."
The lack of a question mark there is intentional. Sometimes I see something so crazy I can't form a rational response and have to just ask, "What?" On some occasions, what I see is even crazier. In those cases, my mind starts malfunctioning so much I can't even do that thing where you make your voice go up in pitch at the end to indicate you're asking a question.
Today I'd like to share an example of the sort of thing which breaks my mind like that.
It all started with a stupid thing I saw on Twitter:
— Tom Nelson (@tan123) December 5, 2016
I see plenty of stupid things on Twitter. I ignore most. Some I comment on. If you think about what the image in this tweet shows, I think you can guess why I chose to say something about it. Here's the image:
A person was mocking the idea global warming is causing wildfires to become a more serious concern. In doing so, he posted an image showing wildfire (in the United States) have been burning less area lately than ~100 years ago. This is pretty stupid given technological and other limitations 100 years ago meant the primary response to wildfires in many cases was, "We can't stop it, let it burn."
That technology and fire-fighting practices have evolved over the last 100 years doesn't do anything to address whether or not global warming is influencing wildfires. We would expect the falling trend that chart shows simply because humans have gotten better at managing fire fighters. The only "surprising" thing that chart tells us is wildfires have burned more area overall in the last two decades than they had for about half a century.
In other words, it was dumb for the person who posted this chart to use it as an argument against the idea global warming is influencing wildfires. The point he was making is stupid and easy to see through, and once one does, it becomes apparent the chart supports the very idea he was mocking.
That's irrelevant though. As dumb as that was, I wouldn't write a post about it. I'm writing this post only because I decided to look at the article he was mocking. The article says meaningful things like:
The 2015 wildfire season in the United States broke records, with more than 10 million acres burned—about 4 million acres more than the annual average. Researchers from Columbia University and the University of Idaho published a study this year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that directly linked climate change to increases in intensity and frequency of wildfires in the western United States. “We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984,” the researchers noted.
Which shows the concern some people have about global warming regarding wild fires isn't that the total acreage burned by wildfires is growing, but rather, that global warming is (in their view) making it easier for wildfires to become a problem. That concern would remain even if mankind's ability to fight wildfires improved.
But again, that's irrelevant. A person on Twitter being stupid isn't news (except when it is). The relevant thing is something else entirely. It has basically nothing to do with the subject matter of the article. It's that the second paragraph of this article is... well, you have to see it for yourself. Here is it and the first paragraph:
Wildfires at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee have forced thousands to evacuate the area. More than 15,000 acres in the park and neighboring Gatlinburg, Tennessee, have been scorched by the historically unprecedented fire. Extremely dry conditions due to drought, and high-gust winds contributed to the large scale of the wildfire. Several hundred buildings in the area have been destroyed, with several injuries reported, including at least four deaths so far.
“I’ve been in federal service for 25 years, and I’ve fought fires on the West Coast and the East Coast and been with the Forest Service as well,” Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash told Fox News in an interview. “Nothing that we’ve experienced in the 24 hours has prepared for what we’ve experienced here in the last 24 hours. [It’s] been just unbelievable what we’ve experienced here.”
We're told This guy has "been in federal service for 25 years." That's cool. Hopefully that means he has a good medical plan. I mean, he clearly needs to see a doctor about the stroke he must have had while talking to whoever interviewed him. He explains:
Nothing that we’ve experienced in the 24 hours has prepared for what we’ve experienced here in the last 24 hours.
Please either get this man to a doctor or cut him off. My mind can't handle the absurdity of this sentence. First, this guy says nothing "we've experienced in the 24 hours" without any indication of what 24 hours he's talking about. A person might think he was meaning to reference the "25 years" he's been in federal service, but then why would he say "we"? Why would anyone think his personal experience over 25 years:
has prepared for what we’ve experienced
For that matter, who wasn't prepared? And if "the 24 hours" didn't prepare who or whatever for this, then what does this guy mean when he says:
for what we’ve experienced here in the last 24 hours
So nothing they've experienced in "the 24 hours" prepared them for what they've experienced "in the last 24 hours"? What was going on with this man? Did the person interviewing him just let him talk for a bit, get this quote then say, "Look Cassius Cash, that's cool. It's really cool. I just have two questions. First, is that your real name, and second, how much LSD have you consumed today?"
Of course not. I apologize to Mr. Cash. I didn't mean to call him out by name. It's just... Cassius Cash. I wish I could have been born with an awesome name like that. Heck, I wish i could just get to be called, "Mr. Cash."
If I had to guess, I would guess Mr. Cash was just tired and stressed from having a difficult job during a time of crisis. I bet if I had been there, I wouldn't have thought poorly of him at all. I bet I would have thought, "This guy is tired and stressed out, but I get what he means." That's because a spoken conversation is nothing like a written article.
Everyone knows people misspeak at times. Everyone has said one word when they meant another or lost their train of thought mid-sentence and had things come out strangely. Reporters understand that. They deal with it all the time. They understand a good quotation isn't just about the idea being expressed but also how the idea is expressed. Reporters understand a person's point may have been clear when he said it out loud but would come across differently if transcribed verbatim. That's why reporters are usually cautious about how they quote people so as not to paint a person in a negative light by drawing undue attention to normal hiccups in speech.
I don't know what happened here. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Cash. In fact, I sympathize with the likely probability he was inappropriately portrayed in a negative light by the authors of this Observer piece. I think the authors of that piece, Chelsea Skojec and Michael Sainato. owe an explanation as to why they used this quotation when they must have realized it made Cassius Cash sound like he had been punched in the face by Cassius Clay.
I hope that joke lands. I also hope people will stop promulgating that quote because I'm sure a few weeks from now Mr. Cash will look back on what he said and wish he had phrased things more clearly.
In the meantime, Cassius Cash, you're awesome even though you broke my mind.