On Death and Taxes

Tax season: that lovely time of the year that you stop, look back through your books, and view your life in terms of dollars and cents. How much did I make? How much did I fork over to the government? What states did I work in again? Which AIG fatcat is spending my money repainting his mistress’s condo? If you’re a freelancer–which I was for the first half of the year–you unlatch your promise chest to pull out ribbon-wrapped receipts and bask in the memories associated with that ledger and box of pens you purchased, or that flight on Virgin Airlines you took down to the conference in San Diego, or that time you rush-ordered your application to that “real job” you didn’t get. You look upon them as something wholly different. Deductibles.

Living in San Francisco. Living in San Francisco in a time when every major news story seems to be financially oriented. Living in San Francisco when the news is telling you that the world economy is threatening to fall in on itself, thus creating a blackhole of hardship, and your livelihood is dependent on people being willing to dish out money to be entertained and challenged. IS SCARY. Last night I had nightmares about being fired, which is a first. I’ve had work-related anxiety dreams, though not since I left my restaurant gig two years ago, but those I wouldn’t even call nightmares. Last night was the young-responsible-adult version of there’s-a-monster-under-my-bed, and that monster’s name was unemployment.

This wasn’t even the real monster from my night, however. This was the monster I subconsciously embraced to avoid the bigger monster. Hanging out with friends at their flat, at the end of a long discussion about “god” and death and free will (the kind you would’ve had in college if you didn’t let the homework get in the way), I was called a fatalist for the first time in my life. I always considered myself an optimistic nihilist, but I guess the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I will not recount the details, but suffice it to say that my arguments often ended, “Yes, but then the sun explodes and the Earth is completely destroyed.” I guess my mind did not want to carry on that none-too-pleasant conversation solo in the dream realm. Then I learned today yet another reason why we probably won’t have to wait until the sun explodes to stop worrying about money and taxes: VOLCANOES!

“When might that happen?
It could happen next week—or possibly 50,000 years from now. If that sounds vague, such is the nature of geologic time. Yellowstone’s last major eruption was about 640,000 years ago. It’s due for another one—overdue, in fact—because scientists have determined that the Yellowstone volcano has erupted on a cycle that’s roughly 600,000 years long. Eventually, all that magma building up below the surface is going to need a place to go. The same is true of other monster volcanoes around the globe. “Although very rare, these events are inevitable,” says University of Bristol geologist Stephen Sparks, “and at some point in the future humans will be faced with dealing with and surviving a super eruption.”

What would a Yellowstone eruption be like?
It would be a cataclysm affecting everyone in the entire U.S., and in fact, the entire world. Scientists say the eruption 640,000 years ago blew a hole in the Earth’s crust as big as Connecticut, buried areas as far as 100 miles away in molten lava, and threw up ash that came down as far away as Iowa and Louisiana. Such an event today—even with warning—could be a horror of unimaginable proportions. There would be hundreds of thousands of immediate casualties, and so much ash and dust would be thrown into the atmosphere that it would blot out much of the sun, plunging Earth into a darkened, continuous winter lasting years. Crops would die, and global starvation—and warfare over remaining food stockpiles—might follow. Some experts even say an eruption could be a “species-ending event”—that species being humans.”

Fantastic! Next to a global shell of smoke, a rolling sea of molten lava, and the annihilation of our species, fretting about my taxes seems prit-tee trivial! Thanks, science!

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One thought on “On Death and Taxes

  1. Thanks Dan. You do realize that living in Seattle, I am very close to Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Yellowstone (though it is much farther away than the other two). You have given me another thing to have nightmares about.

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