Under the Black Blanket


Thoughts on the Nigh-ness of the End as Foretold in Brian Williams' Eyebrows

Brian Williams at the Vanity Fair celebration ...

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Not long ago, our 11-year-old son took a look at Brian Williams delivering the Nightly News. His first reaction was, "What's wrong with his eyebrows?"
    Until that moment, I'd spent more time focused on the chaos Brian was describing - Misurata, Cairo, nuclear meltdown in Japan, tsunami, flood, war - all the ghastly events that prompted us to start flicking on the Nightly News in the first place.
    Gazing at the eyebrows, I realized my son had a point. They are frozen in a state of permanent perturbation. I have no idea whether the effect is Botox-induced or natural, but his eyebrows are certainly what make Brian the ideal messenger for our anguished generation's moment in time, our Walter Cronkite.
    There's just so much to worry about, and Brian's eyebrows not only telegraph that fact to us, but seem to absorb it as well. There's enough consternation in those eyebrows to soak up our own, so that we can better focus on the advertisements for things we are starting to need like laxatives, cholesterol medicine and, well, not yet, but inevitably, adult diapers.
    We will be watching Brian tonight to see whether he reports that tomorrow the world will end. And if so, will Brian be among the elect, or left behind to remain and watch it happen with us?
    Somehow, I think Brian remains with us. He's worried too.
    A footnote to the nigh-ness of the end: About a week ago, working on a story for publication next fall (and because I don't have enough doomsday images firing off in my head), I attended the Planetary Defense Conference in Bucharest, a gathering of physicists and astronomers and mathematicians and nuclear bomb makers from the world over, studying how to avert this sort of collective ending to our species' story.
    Lots of big asteroids are whizzing around us, and some of them are big enough to render us as extinct as our prehistoric large reptilian friends. The good thing is, we've reached the stage in our collective intelligence where we can see them coming, tens and hundreds of years off.
    The men and women in Bucharest unanimously agreed that we are not under imminent threat of an asteroid doomsday. They have identified 90 percent of the killer asteroids and none aiming for us anytime soon.
    But the Conference keynote speaker was "transhumanist" Anders Sandburg, a fellow at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute, reported that he and his colleagues have a running pool in their office, gauging the likelihood of complete human extinction in the next 100 years. As of last week, he said, they had pegged the possibility of full extinction at 12 percent.
    We take comfort in those still-longish odds, but when all else fails, we still have Brian's eyebrows.
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