Cold Blows the Wind

Antarctica: The Forgotten Continent. Earth's feety-pajamas. This vast, wind-swept expanse of frozen hell stands its constant vigil at the end of the world, ever silent, ever watchful. The land lingers just out of sight, just off the map, and for centuries has captured the imaginations of ... well, approximately no one. No one lives there, no one has friends there. No one really thinks about it at all, unless they're qualifying a claim of some sort.

"For the best damn chili anywhere on the seven continents (except the one that doesn't count), come to Steaky McPorkmeat's Poultrylicious Baconarium."

The only people who go to Antarctica are the thousand or so researchers whose job it is to study, in precise detail, just how much we're wrecking the planet. The amount of data locked in the ice is a bit staggering. The mathematical coefficient x=HHMWS (Here's How Much We're Screwed) can be expressed to 3 decimal places, on several axes.

But no one particularly cares about that either, so let me address something that actually matters.

Let's start with this: Apparently there's a patch of Antarctica not covered with ice & snow. Not in a global-melty kind of way, more like a desert that's cold instead of hot. Personally, I had no idea. It's called the McMurdo Dry Valleys, named for Archibald McMurdo, who discovered them. McMurdo was an explorer aboard a ship called the HMS Terror — which automatically makes him somewhere around 20-35 times cooler than us, a living amalgam of Jack Sparrow, Winston Churchill, Joe Namath and Wolverine. In addition to the Dry Valleys, there's McMurdo Sound, McMurdo Ice Shelf, McMurdo Station and the McMurdo-South Pole Highway. Basically he's the Famous Original Ray of the Antarctic.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are among the harshest deserts on Earth. Blessed with freezing temperatures, 200 MPH winds and a complete absence of any moisture in the air, the place is a death trap. Seals that wander into the valleys have essentially no hope. They collapse, and remain there pretty much forever, their carcasses mummified by the intense conditions.

No, really.

Which is why the Dry Valleys were in the news this week. Scientists have found fossils dating back 14 million years, fossils that are remarkably well preserved — mummified by the same process that afflicts those unfortunate seals today. The fossils are of ostrocods, pod-like crustaceans that are no more than a millimeter long. According to the scientists, the discovery is noteworthy because it helps pinpoint a dramatic climate shift in Earth's history.

But what's really important is this.

The fossils look like tiny sandwiches.

Tiny, delicious sandwiches.

It's hard to tell from the picture just what kind of sandwich. Maybe meatball, maybe falafel. Souvlaki gyro is a possibility. Could be chicken salad. Whatever it is, it's on a good-sized roll, which is key. The importance of proper bread in a sandwich cannot be understated. If you're going to pile quality ingredients on inferior bread, you might as well go out to the street and soak the thing in a puddle.

The relevance of prehistoric sandwiches in Antarctica may not be immediately clear, I admit. "Why should I care?" you might wonder. "I have smoked turkey and corned beef right here in my fridge. I have finely sliced Swiss, some provolone, a nice sharp cheddar. I have deli-style mustard and rich, multi-grain breads. My lettuce is crisp, my tomatoes fresh. I could make a sandwich right now that would have been fit for a Czar."

A fair point, but consider this. In reporting on the fossils, the BBC says that the McMurdo Dry Valleys are the closest Earth comes to duplicating the surface of Mars. This fact is mentioned in passing, and hardly given another thought. However, I think that there is a strong implication here, something that the BBC either cannot or will not state openly.

If they won't say it, I will.

There might be tiny sandwiches on Mars.

Tiny, delicious sandwiches.

(Also, the surface of Mars might be littered with mummified seal carcasses. Though that sounds like something we would have noticed by now.)

Why the BBC would remain silent on the issue is a mystery. Is someone keeping them quiet? If they can get to the BBC, they must have a long reach indeed.

Then again, perhaps the BBC is trying to broadcast a message right under their oppressors' noses. Just two days later, they reported on a new theory claiming that life forms from Venus could be blown to Earth by solar wind. The theory is already drawing skepticism, but step back for a moment and consider the whole chain. Tiny, delicious sandwiches, evidence of which already exists in Antarctica, may also flourish on Mars. Meanwhile, small organisms that originate on Venus could potentially be transferred to Earth via solar wind in as little as a few days, besting satellite travel times by several months.

What emerges is a picture that is both harrowing and glorious: A system of sandwich transference that bridges the gap from Venus to Earth to Mars faster than any rocket we've ever built. Setting aside the impact that millions of tiny, delicious sandwiches might have on world hunger, the prospect of sandwich-based interplanetary propulsion could open up a new Golden Age of exploration. Mars would be in easy reach, as would Jupiter and even Saturn. The solar system within our grasp, food in every home — the benefits to society would be enormous.

So who, then, would not stand to benefit? Who would have the motivation, the means, and the will to block such a story from getting out?

The Ingredient, Bread & Toppings lobby. Big Sandwich.

Now, perhaps I'm just barking at the moon here, another conspiracy nut. Hell, they said the same thing about Jim Garrison when he had the temerity to suggest that Lee Harvey Oswald may not have shot JFK. All I'm saying is, if I happen to go missing in the next few days, you'll know that they got to me. And that it's time to switch from sandwiches to wraps.

(Editor's note: The HMS Terror also, um ... bombarded American soil a couple of times. Still, you have to admit, that is a monumentally awesome name.)