You Own This


In a 2019 article for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Sharon George and Dierdre McKay wrote, “If you only listen to a track a couple of times, then streaming is the best option. If you listen repeatedly, a physical copy is best . . . ” They were referring to the comparative environmental costs of listening to music either over the internet or reproduced on an electronic device. They could just as well have been giving excellent advice on the best strategy for enjoying all types of entertainment media in the digital age.


Owning physical copies only of favorite movies, television shows, books, and music, while streaming more transitory entertainments, is not only better for the environment, but better in all sorts of other ways. Buying an entertainment you may enjoy only once or twice is expensive and takes up shelf space in the home. Streaming choices are often limited to the most popular or the newest entertainments, leaving outright purchase from a vendor or borrowing from a library as the only options for enjoying more obscure, less widely popular works.

Cinerama historians John Harvey and Willem Bouwmeester 1987
Cinerama historians John Harvey and Willem Bouwmeester photographed in 1987 examining the back covers of vinyl record albums devoted to music used in Cinerama productions. After many years years researching all things Cinerama, they eventually collaborated on the Cinerama installation in Bradford, England, in 1993. Photo by LarryNitrate2Cinerama.

There are indeed thousands of movies and television shows available on the streaming services, but a close examination reveals that the majority of those on the advertisement supported services are public domain properties that will be familiar to anyone who has rooted through the bargain DVD and Blu-ray bins at big box stores. The subscription streaming services are meanwhile moving toward a vertical integration model reminiscent of the Hollywood studios in the days when they owned production and distribution from top to bottom.

If you want to watch the latest Star Wars franchise release and you missed it during it’s brief theatrical release, then you must subscribe to Disney’s streaming service or go without. Some films these days don’t get a theatrical release at all. Another option is to buy the physical media if and when it becomes available. But in that case you would still want to watch the movie first to be sure it’s worth buying. It’s likely there will be always be a hardware means of playing back most electronic media, the trick is in guessing correctly which ones will stand the test of time.


30 years ago, many people thought vinyl record albums were all but dead. Only a tiny niche market of record collectors and audiophiles would continue to have need of record players and record player parts. Few people in 1991 would have guessed that by 2021 sales and production of vinyl records would have reemerged from the dustbin, while compact discs and players, for a brief period the predominant music delivery system on the market, would be overtaken first by digital downloads, and then by streaming music services.

A similar dynamic appears to be at play in the visual media market of movies and television shows. Despite the close resemblance of DVDs and Blu-ray discs to music compact discs, they are more comparable to vinyl records in quality of reproduction and in the way consumers use them. Blu-ray discs in particular are attractive items for ownership by collectors and cinephiles due to the outstanding quality of their video and audio reproduction, which can often outstrip what’s available for the same title on a streaming service.

Despite big manufacturers like Samsung discontinuing Blu-ray player production a few years ago because they noted the decline in the market to niche status, and similarly Warner Brothers recently moving toward ceasing production of discs, there will always be a demand for new Blu-ray players and new Blu-ray discs, however much the market shrinks for now. Just ask the manufacturers of vinyl records and the turntables needed to play them.

β€” Techly


Anxious Days


Editor’s note: This post has been delayed one day on account of dismally slow internet service, most likely caused by the service provider’s defective equipment. Thanks, Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, for continuing to safeguard the interests of monopolistic corporations while disregarding those of ordinary citizens!

Waiting through an outbreak of severe weather can be nerve wracking if you’re one of the millions of Americans living in substandard housing. Related to withstanding severe weather events, substandard housing means no basement or a weak foundation, poorly engineered roofing, shoddy workmanship overall, bad drainage around the structure, easily shattered windows, and any number of other problems large and small generally not present in the well built housing of the upper classes. Should something bad happen to a substandard structure due to severe weather, the people living there often do not have the resources to recover from it.

Severe weather affects everyone, rich and poor, but what is usually overlooked is how the poor disproportionately suffer the adverse effects of it both coming and going. To know that should a tornado, a hurricane, a derecho, a hailstorm, ice storm, or flood deal even a glancing blow to the place you live causes many anxious days, first in watching the weather forecast and then during the day or days of the event. There’s personal safety, of course, and the possibility of unaffordable emergency medical attention, and then the possibility of damage to the structure and the unaffordability of repairs, if it is repairable. The last thing any person living in a structure without a safe, reinforced room or basement wants to hear is the freight train roar of an approaching tornado, and to have children to protect must make even imagining such a scenario unbearable.

Winslow Homer - Hurricane, Bahamas
Hurricane, Bahamas, an 1898 painting by Winslow Homer (1836-1910).

All things are relative, and while comparatively few people in the United States have to exist in notoriously unsafe conditions like those in a Brazilian favela, there are still far too many in this rich country who live a hair’s breadth away from personal and financial disaster, a ruin which can befall them in a few unfortunate moments with the caprice of bad weather. As severe weather outbreaks become more frequent and as the population continues to increase, the possibilities for deaths, injuries, and property damage will also increase, all of which burden poor people more than others (yes, even death, because of the costs to survivors).

In the 1978 BBC television production of dramatist Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven, Bob Hoskins as sheet music salesman Arthur Parker encounters a busker called The Accordion Man, played by Kenneth Colley, who in return for Arthur treating him to a meal treats Arthur to a rendition of the song “Pennies from Heaven” (lip synched to a 1937 recording by Arthur Tracy).

Insurance companies’ business model currently has them paying out after disaster strikes (contesting the payout all the way, and digging in their heels where they can), while offering little incentive for builders and developers to proof structures against disaster. Eventually, as expenses incurred by natural disasters mount to insupportable levels, insurance companies will have to come around to a more preventive strategy of offering lower premiums for stronger structures, something easier for them and builders and developers to cooperate on for wealthier homeowners. Where government can step in to protect poor people is to enforce insurance policy standards for their housing, rather than continuing to allow the corruption and slapdash oversight which currently riddles the market. Meantime, as always you’re on your own out there, particularly if you’re not rich, and you have to look out for yourself to stay safe. Good luck.
β€” Izzy


Thumbs Up


BBC Radio 4 this month is airing a new, sixth series of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 40 years after the broadcast of the first series in 1978. Fans in the United States might have an easier time downloading the podcast from a client based here rather than trying to listen directly from BBC Radio 4. The Stitcher podcast client, for instance, offers several BBC Radio 4 programs, among them Comedy of the Week. Enthusiastic fans of the series will find a way to listen.


The complete first series from BBC Radio 4 is available for listening, and it truly does the best job with the material of all the different formats, radio or television or print or motion picture. Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the 1978 radio presentation, and the other formats followed. The BBC made it into a very good television program in 1981. The 2005 motion picture was not popular. In this country, public radio rebroadcast the BBC Radio 4 series, and public television did the same for the BBC television adaptation.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, english
A representation of the personal electronic device used by Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Computer graphic by Nicosmos.

From the 1981 BBC television adaptation of The Hitchihker’s Guide to the Galaxy, protagonist Arthur Dent meets the planet designer, Slartibartfast.

Rebroadcast in this country of original BBC radio programming is nothing new now, but in the 1970s and 80s it was fairly novel because at that time there was still some original programming being produced for radio by American public broadcasters and private outfits. There was Earplay on NPR, which were dramas based on original material and adaptations, and there was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a program of thrillers. Those American radio programs shut down in the 1980s, and since then very little original programming has come out of America. Britain, on the other hand, has a comparatively lively radio program production lineup, and as proof there is the sixth series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (with a cameo by renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking no less), airing in March 2018, forty years on from the first series. Fans of the show on this side of the Atlantic are glad the BBC radio crews are still at it, and if the latest series is anywhere near as enjoyable a listen as the first series, then their efforts will have been well worthwhile.
β€” Techly


Just Say No


As if the lack of trust hadn’t sunk low enough between internet users, advertisers, and the websites which host advertisements, along comes cryptojacking, a method for either honestly or dishonestly using the computing power and electricity of internet users to mine cryptocurrency. Last week, users of YouTube in some countries noticed that their antivirus and antimalware programs were alerting them to code hidden in ads on YouTube which were enlisting their computers for cryptomining without their permission. Google, which administers YouTube, claims to have fixed the problem. Unfortunately, there are many small websites that don’t have Google’s Information Technology (IT) resources and may have been hacked and had cryptojacking code installed without their knowledge.


Cryptojacking sounds like it should be illegal, but oddly enough it is not. There can be repercussions such as blacklisting for hiding code in ads, and of course this sort of activity serves to push more people toward the use of ad blockers, which deplete the revenue of honest websites as well as dishonest ones. There are now outfits on the web, Coinhive being the most notable, which promote to website owners the idea of replacing ads altogether with a bit of JavaScript code on the website itself that will enlist the computers of visitors in mining Monero, a type of cryptocurrency that, unlike Bitcoin, doesn’t require high end equipment. Coinhive takes 30% of the resulting mining revenue, and the website owner gets 70%. Coinhive rather dubiously promotes this as a fair business model for the website owner in a time of declining revenue from ads, while not mentioning its relative fairness for the website visitor.

Cryptocurrency Mining Farm
A mining farm of Genesis Mining in Iceland. These are mainly Zeus scrypt miners. 2014 photo by Marco Krohn. No subterfuge involved in this cryptocurrency mining operation. Note that because the calculations required to create the currency generate a lot of heat, there are fans at the ends of all the units.

As originally set up by Coinhive, the JavaScript ran without the internet user’s knowledge or permission. If an internet user visited a website running Coinhive‘s JavaScript code, and the user’s security software did not alert the user or block the code from running, the only indication the user had of being legally cryptojacked was how unusually busy their computer was and, when the electric bill arrived, how unusually high it was. Savvy computer users might also check running processes monitored by the task manager on their computer. But it’s a good bet that most computer users have no idea about task manager or where to find it on their computer. Some users don’t run any security software at all, or if they do, they misuse it. Running Coinhive software without the knowledge or permission of website visitors is sneaky at best, and more likely just plain unethical, and any arguments from Coinhive or anyone else that it is a fair replacement for ads is mere sophistry.

After some amount of pushing from internet users, Coinhive started offering an above board, opt-in type of cryptomining code so that website visitors knew what was being asked of them. Naturally that version has not proved popular with the website owners who partner with Coinhive because advising visitors of cryptomining activity only leads to the great majority of them declining to participate. People who are not computer savvy, when confronted with an option which will in all likelihood confuse and frighten them, will resort to the safest option and just say no. More computer savvy visitors will likely decide it’s not worth their while to have their computer slowed down to a crawl and their electricity bill hiked by a few dollars a month just to visit a website. Only the most indispensable websites could get away with it, and they are apt to have access to many other less complicated sources of revenue. Coinhive, meanwhile, continues offering the original, surreptitious version of its software.

Naturalist David Attenborough discusses brood parasitism among birds in this BBC wildlife segment.

The arms race between website owners and advertisers on one side, and website visitors on the other side, began when internet service was incredibly slow and most consumers had data caps. Ads, particularly Flash ads that jumped up and down to attract the visitor’s attention, slowed down internet service even more and sucked up the visitor’s limited data. Enter ad blockers. The thing about ad blockers, however, is that even though most of them offer users the ability to whitelist websites, most users are either unaware of that option or don’t bother to use it unless prompted by the website. Ad blockers often act effectively as blunt instruments then, punishing honest websites which display discreet, reputable ads in an above board manner, along with dishonest or careless websites which display gaudy ads that may or may not harbor malicious code. Like many other areas of life, on the internet a few bad actors can spoil the honest efforts of the majority of website owners. The answer to declining revenue from the arms race between advertisers and advertising blockers is not for website owners to get sneaky, however, which erodes trust, but to develop trust with their visitors and exercise restraint on their advertisers.
β€” Techly


Shave and a Haircut


Two bits! There, that feels better now, doesn’t it? A sense of completion and the comfort of familiarity. The phrase “two bits” indicates twenty-five cents specifically, and can also mean something cheap generally. The digital currency bitcoin apparently derives its name from the old fashioned uses of “bit” to indicate parts of a dollar or other currency. At the current exchange rate of around 15,000 dollars to one bitcoin, however, a bitcoin itself represents anything but parts of a dollar. Quite the opposite.

From the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the irresistibility of finishing off “Shave and a haircut, — —-“.

The record high valuation of bitcoin may not stand for long, and in six months one bitcoin may be worth 30,000 dollars or it may be worth 150 dollars. No one knows for sure, and that’s what is fueling a lot of argument and speculation. High amounts of speculation in the market are what inflates a bubble, and the question with bitcoin is whether it is indeed a bubble and when it might burst. That generates more speculation. More small investors buy into the market. Historically what has happened in such cases is that something happens, a large investor or two gets spooked, dumping shares on the market, a selling panic ensues as everyone tries to get out of the market while the watch the value of their investment plummet, and that’s it, the bubble burst.

Bitcoin or something like it will be around for as long as there is an internet and a demand for a monetary barter system which is decentralized and doesn’t involve significant charges going to middlemen such as banks or credit card companies. As more people use digital currency and more merchants accept it in transactions, the volatility of its valuation will settle down. Tulips are still around, after all, and people still value them, just not to the unrealistically high degree they did when the bulbs were novel. The long term problem with digital currencies generally, and bitcoin in particular, will be in decreasing the horrendous energy demands of mining them and, to a lesser extent, processing transactions. The electricity demands of mining bitcoin are now equivalent to those of Serbia, and will soon be on a par with Denmark’s electricity use.

Discussion of whether the current valuation of bitcoin represents a bubble often refers to Charles Mackay’s 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and particularly to Chapter 3, “The Tulipomania”.

Much of the mining occurs in China, using electricity generated by coal-fired power plants. At a time when combating the effects of global warming is becoming a top priority, the mining of bitcoin could present an ecological catastrophe when it reaches the same level of energy consumption as that of the entire industrialized world, as it is predicted to do in the early 2020s. The digital currency genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no stuffing it back in. That leaves two options, or a combination of both – finding more energy efficient ways of mining digital currency, or using more environmentally friendly energy sources, such as solar.

The solar energy option is immediately attractive because it would help defray installation costs of solar arrays more quickly and because poorer countries, which are generally nearer the equator and hence in sunnier climes, could see income from a source that is neither environmentally nor socially destructive the way production of sugar or other cash crops has been for them. Puerto Rico, the United States territory that recently had its conventional power grid devastated by Hurricane Maria, could benefit by rebuilding with the intention of using solar energy at least partially for the profitable production of digital currency. Surplus energy from the arrays built with money from bitcoin mining would power homes and businesses at subsidized rates for people who could not afford it otherwise in very poor parts of the world. Smaller, locally owned solar arrays would be a better way to produce power because of the inefficiency of transmitting solar power long distances either in the form of direct current, or after inverting it into alternative current. Decentralization of the means of production would also serve to keep power and money in the hands of locals.

De Waag Bitcoin
Bitcoins accepted at a cafΓ© in Delft, The Netherlands, in 2013. The Netherlands became a center of the tulip trade in the seventeenth century during “The Tulipomania”, and remains a primary grower of the bulbs to this day. Delft lent its name to a particular kind of pottery and the shade of blue it is renowned for, which has also been applied to some flowers bearing the same shade of blue. Photo by Targaryen.

Should you invest in bitcoin? That depends on your outlook. In the currently volatile market, investing in bitcoin should be treated like gambling. In other words, don’t invest any more of your government backed (in the United States the currency is actually backed by the Federal Reserve System, a private institution of the banking industry, though it is insured by the federal government) currency than you can afford to lose. For some people that can be quite a lot, but for most people that would amount to very little.

Should you get involved in bitcoin mining and processing of transactions? At the current valuation of bitcoin, that could be quite profitable. Tomorrow its valuation could drop below the cost of the electricity required to mine it. At any rate, the “mining” simile is somewhat inaccurate, since in a comparison of the digital currency market to real world mining, the people with computer equipment engaged in its production and in the processing of transactions are actually more like the merchants in a nineteenth century American mining town who sold goods to the miners who were hoping to strike it rich.

The opening scene of Powaqqatsi depicts working conditions at the socially and environmentally disastrous Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil. This 1988 film by Godfrey Reggio, with music by Philip Glass, is the second in his Qatsi trilogy of meditative documentaries.

A very few of those miners struck gold, and most went bust, while the merchants usually did consistently well, a few becoming household names still known today, like Levi Strauss. If you do get involved in bitcoin “mining”, it might help to connect the equipment to a solar array rather than the conventional power grid, because then when the bubble bursts and the valuation of bitcoin drops to the floor, you can possibly still operate at a profit when others cannot, or at the very least you will have an inexpensive, environmentally friendly source of power for your other ventures.
― Techly


30 Years and 16 Tons


Paying off a mortgage is a wonderful thing, and something that is more remarkable now than it was forty or fifty years ago. Tighter lending standards since the burst of the housing bubble in 2008, and the Great Recession that followed, mean fewer people are qualifying for mortgages now, but the people who currently have mortgages are less likely to ever pay them off because low interest rates mean they will refinance at least once, resetting the clock.


Until the 1930s, mortgages were an uncommon way to purchase a house, and mortgages with 15 or 30 year terms were unheard of. House buyers put as much as 50% down, and the mortgage was for three to five years, all of it interest. At the end of the term, a balloon payment for the remaining principal was due, and it’s not surprising there was a high default rate. The federal government changed the mortgage market in the 1930s by stepping in and insuring lenders against the risk of default on certain approved loans, and later by buying those loans to sell as securities in financial markets.

AC Mortgage Burning Party
Mortgage burning party of the Antelope Club of Indianapolis, Indiana, in June 1977; photo by Sheariner.

The modern mortgage market followed from those New Deal policies and the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). After World War II, the Veterans Administration (VA) gave another boost to home ownership rates by insuring mortgage loans to veterans with no down payment. The demand for new housing was so great that mass production methods came to house construction and the firm of Levitt & Sons built what would be called Levittown on Long Island, New York, a planned community of over 17,000 houses they built between 1947 and 1951.


Subprime Mortgage Offer
The window sign of a mortgage lender in July 2008, offering subprime mortgages; photo by The Truth About.
Housing and mortgage markets stayed healthy through the 1970s, but by the 1980s they turned down when interest rates spiked past 10% nearly to 20%, and wages for middle and working class people started stagnating, as measured against inflation. As home ownership rates slipped, the federal government in the 1980s and 1990s deregulated the financial sector of the economy, loosening restrictions on lending, and especially on the financial instruments related to mortgages. For Wall Street, the doors to the candy store had been flung open.


Home ownership rates hit an all time high by 2005, when the bubble was inflated to its biggest extent. That’s not surprising considering all the shady wheeling and dealing going on at the time. What’s also not surprising was what happened next, when the bubble burst – millions of new homeowners defaulting on their mortgages and the housing market tanking; while the Wall Street financiers, and the federal legislators and regulators who were supposed to keep a watchful eye on them, all walked away with hardly a scratch.

Tennessee Ernie Ford sings his number one hit “Sixteen Tons” in this 1955 television appearance.


The Wall Street people and their media mouthpieces tried to blame the homeowners for taking on more debt than they could afford. Meanwhile, the taxpayer bailout of Wall Street in 2008 and 2009 did almost nothing to help those homeowners. They weren’t bailed out. No trickle down economics for them. Through all that, the wages of middle and working class people that started stagnating in the 1980s have stayed flat. People who acquired a 30 year mortgage in the 1990s, when the market was turning up, still have to make their payments each month.

From the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television show on the BBC in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


Meanwhile, their other costs of living have gone up, such as the student debt for their children who may now be, in the 2010s, graduating from college. That’s assuming they can help their children pay for college; if not, the children will be saddled with such an onerous debt upon graduation they may not feel ready for a mortgage of their own until they are in their 40s. Who can blame current homeowners (in name only, and not in deed), these indentured servants, these wage slaves, for continually turning to their homes as a source of funds by refinancing again and again, to the point they will never have a mortgage burning party? The only economic positives they see are the low interest rates that make refinancing an attractive, and maybe a sole, option for clinging to the American Dream.
― Vita


Resistance Is Useful


“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
― Albert Einstein (1879-1955)


Since Hillary Clinton’s election loss in 2016, establishment Democrats, including Clinton, have scrambled to put forward excuses for her loss, excluding the shortcomings of the candidate herself, and again Clinton has been at the forefront in that endeavor, casting blame on everyone but herself except in a half-hearted manner which she immediately qualifies and takes back. Now Hillary Clinton says she is “part of the resistance”. By that of course she means the popular resistance to the administration of the person who would not be there had she not been the only candidate the Democratic establishment wanted to run against him.

Hearing Hillary Clinton say she is “part of the resistance” is like hearing the coach whose wooden ineptitude sunk your team into a deep hole in the first half, all while throwing everyone but herself under the bus for the colossal failures of the team, come out with a strident speech at halftime saying she has returned to form now and is ready to resume leadership of the players who had taken it upon themselves to set things right in the second half. No, thanks. Please go away.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is a classic BBC comedy series from the late 1970s, starring Leonard Rossiter as the title character, and John Barron as his boss, C.J., at Sunshine Desserts. With a certain kind of boss, a sense of infallibility and the false support of sycophants becomes the major dynamic.

Hillary Clinton has her adherents even today. They are the same people who insisted during the primaries in early 2016 that they didn’t wantΒ  Bernie Sanders because they wanted someone “who could get things done” and they didn’t want someone like Elizabeth Warren, who wasn’t running but might have been induced to run, because they wanted someone “with Washington experience”. These people, many of them professional, academic, and media elites who presumed to know best, turned a blind eye to the Democratic National Committee’s undermining of Sanders during the primaries. They got the candidate they wanted, and would not listen to the people telling them she was the wrong candidate at the wrong time. Some people saw the defeat coming, even against the weak candidate the Republicans put up, but not these Democratic establishment know-it-alls. A week before the election, they were talking “landslide” for Clinton. Fools.

Then when the election results rolled in these know-it-alls were quick to side with the Clinton camp and blame the rednecks, and not long afterward the Russians, without solid evidence based in demographics of the election results or, in the case of the Russians, anything more than rumors at the time. At any rate, they couldn’t blame themselves! They quickly not only jumped on the resistance bandwagon, but shouted the loudest in order to lead it, unmindful of the hypocrisy of their position, because it was they with their pigheaded insistence on touting the flawed candidate, Hillary Clinton, who did the most to put everyone in the dreadful position the country has found itself in since January 20, 2017. Not the “deplorables”, but them, with their arrogant, dismissive attitude toward the working and middle classes. Now they chant about leading a resistance against a situation they helped create.

Meaningful resistance to the policies of the current presidential administration will come about from a recognition of the failures that brought this situation to bear, and then applying remedies. The Democratic Party has lost its way and no longer represents the interests of the working and middle classes. It now represents the interests of Wall Street bankers and large corporations. The people finally glommed onto that fact in 2016 after eight years of disappointment with Obama, and then being presented by professional, academic, and media elites with a uniquely uncharismatic candidate whose sole reason for wanting to be president appeared to be that it was “her turn”.
Gandhi spinning
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869 – 1948) at the spinning wheel, late 1940s. Gandhi famously said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Since the election loss, the Democratic establishment has shown no signs of learning from their mistakes, nor even recognizing them, much less doing anything about them. They continue shifting blame and making excuses. They continue pushing establishment insiders into Party leadership positions and showing lackluster support for the candidacies of Sanders progressives around the country. There is talk of impeaching the President, the Trainwreck-in-Chief, and of the Democrats picking up many seats in Congress and around the country in the 2018 mid-term elections. The impeachment will not happen without more Democrats in Congressional seats, and that will not happen, at least not to the extent that some imagine, without a change of heart, and therefore a real change of policy, within the Democratic party between now and 2018. The Democrats need to appeal to people as something other than Republicans-lite, the position they adopted in the 1990s under the leadership of Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill. Meanwhile, there will be plenty of opportunists as well as thoughtlessly smug hypocrites and true, useful, believers who will continue to clamor for resistance, without understanding that resistance is futile until they change their own hearts.
― Ed.


Sink or Swim


“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
― Will Rogers*(1879-1935)


Last Saturday, April 22, was the 48th celebration of Earth Day, and the first March for Science in Washington, D.C., and in hundreds of other cities around the world. Just when we might have congratulated ourselves that reason and scientific inquiry had pushed aside superstition and muddled thinking, the medieval mind rises again and reasserts itself, now with a in-over-his-head champion in the Oval Office who is quite pleased to indulge the self-interest of his oligarchic cohorts in the fossil fuel industry. The lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder grunt their approval of his policies because those obnoxious policies appear to rile up the fancy pants pointy-headed folks, and that’s always a nice, satisfying feeling. The folks higher up on the ladder are only too happy to let those lower down bear their weight, and the reasons they bear that weight are not important to the higher ups, only that they continue to hold up the whole enterprise without asking troubling questions. It’s worked well for Wayne Tracker, aka Rex Tillerson.

It’s not the fault of these hard-working men and their unfortunate mules they’ve been told to “keep digging”.

The amount of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere is higher now than it has been in human history, based on what we know from ice cores. Sea levels are high and getting higher as the climate warms, and are already affecting coastal communities. It has been at least thousands of years, possibly millions, since Earth last encountered conditions like those we are entering into now. There is no basis for comparison for humans in the present age, now known as the Anthropocene on account of the profound effect people have had on the Earth, because in the interregnum we have settled the coastlines so densely that in geologic time it would appear as no more than the blink of an eye. Around the world now there hundreds of millions of people living within 100 miles of the sea, and accompanying all that settlement there has been an enormous investment in infrastructure such as housing, office buildings, and roads, along with the economic fortunes and personal hopes of all those people. And all of those people will feel – are feeling – the impact of a warming climate sooner than other groups living in other situations farther inland. Around the world, most of those people living along coastlines are poor. Ironically, in the United States, the richest country in the world and one where having a beachfront property is often a status symbol for the wealthy, the effects of sea level rise will possibly be more severe than average.

A portion of a BBC Newsnight interview with Noam Chomsky from June 8, 2012. The situation he bemoans has not improved in the nearly five years since the interview.

Whether a person believes climate warming is caused by humans or not is, at this point, almost immaterial. It is happening; it’s here. If scientific evidence is not persuasive to some folks, then common sense should tip the scales for them. Sticking their heads out of air conditioning into the natural environment for more than a few minutes at a stretch ought to help. Too many people unfortunately are willing to ride along with Wayne Tracker, despite their common sense and their personal experience. If the Earth is a lifeboat in the cosmos (and what have we found so far to tell us otherwise?), then we are all in this together, and at this point arguing about how we got here serves little purpose. Certainly there are some people in the lifeboat who seem to feel it’s perfectly fine to flourish their revolvers and shoot holes in the boat, which of course makes things worse. What to do about them? If we can find the political will among our fellow survivors, we take away their revolvers, for they are imperiling everyone’s chances, and their ideology be damned. They should know better than to pound in the stakes of “Global Warming is a Hoax” yard signs in insufferable heat, throwing themselves into a tizzy, giving themselves a paroxysm of the vapors. They are dangerous nitwits.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 masterpiece Lifeboat holds our attention despite the limited setting because of the universal behaviors we can all recognize.

What would you do if you were on a lifeboat at sea and one or more of your fellow survivors exhibited behavior that was detrimental to your own survival, as common sense dictated it? If your children were with you on the lifeboat, and therefore your progeny were endangered as well? It’s hot, and your patience is growing short. What’s particularly annoying is that you notice some of the unhelpful survivors appear to be cynically manipulating the others, the true believers, for their own gain. Besides the danger, this behavior turns your stomach. If there were another lifeboat nearby, you’d dive off this one and take your chances with the sharks until you reached the other boat. But there isn’t another lifeboat as far as the eye can see. You’re stuck with these people. Nevertheless, with water everywhere, it’s good to know how to swim.
― Vita