So… I’m contemplating getting rid of my parking sticker to become, for the second time, exclusively a walker/biker to work. There are a few different reasons for this, which shall remain obscured for the moment, but all of them are good. But even thinking about it seriously, where you consider a change in behavior and perhaps various alternative uses for a non-trivial yearly sum, you stumble onto all kinds of causation-related affinities for greater Bikedom. If you live in any place even remotely bicycle-friendly, reasons to give up the car are literally all around. And many of them wind up with reserved seats on the green-means-green continuum. To wit:
“You will not be able to stay home, brother./You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out./You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,/Skip out for beer during commercials,/Because the revolution will not be televised.”
Primo Levi survived Auschwitz to write a prodigious amount of scholarship, essays and fiction before plunging to his death down the stairwell of his Turin apartment building in 1987. This is from the final section of his memoir, The Periodic Table, in which he imagines the life of a carbon atom.
Our character lies for hundreds of millions of years, bound to three atoms of oxygen and one of calcium, in the form of limestone: it already has a very long cosmic history behind it, but we shall ignore it. For it time does not exist, or exists only in the form of sluggish variations in temperature, daily or seasonal, if, for the good fortune of this tale, its position is not too far from the earth’s surface. Its existence, whose monotony cannot be thought of without horror, is a pitiless alternation of hots and colds, that is, of oscillations (always of equal frequency) a trifle more restricted and a trifle more ample: an imprisonment, for this potentially living personage, worthy of the Catholic Hell. To it, until this moment, the present tense is suited, which is that of description, rather than the past tense, which is that of narration – it is congealed in an eternal present, barely scratched by the moderate quivers of thermal agitation.
But, precisely for the good fortune of the narrator, whose story could otherwise have come to an end, the limestone rock ledge of which the atom forms a part lies on the surface. It lies within reach of man and his pickax (all honor to the pickax and its modern equivalents; they are still the most important intermediaries in the millennial dialogue between the elements and man): at any moment – which I, the narrator, decide out of pure caprice to be the year 1840 – a blow of the pickax detached it and sent it on its way to the lime kiln, plunging it into the world of things that change. It was roasted until it separated from the calcium, which remained so to speak with its feet on the ground and went to meet a less brilliant destiny, which we shall not narrate. Still firmly clinging to two of its three former oxygen companions, it issued from the chimney and took the path of the air. Its story, which once was immobile, now turned tumultuous.
It was caught by the wind, flung down on the earth, lifted ten kilometers high. It was breathed in by a falcon, descending into its precipitous lungs, but did not penetrate its rich blood and was expelled. It dissolved three times in the water of the sea, once in the water of a cascading torrent, and again was expelled. It traveled with the wind, for eight years: now high, now low, on the sea and among the clouds, over forests, deserts, and limitless expanses of ice; then it stumbled into capture and the organic adventure.
Carbon, in fact, is a singular element: it is the only element that can bind itself in long stable chains without a great expense of energy, and for life on earth (the only one we know so far) precisely long chains are required. Therefore carbon is the key element of living substance: but its promotion, its entry into the living world, is not easy and must follow an obligatory, intricate path, which has been clarified (and not yet definitively) only in recent years. If the elaboration of carbon were not a common daily occurrence, on the scale of billions of tons a week, wherever the green of a leaf appears, it would by full right deserve to be called a miracle.
The atom we are speaking of, accompanied by its two satellites, which maintained it in a gaseous state, was therefore borne by the wind along a row of vines in the year 1848. It had the good fortune to brush against a leaf, penetrate it, and be nailed there by a ray of the sun. If my language here becomes imprecise and allusive, it is not only because of my ignorance: this decisive event, this instantaneous work a tre - of the carbon dioxide, the light, and the vegetal greenery – has not yet been described in definitive terms, and perhaps it will not be for a long time to come, so different is it from the other ‘organic’ chemistry which is the cumbersome, slow, and ponderous work of man: and yet this refined, minute, and quick-witted chemistry was ‘invented’ two or three billion years ago by our silent sisters, the plants, which do not experiment and do not discuss, and whose temperature is identical to that of the environment in which they live. If to comprehend is the same as forming an image, we will never form an image of a happening whose scale is a millionth of a millimeter, whose rhythm is a millionth of a second and whose protagonists are in their essence invisible. Every verbal description must he inadequate, and one will be as good as the next, so let us settle for the following description.
Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light: in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphorus, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
But there is more and worse, to our shame and that of our art.
Photovoltaic (PV) efficiency is a significant problem for today’s commercial solar panels, which can collect only a theoretical maximum of about 30 percent of available light. Now, a team that includes a University of Missouri engineer is developing a flexible solar film that can theoretically capture more than 90 percent of available light. Prototypes could be produced within the next five years.
Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, says energy generated using traditional photovoltaic methods of solar collection is inefficient and neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic (sunlight) spectrum. The device the team is developing — essentially a thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna — is designed to harvest industrial waste heat and convert it into usable electricity. Their ambition is to extend this concept to direct solar facing nantenna devices capable of collecting energy broadly from the near infrared to the optical regions of the solar spectrum.
90% is much more like it. High-speed electrical circuitry. Inexpensive manufacturing processes. This is not being saved by technology so much as using engineering to break the problem down into manageable fragments until it’s no longer a problem and more of way to do what we want – harvest as much energy as possible for the sun.
Moving on to renewable energy sources can be done – and need not been seen or thought of a desperate last gasp/final hope but the natural of progression of technology and its uses that our subservience to fossil energy sources has for so long stymied. Departments of Energy whose first loyalty is to oil and gas industries will not provide the necessary R & D investments in replacing the same. This kind of research takes a lot of money, time and expertise – but the payoffs will be enormous. I’m looking at you, coal, in the rear view mirror.
Sunday would have been the 81st birthday of the first openly gay man elected to public service in the U.S. Cali Governor Jerry Brown:
Gov. Jerry Brown declared Sunday as the state’s second ever “Harvey Milk Day,” saying the slain politician’s “life was cut short far too soon, but his legacy of hope, tolerance, and equality lives on.”
Sunday would have been Milk’s 81st birthday. The San Francisco supervisor and gay rights leader was shot and killed, as was Mayor George Moscone, by another supervisor in 1978.
It is a remarkable river in this: that instead of widening toward its mouth,
it grows narrower; grows narrower and deeper. From the junction of the Ohio
to a point half way down to the sea, the width averages a mile in high water:
thence to the sea the width steadily diminishes, until, at the ‘Passes,’ above
the mouth, it is but little over half a mile. At the junction of the Ohio
the Mississippi’s depth is eighty-seven feet; the depth increases gradually,
reaching one hundred and twenty-nine just above the mouth.
The difference in rise and fall is also remarkable–not in the upper,
but in the lower river. The rise is tolerably uniform down to Natchez
(three hundred and sixty miles above the mouth)–about fifty feet.
But at Bayou La Fourche the river rises only twenty-four feet;
at New Orleans only fifteen, and just above the mouth only two
and one half.
An article in the New Orleans ‘Times-Democrat,’ based upon reports
of able engineers, states that the river annually empties four hundred
and six million tons of mud into the Gulf of Mexico–which brings to mind
Captain Marryat’s rude name for the Mississippi–’the Great Sewer.’
This mud, solidified, would make a mass a mile square and two hundred
and forty-one feet high.
The mud deposit gradually extends the land–but only gradually;
it has extended it not quite a third of a mile in the two hundred
years which have elapsed since the river took its place in history.
The belief of the scientific people is, that the mouth used to be
at Baton Rouge, where the hills cease, and that the two hundred
miles of land between there and the Gulf was built by the river.
This gives us the age of that piece of country, without any
trouble at all–one hundred and twenty thousand years.
Yet it is much the youthfullest batch of country that lies
around there anywhere.
The Mississippi is remarkable in still another way–
its disposition to make prodigious jumps by cutting through narrow
necks of land, and thus straightening and shortening itself.
More than once it has shortened itself thirty miles at
a single jump! These cut-offs have had curious effects:
they have thrown several river towns out into the rural districts,
and built up sand bars and forests in front of them.
The town of Delta used to be three miles below Vicksburg:
a recent cutoff has radically changed the position, and Delta is now TWO
MILES ABOVE Vicksburg.
Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But the latest scourge, tastelessness, may prove the toughest to overcome.
Iraqi artists and architecture critics who shudder at each new pastel building blame a range of factors for Baghdad’s slide into tackiness: including corruption and government ineptitude, as well as everyday Iraqis who are trying to banish their grim past and are unaccustomed to having the freedom to choose any color they want.
God bless ‘em. Welcome to the modern world, Iraqis. But for my money, this is the pull quote:
“Right now, when I have an exhibition at my gallery nobody comes from the government, only the art students and other artists,” Mr. Sabti said. “Taking care of the look of the city has stopped because the people who have come to power were living in villages with animals. So how did they develop their taste?”
With all the highways and Zimmerman’s birthday coming up and all, seems like a good time for some Fanon. This time through the [translated] words of J.P. Sartre. If you haven’t read Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (Les Damnes de le Terre, 1961), you should. This is from Sartre’s preface:
NOT so very long ago, the earth numbered two thousand million inhabitants: five hundred million men, and one thousand five hundred million natives. The former had the Word; the others had the use of it. Between the two there were hired kinglets, overlords and a bourgeoisie, sham from beginning to end, which served as go-betweens. In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on: the native had to love them, something in the way mothers are loved. The European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture, they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words ‘Parthenon! Brotherhood!’ and somewhere in Africa or Asia lips would open … thenon! … therhood!’ It was the golden age.
It came to an end; the mouths opened by themselves; the yellow and black voices still spoke of our humanism but only to reproach us with our inhumanity. We listened without displeasure to these polite statements of resentment, at first with proud amazement. What? They are able to talk by themselves? Just look at what we have made of them! We did not doubt but that they would accept our ideals, since they accused us of not being faithful to them. Then, indeed, Europe could believe in her mission; she had hellenized the Asians; she had created a new breed, the Graeco-Latin Negroes. We might add, quite between ourselves, as men of the world: ‘After all, let them bawl their heads off, it relieves their feelings; dogs that bark don’t bite.’
A new generation came on the scene, which changed the issue. With unbelievable patience, its writers and poets tried to explain to us that our values and the true facts of their lives did not hang together, and that they could neither reject them completely nor yet assimilate them. By and large, what they were saying was this: ‘You are making us into monstrosities; your humanism claims we are at one with the rest of humanity but your racist methods set us apart.’ Very much at our ease, we listened to them all; colonial administrators are not paid to read Hegel, and for that matter they do not read much of him, but they do not need a philosopher to tell them that uneasy consciences are caught up in their own contradictions. They will not get anywhere; so, let us perpetuate their discomfort; nothing will come of it but talk. If they were, the experts told us, asking for anything at all precise in their wailing, it would be integration. Of course, there is no question of granting that; the system, which depends on over-exploitation, as you know, would be ruined. But it’s enough to hold the carrot in front of their noses, they’ll gallop all right. As to a revolt, we need not worry at all; what native in his senses would go off to massacre the fair sons of Europe simply to become European as they are? In short, we encouraged these disconsolate spirits and thought it not a bad idea for once to award the Prix Goncourt to a Negro. That was before ’39.
1961. Listen: ‘Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience.’ The tone is new. Who dares to speak thus? It is an African, a man from the Third World, an ex-‘native’. He adds: ‘Europe now lives at such a mad, reckless pace that she is running headlong into the abyss; we would do well to keep away from it.’ In other words, she’s done for. A truth which is not pleasant to state but of which we are all convinced, are we not, fellow-Europeans, in the marrow of our bones?
We must however make one reservation. When a Frenchman, for example, says to other Frenchmen ‘The country is done for’ — which has happened, I should think, almost every day since 1930 — it is emotional talk; burning with love and fury, the speaker includes himself with his fellow-countrymen. And then, usually, he adds ‘Unless …’ His meaning is clear; no more mistakes must be made; if his instructions are not carried out to the letter, then and only then will the country go to pieces. In short, it is a threat followed by a piece of advice and these remarks are so much the less shocking in that they spring from a national intersubjectivity. But on the contrary when Fanon says of Europe that she is rushing to her doom, far from sounding the alarm he is merely setting out a diagnosis. This doctor neither claims that she is a hopeless case — miracles have been known to exist — nor does he give her the means to cure herself. He certifies that she is dying, on external evidence, founded on symptoms that he can observe. As to curing her, no; he has other things to think about; he does not give a damn whether she lives or dies. Because of this, his book is scandalous. And if you murmur, jokingly embarrassed, ‘He has it in for us!’ the true nature of the scandal escapes you; for Fanon has nothing in for you at all; his work — red-hot for some — in what concerns you is as cold as ice; he speaks of you often, never to you. The black Goncourts and the yellow Nobels are finished; the days of colonized laureats are over. An ex-native French-speaking, bends that language to new requirements, makes use of it, and speaks to the colonized only: ‘Natives of an under-developed countries, unite!’ What a downfall! For the fathers, we alone were the speakers; the sons no longer even consider us as valid intermediaries: we are the objects of their speeches. Of course, Fanon mentions in passing our well-known crimes: Sétif, Hanoi, Madagascar: but he does not waste his time in condemning them; he uses them. If he demonstrates the tactics of colonialism, the complex play of relations which unite and oppose the colonists to the people of the mother country, it is for his brothers; his aim is to teach them to beat us at our own game.
We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses. We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home. By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life. We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us. The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish.
So there’s that. The Pontiff makes all kinds of pronouncements all the time and is also against birth control of any kind, so I’m not sure what kind of impact this will have. And besides, I don’t endorse his/their views on all things just because he agrees with me on this one thing.
But you do wonder about the role this kind of endorsement has on the low-lying populace. JR calls it the ‘pray for science’ approach.