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“If information technology turns out to have world-historical significance, it is not because of its economic promise, still less because it may facilitate the toppling of dictators. It is because information technology makes plain that the story democracies have told about themselves for more than two centuries has been a bluff.”  – Thomas Meaney and Yascha Mounk, from What Was Democracy?

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The Pleistocene and the Present

A new study reportedly demonstrates that humans, and not climate change (or any other factor), bear the most responsibility for the large-scale extinction of megafauna following the end of the last ice age. The idea that humans over-hunted or competed their fellow large mammals out of existence is also known as the Pleistocene Overkill Hypothesis, which I’ve written about many times before. This study purports to settle the debate, but surely a scientific consensus is still blowing in the wind.

I’m less interested in what actually happened than I am in the lessons being drawn from the guesses, most of which serve as justifications for the wholesale destruction of the natural world—under the cover of vague sketches of “human instinct.” You have to ask yourself if the presentation of definitive evidence that humans* killed 30% of the large animals on earth means that our current apocalypse (what else can we call it?) is simply par for the course, nothing to worry about—let alone do anything about.

After all, you’re a human! All you do is hunt and hunt and hunt until your habitat collapses. That’s all that humans can do, right?

* “fully developed modern humans,” according to the linked article—although Nietzsche would argue that the phrase contains at least two oxymorons

 

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“Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations. Let us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, the dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they are pining away. Let us revolt against the rule of thoughts. Let us teach men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and—existing reality will collapse.”  – Karl Marx

Prayer

A poem by Jennifer Tseng:

Cardinal in snow, blood with wings,

fist of fire in winter wings. Sparks

from twigs of bodies touching,

heat we make for others. Elegant marks

made in secret on ether. Healing fever,

map of flaws, map of one’s salvation.

Here infinity attends to measure;

the hungry find transfusion.

Birds in formation across the sky,

cave for dreaming, nest for sleep,

wind, bee’s breath, tree’s sigh.

Rain pouring upward, water that leaps

at the mouth of God, a drink, a scrawl,

leaf that loves the wind too much to fall.

Sometimes the rhythm of chanting a poem is more important than the content, and indeed the act of incantation is sometimes the point. When I read “Prayer” I thought of Allen Ginsberg chanting “holy holy holy holy” and of the call and response of the mockingbirds outside my apartment in the morning. The bird song is more of a prayer than Ginsberg or any other poet, in my opinion—or at least, it’s more conducive to aiding meditation.

Out On the Pavement, Thinkin’ ‘Bout the Water Table

When you’re in New Orleans, you can’t help but feel an ever-present sense of precariousness, since no matter in which direction you travel from the city center, you hit large-looming and often mercurial (and indeed, for this reason, mythical) bodies of water. When it rains (which it has, every day we’ve been here), even your skin can’t stop the water from penetrating your inner core—where, many feelings you once held firm are uprooted by the deluge, but also made new again by the sure benediction of water.

Gloomy, at times, is what it is.

I sat in bar earlier in the week—a great bar, with an even greater juke box—whose front door and windows faced a rather puny looking earthen levee, directly on the other side of which ran the Mississippi River, twisting and coiling on its way downstream, like a giant asp you hope just continues on without noticing you. Surely, I thought—and more than once—by some small alteration of course, a simple rearing back, this great snake could just swallow us whole?

I read that the original inhabitants of the area used it mostly as a portage between the nearby lakes and the river, and that permanent settlement was all but impossible—that is, until the French colonizers irrigated and drained the area in a northerly direction in order to create more dry ground and fertile soil for crops. The soil did get drier, but at the expense of its elevation; with the water table being depleted, the land sank into a bowl. The French also imported nutria to hunt for fur, but hunting could not stop the nutria from flourishing and eating many of the roots that once held the delta sediments in tact. Woops.

Many more changes were subsequently made, from slowing and polluting the river upstream (which means less mud is deposited downstream, which means an erosion of the natural levees the river had carved out over time) to building a network of canals, criss-crossing the entire coast and delta, which means even less coastal wetlands and other natural buffers.

Katrina (and then Rita) highlighted the error of these and other short-sighted decisions, but it doesn’t seem like anything is different now as a result. Or maybe the consequences of these past decisions are irrevocable.