Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thank You For Pumping

David Blume was here this past weekend as an invited speaker at our Transition Towns’ style Sonnenshein Festival in Hohenwald, our county seat. This is the third annual one of these and this year we brought in Dave and Catherine Austin Fitts to speak, first to a theater full of townspeople, then at the Ecovillage Training Center, and then at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber liked it so much they want a follow-up.

Dave made an interesting point before the various assemblies that I have heard him make before, but he has taken to making it sound like clever business by evil oil companies to help the audience digest it, and I want to strip that sugar coating off. The point is about how gasoline is made, which is not unlike how sausages are made – you don’t want to know.

When someone like Exxon-Mobile or Chevron gets a barrel of light sweet in from OPEC, that 42-gallon barrel is now costing them nearly $140 on the open market. The refinery's distillation process separates it into various raw cuts, from gaseous fuels and naphthas at the top, to jet fuel, kerosene, gasoline in the middle, and then to diesel, fuel oil and asphalt at the bottom of the barrel. All these various primary products are pumped to other specialized refineries for further processing and upgrading. The secondary refiners also make the products environmentally acceptable by removing sulfur and various trace components that would be toxic if burned.

Incidentally, all these processes use tremendous amounts of energy, materials, and labor, so it is reasonable that they add value to the oil.

About 4% of every barrel goes into the light fuel gases that will be made into exotic and expensive chemicals: Nylon, Kevlar, high-tech polymers, Saran Wrap, plastic bags, and Twinkies. Currently that 4% is worth around $50 per barrel or $2 per gallon before secondary refining, but after the secondary processes, it becomes worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars per gallon. This is the part that makes the business worth being in for Exxon, Shell, Total, and all the rest.

About a quarter of the barrel goes into jet fuels, diesel, industrial lubricants, and the like. Those bring another $160 as raw products, but far more after they are refined into things like STP, pesticides, herbicides, and cleaning solvents, often through separate divisions of the same companies.

The gasoline blends are about 55% of the barrel, and since the oil companies have already made their money back on the top fractions, they don’t really need to keep going, except that they have a small problem. Refining the oil to get those nylons and polymers produced a lot of nasty long-chained byproducts that are terribly toxic. So they go ahead and continue the practice(s) begun by John D. Rockefeller and make various blends of gasoline, and they spend a small fortune on defeating climate change legislation, bidding up corn futures, and bribing politicians to ensure a profitable market awaits those products. Also, they sponsor NASCAR.

The 16% left after gasoline winds up as fuel oil or asphalt, about another $50 worth from every barrel after the primary refinery. The gasoline made from that original barrel is sold for about $170 at today’s wholesale price, but that is not its greatest value to the refineries.

The gasoline, which has to go through numerous blending stages, is a carrier for the toxic waste that would otherwise have to be somehow disposed of, at considerable expense and under tight regulations. By blending those unusable byproducts, which vary from barrel to barrel, day to day and hour to hour, the companies get rid of their biggest headache. They sell it to you and me.

Those of us who pay at the pump are now shelling out $4 per gallon to burn and then inhale those toxic wastes, but actually that is less than half of what the oil companies are being paid for that product.

Currently the various tax incentives, depletion allowances, and other subsidies (which Congress failed again today to repeal, blocked by the oil companies allies on the Republican side and a threatened veto from the White House) are worth $5.60 per gallon. If you added in the military costs, including veterans’ benefits and later war reparations, the subsidy is at least triple that, paid by U.S. taxpayers, but from the company standpoint, the $9.60 is what they collect. When their CEOs testify before Congress that they only make a nickel a gallon, they really have to work to keep from laughing, and that ability is probably why they get paid so much.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Optimizing Optimism

Richard Heinberg asks some pregnant questions in How Do You Like the Collapse So Far? written for The Ecologist. Sometime back, while I was developing the themes of the Guide, I had to make a decision about whether optimism was important or just hogwash. I think it is necessary to give the gloomy part of the message, otherwise you sound like Pollyanna and nobody buys into your spiel when you get to the good stuff. What ultimately counts is the call to action, and the action has to be meaningful, alluring, and credible.

Nate Hagens makes an interesting point in this regard. He says that “An optimistic outlook actually is neurochemically self-fulfilling. Optimism leads to increased frontal cortical activity which itself is a strong predictor of idea generation, positive emotion and overall liveliness of thought. Similarly, sadness is marked by decreased activity in the frontal cortex, which has the negative side affect of reducing the number of overall thoughts and ideas produced."

Choosing strategies that will produce meaningful results is, as Heinberg observes, a spiritual path, involving discrimination and ethics. One must extend the time horizon of the analysis and do the "what if" conjecturing about scalability and unintended consequences. Then you have both a strategy and a practice, and it is the practice, day in, day out, that provides more and better ideas, satisfaction with your lot, and even joy.

Martin Luther probably never said "If I knew I was to die tomorrow, I would plant a tree today" but the sentiment is good.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

This Season's Cicadas

"[N]o unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow."
Alfred Russel Wallace

Every year, tree people from around the Midwest gather in the annual Heartwood Forest Council, like so many ents. Because there is much to be said, and the council is a very patient, it takes several days to say it all or decide what to leave unsaid for another year. Hosting all this is an old treekeeper named Andy Mahler, who puts in the time each year, both inside and outside of the meeting, to make sure from small acorns emerge giant oaks.

At the opening of the council meeting this year, in the endangered Shawnee State Forest near the Ohio River, he stepped to the center of the circle and paused to observe a natural phenomenon. “Those pencil holes all around your feet,” he said, as everyone turned and looked down at the ground, “those are the cicadas emerging from 17 years underground, sucking on tree roots.”

I paraphrase. “Imagine that today is the day you felt the call, and emerged from the dark, damp earth that was all you knew, into a world of light, and sound, and breezes. It is blinding, disorienting, completely strange. And you start to climb. And as you are climbing you are getting stiffer, your body is becoming hard, and it is slowing you down, becoming hard and brittle, but then you discover that you have wings.

"You stop and back out of your old shell and you let loose of the tree and fly. And to your amazement you discover that there are millions of others, just like you, flying around all over the place. And you can sing! Everyone is singing and flying and having a fantastic wild orgy! For the next 2 weeks you have this crazy party, and it seems like it will never end, but and at the end of the 2 weeks you begin feeling very, very tired, so you nibble at some branches, lay your eggs in the cut you made, and die. This might be the end of the story, but then that branch falls to the ground, and those eggs get buried in the soil, and eventually hatch some larvae that suck on tree roots and after 17 years the process repeats.”

Andy was trying to imply the Forest Council is sort of like the wild orgy part of the cycle, ending with the eggs, except that some of these old cicadas will be back again next year to spread their wings again. So perhaps it is more apt to consider this a metaphor for our civilization, incubating for millennia, emerging from underground with the advent of the modern technological era, fueled by fossil sunlight, flying around like crazy bugs for a few hundred years, and then coming to the realization that this is the fin de siécle, and when we are done this night, nearly over now, we are going back to ground, not to emerge again, as our offspring, for a long, long time.

I have been using this tag from Bill McKibben in my email signature: “Civilization is what grows up in the margins of leisure and security provided by a workable relationship with the natural world. That margin won't exist, at least not for long, as long as we remain on the wrong side of 350.”

The 350 refers to the parts per million, by volume, of carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas concentration in the globally-averaged atmosphere. We are at 387 and climbing. We used to think we were relatively safe up to around 450, which would allow us to mid-century to curtail our emissions, well into the post-petroleum era. Now we know better. Crossing 350 had consequences that are unfolding with breathtaking speed. We need to get back down to that without delay. And yet, we industrious humans are still increasing our annual additions, not reducing them.

The McKibben quote prompted an exchange with Mark Robinowitz, who wrote:

“McKibben is delusional. The idea that we are somehow going to reduce existing carbon in the atmosphere before the end of oil is Disney thinking. He knows about Peak but will not mention it in his greenwashing pontifications. He has no interest in asking why we didn't make the necessary changes, and his ‘80% reduction by 2050’ mantra is one of the most ridiculous slogans ever invented - since it allows politicians to claim they are green while voting for more highways and clearcuts and skyscrapers and all sorts of nonsense. Do any of the people praising this slogan plan to be in office - or alive - in 2050? Did Exxon-Mobil invent this slogan as a sly trick? Why is the environmental movement so full of this absurdity? Sigh.”

I was interested to hear what Professor Tim Flannery said at a business and sustainability conference in Parliament House, Adelaide, on May 19. Like Jim Hansen and other top rank climatologists, he said the science shows the world is much more susceptible to greenhouse gas emissions that had been thought eight years ago, when 450 was the old 350.

Regardless of what happens to emissions in the future, there is already far too much GHG in the atmosphere, he said. Echoing McKibben, he proposed that we now actively launch efforts to take greenhouse gases out of the air. He proposed adding sulphur to jet fuel to reflect more sunlight back into space, a process called “enhanced global dimming.”

He also suggested carbon be taken out of the air and converted into charcoal, then ploughed into farmers' fields to make terra preta, replicating the black soils of the Amazon. He proposed that developed countries with scant land, soils or climate to plant forests pay poor farmers in tropical zones to do it, possibly through a direct purchase scheme like eBay.

Finally — and here is where Hansen, Flannery, Gore, and most enviros come together — all conventional coal-fired power stations which do not use ‘clean coal’ technology (a will-o'-the-wisp that is touted by coal lobbyists and echoed by politicos as if it actually existed – or will ever exist) — should be closed by 2030. The Romans had a term for the will-o'-the-wisp that seems apt when applied to our coal plants: ignes fatui (from ignis ("fire") + fatuus ("foolish").

Like my friend Mark, I have reached a realistic assessment of our prospects and decided its all over but the graduation party. It is no fault of our generation — the species was flawed to begin with. We are linear thinkers with opposable thumbs. How lame is that?

It is ironic that Alfred Russel Wallace was right in a sense but had the timing wrong when he wrote in the seminal essay on evolution he sent by packet boat from the Malay Archipelago to Charles Darwin in 1858:

“The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow.”

The flaws of homo sapiens sapiens only manifested their self-extinguishing potential when played out against the backdrop of planetary homeostasis manipulation. In so doing, our species broke with Wallace's assumption that there is a fail-safe mechanism in nature that would prevent bad apples from spoiling the barrel. At 6 degrees, 12 degrees, or 24 degrees warmer, all possible and even inevitable scenarios now, although perhaps centuries distant, it seems unlikely lifeforms much higher than thermophilic bacteria will survive on our desert world.

One delightful irony I noted in the talk I gave at the Forest Council is that in sending probes to Mars in search of extraterrestrial life, we inoculated Mars with microbes from Earth. A billion years from now, something may come of that.

And so the carousel goes, round and round, the painted ponies up and down.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Self-medicating Recipes

Each year about this time, Professor Wendell Combest comes here from Shenandoah University in Virginia where he teaches pharmacology. He gives a 4-day workshop in how to concoct, decoct, distill and infuse, starting with foraging for plants and ending with a wide array of medicines to help with virtually anything that might go wrong with your body.

If you think the price of gasoline and food is getting high, have a look at the cost of your pre- scriptions. More importantly, ask yourself what you would do if you were not able to renew them, either for reasons of price, lack of insurance, or lack of availability.

Each year Del’s course becomes more important. After he heads back to Virginia, we are always planting new seeds to boost the medicinal plant range in our gardens. The example of Cuba is instructive. During the special period of the early 1990s, when stocks of cheap Eastern European generic drugs dried up, along with the whole import economy that Cuba had grown accustomed to, more than 8000 varieties of medicinal plants spring up in backyard gardens and window boxes in Havana. Roberto Perez, Roberto Sanchez, and other Cuban permaculturists and ecovillagers were partly responsible.

Today Del showed us how to make a cheap still to extract essential oils. Some plants are very delicate, their oils oxidize within hours of harvest, and they cannot be extracted other than by distillation.

Using a hotplate, a large sauce-pot, a pot-lid, a brick, a bowl, a jar, and ice, here is how Del extracted spearmint oil:

The brick was cleaned and wrapped in foil to not contaminate the spearmint. The pot is filled with water nearly to the top of the brick. The bowl sits on the brick. Fresh or dried spearmint leaves are added to the water and brought to a boil. The lid of the pot sits inverted on top, with the handle downward, into the pot. Ice is set into the upper side of the inverted lid. As the water boils, it carries the oils of spearmint in its steam. As that steam reaches the lid, the cold of the ice causes it to rapidly condense and travel in rivulets down to the handle, where it forms droplets and falls into the dish, perched directly below.

Every few minutes, the lid is lifted off, the bowl emptied into a clean jar, and sealed, then the bowl and lid are replaced, fresh spearmint and ice added, and the process repeats. In 30 minutes, we had filled a pint jar with a spearmint hydrosol. You could do the same with lavender, aniseed, rosewood, tea tree, bay, basil, and many other plants with antiseptic, diuretic, stimulant, sedative, immune stimulant, circulatory stimulant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic. bactericidal, expectorant, decongestant or other properties.

Del likes to use the hydrosol – the emulsion of oil and water — for most of his purposes, but if you needed to extract just the oil, you could siphon the water, which settles into a lower layer in the jar with a visible separation, up to the line of the separation.

Our library at the Institute has a list of medicinal oils and a list of common wild and domestic medicinal and food plants on our website. The appropriate technology library
also has Sixty Uses Of Baking Soda, Sixty Uses Of Vinegar, Herbs For Ailments, Old Time Cleaning Remedies, How To Make Soap, How To Make Candles, and loads of other tips for self-reliance and community re-skilling in uncertain times.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Can’t Get No Respect

Imagine my surprise when I browsed a news rack and came across this cover of Time magazine:

The image called up memories of working at the light table, charcoal pencil in hand, on a mid-November night in 1989, when I drew this:

The charcoal drawing appeared as the cover of the Natural Rights Center annual report, published just before Thanksgiving in 1989 (and incidentally, copyrighted to the Natural Rights Center), and later in the first printing of Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What You Can Do (1990, also copyrighted). I used it in posters for speaking events, book flyers and other places. Apologies to the late Joe Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer and a Marine Corps medal for posing the original photo.

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I guess I should be flattered, but as I read the Bryan Walsh story that accompanied the image, I was disappointed.

To their credit, I have to say Time is getting better. We have come a long way from 1989, when Time was still calling the greenhouse effect the greenhouse “theory,” as if higher life-forms could exist on Earth without it.

Here is some of what Time is saying in 2008:
“The steady deterioration of the very climate of our very planet is becoming a war of the first order, and by any measure, the U.S. is losing. … Forget precedents like the Manhattan Project, which developed the atom bomb, or the Apollo program that put men on the moon — single-focus programs both, however hard they were to pull off. Think instead of the overnight conversion of the World War II era industrial sector into a vast machine capable of churning out 60,000 tanks and 300,000 planes, an effort that not only didn't bankrupt the nation but instead made it rich and powerful beyond its imagining and — oh, yes — won the war in the process.

“Halting climate change will be far harder than even that. ... No one yet has a comprehensive plan for how we could do so again….”
The whole business about reducing carbon pollution hurting the environment is a Red Scare concocted by right wing think tanks and championed by Blue Dog Democrats. It is ridiculous on its face, as Jonathan Rowe told Senate Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce on March 12,
“We hear, for example, that efforts to address climate change will hurt ‘the economy.’ Does that mean that if we clean up the air we will spend less money treating asthma in young kids? The atmosphere is part of the economy too — the real economy, that is, not the artificial construct portrayed by the GDP. It does real work, as we would discover quickly if it were to collapse. … [I]f we burn less gas, and thus maintain the crucial functions of the atmosphere, we say ‘the economy’ has suffered, even though the real economy has been enhanced.”
And yet, here is Time’s enviro-editor Walsh, parroting the party line, which is embodied in the Lieberman-Warner bill, a profligate piece of polluter pork that would raise taxes to bribe industries to reduce their carbon footprint, rather than just capping emissions and charging those who sully the commons. Reports Walsh:
“A new study by the National Association of Manufacturers, an industry trade group, estimates that Lieberman-Warner would cost the U.S. up to 4 million jobs by 2030 while eroding GDP by up to $669 billion per year.
“If we took all the steps outlined here—a national cap-and-trade system with teeth, coupled with tougher energy-efficiency mandates and significant new public and private investment in green technologies—where would that get us? We'd be a little poorer—a sustained battle against climate change will hit our wallets hard, absorbing perhaps 2% to 3% of GDP a year for some time….”
This thing we call the Gross Domestic Product doesn’t care if money is being spent on good things like renewables (5 billion) or bad things like the War in Iraq (3 trillion and counting). It measures throughput, and the more that zips through, for whatever purpose, GDP goes up. So why wouldn’t re-tooling Detroit to make solar cars make GDP go up? Why wouldn’t a program to rebuild the rail and barge infrastructure? Well of course they would.

Next to the image of the Marines raising the tree, on that November 1989 cover, I wrote this passage, lifted from the galleys of my book, Climate in Crisis:
"The defense of Europe, the amount spent by both NATO and the Warsaw Pact to guard against aggression by the other, is now $600 billion per year. According to studies by the Worldwatch Institute, the World Resources Institute, and others, the total needed to turn the world's environmental crisis around — to reduce topsoil loss, reforest the earth, raise energy efficiency, reduce population growth, and move towards a sustainable supply of food and water — is only slightly more than one tenth of that amount. About $ 774 billion will be needed to be spent during the decade of the 1990s. If $7.74 of every one hundred dollars spent on international arms and militarism were sequestered and the revenue directed to more productive purposes, the climate crisis could be abated. Seven percent is roughly the same amount as a typical state's sales tax."

To put this more into context, only a week before I wrote that, the East German government announced that visits between East and West Germany would be permitted, and as Natural Rights went to press, the Berlin Wall was beginning to be chipped for souvenirs. A year later, there was only one Germany.

So, what did we do with the “peace dividend” — reduce topsoil loss, reforest the earth, raise energy efficiency, reduce population growth? No. Bush, Sr. went to the Earth Summit and told the rest of the world to take a hike: climate change is hooey. And in the following two decades, we may have sealed the fate of the Earth, Bill Clinton no less than the two Bushes.

So if imitation is the highest form of flattery, then imitate this, Mr. Walsh. A few years after that annual report, I retired from the practice of law and took up permaculture, full time. I started the Ecovillage Training Center, and the people we've trained here in the past dozen or more years have now started training centers of their own in Brazil, Palestine, Canada, Africa, and many other places. Those centers are reducing topsoil loss, reforesting the earth, raising energy awareness, and reducing population growth. Personally, I planted a garden, got a solar-electric car, and rode a bicycle.

You want to imitate, Mr. Walsh? Do that. Ride a bicycle. It will stimulate the economy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sopravvivenza alla Fine del Petrolio

"Riflessioni, consigli e ricette per fare a meno dell'oro nero"

My book is now out in Italian with a foreword from Maurizio Pallante! You can order it from its ISBN number -- 88-88819-22-8.

I love the new cover by Pierre Druilhe and Andrea Calvetti, but you may not get the whole cartoon from the half-column-size image here at blogspot, so below is an enlargement of the detail.

Thanks to Mimmo Tringale, Cristina Michielli. Massimo Bani, Daniela Annetta and all the great folks at AAM Terra Nuovo for a fine job!

I have no immediate plans for an Italian book tour, but will be in Ireland for the Society of Utopian Studies at the beginning of July and in Portugal for the Re-Boot festival in early August. Re-Boot is part of the sustainable BOOM Festival, which gathers 20,000 young people from 64 countries to see what is happening in the realm of good news. Before then you can catch me at the Heartwood Forest Council Gathering in Shawnee State Forest, Ohio, on Memorial Day. The Forest Council features a scrumptious vegetarian menu made with local and organic food lovingly and creatively prepared. After that I am off to Grand Rapids for the International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change, where I am speaking on June 1st. That same day I will be speaking at the Art of Community conference in Albuquerque, via webinar, using technology provided by those good folks at New Society.

I'll be back to The Farm in time to speak at the Sonnenschein Festival on June 7 and to join the teaching cadre at our annual Permaculture Fundamentals workshop June 13-22.

If you were ever thinking of finding a good excuse to visit the Farm, our permaculture workshop is as good as it gets. See you here in June!

As I get ready to push the "publish post" button, I am looking again at that cover art of the roller coaster, and I can't help but wonder why we enjoy such amusements so much. The couple in the first car has a good look at the descent curve and they are freaked, but so are people on roller coaster rides, and they end up going back for more. The couple in the second car is clueless, and by the time they freak out, they will be in free fall, kind of like the people who took sub-prime mortgage loans. The guy in the third car is Daniel Yergen. He is whispering sweet nothings into the heads of government and business, telling them not to worry. That looks like Iron Man in the fourth car, getting ready to hit his rocket shoes and bugger on off to Mars. Good riddance, but you have to pity the poor bacteria on Mars, which are already trying to integrate the new lifeforms that arrived on all those rovers lately. Maybe they will get together and make an atmosphere. The fifth car is carrying Amory Lovins, who now acknowledges that peak oil is more real than abiogenic methane, but sees it as just further justification for a happy hypercar future, with even shorter payback periods as gas prices climb. Amory thinks the economy of the Mexican Riviera (and Mexico) can be saved by carbon-fiber passenger jets. C'mon. Really? In car number six is me, still chowing down on Bovine Growth Hormone and High Fructose Corn Syrup and wondering why I can't lose weight. I may lose it, along with my lunch, shortly. In the last car is you, waving back at me through the wonders of the internet. Hang on, people, this is about to get very exciting. What a great time to be alive!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Muddling Towards Mordor

No matter how I calculated it, I could not make enough, or pay enough taxes, to get the Bush tax rebate. So I’ll not be stimulating the U.S. economy any time soon.

People have a mistaken impression that authors are well paid. Most, myself included, devote a lot of time and effort to maintain the reputation of struggling artists. There is some small consolation in knowing that among those of us who starve are many of the best of this craft. There is seldom any correlation between talent and earnings — Monet but not Van Gogh, Handel but not Mozart, Stephen King but not J.R.R. Tolkien.

I spent last night re-watching the Fellowship of the Ring. I am the last person to buy a boxed DVD set, but I scraped together enough to get a used copy of the Special Edition that Peter Jackson has crafted. It is a new edit, more than an hour longer, and very, very fine. Were I on the nominating committee, I would put Jackson forward for the Nobel Prize.

Al Gore’s latest TED talk and revised slide show makes much of the idea of a heroic quest for humankind as the unifier of our resolve and redeemer of our fortune. It is a theme I have been sounding as well in the past few years, but Gore took it over the top, showing clearly where the limits lie. The TED talk ended up as the old Elvis, singing schmaltz on the stage in Vegas.

Gore served up the ignominy of our reputation to our descendants in time, something we sully more with each twist of an ignition switch. His point was that if we rise to the occasion they will sing our sagas in the council fires of Valhalla. It sounded suspiciously like dulce et deocorum est, pro patria mori and left an odd feeling in my gut.

Eventually I came to recall that I hold no malice nor low opinion of my ancestors, though they broke the Earth, planted corn, and burned and bled away the indigenous wisdom of the ages. And though they foolishly worshipped muscle cars and trips to Mars, we were an adolescent species, and we had to expect growing pains. Now, though, we are grown, we have been warned, and we must set aside those childish things and become adults. Al could have done worse than to remember the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, XIII:11.

On December 10, 2007, on the occasion of his receipt of the Prize, Gore said, “The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.”

Arwin says to Aragorn, “The shadow does not yet hold sway. Not over me, not over you.”

And so it is. We have yet to exert our genius as a species. When confronted with the choice of planetary life or planetary death, what will we choose? Will we choose? Or are we yet too young to be asked such a momentous question?

And thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.

Boromir pleads with Aragorn, “Have you so little faith in your own people? Yes, there is weakness, there is frailty, but there is courage also, and honor to be found in men. But you will not see that. You are afraid. All your life, you have lived in the shadow [there is that darned shadow again], scared of who you are and what you are.”

Dying, Boromir tells Aragorn, “The world of men will fall and all will come to darkness.”

“I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I will not let the city fall or our people fail,” replies Aragorn.

Galadriel proclaims, “You are a ringbearer, Frodo. To bear a ring of power is to be alone. … This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.”

“Then I know what I must do… its just… “ Frodo stammers, “I am afraid to do it.”

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” she urges.
After seeing this, I can’t help but begin to slide into a very black and white, good and evil, view of the world. Our simian brains, being more serial than parallel, like to simplify and standardize to speed neuron synapse processing — but this tropism holds a great pitfall. By simplifying, we become no better than George the Unready, painting our adversaries as “evil-doers” and piling karma on top of karma.

Still, it is hard to deny that Republican obstructionists, waterboarders and climate naysayers are indeed evil. Or the Blue Dog Democrats that lie down with them, for that matter.

Just don’t get me started.




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