Sunday, February 26, 2017

Had We World Enough And Time

Nude On Sofa By Francois Boucher

To His Coy Mistress

By Andrew Marvell

Had we but World enough, and Time,

This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Loves Day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges side.
Should'st Rubies find: I by the Tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood:
And you should if you please refuse
Till the Conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable Love should grow
Vaster then Empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze.
Two hundred to adore each Breast.
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An Age at least to every part,
And the last Age should show your Heart.
For Lady you deserve this State; 
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found; 
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
That long preserv'd Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to durst; 
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning glew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may; 
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow'r.
Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run. 

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

Unwatchable Movies, Unreadable Books

L.A. Street Artist Targets Oscars With Mocking Posters on Hollywood and Highland

In the dead of night, Sabo plastered his posters all over town, in hard-to-reach places where they look like genuine advertisements.

A conservative street artist is mocking Hollywood's biggest night, using fake Redbox kiosks and a line from a Quentin Tarantino movie to bash Sunday night's Oscar show.

Sabo, an artist who has made a name for himself with real-looking movie posters that skewer liberalism, plastered his latest creations all over Hollywood and Highland, a stone's throw from where celebrities will be walking the red carpet.

In the dead of night Thursday and early Friday morning, Sabo plastered his posters all over town, in hard-to-reach places where they look like genuine advertisements.

"All those assholes make are unwatchable movies from unreadable books," says one large poster containing a giant image of an Oscar statuette. The text was borrowed from Tarantino's True Romance.

Sabo also created ads for Redbox and even built some replicas of the movie rental service's iconic kiosks.

The Redbox mock-ups are not only in Hollywood, but also Brentwood and Westwood near the homes of many celebrities and industry executives.

Typically, Sabo's fake posters will stay up as long as 24 hours before the powers that be get around to tearing them down, but he's hopeful his newest crop will survive through Sunday's Oscar show.

"These pieces look so legit no one is thinking to take them down. It almost looks like a real Redbox ad," he said. "I consider this piece my representation of the discounting of Hollywood."

Sabo, though, says he's not only unimpressed with most movies nowadays, he's also infuriated with what he considers the mistreatment of President Donald Trump by many celebrities.

"I'm pissed off at Hollywood and it's outspoken liberal actors enough to not want to spend what a theater asks, and that is my way of keeping as much of my money from going into Hollywood's pockets," he said.

In the past, Sabo has used his street art to attack Leonardo DiCaprio, Cher, Lena Dunham, Hillary Clinton and many more, and he sells his politically conservative work at his website.

From The Hollywood Reporter (February 24, 2017)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Darkness On The Edge Of Light

The Fox Range mountains dominate the view at the end of Sunset Boulevard in tiny Gerlach, Nevada, a town whose welcome sign declares, “Population Wanted.” (Photos By Oliver Roeder)

The Darkest Town In America

GERLACH, Nev. — Here in the desert, the Earth boils and stars fill the sky. By day, you can see plumes of geothermal steam rising in every direction, pouring from vents in the ground and disappearing into the crisp, dry air. At night, you can see distant galaxies with the naked eye, their light much older than our species.

Five years ago, NASA launched a satellite that’s roughly the size of a minivan and that circles our planet 14 times a day. Its largest instrument collects information from across the electromagnetic spectrum over land, ice and ocean. Scientists analyzed its data and combined that with measurements taken on the ground to map our planet’s light pollution. Only a few small areas in the U.S. remain mostly untouched.

“As you see, the largest dark area is in northwest Nevada. Maybe at the center of this area we can have the darkest places,” said Fabio Falchi, a researcher at the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute and author of “The World Atlas of Light Pollution.” Over 100 miles from Reno, 240 miles from Sacramento, and hundreds of miles from anywhere else I’d ever been lies one of the darkest places in the country, tucked away from the bleeding glow of civilization.

Recent analysis has revealed some of the few pockets of the U.S. that are sheltered from the sprawl of light pollution. Gerlach sits in one such dark refuge. 

So that’s where I went. I wanted to feel what it was like in the dark. The human population is somewhere north of 7 billion, and light tends to follow our species wherever it goes. I wanted, in a way, to go back in time.

I was swimming in a desert hot spring, the water warmed by radioactive decay deep in the Earth’s crust, when the storm rolled in. It barreled down on me as fast as a truck, over the mountains and into the flat where the hot spring lay. And then there was nothing but the storm — the cold rain and the hot pool and the dark-gray clouds. The steam melted into the fog as the gale kicked up miniature waves that raced across the water. I wondered if I would ever see the stars.

In 2008, an assistant principal in Hambleton, West Virginia, arrived at work one morning to discover hundreds of birds — mostly yellow warblers but also thrushes, cuckoos and sparrows — dead in his school’s parking lot. They’d been swarming the school during the night, crashing into its windows. In 2011, 27 hatchling sea turtles were scraped off the pavement of A1A Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, yards from the beach. Firefighters were able to save four others from a nearby storm drain. And in 2015, in Columbia, Pennsylvania, the state’s department of transportation cleared two-foot-high piles of countless dead mayflies from a bridge above the Susquehanna River. The swarming insects caused three motorcycle accidents before their demise, and their putrid corpses forced pedestrians to walk in the street.

It was light killed the beasts, they say.

The school’s lights had been left on overnight and the birds, possibly disoriented by foggy conditions, flew toward the light source, smashing into the windows. The turtles mistook the glow from a bar and an ice cream shop for the light of the moon glistening off the ocean. The mayflies hatched on the river and couldn’t resist the streetlights’ inviting glow.

In an 1887 letter to the editor of Science, one G. Thompson observed that “some disadvantage or evil appears to be attendant upon every invention, and the electric light is not an exception in this respect.” His hometown, Washington, D.C., had recently installed outdoor electric lighting — and spiders followed. Their prey was plentiful in the new light, Thompson reasoned, but their webs blocked views and dirtied surroundings. And, he noticed, the spiders seemed to “take possession of the portion of the ceiling of any room which receives the illumination.”

That letter may be the earliest public acknowledgement of what we now call light pollution. As human civilization has advanced, one of its innocuous-seeming byproducts — light — has seeped into the natural nocturnal world. And some humans have come to believe that light is wreaking havoc.

It began with the astronomers. The effect of light pollution on their field is obvious enough: Astronomers need darkness to collect and examine the unfathomably distant light of deep-space objects. Going into space to do that work is very expensive, after all.

The astronomers were joined by others in what can collectively be called the dark-sky movement. The ecologically-minded resent the effects light may have on our flora and fauna. Those more focused on humans are concerned about what they worry could be carcinogenic effects. And then there are those whose concerns center on a lost heritage: the notion that if we look up at night and see no stars, we are poorer for it, missing out on some nourishing, mystical, ancestral connection.

Those concerns have led to attempts to beat back the light. In 1958, the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, passed the country’s first dark-sky ordinance. To protect the darkness for research at its Lowell Observatory, the city banned the use of commercial searchlights. Scofflaws could be punished with a $300 fine, 90 days in the city jail, or both.

The struggle has continued ever since, in city halls, in state assemblies, on op-ed pages and on the internet. The dark-sky movement is quick to tell you that they are not Luddites who want to turn off the world’s lights. Rather, they advocate for well-considered lighting that serves its purpose without excess illumination. Too often, they say, lights are too bright, point too far up, are on too often, or are the wrong color. (Blue, they say, is especially bad.)

At noon on a bright fall day, I met Susan Harder, the New York state representative for the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and an outspoken apostle for the movement, at a cafe on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In and around one of the brightest megalopolises in the world, she’s taken this fight to the New York State Assembly; the New York City Council and the city’s Department of Transportation; the towns of East Hampton and Riverhead; and the village of Sagaponack. The IDA she represents is one of the most prominent activist groups in the movement, employing full-time staff, educating the public and lawmakers, and bestowing its certified blessing on what it calls “dark sky places.” (Flagstaff and Borrego Springs, California, for example, have made the list.)

Harder had just arrived in the city from the Hamptons; she splits her time between the beach community and Manhattan. Bad luck drove her to join this crusade. Church lights across the street from her East Village apartment tortured her, despite painted-over windows and blackout curtains. Her house in East Hampton is “lit up” at night by a neighboring home, despite the fact that her house sits on a “fairly sizeable property."

Susan Harder

She works full time for the cause these days, giving lectures, lobbying policymakers and meeting with people like me. “Creatures, great and small, are negatively affected,” she told me, citing reading she had done about the issue. “Humans are dramatically affected by night lighting.” Ever vigilant, she has a blue-light-blocking screen on her cellphone. Going dark is also more fiscally responsible, she said — excess lighting wastes billions of dollars worth of energy each year. And the mystical element motivates her advocacy too. “The emotional, spiritual connection with the universe,” Harder said. “If it’s gone, what else do we have? We just have our Earth-borne environment. I think it also could cut off our feeling of curiosity. It’s hard to measure these things, but psychically, I think they’re quite dramatic.”

The evidence of that connection is all around us — in the star-heavy designs in jewelry, in clothing, in children’s bedsheets, Harder said. The design house Valentino even put out a collection of high-fashion clothes depicting celestial objects, she explained, and she regretted not wearing a piece from it to our interview. She was, however, sporting a sparkling star-shaped brooch.

In her experience, a combination of these arguments can appeal to folks across the spectrum. “Rabid, crazy Trump supporters are into this, and then my most ardent environmentalists are very seriously into it,” she said.

But convincing laypeople that light pollution is harmful to humans is one thing; convincing scientists of it is quite another.

On some fronts, the IDA’s concerns are in line with the evidence. In June, the American Medical Association adopted guidelines for streetlights meant “to minimize potential harmful human and environmental effects” from LED lighting, especially the blue-heavy varieties. There are two big problems with blue light, according to the AMA. First, it produces glare and discomfort for drivers, creating a “road hazard.” Second, blue light is on the “wavelength that most adversely suppresses melatonin during night” — it’s a sleep hazard.

All those lights could have effects that ripple far beyond bedtime, but this is where the science gets more complicated. We know that older, nonelectric light isn’t that bad for us, said Richard Stevens, a professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Connecticut. But what of the new variety? “We evolved for billions of years as life on the planet with the reliable cycle of bright sunlight and dark,” Stevens said. “Humans figured out fire a long time ago, and we started making candles about 5,000 years ago, but that kind of light does not affect our physiology much at all.”

Modern electric lighting might. Circadian disruption can alter not only sleep cycles but also core body temperature, hormone levels and gene expression — scientists have observed this in animal studies and Stevens has argued that the same disruption affects humans. He has explored the links between electric light and some of the so-called diseases of modern life: obesity, diabetes, depression and cancer. “The disruption to our circadian rhythmicity is a very big deal,” he said.

Stevens hypothesized a link between electric light and breast cancer as early as 1987. The genesis of his idea, and the reason it remains intriguing, is that while scientists understand some of the common causes of many types of cancer fairly well (lung cancer and smoking, liver cancer and hepatitis viruses, cervical cancer and human papillomavirus) the causes of breast cancer remain mysterious. A 2010 paper by Stevens and three Israeli scientists — “Nighttime light level co-distributes with breast cancer incidence worldwide” — was cited by nearly every dark-sky advocate I spoke with.

But even the author admits that these claims are debatable. “If you took 100 researchers who know this area, there would be no consensus on a cause for breast cancer,” Stevens said.

One such researcher, Karla Kerlikowske, studies risk-prediction models for breast cancer at the University of California San Francisco. “I have not heard of this theory before,” she told me. “So I would say it is not mainstream.” Another, Lisa Schwartz, is a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute, where she researches the quality of medical communication to the public. She pointed out that neither the Physician Data Query nor the International Agency for Research on Cancer, two major organizations that assess cancer risks, consider light a standard risk factor. “They do mention other environmental factors with ‘inadequate evidence,’ but this one isn’t even on their lists,” Schwartz said. “I think this is a fringe idea.”

Thus far, there’s not much research showing any widespread negative ecological or health effects related to light pollution, as John Barentine, the program manager for the IDA, admits. (Barentine has a Ph.D. in astronomy and an asteroid named after him.) In its list of “five appalling facts about light pollution,” the IDA devotes a spot to the claim that “artificial light at night disrupts the seasonal cycle of trees.” In an envelope of news clippings and documents Harder gave me at the cafe (“I’ve got billions of articles,” she said), there was a handout that showed a photo of a tree in Amagansett, New York. It still had about a third of its autumn leaves in winter thanks, the document said, to a streetlight above it, which the handout claimed caused the tree stress.

Members of the movement remain convinced that urgent action is needed. “Wasteful artificial light has to be the most toxic and damaging pollutant that humankind knows!” reads one prominent website devoted to chronicling its ill effects. The site also hosts a photo of that very same tree in the Hamptons that’s sporting, supposedly, too many golden fall leaves.

There’s no research suggesting that light is a public health crisis, Barentine said. “It’s interesting, and it appears to be suggestive, but it’s not conclusive.” Nevertheless, he made grand comparisons, hoping that the dark-sky movement could create and benefit from sweeping changes in public opinion, much like the same-sex marriage movement or antismoking campaigns. (The research gets even more conflicted when you consider the benefits of light, which, in big cities especially, is often thought to deter crime.)

At times, though, Barentine sounded more like an evangelical darkness missionary, invoking the importance of our dimming heritage. “Human beings could use a little bit of humility now and then,” he said. “Does it add something, like art or literature or music? I’m convinced it does."

Diners gather at Bruno’s Country Club, Gerlach’s only restaurant. The spot is frequented by both locals and people who are just passing through, including hunters and Burning Man attendees.

Gerlach, Nevada, was settled in 1906 and named for the Gerlach Land and Cattle Company. The company was one of the biggest operations in the Black Rock Desert basin, and Louis Gerlach, its founder, was one of the richest cattlemen in the West. In the early 1900s, the story goes, on a visit to survey a ranch he’d acquired, Louis was bitten by a tick. Tick fever was going around that year, and he was rushed by stagecoach to a doctor 110 miles south, in Reno. Louis Gerlach never returned to the town that bears his name.

Over a century later, I traveled those same 110 miles, in the opposite direction, in a rented Jeep, to see what life is like in what may be the darkest town in the United States.

You don’t need directions to get to Gerlach from Reno; there’s really just one way to go. Nevada state Route 447 is a two-lane blacktop ribbon unfurling up the state, through the sagebrush, past Pyramid Lake, around and through the mountains. Travellers who follow Gerlach’s Main Street out of town will find that the pavement quickly gives way to gravel.

You could be forgiven for driving right through the town without noticing it. For darkness seekers, though, Gerlach is perfect — it’s five hours from Redding, California; five from Medford, Oregon; seven and a half from Twin Falls, Idaho; eight from Boise, Idaho; and eight from Salt Lake City — hundreds of miles removed from trespassing city light in any direction.

I pulled into Gerlach with a Unihedron sky-quality meter in my pocket. It’s a chunky black plastic box about the size of a pack of cigarettes. When I point its lens toward the sky’s zenith (that is, straight up) and press a button, the meter displays the darkness of the night sky, measured in something called magnitudes per square arcsecond (mag/arcsec²). The higher the number, the darker the sky. The night before I left for Nevada, outside my apartment in the arcadian (by Brooklyn standards) neighborhood of Ditmas Park, my meter was getting readings of around 15.9 — not good, and close to the bottom of the range shown on the meter’s pictorial legend, which starts with a streetlight and depicts skies getting darker further from the lamp’s glow. From my apartment windows, I can occasionally see a single star — a dim Polaris. My hopes for a more rewarding stargazing experience in the desert were running high.

Gerlach’s welcome sign reads both “Center of the Known Universe” and “Population Wanted.” It was a mining town and a railroad town. Gerlach “can be rough and tough on a Saturday pay night,” read a Desert Magazine feature in 1960, and “every passing train jiggles it like a bowl of tapioca.” In 1909, the Western Pacific Railroad began operating in the town. In 1970, the original California Zephyr ran its final trip, and passenger rail service to Gerlach came to an end. In 1975, the residents bought the town from the railroad for $18,000. With the railroad gone, the railroad workers left too, and today the town is home to fewer than 200 people.

There is one motel in Gerlach — Bruno’s — located behind Gerlach’s one restaurant — also Bruno’s. At the restaurant, you can book a room, sip a beer and order a meal, all at the bar. But to get even further into the nighttime darkness, I stayed 25 miles north at the Iveson Ranch. Jeff Barker, who goes by JB, is the owner, but he prefers to be called “activity director.” “The owner is God and all the people who are here,” he told me. A sign at the ranch entrance warns: “No county official beyond this point without a warrant and sheriff.”

Even before Barker showed up, there was a ranch here, owned by the Ivesons. “Those people were lyin’, cheatin’, cattle-thievin’ motherfuckers,” Barker recalled Gerlachers saying. Barker thought they sounded cool. So, not one for vanity, he called his new property Iveson Ranch.

The ranch, about 350 acres, lies snug between the Granite Range and the Calico Mountains, in the shadow of mountaintop cairns that the “ancient people,” as Barker called them, once used to drive antelope into the Hualapai Flat for the hunt. This topography, with vast rises on either side, evokes the slitted opening of a telescope dome. Wind turbines, along with a solar array of Barker’s construction, help shoulder the burden of being off the grid. When I arrived around midafternoon, the ranch was full of life. Magpies and quails, chickens and wild horses, deer, and a succession of dirty, friendly dogs — one of which, I later learned, was called Little Trump — seemed to be in charge.

Barker, 55, has a baby face that conceals a rancher’s hard-won know-how. He was well aware that he lived under extraordinarily dark skies, and he said so when we first exchanged emails. In fact, he’d built a runway — 3,300 feet by 60 feet, perfectly flat — meant to accommodate both planes and the RVs and sensitive equipment of serious stargazers. It was empty when we drove by, but past visitors had influenced Barker’s outlook.

“We’re just a little dot in what exists,” he told me. “Whether humanity lives or dies doesn’t matter. We better start taking care of ourselves and our planet.” The stargazers and their five-figure telescopes had brought a perspective that reinforced his own sustainable, leave-no-trace view. All very rural Nevada. “We’re gonna have to quit being so damn greedy — about money, about the way we use our resources,” he said.

Late that afternoon, I met Will Roger Peterson at his home back in Gerlach. It was the nicest house I’d seen in town, sitting on two acres and boasting a wraparound deck, a sauna and a bat house.

Peterson, 68, is the vice president of Friends of Black Rock-High Rock, a conservation and education group devoted to 1.2 million acres of “northwestern Nevada’s extraordinary landscapes.” He’s also a co-founder of the company that now runs the annual Burning Man festival, which is held on the playa. A white beard softened his handsome, desert-battered face. Peterson first came up to Gerlach in 1994, but in the winters he stays at his home in Oakland. “I didn’t think I’d like the desert, but it ended up mesmerizing me,” he told me.

“Gerlach is kind of unique considering dark skies because there’s very few streetlights here, so there’s very few lights shining upward,” he said. I asked him if that was on purpose, the result of some local, grassroots dark-sky movement. Peterson laughed. “No. As you can see, this is a poor, unincorporated town. There’s not a lot of money spent in Gerlach on things like streetlights.”

“It’s a challenge to live here,” he said. “So most people who live here are dealing with that challenge. They’re not out looking at the sky much.”

But Peterson is. Each night, he performs his own stargazing ritual on his second-floor balcony: He won’t go to bed until he sees three shooting stars. He said he usually sees them within 15 minutes.

To describe the significance of dark skies, Peterson invoked Carl Jung. “The things that are repeated — the symbols, the signs, the rituals that we’ve repeated for 2 million years as humans — are the things that are most collective in our unconscious. Looking at fire instead of television. Looking at the sky. Every culture known to us throughout our history has created constellations and has read the sky as a way to deal with the mystical.”

I asked Peterson if he thought there was any hope for a dark-sky movement in a place like New York City. He skipped right over the question, telling me to get out of the city as often as I could in search of a “mystical moment.” (There was also some talk of my being a sheep and a slave to contemporary culture.) Even being at the ranch for a couple of days would be good for me; he said he could see it in my eyes.

Outside the house, in an adjoining lot, is his home’s pièce de résistance, a testament to Peterson’s devotion to ritual: the labyrinth. Two-thirds of a mile long and constructed of thousands of rocks arrayed along the ground, it’s modeled after the one in the 12th-century Chartres Cathedral in France. Most walk that labyrinth praying to a Christian God, but when Peterson walks his each night at sunset, his focus is on more mystical forces. “There’s a lot of energy in there,” he said.

I walked it. The winding path took about 20 minutes to complete. For the first 15 minutes, I was too busy thinking about the weird desert insects that were biting me to notice any energy in the labyrinth. But for the last five, as the clouds lifted and each rock cast a sharp sundial shadow on the desert ground, I thought about the light, and the dark, and all I wanted to do was see the stars.

On my way out, Peterson handed me a packet of information about the Fly Geyser, which sits on Fly Ranch, which Burning Man had just bought for $6.5 million. The geyser is about midway between Gerlach and the Iveson Ranch and it’s not to be missed, Peterson told me, so we made vague plans to meet there the next day and swim in the hot spring next to the geyser. What Peterson’s packet didn’t mention was that Burning Man’s acquisition of Fly Ranch was funded in part by a co-founder of Airbnb, and by the CEO of Cirque du Soleil. “The future of Gerlach looks bright,” Peterson said. For selfish reasons, I hoped that wasn’t literally true — at least for the next couple of days.

When I showed up at Fly Ranch the next day, there was no sign of Peterson or his motorcycle. In fact, there was no sign of another human for miles in any direction. I hopped the roadside gate, passed a Burning Man “No Trespassing” sign, and walked a half-mile or so into the ranch to the geyser. It’s a spewing, alien structure, shimmering red, green and gold, five feet high and rising, built up over decades by mineral deposits from an uncapped well. Nearby is the natural pool it has created, where the water is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I swam back and forth a few times, both exhilarated and relaxed, trying to etch the surreal experience into my brain.

And then, over the mountain, the storm rolled in. Needles of cold rain sliced sideways into my top half, while my bottom half was comfortably submerged in the natural hot tub. My gear — phone, notepad, digital voice recorder — was perched precariously on the side of the pool, barely protected from the weather, and I could think only two things: There go my interviews, and I’m never going to see the stars. Gusts that day at a weather station in nearby (by the standards of northwest Nevada) Lovelock were measured at 53 miles per hour, on the high end of the “severe gale” category. As I drove back to the ranch, desert crows flew backwards.

Back in the tack room where I was staying, as my soaked clothes hung on hooks and the whipping wind carried trash cans and tree limbs past my small window, the power went out. And yes, it was dark in the tack room. Left with little to do and anxious that I might have come all this way to look at nothing but murky nighttime clouds, I lit a candle and opened the leather-bound guest book sitting in the corner. Years ago, one guest, Julie, had written: “So peaceful, and so many stars!"

Fly Geyser spews steam at Fly Ranch, which the Burning Man organization recently bought with help from a co-founder of Airbnb and other wealthy executives.

“Fucking hipsters got too much time on their hands. Light pollution?” someone scoffed.

A party had broken out on my first night at the ranch. The Burning Man burnouts and self-described semi-organized vagrants who seemed to orbit the place had come together for some impromptu revelry. JB had invited me over to the main house and its fire pit for dinner (pork and potatoes) and cocktails (vodka and cranberry juice). As partygoers played “fire Jenga” with logs and a “Come on Eileen”-centric playlist blared at deafening volume, I found myself struggling to explain to the assemblage that I was there because it was dark. In retrospect, I can well understand their bemusement.

There was general agreement that, yes, indeed, it’s dark there. (“No shit, Sherlock,” was the subtext I received.) But when I said I badly wanted to lay eyes on the Milky Way, responses were more mixed. Some in the crowd lauded its majesty while others seemed not quite sure what the Milky Way was.

Later, in the main house, I was able to pin down James DiGiorgio, who was staying somewhere near the geodesic dome on the property. He splits his time between the desert and the Bay Area, constructing buildings out of recycled shipping containers (“grownup Legos”) and making art cars for Burning Man. DiGiorgio didn’t have much patience for the dark-sky movement, which he considered a risk, a drag on the real environmental work that needed to be done. “We’re already trying to fight people who don’t think global warming is real, who say solar and wind is useless,” he said. “Let’s not create another batch of loony hippies. I mean, I love my brethren, but some of us are nuts.” He had heard, however, of the turtles being killed. The turtles being killed, that’s real, man.

To my surprise and delight, the sky had cleared considerably while we were talking indoors. It was still cold and damp, but, followed by a loyal coterie of dogs — my coyote protection squad — I headed up the gravel road into the pitch-black night to get a better look.

I took my final measurement of the trip. The sky meter read 22.2 mag/arcsec². The number was the highest I’d seen, so high it doesn’t even show up on the legend on the front of the meter, and it meant that my view of the night sky was tempered only by natural airglow and zodiacal light. I was well into Class 1 on the Bortle Scale — the dark-sky bigtime. At this level of darkness, not only is the Milky Way visible in great detail, but you can also see the Andromeda Galaxy (2.5 million light-years away) and the Pinwheel Galaxy (25 million light-years) with the naked human eye.

A domed, inky tent of dark stretched above me, from mountain range to mountain range, with me squarely at its center. It’s hard to blame the ancient philosophers, like Anaximander, who thought the stars were tiny holes in the wheel of the sky through which a great fire could be seen. So it seemed to me then. To look up was to get lost. And to look up was to be found.

So peaceful. And so many stars.

As I headed back south down highway 447, a country song came on KLAP, one of Gerlach’s two radio stations. (The Burning Man organization runs the other, but it was off-air thanks to a power outage.)

     Chains of this town
     Broken me free
     Shakin’ the dust off of my coat
     Clearin’ the blur out of my eyes

I drove the Jeep the three hours back to Reno, lost $30 at the Eldorado, and caught a red-eye home. I landed just as the sun was rising.

From FiveThirtyEight (February 8, 2017)

Book Review - An Extraordinary Time, By Marc Levinson

San Bernardino, California, About 1954

When The Going Was Good

The era you’re nostalgic for says something about the era in which you live. The years that are the object of nostalgia must be close enough to be within living memory of at least some still articulate members of society but distant enough to be burnished by the patina of age. The America that people are nostalgic for now, to judge from political rhetoric, is the America of the postwar years—although in speaking to young audiences lately I have considered myself obliged to state what war those years were post.

It was a time when a young man out of high school “could expect to earn a decent and steady income in exchange for hard work” (Rick Santorum) and “finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown” (Barack Obama), when “Americans were returning from war and eager to work” (Mitt Romney) and the country “invested in its kids and built a strong middle class” (Elizabeth Warren). The Left is nostalgic for a time of strong labor unions, confiscatorily high tax rates, and majority support for handgun bans; the Right, for packed churches, fecund two-parent families, and wholesome mass entertainment. Donald Trump does not specify a reference point for his promise to “make America great again,” but most auditors probably place it in the two decades after World War II.

* * *

That particular Golden Age—always capitalized—is the subject of Marc Levinson’s An Extraordinary Time. Levinson is an economics writer whose books have chronicled the rise of two Golden Age phenomena—the first nationally integrated supermarket (A&P), and the shipping container. Here he takes on 71 years of economic history: the Golden Age’s 28 years (which he claims ended abruptly in October 1973), and the 43 years of drosser metal that followed, though he has little to say about the last dozen.

He also has little to say about the years before the Golden Age, although it’s impossible to understand what happened after 1945 without taking them into account. Nineteen Twenty-nine to 1939 were years of worldwide depression, most severe, arguably, in the world’s largest economy, the United States; 1939 to 1945 (and before that in East Asia) were years of horrifyingly destructive world war. Afterwards Western elites, fearful that depression would return and far from certain that more warfare could be avoided, set up institutions to make things better: the United Nations and NATO to preserve the peace, and the Bretton Woods agreement and the Marshall Plan free trade agreements to establish a framework where commerce might flourish.

These things mostly worked, for a generation in some cases and longer in others, as Levinson notes. But to a greater or lesser extent they depended on an assumption that government and financial policymakers could continually fine-tune their policy instruments to keep things moving in the right direction. Elites believed the Depression came because they failed to act and ended when they did act, while the successful war effort inevitably involved centralized command and control. Experts, at the commanding heights of big government, big business, and big labor, could produce a Golden Age and maintain it indefinitely.

And for a time it seemed they did. But, as Levinson shows by focusing on certain experts, that didn’t last forever. The German economist and cabinet member Karl Schiller, for example, institutionalized conferences of government, corporate, and union leaders to formulate policies that would produce high employment, steady growth, stable prices, and trade balances. But he resigned in 1972 when denied control over the Deutschemark exchange rate. The Argentinian economist and international agency head Raul Prebisch promoted import substitution—high tariff walls to encourage domestic industries—in developing South America, Africa, and Asia. But those economies foundered when demand for their raw materials plummeted in 1973. The eminent academic economist Arthur Burns, an advocate of monetary and fiscal discipline, as Federal Reserve chairman went along with Richard Nixon’s ditching of Bretton Woods’s peg of the dollar to gold and imposition of wage and price controls. Nixon was reelected but inflation and recession—stagflation—followed. “[T]he idea that government planning could assure prosperity and rising standards for all,” Levinson writes, “proved to be a cruel hoax.”

* * *

Levinson dates the end of the Golden Age to October 1973, when the Arabs attacked Israel on Yom Kippur after Nixon reimposed wage and price controls, in response to which OPEC jacked up oil prices. Manufacturing languished, with hundreds of thousands of heavy manufacturing jobs shed, in the next decade; developing countries languished. Policymakers struggled, but things were never as good again.

Here I think Levinson overstates his case. He makes much of the decline of productivity increases, down in a dozen major countries from 4.6% per year in 1959–1973 to 2% per year in 1974–1999. But productivity is not a thing but a ratio—economic product divided by hours worked. The labor force grew slowly in the Golden Age because of wartime deaths and the 1930s’ birth dearth; it grew rapidly in the quarter-century afterward because vast numbers of baby boomers, women and men, were coming of age. Arguably you don’t want productivity to rise quite so rapidly when labor is plentiful. 

And arguably you want, and in fact got, lots of deregulation—and, as Levinson admits, “the results of deregulation were undeniably positive.” He shortchanges the prosperity and high growth rates of the Reagan and Thatcher 1980s, even as he recognizes the failure of François Mitterrand’s soon-renounced socialism and the developing world’s floundering that decade. Nor does he give much credit to First World economic growth in the 1990s. The enormous growth kindled when China and, to a lesser extent India, embraced capitalism, gets little mention, although lifting one quarter of mankind out of dire poverty is no small achievement.

 Transportation and communication deregulation, Levinson recognizes, left the way open to phenomena as beneficial to ordinary people as mobile phones, bargain air travel, and cable television—things simply unavailable in the Golden Age—as well as increasingly cheap food and clothing. But Levinson mourns what was lost: “Without the enveloping structure of regulation, the stability and security that had been such fundamental aspects of the Golden Age were seriously undermined. As governments tried to restore productivity growth and reinvigorate their economies, stability had become an unaffordable luxury.”

* * *

But Levinson notes elsewhere that the welfare state, constructed in the Golden Age and greatly expanded afterwards, was something of a Ponzi scheme, with benefits growing more rapidly than the economy or work force. The Golden Age’s elite architects, it turns out, failed to take into account the likelihood that the society they were so confident they could superintend would change in unexpected ways. Medicare was enacted and Social Security expanded on the assumption that future baby boomers would finance them—just as the baby boom was abruptly ending. There was little change in the roster of the Fortune 500 corporations from the mid-1950s when it first appeared up through the early 1970s; there has been enormous change afterwards. Planners start by assuming a static society and prove far less prescient in forecasting change than the combined wisdom of crowds expressed in free markets.

And did the Golden Age seem so golden at the time? I was born about when it began and became aware in the middle 1950s (at a perhaps unusually early age) of the world around me in supposedly booming and placid Detroit. Looking up in the sky, or out the classroom window while crouching under the desk during a “duck and cover” drill, I felt sure (with a little bit of pride) that we would be targeted in any Soviet nuclear attack. During the frequent recessions, neighbors wondered whether we were facing another Great Depression; my father’s income as a physician dropped in half between 1956 and 1958. As for all those auto assembly jobs that young men could snag after leaving high school or the service, I remember that people hated—hated—those jobs. That’s why the United Auto Workers bargained successfully in 1970 for 30-and-out (retirement after 30 years) and then for retiree health care benefits (until they qualified for Medicare at 65), which as much as anything else bankrupted General Motors and Chrysler.

The Golden Age was extraordinary not because it lasted just one generation, but because it managed to last that long. The framework its architects designed was well adapted to the nation and world in the aftermath of World War II. In retrospect, it was hubristic to believe that it would be as well suited to the nation and world that came to exist 28 years later. It is well enough remembered to be a plausible object of nostalgia; much more than the nation and world of 71 years before 1945—the world of 1874, before electric lighting, automobiles, airplanes, refrigerators, indoor plumbing—was then. But it can’t be brought back. The cultural cohesion and societal solidarity so fondly remembered owed much to the shared experiences of depression and, especially, of a war in which 420,000 Americans died. No sensible person wants that again.

* * *

The screenwriter William Goldman, describing how Hollywood works, explained, “Nobody knows anything.” An Extraordinary Time teaches a similar lesson. Elite experts may have done a good job once upon a time, but it’s unrealistic to expect them to do so again. “The forces that sustain faster economic growth and prosperity are rarely set in motion with the flip of a switch or the passage of a law. Golden Ages usually arise suddenly and end unexpectedly,” Levinson writes at the end of the book. “While it may turn out that a particular government action or private innovation raised living standards dramatically for a generation, the connection may not be clear until well after the fact—and a similar policy or innovation, unleashed at a different moment or under different circumstances, might have no far-reaching consequences at all.”

I’m not so sure that nobody knows anything, and I think free markets and the rule of law facilitate less suboptimal results than any alternatives. In his earlier books Levinson shows how government policies, pushed by those with interests at stake, attempted to prevent the Hartford brothers from selling cheap and healthy groceries at their A&Ps, and to stop Malcolm McLean’s containers from replacing inefficient and crime-ridden longshore operations. Fortunately, those efforts failed. The three books taken together show that progress comes more from energetic entrepreneurs than from elite experts, even those who produced the extraordinary time of the Golden Age.

From CRB (February 1, 2017)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump Is Fighting, Not Running

Michael Moore And Donald Trump

Against All Odds

Mike Moore’s flabby mug always looks indecently exposed, like middle-aged female genitalia. The fat slob could lead the old hags’ march without the pink pussyhat. Just his own visage would suffice. He is actually similar to George Soros: the same obscene pussyface. For me, his appearance would doom him: like Oscar Wilde, I believe that ugly creatures are immoral as well. It’s enough to look at Madeleine Albright, another pussyface, for a proof. But if you need more, his Stupid White Men has been the most execrable book produced in the US in this century: there he claimed that were 9/11 passengers black, the hijack would never have succeeded. Now the Pussyface bared the hidden plans of Putin and called for enthroninge Clinton because Trump is a Russian spy. Years ago he spoke against the Iraq War; now he calls for the nuclear Armageddon. With such enemies, we should not give up on Trump.

Former Secretary Of State Madelyn Albright

George Soros

Trump is down, cry the fans and haters alike. He’s been defeated, broken, never to rise again. He is a lame duck soon to be impeached. He will crawl back to his golden lair leaving the White House to his betters, or even better, he will run to his pal Vlad Putin.

No, my friends and readers, Trump is fighting, not running, but things take time. It is not easy to change the paradigm, and the odds were heavily slanted against Trump from step one. Still, he got this far, and he will go on. Stubborn guy, and he perseveres. The corrupt judges chain his hands; the CIA and NSA reveal his moves to the NYT, CNN, NBC; but he stands up, ready to carry the fight to his – and American people’s – enemy, the hydra of so many triple-letter heads.

There are sprinters who want to see victory right away, and they despair at the first setback. A power-intoxicated judge opens America’s gates for the ISIS advance troops, voiding a very moderate and sensible executive order, and they wring their hands. Terrible, but what could Trump do? To do nothing because his order would be overturned? He had to try, so the people will see and judge the judges. Line the judges up against the (Mexican border) wall at sunrise? He can’t do it yet, though it would make sense.

Flynn had to leave, and they exclaim: all is lost. It would be bad indeed, if Trump were to take it lying down, but he did not. At a very public and well-covered press-conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Trump said: “Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media. It’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally — I stress that — illegally leaked. Very, very unfair.” These are fighting words, of a man who lost a battle, or a skirmish, but he still fights the war.

Perhaps it would be better to keep Flynn, but politics is an art of possible. Trump’s words of support for the dismissed general were already out of line.

Trump had met with Netanyahu, and the faint-of-heart bewailed the US President’s surrender to the nefarious lobby. The other way round. The ADL, the Jewish assault crew, attacked him for refusing to mouth their favourite word “antisemitism”, Haaretz declared “Yes, Trump is an antisemite”, the NY Times editorialised why he did not condemn the a-s word as demanded; Rabbis called his remarks “terrifying” and “anti-Zionist” for Trump refused to tromp the well-trodden impasse called “two-states solution”. By the way, Palestinians do support one-state-solution mentioned by Trump and do not believe in the mythic two-states-solution, the Middle-Eastern equivalent of squaring the circle. Trump deftly applied his weapon of choice, Bibi Netanyahu’s support; with this weapon a-blazing, Trump was able to beat off the bouts of a-s hunters without doing what they wanted.

It would be better to forget about Jews altogether, but it can’t be done while they own all the fake-news media and the hearts of ordinary Americans. Refusing to condemn a-s is as far as an American politician can walk without falling of the earth’s disc altogether.

After this explaining-away, let us admit that the first month of Trump’s first term was an uphill one. We hoped the defeated forces would be reasonable and allow the new president to implement his agenda, but they carried on their arrière-garde battle. His task is huge: Trump endeavours to bury globalising capitalism before it buries European and American workers. Without Trump, America and Europe would be invaded by millions made homeless by R2P wars. Without Trump, the American and European workers would work in hamburger joints, while the financiers would bloat off their blood and sweat. Such a U-turn couldn’t pass unopposed.

Look back at people who achieved radical changes of such magnitude. I will not mention names so you won’t be scared. None of them had a specially nice personality, but they had charisma, iron will, good memory, vision and perseverance; they were master tacticians, i.e. they felt when it was the right time to retreat and when to advance. Perhaps Trump has these qualities. But besides, they usually had a loyal and supportive party, or at least an army or secret services at their disposal. Trump has none.

These additional tools are necessary to overcome the undemocratic and unelected elements of the government. In the US, the judiciary and media, two “powers” out of four, are profoundly un- or even anti-democratic. The media is owned by the media lords, usually rich Jews, and it promotes their agenda. Judges are instinctively anti-democratic; they despise democracy and popular opinion.

The judiciary is also heavily Judaised: three out of nine (or four out of nine) Supreme Court judges are Jewish. President Obama had tried to install an additional Jewish judge, and pro-Jewish elements will fight to prevent a non-Jew “stealing” his place. There are so many Jewish lawyers and Jewish teachers of law that this puts its imprimatur upon the whole profession. No radical change can be entertained and implemented unless these powers are limited.

Trump has no loyal party, no reliable and loyal secret services. The US intel is against him, spies on him and delivers the goods to his political enemies. The Republican Party is suspicious of Trump. There are too many Republicans sharpening knives for his back, beginning with the old traitor, John McCain. Republican Senators and Representatives owe a huge debt to (a large extent Jewish) donors; they need the support of the media in order to get re-elected.

Trump should establish control over his party, by placing his loyalists and weeding out his adversaries in the party apparatus, in the Senate and Congress. I’d advise him to break, humiliate and unseat a prominent hostile Republican Senator, even if the seat would go to a Democrat. It is not an impossible task. This would instill some fear in the meek hearts.

Bringing the secret services under control is relatively easy: begin a witch-hunt after the traitors who leaked the contents of classified phone conversations to the media. This is high treason; a lot of people of dubious loyalty can be dismissed just in case of suspicion. A one-way ticket to Guantanamo will help to focus minds of potential traitors. They should be treated as harshly as poor Bradley Manning was. And anyway, the secret services are overblown; the US can’t support one million spies. Eighty per cent should go. They should enter the labour market and be useful. The remainder will be loyal.

The media can be subjugated by various means. Usually media holdings are not highly profitable and are susceptible to hostile takeovers; some holdings can be broken using anti-trust legislation. Hostile media lords can be brought to heel by checking their tax returns. In case of the NY Times, their system of multi-tier shares is plainly unjust and can be attacked by shareholders. The best and most radical measure would separate advertising and content by banning political content in ad-carrying publications, as I argued elsewhere, but it would need the approval of Congress.

The judges are human; hostile judges who think they are above the president and congress can be subjected to thorough inspection with some prejudice. Life tenure should be abolished in the courts and in the universities.

So the task of President Trump is formidable but not impossible. Cut the security services down to size of, say, British or French services (it is also a lot). Remember that after WWI, the US had no secret services at all, and prospered. Terrorise a media lord and a Republican senator. Discover the corruption of District judges. Open a can of worms in the Clinton Foundation. Try some neocons for lying to the Congress. Mend bridges with Bernie Sanders. Call your supporters to enlist in the Republican party and achieve your dominance in primaries. And yes, it will take time.

Now you understand why the pessimistic assessments of our colleagues Paul Craig Roberts and The Saker are at least premature. In the face of the ancient regime’s hostility, Trump will need at least six months merely to settle properly in the White House. Just for comparison: Putin had spent five years consolidating his power, and another five years solidifying it, though he had full support of Russian security services and a most authoritarian constitution written by the Americans for their stooge Mr Yeltsin.

President Putin remembers that it takes time. For this reason, he is not unduly upset by President Trump’s delay with normalising US-Russia relations. The fake news of Russian disenchantment with Trump are exactly that, fake news. Russians believe in positive developments for US-Russia relations, and they do not hold their breath.

But why I do believe that Trump will win, at the end? The US is not an island; it is a part of the West, and the West is going through a paradigm change. Cuntfaces lost, Deplorables won, and not as a fluke. Remember, Trump was not the first victory; the Brexit preceded him. Between the Brexit vote and the Trump election, the British government hesitated and postponed acting upon. The Brits weren’t sure whether that vote was a sign of change, or a fluke. After Trump’s victory, the Brits marched on.

The British judges – every bit as evil as the American ones – tried to stop Brexit by insisting that the case be sent to Parliament. They believed that the Parliament would throw the case out, and leave England in the EU, as their media demanded. But they were mistaken. Though the British public voted for Brexit 52:48, the British parliamentarians approved it 83:17. The Deplorables won hands down.

Now let us cross the English Channel. The French Establishment preferred François Fillon (centre-right, a moderate Republican, in American terms) to inherit the chair of pussyfaced President Hollande. His victory appeared assured. But as he readied himself for the move to the Palais de l’Élysée, an unpleasant fact has been revealed. This modest member of parliament misappropriated (stole, in plain English) a cool million dollars of French taxpayers’ best by claiming his wife worked as his parliamentary assistant.

Now nobody wants to touch him with a barge pole, and the chances of the Queen of Deplorables, Marine Le Pen winning the May elections in the first round became highly plausible. She will be opposed by a soft socialist Emmanuel Macron, and he is not very impressive. His rhetoric of calling her “bitter” and “enemy of liberte-egalite-fraternite” as she is not keen on Arab immigration, probably will fall on deaf ears. People are bitter, and they aren’t sure that more Arabs means more equality. So Marine may win, and France will become an ally of Trump’s America.

Fillon accused “shadowy” forces of seeking to crush him, and probably he is right. This revelation took air out of his sails, and it came in the right moment, just like in the case of DNC emails. In both cases, the crime, or at least dishonest dealing of the culprit was real, and he (or she) deserved defeat. In both cases, only a real powerful and “shadowy” force could make it stick. This is not Russia: Russia is not in this league yet. It is a “shadowy” Western force standing for nationalist capitalism, against globalist liberal “invade-invite” force. This force helped Trump reach White House, this force caused Brexit, this force removed Fillon from Le Pen’s way. It is probable Frau Merkel will lose the forthcoming elections, ruining Obama’s preposterous plan to install Germany as the liberal globalised world’s cornerstone.

The Masters of Discourse are being defeated in all the West. Temporary setbacks of Donald Trump can’t change this tendency. Nationalist productive capitalism is set to inherit from the financiers, the media lords, the minority promoters, the transgender toilets and women studies. The battle is not over yet, but meanwhile it seems the Deplorables are winning, and Pussyfaces are losing.

We do not know who stands for the Deplorables. When Brexit won, the Masters of Discourse said the pensioners, lumpens, chavs did it. But then, the Parliament approved it. Mme Clinton despised the deplorables, but now Trump sits in the White House. With France and Germany in the queue, a new force is coming to the fore. It is supported by native majorities. Who leads it from behind? Industrialists, people of spirit, or just the Spirit of Time, the Zeitgeist? Whatever it is, this force will help Trump, if he will persist.

From The Unz Review (February 20, 2017)