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The Gods Must Be Crazy

Song Suggestion: Disco Inferno, Trammps Drink Suggestion: Greek Revolution (ouzo, grenadine, galliano)

It’s been a cold February in Provence, damn cold. The famous fountains of Aix are dripping in icicles, school bus routes have been suspended, and if the mercury cracks above 273° kelvin it is for just a few blessed hours. What the hell is all this nonsense about a warming globe?

With the weather as inspiration I prepared a tartiflette for friends on Saturday evening. This casserole comes from the French Alps region and is in a word, hearty. Potatoes, onion, bacon and cheese are the foundation of a great winter meal no matter how they are combined or prepared. In a tartiflette recipe they are pure magic. Looking to stick some skin on your bones, you won’t go wrong with a tartiflette.

The marché crowd in Aix on Saturday morning was thin, no doubt intimidated by the weather. The merchants were using long plastic sheets to protect their fruits and vegetables from the chill. Many were in fingerless gloves and rocking on their heels to keep the blood flowing, but in good humor.  “C’est l’hiver, c’est normal!” (Google translator) was the prevailing attitude. I have a favorite fish guy at the market and for the first time this winter he admitted to cold fingers. Gutting, scaling, and rinsing slippery poisson in sub-freezing weather cannot be fun. He was smiling, but it looked like an effort.

It’s been a relief to feel the chill. I was starting to worry that Al Gore was on to something, with his fear-mongering about CO2 levels on the rise and melting ice shelves. But he’s gone underground now, Al and his gaggle of grant-seeking science conspirators. There’s been little noise about climate concerns over the past many months, not in the press (makes for boring copy), not from my brethren in the investment community (makes for poor returns), and not from the megaphone of presidential candidates, be they here in France or there in the US.

White House hopefuls are framing the national issues of relevance at the moment, with their state-to-state Republican pub crawl in full bloom. In the sacred well of righteous intentions – compassion, equality, and the right to self-determination – they have taken a death-defying, gloves-off, teeth-bared slither to the bottom. Truly stirring. I give the democrats fewer points for expressing callousness in prime time, but am impressed with their ability to avoid the gaze of Helios, Greek god of the sun (well technically he was a Titan, but let’s not split hairs here) and solder forward with more pressing concerns than saving the planet for all mankind. Oh, I almost forgot, that stuff about polar bear extinctions and Manhattan under water was all made up.

So what is going on here? Why all the fuss about climate change just a few short years ago (An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006), and now a sudden black hole in the national dialog? Perhaps we can blame it on the gods (yes, Santorum cowers to an inquisition-inspired deity, but I figure it’s safer to cover one’s bets through the Greek committee system; taking it way back here folks). On modern day Mount Olympus (not up on your Greek mythology? click here) Ares (Mars to the Romans) has controlled the floor since 9/11, sharing more recently with Hermes (god of commerce; love those fantastic winged sandals) and his take on the floundering economy. But Helios (great crown, no wings) and Artemis (goddess of nature with some wicked arrows; no crowns, no wings) have been shut out of the conversation, and why shouldn’t they be, when more urgent fears demand our gods’ attentions.

How urgent you ask? Well, over $3.5 trillion dollars urgent (a Brown University report actually puts the estimate at $3.7 trillion), invested wisely in Iraq and Afghanistan. And look at the hearts and minds we’ve gained in return. This is probably a tough pill for Hermes in particular to swallow. After all, a few trillion could have put a dent in the current housing crisis, which is definitely his domain. According to a recent Bloomberg article 35% of all US homes sold in January were under distressed conditions (at a price below the mortgage balance or in complete foreclosure). Consider that for a moment; over 1/3 of all homes sold. Do you think that a $30,000 check tax free to every American household (115 million at last count) may have saved a few struggling families from distress?  I imagine so, but priorities, priorities.

$3.5 trillion might have also done some good for the planet. But, why solve the riddle to a  cheaper solar panel, develop a killer battery for electric vehicles, or modernize America’s antiquated electric grid (a Sinatra era relic) when 225,000 deaths and 7.8 million refugees are attainable  (Brown University’s estimates of the human impact of the 2 wars). Helios and Atermis would surely pitch the benefits of competing with the Chinese in clean energy markets like solar (that will generate tens of millions of jobs for their citizens over next few decades) while helping the planet, but again, they don’t have the floor right now. The Chinese have missed the boat on this one big time, investing billions upon billions in new university programs (committing at least 1.5% of its GDP by this Yale University estimate) and core R&D to develop long-term domestic growth built on emerging industries, rather than shock-and-awe nation building in desert lands 7 thousand miles away. What in god’s name are they thinking?

Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence

For more on Al Gore’s recent activities visit:

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