Whether you believe in a God or not, it's safe to say you would agree that humanity has learned, however imperfectly, many lessons over the past several millennia, lessons entrusted to progeny through the oral and written history of our ancestors. Let us revisit several of the more painful ones...

Holocaust is a term of enormous gravity to a huge portion of the world. It should be so, for in reference to the slaying of six million Jews, there are few crimes against life that compare. There have been many conflicts among regimes in history where loss of life has been comparable or even larger in simple numbers, but very few such catastrophes can compare in depth of evil to the systematized and ruthlessly calculated machine of death constructed by Adolf Hitler, for no reason other than hatred.

Adolf Hitler and this top three henchmen, Himmler, Goering and Goebbles, were the architects of the atrocity of the Holocaust. It formally began on January 30, 1933 when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and continued over twelve years to May 8, 1945 -VE Day.


Rising from the ashes of the first world war and the Great Depression to be the Furher of Germany, this leader created a system of murder never before witnessed in the history of the world.

There have been numerous acts of inhumanity in the 20th Century, such as the massacre of one million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, the starvation of five million Ukrainians during Stalin's forced collectivization, the murder of 1.5 million Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge regime, and most recently the killing of one million Tutsi by the Hutu in Rwanda.

However, in no other case have the efficiencies of the modern industrial age been put to such diabolical use as in Germany under Hitler.

The systematic persecution of Jews and other undesirables started immediately upon the Nazi rise to power. The Nazis' ideology of racial purity and superiority coupled with their hatred and intolerance of 'others' spurned their actions forward. Initially, the Nazis merely excluded 'undesirables' from society and forcibly induced them to leave the country.

The war in Russia saw the formation of four SS units of 3,000 men each, expressly formed to kill Bolshevik sympathizers, but eventually turned into the field arm of the Nazi death machine. These mobile units were ultimately responsible for the death of over two million Jews and other 'undesirables'.

According to Stephen Ambrose, in New History of World War II,

"These groups were called Einsatzgruppen, and although 'Bolshevik leaders' were supposedly their major target, most of the victims were Jews. Other victims were 'Asiatic inferiors,' gypsies and 'useless eaters' such as mentally ill or terminally ill people. One Einsatzgruppen unit reportedly killed 6,400 Polish mentally-challenged patients.


According to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on War Crimes, altogether in the Soviet Union the SS killed two million men, women and children. Most were shot. Himmler, who had witnessed an execution, was upset at the sight of women and children being killed in this way, so he ordered another method: they were put in gas vans so constructed that at the start of the motor the exhaust was conducted into the van, causing death in ten to fifteen minutes.

Concerns over the effectiveness of the operation, field morale in both the civilian and military personnel, and in an attempt to keep this operation secret from both the Jewish population and the world led to the search for another solution. The Final Solution, Endlosung, was made effective at the Wansee Conference in 1942. The Final Solution was the brainchild of Reinhard Heydrich and executed with brutal efficiency by Adolf Eichmann. The Final Solution called for the extermination of all Jews and other 'undesirables' at six major death camps in Poland, Auschwitz -Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

Auschwitz -built originally as a POW camp in summer 1941 -was expanded into a labor and death camp. The brutal conditions at the camp ensured that precious few humans survived. Of the total of 16,000 Red Army prisoners sent to the camp only 96 survived. Of the 405,000 registered prisoners, as opposed to those were exterminated upon arrival, only 65,000 survived. In one brutally efficient two-month period in March 1944, of 350,000 Hungarian Jews sent to Auschwitz, 250,000 were gassed. Over the course of 1944, 10,000 Jewish lives were extinguished each day. In total, between two and four million Jews and another two million non-Jews had been gassed by the time the Red Army liberated the camp in late 1944.

"Trainloads of Jews in sealed boxcars, packed so tightly for so long without food or water -often for days -that the dead could not fall down, arrived regularly at the Auschwitz siding. Guards threw open the doors and began shouting at the Jews to get out and line up. They were marched to an SS doctor who made a visual scan and pointed either to the gas chamber or to the labor camps. Infants, young children, old people, pregnant women, the disabled, and the sick were sent to an immediate death; between 20 and 40 percent were sent to the labor camps where they remained until, too weak to work any longer, they too were sent to the chambers.

Just outside the gas chambers, the Jews were ordered to strip and told they were going to take showers, for delousing purposes. First they were shaved, and their hair saved for stuffing for mattresses and the like. They were herded into the chamber, which looked like a high school gym. Once they were packed in, the door was sealed shut and cyanide gas was pumped into the room through showerheads. After a minute or two of screaming that no one except the other victims heard, there was silence.


After clearing the gas from the room, inmates -often Poles and sometimes Jews, always under extreme duress -entered and pulled gold teeth, and tore open anuses and vaginas of the cadavers to probe for hidden jewelry. The task completed, the bodies were taken by handcart to the crematory furnaces.


The ashes of the dead went to farmers to enrich their soil."

Exact statistics for the actual total number of human beings exterminated in various programs during the war are difficult to arrive at, as the Nazis destroyed many records, or in other cases kept none at all. The numbers of dead among European Jewry can be traced to census records and Nazi official tallies presented during the Nuremberg trials.


In total 5,796,129 or 60% of the pre-war European Jewish population were killed during the Holocaust.

The American Holocaust

There are perhaps a few other holocausts in recent history which can compare in depth of evil, and they strike painfully close to home.

As a time and place of flowering for human civilization, Renaissance Europe began a period of ascendancy, which was to last well into the 20th century. The cultural and scientific rebirth, whose foremost catalysts included Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gutenberg, Galileo, and Copernicus, found a receptive home in the relative economic, political and religious stability of late mediaeval Europe.


This rebirth gave the Europeans the scientific and technical means to act on a strongly emerging economic motive, fueling the Age of Discovery. This cultural and intellectual rebirth also provided the philosophical and moral justification for horrendously evil actions, as newly acquired power often does.

With the power of weapons and global mapmaking, both cultured through mastery of the seas, late fifteenth century Europe chose to remap the globe. Europe launched a massive rape of the new world, when through the Pope's authority the newly discovered territories were divided between Spain and Portugal.


One Spanish historian wrote that what they sought was "To serve God and His Majesty, to give light to those who sat in darkness, and to grow rich as all men desire to do."

In 1501, the Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastides had reached the coast of South America, on orders from his king. Moving westward towards the snowcapped mountains soaring into the clouds, he met the Tairona, one of the most advanced of the Indian societies. The Tairona had transformed the slopes of their mountains establishing roads, structures, and irrigation systems of amazing complexity. Perhaps their most remarkable, or at least most remarked, quality, however, was their gold work, among the most beautiful produced in the Americas.


Trading posts quickly emerged, and in 1526 de Bastides founded Santa Marta, now a part of the modern nation of Colombia. Santa Marta soon became a center of trade.

For hundreds of years, as Europe's conquest of the last preserve of Eden swept across the continent, an uneasy truce, pregnant with anger and anguish, hung over the northern coast.


In the remarkable words of the very thoughtful ethnobotanist, Wade Davis, in his book One River:

"There was conflict and rebellion, and death by enslavement and disease, but the Spaniards made no systematic attempt to destroy the Tairona. Few in numbers, they were initially content to control the coast, trading fish and salt, axes and metal tools for gold. The Tairona valued peace even as they retreated further into the hinterland.

It was not until the end of the sixteenth century that the Spaniards launched a campaign of annihilation. Their excuse -and the Spanish, obsessed as they were with jurisprudence, always had an excuse -was completely bizarre. Hungry for gold, they were nevertheless scandalized by the phallic and sexual representations that formed a significant motif in Tairona ceramics and gold work.


The chronicler Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo described a gold piece weighing twenty pesos that depicted "one man mounted on another in that diabolical act of Sodom," a "jewel of the devil" that he righteously "smashed at the smeltering house at Darien."


Such graphic depictions of sodomy confirmed their deepest suspicions. It was known that Tairona men gathered regularly in large ceremonial temples, often for nocturnal rituals that lasted until dawn and excluded women. From experience the Spaniards recognized that when their own sailors and soldiers spent long hours together, it was only the restraint of Christian virtue that kept them from "unnatural acts." Since the Tairona were not Christian, it was obvious, at least to the Spanish, what the Indians had been up to at those nightly assemblies. When in 1599 Santa Marta's new governor, Juan Guiral Velon, undertook the final destruction of the Tairona, he did so charged with the certainty that all of his enemies were homosexual.

The subsequent struggle was as violent and brutal as any recorded in the Americas. Tairona priests were drawn and quartered, their severed heads displayed in iron cages. Prisoners were crucified or hung from metal hooks stuck through their ribs. Those who escaped and were recaptured had their Achilles tendons sliced or a leg cut off.


In Santa Marta, Indians absurdly accused of sodomy were disemboweled by fighting dogs in obscene public spectacles. Women were garroted, children branded and enslaved. Every village was destroyed, every field burned and sown with death. When the Spaniards took the Tairona settlement of Masinga, Velon ordered his troops to sever the noses, ears, and lips of every adult.

Marching inland, Velon attempted to vanquish an entire civilization. In the midst of the carnage, the Spaniards never forgot their ultimate mission. To ensure the legality of their deeds, before each military action Velon's captains read aloud in the presence of a notary public the famous Requirement, a standard legal document exhorting the heathen to accept the true faith.


Recited in Spanish without translation, it was but a prelude to slaughter.

"If you do not accept the faith," the text read, "or if you maliciously delay in doing so, I certify that with God's help I will advance powerfully against you and make war on you wherever and however I am able, and will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their majesties and take your women and children as slaves, and as such I will sell and dispose of them as their majesties may order, and I will take your possessions and do all the harm and damage that I can."

The Spaniards were true to their word. In the end the entire Tairona population was either dead or given over as slaves to the soldiers as payment for their services. Those Indians who survived were expected to pay the costs of their pacification. On pain of death they were prohibited from bearing arms or retiring into the Sierra Nevada.


But flee they did -a tragic diaspora that brought thousands into the high mountains, leaving behind a desolate, empty coast of ruined settlements, shattered temples, and fields overgrown with thorn scrub and ultimately redeemed by the forest."

Seven years before Rodrigo de Bastides found Santa Marta, Cortes had stood in awe of the beauty of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire.

That great city was twice the size of Spain's largest city.

At the same time, the children of Europe were raping North America too.

European exploration, colonization and settlement of North America forever altered the evolution of Native American civilizations. Rather than an equitable mingling of cultures and societies, Native American culture and society was largely displaced and destroyed by disease, war and migration. The Native American civilizations were simply not equipped to resist or even absorb the successive waves of migration.

This pattern has occurred many times through the millennia, anytime there has been a conflict between cultures over land, sustenance and wealth. However, never has the impact been so profound as to depopulate an entire continent of 90% of its population, with no hope of revival.

Exploration in the 16th century by the Spanish, French, English and Dutch introduced new elements to tribal societies. Disease, the horse and trade with the Europeans profoundly impacted Native American civilization across much of North America. The diseases introduced by the Europeans had the greatest immediate impact, decimating much of a native population which heretofore had never been exposed to them and consequently had no immunity.

This was especially evident in the civilizations along the Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio River valleys, which were almost completely depopulated due to the disease spread by DeSoto's expeditions. Indeed, it was disease that was the greatest European killer, wiping out virtually all of the populations of the Caribbean, Inca and Aztec Indian populations as well.

Horses, which were introduced to the American southwest by the Spanish, had a largely positive impact, forever changing the way of life of the plains Indians. With the horse, they became great nomadic hunters dependent upon the great bison herds of the Plains for their way of life.

Less arbitrary were the changes which came with the establishment of trading posts along the great river valleys and the settlements along the eastern seaboard. These settlements and trading relationships set the pattern for waves of displacement that were to characterize the interaction between natives and Europeans across the following four centuries.

European politics played a key role in the colonial expansion of the 17th and 18th centuries. The colonies were important contributors to European economies and were consequently involved in every major European war of the time. With the consolidation of power along the eastern seaboard, Indian populations began to realize that the territorial hunger of the Europeans would not be sated. Consequently, tribes were involved in many European conflicts, siding with one European nation against both European and Native enemies in a desperate fight to preserve their territory and way of life.

This was to be a losing battle.

The American Revolution would ultimately create a new chapter in this struggle as the young nation sought to control all the land in its domain. The young nation articulated a philosophy for what it saw was its divine right to consolidate its hold and to expand and settle westward into Native American land.

The attitude of European settlers in America is described by Reginald Horseman in Race and Manifest Destiny,

"...this inferior native population, as a result of amalgamation, and that great law of contact between a higher and a lower race, by which the latter gives way to the former, must be gradually supplanted, and its place occupied by this highest of races....(The United States) will occupy the entire extent of America, the rich and fertile plains of Asia, together with the intermediate isles of the sea, in fulfillment of the great purpose of heaven, of the ultimate enlightenment of the whole earth, and the gradual elevation of man to the dignity and glory of the promised millennial day."

The "Trail of Tears" episode perhaps best exemplifies the government-sanctioned effort to displace the native population in favor of American settlers. Over 15,000 Cherokees were forced to migrate to the Indian territories in Oklahoma. Of those a little over 2/3 survived the journey. With the expansion westward into river valley's and ultimately into the Plains, the struggle continued. Numerous wars were fought, and treaties broken as the natives sought to halt the migration westward and preserve their way of life, but to no avail.

The notion that the natives were inferior justified the settlers rights to take and settle the land with little regard for the Native American lives.

With each lost battle and with each treaty, the majestic and humble Native American way of life was further demeaned through the 20th century, as Native Americans were reduced to living on government-policed reservations. Thus, Manifest Destiny for the Native American population proved to be a destiny of enslavement, poverty, death and cultural extermination.

By 1900, the taking of the bulk of the American continents would be complete.

A Century of Total War

As war was coming to a close in America, the originating militaristic tendencies, honed through centuries of conquest, continued in the hearts of European nations. The mentality of empire building was confronted with the constraints of Earthís surface area. As one might with hindsight expect, the culture of imperial war turned inward on itself, with the unfortunate, unplanned, and totally groundless entrance into the First World War.


A system of total war, driven by technology that made it possible, occurred as Europe fought two civil wars in the same century which came to involve the entire world. It would not end until November 1989.

Within the 20th century, legal restraints to prevent war, or failing that, to make its effects less savage and all-pervasive, were obliterated: institutions for the peaceful resolution of disputes were ignored or destroyed; limitations upon armaments, distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, civilians and soldiers, neutral nations and belligerents, laws of engagement designed to limit war to a discernable, finite "battlefield," all were lost.

To a limited degree, some of these elements began as sinister portents of the fate of the next century in Americaís Civil War. The power of defensive positions with increasingly accurate rifles became apparent. A war of attrition appeared, where economic resources became irresistible factors in determining success, whatever the individual valor and the quality of generalship on the weaker side.

Hence, making war on an entire society, including the civilian economic and social infrastructure of the opponent, seemed necessary. Shermanís "March to the Sea", cutting a miles-wide swath of civilian destruction through the heart of Confederacy, was a mild harbinger of the horror of the next century.

The First World War was an accidental war, a war none of the major powers wanted, but each feared. Acting on those fears, responding to stereotypes of the other that they themselves had largely created, then seemingly frightened by their own projection, each side acted upon their own self-fulfilling fearful prophecies about the other. Political and military leadership among the participants never reached the high point of mediocrity. Unlike the wars before and after, territorial aggrandizement didnít seem to be a major declared factor. Neither faction was economically advantaged.


England and Germany, each otherís major trading partner, linked historically by history, language, and by monarchial intermarriage, lurched into war driven by their own fears, a naval arms race, and finally, an alliance system which invited pugnacious smaller states to involve the major states in a war which could never result in anything but catastrophe.

A contemporary English writer noted that, "the lights are going out all over Europe, and they will not come on again in our time." In fact, the lights never came on upon the society that entered the war. The major imperial systems of governments that plundered the Americas fell. The genocidal slaughter suffered by Russia and the chaos that followed birthed the Bolshevik Revolution. The economies and the societies of all the major participants were catastrophically damaged. With the advent of trench warfare and machine guns, battles occurred resulting in mass slaughter never before seen. Each state was exhausted.


After a brief respite, the world plunged into a deep depression; Germany into both depression and the greatest inflation the modern world has ever seen. The war-guilt clause of the Versailles Treaty was the final element necessary for a mad genius of manipulation to come to power in a Germany roiling in tumult which never came to rest since the advent of the First World War.

Unlike the First World War, the Second World War was a war of naked aggression where something much closer to battles between good and evil actually occurred. Nevertheless, the seeds of the Second World War were clearly planted in the first great struggle, rendering almost inevitable a re-engagement of most of the same powers in another war more terrible than the first.

Now, tanks and massed mobile artillery would allow for an extended front to sweep back and forth throughout Europe, devastating huge areas of the continent, sometimes several times. Civilian casualties for the first time exceeded military losses. The greatest crime and sin of the twentieth century occurred in this context, the holocaust: Hitlerís nearly successful effort to exterminate European Jewry.


Mass bombing of civilian centers of population occurred by day and night. Fifty million people died, and Russia, where the ultimately critical battles of the Second World War were fought, again in the same century lost 10% of her population. With awesome portent for any later world war, the Second World War ended with the advent of the nuclear age and the use of the only nuclear weapons ever employed in war, dropped by the United States upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A Cold War commenced as unlikely allies, forced together by the threat of Hitlerís Germany, broke apart under the fears and the naked extensions of power by the former allies against each other. Soviet Russia, a creature of World War I, attempted to secure Eastern European border states as satellites and allies to buffer them against yet a third assault on the motherland in the same century from Germany.


The United States and its European allies saw this extension of brutal totalitarian dictatorship as an atrocity in itself, and, more threatening, a portent of an intention to extend Soviet power throughout Europe.

The natural assumption of "a state of war" is that it is a highly unnatural condition resulting from desperate and unique conditions necessitating the resort to violence, normally to be avoided. The natural condition is that of peace. Now, war became the "natural condition". Whole generations of people never really knew a condition of peace. The Cold War introduced war of the mind: the definition of our national interest and identity negatively determined by the existence of the enemy. We entered an age of perpetual war of the mind.


Our advantage, our well-being, was defined as that which threatened or made more precarious the well-being of our enemy.


Where previously, peace was the norm, highly valued, sought and protected; now, war was the norm, manifest always in the mind, and frequently in hot wars between surrogates of the two super powers, punctuated by covert and overt actions of sabotage, espionage, assassination of political and military leadership of the enemy, and covert undermining of governments thought to be sympathetic with the enemy, even though legally and diplomatically a condition of peace and diplomatic relations and recognition existed between the superpower and the target state.

In Asia, the Chinese civil war, interrupted by Japanese attacks on Manchuria and then throughout China, resumed with the triumph of Chinese Communism. The Cold War was born, now fully worldwide, including both Asia and Europe. This war was punctuated by dozens of hot wars. Some of these were resumptions of wars of national liberation against colonial governments, the result of the reimposition after World War II of the last vestiges of European colonialism and imperial power.


Other wars, most prominently Vietnam, were clearly fought between surrogates or proxies of the two superpowers which emerged from a Europe in which the other states of Europe, previously the worldís most powerful, were now exhausted shells of their former selves, at least until a later economic recovery. The existence of nuclear, and then thermonuclear weapons, served at once as deterrents to full-scale global war, and as potential instruments of global destruction if ever, by accident, miscalculation, or design, they should be used.

A numerical nuclear arms race between the superpowers commenced. This was joined by a technological arms race which always threatened to allow one or the other superpower somehow to leap beyond the opponent and tempt one or the other to accept the suicidal proposition that such advantage might allow one side actually to fight and "win" a nuclear war.


Finally, a horizontal nuclear arms race began among the previously non-nuclear states, extending outward the number of nuclear states able to trigger a nuclear conflagration.

Finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union under the weight of its own monstrous bureaucratic and totalitarian structure allowed respite. With the decision in November 1989 of President Gorbachev not to intervene in genuine national uprisings in Eastern Europe, as his predecessors had done so brutally decades before in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the Soviet empire crumbled in all of Eastern Europe; the Berlin wall fell; and the contagion of freedom swept through the Soviet Union, ending the last great imperial system to survive World War I. The century of total war was at its end.

Once started, each of these wars had to be fought. The best human decision-makers could not reasonably control the past, given their knowledge. The momentum of hatred founded in utter lie had been energized and would run its genetic course. The roots of 20th century military conflict stemming from politically-based ideological hatred were sown in war guilt and wallowed in the pain of an economic depression.

The Century of Total War cost uncountable hundreds of millions of lives and resulted in the political, military, and industrial superstructure to facilitate wars over ideology.


This superstructure now begs to be dismantled and its energies and funding redirected into defensive functions and peace-keeping operations.

The Nature of Human War

Throughout recorded history, wars have been given intellectual justification in the creation of a myth of inherent distinction of rights to freedom among groups of intelligent beings. We have fought wars because we could not communicate with the "enemy". We have fought wars over the color of skin. We have fought wars over cultural rituals. We have fought wars over political structures.


We've fought wars over rivers, islands, mines, oil, water, and seas. We have fought wars over economics. And we have fought wars for no identifiable reason at all other than vague fear.

But the most common ideology employed to justify war is the precisely the one least able to do so: faith. We have fought wars over every religious difference imaginable, and yet a rational mind strains to find scriptural basis for any religion's God declaring an offensive war-making intent, however confidently invoked by "inspired" leaders. It is in mis-interpretations of religious teachings on every nation's part that humanity has killed the most combatants and civilians alike. Had there been integrity to the history of core spiritual teachings rather than interpretive dogma, no wars would ever have been fought.

But, perhaps only the fighting of these frightening wars, and the cumulative personal experiences of great loss, can now equip humanity with the ability to see the ugly truth of this.

When we do one day discover or receive the means to voyage to other worlds across the heavens, to touch other verdant continents and valleys and oceans, will we not engage and enforce the most solemn "prime directive" to intelligently interact with a foreign biosphere? We in the United States of America must remember that it was our ancestors who came from Europe to plunder the Americas.


The lessons of what happened must never be forgotten.

An End to Slavery?

If holocaust and war are the relatively loud and declared crimes of humanity, then humanity's most heinous silent cultural choice has been the toleration of enslavement. Both science and religion have taught us nothing if not this fact.

When Western humans think of slavery, they often envision slavery involving blacks and native peoples in the Americas between the latter part of the 15th century during early European colonization, up to the late 19th century and the end of the US Civil War. Slavery was hardly unique to the United States, the New World, or what is considered western civilization and culture. Nor was it restricted to this time period.

It is likely that indentured servitude has been a part of world society as long as war and trade have existed between differing peoples. It is well known that the ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs practiced some form of slavery. The indigenous peoples of the Americas and the coastal regions of West Africa practiced slavery as well.


These practices were supported worldwide for centuries, the last governments officially abandoning slavery as recently as 1962.

The definition of slavery varies with culture and time period. These differences have made cross-cultural and temporal studies of slavery difficult. Nevertheless, there are attributes common to all slave-owning cultures and to all definitions of slavery.

One common point of view in slave societies is that ownership of one person by another is perfectly right and natural. Another is that a slave is something less than human, a chattel similar to a farm animal or pet, to be used and disposed of as needed. Western civilization best exemplifies this. Ownership of human chattel was a central characteristic of the slave societyís socio-economic way of life and cultural development. It is remarkable that an institution that existed for thousands of years should in little more than a century be abolished and considered wrong in the eyes of God and the laws of man.


This is a profound change, which gives hope for our continued social evolution.

The first known western slave society was the Hellenic culture of Athens in during the 6th through 3rd century BCE . In the earliest times period, the slave population was composed of prisoners taken in battle, criminals, Athenians (often children) bartered for debt, abandoned children.

Kidnapping, especially of women, was common. Only the poorest and most wretched of Athenians were without slaves. Slaves performed a variety of tasks. On the estates of the wealthy, they were household servants; farmers, estate managers, and tutors. House servants were typically all under the direction of the woman of the house, the wife or eldest daughter of the owner. Some of these houses had as many as 10-20 slaves.

Slaves were the artisans and craftsmen of Athens. They also served many bureaucratic functions such as scribes, clerks and accountants. At one time slaves administered the police and treasury. Some estimates suggest that slaves accounted for close to one third of the Athenian population.

In 570 BC. the leader Solon, faced with a crisis in the Athenian economy, instituted laws that cancelled debts of the enslaved and repealed the laws allowing debtors and their families to be sold into slavery. From this point on, Athenians relied on non-Greeks for slaves, importing them from around the Aegean through regular trade. During their brief period of imperialism the Athenians used more direct methods. In 416 BC, an expedition landed on Melos, a neutral Aegean and sacked it, executing all men of military age and selling the women into slavery.


As justification, they said:

"We believe that Heaven, and we know that men, by a natural law, always rule where they are stronger. We did not make that law nor were we the first to act on it; we found it existing and it will exist forever, after we are gone; and now we know that you and anyone else as strong as we are would do as we do."

--Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War 5.105

The life of a slave was not easy. While there were laws that protected slaves against the vilest abuses, slaves were not considered citizens. Non-Greek slaves were barely considered human, though there was the notion that they might be raised from their baseness. Their masters chose their names. Slaves were not allowed to marry, although they developed a pseudo-marriage known as countubernium that had no legal status.

Children born of female slaves were automatically slaves. It was not unusual for criminals, the mentally disturbed, and slaves who have fallen out of favor with their masters to be selected to crew ships or work mines. This was hazardous work and often ended in the death of the slave.

In contrast to how they were treated under Athenian law, slaves were a principal source of the prosperity of Athens. This provided leisure time for the aristocrats to develop what we now call ďthe roots of Western civilizationĒ. Athenian imperial power would be broken at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 371 BC. Their social system would continue for another forty years, until conquest by Phillip of Macedonia at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 put an end to their way of life.

The Roman civilization between about the 2nd century BC and the 4th century AD would be the next western culture to develop a slave society.

Early Rome was little more than a collection of farmers, craftsmen and laborers which developed into a loose knit society. The conflict with Carthage and the result of the Punic and Greek wars would change all that. By the end of 202 BC, Carthage was beaten, with all its territories from North Africa to Spain subjugated and turned into Roman Provinces.

The Greeks, who had aligned themselves with Carthage while Hannibal laid waste to much of Italy, were subjugated and enslaved. When Carthage later defied Romeís order to move its inhabitants inland, the entire city was put to the sword. The city was leveled, and surrounding lands salted to insure that Carthage would never rise again. The few that were spared were ushered off in chains. Rome had gained an accidental empire.

With much of the farms and towns outside the Rome destroyed. Many once-able farmers and artisans found themselves without work, and no way to support themselves. But most of the citizens who had stayed within the walls of Rome were vastly unaffected and saw the destruction as an economic opportunity. Merchants and aristocrats quickly bought up the land that had been ravaged. In the conquered lands, the military and their sponsors did the same. They had no way of working the vast acreage themselves. They wouldnít have to. There were many able hands available.

There were a number of ways people became slaves. Thieves, debtors, murderers and those who avoided military service would end up as slaves. If a childís mother was a slave, then the child was a slave as well. Anyone captured and taken prisoner by a hostile people, regardless of citizenship, would become a slave.

Piracy, kidnapping and the selling of newborns were also common, though the latter died out in the later Republic as the number of foreign slaves increased. Like Athens, Romans preferred to use foreign slaves when they were available. People who were far from home, with no family, a different look and languages stood out and were easier to capture if they escaped. It is a pattern that would be repeated in the Americas.

The hardest labors were in the mines, as naval oarsmen and in rural field labor. Most of this grueling work was done in chains and perceived slackers were quickly beaten or killed outright. Slaves also served as servants, cooks, musicians and artisans. Dozens would be maintained to run the households of the aristocracy. In the cities, public slaves were hired as bureaucrats and functionaries, tending to the needs of running the city.

As the empire developed, more and more of the population were considered slaves. By the 1st century, it is estimated that a third of the population of Rome were slaves. The ratio in the large estates was even larger, sometimes ranging between five or ten slaves to each free person.

Romans developed an early fear that their slaves were going to revolt and slaughter their masters, due to growing numbers and their masters' brutal treatment. Thus, any hint of uprising would be dealt with swiftly and brutally. When the Spartacus rebellion was crushed in 71 BCE, over 6,000 slaves were crucified and placed along the Appian Way as a reminder of what awaited the rebellious slave.

No act was too small to take notice. In 61 BCE Pedanius Secundus was killed by one of his slaves. As a result, all 400 of his slaves were put to death in order to frighten others from following the example.

In the later years, as the empire began to collapse, external slaves became harder to come by. Roman slave society ended as the slaves were legally converted into coloni, or serfs who were tied to the land. This system would last in the West until the end of the middle ages.

But the best known and documented of slave societies were those of the so-called New World. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese and Spanish were moving into the Americas and establishing their colonies. Their initial quests were to become rich mining gold and silver, but following 1645, the explosive demand for sugar shifted their focus to growing sugar cane. The work was highly demanding and required extreme amounts of labor. European diseases were ravaging the native populations and the harsh climate took its toll on Europeans colonists.

The Europeans found the perfect solution: African slaves. During the years between 1500 and 1867 when the slave trade was abolished, it is estimated that 9-10 million African slaves were shipped to the Americas. At least another 2-3 million did not survive enslavement.

About 41% went to Brazil, 47% to the Spanish Americas, British and French Caribbean, 5% to the Dutch, Swedish and Danish colonies and 7% for what eventually became the United States.

About 2/3 of all slaves shipped over ended up in sugar colonies. At their time, sugar plantations were considered among the worldís most profitable enterprises with returns ranging from about 10 to 20%.

At first, transport of slaves to the New World was primarily a Portuguese enterprise. They had mapped a significant part of the African coast as early as the mid 15th century in their search for gold and a route to the orient. They soon found that slaves were a much more valuable commodity. At first they raided the African coastlines for slaves, but it became clear they could do much better by trading with the coastal tribes.

In 1445, they established their first base. Slaves were captured inland by Africans and brought to the coast for sale. This usually consisted mostly of males, the females and young often being kept for lineage incorporation. The slaves were exchanged for weapons and exotic goods, the former of which gave the native slavers significant advantage over their rivals.

Over the years, a vast and complex slave network developed to feed the demands for labor, depopulating whole regions of Africa and decimating entire tribes. The slaves were examined, shackled, and shipped off for work in the New World. The system developed by the Portuguese would serve the Dutch, Spanish and English just as well. To the slavers, their goods were just a different type of cargo, similar to cattle, hogs or any other economic livestock.

In most of the New World, the Africans grew to vastly outnumber the Europeans. On some of the Caribbean islands, the number of slaves ranged from more than a third in Cuba to some 90 percent in Jamaica, Antigua and Grenada. In 1800, almost half the population of Brazil was slaves, though that number decreased rapidly with the end of the slave trade and a program of free immigration by the government to draw in more Europeans. Of all the proto-American slave societies, only that of the southern United States had a population where the numbers of whites was initially similar to blacks.

While slaves were first brought to Virginia in 1619, the English mostly relied on indentured servants rather than slaves. Tobacco was initially the profitable crop of the south, and did not lend itself well to the work-gang methodology used around the Caribbean. The number of slaves an owner had was usually small, rarely more than a handful, except on the largest plantations.

Women were bought as domestics and nannies while men more commonly worked the fields. All that would change in the latter half of the 18th century. The opening for settlement of the New Southern States of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana made huge areas of land available for cultivation, bringing with it a huge need for labor. In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which would revolutionize the processing of cotton for use in textiles, increasing the demand (and profits) in cotton ten fold over night.

Planting and cultivation of cotton did indeed lend itself to the gang methodology. Hence, the pattern that developed the huge sugar cane plantations of the New World would be played out again in the New South, but this time with cotton. By 1850, nearly two thirds of the slaves on plantations were engaged in the production of cotton.

An advantage of cotton was that it could be grown profitably on less land, and required fewer skilled laborers and artisans for processing. The labor was less rigorous, some of which could be easily performed by men as well as women. The ratio of men to women was closer in the United States, more like 3-2 versus anywhere from 8 or 20 to one in other parts of the new world, which helped create a boom in slave population.

By 1825, it is estimated that the southern United States accounted for more than 35% of all the slaves in the New World, the majority of whom were at least second generation slaves. The profits from the sale and maintenance of slaves coupled with proceeds from textiles were one of the most profitable enterprises of the day.

It wasnít until the beginning of the 18th century that the emerging social, religious and political systems would call the legitimacy of slavery into question. While most Western Europeans considered the notion of enslaving other Europeans barbaric, this notion only covered people who shared the religions and culture of Europe.

Indians, Africans, Asians, and other supposed cultural inferiors were excluded. Some thinkers in Scotland, France, England and America voiced strong misgivings about the handling of Africans, but their objections were noise in a hurricane.


A few looked beyond simply the slave issue at the impact the institution had on the social system.

ďThe whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see thisÖand thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious pecularities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances.Ē
--Thomas Jefferson

History and precedent were on the side of the slavers, and opportunity itself can be a harsh mistress. But things were beginning to change. Some began to open themselves to listening to others and hearing about alternative perspectives.


What was it like to be a slave? How did the slaves see life?


Fredrick Douglass made it perfectly clear that what American Blacks saw was considerably different than what most saw in this land of opportunity.

ďWhat to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.Ē
--Frederick Douglass

July 4, 1852

What is amazing is that in the span of just over a century, the unassailable institution of slavery which was accepted without question would be outlawed in the entire western world.

The Society of Friends (Quakers) in both England and Pennsylvania were some of the first to take action against slavery of any kind. In 1774 they voted for expulsion of any member participating in the slave trade and in 1776, required any members holding slaves to emancipate them or be expelled. Pennsylvania adopted a gradual emancipation program in 1780 to free all children of slaves born after 1780. Rhode Island and Connecticut followed suit three years later and this trend was more or less adopted by most of the northern states.

In 1787, formation in England of the ďSociety for the Abolition of the Slave TradeĒ, a non-sectarian organization originally made up most of the Quakers. They started by circulating pamphlets and preaching. Their influence grew first with the masses and then with parties in Parliament that eventually lead to the passage of the 1807 Act to abolish the slave trade.

The United States followed suit. Sweden and Holland agreed to abolish the trade in 1813 & 1814 respectively. France and Spain paid lip service to the agreement while, with Portugal, they continued the trade in earnest. Britainís naval muscle was unchallenged, and they took it upon themselves to press agreements with other countries for them to patrol the West Coast of Africa.

In 1841 the Quintuple Treaty is signed under which England, France, Russia, Prussia and Austria agree to mutual search of vessels on the high seas to suppress the slave trade. Ships caught trafficking in slaves would be confiscated, their crews and owners tried according to the laws of their nation.

Between 1820 and 1870, the British captured some 1600 slave ships. The British presence increased the price and risk of acquiring slaves from Africa. Brazil, one of the largest importers of African slaves acquiesced in 1851. Cuba was the last of the New World to give in, yet in 1867, they too folded. The Atlantic Slave trade was over.

With the exception of the Southern United States, where the slave trade had ended, the end of slavery soon followed. By 1830, more than a third of the blacks in the New World were free. In the Spanish and French-founded country, only 25% were still slaves. Slavery was abolished in the old Spanish Americas between 1824-1850), all British colonies in 1838, French and Danish Colonies in 1848, Dutch colonies by 1863 and the United States in 1865. Brazil, one of the first countries to begin the slave trade, was the last to abolish it in 1888.

The legalized dealing in human flesh was finished.

So in little more than a century, societies round the world have taken significant steps in ending an institution that has been with us for as long as weíve considered ourselves civilized.

This is not meant to imply that holding other humans as chattel has by any means vanished in the world. Slavery is still practiced, albeit more discretely, in remote corners of the world. Many cultures still consider women and children little more than property, subject to the will of their husbands, fathers or male siblings. Race, sex religion and ethnicity are still excuses for hate, violence and conflict.

And the world's economy is now dangerously close to enslavement by yet a different human classification system -the zeros and ones stored as magnetized bits on a hard disk computer holding our bank account balances.

The important lesson taken from our progress with slavery is this: we as a world society have the ability to change and grow. We can move and grow toward tolerance of others if we choose. Weíve developed missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Scientists have developed specialized biological and chemical weapons capable of decimating populations. The disenfranchised will eventually have access to sources of retribution like theyíve never had before.

Wisdom would suggest that we find solutions for living together and soon.

Endangered Technology

"The conveniences and comforts of humanity in general will be linked up by one mechanism, which will produce comforts and conveniences beyond human imagination. But the smallest mistake will bring the whole mechanism to a certain collapse. In this way the end of the world will be brought about."
--Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan

1922 (Sufi Prophet)

"Y2K" has become an increasingly frequent placeholder in the headlines of the world, in reference to the forthcoming challenge we face looming throughout the information systems that run modern lives at the year 2000. The opinions on the seriousness of the crisis run the gamut from "smoke in the theater" overblown way out of proportion, to the end of civilization as we know it.

One of the brightest futurists I have come across is a man by the name of John Petersen, President of the Arlington Institute. An expert in the emerging discipline of scenario planning, Mr. Petersen has written extensively on Y2K. Early last year, he wrote a seminal article that can be credited for raising the consciousness of tens of thousands of people, helping to motivate action to prevent crisis and deal effectively with whatever the severity of circumstance that may present itself.

Some excerpts follow from his article on the Year 2000 crises...

"The millennial sun will first rise over human civilization in the independent republic of Kiribati, a group of some thirty low lying coral islands in the Pacific Ocean that straddle the equator and the International Date Line, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. This long awaited sunrise marks the dawn of the year 2000, and quite possibly, the onset of unheralded disruptions in life as we know it in many parts of the globe. Kiribatiís 81,000 Micronesians may observe nothing different about this dawn; they only received TV in 1989.

However, for those who live in a world that relies on satellites, air, rail and ground transportation, manufacturing plants, electricity, heat, telephones, or TV, when the calendar clicks from í99 to í00, we will experience a true millennial shift. As the sun moves westward on January 1, 2000, as the date shifts silently within millions of computerized systems, we will begin to experience our computer-dependent world in an entirely new way. We will finally see the extent of the networked and interdependent processes we have created.

At the stroke of midnight, the new millennium heralds the greatest challenge to modern society that we have yet to face as a planetary community. Whether we experience this as chaos or social transformation will be influenced by what we do immediately.

We are describing the year 2000 problem, known as Y2K (K signifying 1000.) Nicknamed at first "The Millennial Bug," increasing sensitivity to the magnitude of the impending crisis has escalated it to "The Millennial Bomb." The problem begins as a simple technical error. Large mainframe computers more than ten years old were not programmed to handle a four digit year. Sitting here now, on the threshold of the year 2000, it seems incomprehensible that computer programmers and microchip designers didn't plan for it.

But when these billions of lines of computer code were being written, computer memory was very expensive. Remember when a computer only had 16 kilobytes of RAM?


To save storage space, most programmers allocated only two digits to a year. 1993 is Ď93í in data files, 1917 is í17.í These two-digit dates exist on millions of files used as input to millions of applications. (The era in which this code was written was described by one programming veteran as "the Wild West." Programmers did whatever was required to get a product up and working; no one even thought about standards.)

The same thing happened in the production of microchips as recently as three years ago. Microprocessors and other integrated circuits are often just sophisticated calculators that count and do math. They count many things: fractions of seconds, days, inches, pounds, degrees, lumens, etc. Many chips that had a time function designed into them were only structured for this century.


And when the date goes from '99 to '00 both they and the legacy software that has not been fixed will think it is still the 20th century --not 2000, but 1900.

Peter de Jager, who has been actively studying the problem and its implications since 1991, explains the computer math calculation:

"I was born in 1955. If I ask the computer to calculate how old I am today, it subtracts 55 from 98 and announces that Iím 43. . . But what happens in the year 2000? The computer will subtract 55 from 00 and will state that I am minus 55 years old.


This error will affect any calculation that produces or uses time spans. . . . If you want to sort by date (e.g., 1965, 1905, 1966), the resulting sequence would be 1905, 1965, 1966. However, if you add in a date record such as 2015, the computer, which reads only the last two digits of the date, sees 05, 15, 65, 66 and sorts them incorrectly. These are just two types of calculations that are going to produce garbage."

The calculation problem explains why the computer system at Marks & Spencer department store in London recently destroyed tons of food during the process of doing a long term forecast. The computer read 2002 as 1902. Instead of four more years of shelf life, the computer calculated that this food was ninety-six years old. It ordered it thrown out. A similar problem happened recently in the U.S. at the warehouse of a freeze-dried food manufacturer.

But Y2K is not about wasting good food. Date calculations affect millions more systems than those that deal with inventories, interest rates, or insurance policies. Every major aspect of our modern infrastructure has systems and equipment that rely on such calculations to perform their functions. We are dependent on computerized systems that contain date functions to effectively manage defense, transportation, power generation, manufacturing, telecommunications, finance, government, education, healthcare.

The list is longer, but the picture is clear. We have created a world whose efficient functioning in all but the poorest and remotest areas is dependent on computers. It doesnít matter whether you personally use a computer, or that most people around the world donít even have telephones. The worldís economic and political infrastructures rely on computers. And not isolated computers.


We have created dense networks of reliance around the globe. We are networked together for economic and political purposes. Whatever happens in one part of the network has an impact on other parts of the network. We have created not only a computer-dependent society, but an interdependent planet.

We already have frequent experiences with how fragile these systems are, and how failure cascades through a networked system. While each of these systems relies on millions of lines of code that detail the required processing, they handle their routines in serial fashion. Any next step depends on the preceding step. This serial nature makes systems, no matter their size, vulnerable to even the slightest problem anywhere in the system. In 1990, ATTís long distance system experienced repeated failures. At that time, it took two million lines of computer code to keep the system operational. But just three lines of faulty code brought down these millions of lines of code.

And these systems are lean; redundancies are eliminated in the name of efficiency. This leanness also makes the system highly vulnerable. In May of this year, 90% of all pagers in the U.S. crashed for a day or longer because of the failure of one satellite. Late in 1997, the Internet could not deliver email to the appropriate addresses because bad information from their one and only central source corrupted their servers.

Compounding the fragility of these systems is the fact that we canít see the extent of our interconnectedness. The networks that make modern life possible are masked by the technology. We only see the interdependencies when the relationships are disrupted --when a problem develops elsewhere and we notice that we too are having problems. When Asian markets failed last year, most U.S. businesses denied it would have much of an impact on our economy. Only recently have we felt the extent to which Asian economic woes affect us directly. Failure in one part of a system always exposes the levels of interconnectedness that otherwise go unnoticedówe suddenly see how our fates are linked together. We see how much we are participating with one another, sustaining one another.

Modern business is completely reliant on networks. Companies have vendors, suppliers, customers, outsourcers (all, of course, managed by computerized data bases.) For Y2K, these highly networked ways of doing business create a terrifying scenario. The networks mean that no one system can protect itself from Y2K failures by just attending to its own internal systems.


General Motors, which has been working with extraordinary focus and diligence to bring their manufacturing plants up to Year 2000 compliance, (based on their assessment that they were facing catastrophe,) has 100,000 suppliers worldwide. Bringing their internal systems into compliance seems nearly impossible, but what then do they do with all those vendors who supply parts? GM experiences production stoppages whenever one key supplier goes on strike. What is the potential number of delays and shutdowns possible among 100,000 suppliers?

The nature of systems and our history with them paints a chilling picture of the Year 2000. We do not know the extent of the failures, or how they will effect us. But we do know with great certainty that as computers around the globe respond or fail when their calendars record 2000, we will see clearly the extent of our interdependence. We will see the ways in which we have woven the modern world together through our technology.

Until quite recently, itís been difficult to interest most people in the Year 2000 problem. Those who are publicizing the problem (the World Wide Web is the source of the most extensive information on Y2K,) exclaim about the general lack of awareness, or even the deliberate blindness that greets them. In our own investigation among many varieties of organizations and citizens, weíve noted two general categories of response.

In the first category, people acknowledge the problem but view it as restricted to a small number of businesses, or a limited number of consequences. People believe that Y2K affects only a few industriesó primarily finance and insuranceóseemingly because they deal with dates on policies and accounts.


Others note that their organization is affected by Y2K, but still view it as a well-circumscribed issue that is being addressed by their information technology department. Whatís common to these comments is that people hold Y2K as a narrowly-focused, bounded problem. They seem oblivious to the networks in which they participate, or to the systems and interconnections of modern life.

The second category of reactions reveals the great collective faith in technology and science. People describe Y2K as a technical problem and then enthusiastically state that human ingenuity and genius always finds a way to solve these type of problems. Ecologist David Orr has noted that one of the fundamental beliefs of our time is that technology can be trusted to solve any problem it creates. If a software engineer goes on TV claiming to have created a program that can correct all systems, he is believed.


After all, heís just what weíve been expecting.

And then there is the uniqueness of the Year 2000 problem. At no other time in history have we been forced to deal with a deadline that is absolutely non-negotiable. In the past, we could always hope for a last minute deal, or rely on round-the-clock bargaining, or pray for an eleventh hour savior. We have never had to stare into the future knowing the precise date when the crisis would materialize. In a bizarre fashion, the inevitability of this confrontation seems to add to peopleís denial of it. They know the date when the extent of the problem will surface, and choose not to worry about it until then.

However, this denial is quickly dissipating. Information on Y2K is expanding exponentially, matched by escalation in adjectives used to describe it. More public figures are speaking out. This is critically important. With each calendar tick of this time, alternatives diminish and potential problems grow. We must develop strategies for preparing ourselves at all levels to deal with whatever Y2K presents to us with the millennium dawn.

As individuals, nations, and as a global society, do we have a choice as to how we might respond to Y2K, however problems materialize? The question of alternative social responses lies at the outer edges of the interlocking circles of technology and system relationships. At present, potential societal reactions receive almost no attention. But we firmly believe that it is the central most important place to focus public attention and individual ingenuity.

Y2K is a technology-induced problem, but it will not and cannot be solved by technology. It creates societal problems that can only be solved by humans. We must begin to address potential social responses. We need to be engaged in this discourse within our organizations, our communities, and across the traditional boundaries of competition and national borders. Without such planning, we will slide into the Year 2000 as hapless victims of our technology.

Even where there is some recognition of the potential disruptions or chaos that Y2K might create, thereís a powerful dynamic of secrecy preventing us from engaging in these conversations. Leaders donít want to panic their citizens. Employees donít want to panic their bosses. Corporations donít want to panic investors. Lawyers donít want their clients to confess to anything.


But as psychotherapist and information systems consultant Dr. Douglass Carmichael has written:

Those who want to hush the problem ("Donít talk about it, people will panic", and "We donít know for sure.") are having three effects. First, they are preventing a more rigorous investigation of the extent of the problem. Second, they are slowing down the awareness of the intensity of the problem as currently understood and the urgency of the need for solutions, given the current assessment of the risks. Third, they are making almost certain a higher degree of ultimate panic, in anger, under conditions of shock.

Havenít we yet learned the consequences of secrecy?


When people are kept in the dark, or fed misleading information, their confidence in leaders quickly erodes. In the absence of real information, people fill the information vacuum with rumors and fear. And whenever we feel excluded, we have no choice but to withdraw and focus on self-protective measures. As the veil of secrecy thickens, the capacity for public discourse and shared participation in solution finding disappears. People no longer believe anything or anybodyówe become unavailable, distrusting and focused only on self-preservation.


Our history with the problems created by secrecy has led CEO Norman Augustine to advise leaders in crisis to:

"Tell the truth and tell it fast."

Behaviors induced by secrecy are not the only human responses available. Time and again we observe a much more positive human response during times of crisis. When an earthquake strikes, or a bomb goes off, or a flood or fire destroys a community, people respond with astonishing capacity and effectiveness. They use any available materials to save and rescue, they perform acts of pure altruism, they open their homes to one another, they finally learn who their neighbors are.

Weíve interviewed many people who participated in the aftermath of a disaster, and as they report on their experiences, it is clear that their participation changed their lives. They discovered new capacities in themselves and in their communities. They exceeded all expectations. They were surrounded by feats of caring and courage. They contributed to getting systems restored with a speed that defied all estimates.

When chaos strikes, thereís simply no time for secrecy; leaders have no choice but to engage every willing soul. And the field for improvisation is wide openóno emergency preparedness drill ever prepares people for what they actually end up doing. Individual initiative and involvement are essential. Yet surprisingly, in the midst of conditions of devastation and fear, people report how good they feel about themselves and their colleagues. These crisis experiences are memorable because the best of us becomes visible and available. Weíve observed this in America, and in Bangladesh, where the poorest of the poor responded to the needs of their most destitute neighbors rather than accepting relief for themselves.

As we sit staring into the unknown dimensions of a global crisis whose timing is non-negotiable, what responses are available to us as a human community? An effective way to explore this question is to develop potential scenarios of possible social behaviors. Scenario planning is an increasingly accepted technique for identifying the spectrum of possible futures that are most important to an organization or society. In selecting among many possible futures, it is most useful to look at those that account for the greatest uncertainty and the greatest impact.

For Y2K, David Isenberg, (a former AT&T telecommunications expert, now at Isen.Com) has identified the two variables which seem obvious Ė the range of technical failures from isolated to multiple, and the potential social responses, from chaos to coherence. Both variables are critical and uncertain and are arrayed as a pair of crossing axes. When displayed in this way, four different general futures emerge.

In the upper left quadrant, if technical failures are isolated and society doesnít respond to those, nothing of significance will happen. Isenberg labels this the "Official Future" because it reflects present behavior on the part of leaders and organizations.

The upper right quadrant describes a time where technical failures are still isolated, but the public responds to these with panic, perhaps fanned by the media or by stonewalling leaders. Termed "A Whiff of Smoke," the situation is analogous to the panic caused in a theater by someone who smells smoke and spreads an alarm, even though it is discovered that there is no fire. This world could evolve from a press report that fans the flames of panic over what starts as a minor credit card glitch (for example), and, fueled by rumors turns nothing into a major social problem with runs on banks, etc.

The lower quadrants describe far more negative scenarios. "Millennial Apocalypse" presumes large-scale technical failure coupled with social breakdown as the organizational, political and economic systems come apart. The lower left quadrant, "Human Spirit" posits a society that, in the face of clear adversity, calls on each of us to collaborate in solving the problems of breakdown.

Since essentially we are almost out of time and resources for preventing widespread Y2K failures, a growing number of observers believe that the only plausible future scenarios worth contemplating are those in the lower half of the matrix. The major question before us is how will society respond to what is almost certain to be widespread and cascading technological failures?

What is a possible natural evolution of the problem?


Early, perhaps even in early í99, the press could start something bad long before it was clear how serious the problem was and how society would react to it. There could be an interim scenario where a serious technical problem turned into a major social problem from lack of adequate positive social response. This "Small Theatre Fire" future could be the kind of situation where people overreact and trample themselves trying to get to the exits from a small fire that is routinely extinguished.

If the technical situation is bad, a somewhat more ominous situation could evolve. Government, exerting no clear positive leadership and seeing no alternative to chaos, cracks down so as not to lose control (a common historical response to social chaos has been for the government to intervene in non-democratic, sometimes brutal fashion). "Techno-fascism" is a plausible scenario --governments and large corporations would intervene to try to contain the damage --rather than build for the future. This dictatorial approach would be accompanied by secrecy about the real extent of the problem and ultimately fueled by the cries of distress, prior to 2000, from a society that has realized its major systems are about to fail and that it is too late to do anything about it.

Obviously, the scenario worth working towards is "Human Spirit," a world where the best of human creativity is enabled and the highest common good becomes the objective. In this world we all work together, developing a very broad, powerful, synergistic, self-organizing force focused on determining what humanity should be doing in the next 13 months to plan for the aftermath of the down stroke of Y2K.

This requires that we understand Y2K not as a technical problem, but as a systemic, worldwide event that can only be resolved by new social relationships. All of us need to become very wise and very engaged very fast and develop entirely new processes for working together. Systems issues cannot be resolved by hiding behind traditional boundaries or by clinging to competitive strategies. Systems require collaboration and the dissolution of existing boundaries. Our only hope for healthy responses to Y2K-induced failures is to participate together in new collaborative relationships.

At present, individuals and organizations are being encouraged to protect themselves, to focus on solving "their" problem. In a systemís world, this is insane. The problems are not isolated, therefore no isolated responses will work. The longer we pursue strategies for individual survival, the less time we have to create any viable, systemic solutions. None of the boundaries weíve created across industries, organizations, communities, or nation states give us any protection in the face of Y2K.

We must stop the messages of fragmentation now and focus resources and leadership on figuring out how to engage everyone, at all levels, in all systems.

As threatening as Y2K is, it also gives us the unparalleled opportunity to figure out new and simplified ways of working together. GMís chief information officer, Ralph Szygenda, has said that Y2K is the cruelest trick ever played on us by technology, but that it also represents a great opportunity for change. It demands that we let go of traditional boundaries and roles in the pursuit of new, streamlined systems, ones that are less complex than the entangled ones that have evolved over the past thirty years.

Thereís an interesting lesson here about involvement that comes from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Just a few weeks prior the bombing, agencies from all over the city conducted an emergency preparedness drill as part of normal civil defense practice. They did not prepare themselves for a bomb blast, but they did work together on other disaster scenarios. The most significant accomplishment of the drill was to create an invisible infrastructure of trusting relationships.

When the bomb went off, that infrastructure displayed itself as an essential resource--people could work together easily, even in the face of horror. Many lives were saved and systems were restored at an unprecedented rate because people from all over the community worked together so well.

But thereís more to this story. One significant player had been excluded from the preparedness drill, and that was the FBI. No one thought theyíd ever be involved in a Federal matter. To this day, people in Oklahoma City speak resentfully of the manner in which the FBI came in, pushed them aside, and offered no explanations for their behavior. In the absence of trusting relationships, some form of techno-fascism is the only recourse.


Elizabeth Dole, as president of the American Red Cross commented:

"The midst of a disaster is the poorest possible time to establish new relationships and to introduce ourselves to new organizations . . . . When you have taken the time to build rapport, then you can make a call at 2 a.m., when the riverís rising and expect to launch a well-planned, smoothly conducted response."


The scenario of communities and organizations working together in new ways demands a very different and immediate response not only from leaders but from each of us. "

The Major Crises of the Our Generation

As John Petersen cogently suggests, Y2K is a serious challenge, one that must be addressed at all levels of society, across the world.


I also believe that Y2K will be conquered by humanity. Thanks to many loud and proactive stands taken by futurists and clear-minded technology thinkers, a lot has been accomplished in 1997 and 1998. The United States is likely to suffer regional crises, and a few systemic ones, but is also likely to come through with society firmly intact if decisive preventive action and contingency planning continue through 1999. In this country, I believe we will do far better than doomsayers suggest.

Other nations will have other levels of success in correcting the problem this year. Some nations' infrastructures will simply shut down because of their level of unpreparedness. Our attention must quickly expand to include international preparedness, for the world's problems will be the problems of the only remaining superpower.

All in all, I am hopeful and cautiously optimistic that the world will focus this year sufficient to tackle Y2K without fundamental disaster. But Y2K is by no means the only, nor the most serious, set of problems we face.

Because modern humanity has accelerated the pace at which we change, we have dictated not only the range of our positive experience, but also the pace at which we must learn painful new lessons Ė lessons impossible to foresee and equally impossible to avoid once glimpsed. Because of the acceleration of change in our lives in the past 100 years in particular, there are several crucial challenges beyond Y2K that humanity will face in coming years, fundamental challenges of its own creation.

In my opinion, these challenges are best considered and reviewed by Eugene Linden in his stunningly insightful book The Future In Plain Sight. Linden writes on science and technology for Time, and is well-respected across the media.


Linden reviews several crucial problems faced by modern human civilization that are not widely appreciated in their portent, briefly summarized below...

"Hot" Tempered Markets

During an extraordinary four-month period starting on June 27, 1997, the currencies of Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Korea all went into a free fall. Even places like Hong Kong, whose currencies escaped the plummeting, suffered stock-market collapses. The contagion spread also to Latin America, where markets in Mexico and Brazil suffered precipitous declines...

That the Southeast Asian crisis came about only two years after the international community had supposedly learned the lessons of the Mexican crisis speaks volumes about the inherent volatility of an integrated global market. Bankers and policy makers can set up bailout funds or an international bankruptcy court, improve the flow of financial information, and take other actions designed to soothe markets, but these will not work.


Both the Mexican and Southeast Asian examples demonstrate that market instability is about not only information and systems but perception and human nature. If the story is that Thailand or Mexico or Indonesia is a good place to get good returns on money, the relatively homogeneous investment community will put money into that country, ignoring warning signals until it is too late. Then they will all try to leave...

Without the $52-billion bailout in Mexico, a cascade of bankruptcies and bank collapses could have plunged the nation into complete anarchy, fostering an immense wave of migration to the United States. The question facing Mexico, Southeast Asia, and the global investing community is whether these bailouts have bought nations time to institute necessary reforms, or merely postponed a much more painful day of reckoning...

The triumph of capitalism in this century has set the stage for an integrated global economy. This globalization of markets is supposed to spread risks and reduce volatility. Instead it actually increases the likelihood of violent swings, because of the homogeneity and synchronicity that characterize the actions of the institutions governing the flows of capital...

What happened was but a dust devil on a summer day compared with what will happen ever more frequently in the coming decades.


Shocks and adjustments are an inevitable part of any economic system, but as the scale of the integrated market grows, these jerks will only increase in frequency and amplitude, promising more instability in the future.

The Decay of the City

In the poorer nations of the world, the latter part of this century has seen a massive, unprecedented migration to the cities. The percentage of population living in cities in the richer countries increased by about 37 percent between 1950 and 1995, but the percentage of urban dwellers more than doubled in less developed nations during that same period and more than tripled in the least developed nations, according to UN statistics...

Some public-health experts are now beginning to believe that the statistical portrait of the advantages of urban life does not capture dramatic declines in living standards for large numbers of the poor, who have become worse off than their counterparts in the countryside...

Studies of such disparate cities as Accra, Ghana, and Sao Paulo reveal that the poor bear a double burden of disease, finding themselves weakened by infectious water-borne diseases as well as chronic problems, such as heart disease and cancers, traditionally associated with affluence. Thus the urban poor have to face the added stresses of urban life in a weakened state (in Africa, between 40 and 80 percent of urban dwellers are afflicted with one or more parasite at any given time), drinking and bathing with expensive and often bad water, surrounded by casually disposed-of toxic materials and chemicals, eating unhealthy high-fat street food, breathing foully polluted air, and contending daily with ever more resilient microbes.

Unstable cities project instability beyond their boundaries through the incubation of microbes, through political and social disorder that can also spread as a contagion, through the disruption of national and regional economies, and through the launching of new tides of migrants.

No "Vent for Surplus"

If the exploding cities of the developing world are one indication of how demographic pressures will destabilize life in the next century, human migration is another...

History has shown that people tend to move when they find themselves squeezed for space, but what happens when there is no place to go? In the past, wild lands and new territories provided what the economist Adam Smith called a "vent for surplus." Migrants today are finding that there is no "vent for surplus" even as the population pressures and environmental degradation force greater numbers of people to uproot their families in search of new places to settle...

The example of Rwanda and Zaire shows how migration can set in motion ripples that in turn destabilize an entire region. The potential for catastrophic collisions of migrants and residents will only rise in the future, as the population continues to increase by roughly a hundred million a year....

Looming across the Pacific is a case in point. China, the world's most populous nation, faces building pressures for internal migration that terrify the government. Despite the economic boom that has given China one of the fastest-growing economies on Earth, the communist government sites on top of a powder keg of forces that could produce mass movements within the country on an unprecedented scale... China's history is marked by a series of collapses brought about by uncontained population growth, according to Jack Goldstone, an expert on the history of revolution and rebellion. He argues that the stage is set for this cycle to be played out again...

What will happen as the Earth becomes more crowded while images of suffering become ever more available? Will people tune out and turn inward, if only to preserve their humanity? Very likely. Will xenophobia and various forms of racism become resurgent as those living in favored regions search for ways to rationalize their inability to help the millions who seek aid or entry? Also very likely.


The point, however, is that population pressures affect societies in many surprising ways, putting huddled masses at the gates of their neighbors, yet fueling atavistic antagonisms that can dehumanize even those nations that feel smugly insulated from the overcrowded world.


The rise of eco-migration offers a disturbing preview of coming upheavals.

The Ubiquitous Wage Gap

Thirty years ago, political scientists warned that a widening gap between rich and poor threatened to produce political and social upheaval. At that point, the richest 20 percent of the people on earth earned thirty times more than the poorest 20 percent. Instead of narrowing, however, that gap has expanded, so that the better-off now earn sixty times as much as the poorest.

This gap has widened despite statistics that show huge improvements in incomes, educational opportunities, and health care in the developing world, where the bulk of the world's poor live. How can this be? Part of the answer is a synergy between population growth and technological change, which rewards the educated and adept and marginalizes everyone else. Despite much-trumpeted improvements in nutrition and infant health, in 1996 more than 2.4 billion people -a number greater than the total world population in 1945 -still lived on less than $2 a day. Despite an integrated global economy, two billion people, more than a third of the earth's human population, still live unconnected to the grid of the industrial world by either electricity or oil.

A country such as Indonesia can attract manufacturing jobs to the Jakarta area with labor priced at $1.50 a day, but industries can easily pick up stakes and find highly motivated workers elsewhere, should either workers or their governments make demands for higher wages or better working conditions. In the meantime, unrelenting migration from overpopulated agricultural regions gives workers ever-declining leverage over employers. In Egypt, where five hundred thousand new job seekers enter the market each year, per-capita income has fallen from $750 to $620 in eight years.

As these surplus workers become more desperate, the line between freedom and slavery begins to blur. In northeastern Brazil, agricultural workers live in perpetual indenturement to landowners who pay them so little that, no matter how hard they work, they only fall deeper into debt. In Africa, an organization called the American Anti-Slavery Group has produced evidence of the return of outright slavery in Mauretania and the Sudan.


The group reported in The New York Times that, as supplies of slaves secured by raids increased, the price of a woman or a child dropped from $90 to $15 between 1989 and 1990.

The return of slavery is noteworthy because it is the extreme expression of a trend toward the marginalization of those at the bottom of the global economy. In an integrated global economy, consumers will have increasing power over how products are produced, so slavery is unlikely to return on a large scale, since the concept has become morally abhorrent in most of the world. Of course, there is no guarantee that the global economy will remain integrated fifty years from now, or that slavery will still be morally repugnant. If it does return to any significant degree, it is more likely to be camouflaged by the paternalism of landowners, corporations, or the state.

Around the world, 4.5 billion people live in conditions that James Gustave Speth, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, describes as "deplorable." Of that number, one billion live in absolute poverty. In 1996, Speth wrote that every day sixty-seven thousand babies a day-twenty-five million a year-are born into families so poor their parents cannot afford sufficient food to perform normal work. The International Labor Organization estimates that 750 million of the world labor force of 2.5 billion people are either unemployed or underemployed.

Thus the fruits of worldwide economic growth disproportionately accrue to an ever-smaller percent of the population. As a trend, this cannot continue without producing violent reactions from those left behind. The forces driving this widening gap -the population explosion, the integration of the world economy, and the automation of work -are fundamental.

Moreover, two of these forces, technological advance and the increasing integration of the global economy, are the keys to the present economy. So the world faces a dilemma: the widening income gap between rich and poor may be integral to continued economic growth as capitalism extends its reach and human numbers expand.

This widening gap is not confined to the developing world. In the U.S., twenty years ago the average CEO earned thirty-five times more than the average worker; now it is 150 times more. In that same period, the poorest 20 percent of U.S. workers have seen their real earnings drop by 24 percent, and the upper 20 percent have increased their real income by 10 percent. And in the wealthier nations alone, there are thirty million jobless...

It is not just blue-collar workers who find themselves forced from their customary livelihoods. Whereas population pressures are a force driving unemployment and underemployment in the developing world, technology impels change in the richer nations: the information revolution is completing the automation of the workplace that began two hundred years ago with the industrial revolution.

First armies of blue-collar employees were swept away by efficiency improvements, but now hundreds of thousands of clerical, managerial, and other white-collar workers who never dreamed they might be out of a job are being laid off. Between 1979 and 1993, 18.7 million white-collar jobs disappeared in the United States. New jobs have been created as well, millions of them, but often at lower pay, with fewer benefits and less security.


Many paternalistic and bureaucratic companies that resisted the trend for white-collar layoffs during the 1980s used the recession of 1991 and 1992 as an excuse to achieve workforce reductions that were in fact driven by technological change.

If the future were a simple projection of the past, most of these dislocated employees would find new opportunities after an initial period of turmoil. This time around, such happy endings are improbable for many. Computers can now analyze sales data, perform credit analyses, and allocate discount seats on airlines, and workers who developed such esoteric expertise are finding themselves out on the street with unmarketable skills. Sandwiched between a younger generation and well-educated, cheaper labor abroad, they have nowhere to go but down.

This picture of the future is at extreme variance with the conventional wisdom in the booming economy of 1997. With the global economy growing at nearly 4 percent a year, and the U.S. economy in its fifth year of sustained growth, both downsizing and integration were beginning to look like flat-out wins. U.S. productivity was climbing, and by December 1997, the 4.6-percent unemployment rate was the lowest in thirty years and below the 5-percent level considered to represent full employment. The unprecedented bull market created a lot of paper wealth as well.

If there was a troubling sign on the horizon in the U.S., it was that consumer debt in 1997 reached an all-time high at $1.2 trillion. This represented a 50-percent increase since 1991. Total household debt, which includes mortgages, reached $5.4 trillion, and by 1997 the average person was spending 18 percent of income just to service debt, the highest level since the mid-1980s, but in terms of burden, the highest level ever, since consumers no longer had the ability to deduct interest on debt from their taxes.

Personal bankruptcies were also at an all-time high.


By the middle of the year, credit-card delinquencies reached 7 percent, also near record levels; since most credit-card debt is repackaged by the card issuers as asset-backed bonds, rising delinquencies can rapidly spread through the financial system, undermining the liquidity of the card issuers as well as the institutions that trade the obligations.

Perhaps more significantly, the rising delinquencies revealed a fault line in the otherwise rosy economic landscape. A lot of different reasons account for the rise in bad credit, ranging from bad judgment on the part of credit-card issuers, to the declining stigma of bankruptcy, to the failing efforts of those with downsized incomes to maintain their former standards of living. But the combination of full employment with rising indebtedness and delinquency suggests that people are working harder, yet not making enough money to meet their material aspirations.

This fault line was also indicated by low inflation, conventionally interpreted as an indicator of the robustness of the economy. Ordinarily, low unemployment would be an indicator of future inflation, because, with labor scarce, employees could demand raise hikes and also pour money into the economy, driving up prices. In the 1990s economy, however, years of low unemployment and a booming economy did not result in wage hikes or in strong increases in consumer spending (except in services -a further indication that people were working harder, and thus forced to eat out more often and pay for functions like child care and laundry that housewives used to perform, before the advent of the two-income family).

Savings continued their long-term downward trend. In the post-downsizing era, workers had nowhere near the perks, the guarantees, or, in many cases, the incomes they had in previous decades. Moreover, even with labor theoretically scarce, employers could turn to a steady supply of immigrants willing to work for very little. This is exactly what has happened. As the boom of the mid-1990s created a demand for new employees at the bottom end of the wage curve, Hispanic workers, many of them immigrants, joined the workforce at four times the rate of black or white workers.

The Federal Reserve Bank worried about inflation, but the combination of job insecurity, decreasing family incomes in the middle class, and global overcapacity in most industrial sectors created a strong momentum toward disinflation, if not deflation.


Even as goods were getting cheaper in the U.S., thanks to imports, many Americans found that their discretionary income was relatively flat. The rising credit-card delinquencies reflected the reality that borrowers can suffer in deflationary times, particularly since real interest rates in 1997 were at a very high 4 percent and above.

With inflation, which tends to guide wage increases, hovering at 2 percent, many people were steadily falling behind in their ability to pay bills. If inflation and raises continue to fall because of global overcapacity on almost all goods, then the indebted will fall behind even faster, unless interest rates come down as well.

The entrepreneurial and gifted will still thrive in these harsh times for workers, but a growing population of white-collar workers whose fortunes have turned sour depresses the prospects of a country as a whole. In the U.S., consumer spending drives the economy, accounting for two-thirds of GDP. As mentioned earlier, layoffs in recent years have focused on professionals, managers, and administrators, the segment of the middle class that traditionally has the most discretionary income...

A disenfranchised managerial class could pose a real threat to stability in the future. One need only look to the chaos of Russia in the early 1990s to see how difficult it is for white-collar workers with obsolete skills to adapt to new conditions, and how much mischief this politically sophisticated class can cause when it finds itself stripped of its perks.

This means that a large pool of voters will have more reason to remain angry and dissatisfied, becoming fertile ground for radical and xenophobic causes. The danger to society comes not so much from extreme events such as the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which was the product of paranoid fantasies about government conspiracies, as from ever-wilder oscillations in political positions, in which moderates lose influence and the more passionate extremists take control of the political agenda...

This is one reason why the widening gap between the top and the bottom income groups cannot continue to widen indefinitely. The few can maintain their wealth only with the permission of the many. If the middle continues to stagnate in the developed countries while the top prospers, the majority will demand action, and politicians, being politicians, will give it to them. But what can they offer the middle and the poor, given the ceilings imposed by an integrated global economy?

One thing politicians can deliver is inflation. As a policy tool, inflation is always tempting, because it redistributes wealth from those who lend to those who owe, while camouflaging who did what to whom. Again, however, the potential negative reactions of the integrated global market means this is not really a policy option for the U.S. -which is not to say that it will not happen anyway...

In the developing world, the resolution of the widening gap promises to be even more unruly, as the examples of Mexico and China cited earlier suggest. Many of the countries with the widest gaps between rich and poor, such as Russia and Venezuela, have fragile democracies. One conclusion of a confidential CIA-sponsored study of the nations that collapsed over the past forty years was that emerging democracies were more unstable than dictatorships when times turn bad, because people can give voice to frustrations for the first time yet democratic institutions remain too weak to address the underlying causes of the misery.

Could the widening gap between rich and poor resolve itself painlessly?


Theoretically, this could happen if a global economic boom outpaced both population growth and the application of productivity improvements. However, even with global economic growth at nearly 4 percent a year in 1997, the gap continues to widen.

The gap might also narrow if labor became scarce again. With the global workforce growing by over fifty million people a year, this is not likely barring some catastrophe or radical social change. The latter happened in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has enforced a harsh version of Islamic law and forced women to abandon jobs for home life, greatly reducing the number of professionals.

The gap between the rich and poor cannot widen indefinitely without producing instability, and it is difficult to imagine it shifting toward a more equitable distribution of wealth without instability. The forces marginalizing both ordinary labor and knowledge workers derive from deep, long-term trends, including the automation of the workplace, the integration of the global economy, technological advances that permit companies to tap a global labor market for many types of work, and the inexorable expansion of human numbers.


None of these trends will change without upheaval.

A Warning from the Ice

The messages the world has been getting from its atmosphere and climate have been hard to ignore, even if they are difficult to interpret.... It was not until 1985 that atmospheric chemists began to realize that the Antarctic skies were sending a message. The message was that humanity had unleashed an entirely new chemical reaction in the atmosphere, a process powerful enough to punch a hole the size of North America in a shield that protects life itself...

On March 26, 1995, a massive iceberg Ė measuring forty-eight by twenty-three miles Ė broke off from the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica. At the same time, the three-hundred-foot-thick ice shelf that bridged the Prince Gustave Channel, between Antarctica and James Ross Island, disintegrated, allowing ships to circumnavigate the island for the first time in recorded history.


Elsewhere on the frozen continent, rocks poked through ice that had been buried under nearly two thousand feet of ice for more than twenty thousand years. Since the 1950s, the Wordie Ice Shelf, Antarctica's most northerly stretch of permanent sea ice, has disappeared, moving the upper limit of the ice dramatically southward. And one gigantic river of ice within the West Antarctic Ice Sheet seems to be surging toward the coast.

The cause of the breakup of the peninsular ice shelves is clear. Since the 1940s, parts of Antarctica have warmed by nearly five degrees Fahrenheit, as evidenced by records at the United Kingdom's Faraday Station. The reason for the warming is far less clear, but these rapid changes in Antarctic ice must give pause to hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers around the world.


The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is half the size of the U.S. and more than three miles thick at its deepest point. Were it to break up or slide into the ocean, sea level around the world might suddenly rise by twenty feet, imperiling billions of people, inundating ports, drowning megacities like Jakarta, putting almost the entire Florida peninsula under water, and flooding millions of acres of prime coastal agricultural lands...

As the costs of extremes in climate ripple through society, people in the developed world will rediscover that climate, fair or foul, is the context for all human activity, and that nature is more than a backdrop.


This reorientation will have profound effects on everything from demographics to religion.

A Biosphere in Disarray

A few years ago, biologist Thomas Eisner and colleagues came upon a curious plant in the mint family that grew in only a few hundred acres in central Florida. Despite the fact that Dicerandra frutescens had tempting, succulent leaves, the plant was not bothered by insects.

Subsequent investigation revealed that, to protect itself, the plant produced a powerful insect-repellent, and that it had developed an arsenal of antifungal compounds as well. Like a midget R&D laboratory, this one plant, growing on a mere speck of land, may lead to new products for the multibillion-dollar insect-repellent and antifungal industries.

Who knows what other chemical miracles were produced by neighboring species but have now disappeared because of urbanization and agricultural development? Development might well have wiped out this species as well, except that the tiny niche where it grows lies in a biological preserve.

A happy story? Just the opposite.


Although the succulent is protected for the moment, most of Florida is an ecological disaster. Development-driven decisions to tame the Everglades and turn the land to agriculture have led to the collapse of its bird and mammal populations, and contributed to the destabilization of Florida Bay, which now suffocates under regular algal blooms. There are still wood storks and white ibises, but their numbers have dropped by 90 percent in this century. Each of Florida's indigenous species adapted to perform some role in the maintenance of the system. When populations collapse, the system falls into disarray, and ultimately that disarray affects humans as well.

This is the clue camouflaged by the more dramatic problem of extinction. Extinction has been sold to the public as a problem for humanity because drug companies lose valuable sources of new pharmacologically active agents. That impression has been bolstered by the negotiations surrounding the Biodiversity Treaty, which came out of the vaunted Earth Summit that took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The treaty was supposed to be an international accord to protect species and ecosystems, but it has degenerated into a squabble over issues of intellectual property.

The loss of biodiversity, however, is much, much more than a problem of intellectual property, or even of protecting individual species. It cannot be fixed by protecting representative samples of earth's biota in preserves, or simply giving people rights to benefit financially from the wonders nature creates as species struggle to survive. Long before creatures begin to go extinct, the ecosystems that support them can get so fragmented or diminished that they become dangerously spastic, as both symbiotic and predator-prey relationships break down.

Earth has gone through five major extinction crises during the past few billion years, including the Permian extinctions of 245 million years ago, which wiped out three-quarters of the life forms on earth, and the cataclysm of sixty-five million years ago, which spelled the doom of the dinosaurs. It is going through one now, and this promises to be a whopper...

Today's crisis is the product of the direct and indirect effects of human activities.


Destruction of habitat is the biggest culprit. Migratory birds find they have no place to land or breed as wetlands and forests vanish. In Africa, brilliantly colored mouth breeding fish called cichlids are losing their species diversity and merging into a dull-colored mongrel because human contamination of the lake waters has made it too difficult for females to distinguish the markings of their proper mates.

Almost all the great apes in Africa are now endangered, in part from hunting, in part from disease, and in part from habitat destruction as land is converted for agriculture. With the great apes, the social upheavals of these changes can be as destructive as the loss of habitat itself, argues Lee White of the Wildlife Conservation Society: logging is driving chimp bands into neighboring territories, setting off fierce chimp wars in which as many as four out of five animals die in hand-to-hand combat.

Whereas many previous extinction events developed over time scales of many thousands of years and more, the present loss of biodiversity has accelerated in just a few decades. On any future chart plotting species diversity over time, the loss of biodiversity will appear instantaneous, as though some awful contagion swept around the globe indifferently extinguishing species. Not only rare, precariously specialized species like the river dolphin are succumbing, but also some of nature's most ubiquitous lines, such as frogs and sea turtles; the latter had survived the aftershocks of comets, the reign of volcanoes, and twenty ice ages, but not the combined effects of air and water pollution, ozone depletion, human encroachments on habitat, and the diseases unleashed by all of these disturbances.

Fictions like Jurassic Park notwithstanding, extinction is irreversible. Even if it were possible to bring extinct forms back to life, their importance to life on earth is the role they play in an ecosystem. As scientists have discovered, it is extremely difficult to restore a damaged ecosystem, even when all the parts are still available.

No one really knows how many species are disappearing, because no one really knows how many species there are. Scientists have documented only 1.4 million species of plants, animals, insects, fungi, etc., but the full range of the diversity of life on dry land and in the oceans may include between thirty and a hundred million species if bacteria and other microscopic life forms are included. Skeptics openly ridicule the notion that humanity should worry about saving every bacteria, gnat, or salamander, noting that nature herself has done in countless species down -through the ages without jeopardizing life on earth.

This is true, but not the issue.


The loss of biodiversity puts humanity in the position of assuming that we know exactly which species we can do without. This is dubious, since scientists have only the most rudimentary notion of what makes an ecosystem work. In just a few cases do scientists know which creatures are crucial to the functioning of an ecosystem. Nor, since values and technology change in unpredictable ways, do we know which species might prove vital to our health and well-being in the future.

Moreover, if the only issue were conserving the greatest number of species, governments could go a long way in that direction by protecting so-called biodiversity hot spots around the world. Most of the world's species live in relatively few places, such as the eastern slopes of the Andes, the island of Madagascar, and the Philippines, through accidents of geography and continental drift. The Geneva-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that targeting for protection these strategically important ecosystems alone, which cover less than 3 percent of the globe, would ensure the survival of more than 50 percent of earth's biota.

The biodiversity crisis, however, is much more than a simple question of accounting. Animals, plants, and insects do not have to become extinct for an ecosystem to begin a wobble toward chaos. The issue is not simply how many individuals of a given species remain, but where they are and, equally important for migratory creatures, where they can go. Even though they may persist in large numbers in the aggregate, the disappearance of a species from a given locality can lead to a dramatic decline in an ecosystem...

Consider, for instance, the missing elephants of West Africa. Elephants are not extinct, but they have been hunted out of many of the forests of the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Nigeria, and a host of other sub-Saharan countries. Today, they persist in any concentrations only in a corner of central Africa where the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Cameroon meet. (In Kenya, Zimbabwe, and a few other East and Southern African nations, elephant populations have recovered somewhat, but find themselves crowded Out of most of their original habitat by farmers.) There is no confusing these forests with those in the region that no longer have elephants.

The remote Ndoki region of the northern Congo is crisscrossed with elephant trails. The main trails tend to run north to south, but they intersect with east-to-west trails linking the elephant thoroughfares to favorite watering holes and mud baths. It seems that elephants, like urban planners, favor a grid pattern for their transportation infrastructure. Scattered through the region are bias, or clearings, created by the elephants.

Countless animals benefit from the earthworks of this elephant civilization. Terrestrial herbaceous vegetation, or THV, abounds in the gaps the elephants create in the forest, thus providing food for the lowland gorilla, the bongo, and other large grazing creatures. Perhaps because of the transportation infrastructure created by elephants, this region of central Africa has some of the densest concentrations of gorillas on earth. Also, as the only animal capable of passing the large seeds of some species of trees-including some members of the mahogany family, which is prized by loggers-the elephant is crucial to the forest.

When elephants are eradicated, the forest gradually reclaims their roads and clearings, reducing ground vegetation. Over time, gorillas and the large ungulates disappear as well. A number of scientists argue that the trickle-down effects of elephants may explain why Africa's forests abound with large mammals but the tropical forests of South America do not.[]

Few would doubt that the largest land mammal on earth would play a crucial role in its ecosystem, but smaller, less charismatic creatures also turn out to be surprisingly important. As noted earlier, parrot fish and other coral-reef grazers prevent algae from covering corals. When parrot fish are overharvested, corals suffocate, and the whole reef ecosystem begins to collapse.

Innumerable such dislocations are occurring around the world, always accompanied by unanticipated consequences. The disappearance of predators in the Northeastern U.S. led to a huge increase in deer populations and their attendant deer ticks. As a result, Lyme disease, unknown and unnamed two decades ago, is now epidemic virtually throughout the U.S.

It would seem that saving ecosystems should be an urgent undertaking that governments would pursue in their own interest. In reality, most governments treat the notion of ecosystem conservation as an amenity issue, except where wild-lands provide watershed or some other function easily reducible to an economic argument.

Even if the international community made the preservation of earth's life-support systems the world's most urgent priority, the nature of ecosystems makes them ill-suited for the neat, systematic attempts at preservation favored by bureaucrats. What is an ecosystem anyway? Is it Yellowstone Park, or the swamps, pine deserts, wetlands, and other distinct biomes within the park, or is it the park and the surrounding forests and mountains that provide its watershed, corridors, and buffers?


According to the current theory of ecosystem viability, if Yellowstone Park and its surrounding protected areas were not sufficient to protect the ecosystem, over time species populations would diminish. They have not, suggesting that Yellowstone, at least, is big enough to remain vital. Yellowstone, however, is the largest park in the lower forty-eight states. Most of America's other parks show declining populations of key species. This may suggest that the parks are either too small or too isolated from vital migration corridors.

That is the problem. Life on earth is so complicated that neither scientists nor governments can answer such basic questions as the minimum size of a protected area necessary to preserve its life forms in perpetuity; the minimum population of a species before it enters the slippery slope toward extinction; or when a population of a species becomes so isolated that it loses its genetic vitality, expressed by the splitting of populations into evolutionarily distinct groups.

Even if scientists could answer these questions and impose ironclad protections for regions vital to ecosystems, both humanity and earth's creatures are now vulnerable to global forces unleashed by humans. For instance, the polluted Arctic front, a curse laid on the Far North by the industrial world, results from global air currents that pool the collected contaminants of the Northern Hemisphere over the polar region during wintertime.

The contaminants condense and fall with snow, and then, during the spring melt, they go into the tundra, where they are taken up by animals and plants and the people who eat them. Because of the Arctic front as well as ocean dumping of radioactive and toxic material, animals and humans in some of the most remote parts of the Far North carry huge concentrations of mercury and carcinogens in their fat and hair.


Some seals in the Arctic Russian Far East have radioactive growth-rings in their teeth. The bodies of some whales that wash up in the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway contain such concentrations of toxins that they would be declared a hazardous-waste site in the United States.

Despite the fact that the pesticide DDT was banned by the U.S. and most industrial countries in the 1970s, its use in the developing world still threatens bird life. As reported by Les Line in The New York Times, the reach of the poisons extends to Midway Island, smack in the center of the Pacific Ocean and thousands of miles from any industrial or agricultural center; here DDT is one of several toxins accumulating in the bodies of the black-footed albatross, a giant pelagic bird with a seven-foot wingspan. The DDT, which the birds ingest with flying-fish eggs, causes their own eggshells to thin, leading to crushing and high mortality among chicks.

There is no part of the globe where species and ecosystems do not already feel the weight of humanity. A team of ecologists led by Peter Vitousek of Stanford University published an account of human domination of earth's ecosystems in the journal Science in 1997. The figures this group produced are awesome: half the world's mangroves, vital buffers and nurseries of the oceans, altered or destroyed; 66 percent of all recognized marine fisheries either at the limit of their exploitation or already overexploited; half the accessible fresh water on earth co-opted for human use; roughly one-quarter of all bird species on earth driven into extinction; and on and on.

Lurking in the future are the unfolding consequences of ozone depletion, which may be weakening the immune systems of many creatures on the planet, and the dislocations of ecosystems that may come from climate change. Clearly, a changed climate poses a profound threat to any creature that has adapted to a narrow range of temperature and rainfall, but the subtle ways in which climate change might throw ecosystems into chaos were dramatically demonstrated on remote Wrangell Island, in the Russian Arctic, just a few years ago.

The dominant land-based predator in this ecosystem is the polar bear. The white bear is a kind of mirror image of a marine mammal, spending most of its life at sea, albeit on top of the ice rather than below. Over the millennia, polar bears acquired a white coat, which concealed them from their prey; blubber for warmth; and oversize feet, which help them paddle in the water and distribute their weight so that the eight-hundred-pound creatures can walk on ice too thin to support a human being.

Together these adaptations make the polar bear a formidable killing machine. Bears conceal themselves by lying on the ice facing their prey, so that only their noses break the tableau of whiteness. It is said that if an unarmed man sees a hungry polar bear on the ice it is already too late for escape. The animal has been forced to develop its stalking skills because it is a pure carnivore. To survive, an adult bear must kill an animal the size of a seal every week of its life.

Ordinarily, the bears leave the island in the late spring and stay on the ice pack as it shrinks toward the north, returning to Wrangell with the fall freeze. In 1992, the ice pack retreated dramatically, stranding polar bears and walruses on the island for the summer. The result was bloody carnage, as predator and prey found themselves locked in tight quarters together.

The distinct warming of the past couple of decades has already had perceptible effects on smaller life forms as well.


Camille Parmesan, an entomologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, published a study in the journal Nature which detailed local extinctions and changes in the range of a butterfly called Edith's Checkerspot, an insect that is very sensitive to climate change. She found that warming temperatures had killed off the butterfly in much of the southern reaches of its range in Mexico, but that it was expanding its range in Canada and cooler areas at higher elevations.

Even without climate change, countless species will continue to decline. Ignorant of the workings of the systems that sustain us, we continue to squeeze them, not knowing whether we are squeezing them too much. There is absolutely no question that there will be a day of reckoning for this mad gamble.

David Quarnmen, author of The Song of the Dodo, which explores the anarchy wrought by the fragmentation of nature, quotes conservation biologists Michael Soule and Bruce Wilcox on the net result of humanity's impact on the biosphere: "There is no escaping the conclusion that in our lifetimes, this planet will see a suspension, if not an end, to many ecological and evolutionary processes which have been uninterrupted since the beginnings of paleontological time."

If scientists do not know how an ecosystem sustains itself, they do know that nature tends to seek equilibrium. As the players or circumstances change in any given ecosystem, nature adjusts, seeking some new equilibrium. That period of adjustment can be quite volatile. It can also take a long time for nature to recover from a spasm of extinctions.


Ten million years is the figure that the great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson uses, and it is useful to keep this figure in mind when those who doubt the seriousness of the fragmentation of habitats and the loss of biodiversity argue that societies can restore their ecosystems once they have made economic progress. Wildlands may be easily convertible into capital, but the reverse is not so easy.

Of all the clues to what lies ahead, the squeezing of earth's life-support system may have the most direct and immutable ties to future instability.


Back to Climate Changes


Living With Limits

A variety of signals suggest that the next round of improvements in food production are not going to be as easy as the gains achieved during the (past 50 years). Nor are there now great stretches of wildlands ready to be brought under plow, as there were decades ago, or great sources of untapped fresh water that might be used for irrigation.


All of these factors, plus the stresses of producing enough of five basic crops Ė corn, wheat, soybeans, barley, and rice Ė to feed six billion people, have conspired to produce a compelling clue to the future: an increase in the volatility of the global food system...

Rice has a special place in the world food system, because it is the staple of people in warm nations who are too poor to afford anything else. If these three billion people cannot afford rice, they have nowhere to turn for food. What worries (experts) is that, to keep pace with population growth, rice production has to increase by more than 70 percent in the next thirty years...


On the horizon are new strains of biotech hybrid rice and a high-yielding "super rice" now in development, but (experts) estimates that these improvements might ultimately increase the rice harvest by only 25 percent. Somehow rice growers must find another 45-percent increase. Where it will come from is not obvious at the moment, particularly given the trends in the world today.

The amount of irrigated land around the world has not significantly increased since 1992, and erosion, the salinization of fields, and other forms of desertification are taking millions of acres out of production each year...

There are other instabilities inherent to the production of crops themselves. Developing an agricultural system to feed an expanding and increasingly urbanized world population involves a number of trade-offs. The need for standardized, easily transportable foods has tended to focus attention on just a few crops, creating a self-reinforcing cycle in which farmers look to increase yields and increase focus on ever-fewer varieties, grown in ever more similar ways. Bangladesh, which once grew ten thousand variants of rive, now relies on just five...

Primitive variants of basic crops such as wheat and corn carry with adaptations to an enormous variety of threats. Some corn varieties that originated in high-altitude regions of Mexico, for instance, have purple tassels that may store heat, providing protection from frosts and some defense against ultraviolet radiation; the latter issue may prove important as the ozone layer continues to deteriorate under assault by man-made chemicals... The danger is that pests, blights, or climate change may produce an emergency in one of the staple crops to which scientists cannot respond...

And then there is water. Whether or not climate becomes more unstable, water scarcity looms as a huge limit to future increases in productivity. The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that 338 million people live in countries now suffering water stress, which means that the region suffers major problems during drought years. IFPRI estimates that by 2025 roughly 50 countries, with a total population of three billion people, will suffer water stress. This projection represents a nine-fold increase in water scarcity in just thirty years.

As per-capita supplies of fresh water diminish, global demand increases at 2.4 percent annually, a rate faster than population growth. This sets up a no-win competition between industry, agriculture, households, and ecosystems for ever-smaller amounts of water.

The competition for water also raises the likelihood of conflict between nations. Turkey controls the headwaters of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and its past actions to dam the rivers have prompted its bellicose downstream neighbors, Iraq and Syria, to threaten war.


Tensions could flare again as Turkey moves to complete its $21 billion Greater Anatolia Project, which would divert water to irrigate 1.65 million hectares of agricultural land. The possibility of conflict over water extends to dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and at the heart of the tensions will be the issue of food security.

The experience of recent years suggests that the shrinking margin for error that comes with diminishing surplus stocks and humanity's ever-greater dependence on a small range of seeds and diminishing supplies of fresh water will foster ever-greater turmoil.

Infectious Disease Resurgent

Down through history, plagues and epidemics have brought low great empires. Measles and other diseases, not conquest, brought down the civilizations of the New World and Polynesia, and a virulent strain of influenza that circled the world in 1918-19 killed more people than World War I. Disease is an indicator of instability, but also a precursor to future instability.


When ecosystems are out of balance, microbes tend to benefit; when populations of any given species explode, disease can bring them back into balance with brutal efficiency.

Microbes are configured to respond extraordinarily quickly to any environmental change. They have in their favor a particular reproductive strategy, dubbed the "R-strategy" by those who study population dynamics. R-strategists secure their perpetuation through massive reproduction in very short periods of time. The creatures that prey on microbes and the mosquitoes and other vectors that spread disease tend to be so-called K-strategists.


These species have fewer offspring but protect and nurture them, so that they are more likely to survive. In the normal course of life, the two strategies tend to remain in balance, but when weather, human activities, the loss of biological diversity, or some other upheaval upsets that balance, the R-strategists are better poised to exploit the opportunity and proliferate.

This is happening today on a massive scale around the world, as human activities and human movements transform the globe. Each of the clues discussed in earlier chapters contributes in some way to the resurgence of infectious disease...

Indeed urban migration in the developing world threatens to undo one of the great victories of the twentieth century, the first period in which it has been safe to live in cities. Previously, plagues and epidemics periodically decimated cities once they grew past their capacity to dispose of wastes and maintain clean water. Unfortunately, future historians may look back upon the respite of the past few decades as the last period in which it was safe to live in cities.

Diseases bring about profound change. In an article for the Journal of Preventative Medicine, Paul Epstein argued that the first European plague pandemic in 541 A.D., in the disorder following the fall of the Roman Empire, let to a flight from cities and contributed to the development of feudalism. The next pandemic, in 1346, brought about a labor shortage that broke the power of feudal landlords over labor and led to the development of the middle class. What social change will accompany the next round of plagues when they come?"

If Eugene Linden is correct in any one of these scenarios, and he is most likely correct in all of them, then human civilization is headed for fundamental changes within our lifetimes.


The longer we ignore these systemic issues Ė and anything less than proactive systemic corrective strategies constitutes ignorance Ė the more severe the shift back to equilibrium.

Endangered Individual

I completed this section of The Truth with tears in my eyes, as I concluded reading and integrating into this text one of the more powerful tales Iíve come across in the course of this work. I realize that above all other reasons for investing so much in this project, it is out of anguish for the youth of our world that I am motivated to act.

In the fall of 1998, I asked a colleague of mine - Drew Stepek, a phenomenally talented young writer in Los Angeles - to share with me his thoughts as we approach the millennium. After a good conversation I sent him this message:

"I'd like you to write a ten page characterization of civilization from the eyes of a young person entering college... What hopes, fears, desires, concerns, ethics, passions, hates, and motives do they feel at this time in history?"

He recounted this remarkable story. Parental guidance is suggested...


Some things are best left unsaidóthings considered taboo, the most unspeakable acts, the most senseless of crimes. And, whenever I found myself faced with this cruel reality, I found myself hiding. Ironic that I would have ended up hidden at the most important transition of my life: my great escape.


This was the only place that I found solace. I never told anyone. It was just me, my mind and my confusion. I wasnít an escapist.


I never envisioned a threatened Harry Houdini rolling around in a chilling underwater grave, jealous of my hidden world. That would be the glamorized fantasy of a romantic. As a mentor, Samuel Langhorn Clemens would have found that petty. I always thought myself a realist; I observed the world, took notes and passed judgment. But suddenly, I had to face a 150 mile per hour wake-up call to my mortality and I struggled for answers. I always thrived to come to terms with the world and myself. The question: what could I possibly add to this world-unbound?

During my final year of high school, I discovered a way to cleanse myself of the confines of prom dates, football pep rallies and lame tri-screen, amped-up motivational speeches. The latter of those three interested me the least. Although the intention seemed honorable, those presentations were always M.C.ed by some hack ex-cop who evidently honed his audio/visual skills rather than his filling-out-retirement-paperwork skills.


Besides, I donít believe these "Drink, Drive, Die" speeches are what George Lucas envisioned when he created THX. Instead of indulging in the lackluster rah-rah of high school life, I chose to pay my respects to a tree.

Donít worry. "Paying my respects to a tree" isnít slang for getting high. This tree was something for me to believe in. It was a place where I could write, think and be alone.

At the center of my Nirvana was a tree so magnificent, I never understood how it grew from the tainted soil of this town-condemned. Standing about 35 feet, the tree, which I jokingly dubbed "Nazareth," nested on the side of a bog bank contaminated by the atrocities of the now defunct paper mill upstream. The paper mill shut down about nine months ago, leaving most of our town, including my workaholic father, unemployed. Its closing however, didnít rid this area of the unbearable pulp burning stench, extenuated by the odor of dead animals.


Most of the wildlife, of course, was killed drinking the shit that filled the water. It wasnít uncommon to stumble upon a carcass.

In one respect, I guess I could thank that paper mill, however. After all, it did give me the resources to fill out the necessary paper work for a scholarship. Strangely enough, 40-some odd years of the toxins from the mill didnít seem to affect the tree anywhere near as much as their absence had destroyed the town and its people.

Quite a persistent old bastard, it had been there for as long as I could remember. It had two extended limbs that sprouted upwards, eternally reaching for some sort of hope. The shaft displayed the agony of a martyrís face; twisted, torn and weathered beyond recognition. Brought to the tree by the moisture from the venomous swamp, were thousands of gnats and marsh bugs that sucked at its tears of sap. Although quite a majestic landmark, the beauty never stopped me from baptizing it after a good night of writing and a few too many beers.

A behemoth from top to bottom, this tree wasnít going anywhere. As a matter of fact, the base was so thick and soundly embedded into the ground, that even the swampy muck that sucked the life out of most seedlings was forced upwards, rolling right back down into the bog. Evidently, it remembered something promising about this shithole that must have existed long before my conception.

Wrapping and covering almost every other inch of the colossus was "the virus vine"óthat was, in our part of the country, what people called the uncontrollable kudzu weed. You see, kudzu seemed to be the scapegoat that spread and covered and swallowed our townóeliminating it and all of its moral value from the face of the earth. It grew on houses, it grew on phone lines. If you left your car untended long enough, it grew on your car.


Maybe the town was best that way. Unseen. Unsaid. Unnoticed. Unbound.

The first time that I made one of three donations to Nazareth was early last October. The wind had started to take on a burnt embers smell as it breezed through town, fighting away the always lurking smell of the old paper mill. This was not an Indian Summer. Quite the contrary, it was bitterly cold.

This particular night, the homecoming football game my senior year, the cheerleaders were so cold that not even their leggings and mascot-blessed sweaters could help them avoid the crowd heckling them, their mascara-enhanced, red, goose-bumped faces and their protruding headlights. Danny Wilks, bundled up and tribally face-painted red and black (the school colors), and I headed out to the game to cheer on the team. Sadly, there wasnít a whole lot to cheer for. We were the weakest and smallest team in our conference.


Our homecoming rival blasted through our rag-tag bunch of, shall I say, maybe-they-should-have-played-soccer, players and left them for the over-populated janitorial staff to clean up. Actually they werenít much of a rival in the truest sense of the word, we hadnít beaten them in over 20 years. We lost 45-3. Luckily, our field goal kicker, Dave "Launch" Loncharís day job was playing soccer. He seemed to be the teamís only real asset and helped save a little bit of face.


Although nothing was worse than losing your homecoming game every year, this year it didnít seem to faze football fanatic Danny. He was always impressed by the primetime feel of bright lights and shiny helmets but always insisted that he could never play the game because of his inability to concentrate. Iím sure that it had nothing to do with the fact that the kid stood five-six on his tip-toes and weighed a buck-twenty with his pockets filled with bars of gold.

I had known Danny almost my entire life. We grew up directly across the street from each other. Luckily for him, he was rich by our townís standards. His father, Buck Wilks had made some sound investments years ago and his mother, Trudy, came from old money.


The youngest of four Wilks boys (Billy, Timmy, Tommy and Danny consecutively), he wasnít the brightest kid I knew. As a matter of fact, he had spent much of his early life juiced-up on Ritalin to control his outbursts of hyperactivity. Also plagued with ADD and dyslexia, he spent a lot of time in those "special" classes.


However, all of these birthright setbacks never stunted his optimism.

"Hey man, youíre not going to believe the news I got today."

He said as we jumped into his overly-lifted Jeep CJ-7. As he popped the clutch to take off, he kicked his theme song, "Stigmata" by Ministry, into the CD player.


As the thundering drums and stinging vocals of one of the evilest songs in history blared out of his trick, five-speaker system, he subtly injected,

"I got into State early admission. Iím out of here, kid."

It looked like Danny was to be the first.

"And check this out man."

As he reached into his center console, I saw a look unlike any I had ever seen him make: one of pride.

"Look what my old man got me. He opened the letter before I got home from school today."

Then, Danny showed me his pride. The one gift from his hard-ass father that wasnít a token of his wealthÖat least to Danny. It was a Mont Blanc pen. He didnít care about the price. Maybe because he didnít realize that it was worth more than I made in a month. He just cared about his accomplishment and what this pen, with his name engraved on it, symbolized.


After being pinned as an underachiever and a dunce by ignorant teachers most of his life, it truly reflected his rising above the hubbub.

"Dude, this pen can write on anything" he began, "and according to the little manual that came with it, itís indestructible."

He then complemented his ridiculous sports fan outfit by placing his trophy in his front shirt pocket.

Then, I said the unthinkable.

"Oh, so you can read." I donít really know why I said it. It just kind of fired outÖout of jealousy.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? I havenít seen any acceptance letter for you yet pal." He lunged back.

I quickly tried to salvage the conversation, as well as our friendship.

"No, man. I didnít mean to say that. I just want to get out of here. I hate this place. There has to be a better truth, a better life, out there somewhere. Life doesnít revolve around an old, abandoned paper mill. The fools in this town really believe that itís going to re-open. I only write on paper. I donít give a fuck where it comes from."

"Whoa!!! Fair enough, dick head. Donít worry D, youíre letter will come." He gave me a shadow boxer "duck and punch" and then gunned out of the high school parking lot. "If you could only learn how to speak as well as you write."

"Thanks. Iím an ass. Where are we going, anyway?" I asked.

"I donít know. A few of the football players are having a party. Probably to honor Lonchar for putting some numbers on the board."

That was Dannyís way of dressing up piece of shit with a cherry. It was a skill that he had mastered. For example, he didnít really see himself as a slow learner. He saw the teachers as moving too fast.

"Hey man, whatís up with Susanís step dad and the Christmas lights?"

At first I didnít know what he was talking about.

"Check it. Itís the middle of October and heís already building a shrine to the baby Jesus. First one to get them up every year. Last one to take Ďem down."

As we drove by Susanís house, I looked out the plastic Jeep window and there was Rick Conroy, whistling away and lacing the house with bright flashing lights. The guy couldnít have been happier.


I guess since the paper mill closed, the locals would do just about anything to raise their spirits and keep themselves busy.

"I donít know." I answered, "Susan has kind of a strange family. Sheís a little messed up." I knew Susan Glass well, but I didnít have a clue as to the motivation behind her stepfatherís holiday-envy.

"Youíre telling me. When was the last time that twig had a burger? She needs to get with it. Maybe she fasts all year and feasts on Christmas."

"I think there is more to it than that." I left it at that. I knew that Susan was anorexic and didnít think it was any of Dannyís business. We all had problems communicating our fears. Hers all seemed to be buried and concealed deeply inside.

"Well, alright then," he said.

After driving around for close to an hour, Danny and I ended up parking at McDonaldísóa common meeting place for all those anxious seniors who were looking for the locale of the nightís festivities.

"Hey, Dano. I heard about State. You outta here boyeeeeeee!" yelled the star field goal kicker, Lonchar, from across the parking lot.

"Nice field goal Launch. Maybe I can talk to the State football coach." Danny answered, nudging the champ in the ribs.

"Football. I want to play soccer." They both shared a laugh and then proceeded to cheers each other in the air. As much as Lonchar joked, it was obvious that a part-time football career paid fairly well. The field goal hero was surrounded by an entourage of star-struck girls. If you didnít know any better youíd swear that Lonchar had just won the Super Bowl and signed a seven-figure commercial deal with McDonaldís. The sad thing was, his parents could never afford to send him to college and his gradesÖwellÖmaybe it was a good night for him to be "The Man." "Hey boys, Dodge is having a jammie at his house. Parents are gone, two kegs and probably whatever other poison you want."

"Sounds good man. Weíll catch you there," I said as we headed out of the parking lot, both Danny and I anticipating a messy night.

"Hey man. I didnít get anything to eat before the game. Can we stop at the donut shop and pick up a snack? I didnít want to get too wasted." I looked at Danny and I couldnít think of anything worse than donuts and beer for a hyperactive kid having the most exciting night of his life so far.

"Youíre driviní," was the only thing that I could say. As we pulled in front of the donut shop, that resentful sentence continued to echo through my mind. It was the tongue of my desperation. The voice of a caged and spiteful animal. I hoped that he would forgive me.

"Do you want to come in D? Maybe you can get something."

"Yeah, thatís cool."

I had come to terms with the fact that I would be babysitting for a drunken maniac that night. It didnít bother me, I owed it to him.

On our way into Alís Do-Nuts, we both noticed an unfamiliar, aggro kid ranting nervously at passers-by and screaming into the phone. He had a bushy home-sculpted mullet hairdo, a cheap pleather jacket, and sweat beading-up on his Cro-Magnon brow.


As we passed him, he gave us a once over and remained fully tuned into his important conversation. Obviously, he was just passing through, picking up a package from one of the unemployed town folk striving to make ends meet.


Funny, judging from his sunken black eyes and beyond pasty skin, the only place that this kid would qualify as a familiar face was Hell.

"Take note young Daniel. Butane is not a proper inhalant when mixed with crystal meth," I joked.

"Ya think? That kid needs some sugar about as much as I do right now." He laughed and shuffled through his pockets as we entered Alís to the ringing, distorted doorbell. "Hey D, order me a bear claw, a honey glazed and a couple of the gross old ones to throw at people at Dodgerís house. I left my dinero in the car."

"Cool. Hey, Gerry. What up?" The Do-nut man of the night was our football teamís ex-all star running back Gerald Denn.

"What up, D?" He returned. "Deed mine boys sing redemption tonight?" A funny thing about Gerald was that after ninth grade he began speaking like a Rastafarian. He told everyone that he was born in Jamaica, then moved to America at a young age. If you didnít know any better, youíd swear he was the long lost descendant of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Marcus Garvey and Jah himself. I suspected that his birth records would tell a different story and that the whole charade was an excuse to smoke a lot of weed and look fashionable.


"I and I did not tink so. Any partyiní a-goiní on later?" Gerald was the one great hope that our football team ever had of winning a homecoming game. However, youíve heard the saying about big fish in a small pond. After one article too many in the local newspaper about the great Gerald Denn, he dropped out his junior year and tried to go pro. It didnít exactly work out the way he expected. Oh well, he took some night classes and successfully completed his G.E.D.. Unlike most of the ex-sports heroes who still lusted for the glory years, he tried extremely hard not to talk about the past. He did however, dream. The rest is Do-Nut history.

"Yeah, Dodge and those clowns are having a party. Can you grab me a bear claw, a honey glazed and a couple of those old heinous ones?"

"Is done," he said as he flicked open a bag and masterfully juggled the donuts into the bag. Then, something caught his attention. "Ey, D, tílooks like Dano síhaviní some trouble with dat ragamuffin outside." I guess I forgot about the living dead lingering outside, because at first I didnít register Geraldís comment. Nonetheless, before I could turn around, the bell signaled that Danny was already on his way in.

"What was that all about." I asked.

"That freak just wanted to borrow my pen to write down a number." Danny didnít even seem to think twice about lending his trophy.

"Where is it now?"

"Heís bringing it in when heís finished."

"He better." Before I could dig into Danny about lending out the pen, the bell chimed and the mystery man shot through the door. He was picking at the scabs on his face and his right eye twitched like someone had just sprayed him in the face with a sandblaster.

"Hey man. Can I buy this pen off of you?" he asked Danny.

"No. Itís a gift. Why donít you go down the street to Rite Aid and buy one?"

"Because I need to copy down this information now. You got any paper?" Once again, Danny fumbled through his pockets. The only thing that he had was his acceptance letter to state. Funny how you never seem to have a piece of paper when you need it.

"Nope. Just write it down on your hand. That pen writes on anything. Maybe if you wash your hands first, youíll be able to read it," Danny answered, beginning to get a little perturbed. It was obvious that he was heating up because the red and black face paint started to run together all over the place.

"God dammit!" The severely neurotic kid yelled as he spun around in a frenzy and headed back to the phone. The doorbell didnít work.

"Maybe we should invite psycho to Dodgerís house. Looks like he could use a beer." Danny had cooled down but I was quickly absorbing his anger.

"Fuck that, letís bring him there and give him a blanket party." I shot. A blanket party was our way of letting troublemakers know that they stepped out of line. Usually performed as a joke, or an homage to the infamous "Code Reds" of the military, we would pull a blanket over someoneís head and then beat them until they begged for mercy. Nice, huh?

"Oh, relax. Whatís happening Ger?"

"Natta much, Dano. ĎEre is dem donuts." Once again, the mullethead plowed into the shop. Once again, the bell didnít work.

"Donít be a dick, dude. I need this pen. Iíll give you twenty bucks for it." One of his face pickings had started to bleed. This was really starting to get annoying. Danny was beginning to show early signs of that hyperactive youth who used to light himself on fire and jump into the lake behind his house as a joke.

"Look fuck, just write down your info and give it back."

The pleather clad warrior kicked the door open and returned to the phone. Gerald didnít seem agitated. Besides, he didnít own the shop.

In an attempt to alleviate some of the stress, I stepped up to the counter in front of Danny. "I got it Dan. I owe you something for being an ass earlier." I reached across the counter to give Gerald my money.


Then, it happened.


Three gunshots rang out behind me. I hadnít ever heard a gat fired so close to me. It shook my teeth and burnt my gums. As terror thrusted up my veins, my balls shriveled into my chest.


Terrified, I jumped behind the counter with Gerald who had already taken cover. I didnít hear Danny cry out, so I figured he had taken cover with us as well. Two seconds later, the reluctant bell rang and the gunman was instantly squealing out of the parking lot. With my eyes closed, I propped myself up slowly. Gerald was shivering in shock. I was also shaking. I was shaking so hard that the cheap imitation glass donut case rattled and the cakes inside fell from their designated homes.


With one eye, I looked up through the display case, beyond the mixed pile of donuts. All I could see was slightly twitching remains of college student Danny Wilks. It was difficult to tell where his blood stopped and where his smeared makeup began. It was even harder to tell who he was. As I began to lose control of my breathing and collapse, I looked down at my mangled life-long friend, the first one of my allies to escape, and saw his Mont Blanc pen tightly gripped in his hand.


Engraved on the base was "You did it. Love, Dad" proudly displayed in the poorly lit ambiance of Alís Do-Nut shop. He twitched. He twitched again. His arms fluttered uncontrollably and then his last living squirt of blood spat all over the front of the counter.

"Breathe, Danny. Breathe God dammit. Breathe," is all I managed to get out.

A week later, I crossed the street to the Wilksís house. His father gave me the pen, saying that I should have it. At first, I was reluctant to take it, but he insisted that it belonged to me. He couldnít bear the sight of what remained of his youngest son. Maybe he blamed himself for giving Danny such an expensive gift.


I told him that the killer didnít have any idea of the penís value.

"The bastard didnít even have the balls to face his crime," Buck Wilks sniffed out in a shattered voice.

Apparently, after the killer bailed from Alís, he headed down the highway where he was eventually pursued by the local cops. While driving towards the Bay Bridge, his only escape route, he emptied the gun into his own face, swerved off the road and was engulfed in the flames of his car. Coward.

That night, I went to visit Nazareth to bury Dannyís trophy at the foundation. I didnít think that I was ever going to be able to write with it. Much to my chagrin, some neighborhood kids had constructed a rope swing by hammering two railroad spikes into his hands, securing a long nylon rope connected to an old tire. I was so furious that I ripped down the apparatus, tearing the nails through the limbs of the tree.


Angered, I turned and hoisted the blasphemous plaything into the sewer. The fiery rage pumping through my arms quickly froze midstream when I noticed what I had done. I had weakened the pleading appendages, forcing sap to gush out everywhere. Instead of clutching towards any prospect for survival, the limbs weakly dangled like the ornaments on a pathetic Christmas tree. After my initial shock, surprisingly, it didnít upset me. With the senseless loss of Danny, I was beginning to lose interest in the majesty of Nazareth.


Without looking again, I quickly dug a hole at the Herculean base and buried Dannyís trophy.

In the winter, another ring was added to Nazarethís long life. I spent the day home "sick" from school so I could crank out a couple poems that were due for my creative writing class. I knew that they wouldnít take me that long to complete but I really wanted to leave high school with a bang and make my presence as a writer remembered. How heroic of me. I never felt that anything could make people listen like the written word.


Besides, what did I have to compete with; the theatre kids and their obsession with the bored rebellion of Holden Caufield, the stoners and their Gonzo-esque carbon copies of Hunter S. Thompson, and the countless other caustic attempts at metaphorically mutating "roses are red" by paying tribute to Tupac Shakur or Biggie Smalls. I wanted to tell something bold, something true.

After pacing unconstructively around Nazareth in a zombified lethargy, I concluded that every other kid in my class was going to sum up the closing of the paper mill and how it had taken its toll on our town. Since I hadnít taken the time to deal with Dannyís death, I decided to leave that topic to one of the many girls in class who fancied themselves his widow. So, I diverted my attention elsewhere. Susan Glassís misery was the first thing that came to mindÖ

Susan was always a really close friend to everyone, but she kept to herself. It was obvious that she suffered from severe anorexia and it seemed to consume all of her time. I remember one time when I went out to get some frozen yogurt with her, she threw a fit at the poor employee when he refused to measure the already non-fat yogurt into exactly 10 oz.. She was very obsessed and all the warning signs were there. A couple of my friends and I used to make fun of her mustache and call her "Hitler."


Whenever she walked by, we would stand attention and salute her by lunging our arms into the air, exclaiming, "heil!" One day she took me aside in tears, explaining that because of the affliction, her bodyís hormones produced a soft, thin layer of hair everywhere on her body. All of her friends ignored her cry for help, relying on a societal debate concerning high school females and their infatuation with super models.

For this, I owed her something. I didnít want to expose her personal demons to my teachers or make her uncomfortable around her peers, but I did want to let her know that I cared. I worked all that day under the weakened arms of Nazareth, creating something true. That fabulous shaft supported my back and kept me attentive to the task I had outlined for myself.


However, the stench of the bog was a painful reminder of lifeís setbacks and the atrocities tucked away in the deepest clearings of the town. Sure, my poem may have been driven by a plea of forgiveness, but the result was a painting of her beauty. At dusk, I was finally satisfied with the finished product. I read it to myself over and over. It was everything I hoped it would be. It wasÖpoetic. The first real piece of poetry that I had ever written. Still, the completion of her maze lead back to the beginning. I searched what I knew about her for an answer to her perpetual self destruction.


I guess deep down I thought it a little selfish for someone who lived in this town to refuse food. Nevertheless, excited about my tribute, I called Sue and asked her to meet me at the McDonaldís parking lot.


She agreed.

"You canít bring this to class!" she screamed as she read of the words in horror. "You will totally single me out. I donít have a problem and I donít want to be your secret little joke. Iím not your freak."

"Sue, I just wanted toÖ" I began. She pulled out a cigarette, probably the first of her second or third pack of the day, from behind her ear. Then, in one swift, circular motion, she pulled her trademark Zippo out of her pocket, lit the cigarette and returned the faithful lighter to its home. She must have practiced that move so many times to get it right, I remember thinking in admiration.

"What? Tell everyone how fucked-up I am. You donít understand, D." She continued to look at my poem and began to cry. The power of her tears piled on top of her chiseled jaw, picked up weight and then fell onto her sweater in piles. "He fucks me, D." As I searched through my mind to try and pin-point Susanís latest co-dependent, I came upon a frightening realization. "He fucks me all the time. When my mom goes out, even when she goes to the store to pick up a couple of things, he rapes me. He beats me like his bitch and calls me by his dead wifeís name. ĎAngie! Angie, you whore! Angie!í All over the house. He wonít stop."

"Rick?" Rick Conroy always seemed so happy, stringing his Christmas lights, paying tribute to Christ. It all made sense. I guess I finally had the solution to her maze and the reasoning for how such a beautiful girl with everything going for her would want to re-invent herself as something unappealing, skeletal, unable to reproduce. "How come you never told anybody?" I whispered.

"Would you tell anybody? My mom? Sheís always so piss drunk, she ignores what she may or may not know. She doesnít care. All she does is sit around or relive her glory years as the homecoming queen by stumbling around the house with her stupid crown on."

"Susan, as a friend I have to tell somebody. Jesus Christ, you should have told someone other than me." I didnít want to be the sole protector of such an incredibly sick secret.

"No way. I donít want to be the freak. I know what people say. I hear those tweaked cunts who pretend to be my friends say they want to help when they are secretly wishing they were as thin as me. I see how all of you make jokes about me. LOOK AT ME!" she screeched revealing her lifeless bone of a limb by pulling up the arm of her sweater.

"You arenít a freak. You just need help."

"Itís not that easy. Just keep it to yourself. If I find out that you told anyone, I will kill you. Iím getting out of here. I am going to stay with my sister until summer and Iíll find out next week whether or not I got into State. My mom has the money tucked away from when my grandfather died. My grades are pretty solidÖerrÖat least until this year." She flicked her cigarette out the window and immediately lit up another. Same motion, same precision.

"You have to quit suffering. Now!" All I could do was offer simple solutions to the terror of her existence. I couldnít feel her pain, but it spoke powerfully and burned my skin through her eyes.

"Keep your mouth shut, D. You arenít God here." She pulled deep on her cigarette and shot me a trusting look.

"Okay I promise."

"Thanks." She continued to look at the poem and continued to cry. "Can I keep this? Iíll give you my lighter."

From her pocket she pulled out her precious Zippo. This time, she pulled it out slowly. I attempted to shoo it away , but she insisted.

"Take it, I have to quit smoking. Itís killing me."

We both laughed and the exchange was made. I heard her bones creak as she carefully exited the car. Then, she poked her head in and blew me a kiss. She followed her token of love by performing this crazy skeleton dance. She bounced around aimlessly, flapping her grossly thin body around like an uncontrollable marionette.


This was her way of letting me know everything was okay.

The next day, I ended up turning in an obvious poem about the closing of the paper mill how it would have affected Mark Twain. Apparently, my teacher didnít agree with my views on obscure literary references focusing on Twain and how he was consumed by James Fenimore Cooper and his fraudulent, romantic writing style. I thought it was funny, but my teacher fancies herself quite a Deerslayer when it comes to grading. I got a C. At least Susanís secret was safe.

About a week and a half later, the phone rang at around 2:00 in the morning. My mom answered it and immediately rushed into my room.

"Honey, Lonchar is on the phone. He says that itís really important." Great, I thought, Dodge must be having another one of his epic all-nighters.

"What do you want Launch. Iím sleeping," I grumbled as I wiped away the first signs of snot from my eyes.

"Dude. Susan jumped off the Bay Bridge. They found her car parked out there with a note. They havenít found her yet. She may still be alive. I might go up there and search around." This was no time for a hero, I thought.

"What? What are you talking about?" I wasnít really shocked, just confused. "What did the note say? Was it about Rick?" Quickly, I felt loss and delivery creep up my body. She was cold as she lifted away.

"About Rick? Rick who? Chambers? Were they dating? No, it was a letter from State, refusing her admission." The phone dropped from my hand and I started to gag. As I walked away, I heard Lonchar yelling, "D! D! Are you there? D! Are you there?

As I thought about Sue jumping off the 50 foot Bay Bridge, I clearly saw her agony released. She knew she was trapped. I walked into my room and put on my clothes. My mom peaked in through my door.

"Honey, what did he want? Did something happen?"

I picked up Susanís Zippo from my bed stand and headed out. Breathe, Danny. Breathe God dammit. Breathe!

"Donít worry about it mom. Iíll be back in a little while." I should have told her something but I had another agenda.

When I went to Nazareth to bury Susanís lighter at its base, I saw him in a completely different light. The darkness may have been deceiving, but at night he didnít look as strong. He seemed weathered, beaten down, tired. And looking at the moonlight shadow, he didnít reflect any tangible form other than a big pile of kudzu. I fell to my knees and began digging directly next to the burial location of Dannyís trophy. Never looking down, I dropped Susanís provider into the hole and covered it up.

They would eventually find her decayed body in the next couple of days. It washed up on the banks of the bay. Iím sure that even in her decomposed state she was still as beautiful as she had always been. As much as I wished that it was all a hoax, I knew deep down that she didnít see any other way out. She was so close to escaping. I decided to keep her secret. At that time, I wanted her beauty to live on forever, untarnished. This was a problem that couldnít have been solved by an extra two ounces of yogurt.

I remember the feeling when I opening the mail box that Spring day. I enjoyed the mystery of what lay ahead. Unlike the past few months, in which I opened the box only to be showered with a number of countless delinquent bills that my parents had tried unsuccessfully to ignore, there was only a sole letter. I immediately knew what it was. I bit my lip, pulled it out and my stomach howled. It felt thin. That wasnít a good sign.


Shooting through my mind were thoughts like,

"Why would I, a kid from a shitty little town beat out every other aspiring writer to get a scholarship to a stuffy private school?"

Luckily, my parents were gone. They wouldnít have to see my disappointment as I unfolded the letter. More thoughts raced through my mind.

"Well, I could always go to the community college and raise my grades. I would then hear my personal devilís advocate answer. "This isnít about grades, itís your only chance."

As I sat down and continued to play with the letteróholding it up to the light, bending it for contentsóI expected nothing but the worst. Why was the world I was escaping to any better than the one that I lived in? Where exactly was I going? What did I expect to do with my life?


Then, I thought about Danny Wilks and Susan Glass for the first time since they had passed. Is our world so fucked up and deranged? What did they have to look forward to? What could they change? For Godís sake this is a world where the President fucks his intern with a cigar, murderers get off because of their social status, good people are killed for saying what they want, image drives violence in the inner-city, and the figure heads of the world vomit all over themselves, leaving a mess and creating a perpetual circle of mistakes for us to clean up.


What was so good about the world? Was it any better than the dying town where I lived? Am I supposed to have these answers? Did Danny or Susan? Everything that I looked forward to, everything that I had ever wanted was on this one piece of paper.

I sat down and began tearing the envelope open. There was a single piece of paper inside, nicely folded on a cheap, thin stock of paper. Something I wouldnít have noticed except I always envisioned my college acceptance or rejection letter would be printed on a thick paper, laced with gold and ripe for framing. I unfolded the first flap. What if I just didnít fit in? What if I couldnít cut as a writer? I unfolded the second flap revealing the contents of my life. I immediately noticed that it was about three paragraphs in length. Fairly unimpressive for the foretelling of my future. I began to read. Fuckers!


They spelled my name wrong! Well, that wasnít important. I read the first line.

"Congratulations, you have been accepted on scholarship to attendÖ" I was in!

When my parents arrived home that eveningómy father had taken on a part-time job as an engineering consultant a few towns over and my mother worked at the local book storeóI proudly showed them my conquest. They both went to college. As a matter of fact, they both went to a better college than the one I had gotten into. However, the military brainwash of his academy school and the Lutheran teachings of her mid-western school didnít appeal to me. I wanted to write and I wanted out.

"Good job, son. You did it." my father said, extending his hand for a firm shake.

"I donít know, honey. Are you sure you want to leave?" my mother pleaded.

I handed my father the letter. "Fuckers! They spelled our name wrong."

After a good dinner, I took my letter off of the fridge. "Are you going to go and show it to your friends?"

"Something like that."

I had one last sacrifice to make to the great icon. One last duty.

As I counted the days before my triumphant escape, I sat on the stump of the powerful Nazareth. Once, standing so proud, an enigma in our decaying society. Now, just a pew surrounded by a lump of torn kudzu and left-over bark. Unbeknownst to me, they leveled this entire area sometime over the past couple of months. Even the smaller disciples across the bog were mowed down.

I guess I lost interest. When youíre forced to grow up, security blankets, crutches, idols, and religions fade away. Why should I give faith to something based solely on its test of time? My internal focus grew as my dependency on higher powers disappeared, becoming nothing more than a lessonóa perverse structure. I donít think that spending any more time here would have made any difference. It wouldnít bring Danny and Susan back.


Like I said before, Iím a realist, not a dreamer. Iím sure theyíll build a strip mall or something equally worthless. I can see it now. Maybe, a pop culture coffee house, a health conscious smoothie joint or any countless number of new age franchises that no one in this town can afford to frequent.

I cleared away the piles of Nazareth and dug up Dannyís trophy and Susanís provider. I wanted to cry. Senseless. What could have been done to prevent their deaths. Nothing. First, I pulled out the lighter. I lit the Zippoís flint as I envisioned Susanís one-motion trick that she had proudly mastered. All I could think about was her pain. It was about more than escape for her. I held my acceptance letter up and in one circular motion, I lit it on fire. They spelled my name wrong and I knew my dad would make sure they sent another.


The paper slowly burned away and the light breeze broke the ends off and exiled them to the disgusting waste of the bog below. The thin paper burned brightly, but eventually the flames became uncontrollable and the letter doubled over and collapsed on itself. Before I could dispel the last corner, however, one lucky flame, burnt the tips of my fingers.

I then dug for Dannyís trophy. Sure enough, just like he said, it was indeed "indestructible." I read the inscription aloud to the fallen Nazareth. "You did it. Love, Dad." It was roughly the same thing that my father had said to me. I know he would have rather had me go to some military school, but he was proud of me, just as much as old Buck Wilks was of Danny. Although I had tried to shut out that fateful night for the rest of my life, certain elements always flashed by; Danny masked behind his ridiculous face make-up, Lonchar the hero, Gerald the dreamer, the speed freak coward and meÖthe jealous asshole. I am still haunted by the sight Dannyís shaking body. He just laid there, begging for a minute, a second, a moment and twitched. As his leg quivered uncontrollably, the blood from his wounds pumped out. It was almost as if his leg was working as a death machine, pushing him to the end as quickly a possible. It was horrible.

I fumbled around in my pockets for a piece of paper to write on. Just like Danny at Alís Do-Nuts, I didnít have a piece. God, if he had a piece of paper. Anything for that freak to write down whatever information was so fucking important. Why is that every time you really need a piece of paper you canít find one? I began stamping around like a lunatic, crushing the worthless remains of Nazareth as the blazing hell of Ministryís "Stigmata" pounded in my head.


Frantic, I threw Susanís lighter into the bog. I shredded pieces of the virus vine. I kicked at the stump and smashed scraps of bark. I was unleashed, uncaged. Just as I lifted my arm to throw that fucking pen, that terrible fucking pen, a memory surged through my head, "Dude, this pen can write on anything." I stopped and then slowly picked up a piece of bark from one of Nazarethís two reaching limbs. I wrote the truth. My truth. Then, I paid my last respects to the fallen God. It had finally been useful.


It wasnít my hiding place anymore and it wasnít the burial ground of my friends.

It was late, so I fished Susanís lighter out of the smelly pissing hole, put the piece of bark under my arm, proudly placed Dannyís pen in my front pocket and headed home.

For the first time in a long while, I started to observe. The dilapidated homes, the rummage growing in the yardsÖit was all so wrong. And then, I came to my school, most likely the cleanest high school in the country. As far as I knew, our good natured principal hired an over-abundant amount of out-of-work custodians when the mill closed. I walked by the football field and saw Lonchar kicking field goals.


Apparently, since Dannyís death, he stayed late after soccer practice to warm up for next yearís football season.

"Good job D. I heard the news from your mom when I called you to tell you about a shindig tonight at Dodgerís pad. A real kick-ass party. Honeys everywhere. Pick your own poison. You up?" he yelled across the field.

"Yeah bro. Iíll be there, I just got some shit to take care of first." Lonchar booted a 40 yard filed goal. It was good.

"Kind of a fucked up year, huh?" He wiped some sweat off of his forehead.

"Yeah. Kind of a very fucked up year. Catch you later." I turned around.

"Oh, your mom told me to tell you to call if I ran into you. Use the phone over there by the locker room. Itís free."


I headed towards the locker room, listening to his grunts and groans. Provided he got that soccer player nonsense out of his head, Launch was going to make it out of here. I picked up the phone and started to dial my house. I hesitated and then just as easily as I had picked up the receiver, I hung it up. I fell into the wall in front of me. This time, and only this time, I cried. It felt good. Some things are best left unsaid. Some things arenít. I dialed a number. It was not the number of my house.

Itís strange when everything seems to come together. After I walked by the high school, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. To be sure I wasnít dreaming, I looked down at my watch. Sure enough, April 16th: nowhere near Christmas. Shocked, I dropped everything that I was holding. There he was. It was Rick Conroy, whistling away, tearing down the lights that were still covering the house like an overgrowth of kudzu.


After collecting my memories, I walked up to his ladder.

"Nice night, huh Mr. Conroy?" I said angelically.

"Wha??? Oh, ya scared me." He looked up at the sky. "Itís alright. I can feel somethingís coming in from the west though." He re-adjusted his hat, snorted and spat onto the ground. All I could do was stare at him. Hatred. "You gotta problem son? Whatíre lookiní at?"

Quickly, I shook myself out of the hypnotic death stare and got myself together.

"I just think that itís brilliant how you leave your Christmas lights up practically all year round. Itís almost like you want to constantly bring joy to the town."

"Somethiní like that," he answered confused.

"Well, here. Iíve decided to bring joy to this town as well." I placed the piece of bark at the bottom of the ladder and walked away.

"Boy, what in the hell?" I heard him stepping down from the ladder but I didnít turn around. I just kept walking. Walking home. Walking away.

"Is this some kind of joke, kid?" He screamed after me. "Hey, Iím talking to you, ya little shit." I continued to walk and he continued to scream. "What does this mean? Who are you?" He didnít run after me, he didnít understand the message that I scrawled on the bark. As his ranting became more distant, nearly out of my reach, I heard sirens.

"Merry Christmas fucker!" I whispered, remembering my message.

The great Harry Houdini would be proud.

The Crisis Faced by Our Children

With the market forces of Wall Street dictating a three-month horizon to the vision of civilization, we have lost the opportunity to found our culture on the bedrock of long-term survival, advancement, and happiness. What makes these human challenges all the more painful to witness is the degree to which we self-impose ignorance of them.


Western civilizationís greatest single crime is the form of lying called denial Ė bearing false witness to ourselves.

We see these portents of future crises in evidence all around us, yet we bicker over President Clinton's sex life. The economy of a once-superpower has imploded in the face of the first of many cold winters of depression, and we find no global leadership rising even to the level of mediocrity to confront its implications. And we haven't even begun to talk about the psychosocial crises within our own back yards Ė crises of education, economics, and crime.

When the robust education that will spark the young mind is unreachable by the average child, are we truly surprised to witness children reaching for frightening alternative ways to expand the meaning of their lives? When the real-life prospects of a childís future can never even come close to the fantasies of Madison Avenue, is it any wonder that a generation of inner city youth becomes utterly demoralized?


When fictional entertainment becomes the only source of powerful storytelling, and the stories are ethically bankrupt, is it any wonder that we see the crumbling of goodness?


I weep for the human race when its future potential is so depressed as to become less mysterious, less full of wonder, and just as ethically vacant as its present fiction. In such a time, hope is lost, and we devolve.

What will save the children not so gifted or lucky to escape the horrors of today's inner city life? How will society grapple with the resulting catastrophe as those children raise children? How are all of our children Ė in every city and town and of every class Ė going to deal with the environmental catastrophes we are creating for them as our legacy? How will the history books remember this generation?

When our children are young, not only do we deny their obstacles and pain, we inflict them. We glamorize their beautiful faces and then ridicule their average ones. We complain about their education and then fail to educate. We complain about violence in entertainment and fail to tune it out. We paint the vision of college and "success", and then keep the same vision out of reach for all but a few. We pound absolute guilt into their minds regarding natural explorations of adolescence Ė bodies, sex, substances, music, friends, dreams, faiths Ė and refuse to promote balanced and truthful education of what behavior is truly risky and what is simply unscientific and unnatural fundamentalist moralism.

We punish our children as our proxies Ė for they show the symptoms of our crimes of negligence.

These crimes are made more deeply wrong because Western civilization boasts "the most educated societies in the world", in the fullest possession of the knowledge of the consequences of our choices and the means to make better choices.

We must realize that murder is murder whether it occurs in a nanosecond or a decade, across an ocean or a street, through the barrel of a gun, the disintegration of a childhood, the fouling of a river, the devastation of a rainforest, the crumbling of a city in debilitating poverty, or the rape of the resources of a younger nation.

What shall we do in the face of these challenges? Shall we simply turn away and ignore them? Shall we rely upon some kind of magical salvation? Of course not. We should commit ourselves along two paths, with the hope that has characterized humanity through our history. First, we should study, acknowledge, teach, and act to confront these challenges using the best ideas available.


Some changes may be difficult to absorb, but we will ultimately become a happier people. Our politicians must focus on these issues, or they are unfit to be given the public's most sacred trust, the trust of our future. Second, we should pay very dear, close attention to the promising research into new realms of science whose applications speak fundamentally to every one of these crises: a new emerging understanding of space-time itself. Studies at the forefront of science reveal the startlingly imminent possibility that the energy, transportation, and biological technologies of the future will look very little like those of today.


The studies and research appear to indicate these new technologies are "green" Ė extracting energy from the vacuum of space-time itself, with no known by-product of ecological damage. And new technologies of propulsion will break open the frontier of space-time, firing the imagination for an eternity of human generations.

This sober and serious agenda is one for the world as a whole to approach, as one global community. If the United Nations is in search of a true mission beyond hollow-sounding proclamations in behalf of peace, these two endeavors are worthy of the sustained focus of the body of concerned governing leaders around the world.

The earlier we begin to seriously deal with these issues and pioneer these technologies, the less abrupt will be the force of change in our future.


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