A Parable of Self-Destruction – by Nicholas Kristof – NYT

Scientists and historians have since solved the mystery. The statues, or moai, were built over hundreds of years by Easter Islanders themselves — a formerly advanced Polynesian society that was prosperous enough to make ever bigger and more ornate statues. One, still being carved in the quarry when it was abandoned in the 1600s, is 70 feet tall and weighs 270 tons.

What destroyed this civilization was apparently deforestation in the 1500s and 1600s. The islanders cut down trees for cremation, for firewood, for canoes, for homes and perhaps for devices to move the statues. Rats and beetles may also have contributed to the deforestation.

Once the trees were gone, there were no more fruit and nuts, and it became impossible to build large canoes to hunt porpoises and to fish for tuna. Hungry villagers also ate up the land birds, such as herons, parrots and owls, until they were gone, too.

Deforestation caused erosion that led crops to fail, and this advanced society disintegrated into civil war. Without oceangoing canoes, it was impossible for inhabitants to flee to other islands, the way their ancestors had arrived centuries before. Groups began attacking one another and destroying one another’s statues, with oral histories even recounting cannibalism.

via A Parable of Self-Destruction – The New York Times

With 10 Million Acres in Patagonia- a National Park System Is Born – The New York Times

Two Americans snapped up large swaths of land in Chile, which they donated to a new conservation area that will be three times the size of Yosemite and Yellowstone…


“COCHRANE, Chile — An eagle soared over the lone house atop an arid hill in the steppes of Patagonia Park.

In the valley below, not far from the town of Cochrane, President Michelle Bachelet announced the creation of a vast national park system in Chile stretching from Hornopirén, 715 miles south of the capital, Santiago, to Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, where Chile splinters into fjords and canals.

The park is the brainchild of Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and her husband, Douglas Tompkins, who founded The North Face and Esprit clothing companies, and starting in 1991, put $345 million — much of his fortune — buying large swaths of Patagonia.”

via With 10 Million Acres in Patagonia, a National Park System Is Born – The New York Times

Trump- Niger and Connecting the Dots – by Thomas Friedman – NYT

“Barbut, as I reported, reinforced her point by showing me three maps of Africa with dots concentrated in the middle of the continent. Map No. 1: the most vulnerable regions of desertification in 2008. Map No. 2: conflicts and food riots in 2007 and 2008. Map No. 3: terrorist attacks in 2012. All the dots of all three maps cluster around Niger and its neighbors. Hello?And what is Trump’s response to this reality? It’s to focus solely on using the U.S. military to kill terrorists in Africa while offering a budget that eliminates U.S. support for global contraception programs; appointing climate-change deniers to all key environmental posts; pushing coal over clean energy; and curbing U.S. government climate research.In short, he’s sending soldiers to fight a problem that is clearly being exacerbated by climate and population trends, while eliminating all our tools to mitigate these trends.”

Yes. Deeply disturbing, unfortunately true.

Here are the two top comments”


is a trusted commenter Downtown Verona NJ 15 hours ago

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
― Isaac Asimov

TRUMP 2017

Bruce Rozenblit

is a trusted commenter Kansas City, MO 17 hours ago

Dear Mr Friedman,
Since you are a world traveler, do you know where I can get a bottle of anti-anxiety medication? After reading your essay, that will be my only option short of having a nervous breakdown.

I’m an engineer, OK. I think logically. I’ve spent my entire life trying the solve problems and create things that people can use and enjoy. Trump is the exact opposite. He is trying to create problems. He thinks that by creating those problems, he can make the world a better place for all.

My life’s work demonstrates otherwise. Not only that, experience has shown me that when you want to create something new, it’s always a good idea to see what others have attempted in order to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Trump doesn’t do that. He already knows everything so he doesn’t have to learn anything. Since he already knows everything, you can’t tell him anything. His ego is so big that reason is not a component of his thinking. He just reacts with whatever feels good at the time. Oh by the way, he occupies the most powerful office in the world.

About that anti-anxiety medication.

‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown – by Janet Maslin – NYT book review


“But it takes more than geography to keep a Brown escapade spinning. The formula also calls for sinister cultism of some sort, and in this case the dark scheming involves overpopulation. One character, Zobrist, is a wealthy Malthusian with a powerful, secretive, high-tech army at his command (Mr. Brown says it is real, but he has given it “the Consortium” as a fake name) and a doomsday plot to implement. While talking about controlling the rapid growth in population with the head of the World Health Organization, Zobrist is told, “We’re at seven billion now, so it’s a little late for that.” His reply, a fine specimen of mustache-twirling villainy: “Is it?”

There’s a lot more in “Inferno” along these lines. And it all ties together. Dante’s nightmare vision becomes the book’s visual correlative for what its scientific calculations suggest. And eventually the book involves itself with Transhumanism, genetic manipulation and the potential for pandemics. Just as Mr. Brown’s “Lost Symbol” tried to stir interest in the noetic sciences (studying mind-body connections). “Inferno” puts the idea of a plague front and center, invoking the black plague, its casualty count and its culling effect on mankind. Mr. Brown is more serious than usual when he invokes Dante’s dire warning: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

But the main emphasis here is hardly on gloom. It is on the prodigious research and love of trivia that inform Mr. Brown’s stories (this one makes mincemeat of all those factoid-heavy wannabes, like Matthew Pearl’s “Dante Club”), the ease with which he sets them in motion, the nifty tricks (Dante’s plaster death mask is pilfered from its museum setting, then toted through the secret passageways of Florence in a Ziploc bag) and the cliffhangers. (Sienna: “Don’t tell me we’re in the wrong museum.” Robert: “Sienna, we’re in the wrong country.”) There is the gamesmanship that goes with crypto-bits like “PPPPPPP.” (Sienna: “Seven Ps is … a message?” Robert, grinning: “It is. And if you’ve studied Dante, it’s a very clear one.”)

And finally there is the sense of play that saves Mr. Brown’s books from ponderousness, even when he is waxing wise about some ancient mystery or architectural wonder. Once the globe-trotting begins in earnest, private planes figure in the story and Langdon calls his publisher to ask for one. No, says the publisher, then adds: “Let me rephrase that. We don’t have access to private jets for authors of tomes about religious history. If you want to write ‘Fifty Shades of Iconography,’ we can talk.”Guess what: Mr. Brown has already written it. And then some.”

The Wrong Time to Cut Back on Refugees – by Michael Mullen – NYT

“In slashing resettlement, the president is taking a recklessly narrow view of how best to put America first. Shutting out refugees would not only increase human suffering; it would also weaken the country and undermine its foreign policy.

There are more than 22 million refugees in the world, the highest number since World War II. Even before the Trump presidency, the United States response to this crisis was relatively modest. In fiscal year 2016, the United States resettled about 84,000 refugees, the most of any year under President Barack Obama. For comparison’s sake, the country took in roughly 200,000 refugees a year in the early 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.

Nonetheless, the resettlement effort under President Obama served American interests. For one thing, it helped the states that host the vast majority of Syrian refugees: Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. (In fiscal year 2016, 12,500 of the refugees resettled by the United States came from Jordan, a key American ally in a strategically crucial region.) The huge influx of refugees into these nations has strained their resources and infrastructure, becoming a potential source of instability and even conflict. By resettling refugees, the United States helps preserve stability and sends a message of support to countries whose cooperation it needs on a range of issues.”

“It’s no wonder that numerous studies have found that refugees are a net benefit to the American economy. The administration’s own study — which the president solicited from the Department of Health and Human Resources — concluded that refugees added $63 billion to the economy between 2005 and 2014.

Support for refugees creates another form of currency for the United States. Call it respect or admiration or credibility, this currency accrues when the United States leads by example and champions human rights on the world stage. It’s an invaluable and fungible resource, amassed over many decades. It enables the United States to forge ties with democratic movements. It also helps Washington persuade allies to do difficult things and pressure foes to stop their bad behavior. It is crucial to forging trade pacts, military coalitions and peace deals.

More than any other resource — including military and economic might — this accounts for American greatness. We sacrifice it at our peril.”

China’s Appetite Pushes Fisheries to the Brink – The New York Times

“. . .  Many of the Chinese boat owners rely on government money to build vessels and fuel their journeys to Senegal, a monthlong trip from crowded ports in China. Over all, government subsidies to the fishing industry reached nearly $22 billion between 2011 and 2015, nearly triple the amount spent during the previous four years, according to Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

That figure, he said, does not include the tens of millions in subsidies and tax breaks that coastal Chinese cities and provinces provide to support local fishing companies.

According to one study by Greenpeace, subsidies for some Chinese fishing companies amount to a significant portion of their income. For one large state-owned company, CNFC Overseas Fisheries, the $12 million diesel subsidy it received last year made the difference between profit and loss, according to a corporate filing.”

Terrific reporting, thank you Andrew Jacobs and NYT. This piece makes me sick to my stomach. Here are a few of many horrified comments I support:

Rational person

Nyc 20 hours ago

Nets a mile long???? This is terrifying. Another canary in the coal mine. We are killing our planet. And yes, I know, the “planet” will survive- it will reset itself over millions of years, and new life will flourish. But it is a shame that we cannot overcome our own stupidity, greed, and inability to regulate our species. We will soon destroy our ecosystem, and this wonderful diverse miracle of a world we inhabit.


Washington State 15 hours ago

Who’s surprised by this? Overpopulation fueled by technology is depleting every last resource on earth–fresh water, fish stocks, tropical and temperate forests, large game animals, soils, polinators, and climate stability. It’s only a matter of time before ecological catastrophe triggers socio-political-economic collapse. I can see no force to counter this general trend other than the inevitable rebalancing that nature will wreak on humanity’s own numbers. This is one of the most grim articles I’ve read in a long time, but it only confirms a hundred others like it I’ve read over the past 30 years. Beware, be afraid.

NYT Pick


Florida 17 hours ago

With 7.5 billion people on the planet, the loss of fishing stocks is a catastrophe. It will lead to the impoverishment of a couple hundred million people. Add this to rising seas and falling groundwater and it’s easy to see where all this is headed. Whether 7.5 billion or 10 billion our human population is unsustainable. Too bad that the forces of mythological religion, militarization, consumer capitalism, and political power competition have led humanity into a ditch in just a historical blink of an eye. If you are lucky enough to be well off in a developed country much of the misery will be out of sight.

Drought and War Heighten Threat of Not Just 1 Famine- but 4 – The New York Times

“BAIDOA, Somalia — First the trees dried up and cracked apart.Then the goats keeled over.Then the water in the village well began to disappear, turning cloudy, then red, then slime-green, but the villagers kept drinking it. That was all they had.Now on a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Baidoa, thousands of people pack into destitute camps, many clutching their stomachs, some defecating in the open, others already dead from a cholera epidemic.“Even if you can get food, there is no water,” said one mother, Sangabo Moalin, who held her head with a left hand as thin as a leaf and spoke of her body “burning.”Another famine is about to tighten its grip on Somalia. And it’s not the only crisis that aid agencies are scrambling to address. For the first time since anyone can remember, there is a very real possibility of four famines — in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — breaking out at once, endangering more than 20 million lives.International aid officials say it’s the biggest humanitarian disaster since World War II. And they are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

There is a lot we can do to help this situation, though Trump wants to cut foreign aid dramatically. We should provide aid, and military assistance, and  make our aid contingent on severe family planning, and population control programs. During the dark days of the Trump regime,  most non-military aid will apparently have to come from NGO’s and our allies. We have such ugly choices. To do nothing, will also achieve significant population decreases through suffering and death. To succor these people, without severe family planning, would be throwing fuel on a fire.

Here is a spooky comment I approve, though I disagree, that there is nothing we as Christians or Humanists can do.

Dan Stackhouse

NYC 1 hour ago

There are a few factors in this terrible famine, and I’m surprised the main one wasn’t addressed in this article. The reason there’s less water is climate change. Things are heating up, weather patterns are changing, and it’s not raining enough in these lands anymore.

The second largest problem, also not addressed here, is overpopulation. A hundred years ago we had about 1.8 billion people at most. Now we have about 7.4 billion, and it’s just too many for our resources and technology to accommodate.

The third largest is pointed out here, these nations are ruled by tyrants and chaos. It’s hard to say if anyone really rules Somalia and Yemen at this point, but South Sudan and Nigeria are controlled by rapaciously greedy men uninterested in humanitarian concerns.

As to what can be done about these problems, basically, not much. The solutions would be incredibly expensive and difficult. Doing anything about climate change at this point just means slowing it down, it can’t be reversed. Doing something about overpopulation requires a massive birth control effort and a change of the cultures involved, which all believe in having as many children as possible. And doing something about the tyranny and chaos means invading, providing a government, and basically reworking colonialism.

So I’m sorry, this famine will not be solved. The silver lining is that if enough people die from it, it will help the overpopulation problem somewhat.

Amazon Deforestation- Once Tamed- Comes Roaring Back – The New York Times

“A decade after the “Save the Rainforest” movement forced changes that dramatically slowed deforestation across the Amazon basin, activity is roaring back in some of the biggest expanses of forests in the world. That resurgence, driven by the world’s growing appetite for soy and other agricultural crops, is raising the specter of a backward slide in efforts to preserve biodiversity and fight climate change.

In the Brazilian Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, deforestation rose in 2015 for the first time in nearly a decade, to nearly two million acres from August 2015 to July 2016. That is a jump from about 1.5 million acres a year earlier and just over 1.2 million acres the year before that, according to estimates by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

Here across the border in Bolivia, where there are fewer restrictions on land clearance, deforestation appears to be accelerating as well.”

In China, a Lonely Valentine’s Day for Millions of Men – The New York Times

“SHANGHAI — If you’re a “single dog,” a “bare branch,” a “leftover man” or a “leftover woman” — all monikers for unmarried Chinese — you may find Valentine’s Day particularly trying.Judging by the numbers, quite a few of the long faces on Tuesday should belong to men.That’s because China’s gender gap remains huge. There were 33.59 million more men than women in China in 2016, according to figures from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics that were issued last month, and 48.78 percent of China’s 1.38 billion people are female, compared with a global average of 49.55 percent.”

Good article. China has moved two a two child per couple policy because its birthrate has gone way down. Here is one of my favorite comments:


Virginia 1 day ago

“The article fails to mention that in addition to the skewed sex ratio, more and more Chinese, particularly among those who are educated, do not wish to get married. There remains increasing pressure from parents and society in general for everyone to be married by a certain age but there are quite a lot who like their freedom and independence.

The article also did not mention that most selective abortions happen in the rural countrysides of China. This is also why men from the lowest socioeconomic ladder find it hard to find a wife. The article should have provided numbers for the skewed sex ratio for urban and rural China.”

A Little-Noticed Fact About Trade: It’s No Longer Rising – The New York Times

“The constant flow of goods from Asia to the United States was briefly interrupted last month after Hanjin, the South Korean shipping line, filed for bankruptcy, stranding several dozen of its cargo ships on the high seas.

It was a moment that made literal the stagnation of globalization.The growth of trade among nations is among the most consequential and controversial economic developments of recent decades. Yet despite the noisy debates, which have reached new heights during this presidential campaign, it is a little-noticed fact that trade is no longer rising. The volume of global trade was flat in the first quarter of 2016, then fell by 0.8 percent in the second quarter, according to statisticians in the Netherlands, which happens to keep the best data.

The United States is no exception to the broader trend. The total value of American imports and exports fell by more than $200 billion last year. Through the first nine months of 2016, trade fell by an additional $470 billion.It is the first time since World War II that trade with other nations has declined during a period of economic growth.

Sluggish global economic growth is both a cause and a result of the slowdown. In better times, prosperity increased trade and trade increased prosperity. Now the wheel is turning in the opposite direction. Reduced consumption and investment are dragging on trade, which is slowing growth.But there are also signs that the slowdown is becoming structural. Developed nations appear to be backing away from globalization.”

Source: A Little-Noticed Fact About Trade: It’s No Longer Rising – The New York Times

From Comments at the NYT:

Jay Davis

NM 15 hours ago

Edward Abbey: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.”

Francis Fukuyama: “The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.”

Thoreau: “I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is becoming every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be wondered at, since, as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.”