February 25, 2005 § Leave a Comment
Canadian filmmaker Greg Greene has oil depletion on his mind and has made it his mission to spread the news of something that he and others think may be the biggest and most under-reported story around.
Greene had to talk to industry insiders and scientists at to find out the basic issue of oil depletion.
“I read the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star almost everyday,” said Greene, “and I hadn’t heard a thing about this, so I was very skeptical. It was really hard for me to continue to be skeptical after talking to geologists working within OPEC at this conference.”
The world consumes seven times more oil than it did 50 years, largely due to a population increase and transportation needs, as well as ever-expanding industry. Those concerned about oil depletion claim that half the available oil in the world has been used, which means oil drilling is at the peak. In other words, there is nowhere to go but down.
Will run out
“Everyone relates to energy and oil like they relate to the gas in their car,” said Greene, “once you get to empty you’ve got to get some more gas, but you can carry on steadily until then. Oil production doesn’t work that way. About halfway through a field or a region or a country or the planet, when you hit that half-way point, you start running out, it’s the law of diminishing returns, it takes more energy to get the oil out of the ground. Oil in the Earth is not like gas in the car, it’s a curve and we’re on top of that curve.”
This principle is called the Hubbert Curve, which was devised in 1950 by Dr. M. King Hubbert as a way to describe oil as a resource. His principle states that production starts at zero, then rises to a peak that cannot be surpassed — soon after, production declines. According to Greene, the information released by the United States Geological Survey, which is used to predict oil reserves, is being misread.
What many scientists are claiming is that the government and media report projections based on the 50th percentile, despite the fact that all the data in the last 10 years is consistent with the 95th percent projections. In other words, there is a 95 percent probability that we have used up a trillion barrels of oil, with only two trillion left — and a good portion of that amount will not be recoverable.
Things are at their best
“We’re at the best of times right now,” said Greene. “Oil prices are not going to go down. We’re not going to find some sort of free energy in the next few years that will save our bacon. We have to face this as responsible adults.”
The thought of oil depletion paints a dire future — oil is responsible for 40 percent of the world’s energy, and is even the driving force behind food production sustainability. As Greene sees it, American suburbanites have the most to lose in the scenario.
“The people who have invested the most in a high energy lifestyle are the most vulnerable to this coming crisis and they need to be warned,” said Greene.
Part of the problem is the struggle to get past the resistance of some of the very people he is trying to warn.
“No oil people and no scientists have disagreed with us, none,” said Greene. “We’ve got some folks living in suburbia who disagree with us.”
Greene posits that suburbia is the ultimate culmination of the American disconnect in regard to the myth of infinite resources. As a country built on the idea of expansion, limitation is one notion that is not always welcome in political discourse — in fact, consuming, whether it involves American Indian territory or SUVs, might be the thread that binds Americans. After all, following the attacks of Sept. 11, the government urged citizens to send the terrorists a message by spending money on goods and travel.
“The mythology of a limitlessness is at the basis of a suburban way of life,” said Greene.
Those within the movement believe that there will be no easy answers as we seek an alternative to oil and, most probably, there will be a number of ways that energy will be produced.
The road to that time, Greene fears, will be a hard one and the challenge for Americans is to turn away from scapegoats and rise to the occasion by accepting responsibility and curbing consumption as best they can. This may mean turning back on the American birthright of consumption, but it also means embracing the American tradition of apocalyptic thinking, just retooling it to the right end of the world.
“Everyone’s so fixated on apocalypse,” said Greene, “but everyone’s unaware of the causes that are going to bring it straight to their front doorstep very soon.”
Greene believes that humans in general and Americans in particular are an ingenious lot and sustainable forms of energy will be found. In the meantime, he and others worry that short term thinking might ruin the bright promise of tomorrow.
“If we don’t manage this crisis, what will be left to power?” said Greene.
“How many people have to suffer? How many people in the third world have to die? How many middle class people in the developed world have to lose their homes? Lose their jobs? Offer a darker future to their children simply because we have not managed this transitional crisis properly?”
February 17, 2005 § Leave a Comment
Former Williams college art and chemistry student Nick Zammuto has planted himself firmly in the North Adams arts scene, currently planning a spring tour in support of the new CD by his band, The Books. The band, which consists of Zammuto and Paul De Jong, a cellist from the Netherlands, utilizes family and friends in a unique mix of styles and sounds that defy classification and pull from their unusual sound interests. Their third CD, “Lost and Safe,” has just been released, a mesmerizing mix of musical soundscapes complimented by vocals and found audio interspersed that is alternately cryptic and humorous.
How did an American artist/chemist and a Dutch cellist end up becoming musical partners? Zammuto says it began with dinner.
“The common ground has always been food in some basic way,” said Zammuto. “The first time we ever talked about anything was when he had me over for dinner, and he made this great spaghetti dinner.”
Spaghetti aside, Zammuto also took the opportunity to check out De Jong’s music collection, which prompted De Jong to pull out a special rack of CDRs.
“It was the most bizarre collection of sounds I have ever heard,” said Zammuto.
The exact moment of their bonding, though, occurred while they listened to songs by Shooby Taylor, the human horn, a New York City postal worker renowned for recordings of his scat vocals sung over other recordings playing in the background.
“We were just on the floor, laughing hysterically,” said Zammuto, “and we definitely knew at that moment that we had a lot in common in terms of what we like about sound.”
While De Jong’s combination of musical eclecticism and classicism has shaped the musical sound, Zammuto’s personal passion of collecting and recording from life around him, as well as found audio from varying sources, has flavored the music by adding a whole other dimension to its presentation.
“Although Paul’s focus is old vinyl, archival stuff, and mine was field recordings from the environment,” said Zammuto. “I record pots and pans, the voices in my family, different events that I go to, ambient kind of sounds.”
Within a month of that pasta dinner, the duo had recorded a track together. At the time, they lived in NYC, but Zammuto began traveling around the country and they continued collaboration by burning CDs of their work and mailing them to each other. Eventually, Zammuto settled in North Adams, where he has lived on and off since his college days in the late 1990s.
“We do all of our own recording and all of our own mastering here,” said Zammuto, “we don’t use a professional studio at all because we want to use the equipment that we’ve pieced together over the years.”
Sometimes, North Adams and his audio interest have managed to work together for the greater purpose.
“I lived on Main Street, across from the Conte Middle School when we made our last record,” said Zammuto, “and every morning, early in the morning, the kids would wake me up yelling and screaming, and so I got a lot of recordings of them – and there’s a lot of that in the background on the acoustic recordings.”
Zammuto and De Jong aren’t traditional songwriters — they often begin from a sound they both want to use, or a melody that moves them. They improvise around this one thing to build their songs out of the connections they uncover in their noodlings.
“We start in the middle and find a beginning and an end in there somewhere,” said Zammuto, “so it’s a matter of it growing from a seed.”
While De Jong has been playing cello since the age of five and has been composing over the years, Zammuto is an artist with a side pursuit in chemistry, who taught himself guitar as a teenager but has never considered himself as knowing much about music. At some point, Zammuto began to incorporate sound with his sculptures, and even digitally record sounds that he was getting out of his sculptures.
Even with his current musical pursuits, Zammuto manages to revisit his sound sculpture work, most recently with the invention of his own musical instrument, the Spoonbox, which creates sound through vibrations, computers, and spoons.
“The idea is to build an army of them,” said Zammuto, “and send them out to different artists that I know and have them compose their own tracks for them and have a compilation CD of Spoonbox tracks. I have the makings for 50 of them and it’s a real nightmare right now figuring out how I’m actually going to do it.”
The sound is created by hooking a computer into an amplifier and using the amplifier to get the speakers to move, causing the spoons to move, thus getting loads of percussive sounds. Variation can be created by playing guitar to create the vibrations.
In the meantime, Zammuto is preparing for a 15 city tour with De Jong as the Books hit the road. They are still formulating what they want to do, but they are working with collaborators to take their sound on the road. The show will include visuals of found films as well as music made by Cello banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bass, as well as background rhythm tracks.
“It’ll be like glorified karaoke in a way,” said Zammuto.
The band plans to focus on improvisational playing and the duo is currently figuring out which songs from the CDs they want to use and how they will actually sound.
“They will be recognizable,” said Zammuto, “sometimes.”
February 15, 2005 § Leave a Comment
“Marks of the Beast,” a new book by a Williams College professor, examines the popular “Left Behind” book series and its implications to Americans who are not prophecy-believing evangelicals.
“‘Prophecy-believing evangelicals’ is shorthand for people who believe that there will be this Rapture,” said author Glenn W. Shuck, “and all of those who are God’s elect will be taken and then there will be seven years of Tribulation where there will be all of these apocalypses, which we’ve heard about, or one can read about in Revelation if you want to make any sense of Revelation.”
The “Left Behind” series follows the event of the world after the Rapture, where true believers are sucked up to heaven, leaving everyone else to deal with the Antichrist. At heart, the books are little more than a science fiction series with a religious scenario, but in Shuck’s book “Marks of the Beast,” they are unveiled as political motivaters for prophecy-believing evangelicals.
There are 60 to 80 million Americans who are evangelicals and of those, around 30 to 35 million are prophecy believers. According to Shuck, the prime purpose of “Left Behind” authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins is to steer their audience into being more politically organized and active on a local level as a way to prepare for the Tribulation.
“Everyone focuses upon the presidential and congressional elections,” said Shuck, “but, the areas in which prophecy believing evangelicals are gaining ground, is at the school board level and at the local government level and that is consistent with their belief.”
LaHaye, a longtime political mover and shaker, outlined his agenda in the early 1980s in his book, “The Battle for the Mind.” One major battlegrounds involves removing “objectionable passages” from school textbooks by using the status of Texas as the largest purchaser of textbooks in the country. Writing an exciting adventure series falls neatly into the same strategy.
“One of Tim LaHaye’s major themes has been to mold the minds of children and the idea is that they will grow up with these ideals,” said Shuck.
Prophecy belief has traditionally been considered a fringe axiom by many Americans. With the followers’ alignment to the Republican Party and enough media saturation, more Americans have become familiar with something that is considered a largely Southern phenomenon and one that is not institutional.
Shuck notes that while people are quick to turn the situation into a red state/blue state issue, nothing could be further from the case. Currently, prophecy-believing evangelicals have been moving into areas that they have not traditionally been found in, spreading geographically as well as through congregations.
“Evangelicalism is like a folk piety, it’s a folk religion,” said Shuck. “It spreads throughout the denominations. It’s not something that is approved by denominational leaders, but it’s very appealing to people who are sitting in the pews. There’s a great divide in church politics today between the hierarchy and those who are sitting in the pews.”
‘The element of cheap grace’
Church officials think of the prophecy views as a “get out of jail free” card that is not conducive with Christian values — it’s what Shuck refers to as “the element of cheap grace.”
“There are many evangelicals who actually want to hang around in this world, who want to have a stake in it,” said Shuck, “who really aren’t interested in flying off to heaven and that’s probably the biggest issue. This belief system suggests and imminent escape.”
Shuck notes that the biggest irony that his research has shown is that the books reflect the tendency of prophecy-believing evangelicals to happily use the very systems they are suspicious of.
“They’re so willing to work with government, they’re so willing to work with technology,” said Shuck, “they were Internet pioneers, radio pioneers, television pioneers — and yet these are the same tools that will carry the Beast to presumably his position of great power.”
This imminent call to action accounts for what might be termed a firedrill for the Rapture. Evangelicals are trying to rouse their networks through a presentation of cultural references that someone not keyed into the culture might not recognize.
Can it be a coincidence that those who refuse the Antichrist in the “Left Behind” series are beheaded, just like the western captive of Muslim terrorists in real life — or that Baghdad is located in the vicinity of what evangelicals refer to as “New Babylon,” the birthplace of the Antichrist’s one world government?
“Tim LaHaye has described this time period as being a pre-Tribulation Tribulation,” said Shuck. “We may not be living in the actual Tribulation, but we would be advised to treat it as if it were the Tribulation because for the time being, he has found a way to break through this predeterminism and has found some way for human agency in the time being.”
The first “Left Behind” book to be released after Sept. 11, 2001 became Publisher’s Weekly number one fiction book of the year after only three months on the shelves. After 9-11, LeHaye made public statements linking the event to the Rapture and playing up the apocalyptic imagery. In other words, the attacks on America gave the series, which had been winding down, the boost it needed to continue.
Even the Second Coming couldn’t stop the series — after shipping almost four million copies of the 12th in the series, which features the return of Christ and the beginning of the Apocalypse, a new book called “The Rising: Before They Were Left Behind” will be released this March.
“It seems like the more money God’s heralds make, the longer doomsday is postponed,” said Shuck.
Shuck plans to send a copy to LeHaye in order to get his reaction, though admits he may receive a swift condemnation and little else. Pushing aside the political and social agendas, however, Shuck does also concern himself with the idea that using Biblical prophecy for fictionalized entertainment may not provide the greatest internal logic.
“It’s hard to take the Antichrist’s army very seriously,” said Shuck. “They’re not very effective when they’re covered with boils. The armies of the good and true are immune from all of these plagues and it really seems like their articulation of Bible prophecy is ultimately self defeating.”