Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More light!

Lamps are going out all over Europe, or at least getting harder to read by. The European Union, intent on becoming the most hated institution on that continent since the Gestapo, is phasing out the use of Edison-type incandescent bulbs in order to conserve energy. These will be replaced by compact fluorescents (those curly things), halogen lamps and, eventually, LEDs. The new devices are appallingly expensive but last for years and use less electricity. The lower electric bills should help to offset the depression brought on by gloom and creeping shadows, especially in places like Scotland and Scandinavia, where the sun is an infrequent visitor.

Darkness of another kind is coming to the city where America was invented. The Philadelphia Public Library will close its doors on October 2. Main building, branches, research library, bookmobiles, classroom outreach, all gone. The Pennsylvania legislature declined to vote enough money to keep them open. I have no idea how much money it would take, but I guarantee it's a lot less than the bonuses AIG paid its incompetent executives last year with the collaboration of the United States Treasury. Every city once blessed by the benevolence of Andrew Carnegie has seen hours cut and librarians laid off, but to lose the entire system is something new and terrible. And every city has seen library use increase dramatically in the last year, as people use its resources to look for work, improve job skills, read books they can no longer buy, or just keep warm. It makes no sense. It is madness. It makes me understand, dimly, why people get angry enough to tie teabags to their hats and carry semi-literate signs full of outrage. At least the media pay attention.

I don't see anybody stepping up to be the Carnegie of the 21st century. Bill Gates could easily afford it, but he'd want to digitize the collections. J.K. Rowling is reputedly the richest woman on earth, thanks to her talent as a writer, but American libraries are not her problem. Oprah doubtless has a prior commitment to the Chicago Public Library. And why the hell should we expect individuals to get out their checkbooks when the state legislature won't, and the federal government won't? Would the legislators find a way if the Eagles threatened to move to Omaha unless they got a stadium full of flashy things and sky-boxes bigger than my first apartment? You know the answer.

I'd be even angrier, but my old cynicism got a boost when I read this amazing news from the Telegraph UK:

US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

Movieguide.org, an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as "a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder". His "half-baked theory" directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to "atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering", the site stated.

The film has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as "a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying".

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published.

"That's what we're up against. In 2009. It's amazing," he said.

See? We've had free public libraries for over a century, and free public schools even longer, and this country still teems with people who are dumber than a California jury. Fine, close the libraries! Kill the remaining newspapers! Fill every minute of TV time with reality shows, no-talent contests, infomercials and Glenn Beck! Bring on the Dark Ages 2.0!

I have to go hide my books and lightbulbs.



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