Clothesline Contention and the Tragedy of the Private

It is a weird alchemy of a commodity culture that it turns the normal and sensible into the eccentric and suspect.  Natural food becomes a cultish attachment rather than a redundancy.  Walking instead of driving becomes a sign of questionable political inclination.  A desire to conserve rather than waste becomes “political correctness.”  Then there’s clotheslines, which have emerged as sources of contention in suburbs throughout the nation.

Clotheslines are the best way to dry clothes, absolutely and without question.  Clothes last longer and smell better; and the sun is clean and free. The consequences for the use of fossil fuels are larger than you might think. Some 5% to 10% of the residential energy use in the U.S. goes to washing and drying clothes, and most of that is in the drying.   Wash with cold water and you save 85% on that side.  Hang the clothes on the line and you cut 100% of the electricity or gas use on the other.


Close Those Libraries! Change Those Names!

Now that the Bush Administration has realized that climate change could be an argument for nuclear energy, it isn’t quite as resistant to the prospect as it was before.  But when nuke plants aren’t on the table the Bushites still are pretty down on the idea.  To address climate change would mean more regulation, they say. It would hurt the economy – or I should say “the economy,” because the way they define the economy is essentially a tautology, and boils down to saying, “If we have to address climate change, then we won’t get to do what we want to do.”

Climate change would be inconvenient. Ergo, it could not exist.  Yet many of the items in their doom-and-gloom scenario  are confronting corporations now, because action has been so slow in coming.  That’s the import of an article in the July 17th Business Week entitled “Business On A Warmer Planet.”  The subhead tells the story: “Rising temperatures and later winters are already costing millions. How some companies are adapting to the new reality.”


War and Warming: Polemical Blowback

Of all the sources of unintended consequences, war probably is the greatest. The forces set in motion rarely stop where the participants expect. The Civil War helped spawn the large industrial corporation and Jim Crow. World War I gave rise to Hitler, and World War II to the Soviet Bloc. On the positive side, the latter also helped produce the civil rights movement, as black GIs who risked their lives for their country did not take kindly to the second-class status that awaited them on their return.

An invasion of Iraq isn’t likely to be exempt from this recurring pattern. As James Baker III, secretary of state under the first President Bush, acknowledged recently, “War can create dynamics that are difficult to predict and control [and] this is particularly true in the Middle East.”