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It is a neologism that blew our minds and shocked the Press Corps.  Trump’s P.R. spokeswoman, questioned about the White House Press Secretary’s speech about the numbers of people he said attended the Presidential Inaugurations of Obama and Trump, described her questioner’s statistics and photographic evidence as “alternative facts”.  In other words, the Press Secretary had another, perfectly acceptable, version of the facts which contradicted those statistics which he simply chose to deny.

Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead.  The reality is that He died – presuming that he had actually lived – and subsequently decomposed.  Christians claim that He survived death.  They are entitled to believe whatever they like.  But faith means accepting as factual what you want to believe, in spite of reality which contradicts it.  Rising from the dead contradicts reason and universal experience.  Believers admit this but claim Jesus’ Resurrection as a factual exception.

Photos taken an hour before the Inauguration of the President in 2009 and 2017 reveal  a much smaller crowd last Friday.  President Trump on Saturday referred at the C.I.A. to his speech the day before and his view – from the Capitol -of “a million or a million and a half” attendees.  In fact, from the dais from which he was speaking, he experienced an optical illusion, because of the visual phenomenon of what the military calls “dead ground” – the long-distance perception that cannot take into account what is invisible behind objects which hide what is behind them (for example, empty space …).  In this case, only when the camera is pointed in the opposite direction, facing the Capitol as seen from the Washington Monument, can one see the empty areas in the “dead ground”.  So the President was telling us what he saw.  But his spokesperson insisted that what he saw was the reality, a crowd, stretching in one unbroken mass, like Obama’s, from the Capitol to the Monument.

Fundamentalists and Young Earthers calculate, from the figures given in the Old Testament, that the world was created 6000 years ago.  Scientists agree that the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago.  It is irrational to claim the former figure, whether or not it is called an “alternative fact”.  In fact, it is not a fact at all but a myth invented by ignorant, primitive people.

To speak of “alternative facts” – a perfect product of the post-truth era – is to assert that contradictory statements have equal value.  Believers believe that their vision of reality alone is correct.  Atheists KNOW that only theirs is.  The Resurrection is indeed an “alternative fact” because it is sheer nonsense.




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President Lincoln, sitting there behind him in the monument in which he and his Gettysburg speech are enshrined, couldn’t believe his marble ears.  Jon Voight, whose acting skills are clearly superior to his intelligence, had been chosen to set the tone for the pre-Inauguration party for the not-overwhelming crowd gathered to celebrate the election of the Donald.  We were all expecting words that would transcend the ferocious rhetoric of the campaign and invite the Divided States of America to welcome the President Elect of ALL Americans.  Instead, Voight evoked the “propaganda” and “negative lies” of his enemies, which however failed to prevent his election, because, the actor said . . . God made it happen !  It gave us a taste, if not a warning, of the plethora of “God bless America”s, the blind faith and the blind folly we can expect for the next four years.  Never was “Annuit Coeptis” (“He has blessed our beginnings”) on the dollar-bill so appropriate, a perfect act of faith for today’s inauguration of a President-billionaire.  America’s God is Mammon.




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I must clarify, from the outset, that I don’t “have” a cat; I don’t own a cat.  But I have a cat staying with me for a few weeks while my daughter and her family are away on holidays.  I am, in a (hyphenated) word, a cat-sitter.

As a kid, I grew up with cats – plural, because ours was constantly having kittens.  When I had a family of my own, we had a dog, a cat and 23 rabbits.  But after my wife, and later our children left the family home, I found it easier, preferable even, to live without pets.  Now, for the last fortnight, I have had a beautiful black furry feline sharing my home with me.  His name is Jackson.  He is fond of caresses, my favorite armchair and the backyard.

I was worried, at first, about the backyard.  You see, Jackson doesn’t have one.  He lives in a 7th story appartment in Paris.  I live in a mid-sized town fifty kilometers from the capital, in a residential park with 500 houses and backyards like mine.  So I was afraid that when I let Jackson out of the house, he would be totally disoriented, get lost, never come home and leave me to announce the bad news to my daughter and grandchildren.

But he didn’t get lost.  He learned to scratch on the backdoor when he returned from his escapades.  One time I found him scratching frantically at the door, while trying desperately to defend himself from a neighbor’s cat, both with bared fangs and claws, ready to tear each other to pieces.  It seems that Jackson, by treating my backyard as his – which, by family extension, it is – had violated the territory illegally occupied by the appropriately-furred tiger-cat from next door.

Israelis claim that Palestine is their biblical birth-right.  Since 1948 they have reclaimed that right, and, within limits, have had it recognized by the United Nations.  But over the years they have built houses, hundreds of houses, outside the frontiers established for them, on land that belongs to the Palestinians.  Each side claims ownership of and territorial “rights” to the same property.  And they are both ready to defend those rights by killing the “intruders”.  The Jews and Arabs, like my cat and my neighbor’s, are baring their fangs and claws and are not only ready to tear each other to pieces, but do regularly kill each other.

It will surprise none of my readers to hear me say that I know a lot more about Catholic Theology than about both Judaism and Islam.  I know even less about the rôle religion and history play in the conflict between Jews and Arabs, in what both consider THEIR holy city, Jerusalem.  Everyone knows that both sides have right-wing, even radical, traditionalists whose religious beliefs govern their geopolitics and justify their intolerance of their historic enemy, whom they accuse of . . . trespassing !  However many Jews and no doubt a significant number of Arabs, while they have a deep sense of belonging to their community and define their identity in keeping with their community’s traditions, have little or no interest in the religious beliefs that separate them.  Rather than imagine a pointless discussion of those differences and the supposed biblical and historical foundations of their territorial rights, in view of establishing mutual respect and tolerance, it would appear that more hope should be placed in a discussion of mutual interests.  Realpolitik and self-interest are more pertinent than religion in territorial disputes.

There is a precedent for such a resolution of an apparently insoluble challenge.  After three major conflicts in 70 years, including two World Wars, France and West Germany, thanks largely to the initiative of the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, agreed, along with the governments of Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, to create the European Coal and Steel Community (merged, since 1967, with the European Economic Community).  Since the Treaty of Paris in 1957, the former enemies have become, if not intimate friends, mutually dependent partners.  For 70 years there have been peace and cooperation between them.  Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, must – sooner or later – come to a similar agreement, or face the M.A.D. dénouement of Mutually Assured Destruction.

You can’t herd cats.  Cats don’t negotiate.  Israel-Palestine must decide either to continue to fight like cats or accept cohabitation, to choose two separate backyards, two independent States – or a permanent state of fratricidal war.




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Mick Jagger sang it long before Janet Jackson gave us her take on “The Pleasure Principle”:

“What I thought was happiness was only part-time bliss.

You can take a bow;

It was all just one big night out on the town.”

For Jeremy Bentham, echoing Epicurus, “nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure”.  For Sigmund Freud, it is the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs.  Specifically, the Pleasure Principle is the driving force guiding the id.  Maturing, the Reality Principle, is having to endure the pain of deferred gratification.

So much for Philosophy and Psychology.  You know what I think ?  I think I’ll have another drink.  Why ?  Because I like it.  It’s not so much the taste as that incipient glow of euphoria I can count on after the first two or three (after that it’s downhill all the way).

We all got up this morning – unless we are paralyzed, bed-ridden or chained to a clammy dungeon wall somewhere – with an unconscious purpose : to feel good, or at least better than we did yesterday.  Regular elimination of bodily wastes is hopefully a habit and often a relief.  The shower is a soothing start to the day, so long as it is Baby-Bear perfect.  “Baby” (the baby bear with the bare bottom), “it’s cold outside”, so we choose the comfort of warm clothes; nothing worse than being bone-cold.  Breakfast need not be caviar on golden toast, washed down by Brut Impérial, but it needs to taste good (Pass the sugar, please).  And so the day goes on, with a series of unconscious choices in keeping with the Pleasure Principle.  Unless . . .

Unless, of course, we believe in Mortification and the Salvific Value of Suffering.  Not hair-shirts, mind you, but deliberate voluntary choices to control our concupiscence, our innate yearning for immediate pleasure – be it personal comfort, physical (including gastronomical and sexual) pleasure, entertainment, enrichment, empowerment, or the finer satisfactions that come from attention, affection, love and tenderness given and received, from achieving personal and professional, academic and sporting objectives,or from being admired, appreciated, praised and honored.  Mortification itself can, of course, be a source of satisfaction : can we deny ourselves the elevator, or that second helping, or that Havana cigar ?  Yes, we can !  Man, it feels good, makes us proud, to know we can muster such admirable self-control.  (Generosity too carries a self-satisfaction that Jesus warned us is its own reward . . .).  Religious people think that they chalk up brownie points with the deity by such self-abnegation.  God expected His Son to suffer.  He never promised us a rose-garden but a Way of the Cross, a Via Dolorosa, a Vale of Tears.

Most people don’t see it that way.  They may or may not do anything to lessen other people’s suffering, but they damn sure intend to avoid it for themselves.  “Eat, drink and get sloshed” (and laid, if possible) : the creed of the Epicureans we are by nature and by the instinct Freud spoke of.

Most of us, nonetheless, are sensitive to and admiring of people whose priority is not their own pleasure but that of others – or at least the protection of their fellowman from pain and suffering.  There is hope for the race as long as we continue to recognize, and as best we can, imitate their self-sacrifice, their rejection of the Pleasure Principle in favor of altruism, abnegation and generosity.  “Greater love than this no man has than to give up his life for others.”

Such an ideal remains beyond the reach of most of us.  But even if heroism rewards the hero with a certain measure of pleasure – like everything else we do – it reminds the rest of us that selfish pleasure can never truly bring that elusive satisfaction which we, like Mick Jagger, never cease to seek.




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The first thing the medics tell you after the accident and the last thing the surgeon tells you before the amputation is “You’ll be all right !”, “You’ll be fine”, “Relax ! Nothing to worry about !”  It’s what we ourselves say when we witness an accident, or when one of our children is hurt or taken ill.  People need to be reassured, to be comforted, to be encouraged, to find the courage to be confident that they will, indeed, be “all right”.

Sometimes we know they won’t, but we tell them they will anyhow.  No one will blame us for the white lie nor insist we tell the poor bastard the truth.  9/11  :  the guy, still conscious but half-buried under countless tons of debris, wants to believe what the fireman is telling him : “We’ll get you outta there, buddy !”  It’s not going to happen and they both know it.  So he gets a shot of morphine, and then another, and then another . . .  Or worse, we tell those voices behind the rubble not to worry, help in on the way, the bulldozers will be here any minute.  When all we can offer is hope, though there is none, we feel we must.

The doctor has diagnosed cancer.  Six months to live.  The family has been informed, but not the patient.  They don’t want him to know.  They want the doctor to hold out hope for their loved one, who doesn’t have to know it’s terminal.  And, you never know, maybe it  isn’t.  Maybe he will recover.  That’s what they’re praying for, after all.  He could be told perhaps about the cancer but not the time he has left.  Hope could well give him the courage to fight it.  At all events,  they don’t want to add fear to his pain.  They owe it to him to let him die as peacefully as possible.

Sometimes, in the movies at least, one of the commandos racing for the helicopter after their dangerous mission, is shot, mortally wounded but still conscious.  His buddies know they too will be killed if they try to help him or try to carry him – the chopper is too far away.  “Leave no one behind” leaves room for exceptions.  Anyhow he still has his pistol …  That’s the only hope he has – to avoid being taken prisoner and tortured.

Apart from such dramatic circumstances, we have always had to face the ordeal of dying, even painlessly, but wondering, worrying, about what – if anything – will happen after we die.  Surely we are not going simply to cease to exist !  This need to believe in an afterlife created hope (but also fear …).  Hope is religion’s most appreciated product.

It is not an accident that Christianity’s sacred books are called “God-Spel”, “Gospels”, “Good News”.  No worries, mate !  You’ve had it rough; life’s not been kind, people have been even worse.  You’re sick, you’re suffering, you’re broke and you’re all alone.  But you’ll be OK.  There is a beautiful life waiting for you.  This bloody life will soon be over, and then the fun starts !

“If you get to Heaven before I do,

Just bore a hole and pull me through.

All my sins are ta-ken  aw – a – a – a – y !”




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“Matrix” aficionados will recognize the movie’s mantra.  I use it to congratulate Believers on the Brink who have gone the whole hog, ditched religion completely and become atheists.  It takes a while for them to take in the magnitude of the step they have taken.  After forty years I still marvel at my own credulity.  I am reminded of it every day – the media are full of examples of blindfaithblindfolly.  How could I ever have swallowed such nonsense ?  It is indeed difficult to understand how intelligent adults can continue to live in a world of make-believe.

Religious credulity is so common that most believers have no idea how outrageous their beliefs really are.  They think they live in a real world.  The lucky and enlightened ones among them discover that their illusions are less credible even than the science-fiction of films like “Matrix”.  Such movies almost make us believe in make-believe, and really make the unreal seem real.  But, after the fun, we reenter the real world.  The tragedy with religion is that it makes us believe in make-believe and think it is really real.  I am dedicated to leading believers, to recall the title of my book, from their illusions to illumination, from make-believe back to the real world.




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I realize how arrogant it sounds for me, an ordinary Joe practically no one has ever heard of, an academic and political non-celebrity or even entity whose name could be Nemo, a published but incredibly (!) insignificant author of three books (two Religious Education manuals and one defence of atheism), two brochures (“The Somme” and “The Anzacs of World War 1”), several dozen articles in French and in English (on subjects ranging from techniques of management to truffles to Strine to Napoleon on St Helena), as well as the 553 posts on this Blog, – all of which are unknown to everyone except for a privileged (?) few – to criticize the naïveté, the credulity and the ignorance of so many of my contemporaries.  This 554th post will be open to the same criticism because my subject concerns the idiotic idea that events are “meant to happen”.

Recently on Facebook (in French, as it happens), there was a beautiful photo of a gorgeous butterfly on a fabulous flower sitting on someone’s hand.  The text read : “No one crosses our path by chance, and we do not enter someone’s life without reason.”  When I stopped crying over the revelation of this touching, original pearl of wisdom, I got to realize it was saying that everything is meant to happen.  Including bad stuff ?  Well, yes !  To be logical, if there is Someone Up There pulling our puppet-strings, getting us to meet the wo/man of our dreams, or the fairy godmother/father who crosses our path and hands us a check for a million bucks, or a brilliant person who enters our life by writing a life-changing Blog which we discover (we mistakenly believe) by chance, it has to be true that WHATEVER happens to us is the result of Someone making it happen.  It is not clear whether this Someone is God, our Guardian Angel, our patron saint or our deceased mother-in-law.  But life has a purpose and nothing happens by chance.

I was pondering all this when  CNN gave us, live, the Breaking News at Fort Lauderdale airport.  A mentally deranged veteran of the U.S. military forces had crossed the path of certain (random ?) fellow-passengers at Baggage Claim and opened fire :  miraculously (?), only five were killed and eight injured.  But it was meant to happen.  Mr Santiago did not enter their lives – and destroy them – without reason.

No one, of course, will dare to say this.  Governor Scott of Florida kept repeating that he and we should pray for the victims and their families, while he will make (damn) sure that the deranged gunman gets what he deserves.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad world !




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Here are six double digits of which the surviving members of my family are particularly conscious : 84, 83, 82, 76, 74, 67.  Contrary to standard predictions, my father outlived my mother; he died at 84, she at 76.  My eldest sister died at 83 and my three brothers at 82, 74 and 67.  Apart from the lowest figure which is the life-span of my eldest brother who died of Alzheimer’s, one could say that all of the others lived respectably long lives.

I am about to celebrate (?) my 80th birthday.  Very few people aged forty or even fifty bother to estimate how long they have left to live.  Younger adults never do (although today, with worries about retirement . . .).  But my family history would indicate that though up till five years ago I may have had a life-expectancy in double digits, I am more than likely, at present, not only to have that reduced to single digits, but to a figure as low as 3 or 4 years at best.

I suppose I am not supposed to talk about all this.  It sounds pessimistic, if not suicidal, or at least scary.  But for me, it is none of these.  Four-score is already three above the current family average (I am one of three surviving siblings) , and I feel it would be normal for me not to have even one more birthday.  I could, of course, make the headlines, like the American actor Kirk Douglas who recently turned 100, or that incredible little Frenchman still competing in bicycle races against the clock at age 105 !  Odds are, though, that double digits, like my future, are behind me.

Death is inevitable and therefore normal, but is, more often than not, experienced as unacceptable – at least when one is young.  80 is not young, and if I die tomorrow, my death, though unexpected, would not be considered abnormally, tragically premature.  For most people it is something however they would prefer to postpone – indefinitely.

We are not taught to die.  Even if we have read what wise men have said about it, it remains a totally individual, personal experience.  I consider myself lucky in that not only do I accept with a certain serenity the inevitable event whenever it happens – 24 hours, five or perhaps fifteen years from now – but different from billions of others, I have no expectations, hopeful or fearful, concerning a supposed life after death.  I do hope my dying will not be painful, drawn-out for me, or distressing for loved ones.  But, contrary to the conviction and faith which religious education gave me, I have no illusions about the myth of an afterlife.  This is, without doubt, the greatest benefit of atheism.

I am writing and recording this with the hope that others, especially my family and friends, will, when the time comes, celebrate my life rather than mourn my death.  “Que serà, serà” – for me and for them.  May they enjoy the life ahead of them, however long or short, as I have.  Watch this space : I may be offering further reflections on this topic ten or more years from now.  I’ve always liked double digits.




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The phrase makes even non-Americans think of the Declaration of Independence :  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  In his analysis of this rock-solid foundation of democracy, Yuval Noah Hariri’s “Sapiens.  A Brief History of Mankind” (Penguin Random House, London, 2011) brilliantly shatters this seminal statement in a way he knows will make “outraged” readers “squirm”.  He replaces it by the following :  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of pleasure.”

I will leave my readers to discover the incontestable reasoning of the author and the pleasure or pain it will provoke.  Suffice it here to quote just one of his statements :  “The American Founding Fathers … imagined a reality governed by universal and immutable principles of justice, such as equality” (as well as the idea of a “Creator”, “inalienable rights” and even “happiness”) …  “Yet the only place where such universal principles exist is in the fertile imagination of Sapiens, and in the myths they invent and tell each other.  These principles have no objective reality.”

The problem is that Harari asserts that without belief in these or other myths, human society could not function.  “An imagined order is always in danger of collapse, because it depends on myths, and myths vanish once people stop believing in them.”  This is why, he argues, society is forced to enforce order, sometimes by violence and even war, for the common good and the very survival of the body politic.  But, he further points out, coercion, while necessary, is not sufficient : at least some of the society’s authorities must BELIEVE in something, “be it God, honour, motherhood, manhood or money”.

The implications of all this are, to say the least, food for thought in a Blog like this.  The principal one, in a word, is that if my original mantra, “Delenda Religio”, ever came to pass, the social order would collapse.  I have already said several times that universal atheism is, in any event, a pipe-dream : people will never collectively and entirely give up believing in a God and an after-life.  Harari has provided a deeper insight into why atheism MUST NEVER become a universal reality.  We know it never will.  So why flog the Blog, why pester Believers on the Brink to get them to see how silly religion is ?  Because, I contend, if they are brave enough to recognize where their credulity has led them, they deserve the freedom that comes from exchanging their blind illusions for liberating illumination.  They will, hopefully, join the Unchosen Few (of whom, thank Whatever, I am one) whom we call atheists.  We leave it to others, hardcore believers, to continue to ensure the perpetuity of our human society.

Other myths (for example, Communism) can hardly compete with the promise of an eternal life of bliss after death.  So we may as well get used to it : religion is here to stay.  But that does not mean that you, dear BOTB, have to remain religious.  Opt out, carpe diem, follow your bliss – and leave the survival of society to the credulous with their blindfaithblindfolly.


  P.S.   As a special treat, a sort of “in cauda, thesaurus” as well as an encouragement to read the book, and because of the exceptional significance, for the central theme of this Blog, of Yuval Harari’s “vaultingly ambitious history of humankind” (Financial Times) and his “fast-paced, witty and challenging romp through 70,000 years of human history” (Literary Review), I am taking the liberty of quoting one of its early pages to share with you an insight into what the author calls the “Cognitive Revolution”.  He defines this as “the appearance of new ways of  thinking and communicating between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago” and “the ability to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using an altogether new type of language” :

“The truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions.  Rather, it’s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all.  As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled.

“Legends, myths, gods and religion appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution.  Many animals and human species could previously say ‘Careful !  A lion !’.  Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe’.  This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.

“It’s relatively easy to agree that only Homo Sapiens can speak about things that don’t really exist, and believe six impossible things before breakfast.  You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana, by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.  But why is it important ?  After all, fiction can be dangerously misleading or distracting.  People who go to the forest looking for fairies and unicorns would seem to have less chance of survival than people who go looking for mushrooms and deer.  And if you spend hours praying to non-existing guardian spirits, aren’t you wasting precious time, time better spent foraging, fighting and fornicating ?

“But fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively.  We can weave common myths such as the biblical  creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states.  Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.  Ants and bees can also work together in huge numbers, but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives.  Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals that they know intimately.  Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers.  That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”



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“She said it’s six feet high and risin’.”  Thus sang Johnny Cash about the river down the road apiece.  During the drought, he could’ve sung a second version about the reservoir :  “How low’s the water, Momma ?”.  Her answer would have been “Two feet low and fallin'”.  Too much water, which we don’t want, floods, tsunamis, deluges and rising sea-levels will, in the near future, kill tens of thousands, in both under-developed and developed countries.  But too little drinkable water, which we need, will probably be the cause of the extinction of our race.

Trump has chosen a climate-skeptic to head – if not to destroy – the Environmental Protection Agency.  Obama has made an eleventh-hour effort to prevent drilling for oil in the Arctic Sea north of Alaska : a unrescindable ruling set in stone; Trump, we hope, will have to live with it.  But the new President will continue to protect the polluters whose self-interest is killing the country from sea to shining sea.  He is intent on annulling Cop 21 and other treaties which constitute our last hope for the planet.  The ice at the poles will continue to melt, the weather will continue to be as erratic as it is devastating, urban smog will continue to choke us, the ozone barrier will continue to diminish, and when we are not threatened by floods we will face the depletion of our reserves of drinking water, the white gold the scarcity of which could well provoke nuclear wars and Armageddon.

Greed and credulity will be the twin causes of our collective environmental suicide.  The insatiable appetites of the rich and powerful have blinded politicians and businessmen who exploit the credibility of sometimes sincere but mistaken scientists, and the credulity of the uninformed masses, to make us all passengers on a “Titanic” already beginning to flounder.

“Fluctuat nec mergitur” ? The defiant optimism of the motto of the city of Paris – “The ship may rock but will never sink” – will continue to reinforce wishful thinking and the conviction of many that God would never allow such a disaster to happen (“In God We Trust” . . .).  But when our streets begin to turn into Venetian canals, when only the wealthy can afford the water we all need to survive (“Man does not live on Scotch alone”), there will be war, despair and death, accompanied by a religious fervor as the condemned turn to God as their last resort.

Blindness to both the vulnerability of our environment and the folly of religion can be cured.  But we are running out of time.  When will we ever learn ?

In spite of all this, Happy New Year.  There is Trump, but there is also hope – if we act now.