King Coal Is Abdicating Its Throne

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

China is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but its rate of growth is slowing down. In the past few decades, especially since 2000, China’s growing energy consumption has made a huge impact on the environment. Generating 80% of China’s electricity, coal has allowed China to develop at the rate that it has. However, it has also caused significant problems. Beijing’s smog is 40 times higher than is deemed safe; urban dwellers certainly don’t want to go outside without a mask. As a result, China’s government seeks ways to get people to switch from coal-fired stoves to electric ones. Untreated coal releases 10 times more pollutants than electric power plants. However, only 10% of Beijing’s population has made the switch. Why the lack of action? The government and private enterprises make money by selling land to real estate developers who then provide housing to peasants and migrants. These new residents use a lot of coal. Coal in China has gotten cheaper, but electricity hasn’t.

According to the EIA, coal production in the U.S. has dropped 10% just this past year and is now at a 30-year-low, and coal producers have lost 76% of their value. While coal generates the plurality of America’s electricity (39% of it to be precise), that number will decline as natural gas and renewable energy sources become cheaper. Coal companies may blame Obama for their quandary. Their miners fear losing their often six-figure salaries as coal mines continue to close in Kentucky. These men say that Obama is no friend of coal. Yes, Obama has favored natural gas and renewable energy over coal, but Mr. Obama’s role in bringing down coal is minimal. Coal is facing competitors that are taking away its business.

Back in China, 1,000 coal mines are scheduled to close and coal consumption is set to drop. China is looking to use more nuclear and natural gas to reduce carbon emissions. The planned decrease in demand for American coal in China hurts American coal even more. More importantly, natural gas and renewable energy are the biggest culprits in the death of coal. Increasingly common hydraulic fracturing (or simply fracking) is making it easier to access once inaccessible natural gas from underground. Natural gas usage has increased 20% since 2009, and prices have dropped so much that the Coal Commonwealth of Kentucky is less able to afford its own coal.

There are still some things that keep coal alive. Federal coal is a deal — it only makes up one-third of reserves, but it constitutes 41% of coal production. That’s because the government leases out public land to coal companies for a very low royalty rate. This has cost American taxpayers $30 billion in revenue. President Obama has stated he wants to increase the royalty rate to discourage coal and oil production.

With the slow death of coal, a new leader must emerge. Any time a “regime change” occurs, the new leader will face more scrutiny. Natural gas producers hope to become that leader. There are some benefits to natural gas such as that it is more energy efficient and releases half as much CO2 as coal. It generates more electricity than renewable sources like solar, wind, or biomass.

However, fracking on public land for oil and gas has caused a great deal of methane emissions (not to mention the water pollution concerns and mini-earthquakes). Making up 80% of natural gas, methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, more so than carbon dioxide. As such, release of methane during fracking has the same climate impact as 34 coal-fired power plants. To reduce methane emissions, companies conduct a process called flaring in which methane is burned to become less impactful carbon dioxide.

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Such Sugar… So Sweet… Wow…

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

Doge jokes aside, a scientific study suggested that lack of exercise, not sugar consumption, is the cause of obesity. However, Coca-Cola funded this research. We should not blindly trust profit-driven soft drink companies that have a lot to lose if consumers reduced their soda-drinking habits. Other scientific research argues that unsweetening our diet would reduce obesity rates. Anecdotal evidence suggests that unsweetening our diet reduces fat levels in the body.

Fig. 1 – Fructose Consumption and Obesity Rates

Some research argues that high-fructose corn syrup and soda may cause obesity, and rightfully so. Fructose (found in corn syrup) and sucrose (found in cane sugar) are only slightly chemically different. However, the body metabolizes them differently just because of this. The body prefers glucose, or simple sugar, as an energy source and burns it for that reason. Fructose is not as preferred as an energy source and is not burned like glucose is. With the replacement of high-fructose corn syrup for refined sugar in beverages in the 1970s, obesity rates rose. Consumption of fructose reduces the body’s ability to burn fat in the body, and drinking soda makes fructose entering your body much quicker and easier. Fat in the liver increases, which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes. High triglycerides (which are a form of fat) increases in the blood, raising bad cholesterol levels. Belly fat increases even with regular exercise and even with the same caloric intake as without corn syrup or sugar. This indicates that people should consider the quality of the calories and not just the daily quantity of calories.

Fig. 2 – Obesity by State

Sugar consumption has contributed to the geographic patterns of obesity that we see in the U.S. today. Poorer states (like in the South and Midwest) are generally more obese and richer states (in the Northeast and West) are generally leaner (Compare Fig. 2 and Fig. 3.) Colorado is the fittest state and boasts high college-education rates. More education generally informs citizens what healthy lifestyles look like, and richer states generally have higher rates of education. Colorado also attracts athletic individuals because Colorado offers skiing and other outdoor opportunities. Connecticut is not far behind and it often ranks as the richest state, depending on how you measure income. Mississippi is both the fattest and the poorest state. Low-income Americans are much more able to afford cheap but flavorful dollar-menu items at McDonald’s. Additionally, these folks can afford to drink soda because the U.S. government heavily subsidizes corn, the syrup of which ends up in soda. 40 teaspoons of corn syrup in Mountain Dew never sounded so sweet… or disgusting.

Fig. 3 – Median Household Income by State

What can we do to discourage sugar consumption and encourage people to eat healthier? It’s recommended that Americans consume less than 9 teaspoons (or 39 grams) of sugar each day. It might just be easier to avoid sugar altogether instead of checking food labels and doing a bunch of math. Taxes on sweetened beverages have contributed to a reduction in soft drink consumption. However, we should also be encouraging people to choose foods with good fats or protein to reduce cravings. Also, avoid artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, etc.) because their sweetness alone can increase cravings for sugar. People should also eat foods such as raw fruits and vegetables that are heavy in nutrients and fiber, as fiber helps you feel full. Grocery stores are laid out in such a way that packaged and processed items (including sugar cereals, cookies, candy, and soda) lie in the middle of the store. Meanwhile, produce, meat, and dairy items line the perimeter. I’m not a nutritionist; so, I would suggest you consult one if you have dietary restrictions for health or other reasons (e.g., vegetarianism, Celiac’s disease, etc.) In general, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store if you don’t know any better.

Now, there is some validity in that lack of exercise can increase the risk of obesity. Sure. Everybody’s metabolism is a little bit different, and burning calories for some people is easier than for others. Still, when all else is equal, sugar consumption increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. You can still enjoy eating tasty foods, and you don’t have to do four hours of exercise every day. Just be responsible and keep yourself informed about the health effects of your food.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

America as a whole is an automobile-dependent nation. With the development of new roads and the Interstate Highway System, the average American has seen the automobile as one of the only means of getting around. Millions of Americans commute to work by car, eat out with a car, pick up groceries with a car, go to the gym with a car, go shopping with a car, go shopping for a car with a car. Just about every errand we need to do seems to involve hopping into a car and driving it.

Just about every American looks forward to their Sweet Sixteen (or other age depending on the state), the age at which they can legally drive. To many, owning a car is not just a rite of passage, but a staple of freedom. No longer does the young person need to ask mom and dad to drive them somewhere. No longer does the young person need to take a bus that will drop them off at a spot that may or may not be their final destination. No longer does the young person need to walk two miles just to get a Slurpee at 7-11.

And this is a problem. Automobiles contribute to pollution and global warming because it uses gasoline. However, we have not found a viable alternative to gasoline fuel and electric cars derive 40% of their electricity from coal. The idea here is not to simply use different, but to use less. Growing up in the Village of Skaneateles, I remember being able to walk to school everyday. I remember being able to walk to some restaurants nearby to grab a bite to eat. I remember being able to walk to the park or walk to the Y for fun. I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to refuel my car. I didn’t have to wait for a bus or train to drop me off at its will. I had more freedom over where I was going. That is what makes the village such a great community. We value walkability.

And most New York City residents would agree. New Yorkers can walk just about everywhere, and if they don’t feel like walking, they can take a taxi or a bus or a train. At an absolute level, New York City emits the greatest amount of greenhouse gases of any major city. However, at a per capita level, New York City emits the lowest amount of greenhouse gases of any major city. You tell a New Yorker that, and they’ll be surprised. But it’s true! And it’s because a New Yorker doesn’t need to own a car or even have a driver’s license!

Europe has been doing what America should have been doing for years. Not only does Europe develop densely populated cities with public transit and sidewalks, bicycle use is ingrained into the culture in many countries. Owning a bike is as important in much of Europe as owning a car is in the U.S. Plus, Europe actually has an extensive network of high-speed rail lines. We’re still waiting for California and the rest of the U.S. to match European train speed standards. This keeps air fares cheap because more modes of transportation equals more competition which begets more competitive prices.

This is not just an environmental issue. This is also a public health issue. People who do not have access to sidewalks in their neighborhood lack a means of jogging safely. People who live in cities with an extensive network of sidewalks are often fitter than people who live in rural areas with no sidewalks. It’s not a coincidence. Have sidewalk, will run. There are exceptions, but yes, if you give people the option of a sidewalk, you are not taking a liberty away from them. You’re giving them another choice. And it’s a choice that will pay off in the end not just for the earth, not just for our pocketbooks, but also for the personal well-being of present and future generations.

We have to look at how sidewalks have discouraged car use and encouraged walking and exercising. Sidewalks connect our communities. Sidewalks bring our neighbors closer together. When you start to see detached neighborhoods or a place with no pedestrians, that is where the sidewalk ends. We can bicker all we want about how global warming is caused or if it even exists, but you can’t deny all the wonderful things sidewalks do for us.

What Police Custody Deaths Say About Us

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. These names have led to public outrage and even riots. They have led to accusations of racial profiling, loss of trust in the police, and worsening race relations in the United States. A 2009 poll indicated that two-thirds of Americans believed race relations were good. That number dropped to about 40% in 2015. These shootings have also given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. What we do know is that police officers were trying to arrest each of these men for some reason — stolen cigarillos, illegal cigarettes, or an illegal switchblade. The amount of force in apprehending these men has come under scrutiny. All three of these men died due to police force. The police shot Michael Brown, choked Eric Garner, and injured Freddie Gray in the spine.

The August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, led to some calls for body cams on police officers. The rationale for this was the conflicting stories between eyewitnesses and the police report. In order for a written police report to be truly objective and truthful, some argue, video evidence must exist that confirms that written report. The officer that shot Michael Brown did not have the video evidence that would confirm or refute his innocence. City police departments around the country have adopted body cams to provide more footage of police and resident activity. Police officers who believe they are doing the right thing, especially when confronting tough criminals, should want video evidence that proves they are. Thousands of citizen complaints occur, and body cams would help settle any disputes. However, Ferguson had already adopted police body cams, and these body cams were not capturing footage when Michael Brown was shot and killed.

In any case, sometimes video evidence is not enough to indict or convict a police officer for wrongdoing. In July 2014, Eric Garner was selling illegal cigarettes in Staten Island, and the police tried to bring him under custody through a choke-hold. Garner was pronounced dead an hour later at a local hospital. While Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, no criminal charges were made against the police. Instead, Garner’s family received $5 million in an out-of-court settlement. When video footage is not enough for indictment, there are those who advocate for an independent prosecutor.

Prosecutors rely on the police to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice. If a prosecutor were to then bring a police officer to court, it could strain relations between the prosecutor and the police. As such, an independent prosecutor would step in to investigate deaths that occur in police custody. In 2014, Wisconsin passed a law creating such an official after the death of a young Kenosha man made headlines. Bills in other states have emerged but have not become law. Time will tell if Wisconsin’s independent prosecutor is a model for other states.

Another issue with body cams is an officer could turn his body away from the action. In the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore,the police officer did not secure Gray in a seatbelt and his allegedabrupt driving threw Gray around the van and injured his spine. Wearing a body cam would have been irrelevant as it would have only shown what was in front of the officer and not Gray sitting in the back of the van. However, audio evidence did indicate that Gray asked to be sent to the hospital. The officer faces the charge of second-degree murder for deliberately allowing Gray to die. Prosecutors have stated that it would be very difficult to convict the officer without the testimony of another officer.

In 2012, more than 4,000 people died while in police custody at a local jail or state prison. Sandra Bland is one of those. The greatest public outrage seems to have come from the incidents surrounding Brown, Garner, and Gray. There are many other deaths that have inspired great outrage. The upheaval in our inner cities over these deaths demonstrates that racial tensions have not been solved, and that many questions still lie regarding this issue. There is also the issue of police trust. While the police remain among the most trusted institutions, trust in the police has not been this low in 22 years.

However, the fall in trust has not been dramatic. From 2013 to 2015, when many of these incidents occurred, trust in the police dropped from 57% to 52%, only 5%. The majority of Americans still believe that the police are working to keep our communities safe, but that majority is not evenly distributed among different races or ideologies. Democrats trust the police less than Republicans, and African Americans trust the police less than white Americans. This demonstrates that public attitudes are divided, and an effort to bridge this divide is needed.

The media focuses on individual shootings, but we gloss over a number of systemic problems involving race. African Americans are far more likely to go to prison than white Americans. Yes, individuals should take responsibility for their actions and face the consequences. However, more action is needed in providing legitimate economic opportunities for the disadvantaged who might otherwise turn to illegal sources of income. There’s an old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” However, society has failed to teach at-risk Americans what they can do to be self-sufficient in today’s economy and to avoid falling into criminal activities. Such an educational system needs strong leadership, especially from African Americans who have grown up in poverty and have chosen against gangs, drugs, and violence. It needs buy-in from numerous parties, and it needs vision. It makes sense that we would be “Waiting for Superman.” We have to become “Superman” if we want our society to be better toward the less fortunate… if we want anything to change.

On the Complex Issue of Gun Violence

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

I’ll admit. I don’t care for guns. I don’t hunt, and I don’t play violent video games. However, my distaste for guns has little influence on my gun policy views. I used to base my opinion on personal opposition to gun ownership, but I’ve realized gun violence is complicated and polarizing. Many argue that we should ban assault weapons, and many argue that we should arm teachers to protect children. How do we reconcile these two stances? Yes, we could theoretically have an assault weapons ban and arm our teachers. Yet, even if we could reconcile the two sides of the gun debate, the compromise can have flaws. We need to pick the best ideas from each party not just choose one party’s solution. In other words, we must select our gun policies a la carte.

Gun control advocates call for banning certain types of firearms, restricting concealed carry, and/or requiring background checks on criminal record or violent mental illness. These solutions have some flaws. With background checks, a firearms seller can check a potential buyer’s criminal or mental health record. 93% of Americans support background checks for criminal or mental health records. However, only about 5% of the guns used in gun homicides in the U.S. were obtained legally. About 14% were stolen, and that number could easily be higher seeing as that 80% of stolen guns are never recovered. Some criminals still buy guns on the black market but less often than expected. Most of the remaining guns were obtained through straw purchases, a transaction in which one person buys on behalf on someone who is legally unable to obtain a gun (age, criminal record, old friend, etc.) So, even if you implement background checks, a bad guy can easily have a buddy with a clean record buy a gun. However, because many mass murderers are loners, they might have difficulty finding a friend willing to buy them a gun. In addition, many mass shooters were or are suspected of being mentally ill. We must be very conscientious of the different varieties of mental disorders. A psychiatrist must determine if a mentally ill individual shows violent enough tendencies to preclude them from buying a gun. Otherwise, individuals with mild mental disorders are labeled as a threat when they shouldn’t be.

Another policy is to restrict concealed carry of firearms. If someone carries a gun on them where no one can see it, he or she is breaking the law. Up until a 2012 Supreme Court case, many states banned concealed carry of firearms. Now, however, all states allow individuals to carry guns on them, sometimes for a fee and sometimes for no fee. This recent change in laws shows a great deal of progress in understanding how gun crimes arise and how they don’t. Law-abiding citizens will obey the concealed carry ban and have no gun to protect themselves; criminals will disobey the law and create mayhem. Many instances have occurred in which law-abiding citizens could have stopped a shooter from taking lives, but we can’t always guarantee that someone will take on the role of the hero. In fact, only 3% of shootings were stopped by a “good guy” with a gun.

You may continue to argue the constitutionality of gun control, but we should consider violent consequences as opposed to constitutional implications. We must consider which types of guns to ban. The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 banned semi-automatic weapons that merely look like machine guns. In other words, the gun appears to fire multiple rounds in one pull of the trigger but it only fires one round with each pull of the trigger. Machine guns are already essentially illegal; so, the Assault Weapons Ban was a watered-down policy that simply banned guns that look especially dangerous. In any case, shotguns and handguns are the most commonly used guns in gun deaths, not “assault weapons.”

In Japan, civilians may not own handguns. A Japanese civilian can still legally obtain a shotgun, but he or she has to pass rigorous classes and tests. Those with a documented mental illness or a criminal record may not own a gun in Japan. The implementation of tight gun control in Japan has largely been successful. In 1994, Japan had 0.07 gun deaths per 100,000 people, most of which were due to gang violence. In 2010, the U.S. had 10 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Because Japan not only banned assault weapons but also handguns, the government was able to effectively decrease gun violence. In 1996, Australia implemented a similar policy after a long string of mass shootings.

Many Americans are staunchly opposed to the gun control policies that Japan implemented. Instead of restricting gun purchases or gun use, they offer to enhance security and toughen enforcement of laws. Schools could install bulletproof windows, lock doors from the inside, install metal detectors in entrances, hire school resource officers (SROs), and arm staff to protect the kids. SROs have been unreliable in stopping mass shooters. While the school resource officer was eating lunch in the Columbine High School cafeteria, the two Columbine shooters were running around shooting people. Even when an officer spotted one of the shooters outside the high school, the officer failed to hit the shooter every time he shot at him. Having only one SRO is a very ineffective way of protecting every classroom.

By arming teachers, you have the equivalent of an SRO for every classroom. If a shooter aims at innocent children, teachers can simply pull out their gun, shoot the shooter, and reduce the number of deaths from 20 or 30 to 1 or 2. As an educator, I would have a few issues with having to pull out a gun and shoot somebody. American soldiers often return home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because they kill people after all, and teachers are no more immune to PTSD. Also, the perpetrators can easily conceal a handgun, shoot the teachers when they aren’t looking and now the students are dead meat. To make this policy work, doors must be lockable, and teachers must have guns available to them. Still, the shooters aren’t stupid. The Aurora theater shooter was very deadly but also very methodical. Because the Aurora shooter released some irritant or smoke at the crowd, aiming a gun at him would have been difficult. If anything, you should probably buy your kids a bulletproof vest and bulletproof backpack, but the idea is rather unsettling.

One issue with much of the gun violence debate is its focus on mass shootings, which often occur in suburban areas.  However, if you compare the number of mass shootings to single shootings, you’ll see that single shootings are much more common, and they largely exist outside mainstream media interest. I’d hate to sound cynical, but most Americans are more engrossed by mass shootings because they can be sensationalized due to their rarity. The murder of a young African-American child in the inner city will not make headlines because the average American already expects it. It’s not news. How can the media sensationalize if it so commonplace in the inner-city world?
That’s not to say that we don’t have a duty to protect our brothers and sisters in our inner cities because we do. Since the mid-20th century, middle-class Americans have moved out of cities into safer suburbs, leaving behind low-income individuals who cannot afford the infrastructure and services that their middle-class and upper-class introduced in the first place. The means of acquiring wealth legally are slim when service jobs at restaurants and retail establishments are commonly in suburbs. Why open business in a low-income, dangerous neighborhood when you can open business for a community that can afford to buy the products and feel safe doing it?
As such, inner-city youths will turn to drugs because it’s the quickest way to make a lot of money. One part of a city will sell; the other part will buy. Not all drug transactions are violent, but they can become violent because of high stakes involving their secrecy and the big money involved. Still,  urban youths are willing to take the risk because the options are so scarce. Many expect to die before they can even rent a car. A drug dealer will attract these youths by claiming these kids can afford the high-ankle Air Jordans or a new SUV if they sell drugs. It’s hard not to say, especially when many of the kids don’t have a father figure to guide them. Their dads may be serving long prison sentences for non-violent drug charges. By the time an inner-city dad has learned his lesson, he’s still in prison and can’t redirect his son from the wrongs of his past. The whole family hurts because now mom has lost a provider and many moms have had to sleep in cars because they couldn’t afford housing. Dating and relationships are based on supply and demand — women have to choose from fewer men, and these men have more power over women as a result.
The long prison sentences on drug crimes seem to be creating more problems than they solve. According to Ed Burns, co-creator of HBO police drama series The Wire, the War on Drugs has taken the energy from the civil rights movement and made it all go away. This and the rise of crack cocaine in the 1980s haven’t helped. Songs of hope, love, and change during the Civil Rights Movement have devolved to songs of cynicism, sexual desire, and anger today. Examine a photo of singers in the 1960s; you’ll see joy and love on their faces. Do so for a photo of hip-hop musicians today, and you’ll see how much the energy in the black community has changed. Even with the first African American president, there are still a number of wounds in the black community that will take a long time to heal.
In any case, if you implement gun control or security enhancement, a deranged individual is capable of getting around it. Such an individual will see sensationalized mass shootings on TV and want to prove to the world they are capable of doing something. There are no laws on the sensationalism of violence in the media. We must not only weigh the intentions of our policies but also their consequences. We must consult the evidence and not simply rely on sweeping generalizations. America deserves better.

Climate Changed

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

This may be the single most defeatist post I’ve ever written, but in many ways, I feel relieved. After watching a Season 3 episode from The Newsroom, I was strangely relieved to hear that any action on climate change would be pointless. We have passed multiple tipping points: the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland are melting, and we have already arrived at 400 parts per million of CO2. For many years, political inaction and climate change denial had irked me to no end. Knowing that no action could result in reversing climate change eliminated this frustration.

I could instead refocus my energy on studying climate change adaptation strategies. We think that we have beaten natural selection through our intellectual prowess. We are the species that invented clothing, medical cures, and agriculture, to name a few. However, our invention of industry has presented a paradox of progress. Sure, productivity and standards of living have risen. Still, industrialization has introduced pollution that causes health issues and global warming. Yes, we do have to live with the cost of our capacity and the price of our progress.

Sea levels will rise. We don’t know exactly by how much. The forecasts vary, but we’re already seeing island nations such as The Maldives in big trouble. Some areas will experience floods or hurricanes; others droughts. Some animal and plant species will become extinct or severely endangered. Other species will adapt by mutating or migrating to new homes.

Human beings will need to adapt as well. Farmers may have to grow different crops, especially in developing countries near the Equator. Persian Gulf states will eventually become uninhabitable, and this will result in mass migration and social unrest. Already the drought in Syria has sparked rebellion against Assad’s regime, possibly leading to the rise of ISIS.

Because we have not accepted preventative strategies, we must accept the new reality: constantly having to adapt to a global problem. We will have to manage even scarcer resources lest we want billions of us rising up and taking drastic measures just to survive. If we cannot prepare to reduce our impact on the climate, we must prepare ourselves to survive the impact of future climates.

Star Wars and the Current State of Art

By SEAN ETTER

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed by the new Star Wars film. The first time I saw it, I didn’t want to admit it to myself. However, after discussing it with a friend and seeing it two more times, I concluded that it was quite simply Episode IV repackaged with original characters and “retro” tropes to make the audience feel as if it is on the same field as the original trilogy. In terms of creativity and authenticity, The Force Awakens is nowhere near theoriginal as an art form. There are moments that recall the Lucas films. There are glimmers of hope (particularly in the final scene) that the next installments will be good. However, the movie is altogether a commercialized algorithm made to sell tickets at the box office and Chewbacca dog toys at Petco.

This is not a review of The Force Awakens. Rather, I think the most recent Star Wars film can be used to explain the current state of the movie industry and more generally of art. Film studios are rebooting blockbusters from decades ago. They have put a Hollywood spin on other stories we’ve known since childhood: Jurassic WorldIndiana JonesStar Trek, and more recently, The Jungle Book(Why? My childhood is crying!) Biblical movies have also seen a revival.However, the differences between these and a Marvel movie set in ancient Mesopotamia or Rome seem to be minute.

The reasoning behind these reboots is mostly financial. Films are expensive to make and even a large company like Disney can struggle to rebound from a bust, while smaller companies run the risk of being wiped out. Funding can also be hard to obtain: the most recent James Bond movie filmed an extensive (and fantastic) opening sequence in Mexico City. This occurred after the Mexican government offered large subsidies to the production company, which was struggling to finance the movie.

The result of the accountants’ takeover of Hollywood is that movie companies are less willing to risk new stories, and instead bank on the guaranteed revenue of reboots with a large fan base. The other result is that film studios have released nothing innovative recently, at least as far as blockbuster films. I struggle to believe that George Lucas would be successful in proposing Star Wars to today’s investors with its extremely high-effects budget and its radically different story (other than the hero’s journey) from almost anything before it.

This isn’t just a trend in the film industry. Risk-averse companies have also been a detriment to music and literature. When was the last time the best-selling novel was also one of the best literary works of fiction? When did we last see a best-seller’s list topped by books on the same intellectual level as those of Hemingway or Joyce? Granted, there has always been a disparity between the success of authors writing what might as well be screenplays for action movies and rom coms and of those trying to create art. However, with the squeezed margins due tocompetition with e-books and pirated books, publishing companies have been less willing to take a chance on a novel that is not feel-good movie material.

The same has been true in the music industry. An unfortunate consequence of the Internet is that music labels have also seen their margins fall. As such, touring has become the only way for musicians and their labels to make a great deal of money. This has always been a large source of musicians’ income. However, the sole dependence on shows has pushed labels to promote artists who can sell out stadiumsrather than small bars and cafes. Bob Dylan would not have survived in the current musical climate. The Beatles would also have struggled during their later years (which many agree were their most artistically substantial), as they stopped touring about midway through their career.

Artists themselves have often felt pressure to focus on producing “sellable” goods, rather than books and songs with intrinsic artistic value. Artists have always struggled financially more so than their business and engineering counterparts. However, adding to the rising cost of living in most large cities is exorbitant student debt for attending college. First-year graduates of Julliard or Berklee simply cannot afford to play jazz part-time in Manhattan bars and write their own music, living in a normal Queens apartment with other musicians. Many like to poke fun at music and theater majors as being overly idealistic. However, I admire them for having the confidence to pursue their passions in the face of so much societal and financial pressure to become a corporate bean counter.

There’s not much we can do to counter this trend. Many will always choose a Marvel movie over an abstract foreign film because Marvel movies are easy, fun, and allow us to turn our minds off for two hours. Alternative and innovative music will never dominate the radio for roughly the same reasons. However, there are some things we can do.

1. Stop watching Marvel movies.
2. Support normal, local musicians.

Oftentimes, the work of local musicians’ isn’t necessarily great, but it’s different. In addition, supporting artists in their formative years can help them grow into something better. Pay the $5 cover fee to see their show, stay off your cell phone while watching, and buy their album. They’re not really making any money. They’re simply artists trying to survive.

Some musicians do still want to change the way we think about music. Some authors do still try to write about the inner human struggle. Art is a reflection of our society. It’s what elevates us above clever animals in a way that technological advancement alone does not. Help art evolve out of commercialism, and in doing so, help the world evolve as well.

Media Media Murders

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

We have observed countless gun-related massacres on the television, and lately it feels as if they just won’t stop. We continue to ask ourselves “Why?” and then say, “Well, I guess there’s nothing we can do.” We feel defeated. We blame gun laws for being too lax; we blame gun laws for being too strict. This has widened ideological divides in the American culture wars.

However, we aren’t paying enough attention to the other thing that is happening on the screen: sensationalized new media. Borne from the yellow journalism of the 19th century, the new media feeds on blood, guts, sex, and controversy. People can’t look away from a train wreck. Bad news is good news in the eyes of the media.

As such, the more the media glorifies the perpetrators of mass shootings, the more copycats that will aspire to that glory, the more mass shootings that will occur, the more sensational news the media can report, the more people will watch those news and feed the ratings of those media outlets.

And the vicious (24-7 news) cycle continues.

The media has a moral responsibility not to manufacture news in such a way as to harm the lives of many of its viewers and other innocent human beings. The news has a duty to inform us how to be better citizens, not to reduce us to being mindless consumers only interested in a shocking headline or soundbite.

We are in a way a reflection of the world around us. A part of that world is the media. We are bombarded by words and pictures that tell us who we should be or how we should act. Is this how we choose to live? The media should be pointing us to what truly matters so that we don’t reflect the ugly world outside but reflect within ourselves. We must decide for ourselves who we want to be and in which sort of world that would be.

The media has shown disconnected and alienated Americans something to aspire to: fame. The Colorado shooter (who shall remain unnamed here) is a household name. This is not a positive consequence. While Americans have a right to know that a shooting occurred and that reporting the name of the perpetrator helps law enforcement catch the suspect, copycats see that they too can be a household name if they carry out a mass shooting of their own. Individuals who have failed to gain any recognition from their peers will seek desperate measures to get that attention. It’s sad.

These shooters are not simply exploiting gun laws. They know full well that controversy and sensation drives the 24-7 news cycle, and all they have to do is feed the machine. If we really want to prevent copycats, the media should either blur out the face of the perpetrator and/or provide an alias. The media must do this voluntarily because government intervention on this matter would be a violation of free speech. A dialogue between gun safety advocates and mass media leaders must ensue, and a shift in the media paradigm must occur.

However, we must also recognize that even the media is not the only force driving mass shootings. Evil wins when we fight each other — Democrats point fingers at Republicans for inaction on gun legislation, and Republicans admonish Democrats for politicizing the issue. Discussing gun laws and mental health care is perfectly acceptable, considering that they both existed prior to the rise of 24-7 news. However, such discussions miss the external factors that influence people to conduct mass shootings.

We need to recognize the real problem — disconnection that breeds desire for power, money, or fame. Confronting disconnection will be a recurring test in 2016 and perhaps the rest of the 21st century. We need to identify children who are disconnected or alienated and include them in positive, non-violent ways. Disconnection and alienation don’t just cause mass shootings. They have led thousands of Muslims to join ISIS. When the Western world continues to say to Muslims, “We hate you,” it is not falling on deaf ears. We must understand the consequences of our own actions as they have a huge impact on the health of our society. We must stand together, and tell the media to do its job.

Welcome

Hello, all. Welcome to Greater Scheme Magazine online. We’re very excited about its potential in spreading new ideas and information around the world. The Internet is a great place, and we want to preserve the power of the Internet to inspire great change not to belittle others or to garner attention for attention’s sake.

This blog is about humanity, where it’s been, where it is now, and where it could be. We want to provide highly important information about the world to our readers in a manner that is neither condescending nor confounding. There is much to be said of periodicals such as The Economist in providing a worldly outlook on current affairs. However, this information is sadly lost on many. We want to bridge that gap.

I will be recruiting great and enthusiastic minds to help paint a picture of the world. A massive picture. We will have different opinions; that can be assured. However, we will all strive to understand the greater scheme of things. We will not write about reality TV; we will write about the reality that should be on TV.

Debate with us. Tell us what you believe should be discussed. Your support is greatly appreciated, and your constructive criticism even more so.

Thank you,
John Buterbaugh

The bigger picture of a shrinking world.