2 Minutes to Midnight

The community in which I reside, a semi-diverse “village” seemingly grafted onto the western boundary of the city of Chicago, recently instituted a policy designed to reduce the use of those ubiquitous plastic bags. These bags have been referred to as potential “serial killers,” and their victims tend to be the wildlife of land and sea. How so? Well, they may be briefly utilitarian as we carry their contents home. Then, somehow, they often make their way into the environment. If in the waterways, a bag can be mistaken for jellyfish by other denizens of the deep, being devoured by whales, seals and turtles, with deadly consequences. More innocently, these cast-off bits of flimsy plastic can be found on power lines, in trees or simply swirling around in the wind, part of a dust devil moment, before heading to, well, somewhere else. Regardless of where the bag goes after its hand-off from a sales clerk to consumer-at-large, it takes up to 1000 years for them to decompose. 

By this time, dear reader, you are assuming this blog is about protecting the environment, and using my little village’s policy of charging 10 cents for further use of each in order to encourage reusable bags instead as a starting point. I do applaud the effort.

However, this isn’t really about those plastic bags much at all. Sure, our environment is under attack, by plastic bags but even worse are the venal science-deniers who claim climate change is a “hoax”.  I do believe our current head of the EPA is such a denier. Our country has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. So, those plastic bags are actually part of a much, much much larger problem. Science has shown the polar caps to be melting at an alarming rate and…

…oh, bloody hell, you must have heard all of this before, whether you believe the science or not. Need I really get into all of the grim prognostications of our planet Earth becoming uninhabitable, possibly with serious, disturbing symptoms of a gasping, wheezing patient on virtual life support by the end of this century and, as such, impossible to any longer deny?

What’s that you say? It’s not too late? Ban the plastic bags! Hold corporate polluters to account. Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. Save the whales!

Damn straight! There’s still time to set things right. And not just as far as Mother Earth is concerned.

Resist!. Fight back! #me too! Black Lives Matter! Indivisible! Occupy Wall Street! LGBT rights! Racial equality! Social justice! Gun Control! Women’s Reproductive Rights! Yeah, lots of people are stoked, and taking to the streets, both the concrete and asphalt version and the virtual streets that connect one social media outlet to the next. 

See? It does take a village. Like the one in which I reside. Yeah, sure it does. Yeah, we can make it all good again, take back our planet and bring people together, and we’ll all become flower children, preaching peace, love and understanding. We can do it? Sure. Right…

…right…and bloody fucking hell and bollocks to it all, I say.  Are you joining in some march to express your disapproval and disappointment? Are you signing petitions? Are your shorts or panties in a knot, your sconce cudgelled, your dander waaay up? Are you mad as hell and you’re goddamn not going to take it anymore!?

Then great. Far out. Dig it. I be trippin on this kumbaya mojo of 2018. Never thought I’d ever again be reminded in the least of the activist/protest/let your voice be heard vibe that flourished back in the wild and crazy 1960s. 

Wait, hold on. I exaggerate what is going on in 2018. The 1960s and now? An invidious comparison, methinks. I mean, that decade (and a bit into the 70s) was the most volatile, mind-blowing period of time in my life. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, all assassinated (and JFK’s alleged killer himself shot dead on live television!). The civil rights movement, anti-war (Nam) movement, the women’s movement, the Democratic National Convention and its nationally televised police riot; the Kent State massacre. The fall of Saigon.  And more…like the incredible moon landing, which was must see TV!

Yeah. I’m at the point now where my mind is cluttered with these profound historical moments, some of which I was witness to directly, but even from afar, wondered to myself, what else could I possible live through in coming decades that might turn my head and make me take notice? 

Well, I’ve now lived to see a few things I never thought I’d see. Some good, mostly not so good. The Cubs actually won a World Series after 108 years of futility? Yeah, that was November 2, 2016. Then, on November 8, 2016, came that Twilight Zone edition of a presidential election.

Need I elaborate on the outcome of that election?

I won’t, but I will harken back to John Kennedy, and his squeaker of an election victory in the 1960 vote for President. A seemingly vibrant and attractive man of just 43 years of age. We all know he was assassinated (though by exactly whom and why, we shall likely never know). What I want to invoke about that President regards his very first day in office. More precisely, the morning of his first day in office, when he was sworn in as President and then delivered the customary inaugural address to the country–and by extension, to the world. In that 15 minutes and change speech, Kennedy spoke mostly about what at the time was still a new and menacing threat–to the U.S. and the world–that being the atomic bomb. In the speech he alludes to the atomic age as a product of the terrors of science capable of destroying the planet in a “planned or accidental” manner. It was a Cold War themed address. in January of 1961, with the former Soviet Union, like the U.S., also possessing The Bomb, he had to engage in some positive-mindedness regarding the obvious Nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging over all of humankind. After all, we had a lot of bombs by 1961 and so too the Soviets. The deterrent was what is called Mutual Assured Destruction, meaning these potential end-of-the-world thermonuclear war scenarios would likely never play out precisely because of their capacity to enact the ultimate la fin du monde. 

Related to the Cold war and post-cold war nuclear age (and that nuclear Genie is NEVER going back into that nuclear lantern) there is this official Doomsday Clock. This (literal, actually) clock has a minute hand.  The hour hand is always pretty close to midnight, with the idea that its second hand can never reach the midnight hour. At that moment, it IS thermonuclear war. And these days the “nuclear club” has many more members beside Russia and the U.S.: France. Israel. Pakistan. India. Great Briton. China. And marginally, North Korea.

At the end of the Cold War, in 1991 (marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union) that clock was set all the way back to 17 minutes to midnight. Since then it has inched up to 14 minutes til (1995), 9 minutes til (1998), 7 minutes (2002), 5 minutes (2007), then back a minute to 6 minutes til in 2010, back to 5 minutes in 2012, 3 minutes in 2015 and in 2016 it was advanced 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes to midnight. However, jst a few days ago, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, its clockmasters listening to the nuclear rhetorical sabre rattling between our Twitterer-in-Chief and Kim Jun Un, the young and impetuous leader of the most creepy country on the face of our planet, North Korea, have set the minute hand at its closest EVER setting of a mere 2 minutes to midnight.

I said I’ve lived a long enough life to have been conscious of many momentous occasions, some disturbing, some life-affirming, but I am disheartened to know that since one of those wonderful developments–the end of the Cold War–and right now, the clock’s minute hand has virtually gone nowhere but closer to midnight (15 minutes upward, to be exact).

So, what to worry about? Those plastic bags and our environment? Indivisible? #Me Too? Resist!? Racial equality? DACA? and so on…

Whew! So many causes and quite possibly so little time. M.A.D. Mutual Assured Destruction, eh? Sure the clock is always ticking on all of us, but that Doomsday version? 

Well, that’s a disturbing development. But to invoke one of the Boomer aphorisms from back in the day (hmm, in 1968 it was 7 minutes to midnight) keep the faith. But just in case you might consider an underground shelter with lots of non-perishables, a generator and your dvd collection to watch, and reading materials. I’d pass on On the Beach, Dr.Strangelove, Fail-Safe, The Road, A Boy and His Dog, Children of the Dust, or Cat’s Cradle. But maybe have The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1950s edition movie in your post-apocalyptic colletion. Just jump to the last scene in that movie when Klaatu, a human looking emissary of peace and love from another planet reads the riot act to the United Nations leaders as far as their needing to restrain (by inference)  humankind’s recent development of that Ultimate Weapon. Klaatu, in so many words, tells one and all gathered that if such weaponized hostilities were to be expanded into other galactic reagions that he and other “visitors” will be back to reduce Earth to a burnt-out cinder.

No need to bother Klaatu. We may be about to save you the trouble.






About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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2 Responses to 2 Minutes to Midnight

  1. Julie Samuels says:

    You’ve taken me for a trip into the attic of your memory – complete and chilling and unfortunately true.


  2. Amen! You nailed it. Tick tock, tick tock….


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