The sky is falling and the seas are rising.

Perhaps we would listen to those trying to warn us of the dangers of global warming if they didn’t so exaggerate their own take on the subject. They write (in this case the editorial board of the Times) as if their positions regarding global warming were the only valid ones, that there wasn’t another one worth considering.

They also write as if they knew just what disastrous effects global warming would have on our lives. They don’t of course, they can’t.

It may be that most of all by their unwarranted certainty regarding the subject they turn off the people they would persuade. The intricacies, not to mention the long term effects of global warming, are a bit like the weather and currency fluctuations. These subjects are all without certainty, and so far they have escaped our attempts to model them and thereby predict what’s coming.


But that which really turns me off in the Times editorial, is their language, the language of too many of those who speak about global warming, beginning with Al Gore. Their language is the language of Chicken Little, although this time it’s not the sky that is falling but the surface temperatures and seas that are rising and bringing with them multiple disasters if we don’t take action immediately to lower carbon admissions into the atmosphere. The sky is falling has become the sea is rising.

Now to show you what I mean here are a few excerpts taken from the Times editorial, Running Out of Time, with my own underlinings of the most blatant examples of this scare language.

But if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report is to be taken seriously, as it should be, the Paris meeting may well be the world’s last, best chance to get a grip on a problem that, absent urgent action over the next decade, could spin out of control.
…profound effects were already being felt around the world, including mounting damage to coral reefs, shrinking glaciers and more persistent droughts, and warned of worse to come — rising seas, species loss and dwindling agricultural yields.
This places in serious jeopardy the emissions target agreed upon in Rio to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial level. Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences.
The world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming. “We cannot afford to lose another decade,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”
All this (ramping up nuclear energy, phasing out coal-fired plants in favor of cleaner natural gas … vastly increasing renewable sources like wind and solar) will require a huge shift in investment, both private and public, from fossil fuels.

(Now this last statement, “a huge shift in investment from fossil fuels,” may be the principal reason why the global warming alarmists are not listened to.)

The Editorial Board concludes this way:

However compelling the science, global warming has not generated the kind of public anxiety and bottom-up demand for change that helped win the big fights for cleaner air and water in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Well, why is that? Why haven’t they reached the public, why haven’t they generated “public anxiety”? Again I say, it’s their language. No more did Chicken Little reach the other animals of the courtyard with her statement that the sky was falling. (Now as I say that, is that what happened? Or did she reach them, and was she believed?)

Why can’t the thousands, tens of thousands of scientists who believe in global warming speak up themselves, using language appropriate to their real knowledge of the rising levels of CO2 and the real effects that rising temperatures as well as rising sea levels might actually have on our lives?

Well, then people might start to listen. We’re told that the scientists are in agreement about global warming, but for the most part we hear little or nothing directly from them about the details. And, as they say, the devil (of global warming) is in the details.

Finally, if their language was toned down, the world might begin to listen and the world’s nations might even take some reasonable steps to develop energy sources other than fossil fuels, steps that wouldn’t put half their populations out of work and thereby keeping them from possessing a reasonable share of the wealth of the developed world. (Ok, in that last sentence, when I said, “half their populations out of work,” this was my own bit of Chicken Little.)

Written in Stone, Part 1


Geology is all around us

scarcely thought of as we go about our lives. Yet, it affects everything we do as a civilization, as a society and as individuals. While barely appearing to change from day to day, it works to alter the course of evolution. Preserving a record of creatures and landscapes both ancient and forgotten, the story of our past is written in stone and waiting to be read. I offer a view of how we see our world and its inhabitants, both past and present, as seen through my lens.

Dr. Jack Share

Part I, Geological Legacies of the Paris Basin: Plaster of Paris, the Windmills of Montmartre, the Park of Buttes-Chaumont and a new Artistic Creativity

In March, I escaped from the frigid grip of the Polar Vortex that enveloped New England and found climatic, cultural and culinary refuge in Paris and London. Not expecting to encounter any geological discoveries worthy of a post, I found precisely the opposite. Herein is the first of two posts on the Geological Legacies of the Paris Basin, and later, a few worthy geo-gems I found in London.

The Romans called their settlement on the south bank of the Seine River Lutetia Parisiorum or Lutetia of the Parisi, after the Gallic people who settled in the area in the third century BC. Lutetia (Lutece in French) is thought to have been derived from a Celtic root-word luteuo- meaning “marsh” or “swamp.” Lutum is also the Latin word for “mud.”

The settlement also lent its name to the Lutetian Age of the Eocene Epoch that occurred 41.3 to 47.8 million years ago. It was a time when the Paris Basin was invaded by a shallow, warm tropical sea from the north of Europe, one of many marine cycles that have flooded the region. It was also a time of marine sedimentation and the evolution of a carbonate platform, when Lutetian gypsums and limestones formed. Its rocks would eventually help to construct the buildings, monuments and churches of the city of Paris.

The official international reference point (GSSP) for the Lutetian is located in the limestone strata of the quarries below the streets of Paris at a water-well that bears the name Bain de pieds des carriers or the Quarrymen’s Footbath. The descent to the footbath cuts through the Lower Lutetian limestone allowing the age’s precise identification. We’ll visit the footbath on post Part II, when we investigate the subterranean catacombs of Paris.

Perched high above Paris on “La Butte” of Montmartre stands a windmill called le Moulin de la Galette or the Mill of Galette. More precisely a cluster of windmills than any one in particular, it was built in 1717. The name is derived from a “galette” – a flat crusty tart baked by the Debray family, the mill’s nineteenth century owners and millers. Along with le Moulin de Radet down the street and Moulin a Poivre nearby, they were the last of perhaps thirty (the numbers vary in the literature) that once dominated the heights of Montmartre, a once pastoral village dotted with vineyards on the northern outskirts of Paris and now a heavily touristed, upscale residential district of the city.

The windmill was also known as the Blute-Fin – from the French verb “bluter” which means to sift flour. In addition to grinding corn and grains, and crushing grapes and flowers, many of the mills crushed gypsum into a fine powder for the making of plaster of Paris.

The Mill of Montmartre
In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, bucolic Montmartre
was a picturesque Paris suburb of windmills and vineyards.
Georges Michel, oil on canvas, ca. 1820

gypsum Moulin de la Galette late 1880's

Moulin de la Galette and Moulin de Radet on Rue Lepic near the end of the nineteenth century
Public Domain

According to French history, four Debray family men were involved in defending Montmartre and Paris against the invading Cossacks in 1814. Three were killed with one being quartered and nailed to the blades of the windmill. So the legend goes. The surviving fourth transformed the windmill into the Blute-Fin. The family is buried in the butte’s small cemetery with small red windmills marking their graves, a fitting memorial to their nationalistic pride.

As we shall see, the Impressionist artists turned their attention to the windmills of Montmartre, joining the tradition of a cadre of great masters in celebrating an iconic image of Bohemian Paris. Today, the windmill stands as a French national monument with a great story to tell – one where history, politics, philosophy, art and even geology come together.

Moulin de Radet, a few doors down Rue Lepic from Moulin de la Galette

The country village of Montmartre arose on a 420-foot butte above Paris, which served to isolate it from Paris – for a time. Its core contained extensive deposits of layered gypsum – “gypse” in French – derived during the Lutetian Age that played into the history of the region. The word gypsum is a contraction of two Greek words, “ge” for earth and “epsun” meaning to concoct. The soft mineral was sought after throughout Europe and across the Atlantic in the 18th and 19th centuries. For it was gypsum that was processed into plaster of Paris.

Entrance to a quarry at the foot of Montmartre in 1832
Artist unknown
Photograph of visitors to a Montmartre quarry
The “room and pillar” mining method (piliers tournes), by excavating the deposits into a cathedral-like vault, reinforced the ceiling with a supportive buttress. Given gypsum’s fragility, due to its water-solubility and mechanically weak nature, street and house collapses were common. A famous accident occurred in 1778 where horses, wagons and people were engulfed. Regulations and edicts followed with the establishment of the position of Inspector of the Quarries by King Louis XVI, who’s responsibility was to map and reinforce the quarries.Note the stratification of the gypsum, marl and sand in the quarry walls, referred to as “masses” in the geological French literature. The average mass of gypsum was about 5 to 20 meters thick. Limestone is buried below the gypsum and is prominent in Paris.

The gypsum quarries of Montmartre on the Right Bank (and as we shall see later, the limestone quarries of the Left Bank) literally riddle the depths of Paris. Since the time of the Romans, Montmartre has been heavily quarried. Mechanically weak and highly soluble, gypsum offers no resistance to cave-ins and is a great impediment to construction. Even over a century after the mines closed, many areas remained unbuildable.

Cathedral-like vault in a Montmartre gypsum quarry with wooden shorings to prevent collapse

When approaching Paris from a distance or seen from the Eiffel Tower in the photo below, one of the most conspicuous buildings is the gleaming travertine of the Basilica of Sacre Cour, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the penultimate summit of Montmartre. Built between 1875 and 1914, the absence of large surrounding structures isn’t because developers desired to maintain the butte’s rustic ambiance. It’s because the undermined, gypsum terrain is unsuitable to withstand the weight. To overcome the obstacle, the travertine of Sacre Cour required specially deep foundations during its construction to secure it from collapse. An intergral part of Paris today, it takes some imagination to envision the butte of Montmartre only 175 years ago as a hilltop village.

Seen from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Basilique du Sacre-Cour towers over the Butte Montmartre. By the way, Montmartre is thought to have derived its name either from the Romans, who called it Mont de Mars (in French), or the early Christians, who called it Mont des Martyrs for Saint Denis who was arrested and beheaded at the top of the hill in the third century. On the site before the construction of the basilica, the Abbey of Montmartre built in 1113 used the early windmills of Montmartre to crush grapes for winemaking that were grown in the vineyards that covered the hill in the 16th century.

After removal from the quarries, gypsum was heated in kilns at 300º F to drive off water and brought up the road on wagons pulled by donkeys or oxen to the mills for grinding. Romantic and colorful images of the early mining and milling days of Montmartre were created by a cadre of Impressionist artists that gravitated to the area not only to paint but to take up residence. They document the pastoral nature of Montmartre, its windmills on the heights and the quarries below.

Early Windmills and Montmartre Quarry
Artist and source unknown
Montmartre the Quarry and Windmills
Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, 1886

After milling, the calcined ground gypsum was bagged and sent downhill by wagon on its way to global markets via the River Seine. At the foot of Montmartre, it passed through the Barriere Blanche or White Barrier, a gate built for the collection of taxes for goods such as plaster coming into the city of Paris and named for the white powder that spilled from the wagons on the facades of buildings and the roadway.

Bagged plaster loaded onto wagons
Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux

Later, the gate became the Place Blanche or White Plaza. Even the Paris Metro train station is called Blanche. Francophiles will recognize the plaza as the location of the Moulin de la Galette-inspired Moulin Rouge or Red Mill. The faux-mill was a fashionable cabaret that opened at the foot of the Montmartre hill in the red-light district in the late nineteenth century and home of the anatomy-revealing can-can dance. And nearby at the top of the Rue Lepic on Montmartre, the historic Moulin de la Galette is still open for business as a restaurant.

At the Moulin Rouge, the Dance
Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, oil on canvas, 1880

The impact of geology on the evolution of Parisian history acted in both subtle and obvious ways – the butte location of Montmartre (which has also served as a strategic military location), its gypsum-grinding windmills, and the establishment of Montmartre’s artistic heritage based on its geographic and political location and isolation.

When water is re-added to heat-calcined gypsum, it forms a hard setting paste – a calcium sulphate hemi-hydrate or plaster of Paris. Amongst its many desirable properties, the compound is a non-combustible, natural fire retardant and insulator that absorbs heat and only releases water vapor in a fire. It was not only used on building facades but as a stone mortar by the Romans in the first century. It was also a sculpting material and used for decorative architectural purposes on tiles and frescoes dating back as far as the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamian cultures.

Paris escaped devastating urban fires since the late Middle Ages, in part because of plaster on interior and exterior walls. One year after the Great Fire of London in 1666, French King Louis XIV decreed that timber-framed structures were to be covered with plaster. That put Montmartre and its gypsum deposits on the map. But it was Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, later to become Emperor Napoleon III and the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, that took the city of Paris and Montmartre in a completely different direction, a path that would end gypsum mining and radically change the urban landscape.

In this 1820 view of the butte of Montmartre, urbanization has already begun, yet the gypsum quarries, both open and underground, were still present. Off to the left you can make out two windmills. Mining would change under the reign of Napoleon III.

In 1848, Louis-Napoleon arrived in Paris from London at forty years of age. After a family exile of thirty-three years, he brought back his architectural experience of Europe’s grand cities and envisioned the same for Paris. After becoming the first president of France in 1853, Napoleon and his appointed Prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugene Haussmann, initiated a seventeen year plan of radical demolition and extensive reconstruction of the city of Paris. Napoleon’s quest to build a modern European French capitol had begun, and its buildings and monuments would rise out of the limestone buried beneath the city.

Percement de l’avenue de l’Opera in Paris awaits demolition
Photograph by Charles Marville, Napoleon III’s official photographer of Paris beginning in 1862 to document the “Haussmannization” of Paris. Marville excelled at architectural photographs and poetic urban views, capturing everything from Paris’s oldest quarters, narrow streets, buildings, monuments and gardens to lampposts and urinals. Marville captured the transition from the Old Paris to the New. The emptiness of the streets is very misleading, because in all likelihood, it was filled with people and vehicles. The long exposure times necessary to capture the image on a negative failed to preserve any transient passersby.

The “Old” Paris of crowded, dangerous, filthy, disease-infested, narrow labyrinthine streets was razed and transformed into a modern “New” Paris of broadly radiating boulevards, elegant parks, public buildings, private palaces, apartment complexes, ornate fountains, decorated bridges, reliable water, sewer systems, facade-standardized buildings, railroads, gas street lamps and even public urinals for men – essentially the modern Paris of today.

“Paris is an immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, pestilence
and sickness work in concert, where sunlight and air rarely penetrate.
Paris is a terrible place where plants shrivel and perish, and where,
of seven small infants, four die during the course of the year.”
Considerant, French social reformer, 1845
Paris Street, Rainy Day
This 1877 oil of Gustave Caillebotte is a snapshot of Haussmann’s elegantly rebuilt Paris with its exaggerated, plunging perspective and flat colors. Notice the broad avenues lined by monumental canyons of facade-alike buildings topped by mansard roofs and anonymous, well-to-do (notice the pearl earring) Parisians strolling along in the rain (called flaneur, a stroller with rich connotations). Caillebotte was a member of the upper class and an Impressionist, although his short brushstrokes are barely visible. About the “new” Paris, historians believe that an additional motivation for the new street design was to facilitate the movement of troops and make the city revolution-proof. What renovation surely did was to displace the working class to outlying villages such as Montmartre, an event that, in part, facilitated the advancement of impressionistic art on the Parisian scene. Although the razing of Paris in a sense brought the impressionists together in Montmartre, they were detached by the social upheaval and physical destruction of Paris. Napoleon eventually fired Haussmann in 1870, who was criticized for the immense cost of the project.

Reminiscent of Greenwich Village, a former bohemian haven and now upper-class neighborhood in New York City, Montmartre’s autonomy as a country village has survived, in part, by virtue of its isolated geography having been a train ride or one hour walk from center Paris up the heights, as well as having escaped Haussmann’s radical renovation.

Montmartre was outside the Mur des Fermiers generaux (the Wall of the Farmers-General), a 28 km long, physical and fiscal barrier that surrounded Paris built by King Louis XVI between 1784 and 1791. Rather than acting as a defensive barrier against invasion, unpopular entry tolls were extracted and duties were levied on goods entering the city (called “octroi”) at various point along the wall. The wall contained 47 gates and 16 tollhouses, many with architectural merit. Interestingly, some portions of the wall still exist as an elevated roadway and four tollhouses remain. We’ll enter one in my Post II at the Barriere d’Enfer on the Left Bank and descend into the limestone quarries beneath the streets of Paris.

Map of Paris (pink) and environs (tan) in 1841, sliced in two by the west flowing River Seine.
The larger, outer 33 km enclosure (red) is the defensive Thiers Wall constructed between 1841 and 1844, whereas the inner enclosure is the Wall of the Farmers-General constructed between 1784 and 1791. The two arrows mark the locations of gypsum quarries in the villages of Montmartre and Bellville outside the Farmers-General wall. The majority of the toll barriers were destroyed during Napoleon III’s expansion of Paris in 1860. Notice the meandering course of the river within the sedimentary basin of Paris (Bassin de Paris).

Unable or unwilling to pay the entry taxes and displaced by Haussmann’s city-wide renovation, thousands of the less well-healed working class of laborers, farmers, seamstresses, milliners, students and artists departed from Paris. Outside the customs barriers and the taxman’s reach, Montmartre’s quiet streets and low rents made it a melting pot for free-thinking bohemians, dissident politicians and the young avant-garde.

As for the fourteen windmills on the hill, they had less to grind. The gypsum quarries closed in 1860, the same year that Montmartre was annexed to Paris with the destruction of its walled enclosure. Today, Montmartre is within the 18th arrondissement – Paris’s clockwise spiral of municipal districts – yet still retains its medieval, narrow maze of streets in contrast to the “new” Paris in the flats below the butte.

Looking down a steep Montmartre street from Rue Lepic toward the flat terrain of Paris, the Moulin de Radet is directly behind. The gold dome in the distance is L’Hotel National des Invalides across the Seine. The complex was a hospital and retirement home for disabled war veterans built by King Louis XIV in 1670. Today, it’s a military museum and burial site for Napoleon Bonaparte. Out of view, the Eiffel Tower is off to the right.

As for the Moulin de la Galette, it was repurposed by the Debray family into a “guinguette,” after a sour local white wine called “ginguet”. Guinguettes were colorful, outdoor, raucous establishments for eating, drinking, laughing and enjoying life and nightlife. It was where bourgeois (middle class) patrons from Paris could rub elbows with prostitutes. It was where dancing was allowed where you could touch your partner!

Furthermore, it had an even greater impact as a place where Paris’s displaced intellectuals, artists, writers, poets, musicians, sculptors and architects gathered. Impressionist paintings of carefree Parisians enjoying Montmartre – by artists such as Renoir, van Gogh, Degas, Picasso, Modigliani, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec and others – documented the evolution of the two cities – and even their geological histories! Let’s return to the quarries of Paris.

Bal (dance) du Moulin de la Galette
Renoir depicted cheerful and carefree, middle-class Parisians wearing their Sunday best, enjoying life in the guinguette of Moulin de la Gallette. With music played by a ten-man band, not only modest quadrilles were danced where only hand-touching was allowed, but patrons danced the Viennese waltz with real bodily contact. He was the first artist to transfer a scene of everyday life to a large canvas with brushstrokes that could be seen in the style of the impressionists. Classical artists before this time painted only biblical, mythological and heroic events of times gone by.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas, 1876.

Sedimentary deposits of gypsum were generally located in the north and northeast quarters of Paris, mainly in the neighborhoods of Montmartre, Buttes-Chaumont, Charonne and Menilmontant. Gypsum is present in South Paris across the river but in thinner deposits. On the map (below) of the “Old Quarries of Paris,” the two main quarries of gypsum (green shaded) are identified by arrows in the villages of Montmartre on the left and Belleville on the right, both on the Right Bank (north side) of the River Seine.

Stratigraphic Map of Paris
In 1811, Georges Cuvier’s (early nineteenth century founder of vertebrate paleontology) and Alexandre Brongniart’s (scientist and mining engineer) stratigraphic portrayal of the Paris Basin in the region of Paris. With colors, they identified layers of limestone (craie andcalcaire), gypsum (gypse) and marine marls (marnes). Their discoveries proved that the stratal formations in the Paris Basin had been deposited in alternating fresh and saltwater conditions, implying the existence of inland seas at various times in the remote history of the region. Although Cuvier’s concepts of evolution were catastrophic with new species forming after Noah’s Flood, his concepts of biostratigraphy were ground breaking (pun intended).

The Lutetian-age gypsum that was quarried in Paris’s northern tier was called ludium gypsum in strata separate and above that of limestone in the southern tier called lutetian limestone. Before the initiation of limestone formation, 50 million years ago, deformation elevated the southern portion of the Paris Basin. The sea repeatedly transgressed and regressed over the region forming carbonate banks. Once elevated, a crustal fold confined sea water to lagunas that formed evaporites of gypsum in layers. The geological fold – called the Ypresian fold – acted as a dam on the upper plateau south of Paris. The contemporary result was high concentrations of gypsum in the subsurface and limestone to the south near the surface (20 to 30 m).

In French, the four masses of gypsum found in the northern tier of Paris
Gypsum has a high solubility, but its presence was protected from dissolution by a thick overburden of clay. Each of the four deposits received a colorful name by the quarrymen: les fleurs (the flowers), le gros cul (the big ass), les foies de cochon (pig livers) and les pots a beure (butter pot) or les crottes d’anes (donkey droppings).
From exploration.urban,free,fr

Across the River Seine from Montmartre that slices Paris into its two famous banks, the Left Bank was open-pit mined for its “coarse” limestone (calcaire grossier) since Gallo-Roman times. In the 17th and 18th centuries, mining went underground. That practice honeycombed the depths of Paris even more than Montmartre with miles of subterranean (souterraines) quarries. As with gypsum, the deposits of limestone and their quarries have affected the historical, political, cultural and creative evolution of the city of Paris. What is the Paris Basin, and how did it form?

Ancient Gypsum and Limestone Quarries of Paris in 1908
The River Seine follows the trough of the Paris Basin to the Atlantic Ocean. In so doing, it divides Paris into an “elegant” Right Bank (Rive Droite) and a “bohemian” Left Bank (Rive Gauche). Green shading on the Right Bank indicates the underground mines of “gypse” or gypsum clustered at Montmartre (left arrow) and around the villages of Belleville and La Villette (right arrow). The red shading, largely on the Left Bank, indicates the mining of “calcaire grossier” or coarse limestone.
Modified from Wikipedia.

More than just the immediate lowland around its namesake, the Paris Basin covers a vast portion of northern France – over 140,000 square kilometers – and measures 500 by 300 km. The basin extends northwestward below the English Channel into the London Basin and connects to the Belgium Basin to the north – summarily referred to as the Anglo-Paris Basin.

Simplified Geologic Map of Europe Showing the Main Orogenic Systems and Sedimentary Basins
From Geology of Europe by Franz Neubauer

The 776 km Seine River and its tributaries drain the basin and slice Paris into its two famous banks – Left and Right for south and north. The basin recharges along its eastern border and discharges to the English Channel’s seafloor at Le Havre, Normandy.

Geologically, the Paris Basin is an intracratonic (intraplate) sedimentary trough of flat valleys and low plateaus built on a collapsed Variscan collisional belt. The depocenter resides on an extended continental shelf (epicontinental) of the Eurasian plate that has been periodically invaded by marine high seas. It’s built on a Cadomian-Variscan crystalline foundation surrounded by crystalline highs of late Paleozoic age and came into existence during a period of rifting in Permo-Triassic times.

Topographic Satellite Image of France
The upper central portion of the satellite photo is dominated by the Paris Basin and the Seine River and its tributaries. Paris is located at the red dot. In France, four main rivers drain west to the Atlantic, the Seine,the Loire and the Garonne, and one south to the Mediterranean, the Rhone.
NASA Visible Earth Image Courtesy of Shuttle Radar Topography Mission Team

The basin’s tectono-sedimentary history is complex with several aspects that are poorly understood and strongly debated. For clarity (I hope), I divided the events into stages: (1) Acquisition of Cadomian basement; (2) Avalonia-type terranes accrete to Laurentia; (3) Cadomia-type terranes accrete to Laurussia; (4) Variscan orogeny forms a Gondwana Europe within Pangaea; (5) Post-Variscan extension creates epicontinental depocenters; (6) Pangaea rifts apart sending peri-Gondwanan terranes across the Atlantic; (7) Global high seas repeatedly flood epicontinental Europe; (8) Alpine Orogeny shapes and confines the basins.

(1) Acquisition of Cadomian basement rocks
The break-up of the supercontinent of Rodinia in the latest Proterozoic to Early Cambrian (ca. 0.75 Ga) resulted in the formation of three large mega-continents, and numerous smaller landmasses and microterranes. The big three were: Laurentia and Baltica located equatorially and massive Gondwana sprawling australly. An elongate assemblage of island-arc, microterranes of Rodinian ancestry became attached to the northern margin of West Gondwana during the Cadomian orogeny. The ribbon of amalgamated terranes is also called a superterrane, with each component named for its ultimate tectonic-destination on the continents of North America and Europe.

Late Proterozoic Reconstruction of the Southern Hemisphere
In the latest Proterozoic (550 Ma), Rodinia has fragmented apart forming Laurentia (North America), Baltica (northern Europe) and Gondwana (mostly our South Hemispheric continents) with the opening of the Iapetus Ocean. The peri-Gondwanan terranes of Avalonia, Armorica and others have assembled on the northern Gondwana margin from the craton of Amazonia to West Africa. Many aspects of these paleographic reconstructions are subject to intense debate and ongoing investigation.
Modified from Cocks and Torvik, 2006.

Facing the newly opened Iapetus Ocean (more so as Baltica drifts to the north), the “peri-Gondwanan” terranes are categorized as largely Avalonian-type and Cadomian-type, which designates their future accretionary locale after separating, rifting and drifting from Gondwana. One author’s interpretation (below) adds the Serindia-type terrane for regions of North China. The Cadomian terranes eventually formed a portion of western Europe’s basement carrying its earlier Rodinia rocks in transit. Typical of tectonic processes, plate collisions transport, reimprint and rework their crust.

Early Ordovician (490 Ma) South Hemispheric Reconstruction of the North Margin of West Gondwana
This ambitious reconstruction depicts a ribbon-like superterrane, that throughout the Paleozoic beginning in the Devonian, will rift from the northern margin of West Gondwana (at the Amazonia craton of South America and the West Africa craton) and collide with Laurentia and Baltica. Avalonia will depart first closing the Iapetus Ocean and Cadomia second, closing the Rheic Ocean along with the remaining mass of Gondwana. Note that based on paleomagnetic and paleontological data, Armorica (which will form western France) is placed on Gondwana, which appears to remain attached before the Early Devonian. See the paper referenced below for the complete terrane legend in the diagram.
Modified from Stampfli et al, 2002.

(2) Avalon-type terranes accrete to Laurentia
Although this stage is not germane to the formation of the Paris Basin, an explanation would be incomplete without commenting on the destiny of the Avalonia terrane. Throughout Paleozoic time in what’s called the “supercontinental cycle,” the Gondwana-derived basement blocks sequentially reassembled to form the supercontinent of Pangaea. During the Acadian-Caledonian orogeny (Ordovician to Early Devonian), the Avalonian-type terranes rifted from Gondawana, drifted across the Iapetus Ocean as it closed, and accreted to eastern Laurentia (early or proto-North America). Following the Silurian closure of the Iapetus Ocean, mountains were built from northeastern Laurentia into Scandinavia and parts of north-central Europe. The black outline of the modern continents can be differentiated on the map. At this time, the Cadomia-type terranes remained attached to Gondwana.

Jumping ahead, when Pangaea later fragmented apart (just as Rodinia previously did), the Avalonia terranes would separate between North America and Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, we occasionally use the terms of West Avalonia (for the Canadian Maritimes and down the east coast of North America) and East Avalonia (for southern Britain and the Brabant Massif into parts of northern Germany). When new landmasses (and even ocean basins) form and reform, geologists use new names to identify them in time – similar to new countries that are renamed by their new political leaders.

Latest Ordovician Reconstruction of the Southern Hemisphere
In the latest Ordovician-Earliest Silurian (440 Ma), Avalonia (both West and East reside at left arrow) has previously rifted from the northern margin of Gondwana, drifted across the closing Iapetus Ocean and is about to collide with Baltica and Laurentia during the Acadian-Caledonide orogeny. The main body of South Polar Gondwana is in the process of traversing a diminishing Rheic Ocean. The Cadomian-type terranes (right arrow) are still docked on the margin of Gondwana.
Modified from Cocks and Torsvik, 2006.

(3) Cadomia-type terranes accrete to Laurussia – France’s basement!
By the Permian, the main mass of Gondwana collided with Laurussia (Laurentia + Baltica + Avalonia) in the Ouachita-Alleghenian-Variscan orogeny and assembled the supercontinent of Pangaea. The resulting mountain belt was the largest collisional orogen of the Paleozoic. In Europe, it produced a suture from Germany (Mid-German Crystalline zone) through southern Britain (Lizard ophiolite) through France to southern Iberia (Pulo do Lobo unit). Hence, the Rheic suture separates the Cadomian terranes of western and central Europe from the terranes derived from East Avalonia in Britain.

The closure of the intervening Rheic Ocean (recall that the Iapetus Ocean closed with the Avalonia collision!) brought the Cadomian-type terranes of Gondwana into contact with Laurussia (red arrow) during the Variscan orogeny (formerly Hercynian). The Variscan and Alleghenian orogenies were contemporaneous and more-or-less physically contiguous. The collision of a Gondwana-derived Europe was forming on Laurussian soil! France was never before so close to French Canada!

Mississippian Reconstruction of the Southern Hemisphere
In this Mississippian view (340 Ma), the Cadomian-type terranes (arrow) have rifted from the main body of Gondwana and will collide with Laurussia along with Gondwana (to followmain body of Gondwana and will collide with Laurussia along with Gondwana (to follow) during the Ouachita-Alleghenian-Variscan orogeny. Gondwana’s collision formed Pangaea at the expense of the Rheic Ocean. The basement terranes of Europe have now formed – a Gondwana Europe. The only thing left to do is get them across the Atlantic Ocean, which will soon form.
Modified from Cocks and Torsvik, 2006.

(4) Variscan orogeny forms a Gondwana Europe within Pangaea
The Variscan orogeny is building a Gondwana European basement within Pangaea. Its formation left Variscan orogenic remnants and a montage of Cadomian terranes in France and central Europe. As with East Avalonia in southern Britain, Europe’s Cadomian basement ended up across the Atlantic when Pangaea fragmented apart.

Early Permian (280 Ma) Timeslice of Pangaea and Ouachita-Alleghenian-Varsican Orogeny
Pangaea has fully formed with the collision of Gondwana and Laurentia (actually Laurussia). The Cadomian terranes terranes have accreted in the Variscan orogeny to Laurussia. The Ouachita-Alleghenian-Variscan orogeny is fully underway building the Appalachian Mountain chain in North America. The collision will distribute remnants of the Variscan orogen in France and Europe, and around the Paris Basin, which is about to form in a fore-arc, extensional regime.
Modified from Ron Blakey and Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc.

Thus, the Paris Basin (seen below in Europe) has tectonically-acquired its Cadomian-Variscan crystalline basement. Notice the assembly in Europe of Paleozoic landmasses. Europe’s cratonic platform is comprised of a montage of terranes and fault-bounded blocks of continental crust with Avalonian and Cadomian ancestry – a Gondwanan-derived Europe of recycled Precambrian and Cambrian crust. The principal ones that now form Europe are Avalonia, the Rheno-Hercynian Terrane, the Armorican Terrane assemblage, Perunica, Apulia, Adria, the Hellenic terrane and Moesia – all peri-Gondwanan terranes with the exception of Baltica-derived Scandinavia.

A European Collage of Amalgamated Gondwana-derived, Avalonia and Cadomia-type Terranes
This map demonstrates the complex accretion history of Europe. For reference, Paris is at the red dot.
Modified from Ballevre et al, 2008.

(5) Post-Variscan extension creates epicontinental depocenters
Following the Permian consolidation of Pangaea, the supercontinent began to fragment apart. The re-activation of pre-exisiting Variscan compressional faults formed new, extensional back-arc rifts in late Permian through Triassic times. In the Triassic, extension led to the opening of oceanic marginal basins. This allowed the development of numerous European sedimentary basins including the Paris Basin in Gondwana Europe. Europe has not yet formed and will not be called as such, geologically, until Pangaea fragments aparts and sends parts of the Avalonia terrane and the entirety of the Cadomia terrane across the Atlantic Ocean.

Early Jurassic Timeslice (200 Ma)
The Varsican orogen has left remnants in what will become France and central Europe. Extension within the Variscan’s fore-arc regime has already begun to flood with waters from the newly opening North Atlantic Ocean. As the mid-Atlantic Ridge widens and Pangaea continues to fragment apart, Europe and Africa will reside on their own tectonic plates and France will have acquired its Paris Basin.
Modified from Ron Blakey and Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc.

(6) Pangaea rifts apart sending peri-Gondwanan terranes across the Atlantic
As Pangaea’s break up progressed, the Eurasian-North American plates drifted apart sending East Avalonia and the Cadomian terranes across the Atlantic. Beginning in the Permian and while in tectonic-transport, crustal extension continued across Europe with the establishment of a broad, open shelf that occupied much of southern Germany, the North Sea and the Paris Basin. The subsidence of the basins created accommodation space that became the site of sedimentation as the sea level of global high seas repeatedly and episodically fluctuated. Most of the Paris Basin became emergent near the end of Jurassic time, a relict appendage of the large Triassic German basin.

Late Cretaceous Timeslice (75 Ma)
The nascent Atlantic Ocean has begun to separate in the north at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia are separating. Europe and Africa have formed but are submerged by global high seas. The region of the epicontinental Anglo-Paris Basin is fully submerged,one of many eustatic events that will contirbute to sediment deposition into the many basins of Europe. Notice the various Variscan orogenic remnants distributed about western Europe – France, Spain and Portugal in particular.
Modified from Ron Blakey and Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc.

Today, the Paris Basin is surrounded by outcrops of four Cadomian/Variscan massifs: the Armorican Massif in the west, the Massif Central in the south, the Vosges in the east, and the Ardennes in the northeast. Not only the Seine River network incises the Paris Basin and Cadomian/Variscan basements but those of the Rivers Loire, Meuse and Moselle.

Paris within the Paris Basin Surrounded by Remnants of the Variscan Orogen
From CNAM / MNHN: SGF “The Parisian basement: quarries, underground projects and the Grand Paris”
by J.-P. Gely, 2013

(7) Global high seas repeatedly flood epicontinental Europe
The opening of the Atlantic Ocean, beginning in the Cenozoic, had a profound affect on the neighboring North America and Eurasian plates. The main process was a general extensional stretching that produced numerous marginal basins and grabens. Large quantities of clastic materials were deposited in repeated transgression-regressions of the sea within the many depocenters that trended pre-existing structural directions.

In France within the Paris Basin, during the Late Triassic, siliciclastics were deposited; Jurassic Liassic-time organic-rich black shales, Dogger carbonates and Malm-time clays. The return of the sea in Cretaceous time deposited chalk. Basin sedimentation continued into the Tertiary. With particular interest to this post is the Lutetian age of the Eocene (Tertiaire on the map below and diagram below) with a shallow-water environment conducive to the formation of limestone and evaporite deposits of gypsum.

Simplified Map of France and the Paris Basin
(8) Alpine Orogeny shapes and confines the Paris Basin

The Paris Basin took on its present shape following uplift of the surrounding basement blocks during the Alpine orogeny. The collision occurred between the Africa and Eurasia plates and included the subduction of the intervening Tethyan Ocean. The Alpine orogeny is considered the third major collision to define the geology of Europe in the Late Cretaceous through Recent, along with the previously discussed Caledonian and Variscan orogenies.

In addition to creating Alpine mountain plate across Europe and into Asia, it regionally caused northwest-southeast compression of the Paris Basin and formed anticlines along genetically-related, basement fault systems. The widespread uplift inverted many basins and served to isolate the Paris Basin. The uplift also profoundly effected the fluvial systems with drainage lines occurring along structural elements. Cretaceous and Tertiary deformation and erosion have exhumed Mesozoic sediments and the underlying basement.

The main stages of the tectono-sedimentary evolution of the Paris Basin are summarized below. At least ten major stratigraphic cycles starting with the Mesozoic (Scythian) and five main stages of basin evolution have been identified (Baccaletto) based on subsidence, sedimentary systems, accommodation variations, and paleography, all bounded by unconformities. A close relationship exists between fault geometry and basin evolution, in particular those of Variscan origination and Pangaea rifting-related extension. Following extension, a gradual conversion to an ongoing Late Cretaceous compressional regime ensued. The Lutetian interval (highlighted), that so dominated the deposits discussed in this post, was affected by compression and deformation associated with the Alpine Orogeny.
Main Stages of the Tectono-Sedimentary Evolution of the Paris Basin
From Baccaletto, 2010.

We have one more important gypsum-mining area to discuss located about two miles east of the Montmartre quarries. Like Montmartre, the quarry is inactive and unrecognizable. Inaugurated in 1867 and coinciding with the opening of the World’s Fair in Paris, les Parc des Buttes-Chaumont occupies the site between the villages of Belleville and La Villette (right arrow above on the “Ancient Quarries of Paris” map) in the 19th arrondissement.

Butte is French for “mound,” and Chaumont is a 9th century contraction of “chauve” meaning bald and “mont” meaning mount. The “Bald Mount” acquired its name from its lack of vegetation due to an abundance of clay and gypsum in the soil.

View of Park of Buttes-Chaumont from the promenade looking north toward the lake and the temple. The residential quarter of La Villette is in the background.

In spite of its most austere beginnings, today the park is a major local attraction replete with a rocky island topped by a romantic shrine in the middle of a picturesque artificial lake. Evocative of the Alps, it occupies 25 hectares and is the fifth largest park in Paris. Its grounds are overflowing with ornamental trees, waterbirds, and within the lake, an abundance of fish. From a bleak gypsum quarry to an iconic urban park, the history of its metamorphosis is beyond anything imaginable.

The Temple of Sibylle in the Park of the Buttes-Chaumont
A tonemapped, High Dynamic Range Photo

The area of the park, being just outside the limits of the toll barrier wall, was mined for gypsum for centuries as was the Butte Montmartre. It was close to the site of the Gibet of Montfaucon, a notorious and malodorous place where 80 condemned men and women could be executed at the gallows simultaneously and their bodies left to dangle on display as a deterrent to crime well after their executions. Later, the desolate quarry became a public waste refuse and sewage dump, and even an abattoir (slaughterhouse) for horses where the remains were left to decompose. The quarry also had an unsavory reputation for harboring thieves and as a shelter for the destitute. It took a tremendous imagination to envision a park on this impoverished site.

Photo of the America Quarries by Charles Marville along Rue de Mexico before 1877
So much gypsum was shipped to Louisiana that the quarry was called the America Quarry. According to urban legend, the quarry provided gypsum to the United States for building the White House, but in fact it was used for domestic construction. When Marville made this photograph, the quarry was still in operation, but it closed by the 1880’s. Notice the buildings of La Villette virtually next to the quarry off to the right. Once again, the only people visible are those that are stationary for the long exposure.
The quarry photographed by Henri le Secq in 1863 showed a desolate, pockmarked lunar-landscape sandwiched between the villages of Belleville and La Villette.

The site “spread infectious emanations not only to the neighboring areas, but, following the direction of the wind, over the entire city” (Alphand). Amazingly, this most desolate wasteland was transformed into a spectacular garden park as part of the new Paris of the Second Empire.

Left: Gibet de Montfaucon, 1811.                                    Right: 1811 Rendering horses
From an article by Francois Choay in the Urban Park magazine, 29, 1975.

This not so promising site, to say the least, was envisioned by Napoleon III as a romantic garden showcase befitting a capital. Chosen and conceived by his prefect, Baron Haussmann, it was to be the site of a park for the recreation and pleasure of the rapidly growing population of the 19th and 20th arrondissement – the working class of the petit bourgeoisie. Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand was the chosen landscape engineer to personally execute the remarkable transformation.

A plan of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Note the promenades, belvedere, restaurants, artificial lake, central island and its rotunda. A railroad (left) was constructed to bring in soil and supplies. The grotto is at the top center.

When Napolean III became emperor in 1852, Paris had only four public parks, all in the center of the city. His vision changed parks such as the Buttes-Chaumont that were not longer the preserve of aristocratic or royal landowners but were open to the public at large. Through their collaboration, what resulted was one of the crowning achievements of the Second Empire as part of the radical renovation that swept through Paris.

The quarry cliffs likely photographed by Charles Marville around 1865. The key features of the park are beginning to emerge -the gorge-spanning brick bridge and a section of the quarry above what is to be the lake.

Beginning in 1864, two years were spent in terracing the land. Railroad tracks were laid to bring in 200,000 cubic meters of topsoil. A thousand workers renovated the landscape, digging a lake and contouring the grounds with rambling lawns, gently sloping hillsides, splendid vistas and shaded strolling paths.

The plan of the park created by Alphand and photographed by Marville. Again, notice the promenades, the carefully landscaped terrain, a restaurant, the supply railroad, the lake, island and temple at the summit.

Explosives were used to sculpt the gypsum buttes and former quarry into a small mountain 50 meters high on a rocky island surrounded by cliffs. In a corner of the park, a spacious grotto was fashioned with a cathedral-like vault remniscent of the interiors of gypsum quarries seen at Montmartre. Its ceiling was decorated with artifical stalactites. Even a hydraulically-pumped waterfall cascaded into a stepping-stone lined pool that flowed out of the grottoes second opening. And everywhere, mosses and vines hung on its walls.

Outside view of the grotto from the walking path
Engineered Nature
View of the inside of the grotto with its contrived waterfall, reflecting pool and faux stalactites
The ceiling of the grotto with its faux stalactites and skylight. No bats in this place!
Even the stone railings that line the paths of the park are faux bois or fake wood intricately stylized with cut branches, bark, leaves and knots, all cast in recently-perfected concrete almost 150 years ago.
The Roman temple at the top of the promontory was modelled after the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy

Two bridges reach the center island – a 63 meter-long, red metal suspension bridge by Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, and a twelve meter-long masonry bridge, known as the “suicide bridge.” Unnoticed by most passersby, the alternating layers of gypsum, marl and sandstone are on display on the excavated quarry-flanks of the mountain.

It comes as no surprise, certainly amongst geologists who are acutely aware of these things, that geology has a profound affect on the evolution of civilizations, cultures and societies. We have seen on our brief visit to Paris, in a small corner of the Paris Basin, how geography and its mineral deposits of gypsum have shaped the history of politics, philosophy and art within the city and around the world.

In my next post “Geological Legacies of the Paris Basin – Part II”, we will see the affect that deposits of limestone had on the city of Paris. We’ll also descend into the dimly-lit catacombs beneath the streets and explore the infamous ossuaries where 6,000,000 exhumed skeletons from the eighteenth century are both interred and on display.

After returning from Paris, my wife and I drove from Boston to New York City and experienced a most fitting conclusion to our trip abroad. We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see their final exhibition of “Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris.” His nineteenth century photographs (425 of them) document the radical transition from the medieval streets of “Old Paris” that led to the broad boulevards and grand public structures of the “New Paris”, the one we recognize today. His photos of the gypsum quarries of the Right Bank were incredible.

1. European Geography in a Global Context from the Vendian to the End of the Paleozoic by Cocks and Torsvik, 2006.
2. Growth and Demise of the Jurassic Carbonate Platform in the Intracratonic Basin Paris by Benjamin Brigaud et al, 2013.
3. Impressionism – 50 Paintings You Should Know by Ines Janet Engelman, 2010.
4. Le Lutetien: Une Periode Charniere de L’histoire du Bassin Parisien by Par Jean-Pierre Gely, 2009 (on-line on French).
5. Meso-Cenozoic Geodynnamic Evolution of the Paris Basin: 3D Stratigraphic Constraints by Francois Guillocheau et al, 2000.
6. Middle Lutetian Climate in the Paris Basin: Implications for a Marine Hotspot of Paleodiversity by D. Huyghe et al, 2012 (on-line).
7. Neoproterozoic-Early Cambrian Evolution of Peri-Gondwanan Terranes: Implications for Laurentia-Gondwana Connections by Murphy et al, 2003.
8. Overview of the Subsurface Structural Pattern of the Paris Basin by Baccaletto et al, 2010.
9. Paleography of Europe, DVD Collection, Ron Blakey, Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Arizona, USA.
10. Paleozoic Evolution of the Pre-Variscan Terranes: From Gondwana to the Variscan Collision by Stampfli et al, 2002.
11. Paleozoic History of the Armorican Massif by Michel Ballevre et al, 2008.
12. Paris Basin (Chapter 32) by Alain Perrodon and Julien Zabek, undated.
13. Paris Reborn – Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann and the Quest to Build a Modern City, by Stephane Kirkland, 2013.
14. The Formation of Pangaea by G.M. Stampfli et al, 2013.
15. The Rheic Ocean: Origin, Evolution, and Significance by R. Damian Nance, 2008 (on-line).
16. Urban Design and Civic Spaces: Nature at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in Paris by Ulf Strohmayer, 2006 (on-line).
17. Vincent van Gogh – Moulin de la Galette by Simon C. Dickinson, 1023 (on-line).

Some Stuff about the author,
Dr.Jack Share

near Boston, Massachusetts
Jack Share
I was the kid in the lyrics of the Jackson Browne song “in ’65 I was seventeen”, when my educational efforts were directed toward a degree in biology and a career in a health profession. Many years later, the fossils I found as a kid in Central New York led me to paleontology, their evolutionary relationships and to developmental biology. It wasn’t long before I came to appreciate the importance of an education grounded in geology. Former life and former landscapes are indeed inseparable. In this blog I offer a descriptive, interpretive and photographic perspective of our world, both past and present, and both within my New England home and well beyond.  (Seen through my lens, Saturday, April 19, 2014)

The problem of the budget: Finite means can never meet infinite demands.

Somehow it’s happened. Terrestrial and temporal authorities, —presidents, legislators and judges, et al. have, at least in the developed world, as well as in much of the undeveloped world, pretty much replaced the spiritual authorities of the past, of the Middle Ages, –emperors, kings, priests, and the like. We may have once looked to king and religious authority to look out for us, to protect and care for us, but no more.

Now we look to our elected representatives. And we expect more from them than we ever did from prince or priest.

And isn’t it now the unrealistic expectation of the people of their government in regard to expected benefits the principal source of the government’s problems? For governments, our government, those of China, Russia, Japan, France, probably all governments (except perhaps a hypothetical but not yet established Muslim or Jewish state) can no longer satisfy their populations, as say in the Middle Ages, simply by telling them that prayer was enough, or even praying along with them.

Now governments have to deal with reality, have to actually provide their peoples with food, shelter, and jobs. And that task, as people make more and more demands on their governments, that task becomes more and more difficult, quite out of reach in most countries, as certainly in my wife’s country, France, as in my own country, the United States, or more and more outright impossible as in Russia and Ukraine, Greece, and any number of other countries, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa.

Take a look below at he 2013 spending budget of the United States. Our government’s non-defense discretionary budget which under the rule of king or pontiff might have represented most of the available funds at the ruler’s disposal, is now only 17% of the total, and of that less than 1% actually goes to the government, to the rulers themselves, the rest to various interest groups of the people.

The remaining 83% of the 2013 budget, some $3 trillion goes to the “needs” of the people, for health care, old age security, and defense. Compounding our problem today is that the “needs” of the people had been too extravagantly met by prior governments who had, perhaps, more funds at their disposal, and now, when funds are no longer available it’s almost impossible in order to reduce their  obligations to their peoples to redefine the people’s own understanding of their “needs”.


Today government budgets, our government’s budget, are set up to meet the needs, or assumed needs of the people (as opposed to earlier periods in our history when the needs of the spiritual authorities, the kings and the priests, often came first for the budget makers).

However, as we have learned the people’s needs can never be satisfactorily met by the government’s means. The result being that present day history is mostly about governments trying to lessen their obligations to their peoples in the interest of lowering their debt burden. And of course when they take things away, things the people thought were theirs, the representatives of the people are regularly voted out of office, resulting at best with a new team in place with no more chance of success than its predecessor.

What seems to have happened in the modern world is that governments have learned to their extreme distress that the needs of the people are infinite and that their own means, their wealth is altogether finite. And governments, no more than their peoples, have a God to turn to.

In order to be elected and be reelected and remain in office candidates had to make promises, and those who promised the most and were most believed were elected and immediately set about to fulfill their promises, almost as if they didn’t know that their means were finite and the demands of their constituencies infinite. At best they borrowed funds to help with the impossible task, at worst they printed their own money.

And that’s where we are today. All of us. More or less in debt. Talking about growing our economies and creating more jobs and more wealth, but for the moment facing high unemployment rates especially among the young, and if occasionally not going further and further into debt, doing little or usually nothing to reduce the actual debt, which is in the United States, as of today, April 17, 2014, $16,787,451,118,147, that costing us a quarter of a trillion dollars in annual interest payments.

If you’re not used to 15 figures, that’s trillions of dollars. To put that in context the GDP of the United States is about the same amount, $16.8 trillion. And to put that in an even larger context that’s a bit more than 20% of a world (GWP) of $85 trillion.

Au Rwanda, il est interdit de se balader pieds nus.

I recently encountered, in fact, it was a visitor in my own home, whose constant put down of our government, in particular of our President, revealed himself to be a conspiracy theorist. He was his theory that the government was conspiring to take away our freedoms. And when I said that I personally had never felt as free as I did today, right here, in the good old USA, and in my 82nd year, I don’t think he heard me because he went right on talking.

I admit, all too readily, the physical changes accompanying the aging process are making my body less able to fully function as it did in my youth, less “free” if you like, but my mind almost on a daily basis, from early morning to early evening, was flying as it spent more and more hours “online” with the wealth of knowledge and information that was to be had there for the taking.

For me and for millions of others throughout the world the “world wide web” has brought all of us into close contact with others elsewhere, often very different from ourselves. And this is good. In my own case the Web has enabled me to wander and discover for myself as never before the ideas of others, both from the past and the present, as the Web is more and more timeless, or jammed with things from all times.

More than anything else, certainly more than first school and then work, the Web has been for me a force for liberation. And only if that liberating force is ever threatened by government, and/or by wealthy individuals and corporations that do seem to run so much of our country, would we then have sufficient reason to fight. But at the moment we don’t. It’s only a theory, and a conspiracy theory at that.

So, I would say once again that today we are freer than ever before. But to those including my conspiracy theorist visitor who really think we are losing our freedoms I would suggest he and they visit one or more of the lands where freedoms have been taken away. (But there also, let me note there was no conspiracy to begin with.)

And if you are looking for such a land you might try present day Rwanda where the loss of freedom is a fact. Here is Rwanda as described in the text below taken from an article in the Courier International of 11 avril, 2014, RWANDA, La Main de Fer.

And if you did experience directly what is happening in Rwanda well then you might start doing something more useful to you and our country and stop talking about an imaginary loss of our freedoms in the USA.

Paul Kagamé [au pouvoir depuis vingt ans] a deux visages. Celui du président moderne, actif sur Twitter, Facebook et d’autres réseaux sociaux. Et celui du dictateur traditionnel, dont le portrait est accroché dans les moindres échoppes.

Le regard sévère derrière ses minces lunettes, il semble dicter aux Rwandais la marche à suivre dans les moindres aspects de leur vie. Ce n’est pas qu’une impression. 

Au Rwanda, il est interdit de se balader pieds nus, de porter des vêtements sales ou même de partager une paille, sous prétexte que ce n’est pas hygiénique. Un samedi par mois, les citoyens doivent obligatoirement participer au nettoyage de leur quartier. Le progrès, ici, se réalise à marche forcée. 

Au fil des ans, le régime est devenu de plus en plus autoritaire. Aujourd’hui, presque tous les rivaux de Kagamé sont morts, en prison ou en fuite. Même les exilés sont en danger. Plusieurs dissidents ont été abattus dans le monde.  Est-ce le prix à payer pour maintenir la paix sociale ?



What Is Wrong With Our System of Education? by George Bernard Shaw

This piece of writing first appeared in The Sunday Pictorial, in June of 1918, just months before Germany would sign the armistice at Compiegne on November 11 and the fighting would end. But here Shaw is not writing about the war. He’s writing about education, or what I would call schooling. And what he says is no less relevant and valid for us now, nearly 100 years later.

Perhaps even more relevant, since today just about every child will be compelled to pass 10 or more years in school. Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school attendance law in 1852, and by 1900, 34 states had such laws. By 1910, 72% of American children attended school, half of them in one-room school houses. Now the one-room school houses are gone, but not the schools, and now every child is compelled to attend them, at least through the first two years of high school.

But here he is, George Bernard Shaw, and in this short piece he is making his case against the public schools in Britain, but the case could be made against the schools here, just as well. According to Shaw the principal reason for having the kids in school is that the parents, as well as society at large, don’t know otherwise know what to do with them. My own experience in the schools would lead me to the same conclusion. And the problem arises, of course, because the schools know even less than the parents what to do with them.

This question, what’s wrong with our system of education, unconsciously begs another question, which is, whether our school system is really a system of education at all.

I have alleged, and do still allege, that it is not a system of education but a cloak for something else. And that something else is the sequestration and imprisonment of children so as to prevent them being a continual nuisance to their parents.

That children and adults cannot live together comfortably is a simple fact of nature which must be faced before any discussion of their treatment can advance beyond the present stage of sentimental twaddle.

The blood relationship does not matter: if I have to do my work amid noise and disorder, and break it off repeatedly to console the yelling victim of a broken shin or to act as judge, jury, and executioner in a case of assault with violence; if I have to be at call continually as a dictionary and encyclopedia for an insatiably curious little questioner to whom everything else in the visible universe requires an immediate explanation; if I cannot discuss the Billing case with an adult friend because there is always a small chaperone within earshot; if I have to talk down to the level of a child’s intelligence, and incidentally to humbug it in the interest of my own peace and quietness, for hours every day; if I have to choose between spending my time either answering the question “May we do this?” or shrieking “Don’t dare do that”; if I have to be medical officer of health, wardrobe mistress, sanitary inspector, surgeon for minor operations, fountain of justice and general earthly providence for a houseful of children, the effect on my career is the same whether the children are the issue of my own body or of my neighbor’s: that is, I shall be so interrupted and molested and hindered and hampered in any business, profession, or adult interest, artistic, philosophic, or intellectual, which I may be naturally qualified to pursue, that I shall have to choose between being a mere domestic convenience and getting rid of my children somehow.
Under these circumstances a modern humane parent who can afford it always does get rid of the children by handing them over in their infancy to servants and later on to schoolmasters. The humane parents who cannot afford it let their children run wild. I insist on the word humane because there is a third alternative open to inhuman people.

By simple cruelty they can tame their children to sit still and ask no questions, to make no noise, not to tear their clothes, not to speak until they are spoken to, to be instantly obedient, and to take extraordinary pains to keep their misdeeds concealed (mostly by lying) from their elders.

Many people are so constituted that an occasional exercise in breaking a child’s will, punishing it, and seeing it flinch and scream under the rod or go pale with terror, is pleasurable to them. But this is bad for the child.

Any dog trainer will testify that a spaniel can be spoiled for life by a single act of terrorization; and many human beings have been spoiled in this way. It is no doubt desirable that little boys and girls should have sufficient self-control to sit quietly throughout a suitably short religious service once a week, or to hold their breath whilst swimming under water across a bath; but for most of their time they should be as noisy as nightingales, as restless as squirrels, as curious as monkeys, and quite indifferent to the tidiness of their hair, the integrity of their clothes, or the scrupulous cleanliness of their persons.

The humane parent knows this and puts up with it when the children are about; but that is precisely why humane parents are the first to get rid of their children under pretence of “sending them to be educated.”
The schoolmaster is the person who takes the children off the parents’ hands for a consideration. That is to say, he establishes a child prison, engages a number of employee schoolmasters as turnkeys, and covers up the essential cruelty and unnaturalness of the situation by torturing the children if they do not learn, and calling this process, which is within the capacity of any fool or blackguard, by the sacred name of Teaching.

That is what is wrong with our so-called educational system. Every genuine teacher knows it. Every person who understands children and sympathizes with them, like Dr. Montessori, knows it. Everyone who, like the wife of the Master Builder in Ibsen’s play, has a genius for fostering the souls of little children, knows it. But I am the only person who ever mentions it; and not one of those who have pretended to discuss my views has ever dared to allude to it.
When I tell the story of my friend who, in a hasty fit of sympathy with a beaten child, punched the head of an elementary schoolmaster, and was fined two pounds and informed that he would have been fined six if he had hit a gentleman, elementary schoolmasters, against whose scandalous underpayment I have always protested, rage at me for disparaging their gentility (as if the valuation had been made by me); but they have never squarely faced the fact that the wages and the social standing of the skilled and earnest teacher of genuine vocation is kept down by the competition of the fellow who, because he can lock a school gate and hurt a child with a cane, can therefore do all that the children’s parents pay for. Such an unskilled ruffian can always depend on the parents supporting him in any further pretensions he may make; for do they not owe to him the quietude and freedom of their lives?

The result is that when war emergencies subject the so-called education of our governing classes to a stringent practical test, we discover that their ignorance costs millions of money and thousands of lives, and is quite staggering to the two classes who have to save the situation: namely, the self-educated and the truants.

By the self-educated I mean those who have taken advantage of the voluntary associations, the Summer Schools, the professional societies, the propagandist organizations which continually keep up a supply of lectures and controversial discussions under free conditions, and also of the access to literature and art and music provided by our libraries, galleries, concerts, theatres, and the like.

If every secondary school and university in the kingdom were wiped out by an air raid tomorrow, and their staffs buried amid the ill-concealed exultation of their unfortunate pupils, thereby throwing our young people on the agencies I have just named, there would be an immediate and enormous increase in the number of really educated persons in England, and a quite blessed disappearance of a mass of corruptly inculcated error and obsolescence, and of that intense hatred of intellectual and artistic culture which exists today among our public schools and university graduates because it is known to them only as an excuse for loathsome prison tasks.

When young people are as free to walk out of a classroom where they are bored by a dull teacher as grown-up people are to walk out of a theatre where they are bored by a dull playwright, the schools will be far more crowded than the theatres, and the teachers far more popular than the actors. Until then we shall remain the barbarians we are at present.

Formerly, when games were forbidden in schools, and children were expected to study Latin for twelve hours a day, the children were keen on games and fighting.
Now that games have been made compulsory school subjects, boys will soon hate athletics and fighting as they now hate “English literature,” and their country will be gathered like a daisy by the first vigorous nation that ventures to cultivate its wits and its muscles in freedom.

For my part, I thank my stars every day that as the German “system of education” differs from ours only in being more thoroughly carried out, and much more sincerely believed in, we may win the war by virtue of being less “educated” than our chief antagonist.

Thursday, April 3, 2014, Speaker Boehner, Charles Koch of Koch Industries, and NY Governor Cuomo

Encountered all three while surfing on the Internet late Thursday afternoon. I was looking for light reading material after having perused first chapters of Michio Kaku’s The Future of the Mind, Brian Fagan’s Cro-Magnon, and Doug Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop. And I was surfing because it wasn’t yet Happy Hour time when today I had promised myself I would share a bottle of Green’s gluten free dark ale  (Budweiser hasn’t yet joined the mad rush to gluten free) with my wife whom I knew was still upstairs in our “grande salle” hard at work at her iMac on her family archives, now numbering conservatively in the tens of thousands of pages.

Speaker Boehner was the first. I read about his latest pronouncement on the Cheat Sheet or Afternoon Edition of the Daily Beast. The Speaker, addressing the shooting at Fort Hood spoke saying that the mentally ill should not own guns. Wow! Good point Mr. Speaker. Or, in his own memorable words: “There’s no question that those with mental-health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons.”

Why hadn’t I thought of that? But then, I wondered what would be the Speaker’s response on hearing about a fatal car accident, an ugly divorce made public, or a teen suicide? Would he have said, much in the vein of his Fort Hood comment, that those responsible for the car crash, the marriage bust-up, the teen’s suicide, shouldn’t be allowed to own a car, marry, or have children? No, of course not.

And anyway, who could/would determine the state of one’s mental health, as a preliminary to gun ownership? Imagine a world when in order to own a gun, not to mention a car, a picket fence with partner and children, one’s mental state would have to be somehow determined beforehand as being, what, normal? In the case of the millions of soldiers who have come back (at least those who have made it back) not to mention those who drive, marry, and raise children, what few among them all would be considered normal, ready and able to take on the various responsibilities?

Mr. Speaker, in the past, as I’m sure you well know, totalitarian governments have tried to determine that, although what they usually meant by their closed door determinations was whether the individuals being questioned and examined represented no threat to themselves, the examiners, to their own privileged positions.

But the Speaker missed the real lesson to be drawn from the Fort Hood and other similar incidents. And the lesson wasn’t at all that the military ought to have kept this individual from possessing a firearm. Not possible.

The real lesson of Fort Hood, one that neither the Speaker nor President Obama has drawn, is that war comes with its own negative externalities, and that what happened at Fort Hood was probably one of the very least of these, least in terms of lives lost for no good reason. Wars, especially those begun by recent American presidents, those in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, those “bad” wars should never have been started.

We probably cannot keep guns out of all hands that shouldn’t have them. We just don’t know how to do that in any democratic fashion. However we might at least do as we do with automobiles, make gun ownership more difficult, gun possession more responsible, that is, we might grow the number of regulations. And in fact haven’t federal and state driving regulations lowered the number of driving fatalities?

And isn’t it a good thing that the founding fathers didn’t drive. For if they had we might now have an expanded second amendment protecting the right of individuals to own and drive cars with, as in the case of guns, only minimal restrictions.

But the Speaker had more to say about Fort Hood, “This issue we need to continue to look at, [is] to find a way to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.” Wow again! And again, how would he do that?

A last comment. Mr. Speaker, when you think of all the young men who have been sent, first to Vietnam, then to Iraq, and now to Afghanistan, and then returned to their home base, isn’t it really extraordinary that there have been so few Fort Hood incidents? Banning bad wars might be a better place to start if you would lessen if not eliminate the Fort Hoods.

My second encounter was with Charles Koch, of the Koch Industries.  In a WSJ op ed piece of April 2, he writes:

I have devoted most of my life to understanding the principles that enable people to improve their lives. It is those principles—the principles of a free society—that have shaped my life, my family, our company and America itself.

Now I believe he believes this (although I’m sure he would have great difficulty in defining the “principles of a free society”). Like many others, in particular the current crop of Republican presidential aspirants, including Tea Partiers, anti-government  (anti-Obama) conspiracy theorists, the Rand borthers, libertarians who at best try to disguise themselves as classical liberals, and others including all the too familiar figures of the Republican establishment, if there is such anymore, led by Jeb Bush.

But he doesn’t seem to realize (how is that possible, does he know nothing about history) that the only “free society” there has ever been was that of the jungle where life was short, brutal, and not sweet. For our ancestors, our real ancestors, not the so-called founding fathers, but the hunter-gatherers who first appeared and entered the fossil record as they came out of Africa some 50000 years ago, the goal of preserving their freedoms, such as they were at the time, was much less important than their survival.

Just as for most of us today it’s jobs more than our freedoms that are most on our minds. For freedom by and large we have it, and most of all it’s thanks to government protections, beginning, for example with Federal Marshalls, with Marshall Matt Dillon of Dodge City, Kansas.

We might even say that if we have survived as long as we have, some 100,000 years or more, it’s because we have over and over again been willing to give up some of our individual freedoms for the sake of the community, for the peaceful and orderly growth of Dodge City, or as Koch would say, for the collective, the collective being for him what he is against. But aren’t the Koch Industries where Charles Koch made his billions, a kind of collective.

Koch says that he doesn’t understand why his life long efforts to preserve our freedoms (because that’s how he sees himself, a preserver of freedom —a kind of knight in shining armor) are villified, why he and his brother are put down not only by the by the political left, but also by the more liberal center. In turn he villifies his opponents, accusing them of engaging in character assassination.

Rather than try to understand my vision for a free society or accurately report the facts about Koch Industries, our critics would have you believe we’re “un-American” and trying to “rig the system,” that we’re against “environmental protection” or eager to “end workplace safety standards.”

Neither Boehner nor Koch seem aware of the reality of our nation, Boehner of the harm that the recent “bad” wars have done to our citizen soldiers, Koch of just how much our freedoms depend on government secured protections. The most casual reading of our own history reveals how over and over again we have gone to war for the wrong reasons and how repeatedly groups of our citizens have suffered at the hands not of government but of individuals with too much freedom and too much power.

And in fact it is only the government that is ready and able to rein in the bullies among us. This is not to say that it always does its job well, that there isn’t room for improvement. There is. But does Charles Koch really believe that the greater freedoms he would now promote for the ones, for the few, would secure comparable freedoms and rights for the others, the many, those with little or no power or influence of their own?

The probably greater freedoms of the country’s early years, were mostly the freedoms of the founding fathers, of the property owners, of those in power. They were not the possession of all, of the Blacks, the native Americans, and a bit later of the factory workers, the women, all of whom during hundreds of years of our history were anything but free. Changes have come about, good changes, such as the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, but not by conservative Democrats and Republicans, rather by the actions of a liberal and more responsible government.

Koch doesn’t seem to understand that the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law, personal freedom and other such, probably depend more on the government than on the actions of private individuals. While it is true that the Government also can be a bully on occasion  the answer is not less govenment, but better government. For, to say it again, only government is ultimately strong enough to do away with the bullies among us.

My third encounter was with Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. from reading a NY Times article, Cuomo Played Pivotal Role in Charter School Push. Here was a public figure doing the right thing. Suddenly after my encounters with the half grown, still child-like thinking of Speaker Boehner and Charles Koch I found myself in the presence of an adult.

Bill de Blasio, the newly elected mayor of New York had promised his supporters that he would make things tougher for the charters in the city. His predecessor, Mayor Blumberg had been a strong supporter of charters with the result that the district public schools were feeling left out. According to their reasoning charters, while representing only 10% of the students in the district, were receiving special favors from city hall. Mr. de Blasio was elected, and without questioning the reasoning of his public school supporters, promised to end this so-called favoritism for the no less public school charters.

So one of the very first things Mr. de Blasio did was to charge the charters rent for their use of public school buildings as well as forbid new charters from moving into public spaces. In particular he had decided to deny space to three schools run by Success Academy Charter Schools, a high-performing network founded by Eva S. Moskowitz, a former city council woman. And of course many supporters of Ms. Moskowitz’s schools were outraged.

Well, evidently the governor was also outraged. He attended a public demonstration of thousands of charter school supporters, parents and students, most of them black, Hispanic, and from low-income communities, gathered on the steps of the State Capitol, and announced, “You are not alone,” he told them. “We will save charter schools.”

And in fact his proposed legislation included provisions to reverse Mr. de Blasio’s decisions on school space, and it required the city to provide public classrooms to new and expanding charter schools or contribute to the cost of renting private buildings. It also suggested increasing per-pupil funding for charter schools and allowing them to operate prekindergarten programs.

The bully in all this was the newly elected mayor of New York City. There was no need to do what he did. The charters were already receiving significantly less support in terms of space and dollars than the district schools. There was no special treatment. But what could possibly stop the Mayor from taking public spaces from the public charter schools? Well someone with even more power, the Governor.

Andrew Cuomo’s exemplary words and actions stand out even further given the fact that both Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, as well as Barack Obama, would be supporters of charters, remained silent throughout the whole episode.