We’re No Angels
Before Xmas TCM broadcast We’re No Angels, a black comedy that takes place in a colonial town in French Guiana in the days before and after Christmas. Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov play three convicts who essentially function as angels for a rather hapless, but well-meaning, middle-class family. In the original French play the convicts were working off ‘forced residency’ following their sentences at Devil’s Island, but in the film they have slipped away from captivity and into town, and they intend to escape aboard ship.
I’d love to design a set for the theatrical version, because watching from above (roof windows), the convicts take an interest in a shopkeeper couple played by Leo G Carroll and Joan Bennett and grow particularly fond of their naive daughter, played by Gloria Talbott. The convicts step in and use their criminal expertise to help the store prosper, and later to protect them from unscrupulous relatives, played by Basil Rathbone and John Baer. All of which earns them halos, though Bogart flippantly quips, “We’re No Angels.”
We do, of course, pray to angels to bring us what we want, and keep us safe. We also ask that of our parents, our leaders and our warriors. We tend to forgive them for all sorts of offenses if they can deliver food, shelter, safety and if they can keep the abundance coming.
We prefer to think that we have earned our abundance. Without doubt, many people have worked very hard to get where they are, but also without doubt, we have all benefited from the surfeit of natural resources on a previously sparsely-settled continent.
We generally take advantage of that abundance, giving little thought to tomorrow. Sometimes we squander it. We see that as our right. And because so far we have avoided consequences of doing so, we expect that we will continue to not suffer any untoward consequences of our actions. We’re used to abundance, we don’t want it to slip away and we tend to welcome anyone that promises to maintain it. So our leaders, especially, always talk about a return to prosperity.
At the moment, many of us look at the Canadian tar sands, and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas in many places, and see impending environmental disaster. We protest. But I do wonder if even the protestors are actually willing to pay the cost of not doing all those things. Will this month’s rise in gasoline prices make the dissenters a bit uneasy? Will they be inwardly relieved when Obama approves the XL pipeline?
So far, Mr. Obama has been able to balance his promises to promote both energy independence and environmental protection, by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands and offshore while also pushing auto companies to make their vehicles more efficient. But the Keystone decision, which is technically a State Department prerogative but will be decided by the president himself, defies easy compromise.
The New York Times article seems so intent on making the political case for saying Yes to Keystone that it fails to note that the Keystone will not be transporting ordinary crude, which transports at less than 100 degrees F and 600 PSI. Keystone XL will carry DilBit, diluted bitumen at a temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit and pressure of 1440 PSI. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council PDF, DilBit is far more acidic, more viscous, more sulfurous and more corrosive than ordinary crude.
The political case for saying Yes to fracking is also strong:
Electricity prices in New England have been four to eight times higher than normal in the last few weeks, as the region’s extreme reliance on natural gas for power supplies has collided with a surge in demand for heating. … Last year, natural gas provided 52 percent of New England’s electricity, and that share is expected to grow. Gas is generally cheaper than other energy sources, and the lower costs have spurred the retirement of aging coal generators and nuclear reactors. The six-state New England region and parts of Long Island are the most vulnerable now to overreliance on gas, a vulnerability heightened by a shortage of natural gas pipeline capacity, but officials worry that similar problems could spread to the Midwest.
We’re no angels, and I think we will acquiesce to environmental destruction if it will keep us warm, keep the lights on, keep the internet going. Then we’ll pray to our angels that the environment will recover when we need it.