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It’s hard to see the forest through the trees; it’s even harder to see that forest when you’re a microbe living on the root of one of those trees. That was the problem, the world was so big, and we were so small. We tried, we really did. Scientists, when they could get the funding, studied the skies, the oceans, and earth. It was like taking microscopic pictures of a whale, take enough and you might understand what you are looking at, but it is going to take some time. Time we didn’t have.
We had the basic ideas down. Global warming, ocean acidification, the hole in the ozone. We could see the wounds; we even had a good idea of the weapons that caused them. Our SUV’s, our coal power plants, our sparkling lights, our fields full of genetically modified food. All the things that made our lives wonderful, happy, and free.
The dollar had been falling for weeks, as oil prices climbed skyward. For the first time in my life, one Canadian dollar was worth one US greenback. We joked that the Looney had suddenly become “real money.” Here in America we were busy pouring our tax dollars and children into the black hole that was Iraq. The sub-prime mortgage debacle had banks on the edge, and the markets went up and down hundreds of points for no apparent reason. I remember the temperature was in the mid 90’s in the last week of September.
The scene was set for a great performance. Saudi Arabia decided to switch to the Euro, throwing the world oil markets into a whirlwind. The rest of OPEC quickly followed. Ironically the markets in the US went up that day, it was the calm before the storm. When the markets opened the next day the stock market plummeted over 85%, dragging most of the worlds markets down with it. There was no real reason for any of it, people just got spooked. No one would lend anyone money, banks closed their doors to prevent runs. They even hauled Alan Greenspan out of retirement to try and calm people down. Nothing worked. It was chaos.
Trillions of dollars were suddenly gone. Peoples 401k’s, there nest eggs, their vision of a happy suburban future, vanished in a cloud of monetary magic. No one threw themselves out of windows 1920’s style, Wall Street no longer cared enough to kill themselves over something like this. Hell it wasn’t even their money they had lost, most of them still got outrageous bonuses that year.
Being young and poor I really didn’t lose much in the stock market. It wasn’t till the a couple months latter that I got laid off from my non-profit job. The financial market was taking a shit, and they certainly weren’t going to be giving us money to help inner city kids learn how to use computers. The great American financial dragon had suffered a mortal wound and was thrashing out of control as it died.
October in Boston was just as hot as September. It was not unusual to hit 80 degrees by 9 am. People were temperamental and depressed, their life savings were gone, and it cost too much to run the AC. People were being laid off left and right, the price of milk went through the roof. Murder rates started to go up.
I remember seeing websites, begging for money. Paypal donate buttons sprang up like weeds on every Facebook profile. It was the digital version of selling pencils on the corner. I had made a fair amount of money from Google, displaying ads on my blogs, but no one had any money to buy shit, and advertising budgets dried up. The internet suddenly seemed empty without the dancing shadows of mortgage ads, and banners urging you to find your lost high school friends.
I responded to all this by throwing myself head long into the data, the digital version of sticking your head in the sand. Spending all day reading feeds, checking message boards, listening to NPR. I had given up on finding a new job, no one was hiring, and how was I going to compete with the guy with the PhD vying for the job at Burger King. Somehow knowing more about what was going on, made it less real. I plunged into the net, and tried my best to ignore the world outside my window.
America was reeling from a financial left hook. The fiscal punishment had us dizzy, so dizzy in fact that we didn’t see mother nature’s winding up for a haymaker until it smashed into our face.