Baker had opportunities in France that a black woman did not have in segregated US society and she did not have to deal with the daily outrage of a color line. At the same time the French and European obsession with Baker’s ‘primitivism’, which she played into with her famous banana dance, spoke to a racism magnetized by the erotic possibilities of blacks. In the twilight of European colonialism she symbolized the elusive native, the one who sang, danced, and tantalized but remained independent. Emerging half-naked on stage from a giant cage, Baker capitalized on barely-repressed European racial fantasies and turned them into a personal fortune. As she said, “Leers and dirty looks are two sides of the same coin.”
The African American world paid close attention to Baker and the Revue Négre as they conquered Paris. W.E.B Du Bois took note of her in The Crisis and the African American press chronicled her successes. Middle-class white Americans, few of whom had ever seen Baker perform during her US career, knew of Baker but paid her little more than brief attention. It was in Europe where Baker had the most profound impact as the American image of the Jazz Age. Two Americans especially mattered to Europeans in the 1920s: Woodrow Wilson and Josephine Baker.
The D.O.E. has a program, for example, to provide low-interest loans to companies to encourage risky corporate innovation in alternative energy and energy efficiency. The loan program became infamous when one of its borrowers, the solar-energy company Solyndra, was unable to repay its loan, but, as a whole, since its inception in 2009, the program has turned a profit. And it has been demonstrably effective: it lent money to Tesla to build its factory in Fremont, California, when the private sector would not, for instance. Every Tesla you see on the road came from a facility financed by the D.O.E. Its loans to early-stage solar-energy companies launched the industry. There are now 35 viable utility-scale, privately funded solar companies—up from zero a decade ago. And yet today the program sits frozen. “There’s no direction what to do with the applications,” says the young career civil servant. “Are we shutting the program down?” They’d rather not, but if that’s what they are going to do, they should do it. “There’s no staff, just me,” says the civil servant. “People keep bugging me for direction. It’s got to the point I don’t care if you tell me to tear the program down. Just tell me what you want to do so I can do it intelligently.” Another permanent employee, in another wing of the D.O.E., says, “The biggest change is the grinding to a halt of any proactive work. There’s very little work happening. There’s a lot of confusion about what our mission was going to be. For a majority of the workforce it’s been demoralizing.”
Altogether, it takes seven years for the wildebeest bones to fully disintegrate, releasing nutrients like phosphorous and carbon into the river. This slow decomposition, while unpleasant to smell, is crucial for the Mara River ecosystem, sustaining microbes, insects, and fish, as well as large scavengers. In the past, river ecologists had assumed that high levels of dissolved carbon from rotting corpses are unhealthy and unnatural for rivers. But the researchers found that protected parks actually have more dissolved carbon their rivers compared to unprotected ones, suggesting that less human influence can sometimes mean more putrid rivers.
Unfortunately, there are few ecosystems that can directly compare to the Mara. That’s because humans have disrupted nearly every large herbivore migration on the planet, and continue to kill off these key animals faster than they can kill themselves. It’s practically impossible for human biologists to get an accurate sense of what ecosystems looked like before the loss of large animals, because, according to many paleoecologists, humans have been wiping out large animals since the prehistoric migrations out of Africa.
The human migration across the Bering Strait into the Americas 15,000 years ago was followed by the extinctions of American mammoths and mastodons, giant ground sloths, sabre-tooth cats and giant armadillos. Other continents also suffered losses. When humans first landed in Australia 60,000 years ago, they would have encountered 500-pound kangaroos, 10-foot-tall flightless birds, wombat relatives the size of rhinoceroses, and monitor lizards that grew to over 20 feet long. By 45,000 years ago, all of those species were gone.
The bees were working the contents
of the fenced-in metal trash bin,
zigging and scribbling past the goo
of candy wrappers and the sticky rims
of dented cans, entering, as they might
a blossom, the ketchup-smeared burger
boxes and the mold-fuzzed, half-eaten
fruity snack packs, those food-grade waxes
mingling with Band-Aids