One of the most sobering realities of growing up is recognizing that some of the tough-to-swallow lessons that your parents tried to teach you are actually true.  Whenever I asked my father about an injustice I'd noticed or wondered why something simple had become so convoluted through the filter of politics, he always had the same response: "Follow the money trail."

I was recently reminded of my father's succinct explanation to my difficult questions while watching Chinatown, a classic film noir from 1974 starring a very young Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.  

Don't let this photo fool you - the film is not a romance.  It's a detective story that starts with the investigation of a domestic affair and ends up uncovering a huge public water scandal.  Robert Towne loosely based his screenplay on the real LA water wars at the turn of the 20th century, when the "San Ferdinando Syndicate," a group of wealthy businessmen (including Harrison Otis, publisher of the LA Times, Fred Eaton, the mayor of LA who created the LA Dep't of Water and Power, and William Mulholland, superintendent and chief engineer of Water and Power), bought up water rights in the Owens Valley and built an aqueduct to funnel the water 238 miles to Los Angeles via the San Ferdinando Valley. Farmers and ranchers in the Owens Valley were left high and dry, literally, as their rivers and Owens Lake were drained completely within just a couple of decades.  In the meantime, the businessmen sold their stakes in both the Owens and the San Ferdinando Valleys to the city for an extraordinary profit.  

The film is quite captivating, and watching it I wondered why there haven't been more dramatizations of US water conflicts. It's not like we're lacking fodder - I've seen some great documentaries about the bottled water scam, water privatization, and most recently (and locally) hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."  I'd love to see a creative film based on the natural gas industry's manipulation of public opinion through the media, exploitation of rural families, and financial collaboration with politicians as it leaches toxins into our drinking water, devalues properties, and sneaks through loopholes in public health and safety regulations.  There would be great opportunities for special effects - imagine the explosion as a whole community lights its tapwater on fire.  The antagonists could be based on characters right here in New Jersey.  Take our Governor, Chris Christie for instance.  He recently vetoed a bill to permanently ban natural-gas drilling in New Jersey, a state that has nothing to gain financially from fracking since it has no significant shale deposits and everything to lose as the Delaware River sources drinking water to 3 million of its residents.  I just learned today that Christie has an investment in Ecosphere Technologies, a company that treats fracking fluid for natural gas drillers.  He apparently earned over $28,000 last year from his stock in the company.  No wonder he vetoed the ban.  All I can think of are my father's words, "Follow the money trail." 

So if the world has gone on this way for what seems like forever, with greed outsmarting or overpowering or outbidding goodwill time and again, then why do I keep wanting to fight the greedy?  Is it some rebellious vestige of my youth that still wants to prove my father wrong, or a naive hope that someday things will change, or a denial strategy that helps me survive in the face of overwhelming obstacles?  Regardless of motivation, I implore you to join me. Indeed, we might end up like Jack Nicholson at the end of Chinatown (you'll have to watch the movie to see what I mean) or we might actually get out of this mess together.  

Here are some articles about fracking and links to how you can get involved in the fight against it: