Are they burning oil, money, their public image, a political rationale? All four? Let’s hope.

The burn operation began at 4:45 p.m. Central time Wednesday. “They have lit off the burn,” Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley said.

The process consists of corralling concentrated parts of the spill in a 500 foot long fireproof boom, moving the oil to another location and burning it. While the process has been tested effectively on other spills, it is complicated by weather and concerns over ecological impact.

The generous version: When these kinds of events (corporate environmental pillage, war, financial crises that enrich single entities at the expense of millions) creep up and in on us, it’s possible not to think so much of them; not saying they’re normal/natural but the precipitous slopes of their peril fit in somewhat with other elements of our, um, progress.

But if this was an opening sequence to a film or a novel that we walked into or opened up and suddenly were encountered with the Gulf of Mexico on fire on purpose, it would be obvious that it was a dystopian setting, foreshadowing further suffering and annihilation to come. We would brace ourselves, even in the context of art, for further destruction. What are we doing as the sea burns now?

Even if you’ve only noticed [or tied to ignore] this casually, it’s hard not to find it unreal, bizarre.

We’re stupid if we don’t see this for what it is.