Saturday, September 15, 2001

When I first started logging, I made a private resolution to try to do something every day.
What I would like to do, today, is write a long commentary on Voltaire's response to the Lisbon Earthquake, with invidious references to yesterday's day of prayer.
But I have to work my ass off this weekend, in order to catch up with my committments: three reviews, and then a piece I am supposedly doing, due wednesday, on terrorism.
So I am going to have to suspend the Voltaire thing.
Also, I have received a few comments on my posts about the WTC bombing (or holocaust, or mass murder - one thing it wasn't was a tragedy. Unless building a skyscraper is considered an act of hubris. But even then, the hijacking and jet fuel explosion doesn't compute as a tragedy. Sorry.). The comments surprised me - my friend David said that my posts were cold. He said he didn't mean this as an insult, just that is what they were.
I guess I have responded, so far, in these posts, on a highly intellectual plane. The reason is, my emotional response, my grief, my obsessive replaying of the planes hitting the towers within my mind - all of these things aren't, yet, things I can write about in a direct way. Maybe I won't ever be able to do that. I wasn't there - my experience is of being by, being a bystander. Karl Kraus once remarked that the ontological effect of newspapers was to shift our Dasein into Dabeisein - a sort of untranslateable German pun, but you get my point. Or do you? Lately I wonder if my points are similar to private jokes, which I think are funny and everybody else thinks are incomprehensible. Spelling it out - the movement from being there to being by there is the dialectical moment of inauthenticity, its historically specific structure.
But don't get me started, me with my big Heideggerian mouth!
In any case - I am not at all cold about this thing. I am frozen, I am at dead zero, I am an emotional evacuee. That's what I am.
As for todays link - this is the best I could do. I'm not, repeat, not trying to be cold, but we need information about what is going on, and what the puzzle American forces, apparently, are going to enter is all about.

Friday, September 14, 2001


Invading Afghanistan. I talked to my brother a couple of days ago, and he told me he thought we should try to invade and hold Afghanistan, like we did Germany in 1945.
I think that is a crazy idea, although it seems to be floating around in the American psyche right now. There's a nice site on the Soviet Afghanistan war as a possible "harbinger of future war."by a General Mohammed Nawroz. Facts to know and tell:
a. "Yet, their [the Soviet] force commitment, initially assessed as requiring several months, lasted ten years and required increasing numbers of Soviet forces. It proved a bloody experience in which the Soviet Union reportedly killed 1.3 million people and forced five and a half million Afghans (a third of the prewar population) to leave the country as refugees. Another two million Afghans were forced to migrate within the country. Today, the countryside is ravaged and littered with mines. On a percentage basis, the Soviet Union inflicted more suffering on Afghanistan than Germany inflicted on the Soviet Union during World War.
b. "One needs only review the recently released casualty figures to underscore the pervasiveness of the problem [of the military situation in Afghanistan]. Soviet dead and missing in Afghanistan amounted to almost 15,000 troops, a modest percent of the 642,000 Soviets who served during the ten-year war. Far more telling were the 469,685 other casualties, fully 73 percent of the overall force, who were wounded or incapacitated by serious illness. Some 415,932 troops fell victim to disease, of which 115,308 suffered from infectious hepatitis and 31,080 from typhoid fever. Beyond the sheer magnitude of these numbers is what these figures say about Soviet military hygiene and the conditions surrounding troop life. These numbers are unheard of in modern armies and modern medicine and their social impact among the returnees and the Soviet population was staggering. The Armed Forces of the Soviet Union were structured, equipped and trained for nuclear and high-intensity war on the great northern European plain. However, their political leadership thrust them into the middle of the Afghanistan civil war to reconstitute and to support a nominally Marxist-Leninist government. The terrain, the climate and the enemy were entirely different from what they had prepared for." Of course, it wouldn't be a Marxist-Leninist government that the US would try, hypothetically, to install. What type, then? Big problem is that the governments before the Taliban fell apart, as warlords ruled over various areas, with very very unappetizing results for the people. We begin, then, with a situation politically similar to South Vietnam's.
c. "General Nawroz once watched the return of a Soviet motorized column from a day's combat. It's mission was to open a highway for traffic and destroy the enemy blocking it. The Soviets acted like conquerors as they passed by General Nawroz's hiding place. Officers stood inside the turrets of the tanks, firing machineguns in the air and to the sides. One would have thought they had vanquished their enemies for ever. Disabled tanks and trucks were towed, carefully camouflaged, inside the column. When General Nawroz reached the site of the highway battle, he saw swarms of very young, cheerful freedom fighters running to the highway from all directions, armed only with rifles, a few AK47s and a couple of rocket launchers. They were collecting the meager spoils of the combat that had just taken place. The vain-glorious return of the Soviet column was in fact a rout."
This could easily happen again. If the US is smart, it won't - it will limit its operation, it will ally with those resistance forces on the ground and (unlike during the Gulf war) not betray them, and it will not attempt to impose its own political solution on this country.


The article that you must go to today is on the New Yorker site. It is a profile of Osama bin Laden by a Mary Weaver, originally published last year.

Here's a key graf:

"He is part puritanical Wahhabi, the dominant school of Islam in Saudi Arabia, yet at one time he may have led a very liberated social life. He is part feudal Saudi, an aristocrat who, from time to time, would retreat with his father to the desert and live in a tent. And he is of a Saudi generation that came of age during the rise of OPEC, with the extraordinary wealth that accompanied it: a generation whose religious fervor or political zeal, complemented by government airline tickets, led thousands to fight a war in a distant Muslim land. That Pan-Islamic effort, whose fighters were funded, armed, and trained by the C.I.A., eventually brought some twenty-five thousand Islamic militants, from more than fifty countries, to combat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The United States, intentionally or not, had launched Pan-Islam's first jihad, or holy war, in eight centuries."

The article is pretty good, but it does ignore a few important facts - most notably, the high price we have paid for tying the US interest to the Saudi interest. There's a popular phrase - client state - that is often used by the left and right to characterize an unambiguous and unilateral flow of command from some superpower to some state fingerpuppet. In reality, however, such top down models ignore the pull of various interests that get into the channel with client states. And if the client state, like Saudi Arabia, has its own imperial circle to worry about, the relationship between sponsor and client is much more a dance, with the sponsor hopefully leading, than an imperative.
As the smoke clears, it becomes clear that the world trade center bombing is an act of war that has emerged from a frozen war - the Gulf war. When the US chose not to depose Hussein, and to, in effect, cave to Saudi and Kuwaiti interests (both of those states feared and fear Iranian influence), we made a fundamentally irrational decision. We allowed wishful thinking, instead of strategy, to dictate the terms of our co-existence with Iraq.
In the same way, we went along with the Saudi plan for Afghanistan. I've read an interesting book, Fundamentalism Reborn? edited by William Maley. Well, no, it isn't interesting, except insofar as this week's situation makes it so - it is dusty and strewn with factional names cluttered with hard to pronounce sounds that are, in addition, hard to remember. To cut to the chase, when the Taliban came out of Pakistan in the early 90s, they came out basically as the pawns of Saudi interest, which was worried that the Iranians supporting Rabbani and Massoud, the previous most powerful clique in the country, were gaining a strategic advantage. Iran, India and Russia made up an informal support group for this faction. Riyadh reacted by throwing its support to the Taliban.

When Weaver, in her article, writes of the Pakistani irritation over the US effort to punish bin Laden, she ignores this history. But as in one of those great Persian miniatures, the calligraphy of state interest in this part of the Middle East is intricate, esoteric, and not easily decyphered on first glance.

What is obvious is that al-Qaeda, bin Laden's group, has an on and off relationship with all the governments in the region. And that the phrase that Bush used, and that comes from the mandarin speak of US Foreign Policy people - sponsor states - is a bit of a misnomer. Aftter all, the USA was the first sponsor state for the prototype of this group. And our "allies" - Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - have learned one thing from the disasterous relationship between the Shah's Iran and the US - the US is blind to the internal dynamics of its client states. So that the rulers play a more sophisticated game then the hapless shah did, bowing to US pressure on the one hand, but molding it on the other hand.

1. the war on terrorism is not going to be won. That's because the structure of war - its institutions, its goals, its necessary wagers - are absent in the case of 'terrorism' tout court, which has become a covert addendum to every state's policy - including the US, with its widespread support of death squads in Vietnam, El Salvador, Guatamala and other places. In Egypt or Pakistan, individual terrorists can be captured, organizations can be taken down, but given the international context in which these people travel, and given the rivalries between countries, these will all be provisional police solutions.
2. bin Laden's organization can be taken down. I hope it will be. To really insure the extinction of support for anti-American groups in the region, the US is going to have to come to terms with Iran. If the people around Bush have any brains, they recognize this. Question is, how they are going to explain it to the Saudis.
3. Iraq is still a problem without a solution. The Bush regime certainly doesn't have the courage to risk splitting up Iraq - which means we will witness a continuation of the current stupid, stupid policy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

"The less any thing is, the less we know it: how invisible, how unintelligible a thing then, is this Nothing! We say in the School, Deus cognoscibilior Angelis, We have better means to know the nature of God, than of Angels, because God hath appeared and manifested himself more in actions, than Angels have done: we know what they are, by knowing what they have done; and it is very little that is related to us what Angels have done: what then is there that can bring this Nothing to our understanding? what hath that done? A Leviathan, a Whale, from a grain of Spawn; an Oke from a buried Akehorn, is a great; but a great world from nothing, is a strange improvement. We wonder to see a man rise from nothing to a great Estate; but that Nothing is but nothing in comparison; but absolutely nothing, meerly nothing, is more incomprehensible than any thing, than all things together. It is a state (if a man may call it a state) that the Devil himself in the midst of his torments, cannot wish." - John Donne

That puzzle of Nothing, today, is the puzzle of the hijackers. So far what we know is that, from an incredible effect, the reduction to powder of the World Trade Center Towers, we go backwards towards a few pitiful clues - cell phone calls from airplanes in the midst of being turned into missiles, a possible black box in a field in Pennsylvania, the statement of Barbara Olsen, before she was slammed into the Pentagon along with all her other fellow passengers, that the hijackers used knives. And we, like Donne's Devil, are in the midst of contending with a disproportion so great that the mind keeps blinking.

In Salon today, among a group of pundits and airport security experts interviewed for their responses, one of the common statements was that this was a terribly sophisticated operation. A Sam Skinner, an investigator of the Lockerbie attack, was quoted as saying:

"...the fact that four domestic flights were hijacked is entirely shocking. I don't know of any scenario that allowed for this. This is not an amateur performance. It must have had support from strong organizations or governments."

This was echoed by a Charlie Leblanc, billed as the manager for an Airline Security company, who said:

"I can't tell you how this happened. We don't know exactly what was done, or in the order it was done to accomplish what they did accomplish. But what we know is that this was a well-planned attack. This took months if not years to figure out. We can also guarantee that at least 30 to 50 people were involved."

If this is true, it is hard not to endorse Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service, who was quoted by the Washington Post labeling this as an intelligence failure of "catastrophic proportions."

"How nothing could have been picked up is beyond me � way beyond me," Katzman told The Post. "There's a major, major intelligence failure, specially since the [previous] Trade Center bombing produced such an investigation of the networks and so much monitoring."

So on the one hand, we have four coordinated hijackings, we have a devastatingly well synchronized attack schedule, and we have the assurance that the backup for these terrorists had to be extensive and deep. And, on the other hand, we have the startling lack of guns, and the confusing testimony of a few voices who are dead and gone now. It is as if we had received cell phone calls from the cattle cars rolling to Auschwitz.

When you beat your head against a Blank this huge and black, against a will to the void this determined, it is easy to fall for any hint. Orrin Hatch callously demagoged on ABC last night (and is quoted in the Times this morning) with the assertion that the FBI (or the CIA or some "High Intelligence Official", whatever that means) had certain knowledge linking the hijacking to bin Ladin.
"They have an intercept of some information that included people associated with bin Laden who acknowledged a couple of targets were hit," Hatch said in an interview with The Associated Press. He declined to be more specific."

So we are to conclude that while the conspiracy was building, the intercept people just let it go - but now they have certain information that "the target was hit", whatever that means? This sounds more than suspicious - it sounds like serious tail covering and disinformation of the worst kind.

This isn't surprising, since men like Orrin Hatch are always the willing dupes of Nothing - they gamble with wild inferences, playing their own ideological games, and we suffer the consequences longterm if we let them get away with it.

I'm not getting to the obvious point that we don't know if bin Ladin did it. Because if there is a man with a motive and a habit of shouting that he wants to knock down American skyscrapers and kill Americans en masse, it is Ladin. An obvious point by the way: the U.S. has been terribly lax not only in letting Ladin receive aid and comfort from the Taliban and from Pakistan, but in refusing to support anti-Taliban forces. There's a strong Iran-o-phobia keeping us from exercizing a rational policy in this part of the Middle East. It is the same fear of Iran that prevented the US from destroying Saddam Hussein when that was a real option. The Kuwait war was a huge oddity: it shouldn't have been waged in the first place, and it shouldn't have been stopped once it was waged before Hussein was taken down. It was, on both ends, a complete botch.

Yet we don't have to backtrack over American policy to make a simple point about a criminal investigation. That point is: we can't start with suspects that we want to be suspects. We have to start with what we know.

I think we are in for some surprises as we find out more about the men who planned and carried out this crime.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001


My post today was going to address the reparations issue, following on the heels of the Durban, South Africa conference on racism. But I'm sick today - I have a sore throat, and I've just finished watching, for the 100th time, the World Trade Tower collapse, and I'm so sick of that.

When a disaster like this strikes - although, actually, there hasn't been a disaster like this in the US - the public personalities who float ectoplasmically across our tv screens suddenly come into relief, some for good, some for ill. I'd have to say that Peter Jennings is the most palatable of tv anchors. Dan Rather was at least more subdued than his usually ebullient, dyslexic self. Brokaw was pretty bad - he kept remarking that prominent people were probably killed in the planes that went down. Well, death is a nasty equalizer.

Fox TV went psychotic, so that I couldn't really watch it. The immediate question was where had they rounded up so many multi-fold fat white guys with barbecue on their chins to shout, in unison, let's bomb the bejesus out of em. Unfortunately, there is nobody yet to bomb. This is a punch in the dark.

There's an article in Slate -

Who Done It? by Timothy Noah - which (despite the title's inappropriate Yoga Berra grammar) is a reminder that we have no idea that Osman Ladin was responsible for this. Noah's point is that it could be home grown fascists. Nobody yet has fingered the Columbians, yet Ochoa was just extradited to the US - and the last time a Columbian coco billionaire was threatened with extradition, a terrific bombing campaign broke out in Bogota. The oddity is that there was no warning. It does make you think - what is the FBI doing? We have a huge national police force that chases stolen cars, has the dopiest psychological profiling bureau ever, catches bank robbers, and seems to have no clue that an organization is about to coordinate the hijacking of four separate planes and coordinate crashes of those planes into populated areas.
There isn't really anybody to retaliate against, yet, which gave the tv talking heads, and their endless analyses of Osmana bin Ladin, a rather odd cast. I have tried to imagine what it means that apparently four planes were hijacked with knives, if what the networks report is true. Knives. I am suprised that knives were the weapon of choice, especially if these were men trained by or associated with Ladin. Another thing I find funny is the reports of the telephone calls. There were numerous telephone callers among the passengers, and yet none of them described the men hijacking the plane the way your average white american - like me - would. None, that is, said these arab guys, or these foreign guys - they simply refered to men.
Another impression - and these impressions seem particularly unworthy when I think that as many as ten thousand people might have died in the World Trade Center today - is that Giuliani, a man I have, otherwise, no tolerance for, is a great mayor in an emergency. The contrast between his tv persona and Bush's was quite striking.
I've gone through a lot of weblogs. I recommend this one:

There are some others too, which I will put up later.

Monday, September 10, 2001


Interesting article by David Bradley
in this month's Elemental Discoveries, a sci-zine. He scrolls through recent Pharma discoveries, and finds a high percentage of recycled drugs, now touted for other uses. The graf that interested me, however, was this one:

"The metabolites of common antipsychotic drugs, such as clozapine, have been found to inhibit replication of HIV in human cell cultures, which could lead to yet another multipurpose drug. Antipsychotics have for several years been suspected of having antiviral activity, for instance lithium inhibits Herpes simplex replication. Such activity is consistent with the theory that certain forms of mental illness are thought to have a viral component."

Elemental Discoveries - August 2001

As some of you might know, I've written about this subject myself, in an Austin Chronicle article reviewing various books on Cancer, viruses, and medical discoveries. A couple of months ago there was a brief flurry about the disputed finding that schizophrenia was linked to a cat disease that was viral in nature. I find all this rather fascinating.

More stuff about Fujimori - who now ranks up there with Craxi in the "former leaders who flee criminal prosecution" department. American papers hadn't reported on this sterilization campaign. My big grievances with population control people is that the focus seems suspiciously eugenic - get brown and black people to have less kids.
The Times

Lede graf:
"A PARLIAMENTARY commission in Peru is investigating reports that hundreds of poor indigenous women died after 300,000 were forcibly sterilised in a scheme backed by the disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori."
The Post beats the Times for pungency, today, with its story about the Bush tax cut - about as fraudulent a piece of economic policy as a systems player's plan to beat the odds at blackjack at Trump Casino. Interesting, given the parallel between what Bush did on a national level and what he did in Texas. The same publicity driven tax cut, the same post budget repair work. The Times references further tax cuts to jumpstart the economy being mooted by both parties. It's beginning to feel a lot like a recession, so politicos are naturally getting antsy. The Post, however, revisits the budget which was passed this spring by the live wire Repugs and the cadaverous Dems, and guess what, my happy readers? Now that the budget is yesterday's papers, there's a lot of grinning and shuffling about how, shucks, the whole thing was sorta built out of fraudulent spending projections, taxes cut which will be supplanted by obscurer taxes revived, and the promise of consensual restraint on the part of Congress. Yeah, right. The last is like teaching abstinence in sex ed to teenagers - there's the gonad on the one side, and the rhetoric on the other. Which do you think is going to win?
Key Graf
Tax Cut Plan Filled With Dubious Spending Predictions (

Discipline may indeed be needed. The tax package assumes that discretionary federal spending (about one-third of all spending) will grow annually by only 2.5 percent or less in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Such spending, however, has grown by an average of 6 percent annually for the past three years, and it hit 9.9 percent in 2001

Sunday, September 09, 2001


This is a story of orange peels.

One of the most famous facts about Mexico City is probably not known to a vast majority of the inhabitants of Mexico City.

In the 80s, William Rathje, the archeologist who started the famous Garbage project at the University of Arizona, conducted a comparative study of waste disposal between households in Mexico City and the average American urban household. With his associate, Michael Reilly, he published an article, "Household Garbage and the Role of Packaging." The article isn't on the Net, but there is an excellent article by Frank Ackerman of Tufts University at the Society for Philosophy and Technology, ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF PACKAGING IN THE U.S. AND MEXICO, which summarizes it:

"The tradeoff between food waste and packaging waste explains one of the most remarkable empirical results in the field of "garbage research." Detailed surveys in the early 1980s found that households in Mexico City discard more waste than urban and suburban U.S. households, even after correcting for family size (Restrepo et al., 1991; for a summary in English see Rathje and Murphy, 1992, pp. 216-219). The Mexican households threw out twice as much food waste, while the Americans threw out more packaging and other materials; on balance the Mexicans discarded more per capita. Most other studies have found that the United States is the world leader in per capita waste disposal, and that developing countries generate much less waste. However, the defense of packaging presented here only shows that some packaging is desirable, including some of the exotic new plastic and composite packages"

There are a lot of examples of food waste in Mexico City, but the one that caught the eye of conservative commentators was the humble orange. Take David Koppel, who writes, in an article entitled Envirohogwash,

"For example, in Mexico � where packaging and refrigeration are rarer than in the U.S. � the average household throws away 40% more total refuse than the average U.S. household. It's not that the Mexican household has a higher standard of living; it's just that high-tech packaging and other advances make U.S. consumption more efficient. In Mexico City, households that drink orange juice usually buy fresh oranges, squeeze them, and throw away the peels � about ten and a half ounces of peels per week. Most American households make their orange juice from frozen concentrate, which comes in a package. The American household, making the same amount of orange juice, throws out a two-ounce cardboard or aluminum container. Thus, the American household creates more than 80% less solid waste."

The idea of all those orange peels flooding Mexico City, as though some bizarre sci-fi flick was running loose South of the Border, seems to have a dreamlike appeal to the defenders of the American Way of Packaging. This is Virginia Postrel , the editor of the libertarian magazine Reason:

"For instance, in Mexico City, most consumers squeeze fresh oranges to make
orange juice. The peels are then thrown away. Americans, by contrast,
tend to buy packaged frozen concentrate. As a result, the typical Mexican
household tosses out 10.5 ounces of orange peel each week; the typical
American household throws out 2 ounces of cardboard or aluminum ."

She adds a little flavor to this stat by commenting: "If all the orange juice
drinkers in New York Cidy individually tossed away their orange peels, one
day's haul would weigh as much as two ocean liners."

What an image! and a puzzle, too, since Mexico City has twice as many people as New York City. Is it true, then, that Mexico city is disposing of a fleet of orange peels every week?

Another, separate question is - why are Kopel and Postrel emphasizing the buying of concentrate? Their example has an oddly outdated feeling. The simple answer is provided in the quote from Anderson's paper - Kopel and Postrel is relying on a study made in the 80s. We'll see in a minute that the time frame of Rathje's study is important. But first, one more example of the by now famous inclination of Mexicans to incautiously make their juices from natural products. In a famous article, Recycling is Garbage, in the New York Times magazine by John Tierney, another libertarian type recycles Rathje to say:

"The typical household in Mexico City buys fewer packaged goods than an American household, but it produces one-third more garbage, chiefly because Mexicans buy fresh foods in bulk and throw away large portions that are unused, spoiled or stale."

Okay, okay. The orange peel menace is beginning to seem truly threatening. The cold war is over, so we need a new enemy, but who knew that it would be a fruit? Still, one thing that seems to have gotten lost here. If orange peels are so bad, why haven't orange trees long ago flooded the world with orange peels? The answer is - orange peels decay. If they didn't, in fact, there wouldn't be orange trees - the fruit, you might have noticed, contains orange seeds.

Well, how about other orange juice containers? Here's what Tropicana has to say about its juice cartons at its faq site:


The bottle is recyclable with plastics coded #2. It is predominantly high density polyethylene (HDPE), and contains a very thin layer of nylon which prevents oxygen penetration and deterioration of the juice. Therefore, we must label it as #7 for "layered" packages. But since the nylon does not interfere with its recyclability, we highlight its #2 compatibility.


Yes, for the most part. The carton's paper fiber has a high market value and can be recycled. Because the fitment and cap come in direct contact with the juice, they cannot be made of recycled material. These parts are removed during the recycling process."

Interestingly, according to the Plastics Council, an advocacy group for Plastics manufacturers, there was zero recycling of HDPE in the eighties - in other words, when Rathje made his study, the choice between throwing out an orange peel and throwing out a plastic jug full of juice was that the orange peel would decay, and the plastic jug would be left to chemically disassociate on a garbage dump. So in spite of the invidious comparison of the scale of disposal, the orange peel was still the preferred option for the environmentally conscious consumer. This is the kind of moderating fact that Tierney and Postrel seem unaware of.

Tierney, who is a reporter, is more to blame for his lack of curiosity about packaging. Since he was writing in 1996, he should have been aware that there were packaging developments that year, chief among which was the design of the "aseptic package." It won the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development that year. And, even more importantly, it introduced a wild card into Mexico City's orange peel crisis.
Juice in a carton had arrived.

Mexican juices are being packaged, now, in bulk, just like they are in the US. However, the packaging reflects, pace the John Tierney's of the world, the pressure from consumers and environmental groups to find stable, low energy, greener containers.

Having just come back from Mexico City, I can guarantee you that there are no ocean liners made out of orange peels blocking Reforma. If you are looking for juice in Mexico City, you will probably be buying some product of Jugos del Valle, which uses an aseptic carton supplied by SIG Combibloc Inc. Aseptic cartons drive container designers into heights of hyperbole. Here's a quote from the food product design people:

"Aseptic cartons are a lightweight, multi-layer, energy-efficient example of minimal packaging. They combine high-performance materials with high-performance construction and high-performance features. The package is 70% paper (to provide stiffness and strength), 25% low-density polyethylene (to seal the carton liquid-tight), and 5% aluminum (to keep out light and oxygen). Together, these materials produce a carton that safeguards the aseptically processed product inside. "

There isn't a simple moral to the story of the orange peel. On the one hand, you have claims about bulk solid waste which ignore the context of waste decay and use. On the other hand, you have claims made from a study that is ten to fifteen years old that ignore technological developments that are partly driven by environmental regulation. In other words, this is a classic picture of the Keynsian system at work - the state represents the interest of third parties, here, to force private industry to either carry the unadulterated costs of waste disposal or find ways to minimize waste.

The moral of this story, as of almost all the stories I tell, sadly enough, comes from Lafontaine:

Toujours par quelque endroit fourbes se laissent prendre
Quiconque est loup agisse en loup:
C'est le plus certain de beaucoup

There's a couple of stories in the NYT Biz section today on the interplay between the profit motive and the environment. One touts the savings and even profit to be made from redesigning the flow of wastes from production plants, both in terms of its composition (fining safer chemical products, for instance) and its re-use. Unfortunately, its smily business message is rather contradicted in the article on low emission autos. If you follow the auto company juggernaut and their fight against CAFE standards (an obsession with yours truly, as my readers know), the profit to be made from more environmentally sensitive autos is balanced, in Detroit's mindmeld, by the panic that Green cars might, after all, compete successfully with the Behemoth guzzlers that are the most profitable sector of the auto industry. So Detroit follows a two-fold strategy. It poormouths the technology needed to produce cleaner cars, with the big claim being that they are more dangerous - an ironic claim, given that the danger comes from the size of the Behemoth guzzlers. It also claims that Green cars are not good handlers. And there is a subtle sexual claim here as well - cars haven't been advertised for fifty years as an accessory to essential malehood to no effect. Green cars are, in the subconscious of an industry that hires women to design cars about as often as Bush utters five consecutive grammatical sentences, a surrender of privilege. The other leg of the policy is to comply, with great fanfare, to the mandate to research Green vehicles, but to hike prices and make the vehicle as scarce as possible. Ford did that with their EV SUVs in the 90s.

Here, however, we can say something good about globalisation. Or at least about international competition in the car market. Hybrid's and, eventually, fuel cell powered cars are a more rational vehicle for the Japanese and Europeans than the gut burgerliche Detroit mobiles, and so they have developed there. Now they are coming to the American market.

Key grafs in the Times piece:
Cleaner Cars Are Here, if You Can Find Them
Unlike electric cars, hybrid gas-electric cars need no special equipment, like battery-charging stations.

"A lot of people are surprised that you don't have to plug them in," said Ernest Bastien, corporate marketing manager at Toyota Motor Sales USA, who is in charge of American sales for the Prius. The car became available in Japan in 1997 and in the United States last year.
But first, you have to find one. Both the Prius and the Insight are in short supply � the Prius is sold out until April, while the Insight can be extremely scarce in markets like California, where they are most popular. (The City of New York just bought 231 of them, while New York State and New Jersey bought several dozen to be used by municipal and state agencies.)

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...