Saturday, March 04, 2006

rachel, rachel

Rachel, Rachel

The Anti-Rachel Carson crowd is a surprising vituperative bunch. If you take an unpleasant stroll around the net, you can find plenty of apoplectic pesticide-ophiles, telling you things like “…today malaria infects between 300 million and 500 million people annually, killing as many 2.7 million of them.” (which I got from Reason’s screed against Silent Spring). Seeing that number is like smelling the trace of the exterminator. Obviously, that many new cases would mean that soon, everybody would be infected with malaria. Actually, that figure talks about something different. As Reed Karaim explained in this summer’s American Scholar:
“But what about the 300 to 500 million people who "get" malaria annually? When most people hear that, I believe they think "new cases." (After all, you can't get it if you got it, right?) If that were true, then we would be in the middle of terrifying global epidemic. There are only 6.4 billion people on the planet, so we're all going to be sick within the next 13 years or so.

But that's not what the number means at all. Eline Korenromp, the World Health Organization analyst in Geneva behind the study cited when the figure is used, told me that the statistic is an estimate of "incidence of clinical disease episodes" of malaria in a year. In other words, it's the number of times people exhibited symptoms of malaria--not new cases, or even existing cases. The malaria parasite can be eliminated from the body with the fight treatment, but in certain parts of the world it persists in many people for years, and they face recurring symptoms. Others have the disease but show no symptoms. The World Health Organization, Korenromp says, has no estimate of how many new people catch malaria each year.”

This isn’t to say that DDT was not, once, a lifesaver, or that its use in small spraying – inside huts, or on mosquito netting – should be totally discontinued. Nobody, actually, says that. Carson was as sophisticated as any pesticide man about the reasons for using DDT, and the successes and failures of that use. Granted, she was not fair to the mosquito men in her work. There is a wonderful article by Malcolm Gladwell about the great anti-malaria campaign of the late fifties, here. He makes the point that it may have been the best funded anti-disease campaign the U.S. ever sponsored, at least outside of the U.S. He makes the further point that it was a great success:

“Beginning in the late fifties, DDT was shipped out by the ton. Training institutes were opened. In India alone, a hundred and fifty thousand people were hired. By 1960, sixty-six nations had signed up. "What we all had was a handheld pressure sprayer of three-gallon capacity," Jesse Hobbs, who helped run the eradication effort in Jamaica in the early sixties, recalls. "Generally, we used a formulation that was water wettable, meaning you had powder you mixed with water. Then you pressurized the tank. The squad chief would usually have notified the household some days before. The instructions were to take the pictures off the wall, pull everything away from the wall. Take the food and eating utensils out of the house. The spray man would spray with an up-and-down movement--at a certain speed, according to a pattern. You started at a certain point and sprayed the walls and ceiling, then went outside to spray the eaves of the roof. A spray man could cover ten to twelve houses a day. You were using about two hundred milligrams per square foot of DDT, which isn't very much, and it was formulated in a way that you could see where you sprayed. When it dried, it left a deposit, like chalk. It had a bit of a chlorine smell. It's not perfume. It's kind of like swimming-pool water. People were told to wait half an hour for the spray to dry, then they could go back." The results were dramatic. In Taiwan, much of the Caribbean, the Balkans, parts of northern Africa, the northern region of Australia, and a large swath of the South Pacific, malaria was eliminated. Sri Lanka saw its cases drop to about a dozen every year. In India, where malaria infected an estimated seventy-five million and killed eight hundred thousand every year, fatalities had dropped to zero by the early sixties. Between 1945 and 1965, DDT saved millions--even tens of millions--of lives around the world, perhaps more than any other man-made drug or chemical before or since.”

What it was not, of course, was a sustainable success. As Carson pointed out, patiently, DDT resistant mosquitoes will emerge and begin to dominate, by way of natural selection, given mass spraying. Which is of course what happened. The funding eventually ran out, the mass spraying itself ran into problems with the animals it was killing, and DDT resistant mosquitoes emerged. On the right, there is a sort of synergy between anti-darwinism and anti-Carsonism – the idea being that natural selection doesn’t exist. It does. So does extinction. It’s a jungle out there.

Gladwell is eminently fair to Carson:

“It was in this same period that Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring," taking aim at the environmental consequences of DDT. "The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection," she wrote, alluding to the efforts of men like Soper, "but it has heard little of the other side of the story--the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts." There had already been "warnings," she wrote, of the problems created by pesticides:

On Nissan Island in the South Pacific, for example, spraying had been carried on intensively during the Second World War, but was stopped when hostilities came to an end. Soon swarms of a malaria-carrying mosquito reinvaded the island. All of its predators had been killed off and there had not been time for new populations to become established. The way was therefore clear for a tremendous population explosion. Marshall Laird, who had described this incident, compares chemical control to a treadmill; once we have set foot on it we are unable to stop for fear of the consequences.”

It is for spotting that treadmill that Carson will be forever relevant, and forever of interest to any political intellectual. Which is why other intellectuals can be grudgingly praised by the owners, pervayers, and maintainers of the treadmill – but Carson will always drive them nuts.

One more post about Rachel is welling up in me. And then I’ll turn to the New Yorker’s new environmental reporter, Elizabeth Kolbert.

Why we love him

"Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the president is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice, and he is," Bush said at a joint press conference at the presidential place after more than an hour of private talks with Musharraf, an army general who seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup. "He understands the stakes, he understands the responsibility, and he understands the need to make sure our strategy is able to defeat the enemy."

Once again, our Rebel in Chief has upended the few, hardcore Islamofascist critics he has at home. “Making sure our strategy is able to defeat the enemy” – there will be gnashing of teeth as once again, he nails it. What a strategist! Those sniveling defeatists did not even see this coming.

But the liberal MSM, which as many in the Insta planetary system have been pointing out, have been lying about the greatest man to sit in the Oval Office since Jesus Christ, is not going to tell the story behind the story. So we will. As is well known, the President, like R. Austin Freeman’s famous detective, Doctor Thorndyke, is versed in the latest investigatory techniques, and they could barely hold him back on the plane over to Karachi. He knew his mission and he knew it well. As the plane went into Pakistan air space, Bush put on his parachute, double checked the radio receiver, and then he was off. Goal: find out about this Musharraf character.

A man of ominivorous intellectual appetite, our Rebel in Chief had learned several of the local dialects last week so he could get on the spot information. The mission reminded him of the old days, when he and Sly had gone off on many a black op, penetrating Hanoi, assassinating cadre in Laos, and in general winning the Vietnam war (before, of course, Ted Kennedy, directed by radio phone from Moscow, drowned the war at Chappaquiddick). It felt good getting back to mission strength, and as Bush donned his disguise – popping a betel nut in his mouth, adjusting his white beard and his turban, and putting one sandaled foot after the other – he wondered why he’d ever let this go. Of course, at the end of the mission in Nam, he’d accepted that he’d be more use off of the field – bankrupting small oil companies, being shoehorned by his Dad’s friends into an undeserved windfall with a baseball team, and of course illegally selling stock – all disguising the real trajectory of his life: to become a war president. Even then he knew it would be mano a mano with the dreaded Saddam. No wonder he had a few drink sodden and frankly coked up years there.

But that was long ago, and he couldn’t let regret cloud his mind now as he inquired about the democratizing process among the villagers. Quickly he learned that Musharraf was so popular that nobody in all Pakistan felt like there was any need for an election. This confirmed our man’s intuition: democracy, as he himself had learned in 2000, sometimes meant going beyond the mere fact that you lose an election to the higher fact that you know, in your gut, that you deserve to win. Bush smiled grimly to himself, as he made his way from one Waziristan village to another: Mush, as he liked to call him, would have been on the team in Florida.

But then there was this Osama character. Some memory loss thing, perhaps attributable to that night in Lubbock when he frankly went overboard smokin’ rock, scenes from his past in the Cambodian jungle seeming to lurk in the corners of that cowboy bar, perhaps that was the problem. In excellent Pashto, our Rebel in Chief made his discrete queries about the famous terrorist. He noted the Osama burgers joints that were popping up in every village center. He noticed the Osama informercial playing on many a tv set in the village night. He noticed the Osama look a like contest, the sign on one of the villages quaint Holiday Inns (One Night Only: Osama and his Merry Men), and the ads in the paper: terrorists wanted! It almost made him think of something. But at this point, the betel nut was really giving him a reminiscent buzz, so he decided to cut Mush some slack. After all, our Rebel in Chief himself really hadn’t done all that much about “terrorism” (Karl always used the quote fingers back in the Oval office). This wasn’t No Child Left Behind, where you had to pass some friggin’ test – this was Nam!

It was always Nam, in the end. Our Rebel in Chief radioed in – time to be picked up.

Friday, March 03, 2006

all hail rachel carson

LI has been puzzled, over the last couple years, at the elevation of George Orwell into some kind of template of the politically engaged intellectual. It isn’t that we dislike Orwell – on the contrary. But there really is nothing so ridiculous as the imitation of Orwell that gets imposed on us by the cult. A typical example the cult’s bizarre notion that Orwell is the very essence of what we are all to strive for, us penmen who do the easy task of scribbling in the margins of newspapers, is an essay in the American Prospect on Dwight Macdonald, written by John Rodden and Jack Rossi. No doubt honorable guys – yet the article is almost comic in its insistence that Macdonald is important because he is a pallid rerun of the ever beloved George.

The first graf tells us that the beloved clichés are going to be laid on here like the icing on a mafia wedding cake:

“IN 1958, WRITING IN THE JESUIT weekly America, the historian John Lukacs speculated whether Dwight Macdonald might become "The American Orwell." Noting that Macdonald's American "reputation is rising," Lukacs wrote that he was already known among British intellectuals "as one of the most interesting American critics of these times." In particular Lukacs lauded Macdonald's "lonely and courageous positions" in the mid-1940s-on Yalta, the Allied insistence on unconditional surrender, the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans-and argued that Macdonald's political stance "coincides with the often lonely positions taken by George Orwell amidst the leftist intelligentsia in Britain."”

Loneliness, of course, and courage – those are the words that are trotted out automatically whenever the Orwell catalyst is doing its work somewhere in the paragraph. A cliché can be defined as that verbal unit that does your thinking so you don’t have to – and by that standard, Rodden and Rossi have certain produced such a cognitive saving article that, with the spare brain space, they could have been solving first year chemistry problems.

The automatic alignment of certain words with Orwell – lonely, courageous, the “leftist intelligentsia,” contrarian (used later in the article), “a consistent opponent of Stalinism,” etc., etc. rolls over the reader, who has read all of these phrases before. Orwell keeps popping up to either crown something Macdonald does or to provide edifying contrast – even to Dwight’s birth: “Born into a wealthy upper middle class family class family much like that of Orwell…” I suppose if Macdonald had been born to a family of poor sharecroppers, his birth would have been unlike Orwell’s – but still, the Orwellian seal of approval would have been affixed.

All of which brings me to: Rachel Carson. Lately, LI has been thinking of intellectual interventions that actually produced immediate concrete results, and we were struck by the fact that so few people talk about the lonely, courageous Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring certainly influenced legislation that is with us every day, and produced, wholesale, the genre of environmental muckraking. And while Orwell certainly had to contend with the dirty dealings of the pro-Stalinist intellectual set, he never had to bear the brunt of the anger of a very well financed sector of the economy – the pesticide/agribusiness concerns – which still annually try to crop spray her in the journals of the right, part of which dribbles over into the neo-liberal organs we all know and love -- most notably in Tina Rosenberg's ignorant plea for DDT in the NYT mag a couple of years back, which implied that malaria control depends totally on massive amounts of an unsubstitutable pesticide with huge side costs (which are, of course, not mentioned), subject to studies that show infant mortality rates going up due to DDT in the breast milk, even as infant mortality rates go down due to the lessened number of malaria carrying mosquitoes.

While, in truth, my intellectual concerns are closer to Orwell’s subject matter – the nexus between literature, truth-telling and politics – lets face it, Silent Spring is a much more thrilling, and a more relevant book than 1984 ever was.

Oddly enough, the famous beginning of Silent Spring, the fable for tomorrow, which contained in a nutshell the kind of thing that drives the Delays of the world crazy, is even more relevant to the Soviet experience than the American. The difference, actually, is Silent Spring itself – there was no Soviet Silent Spring. Now, that is what I call an intellectual intervention – a book that makes a historic difference in a system.

So one reads, for instance, of the town in Carson’s fable:

“Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of much illness among their families. In the town the doctors had become more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be stricken suddenly while at play and die within a few hours.
There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example – where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens and scores of other bird voices there were now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”

And one thinks of the Aral Sea. As William McNeill shows, in his environmental history of the twentieth century, the two groups who promoted, as a form of manifest destiny, the deadly polluting of the environment in the 20th century were the Soviets and the American GOP.

William Burroughs was quite right to see the symbolic bond between pesticides and junk. But it was Rachel Carson, a woman who struggled just to survive as a biologist in the 30s and 40s, when it was not a field in which women were encouraged, and who had matters in her life that could make her vulnerable to the disgusting attacks of the corporations – for instance, she was a lesbian, which in 1961 was the kind of thing that could still get you arrested – and yet she just serenely kept on.
I think the usual idea about Carson is summarized by Marla Cone’s article, in the Columbia Journalism Review, about her continuing relevance:

“Oddly enough, when I began covering environmental problems in the mid-1980s, I thought that Silent Spring was an anachronism, important only as a reminder of people's profound ignorance about the environment during the post-World War II industrial age. I was starting kindergarten in September of 1962 when Carson published her epic warning about how man-made pesticides were poisoning the world. Oblivious to what Carson called the "elixirs of death," I grew up on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, in one of the nation's toxic hotspots, Waukegan, Illinois, and during the time when the "Dirty Dozen"--the ubiquitous DDT and other toxic chlorinated chemicals--were reaching record levels in all our urban environments, particularly around the Great Lakes. Yet by the time I was a teenager in the 1970s, the world's worst environmental problems had supposedly been brought under control. We had seen the Evil Empire and it was that of our fathers and mothers. We were the offspring of the clueless World War II generation that sprayed DDT and poisoned the Great Lakes and fouled the air. We were finding the solution to pollution.”
But I now realize that what Carson called the "chain of evil"--the buildup of chemicals in our environment--continues unbroken to this day. And even though the political firestorm Carson's book stirred up forty-three years ago burns with just as much intensity today, most of Carson's science remains sound and her warnings prescient. If we take a mental snapshot of what we know now about the dangers of chemical exposure, the questions still outnumber the answers. Yet one thing remains as certain as it was in 1962: we are leaving a toxic trail that will outlive us.”
Another irresistible graf from that article:
“When the manuscript of Silent Spring was serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962, Carson was demonized. Chemical companies, and even some of her fellow scientists, attacked her data and interpretations, lambasted her credentials', called her hysterical and one-sided, and pressured her publisher, Houghton Mifflin, to withdraw Silent Spring. Monsanto went so far as to publish a parody of Silent Spring, called The Desolate Year, in which famine, disease, and insects take over the world after pesticides have been banned.”

For all the loneliness and courage it takes to evoke Orwell, I can pretty much guarantee that the mention of that lifelong socialist will win you kudos in the conservative mags. But praise Rachel Carson and you will soon have an opportunity to find out all about loneliness and courage and being the object of unstinting vituperation.

I’m going to post about RC again, soon.

PS – for those who think Global Warming is not in our “economic interests” to try to prevent – and Global warming is just the kind of interaction between human made chemical agents and the environment that Carson understood so well – might want to take a gander at the future, displayed in this article in the WAPO. Of course, when it came to fighting for the brave lumberman against the horrible environmentalists, protecting those unnecessary owls, the right was all over the case. Now that the natural structure upon which the entire timber industry is built – the existence of forests – is under attack from a beetle who could only be operating because of the warming we’ve experienced over the last twenty years, let’s just say it isn’t going to worry the good folks at National Review, or the White House. The peculiar ideology of American conservatism, as we have argued often, is merely the extended phenotype of the petro-chemical industry. It is not synonymous, even, with the business interests of other industrial sectors.

“Millions of acres of Canada's lush green forests are turning red in spasms of death. A voracious beetle, whose population has exploded with the warming climate, is killing more trees than wildfires or logging.

The mountain pine beetle has infested an area three times the size of Maryland, devastating swaths of lodgepole pines and reshaping the future of the forest and the communities in it.

"It's pretty gut-wrenching," said Allan Carroll, a research scientist at the Pacific Forestry Centre in Victoria, whose studies tracked a lock step between warmer winters and the spread of the beetle. "People say climate change is something for our kids to worry about. No. It's now."”
Years from now, we will look back in disbelief: 500 – 700 billion in costs for a pointless war in Iraq; the inability to deal with a small group of terrorists, who, regrouping, were able to attack Saudi Arabia (one of those future coming attractions); and more than anything else, the Titanic like movement into an oncoming disaster, except in the Titanic’s case it was ice, and in our case it is the lack thereof.

At the province's Ministry of Forests and Range in Quesnel, forestry officer Pelchat saw the beetle expansion coming as "a silent forest fire." He and his colleagues launched an offensive to try to stop or at least delay the invasion, all the while hoping for cold temperatures. They searched out beetle-ridden trees, cutting them and burning them. They thinned forests. They set out traps. But the deep freeze never came.

"We lost. They built up into an army and came across," Pelchat said. Surveys show the beetle has infested 21 million acres and killed 411 million cubic feet of trees -- double the annual take by all the loggers in Canada. In seven years or sooner, the Forest Service predicts, that kill will nearly triple and 80 percent of the pines in the central British Columbia forest will be dead.”
Mad Max at the thunderdome. The deserts of Canada. No future for you.
The timbering spokesman barely gets in the usual industry jibe at the environmentalists, and he even makes an arguable point, beyond the inevitable pr cliché:

"It was the perfect storm" of warmer weather and vulnerable old trees, coupled with constraints that slowed logging of the infected wood, said Douglas Routledge, who represents timber companies in the city of Prince George

But it can’t happen here. There will be no effect on Florida, Las Vegas, Arizona, the Dakotas, Montana, Utah, all the populations, those booming Christian masses betting on real estate, who consistently vote the anti-green side. Right. We are as bugs awaiting the steamroller. Yes, with the market glutted with Orwells, perhaps it is time to invest in some Rachel Carsons. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

uncle sam's pretender

LI has had the type of day that would have shattered Dmitri Karamazov’s nerves. And about that, I will keep my mouth shut – dark is the grave wherein my hopes are laid, and like that. I do want to give a big shout out to Mr. T. from NYC – rescuing me from financial ruin. It is so nice not to be on the rocks.

So … given that I don’t have the energy to go ahuntin’ after our Rebel in Chief today – and given also that I’m getting an extraordinary influx of visitors, thanks to The Empire Burlesque, Tiny Revolution, and TheModernWorld – I think I’ll reprise a fortuitous bit of profiling I did a couple of weeks ago. I’ve noticed today that many are the pundits who are shocked by that Katrina video in which our Prez is paralyzed with the realization that, once again, events are going to be too big for him. These pundits have woven a campfire tale of the brave and bold President for years, and like kids telling a scary story, they fell for it themselves. They felt called upon to do so, since, given the events of 9/11, it was either myth or the dash of cold truth – that the Supreme Court had dubbed an incorrigible bumbler to be the Uncle Sam’s incarnation, and that the man flying around from place to place on 9/11, less like a President than some tourist who’d stumbled into the wrong country, was a what you see is what we got kind of proposition. Robert Coover’s The Public Burning, of course, is the veritable guide book to Uncle Sam’s incarnations. In the book, Uncle Sam incarnates himself in Eisenhower on the golf course, teasing Ike’s Vice President, Richard Nixon, with intimations of his b’ar hunting glory:

“In the aftershock of Uncle Sam’s transmutation, it is difficult even to hear a question, much less to grasp or answer it. One is always struck by a kind of inner thunder, a loss not so much of vision as of the coordinates of vision, and a loosening of the limbs as though in sympathy with the dissolution of the features of Uncle Sam’s current Incarnation. I say he went over to rinse off his balls and asked me about the Rosenbergs – but perhaps he had asked me long before, while watching his drive arc distantly toward the flag on the sixth green, for example, or even during the backswing, somewhere in that timeless era between the first snap and crackle of metamorphosis, Ike’s blue eyes flashing me a glance full of fear and trembling as the moment grew in him, and my own slow recovery from the awesome dazzle of this miraculous transubstantiation.”

Of course, if not privy to Uncle Sam’s descents upon earth, us mere citizens can watch the press reel back from the boldness, the courage, the likeability of the current Uncle Sam pretender. This is why the Katrina video is so, so cruel (in fact, I almost had a ping of sympathy for Mr. Bush), and why the handlers have tried to keep Bush as sealed away from any unscripted moments as though he were some pubescent Rapunzel, apt to fall for the first horny prince who came along.

But LI has already gone through the song and dance, so let’s quote ourselves, from February 4, 2006:

The farcical image of Bush as a bold leader, propagated by the press ever since we saw the real Bush, on 9/11, freeze and act with characteristic indecisiveness, is not so much political as psychopathological. It seems that the 9/11 attack hurt the country’s narcissism so deeply that we collectively -- or at least the media, on our behalf - decided that we have a bold, maybe even a reckless leader.

We don’t. We have a man with a character flaw as a leader. It isn’t a bad character flaw if, say, you are a bank teller. If you swing on a trapeze or lead a country supplied with 15,000 ICBM missiles, however, it can be deadly.

The flaw is this: Bush freezes up when meeting a crisis. We saw this plainly on 9/11. We saw this plainly with Katrina. And, I think, we saw this in the summer of 2003, when it became evident that Rumsfeld’s Iraq plan had failed and we needed new leadership if even a fifth of what Bush wanted to happen in Iraq was going to happen.

People who freeze up in crises do two things. First they lie. We know about the Katrina lies, Bush’s claim that nobody saw that the levees would bust when he had been informed 48 hours before Katrina that the levees would bust. We know about the 9/11 lies, the fight the Bush administration put up not to release the fact that Bush was informed, basically, that Al Q was ready to go soon. We know all about the lies in Iraq, from Mission Accomplished to the news about the thousand points of light in Iraq, an area in which American power is now pretty much irrelevant.

You'll notice that with Katrina, as with 9/11, Bush specifically flew away from the target area. This is a sad indication of the kind of behavior you would expect from someone who fails in crises. To use the military lingo, he doesn't have the guts to face up to these things.

The second thing people who freeze up in crises do is prolong. Having failed to address a situation at the crisis point, the person who freezes up can, by prolonging the situation, normalize it. A normalized bad situation melts the distinction between the moment of failure and all the failures that came afterward. So, for instance, it is normal for us to see Al Qaeda nesting in Pakistan, dabbling, according to the Bush people, in Iraq, blowing up a train station here, a synagogue there. It is so normal we don’t even think that Tora Bora was, uh, a fuckup, a massive fuckup, followed by the fuckup of not guarding the borders into Pakistan (lack of manpower being Rumsfeld’s m.o.), followed by the fuckup of allowing A.Q. and related Islamist groups to form a second power in Pakistan to the point where they are going to be that much harder to uproot. And of course the fuckup in Iraq, the prolongation of a pointless, pointless struggle. And the fuckup in New Orleans, the months of an emergency response that would have shamed Sri Lanka.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

the trifecta fuckup

One of the constants going across the Rebel in Chief’s administration is what you might call the trifecta fuckup. A monstrous fuck up happens – say, the almost insane way we now know that the U.S. “cornered” Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, without putting troops along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan; then an excuse or a coverup will be made; and then, amazingly, the fuckup becomes a precedent for further fuckups. Since there were too few troops in Afghanistan to do the job right – why not put too few troops in Iraq, too?

The latest fuckup trifecta has roiled the Governor’s Association recently. Here's how it works. A monstrous fuckup happened – the response to Katrina that wasn’t. As we all know, and as the Bush report to itself says (which stoutly refused to point fingers – why worry about the past when we can proudly say that we have not fucked up the future?), the breakdown in that response was due, in large part, to not getting army units and national guardsmen in place in time. So, as in some textbook pool shot, we have, a, the fuckup, b, the subsequent excuse and coverup, and of course, c., the future fuckup building on a. In this case, we have the Bush administration cutting funding for the National Guard – naturally. A War Department that shells out its 200 millions gladly to Halliburton, in spite of its own audit that shows that Cheney’s company put on a squeeze that would have pleased Don Corleone’s heart, doesn’t have time for things as tawdry as keeping a standing National Guard going in a time when we all know that, due to rises in the temperature of the Gulf and the Atlantic, we are going to be going through much rougher hurricane seasons.

This was the topic at the Governor’s conference this year. From the WAPO story:

“Governors were united in their opposition to what they regard as cuts in Guard funding in Bush's fiscal 2007 budget as well as fears that the Pentagon has been slow to replace equipment that has been shipped to Iraq with state Guard units. Early this month, all 50 governors signed a letter opposing the new budget and calling on Defense Department officials to reequip returning units as quickly as possible.

Much of the focus was on the gap between the Guard's authorized strength of 350,000 and the budget, which includes money for 333,000 Guard troops. Bush and Rumsfeld said they are committed to funding the Guard at the fully authorized level. They also said the equipment sent to Iraq will be replaced and in many cases upgraded.”

In the what, me worry atmosphere of the White House, though, you can play monopoly with those promises, but don’t take them to the bank – they will bounce. The roulette wheel is spinning, and we do wonder what lucky city will take the hit come August or September. The trifecta fuckup means that, going into the future, the administration ramifies its incompetence on the political as well as the management level. After all, the black dot is most likely to fall on a Florida city – not good for Jeb, not good for the Bushes.

Well, but really, who but crazy Greenpeacers expect that the hurricane season will get worse? After all, it says in the bible that all of nature toiled and moiled in order to produce our Great President. But, hmm, what is this in this week’s Natural Gas Week?

“Even though the 2005 hurricane season was the worst season in 154 years, forecasts for the 2006 hurricane season are already signaling that the energy industry is in for another nail biter. And while natural gas prices might be depressed now over a glut of storage, futures traders say the chance of another hyperactive season in the Gulf is likely to keep prices elevated.

"The market has been so focused on lack of winter and growing storage that no one has been really paying much attention to what lies ahead with the hurricane season," one futures trader said. "The current glut of storage is more of a short-term situation, you have to look at longer-term supply issues as well. If we see anything even remotely similar to last year's activity in terms of damage and loss of production in the Gulf of Mexico, gas prices definitely will reflect it."
As scary as it sounds, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said there's no reason to expect any change in hurricane patterns in the near future. The number of hurricanes has been increasing since 1995 and such active seasons are expected to continue for the next 10, perhaps 20 years.

Mayfield has been very vocal in preparing the public and energy industry for what very likely could be an encore season. And a developing La Nina effect, could spell even more hurricanes in 2006, he said.”

With this administration, it is always that little bit extra one admires. The trifecta fuckup is nothing without a little New Orleans style lagniappe. Why are the water temperatures rising? The Natural Gas industry is going to tell you that it is all Ms. Nina. So is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – until it was caught. According to Greenwire, February 16:

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration yesterday backed away from a statement it had released after last year's bout of devastating hurricanes that dismissed linking hurricanes to global warming. NOAA posted a corrected statement on its Web site yesterday, stating that some agency researchers disagree with that view.”

As we know, the administration is strictly Lysenkoist when it comes to science. If, perchance, we were suffering from an atmospheric crisis that demanded higher levels of oil burning and more pollution from our coal burning energy plants, you know that we would be hearing about this crisis, in serious tones, daily – and the zombie crowd would wail. But the crisis we are suffering goes against the profit margins of the oil companies – hence, we have Michael Crichton’s environmental policies in place.

What is funny – what is ironic – is that as the temperatures go up, there is actually an economic system in place that is ideally suited to adapt to it. It is called – capitalism. The state could operate as easily to jumpstart a Green economy as it has to jumpstart and maintain a war economy, with the sustaining mechanism coming from the profit motive. In other words, standard 20th century capitalism -- not the libertarian wet dream, and not the Marxist vision of the armed proletariat.

But so it goes. Another sick joke. Another Lord of the Flies day in America.

PS -- re Lord of the Flies. Kerry would have been well advised to read that book in 04. It is often said, now, that the Bush administration is incompetent. Usually, this is taken to mean that the Bush people keep doing the same thing -- as in Iraq --even though that thing has failed in the past. But this is where the true, 12 year old emotional level of the Rebel in Chief becomes an important factor. As anyone knows who has taught twelve year olds, there is a type of twelve year old who will repeat an error exactly to show it wasn't an error. This is where a form of rationality -- the iteration of the correct procedure to do something - breaks down. In the old character-based psychology this kind of thing was called stubborness, or pride, or vanity. A recalcitrant twelve year old boy who knows that he is right in some higher sense will repeat, say, the wrong answer to the problem on a test in order to show he was right all along. The repetition of disastrous policies -- for instance, the repetition of using too few troops to achieve a military objective -- is not about some hope that this time we will get it right, but rather the desire to show that we were ever wrong in the first place. The phrase, "I'll show you" could be the motto of this administration -- that is why so many of its policies seem to exist just so they can be rammed down the American throat. In this way, mistakes are transformed into expected and desired outcomes. It is even better that Osama bin Laden escaped, for instance -- it would make a martyr of him to have taken him. He's powerless anyway. He's on the run. Etc., etc. The Fox news headline that is becoming legendary: "Civil War in Iraq: a good thing" is exactly pitched to the twelve year old mentality. Similarly, with the hurricane season of 06, the cuts in the National Guard are meant to show that the administration was right, right, right to respond as it did to Katrina.

So, throw out your Prince. The best book about the twelve year old mentality in power is Lord of the Flies.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

objectively harming the war effort

LI harps like a monomaniac angel in the heavenly choir on the various sins of the zombies, the followers of our Rebel in Chief – and we do not harp enough on the various sins of the left. Or leftiers. Among which the worst, to our mind, has been the failure to protest and try to block this war after the invasion happened. The collapse of the anti-war movement – its incredible weakness, compared to, say, the anti-war movement in the Vietnam years – has really scorched us.

The failure is organizational and attitudinal. Re the latter: there is nothing left bloggers like better than to find some rightwing figure declaring that opposition to the war here has objectively harmed the war effort and to indignantly refute said rightwing figure.

To LI, the idea of objectively harming the U.S. war effort is WHAT WE ARE ALL ABOUT. From anti-recruiting to protest, the point is to cripple the U.S. war effort in Iraq, no more and no less. LI looks with longing at those peasant and worker movements in Latin America that have lately taken to blocking streets and roads and in general making economic activity impossible until their demands are listened to. An anti-war movement that is afraid of looking traitorous has given a hostage to the enemy that will render it null and void.

Take a generally good blogger, this guy Glenn Greenwald. He quotes, as though they were the most scandalous libels, some pro-war guy named Jeff Goldstein, who writes:

“And this is (and has been) a crucial component of the war—one that many on the anti-war side are loathe to admit: that their constant naysaying, though it is well within their right to voice, has objectively hurt the war effort, particularly when the criticism incorporates carefully-crafted falsehoods many of the war’s critics know for a fact to be objectively untrue.”

Toss out the falsehoods claim, which is the usual canned corn gone rotten. The whole point of the constant naysaying has been to objectively hurt the war effort. Damn right. No more and no less. That is the point. An anti-war movement that dare not speak its name is worthless.

Greenwald summarizes the pro-war viewpoint in this way, sarcasm clearly fronted: “It all would have worked had war critics just kept their mouths shut. The ones who are to blame are the ones who never believed in this war, who control no aspect of the government, who were unable to influence even a single aspect of the war, who were shunned, mocked and ridiculed, and who have been out of power since the war began. They are the ones to blame. They caused this war to fail.”

If only! The anxiety among the lefties – the “knife in the back” scenario that makes them reel back in horror, as if, o woe is me, the left will be blamed for what they should be doing and have shown themselves impotent to effect – is debilitating. LI is not just for a knife in the back but a fork up the butt of the whole effort, and we find the mindset that wants to combine the skills necessary to win the queen of the prom contest and those necessary to bring the troops home from Iraq ennervating, to say the least. Say it loud, little leftward ones – I want to objectively cripple the American war effort in Iraq. From the razing of Falluja to the hundred or so air sorties mounted by the Pentagon per month, I want it all to stop.

It has been, in fact, the last straw for us – we have seen more realism about the war in tepid liberals like Howard Dean than in supposed wild men lefties like Marc Cooper. The Howard Deans have grasped the issue instinctively. As have the Feingolds.

In fact, our one arriere pensee about bringing the troops home is less about crippling a monstrous war than about the availability of those troops for other wars. I have a sinking feeling that if troops had been withdrawn at the end of 2003, we’d be preparing those troops for the truly stupid idea of invading Iran. Instead, the U.S. is pretty unarmed when it comes to Iran, which might actually encourage some rationality.

giving praise to a laissez faire crank

LI’s readers should go to the Online Liberty Library, if they have never been there, just for the pure beauty of the thing. This month they have done something pretty spectacular – they are putting up the 33 volumes of John Stuart Mill’s collected works. Wow. There are a few extraordinary sites on the Net, just in terms of sheer academic bibliophilia. I’m not talking about the general library thing that Gutenberg does. There’s the on-line publication of Simmel’s collected works. There’s the wonderful, polyglot Marxist library. But the OLL is ahead of all of these. I don’t know who is funding it – no doubt some laissez faire crank. But I don’t care.

So… I downloaded the classic essays on Bentham, Coleridge, Whewall, etc. The Coleridge essay is one of Mill’s great works – and tragically neglected. In it, Mill delineates the tension between the progressive and the conservative using Bentham as his emblematic lefty, and Coleridge as his emblematic righty.

“By Bentham, beyond all others, men have been led to ask themselves, in regard to any ancient or received opinion, Is it true? and by Coleridge, What is the meaning of it? The one took his stand ‘outside’ the received opinion, and surveyed it as an entire stranger to it: the other looked at it from within, and endeavoured to see it with the eyes of a believer in it; to discover by what apparent facts it was at first suggested, and by what appearances it has ever since been rendered continually credible – has seemed, to a succession of persons, to be a faithful interpretation of their experience. Bentham judged a proposition true or false as it accorded or not with the result of his own inquiries; and did not search very curiously into what might be meant by the proposition, when it obviously did not mean what he thought true. With Coleridge, on the contrary, the very fact that any doctrine had been believed by thoughtful men, and received by whole nations or generations of mankind, was part of the problem to be solved, was one of the phenomena to be accounted for. And as Bentham's short and easy method of referring all to the selfish interests of aristocracies, or priests, or lawyers, or some other species of impostors, could not satisfy a man who saw so much farther into the complexities of the human intellect and feelings--he considered the long or extensive prevalence of any opinion as a presumption that it was not altogether a fallacy; that, to its first authors at least, it was the result of a struggle to express in words something which had a reality to them, though perhaps not to many of those who have since received the doctrine by mere tradition. The long duration of a belief, he thought, is at least proof a of an adaptation in it to some portion or other of the human mind; and if, on digging down to the root, we do not find, as is generally the case, some truth, we shall find some natural want or requirement of human nature which the doctrine in question is fitted to satisfy: among which wants the instincts of selfishness and of credulity have a place, but by no means an exclusive one. From this difference in the points of view of the two philosophers, and from the too rigid adherence of each of his own, it was to be expected that Bentham should continually miss the truth which is in the traditional opinions, and Coleridge that which is out of them, and at variance with them. But it was also likely that each would find, or show the way to finding, much of what the other missed.”

It is a funny thing, but the Coleridgian presumption of meaning has, gradually, been grafted onto liberalism in the 20th century. Call it the anthropological effect – the realization that there are cultural values, the loss of which is a genuine loss, and the gain in dissolving them – the gain of Westernizing, liberalizing, and otherwise lye and dyeing whole cultures – not always an authentic gain. At the same time, the Benthamite instinct for attributing sordid motives to conservative policies is still fully functional.

I think that the hesitation of the old school conservatives before the warmongering of the current administration – the latest symptom of which is the defection of Buckley to, practically, the side of Michael Moore – comes from the Coleridgian impulse. But the way cultures are met is distinct – for the Coleridgian, what is most respectable about any culture is the elite. Automatic respect should be paid to hierarchy. Whereas for the liberal, the elite is an embarrassment – often, the anthropological effect leads to a ridiculous softening of the picture of a different culture, an erasure of those inequities and cruelties that may be at work in it. Perhaps – if I am be excused a Benthamite moment – that softening makes it easier to bond with the elite, to do business. Thus you get the marginal parody of liberal multi-culturalism. To get a real whiff of it, go to Santa Fe in August and watch perfectly white women and men pretend to be “native Americans” as they buy silver jewelry from the stands at the Governor’s Palace. It’s funny, in that Melville’s Confidence-Man-funny way. Not ha ha funny, but so funny I could throw up blood funny.

Monday, February 27, 2006

a pessoa moment

Life is sad for LI. Yesterday, we were hot to attend a reading of the Khirgiz national epic up at U.T. Apparently it is a very long epic, not to be recited in a mere fit or two, and the U.T. group was going to simply engage in some samplin’ of those primordial Central Asian sayings. Alas, some fool stole our bike a couple of days ago, so we are reduced to footing it or public transportation. So we get out, trek to the nearest busstop, nurse a Marlboro – oh, just to cut a profile. In actuality, we haven’t even reached the piker's demi-semi-carcinogenic pack a month. Still, a Marlboro under the non starling or any bird delighting February heaven, waiting for a bus, going to the Khirgiz epic party – we were feeling classic.

Of course, public transportation dwindles, on the weekends, to an irregular dab of bus or two, none of them going where we wanted to go. So much for our classic evening. So much for contact with a place we only know from the great sections in Gravity’s Rainbow, the mysterious Khirgiz light and one of Slothrop’s alters, Tchetcherine – a name like a plastic – and his Chekhovian love affair with Galina, sent out to the land to help teach an invented alphebet to a people who had none:

“Here she has become a connoisseuse of silences. The great silences of Seven Rivers have not yet been alphabetized, and perhaps never will be. They are apt at any time to come into a room, into a heart, returning to chalk and paper the sensible Soviet alternatives brought out here by the Likbez agents. They are silences NTA cannot fill, cannot liquidate, immense and frightening as the elements in this bear's corner scaled to a larger Earth, a planet wilder and more distant from the sun.... The winds, the city snows and heat waves of Galina's childhood were never so vast, so pitiless. She had to come out here to learn what an earthquake felt like, and how to wait out a sandstorm. What would it be like to go back now, back to a city? Often she will dream some dainty pasteboard model, a city-planner's city, perfectly detailed, so tiny her bootsoles could wipe out neighborhoods at a step at the same time, she is also a dweller, down inside the little city, coming awake in the very late night, blinking up into painful daylight, waiting for the annihilation, the blows from the sky, drawn terribly tense with the waiting, unable to name whatever it is approaching, knowing too awful to say it is herself, her Central Asian giantess self, that is the Nameless Thing she fears....”

I move among the mythologies I have chosen and those that have chosen me. The latter is the sad dented wreck of history I keep trying to pound into useable shape in this blog; the former is literature. I am always looking for the phantom intersection. I went home, after a while, my cig smoked, my mind so dull that if I could have taken it out and preserved it in some fluid and left it and come back after years, I could tell just by looking at it: February.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

in the empire of bubbles

From the NYT Week in Review:

“Iraq is less a nation than an artificial entity drawn created by the British. In recent years, only the brutality of Saddam Hussein held its parts together.”

1. Actually, all parts of the Ottoman empire, after it collapsed, were artificial entities. Followed in the order of history by the artificial entity of Israel. Saudi Arabia is an artifice created by the brute force of the Saud family. Lebanon and Syria were created, jointly, by the French and the British, but the easy overflow of Syria into Lebanon did not prompt any such recollective comments by the NYT. The most ‘natural’ entity in the Middle East is Iran – and in 1991, we saved the most artificial entity in the entire area, Kuwait.

2. The brutality of Saddam Hussein actually tore things asunder instead of holding things together. Under Iraq’s king, and the military that overthrew the king, and the Baathists that succeeded that military, Iraq endured and actually prospered, in spite of the Sunni dominance. It was only when Hussein decided to rule using his tribe and persecuting to the utmost the Shi’ites and the Kurds that Iraq fell apart. This is the kind of reversal of history that we’ve just grown used to in the American press. They can’t get it right even when they try to repair what they couldn’t get right before.

3. It might be that Iraq will come apart, no matter what, after Saddam Hussein seeded grievances over the whole Mesopotamian landscape. But that the U.S. invaders participate in this will only blow up in American faces.

4. U.S. should be discussing timetables for transporting the troops out like next month.

5. Because that won’t happen, and because, by a mysterious spiritual law, the incompetence of this White House doubles every six months – bring the popcorn for 06’s hurricane season - the next couple months will lock the Americans in even more, with both parties complicit in this crime against the national interest, as – of course – the allies of Al Qaeda become even more powerful in Pakistan and Bangladesh, due to the “war against the terrorism and not against actual terrorists” policies of the Rumsfeld era. Of course, what is actually happening is what empires do when they confront problems they don’t understand – the U.S. has basically being paying tribute to Pakistan since 9/11, and that is, indirectly, tribute to Osama bin Laden. Tribute won’t solve this problem forever.
6. Nobody seems to want to talk about opportunity costs. That doesn't mean there aren't opportunity costs.

From Ahmed Rashid's article in the WAPO about Pakistan:
“Bin Laden's new friendship zone stretches nearly 2,000 miles along Pakistan's Pashtun belt -- from Chitral in the Northern Areas near the Chinese border, south through the troubled tribal agencies including Waziristan, down to Zhob on the Balochistan border, then to the provincial capital Quetta and southwest to the Iranian border. …

Al Qaeda's money, inspiration and organizational abilities have helped turn Pakistan's Pashtun belt into the extremist base it is today, but U.S. and Pakistani policies have helped more. Although the Taliban and al Qaeda extremists were routed from Afghanistan by U.S. forces, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's refusal to put enough U.S. troops on the ground let the extremists escape and regroup in Pakistan's Pashtun belt. …
What followed was a disaster: For 27 months after the fall of the Taliban regime, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Washington's closest ally in the region, allowed the extremists free rein in the Pashtun tribal areas to re-establish training camps for militants who had escaped Afghanistan. These included Arabs, Central Asians, Chechens, Kashmiris, Africans, Uighurs and a smattering of East Asians. It was a mini-replay of the gathering in Afghanistan after bin Laden arrived there in 1996.

Musharraf did capture some Arab members of al Qaeda, but he avoided the Taliban because he was convinced that the U.S.-led coalition forces would not stay long in Afghanistan. He wanted to maintain the Taliban as a strategic option in case Afghanistan dissolved into civil war and chaos again. The army also protected extremist Kashmiri groups who had trained in Afghanistan before 9/11 and now had to be repositioned.”

And so on and on. I fought the war and the war won.

6. Interestingly, in the four articles about Osama bin Laden in the WAPO, the three by Americans all casually repeat the Bush phrase that Osama bin Laden is on the run. The phrase is a blatant lie. The repetition of the phrase, however, is unconscious -- the context shows that, since all of the pieces recognize that Osama is no more on the run than Bush is, who is HQed in D.C. and lives in Crawford, Texas. Funny, nobody calls the Rebel in Chief "on the run" for living in the White House. American journalism is so out of touch with the reality that they are supposed to be reporting on that they pre-censor it.

It is in those terms that we love the fact that all the American contributions are anxious to assure us that Osama is harmless, basically, a defanged man, his poll results going down. None dwells on that rather humiliating fact that under the current administration he not only got away, he has flourished -- and is no more injured than he was in Sudan, or than he was when he first arrived in Afghanistan from Sudan. The on the run talk, of course, conceals that he was "on the run" when 9/11 happened. I mean, why risk getting out of the narrative?

None of them, too, inquire too closely about the nexus between Al Qaeda and Pakistan's Islamist parties.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...