Carbon Dioxide

There isn’t very much carbon dioxide in the air, relatively speaking. As much as we spew it forth, from SUV’s and power plants, it only makes up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere. Plants need it to survive, and they convert it into oxygen, which we do need.

A field of corn ripening in the sun consumes all of the carbon dioxide within a meter or so of it’s stalks in five minutes. If there was no wind to bring more carbon dioxide, the corn would not grow. I didn’t know that. I thought it only needed sun and water and nutrients from the soil.

When a plant gets “too much” carbon dioxide from the air, it increases the number of roots that it grows, in order to balance it’s intake of carbon dioxide and minerals. These roots eventually die, of course, every fall. They then decay. Parts of them become topsoil, and parts become carbon dioxide and return to the air.

Did you know that “global warming” will take place mostly in the colder extremes of the earth, where the air is dry. That is because the increase of carbon dioxide doesn’t affect moist air as much as it does dry air (which is usually cold). But that doesn’t mean that North America will necessarily get warmer. If global warming increases rainfall in the West Antarctic, it will decrease the salinity of the water, which could cause it not to sink under the denser warmer currents in the middle of the ocean, which could affect the Gulf Stream which apparently brings moderate temperatures to Northern Europe.

For the last million years or so, the earth has been subjected to periods of extreme cold lasting for about 90,000 years, interrupted by brief periods of relative warmth lasting 10,000 to 12,000. We are at the end of one of those periods rights now. In fact, the next ice age could arrive at any moment. All of Northern Europe and Canada could be covered by ice sheets in a few thousand years. Unless,

My point? As a good old-fashioned “bleeding heart” liberal, you might think I would be a bit of an eco-freak and thus opposed to global warming. Well, I am. But not because I believe that science has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt,  that we are in danger of melting the polar ice caps. In fact, I think the science is not very certain at all on that issue: the problem is that the earth has a history of various climate changes over periods of thousands of years. It is possible that we were headed for an ice age but now we’re not.

But the science is clear on one thing: we are definitely increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at a significant rate.

I am opposed to global warming because we don’t fully understand what the results will be, and some of it’s major effects may well be irreversible. In other words, I’m simply in favor of prudence, especially when the arguments against Kyoto are largely related to sustaining our voracious appetite for conspicuous consumption anyway.

Coincidentally, the same actions we need to take to address global warming also reduce pollution. So why not? It just seems prudent.

Homeland Security Pie

Ha ha! I hope those suckers looking for big contracts from Tom Ridge’s Homeland Insecurity office know how much money they’re wasting!

A lot of big corporations are looking at that $40 billion pork barrel just sitting on Tom Ridge’s desk waiting to be looted and thinking to themselves, gee, I’d like a piece of that.

So some of these foolish corporations went and hired Tom Ridge’s former legislative affairs director, and several other former staff, hoping that these people can use their personal relationships with Ridge to negotiate lucrative contracts.

Now you may think there is something fishy going on here. Don’t you dare. These employees have waited a whole year before tarting themselves up for the grueling task of lobbying their former colleagues for big, fat, government contracts. Just as the law requires.

Are they in for a shock!

What they didn’t know is that Mr. Ridge will not be influenced by his former staff persons at all. Nosiree! Mr. Ridge will decide who gets that money purely on the basis of the best interests of the American taxpayer! And these companies really do care about providing the best value for the taxpayers that they can. That’s why Walter B. Shirk, a lawyer at Powell, Goldstein, Frazer, and Murphy, another lobbying firm, wrote an article for a newsletter entitled “Opportunity and Risk: Securing Your Piece of the Homeland Security Pie”.

So those corporations are wasting a lot of money! Wow! Wait ’til they find out! I’ll bet all of those former staffers wish they’d never quit their jobs with Mr. Ridge, because once those corporations that hired them as lobbyists find out that they would have done just as well if they had sent a perfect stranger to make their presentations– well, they’ll probably let all those people go. Even if, like Ashley Davis, former special assistant to Mr. Ridge, they do see him quite often socially, and say they are very good friends with Mr. Ridge. I’m sure Mr. Ridge won’t hesitate to tell Ms. Davis’s clients they better offer the government a very, very good deal on whatever it is they’re selling, because that close friendship will play no part at all in the decision-making process.

And they’ll never get another job in government of course, because people like Tom Ridge wouldn’t want some former flunkies from these corporations hanging around his office, no way. Not after they deserted him just to make a lot more money.

Just as I’ll bet Halliburton never hires Dick Cheney back. Not after that piddly $80 billion he tossed their way for the reconstruction of Iraq.

My only question is this. Why do these companies even bother with lobbyists? All they have to do is pull their strings.

Iraq’s Debt

The New York Times reports that Iraq owes various entities about 60 to 80 billion dollars.

Who owes that money?

Iraq has been run by a dictator for 30 years. Saddam Hussein was never elected to power by free and fair elections. The vast majority of the citizens of Iraq had absolutely no voice in the government’s decision to borrow money. And what was the money borrowed for? Probably to buy weapons. Why did Saddam need weapons? To crush his own people.

So who owes the world 60 to 80 billion dollars? Saddam Hussein, that’s who. And when Saddam Hussein came to these banks and government institutions to ask if he could borrow some money and the banks said, how do we know you’ll pay it back, he answered, the people of my country willingly undertake to cover all of my debts, and the banks reply: but Mr. Hussein, you were not elected! And he didn’t get his money. Right?

So if you’re Russia or Citibank or France or Halliburton (which did more than $40 million of business with Iraq only a few years ago) or whoever the hell is owed that money, I guess you just sigh and say to yourself, “darn– if only Saddam hadn’t been deposed! Now we lost our money.”

Ha ha ha.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

I’ll tell you what we are going to do. We are going to make the people of Iraq pay Saddam’s debt. It’s only fair. They live there. What would banks and credit agencies do if people didn’t repay their debts? They would become irresponsible parasites who cheat us out of our money and they would never learn the value of good hard day’s work. Almost like stock analysts.

Or a billion barrels of oil.

I hope you think I’m joking but I’m not. Iraq’s predicament is no different from that of many third world countries. Some asshole rises to power by killing his opponents and bullying citizens into helpless submission. He imprisons, tortures, and murders his own people with impunity. They live in terror of being arrested by his secret police. Then he goes to Citibank. Does Citibank say, “gee, that would be a risky loan– what if he is deposed and the people don’t want to pay for his palaces, his air force, his missiles, and his tanks? I’ll lose my money.”

No. Citibank says, “we can always count on the IMF and the World Bank and the United States government to enforce these loans!

And so it is.


A few years ago, the world watched in horror and disgust and contempt as the Taliban, those freaky arch-Victorians of the Islamic imperium of Afghanistan, destroyed the massive sandstone carvings of Buddha in the side of a mountain in Bamiyan.

The statues were not remarkable artistically, but they were deeply significant for historical and cultural reasons. (Sorry if you do think they’re beautiful– I don’t. They look like something a bunch of monks without great artistic talent would create.) In the seventh century AD, there were over 5,000 Buddhist monks living in the caves around the statues. Islamic Arab tribes drove the Buddhists out by the ninth century– they didn’t destroy the statues, though.

That would be barbaric.

The destruction of them by the Taliban was an act of mindless, philistine thuggery that astounded the world. If one was not, until then, convinced of the barbarity of the Taliban, this one act did it.

The Taliban repressed women, of course, and was famously intolerant of freedom of expression, diversity, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, or any kind of fun whatsoever. But those statues were just sitting there, harmlessly, impressively (175 metres high). It takes a peculiarly vindictive and petty and malicious mindset to destroy something like that.

In 2003, the Americans invaded Iraq. The marines that arrived first in Baghdad immediately secured the oil ministry buildings and guarded them diligently during the first weeks of the occupation. Down the road, the Baghdad Museum featuring an absolutely priceless collection of some of the world’s most important antiquities sat there, unguarded.

The Americans stood by as Iraqis of unknown affiliation or devotion destroyed and looted the museum. The marines did nothing. They didn’t even seem to care.

It is not that the Americans were unaware of the significance of the collection. Well, maybe they were. But they certainly knew that cultured and educated people in the U.S. and elsewhere regarded the collection as invaluable and irreplaceable. Experts from around the world had made efforts to ensure that the Americans didn’t bomb it by mistake, and had taken measures to protect the collection once they occupied Baghdad. The Americans said, “yeah, yeah, fine, we’ll take care of it.” Then they didn’t.

The Washington Times uncovered a March 26 memo that showed that the Pentagon had communicated, to the coalition commanders, a list of important sites to be protected during the war. The Baghdad museum was number 2 on the list. Somebody in the Pentagon had a brain.

The world should never forget or forgive Donald Rumsveld for sloughing off the destruction of the Baghdad museum as just “so many vases”. It was a wonderful moment, if you think shocking revelations of the deep-seated idiocy are “wonderful”. He really didn’t care. He really didn’t grasp the significance of the collection. He really could not imagine why anyone would worry about the loss of these absolutely unique examples of the art and expression of mankind’s earliest civilizations.

That’s fine, really. Nobody cares if some asshole called Donald Rumsveld sits in his cave somewhere picking his teeth while contemplating the eternal symmetry and beauty of a plum pit.

But George Bush, during his election campaign, never once informed the voters that, given the opportunity, he’d appoint people who would happily stand by and do nothing while priceless antiquities are looted and destroyed. Donald Rumsveld surprised us.

Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), goes around the world berating governments for supporting local film industries at the expense of Hollywood productions. He wonders why anyone would bother with indigenous film, when they can have as many copies of “Ernest Saves Christmas” and “Dumb and Dumber” as they want.

Bush should hire him. He belongs in this White House working with Mr. Rumsveld. They can both be put in charge of the world’s priceless antiquities.

Do you think any of these leaders of the free world care about the beauty of the rain forest, or a pristine wilderness area, or coastal wetlands, or a medieval cathedral, or a rare endangered species, or live theatre or the ballet, or opera, or Mozart’s birthplace, or humpbacked whales, or snowy owls, or Dostoevsky’s manuscripts, or Shakespeare’s original theatre, or a Scottish castle, or the Great Wall of China, or mummies, or cuneiform tablets, or anything at all, other than the stock market and McDonalds and Disneyland?

Think again. When they come to your neighborhood promising the delights of democracy and free enterprise, get ready for drive-thru’s and golden arches.

If you never knew it before, you know now that George Bush and Rumsveld and Perle and Cheney are to culture and history and civilization what McDonald’s is to gourmet cooking.

Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist”

I recently heard someone say that he didn’t like Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” because the hero just sat around for four years growing a beard and peeling potatoes. Boring.

Aside from the fact that many things of great interest happen in “The Pianist” (including the disastrous Warsaw Uprising), I think this person sounds like he wishes it were more of a Hollywood type action adventure film.

Polanski made a point of not telling an action adventure story.. He was responding to films like “Schindler’s List” which, in his view, propagated the lie that good people were able or willing to heroically oppose the Nazis where they could. I guess he would argue that certainly some remarkable– really remarkable– individuals opposed the Nazis and were active in the underground, but the reality was that these people were very few in number and had no real impact.

A film like “Schindler’s List”, because of it’s focus on a sympathetic hero, Schindler, gives a false impression– that there were substantial forces for good in occupied Europe that made a difference. In reality, even the Warsaw uprising, as magnificent as it was, had no effect on the outcome of the war (at least partly because the Soviets waited outside the city while the Nazi’s repressed the uprising and executed thousands of partisans.)

His “truth”, that he wished to convey in “The Pianist”, was that for most Jews, the reality was that they were swept up by a massive force and that the survival of any of them was more due to fortuitous circumstance and luck than the moral acts of any individual. That’s why Szpilman doesn’t “act”– he reacts, and struggles to survive.

It is also Polanski’s own story– he was separated from his family at the age of 10 and survived by his wits, and good luck. Who are you going to believe? Polanski or Spielberg? I didn’t find it boring at all. I did find “Schindler’s List” offensive because Spielberg had so much contempt for reality that he took an amazing true story and changed it to make it more “Hollywood”– and preposterous. He couldn’t bear to stick to the known facts. He had to clobber you over the head with sentimentality to be sure that you had the “right” feelings about everything. The audience walks out “feeling good about feeling bad”. They liked Schindler. Liking Schindler is a reflection of your good taste. If a party like the Nazis rose up again, they would be sure to choose the right side!

[added January 2011] More importantly, Schindler allows the audience to feel that, had they been in the same situation, they too would have done the right thing. The truth is that millions of people like you and I did nothing, and we are fooling our selves if we think it could never happen here, because there are too many people like us who would resist. We would resist, of course, if the threat were presented to us as Spielberg presents it to us: snarling, distasteful Nazis vs. the elegant, empathetic Schindler. It wouldn’t look like that to us. It would look more like Mitch McConnell.

An insidious little note: the original book “Schindler’s List” was classified by the Library Association as “Fiction”. After Spielberg tied into it, it was re-classified as “Non-Fiction”.

Of what value a heroic tale that isn’t true? Is it “essentially” true? How essential is it, that, in reality, nobody quite understood Mr. Schindler or what his exact attitudes and beliefs were? His own wife thought he was an asshole. Spielberg didn’t know what to do with that information.  Yes he did– he created that ridiculous scene at the end with poor Mrs. Schindler having to participate in his consecration by putting a pebble on his gravestone.

I cringed.

He should have shown us that sometimes “assholes” do more good than pious preachers.

Inhuman Future

Today’s New York Times reports that the United States is planning to expand it’s military presence throughout the world by adding new air bases in countries in Eastern Europe and Asia, and that they expect to have permanent air-bases in Iraq.

The exact words are: Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq.

The article is not clear about what “expects” means. The writer quotes unnamed “senior officials” in the Bush Administration.

That’s really amazing, considering that Iraq does not have a legitimate government at the moment. Is this a hint that the new Iraq government will not be quite as independent of U.S. control as is claimed? Why wouldn’t they say that they would ask permission of the new Iraqi government, once it is constituted, to locate air-bases on their soil?

But the scariest thing about all of this is the fact that the United States is projecting a future world in which it’s armed forces can sweep into any locality on a moment’s notice to “protect American interests”.

As the lone superpower, you could wish for a sense of graciousness and reasoned indulgence from the United States. We are bigger and far more powerful than any other country on earth. We will do what we need to do to maintain peace and good order. No– we will ensure that the vital interests of the United States are protected around the globe. That’s the not the same as peace and good order. It’s the same as colonial patriarchy.

But I think there is something even worse than that. It is the feeling that this administration really believes that the world is filled with untold horrors awaiting Americans in the near future and that we must project formidable military strength to ensure that powerful enemies will not be able to strike us without swift and devastating consequences.

The vision of this administration is a not a future in which our enemies have been vanquished and peace and good order prevail. It is a future in which we create more and more enemies and they continue to strike us and we continue to lash back. That’s because we project a world in which we continue to consume a hugely disproportionate amount of the world’s natural resources and this will arouse greed and envy in other nations and they will want to fight for their share and we will have to fight back. In other words, we are not going to be working with other people in the future: we know we’ll be working against them.

Until Christ returns. And that’s that.

Put your hand up if that’s the vision of the future you voted for when you punched your chad in Florida three years ago.

“The room had erupted with laughter”

“The class began with a video address by Helge H. Wehmeier, who was then in charge of Bayer’s United States operations. Mr. Wehmeier said that Bayer executives were expected to obey ‘not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as well.’ And he urged them to call his office if they learned of violations. Mr. Couto recalled how the room had erupted with laughter.” New York Times, April 15, 2003

Bayer negotiated a deal with a Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest health care organizations in the United States, whereby it falsified the price of Cipro in order to maintain an artificially high price to Medicare services, which, by law, must receive the lowest price on any pharmaceutical product.

The United States Attorney’s Office in Boston caught Bayer doing this because an honest employee named George J. Couto blew the whistle. He received $34 million in reward money. Except that he died of cancer, so his family got the money.

Bayer had to pay $257 million as a settlement. But the part of this story that I like is the laughter in the room when Mr. Wehmeier asked his employees to report any violations of the law to him, personally. The New York Times doesn’t tell us how Wehmeier reacted. Maybe he was astonished at the laughter. Maybe he laughed with them. Maybe he didn’t even know about the laughter because it was a “video address”.

Either way, you have to think about corporate ethics here, and about California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law. There seem to be different rules of behavior in our society, depending on whether your are rich and powerful, like those Bayer executives, or poor and destitute like Leandro Andrade.

That laughter wasn’t really directed at Wehemeier. It was directed at poor little Leandro Andrade— the poor schmuck who got 50 years in prison for stealing $150 worth of video tapes. [Each of the tapes was treated as a separate crime by prosecutors in order to meet the “three strikes” criteria. What if each Cipro tablet had been treated the same way? Would executives from Bayer be sent to prison for 50 years times several million pills?]

Leandro didn’t get a chance to pay a fine instead of going to prison. And he didn’t get the opportunity of having his employer provide him with a top-notch lawyer, and then pay the fine.

And he didn’t get a chance to sit in a room with any of the dozens of other miserable miscreants who are all serving life sentences for petty theft and laugh as a California policeman warned them all not to commit three felonies.


The Blunt Instrument of Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance is a concept grounded in atheism.

Yes it is. I don’t care if you disagree.

It’s a catchy idea, isn’t it? This is what happens. A scandal. Outrage. Denial by the culprits. Conviction. Confession. Apologies. Then, just to prove that we really are moral and upright, “zero tolerance”.

There is a power structure in every organization. The power structure is always responsible, in a real way, for what takes place in the organization. An organization that is shown to be rife with sexual harassment and discrimination against women must repair the public damage. Since the people in charge never fire themselves and never subject themselves to onerous rules and regulations and never find themselves at fault, and are perfectly able to cut a deal with their lawyers present when needed, they have to name a few scapegoats in middle management, fire them, and pronounce themselves purified. The company then passes “zero tolerance” rules.

Churches do it too now. Which is really odd, because “zero tolerance” is an insanely atheistic concept.

They can believe in zero tolerance because the essence of zero tolerance is not really zero tolerance. The essence of zero tolerance is that we will no longer make judgments or rational decisions or peruse evidence or measure credibility. There’s no question of not tolerating real sin. What we don’t tolerate is the appearance of sin. We think that if we eliminate the appearance of sin, we eliminate the sin itself.

We will not longer consider either the possibility that a person was wrongly accused, or that they might change, repent, or learn from their mistakes, with a reasonable, proportionate response to the infraction.

Waterloo Christian Reformed Church has “zero tolerance”. If any allegation of any kind of improper behavior is made, the culprit is immediately suspended from position or function in the church, before any investigation is made.

Sounds godly, doesn’t it? We are so holy that we punish people without determining if they have really sinned or not.

It’s the product of atheism. Here’s why.

The essence of Christianity is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I can’t and won’t go into a long, detailed theological discourse here, but I think most Christians feel they understand that this sacrifice was to make possible the forgiveness of sins, and bring about the redemption of sinful humans by a just God.

We are not worthy of redemption on our own. We don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. It is only through the sacrifice of Christ that we are entitled to it.

Zero tolerance makes sense if you don’t believe in redemption, or grace, or forgiveness. Zero tolerance leaves no room for redemption, no room for forgiveness, or repentance. You are done, toast, finished.

I guarantee you that most Christians in churches that have adopted zero tolerance will tell you that, oh yes, we do forgive the sinner, of course we do, amen, alleluia. And they will tell you, yes, we are all sinners. And they will tell you that if the allegations are proven false, the sinner will be fully reinstated. And the damage to his reputation will magically disappear.

But they don’t mean it. As I have argued before, when Christ demanded that his followers forgive those who wish them evil, he didn’t mean “forgive them, and then punish them anyway. If a man steals your cloak, take it back, and then tell him you forgive him. If a man strikes you on the cheek, hit him on the cheek, and say you forgive him”.

But of course, zero tolerance doesn’t mean that we have zero tolerance for sin at all. We don’t have zero tolerance for greed or materialism or arrogance or self-righteousness, or lust, or hatred, or hard-heartedness, or bigotry. We have zeroed in on one particular area of human behavior– sexuality–and because we’re all rather hysterical about sex and ashamed of our own bodily desires and feelings, we make it the scapegoat. Our church or organization is pure, because we punish people who are inappropriate.

I have learned something else through all this.  Once the leaders in a church become enamored of a certain idea that they want, they will stare at you blankly and nod and give you a few minutes to make your argument but they will not hear a single word.

Kurds and Whey

The debate about the war in Iraq was always really about this question: what happens now. The Americans sometimes act as if they have proven the world wrong by winning an easy victory. Nobody doubted the easy “victory”– Iraq has about 25 million people, the U.S., 300 million. But the Iraqis are not, as a rule, dancing in the streets waving American flags, Donald Rumsveld notwithstanding. They’re not. A lot of them are saying, “thank you very much, now get out.” The first large demonstrations against the American presence have already occurred.

These are the key elements of postwar Iraq.

1. The Kurds. There are about five million Kurds in Iraq. More importantly, there are about 20 million Kurds in Turkey. That’s right– that’s the number that is more important. The Kurds have been fighting Turkey and Iraq for about 30 years — well, actually, about 800 years– for a Kurdish homeland. There are two leaders among the Kurds in Northern Iraq right now: Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. The Kurds have an army, the “peshmerga”.

2. Turkey: Turkey, as I mentioned, has about 20 million Kurds. Those Kurds are like Quebecois– they identify themselves strongly by their ethnicity and they want a homeland. From about 1985 to 2000, 36,000 people were killed in a brutal civil war in the area occupied by the Kurds in Southern Turkey, between Marxist separatists led by Abdullah Ocalan, and the Turkish government. I’ll bet you don’t remember that. Ocalan is now held in a prison on an island called Imrali. After his imprisonment, Ocalan called for a cease-fire but 5,000 of his fighters remain in Northern Iraq. Turkey has since generally “repressed” the Kurds, and imposed a “State of Emergency” on the city of Diyarbakir in Southern Turkey.

Turkey has two primary concerns. Firstly, it does not want another deluge of refugees like it experienced during the first Gulf War, when 500,000 Kurds fled Saddam’s forces (while Bush Sr. stood by and did nothing). Secondly, it does not want an independent Kurdish state to be established in Northern Iraq, and including the oil-rich area of Kirkuk. Turkey has strongly indicated that it would deploy it’s forces in Northern Iraq to prevent such an occurrence. The Americans have cut a deal here. They will stop the Kurds from taking control of Kirkuk or declaring a Kurdish state, and Turkey will keep its troops within it’s own borders.

About 90% of the population of Turkey– and this includes the Kurds– are against the American-led invasion of Iraq. The Kurds in Turkey are against it because they believe the Turkish government will impose new restrictions upon them for fear of incipient Kurdish nationalism coming to the fore in the post-war chaos.

It was reported in the New York Review of Books that after Turkey’s foreign minister Yashar Yakis, explained the complications of his situation to President Bush, Bush told him, “I understand. Now go back to Turkey and do the job.” Yakis thought about this for a moment and then said, “the man is ill.”

3. The Shiites and “The Surpreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq” (SCIRA). This organization is headquartered in Iran(!) and headed by Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim. It has links to Iran’s radical Revolutionary Guard, which, of course, is an arch-foe of the U.S. About 60% of Iraq’s population is Shiite, as is the large majority in Iran. After the first Gulf War, SCIRA led an uprising of Shiites in the south of Iraq. The administration of Bush Sr., fearing that Iran would become too powerful if it had a toe-hold in Iraq, allowed and even encouraged Saddam to crush the revolt (General Schwarzkopf released seized helicopters and tanks to the Iraqi forces to be used in the action).

Iran is not stupid. Though it officially opposes U.S. intervention in Iraq, it is no friend of Saddam Hussein, who fought a bitter war against Iran in the 1970’s and 80’s, during which he employed chemical weapons, and was supported by the U.S.. Hussein was defeated only when Iran threw thousands of suicide fighters into the fray, whose fanatical efforts turned the tide. So Iran, apparently, is quietly encouraging Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim to be nice to the Americans, to ensure that he will play a role in post-war Iraqi politics, and thereby be a conduit of Iranian influence.

Ahmed Chalabi is a protégé of the CIA, but is opposed by the U.S. State Department. In other words, Colin Powell, ever aware (and probably singularly aware) of long-term consequences, does not see him as an asset to post-war reconstruction in Iraq. He has been out of the country for 45 years and may well be perceived by Iraqis as a tool of the U.S. Chalabi keeps protesting that he has no interest in a political role in post-war Iraq. Well, why the hell shouldn’t he say that? Is anyone going to tell President Chalabi to step down because he once said he didn’t want to be President?

4. OPEC – Will a postwar Iraq administration join OPEC, which is, of course, an illegal oil cartel? If it doesn’t, won’t Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other members have a fit– the price of oil, with Iraq’s huge reserves– could fall dramatically if Iraq competes with OPEC on the open market? Keep buying those SUVs.


Those are the key elements, aside from the remnants of Saddam’s regime, a constituency of unknown character and composition.

There are a few possible outcomes of this entire enterprise, and it is difficult to predict which one will prevail. The optimistic view is that all of these groups, the Kurds, the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the remnants of Saddam’s government and civil service, will come together to form some kind of federation with a constitutional government that respects minority rights while giving structure and coherence to a democratic federal government.

Questions have to be answered.

Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times (April 15, 2003) says this: If Lebanon, Iraq and a Palestinian state could all be made into functioning, decent, free-market, self-governing societies, it would be enough to tilt the entire Arab world onto a modernizing track.

Do you believe that? Doesn’t that sound like “pie-in-the-sky” nonsense? On what basis could you make a prediction like that? How much more believable is it than a prediction that the surrounding Arab states, terrified of possible U.S. intervention, simply accelerate their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and build up their armies, and crack down even more brutally on dissent? What if Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are taken over by Islamic fundamentalists and decide to curtail exports of oil to the west? The U.S. will invade, of course. But then you will get an intifada in Iraq, requiring more U.S. troops to suppress and maintain order. And you could have a hell of an intifada in Saudi Arabia, with all those oil wells to blow up. Then Pakistan tilts the wrong way, and India gets aggressive about Kashmir, and before you know it, you have a global disaster.

Or… you could have a democratic, federated Iraq, with a constitution that guarantees minority rights, equitable distribution of wealth, a free press, labour unions, and other intermediary institutions. Democracies, as a rule, don’t threaten their neighbors, so Iran, if it no longer feels threatened, could chill out and de-accelerate it’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Mahmoud Abbas leads a democratic Palestinian leadership into negotiations with Israel. Sharon, having proven his mojo with years of hard-line tactics, feels free to make a deal and stops Israeli settlements in the disputed territories and cedes back a good portion of the Golan Heights.

In short, peace breaks out. China and the U.S. cut a deal with North Korea. The stock market revives. The Democrats win the White House in 2004 and pass legislation providing health care insurance for every American. Life is great.

Crazier things have happened.

There was a recent meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders in the Kurdish-controlled town of Salahaddin. Americans, from the “Diplomatic Security Service”, were there in force to make sure nobody shot each other, especially Zalmay Khalilzad, whom President Bush calls a “special envoy” to the free Iraqis. Abdulaziz Hakim was a player, with the cooperation of the U.S., even though he is connected to the radical Islamist movement in Iran (his brother is the leader). Everyone at this meeting is holding their cards very close to their chests. No one wants to declare themselves as the provisional government of a new Iraq. No one wants to start disparaging the claims of rival ethnic or political groups because they fear that the Americans will freeze them out of the post-war reconstruction.

There are two large cities in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Northern Iraq: Mosul and Kirkuk. Both cities are located near vast deposits of oil. The Kurds will claim Kirkuk as their ancestral home, but not Mosul. After the first Gulf War, the Iraqis tried to “ethnically cleanse” Kirkuk by moving Arabic families into the homes of the Kurds and driving the Kurds further north, into the mountains. As the current war drew to a close, some Arabic families, who had been forcibly settled into the area in the first place, began to leave, voluntarily, and Kurds began to move back in. There is no doubt that many, many Kurds will immediately try to move back to Kirkuk at the first opportunity.

The Kurds entered Kirkuk with American forces, but were asked to leave once the city had been secured. They politely agreed, for the moment.

Why does Iraq have so many diverse ethnic groups? Because the nation of Iraq is an artificial construct of the area of occupation by British forces in the early 20th century. They gave it an administrative identity that has no relationship to the ethnicity of the inhabitants. The same problem exists in Africa and may be one of the main reasons nations like Rwanda, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe continue to writhe with civil disturbances, wars, and forced starvation.


Even Enemies Have Real Paranoids

Schools across the United States, in response to the entreaties of Homeland Security Fuehrer Ridge, are implementing emergency procedures to be used in case of… an emergency.

What emergency? In the letters sent home to parents, they don’t often say. They say things like “in light of increased concerns for community safety”.

So what, exactly, do they think is going to happen. The plans include evacuating the students to the gymnasium and ensuring that there is an “adequate” supply of food and water. For what? How can you prepare for an emergency when you are not prepared to seriously discuss exactly what kind of emergency you will be facing?

So it’s up to us sober-minded observers to speculate. Let’s consider some possibilities.

1. Foreign terrorists crash an airplane into the school. Not all that likely, you have to think. Why this particular school and not one of 8,000 others in the vicinity, say, of Chicago or New York? Is it realistic to prepare every school for an airplane crashing into it? How will the terrorists find your school in particular? Schools don’t stand out like World Trade Centers and Pentagons. And do you honestly think that even a terrorist wants to target children? (Well, maybe they do.)  There’s a reason why they chose the World Trade Centre— adults screwing other adults. So let’s leave that one aside for now.

2. Nuclear Bomb: They haven’t found any in Iraq yet. What a disappointment that must be to the Bush Administration. But if they did find one and they found that Iraq, or Al Qaeda, or somebody, had the means of delivering the bomb to New York, the gym would not be adequate protection, and all that duct tape and plastic won’t keep the radiation out. And even if it could, all the parents, in their unprotected workplaces, would be dead. Let’s not talk about that one either.

3. Chemical, Radioactive, or Biological Weapons Attack: according to some very smart people, the only biological weapon that could possibly pose a serious threat to large numbers of people is smallpox. Anthrax just doesn’t travel very well (how come you never hear about it any more) and most other biological agents can’t be delivered over a large area very effectively. Only the U.S. and Russia have any stores of smallpox, and as far as we know, they haven’t been selling them off to tin-pot dictators like they did chemical weapons, so smallpox is probably not a big concern.

There are the nerve agents, chlorine, and other chemical weapons. So I suppose these schools are concerned about somebody attacking the school with chemical agents. How? Dropped from a plane or launched from a mortar or rocket-launcher, you have to suppose. How would these villains get close enough to the school to launch such an attack? They could smuggle the compounds and the delivery technologies into the U.S., maybe through Mexico or Canada, and then drive to your town and position themselves near your school and, bingo! Or they could get into many, many small planes and drop the agents over the school yard during recess.

Then all the students rush into the gymnasium and the teachers duct-tape the doors and cover them with plastic.

Be honest. You can just see that happening, can’t you?

Part of being a rational, sane person is the ability to judge risk accurately and effectively. There are many bad things that could happen to your child at school. He could be bullied. He could be molested. She could fall and hurt herself. The school could be hit by a tornado or hurricane. There could be a fire or an earthquake.

Or some lunatic with easy access to semi-automatic weapons could walk in the front door, shoot the security guard, and kill dozens of students and teachers.  But we are not going to do a fucking thing to prevent that.

This has happened hundreds of times.

In the history of the U.S., not a single a school has ever been attacked by a terrorist.

Do you feel safer now?

The real reason schools are taking these precautions: It’s all Tom Ridge, you know. Yes it is. He is the Bush Administration’s official in charge of “homeland security”. Now, think about this. Who makes a better Republican? Someone who feels safe and prosperous and secure? Or someone who believes that enemies are out there on all sides, just waiting for an opportunity to whack us? Of course! Ridge is out to create an entire new generation of republicans, of fearful paranoids ready to grant their government any powers at all to save us from “evil” people out there who are jealous of tax-free dividends and gas-guzzling SUVs!

Think about this: the last time our society immersed itself into a culture of paranoia and fear was the 1950’s. Remember all the bomb shelters and McCarthyism? Right. Ten years later, we had the greatest uprising of youthful dissidence in the history of this country. Interesting to think about.