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After the Apocalypse

When the meteorite comes (assuming that we go the way of the dinosaurs), the Earth will do just fine without us.

I can't help but feel both reassured and depressed by this fact.

I am not an arrogant human. I don't think my species is the best thing that ever happened to this planet.

An anecdotal aside: I took an Astronomy class in college. One day, the professor announced in the middle of a lecture that we would have to figure out a way to successfully colonize other planets within 5 million years before the sun expanded and consumed the Earth. He even charged me and my classmates with the responsibility for the indefinite continuation of our species through these means. I laughed. Actually, I guffawed hysterically in the back of a packed (and curiously silent) lecture hall. I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face and had to leave the room so as not to further disrupt the earnest, albeit blindered, teachings of my distinguished professor.

So, in the sense of a universal evolutionary trajectory, I have no problem with conceiving of the end of our species and the continued survival of our planet - even if it's not in the idyllic form proposed in New Scientist.

What depresses me is the idea that we can't muster the courage and the discipline to limit our impact on the environment in such a way that we can experience this Earthly idyll ourselves. And actually, I think we can. And I don't think it'll be as hard as everyone seems to believe.

Another anecdote: My uncle and I were having a conversation about energy usage and the almost irrational avoidance of solutions, even reducing consumption. How had we come so far in technology, only to lose much of the value of what had come before? For example, my uncle says, why waste so many materials on creating packaging that can not be reused or recycled, when 100 years ago - 1000 years ago, in fact - we already had a material perfect for this purpose? What magic material are you referring to, I asked. Glass.

If we in the post-industrial west choose to trumpet our cultural superiority, then why can we not equal or surpass some of the most evolved elements of the past? For example, if aboriginal cultures the world over can live in such a way as to make no detrimental impact on the environment, why can't we? Is the destruction of the atmosphere, a huge number of species, and the alteration of much of the Earth's surface the legacy of our "civilization"? Based on that fact alone, can we really consider ourselves civilized?

I can't abide the idea that the greatest achievements of our species are in the past, nor that our greatest legacy is bipedalism.

Connected White Man to Run DoD!

If I were running the world, and believe me, I should be, I would get so bored of getting away with underhanded shit I would just start telling people the truth about the way things work.

For instance, if I were the one selecting the next head of the Department of Defense, and let's assume for the sake of argument that Robert M. Gates is my guy, I would probably list his qualifications something like this:

1) He was in the Good Old Boy Scouts when he was a kid, and is now President of the Eagles.

2) He was in the CIA for 26 years, man, he's a master at hiding things. For example, he got off without so much as an indictment during Iran/contra even though (check this!) independent council had reason to believe he knew about diverted funds (wouldn't be much of an intelligence guy if he didn't). And he has also been accused of using intelligence information to present a US-centric worldview (imagine!).

3) He's got integrity. He wouldn't accept the CIA Directorship in 2005 because he was holding out for something better and now that he has the political influence he always wanted, he's going to sever all (publicly overt) ties to defense-related corporations once he is sworn in!

The beauty of US politics is that no one needs to say any of this stuff out loud - the people in power already know it. And what they know even more intimately is that, if it weren't for the daisy chain of favors that partially runs DC, they would never have gotten to where they were, either.

This guy has a long list of very impressive achievements. I don't intend to detract from that fact. But it is accurate to say that his achievements, which represent his choices and his self-determined path in life, reflect a particular perspective on the way the world works and what role the US should play in that world. Again, this is not a bad thing. A lifetime of loyalty and service to the country, in any form, is an admirable thing. The belief that one's nation state is superior in ideology and execution is understandable and not uncommon.

Head of the DoD is exactly the place Mr. Robert Michael Gates should be. The onus is on us (!) to stay alert to the choices the Pentagon will take under his leadership.

Expect more cooperation between CIA and DoD activities (most of which, we the public, will never know about). Expect a more (overtly) diplomatic Pentagon strategy in areas of the world that remain undemocratic (read: anti-US foreign policy) and uncapitalist (read: anti-US trade and investment), coupled with covert military activities (that was Rummy's dream). In an effort to "streamline" military operations, expect a consistent improvement of military equipment (read: defense contracts) and a further effort to break all branches of the military into smaller, more specialized groups able to operate with very little central contact and wide-ranging operational leeway.

Funny, that sounds a lot like terrorist or guerilla military strategy...

You know that old saying, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em? Think US-sponsored, democra-pitalist sleeper cells positioned in hostile territories, ready to execute long-term plans at a word.

Scary? Bets are they're already in place.

The thing that keeps me interested in politics is the utter inanity of choosing sides and then changing them all the time. Making enemies, making friends, making friends with your's ongoing.

We can never all get along at the same time. That's what political systems are for. In their best iterations, political organizations can decipher differing perspectives, distribute resources, secure access to opportunities, and protect the integrity of cultural values. Trouble is, most political organizations end up being a small club of insiders who use power to principally benefit themselves, and to keep that power in their control in order to protect the status quo.

If you read the history of the formation of the United States, what you'll find is a group of rich white men inspired by the writings of progressive philosophers of their time, and who believed in these philosophies in so far as it complemented their existing worldview (not to fault them, everybody does this, it's one aspect of universal consciousness). What they constructed was a political system that applied these philosophies to those whom they understood as worthy of the responsibility: people like them.

Power works that way, and it's no different now. Gates may be advertised as the antithesis to Rumsfeld, but if you look at his past, there's no reason to conclude that this is true. If we the people do our parts, we won't be stuck with a warmongering unilateralist that masquerades as a liberal-mided Republican.


Small celebrations

Jose Padilla, suspected terrorist.

That's all I need to say to instantly stratify an entire roomful of people. Ultimately, it's not about whether or not Mr Padilla has done anything wrong. The issue, from my perspective, is whether or not the US judicial system is operating according to its own rules.

Given the last subject covered, it seems topical to address the article in today's New York Times addressing Mr Padilla's current legal circumstances. None of it is news, but it would appear that the media has been looking for a way to make Mr Padillas long incarceration more controversial, so it's no surprise that we would be faced with the video of Padilla being escorted to a dentist appointment in full torture-victim gear.

I don't know much about this whole debacle other than what I've read on wikipedia, so I'm not going to pretend a whole lot of insight.

What interests me is the legal jargoning, media wrangling and contentious, precedent-setting interpretations highlighted by this case.

I'll be back with constitutional issues in the next post, once I get around to it.

In the past...