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Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Terror Pest: Lessons from the Garden

Sunday's Lesson

I know from Christianity that Jesus used parable to make his point. The reason for this is quite simple--people frequently stop listening when they're told to do things, especially things that may run counter to their self-interest. It's simply not human nature to accept correction, to accept being told that we are wrong. So Jesus would tell his parable and give an example of what is wrong in the hope people would understand what they should do, if not from personal experience then from the example of others.

I, like you, tire of hearing about how bad things are in Iraq, or the situation our nation faces as our civil liberties are threatened by domestic spying. Rather than babble on about the inherent stupidity of our approach, or the dangers of the solution path we've chosen in our war on terror, I'll try to give the example of gardening to describe the situation we're in, and how to approach it.

I hope you'll bare with my limited experience with this kind of writing. Hopeful it will provide the diversion from the typical rant against the status quo.

The Gardener

Growing a good garden requires sunlight and water. Keeping the garden attractive requires weeding and dead-heading. The weeding is meant to keep alien vegetation from invading and reproducing, thus overcoming the garden and the purpose for which it was made.

The natural course of nature is to allow all things to spread out regardless of what plant the gardener intends to grow. In this respect Nature isn't evil in conspiring to thwart the gardener, it simply exists as the everpresent backdrop against which the gardener strives to protect his garden.

Nature throws every matter of threat his way: weeds, excessive rain, drought. Rain and drought, unlike the weeds, the gardener can do nothing about. Weeds, however, are a different matter entirely. Weeding is the responsibility of every good gardener; gardening is defined not as the task of managing a peaceful coexistence between weed and crop but rather a systematic elimination of all weeds, as a necessary task.

Herbicides are both friend and foe; the chemicals that kill bugs can be toxic to humans as well. So there's no easy solution for gardening, especially for the gardener who's careful to control weeds, not eliminate them, as eliminating weeds can involve highly toxic solutions, and possible repeat applications.

Every gardener from time to time will come across a weed that's quite attractive. Destroying the weed may be regretful, but it is the duty of the gardener.

Likewise vermin will invariably come into the garden; some pests liking particular vegetables and thus presenting a threat unique to the growing of some particular crop or flower.

The Japanese beetle is the gardener's enemy. If you haven't guessed, Japanese beetles aren't indigenous, they were introduced by some chance event, or some well intentioned albeit misguided fan of the beetle (like the starlings released into Central Park by aficionados in the 18th century.)

Like herbicides, insecticides are available yet may also be toxic to humans--a major limitation when it comes to growing vegetables for human consumption. A far safer method is to use natural insecticides that are harvested from certain plant varieties; these may not be non-toxic, they are however for the most part better than using man-made varieties although they may be less effective.

The best solution for Japanese beetles may be flicking them off the plants, by compressing the middle finger against the thumb, then releasing with extreme prejudice. And full-force flicking is especially worthwhile when two Japanese beetles stack upon each other, as the female beetles on the bottom are apparently sufficiently distracted by the act of gorging themselves not to notice another beetle atop it, presumably mating. Flicking the pair is doubly entertaining for the gardener, denying the beetle both the pleasure of eating and mating in one stroke.

I don't know whatever happens to the beetles as they are flicked off, propelled by the stalwart thwap of index finger, the nail's hard enamel striking the bugs with a satisfactory little whack. The beetles may return or they may not; they may be hurt or may just be temporarily stunned.

It's not the job of the gardener to hound the pests, wherever they might end up. If however, a nest of the creatures could be found, it would definately be within his right to fumigate the lot because, unlike the gardener's own garden, the location of the nest will be hopefully far off as not to cause any collateral damage to the garden. Freed from the constraints of self-destructive remedies to the pest, more extreme methods of eradication make themselves available to the gardener than would be available if the safety of the garden were paramount.

It is after all the garden that the gardener protects; destroying the garden to destroy the pest would defeat the purpose of pest control. It's for this reason a wise gardener will accept some level of invasion, by pest or by weed, and accept the limitations of any control mechanism. Rather than pursue complete eradication with no possiblity of recurrance, the gardener controls the problem, eradicating as much of the problem as possible but ultimately accepting the garden's vulnerabilty to the forces of Nature.

The vermin aren't always ugly like the Japanese beetles destroying the leaves of my weeping cherry trees. Rabbits are quite cute but can do havoc upon the garden. We tend to tolerate these for their cuteness; still, some gardeners might be able to disregard the pleasantness of the rabbit in out of the firmness of the conviction that the rabbits will grow up and do harm to their future gardens.

One group of hares took up residence in our garden early this spring. Their mother created a "form", a shallow depression in the ground into which they three little offspring wormed. Vulnerable, in their form, I couldn't imagine them a threat now or ever in the future, and even if their survival would damage the garden, I couldn't imagine doing them any harm. I guess some farmers might let their dogs at them, knowing them to be the pest they would grow up to become, but I could not.

It'd been too cold and we'd had a spell of frost, so I'd done my best to secure the form from the weather. I'd put extra fluff against the top, and done what I could to keep sleet and rain out.

Looking into their little form, I felt slightly repugnated because the form was small and shallow and one hare got to stay in the bottom while his siblings squirmed above him. I thought this grossly unfair. It may have been that the bottom hare was stronger and thus more able to get under his siblings, and use them to shield himself from the cold above.

Fairness hadn't seemed to matter--an aspect of Nature that men find cruel. To us, it seems grossly wicked to let the weaker baby hares freeze, but the law of selectivity has been invaluable in keeping the Darwinian chain of evolution working, and the hare as a species evolving.

The hares' mother was nowhere to be seen; I'd researched the hare and learned that typically the mother would not return to the hare or tend to its young for that long a period after birth. This might seem cruel in itself, but as I'd notice in my observations of the form, the mother's presence would only stimulate the interest of predators. Better that she have her little ones and move away.

Concealment is after all the best defense for the hare, which has no burrow or den like the rabbit. Hares are speedy, with top speed as high as 47 m.p.h. or so for an English breed of hare. Capitalizing on their speed, it's better that they run off then try to hide.

Hares have awesome hearing, and good camoflage. Remaining silent, masked by underbrush, the hare is impossible to see--they'll hear you first anyway. In the months since the hares left the form, I've been repeatedly startled by a hare bolting from beneath some bush in our yard. Never have I seen one before it saw me and sprinted out.

The hare has developed a defense perfect to protect itself. With a speed greater than any other predator save perhaps the cheetah, none could catch the hare once it sprints. And the hearing meant that no predator could sneak up on it, whether it slept or nibbled beneath the underbrush.

Well, the reason I'm bring up the garden and the hare is to prove that Nature and Man really do have different purposes in the world. Man does need to coexist with Nature, to sustain his own evolution in coping with our changing planet. It's simply not enough to pour pesticides over our problems and consider them solved if the next rain simply washes it away.

Sometimes pests may come disguised as cute, furry creatures. I haven't figured out how rabbits fit into all this. Perhaps if something is worth looking at, it can't be that bad.

This does of course mean that certain creatures will be discriminated against simply because they look bad, like the beetle, or the starling, despite the fact none have done anything more wrong than to be born.

I guess cute creatures have it made. I pity the starling though as it is hated simply for existing.

The Terror Pest

I've tried to make an analogy between the gardener and the duty of a citizen. Both need to confront the pest--all enemies foreign or domestic. Denying the existence of the pest is impossible when the damage is clear and obvious.

Any potential solution possesses limitations. Slathering the garden with pesticides might kill all the bugs, but they will come back once the pesticides wear off--if the plants aren't killed by overapplication. And if edible or organic garden vegetables are also the goal, application of harsh chemicals is unacceptable and never enters the mix of solutions.

The threat to the garden is clearly grave whether it is terror or the response to terror. Sometimes overreacting can cause more damage to the garden than the pests could ever do.

The administration has trapped itself in its rhetoric. It's forced to show results, even if Americans are willing to accept the Long War and whatever sacrifices are needed to win it.

Looking at previous terrorism like that endured by the British against the Irish Republican Army, we see few results for years. Bush did warn that Americans may not be able to see the results of the war on terror, as they would be confined to inner circles of the security establishment rather than released to the general public. In practice, however, the administration's successes against terror have been made very public, and presented during times of maximum political opportunity--like announcing the capture of a Pakistani named Khan (not the nuclear scientist Khan) who'd been an al-Qaeda computer specialist.

Khan's laptop had contained images of several financial institutions, although they'd been quite dated. (That story also reeks of politically motivations, as the warning really had no substantial threat behind it. For more, see Olbermann's Nexus of Politics and Terror.) More significant to the Khan arrest was the fact the Pakistanis had been tracking him and been gathering very valuable information as part of an ongoing undercover operation. Everything ended when Bush ordered Khan arrested; to make matters worse, Khan's arrest would be featured prominently in the news the next day, completely destroying th evalue of any associated ongoign intelligence gathering.

The reason for an arrest can be shrouded in mystery, with the assumption that our security officials might have reason to keep news of the arrest out of the paper. When the arrest is featured prominently in the news, particularly the day after the Democratic Presidential candidate announced his running mate (or was it the day after the end of the Democratic Convention?), political motives should be assumed.

We also need to be reasonable in our expectations, like the gardener who realizes he can only do so much. Bush did this well early in the fight against terror, but has succumbed to the semantic polemics. Anti-terror rhetoric frames the war as an all-or-nothing battle, but the war is not one battle, nor can it ever really be declared over--it can only be controlled.

No amount of insecticide or pesticide can rid ourselves of the problem entirely. Our leaders need to temper expectation rather than commit our people to the certainty of a conclusion that is incomplete or inadequate, one that fails to eradicate the threat entirely.

We Americans need to acknowlege the limitations of solutions: none can be total nor can the problem be ended through the application of more chemicals alone. Unfortunately we tend to think in black and white, and with war this doubly true: we want and expect a complete victory.

Interesting how active former and some serving military officers have been on raising the limitations of military force. General Sanchez, who ran the show in Iraq, as well as the Iraq Study Group have come out and flatly stated that Iraq cannot be won through military means alone. The mainstream media has been repeating this point. Now if our President is in fact letting the war be fought by military methods alone he misses the point entirely by trying to resolve our issue there through political methods. The surge is militaristic and thus limited in its impact, by our generals' own admission.

If the President were in fact considering the advice of his generals, we'd see a great deal more activity on the political and diplomatic fronts, arenas the Bush administration has scorned. Instead Bush is content to let the generals handle only the militaristic approach at the expense of the non-violent resolutions that may help our occupation end.

Does Bush and the oil lobby he represents want the oil to end and Iraq's oil to flow from their grasp? No, but this in itself is no evidence of a conspiracy to stretch the occupation. What's probably far more likely is that our occupation intended to divide Shia and Sunni, in an effort to weaken Iranian influence. If the war's architects had been aiming for a long-term occupation, you would have thought they'd been done more to anticipate it in their planning, although Wolfowitz and Perle would have rigorously avoided any contemplation of anything but a best case scenario out of fear of scaring off support prior to the invasion.

Ulterior motivations for expanding the mission in Iraq are vital to analyzing reasons for continuing and expanding our military presence in the Middle East. The architects of the war were also advocates for Israeli aggression. The Clean Break doctrine advocated regime change in Iraq and/or Syria and the destabilization of Iran. The inexhaustible pounding of the war drums is evidence of not only the prevalence of Clean Break type thinking vis-a-vis Iran, but the penetration of the media establishment by rabidly pro-Zionist editors and journalists.

Israeli hawks see it as in their nation's best interest to confront what they see as the source of the greatest threat to the survival of their nation: the rise of radical Islamic terrorism. Less obvious is benefit for the US. With no oil and nothing to claim but a rising list of casualties, the gap between US and Israeli interests is widening.

The media's aversion to any criticism of Israel may be masking a swelling current of xeniphobia that could lead to isolationism and anti-semitism. Strangling the Israeli-Palestinian narrative, the root cause of terror in the Islamic world persists, where it may benefit right wing extremists as marginalized Palestinians have no choice but to turn to violence, and thereby validate the aggressive militarism used to enforce apartheid in the Territories under the guise of security.

More open dialogue on the Palestinian problem is surely vital to resolving the origins of terrorism in the Muslim world. The next question is why isn't more being done to address the problem. Clearly Rightwingers can claim to be tough against terror; in this nation we see fear of looking soft against the threat as completely undercutting the resolve of the in-name-only opposition. As I've said of war profiteering, there is definately a cadre of industrialists who are profitting mightily from the status quo. If the US and Israel were to solve their problem through non-military methods, the share of the budget spent on the military would shrink and profits dry up. With the limits of the effectiveness of military force made clear, methods to mediate and resolve Israeli-Palestinian problems non-violently would gain prominence, probably to the detriment of the Right in that they might reduce terrorism and thus undercut the impetus to use military force to preempt it.

Likewise if the US were to actually leave Iraq, we would sever the source of our problems and a good chunk of the rationale for terror, which has clearly grown with the extension of our occupation. Still, our never-ending gluttony for oil leaves the US dangerously dependent not only on the need for foreign oil, but for cheap energy as well. The economic impact of the first set of oil shocks in the early 70s may be too great of a impact for our country to bear in the perceptions of policymakers, at least not if the alternative is seizing Iraqi oil.

The threat of shortages gives sufficient rationale for those responsible for securing our energy supplies to seek the stuff out, using fair means or foul. I can see Dick Cheney in his notorious Energy Task Force meeting early in 2001 demanding to know how Big Oil would provide America with her energy needs for the next 25 years. The concept that we should reduce our demand or seek out alternative sources is just unimaginable coming from a prodigy of the Big Energy industry like Cheney.

The absence of any conservation in our country shows the supply-side orientation of our energy companies and their representatives placed high in our government. The dual allegiance to oil (that got them there) and the Saudis may have glazed over more reasonable foreign or energy policy alternatives.

Splitting Iraq along sectarian lines may have let the US set Saudi influence against Iranian. A big arms deal to the Gulf States shows that the US is intent on preserving the Saudi form of government from the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Ironically the Saudis themselves have supported radical Islamicism over the years, leading to direct Saudi participation in 9/11.

Fifteen of the nineteen were Saudi. Sections of the original 9/11 report concerning Saudi involvement were heavily redacted, but the Saudis did provide translators, limos, and help securing apartments for Atta and his people. Plus we had a massive airlift of the bin Laden family out of the country after the event: apparently the only people allowed to leave the US were Saudis, under the pretext that they would face a dangerous backlash.

Well the backlash never arrived--here or in Saudi Arabia--and the Saudi were able to placate the radical element in their midst. For years they'd been funding Wahhabism, a radically anti-Western stem of Islam. Bin Laden was originally Saudi--his citizenship revoked circa 1996--and his family's connection to the Saudi royalty are well documented. Ultimately, responsibility for the hijackings rests firmly on Saudi Arabia, which at a bear minimum created the circumstances under which 9/11 could occur.

I would however say that the hijackings and flying into the building were absolutely NOT the only element of the 9/11 "terrorist strikes". I won't go into the case for bombs in both of the Towers as well as WTC 7, but suffice to say there was much to gain for proponents of aggressive military action against Arabs as well as Larry Silverstein, signator of a new lease and massive insurance policy just before the event. In the case of the free fall collapse of WTC 7, numerous unknown individuals likely spared themselves indictments in a massive securities fraud (tech bubble) litigation case, for which evidence had been stored in the SEC's safe there.

I don't have a thorough command of the entire operation, as 9/11 is proving to have been a carefully orchestrated and planned event. I can only speculate as to the methods and approach used. I can however address the increasing volume of evidence that directly contradicts the Official Explanation. Most damning is the evidence of demolition charges, which in some videos can be seeing spewing molten metal out from key corner joins in the Towers.

Bottom line is that our government cannot be trusted to tell the truth. We were lied to about Iraqi WMD, about Iraq's connection to terror. What else has been a lie? Credibility once lost is not so easily reestablished for good reason. Only the naive could cling to the OE in light of the evidence that contradicts it. With the truth undercut in so many ways, there remains no reason to trust our government in any of its subsequent claims or allegations, or even in the justiofications it uses to continue our military occupation of Iraq.

We have in short become not a country of laws, but rather one where might makes right, an international bully, and one whose government is pursuing an agenda in the service of obligations to corporate interests, not the people. I guess this is becoming a tired rant, but still needs to be said here as the media won't tell the public that our nation has changed.

As a result of our militarism, our military is weaker. The laissez-faire approach to regulating financial markets has created all sorts of new risks in the markets. And the prevalence of electronic voting, combined with voter apathy and an uncritical media, has degraded the political system to the point people aren't being adequately represented. As debt grows and jobs leave, our leaders aren't considering what is in the best long-term interest of our nation. Instead they represent the narrow corporate constituencies that got them elected in a political system plagued by big money.



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