aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Events set in motion will run their course
So the storm will hurt New Orleans--the question is how bad? I have family and friends there, and New Orleans is a possible next place for us to live, so I pay attention. I remember reading stories like this one, that Kevin Drum points to, last year when Ivan came around:
A direct hit from a powerful hurricane on New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil. Some estimates suggest that well over 25,000 non-evacuees could die. Many more would be stranded, and successful evacuees would have nowhere to return to. Damages could run as high as $100 billion.
Last month, on the topic of global warming, I pointed to an Energy Bulletin post entitled In all likelihood, events are now set to run their course a paper on climate change (link since removed) from the London School of Economics:
[T]he paper argues that human experience of other difficult “long wave” threats (e.g. HIV/AIDS) reveals a broadly analogous sequence of reactions. In short: (i) scientific understanding advances rapidly, but (ii) avoidance, denial, and reproach characterize the overall societal response, therefore, (iii) there is relatively little behavioral change, until (iv) evidence of damage becomes plain.
I wish the people of New Orleans well, but more I wish that our civilization could come up with a political system capable of addressing known long-term threats, whether AIDS, global warming or cities below sea level.
UPDATE: This is terrifying. I can only hope it’s wrong.
LATER: Checking the links again, the “Short term forcast” and “Urgent weaather message” are gone. Maybe that’s good news.
On founding fathers & Iraq
Frank Rich, in a column today with many important things to say, has this brief passage which will afford me the opportunity (below) to get back to something I meant to point to a couple weeks ago:
Before anyone dare say Vietnam, the president, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld drag in the historian David McCullough and liken 2005 in Iraq to 1776 in America - and, by implication, the original George W. to ours. Before you know it, Ahmad Chalabi will be rehabilitated as Ben Franklin.
Fred Kaplan writing in Slate on Bush’s lousy analogy, after noting that if it took our forefathers eleven years to come up with a constitution (and that “the American colonies were as well-fit for a democratic union as any society in human history"), wonders shouldn’t we expect it might take even longer in Iraq?
Among other things, he observes:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ A major dispute at both constitutional conventions was how to divide power between the central government and the regional provinces. But in the American case, the provinces-i.e., states-were well-established political units, with governors, statutes, and citizens who identified themselves as, say, New Yorkers or Virginians. There are no comparable authorities, structures, or-in any meaningful sense-constituents in Iraq’s regions (except, to some degree, in the Kurdish territories, and many people there want simply to secede).
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ America’s Founding Fathers shared the crucible of having fought in the Revolutionary War for the common cause of independence from England. This bond helped overcome their many differences. Iraq’s new leaders did not fight in their war of liberation from Saddam Hussein. It would be as if France had not merely assisted the American colonists but also fought all the battles on the ground, occupied our territory afterward, installed our first leaders, composed the Articles of Confederation, and organized the Constitutional Convention. The atmosphere in Philadelphia, as well as the resulting document and the resulting country, would have been very different.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ America had a natural first president in George Washington, the commanding general and unblemished hero of the Revolutionary War. Amid the climate of political brawls and duels that make current tabloid fare seem tame, Washington was the one figure who could not be criticized, whose decisions were accepted by all. Had Washington rejected politics and retired to his estate, the union-and the Constitution that enshrined it-would have fallen apart. Perhaps if Ahmad Chalabi-the Pentagon’s handpicked Washington wannabe-had led a few brigades into Baghdad, his prospects would have brightened.
Good points don’t you think? The emphasis was obviously mine; the whole article is worth reading.
UPDATE Billmon has more: “The framers of the U.S. constitution expelled an occupying army. The founders of the New Iraq are guarded by one.”
Chickenhawks and me
While reading, courtesy of Dave’s slow news day, about Mitt Romney’s upset at being asked whether he’d encouraged his own sons to serve in Iraq and noting that neither he nor any of his five sons had ever served, it occurred to me that, of course, I haven’t either.
The “of course” comes because I came of age in the anti-Viet Nam War era but it might just as well come because I was an out gay man at age 18. I’m about to turn 51 now and I think Gays in the Military should be a top issue among gay rights activists, but bottom line is I couldn’t enlist even if I wanted to, which you might think allows me an all too comfortable perch from which to pontificate.
Thus, it’s worth telling that in the aftermath of 9/11, which shook me to my core and had far-reaching consequences on my life’s direction, I wanted to serve. I want to live my belief in civic duty and give back as much as I can. I also believed, still do, the rhetoric about being in a new world, awakened by the Trade Center attack to the reality of the changed nature of war. We have to think outside the box, throw away all preconceived notions and learn how to respond to this new threat.
So, I thought, in the spirit of Bletchley Park and Alan Turing, the gay mathematician who toiled there and died the year I was born, that at my late age I would enlist in this new war effort. My proven technology skills, I thought, ought to be of value somewhere in government.
I applied to all kinds of military agencies, and the FBI, and the CIA, and the House of Representatives and I’m not sure what all else, believing that my unconventional profile for such a job would bring a needed perspective that might even be welcome in these dangerous times. Political connections got me interviewed at the House of Representatives (but not the job).
That was it. Nothing else. Not-so-polite letters months later telling me that I was not being considered. Thinking back I see that the application process itself is indicative of why no new day is dawning.
I’m now inside the academic world, another closed insular system that, like government, would benefit from allowing experienced outsiders in. I got in that one and I think now that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
But my experience trying to get into government leaves me believing that they’re decidedly not where they need to be. To me from here it looks like business as usual; political posturing to rhetorically address a threat that is real and dangerous and unyielding and demands something more.
I believe the terrorist threat is still out there. And coming here. I just don’t believe we’re doing near what we need to address it.