19 January, 2007

D'Souza D'Douchebag

Call:

Liberals Caused 9/11

D'Souza makes his points carefully, and some of them are worth considering: What happens when, as in the case of Carter withdrawing his support for the Shah of Iran, a vacuum is left? Well, we know what happens -- the Iranian Revolution. That D'Souza fails to mention that the United States fomented the Revolution while propping up the Shah in the first place, and that Iran's relationship with the Soviet Union subsequent to 1978 and 1979 was likely closer than it would have been in the 1950s under the secular, democratically elected government the Shah userped. That the relationship with Iran probably enabled the Soviets to stay afloat during the escalate and prolong strategy of the 1980 Cold War (a $3 Trillion adventure for America) is worthy of note.

D'Souza also notes that American liberal intervention in places like South America, in the form of contraceptive assistance in countries unfriendly to safe sex due to religious conservatism, is resented. D'Souza is right, of course. The Catholic Church wants to be the only game in town, and so I don't feel uneasy comparing them to the Taliban, a regime so covetous they blew up 3000-year old artifacts. D'Souza doesn't buy the liberal zeitgeist that people, teenagers, children will engage in sexual activity no matter what the church says, and often in spite of anything the church tells them. But Catholicism understands that it's a numbers game, and doesn't care that the liberal view on sex happens to have the benefit of being true. The numbers game is turned on its head in the age of AIDS, where the irresponsible policies of the Vatican expose nearly a billion parishoners to STDs, some fatal.

While all this and more is true, to an extent, D'Souza chooses to ignore those facts that do not mesh nicely with his theories. But one assertion that he does make, that like everything else he says has a whiff of truth, is in fact false: that our policies in regarding Israel and Palestine are not a rallying point of radical Islam. This argument is part and parcel of the core of Neo-conservatism -- like a burning victim contorting into a fetal position, neocons will twist around like pretzels to protect Israel.

Response:

D'Souza is a Cretin

I'm quoting the letter, because I pretty much agree with everything it says:

"Well, it's very interesting. In the aftermath of 9-11, D'Souza thinks that it was entirely appropriate to shoot first and ask questions later, but now that five years have elapsed, he says it is time to ask WHY we were attacked. Without puffing myself up too much, because millions of sane and thoughtful Americans did the same thing, I just want to say that I asked myself that question on the very day of the attack. It seemed like a good idea to try to answer it before sending in the Marines. And it was not too difficult to get the answer, because millions of Arabs and Muslims were celebrating the attack and were eager to tell anyone who would listen why they were dancing in the streets. And strangely, they said nothing about Hollywood or feminism or abortion or gay marriage, but they were very clear about their hatred of our support for the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Later, Osama bin Laden explained that the inspiration for the attack came to him when he saw buildings in Lebanon being destroyed by Israeli fighter planes in 1983 and he thought how perfect the retribution would be if American buildings were similarly destroyed from the air."

11 January, 2007

Children of the Corn

Michael Pollan's excellent Omnivore's Dilemma, ISBN-13 978-1594200823, features an anecdote about the Mayans early on in the first chapter. The Maya word that referred to themselves and their civilization was "corn walker," and often you hear Chicanos and other Mexican indigenous peoples using that term on themselves even today. But Pollan points out that in fact North Americans are truly corn, walking. The reason we know this is because corn is particularly greedy when it comes fixing carbon, especially carbon-13, from the atmosphere, which leaves a nice carbon trail throughout the food chain; to wit, our carbon-13 to carbon ratios in body mass often exceed persons with corn visibly more abundant in their diets (eg, the bulk of the average Mexican's diet consists of tortillas, tamales, things fried in corn batter, drinks made with corn, etc). But a more thorough look at the diet of a typical American reveals a food landscape overwhelmed with corn: high fructose corn syrup, corn emulsifiers, modified food starches, corn-based vitamin supplements (some which even enrich bleached white flour!) and perhaps most insidiously, livestock feed. And everywhere corn is, so goes carbon-13.

One resource that corn uses in abundance to fix carbon-13 and create carbohydrates and some proteins is nitrogen, which was found in the soil abundantly only 100 years ago. Since corn taxes the nitrate levels of soil, traditional multi-purpose farming would rotate in crops capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere. Carbon is abundant and easyc to fix from gas, nitrogen is not easy to fix from the atmosphere and is therefore more scarce than carbon in terms of its availability to plants. One such crop that would rotate in after corn is a legume such as soybeans or peanuts, which lives in symbiosis with bacteria which fix nitrogen in exchange for glucose on the plant's roots. And for centuries, corn and legumes would rotate, one consuming the soil's supply of nitrogen and the other replenishing, year after year. This changed in last century when in 1909 a German Jew named Fritz Haber figured out an industrial process for fixing nitrogen to create ammonium nitrate, the industrial fertilizer used today to feed millions of acres of hungry corn stalks (as well as blow up federal buildings). He used his know-how in World War I to create a vast array of nitrate for explosive manufacture, as well as developing poison gases. He developed Zyklon B, which was ironically used to gas Jews during the Holocaust.

The downside of industrial nitrate fixing is that it requires a great deal of energy to do, energy that comes from burning coal or oil. A conservative estimate is that for each calorie of corn created, three calories of fossil fuels is burned -- but the true cost may be as much as 6-10 to one calorie where a farmer over-fertilizes, in transportation and processing cost, etc, or even more. All for something which growths naturally with neutral or even negative carbon impact on the environment. Consider the disparity of pounds of feed to pounds of meat in raising beef, and you begin to see the negative impact of industrial corn and meat cultivation in the United states: it takes roughly 32 pounds of corn to produce 4 pounds of weight gain in cattle (an 8:1 ratio), as opposed to a 2:1 ratio in chicken. Work backwards from a single calorie of grain-fed beef and you're burning maybe 100 calories of fossil fuels.

All of this, *ALMOST* makes me want to become a vegetarian. And then, gordonzola lights up my Friends Page with something like this: Suzanne Sommers, poet, and I want to eat a steak.

Excerpted in salon.com: http://www.salon.com/books/awards/2006/12/14/pollan_excerpt/index.html

Reviewed in salon.com (includes interview with author): http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/04/08/pollan/index.html