Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 6 Jan 02 13:31
You have to wonder how they can build any kind of economy. I suppose the U.S. could pay them to stop growing poppies, but that's not a real solution. They need industry, agricultural diversity, and infrastructure to support an evolving business environment.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 6 Jan 02 15:26
I don't underestimate the trouble in surviving the modern world without schools, roads and plumbing. There's a little cash in drugs, banditry, and prostitution, but running arms requires too much literacy. There are big patches of Africa that turned their backs on modernity and walked right off the map, but they never made it back to any tribal life of village farming. They marched straight into the bony arms of AIDS, voodoo militias and blood diamonds. You can get into your Wooden Ships on the Water and try to sail back to the Garden, but I don't know where the hell you're supposed to land.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 6 Jan 02 17:09
For my global warming piece in the Viridian issue of Whole Earth Magazine, I interviewed Jim White, director of Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I think this exchange is relevant to our discussion: >>> Jon Lebkowsky: One point that John Firor makes is that with six billion people on earth, if everyone had the same standard of living that we [Americans] have, there's no way that we could sustain. James White: Yes, that's very clear. I teach a course on energy. That's just one of the resources that you'd need, and if you do the calculations, we use thirty times the energy the average African does. We use ten to fifteen times the average energy that people do in general developing countries overall. We're 250 million, they're 6 billion people. You bring them all up to our standard of living, and the multiplication factor for energy, for aluminum, tin, lead, all the other resources we need is just enormous. It's probably on the order of a hundred, or something like that - I've never done the calculation. But there's no way that I could see that we could support six billion consumers of the American type, or even six billion consumers of the Western European type, and they use half the resources we do. <<<
exiled in viridianistan (reid) Sun 6 Jan 02 19:41
A standard of living like that of Western Europe is a little rich, don't you think? I wonder at what point the birth rate drops to something managable due to an increase in the standard of living. I have to take issue with the idea that these suicidal acts are an attempt to cover up a bankrupt ideology. That doesn't make sense, and it seems that this illusion is as dangerous as the back-to-the-land illusion of dropouts and downshifters. A revolutionary suicide can galvanize a population - these acts do not seem like acts of hopelessness and desperation. Also, the spectre of Western culpability is present in each of those examples, be it diamond mines, AIDS, or tribal war. It's there to greet you as you step off the plane regardless of your destination. What I find disheartening is that admission of this culpability is seen as an admission of weakness when it could be used to initiate dialogue.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 7 Jan 02 15:43
A standard of living like that of Western Europe is a little rich, don't you think? I wonder at what point the birth rate drops to something managable due to an increase in the standard of living. *That's a good question. Demographics are where it's at. I have to take issue with the idea that these suicidal acts are an attempt to cover up a bankrupt ideology. That doesn't make sense, and it seems that this illusion is as dangerous as the back-to-the-land illusion of dropouts and downshifters. A revolutionary suicide can galvanize a population - these acts do not seem like acts of hopelessness and desperation. *Well, I'd worry a lot *more* about Al Qaeda if they were Islamic zealots who were turning Afghanistan into an industrial power. It's true that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church" and all that, but nobody is ever gonna be more selflessly dedicated and suicidal than a Japanese kamikaze pilot, and what did it get them? *The world's top revolutionary suicides aren't Islamic, they're from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a crowd that is rather little known despite many bloody offenses. The "population" can get "galvanized" again and again and again, but unless the society gets some kind of coherent grip on the means of production and information, it's just an empty spectacle of human sacrifice. Also, the spectre of Western culpability is present in each of those examples, be it diamond mines, AIDS, or tribal war. It's there to greet you as you step off the plane regardless of your destination. *I agree, but "spectres of culpability" can float right through keyholes; they can go anywhere and cover any issue. The influence of the West has been planetary for decades now. When a Coca Cola bottler is the President of Mexico, it's a little late to go chase off the imperialistas with a righteous machete. It's like fussing about the spectre of ancient Greek culpability -- I mean, surely all our social, intellectual and political difficulties can be traced straight back to Aristotle and Plato, somehow... Shouldn't we take action? Maybe we should car-bomb Athens! What I find disheartening is that admission of this culpability is seen as an admission of weakness when it could be used to initiate dialogue. *That's when the West is at its most overwhelming... when it shows up with the NGO guys to "initiate" that "dialogue." If the West just blitzkrieged in to shovel all the locals into death camps, they'd be rigidly resisted, but the soft cultural power has turned out to be by far the better strategy. *By the time the tribal guy get it about the structure of a rational political argument, it's all over. He can debate the paradigm all he likes, but his kids will graduate from Columbia U. *It turns out that those half-Westernized diaspora guys, the sons of globalization, are the ones with all the money and all the get-up and go. We're not fighting the benighted traditionalists in bin Laden's home town; we're fighting wannabe-fundamentalists, a cult of offshore daredevil adventurers, like the Flying Tigers or the Lafayette Escadrille.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 7 Jan 02 16:16
What looked like the Third World War has devolved into a relatively boring media circus, with soldiers in the first ring, politicians in the second, and administrative bureaucrats getting set to wander into the third, calculators and palm pilots in hand.
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 7 Jan 02 19:10
I'm concerned about this teenaged suicide pilot in Florida. What are we to make of this? Is a trend? The Trenchcoat Mafia in aviator jackets?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 7 Jan 02 20:14
Salon has a piece about Afghans who are starving: http://www.salon.com/news/wire/2002/01/07/bonavash/index.html U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York that the WFP has received reports of starvation in remote villages. "The agencies have managed to get record amounts of food into Afghanistan but then getting it from depots to remote villages where it is most needed has not been easy," he said. "With different warlords controlling different roads, there are some areas where we just can't go," said WFP spokeswoman Abby Spring. "We have the food, the cash, the trucks, but what we don't have is the security which makes it difficult, if not imposible, to provide food to some communities."
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 7 Jan 02 20:15
I forgot to put those last two paragraphs in quotes.
exiled in viridianistan (reid) Tue 8 Jan 02 06:15
Samuel Mockbee died last week. Have you written anything on this guy yet, Bruce. What do you think about his architecture? Here's a Salon article on the man: http://www.salon.com/people/conv/2001/08/09/mockbee/
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 8 Jan 02 09:26
Well, I liked Mockbee's line about architects having to be "more than house pets for the rich." Still, for every one of those cool recycled bungalows he made out of used whatchamacallits, the American South bought about a hundred thousand house trailers. They're interesting structures in the way of poverty housing, those house trailers. I have no doubt that Huckleberry Finn's alcoholic dad would be living in one nowadays. It's kind of the central theme of industrialism -- Bauhaus guys come up with really cool ideological themes for civilized living, but by the time they implement one, there are vast Las Vegas suburbs covered with tickytacky.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 8 Jan 02 09:28
"With different warlords controlling different roads, there are some areas where we just can't go," said WFP spokeswoman Abby Spring. "We have the food, the cash, the trucks, but what we don't have is the security which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to provide food to some communities." *That's a weird way to frame the problem. As if "security" were something you could get off a truck. The road bandits and the starving people are in a symbiotic relationship, whose very function is to to keep civilization at bay. *Some vulnerable grunt with boots and a bayonet has to impose civil order by wearily chasing wily guerrillas from pillar to post. You can't just get a pint of security FedExed in. Once it becomes a people's war, you'll shoot them at night as you feed them by day. * "Security" implies a pacification program, with road patrols, secured villages, land mines, ambushes, the Soviet occupation nine yards... A lot of guys in zinc coffins, and most likely, eventual defeat. The US military doesn't want to face that scenario, any more than they wanted to install MPs in Baghdad. *It really is starting to look like Gulf War Two. The cannon fodder troops were mashed flat in short order, while the malefactors live to chuckle on. Who's taking bets that Omar and Bin Laden will be lively threats long after Bush leaves office? * Bin Laden has got the initiative again, it's his move. He's had a run of bad luck lately: he could have massacred the Indian Parliament, assassinated Tommy Franks in his helicopter, and blown up an American civilian aircraft with a shoebomb -- but all three schemes crapped out. If the odds had favored him, we'd be reeling right now. *Still, terrorist attacks suffer even more SNAFUs than conventional military operations, so that's a constraint he'll have to live and die with. *I'd be betting a new videotape. Quite likely he's already mailed it.
exiled in viridianistan (reid) Tue 8 Jan 02 09:40
Word. That sounds like a networking problem. I wonder how long it took to find all of the car windows to make this civic center http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues01/oct01/images/mockbee_mas ons_bend_jpg.html
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 8 Jan 02 21:21
I'm not betting on bin Laden's persistence. On the latest video, he looked like death warmed over. But terrorists as a species are no more likely to disappear than serial killers.
exiled in viridianistan (reid) Wed 9 Jan 02 05:57
Slippage! My 63 is about Mockbee and recycling! I've been arguing with everyone regardign the futility of wasting time thinking about who conducted these actions and instead concentrating on who stands to benefit from them, ultimately. A few years ago I was entertaining the fantasy of the military as some sort of vestigial limb that society was just about ready to shed. Gosh, what a pipe dream that seems now. So, I think that maybe concentrating on who stands to benefit from the current situation as it has devolved is important. Does having a Bin Ladin Boogeyman on the loose give our government an excuse to militarize the world?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 9 Jan 02 09:13
I think bin Laden looked like death warmed over because he'd just spent a month fasting for Ramadan. Terrorism tends to be counterproductive, so its "ultimate beneficiaries" are often the victims. Bin Laden's a terrorist, but I doubt that's his first choice as a historical actor; given his druthers, he'd rather be Genghis Khan. Back in the good old days, Luddites had real military advantages; you could ride out of the hills in a horde, overrun those pampered merchants in the cities and just stack up their heads in heaps.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Wed 9 Jan 02 10:58
The degree to which people "fast" for Ramadan varies. They don't eat or drink between like 5am and 5pm, but they oftentimes feast once the sun goes down. Of course, I doubt UBL was in able to do much feasting hiding in the caves of Tora Bora or wherever the hell he was when he made the tape.
Mike Godwin (mnemonic) Wed 9 Jan 02 19:33
I think Bin Laden has been wounded and was concealing the wound (his left arm doesn't appear in the last video).
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 9 Jan 02 23:11
Yes. We think so, too.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Thu 10 Jan 02 06:34
Isn't he supposed to be on kidney dialysis?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 10 Jan 02 07:42
Whatever the case, his health wasn't the best. Could he possibly become a martyr now? It seems his popular following's evaporating.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 10 Jan 02 11:06
What evidence do you see for that, Jon?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 10 Jan 02 11:35
People said Saddam Hussein's following was evaporating too. He's also commonly said to be sick. Maybe both things are true, but that doesn't mean that Saddam is over. Bin Laden's t-shirt trade would boom immediately, if he could pull off another slaughter of Americans to rival September 11. He needs a tactical victory followed by a taunting, eloquent video. He needs another burst of revolutionary charisma, he needs a triumphant return from Elba. With those, he'd be big again overnight. Probably bigger than before, thanks to the psychological recoil. Unless he's deathly sick or the cops are really good, time may be on bin Laden's side. His being alive and un-findable is an unscratchable itch. The British want Tony to go home and fix the railroads. George W. has given us the same partial, haunted victory that his Dad did. The Mujihadeen evaporated because they realized it makes no sense to be daisy-cuttered when you don't get to shoot any Yankees. The Iraqis did it too. Lawrence of Arabia's following would have done the same thing. They discouraged fast, but they could encourage fast, too. They were hoping to be ritually dragging dead Americans behind the jeeps, like they did in Somalia. They never had the opportunity for Soviet-Afghan style ambushes, because the US didn't offer it to them. That doesn't mean they've forgotten how to do it. I would very much like to think that bin Laden really was deathly sick, or running critically low on charisma, and he decided to blow it all in a suicide-by-cop. He'd been at it for a decade or more, so maybe he got tired, bored or desperate. But after our best shot at him, bin Laden is alive, and so is most of his inner cadre. Even Omar is still on the loose. The downside of the American war by proxy is that the proxies are buffers for both sides. Omar is being protected by people who shaved their beards, burned their intelligence files and are waiting for the Yankees to get bored and leave. They still have fangs. The Moodge have still got enough moxie to brazenly assault the Indian Parliament, and bring the world closer to a nuclear war than it's been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's hard to imagine what Pakistan would look like after an Indo-Pak nuclear war, but those hardscrabble radioactive wastelands would likely look pretty familiar, even comforting, to illiterate Afghan bandits on horseback. So if bin Laden could do what the net.war guys call "sustainable pulsing," just create some blood-red, destabilizing major headlines once a year or so, for the next ten years, then he could still win the War on Terror. We would likely never admit the defeat, but his victory condition is pretty clear. It's an unlivable, genocidal Israel, a suppurating, Luddite Islam pockmarked with huge bombs but devoid of CNN and McDonald's, and enough oil and dope money to keep the mullahs fed.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 10 Jan 02 22:32
Another alternative: assume bin Laden isn't the conceptual victor... what does the world look like in that case?
Mike Godwin (mnemonic) Fri 11 Jan 02 05:33
Isn't the longstanding problem going to be the asymmetry between the effort it takes to cause terrorism and the effort it takes to prevent it? Other people besides bin Laden are going to have that insight.
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