April 26, 2007

Out of fairness to Karl Rove

I know what you're thinking: the resemblance is uncanny. However, I prefer to adopt Karl Rove's own approach to his political opponents, which is not to question their patriotism, but simply to publicly humiliate them for their judgment. I have heard Karl do this in characterizing the response of Democrats (en bloc, apparently) to 9/11, where he contemptuously dismissed their feeble retaliation as "therapy and lawsuits." Whereas manly men (like Karl, I guess) decided to go to war.

Thus, if Karl Rove is to be criticized, insofar as Heinrich Himmler, former head of the Schutzstaffel (SS) is concerned, it is only to question his judgment in allowing himself to look so much like this infamous Nazi. I have seen Photoshop jobs done on Karl's head in which he's dressed up in the Totenkopf cap of a real SS officer, and you might as well be transported back to the bunker in 1945. I decline, nay, refuse, to reproduce such a photo here, because I'm like Karl on that score: fairness above all. So what if he looks like Heinrich Himmler, one of the truly evil men of the 20th century? That doesn't prove anything at all. It's a cheap shot of the kind Karl Rove abjures. Karl's retention of that "K" spelling of his name, instead of the friendlier, Nordic "C" is proof he doesn't care about meaningless similarities.

Other coincidences are equally unconvincing. Toward the end of the war, Himmler got very nervous about the likelihood he would be captured, tried and executed as a war criminal. He fled Berlin as the Russians approached, altered his appearance (whether he looked more or less like Karl Rove as a result, I don't know), but he was apprehended nonetheless. He tried to make deals with the Allies, but Eisenhower was unmoved. The official version is that he killed himself with cyanide shortly after his capture in order to cheat the hangman's noose. The more likely story, favored by many historians, is that Himmler was beaten to death by British interrogators, which is certainly more emotionally satisfying.

Just because "K"arl has demonstrated some of these same qualities, as the anti-Bush forces have encircled the Administration and the White House has retreated inside its Bunker, doesn't mean that Karl Rove is Himmler. Sure, Karl let his "friend" Scooter Libby take the fall for the Plame matter, even though it was obvious Karl was as involved in this (arguably) treasonous activity as the Vice President's Chief of Staff. And there was that unedifying sight of Karl scuttling off to the grand jury four or five times to "update" his story after he "discovered" one of his missing e-mails, working tirelessly to save his own chubby ass while his colleague went down the tubes. I grant you, it's a similarity in approach, but then rats deserting sinking ships probably all look somewhat alike: frantic, snivelly, selfish. Like some people say Karl is, but I'm determined to be fair. And it's not nice to let Alberto Gonzales twist in the wind up there at the Senate Judiciary Committee, all by himself, when Karl knows full well that it was his idea, part of the vertical monopoly he's installed over the American electoral process, to can those recalcitrant (that is, honest) U.S. Attorneys. Karl won't "testify" himself unless it's on his terms, even if it would take some of the heat off Alberto. Does it matter that Libby was Jewish and Gonzales Hispanic, "races" which Himmler would have considered Untermenschen? To repeat, and I hope for the last time: that's a canard unworthy even of refutation.

You see, Himmler was born in 1900 and died in 1945. Even if, as the conspiracy theorists have it (mainly novelists looking for that old Nazi-in-South-America story line), Himmler survived, he would be 107 years old now. Does Karl Rove look 107? Of course not. And yeah, Himmler was a lousy athlete and always struggled in his relations with women and you immediately start thinking about that video of Karl doing the hip-hop (trying to keep lunch down as you do it) and his creepy epicene appearance, which you know is equally creepy to any woman looking at him, and you start building your case. There is no case. I'm taking a page from Karl's book and elevating my political criticism. Heinrich Himmler, thank God, is dead. Karl Rove, God help us, is alive. Deal with it.

Bees in the trees seem to whisper disease

Joe DeRisi, a biochemist at the University of California's Mission Bay lab, has set the entomological world buzzing with a possible breakthrough in the mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder, that apian plague which is threatening to wipe out (a) the bee, and then (bee) us. DeRisi won a MacArthur Genius Award for his work in discovering the role of coronavirus in SARS. Naturally, the work of this too-smart interloper has gotten under the skin of the "government 'scientists'" at the Department of Agriculture, including the leading light in the Dept. of Ag's Plant Sciences Institute, entomologist Jeffrey Pettis. Taking a break from another PowerPoint presentation by a Karl Rove aide on ways to distort apiculture to assist Republican Congressional candidates (a standard agenda item, apparently, for all government agencies operating under Bush's control), Pettis had this to sniff about DeRisi's work, according to today's SF Chronicle: "Pettis said the parasite could simply be taking advantage of a newly developed weakness in the insects' immune systems. 'Mostly we think of Nosema as a stress disorder of honeybees,'' he said. It is possible that a more virulent strain of Nosema ceranae has evolved in the United States, but Pettis doubts it. 'We can't rule it out completely,'' he said.

DeRisi used a "shotgun sequencing" technique to analyze samples provided by the government, one of the genomic approaches he used in his SARS work. Irritatingly, DeRisi has become known as a "rapid identifier" of killer germs, even though he's not a real entomologist like the government "scientists," which makes him almost impossible to put up with. He could give the real apiary guys...hives. Okay, let that go. Yet his genetic work found that the dead bees were loaded up with sequences of microbe which matched Nosema ceranae. Which sounds promising, but Pettis pointed out that Nosema has been around "since the mid-1990's," predating the mass die-off. So it can't be the Nosema...unless it has evolved. Now how in the world would a microbe evolve in as little as 10 or 12 years? What's the gestation period for a germ like that...9 months, right? And since they're not supposed to have sex with another microbe, or with themselves, or however the hell they do it, until they're married (God, I hope they're clear about the sex of the other microbe they're doing it with), it's going to take a helluva lot longer than that.

Pettis can't rule it out "completely" because his ultimate boss, the incomparable George W. Bush, admits that the jury is still out on evolution. (As Lewis Black said in a Black on Black segment: "What jury? Where are they out?") So it's possible the microbes "evolved" into a form that is killing bees, which might account for the heavy presence of Nosema ceranae in all those dead bees Joe DeRisi was analyzing. An alternative theory, proposed by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, in a press release coordinated with the Department of Agriculture (as ghost-written by the Karl Rove aide finishing up the PowerPoint presentation on ways to use Colony Collapse Disorder to elect Republican congressmen [particularly in Utah, the "Beehive State"]), is the waning influence of Christianity among bee populations. "These godless insects have invited the wrath of the Almighty," Robertson warbled during a prayer breakfast at the Maryland office of the Dept. of Ag, where Honey Bunches O' Oats were served. Large numbers of Muslim and Jewish bees have apparently infiltrated many hives, leading to Divine intemperance and retribution (at least in America). The Muslim-infected hives are distinctive for the breaks taken five times a day by the worker bees. In the Jewish hives, there is an overabundance of queens and way too many princesses, and, in addition, a strange sub-species, Apis mellifera shabbos goyim, which apparently work only on Friday night into Saturday, when the usual bees have the day off.

Or this alternative theory may be wrong, and DeRisi is on to something. It would depend on "facts," which may or may not be relevant between now and at least January 21, 2009. I don't know where DeRisi's work leads if he's right, but I hope he shakes off the resentment and turf-warfare and makes a beeline for the answer.

April 25, 2007

The Ant in the Sand Box

Reading political "science" books was pretty dreary, back in the Jurassic Period when I was "studying" this stuff at the University of California at Berkeley, which is to say, when Berkeley was Berkeley. There was one exception - the works of Herbert Simon, the polymath who made the same sort of mistake in choosing a major as I did and then discovered that his true inclinations were more rigorous and scientific. While he knew it was hopeless to construct an actual science of human behavior, he came as close as he could with his work in companion fields such as group psychology and economic behavior. He even won the Nobel Prize in economics.

He was keen on artificial intelligence and human logical processes: how do we decide to do what we do? An arresting image that he presented as analogy was that of an insect with a simple brain, an ant, crossing a sand box. The ant gets from one side to the other. When he's finished with his journey, the resulting trail in the sand looks complicated indeed; it looks like the design of an ingenious mind. In fact, the ant simply chose, at hundreds of junctures where he confronted undulations or depressions in the sand, to go over, down, to the left, or to the right. The overall process (the general direction) was guided by some navigation-orientation we don't completely understand (although it can be interrupted, as Richard Feynman found in a clever boyhood experiment where he looked for a means of non-toxic ant interdiction). But the simple binary decisions add up and appear, in retrospect, to have been the work of higher intelligence. Simon thought humans live their lives in much the same way. We impose a narrative on our lives as we go, or at the end, but that narrative was not the guiding principle in real time. It's a fiction imposed on a pattern of binary decisions made to overcome obstacles directly in our path.

I thought about this old stuff while watching L'il Georgie in a recent interview with Charlie Rose. Bush was attempting to explain what the hell we're doing in Iraq at this point. We're trying to restore peace, he says, so a political reconciliation will be possible and Iraq will become a modern bulwark against terror. I thought about how far all of this seems removed from his initial declaration of the War on Terror following 9/11. Leaving aside the machinations and influence of the Neocons, upon whom Bush probably had very little influence, how does Bush see the journey from the World Trade Center to this war of attrition in Iraq which has been going on, and getting worse, for four years? It is mystifying. Bush probably comes closer to the binary decision-making processes of an ant than most national leaders, I would say that first. His natural impulsiveness, his impatience with deliberative processes, and the intellectual vacuum in which he makes "decisions," make it more likely that his path will double back, find a high spot against the wood planks, and carry him completely out of the sand box. It is difficult at this point to remember at all what this war was originally about, even at the level of official rationale. Bush simply slogs on, as the ant gamely struggles through a clumpy terrain in search of a final destination. The mission, as he describes it, is preposterous on its face. The American military is not going to achieve a "reconciliation" between Sunnis, Shia and Kurds by patrolling the streets of Iraq in armored vehicles. If the goal is to achieve peace by killing all insurgents, which is what would appear necessary to entice the Iraqi Parliament to emerge from hiding in the Green Zone, the task will never be finished.

But what, after all, does this have to do with the war on terror? To understand Bush's journey, it isn't enough to follow the trail that led him to this point of impasse. The ant's journey seems logical and consistent by comparison. I can't tell what sand box Bush is even playing in anymore.

April 23, 2007

Upstairs in L'il Georgie's Room

After considering disparate sources of information, including the books Fiasco, The End of Iraq and Operation Madhouse...and consulting my own inner psychic workings as a man similarly placed in the space-time continuum...I offer a brief Pondside analysis of how L'il George got to the sorry state of paralytic incompetence in which he today finds himself entangled.

Now that the huckleberries and sand cherries are all in bloom, or would be if the bees weren't dead, and unseasonably, not to say eerily, warm weather blesses Walden, and even the most in-the-now habitues can see that L'il Georgie's only got about 21 months to remake his legacy, I think we can look back and see how George Bush arrived where he is, which is to say, upstairs in his bedroom with his fingers stuck in his ears humming his favorite Saturday morning cartoon jingle at the top of his lungs. This is not an edifying sight, even for Bush-bashers. It's scary, because when he comes downstairs, his tear-streaked face and reddened eyes glaring, somethin's...got...to...give.

The presidency of the United States, bequeathed by the usual anti-democratic processes which control electoral politics in the U.S., was one last nepotistic gift which the former drunk and coke-addled George had to accept in order to launch his vindication. So about 97,000 black men were removed from the Florida voting rolls by George's brother Jeb. Karl Rove, the electoral vote-counter extraordinaire, knew that the Grapefruit State would control the outcome, and Karl lusted after a L'il George presidency with the passion and ardor of the love-struck. Ever since he saw George get off that train in Washington, with his cracked leather jacket and tin of Skoal in his jeans back pocket, Karl, saddled himself with a squishy body and a nimbus of doll-hair, appealing to neither set of chromosome pairs common to homo sapiens...knew he had to get George in the White House, where he could be near him and adore him. Thus it happened, aided and abetted by advantages found along the way, such as those voters in the Jewish Riviera who had to figure out the butterfly ballot or risk voting for Pat Buchanan, and then the huge tactical error by everybody's favorite legal genius, David Boies, in not demanding a state-wide recount, as he could have...it seems almost as if it were meant to be.

So George, admittedly, had to accept a presidency handed to him by a Supreme Court willing to overlook enormous conflicts of interest, principally those of Antonin ("Antonio," as Bush calls him) Scalia and Coke-Can Thomas. But that was it. From then on, powered by the first really secure income in his life (a cool $400 K a year as prez...suh-weet!), he would do it on his own. And the first order of business was to demonstrate that those faded Levis, and the worn circle in the back pocket from his snuff tin (which had brought Karl to a state of permanent priapism), were not just stage props. L'il Georgie, unlike that wussy Poppy, was a real Texan, and real Texans fight to the death in the Alamo and win wars. They don't quit at the Iraq-Kuwait border and leave their nemesis Saddam free to fight another day. Okay, the symbols and totems are mixed up, but then so is GWB. The point is, he was gonna show 'em. Show 'em all, all the doubters, all those who called him a career fuck-up who had to be bailed out every single time out. His Iraqi plan, the one Rumsfeld and Cheney always wanted but Poppy was too girly to handle, would topple Saddam, seize the Iraqi oil fields, neutralize Iran, neuter OPEC, ensure cheap gasoline for the U.S. for as far as the eye could see, placate Israeli hawks...and make George into the most heroic and providential president in history. It was a bold gamble, but you don't achieve great things through timidity. George had never achieved anything great, but he read that somewhere. If it was necessary to lie like hell to get the Congress and the stupid American public to go along with this visionary project, so be it. George knew what was good for us.

L'il George did topple Saddam, and later the Shiite theocrats hung him. Check that box off. For the rest of it, the oil fields went to hell, the cost of the war went through the roof, American soldiers died in droves, Iraq descended into a hellish internecine war, Iran became the dominant colossus in the Persian Gulf, the Israeli hawks reached the conclusion they would have to deal with Iran their own way, just as they'd feared, the price of gasoline doubled, the American military was broken, Republican dominance was destroyed, and America's international reputation was obliterated. An amazing set of accomplishments in only four bungling years of running the war. Into the ground. Things got so bad that Poppy finally put together a rescue team headed by James Baker, The Fixer, to bail Junior out. It had come to that. Where it always came to.

L'il Georgie ran upstairs and threw himself face down on his bed, stuck his fingers in his ears and began humming the "Mighty Mouse" theme as loud as he could. Why, why, why? he sobbed. Why does all of this keep happening to me? I'm not a fuck-up, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not!

Well, George....how can we put this?