Monday, May 23, 2011

The Revenge of Gaia

When the Gaia hypothesis was first broached in the 1970s, it was met with scorn and hostility by several noted scientists. The theory, named after Gaia, the Greek goddess of the earth, holds that the major life-sustaining elements of the earth constitute a unified self-sustaining, self-regulating system. Thus, for example, the sea maintains a 3.4% rate of salinity and the atmosphere contains 20.95% oxygen. If any part of the system is threatened, as by pollution, the rest of the Gaia mechanism adjusts accordingly to retain the status quo to support life.
Some cosmologists welcomed the Gaia theory as a tool to help persuade the public that if it mistreated the earth, by polluting fresh water and the air we breathe, the earth would defend itself as it could. One form by which Gaia would readjust its homeostatic balance, some scientists predicted, would be violent weather. Thus if farms and cities along the banks of the Mississippi  violated its flood plain and polluted its waters and added too much carbon dioxide and methane gas to the atmosphere, excessive snowmelt and powerful rainstorms would send the river over its banks to reclaim its flood plain and interrupt human activity harmful to it.
The past few years, just in the United States, have brought record heat, snowfall, rain, hurricanes, and tornados to the land, causing massive destruction and in some cases remaking the map along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi delta. In the wake of the enormous earthquake and tsunami in Japan last winter, seismologists have warned that one of the most likely areas for a similar catastrophe lies in the Pacific Northwest. And along the East Coast, weather forecasters think that twice as many as normal the number of severe tropical storms, including hurricanes, are likely to occur this summer. Proponents of the Gaia theory, then, speculate that the more we tax the environment with pollutants—think of BP oil stressing natural systems in the Gulf of Mexico—the more we bring about the devastating weather now common throughout the U.S. and worldwide.
I saw firsthand the mind-boggling destruction wreaked on trees and houses in a section of Forest Hills, Queens, last year by a 150-mile-an-hour wind shear, and you can see on the Internet and TV the flattening of Joplin, MO, by severed tornados over the weekend, leaving almost 100 people dead.
Irrespective of the Gaia hypothesis, a group of Norwegian scientists in the early 1990s conducted experiments that showed that if pollution of sea, land, and air continued unabated, in twenty years’ time unprecedentedly severe storms would buffet the earth. Twenty years later is now.
If indeed there is a connection between our mistreatment of the earth and the severity of current weather, what is each of us ready to do to return the environment to a state of balance?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Article on the legality of the Usama bin Laden execution

I hope those interested in my article on this topic, especially the majority who disagree with me, will read the article linked above. I offer it in the spirit of our ongoing discussion of issues raised by the manner of the US killing of bin Laden.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Undue Process?

True, Obama succeeded where W failed when it came to killing Osama. But is anyone else troubled by the disregard Obama showed for due process? We became used to Buscheney’s contempt for due process or law or any other perceived impediment to achieving their (even nefarious) ends, but we suspected that former law professor Obama respected due process most of the time, except, say, when it comes to Gitmo internees. But approving the SEAL kill mission near Islamabad (Obama + Osama + Islama), with its cold-blooded assassination, clandestine burial, and withheld evidence shows how far we as a nation have come from the days of the Founders or even of Joseph Welch, who stood up to McCarthy, or Judge John Sirica (a Republican who ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes) at the Watergate hearings. Because of decades of Republican expediency at the expense of the law & the Constitution, the “homeland” now wants results without the exceedingly small grinding of the stones of justice.
Would the capture and trial of Osama have been too stressful for our nation to handle? Don’t we any longer have the patience and fortitude to bear the strains and threats that come with following the law and putting the perps on trial, as occurred with Nazis at Nuremberg, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Milosevic at The Hague? Would the satisfaction of a guilty verdict for Osama, and his execution, after a trial have been too pallid for the cheerleaders of expedient violence who celebrate the NCIS-style death he met at the compound in Abbottabad? Reminds me of another CIA-authored killing, in Chile in 1973, though Allende was a hero of the Left, not a purveyor of death like Osama. In any case, his violent death will be no deterrent to any other radical leader whose cause is to damage the US. And as the widow of a 9/11 victim said to me the other day, “The celebrations are out of place. There are a lot of other Osamas out there.”
Still, this argument is healthy and necessary in a world in which haves like the US can use force to keep the have-nots at bay and to carry out military actions its leaders deem necessary for security and even survival. If we have sufficient armed force to invade poor countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, to track and kill enemy leaders like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, there will always be politicians and generals eager to employ that power. So far, they have the media and a majority of the voters on their side. But as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero said, he would have preferred [that] bin Laden stand trial. On Wednesday, Zapatero told Spanish Parliament, "Any democrat would have preferred to see him stand trial," according to the Telegraph.

I find myself still grappling to retain my belief in due process in an age when its time-consuming orderliness is easy to ridicule and cast aside in favor of more expedient means. At the root of this argument is how to achieve justice and even what justice might mean in a threatening time increasingly affected by contingency and realpolitik. For now, however, to the victor belong the spoils, including the power to make judgments, and as President Obama told “60 Minutes,” in the bin Laden case “Justice was done.”