Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Journalists and Troops divide

Fred On Everything

Soldiers And Reporters
By A Well-Known Traitor
November 29, 2005

Much email comes my way, from military folk both current and retired, assuring me that the press consists of leftist commy anti-American liberal tree-hugging cowardly backstabbers who probably like the French and would date Jane Fonda. It is an old song. Having spent decades covering the armed forces, I have seen much of the Pentagon and the press. Things are a tad more complex. A few thoughts:

The military, particularly the officer corps, wants not reporting but cheerleading. The very idea of an uncontrolled press is repugnant. Thus officers try to keep reporters away from enlisted men, who are less political and tend to say things that, while true, are not policy. Thus the edgy, wary hostility in the presence of reporters. The truth of what a reporter writes doesn’t matter to them, only whether it is “positive.”

The reasons for this sensitivity are in part practical, given that wars cannot long be fought without the support of the public. There are deeper reasons. First, there is the military’s stark with-us-or-against-us outlook. Second, the intense loyalty to the group that characterizes military men. Third, an authoritarian structure to which reporters seem an uncontrolled rabble. “Uncontrolled” is the key word.

The military believes that the press should be part of the team. Its job should be not to report but to support. “Are they Americans, or aren’t they?” To see what the command thinks the press should be, read a base newspaper. It will be a cross between a PR handout and a Weekly Reader.

Reporters do not see their job as cheerleading, this being the work of PR people, whom they despise. Correspondents by nature are not team players but salaried freelances who compete with, instead of cooperating with, their colleagues. Glory hounds, they want to break the big story themselves. Instead of being loyal to any group, they are suspicious of all groups. They do not respect authority. Frequently incompetent, they are pushy, demanding, and irritating. The military is afraid of them. You hate what you fear.

In short, they are everything the military detests. If they did their jobs perfectly, which neither they nor soldiers do, the military would still loathe them.

Further, soldiers with exceptions are insular, reporters greatly less so. Consider. A kid who goes to West Point lives for four years, in formative late adolescence, with relentless military indoctrination. This is not in all respects bad. It tends to produce a personally honest, public-spirited, responsible man who makes an admirable citizen. These same men can run a carrier battle group, as difficult and impressive a thing as I have ever seen done, and they can do it only because they obey, make sacrifices, and respect the group.

The young cadet then goes to Fort Hood, say, for three years in which he is almost exclusively in the company of other soldiers. Next, three years in an armored division in Germany (the rotations may have changed) during which he is again constantly with soldiers and, since GIs don’t learn languages, unable to communicate with Germans other than bartenders. The Army is his entire existence. By the time he is thirty he is deeply imbued with a bird-politics leftwing vs. rightwing view of things. He is by no means stupid—the academies get bright students—but he is simple-minded. He believes profoundly that one is either on the team or one is with the enemy.

Reporters aren’t on the team. They report what they see, or think they see. Many do not know what they are talking about, but the military detests even more those who do. In time of war, truthfulness makes them traitors. Soldiers often use the word, and they mean it. You are with us, or you are with the enemy.

The two groups live in sharply differing mental worlds. While reporters are more insular than they should be, they are much less so than the military. They see a broader slice of the world and rub shoulders with more kinds of people. The overseas correspondents see more wars than do soldiers. The result is a certain cosmopolitanism which, whether good or bad, is much at odds with the clarity of the military’s outlook.

For example, many in Washington who actually know how the press works (the military actually doesn’t) believe that the press supports the war in Iraq, has until recently given the White House a free ride, and has been adroitly controlled by the government. I agree. If newspapers had been against the war, they would have published countless photos of gut-shot soldiers who will never get a date, paraplegics doomed to a life on a slab, and more Abu Ghraib photos (which they have.) Soldiers don’t know this. In any event, anything but unqualified support is treason.

The military usually regards journalists as cowards. (“Coward” and “traitor” are their gravest pejoratives.) This is questionable. When the 2000th US soldier died in Iraq, I checked the site of Reporters Without Borders and found that 72 reporters had been killed there (with two more missing), or 3.6 percent of the military total. I don’t know how many troops have served in Iraq. Just now it is about 160,000. To be conservative, let’s call it 130,000 on average, making 347,100 for two and two-thirds years of war. By the equation 2,000/347,000 = 72/x, one finds that there would have to have been 12,500 reporters in Iraq to have equal rates of death between reporters and soldiers. Otherwise, the press is taking casualties at a higher rate than the military. The calculation is rough, but makes the point.

Further, reporters can leave any time they choose. The government forces soldiers to fight under penalty of long jail sentences and, in many times and places, death. If you dispute this, tell the troops that they can fly home tomorrow without punishment and see how many remain. They would not leave from cowardice, but from lack of a stake in the outcome. (Would you leave your children fatherless because you wanted democracy in Iraq?)

More than most professions, the military lives in a world defined by idealism. Being a dentist does not carry an ideology with it. Being a soldier does. The dedicated soldier thinks in terms of honor, valor, loyalty, sacrifice, and heroism, of righting wrong and defeating evil, of proving himself in combat, of glory and exaltation and defending the fatherland. The reporter sees the dead lying in the street, the flies crawling in shattered craniums, the bombed-out cities for year after year without change. He hears this described as progress. To him it is pure bullshit.

Maybe, maybe not. But it is how he thinks.

Journalists are not idealists. Cynical, weary of being lied to, having seen the fraud and self-interest that underlie, as they come to see it, almost everything, they regard the soldiery as a riverboat gambler might regard the Boy Scouts. The soldiery regard the press as a Boy Scout might regard a riverboat gambler. Different mental worlds.

Ambiguity disturbs soldiers. Few of us can kill and die for ifs and maybes and on-the-one-hand. Thus every war is described in apocalyptic terms, whether Vietnam, Granada, Korea, or Iraq: We must defeat them there or we’ll have to fight them in California. Usually this is nonsense. Journalists may suggest as much. And so, again, they become traitors.

The moral ambiguity of war is especially painful. While military men as citizens are at least as moral as the rest of the population, as warriors they are not, and can’t be. Because of this conflict they therefore have to believe things about themselves that are not true. Consequently you may hear a soldier saying with perfectly sincerity that the US military goes to great lengths to avoid killing civilians. Furious accusation of treason arise when reporters point out that they are in fact killing civilians.

For example, while a case can be made that the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were militarily desirable, they cannot well be described as attempts to preserve civilians. The bombings of cities in WWII were intended to kill civilians, hundreds of thousands of them, to break morale. In war utility invariably trumps decency.

Reporters, being traitorous, will write of these things. After initial cheerleading while the war goes well, they will note that it isn’t going well any longer. Soldiers, who are being killed and mangled, come to hate them, seldom distinguishing between being against a war and being against the troops. After the hell of combat, who wants to hear that maybe it wasn’t really a good idea after all?

On and on it goes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Oil peak: I enjoy a little alarmist doom, frankly

That way I don't have to hear the government telling me "Rest assured we are looking into the matter" or some other spokespersonian tone that makes me... well, nevermind. Anyways, some of the assumptions by James Howard Kunstler are rather staggering, and I'd rather keep these in my back pocket just in case some of them were to come true, or even remotely so. Greed does some pretty wonderous things, and it's for the first time why I have started to believe the war in the Middle East is in fact over oil just as much as anything else. US independence on oil isn't exactly homegrown, and it's either getting (taking?) it from somewhere else or face the consequences of Kunstler's theories even earlier without imported oil. For the record though it should be known I continue to support the war even though I question where the exit strategy is. And also I prefer to have the memory of the fallen written in stone with the words "terrorism" and not "oil for economics." This all could be outlandish claims, but when push comes to shove over economic welfare, I wouldn't pass the notion up on any country in dire need. It says to me time and again conservation is and always will be the ideal. That in fact people generally are happier when consuming less. I am open to comments with supported data though.

True North
Kunstler has been accused of being overly pessimistic and gloomy about the future. That's not surprising given the emphasis on state sponsored scientism by the Bush regime. Not being overly fond of religion (he once said "Religion is a kind of low-grade showbiz for that half of the nation under the median IQ") hasn't improved his standing with the Theopublicans either. Saying things the petro-jihadists don't like doesn't mean he's wrong.

So what is "peak oil"? I'll let Kunstler explain that himself.

"The few Americans who are even aware there is a gathering global energy predicament usually misunderstand the core of the argument. That core states that we don't have to run out of oil to start having severe problems with industrial civilization and its dependent systems.

The term "global oil production peak" means that the time will come when the world produces the most oil it will ever produce in a given year, and after that production will inexorably decline. It is usually represented graphically in a bell curve. Peak is the top of the curve, the halfway point of the world's all-time total fossil fuel endowment.

The best estimates of when this peak will actually happen are somewhere between now and 2010. In the past year, after revelations that Shell Oil misstated its reserves, and the Saudi Arabians proved incapable of goosing up their production, the most knowledgeable experts revised their predictions and now concur that 2005 is apt to be the year of all-time peak production.

It will change everything about how we live.

Some other things about the global energy predicament are poorly under stood by the public and even by our leaders.

The first is that this is going to be a permanent energy crisis. It's not going to go away this time. We will not over come it. We will have to accommodate ourselves to fundamentally changed conditions.

The second explains the first: no combination of alternative fuels or systems will allow us to keep living the way we do. They will not even allow us to keep running a substantial fraction of what we are currently running. This is particularly true of the so-called hydrogen economy. There isn't going to be any hydrogen economy. The idea is a fraud. It represents the wishful think thinking of American leaders in politics, business, and even technology. I call this the "Jimmy Cricket Syndrome,” the notion that wishing for something makes it come true.

The peak oil idea is based on the theory that oil is a finite resource. It was created by certain organic and tectonic processes millions of years ago, and there was only so much of it formed - a lot, but only so much. The earth does not have a "creamy nougat center" of inexhaustible "inorganic" oil, as some of the wishful would like to think."

This is not about running out of oil. There will always be some oil left. That isn't the problem. The problem is that we have skimmed off the cream (so to speak) in the form of easily accesible, sweet, light crude.

"The oil that remains, meanwhile, the second half of Earth's all-time total endowment, is the oil that is harder to get out of the ground. The first half was easy to get to. Most of it was accessible on land, in places where the weather is pretty good and the working conditions favorable - in Texas, for instance. Much of the remaining oil lies in forbidding places, in the Arctic, or deep under the ocean. It will be much more difficult and expensive to get out. Quite a bit of it will never be extracted because it will take more than a barrel of oil in energy to extract a barrel of oil."

James Howard Kunstler books:
The Long Emergency
Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape

A "tech" company offering environmental advice?

I first heard of Steven Milloy (Tech Central Station) through Front Page Magazine's environmental archives section. I tired of the one-sided environmental extremists expositions, and my general cynicism towards politics (and environmental bias) kept asking telling me to look elsewhere. More importantly to me, it doesn't follow a common sense flow. Granted there are environmental organizations with motives, but hiring a "tech" company to give out valid projections on the environment is odd to say the least. Because tech company's usually concentrate on, well, technology. I understand the need for some development, but this breaks the common sense law that the environment need not some form of environmentalism to protect the environment. I would assume the last thing Nat'l Park protection needs is human interference of any kind. But simply to leave it alone and let nature run its course. A columnist once said the environment needs technology to better protect it. That may well be true given technology breeds the need for more technology, and once poverty is removed from the globe, so to will the need to mistreat the Earth for human survival. However, this certainly isn't a sacrosanct postion, and I for one am a 'back to basics' kinda person. When administrations tell the new media we need to remove trees from Nat'l Forests to prevent further fires, I know this isn't factual. Not because I knew the exact details that trees have fire protections naturally built in them in the form of thick barks, but because my generally applied understanding of life is a naturalist look. Therefore, human-induced (for a lack of a better word) removal of trees makes fires more prone because the Earth (and the Universe) was already created in a perfect state before humanity conquered it. Trees have built in survival mechanisms just like humans to disease.

Anyhow, after my ramblings what I'm trying to say is I don't disagree with all of Steven Milloy's assertions because he does have some fine points. But the Middle Ear will not tolerate those who discredit science and the environment for the sake of political gain. And it isn't as important to me to read every word of his as it is to know his final position will always be anti-environmental.

Crooked Timber
But worst of all is when think tanks deliberately propagate inaccuracies, misinformation and downright lies in order to muddy policy debates, and create the appearance of doubt where there isn’t real grounds for it, not only engaging in suppressio veri but suggestio falsi. It’s this that Mooney identifies as having happened thanks to Exxon’s funding of global warming ‘skeptics.’ There are grounds for debating the appropriate policy response to human-caused global warming, but not for debating whether it’s a real phenomenon. Exxon’s funding of think tanks and astroturf groups has had the (presumably intended) effect of creating an appearance of debate, through whistling an opposition into existence out of thin air. However, there isn’t any serious scientific debate about whether human-caused global warming exists and is important – quite simply, these organizations are being funded by Exxon to cloud the public debate, and block political action. Not to further the real debate, but to prevent it from starting.

Jim Norton's Correcting Myths from Steven Milloy
Environmental Defense: Guess Who's Funding the Global Warming Doubt Shops?
ExxonMobil's $8 million in donations