Darker Chasms

Don't step.

Amazing bizarre and depressing article in the NY Times Magazine on the “Elephant Crackup” in Africa.

These beautiful creatures, seeming pushed passed the breaking point, are exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, and are basically flipping out.

Full text here.

All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem. In the Indian state of Jharkhand near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001; 265 elephants have died in that same period, the majority of them as a result of retaliation by angry villagers, who have used everything from poison-tipped arrows to laced food to exact their revenge. In Africa, reports of human-elephant conflicts appear almost daily, from Zambia to Tanzania, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, where 300 villagers evacuated their homes last year because of unprovoked elephant attacks.

Norman Rockwell Spanking Painting

Matt Smith, of Shockstone.com, left this thoughtful comment in response to my post on Zbigniew’s views of the Middle East Conflict.

Yes, Hezbollah exists because there is resistance. But perhaps the Necon goal is not to crush it, but to fuel it. Fueling it means more shipments of arms to Israel, more shipments of arms to Isreal means greater corporate profits for the defense industry. General instability in the middle east results in restricted oil supplies, a la Iraq. Restricted oil supplies result in higher Oil Company profits – just take a look at Exxon. Crushing Hezbollah is just a cover story.

I’m not quite willing to be so cynical (though perhaps I should be). I think something else is going on. And the analogy that I’ll make is to a legislative challenge going on in New Zealand right now. There is a parliamentary committee considering repealing a section of the law that currently makes spanking legal. (Americans: read “smacking” as “spanking.”) Bear with me.

Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Anna Chalmers and Mathew Torbit.

A New Zealand Christian group urging parents to smack their children, using discipline sessions lasting up to 15 minutes, has been accused of promoting what amounts to child abuse.

Family Integrity has produced a controversial eight-page booklet on how to use physical punishment under the present law.

Parents are told that smacking can be a “10-to-15-minute process” and that if a child reacts angrily, such as by slamming doors or “pouting”, they should be smacked again.

“Smacking is meant to drive the foolishness, the sinful manifestations, out of the child’s personality so that they do not become permanent fixtures,” it says.

Smacking is justified because children younger than age eight “do not think straight” and lack a developed sense of fair play and duty.

The Family Integrity booklet, written by Craig Smith, says the Bible and section 59 of the New Zealand Crimes Act allow parents to use reasonable force to discipline their children.

Family Integrity says it is an informal group of families and individuals independent of any political party or church. The group believes “it is right and wise to bring our children up with loving corporal correction” and is opposed to “unjustifiable government interference” in family life.

Children’s Commissioner Cindy Kiro said Family Integrity’s suggestion of a 10-15-minute discipline session was “completely off the wall”.

“The idea that children are sinful and that they need to be beaten in order to be moral beings is fundamentally wrong.”

The Christian Group is trying to throw it’s weight behind opposing the repeal of a law “Section 59” which makes domestic abuse legal in certain circumstances. It has apparently been used to justify the use of bamboo canes and riding crops in alleged child abuse court cases.

I see a strong parallel in the way that the Israeli leadership and the Bush administration are viewing this conflict: they believe that Hezbollah is evil, and they may drive the evil out of Hezbollah by spanking it out of them.

Zbigniew Brzezinski

I really felt like Zbigniew’s view of the current crisis going on in the middle east is spot-on. He apparently had a conversation with Nathan Gardels (posted on The Huffington Post), from which this is an excerpt:

Nathan Gardels: Israel beat the big Arab states in six days of war, but it wasn’t able to defeat Hezbollah after more than a decade of occupation before it withdrew in 2000; and it hasn’t been able to stop missile strikes now after three weeks of intensive air and artillery pounding, plus special operations on the ground. Does that mean Hezbollah has “won” by standing up to Israel, damaging the Israeli deterrent by revealing it is not invincible?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: It is important to recognize that Israel defeated formal armies led in most cases by inefficient and often corrupt regimes. Hezbollah is waging “asymmetrical” warfare against Israel based on increasingly radicalized and even fanaticized mass support. So, yes, Israel will have much more difficulty in coping effectively with this latter in contrast to the former.

Gardels: Over the years, Israeli hardliners like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu have argued that Israel lives in a “tough neighborhood” where its enemies only listen to force. The American neocons argued the same — that going into Iraq unilaterally would provide “a demonstration effect” of overwhelming U.S. might that would scare the “tough neighborhood” into compliance with U.S. goals.

Hasn’t this turned out to be wrong? Doesn’t military superiority as a blunt instrument lead to eternal enmity, not security? Touring the devastation of towns across southern Lebanon after Sharon’s invasion in 1982, one could predict that something like Hezbollah’s hatred of Israel would emerge years later.

Brzezinski: These neocon prescriptions, of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East’s population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well.

Brzezinski: The new element today is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the Iraq problem and Iran from each other. Neither the United States nor Israel has the capacity to impose a unilateral solution in the Middle East. There may be people who deceive themselves into believing that.

The solution can only come in the Israel-Palestinian issue if there is serious international involvement that supports the moderates from both sides, however numerous or few they are, but also creates the situation in which it becomes of greater interest to the warring parties to accommodate than to resist, both because of the incentives and the capacity of the external intervention to impose costs.

While the Iranian nuclear problem is serious, and while the Iranians are marginally involved in Lebanon, the fact of the matter is that the challenge they pose is not imminent. And because it isn’t imminent, there is time to deal with it.

Sometimes in international politics, the better part of wisdom is to defer dangers rather than try to eliminate them altogether instantly. To do that produces intense counter-reactions that are destructive. We have time to deal with Iran, provided the process is launched, dealing with the nuclear energy problem, which can then be extended to involve also security talks about the region.

In the final analysis, Iran is a serious country; it’s not Iraq. It’s going to be there. It’s going to be a player. And in the longer historical term, it has all of the preconditions for a constructive internal evolution if you measure it by rates of literacy, access to higher education and the role of women in society.

The mullahs are part of the past in Iran, not its future. But change in Iran will come through engagement, not through confrontation.

If we pursue these policies, we can perhaps avert the worst. But if we do not, I fear that the region will explode. In the long run, Israel would be in great jeopardy.

I really just don’t get how Israel (and by extension, the US) actually thinks that it can crush Hezbollah so that it no longer exists. It exists because there is resistance. The greater the resistance placed on Hezbollah, the more fighters, resources, and sympathizer Hezbollah will attract. Comparisons between this war and the elimination of the tyranny of the Nazi regime are not apt. There is no end to this madness.

In the long term, the only way out is “up” in the sense of a broadening of concerns beyond the brutishly ethnocentric and martial, but in the near term, this is certainly the worst way to get a good long term result.

I saw both of these articles in short succession- it’s interesting to consider them as a pair.

The first was an LA Times article by Kenneth Weiss about the degredation of our world’s oceans:

In many places — the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fiords of Norway — some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading.

Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked.

Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago.

Jeremy B.C. Jackson, a marine ecologist and paleontologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, says we are witnessing “the rise of slime.”

As their traditional catch declines, fishermen around the world now haul in 450,000 tons of jellyfish per year, more than twice as much as a decade ago.

This is a logical step in a process that Daniel Pauly , a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, calls “fishing down the food web.” Fishermen first went after the largest and most popular fish, such as tuna, swordfish, cod and grouper. When those stocks were depleted, they pursued other prey, often smaller and lower on the food chain.

“We are eating bait and moving on to jellyfish and plankton,” Pauly said.

In California waters, for instance, three of the top five commercial catches are not even fish. They are squid, crabs and sea urchins.

This is what remains of California’s historic fishing industry, once known for the sardine fishery attached to Monterey’s Cannery Row and the world’s largest tuna fleet, based in San Diego, which brought American kitchens StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea.

Overfishing began centuries ago but accelerated dramatically after World War II, when new technologies armed industrial fleets with sonar, satellite data and global positioning systems, allowing them to track schools of fish and find their most remote habitats.

The result is that the population of big fish has declined by 90% over the last 50 years.

But other things have happened as well in the last 50 years- in the industrialized world, people are living, longer, healthier lives, and are actually much more physically robust well past when our great-great grandfathers were often debilitated and bed-ridden.

In this New York Times article by Gina Kolata, she explores the way our bodies have changed over the last one-hundred years. American men are on average three inches taller, 50 pounds heavier, and even have higher IQ’s.

Instead of inferring health from causes of death on death certificates, Dr. Fogel and his colleagues looked at health throughout life. They used the daily military history of each regiment in which each veteran served, which showed who was sick and for how long; census manuscripts; public health records; pension records; doctors’ certificates showing the results of periodic examinations of the pensioners; and death certificates.

They discovered that almost everyone of the Civil War generation was plagued by life-sapping illnesses, suffering for decades. And these were not some unusual subset of American men — 65 percent of the male population ages 18 to 25 signed up to serve in the Union Army. “They presumably thought they were fit enough to serve,” Dr. Fogel said.

Even teenagers were ill. Eighty percent of the male population ages 16 to 19 tried to sign up for the Union Army in 1861, but one out of six was rejected because he was deemed disabled.

And the Union Army was not very picky. “Incontinence of urine alone is not grounds for dismissal,” said Dora Costa, an M.I.T. economist who works with Dr. Fogel, quoting from the regulations. A man who was blind in his right eye was disqualified from serving because that was his musket eye. But, Dr. Costa said, “blindness in the left eye was O.K.”

Taken as a pair, it’s a fascinating story. Yes- our lives have much improved in many ways (ways that I can scarcely even conceptualize, I imagine) but at the same time, as a species, we’ve wrought tremendous damage upon this small earth of ours.

The signs seem to suggest that we’re starting to witness a certain kind of revision of the mass-consciousness with regards to environmental degredation, with “green” beeing one of the hippest buzzwords. . . but will it be too little too late?

Is it possible to make the kinds of changes we need to make, for us to continue here on this planet in any kind of desireable way, for the next one-hundred years?

(Even Stephen Hawking made news the other day for askinga very similar question.)