Swans Commentary » swans.com February 12, 2007  



Lubricating Our Megamachines
The Denial of Actualities


by Gilles d'Aymery





Spinoza once said that the perfection of things must be measured according to their own nature and things are not more or less perfect because they flatter (please) our senses or hurt them.

"Those who succeed us can well take care of themselves."
—US Senator William A. Clark, 1907


(Swans - February 12, 2007)  So long as respected voices like Rep. Dennis Kucinich and other "leaders" of the antiwar movement keep their heads in the deep sands of denial in regard to the real reasons why we are at war in the Middle East, there is absolutely no chance to help the general population of the United States wake up to the evidence. We consume too much energy and the world is running out of it faster than it can be replaced with alternative sources that are at most a placebo and at worst further digging the hole into which we are mudded with seemingly oblivious concerns. People must get real, look at the actualities, and embark on an incredibly difficult change in thinking and behaviors.

Last Thursday evening, around 18:30, the light in my office began flickering; the computers' UPS started wailing. I saved my work in a hurry and powered down the machines. I called Jan in San Francisco to let her know the flickering was becoming more intense. Calling PG&E emergency line is of no use to me. The voice on the other side is a robotic one -- friendly, female, and all, but not real. The voice asks for my phone number. I say, "123-4567." "You said," the voice says, "123-4474." "Is this correct?" the voice asks. "It is not correct," I answer. "Sorry, I did not get your answer," says the voice. "You said 123-4474. Is this correct?" "No, it is not correct, it is incorrect. I said 123-4567." "Sorry, I did not get your answer. You said 123-4474. Is this correct?" Argh, must be my French accent, I thought as I hung up. Meantime the lights kept flickering ever more intensely. I walked to the closet where I keep an old ATT manual phone, unhooked the digital cordless one that only works with electric power, just as the lights stopped flickering altogether. Power down. What does one do when lost in the middle of nowhere without any power? I went to bed.

The next morning, 06:00, it's pitch dark around. Power's still off. Well, no coffee this morning, I thought. Yep, the coffee machine runs on electricity too. Can I heat some water, by any chance? Nope, the propane burners are ignited through a starter that...runs on electricity. Darn, where are the matches? And on, and on. 07:30: Jan calls. PG&E is aware of the situation. They sent a one-man crew last night but the atmospheric conditions were so bad -- it was raining cats and dogs -- that he had to cancel his efforts. They are sending more crews this morning, Jan assures me. I hear the assurance but do not feel particularly reassured! It's a pretty eerie sensation to be all alone in a house perched in the hills in the country with no power at all. What worth is a "modern" house without the energy that is needed to run it? Needs wood, of which we have ample supply, for the woodstove; needs propane, which is a petroleum derivative for cooking and water heating; and needs electricity for practically everything else (lighting, washing machine, drier, oven, microwave, toaster, refrigerator, phone, computers, TV, stereo, satellite, and on and on and on). Of course, we need coal and natural gas to generate the electricity, and all fossil fuels, which we use with abandon (at least in the U.S.) as the main sources, especially petroleum, are rapidly getting depleted -- and that does not account for the effects of our consumption on the environment (global warming).

A two-man crew eventually showed up mid-morning. Good workers overstretched as always due to the cuts in maintenance personnel that utility companies have gone through to increase profits. Armed with binoculars they checked the lines over the hills. They were unfamiliar with the terrain. I helped as much as I could to tell them where the houses, hidden in the woods, were and how to reach them through various dirt roads. They kept hunting for a fallen line somewhere, anywhere, under raging rain, so that my and others' houses affected by the blackout could get back to normal life. They eventually found the culprit on the other side of the canyon. I could hear a chainsaw clearing branches, and their voices echoing up the hill. By mid-afternoon, thanks to their strenuous efforts in hapless conditions, the power was restored. Thank you, good people. Our way of life was back on.

We do own a small Honda generator, which, if the blackout had lasted longer, I would have fired up to cool the fridge down, turn on the computers to save this edition of Swans on a portable hard drive, thus if worse came to worse, I could jump into my car and drive to San Francisco (fossil fuel, CO2, etc., notwithstanding) in order to load the issue on the Web. I can run the generator for about four or five hours on a full tank of gas -- yes, more fossil fuel -- and I have a small reserve of gasoline, enough to fill the generator's tank three times. Then, I'd need to drive down to town and fill a few containers with gasoline. Imagine this repeated by the number of households affected by the power outage. Imagine this in the entire valley -- how long would it take for the gas station to run out of gas? A few hours? One day? Two days at most. What about an entire city?

When shall we face reality? There's this raging debate about the war in Iraq, but practically no politician talks about the real reasons for our disastrous military adventure: Access to and control of oil fields and military bases to keep control of and access to these oil fields. Nothing new. The Brits acted similarly in the 1930s; the U.S., from 1945 onward with an increased urgency. People, many good people, talk about morality, war profits, terrorism, Israel, legalities (or illegalities), hubris of the elites, to explain the war... But remember Ockham's razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem ("entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity")... In other words, "all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one."

Elites' arrogance is a constant of history as are war profits for the few, but the let's-start-a-war-to-make-a-bundle thought process ignores the old saying that "war is simply the continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means" (Clausewitz, On War, 605). First there's a policy put in place and then the choice to implement the policy through a military strategy. Keep the eyes on the policy. If it's incorrect, chances are the military strategy will fail. It's not about terrorism because you certainly do not need a full-fledged, multi-pronged military strategy with huge naval assets in the Persian Gulf to defeat a bunch of people in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, help Madrassas instill knowledge and not hate in their pupils' minds, and work on the political conditions that may have fostered terrorism in the first place. Morality (freedom and democracy, civilizing forces, etc.) is the good old Calvinist messianic attitude used for the past 400 years to sell expansion and foreign adventures. It's always been a basic marketing technique with a white man's syndrome of superiority to conquer land, subjugate people (the lesser races), and plunder resources.

When you refuse to look at the evidence you then need to create new explanations and find convenient scapegoats. From the Left (James Petras) to the Right (Paul Craig Roberts) and many in between, there must be some cabal controlled by powerful interests who brought this war upon us unwillingly. For them, Israel is the culprit. Israel (read the Israeli government/military/elite) actually rules the US government with the help of the Jewish lobby and a bunch of neocons who, they keep reminding, are in large majority Jewish themselves. In other words, without Israel and the "Jews" the U.S. would not have engaged into such a dramatic disaster. They duped us into waging war on their behalf. That these so-called "respected" analysts can be taken seriously is truly befuddling and not worthy of further comment. There's no cabal; only a policy based on energy realities that was poorly conceived and hence botched with results still unforeseen, potentially with catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and the entire world.

Four and one-half percent of the world population consumes 25 percent of global energy resources as the world is creeping away toward energy scarcity. That strategic resource is getting depleted and consumed faster that it can be replaced, assuming it can. By the same token, other economies worldwide are increasing their dependence on and use of that resource. Furthermore, to control and have access to that resource you need local governments amenable to your objectives. Saddam was not. The Iranian Mullahs are not. In typical fashion the American elites -- on both sides of the aisle -- decided that regime change was becoming a matter of urgency, and chose to act through a military strategy. That the members of the elite would enrich themselves in the making is certainly correct, but it was not the motivation behind the decision process. The military strategy, while largely opposed by the military itself, was the only logical or known-of strategy that could be used. The US Armed Forces have always been the favorite diplomatic tool of US movers and shakers. That Israel is used as a patsy can be a useful tool to deflect the attention of the dissenting populace. That the Establishment is deeply reluctant to call it as it is -- "people, we/you need the oil" -- is not surprising. Panic would ensue; the stock market would dive; the streets would be filled with masses of very unhappy customers (remember the pitchforks?). But listen carefully, well beyond the guard dogs of the Citadel, the MSM and all think tanks. Listen to the elites very carefully. They know the stakes, and they are tremendous. Listen for example to the February 1, 2007 Senate Intelligence Committee's Confirmation Hearing of Vice Admiral Mike McConnell (Ret.), the former (1992-1996) National Security Agency Director during the Clinton administration...yes, the Clinton administration... You can listen to the entire hearing on C-SPAN. About one hour and fifteen minutes into the hearing, Senator Richard Burr (R. - North Carolina), after lauding the nominee for his business acumen, asked:

SEN. BURR: I want to take a different tack from the standpoint of questions. We've all got questions that will deal with the threats du jour, regardless of where they are. Let me ask you about two specific areas if I can. You referred, in your questions and answers, to energy as a national security issue. Can you expand on that slightly?

MR. McCONNELL: Sir, what I mean by that is our dependence on foreign oil sources. And what I worry about is something like Venezuela now, where energy can be used as a weapon. So understanding it and how it might be controlled is something, I think, that not only the others in the federal government but also the intelligence community, needs to understand and get ahead of, think about it.

So much of intelligence is forecasting what might happen. "Alternative futures" is how we like to describe it. So when I look at problems facing the nation in the future, I think our demand -- almost insatiable appetite for energy, particularly with the growth of India and China, it's going to put increasing pressure on the nation to compete for energy resources. So that's what I mean by that.

SEN. BURR: Do you see our role at trying to predict what the energy future looks like, and how that may or may not affect our national security, the role of the intelligence community, or is there another area of government that should have that charge to be the one in charge?

MR. McCONNELL: What I see the role of the intelligence community to be is to look at hard problems and talk about them. I go back to Senator Mikulski's question about speaking truth to power. Many of these problems are not very pleasant to deal with, to think about. So for me, it is to spend some time and energy looking at the problem and attempting to come up with a forecast of at least options on what we might have to deal with, and then serving that information up to the policymakers that have to deal with it.

SEN. BURR: On another subject, have we lost sight of Russia as a strategic threat to the United States?

MR. McCONNELL: Senator, you probably have heard about mission managers in the community (now to be?) focused on problems of concern. And I've talked to some of the mission managers and I'm very impressed. They look at the problem from the analytical standpoint, collection, and they integrate across the community. They challenge assumptions and conclusions, do a little red-teaming, that sort of thing.

And where I am in my thinking at the moment is to take a look at Russia, because there isn't a mission manager for Russia. I think we need to understand it. We need to know where it's going. And having someone focused on it as a mission manager at the national level would serve us well to stay focused and continue to review it.

SEN. BURR: The last question, Mr. Chairman. Does the fact that oil is now $57 a barrel, I think, today, $56 and some change, increase the likelihood that we should look at Russia as a strategic threat?

MR. McCONNELL: Sir, as you know, Russia because of that increase in oil prices is significantly advantaged in terms of resources right now, in terms of what they get for their oil. I've been troubled by some of the trends in Russia over the last year or so. So that's a scenario that needs attention and focus and, again, producing those forecasts on where it might be taking us.

SEN. BURR. Thank you, Admiral.

(Source: http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2007_hr/020107dni.pdf)

Is this clear enough? No need to duplicate Michael Doliner's work in this space.

On January 27, 2007, you would have been hard-pressed to learn that there was a big antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., going on, except if you watched C-SPAN or were attending the demo yourself (as well as smaller ones in other cities around the country. The event(s) simply did not make the news. The TV networks did not report much of anything. The local news were at best sparse in their comments. The next morning, The New York Times buried the story on page 20. They reported that "Tens of thousands of protesters converged on the National Mall on Saturday to oppose Bush's plan for a troop increase in Iraq..." The White House issued a statement: "The president believes that the right to free speech is one of the greatest freedoms in our country." End of story. On Monday morning, the ever-affable Amy Goodman ran with the story for the entire Democracy Now! newscast. We could see Rep. Maxine Waters leading the crowd with a series of slogans ([Bush] is not the decider. We are the decider. He is not the decider, he is a LIAR). The usual motley mix of antiwar activists like Sean Penn and Dennis Kucinich and many genteel speakers walked up to the podium to rouse the crowd with passionate speeches. It was an all bon-enfant gathering. No one heard them. They were talking to themselves, in a bubble. None addressed the energy challenges that the world and most severely this nation face. I'm not even sure that they ever considered the irony of how much energy -- fossil fuels energy -- they expended to have their essentially ignored little celebration in D.C.

A week later, Super Bowl day watched by hundreds of millions, British Petroleum ran an ad in The New York Times Magazine (p. 33). In bold characters, the title was in the form of a question: Energy. From the ground, the sun, or both? It continued in two short paragraphs:

OIL: Responding to today's energy needs means doing so responsibly. BP's Advanced Seismic Imaging allows us to see hidden energy reserves buried below rocks, deep beneath the ocean floor. Most importantly, we now drill fewer offshore wells, reducing the impact on the environment.

SOLAR: We're also bringing the U.S. closer to the sun. Recently we invested over $25 million in the expansion of our solar facility in Maryland, doubling its manufacturing capacity. And BP Solar Home Solutions (TM) is helping homeowners reduce or eliminate monthly electric bills.
It's a start.

What start is this? Twenty-five million dollars to double a manufacturing facility...and how many billions of dollars spent to bring oil to markets and refine it? How many? And they try to make us believe that BP stands for Beyond Petroleum... What a sad, terrible joke. Worse, ask Kucinich and other prophets of the antiwar movement, and they'll tell you all about their indomitable faith in the market. They too are undoubtedly sincere; but they are deeply misguided.

We must face the dance with clarity of mind and purpose. Once again, sanity deserves better from the commons.


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Internal Resources

Oil and War, by Michael Doliner

Oil, The Elites, And The Commons, by Gilles d'Aymery

Energy Resources And Our Future, by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

United States' Gargantuan Energy Appetite, by Gilles d'Aymery

Fossil Fuels and Energy Ressources

Middle East & Eurasia

The Rape of Iraq

Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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This Edition's Internal Links

Oil and War - Michael Doliner

Two Views: Reasonable/Rational and Neocon/Born Again - Milo Clark

A Mess Of Potage - Carol Warner Christen

On Obligation In A Participatory Democracy - Michael DeLang

Attitude - Martin Murie

A Freak Speaks - Troy Headrick

Beware Of Those Desperate Hawks - Philip Greenspan

Pimps and Ponces at War - Film Review by Peter Byrne

"The Producers" In Denmark - Charles Marowitz

Another Chekhov Worth Meeting - Book Review by Peter Byrne

Islamorada - Book Excerpt by William T. Hathaway

Satori - Poem by Guido Monte

Blips #47 - From the Martian Desk - Gilles d'Aymery

Letters to the Editor

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art13/ga224.html
Published February 12, 2007