The Long View 2005-08-17: Bananas & World Domination

It would appear that John won this bet:

I would give Bill better odds at the Secretary Generalship than I would Hillary for president.

Bananas & World Domination

 

Forget global warming; here's an ecological crisis you can get your teeth into:

For nearly everyone in the U.S., Canada and Europe, a banana is a banana: yellow and sweet, uniformly sized, firmly textured, always seedless. Our banana [is] called the Cavendish... "And for you," says the chief banana breeder for the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Investigation (FHIA), "the Cavendish is the banana"...the 100 billion Cavendish bananas consumed annually worldwide are perfect from a genetic standpoint, every single one a duplicate of every other...A fungus or bacterial disease that infects one plantation could march around the globe and destroy millions of bunches, leaving supermarket shelves empty...[T]here's already been one banana apocalypse. Until the early 1960s, American cereal bowls and ice cream dishes were filled with the Gros Michel...But starting in the early part of the last century, a fungus called Panama disease began infecting the Big Mike harvest...But in 1992, a new strain of the fungus--one that can affect the Cavendish--was discovered in Asia. Since then, Panama disease Race 4 has wiped out plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan, and it is now spreading through much of Southeast Asia.

We are also told that this banana famine has become lodged in the folk memory, in rather the way that an outbreak of pestilence is recalled in "Ring Around the Rosey":

Some of the shortages during that time entered the fabric of popular culture; the 1923 musical hit "Yes! We Have No Bananas"

The banana famine had worldwide repercussions, as Otto Friedrich noted in his popular history of the Weimar Republic, Before the Deluge (1972):

In Berlin, where ["Yes, We Have No Bananas] was sung everywhere under the mysteriously literal title of "Ausgerechnet Bananen" ["Bananas Especially"?--JJR], it irritated a song writer named Hermann Frey to such an extent that he wrote a burlesque of it under the title: "My Parrot Doesn't Eat Hardboiled Eggs." To his dismay, it became one of the year's biggest hits, even leading to a court case in which a Berlin matron prosecuted her maid because the girl, trying to test the accuracy of the song, had fed hard-boiled eggs to the family's aged parrot, whereupon it died.

History is full of small, poignant tragedies.

* * *

Robert Graves once said that a gentleman who has not read a book he reviews must praise it. What, then, should we infer about the character of Spengler at Asia Times, who has this to say in his latest demographic jeremiad, Why nations die?

Why people read a certain book often contains more information than the book itself, and there is rich information content in the brisk sales of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond picks out of the rubbish bin of history a few cases of nugatory interest in which environmental disaster overwhelmed a society otherwise desirous of continued existence. According to the publisher's notice (I do not read such piffle), Diamond avers that the problem was in breeding too fast and cutting down too many trees.

Actually, Collapse is one piece of piffle I have not read either, so perhaps it is ungentlemanly of me to agree that, to judge from the many reviews I have seen, the books sounds like nonsense on stilts. In any case, Spengler goes on to spew this stream of bile:

Why should the peculiar circumstances that killed obscure populations in remote places make a geography professor's book into a bestseller? Evidently the topic of mass extinction commands the attention of the reading public, although the reading public wants to look for the causes of mass extinction in all but the most obvious place, which is the mirror.

His argument is that ecologically aware publics tend to consist of couples who live in McMansions with their cats, or perhaps 1.5 children. Nonetheless, I know at least one family of the academic class who may make good the European demographic deficit all by themselves.

* * *

Bill Clinton's third inauguration is scheduled for September; or so Jennifer Senior characterizes the beginning of a new philanthropic enterprise called the Clinton Global Initiative. Bill Clinton is not the first president to have ambitions after his presidency; Theodore Roosevelt seems to have tried to organize a proto-NATO, which he hoped to lead. In a piece entitled Bill Clinton's Plan for World Domination, Senior describes, and speculates about, Clinton's future:

And maybe--just maybe--he'll figure out a way to use this new, internationalist phase of his life as a dress rehearsal for his future and final act, as secretary-general of the U.N. When he's 75, say. "I just don’t know," Clinton says, stammering a bit, as he leaves the genocide memorial and heads back into his SUV. "There's never been an American secretary-general. So you know, I just, I, I can’t imagine it would ever really happen." He considers. "I mean, if Hillary weren't in politics, if we didn't have anything else to do, if I were lucid and strong, if someone really wanted me to do it, I guess I’d think about it."

But is he running for office?

Then he jumps into the car and heads to the airport, where he'll shortly be leaving for the Canary Islands--a seventeen-hour flight, to a place where he'll spend a single day.

I would give Bill better odds at the Secretary Generalship than I would Hillary for president.

* * *

Speaking of eschatological signs, I came across a new one recently when I read G. K. Chesterton's second novel, The Ball and the Cross. Originally a serial, it was published as a book in 1910. Since then, it has been much neglected, with good reason. It has its points, though.

It introduced me to the term eleutheromania. That means "a strong desire for freedom," which in the book is classed as a pathology . We need not dwell on exactly how Professor Lucifer contrives to have all of England declared an insane asylum, with himself as warder. What struck me was the interpretation that one of the protagonists put on the fact that all the characters who appeared in the story happened to be gathered together in the same institution for the climax:

An apocalypse is the opposite of a dream. A dream is falser than the outer life. But the end of the world is more actual than the world it ends. I don't say that this is really the end of the world, but it's something like that--it's the end of something. All the people are crowding into one corner. Everything is coming to a point.

The notion that the whole world will be united in the endtime is not new. This, however, is the first time I have seen that idea expressed in terms of universal social intercourse. Thus we see the cell phone in a sinister new light.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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