The Long View 2006-06-12: Annoying Meteors; Mad Cows in America; Reprimitivization; Haditha; All the Past Before Us

 Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Prion diseases like BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) aren't as well understood as some other infections, in part because their causes are hard to study. As it turned out, it was CJD (Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease) that killed John J. Reilly.


Annoying Meteors; Mad Cows in America; Reprimitivization; Haditha; All the Past Before Us

 

How big is a big meteorite? Not very big at all, if we may believe this report that a record meteorite hit Norway last week:

As Wednesday morning dawned, northern Norway was hit with an impact comparable to the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima....The astronomer believes the meteorite was a giant rock and probably the largest known to have struck Norway.

"The record was the Alta meteorite that landed in 1904. That one was 90 kilos (198 lbs) but we think the meteorite that landed Wednesday was considerably larger," Røed Ødegaard said, and urged members of the public who saw the object or may have found remnants to contact the Institute of Astrophysics.

So a meteor of 100 or 200 kg can do as much damage as a small atomic bomb. How is it that not one of these modest-sized objects have hit anything important through all of recorded history?

* * *

Why isn't this report causing livestock futures to go haywire?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two cases of mad cow disease in Texas and Alabama seem to have resulted from a mysterious strain that could appear spontaneously in cattle, researchers say...No matter what the origins might be of an atypical strain, the government says there is no reason to change federal testing or measures that safeguard animals and people from the disease. "We still feel confident in the safeguards that we have," Clifford said. "We have to base our assumptions on what is scientifically known and understood."

Great Britain destroyed its livestock herds a few years ago because of mad-cow disease. They eventually had to destroy so many animals because, early on, they continued to "feel confident" in the existing procedures.

* * *

Listen to the approach of Mad Max, or least of Alaric the Visigoth:

Modern-day Goths and Vandals threaten the West via cheap flights and the net The direct effects of Third World instability would soon lick at the edges of the Western world as pirate gangs mounted smash-and-grab raids on holidaymakers. "At some time in the next 10 years it may not be safe to sail a yacht between Gibraltar and Malta," he said....

Western countries would have little use for large-scale, low-technology forces in responding to the new threats. He foresees wholesale moves towards robots, drones, nanotechnology, lasers, microwave weapons, space-based systems and even "customised" nuclear and neutron bombs...

He pinpointed 2012 to 2018 as the time when the power structure of the world, much of which dates from World War II, was likely to crumble. Rising nations such as China, India, Brazil and Iran would start to challenge the US as the only superpower... This would come as "irregular activity" such as terrorism, organised crime and "white companies" of mercenaries burgeons in lawless areas at the expense of conventional forces. ...

The bloodiest result of the competition for resources, Parry argued, may be a return to "industrial warfare" as countries with large, growing male populations mobilise armies, even including cavalry, while acquiring computerised warfare technology from the West.

Mark Steyn has been having similar thoughts, to judge by his assessment of Robert Kaplan's notion of reprimitivization:

Take the subject of, say, decapitation. There's a lot of it about in the Muslim world. These Somali Islamists, in the course of their seizure of Mogadishu, captured troops from the warlords' side and beheaded them. Zarqawi made beheading his signature act, cutting the throats of the American hostage Nick Berg and the British hostage Ken Bigley and then releasing the footage as boffo snuff videos over the Internet...Which brings us to Toronto. In court last week, it was alleged that the conspirators planned to storm the Canadian Parliament and behead the prime minister. On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous. As ridiculous as it must have seemed to Ken Bigley, a British contractor in Iraq with no illusions about the world..

It is easy to imagine public places being overrun by the Goths and their blood-curdling emo music, while the vandals tag every flat surface with their tasteless calligraphy. Still, we should note that these imaginary horribles are incompossible: you can't really have laser-wielding cavalry, not if the lands of cheap electronics are falling apart too.

I might also point out that reprimitivization can take less dramatic forms. When I was in high school, personal servants had become extremely rare. They were not just too expensive for all but the richest individuals: they were old fashioned. Now, thanks to immigration, we have revived Edwardian conventions, and even people of modest means have nannies and gardeners. In the extreme case, of course, illegal immigrants work in secret sweatshops in a state of peonage. In some contexts, there has been a revival of genuine slavery.

As the president says, there are some jobs Americans will not do.

In any case, the Goth-and-Vandal scenario is premature. This assault will be beaten back and its lands of origin assimilated. If I may quote Robinson Jeffers once again:

----But this, I steadily assure you, is not the world's end,
----Nor even the end of a civilization. It is not so late as you think:
---------give nature time.

He wrote that in the 1940s, and it's still true It's a good 500 years before we really have to worry about a permanent collapse. As for the pirates, though, we should remember that Julius Caesar himself was captured by pirates as a young man on his way to college in Greece, during a time not wholly unlike our own.

* * *

Is the Haditha Massacre story really falling apart? I was prepared to believe that American troops who had been hit by one too many roadside bombs would shoot everything that moved in the immediate area. It seems that the media and members of Congress were not just credulous, but eager. The narrative accounts of the massacre are contested but not discredited, or at least not yet. However, what made the story a media sensation was the prospect of damning visual evidence, evidence whose provenance is now doubtful.

* * *

The Sapir-Worf Hypothesis lives, it seems, at least in the Andes:

New analysis of the language and gesture of South America's indigenous Aymara people indicates a reverse concept of time.

Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies' orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind.

We can only speculate about the aftermath of this great discovery. As the Chinese might say, it makes all prior research a matter of qián tian, of the day before.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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