Monday, December 17, 2007

Climate Scientists at Prayer

Just yesterday, the Pope weighed in on the subject of climate change. Which is helpful, because what better way to cut through the noise of debate than to get an infallible opinion?

The Pope reportedly intimated that the climate debate was being skewed by a fringe group of unethical, ideologically hidebound charlatans hell bent on obscuring truth and ignoring reason in order to get their way. Just who are these nefarious schemers? No, not the baptists, whose grill one might expect the Pope to be eager to get all up in. The evildoers are--wait for it--the environmentalists! Apparently they have been driven by their Wiccan masters to create a mass illusion of global warming so that they may play midwife to the birth of a brave new world of composting toilets, recumbent bicycles and hackey-sack tournaments.

Needless to say, like any decent satirist, I wept for joy when I heard the report. When, pray, had fertilizer distributor ever backed up a dump truck in a driveway and disgorged six cubic yards of such fecund manure in which to cultivate the pointless and profitless musings of an intellectual mediocrity such as I? In my imagination, I humbly accepted numerous major awards for the riotous, scathing, globally transformative, and yet somehow achingly poignant piece I would soon write on the topic. At the thought of how poignant it would be, tears welled in my eyes again, though I had not the foggiest notion from whence the aforementioned poignancy would be derived.

Just one problem. What the Pope actually said was nothing like what they said he said. Perhaps the pointy hat thingy he wears fell down over his face and momentarily obscured his words.

This was an enormous disappointment. It was like a dream where you are starting your swing on a world series winning homer and suddenly the bat becomes a live chicken and the ball turns into Carol Channing. You awake to the deafening screeching that ensues.

However, I find some small solace in this little dumpling of a thought: the Pope was actually correct when he said what he never said. The environmentalists are close minded ideologues committed to world domination. I ought to know--for I am the most pious of environmentalists.

Though we are a largely ecumenical collection, all environmentalists acknowledge one central, revealed truth: the apocalypse is nigh. Christians, for their part, welcome the apocalypse. It signals the coming of the Messiah, redemption, and the kingdom of God. Though the Bible is short on details with regards to what day to day life will be like after The End, it is generally assumed that in the Kingdom of Christ, gas prices will come down to under a dollar a gallon, fat will be considered attractive, and malls will be open 24/7. On lazy summer evenings, the children will catch fireflies until dusk, and then roast marshmallows over the fresh burning corpses of gays and atheists.

Surely for Christianity these are flush times. They've got a ringer in the White House, the signs of the second coming falling into place like three cherries on a slot machine, and, apparently, unlimited access to meth-dealing male prostitutes. What could be better than that? If they have an enemy right now, it can only be complacency. It's a wonder they don't just lay around in bed all day.

Not so for we environmentalists. We believe that there is no "after" The End. It will be like sleep, but without dreams, and not followed by coffee and pancakes. Ever.

Thus, for us there is no greater goal than the preservation of our own skinny little vegan asses.

You must understand, we don't have a Bible of our own to provide insight as to what the future holds, what meaning there is to existence, or whether it's OK to eat shellfish. Instead we are reliant upon the constantly revised consensus of a class of mystics we call "scientists." Selected based on how smart they look in glasses and how dull they are at parties, they roam the four corners of the globe (which we hold by faith to be spherical, by the way) and look for signs that will tell us what the future holds and what meaning there is to existence.

Once, in ancient times, scientists conducted their investigations by examining the organs of sacrificed sheep, the distribution of scattered cowrie shells, and the patterns of bird flight. Nowadays, they do exactly the same thing, but they have clipboards and they wash their hands frequently. Periodically, our scientists gather together, compare notes, and then issue a statement of belief. And their belief becomes our creed, or canon, if you will.

Right now, our piously held faith with regard to the future is that there isn't going to be one.

You can see why this realization, by itself, would be upsetting. But to fully appreciate the extent of our present discomfiture, you must take into account a second fundamental doctrine of our order, which is that life has no meaning.

Now you might think that believing that life has no intrinsic meaning would incline us to surrender our mortal coils with a shrug of indifference. But counterintuitive as it might seem, though we're not sure why we are living, we are really, really, REALLY certain we don't want to die.

Thus we environmentalists face a paradox framed by core tenets of our own beliefs, an existential crisis analogous to the impending permanent triumph of Satan. Really-really-don't-want-to-die, meet going-to-die. There's plenty of room to debate the opposing views of environmentalists and Christian fundamentalists, but it's pretty obvious which group is more acutely dangerous and likely to lash out. You'd better believe we are reevaluating our pacific tendencies regarding means and ends. And while there may still be a list of things we won't do, we don't need a very big piece of paper on which to write them down.

So what the Pope didn't say was true. But before you Christians settle into the cocoon of smug, smarmy, self-satisfaction with which you are so familiar, consider this. Though you may be inclined to dismiss our scientists because they are a little fuzzy on apostolic theology, they've nonetheless proven to be pretty good about predicting events in the world of the senses. They know why plastic wrap keeps casseroles fresh. They know what combinations of fibers lead to itchy underwear. And they know when there's a good chance that the climate is tipping into patterns of behavior unprecedented during man's time on earth, and likely to be a lot more irritating than any wool-blend briefs.

How's the weather down there in Atlanta? Not getting much rain, are you?

Just because you may not be going to hell anytime soon doesn't mean it's not going to get hot.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Crisis Report: Are There Enough Psychos Left to Run this Government?

News Analysis

The release of a National Intelligence Estimate proclaiming the consensus view of U.S. analysts that Iran is not, after all, building a nuclear weapon dropped on Washington like a weapon of mass destruction this week.

News coverage has been light relative to the magnitude of the issue, and has focused largely on perceived damage to the Bush administration's credibility and questions about whether the President was aware of the substance of the report even as he warned that Iran posed an imminent nuclear threat.

But analysts and government insiders suggest that the media has been slow to pursue a number of important facets of the story.

Uri Bolgakov, an analyst with Jane's Defense Weekly, expressed disappointment that the media has failed to uncover more of the technical backstory and covert operational detail.

"I would expect," said Bolgakov, "that a case like this would involve numerous curvaceous Persian femmes fatale, scenes of high-stakes baccarat play, and the massive explosion of a secret underground Uranium enrichment facility, heralded by a disembodied voice counting down the seconds to the final conflagration over a loudspeaker. At least, that's how it usually happens. Certainly we want to know what team of geniuses labored over satellite photos and sensor readings to piece together the puzzle? What tortured, epic subterranean political artery did the news follow to escape the inky maze of bureaucratic purgatory and burst into the bright light of day on CNN?"

"God," concluded Mr. Bolgakov, "Persian women are so hot."

Most news outlets did not respond to our inquiries regarding the lack of coverage Bolgakov bemoaned. However, Jack Weis, Managing Editor for International News at MSNBC, was dismissive.

"Boring," said Mr. Weis. "Is Brad Pitt involved? Does it have tits? Call me back when it has tits."

It seems clear that lacking celebrities, frontal nudity, or televised auditions by amateur vocalists dreaming of stardom, mainstream media outlets will be disinclined to pursue the backstory behind the NIE. But some remain bullish on the potential for the NIE issue to provide a compelling narrative.

"A more fruitful vein of inquiry," says New York times film critic A.O. Scott, "if we are to derive from this issue the entertainment so foundational to our national security and way of life, follows the thread of personal betrayal, revenge, and internecine power play within the Bush administration that is revealed by the unexpected release of this NIE. Here at least is the stuff of drama. Here are Stephen Hadley and the President at the dais magnifying their shame by refusing to acknowledge their error. There is Dick Cheney raging in his office, his torrent of profanity accompanied by an escorting rain of froth and spittle. And there, in the background, are the veiled Greek chorus of neoconservative bootlickers wailing in dismay."

"And just in time for Christmas. Thank you, Mr. President!"

But there are whispers among Washington insiders about a facet of this story that has been ignored. One that has, they say, dire implications for the future of the current administration and the country.

No one from the administration agreed to speak on the record. But one insider in a position to know offered this perspective: "All observers of the Bush White House understand that the release of this report represents a profound failure of the hitherto flawlessly coordinated messaging of agencies managed by the executive branch. I'm referring to agencies like the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, the courts, both houses of Congress, Fox News, Chuck Norris—they know who they are. The plan to demonize and then attack Iran has been a done deal for about three years. Word from the OVP is that Cheney already had plans to have himself packed in a coffin filled with the soil of his native Wyoming and shipped to the soon-to-be newest American military base in the center of Tehran, there to celebrate his 1,451st birthday. And then McConnell comes along and just shoves this NIE up Cheney's ass. Unbelievable."

The NIE's release has been widely interpreted as the result of a rift between hawkish elements of the administration on one side, and those favoring diplomacy on the other. According to sources, the reason the White House has done so little to dispel such speculation stems from a fear that any public discussion of the real cause would sow panic among policy makers and business leaders alike.

"At the heart of the matter, what we are dealing with is a personnel problem," said the anonymous administration official. "When W. brought in McConnel as DNI and Gates to head DoD, people assumed it was in reaction to pressure for more experienced and balanced leadership. But that was never a factor. The real truth is incredibly sobering, and it ought to scare the pee out of every American that wants to see the government function in a coordinated way. The fact is, we just ran out of crazy people to hire."

"And now look. What a clusterfuck."

Another high level member of the administration, also speaking off the record, confirmed these points. "Do you think people like Ashcroft, Hadley and Rumsfeld grow on trees? These are unique talents we're talking about. Finding people who are that bat-shit, balls-out, head-banging insane but who also are capable of maintaining the appearance that they are effectively managing a mammoth federal agency with a budget in the billions of dollars... It's no picnic."

"And they have to be able to tie a tie. If you know anyone like that, have them contact me."

As word of the administration's dilemma circulated among the Republican Presidential hopefuls, a contentious debate erupted.

Tom Tancredo said he found the news "of great concern," and expressed a willingness to revisit his hardline position against immigration from Mexico. "If there is one thing all those Mexicans have in spades, it's a whole lot of loco. Especially after they get some Don Julio in the tank."

"I think it's just ridiculous to suggest that America doesn't have the talent we need for these roles," countered Rudy Giuliani. "This is the greatest country in the world, and in my administration all executive departments will be managed by people who are more than unhinged enough to keep the mullahs guessing."

Mike Huckabee, armed with the labor department statistics detailing the shortage of functional psychopaths in the workforce, accused Giuliani of playing loose with the facts. But Giuliani held firm, saying that, at the least, he would find job candidates that "go in and out. Then we'll tweak their medication to minimize periods of lucidity."

"The talent pool for these roles is indeed paper thin," says Rob Gonuff, Director of Insta-Temps, Inc. Mr. Gonuff's company specializes in providing unbalanced, incompetent and borderline-retarded staff on an hourly or contract basis, and has been a key staffing resource for Mr. Bush since he was Governor of Texas. "[Giuliani's] right that America is producing more and better crazy people than ever before. But crazy how? To what degree? You can't just take any schizoid psychotic off the street and make them a Director of the NSA. All they'll do is horde newspaper and soil the furniture. What you need is a megalomaniac with a persecution complex and a set of highly specific destructive impulses. Ideally one with a doctorate in Public Administration from Harvard."

Gonuff looked wistfully out his office window. "Man," he mused, "could I place a few of those..."

Seeking an objective opinion, the White House Office of Management and Budget last year retained consultant McKinsey and Co. to help them identify optimal sources of candidates. The results were intriguing.

"What we found," says McKinsey analyst Jeff Rollins, "was that, based on criteria provided by the administration, the ideal candidate would likely have a religious background, sociopathic tendencies, a messianic streak, and a past littered with traumatic, violent experiences. Basically, we're talking Islamic fundamentalists. The Christian ones are just too soft."

"We assumed the OMB would reject our conclusions outright, but they debated internally for about seven weeks before officially declining," continued Rollins, pausing to allow the ominous implications of his statement to sink in. "I'd say the desperation is palpable."

The government's challenge is a common one, says Gonuff, and in the end, they will have to be willing to broaden their search. "There will never be enough nutjobs to fill every opening available in this administration. At a certain point, they have to get real and fall back on what the market can offer: imbeciles, do-nothings, crackpots and ding-a-lings. America's universities are stamping these people out like paper clips. I've got about four hundred sitting home waiting for the phone to ring—not that they'll know to pick up the receiver when it does. I can have one behind a desk at the State Department tomorrow morning. Today, in a pinch."

"Insta-Temps has shown what we can do in past. Where do you think Gonzo came from? George Tenet? Michael Brown? Michael Chertoff? Lurita Doan? Douglas Feith? When you can't find coo-coo, you've got to be ready to fall back on dim."

"You know who understood that lesson? The National Republican Presidential Search Committee, that's who. Back when they hired us in 1999."