can’t see the forest

It’s the Crude, Dude. Like, for real: McQuaig Tells It Like It Is

Scholars have told us that, in Biblical times, prophets were something akin to our modern intellectuals. They were spiritual authorities or teachers in a certain sense, but they were also analysts of the ways and means of their times. The prophets who spoke well of the policies of rulers were genially lauded and given favorable treatment by royalty. Those who were more critical—which is to say, more honest—were often banished to the wilderness.

Canadian author Linda McQuaig may find herself in the desert soon. Her latest book, It’s the Crude, Dude, from St. Martin’s Press, is one that neither those at the helm of the world’s wealthiest business enterprises—the major oil companies—nor those at the top of the world’s most corpulent and aggressive government—that of the USA—will want you to read.

But because of the refreshingly accessible, prodigiously detailed, and thoroughly circumspect analysis of contemporary geopolitics and energy policy offered in these pages, I say it should be required reading for any high school economics course.

Into his libretto to the fantastically successful Victorian operetta H.M.S. Pinafore, W.S. Gilbert tucked this little gem: Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream. This is the most resonant message in McQuaig’s book—that American aggression in the Middle East is at its heart a quest for something much less noble than democratic ideals, that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, while unspeakably despicable, were not simply random acts of fanatical hatred for which American foreign policy bears no innate responsibility, as the President of the United States has repeatedly and publicly exhorted, possibly because his own indoctrinated sense of victimhood allows him to believe it himself in spite of massive evidence to the contrary. 

But McQuaig balances her condemnation of the profit-hungry ethics of modern institutions of business and governance by noting that the large scale institutionalized deception being offered as world news in our society is not merely the smokescreen of demented, wealth-crazed, lone-wolf madmen in lushly appointed corporate boardrooms behind closed doors. Rather, it is the product of a complex network of business and government interests which relies on a complacent—even supportive—misinformed public to underpin a quest for economic and geopolitical primacy based not simply on access to but direct control of what has become, in our highly industrialized age, the world’s most key resource for fueling economic expansion and extravagant lifestyles—dude, it’s the crude. Oil, that is. Texas Tea.

With regards to the primary motives behind the US’ involvement in the Persian Gulf War of the early 1990s and in the current, ongoing occupation of Iraq, McQuaig writes:

Nestled into the heart of the area of heaviest oil concentration in the world is Iraq, overflowing with low-hanging fruit. No permafrost, no deep water. Just giant pools of oil, right beneath the warm ground. This is fruit sagging so low, as it were, that it practically touches the ground under the weight of its ripeness.

Not only does Iraq have vast quantities of easily accessible oil—or low-hanging fruit, as Gheit calls it—but its vast store of oil is almost untouched…”That’s why,” as Gheit puts it, “Iraq becomes the most sought-after real estate on the face of the earth.”

So, yes, Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator who wreaked havoc upon his own people. But McQuaig shows conclusively that the same high-level US officials who spoke so harshly of his refusal to disarm post-9/11 were shaking hands and gleefully doing business with him right through his worst atrocities, like the gassing of the Kurds in 1988 and other earlier genocidal gestures. Why the sudden interest in democracy and human rights from Washington? And why do maps of Iraq’s oil resources—or “meat charts,” as McQuaig calls them—figure so prominently in the pre-invasion documentation studied by Dick Cheney and top oil executives alike?

And, if the United States government is so firmly convinced of the inherent merits of its form of democracy, why did it move in the 1950s to depose Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected leader of Iran, and to replace him with a brutal autocrat monarch with extensive Western ties and pro-Washington leanings? And why, since 1945, has it unilaterally supported the royal family of Saudi Arabia, one of the most undemocratic and obstinately oppressive regimes of modern times? Why does it continue to support Israel in its heinous crimes against the sovereign people of Palestine?

And if big business is intent on evangelically extolling the values of capitalism, why did a super-select group of oil industry executives meet at a Scotland estate in the 1920s to mutually agree not to compete with one another?

McQuaig approaches her investigation of how it’s oil, oil that makes the world go ’round with a journalist’s eye, a concerned citizen’s zeal, and with the narrative voice of a master storyteller. She pulls no punches but spares no details. Her inquiry  takes the reader from Caracas to Amman. McQuaig converses with Hugo Chávez over ice cream and with executives of the American Petroleum Institute, one of the US’ most notorious lobbying groups, in their Washington boardroom.

The author exhaustively explores the underlying rationales for much that is going on in the Middle East and elsewhere, but she also investigates what is not going on—like, say, a comprehensive and commensurately robust plan for alternative energy development in the United States. It is one thing for the President to wax optimistic about instilling vigor and opportunity in the reworking of American energy policy around an ethic of conservation; it is quite another for the government to heavily subsidize the production of gas-guzzling SUVs and to censor or at least downplay the opinions of a dizzying lineup of top scientists who declare, not as a spurious argument but as the end product of decades of research that, in no uncertain terms, Western lifestyles are wrecking the planet:

I’m picking on the SUV partly because it somehow serves as a metaphor for the absurdity of the situation we find ourselves in, if for no other reason than that these enormous, awkward vehicles seem so…well…unnecessary. There’s another aspect to this story that makes it emblematic of the saga of global warming: how easily the problem could be corrected if there were serious political will. … This, then, is the story of how Luddites in the auto sector, fearful of risking their dominant market position, have declined to take us where any sane person can see we must go, hiding behind claims of technological “can’t do,” hoping the public won’t realize that what we have here is, in fact, a case of technological “won’t do.”

McQuaig underpins her hypotheses with historical fact, not secondhand speculation. She discusses the culture behind the earliest oil boom towns of antebellum Pennsylvania, where a feller named Rockefeller first dipped his hands into the black gold. She shows how the energy crisis of the early 1970s was a victory for the third-world peoples whose natural wealth had been for too long exploited by foreign corporations, and how that relatively minor loss of market control inspired business executives and government officials in the US—including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in their disco days—to dedicate the rest of their careers to making sure it would never happen again. No longer would it be enough for US oil companies to merely have access to oil—absolute control would be the goal from then on.

She tells the story of James Akins, who was made US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia just in time for the gas lines. While highly prized for his knowledge of the Arabic language and culture and for his good standing in that sphere, Akins was fired by the White House for suggesting on national television that directly seizing control of Arabian oilfields might not be the best course of action in response to the 1970s OPEC embargo. Akins favored a more introspective, conservation-centered approach. Kissinger didn’t, and Akins was cast into the wilderness.

Again speaking of the recent invasion of Iraq, the author says:

Those who scoff at the notion that the invasion of Iraq was motivated by an interest in oil often suggest that there would have been other ways to get the oil. Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian academic who teaches at Harvard University, has made this sort of argument: “If all America cared about was oil, it would have cozied up to Saddam,” thereby presumably assuring America’s access to Iraq’s oil. But access to oil is different from control over oil. Without control, access can be cut off at any time. With control comes not only inevitably bigger financial rewards but also mastery of the world’s most crucial resource. Control has therefore always been the ultimate goal.

This statement in and of itself might mean very little if McQuaig did not supplement her observation with hundreds of pages worth of the history of corporate geopolitics. She did.

Far from anti-American doom and gloom, the author’s ultimate analysis goes, at least partially, something like this: the American people and more generally the Western world as a whole are probably willing to make adjustments in lifestyle and in ideology if they are allowed to see, naked, the repercussions of the inefficiency which they have come to regard as a birthright. The human race, if it is anything at all, is adept at adaptation. But because this inefficient consumerism generates huge profits for the select few, those at the top of the pyramid have been moving steadily since long before the Second World War to consolidate their power over not only the oil industry but also over education, media, and the very government which ought to have as one of its first duties the protection of its people from such massive cynical fraud.

This is why many of the oppressed peoples of the third world harbor such enmity against the United States—not because of something so absurd as “jealousy” of American freedoms, but because of the very real and immediate costs of the American lifestyle which have been systematically, increasingly outsourced to the third world by American business interests. McQuaig points out that, all in all, the energy crisis of the 1970s resulted in a lot of changes for the better. America became 30% more energy efficient virtually overnight. If Americans will stand up and demand that their government be held accountable for its dubious diplomacy and its sponsorship of maniacal profiteering policies in its businesses, the external “threats to national security” so brazenly trumpeted throughout the mainstream consciousness would evaporate in short order. But as the years roll by, this course of action seems to grow increasingly unlikely. Americans are being indoctrinated to think of themselves in virtually any situation as innocent victims of foreign hostility. In fact, many Americans and other Westerners are the victims of nothing more than their own willful blindness to the plight their leaders are largely responsible for imposing upon the rest of the world.

George Orwell once wrote that “we have become too civilized to grasp the obvious.” This is an observation confirmed by McQuaig in these words from the closing chapter of the book:

The West’s excessive energy consumption is aggressively defended, by those like Myron Ebell from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, as part of America’s freedom. As Ebell said: “When you start limiting people’s access to energy, you limit their ability to make choices. We’re opposed to things that limit people’s choices.” Choice is, of course, almost incomprehensible to the people of the developing world—not just because they generally live under dictatorships, but because they have so little access to the world’s resources. Although they make up more than two-thirds of the world’s population, they consume less than one-third of its energy…Sadly, if there was ever a willingness to question the morality of the vastly unequal consumption of resources around the world, that moment seems to have passed. In the wake of September 11, the West’s willingness to even acknowledge the problem has ebbed, putting the immorality of inequality further than ever off the agenda.

Perhaps that’s why George W. Bush has warned us again and again to be prepared for not just a ‘War on Terror’ but a very long and involved ‘War on Terror’—because those in power know full well (no pun intended) that the continued gluttony of Western enterprise, if left unchecked, will only increase the threat of rebellion and violent reaction for generations to come, as supplies of oil and even of drinking water grow thinner with each passing year, as the effects of climate change make themselves more and more manifest with every season.

I urge you to read It’s the Crude, Dude, especially if you are still of the naïve persuasion that the leaders of business and government in our society always say what they mean and mean what they say. One has to do much digging to recover meaningful messages from beneath the glossy surface of mainstream media reporting. One could not ask for a more thorough exhumation of a quickly perishing reality than that offered by McQuaig. Much more than a veteran journalist, she is truly carving a niche for herself as a prophet of our time.

Be informed. This new edition of McQuaig’s book is available from booksellers in the US as of September 19, 2006.




18 Responses

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  1. zilla said, on 10/8/06 at 6:23 am

    Jeez, there were only two copies available at amazon! I can’t wait to read this & start passing it around.

    Excellent review, Curt.

  2. quranbible said, on 10/8/06 at 9:28 am

    Like your fair analysis of Iraq and Bush socalled “War on Terror”.

  3. […] For the time being I am trying to figure out what I want to do with this blog. First I have to learn how it works Do I want to use it for professional purposes? Do I want to have an open debate on some subject of interest? Or should I just make it a personal journal of my journey? As I might be “watched” because of some geographic situation:), I have also to be careful!! Another limitation is the language, but somehow I have adopted English here, this will be another challenge. I have been surfing more lately, I found this interesting article of a fellow blogger (who has an interesting bio btw). […]

  4. homeyra said, on 10/8/06 at 11:40 am

    Very intersting, there was also a book “The power Play” Random House in the 70’s, about the history of all petrol related countries, I was not able to find the link, but will do If I succeed.

  5. Bluebear2 said, on 10/8/06 at 8:59 pm

    Excellent review – I’ve put this book on my must have list!

    “Americans are being indoctrinated to think of themselves in virtually any situation as innocent victims of foreign hostility.”

    Yes indeed, also indoctrinated to find happiness and contentment in the latest gadget we can buy by myriads of commercials on TV, in the Newspapers and magazines.
    Pure pablum, Pure propaganda!

  6. NomDebPlume said, on 10/9/06 at 9:58 am

    And now, a dissenting voice:

    Let me see if I understand: We invited attacks from the Middle East because we enjoy the fruits of Capitalism and drive SUVs? It is our leaders who hoard all the oil money? Who was it who had x-number of palaces and was sitting on all that oil while killing any of his people who look at him cross-eyed, and the ones he didn’t kill lived like animals? But this is OUR fault?

    Yes, Iraq has “vast quantities of oil”, enough for the whole country to live a decent quality of life, I’m guessing… so why aren’t they? (our fault?) I daresay it has been their own regime that has limited their access to energy (and to anything else that has value), thus limiting their choices.

    I don’t drive an SUV, but only because I can’t afford one. Instead, I have stuffed four kids into a tiny car, and whatever we brought along with us into a tiny trunk. Many times I’ve wished I had an SUV like the other “Soccer Moms” who were able to fit all their cargo easily. You, not being a Soccer Mom, would, naturally, not see the need. Are not SUVs one of the bonuses of living in a country that has figured out how to fine-tune this Capitalism thing? It sounds to me like you are describing Socialism, or Universal Socialism, really.

    When I look around, there are more people who have more than I do – Good for them! I’m not about to whine about it and figure out a way to blame the government or make them change things so we are all on equal footing. How boring! We can’t all be Bill Gates and we won’t all be vagrants – the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum found between. It’s what keeps this country competitive and interesting. It also allows for some to take advantage and to be greedy, but in the end, I still think each of us is better off. Think of the alternative.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced that this War on Terror is a result of greed for oil. I have not read Ms. McQuaig’s book, but some of the statements seem far fetched, and the fact that she sat and shared ice cream with Chavez just doesn’t sit well with me… :-) We have heard directly from the mouths of terrorists that they hate us for our way of life, articulating that it is more our cultural differences (when did they mention oil?). That’s good enough for me. Personally, I’m not interested in changing my Country’s culture, so I guess I CAN expect a “long and involved war”. What I will do is my part in contributing to conservation/recycling. I’m no “tree-hugger”, but I do what I can.

    Always with a bug up her… nose… :-)


  7. Gracie said, on 10/9/06 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for such a detailed analysis of this book. I’ll add it to my ever growing list of “must reads.” It seems as if this has been a long term strategy that shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. Even the PNAC basically states many of those shared goals.

    Btw, I had posted the wrong link to the Bin Laden archive so just wanted to let you know it’s been corrected.

  8. peoplesgeography said, on 10/10/06 at 3:08 am

    Nom Deb Plume, a.k.a. Debi, I respectfully disagree and endeavour, albeit as briefly as I can, to proffer a dissenting view again. Starting on a point of agreement with you, I think most sensible people agree that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant by most measures and committed crimes against Kurds particularly. Iraqi society wasn’t particularly repressive aside from state-controlled media, however; women went to school, they were prominient politically, religious minorities such as Christians were protected and in fact the then Foreign Minister was a Christian.

    Successive US administrations courted Saddam’s regime, armed him and allied with and helped sustain his dictatorship politically as it suited them.

    Most Iraqis pre-US invasion lived life not as animals as you claim, but in fact a whole lot better than they now do under US occupation. There was little sectarian violence (now threatening to spill over into a civil war AS A DIRECT RESULT OF US POLICIES) and there was a middle class with a healthy intelligentsia, many of whom have since fled the country in an exodus that has impoverished the country with a brain drain when it needs them most. So yes, there was in fact a better standard of life and its degradation sadly is demonstrably a direct result of US and UK neocon policy.

    You may know that US sanctions after the first Gulf War in 1991 cost thousands of children’s lives, and this war is immoral, illegal and predicated on a pack of lies sold to the American people.

    No, Iraqis access to oil was vastly different to directly address your claim. It was cheap and accessible before the US invasion. I’m glad you mention palaces because that is exactly how the new US embassy there has been described. In fact I think it is the largest in the world.

    I can not erase from my mind, Debi, not just images of 9/11, which were horrific enough, but the siege of Fallujah, the massacres at Haditha and other cities, and the heartbreaking destruction and theft of the priceless ancient artefacts in the Iraqi Museums by US troops. Not to mention the devastating and illegal use of phosporus and cluster bombs.

    Moreover, the Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11, to which I assume you allude in your in your opening sentence about “being attacked”.

    THe savagery unleashed by the US military in laying waste to two countries in the Middle East — Iraq and Afghanistan — and sanctioning a third (Lebanon) and threatening a fourth (Iran) and setting thse countries back decades is what the rest of the world sees. It comes after the countless US military interventions and attacks this past half century in particular, which have undone democratically elected governments and brutalised people everywhere, and this continues. The question, Debi, is not “Why do they hate us” but why do American administrations brutalise *them*?

    Lest you think I subscribe to anti-Americanism, not only do I think there is much to admire in the American culture and I have valued friends there (and relatives in Pennsylvania, as it happens), but I think that dissent in America is needed now more than ever, and justifiably criticising the US government for its myopic, brutal and selfish wars to control the last remaining energy sources does not preclude a very real appreciation for the American people and their contribution.

    If the largely contrived War on Terror (excuse me, more like War OF Terror) is not about oil, what is the US in Iraq, pray tell?

    How can one not connect the dots as so many Americans have about the non-renewable resources that crucially underpin our lifestyles?

    The US, with 5% of the world’s population, uses a highly dsproportionate 25% of the world’s non-renewable energy. Not only must US materialist culture, nay western culture change, there are dire consequences if it does not. As prominent Americans like Al Gore remind us so cogently, we have to learn to live more sustainably.

    I think it was Bush Senior who once said that the American way of life (he meant rampant consumerist capitalism, not freedom and democracy, which are daily being eroded in your country and mine) is not negotiable.

    The world and the US is waking up to the fact that has to be negotiable and negotiated, and that we all most live more simply, in order that others may simply live.

    THere’s more than one message we’ve learned from the Amish, I’d say.

    And lastly, that doesn’t have to mean we all become basket-weaving hippies who relinquish mod-cons. It just means we don’t go out using energy and destroying our planet’s resources as profligately as we do, contributing to the immiseration and poverty and instability in other parts of the world.

    To that end, books like Linda McQuaig’s are much-needed, and I again applaud Curt for an excellent review.

  9. tellitlikeitis said, on 10/10/06 at 11:39 am

    I appreciate everyone’s views. Let me tell a funny little story about something that happened yesterday while I was in downtown Portland.

    I was standing on the side of a busy street waiting for a bus to take me across a river bridge to another quarter of the city. For a moment I was the only person standing there, but then an elderly lady walked up and stood next to me. She was munching on a hamburger she’d just bought in a fast-food place around the corner.

    “Waiting on the 15?” she asked me.

    “Yep,” I said. “Nice day, isn’t it?”

    She didn’t say anything. She continued munching on her sandwich and when she was done she wadded up the wrapper and she tossed it out into the street.

    I calmly and respectfully picked up the wrapper and took the ten steps required to reach the nearest garbage receptacle. Then I walked back over and stood next to this lady, just as before. I didn’t do that to be a smart-alec. I did it because I was just standing there waiting on a bus and it seemed like a constructive use of my time. A moment passed in silence. But this lady was fidgeting like crazy and I could tell she was trying very hard to come up with some way to tell me off.

    Finally she spoke. “I was going to get that,” she said. Then she faltered for a second. “Asshole.”

    “No need, ma’am,” I said. And a couple minutes later the bus came rolling up and we both got on.

    Now the point of this little anecdote is not to paint me as some sort of saint, alright? It’s not like I’ve never littered before. I’m not the Good Witch of the North. I wouldn’t look pretty in the outfit.

    But the point is this lady’s reaction to what I did. I simply disposed of her trash properly for her, and she behaved as if it had been some sort of insult to her sensibility. So instead of saying “thank you” or even nothing at all, she took the opportunity to chastise me for making her, as she perceived it–not me–look like an ass.

    And what I thought about this as I went about the rest of my day is that the psychology behind this tiny little incident is very much indicative of the attitude that’s being fostered in America and throughout the West, and probably even in China, too, about our own overindulgent consumption.

    So when you point out that the United States consumes much more than its share of the world’s energy resources, and that it has lately moved forcefully to increase that share at the expense of others, you’re going to get the same kind of knee-jerk reaction from a lot of folks. But because we’re talking about a trillion-dollar industry and not about hamburger wrappers, it’s going to be a little more complex.

    So before we speak of what Americans do and not “have the right to do,” or of what the people of any nation, for that matter, do and do not have the right to do, we’d better remember that old adage: what you have the right to do is precisely nothing more and nothing less than what you have the ability to prevent others from stopping you from doing. That’s what defines who does and doesn’t have the right to do what, in the real world. It’s been that way since before man stood upright.

    And that’s very much what this poor old lady meant to tell me after the little wrapper incident. Regardless of what she said, what she meant was, “I had the right to litter.” But I stopped her from littering, and instead of seeing the simple graciousness of my gesture, all she could focus on was that I had stopped her from littering, in this one isolated incident.

    That’s very much the kind of attitude we are dealing with in America and a lot of other countries with regards to energy policy. And it’s very unsettling. Furthermore, it’s imposed from the top down. I repeat what I said in the review–if Americans, to pick on my own people again, could see naked the effects that their energy consumption has on the rest of the world, I daresay that virtually all of us would be moved to change our ways quickly; now, not later. But there are very well-placed mechanisms in the media and elsewhere to keep that dirty secret out of view. The best mechanism of all is the psychology of single minds. And there’s no clear-cut way to deal with it.

  10. homeyra said, on 10/10/06 at 2:57 pm

    I wish I could write that well.
    In countries where the “decision makers” are not as sophisticated as in the West, after a while – and with a minimum of interest in the news – you cannot but see so many “strings”, or as you say “well-placed mechanisms”, protecting some mega-interest.
    You end up being extremely suspicious of everything. Politics becomes like an Agatha Cristie novel, and whatever happens you ask yourself: Who is the main beneficiary of this “murder” :)

  11. NomDebPlume said, on 10/10/06 at 5:22 pm


    Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion about this subject… I knew mine wouldn’t be popular [here], and I appreciate the passion with which you expressed your views. It is always good to start at a point of agreement, and I agree that most Americans can behave selfishly and act as spoiled children. When I said driving an SUV is a bonus of a Capitalist society, I did not mean to infer that the members of such a society somehow have the right to exploit an unlimited amount of bonuses.

    Curt’s example of the fast-food wrapper is a good one: why someone would throw it on the ground is confounding, but the reaction he received for picking it up is even more disturbing. If I were to be honest, I’d have to say that if I were in his shoes, I’d probably not have the wherewithal to go pick up the wrapper because, in that situation, preserving someone’s feelings trumps preserving the environment (convoluted, but true). But I’m glad there are “Curts” around to pick up after littering, rude old ladies.

    After reading what you wrote about pre-war Iraq, one would wonder why Saddam should have been ousted at all: a society that was not particularly repressed, women getting educated and who were politically prominent, Christians protected and serving in important roles, little sectarian violence, a middle class with a healthy intelligentsia, plus cheap and accessible oil. Of course, there is that whole genocide thing, but still… You make it sound like a place worth applying for citizenship – UNTIL – the big, bad Americans came and ruined everything in their quest for oil.

    I will concede that sectarian violence is an appalling outcome of this war that should have been anticipated and planned for, but I subscribe to the view, as do many others, that it is a direct result of the insurgency. You can follow the trail backwards and blame the insurgency on U.S. policies, but those policies were a direct result of Saddam thumbing his nose at 17 United Nations’ resolutions (a direct result of his losing a war). Lives lost as a result of sanctions, including children, are not lives that can be blamed on the United States; it again goes back to Saddam and his behavior. It is too convenient to keep the anti-Bush/U.S. chant going… the one that sounds like: “This war is immoral, illegal and predicated on a pack of lies sold to the American people. It’s more like “faulty intelligence”. I have neither the time, nor the energy to explain THAT old, tired argument. Suffice to say, it has been proven that everyone believed the same intelligence that Bush believed and he made no intentionally false statements.

    And yes, we may have once been in bed with Saddam’s regime, but it’s a strategy as old as time: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I’m sure we’ll witness it again with some other ugly dictator who turns out to be our hated enemy at a later date. We did not originate this policy.

    Aside from funding terrorists, you’re right, it has not been successfully proven that the Iraqi leadership had much at all to do with 9/11, and while my comments alluded mostly to Iraq, I did say “The Middle East”. The reason for this is in response to Curt’s references to the Middle East as a whole:

    This is why many of the oppressed peoples of the third world harbor such enmity against the United States—not because of something so absurd as “jealousy” of American freedoms, but because of the very real and immediate costs of the American lifestyle which have been systematically, increasingly outsourced to the third world by American business interests

    If Americans will stand up and demand that their government be held accountable for its dubious diplomacy and its sponsorship of maniacal profiteering policies in its businesses, the external “threats to national security” so brazenly trumpeted throughout the mainstream consciousness would evaporate in short order.

    Perhaps that’s why George W. Bush has warned us again and again to be prepared for not just a ‘War on Terror’ but a very long and involved ‘War on Terror’—because those in power know full well (no pun intended) that the continued gluttony of Western enterprise, if left unchecked, will only increase the threat of rebellion and violent reaction for generations to come, as supplies of oil and even of drinking water grow thinner with each passing year, as the effects of climate change make themselves more and more manifest with every season.

    Obviously, the terrorists came from the Middle East and the threat still emanates from that area. They still hate us, and we can continue to debate why. I offered my opinion as to why, and the rest of you offered yours. In the process, we are reminded to try to preserve what God has given us to enjoy on this planet – for whatever reason. I daresay the Amish care less about what Al Gore has to say than I do, but since we all live here together, I agree that we should take care of our limited resources to the degree we feel compelled.

    – Debi

  12. peoplesgeography said, on 10/10/06 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks Debi, I very much appreciate your thoughtful and considered response. My name is Ann by the way, excuse my manners in not signing off with it, its the old “writing bleary eyed at 2am” thing. This also explains the typos and the fact that the tone was not as peaceful as intended and may have come across with a shade of stridency. To your credit, you have engaged me in the spirit of friendly and respectful disagreement in which I also intended and I value the opportunity to engage with someone whose views are in many respects different to my own.

    I laughed when I read that the Amish care less about what Al Gore has to say than you do, you’re probably right. And I very much agree that it IS too convenient to blame US foreign policy and the Bush administration for a whole litany of things, many of which are properly the responsibility of internal factors and local corruption.

    Your assessment may differ substantially from mine on the “faulty intelligence” argument and Bush’s sincerity (personally, I do think that is a credible argument about Bush personally, but not about others in the same administration such as Cheney, but again that’s my own opinion) and about US culpability in applying draconian sanctions. Yes, Saddam Hussein deserves to be more than rebuked for thumbing his nose at selected UN resolutions and horrendously committing genocide against Kurds. That still does not substantially differentiate him from many other “democratic” governments (let alone dictatorships). These countries include Israel, the US and Australia and policies towards their indigenous populations, both past and present, as well as their disregard of UN resolutions, particularly the US and Israel. I do support diplomatic efforts, boycotts and sanctions where appropriate, but not of much needed medical supplies – to me sustaining lives, particularly of children, trumps everything.

    Curt’s story is a canny illustration and the point is well taken. Sometimes pointing out inequalities and performing good deeds often just breeds resentment rather than gratitude and I am mindful that self-righteous indignation is not going to achieve much, unchannelled. I’m sure the perception is that some Europeans and other parts of the world may often have a holier-than-thou approach to the US and I certainly don’t participate in that. I think we are all complicit and have a part to play in changing attitudes towards and raising awareness about humanity’s ecological imprint, however differential it is.

    And many of the solutions and innovations are coming out of the US with respect to negotiating a way forward on many issues such as consumerism, energy policy and climate change. It makes sense that in many respects the US will be leading the way.

    I guess my simplistic citing of figures, while certainly glossing over complexities, was not intended to make us as western consumers feel bad, but a recognition that even this simple fact goes unnoticed. My American students often express surprise at learning about the effects of our common over-indulgent lifestyles bring to bear on the rest of the world. Their responses give me hope that mindfulness about our actions can work as a contagious meme that helps enact more sustainable policies.

    Rather than apportioning blame or guilt for being in the privilied numerical minority in the world and enjoying the lifestyles that we do, I think we are endowed with tremendous opportunity and responsibility – if not to the rest of the world, then at the very least to our children who inherit the effects of our actions today.

    Curt, your parable is fitting in so many ways and one small comment I’d like to make is that you couldn’t help doing what you did. POinting out a simple statistic or picking up after someone may only initially invite a knee-jerk reaction, but your action nevertheless still has ripple effects. You chose to do what you did (myself and Debi may or may not have done the same) and that person also chose the attitude of mean-spirited resentment rather than gratitude and praise for a young person’s actions.

    While I couldn’t help responding the way I did either to represent the alternative point of view, I do take on board that the way I chose to convey it may have not been especially helpful.

    Perhaps if we can re-frame the debate to be about choice rather than necessity and its attendant doom and gloom, we can bring more people on board.

    I sign off once again acutely aware of how very simplistic and partial this commentary is, and how very unconcise :) Nevertheless I feel enriched to have engaged with you Debi.

  13. NomDebPlume said, on 10/11/06 at 6:44 am


    I, too, feel enriched to have participated in such an informative and earnest exchange (which, happily, stayed friendly :-) ). I visit Curt’s site knowing his views and commentaries usually oppose my own, not “looking for a fight”, but looking to learn. It is my belief that life should include a pursuit of knowledge for as long as we are able.

    My best friend is a “liberal”, born and raised in the Netherlands. Needless to say, our politics can differ tremendously, but our relationship thrives because we open each other’s eyes to viewpoints the other may not have considered. When we first met (a decade ago), it took me a while to accept that Americans were not the center of the universe [sheepish smile]. I can’t tell you how many times we have gone around in circles over the subject of how “Saddam is/was not substantially different from any other government or dictatorship”, and how it is not the United States’ responsibility to play peacemaker for the entire world (translation: We should just mind our business!).

    Perhaps it is that “center of the universe” mentality that drains resources at a rate disproportionate to our population in the world. I would venture to say that as long as we live in this imperfect world, we will have imperfect leaders making imperfect decisions and can only try to make individual choices that affect matters that are most important to us as individuals. I am happy to have had my perspective enhanced – once again – by this visit to Curt’s site, and in such a meaningful way by a combination of reading and re-reading Curt’s review and your thoughtful analysis, Ann. Some of my opinions remain unchanged, but some [about conservation, in particular] have been challenged… and isn’t that what it’s all about?



  14. tellitlikeitis said, on 10/11/06 at 3:56 pm

    There’s a very good point that’s been raised here that I’m going to have to think about.

    There is a certain unprecedented degree of urgency and necessity about the things we’ve been discussing, but I think it’s an extremely astute and appropriate point that, in the end, both how we view the world outside our respective skulls, and how we choose to interact with, are very much matters of choice.

    The little anecdote that I gave–I thought it was uncannily appropriate to the discussion, but I was thinking further about it and I tried to remember a time when I had behaved similarly to this lady on the street. I didn’t have to try hard. :-) What I realized is that–and this statement may be a little too broad or general, but I think the point holds–it’s a rare soul indeed, if one even exists, that is incapable of being…reactively defensive at the expense of honesty. I think it’s a question of biology more than psychology, myself; I could be wrong about that. The question is, are we capable of being totally honest about our defensiveness, and furthermore, where do we get the information with which to process this dilemma?

    I believe you’re spot on, Debi, when you bring up the Center-of-the-Universe mentality. And I used to think, not so very long ago, that monotheistic religion was responsible for that. But a little digging and putting aside some of my personal prejudices inasmuch as I was able to do so revealed that’s not really true. I think there are a lot of people who use their faith to justify a me-centric outlook, but then there are many others who rely on it precisely to get away from such an outlook.

    What I worry about more than anything else, which really is the whole point of me doing this blog, is that there is a huge manipulation and restriction of information flow that’s going on not just in the US–although I think we’re pioneers at it–and I think it’s pretty threatening to the welfare of society. I think it’s already done a lot of damage that can’t be undone.

    I’m not out to change anyone’s views. I’m out to enrich my own, and I think that’s true of everyone involved in this discussion and I think that’s great. What I am out to do is to show whomever I can that doesn’t know it already that there are many good reasons to pay less attention to what their views are and more attention to how they came across them in the first place. Because there are some truths hiding behind that aspect that are getting buried deeper and deeper. Maybe I’m not the best or most tactful at expressing this idea–maybe I get too wrapped up in my own passions to be as objective as I should be. So I’ll work on that, for sure.

    I’ve really enjoyed following this discussion and I think it’s a great thing. Every time someone comments I feel a little wiser. Thank you.

  15. NomDebPlume said, on 10/12/06 at 12:00 pm

    Curt –

    I always feel wiser after visiting your site. :-) Yes, our passions may overtake our tact at times, but I am always impressed with how you ultimately express concern for the person over expressing your concern for the issue. You do an excellent job at both and I appreciate that.

    It was interesting to me last night to hear some of your points echoed in a very unlikely place – or, at least, a place you might consider unlikely. Just before falling asleep, I heard the following statement coming from my television:

    “As we’ve been telling you, it’s been getting harder and harder for Americans to get the truth about anything because of ideology. You can’t rely on the media anymore for truthful information. And that’s dangerous for the country. You can’t make intelligent voting decisions without facts.”

    I listened as the host went on to talk about an op-ed piece in the NY Times where former President Jimmy Carter extolled the success of the deal negotiated between the Clinton administration and the North Koreans in 1994, which he helped to accomplish. He (Carter) conveniently left out the part where the entire deal fell apart because Kim Jong Il cheated by taking our money and food, but developed the nukes anyway.

    Both Carter and The Times did include the following remark, though: “But beginning in 2002, the United States branded North Korea as part of an axis of evil, threatened military action, ended the shipments of fuel oil… and refused to consider further bilateral talks.” The obvious inference being that the Bush administration’s policies have failed.

    A clip from Senators Clinton and McCain followed to show partisan bias on the subject, and the speaker ended with the following assertion:

    “Obviously both Republicans and Democrats want to blame each other for North Korea’s bellicose actions. [We] believe you can make up your own mind about which political party can best protect you, but only if you have honest information. Obviously, we’re not getting that. Or am I wrong?”

    And who is this unlikely source? Bill O’Reilly. How weird is THAT? :-)

    – Debi

  16. homeyra said, on 10/29/06 at 2:49 am

    As your blog seems a great place where well informed and sensible people post comments, I want to ask a question that so far I had not the opportunity to ask any American. When I read about the Middle-East, I often see statements such as (here only a few from
    “”What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” – 1998 interview
    “Brzezinski, known for his hardline policies on the Soviet Union, initiated a campaign supporting mujaheddin in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which were run by Pakistani security services with financial support from the CIA and Britain’s MI6. This policy had the explicit aim of promoting radical Islamist and anti-Communist forces to overthrow the secular communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan government in Afghanistan”
    Elsewhere: He also used the concept of Islamic fundamentalism as an important ideological weapon against communism to further prevent the progressive movements and the dissemination of leftist ideas in the Middle East
    The whole literature about the Green Belt policy, the Balkans… etc. etc.
    I am just curious about what you think about all that.

  17. rateyou said, on 11/18/08 at 2:53 am


  18. Franklyn Pignone said, on 9/5/15 at 11:21 am

    excellent put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector don’t understand this. You must proceed your writing. I’m confident, you have a huge readers’ base already!|

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