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Brought to our knees…
Today and tomorrow are the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Great Blizzard of 1978, which covered eastern Massachusetts with a sudden fresh 27″ of snow atop the previous week’s base of 21″, then sculpted it with 90 m.p.h. Nor’easter winds into drifts higher than the rooftops. The Boston metropolitan area shut down, it was illegal to drive on any streets anywhere in the disaster area, and I had a blissful week cross-country skiing around town and testing my prowess at digging snow caves and building igloos, although I did do some duty with the National Guard delivering medicines to shut-ins. This was one of the first experiences during which I marvelled that human hubris could be so readily cut down to size by the majesty of nature at its furious worst (best?), and revelled at that peculiar liminal suspension of social norms that allows the efflorescence of unmediated human kindness and community, however brief and awkward. Although mindful of the loss of life, I still feel that way hearing of most natural ‘disasters’.

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‘Dr. Strangelove’ meets ‘The Madness of King George’?

The Madness of George Dubya: “(The) idea is very simple: to apply the premise behind Terry Southern’s Strangelove script to a war with Iraq. So we have the crazed head of a US air base in Britain, who regards UN weapons inspectors as “pinko, degenerate subversives”, launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Saddam Hussein.

While George Dubya cowers in his bunker clutching his teddy bear, panic ensues in Downing Street. But as the dithering PM finally authorises troops to break into the American base, the US military relish the prospect of all-out nuclear war.” Guardian UK Big hit in the UK; how far off Broadway would it have to be to be tolerable in America?

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Two from New Scientist:

Tadpoles take the blame for human hiccoughing

There are many similarities between hiccuping and gill ventilation in animals like tadpoles, the researchers argue. Both are inhibited when the lungs are inflated, for example, and by high carbon dioxide levels in air or water. But why do we still hiccup 370 million years after our ancestors began hauling themselves onto land?

If the team is right, hiccupping before birth is just an early stage in the development of suckling, a little like learning to crawl before you can walk. Straus thinks the circuitry that controls the movements of the gills and glottis was conserved during evolution because it formed a building block for more complex motor patterns, such as suckling in mammals. “Hiccups may be the price to pay to keep this useful pattern generator,” he says.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology will soon be testing a controversial theory about the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

According to an analysis by a leading fire-safety expert, had the fire-proofing insulation on the towers’ steel structures been thicker, the towers would have survived longer and might even have remained standing after they were hit by the hijacked planes. The work is being seized on by lawyers representing victims’ families and insurance companies.

If confirmed, it could also lead to changes in building codes.

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Mexican rebels: ‘We don’t want tourists’.
Zapatista rebels are threatening to seize a ranch and guest house owned by U.S. citizens and are running tourists out of parts of southern Chiapas state — an unexpected turn for a country whose third-largest income source is tourism.” Seeing this headline [courtesy of dangerousmeta], I wondered at first if the article was referring to the ranch the Harvard University Chiapas Project owned, and maybe still does, in San Cristobal de las Casas, a major tourist destination in the highlands of Chiapas and a gateway to the indigenous territories of the post-Mayan peoples associated with the Zapatista rebel movement. The ranch was used for continuous anthropological research under the direction of Harvard Professor Evon Vogt and others who studied the modern-day Maya. It was an important training site to teach anthropology students fieldwork techniques. As I’ve described here before, I was a member of the Harvard Chiapas Project in the ’70’s and my undergraduate thesis arose from fieldwork I did there.

The ranch threatened by the Zapatistas, however, is an ecotourism resort fifty miles east of San Cristobal. I’ve wondered at times if the Harvard program still exists (Vogt is retired now and has already written a memoir of its efforts) and, if so, if it has been responsive to the indigenous uprising or in its way.

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North Korea Intensifies War of Words With U.S.,   threatens pre-emptive strike against the US. NY Times The dysadministration response is to dismiss the threats as the usual North Korean rhetoric. While it probably is bluster, it misses the point . The Bush war-fighting doctrine abandons restraint in embracing such options as preemption (i.e. starting wars), suggesting the permissibility of tactical nuclear weapon use, military provocation before exhausting skillful diplomatic approaches, and unilateralism in defiance of world opinion. This is sure to be cited as a precedent by other rogue states [If it isn’t clear, I mean rogue states other than the U.S. —FmH] with the capability and recklessness to act on their threats even if North Korea does not, and the U.S. will never see its responsibility for the lawlessness that follows, just as it is taboo to explore its responsibility for being targeted by radical Islamist terrorist wrath.

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U.S. Mourns? Don’t Believe It. John Balzar captures exactly what has troubled me since Saturday’s accident. However, I’ve also wondered if some of the pathos of the reaction to the shuttle disaster isn’t just the diversion from the looming war weighing heavily on our collective psyche although not consciously acknowledged in many circles.

The hype, not the accident, is what’s shocking. The disintegration of a space shuttle is a big story. But it’s not that big. We’re all moved by the death of astronauts, just not that moved. It’s a tragedy for sure. But …

Does it really warrant the preposterous questions we hear being asked?

Will President Bush have to rethink Iraq? Will he find it easier to bend Congress to his will for the sake of tax cuts? Are critics of the president once again unpatriotic? Has Bush displayed anew his remarkable leadership? Should humankind abandon the quest to explore our universe? Is everything different now? Blah, blah.” LA Times [via dangerousmeta]

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Emily Dickinson:
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

[A little Dickinson tidbit, for George and Laura Bush as one in a series honoring the ‘banned’ poets of Feb. 12th.]