A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004 :::
An odd bit of science, and then on to the bloodletting.

They're baa-aack. The cicadas that is, the 17-year-kind. This morning, A Mind That Suits bent over to inspect one that was drying itself on the back steps and found on standing up that he had steadied himself by placing his hand a few microns from one on the banister. He will have to get used to this. They are here for a month, and they are everywhere.

Wll, they are not quite everywhere yet, exactly. They are just all over the place. Within a week, they will be everywhere, as in every inch or two of available space.

And they are not attractive critters.

Which makes it odd that the French eat them.

The Washington Post even profiled one local Frenchman who had frozen a bunch from the last batch and was still thawing them and eating them a few weeks ago.

One hopes he kept a few, because he can't eat these. They have evolved. Their shells are now toxic. Dogs and cats, which of course love to eat insects, are getting very sick. There is not much their owners can do except hope for the best, and that Tuffy learns her lesson from one bad experience.

One possible explanation for that evolution is a rather interesting example of the "iron law of unintended consequences," and why ecological problems are not always caused by males and their machines.

The memory stirred on hearing of this development for the umpteenth time last night. It was perhaps one of the famous "critter stories" from the indispensable Wall Street Journal, which is so fond of such stories it even published a collection of them recently. The favorite of A Mind That Suit is still the one about how squirrels can't get enough of high tension wires, resulting in frequent squirrel deaths and frequent black-outs both large and small.

Then again, it may have been something in the not quite indispensable Post. Age. It does things to the memory.

This story had to do with cats, the domesticated kind, and the opinion of those who study such things that one of the greatest ecological disasters of recent years was the introduction of sanitary, absorbant cat litter. It's not the litter that's the problem; it's the cats. They got to move inside starting about 40 years ago, to be loved by one and all and to love each other so much that there are just lots and lots more of them.

A Mind That Suits himself is immensely fond of cats. He likes them a whole lot when they are really, really big, and so was delighted recently to stand next to a zoo keeper who had an adolescent serval cat on the end of the leash. Serval cats are not really, really big, he should add. They are only a perhaps about three house cats in size, but that is quite big enough when you are standing next to a frisky kitten with a strange fondness for chewing ice. The zookeeper commented not so idly that servals are known for their ability to jump, so A Mind That Suits kept his distance and resisted the urge to pet the fascinating creature. (This picture should convince one and all of the wisdom of the zookeeper's warning.)

For he indeed likes the petting and purring stuff, but what he admires is the fact that they are just wonderful killers. Servals for instance use those hind legs to jump and snatch flying birds from the air.

On a more quotidian scale, all those extra house cats have done a remarkable job of reducing the numbers of a whole variety of species.

One has to assume that the cicadas decided to fight back.

Well, actually, one doubts that cicadas decide much of anything. But nature, as Jeff Goldblum's character comments in Jurassic Park, always finds a way.

The last appearance of the 17-year-cicadas would have been the first time they appeared after the explosion of cats, who probably feasted on the cicadas, as apparently all insect eating animals do. (There could not have been more Frenchmen, as even then they had a disturbing lack of children, and, before your finger hits that reply button, yes, it is disturbing that French people are not reproducing. It's more disturbing that Italians are not reproducing, because they make better food and are much better looking, but we digress.)

They probably learned that the ones that smelled bad made you feel really awful, and skipped those. (We're back on the cats here, not the French people.) Which means the toxic ones were the main suppliers of eggs. They lay so many eggs that probably even a reduced population is quite able to replenish the world's supply of cicadas, which is good for the gardens, because they aerate the ground during their 17 years underground.

But eating cicadas is no longer good for the kitties, or French people, and one hopes they learn quickly. The kitties, that is. The French can read.

And now to the bloodletting.

"It's about time" waits upon "it could have been worse" this morning. The indispensable Journal used the discovery of a sarin bomb yesterday to deliver itself of a reasonable, and reasonably good, editorial on that favorite obsession of this blog, the missing WMD.

"It could have been worse" shall come first. The Journal's editors could have claimed,as some tried to do yesterday, that one bomb settles the whole question. But a cranky, miniscule sect in Japan was able to kill 12 people on the Tokyo subway with sarin, and it did not take $200 billion and hundreds of lives to find out who did it. It means, as the editorial pointed out, that chemical and biological weapons are a live issue, and that is sobering enough.

"It's about time," because, for the first time in any noticeable way, the Journal is making use of the Iraq Survey Group's work. The ISG is the team once headed by the redoubtable and dedicated David Kay. Heretofore, the Journal largely ignored its existence. For the longest time, the Daily Diary of the American Dream maintained that the absence of WMD was no big problem, that the "war was about more than WMD." Some of its editors even said that the war was not even primarily about WMD.

Tell that to parents who lost children because of faulty intelligence. And poor planning, but that is another issue.

The editorial does a good job of putting together those elements that any reader of this blog knows should have been used, often, by conservative writers since October, when the ISG released its first report. The Journal recounts how Saddam was clearly biding his time until the pressure was off, and how we have discovered huge stockpiles--yes, there is that word--of precursor chemicals.

It does not make the best argument, regrettably. It makes no mention of Colin Powell's testimony on the diplomatic situation before the war and how sanctions were slipping away. It also makes no mention of the enormous corruption involving the UN and governments opposed to the war.

It does not make the best argument, because it indulges in too many rhetorical excesses.

As, for instance, that grating sneer that conservative supporters of everything about the war adopt toward any critic of even one detail of the war. One wishes that would simply go away.

And one wishes they would drop the scare quotes. This time, they are around the word "stockpiles," as if the lack of stockpiles was a minor problem. Let us--as John Kerry will--quote from Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 18, 2002:

(Saddam's )regime has amassed large clandestine stocks of biological weapons, including anthrax and botulism toxin and possibly smallpox. His regime has amassed large clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons including VX and Sarin and mustard gas. His regime has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons. And let there be no doubt about it, his regime has dozens of ballistic missiles and is working to extend their range in violation of U.N. restrictions.

As it happens, sarin and mustard gas have appeared in recent weeks. But two bombs is not a stockpile, and stockpiles are what we went to war over.

The Journal also clings to what may well be fairy tales. That Saddam may have buried the WMD, as they mention, is certainly possible and even probable, though how we are to find them is problematic. That he shipped them to Syria is more doubtful. Dr. Kay--before the war, every conservative writer's favorite WMD expert--reviewed the evidence and found no sign of that having happened.

These may be fairy tales, and they may be true. And we may find conclusive evidence soon, in which case W. will have fewer problems come November. But November is now very close, and the last time he was asked about the WMD Mr. Bush bobbled the question terribly. The chance that we will find those stockpiles in time is growing smaller by the day.

What is so frustrating is that even the interim Kay Report from October makes a compelling case for the war. The Journal opines that opponents of the war felt that the issue of WMD was closed, which they may have. What they did realize was that W. was vulnerable. What conservatives did was leave the playing field to the other team, by prevaricating and dithering.

Which brings us back to "it's about time." This editorial was a start. It's also not enough. If the President tries to use all of the arguments in that editorial, John Kerry will eat him alive.

The Journal has access to resources the rest of us don't, including leaky Senators. And it is about time they pulled up their socks and did their considerable best.

But the argument has to be all facts. It begins with the admission that the war was about stockpiles we cannot find. The fairy tales are dispensed with in favor of the most cautious explanation possible: Saddam destroyed what he had to make it look like he was done, even as he continued research and stockpiled--yes, there is that word--precursor chemicals and equipment against the day when sanctions, inevitably, would have withered away. And it makes clear just how close that day was.
Such an argument must make favorable references to Colin Powell and David Kay, to both of whom the Journal seems to have acquired an allergic reaction. A real pity, that last bit.

And it must dispense with the sneers.

Imagine looking into the eyes of a parent who lost a child because of faulty intelligence and imagine sneering at them. That should keep those scare quotes away.

It's about time.

A note on English: Alert readers may have noticed "two bombs is not a stockpile." Amounts are always singular. "Five bucks is not enough." "Two hours is a long time."

But WMD is plural, a point raised here before, and raised here again because the Journal used it as a singular. In a headline, no less. "WMD" stands for "weaponS of mass destruction." Any particular such weapon will have a name, such as "bomb" or "vial." The term is used as a plural by people looking for them.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 9:44 AM



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