A Day Late and a Dog Short

GREAT EXPECTORATIONS: Tuesday was a bad day and I needed a jolt, so I tuned in to the president’s State of the Union speech. During the president’s six years in power, I’ve managed to condition myself to Pavlovian perfection; every time he opens his mouth, I erupt in a foamy fury of expletives that foul the air for miles around. George W. may be bad for the soul, but he’s great for the adrenals. Strangely, though, the president failed to move my Richter scale at all this time.

Instead, I was forced to meditate on the cruel symmetries of the moment. On the day the president delivered his speech, E. Howard Hunt up and died. Hunt is credited with masterminding the burglary of Democratic National Headquarters — located in the now infamous Watergate complex — on behalf of then-president Richard Nixon and his aptly acronymed CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President. It was Nixon’s attempted cover-up of that burglary that ultimately forced Orange County’s only president to resign. Nixon’s approval rating, just prior to his resignation, hovered at a miniscule 27 percent, which coincidentally, is the same number posted by the current occupant of the Oval Office. More than 60 percent of those polled said they strongly disapprove of the job Bush is doing, and 71 percent said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.

Tuesday was also the day lawyers for the White House’s trusted lieutenant Scooter Libby — charged with lying to federal investigators — argued that Libby was set up to take the fall for White House Svengali Karl Rove. The case revolves around the efforts to which the White House went to smear any member of the Washington insider club who dared question the false pretenses under which the president waged his Iraq War. In this case, the White House lashed out against former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson — a one-time Isla Vista party animal — by leaking to the press that Wilson’s wife was an undercover CIA spy. That’s a federal offense. Wilson had fallen from grace by writing a New York Times op-ed piece questioning Bush’s claims — made in his 2003 State of the Union speech — that Saddam Hussein was attempting to buy yellow cake uranium as part of a broader effort to create a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Wilson wrote that he had been commissioned by the administration to investigate it, found it to be without merit, and so informed the White House in a written report. During Watergate, Nixon was brought down not by the crime itself, but by the cover-up. Likewise, Libby has not been charged with the leak itself, but with lying about it. While the Watergate scandal briefly gave investigative reporters rock-star status, the investigation leading to Libby’s indictment has undermined the basic foundation upon which all investigative reporting rests: The case against Libby was put together only by forcing reporters to spill the beans. To that end, one reporter was jailed, and others were threatened.

I also tuned into the speech because I’d been assured by all my enviro buddies that Bush had finally seen the light about global warming and climate change, and would announce some bold new policy to make amends for the years he’s spent protecting the oil industry and energy companies. I was severely underwhelmed. It’s true he said the words “global warming,” coupled with the phrase “serious challenge.” But that was about it, except for all the empty promises he’s made in every State of the Union address about curing America’s oil addiction. Okay, he did say something about slashing gas consumption by 20 percent, but during the past six years he’s effectively killed many efforts to do just that. As to his promise to increase the supply of alternative fuels seven-fold, I’m not holding my breath. I figure his enthusiasm for ethanol is just a way to give special breaks to the corn industry upon which ethanol now depends. My enviro friends assure me that ethanol made from corn — which requires massive amounts of energy to grow — is a necessary if imperfect jumping-off point. Soon they’ll be making ethanol from weeds and grasses. In fact, one company claims it can make fuel from one of the most noxious, toxic, and invasive weeds ever to hit the South Coast, Arundo donax. A giant, bamboo-like grass that grows about six feet high, A. donax can be seen choking out just about every trickle of a stream around here.

Decidedly not native to California, A. donax grows about 10 times faster than any native plant, sucks down water about 10 times faster, and reproduces quicker than nymphomaniac rabbits on speed. Worse, it provides no habitat or sustenance to any creature great or small and, once embedded, needs napalm to extricate the stuff. I’m still waiting for someone in Santa Barbara to announce how they’ll make money and save both the creeks and the skies by harvesting A. donax.

A company in Florida, Biomass Investment Group (BIG), has already proposed constructing a 20,000-acre A. donax plantation. BIG claims the A. donax will all but grow itself, and that the carbon released by converting A. donax into bio-fuel will be offset by the carbon it absorbs during photosynthesis. But Florida’s native plant societies are freaking, warning that if you give A. donax an inch it will take a country mile.

One of the other aspects of A. donax is that it contains trace amounts of a hallucinogenic compound strikingly similar to DMT, once known as “the businessman’s LSD” because its trips were sweet but short. According to some researchers, the body naturally produces a variant of this compound, which is responsible for the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel phenomenon experienced by those who’ve survived near-death encounters. Maybe next time Bush gives a speech, I’ll cultivate a few hundred hectares of A. donax beforehand. I have no illusions it will make the speech any better. I just won’t mind so much. I might not even notice at all.

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