Monday, September 14, 2009

The People Who Died

A haven't kept a commentary on the recent rash of important deaths. Partly because I was in America and now I have no internet, partly because I risk turning into the Crypt Keeper, turning over cyber graves like compost and revelling in the pity. I passed on Steve McNair joining the Len Bias Fan Club; on the wall their with Spider Savidge and Steve Olin. I passed on Les Paul because it was too large and graceful a thing to treat with any kind of appropriateness in a hurried fashion. I passed on Cronkite because it was historic and expected. That brings us, incompletely, to today, which brings passings that might not be so noticed but seem and, in fact are, important.

First up is Norman Borlaug. I would wager that the majority of people out there have no idea who that is. I am not saying that as a snob, I am saying that because you probably have no idea who the Club of Rome, Barry Commoner, Ken Venturi or Samuel Mockbee are either. Their names ring out in very specific circles. If you aren't into agronomics or urban planning or environmental theory then these people and their viewpoints don't have much to do with your lives. Except that Norman Borlaug did. He had a lot to do with millions of peoples lives. And when you effect millions of peoples lives on this planet you effect everyone. But, Borlaug is a difficult case for me, and a lot of other people. He was a compassionate agricultural genius who set out to save the world, did, and yet people still argue vehemently against his actions. I am one of those people.

How is that possible? What could be wrong with making plants resistant to disease and not as susceptible to draught. What is wrong with making sure that millions get fed? I can't make a reasonable argument in the ten minutes I have to write this, but I can point you in the right direction. It is an argument straight out of Star Trek (The Next Generation of course.) Or maybe Back to the Future. Borlaug changed the world. He permitted millions to live. Millions to live an reproduce who produced millions more. Millions more to be fed by Green Revolution crops. Millions more to sustain a population bubble with the end transforming from slope to cliff to overhang right before our eyes. The problem in the world is that when you save millions of people you have to keep saving millions more people and you are never in the wrong saving people. As the Japanese t-shirt reads: It Is Problem.

As you can see the argument is complicated and I firmly believe that Borlaug was a super genius out for good. I understand that I could just as easily be wrong but I largely see the Green Revolution as an unsustainable aberration, although I hope more super geniuses can prove me wrong.

Next up: Jim Carroll. Patty Smith says he was the best poet of his generation. I doubt that. All I really have to say is that when Jim Carroll kicks it and you can't say he died particularly young, some kind of age is over. Something great is done. I wish I had some hair to cut off or an earring to take out. I spent a few years there doing you proud Jim. I hope it was enough.

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attempting to silence the voices in my head.