Its Snot Unusual
Rooney was late draining me this morning.
His orb said he was called away to a meeting of fellow Nurg dignitaries. My guess is there's another human uprising in Montana. The Nurg don't do anything about the uprisings, but they do like to watch.
"Resistance is futile," Rooney likes to say, "but it is also adorable."
Even more than most Nurg, Rooney loves paraphrasing Earth's pop culture, which is now theirs.
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He finally showed up around nine, two hours later than my usual draining, and my head felt like it was going to explode. There was no need to mention my distress, and he immediately latched himself to the receiving end of the device he calls the Hookah From Anotha Planet, the giving end being the bulbous siphon tubes in my nose.
It was in 2009 that Earth discovered the sad truth that all of human existence had been directed by an alien race to become their livestock, farmed for our nasal waste. To them it is like royal jelly mixed with heroin.
They planted a genetic program on this watery world, creating in us a race with great nasal passages and the right mix of curiosity, innovation and avarice to create the daily assault of allergens, pollutants, pathogens and chemicals that assured we'd be an abundant source of phlegm for them. The process was practically automatic, requiring only an occasional nudge from our unseen Nurg overseers to keep us on course.
"Did you know that in 2004, the drought in Australia was so bad that kangaroos, mad with thirst and hunger, began coming into towns and attacking people?"
Rooney is a trove of old eco-lore, as am I, since along with being his personal nasal cow, I've been assisting him these several years in his research. For the few of us who still bother to measure time, it is 15 BD, marked from the Big Denouement in 2009.
Rooney has the job of determining What Went Wrong. Typically on the thousands of other worlds they've milked, the transition into nasal serfdom barely even registers with the inhabitants. That's because the advent of total nasal congestion smoothly follows on the heels of the host race having lost its ability to reason, thanks to an abundance of brain-stunting chemicals in their environment. The latter lagged here and may take a generation or two yet before it fully kicks in.
Unlike my privileged status, most humans are permanently hooked up in factory farms. The temporary relief they get from being drained is so great that most acquiesce, but many still have enough sentience left to get balky. The transition was messy, and as much as the Nurg like entertainment, they don't like messes. Somewhere between compliant and comatose is where we're supposed to be.
Rooney and I enjoy a friendship of sorts. I am technically his slave, but it's like being Willie Nelson's slave, if Willie were an iridescent seven-foot praying mantis who had been amiably stoned for millennia. He lacks the "whatever" arrogance of most of his race and seems genuinely saddened that humanity was still somewhat aware when the snot hit the fan.
As for what went wrong, Rooney narrows it down to this: "Your George W. Bush was a real piece of shit."
This is not a term the Nurg use lightly. Rooney says it's pretty much a universal constant that "the brighter the species, the more repugnant the feces."
The problem with the hapless president, as Rooney explained to me early in our research, "is that Bush was a throwback to when your people wore pelts and huddled around campfires. In those times, we could whisper into a leader's mind, and he'd think the word of God was commanding him.
"But for the last millennium, people regarded our whispers as just one more idea popping into their fabulous minds. That's how it always is, so we'd tailor our whispers knowing the response would now be in tendencies instead of certainties.
"With Bush, though, we'd whisper, 'Destroy the atmosphere,' and gosh if Bush didn't, like an avenging angel. Look at this"—Rooney produced a stack of yellowed LA Times clippings—"in your 2001, we primed you to enter wars that would add an agreeable amount of oil smoke to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, which further readies your sinuses for us. The war smoke was a counterbalance to the actions leaders on our past worlds adopted once they caught on that global warming was causing their own demise.
"But Bush ignored the warning. He'd asked your best scientists, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, to question an international global-warming study. Instead, they confirmed and amplified it, warning that climate change prompted by human activity would increase the Earth's temperature by as much as 10.4 degrees by 2100, likely with catastrophic results.
"With nearly every other leader on every world, such a slap of self-awareness makes them realize the fragility of their ecosystems and slow the destruction. Bush didn't, and with all the other things he threw out of whack, your environment went haywire before your minds did. How one being could screw up millions of years of planning is astonishing."
While Rooney the historian may have been perturbed, Rooney the connoisseur was not. In the way that aberrant weather once produced great wine grapes, Bush's environmental havoc resulted in such nasal distress that Earth mucus was already esteemed among the great vintages by the Nurg. It's nice to be special, I guess.
Rooney has all of human history digitized in his orb, but he likes the smell and feel of old newsprint, so I have spent the years hence sifting through old LA Times and other papers and mags. I look for patterns for Rooney. I also look for patterns that can make sense of it to me. I haven't seen one yet.
Try this: if there's one thing Americans agreed, on it was that we loved our children, but story after story appeared about how we were poisoning them.
By the early 2000s, cases of childhood asthma had doubled over two decades. The incidence of childhood allergies had doubled in one decade. Children were hitting puberty years earlier than previously. Attention Deficit Disorder was labeled an epidemic. The percentage of children with autism saw a fivefold jump from 1980 to 2004, possibly caused by the mercury preservative used in some vaccines. Mercury from pollution appeared in such concentrations in tuna and other fish that advisories were issued to drastically cut back on eating them. A San Francisco physician reported that nine out of 10 of her pregnant patients had mercury levels that exceeded Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Another report showed that more than one-eighth of the 4 million babies born each year in the U.S. might have received harmful levels of mercury while in the womb, which could result in neurological damage, impaired brain function and learning disabilities.
That fit the Nurg plan, but how could human parents have looked at this and not been alarmed? Bush instead pursued policies that dumped still more mercury into the ecosystem—and ultimately into kids.
It just kept coming: an EPA study found that children were at 10 times greater risk from cancer-causing chemicals than adults, while another study found American children had higher concentrations than adults of 12 chemicals and pesticides believed to be harmful to a child's intelligence, memory, motor skills, behavior and immune systems.
A government study showed the arsenic-treated wood in children's playground sets put them at risk of lung and bladder cancer. In 2003, the Bush administration had issued a rule change allowing more arsenic in drinking water, only backing off after a public outcry. Once in their second term—sorry, blame electronic voting—they simply reclassified arsenic as a vegetable.
In 2002, EPA scientists reported that a DuPont chemical used in making Teflon—perfluorooctanoic acid—might cause developmental problems in children. Many U.S. children were nearing blood levels that caused those problems in lab rats. In 2004, EPA staffers accused DuPont of having intentionally withheld research since March 1981 showing birth defects and death in lab rats, as well as the fact that offspring of plant employees had rare birth defects. (DuPont had previously covered up the dangers of its lead-gasoline additive for five decades.) The Bush administration took no action, re-defining the term Teflon President.
In 2003, the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), common in food packaging, tooth sealants and other products, was linked to miscarriages, severe genetic defects, Down Syndrome and other problems, at levels humans were already exposed to. The chemical industry produced 2 billion pounds of BPA annually.
That year, the White House opposed controlling the use of flame retardants known as PDBEs and deca BDE—banned in Europe and elsewhere—even after studies found the toxins were concentrating in humans and animals with breathtaking speed. In lab rats, the chemicals were certainly retardants: disrupting brain development, learning ability, memory, hearing and behavior of offspring. One hundred million tons of the chemicals were used annually in computers, TVs and other common items, and American women and infants showed "extremely elevated" concentrations—U.S. breast milk had up to 70 times more PDBEs than European mothers had, near the levels damaging lab animals.
Jesus, it's slow sledding poring over all this science, especially since none of it amounted to squat. Most of the reporting was buried deep in the news and elicited little outcry, no follow-up and certainly no positive action from the White House.
Sometimes, Rooney would catch me crying, which tends to thin out the mucus more than they like.
"Don't take it so hard," he cooed. "You were bred and conditioned to believe some big all-father was looking out for you and your progeny. And your grand leader on Earth was assuring you everything was hunky-dory, A-okay, tip-top and getting better. Do cheer up and sift through this pile of clippings, would you?"
Dubya's dubious non-majority ascension to the White House prompted him to assure Americans he was a "uniter" who'd represent all of us.
What most of us wanted—81 percent of Americans, according to a 2001 Gallup poll—was stronger environmental controls on industry. Instead, our photo-op "environmental president" oversaw the rollback or reversal of more than 200 major environmental laws. His chief of staff, Andrew Card, had been the auto industry's top lobbyist. The deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior had been head lobbyist for the coal industry. Agriculture's Forest Service supervisor had been the chief lobbyist for the timber industry. Virtually every other appointment to environmental positions came from the polluting industries they were meant to police.
Bush's campaign promise to curb carbon-dioxide emissions was abandoned, as was the U.S. commitment to the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. In Bush's EPA, fines collected from polluters dropped by one-half. The EPA's two most senior enforcement officers resigned, saying they were not allowed to do their jobs. Bush backed a bill limiting the public's ability to sue polluters. Superfund cleanups slowed by more than 50 percent. The Northwest Forest Plan was gutted, dropping protections for 304 sensitive species and opening forests to more logging. In 2003, the administration backed a rule that allowed more tailpipe emissions from vehicles, causing more smog. Republicans eliminated the tax credit for hybrid cars while creating one for big-ass SUVs. Automobile fuel efficiency hit its worst level in two decades.
In 2004, the administration moved to loosen restrictions on coal-mining operations damaging to streams and waterways. They removed the Department of the Interior's authority to veto mining permits for operations that would cause irreparable harm to the local environment. Reversing the 25-year policy, Bush allowed companies to sell properties contaminated with PCBs and other toxins.
Bush's Interior department became the first since the passage of the Endangered Species Act to not add a single species to the endangered list—except when forced to by courts—and instead used specious science to de-list species. Habitat protections were also gutted. Meanwhile, the April 2004 issue of the journal Nature reported that more than 300 species of animals were on the brink of extinction, with urgent action needed to prevent their disappearing within a decade.
Lest you think this was a do-nothing administration, know that the Justice Department did take exceptional legal steps when Greenpeace alerted them that protected mahogany was being illegally shipped into the U.S. Rather than enforce the law and go after those despoiling the rainforests, they prosecuted Greenpeace under an archaic 1872 statute.
In April 2002, Greenpeace members had boarded a ship carrying the banned mahogany nearing Miami harbor and hung a banner from it reading, "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging." The members paid the usual fine for their civil disobedience, but the John Ashcroft Justice Department added the felony charge of "sailor mongering," using a law originally intended to keep prostitutes and saloonkeepers from luring sailors off ships. The law had lain unused since 1890, when a New York court had determined it was "inarticulate and obscure," and when the Greenpeace case came to trial in 2004, a judge tossed it out. Had the administration prevailed, Greenpeace would have lost its tax-exempt status.
Stifling people and ideas was a Bush White House specialty.
In February 2004, more than 60 top scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and advisers from previous Republican administrations, signed a 49-page letter complaining that the Bush administration distorted and suppressed science that disputed its policies. Numerous examples of censorship, distortion and coercion were cited. A White House spokesman dismissed the claims.
By July 2004, more than 4,000 scientists had signed the letter, including 48 Nobel Prize winners and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences. A White House spokesman dismissed the claims.
There are dozens of clippings detailing administration attempts to censor science, alter findings and vet scientific panels to contain only ideologues who would tell the White House what it wanted to hear. A 12-year study of the Arctic was dumped. Whistleblowers at nuclear facilities were fired. Environmental documents having nothing to do with national security were classified.
One afternoon, Rooney came in with a stack of newspapers, exclaiming, "Look at this!" as if he'd just discovered a mummy's hand wrapped in the sports page. He held up the Dec. 17, 2003, Times Food section bearing the headline "Dweezil Makes a Brisket."
"I think that is my new favorite sentence in the whole of human history," he said. "Would you mind leafing through the rest of this for me? We're looking for the best example of the synergy the government and industry shared in the Bush years. No rush."
Okay, follow the bouncing ball:
In 2001, as Bush assumed the presidency, California was enduring rolling blackouts in an energy crisis. Bush blamed the crisis on too much environmental regulation and set about dismantling or sidestepping those regulations. He didn't veer from this course one jot when the public learned the crisis had instead been manufactured by some of his largest contributors, including Enron, who'd manipulated the state's Republican-deregulated energy market to fleece consumers of hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of that money doubtless became part of the tens of millions the energy industry had given Republicans every election cycle.
While California's two senators couldn't get the White House to return phone calls during the crisis, the same players who had gamed the state met with Vice President Dick Cheney on an energy task force to formulate the nation's policy in secret. One of the few memos leaked detailed a stratagem to use California's energy crisis to justify unhindered oil drilling and rolled-back environmental standards.
The V.P.'s office literally asked energy lobbyists for a "wish list" of policies they desired. The resulting plan included opening more land and offshore areas to drilling—including the Alaskan wilderness—curtailing wilderness and wildlife protections, easing pollution controls and handing out $20 billion in corporate welfare to the energy industry, causing Republican Senator John McCain to dub it the "No Lobbyist Left Behind" bill.
The president used California's woes as an excuse to renege on his campaign promise to curtail the nation's carbon-dioxide emissions, cutting the sinews of the Clean Air Act that Richard Nixon had signed into law in 1970. The act required polluting coal-fueled power plants to upgrade their pollution controls whenever they made major repairs or expansions of their facilities. Many companies had skirted doing that for decades. During the Clinton administration, the EPA and Justice Department pursued the gross polluters, intending the potentially hefty fines as leverage to get the companies to finally comply. Several of the firms had been on the verge of agreeing to that. Then Bush came into office, and the companies were given to understand it was a whole new ball game.
Despite new studies showing the plants' emissions caused even greater health and environmental damage than previously thought—more acid rain, more mercury for everyone, more global warming—Bush ordered the EPA to drop its cases against dozens of polluting plants.
Bush proposed supplanting the Clean Air Act standards with his Clear Skies plan, which allowed, for example, 50 percent more sulfur-dioxide emissions. Even Congressional Republicans balked at the plan, perhaps because the National Academy of Sciences estimated the relaxed standards would result in 30,000 more premature U.S. deaths per year. So in March 2004, Bush sidestepped legislative action, instead reinterpreting the EPA rules so that the plants effectively never had to upgrade their pollution controls. For the first time in the agency's history, the research and input of its staff and federal advisory panel was entirely disregarded, with the rules instead adopting the wording of utility lobbyists.
Bush's EPA point man for weakening the rules, John Pemperton, was hired away by one of the chief polluters, Southern Co., which was also a big Bush contributor.
Bush celebrated the rule change with a photo-op in front of a power plant, where he declared, "We simplified the rules. We made them easy to understand. We trust the people in this plant to make the right decisions."
And it was easy to understand: that plant was now free to release 36,000 more tons of pollutants per year into the air. Mission accomplished.
Rooney gave me a break from our research this afternoon, taking me with him and his friends O'Malley and Flynn to see a Carrot Top holo-concert. I can almost understand the Nurg penchant for adopting Irish names, but their fascination with Carrot Top is beyond me. The holo-concert today is titled Carrot Top: A Study in Nuance. Even when he was alive and the Nurg wardens walked among us holo-cloaked, they flocked to his shows, which explains why Carrot Top had audiences while no one you ever knew was there.
As far as I can tell, the Nurg have no culture of their own. Instead, they mine their host planets'. According to Rooney, one reason why they time our species' demise and the utter collapse of the planet's ecosystem to about 300 years BD is they've usually become burned out on the culture by then and want to move on.
Most Nurg love trash culture: Etruscan potty jokes, Chuck Norris movies, midriff rock. It reminded me of the way human youths reveled in vacuous crap as if to show that death was so remote they could afford to piss years of their lives away. The Nurg did live nearly forever and had entire centuries in which to piss.
That was O'Malley and Flynn pretty much, and they also were just not nice. I think they resented that as a warden, Rooney had lived here and seen Carrot Top live—and also that he was allowed to keep his own personal nose: me.
In a mood this night, O'Malley told me, "You know what your fellows down on the farm call noses like you? House-snifflers."
From where they sit, I'd call me names, too. The ones who still have their wits about them can't enjoy living in pens, with nothing but TV and the sweltering heat to occupy their days. Even here in Orange County—Bush country if ever there were one—the environmental havoc had run high, since his administration apparently followed a Screw California First policy.
The manufactured energy crisis, the nation's highest gas prices compliments of Bush's oil buddies, the billions in economic losses from the drought while Bush's feds played hardball over water rights and aid: there was a pattern.
In 2003, as Southern California smog hit its highest level in six years, the Bush administration argued in the Supreme Court against California's right to set its own smog rules, with the supposed "state's rights" Republicans arguing that only the lax federal rules should apply.
A study released in 2004 revealed that under Bush, the disaster relief the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) doled out wasn't based on need but on an area's "swing state" status in the upcoming elections.
In 2003, California's Governor Gray Davis asked FEMA for $430 million in emergency federal aid to help clear forests of trees killed by the drought and bark beetles because experts predicted catastrophic fires. The Bush administration sat on the request for six months, then turned it down as unnecessary the very day the fires broke out. Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono declared, "FEMA's decision was wrong. . . . We knew this disaster was going to happen with certainty."
Bush's response to the record 740,000-acre fires was the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which again ignored science and granted the timber industry unchecked access to clear forests for profits instead of effective fire prevention.
Even local OC issues got short shrift. Two years after local environmentalists got the EPA to adopt rules for Upper Newport Bay—where toxic runoff imbued fish with levels of PCBs, DDT, lead, copper, mercury and selenium well above those considered safe for human consumption—the agency had taken no steps to enforce those rules.
Things were no nicer offshore, where a UC Irvine study found that surfers off Newport and Huntington beaches were nearly twice as likely to become sick as those surfing less-polluted beaches.
People had assumed our oceans would be "the breadbaskets of the future," but a 2003 study in the journal Nature found that larger fish such as tuna, swordfish, cod, halibut and flounder were down to 10 percent of their 1950s numbers, while 75 percent of food-fish populations were fished out to capacity and on the way to extinction. In 2004, even a panel of industry insiders hand-picked by the Bush administration found overfishing, pollution and poor regulation had all but destroyed fish populations in much of our coastal waters. The Bush administration boldly called for further study.
Much of California's water came from the Colorado River, which had 500 pounds daily of the rocket-fuel ingredient perchlorate leaching into it from military facilities. Perchlorate had been shown to cause developmental problems in children and was in the water at concentrations seven times the safe limits. In 2004, the General Accounting Office found the military had taken no action on Congress' orders that it clean up the perchlorate contamination. The Bush response was to suppress an EPA report on the chemical's dangers and to work to exempt the military from environmental laws, claiming it hindered the war on terror.
Even at Sept. 11's Ground Zero, the government had misled the public. An EPA report that cited health concerns for New Yorkers from the unprecedented combinations of burning chemicals, concrete dust, asbestos and other toxins that hovered in the air was ordered changed by the White House before it was released, to instead announce a week after Sept. 11 that the air was safe to breathe. The administration was later reported to be anxious for Wall Street to reopen without delay.
Global warming was the real dying elephant in the Bush administration sitting room. They ignored scientific evidence. They ignored anecdotal evidence. Meanwhile, each year from the 1990s onward was among the world's hottest.
Remember Rooney's drought-mad kangaroos? In the early 2000s, much of Australia sweltered under record 122-degree temperatures. Indonesia endured much the same, with fires that sent smoke around the world. Much of Asia was underwater in the monsoon season. In 2004, scientists from 14 laboratories reported in Nature that they expected more than a third of the 1,103 species they were studying to have vanished by 2050 due to global warming.
The summer of 2003 was Europe's hottest in 500 years, and thousands died in the heat. In October of that year, a NASA satellite study showed temperatures at the Earth's poles to be warming at two degrees per decade. Temperatures had been rising over the previous 100 years but were now rising eight times faster. The Arctic's largest ice shelf broke apart, and the ice was disappearing at 9 percent per decade.
Closer to home, by 2003, Lake Mead had dropped 90 feet below its normal level. Lake Powell was less than half-full. So little water went through the Glen Canyon generators that they only produced 30 percent of capacity. In a report by two dozen respected scientists in the November 2002 issue of the journal Climactic Change, the consensus was "global warming will have a devastating effect on the available water in the Western United States."
The years-long drought, vanishing icepack and blind dearth of conservation efforts resulted in total collapse here. Bureaucrats couldn't argue about water allocation anymore because there wasn't any. Desperation far greater than seen in the Depression's dust bowl set in. Without drought-resistant GMO corn and sorghum strains rushed to market, starvation would have been rampant. Forests were dying faster than the fires could consume them. There wasn't even water to stop the fires when they spread from Sierra Madre through the basin to the beach cities.
Bush called environmentalists "greenie weenies" or something and was dismissive of the science behind global-warming theory. In 2003, White House staffers so heavily rewrote and gutted a section on global warming in the EPA's annual report that EPA head Christie Whitman deleted it entirely rather than print what she called "pabulum."
Whitman quit the EPA shortly thereafter. Bush picked former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to replace her. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, a significant chunk of his past campaign contributions had come from corporations with outstanding EPA violations. As governor, Leavitt's state had the second-worst environmental record in the nation. The first had been Texas under Bush.
All this would have been Nurgific if the eco-cide had occurred over a couple of decades. That's what was meant to happen, giving the chemical and bio-science industries time to do their part. Bush hastened their progress as well, but some things take time.
Bush announced an "innovative" plan to have the government step aside and let chemical companies police themselves. There was no mention of their miserable record to date.
One company included was the manufacturer of atrazine, America's most common weed killer. Already linked to prostate cancer, in 2002, it was found to cause male frogs to develop female attributes. Amounts 30 times lower than the EPA allowed caused "gross malformations" in frogs, while the U.S. Geological Survey had found concentrations up to 100 times higher than those EPA limits in our drinking water. Atrazine had been banned for years in Europe, while America's only protection now was the manufacturer blowing the whistle on itself.
Rooney told me that atrazine began life as a Nurg whisper. In 2003, University of Missouri reproductive epidemiologist Shanna Swan noticed why: it and other pesticides and herbicides commonly used on U.S. crops caused defective sperm and low sperm counts in men. Men exposed to the chemicals via drinking water were 30 times as likely to have defective sperm. Swan reported that men in rural areas averaged as much as 44 percent less sperm than urban men, while Danish researchers concluded that men in 2004 averaged half the sperm count men did 50 years ago.
It was the Nurg idea to have the human race die off from attrition not long after they were done with us. With global warming acting like a self-cleaning oven, they figured they might eventually return and raise a new nasal crop here.
GMOs proved to be the clincher for us. Despite some cautionary mistakes in the early days of genetic modification—like Star-Link corn, GMO canola and bio-pharm crops that had proved uncontainable—Bush saw no need to apply the brakes.
The drought-resistant corn and sorghum, along with a bio-pharm corn intended to yield an erection aid, spread like crazy in the newly equatorialized climate, jumped species lines and created the universal allergen. The Nurg had to occupy Earth decades ahead of schedule because on other planets the discomfiture of total nasal congestion had led to total global war.
It was a relief on many levels when they took over. Under Bush, more than 2.6 million Americans per year lost their health coverage. The Centers for Disease Control had been drastically underfunded, and people had nowhere to turn between the nasal congestion and the advent of Really Mad Cow disease. The Indian casinos had filled only part of the need when they began offering jackpots of prescription medications instead of money.
The South was a flooded swamp. The entire Northeast needed a sneeze guard. The West was only good for charcoal. In 2009, President Ralph Nader—by then no one else wanted the job—bowed to the inevitable and handed the Nurg a ceremonial key to the planet. They received it in the spirit of zonked bemusement that guided all their doings.
I asked Rooney if he thought it was fair the Nurg had made humanity their snot piata.
"Your Goethe had it right: 'Life is the disease of matter,'" he said. "After you've thought all the great thoughts and unlocked the universe's secrets, what's really left except smacked-out superfood and Carrot Top until the end of time? At least your people served a purpose.
"What if you didn't have the Nurg to blame for your killing the planet? What if you'd brought all this woe on yourselves and had no one but yourselves to blame for your George W. Bush? Believe me, you're better off."
Rooney figures our What Went Wrong research is pretty much finished, decades ahead of schedule, and I have a new assignment to fill the days until I expire: to see if I can find a headline he enjoys more than "Dweezil Makes a Brisket."
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