Moment of Inertia

n, A measure of a body's resistance to angular acceleration, equal to the sum of the products of each mass element of a body multiplied by the square of its distance from an axis.
— American Heritage College
Dictionary, 3rd ed.

by chris grosso, retired

INNOCENTS ARE BEING SHOT, sniped, stabbed, shanked, hacked, beaten, blasted, blighted, beached, preached, swindled, starved, sabotaged, doped, raped, worked and otherwise hated to death on a regular basis by the mean and the greedy, the smug and vindictive, the polite and the purposeful and, worst of all, vicariously at the hands of the sleepy and the scared — the silent.

Now the news...

A tentative settlement to protect whales and dolphins in federal court between conservationists and the U.S. Navy is being hailed by both sides, we're told, as a victory.

And whales aren't celebrating.

The agreement, involving the decimation of marine mammal populations by advanced Navy sonar, is far from equitable, as far as marine mammals are concerned. The language of the opinion, written by U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco, while paying much flowery lip-service to cetaceans, leaves a lot open for interpretation, particularly its central legal test: whether or not the nation is at war.

Samples of the ruling:

...only peacetime use of this new sonar system is at issue; the Navy is free to use the system without restriction in time of war or heightened threat...

...At the same time, the Court fully accepts and defers to the Navy’s assessment that it needs to train and test this new sonar system during peacetime in a variety of oceanic conditions in order to be ready to address threats from modern submarines employed by potentially hostile powers...

You could take the sentence that begins "At the same time," put it alone in a time capsule, and visitors to Earth in 4.4 billion years would get the whole picture.

The settlement hinges — teeters, really — on a concept referred to as peacetime, as if there ever was or will be such a thing in the world of international politics.

The word "peace" only appears eight times in the seventy-three-page opinion, which seems odd given the axial position the idea occupies. What constitutes peacetime is never defined, though the image of Joe Walsh and Don Henley ice dancing on the River Styx comes to mind. When that happens, the Navy says, it will limit deployment of its low-frequency sonar system (called LFAS) to the coastal waters off North and South Korea, China, Japan and the Philippines. Prior to the court case the Navy had been sweeping entire oceans with the sonar uninhibited under a five-year exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act (itself an endangered species under the current Administration) approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Both sides in the case, the U.S. Navy and the Fisheries Service on one hand and the conservationists represented primarily by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the other, are confronted with their shared and deeply held belief that the protection of "what is theirs" (liberty? security? salvation from the North Korean communists' nuke threat?) depends primarily on a military that can do whatever it deems necessary (when it comes down to it), regardless of the consequences, even if it means destroying the planet in the process. The conservationists are facing the fact that, somewhere down the line, they too have placed absolute power in the hands of a few.

Presumably, the judge's intention was noble enough: to balance "competing" interests. But as I recall there's an old poster out west that says something about intentions and the roads they are paved with; intentions aren't enough. One must intend to choose to find the high road. The court's decision highlights how deeply the dominant society in the world clings to the belief that you can have your poison and eat it too; that warmongering can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the splendors of creation. And if the war machine should pick up momentum? Then, the court says, it is only fair to let the Pentagon blot creation out. By deferring to the military principle as precept, the court's opinion only reinforces the massive status quo failure well underway, from all sides of the political seesaw, in the realm of real stewardship.

At least until whales, dolphins and dugongs start pissing oil.

* * *

Near Okinawa there exists one of the Western Pacific's richest breeding grounds for humpback whales. After raising their young in these waters, the whales migrate to the Aleutian Islands and off the coast of Alaska to feed.

That always worked pretty well for the humpbacks. The problem is while the Navy is patrolling the Sea of Japan and the South and East China Seas, "lighting up" North Korean and Chinese diesel submarines, they'll be casting long, dense, dark and intense shadows of amplified waveforms smack through the whales' breeding grounds.

Well, so what? It's just sound after all, not like they're dumping benzene into the ocean.

They are, but that's another essay.

In a piece filed in October by AP reporter Peggy Andersen, she describes what happened in Washington's Haro Strait at the moment the sonar was activated:

The sound picked up by the underwater microphone was startling: a blasting shriek every 25 seconds or so. Porpoises and killer whales...suddenly panicked and tried to flee. Twenty killer whales that had been feeding in the area started agitated swimming. As many as 100 porpoises leaped through the water, apparently trying to escape the noise.

One hundred porpoises jumping out of the water. That can only be a response to evildoings.

As if that wasn't enough, in keeping with its strict policy of nullifying the values and insulting the intelligence of every living thing which loves on the planet at every opportunity, one of the first orders of business for the Cheney-Bush Administration (after convening the National Energy Policy Development Group in super-secrecy for three sinister months) was to expedite the process of opening up the Alaskan wilderness to oil exploration. You know, give Junior a little land, some responsibility, let him earn his own money.

Now the whales are fucked when they're breeding, and fucked when they're feeding.

But there is reason for hope in this story.

If you happen to find it please let me know what it is.

In an exploratory article on the cetacean crisis written a few years ago entitled Dolphinity, I concluded that dolphins were showing humanity where we're headed. It ended with a question the editor himself had prompted: Does threat to cetaceans translate into a threat to humanity? To which I answered, I think seems like it might...maybe there’s a chance of that...yes. Through a convoluted example I cited essentially the real linkage between apparently discreet species as the basis for my tentative answer.

That was a few years ago and some things have changed since then. Namely, the world has evolved.

Regressively, but it has evolved.

In a commentary piece that can be found here, writer John Pilger says that we "have evolved to the apolitical self; to the introspection and squabbles of individuals divorced from any notion that their self-obsession is less important and less interesting than an engagement with how things really are for the rest of us."

That may very well be true. But I also think that regression is only temporary. If it wasn't, the planets would be in retrograde motion more often than direct.

Today, we have more evidence of this connection among life forms from scientists who are studying, among everything else, a fifty-year chain reaction triggered by commercial whaling. They're finding that the mass slaughter of more than half a million whales in the Pacific between 1949 and 1969 translated into the decimation of populations of sea lions, sea otters and seals. And of course when evidentiary linkages are shown in an area for the first time, the status quo always will shudder first, and violently react once it recognizes that what is emerging into view is what its ideology tells it should be classified as "unknown".

Shamefully, inconceivably, this is happening right now to the detriment of crucial scientific inquiry, under the current administration. Government scientists who haven't been producing results that favor the oil, coal, aluminum and natural gas industries are being discredited and summarily fired, and replaced by more "sympathetic" (and probably hungry) environmental scientists. So that's what Bush meant by "compassionate conservatism".

* * *

Throughout written history the ignorant have been terrified of the unknown, and the whale is a great big, living, breathing example. Whales were thought of as sea "monsters" lurking in the watery depths, coming up to the surface occasionally only to snack on ships manned by paranoid crews that were themselves on their way to wage wars, conquer other territories and collect slaves and spices for some arrogant king and queen somewhere.

But whales are not demons or "evildoers". And despite some fundamentalist Christian symbology I've seen which interprets the whale in scriptures to represent some sort of "demonic Commander" (and it's always the guy over in the desert, not the guy in the White House, that is, unless he likes to fuck and get blowjobs), marine mammals occupy no quadrant on any axis of evil anywhere, whether its peacetime or wartime. This would come as news to President Bush if he happened to read the news. But who needs to read the news when you and your business partners are the ones who write and distribute it? Being further down the food chain, the news is for the little fish.

Anyway as long as you "love Jesus", you're free to destroy God's creatures at will.

The whale, as a symbol, is tied to navigation. Navigation is a combination of direction, momentum and purpose. A beached whale is like a shipwreck; a catastrophic navigational error. Its presence echoes anything from the incompetence of a single commander-in-chief to the systematically propagated addiction of an entire society.

But keep in mind that whales are not beaching themselves, as is the dominant syntax surprisingly being used in the news on the subject by conservationists and the military establishment alike, as if the whales have a choice in the matter. Humanity has an oil dependency primarily because our leaders are addicted to power. The masses are therefore hooked on a false sense of security (national or otherwise). And it's all intertwined.

Whales are being beached-literally driven out of their homes by a microscopically few humans who are toying with war at the decision-making level because they believe they'll derive some short-term...

Aw, who cares what they believe. It's ignorant. A home invasion on a global scale. Right under our own feet where we can't see. And it's happening because the people who highjacked the government and who obviously fancy themselves to carry some kind of mythic importance in the scheme of things (and who are real angry at their dads and don't even know it) live and expect the rest of us to live in a world of formula fiction and comic book storylines, where soulless villains are written-in as needed just to move the convoluted plot along.

But if you observe how your brightest friends and lovers live, read, learn and love (unless your brightest friends happen to be Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) you may notice that their lives are probably nothing like what we call "mythic". This is precisely because they are aware of the myths that underlie the human experience and which give rise to human behavior, and they are, by and large, at peace with those myths. They are at peace with them because, as a result of their awareness, they are generally not controlled by them. They respect the myths, but don’t fear them. Like an electrician is with electricity.

(Reagan and Bush apparently got their spurs caught on the thin propaganda of the American-Western myth somewhere down the line, and while they were galloping around playing Cowboys and Palestindians they were being controlled by those deeper, older myths moving well beneath the surface—myths they were otherwise too terrified to look attentively upon, deciding instead to blast them right out of the water.)

And as a result here we find ourselves in 2004, our shared momentous mythic thought and emotion emerging, arching its back out from the deep and dark of our unconscious, and we're left indifferent to the mighty force of the sun and all it creates because nearly the whole human race has been systematically dehumanized, from the top down, since the Industrial Revolution. All you have to do is look at one of your bosses, the short one who looks like a smarmy little nervous bulldog, eyes bulging out, who would do anything for his treat.

Right. Fuck the left-wing pinko tree-hugging environmentalist Dodos. Give me the Atkins Diet so I can grow back my fangs and dewclaws.

My phone's ringing, if you don't mind I'm going to take this call, just a moment please.

* * *

That was Jesus, with an urgent request.

He wanted me to ask someone to do something for him, and to do it quickly. I wrote it down:

get rope. chair. very large boombox. and president.
tie president to chair, make sure rope is tight, but not boombox next to chair-turn volume all the way first four measures (the drum intro only) of When The Levee Breaks...over and over and over again...until Jesus appears and says to stop.

Oh, and he emphasized not to hurt him.

* * *

Supposing Plato, Jesus, Aleister Crowley and the guy who wrote Row, Row, Row Your Boat are correct, in this dream of ours the ruling elite are not only killing its citizenry by any number of means (mostly tied to their disrespect for the environment, resentment toward women and unfamiliarity with sex), they are killing whales by the thousands, exploding their inner-ears with relentless sounds of war machinery. That's quite an accomplishment, even for a dream.

I had recurring dreams about whales when I was little, the same every time; for two seconds (or two hours — what's the difference in dreamtime?) I would be standing on the seashore and I could see off in the distance the unmistakable shape of a whale's tail slowly breaking the surface, stand perpendicular to the horizon, fins fanning parallel to the surf as it poised to submerge again. Only I never saw it dive back down into the water.

Instead my body would be instantaneously transported from where it had been standing on the water's edge, to the palm of the whale's tail fins. All the while my vantage point remained the same, on the beach there; it was my body that had been transported.

And I would watch the whale's tail, from the shore, begin to bat my body around like one of those wooden paddle-ball games. Whap-whap-whap!! Used to scare the piss out of me. Literally.

Of course, whales don't really play paddle-ball with people, though dolphins may if you give them a fish. But pound for pound, or metric ton for metric ton, whales are the most gentle creatures in the known physical universe. And as a result they are the strongest.

What is washing up out of our unconscious is being embraced lovingly by a relative few. The question is: Are those few going to be enough to breathe life back into the world?


Mammals in particular don't respond well to war because of the maternal bond forged during live birth and nursing.

Mothers are the hardest hit by combat because their sons are taken away and further dehumanized and used for untenable destructive purposes for which (and for whose family wealth) the mommas not only never intended their sons be used, but that is diametrically opposed to what their sons represent to them, which is their own creativity. So mum's creative impulses (which of course are rooted in sex) are being highjacked as well; optioned by the government and used to destroy the sons of mothers somewhere else. And it crushes a very deep part-the deepest part-of all the maternal souls, and robs them of their grace.

I suspect that's true even for Barbara Bush, who's able to send other mothers' sons into combat in place of her own. Looks like she hasn't slept in years.

La guerra es mala y barbara;
La guerra, odiada por las madres,
Las almas entigrece;
mientras la guerra pasa,
¿Quien sembrara la tierra?
¿Quien segara la espiga que junio amarillece?
¡Senor NO a la guerra!

It's from a plaque at the entrance to a thirteenth-century Catholic church in a small Spanish village in Andalucia. The church, which is the centerpiece in the town square of the village called Ojen, had originally been built as a mosque when the Moors from North Africa had occupied the region. BBC writer Angus Malcom, who was with me, translated the Spanish for me:

The war is bad and barbaric.
The war, hateful for the mothers,
Closes the heart;
While the war is permitted,
Who will sow the earth?
Who will reap the yellow corn each June?

Sir NO to the war!'

There's Olde Europe for you.

There's an older fellow in the office where I work, sharply cynical with smart-alecky comments about every issue of the day but, oddly enough, imbuing his remarks with an unmistakable, unspoken, resonance that feels like love or reverence. I learned he was born under the sign of Leo, and he very much is the king of the office. What's more he bears an uncanny resemblance to The Lion in the Wizard of Oz. It struck me immediately that the resemblance correlates with the Lion after he received his "courage".

I later learned that his body had been all but shredded to ribbons by shrapnel in Viet Nam and stitched back together. He subsequently was awarded the Purple Heart medallion.

One recent day I decided to inform him — respectfully, I might add — of the present crisis in his underwater kingdom. "I'm writing an essay on the topic," I said.

His youngest son being a sailor, he was aware of the situation, so I asked him a few philosophical questions.

"Does not the dominant species have a responsibility to the others? Is there not an implied stewardship mandate, you know, the thing they say to justify foreign policy decisions when the cameras are on?"

His response was that human survival is paramount, and that every species becomes extinct eventually, and that he doesn't see why whales and dolphins should be any different from, say, the Dodo bird.

I said, "But isn't the presence of what we call collateral damage as a result of some enterprise clear evidence the goal of the enterprise itself is flawed? And then isn't it therefore misguided if it continues? I mean it would seem to me self-defeating and counterproductive to write off 'collateral' damage as a tolerable cost of doing business."

I had finished momentarily. He looked at me, thoughtfully, for a moment.

Then he called me a "left-wing pinko tree-hugging environmentalist cuckoo."

I asked him if I could quote him for my article.

He said, "No, you may not."


"Unattributed is fine."

So I asked one more question: Wouldn't he be even slightly disappointed to find his kingdom suddenly bereft forever of cetaceans — a world without whales or dolphins?

Right then his phone rang and he turned away to answer it, as did mine and as did I.

It wasn't Jesus on the other end of my line. I don't know about him. But he was very quiet the rest of the evening. I presumed he was thinking about my question backstage in the wings of his private thoughts. As was I.

* * *

Let's say with confidence that a nation at its most graceless is a nation at war, and therefore war is disgrace incarnate; that a nation can go no lower intellectually, philosophically, emotionally, spiritually—humanly—than to force its young people to crawl through the blood, shit, shredded sinew that war most certainly is (except maybe to celebrate it with pride, all flag-waving and idiotic pseudo-country songs, in the relative security and climate control of one's own home or local bar).

It's a question of grace. And the complete lack of it.

And it takes just an ever-so-slight shift in attention to fall completely out of it. But by the same token, also to regain it.

It goes both ways, I think. I'll show you what I mean using these two statements of fact:

To kill is to be completely without grace.
To kiss is to be completely within grace.

You just gently squeeze the "l"s a little bit. ++

The opinion:

Pilger essay: