The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00294: Brutal Afghan Winter

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts: climate change, rationalizations

Attention Conservation Notice: A goofy anecdote from a newspaper columnist.

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Jim Vandewalker's prize is 100 shares of Enron stock, currently hovering around $US 0.65 per share, but hey, you never know.

(((Meanwhile, in distant Afghanistan...)))

Source: Daily Telegraph, UK

"Whatever Happened to Kabul's Bleak Midwinter?

Daily Telegraph UK Filed: 12/01/2002 By Mark Steyn

"WHATEVER happened to the 'brutal Afghan winter'? It was 'fast approaching' back in late September, and apparently it's still 'fast approaching' today. 'Winter is fast, fast approaching,' reported ABC's Nightline on September 26.

"Two weeks on, New York's Daily News announced that, 'realistically, US forces have a window of two or three weeks before the brutal Afghan winter begins to foreclose options'.

"Two or three weeks passed and the brutal Afghan winter's relentless approach showed no sign of letting up. 'A clock is ticking,' declared the Oregonian on October 24. 'The harsh Afghan winter is approaching.'

"The clock ticked on and on, and on. On November 8, NBC's Tom Brokaw alerted viewers to the perils posed by 'a rapidly approaching winter'. Another month ticked on, and the brutal winter carried on rapidly approaching. 'Winter is approaching fast,' said Thomas McDermott, Unicef regional director, on December 9.

"And not just any old approaching winter, but the 'brutal Afghan winter', according to National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, Associated Press, etc. 'Former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy is in Pakistan to find out how to speed up aid deliveries before the brutal Afghan winter sets in,' reported the BBC in November. 'The temperature can drop to 50 below, so cold that eyelids crust and saliva turns to sludge in the mouth,' said Tom Ifield of Knight-Ridder Newspapers.

"As I write, it's 45 (above) in Kabul. (All temperatures are in Fahrenheit. So sue me.) Ghurian and Herat check in at 48. Bost, Laskar and Kandahar report 61 and sunny, though with the wind chill factored in it's only == let me see now == still 61.

"Meanwhile, in London, Birmingham and Manchester it's 42. If those Afghan refugees ever make it through the Channel tunnel, they face a gruelling battle for survival against the horrors of the brutal British winter.

"As for me, in my mountain vastness in northern New England, four months ago, when the doom-mongers first started alerting us to the 'fast approaching' 'brutal Afghan winter', it was 70 degrees and I was sitting here in shorts and T-shirt. Today, the daytime high is 21, and the predicted overnight low is three degrees.

"Three Fahrenheit is, as you Eurotypes say, minus 16 centigrade. So you'll understand my amusement at the Sunday Telegraph headline of October 21: 'British unit prepares to defy extremes of the Afghan winter. Crack troops will have to work in temperatures as low as -20C.' Big deal. Crack columnist has to work in temperatures as low as -16C. And, for my neck of the woods, this is a very mild winter.

"But even we, alas, have succumbed to the conventional meteorological wisdom. On October 13, The Daily Telegraph drew attention to 'an all-weather airbase designed to remain operational throughout the harsh Afghan winter at Bagram, north of Kabul'. What's to 'design'? What's amazing is not that Bagram airport remains open year-round but that the airports at Presque-Isle, Maine or Lac St Jean, Quebec or even Buffalo do. (You'll notice I haven't named and shamed the Telegraph's weather worriers, but I have suggested to management a spell as Yukon correspondent wouldn't go amiss.)

(((So far so good, and one would wonder: Where'd that brutal Afghan winter go? Did it scamper off with Bin Laden? Well, check this explanation out: it's all the fault of the media and NGO charity guys.)))

"So where did this 'brutal Afghan winter' business come from? Well, it came mostly from spokespersons for the relief agencies, who spent the brutal Afghan autumn noisily scaremongering to the gullible media. ('The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly, international aid agencies say, and they are predicting the worst humanitarian crisis ever.')

"They campaigned aggressively for a 'bombing pause' during Ramadan, which would enable them to truck some food convoys through the mountains from Pakistan. Unlike, say, the now reopened Uzbek crossing, the Pakistani routes get snowbound and become impassable, which is the only real fact about the 'brutal Afghan winter'. Whether they need to be quite so impassable is another matter. Eight feet of snow fell on Buffalo a few days back, and they got in the snowploughs, pushed it aside and then trucked it away.

"But then there wouldn't be an America at all if the first settlers had heeded Ye Olde Oxfam warnings about the brutal New England winter. The other day an internet wag, Glenn Crawford, deftly summed up the different cultural approaches to unpromising climate, in this instance between the Afghan plain and Nevada. Third World solution: eke a living out of the desert. American solution: 'Viva Las Vegas!' ((("Climate change"? Hey man, the thermostat's over there behind the slot machines.")))

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