You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

August 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

By: Aaron Datesman

Since today was my fortieth birthday, I'm going to be indulgent and write about myself.

I was fortunate to spend most of last May tromping around in India. This is what India looks like from inside the car which carried my wife and me from Rishikesh to Ram Nagar:

40th Fig1.jpg

I'm thinking of this now because the gentleman driving the car was from Bhopal; both he and his wife were survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide industrial disaster. Like Chernobyl, Bhopal was much more severe than (to my awareness) is commonly understood in the United States. Somewhere between 100-200 thousand residents of the city were permanently injured.

The wife of the man sitting out of the frame on the right, for instance, was permanently paralyzed after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. She lingered on in ill health for more than twenty years before passing away several years ago.

I was unprepared to confront a disaster in India in which the United States was implicated in part because I believed I would never hear about or see anything more wrenching than this:

40th Fig2.jpg

This picture was taken in the summer of 2006 in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, which in my limited experience is (or, more accurately, ought to be) the most beautiful place on earth. This particular location lies at the beginning of a road christened (somewhat cheekily) the "Ho Chi Minh Trail". This incarnation of the Duong Ho Chi Minh was not built during the American War - instead, it was built in the 1990's to support the operation of a huge hydroelectric project in a remote section of northern Vietnam. Although it has now been cross-purposed for showing tourists around, however, the new Ho Chi Minh Trail does also overlie a portion of the wartime logistical network.

As such, the area was repeatedly and intensively attacked by American air forces during the Vietnam War. According to our guide, the area shown in this photograph was sprayed with Agent Orange five different times. Compared to what the rest of the Central Highlands looks like, the landscape in this photograph is essentially lifeless. My principal thought at the time was how much the view reminded me of the desert in Arizona.

(As an aside, the area shown in this picture was a part of South Vietnam prior to 1975. The afternoon in 2006 when I took this picture was the first time I was really able, in my gut, to agree with Noam Chomsky's contention that the Vietnam War was about the United States attacking South Vietnam. I understood it before then, but I don't think I really believed it.)

As great as the evils which humans perpetrate against other humans can be, in my opinion the cruelest souvenir of civilization's existence will be our wanton legacies of environmental and ecological destruction. In my soul I can't make sense of these disasters, and innumerable others like them.

Bhopal and Agent Orange are remote from me, fortunately; but as we are all one humanity, none of us are truly remote, and certainly none of us are immune to folly or invulnerable to its consequences. I am in the mind to think of this today, I guess, as I spent the weekend visiting family in Pennsylvania. It is now impossible for me to think of my childhood home without thinking about the Three Mile Island accident. Apparently my life is like a guided tour of grim industrial disasters.

Happy Birthday To Me!

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at August 22, 2011 11:59 PM

This is your path.

Posted by: Amanda Rex at August 23, 2011 12:53 AM

Happy Belated Birthday Aaron!

You seem like you could do good/terrible disaster travel guides.

Read Franz Schurmann's The Logic of World Power and Bruce Cummings two-volume History of the Korean War while you're on a roll. There are a lot of indispensable books, but those two should be at the top of any list on the US in Asia from WWII on.

Posted by: N E at August 23, 2011 01:37 AM

Happy birthday Aaron.

Your discussion of the photo reminds of this old post of mine regarding Vietnam, referencing a CNN article from 2004.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at August 23, 2011 02:53 AM

@Amanda - I'm pretty sure my true path includes more heirloom tomatoes. And a pony.

@NE - For several years, I've kept a list of the books you mention in comments you write. I'm a slow reader and will never make it through them all, but it's a great benefit to me nevertheless. Those two books are on the list. Thank you!

@JV - The gift that keeps on giving, huh?

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at August 23, 2011 06:56 AM

Nice post

Posted by: Mattes at August 23, 2011 07:24 AM

Happy Birthday Aaron.

Thank you for a post that deals with subjects we must deal with if we are to improve upon them.

One of the reasons these things happened then and are resurgent now is that our governing philosophy has morphed to the point we have become a wartocracy.

That tracks in a different direction than we are used to historically.

Posted by: Dredd at August 23, 2011 09:03 AM

so Vietnam took 30 years to recover- how long for Iraq?- the grand horror of these war crimes is the lag suffering of a lost generation for an entire country

Posted by: frankenduf at August 23, 2011 09:11 AM

@frankenduf -

Vietnam hasn't recovered; far from it. If you're an optimist, it's possible to believe that the half-life of dioxin in the soil is 30 years. If you accept this scenario, then at a minimum it will be several centuries before the area in the picture returns to its natural bounty. This is true for huge areas in southern Vietnam.

More realistically, large portions of Vietnam have been functionally destroyed for all of history. I don't really believe that dioxin is harmlessly purged from the environment with a 30 year half life. I've asked experts in the field of bioremediation, and there's no known process by which this poisoning could be remedied. Plants now grow there, sort of, but the ill health of everything shown in that photo is very palpable.

Nuclear fallout and depleted uranium munitions are equally serious, or more serious, crimes against our future. But I haven't been to Iraq, so I don't (yet) have any vacation photos to share which might illustrate why we should all be horrified.....

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at August 23, 2011 10:02 AM

Happy Birthday, Aaron. I didn't know that you're only a kid. The years pass more quickly after 40--trust me. I just hope they're not so grim.

Posted by: Paul Avery at August 23, 2011 01:41 PM

What's really disturbing about the Tories allegedly not knowing that Andy Coulson was still being paid by News International (read; spy for Murdoch) when he was hired by David Cameron to work at No 10 Downing Street is that he could have been being paid by anybody, Russia, Iran, um, Labour, anyone at all! Aren't these people supposed to be securely vetted before they can work close to a high-level security environment? It would be nice to see that pompous idiot Cameron get some serious criticism over this but beyond that it's just not funny...

Posted by: Dragon Images at August 23, 2011 11:10 PM

Happy birthday, for both the sober thoughts and more happy times.

Posted by: Batocchio at August 24, 2011 12:26 AM

Happy Birthday, Aaron!

Posted by: Susan at August 24, 2011 12:34 AM

Aaron, I hope the earthquake did not affect your office building. Keep safe.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 24, 2011 06:16 AM

You do richly deserve both of those things. Do they make ponies for people over six feet tall?

Posted by: Amanda Rex at August 24, 2011 05:59 PM

Amanda, your question reminds me of a blog I once chanced upon which kept track of deliberately inaccurate Wikipedia edits, some of which were quite amusing, and I imagine all of which got their users banned. (I don't remember the URL; anyway, it may not still be around.)

Somebody kept mucking up the article on Shetland Ponies, insisting that British scientists had secretly developed highly aggressive 40 ft tall Shetland Ponies after Dunkirk to protect against a Nazi invasion.

It was funnier than how I'm describing it because it was couched in dry, tony-sounding pseudo scientific language.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at August 25, 2011 02:42 AM

Happy Birthday Aaron !

Posted by: Nhu at August 25, 2011 04:45 AM

Jonathan, that's awesome. My boyfriend and myself once vandalized the horoscope pages to see what kind of turn around there was for something seemingly less important. It was a matter of minutes.

Posted by: Amanda Rex at August 25, 2011 01:33 PM

awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks.

My site:
rachat credit locataire rachat de credit

Posted by: Jeffery at August 26, 2011 04:34 AM

Agent Orange touched me in the pictured location.
the effects of it took about twenty years to manifest in a way that could not be ignored.

Posted by: minor player at August 27, 2011 02:45 AM

By the way, Vietnam is gearing up to build several nuclear power plants. (

Nuclear power—the preferred energy source for anti-imperialists the world over.

Posted by: Will Boisvert at August 28, 2011 12:05 AM

Yes I do have doing it. I have to bring Metal capsules addition to certainly no electric power in the least.Although extremely minor, most people should go ones own entire life , not knowing..Cheap Baltimore Ravens Jerseys,

Posted by: china nfl jerseys at August 28, 2011 02:54 AM

Very nice, i suggest webmaster can set up a forum, so that we can talk and communicate.

Posted by: Elliptical machine reviews at August 29, 2011 04:22 AM