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LEFT FIELD No Time To Comb: Neil Carman Neil J. Carman may well be the walking embodiment of the environmental movement in Texas. Make that the running embodiment scarcely a week goes by when Carman isn’t zooming off to a community meeting in one part of the state or another, helping yet another neighborhood analyze a nearby pollution threat, or advising another newlyformed group of community activists how to organize against the local corporate polluters-that-be. Many a state and federal bureaucrat has been the recipient of one of Carman’s blisteringly articulate, exactingly detailed letters, in which he itemizes the failures of the official’s agency to protect the public health and trust. And more than one state newspaperman has experienced the very mixed emotions evoked when a new voice on the telephone begins, “Neil Carman said I should call you.” As the Clean Air Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, based in Austin, Carman specializes in defending Texas air from industrial poisons but almost everyone who has an interest in environmental activism finds in Carman a friend and ally. Community activists generally speak of him with a mixture of gratefulness and awe, summed up neatly for the Observer last year by one East Texas woman. “He knows so Neil Carman Alan Pogue much, and he’s teaching me,” she said. “He’s just a fighting angel.” Angel or avenging demon, in person Carman is kinetic, affable, quick to laugh, and full of news of current or upcoming environmental battles: cement kiln wars in Midlothian, factory-farm battles hi East Texas, chemical smoke alarms in Odessa. At fifty-three, he has the &mode glasses and graying hair of a middle-aged professor, but often seems more like a perpetual graduate student especially since his contagious energy and spectacularly curly mop belong to someone at least thirty years younger. Trained as a botanist and chemist biology before he turned to environmental activism after research work on the Great Lakes convinced him of the terrible dangers of industrial pollution. “I realized that if we can poison the Great Lakes, we can poison all the waters of the world.” For a dozen years, he enforced industrial air pollution regulations in Odessa for the Texas Air Control Board. He was so effective that in 1989, one polluting corporation pressured the agency to remove him from its enforcement case in an attempt to coverup the violations. Carman blew the whistle, and the scandal forced an agency reorganization. Eventually convinced that the agency functioned more often as a pollution facilitator than as a regulator, he decided to move on. With a chuckle, he said administrators were accustomed to officials resigning to work for industry, but considered environmentalists the enemy. “So when I told them I was going to work for the Sierra Club, it was as though a spy for the U.S. government was defecting to the K.G.B.” That was in 1992. So what has Neil Carman done for us lately? Left Field worked up a highly selective list of battles-in-progress: grandfathered industrial air polluAir Quality project; source reduction polnational hydrogen sulfide standards and PCB/dioxin rule-making \(E.P.A./WashingHousAnd what about that unruly mop of hair, which Carman claims he once disciplined into a quite respectable wave? “I stopped combing it in 1979. I just decided I didn’t have the time.” + From Rwanda to Laredo Americans confused by the latest news from central Africa, especially the ongoing war in the new Republic of the Congo, would do well to read We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch. The book is a detailed and moving account of the recent history of the small central African country, focusing upon the 1994 genocidal massacre of the Tutsi ethnic minority. Approximately one million Tutsi were killed in state-sponsored massacres, organized under the banner of a racist majority nationalism which called itself “Hutu Power.” The book also has a surprising Texas connection. The title is taken from a letter written in April of 1994 by a group of Tutsi Seventh-Day Adventist ministers, who had taken refuge at a large Adventist mission in western Rwanda with about two thousand members of their congregations. They appealed to the Adventist president, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, to help them. Ntakirutimana and his son, Gerard, refused all assistance to the refugees and indeed are accused by the survivors of organizing the ensuing massacre. One of the few Tutsi survivors recalled Ntakirutimana’s reply to their pleas for help: “Your problem has already found a solution. You must die.” Gourevitch was able to quote the ministers’ letter precisely because he was given a copy by Ntakirutimana himself when he tracked the man down in Laredo. Ntakirutimana was living at the home of anafter the massacre. He denied having anything to do with the murders. “It is all one hundred percent pure lies,” he told Gourevitch. Indicted by a United Nations tribunal in Tanzania, Ntakirutimana was arrested by the F.B.I. in late 1994, but he’d been freed under a federal court order when Gourevitch interviewed him in 1996. He has since been re-arrested and remains in the Webb County jail pending the appeal of his extradition. Gourevitch, a staff writer at The New Yorker, told the Observer that the immediate situation in Rwanda is apparently improved, because the remaining gangs of Humgenocidaires have been driven away from the Rwandan border by an alliance of Congo rebels and a Ugandan/Rwandan joint force. The new war in the Congo is a direct outgrowth of the Rwandan genocide, which continues to cast a shadow over the whole region. Gourevitch is only cautiously optimistic about Rwanda’s short-term future. “I think it will be a place of continuing trouble, as it tries to find its way towards sanity or not, in the aftermath of this indescribable wound…. It will take a while for them to see their way to a society that isn’t fundamentally defined by having been through this trauma.” + THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5 FEBRUARY 5, 1999