"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
Saturday, 3 January 2004
Topic: Oddities Intellectual Life Out Here in Los Angeles (Pasadena, actually): Aliens from Outer Space The California Institute of Technology hosted this: Aliens Cause Global Warming A lecture by Michael Crichton, Caltech Michelin Lecture - January 17, 2003
I missed it, but the link will take you to the whole thing. And it's not so outrageous. Here's how it opens.
My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming. Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.
Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science - namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.
What Crichton is getting at is that science should be at odds with public policy, in his view. Or it should be separate from public policy. He reviews the history of extrapolating prediction from scientific findings into government policy. It's kind of sad.
Yes, it is mathematically possible that there are other sentient beings out there in the universe. The math is clear. But do we build expensive arrays of radio telescopes for listening for these folks out there? The math isn't THAT good.
Crichton also reviews predictions of overpopulation and famine, and concludes we really should not be here at all, fat and happy. Even if the math was right, the predictions were wrong, and thus policy based on such prediction is not wise.
He thinks good science is being "used" by folks with other agendas. Perhaps so. He wants to keep science "pure" - so to speak. I think he feels used. And that folks should be more careful.
You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it's even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future. They're bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment's thought knows it.
So, should we do nothing about global warming? He's not saying that. He's saying one doesn't know. But doing something couldn't hurt.
Topic: Election Notes Theology and Politics: Today's Issues Pat Robertson said Friday that God told him President Bush will be re-elected in a landslide - as the Associated Press reported. "The Lord has just blessed him," Robertson said of Bush. "I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."
Well, that about wraps it up. Voting any other way is blasphemy.
STORM LAKE, Iowa - Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, who rarely mentions religion and God on the campaign trail, said he was wrestling with how to talk about faith in parts of the country where it figured prominently in daily life.
During a conversation with reporters on his campaign plane late Friday night, Dean said recent stops in South Carolina had moved him to try to be more forthcoming about his view of religion to connect with voters who speak openly of their relationship with God.
"I think that I'm gradually getting more comfortable to talk about religion in ways that I did not talk about it before," he said. "It doesn't make me more religious or less religious than I was before, but it does mean I'm willing to talk about it in different ways."
This is not going to work.
Dean is an ex-Episcopalian, now a Congregationalist, and his wife is Jewish. Here's how he appears to the Christian Evangelical Right
I'm not saying Dean is lying about being a Christian. What I am saying is that if a memorial to devout Christians were constructed tomorrow, you'd find his name alongside such stalwarts of the faith as John Lennon and Ted Turner.
Is anyone else weary of this "Jesus was a revolutionary" line Dean and his ilk feed voters? Brace yourselves, people: Jesus wasn't at all like Gandhi, Confucius or even Martin Luther King Jr. He didn't have a "dream," and he didn't walk around talking about love and peace - at least not liberals' idea of love and peace
You see, Dean and the Democrats don't understand the militant, kick-ass nature of Jesus.
Jesus didn't have a lofty goal of uniting the people of the world together, hoping to plant the seeds of self-actualization that would guide humanity toward creating a utopia. During his life and the 2,000 years that followed, Jesus has divided people. He intended to. Don't believe me? Check your New Testament cue cards, Dean.
Jesus split one of the world's great religions right down the middle by claiming to be God. He said he had the authority to forgive sins, and Scripture records that hundreds witnessed a resurrected Jesus after his painfully excruciating death on a cross. He chose that death, and he told his followers to spread the message of salvation in his name to every nation.
Jesus said he would be on the throne at Judgment Day. He also said he was "the way, the truth and the life" and that no human being comes to God except by him. Jesus told the disciples to go to the surrounding towns with his message. If a town didn't accept it, the disciples were to brush the dust of that town off their feet and move on. Those who were not for him were against him, Jesus said.
Sounds familiar. I get it. Yes, Jesus said things about turning the other cheek and being nice to others, but he also said some folks were BAD and unless they believed in him, and him alone, they were going to HELL to suffer forever. Got it.
But then we get to the real heart of this issue:
Howard Dean's comments place him squarely in the "Jesus of convenience" camp. His wife and children are Jewish. Cool. But I have to wonder: if Howie's faith in Jesus Christ is so important to him, why didn't he marry someone with the same faith? Why didn't he insist on raising his children in that faith? Say it with me, on three: because what faith Howard Dean has in Jesus isn't central to his life.
Dean loses. Bush wins.
On another theological note some interesting questions from Jack Ballinger from elsewhere on the world wide web of ideas.
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?
I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
Lev. 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Please clarify? It says, also, that if I hit my slaves I shouldn't kill them, as it ruins them for work purposes - but it's fine with God if I maim them a little, putting them at death's door - so long as I get another days work out of them... What's the best method?
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 10:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
Lev. 20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Topic: Iraq This is a GOOD war and we all should feel exhilarated! Back on Wednesday, 17 December 2003 I posted Baghdad now, Algiers way back when... The kind of folks we Americans are - sort of French, actually - a continuing discussion of an event of Wednesday, the 27th of August, when the Command of Special Operations in the Pentagon held a screening of The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 film about a rather famous urban terrorist insurgency, the conflict between Algerian nationalist insurgents and French colonial forces in the late nineteen-fifties. In mid-December Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker had discussed it again, as it is now coming into general release at small theaters around the country.
Well, it gets more press today. Christopher Hitchens in Slate has a few things to say.
Hitchens used to be a bit left, and knows he knows more than anyone else about most everything and isn't afraid to say so. And he loves this war and thinks George Bush is doing wonderful things, in spite of his personal misgivings about the man. He welcomed the WTC and Pentagon attacks. As he put it in Front Page Magazine
Watching the towers fall in New York, with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn't analyze at first and didn't fully grasp (partly because I was far from my family in Washington, who had a very grueling day) until the day itself was nearly over. I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.
Yep, he hates those towel-heads. Bring 'em on.
Today he's upset that no one knows as much as he does about Algeria and that Pontecorvo film. It teaches us nothing about anything.
See Guerrillas in the Mist Why the war in Iraq is nothing like The Battle of Algiers. Christopher Hitchens, Slate, Posted Friday, Jan. 2, 2004, at 10:57 AM PT
He thinks we'll all get it wrong. First we get his credentials:
Unless I am wrong, this event will lead to a torrent of pseudo-knowing piffle from the armchair guerrillas (well, there ought to be a word for this group). I myself cherished the dream of being something more than an armchair revolutionary when I first saw this electrifying movie. It was at a volunteer work-camp for internationalists, in Cuba in the summer of 1968. Che Guevara had only been dead for a few months, the Tet rising in Vietnam was still a fresh and vivid memory, and in Portuguese Africa the revolution was on the upswing. I went to the screening not knowing what to expect and was so mesmerized that when it was over I sat there until they showed it again. I was astounded to discover, sometime later on, that Gillo Pontecorvo had employed no documentary footage in the shooting of the film: It looked and felt like revolutionary reality projected straight onto the screen.
When I next saw it, in Bleecker Street in the Village in the early 1970s, it didn't have quite the same shattering effect. Moreover, in the audience (as in that Cuban camp, as I later found out) there were some idiots who fancied the idea of trying "urban guerrilla" warfare inside the West itself. The film had a potently toxic effect on Black Panthers, Weathermen, Baader-Meinhof, and Red Brigade types. All that needs to be said about that "moment" of the Left is that its practitioners ended up dead or in prison, having advanced the cause of humanity by not one millimeter.
Well, I saw the film in Ohio. Not with Che's friends in Cuba. Not with the lefties in the Village. I think I was sitting next to a farmer named Dwayne. Obviously I have no standing here. No one has Hitchens' experience.
But I thought there was some reason to think about the film now.
The folks at the Pentagon thought so. Most critics think so.
Here's Hitchens on why we're all completely and stupidly wrong:
Those making a facile comparison between the Algerian revolution depicted in the film and today's Iraq draw an equally flawed analogy. Let me mention just the most salient differences.
1.) Algeria in 1956--the "real time" date of the film--was not just a colony of France. It was a department of metropolitan France. The slogan of the French Right was Alg?rie Fran?aise. A huge population of French settlers lived in the country, mainly concentrated in the coastal towns. The French had exploited and misgoverned this province for more than a century and were seeking to retain it as an exclusive possession.
2.) In 1956, the era of French and British rule in the Middle East had already in effect come to an end. With the refusal by President Eisenhower to countenance the Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt at Suez in November of that year, the death-knell of European colonialism had struck. There was no military tactic that could have exempted a near-bankrupt France from this verdict. General Massu in Algiers could have won any military victory he liked and it would have changed nothing. Frenchmen as conservative as Charles de Gaulle and Raymond Aron were swift to recognize this state of affairs. Today, it is Arab nationalism that is in crisis, while the political and economic and military power of the United States is virtually unchallengeable. But the comparison of historical context, while decisive, is not the only way in which the Iraq analogy collapses.
The French could not claim to have removed a tyrannical and detested leader. They could not accuse the Algerian nationalists of sponsoring international terrorism (indeed, they blamed Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt for fomenting the FLN in Algiers itself). They could not make any case that Algerian nationalism would violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty or even threaten to do so. Thus, French conscripts - not volunteers - and Algerian rebels were sacrificed for no cause except the lost and futile one of French reaction. The right-wing generals of the Algeria campaign, and some of the extreme settlers, actually did conduct an urban guerrilla rearguard action of their own, in Paris as well as Algeria, and did try to bring off a military coup against de Gaulle, but they had been defeated and isolated by 1968.
I would challenge anybody to find a single intelligent point of comparison between any of these events and the present state of affairs in Iraq.
I guess we should all give up. Hitchens wins. Everyone else is wrong.
So maybe he's right about the war too. We should have all been "exhilarated" watching our friends and countrymen die. The good war had finally started that day.
Topic: Photos Happy New Year, from Hollywood and Paris Happy New Year. And no political issues today, as this is the annual deal with the hangover day. Not a bad one, actually. It was a only a nice California chardonnay. You see, for last night's guest I roasted a chicken, which I had stuffed with chunks of cut-up fresh oranges, then covered in bacon and garlic and cracked pepper - and somehow rosemary was involved. The chardonnay worked fine with that, and the other stuff. It was the cognac after dinner that was the killer. Kevin and Kathryn had brought me a bottle of very fine cognac from their recent trip to Paris, and there it was, and there was the balloon glass, and well, this fine cognac made Dick Clark seem young again. But I paid the price today. Oh well.
I did receive an email from Paris this morning, from Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis - a fellow I correspond with now and then. We trade web notes. He tells me things about HTML tables. And about Paris.
Ric sent a response to yesterday's posting here - Franco-American Relations: The Diplomatic War Intensifies... It's not going to be pretty. - where I commented:
One gets the feeling our government is edging toward revoking the right of Air France to land anywhere in this country. The whole thing with the cancelled Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles last week seems to many a political set up - we told them bad guys were going to be on those flights, and urged them to cancel the flights, which they willingly did, and then they could find none of these bad guys, because they never showed up at CDG and perhaps never were going to show up. Then we called them incompetent and berated them for announcing they were canceling the flights when we obviously wanted to catch the bad guys boarding the airplanes in Paris. A `no win' set-up of the French government. Cool. We got them good. We made them look real bad.
Ric today wrote:
In an another strange year, canceling a few Air France flights to LA doesn't seem to merit the attention. I haven't read the papers here, but it was worth one item on one edition of France-2 TV-news. France played the game the American authorities asked for. The Tunisian guy turned out to be home in Tunisia, watching France-2 TV-news.
Given less mention on TV-news here is the systematic harassment of European - and Australian - reporters arriving at LAX. Word is out for journalists to enter the USA as ordinary tourists, so they don't end up being shackled, deprived of food and sleep, and ultimately deported by the INS at LAX.
Last night's TV-news showed immense amounts of fireworks being pulverized at Sydney, Hong Kong and Beijing. Followed by immense amounts of police guarding the fireworks-less Champs-Elys?es, from hooligans. Out of a crowd of a measly 400,000, 40 arrests were made. Of course, police getting ready for the big apple to drop in Times Square was shown too - proving that as shit-scared as Americans may be, they will still brave New York's finest just to be in `THE' place. Paris timid by comparison. But a `public' New Years Eve has never been big here.
What Jacques said on TV last night is not worth repeating. Smoke tax up, unemployment up, benefits down, longer working before retirement, etc. The `good news' is omitted because there wasn't any.
Perhaps the biggest real news is a light snowfall in Paris on Thursday, 1. January 2004. This, and the year's first meeting of the Cafe Metropole Club today. Brr, I have to go out in the mess outside.
I wrote back and mentioned that I thought that snow in Paris for the new year was nice, and he replied, "Weak snow; but nasty weather."
Trois cent vingt-quatre v?hicules ont ?t? incendi?s durant la nuit du Nouvel An en France, soit une cinquantaine de moins que l'an pass?, a indiqu? jeudi le minist?re de l'Int?rieuront.
Parmi ces incendies volontaires de v?hicules, commis dans 70 villes diff?rentes, 145 l'ont ?t? dans 57 villes relevant de la S?curit? publique et 18 dans 13 villes plac?es en zone de Gendarmerie nationale, selon la m?me source. ...
You see, out here in Hollywood it's not a tradition to set cars on fire on New Years Eve.
Obviously a quiet New Years Eve. Fifty less than last year. The folks have lost their revolutionary pep.
As usual, the torched cars belonged to the neighbors. It's not as if they want to go a long ways to have their fun. No bankers' cars were barbequed. Or Euro deputies'.
What cars got burnt in which towns is irrelevant. It's the same minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy's fault.
Haven't seen the official `score' on France-2 TV-news yet. Coming up soon.
Perhaps later this evening I watch the France-2 TV-news for the official score. You too can watch here - or not.
Anyway, if you visit Rick's site, here, reprinted without his his permission, but in hopes of increasing his internet traffic to his site, is the very empty Rue de Rivoli today, before the impending 'Soldes d'Hiver.' (Those are the annual winter sales, when clothing prices are slashed up to seventy percent throughout France, beginning this year on January 7.) Perhaps the French too were all at home today dealing with their own hangovers. And from his site archives, from 1996, this second photo of what snow in Paris looks like. It's fairly rare.
Here in Hollywood it was a bit over sixty with high clouds - which I think some of you saw if you watched the Rose Bowl Parade or the game which followed. The sun broke out now and then, but not often.