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"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"

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Monday, 1 August 2005

Topic: Breaking News

Nominees: Bolton In and Roberts in the Wings

John Bolton has been discussed often in these pages, most extensively in My Favorite Diplomat, and his Shadow from March 13, 2005 - the Sunday after he was nominated to be our next ambassador to the United Nations.

Monday, August 1, he finally made it.

Reuters' summary:

Controversy persists as Bolton heads for U.N.
Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent, Monday, August 1, 2005; 11:12 AM
Once dubbed the State Department's "most dangerous man," U.S. ambassador John Bolton will bring an aggressive, sometimes-abrasive style to the United Nations that appears at odds with President Bush's new focus on cooperation and diplomacy.

Bush bypassed the Senate and appointed Bolton to the U.N. post on Monday, after the nomination was stalled by Democratic opposition. Under the so-called "recess appointment," Bolton will be able to serve until January 2007.

Bolton has a long history of criticizing the United Nations, has sometimes doubted that European and Asian allies could be counted on to back U.S. positions and has often spoken out so bluntly he was considered political dynamite.

But he is a favorite of conservatives who value his committed hard-line ideology, incisive legal mind and the single-minded passion with which he seeks to turn those views into U.S. policy, often with great effect.
One of the details -
… Bolton, a 56-year-old lawyer, is an unapologetic advocate of assertive American global leadership. Some analysts said appointing him U.N. envoy may be the best way to ensure that U.N. reform takes place and is credible to U.S. conservatives.

Critics accuse him of provoking confrontations over Iran and North Korea. With Rice now heading State and Bolton replaced as nonproliferation adviser, the administration has shifted from some of his harder positions by endorsing European negotiations with Iran, showing flexibility in talks with Pyongyang and agreeing to broad nuclear cooperation with India.
And this -
… Apart from policy contributions, Bolton helped ensure Bush's first presidential victory. He was on the team former Secretary of State James Baker took to Florida in 2000 to represent the Bush campaign in a disputed vote count ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Former Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican from North Carolina, once called Bolton "the man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon" and another admirer described him in the Wall Street Journal as "the most dangerous man at State."

During Bolton's unsuccessful Senate confirmation fight, one former U.S. official who had tangled with him described him as a "quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy."
And this -
… Attempting to defuse opposition, Rice has extolled Bolton's previous service as the assistant secretary of state who dealt with the United Nations and his successful 1991 campaign to persuade the international body to repeal a resolution that equated Zionism with racism.

But Bolton also led the U.S. withdrawal from International Criminal Court jurisdiction and encouraged U.S. opposition to Europe's decision to lift its arms embargo on China, two initiatives that fanned tensions with allies.
Well, it's done. And much has been said, here and all over, so no more need be added.

Reactions? Ian Williams at SALON.COM with this:
Bully for you: With Capitol Hill freshly vacated, Bush installed U.N.-hating John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N. If Democrats really were partisan hacks, they'd rejoice that the president chose this incompetent ideologue to sell his foreign policies.

This week is the 60th anniversary of the Enola Gay dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, so perhaps it is entirely appropriate that George W. Bush has gone for the nuclear option and dropped John Bolton on the United Nations in New York. Bolton's diplomatic talents are such that he could start a shouting match in a Trappist monastery. He should make things at the U.N. go with a bang. ?
But conservative Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs giggles, "Those popping sounds you hear are the exploding heads of lefty bloggers." Really? Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos shrugs - "Bush thinks he's flashing the middle finger at Democrats, but in reality he's setting back his own cause for reform at the United Nations. ? But this administration has done nothing but give F.U.s to the world community for five years running. This is simply par for the course."

And there's the usual sarcasm like this - "At a time when America itself and this administration especially have a serious credibility gap and reputation for bullying in the world, it's good to know that the Bush administration is addressing that by sending a man who has a credibility gap and reputation for bullying to the U.N. as our top diplomat."

Yeah, well, whatever.

How is this seen abroad? There is much on the net that you can easily find, but in the little world of As Seen from Just Above Sunset there is this from a friend in Brussels - an Australian woman who has worked in Paris for decades and has never visited America (odd the good friends one makes long-distance) -
So Bolton has been appointed by Bush - who shows once again how in America of all places, one does not need to partake in a little democratic debate as one is too ignorant for such niceties.

Bolton and Bush hate the UN - so why the hell did he do this? It will hopefully backfire for Bush and his cronies as he will only alienate the rest of the world further before Bolton even begins to speak his undiplomatic twaddle.

This is yet more crap coming from a country on its way to demise and sad and shameful oblivion.

- from Brussels (Yes - the other place which Bush should steer clear of.)
Yeah, well, it's the neocons' wet dream - Bolton will go up to Manhattan, storm in and call everyone he sees a fool, liar and cheat, and tell them their whole organization is bullshit. Maybe he'll punch someone - probably some woman ambassador from some country of medium-brown folks. Americans - so put upon and misunderstood (we're really nice folks) - will cheer. Given the results of the 2004 elections, this is precisely what slightly more than half the country wants. For all the reformist rhetoric, the objective is clear - destroy this organization, because they hate us. Destroying the Social Security system isn't working out. Iraq as a Jeffersonian democracy with a Wal-Mart in every town, and a Starbucks on every corner, isn't working out. This may.

But it's done. We shall see how this plays out.

What about the other nomination - John Roberts for the open Supreme Court position?

Monday, August 1, Christopher Hitchens has some really interesting things to say about that.

Hitchens is odd, and I will admit that when I came across this I was sure it was Hitchens -
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
But it was John Hinderaker over at Powerline. Well, sometimes it is hard to tell, given Hitchens' writing on the war we have going - or now this "struggle," as they seem to have renamed it.

But as much as Hitchens has hitched his star to the idea of a good war against really bad people, in spite of mounting evidence that this particular ground and air war may have been the wrong action at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, and may be leading us to disaster - he does get himself worked up about religion. He is on the far side of skeptical on such matters.

And the nomination of John Roberts does bother him.

Catholic Justice
Quit tiptoeing around John Roberts' faith.
Christopher Hitchens, SLATE.COM, Posted Monday, August 1, 2005, at 1:27 PM PT

Here's what bothers him:
Everybody seems to have agreed to tiptoe around the report that Judge John G. Roberts said he would recuse himself in a case where the law required a ruling that the Catholic Church might consider immoral. According to Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, the judge gave this answer in a private meeting with Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who is the Senate minority whip. Durbin told Turley that when asked the question, Roberts looked taken aback and paused for a long time before giving his reply.
Yes, that is curious. Roberts would step aside - recuse himself - in any case involving matters the Church takes seriously - death penalty cases, abortion cases, church and state matters like the isplay of the Ten Commandments and the Pledge of Allegiance stuff? Surely, he didn't mean that. That would make him pretty useless.

But the evidence is that he actually did say that.

Was he trying to play it safe? If so, bad move. Hitchens:
If Roberts had simply said that the law and the Constitution would control in all cases (the only possible answer), then there would have been no smoke. If he had said that the Vatican would decide, there would have been a great deal of smoke. But who could have invented the long pause and the evasive answer? I think there is a gleam of fire here. At the very least, Roberts should be asked the same question again, under oath, at his confirmation.
Will someone ask, or will the Senate play nice?

Hitchens, who had previous excoriated the pope (see Papal Power: What no one else will say about John Paul II from late March), says you have to treat Catholics as a special case. Why?
The Roman Catholic Church claims the right to legislate on morals for all its members and to excommunicate them if they don't conform. The church is also a foreign state, which has diplomatic relations with Washington. In the very recent past, this church and this state gave asylum to Cardinal Bernard Law, who should have been indicted for his role in the systematic rape and torture of thousands of American children. (Not that child abuse is condemned in the Ten Commandments, any more than slavery or genocide or rape.) More recently still, the newly installed Pope Benedict XVI (who will always be Ratzinger to me) has ruled that Catholic politicians who endorse the right to abortion should be denied the sacraments: no light matter for believers of the sincerity that Judge Roberts and his wife are said to exhibit. And just last month, one of Ratzinger's closest allies, Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, wrote an essay in which he announced that evolution was "ideology, not science."

Thus, quite apart from the scandalous obstruction of American justice in which the church took part in the matter of Cardinal Law, we have increasingly firm papal dogmas on two issues that are bound to come before the court: abortion and the teaching of Darwin in schools. So, please do not accuse me of suggesting a "dual loyalty" among American Catholics. It is their own church, and its conduct and its teachings, that raise this question.
So it's not anti-Catholic discrimination to ask the question. It's logical.

Hitchens also points out Roberts would make the fourth Catholic on the court, joining Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.

A big deal?

Consider this: (my emphases)
Another smart conservative friend invites me to take comfort from Justice Scalia's statement that a believer who finds his conscience in conflict with the law should forthwith resign from the bench. I wish I found this more comforting than it actually is. In the first place, Scalia's remarks had to do with a possible reluctance, on the part of a Catholic, to impose the death penalty. The church's teaching on this is not absolute and is not enforced by the threat of excommunication, though it's nice to know that Scalia regards weakness about executions as a "litmus." In the second place, it is not at all clear that Scalia admits the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution in the first place. In oral argument in March this year, on cases dealing with religious displays on public property (Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky), he described the display of the Ten Commandments as "a symbol of the fact that government comes - derives its authority from God. And that is, it seems to me, an appropriate symbol to be on State grounds." At another point, he opined that "the moral order is ordained by God. ? And to say that that's the basis for the Declaration of Independence and our institutions is entirely realistic." Display of the Ten Commandments, he went on to write, affirms that "the principle of laws being ordained by God is the foundation of the laws of this state and the foundation of our legal system."

To the extent that this gibberish can be decoded at all, it is in flat contradiction to the Declaration of Independence, which is unique precisely because it locates the just powers of government in the consent of the governed, and with the Constitution, which deliberately does not mention God at any point. The Constitution was carefully drafted and designed to guard against majoritarianism, another consideration ignored by Scalia when he opines that "the minority has to be tolerant of the majority's ability to express its belief that government comes from God." (Sandra Day O'Connor, in her last written opinion, phrased it much better when she said, "We do not count heads when deciding to uphold the First Amendment.") Speaking to the Knights of Columbus in Baton Rouge, La., in January, Scalia implored them to "have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world." Whether for "Christ" or not, Scalia is certainly a fool. He should have fewer allies and emulators on the court, not more. And perhaps secular America could one day have just one representative on that august body. Or would that be heresy?
Yep, it would be heresy. And, since the last election, our evangelical, Christian Republican Party (the party of the kick-ass and take-names avenging Jesus, bringer of death to the bad guys) has appropriated the Catholic Church as its ally ? and the Holy See in Rome loves the role. These folks control the Senate. Roberts is in. If he does the Church's work he does the work of the evangelical right. Recusal isn't necessary. It's a moot point.

Hitchens doesn't like the idea. But then his latest book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. You might have caught him last week on the PBS "Charlie Rose Show" saying how proud he was to be a naturalized American citizen and how much he admired Jefferson.

Poor guy. Welcome to the fun house.

Posted by Alan at 21:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 1 August 2005 21:39 PDT home

Topic: World View

Cancelled Czech: Jára Cimrman Finally Gets His Due?

Disclaimer: The author is Czech on his mother's side and Slovak on his father's side, with the appropriate sense of humor given that background. The following may not appeal to some readers.

Jára Cimrman makes the front page of the Los Angeles Times on Monday, August 1, 2005 in an item by Jeffrey Fleishman with the headline Winning Ways of a Loser and the subhead "Czechs choose an eccentric genius with little luck as their greatest countryman of all time. The problem is, he never existed."

Admittedly this is one of those extended feature articles run in the top leftmost front page column, a little human interest and humor to balance the hard news. And it's August, the dog days of summer, so not the time to be too serious (or is that Sirius?) - we all need a break. Bush is off to Texas for a month-long vacation, after all. (And in case you don't remember, in the summer, Sirius, the "dog star," rises and sets with the sun. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun, and ancient astronomers believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and sultry weather. They named this period of time, from twenty days before the conjunction to twenty days after, the "dog days" - after the Dog Star. So it’s a bad joke.)

But this story of Jára Cimrman isn't even news - or what happened with him is a swirl of events that began in January in Prague and landed in the Los Angeles Times on everyone's doorstep as August began. The problem is these "Greatest of All Time" television polls the BBC started a few years ago.

In these pages we have covered the BBC and French polls and found the greatest Brit of all time was Winston Churchill, followed closely by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, then by Diana, Princess of Wales. The greatest Frenchman? Charles De Gaulle was first, of course, followed by Louis Pasteur, then Abbé Pierre, then Marie Curie. Canada chose Tommy Douglas, the former Saskatchewan premier, the man credited with being the founding father of Canada's health-care system, as the greatest Canadian of all time. In this summer's AOL poll, done along with a series of shows on the Discovery Channel, we voted Ronald Reagan the greatest American of all time. You can review that here with its links to previous items, like the penetrating view of the French polls from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. Curiously the idea failed in South Africa, where apartheid-era leaders cracked the top one hundred of the polling and the show was cancelled. In the Netherlands the contest got everyone grumbling about the citizenship of Anne Frank, who spoke and wrote in Dutch, but who officially was German. That got everyone all messed up.

But the subject here is the Czech poll, and how these folks just don't take anything seriously. (Think of The Good Soldier Svejk - the novel by Jaroslav Hašek which was the Catch 22 of its day with Svejk unwittingly, perhaps, undermining the whole war, the first one, not the second, with his literalness and naiveté. )

Way back in January you would find this in the Prague Post:

Show looks for 'greatest Czech'
But fictional character tops polls in TV popularity contest
Candidates for the 'greatest' Czech include writers, rulers - even fictional characters.
Matt Reynolds, Staff Writer, Jan. 27, 2005
Jara Cimrman helped design the Eiffel Tower and rewrite a Chekhov novel - but only in the world of make-believe.

Nevertheless, the Vienna-born traveler and musician may win a Czech Television (CT) contest called the "Greatest Czech of All Time."

Two weeks into the voting, which began Jan. 1, Cimrman was leading the pack - which includes historical worthies such as St. Wenceslas and Franz Kafka.

"We'd like to stress that although viewers can vote for anyone," CT spokesman Martin Krafl said, "Cimrman can't win because he's not real."

Votes are cast by mail, Internet, and mobile-phone text messages. Eligible is "anyone who was born, lived or worked in the Czech Republic who made a significant contribution to society."

... Also a front-runner, and also disqualified for being imaginary, is Svejk, the dimwitted World War I soldier who confounds his superiors with good intentions and painfully simple logic.

Balloting ends at the end of January. Each of the top 10 finalists will be the subject of a 40-minute documentary, to be shown in May. Czech TV promised to include Cimrman in its final show, June 11, when viewers choose the final pecking order.
So what happened?

Collecting the nomination votes took place during January 2005, the top 100 were announced on 5 May and the final evening took place on 10 June 2005. Here are the winners, and all real people -
1.) King Charles IV - 68,713 votes
2.) Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk - 55,040 votes
3.) Václav Havel - 52,233 votes
4.) Jan Amos Komenský
5.) Jan Žižka
6.) Jan Werich
7.) Jan Hus
8.) Antonín Dvořák
9.) Karel Čapek [yes, he gave us the term "robot"]
10.) Božena Němcová
11.) Bedřich Smetana [that low?]
But why not Jára Cimrman?

According to Wikipedia Jára Cimrman in merely a popular Czech fictional character created by Jiri Sebanek and Zdenek Sverak. The character made his first appearance on a regular radio program Vinárna U pavouka (Wine bar "By the Spider") on December 23, 1966.
One of the reasons for why the character was created was to make fun of the Czech nation itself, its history and national peculiarities. The aim was not to create an artificial national hero.

The Žižkov Theater of Jára Cimrman was founded later as a natural consequence of the story. The theater is one of the most frequented theaters in Prague.

... Jára Cimrman proposed the Panama Canal to the US government, including a libretto for an opera of the same name. He reformed the school system in Galicia. With Count Zeppelin he constructed the first rigid airship using Swedish steel and Czech wicker (the wicker being for the cabin). He was deported from Germany as an anarchist and his personal documents carried a note that he was "a source of unrest." This led the Swiss company Omega to offer him a job to improve the fly-wheel for their Piccolo line of ladies' watches. Simultaneously, he introduced (and performed for some time) the function of an obstetrician here under the difficult Alpine conditions. He led investigations about the life of arctic tribes who eat their fellows and once on the runaway before one furious tribe, he missed the northern pole by mere seven meters. In Paraguay he founded the first puppet-show. In Vienna he founded a criminologist, music and ballet school. For a long time, he led a huge correspondence with G.B. Shaw, but unfortunately the dogged Irishman didn't reply. He invented yogurt. He voluntarily helped many great figures: on his own back he brought forty five tubs of pitchblend to the basement of Mr. and Mrs. Curie, he assisted Prof. Burian with his first plastic surgery, he reworked the electrical contact on Edison's first bulb, he found an underlease for Mr. Eiffel. He is the creator of the philosophy of externism. Because of his enthusiasm for natural sciences, he discovered the monopole (as opposed to the then well known dipole), but this discovery fell into oblivion and later it was confusedly adopted by 20th century economists.
And so on and so forth.

Well, Czech Television announced publicly that only real people can participate in the contest, and the votes for this guy were not valid. Amusingly Britské listy, a Czech Internet magazine, published an article that strongly criticized the decision and the incompetence of the Czech Television in dealing with a situation that did not fit their previously prepared scenario. That's here if your read Czech. Also in Czech is this, the petition for returning Cimrman back to "The Biggest Czech" competition, addressed to the Czech television folks (closed after 37,387 signatures). And here is the announcement by Czech Television of a special award for Cimrman.

Cool. But what this all means?

Over at In the Fray on June 23rd you might check out When optimists should be shot:
"I am such a complete atheist that I am afraid God will punish me." Such is the pithy wisdom of Jára Cimrman, the man overwhelmingly voted the "Greatest Czech of All Time" in a nationwide poll earlier this month. ...

Who is Jára Cimrman? A philosopher? An inventor? An explorer? All of these things, yes, and much more. After a few days of investigation here in Prague, this is what I have uncovered:

Born in the middle of the 19th century to a Czech tailor and Austrian actress, Cimrman studied in Vienna and Prague, before starting off on his journeys around the world - traversing the Atlantic by steamboat, scaling mountains in Peru, trekking across the Arctic tundra. Astounding feats soon followed. Cimrman was the first to come within seven meters of the North Pole. He was the first to invent the light bulb (unfortunately, Edison beat him to the patent office by five minutes). It was he who suggested to the Americans the idea for a Panama Canal, though, as usual, he was never credited. Indeed, Cimrman surreptitiously advised many of the world's greats - Eiffel on his tower, Einstein on his theories of relativity, Chekhov on his plays (you can't just have two sisters, Cimrman is said to have said - how about three?). In 1886, long before the world knew of Sartre or Camus, Cimrman was writing tracts like, "The Essence of the Existence," which would become the foundation for his philosophy of "Cimrmanism," also known as "Non-Existentialism." (Its central premise: "Existence cannot not exist.")

This man of unmatched genius would have been bestowed the honor of "Greatest Czech of All Time" if not for the bureaucratic narrow-mindedness of the poll's sponsors, whose single objection to Cimrman's candidacy was that "he's not real."

... How should we interpret the fact that Czechs would rather choose a fictitious character as their greatest countryman over any of their flesh-and-blood national heroes - Charles IV (the 14th-century Holy Roman Emperor who established Prague as the cultural and intellectual capital of Europe), Comenius (the 17th-century educator and writer considered one of the fathers of modern education), Jan Hus (the 15th-century religious reformer who challenged Catholic orthodoxy), or Martina Navrátilová (someone who plays a sport with bright green balls)? The more cynically inclined - many Czechs among them - might point out that the Czech people have largely stayed behind their mountains for the past millennia, with little interest in, or influence on, happenings elsewhere in the world. Cimrman is so beloved because he is that most prickly of ironies: a Czech who was greater than all the world's greats, but who for some hiccup of chance has never been recognized for his achievements.

Personally, I like to think that the vote for Cimrman says something about the country's rousing enthusiasm for blowing raspberries in the face of authority. Throughout its history - from the times of the Czech kings who kept the German menace at bay through crafty diplomacy, to the days of Jan Hus and his questioning of the very legitimacy of the Catholic Church's power, to the flashes of anti-communist revolt that at last came crashing down in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution - the Czechs have maintained a healthy disrespect for those who would tell them what is best or how to live their lives. Other countries soberly choose their "Greatest" from musty tomes of history, but the Czechs won't play this silly game. Their vote for a fictional personage, says Cimrman's co-creator Sverak, says two things about the Czech nation: "that it is skeptical about those who are major figures and those who are supposedly 'the greatest.' And that the only certainty that has saved the nation many times throughout history is its humor."

Cimrman - if he were with us today - would agree. A man of greatness, he was always a bit skeptical of those who saw themselves as great, or who marched forward under the banner of greatness. As Cimrman liked to say, "There are moments when optimists should be shot."

The Los Angeles Times:
... he's the quintessential Czech underdog, the enigmatic patriot in a small country whose sardonic humor is born of a history of being conquered and oppressed.

... "Cimrman started out as a joke on ideology and science. He played an important role during the communist regime," said Jirina Siklova, a writer and former dissident. "Through him, it was possible to make jokes not just on science but on the ideology of the communists." Cimrman remains a bit of escape for today's Czechs who are insecure that "democracy may not be a paradise from our troubles," she said. "But through him we are still able to laugh."

... On a muggy night not long ago, a waiter in a blue apron poured beer in the Cimrman Pub, a stone cavern where the sound of traffic fades. Young women who might liven up the place had yet to arrive; intellectuals were scarce, although there was a solitary figure draped over a book in the corner. The Cimrman Theater next door was closed. The troupe had taken the show on the road.

"It's a pity Cimrman wasn't allowed to be selected the best Czech in history," said the waiter, Tomas Janik, sensing, as many Czechs do, that the contest was rigged - another conspiracy from above. "Cimrman's exactly the person who should win. Humor is the only correct way to act in life." A couple strolled in and sat against the wall. Janik drew two beers, the glasses sweaty in the heat.

... Who, after all, could be known for discovering the snowman, co-designing the Panama Canal and advocating driving in the middle of the road? How many other Czechs have a museum dedicated to them that features inventions such as a famine spoon, with its hole in the middle, a hot potato holder, a case for lucky fish scales and the triple hammer, able to drive or extract three nails simultaneously?

Janik wondered how Cimrman's distinctive voice, honed for decades mainly by Sverak, now in his late 60s, will survive when he and the writers are gone. "They are the best Czech humorists - no one else can do Cimrman," he said. "When they stop, it won't carry on."

Others believe that Cimrman, whose motto was "It's better to begin eternally than to finish once and for all," will always be there, a comical ghost in the wings, a twist of humor when things get too serious.
Humor is the only correct way to act in life?

That'll do nicely.

Posted by Alan at 10:11 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 1 August 2005 10:55 PDT home

Sunday, 31 July 2005

Topic: Science

Heat Wave: Is This Weep-Silently-Apologize-To-Your-Children-And-Throw-Yourself-Out-A-Window Depressing?

300 scouts collapse in the heat waiting for President
James Bone, The Times (London, UK), July 29, 2005
The quadrennial gathering of 32,000 boy scouts now under way at an army base in Virginia has been struck by a series of misfortunes that have cost four lives and made hundreds ill.

… On Wednesday, tens of thousands of scouts waited for Mr Bush for three hours in an open field in their dress uniforms.

Although the scouts were given exceptional permission to remove their uniform shirts, as long as they were wearing undershirts, many were overcome by the sun and high humidity and temperatures approaching 100F.

… About 300 people were treated for symptoms of excessive heat as soldiers ferried scouts to the medical post on the base.

The day ended with the announcement that Mr Bush was calling off his trip because of bad weather - just as he had done four years ago.
Note this from James Wolcott:
It struck me that hundreds of Scouts collapsing in the heat awaiting a no-show president is a symbolic portent. I fully expect incidents of mass heatstroke to mount as we enter deeper and deeper into the baked Alaska of global warming. Years of ranting and heckling by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and other ignorati that global warming is a myth propagated by environmental wacko and economic no-growthers have lobotomized the lobes of millions of Americans and their greedy representatives, inducing a state of denial that no amount of news footage seems able to shatter.
Note to Wolcott:

Bush Comforts Thousands at Scout Jamboree
Deb Riechmann, Associated Press, Sunday, July 31, 2005
Succeeding on his third try to visit them, President Bush comforted thousands of Boy Scouts on Sunday at a national jamboree marred by the electrocutions of four leaders and stifling heat that sickened 300.

"The men you lost were models of good citizenship," Bush told the estimated 50,000 Scouts, leaders and visitors attending the event near Bowling Green, Va., where boys yelled "Boy Scouts Rock!"

"As scout leaders, they devoted themselves to helping young men develop the character and skills they need to realize their dreams. These men will always be remembered for their leadership and kindness, and you scouts honor them by living up to the ideals of the Scouting they served."
Third time is charm, and one suspect his political advisors knew this was looking real bad. So he showed up and said the appropriate things. The guy gets enough grief for seeming contemptuous of others and an arrogant, uncaring frat-boy prankster.

The visited fixed all that? Hardly. I'm not sure you get points for showing up (late) - and for mouthing platitudes. But he did get around to it.

But what is Wolcott getting at with this dig at those who say global warming has not been proven? What is this about denial?

Wolcott links to the most recent news (July 29) of what he calls "The Great Arctic Sea Ice Melt-Off" - the source is this - scientists from our own government saying this is pretty ominous. (Will they keep their jobs?) This summer's melt is way out of line, and some of these science guys "are wondering if the melting of the sea ice has already gone beyond a critical threshold from which it can't recover."

Well, this has been the hottest June-July ever recorded in several eastern cities, according to data compiled by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. See this - and CNN here says it's the whole country.

Maybe a very cold winter will even things out, to a nice average.

Is something up? The Caribbean got warmer earlier this year, the kind of warm that provides the energy to turn minor storms into hurricanes, and this item quotes James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, saying that as the world warms, we expect more and more intense tropical hurricanes and cyclones. Of course. That's logical.

One wonders - or some may wonder - if something is up. Of course it doesn't help that HBO in it current rotation is running the recent disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004) five or six times a week. In the movie, curiously, global warming causes serious melting of the ice caps, and then all the fresh water in the ocean shifts the North Atlantic Current's salinity so it now runs cold, and then the climate patterns go all screwy - massive storms (Los Angeles is wiped out by tornados, one of which wipes out the Hollywood sign itself - and the Columbia Records building down the street!) - all followed by three new gigantic storms in the now much colder northern hemisphere, resulting in a sudden new ice age with most of the United States and all of Europe just sheets of ice, and the US government forced into exile in - get this! - Mexico. In the movie no one in the government would heed the warnings of the scientist-hero, especially the arrogant Vice President, who looked a lot like Dick Cheney, and sounded like him too. An oil man. Yeah, yeah.

Wolcott is on it. He quotes Ross Gelbspan who writes books on energy policy and global warming. Oil production will peak out in 2006 and then decline. And the climate is changing. And it may be too late now to do anything about any of it anyway. "Events are now set to run their course."

From Energy Bulletin:

"A few days ago Roger Pielke Jr. pointed to a paper (PDF) by Tim Dyson of the London School of Economics called 'On development, demography and climate change: The end of the world as we know it?' Pielke called it 'refreshingly clear thinking on climate change.' That's true, if by 'refreshingly clear' he means 'weep-silently-apologize-to-your-children-and-throw-yourself-out-a-window depressing.'"

If events run their course, what will that course be?

Here are the five main points made, quoted directly from the abstract:

"First, that since about 1800 economic development has been based on the burning of fossil fuels, and this will continue to apply for the foreseeable future.

"Second, due to momentum in economic, demographic, and climate processes, it is inevitable that there will be a major rise in the level of atmospheric CO2 during the twenty-first century.

"Third, available data on global temperatures ... suggest strongly that the coming warming of the Earth will be appreciably faster than anything that human populations have experienced in historical times. ... Furthermore, particularly in a system that is being forced, the chances of an abrupt change in climate happening must be rated as fair.

"Fourth ... the range of plausible unpleasant climate outcomes seems at least as great as the range of more manageable ones. The agricultural, political, economic, demographic, social and other consequences of future climate change are likely to be considerable - indeed, they could be almost inconceivable. In a world of perhaps nine billion people, adverse changes could well occur on several fronts simultaneously and to cumulative adverse effect.

"Finally, the paper argues that human experience of other difficult 'long wave' threats (e.g. HIV/AIDS) reveals a broadly analogous sequence of reactions. In short: (i) scientific understanding advances rapidly, but (ii) avoidance, denial, and reproach characterize the overall societal response, therefore, (iii) there is relatively little behavioral change, until (iv) evidence of damage becomes plain. Apropos carbon emissions and climate change, however, it is argued here that not only is major behavioral change unlikely in the foreseeable future, but it probably wouldn't make much difference even were it to occur."

If mankind is intent on committing mass suicide via stubborn denial, it could be argued that we will have earned our collective fate, even if that fate was reached largely without our consent. But the self-destruction of the planet also means the billions of animals and other living beings that inhabit this planet will also die, and their deaths will be truly innocent, the final indictment of mankind's failed stewardship of the earth.
Well, Wolcott is a tad upset that we're all in such denial, and that such denial led is to this situation where there really is no way to fix any of this. The oil supply is finite - and will peter out. And even if we stop burning fossil fuels and do all the green things, "it probably wouldn't make much difference even were it to occur."

We're screwed. Assess all the blame you want. What difference does that make?

Actually, if this is so - and the evidence points to it being so - then denial seems somehow appropriate. Fly in and say pleasant nothings to the sweating crowds of Boy Scouts. What's the difference?

Posted by Alan at 21:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 31 July 2005 22:07 PDT home

Topic: Announcements


The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this web log, is now on line. That would be Volume 3, Number 31 for the week of Sunday, July 31, 2005. This web log is only the staging area for a number of the current events items and a few of the photographs. The weekly, in magazine format, offers much more than do the immediate, sketchy items here.

This issue of Just Above Sunset, for example, introduces "Our Man in London" - Mike McCahill, film critic for The Scotsman, The Sunday Telegraph and the BBC. In what we hope will be a regular feature, he provides his personal insight into just what is happening there. Of course, we still have "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson (two columns this week) and a collection of this week's shots of Paris from Don Smith of Left Bank Lens. All this, along with columns now and then from "Our Man in Tel-Aviv," Sylvain Ubersfeld, make Just Above Sunset an international sort of thing. This week we also have an exclusive photo from the Green Zone in Baghdad, and a one from the Pocono Mountains. And there's more of Malibu for those readers who expect Southern California.

The commentary and analysis in the Current Events section is six deep this week - from Washington to Baghdad to Cincinnati - but that is balanced by six non-political feature items, including media notes, everything you ever wanted to know about "leap seconds" and a film column having to do with elevators.

Bob Patterson is back as usual, with book notes and some observations on what folks want written, and why they might not get what they want.

The usual quotes are there - Dali is quite mad Mark Twain isn't - and there's a link to a new photo album, another one.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago...
Tipping Point: Something Becomes News?
Hints and Rumors: Judy's Secret and the JAG Protest
Secrecy: News of What Didn't Happen, and of What Won't Happen
Ohio Gets Noticed: Cincinnati to the Moon
Ironies: Ironies that can only be seen from the left side...

Features ________________

Our Man in London: Greetings from London: Host City for the 2012 Olympics and Suicide Bombers' Paradise!
Our Man in Paris: France Paradise
Our Man in Paris Illustrated: Under the Sand, the City
News Notes: What's The News? What You Want It To Be.
Film Notes: Something for a Hot Day in Los Angeles
Basic Science: Counting the Seconds, or Not

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Things done capriciously for no apparent reason are fun!
Book Wrangler: In the Bookstores During the Summer of 2005

Guest Photography ________________

Left Bank Lens: This Week in Paris
Baghdad Exclusive: New Photo from the Green Zone
The Pocono Mountains: A Nature Shot

Local Photography ________________

Malibu: Not Just Surfers

The Usual ________________

Quotes for the week of July 24, 2005 - Truth and the Root of All Evil
Links and Recommendations: A New Photo Album, All About Malibu

Malibu Pier:

Posted by Alan at 16:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 31 July 2005 16:29 PDT home

Saturday, 30 July 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago…

As reported Tuesday, July 26, in the New York Times, on Monday last things changed - U.S. Officials Retool Slogan for Terror War. The Global War on Terror is over. Or it has been renamed.

Salient points:
The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice. Administration officials say that phrase may have outlived its usefulness, because it focused attention solely, and incorrectly, on the military campaign.
Whatever. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, Monday was saying he had "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution."

They're not? Then what are we doing in Iraq? He clarifies and says future efforts require "all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities' national power." The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military."

Oh. But? Nevermind.

The Times reports this all grew out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January - and it reflects "the evolution" in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the September 11 attacks. But didn't Bush say the jury is still out on evolution?

The Times also snags an interview with Steven Hadley, the national security adviser to Bush.

His point? "It is more than just a military war on terror. It's broader than that. It's a global struggle against extremism. We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."

So this is the positive alternative.

Reactions? Fred Kaplan in SLATE.COM is skeptical
Are these guys really this clueless?

What else to make of the story's opening sentence:

"The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday."

Three subquestions arise just from the lead. First, this is the administration's solution to the spike in terrorist incidents, the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, and the politico-military deterioration in Iraq - to retool the slogan?

Second, the White House and the Pentagon are just now coming around to the idea that the struggle is as much ideological as military? This wasn't obvious, say, three or four years ago?

Apparently not.

... It took four years for the president of the United States to realize that fighting terrorism has a political component? It took six months for his senior advisers to retool a slogan? We are witnessing that rare occasion when the phrase "I don't know whether to laugh or cry" can be uttered without lapsing into cliché.
But what really gets to Kaplan the comment from Steven Hadley that they were basically looking for an alternative to gloom - a positive alternative. In short? A happier acronym.

And they got it:
Look at the first letters of Global War on Terrorism. GWOT. What does that mean; how is it pronounced? Gwot? Too frivolously rowdy, like a fight scene in a Marvel comic book (Bam! Pfooff! Gwot!). Gee-wot? Sounds like a garbled question (Gee what?).

Then look at Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Its acronym is GSAVE - i.e., gee-save. We're out to save the world, see, not wage war on it. Or, as national security adviser Stephen Hadley puts it in the Times piece, "We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."
Kaplan goes on to wonder whether Hadley and all the rest of our other top officials really believe this nonsense? The question he asks whether they so enraptured with PR that they think a slogan and a strategy are the same thing - and that retooling the one will transform the other?

It would seem so. Reality is what you make it, and these guys make it.

Remember these guys say things like this -
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Got it? Change the words and you change the reality.

Sidney Blumenthal suggests all this renaming is how the Bush administration is silently signaling defeat - but I suspect they don't it see that way. Blumenthal is just the disgruntled left, after all - that other reality, that one doesn't count any longer.

I haven't found anyone saying it yet, but I'm sure it has been said - GSAVE is just a shorted form of "Jesus Saves." It's a crusade thing. (Our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney also points out that GWOT was far too close to G-Spot.)

Paul Glastris, curiously, here asks us to consider this passage from Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War" -
The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man.
Yep, it's all how you look at things, and who controls the words used.

And who reads Thucydides these days?

People read John Hinderaker over at Powerline - and Time Magazine says Hinderaker with what he writes on his site is one of the most influential people in America. And Hinderaker says this:
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
It's all how you look at it. One man's reality is not another's.

So it's GSAVE now. And the guys in the military may have to turn in these and get the revised version.

Posted by Alan at 13:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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