May 06, 2009

Land O' Prudes

Maureen Dowd in the New York Times wrote the political obituary of John Edwards today.  She didn't seem to regret it, really.  You might say she relished the opportunity, since scolding men for their wayward marital ways won her a Pulitzer Prize way back in the days when she was attacking Bill Clinton relentlessly for his shenanigans with Monica.  It's obviously a thing for Maureen, this all-too-common phenomenon of powerful men with a roving eye.  I suppose at some point she must have written about women who cheat, but if she has I missed the column.

Anyway, Maureen's elegy over John's political grave:  

John Edwards’s political career is over, and he’s being investigated by the feds about whether he used campaign funds to underwrite his affair. Nobody — except Rielle — has any interest in hearing from him again. Americans would have been relieved if the last we heard of him was that cringe-inducing “Nightline” interview last year, when he made the argument that he was a helpless narcissist and that he hit on Rielle when Elizabeth’s cancer was in remission.

Actually, Maureen should speak for herself and not all "Americans" and should not presume that "nobody" has any interest in hearing from John again.  I think that's a case of bluenose projection. Gary Hart survived his sexual escapades to become a kind of eminence grise of foreign policy matters, for example, so second acts are possible.  Bill Clinton is now widely revered as a political statesman by most Americans despite all the scolding he took from Maureen Dowd and the Republicans.

Still, there's no serious doubt that Dowd is right about Edwards's political career; as any kind of candidate for major office, he's through.  In that sense Maureen Dowd knows her America.

Recently, I was reading about Italy's Premier, the 72 year old Silvio Berlusconi,  and his marital difficulties.  Maria, his wife and 20 years his junior, has decided to seek a divorce in a very public way from Silvio because il cano antico has apparently become smitten with an 18 year old actress, on whom he dotes and lavishes gifts.  It's all like a cheesy Italian opera.  Maria might have known; after all, Silvio was 42 and she was 22 when he met Maria, an aspiring actress at the time.  And Silvio was married then, too, to the woman he left for Maria.  Silvio and Maria then carried on an affair for 10 years and had three children.  Then they got married.  And it was after all of that carrying on that Silvio was elected to Italy's highest office.

In recent memory we also have the case of Nicolaus Sarkozy of France, who was getting divorced so he could marry supermodel Carla Bruni virtually at the same time he was running for office.

So here's the question: why don't the Italians and French care?  Why are they able to make such a clear distinction between private "morality" (if that's even involved) and fitness for public office?  Asked another way, suppose it's all true about John Edwards.  Let's say that Rielle Hunter is the mother of John's baby and that they carried on an affair during his campaign, and that Rielle is a well-known party girl, as Maureen sniffs.  What is it about such a situation that would disqualify John Edwards as presidential timber?  And why is it only a disqualification in the United States but not in Western Europe?

I sometimes think that by imposing yet another artificial barrier to public office, the requirement that a person have a squeaky clean private life, that we're selecting for bloodless, epicene androids with dull personal histories and not much juice for life.  A complicated love life can be a pretty rich learning experience, after all; I would think that Silvio and Sarkozy probably know a helluva lot more about certain types of human motivation and passion than, say, Dick Cheney.  Just a guess.

Anyway, Maureen will be out of a job pretty soon, along with the rest of the print journalists, so maybe we shouldn't begrudge her the self-appointed role of Puritan Enforcer.  It's a gig, for now, and one of her reliable memes.  And no doubt her small-mindedness accurately reflects the attitude of her ever-dwindling readership.

May 05, 2009

Facing Other Unpleasant Facts

I've been reading a new collection of George Orwell essays entitled Facing Unpleasant Facts which includes a lot of Orwell's hoary best such as "Shooting an Elephant" and "Such, Such Were the Joys."  I quote Orwell on the masthead for this blog because the sentiment expressed there, which I applaud, actually did guide the way he wrote.  He was generally Socialist in his outlook but it was a practical kind of Socialism built upon his revulsion against capitalist exploitation in such industries as coal mining (thus his Road to Wigan Pier).  He obviously was no pie-in-the-sky idealist or pacifist; he was openly critical of Britain and France's appeasement of Hitler, and he personally fought in the Spanish Civil War.

The collection is prefaced with an introduction by George Packer of The New Yorker and there's a nice irony in that.  If there's a publication on Earth which typifies the kind of vague, on-one-hand-on-the-other-hand, excessively complex, under-edited type of prose which Orwell abhorred, I don't know what that magazine would be if not The New Yorker.  It's kind of amusing that Packer tries to rein it in a little in the intro and write a little more like Orwell: simple sentences, active verbs.  Orwell could write like that because his ideas were so powerful. He didn't let words get in the way of the clarity of his thinking.  Whereas in modern political writing, as one might find in the columns of the media stars at the New York Times and the Washington Post, the writers are so afraid of offending authority and thus spoiling "access," that no clear opinions dare be stated. Thus, the resort to "style" and the kind of mishmash which Orwell pilloried in "Politics and the English Language" [which Packer didn't dare include].

Orwell wasn't like that.  For example, in reflecting on the Spanish Civil War and why the elites in Great Britain and France simply left the Republican Army to its fate and its annihilating defeat at the hands of the Hitler-backed Franco forces, Orwell stated clearly that the reason was that the governments of Great Britain and France were pro-Fascist.  They liked what was going on. It suited their economic purposes to allow a Left-leaning government in Madrid to fall to the Fascist Franco. It was only when it became obvious that Hitler had designs against them that the Allies got serious about resisting Der Fuhrer.

It's interesting, to say the least, to mull over how Orwell would have written about the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  It's doubtful that Orwell would have seen the putative rationale, that "freedom was on the march," as in any sense genuine.  It seemed to be in America's economic interest to overthrow Saddam and install an America-friendly regime headed by Ahmed Chalabi.  That would ensure a favorable government overseeing our oil industry in Iraq.  Afghanistan presented a tempting target because of the oil pipeline that could be built across the country with the right government in place, such as one headed by the former Unocal consultant Hamad Karzai.  It would provide steady work for Halliburton, the oil field contractor.  It sounds good to throw in the stuff about the Taliban "harboring" bin Laden, but I doubt this kind of specious nonsense would have fooled George Orwell.  These wars served the purposes of the governing class.  They didn't turn out very well, but that's because the head guys in that governing class were pretty stupid.

One striking thing in one of the lesser-known essays: Orwell recommended keeping a diary or journal of one's ideas about politics and social matters.  That way you could track the development of your own thinking, watch it evolve, catch the errors in your understanding and logic.  I guess that's what a blog actually is, when you write about the stuff I usually write about.

May 03, 2009

Meanwhile, back in the troposphere

UPDATE:  I can't get the graph to size right. Blogger is not always the most adaptable graphic arts medium. So if you want to see the whole graph, the URL is

The good people at, a site everyone should consult periodically (link to the right) to see what the latest is on atmospheric science (as opposed to the pop-nonsense of uneducated pontificators such as George Will), have cited a couple of extremely elucidating studies in the current issue of Nature, from which the above graph of probabilities is taken.  Computer modeling of the climate continues to improve, and the bad news continues to pile up.  This is one of those situations in human history (perhaps unprecedented) when the doomsayers were simply not shrill enough. But everyone likes to appear "reasonable" at all times, I suppose, and not venture opinions beyond the available evidence.  The problem being, as pointed out by many, is that by the time conclusive proof arrives, the damage will be completely irreversible.

Actually, as the above graph demonstrates, the damage is already irreversible; it's now a question of whether we want to build on this catastrophe and take things all the way to nonviability.  Even if mankind were to cut CO2 emissions by 80% between now and 2050, there remains a possibility, projected as somewhere between 10% and 46% as I read the graph, that global average temperature will increase by more than 2 degrees C, which is about 3.6 F.  We've increased the average temperature so far due to AGW (anthrogenic global warming) by about .8C, or 1.44 F.  Thus, total warming of greater than 5 degrees F above preindustrial temperatures cannot be ruled out even with a "slam on the brakes" scenario, which, as you've probably noticed, is not exactly happening.

Business as usual is modeled as a 100% probability (virtually) that global warming will increase by more than 2 C.  Most of the projections based on business as usual lead to global warming of more than 5 C, or 8 F, which is a Game Over scenario.  

Since we have about 40 years to slam on the brakes to avert the worst of the possible outcomes (or minimize their likelihood), it would be good if Prez O and Steven Chu of the Dept. of Energy frankly admit that there just isn't time to reinstate the energy-profligate, consumer-oriented economy and that the upside of the recession is that it catalyzes a change that absolutely has to be made anyway.  

Then all that Barack has to do is explain to the Senate Gerontocracy what "global warming," "CO2," and the "atmosphere" are, and we're on our way.