Your fearless blogger, being a University employee, was of course home today. And channel-surfing. And, as fate would have it, I hit C-SPAN at high noon, right when Al Gore was about to speak at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. ("So let me get this straight. They don't let Marian Anderson sing, but do let Al Gore speak. What's up with that?")

A Tiny Voice then whispered in my ear: "A diligent, respectable blogger who even pretends to be interested in political issues would watch this and blog about it."

So I did. Damn that Tiny Voice. Transcipt here.

Ex-congressman Bob Barr was supposed to introduce Gore, but after a long delay it was clear that the video tomfoolery that they had set up to make this possible just wasn't going to work. So the desired air of non-partisanship was dispelled somewhat.

Gore decried what he termed Dubya's "wholesale invasions of privacy." Nobody stood up to ask him if he knew or remembered anything about Echelon. Make no mistake: he has no problems with us shooting terrorists or blowing up al-Qaeda members; he just doesn't think we should tap their phones if they happen to be talking to someone in the USA. That's impermissible.

Gore said "It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored." Also pretty amusing for those of us who remember the phrase "no controlling legal authority".

Oh, and Congress has really gone downhill since he was in it, due to the icky Republicans. And you shouldn't confirm an icky Republican Supreme Court Justice that believes (as far as anyone knows) in a strong Executive branch, as long as the icky Republicans run it. And a bunch of stuff that was pretty much more of the same. This kind of dissipated that whole non-partisan make-believe into thin air.

Thanks much, Tiny Voice. That's an hour of my life I won't be getting back. Maybe I'm not cut out for this kind of blogging …

State of Fear

[Amazon Link]

This is the first Michael Crichton book I've read since The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man back in, well, a long time ago.

The thesis is, roughly speaking, that environmentalists are a bunch of earnest dupes, led by a small group of cynical, greedy, power-hungry activists. OK, so that's probably not too far off from the truth. The (hopefully) fictional part is that the activists are extremely ruthless, willing to sacrifice the lives of many to their higher good, and have also learned how to stage a variety of environmental catastrophes in their spare time, and plan to do so in order to scare the rest of the world into Doing Something Now, for example ratifying the Kyoto Treaty. Our heroes, woefully outnumbered, aim to discover the triggering points for these disasters and thwart them.

You might expect a right-wing laissez-faire troglodyte like me to like this book a lot better. But the characters are (approximately) 2.1-dimensional, spouting predictable, flat dialogue. (One buffoonish character is a thinly-disguised Martin Sheen. I guarantee Martin Sheen won't be playing this role in the movie, but he'd be good.) A lot of didactic passages remind me of good old Ayn Rand. This may be the only novel you ever read with this many footnotes and graphs. The characters careen from one peril to the next: Antarctic crevasses, flash floods in Arizona, targeted lightning bolts, tiny deadly octopi, and South Pacific cannibals. And more. That kind of stuff works better in movies.

But darn it, it is a major page-turner. Crichton knows how to make you want to see what happens next, despite all the groaning you might have to do on the way. The flaws, such as they are, are thouroughly professional flaws; you'll see 'em in just about any mass-marketed prefab best-seller. And when our characters visit Antarctica, you can believe that Crichton's been there, and looked down the crevasses himself.

Crichton's appendix "Why Politicized Science is Dangerous" is very much worth reading. You can (however) read it here. I've previously raved about his talk, "Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century." You can find that, and others, here.

Last Modified 2022-10-04 6:42 AM EDT

Let Us Turn Our Thoughts Today …

… To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

("Shed a Little Light", by James Taylor.)

What I don't enjoy about this holiday: the tedious punditry that, as predictably as a skipping record, tries to arrogate the MLK legacy to current political causes. The Boston Globe was always reliable in this regard … lemme see here … ah, it's James Carroll's turn this year:

In honoring King today, America knows full well how far short the nation still falls of the vision he articulated. In the year that he died, a federal commission convened to examine the roots of urban riots declared that the United States was, in fact, two societies, separated by race. Nearly forty years later, that remains true, and it did not take Hurricane Katrina to show it. The effective segregation of schools is as stark as ever. Incarceration rates of African-American males are astronomical. Gunplay in cities overwhelmingly targets young people of color. An institutional triage writes off huge proportions of poor black youth. Among middle and upper classes, social interaction between the races is rare. Even as ''race" has been recognized as an artificial social construct at the service of a dominant class, it remains as much a marker of identity as ever.

Standard lefty boilerplate, pretty much. Even the slightest amount of critical thinking will undermine it.

To focus on a single point: most people who have bothered to look at the issue know that the "gunplay" that "overwhelmingly targets young people of color" is also overwhelmingly from young people of color. Carroll probably knows that too, but to acknowledge that important, but inconvenient, fact would mess up his easy, preachy, narrative.

The primary problem Carroll sees is apparently "complacency." He uses the word five times in a short column, implicitly referring to modern-day white folks who don't buy into the standard-issue racial guilt trip with sufficient gusto. We're supposed to gulp, I suppose, and say mea culpa.

But the real complacency is Carroll's, I think. Comfortable in the liberal cocoon and self-soothed by morally-superior memories of his participation in sixties-era "struggles", he doesn't have to think too hard about the current realities of black-on-black crime, or come up with any actual solutions, beyond finger-pointing.

Also note Carroll's playing of the Katrina card; it's now enshrined as part of the progressive lexicon as a telling example of white indifference to black woe. But, also on today's Globe op-ed page, Cathy Young demolishes what she calls "Katrina's racial paranoia." She also points out how this durable myth may wind up hurting African-Americans in the future.

So let's be optimistic on Martin Luther King day: Carroll's stuck in the past. People like Cathy Young are the future.

Last Modified 2006-01-16 1:10 PM EDT