When I was a lot younger than my college students today, the US TV viewing public sat in their living rooms enthralled for 177 episodes of a half-hour espionage thriller called “I Led Three Lives,” about a real-life double-agent of the FBI named Herbert Philbrick. He wrote a factual autobiography with the same name published in 1952, which I and thousands of other Americans happily devoured. The TV program ran for three years between 1953 and 1956. By today’s standards, that would be considered a phenomenon.
In any case, it was about Russian Communists trying (and succeeding) to infiltrate the United States on practically every level, something really and avidly investigated by the House Unamerican Activities Committee until its decline in the late 1950s, and especially by the Senate investigations associated with and often led by the Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, who subsequently lent his name to the frenzied “witch-hunts” of later times.
Flash forward to the Angelina Jolie thriller, Salt (2010) and the riveting TV drama series The Americans, starting in 2013 and still running. Stimulating spy stuff, full of bad Russians bent on inflicting mortal damage to the USA. And now… oops? The Mueller Indictments seem to be a return to the past -- Russian agents actively recruiting and “duping” Americans in an attempt to bring down the Republic… or at least make it really miserable, apparently with notable success. Read more...
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey is fast assuming the status of the worst natural disaster in US history, surpassing the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina exactly 12 years ago this week.
Could the destruction have been prevented? Not entirely, of course, but it could have been greatly reduced.
Step one: reduce carbon emissions significantly… best time to start: 25 years ago.
Step two: expand and develop environmental protection laws and policies… best time to start: 25 years ago.
Step three: pay greater attention to climate scientists, who warn that as the sea warms and levels rise, hurricanes will increase in size and intensity, if not necessarily in frequency… so we hope! Best time to start: tomorrow.
Take away for Mr. Trump: Climate Change is real. Do not gut the EPA regulations, the agency itself, or US natural resources. Stay in the Paris Climate Accord. The people deserve it. The earth requires it.
This year, in August and September, the 40th anniversary of the launches of the two Voyager spacecraft are being rightly celebrated.
Each of the probes carried on board a remarkable document -- a record of civilized life on Earth devised as a greeting card to any life forms in the universe intelligent enough to intercept and decipher these messages. A product of the creative collaboration of astronomer Carl Sagan, his wife Linda, and their associates, each of the Voyager messages included sounds and music representative of human cultures on the planet as well as pictures inscribed on a long‑playing phonograph record. But the Sagan team strove to make sure that all mention of God, the sacred or the religious dimension of human experience on Earth was deleted from the gold-plated record.
In the end, what Sagan nearly accomplished was a gross misinterpretation of the real human situation on this planet, whose inhabitants are overwhelmingly members of a variety of religious traditions, some of which (preeminently Christianity and Islam) demonstrably gave rise to the very science Sagan and his colleagues espoused. Read more...
Three months ago, the roiling tumult in the White House occasionally made the six-o’clock news here in Ireland. I relished the respite from the reality-show sequelae that dominates news broadcasts in the US. That, however, changed gradually over the summer. Now it is difficult to turn on the telly without finding the latest serio-comic “fake news” about or from the White House leading off the reports on RTE, the BBC (1, 2 and 4 mind you), France 24, Euronews, and even Al Jazeera.
The sudden rise and fall of Anthony Scaramucci quickly replaced the news of Sean Spicer’s “resignation” and Reince Priebus’ dismissal as the loyal Trumpman dutifully fell on his metaphorical sword. Scaramucci wasted no time living up to his family namesake. As widely noted, Scaramuccia ("little skirmisher") was a clown figure of the Commedia dell’arte, known in French as Scaramouche, a Punch-and-Judy figure who was more Punched than Puncher, often pummeled by Harlequin for his “boasting and cowardice” (Wikipedia). Scaramouche was also a splendid 1921 novel by Rafael Sabatini set just before and during the French Revolution. As the basis for several films, the 1952 version was a boyhood favorite of mine and endeared the figure to me ever after. (The novel is terrific. Read it on the beach this summer while you still have time.)
In any case, Scaramucci enjoyed (if I may use the term) the shortest tenure yet of Trump appointees, dismissed because of his “inappropriate language” in denouncing other Trump appointees, notably Reince Priebus. Given Trump’s own penchant for the “colorful language” that earned him a rebuke from the Boy Scouts of America (among others), it has to be conceded that Scaramucci’s tirade went beyond even that pale.
All of this carnival of errors (I hate to say comedy: it isn’t that funny), has been dutifully reported by media throughout Europe with an admixture of amusement, horror, and revulsion. But, we are assured, the White House is not in turmoil. Chaos perhaps. Possibly disarray. But not turmoil. (Don’t look now.) Read more...