Orbiting Dicta

Monthly Archives: August 2017


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.

The View from Here: Voyager’s [O]mission

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.

Secular music by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven was included, along with jazz and folk songs from around the globe.  But there were no liturgical chorales, masses or oratorios; no Gregorian chant, no Negro spirituals; no hymns or native religious canticles.  There was no religious art – Leonardo’s Last Supper, for instance, or Michelangelo’s paintings from the Sistine Chapel, or the windows of Chartres, arabesques from the walls of the Alhambra, or sculptures from Angkor Wat.  No Buddhist or Hindu temple appears, no cathedral, synagogue, or lamasery‑‑ only the Taj Mahal – technically a mosque, but “a monument not to religion,” it was noted, “but to love, and thus an appealing choice.” (A few gothic chapels slipped by‑‑ in a photograph of Oxford University — probably because they are unrecognizable as places of worship to anyone unfamiliar with the “City of Spires.”)

There were lengthy statements by politicians and other “world leaders”‑‑ the President of the United States, a two‑page list of US senators and congressmen “associated” with NASA, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and statements and even poems from fifteen UN delegates.  There were none however from the Dalai Lama, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, a rabbi, an imam, a Buddhist nun, or a yogi.

One other oblique reference did manage to slip by the screening process devised by the scientists, however.  It was a statement by an African from South Uganda, Elijah Mwima‑Mudeenya of Kampala, who said, “Greetings to all peoples of the universe.  God give you peace.”

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.

But despite claims, or should I say boasts, to the contrary, science is not uniformly value-free nor devoid of significant prejudice.  Sometimes disastrously so.  So I hope that any advanced civilization capable of playing phonograph records has some appreciation of irony. I wonder what our hopefully friendly extraterrestrials in some remote aeon in some imaginably distant realm of the universe will make of  Elijah Mwima‑Mudeenya’s blessing once they get the phonograph going.

Scaramuccia Season: The View from Here

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.)