You’re Invited to a Big Intellectual Bash!

Each year, the brainy types at the Edge Foundation pose a great question. Then they ask dozens and dozens of interesting folks from just about every human discipline except monster-truck driving to answer the question in a short essay.  It’s always worth a long browse.

Past Edge Questions have included:

*What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?

*What would change everything?

*Which questions have disappeared?

This year, the Edgemeisters have rounded up 164 provocative thinkers  to answer this provocative question from Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker: What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit?

The fascinating answers include: Cumulative Error, Holism, Negative Capability, Uncalculated Risk, Ambient Memory and the Rational Unconscious.

These and the other 159 answers can be found here.


Fourth Annual Posting of “Loveliest of Trees”

The temperature dropped to 45 last night, but it still seems like North Texas has turned the corner to spring. The garden has been tilled and composted, and it’s time to plant tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. In April I’ll probably add okra, eggplant and a few other things.  I noticed the giant fig tree broke its first buds the other day, and the cardinals I always think of as “our” cardinals are back from wherever cardinals go in the winter. (Maybe they play winter ball in Honduras.)

In North Texas, one of the real glories of the landscape is the Bradford pear, which erupts into impossibly white, delicate blossoms in mid-March.  As I’m out walking, the sight of the pear trees always makes me remember A. E. Housman’s fine poem, “Loveliest of Trees,” which I post below as I do each spring.  If you do the math the way the speaker does, you may find yourself paying more attention to the season’s beauty.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Quote of the Week: Elizabeth Taylor

In a lifetime of emotional and physical setbacks, serious illnesses and accidents, and several near-death experiences, Ms. Taylor was a survivor. “I’ve been lucky all my life,” she said just before turning 60. “Everything was handed to me. Looks, fame, wealth, honors, love. I rarely had to fight for anything. But I’ve paid for that luck with disasters.”

More on America as Green Lantern

Following on yesterday’s post (see below) about the United States’ “evolving” role as Global Cop, we hear from another true believer in America as a Green Lantern-style superhero that should be ready to fight all evil everywhere all the time:

No one wants to be involved in another war in the Arab world. But evil people don’t always give you the luxury of time. Once the threat to 100,000 innocent civilians became immediate, the president needed to act. We could not have sat on our hands, with aircraft carriers offshore, as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi massacred civilians. Not acting would have cost America dearly in terms of credibility: a generation of Arabs would have lost faith in the United States, just as the Arab Spring takes hold in country after country. We cannot afford to lose the Middle East.

Rachel Kleinfeld, CEO of the Truman National Security Project, via the NYT.

Others have raised oodles of questions about the lurch into Libya, so I won’t recite them now.  But here’s an Assumption Check:

1. Evil people “don’t always give you the luxury of time.” True, but couldn’t the “you” here be some combination of the Europeans (firepower)  and the Saudis  (money, as I suggested in a recent post)?   Why is “you” always U. S. ?

2. “100,000 civilians”–and more died in the Rwanda massacres, and I don’t recall us sending the Big Red One to stop that horror. If Que-Dah-Fee was threatening only 50,000 civilians, would that be permissible?

3. “cost. . . credibility”? I thought we lost all credibility with the Arabs  after the Abu Ghraib disgrace, etc. Did we get it back recently?

4. “Lose the Middle East”? When in the past half-century did we “have” the Middle East?


Is America the Green Lantern of the World?

You can get to the core of the debate about America’s place in the world through one simple letter from a reader of the NY Times. The reader objects to a column by writer Ross Douthat in which Douthat argued against U. S. involvement in Libya. Here’s part of what the reader wrote:

In all the thousands of words Douthat has written arguing against the establishment of a no-fly zone, never does he attempt to demonstrate that he understands the difference between right and wrong. That understanding is all that was necessary to understand the dictates of morality when it came to the question of whether or not the United States should have used its overwhelming military capabilities to support the popular uprising of the people of Libya against the dictator and terrorist Gaddafi.

.    .     .

People like Douthat are ensuring that Libya will soon be again in the hands of an insane terrorist and populated universally by people who deeply hate America.

Note the reader’s core assumptions.  Apparently, America’s foreign policy and military intervention should be based on “the difference between right and wrong.” If we are uncertain as to where we should focus our military might, we should consult “the dictates of morality.” Above all, we should intervene to keep “insane terrorists” from establishing havens for “people who hate America.” (You mean,  like Paris and Berlin during the Bush years? Joke! Joke! )

The reader goes on to heap scorn on the idea that America should act only in its own clear self-interest. The full letter is here. (Scroll down to #9).

The America of this reader’s desire–and I think he/she speaks for millions–would be more of a crusading white knight of the realm than a nation with a clear sense of its duties, interests and limitations.

At the risk of seeming irreverent, this reader’s view of America recalls a superhero I loved as a child–Green Lantern. Whenever GL had to recharge his supercool power ring, he had to recite this oath:

In brightest day, in blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight.

Let them who worship evil’s might,

Beware my power: Green Lantern’s light.

Note the breadth of this oath: “No evil shall escape my sight.” None. Not a bit.  If you are evil, we’re coming, baby.

Can or should America be the Green Lantern of the world? Is it our duty to scour the globe for evil dictators and thugs who make life hell for the innocent? If so, we better forget the idea of cutting military spending;  instead, we better double or triple it, and right after that institute a draft for all healthy men and women between 18 and 45. And if Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone aren’t busy, maybe they can run the Pentagon. No evil ever escaped their sight, either.

As a kid, I loved Green Lantern because he could always fix things. All the bad guys, from the street thugs to the aliens, feared him. And in some corner of  my heart I agree with that New York Times reader. When the weak and the innocent are oppressed, some champion should come to their aid. Somebody should bring justice. (I think we’re touching on the roots of religion here.)

This debate will go on as the battlegrounds shift from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya to–Saudi Arabia? Iran?  Green Lantern’s oath represents one possible (and probably disastrous) course for America. John Quincy Adams’ words represent another:

“America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”


French, Italians, Russians, British, Turks, Swedes, South Africans, Cameroonians, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Germans, Chinese, Kenyans, Egyptians, Iranians, Dutch, Australians, Costa Ricans, Ecuadorians, Canadians, Irish, Luxemborgians, Taiwanese, Others Dither as Libya Slips Away

I continue to reel in amazement as the “international community,” whatever that is, proves once again that it is impotent without leadership, arms, money and blood from the U. S.  Apparently all the countries named above and dozens of others cannot summon the will to ground Kaddaffy’s handful of planes or lob a few shells into his palace.

Earth to Earth: Learn how to handle some of these problems without the Americans. Try it. Just try it.

Hey, Impose Your Own Damned No-Fly Zone!

Don’t you love it? Now the Arab League has voted in favor of imposing a United Nations  no-fly zone over Libya. From the NY Times:

A no-flight zone would require military aircraft — with many of them almost certain to come from Western countries — and the Obama administration has been hesitant to support it.

The White House had no immediate comment on Saturday. But the Arab League’s resolution put President Obama and several of his allies in the unaccustomed position of appearing to be more reluctant to intervene than Libya’s Arab neighbors.

And of course any U.N. military action will, as always,  require lots of blood and steel supplied by the United States. In other words, many of the countries that have spent the past eight years denouncing the U. S. for its imperialistic, oil-greedy warmongering in the Middle East would now love for us to come roaring to the rescue.

And of course the countries now calling for Western Imperialist help to squeeze out the bizarre Khadaffy/Khaddafy/Qu’Da’fee  are thigh-deep in petro dollars. Wouldn’t it be nice if they used a few billion of those bucks to solve this problem themselves?  Let Saudi Arabia and a few of the other petro powers get together and handle it. If they want to shell Khaddafy’s palace, let them do it and let them handle the blowback and the reconstruction of Libya.

Oh, and the vaunted Chinese, the new financial overlords of the planet? Would they like to divert some cash and personnel to helping out a bit here? Hmm? For a dozen reasons, the U. S. needs to scale back its role as Global Cop on the Beat. Would some rising power like to try on the badge?