The Long View 2005-01-30: Defeats, Victories, Miracles, Chimeras, Fashion Protocol
We are lucky President George W. Bush's privatization of social security never got anywhere. That combined with the housing bubble could have been genuinely revolutionary, in the howling mob kind of way.
Defeats, Victories, Miracles, Chimeras, Fashion Protocol
National Public Radio this morning took care to remind its readers that today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Tet Offensive of 1968, the point after which American defeat in Vietnam was increasingly portrayed as inevitable. (For the sake of completeness, NPR also noted that today is also the date on which Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany.] Still, despite this somewhat ominous historical reminder, NPR's reports from Iraq did not disguise the fact that, given the circumstances, the Iraqi national elections were a rousing success. The insurgents were unable to stop the elections nationally. The large turnout repudiated the Islamists and the Baathists. This result is irreversible.
There are two things to keep in mind about this outcome:
Second, we should keep in mind that the calls for withdrawal that are now being made by Democrats in America contemplate a process that is not very different from the wind-down of American involvement that the Administration was hoping to do anyway. Barring catastrophe, obviously the Coalition will reduce its presence in Iraq by the end of the year.
On a smaller scale, we will see a replay of the attempt that the Democrats made after 1989 to claim credit for the victory in the Cold War. It did not work then, and it is unlikely to work now.
* * *
The great humiliation for the Bush Administration, and for the Republican Party in general, will be the collapse of the attempt to restructure the Social Security system. The partial privatization scheme that the Administration has endorsed has been tried elsewhere in the world and found wanting. Chile has been running the most sophisticated system of this type, and as the New York Times put it last week, Chile's Retirees Find Shortfall in Private Plan:
This leaves many Chileans in a situation that has led to the coining of a phrase: "pension damage." There is now even an Association of People With Pension Damage, 157,000 members and growing, that consists of Chileans, mostly former government employees, who find that their pensions, based on contributions to the private system, are significantly less than if they had remained in the old system.
Churchill won the Second World War in the spring of 1945. A few months later, he was out of office because of issues of just this sort. For that matter, much the same happened to the first President Bush.
* * *
Moving to a somewhat different topic, I have never been much interested in the Shroud of Turin. Still, I was among those people who were surprised by the radiocarbon dating test in the late 1990s that gave a medieval date. There was just so much circumstantial evidence from reputable parties that suggested the Shroud dated to antiquity, though of course no train of verifiable evidence linked it to Jesus Christ. Since the radiocarbon tests, more evidence for an early date has accumulated. Perhaps the strongest appears in this report in last week's Daily Telegraph: The Turin Shroud, believed by some to be Christ's burial cloth, is much older than previously thought, a new study has found.:
Research published in the scientific journal, Thermochimica Acta, has reignited the debate over the Shroud's origins, suggesting it is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old....Author, Dr Raymond Rogers, said the 1980s carbon dating test was valid but that the piece tested was from a patch woven in to the shroud at a later date....The tests revealed the presence of a chemical called vanillin in the radiocarbon sample but not the rest of the shroud. The limited life-span of the substance is proof that the original shroud is much older than the patch.
"An analysis of vanillin loss suggests the shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old." said Dr Rogers
Again: interesting if true.
* * *
Though the 21st century has been disappointing in some ways so far, it is at least beginning to meet my expectations for simple weirdness. Consider this story: Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy
Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. The embryos were reportedly the first human-animal chimeras successfully created. They were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before the scientists destroyed the embryos to harvest their stem cells. In Minnesota last year researchers at the Mayo Clinic created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies. And at Stanford University in California an experiment might be done later this year to create mice with human brains.
I fully realize that I am missing the point, but I cannot help but reflect about this kind of story: when scientists outrage God and man in this fashion, couldn't they at least do it with cooler animals? A human-jaguar hybrid would be a monster out of myth. A parrot-person would give wonderful interviews. But no: it's always flatworms, weasels, and skunk cabbages.
Those responsible will bear an even heavier burden for this reason.
* * *
Meanwhile, the criticisms from Old Europe about the senior members of the Bush Administration have taken a stridently sartorial turn:
Other leaders at the event in Poland on Thursday marking the 60th anniversary of the death camp's liberation, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, wore dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots.
I think they were just jealous.
Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly