The Long View 2008-03-28: The Stuff at Enceladus; The Making of the Goracle; Fitna Premiers


I find myself wondering in retrospect whether John J. Reilly just got lucky when he frequently expressed his opinion that Hillary Clinton was never going to be elected President. He ended up being right, but was it just his partisanship combined with luck? His reading here of JFK filtered through Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960 suggests that he at least considered that chance events could have swayed the eventual result.

The Stuff at Enceladus; The Making of the Goracle; Fitna Premiers

The the news from Enceladus is not so bad as had been feared. Apparently, the Cassini space probe was able to do some chemical analysis of the plumes from Saturn's moon:

An international spacecraft that dove through geysers erupting from the surface of a Saturn moon found organic matter, one of many ingredients that make an environment hospitable to extraterrestrial life, scientists said Wednesday. ...The chemical analysis by the unmanned Cassini spacecraft revealed that Enceladus' interior was similar to that of a comet...While the jet plumes were mostly water vapor, the probe found traces of methane and simple organic compounds, said Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute. [On the other hand] Scientists not involved with the mission said while the discovery of organics is important in the search for extraterrestrial life, the fact that they resemble comet material casts doubt on whether liquid water is present.

"Suppose they had seen complex organics ... That would be interpreted to mean that liquid water was present and that chemical reactions had gone forward toward forming life," said Bruce Jakosky, an astrobiologist at the University of Colorado.

"That we don't see those things suggests that liquid water is not abundant or that energy sources are not present," he said.

Still, those plumes will continue to make the moon of interest to exobiologists. It's like the old joke about the drunk who loses his wallet: he looks under the streetlamp not because he has any particular reason to think it is there, but because that is the only place where there is light enough to see.

* * *

It is often said in disparagement of well-regarded politicians who never quite decide to run for president that they wish the presidency could be awarded to them by a blue-ribbon commission. Actually, that is not so different from how things were managed in the past, when the national nominating conventions were attended chiefly by delegates who were selected at state conventions or were simply appointed by local party leaders. They could choose whomever they wanted, or at least whomever their leaders selected in smoke-filled rooms. I have done a review of Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960, but one of the points I did not emphasize in that review was the openness of the nominating process.

There were five serious contenders for the Democratic nomination. There were just 16 primary elections; John Kennedy troubled to enter only seven. His purpose was not to gain the small number of committed delegates he would receive, but to prove to the regional party leaderships that Protestants would vote for him. Hubert Humphrey also tried the primary route but failed. The plan of the other three (Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson, and Stuart Symington) was to be available if Kennedy did not have enough delegate votes on the first ballot to secure the nomination.

This was by no means a forlorn hope. Despite the later adulation of Kennedy by the press, and not least by White himself, The Making of the President does not quite suppress a hint that John Kennedy may have been the Hillary Clinton of 1960.

Certainly he had a formidable organization. Politicians all over the country owed him favors. Nonetheless, he seems to have been at least as much feared as liked by his colleagues. His family had a well deserved reputation for never forgetting slights. His chief credential was his apparent inevitability. However, should it appear that Kennedy might not be inevitable after all, his political support would quickly fall apart, along with the implicit threat that maintained it.

I mention all this because today's apparent deadlock in the Democratic Party's nominating process raises the possibility that the Johnson-Stevenson-Symington strategy may not be wholly obsolete. At any rate, Joe Klein seems to think something of the sort:

Which brings us back to Al Gore. Pish-tosh, you say, and you're probably right. But let's play a little. Let's say the elders of the Democratic Party decide, when the primaries end, that neither Obama nor Clinton is viable. Let's also assume, and this may be a real stretch, that such elders are strong and smart enough to act. All they'd have to do would be to convince a significant fraction of their superdelegate friends, maybe fewer than 100, to announce that they were taking a pass on the first ballot at the Denver convention, which would deny the 2,025 votes necessary to Obama or Clinton. What if they then approached Gore and asked him to be the nominee, for the good of the party, and suggested that he take Obama as his running mate? Of course, Obama would have to be a party to the deal and bring his 1,900 or so delegates along.

Heed the Goracle.

* * *

Returning to the Reconquista, I note that Geert Wilders' short anti-Islamic documentary, Fitna, is now reported to be available online. I went to the site Fitna: The Movie [BIE added in YouTube link, as the original website is not available], and found this message:

This site has been suspended while Network Solutions is investigating whether the site's content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy. Network Solutions has received a number of complaints regarding this site that are under investigation. For more information about Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy visit the following URL:

Then I consulted The Belmont Club, and found this link to the unfortunately named service, Live Leak. The link takes you to a page that asks whether you are mature enough to view this material. I have as yet gone no farther.

But what does The Belmont Club say about the significance of the film?

But the real significance of Wilder's film is to illustrate the growing loss of control by Western governments over the narrative over the nature of the War on Terror. By criticizing Islam itself, a growing number of voices including Geert Wilders and recent convert Magdi Cristiano Allam (who called Islam "inherently evil") have taken one more step towards tearing down the notion, so carefully constructed by George Bush after September 11 of separating terrorism from the "religion of peace".

On the other hand, reaction to the release of the film seems to be less than catastrophic, to judge from this headline: Dozens protest anti-Quran film.

We should remember that Danish cartoons were not intended to be offensive; the violent reaction to them was gingered up by people with an agenda. Just because, in this case, offense was meant does not mean that offense will be taken.

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