In the ’60s, when my generation went to college, turned up the stereo, stole all the towels and tore the place apart, liberal-arts majors were a favored class. Because science was linked to the military-industrial complex, it was thought unwise to disrupt the delicate, melancholy iambs of our pastoral thoughts with discouraging information concerning rockets and explosives.
Instead, science was offered as a sort of single-sentence statement. One of my college’s geology classes–the local, lit-major variation of the infamous “rocks for jocks” course–involved piling into a bus and driving through the countryside, while a teaching assistant said, “That’s quartz, that’s granite, let’s go home.” Anybody along for the ride got a “pass”; if you missed the bus, you got a “fail.” Talk about grading on a curve. Thus did a generation of slackers infect the education business with the virus of credentialed lunacy that now has spread through every aspect of academic life.
Speaking literally of academic life, my own adventure in science involved growing mold in a petri dish. I used the dish mostly because my shower curtain was too bulky to bring to class. The idea, I recall, involved establishing a colony of disgusting, unspeakable stuff in a warm and friendly environment. Think Malibu. You started with spores, which I think were small and insignificant. For a while, nothing happened. Then, almost instantly, you had a vast population of fuzzy semi-vegetation that threatened to bigger than its own little petri-planet. It was like growing your own fright wig, and far better than sea monkeys. The thing I learned is that nothing beats breeding a low-level life form so you can make jokes about it later.
Take, for example, that giant petri dish in Brussels. The spore, taken from an earlier coal- and steel-tariff treaty, was planted in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, which was supposed to make Italian pasta attractive to grocery shoppers in Luxembourg and Dutch cheese affordable to Belgians. But after decades of festering growth by bureaucrats feeding on the rich agar of near-unaccountability, the old EEC, now the European Union, has reached maturity as a giant Ponzi scheme run by the French and the Germans, in which other nations are forced to contribute to the political well-being of two increasingly unpopular leaders–Chirac and Schroeder.
As with any affinity fraud, there are a number of impolite fictions that must be observed if the thing is going to work. Take, for instance, the Common Agricultural Policy, which allows my neighbors in this little French farming village to drive tractors that make Escalades look like Ladas. The CAP was invented as a way for France and Germany to swap French agricultural products for German machinery, with little regard for the effects it had on other EEC members. The 1962 agreement between de Gaulle and Adenaur, which established the model for using all of Europe as a means of supporting its two largest states, involved heavy community-funded supports for French farmers and a tariff protecting them from barbarian imports. These days, it exists largely to keep French farmers out of downtown Paris, which is where they go, manure spreaders in tow, whenever anybody threatens to cut their subsidies or remove their long-standing trade protections. The impending importation of genetically modified grains–part of the American master plan for world domination, according to this article in Le Monde–poses a very real and considerable health threat for French politicians because of the impact it may have on French agriculture.
But it’s the EU’s economic stability pact, formulated by the Germans and passed at their insistence, that provides the greatest insight into the cynical realities that support the EU’s facade of utopian superiority.
The German idea was to make sure that when the euro became a shared currency, all those lazy Spaniards and those undisciplined, euthanizing Dutch wouldn’t bankroll their national deficits by sucking up the revenues of Germany’s miracle economy. But when the fortunes of Europe stumbled, and the French began persistently violating the pact, it was Germany who gave them comfort, support–and, most importantly, impunity. Year after year, France escaped without penalty. Last week, as Die Welt (free registration) reported, it was the Germans’ turn. Their decision to disregard the pact they so badly wanted–despite the fury of the Spanish, the Dutch, and others who have sacrificed heavily to stay within the pact’s guidelines–not only created a massive crisis for the EU, as this Guardian item suggests, it also displayed the real function of the EU–a great way for the French and the Germans to float their economies at the expense of smaller, rule-abiding nations. It’s not likely to change soon, either. While the German economy is starting to spark a little–thanks almost entirely to the dramatic American recovery–France is still tanking, as this item from today’s Libération describes.
The fact is that the EU is as useful as anti-Americanism for idea-challenged German and French politicians, such as Schroeder and Chirac, men who are much more concerned with their own electorates than they are with the ideals of Rome. Both owe their jobs to their ability to exploit the EU as an instrument of multinational anti-Americanism. Beating up on the U.S. gives center-right politicians like Chirac the ability to co-opt the French Left, which continues to flounder, as polls reported in Le Monde suggest, especially since losing the Stars-and-Stripes-burning franchise. And of course, for center-left guys, like Schroeder, the EU has charm because old-fashioned spending programs are political fairy dust, especially during economic downturns–and especially if somebody else is paying for them. Stability pacts and European unity fall away in the face of political expediency.
Anyway, I retail all this week-old news because the gauzy chintz of a grand illusion isn’t the only gown in the closet of Old Europe. There’s also the Kyoto protocol, a plan to drain the economies of developed countries in an effort to make sure that greenhouse gasses, the ostensible cause of the apparent climate shift, all come from the Third World.
Like the EU itself, Kyoto is part of the wardrobe of rectitude in which cynical European politicians drape themselves. America, because the president and the Senate (without dissent) both roundly rejected the treaty, gets to play the environmental bad guy in the charade. Like China, and, if this story in Libération holds water, now Russia, the U.S. has continued to find Kyoto to be unworkable and, most of all, expensive.
Critics have futilely documented the flaws in Kyoto to undisturbed liberals–as Danish researcher Bjorn Lomborg did for readers of the Guardian, when he explained that “for the same amount implementing Kyoto will cost the EU every year, the UN estimates that we could provide every person in the world with access to basic health, education, family planning and water and sanitation services.” The Bush administration developed its own environmental policy, described briefly inThursday’s Revue-Politique update, one that took economic realities into account and balanced them against semi-scientific theories.
Of course, the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto agreement gave hypocritical politicians in Europe the opportunity to harness yet another mule to their anti-American bandwagons, as NRO reported here some time ago.
But, like the stability pact, Kyoto was so then. Now, according to Belgium’s Le Soir and Germany’s ZDF, both reporting this statement from the EU, there’s not a globally warmed snowball’s chance in upstate New York that the EU will be able to meet its own commitment under the Kyoto agreement to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 8 percent from 1990 levels.
The isn’t a revelation to those who have been driving policy in Yank-bashing EU states; they knew all along that Kyoto, like the stability pact, may have been a nice idea, but one on which they were never going to risk political capital. If they had to choose some lovely green fantasy over political survival, the choice would be an easy one. Germany, according to the report, is the EU’s biggest greenhouse gasser, and one of the states that made a huge, early stride toward meeting its commitment to Kyoto–mostly by simply closing down all those fume-spewing East German Trabant factories once the wall came down.
But now the money crunch is on and, as the Suddeutsche Zeitung headlined, “Kyoto im Koma.” Just as it failed to meet its economic-stability pact commitments, Germany is falling behind its Kyoto targets, a failure that will increase as long as environmental whimsy remains a luxury. My bet: If you ask Schroeder if he’d rather have a balmy Baltic or an unemployment check, he’ll take the holiday in Hamburg, no sweat.
Did you hear the one about the Jew and the Nazi? The current round of French introspection, in which the république is once again wondering whether it’s really as antisemitic as all those crazy Jews in their burned-out schools and synagogues say it is, was given a little clarity last week by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who told EUPolitix that, yes, France quite possibly was antisemitic. Sharon’s comments came almost at the same time the EU suppressed a report it had commissioned on antisemitism because, according to Le Nouvel Observateur, the report found a great deal of evidence of antisemitism. Worse, it blamed much of it on Muslim thugs living in France. But not all of it can be laid at the doorstep of French musulmans. A primetime variety show on France3 featured a French comedian dressed as a rabbi giving the Nazi salute and yelling, “Heil Israel”–a humorless moment frozen in the timelessness of Merde in France, the blog that proves once and for all that anger can be a thing of beauty.
Out, damn spots! Trying to support a bad idea has driven many alimony-paying men to the depths of despair. Thursday, George Bush joined them when he finally lifted the steel tariffs he imposed as part of a goofy political strategy. Politicizing tariffs were a bad idea 75 years ago and the concept frankly never improved with age. Because the tariff couldn’t be supported, it eventually would have to come down. And because it came down now, when every American weakness is being exploited in the European press sinister, it’s being widely reported–among other places, in Tagesspiegel, in Le Monde and on the EU’s own Observer newspage (headline: “EU wins battle over US as Bush backs down on steel”)–as an American defeat. When the Euro-press is already chock full of American daily “defeats” in Iraq and elsewhere, this is not a helpful notion at the moment. In France, Germany, Spain and Italy, vast numbers of citizens despise the U.S. It matters, not because they’re right, but because ultimately that kind of blind, unreasonable prejudice can lead to violence, and the governments of France and Germany are doing little to stop it. In fact, they’re working hard to inflame it. We shouldn’t be making that work easier.
Yet, another defeat is just around the corner. Like steel tariffs, the idea of locking large numbers of people up for an indefinite period of time without charging them with any crime is a bad idea. Building an offshore prison camp for alleged terrorists made a certain sense for a while after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But more and more, the Gitmo jail is looking like the work not of high-level security strategists, but of the kind of people who run failed government programs. What to do about the inmates in Guantanamo? The feds obviously haven’t a clue. Federal employees are useful for two things: winning wars, which they do quickly, and issuing tax refunds, which they do less quickly. After that, relying on governmental wisdom gets dicey. The prisoners at Guantanamo must be given some sort of judicial processing that resembles American fair play. The presence of this monumentally embarrassing exercise in incompetence makes it very difficult to make the case for American policy in all the places where it’s right, clear and decisive. As David Aaronovitch made clear in last Sunday’s Observer, it’s just indefensible. Even Jeffrey Dahmer got a trial.
Coming next: Foot shooting as a foreign policy.
Open Wide. If the BBC World Service were a party–and clearly, to many, it is–then Judy Swallow, the cartoonlike Mistress of Snide, would be the middle-aged lady who gets tipsy and table dances for attention. The Newshour presenter, who sounds like a mad hybrid of Margaret Dumont and Julia Childs with a drunken lad’s accent, just can’t control herself. Her voice rises flutelike, then disappears into mumbles, while her interview guests have to correct her in order to keep her within some sort of reasonable journalistic framework. Listening to Swallow reminds me of the time I was in the men’s room at Roseland in New York when George Burns came in. Two guys had to hold him up while he relieved himself. It was like a Judy Swallow interview, but not as messy.
Last Tuesday, having failed to impugn by insinuation the American claim of a large body count inflicted by foiling an Iraqi ambush, Swallow finally went over the edge and flatly suggested the Americans were deliberately lying. Her astonished guest had to hold her up until she regained her composure–which she did by calling the Coalition forces in Iraq “the enemy.” So now at the BBC, we have “resistance fighters” combating the “enemy.” But there will always be work for Swallow: The BBC is apparently entering into a joint venture with the Cartoon Network.
Meanwhile, Greg Dyke, the BBC director general who had the wisdom to invest the corporation’s honor and reputation in the slipshod, embarrassing, and discredited reporting of Andrew Gilligan, was in New York, where, according to the Guardian, he criticized U.S. newscasters for being biased. Twenty-odd years ago, Dyke was a TV journalist. Now he’s a bureaucrat running a government service badly. If he ever has to answer to anybody–say, stockholders, like those who invested in the Chunnel, and who, according to this story on the Expatica.com site, are now ready to behead management–he could always line up a gig running the news division for the Cartoon Network.
Greg! Say, “BEEBo!” Then say good night.