To The Point With Aesop

Those old sayings stay with us for good reason. Our bones absorb them in childhood; we can never outgrow them. Later, as adults, we find ourselves forever surprised by the truth of them. No small part of our initial moral education is owed to Aesop. His bestiary brought warnings against all kinds of vanity, thick-headed mischief, and unkindness. His dictums came to us together with our first prayers.

Let us not fret here over his status as an historical figure or, as some surmise, a legendary one. What matters is that, writing three centuries before the author of Ecclesiastes, the creator of these tales remains our first catechist. Much on my mind recently have been two aphorisms we owe to the body of work identified as his: You are known by the company you keep and, alternately, Birds of a feather flock together.


Walter Crane. Title Page. The Baby's Own Aesop (1877). The Pierpont Morgan Library, NYC.

Antiquity did not shy from the reality—the necessity—of bringing judgment to bear on character. No dithering non-judgmentalism addled Graeco-Roman wits. A swift, irrevocable act of judgment is central to two familiar Aesop’s fables. In The Donkey and the Purchaser, a shrewd farmer knows immediately the character of the animal he has bought by its beeline to the laziest, least productive of his barnyard companions. 

Moral: Man is known by the company he keeps.

In The Farmer and the Stork, a net spread over newly seeded ground traps a stork amid pilfering cranes and geese. The stork pleads for his life. He is, he insists, a worthy stork, a bird of excellent character and not to be confused with that riff-raff caught in the net. Besides, he had no idea those fellows were stealing seeds. But the farmer will have none of it. Sorry, stork.

Moral: Birds of a feather flock together.

Anonymous. Agricola et Ciconia, Translation by Hieronymous Osius (1574).

Appropriate to contemporary power struggles in the Vatican, with its factions and shifting alliances, the fables are a useful guide to the complexion of Francis’s tenure. The sanity of the ancient fabulist cuts through obfuscating decorums that grow by accretion, like a coral reef, around the papacy. In Aesop's day as in our own, men can be known by the company they keep. And Francis keeps close to two curious birds: Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríquez Maradiaga and Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández of Argentina.


Walter Crane. The Farmer & The Stork. Illustration in The Baby's Own Aesop (1877).

Vatican-watcher John Allen, writing on Crux, recently dubbed the cardinal a “vice-pope,” plausibly the second most powerful man in the Church:

He’s the leading symbol of an entire cohort of center-left churchmen who seemed marginalized not so long ago, but who today are clearly back in the game.

Among factors in that earlier marginalization were a tendency to malapropos statements plus an unwelcome whiff of anti-semitism. Allen reports that he likened criticism of the Church over the child abuse scandal to persecution under Nero, Diacletian, Hitler and Stalin. Moreover:

He went as far as to suggest that the American media’s obsession with the scandals was a way to distract attention from the Israel/Palestinian conflict, hinting that it reflected the influence of a Jewish lobby. . . .

In the years to come, there was whispering that Rodríguez’s rhetoric wasn’t matched by a command of policy details, including affairs in his own country.

Head of Caritas Internationalis, Maradiaga is on record insisting that the freedom to immigrate is a human right. He does not trouble to note that one nation’s moral obligation to permit emigration does not obligate any other nation to suspend its requirements for legal arrival by accommodating illegal entrants. With the absence of rule of law driving havoc in the cardinal’s own Honduras, it is unclear how the poor can be served for any length of time by suspending the bedrock of civil society elsewhere.

At a recent press conference in Rome, the cardinal was back in the news with Manichean denunciations of critics of Francis’s climate ambitions:

The ideology surrounding environmental issues is too tied to a capitalism that does not want to stop ruining the environment because they [sic] don’t want to give up their profits.

The pathetic fallacy inherent in ascribing a malevolent want to complex market systems is demagogic. Personification is a poeticism, not a means of critique. Applied here, it is as misleading as it is sentimental; it reveals the demonizing temper of old Soviet tracts. An ideological position that echoes leaflets from the October Revolution, the cardinal's dime store bolshevism reduces Christianity to a political movement that conforms to the dominant trend among left-leaning elites.

Capitalism’s imperfections are real. No one denies that; nor does anyone deny the validity of reasonable regulation. At the same time, the never-fully-free market has produced sustained growth in living standards for more people than any other system ever devised. It has taught nations that prosperity is not a zero-sum game. Even Thomas Piketty, the best-selling French economist touted by Maradiaga last year, has since walked back his now-famous prediction that capitalism will generate “unsustainable inequalities” in this century.

How else does the cardinal propose that nations organize mechanisms for the creation and distribution of those goods, services and opportunities for initiative that make possible the alleviation of poverty? Central planning? Five year plans? The Venezuelan model or the Cuban one? Maradiaga suggests no alternative to the capitalism he vilifies. But we can gauge the nature of that unspecified vision by looking at the aims of the Global Catholic Environmental Movement, of which Caritas Internationalis is a critical part. The movement seeks to insure that the climate does not warm more than 1.5° Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.

Think through the implications of that to gain purchase on the quality of mind counseling the man elected to guide a Church consecrated to Truth. We are left to pray that more heedful and substantive advisers assert themselves.


Milo Winter. The Ass & His Driver. Illustration for The Aesop for Children (1919).



Then there is that other trusted adviser, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández of Argentina. A native of Buenos Aires and member of the pope’s inner circle, he worked closely with Jorge Bergolio drafting the then-archbishop’s major speeches and letters. Fernández was crucial to the composition of Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium and ghost-wrote the (now postponed) encyclical on climate change.

Postponement is the consequence of disapproval—on theological grounds—by Cardinal Gerhard Müller of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Vatican scuttlebutt has it that the eco-encyclical will be downgraded, emerging simply as a statement. We will see. What matters at the moment are the archbishop’s dispositions and cast of mind. 

Who is the theologian behind two papal encyclicals? One hint might be the book he wrote twenty years ago: Sáname Con Tu Boca: el Arte de Besar (Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing). The choice of nouns is telling. A kiss can have ritual significance. But the word mouth, a body part, conjures up other behaviors. It certainly did for the producers of an Argentinian television drama Esperanza Mia, the saga of a priest and nun secretly engaged in a love affair. The script called for display of Fernández's book and the reading of passages from it. Clearly, the archbishop is a versatile writer.




I do not know what year this photograph of Fernández was taken. All that is obvious is that it is a staged shot. It is impossible not to wonder what prompts a priest to pose for the camera in this attitude. Possibly it is an Argentine commonplace that loses—or gains—too much in translation. But the instant I saw it I thought of Mann's Death in Venice. Here is Gustave Aschenbach pining wistfully for Tadzio. 

It is hard to know what to say. Let me leave the last word on this pair of papal intimates—Maradiaga and Fernández—to Aesop. In The Fox & The Toad, also called The Quack Frog, a well-tailored toad comes to town passing himself off as a learned physician and promising cures for ailments. A skeptical fox pipes up to ask, “How can we believe you if you cannot heal yourself of that ugly wrinkled skin?”

Arthur Rackham. The Quack Frog (1900).


Moral: Those who would mend others, should first mend themselves. Or, as we are more used to phrasing it: Physician, heal thyself.

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Through the Eyes of Lu Nan

Publicity is meaningless for an artist. If the pictures are good, it doesn’t matter who took them, and if the pictures are not good, it also doesn’t matter who took them.
                                                              Lu Nan

Our point-and-shoot culture is awash in photographs. The reigning snapshot aesthetic has grown threadbare,  exhausted by its own success. What began decades ago as a “Kodak moment” has metastasized into an infinity of banal images. The snapshot is modernity’s visual correlative to lives measured out in coffee spoons.

But there are other means of measurement. Lu Nan, China’s foremost documentary photographer, uses his camera to gauge the distance between the misery of the body—the transience and fragility of it—and our hopes for it. In these photos, the agony of existence burns with a lyricism and a reverence that sear the soul. Here is the mystery of man laid bare by poverty and illness. Even here on the margins of despair come sudden, brief illuminations of man's orientation toward the eternal.


Lu Nan. Mental Hospital, Sichuan, China (1990).

Born in Bejing in 1962, Lu Nan was fourteen when Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution ended. Like others of his generation, he was raised to survive within a culture lethally antagonistic to religion. Yet the work of this non-religious man is infused with a rare sense of the holy. All of it, from Myanmar prisons to Tibetan homes, brings urgency to Jean Mouroux’s 1948 prophecy: “What is at stake in our civilization is whether man shall remain—or re-become—a sacred thing.” Res sacra, homo.


Lu Nan. Mental Patient.

Lu Nan’s great trilogy—three distinct portfolios totaling 225 photographs—took fifteen years to complete. The first set depicts patients in China’s mental hospitals; the third surveys the life of Tibetan peasants. The middle set (On the Road, 1992-98), about the prohibited devotions of Chinese Catholics, was dangerous to create. Like his subjects, he risked arrest and prosecution as he worked. In 2009, he spent three months photographing the inmates of Myanmar prisons.


Lu Nan. Prisoner Trying to Dress. Myanmar (2009).


He rejects assertions that he is interested only in the underprivileged and the marginal. He answers that he is interested in man, in the shared human predicament: “Human lives should not be labeled. Labels cover our eyes and make many things invisible to us.”


Lu Nan. Yunnan Province (1993). Miao tribe Catholics visiting the grave of a relative.


Protective of his private life, Lu Nan rarely attends public occasions, and often refuses to be photographed himself. He also has a habit of signing his works under different names and has been known to surrender his copyright claims on some works. Contrary to art's pretensions, and alert to the vanity of celebrity, he says he would be satisfied if his photographs were appreciated by five people in the next twenty five years. A member of the elite Magnum Photos, Lu Nan has earned far wider acknowledgment than that. 

Note: Text that appears under the photographs below is Lu Nan's own identifying comment.


Lu Nan. Shaanxi Province (1992). Han Ying Fang, 71 years old, is a fifth generation Catholic in the family. During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Army raided each Catholic home, confiscating bibles and other religious references. If the order was not obeyed during a given period, they were severely punished at town meetings. At the time, Han Ying Fang's husband hid this crucifix in the ceiling, and it has survived to this day.

Lu Nan. Shaanxi Province (1995). Li Hu is 82 years old. He is a faithful believer. He made a coffin for himself five years ago. On the coffin is written: I BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY. He says, “I believe in eternal life. this coffin is a hut for my rotten body, but my soul is offered to God.”


Lu Nan. Yunnan Province (1993). The funeral of a Tibetan Catholic girl, 4 years old, who had died of a sudden illness. This village is located in the heart of the mountains, and it takes two and a half days to reach the nearest hospital. Children with an illness cannot often get cured, and on average, one or two die very young each year.



Lu Wan. Shaanxi Province. Duan Yuxin, 82 years old, has been suffering mental illness for more than 60 years. She recites the rosary throughout the village day and night. From 1966 to 1976 when religion was not allowed, she was the only person who could publicly say the rosary. During that period, many church members spent nights with her on her bed saying the rosary together. Today, she is seen as an important member of the church and is treated with respect.



Lu Nan. Shaanxi Province (1992). In China, the number of the ordained is far smaller than the Catholic population. Sometimes a Father has to hear nearly a thousand confessions.



Lu Nan. Shaanxi Province (1995). Mass is offered in a Catholic's home in a village with no local church. Mass in a family house is officially prohibited by the government. But “unofficial churches” take the risk.

Lu Nan. Inner Mongolia (1992). Sister Maria, 70 years old, with an orphan she has adopted. The baby must have been a “Chaoshengzi,” the second child of a one-child-family policy. In this village, if a Chaoshengzi is found, the parents are fined 3000 Yuan. Those who have adopted a Chaoshengzi are also fined. Sister Maria helplessly hid the babies in a sheep barn, or left them in the care of distant families, but authorities still did come to investigate her upon catching a rumor. The Sister kept insisting that the babies had died, and she was finally released. Sister Maria is a Sister in laity [sic], and she looks after the villagers who are ill, baptizes villagers, and devotes herself to other religious activities voluntarily.







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Church, Zero; Zeitgeist, Two

A few days before the last of the Vatican’s three climate workshops, the Italian parliament sped up the divorce process. The new law cuts the time Italians have to wait for a divorce: from three years to six months in uncontested cases; one year in contested ones. It was approved with a breathtaking vote of 398 for, 28 against (6 abstentions),

Until now, Italians in a hurry to decouple had to be clever. Resourceful mates could establish false residences in other EU countries, and file for divorce where strings were looser. (Romania, a favored spot.) Back home again, their round-about quickie would be recognized in accord with EU regulations. Now, Italy has extended that courtesy to the unresourceful as well.




Rorate Coeli translated Sandro Magister's blog comment on parliament's latest repudiation of Church teaching on divorce:

This, in a parliament crammed with Catholics; in a government where numerous ministers and the Prime Minster are Catholics and the proposer of the new law, Alessia Morani, a lawyer specializing in marriage law, defining herself as a “mature, democratic Catholic.”

Philip Pullella, writing for Reuters, quotes Church historian Alberto Melloni: 

The Church really didn't even put up a fight this time because they realized that it was a lost cause and did not want to fall flat on its [sic] face with a useless act of heroism.

Useless act of heroism. Like submitting to crucifixion? Like walking to one’s own decapitation whispering Jesus’ name in anguish and terror? Like resisting the siren call of some imagined institutional triumph—a renewed Christendom—built, this time, on an environmentalist creed?


Climate march in Toronto. Photo: Milan Ilnycky, Toronto350.org.


What to do with an inconvenient cross? Closet it. Pragmatism is, arguably, a derivative of prudence, a virtue. Better to align with the ascendant orthodoxy of the day. Better still if alignment crystallizes in traditional religious language and the principled rhetoric of compassion for the poor.

Italy’s expedited divorce law speaks eloquently of the Church’s loss of credibility in sexual matters. Can the collapse of the Church’s power of moral suasion in sexual and marital matters be compensated for—if not downplayed altogether—by going Green? Does the climate summit staged by the Vatican, at papal invitation and under the seal of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, represent an ex oficio capitulation to the New Faith?



People's Climate March, NYC, September 21, 2014. An estimated 311,000 people participated.

Eco-spirituality is embraceable by all, no matter one’s sexual practices, marital entanglements, race, class, or gender preference. Franciscan in its seductive embrace of all things great and small, eco-piety discourages fertility in the name of future generations who will need room for themselves. It woos the Vatican into granting a platform to two of the world’s most influential promoters of population control: abortion evangelists Ki-ban Moon and Jeffrey Sachs.

Moon uses his position as UN Secretary-General to support abortion rights around the world and proselytize for more abortion facilities in conflict zones. Sachs, a global development guru at the UN, is the darling of that other world-improver George Soros. Fertility reduction is a holy cause. In “Bursting at the Seams,” his 2007 series of Reith Lectures, he insisted on the need to “stabilize fertility.”





Rebecca Oas, writing for LifeNews in 2013, discussed Sachs’ contribution to the U.N.’s “Sustainable Development Goals,” which go into effect this year. These goals recast earlier Millennium objectives and institute a global scheme that ties development aid to a nation’s commitment to reducing population. Ms. Oas described Sachs' statement of his priorities:

Sachs . . . spoke of “a world that has become very crowded” with people who are increasingly “trespassing on fundamental planetary boundaries.” He had in hand a report proposal of the president of the 67th General Assembly recommending ten broad goals that included “rapid voluntary reduction of fertility” in countries with total fertility rates above 3 children per woman (only Africa has fertility that high), and anywhere where fertility rates are above replacement level. [She adds that very few countries outside Africa have above replacement level fertility. But according to 2013 CBS report, the birth rate of Muslims, while declining, is 3.51.]

Sachs ran a global campaign to have abortion language included in the Millennium Development Goals when they were first developed and again at their five-year review. His effort was rejected.

Sachs expressed the hope his new ten goals would be taught in schools around the globe. He repeatedly compared them to the Ten Commandments.

Trespassing on planetary boundaries. Listen, and you can hear the ghost of Margaret Sanger crooning, “Well done.” Keep listening. From somewhere deep within the static comes an echo of Lebensraum. The National Socialists aspired to clear Eastern Europe of its human vermin. Today’s world-improvers would clear the globe.

The crowning document to emerge from the Vatican summit was co-prepared by Jeffrey Sachs. 

Ponder that. 



Facebook cover photo. Available for uploading.



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The Toxic Legacy of Rachel Carson

. . . the fraudulence of Silent Spring goes beyond mere cherry-picking or discredited data: Carson abused, twisted, and distorted many of the studies that she cited, in a brazen act of scientific dishonesty. So the real tragic irony of the millions of deaths to malaria in the past several decades is that the three central anti-DDT claims made by Carson and other activists are all false.
                                                   Robert Zubrin,
Merchants of Despair
To only a few chemicals does man owe a great debt as to DDT.
                                                   National Academy of Sciences, 1970
.

In a sober world, Earth Day would be stripped from the calendar. It is closer to a Day of Disrepute than the high holy day it has become. Its founder, Ira Einhorn, was a homicidal crackpot. Its patron saint, viewed in retrospect, was a muckraking technophobe who bent data to an activist mission. High intentions notwithstanding, Rachel Carson did untold damage to millions of the world’s poor.

She was a gifted writer who brought to her passionate assault on pesticides—most tragically, DDT—the moral urgency of a Puritan preacher. Robert H. Nelson, an economist formerly in the U.S. Department of the Interior, wrote of Carson’s Calvinism-without-God:

While superficially a work of popular science, Silent Spring was ultimately a religious treatise. It called on Americans to reform their ways, to renounce their false worship of the dominant secular religion of progress of 20th century America.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring came at just the right time. Through the 1950s, into the 60s, cataclysm was considered likely. Civil defense drills were a familiar routine. School children practiced crouching under their desks, arms around their heads, until the all-clear sounded. President Kennedy approved an initiative to install fallout shelters around the country. The population-destroying neutron bomb, developed in 1958, awaited testing in Nevada. 




Nevil Shute’s convincing, post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach proved a popular triumph that lasted decades past its publication in 1957. Two years later came Stanley Kramer’s harrowing movie version. It chilled the generation that watched. Deluge was in the air. Eco-catastrophe was the next lap in the doomsday marathon of the Cold War era.




The Cold War waned. Apocalyptic imaginations sought intimations of calamity elsewhere. Nature writing with strong environmentalist leanings was widely read in the post-World War II era. It was a short walk from inheritors of nineteenth century nature cults—such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold—to an indictment of industrial civilization. The end of humanity was still in sight, if not from nuclear fallout, then from—in an over-heated quote that Carson threw against DDT—“diabolical means of insect control.” 

In the terrible wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Carson rose to declare “the parallel between chemicals and radiation is exact and inescapable.” It was neither. Nevertheless, Silent Spring warns that genetic deterioration through chemical agents “is the menace of our time, the last and greatest danger to our civilization.”



Carson’s zealotry tipped into mendacity with momentous consequences. Even Mark Lytle’s sympathetic biography The Gentle Subversive admits:

Carson was not always neutral in her use of sources and . . . she was sometimes driven by moral fervor more than by scientific evidence. Indeed, her use of evidence was selective.

Her vilification of DDT and other pest-control chemicals in agriculture exceeded warranted criticism of spraying methods. She aimed further: to rid the world of betrayal by chemistry so that humanity could return to an imagined state of harmony with nature. But that golden age never existed; pre-industrial peoples modified their environments throughout history. Precluding the public health benefits of DDT has had a toxic legacy, the burden of it borne on the backs of developing nations.

The best way to observe Earth Day is to inquire into Carson’s disfiguring prose, eloquent in its misuse of science. At your fingertips is Robert Zubrin’s “The Truth About DDT and Silent Spring,” (The New Atlantis, September 27, 2012). Available online, it summarizes Zubrin’s arguments, developed in detail and fastidiously documented, in Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Cult of Antihumanism (2012).


Lola Alvarez Bravo. Homenaje (1949). Center for Creative Photography, Tucson.

Zubrin points beyond Carson’s health scares and failed apocalyptic prophecies to the ascent of Malthusian population control agendas within the environmental movement. [Jeffrey Sachs, invited to address the Vatican workshop this week on climate change, is a key evangelist for salvation by population control.] In sum:

As a literary work, it [Silent Spring] was a masterpiece, and as such, received rave reviews everywhere. Deeply moved by Carson’s poignant depiction of a lifeless future, millions of well-meaning people rallied to her banner. Virtually at a stroke, environmentalism grew from a narrow aristocratic cult into a crusading liberal mass movement.

While excellent literature, however, Silent Spring was very poor science. Carson claimed that DDT was threatening many avian species with imminent extinction. Her evidence for this, however, was anecdotal and unfounded. ... In terms of DDT specifically, in her chapter on cancer she reported that one expert “now gives DDT the definite rating of a ‘chemical carcinogen.’” These alarming assertions were false as well.

Zubrin examines in turn each of the false claims made by Carson herself and by the crusade launched after her death by Charles Wurster, co-founder of the Environmental Defense Fund. Wurster claimed that DDT in seawater threatened all higher marine life and possibly human life as well. Paul Ehrlich, frothing prophet of eco-doom, seized the claim and predicted the end of the oceans in 1979. Zubrin concludes:

For the record, 1979 has come and gone, and life in the world’s oceans has continued to flourish gloriously. But, as a result of the mendacity and actions of Carson, Ruckelshaus, Wurster, Ehrlich, and their allies, DDT has been banned, and hundreds of millions of people who might have lived to enjoy those oceans, to sail on them, fish in them, surf in them, or swim in them, to play on their beaches or write poems about their sunsets, are dead.

At the End of the World, the Sea Will Burn. Codex of Predis (1476). Royal Library, Turin.


Charles T. Rubin, in The Green Crusade (1994), compared some of Carson’s claims to the original studies she cites as sources. In analyzing the juxtapositions, he found a pattern of misrepresented studies or claims taken out of context in order to exaggerate the dangers of pesticides, making them “seem greater, more certain, or more unprecedented than the original source indicates.” Fear-mongering trumped data.

The Cato Institute published The False Crises of Rachel Carson: Silent Spring at Fifty (2012), a collection of carefully researched essays to mark the half-centennial of Carson’s parables of reckoning. It examines the science on which Silent Spring was built, together with the policy consequences of its alarms. Included is an insightful discussion of the pernicious repercussions of the “precautionary principle” spawned by Carson’s book. A strategy for coping with scientific uncertainty, the principle pushes the sensible axiom “better safe than sorry” to crippling, and illusory, zero-risk extremes.

Perhaps the kindest way to view Carson’s influence was stated by Gary Marchant, a professor of life sciences, emerging technologies, and environmental law at Arizona State University:

While Carson’s error [re: the precautionary principle] might be excused or at least understood, what cannot be forgiven or fathomed is the continued influence of her outdated zero-risk paradigm today. The unfortunate legacy of Silent Spring is the series of statutes that incorporated her premises.,,,

These statutes continue to foster an illusion that is resurgent in the rise of the precautionary principle and the growing chemophobia among consumers who flock toward “natural” and “organic” products they mistakenly believe are purer and safer than anything man-made. As Martin Lewis has written, the time has come “to recognize such thinking for the fantasy that it is. We must first relinquish our hopes for utopia if we really wish to save the earth.”


Entomologist J. Gordon Edwards, in “DDT: A Case Study in Scientific Fraud” (Journal of Physicians and Surgeons, Fall, 2004), offered this illustrative nugget:

On the first page of the book widely credited with launching the environmental movement as well as bringing about the ban on DDT, Rachel Carson wrote: “Dedicated to Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who said ‘Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.’

She surely knew that he was referring to atomic warfare, but she implied that he meant there were deadly hazards from chemicals such as DDT. Because I had already found a great many untruths in her book, I obtained a copy of Dr. Schweitzer’s autobiography to see whether he even mentioned DDT. He wrote: “How much labor and waste of time, these wicked insects do cause, but a ray of hope, in the use of DDT, is now held out to us.”

Edwards follows other critics in rejecting her “dramatically false” conclusions and clarifying the science on which they were based. Most interesting is his discussion of the effect of the DDT ban on science itself. He viewed the ban as a watershed in which science compromised itself by sacrificing disciplined scientific methodology to advocacy.

By now, in the the climate change debate, that compromise has metastasized into a canonical imperative.

Note: 

Martin W. Lewis, referred to by Marchant, is a geographer currently teaching at Stanford, and author of Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism (Duke University Press, 1992.

William Rucklehaus, mentioned by Zubrin, was head of the newly formed (1971) Environmental Protection Agency. He overruled the scientific findings of the seven-month long EPA inquest which found no valid reason to ban DDT.

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Iconography of Power

Propaganda posters are a fascinating genre in their own right. Early Soviet posters are graphically compelling, and among my favorite works of art. It is a topic to come back to on a later date. But let me just touch on it for the moment in response to readers who emailed to comment on the reproductions in the previous post.






The earliest, ranging from 1918 to 1929, were heady with exhilaration for the fledgling workers' state, and the aspirations of Bolshevik internationalism. The monarchy had been toppled, tsarist Russia disintegrated, and the air was thick with revolutionary fervor. It is palpable in the posters of that first decade. 




Soviet art began to flourish on posters in the months following the revolution. Initially, the Soviet agencies relied on publishing proclamations. Illustrations accompanied some of them, but there was little worth remembering. Midway through 1918, things began to change. The Red Army, founded by Leon Trotsky in April of that year, became a generous patron of graphic artists. Some of the finest work of that first decade was ordered by the military and dealt with military themes. Social motifs, such as literacy and health care, carried the same militant charge. 







Later, in The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky described the young workers' state:

[It] had a seething mass basis and a perspective of world revolution; it had no fear of experiments, searchings, the struggle of schools, for it understood that only in this way could a new cultural epoch be prepared. The popular masses were still quivering in every fiber, and were thinking aloud for the first time in a thousand years. All the best youthful forces of art were touched to the quick.

The poster was an ideal medium for reaching a population that was largely illiterate and suffering the after shocks of civil war. Few could read; paper and printing presses was in short supply. Posters were vivid, inspirational, the graphics fully intelligible apart from text. 

Soviet art degenerated during the rise of Stalinism into the stock commonplaces of socialist realism. But that early generation of poster art remains stirring apart from politics. It radiates a certain martial beauty, estimable as art no less than as historical record.




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