October 13, 2005
Disasters

By David Warren

Don't get me wrong. I am utterly appalled by what has happened in Pakistan and Kashmir. The massive earthquake happened in some territory I've trekked, in a land I love, and killed tens of thousands of people, displacing perhaps millions, whose fates I can vividly imagine. There are many remote places that have yet to be reached, where people must be dying. I'm glad at least the Americans have choppers to send. I'll send what money I can, to help with the recovery, and the reader should do likewise. All men are brothers.

However, I think the disaster coverage of the world's media has become a little too efficient. It is a mixed blessing, progressing by small increments into a curse. The good it does, is to get relief supplies moving faster and more copiously. The evil is that it gives a skewed impression that disasters are becoming more frequent, when really they are just being more prominently reported.

Why is this an evil? Because it feeds public demand for obnoxious and intrusive legislation, to "do something" to obviate risks that are, in the main, beyond human power to avoid. Our media have, both wittingly and unwittingly, bought into a "Kyoto syndrome", that feeds on junk science, and exploits paranoia.

It becomes increasingly necessary to explain the obvious, when the obvious is overlooked -- that hurricanes, earthquakes, great fires, torrential rains and floods, tsunamis, plague and pestilence, and even the occasional meteor impact, have been part of the background condition for life on this planet since life first emerged. We can build better and stronger, improve hygiene and medicine, and keep up our rescue institutions -- among which the greatest have always been well-equipped military forces, and the industrious, enthusiastic soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines they employ. Beyond this, we can only roll with the punches.

Advances in technology have allowed us to measure and track the effects of natural disasters with a precision never before available, leaving the false impression that various "world records" betoken unprecedented events. Whereas, a glance through the annals of disasters past, using the more comparable standard of casualty estimates, is the quick cure for apocalyptic thoughts.

We will all die; but by the end of days, only a tiny fraction of us in natural catastrophes. Let us live with that.

*

Today, instead of my usual two cents' worth, the reader gets two single-penny columns. I wanted to subtract from what I said last week, on President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the week since, much dust has settled, and it has become clear that Ms Miers is acceptable to the broad rightwing Republican constituency, and to not a few Democrats. She is despised, chiefly, by the rightwing intellectuals (people like me), who were heartbroken that Mr Bush would pass over the long list of brilliant, strict-constructionist legal scholars that have arisen in response to the challenge presented by two generations of often deconstructionist rulings by the same Supreme Court. Especially, that he should do so to appoint some woman who was his own personal lawyer, and who looks at first glance as if she could be -- on the grand constitutional issues, outside her own territory of corporate law -- a ditz.

(A strict "constructionist" is an interpreter who reads the U.S. Constitution as if it were written in plain English, which it was. A "deconstructionist" is my cute attempt to label judges who prefer to rewrite the Constitution as they go along -- in the American case, mostly by riffing on the 14th Amendment.)

While I'm not sure we rightwing elitists were wrong, I hope we were, and without speaking for anyone else, I'm beginning to think I was wrong. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If Ms Miers clears the U.S. Senate, we will see what sort of judge she'll be.

But for now, President Bush's apparently weak argument, "Trust me," is beginning to look much sounder. Perhaps the great Texas jurisprude, Lino Graglia, put this best, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt. To paraphrase: the Supremes are in the habit of arrogating to themselves decisions that should really be made by the people (on everything from abortion, pornography, and school prayer, to all-male military academies in the State of Virginia). Power naturally flows to their heads. Yet the Constitution had nothing to say about such things, and explicitly left what it had nothing to say about, to the people. It is this trust in the people that has made America the beacon she is.

And Harriet Miers may be exactly the sort of real-world type who can understand that. And George Bush, from knowing her well over a long time, is in a good position to know she knows. She doesn't need bells, whistles, and law degrees from Harvard and Yale. It might even be helpful not to have them.

Copyright 2005 Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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