Right-wingers mistake humorous Audi ad for Obama policy; embarrassment should follow

April 30, 2012

. . . but perhaps won’t.  I swear it seems as if someone has a concession at Tea Party functions selling self-lobotomy kits, and they’re selling like $10 iPhones.

File this in the “Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad” department, with loss of sense of humor as a key symptom.

You may have seen this ad during the Super Bowl, and though you may have cringed a bit at the way it tweaks people who show concerns about the environment and who urge cleaning up pollution, you probably found it pretty humorous.

But over at the Club the Constitution Constitution Club site, they appear to think it’s an ad from the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security.

So some hoaxster with the apt handle The Rat at Club the Constitution Constitution Club dug up a dull, run-of-the-mill document out of the Department of Homeland Security that talks about DHS policies on working to implement the government’s environmental justice policies.  “Environmental justice” is shorthand for “don’t dump garbage or toxic pollution in or close to the homes of poor people just because they are unlikely to have lawyers at the moment.”

Then The Rat flew off the handle, a truly head-exploding, insane Gish-Gallop rant about Homeland Security:

In its just-released Environmental Justice Strategy document, the DHS says the idea is to “include environmental justice practices in our larger mission efforts involving federal law enforcement and emergency response activities” and to incorporate environmental justice in “securing the homeland.” Roll that around in your head for awhile:

“Federal law enforcement” agents conducting “emergency response activities” in the name of “environmental justice” for the purpose of “securing the homeland.” The Green Police. Oh. My. God.

You couldn’t make up craziness like this guy, The Rat, could you? He clearly has no clue about the history of environmental justice (and is Google-challenged on top of that) — or he’s venally working to make people believe falsehoods.  What’s the harm in including “environmental justice practices in our larger mission?”

Does this Rat, who appears to be a complete idiot, fail to understand that “emergency response activities” are commonplace, and occur whenever an 18-wheeler carrying a load of chemicals turns over on the freeway?  Does The Rat fail to understand that spills need to be cleaned up?  (Real rats are very clean creatures, actually.  While they live in filthy, they do not prefer it, and they keep their dens very clean.  This is one way a real rat, say Rattus Norvegicus, or Rattus rattus, is superior to this faux rat.)

Here’s the description of the Audi advertisement from Auto123.com, showing none of the insanity the right wingers try to insert:

As reported by Audi

HERNDON, Va.
,– Green Police, the Audi Super Bowl ad, provides an uncommon avenue for green advocates, anteaters, Styrofoam, the legendary rock band Cheap Trick and the 2010 Green Car of the Year to find their inner connectivity.

How all of these rather disparate elements come together hasn’t been revealed yet by Audi. But in the end they will provide an entertaining look at how we all face a dizzying array of choices that can impact the environment. Some of these choices are easier than others. But, the Green Police ad will show, one of the best choices is driving the Audi A3 TDI, which won the prestigious 2010 Green Car of the Year award presented by Green Car Journal at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December.

The Audi Green Police ad will air Super Bowl Sunday in the fourth quarter of the largest television event of the year. But Super Bowl ad followers, Audi aficionados and others can get sneak peeks at what’s coming.

Audi released a teaser edit of the Green Police Super Bowl ad today, which highlights the crucial role anteaters can play in keeping the planet green. Think Styrofoam. One Super Bowl reviewer online is already betting the Audi Green Police ad will win top honors for “Best Use of an Unusual Animal in a Super Bowl Ad.” Audi disclaimer: No anteaters were harmed in the filming of the Green Police Super Bowl ad. To find that teaser video, go to www.facebook.com/audi.

Another preview of the Audi Green Police ad is the available download of the theme song of the spot. The legendary rock group Cheap Trick returned to the recording studio to remake their smash hit “Dream Police” into “Green Police.” Fans also can find that download by going to the Audi Facebook page.

For Audi, the Super Bowl has been a premium platform for promoting the performance and prestige of its cars the past three years. But underlying the fun of this year’s Green Police Super Bowl ad is a serious message: If 30% of Americans drove clean diesel cars like the Audi A3 TDI, the nation could reduce oil consumption by 1.5 million barrels a day. What’s more, clean diesel engines reduce CO2 emissions by 30%.

“Those are real-world benefits that the A3 TDI offers for today’s concerns about fuel consumption and greenhouse gas,” said Scott Keogh, Audi of America Chief Marketing Officer. “Super Bowl ads are all about fun, but the best ads point consumers to products that enrich their lives. That’s what we’ve done with the Green Police.”

Got that?  It’s a straight up, funny-as-anything Super Bowl ad pushing Audi’s TDI Diesel engined cars.

Have the right-wingers genuinely lost their humor senses?  Are they so shallow in their reading they didn’t catch the humor?  Can’t they tell a joke from reality?

In contrast, environmental justice is, by now, a rather well-established movement to marry civil rights laws and anti-pollution laws to prevent poor neighborhoods from being unfairly burdened by pollution, in a drive to clean up pollution for the benefit of all.  It’s an old enough concept that it goes by its initials, EJ.  See Wikipedia’s quick and concise entry:

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines EJ as follows:

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation [sic]. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.[5]

The United States Department of Transportation defines three fundamental EJ principles for the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration as follows:

  1. To avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority populations and low-income populations.
  2. To ensure the full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities in the transportation decision-making process.
  3. To prevent the denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of benefits by minority and low-income populations.[6]

Could a serious-minded American citizen disagree with anything in those two definitions?  That’s right out of the Boy Scout Manual, it’s Leave No Trace writ large — it’s been the policy of the U.S. government since the early 1970s, proposed by Republicans as a means to conserve our nation’s lands, waters, and other resources.

There is nothing in the DHS environmental justice policy statement to suggest the agency will do anything more than worry about whether the agency itself is environmentally friendly, and fair to minority populations in the dumping of its wastes.  Actually, there is nothing in the document opposed to pollution — only statements outlining that every group in the agency is responsible for following policy.  The document says, in too many words, that no one can use the excuse, “It was the custodian’s job to see the used fluorescent light tubes were disposed properly.”

That crazy right wing!  They just get more and more distanced from reality the closer the election looms!

Links to the post at Club the Constitution Constitution Club, with the implied allegation that Obama will be sending cops out to fine you and your local gendarmerie for using Styrofoam cups, make up a new Anti-Green Wall of Shame, made by unthinking people spouting off about what they do not know:

More than a dozen blogs, operated by at least a dozen bloggers — all of whom conserved a great deal of energy by failing to use any of their gray matter neurons before parroting a hoax.  Oy.  (My experience is that most of those blogs are terrified that someone will leave an opposing opinion in comments — if you successfully post a comment at any of those blogs, will you let us know in comments?  The Ghost of Stalin stalks heavily among the blogs of the unthinking right.)

How many people will be suckered by this hoax?  More than a dozen so far, and counting.

P.S.:  The Audi advertisement was for the 2010 Super Bowl; that’s some digging.

Update, May 3:  A few wags at the original site now claim it’s parody, that they know it’s not so.  Alas, they don’t post that, and as you can see by the update above, other anti-American Clean Air types continue to pile on, not hesitating to attack our national government for fun.


Film in a high school class: Atticus Finch as a role model

April 30, 2012

This year is the 50th anniversary of the release of the film “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In the American Film Institute‘s polling to find the greatest hero in the movies, Atticus Finch finished first.  Interesting that a class from Arlington, Virginia’s Washington-Lee High School found one of the best venues anywhere to watch the film to study it.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD ranks 25th on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list of greatest American films, and AFI named Atticus Finch the greatest hero in this history of American film when it announced its AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains list in 2003. AFI also recognized the film for its #1 ranking of Best Courtroom Dramas in AFI’s 10 Top 10 list and its #2 ranking on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers America’s Most Inspiring Films list, just behind IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The film, which premiered in Los Angeles on Christmas day in 1962 and opened wide in 1963, was directed by Robert Mulligan and produced by Alan J. Pakula.  [Screenplay was by the great Texas playwright Horton Foote.]

From the White House YouTube site:

President Obama hosted a film screening of To Kill a Mockingbird in the Family Theater at The White House to commemorate its 50th anniversary with guests including local students from Washington-Lee High School, Mary Badham Wilt, the actress who played Scout, and Veronique Peck, widow of Gregory Peck who played Atticus Finch. The President also acknowledged the American Film Institute for their commitment to the fine arts and NBC Universal and USA Network for their efforts to commemorate this important film.

What venues could one use in Dallas?  Check with the Sixth Floor Museum, to see if their 7th floor facility is available.  Check to see if there is a room available at the Earl Cabell Federal Building, or the George L. Allen Court building.  The old, renovated Texas Theater on Jefferson Boulevard might cut a deal.  Surely there is a room big enough at the Belo Mansion, the home of the Dallas Bar Association — if it’s not totally booked up for other events.  With the Horton Foote connection, perhaps the Wyly Theater could find a rehearsal room to throw up a screen. Odds are pretty good you could get an attorney to come talk law and civil rights at any of those locations.

How could a teacher sneak a viewing of this movie into the curriculum?  Isn’t it tragic that we have to sneak in great classics?

More: 


Plot to destroy the U.S. economy?

April 29, 2012

Clearly Rep. Allen West got duped.

I hope this is a hoax — but I can’t even find a denial, yet.  Got the rebuttal that works?

Copied in its entirety from Daily Kos, a post by CC:

    It’s no secret now that GOP in Congress literally plotted to undermine U.S. economy during President Obama’s Inauguration.

     In Robert Draper’s book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives” Draper wrote that during a four hour, “invitation only” meeting with GOP Minister of Propaganda, Frank Luntz, Senior GOP Congressmen plotted to undermine and destroy America’s Economy.

The Guest List:
Frank Luntz – GOP Minister of Propaganda
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA),
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX),
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX),
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI)
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA),
Sen. Jim DeMint (SC-R),
Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ-R),
Sen. Tom Coburn (OK-R),
Sen. John Ensign (NV-R) and
Sen. Bob Corker (TN-R).

Non-lawmakers present Newt Gingrich

During the four hour meeting, the senior GOP members plotted to bring Congress to a standstill regardless how much it would hurt the American Economy by pledging to obstruct and block President Obama on all legislation.

   These members of Congress were not simply airing their complaints regarding the other party’s political platform for four long hours.  No, these men were literally plotting to undermine and destroy the U.S. Economy.

        On that date, January 20, 2009, America had been losing over 750,000 jobs per month because of policies these Congressional Leaders had enacted and their goal, their goal that night, was to plot ways to undermine any and all legislation that would pull American families up and out of the economic calamity they had helped create.

       Everyone of these members of Congress supported the very Bush/Cheney policies that caused America to teeter on the brink of the 2nd Great Depression and caused the 2007 US Economic Meltdown.

      These guys can’t say they were sitting at dinner for four hours discussing any objection to Stimulus Legislation and raising the Debt Ceiling because of political ideology as each one of them voted yes on Bush/Cheney Stimulus Bills and yes every time Bush/Cheney wanted to raise the Debt Ceiling.

Here’s how they all voted:
— “Yes” to Bush/Cheney January 2008 Stimulus
— “Yes” to Bush/Cheney bailing out Bear Stern
— “Yes” to Bush/Cheney bailing out AIG
— “Yes” to Bush/Cheney TARP (sept 2008)
— “Yes” to Bush/Cheney TARP (oct 2008)

    And these same members of Congress:
— Supported Bush/Cheney keeping cost of two wars out of the Budget
— Supported Bush/Cheney spending $4Trillion on Top 1% Tax Cuts while trying to pay down Debt on Two Wars

Ahhh … but at their dinner they plotted to suddenly stop supporting any stimulus legislation:

Show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.

Rep Kevin McCarthy said,
We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill.”

Not only did these Senior members of Congress plot to destroy the American Economy more than it already was destroyed? They actually carried out their mission:

- Every one of these Senior members of Congress have threatened Government Shutdown over things like:
not funding planned parenthood, not raising the Debt Ceiling which, in-and-of-itself, would cause US Economic turmoil.

… oh, and stay current, these same House GOP members of Congress are still, today, threatening a Government Shutdown.

- Senators: Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, and Bob Corker have
Filibustered more Bills than any Congress combined in US History.
Voted NO on every single piece of Legislation brought to the Floor including: NO on Al Franken’s Anti-Rape Amendment, NO on Lilly Ledbetter, NO on Fair Pay Act.

- Representatives: Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Pete Sessions, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra and Dan Lungren
– Voted NO on every single piece of Legislation; including NO on increasing FEMA during natural disasters.
– Have been on tv constantly chanting the lie that they were guilty of … the lie that “President Obama’s policies undermine the US Economy.”

     Yes, these Republican Congressional leaders used Karl Rove’s playbook and falsely accused the President of what they were guilty of: Intentionally Undermining the US Economy.  And, again, in keeping with Karl Rove propaganda, they chant the same lie over and over and over again.

    America had been at war since 2001.  The Constitution says a person can only be guilty of “Treason” while America is engaged in war — we are at war.  The Constitution says “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.  I believe that plotting to undermine the President of the United States by destroying and weakening the US Economy directly aids the enemy. Treason?

    As for impeachment, only one Senator has ever been impeached.

    These members of Congress, are paid to do The People’s work.  They are not paid to plot ways to undermine American families by destroying the US Economy.

    Their acts that night are disgusting, repulsive, unbecoming of a member of Congress and they should be expelled from Congress for their covert plot to destroy and weaken America’s Economy and for obstructing The People’s work from getting done.

     I urge everyone to contact Darrell Issa and tell him to:

Hold Hearings to Expel the following people from Congress for plotting to undermine the President by destroy to the US Economy:
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA),
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX),
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX),
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI)
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA),
Sen. Jim DeMint (SC-R),
Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ-R),
Sen. Tom Coburn (OK-R),
Sen. John Ensign (NV-R) and
Sen. Bob Corker (TN-R).

I don’t know if they committed Treason, but I do know they are Traitors and Traitors have no business writing or voting on US Laws.

Oh, the next time you hear the GOP say “Obama wants to destroy the economy” or “Government Shutdown” … remember … as Newt Gingrich said after their four hour dinner on January 20, 2009 “You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.”

   To Translate GINGRICH:
You’ll remember this day as they day we became Traitors to the United States.

Originally posted to cc on Fri Apr 27, 2012 at 09:26 AM PDT.

Pete Sessions from Texas?  That great free marketeer, promised to do what he could to kill our economic recovery?  Do his constituents, especially those who work at the General Motors plant in Arlington, Texas, know about that?

More:


Bill Moyers warns Rep. West against reviving McCarthyism in 2012

April 28, 2012

Moyers has better historic video than I could find; Moyers is right on this issue.  Rep. Allen West owes all Americans an apology for his rash and wrong remarks.

Bill Moyers Essay: The Ghost of McCarthyism

April 26, 2012

In this broadcast essay, Bill connects the disgraceful McCarthyism of the past to its modern resurgence in the comments of Rep. Allen West and others. Haven’t we learned this lesson already?

Resources: 

Oh, grow up:  The Wall of Shame, suckers who grant credence to Rep. West’s McCarthyist whine:


NIH notes progress against malaria on World Malaria Day 2012

April 28, 2012

Press release from the National Institutes of Health, for World Malaria Day (April 25, 2012):

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

NIH statement on World Malaria Day – April 25, 2012

B. F. (Lee) Hall, M.D., Ph.D., and Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

On World Malaria Day, we stand at a critical juncture in our efforts to control a global scourge. This year’s theme “Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria” stresses the crucial role of continued investment of resources to maintain hard-won gains. Lives have indeed been saved. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, annual deaths from malaria decreased from roughly 985,000 in 2000 to approximately 655,000 in 2010. Improvements were noted in all regions that WHO monitors, and, since 2007, four formerly malaria-endemic countries — the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Turkmenistan and Armenia — have been declared malaria-free. However, about half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria, and the disease continues to exact an unacceptably high toll, especially among very young children and pregnant women.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is committed to maintaining the research momentum needed to eradicate this mosquito-borne parasitic disease. Our investments include programs designed to strengthen research capacity in those countries most affected by malaria. For example, through the 2010 International Centers of Excellence for Malaria Research initiative, NIAID has established 10 research centers in malaria-endemic regions around the world. NIAID also provides access for U.S. and international scientists to multiple research resources as well as training for new investigators. Additionally, NIAID supports the Global Malaria Action Plan (GMAP), an international framework for coordinated action designed to control, eliminate and eradicate malaria.

NIAID’s research portfolio includes an array of projects aimed at better understanding the disease process and finding new and improved ways to diagnose and treat people with malaria, control the mosquitoes that spread it, and prevent malaria altogether through vaccination.

Earlier this month, an international team including NIAID-funded investigators reported that resistance to artemisinin — a frontline malaria drug — has spread from Cambodia to the border of Thailand and Burma, underscoring the importance of continued efforts to detect artemisinin resistance and slow its spread. Other grantees have identified a major region of the malaria parasite genome associated with artemisinin resistance, raising the possibility that scientists will have a new way to monitor the spread of drug resistance in the field.

The spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria highlights the need for new and improved malaria drugs. Two recently completed drug screening projects offer some hope. In one project, NIH scientists screened nearly 3,000 chemicals, and found 32 that were highly effective at killing numerous genetically diverse malaria parasite strains. Another screening project identified a new class of compounds that inhibits parasites in both the blood stage and in the liver. The research could lead to the development of malaria drugs that attack the parasite at multiple stages in its lifecycle, which would hamper the parasite’s ability to develop drug resistance.

Work continues on a novel anti-malaria compound, NITD609, first described by NIAID-supported researchers in 2010. A mid-stage clinical trial to assess NITD609’s activity in people began in Thailand this year. Research on NITD609 is a continuing collaboration among NIH-funded scientists, the pharmaceutical company Novartis, and the nonprofit Medicines for Malaria Venture.

Because the risk of childhood malaria is related to exposure before birth to the malaria parasite through infected mothers, NIAID scientists recently initiated a program on malaria disease development in pregnant women and young children that could yield new preventive measures and treatments for these most vulnerable groups.

The mosquitoes that spread malaria are also the target of NIAID-supported science. In 2011, researchers identified bacteria that render mosquitoes resistant to malaria parasites. Further study is needed, but it may one day be possible to break the cycle of infection by reducing the mosquito’s ability to transmit malaria parasites to people.

A vaccine to prevent malaria has been frustratingly elusive, and so initial positive results reported last year by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and their collaborators came as welcome news. In a late-stage clinical trial in approximately 6,000 African children, the candidate vaccine, known as RTS,S, reduced malaria infections by roughly half. Currently, eight other vaccine candidates are being tested in NIAID-supported clinical trials. One of them uses live, weakened malaria parasites delivered intravenously to prompt an immune response against malaria. An early-stage clinical trial of this vaccine candidate began at NIH earlier this year.

Whether the remarkable returns on investment in malaria control will continue in years ahead depends on our willingness to commit needed financial and intellectual resources to the daunting challenges that remain. On World Malaria Day, we join with our global partners in affirming that commitment and rededicating ourselves to the efforts to defeat malaria worldwide.

For more information on malaria, visit NIAID’s malaria Web portal.

Lee Hall, M.D., Ph.D., is Chief of the Parasitology and International Programs Branch in the NIAID Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

NIAID conducts and supports research — at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide — to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health


April 25 is World Malaria Day

April 25, 2012

From the World Health Organization, for World Malaria Day 2012:

World Malaria Day

25 April 2012

In 2010, about 3.3 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – were at risk of malaria. Every year, this leads to about 216 million malaria cases and an estimated 655 000 deaths. People living in the poorest countries are the most vulnerable.

World Malaria Day Button (english)

World Malaria Day Button (english) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

World Malaria Day – which was instituted by the World Health Assembly at its 60th session in May 2007 – is a day for recognizing the global effort to provide effective control of malaria. It is an opportunity:

  • for countries in the affected regions to learn from each other’s experiences and support each other’s efforts;
  • for new donors to join a global partnership against malaria;
  • for research and academic institutions to flag their scientific advances to both experts and general public; and
  • for international partners, companies and foundations to showcase their efforts and reflect on how to scale up what has worked.

Related links

Fewer than 700,000 deaths?  That’s significantly fewer than most reports of more than a million per year — significant progress has been made it fighting malaria.  Keep up those efforts, whatever they are.

Watch your news outlets.  Will the pro-DDT, anti-Rachel Carson hoaxsters hold sway, or will the facts on fighting malaria, from the malaria fighters, get top billing?


Feynman and Twain: How can a scientist appreciate the beauty of a flower, a pilot the beauty of a river?

April 25, 2012

Mark Twain wrote about how too much knowledge can spoil beauty for a beholder.  In Life on the Mississippi, Twain described how the natural beauty of the river changed for him once he started serious study to be a river pilot.  That wonderful sunset revealed the river was high, hiding objects of danger.  That beautiful little ripple told him a snag waited underwater to pierce his boat.

Cover of "Life on the Mississippi (Signet...

Cover via Amazon

     . . . The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. There never was so wonderful a book written by man; never one whose interest was so absorbing, so unflagging, so sparkingly renewed with every re-perusal. The passenger who could not read it was charmed with a peculiar sort of faint dimple on its surface (on the rare occasions when he did not overlook it altogether); but to the pilot that was an ITALICIZED passage; indeed, it was more than that, it was a legend of the largest capitals, with a string of shouting exclamation points at the end of it; for it meant that a wreck or a rock was buried there that could tear the life out of the strongest vessel that ever floated. It is the faintest and simplest expression the water ever makes, and the most hideous to a pilot’s eye. In truth, the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading-matter.

Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river! I still keep in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me. A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun. There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of coloring.

I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river’s face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling ‘boils’ show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the ‘break’ from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark.

No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a ‘break’ that ripples above some deadly disease. Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?  (From Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 9; from the University of Virginia Library, Electronic Text Center)

Oh, it’s great literature.  But I’ve always been troubled by the anti-science nature of Twain’s complaint, that if you know something really well, you’ll lose respect for its beauty. What better way to discourage a young person from learning science, from learning about the stars, the trees, the rivers and mountains?

It was not so for me. The more I learned about western trees, and grasses and wildflowers, the better I grew to love the dry, hot western desert mountains.  The more I yearned to learn about the geology that carved spectacular canyons and isolated pinyon pines from ponderosa with a sea of sagebrush — and the more I learned, the more I appreciated how delicately balanced the whole thing was.

Then I found Feynman.  He put into a few words what I felt.  He described a continuing discussion he had with artists, about beauty and the relationship of science to the appreciation of it.  He recorded an interview for the BBC in which he reiterated much of the story, with the added advantage of his wry delivery.

I have a friend who’s an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don’t agree with. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. But then he’ll say, “I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.” I think he’s kind of nutty. […] There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.  (From What Do You Care What Other People Think? page 28)


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