Voice

Close encounters of the last kind: The upside of the impending attack from outer space

Where is Rick Perry when you need him? Just when I thought it was safe to embrace science, comes a news story in The Guardian entitled "Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilizations, say scientists." The subhead adds, "Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat."

Holy shit. I thought it was bad enough that the ice was melting off Antarctica so fast that golf resort developers are already drawing up blueprints and plans for holding the McMurdo Sound Open in 2020 or so.

Now, we now only have to fear rising sea-levels that will displace millions, submerge Wall Street (yet again), and wipe out most of Florida (ever cloud has its silver lining ... even if it is a cloud of ozone), but if the flood waters don't get us, E.T. will!

That's really too much.

Given the news, I hardly blame the president for spending a little time with his family on Martha's Vineyard. We need to be with our loved ones. And besides, Martha's Vineyard will be gone soon one way or another.

If only I had the absolutely disregard for science of a man like Rick Perry. After all, this is a presidential candidate who not only rejects the proven science that demonstrates the human contribution to global warming, he boasts that in Texas they teach both evolution and creationism. He is practically running on the same anti-science platform that was embraced by the Papacy around the time of Galileo. And if only I could bring myself to buy into his nonsense, then perhaps I wouldn't have to worry about both global warming and being obliterated by a little green man with a ray-gun.

According to the Guardian:

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

"A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth's atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions," the report states.

A pre-emptive strike? Gak! But wait! There is a bit of good news in this. While the Rick Perrys of this world don't believe in actual science based on millennia of data and sophisticated analysis in hundreds of laboratories worldwide, they do have a proven track record of accepting as gospel, so to speak, impossible to prove stories about invisible creatures in outer space. So while the data about climate change may not persuade them to work to change our destructive behavior, perhaps speculative scenarios about how greenhouse gases may trigger an alien Armageddon might just get them to take the problem seriously. Even if those scenarios were actually dreamed up by scientists...

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David Rothkopf

Shouts and whispers in the souk of international affairs

I suppose you can never be too late doing the right thing, but today's call by the Obama administration for Bashar al Assad to step down comes pretty close. Further, the sanctions announced by the administration in conjunction with the call are pretty limp and will likely have very limited impact on the Syrian government.

The whole thing is an effort in empty symbolism, welcome but still frustrating.

It is interesting to contrast it with the actions of the Turkish government. Once again they are trying, as they did last year around the Iranian nuclear issue, to play a leading role in helping to resolve an international issue. Once again, they have been accused of bungling the effort, of playing into the hands of a wily neighbor, and of punching above their weight. That said, their recent assertion that if Assad does not cease his atrocities that they would reserve the right to undertake to stop them via the full range of possibilities at their disposal was resonant. It not only reminded that a belated threat from a comparatively weak neighbor that might actually be followed through with in some way was potentially more resonant than a formal but toothless announcement from the world's most powerful nation. 

In fact, Turkey's more activist foreign policy is, despite the criticism and grumbling of some in the international community, having the effect of transforming that country's role on the world stage in the most important way in decades. The country, which since the fall of the Ottoman Empire has been little more than a pawn, a bargaining chip or a second division player in international affairs, is increasingly forcing those around it to see it as having a potentially meaningful role to play -- whether with regard to Iraq, where its relationship with the Kurds is of central importance, or Iran or Syria or Lebanon or with Israel, with whom it is once again engaged in a complex stage of its on-going like-hate relationship.

As for the American move, it is instructive to note that despite the newsworthy nature of the overdue U.S. call for the Syrian tyrant to get out of Dodge, it may be the second most important diplomatic message sent by the United States this week ... and the first was inadvertent. That would be the message sent by new U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke when he was photographed waiting in line, knapsack on his back, to buy coffee at an airport coffee shop. Something of an Internet sensation in China, the picture of Locke sent a powerful message to the Chinese that America was a different kind of society and that our leaders are not the pampered, sequestered, corrupt princes that they are used to see rolling in limos out of Communist Party headquarters. It did as much to stimulate admiration for the United States and to effectively communicate our principles as the foot-dragging around the Assad decision did to undermine any sense that the U.S. was guided by principle or that we were inclined to effectively lead on tough issues.

Of course, that said, in the murmuring bazaar of international affairs, there were other shouts and whispers heard today that are also worth noting. Clearly, the loudest shout was that of the markets again howling at the top of their lungs that the steps being taken by governments around the world to cope with the fragile international economy are inadequate.  The word from Morgan Stanley that the United States and Europe are "dangerously close to recession" was deeply unsettling in the way that a bad cardiogram is for a 400-pounder, it hurts because it had that ring of inevitable truth. 

Russia's announcement of the impending opening of the Bushehr nuclear power plant it had been building for Iran also sent a kind of similar message, a reminder that a problem we have seemingly persuaded ourselves to ignore is not going away. (Maybe not akin to a bad cardiogram ... more like feeling chest pain that's probably indigestion but might be more.) Of course, it's a civil nuclear reactor and the Russian involvement theoretically helps keep Iranian nuclear activity under the influence of a "more responsible" international player. But, it is a reminder of a parallel story, a quiet subtext, and that it is the on-going and deepening desire of Iran to become a truly, multi-dimensionally nuclear power.

However of all the little signals and clues that were bouncing around the great global soukh today the one that I found most thought-provoking-because it was from off the usual beaten track of such issues and yet of really major potential significance-was the story in the New York Times entitled, "Islamist Threat with Qaeda Link Grows in Nigeria." While the story addressed what might be characterized at this stage as only worrisome signs of radical Islamist activities ramping up in Africa's most important country, it resonated with conversations I have had with senior U.S. government officials who are deeply concerned about the trend. The establishment of any kind of meaningful, materially spreading Islamist movement in Nigeria is a potential game-changer in the region. Given Nigeria's size and oil reserves, this is not one of the parts of Africa the U.S. and our allies would be likely to ignore as we would (and do) other countries facing similar threats on the continent.  Indeed, there are scenarios where within a few years this could be a situation that dominated our attention despite its seeming remoteness today. It was a story that said "watch this space" in the most ominous possible way.