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Every morning I have a life-affirming ritual: I wake up, feed the cats, make some coffee, take my cup onto the back porch and examine the glories of the dawn, and then go back inside and continue reading Jared Diamond's "Collapse," a story of human societies that disintegrated into poverty, violence and cannibalism.

One of the recurring themes is that societies in their prime do not hedge their bets. They assume the good times will always last. They undermine themselves by damaging the environment, and often the crunch time comes with climate change or the demise of a trusted trading partner. It may be a stretch to say that what happened to Easter Island or the Greenland Norse can happen to civilization on the whole (and Diamond isn't quite that alarmist), but it seems to me that the management of our civilization is not only irresponsible but borderline suicidal.

Also, at some point every morning I read the sports section.

I should note that my Solo Dad phase came to an end a few days ago, and my colleague Ann Gerhart, summarizing her feelings about my heroics, said, "Big f------ deal." Women sometimes do not appreciate the way men try to get credit for actions that are viewed as routine for women. I will stipulate that most men cannot change a diaper without subsequently renting an airplane that trails a banner that says "I CHANGED A DIAPER." Ann quotes Anna Quindlen: "Have you ever noticed that a really extraordinary guy would be just an average woman?" OK, sure, but what about an extraordinarily extraordinary guy? Huh? What about that? Not that I'm thinking of anyone in particular.

I heard on the news last night that Bush "tweaked" Putin on Russia's backsliding toward totalitarianism. That was the actual verb: tweaked. I searched my memory of the inaugural address: Did the president say that we would hunt down tyranny in every dark corner of the globe, and tweak it?

Bush: Vlad, let me look into your eyes for a second. I just noticed that they seem to glow like burning coals.

Putin: You can see into my soul. You have a feeling you can trust me. You have a feeling you can work with me. You are feeling sleepy.

Bush: But we need to talk. There are things that need to be tweaked. I am not happy, for example, about things like torture.

Putin: Don't feel bad, that can happen to anyone.

Bush: No no, I mean you guys. Your crackdowns, your throwing people in jail sort of thing, the KGB stuff.

Putin: We have a proud tradition in Mother Russia of tweaking a problem. The tweaking will commence in five minutes.

Bush: Great. Let's rustle up some grub.

I'm still working on the dialogue here. And I'm not sure how this scenario ends. Probably in some kind of collapse.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 25, 2005; 8:22 AM ET
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