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Letter from Santa Clara

Tsun@mis rise; tsun@mis fall

By Bill Costley

During the recent monthly breakfast meeting of the BayArea Marketing Association (BMA) marketing-roundtable at Hobie's restaurant in Campbell's Pruneyard Shopping Center (below the slick black Pruneyard Tower office-bldg., with its 6-ft. illuminated rooftop “Peace On Earth” signs facing the quarterings of Silicon Valley), someone said that a client of hers, seeing the 24/7 TV coverage of the recent South Asian tsunami, was pressing her to get some TV coverage for his company & its products, assuming it was causing a rising media tide that could surely float all boats (as JFK1 sort of said) .

I quipped: “Did you tell him — Sure, just as soon as the next tsunami!” then went on: “It's like being asked to get King Kong to carry the company logo to the top of the Empire State Building, without stopping to realize what finally happens.” (In the 1933 Hollywood movie, he gets machine-gunned by biplanes, crumbles, falls & dies, but only after having thoughtfully handed Fay Wray off to safety, OK PR if you're Frédérique's of Hollywould).

Such neoAmerican opportunism is (partially) due to passive movie~media saturation, sans boundaries; commentators all must now have something trenchant to say about the current tsunami. Historical perspective: the Lisbon earthquake of 01 NOV 1755 super-shocked the prevailing Enlightenment belief in a benevolent universe & its supervening (deisitic/mechanistic) God. Francois-Marie de Arouet (as of 1718, Voltaire) reacted fast w/his "Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon" (1755); sample stanza (my trans):

Will you say: "It's the result of eternal laws
Directing the acts of a free & benevolent God"?
Will you say, viewing this mess of victims:
"God's revenge's death, the price of their crimes."?

& then his rather better known philosophical novel "Candide, or Optimism" (1759) which maybe you've read, or seen the (1958, B&W, French) movie (starring Jean-Pierre Cassel).

On 5 JAN 2005, ex-Brit, now nat.-American, editorial page editor of The Washington TIMES, & PBS-TV Mclaughlin Group commentator, Tony Blankley wrote,

“‘Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. From that divine tear and from that human smile is derived the grace of present civilization.’ So observed Victor Hugo on the world's reaction to the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which extinguished up to 60,000 souls. Of course, the tears of Jesus need no explanation. But Voltaire's smile was a more complex thing. On hearing of the Lisbon disaster, Voltaire wrote to a friend: "One would have great difficulty in divining how the laws of movement operate such frightful disasters in the best of all possible worlds ... what will the preachers say, especially if the palace of the Inquisition has been left standing? I flatter myself that the reverend father inquisitors will have been crushed like the others. That should teach men not to persecute men." So, I suppose, must it always be when natural disaster strikes. Some people turn to the sacred for solace, while others profane the deaths with their earthly politics and calculations. In the aftermath of the current tidal wave disaster, the world is choking on political calculations and miscalculations. The political consequences are almost as ugly as the physical consequences of the great tide."

Blankley literally cheaply went on to quibble the Norwegian U.N. bureaucrat in charge of disaster relief, Jan Egeland, over his charge of American stinginess (which appeared to work, until Dubya's liars refig. the buck$).

On 10 JAN 2005, fellow rightwinger, NYT Sunday Magazine p2. op-ed essayist William Safire asked:

"In the aftermath of a cataclysm, with pictures of parents sobbing over dead infants driven into human consciousness around the globe, faith-shaking questions arise: Where was God? Why does a good and all-powerful deity permit such evil and grief to fall on so many thousands of innocents? What did these people do to deserve such suffering? After a similar natural disaster wiped out tens of thousands of lives in Lisbon in the 18th century, the philosopher Voltaire wrote "Candide," savagely satirizing optimists who still found comfort and hope in God. After last month's Indian Ocean tsunami, the same anguished questioning is in the minds of millions of religious believers. Turn to the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. It was written some 2,500 years ago during what must have been a crisis of faith. The covenant with Abraham — worship the one God, and his people would be protected — didn't seem to be working. The good died young, the wicked prospered; where was the promised justice?"

Concluding: "Job's lessons for today: (1) Victims of this cataclysm in no way ‘deserved’ a fate inflicted by the Leviathanic force of nature. (2) Questioning God's inscrutable ways has its exemplar in the Bible and need not undermine faith. (3) Humanity's obligation to ameliorate injustice on earth is being expressed in a surge of generosity that refutes Voltaire's cynicism."

Neither of the preceding is original, since Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) long ago beat them to it in his then-contemporary letters to Voltaire, arguing that God, Man & Nature were all good, but man could be very bad to man.

What do I think? Materially, this:

Tsunamis rise;
woundabout E@rth,
water's knot tightens its
treacherous grip on stone,
resisting navigation above,
on, in, under it, defeating
our transient triumphs,
hydrostrictive lives,
unslakeable thirst;
tsunamis fall.
(11 JAN 05, Santa Clara CA)