Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rome Burns while Nero Fiddles

I was struck by the appropriateness of this phrase to our government today. First, a couple of words about the phrase itself:

There were no fiddles we know of during Roman times although they had other stringed instrument, the best known of these, the lyre. Nero loved to perform and had aspirations to be as good as professional performers and commissioned the making of lyres by the best in Rome. Suetonius, who viciously attacked Nero (with good reason in general), claimed that Nero had the fires set that burned down a substantial part of Rome in 64 AD as a means to forward his aim of urban renewal. He also claimed that Nero sang "The Fall of Llium" as he watched the flames engulf the city. Others saw Nero's actions as moderate and even a help in the catastrophe. In any case, the meaning of the phrase as it comes to us is clear, an act of purposely ignoring a catastrophe as it happens around us.

Such is the case with our government today. In an excellent editorial by Paul Krugman in the NY Times he points out the acts of congress concerning global warming with statements like:

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

and:

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

This exactly captures the sense I get from the opposition to this problem. I couldn't have put it any better.

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