I watched A&E’s much-hyped “Pompeii” last night, and was somewhat surprised to see Vesuvius erupt in the first ten minutes. This is like having the Titanic hit the iceberg during the opening credits. Pacing, lads, pacing. Granted, there’s much to get through, what with one pyroclastic flow after the other, but when the two-hour show was half done and Pompeii was already buried, you wonder where they can go after this. It seemed as if they grafted another documentary on to the recreation episodes; we were introduced to a telegenic scientist who did a walk-and-talk around the lip of Vesuvius, declaiming the horrors that would occur should the mountain decide to favor us with a YEEAGH! Anytime soon. I turned it off and went to bed . . .

. . . and tossed for a while hoping no one made a movie of that excellent Pompeii book I mentioned a while back. (It's called, well, "Pompeii." ) It would probably be like the A& E special – the Romans seen through the “I, Claudius” lens (they all had posh Brit accents, except for the servants, who spoke in the all-purpose Husky Foreigner tone), the cutting between the stories of Poor Noble Scrappy people, venal businessmen, clueless officials, rudely cheerful gladiators, etc. They built the plot around the bodies found in various places around the doomed city, and imagined how they’d spent their final hours. Reasonable assumptions, all of them, but you can see the Pompeii story settling into Titanic mode, with all the stations of the cross – the Strauss couple going below deck to die like good old married people, the plucky band playing “Nearer My God To Thee” (or “Autumn, I know, I know), the tipsy porter, the perfidy of Ismay, etc. Same with the stories of the bodies. It was fascinating to watch the imagined last hours of one family, huddled around a pregant woman as the rocks thundered down, only because I'd stood in that very room and never really grasped the details of their deaths. I'd like to go back, and I'd like the place to myself for a few minutes, alone, without the braying tour guides and murmuring tourists.

The novel I read dealt with an engineer assigned to repair the aqueducts, and had a minimum of secondary characters and plotlines. It would make a fine movie, but you fear you’ll get Leonardo DiCaprio running through hip-deep pumice while his city is buried with 100 billion tons of metaphorical rock. “We thought Rome was all powerful, but how little of power we truly know,” etc. etc. Maybe that's why I liked "Gladiator" - people behaved as though they were people, not historical figures nagged by the vague suspicion that they were being observed by creatures who lived 2000 years hence and had certain expectations of them. I'm sorry, could you be a little more Roman? Thank you. Just none of the vomiting after dinner, if you don't mind. Ever so grateful.

Then I stopped tossing because I remembered the hell Monday always brings. Finish the Sunday column in the morning. Go to the office. Sketch the Thursday column; take the laptop upstairs for a Coke and write the Joe Ohio; pick up Gnat, hit the grocery store, do the Hewitt show, make dinner, write the Newhouse column, write the Bleat, post the Bleat & Joe, then finish the Strib Thursday column. I know, I know, shut up.

Obligatory Gnat moment: she persuaded me to by some Fruit By the Foot treats (It’s fruit, daddy! Fruit is healthy!) and I agreed, because the box had 3-d glasses you could use to behold the stereograms on the candy wrappers. I cut them out, showed her how to use them; it goes without saying that the designs were so shoddy and poor she couldn’t tell what the devil I was trying to get her to see. “Does it pop out? Does it look, like, it’s . . . deep? No, that’s not the word.” I did a quick Google on her iBook for 3d pictures, and found some stereograms of Mars. She was deeply unimpressed, and wandered off holding the glasses to her face. “Everything is red and blue!” she exclaimed. “This is dynastic!”

That’s her new superlative: dynastic. I could understand that if she’d been watching a documentary on the glories of Egyptian succession traditions, but it comes on at the same time as Higglytown Heroes.

She still likes Olie, though. I think it reminds her of the safe, warm, indistinct pleasures of childhood. Which of course she is now long past, being four and a half. And almost five.

Now, screedy ranting. Those not inclined to enjoy such things are advised to head off to today’s Joe installment, which was truly written with no idea whatsoever where it was heading. Which makes it no different from the rest. Honest. I don’t edit these things. I don’t have time.

Sunday was the day when Americans were watching the Iraqi election, of course. What do you think the Strib’s editorial page had for this weighty day? Well, a lengthy editorial on Ethanol, for those who rise Sunday morn with a healthy appetite for flapjacks, sausages, orange juice and 2000 words on corn subsidies. (“Bold gesture, missed options.” Was ever a more perfect headline for an editorial ever printed?) But the main page had this at the top:

“For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power. What that means for the environment is frightening.”

Well, it depends on your perspective. We all remember how 270,000 people were killed in a day when the environment demonstrated that it had a monopoly of power over plate tectonics.

Below the words, a picture of cracked parched earth, which had once no doubt been green & verdant farmland before the Right Rev. Bush got out his joystick and sent his 900 foot tall Jesus robot to blast the crops with his death-beam laser eyes.

Did I mention that the shadow of a cross falls across the parched land?

You look down the page to see what this might be titled – Meek gesture, seized options? Bold & spicy options, savory gestures? Get this:


We’re on a roll! Ecological catastrophe brought on by “ideology and theology,” with another dull DONG of the catastrophe bell that’s been tolling ever since the Indian cried a famous lone tear over phosphates in the laundry soap. Then comes the cherry on the sundae:

“By Bill Moyers.”

All rise. The article, if I can sum it up, says that millions of God-bothering fundies think Jesus will be disembarking from Air Force One any day now, so we might as well pollute and chop down trees. The “no tomorrow” turns out to be the fervent wish of the Left Behind readers, who think the end is near - yet, I’m guessing, still save for their retirement. Moyers writes: “The British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of (American fundamentalism,) and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding. . . . I’m not making this up. Like Monbiot, I’ve read the literature.”

Perhaps like Monbiot, he had a fishhook in his upper lip to help keep his face in a permanent sneer while he read. If you want to read the entire piece, it’s here. It contains the usual terrors to come, and provides copious succor for those who believe the earth is doomed. (Sometimes I think these people would be annoyed if Jesus did return, because it would play hell with their fundraising. Jesus would have to hold a press conference: yes, the whales are coming to heaven. Most of the primates, too. All dogs. Mice? No. Look, I’m sorry, but no.) On one hand, it’s annoying, because articles like this make id difficult sometimes to have reasonable conversations about the necessary issues of environmental protection, because you don’t know if you’re dealing with someone who secretly thinks everyone who bought a “Left Behind” novel goes to bed chortling over the thought of a turtle strangled by a six-pack ring. On the other hand, it’s just amusing, because if there’s another group in America that’s occasionally blinded by ideology and theology, it’s the people who spike trees in the name of Mother Gaia.

Anyway, Moyer says:

I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency had planned to spend $9 million -- $2 million of it from the administration's friends at the American Chemistry Council -- to pay poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry were going to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

That’s pretty damned dastardly, isn’t it? Well, the program is called Children’s Health Environmental Exposure Research study. (CHEER, in other words. Blame some tone-deaf bureaucrat for that.) It’s being carried out in Duval County, FL, which A) uses pesticides year round, B) has the highest pesticide concentrations in the area, C) has previous data that can be compared to the CHEER results, and D) a local health-care system already studying pesticide impact. The EPA study wants to see if pesticides already on the market have any adverse effect. Of course, they could just ban RAID, like that. They could ban all pesticides. In the absence of this, however, a study seems like – well, I don’t know, a good idea. Now: the participation guidelines say nothing about income requirements, so he’s extrapolating that only “poor people” will participate. The “camcorder” is used to record the child’s behavior. The family gets to keep it. “Offer the families . . .children’s clothing” makes it sound as if the poorest of the poor is shivering naked in the Brutal Florida Winter, and have agreed to blow half a can of ant poison up Junior’s nostrils every day in exchange for clothes - but it’s just a frickin’ CHEER-logo T-shirt, for heaven’s sake, part of a package of lovely parting gifts.

My point is this: do you think Moyer’s outrage would have been any different if the government had cancelled a program that evaluated pesticide impact on children?

This is the part I truly love, the final appeal to reason and moderation, the call for good people of all beliefs to find common ground:

And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because we are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?

What has happened to our moral imagination?

Mind you, he’s talking about a program to evaluate pesticide impact, not Darfur or Oil for Food or suicide bombings of pizza parlors. Things that do not require moral imagination because their moral horrors are plain enough. He continues:

On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?" And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"

I see it feelingly.

I couldn’t have put it better.

One more thing: the people who participate in CHEER do not have to change their pesticide usage habits. If they don’t use any, then they don’t have to use any. So the statement “pay poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes” is not entirely truthful, in the sense that middle-class families will also be paid not to use pesticides. Other than that, you may now commence panicking. And keep your crosses out of the sun; pparently their shadow kills grass on contact. God knows what happens if it falls on a child in Duval county. Strip him down the bone, most likely.

Amazon Honor SystemClick Here to PayLearn More