Friday, July 07, 2006

Film Review: 'Superman Returns'

Correction: In a June 28 Style review of "Superman Returns" (which was excerpted in the June 30 edition of Weekend), Superman's home state was incorrectly identified as Iowa. He is from Kansas.

Happy 'Returns'
Zen and Now: Latest Superman Honors Heroes Past
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 28, 2006; C01

"Superman Returns" answers a question about the Man of Steel we boys have wondered about for decades.

Is Superman ga --

No, no, that's Batman .

The question is: What would happen if you shot Superman in the eye?

And the answer is: You'd have to get a new bullet. The one you fired would have pancaked flatter than a quarter and be spinning on the cement.

It happens in "Superman Returns," in a nifty little sequence where Our Hero has stood up to an electric Gatling gun hurling wads of copper-coated lead at him at a rate of about 3,000 a minute. They bounce off into the gloaming, trailing neon incandescence. So the bad guy marches up to him, pulls out a .45 and issues a coup de grace. Bad mistake, dude. You are toast.

The much ballyhooed movie, far from great and far from short (2 1/2 hours!), is still great fun. Best is its love for the traditions of the Big Guy: It reaches out to embrace all the previous iterations of the caped flyboy, even finding room for Jack Larson and Noel Neill to get giant close-ups and dramatic scenes of the sort they never got in previous TV cameos. Neill, the ur-Lois Lane, plays a dying octogenarian who is swindled out of billions on her deathbed by Lex Luthor; and Larson, the ur-Jimmy Olsen, is a bartender who in a moment of stress actually hugs Sam Huntington, this movie's Jimmy Olsen. It's too bad George Reeves, the original TV tall-building leaper, isn't around to bask in a little afterglow.

Even the late, great Marlon Brando is disinterred from the archives and called up to deliver a warning to his son, though it's actually Lex and his minions who've penetrated the Fortress of Solitude and learn the lesson from Stanley Kowalski gone slumming in Richard Donner's 1978 incarnation. And the movie uses as its overture John Williams's blast of triumph that accompanied the big '70s and '80s versions, with additional music by John Ottman.

But the truly beloved figure of this trip to Metropolis is the late Christopher Reeve; he and his late wife, Dana, are the dedicatees at movie's end. More to the point, the young actor Brandon Routh seems chosen for the part not because he embodies Superman but because he specifically embodies Reeve's Superman, with dark good looks, a modest, even ego-less screen presence, a curiously muted sexuality and a sense of well-brought-up preppie's politeness and diffidence. He's a Superman who'd always call you Sir.

Yet at the same time, it's not an impersonation, it's a performance. In certain ways the director, Bryan Singer (of "The Usual Suspects" and the first two "X-Men" movies), has found new stylings to enable his leading man to make the part his own.

Flying, for example; Reeve and even Reeves were coached to see flying as athletic, an expression of strength and speed. To get airborne they took off, building up a head of steam, then (oof!) bounding into the air with a diver's gymnastics as he launches off the high board. By contrast, Routh is a much less athletic, much less muscular flier. For him, flight almost seems Zen. He doesn't have to put any muscle into it and when he's flying, he's not penetrating the atmosphere (his hair hardly moves) but rather transcendentally meditating his way through it. His landings aren't controlled crashes softened by super-strong muscles and ligaments (oof! again) but a kind of delicate settling. He's a Supe who's made peace with the air. I kept expecting him to break into, "Look at me way up high, suddenly here am I, I'm flyyyyying!"

That same glee seems to run through the movie's first half, when, since the story hasn't really started, there seems plenty of time to experience the sheer joy of Superman's return. As the script -- cobbled out by Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, among the millions who have toiled on it anonymously -- has it, Superman's been gone for five years seeking remnants of Krypton among the stars. Satisfied, if melancholy that the old home orb is forever gone, he returns to Earth to pick up where he left off, and discovers what Thomas Wolfe really meant by "You Can't Go Home Again."

Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), for example, now has a child. She's even won a Pulitzer Prize for her essay: "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Her boyfriend has great teeth, Daily Planet Editor Perry White has morphed into lounge-lizard Frank Langella, and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has just exited the slammer, copped billions from the old lady (played by Neill) and started a new shenanigan.

The lack of forward momentum makes room for a lot of pleasant lateral movement. We get to watch Supe rescue Lois in an elaborate sequence in which her plane, trailing flame and shreds of twisted metal, is headed for the dirt. He puts it gently down in Shea Stadium before the thousands of adoring Mets fans who commemorate the return. If only he had a good fastball!

It follows that Lois and Clark deal with buried feelings, and there's even world enough and time for Supe to remember his boyhood in Iowa, where the corn grew as high as an elephant's eye but he could leap as far as a thousand elephants, end on end or on top of each other. (Eva Marie Saint has a nice turn as his mom.)

These sequences, particularly the invocation of tender feelings between Clark and Lois, and Lois and Supe (she has to know, at some level), have a kind of puppy-love innocence to them. They're not sexual, but pre-sexual, full of the awkward romantic gropings of kids who don't really know what happens when the lights go down. Everything is idealized: Since Lois is now living with Perry White's nephew Richard, played by face-guy James Marsden, Clark/Supe is honor-bound to preserve the sanctity of the union and therefore can only pine in private. Lois, meanwhile, is in harsh denial, and we understand that her essay was really not addressed to the world but to her own heart. She has, she tells herself, Moved On, even if she doesn't believe it and we don't believe it.

What's missing? Oh, right, a caper. A plot. Hmm, the movie's an hour and a half old, and nobody's done anything yet.

Here's where I wish the team had done it better. First of all, as great an actor as Kevin Spacey is and as perfect for this part as he seems to be: Nobody could do it better than Gene Hackman.
True, it's probably easy to underrate Hackman's turns as Luthor, but they were great pieces of work. He was avuncular, self-parodying, narcissistic, self-amused and evil all at once. They gave such balance to Reeve's square virtue while at the same time providing a lot of comic mileage in interplay with sidekicks Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine.

By contrast, Spacey lacks Hackman's charm, Parker Posey hardly registers as Lex's immorata and the hilarious Beatty has been replaced by three moogs of utter banality.

Worse, the plot seems not nonsensical or lacking in weight, just uninteresting. Having discovered Supe's lair and copped some magic crystals, Lex uses them to -- see if you can stay with me, and pray that I'm able to stay with me -- generate new continents, which, rupturing out of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, seem fated to put half of North America underwater, while he claims sole ownership of the new land, which will be Luthorville or Luthorania or the United States of Lexatoria or some such. Never quite works, nor do the too many scenes of Lex and his pals playing pinochle in a wet cave that somehow is supposed to represent the Death of the West.

In fairness, the plot is just strutwork upon which to mount ever more elaborate set pieces, as Superman shunts faster than a speeding e-mail from crisis to crisis to undo the effects of Luthor's villainy. It would probably help if you brought a standard dead-tree World Mythological Concordance with you or watched with Treo 700p Smartphone in hand keyed to Wikipedia, for by the end of the film, Singer is looting world symbology for imagery. Atlas bent under the globe? Twice , even! The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? In jillions and jillions of bright pixels! How about Icarus falling from the rays of the sun, or is that the fall of man, the death of Odin, the last act of Wagner's "Gotterdammerung," the final chorus of Beowulf or the end of Richard Fleisher's "The Vikings"? Or even Will Kane limping out of town in "High Noon."
It's all of them, and many more I haven't thought of or don't know in the first place.

But the news is good. It's a myth, not a miss. The bottom line is that Superman has returned and again, you will believe that a man can fly, and that virtue is its own reward.

Superman Returns (154 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for violence (parents should note that, at one point, the Man of Steel gets a tub-thumping beating).

Daniel Pipes: The Vatican Confronts Islam

Daniel Pipes
The Jerusalem Post
July 5, 2006

“Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It’s our duty to protect ourselves.” Thus spoke Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican’s supreme court, referring to Muslims. Explaining his apparent rejection of Jesus’ admonition to his followers to “turn the other cheek,” De Paolis noted that “The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century…and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights.”

De Paolis is hardly alone in his thinking; indeed, the Catholic Church is undergoing a dramatic shift from a decades-old policy to protect Catholics living under Muslim rule. The old methods of quiet diplomacy and muted appeasement have clearly failed. The estimated 40 million Christians in Dar al-Islam, notes the Barnabas Fund’s Patrick Sookhdeo, increasingly find themselves an embattled minority facing economic decline, dwindling rights, and physical jeopardy. Most of them, he goes on, are despised and distrusted second-class citizens, facing discrimination in education, jobs, and the courts.

These harsh circumstances are causing Christians to flee their ancestral lands for the West’s more hospitable environment. Consequently, Christian populations of the Muslim world are in a free-fall. Two small but evocative instances of this pattern: for the first time in nearly two millennia, Nazareth and Bethlehem no longer have Christian majorities.

This reality of oppression and decline stands in dramatic contrast to the surging Muslim minority of the West. Although numbering fewer than 20 million and made up mostly of immigrants and their offspring, it is an increasingly established and vocal minority, granted extensive rights and protections even as it wins new legal, cultural, and political prerogatives.
This widening disparity has caught the attention of the Roman Catholic Church, which for the first time is pointing to radical Islam, rather than the actions of Israel, as the central problem facing Christians living with Muslims.

Rumblings of this could be heard already in John Paul II’s time. For example, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican equivalent of foreign minister, noted in late 2003 that “There are too many majority Muslim countries where non-Muslims are second-class citizens.” Tauran pushed for reciprocity: “Just as Muslims can build their houses of prayer anywhere in the world, the faithful of other religions should be able to do so as well.”

Catholic demands for reciprocity have grown, especially since the accession of Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, for whom Islam is a central concern. In February, the pope emphasized the need to respect “the convictions and religious practices of others so that, in a reciprocal manner, the exercise of freely-chosen religion is truly assured to all.” In May, he again stressed the need for reciprocity: Christians must love immigrants and Muslims must treat well the Christians among them.

Lower-ranking clerics, as usual, are more outspoken. “Islam’s radicalization is the principal cause of the Christian exodus,” asserts Monsignor Philippe Brizard, director general of Oeuvre d’Orient, a French organization focused on Middle Eastern Christians. Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University in Rome, advises the Church to drop its “diplomatic silence” and instead “put pressure on international organizations to make the societies and states in majority Muslim countries face up to their responsibilities.”

The Danish cartoons crisis offered a typical example of Catholic disillusionment. Church leaders initially criticized the publication of the Muhammad cartoons. But when Muslims responded by murdering Catholic priests in Turkey and Nigeria, not to speak of scores of Christians killed during five days of riots in Nigeria, the Church responded with warnings to Muslims. “If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us, ” said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. “We must always stress our demand for reciprocity in political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and, even more, in cultural contacts,” added Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, its foreign minister.

Obtaining the same rights for Christians in Islamdom that Muslims enjoy in Christendom has become the key to the Vatican’s diplomacy toward Muslims. This balanced, serious approach marks a profound improvement in understanding that could have implications well beyond the Church, given how many lay politicians heed its leadership in interfaith matters. Should Western states also promote the principle of reciprocity, the results should indeed be interesting.

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Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).

The Saddam-Osama Connection: The Terrorist Testimony

Mark Eichenlaub
July 7, 2006

One of the pillars of the argument that there were “no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda” is that the captured/defected members from both sides have denied any relationship existed. (The Left makes this claim even though most of the detainees’ interrogation logs remain classified and their contents remain on a need-to-know basis.) This “no connection” claim has been made a number of times, and those making it generally receive favorable media attention; they’re rarely if ever confronted with testimony that conflicts with their argument. I will not argue on behalf of the truthfulness of former Ba’athists and al-Qaeda members, but if their testimony is going to admitted, shouldn’t critics also hear the testimony of those in custody who tell a different story?

There are more than a few former Iraqi officials and captured al-Qaeda affiliates who have revealed examples of cooperation between Saddam’s Iraq and Osama’s terrorist assets.

· “Abu Mohammed,” a former colonel of Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen fighters, told reporters long ago that Iraq was training terrorists, including al-Qaeda.
Gwynne Roberts, Sunday Times, July 14, 2002

· Iraqi soldiers, captured during the early phases of the war on Iraq in 2003, revealed that al-Qaeda terrorists were present inside Iraq fighting alongside Iraqi troops
Gethin Chamberlain, The Scotsman, 10-28-03

· Hamsiraji Sali, Commander of the al-Qaeda affiliate Abu Sayyaf, admitted receiving $20,000 dollars a year from Iraq.
Marc Lerner, Washington Times, 3-4-03

· Salah Suleiman, revealed that he was a former Iraqi Intelligence officer, captured on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border shuttling between Iraq and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Janes Foreign Report, 9-19-01

· Jamal al-Qurairy, a former General in Iraq’s Mukhabarat, who defected years ago, said “that [is] ours” immediately after seeing 9/11 attacks.
David Rose, Vanity Fair, Feb. 2003, and David Rose, The Observer, 3-16-03

· Abbas al-Janabai, a personal assistant to Uday Hussein for 15 years, has repeatedly stated that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden that included training terrorists at various camps in Iraq.
CNN, 7-23-2003
Gwynne Roberts, Sunday Times, July 14,2002
Richard Miniter, TechCentralStation, 9-25-03

· Two Moroccan associates of Osama bin Laden, arrested in Rabat in Nov 98, confirmed that Col Khairallah al-Tikriti, the brother of Iraq’s top Intelligence official (Mukhabarat), was the case officer in charge of operations with al-Qaeda in Kashmir and Manila
Jacquard, Roland, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden, Duke University Press, 2002, pg.112

· Wali Khan Amin Shah, an al-Qaeda operative in custody, told the FBI that Abu
Hajer al-Iraq had good contacts with Iraq Intelligence Services (reported to Senate Intelligence Committee)
Stephen Hayes, Thomas Joscelyn, Weekly Standard, 7-18-05

· Farouk Hijazi, former #3 in Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat, although he denies the well documented reports of his later meetings with bin Laden, Hijazi admits that he met with Osama bin Laden to discuss antiship mines and terror training camps in Iraq during the mid-90’s.
9-11 Commission, Staff Statement 15

· Abdul Rahman al-Shamari, who served in Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat from 1997-2002, says that he worked to link Saddam Hussein regime with Ansar al Islam and al-Qaeda.
Preston Mendenhall, MSNBC, "War Diary"
Jonathan Schanzer, Weekly Standard, 3-1-04

· Mohamed Gharib, Ansar al Islam’s Media chief, later admitted that the group took assistance from Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, 10-16-03

· Mohamed Mansour Shahab, aka Muhammad Jawad, is a smuggler who claims to have been hired by Iraq to bring weapons to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan
Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker, 3-25-02
Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, 4-03-02
Richard Miniter, TechCentralStation, 9-25-03

· Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi is a senior al-Qaeda operative. Although he has changed his story, he initially told his captors that his mission was to travel to Iraq to acquire poisons and gases from Iraqi Intelligence after impressing them with al-Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole
Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard, 11-24-03

· An “enemy combatant” being held at Guantanamo Bay, who was also a former Iraqi Army officer, admits that he served as a liaison between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi Intelligence. He was arrested in Pakistan before completing joint IIS/al-Qaeda mission to blow up U.S. and British embassies
Associated Press, 3-30-05
Stephen Hayes, Thomas Joscelyn. Weekly Standard. 7-18-05

· Abu Hajer al-Iraqi (aka Mahmdouh Mahmud Salim) told prosecutors that he was bin Laden’s best friend and in charge of trying and procure WMD materials from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review, 6-17-04
Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard, 11-24-03

· A “Former Senior (Iraqi) Intelligence Officer” has told U.S. officials that a flurry of activity between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al-Qaeda took place in early and late 1998, the meeting point was Baghdad’s Intelligence station in Pakistan
Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard, 11-24-03

· Wafiq al-Sammarrai, former head of Iraq’s Military Intelligence before defecting in 1994, stated that Saddam Hussein has agents “inside” al-Qaeda
Laurie Mylroie, “Study of Revenge”

· Khidir Hamza, Saddam Hussein’s former top WMD official, says that Saddam had connections to al-Qaeda
CNN, 10-15-01
PBS Frontline "Gunning For Saddam"

· Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy , a former high-ranking officer in Iraq’s Mukhabarat, told PBS Frontline and the New York Times that the September 11 attackers were trained in Salman Pak, as were other members of al-Qaeda
PBS Frontline "Gunning For Saddam"

· Sabah Khodada, a former Captain in Iraq’s Army, told PBS Frontline and the New York Times that the terrorist training camp at Salman Pak included the training of al-Qaeda members airplane hijacking
PBS Frontline "Gunning For Saddam"

· An “Iraqi Defector,” who spent 16 years working for Iraq’s Mukhabarat, told the Iraqi National Congress that Saddam Hussein’s illegal oil revenues helped fund al-Qaeda (story later corroborated by Claudia Rosett )
Radio Free Europe 9-29-2002

· Khalil Ibrahim Abdallah, a captured senior Iraqi official, said that IIS agents had met with bin Laden until the middle of 1999
Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard, 11-24-03

· Qassem Hussein Mohamed, who served in Iraq’s Mukhabarat for 20 years, told reporters that Saddam Hussein has been secretly aiding, arming and funding Ansar al Islam and al-Qaeda for several years
Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, 4-2-02
Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker, 3-25-02

· Dr. Mohammed al-Masri, a known al-Qaeda spokesman, told the Sunday Times that Saddam Hussein contacted the “Arab Afghans” (al-Qaeda) in 2001. Al-Masri also said that Saddam even went so far as to fund the movement of some al-Qaeda members into Iraq and then later supplied them with arms caches and money, later to be used in insurgent attacks. Abdel Bari Atwan, Sunday Times, 2-26-06 via Thomas Joscelyn, "Saddam, the Insurgency, and the Terrorists, 3-28-06

· Hudayfa Azzam, the son of bin Laden’s former mentor, told reporters in 2004, “Saddam Hussein's regime welcomed them with open arms and young al-Qaeda members entered Iraq in large numbers, setting up an organization to confront the occupation.” AFP, 8-30-04 Thomas Joscelyn, "What Else Did Hudayfa Azzam Have To Say About Al-Qaeda In Iraq?” 4-3-06

· Hudayfa Azzam, the son of bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam, has said Iraq’s government worked closely with al-Qaeda before the war and welcomed a number of members in after they left Afghanistan and armed and funded them Thomas Joscelyn citing AFP, 8-30-04

· Dr. Mohammed al-Masri, a known al-Qaeda spokesman, told the Sunday Times that Saddam Hussein contacted the “Arab Afghans” (al-Qaeda) in 2001. Abdel Bari Atwan, Sunday Times, 2-26-06 via Thomas Joscelyn, “Saddam, the Insurgency, and the Terrorists,” 3-28-06

· Haqi Ismail, a Mosul native with relatives at the top of Iraq’s Mukhabarat and spent time in al-Qaeda/al Ansar camps in Afghanistan and Northern Iraq before being caught by Kurdish security, indicated that he was working for Saddam Hussein’s Intelligence Service (Mukhabarat)
Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker, 3-25-02

· Moammar Ahmad Yussef, a captured deputy of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, told officials that Iraq provided money, weapons, fake passports, safe haven and training to al-Qaeda members
Dan Darling, Winds of Change, 11-21-03

· A “top Saddam Hussein official,” who was also a senior Intelligence official, says that Iraq made a secret pact with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad and later al-Qaeda. Secret meetings between the two sides began in 1992.
Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard, 11-24-03

· Abu Zubaydah, a high ranking al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, has said that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had good contacts with Iraqi Intelligence Services
Thomas Joscelyn, Weekly Standard, December 2, 2005

· Abu Iman al-Baghdadi, a 20-year veteran of Iraqi intelligence, told BBC news that Saddam Hussein is funding and arming Ansar al-Islam to fend off anti-Saddam Kurds
Jim Muir, BBC, July 24, 2002

Surely, much more detail is locked away in the classified interrogation logs of other captured al-Qaeda fighters and former Baathists in custody. (I have filed an FOIA request for a few.) Those who may have some answers would be the big name al-Qaeda fighters who were caught in Iraq and the captured Baathists in custody caught after the war terrorizing with Zarqawi and his affiliates. But what we know already should make us discount the “no connection” argument made by partisans denying reality.

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Mark Eichenlaub runs the website
Regime of Terror, "Documenting Saddam Hussein's State Sponsorship of Terrorism."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Robert J. Samuelson: Global Warming's Real Inconvenient Truth

Robert J. Samuelson
The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 5, 2006; Page A13

"Global warming may or may not be the great environmental crisis of the next century, but -- regardless of whether it is or isn't -- we won't do much about it. We will (I am sure) argue ferociously over it and may even, as a nation, make some fairly solemn-sounding commitments to avoid it. But the more dramatic and meaningful these commitments seem, the less likely they are to be observed. Little will be done. . . . Global warming promises to become a gushing source of national hypocrisy.''

-- This column, July 1997

Well, so it has. In three decades of columns, I've never quoted myself at length, but here it's necessary. Al Gore calls global warming an "inconvenient truth," as if merely recognizing it could put us on a path to a solution. That's an illusion. The real truth is that we don't know enough to relieve global warming, and -- barring major technological breakthroughs -- we can't do much about it. This was obvious nine years ago; it's still obvious. Let me explain.

From 2003 to 2050, the world's population is projected to grow from 6.4 billion people to 9.1 billion, a 42 percent increase. If energy use per person and technology remain the same, total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (mainly, carbon dioxide) will be 42 percent higher in 2050. But that's too low, because societies that grow richer use more energy. Unless we condemn the world's poor to their present poverty -- and freeze everyone else's living standards -- we need economic growth. With modest growth, energy use and greenhouse emissions more than double by 2050.

Just keeping annual greenhouse gas emissions constant means that the world must somehow offset these huge increases. There are two ways: Improve energy efficiency, or shift to energy sources with lower (or no) greenhouse emissions. Intuitively, you sense this is tough. China, for example, builds about one coal-fired power plant a week. Now a new report from the International Energy Agency in Paris shows all the difficulties (the population, economic growth and energy projections cited above come from the report).

The IEA report assumes that existing technologies are rapidly improved and deployed. Vehicle fuel efficiency increases by 40 percent. In electricity generation, the share for coal (the fuel with the most greenhouse gases) shrinks from about 40 percent to about 25 percent -- and much carbon dioxide is captured before going into the atmosphere. Little is captured today. Nuclear energy increases. So do "renewables" (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal); their share of global electricity output rises from 2 percent now to about 15 percent.

Some of these changes seem heroic. They would require tough government regulation, continued technological gains and public acceptance of higher fuel prices. Never mind. Having postulated a crash energy diet, the IEA simulates five scenarios with differing rates of technological change. In each, greenhouse emissions in 2050 are higher than today. The increases vary from 6 percent to 27 percent.

Since 1800 there's been modest global warming. I'm unqualified to judge between those scientists (the majority) who blame man-made greenhouse gases and those (a small minority) who finger natural variations in the global weather system. But if the majority are correct, the IEA report indicates we're now powerless. We can't end annual greenhouse emissions, and once in the atmosphere, the gases seem to linger for decades. So concentration levels rise. They're the villains; they presumably trap the world's heat. They're already about 36 percent higher than in 1800. Even with its program, the IEA says another 45 percent rise may be unavoidable. How much warming this might create is uncertain; so are the consequences.

I draw two conclusions -- one political, one practical.

No government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warming. Still, politicians want to show they're "doing something." The result is grandstanding. Consider the Kyoto Protocol. It allowed countries that joined to castigate those that didn't. But it hasn't reduced carbon dioxide emissions (up about 25 percent since 1990), and many signatories didn't adopt tough enough policies to hit their 2008-2012 targets. By some estimates, Europe may overshoot by 15 percent and Japan by 25 percent.

Ambitious U.S. politicians also practice this self-serving hypocrisy. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a global warming program. Gore counts 221 cities that have "ratified" Kyoto. Some pledge to curb their greenhouse emissions. None of these programs will reduce global warming. They're public relations exercises and -- if they impose costs -- are undesirable. (Note: on national security grounds, I favor taxing oil, but the global warming effect would be trivial.) The practical conclusion is that if global warming is a potential calamity, the only salvation is new technology. I once received an e-mail from an engineer. Thorium, he said. I had never heard of thorium. It is, he argued, a nuclear fuel that is more plentiful and safer than uranium without waste disposal problems. It's an exit from the global warming trap. After reading many articles, I gave up trying to decide whether he is correct. But his larger point is correct: Only an aggressive research and development program might find ways of breaking our dependence on fossil fuels or dealing with it. Perhaps some system could purge the atmosphere of surplus greenhouse gases?

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.