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Possibilities of Diplomacy

For some observers who take a dim view of the Bush administration’s foreign policy record, the most encouraging aspect of the recent agreement reached with North Korea concerning its nuclear program was the negative reaction of John R. Bolton, the ham-handed former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Bolton and other hard-liners in the Bush administration complained that the agreement was essentially the same agreement brokered by the Clinton administration in 1994. At that time North Korea agreed in principle to suspend its nuclear program in return for economic support from the United States and other nations, support that the Bush administration never delivered. This time around, President Bush defended the agreement as in the best interests of the people of North Korea, its neighbors and the United States.

In dealing with Iran, the third member of the ill-named axis of evil, the citizens of the world can only hope that President Bush will follow the North Korea strategy of diplomacy rather than the bluster of pre-emptive war that led to the debacle of Iraq. Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, has assured the world that the United States is planning no military action against Iran. Reports linking the Iranian government to new deadly weaponry in Iraq, however, were an uneasy reminder of the flawed intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. The history of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran over the past several decades includes moments of collaboration as well as confrontation. The diplomatic process requires patience, but it does hold the promise of long-term peace. Pre-emptive military strikes would only continue the cycle of violence and further isolate the United States in the international community.

The International Polar Year

Over 200 scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the globe will be launched in March as part of the International Polar Year. The National Academy of Sciences reports that more than 60 countries will take part in them, collaborating on an extensive range of fact-finding activities. The results may provide answers to significant questions concerning climate change and the environment and will also provide a basis for future research.

According to the National Academy’s report, participating scientists will study a broad range of physical, biological and social topics that will include examining changes in permafrost, along with tracking marine life in the world’s polar areas. The forthcoming International Polar Year is the fourth of its kind. Previous such years were undertaken as long ago as 1882-3, then in 1932 and 1957 (called the International Geophysical Year).

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In view of the United Nations-sponsored report on global warmingwith its predictions of the possibly disastrous effects of accelerated climate changesthe March research expeditions take on particular relevance. France’s President Jacques Chirac has stated that we are on the historic threshold of the irreversible. A co-author of the climate change report, however, has said that the worst can be prevented by acting quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The United States is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, the Bush administration opposes the needed mandatory cuts that would signal serious commitment on the part of the federal government to help reduce global warming.

Scorsese’s Catholic Artistry

Readers of this week’s issue will already know if Martin Scorsese is still the Susan Lucci of directors. Like the soap opera star who toiled for 19 years before being recognized with an Emmy, the Italian-American director has labored for decades without receiving an Academy Award as best director. Scorsese’s list of almost-rans is impressive: he was nominated for his work in 1980 (Raging Bull), 1988 (The Last Temptation of Christ), 1990 (Goodfellas), 2002 (Gangs of New York) and 2004 (The Aviator). Some of these losses have caused cinéastes to scratch their heads. But he may have been consoled by the fact that Alfred Hitchcock also received five nominations but never won the award.

Whatever his current religious beliefs may be, Scorsese is one of the most Catholic of artists, whose oeuvre paints a convincing portrait of the effects of sin, grace and redemption. Some of his most enduring characters, like Henry Hill in Goodfellas and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, are riven by their personal sinfulness, desperately searching for a measure of grace. His next movie may end up being the most Catholic of all. According to the Internet Movie Database, the director plans to film Shusako Endo’s great novel Silence, about the persecution and martyrdom of Catholics in 17th-century Japan.

Even if Martin Scorsese has failed to win his Oscar for The Departed, his sensibility will continue to deepen our appreciation for the sacramentality of the lives of people from gangsters to apostles. That outlook is not surprising, given his Catholic background and education. In his book Afterimage Richard A. Blake, S.J., quotes Scorsese on The Last Temptation of Christ, his most overtly religious film: My whole life has been movies and religion. That’s it. Nothing else.

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