The Iraq Debate: These Guys Aren’t Dummies

As celebrities and other flimsy public figures have broadcast their opinions on the question of war with Iraq, wise policymakers and commentators generally respond with silence. With good reason-these self-absorbed, self-important faux experts tend to be willfully ignorant and astonishingly naïve. That they have a platform is laughable; that some Americans actually pay attention is absurd.

But when a group of Nobel laureates in the sciences and economics band together for a policy pronouncement, attention must be paid. These are serious people, and they have serious things to say.

In late January, 41 American Nobel winners signed a statement opposing a U.S. war in Iraq without support from the international community. The statement noted that while the war could end with a quick and total victory, “war is characterized by surprise, human loss and unintended consequences. Even with a victory, we believe that the medical, economic, environmental, moral, spiritual, political and legal consequences of an American preventive attack on Iraq would undermine, not protect, U.S. security and standing in the world.”

It’s important to note that these accomplished men and women are not arguing against military intervention; in fact, the use of the phrase “preventive attack” signals that they understand the danger that the Iraqi regime poses for America and the West. But they clearly believe that a unilateral invasion of Iraq would be wrong-and would hurt American interests at home and abroad.

Some of those who signed the document have, in the past, been involved in weapons research and other defense work. They include Hans Bethe, who helped design the atom bomb, and Norman Ramsey, a Manhattan Project scientist who worked on the Hiroshima bomb and has advised NATO. So the signers are not detached academics who pronounce from afar. Nor are they knee-jerk leftists who seem to believe that America is the cause of all the world’s evils, past, present and future.

The Nobel laureates are serious, intelligent people who clearly wish only the best for America. (That cannot be said of those who signed a recent ad comparing American military action abroad to the terrorist outrage of Sept. 11.) Their position merits careful consideration in Washington.

America has pressed this fight, but our allies and all nations of good will have a stake in it.

Da Vinci at the Met: The Master Comes to Town

A breathtaking display of one man’s genius is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the moment. New Yorkers who wish to be reminded of the heights of human achievement may wish to take in Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman , a show which does credit to the Renaissance’s ultimate Renaissance man, as well as to the show’s curators, Carmen Bambach and George Goldner, who work in the Met’s Department of Drawings and Prints.

With works borrowed from around the world-from Budapest, Berlin, Paris, Venice, not to mention Windsor Castle-the exhibit brings da Vinci’s profound gifts together and, perhaps for the first time in history, makes plain just how vast his talents were, ranging as they did from painting and draftsmanship to science and engineering. As the novelist and journalist Francine Prose recently wrote, reviewing the show in The Wall Street Journal , “Often, biblical or mythological figures share the same page with military gadgetry or mechanical gears. Most movingly, his anatomical studies transcend the armature of muscle, skeleton and skull to probe the mysteries of the spirit within-so that his scientific drawings come to seem like works of religious art.” Ms. Prose notes that the exhibit feels uncannily modern; the centuries between da Vinci’s time and our own are erased by the artist’s vision, which brings together “clinical objectivity and profound compassion.” Whether da Vinci was drawing the poverty of the streets, or creating sublime studies of arteries and veins, his 16th-century eye reveals truths which strike one as vital today.

Could so much magnificent human achievement really be contained in just one man? At a time when international events are casting a dim light on what man is capable of, Leonardo da Vinci, as he is brought to life at the Met, illuminates a world of possibility.

The Rich Are Depressed

How are the rich doing these days? A new survey of attitudes of wealthy people has found that they are largely negative about the economy and markets, with 46 percent believing we are in a recession and 57 percent believing that things will either stay the same or get worse over the next three months. The survey was conducted by McDonald Financial Corp., a Cleveland-based banking and brokerage firm, and defined “wealthy” as those making at least $150,000 a year or having personal investable assets of $500,000 or more. The firm cooked up something called an Affluent Consumer Confidence Index, in which scores below 50 indicate a pessimistic outlook. The first survey of randomly selected well-to-doers resulted in a score of 46-i.e., dark clouds on the horizon.

But as this page has pointed out before, the current economy is actually in pretty good shape. Yes, when compared with the dramatic 1990’s, things may feel a bit dull, but overall the economy is showing signs of a steady, healthy continuity. But perhaps it’s an impending war and significant deficits that are causing this depression among the rich. Americans still have much to be grateful for in the current economy. So those rich pessimists can relax.

Unless, of course, they’ve got all their money tied up in the stock market. The Iraq Debate: These Guys Aren’t Dummies