Memorial Day, 2010

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address

The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not — we will not — travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.

Barack Obama, 2002 speech opposing going to war in Iraq

“I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I’m president, to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain – that, in fact, there is an outcome that will merit the sacrifice.”

George W.  Bush,  after the U. S. death toll in Iraq reached 4,000

“We won’t talk about losing. There is enough talk about losing. What has been done this summer cannot have been done in vain.”

I did not say anything. I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Today is the day we remember them all, stolen from their families and their lives, irrecoverable this side of heaven. Today is the day we are asked to try, at least, to comprehend what they have done for us. To read true stories of combat–from Antietam to Iwo Jima, from Dien Ben Phu to Fallujah–is to have humility thrust upon one, and gratitude, not only for the excruciating devotion of the dead but for the fortunate fact that fate hasn’t required of one the same sacrifice. Not yet, anyway.

Dallas Morning News editorial, May 31, 2004

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How to Be Happy, Part 3

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wanted: Fresh New Ideas That Disturb Nobody!

I recently revealed  my authoritarian solution to the problem of Supreme Court nominees who won’t tell us anything important about themselves. Along those lines, a Slate mag writer adds this about near-blank-slate Elana Kagan:

What I see in the national obsession over Kagan’s unmarried status is precisely the same thing I saw in the national obsession over David Souter’s: We want Supreme Court nominees who are diverse and interesting, but as soon as we get one, we treat their unique qualities like hideous communicable diseases. Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latina. So we called her a racist. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a feminist legal pioneer. So we called her a radical. And we thought David Souter (mother, farmhouse, perennially unplugged TV) was just so much tragic marital roadkill.

It’s always this way. We chafe and gripe about the tired old ways of Washington, the brain-dead adherence to conventional wisdom, the good ol’ boys n’ girls scratching each others’ backs as they climb to seniority.  Then, when a potential leader comes along who really is different, we recoil, freak out and  immediately spank them for coloring outside the lines. We long for someone willing to step outside the tired old mainstream–and then when they do, we shriek: “You’re out of the mainstream!”

It was that way with Ross Perot, first hailed as a homespun savior and then trashed as a hickish, heartless  Hitler. It was that way with Sarah Palin. And now we see the  tired drama repeat itself  with the kerfuffle (love that word!) over Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul’s second thoughts about the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Disclaimers: While I thought Perot’s “laser-like” focus on deficits was valuable, I  don’t think he would have made a successful president (in fact, I’ve always thought that had he been elected, he would have resigned within a year). I wouldn’t vote for Palin because I dislike only two things about her: her ideas and her lack of intellect. And I really haven’t studied Rand Paul’s positions enough to pass judgment one way or the other.

But the point is this: If you really want to send somebody different to Washington, as millions claim they do,  that new face is  going to be, well, different. They’re not going to hew to the well-trodden road. They’re going to go off on tangents. They’re going to take second looks at established ideas and sacred cows. They’re going to offend the arbiters of what is right. And some of them will turn out to be kooks.

By the way, I agree with half of what Paul is saying, I think, about robust government actions like the  Civil Rights Act. It was in fact a huge intrusion of government power into what had been viewed as the realm of private choice and decision-making. But it was a justifiable intrusion aimed at giving millions of black American citizens equal access to what white Americans enjoyed. Such intrusions ought to be infrequent, but some problems are simply too big to tackle with anything short of federal power.

Answer the Questions, Ms. Kagan

Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread, so I make bold to disagree with Stuart Taylor, superstar commentator on all things law-related, about the recurring charade of our Supreme Court nomination hearings. Taylor says here that Elana Kagan should follow the dreary precedent set by the last several Sup noms, saying absolutely nothing that might reveal that any important idea ever dwelt between her ears.

I disagree. If I were ruling the world and the Sup nom process, I’d do two things:

1. Set up a list of 20 or so questions designed to elicit the nominee’s  thinking about the great issues of our time. And of course none of them would require her/him  to pre-judge a possible case. It would be easy to avoid that problem. Duh.

I would give the nominee a pass on any five of the questions she chose, sort of like the peremptory strikes attorneys get when picking juries. But she would have to answer the other 15 to the satisfaction of a majority of the committee.

2. And if she refused? I would respectfully say, “Then let’s try again tomorrow,” and gavel the proceedings to a close. We’d pick it up the next day, or the next, or the next, for however many days the nom chose to remain evasive. Eventually, those with some interest in filling the seat might get together and figure out some appropriate and substantial responses.

Why do this? Because I think there is something flat wrong about how the process works or does not today. Something smells when a potential judge, a person who wants to spend the next several decades discerning truth from falsehood, embarks on that career in a cloud of falsehoods, evasions, and half-truths. It’s as if a minister won his post by blackmailing the board of deacons.

America After the Tooth Fairy

Yes…yes…see just ahead? That hulking, frozen white mass protruding from the ocean? Yes, that is an iceberg. Dead ahead. Can we form a committee to discuss the possibility of looking into the prospects of alerting the crew to the immediate need to change course?

The latest call to avert a pending Greece-like financial disaster (What’s a Grecian earn? Almost nothing!) comes from NYT supercol Tom Friedman, who also reports the shocking news that The Tooth Fairy is dead. Key quote:

We baby boomers in America and Western Europe were raised to believe there really was a Tooth Fairy, whose magic would allow conservatives to cut taxes without cutting services and liberals to expand services without raising taxes. The Tooth Fairy did it by printing money, by bogus accounting and by deluding us into thinking that by borrowing from China or Germany, or against our rising home values, or by creating exotic financial instruments to trade with each other, we were actually creating wealth.

Friedman has much more, but in a rare moment of Told-You-So-in’ , I have to point out once again that economic Cassandra, Scott Burns, and his now-five-year old book The Coming Generational Storm, which was talking Debt Meltdown before Greece was on fire.

But, given our political straightjacket, how do we avert the iceberg? Unless somebody educates the public about the need to banish Tooth Fairies from our political lexicon, the Congress that tries to initiate the deep cuts (including, yes, Baby boomer bennies and the military)  and higher taxes needed will be swept out by the other party’s demagogues. Who will tell the people that things cannot go on as they are?