The president will deliver the State of the Union address tomorrow night. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, we mostly know the broad strokes of what’s going to be in it – I’m sure it’s not nearly as suspenseful as waiting for a president to send his hand written evaluation up the Hill once a year, but asking the cable news channels to adhere to an endearing 18th century standard of practice is surely too much to ask.
That means tomorrow evening I have two choices. First, I could watch the speech live and make myself crazy ranting and raving at the television in real time and ensure I’m too aggravated to get anything close to a good night’s sleep. Option two involves ignoring the live broadcast and catching the meat of it in dribs and drabs over the next few days, which would lengthen the duration of annoyance but likely reduce the intensity of my expected opposition to nearly everything I expect to hear.
In any case, it’s a safe bet that my blood pressure will be off the rails for the next couple of days. Under the current circumstances it seems the best I can hope for is avoiding a heart attack, ulcer, or throwing the remote through the screen. That doesn’t say much for my evaluation of the current state of our Union.
If you want to get a read on my opinion about enhanced interrogation versus torture, I can only refer you to the Epistle of St. William to the Atlantians, in which he states in part:
“War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out… I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success… When peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.”
– Major General William T. Sherman in his letter to the Mayor and City Council of Atlanta, dated September 11, 1864
Sherman knew a little something about getting the job done without getting too squeamish along the path to victory.
Among the most prized possessions is a two inch by two inch chip of concrete. Its multi-hued layers of spray paint on one side contrast starkly to the dirty gray pebbled other. It’s altogether fitting that the two sides are so different. This small piece of otherwise unimpressive construction material bore witness to one of the 20th century’s great follies when it was a part of a much larger engineering project – the wall in Berlin that once stood as the most visible possible reminder of the long cold war between east and west.
It was brought back not long after the wall’s demise by a friend of the family. With all the audacity an 11 year old could muster, I asked if I could have it and he graciously said yes. Wherever I’ve traveled from then until now it’s always the piece given pride of place – a reminder of the monumental stupidity that can and does grip the world and those who would lead it.
Ultimately that wall came down not because of permission from Moscow or brave decisions on the part of the East German government, but because thousands of people showed up at the gates demanding passage from east to west and there they stayed refusing to take no for an answer. Sure, political conditions were just right for such bravery in late 1989, but ultimately it was the people who showed up demanding their freedom who overwhelmed the wall.
Twenty five years ago tonight, we watched live pictures from Berlin of sights no one every really expected to see. Within a year Germany was reunified. In little more than two, the mighty Soviet Union itself would cease to exist. The end of that long nightmare didn’t start in Berlin, but it was there when we all knew, really knew, for the first time that its ending was in sight.
My little piece of the wall may be worth next to nothing in dollars and cents. If I ever find this joint on fire with time to save just one thing someone reading this post will find me on their doorstep with nothing more than a little chunk of concrete in my hand because to me it’s worth far more than its weight in gold.
Tomorrow is Election Day in America. The franchise is the most sacred right in the civic religion of our republic and it would be entirely presumptive for me to tell you how to vote. If you’ve paid any attention at all to the world around you, you already know how to cast your ballot – and if you haven’t been paying any attention it would probably be better for all of us if you just stayed home anyway.
I don’t know if it’s true of everyone, but I haven’t been a straight party line voter since my very first election. To my eyes the world is too subtly shaded for one size to fit all – especially true when my moderate to liberal views on many social issues careen wildly into my conservative opinions on fiscal discipline and national defense. I do my best to find the candidate who most closely reflects these views – although with the incredible shrinking pool of moderate voices in the contemporary political discussion they’re becoming more difficult to find.
I should admit that I don’t have a great track record of picking electoral winners, but often as not I’ve wished I could take some of those votes for the “winning” team back after the fact. When the dust clears from Election 2014 if all I can say is “I learned all I could and voted my conscience,” I’ll consider the thing well done.
When it comes to deciding who has earned my vote, I only really have one litmus test: Am I better off – are the state and nation better off – now than during the last election cycle. If I’m not – if we’re not – I’m obligated to vote against the incumbent or the party that has led us down that path. By most measures that are important to me – personal liberty, security, financial stability – I find we’re less well off as a whole.
Tonight I’ve locked in my final selections – and filled in my sample ballot just to be sure I don’t forget which way I’m voting on the more esoteric state constitutional and county charter issues. From my perch and from my perspective of what’s good (or perhaps least objectionable) for the country and my home state, this Independent is running to the right across the board tomorrow – not because I agree with everything the Republican candidates say or what’s in the state and national party platform, but because I fundamentally disagree with so much of what I’ve heard from the Democratic candidates this year. In essence, my vote is cast in defiance of Maryland’s traditional far left tendencies. I can only hope millions more follow suit.
Yesterday I saw several social media posts decrying the administration of the current president as the “most out of control and corrupt government in history.” Now it’s fair to say I don’t agree with many of the administration’s policies, but I also know that “in history” covers a lot of ground and a lot of really, really bad governments.
Take for example the Soviet Union under Stalin, who purged somewhere between 1 and ten million of his own people. That’s pretty bad governance. Hitler, that other bookend of 20th century dictatorial madness had a large hand in starting a war that killed 60 million people – or a little more than 2% of the world’s population at the time. Like Stalin, that’s not a great track record. Fast forward a few years and you have Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the killing fields of another 1.5 million. The drug wars raged across Columbia in the 80s and 90s, with politicians being bought or killed by the cartels. Not the recipe you’d want for successful democratic government. The Afghani Taliban made it their mission in life to suppress dissent, create a permanent underclass based on gender, and wipe out two thousand years years of cultural history. And those are just examples from the last hundred years.
Step back to the French Revolution, the Roman Empire, the Mongols, the unification of China and you’re going to see government that behaved in ways our sensitive souls can’t really fathom. Bad as the Obama administration might seem, I think laying the mantle of “most out of control and corrupt” in the vast sweep of history might just be a touch hyperbolic. Sure, it makes a good enough sound bite, but it really discounts the fact that history goes back a long, long way.
We’re all welcomed to our own opinions, but I do wish people would limit their appeals to the blessing of history until they inform themselves on what they’re actually talking about… Otherwise you just end up sounding like an idiot to those happy few of us who didn’t fall asleep in Into to World History.
We were told ebola wouldn’t come to the United States, but it did. We were told its spread was easy to prevent, but as it turns out trained medical personnel are the ones who seem to end up getting it. The whole issue is a grand demonstration of one of the major problems with politicians. In their pursuit of 50.00001% of the votes, they speak in generalities too often tailored to what the best research tells them people want to hear. Even where people want a world of black and while, I find the shades of gray are far closer to the universal constant.
So far in America we have two cases of Ebola being transmitted, It’s hardly a national epidemic. It’s frightening mostly because until a few weeks ago Ebola was far away nightmare that happened “over there.” Now it’s a real thing. It’s in at least one of our cities and apparently on our planes.
This isn’t a call to ban international travel or to mandate we all take our temperature before leaving the house for the day. It is, however, a statement of opinion that the country needs more than a press conference and repeated assurance that our standards of care and facilities can handle anything. That the two most recent victims are healthcare workers themselves gives lie to the notion that we are in any way prepared for something even a town or two over from “the worst.”
Far more people died in America today driving themselves to work than contracted Ebola, so I want to keep that in perspective. Even knowing that’s a fact, it would be nice to see more than a lick and a promise from the smart people who are in charge of keeping this shit from happening.
Columbus Day is one of those odd holidays that no one enjoys unless you’re Italian, work for a bank, or find yourself in the employ of the federal government. There are plenty of hand-wringers out there who tell us that it’s Indigenous People’s Day or that there should be no celebration at all commemorating the arrival of Europeans in the New World – I also choose not to quibble about things like who got here when or whether it should be Lief Erikson Day. The concept of discovery is more important than the individual act itself. And to those out there wanting to argue that you can’t “discover” a place where people already life, I mostly say “nuts.” Columbus and his crew discovered territory that, to them and to most of Europe at the time, was new and wholly unexpected. Call it a flapjack and it’s still a rose by any other name.
See, Columbus sailed during what use to be called the Age of Conquest. Some nations and civilizations did the conquering and others were vanquished. It’s happened since the dawn of recorded time and was happening long before we bothered writing the stories down. As often happens with the vanquished, we don’t hear much about their history. Now as a student of history myself, I’m all about understanding their story, but I’m not about rewriting the entire age of exploration into an overly simple victim narrative. Likewise, I’m under no illusion that Columbus or those that followed are some kind of demigods. History is a more complex animal than that.
All I’ll say is we’d do well to learn a bit more about the Age of Conquest. I suspect some of the lessons there are shockingly applicable to those of us schlepping around in the modern world.
Last night I posted an update to social media more or less decrying the utter toolishness of both candidates for governor in my beloved home state of Maryland and putting myself forward as just the right third party candidate. It’s a happy fiction for a number of reasons. Not the least of those is the simple fact that as a employee of the United States I am legally barred from running for partisan office on any level – local, state, or federal. It’s just one of the many fun and interesting rules that apply to me under what’s commonly called the Hatch Act which is backed up by the full might and authority of the US Office of Special Counsel. They are not to be trifled with.
The short version of what could be a long and painful story is that the Hatch Act, among other things, seeks to ensure career civil servants are officially above the political fray and not drug kicking and screaming back to the bad old days of the spoils system, where good party men were put into positions of authority throughout the working levels of government without much consideration given to their actual knowledge, skills, and abilities. The sentiment is spot on. Having a cadre of people who are not beholden to any particular party for advancement is an unquestionably good idea. The political appointees at echelons higher than reality stand as a great reminder of the caliber you may end up with when decisions are based purely on party affiliation.
The problem of course is that Hatch essentially prevents the small segment of the population who know the problems inherent with the system best from running for office and doing something about it. It’s really elegant in its own way. Hatch effectively keeps the people who know first hand the problems created by politicians from entering the arena in an effort to unseat those same politicians. I’d like to say that’s purely coincidental, but my core cynicism simply won’t allow it.
Sure, I can participate in the process. I can vote, I can canvas, I can put a giant sign on my lawn, but as long as I want to keep getting a check from my currently employer, I can’t even touch the idea of running for office. It’s a pity really. Federal employees get a black eye in most discussions. Some of it is deserved, but in my experience they’re a pretty average group of people. Some are pure oxygen thieves, most are somewhere in the middle of the bell curve, and a few are truly world class minds. It’s a real shame that some of those deep thinkers are barred from getting into positions where they could do more than rearrange deck chairs.
Let’s take a minute and look at the headlines tonight: Ebola is loose in the United States for the first time in recorded history, they’re protesting for democratic reforms in China, Europe’s economy appears to be at stall speed, and it wouldn’t take much more than a stiff wind to push ours in the same direction, the Secret Service is letting armed felons within arms reach of a sitting president. In general, civilization seems to be beset and besotted at every turn.
I’ve never been a dues-paying member of the Tinfoil Hat Society, but I do think the world we live in bears a closer look. Two things immediately jump to mind: 1) It doesn’t matter if it’s the local station, the cable networks or the internet, bad news makes people want to look and generates revenue from advertising sales; 2) Most of the asshattery I see in the world more or less confirms my preconceived notions about people as a group; and 3) Just by virtue of the law of large numbers, even paranoid people have to be right occasionally.
I could probably get a thousand new views a day if I gave this site over to ranting and raving about global conspiracies. The fact is, after having spent my adult life in public service I have my doubts about any organization being able to pull together a grand scheme to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids. More importantly, I throughly doubt their ability to do it in anything approaching secrecy. I mean I’m not allowed to build a 10 slide PowerPoint briefing without soliciting input from at least 14 other people, so you can understand how I might doubt the ability of an unknown global organization to rig the economy, unleashing a pandemic, and engineer a catastrophic war between East and West in complete secrecy.
I tend to think the long laundry list of things that go wrong are attributable to not much more than our collective bad decision making catching up with us. It feels like a simpler and more rational explanation than a transcontinental conspiracy bent on controlling everything everywhere. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.
Then again, my assumption of being right won’t keep me from picking up a box of latex gloves, a few bottles of alcohol, and some surgical masks. Just in case.
I don’t remember a damned thing about September 10, 2001. It must have been a perfectly average Monday. I was a second year teacher just trying to get through the week – or more likely trying to get through until Thursday and pint night at the Green Door.
America went to bed that night a nation more or less at peace with the world – victors of the Cold War and long past the 100 hour ground war in Iraq – we contented ourselves with international peacekeeping and the occasional cruise missile strike. We collectively went to sleep not knowing what would happen a few hours later. We went to sleep not knowing we were already at war and that the enemy wasn’t coming for us from across the ocean, it was already here living amongst us. For a few more hours, ignorance was bliss.
Not long after dawn, thirteen years ago tomorrow, the enemy came out of a vivid blue sky, targeting indiscriminately men and women and children and killing our kin and countrymen in their thousands.
I don’t remember anything about the 10th of September, but I remember almost everything about the day that came after it. If I let it the whole thing can spool through my memory like a newsreel. When I think about it now, especially today, the anniversary of the last day that was perfectly average, the sting and loss and anger all come back. It’s just like it happened yesterday.
That’s for the best. So many are bent on forgetting – on reinventing a past that never existed – that those of us who lived through it owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to never forget what we saw and what actually happened on those days in September. As for me, I’ll never forget. I’ll never forgive those who did it or those who supported them and who support them still. At every opportunity I’ll call for my country to be vigilant, to take the war to the enemy, and to beat back the gathering international darkness using every element of our national power.
We’ve all most likely seen the last of our perfectly average days. From here on out I’m afraid we’re destined to live in interesting times.