September 11, 2014

On September 11th, Two Americas

This is a reprise of a post I wrote on September 11th, 2010.

I spent Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park watching my home town team play baseball.

It was one of those impossibly idyllic days you only get in September. Here in DC we look forward to them all year; look forward to a break from the heat and humidity, to warm days punctuated by cool breezes that lift our hair along with our spirits; to golden moments perfectly suspended between endless summer and the gloom of approaching winter. My firm was having a Team Building event and so - though I have little in common with the sales staff besides working for the same company - I gamely joined them in the pursuit of something that seems to hover just out of our reach these days: unity of identity and purpose.

The home team lost, but somehow even that didn't matter. It was a beautiful September day and we were full to the brim with hot dogs and beer and happiness; united for a moment by the glorious feeling of playing hooky from the responsibilities that awaited us back at the office.

Perfection, ephemeral as an Indian summer afternoon.

On the way back reality, held at bay by those ballpark gates and the tantalizing possibility of extra innings, began its relentless assault on our senses. Route 66 might as well have been a parking lot. Jokes gradually gave way to silence as we pulled out our cellphones, checked messages and email and mentally braced ourselves for the shock of re-entry.

That's when it happened. Someone said, "I can't believe it will be nine years this week since 9/11". And one by one we began to remember where we were, what we were doing, how it felt. It was this generation's "Where were you when they shot JFK?" moment and for a brief shining moment the shared memory pulled us back from the brink and made us one again.

But like everything that seems impossibly perfect, that moment wasn't meant to last.

Remind any group of Americans about 9/11 and for a moment we'll put aside our differences, put aside our disparate values and priorities. For a moment - but only for a moment - everything else is burned away by the searing memory of the mutual shock and loss and disbelief that gripped us: Republicans, small L libertarians and Democrats alike. For an instant all of that will be forgotten as we remember what's important: that somehow, despite the thousand threats to our security and peace of mind; despite madmen who strap bombs to their chests, zealots with box cutters, and idiots who burn Korans, we are alive.

This week, on the ninth anniversary of that awful day John Edwards' Two Americas stand side by side, an eerie memorial to those vanished Twin Towers. They have long since crumbled into dust, their twisted girders repurposed and reforged into an enduring symbol of American strength and resolve.

Or at least that is how one of the two Americas sees it. That America sees the last flickers of the defiant spirit, the resourcefulness and ingenuity that built this country. It is reassured and reaffirmed by the visible reminder that we still produce leaders who make hard decisions and accept the consequences. This America attributes our current security to our willingness to defend ourselves; to men and women who have given up that most precious of commodities - time with loved ones, or even their very lives - to ensure that no more brilliant autumn mornings will be rocked by unexpected bolts from the blue.

The other America sees hate, paranoia, a foolish overreaction to a minor threat. That America wants to move on already. It is weary of war and its discontents and suspicious of American exceptionalism. It only wants to be left in peace, citing the absence of a follow on attack as proof that (had we only possessed the surety that comes with 20/20 hindsight) we could have reacted differently but achieved essentially the same results. Bin Laden would not have tried again. He would have slunk back to the far reaches of Pakistan to lick his non-existent wounds, or been captured. Somehow they know this. Saddam would not, as he did during the 1990s, once again send an invading army over the border to attack his neighbors. He would not use chemical weapons on his own people. He would give up his nuclear aspirations and cease funding acts of terrorism. He would bow to the will of the global community and meekly allow arms inspectors full access. The leopard would change his spots.

Which of these two Americas is right? Who are we, really? The truth is that we cannot know what future would have followed the path not taken. Nine years after 9/11 we would like clarity. We would like closure. But we will not have either of these things. Certainty is a dream - as much a dream as the illusion of invulnerability that united us until 8:46 a.m. Eastern time nine years ago.

We cannot rewrite the past; cannot shape a happier ending for the story that began nearly a decade ago. What we can do, is remember:

In St. Augustine, Dan Hill was laying tile in his upstairs bathroom when his wife called, "Dan, get down here! An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center. It's a terrible accident." Hill hurried downstairs, and then the phone rang. It was Rescorla, calling from his cell phone.

"Are you watching TV?" he asked. "What do you think?"

"Hard to tell. It could have been an accident, but I can't see a commercial airliner getting that far off."

"I'm evacuating right now," Rescorla said.

Hill could hear Rescorla issuing orders through the bullhorn. He was calm and collected, never raising his voice. Then Hill heard him break into song:

Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming;
Can't you see their spearpoints gleaming?
See their warriors' pennants streaming
To this battlefield.
Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready;
Stand and never yield!

Rescorla came back on the phone. "Pack a bag and get up here," he said. "You can be my consultant again." He added that the Port Authority was telling him not to evacuate and to order people to stay at their desks.

"What'd you say?" Hill asked.

"I said, 'Piss off, you son of a bitch,' " Rescorla replied. "Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it's going to take the whole building with it. I'm getting my people the fuck out of here." Then he said, "I got to go. Get your shit in one basket and get ready to come up."

Hill turned back to the TV and, within minutes, saw the second plane execute a sharp left turn and plunge into the south tower. Susan saw it, too, and frantically phoned her husband's office. No one answered.

About fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. It was Rick. She burst into tears and couldn't talk.

"Stop crying," he told her. "I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I've never been happier. You made my life."

If we are to remember on this day then we should remember all of it, without flinching and without prettying up the messy parts.

Nine years into this war on Islamic extremism we hear a lot about lives destroyed by war. We hear of shattered limbs and broken minds; of suicides, despair, and shadowy figures living under bridges because they can't ever, truly, return from war. The America they left no longer exists for them.

And the hell of it is that all of this is true. Every painful, stinking bit. But it is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that the horrors of war rend and tear at our spirits but they also stiffen our spines and harden our resolve. War gives us back broken children, husbands, wives but also survivors who emerge stronger than ever from the crucible of war. Heroes like Rick Rescorla - a man who, for over a decade, kept watch over the workers at the World Trade Center against an enemy no one else took seriously.

And without men like Rick - without men hardened by horrors most of us cannot imagine even in our worst nightmares - a lot more than 3000 people would have died. Up to 2600 more, by some counts.

Sitting there in that van on Route 66, it wasn't the morning of September 11th that I remembered.

It was a moment that occurred at dusk several weeks later. I've forgotten the exact date now. I was alone - living at my mother in law's empty house in Arlington as I waited for our retirement home to be completed in western Maryland. My husband, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel at the time, was on duty at the Pentagon; one of a skeleton staff still manning its silent halls filled with the acrid scent of smoke. I smelled it on him every dawn when he slipped into bed beside me, moments before my alarm went off.

I got home from work late (as usual) and hurried around the unfamiliar house searching for candles, matches, a sweater to protect me from the autumn chill. And precisely at sunset I gathered these things and went out onto the flagstone patio. Although I could not see them, nearly every door on the silent suburban street was filled with mothers, fathers, children crowding into cramped doorframes. I couldn't see them, but I felt their presence.

And as the sun slipped slowly out of sight on the horizon, tiny flames lit up the autumn dusk like fireflies. For a moment - one, golden moment - the two Americas were united in grief and loss and anger. And the world grieved with us.

It didn't last, but then such moments aren't meant to last. With the dawn the two Americas parted again, standing side by side like those Twin Towers. We desperately want there to be only one, but that is not the America we know. America was born in revolution and dissent and baptized by years of bitter war and violent enmity. America is the product of a clash of ideas - rich, landed gentry who distrusted the passions of the common people and firebrands who envisioned a people whose ardent love of liberty would no more countenance the tyranny of home grown despots than they would the rule of a foreign power.

America embodies the tension between liberty and responsibility and the truth is that we need both if we are to remain a free and prosperous people. In a way, those Twin Towers were a more apt symbol than we knew.

They are gone. Only we remain. We, the people of the United States of America with all our differences, arguments and competing visions. It is the from clash between these visions, and not from some illusive dream of unity, that we will form that more perfect union our forebears envisioned.

The land of the free, made possible by the brave.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:32 AM | Comments (7) |TrackBack (0) |

September 10, 2014

Ray Rice and Female Privilege

So this whole kerfuffle over Ray Rice clocking his then-fiancé puzzles the Editorial Staff mightily.

One the one hand, seeing a guy that size literally knock a physically smaller/weaker person unconscious and then casually drag her across the floor is sickening. But the calls for boycotting the NFL (or suggestions that watching football amounts to "co-signing" violence against women, or even more bizarrely, that doing away with football is some kind of Important Step In The Fight Against Domestic Violence) are just mind numbingly stupid.

Does anyone seriously believe we'd be having this conversation if Ray Rice had clocked a physically smaller man? The thought is laughable. Football players commit crimes all the time. Some of them are minor, some are truly reprehensible. This is not news:

It has been an awful offseason for the NFL.

Twenty-seven active players have been arrested in total so far, most notably star New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Since the Super Bowl on February 3, NFL players have been arrested for common crimes like DUI and public intoxication, but also for things like street racing, child abuse, and trying to solicit a prostitute.

In 1999, there was even a study that compared relative crime rates between NFL players and a relevant sample of young men. Inconveniently for the uber-outraged, the study found that normalized offense rates (incidents per 100,000) for NFL players were less than half those in the general population (see bottom line in the table below):



Why should it matter more when NFL players commit violent acts against women (at rates that - at least in 1999 - were half those in the relevant general population!) than when they commit violent acts against men (and especially, physically smaller men)? Isn't this simply a form of blatant female privilege to match the oft-cited male privilege that apparently needs to be "checked" because.... equality!!!?

Grim observes:

Sometimes the only way to get a man to listen to you is to knock him upside the head. That's true for other men, too: once in a while, a man just needs a good knock on his door.

The double-standard is wise and proper, though, because if he knocks you back he could kill you.

We're not sure we agree with Grim. It's actually fairly rare for men to be physically disciplined these days, and in any case "the end justifies the means" isn't a terribly strong argument. The Marine Corps seems to be able to get men to pay attention without hitting them.

We're not really sure what the feminist argument for treating women differently in these cases would be. There's a clear legal precedent for punishing battery that leads to serious injuries more seriously than cases where the injuries are minor or even nonexistent. Don't we already have a rule in place for dealing with such cases that doesn't involve a sexist double standard that argues that women are weaker and less capable of defending themselves than men (except, of course, in combat situations and when applying for any job with physical fitness/strength standards)?

Sounds to us like someone needs to totally check their female privilege.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:02 PM | Comments (44) |TrackBack (0) |

IG: Justice Department Impeding Our Investigations

The executive branch department responsible for enforcing the law is instead preventing the law from being enforced? Incroyable!

The Inspector General Act of 1978 grants IGs "access to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations or other material" within a federal department or agency.

Horowitz said he appreciated efforts by Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to intervene on behalf of IG requests.

But Horowitz said having to rely upon DOJ's senior leaders to gain access to documents Congress clearly intends to be given to IGs on request is inconsistent with the law.

In addition, such dependence "compromises our independence. The IG Act expressly provides that an independent inspector general should decide whether documents are relevant to an IG's work; however, the current process at the department instead places that decision and authority in the leadership of the agency that is being subjected to our oversight."

Well dang. If the press corps isn't going to be independent, we see no real reason why the IG corps should expect to be.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:48 AM | Comments (3) |TrackBack (0) |

The Fan Saga Continues....

Sorry for going AWOL last week. The Blog Princess is in St. Louis for another week and is still having laptop issues involving a recalcitrant cooling fan. So blogging is going to be light until next week.

Whilst we are playing with our granddaughter's adorable toes, this excellent column by Michael Barone is worth a read:

America’s two great political parties are constantly transforming themselves, sometimes in small increments, sometimes in sudden lurches.

...But when the other party has held the White House for an extended period, the transformation process can be stormy and chaotic. Which is a pretty apt description of the Republican Party over the past few years. Its two living ex-presidents, the George Bushes, withdrew from active politics immediately after leaving the White House, and its two most recent nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, say they are not running for president again, although they do weigh in on issues. There is no obvious heir apparent and there are many politicians who may seek the 2016 presidential nomination. More than usual, the opposition party is up for grabs.

As the cartoon images of elephant and donkey suggest, our two parties are different kinds of animals. Republicans have generally been more cohesive, with a core made up of politicians and voters who see themselves, and are seen by others, as typical Americans — white Northern Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians today. But those groups, by themselves, have never been a majority of the nation. The Democratic Party has been made up of disparate groups of people regarded, by themselves and others, as outsiders in some way — Southern whites and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and gentry liberals today. Our electoral system motivates both to amass coalitions larger than 50 percent of voters. Democrats tend to do so by adding additional disparate groups. Republicans tend to do so by coming up with appeals that unite their base and erode Democrats’ support from others.

In the past 100 years there has been a certain rhythm, a familiar though not inevitable pattern, in coalition construction and deconstruction. A party’s nominee for president is elected. In his first years he advances a legislative agenda that all members of his party and, usually, some in the opposition party support. He is re-elected or, as in 1924 and 1964, the vice president who succeeds him is elected by a substantial margin. In the last century, the only years when previously elected presidents were defeated after one term were 1932, 1980 and 1992. Then, in the president’s second term, events turn sour, legislative initiatives are defeated, the opposition party coalesces and the president’s party splinters. Among members of his party, gratitude for past achievements dims, and frustration grows over roads not taken and goals not achieved. Disillusion accelerates as fears grow that the opposite party’s nominee will win the next election. The party in power splinters and either erupts openly or seethes silently with discontent. The party out of power grapples first with the task of selecting a new nominee and, perhaps more importantly, of settling on policy initiatives and priorities.

Back in 2009, we made some very similar observations:

Continue reading "The Fan Saga Continues...."

Posted by Cassandra at 08:56 AM | Comments (1) |TrackBack (0) |

Justice Dept. Official "Audibly Shaken"

Justice Dept. official asks Democratic Congressman's office to help him leak documents to the press, gets wrong number:

Apparently thinking he had reached the office of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), Fallon said the department wanted congressional staffers to get documents to selected reporters so that officials could comment on them “before the majority” did. After Issa spokesman Frederick Hill replied that Oversight Committee staffers would have to examine those documents first, the line went silent, and Fallon placed the call on hold for three minutes.

When he returned to the line, Fallon was “audibly shaken,” according to an account of the conversation that Issa recounts in a letter sent to Holder.

The Justice official then said there had been a “change in plans,” that no documents would be released on Friday and that the main reason for the call was to seek a thaw in relations between the department and Oversight Republicans.

Issa said it’s clear that the Justice official meant to call Democratic staff and argued the mix-up is proof that President Obama’s administration and Cummings have been collaborating to “prejudice the committee’s work through under-the-table coordination.”

“This highly partisan and combative approach to oversight by the department shows a disregard for the independent investigatory prerogatives of Congress and a deliberate attempt to influence the course of a congressional investigation,” Issa wrote to Holder, adding that it was “unseemly” for the department to favor one party over the other when it came to sharing information.

The documents, Issa added in the letter, are about Andrew Strelka, a former Justice attorney that once worked for Lois Lerner, the ex-IRS official at the center of the Tea Party controversy.

Hmmm... Strelka... the name seems familiar...

We will admit to being more than a little confusicated by this whole IRS brouhaha. If this is just another phony, made up controversy, why would the Justice department work so hard at damage control? If only there were some kind of mechanism for partisan journalists to plan how best to present the White House's preferred narrative to the public...

Do we sense a Chill Wind threatening our free and independent press corps? Heaven forfend!

Posted by Cassandra at 08:48 AM | Comments (2) |TrackBack (0) |

September 09, 2014

Parry, Parry...

Thrust, thrust.

“A few years ago, the terrorist organization Hamas, sent a gift to the President of Israel in an elaborate box with a note. After having the box checked for safety reasons, the President of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres, opened the box and saw that the content was feces (aka, shit, merde).
He opened the note which said “For you and the proud people of Israel.”

Being a wise and experienced person, he decided to reciprocate, sending Hamas a very pretty package and a note. The leaders of Hamas were very surprised to receive the parcel and opened it very carefully suspecting that it might contain a bomb. But to their surprise they saw that it contained a tiny computer 'chip'. The chip was rechargeable with solar energy, had a 1800 Terabyte memory and could output a 3D hologram display, capable of functioning in any type of cellular phone, tablet or laptop. It was one of the world’s most advanced technologies. Invented and produced in Israel. The accompanying note to the Hamas leaders stated very courteously…
“Every leader gives the best his people can roduce.”

Tip o'the Stetson: Bookworm Room

Posted by DL Sly at 12:37 PM | Comments (5) |TrackBack (0) |

September 05, 2014

Caption Contest - Bonus School Daze Edition

It's Friday. The first Friday back to school. You know what that and frat parties!
So, here is another pic for y'all to snarkify.


Judgement for both will commence next week.
Have at it, villains.
And may the Farce be with you.

Posted by DL Sly at 01:52 PM | Comments (22) |TrackBack (0) |