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I'm a software engineer / partner working for a young company in Austin, Texas, USA. I spend most of my free time hanging out with friends and family, eating out, and partying in the Warehouse District. I should spend more time working on my house....
My first question: where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.
Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.
Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.
My second question is this: What does history tell us about our earlier responses to traumatic events?
My list of precedents for the Patriot Act and government wiretapping of American citizens would include the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which allowed the federal government to close newspapers and deport foreigners during the "quasi-war" with France; the denial of habeas corpus during the Civil War, which permitted the pre-emptive arrest of suspected Southern sympathizers; the Red Scare of 1919, which emboldened the attorney general to round up leftist critics in the wake of the Russian Revolution; the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which was justified on the grounds that their ancestry made them potential threats to national security; the McCarthy scare of the early 1950's, which used cold war anxieties to pursue a witch hunt against putative Communists in government, universities and the film industry.
In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing. Some very distinguished American presidents, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, succumbed to quite genuine and widespread popular fears. No historian or biographer has argued that these were their finest hours.
So here it is in a nutshell: employees are goaded into investing a big chunk of their wages and benefits in UAL stock. They lose that. Then they lose big parts of their pay and pensions. They become peons of UAL. Management gets $480 million, more or less. "Creative destruction?" Or looting?
Wait, Mr. Tilton and Mr. Bankruptcy Judge. The employees were the owners of UAL. They were the trustors, and Mr. Tilton and his pals were trustees for them. How were the trustors wiped out while the trustees, the fiduciaries, became fantastically rich? Is this the way capitalism is supposed to work? Trustors save up, and their agents just take their savings away from them?
If the company is worth so much that management has hundreds of millions coming to them, shouldn't the employee-owners get a taste? Does capitalism mean anything if the owners of the capital can be wiped out while their agents grow wealthy? Is this a way to encourage savings and the ownership society? Or is this a matter of to him who hath shall be given?
You might be goofy, but you're also the pretty young thang that has hooked up with someone twice your age. Those who dismiss you too quickly should realize that there's a bit more to you than meets the eye … the pretty ones, after all, can be pretty smart in ramping up those restaurant/TV series/production company side gigs.
Take the Rev. Pat Robertson as a recent example of "failure to reflect." When Robertson said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's tragic stroke might be a divine rebuke for "dividing God's land," a wave of deserved scorn and ridicule swamped the silly man. The White House and The New York Times blasted Robertson, a right-left political condemnation of a right-wing ayatollah.
Idiocy isn't illegal, nor is lying at least, not if one lies in U.S. Senate hearings. U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy provides the recent example of hot, emotion-stoking rhetoric untethered by truth. On opening day of Judge Samuel Alito's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Kennedy opened up with a faith-based fire Robertson might envy: "Judge Alito has not written one single opinion on the merits in favor of a person of color alleging racial discrimination on the job. In 15 years, not one."
Kennedy's statement is completely false. Alito found for plantiffs alleging racial discrimination on the job in several cases (for example, Zubi v. AT&T Corp. and Goosby v. Johnson & Johnson Medical). Kennedy, possibly because of his status as a left-wing political ayatollah, has avoided Robertson's mass condemnation. His snake dance and sanctimony is as poisonous as Robertson's, however, and perhaps more venomous, since his fib slanders Judge Alito.
Austin Bay (Words matter - as Robertson and Kennedy should know) argues that Pat Robertson and Sen. Ted Kennedy made similar mistake in recent comments. Robertson stated, idiotically, that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's tragic stroke might be a divine rebuke for "dividing God's land". Kennedy stated, incorrectly, that Judge Alito had never found for plaintiffs alleging racial discrimination. These are NOT similar mistakes. Bay, by suggesting they are, does a huge disservice to his readers.I also sent the letter above to Mr. Bay himself. I wonder if he will respond.
Robertson made a heartless statement that presumed to know the mind of God. Kennedy's statement, even if intentionally incorrect, was a factual mistake easily refuted by any of the other Senators in the hearing or Judge Alito. It is not in the same ballpark as RobertsonÂs statement.
Bay complains, "In contemporary politics, it seems flame raises more money than fact, and thus fund-raising trumps truth, decency and common sense." His solution might begin at the mirror.
Some people want to think of humans as the product of a special creation, separate from other living things. I am not among them; I am glad it is not so. I am proud to be part of the riot of nature, to know that the same forces that produced me also produced bees, giant ferns and microbes that live at the bottom of the sea.
For me, the knowledge that we evolved is a source of solace and hope. I find it a relief that plagues and cancers and wasp larvae that eat caterpillars alive are the result of the impartial - and comprehensible - forces of evolution rather than the caprices of a deity.
More than that, I find that in viewing ourselves as one species out of hundreds of millions, we become more remarkable, not less so. No other animal that I have heard of can live so peaceably in such close quarters with so many individuals that are unrelated. No other animal routinely bothers to help the sick and the dying, or tries to save those hurt in an earthquake or flood.