Saturday, September 27, 2008

I Got You, Abe

This coming February 12 is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. As absurd as it may sound, that actually makes me feel kind of old. When I was a kid, the Civil War was just about 100 years in the past. Now, to find out that war's central figure is having a Bicentennial! And where exactly does that leave George Washington? All the way back to where the Pilgrims used to be?!

Wondering if I could connect at all with this almost prehistoric figure, I decided to take a look at something Lincoln wrote: The Gettysburg Address. I did this with some trepidation. I was afraid it might read like The Canterbury Tales, or something by Shakespeare: in English, yet you still need a translator. Turns out I didn't. The speech's first, and most famous, sentence is a bit daunting (I wasn't sure what he meant by "score". Was there a game going on? Or had a band played?), but after that it's smooth sailing. It could have been written yesterday (Thank God the Civil War wasn't yesterday. Our military's stretched thin enough as it is.)

So here it is, along with a few of my comments (which Honest Abe may or may not agree with.)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation...

Less than a hundred years separate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I'm not sure if that should make me feel old or not.

...conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

White men, anyway. Lincoln fails to mention his own Emancipation Proclamation, which was significantly more dedicated to that proposition. Of course, as long as the war raged, the emancipation existed only on paper, so maybe that accounts for his modesty.

Now, we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

The Confederate flag was a campaign issue as recently as 2000.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field...

According to some historians, the organizers of this event weren't even going to invite Lincoln. But then they thought, well, he IS President. a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

3,155 Federal soldiers were killed in action, with 5,365 missing. 2,136 of the 14,529 wounded died. All together, a mortality rate of nearly 15%. As far as the Confederacy goes, estimates range from 2,934 to 5,750 killed or missing.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Sounds here like ol' Abe is just giving lip service.

But, in a larger sense...

Oh, wait. He's got something up his sleeve.

...we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow--this ground.

According to a recent news story, some developer wants to build a casino near the battlefield.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated, far above our poor power to add or detract.

Edward Everett spoke first. His speech contained 13,607 words, and lasted two hours. Lincoln's speech contained 186 words, and lasted a measly two minutes.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here...

Edward who?

...but it can never forget what they did here.

Not to take anything away from what they did there, but one reason Gettysburg is more well known than, say, Antietam (where there was an even greater loss of life) is because of what one tall, lanky guy with a beard and stove top hat said there.

It is for us the living, rather...

I knew there was a catch. be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their 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...

Did those who died at Gettysburg, or on Omaha Beach, or on Iwo Jima, really die for freedom or democracy, or did they actually die for a country that at the time just happened to be free and democratic? After all, people who've lived in dictatorships, or slave-based societies, have fought just as hard, and have died in as many numbers as we Americans. Freedom and democracy should be more than mere synonyms for sovereignty and the homeland. Those high ideals can also be fought and lived for. How exactly do we do that? What are our weapons? Let's see, there's the ballot box, the soap box, the picket sign, the petition, and the letter to the editor. Maybe even blogs.

...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Despite the best efforts of the all too many fools and scoundrels since Lincoln, it somehow hasn't perished yet.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quips and Quotations

I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can't be any worse.

--Mark Twain

Saturday, September 13, 2008

For Vice Sakes!

The Vice-Presidency is not worth a bucket of warm piss.

--John Nance Garner, Vice-President 1933-41

Were it only true, Mr Garner. These days, the vice-presidency is potentially worth the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It's also worth 20 million or so disaffected Hillary Clinton voters, and working-class and rural folks who fear an African American might be too "elitist".

I know it seems like a long time ago, but I want to go back to the week leading up to the Democratic convention. If you'll remember, Barack Obama, with the help of the news media, was keeping us all guessing as to who is vice-presidential pick would be. Hillary Clinton? Jim Webb? Bill Richardson? Oprah Winfrey? We were all kept in suspense, on the edge of our seats, on tenterhooks, and hanging from a cliff. We bit our nails, and wiped the sweat off our brows. We waited, paced the floor, banged our heads against the walls, and crossed our fingers. And, as the clock slowly, and agonizingly, ticked, we stared at our cell phones, not wanting to miss even one second of that much longed after, much hoped for, much yearned over, and much anticipated magic text message!

Why, exactly?

If I want to be kept in suspense, I'll go out and rent an Alfred Hitchcock movie! As far as the vice-president goes, I want to know when Barack Obama knows! As soon as it pops into his head. Sooner, if possible! This is something that's going to have some affect over all our lives! I don't particularly want to be surprised. I want to know exactly what I'm getting. If a president made farting noises during a State of the Union address, that would be quite a surprise, but I doubt if it would instill us all with confidence.

In the end, the surprise wasn't much of a surprise. Joe Biden. Just who everybody expected. Why Joe Biden? Experience, I guess. In light of recent developments, you may have forgotten that John McCain had been making a federal case (well, he IS in the Senate) over Obama's relative lack of experience. But experience in government is different from that in, say, auto repair. Two experienced mechanics will probably come to the same conclusion that your car won't shift in reverse because you put motor oil where the transmission fluid should go. Government is different. There are experienced people who are for the war in Iraq, and equally experienced people against. There are experienced people who believe in some sort of national health care, and those who don't. Until the recent collapse of some of our largest financial institutions, experienced people even disagreed whether such institutions should be regulated. They still disagree as to whether they should be regulated before a collapse, or after (i.e., federal bailouts).

I voted for Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton in the Ohio Primary because I wanted someone who was against the Iraq war AT the time of the Iraq war. Would I have preferred an experienced anti-war candidate? Sure. But the Democratic establishment (i.e., the Clinton machine) couldn't bring themselves to provide one. So I took a chance on Obama. And what does he do? He picks as VP not only someone who voted for the war, but as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, strong armed other Democrats to vote for it. I know, I know. Obama was being "realistic", in the political sense. Well, so was Clinton, Dodd, etc.

On to McCain...

John McCain's VP pick was a surprise. Boy, was it a surprise, the equivalent of making hi-fi stereophonic fart noises during a State of the Union address. McCain apparently met Sarah Palin only once before choosing her. That must have been some meeting. Political expediency at first sight! Sarah Palin is governor of a state-Alaska--with less people than Cuyahoga County, where I'm writing from. In fact, the county could lose the entire population of Cleveland, and it'd STILL have more people!

So, why'd McCain pick her? Well, Obama had been making a federal case (he's in the Senate, too) about the need for change.

The need for change.

The crucial word in the above sentence is not so much "change" as "need". I don't think the people want change because they're, say, bored with Washington. Even if they were, they could always just switch from CNN to Tia Tequila (I've been tempted to do that). If it's change for the sake of change people want, the next president could just paint the White House purple with yellow polka dots (though that might clash with all those cherry blossoms). No. People don't want change because they're bored. They want change because things SUCK. At any rate, given McCain's voting record, the White House might just get painted a whiter shade of pale (apologies to Procol Harum), the only change being a switch from Glidden to Sherwin Williams.

Of course, if the unthinkable happens, and McCain dies in office (I'm being polite. It's not really all that unthinkable. The issue's been raised over and over again the last couple of weeks), Sarah would take over. Would that be change we can count on? If by count you mean body count. In a recent interview, she said it might be necessary to go to war with Russia. She must figure all those nukes collapsed along with communism.

So, where does all that leave us? With an inexperienced presidential candidate and experienced vice-presidential candidate who are both against the war in Iraq (Joe's come around) and believe the government should have some say in the economy, vs an experienced presidential candidate and inexperienced vice-presidential candidate who both support the war in Iraq and believe in laissez-faire.

In other words, Democrat vs Republican. Liberal vs conservative. Left vs Right.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

In Memoriam: Bill Melendez 1916-2008

Peanuts animator and voice of Snoopy

"The characters look so simple because they are so simple. The thickness of the line can make a difference."