Monday, September 12, 2011

Commemorations...Sometimes Excessive?

There’s a tendency in this country to overdo it when addressing tragedies such as deaths. The excess is usually enhanced in the death of a young, as opposed to an older person, though the “young” identification can be quite high, often with the attached circumstance of the survivors – young children or a large family, for example, or the excess may involve victims dying through abnormal circumstances such as on 9/11 or in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

The disagreements connected with planning and constructing a “proper” monument/memorial for the 9/11 victims, or the Oklahoma City victims of 1995, or the 49 victims of a plane crash in Lexington, Ky., in 2006, not to mention the expense, can make memorials something of a hassle, though those who die in the line of duty deserve recognition. The word “hero” is overworked and seems to include anyone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, not just those who voluntarily placed themselves in harm’s way and lost their lives.

On average, about the same number of American GIs as the 343 NYC fireman on 9/11were killed or died during every ten-day period in the 4.5 years of actual combat during WWI and WWII, nearly 522,000 or about 319 per day. During the Civil War, 427 Americans died per day (623,026 in a population of only 35 million, nearly 2%) through both battle and disease. By comparison, less than two GIs per day have died in the Afghan/Iraqi conflicts over the last ten years. It took 60 years for a WWII memorial to be built on the mall in Washington, but only ten regarding 9/11 in New York City. Strangely, there are memorials on the National Mall in Washington for the Korean and Vietnam veterans but none for those of WWI, though there were more than 21,000 more WWI deaths than in the other two combined.

The capriciousness is remarkable vis-à-vis the establishing of memorials. Compare the elaborate and costly WTC memorial to the very plain Pearl Harbor memorial (USS Arizona) dedicated to nearly the same number of dead to get an idea of zaniness. The former involved mostly civilians simply at work, the latter mostly military (2,335 American GIs voluntarily serving in harm’s way and only 68 civilians).

State, local and the federal governments paid $15.8 billion to survivors of the 9/11 victims, or 42 percent of the total, with an average of $3.1 million per recipient, according to the Rand Corporation, January 2005. By contrast, about all the survivors of the victims in the Oklahoma City bombing received was a two-year reprieve on income taxes. Amazing! This is not to say the government had no responsibility in either case. It is simply to point out the apparent excesses. The mourners of 9/11 became instant millionaires, largely due to taxpayers, but not the mourners in Oklahoma City, or concerning the USS Cole or any battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Breaking precedent this year, a memorial to a civilian, Martin Luther King, Jr., rather than to military or other government personnel, was established among its four-acre compound on the National Mall. The inordinate excess is seen in its three-story figure of King, far taller than even Lincoln and dwarfing all other individuals honored there. It’s more like a huge stern Buddha with crossed arms staring down at the actual military heroes memorialized, not surprising since it was designed by a Chinese citizen and sculpted by him in China, then merely shipped to this country and put together by Chinese laborers. Exponential excess added to exponential insult!

Perhaps a difference concerning excess can be seen in the difference between the interminable, religiously-sanitized ceremonies in NYC and the service at the Pentagon on Sunday. There were no non-singers with guitars in Washington, for instance. The service was clearly Christian, complete with prayers and hymns played by the Marine Corps band and sung by the Navy Choir. It was terribly moving. The National Anthem, for instance, was sung by a Navy singer with a trained voice performing the anthem as precisely written, not by some celebrity singer attempting to improve it but only butchering and making a mockery of it. The performance of Battle Hymn of the Republic was magnificent. The essentially non-melodramatic speeches by Joint-Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen, CIA Director Panetta and Vice President Biden were appropriately poignant but brief and right on the mark.

The current generation, geared to excess and self-preservation, seems to have a hard time confronting death or even in getting things in perspective. It was not always so.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

Saturday, September 03, 2011


I’ve read that the TV sitcom Seinfeld is among the best viewing in TV offerings, probably even in reruns, assuming that one can make it through the requisite number of commercials. I daresay it’s won many awards, although I’ve never seen a Seinfeld episode. I can remember seeing snippets when searching for something else, which probably explains why I never tuned it in on purpose. In another life, I withstood the commercials to watch stuff like Gunsmoke or Bonanza, but being bored stiff by sometimes off-color sophomoric humor is not my thing.

All that to say this…the best entertainment currently is found by just watching or reading the news in the media. Comedy pervades the nation’s capital these days and simply taking note of the antics of elected officials and bureaucrats is enough to induce hilarity. Even though the news is important, the purveyors of it these days, especially on the distaff side, consider it as entertainment and dress for it, showing as much cleavage, thigh, off-the-shoulder frocks and that which must be most constantly monitored (or not) by the crossed-legs-toward-the-camera position.

Reporting an ax murder or the wipeout of a platoon in a skimpy cocktail dress and sporting blue eyelids seems somehow incongruous, but the show must go on. Meanwhile, the mentally-challenged newsmen are dressed to the nines from neck to toe as if on their way to a funeral. The double-standard is never more obvious than it is among the news anchors. A guy dressed like Walter Cronkite seems believable, while a gal emulating Gypsy Rose Lee seems more recognizable on a street-corner, no matter the subject of the news.

But I digress! The Keystone Kops could not have caused greater laughter lately than that cooked up by the pooh-bahs. POTUS is in full campaign mode and made a three-day “listening tour” through Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois (actually only about 380 miles) the other week, transmogrifying the term “listening tour” into “official business,” thus financed by the taxpayers with a huge saving to his war chest. He needed a couple buses at $1.1 million each under which he had thrown no one, like the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah (God damn America) Wright, meaning that they had to be new and un-bottomed. They were made in Canada, since nothing bearing the “Made In America” tag could be trusted. The taxpayers are still laughing/weeping at this joke. Great entertainment!

After tirelessly listening nearly 400-miles-worth over three days, POTUS needed a vacation, lest PTSD accruing to bus-fatigue (trauma worth a Purple Heart) impair his readiness as C-in-C for a three a.m. emergency call, so it was off to rough it at Martha’s Vineyard. Apparently, he and the First Lady went on “his” and “her” Air Force planes to MV, since flying to blue-collar Peoria to pick up POTUS would be somewhat demeaning for FLOTUS, a world traveler. The unwashed in the boonies are still laughing at such sacrifice, something POTUS has called for regularly. After all, POTUS and FLOTUS used only three Air Force planes for their famous Big Apple “date.”

Even better comedy was in store concerning the PROCLAMATION by POTUS that he would do a second state-of-the-union address to Congress on 07 September, labeled a “Jobs (three letter word according to Biden) Speech.” House Speaker Boehner was not consulted…a trifle. The date was obviously set because the republicans were doing a debate on that evening – this time sponsored by MSNBC – but POTUS had forgotten that MSNBC is his main propaganda arm and felt commercially threatened. The rumor was that Chris Matthews had a seizure nearly equal to the leg-tingling that renders him immobile during any POTUS speech.

What is a POTUS to do in such a predicament, besides stamping his feet or beating on the floor? To insist on the seventh is to be like a commander-in-chief, except that Speaker Boehner, who owns the house reservation service, is not in the military…but posed a compromise – change it to the eighth. What a brilliant nice non-partisan idea! POTUS/C-in-C accepted – all in the spirit of goodwill – but probably remembering that Boehner never salutes.

The Law of Unintended Consequences struck at this point, to wit, that Green Bay plays New Orleans on the eighth at the same time – easily attracting millions more than a POTUS speech, with or without teleprompter full of entertaining (maybe even – gasp – off-color) witticisms/jokes/whatever. Actually – unkind to so say – the speech itself will probably be a joke, like Seinfeld, a rerun. Not to worry…brilliant minds at work – contact the teams and tell them to change the game…the C-in-C speaks. However, Packers and Saints also don’t salute, so POTUS, ever the knowledgeable fan, will go off early and have the perfect excuse for no time-killing processionals, handshakes, backslaps, ovations, amens and hallelujahs. He could’ve tried Friday night but that’s high-school-football-night, a no-brainer.

There’s nothing more entertaining than comedic politics, occasioned by foolishness conceived accidentally. Nobody could make this stuff up. Nobody could write a script so completely trivializing a POTUS address to Congress.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark