Monday, October 26, 2009

October 24, 2009

     On this day in 1945, the New York Times reminds us, the United Nations charter took effect.  Mankind did something right.      That was 64 years ago, and we haven't had World War III yet.  We had an international organization, the League of Nations, between Wars I and II, but the United States didn't join, and the League didn't work.  Only twenty years, one generation, separated Wars I and II - not 65.      Sometimes the U.N. itself has intervened.  I remember being sent to Congo in the 1960s when a province then named Katanga tried to secede.  The U.N. intervened--Indian Army troops on the ground, Swedish helicopter pilots, and so on.  The secession failed.      More often, of course, the U.N. simply gave us Cold Warriors, and the rest of the world, a place to talk.  "Jaw jaw," Winston Churchill once said, "is better than war war."  We and the Soviets jawed a lot.  And we had some awful wars too, of course. 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.  But we've avoided the big one.      In a nuclear age, I remember some wise man saying years ago, mankind has, for the first time, the ability to destroy God's created order.  But we haven't done it. Dumb luck, sure, but the U.N. probably deserves some credit too.    
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

October 24, 2009

       I know who I want to win the World Series this year--the Yankees.  Not because they're Yankees, or New Yorkers, but because, like me, they're old.      I'm old in real terms, of course--late seventies.  But four Yankees, arguably the heart of the team, are old in baseball terms. They all came up to the team fourteen years ago, in 1995.  Who are they?  Well, you probably know, of course, but just in case...they are pitcher Andy Pettitte, reliever Mariano Rivera, catcher Jorge Posada, and shortstop Derek Jeter, the team's leadoff hitter.      If they make it to the Series this year--Pettitte will start game 6 of the American League playoffs Saturday in Yankee Stadium--it will be their seventh World Series with the team since 1996.  Not too bad.      "Youth will be served," the old saying goes.  But maybe not this year, maybe not in this Series.  I'm not against youth.  I have young friends, my kids are young--well, in their forties, which seems young to me--and they're swell, of course.  But sometimes, you gotta root for the old guys.      So, as they travel toward New York for Game 6--Pettitte will pitch, wouldn't you know it--here's one old geezer with a fervent wish:      Go, Codgers, go!       
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 21, 2009

       If the cops get a tip that so-and-so is driving drunk, have they the right to stop him?  Well, maybe not.  On December 31st, 2005, Richmond, Va. police were called and told that Joseph Harris, Jr. was driving drunk.  The police spotted him.  He drove slowly through an intersection and braked well before reaching a red light.      The cops pulled him over anyway and smelled alcohol on his breath.  He also  failed a field sobriety test.  So, okay, he was drunk, and was convicted for it.  But wait!  The Virginia Supreme Court threw out the conviction, saying that if the police didn't see any evidence of drunk driving--erratic behavior, a sudden swerve, whatever--they had no authority--no probable cause--to stop him in the first place.      Not surprisingly, this odd case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The majority of the Justices sided with the Virginia court, voting not to to hear Virginia officials' appeal. They didn't say why, they usually don't.      But Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Antonin Scalia, dissented.  In his dissent, Roberts made a pretty good point.  "The decision," he wrote, "commands that police officers following a driver reported to be drunk do nothing until they actually see the driver do something unsafe on the road--by which time it may be too late."  State courts have ruled both ways on this.  Roberts thought the Supremes should have stepped in.  "The effect of the rule," Roberts wrote, "will be to grant drunk drivers 'one free swerve' before they can be legally pulled over...It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over even for a quick check."      You could argue both sides of this, I think.  What about you?
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20, 2009

      Exam time is coming.  If you're a college student, that means boning up on chemistry, or Roman history, or whatever.  But exam time is coming for President Obama too--different kinds of tests in different subjects, of course.      By the time the new term starts, we'll probably know whether he's going to get a health care bill.  There are all sorts of other questions within that big one, of course.  Just one is whether there will be a public option, a government plan to compete with insurance company plans.  But the really important one is simply:  will there be a bill?  If there is, it will probably be flawed--it's a very complicated subject--but that's okay, because Congress can go back next year and amend it, make it better.  If there's nothing, Congress will have to start over again.  After all the fuss and bother this year, could we really blame them for saying, "Oh, the hell with it. Let's take 2010 off."      Another test coming is on Afghanistan.  By then, the issue of how many, if any, more troops to send, may have been decided.  Some questions:  do we really want a big, semi-permanent U.S. force in Afghanistan?  If we do, why, what's the point? Afghanistan as a country doesn't threaten us.  It's government is, by all reports, crooked, but that's their problem, not ours.  It may be used as a base by terrorists, of course, but if we keep them out they'll probably base themselves somewhere else--say next door in Pakistan.      And that's a real problem.  Pakistan has nuclear weapons.  Afghanistan doesn't. If terrorists can destabilize Pakistan, that's a genuine threat to other countries all over the world.  I'd rather the bad guys stayed where they are.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Editor away for a few days

Mr Morton's column is on a brief hiatus.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 13, 2009

      The New York Times has a long piece today about the similarities and differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam.  It's enough to get you thinking.      I was a reporter for CBS News in Vietnam for some months at the end of 1966 and the start of '67.  I arrived there a tentative dove and left a passionate one.  Part of that was personal.  The day I got there, a friend said, "You know, this isn't like those Third World wars we've covered."  I said I was sure that was true, but how? And he said, "You can't cover this for very long without having people you've come to know and like pretty well get killed."  And that was true, of course.      But part of it was philosophical.  We could win the battles, but not the war.  To do that, we had to win over the Vietnamese people.  But they had a charismatic leader of their own--Ho Chi Minh.  There was no one in the South Vietnamese government that we backed who had a tenth of his appeal.   I don't know who's leading the Taliban, but again no one very glamorous is on our side.  Mohammed Karzai?  You've got to be kidding.      And I don't think we've learned much about nation-building in the years since we failed in Vietnam.  Afghanistan isn't like the United States. Tribes matter. Nationalism may matter.  We are, in any case, the foreign occupying power and the Afghans are good at getting rid of those.  Ask the British, or the Russians.  And if the Afghans want to be independent, want us to leave, as I suspect they do, why not just say yes, and head for the airport.      That Times piece quotes Normal Mailer, writing in 1965:  "we are not protecting a position of connected bastions so much as we are trying to conceal the fact that the bastions are about gone--they are not dominoes, but sand castles and a tide of nationalism is on its way in."     Let it roll.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

October 12, 2009

      The headline, in red at the very top of the front page, above the name of the paper (The Washington Post)  reads, "Woe...Redskins fall apart, 20--17."  This is a city with a lot of teams--baseball, basketball and so on. They mostly lose and Washington stays fairly calm.  When the football team loses, Washington weeps and wrings its hands.      It's not that they expect to win;  the Redskins last won the Super Bowl in 1988, twenty-one years ago.  But it's different here. The Chicago Cubs, the baseball team I grew up with, last won the World Series a hundred and one years ago, in 1908.  Fans still flock to Wrigley Field and seem to enjoy the games.  Not here, not with the 'Skins.     The "fire the coach?" stories began some time ago and are now numerous. Impeach the West Coast offense?  Maybe they could try that.  The team song, "Hail to the Redskins" appeared in another recent Post headline as "Fail to the Redskins." Well, newspapers are supposed to be accurate, after all.      And some of this year's losses have been spectacular.  Yesterday's winner, Carolina, hadn't won a game all year until the Redskins came to town.  Earlier, the Skins lost to Detroit, which hadn't won a game this year - or last year, come to that.  I'm not sure, but that may have been the only 0--16 season in NFL history.      So, hail to, rail at, quail from, fail with the Redskins.  Wish coach Jim Zorn luck if he ends up looking for work.  And hang in there.  Eleven more games, and it'll all be over.  Hail! 
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October 6, 2009

       Well, the baseball season is over--the regular season anyway.  I like baseball, but I think this was a dull year.  Maybe the playoffs will be better.      There was a lot of consistency in the regular season, though.  The Yankees and the Red Sox made the playoffs;  they usually do.  And the Washington Nationals--you remember the old saying: "Washington, first in war, first in peace, last in the American (well, the National now) League.  Consistent, though--this was their second straight season with more than a hundred losses.       For true consistency, though, you can't beat the Chicago Cubs.  They last won the World Series in 1908.  And this year, again, they didn't contend for the championship.  So could they have a second century without a Series title?  Seems perfectly possible to me, though of course I won't be here to see it.      But maybe consistency isn't a virtue.  What do you think?  Ralph Waldo Emerson, a genuine smart cookie, wrote:  "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."  Suppose he'd like to manage the Cubbies?  
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Oct 2 2009

         People are talking here this week, again, about whether Congress should pass a reporters' shield law.  That's a law that says, if a reporter publishes classified information given him by anonymous sources, he or she can't be send to prison for refusing to disclose who those sources are.      As a senator, President Obama had co-sponsored such a bill, but this week the White House backed a weaker version. The administration version says prosecutors should exhaust other methods for finding the source, but it adds that wouldn't apply if the leaked material could cause "significant" harm to national security.  And the bill tells judges to be deferential to the executive branch's statements about whether a particular leak might cause such harm.         Well, significance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  The reporter will probably think that he is exposing some government mess-up that the voters ought to know about.  The government will probably think national security is involved, demand the name of the leaker and want to send the reporter to jail if he refuses to disclose it.      Reporters do sometimes go to jail in these cases.  You may remember the New York Times' Judith Miller, who was subpoenaed in the Valerie Plame-CIA case. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a sponsor of the bill, says at least nineteen journalists have been subpoenaed since 2001;   four have been imprisoned.      The bill has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Specter says he hopes the full Senate will pass it.  Then, he says, Obama can veto it if that's what he wants to do.  Sounds like a plan to me.
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