Saturday, September 1, 2007

Re: Very Odd

One of our posts, Very Odd, was discussed at Telic Thoughts and their post on it turned out to be the third most visited post on their site for the month of August. Their top ten are listed here and their post is titled If ID Is Not Science...

The thought occurred to me that it was probably read more there than it was here.


The Lessons of History

Peter Wehner provides historical perspective for those despairing over our involvement in Iraq. It's an excellent essay and I highly recommend reading the whole thing. Here's the history lesson:

In the words of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Herbert Donald:

"Many Northerners were euphoric at the outbreak of war, confident that the Union with its vast natural resources, its enormous superiority in manufactures, its 300 percent advantage in railroad mileage was bound to prevail. Surely its 20,000,000 inhabitants could easily defeat the 5,000,000 in the Confederacy. Seward thought the war would be over in ninety days. The Chicago Tribune anticipated success 'within two or three months at the furthest,' because 'Illinois can whip the South by herself.' The New York Times predicted victory in thirty days, and the New York Tribune assured its readers 'that Jeff. Davis & Co. will be swinging from the battlements at Washington... by the 4th of July [1861].'"

Then came the First Battle of Bull Run, which shook the confidence of both Lincoln and the Union; and the Second Battle of Bull Run, which threw Lincoln and the Union into a state of near despair. "Alone in his office," the Lincoln biographer Stephen Oates has written, "Lincoln mulled over his oceans of trouble, mulled over the vast uncertainties of this war, and confessed that events had spun out of his control."

"The people are impatient," Lincoln wrote. "[Secretary of the Treasury Salmon] Chase has no money and he tells me he can raise no more; the General of the Army has typhoid fever. The bottom is out of the tub. What shall I do?" Lincoln asked in 1862.

After that came the carnage of Antietam; setbacks in the 1862 midterm elections; and the loss at Fredericksburg. "Disgust with the present government is certainly universal," one man observed. "Even Lincoln himself has gone down at last. Nobody believes in him anymore."

"We are now on the brink of destruction," Lincoln himself said. "It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope."

By early July 1864, Professor Donald writes, "a visitor found Lincoln deeply depressed. War weariness was spreading, and demands for negotiations to end the killing were becoming strident." Calls for General Grant's resignation (McClellan had long since been replaced) were common - and so were discussions of replacing Lincoln on the Republican presidential ticket. "From all corners of the Union came waves of indignation against Lincoln," according to Oates, "that he could sanction such senseless carnage, that he could put a butcher like Grant in command."

High casualties among Union soldiers, Grant's impasse at Petersburg, and weakening resolve in the North led Lincoln to issue a blind memorandum to his Cabinet members on August 23, 1864, saying that "it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be reelected." If that had happened, Lincoln would today rank among our least successful presidents.

But then General Sherman gave President Lincoln all that he needed. "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won," Sherman wired Lincoln in the aftermath of Sherman's occupation of Atlanta. Lincoln went on to win re-election on November 8, and a week later General Sherman began his march to the sea. After that came the capture of Petersburg and the occupation of Richmond. General Lee finally surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. The Civil War was over, the slaves were freed, the union was preserved - and more than 620,000 lives had been lost in a nation of 31 million. A war of equal magnitude today would kill roughly six million Americans.

Was the Civil War worth the effort, worth the cost, worth the carnage? For most people today, the question is essentially rhetorical; after all, the president whose tenure was consumed by the war has his face chiseled in granite on Mt. Rushmore. But if you had asked Americans in the North (let alone in the South) the same question in 1862, or 1863, or 1864 - or even asked them that question in the aftermath of the surrender of the Confederacy, when reconstruction was going poorly and the wounds of the Civil War were still deep and fresh - many people would have said the war was senseless, the slaughter unbearable, and the conflict should be stopped, come what may.

Yet Lincoln, who made significant errors in the war, always understood the stakes of the struggle. He made adjustments along the way even as he refused to bend on the moral meaning of the Declaration and the need to preserve the Union. Eventually the war was redeemed and America was made whole.

"Here was the greatest and most moving chapter in American history," according to the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Bruce Catton, "a blending of meanness and greatness, an ending and a beginning. It came out of what men were, but it did not go as men had planned."

We do well to keep this history in mind and to meditate upon its lessons.


Should He Have Been Suspended?

Jason sent along this story, which touches a pet peeve of mine. Let's read the story first:

A high school student who tricked football fans from a crosstown rival into holding up signs that together spelled out, "We Suck," was suspended for the prank, students said.

Kyle Garchar, a senior at Hilliard Davidson High School in suburban Columbus, said he spent about 20 hours over three days plotting the trick, which was captured on video and posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube. He said he was inspired by a similar prank pulled by Yale students in 2004, when Harvard fans were duped into holding up cards with the same message.

At the end of the video, Garchar wryly thanks the 800 Hilliard Darby High School supporters who raised the cards at the start of the third quarter during last Friday's football game. "It couldn't have been done without you," reads the closing frame of the video.

Garchar, 17, created a grid to plan how the message would be spelled out once fans in three sections held up either a black or white piece of construction paper. Directions left on stadium seats instructed fans to check that the number listed on their papers matched their seat numbers. Darby supporters were told the message would read "Go Darby."

"It was tedious," Garchar said. "I didn't really think it was going to work."

But it did, and everyone at Davidson has been talking it ever since, said Jordan Moore, a junior. "That was the ultimate in-your-face," he said. "I think it was ingenious."

Davidson Principal John Bandow had told students that he expected them to show sportsmanship at the game, which Darby won 21-10.

Bandow gave Garchar three days of in-school suspension and banned him from extracurricular activities for a semester, the students said. Two Darby students who helped Garchar received the same punishment after the principals from both schools spoke by phone.

What, if anything, did this kid do wrong that he got suspended? Suppose the sign had read "Darby Stinks" or "Go Davidson" would that have earned him a suspension? It shouldn't have, but nevertheless, I agree with his principal that the message Garcher chose to use crossed the line of propriety.

Despite the fact that the word "suck" has gained wide currency in our degraded and depauperate culture, and despite the fact that most people who use it are oblivious to its meaning, it really is a vulgarism etymologically derived from references to fellatio. As such it's as sleazy as the word with which it rhymes and should have no place in public discourse. Davidson's principal was right to send the message that that kind of language won't be tolerated under the auspices of his school.

Too few of our adminstrators are willing to fight against the debasement of society by our popular entertainment culture, and it's refreshing to find one that is.

Now, I wonder if Davidson's principal is doing anything about the growing eroticization of cheerleading at high school football games.

I know. I have to lighten up.

UPDATE: You can see video here.