Pundit Wire

The news summer from hell and the end of optimism

globe By this point in the summer, a sane person could reasonably conclude that the world is going nuts.  Spiraling out of control, descending into darkness, making optimism a delusional last recourse – that kind of feeling.

“What fresh hell is this?” – the question Dorothy Parker asked when her doorbell rang – now applies to the news.  If you’re staying informed, you’re licking the razor.  Unfortunately, not following what’s happening in the world isn’t really an option.  These horrors seize our lizard brains; we’re hard-wired to pay attention to danger.

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Thought’s Colors

college hill There we go, forty years almost to the day, when I registered in a seminar with John Hawkes in Providence.  The New York Times of August 24 cites these seminars somewhat playfully in its book review section.

Then as now, “creative writing” seemed an indulgence when it tried to be an academic discipline, something for the leisured classes.  The difference in 1974 was that, with a bit of academic aid, it came for free if you were willing to drive a taxi to make ends meet.  I did.  Financial persecution of students today makes this unimaginable.

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Remembering Todman

todman The August 17 Washington Post carries a fine obit on Terence A. Todman, deceased August 13. No quibbles with Emily Langer’s synthesis of this remarkable man, my first boss in 1986 in the Foreign Service.  Just a few footnotes to add:

I was Ambassador Todman’s press officer the day he gave his fateful news conference in Copenhagen, denying that his future posting would be South Africa…

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Save Elves Chasm!

Elves Chasm Last Sunday, as I was reading the New York Times, I came across an opinion piece by writer Kevin Fedarko called, “A Cathedral Under Siege.” It was about two proposed developments that threaten the integrity and the beauty of America’s Grand Canyon.

One of these developments is the erection of 2,200 homes and an accompanying three million square feet of shops, hotels and other tourist attractions on the South Rim plateau, less than two miles from the park’s entrance. This development, which has been approved by the local community of Tusayan, will tap into the aquifer that feeds many of the springs deep inside the canyon.

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Who will govern England if the Scots split?

Parliament All kinds of questions are being asked about what will happen if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom on September 18. How will the national debt and the North Sea oil and gas reserves be divided? What about fishing rights? Will Scotland be allowed to keep the pound? Where will the Royal Navy base its nuclear submarines, since they are not welcome in Scotland? What will the remainder of the United Kingdom do for a flag if the white cross of St. Andrew on a blue field is ripped from the Union Jack?

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War, Liberalism, Trust in Government: The Many Casualties of LBJ’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Johnson Fifty years ago, on August 10, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed what is known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It is a day that should live in infamy.

On that day, the President gave himself the power “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed forces,” to fight the spread of communism in Southeast Asia and assist our ally in South Vietnam “in defense of its freedom.”

Or as former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it decades later, it gave “complete authority to the president to take the nation to war.”

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Turning 50: The tragedy of Tonkin Gulf

Tonkin Gulf They came in from the west: three North Vietnamese patrol boats, halting five miles from the USS Maddox. The Maddox fired first. One Vietnamese boat launched a torpedo. Then the boats raced away, strafed by U.S. jets. One boat sank.

So, at least on the first day there was a battle. A few nights later President Lyndon Johnson was on TV, describing two attacks, reassuring Americans we “seek no wider war,” and asking Congress for the power to take “all necessary measures” against “open aggression on the high seas against the United States of America.” A year later, we had almost 200,000 troops in Vietnam.

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If Norman Lear at 92 is what 92 is, I’ll have what he’s having

Norman Lear It is not widely known that Norman Lear and I have the same mother.

Norman once called his mother in Bridgeport, Conn., and said, “Mother, I just got this call. The Television Academy is forming a Hall of Fame. And the first inductees are going to be General Sarnoff and Edward R. Murrow and William Paley and Milton Berle and Paddy Chayefsky and Lucille Ball — and me.”

There was about a two-second beat, and she said, “Listen, if that’s what they want to do, who am I to say?”

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