Victory in Afghanistan

Sen. Rand Paul writes:

A military parade in the nation’s capital? The last military parade in Washington was in 1991, after our victory in the first Iraq War.

Though the martial image of high-stepping soldiers is not one I tend to associate with our nation’s Founders’ distrust of a standing Army, I’m not against a victory celebration. So I propose we declare victory in Afghanistan, bring home our 14,000 troops and hold a victory parade.

We defeated the enemy in Afghanistan. We killed or captured the terrorists who planned, plotted, or aided in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. We killed the ringleader, Usama bin Laden. We disrupted the terrorists’ camps where they plotted and trained. We dislodged the Taliban government that aided and abetted bin Laden.

We just don’t know how to appreciate a good thing. A big part of our foreign policy failures is not knowing when and how to declare victory. So, why not a parade? Bring the troops home and declare the victory that should have been declared years ago.

The only reason victory is elusive in Afghanistan is that presidents continue to have an impossible definition of victory. If victory is creating a nation where no real nation has ever existed, then no victory will ever occur.

If victory requires the disparate tribes and regional factions of Afghanistan to have more allegiance to a regime in Kabul than to their local tribal leaders, then victory will never come.

We spend about $50 billion a year in Afghanistan. When quizzed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently, undersecretaries of Defense and State could not answer the most rudimentary of questions concerning the war.

How many Taliban fighters do we face? Blank faces for an answer. What percentage of the Taliban are unrepentant terrorists unwilling to negotiate? Blank faces again.

The Taliban now control a significant amount of Afghanistan’s real estate. Are the Taliban open to negotiating, considering that they appear to be winning? Blank faces again, but with perhaps a touch of remorse, knowing that there really is no possible military solution in Afghanistan.

The neocons are unaccustomed to nuance in victory. They seem to have learned some lesson about unconditional and total surrender when America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II with the surrender of Japan, and they seem unwilling or unable to accept any other form of victory.

So, by all means, a parade – yes! As long as it is a victory parade heralding an end to America’s longest war.

No one will pay Sen. Paul any mind on this, and more likely than not, the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) will be used by a future president to launch new war efforts in new territories so distant in the future that every member of Congress who voted for the AUMF is retired or dead, along with, perhaps, the president who signed it.

If Democrats are as concerned about “our democracy” (in that very specific political phrase I’ve seen in practically every one of their talking points for the past year) they could start by distinguishing themselves from a Republican Party that has become complacent about war without end, and declare themselves the party of victory and the party of returning our troops to peacetime strength.

When war is necessary, authorize it. When victory is achieved, declare it.

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Returning to space

Elon Musk did incredible things yesterday with the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the launching of a Tesla Roadster into space, those captivating photos of “Spaceman” behind the wheel of that cherry red car with the entirety of Earth in view, and the successful landing of two of three boosters.

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The massive, three-booster rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida as planned on Tuesday at 1:30 PM EST, lifting off from Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A.

This is a historic moment for SpaceX, since it has been aiming to build and launch the large capacity rocket since 2011. Initially, the planned schedule had targeted 2013 as a launch window, but various delays and setbacks pushed down its inaugural flight – until today. Musk has previously described SpaceX’s early views on how hard it would be to build this rocket as “naive,” to account in part for the considerable departure from that early timetable. …

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The Kennedy launch complex used for this mission, which SpaceX has leased from NASA, is as historic as its latest resident – it was previously used for both the Apollo program and the Space Shuttle before being taken over and reconfigured for Falcon Heavy by SpaceX.

What’s next? The BFR; Big Falcon Rocket: “Musk said that BFR might be ready for ‘short hopper flights with the spaceship part’ of the rocket by maybe next year. These will essentially be flights of ‘increasing complexity,’ with the intent being to go out of Earth’s atmosphere and then ‘come back in hot to test the heat shield,’ because BFR’s primary purpose will require it to survive planetary entry, on Earth, Mars and beyond.”

We’re returning to space.

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An intangible dignity

Pope Francis speaking recently on human dignity:

Giving hope to mankind is a service the Church can offer to battle the growing trend towards accepting euthanasia, Pope Francis said on Friday. …

Francis said the process of secularization, “by rendering absolute the concepts of self-determination and autonomy,” has caused a growing demand for euthanasia in many countries “as an ideological affirmation of man’s will to power over life.”
He said this has even led to people considering the option of euthanasia as a “civilized” choice, adding this is due to life being valued only for its “efficiency and productivity,” as opposed for its inherent dignity.

“In this scenario it must be reiterated that human life, from conception to its natural end, has a dignity that makes it intangible,” Francis said.

“Pain, suffering, the meaning of life and death are realities that contemporary mentality struggles to face with a look full of hope,” the pope continued. “And yet, without a trustworthy hope to help him confront pain and death, man cannot live well and maintain a confident perspective before his future. This is one of the services that the Church is called to make to the contemporary man.” …

“Authentic pastors are those who do not abandon man to himself, nor leave him in the grip of his disorientation and his errors, but with truth and mercy bring him back to find his true face in goodness,” Francis said. …

“All these tasks are even more current when faced with the horizon, ever more fluid and changeable, which characterizes the self-understanding of the man of today and which has a significant influence on his existential and ethical choices. The man of today no longer knows who he is and, therefore, struggles to recognize how to act well,” the pope said. …

Francis has constantly spoken against legalized euthanasia, and last November said it was “always wrong” when speaking to the World Medical Association, and in 2016 said doctors should not “hide behind alleged compassion to justify killing a patient.”

Even the terminally ill, and even those suffering pain, can be cared for and have their pain treated and minimized as part of life-affirming medical care. It is simply a distortion of medicine to either hasten impending death or, worse, to bring about death for patients not actively dying, and to describe those actions as treatment.

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‘Keep yourself aggressive’

Doug Pederson’s Super Bowl-winning approach to coaching:

Doug Pederson never stopped being aggressive this season — not after Carson Wentz went down and not when the Super Bowl was on the line with Nick Foles under center.

Pederson’s play calling all season was deemed “unorthodox” by many, but after the Super Bowl there’s a better word for it: Ballsy.

Pederson made those calls all season long, throwing deep on running downs and running on third and long with great success. He threw a flea flicker in the playoffs against the best defense in football and it worked! He didn’t back down in the Super Bowl even though he was across the field from the greatest defensive mind of this generation in Bill Belichick.

Pederson outcoached the best coach in the history of the game, and it was never more obvious than on two fourth down plays that won the Eagles the team’s first championship in 57 years.

Pederson loves going for it on fourth down, something he’s done quite often since taking over before last season. In two years the Eagles opted to go for it on fourth down 53 times in the regular season, converting 13 in 2016 and 17 this season. Last year, only Jacksonville went for it on fourth down more than the Eagles, but no team had more conversions than the Birds. This season, only the Packers went for it more times than Philly, and no team converted more.

The Eagles opponents this season were just 4-for-18 in the regular season on fourth down, and just 2-for-6 in the playoffs. The Eagles were a perfect 3-for-3 in the playoffs on fourth down.

But it’s how the Eagles converted their fourth down attempts in the Super Bowl — and when Pederson opted to roll the dice on fourth down — that was the key to Sunday’s victory. …

Foles became the first quarterback to throw and catch a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and Pederson became a play-calling legend. …

“You really want to know what we call it,” Pederson said after the game. “Philly Special.”

“You know, I trust my players,” he added. “I trust the coaches. I trust my instincts. I trust everything that I’m doing and I want to maintain that aggressiveness with the guys. In games like this against a great opponent, you’ve got to make those tough decisions that way and keep yourself aggressive.”

Besides Foles becoming the first quarterback to catch a pass in the Super Bowl, another incredible thing about last night’s game? I think there was only a single punt in the entire game.

I saw someone share this image on Twitter last night. It’s great:

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Super Bowl LII

The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions.

What a sentence that is to write, and to read after just having written. What a game that was to watch against the New England Patriots. It’s the first Super Bowl I can ever remember where I watched every quarter without losing any interest. It only kept getting more intense, particularly in those last ten and final five minutes. Yet Nick Foles and the Eagles came out on top, never failing to respond to Tom Brady’s 600+ yards of offense. But Tom Brady ran out of time, and the Eagles entered the history books with their first championship in 57 years. Doug Pederson’s coaching was bold, confident, and at times incredible. I don’t remember watching an Eagles team play like this before.

As I’m reading through reaction on Twitter, someone shared the photo below of the incredible multitude of Philadelphians who have flooded South Broad Street to celebrate together:

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Early in the game, Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels cut to a shot of a 99-year old Philadelphia Eagles fan in US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. I didn’t catch the man’s name, if they shared it. I’m thinking of that 99-year old man right now, who’s been attending Eagles games since 1933 after the Frankford Yellow Jackets dissolved and the Eagles were born, and I’m imagining what a smile that old man must have on his face tonight.

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Prison tablets

New York State prisoners will now receive tablets:

Under a new state contract, all inmates in New York State prisons will receive free tablets.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is partnering with JPay, a company that specializes in inmate and corrections-related services. JPay is providing the tablets at no cost to the state or inmates, and DOCCS is not taking commissions for the tablets.

The tablets will be preloaded with educational content and DOCCS plans to make additional services available through the tablets, such as Prison Rape Elimination Act reporting, Grievance filing, and the potential for placing commissary orders.

According to DOCCS, JPay will get money from transactions that happen via the tablets (ebooks, music, videos). The tablets are only part of a larger contract with JPay who are also handling commissary and care packages sent from families to inmates.

The tablets will not be able to connect to the internet, but inmates will be able to use the tablets to purchase music, e-books, videos, and other entertainment. There will also be controlled kiosks where inmates can plug their tablet in to send emails to an approved list of recipients. Inmates will only have supervised access to the kiosks at scheduled times.

State corrections officials say they believe using the tablets will help inmates stay in touch with their families and be better prepared to reenter into the community.

The tablets have sparked debate since the program was announced. Many are critical of the program, but some say it can give inmates an opportunity to better adapt when they get out of prison.

Our policies aren’t just impacting those serving time, they’re impacting our whole culture. This change is a humane one. There’s no doubt that inmates will better adapt when they get out of prison if they have regular access to reading, entertainment, and communications while in prison. I’m thinking simply of the ability to write letters in one’s personal time, and then send those when connected to the internet at their permitted times. Just that alone seems worth this entire program, rather than forcing people to write out handwritten notes on loose leaf sheets.

It’s inconceivable that anyone could seriously be critical of this program, unless your sense is that American prisons should be more punitive than they already are.

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Capitol building and rebuilding

Last week I read David McCullough’s “The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For”, which is a great collection of his speeches. Here’s McCullough in the chapter “A Building Like No Other”, speaking in 2016 to the U.S. Capitol Historical Society in Washington, D.C.:

Two all-important lessons of history stand clearly expressed in this our national Capitol. The first is that little of consequence is ever accomplished alone. High achievement is nearly always a joint effort, as has been shown again and again in these halls when the leaders of different parties, representatives from differing constituencies and differing points of view, have been able, for the good of the country, to put those differences aside and work together. …

The second lesson to be found here is that history is about far more than politics and war only. So much that is most expressive of American life and aspirations and contributions to the human spirit is to be found in the arts—in architecture, paintings, sculpture, and engineering genius. We Americans are builders at heart and in what we build we often show ourselves at our best. You have only to look around at so much to be seen in this great building.

In view of the current political climate, let me point out, too, how much of what we see throughout the building was the work of immigrants. William Thornton, a physician who won a design competition for the Capitol in 1792, was a native of Tortola in the British West Indies. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the first professional architect to take charge of the design of the building, including this hall, was born and educated in England. James Hoban, the architect who restored the White House after it was burned by the British during the War of 1812, and who also worked on the Capitol, was from Ireland. And Collen Williamson, the stone mason who oversaw the laying of the foundation of the Capitol, was a Scot.

Then there was amazing Constantino Brumidi, the artist whose vibrant frescoes fill the uppermost reaches of the great Rotunda under the Capitol dome and whose decorative genius brightens the corridors and hallways of the Senate wing in such a manner as rarely to be seen. A tiny figure who stood only five feet five inches tall, he was exuberant in spirit and produced work here of such monumental scale as had never been seen in our country.

There was also Carlo Franzoni, the sculptor who did the statue of Clio, the muse of history, over there, above the main door keeping note of the history taking place here.

Brumidi and Franzoni, as you might imagine, were both from Italy, as were any number of workers, skilled masons, and stonecutters.

It might also be added that our capital city, Washington, was itself the design of an immigrant, the French engineer Pierre L’Enfant, and that the two finest, most famous movies ever made about Congress, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Advise and Consent, were directed by immigrants, Frank Capra and Otto Preminger, respectively.

And yes, there were the African American slaves who did much of the work on the Capitol—how many in all will never be known, but play a large part they did. Notable evidence of their labors are the pillars that stand all about us here. “Hired out” by their owners, they cut the marble in the quarries.

Building and rebuilding the Capitol took more time and labor and patience than many might imagine.

Things went wrong. There were angry differences of opinion over matters of all kinds. There were accidents, numerous injuries, and one dramatic, narrow escape.

At work one day on his frescoes in the upper reaches of the great dome, Brumidi slipped from his scaffold and only just managed to catch hold of a rung of the ladder and for fifteen minutes hung for dear life with both hands some fifty-five feet above the marble floor until a Capitol policeman happened to glance up and rushed to the rescue. Brumidi by then was seventy-two and had been at work in the Capitol for twenty-six years.

The great dome famously took form through the Civil War and remains as intended the colossal commanding focal point of our capital city. It is primarily the work of two exceptional Americans, architect Thomas U. Walter and structural engineer Montgomery C. Meigs, each a story. Walter started out as a bricklayer. Meigs, a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers, was all of thirty-six when he took on one of the most challenging engineering assignments ever and created what stands as a masterpiece of nineteenth-century engineering with inner and outer cast-iron shells weighing nearly nine million pounds.

A great lover of the arts and an artist himself, Meigs also had much to do with the art that was to fill the building—including the part played by Brumidi and the choice of the American sculptor Thomas Crawford to create the nineteen-and-a-half-foot-high Statue of Freedom that would stand atop the dome.

Completed in 1868, the gleaming dome remains the focal point of our capital city and though there have been modifications and additions to the building in the years since, it remains essentially as it was then, a symbol of freedom, the structure bespeaking more than any other our history, our American journey, evoking and encouraging powerfully pride in our system and, yes, patriotism.

And now we are in the midst of another election season, which like so many before will determine much to follow—more than we can possibly know.

Over there above the door, on the side of Clio’s chariot, is the work of the Massachusetts clockmaker Simon Willard. It has been doing its job a long time, since 1837, one hundred and seventy-nine years ago. It ticks on, still keeping perfect time.

My feeling is Clio, too, is attending to her role now no less than ever, taking note of the history we are and will be making.

On we go.

What incredible vignettes from our Capitol’s creation. I’ll never be able to see the Capitol dome again without thinking of 72-year old Brumidi, hanging for fifteen minutes from the rafters above the marble floor. To speak with him after his rescue, and to learn what sort of things a person thinks about in that situation.

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Saint Francis, the realist

I’m reading G.K. Chesteron’s “Saint Francis of Assisi”, and this section on Saint Francis’s love of nature is conveyed in a sort of fullness:

Saint Francis was not a lover of nature. Properly understood, a lover of nature was precisely what he was not. The phrase implies accepting the material universe as a vague environment, a sort of sentimental pantheism. In the romantic period of literature, in the age of Byron and Scott, it was easy enough to imagine that a hermit in the ruins of a chapel (preferably by moonlight) might find peace and a mild pleasure in the harmony of solemn forests and silent stars, while he pondered over some scroll or illuminated volume, about the liturgical nature of which the author was a little vague. In short, the hermit might love nature as a background. Now for Saint Francis nothing was ever in the background. We might say that his mind had no background, except perhaps that divine darkness out of which the divine love had called up every coloured creature one by one. He saw everything as dramatic, distinct from its setting, not all of a piece like a picture but in action like a play. A bird went by him like an arrow; something with a story and a purpose, though it was a purpose of life and not a purpose of death. A bush could stop him like a brigand; and indeed he was as ready to welcome the brigand as the bush.

In a word, we talk about a man who cannot see the wood for the trees. Saint Francis was a man who did not want to see the wood for the trees. He wanted to see each tree as a separate and almost a sacred thing, being a child of God and therefore a brother or sister of man. But he did not want to stand against a piece of stage scenery used merely as a background, and inscribed in a general fashion: “Scene; a wood.” In this sense we might say that he was too dramatic for the drama. The scenery would have come to life in his comedies; the walls would really have spoken like Snout the Tinker and the trees would really have come walking to Dunsinane. Everything would have been in the foreground; and in that sense in the footlights. Everything would be in every sense a character. This is the quality in which, as a poet, he is the very opposite of a pantheist. He did not call nature his mother; he called a particular donkey his brother or a particular sparrow his sister. If he had called a pelican his aunt or an elephant his uncle as he might possibly have done, he would still have meant that they were particular creatures assigned by their Creator to particular places; not mere expressions of the evolutionary energy of things.

That is where his mysticism is so close to the common sense of the child. A child has no difficulty about understanding that God made the dog and the cat; though he is well aware that the making of dogs and cats out of nothing is a mysterious process beyond his own imagination. But no child would understand what you meant if you mixed up the dog and the cat and everything else into one monster with myriad legs and called it nature. The child would resolutely refuse to make head or tail of any such animal. Saint Francis was a mystic, but he believed in mysticism and not in mystification. As a mystic he was the mortal enemy of all those mystics who melt away the edges of things and dissolve an entity into its environment. He was a mystic of the daylight and the darkness; but not a mystic of the twilight. He was the very contrary of that sort of oriental visionary who is only a mystic because he is too much of a sceptic to be a materialist. Saint Francis was emphatically a realist…

“Saint Francis was a man who did not want to see the wood for the trees. He wanted to see each tree as a separate and almost a sacred thing, being a child of God and therefore a brother or sister of man.”

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