In 49 BC the Senate in the Republic of Rome ordered Gaius Julius Caesar to not bring his army across the Rubicon River into the city of Rome. Caesar said, “Let the die be cast”; that is, I’ll take my chances. He did, Rome as a Republic collapsed into civil war and instead of a representative government the Roman people got a dictator. Five years later, on the Ides of March, Caesar was deposed by force.
The people who founded the United States of America came from a tradition of great fear of military power over civilians. In fact, in our Declaration of Independence one of the main complaints against King George III was that, “He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.”
This great fear of military control over the civilian populace of America was guarded against in our Constitution. Article I, section 8 endows Congress with the power and authority to declare war, and to raise armies and militias to suppress insurrections. Article II, section 2 establishes that the democratically elected President shall be in control of the armed forces as the Commander-in-Chief.
In his exhaustive and exhausting treatise, The Framer’s Coup, The Making of the United States Constitution, Professor Michael J. Klarman points out the vital importance to our Founders that “[I]n all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.” See p. 330.
We Americans profess pride in and support of our military as long as we are assured our military remembers its place. That system has worked pretty well and we are likely to maintain it in spite of political pressure being brought upon the generals to undermine their Commander-in-Chief. As I recall from my service days, I did not always recognize as wise what my military superiors thought was wisdom. Joseph Heller in his prescient novel, Catch-22, had a pretty firm grip on the banality of much of the military. On the hand, our politicians sometimes also fall a little short of a full deck. Still, at least we have the opportunity to have some say in who our civilian leaders will be and we can fire them.
Therefore, for me, I’ll chose to bob and weave with the occasional civilian loser versus a palace military coup. Back off oh ’ye purveyors of a Banana Republic. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow’s another day” and as Annie said, “Tomorrow is only a day away.” I can wait. Elections, yes, coups, no.
In his book Letters From The Earth, Mark Twain has Noah making an extra trip in the Ark so he could save the housefly that spreads typhoid fever. I could not find any reference to scorpions in the Book of Genesis nor in the account of the Great Flood that also appears in the Quran. However, Noah, or in Arabic, Nuh, must have heroically preserved the “creature with the burning sting” as I stepped on one in our cabin at JPeg Osage Ranch last night. If Satan had stepped on a scorpion with bare cloven hoof, I bet he would have sent a scathing letter to heaven from his temporary banishment on Earth. Perhaps then either St. Michael or St. Gabriel, the Devil’s correspondents, might have pointed out to the Creator that His creation of the scorpion was a bust.
The Latin name, scorpion, given to the eight-legged arachnid with the pinching front claws and the stinging tail aptly describes the menace that apparently has no value except to encourage one to wear shoes in the house. Except for me, scorpions have few natural enemies other than lizards and tarantulas; choose your poison.
What I want to know is whom did Mother Nature put in charge of species extinction and why hasn’t She extinguished scorpions? Scorpions have been around for 435 million years and, I humbly suggest, that is long enough. According to Google (who else are you going to rely on), extinctions are a normal part of evolution. They occur naturally, periodically and somewhat regularly. We Homo sapiens would not be here if millions of other species, dinosaurs for example, had not gone extinct before we came out of the primordial ooze two to three hundred thousand years ago after two to three million years of genetic iterations of hominids.
I submit it is fair to ask Mother Nature, “What were you thinking?” Much like the White-Tailed Hornet of poet laureate Robert Frost’s poem, it appears to me whoever designed the scorpion should have gone back to the drawing board, or better yet, file thirteened the whole thing. The white-tailed hornet (or scorpion) might be viewed romantically by nature lovers who assume infallibility or even lovability in all of nature’s creations. But Frost (1874-1963) watched in disillusionment as a white-tailed hornet in search of a fly to eat repeatedly attacked both the head of a nail and Frost’s nose. As Frost concludes about nature and life in general, once we begin to see the fallibility of the natural world “reflected in the mud and even dust” we can no longer convince ourselves we humans are only a little lower than the angels and are probably no higher than creepy crawlers on the floor.
The White-Tailed Hornet
The white-tailed hornet lives in a balloon (nest)
That floats against the ceiling of the woodshed
Verse could be written on the certainty
With which he penetrates my best defense
Of whirling hands and arms about the head
To stab me in the sneeze-nerve of a nostril
I watched him where he swooped, he pounced, he struck;
But what he found was just a nail head (not a fly).
Won’t this whole instinct matter bear revision?
To err is human, not to, animal.
Or so we pay the compliment to instinct.
’Twas disillusion upon disillusion.
In much the same manner as Frost’s hornet, did that scorpion on my cabin floor mistake me for either dinner or a possible mate? Why bother me at all? When it should have been gainfully employed in more reasonable pursuits it was not using any reason and we both suffered for its frailty.
The Greek astronomer Ptolemy identified the constellation Scorpius in the 2nd century A.D. Why didn’t Mother Nature take that as a clue to make scorpions extinct 2,000 years ago? Even Nancy Reagan with her reliance on astrology for advice to her husband on affairs of state might have used her influence to have “Scorpio” disappeared from our existence by bringing the power of the federal government to bear. After all, our federal government killed off generations of eagles and other more cuddly species than scorpions with DDT. Why did scorpions escape?
I am glad the bison somehow miraculously survived mankind’s slaughter but do wonder what if any reason exists to preserve the scorpion. I guess it comes down to “Only the good die young” and we humans have been around about 430 million fewer years than the scorpion. We will probably be gone long before scorpions pass.
On the other hand, perhaps I can convince Jeff Bezos and Amazon to help me market scorpions to the public as pets. Hey, entrepreneur Gary Dahl got rich back in the 1970’s by convincing people a rock could be a loving pet. Maybe a slogan such as “Get Your Zing Avoiding a Sting” could be catchy. Or maybe I could sell them as a great gift idea for misanthropic people or dry them out and make necklaces from them. I see all kinds of people sporting plastic human skulls on their belt buckles or as tattoos.
Of course, if I were able to get such an enterprise going the government would just regulate it out of existence or tax it to death. Well, at least I could get rid of some of the crunchy little crustaceans that way. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just need to wear my shoes and watch my step.
“Ill blows the wind that profits nobody.”
Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part III, Act II, scene v, ln. 55.
Category 4 Hurricane Ida has caused immense emotional and economic loss to the citizens of Louisiana and surrounding areas. The beautiful and historic city of New Orleans was hit hard. Numerous institutions such as Tulane University lost power and will need weeks or even months to recover. Many of Tulane’s students have been evacuated to Houston, Texas and the Tulane Green Wave football team that was scheduled to host the Oklahoma Sooners has graciously agreed to travel to Norman, Oklahoma for the first game of the season September 04, 2021. Perhaps there is opportunity to find “profit” from Mother Nature’s fury.
In 1943 the fiercest football rivalry in America was the annual Army-Navy game. The two service academies have produced such luminaries as Admirals Halsey and Nimitz plus Senator McCain and President Carter from the Naval Academy as well as Generals MacArthur and Bradley plus Presidents Grant and Eisenhower from West Point. As the saying goes, “At West Point, much of the history we teach was made by people we taught.” Our service academies, all of them, have been crucial to our country’s success but the vigorous competition between West Point and Annapolis in football is special.
So, it was truly inspiring when on November 28, 1943 Army cadets divided up and half cheered for Navy. President Roosevelt as Commander-in-Chief had declared certain WWII restrictions on the game so all the midshipmen from Navy were not allowed to travel to Michie Stadium at West Point. In the spirit of fair play half of the Corps of Cadets supported Navy. You can probably guess how the game turned out; Navy won. Well, no good deed goes unpunished. Regardless, O.U. and Tulane have a similar opportunity to show fellowship and sportsmanship.
I suggest the people of Oklahoma extend the hand of emotional support to the good folks from Louisiana and rename the Sooner Schooner the Ragin’ Cagin’ and serve gumbo and beignets instead of chili and mud pies. The O.U. band could easily ramp up their trombone section and pound out a few rousing choruses of “When the Saints Go Marching In” while the whole student body marches around the field at half-time. Now, one more thing. Unlike the ingrates from the Naval Academy in 1943 who beat our son Jim’s alma mater, I fully expect the genteel southern folks from Louisiana to have the good graces to LOSE!
p.s. I realize this column will probably not appear in the newspapers before the game is played. However, Peg put it out on our website (www.jamesmredwine.com) Tuesday, August 31st several days before it appears in the papers and several days before kickoff. As I am confident the countless faithful fans of Gavel Gamut include Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley and Tulane Coach Willie Fritz along with O.U. Athletic Director Joe Castiglione and Tulane’s Athletic Director Troy Dannen they should have ample time to incorporate my suggestions. Of course, free tickets and some etouffee for Peg and me would seem to be a proper lagniappe for our involvement.
The great Greek statesman and military leader Pericles (495 – 429 BC) said, “The best guardians of a society are leaders with the wisdom to recognize their duty and the virtue (courage) to do it.” Both elements are essential characteristics for our leaders. We may elect smart people who are not wise and good people who are not brave. But what we need are wise and virtuous leaders who fear loss of honor more than fear of losing elections.
Of course, our leaders are as human as we are. We all fall short of the ideal. It is not perfection we need from our politicians but the ability to recognize it when they have taken the wrong course and the character to modify their behavior in the face of great pressure to continue on a destructive path. If we apply these standards to America’s involvement in Afghanistan, we can see the virtue in our original reactions to the attacks of September 11, 2001. We were morally obligated to our fellow citizens who lost their lives to properly respond. Osama bin Laden was the Al-Qaeda leader who planned the 9-11 attacks. America needed to punish Bin Laden, which we did by assassinating him in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 02, 2011. Our course of action was morally just and our direct attack on Bin Laden was measured. It took us almost 10 years to bring him to justice but we should have and we did.
Once Bin Laden was eliminated our leaders from President Obama, President Trump and President Biden should have carefully and incrementally withdrawn our military presence while we protected the Afghanis and others who helped us. We can still engage in such a process. Any timeline, whether May 01, 2021 or September 11, 2021 or any anniversary of previous attacks or any other date is simply one we choose. We need to carefully and slowly withdraw our forces. Artificial drop-dead dates for our leaving encourage the Taliban to simply wait us out; which they are doing.
It will not be a popular decision of President Biden and our other leaders to reinstall enough troops to protect Americans and those allies of America who need to immigrate. However, popularity should not be our goal, virtue should be.
Abraham Lincoln said he chose to not be a master because he would not choose to be a slave. Life is better if we get to make the choices for ourselves. We may choose unwisely but we would rather be wrong than be told what we can do. Independence of thought is usually within our control but independence of actions, for some, may depend on the largesse of others. Should we lose our independence when we have lived free for years it would be difficult to adjust. Afghanistan comes to mind. Afghanistan? Hey, folks, these columns do not need to be logical, they only need to be in writing. But it is not only the independence of women in Afghanistan that is my current concern but the independence of my older sister in Missouri.
Jane is currently in a hospital bed waiting the results of an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test after her most recent fall. When we talked by phone this morning she spoke those dreaded words each of us may someday face, “This may be the end of my independent living.” Janie’s husband of more than fifty years passed away in 2012. She led a full life of public service before Bruce left her and has continued on her own until now. Janie has always been the go-to person for others to get things done. I fear an adjustment may now be required.
Janie grew up with three brothers. While our parents both worked outside our home, Janie used her good sense to keep our oldest brother on task and her two younger brothers from mayhem. Unfortunately, she moved out when she got married and left us to fend for ourselves. Now it may turn out she can no longer render assistance to others and may need help herself. I question whether such a paradigm shift will be a positive development. On the other hand, Janie has always done for herself as she did for others, or in her brothers’ cases, to others, so she may very well be back in charge of her life soon.
But let’s return to Afghanistan. When our soldier son spent a short portion of his Iraq war-time service in Afghanistan he became convinced the Afghan people held several loyalties higher than that to the country of Afghanistan. Jim concluded the Afghan men he met, he had no contact with women, were loyal first to their families, next to their particular tribe of which there are many, then to their religion and finally to what Americans call the nation of Afghanistan.
America has done for nation building in Afghanistan about what we did from 1492 until modern times “for” Native Americans. We must be slow learners. On the other hand, the Crusaders also sought to impose their religion on the Middle East. We may see ourselves in the faces of the male Taliban “infidels”.
I was raised by an independent mother and an independent sister. My wife, Peg, fits right in with them. When cable news shows Afghan females being returned to the times before our American invasion, I cannot but think of how I would feel if in their place. President Lincoln said it and I believe it. Of course, I also believe others should have the right to practice or not practice religion as they choose. So, I suppose I will continue to resent the TV images as I hope for Janie to be able to continue her independence and for Afghan females to find the same rights.
Joseph Stalin (USSR), Winston Churchill (Great Britain) and Harry Truman (United States) met in Potsdam, Germany from July 17 to August 02, 1945 to “establish the post WWII order”. In 1945 the earth had 74 recognized countries. Some of the other 71 countries felt they should have been invited to the conference and have exhibited their displeasure from time to time since 1945.
When I turn on cable TV I sense that the heads of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC may have had their own Potsdam Conference and divided up the world’s news cycles. While it may appear to us viewers the news networks are competing, I suspect each is happy in its own sphere of influence. CNN regurgitates their favorite kicking boy Donald Trump whenever it wants to change the subject. For example, when they wish to ignore the question of whether Andrew Cuomo should lose his one-time COVID-19 sainthood. MSNBC has Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski vilify the conservatives in Congress whenever their ratings sag, which is often. And Fox News revels in finding stories of liberal policies run amok.
But I suspect the umbrage each cable news anchor evidences is more act than actuality. They all appear pretty well situated in their own tunnel vision. The problem for the rest of us is there are actual problems that need to be addressed other than whether some celebrity has fallen from their pedestal. We need news! What we don’t need are mere opinions in search of agendas.
I have a modest suggestion. I recommend every cable news executive and anchor read a book. I know it is a lot to ask but instead of just talking heads we need heads with something in them. This was apparently what my best friend, Dr. Walter Jordan of Martinsville, Indiana, thought about me. He sent me a book for my birthday entitled Think Again. He has known me long enough to know I need the advice.
Adam Grant’s book suggests we all could be happier and more productive if we would approach life actively open-minded and instead of always searching for reasons we must be right search for reasons we might be wrong. Grant is an organizational psychology professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a smart guy but his book is still actually useful and fun to read.
Grant posits that we have two general biases that impact our inability to see the fallacies in our extreme positions, such as, should we get a COVID vaccination or not? One is confirmation bias where we see or hear what we expect to see and hear. The other is desirability bias where we see and hear what we want to. Grant suggests we need to be more scientific in our approach to life and instead of analyzing issues by starting with what we want and expect, that is, starting with a set answer, we should lead with questions and look for all the evidence.
Of course, my particular experience as a judge leads me to believe that gathering all the relevant evidence on a topic before one reaches a conclusion is the best approach. First glean the facts, then decide. But I certainly have fallen short of this goal from time to time. What I find dangerous about cable news attempts to set our society’s agendas is that the cable news networks seem to have it as their talisman that their desired outcomes are the facts. They can and should do better and so must we.