Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd is gone

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia died on Monday, at the age of 92. I'll leave the obituaries to more capable hands, but I have one particularly powerful memory of Byrd I'd like to relate.

In early October of 2002, the Senate debated - and ultimately passed -  what became known as the Iraq War resolution. This pre-dated my blog, but I wrote about it on an earlier incarnation of my web site:

I headed up I-95 toward Pete's house in Casco, Maine on Friday afternoon, October 4th. The weather forecast had been changing all week, going from fair to bad to fair; on Thursday night we decided to just go for it, and hope the weather gods would take pity on us. I drove north through grey skies and occasional drizzle, which matched my rather somber mood. The Senate had taken up Bush's request for a free hand with Iraq. The debate between Senators Robert Byrd and John Warner was a rare display of passionate, yet civil debate. Byrd said at one point:
  The Framers were very wise when they determined that these two
  matters--the decision to go to war and the making of war--should
  be in two different places. The decision, the determination to
  declare war, should flow from this branch, the people's branch,
  and the matter of making war should be in the hands of a unified
  commander, the Commander in Chief.

  What are we doing? In my view, if we accept this resolution as it
  is written, we are saying both of these vital functions would be 
  placed in the hands of one man. And what did Madison say? He 
  said: The trust and the temptation are too great for any one man.

Pretty heady stuff, considering the usual tone of Washington politics.
You can find the full text of the debate on Thomas, the the official home of the Congressional Record. It's a little tricky to link to a specific page on Thomas, but if you follow this link and then find the link to page S9955, you'll be able to find it. The transcript is well worth reading.

Byrd was one of only 23 senators who ultimately voted against the war. Among those who voted for the authorization to go to war:

  • John Kerry
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Harry Reid
  • Christopher Dodd
  • Dianne Feinstein
  • Charles Schumer
Imagine how different the world would be if Byrd's eloquence had won over more of his colleagues.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Links of the day

Weekends are, for me, highly variable in their effectiveness in unplugging me from the pressures of the work week. This weekend, though, is turning out nicely. Yesterday was a "getting things done" day - bill paying, grocery shopping, laundry, all that stuff I either can't or won't do on weekday evenings. Today is a "recharge" day. It opened with a few hours of reading (the New Yorker, the Sunday New York Times, the comics), followed by food prep for this evening and the upcoming week while listening to the radio.

From the The New Yorker came A Man of Letters, a fascinating look at the neurology of reading and writing. In the summer of 2001, the novelist Howard Engel suffered a stroke that destroyed his ability to read - but left him otherwise essentially unimpaired. Curiously, his ability to write was not affected - though he was incapable of reading what he had just written! 

Then, as I puttered around the kitchen cooking, I listened to Speaking of Faith. SoF is variable in quality, but this week it's outstanding. Krista Tippets' guest is physicist and professor Arthur Zajonc, and the explore the relationship between science and meditation. Zajonc points to meditation as a powerful tool for focussing attention - a crucual skill for a scientist. He also muses about the increasingly large gap between the complexity and inner working of everyday objects (such as cell phones and computers) and the understanding most people of them.

Checking out the web page for the broadcast too me to this great little (3 minute) TEDtalk about our increasing online availability, and its effect on our face-to-face relationships.