In a time of war
Why I read people I'm pretty sure I won't agree with, and saying goodbye to one of them. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
There are some political and current events writers that I read all the time despite the fact that I often wind up disagreeing with them, sometimes to the point that I can feel my blood pressure rise.
I don't know if it's the healthiest habit, but it's what I do. The writers have come and gone over the years, and they surely don't all agree with each other. Sometimes they get relegated and replaced by other, newer writers, as if they were all competing in a very small soccer league for my attention.
Sometimes, too often it seems, they die young: Elizabeth Wurtzel (cancer, 52) Michael Hastings (car accident, 33) for example, and Michael Kelly (killed while covering the invasion of Iraq, 46).
Oh, and David Carr (cancer, 58), who as it happens, wrote the first report of Kelly’s death in the New York Times. Come to think of it, I used to agree with Carr more often than not, so maybe he doesn't quite fit the pattern, but he deserves to be remembered.
Added to the list this week, may he rest in peace, is Michael Gerson, who died from complications due to cancer at age 58.
Gerson was a Washington Post columnist and right-wing think tank guy, whose name was known to the world mostly because he'd been President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter.
Much like Kelly, above, he was a vehement supporter of the invasion of Iraq, and he's credited with having come up with the phrase, "axis of evil," which Bush invoked to justify his related/unrelated (you decide) policies against Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
Among the speeches Gerson wrote was Bush's commencement address at West Point on June 1, 2002, when Bush laid out the "preemption doctrine" which said the United States would strike first against threats before waiting for them to become fully mature.
Bob Woodward wrote about it in his book Plan of Attack:
Gerson did not usually attend the president’s speeches, preferring to watch them on television from home. Their true impact was to be measured there, the way most people heard and saw them.
But Gerson believed this was the most important speech he had ever worked on, and he wanted to be there.
In truth, I hardly noticed at the time. However, besides ultimately getting my life disrupted by being called up as a reservist for almost two years, this speech had a big indirect effect on me a few years later, in that it inspired both the subject and the title of my 2008 book about West Point, In a Time of War.
Basically, if you go back and read the Gerson speech now, Bush all but declares war on Iraq, and he does so while speaking to the brand-new lieutenants who will be doing the invading, and their families. Bush also includes these Gerson-written lines:
“History has also issued its call to your generation. In your last year, America was attacked by a ruthless and resourceful enemy. You graduate from this Academy in a time of war, taking your place in an American military that is powerful and is honorable. Our war on terror is only begun ... (Applause.)”
It was as a Post columnist that Gerson really fell into my "OMG can you believe what this guy wrote but hold on a minute I haven't finished reading him yet" stable of writers.
I think there's real value in reading and exposing yourself to people you disagree with, especially when they write well—and especially when they let you see their struggles and flaws. Gerson did this, for example, when he talked about the depression he battled and then the cancer he learned he had.
Sometimes, it’s “to see what the other sides believe;” sometimes it’s just to find the nuggets of humanity we all have in common.
There's no good place to end this, so I'll give Gerson the last words. This is from his 2013 column in which he reflected on the time he had left—which turned out to be just under nine years:
When the days seem limited, we more fully inhabit them. The arrow of time makes decay inevitable—and each moment unrecoverable. So we gain in appreciation for things as they are when we realize they will eventually be otherwise.
I’m sorry to report these effects are temporary. Perhaps they fade when you stop taking the Percocet. But I don’t think the impressions are illusions. The healthy (rather than morbid) recognition of our mortality is realism.
Cancer is a horror, but it is also a metaphor. Each of us is conceived with a seed of mortality that can’t be surgically removed. It grows until it kills us, hopefully after a long life that honors the incredible, temporary privilege of living.
7 other things worth knowing today
Before he took charge of the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX last week, John Jay Ray III helped manage the aftermath of some of the largest corporate failures in history, including the implosion of Enron in 2001. But the corporate dysfunction at FTX, he said in a blistering court filing on Thursday, is the worst he has ever seen: “From compromised systems integrity and faulty regulatory oversight abroad, to the concentration of control in the hands of a very small group of inexperienced, unsophisticated and potentially compromised individuals, this situation is unprecedented.” (NYT)
Starbucks workers at more than 100 U.S. stores went on strike Thursday in their largest labor action since a campaign to unionize the company’s stores began late last year. The walkouts coincide with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when the company gives free reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink. Workers say it’s often one of the busiest days of the year. Starbucks declined to say how many red cups it plans to distribute. (AP)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette strikers in Pennsylvania are planning a protest outside the wedding reception of the newspaper’s owner amid an ongoing strike against allegedly unfair labor practices under his leadership. John Block, the owner of print and broadcast media company Block Communications Inc., is planning to celebrate his wedding on Saturday at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh but could face a sea of strikers after union members began pushing for a “crowd” to gather outside his nuptials after-party. (The Hill)
A bill in the Texas legislature would effectively count a fetus as a second passenger, allowing pregnant women to drive in HOV lanes if nobody else is in the car. (Daily Beast)
The World Cup starts Sunday. Here's the schedule, starting with the 64 group games. Also, here’s why some soccer fans say as much as they love the game, they won’t watch a tournament hosted in Qatar. (Sports Illustrated, The Guardian)
The folks behind the Cambridge Dictionary say people looked up the word
”homer” on their website 79,000 times during 2022, including 65,401 times on May 5. Why? That’s the day that the American slang word was the solution to the online game Wordle, and it’s why “homer” (meaning, a “home run” in American baseball), is now the word of the year on the UK dictionary’s list. (CNN)
Added solely for cuteness factor, as the rest of this was kind of heavy. Have a great weekend! (Twitter)