“Hi! I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.”

Art Buchwald

I remember reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when I was in grade school and high school. After returning from delivering the paper in the morning, I’d sit down at the dining room table with a bowl of cereal and read Art. He was incredible. He took me through the Nixon years, the Ford years. He explained national and world events more clearly than the front page ever did. The world is insane, and that’s all there is to it. Art was just stating the obvious, while the rest of the reporters played, “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” and took the world all too seriously.

“I never made the Enemies list, and it’s my biggest hurt to this day,” he said in his online obituary with the New York Times. Incredible. He credits Richard Nixon with making him rich. “I am not a crook made me rich,” he said.

He introduced me to satire, and I was captivated.

Somewhere in college I got too serious. I lost touch with Art. I “grew up” and tried to understand it all. I studied philosophy and flirted with the idea of becoming a Catholic priest. I wrote a very serious Master’s thesis on the Psalms of Lamentation. I left the seminary and started teaching. Theology.

And I started laughing again.

But I never caught up with Art, again. We had lost touch. Chicago papers don’t carry Art. They’re too serious. They’re obsessed with bad politicians and Silver Shovels and roped off elevators. And I never even bothered to look him up online. Turns out he was still at it:

Zeroing In on a Trillion (By Art Buchwald, January 2, 2007, Page C02)

So Many Cards, So Little Thought (By Art Buchwald, December 28, 2006, Page C08)

I’ll miss my old friend. He helped shape who I am like no teacher ever did. He first taught me to laugh at this crazy world. He made me feel good in spite of it all. The Professor of Satire is gone.

Lamentation?! Save me, Art!

He wrote this column for The Washington Post, with the intention that it be published after his death. He closed it thus:

I know it’s very egocentric to believe that someone is put on Earth for a reason. In my case, I like to think I was. And after this column appears in the paper following my passing, I would like to think it will either wind up on a cereal box top or be repeated every Thanksgiving Day.

So, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” is my way of saying goodbye.

Farewell, my friend.

The Real Cost of War

In an article by New York Times reporter David Leonhardt, we learn the true cost of the war in Iraq. This analysis puts the real cost of the war at $300 BILLION a day.

In the days before the war almost five years ago, the Pentagon estimated that it would cost about $50 billion. Democratic staff members in Congress largely agreed. Lawrence Lindsey, a White House economic adviser, was a bit more realistic, predicting that the cost could go as high as $200 billion, but President Bush fired him in part for saying so.

These estimates probably would have turned out to be too optimistic even if the war had gone well. Throughout history, people have typically underestimated the cost of war, as William Nordhaus, a Yale economist, has pointed out.

But the deteriorating situation in Iraq has caused the initial predictions to be off the mark by a scale that is difficult to fathom. The operation itself — the helicopters, the tanks, the fuel needed to run them, the combat pay for enlisted troops, the salaries of reservists and contractors, the rebuilding of Iraq — is costing more than $300 million a day, estimates Scott Wallsten, an economist in Washington.

The analysis from there only gets more troubling:

The war has also guaranteed some big future expenses. Replacing the hardware used in Iraq and otherwise getting the United States military back into its prewar fighting shape could cost $100 billion. And if this war’s veterans receive disability payments and medical care at the same rate as veterans of the first gulf war, their health costs will add up to $250 billion. If the disability rate matches Vietnam’s, the number climbs higher. Either way, Ms. Bilmes says, “It’s like a miniature Medicare.”

In economic terms, you can think of these medical costs as the difference between how productive the soldiers would have been as, say, computer programmers or firefighters and how productive they will be as wounded veterans. In human terms, you can think of soldiers like Jason Poole, a young corporal profiled in The New York Times last year. Before the war, he had planned to be a teacher. After being hit by a roadside bomb in 2004, he spent hundreds of hours learning to walk and talk again, and he now splits his time between a community college and a hospital in Northern California.

Read the entire article here.

Is 2007 the year for Stem Cell Research?

Matthew Nesbit, Ph.D. reports at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CISCOP) that 2007 will be an interesting year for the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act” which authorizes federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells donated from in vitro fertilization clinics regardless of when the cell lines were created. According to Nesbit:

The bill is really a “left-over” initiative from this past summer when Congressional Democrats joined with a substantial minority of Republicans to pass legislation, only to have the President veto the law. Supporters at the time were unable to muster the required two-thirds of votes in the House and the Senate to override the veto.

In 2007, however, things are likely to be different. Democrats will hold a 233-202 advantage in the House and will control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. Michael Werner and Jonathan Moreno at the Center for American Progress predict that the reintroduced stem cell legislation would be likely to gain 66 votes in the Senate, teetering just one vote shy of overturning a Bush veto.

Nesbit’s in-depth analysis is valuable not only for his take on the future of stem cell research, but also his numbers on other issues congress is likely to be confronted with during the current legislative year.

CISCOP is always good reading. This article is well worth reading.

Taking the Oath on Jefferson’s Quran

The Associated Press reports Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, will use a Qur’an once owned by Thomas Jefferson during his ceremonial swearing-in Thursday. This has apparently infuriated the right-wing, some of whom say the oath should only be taken using the Bible. While Muslims do accept the Bible, their interpretation is different from that of Christians. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus — all are honored as prophets by Muslims. Muhammed (PBUH), of course, is revered as the greatest of the prophets.

Those objecting just sound absurd:

Last month, Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode R-Va., warned that unless immigration is tightened, “many more Muslims” will be elected and follow Ellison’s lead. Ellison was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.

That’s right, Keith Ellison was born in Detroit. There’s no clear record as to when he immigrated to America. Maybe Rep. Goode can help us with that one.

Can’t Rejoice at Saddam Hussein Demise

I can’t rejoice at the demise of Saddam Hussein.

This journey to Iraq has been hell for all of us. It has not ended, and it is not successful. Perhaps this is President George Bush’s wet dream come true. Maybe he’s ecstatic. Maybe he had an extra wonderful Happy New Year because Saddam hung from the gallows. Maybe he was watching via closed-circuit television to watch Hussein’s neck snap. Maybe he screwed Laura when it was all over.? Maybe he drank champagne in the immediate aftermath.
Yes, I think he’s back on the bottle.

Just listen to him, for God’s sake.

But I can’t rejoice. No, Saddam was not a good man. He was not a great human being.

What happened, however, does not add up. It’s not over yet. I don’t even know if most Americans can find Iraq on a map. But we need to learn now. We’re forever linked to the history of Iraq.

Because of George Bush’s wet dream.

Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas

Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas

He was just a child. 22 years old. The DoD reports very little information about him:

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, died Dec. 28 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds received from small arms fire while conducting combat operations. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska.

For more information on this soldier, contact the U.S. Army, Alaska, public affairs office at (907) 389-6666.

The man standing before that flag was too young to die.

This evening I had a visceral reaction while watching Law and Order. It was an episode where Jack McCoy was forced to deal with a snag in his case against a man responsible for killing a military supplier when a terrorism aspect comes into play. There’s footage of a convoy in Iraq getting blown up. As one man emerges from the wreckage, he’s captured and beheaded with a serrated blade. The video footage stops short of the beheading, of course.

But that image was too much for me.? One man kneeling in a desert, knowing that this moment was going to be his last, begging for his life.? I know this was fiction, but it’s happening over there, every day.

It’s hitting me more and more that these are real people over there, losing their lives in horrid situations. I had to change the channel when the footage was aired. And this was a fictional television show. This time, though, “Ripped from the headlines,” was too real.

The Associated Press is reporting 16,273 Iraqi civilians, soldiers and police died violent deaths in 2006, a figure larger than an independent Associated Press count for the year by more than 2,500.

The tabulation by the Iraqi ministries of Health, Defense and Interior, showed that 14,298 civilians, 1,348 police and 627 soldiers were killed in the violence that raged in the country last year.

The Associated Press accounting, gleaned from daily news reports from Baghdad, arrived at a total of 13,738 deaths. The United Nations has said as many as 100 Iraqis die violently each day, which translates into 36,500 deaths annually.

All of them real people. Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, was only one.

One more.

Iraq: Grandaddy of all Bushisms

He would be funny if all we had to deal with was inflation, or a break-in at the Watergate, or a stained blue dress. But we have so much more to deal with, and it hurts. We’ve tried bumber stickers: “No One Died When Clinton Lied,” or, my favorite, “FRODO FAILED: Bush has the ring.” We all laughed when Bush ran for office the first time, and we realized how much he looked like a chimp. Ron Chusid has chronicled some of Bush’s “Wisdom” here, things like:

“I’m a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind.” –George Bush, Feb 8, 2004

“I want to be the peace president.” –George Bush, July 20, 2004

Warning from George Orwell of what tyrants will claim: “War is Peace”

Let’s hear more, Ron!

But the sad and sorry truth is that this misspeaking man who makes photo-ops out of disaster is still in charge. The Left has been out-maneuvered by the right for too long. Even some Republicans can’t believe they voted for him.

There comes a time in every president’s life when he starts to think about his or her place in history. Bill Clinton reportedly thought about it a lot. George Bush doesn’t seem to think too much. George Bush isn’t the contemplative type. George Bush doesn’t read that much.

And George Bush is poised to take this country to defeat in two wars. Iraq is already lost. DoD sources show 3,002 American soldiers killed, 46.880 non mortal casualties, between 52,404 and 57,980 Iraqi civilians, hundreds of thousands wounded, and the beat goes on.

Afghanistan is not faring well either. Operation Enduring Freedom has cost us 357 American lives, and 5,994 non mortal casualties.

I know the president isn’t totally happy. After all, today it’s sunny, and 46 degrees in Crawford. But it feels like 41.