Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Aughts

It just struck me that 2009 is not the end of a decade, as some would
have it. For some reason, we are more entranced by the chronological
odometer rolling over from nine to zero than from zero to one. But the
reality is we don't really start counting until the year has been

Unlike the Koreans, and some other Asian cultures, we do not say a child
is one year old when she is born. An infant's age is calculated,
initially, by the number of minutes and hours it survives. In short
order, the parents start counting days, then months. An infant is not
one year old until she has actually lived a year. Once a child is
verbal, he may insist on marking half way points - "I'm two and a half!"
- but he won't make this distinction until about half a year has passed.

So, this gives us one more year to consider what to call this passing
decade. I heard one commentator on Fresh Air suggest "the naughty
aughts", though he did not explain why the past nine years were so
"naughty". It seem to me less "naughty" than "the roaring 20s", when
most people in the US were breaking the law drinking illegal booze.

I think "the aughts" work just fine, although the word seems
anachronistic. I think it works because it is a homophone for "ought",
and we can consider what opportunities were missed, what things we as
individuals and as a nation would do differently.

In the words of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, "we have left undone
those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things
which we ought not to have done".

For example, in hindsight? We ought not have invaded Iraq. Warrantless
wiretaps ought not have happened. Oil companies ought not have been
allowed to draw up energy policy. Rendition of terrorism suspects to be
tortured may carry a certain cromagnon vengeful satisfaction, but it is
contrary to our claimed moral code.

We ought to have pursued Osama and his cronies into the mountains. We
ought to have had stronger regulations on banks and the financial
markets. We ought to have stiven to resolve the conflict between
Palestinians and Israelis without showing favor for either side.

It may seem I am picking on a particular presidential administration,
but that is the administration that has held power since 2000. I can
list a few for Pres. Obama - drug companies ought not draft health care
policy behind closed doors. Small banks need money more than big
financial institutions or the big three car manufacturers. The District
of Columbia ought to be allowed to determine who can marry within its
borders. The government ought to be truly laize faire regarding a
woman's "right to choose" - neither promoting nor hindering her access
to abortion.

I have my own oughts and ought nots - but most are too private to share
in this public space. I invite you to consider your own. It is a proper
time to consider how we might yet accomplish those things we "ought to
have done" in the year to come.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Idée d'jour

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
- H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)