May 8, 2012

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WSJ report on soldiers who were children on September 11, 2001.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Corey Shaffer was in fourth grade at Cutler Ridge Christian Academy in Miami. Because his mother was cafeteria manager, he was at school early and was enjoying a bowl of Lucky Charms when news of the terrorist hijackings flashed on the television screen. He remembers being confused. “I wasn’t sure what it meant,” he said.

It wasn’t until he was in middle school that the significance became clear, when he read about the attacks in his history book. Now he’s 19 years old and a Marine infantryman, fighting in the longest war in his nation’s history.

The conflict in Afghanistan has dragged on so long that the young Americans fighting on the front lines today often have little personal memory of the event that sparked it in the first place. Since the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush has completed two terms and retreated to private life. The World Trade Center is again New York’s tallest building and Osama bin Laden has been dead for almost exactly one year.

The newest wave of troops hitting the Afghan battlefields are 19 or 20 years old, meaning they were roughly between 8 and 10 when al Qaeda crashed planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. The fourth- and fifth-graders knew something big had happened but were often unable to understand why it mattered until years later. Such a mismatch hasn’t happened since the country was founded, largely because its greatest wars have tended to be brief interludes, not semipermanent features. …


Peter Wehner calls out attention to last week’s column from George Will.

George Will has a lovely tribute to his son Jon, who is a Washington Nationals fan who also happens to have Down syndrome.

Apart from his evident love and appreciation for his son, Will takes aim at the “full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby.” He goes on to write about Jon’s gift of serenity. “With an underdeveloped entitlement mentality,” Will writes, Jon has “been equable about life’s sometimes careless allocation of equity. Perhaps this is partly because, given the nature of Down syndrome, neither he nor his parents have any tormenting sense of what might have been. Down syndrome did not alter the trajectory of his life; Jon was Jon from conception on.” …


Here is Will’s column.

When Jonathan Frederick Will was born 40 years ago — on May 4, 1972, his father’s 31st birthday — the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome was about 20 years. That is understandable.

The day after Jon was born, a doctor told Jon’s parents that the first question for them was whether they intended to take Jon home from the hospital. Nonplussed, they said they thought that is what parents do with newborns. Not doing so was, however, still considered an acceptable choice for parents who might prefer to institutionalize or put up for adoption children thought to have necessarily bleak futures. Whether warehoused or just allowed to languish from lack of stimulation and attention, people with Down syndrome, not given early and continuing interventions, were generally thought to be incapable of living well, and hence usually did not live as long as they could have.

Down syndrome is a congenital condition resulting from a chromosomal defect — an extra 21st chromosome. It causes varying degrees of mental retardation and some physical abnormalities, including small stature, a single crease across the center of the palms, flatness of the back of the head, a configuration of the tongue that impedes articulation, and a slight upward slant of the eyes. In 1972, people with Down syndrome were still commonly called Mongoloids.

Now they are called American citizens, about 400,000 of them, and their life expectancy is 60. Much has improved. There has, however, been moral regression as well. …


Daniel Gross of the WSJ explores the trend to renting.

… In the American mind, renting has long symbolized striving—striving, that is, well short of achieving. But as we climb our way out of the Great Recession, it seems something has changed. Americans are getting over the idea of owning the American dream; increasingly, they’re OK with renting it. Homeownership is on the decline, and home rentership is on the rise. But the trend isn’t limited to the housing market. Across the board—for goods ranging from cars to books to clothes—Americans are increasingly acclimating to the idea of giving up the stability of being an owner for the flexibility of being a renter. This may sound like a decline in living standards. But the new realities of our increasingly mobile economy make it more likely that this transition from an Ownership Society to what might be called a Rentership Society, far from being a drag, will unleash a wave of economic efficiency that could fuel the next boom.

While downgrading the place of ownership in the American psyche may sound like a traumatic task, the cold, unsentimental fact about the American dream is that Americans never really owned it in the first place. For the past three decades, especially, consumers haven’t so much bought their quality of life as they’ve borrowed it from banks and credit card companies. And since the Great Recession, Americans have been busy rebuilding their balance sheets and avoiding new financial encumbrances. When American consumers can’t—or won’t—borrow to purchase the goods and services they’ve come to consider part of their standard of living, how does the economy get back on its feet?

The answer lies in consumers following the example of corporations—that is, becoming more efficient. The reaction to extended leverage and foolish borrowing isn’t to stop consuming and buying; it is to consume and buy more intelligently. That’s what the Rentership Society is all about. And it starts at home. Literally. Housing is the biggest single component of consumption in the U.S. economy and the source of much of our present misery. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical consumer spends about 32% of his or her budget on shelter. In the last decade, that generally meant borrowing a lot of money to take “ownership” of a home. …


Joel Kotkin writes on how a baby bust will turn Asia’s tigers toothless.

For the last two decades, America’s pundit class has been looking for models to correct our numerous national deficiencies. Some of the more deluded have settled on Europe, which, given its persistent low economic growth over the past 20 years and minuscule birth rates, amounts to something like looking for love in all the wrong places.

More rational and understandable have been those who have looked for role models instead in East Asia. After all, East Asia has been the world’s ascendant power for the better part of past 30 years. It is home to both China and Japan, the world’s second and third largest economies, as well as the dynamic “tiger” economies of Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Thomas Friedman, long enamored by authoritarian leviathan China, recently praised the tiger countries as exemplars of forward thinking. He traces their strong emphasis on “highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students” as keys to turning their resource-poor countries into first world successes.

Yet for all their laudably good school test scores, these tigers could turn somewhat toothless in the future. Already Japan, which fashioned the first great Asian model, is beset by a series of massive challenges including a lack of technological competitiveness and disastrously declining demographics. …


Interesting piece from Discover on last year’s efforts by the Army Engineers’ to control the Mississippi floods. Interesting that is, if you can get by the first person pronouns. Maybe he just wants to be president.

We knew it was going to be a challenging flood year. I was working in an operations center aboard the Mississippi, the largest motor vessel on the river: 241 feet long, with five decks

We have a comprehensive flood plan that dictates what to do when water reaches certain levels—where we need to allow controlled flooding to save cities downstream. By April 9 the flood gauges at Cairo, Illinois, which straddles the Missouri and Kentucky borders, exceeded allowable limits. We were supposed to open the nearby Birds Point–New Madrid Floodway when the water reached 61 feet, and on the night of May 1, the forecast level climbed to 63 feet. The decision was clear. If I didn’t open that floodway and relieve the pressure, levees would have broken somewhere else—but the angst level was very high. We planned to submerge 130,000 acres of farmland, and Missouri’s attorney general asked the Supreme Court to stop the operation, but the court refused the request. I gave the order and we blew up the floodway on May 2. …

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