When not furrowing their collective brows about creches and displays of the Ten Commandments here and there, courts often are pondering tangential contacts between the government and religious schools. Courts have held that public money can constitutionally fund the transportation of parochial school pupils to classes -- but not on field trips. It can fund nurses at parochial schools -- but not guidance counselors. It can fund books -- but not maps. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wondered: What about atlases, which are books of maps? On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will consider the constitutional significance of this incontrovertible truth: "A scraped knee is a scraped knee whether it happens at a Montessori day care or a Lutheran day care."
One hundred years ago, two events three days apart set the 20th century's trajectory. On April 9, 1917, in Zurich, Vladimir Lenin boarded a train. Germany expedited its passage en route to Saint Petersburg -- known as Leningrad from 1924 to 1991 -- expecting him to exacerbate Russia's convulsions, causing Russia's withdrawal from World War I, allowing Germany to shift forces to the Western Front.
Although the National Endowment for the Arts' 2016 cost of $148 million was less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget, attempting to abolish the NEA is a fight worth having, never mind the certain futility of the fight.
When he was Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, George Shultz was once asked about the CIA's disavowal of involvement in a mysterious recent bombing in Lebanon. Replied Shultz: "If the CIA denies something, it's denied."
In 1960, when John Kennedy was elected president, America's population was 180 million and it had approximately 1.8 million federal bureaucrats (not counting uniformed military personnel and postal workers). Fifty-seven years later, with seven new Cabinet agencies, and myriad new sub-Cabinet agencies (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency), and a slew of matters on the federal policy agenda that were virtually absent in 1960 (health care insurance, primary and secondary school quality, crime, drug abuse, campaign finance, gun control, occupational safety, etc.), and with a population of 324 million, there are only about 2 million federal bureaucrats.
The Cold War was waged and won in many places, including this beach city, home to the RAND Corp. Created in 1948 to think about research and development as it effects military planning and procurement, RAND pioneered strategic thinking about nuclear weapons in the context of the U.S.-Soviet competition. Seven decades later it is thinking about the nuclear threat from a nation created in 1948.
In 2013, a college student assigned to research a deadly substance sought help via Twitter: "I can't find the chemical and physical properties of sarin gas someone please help me." An expert at a security consulting firm tried to be helpful, telling her that sarin is not gas. She replied, "yes the [expletive] it is a gas you ignorant [expletive]. sarin is a liquid & can evaporate ... shut the [expletive] up."
He flabbergasts the Human Race
By gliding on the water's face
With ease, celerity and grace;
But if he ever stopped to think
Of how he did it, he would sink.
-- Hilaire Belloc, on the waterbeetle
In 1929, Chief Justice William Howard Taft convinced Congress to finance construction of "a building of dignity and importance" for the Supreme Court. He could not have imagined what the court will ponder during oral arguments this Wednesday. The case concerns the name of an Asian-American rock band: The Slants. And surely Taft never read a friend-of-the-court brief as amusing as one filed in this case. It is titled "Brief of the Cato Institute and a Basket of Deplorable People and Organizations."
Viewing 2016 in retrospect -- doing so is unpleasant, but less so than was living through it -- the year resembles a china shop after a visit from an especially maladroit bull. Because a law says "the state of California may not sell or display the Battle Flag of the Confederacy ... or any similar image," a painting of the 1864 Siege of Atlanta was banned from display at the Fresno County fair.