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Our sharper Afghan strategy...

By Tom Toles


The search for meaning

I didn't know what to write about today, a holiday, but THE SEARCH FOR MEANING seemed like an EXCELLENT title, so I typed that and proceeded. This might better be called SEARCH FOR AN IDEA. But something will turn up, I hope.

Ah, here we go. The reason "What Is the Meaning of Life?" is such a hard question to answer is that it's the wrong question. The correct question is: "Why Does Graffiti Along Railroad Tracks Look Exactly The Same in Italy As it Does in the U.S.?"

The real question, of course, isn't a question at all, it's a statement. We create meaning by what we do. And that is why is it so difficult to see meaning in this world. Examples: Railway graffiti, this post. --Tom Toles




By Tom Toles  | September 6, 2010; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign Policy  
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The BBC video version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, showed the answer to the question "What is the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything?" The previous answer was 42, but a further revelation was that "What do you get when you multiply six times nine?" Of course 6x9 is 54, thus that answer doesn't make any more sense. That in turn is the answer to the first question: The meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything is it doesn't make any sense. So, quit trying to make sense out of Life, or for that matter, politics.

Posted by: CliffVDY | September 6, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I thought that on this fantastic Labor Day where the weather was perfect all weekend we would get another diatribe about global warming or at least a "workers of the world unite" glorification of Labor Unions. I guess it would be hard to tell us the planet is going to burn up on weekends like this. And pretty hard to praise Unions which have wrecked State and local governments with their contracts. I guess it is best to say that the meaning of life is to be fair, honest, generous, and appreciative of what is there for us in this great country. Happy Labor Day everyone.

Posted by: bobbo2 | September 6, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Tom noticed the same graffiti you speak of on the 14th Street Bridge and through Tuscany's Dolomites via rail as well from Naples to Rome. Ain't you glad there are lib cartoonists all over the world trying to get noticed. Happy Labor Day. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: bignoisylawnmower | September 6, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

The search for meaning

Tom, you picked an easy one. They look the same because the same group of tall, blond, Midwestern, Scandinavian, 20 something, women do it at both locations. They fly the red-eyes back and forth - but buy the spray cans locally.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: sherm1 | September 6, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

It's a holiday and our world is rather bleak at the moment what with wars churning on, a shaky economy and unaddressed issues in our rear-view mirror (cf. climate change, entitlements). I think we need a laugh.

Since you mentioned graffiti, Mr. Toles, here's my nomination for the world's best graffito I have seen: I am in the men's bathroom at the high-end department store, Nordstrom's. Everything is almost surgically clean save for one thing. On the wall in the stall is a stainless steel holder for those lightweight paper toilet seat holders. Scratched into the steel holder is this: FREE COWBOY HATS.

Tomorrow we can get back to our quixotic battles. Today it is time to clean the grill. Let's try loving one another if only for today--it might catch on.

Posted by: DougMUSN | September 6, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

After we act, when all can see that our actions saved people from slavery or death - that is our meaning. Calling an action a quagmire before we know the results is to lose meaning for fear and disrespect.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | September 6, 2010 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Toles ignores our plans to crow about our fears. But we always have known it is easy to lose. And difficult to win.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | September 6, 2010 7:17 AM | Report abuse

Dear pararanger, nice work. The United States has a thankless job in the world. But what other country is capable of a fraction of what we do for others? It must be awful to always be on the lookout for little black Halliburton helicopters buzzing around your house. Koom should relax. To Mr. Toles, I agree that meaning in life comes from what one does. Helping those in need, preserving ones heritage, creating, the list goes on and on. Sometimes it is more rewarding to think about the meaning of being an American. Our Nation, it's history good and bad, it's experiment in government, it's great variety and incredible beauty, it's vast resources both material and of it's people is still the last best hope for this world. The challenges we face as a Nation are immense. It is our freedom that will enable us to overcome those challenges and continue to help those in the world who suffer under tyranny. The meaning of life is not to just exist but to have worth. Worth to others and worth to ones Nation.

Posted by: bobbo2 | September 6, 2010 7:06 AM | Report abuse


You don't read a lot of military history, do you?

Iraq first, Afghanistan second. Now that Iraq is over, we can apply significant combat power to what was an economy of force operation and win there too. The strategy is analagous to Germany first, then Japan in WWII. Despite the Hollywood version of WWII, it was messy just like these wars. That said, General Petraeus has proved to be no slouch - why don't you cut him some slack and let him win in Afghanistan too?

Our current and past Commander's in Chief haven't been thoughtful about explaining this strategy to Americans but that is the strategy.

There is no useful analogy to Vietnam here. We left Vietnam to be overrun by the communist North. In Iraq, we've left 50K troops to ease the transition to Iraqi rule. Iraq is shaky - but free now - they'll proceed of their own accord, something South Vietnam didn't have the opportunity to do. Afghanistan. I really find it hard to believe there are folks like you that believe that our war against the Taliban and AQ in Afghanistan wasn't warranted. I'll concede the war hasn't gone as we would like there but the constant pressure we've put on AQ has been worth it. No attack on US soil since 9/11. That isn't a small point. If you paid any attention to the new reports of our troops going against AQI and AQ in AFG (and the casualties endured), you might not be so flip about why we must fight. The enemy is well-armed, well-trained, and very much wants to kill Americans.

It might also be helpful if you looked at a map once in awhile (of the middle east, not the local 'bar direction map'). Our biggest problem in the ME is Iran. I bet you that the Iranians are looking at the map. What do they see? American influence is palpable in Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Qatar, KSA, Jordan, UAE and of course Israel. Plus over 100K US troops next to their border. Iran talks a lot of smack but they're feeling the pressure. In the long run, they'll wilt from it.

Embassies. You know, the cost of the Embassy is pretty high but I'll tell you this - our Embassy facilities are not the envy of the world and need the improvement. Diplomats open doors for trade (and America is all about free trade) and the American way. You make reference to China's ascendency in economic terms - well, their diplomatic corps is about 10K deep. They have the means to influence folks across the planet (as compared to India which for all the hubbub about their own economic good tidings, has a small diplomatic corps which in my mind will confine them).

Finally, have you been to the economic giant China lately? They're a peer economic partner now but their country is a disaster waiting to happen. Cities are all modern but the folks in the country are in near revolt over the disparity in wealth there. The perception of China's ascendency is overblown; their economic dominance will be short-lived.

Posted by: pararanger22 | September 6, 2010 5:02 AM | Report abuse

Toles wrote:

["We create meaning by what we do. And that is why is it so difficult to see meaning in this world."]


I couldn't agree more. Your words today were quite elegant, actually. Nice work.

Posted by: pararanger22 | September 6, 2010 4:34 AM | Report abuse

"Our sharper Afghan strategy
" the cartoon sums it up nicely . All these two invasions/ occupations amount to are massive money laundering operations , the transfer of tax dollars that we don't have to private contractors like Halliburton and Black water , the military industry ( corporations ) and to the fat cats on Wall Street , to the profiteers which include Cheney and Rumsfeld . Both ventures were absolutely nuts , useless and absolutely wrong .In time we will leave and all will go to hell and prove to have been useless ( what a surprise ! ) , the results being the same as they were in Vietnam , the same as when the USSR invaded Afghanistan .But what the hell , a lot of people made an unbelievable amount of money which is what it was all about to begin with , and China is happy , they pretty much own us now . Ah yes , America the Beautiful !I am sure the next dictator in Iraq will enjoy the billion dollar "embassy" Bush and Cheney built . Good job neocons !

Posted by: Koom | September 5, 2010 11:35 PM | Report abuse

"And that is why is it so difficult to see meaning in this world."

I don't know Toles...I'm having a hard time trying to figure out the above statement...or is it a question?
I really can't tell : )

Posted by: bertzel | September 5, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

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