Priorities

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There is a monument in Washington with the names of the U.S. Iraqi war dead, panels of them, in lettering on a black background. Marching columns of names.

But I’m not talking about the Vietnam War Memorial. This is the Rayburn House office building, home to hearings of the commerce committee and the Telecommunications Subcommittee, among many others.

I know, this is Labor Day weekend, not Memorial Day weekend, but I sometimes confuse the two, at least for a moment when I am trying to remember one or the other. Besides, I think the two should be switched. There is more of an end-of-things somberness to Labor Day as the summer comes to a close and kids and big kids are called back to the duty of school or a 9-to-whenever day.

I was at Rayburn, dropping off a copy of our recent cover story on House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey when I noticed the panels, resting in sleek wooden frames and covering two of the three walls in the large marble lobby.

The fourth wall is reserved for a salute, etched into the marble in gold lettering, to Sam Rayburn, the building’s namesake, former speaker of the House and a member for 48 years (1913-1961). That tenure included World War I, World War II, Korea and the seeds of Vietnam, as well as the hundreds of other wars that we don’t remember because they happened to someone else. So, Rayburn saw a lot of sacrifice and now his portrait faces the latest honor roll.

This monument is "In solemn Tribue To the Sacrifices of the Men and Women of the United States ARmed Forces Operation Enduring Freedom Operation Iraqi Freedom" It is a series of panels, high-quality printing on cardboard, slipped into wooden frames that have been built flanking the entrance to the building and on the left side as you face the gauntlet of metal detectors and security guards that also speak of a dangerous world, or certainly a frightened one.

The frames flanking the doors are full of names, but the third and largest has, ominously, been built with room for eight more panels and hundreds, if not thousands, more sacrifices. A new panel is probably already at the printer’s since the current one ends in May 2007.

The first name on the list is MSG Evander E. Andrews, October 2001; the last name, though sadly not the last name, is SPC James E. Lundin, May 2007.

The frames are nice, made of cherry finished wood with big stars across the top, flanking an eagle whose wings are folded, all carved (or applied) from the same wood.

Another thing I noticed is that the lists for each month seem to be getting a lot longer.

As the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia prepares to hear oral arguments on that crucial issue of whether Janet Jackson’s partially exposed, totally televised, breast deserves the attention it has gotten from the goverment, and as I walk by those panels of names toward the hearing room where so much time and energy was spent fulminating about what a terrible influence TV was, I have to wonder at the disconnect between what legislators should pay attention to, and what they spend their time railing about.

Or is it just me?

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