Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Worst President II?

I'm not repeating my intro every time. Just that Obama is the worst president in my lifetime. Read the first part on this topic from 7/2/14 to get the overarching point.


#9 Obamacare. If you forget all my other reasons, Obamacare is by far the most important. And, I will not dwell on any topic because it has been so well covered. Though I very often find my opinions contrary to that of the general populous, not in this case. Virtually every poll taken about the loathsome Act shows it to be unpopular, though no doubt on the left for different reasons than on the right (e.g., some on the left want single payer, and some politicians admit they see this as just a stepping stone to it). Though no doubt it is more conservatives than liberals who dislike the law, it is also a larger number on the left than for almost any other issue where opinion is relatively split along party lines (unlike say, the NSA issues - where disapproval crosses ideological lines). Some provisions are quite popular, they are those which give from insurance companies to individuals and which costs are passed on to everyone, like allowing children at home to stay on their parents insurance and more so, those which require coverage despite pre-existing injury.  Nevertheless, the law has been so long unpopular in its entirety, I do not need to write a book here.  
In general, Obamacare is one of the worst laws ever passed in this country other than ones that are intentionally racist or the like. It was well intentioned in the large - its authors think this is better. In doing so, they personified the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Arguably, it is the single most unpopular big law ever passed.  It was


- badly drafted. Is it a surprise that a law a couple thousand pages long can't hang together. The recent ruling from one court that those who use the federal exchange are not entitled to tax subsidies (which I find wrong to begin with as it is basically an unconstitutional head tax not proportionately divided as required - this is not an argument the Supreme Court has recognized though). Though you can find many articles where supporters of the law claim that this is obviously not what was meant - that you would be entitled to a tax subsidy no matter what exchange you used, all you need to do is listen to the words of one of the architects of the plan, Jonathan Gruber, who is an MIT economist:


Questioner: You mentioned the health-information [sic] Exchanges for the states, and it is my understanding that if states don’t provide them, then the federal government will provide them for the states.


Gruber: Yeah, so these health-insurance Exchanges, you can go on ma.healthconnector.org and see ours in Massachusetts, will be these new shopping places and they’ll be the place that people go to get their subsidies for health insurance. In the law, it says if the states don’t provide them, the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its backstop, I think partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it. I think what’s important to remember politically about this, is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it. But you know, once again, the politics can get ugly around this.


Of course, he now says it was a mistake to say that and he doesn't remember why he said it, but such is the stuff comedy routines and legal testimony are made of. Please. It is also


- uneconomic. Apparently, the expectations of how much it will cost us go up and up - the CBO's estimates for the decade have essentially doubled - big shocker, huh? Why anyone would think the initial estimates could possibly be given the time of day is a mystery to me, given the history of estimates? It was also


- passed in the worst, most political way, including attempts to "buy" votes with political favors to a few states. It was


- unread by the legislature before voted upon (leading to one of the most intelligence insulting, cynical and loathsome statements a congressperson has made in decades by Nancy Pelosi, who said that we have to pass it before we know what it is in it must go down as ). It is also


- intrusively coercive, in that it not only requires individuals to buy insurance, but will not allow you to buy it if you do not do so on their time frame; requires some large companies to provide coverage for employees (though this is on hold); and prescribes what must be in the policy, which had been previously the domain of the individual states according to our federal system. It is also


- morally corrosive (any bill where politicians cheer as Medicaid increases - how can that be good?) It has also


-created an entirely new federal bureaucracy, obviously paid for by taxpayers now and in the future. It was also


- based on the lie that it would save us all $2500 a year, something else the president has now had to concede wasn't true. It has also


- created an ungodly large amount of paperwork for the healthcare industry which costs health care providers more and, of course, are passed on to us either as customers or taxpayers. For an article on this, tryhttp://www.ijreview.com/2014/03/124716-one-doctors-viral-letter-exposes-harrowing-reality-obamacares-war-doctors/ and http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/health-care/item/16786-obamacare-brings-about-massive-increase-in-regulations. The crushing federal regulations have hurt all businesses, which is, of course, not all Obama's doing. But, it has increased so in the last few years that I need to have its own section later to cover it. Back to Obamacare, it was also


- written on the backs of the youth of this country who pay more so others can pay not at all or less. It also


- doesn't do what it was meant to do. The amount of new insureds from it - the whole point of the law, is terrifically small. So small, in fact, that the administration would not even release numbers at first. It also


- literally destroyed the relationship between millions of people and their doctors or insurance companies, which they wanted to keep and were promised they could keep. This has now been admitted by the administration when they could no longer deny it, that it was well aware of this when they sponsored the bill that this would not be possible. That's called lying in the real world, although the betrayal seems to be forgotten as life sweeps on and the administration goes from one problem to the other - but it should be shocking. It is also


- so defective it cannot even be fully put into effect, as if the employer mandate was activated, would cause widespread un- or underemployment. It also


- was partially found to be unconstitutional with respect to its Medicaid expansion (and we also know that Justice Robert's fifth vote finding the rest of the act constitutional left many if not most analysts gasping in its self-contradictory nature). It is also


- called by some Obama's signature achievement, though it turned out that he wasn't even personally familiar with it and said it wasn't a tax when his administration was saying it was (he was somewhat bailed out by Justice Roberts whose majority opinion decision included that it was a tax and not a tax - sigh?). It also has


- resulted in a deplorable breach of the government's duty to treat similarly situated people the same in permitting waivers for some, which is the opposite of equal protection of the law. 
I will not even rely on the famously terrible rollout to make my point as to the undesirability of the law itself. Those things do happen. But, you would think, with their signature achievement - they would have concentrated on making it work is something worth noting and which I may revisit on a later date. 


Have some people benefitted from Obamacare? Of course. This is often where bad government leads us - to picking the winners and losers rather than simply providing a level playing field.  


I'm not in the least against safety nets. I do believe we can do them, and should, but they should be insurance and charity based as much as possible. Funding it by taking from one group and giving to another is not a good way to make a lasting society work well together. Some call it plunder. That may be too much in the modern world, where ideals about what is a societal concern and what isn't has changed dramatically since the founding, but, if we do this, it should be used sparingly done, with the will of the people and not in the face of them.




What will be the end result? Recently, I hear more people, including some I know personally, speak about becoming resigned, in order to save money and become one of the people who take advantage of the law rather be burdened by it, and stressed by the cost of policies becoming more unaffordable or not having insurance at all, to decide to humble themselves and get Obamacare - Medicaid, because they feel they no longer have a choice if they want insurance. When enough people do this, it will mean exactly what Obama's super critics claimed - the plan was meant the entire time to destroy insurance and force people to rely on the government. 


To be fair, I think those who claim that it interferes with religious liberty are dead wrong. It interferes with everyone's liberty in general, but not their religious freedom.


In the long run, I believe some aspects will continue, but, eventually, the law will be so changed as to no longer be recognizable.




#8 The economic crisis - I am in no way blaming the debacle in 2008 on Obama (though I have heard some of his political adversaries do so - that's idiotic). But, the kind of policies he backs which lean towards socialism and income redistribution (the latter of which he has at least acknowledged) lead exactly to results we are seeing. And, we know that it is well documented that Bush, on his way out the door, gave both Obama and McCain a respectful hearing with respect to what should be done. McCain (a long favorite of mine for his general attitudes, may know even less about the economy than Obama) remained silent and Obama took over.  Many of the worst policies were initially Bush policies, but Obama championed them and continued them. And, they were also at best, ineffective and at worst, ruinous. Like TARP, like the so-called Stimulus, like the bailouts, they did not rescue our country, as many like to claim. We've seen the bankruptcy of Detroit as our proof of this way of doing business. They call what we are in a recovery, but regular people certainly do not think so.


What all of these supposed wonderful techniques to "save the economy" did was stop the natural correction of terrible business and banking policies, permitted their continuance (e.g., like making mortgages affordable for people who can't afford them - and doing it in a selective manner so that not all debtors are treated equally), brought in new laws that over-regulate and strangle business (e.g., Dodd-Frank) and continued to fund institutions that should fail and eventually will fail. This will not us get us on a sane economic path or stop poorly run banks that engage in too much risk and Wall Street will continue on its way unabated.




All of this is based upon bad ideas that have never worked. One of the worst of these ideas is that our "pointy-heads," as Obama calls them, are smart enough to manage or plan the economy, though it has been shown over and over again that almost every effort comes to failure and is only supported on the backs of a few taxpayers. Another is that we can re-distribute wealth so everyone will have the same access to power and money (how this is not seen as communism or at least socialism is unknown to me), when doing so would cripple the capitalist system; that the way to save a failing economy is by government spending (which the even the Roosevelt administration admitted during the Great Depression, did not work) and others.


At this stage of American history, both Democrats and Republicans are heavily invested in these ideas and thus there is little chance of rational policies no matter who is president. But, some are worse than others, and Obama is one of the worst (only if given a choice between him and Kerry, would I take him). Listen to his first inaugural address. The underlying premise was, now we are going to spend money the right way. Hasn't worked out so good though. The stimulus didn't stimulate; bailouts don't do much except take more money from us and cut off competition and frustrate the natural economic processes of supply and demand.




Of course, there are plenty out there cheering this on - Paul Krugman comes first to mind. I never get tired of reading his columns with mouth dropped open - so pervasive is his European democratic leanings (he keeps using them as examples), so biased his cherry-picked facts, so willing is he to ignore facts that don't fit his world view. He keeps saying it - it all worked, but he rarely tells us why we should believe it. 


We are a very rich country determined to be a poorer one. Like gravity, economics pervades everything, but its power to plan or predict is incredibly weak because life is complicated, apparently far beyond our power to determine. Instead of hard work, marketing, fortune and fair play determining what businesses succeed and what fail, the intrusion of government into ever facet of it makes their support the deciding factor. We will talk about this again when we discuss the regulatory state that is destroying business in this country.


Terrible president. Maybe a nice guy. So signs he wants the country to succeed. But, almost everything he does is wrong. When that happens, even nice guys end up being bad guys to enforce their will and justify themselves. That's what is happening now.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What are you reading this summer?


          Recently, on a visit to Bear, he asked me what I was reading. I fumbled through an answer, partially because I am a middle aged so and so (as is he) who can barely respond to a simple question quickly, partially because after years with of my beloved's enhanced interrogation techniques, I now respond to simple questions like a prisoner, and partially because I do read a lot of books at once, sometimes over the course of a year or more, and they do get jumbled in my aforesaid middle aged head. So, in the comfort of my den (technically, my beloved's den - but I have claimed sovereignty over the easy chair and the surrounding environs), where I can actually look at the books, and before I continue explaining why President Obama is the worst president in my lifetime, I respond to Bear thus -

          Hugo Black and the Judicial Revolution by Gerald T. Dunne.

Justice Black is a favorite of many. Certainly one of mine. I started this a few weeks ago and mostly read it while waiting for red lights to change green and the like (yes, occasionally before I get to the red light - I know, I know, I read in the car sometimes. Like you aren't all texting). Black, a Senator from Alabama, and known as a new deal lion for Roosevelt, started his Supreme Court career with a scandal when it came out that he was, in fact, a member of the Ku Klux Klan before resigning. Thereafter, in many ways, perhaps to atone to some degree, he became a lion of liberty. I am glad to revisit his cases - and this book starts with his being nominated to the high court and makes short shrift, thank God, of his upbringing - because when I first read him in law school, I was undoubtedly still a partisan family raised liberal with the first questions of whether that was what I really believed just starting to peep into my mind, perhaps during a Constitutional Law class when it occurred to me that the professor, though excellent, was rather one-sided.*

For those who are not regular readers, roughly 99.99999999999999% of the world - and I may be understating it - and who have not been subjected to my endless political blatherings, I now consider myself a moderate independent who leans (but not too far) libertarian. My main reason for believing it is that I am called a liberal by conservatives and a conservative by liberals often enough I figure I must be roughly in the middle. Throw in my obsession with liberty and . . . . But, this developed over the course of the last 30 years in dribs and drabs.

          I am not sure yet what I will think of him at this point in time, but one thing I doubt I will change my mind about was that he was one of the court's most powerful writers, and was a strong believer in stating specifically what he thought about the constitution loudly and clearly, as if he was ringing the Liberty Bell. Take this unambiguous statement:

"Compelling a man by law to pay his money to elect candidates or advocate law or doctrines he is against differs only in degree, if at all, from compelling him by law to speak for a candidate, a party, or a cause he is against. The very reason for the First Amendment is to make the people of this country free to think, speak, write and worship as they wish, not as the Government commands."

          Wonder what he would say about Obamacare which compels a man to get health insurance or pay a penalty and precludes him from buying it at all on his own if he doesn't do it on the government's schedule or in the way the government wants. 

          Philology, 1. The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities by James Turner. I was reading The Baltimore Sun last weekend when I came across a book review that had me wanting to cheer. The book was on philology - even titled philology - one of the most exciting subjects on earth, maybe to some thousands of people, the large majority of whom, unlike me, are professionals.

          My interest in language (and philology covers language, languages and text) is equal to my interest in history. The premise of Turner's book is that philology is the historical basis of all studies in the humanities and he sets out to prove it. But, that's just the premise. In all honesty, if you are familiar with history between the renaissance and the end of the 19th century in the English speaking world, you are not surprised by that at all. For a long time in the English speaking world, the study of ancient Greek and Latin, by way of the classics, was the bulk of education, give or take a little cyphering. It is, to my thinking, really Turner's way of being able to dump on the grateful reader all kinds of knowledge about language from the earliest times to the most modern that he has learned and wants to share.  Turner, a professor at Notre Dame, teaches history and the philosophy of science. He starts his book with not only the humility that gives us a warm, tingly feeling, but with a gossamer touch in his writing style, such that it promises it will not get boring even when you swim your way through 500+ pages shot through with chapters like the humanities as taught in 19th century universities. But to spend some time on Ancient Greek and Homer and Mesopotamia and India, both testaments, and Proto-Indo-Europeans and Pericles and Old English, Old High German, Old Irish, Old Javanese, Old Norse, Old Persian, Old Provencal - and that's just the Olds - Longfellow, the Loeb Classics Library, Andrew Lang, Johannes Kepler, Hobbes and Hitler, the Grimm Brothers and Galileo, fossils, James Fraser and the Druids, and so forth and so on - I can't wait. Let me give you an example and see if you agree or if you wonder what's wrong with me? T he following paragraph made me giddy and I already knew this stuff:

          "All later textual philologists would face the same challenge as the Alexandrians: how to resolve obscurities and to correct dubious passages in a text -- or, put more abstractly, how to move from words on paper to meanings in them. And all later textual philologists would deploy the two fundamental tactics of the Alexandrians in attacking a passage under scrutiny. Look at the rest of the text. What interpretation, what wording fits most closely the author's meaning and language elsewhere? Look at the historical context. What interpretation, what wording makes most sense in terms of social customs, religious usages, legal norms, military practices, family relations, and other habits prevailing when the author wrote? And for a long time to come philologists would assert their conclusions in the Alexandrian form of the commentary, while making tools like glossaries to aid their research."

          You might not care how the Alexandrians, their followers and some contemporaries invented textual commentary or punctuation or grammar. I do.  If you don't, you definitely would not like the next book either -

          The Shape of Ancient Thought [comparative studies in Greek and Indian Philosophy] by Thomas McEvilley. This is somewhat similar to Philology. Why, reasonable people might ask, should we be comparing Greek and Indian philosophy? The answer is essentially that we recognize early Greece as the font of much of our civilization. I have written elsewhere of this extraordinary heritage and won't repeat it. It is well enough known. But, McEvilley, and of course others want us to consider if some of that heritage came to Greece from India. It is a tough question because whenever we deal with ancient writers we must speculate, and I have my own limits to how far I think philologists and historians should go, at least without a flashing sign saying - SPECULATION HERE! - but McEvilley makes no bones that much of what he is looking at is indeed conjecture. But, on the other hand, some is definitely not. His work is, if nothing else, well documented, and he quotes extensively. His connection of a writing of an early Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, and one of the Vedic-Upaniṣads is so precise that I have no quarrel when he writes that "[t]his extraordinary parallelism is a strong and clear link between a pre-Socratic thinker and an Upaniṣad." There are few places else in the world the two writings would be found put together, but once they are, the similarity is such that you can strongly believe that there was some transmission of knowledge from one culture to another, just as if we one day find a McDonald's on Mars. It likely didn't develop separately on both planets. Yet, ever the professional, he hedges and says, it might be diffusion - it might not.

          In doing so he covers much of Greek philosophy and attempts to find not only a link with India, but also a direction. This includes not just the pre-Socratics, but Platonic thought, Cynics, Skeptics, Orphics, empiricism, stoicism, etc. It's just yummy.

          As I said with philology, I realize that though this makes me happy, you might not find it enthralling, just as I'm aware that as much as I like steak rare, others don't.  And, as me pops used to say, that's what makes horse races.

          The Philosophical Writings of Peirce edited by Justus Buchler.

          Sometimes people are quite famous and then drop off the face of the earth.  For example, the philosopher Isocrates, barely known now, was once more respected and influential than Aristotle. But, he fade away except in scholarly works and Aristotle became one of the three or four most important philosophers in history, though himself with a long hiatus in the West until transmitted to us from the Muslims.

          Other creative people are unknown in their lifetime and then come into their own, long after their death. Someone like Rembrandt or Vermeer pops readily into mind. This is also true of Charles Peirce, now considered one of the more important American philosophers, but who was frozen out of a successful university career for a technically adulterous affair (his wife had already left him and a nemesis, unknown to Peirce, worked steadily against him) and mostly wrote, it seems for dictionaries or small publications like magazines. Much of it was highly technical. He never  had a book published.

          He was a scientist, mathematician, philosopher and logician and by the way, also invented that very confusing study of signs he called semiotics, later made famous by Frenchmen. But his primary field was logic. His overarching philosophy is known as fallibilism, whose main premise might seem obvious to the modern educated person, and is basic now for scientists - but it is more honored in the breach by most everyone, including scientists, in day to day argument and apparently was not that obvious to modern philosophers before him (though quite similar to the ancient philosopher Pyrrho's skepticism).

          His reputation among the most famous modern philosophers is second to none. Karl Popper is perhaps now the most revered of 20th century philosophers after Bertrand Russell. Maybe more so. He considered Peirce one of the greatest philosophers of all time.  Russell himself, though he seemed unaware of Peirce when he and Whitehead were writing their famous, Principia Mathematica a little before WWI, would write decades later that Peirce was one of the greatest logicians of the 19th century and the greatest American mind ever. Whitehead, coming across Peirce's work a decade after Principia, realized that Peirce had anticipated his own thinking. Indeed, it appears that Peirce actually anticipated digital computing nearly a century before it came to life.

             Yet, it would be very strange indeed if many Americans have heard of him at all - ever. I have been reading philosophy for most of my adult life, on and off. And I never heard of him until about six years ago. He is still that unknown.

             Fallibilism is an epistemological theory that holds that we can never really know anything for sure but are still justified on relying on our beliefs. I came across Peirce when reading Popper and was immediately attracted to his ideas as I had been arguing a form of it for years to those who argue in response to any point they don't want to accept that you can't know anything for certain or the past is no guide to the future (except for whatever beliefs they have, of course). Undoubtedly, much of our love of a philosopher comes when he agrees with us, but, since Russell and Popper are on my side, and authority counts more than reason in our world, I'm probably going to win a debate about it.

              The selections in the edition I have are from some of his most basic and easy to understand essays, with delicious titles like - The criterion of validity in reasoning? and What is a leading principle? But, in terms of complexity, they are very simple compared to his formal work. In fact, though as with any thinker (presuming you read critically), you will not agree with every point he makes, reading him, I find that he may be the philosopher of my dreams.

            Pinckney's Treaty by Samuell Flagg Bemis. This one may take a while for me to get through. If you are an American history buff, you have probably heard of Jay's Treaty,* which was signed some dozen years after the end of the Revolutionary War and tried to resolve still open issues. The treaty seemed to many Americans to greatly favor Britain, causing such outrage that Jay himself wrote that he could travel the country at night by the light of his own burning effigy. Pinckney's Treaty was not that long after Jay's, and defined the boundaries of the American and Spanish empires in North America. Not that it wouldn't be confusing as all get out just a few years later in what is called the Louisiana Purchase anyway, but it was, at the time, quite important.

*The importance of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, governor of New York, writer (one of three) of the Federalist Papers and a heavily replied upon foreign minister in early American history, is always understated. Part of the reason is he was a fairly boring person in many ways. But, also, he did not find himself at great odds with Hamilton or Jefferson, whose poison pens and personalities would castigate an adversary, but, in doing so, also make them a household name even now.

             Bemis' book won a Pulitzer Prize and is wonderfully scholarly. The writing style, regrettably, for modern times, is so mind-numbingly boring that they could use it to anaesthetize prisoners on death row before their curtain call. I will pick it up and set it down many times in the coming year. Or two.

             Relativity by Albert Einstein. Einstein himself tried to explain his theories to the rest of us idiots. Some of it is intuitive. Some of it, well, I don't get it. My confidence is bolstered by the fact that no one else figured it out until he wrote it and it was published; many physicists, even among the greatest, did not understand or accept it thereafter and it wasn't definitely proved for nearly a century. Einstein himself wrote to a friend that whether you believed in relativity theory or not seemed to depend more on your political party than what the theory actually said.

             To really understand relativity is going to take a while. I got stopped at a spot where he said - don't go on if you don't get this part. I didn't get it. So, I am going to re-read it and re-read it (and maybe seek help) until I do. At least, I hope some day I do.

             That's it right for what I'm reading now. But, there's room here for what I recently finished.             
             On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett.

             This is a true story about a rescue mission organized by former presidential candidate and billionaire Ross Perot to save two employees stuck in prison in Iran during the revolution. While reading the entire book you ask yourself - WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY DOING THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE? WERE THAY ALL CRAZY?

             It is a wonderful book and I don't know how I didn't read it years ago. As it is, it was probably sitting on my shelf for six months after I bought it, while I wondered whether I'd like it or not.

             I'm not going to say anything else about it except read it. It's an uplifting and true adventure tale involving, for the most part, ordinary business men (and one old soldier, rescue- missions-a-specialty) who perform an outlandish rescue at least as exciting as that told in Argo.

             Beowulf  translated by Tolkien (incomplete) with commentary by his son, Christopher Tolkien, who edits all of his father's unpublished works. As excited as I was to get it - and it was a decade or so long wait - I was not particularly enthralled with it. It is really written for scholars and I was more hopeful it would discuss Tolkien's debt to Beowulf in The Lord of the Rings, which it does not. The shining light was his father's original prose folktale, Sellic Spell, which created that which he felt must have at some point in time been the basis for the poem. There is an Old English version of it as well I hope to work on someday when I am up to it. The two long commentaries by Christopher did interest me, as it was mostly linguistic in nature, but I did not spend a lot of time on it as I am not an Old English scholar and I do not expect to retain most of it. The book will sell well because it is Beowulf and Tolkien, but I seriously doubt it will be well read. 

             The Secret History  by Donna Tartt.

             This was my review on Amazon -

             "To be fair, though I have read many novels in my life, I have trouble finishing them the last 10 years of so (excepting the cotton-candy mysteries or action novels of very few authors I occasionally read). Rarely do I find one as interesting to me as non-fiction. Even when I like a mainstream novel, I often find I lose interest as I go along. I write that because I recognize others might find them more interesting than me. This has led me to seek out a few novels that I hope will be spectacular by reading reviews. I thought this might be one. For one thing, I am very interested in ancient languages. For another, many reviews were glowing.
             But, as is often the case, I thought it was just a little better than okay. In no way would I call it a classic. However, I finished it, which is saying a lot for me. On a slightly expanded scale, I would give the book 7/10 (I say that after changing my stars back and forth from 3 to 4 a few times and finally deciding to just be generous, knowing my own disenchantment with the form).
             I looked at some other comments and many writers seemed to be very interested in her characters. I was not particularly so. There was probably no one I actually liked or wanted to know more about, even the twins (those who already read the book will know who I mean). That in itself is not a non-starter, but, if there is nothing else that particularly excites me in a work of fiction, it can be important. Even where a book is about an anti-hero or a group of villains, there is usually something charming or compelling about someone. Having someone to root for makes fiction more interesting just as it does a sporting event. I find it true of many tv dramas these days.
             I have no idea from the book whether Donna Tarrt reads ancient Greek or Latin or French as one reader suggested (I guess I could look it up). Though she includes some of this language in her book, it was actually very little and I can't say I would have wanted more (so maybe she did that well). I find reports of it sometimes overly generous. The way that she portrayed the students' interest in it and their exotic professor did help characterize them as self-indulgent and pretentious. But, it certainly did not make them more interesting to me.
             There was also the hint of hidden sexuality meant to titillate, and that's fine, but I did not think it was done especially well. I never felt I couldn't wait to know. Nothing I learned about the characters surprised me either (of course, plots are limited and it is hard to surprise people who've read a bit). Nor did I find her use of language especially gifted. Writers who succeed in these things are great writers and I can't say it about her. Though I have not read him for many years, John Irving comes to mind, as did early Le Carre and John Fowles.
             Overall, it is one of the better books I've read this year and I do give her credit. She is a good writer. But, I am not anxious to read another and I don't know if I ever will."

             I should add something to my review. I recently read an article in which the Kindle's highlighting abilities were used to determine how much of a book the average person who bought it for a reader actually read. Some, usually non-fiction, were much less than 10% - in other words, almost none of it. But, the leader was Tartt's The Goldfinch, with almost 98% read. She might just be something special and I'm just not the best judge.

             Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

             I know many people are enthralled by Salinger. I have put off reading his two classics until now and upon finding F and Z  in a book store for almost nothing, bought it. I was pretty sure I was destined to like it and finally got around to it a few months later. I was - underwhelmed. What's the big deal? The book, the best feature of which is its brevity, is about a typically screwed up family. It is more like a series of dialogues, or two actor scenes between family members working through their neuroses. It wasn't particularly insightful, the characters weren't particularly interesting and there was no real drama except whether the young woman might be depressed enough to kill herself.  Frankly, if she had to go through any more of those interminable conversations with her family, no one would blame her.

             I'm not reading The Catcher in the Rye.

             That's a pretty good round up for me. I am always reading Homer and both testaments, but it's more a study type of thing, so I won't count them or other books I've long finished and am now just making notes on.

             What are you reading this Summer?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The worst president?

Quinnipiac University poll just came out said Americans rate President Obama as our worst president since World War II. Of course, a few years ago, they gave that honor to George Bush. It may be that whoever is president these days will reap that reward, but, I agree. Bush was the worst. And now Obama is even worse than him.


The good news is, I'm going to explain to you why. The bad news is, I am not going to do it in one of my evalovin' never ending posts, but in short bursts. While it may be painful for some who love reading through eight typewritten pages of haphazardly edited opinion pieces, I hope that a few of you will appreciate it broken down in this fashion.


Initially, I named the larger post - "Ten reasons I did not, could not, would not vote for Barack Obama (and glad of it.)" That's because I was going to pick ten reasons and divide them up as I went before I posted. Not sure how it will play out now.



I never got around to writing all the reasons I am sorry I had to vote for George Bush in '04 (but, numbers 1-9 were I had to, because Kerry was his opponent). I won't miss the opportunity with the only president I feel is worse in my lifetime. And, yes, that includes Nixon and Carter! Here are my reasons (and trust me, none of them are of the idiotic variety: e.g., he's not an American; he's a secret Muslim; he's the Manchurian candidate, blah, blah, blah).



#10 - The campaign:

Racism - Undoubtedly, the longest and most serious problem the U.S. has faced in its 200 something years is racism, starting, of course, with slavery, which still has legal consequences today.  Many people thought that when America elected a black man - and though bi-racial, he self-identifies as black - it would heal our racial divide.  Not quite.  In fact, for the first time in a long time I feel  racial tension  growing and I directly attribute some of that to his policies and commentary. Unfortunately, it didn't even start after he was in office, but before, during the campaign, when shouting racism became part of his race to the White House.


Who did his supporters accuse of racism? Bill Clinton, for one, for comparing Obama's campaigning success to Jesse Jackson winning primaries.  Whatever Clinton's faults may be, racism is not among them. What did Clinton do that caused such a reaction? He rooted for his wife and related Obama's success to his skin color.  

You can ask yourself, when constant reference was made to Obama's skin color by his own side and by the media, what was wrong by his primary opponent's husband mentioning it and saying that Obama might benefit from it? I say nothing, but you might differ.

Geraldine Ferrera was also accused by Obama's campaign of racism. She was Clinton's campaign chairperson. Her "crime?" She also suggested that Obama's success could be attributed to skin color.  Neither Bill Clinton nor Ferrara was saying that since Obama was black we should infer anything negative about him. They were trying to find a way to explain why his wife and her candidate were losing.  


Can you imagine the fallout if Mrs. McCain or Mrs. Romney had even hinted at that? It would have been a score worse. How many complained at the constant references to the fact that both his opponent in the nomination campaign, Hillary Clinton, and the eventual Republican adversary, McCain, were white and suggested that some - even many - would vote for them for that reason? That was said up through, in fact, the very day of the general election with McCain where it proved largely untrue.  


Now, it can be argued that Obama never made these accusations of racism himself. It doesn't work for me. He managed to throw his patron, the wacky preacher, Jeremiah White,  under the bus when Wright's vehemently racist anti-white speech was causing the Obama campaign problems. He could have thrown any who were screaming racism under the bus with much less fallout - even gotten some kudos - but he chose not to do so. When Clinton and Ferrara made their statements, it was the news of the week.  Obama could have easily, in three seconds, defused it by loudly saying he didn't believe they were racist and in fact, publicly restraining his supporters.


Is it important whether ultimately Ferraro and Clinton were accurate? Not really. How many statements by the spouses of candidates or their campaign staff are accurate? Any of them?

But, it was, in fact, true - which made the accusations even worse, if that is possible. Hillary Clinton was an extremely popular candidate. If she runs in 2016, Democratic support for her shows signs of being overwhelming (we know anything can change, of course). Her husband gathered huge numbers of black voters when he ran for president, because of his policies.  Why would not his wife get the same benefit?  Yet we know from polls that blacks voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the primaries. Given the importance of the "black" vote in Democratic primaries, is it a surprise that anyone would suggest that this explained his victory?  Even if not ultimately the difference between the two (he was a far superior candidate - in fact, maybe the best I've ever seen) it certainly was a huge factor. And would it have been so hard to say, no, I think he/she is wrong about that and here is why? Of course not. He didn't for one reason. He thought it was better politics.


Some of you might argue, what's wrong with him making a political maneuver? Isn't that what Clinton and Ferrara did on behalf of their choice? The answer is - politics is politics. And, while it may both be fascinating and repellant to me, it's not going to change in large soon.  We are used to over the top, angry, partisan behavior and speech from candidates and their supporters. But, there are lines that are not crossed without comment. It is over the line, of course, to make fun of someone's child and, usually, their religion (unfortunate exceptions - like with Romney). It would without doubt be death to any candidate to suggest that someone's skin color or ethnicity made them a bad candidate. So it should be with trumped up claims of racism. For, in our society, accusations of racism are pretty strong stuff.  I have no problem with someone calling David Duke a racist, of course. But, it's not fair to call someone racist for making a political observation. Particularly if the other side is commenting on it too.


Public funding - But, that wasn't the only reason his campaign was so disappointing. The other was the completely hypocritical approach he took to public funding. 

Not only did he declare himself a proponent of public funding, but he challenged his Republican opponents to do the same. And McCain did. But, after the nominations were won, Obama reneged (claims that it wasn't clear what he had said are just false - look it up. It was perfectly clear).

Why did he renege? It was better for him. His private financing was the best ever. Was it just politics? I don't think so.  Even for a politician, a word should have to mean something.  As we will see, it apparently means little to him. Not that politicians are famous for their sincerity, but it seems to mean almost nothing to him.


So endeth part one.




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Top 10 iconic photos of the 20th century


There are millions of wonderful photographs out there. There are many websites which celebrate great iconic photographs of the 20th century. However, future civilizations, looking back, will find only one that accurately ranks the top ten. You can probably guess which one. Remarkably, I have not only zeroed in on the top ten, but I've gotten the order right as well. That wasn't easy. I welcome your comments and dissent, but how can you argue with future civilizations.



10) Ruby assassination. Although there is some excellent work showing that Oswald acted alone (I haven't read Bugliosi's tome but can recommend Gerald Posner's Case Closed), but, we will likely never outlive the conspiracy theories. I have to admit, without knowing a single fact implicating Vice President LBJ or showing that he had a murderous bone in his body, having read Caro's political masterpieces, I  admit to entertaining unsupportable fantasies (to weak to call them suspicions) that he had the ambition, organizational ability, professional motive (becoming president), personal motive (his humiliation by the Kennedy's while VP) and personal depravity (just read the books) that make me think that he just might contemplate such a thing. Let me put it this way - if there were suddenly evidence, I'd say "I knew it." So would a lot of people.  Coupled with Oswald's Texas association (like LBJ), the place of the assassination (Texas) and Oswald's killing by a man in Texas who was soon to die himself, well. . . it is still just a fantasy. There is a picture from the rear of JFK's vehicle which would probably make a top 50 list, but I didn't find any that made the top ten. But, Oswald's execution by Jack Ruby, seen by millions on television, does make the list. It is a rare moment on film catching the shooter, victim and act at the moment. The recoil and look on one of Oswald's escorts is worth the top ten list alone.

 

ruby killing oswald.jpg



9) Ali knocking out Liston. Ali was at one time at least, the most recognizable figure in the world, known by more people than world leaders. He was, maybe still is, incredibly photogenic and a ham beyond words. Few thought Ali had much of a shot against the tough and intimidating Liston, who had won the championship in a one round knockout, and the betting odds were 7-1 against Ali.  I don't know if he was striking a pose at the moment this photograph was taken (knockout in the second fight while he was screaming for Liston to get up), but he couldn't have chosen better himself. Many think that second fight was fixed including a number of very respected former champions. Liston, with a colorful criminal history, was quite an interesting character himself, much more so than people know or remember. But, that's for another day.

 

Ali Liston.jpg

8) Albert Einstein - Probably the person in modern history most closely associated in our minds with the word genius. "Who do you think you are - Einstein?" He was an unusual man too, famously unorthodox and uncaring about appearance. Here, in his classic photograph, he mugs for the camera on his 72nd birthday, being tired of smiling. Instant classic. He gave away a signed copy he retained that was later sold for almost $75,000.

 

Albert Einstein.jpg

 

7) John John - This is also a Kennedy assassination photograph. Where the Oswald killing merely brings back memories or is shocking, this one stirs your emotions in a much different way. A little boy saluting his father as he passes, no matter who it is, tugs the heart strings. Even knowing his mom told him to do it doesn't change it at all. By all accounts a nice guy, the knucklehead continued the history of family tragedy, dying in a plane crash, flying when he shouldn't have. Those Kennedys. Oy.

 

John John.jpg

 

6)Sailor kissing girl - Just this year they located the sailor who kissed the girl in this iconic photograph celebrating Truman's announcement of the end of the war with Japan. It has long been controversial who the couple was. Maybe it still is but I favor the choice of George Mendonça and a stranger, Greta Friedman. Actually, in the photo is George's brand new girlfriend. They were on their first date. She says she never minded the spontaneous kiss. I'm pretty sure that's so because she married him later and they have made it work for over 65 years. The photo is by Alfred Eisenstaedt, already famous. But this was undoubtedly his most renowned.



sailor_kissing girl.jpg

 

5) Marilyn Monroe



Marilyn Monroe is herself in the top ten of iconic figures of the 20th century. She is dead some 50 years and still almost any adult from any generation can recognize her instantly. This picture is actually from a movie, The Seven Year Itch, in which she starred with Tom Ewell. Ewell was more of a stage actor and claims he never even saw any of his films.  Even the dress is famous. The dress designer, William Travilla, already an Oscar winner, claims to have had an affair with Marilyn too. And, she can't deny it. Not that it matters, but I'm skeptical.



Marilyn Monroe.jpg

4) Afghan Girl



It's the eyes, no doubt. That has to be the reason this picture of a then nameless, probably 12 year old Afghan girl is so mesmerizing. A refugee in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, the 1984 picture made the cover of National Geographic the next year. She didn't see it, of course, and remained the peasant girl she was. In 2002, she was found, and was surprised to learn she was world famous. She is long married and has three surviving daughters. Being found has come with a few financial rewards and though initially reluctant, she, Sharbat Gula, and the photographer, Steve McCurry, now supposedly keep in touch, though I'm not sure how.



afghan girl.jpg


 

3) Napalm girl



Another girl, this one even younger - but what a different story the photo tells. Burned by napalm, the poor Vietnamese child, age 9, runs down the road screaming "Too hot, too hot!" naturally, in Vietnamese. She had ripped off her own clothes off. The nudity almost caused the picture not to ever be published. If you don't feel pity looking at it, something is wrong with you. The photographer, Nick Ut, took her and other children to the hospital. Later she, Kim Phuc,  and her new husband sought and received asylum in Canada while she was traveling as a medical student. She is now a Canadian citizen and runs a foundation for children injured by war.  Who better?



Napalm Girl.jpg

 

2) Tank Man



Obviously, most great photographs involve some aspect of war or violence. This one too. There are several photographs of the same scene as it was caught on camera. Who he is (or was?) is completely unknown, as is his fate.  But, what the picture represents is  immortal.  Courage in the face of overwhelming power - the compassion, perhaps confusion, of the tank operator - the realization of Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man.  Of the ten, this one is my personal favorite.



Tank man.jpg

 

1) Iwo Jima flag raising



But, it was not the most iconic, which has to go to the staged photo of American soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood made two movies about this long and brutal battle for a small otherwise worthless island. Not great films, but worth seeing.

 

Iwo Jima flag raising.jpg

 

Runner ups. There are other candidates, like the Space Shuttle disaster and a couple of

Beatle covers (The Abbey Road cover would be my number 11) and even Elvis strumming his guitar. None of them crack the top ten for me. If you have a suggestion, let me know. Sometimes I am forced to revise.

 

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .