Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The agreement with Iran

This is an “I don’t know” post. I don’t know.

Unlike a lot of people, I have no crystal ball and don’t know if Iran has a program to make a nuclear bomb. I know they have a nuclear program and that it is believed by us and our partners in negotiating with Iran that they have a bomb breakout time of a few months. Personally, I don’t believe any of us know what they have and, as we learned during the Iraqi war, neither we nor Saddam knew what he had or didn’t have, could or could not do. And though I do not want Iran to have a bomb (and they profess they do not want to have one) I do believe they want us to believe they are planning on it because it makes it easier to negotiate with us.

It’s not that I’m unsure of absolutely everything in world affairs. Generally speaking there are those countries and groups I consider bad guys and others good guys. We are good guys, though occasionally we do bad things like most every country at one time or another. So are most of Western Europe, Japan, Taiwan, much of the former British Commonwealth like Australia and Canada, Israel and a few others.  Russia, China are countries we work with and trade with, but they are bad guys in many regards as is of course Iran, North Korea, ISIS,  al Qaeda, etc. You know them without me saying who for the most part. Some it is hard to tell and sometimes it depends what the issue is, as with Pakistan and Turkey.

I read a lot of history, politics, laymen’s science and the like. It hasn’t helped me be decisive, that’s for sure. Quite the opposite. If anything, though I enjoy predicting as much or more than the next guy, I actually feel as if it is very difficult to have a reasonable guess as to what might happen with anything. Not surprisingly, I am delighted when I’m right and am sure that it is because of some analysis (except for this year’s Kentucky Derby when I just picked the only three good horses in the race). Not just history, but science and almost every field of study shows us that not only are we pretty hopeless at guessing what is going to happen, but we never seem to learn our lesson. Two books came out in the last few years, written by mutual admirers, the first Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, and the second Daniel Kahnemann Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow. The Black Swan tries by various methods (some of which are just dumb), that you can’t predict the future by what happened in the past, at least for a whole range of topics. Kahnemann’s book, using psychological studies, explains how we have an intuitive side that operates really fast making broad and often irrational judgments and a contemplative side which operates more slowly using reason. I have some criticisms of both books, more so The Black Swan, which acknowledges there are many things we can predict but I think understates just how much that is (pretty much everything in our day to day lives – we wouldn’t even go to sleep or get out of bed if we didn’t rely heavily on experience that everything will be fine when we do).

But, my big problem with the two books is neither authors’ fault. It’s that we all should know that stuff without resort to a book, because most of it is just human nature. Of course you can’t predict the future from the past, at least with complicated stuff. And of course, we both have intuition and reason, and one is more useful than the other. Still, as with Steven Pinker’s older book, The Blank Slate, in which he felt the need to show that we are not a blank slate but programmed to act in certain ways, apparently we need reminding.

But, there are parts of the two books I love, if only because they make some arguments out for me that I am constantly harping on (at least here on this blog – in real life, no one wants to hear my philosophies of life – that’s why I have the blog).

Here’s one of them. Experts very often suck. Not just those who predict the weather either. And I don’t mean that you shouldn’t go to a doctor when you are sick, but in a whole host of things, so called experts are as bad as we are (financial advisors who tell you anything but diversify, make a lot of money in your job, and buy low sell high as much as you can should be liable for their fraud. Taleb points out how often experts are wrong because they seem to be immune to the common understanding that just because something happened before doesn’t mean it will happen again and Kahnemann shows through studies (which I wish he’d summarize better) that experts rush to judgment, avoid simple statistical facts (I’m not going to explain reversion to the mean, but it explains so many studies and facts that are attributed to all kinds of other things, that it would be funny if it wasn’t so counter-intuitive and also boring to think about). But, the best part is that they – experts - do this even when they have made the same mistake over and over again and even when acutely conscious of what they are doing. Hence – experts suck. At least many frequently do.

And, of course, we all do this to some degree, because no matter how many times we pick the wrong stock, think it’s going to rain when it doesn’t, bet on the wrong team and so on, we still apply the same useless rationales over and over again as to why we will be right the next time. And we believe “experts” when they tell us they know what they are talking about, even though we should know they don’t.

I have a bit of an anti-expert fetish and at least a few of my posts have had something to do with this. But, I was really excited last week when I came upon called The Experts Speak by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky.  The Experts Speak has one quote after another by experts on important things in which they were entirely wrong. I had spent some time arguing online and with other people face to face about the Iran deal. My main point is that based on my reading of history, treaties and pacts between countries have little to do with whether they go to war. Also, the predictions of our foreign policy experts are also useless. The countries that don’t want to go to war probably don’t need an agreement and those that do, don’t care if they are in one. It’s not that it’s not a worthy goal to work for peace – of course it is. But, in the end, who the leaders are and how they think about things, and sometimes dumb luck, are often far more important than any past agreement. For example, any number of treaties were entered into between and among Germany, Russia, France, Italy and Britain between the two wars. Those agreements didn’t mean anything.

Anyway, I quickly ordered The Experts Speak, hoping it would have a WWII section, and it did. Mostly I was happy because it saved me from having to do a lot of research to write this post, and I’m hoping their quotes are accurate. I won’t copy all of them here, but some examples in this section are worth repeating. Keep in mind, it doesn’t seem to matter who the experts are, from what country they come, how close to the event they were in time or place, or how certain they were. They just thought they knew:

Here’s a former chancellor of Germany and vice chancellor under Hitler, von Papen, who was also largely responsible for bringing Hitler into government in 1933. It’s not that he was a Nazi. It’s that he was sure there was –

No danger at all. We’ve hired him for our act. . . . Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far in the corner that he’ll squeak.”

That same year, FDR’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull –

Mistreatment of Jews in Germany may be considered virtually eliminated.

Same year from one of the most respected political journalists ever, Walter Lippman, and certainly no fascist –

[T]he outer world will do well to accept the evidence of German goodwill and seek by all possible means to meet it and to justify it.”

Same year, this one from Britain’s Prime Minister, James Ramsay Macdonald –

I do not doubt Germany’s motives. I have never doubted them, and I hope that I will never be hasty enough to doubt them.”

Another former British Prime minister during WWI, David Lloyd George, and so of course many would think he knew best, stated in an 1933 interview –

Believe me, Germany is unable to wage war”

and in another interview the same year -

“Germany has no desire to attack any country in Europe . . . .”

This from another WWI hero, France’s Pétain in 1934 (and depending on your point of view, a savior or traitor to France in WWII; he was Prime Minister of Vichy France after Germany defeated her; he returned to France for trial after the war, was condemned to death and served a life sentence instead). The bottom line, is that this military expert from WWI was just plain wrong when it came to WWII, though you’d think his experience would have given him some valuable insight –

On leaving Monmédy, we come to the Ardennes forests. If certain preparations are made, these are impenetrable. . . . This sector is not dangerous.”

Of course, Prime Minister Chamberlain is famous for being spectacularly wrong about Hitler in signing the Munich Agreement just the year before the actual war, 1938–

For the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. . . . Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”


In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that there was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”

Don’t think our own heroes of the war necessarily knew better. When the Munich agreement was signed, FDR telegrammed Chamberlain -

 Good man.”

Jan Smuts, a South African Prime Minister, wrote - “He risked all and I trust he has won all.

France’s Prime Minister, Daladier, who also signed the agreement, was as badly wrong as Chamberlain and everyone else –

I am . . . . certain today that, thanks to the desire to make mutual concessions, and thanks to the spirit of collaboration which has animated the action of the four Great Powers of the West, peace is saved.”

It’s not just politicians of course who were constantly wrong. This from Time Magazine in June, 1939, just a little before Germany Blitzed Poland –

The modern German theory of victory by Blitzkrieg (lightning war) is untried and, in the opinion of many experts, unsound.”

And then this gem –

The French army is still the strongest all-around fighting machine in Europe.”

Charles Lindbergh is now vilified in modern times as an anti-Semite, but at the time he was a heroic figure, and someone people looked to for what to believe about war and air power in general. He said about Britain in 1938 –

This country has neither the spirit nor the ability needed for a modern war.”

 Before we entered the war in 1941, he said in a speech –

It is not only our right but it is our obligation as American citizens to look at this war objectively and to weigh our chances for success if we should enter it. I have attempted to do this, especially form the standpoint of aviation; and I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England, regardless of how much assistance we extend.”

After France was defeated in 1940, a famous French military figure, Maxime Weygand (also considered a collaborator with Germany by many) famously said -

In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken” which led to Churchill’s famous comeback after Germany’s invasion failed – “Some chicken - Some neck.”

Our Ambassador to Britain, Joseph Kennedy was just as wrong - 

I have Yet to talk to any military or naval expert of any nationality who thinks. . . that England has a Chinaman’s chance.” (I actually looked up “Chinaman’s Chance”. The saying, now obviously considered racist, was “a Chinaman’s chance in hell.” There are a couple of suggestions about how it originated, but possibly from their railroad work in the 1800s when they used nitroglycerin to make tunnels or from the Gold Rush when they got the bad land claims and weren’t thought to have a lot of chance to make a killing). Of course, he also predicted his son could not win the presidential election.

Here’s another from FDR. Maybe he was lying. It’s nicer to think he was just wrong –

And while I am talking to you mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”

Don’t think Hitler knew any better. He was, after some initial victories, won through intimidation and surprise, almost always wrong. But, this one was my favorite remarks of his in 1940 –

The United States will not be a threat to us for decades—not in 1945 but at the earliest in 1970 or 1980.”

Up there for the funniest comment is General Douglas MacArthur, who said the night before it was announced that Japan had joined the Axis -

Japan will never join the Axis.”

Even the legendary William Shirer author about Germany, wrote soon after that country turned on The USSR -

It is hardly too much to say that the campaign against Russia has been won in fourteen days.”

Of course, what about Churchill? Well, it turned out he was right about Germany, and seemed like a prophet before the war. Of course, it is important to point out – his voice was virtually ignored and at those years for him are best known as The Wilderness Years, because he was not in government. But, when they started listening, he was also wrong about a lot of things. Most famous is his WWI decision to invade Turkey in the Dardenelles which resulted in a slaughter for his side and his loss of his position (he quite bravely and unnecessarily went to fight at the front lines). A book review of Tuvia Ben-Moshe’s Churchill: Strategy and History states:

“Ben-Moshe . . . says Churchill’s strategy was consistent. It was also consistently wrong. Whether in the First World War, when he urged a landing on the island of Borkum in the mouth of the Ems on the Dutch-German border, or in the Second, when he planned the invasions of Norway, Greece, and Italy, he was always trying to evade the only place where the main German forces could be defeated. So he dragged America into his Mediterranean campaign and did all he could to scupper plans for the invasion of France. He failed to appreciate that the best way to destroy the German army was to bring the enormous weight of American industrial production to bear upon it. Obsessed by the string of British military failures in the Middle East and Far East, he lost faith in his generals and in the courage of their soldiers, and in so doing underestimated the fighting spirit that American troops had already displayed in the Philippines and at Guadalcanal.

Unlike Clausewitz, Ben-Moshe argues, Churchill forgot that war is related to politics. He became so engrossed in military operations that he neglected the Soviet threat to postwar Europe. When at last Churchill became alarmed by the Soviets, he wanted Allied forces deployed to take Vienna, an operation quite beyond their power. He later blamed America for allowing the extension of communism over eastern Europe, although he himself had agreed to it at Yalta. And had he not decided to back Tito in Yugoslavia? Churchill’s history of the Second World War is a long study in self-exculpation. The best that can be said of him is that he knew how to avoid defeat: but not how to win.”

And so on. He was also spectacularly wrong about Gandhi and Empire too.

I’m talking history here, but I could point out that after his so-called miracle year, Einstein was pretty much proved right in a significant physics matter only once more a few years later but was wrong about almost everything for most of his life. Most physicists feel he lost the long debate with Bohr and his followers over quantum physics and what underlies reality (still undecided, of course – and they are experts too, so, what do they know?) and he was even wrong about the impossibility of the atomic bomb until Szilard explained it to him. To be fair, Einstein was dealing with some of the most difficult questions known to man and was a great genius. In any event, we could make the same argument in every single field. What makes progress is constant correction after failure (if not dumb luck) which became a great deal easier after mankind’s greatest historical invention, writing.
To get back to Iran and the controversial or historical or bad agreement, depending on your point of view, I have not yet made up my mind. I find laughable the objection from the right that 24 days notice to inspect military sites is too long because Iran will hide everything (one candidate said even a child would know better than to agree to this). I do believe the IAEF and our Department of Energy, which say it is not remotely enough time to hide from the technology  which will easily show if there have been nuclear sites present far longer than 24 days. Admittedly, I am relying on experts in my belief, and they may be completely wrong.  

Moreover, we have constant surveillance of manufacturing and processing sites (or you could say, those ones we know about). And I also find laughable the right’s argument that the only reasonable agreement is the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities completely, because Iran is a member of the International nuclear non-proliferation treaty which gives them the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
And, on the left, I sneer at John Kerry’s insistence that they raised Iran’s hostages at every meeting because obviously Iran didn’t feel the need to care and that means a major goal of ours went unfulfilled, whereas Iran seems to have gotten precisely what it claims it wanted. Nor do I understand if we were bothering to have this long a negotiation anyway, why other topics weren’t on the table, like Iran’s support of terrorism, but, the truth is, Iran is forbidden from doing a number of things already by the international community that it does anyway. It is going to support Shiite causes, whether Hizbollah, the Houthi or the Syrian government and we actually do want them to combat ISIS (without getting any benefits from it, of course).

In all, from what I know so far, it looks like the issues were fairly closely split as to which side got what they wanted, unless, of course, Iran has a secret program we don’t know about, in which case, none of this was worth it. I disagree with those who say that there are other possibilities between war and an agreement, that is, a better agreement. We have to keep in mind that Iran has stayed the course over crippling sanctions all these years. They hurt, but they were not just giving in. Nor would China or Russia likely support a war against Iran, and they are part of the negotiating teams. More likely they would supply it with weapons. In fact, I doubt very much the U.N., war weary itself, and with many countries much more afraid of ISIS, would support war either.
Of course, we would likely win an air war and cripple Iran’s navy (or so the experts think). That would be fun and satisfying. But, we are just not invading that huge country, particularly with Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan ongoing. It is possible that we could beat Iran into submission with a sustained war of six months. What damage they could do to their neighbors (and probably some to us) in the meantime is not calculable. Eventually, like Serbia I believe they would have to fold. But, at what cost? These things almost immediately become unpredictable. Whatever it is, the cost is likely not one we or Israel is willing to pay. And, in the meantime, it would seem likely that Iran would go all out for a bomb and perhaps achieve it.

In the end, my complaint against the agreement is not that which many people have. As far as I can tell so far, and I read most of it, is only with our failure to get our citizens back. However, I do not think it inconceivable that that goal was made a part of a secret agreement or that with a wink and a nod, our team knows it is going to happen suddenly without apparent negotiation. This may be completely wishful thinking on my part.
And, of course, there is also intelligence. It’s not something any country wants to do without, but, it is always highly flawed. After all, they are just one more type of expert and faced with incalculable variables.  We know that with Iraq in 2003, all of the intelligence services who gave an opinion were as wrong as we were about WMDs. That doesn’t mean they always will be, but the history of success is very spotty. Perhaps the most respected of military writers, John Keegan, has written in Intelligence in War that intelligence in time of war is highly ineffective and probably irrelevant much of the time, even when it is right. I had trouble agreeing with him (he is, after all, an expert). But, he challenged any scholar who disagreed to show him he was wrong, and to my knowledge, no one has come forward.

As I said at the beginning, I can’t guess whether this will work out or lead to war or just decades more of hostility. Others can and will make those prediction. Those who by chance, and it is likely that, turn out right, will have bragging rights. Those who were wrong, but also by chance, will be defeated and have it raised against them in the future.

When you are a cynic and skeptic, when you tend to not believe experts (though I, of course, rely on many too), you also tend to end up with your blog posts saying something like – I just don’t know.  Feel free to mock me, but you don’t know what is going to happen with Iran either. Nor do any of the experts we all rely on.  I just don't understand why so many people think they do know against so much evidence.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Political update for June, 2015

I just love that Rodney Dangerfield line about being so unknown that when he quit, he was the only one who knew he quit.

But, no, I haven't quit blogging. I wrote this a few weeks ago and by the time I got back to it, it was old news. Then I did a post with pictures in it and blogger wouldn't take. I don't know why and I have never had any luck dealing with blogger, which is why you don't get bothered with advertisements. I can't figure it out.

Anyway, I give up and will post the following, written a few weeks ago when it was a little more timely.  More coming in the future (if anyone is actually reading this, of course).


Sometimes I wonder how the political pundits of the world know what to write about when I haven’t spoken in a while. Fortunately for them, I have something to say this month.

Murder most foul

Let’s start with the political ramifications of the acts of the monster in South Carolina who shot nine people to death in a church. I was hoping I was going to be the first to say I’m am actually not that happy about the forgiveness of church members or the family, but since I started writing this I’ve seen one commentator talk about the same thing on tv and read an article by another. Oh, well. I’ll try to change it into something a little different.
First - the idea is that he is a misguided racist and that explains his acts, for which they forgive him. Racism may be the obvious and stated reason for his acts, but I don’t think it is the real reason.  I know some white people who are to some degree racist (who hasn’t been accused? – I have), and they would never dream of shooting anyone nor think that blacks should have any lesser rights than them. In fact, some are even close to some blacks just like this nut. This guy is a psychopath and racism is just the cover for it, something he hooked onto recently that allows him an excuse to kill people. If it wasn’t that, he would have killed someone because his dog or Satan told him to do it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think there should be consequences for this. Everyone who kills another person without a recognizable rational reason (there are good rational reasons, like self-defense, and bad rational reasons, like getting rid of your older sibling so you can be king) can be called crazy or insane. Arguably, you could excuse any murder by arguing that no one in their right mind would behave so and they need treatment, not punishment. The way most states do it, it is not his delusions that count, but whether he knows the difference between what we call right and wrong. The guy ran and hid. That indicated he knew what he did was going to get him in trouble and probably all that is needed to defeat the insanity defense. But, leaving that aside – does it mean we should forgive him? I don’t forgive him. At least not yet. Maybe if they give him some pills and I genuinely believe it was a chemical problem and he now recognizes he was out of his mind, I'll have second thoughts, but even then I’m going to be very cynical. I just don’t believe that is going to happen anyway. What should be the ramifications of insanity, anyway? Probably living in a controlled environment for the rest of his life like Hinckley. But I can wait until he proves that to me before I think about forgiveness.

If I believe that he was so out of his mind he literally was not exercising free will the way we think generally think about it, then there is no need for forgiveness. If he did exercise free will, then I will forgive him when I believe he is truly sorry and accepts responsibility. Until then, nope. After all, it’s not like he just had a bad day. Right now, I’d rather strap a bomb to him and drop him on ISIS. After a fair trial, of course.

Skipping ahead, the tragedy has empowered those who want to take the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina state capitol building. Nicky Haley, South Carolina’s governor – a Republican, has come around to thinking it’s time because of the tragedy, the conversations going on in America about race and maybe. . . maybe, smart politics.

The flag is, of course, a symbol, not a direct statement. I haven’t looked it up in the dictionary, but, I’d say that symbols are things that habitually evoke an idea of something other than itself in people.  It can evoke very powerful feelings, but not necessarily the same ones for everybody. To some, the Confederate flag represents their heritage and honor, not racism. For some independence or freedom. For me a period of history I've read about for decades with no good or bad sentiments attached.  To others, of course, white supremacy.

When symbolic values are important to people they feel insulted that others don't view it the same way and they often believe it is because of negative qualities in those who differ - confusion, stupidity, hatred, etc.

But, most people don't seem to care about all that philosophical stuff. They insist the symbol means what they say it means and nothing else. When it's enough people and the feelings are powerful enough, it causes unrest. Right now, the momentum is on the side of those who feel it is a symbol of white supremacy and I think the flag is going to the museum. It already has outside of South Carolina.

Politically speaking, it will be a good thing for Republicans in general if they follow Haley's lead and don't fight it. Some of them know that and some will fight it. As with same sex marriage, acceptance of evolution at least as a reasonable theory, global warming (whether you or I believe in it or not), holding to the course with the Confederate flag will help Republican presidential candidates in the primaries and cripple them in the general election.

What I don’t like is knee jerk reactions to mob behavior. Nothing a graffiti artist does can compare to murder, but I was outraged by the defacing of Confederate monuments, particularly with the Black Lives Matter motto that obviously is a cry of despair for those who believe in it but for me and many others it is a racist tirade born of a fraud which insists at the same time that others are racist and ignores the most overlooked fact in our racial history - that in modern day American the overwhelming amount of violence against blacks, particularly murder, comes not from police, but from other blacks. Trust me, no one in the media will care much. The defacement of art works will be compared to the history of suffering by minorities and in our society – now – the majority always loses. Mobs, ycchh. Whether they are minority or majority – ycchh.

When I lived near Lexington, Va. I would often go to Washington and Lee University to use their library. Lee’s chapel was there and down the road a cemetery where Stonewall Jackson was buried. Both were slave owners. Both were instrumental in the defense of the Confederacy. I took a number of people with me to see both. They weren’t racists (well, maybe one – the kind with black friends). They and I were interested in the history and aesthetics of the place. When the town had a day celebrating these local heroes, they made it clear in their banners that they were celebrating heritage and honor, not slavery. In fact, the university appeared to me to be as liberal in general attitude as other universities I’ve been to or worked at.

Me – if I were given the power to make the decision? I’d probably take the flag off the capital. I probably would have done it a long time ago. It’s not that one group’s view of a symbol is any better than another’s. I just prefer not to offend so many people when there is at least some basis for their opinion. That’s a pretty vague standard, of course. But, the Confederacy was a government based upon the idea that slavery should exist and the confederate states did, worse than elsewhere in the United States, continue the legacy for a long time. Some stay still, but I really don’t think so. State houses are for everyone. As for private individuals or businesses - that's their choice, and if there reason to keep it is to be obstinate or to not sell them is poor business reasons - it is still their choice.

In any event, they are coming down.

The Donald

Oh, God, he’s back. What a jerk. What a great campaigner. What a clueless moron. What a great strategist. What a disaster for Republicans.  His announcement was a masterpiece, because he said things you aren’t supposed to say, insulted people, made ridiculous claims about what would happen when he was elected (not like others don’t do that), was pompous beyond words and told us over and over what a nice guy he was. He also doesn’t seem to be able to finish a sentence without going off on at least two tangents.

Despite all that, it was enervating to hear a politician be unscripted and not carping, to say he wanted to destroy our enemies and compete with our competitors, whose leaders he said were smarter than ours, and call out the current administration. I wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump, but when he pointed out the obvious, that John Kerry is no negotiator, I wanted to cheer.

That’s why his performance put him into the number two position in the polls. I thought, eventually, he will say something crazy – like he still thinks that Obama was born in Kenya or Hillary killed Vince Foster and he knows the best investigators and they are on the job. Crazy stuff. I cringed when I heard him speak about Mexicans, but I didn't realize he already had crossed the line.

What does it mean that I can’t wait to see the debates if he is in them? It may be like watching Curley Howard selling caskets to widows, but it will be an event.

More likely, sooner or later, he is going to say something even worse that will get him huge cheers from conservative audiences, but make them all seem like fools and perhaps cripple their chances. If you doubt it, remember his birther speeches.


George Pataki is running for president.

Lindsey Graham is running for president.

Ted Cruz is running for president.

Rick Perry is running for president again.

Bobby Jindal is running for president.

Oh, Rick Santorum is running for president again.

I don’t see it gentlemen.

As for the lady, I don’t want to laugh yet that Carly Fiorina is running for president although perhaps Trump has completely stolen her thunder as the business person in the group. I like her. She’s gotten, if not great funding and polling results, critical acclaim – almost like an art movie. I have the smallest of hopes for her.

On the Democrat side, the list is of course much smaller.

Bernie Sanders is running for president. I heard him speak the other day. I’m sure many liberals love him as he calls himself the most progressive senator today. I saw in one poll that he was 24% in Iowa, which is HUGE, considering Hillary, still the front runner, is the competition. Then it was 33%.  Now I hear that he is almost even in New Hampshire, but that is home territory.  He is very close to being an avowed socialist, something he has called himself before. I don’t think by socialist he means what it used to mean, but if you listen to his ideas, it’s not just a chicken in every pot – it’s five chickens to a pot and we’ll make the Koch brothers pay for them. I doubt that even the greater part of the Democrat Party is ready for that. Still, in primary politics, where the extremists are the norm, he may increase the inroads he made. He is not a laugher. I give him a 20% chance to win the nomination if Hillary self-destructs.

Lincoln Chafee is running for president. Chafee was a Republican and one I admired because of his moderation. Now he is a Democrat, which you cannot be with any success if you are not very liberal and he has run in that direction. When he speaks, you expect that the person next to you will suddenly say – who is he again?

Martin O’Malley is polling almost as low as Chafee though he makes a much better appearance and was first in. I actually think, if Hillary stumbles, he is a more likely contender than Sanders, who far outpolls him now and definitely better for the Democrats in a general election.

How about a Trump v. Sanders debate. That’s a must see.

But, if Hillary did stumble badly or fall out completely – would Biden get in? With the sympathy factor so high because of his son’s death, he might have a new gravitas. Would John Kerry jump in again too?  I don’t put anything past him. And, if you think the Obama Administration was bad, you are going to be crying if he ever takes the Oval Office. I would.

Will Hillary win because it seems so natural to call her Hillary and everyone else by their last names. I tried to call her Clinton, but that’s her husband.


There’s not much to say about this that so many others have already said. Maybe nothing. It looks like a train wreck. Even some of his own past advisors have now come out warning Obama he’s failing. I can’t imagine two politicians less able to negotiate with our global enemies. Their smugness, duplicity and seeming desperation and carelessness in running towards any agreement for which they can declare victory makes Donald Trump look like a statesman. Apparently, they are willing to pay Iran for the privilege of having an agreement with him. I'm afraid that’s what we are going to see. From what I understand, Iran has upped the ante - demanding an end to the arms embargo. And, according to the White House spokesman, it hasn't been rejected.

I didn’t know what was going to happen by June 30, 2015, when there was supposed to be a deal. We know how the president is with red lines. They aren’t red.  They put it forward, of course. Will they again. I'm not sure.  We may hear today.

It’s almost like a television show – you may not know exactly what is going to happen, but you know it isn't going to end well.  If I'm wrong, and they make a good deal, I'll say it. I just doubt it.

That’s it.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Who said it - Poetry

It’s been a while since we played the universe’s favorite game – Who said it? It’s a little different this time.  I give you the poem, found somewhere in my library, and you tell me who wrote it out of the four choices I give you. Really, there’s no reason you should know the answers to these questions and I wouldn’t do very well either, except on two.  But give it a shot.  If it was originally in a foreign language, of course I have the English translation.  Answers at the bottom and as usual I apologize for the sometimes odd formatting. It's over my head.

  1. This first one is about a future president’s  schoolmate, named Matthew, who went crazy in his late teens. When the poet returned as an adult to his home town, he found Matthew still alive and I guess wondered why. This is the first three and last stanza.
But here’s an object more of dread
Than ought the grave contains—
A human form with reason fled, mad-man wild
While wretched life remains.

Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,
A fortune-favored child—
Now locked for aye, in mental night,
A haggard mad-man wild.
Poor Matthew! I have ne’er forgot
When first, with maddened will,
Yourself you maimed, your father fought,
And mother strove to kill;            
-  - -
O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince,
That keepst the world in fear;
Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence,
And leave him ling’ring here? 
  1.  Abraham Lincoln   b.  Thomas Jefferson  c.  William McKinley  d.  Franklin D. Roosevelt
O nature I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy quire,
To be a meteor in the sky
Or comet that may range on high,
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low. 

Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.
In some withdrawn unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods with leafy din
Whisper the still evening in,
For I had rather be thy child
And pupil in the forest wild
Than be the king of men elsewhere
And most sovereign slave of care
To have one moment of thy dawn
Than share the city’s year forlorn.
Some still work give me to do                      
Only be it near to you.
  1. Robert E. Lee   b. Jeb Stuart  c. Ralph Waldo Emerson  D. Henry David Thoreau
Dear is my sleep, but more to be mere stone,
So long as ruin and dishonor reign.
To see naught, to feel naught, is my great gain;
Then wake me not; speak in an undertone.
  1. Ghengis Khan  b. Marcus Anthony   c. Michaelangelo  d. Einstein

That Gourd I’ll bear wherever I go
That name will be a charm
To nerve my arm ‘gainst ev’ry foe
And ev’ry foe disarm.
‘Mong those whom I can ne’er forget
(let none their worth gainsay)
I’ll prize thee dearest-fondest yet
My Bettie—far away.

       a.  Jeb Bush  b. Jeb Stuart  c. Robert E. Lee  d. Robert Burns

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
               a. General William Sherman  b. Edgar Allan Poe  c.  Longfellow   d.  J.R.R. Tolkien


By one decisive argument,
Giles gained his lovely Kate’s consent
To fix the bridal day.
“Why such haste, dear Giles, to wed?
I shall not change my mind,” she said.
“But, then,” said he, “I may!” 
  1. Dashiell Hammett  b. Raymond Chandler  c. Richard Burton  d. Damon Runyon


How every member of Convention,
Tortures his brains and racks invention,
To blast good men and in their place
Foist knaves and fools with better grace:

O’erturn our happy constitution,
Reduce all order to confusion,
With want of laws make mankind groan,
And on their miseries raise a throne.

  1. Aaron Burr  b. Nathan Hale  c. Noah Webster  d. Ethan Allen

8)  I guess the author of this was practiced at deception. Not so nice for the husband, but a revealing poem. 
  1. Arrive before your husband. Not that I can
    See quite what good arriving first will do;
    But still arrive before him. When he’s taken
    His place upon the couch and you go too
    To sit beside him, on your best behavior,
    Stealthily touch my foot, and look at me,
    Watching my nods, my eyes, my face’s language;
    Catch and return my signals secretly.
    I’ll send a wordless message with my eyebrows;
    You’ll read my fingers’ words, words traced in wine.
    When you recall our games of love together,
    Your finger on rosy cheeks must trace a line.
    If in your silent thoughts you wish to child me,
    Let your hand hold the lobe of your soft ear;
    When, darling, what I do or say gives pleasure,
    Keep turning to and fro the ring you wear.
    When you wish well-earned curses on your husband,
    Lay your hand on the table, as in prayer.
    If he pours you wine, watch out, tell him to drink it;
    Ask for what you want from the waiter there.
    I shall take next the glass you hand the waiter,
    And I’ll drink from the place you took your sips;
    If he should offer anything he’s tasted,
    Refuse whatever food has touched his lips.
    Don’t let him plant his arms around your shoulder,
    Don’t rest your gentle head on his hard chest,
    Don’t let your dress, your breasts, admit his fingers,
    And—most of all—no kisses to be pressed!
    You kiss—and I’ll reveal myself your lover;
    I’ll say ‘they’re mine’; my legal claim I’ll stake.
    All this, of course, I’ll see, but what’s well hidden
    Under your dress—blind terror makes me quake.
                         a.King Solomon b.  Ovid   c.  Upton Sinclair   d.  LBJ 

What a piece of work is man!
How noble in reason!
How infinite in faculty!
In form, in moving, how express and admirable!
In action, how like an angel!
In apprehension, how like a god! 
            a. Shakepeare  b.  Milton  c.  Upton Sinclair  d.  Freud
In devil’s dungeon chained I lay
The pangs of death swept o’er me.
My sin devoured me night and day
In which my mother bore me.
My anguish ever grew more rife,
I took no pleasure in my life
And sin had made me crazy.
Then was the Father troubled sore
To see me ever languish.
The Everlasting Pity swore
To save me from my anguish.
He turned to me his father heart
And chose himself a bitter part,
His Dearest did it cost him.
Thus spoke the Son, “Hold thou to me,
From now on thou wilt make it.
I gave my very life for thee
And for thee I will stake it.
For I am thine and thou are mine,
And where I am our lives entwine,
The Old Fiend cannot shake it.”

  1. St. Paul  b. Martin Luther  c. Francis Scott Key  d. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  1. A.  Abe Lincoln.  I have no idea if he asked Matt how he was doing first before he wrote a poem wondering why he wasn’t dead.
  2. D.  Thoreau. One of my three favorite American prose authors. But not a great poet.
  3. C.   Michaelangelo, writing about his newly unveiled statue of Night, Michaelangelo decided to write his own. I’ve seen the statue. It’s worth a poem, and has an interesting story. For one, like other works of his, except for her breasts, her body is clearly that of a man – they even have sketches of males done by him for it. It is also argued by physicians that her left breast shows several indications of cancer, and that it seems to be deliberate (for which I have no opinion).
  4. B.   Jeb Stuart, writing of a young love. As good a calvary man as Jeb was, he did not outlive the war and, thankfully, did not become a full time poet.
  5. D.   J.R.R. Tolkien.  That’s right out of The Hobbit. It’s what Bilbo said on returning to The Hobbit after his long adventure. Gandalf, who was with him noted that he had changed quite a bit since they started out a year before.
  6. A.   Sounds like it would be a Damon Runyon thing, as it is comical. But, it was Dashiell Hammett. Though he had a long affair with the playwrite, Lillian Hellman, and they discussed marriage frequently, they never went down the aisle together.  Lucky for her as he was more than a handful. He was impossible.  At least he wasn’t so drunk that he showed her his poems along these lines.  Of course, he was married to another woman, and she and their children are who I feel sorry for.
  7. C.  Noah Webster.  Fascinating man. It almost sounds like he is chastising congress. But it was the opposite. If he was nothing else, he was all for the U.S. and against anyone most who challenged it – in the case of this poem, groups opposed to a congressional act to pay officers more money to make up for the depreciating currency after the Revolutionary War.
  8. D. LBJ, the cad, probably said as much to someone, but it was Ovid a long, long time ago.
  9. A. Shakespeare.  Hamlet. It was my gimme.
  10. B  Martin Luther.  Technically a hymn to be sung, but what’s the difference? I have been fascinated by Herr Luther for a long time. Not that I believe what he did, but he was a revolutionary figure nonetheless.

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 . . . .