Sunday, September 02, 2018

Farewell, John McCain

Have you noticed that death alone awakens our feelings? How we love the friends who have just left us? How we admire those of our teachers who have ceased to speak, their mouths filled with earth! Then the expression of admiration springs forth naturally, that admiration they were perhaps expecting from us all their lives. But do you know why we are always more just and more generous toward the dead? The reason is simple. With them there is no obligation.” – Albert Camus

I wrote the following paragraph in December, 2006, thinking about the then upcoming 2008 presidential nomination process, trying to predict who might have a chance in the nomination process. At the time, Rudy Giuliani was doing really well in the polls before he self-destructed (and as far as I am concerned, never completely recovered). After I wrote it, McCain bottomed out, was virtually out of the race, but held on and rallied to win it. And I was glad. I’m correcting a couple of typos, which I left in the original, before posting this, because, frankly, they are embarrassing. And who’s going to complain if I do? Without some compulsion to be honest about it, who would know? Ironically, I frequently edit other people’s work for profit and friendship, but somehow still can’t find the strength to edit my own posts before I hit publish, even if I spent days writing it. I’m just babbling, as usual. Here’s the bit on McCain:

“John McCain. Long time Arizona Senator. I am a little biased here. He has been my personal favorite since the late 90s. McCain is a genuine war hero. In the modern world, you often just need to sign up or show up for hero status, but McCain survived years of POW torture, and refused to go home ahead of others who were there before him, which he could have due to his privileged position as an admiral’s son. Sounds pretty heroic to me. I like McCain for his moderation, his willingness to buck his own party, his willingness to admit mistakes. He is a formidable speaker, strong on defense, and appears to me, at least, to put country first. Many conservatives dislike him for the same reasons I like him. Naturally, I don’t like everything he does either. Some of his supposedly benevolent positions like the campaign reform law he sponsored and his attempts to censor certain commercial activities in order to protect children, cross over first amendment boundaries in my opinion. I watched a hearing where he grilled now convicted Enron executive, Jeffrey Skilling, and showed a lack of understanding of basic economics. However, most of his comrades seemed equally clueless. He has already disappointed me by wisely asking the forgiveness of the same religious groups he castigated in 2000 by going to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and speaking there. Still, he knows what he needs to do to win. I give him THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION DESPITE GIULIANI'S GENERAL POPULARITY.”

Reading it again, I’m actually surprised to see that I feel pretty much the same way today as I did in 2006. I don’t know that I would change anything substantive in it. When he died he was still my favorite politician. I think my future biographer will have little trouble establishing that as I just did a word search for “McCain” on my blog and that found I’ve mentioned him in 99 posts since I started in September, 2006!!!  I’ve only posted 497 times total. That means I mentioned him in about 1 out of every 5 posts. That probably means I mentioned him in almost every political post I’ve written. Glad I didn’t know that. And, what I wrote, seems to be generally the same stuff that others say about him all the time, both the good and bad of it. So much for originality on my part.

When McCain lost his bid for the presidency, I was, not surprisingly, disappointed, although he did such a bad job campaigning that at the time he lost, it was already a foregone conclusion to everyone but those for whom it is an article of faith to be certain their side will win until they don’t. I was living in Virginia at the time and the local city newspaper published an op-ed I wrote about it. It doesn’t look to me that I ever posted it here, and it’s definitely too late now. If I recall, my main view was that the reasons he lost did not include his choice for VP (although, is there anyone left who doesn’t think that was a bad choice outside of her family?), but rather Bush fatigue, the economic collapse during another Republican’s term and, did I say this – a really bad campaign?

My feelings at his recent death were more complicated. First, we had quite a while to deal with it since he first announced his brain cancer.  So, hardly a shock. Second, I am in a period where I can barely stomach to watch anything political, though I expect that will change next year when people start jockeying for position for 2020. I also have a strange tendency to get irritated when the press makes a big deal out of a politician dying. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s a good reason, but I can’t think of it. I just do.

But, most of all, I wasn’t planning on watching because I didn’t want to see the hypocrisy of his fellow pols, most of whom I didn’t respect the way I did McCain, praise him, even treat him as a savior, when all they did during their careers were shoot him down unless they thought he’d vote the way they’d like. He was not, for all of his vaunted moderation, a popular man in many ways. Leave aside his famous explosive temper and perhaps some arrogance in private that I’d expect a world famous person like him might have (people who aren’t even famous on their block are arrogant, so why not him?), politicians, like most people, do not like moderates much. Yes, they hate their opposition, but I think they hate the moderate more (and McCain was largely conservative his whole career – just more moderate than most). The reason is, the moderate ruins the game, that is, that either a Democrat or Republican position, or a conservative or liberal one, is all there is. And one side has to win (coupled with the fantasy that next time everyone will see reason and it will be them).

Democrats sometimes loved him prior to his run for president. That’s because he’d sometimes take their side and more often, work with them on something he saw as important. Republicans, not surprisingly, hated him for that. After all, he took their money and ran as a Republican. There’s nothing politicians hate more than apostates. And the love from Democrats ended when he had the temerity to oppose their choice. Then he became a bad guy. I get to quote Mark Twain here at length. I actually love this and handcopied pages of the two speeches out of a book. Because I’m grateful to people who even skim what I write, this is only part of it:

“I have referred to the fact that when a man retires from his political party he is a traitor — that he is so pronounced in plain language. That is bold; so bold as to deceive many into the fancy that it is true. Desertion, treason — these are the terms applied. . .  What is the process when a voter joins a party? Must he prove that he is sound in any way, mind or body? Must he prove that he knows anything — is capable of anything — whatever? Does he take an oath or make a promise of any sort?— or doesn’t he leave himself entirely free? If he were informed by the political boss that if he join, it must be forever; that he must be that party’s chattel and wear its brass collar the rest of his days — would not that insult him? It goes without saying. He would say some rude, unprintable thing, and turn his back on that preposterous organization. But the political boss puts no conditions upon him at all; and this volunteer makes no promises, enlists for no stated term. He has in no sense become a part of an army; he is in no way restrained of his freedom. Yet he will presently find that his bosses and his newspapers have assumed just the reverse of that: that they have blandly arrogated to themselves an ironclad military authority over him; and within twelve months, if he is an average man, he will have surrendered his liberty, and will actually be silly enough to believe that he cannot leave that party, for any cause whatever, without being a shameful traitor, a deserter, a legitimately dishonored man.

There you have the just measure of that freedom of conscience, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech and action which we hear so much inflated foolishness about as being the precious possession of the republic. Whereas, in truth, the surest way for a man to make of himself a target for almost universal scorn, obloquy, slander, and insult is to stop twaddling about these priceless independencies and attempt to exercise one of them. If he is a preacher half his congregation will clamor for his expulsion — and will expel him, except they find it will injure real estate in the neighborhood; if he is a doctor his own dead will turn against him.


I repeat that the new party-member who supposed himself independent will presently find that the party have somehow got a mortgage on his soul, and that within a year he will recognize the mortgage, deliver up his liberty, and actually believe he cannot retire from that party from any motive howsoever high and right in his own eyes without shame and dishonor.

. . .

This infamous doctrine of allegiance to party plays directly into the hands of politicians of the baser sort — and doubtless for that it was borrowed — or stolen — from the monarchial system. It enables them to foist upon the country officials whom no self-respecting man would vote for if he could but come to understand that loyalty to himself is his first and highest duty, not loyalty to any party name.

Shall you say the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say that it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter and become a mouthing lunatic besides? Oh no, you say; it does not demand that. But what if it produce that in spite of you? . . .”

And

"He taught them that the only true freedom of thought is to think as the party thinks; that the only true freedom of speech is to speak as the party dictates; that the only righteous toleration is toleration of what the party approves; that patriotism, duty, citizenship, devotion to country, loyalty to the flag, are all summed up in loyalty to the party. Save the party, uphold the party, make the party victorious, though all things else go to ruin and the grave.”

It reads like a satire, but it is real life. It hasn’t changed at all since Mark Twain’s day. Someone should have read it at McCain’s funeral even if they are all pretending to care about what he preached and how he conducted his life. Because that's them, that's most people.  Before he died and after he died.

I saw what I expected to see as the funerals approached. Putting on C-Span, I watched one Senator (I’ll be nice and leave out his name) praise him for putting “country over party.” I am sure many did. If they thought it was such a good thing, I’d expect we’d see them do it too. But, that hasn’t been my experience with that Senator or most of the two parties (Graham, Manchin, come to mind).  I turned the tv off before I saw crocodile tears, which may have been genuine, for all I know. People have an incredible capacity for self-deception.  I thought it would be too much to watch his televised funeral, but at the last moment I decided to do so. It wasn’t so bad. The eulogists did a reasonably good, if not inspired job.

But I heard about “country first” again at his funeral in Arizona. How long will that last? I expect until the tv coverage ends and it is back to day to day politics. And, in fact, just now, I learned that this same Senator – Okay, Chuck Schumer. There, I said it – in response to the White House holding back a fraction of the record-setting number of documents demanded in Justice Kavanaugh’s hearing (requesting something like 4 to 5 times the amount of the next highest number requested for any previous Supreme Court nominee and they’ve already released far more than twice as much as the next largest earlier production), is claiming it is a “cover up.” Well, you know, it could be, of course, but I doubt it. But, both parties have dirty secrets and are reprehensible when in power. Maybe Kavanaugh is a serial killer who only targets widows and orphans. They would run with that if they thought it would work. And, if they can find one women who thought one off color joke by a staffer of his was improper and who did not lose his job, they will act as if Kavanaugh raped an entire village.

If you aren’t spinning already, John, start now. What do you think would happen if he didn’t die, and came back to the Senate? The same grieving conservatives would have disliked him as an apostate, respecting only the small power he had garnered. The same grieving liberals as a right wing nut case, as they did when he opposed Obama. It is not that I don’t think that people should patch up quarrels after they retire. I do, where it is genuine. But, he wasn’t retired. And this isn’t genuine, even for those who are genuinely touched by his death.

At the top of this post I quoted from a Camus book I read quite a long time ago, The Fall. It was a great book, I thought superior to The Stranger, his most famous. But, little stuck has stuck with me over the decades but the tone of the book and that one line, which I vaguely remembered and had to look up. I put his question to those politicians mourning McCain. Why are they all so complimentary and admiring to a man whose political philosophy they rejected out of hand? Because they no longer have to deal with him, have any “obligation” towards him. As when he lost the election – gave up – they could afford to be generous. It makes them look good. Ironically, the biggest jerk of them all, Trump, is being the most genuine, outside of McCain’s family, who I expect loved him.

I would like to avoid going to funerals where I'm not wanted and don't want to go, in my life. I can think of someone I know who I found more than a little disagreeable in life, who will likely precede me to the grave. I have said that I do not want to go to that person's funeral to others who think it is a matter of showing respect, being supportive of a survivor or just being conventional. What if I have no respects to pay?  What if I think it will be a distraction or that it is showing disrespect?  If I do go, for I am subject to acting out of pity, it will be out of obligation to the living. Probably, I would regret it, even if it is not dramatic. 

McCain did put country first. At least, consistent with his beliefs. And he did it to his own detriment over and over again. He would tell them in Iowa that corn subsidies were wrong and he’d say in the industrial belt that those jobs weren’t coming back. He’d even say this when campaigning. And, when he thought it was important, he’d vote against his party. At the end, I think he may have been voting against Trump.

Of course, he could be wrong, or, I could think him wrong and I did so all the time. It doesn’t matter – as Stalin once, supposedly anyway, said of Churchill – I don’t know what he said, but I like his spirit. I did like McCain’s spirit. I liked his sense of humor, I liked him calling his friends, even kids “jerks,” I loved his standing up to his party, and I liked his admitting when he was wrong or that economics wasn’t one of his strengths (it wasn’t – he seemed clueless). It is a rare trait in any person, never mind a politician.

Over and over again, it has been said that he acknowledged he wasn’t perfect. Well, come on, he’d better. But, then again, others don’t. He was far from perfect but admitted that he had pandered and did things he wasn’t proud of to win. Maybe it was not much, but it was a lot more than I hear others doing. And he did it while he was vulnerable and in the game.

But, did he have a happy life (we sometimes ask when people die)? Not counting the 5 ½ years of hell, of course.  I expect a lot of the time he was genuinely pissed off, but, he had a job that would lend itself to it. Still, it seemed to me that he was happier than most were -  a happy warrior compared to most of them.

Speaking of happiness, I am reminded . . .  that always sounds pompous. Take two. Once, a long, long time ago. . . Take three. You know I like history, right? And, Herodotus, was the “father of history?” Heard of him, right? So, in his histories, he wrote about a king named Croesus. Croesus was so rich (his people, the Lydians, who lived in modern day Turkey, may actually have invented coinage, or at least solid silver or gold coinage) that we still 2500 or so years later have an expression, “. . . rich as Croesus.” People said it when I was growing up all the time and it was a thing. Anyway, rich as he was, when the celebrated wise man, Solon, paid him a visit, he made the mistake of asking him if he was the happiest person. Solon, undeterred by Croesus’ disappointment, explained that he wasn’t. Apparently, you have to be dead before you know, to see if you died well and what else was going to happen in your life. You can almost see Donald Trump asking some celebrated wise man this and being angered at the answer.

Croesus had some setbacks. His beloved son, who he tried to protect after being warned about his death by an oracle, was killed nevertheless in the manner predicted. He was totally f’d by an oracle and attacked Persia, destroying an empire, just as the oracle predicted – but it was his own. He was almost burned alive by Cyrus, the greatest conqueror of his generation, but, either through royal or divine intervention, survived and faithfully served his conqueror. But, given a measure of freedom, he was no longer a king. It did not seem like he met the expectations he set for himself or ever achieved the happiness he thought his wealth deserved. I have to say, I know a few people like that.

It would seem to me, applying Solon’s standards, McCain was wildly successful and happy. He arguably had a head start, being the son of an admiral who was the son of an admiral. I have not read any of his books, and I cannot say whether he had a pleasant or sad childhood, whether his birth was a benefit to him or too much pressure. Whatever it was, he ended up flying a bomber in the Vietnam War, was shot down, was gravely injured in his crash, worse when captured, worse when tortured for years. And, like Trump, he’d tell you he was no hero, he cracked. He signed a statement for his enemies and prepared to kill himself, stopped by his tormentors. He should not have suffered so. But, just the same, it probably forged his personality to a large degree, just by surviving it. I’m sure he would rather have done without it, a hundred times over. But, it also made his reputation forever. Even if it is a thin silver lining, it was something. Who besides him and Trump would say he wasn’t a hero? I’m sure there are some, because many people – many good people - can’t separate politics and character. McCain could and did. For all his famed feistiness, he was forgiving, probably more so than I am. He went back to Vietnam more than once, and was instrumental in that country’s partial reconciliation with us.

I have said before, I do not understand the story about his refusal to leave Vietnam before his turn (they went in order of capture), when the Northern Vietnamese found out his parentage. I do not understand why they didn’t tie him up in a box and drop him off at the Swiss embassy. What would they do? Give him back? Still, no one has ever challenged it and maybe it is true. I can’t say.

I listened to the eulogies of Joe Biden, Barack Obama and George Bush. McCain chose them to show we have to get past political differences, as he was justly famous for doing. And, they spoke well. Everyone has spoken movingly about him, obviously other than Trump, who, left out, has been wisely and uncharacteristically mostly silent about it. His daughter and son-in-law did attend and sat quietly through the withering “America has always been great,” shot at Trump by McCain’s daughter. To be honest, she’s entitled at her father’s funeral to some liberties, but, I thought it unnecessary, a distraction and not so wise.

Many commentators are, in fact, claiming the funeral, designed by McCain to a large extent, was a repudiation of Trump by his exclusion (though it was said if he came, no one would have stopped him).  I can’t say for sure, of course, but I think they are, too some degree, at least, correct. It was just a sentence here or there, but it was enough. Looking at it as generously as possible, in repudiating Trump, he was repudiating the one he sees as epitomizing what he didn’t like about politics in general on both sides.  But, how much a “healer” McCain would have appeared to be had he invited Trump?  I don’t think Trump is so narcissistic that he would have ruined the funeral, although others might have been ungracious to him. Trump Derangement Syndrome knows few boundaries.

How do you have healing when the president, elected by roughly half the electorate, and geographically speaking, most of the country, is excluded and mocked? If that was McCain’s plan, it was a dumb one. He’s not responsible for his daughter’s eulogy or the jabs taken here and there at the president. To the extent he would have smiled, well, the celebration of his life is marred by that too, because making it about Trump - which is now the media drumbeat, trivialized McCain's life - which was about so much more.

As always, I’m not trying to be remotely comprehensive about his life or even his funeral. I left a lot out that I know without reading it, and I’m sure there is even more on just Wikipedia that I don’t know. I don’t really care enough about the details to study it. I just know why I liked him so much more than everyone else, although, as stated in that 2006 post, I recognize that these are probably some of the same reasons others despise him. You know what they are too, so I don’t have to say. Nor do I want to try to compete with the eulogizers. They did pretty well, even Bush, with whom a speech can be a deadly weapon.

I’m just going to say, good-bye John. I think we are lucky to have had you. You made politics better, even if in a small way. Perhaps it was not with any lasting success, but some small success that will resonate here or there. Perhaps, like some of history's unsung heroes, it will be a long term victory rather than a short term one. Perhaps that’s the most anyone can do. And it definitely is not the same without you.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Musical notes

Over the almost 12 years I've written this blog (unbelievable to me - I thought I'd just try it out), I've written about music relatively little - I think five times - twice on Louis Prima Sing, Sing, Sing (12/10/07 - really about his song of that name) and Ladies and Gentleman: I give you Louis Prima (5/16/08). Then The music goes round and round (9/1/15) in which I just discuss my favorite piece's of my favorite musicians, and, last Music is not my life (12/10/16), which memorializes my pathetic attempts to learn to play an instrument. Last, in La Vie en Rose and other things that make me cry (1/14/16) La Vie en Rose was a song made famous by Edith Piaf and probably written by her. 

Like everyone I know, I love music. I have never actually met anyone who has told me that they don't love music, though I suppose it's possible. This blog has always been about what I am thinking about lately, and that happens to be music, though, naturally, I have no idea why. Mostly I listen to symphonic music (colloquially, like most people nowadays, I just call it all classical, to warn those who are dying to tell me that this one was baroque and that one romantic). I've even been reading biographies of those usually classified as the greatest composers - Bach, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven (along with Mozart, I believe Bach and Beethoven are the most universally revered, and I suspect Tchaikovsky is in most classical listeners top 10). It is interesting to me how many of the composers just seem plain nuts. I'd exempt Bach, who, though certainly driven, seemed to have a normal life including a family. Tchaikovsky - nuts. Beethoven - nuts. Mozart - I haven't read a biography yet on him, but it is suspected he had Tourette's syndrome or some form of autism. Mental illness and extreme creativity have often been linked in the popular mind, though I don't know if there is some authoritative epidemiological study on it and it's not my purpose here.

My purpose is, actually, just to review or recommend some new favorites. I'm not going to presently revise The music goes round and round, and a look at it tells me I still feel roughly the same about the best of my favorites. But, I know one change. Louis Armstrong would get a new entry - Skokiaan. I heard this song on a documentary about New Orleans, played by a modern band, and they attributed it to Armstrong. It's not really his, but he did an amazing cover in his own unmistakable way. It immediately became a standard on my workout ipod list.  Here's Wikipedia's first two paragraphs, footnotes excluded:

""Skokiaan" is a popular tune originally written by Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) musician August Musarurwa (d. 1968, usually identified as August Msarurgwa on record labels) in the tsaba-tsaba big-band style that succeeded marabi. Skokiaan (Chikokiyana in Shona) refers to an illegal self-made alcoholic beverage typically brewed over one day that may contain ingredients such as maize meal, water and yeast, to speed up the fermentation process.The tune has also been recorded as "Sikokiyana," "Skokiana," and "Skokian."
Within a year of its 1954 release in South Africa, at least 19 cover versions of "Skokiaan" appeared. The Rhodesian version reached No 17 in the United States, while a cover version by Ralph Marterie climbed to No. 3. All versions combined propelled the tune to No. 2 on the Cash Box charts that year. Its popularity extended outside of music, with several urban areas in the United States taking its name. Artists who produced their own interpretations include The Four Lads, Louis Armstrong, Bill Haley, Herb Alpert, Brave Combo, Hugh Masekela and Kermit Ruffins. The Wiggles also covered this song on their Furry Tales album. The music itself illustrates the mutual influences between Africa and the wider world."
It's infectious and a song I hope to hear it live someday. Here's a link to an Armstrong version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doJfIVW93fs
Another piece that is hardly new to me or likely you, but which is of much older vintage than you'd think is Minuet in G minor. This was attributed to Bach for over 300 years because it was found in his wife's yearbook where she collected pieces she liked, until the 1970s when a researcher recognized it not as Bach's, but from Christian Pezold (sometimes Petzold), a contemporaneous organist-composer of Bach's, now long forgotten, who also came from a musical family. I can't seem to track down any English language discussion of it, but I've read that Bach scholars are fairly in consensus about it. Still, if you go on the internet, you'd more likely find it attributed to Bach. Can't fight the internet. Like time, it is infinitely more powerful than any man or woman. The minuet would be quite familiar to you from a few modern sources. The Toys did a version based on it in the '60s, written by Hall of Fame composers Linzer and Randell, called Lover's Concerto (even though, of course, it's not a concerto) and were soon followed by an even better version of it by The Supremes. Then, in the 1980s, a now little-remembered movie (I say that because I've asked people), Electric Dreams, had a duet played by a sentient computer and a celloist who thought she was playing with her neighbor. The music is from the minuet, but more modern and exciting. 
Here is the link to the Supreme's Lover's Concerto - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU8MuWJm_cY.
Here is the link to the Electric Dreams' duet - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVE8taDWmMc. Give it a minute or so to get going. It starts slow but it's worth it.  It's also a good movie, though it now seems outdated, that you can also find on youtube.
Sometime in the past year I also discovered a guitarist who gives street performances and records his music free for our consumption online, though you have to pay for many concerts. I know I recommended him to Bear, but I'm not sure anyone else. He's a German Jew born in Ukraine where he spent a few years and since then has lived all over the world including in New York. He looks like a hippy Jesus freak and burns incense on his guitar while he plays. You get the image. But, his music, sort of Flamenco and Gypsy, is to my ear beautiful and I read somewhere that his Song of the Golden Dragon has over 40 million youtube views. So, though it may not be your cup of tea, it is apparently a lot of people's (which is how I feel about rap - not my cup of tea, but it sure seems popular).  Here's a link -
Song of the Golden Dragon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gphiFVVtUI.
I don't think this next artist has much of a following and I doubt the harmonica is going to get her there. But, this piece by Indiara Sfair called Improvisation in C Minor works for me. She recorded it over a backing track by someone Arthur Sowinski. Whoever he is, I guess he makes them for people like her.  She should try out for America's Got Talent. She'd have a shot if she picked a few good pieces to play and wowed them.
My next to last selection is not new or unheard of or long forgotten. It's been famous for over 200 years - Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C Minor aka The Moonlight Sonata. A German music critic gave it it's sobriquet a few years after Beethoven died, and many more people know it that way than by the formal title, including me. It's a haunting piece written in three movements. I really don't understand why one piece is a sonata, another a fantasy, another an etude, etc. or some more than one, but Beethoven himself called it Sonata quasi una fantasia, essentially, Sonata in the style of a fantasy. Many people have thought that the idea that the music evoked moonlight was laughable, and I usually don't the idea of music really having any meaning except to us as individuals - though we are often given suggestions by the composer or others that seem to fit. I have little doubt you could call many a musical piece War to one group and Peace to another and have them both sure it was aptly titled. In any event, since I sleep so poorly, I find there are times that I desperately need a nap in the afternoon, but can't get quite there. I found that the Moonlight Sonata helps.
There are a few other pieces by Beethoven I've become very fond of recently as I study him. One is his Creatures of Prometheus, written for his only full-length ballet. It's excellent on its own accord, even if not the best of Beethoven, but, in the finale, even a non-musician like me can hear an earlier version of the final movement of the much more famous (and greater) Eroica. Another piece of his I've come to love is his Missa Solemnis, which is really a generic title for Solemn Mass, which many other great composers have composed, including Mozart's Missa Solemnis in C major and Bach's Mass in B minor. I'm generally not a big fan of masses (I just don't get the interest in Bach's St. John's and St. Mathew's masses - in fact, I can't listen to them, though I've tried a few times each), but, I love all three great master's masters' efforts mentioned above. However, usually, if you read or hear the title Missa Solemnis, without attribution to a composer, they mean Beethoven's. 
My Beethoven appreciation studies also led me to another somewhat older contemporary of his, who he thought the best of them (the feeling, by the also irascible Cherubini, was not mutual). Not that anyone puts Cherubini in Beethoven's league, but you get a sense of Beethoven's heroic style in some of his works and I like it. 
I haven't put links to any of these classical musicians because they are long works probably no one is going to listen to and you know where to find them if you want.
I will leave off with a young youtube star who I know I've mentioned before by the name of Daniela Andrade, a singer who plays soft acoustic covers of many famous songs in her own style, usually by herself with just guitar and a microphone but sometimes with a friend.  Talk about being lulled to sleep. If I didn't share a bedroom, I've sure I'd use her work for bedtime too. I first found her while listening to different versions of La Vie en Rose. When you are home reading or taking a nap, just put her on youtube and let go. I can't say what my favorite covers from her are, but, I love her version of Shakira's Hips Don't Lie (on which Shakira guest appears), Gnarles Barkley's Crazy and her haunting versions of Christmas time is here which she subtitles on her video f/t Cutest Dog in the Galaxy (you'll figure it out). Come to think of it, I love her Have yourself a merry little Christmas too.
Hips don't lie - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3_DL0q9oq4
Crazy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzxag7U3SnkCrazy - 
Have yourself a merry little Christmas - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wratYG6H-B4
Christmas Time is here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iAaEH_dR_Y
I don't know that I will find any converts. Musical taste is like any other taste and that means subjective. I doubt my ever-lovin' gf would like any of it much, but, she did agree to go to an Estes Tonnes concert with me in December, so, there is hope.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The wisest thing . . . .

Recently, I read a question on a forum, something to the effect of - What is the wisest thing you’ve ever heard?

Although some contributors put a laundry list, I thought the question called for one.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”   

This is from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a book I first read quite a few years ago – possibly as long ago as college or law school. He was a holocaust survivor. I believe his whole or almost his whole family was killed by the Nazis. Mostly, the book, or the first half anyway, is about forgiveness (the second half is about the psychotherapy he developed). I’m not talking about forgiving the descendants of Nazis, who should not be saddled with their ancestor’s sins. I mean the actual killers.  I admit, while I think forgiveness is valuable and often healthy, his capacity for it greatly exceeds mine. Still, he managed to forgive brutal and prolific murderers – I am taking his word for it. Anyway, whether I could forgive the people who wiped out my family (or other people’s families) or not, having a good attitude is pretty key in this world. And, I just know too many people who don’t have one. Even people who were born into such a great time and place as our own and objectively seem to have little to complain of. 

*

Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even those most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.

Descartes, beginning his Discourse on Method. Actually, I think it is wise, but only because when I first read it, I read only the single sentence. I took it as ironic and funny. The idea that it is natural to think your own way of thinking is not only right, but common to any right thinking person. But, he wasn’t being funny. He seems to be serious and believed that reason “naturally equal in all men.” Here’s the longer quote from his Discourse.

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world: because everyone thinks he is so well endowed, that even those who are hardest to satisfy in everything else, have no habit of desiring more than they have. What it is unlikely that all are wrong, but this shows that the power of judging well and distinguishing truth from falsehood, which is properly what is called common sense or reason, is naturally equal in all men, and as well as the diversity of our opinions does not come from what some are more reasonable than others, but only that we conduct our thoughts in various ways, and do not see the same things. For it is not enough to have a good mind, but the key is to apply it well. The greatest souls are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues, and those who do not work very slowly may move much more, they always follow the right path, as do those who run, and away from it.”

If there really is such a thing as common sense, and it is not just a way we gratify ourselves by categorizing people we agree with, I disagree it is equal in all people. Probably the potential for it is when we are born. But, particularly among the more conventional, we think it is so. So, I’ll truncate his statement and take out the part I like. In the end, wouldn't it be better to have uncommon sense.


*

Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world - and it never will.

This from a Mark Twain speech, Consistency, which, to my thinking was brilliant start to finish. Not a lot of speeches like that anymore. Like many great sayings – you have to stop before you take it to its logical conclusion and read it in the spirit offered. But, if he wrote “Loyalty to petrified opinion rarely breaks a chain or frees a human soul in this world – and usually won’t in the future,” it would lose a lot of its oomph.

What opinion is petrified and what is just solid wisdom? How about “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Old, venerable and petrified? Not yet it’s not. Really age has nothing to do with it.

So, why do I think it was wise? Because it often is. Twain meant (says I), don’t hold onto old ways of thinking when they’ve lost their usefulness and can’t be true. It’s what I see happen with friends and acquaintances, with different social groups all the time. Not that I’m opposed to tradition. I love many traditions and I’m sure hang on to petrified opinions too. I’m pretty sure that, generally speaking, the older people get, the harder it gets to deal with change.  I just hope that I can change when it is called for.


*

“For at least I know, with certainty, that a man’s work is nothing but the long journeying to recover, through the detours of art, the two or three simple and great images which first gained access to his heart.”

Albert Camus. Lyrical and Critical Essays. 

I read L’Etranger (“The Stranger”) in high school French. Camus was a huge literary hit during WWII, in which he was part of the French “resistance” (as a writer, not a fighter). He wrote a few novels, which I liked, and some essays, which I found torture (unlike his sometimes friend, Sartre). The book from which the quote is taken was published a decade after his death, as he died a young man in an automobile accident. Politically, he was far left. When I was reading him as a kid, I had a lot more patience for the far left (never the far right – but, that’s how I was raised) than I do now. He was also generally a pacifist, a notion I grew up with in my head. Later in life he championed human rights. Not surprisingly, I was attracted to his personal story and I liked his created ones. Only a few years ago I read a biography about him and concluded, presuming it was relatively fair and accurate, however charming his personality might have been, however attractive to women he may have been, he was a jerk in his relationships.

But, whatever he was, I appreciate his statement about the great images we continue to seek after. For myself, I know where those images came from. They can be found in the first books my mother read with me – Born Free and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. It shouldn’t be a surprise that books like Peter Mathiesson’s  The Snow Leopard and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, both of which drip in mythology and nature, are at the top of my list. Not only have I read both multiple times, but I am always looking for something else that might match them, not just in ability, but in the images – nature and myth that I apparently have sought to recapture since my youth. Wagner's Forest Murmurs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08vTtu4pmjk) captures the essence musically and to my ear is one of the most beautiful pieces ever composed. Camus' statement is true for me. I don’t know if it is true for others. But, if I take everything I think I know about human psychology, I suspect it is and so include it in my list. Many insights can be found multiple times and said multiple ways throughout literature. But, I don't think I've read this elsewhere. If true, it explains many things about people, particularly artists, that we will never understand, as it is buried in a childhood past that we can’t penetrate without the aid of scholars able to mine an unexpected amount of personal material from when they were little. More often, even with famous people, we get to pick these images up only later in their lives, if at all.

*

"I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said 'I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right — Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison.'"

Ben Franklin’s Speech at the Constitutional Convention, read by James Wilson. Franklin is my great American hero. One of the two indispensable men (along with Washington, that’s a convention that I agree with it – others were very important, but no others had the age, dignity, wisdom and personality to be indispensable).

There are many statements one can find that are odes to self-doubt. Darwin wrote – “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” I have a fondness for that type of statement. In fact, I have a tendency to like philosophers who explain our ignorance more than those who think they know a lot more than is possible. But, I don’t know that anyone ever stated it so effectively or charmingly as my favorite founder.

*

“I have long entertained a suspicion with regard to the decisions of philosophers upon all subjects, and found in myself a greater inclination to dispute than assent to their conclusions. There is one mistake to which they seem liable almost without exception; they confine too much their principles, and make no account of that vast variety which nature has so much affected in all her operations. When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favourite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phenomenon, though by the most violent and absured reasoning. Our own mind being narrow and contracted, we cannot extend our conception to the variety and extent of nature, but imagine that she is as much bounded in her operations as we are in our speculation.”

David Hume – The Sceptic

Karl Popper, also one of my favorite philosophers, wrote something similar once, using the psychologist Alfred Adler as an example. “As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analyzing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. "Because of my thousandfold experience," he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: "And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold."

I suspect that the process of resorting to Hume and Popper describe pertains not only to philosophers and theorists but to all of us. And maybe it can be a good thing and a survival mechanism because having frequent resort to a defense makes it practiced and effective. That is, until we come up against something new or that needs a different approach. And we are almost always coming up against something new.

*

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”

St. Exupery, Wind, Sand & Stars

This is frequently attributed to C. S. Lewis, who was known for three things – writing the Narnia series, being a Christian apologist and being for a time J. R. R. Tolkien’s best friend and a member of their group, the Inklings, at Oxford. The falling out appears to be Tolkien’s fault, at least by more modern thinking, as he opposed Lewis’ second marriage on religious grounds.

Maybe Lewis wrote something similar. I couldn’t tell you and I have no intention of reading all of his works in order to try to find it. I did try to read a couple of his non-fiction books and couldn’t get past the first chapter. He probably was a really good writer, but, it was dull as far as I was concerned.

St. Exupery was, of course, most famous for The Little Prince. I read it in French when a kid for in French class (that is, the class read it – I believe I attempted it when awake enough on rare occasion), but found it much easier recently with the help of a dictionary, when necessary. It’s a fun and occasionally poignant story, and the desert plane crash that figures largely into it is autobiographical. St. Exupery was a pilot before he was a writer. I’m not sure that other than TLP, he was a great one. My experience with him is limited to one other book. Nevertheless, this pithy statement about perseverance resonates with me. Often in life, including in my own profession, there is nothing to do but put your head down and slog along. It is true as well, as was sung in one of my favorite songs, The Gambler, “you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” It is at that dividing line that wisdom comes into play. But, when you fold ‘em, someone else walks away with the pot. Or the job. Or the victory. Or the girl.

*

“But extremes of all kinds are to be avoid[ed]; and though no one will ever please either faction by moderate opinions, it is there we are most likely to meet with truth and certainty.”

Hume, History of England

I’ve written on several occasions on the topic of moderation and what it means to me, but foremost in Why I am not a conservative (or a liberal) III; Eight political propositions on August 28, 2011, but in a great act of generosity and self-sacrifice, I will spare you having to read it and just give you the propositions:

Proposition 1 – Most statements about politics are general statements and should be subject to qualification, exception and nuance.

Proposition 2: Authority is necessary to a peaceful civilization, but, your obedience should end at the point it would require you to violate a deeply held belief or personal commitment, regardless of the ramifications.

Proposition 3: Being independent comes from a recognition that our political associations, particularly if formed when young, come from factors other than critical analysis or reason; it is deeply affected by how we were raised.

Proposition 4: Being independent requires an understanding that values are not immutable and often change over time for a society and for individuals as well; it is anathema to those who believe that ethics or morality are given to us by a deity, or must be a product of some authoritarian or historical factors.

Proposition 5: Moderation is a temperament that is necessary to learn or playing nicely with others, on a personal, political or societal level; however even moderation needs to be moderated, for in too strong a dose, it can be astronomically dangerous in the face of a lethal enemy (think Nazis, Bolsheviks and al Qaeda). Moderation also takes into consideration that conflicting principles or values can sometimes both be true.

Proposition 6: Just like honesty is the best policy, and yet not the only policy, the goal of individual freedom or liberty is but a primarily important political policy or value, and not the only one. 

Proposition 7: Of all the values which contribute to the happiness of man individually and collectively, the value of individual liberty, as a direction and a goal, is the most efficient, the most effective, and the most desirable way to get there.

Proposition 8: The good news is that our society has always been directed to a large degree on a libertarian pathway and it is our heritage of what is called the enlightenment or enlightenment values that have forged the way.

I don’t know that I would write it the same way today, 7 years later, but I think it would be largely the same – only vaguer.

But, some other things are true of moderation that come to mind, and, since I cut out most of what I wrote 7 years ago, these points may also be in there somewhere –
      1.     As Hume points out, moderates aren’t too popular with most others, including other moderates, b/c they disagree with most everyone about any number of things.
      2.     Moderates don’t all agree on everything with one another, sometimes anything.
      3.     Most people think they are moderates, as they associate it with fairness, and who doesn’t think they fair? They also have trouble believing others are moderates because they disagree so much. But, I actually think it’s a plurality of American voters.
      4.     Being moderate doesn’t mean being in the middle on every issue, nor perfectly balanced between the views of partisans. Sometimes there only is one valid side.
      5.     Even if it were metaphysically possible to be absolutely in the middle politically, you couldn’t stay there without moving, because the two basic sides move, most often towards the extremes, and not always evenly.
      6.     People on one side or the other will see moderates as the other side; partisanship requires looking through the wrong end of a telescope at others, and not behind them on their side seems like they are in the distance – that is, the opposite side.
      7.     Because moderates are all over the board and have no group dogma, they don’t make good political parties and are only a political force when the two major opposing camps are roughly evenly split.
      8.     Sometimes moderation is only possible when one side wins and has all the marbles; this has actually happened many times in history.

      *

These Bickerings of opposite Parties, and their mutual Reproaches, their Declamations, their Sing Song, their Triumphs and Defyances, their Dismals, and Prophecies, are all Delusion.

We seldom hear any solid Reasoning. I wish always to discuss the Question, without all Painting, Pathos, Rhetoric, or Flourish of every Kind.

John Adams letter to Thomas Jefferson

I can’t tell you how many times I have used that quote in a comment online. It is so apropos right now where two sides are yelling at each other and no one listening. Politics in general is largely about trying to keep the other side from even having a voice at all, and we see plenty of that.

I know most people will not be watching the Justice Kavanaugh hearing, maybe this fall (not if the Ds can help it – they will hope to delay until after the election to see if they can flip the Senate and block Trump appointments). I’ve watched every Supreme Court hearing since the eighties when C-Span started showing them, although some of them years after they were held, and they are pretty much a joke. The party out of power, now the Ds, will do what they can to make this about anything but whether he is a jurist qualified to be on the Supreme Court, which, obviously he is. They will try to find personal frailties, some mistake he made in life or something that looks like a mistake in the goldfish bowl of politics, someone who will tarnish him, they will ask him questions about hypothetical matters or to make them promises – anything they can think of which he can’t answer. I actually watched his hearing when he became a Court of Appeals justice in 2006 and it was pretty much just like that. In fact, other than the fact that he has aged a dozen years, you might not be able to tell the difference between the two hearings – unless they find some dirt.

*

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.   

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another quote I use over and over again in my goal to write the least popular comments in media history. On rare occasion I get as many as 30 people writing angry replies, although more often I’m politely ignored by most people. It’s quite rewarding. Unfortunately, what I’m usually saying about the King quote is something like this – “Those who now pass for “civil rights” advocates have killed MLK, Jr. a second time, standing his dream of our judging people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, on its head – now, they want everyone judged by the color of their skin, or their sex, or some other superficial aspect, rather than their intentions and character.”

I’ve written about King a couple of times here (Beating up on Martin Luther King, Jr. in public, 10/30/08 and Killing the dream again, 8/28/17) so I won’t belabor it. He might not have originated the “I have a dream” concept and certainly much of his celebrated speech was taken from others (if interested, check out the 2008 post), but no rational person would argue that his speech wasn’t powerful and eloquent. There are many ways to say that we should judge people by their character. But, it seems like it was something everyone knew but rarely applied. And, then, something changed. I saw it in my lifetime. While you could not say without laughing that there was no longer prejudice or racism or that lifetimes of oppression does not have effects long after it is gone, oppression and discrimination began slowly, but steadily, to decline. I am not saying that it would not have happened without King and the dream, but I do believe he was a great leader and inspired a lot of people. It happened faster and better because of him. The length of time it took Rs to recognize what he accomplished and their long desire to minimize his contribution to all of our lives, is a mark against them. I doubt many of them would own up to it now. But, now it is the left that is looking to judge by ethnicity and color. All you need to do is read the articles that repeatedly come out taking this approach. Racism is disturbing in whatever form it comes in. 

What happened to change this among those you would think would want to continue his legacy and success? Why is victimization, separationism and anti-education (a trilogy I learned from great linguist and writer on race, John McWhorter) still so prevalent, when it seems to increase, rather than decrease, racial disharmony? I have a theory. When people identify with a group that has been oppressed and denied dignity and respect for so long, and they finally get equality of opportunity - or approach it, it is hard for some to accept it without wanting something more. Call it revenge, call it comeuppance, retribution, social justice - call it whatever you like. But, the recent result in our country has been stepping away from wanting to be judged by character and instead demanding to be judged by skin color or something similarly superficial, to demand to be seen as a victim that needs retribution or required acceptance by others who might at least internally discriminate. In turn, there is a reaction of distrust and resentment from others and not only the minority - but those competing for the benefits of being a minority in our society. Sadly, this is what young people are being taught. It's more early Malcolm X, before he rejected his approach himself and was killed for it.

I don’t know what the solution will be, but I think it could be a return to the dream.



Next month or year I might have a whole different list of the “wisest” things, although probably most of these quotes have appeared in prior posts. I wasn’t going to exclude them from this post because of that. But it really doesn’t matter. I read a lot and am always looking for wise or inspiring things. And, I like to pass them on.  Someone else might have an entirely different list. I notice that when I invite people to post their own responses, no one does – not even my few regular commenters. So, instead, I am inviting no one to offer their own opinion. See how that works.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Political update for June, 2018

I don’t think I’ve done a political update since Fall, 2017 and it occurred to me, people might not know what to think about with respect to the president, metoo and the Baker case in the Supreme Court, all covered below, if I am no here to guide you, so . . . .

Trump, Trump and Trump. But . . . Trump.

There are almost no discussions about politics these days that don’t revolve around Trump. Trump, Trump, Trump. Meeto! I mean, me too. I read the NY Times every morning and multiple times a day. I I still love the paper and have since I was about 7, but, it is virtually insane when it comes to Trump. There is not a lot of difference between their headlines and SNL skits. “Trump Still Sucks!” might as well be the generic headline. The subtext in many articles, about the most far-fetched subjects is “Trump Leads us towards Totalitarian/Authoritarian/Nazi/Fascist Society!” as was just subtly present in an opinion by one of their more moderate columnists, Bret Stephens. In fact, after I wrote the above sentence, The Times had two articles one day – one comparing him to Bull Connor, as if he is sicking dogs and using water cannons on protesters and another which boldly proclaimed in the headline – Trump out to destroy the West. Seriously – while he is in Singapore negotiating to rid the Korean Peninsula of atomic weapons, just added sanctions against some Russians and doing so would destroy his own huge fortune.

Most presidents are controversial because we have an incredibly diverse country. In my lifetime, starting with Eisenhower – the following: JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II and Obama were hated by their opposition to varying degrees. Eisenhower, Ford and Bush I all had their critics too, but I don’t think the level of vitriol was the same. Some critics are from President’s own parties. People infused with an ideology, political, religious, even scientific ideas, tend to dislike those who generally identify with them but differ on one or more major issues, sometimes more than they hate their opponents; they see them as apostates and it occasionally leads them to say that they would rather vote for the other side, such as Ann Coulter saying she would vote for Hillary Clinton over McCain, even though it would be detrimental to most of their own policy preferences. It’s ridiculous as many political things views are, unusual, but not all that uncommon.

Out of those in the despised group listed above, eventually, two of them, Reagan and Clinton, won over some of their most fervent haters, more by force of personality than by policies, as both tended to play nicely with their opposition, even when they were politically at odds with them and a certain amount of charm. They both left office fairly popular and remain so to this day, despite the Iran-Contra Affair and despite the fact that many people, even former supporters, think Bill Clinton was likely a rapist – at least once, which is enough. It was from Reagan on, in my view, that it became more difficult in modern times to say that the opposition was the “loyal opposition.” You frequently, from the moderate/independent perspective, got the feeling that a certain amount of American suffering under Bush, Obama or Trump, would make their opponents happy, just so it would be a black mark against the executive. Then they could say . . . see, see, see. Those on the other side didn’t just dislike the president, they seem to want them to suffer. They wanted their family and friends to suffer.  I think it began to accelerate under Bush. Prior to Reagan, I have to mostly rely on reading, though I have my memories of a few presidents back to Kennedy. And since Reagan, I’ve been paying attention. I don’t think it was much different before then, but the animosity is more intense now than at any time since Nixon.

But, more so than with any president I’ve ever seen before, hatred of Trump has probably “trumped” them all, perhaps even that aimed at Nixon, who was, after all, president during a period of great cultural upheaval (much more violent and perhaps partisan than now) and got caught up in the Watergate scandal. My argument is, admittedly, anecdotal and from personal experience, garnered not just from people I know, but from reading. As a nation, we are actually less violent than we were in the ‘60s, but I think it may be heading that way. It started to look like it at the last presidential election.

And, much more so than any of the others, Trump brought it on himself. With him, the animosity is not just about policy, although that is a big part of it. It was his mud-wrestling campaign. It was his refusal to denounce completely and unreservedly white nationalists, his embrace of “lock her up” and his smug, obnoxious smirk that not only helped him to win the campaign, but literally unhinged those who opposed him. Even his convention, which he told us was going to be wonderful, was a train wreck. Some of his speakers, Flynn and Giuliani, seemed somewhat deranged. As soon as he won I hoped they would not be in the administration (along with Bannon and Gingrich). Flynn was, for two seconds. So was Bannon, for some time longer. I guess Giuliani is now his personal counsel.

Enough background. We are closing in on a year and half into his first, and possibly only term. I’m sure we will start hearing soon how, if he loses the next election, he will declare martial law and himself president for life, because I heard that with Nixon, Reagan, Bush II and Obama. Maybe I just didn’t hear it with the others and it was said about them too.

How’s he doing? Being a clown does not mean you are doing badly. I've lost cases to attorneys who came off to everyone as clowns, obnoxious or idiots (those really hurt). And, he doing much better than I thought, particularly given the intense activity by the left to inhibit him in any way possible (they do say this) and the right often tepidly or not at all defending him. In my view, he’s doing much better than his predecessor, who I personally liked much better. In particular, I’m not that pleased with Trump’s Department of Justice, although I find I often do not like an attorney general either because I didn’t like their policies or because they were grossly incompetent (Gonzalez) or political (e.g., Meese, Holder).  That may be an effect of there being too many unfair laws. I am having difficulty accepting that Pruitt (EPA) should not be dismissed for ethical reasons, if even some of the things claimed about him are true and understand why so many are displeased with his policies so far (although not because of “global warming” which I’ve always been agnostic about). I have some difficulty with Betty Devos, though I have liked some rule changes, they had little to do with actual education, but, education is such a difficult task, they are going to be failures until we change a lot of things we do in educating children. And I don't understand the trade balance logic. We seemed to have done really well trading in this world. The whole world banking system is ours, which gives us a tremendous advantage. While I admit there is a lot I don't know about it, I'm having trouble appreciating the effort on such a world-wide basis. Is there a country which has unfair and unbalanced tariffs against us? Which one? I'm listening. And his positions on transsexuals in the military seem so antiquated and counter-productive, it is just an embarrassment. His own military has actively resisted his attempts and a court has at least temporarily stopped his attempt noting that all his reasons seemed to be completely contradicted by the military's studies. I don't know that the court should be able to do this, but they have.

I find it hard to acknowledge that there are some things Trump is doing well, because he so often comes across as idiotic and obnoxious. But I get over it because the “resistance” makes it easier by being over the top on every aspect of his administration. I do like some of his foreign policy. For all his misstatements and outright falsehoods, even those are exaggerated and I like the plain speaking about North Korea and Iran. I think he’s being tough with both China and Russia, while doing what all presidents in my lifetimes have done – equivocated, because they are huge powers too and to some degree we need them more than many allies. I agree with his putting our embassy in Jerusalem. It’s long been the law. Why should this one country not have our embassy where it wants it. Though it has unsettled the area, I do not think there will be war, and, as always, Palestinians will stop dying when Hamas decides it has had enough of them dying. That’s a horrible shame and waste and the people themselves have my sympathy, unless they are aligned with the wipe Israel off the face of the earth faction of the Middle East. Then again, I have no sympathy for many right-wing Israelis who want to remove all Palestinians from the territories or build more settlements in them.

I liked his policies with ISIS, which Obama blew (this post isn’t about Obama but his Middle East policies were destructive for everyone). That was a policy decision that cost a lot of lives and I feel it is a major Trump victory, simply because he took handcuffs off the generals.  I like his policies with MS-13, and though leaving aside that all humans are animals, to suggest that by calling them animals he literally means that they are not human, is so idiotic as to be beneath long discussion. Nancy Pelosi made herself into even more of a cloying kowtower of the first order because her state is largely Hispanic, by her false piety over it.  If you don’t understand he means they are humans who act worse than actual man-killing beasts, I can’t help you. I don’t care if they’ve had tough lives. When you pick up a machete to prey on other people you deserve far worse than name calling and lose all sympathy from me. 

His deregulation program seems, on the whole, to be going well and there are many industries happy for it. Maybe they've made mistakes. But, on the whole, he’s trying to make things work better. I read the other day that he’s made it easier to fire federal employees. It’s about time someone did that. I read he pardoned, posthumously, Jack Johnson. It’s about time, even if not important. And he’s pardoned others. As with all presidents, some pardons I will like and some not. The economy is doing well, and growing at a faster rate than during Obama’s terms. Yes, it started growing then, but it was like molasses, and that was due, in my opinion, not just to cycles, but because business knew Obama wasn’t their friend and Trump is.

So, yes, I might find it hard to acknowledge Trump’s successes because he is so unlikeable to me and I spent years stating that he is the worst thing to ever happen to the Republican Party. He can be a stupid, bullying, name-calling, undignified, egotistical jack ass - a caricature out of Dickens of the pompous rich man. He’s an embarrassment. But, it doesn’t mean he is doing a bad job either, at least relatively speaking. If you tell me that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren is going to be his opponent in 2020, I still don’t think I can vote for him, but I might hope he wins, because for all his faults, anyone who is part of the “resistance,” would be far worse than him, even if, like Obama, I like them personally much more (Sanders, yes, Warren, no). If I started writing in depth about the hysteria and insanity of the resistance, this would be many pages longer. All I need say is that one article about a woman claiming she couldn’t have a relationship while he was president was the first of many similar expressions of angst that are somewhat comical and somewhat pitiful. Or the explanation a Trump hater gave me a few days ago about the way he knew something unrelated to Trump of which he had no evidence – it was, he said, the same way he can know there was collusion with the Russians. In fact, just yesterday, another very rational person I know most of my life told me that if Mueller doesn't find evidence of it, then he is just wrong, because it has to be the case. I've heard the same explanations for supernatural behavior. It is just so.

Our biggest problems are not Trump - they are the mutual antipathy and uselessness of our two main parties and their respective ideologies, which not only who gave us the two worst candidates in our history, but who can't get along well enough to do anything actually good for us, like immigration (they could only agree to spend even more money).

Trump's opponents seem to have had no similar anger at Pres. Obama or Kerry, who did make a bad deal with Iran, helped destroy Libya, essentially our ally - maybe for generations, backed off the redline with Assad for a deal he clearly didn't keep, pretty much abandoned Iraq and Afghanistan, watched the growth of ISIS, lied to us about both Syria and Iran, supported Morsi in Egypt, and left office with our enemies stronger. It's not all their fault, but a lot was.

I've never been a Trump supporter. We should have leaders like Kasich or Webb - moderates, but who are therefore reviled by their own parties. But, he's the president and with Congress almost always absent, he's in charge of foreign policy. Not Kerry. Not the resistance. For all his faults, better him than them.

In any event, the legendary commenter on this blog, Bear (which is only funny if you realize how few commenters there are on this blog), has predicted to me that Biden will be his opponent. He doesn’t blog anymore, so I will post his prediction for him.  I would be aghast at a return to Obama’s policies and I don’t know how I would feel about Biden. He does say some of the most unintentionally funny things of any politician since Dan Quayle.

I am hopeful the Russian investigation, the biggest waste of time since Whitewater, goes down in flames. If we had heard a single fact indicating it existed, I’d feel differently. I was against the special counsel when it was aimed at Clinton for no other purpose than to unseat him and I'm opposed to it now. It shouldn't matter who the target is, or which party is pressing it, or what the "scandals" are if it is a prosecution in search of a crime. It doesn't matter that Congress passed a law authorizing it or that Mueller has a good reputation (we now know that almost his entire staff is Democrat). These witch hunts, and that's what they are, are so destructive to our way of life and government, far more than any president can be.

It’s going to be embarrassing if McCain lives.

As is well known, McCain has brain cancer and is expected to die. He released a book recently, but has been very silent and not in Washington D.C. at all. Many of his friends, including political opponents have made a trek to see him. Some of them are quite emotional about it, including the often phlegmatic, McConnell, giving one the idea they know they are saying good-bye. So, although I’m sure everyone (maybe except Trump??) would be happier if he lived, in some ways it would kind of make welcoming him back a little awkward. Like a miracle recovery after someone’s loved one’s have decided to “pull the plug.” And, for those on the left, who have practically adopted McCain as the successor to Ted Kennedy, that is only expediency, as he hates Trump as much or more than most of them, and the enemy of their enemy is their friend. For now. Were he to return, and resume his mostly conservative ways (he votes with the right far more than the left – though I’m sure the further right would doubt it – they’d have to take back some of the heapfuls of praise they give him and begin to loathe him again the way they did when he was running for president.

McCain had long been my favorite politician for three good reasons. First, to me he seemed unusually honest. Maybe for a person, but definitely for a politician. Second, he could be friends with his opponents, something sorely missing today. One of the many reasons I can’t stand John Kerry, is that when he ran for president, McCain had his friend’s back, saying there would be nothing to worry about if he won (although, I disagree). When McCain ran, Kerry politically stabbed him in the back. McCain just shook it off as – that’s politics. Third, he bucks his own party, which for me is a requirement of anyone who wants to be president. This is why he is called a RINO by many on his side. What they don’t like, I respect, even if I disagree with their decisions. I might disagree with many of his votes and I do think he was severely lacking in his economic knowledge, but I still thought he would have been a much better president than Obama. Then, again, right now I think Trump is a better president than Obama was, yet there’s a reason we keep hearing reports that people around him refer to him as an idiot.

She’s a danger to the country – please.

Why I can’t take criticism of new CIA director, Gina Haspel, seriously? Because the left has attacked almost every person he’s nominated for an important post, that’s why. They use every legal tactic they can to make it as difficult as possible for Trump to put together a team from the beginning. And, that’s fine, in one sense. The Senate make its own rules (which are often dumb rules) and either side can use them as they see fit. Just as the Republicans had a right to not even give a hearing to Obama’s last pick for Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, the Democrats have a right to use the rules to block Trump’s choices anyway they can, and the Republicans can ignore the “blue slips” trying to hold up judicial nominees (because that isn’t really a rule). But, it doesn’t mean I have to take any of it seriously when they whine about the other side. When you attack everyone (or, okay, almost everyone) the other side nominates, you lose credibility with me, if politicians as a group can be said to have any credibility to begin with.  Haspel is obviously a very competent person and apparently, highly respected by those who served with her. She’s been castigated for having been run a military base where enhanced interrogation took place and having supported destroying tapes showing the interrogation (she says to protect the CIA personnel). She says she would not allow it on her watch, even if ordered to, but also stopped short of throwing her associates under the bus as having been immoral. I personally liked the way she stood up to questioning.

In short, I get the Ds are going to try to stop most all of Trump’s selections. Don’t expect me to believe them or treat seriously the reasons why. The same, frankly, goes for Rs when a D is president, but, the Rs weren’t as tough on Obama. Just compare cabinet votes for Trump’s picks with those for Obama. Yes, they are often very partisan, but the Rs, as opposed as they were to Obama, were much more likely to vote for confirmation.
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/01/31/us/politics/trump-cabinet-confirmation-votes.html?mtrref=undefined

Just as examples, Obama’s two selections for Secretary of State were both bĂȘte noires for the Rs. But, Clinton was approved 94-2 and Kerry 94-3. Imagine that today. Trumps two picks, not so good. Tillerson 56-43 and Pompeo 66-32. They got as many votes as they did because in the end, some Ds, more the old guard, were trying to respect the traditions, despite the bad blood, perhaps hoping that someday, things will not be as temperamental. There were some Obama appointments which were closer, that is, got less R votes. Loretta Lynch, for example. And it was the Rs that gave the hardest time to their fellow R, Chuck Hagel, for being an apostate in opposing Bush’s war (leading to Obama nominating him), 58-41. But, generally speaking, they were much easier on Obama’s nominees than Ds now are with Trump, Mattis (US) and Haley (U.N. Ambassador) being exceptions of the important posts, at least, no doubt Mattis for his apolitical reputation and perhaps Haley because she was willing to say negative things about her boss.

Haspel was confirmed, 54-45 (McCain not voting). 6 Ds, most up for re-election in Trump states, voted to confirm, and two R Trump haters, Rand Paul and Jeff Flake (who isn’t running again), voted against.

By the way, despite the fact that I support Haspel’s nomination, I am opposed to enhanced interrogation – agree its torture – except, at least hypothetically, in the most time sensitive critical situation; the ticking bomb situation, which, if it ever happens, is extremely, almost disappearingly small. At the time she is now being criticized for, it was technically legal. I’m glad the law changed and I think she is too. And, I have little doubt her opponents know it too. Had they real worries on the issues, Brennan, who actually authorized the destruction of the interrogation tapes, would not have been a CIA director before her – nominated by Obama and voted for by both Ds, 49-2, and Rs. The Republican, no better than the Ds when it comes to obstructionism when in the minority voted against him 13-31. But, at least some of them voted for him, mostly moderates like Flake, McCain, Graham and Murkowski. Back to the main point, when Ds don’t vote for Haspel on grounds which should have made them vote against Brennan too, how do you take their criticisms seriously.

Meeto!

No surprise, the metoo movement is a double-edged sword. I've heard too many horror stories from women, especially in college to think anything but that sexual assault has always been a huge problem. When metoo began I was happy to see that at least some things were coming out of the closet and a stigma was being replaced with outrage, women singing out and getting help.

I'm still glad for that part of it, but we have a tendency in our society to protect victims by punishing everyone. It took two seconds for metoo to shoot past good into bad as it sought not just to right wrongs but to demonize normal behavior, and then to further demonize those who say - wait, too far. Cowardly and selfish schools and corporations, terrified of litigation, don't help. Neither does the refusal of people to that acknowledge good parenting matters.

Like others - I'm glad I'm not young and single today, b/c at the same time as this necessary change is happening, normal flirtation and relationships are too often being sacrificed on an altar of political correctness. Mild offensiveness is being treated as assault. I do not believe the great majority of young men do not assault and harass others and they shouldn't be assumed to do so. And many young women have been and should be taught to say "no" and to be careful. But they should not be taught that work or school, where people can get to know each other in a genuine environment, should be a robotic and cold either. I see that happening in our younger culture and the demonization of those who do not accept it, both young and old. Everything needs balance.

Perhaps the overkill is just human nature, the way societies, or at least our society, deal with cultural change. That doesn’t mean it should be accepted. We see it not just in the sexual or gender arena but also in the race and ethnicity arenas. And they are arenas, where battles are taking place.
This is my theory. When a group of people who identify with each other, like women, blacks, Hispanics, LGBT(etc.), that has a history of being oppressed find themselves no longer oppressed (or almost), they do not want parity; they do not see parity. They want revenge. They want power. They want others to suffer the indignities they suffered (or at least their predecessors).

What would make a perfect world? If the essence of the meeto movement, the outing of sexual abusers in the work and other places continued and if the overkill, treating so-called offensive remarks, flirtation or consensual sex as harassment – subsided. I wouldn’t count on it. Not with Miss America ending the bathing suit contest (I wouldn’t watch either way) and at least one international fashion show doing away with models. It seems like it is getting worse, and though there are probably few supporters, people don’t like to publicly say so because then they face ostracism and the power of social media, if not worse.  

All the energy is usually on the side of people who want to change things, not on the side of those saying – leave it be. Several countries in Europe already have laws which seem to put the burden of proof of consent to sex or that a reasonable person would believe so, on the defendant. I can only read the one law in English, Sections 75 and 76 of Great Britain’s Sexual Offense Act of 2003, which are easy to find online if you want to read them. That might be unconstitutional here, as we have a right to remain silent, but politicians don’t really worry about constitutional problems (sometimes judge’s don’t either) and the energy is on making it tougher on men to deny claims of rape. If you believe women never lie about rape, well, then it’s a great thing. We’ve already seen it in America on college campuses where many schools have decided to demand affirmative consent for sexual interactions. California, often the leader in legal craziness, passed a law a few years ago which would withhold funding (therefore, death of the college) if the school didn’t agree to pass various laws, most of which really aren’t bad, in fact are good. But, the provision concerning consent states:

“(2) A policy that, in the evaluation of complaints in any disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse to alleged lack of affirmative consent that the accused believed that the complainant consented to the sexual activity under either of the following circumstances:
(A) The accused’s belief in affirmative consent arose from the intoxication or recklessness of the accused.
(B) The accused did not take reasonable steps, in the circumstances known to the accused at the time, to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.”

I would have no problem with (A), that is, you can’t say I was drunk or reckless, so I didn’t realize she was screaming stop (or say, passed out, crying, etc.). But, B is really difficult to understand. What are reasonable steps to ascertain whether someone affirmatively consents? I’d like to think someone kissing me was consent or taking off her clothes – but is it under this law? We just watched the actor, Aziz Ansari, who acted like a perfect gentleman with a women, get excoriated for having consensual sex and actually stopping when she finally told him she wanted to, It sounded like he was really nice to her. Not good enough, she said. Apparently, he had to read her mind. So, I couldn’t tell you what is considered reasonable anymore. And what is affirmative consent? Do we want young women to have to say “_ _ _ me?” I promise not to give tmi, but I know very few times in my life was I given a verbal go to it. It was almost all body language and innuendo. And, yes, there are some women (I’m sure men too) that like the feeling of resisting a little, or putting up a show of it. It’s a courtship and maybe a bit of a dance. I know it’s so because enough women have they told me they felt this way. Perhaps they are new stigmatized group. Again, no tmi, but a couple of women I knew wanted to put up more resistance and have more of a say, combat, than I was comfortable with, but not to stop. Again, I know, because they told me. In today’s world, had I any renkown (still your laughter), I’m sure I would be excoriated for saying the above – though most of us know it is true, in general. I’m also sure that no one has ever accused me of rape or sexual abuse, unless you count the young women in college who held my hand and the next day read me the riot act because she had a boyfriend. Our other friend, who was holding my other hand at the same time (this is really an embarrassingly innocent story) told me that the other friend just felt guilty after the fact and that she had liked it. Honestly, I know me. I just didn’t grab their hands either. Go figure. I’m a predatory hand holder and maybe today I’d get in trouble.

California makes the standard not reasonable doubt, as it would be for criminal matters, but the preponderance of the evidence, in other words, more likely than not. So, all it would mean was that if the female student said it happened, and there wasn’t a tape or someone present, the accused student was screwed – particularly if there was a criminal proceeding scheduled and he couldn’t testify.
The Obama administration tried to make that the law nationwide, making it a condition of receiving funding, but Trump’s Education Department pulled it back partially, giving states the option of making the standard clear and convincing, instead, which is somewhere between preponderance of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt. Imagine – they gave them a choice.
You might think I’m just taking the side of men, and it is, of course, possible that I am biased. But, I sure think I take rape and other sexual assaults very seriously and think punishments should be severe on a conviction. Yes, it is hard to prove because there aren’t likely any witnesses. That’s true of many crimes. And some states have decided the lower standard is better. But, we do not lower the standard for murder and we shouldn’t lower it for any or serious matter. Getting thrown out of college is really serious, possibly worse than someone who is convicted of a crime but does no time.

I also have trouble with any college claiming they are simply trying to protect women by making it easier to throw a man out of school, that doesn’t first ban alcohol and doesn’t have reasonable security in dorms and on campus parties (which would be a lot more than was wanted by the great majority of people who are neither assaulting anyone or being assaulted). If colleges really want to protect people, men and women, they could do it.  And, I hate that parents don’t educate their female students to be careful who they are alone with. I sure did and taught my daughter what to do if attacked. It didn’t mean she would be completely safe, but I think it made her a safer. Some people think that it is blaming the victim to say the above. I believe it is stupid not to teach it to our kids. Idiotic, in fact. And though my own thinking was based on common sense and anecdotal evidence – what women told me, it seems pretty clear that alcohol is one of the main problems, either as a cause or facilitator, or both:

“Data from a 2007 study for the National Institute of Justice on drug-facilitated, incapacitated and forcible rape indicate that only a small fraction (0.6 percent) of female undergraduate students who were sexually assaulted when they were incapacitated were certain they had been victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault.
Another 1.7 percent suspected they were incapacitated after having been given a drug without their knowledge.
That same study, however, indicated that the vast majority of incapacitated sexual assault victims (89 percent) reported drinking alcohol and being drunk (82 percent) before their victimization.”

Of course, the reason that schools don’t ban alcohol – they want people to go there. Oh, well. We can just cast blame and leave it at that. Why try and fix it? Well, if you don’t want to prioritize banning alcohol, accept that you will have more sexual assaults than you would without the change – probably a lot more.

The triangle of culture death: oversensitivity, lack of sense of humor and self-victimization, apologies and all that other stuff.

Maybe I’m just getting older, but it seems every day that there is a new story about someone’s feeling being hurt and the demand for someone to be fired, and it is just discouraging. What’s wrong with people? Grow up. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” Remember that one? Maybe not.

What was it a couple of weeks ago that Kelly Sadler, who worked in the WH, joked in a meeting that John McCain was tying, so no worries about him. From the reaction in the media, you’d think she actually talked about assassinating him. Eventually, about a month later, she is fired or asked to resign (although the WH claims it was unrelated). John McCain, who liked to jokingly call his friends “jerks,” joked about bombing Iran to a Beach Boys tune and had a ferocious temper. Please. And not long before that the WH was up in arms about someone at a meeting insulting Trump, although insults and apologies are flying so fast and furiously, I forget who and can’t even find it online. In any event - Please!!!! Our insulter-in-Chief himself. Honestly, I doubt that McCain or the president, both of who have been insulted a lot, including by people they considered friends, were really hurt by these minor league comments.

I don’t know – people insult me all the time. Probably 99% of them are friends, including, especially, my evalovin’ gf. I can’t think of a time I haven’t gotten over it, even when it was deliberate or pernicious. I remember once close friends (not readers) saying so many things about me, repeated to me by so many people, that I finally got angry and started going over and over again in my head for about two hours. And, then, when I realized I was obsessing, I got over it. I said something about it to one of them, but in a gentle way. It didn’t make much difference. The reason I got over it is because I realized, it was not so much about me, as about them. I was just the target for their insecurities. And, if I wanted to get mad, that would be understandable and fine. But, in the end, we could probably find a reason to get mad at and end our relationships with almost everyone we know, including our family. I remember recently saying to a close friend, “It’s okay. You can think I’m a racist. I already know you do and I kind of think you are too for different reasons.” It didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends for either of us.     

I’m not saying I don’t have sensitivities. I ignore most insults and (quasi-insults where it is a misstatement of fact that is demeaning). If you insult my integrity (honesty, general concern for other people, things like that), sure, I will be offended. There are other things too, but that is probably the most important. In any case, I probably will still be your friend if you did, and it is unlikely I will yell at you. More likely, I will defend the proposition, if I disagree, and tell you, you can think what you, or the like.

Two insults are now getting a lot of attention. Both were personal and insulting. I’d be angry if they were directed at someone I knew. One is Roseanne, a comedian, comparing Valerie Jarret to the offspring of an ape (no one seems concerned she suggested she was parented by an Islamic fundamentalist group member. As VJ is black, there is no way in the world that RB did not know how insulting comparing her to an ape would be. Samantha Bee, also a comedian, called Ivanka Trump a “feckless [C word – can’t bring myself to write it, but I know men and women who do so with abandon]. Feckless is insulting, but I’m not sure most people know what it means, and it is just not a trigger word. Trigger word’s are not rational, they are emotional, but it generally involves someone implying a person or group is less than human than comparing them to something generally considered disgusting and/or sexual or committed some indecent or criminal act.

There seems general agreement among people that both went beyond even the extended range we give comedians to say what they want, especially if they aren’t generally apologetic about it. There are some partisans who argue otherwise. I was just watching Meet the Press and a couple of panelists argued that Bee’s “C word” wasn’t as bad as Barr’s racial comment. A number of people have even defended the use of the “C word,” who I doubt would have been okay with it if they or their families were called it. That’s funny, because you can say “ape” on tv but you can’t even say the “C word,” even if not addressed to anyone in particular. I have to give some credit to the conservative partisans on this one. At least I haven’t heard any of them claim the opposite, that Bee’s were worse, though maybe there are some. And, Barr got fired immediately by her network, whereas Bee isn’t fired and even got an award recently. Although, by the time I publish this, it may come to the same thing as Trump has demanded Bee be fired and a few advertisers have pulled their ads.

But, that’s a side point. My main one is that Barr shouldn’t have been fired either, never mind Bee. I’m not saying their bosses didn’t have the right to fire them. I just think it’s a bad idea that we are this sensitive and I despise corporations who pretend they really care for other than the bottom line. I don’t mind that VJ or IT are insulted and angry. But, people shouldn’t be insulted b/c they favor this or that side politically and that is most of it. Personal political insults made to politicians can be painful for the butt of the joke. They are terrible for civil discourse. They don’t help our society at all. But, Barr’s penalty, particularity as it affected not just her but all the people and families of the people who worked with her, was ridiculous. But, even if it were just her, the firing was overkill, worse than her insult. All VJ got was hurt feelings. Both Barr and Bee have admitted that they went too far, although the sincerity of both apologies can be questioned.

Isn’t that what should generally happen, or used to happen? Someone says something wrong then apologizes, even if grudgingly, or sort of apologizes that feelings were hurt, and we move on? Or they didn’t apologize, and most everyone eventually moved on anyway. 

As for me – I’m sick of it. I’m not saying I’ve never apologized in my life for something I shouldn’t have apologized for. A few times. Though I can remember doing it, and regretting it, I can’t remember the details. But I try not to do it anymore. I might explain what I said. I might even say
“I sorry if that is upsetting to you,” but it is not an apology. Nor do I want an apology that someone doesn’t mean directed at me. I hate it when parents tell their kids to apologize for things that the kid doesn’t feel bad about. I don’t want it.

And I want celebrities to stop. I liked that Donald Trump, obnoxious as he is, not apologizing when he didn’t mean it. Even if he was wrong, and sometimes he was idiotically wrong. If he didn’t mean it, what’s the point?

I hated it when Tiger Woods apologized for things that were no one’s business but his family’s in front of a press corp. who all undoubtedly had friends or other people they knew in their lives who committed adultery, if not themselves. I hated it when George Herbert Walker Bush apologized for complimenting Russian workers (in Russia) with a quip that indicated they were better than American workers. He was jokingggggggg. I hated it when Cam Newton, who was ignorant in commenting on women sports’ journalists, apologized, because you could see how enraged he was to have to do it. Stop apologizing when you don’t mean it.

LGBT 1 Bakery 0

Many people were horrified by the Supreme Court decision in what is known as the Bakery case. The name is Masterpiece Cakeshop, LLC v. Colorado Human Rights Commission. I wasn’t. I thought it was the right decision for the wrong reasons and given the Supreme Court make up right now, expected that the Cake shop would win.

But, I was surprised that the decision made actually gives the LGBT community a stunning victory and I’m not sure many people, focusing on the opinion overriding the Commission’s decision, realize it. So, I’ll tell you.

Here’s the skinny on the case, if you need it. At the relevant time, same sex marriage was not legal in Colorado, where the events took place. Masterpiece Cakeshop, LLC. is owned by baker named Jack Phillips. Nobody seems to doubt that he is very artistic in his work. It’s all over his shop and brochures. A gay couple inquired whether he would make a cake for their wedding. He would not. He claims he offered them anything they wanted off the shelf and bake them goods for other celebrations, but his religious values would not allow him participate in a same sex wedding no matter who asked. They claim he did not. It doesn’t seem to matter much as Masterpiece took the position that he would have had to do so. He was not saying that he was allowed to refuse to serve LGBT. He was only arguing that he did not have to express himself by making a cake for a religious ceremony that was against his religious beliefs. Remember, at that time, Colorado had an anti-discrimination law in favor of gays, but gay marriage itself was not legal.

A complaint was made to the Colorado Human Rights Commission. Masterpiece’s argument was likened by the commission to those used to defend slavery or the holocaust. They found against the cake shop, fined him heavily and put onerous requirements on it, such as giving diversity training to its staff. Appeals ensued. Colorado’s high court found in the commission’s favor.
I listened to the oral argument. I thought it was off the mark. It was all about religious belief, hypotheticals and who was an artist such that his business required expression and was protected by the first amendment.

In writing the opinion for the case, Justice Kennedy made it clear that he was not deciding that cake makers or vendors or artists had a right to violate anti-discrimination laws because of their religious beliefs. On the other hand, the statements made by the commissioners showed a hostility to religion which violated his religious beliefs. Thus, the court ruled in his favor, 7-2. Justice Kagan*, and Breyer joined the main opinion. Almost everyone on the court wrote an opinion. This is clearly a victory for the LGBT community. What HR commission, what state, is not listening and doesn’t now know to keep their mouths’ shut in these situations and instead to give some lip service appreciating religion or stating its importance. 

*The original post said "Justice Kagan, herself gay," etc. A friend who tried to comment (it doesn't always work for whatever reason) pointed out to me that she has not said so. I checked and am just wrong. Yes, it has been long rumored and she seems to fit the stereotypes, but obviously, that doesn't mean anything. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say yes, even though her friends have said no and she is silent as to it. Not that there's anything wrong with it (maybe some day we will be too far from Seinfeld for people to remember that's a line from that show). Anyway, apologies. I screwed up. 

If you disagree with my reading of Kennedy’s opinion, just read Kagan’s concurrence. She went along with the majority opinion because she agreed that the Commission was hostile to religion. She understood perfectly what had happened and made sure she stated it. She even told commissions what to say in future cases. Justice Gorsuch focused on another case the commission had. A William Jacks asked three bakers to make cakes derogating same-sex marriage. They refused. They had secular reasons that they found offensive. The commission in that case sided with the non-religious bakers and against the religious one simply because they agreed with the secular feelings of offense and not the religious one. I can’t deny that this seems to be the case, but I don’t think it is the best reason to rule for Masterpiece either. Justice Thomas concurred b/c he believed free speech was at issue. He gave an example of another case where despite a similar law, parade organizers were allowed to exclude some people from their parade, which was expressive, b/c the State could not forbid speech b/c some people found it offensive. It’s a good rule, probably the closest to my own opinion. Justice Ginsburg, not surprisingly, would be happier with an out and out victory for the commission, and Justice Sotomayor joined her. She did not see the hostility that the others did. I disagree with her, but, I understand her position and don’t think her dissent was crazy – just wrong, as they all were.

I didn’t see it as a religion or speech rights case. Just a basic freedom case that’s somehow based on the first amendment to the constitution. At most, a freedom of association (or not to associate) case. Here’s my view. It doesn’t matter that Phillips was an artist (I accept that he was). It doesn’t matter that he had “sincere” religious beliefs, which the court found him to have had. I actually hate that courts are now supposed to decide whether someone’s beliefs are sincere. It’s none of their business. Judge’s love to say “if the first amendment means anything. . . “ so I will. If the first amendment means anything, it means it is not the state’s business whether beliefs are sincere or not.
In any event, anyone, religious guy, atheist guy, jerk, good guy, etc., has the right to determine what he will participate in or not. Period. If someone, a gay, a straight, etc., should not be compelled, including by penalties, to participate in a traditional marriage or a same sex marriage. Or a parade or, for that matter, or government mandated health insurance. And, it doesn’t matter whether I agree with the baker or candlestick maker or not – or that a judge does. That’s the whole point of freedom.


And you have the freedom to stop reading this. I’ve gone on and on and on and on and . . . .

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 . . . .