Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Philosophy 001 - Epistemology

I am almost always reading one philosophy book or another ever since I first read Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy, which, whenever that was, was a long time ago. It is possible that I read Plato or Spinoza before that or at the same time as a freshman in college. I just can’t remember anymore. But before I ever read philosophy, I was a philosopher of sorts, however uninformed or juvenile my thoughts may have been, since at least second grade. What I mean by that is that it was my impression – still my impression - that I thought about things such why the universe is as it is, why people believed what they did, should we blindly follow traditions, was there a God or gods, why do people argued as they did - more than other people seem to do to me. Even today, though there are certainly many others who do the same, it is not all that common.  Perhaps it led me to be somewhat unorthodox, in that I didn’t believe things just because my parents said so or because they were popular. The first of these issues, to my memory, was atheism, hardly popular and not what my parents were pushing either. 

However, I foolishly resisted reading philosophers once I knew there actually were such people, so that I would not be tainted by their thoughts and my philosophy would be purely mine. Of course that was ridiculous as I was a product of my environment to some degree like everyone else and it merely restricted me to the views of a small group of people I knew or read. 

I have a deep interest in science as well, but more so the history of science and theoretical issues about science itself.  Science I see as a subset of philosophy, however, it is often the case, particularly in modern society, that the tail wags the dog between the two. Science is for me the best method we have of understanding what is real or not of those things that are testable, however slow and imperfect it might be. However, it is not possible without philosophy, that is, at least epistemology – how we know what we know – and logic, the rules of reason without which we cannot assign truth or false to any propositions. As for metaphysics, which concerns things like being and reality, I do not reject it as completely meaningless as some philosophers do, but I do not think we have sufficient means to say much about its main questions – why is there anything and what is its essence. And, sometimes, metaphysics is indistinguishable from epistemology (how do we know what we know). It depends on how you frame the question.

As I get older, I read fewer philosophers directly (some of them are just so hard to get through and there is a lot of gibberish), and read more books about them or their theories by scholars who separate the chaff from the wheat for us. Here’s a list, probably partial, of some of the philosophers I’ve read directly in some depth, leaving aside those theologians others might consider philosophers, but who I do not consider sufficiently so (roughly but not quite in chronological order):

·        Lao-Tze supposedly wrote the Tao te Ching with which I am in at least theoretical sympatica; I include him knowing that he did not likely exist; Who cares? The book exists, probably written over time collecting like thoughts forming a very early philosophy which still exists.

·       Confucius. I’ve actually read a very compelling book arguing that he did not exist either, though he is more often believed to be an actual person; the ostensible creators were actually Christian missionaries to China a couple of millennium after he was thought to have lived.
      Plato. This is as close as we can get to Socrates. We don't really know either what is Socrates and what is purely Plato or  combination. It has been said that all philosophy is commentary on Plato, and while it is an exaggeration, it is not hard to understand why it is believed.

·       Aristotle was in some senses, the most significant of all Greek writers for us, along with Homer, who again probably did not exist, and Plato. The breadth of Aristotle's knowledge and expertise (even where he was completely wrong) is remarkable.

·       Thomas Aquinas. I read him to no great advantage but he is historically important.
          Epictetus. He’s not that well known to the general public. He was a stoic; we have some aphorisms, many of which pass the test of time, even if at the same being more to aspire to rather than live fully.
          Marcus Aurelius was a stoic emperor; again, what we have is very aphoristic but often wise.

·       William of Ockham (or Occam). He is best known for a single statement he never wrote, but which was a logical expansion of what he did write; however, it is relatively unknown that he also played a role in the great march of freedom. I’ve only read him recently and had to go to a university library to do so. These aren't exactly bestsellers.
         Bacon. The Elizabethian Aristotle. This British philosopher is not only great fun; but he was also capable of great wisdom. I have more than one copy of his essays (possibly three – one a gift) and I pick it up and read it all the time.
         Spinoza. I have to date not made up my mind about the value of his philosophy, however original, brilliant, etc., he was; however, his influence cannot be doubted. Although much of what he wrote was really a commentary and in imitation of Descartes, I’ve never read but a few pages of Descartes directly and leave him off my list. Much of Spinoza also seems to me derivative of the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. I'm sure that every philosophy can be shown to have been derived from others in some way, but, I think Spinoza might . . . I say might . . . be given more credit than he deserves.

·        Locke. Also, a highly influential person in politics and psychology and certainly an inspiration to the founding class in America.

·        Berkeley. George Berkeley’s exploration of the nature of reality is much overlooked, easy to  criticize, but also prescient of modern physics. What’s underneath it all – nothing?

·        Hume is my favorite philosopher; leave aside his not surprising views on non-whites which is sometimes used to discredit him; he is in my view, the most influential philosopher in the west since the Greeks. More so than Spinoza, Kant and even Descartes.
      Kant. Feel free to try, but he is largely unreadable and we are all much better off with a summary, which some other writers will tell you is mistaken.
      James Madison - to the extent that The Federalist Papers and other writings are political philosophy.
          Alexander Hamilton – again, to the extent that The Federalist Papers are political philosophy.
           Schopenhauer. Sometimes a nutty guy (try his views on women), he was a preview and more understandable version of Nietzsche; but also a gateway to eastern philosophy.
            Nietzsche. I appreciate some aspects of his philosophy, but much of it is incomprehensible to me and as much poetry and fictional as philosophy.

·        Lord Acton. He was a proto-libertarian mostly famous these days for a statement in a letter which is  now misquoted as – Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, or some such version.

·        Emerson. The father of American philosophy, he did not excite me the way Thoreau did, but  certainly he was Thoreau’s mentor; he did not create the tag Transcendentalism for his loose group,  but whatever linked that group, he was undoubtedly the leader.

·        Thoreau. I’ve written several posts on him; he was one of the three greatest American writers in my  view and I am not sure whether he influenced me directly or I just found him to be the philosopher  who most closely matched my own opinion. Surely though, many of my own thoughts mirror or are  very consistent with his and that is undoubtedly gratifying for me as I greatly admire him. Or is it  that I greatly admire myself and therefore think I admire someone who agrees with me? Maybe, but  he was such a great writer, I am not worthy to sharpen his pencils.

·       Charles Peirce. If you haven’t heard of him (and that’s likely), he was disgraced over adultery and slandered. An original American philosopher and scientist little known in his time or ours, but very important - hard to exaggerate in fact, particularly in logic and epistemology and he is having a bit of a renaissance. Although on some subjects he is crystal clear, on some he is impenetrable, including pragmatism and semiotics, both topics which he founded. His fallibilism, which described the process of modern science, long preceded Popper, often thought of as the father of modern science theory. 
      Bertrand Russell. Perhaps the easiest of all to read and pretty much a poly-math; he wrote one of the two best summaries of philosophy, Durant’s being the other, that I’ve read and also authored endless books and pamphlets on a myriad of philosophical topics.
      Einstein. I consider him a philosopher as well as a theoretical scientist because he probably went further in explaining the nature of the universe than anyone else; I’m still working on relativity and will be for the next 100 years, or shorter, if I can do so while traveling at the speed of light.

·        Heidegger. Oh . . . my . . . God – I tortured myself  reading him as a young man and I don’t think I ever understood it. I tried. I tried. I think I read Being and Time. He was also a Nazi, but, I tried to get past that too if he had something worthwhile to say. I do not, in the end, think he is influential.

·        A. J. Ayers, Russell’s biographer and a very knowledgeable philosopher himself, but I believe with little important to say himself and capable of writing some of the most convoluted prose I’ve ever read.*

         I feel compelled to quote Ayer, just because I find it so funny: "For, roughly speaking, all that we are saying when we say that the mental state of a person A at a time t is a a state of awareness of a material thing X, is that the sense-experience which is the element of A occurring at a time t contains a sense-content which is an element of X, and also certain images which define A's expectation of the occurrence in suitable circumstances of certain further elements of X, and that this expectation is correct: and what we are saying when we assert that a mental object M and a physical object X are causally connected is that, in certain conditions, the occurrence of a certain sort of sense-content, which is an element of M, is a reliable sign of the occurrence of a certain sort of sense-content, which is an element of X, or vice versa, [a]nd the question whether any propositions of these kinds are true or not is clearly an empirical question."  Oy vey.

·        Sartre. If I ever pick up Being and Nothingness again, it will be as a paper weight – I couldn’t get far; but I do enjoy his fiction and some of his essays. I know just enough about him to say that I disagree with most everything he has to say.

·        Wittgenstein. The anti-Popper in some senses; they can probably be described as personal enemies; Wittgenstein was not an easy person to get along with; despite his meager published writings; he was a deep and original thinker and is still influential.

·        Popper. As with Hayek below; not surprisingly, these two Austrians were friends. Popper is considered the great philosopher of science and his epistemology is very dominant now. Some of it I think a little crazy. Other parts brilliant. I much prefer his political philosophy, and The Open Society and its Enemies is one of the last century's greatest non-fiction works.

·        Hayek, who I probably have read more from directly than any of the others is, along with Popper, the writer I have learned the most from about why I actually believe as I do. In other words, I've found that they provide a deep basis with great scholarship for things I've concluded with much less evidence.  The Road to Serfdom is Hayek's most famous work, although I believe little read by those who celebrate it; I found his Constitution of Liberty, similar in nature, more complete and important, though it is now virtually unread by anyone.

Others of the above philosophers are as unreadable as Ayer, particularly some of those discussing metaphysics like Heidegger, Sartre and Kant, and not just because they are translations. Admittedly, many of the easiest philosophers for us to read wrote in English. However, some translations are very good and it is not hard to read English translations of Plato or Aquinas, Occam (who though English wrote in Latin), Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Hayek or Popper among others. Sometimes it is the writer, not the translator.

But, I do not consider that above listed group of philosophers to be the best source of my philosophical knowledge. Many philosophers that I have found fascinating or important cannot be read in the original, if they even existed. From the east, the Buddha (who, again, likely did not exist) and the sages of the Vedas or all important to me. From ancient Greek, the some of the pre-Socratics like Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, Leucippus and Democritus made contributions still resonating today. Arguably, we are what we are in the west today to a large extent because of their philosophical investigations, even if we never heard of them. Other than Epictetus, I have not read of whatever little is available of the stoics like Zeno, Chrysippus or Seneca, but enough in general works to feel that I know what they believed, their strengths and weaknesses. I could make a long list of other philosophers of whom I have read a little bit or summaries of their work, but I don’t see it as important. What feels important to me is that I feel satisfied that I have learned sufficiently, because you can never learn perfectly or about everything.  I never stop reading or learning, but, my philosophy is generally my own, to some degree formed before I read Durant.

Does all this reading philosophy do me any good in life? I’m not sure. But, I take what I want from them and exclude the rest without any problem. I have known some people who stopped reading philosophy because it depressed them. Russell wrote in one of my favorite of his philosophical works, Unpopular Essays, “[c]ommentators on great philosophers always politely ignore their silly remarks,” but that shouldn’t stop us. Don’t let it detract from wisdom where it strikes you true.

There are three pre-eminent reasons to read philosophy in my mind (I’m sure we could all come up with others) – First, because you teach or write about philosophy, which has to account for the smallest group, almost not worth mentioning.  Second, because you are determined to understand yourself and/or the universe better and believe it helps you do so. Third, because you feel it adds to the happiness in your life. With myself it is a mix of the latter two. One could argue that two is a subset of three anyway, and perhaps it is. But, while “learning” gives me satisfaction, there is definitely some internal pleasure I get from reading philosophy separate and apart from learning anything about the subject. It feels good, often better than it does with most novels I have read.  I can recognize the difference between the gratification of learning from philosophy and the gratification that is separate and apart from it easily enough because I find the same dichotomy, although greater, with theology. I do not read theology at all to educate myself, but only for pleasure. Why it gives me pleasure to read someone trying to explain something I am not likely to believe, I can’t say. But, it tells me there is a difference between the pleasure of learning something specific and the pleasure in learning what someone or group believes whether I believe it or not.
I suppose that if wanted to (and had the time and money) I could write thousands of pages on my philosophical beliefs, because just commenting on what others have written would amount to hundreds if not thousands of pages (I have hundreds and possibly thousands of pages of notes from books I’ve read and limit it only because there is no great purpose to it). Fear not, I have no intention of writing all that here and I have already squandered about half my self-limited post on these preliminaries words anyway. I have not given the following a lot of thought as to how to present it and don’t plan on even mentioning many philosophers. Rather, I will just put it out there unadorned (after all, the sub-title of this blog is, My thoughts, what else?). And just as I couldn’t be comprehensive in a thousand pages, don’t expect it in a few. In fact, because philosophy is so broad – even excluding the ridiculous discussion of aesthetics – I am going to concentrate on one – my favorite, epistemology and save the others for another day.
The center of my philosophy is also probably the thing that irritates my evalovin’ gf the most – I say I don’t know a lot. And though often enough I throw out a guess about things in answering her or others,* I notice that with respect to most questions, I’m perfectly comfortable saying I don’t know when I think I don’t. One of my earliest memories of any kind of philosophical discussions was my mother telling me that Socrates said that he was wisest because he knew that he knew nothing. My own research much later tells me that Plato (whose dialogues are our greatest source of knowledge about Socrates) never actually puts these precise words into Socrates’ mouth, but something vaguer and harder to translate into English. But, it wouldn’t matter if my mom was the first to say it because it’s the thought that counts. In reading philosophy, I find that I am most attracted to those who explain why we don’t know things or how irrational we can be, rather than those who think they know, but always fall far short when pressed even a little. Most of our beliefs or actions in life have to be based on some level of faith that reason can exist, that there are “things” in the world and it isn’t all an illusion or a misperception, but the most unsatisfactory answers are those which rely on faith for complex solutions, usually religious answers.
*Another silly story - I was walking through a mansion/museum I had been to many times before with a friend who rented the tape you play into ear phones as you walk around. We came to a great big rectangular room with a hard wooden floor, easily the biggest room in the place. She said, "What room is this?" I answered without hesitation "The ballroom." She hit the button on the tape and cracked up. She re-wound, gave me the ear phones and played what she had heard - "No, this is not the ballroom."

Coupled with I don’t know is a second principle, which is I don’t care. By that I mean that our inability to know virtually anything shouldn’t stop us from taking some things for granted or doing anything in life without some other good reason (like it is dangerous). And, not knowing generally only bothers philosophers. In real life, no one else cares that much. Things that we are used to or which seem overwhelming obvious or highly unlikely to be a fantasy, we ignore not knowing the whys and wherefores of it. 

Hume said something like this in dealing with inductive knowledge, that is, what we know through experience. As he explained, you can never take what happened before (experience) to mean something is going to happen again. I hear this argument all the time when arguing with people and consider it vastly overused. While it is technically true, it is virtually useless except in doing science or having abstract discussions about whether we can ever know anything. What I find is that people use it as a last ditch argument to avoid coming to common sense conclusions they don’t want to believe based on the best evidence or arguments. But, since Hume’s problem of induction is technically true, the only way to handle it is to not care. If we accept we can’t know anything, there is simply no reason to do anything. For Descartes it may have been sufficient to believe only in his own existence because it was all he could know without doubt. Maybe it’s true. But, if you look at his doubts of other matters that seem pretty certain to all of us on a day to day basis, based on the highly unlikely possibility they may be created as an illusion by a demon, it is pretty hard to take him seriously if you just want something to eat. In a sense, Hume’s inductive problem is the same thing as Descartes determination not to believe true anything we have doubts about. Just as Hume also said that we are crazy to worry about the inductive problem in real life, we are also crazy also to let the existence of any doubt overtake our common sense or to believe the only thing we can know is that we ourselves exist. Almost everything we do in life is based on our prior experience (sometimes aided by our instincts) or things we must have at least minimal doubts about. We get out of bed in the morning not knowing for absolute sure if the floor will be there or collapse under us. But, we do not hesitate. If we did, we’d be called mentally ill. We speak to people all day long knowing that they are not supernatural chameleons changing identities, eat food knowing it will nourish and so on until infinity. Doubts do come to us, but that is just part of life. And some things we doubt so much we say just don’t know.

Where do we draw the line between things we doubt so much we don’t believe them, things we think might be so but aren’t sure about (that is, some doubt), and those things we can’t be sure about but are sufficiently so that we either believe them true or don’t even think about? I have to fall back now on the first principle. I don’t know. Our cognitive scientists don’t know how the mind works sufficiently and I sure don’t know either. When I studied (I will politely call it that) psychology in college, it was mostly all theory then. And though brain science is skyrocketing since functional mri machines and other technological tools have opened up venues unknown a couple of decades ago, the science is still in its infancy, despite carloads of new data. Only when an understanding of how our memory works – without which knowledge is impossible – can we hope to have a clue. And until then, I fall back on my second principle – I don’t care. Because our memory works and we obtain knowledge every day without knowing how the process works since time immemorial.

However, I have not written all this clap trap to just say I don’t know and I don’t care, which sounds suspiciously like an Abbot and Costello routine and gets you nowhere. There is a third principle which gets us where we need to be – able to tell the difference between different levels of doubt such that we can say we don’t know, we might know and we do know. This revolutionary theory, is actually the same as my theory of what makes a group of symbols a word – the principle of enough.

As to the question of why certain symbols are words and others not, I believe the answer is when a word is determined to be so by enough people, and that judgment is subject to time and place and to a lesser degree - individuals. If this seems simplistic, it’s not. It is actually taking into account how complex the language is and how to explain subjective phenomena that we seem to recognize as real and want to differentiate (like some symbols being words and others not) but that can’t be measured or explained with numbers or traditional measurements. That using the concept of enough (you could call it a tipping point or even something scientific sounding) sounds folksy or simple does not make it wrong.

It is relatively the same with deciding between levels of doubt – what we know or don’t know - as with deciding what is a word. It might seem at first blush that answering the question of whether a group of symbols is a word is a social question because communication between people can be involved, and it might also seem that knowledge is more a personal matter. But, in truth, both are mixed. Words are used to communicate with ourselves as well as with others. In fact, we think much more than we talk to ourselves. As for knowledge, much of it is communal. So much of what we think we know, we do so because we have been told by others it is so and have no personal experience of it at all. We are all sure that Pluto – planet or planetoid – is out there. Have we seen it? We all believe that the bump bump in our chest is a heart? We’ve heard it, but have we seen it? Some people have considered the workings of the circulatory system, and yet unless they do surgery for a living, in most cases everything they think about it comes from another person, even if found in a book. But most of us never even really give a thought to how our circulatory system works. We’ve been told we have a heart, have seen pictures of it, and take it for granted it is so. Why do we believe that?

The answer is, because of the rule of enough. We have enough information we trust to believe it is true and not reasonably doubt it even if we acknowledge that anything is possible, and maybe even that everyone could be wrong (as often happens). But, generally we don’t do that. We just feel we know. Or if you prefer, we just believe it.

And by enough – I do not mean only that we’ve heard it enough, or that there was enough supporting information or that it was logical enough. It would include enough information from any other source that would tend to lessen our doubt or support our belief including those which are logically fallacies – such as when we learn information from someone or something we consider an authority.

Just to make sure we are on the same page, when I ask the question of when we can say we have knowledge, I do not also mean to ask by it - when can we know something is real or true. Our knowledge is based on what we think is true or real and we may be completely wrong. If we learn we were wrong about a belief or fact, it merely means that we now have increased our level of doubt, or do not have enough certainty to believe we have knowledge.  

That’s it on epistemology. Just writing this last sentence I thought of a few other avenues I could go down, but I think it’s enough except for the summary of my epistemology. To some, this may seem too simple. Simple was my goal, not some high fallutin’ sounding gobbledy-gook. And, if you take a look at something considered profound, such as Plato’s allegory of the cave, it is very simplistic itself. And, you would be surprised how many philosophers would disagree with what I've written.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The New Miss Malaprop IV

I have written here a few times of my evalovin' gf, affectionately known as my "insignificant other," my "25 to life sentence," my "ball and chainsaw," my "girl-fuhrer" and "the warden." And she is also known as the new Miss Malaprop. If you haven't read the previous editions of her witticisms, you really should take a look. They are enlightening. I usually like to start by saying I know that I (known as "D" in these posts) may seem elitist. I get it. But, I can't help it and don't be so sure you could either. Miss Malaprop, you should know, is not phased by my revealing her word-play. She's come to enjoy it almost as much as I do, pretty much the way Yogi Berra did. 

She loves to tell me of all the things I do wrong (I even open potato chip bags wrong), but she has her weaknesses, and geography is among the greatest of them. One night, we were watching a tv show we had seen many times before:

P: Where do you think this is supposed to take place? California? Arizona? Las Vegas?
D: What's the name of the show?
P: 'NCIS L.A.'  Oh, yeah.

Another time she was surfing looking on facebook, when she came across a friend who posted some travel pics:

P: "Oh, it says she went to the United . . . Kingdom."
D: "Which is where?"
P: "Germany?"
D: "No."
P: "France?"
D: "Look at the screen. . . ."
P: "England."
D: "Good enough."

She likes facebook. Another day, she was looking at my brother's page:

Patty - "It says on facebook your brother was in a gay parliament."
D: "Do you know what a 'parliament' is?"
P: "It's a cigarette."
D: "Well, that is true."

Well, it was true. Another one of her "specialties" is math. One weekend we were trying to mix together a solution to spray on the roof tiles. She was mixing and I was reading the box:

D: "You need 1 quart."
P: "Okay."
D: "So, this is a gallon. You need 1/4th of it."
P: "Okay."
D: "Do you know how much 1/4th is?"
P: "More than one half?"
D: "Seriously, how did you graduate high school?"
P: "I just did."

Another subject that often comes up is wild life. One day we were sitting at our favorite beach looking at some large aquatic birds:

P: "Look. Doves."
D: "I know I'm in one of those tv shows. Where's the camera?"
P: "Wait. Not doves. Swans!"

That may sound like just a harmless blip. But, it gets worse. Soon after we were sitting in the backyard of a bed and breakfast. The owner had a parrot which she would let sit in a tree during the day:

P: "I don't understand why she lets it sit in the tree. Isn't she afraid an eel will get it?"
D: "An eel? Really? Seriously? Oh, you mean a flying eel."
P: "Okay, not an eel. You know what I mean."
D: "At least doves and swans are white birds."
P: "Hold on. Give me a second."
D: "Okay, where does an eel live?"
P: "In the water. It's a fish."
D: "Right. So maybe something with wings, you think?"
P:  "A hawk."
D: "Now I understand the confusion. Practically the same thing."

Yes, a hawk. I'm sure I had something snarky to say, like "you think," but I didn't write it down and don't remember. Can't get them all. This next one I would fit in the category of movies. We were waiting for a table at a restaurant when:

P: "So, I watched a pretty good movie last night, Hooters."
D: "Really? Hooters? Are you sure? Sounds like soft-core porn."
P: "Yeah, Hooters."
D: "I really don't think the name of that movie you watched was Hooters? What was it about?"
P: "Basketball. Hooters. H-o-o-s-i-e-r-s."
D: "Amazing."

We also differ quite a bit about neatness. I like a little mess (she would say a lot). She barely stops cleaning. But, let me demonstrate. I was sitting in my easy chair downstairs with all my stuff around me.

P:  "Here, you said you wanted a garbage can for the downstairs bedroom but you make a bigger mess next to your chair so I'm putting it here next to you."
D: "Okay."
P: "Just put it back there . . . oh my God, look at the garbage down there. Put that in the can."
D: "Okay."
[So, I put the bottle and a little used blood pressure machine I'm chucking in the can.]
P: "Now give it to me."
D: "What?"        
P: "The garbage can."
D: "Why?"
P: "So I can throw that stuff out."
D: "Are you crazy? You don't put stuff in a garbage can and then immediately throw it out?"
P: "Yes you do."
D: "So why don't you just stand here and I'll hand the stuff to you? The whole point of having a garbage can here is so you don't have to do that."
P: "Give it."
D: "Okay."

And there is also an issue about driving. I've recently learned speaking to my friends that we are hardly the only couple that fights about driving. But, it's a major problem with us. I do curse and scream at things, usually my computer, but I can't take the warfare with other drivers when she gets behind the wheel. Driving to Boston for the weekend, we stopped for a break and when we were getting back in the car, she wanted the keys, raising the usual issue:

P - "I want to drive."
D - "Do you promise not to fight with anyone?"
P - "Fine."
(Two seconds later)
D - "Oh my God. We didn't even get out of the parking lot."

But, such is my life. Like Charlie Brown, I keep believing she's going to hold that ole pigskin for me.

Last, just a couple of beauts that are hard to categorize:

"He doesn’t rule the rooster here."  Rule the Rooster?

And I think this one is appropriately last:

D: “Why are you home today?”
P: “I decided to take a mental day.”
D: “Pretty sure you take one of those every day.”

When I don't want to kill her, it is kind of fun.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

A Christian, A Hindu, A Muslim, and a Jew walk into a bar

No, this isn't a joke. It's just the title of the post. 
Gandhi famously said “I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew.” Was he completely off the wall? Last week I was having dinner with Don and we were discussing the whole - is Obama a Christian thingee. We have always had different views of words and religion, but, I’ll stick with mine and let him comment with his opinion if he likes. And, I’ll give you a heads up. I don’t have what I would call a real strong opinion about what defines a religion, but more some ideas about what cannot.

Of course it matters how you define those religions? “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” Voltaire.

So, what about President Obama - Christian, Muslim, what? My answer is Christian. I believe it strongly, but, of course I can’t be certain. Though I think Republicans and/or conservatives have hurt themselves immensely (because in a presidential election in a roughly evenly split country, a few percentage points are huuuuuge) by insisting on it, that isn’t the point. If they were right and believed it, in my view, of course, I’d say have at it. I say both right and believe it, because if they do not believe it, then whether right or wrong, it is silly to bring it up. You just end up looking foolish as they did before the 2008 election (thanks to Trump).

Of course, some people do believe it strongly. But, their reasoning seems to be weak. The most obvious inspiration is that he also has an Arabic name. Of course, his father comes from Kenya and was a Muslim, although I understand became an atheist, and his step-father was also a Muslim, though barely. It’s hardly a surprise. It isn’t clear if when he was very young if he received Muslim religious training. It seems probable to me (I haven’t read any of his books) that he was considered one as an infant or very young person, but, that is meaningless to me because I don’t believe someone can be a member of any religion until they are old enough to make a choice about that.

Their parents, of course, would differ, and in fact most of the world considers themselves to be the religion of their parents.  And, we know statistically, most people do stick with the religion of their family. But he had a Christian mother and was raised for a long time by his grandparents, also Christians, went to a Roman Catholic School where he was nominally registered as a Muslim – his father’s religion – and then secular school, that he joined Rev. Wright’s church in the late 80s and left it during the 2008 campaign because Rev. Wright’s anti-American rhetoric was discovered. Now, I understand he is nominally a Baptist or at least his pastor is. I don’t really know if all this is 100% accurate, but it is what is reported. It doesn’t make that much of a difference to me because I only care about what he considers himself for the most part.

So, what makes someone a member of religion? Who gets to say? My answer in general is, it is not simple. For one thing I reject that other people can determine your religion. You are not genetically any religion. You are not a Christian or Muslim or Jew when a baby because your family or neighbors decide you are, any more than you would be a stoic or a nihilist just because your mom said so either, except, I guess in the most nominal fashion, like if you registered Republican or Democrat by accident.

And I also reject that any one person or group can define a religion except for themselves.

And I also reject that any one person or group can monopolize a name or word. And though that has been tried, it has always failed. Take for example Catholic. We often refer to the Catholic Church, but, in America, we usually mean the Roman Catholic Church. But, any number of churches refer to themselves as Catholic. The largest, I believe is what we usually call the Eastern Orthodox Church, but they call themselves the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church. Even the Roman Catholic Church quarreled in their history as to who was the Pope and it was usually, though not always, determined by force.

In my own view, when determining what religion someone is, there has to be two things present, both subjective but one personal and one reasonable according to the broad community.  Does the person believe themselves to be of a particular religion and do they have some beliefs reasonable consistent and not completely inconsistent as to central tenets of the religion. I do not say this is a comprehensive definition, because it is pretty vague and I think in a few minutes we could come up with hypotheticals or exceptions. I just say those are the things that matter. But, at the same time I believe an individual can say what he/she is, I also say that no one else has to accept it. At the same time, a third person might find the declarant or the objector unreasonable. In other words, as clear as mud. And not only should it be this way, but it really always has been as I describe. That’s why people have always quarreled or debated religion even going back even to ancient Egypt when worship of the god Aten briefly obliterated the other gods until his worship was itself was obliterated. The decision as to what the religion was simply depended on the Pharaoh in power. Of course, I am sure this debate went back to the first notions of religion, which are lost to us because there was no writing, and perhaps one group gave prominence to the sun god and another to the moon.

Naturally, many religious groups have far sterner rules for what makes someone a Jew or a Christian too. Not all. Buddhism, which is hard to discern from a philosophy in some aspects of it, is fairly open as to who may consider oneself a Buddhist and it easily blends with other religions. The Romans were actually very open to the worship of additional deities, so long as there was an element of their own worship involved (usually, I believe, their emperor as a god).

But, turning back to the more organized religions, it turns out that their own requirements can be as vague as my own definition, because as soon as one part of Christianity or Judaism or Islam, etc., declares rules, another group will disown it and have their own definition, usually only remotely different to outsiders, but very different to pious believers. These may be defined with sacraments, creeds or similar distinctive institutions, but again, the split can come easily. Indeed, in America, we are very familiar with the Roman Catholic Church, but there are other churches which consider themselves “Catholic” or universal too. Other Christians believe themselves non-Catholic, but the true or universal church.

Similarly, in Judaism, there has been great debate at to who is a Jew. Normally, it is the more religious Jewish groups that consider the less strict factions as Jewish, while the less strict are more inclusive. In Islam, the big break is between Shia and Sunni, but there are other groups as well. Which is the true Muslim, the Jihadist who sees himself as willing to fight and die for his faith or the faithful Muslim who doesn’t believe violence to be permissible.

Not surprising, many of these groups believe they are what they say they are – and no others – because God told them so or divinely inspired some revelation. It is hardly surprising that as an atheist, I cannot agree. I don’t quarrel that they may feel divinely inspired, but if I don’t belief in a divinity, I cannot logically believe that there inspiration actually comes from one.

I want to go back to my own definition to give it a more concrete example of what I mean by it being both an individual choice, but some relationship to what are generally considered the central tenets of the religion.

Let’s take Obama. He declares himself to be a Christian. Many others who consider themselves Christian do as well, though, as we know, there is a smaller group which believes him to be a Muslim or at least not a Christian. I can’t help but feel that is more political than anything else, because even if there is a religious analysis involved, I have never known anyone who supported his policies to believe he is not a Christian, nor anyone who believed him not to be a Christian or to be a Muslim, who was not opposed to him politically. I cannot agree that this is merely a coincidence. If the central core of his religious beliefs include Jesus and he is a monotheist (and, of course, you could debate what that means too) believes the New Testament central to his religious beliefs as well then I would concludes he is a Christian whether he determined he was some type of Catholic or one of the many protestant sects. If, hypothetically only, he considered Jesus only a prophet, and Mohammad the last prophet, then I would consider him a Muslim. If he thought Jesus was God, but the Buddha and Morgan Freeman also gods, I would not see him as a Christian, nor do I think most Christians would. I see no reason to believe myself that those are his beliefs, whatever his policies. Now, another person might say, no, he can’t be a Christian, because only Roman Catholics (or Methodists, Baptists, etc.) are real Christians or you can’t be a Christian and be pro-choice, that’s fine. But, we disagree.  
But, I don't think it can be that you just agree with the central tenets. I'd also say that you can't go beyond them in a way that just seems to inconsistent with them. For example, if someone believed in one God, or an indivisible trinity (not all Christian groups do) and consider the testaments holy books, I'd say if you also felt that Mohammad was a prophet or that Indra was also a god equal to God, then it would be hard for me to consider you a Christian, even if you did.
As an actual example, I will say that I am not sure about the debate concerning whether Mormons are Christians. They do consider themselves to be Christians, though not all Christians consider them so, even those who are relatively open minded about it in general. And if you look at the Christian creeds (the Apostle's, the Nicene, etc.), Mormons pretty much match up. Without going into much greater details, there seems to me that it is related to Christianity in placing Jesus in a central place (they are not, I believe exactly Trinitarians, having a twist with the Holy Spirit), but, I am pretty sure there is also a divine mother floating about and the notion that we all can become gods. I have difficulty seeing that as monotheistic. Certainly they consider the Book of Mormon as equal to the Old and New Testaments. In any event, don't get the idea that I care and if they want to be considered Christians, it is fine with me. At gun point, required to make a decision, I'd probably say yes. But, I understand why some Christians reject it as such.
I’ll end with my opening quote. Under my definition, can you be a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew, as Gandhi believed? Only under the belief that all religions are merely manmade manifestations of some monotheistic or monistic (Hinduism, a monistic - not monastic - religion, is usually described as having one central Being – Brahma – with many manifestations of it as other Gods such as Vishnu, Shiva, Ganapati and many others; it is similar, though not the same as monotheism). That would probably suit a lot of people who believe in God but are non-denominational. They believe there is a creator or a central divine being, but feel mankind, or certainly themselves, are unable to further comprehend it. However, I also do not believe that most Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews feel the same way.

With religion, you can go over the same ground over and over in different ways and I will not fall in that whirlpool of theology, but end it here and ask for your own opinion. Unlike a New York Times article I just read that ended with a question for the reader which I eagerly desired to answer, you can actually comment here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Debate two

I don't know how many of these Republican debates I will comment on here but it's still fascinating. Here are my impressions of the candidates and coverage.

CNN - bad job. Two debates, with roughly half in each, would have been far superior. The four in the B event got to talk more than many in the A debate. Ridiculous. It was the Trump show. Sure, he's the front runner, but, it's not fair and it's not as good.

Trump. I don't mean to hurt his feelings (as if he is reading this) but he can be a clown. He is a megalomaniac. He is not ready on day 1.  It's embarrassing that he keeps saying he will know this or that or he will do the best job without any specifics. He needs to be able to admit mistakes.

Carly Fiorina. I wrote in my first pre-debate blog that I was rooting for her. And she killed. This time, she did even better. She may climb the polls. If not, then the debates mean little. She was clearly the most prepared person to answer questions and also clearly the best on her feet.  I really could care that she knows Bibi or Putin. But, I do like her intelligence, class and spirit.

Kasich. I put him up here because I was also rooting for him in the first debate and thought he did well here to despite getting no time. I see him and Bush as competing for the same voters. However, we know, we know, you balanced a budget. Move on now. I would prefer he or Carly won right now and picked the other for VP, but, I doubt Republican voters will feel the same way.

Carson. Everyone noticed he barely spoke. However, that was true on the first debate and his polls soared. And it may not matter. Because people who like him like his temperament, dignity and intelligence, not his knowledge. However, he is someone I can admire but not expect much of as president. He would be too reliant on advisors.

Paul. I don't see him as having a constituency. He has some areas he is unique in the field, but not enough people care. And, his foreign policy is not what most Republicans or people will want. Isolationism or interventionism are not the issue. Intervening or restraint are called for in appropriate situations. I also don't think he has the personality that can prevail. Though early on I took a hard look at him as a possibility, I don't think he has a chance and I prefer a number of others to him.

Christie. He actually did well in the debate for his limited chances. But, I'm already sick of hearing about his fight against terrorism. Without Trump in the field his brashness might help him a lot. I actually thought his comment to Fiorina and Trump to stop fighting was unfair as they were asked a question. What should they do, not answer it?

Huckabee. He should get out. He has no chance anymore. His day has passed, even if he does well in Iowa. I actually thought he made a good defense of Kim Davis (Kentucky clerk for whom he held a rally) although I completely disagree with him and no candidate who opposes same sex marriage will have a chance.

Rubio. Nice young impressive man. You think, some day, but not to day. Too young. He does do well in the debates, and actually tries to talk about policy, but I don't see him as having a chance.

Cruz. No change in my view of him. He does not have the personality to do this. Though he is obviously talented, and he is actually very personable in an interview, he is very flat and even fake when he is in a debate. I reject that he is a polished debater. He almost always loses them.

Walker. He had a chance early on but did nothing in response to the Summer of Trump and lost all of his support to Carson. I kept forgetting he was on the stage and I can remember not a single thing he said.

Bush. He did okay, but he is now being measured as the lock who was beaten off the top of the hill by Trump and is seen mostly in comparison to him. Given a choice of the two, I'd take Bush in a heart beat. But, he has done little for himself.  He should (they all should) be looking at Fiorina for tips.

By the way, did anyone else think it a little strange that Trump and Bush "slapped five" like they were playing a video game together rather than engaging in an important debate where Bush was supposedly offended on behalf of his wife and Trump refused to apologize?

Trump offered the palm up and Bush emphatically responded. Earlier, Carson refused a fist bump (I think that's what it was), responding with some kind of awkward contact, but obviously he wasn't comfortable with it for whatever reason. I wouldn't have been. I know that the propriety with which politicians act has been relaxed and I'm generally glad for it.  I don't care if they emote or wear jeans or even shorts. And they go on tv and make silly jokes, hoping to seem more human. But, slapping five? What next? And end zone dance when they win the election or score a debating point. That silly finger waggle young men do at each other? I just hope he doesn't try to hug Fiorina. Or chest bump anyone.

As for the B group, obviously Graham woke from his slumber and dominated. And ISIS is important and I generally agree with him on it. But, it is not the only issue.  George Pataki has some appeal to me, but he is not able to mix it up any more and when the moderator says stop, he stops, which is admirable and fare, but in the strange world of political debates, makes you seem week. I seriously do not know what the four of them are doing, but I do not see this as helping them at all. Even Graham.

As with last time, my opinion clearly will not reflect the Republican opinion. I have already seen Trump this morning and the instant polls show him winning by another slaughter.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

NFL 2015-2016 season

So, having straightened everybody out on the political front for a while, it is time for one of the two most important times of the year, overlapping the other, which is Thanksgiving through Christmas. There’s a lot to talk about. First, of course, what we have all been talking about for months –
Brady and deflated balls

As is well known everywhere there is hearing, I am a Patriot and Brady fan. You’ll note though, I do not live in New England. I could care about where a team is located. Never did. And I’ll never understand why anyone else roots for the home team.  But, I get it. I’m the weirdo.

I actually like teams the same way I like my friends, whether they live near or far – because I actually like them. How crazy is that? Brady and Belichick, Belichick and Brady. I don't know if he is the greatest QB ever or Belichick the greatest coach, but I do think they are the greatest coach/QB combo ever.  Revolutionary thought, huh? 
Not surprisingly, where people are revered, there are others that revile them.  Recently, John Cena, the professional wrestler, had some advice for Brady about dealing with the hate. He should know. His tv character is the most wonderful guy you can imagine. Yet, he is loathed by many fans, and he has fun with it. In his case, it is make believe in a sense. For Brady, of course, it is real.

Tom Terrific is terrific to me. He’s certainly one of the two greatest QBs over the course of the last 15 years. I don’t know if you can say that he is better than Manning or vice versa. Certainly it’s arguable, Peyton based on records and Brady on his somewhat lessor records and many more championships.   And Rodgers has been better than both for several years. Could be Peyton is washed up as a lot of people are predicting.  But, I have said for the last few years that I have been obsessed with the NFL, for one game, one quarter, one play, I would want Brady over any QB, even before Rodgers.

I have not always been a Patriot fan and might not be this or next year, though I have a lot of sympathy for them right now. As for Tom, he has my admiration and sympathy right now. Many people would gag or laugh at that right now, but they'd have to show me why.  Though he has never been accused by the NFL of cheating, many people call him a cheater. All the league accused him of was being “generally aware” of the ball deflation in the Colt game. The judge made it clear he had no idea what “generally aware” meant in context of the Wells’ report and he shouldn’t. It was what is sometimes called weasel words, meant to obscure that there was no evidence to support it.

Feel free to argue with me. First, though, read the Wells' report, read Goodell’s decision and letters and read the court’s decision. Until then, you are not making a reasoned argument, no different than if you think a politician is guilty of something depending on what party you are in.   

I notice this. Most people I have discussed it with say they believe that Brady had something to do without the slightest evidence. They don't offer any and they don't care. It's enough they think so because that's the way the world is.  Possibly some think so because they are Jet fans. Possibly some because he's handsome, his wife is the world's most successful super model, he's fabulously wealthy and incredibly successful on the field.  Unlike Brady critics, I wouldn't say that is the truth for any particular person, just because I think that is common behavior.  But I think it is true of a lot of people.  My observation of my friends who are Jet fans, for examples tells me that they not only think he cheated, but some are livid and curse about it. Some have even wished him physical harm over it, despite the fact that the court pointed out that had Goodell followed the rules and he was guilty of something (there has never been a punishment in NFL history before for a player's awareness of someone else's misdeed), there would have been about a $5500 fine.  And their anger is far greater than it was for New Orleans' bounty scandal which had to be 100 times worse, even if the allegations against Brady were true.  Fans are often as partisan as political ideologues and reason means little to them, even if they are rational in most other aspects of their lives. Even for many non-Jet fans, their analysis seems to be identical with their conclusion. He did “something” because they know it. And they know it, because he did it. This is what we call a tautology. Not one of them would accept being accused of anything on the same grounds. I'll cover the circumstantial evidence below, and anyone can try and persuade me otherwise, but when you accuse, their is a burden of proof and you have to have some evidence.

One circumstantial fact that is often cited is that he destroyed his cell phone. This is ridiculous in my view. The NFL doesn’t deny it had all the text records from McNally and Jastremski. Anyone, but particularly a celebrity whose cell phone is a prime target, should be extremely careful about it when he gets a new one. Destroying it is a great idea and his friends and family probably are very happy he does. I would not want anyone to see the things that people have texted or for that matter emailed me. He’s not a public figure with a duty to keep it. And though Ted Wells, who wrote the report (along with the NFL – it was not an independent report), faults him for it, he also said –

And I want to be crystal clear. I told Mr. Brady and his agents, I was willing not to take possession of the phone. I said, "I don't want to see any private information." I said, "Keep the phone. You and the agent, Mr. Yee, you can look at the phone. You give me documents that are responsive to this investigation and I will take your word that you have given me what's responsive."

Brady’s agent has detailed the efforts they did make to cooperate, short of handing over the phone they were told they did not to hand over, and the NFL has not really denied his statements. I don't see how that is grounds to find Brady’s guilt circumstantially, or to loathe him.. The other circumstantial evidence cited is the Patriot’s (really Belichick’s) spy scandal in 2007. I think Belichick is a phenomenal coach. I like him a lot. But, I have no problem finding what he did – and admitted doing then – completely wrong. Am I willing to taint his whole career thereafter? No. Not without some evidence he's done something else wrong. I don't like Miami's Suh very much based on what I've seen. But, I'm not willing to believe anything about him without evidence either.

And, though I admire Brady’s public demeanor and control of his emotions, his incredible competitive nature and last minute composure and execution, I would be perfectly willing to believe he was guilty of something had I been shown any evidence. In fact, before I read all the facts, I was suspicious of it too. And, were there actual evidence, I would be very disappointed in him the way I have been about other athletes I admired when I found out they cheated.  Some I liked a lot. OJ and Lance Armstrong are two good examples.  The sprinter Ben Johnson is another.  I’m not married to Brady or the Patriots or Belichick and they are human.

So, I don’t know what Brady knew or generally knew. I’m not 100% sure that there was bad actions by the Patriots here. I just know there was no evidence that allows me to think he did something wrong.

Done with the Pats. I hope they win the championship again and give those who hate them more reason to hate them.

Here are some predictions and thoughts for the season.

First, I am going way out on a limb and predicting a Buffalo Bills versus Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl. Seattle and the Patriots are my backup picks though before Jordy Nelson’s injuries, I would have picked the Pack. My picks are based on personnel losses to both Seattle and NE and Buffalo’s and the Eagles’ pickups of personnel off season. However both depend on untested QBs and that means almost everything. If these young men, Bradford and/or Taylor do not perform, then my picks will be pretty poor.  Statistical analysis of predictions show that even the best performances over a season are only fractionally better than simply picking teams to do as they did the year before. I thought I’d avoid that, however accurate it might be, and I don’t mind being wrong. I’ve picked far more SB’s wrong than right. Good thing my ego doesn’t rest upon it.

The games that most interest me this week are:

The Colts v. Buffalo. I will find out very quickly if my expectations for Buffalo are to be thwarted and whether my belief that the Colts (who some win the NFC) and Luck are overrated is wrong-headed. A lot of people are picking them to win it all, and they have some arguments on their side.

As well looking forward to the Eagles v. the Falcons, also to see if the Eagles are the real deal or not.
KC v. Houston. I just like Houston’s defense, which may be even better this year. Sorry to see Fitzpatrick go. I think another mediocre season for them though with a lot of game highlights by the defense. I think when healthy, Jamaal Charles is one of the top five RBs in the game.

As far as individual players,

I’ve already seen Brady get his first game revenge. 4 TDs in a game are not all that unusual anymore, but he was highly accurate, albeit against a team with obvious defensive problems. It seems to me watching him however, that his long ball game is not in the stratosphere of NFL QBs anymore.  Maybe most QBs playing have stronger arms than he does, but like Peyton Manning, he’s not getting any younger and he compensates with his mind and quick decisions.

I am hoping Adrian Peterson, another player who the NFL unfairly attacked (Goodell's record as a disciplinarian is pitiful) has a sensational game and year.

I’d like to see J. Watt, who I thought one of the two or three best players in football last year, have a great game.

Also, GB’s Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and, if he plays, Randall Cobb, the Giant’s Odell Beckham, Jr. (aka OBJ), Des Bryant and Rams DE, Robert Quinn. Obviously there are others, but that came to mind quick.

And though I’m not a big fan, and his legacy is secure with two SB wins, I am curious to see how Eli Manning does this year, especially when Cruz returns. They do not have a bad cast of characters and if their line plays well, he has a chance to look much better than he has the last two years.

I’m also curious about Andrew Luck. He was picked first over RGIII and I’m sure the Colts aren’t sorry. He is a top QB, but I really don’t think he is as great as many people think. Personally, I like him, so hard not to root for him, but his path also usually goes through Tom Brady and that will be a problem. I cringe when Luck is said to be the league’s leading passer. He had the touchdowns, but also too many interceptions and was allowed to throw an awful lot, I think next most after Brees, who I also think slightly overrated.   He doesn’t have the best QB rating, the best TD to interception ratio and doesn’t always strike me as making the best decisions in big games. On the other hand, if the rookie, Dorsett, can catch as advertised, it adds another weapon for him that could make them really tough. They may now have the best receiving corp in the league, though you could make other arguments.

Hard for me to root for Seattle. I just normally don’t like teams where many players see themselves as bad asses, even when I admire them. I was happy as can be that NE beat them last year, but after the game I felt that Seattle would win the next two if they played three. To the contrary, I love Wilson’s game and am excited that Graham has joined the team.

Most of all, though not particularly a Jet fan, I’d like to see Ryan Fitzpatrick perform well. I’ve thought, particularly last year, that he is a very decent QB who has never played for a really good team. He still isn’t this year, but he has a number of good receivers to work with now and a decent backfield. I haven’t met a Jet fan yet who did not think he should have started over Smith, anyway, and since Smith made it easy, he’s got to perform now.

As for rookies, I have low expectations for Winston and Mariota. I am curious to see if Amari Cooper becomes a quick star in Oakland at WR. Same for DeVante Parker in Miami, though I believe he was not that impressive in pre-season.  I was also curious about WR Kevin White in Chicago, but he may be out for the season. I’m really looking forward to see what Todd Gurley can do when he is sufficiently recovered to play for the Rams. I loved his college highlight reel. I know sometimes it doesn’t transfer to the pros, but we will see. Last, Byron Jones shocked everyone with his athleticism at the Combine this year. I understand he is not setting the world on fire in Dallas yet, but, I’m waiting to see.

That’s all, folks.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Political update for September, 2015

I actually wrote a different post this week, one involving tattoos.  But, my inability to upload photographs on blogger, though it is supposed to be really easy, got too frustrating. I’ve even tried doing it on Word and then just pasting it on. I’ve tried uploading it directly on blogger (even worse – it freezes Internet Explorer), copying it directly from my pictures, but nothing works.

In any event, what’s wrong with just talking politics. There are 5 big issues as I see them right now.  Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump and the Iran deal. But, we can only talk a little about Trump and then, even if not as much in the news, talk about my take on some other candidates and then the Middle East.


Trump is short for trumpet, I think, and he must think so too. I’m not sure if outside of a pure entertainment situation have ever seen anyone as shamelessly dedicated to trumpeting his own worth. I’ve lost track of the things he will be the best at – I know the military and with Hispanic and with women, but there were so many others. You could probably make a similar list of people he has insulted and people he says he loves or they love him. I know he loves the Mexicans, the Russians and the Chinese all of whom he has insulted and complimented.

I stick with my original prediction. It might be that Trump stands for almost every negative aspect of a politician and possibly a person that I can think of – arrogant (“I’m very rich”), conceited (“super-genius”), a control-freak, a liar, bigoted, greedy, unnecessarily aggressive, angry, ignorant about things he pretends to be knowledgeable about, falsely pious (if his favorite book is really the Bible, I will eat my hat), unwilling to admit making mistakes or apologize and almost unbearably insecure (“My family likes me”). And beyond that, he is the greatest gift to the Democrats that could possibly exist. In 2012 his birther boondoggle, in which he pretended to have investigators in Hawaii finding things we wouldn’t believe, helped sabotage Romney even though Trump didn’t run. What gifts will he have this time by running and, possibly, winning the nomination. Not for nothing do some people suspect he is secretly in league with the Democrats.

Given all these traits, why is he doing so well?

First, he’s not. Let’s say he is somewhere around 25%, a little less than the realclearpolitics late Aug., early Sept. polls. That means 75% of those polled are for someone else. It is not rocket science to realize that as the legion of non-super heroes drop out one by one, his numbers will probably shrink. It is hard not to believe that those who prefer Cruz, Walker, Huckabee, Graham, Rubio and Santorum, if they drop out, will more likely head to Carson than Trump. And that may be true of the rest of them, with the exception of those few who like Carly Fiorina because of her business background.

Second, in my own anecdotal experience, those who seem to like Trump most are white middle class men, followed by white middle class women. Now, that is still the majority in this country, so it’s important. Why are these people so interested in him?

First, some people are simply sick of being called racist because they prefer the police to gangs or because they are offended by the Black Lives Matter movement. They are sick of being called a racist because they do not want people from other countries moving her illegally.

Second, some people are sick of political correctness. They want a president who ignores it or mocks it.

Third, some want someone who doesn’t respect the media. They don’t and they don’t like it when the politicians kow tow to them.

Fourth, some like that not only the media, but to some degree, some of the other candidates seem intimidated by him. If they weren’t, do you think that they would not be jumping all over his mistaking the Kurds for the Iranian Quds force?

Fifth, they buy into his fantasy about being economically superior.  Being a businessman is simply not the same as being knowledgeable about trade and the economy. They buy into his phony bologna narrative that his 4 business bankruptcies are a positive, that those who got stiffed were bad guys rather than investors and people who trusted in him.

Sixth, they buy into the fantasy that talking tough is the same as being tough. If we don’t like something China or Russia is doing – we just tell them “NO!” and they will love us for it.

I was watching Howard Dean on tv recently, and I couldn’t help but think, there’s a guy who must really be annoyed by the whole Trump thing. Dean was felled by a single squawking like “yeahhhh!” he gave to encourage some campaigners. Despite the fact that there was not the slightest thing wrong with it, he was so mocked it just destroyed him, and the Democrats were left with the pathetic John Kerry for a candidate. Yet Trump seems to be able to get away with almost everything. Life isn’t fair.

Slowly, I do believe though that, just as last time, enough Republicans came to their senses that Romney was the only one who had a chance, they will realize that Trump has the least chance in a general election and will self-destruct. Eventually, the ridiculous things he says will start adding up and a tipping point will be passed.

One thing I’ve learned about myself though watching presidential race after presidential race – I don’t know who the next president will be. The other thing I’ve learned, is that it does not stop me from making predictions.

So, here is prediction no. 1. Trump will not be the nominee. Obviously, I don’t know when he will fall, but I think when he does, it will be as big as he has been, and it will be like a crane falling on Trump Towers.


I don’t know what to make up him. Part of me believes he is a product of Trump’s rise, part of me thinks he would be right where he was anyway. His quiet demeanor and obvious intelligence are his strong points. As with Trump, his lack of knowledge on the issues does not seem to hurt him at all. I don’t think we know enough about him to make any kind of judgment.


Last month I made what I called an “early unofficial” prediction, which is pretty funny because all my predictions are unofficial and I say early just so I can backtrack on it without too much embarrassment if I am completely wrong. Also, it is no fun for me if it is a prediction everyone else is making.  Hence, I’ll take a shot. If I’m wrong, me and lot of other people. If I’m right, who is going to have it in his blog? That’s right. Wealth, fame, the 7 o’clock slot on Morning Joe (I wonder if you have to put in a request for a specific kind of coffee). Or, nothing.

Nevertheless, one prediction was that Katich would be the Republican nominee.  Although it is still really early and unofficial (whatever that means), I see no reason to change it. Nationally, he’s polling in the middle, although far closer to the bottom than the top. That’s all right though, because Trump is a phenomenon I think will dissipate (though he disappoints every such prediction so far), the other supposed front–runners have been shown to be weak, and he’s doing well in New Hampshire, which will give him a bigger bump than Iowa, a state which is such a poor predictor of Republican victors that they cancelled their traditional Ames Poll this year to spare themselves the embarrassment. Like a long distance runner staying behind but in contact with the pack, I’m feeling okay about it. Not great. But, okay.


Why is it that most everyone thinks she will be the VP choice?  A poll which asks for second, third and fourth choices puts her clearly on top.  She was my early favorite before Katich jumped in. It’s not that I am especially in agreement with her about anything, or there is something about her that screams competency for me. It’s that she seemed relatively moderate and more articulate and intelligent than most of the other candidates and she wasn’t being particularly martinetish or obsequious to anyone or even going out of her way to be charming or likeable. Not that this necessarily makes a great president, but it’s a much better start than most of them have for me.

And the others . . .

If I had my way, most of the other Republican candidates would just go away. Not that I particularly dislike any of them, but they go from the ridiculous - Pataki, Jindal, Perry and Gilmore. Some aren’t ridiculous but have no chance this time – Paul, Christie, Huckabee and Santorum. Of those not mentioned above, Cruz, Rubio and Bush have some kind of shot given some seismic shift, but of the three, Cruz is unelectable in a general election. Of the whole group, whether I think they could win the nomination or not, only Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, Katich, Christie and Bush would have a real chance in a general election with a slim chance for Walker, who I think has hurt more than helped himself so far.

After Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina I expect the following people left. Possibly Trump, Carson, Bush, Walker, Katich, Fiorina, Cruz. Maybe Rubio, but I’m not sure. It would shock no one that after the Summer of Trump, if Bush makes a comeback. When Trump is out - if Trump goes out, everything changes.

However, since I stick with my litmus test that a conservative candidate who carries on about same sex marriage and doesn’t believe in either global warming (Me? Still agnostic about it) or evolution does not have a chance in a general election, we go down to pretty much Katich and Fiorina. However, it is possible that Carson would be an exception to the rule despite his position. I do not know about Jeb Bush. And, of course, it matters who the other nominee is.

Got it?


Despite Trump’s Teflon qualities, Clinton seems to share many of them. Until very recently, her numbers were actually better than Trump’s despite the seeming inevitable doom of the email scandal. As the revelations and problems come out (this week the guy who set up her server took the 5th and it came out from other staffers that she paid State Dep’t personnel to work for her on the server personally – talk about a conflict of interest. The email scandal is well covered in the news and I don’t feel the need to just review it.

No doubt, she still has her supporters, but I suspect that this week was the tipping point for her. Of course, as we know, just because someone gets crushed after being on top, doesn’t mean that they can’t come back. And, I tend to notice that this is more typical of front runners, at least of late.

There is one thing she has on her side. She’s a woman and identity politics is very important.  I think it has helped Carly Fiorina too, although she does not have a constituency or the media on her side to help. I think it is helping Ben Carson, as some conservatives will no doubt want to show that they are not the racists that the media and Democrats make them out to be. As I often say to liberals who accuse them of racism (not that some aren’t) is that there aren’t very many conservatives who would not be delighted by Clarence Thomas ran for president and we know that Herman Cain had his run before it turned out he had as much Bill Clinton in his make up as Ronald Reagan.

There are few things that will save H. Clinton if another loud shoe drops. It is always the nature of partisans to ignore as far as it is possible when one of their own transgresses. As is so often pointed out by resentful conservatives – “Can you imagine if this came out about George Bush? Every journalist. . . .” But, unlike Trump, other than her name recognition and femaleness, there is not a lot about her that makes people want to stand up and cheer. She is famously portrayed by Washington insiders as fun on a personal level, but more wooden in public than Al Gore was when he ran. Obama is president today because he was likeable in debates whereas she was just ponderous.


I get why progressives love him. He demonizes wealthy people, particularly conservative ones, he promises free stuff for everyone, boldly calls himself a socialist and can be as outspoken, but not usually as personally insulting, as Trump is. And he is also a bit of a character, unlike say Katich, who is also doing well in NH right now.   I wouldn’t be all that excited if I were him though that he has overtaken Clinton in New Hampshire polls because he’s from Vermont, and the only difference between the two states in almost every way is which side of the black line they are on.

Sanders does have a chance in the nomination process if two things happen. First, Clinton continues to decline because of the email scandal and Biden doesn’t jump in. Which leads us to . . .


The Democrat prediction I was that Joe Biden would be the Democrat nominee. Naturally, the first step would be for him to actually run for the job. I believe him when he said he didn’t know if he and his family had the emotional fire to do it. He seems, giant smiley teeth and all, to be genuinely depressed by the death of his son. Who can blame him? Of course the same tragedy is what gives an emotional charge to his run.  The consensus right now is that this is not the Joe Biden of 6 years ago and I agree. That doesn’t mean if he gets the limelight for a few weeks, the old Joe Biden won’t be back. But, I don’t think so. And Democrats who want another liberal president to appoint new Supreme Court Justices and continue the trend to the left in our politics, will support him over Bernie Sanders, who will excite the far left but possibly not as much as it does the far right.

Like almost everyone, personally, I like Biden. Most candidates are for me too far left or too far right, and he’s too far left. But, not so far as others. And, despite occasionally outbursts of goofiness or harmless awkward behavior with women, he’s reasonably bright. It is hard to miss that of almost everyone in the belt, he, almost alone had the good sense to agree with me (and I’m sure I’m where he got the idea from) that Iraq was really three countries – though he would go no further than suggesting three autonomous provinces. To the contrary, the one time I saw him being just unbearable was a whine-fest during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing – I think of Justice Roberts. And he was out front in the administration turning towards supporting gay rights and what sometimes seemed like the only reasonably honest person in that administration, at least at the beginning. All these are good things. I probably would not vote for him, and he would not be my choice among the Democrats, but he would not make me think the world was coming to an end either.

And the others . . .

As for Webb and O'Malley, it is very hard to see a path forward, as they say. You never know. Webb strikes me as the someone I might be interested in. I've heard O'Malley speak a few times and he is probably not. His embarrassing capitulation to some young men and women of Black Lives Matter almost disqualifies him by itself.

All of these many predictions are of course subject to illness, some national crisis or scandal and gaffe. Those, no one can predict.


I have a little over a week until I have to vote on Iran. I’ve been giving it a bit of thought. I didn’t know what to think at first. I will say that John Kerry, who is among my least favorite politicians for a long time, and who I find disingenuous, too ambitious and often worse, has done his best work in defending (as opposed to negotiating) the deal.

In the end, if I had to vote on the 16th of this month, I’d vote no. This is why. First, I am not someone who favors filibusters in general as a regular legislative process. Though obviously a legal procedure, I see them as a weakness, not a strength of the Senate. Though of course there are things that I would not wish the Senate to vote for, the way it should work is up and down. So, I will be angered if the Democrats do not allow an up and down vote. And just for the record, I felt the same way when Republicans were blocking votes too.

Second, I have never been satisfied with Kerry’s answers regarding our political prisoners. He usually says that it was raised at every meeting. That means one of several possibilities must be true. He did not have a strong hand in the negotiations. Or he did not press hard enough. Or he didn’t threaten to walk from the talks on that account. Which was it? Someone should spend some time on this when questioning him and they don’t.

Third, I am not that worried about the timing of inspections, because my understanding is that the IAEF is very satisfied that even a significant delay – say two months or even more – will not deter them technologically. However, the knowledge of secret agreements between Iran and the IAEF, who I do trust, is not acceptable. As part of the negotiations, the waiver of secret agreements, at least to the leadership in congress, should have been paramount. No doubt Kerry and the others were aware of this and did not press it.

Fourth and most important, I cannot make head or tails of the sanctions regime. What we are being told is that sanctions are compartmentalized such that although we cannot sanction on nuclear grounds if they are in compliance, we can sanction on other grounds. But, it has never been clear that the language of the agreement states this clearly nor is it at all explained how to prevent Iran, of whom the administration say they have no trust, will not simply claim we are in non-compliance whenever they want.

I do not agree with critics that this is a path to the bomb (any country can violate a treaty or agreement whenever it wants) or that it does not reduce Iranian nuclear capacity – it does – but I do think that it is a situation where we had a very strong hand and did not play it or played it poorly. In the end, it of course makes Iran much stronger, and that is a problem for all of our allies in the neighborhood.


All of this pales in comparison with the news in the NFL, which I hope to get to before the season starts Thursday.

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 . . . .