Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The curse of group guilt


Recently I wrote a comment in response to a NYTimes online article. I write a lot of these. Often one or more a morning, before dawn usually, just like these posts. It’s one of the benefits of the curse of not sleeping. Sometimes, I get 1-5 “recommends” on my comments (sometimes none), which is laughable, and whoever bashes me in reply often gets far more. I often hope I have time to reply when I get bashed – as after a while they turn the reply functions off – because sometimes I feel the commenter, in bashing me, has proved my point. Of course, on my blog, where no one comments because it no longer allows them to be anonymous for some reason or other, I am a king with no subjects, and no one sasses me. Actually, that’s a shame because in the past I rather enjoyed the comments, and I’m pretty sure the few readers I had enjoyed them more than my post. 

In any event, with respect to the article I'm writing about, within a few minutes of posting my comment on The Times, I got 40 some-odd recommends, which interested me, not because - oh, boy, I’m popular – some people get thousands of – but because it lets me know that even in a fairly ideologically fixed group - and I don’t think anyone doubts that the “typical” NY Times reader is on the liberal side – a larger than usual group of people seemed to agree. And, I guess that’s just rare. 

The article I commented on was about nuns, who belonged to an order that had decided to atone for the deeds of those in the same order long before them, indeed, who lived before any of them were even born. The misdeeds were slavery. My comment was (correcting only two spelling errors because I write them before dawn, but forget to edit before I post):

This insistence that people today (even if they themselves buy it), are somehow responsible for slavery b/c they have the same profession, institution or were descended from those responsible, makes no sense. We don't do this with anything else. We don't, e.g., expect atonement by the descendants or members of the same club, of a murderer 200 years ago. Members of all branches of government in the past had slaves and helped perpetuate slavery. Should, say, Elijah Cummings, George Bush and John Roberts therefore atone for it?

This idea of guilt or responsibility carried through genes or membership in institutions, is no different in its core than the idea that groups of people were natural slaves because of their skin color or religion, etc. That was something people believed when slavery was the norm for peoples all over the world for most of human history.

Obviously, I am not justifying slavery or arguing that it cannot have lasting effects. I'm saying that it is not rational in the slightest for women who decided to dedicate their lives to a peaceful ideology to think they have anything to atone for b/c of what people who joined that group did 150 or more years ago, and that, generally, the idea of guilt or responsibility flowing across generations in the genes or through membership in an institution is not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense - and at the very core of the idea of slavery itself.”

This idea of atonement for the deeds or even beliefs of others who are not us because of a sharing of some superficial quality that has nothing to do with the actual offense, is, as I wrote, dangerous. It is based on the falsest of ideas, that we are not morally individual, but share guilt or responsibility with those who have some highly intangible quality in common to us.

The New York Times itself is a company that has, in the past, engaged in blatant and unapologetic racism. Last year, it published an article which recognized, with respect to Jack Johnson, the first black recognized heavyweight champion, its own racist coverage. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/24/sports/jack-johnson-racism.html. The article actually went rather easy on the Times, which had a long history of being much more racist than I have space to write about here. The author did not atone or apologize in the article. And, they should not have because neither the author nor the employees at The Times today, have the same beliefs. But, the non-apology surprised me, as The Times and its employees sometimes make rather lame apologies for what is not racism, but what appears to mimic it by coincidence. For example, its crossword puzzle editor recently apologized for using a word “beaner,” even though the “beaner” it meant had nothing to do with any racism nor did the editor realize that it could be used as a slur against Hispanics. I think he was giving a clue or answer to a puzzle about coffee. Whatever it was, it wasn’t racist. Also recently, the Times apologized for a cartoon featuring Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu which it “admitted” had anti-Semitic tropes. What were these tropes? Apparently, it included Netanyahu wearing a dog collar with the Star of David. Obviously, they meant that Israel’s leader was Trump’s lapdog, which has been a common way of disparaging different leaders for a long time, and certainly not just Jewish ones. Tony Blair, Britain’s former PM, was taunted for being Bush’s lapdog. The Star of David actually is Israel’s symbol and its use doesn’t imply prejudice any more than a hammer and sickle used to portray a Soviet would have been in the past. I saw the cartoon. It never occurred to me that it might be anti-Semitic, but, for many it did. I seriously doubt the drawer of the cartoon meant it that way.

Right now, the issue of reparations is on the forefront again, brought back when the Ds took over the House of Representatives in the last election. They mean it to atone for racism, if you give it its best face (and not that they are trying to drum up support among their base). I believe it perpetuates racism. I’m not delving into the impossibility of actuality fairly implementing reparations (who’s black, who’s white, who is responsible – did your family have to live here during slavery to participate in atonement, etc.?), as those arguments are well known and I do not think can be successfully rebutted. Even some leaders of the movement for reparations acknowledge you can’t do it fairly.

But there is another false premise supporting reparations I’d like to address. That is the notion that it is not guilt or culpability that is being assigned in order to have reparations, but the recognition that there have been some economic benefits which some institutions and families have carried forward to this day which were, as they say, built on the backs of slavery. I have no doubt that is at least can be true to some extent. It is still a false notion. We cannot leap from this belief in economic advantage for some Americans who had nothing to do with slavery, even if they are descended from George Washington or a slave trader, to the believe that they and others superficially like them, should pay reparations to other Americans who did not suffer slavery – even if descendants have advantages. Forget that we cannot accurately parse where the present-day advantages came from (it might have little or nothing to do with slavery). There is no reason that some Americans who were disadvantaged because of the economic shadow of slavery, should receive present-day advantages, but not someone who is disadvantaged because his parents(s) were wrongly convicted, or suffered the consequences of anti-Semitism, anti-Asian sentiment, etc. Nor reason that those who do suffer from those non-slavery related disadvantages (perhaps everyone), should have to pay towards reparations for others. We shouldn’t give in to this torture of reason that tries to rectify past injustices by blaming innocent people for them now, even if it makes others feel good.

Nor can I accept the argument that slavery is different than everything else in American history and should be treated specially. American Indians, for one group, could easily differ. Nor could it explain away the fact that for a while, blacks had a higher rate of marriage and actually a greater labor participation than whites – and that has been, at one time, since slavery.
Last, but not least, consider the powerful testimony of Coleman Hughes, a journalist, who was a witness before a congressional hearing on reparations in congress, should not be quickly forgotten: “Reparations by definition are only given to victims, so the moment you give me reparations, you’ve made me into a victim without my consent. Not just that, you’ve made 1/3 of black Americans who poll against reparations into victims without their consent, and black Americans have fought too long for the right to define themselves to be spoken for in such a condescending manner.”
Yes, he can insist he is an individual with his own opinion (even if he sees himself as a member of an oppressed group), however much someone might want to label him in order to support their political opinion. He doesn’t want to be a victim, whatever his supposed saviors think. But, it is not just him. Reparations rips the individuality away from everyone who participates on either side – the givers or the receivers.
There is an unspoken sentiment held not just by some American blacks, perhaps a majority, but by many whites and others who buy into it too, that it’s just fine if white people, even innocent ones, are stripped of their individuality and treated as a group, because non-white men were oppressed for so long (and many still feel oppressed despite the change in laws and public sentiment). They base their conclusion on the same unfair practices of judging people as a group, not as individuals. So, if whites are now – evil – and “white men” now considered dangerous, because there are some crazed white nationals in our country, that’s okay with them. If a white officer or sometimes ordinary person gets presumed guilty of murder because a black person was killed, even if it isn’t true, we should pretend it’s true. The more ridiculous the label of murder is, the better, because that highlights their point - group identity is what really matters. George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson (Ferguson – the shooting of Michael Brown) come quickly to mind.  
You can say my opinion is that of a privileged white man (trust me, the privileges did not include a lot of money), but it is the opinion of many people, some of whom, like Coleman Hughes, would benefit from this carnage of justice where once again in our country, skin color again becomes the primary qualification and qualities like character and merit, ability and decency, and so on, are no longer the lessons that matter. Maybe that has already occurred.

I couldn’t be more against guilt by association, for the sake of everyone’s individuality. Group guilt is a curse, and it should be abandoned.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Alaska

So, went to Alaska for a couple of weeks in May. Actually, started in Seattle, but pictorially, we will go there last. So, what's Alaska like? Mostly a lot of snow on a lot of mountains. But, it doesn't get old fast. You can see why people take a look and want to move there, cold as it is. Some people even move there and then live "off the grid" in a shack or a tent.

Here are some mountains.





And, of course, where there are mountains, there are very often rivers.





And where there are rivers, sometimes waterfalls -























Sometimes people go to Alaska and don't see any animals, or big ones, anyway. We were lucky. We saw dozens of big ones, including caribou and reindeer (just the domesticated version of Caribou).




And, bald eagles -


 

Grizzlies -


And black bear -



And very lawful moose. We saw quite a few moose (or is it meese?).

Probably the best photo op we saw was as we were leaving a hotel on a bus, two moose which had been at the hotel walking about, crossing a rapid-filled river. No one had their camera ready. But, I got one of them earlier walking around the hotel grounds.


The cities and towns are small, but often picturesque, surrounded by mountains -



This was our cruise ship, which was half the trip. It looks small here, as I was taking the picture from a height, but it slept 2100 visitors, plus a large crew.



The highlights, I think for most people, were the visits to glaciers. Our ship sailed into a bay and approached Hubbard Glacier, which is miles long and growing still - there are glaciers that are still growing. At one point I thought if I could walk on water, I could get to it in about 10 minutes. Then the Captain announced that we were still 7 miles away. The front of the glacier, which looked about 10-20 feet high from there, was actually higher than our ship. At 3 miles it looked a couple hundred feet away. We finally got to within a half mile and could hear and see calving of chunks of snow and ice fall into the sea. It took a little to realize that what looked like a little bit of snow falling, probably would have flattened your house. It was, along with the train ride south from Fairbanks, the highlight of the trip for me. 




In Alaska, there are many pilots, despite the small population. Most of them, of course, fly small planes. While we were there, three planes went down in a week (but two in one accident). A rarity, and the same company. We had a flight scheduled but my courageous (snicker) middle-aged friends backed out. I wouldn't go to the DR right now, but I'm too stupid to be scared away by some plane crashes. Nevertheless . . . .  


This little isle is a state symbol for Alaska. I don't know why. It's pretty, but it's not what I would have chosen -


In Seattle, my nephew runs a hot air balloon company. It was a great experience. You don't even feel like you are moving. One of the thrills of it, is to watch the shadow it casts on the land below.


You spend a lot of time in Alaska trying to see Denali, which has its own weather, and is often, like many big mountains, lost in the clouds. We did get to see it, but a faded half covered version, which is much better than most people get. But, in Seattle, it is a lot easier to see Mt. Rainer, which is much smaller than Denali, but also magnificent. I've been to it over 30 years ago, and it is one of the most beautiful places I know.


These are just some other photos, without comment.










I'm going to tell you a secret I don't tell to the friends I went with. New Zealand was even more amazing. Not that Alaska isn't wonderfully beautiful, but the variety in New Zealand was far greater - astonishing. Whatever, they are both great places to go.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The ghost in the spare bedroom

How is it possible that in the years since I first met Annie I have never related the story of the ghost in the house I stayed in while living in rural Virginia? I was sure I had, more than once, but I see I only once glanced upon this remarkable story in this blog.

I know how to preface this story because I've told it to so many people over the years. First, I am not exaggerating or making up any bit of this. What I relate to you, I actually experienced. Based on my testimonial evidence alone, I lived in a house haunted by a ghost. Second, despite the overwhelming personal experience of a ghost, I did not and still do not believe in ghosts.

The two things seem mutually exclusive. But, I don't really think so. Just as a good magician can make us believe that he has done something impossible, we know better. We experienced the trick, and it seems magical (most recently the amazing card magician, Shin Lim), but our rational minds tell us it was a trick. There were no tricks involved with my ghost. No one was manipulating things behind the scenes as in a Scooby Doo episode. But, while I know I experienced what I am about to tell you, rationally, I still do not believe ghosts exist. It just doesn't make sense to me that when our brains are dead, whatever makes up our consciousness can take a walk away from the corpse. I can imagine it, as I've seen enough movies featuring it, but I can't believe it. Not even after what I'm about to tell you.

I moved to Virginia in early February, 2008, having found during an earlier trip a place to live in a small town on the James River an old house complete with a wood-burning furnace and not too much insulation. Now, this house, once a wreck that was lovingly restored, seemed like it should have a ghost. Like many houses in the town, it was quite old. Rarely did I go down to the basement to feed the furnace that I didn't expect to see a ghost. Never did.

But, after a very cold winter, I decided that I should move to another home with at least a little more heat. I found one, owned by an older fella who worked at the local pizzeria. I moved into it in September, 2009. It was another old house, over 80 years old, built by my landlord's father. It had propane heat emanating from the fireplace and not so much insulation. Still, it was a little warmer, and that was warm enough to me.

It was not long before the first odd thing occurred. I had come into my house one day and sat down on the couch, as usual. I was working on my computer when I happened to look up or perhaps the movement drew my attention. From where I sat, I could see across the living room, through the dining room, and into the kitchen. I had a plastic garbage can maybe two feet or so high with a toggle type lid on top. You could lift the lid up or push it down to the right or the left, as it was fixed on a metal rod running across the middle of it. When one end went down, the other went up.

As I looked up, I could see the lid moving, going up on one side and then the other. Not a little, but a lot. It was as if someone had just thrown something into it. Naturally, thinking I was alone in my house, I was immediately alarmed. Someone had to be there. I took my laptop off my lap, stood up and quietly walked into my bedroom, reached under my pillow and pulled out my knife. I probably should explain that. This was rural Virginia and pretty much everyone in town except a few like me owned guns. You weren't allowed to discharge them in town, but most everyone had them. And that would include anyone who might decide to rob my house. I grew up on Long Island where few people owned guns, at least legally. I had never used one before moving to Virginia at all and had no desire to have one. So, just in case, I kept a knife under my pillow. It seemed highly unlikely I'd ever need it, and more unlikely I'd hit anyone with it if I threw it, but you never know.

This was a time I thought I might need it. If someone was creeping around my house with me in it, it couldn't be good. Perhaps I was bringing a knife to a gun fight, but still. . . Very quietly, I started walking down the hallway towards the other entrance of the kitchen. Except . . . the floors creaked under me. And that's when I realized that there was no person in my house. If someone was walking, I would hear them, even if he or she was a hobbit. A cold tingle crept down my spine as an alternative, straight out of the movies, occurred to me. Then I thought, "Nah," and walked into the kitchen. I opened the garbage and looked in. Maybe it was a mouse and it had jumped in. I had mice. No mouse that I could see was in it. I emptied the contents. No big insect either. I started thinking about ghosts again. It's hard not to in a situation like that, and though I didn't get a chill again, it felt weird.

That night, I lay down on my bed and started to read in preparation to sleep. I was a little skittish. I started to go to sleep but you can imagine I did not have a strong desire to turn the lights off. I did anyway. It felt eerie. But, finally, I closed my eyes and said to myself, "Stop, you don't believe in ghosts." And I fell asleep instantly.

Unfortunately, this was pre-throat and nose surgery and I did not sleep more than a few minutes a night straight through. Awake, asleep, awake, asleep. But, I managed, for the most part, to keep a lid on the ghostly thoughts. In the morning, I felt fine. I was tired, but I always felt that way.

And that seemed like that. Just an odd occurrence. Except for one thing. Every once in a while I would hear noises from the hallway, the one leading from the living room to the back of the house. There was a door in that hallway that led to a bedroom in which there was a closet. And all the junk I was storing since I didn't need to use that room to sleep in. I'd hear the noise and go look, making sure there wasn't an animal in it because sometimes the sound was unmistakably that of someone or thing rumbling around in there. The thoughts about the moving garbage lid did come back to me, and it was not the most comfortable week, whatever my beliefs.

Then, the coming weekend, I went to Gettysburg, PA. Gettysburg is a great destination which I've written about here before. We stayed in the Tillie Pierce House, an inn right in the heart of Gettysburg, with its own Civil War stories. Gettysburg has become a ghost tourism town. Although Tillie didn't actually die there - she grew up, lived through the War, moved away and died much later - the house was "supposedly" haunted and advertised itself so. I met my New York friend, Mike, there. When we arrived, the innkeeper did her job and filled our heads with ghost stories.

Just before I went to bed, I showed Mike a picture in my bedroom of two creepy looking little girls. He was sorry he looked. He went off to his own bedroom, which, allegedly, was the scene of most ghost sightings there. The guest books they kept in the rooms were full of stories. As usual, I  read before going off to sleep. I did still have my experience in Buchanan in my mind and was still a little unsettled about it. I realized sleeping in a "ghost house" was not a good idea. But . . . eventually, I got tired and decided to go to sleep. I turned the light off and lay there on my back. I started to feel more sleepy. Then, as real as any sensation I have felt in my life, I felt my left arm start to tingle. Something wasn't right. I was laying on my back and tried to open my eyes, but couldn't. Then, my left arm began moving, raising towards the ceiling. I became very alarmed but I couldn't call out or move at all or see a thing with my eyes shut. And then . . . "David, you are sleeping. Just let go. It's okay." And again, I fell asleep instantly. Really, it was a good thing I didn't believe in ghosts or I might have had a heart attack. Very scary.

I must have been exhausted because I didn't wake up until after a good sleep for me around 3:30 a.m. I noticed my arm was attached to my shoulder and all seemed well. I got up to use the bathroom. The floor creaked worse than in my home. I went back to bed and read until it was time for breakfast.

As I sat at the communal breakfast table around 8 a.m. other guests started coming in. Two couples. They started telling me what they had experienced that night. Ghostly stuff. Especially at 3:30 that morning when they could distinctly hear someone or thing, walking around the house. That sounded familiar. Then Mike came into the room, looking like . . . he had seen a ghost. Actually, he hadn't, but he told us that he just sat up all night with his back to the wall with the lights on waiting for one and feeling completely terrified. Poor guy. He too heard the 3:30 phantom. I told all of them that it was likely me as I had caused the floors to creak a lot. I think they preferred their stories. I also told them all what I experienced with my arm. It didn't exactly convince them there were no ghosts.

Back at home, I realized I had to deal with this ghost thing. I lived in a drafty old house and that had to be the explanation, although, honestly, it doesn't seem convincing even now. A few days after I got home I was in the local pizzeria, where my landlord, Cotton (really Ashton, but everyone called him Cotton since he was little because his hair was so light) worked for his girlfriend, Sandy, who was the owner. People were very friendly in Buchanan and it was not unusual to have conversations with other customers. On that day, a middle-aged woman was there having some pizza. She was relating to someone else, I forget who, what I had experienced with the garbage can lid. "Oh," said the middle-aged woman, "you must live in Cotton's house."
"Uh, yeah. How'd you know?"
"Well, you met Annie. Everyone knows that house is haunted."
"What?"
"Yup. Annie Eerie was Cotton's aunt and she hung herself in her bedroom when he was little."

Gulp. I asked her which bedroom. Yup -- that one, where all the noise was coming from.

"I wouldn't mention it to Cotton, though. He don't like to talk about it." Cotton and I were friends, but I never spoke to him about it really. We did have a conversation once around the edges of it. I didn't tell him what I experienced. But, he said his aunt's name was something different than I had heard. What her real name was escapes me now, but it wasn't anything like Annie Eerie. Maybe that's just what people called the ghost. Does Annie Eerie sound like a real name to you?

From that day on, until the year I moved out (I'll get to that), about 4 years in that house, I experienced all kinds of ghostly phenomena. Not only was there a lot of noise coming from that room, which would stop instantly when I opened the door, but other much weirder things began happening. It got to the point where it was a little scary to walk past the door to that room in the night. But, when nature called, the quickest way to the only bathroom was through that hallway. I could have walked around through the dining room and kitchen, but I refused to be intimidated. Finally, it got to the point where in order not to be spooked myself, I'd sneak past the door and let out a loud cackling laugh, like in a horror movie. I figured I'd scare her before she'd scare me. I'll tell you though, there wasn't a time I was using the sink when I wasn't sure that when I looked up into the mirror I'd see a spirit standing behind me. Never happened though. Never actually saw anything phantom-like.

That's because there are no such things as ghosts, right? Well, it got to the point that when the noises started I'd just yell out, "Annie, shut up!" And the rumpus would stop, just like that. There's no such thing, there's no such thing as ghosts. One night though I was sure I heard the sound of a rope going suddenly taut as someone was hung. That was a rough night. I'll never forget it. But, on the whole, it started to feel normal, I didn't bother to try to figure it out or investigate the truth about what had happened there.

Then, one night I was in that spare bedroom - I know, I know how crazy it sounds that I was in there, like when someone in a horror movie is about to go down the steps to the basement and you want to scream at them "Nooooo, you idiot" - but that's where my stuff was stored - and I was facing towards the window with the door about 4 or 5 feet behind me. I was rummaging through a box, most likely looking for a book, and poof - the lights went out. The light switch was right by the door, as in most rooms. A typical toggle switch. Up and down. I was startled and you can imagine what raced through my mind. I turned around and flipped the switch on within seconds of it going out. There was nothing wrong with the switch if that's what you are thinking. The mechanism was stiff and you needed a small effort to move it, just like with every other one. It couldn't have suddenly flipped off or on for no reason, or because of a gust of wind, and it never happened before or after. After switching it back on, I turned back to the box, and as I put my hand inside, I said, with some irritation in my voice, "If you have something to say, just say it."

And she did - "Liberals want to kill babies."

What? Actually, it wasn't Annie and I wasn't scared at all because I instantly recognized whose voice it was. My favorite liberal I refer to as Eddie in these pages had given me an Ann Coulter doll. The doll talked when you touched it, saying mean things about liberals. When I put my hand in the box, I must have pushed against her.  Gave me a laugh after the light switch scare though.

Even if I attribute a lot of what went on to an old and drafty house, I have never been able to explain the light switch incident to myself. I don't know what happened. I know what seems like happened. But, it doesn't pay to think about it too much.

Over time, you get used to most anything. Annie and I got to know each other quite well. At least, I had no concerns about her. Before guests would come I would politely ask her not to scare anyone and she listened. There were no bumps in the night while anyone was visiting.

Then one day, while I was sitting on the couch, I felt something unusual. There was a rumbling that seemed like it was coming from right under the couch. At first, I thought it was an animal that had gotten in - I did live in the country and it was a possibility. Had to be a small one, of course, as the couch was low to the ground. With some trepidation, while the rumbling got louder, I looked under the skirt. Nothing there.

I got up and suddenly the blinds started to flap up and down, just as in a movie and then a heavy pounding on the door. I ran to it and threw it open. No one was standing there.

This was out of the ordinary even for my house. I turned around and screamed, "Annie, knock it off!" Seconds later, it all stopped. And then my phone rang. I picked it up. "Uncle David, are you all right?" It was my nephew. How did he know what was going on in my house? Well, it turns out that there was a cause of the phenomena, but it wasn't Annie. There had been an earthquake in northern Virginia and it could be felt hundreds of miles away, where I lived, even in New York. I couldn't believe how fast it was reported on the news. It seemed like seconds but perhaps it took some minutes for the tremors to reach where I lived.

And then I realized - uh oh. I walked over to Annie's door and meekly said, "Annie, I'm really, really sorry." Sound crazy? I still didn't believe, but we both lived there, and I didn't want to hurt her feelings, did I? We had, in a strange way, become friends. At the very least, assuming for the moment her existence, we were used to and amused one another.

There was another thing which repeatedly occurred that would happen that beggars explanation. Doors would open as I walked towards them. Not just one door, but sometimes the front door, sometimes an interior one. How often did it happen? Maybe ten or twenty times? Could have been more. I can't say I remember now. But, it was enough so I got used to it. I had become accustomed enough to her that I don't even remember feeling spooked the first time it happened. I'd routinely say, "thank you," as I passed through.

Which brings me to the strange end to Annie, at least in my life. It was the last year I lived there, in 2012. I was going to the gym. As I walked towards the door, it slowly opened for me. I continued walking but instead of saying "thank you," I said, "Would you like to go to the gym with me?" and held the door open a short while to give her time to make up her mind. Of course, I didn't see or hear anything at all. And I closed the door myself (Annie opened, but did not close doors). I drove to the gym and walked in after parking. There was a young woman, the owners' daughter, working behind the front desk. "Kelly," I said, "would you like to meet Annie?"
"Okay," she said, looking a bit puzzled.
"Annie," I said, gesturing next to me, "this is Kelly. Kelly, this is Annie. Annie is my ghost." I may have had a little pride in my voice. Kelly smiled weakly. I don't know what she thought. "Now go sit down over there on the couch and don't move or scare anyone." I went and worked out. When I was leaving I walked past the couch and said, "Okay, come on."

I don't know exactly what happened, but from then on until I moved out, I never heard any rumblings or had doors opening or the like. Did Annie come to the gym with me and stay there? I'd like to think so because it had to be more interesting than living in an old house with only me. Sometimes I would imagine it was her if I saw a dumbbell rolling across the gym floor. And I imagined she liked the classes best.

Or did she dissipate when she tried to go outside, if that's what ghosts do? Maybe when I invited her out, she was able to . . . pass on to another stage? I get all this from the movies and have no answers.

It is now about seven years since I last experienced Annie. I have never had another eerie experience, pun intended, even when I again stayed at the Tillie Pierce House. I still don't believe in ghosts. But, I love to tell people about one I like to think was my friend.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Case for Obstruction

This may have been the longest period of time I haven't blogged since I started in '06. Not positive. Just busy and trying to get everything done before a little deserved vacation in Alaska and have slacked off on my blog.

I'm considering in this post the case against Trump for obstruction. Congenitally unable to just start writing on my actual subject, I have to preface it with some comments (which I promise will not be long . . . I swear).

This post isn't about (mostly, anyway) the politics of the Russian Interference or special prosecutor investigation, although arguably, that may blend into defenses at some point if impeachment claims are brought or if a D president in 2020 (if that happens) decides to prosecute Trump (who will pardon himself and everyone he knows prior to leaving office, if he's smart). My personal feeling is that hatred (some of it deserved) and hysteria (not deserved) over Trump has led to opposition to him at a fever pitch at least since Nixon, if not including him. Yes, there has been unreasonable and usually partisan animosity previously displayed to almost every other president (I would say that relatively fewer people on the "other side" tended to hate Gerald Ford or George H. W. Bush), but it wasn't like this. Not even for Nixon, where there was much good reason for impeachment proceedings and his resignation, and they were - so far at least - more violent times. If you look at just one fact Mitch McConnell brought out that has, as far as I can see, been unopposed, it says it all. In Trump's first two years there were 128 cloture votes against Trump nominees whereas there were only 24 - just 24 - among Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush II and Obama nominees in the same two year period. And that animosity has led to the difficulty Trump has had in governing. I could go on, but that's not what this is about.

This post is also not about Russian collusion itself, a misnomer if there ever was one. Mueller's Report ("MR") put an end to the illogical and plain wrong notion that there was even such a thing as a crime of collusion. It was ridiculous that supposedly intelligent politicians and lawyers were arguing about this. There is a crime of conspiracy to commit a crime, but the report found neither collusion nor conspiracy with Russia and the Trump campaign. For some reasons that weren't very instructive to me, the MR chose to talk about "coordination" (also, though, the MR points out, not a crime) rather than "collusion." Whatever the proper word, it was concluded: "We applied the term coordination in that sense when stating in the report that the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

And before you scream "But he didn't clear him," prosecutors don't clear people, any more than the NFL selects a "non-Pro-bowl" team. Prosecutors have to show reasonable cause to go forward in an investigation or arrest someone and then they have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Comey was serverely criticized precisely for doing what prosecutors don't do - clearing Hillary Clinton.

As anyone who has been blessed by knowing about my political updates since Trump came on the scene politically (was it a decade ago?) knows, I didn't like him or think he was suitable for the presidency. I didn't vote for him. On the other hand, I don't think most of our presidents or candidates are suitable for the job and I do think in some aspects he's done a good job. But, that's not what I'm writing about either.

I did not rush to judgment on this. I've said almost since the onset of these claims that collusion wasn't a crime, that so far we hadn't really heard any facts which sounded like an actual crime and that it may be a political witch hunt, but, if the report comes to a fair conclusion, I could immediately change my mind. And, before coming to a conclusion about obstruction of justice, I read that part of the MR (as well as the general introduction) very closely and really thought about it. After reading the report, I did, naturally, confirm my expectation that there was no collusion/conspiracy/crime and that it was a witch hunt, for which I do not blame Mueller, but both Ds and Rs who voted for it. I have also stated that I do not like these special counsel statutes which, whatever the legal language used, appeared to be investigations into a person with the hopes of finding a crime, rather than having probable cause to think a crime was committed. That should never be permitted. The law should be severely limited to investigating only when probable cause exists, not just that a crime was committed, but that a certain person committed the crime. And, if determined during the investigation that the facts underlying probable cause were not true - the investigation should cease to exist.

I have had a generally good opinion about Bob Mueller for many years. Not that he was perfect. I thought he was too lackadaisical about the great abuse of National Security Letters when they were first available to the FBI, and that he was even pretending to try to rein them in. I had a similar or even better opinion about Comey, until he proved himself a self-promoting, to some degree dangerous and duplicitous director of the FBI, and really disappointed me. I also think because of the close relationship between Comey and Mueller, widely reported, Mueller may indeed have a conflict of interest which should have been addressed. If there is impeachment or future prosecutions, their friendship will become an issue. But, despite the pressure to find something against Trump, Mueller didn't yield to it and it appears kept a tight hold on his team in terms of not leaking.

I analyzed just one of the events that are being considered for obstruction and realize that is all I'm going to do and just use it to stand in for all of them for now, as they all seem to follow a pattern and suffer from many of the same objections. I'm doing it for the simple reasons that there is a similarity to the charges (Trump can't shut up) and no one would want to read anything as long as what would be necessary to analyze all of the claims (I have to wonder how many would read it even to right here). In the end, I didn't find any of Trump's acts considered to have risen to the level of obstruction, though a few gave me pause. None of it means I approve of the behavior of a president who seems like a jerk in so many ways. But, I will have more commentary on this at the end of this post.

Obstruction: I'm going to use the standards and facts used by the MR, with the exception that I think the MR may be wrong about one issue of law - and if it is not wrong, should be wrong.

The MR's standards: Here's a summary of the crime of obstruction and what the MR used as its standards. I am going to try to use common English words rather than the legally-schmegally words of the MR. In order to do that and keep this short, I have to leave out some definitions, like what "corrupt" or "witness tampering" legally means and rely on your common sense and general knowledge. But, I'll give you two important ones:

False Statements: It is a crime to lie about a "material" thing to a federal officer, and that usually means the FBI.  But, it also applies to congressional committees and subcommittees. The statement has to be false and the defendant had to know it was false and that it was a crime to make the false statement (which is why they tell you before you speak with them). The statement has to be actually false - if it is just misleading but technically true, it's not a crime.  And to be "material" it "must have a natural tendency to influence, or be capable of influencing, a discrete decision or any other function of the agency to which it is addressed." E.g., if the president lies about how many people were at his inauguration, it is not material to this investigation because it wouldn't influence it.  In the same way, you also can't lie in the same way to a grand jury or when testifying under oath. 

Obstruction of Justice: This is the most important definition for purposes of this part of the MR: The wrongdoer had to make an obstructive act with a corrupt intent which has some connection to an official proceeding; and there has to be criminal or corrupt intent. You can also be guilty of attempting obstruction and it can also be based on circumstantial evidence (you wake up in a field you took a nap in and find your face and upper body are soaking wet, but nothing else around you is. It's circumstantial evidence of the fact that someone poured water on you. If you wake up and everything is wet and there are puddles around, it's circumstantial evidence it rained). Circumstantial evidence can be very powerful (as my favorite American author wrote) like when you find a trout in your milk, but, also, it can be terribly misleading. Perhaps everything is wet because a damn broke or a river flooded. Perhaps there are underground sprinklers.

Trump's Hope about Flynn.

I'll tackle the part where the MR considers whether Trump's alleged statement to Comey that he "hoped" he would see his way clear to letting Flynn go during a private meeting is sufficient to bring charges against him for obstruction. 

The MR acknowledged that the president denied many of the underlying facts (that he asked that Comey go easy on or let Flynn go), but acknowledged privately that he brought up Flynn with Comey. The MR seems to believe Comey's version. Part of the reason for that seems valid, that other people remember Trump clearing the room to speak with Comey and Comey's statements about what Trump said and some other behavior by Comey was consistent over time (that is, he was consistent in his story about what Trump said to him). Fair enough. But, I do not find Comey's own notes and testimony persuasive myself any more than I find Trump's denials persuasive. In fact, it is for me a sign of conflict that Mueller does not list some reasons we might doubt Comey - his extremely controversial behavior with the Clinton investigation, his obvious dislike of Trump, the fact that he took what were private notes meant to protect himself (he said so himself), and which are therefore self-serving, and which were leaked to the press by through a friend, etc.  Are those not evidence of duplicity? At one time I would have easily believed Comey over Trump. Not so anymore - especially after it has turned out that collusion was what Trump claimed it to be - a made up story - and the disdainful and self-aggrandizing statements of Comey, not to mention his book in which even he admitted he had gone too far. Not that I mean I ever believe Trump. But, I can't believe Comey either.

But, much more disconcerting is the MR's conclusion that anyone alone with the president would have taken his words - "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go ... I hope you can let this go" as being an order. The conclusion is not only contrary to plain English, to what Trump actually said, if Comey is being honest, but also contrary to the fact that Comey acknowledged in congressional testimony that he could be ordered to stop an investigation by the president. What if Rosenstein had ordered Mueller to stop investigating? He was the one who made the order to Mueller to investigate in the first place. And the president is his boss.

To suggest that "I hope you can see your way clear to" means "I order you to" without proof that this is what was meant by some smoking gun, seems to me to be another sign of conflict on Mueller's part. More, Comey did not act as if it was an order. He neither argued with Trump, nor resigned, nor followed up on the so-called "order." What am I missing, particularly as in his testimony Comey indicated he felt intimidated by the president? Moreover, if it was an order, why did Trump not act like Comey had disobeyed an order? There is no claim to a follow up by Trump to see if Comey followed up an "order" the way he followed up with other things he wanted done, which are highlighted in the MR. 

I was also surprised that the MR indicated that Trump speaking with Comey alone was evidence of intent to interfere - that is - it was done secretly. That makes no sense. In fact, it indicated to me that there was some bias afoot.  If Trump, the executive, wants to speak with the director of the FBI about an investigation, who should be listening in? I think the answer is no one, no matter where the conversation goes. Even the Vice President is not allowed to be involved in criminal investigations. But the president actually can. And that can't mean - any president but Trump.

Certainly, if those are the facts before a jury, there has to reasonable doubt (I'm not counting people who just hate Trump so much it has to be "guilty, guilty, guilty") if for no other reason than the words Trump used - he hoped. That is imploring, not directing. Comey doesn't suggest that Trump spoke in an aggressive manner or threatened him. In fact, it seems he was often made efforts to be conciliatory with Comey (though it clearly made Comey sick). When Trump asked if Comey would be loyal (and I really do not have a problem with that - its not the same as - I want you to be disloyal to the country or lie to Congress), as after all, Trump didn't appoint him and there were many who were trying to pin something false on him. Do you really think Holder and Lynch weren't loyal to Obama? When Comey answered that he would be honest with him, Trump said, that was what he wanted, "honest loyalty" (torturing the language as Trump can, but at least acknowledging the honesty aspect of it). You know what I think Trump meant? That Comey shouldn't try to screw him or take what the NYTimes stated as fact.

The MR also suggests that if you believe Trump did what Comey said he did, it was interfering with an investigation. I cannot go along with this either, for the obvious reasons that Trump is the president and Comey himself said that he could have ordered him to shut down the investigation. Did I miss that in the report? If I (that is, the beloved angel-like author of this blog) come into your store and stop you from making ice cream, I have committed a crime. But, if your boss does it, it is not a crime.

I do agree with the MR that Trump's statement had a nexus to a case. Obviously, it does - the Flynn case. But, it is in the discussion about a president's immunity from prosecution for obstruction that I have a disagreement with the MR on the law. The MR spends a lot of time reviewing the issue of presidential powers and whether it prevents Congress from obstruction charges. It's mostly about the separation of powers. At the end of the discussion, it concludes -  "Accordingly, based on the analysis above, we were not persuaded by the argument that the President has blanket constitutional immunity to engage in acts that would corruptly obstruct justice through the exercise of otherwise-valid Article Two powers."

Well, though they only say - "not persuaded," which is pretty thin, I agree with that very broad statement, and believe it is clearly backed by the law. The president is not above the law. He can't bribe someone or perjure himself because he's the president. He can't willy-nilly interfere with investigations in a corrupt, probably surreptitious way, by paying off investigators, intimidating witnesses, etc. But, let's also not forget, the president could have simply pardoned Flynn. Would that be corrupt? It's pretty much deemed an absolute power while the president is in office. Presidents have pardoned rebels and traitors and terrorists. If the president wanted to pardon Flynn (who, by the way, I have always considered a slightly deranged individual and hoped would not be in the administration), he absolutely could have. Could he have done it to protect himself? I think so. I think George H. W. Bush did it when he pardoned 6 men involved in Irangate - which involved actual crimes that should have been investigated. The prosecutor said "Cover-up!" and it likely was, in my view. Made me really mad (though I think GHWB one of the better, if not the best president, in my lifetime). But, I didn't think he couldn't do it. If Clinton can pardon Marc Rich, and Obama a terrorist and a traitor, Trump, like any president, can pardon whoever he likes too, whether you or I like it or not. And, he doesn't even have to explain it. If we don't want the president to have that power, we have to amend the constitution.

The above is especially true in light of the fact that his good will towards Flynn seems not to be for the president's own benefit. So, the MR found and if you want to accept some of it, you shouldn't dismiss those parts that are uncomfortable for you.

With respect to intent, the MR does, however, conclude that because he made a statement that firing Flynn would end the Russia investigation, his act was intentional interference with that investigation. Now, that's just silly. Why would he even assume that the president didn't want anyone who actually did interfere with the election to be punished? There's no claim that Flynn interfered with the election and no question now that no American did. If I have a fire and call the fire department and mention that at least calling the fire department will mean we won't have to sleep at a friend's house, it does not mean in any way that I called the fire department to stop having to sleep at neighbor's homes. I called because there was a fire. The statement about not having to sleep at my friend's house is an observation of a fact, not a causal relationship. At least without more evidence (like a statement "I'm going to call the fire department (fire Comey) solely to avoid sleeping at our neighbor's house (avoid the Russia investigation) and for no other reason as I don't care if my house burns down." Trump clearly thought there was no there there with respect to his campaign's collusion with the Russians - and he was right - and thus thinking that firing Comey, who lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador (not about the election) - would end the election investigation, is not evidence of guilt, but was at that time at least rational (if way too hopeful and naive) thinking. This is hardly rocket science because, as far as Mueller could tell after 25 million dollars and two years was that, "the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." You can believe otherwise. Investigations can come to wrong conclusions. But, officially, and in investigating obstruction, you have to take it as a fact.

Last, the MR also concludes that because Trump asked a deputy National Security Advisor to do a memo indicating that Trump did not ask Flynn to discuss sanctions with Russia's ambassador is a sign of intent to interfere with the investigation. That's a big stretch. Why not conclude instead it was for the purposes of memorializing what the president saw as the truth? You know the saying to a hammer, everything looks like a nail? It applies to prosecutors too. It's one reason their investigations should be restricted. Well, actually prosecutors are restricted . . . except, it seems, for special prosecutors.

I'll end my analysis of the Flynn "hope" issue there. There were other acts by Trump that were considered under the MR and for which, ultimately, there was no conclusion either, but the implication was that there were actionable grounds but for his being the president. Without going through a long analysis on each, I do think the president could legitimately ask Comey to go public with what he told him privately - that the FBI wasn't investigating him personally. Trump could make outreach to the heads of departments (like the CIA and National Security). He could fire Comey (no one deserved it more and the Ds use to think so too, until it benefitted them to not) even if he did say he was thinking of the Russia investigation at the time (which he knew he couldn't stop - the next day he acknowledged that his firing Comey could make the investigation last longer), particularly in light of the fact that there wasn't a basis to it. Imagine if the rule was, as long as there is a possible investigation of the president, the Attorney General and the director of the FBI are immune from being fired. That's a type of tyranny too, even if not by the head of state.

In the end, were any of these acts solid cases of corrupt interference with a prosecution or an investigation that could lead to a case, presuming they are true? I think not. Trump could also mislead the press, even if it's a bad idea. The grounds for obstruction can't be, "See, the president is a jerk" or has impulse control issues (boy, does he). And, being a little defensive for myself, though I don't like the president - think he's almost unlikeable - I would have no problem believing he was guilty of a crime if there was evidence - like, say, there was for OJ, who was a childhood hero of mine and I presumed innocent until the chase in the white Bronco. If you read the evidence or watch the O.J. trial, he was guilty of murder (though possibly not the unrelated crime they later convicted and imprisoned him on) even if he was personally charming.

What I care about is that we have rule of law. If we have special counsels who are essentially directed to investigate a president in the hopes of finding a crime, rather than investigate someone there is probable cause committed a crime, then there's a big problem. And it has been before this with Clinton and Whitewater. If we have broad and very vague crimes like obstruction, and there's no perjury (or the like) or witness/jury tampering or bribery, involved, then we have to be very careful to restrict them to something very solid or we risk truly becoming a banana republic. The road to tyranny has many paths. One is by giving anyone too much prosecutorial power. Another is by unseating a president by investigations or prosecutions when his opponents are concerned they won't beat him in 2020. Another is giving what is the power of elected officials over to courts. Another is by turning every investigation into an investigation into cover-up, which is often the real goal since Watergate. And, because it seems there is a tendency to cover up even when there is nothing to cover up, you will likely find something.

There are certain crimes that, while not black and white either, are easier to define than obstruction - perjury, witness tampering, etc. The president can't ask someone to perjure himself or lie to a federal agent. I read Mueller's brief and it does not appear Trump did so even if he did ask people to make statements that it seems he believed to be true (I find people's ability to talk themselves into believing anything that benefits them simply human nature). Obstruction is a very broadly defined crime and if we aren't careful, it can mean almost anything.

In the end, like with Kavanaugh, this really isn't about obstruction of justice. It's about "lock her up" and Garland, about the birther claims and the general hysteria over identity that is consuming too many Ds and may fracture them. Generally, you know, Trump must be destroyed. We have, as always, another election coming. It's going to be wild and likely disgusting. We should be done with this investigation. Not that I expect us to be.

As always, I wish there could be comments. You can email me and I will post them myself, anonymously, if you like. I know this stuff is upsetting and people feel very strongly one way or another.

I pledge to post again quickly when I return from Alaska, but almost certainly, about Alaska. And then, if you are really lucky, I might even finish my post on Why Wittgenstein Doesn't Matter. You think I'm kidding, don't you? Actutally, I wrote another that is finished and that will be a lot more fun.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Who Said It XVII

We haven’t played this in a while. I pick quotes from my library, give you 4 choices and you guess who said it. Answers are below.  Sorry you have to scroll down each time. I just don’t know how else to do it so you don’t see the answer. Easiest if you write your answers down and then look. The quotes are from my own library (well, almost always), which is for personal reasons (apparentlly) important to me. And I wouldn't know the answers either except that I read them. And apologies for my endless formatting issues.

1.       “I think it cannot be maintained by any candid person that the African race have ever occupied or do promise to ever occupy any very high place in the human family. Their present condition is the strongest proof that they cannot. The Irish cannot; the American Indian cannot; the Chinese cannot. Before the energy of the Caucasian race all the other races have quailed and done obeisance.”

A.      Ralph Waldo Emerson   B. David Henry Thoreau  
C. Edgar Allan Poe   D.   M. L. King, Jr. 

2.       “[I]f God was to exist and had a chance to meet him, what would you ask him? . . . I would like to ask however did he think of anything as complicated as M-Theory in eleven dimensions.”

A.      Albert Einstein  B. Richard Feynman  C. Stephen Hawking 
                        D. Bill Belichick

3.       “As to the divination which takes place in sleep, and is said to be based on dreams, we cannot lightly either dismiss it with contempt or give it implicit confident. The fact that all persons, or many, suppose dreams to possess a special significance, tends to inspire us with belief in it [such divination], as founded on the testimony of experience; and indeed that divination in dreams should, as regards some subjects, be genuine, is not incredible, for it has a show of reason; from which one might form a like opinion also respecting all other dreams. Yet the fact of our seeing no probable cause to account for such divination tends to inspire us with distrust. For, in addition to its further unreasonableness, it is absurd to combine the idea that the sender of such dreams should be God with the fact that those to whom he sends them are not the best and wisest, but merely commonplace persons.”

A.      Aristotle    B. Martin Luther   C. Martin Luther King, Jr.
D. Sigmund Freud 

4.       “The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, whatever the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.”

A.   Pericles  B. Shakespeare C. Winston Churchill
             D. Prince Charles

5.       “Our captain, who is about 25 years of age, is the son of my most intimate friend. But whether the father is dead or living, I have not dared to ask. Mrs. H. is the sister of a priest name Elliot, a man of sound sense, and much esteemed. He came to establish himself at Fairfield, with is two sisters, while I was there. We were much attached       Mrs. H. is the youngest of these two sisters. She would be greatly astonished were I to recount to her all the little anecdotes I know of herself and her family    But I shall refrain from it.”

            A.                  Richard Burton (actor)   B. Richard Burton (explorer)
C.           George Washington         D. Aaron Burr

6.       “I had been in the library on the first floor, and had just turned out the lights and gone upstairs with Mrs. ______ to retire. I had reached the upper floor and undressed, but had not yet retired. I heard a crash downstairs as if something had been thrown against the front door. It was followed immediately by an explosion which blew in the front of the house. The door against which it was thrown leads into the library in which we had been sitting, and the part of the house blown in was in front of the library. The police and other agents who hurried to the residence to make an investigation found in the street in front of the house the limbs of a man who had been blown to pieces by the bomb. No papers were found and no evidence has yet been uncovered to indicate his identity, and it is not yet known whether the limbs were those of the person who threw the bomb or of a passerby. I hope sincerely that they were not portions of the body of some innocent person passing the house. No one inside the house was injured by the explosion. It cracked the upper part of the first story of the house, blew in the front of the lower floor, broke windows, and knocked pictures from the walls. The damage done was chiefly downstairs.”

A.   Theodore Geisl   (Dr. Seuss)                  
B.    A. Mitchell Palmer (of the Palmer raids)                
C.    G. Gordon Liddy (of Watergate fame)         
D.   Walter Winchell  (famous journalist)           
          

7.       “I love women. An awful lot of women have been kind and generous and magnificent company. I spent some time in [Salt Lake City] with the girls along Commercial Street. They were, let’s say, named for the street. We got along well.”

A.                  Bob Dylan   B. Jack Dempsey   C.   Warren Harding  
D.           B. B. King


8.       “I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats, and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of seventy of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”

A.                  Adolf Hitler     B.  Nelson Mandela    C.  Fidel Castro   
D.           Josef Stalin


9.       “Such an astounding lack of talent was never before united to such pretentiousness.”

A.         Tchaikovsky on Richard Strauss.
B.          Winston Churchill on Dwight Eisenhower.
C.          Beethoven on Bach.
D.         Mamie Eisenhower on Richard Nixon.


10.   “I saw that mathematics was split up into numerous specialties, each of which could absorb the short lifetime granted to us. Consequently I saw myself in the position of Buridan’s ass, which was unable to decide upon any specific bundle of hay.”

A.                  Jean Buridan
B.                   Calvin Coolidge
C.                   Alan Turing
D.                  Albert Einstein



ANSWERS



1.       “I think it cannot be maintained by any candid person that the African race have ever occupied or do promise to ever occupy any very high place in the human family. . . .”

I love quotes where some famous person has written something which so appalls modern people that if modern pols and others so easily outraged knew he/she said it – they’d become a historical persona non grata to many.  Both Emerson and Thoreau became noted abolitionists. MLK, Jr., of course, a famous civil rights figure. But, Poe, like it seems every past famous person, is being vetted for racism. Well, his family did own slaves and his portrayal of blacks seemed racist – pretty consistent for the times. But, the answer, is not Poe, but Emerson, A, who, living in the 19th century, like Lincoln, said similarly racist things. In any event, this quote is from Emerson’s journal, years prior to his celebrated speech when he finally ceded to his wife’s wishes and joined the movement against slavery.

2.       “[I]f God was to exist and had a chance to meet him, what would you ask him? . . . .”

I put this in because it just shows how stupid really smart people can be. Really, that’s what you would ask God, if you had one question? Not, how can we know the difference between right and wrong? What is your nature? Where did you come from? How did you know how do all that cool stuff? In retrospect was Eve a bad idea? Or Satan? Or karaoke? What are next week’s Powerball numbers? Etc.

You’ll be surprised to know that this was Bill Beli. . . kidding, kidding.  I’d like to think that Stephen Hawking, C, in Brief Answers to Big Questions, was kidding too, but it doesn’t seem so. If there is a God, why would M-Theory*, if it is even right, be difficult for him (I know, or her)? If you assume a God both omnipotent and omniscient – well, doesn’t that answer the question in itself? By the way, Stephen Hawking may have been brilliant, but I read some of Brief Answers and it could have been written by Oprah or Tom Brady, for that matter. Not that there aren’t interesting musings there, but it is not earth-shaking stuff. He writes mundane answers to well visited questions like -  Is there a God? No; How was the universe created? Spontaneously from nothing (well, that clears it up!), Are UFOs manned by space aliens? No. Yawwwwwn. Time travel? Maybe, he says. Will we survive on earth? Maybe again. Will we colonize space? He hopes so. Get the picture?

Hawkins didn’t dream up this theory; a scientist named Ed Witten did to make all the different string theory [also nonsense] more consistent.

3.       “As to the divination which takes place in sleep, and is said to be based on dreams, we cannot lightly either dismiss it with contempt or give it implicit confident. The fact that all persons, or many, suppose dreams to possess a special significance. . . .”

The answer is Aristotle, C.  I’ve wandered through Aristotle’s works from time to time. Only an insane person (or maybe an incredibly focused, dedicated and intelligent person who would appear insane to the rest of us) would try to read it straight through. What is remarkable is not that he was right much in the long run, but his curiosity, dedication, depth of thought, scope of learning and creativity. Not, alas, his eloquence, although maybe Greeks of his time thought he was. They didn’t have youtube cat videos to distract them. Well over 2000 years ago, he was writing about logic, physics and metaphysics, the heavens, creation and corruption, nature, memory, dreams, ethics, politics, the soul, rhetoric and poetry, etc., and he did it without Wikipedia and Google.

4.       “The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. . . .”

That could have been any of them (what I try to do here, obviously), but it was Winnie, C, the irascible, lovable, impossible and motivating Prime Minister who won the war for Britain, and then lost his job and then won it back. This quote is from his eulogy of his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, who seemed such a failure if judged alone by the famous appeasement at Munich. But, Churchill seems to me to be talking about himself too.  Chamberlain would agree with him. They were both heirs of the same tradition of British stoicism. Chamberlain wrote shortly before he died – “So far as my personal reputation is concerned, I am not in the least disturbed about it. The letters which I am still receiving in such vast quantities so unanimously dwell on the same point, namely without Munich the war would have been lost and the Empire destroyed in 1938 ... I do not feel the opposite view ... has a chance of survival. Even if nothing further were to be published giving the true inside story of the past two years I should not fear the historian's verdict.” (Self, Neville Chamberlain). Frankly, I doubt it. Just my opinion, but it is quite possible the stoicism only ran skin deep and he was consumed with thinking about it. But, I could be wrong. I try to be stoic (sometimes), and there are some people who actually think I don’t let other people’s opinion bother me. I try not to and sometimes I succeed, at least relative to some others, but sometimes not so much. We are all human, social animals and I think everybody cares to some degree what others think of them.

5.  “Our captain, who is about 25 years of age, is the son of my most intimate friend. But whether the father is dead or living, I have not dared to ask. Mrs. H. is the sister of a priest name Elliot, a man of sound sense, and much esteemed. He came to establish himself at Fairfield, with is two sisters, while I was there. We were much attached       Mrs. H. is the youngest of these two sisters. She would be greatly astonished were I to recount to her all the little anecdotes I know of herself and her family    But I shall refrain from it. . . .”

He’s not going to tell us who it was? Or ask his friend’s son if his father, his most intimate friend, is dead? Why? His evil reputation would lead one to believe he would be happy to do so. And, why wouldn’t ask after the health of his most intimate friend? Alas, Aaron Burr’s, D’s, memoirs are kind of boring, that being one of the more interesting comments. He was a fascinating person, and in my view, more honorable than famous contemporaries who blackened his name – Jefferson and Hamilton. At least he got revenge on Hamilton who wouldn’t say – sorry. But, his memoirs, covering a middle period in his life while he traveled about - yawn!

6.       “I had been in the library on the first floor, and had just turned out the lights and gone upstairs with Mrs. ______ to retire. I had reached the upper floor and undressed, but had not yet retired. I heard a crash downstairs as if something had been thrown against the front door. It was followed immediately by an explosion which blew in the front of the house. . . .”
The answer is not Dr. Seuss, sadly, although that would have been really cool. It was the former U.S. Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, B. This was 1919, the days of anarchist bombings. His neighbor across the street was none other than FDR, then Asst. Sec’y of the Navy, and his wife, Eleanor. They were walking home after parking their car when the bomb went off and FDR joked to her that the bomb shell he had brought home from Europe must have fallen. But, as they got closer, they started to run. The streets were covered with debris, including human legs, with some flesh even making it all the way to their doorstep. Their young son was home and FDR, who was not yet crippled, ran up the stairs to find him. He was looking out the window in his pajamas. James later wrote that his father hugged him hard enough to almost break his ribs.

7.       “I love women. An awful lot of women have been kind and generous and magnificent company. I spent some time in [Salt Lake City] with the girls along Commercial Street. They were, let’s say, named for the street. We got along well.”

That was the plain spoken Jack Dempsey, B. Roger Kahn’s A Flame of Pure Desire, is one of my favorite sport’s biographies.

8.       “I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats, and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison. . . .”

Ummmm. . . they all spent time in prison.  The answer is Castro, C. Toughest one.

9.       “Such an astounding lack of talent was never before united to such pretentiousness.”

This was a fun one (for me, at least). You can easily imagine almost any historic figure speaking thus of a competitor. But, Beethoven loved Bach – called him a God of harmony. Though there were times that Eisenhower seemed ambivalent about his vice president, I have never read anything but that Mamie had a good relationship with Nixon. Maybe there’s something out there to the contrary, but her grandson married Nixon’s daughter, and they maintained a relationship to the end. As for Churchill, famous for his cutting wit, and Eisenhower, I’ve also read nothing indicating that there was anything but friendship between them, despite inevitable quarreling during the war.  The answer was A, Tchaikovsky, speaking of Richard Strauss. Pyotr Ilyich was relatively jealous of other composers and liked to comment about them. Personally, I think Tchaikovsky was by far the greater of the two. And the one survey of modern listeners’ favorite classical composers I've read is in agreement. But, you know, it’s all good. A Strauss concert in Vienna was the first time I ever attended a professional classical music concert and his Also sprach Zarathustra (aka the theme to 2001, A Space Odyssey), a phenomenal work.

10.   “I saw that mathematics was split up into numerous specialties, each of which could absorb the short lifetime granted to us. Consequently I saw myself in the position of Buridan’s ass, which was unable to decide upon any specific bundle of hay. . . .”

Buridan’s ass? How many people would recognize that expression today, or people under 50 anyway.  Buridan was a 14th century expositor of Aristotle, who I think is the earliest known reciter of the story of the donkey who was placed halfway between a pile of hay and some water.  It’s about free will and determinism, not to get into all that. Anyway, for some reason the story became associated with Buridan, though I’m not sure anyone knows why. Anyway, the answer isn’t Buridan, certainly not Coolidge, nor Turing, though he makes sense. It was Einstein, D.

         And that’s another exciting adventure of – Who said it?

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 . . . .