Saturday, September 13, 2014

West is best

I have had the good fortune to travel out west a few times - I'm thinking 7 - Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Washington and Montana. While the east, where I have spent most of my life, is beautiful too, for dramatic natural beauty I can't think of anywhere I've been with so many Wow! moments. I took a couple of thousand photos in two weeks. Ten thousand photos wouldn't be enough. But here's a little more than 50. You can have even too many pictures of natural beauty. I'd put them right here on this post, but I can't figure out how (even though it seems like you can just click the photo button and upload - I can't do it). Damn you modern technology!

9/19/14 update.  Okay, so that was a total failure. But, I figured out how to tediously put all the pictures below.





















Photo  Photo

Photo  Photo












Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hero of the Lord of the Rings

By most reasonable standards, Sam Gamgee should be the recognized hero of the Lord of the Rings.
Think about it:

Where Frodo (and before him Bilbo) were reluctant, Sam was less so. He might have been threatened by Gandalf, but, it did not appear he was really afraid of him.

Sam went with the best of motives, to care for his friend and "master" (in the very English way) Frodo. Frodo repeatedly tried to give the ring away.

Sam never flagged in his courage, though he was wise enough to be cautious.
- He followed Frodo, whose burden the ring was, in the face of the terrifying black riders.

- He tried to protect him from the much larger Strider, who turned out to be Aragorn.

- He tried to protect him from the sneaky and powerful Gollum.

- He protected him from the terrifying Shelob.

- He attacked ferocious orcs for Frodo's sake.

- He tried to follow Frodo into a river out of loyalty though he could not swim.

Despite his demeanor, Sam was wiser than Frodo.

-He understood Gollum's true nature, whereas Frodo was foolhardy.

-Frodo was easily fooled by Gollum and if not for Sam's undying loyalty, would have lost him.

-He understood the ring and what it did to Frodo better than Frodo did.

Sam was at least as compassionate than Frodo.

-Frodo was worried about Gollum and did understand what his sacrifice would mean to the world. But Sam seemed to worry about the whole world too and also understand their decisions would have a tremendous impact on everyone. He did not have the burden lay upon him. But he took it up all the same.

Sam was more useful than Frodo.

-He could cook. Without him Frodo would have died just from hunger.

-He could throw a rock with great accuracy.

-He was an agriculturist who could recognize the herb kingsfoil and helped save Frodo's life.

Sam had more to do with the success of the quest than Frodo. Without him

-Frodo might have died from the Witch King's sword thrust.

-Frodo would have died from hunger.

-Frodo would have died from Shelob or Gollum.

-Frodo would have failed to make it to Mount Doom.

-The orcs would have taken the ring to Sauron.

-And, of course, at the end, Frodo tried to keep the ring. He failed.

Sam was more resistant to the ring than Frodo.

-Other than the magical being, Tom Bombadil,  no one else was as resistant to the ring as Sam.
-He took it and resisted it' power where even Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel knew they were not

  up to it.

Even the ring knew better than to choose Sam.

-The ring had a consciousness of sorts. It chose those it thought weak enough to surrender
 their will to him. It chose the Baggins family, not the Gamgee family. It chose bearers like Isildor,  
 Smeágol/Gollum and Frodo - upon all of whom it worked its will?

So why is Frodo considered the hero?  For one reason, religious symbolism.  Frodo is a Christ figure (as were others in the story) even if not precisely so.  Frodo also has some mystical connection with the angel like creatures, elves, or actual angels, like Gandalf, who were fading from Middle Earth.  This is why he left Middle Earth too. Another reason is that Frodo and Bilbo before him were gentlemen of a sort and Sam a laborer. While Tolkien extolled Sam's virtues, he still believed in the typical British natural nobility. Frodo had it. Sam did not.

Yes, I know. Frodo had the burden of the ring and its exhausting and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Did you read what I wrote? The ring chose Frodo because it had no power over Sam.

Let me change topics.

Tolkien thought the eagles a dangerous creation. Others have noted that it would have been a lot easier if the eagles had just flown the fellowship to Mount Doom and it that didn't happen only because it would have ruined the story. Many have pointed this out.

I don't buy it. While it is not quite definitively established by Tolkien just what these giant eagles are, it seems pretty obvious they are not just birds. After all, they are intelligent and aid men when they see fit, even fighting their battles.

There are lots of reasons the eagles might not have participated other than it would shorten the story. The most obvious reason is that like Gandalf, who was restricted in how he could help men, the eagles had spiritual guidelines. They might be able to turn the tide of a battle, but they could not start them or act so that man could avoid them.   Nor could they solve the ultimate problem that would end one age and start another. Why is that so hard to figure out? It seems the answer to the problem.

A secondary reason is that they didn't care all that much. Think of the eagles as America. Would it have been so hard for Tolkien to think of the Eagle as representing America? I know he was deeply engaged in his medieval mindset, but, on the other hand, he lived through WWI and II. He saw America participate in the first (even if late to the game) and come to the rescue of the old world - his world, in the second. But, the U.S. didn't just jump in when Hitler made a move. We had to wait until we had good enough reason (which, would be Pearl Harbor, of course). That's the way it might be with eagles too. They are interested, but they are not delivery birds and need a good enough reason to join in. Even today, many people throughout the world look to us to save them or solve their problems (well, not me or readers of this blog, but, heroic people). This is a stretch and I doubt that Tolkien really meant that the eagles to represent America (although, of course, the eagle is actually America's symbol). Besides, he said he cordially disliked allegory and that would have been a big one.

My point is that Tolkienistas debate this like they discovered the great red spot on Jupiter and its some insolvable puzzle or wink, wink, we know he couldn't write himself out of this one thingee. Really, it was no big deal at all.

In the end, I hope he didn't lose any sleep over it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Worst President III?

This is a continuation of my series on why President Obama is the worst president in my lifetime (hard to believe worse than Nixon, who was undoubtedly a criminal, but he is). For an intro go back a few weeks to the first posting on it.

7) Foreign Policy - I knew from his campaigning that President Obama was going to be a disaster in domestic policy. There are few things I can agree with him on there. But, in his first year or so, I thought his foreign policy was not going to be so bad. I do not doubt his patriotism or his firmness of will once he makes up his mind. It's that he believed his press clippings that he could be humble with foreign leaders and countries which would get behind him and watch the waters recede.

His so-called apology tour getting that label is really not off the mark though it is probably overstated by many. It is hard to understand, for example, a President of the United States telling France that we have been arrogant and dismissive - even derisive. Of course, there have to be Americans who are all these things, and no one argues but that we have by far the most powerful military on earth. It's hard to understand him giving a long speech to an audience in Cairo (not an entirely bad speech) which seemed to say - we are just culturally different, but morally and in other ways the same. Given the treatment of women alone (he did not even mention the ubiquitous horror of female genital mutilation practiced in Egypt and elsewhere - and no, not the same as male circumcision. And his reluctance to talk about American exceptionalism would humble and admirable on a personal level, but not for the president talking about the country he was elected to lead. I think he may have realized his error as his second term heads downhill.

It was a sentence here and there, but they were pregnant sentences and bound to get media coverage.

Robert Gibbs, his former press secretary said his confessing our sins changed our image around the world. He may be right, but, if anything, it changed it for the worse.

It may be appealing to President Obama and perhaps it is personally appealing of him as a person, not to lord it over others and show humility (though, in the rough and tumble of politics that has not always been the case). But, our country is actually based on something, and it is not just the right to vote, but that things like capitalism and freedom work. Sure, we have sins, and I don't have a problem with discussing them, even in other countries, but let's mostly talk about now - not centuries ago.

That may make a foreign audience feel good about itself, but its not going to help anyone, particularly oppressed women and minorities or help us in the world.

What he was looking for in Cairo was reset, just as with Russia. Well, he got both and it hasn't done us much good either.

The truth is, since then, our foreign policy has failed virtually everywhere in the world. It's not that I expect America to be able to control the world or dictate to any particular country. It's that there seem to be NO successes in his administration. All failures.

Russia - it sneers at us and the so-called reset was just made Putin more popular at home. Obama told Putin he'd have more flexibility to work with him after the election (read, I'm not going to be entirely honest with the American people), but Putin has run rings around him, particularly in . . .

Syria - Assad was on the run for a while. But, after the use of chemical weapons (which, along with very few other voices, I claim was not a violation of any international treaty, regardless of what SecState Kerry said or how horrendous it was), and with supposedly Russia's help, we forced Assad to give up his weapons - and in doing so, practically guaranteed his survival, as we needed him to do it. I heard Robert Gates, Bush and Obamas SecDef state this himself only a few days ago. The reversal of Assad's fortunes was almost immediate. 

Egypt - in his Cairo speech, Pres. Obama said we respect democratic elections but winners could not then rule by coercion and pick on minorities. That, of course, is exactly what Egypt's elected prime minister did and it ended up in a military dictatorship which we opposed because Morsi was elected - even though the takeover by Sisi (and his subsequent election) was better for Egypt, better for us, better for our allies in every way.

Iraq and Afghanistan - Well, in his Cairo speech, Pres. Obama explained how we wanted nothing from Afghanistan and Iraq and would not force our type of government on them. Fine, we should not take their property or their land. But, we should have insisted on a certain type of government. We did not and look where it got us. Iraq is being torn apart. Afghanistan appears to be little better off.  I'm not going to suggest that Obama is worse than Bush in his handling of these two countries. You couldn't be. But, he may be as bad. I'm not going to suggest we force our ways on other countries either. But, we can insist on it in exchange for the "blood and treasure," can't we?

Perhaps he learned his lesson. He stated that he would only help Iraq now if they agreed to be inclusive. On the other hand, maybe not. Our actual help seems tied to nothing at all. I do want us to help the Kurds and stop genocide if we can. Groups like ISIS(L) can't be defeated fast enough. If they take Baghdad, there will be worldwide ramifications. But, at the same time, I want us to stop with the United Iraq nonsense. It is a fantasy we chase that does them and us no good. Help those who want an open and free society. Do not help the others. At the same time, we are now bombing ISIS. Do you think we will not kill more innocents? It is almost inevitable in war. Ironically, we demand Israel stop defending itself when it kills, against its intentions, innocent people in Gaza. Which brings us to -

Israel - all presidents in my lifetime have struggled with our relations with Israel. Pres. Reagan, who is touted by conservatives as having had the best relation with them had his U.N. ambassador vote to condemned Israel in the U.N.  But, there can be no doubt that our relations with Israel are at their low point ever right now.  Pres. Obama has deliberately snubbed Israel and Netanyahu time and again. Sure, he went there while campaigning in 2008 because it was good politics, and I do not disagree with him that Israel must stop building in disputed areas. On the other hand, we are prolonging the pain of the Gazan people by forcing Israel to stop its destruction of Hamas. Do you notice that Hizbollah has not attacked Israel in 8 years. Despite the cries of knuckleheads in the media that Israel lost, Hizbollah took a terrible beating it does not want repeated. I cannot even understand Hamas, which seems to have an endless capacity to sacrifice its people, though, they do have guts. That's all I will give them. But, we allow (and more than us - Europe) an unfair double standard where we can defend ourselves however we want and make mistakes despite our best intentions and Israel cannot. I feel horrible for the Gazans, but I feel more lives will be saved if Israel can destroy Hamas. I have much more to say about this problem, but it would take over the post and I want to move on to -

Iran - our so-called breakthrough in negotiations has gotten us nowhere. There is no success.

Libya - Not only did Pres. Obama further weaken congress and constitutional law by not only eradicating Art. 1, sec. 8, cl. 11 (congress's war power) but he ignored the War Powers Act by determining our aerial assault in Libya wasn't a war. Since our help, of course, we had the debacle in Benghazi and now have completely fled the country, which is in great disarray. Again, he can't be blamed for the problems of these countries - but he just has no successes.

China - our relations with China are worse than ever since before Nixon went there.  Moreover, China grows more powerful in the pacific with a growing navy and growing confidence in pressuring its neighbors over disputed islands. China is a country which has no moral restraints on who it does business with and who it supports. It is almost always on the wrong side. But, how are we better off since 2008 in respect to China? We are not.

North Korea - the most we can possibly ever hope for during my expected lifetime with respect to this pathetic and sad country led by madmen is that they keep quiet. But, there is certainly no success here.

Germany - one of our allies and they are barely speaking to us over the Ed Snowden revelations. They recently expelled our CIA chief.

Brazil - ditto. Bad medicine all around.

Argentina - since at least last year, we are barely considered allies.

Colombia - at least we can say, he didn't screw up here. Thanks largely to our aid in helping Colombia conquer some of its narco-terror problems, relations have been improving - but for a long time, at least back to Pres. Bush's terms. There is nothing different.  This is probably the closest  Obama can do. But,

I could go on, but, if you think we have a success, tell me - with what country and how? And please don't say, we are not at war with Canada and Mexico.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A little story with a lot of staying power

I can't tell you how important the following story has been in my life because it taught me - maybe just confirmed for me - multiple lessons.  I say this even though what transpired was so innocuous, so trivial, that I am positive no other person alive today would possibly remember it happening or think it had the slightest importance. I hope I've lowered your expectations sufficiently, anyway. But, it meant something to me and still does.


Among the several hats I've worn, movie theatre usher came first when I turned 17. My friend, who had worked at the theatre  a while, got me the job.  There were a number of other kids working there about our age and it was both fun and crazy. How so? For example, we used to go up into the attic of the theatre above the customer seats to put light bulbs in the ceiling. I don't remember anymore if it was my friend or I who accidentally pushed a heavy bulb through the ceiling, nearly hitting a customer on the head, but it was one of us. We also used to change the signs for the movies outside in front of the theatre, which at that primitive time was accomplished by snapping plastic letters with built in clasps over thin railings in order spell out the movie titles. We even had to do the main sign on top of the building, putting us up high in the air, with no safety restraints, no hard hat, no nothing, just hanging on by the very  tips of our sneakers and one hand, while we snapped the plastic in place with the other, sometimes in freezing weather. It really was fun. But, yes, crazy.  


Our manager was not the nicest man in the world. He was grim and unforgiving if you made a mistake, or even if he thought you might have.  He was also cruel. For instance, he would every day send an illiterate black custodian who had worked with him for many years to their bank to get some change. Mr. M. would write out a note for him to deliver explaining what was needed each day. This went on for years. Then one day, when he handed the note his boss had written to the teller, he found himself facing a drawn gun and eventually a lot of policemen. Why?  The note had read  "Give this n****r all your money." Because it was the 1970s, everyone laughed it off.  But, nice guy, right? I knew the story because my manager told me himself. When he got brain cancer, the other managers made a pool to see who would get closest to his date of death. The old crusty thing beat them though and returned to work. We did not have a good ending. He tried to tell me what I could wear outside of work and I quit.


But, before he returned, while I was still happily showing people to their seats and the like, we had a substitute manager named Mr. Fat. . . . . He was a nice man, but true to his name, really, really fat.  It was really a strange coincidence.  Though we liked him, we would make jokes about him. My favorite was that his would be the only ghost that couldn't fly. These days, they'd probably make me take a sensitivity class for that one.  One day I was acting as doorman and I saw a young man come up to the outside ticket window. When he left, the cashier began waving frantically to me. At first, I thought she was just saying hi and waved back. But, she gave me a "No, you idiot!" look and I went up to her. She had been robbed. The kid had stuck his hand enclosed in a paper bag through the slot. We had to tell Mr. Fat. . . . . so he could call the police. But, we couldn't find him for about 20 minutes. Then we did. He was sitting in the driver's seat of his car, right in front of the cashier's window, sound asleep.


None of those is the actual story. I'm getting there. I'm getting there.


So, I was working the floor one day when we were showing a Clint Eastwood movie. I think it was The Gauntlet.  Mr. Fat. . . . bustled over to me like Fezziwig and said that the company had sent us a game and I'd have to operate it. The game was constituted of a life size cardboard cutout of Clint with a circle around his heart and a dart gun with a rubber tip that was supposed to stick to the board. You had to stand about six feet away and shoot the dart at the board so it would stick in the circle in order to win free tickets to the theatre.  Since I was in charge, I enforced the rules strictly.  Toy dart guns are very difficult to aim. Almost no one could even hit the cut out from six feet. And the two people who hit the board with the dart out of the hundreds who tried, couldn't get it to stick, never mind strike the heart.  After a while Mr. Fat. . . . . came by and watched. He saw everyone failing and asked me how many people had won. I said none. He stood there some more watching.


Finally, someone's dart came within a foot of the heart and bounced off. Fat. . . . . screamed "Winner!" What the hell, I thought.  This violated all my notions of fair play. Two others had gotten as close and lost. And it didn't stick.  It was against the rules!


But the really interesting part came when the gentleman who was told he had "won" started giving advice to others on how to do it.  And they listened to them - just as if they had actually hit the target or could aim better than they! By my new orders, anyone who got even close to the target was a winner.  The point was apparently to give away tickets - not have a competition where everyone failed.


Welcome to the world, David (a subconscious voice said).  This is the way things work.  I probably can't say the experience opened up my eyes. Maybe more so it confirmed a feeling of skepticism I had been developing since I was little.  The rules are the rules until they aren't.  They are subject to change to make someone victorious or maybe even a specific someone. Often the call, the advantage, the declaration of victory goes to whoever people expect to or want to win.  Often when no one can do something, but we just decide someone can and we lower the bar until someone can leap it.  Many things we do are based on a host of fictions about ourselves and others including attributing skills to winners where none exist.  We nominate certain people as "experts" when they know nothing more than anyone else. This is especially true in the field of law, I've learned, where the courts allow the testimony of so-called experts who have, in actuality, no more ability to say what or have an opinion about their topic than anyone else.  In fact, sometimes there opinion belies common sense.


Of course, sometimes people are talented at something or very good. And, I'm not leaving my long held believe that most people who are good at a particular mental challenge and often physical ones too are so not because they were inherently smarter or more athletic, but because they were more motivated.  The question still remains as to what motivates them.  But, often, the playing field is tilted by a Mr. Fat. . . . clone or clones and the expected victor is sometimes celebrated and even given extra attention or training that leads to increased performance. One great example of this was given by the writer Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, where he describes how great Canadian hockey hall of the famers tend to be born in the same few earliest months of the year.  It appears that because of the January 1st cutoff for junior hockey, some children were nearly a year older than other children with whom they were competing. At very young ages even a few months often makes a tremendous physical difference and it was the older children, born closest to January 1, who were successful and thereafter singled out for extra training, attention, praise, etc.


The truth is, though when discussing this relative age effect, most people now associate it with Gladwell - who had nothing to do with the study.  It was made by a Canadian psychologist named Roger Barnsley and others about two decades earlier. Though many online articles mention Barnsley, try to find one about this subject that doesn't refer to Gladwell as the more important person. The reason is only that Gladwell is a bestselling author and Barnsley is not (I think I located him online and alive at something called Island Health, but not sure).


My adventures with Clint Eastwood's cut out is hardly unique. I'm not suggesting I wouldn't be so cynical or skeptical if it hadn't happened that way.  But, somehow the way it happened had a tremendous impact on me such that almost 40 years later I consider it a signature moment in my life - a secular epiphany.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Worst President II?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- created an ungodly large amount of paperwork for the healthcare industry which costs health care providers more and, of course, are passed on to us either as customers or taxpayers. For an article on this, try and The crushing federal regulations have hurt all businesses, which is, of course, not all Obama's doing. But, it has increased so in the last few years that I need to have its own section later to cover it. Back to Obamacare, it was also

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What are you reading this summer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          The Philosophical Writings of Peirce edited by Justus Buchler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

             The Secret History  by Donna Tartt.

             This was my review on Amazon -

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

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

             Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

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

             I'm not reading The Catcher in the Rye.

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

             What are you reading this Summer?

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 . . . .