Monday, October 29, 2007

Did you know that --

Let’s face it. This blog is just too serious half the time. Abraham Lincoln/Shmabraham Lincoln. I like People Magazine too. So, just for fun, did you know that --

Leonard Nimoy played a Martian invading earth in Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952), a tv serial starring the actor who played Captain Video, and also starred in many tv western series prior to his Star Trek days.

Before commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise, William Shatner (who was in one less episode of Star Trek than Nimoy – the pilot) was on Howdy Doody, The Twilight Zone, Route 66, Burke’s Law, The Outer Limits, The Man From Uncle, The Fugitive, The Big Valley, The Virginian and Dr. Kildare multiple times.

Christopher Walken played Annie Hall’s suicidal brother in that movie’s two best scenes (just my opinion). He turned down the role of Jor-El in Superman Returns.

Samuel Jackson played a small role in Goodfellas.

Unknown Bruce Willis was sitting in the courtroom audience in The Verdict.

Jason Alexander, whose real name is Jay Greenspan, played a hardware store clerk in Mosquito Coast (everyone already knows about An Officer and a Gentleman).

Jerry Seinfeld, who had almost no tv career before Seinfeld, was in two episodes of Benson.

Michael Richards was in Miami Vice, St. Elsewhere (recurring role), Hill Street Blues, The Scarecrow & Mrs. King and Cheers before Seinfeld.

Jennifer Anniston was, pre-Friends, seen on Herman’s Head (one of my favorite short term tv shows), Quantum Leap and several episodes on Ferris Bueller (the tv show, not the movie).

Also prior to Friends, Lisa Kudrow was on one episode of Cheers, Coach, the very last episode of Newhart, and was also in a couple of movies that sound like those B sex/murder tapes that look good on the videotape cover, but are horrible: The Heat of Passion and The Heat of Passion II. [NOTE FOR MEN ONLY: according to Celebrity Sleuth Magazine, Lisa has a 36 26 36 figure]. You already knew about Mad About You, but should really rent The Opposite of Sex where she played a very un-Phoebe like role and was superb in doing so.

In David Schwimmer’s early career he had multiple appearances on Blossom, NYPD Blue, LA Law and Wonder Years (the sister’s boyfriend, including one of the best episodes, “Stormy Weather” where she dumped him).

Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) had a recurring role as a doctor on Thirty Something (does anybody remember Thirty Something?) and one episode of Matlock.

Robin Williams appeared on Eight is Enough and Laugh-In before his big break on Happy Days as Mork from Ork. I’d like to see those.

Harrison Ford appeared on The Virginian, Ironsides, The Mod Squad, Love American Style, The Intruders, Gunsmoke and even Kung Fu before playing Hans Solo (1977).

Tom Hanks had roles on The Love Boat, Taxi, Happy Days and Family Ties.

Ryan O’Neal was on Dobie Gillis, Bachelor Father, Leave it to Beaver, Perry Mason, Peyton Place, Wagon Train, and The Virginian.

Besides Spock, Kirk, Harrison Ford and Ryan O’Neal, the following well known actors also appeared on The Virginian: Michael Constantine, Bruce Dern, Jack Warden, Yvonne De Carlo (Lily from the Munsters), Star Trek's James Doohan and DeForest Kelly, Ida Lupino, Kurt Russell, Charles Bronson, Andy Devine, The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Darren McGavin, Cloris Leachman and Ted Knight, Clint Howard (you know, Richie Cunningham’s real life brother), Burgess Meredith, Alan Hale, Jr. (The Skipper), Strother Martin, E.G. Marshall, Anthony Franciosca, Tim Matheson, David Hartman, Lee Majors, Warren Oates, Lee J. Cobb, Ricardo Montalban, Slim Pickens, Vera Miles, Fabian and even Jack Albertson, the old guy from Chico and the Man. That show was the road to stardom.

You probably didn’t think there was trivia about Jack Albertson. During his lengthy career he turns out to have played the small role of the post office employee who had the idea to direct all the mail for Santa to the Courthouse in one of my favorite movies, Miracle on 34th Street (the one and only worthy version, made in 1947). In some sense, he’s the movies unsung hero.

Interested in a lot of famous actors stuffed into one movie. The winner has to be -- It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which included in its cast (deep breath) Spencer Tracy, Jim Backus, Edie Adams, Jonathan Winters, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Ethel Merman, Buddy Hackett, Milton Berle, William Demarest, Norman Fell (Three’s Company), Andy Devine, Peter Falk, Leo Gorcey, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Carl Reiner, Larry Fine, Mo Howard, Joe Derita (a Curley replacement), Jesse White (well, people knew him back then), Jimmy Durante, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny and (phew) Sid Caesar.

And, in case you think the actors were born to play roles you love them in –

Michael J. Fox blew his first audition for Family Ties before getting a second chance.

Jim Backus turned down the role of Abner on Bewitched.

John Denver turned down the Richard Gere role in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Deniro was supposed to play the lead in Angel Heart but decided on Lucifer (good call though).

Sean Connery turned down the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings as did Patrick McGoohan (The Avengers). Russell Crowe turned down the role of Aragorn as did Daniel Day-Lewis. They actually started filming with someone named Stuart Townsend before they got Viggo Mortensen. John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) thought he was going to play Denethor and Orlando Bloom tried out for Faramir (which would not have likely propelled him to stardom). Danny Bonaduce was slated to play Frodo (no, I made that one up).

Connery was originally supposed to play Austin Power’s father in Goldmember, and his Dr. No co-star, Ursula Andress, Austin’s mother. Connery also turned down Morpheus and The Architect roles in the Matrix series because he couldn’t understand it (took me three times) but later regretted it, Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music and Spock’s brother in Star Trek: The Final Frontier (the word Sha-Ka-Ree in that movie is a play on his name).

Will Smith turned down the Matrix role of Neo Anderson. It would have been somewhat of a different movie perhaps with Sean Connery and Will Smith. Too bad we can't see both.

George Raft turned down the lead roles for High Sierra (Paul Muni too) and the Maltese Falcon. Not only that, but Ronald Reagan almost played Rick in Casablanca. Imagine never having heard of Bogey.

Cary Grant, not Jimmy Stewart, was going to star in It’s a Wonderful Life (which, he probably was glad about, as it was considered a flop at the time).

Robert Redford turned down the Dustin Hoffman role in the Graduate. Doris Day turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson.

But, then again,Warren Beatty turned down the role Redford took in The Way We Were.

Steve McQueen turned down the role Richard Dreyfuss’ took in Close Encounters.

Meg Ryan turned down the lead in Basic Instinct (Can you picture that? I can’t, but it’s true). The girl can act, so who knows.

Gene Hackman turned down Nicholson’s role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I can see that one. Hackman has to be one of the most versatile actors around.

Nicholson wasn’t first choice in Terms of Endearment – Burt Reynolds was.

John Wayne and Frank Sinatra had the first two shots at Dirty Harry.

Tom Hanks turned down the lead roles in American Beauty and Jerry Maguire.

Sylvester Stallone was first choice the role of Hans Solo (oh, thank you, God, thank you).

Tom Selleck was first choice to play Indiana Jones.

Harrison Ford, however, has turned down the lead roles in Big (so did Deniro), Dragonfly (I know, big deal), A History of Violence, The Hunt for Red October, JFK, Jurassic Park, Kinsey, Misery, Outbreak, The Patriot, The Perfect Storm, Schindler’s List, Syriana (he said he regretted this one – why?), The Untouchables, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (thank God Dustin Hoffman turned it down too), among others. Well, you know, he’s busy.

Audrey Hepburn turned down The Birds, A Bridge Too Far, Cleopatra (smart move), Doctor Zhivago, Gigi, Goodbye Mister Chips, Out of Africa, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Spartacus and The Ten Commandments (obviously, she would not have played Moses, but an Egyptian queen).

Streisand was supposed to star in Cabaret (in which case, would we ever have heard of Liza?).

And, finally, did you know that

Larry David was the voice of George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld.

Thing (the hand on The Addams Family) belonged to Lurch (Ted Cassidy) when the rest of his body wasn’t in the scene too. He once also played a hulking android on Star Trek. A little more surprising, “Lurch” wrote the screen play for The Harrad Experiment, the 1973 film of a then outrageous 60’s novel which dealt with college students having sex with each other (hey, I was shocked when I was a little kid in the 70s and realized what was going on in colleges). Cassidy got to play a bit part in it too. Strangely, so did Melanie Griffith, Gregory Harrison (Gonzo from Trapper John, M.D.), Fred Willard and I love this one, Melody Patterson aka Wrangler Jane (one of her very few roles). Not a bad group for a pretty dumb movie.

Melody was one of the most beautiful stars ever, and because she played a grown up on a tv show when I was a kid, I figured she had to be well into her 70s now, like Ken Berry. But, because Wrangler was only a 16 year old high school student when she started F-Troop (she lied to get the role) it turns out she is only 10 years older than I am, 58. (Speaking of F-Troop, am I the only one who was certain Larry Storch was long dead of a heart attack? Maybe. He’s still kicking at 84 and I would’ve sworn . . . ).

You’ve Got Mail is, for my money, one of the best screenplays ever written. We all know that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starred and that Jean Stapleton had a small role. But even though I have seen it over a dozen times, I had no idea that Meg’s boyfriend, Frank, was played by Greg Kinnear, because he looks nothing like him now, and plays a rather eccentric character very unlike Greg’s more recent movie roles. I also had no idea that Kevin, Tom Hank’s friend and employee, was played by none other than Dave Chapelle (probably because I never saw his tv show). The movie itself is actually a superior remake of a 40s Jimmy Stewart movie, supposedly set in Hungary, called The Little Shop Around the Corner (which is the name of Meg Ryan’s store in the remake). I made the sacrifice of buying and watching the original. Don’t.

OK, I love this stuff, but we’re done. This is the first post I’ve done just using the internet, with little knowledge of my own about the trivia. Who knows how reliable the websites actually are. I used several that seemed like they cared about reliability and had indications when they had their doubts about a claim (in which case I didn’t use it). I double checked as much as I could in the limited time I gave myself. It was fun, but got to get back to something substantial next week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chopping Lincoln down to size

It’s hard to imagine the Abraham Lincoln we have come to know as a duelist, but he came quite close to fighting in one. James Shields might have cut Honest Abe down to size 23 years before Booth shot him, and I mean cut.

Either Lincoln or his soon to be wife, Mary Todd, or possibly both of them, joined together to write some newspaper articles in the Summer of 1842, mocking the State auditor, Shields, concerning some public financial matter that would just bore you to tears (turns out he was right and they wrong). There is some information, perhaps just rumor, that there was at least some romantic interest earlier on between the very attractive Shields and equally attractive Mary, which might have played some role in the drama, although we will likely never know. Taking the pseudonym Aunt Becca, the letters lampooned Shields and his Democrat friends.

Here’s a sample of the tomfoolery in the letter Lincoln later takes credit for, which, you might expect, would insult the very serious Shields (and please blame Lincoln for the spelling errors):

“I say it’s a lie, and not a well told one at that. It grins out like a copper dollar. Shields is a fool and a liar. With him truth is out of the question, and as for getting a good bright passable lie out of him, you might as well try to strike fire from a cake of tallow. I stick to it, its all an infernal whig lie."

An infernal whig lie? Actually, Lincoln was the Whig and Shields a Democrat, but that was just part of the fun. Lincoln goes on to portray Shields at a Whig fair, where they wouldn’t let the Democrats in “for fear they’d disgust the ladies, or scare the little galls, or dirty the floor. I looked in at the window, and there was this same fellow Shields floatin about on the air, without heft or earthly substance, just like a lock of cat-fur where cats had been fightin.” Lincoln also mocked him for his egotism and handsomeness, putting into his mouth apologies for their only being one of him to marry all the women at the fair: “It is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting”. All right, hardly brilliant comedy, and not Lincoln’s best work, but he was a sentimentalist at heart, not a satirist.

Shields, a famously vain and egotistical man, demanded the name of the letter writer from the publisher of the “Whig” paper, who, perhaps frightened, but also reputedly with Lincoln’s permission, gave him Lincoln’s name but not Mary’s. Soon, Lincoln, while away on circuit as an attorney, received a note from Shields delivered by his second, General Samuel Whitesides, who Lincoln had actually fought under in the Black Hawk War.

Lincoln wrote back to Shields as follows:

“Your note of to-day was handed me by Gen. Whiteside. In that note you say you have been informed, through the medium of the editor of the Journal, that I am the author of certain articles in that paper which you deem personally abusive of you; and without stopping to enquire whether I really am the author, or to point out what is offensive in them, you demand an unqualified retraction of all that is offensive; and then proceed to hint at consequences.

Now, sir, there is in this so much assumption of facts, and so much of menace as to consequences, that I cannot submit to answer that note any farther than I have, and to add, that the consequence to which I suppose you allude, would be matter of as great regret to me as it possibly could to you.”

This non-answer answer reminds me of Hamilton’s toying with Burr in a series of letters before Burr shot him dead. While not denying he was involved, Lincoln played the role of the victim and actually asked what it was that was Shields found offensive, as if he didn’t know. But this was the typical dance between potential duelists, and usually, it worked out.

Lincoln, opposed to dueling (it was also illegal in Illinois), knew how to play the game. He delivered a letter to his friend, and now “second,” Dr. Elias H. Merryman. which was pure gamesmenship. It suggested that should Whitesides “wish to adjust this affair without further difficulty, let him know that if the present papers be withdrawn, & a note from Mr. Shields asking to know if I am the author of the articles of which he complains, and asking that I shall make him gentlemanly satisfaction, if I am the author, and this without menace, or dictation as to what that satisfaction shall be, a pledge is made that the following answer shall be given”.

The “answer” he pledged to give admitted his writing one of the letters but claimed: “I wrote that wholly for political effect. I had no intention of injuring your personal or private character or standing as a man or gentleman; and I did not then think, and do not now think that that article, could produce or has produced that effect against you, and had I anticipated such an effect I would have forborne to write it. And I will add, that your conduct towards me, so far as I knew, had always been gentlemanly; and that I had no personal pique against you, and no cause for any.’

In other words, while unofficially admitting he was the author, Lincoln would only openly admit his authorship if Shields’ threatening letter was withdrawn.

However, Lincoln made it clear that he was prepared to fight. He could do no less without public embarrassment, as the matter had now been published in several newspapers. No dummy he, Lincoln, as the challenged person, had choice of weapons, rules, time and place, and designed them to his favor.

The weapons he chose were not the typical pistols, but “[c]alvalry broad swords of the largest size, precisely equal in all respects – and such as now used by the calvary company at Jacksonville.” Swords? Broad swords of the largest size? Lincoln wasn’t crazy. Although it is doubtful that Lincoln was much practiced in fighting with calvary swords, Shields was a trained swordsman. But he was also a much shorter man, and Lincoln, especially for his day, was huge, with a gigantic reach and reputedly possessing enormous physical strength. It may or may not be true that at some point on the way to the battle, Lincoln showed Shields his reach advantage by cutting off a high branch with the sword.

Moreover, Lincoln made sure the playing field was also to his advantage, as there was no way that Shields could get anywhere close to him. There was to be placed “[a] plank ten feet long, & from nine to twelve inches broad to be firmly fixed on edge on the ground, as the line between us, which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life. In other words, if Shields crossed the line, he would, apparently, have to forfeit his life (how, you wonder, would they have managed that)). This would allow Lincoln to stand far back so that Shields could not reach him. If Shields approached the line, Lincoln, with his huge reach, could touch him easily if he wished. It’s hard to believe the Lincoln we know would do so, but it’s impossible to say for sure.

If not resolved, the fight was to occur within a few miles of Alton (where Lincoln was practicing law at the moment) on the opposite side of the river, i.e., Missouri, where dueling was still legal. The spot finally chosen had the ominous name, Bloody Island, although this was due to a massacre of Indians on the spot (a monument stands there today) and not dueling.

But, it wasn’t resolved, at least not yet. They met on the island, where through some combination of the intervention of friends, Lincoln’s willingness to apologize, and Shields’ recognition that he could get killed, finally allowed for the duel to be called off amicably.

The whole scandal was not over. Lincoln wrote to his good friend and former bedmate (I mean that in the 18th century non-sexual sense), James Speed, and informed him of two others that Shields challenged to duels, including Merryman (for whom Lincoln was the second). It all came to nothing in the end, with perhaps some embarrassment to Shields.

As with all historical matters, there are always holes in the story, and it is very difficult to tell history from rumor or legend. For one thing, it is hard to believe that Shields would have been frightened regardless of Lincoln’s supposed advantages.

Shields, you see, was no ordinary political pompous ass, but a truly remarkable man. Born in Ireland, he came to America as a young man. He became a hero in the Black Hawk War (in which Lincoln fought but could not claim any heroic acts). In the Mexican War he was a highly successful general, where he commanded, among others, Robert E. Lee, and was also appointed a regional governor. He famously led a raid there to rescue two women, for which feat he was celebrated in song (whereas Lincoln, in Congress, was ridiculed for his opposition to the war).

Shields later fought in the Civil War, and, before being forced off by anti-Democrats in the administration, was the only officer who beat Stonewall Jackson in the field, and that while being wounded. He was also severely wounded in Mexico and nearly died before returning to the field, and was wounded again while facing Jackson. He was a successful lawyer, judge, and U.S. Senator from three States (Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri). I’m pretty sure no one else has ever done that before or after him. Shieldsville, Minnesota, a town he founded, is still named for him.

Shields was also, not surprisingly, very well connected, being a close friend of, among others, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s other nemesis, but also, from his Mexican War days, President Zach Taylor and General Winfield Scott, not to mention, Lincoln’s political hero, Henry Clay.

Lincoln and Shields actually knew each other well before their falling out, both serving in the Illinois Senate, and even working together on a number of occasions despite being from different sides of the aisle. It is not surprising, knowing Lincoln, that the two became friendly after their abated duel. I was surprised that although Lincoln’s ability to make fast friends among former enemies is celebrated by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her recent critically acclaimed Team of Rivals, she mentioned Shields only in passing, and does not cover the duel or his relationship with Lincoln at all. Although they remained political opponents, when war came again, Lincoln made him a brigadier general, and would have made him a major general if he was not forced out by political opponents in the administration like Stanton and Trumbull (who replaced Shields as an Illinois Senator).

No doubt Shields was a courageous fellow. He reputedly rode by himself into a Sioux Indian camp, successfully demanded his stolen cattle back and threatened to kill their chief if they didn’t come up with them. Even if that story is apocryphal (and it sounds it), his bravery and feats during three wars are enough to make you wonder. At the end of the day, he might have killed Lincoln if they had actually crossed swords (he could have thrown the damn thing, for all we know). And then we would never have heard of either of them.

For his part, it seems like Lincoln wanted his nearly consummated duel to be forgotten. According to Mary, when an officer later asked President Lincoln if he had nearly fought a duel to protect Mary's honor, Lincoln replied that he had, but that if the officer wanted to be his friend, he would never mention it again.

I suppose he wouldn’t be too happy to know that Bloody Island is now known as the Lincoln Shields Recreation Area. Even Abraham Lincoln can’t have everything he wants.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Online Diary - The Home Sale, Part III

People don't believe me when I tell them I am cursed.

Ok. So, I go out on Sunday after having a conversation with my broker that he should let himself in to show the house. He had a husband making a second trip with his wife to see what she thought. For his part, he had already begun suggesting to the broker changes he wanted to make. A good sign.

When I come home that night I notice that an antique pipe bowl (at least, that's what I think it is) had left its perch on the dining room wall shelf to come to rest on my kitchen counter, with its face to the wall.

Yes, the pipe bowl has a face across its entire front surface. It looks like its about 6" high by 5" wide, and hollow, so you can put the pipe in through the top, with a loop for a handle. The front is the broad smiling face of a farmer. I know he's a farmer because on the back of the piece it says in big letters, "Farmer John".

Farmer John is not particularly attractive (sorry, Royal Doulton). But he's also just a ceramic bowl. He doesn't look evil, unless you are four years old or have a really strong imagination. I keep him because he's a family heirloom, which, at some point, someone liked. Probably it was my paternal grandmother, about whom I could tell you a few stories.

When I spoke with my broker the next day, I learn that the wife, walking through the dining room, sees Farmer John, and says that he is looking at her, and that she can feel his evil spirit, or some such nonsense.

Because my broker is a normal person, he thought she was kidding at first.

He just doesn't know my luck well enough. She wasn't kidding. Being a sale's person, he finally said that he would move it, and did, to my kitchen.

May I say, without a moment's hesitation, and without concern for insulting the religious or superstitious minded, that this women was NUTS, and I would have been perfectly happy if, instead of escorting the Farmer into the kitchen, he escorted Mrs. Poltergeist out the door by the back of her collar and tossed her down the steps, all the while chanting, "Ooom booga mommah koo koo, wakataka boom boom woo woo, I cast ye out, witch," slamming the door behind her.

Of, course, because its a slow market, he did not do so. Sorry, I wasn't home to help him out with her, because no way she was buying the Hauppauge Horror House.

You don't believe I am cursed? That was the closest I've come to selling my house yet.

The Farmer is going back into the dining room. For anyone who doesn't like it, all I can say is - Ooom booga mommah koo koo, wakataka boom boom woo woo.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Manhattan Project for Education

Why is it that everyone I speak with, conservative, liberal, teacher, cop, serial killer, whatever, agrees that America today is akin to Rome in its last days.

I don’t have all the answers (yet). But I do have some suggestions, although I have never attempted to synthesize them. But, I decided to take some time to fix our problems by suggesting various “Manhattan Projects” we should undertake as a nation. Should I die soon, I want a record of what we need to do to survive available for my legion of followers (legion being a metaphor for none, but you get my drift).

We can’t talk about all the Manhattan Projects we need to undertake, but I’ll start with education, because it is so basic.

Here’s the key. The problem is NOT the schools, at least not entirely. The problem is the culture and our child festishism which has convinced us that the best way to raise a kid is to convince him/her that they are royalty, no matter how they screw up, to shield them from all adversity, and convince them that having parents who can provide them with a cell phone at age 13 and a car at 17, is what matters most.

Children today are raised to feel as if they inherited the world, and theirs is but to play with toys, avoid all forms of competition, bathe in their parents’ smiles, and have everything done from them. This is, falsely, supposed to raise their self esteem. Hah. The truth is the opposite. Kids feel good when they accomplish things. Admittedly, they are not adults, and frankly, they are pretty stupid (oh, what a terrible thing to say), so some of the things they rate themselves and others on, are not really too important, but still, kids who feel good about themselves do it because they have a reason. Those who are buoyed with praise no matter how little they accomplish, will sink under real world pressures.

There seems to be some kind of radical change in the last decade where it has been determined that little children (I’m not talking about little babies, but somewhere between ages 2 or 3 to age 10) can’t cut their own meat, learn to be potty trained, lose a game, play by themselves and often, just behave (meaning “SHUT UP”). And although I am not a believer that tv warps children’s morals, it is a reason that they don’t have time to study more. TV, perhaps now being eclipsed by the computer (games and the internet) has become so important in our lives that our post work or school days has become centered on what’s on and when, and constant reinforcement of its importance.

Parents need to stop complaining about the schools when they are doing nothing to help their children with it. That means reading to and with the kids a lot, and getting tutoring for them in the subjects they are weakest in. Reading is critical, probably the most critical element in revamping our educational system.

Yes, our educational system is for the birds, but that’s because we are too lazy and much too interested in not offending anyone to change it. When enough parents want change, it will change.

The No Child Left Behind Act was always a dumb idea. It is now virtually proven that it hasn’t and will not work for anyone who wants to open their eyes. Competition works on many levels for many things. But education is not about market forces. The law should be scrapped.

But that doesn’t mean merit isn’t important. Tenure should be done away with for anyone who has not achieved it by today. Jobs should be awarded to those who show the best aptitude for connecting with students and conveying information. Nationwide test scores are not the answer. Each school district is ultimately responsible for itself.

Principals should be rotated every few years among senior teachers, and not become fiefdoms. Getting a degree in education is the biggest waste of time since putting magic spells on warriors so that arrows will bounce off of them.

The college major of Education should be done away with. Teaching internships and learning from watching different types of great teachers is much more important than any degree in what is basically a pseudo-science. I would rather have a smart person with a good personality teaching my kids than someone with stellar degrees and no ability to connect with the kids. By connect, I mean help the kids become interested in the subject and respect the teacher; they don’t need to believe they are his or her pal or like a son or daughter. In fact, that is probably a bad idea.

Third, the curriculum needs to be un-emancipated in one sense, yet freed in another. Freedom comes with the decapitation of “teaching for the test” (4th and 8th grade). I have personally never met a teacher who thought this was a good idea (and I ask). Almost everyone I ask thinks it is a waste of time and effort. But Un-emancipation comes with the devolution of the curriculum back to certain basics. Here they are:

First through third grade: Reading/writing, math and logic. The last is basic logical skills that everyone should know, but our system spends no time on at all. College philosophy class should not be the first introduction to systematic logic. Grade school should be. Very basic social studies comes with an advancement in reading, but does not need to be studied alone, except for the study of geography.

Fourth through six grade: Reading/writing, math, some history and science (chemistry and physics). Rudimentary Greek and/or Latin, not for their own sake, but because it will help with English and history and the later study of foreign languages.

Seventh through 10th grade: Reading/writing, math, history, science, either advanced Greek or Latin, or, one or more foreign languages. By 9th and 10th some can try applied sciences like architecture, engineering and automotive. Computers are built into every subject and are not a separate subject in primary or secondary school.

Eleventh and twelfth grade: More reading and writing for those who have not mastered basic English; No more English for those who can do it on their own – what is the point in wasting school time on it? Let them read books on their own; advanced math, history and science for those who have an aptitude for it or want to, and more applied sciences for those interested.

But there are things that must go so there is more time for the important things. First out the door is gym. If we have an obesity problem in this country we should do something about it (me first, of course). But taking up time in school is not one of them.

Music is great, but should be an after school activity for those who really want it. You might argue that everyone should get a chance to learn to play an instrument. Of course they should, but they should have to stay after school to do it or learn it on their own. It’s just not as important as reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. I have an idea. Instead of watching tv every night, or playing Halo III, let the kids take up an instrument then. Here’s another shocker. Louis Armstrong did not learn to play the trumpet in school. I doubt Van Halen learned to play guitar that way either (although, really, I have no idea, and am not going to research it either).

Art. Also gone, although I would accept an art history class in the later grades. Teach your kids to draw and paint at home. Great artists are not borne in grade school classes anymore than great musicians are.

Home economics, human sexuality and the like - gone. No arguments. School plays are great and very worthwhile. People should come to see them on week-end nights as they do now. But, it is not necessary to have kids a captive audience, however much they enjoy it, during the school day. How about, right after school, if you must have them watch it.

Those of you who are saying, but art & music & home economics & all that stuff are important in our culture. That’s true, but the project here is rescuing our decadent, video game playing, Mommy-I-don’t-want-to society from itself. Kids should be doing this at home, or in extra-curricular classes, or private schools like Tutor Time. The internet provides access to anything children want to do or study on their own.

Periods off for pep rallies and plays and boring speeches by the principal. Gone. Do it after school for those who want to come. I’m worried about China burying us, not who is going to win the football game at homecoming.

Because I believe reading and writing is so critical, I would give it extra attention from first grade on. I probably would not complain if, as an experiment, one group of children did nothing but read and write, with some basic math, for the first six years of school. I would do away with requirements for stodgy classics, and let kids read whatever interested them. I am fond of making people cringe by saying, if a young boy wants to read Playboy, let him read it (but make sure he’s not just looking at the pictures). I would much rather have boys talking about a Playboy magazine that they have read than about a classic they haven’t. If a young girl wants to read a fashion magazine, let her (for all you politically correctness Nazi's out there -- she can read Playboy and he can read Teen Fashion, for all I care).

Listen, I am not against any of the things I have gotten rid of above. But we need priorities. And that means do these non-essential things after school. Just like we do with sports now. China is not going to surpass us in so many things this century because they have better marching bands.

Teachers should not be overly aggressive bullies with no recourse for abused students, but no kid should be allowed to dominate a class through misbehavior. I have spoken to any number of teachers who complain how one bad kid can ruin a class, because the administration will not support the teacher against a parent. Remember, the parent is not the customer. Society is the customer. Life should imitate art a little here. I don’t know whether the Joe Clark Story was accurate or not, but it should be a model, particularly in run down, under funded schools. No learning can occur where the kids are more afraid of each other than they are of the teachers.

We should not be worried about leaving the most troubled children behind. We should be worried about leaving the huge middle group of kids behind those of our friends and adversaries around the world. Kids who can’t keep up should have the opportunity for extra tutoring (this is actually usually available now, but rarely taken advantage of by students). Kids who are emotionally or intellectually unable to cope have to be given special care, but the era of placing unruly children or those who need extra help in classrooms with kids more able to cope should end. It was a noble idea. But we know where best intentions often leads us. The teachers I have spoken with tell me it usually doesn’t work. Even if special needs kids might benefit from it, I have no doubt they are often ostracized too.

More important, if the vast number of the kids in the class are held back because the level of teaching is for the lowest common denominator, then, as one of our most esteemed philosophers said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” (Mr. Spock in Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan).

The same goes for taking kids out of class for special work, like speech, or guidance. Do it after school or before school. One teacher told me one year she had no kids in her class who were not taken out of class at least once a week for some special class. How are they supposed to learn if they were not present?

Not only would I get rid of tenure, and replace it with some merit system, but it would become a profession where the most important thing isn’t how many days off you get and how big is your pension. Hours during the day would be increased to include coaching or tutoring and the school year lengthened with it. Neither teachers nor students should be getting all of both July and August off. One month is enough, probably the warmest one. This means teachers who are hungry, who want to work and who are dedicated, get the jobs. Teachers who are spent, burnt out, dumb or unambitious, lose their jobs. Although time spent teaching will be longer, teachers who want to will have more time to do a better job with our kids, and they will have the authority to make sure it happens.

Perhaps the most important change should be this: Teachers will no longer be substitute parents. Lawsuits because of kids tripping, or falling off the swing, or because they got beaten up by another kid without warning, should be severely reduced. Parents should be parents, and teachers teachers. This is not a secret. Those students who get better support and guidance from their parents will usually do best in school as in sports and life in general. The schools will be in a position to help anyone who wants it, but not to have to waste time with people like me, who didn’t want it. I have more respect for the one teacher who flunked me with a 40, then those who passed me with a 65.

However, I would not be against, and probably for a two track system like Finland has in the last few years of secondary school. One set of students goes to vocational schools and another to college prep. This might seem un-American, but that’s because we are not really used to it. However, it is not really dissimilar to our BOCES at all. Kids who might be horrible at geometry, may find they have a knack for problem solving with automobiles, carpentry, plumbing or visa versa. Neither should be punished, and both encouraged.

One reason for the American Century was the influx of ideas from Europe (the original Manhattan Project was just this; without European scientists working on it, it never would have happened during the war, and maybe not for a decade or so later). Falling behind in education may hurt American feelings, but the reaction should not be to engage in jingoism and nationalism, but to seek out ideas from countries like Finland, the other Scandinavian countries, South Korea, China, etc.

Education isn’t everything, but it’s critical. It will be the basis for our society competing in the future with China and India, which have oodles more folk. I suggest we make these changes now. Start with tenure, the curriculum and the length of the school year. Within ten years, America will be back where it should be, near the top of the developed world in education. Patience, diligence and flexibility are the watchwords.

I am not blind to the fact that most of these ideas would be found unacceptable by most teachers and many parents today. That’s because we are too comfortable as a whole, and do not see the way the wind is blowing. I hope that it is not too late when we do. I’m a lot more concerned about this, than I am about global warming.

I’ll be back again to solve more of our critical problems in the future. Stayed tuned.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Confederate journalists have more fun

You’d think that back in April 1861, the newpapermen in Richmond, Virginia would be a little too busy getting ready for war than to have so much fun publishing news stories that make all but our cash register line rags seem tame by comparison.

They actually were writing a lot about secession, but here are some interesting articles from the Richmond Times Dispatch that I culled from just two days - April 1st and 3rd, 1861 just before Fort Sumter was fired on, essentially starting the war. Some are weird, some horrible, some just interesting or peculiar.

Of course, I have to have some fun, so I changed the headlines and made some comments to suit myself.

Now this guy can play cards

[R]ecently, a gentleman engaged in play at a faro table, and died in his seat. His death was not discovered until his money, by being left on the table all the while, had won a heavy sum. A law suit resulted between the banker and the dead player's heirs, which was decided in favor of the latter.

Well, Judge – she just wouldn’t die, is all

Ann Welsh, wife of Patrick Welsh, died at the hospital at St. Louis on the 18th inst., from the effects of a most inhuman assault made upon her by her husband three or four days previous. It appears that the unfortunate woman, who was with child. was one day sitting on a sofa, her head reclining on her mother's bed, when her husband, who had just awakened from one of his drunken slumbers, stepped into the room, and without any provocation knocked his wife to the floor and kicked her terribly on the sides, and jumping over her, struck her several times on the abdomen with his knees. He then seized a poker and struck her unmercifully over the upper and lower extremities, leaving many marks and bruises. His rage not yet satisfied, he ran the poker down her throat ! The mother of the unfortunate wife, a weak and decrepit old woman, tried to interfere and protect her daughter, but received a severe beating from the fiendish brute, and had to run away from the house. On her return she found her daughter prostrated by her injuries. The poor woman was taken to the hospital, where she became delirious, and was unable to swallow anything except some liquid, on account of the injuries to her throat. She died of inflammation of the abdomen, which a postmortem examination showed to have been intense. Welsh fled from the city on learning that his wife's life was in danger. The two had been married less than a year. Here’s the parts I like, the reporter still referred to her as “wife of . . .” even though the monster beat the stuffing out of her and her mother. There’s mean and then there’s really mean. He jumped on her stomach with his knees. I have had that done to me. It really hurts. I have no idea what it’s like to have a poker stuffed down my throat, but I've got to figure that hurts a bit too.

They couldn’t hang him, because they needed his balls

A man named Doyle, one of the workmen at the Navy-Yard, slipped over to Fort Pickens, a few nights ago, and come very near getting in before he was discovered. He had a bundle of rat-tail files in his pocket and says, if it had not been for a sergeant holding a lantern up to his face as he was going in the door, he would have had every gun spiked in twenty minutes. He was sent back by Slemmer, with the request that he be dealt with, as he did not wish to do anything that might bring about a collision, which was so much to be deprecated. Col. Clayton sent a note in reply, by the hands of private Bullock, (who, by-the-way, has since been promoted to a corporal,) stating that he would punish Doyle, but just at this time he had too much need of his services in casting cannon balls.

Why skirts have fallen out of favor

[O]n Monday forenoon Mrs. Elizabeth F. Haines was fatally burnt. She swung the back part of her dress against the glowing coal grate, and was immediately enveloped in flames. Her screams brought immediate aid. Floor rugs and pieces of carpet were used to extinguish the fire, but her spring skirt prevented the desired effect.

Is anyone else slightly confused by this one.

The Carthage (Texas) Banner, states that an affray occurred last week, in Shelby county, at Myrick's ferry on Sabine river, in which a young man, named Hewitt, was killed by his father-in-law, Myrick. Myrick was also killed by a brother of Hewitt's. The deceased Hewitt, and his wife had separated some time previously. Myrick's son was wounded in the fray.

Yeah, but it beats being married

A married woman disappeared from Huributville, Oneida county, N. Y., almost a year ago, and was supposed to have been murdered, until a few days since she was found in a hut in a lonely wood, by some men who were hunting. She had lived a hermit, save when visited by a paramour who has a wife living in Rome; and she is almost insane from loneliness.

Note to engineers - invent hard hats

Geo. W. Gilman . . . was accidentally killed on Tuesday. He was witnessing the operations of workmen engaged in removing a building, when the building suddenly settled and threw a long lever round upon him, breaking in his skull and killing him instantly.

After the first time, why did he keep the kid around?

Samuel Hoy, a lad aged ten years, has been committed to prison at Cornwall, Canada, for two attempts to kill his father. The first was by giving him strychnine, and the second by shooting him while sleeping.

Didn’t they have enough new crimes to deal with?

A man named Neill Kelly, said to be about seventy years of age, was tried at the recent term of the Circuit Court of Coosa county, Ala., for the crime of forgery committed nineteen years ago, and convicted. The prisoner is nearly 70 years old.

First gun control commercial.

On Thursday last, James, a bright little child of John A. Bailey, of Sussex county, Va., was so dangerously wounded by the accidental explosion of a gun that his leg had to be amputated. The little fellow was only six years old.

Would you have watched?

Levi Q. C. McGinnis, was hung at Cumming, Ga., on Friday last. The execution was public, and the crowd amounted to some fifteen thousand persons.

For playing cards?

The following small cases were disposed of by the Mayor yesterday:--Henry Myers (stranger,) drunk and lying on the sidewalk, admonished and discharged. Dick, slave to James Martin, having butter supposed to be stolen, whipped. Ned Day, drunk and lying in the street, whipped. . . . Peter Doyle, insensibly drunk, for the ninth time, committed. A number of negroes, found playing cards in Metropolitan Hall lot on Sunday, were also punished for trying to elucidate the mysteries of ‘"high, low, Jack and the game. "’

A 19th century Clouseau escapes from jail

A man named Tyler, who was in confinement in the county jail on a peace warrant, being accidentally locked out by the jailor Sunday evening, undertook during the night to escape by scaling the walls surrounding the edifice, and had succeeded in making his way nearly to the top, when he fell backwards on the brick pavement below, and received such severe injuries that he remained insensible till yesterday morning, when he was discovered and cared for by the jailor. It is thought his skull was fractured by the fall. But what happened to the idiot who accidentally locked him outside?

This one is only interesting because it mentions John Wilkes Booth’s older, and some say, more talented brother

Richelieu will be performed at the Theatre to-night, as it has not been since the last visit of Mr. Couldock some years ago.--This really fine actor is especially happy in painting the wily cardinal. His ‘"make up"’, to use a stage phrase, is inimitable, and his acting is not surpassed by Forrest, or that rising star, Edwin Booth

Why slavery was actually good for the country

Nothing could be more preposterous, nothing more stupid, than the dogma that slavery is a curse to a country. On the contrary, the heaviest calamity that could befall any slave State on this continent, the greatest curse that an angry Providence could inflict upon the South, would be the destruction of its slave institution. The North ascribe its own rapid increase in population and wealth chiefly to the immigration of foreigners; and does so with reason. . . .It is from immigration that the North derives its chief want, its most exigent desideratum — labor, manual labor; dirt digging, soil tilling labor; the labor decreed against man by the curse of Eden; the labor that brings to his brow the dust and the sweat. . . . . Virginia contains half a million of life-time laborers, descendants of Ham. doubly decreed to service by the divine edicts pronounced against Adam and Canaan -- to service for life, service in perpetuity. Suppose that, by some fell decree every laboring immigrant in the North were suddenly swept from that stiff-necked land, who will estimate the thousand millions of loss that would be instantly inflicted upon all its busy interests? Labor, labor, is the jewel of great price in a nation's casket.-- Labor is the bread and breath of a State. Okay then. Now I’m all for it.

Good plan, O' wise confederates

The Commissioners of the Confederate States now here, feel no uneasiness in regard to the evacuation of Fort Sumter or the reinforcement of Fort Pickens, being fully satisfied in regard to both points, and are aiming to achieve a peaceful solution of the difficulties by a speedy withdrawal of troops from the Federal limits within the Confederacy.

Back when Republicans were all Democrats

I respectfully announce myself a candidate for the above office I am a southern-Rights man in every sense of the word, and against all Black Republican rule. I hope all Southern-Rights men will favor me with their votes on Wednesday next."

Nothing funny here, but these runaway slave notices are thought provoking

Ran away from our mill, in Henrico county, on the 4th instant, a Negro man named Ned. about 24 years old, of dark, gingerbread color, slender frame, about 5 feet 8 inches high, and downcast expression when spoken to. We will give the above reward of $20 if he is returned to us in this city. He is supposed to be in Charles City county. Now, what would he have to be downcast about?
. . .
Was committed to the jail of the corporation of the city of Norfolk, on the 2d day of January, 1861,, Negro Man Wm. Johnson. The said negro man is five feet three inches high, and weighs about 135 pounds; has one scar on right arm above his elbow; light complexion: about thirty years old. Had on when committed to jail. black cloth coal, black pants, glazed cap, and says he was born free, in Baltimore, Maryland. (Did we really need to know what he was wearing?)
. . .
Runaway from the subscriber, on Monday, 1st April., a Negro Woman, named Nancy, calls herself Nancy Werner. Said woman is about thirty-five years of age, rather above the medium size of women, light ginger-bread color, downcast look when spoken to, upper front teeth out, broad, full face, and finger next to the little finger on the left hand cut off at the second joint. She is supposed to be lurking about the city, as she has a sister living at the Clifton House, and some acquaintances living at Brackett's Tavern. She may have made her escape to Fredericksburg, as she came from that place, and has a mother living there. I will give the above reward, if she is returned to me in Richmond. How peculiar. Yet another downcast runaway slave. A little Prosac and we probably could have avoided the Civil War.
[F]or Hire, and Sale. Elizabeth is about 35 years of age; gingerbread color; has dark splotches on her face; bushy hair; catches in speaking: medium size, and is often drunk. She left on the 23d March,, with a small milk-can — had on dark calico dress and bonnet, much worn — suppose she is harbored on Shockoe Hill. A liberal reward will be paid for her delivery to me. Thank goodness they put the bit in about the milk carton

Now this reporter knew how to describe an accident

Mr. Anderson hurried out with his spectacles in one hand and a roll of bank bills in the other, and attempted to get aboard the first car. He caught hold of the railing of the rear platform of the first car with his right hand, and attempted to seize the iron railing of the other car with his left hand; but his left hand either slipped off or missed its grasp entirely, which caused his body to swing down between the two cars. The fall wrenched his right hand from its hold, and he fell across the inside rail. James Cole, the brakesman, was standing upon the rear platform of the first car when Mr. Anderson attempted to get on, and seeing him fall, made an effort to seize him, but before he could reach him Mr. A. had lost his hold and fallen beneath the ponderous wheels. Cole instantly sprang to the brake, which he put down with all his power, but with all the effort put forth by him and the engineer, the train moved some fifteen or twenty feet before its motion could be arrested.-- Mr. Cole describes it as the most terrible scene he ever witnessed, for he could see, as he tugged at the brake, the body of Mr. Anderson shoved along on the iron rail by the beam of the brake, which would not allow his thighs to pass under the wheel. As Mr. Anderson fell under the car Cole heard him cry out twice, in a loud, distinct, yet frightened tone, ‘"Hold on! hold on!"’ and then he was silent. He fell with his head and body lying between the two tracks, and his legs crossing the inside rail diagonally. His body was thus moved slowly along beneath, the crushing weight of the car a distance of fifteen feet, when it came to a crossing which caught it and fairly ground it under, and the two forward wheels of the hind car passed over his legs, and his head and body were crushed between the brake and the crossing.

Why we don’t eat things we find in a deserted house, you idiot

On Saturday afternoon a family named Stevenson, residing in a building on the Germantown road, Philadelphia, moved out of the house. Mrs. McGee, who occupied the lower portion of the premises, went up stairs with woman's curiosity to examine the vacated rooms, and was gratified at finding a package containing what she supposed to be saleratus. Being delighted with her prize, she immediately set to work to make up some bread, using the powder as freely as though it was what she supposed it to be. After the bread was baked Mr. McGee came home, and he and the wife, together with their son-in-law and daughter, named McVey, eat freely of the bread, and in a short time were taken violently ill. A physician was called in, who found the patients suffering very much, showing every symptom of having taken arsenic. The usual antidotes were administered, but they proved of no avail, as Mr. McGee died the next morning, and the wife died in the afternoon. The son-in-law and daughter are likely to recover. “Honey, I can't remember if we packed the arsenic when we left”.

I just loved the last line on this one

A child was recently born in Hempfield, Pa., having but one eye, and that situated in the centre of the forehead.--There was no nose, nor any appearance of nasal bones. The mouth was well formed, and where it should be. The ears were imperfectly formed, and situated on the cheek bones. The rest of the body was well formed.

When I was your age, I walked . . . .

Edward P. Weston, who lately walked from Boston to Washington in ten days, is considered to have performed a remarkable feat, but he was outdone in London in the year 1792, by one Powell, 58 years of age, who walked from the latter city to Shoreditch church, a distance of 344 miles, in 5 days 14½ hours, averaging about 72 miles a day. Weston averaged 47 miles.

Do not, I repeat, do not, try this at home

As the passenger train of the Fredericksburg cars was coming at full speed to this city yesterday, a negro, whose ticket had slipped from his hands, attempted to recover it by jumping out at Pols-Cat Station. He lit on some vulnerable part of his body, and was rendered insensible, in which condition he was brought to this city. He was not expected to live.

Who said only Indians like fire water?

During the month of March, the police arrested and caged in the 1st Station-House 62 white persons, 27 free negroes, and 66 slaves, and during the same period, at the 2d Station-House, 34 white persons, 20 free negroes, and 29 slaves. The primary cause which brought the parties in contact with the law, was whiskey.

Teenage Virgin Suicides (the prequel)

In Baltimore, Monday, Miss Margaret A. Moore committed suicide by taking poison. Antoinette Schwillingham, a German girl, aged fourteen, ended her life in the same city by drowning herself. I never understood how one drowns oneself on purpose.

Second Amendment,scheckond amendment; this gun they have to outlaw

Yesterday morning three guns left this city for Savannah. They were brought on the cars from Richmond, Va. The largest weighed sixteen thousand pounds.

He did, however, lose the race

The Marquis of Westminster, the richest Peer of England, having an income of $3,000,000 a year, recently, while riding in one of the parks, missed a button from his coat. He instantly dismounted, retraced his course for some distance, and searched until be found the missing article, expressing much satisfaction at its discovery.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Political Update for October, 2007

Presidential campaign

I promised not to write any more McCain articles, but I meant pro-McCain. This isn’t very positive.

First, let me say, “Oh, come on”.

Can't I have one, just one presidential candidate that I think is worthy of the office without watching them pander themselves to death? Or is our system so restrictive, so dominated by these two arthritic antipodal parties that no one can ever hope to capture a nomination without making the most cloying statements and absent the religious drapery?

Well, I guess I know the answers to those questions.

The reason for my outburst is the unseemly pandering by my still (amazingly) favorite candidate, John McCain. I put up with his kowtowing to the now late Jerry Falwell, by making an address at Liberty University, and I groaned when I learned he had become a Southern Baptist (gee, could it have anything to do with the liberal attitude his Presbyterian Church has developed towards gays and the political implications of that), but now, his statement that he prefers a Christian to any other religion in the White House just pushes it too far. Of course he does. So does probably 80-90% of the country if they were honest. And I don’t care about you, for example, feeling that way. But his saying so was undiluted pandering to the social conservatives who consider him a traitor to the party on immigration and campaign finance, even though he seems more conservative than any top tier candidate.

I know McCain came out later to say he would vote for a Muslim if he were the best candidate, and it was not quite as dramatic as this might make it seem, but the point was clear -- please, conservative Christian voters, I'm one of you, I’m one of you, not that New York guy. He’s not pro-life for crying out loud. Vote for me.

Oh, come on, John. Was the White House the price of your integrity?

It’s getting to the point where I will no longer trust you either, Mr. McCain. If you will pander this far to become president, you would pander just as far to get a second term. And that means pandering with power (I’d still vote for you. Hell, I voted for Bush and he can’t get an English sentence out). Keep pushing it and you may have the reverse problem from last time when you were popular with Democrats and independents but couldn’t win the nomination. You may win the primaries to find you can no longer win the general election.

Of course, it's not just McCain, it's all of these guys (and gal). Bill Richardson has gone from a moderate to an uber-liberal, and panders so often and deeply that he told an Iowan audience that Iowa was a terrorist target. If Iowa is, what isn't? North Dakota? Is anyone convinced that he would have said, or even thought that, were not Iowa's caucus so critical? If so, I know a rain forest in Iowa I'd like to sell you.

Then there's Rudy who is so desperately trying to hide his New York socially liberal side that he makes frequent incredible statements, including that 9/11 changed his mind about gun control. I don't care whether you are pro or anti gun control (I say everyone is pro-gun control - they just have different limits), you have to, have to, have to know that Rudy is PRO-GUN CONTROL. Are you still buying his impossibly contorted answers to how he feels about abortion?

One more comment on Rudy. I’m not a big fan of bringing families into the muck of politics but these guys all ask for it. This -- I love you, I love you too -- thing he has with his wife just creeps me out. First it was telling the world how she advised him on bio-weapons after 9/11 with her standing there nodding her head, then it telling us that she would sit in on cabinet meetings, then the whole secret about how they met, and now he’s taking her calls during speeches. If that was not pre-arranged nothing is, and although we will likely never know, I bet it was her idea and he couldn’t say no.

My opinion. She has some self esteem issues and he has to continuously pump her up and make her feel worthwhile or she gives him grief. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. He obviously is head over heels in love, because no sane candidate would have done what he did during a speech. Worse than the Gore kiss at his nomination.

My prediction. Rudy will start to dwindle sooner or later. Social conservatives are starting to realize their problems with him. More people are focusing on his personal life, his “9-11” mania, and it is only a matter of time before his problems as Mayor begin to be recognized.

I barely mention Mitt Romney in these posts, because he is so eager to say anything to please his hoped for voters, there are just no known limits. His Elmer Fudd, varmint hunter imitation earlier this year was all the more amazing because John Kerry had so publicly stumbled with it in the last election. Am I the only one who looks at him and sees a used car salesman? If there was a pandering award, he would win among Republicans (Richardson among Democrats).

It seems somewhat ironic that Giuliani, McCain and Romney are all pretending to be what Mike Huckabee actually is, a Southern abortion hatin’ gun totin’ devout Christian good ‘ole boy and the Republicans won’t give him enough campaign funds to fly from Little Rock to Washington if he won the election. Go figure.

Let me not leave out the front running Democrats. Hillary has just announced that she is in favor of giving every child born in America $5000. Is she kidding? That's BILLIONS, MANY BILLIONS of dollars a year. Is she merely signing her name to a giant virtual billboard screaming out DON'T WORRY. I'M STILL A SOCIALIST AT HEART or was this a mere momentary surrender to pandering fever? Maybe, as her staff quickly made it clear that this was not an official position (as if what the candidate says shouldn't be paid attention too -- they are just not responsible) and I am guessing, they hope it is quickly forgotten.

Obama is so desperate not to look like a French loving neo-liberal that he is prone to making hawkish sounding noises he couldn't possibly have a real interest in -- like attacking Pakistan and keeping troops in Iraq.

For debating purposes only, none of the candidates would be as much fun to watch as Mike Huckabee and Dennis Kucinich one on one. They are personable (MH the more so) and funny (DK the more so). Plus, they actually say what’s on their mind, which usually does one no good at all, at least during their lifetime. Compare that hypothetical debate to the stilted scripted one we are likely to get if Hillary Clinton and Rudy G, or any of the other automatons go at it. Yaaawwwwn.

Maybe Mike and Dennis should take a note from Gingrich (I’ll get to him) and get on the stage with someone from the other side of the aisle. They might even get some ratings. As of right now, who is actually watching these debates? I have given up watching them for more than a few minutes at a time. I had a laugh the other night listening to debate questioner Juan Williams make a comment about all the young people watching – was he kidding? What young people in this world did he think were watching that debate?

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned Fred Thompson yet, despite his high polling numbers. He will flame out. I am not even sure he will be here in February. And since he has said little but that he’s a conservative and a Republican, there is little to comment about.

Gingrich is another story. One of the few politicians in America who is always terrific to listen to you. I would never vote for him because he was too power hungry, too egotistical and too partisan when in office, and he hasn’t convinced me he has changed. Just now he has decided he will not run, supposedly because he can’t keep working with his American Solutions organization. He just figured that out? Newt is smart, and he may have realized, that no matter how much he would enliven debates, he couldn’t possibly win. He would not draw 10 % in any state but his own (and I’m not sure of that).

I don't know who I'm going to vote for, but I do know that, as usual, I don't want to vote for any of them. Good grief, that's how I ended up voting for Bush last time.

How to interview Ahmadinejad

Leave it to a college president to make Ahmadinejad sound reasonable about anything. Ahmadinejad was absolutely correct during his Columbia University speech that the fear of research into the holocaust is unlike our desire to have everything else investigated. We learn all about the womanizing and slaveholding of our forefathers, study our own quirks and perversions, spend billions on research, but this one topic, which raises such hackles among Jews and many other people, is considered out of bounds, unless you adhere to the approved story line.

I have heard too many times on tv last week that the holocaust is the most researched event in history. Maybe so. I wouldn’t know. But there are reputedly something like 60,000 publications on the civil war and I don’t know how many on WWII, Napoleon and the Bible. I don’t know from where the idea came that the holocaust is the most researched area. Moreover, I for one refuse to believe that holocaust research is the one area of human endeavor which has not been tainted by exaggeration, bias and outright fraud.

He is also right, regardless of how hypocritical he is, that it is wrong that people in Europe actually can and do go to jail just for questioning. That is not only an absence of free speech it is as insane behavior as found in the Islamic regimes which punish people for “insulting” Islam.

I understand what those who promote the holocaust are concerned about. They are afraid that if any holes are found in the holocaust story that it will be used politically against Israel and against Jews. I have a shocker for them. The people who will do so already hate Israel and/or Jews. Obviously, not having responsible research doesn’t work either. The same people already believe in The Protocols of Zion. When you close a door off to research or make one group of people “protected” from historical research you merely stoke the fires and create resentment. Bad idea. We should stop.

I suppose that some who read this would decide that I must like Ahmadinejad or would make one of those silly comments, like calling him “your friend, Ahmadinejad” or even call me a holocaust denier. Oh, well. There is no more reasoning with them than with him. Either deal with the muttonheads or keep my mouth shut.

Not for nothing, but what I wouldn’t give for a chance to interview Ahmadinejad. I would even shake his hand to get it and I hate the guy. Many presidents have shaken the hand, even hugged, far worst monsters than him. Television anchorpersons have no clue how to interview him. Here’s the trick. You just introduce the topic and let him talk – even seem to agree with him. We saw what happened when he got on the subject of gays in Iran. He was irrational.

The anchormen who have tried to interview him before failed because they were too busy playing lawyer against someone who will not grant any premise that might be controversial. Once a premise is not granted (e.g., have you said you want to wipe Israel off the face of the map?) there is little to follow up with. When that happens to a lawyer, he or she gets to whip out evidence of the premise from a deposition or document. Most interviewers don't get to do that (Tim Russert being an exception on Meet the Press).

If you must argue with him, just accuse him, don’t ask him if something you know he said or did is true or not. Let him deny away. You know who knows how to do it out of all the people on tv? Bill O’Reilly. He’s often not fair. Sometimes he even browbeats people into accepting his factual premise. But he understands how to do it.

Why Supreme Court Justices should stay off of tv

Clarence Thomas is loved by conservatives and hated by liberals. I masochistically read what these guys write, and whether his opinions are right or wrong, I believe he is the most consistent of all the justices in his jurisprudence. It’s impossible to be perfect, and no doubt his political views influence him.

However, just watching a few minutes of him on 60 Minutes (not my show usually) the other day, he reminded me of a bitter ex-lover or someone who was unfairly put in prison for ten years. Yes, his Supreme Court nomination was politics at its worst (and I still believe Anita Hill; I just don't think it should have been brought up). But, on the other hands, however good or bad you might believe he is, he was the least credentialed person to be nominated since Nixon was in office, with the possible exception of Bush's Harriet Miers pick, despite his Yale schooling.

Take this quote, for example: "My job is to write opinions. I decide cases and write opinions. It is not to respond to idiocy and critics who make statements that are unfounded . . . ". Well, he is right, of course, but sounds a little too bitter. Try watching a video of the interview. Oh, he’s bitter, all right. Even when he said the interviewer's name, angrily, in passing, I cringed.

His television appearance was brought about the publication of his biography. In it, he referred to some political opponents as “left wing zealots” or some such partisan and derogative terminology. That, of course, makes it easier for left wing zealots to claim that he is biased against them and not following the law. Guess he may have confirmed that for them.

The Supreme Court is the most secretive of political bodies. It must be to function, sort of like the only way Ozians could take the Wizard seriously was by not looking behind the curtain. While it would be good to know if someone has lost his or her mind on the court, or is acting unethically, the members have historically had a way of pushing someone aside when it becomes necessary. It’s rarely the problem.

Unlike secrecy in the administration or congress where we have a right (forget about national security issues for a minute) to know what’s going on with our democratically elected leaders, the court is supposed to be, at least in theory, basing its rulings on interpretation of law (stop laughing now). The court, as is well known, has little power of its own, just the authority that the other two bodies, the press and the people want to give it. And that has been worth a lot. Without respect, that would cease in a heartbeat. Let them see the human side of the Justices too much, respect will go out the window as fast as it does for a U.S. Senator who gets caught with his pants down in the airport men’s room.

Note to John Roberts. You can’t keep the members of the court off of tv if they want to go on, or from writing their biographies, but I would urge you to suggest to them, that C-span is appropriate for Supreme Court justices, not 60 minutes or Maxim Magazine, for that matter, and books on jurisprudence do more for the court’s all important image than tell-all bios.

Not suggesting censorship or bullying. And I have enjoyed recent debates on C-Span including or between Supreme Court justices. But, this was a lot like accidentally catching your parents in bed. Yccch. Just didn’t need to know.

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 . . . .