Friday, August 31, 2007

Online diary -The Home sale, part II

Online Diary: The Home Sale

Well, I thought my magical self-destructive powers had reached new heights when I learned that by putting my house on the market I had single handedly destroyed new homes sales in the U.S., those statistics being the worst in 15 years. But, apparently, my powers know no bounds. Now it has been announced that pre-existing home sales are the worst in 5 years. What next – people who buy homes will immediately suffer an electric shock?

I did have an open house a couple of weeks ago. The first day was much better than the second day. On Saturday I had, let’s see, 5, 7, 9, carrying the 1 – exactly two families look at my home in 5 hours. Again, for those of you who are slow – that was the busy day. Sunday, no one showed. Not one single homeseeker could get off their lounge chair on a beautiful day, get in their car and drive 5 minutes to look at my house. No rain, or major sporting event took place, just no people looking for houses, or my house, in any event. I had to have friends put their names on my sign in sheet so I would feel better about it.

And I did have an ad in Newsday last week, which brought about 5 more people to my door. But with the approximate $50 bucks a day charge, it may not be worth it.

Now, I have broken down and am choosing a broker. I get lots of calls from brokers who want to come see my house. For some reason, they won’t say they are brokers right off the bat. After a while you get the vibe and you ask them. Strange, but there must be a reason. Probably hearing "click" a lot has something to do with it.

The one I am likely choosing is rated the second highest on the island in the most successful brokerage house on the island. I don't take his word for it, of course, but the other brokers tell me that.

And then perhaps, I will have some trickle of potential buyers at least look, and make painfully low offers, IF I'M LUCKY. I’m going to try hard not to scream “You *&^*%6#, are you out of you %^#^$@ mind? Why don’t you just ask me to pay you to take my ^$&^%#@ house”. Then again, I just might.

I will let you know.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The fallibility of predictions

Predictions are problematic. The former Senator and presidential candidate, Gary Hart, once wrote that if you asked someone at the turn of the twentieth century to predict the next hundred years, you would have heard a lot about the Czar and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (I’m paraphrasing). He was correct in principal, and I have actually found proof of it.

In 1881, Henry Hartshorne, a successful physician closing in on 60, wrote 1931, A Glance at the Twentieth Century.

The premise is that sometime in the future some thoughtful person keeps a diary in 1931 where he records major events. He began thus:

“The contents of the following pages are taken from a diary, supposed to be written in 1931, by a gentleman of leisure and good opportunities for observation.

Should any reader be inclined to hold the editor and author responsible for what is thus recorded, be it remembered that very little is expressed concerning what ought to be; the chief purpose being to show rather what will probably occur.”

He died before the turn of the century and had no opportunity to see just how off he was in his predictions for 1931 (at which time he would have been 108 years old). For the most part, he wasn’t even close. Out of the dozens and dozens of predictions, he fared no better than those ballyhooed fortune tellers and fake mediums who make predictions around every new year in the newspapers. He only got a few right, and only one that seems prophetic (although not real important).

It makes no difference that these predictions were made for 1931 and not for an indefinite time in his future. There were a few predictions he made that came true later than 1931 and he should get credit for those too.

Here’s a list of only some of his many wrong predictions, written by him as if they had already taken place in 1931:

Queen and King of England were forced to resign and leave Britain. The House of Lords was abolished (that might happen some day) and the Church of England disestablished.

A motion was soon to be made in Congress to make Mexico a State. Cuba, Hawaii, Labrador, San Domingo, Greenland and three new States from Canada were already states. At least he got Hawaii correct. 1 out of 9 isn’t bad?

Instead of just D.C., our capital would be rotated among D.C., St. Louis and San Francisco.

There were 8 black Senators (there have only been three from Hartshorne’s day until now) and 15 “colored” congressman (the number is approaching proportionate to the population now, but not in 1931).

The creation of the United States of South America, which apparently did not include the kingdom of Brazil.

Spain annexed Portugal and became anti-Catholic, banning priests for 5 years.

But the Catholic Church does all right itself, pretty much absorbing the Orthodox Church and Church of England, with the Pope settled on as number one religious honcho.

France bought Alsace-Lorraine from Germany, which then cedes to it all of the Rhineland. He totally missed out predicting the Germany of the Kaiser and Hitler and foresaw a submissive one.

Austria, Brazil (both in name only), India and China are ruled by Emperors, and the Czar became something between a King and president.

However, some good news. The Communists lost the war in Russia at the turn of the century thanks to the loyalty of the free serfs. Too bad he was wrong on that one.

All the great powers agree to limit their armies to 50 thousand troops (well, they talked about it).

South African became a joint Dutch/English Republic.

Palestine was bought by three families of wealthy Jews, but, the Jews (obviously seeing the light) convert in large numbers to Christianity and even the remaining Jews debate accepting Jesus as the messiah. Apparently, the Muslims are not a concern in Hartshorne’s world.

Camels became common in our South West, the ostrich in South America
gazelle, springbok, oryx and kangaroo in Argentina.

Tennessee, Georgia, N. Carolina, Virginia and California have started growing tea and coffee, while Himalaya and Iran -- cocoa.

The American People became predominantly sober. No one would think of having more than a glass of wine (women a half) if any.

Tenement houses disappeared in New York and Boston forever.

Half the vegetables in Baltimore are grown on roofs.

The problems stemming from slavery disappear in two generations.

Mail transportation is by hydraulic tubes and people carry pocket-magneto electric lamps with them (this was before electrification, so, in his world, that would be an important invention).

Trains are powered by cable.

The “Tatars” invade Persia and a terrible war ensues.

Capital punishment was abolished worldwide except in Spain, Russia and Portugal.

Jails are no longer training camps for crime.

Now that I’ve had some fun with him, he did get some stuff right, like coeds, the Chunnel (off by decades, but close enough), Australia becoming a republic, some minority Senators and Congressmen, English becoming near universal, the United State’s citizens life span greatly increasing (although to 50, which seemed good to him), California and New York making competitive wines (and Missouri – oh, well), phone calls becoming cheap (also off by decades), African wars with Western weaponry, news viewable on building walls and color photographs. None of these are too impressive, and some fairly easy to predict. If the right predictions seem comparable in number to the wrong ones, note that I left many incorrect predictions out, so as not to bore you to tears. They all weren’t that interesting.

However, one prediction Harshorne did make was somewhat uncanny, even if not earth shattering.

At the time Hartshorne wrote there had been predictions of finding a new planet beyond Neptune for decades. Hartshorne not only predicted it would be discovered in 1931 (he was off by only 1 year) but also predicted that it might be named “Pluto.”  According to most sources, the name Pluto was suggested by a young girl (see my 4/5/07 post on Pluto). Perhaps she wasn’t so clever after all, or the story is apocryphal.

I make lots of predictions, many of them in these postings. Some come true, lots don’t. It’s not easy, as Hartshorne shows us, and he appeared to be a highly educated person. Hartshorne’s predictions may be his wish list in many respects – the advancement of peace, technology and Christianity. Most of the world seems destined to happiness except for Africa and the Near East.

Although he apparently did not intend it, Hartshorne’s poor and sometimes entertaining effort cautions us all against hubris in our predictions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rules of Civility

The Rules of Civility

George Washington was known to have copied over certain Rules of Civility as a thirteen year old. This is sometimes made to sound as if he had great insight and was foretelling his future character, but actually, the rules were old and well known, and many a young gentlemen learned them by rote, in class, as he did.

The rules were originally authored by Giovanni Della Casa, an aspiring figure in the Catholic church in sixteenth century Italy, based on classical research, including Plato and Aristotle. Il Galateo was published after Della Casa’s death. He could not have guessed at his creation’s survival and influence.

Il Galateo was frequently remodeled and translated into numerous languages. Primarily, its re-publication and use was by the Jesuits, who were busy schooling young nobility all over Europe. It was published in English for the first time in 1576 and later translations followed, with modifications being made at every opportunity. The edition young George learned from was Youth’s Behavior, or Decency in Conversation amongst men, was purportedly translated from the French by 8 year old Francis Hawkins in 1641. There is some doubt as to his achievement in that both his father and uncle were noted translators. Then again, the French was not that difficult (I can read it with a little help from a dictionary, which proves it's easy) and if he was bilingual, I don’t see why he could not have done it.

Manners, in the ideal, have not changed so much since young Francis Hawkins’ time. They are almost all recognizable as things we learn from out parents, although many of them are quaint and no longer apply. Although to some degree, these rules of civility are mostly given lip service nowadays, I expect that they have always been so to one degree or another. Even the rules about dealing with “superiors,” which makes up a large part of the rules, and possibly influenced Washington’s notable standoffishness as a general and president, have been internalized in us, at least by the time we are adults, although they are much tempered. For example, were we to take a walk with the president, we might not give him the wall as opposed to the street side, but we would probably be pretty deferential.

The following Rules stand out in interest for one reason or another, mostly because of their continued usage or need, but sometimes because of the differences between then and now. The Bold represents Washington’s notes and the sentence case my comments.


I think we can guess what they were getting at here, but frankly, ladies, sometimes men need to make “adjustments”. Of course, parts of the body that were usually “discovered” then were limited to the hands and face. We have much more leisure to “explore” nowadays without offending anyone, although “scratching” still gets raised eyebrows and snickering.


You can’t even get that kind of peace and quiet in a library these days. Noise is so prevalent in our society, that it sometimes drops into the background. Many of us would like to add to this rule – NOR SPEAK UPON YOUR CELL PHONE AS IF YOU WERE IN A PHONE BOOTH OR YOUR OWN ROOM.


We often see speculation these days of what the forefathers would do or think about certain situations. I expect that our dress would shock them most, particularly if a young woman in a bikini top walked past them.


So, nail biting was a big eye sore back then too. You have to wonder if that was a problem for George. Frankly, the thought of a young John Adams or Thomas Jefferson chewing away distractedly is quite amusing.


Once again, we learn the immortality of some human foibles. Probably this was a problem in Aristotle’s time as in ours.


Yes, absolutely, thank you for wiping the spit off my shirt. I’m not surprised that fleas and ticks were pests in George’s day, but who knew spittle was such a huge problem? How often did it happen that there had to be a rule about it?


So much for laughter is the best medicine. I guess what he was trying to say is misery loves company.


So, that means the stuff I read on magazine covers about Brad and Angelina every time I stand on the supermarket check out line may not be true? That’s ridiculous.


Well, there goes my whole wardrobe.


I thought the right to eat whenever and wherever we want is why we fought the Revolution.


Right, but because parents seem not to bother these days, feel free to yell at their kids.


I’m sure he meant to add . . . unless you are blogging.


Isn’t that 90% of conversation?


Proof positive that George Washington could not have been my ancestor.


Hmmm. These rules are for young men. What sinful recreations could they have been talking about?

I used as my text George Washington’s Rules of Civility by John T. Phillips, II (2005) which provides George’s note’s with a little editing (it was originally shorthand), Hawkins’ text and the French. Admittedly, as always, it all sounds much better in French. “Vous vous garderez de laisser aller avec paroles de la salive, ou du crachat aux visage de ceux, avec qui vous conversez” – meaning - be warned, my translation – “You should take care not to let go with saliva laden words or spit in the face of those with whom you are speaking”. See how much nicer the French is.

Here are ten modern rules of civility, which, not surprisingly, reflect my own pet peeves and which Della Casa could not have thought up.

1. Try not to answer your cell phone when you are with company. Keeping it off is even better.

2. If you must take a call because it is important, apologize before you take it, walk slightly away or outside and get off quickly.

3. Under no circumstances, simply away turn from someone you are conversing with and start speaking on the phone (I hate that).

4. If you are speaking on the cell phone and you run into someone you know, try and get off the phone and speak to the person you are actually with. Although sometimes business or emergency prevents that, most often, you can do it.

5. Crying babies do not belong in restaurants, stores and most importantly, libraries (this one has become my crusade).

6. When it is your turn at the cash register, don’t wait until you are rung up to take out your money, card or check book. We are busy too.

7. Do not drive like a mad person. You are frightening everyone.

8. Phone trees (“press 5 if you want . . . “) are a form of rudeness. Have a receptionist pick up the phone.

9. We don’t want to hear your music. Turn it down (off is better).

10. In a car, the driver controls the radio.

In time, these will need to change too. For example, we can expect to see if future lists:

1. When taking an alien to your leader, do not step on its tentacles.

2. Don't dematerialize in the middle of a conversation.

3. It's not polite to use laser pistols to cut your meat.

You see, the future is certain. We will still need help with civility.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The indefatigable Hugh Glass

It seems like no matter how much we hear about bravery we can never get enough. With so many people in the world, we frequently read or hear about people doing things so brave that it surprises and inspires us, and perhaps we imagine we would do the same thing in a similar circumstance.

Not likely. If that were so, courageous acts would be so familiar they wouldn’t impress us much. How many of us would have jumped onto the subway tracks last year and covered the fallen man who was having a fit? Or would have stood in front of the tank at Tianamen Square during’s China’s aborted student revolution?

When I have a problem, requiring about one billionth as much courage as stepping in front of a tank, I do think about people who have been more courageous than seems possible. I have some favorites, but some are fictional, and although invented stories seem to inspire in the same way, it shouldn’t really count as much.

Recently I wrote about Ed Rose, an early “mountain man” of enormous courage. Another mountain man, out of the many who seemed more than ordinarily courageous, stands out in a small select group. Hugh Glass made other brave men seem almost weak in comparison. Not a lot is known about him, and much of what is “known” is likely legendary, as is typical in this arena, but that alone doesn’t diminish his stature. Certainly enough of it is true. However, I caution that for almost every “fact” I give here, I have read another version somewhere else.

Glass was probably born in 1783, at the end of the Revolution War, although no one knows where. At some point, possibly 1816, and already long a seaman, he was waylaid by pirates and ended up fighting along side Jean Lafitte for a couple of years. At some point, possibly 1818, he escaped by swimming the few miles from Galveston Island, Lafitte’s fortress, to modern day Texas. Although he made it, he had put himself directly into the firing pan, as the country at that site was the home of an interesting Indian tribe, the Karankawa, known for cannibalism.

Somehow, he made it through that gauntlet, but then got captured by Pawnee Indians, with whom he lived for several years, eventually becoming a member of the tribe. Possibly, it was there that he learned how to survive in the wild. He learned to live off the land, fought alongside his tribe, and captured his prized Hawken rifle from a brave he killed from another tribe. He also reputedly killed a grizzly bear, no small feat even nowadays with modern weapons, and was celebrated for it.

After attending a conference on behalf of the Pawnees in St. Louis, he remained in civilization and enlisted to become a fur trapper. Glass was there for the famous Ashley-Henry campaign up the Missouri River in 1823, which I have written about in some detail a few weeks ago describing Ed Rose’s involvement.

Thus, Glass was present at the battle with the Arikara (also known as the “Arikaree,” ”Rickarees” or “Rees”) Indian tribe, and, although that was more Rose’s time to shine, particularly as a negotiator, at least some think that Glass and Rose together held off the Rees’ fire while the rest of the men escaped before swimming to safety themselves. It has also been reported that Glass was shot in the leg during the attack, and singled out by Arikaras who knew him as a Pawnee, but as he continued on the trek West, serious injury seems unlikely.

After the Arikara had fled before a joint trapper/U.S. Army/Sioux Indian force, the trappers headed into the wilderness. Glass, probably well over 40, and deemed an old man already, went off with a future hall of fame of trappers including a number who become legends themselves, including Rose, Jedediah Smith, William Sublette, David Jackson, Jim Bridger, and Tom “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick, under the leadership of Andrew Henry, one of the partners in the enterprise, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

During this trip, Glass had, as usual, separated himself from the rest of the crew, possibly to hunt. He was attacked and mauled by a Grizzly Bear. There are so many versions of this story, that it is very difficult to say what happened. Some versions have Glass killing the bear with his knife, others have him being rescued by the guns of his companions. Most, but not all, have the dead bear falling on top of him. The version of young James Clyman, who later wrote in abysmal English about his own adventures, including discovering (among Europeans) what would become known as Yellowstone Park, has him being rescued. Although he did not see the attack himself, he heard it immediately after from men who were there:

"Here a small company of I think (13) men ware furnished a few horses only enough to pack their baggage they going back to the mouth of the yellow Stone on their way up they ware actacted in the night by a small party of Rees killing two of thier men and they killing one Ree amongst this party was a Mr Hugh Glass who could not be rstrand and kept under Subordination he went off of the line of march one afternoon and met with a large grissly Bear which he shot at and wounded the bear as is usual attacted Glass he attemptd to climb a tree but the bear caught him and hauled to the ground tearing and lacerating his body in feareful rate by this time several men ware in close gun shot but could not shoot for fear of hitting Glass at length the beare appeaed to be satisfied and turned to leave when 2 or 3 men fired the bear turned immediately on glass and give him a second mutilation on turning again several more men shot him when for the third time he pouncd on Glass and fell dead over his body this I have from information not being present here I leave Glass for the presen . . . “.

Clyman never went back to talking about Glass although he clearly intended to do so. What happened after that is greatly disputed, and much of it had to come from Glass himself. The version here is composite, from many sources, and I have standardized it while leaving room for some alternatives.

Glass wasn’t dead, but he was probably in a coma. According to one account, he was carried on a litter for two days. Others say he was too torn up even for that. At some point though, it became necessary to move on quickly or lose more trappers to Indian attack, and two men, possibly volunteers, were chosen to stay with Glass and bury him when he died. One was Jim Bridger, a teenager who would outlive pretty much all the other famous mountain men, and John Fitzgerald. Although there roles have been repeated as fact over and over, even that is not a certainty.

Waiting several days for Glass to die, they either grew tired of waiting or were spooked by the thought of more angry Indians. They took his Hawken rifle and gear and left him next to the grave they had dug. They knew he was not dead, or they would have buried him.

Not only was Glass alive, but he would shortly accomplish what extremely few men could do while in good shape. Coming to, he found himself alone and without anything to defend himself, hunt or cook.

The first thing he had to do was set his broken leg. He was completely in the wilderness, and a few hundred miles from Fort Kiowa, the closest place for help. Distances from 100-300 miles have been suggested but 200 is likely closest to the truth. He set out by crawling on all fours, eating insects and berries to survive, traveling at night, and trying to avoid Indians and wild animals. He may have been able to fashion a crutch with which he could walk.

Two legends in particular seem to have grown out of the trek. The first, that Glass had to do something to cure the severe flesh wounds in his back. As always, versions differ. One has him rubbing his back on a log filled with maggots so that they would eat the dead flesh. Another has him passing out and waking to find another bear licking his wounds, and cleaning out the dead tissue. Both seem unlikely, sounding more like “tall tales” than history.

The second legend is that he fought off two or more wolves for a freshly killed buffalo. Again, only Glass would know, but it’s certainly not impossible for someone so accustomed to living in the wild and desperate to eat something.

Eventually, he made it back to the abandoned Arikara Village where he found some food. Some Sioux Indians found him there and brought him to their village. With the Sioux’ assistance, he made it back to Fort Kiowa, from whence the whole troop had set out, and restocked and re-armed himself. It was also likely they who helped heal him.

Once improved, he set off West again on his mission to kill the two men who had abandoned him and taken his weapons and supplies. On the way he and his company was attacked again by the Arikara, and rescued by some Mandan Indians. He was escorted to Fort Tilton and re-supplied there again. But he could not stay for fear of another Arikara attack. He moved on to Fort Henry, named for the team leader, who had built it so long before then in Montana that most of the other men in his troop were little boys at the time. Glass expected to find the two men who had left him for dead.

It was now winter, and he again lived off the land until he arrived at Fort Henry, only to discover that they had moved the fort further South. On he went and eventually, after covering hundreds of a miles, arrived. He announced that he was there to kill Bridger and Fitzgerald. Of the two, only Bridger was there, and one can only imagine his shock and remorse at seeing Glass alive. Still only a teenager, he abjectly apologized, which Glass accepted.

Glass spent the New Years’ at the new fort and then headed off to return to St. Louis, undoubtedly hoping to eventually find Fitzgerald, whom, he had probably confirmed with Bridger, had been the motivating force in leaving him in the lurch, and had joined the army.

Henry sent him out with four other men to go to St. Louis and report to Ashley, his partner. On the way, the Arikara attacked the small party and killed two of them. Two others beside Glass survived and got away. Glass survived and successfully hid himself. Again, left without firearms, he made his way back across country to Ft. Kiowa, where he learned that the two other survivors had reported his death. It was the second time everyone had thought him dead.

Glass now headed to Ft. Atkinson where he was told Fitzgerald was stationed. Traveling there, he again announced his attention. There is no report of Fitzgerald apologizing, or, if he did, of Glass accepting. However, Glass was told that if he killed a soldier, he would himself be hung. He got back his rifle from Fitzgerald, but no other satisfaction.

So, what is true and what not true? Impossible to say, but it appears as certain as one can expect that Glass was at the Arikara battle, was soon attacked and mauled by a grizzly while a distance from his group, and was left for dead in the wilderness, being forced, while near dead, to travel an inconceivable distance without any gun or knife or way to protect himself.

For about ten more years, Glass continued to trap and wander the West. These were the glory years of the trapping business, but Glass was no entrepreneur, as were some of his companions. In 1935 (putting him at about 53 years of age) out on a tramp with Rose and another, he was reportedly finally killed by the Arikara as was Rose. At least that was believed when some captured Arikara were found with his gun. The bodies were never recovered.

At his death, Glass was already a legend, more so in the Indian nations than among the Americans, having survived innumerable attacks from the Arikaras. As with many of the men brought to your attention in this blog, it is hard to understand why he is not as famous to us today, as is, say, a Kit Carson, or even Jim Bridger, neither of whose lives can really compare in terms of sheer adventure to Glass. One reason may be his spending so much time in the wild and not spending time with those would write or, as often happened, grossly exaggerate his feats.

Still, he has done better than Ed Rose, of whom almost nothing is ever written outside of the obscure history book. Several men have written Glass’s history. The great Indian popularizer John Neidhardt (Black Elk Speaks) wrote the The Ballad of Hugh Glass. I recommend John Myers Myers’ (duplication not a typo) The Saga of Hugh Glass. I have not read the more recent Bruce Bradley version, which, according to an review, has been admittedly embellished by the author. There has even been a movie, an episode on a television show (Death Valley Days narrated by Ronald Reagan) and a novel about him as well.

There is also a small park and plaque dedicated to him near Lemmon, South Dakota, near where he was attacked by the grizzly. It is quite picturesque.

Still, all told, it is not much and your neighbors will not have likely have heard of this amazing man or know what he accomplished and survived.

If Hugh Glass could look down from heaven or the happy hunting grounds, I doubt he would care who has heard of him. And even if you came to visit him, he’d probably go off and camp somewhere else.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On line diary - the home sale

Day 1

Put out the sign today. For Sale by Owner with my phone number.

No knocks. No calls.

Signed up with and last night.

This morning craigslist knocked me off.

How do you get knocked off craigslist? There are people showing you their private parts in full color and close up on craigslist who don't get knocked off.

I amaze myself.


Its potpourri day

Housing market

I know that from time to time other people have written stories like this, but they were stories. This is true.

First thing is, I must apologize to, I guess, the world. For years I have been telling people that if you want to see the housing market collapse, just wait until I sell. A year or so ago, when I first announced I was going to move in the near future, the market stalled. With my a week away from being on the market, it was announced – that it had pretty much collapsed. Worst market in 15 years. Oh, I’m good. Sort of like a prosperity hex.

It is no surprise to me. I like to say that if you could break air I would have suffocated as a child. My ability to control (read – destroy) the markets has been too well established to quarrel with. But, don’t worry, we are always told that the market will eventually come back up, but it was a bubble and had to burst. I know it was a bubble, but I wanted to TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BUBBLE.

So, do you want to know when the values will go back up? Definitely not until I sell my home at an excessively low price, hopefully soon. Just wait until I am ready to buy another home, which I will announce here, and watch the market take off like Secretariat on a fast track. Then you will see a bubble like you’ve never seen before – until I am ready to sell again.

Blog theft

I steal the following from The Dilbert Blog, because its fun. About two months ago the author, Scott Adams, decided that anyone can be funny if they tried to come up with famous last words.

He gave a few examples of his own, which were fairly funny. Here were my two favorites:

“You have a secret room under your house? Cool. I’d love to see it.” and “Green Zone shmeen zone. I’m going put on my kilt and walk to the market.”

However, when he invited many of his readers to try, they proved him wrong -- there is a huge difference between funny people who can write one of the all time great comics like Dilbert and the rest of us. Most of the suggestions were just terrible. Here are some of my attempts:

“You have to let the gas build up a bit before you strike the match” (these were actually almost my real last words at age 19).
“Don't worry. They are more scared of us than we are of them.”
“Don't worry. The government wouldn't let us do this if it wasn't safe.”
“Don't worry. They love Americans.”
“Don't worry. These things fly themselves.”
“Those "don't eat after" dates are just to get you to buy more of their stuff.”
“Great space man costume, dude.”

You can rag on these if you like, but only if you provide your own, and they are actually funny.

Israel v. Harry Potter

A few weeks ago the last Harry Potter novel came out together with a slew of news stories about it. My favorite was the threat from an Israeli government official against stores selling the book on the Sabbath. As far as I know, nothing came of it, but that’s the kind of thing, if it got out of hand, that would make me turn tail on Israel like Lieberman on the Democratic party.

So, I was relieved today to read of the Israeli police actions to evict settlers from the West Bank. The settlers prove they are no different than those Palestinians who hurl stones at the police. That’s exactly what the settlers did. The police were gentle with them. Frankly, I think they should have used the same tactics they used against Palestinians including rubber bullets and bull dozers.

Israel needs to unilaterally give up all West Bank settlements. If there is a national security issue in one or more spots, let it be known and it can be negotiated, but short of that, they all must go.

Did I stray from Harry Potter. Sorry.

How low can you go?

Speaking of Democrats, I have been waiting for the most cloying, pandering act or statement of the campaign. I thought my own favorite, McCain, had it wrapped up for his early kowtowing to Jerry Falwell, culminating in an onstage hug, in a pathetic and failed attempt to get in the religious rights’ good graces.

But McCain has been out dueled, it seems, by the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, who, desperately trying to get into the race in Iowa, told an audience that Iowa was a likely terror target and needed more federal money.
I guess we could cut him some slack by agreeing that it certainly would jack up food prices if Iowa was hit by a nuclear bomb, but last I looked, Iowa had a population of less than three million spread over more than 50,000 square miles. Even if they hit Des Moines with a nuclear bomb, it would cancel out a few hundred thousand lives, and livestock. Without minimizing how horrid that would be, and financially devastating. I would think terrorists would rather wipe out a few million in one blow, and kill America’s financial center, than blow up our cows.

But that wasn’t the worst thing to hit the Democrats this week. They have not managed to accomplish all that much since taking over congress (a party still needs to be able to muster 60 votes in the senate to do so), but one thing they did do was get legislation passed shining light on the earmark process, so that we could know who it was who was putting these local spending deals into legislation.

Now we know. For right now, the bad guys this legislation was designed to uncover looks suspiciously like the Democratic leadership including the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, the majority whip, Steny Hoyer, and the king of them all (more than twice the next person’s score), John Murtha, who managed to get over $163 million dollars headed his way, according to a recent New York Times article.

If the Democrats wanted to prove to the public that they are every bit as corrupt as the Republicans, whom they campaigned against on a promise of higher ethics, they have done so. The Times’ article With New Rules, Congress Boasts of Pet Projects (August 4, 2007) points out that the Democrats’ spoils were less than half that of the Republicans’ 2007 total (which I haven’t personally corroborated), but this is with the lights turned on. Imagine what they would have done if they were still off. Republicans, however, have argued that Democrats are simply refusing to call earmarks “earmarks” in some cases.

Republican debate

Watching the latest Republican debate the other morning, I had to acknowledge that Rudy Giuliani seems to have strongly pulled away from the field in terms of communication, followed by Mit Romney. Giuliani’s poll numbers are not overwhelming. In fact he is only roughly (using RealClear politics combination of polls) 7 points ahead of Thompson, who hasn’t announced, and only 13 points up on McCain, who is all but written off.

What he is, now that he seems to have conquered Republican fears of a pro-life candidate, is the calmest, best debater in the field. I can’t agree that John McCain looked old, as I keep seeing in articles, but he seemed to be reading his bona fides, where Giuliani was scoring points.

Rudy is a real problem for me. Before he dropped out of the 2000 New York Senate race, I was prepared to not vote for either him or Hillary. Now, of all the people in the field on both sides, he is probably closest to my personal policy preferences, but I can’t get past my image of him as the closet prosecutor who will swat away all in his path. Wish he could convince me otherwise. Otherwise, I may get the same opportunity twice.

The Reporter who . . . I’m sorry. I’m confused.

So, Michael Vicks accused of cruelty to animals, is suspended from football, and lost all his endorsements.

A commentator on a sports television show, Paul Zeise, made the observation that Vicks got in more trouble for animal abuse than he would have if he had been accused of raping a woman. The social commentary was meant to point out that people get more worked up over cruelty to animals than people. Not a bad commentary, and, considering that many people believed Kobe Bryant, and that he was not punished as severely for being accused of rape as Vicks is for being accused of brutality towards dogs, it is a well taken point.

Naturally, in our wacky world, the television station apologized for airing the show and announced that Zeise would not be invited back. Zeise, and his main employer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, apologized.

Who were they worried he was offending? Rapists? No, obviously not. Women? No, that doesn’t make sense – if anything he was supportive of female victims. Hmmm. People who care more about animals than humans? No. Wait – yes. YES!

If Michael Vick is guilty, what he did is hideous and I believe he should be punished with jail time. Just because animals aren’t human doesn’t mean we shouldn’t punish people for extreme cruelty to them.

Zeise may have been wise to apologize for business reasons. Opinions get you fired in his business regardless of how well founded they are. If a significant group of people demands an apology, or you even think they might, quick thinking people apologize deeply in order to get past it. Imus did not get past it because of his history of saying similar things.

We now have a society where politicians and media figures have to apologize for silly things. In fact, the apology must be unconditional and appear heart felt or the media and our society will make you do it again and again. Apologizing is smart business, but not admirable when it is meant merely to deflect criticism. I like the few people who stand their ground and refuse to apologize.

It is easy for me or someone like me to say when our living is not at stake, but it has just gotten ridiculous. I still remember George Bush I having to apologize to Detroit autoworkers because he made a kind remark to Russian autoworkers on a trip. John Kerry was forced to give a half hearted apology for his badly told joke about who gets sent to Iraq before the 2006 election.

So which candidate will be forced to apologize first for something that is either not his or her fault, or is completely misconstrued? Maybe they are actually getting tougher. Romney recently refused to apologize for standing next to a supporter who held a sign linking Obama and Clinton with Osama. And Obama refused to apologize for bitter words from former Clinton friend, David Geffen. If politicians will at least stop apologizing for things they had no control over, many of us will be very happy.

But earlier this year (seems like last year this campaign is so long), John Edwards held off apologizing for some language by two of his campaign bloggers on their own blogs. He refused to fire them although it was made known that they would have to hold their tongues to some degree and one, at least, resigned.

Eventually, someone will get caught saying something stupid. Or their staff person will make a mistake or turn out to be a pederast or a KKK member. It has to happen.

Barak’s blunder?

Was it a blunder for Barak to say that if he had actionable intelligence telling him where Osama was in Pakistan, and Musharraf could not act, he would? Although his sudden hawkishness seems a little forced, he has been put in the position of having to prove to some people that he is all-American, and not a closet Islamic extremist (or even a Muslim for that matter) so he deserves some leeway.

Then again, a review of his original statement and his defensive remarks during the recent Democratic debate, shows he either forgot what he said (showing it was probably not a strongly held belief) or was backing off.

It so happens, if what he meant, at least, was that America should go after Obama wherever he is, if the host country, whether an ally or not, can’t get him or won’t do it. I am not surprised that the other Democratic candidates say it was a blunder, because they are trying to knock him off stride in his campaign, but I am surprised that right wing talk radio is bashing him for it as well.

We have gone into Mexico a few years ago and yanked out an accused killer. Mexico didn’t like it. Personally, I thought it was too much. But that was a garden variety murderer. We are talking about Osama. He’s worse than Goldfinger, for crying out loud, and the British Secret Service sent Bond to the good old U.S. to do whatever it took to get that baddie and no one complains (so, pretend its not a movie). Of course we should do this if Musharraf can’t or won’t. And Musharraf should cover our back. We are really the only powerful friend he has.

Book Report

I haven’t read a lot of fiction in the past few years, although I just read Martin Cruz Smith's Stalin's Ghost, and quite enjoyed it. I am pretty much stuck on my few Octogenarian British authors, and a few other old timers. These are my guys (no girls unless you count Harry Potter’s author, J.K. Rowling, but she is not my favorite:

Charles MacDonald Fraser – author of the amazing Flashman series and a number of other excellent books. I am still looking forward to his reputedly outstanding WWII biography.

John Mortimer – Author of the always fun Rumpole of the Bailey series. I am not sure which of these two British subjects is older, but it has to be close.

David Lindsay – In my mind, possibly the best serious mystery writer in America. His Mercy was one of the most powerful and sexual (which usually are a turn off for me) books I can remember. Almost everything he writes is gold, although I get the feeling lately that he dumbed down his style a little to sell more books. Probably what I would do, but I would hope for more from him.

John Forsythe – The author of The Odessa File, The Dogs of War and Day of the Jackal has never written other than a gripping book. Another Britisher and long in the tooth too.

Lawrence Block – this guy has written dozens of great books, and has had three successful series – Matt Scudder novels, The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep (Evan Michael Tanner) series and The Burglar (Bernie Rhodenbarr) series. Other than his A Small Town, virtually a porno novel, I have loved everything he has written, and that’s over something like thirty years.

Martin Cruz Smith – His mystery series based on the grizzly and determined Russian investigator with a heart, Renko Arkady, never misses.

Arturo Perez-Reverte – A Spanish journalist who has written some of the best novels of the decade, mostly European, and often involving swashbuckling topics. I highly recommend The Seville Communion, The Fencing Master, The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas if you want to give him a try. Sort of like superior Dan Brown novel. His latest series of novels concerns a Spanish swordsman, Captain Alatriste, which unfortunately falls flat for me. Likely they will be his most successful work.

Steven Pressfield – Author of a number of fascinating books on ancient topics. Gates of Fire, on the battle of Thermopylae was riveting as was Last of the Amazons. Also fascinating was his popular success, The Legend of Bagger Vance, which, unbeknownst to almost everyone, ostensibly about golf, is actually a cool take off on an ancient Hindu holy work, The Bhagavad Gita.

Robert Parker – Like the Harry Potter books, it is hard to find one of his Spencer novels where there is a paragraph greater than one sentence these days. But he and Hawk have still got it, as they never stop reminding us in their reparte. Parker has a few other series going, but I can’t get into them.

Robert Crais – Possibly the youngest of my favorite writers. A spectacular writer out on the West Coast, I love his stories and his characters. There is nothing that is not derivative here, but he does a good job.

I’m done. Read a book tonight.

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 . . . .