Friday, February 29, 2008

Political update for March, 2008

I’m a little excited by the election so I’m double posting this week. Perhaps that is inevitable when you watch cable news round the clock everyday (I'm multi-tasking, I assure you). Here, politics, below mountain man.

Political hypocrisy

Sometimes I say that I watch politics for the hypocrisy. I am constantly amazed, not only at the irrational behavior and thought processes of otherwise smart people when it comes to politics. Not only am I amazed by the hypocritical or plain ridiculous things politicians say, but I am just as perplexed by the things people believe.

Here are my rules for partisanship that apply to any party, because once you identify with a party or movement, excepting a few, you are de facto silly.

All facts claimed by the other side are suspect (unless they inarguably support our position).

When you are in agreement with the other side, they have a bad motive, while you have a good one.

One historical fact on your side is worth one hundred on the other side, and two hundred if it involves one of the forefathers.

The opposition secretly hates America and lacks patriotism.

The *&%&^*@$% other side is just plain hateful.

It is the good fortune of my party that not only are we always right on policy, but also morality, regardless of the fantastic coincidence necessary for this to be true.

We will win because God is on our side.

The other side doesn’t believe in God and acts in opposition to God. We know. We have a pipeline straight to God.

When we lose, it is because of our adversary’s unfair tactics, having nothing to do with God.

Making fun of the personal characteristics of the adversary is just good, tough politics. The opposition makes fun of the personal characteristics of us, because they are just plain mean.

Wars started by a president in the opposition party are good, no matter what. Wars started by a president in our party are bad, no matter what.

The constitution must be read strictly, or reasonably, depending on which results in the correct result. "Strictly," “Reasonably” and "Correct result" all mean "interpretations that favor our party". Another way to put it is, the constitution must be interpreted in a way that favor our party, or, in a way that favors our party, depending on which interpretation favors our party.

Any one racist, angry, stupid or generally unloveable member of the other party can be used as the representative for the other party. A racist, angry, stupid or generally unloveable member of our party, is just that, one member. To generalize otherwise would be unfair.

The overwhelming evidence is that the other party commits the most fraud.

When one of our party is charged with a crime, it is because of overreaching by the prosecutor, and there is a presumption of guilt. When one of the other party is charged with a crime, they are guilty.

Those in our party who try to compromise with the other side are traitors.

Being moderate is worse than being an extremist for the other side.

We argue tough but civilly. They argue weakly and rudely.

When a forefather said something that supports our policy, it is authoritative. When it supports their policy, it is only one voice out of many.

The other party can best be described as a watered down version of any one of the most reviled parties in history (Nazis, fascists and Communists being favorites although the Know Nothing and Roundhead parties are good for a little pseudo-intellectual blather).

Trying to win makes people do dumb things.

When you are behind, you have to try and do something that takes down your opponent. This is true with minority parties in congress and candidates for offices. Since politics is hard, and your opponent won’t cooperate, this often makes people do dumb things.

One example of laughable hypocrisy in this election season was committed by Hillary Clinton during and following the last debate. During the debate, Clinton complained that Obama only “denounced” the words and person of a well known anti-Semite who was supporting him. She insisted that he must not only “denounce” but also “reject” him. This drew groans from the crowd. Obama apparently enjoyed stating that if Senator Clinton thought “rejecting” was stronger than “denouncing” he was happy to “denounce and reject” him which got cheers. Looking every bit the fool, Clinton could only say “Good” overenthusiastically, as if she had won the point. I’m sure her staff told her she did.

But that wasn’t the silliest part. Two days later, when asked about a follower who rejected Obama because he was “black” and whether she “denounced and rejected her” Clinton could only say that the supporter was entitled to speak her mind. I heard, but did not see later, Clinton finally get the hint, and denounce and reject this supporter.

A bit of Republican nonsense since the 2006 elections included repeated vociferous attacks by Republicans on the majority Democrats that they wouldn’t let legislation be debated by what is called open rules, as promised by the Democrats should they win the majority (which open rules would allow the Republicans to tie up or destroy the Democrats’ legislation). They also complained of billions of dollars of pork barrel spending in the proposed bills (if you don’t know what it is, look it up). Once in a while, one of the Republicans would cringingly admit that they never allowed open rules and were twice as bad as the Democrats in pork barrel spending when they were in the majority.

Moderation and civility

There is something in the air this time, and my natural cynicism tells me it isn’t going to last. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, as McCain is certain to do with the Republicans, then the two most civil candidates (who had any shot at all) won. That’s rare. McCain is known to reach across the aisle. Obama, already painted as very liberal (by liberals too) has tried to portray himself as being willing to listen to anyone (including America’s enemies). Both candidates state that they are intending to be civil in their campaigns (it didn’t sound like it to me yesterday in a back and forth exchange of television clips).

I’m a big fan of civility. Not everyone is. They feel that if they press hard enough, they will win (because God is on their side and they are just plain right) the other side will be destroyed (as Rush Limbaugh put it recently, McCain did not understand that “liberals are to be defeated”). Funny, but in over 200 years of government, one side has never defeated the other completely and eternally. Even where a party disappeared (like the Whigs) it would be replaced by another party, usually more extreme (like the Republicans).

Still, partisans do know that exciting your base (other partisans) is often more important than making your enemy happy.

This time, though, I feel that the deciding force will be independents, and they general like civil, moderate exchanges.

Now, we have been told that ". . . extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! . . . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue! (Barry Goldwater). Most often, civility leads to a change in ideas. That's true, but extremism to win power or an argument is just destructive. Moderation is usually a virtue. If you don’t think that your speaking civilly adds to your chances of persuading someone, you probably believe in the rules I listed above (whether you know it or not).

I wonder if McCain will disappoint me by going negative. I recognize it is also possible that talk radio can be so unlovely (such as by constantly repeating Obama’s middle name, as if he prays 5 times a day to Mecca and can't wait to have caviar with Ahmadinejad) that I might need McCain to “denounce and reject” some people he can’t afford to offend, just as he did in 2000. Unfortunately for McCain, I do believe that if Rush says stay home, many conservatives will think they decided to stay home on their own. Then again, getting upset at a bunch of harmless cranks is pretty silly too. Sometimes hard though. Remember when a little kid just repeats everything you say. You don't want to get mad, but . . . .

Leaving all this aside, this has been a remarkably civil campaign so far (don’t listen to the idiots I listen to on tv – they need to make it exciting). As far as I am concerned, may it remain so.

Sometimes, someone is just better

I think that is the case with Obama this time (although I am forced by my own ridiculous rules to stick with my Clinton is going to win the nomination prediction). He is just a better campaigner than she is. He has a great voice. She has a terrible voice (for the last time, don’t raise your voice EVER!). He is tall and attractive. She is a short middle aged woman with some heft. He doesn’t seem to be attacking anyone, although he will fight back. She, at least lately, seems to be relentlessly attacking him. He is relaxed. She seems artificial. He looks graceful when he dances. She should never dance. He makes inspiring speeches (and actually writes some himself). She makes strident woggish speeches that could put a coke addict to sleep.

Are you listening, Senator Clinton? He’s just better at this than you. It happens.

By the way, the two of you -- I don’t know what is more embarrassing – Hillary’s slipping into a Southern drawl when down South or Obama jive talking to a black audience. Come on, folks. Next, McCain will be shouting “Yeeeee, doggies” to a Texas gathering.

All that being said, and although I wrote the above as if Obama will win, I am one of those few who thinks that Hillary Clinton might not be done, although all those delegate counters and polls tells us she should be. I stick with my underdog pick for her, against most reasonable analysis and the odds. Why, because she is now the underdog, and we love underdogs, don't we. We might know in a few days.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

King of the West

Every once in a while I feel the urge to write about one of my favorite topics, the mountain men, that short lived phenomena of tough fur trappers and explorers who wandered the West, exploring the country for Americans after Lewis & Clark blazed the first long narrow trail across it. A few started out in a trickle in L&C's wake, but their glory years were the 1820-40s, after which large numbers of prospectors, business men and families began to fulfill the idea of manifest destiny.

I came to the subject backwards, first reading in law school (in lieu of concentrating on what I was supposed to be reading) a biography of John Fremont, who made three long expeditions throughout the wilds of the West, and popularized his trips and himself in his books, along with making a heroic figure out of Kit Carson (a decent soul and decent mountain man, but, despite his fame, not one of the greats in my humble opinion). Fremont's father-in-law, Thomas Benton, a U.S. Senator from Tennessee, was Mister Manifest Destiny himself.

Like many biographers, the author loved his subject, and played some of which I have otherwise learned about Fremont, including, his running away from a battle in California, his court martial when he returned East, and his bizarre generalship during the Civil War. But the most important thing I got out of the book was the obvious fact that there were any number of men who were out West long before Fremont, men who were Fremont's guides, including the subject of this little piece, Joseph Rutherford Walker, or just Joe Walker, or Cap'n Joe Walker, in my mind, the King of the Mountain Men, although he is pretty much completely forgotten today except for a river, lake and mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada. In fact, if you looked him up on the web, you would more often see his middle name as Reddeford, a misspelling (although the error long preceded the digital age).

Why the King? Not because of any one shoot out, or glorious event, although there were more than enough battles and exciting moments. But because of his longevity (most of the famous mountain men died or left the West quite young), the belief by many that he was the most knowledgeable of the explorers and guides, particularly in the huge area known as the great basin, and the fact that although he led hundreds of men and later women, probably far more, and lost but one or two, whereas others lost most or significant amounts of their charges, particularly in the earlier days. Few doubted at the time, that the safest place to be in the wilds was with Joe Walker.

The usual rules apply when dealing with mountain men. It is hard to know what to believe and always there are holes you could drive a wagon train through in their histories, as unless they were with someone who recorded their adventures, it was lost or, the opposite, greatly exaggerated. The former is especially true of Walker (who fortunately played a role in a few memoirs or books) as he was known for his reticence, his particular reluctance to talk to reporters, and his refusal to participate in the dime novel rage which would have made him immortal. Almost nothing we know comes from him directly. Actually, he did start writing a biography, but lost it fording a river. After that he determined not to rely on his memory and possibly give false impressions about his life. He felt there was too much of that.

Walker's family was one of the great Scotch-Irish frontier families constantly pushing the borders West. At one point they settled in Southern Virginia not far North from where I live, near present day Lexington, Virginia. When Walker was still a relatively young teenager (he was born in December, 1798, when Washington was still alive and Lincoln would not be born for over ten years), he went with his older brother, Joel, also quite a frontiersman, but one who settled down early, to fight with General Andrew Jackson in one of the most famous and bloodiest battles with Indians in the Eastern U.S., leading to the destruction of the Creek Indian Nation as a power (1814). Ironically, the Creek Nation was also the name for Walkers' settlement in Virginia. For the sake of history, I have to add that there is no definitive evidence Joe Walker was with Jackson, although there is for his older brother, but it appears more than likely he was present along with many others of the Walker clan.

Around 1818, some of the family along with family and friends went further West to what at the time was the furthest Anglo-American outpost from the East, Missouri.

In the early 20s Joe and his brother, Joel, began traveling along and helped shape what would become the Santa Fe trail to New Mexico. Without definitive evidence (there just aren't records) but based on the solid information known, he was one of among a small group of men involved in laying out the historic trail. He would not have been the leader yet though. The issue is very shadowy due to the loss of records, although his close family certainly believed he was in New Mexico as early as 1820.

One story from this era prefigures Walker's future. Traveling on the trail in 1823, Joel Walker was stranded when Indians stole his horses. They also had men missing along the way. A figure came riding out of the distance. At first, Joel thought it was another Indian, but there appeared his long haired and Indian garbed brother, Joe, to the rescue. Returning from New Mexico he had followed signs indicating their were Americans in trouble. It would be far from the last time.

After years of trading along the trail, the family then helped in founding Independence, Missouri, then the furthest point West. The 6' 4" Joe Walker became the town sheriff in 1827. Records only show him in three altercations, none involving a gun. Besides, there were no rapid firing pistols yet. It is likely that Walker's size, considered quite large even now and certainly larger then, would have intimidated most likely agressors anyway.

However, he was soon back to being a trader and guide for those venturing out West. By then the fur trade was in full swing, beaver hunters traversing throughout the country.

In the 30s, Walker met the mysterious explorer (military spy?) Lieutenant Benjamin Bonneville, who would later be lionized by the great writer, Washington Irving, in a number of books. Somehow, Walker became the fall guy in the relationship according to Irving, to help explain away Bonneville's failed missions. Supposedly at the end of the relationship, again according to Irving, Bonneville chewed out Walker and sent him slinking back to Missouri. However, all the other evidence including a number of written evidence and memoirs indicates nothing of the sort happened. In fact, although Walker often disagreed with Bonneville's plans and split off from him, they parted friends, and even saw each other again the next year. There is no indication at all from Bonneville himself that he was anything but greatful for Walker's help. Unfortunately, for Walker, Irving's works remained well known. Still, it does not appear that historians take it seriously.

It was in the 30s that Walker began to be known as Captain Walker. It was nothing official or military. It was just that he was the boss. Zenas Leonard was among Walker's men for a while during this time period. He left what is in my mind the best mountain man memoir, full of honesty about his own fears and problems, Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard. He describes Walker this way:

He was "well calculated to undertake a business of this kind. He was well hardened to the hardships of the wilderness -- understood the character of the Indians very well -- was kind and affable to his men, but at the same time at liberty to command without giving offense -- and to explore unknown regions was his chief delight."

Through Leonard, we get a great deal of our information about Walker's great explorations. George Nidever, another one of Walker's men and a reknowned rifleman, similarly wrote of Walker: " He was one of the best leaders I have ever met, a good hunter and trapper, thouroughly versed in Indian signs and possessed of good knowledge of the mountains. He could find water quicker than any man I ever met".

While split off from Bonneville in 1933 (according to Irving, against orders) Walker explored the Great Basin surrounding the Great Salt Lake and through Bonneville, who made a map based on Walker's description, was able to rule out the existence of a river leading from The Great Salt Lake to the Pacific, which had long been sought.

However, Walker was determined to find an easier way through the mountains to the California, finally succeeding after a terrible month through the pass that later bore his name. Despite extreme hardship Walker managed to do so while losing none of his men. In the famous trip made by mountain man Jedediah Smith in the 1820s, he lost 26 of his 32 men and was taken prisoner for a while.

During this exploration, Walker faced a tough battle, as he and his men were surrounded by angry Indians after some of their tribe were killed by some of Walker's men (behavior which, according to Leonard, Walker angrily suprressed once he learned of it). Walker, it seemed, would always rather talk peace than fight. The men formed a quick barricade and Walker put his riflemen up front and had them demonstrate the power of their rifles. The Indians appeared to be more afraid of the noise than the effect on the ducks that were shot. When this did not deter the tribe, the men killed dozens of them, finishing them up with bow and arrow.

During this trip, it appears that Walker discovered Yosemite Valley, although there is also other evidence that he may have just camped near it.

Although the men under him suffered privations for over a month, they agreed at the end that due to the wonders they had seen, it had all been worth it. And, again, he lost no men. At one point, when mutiny was approaching, he told those who wished to leave to feel free, but they could take no supplies with them. It worked. Instead, they ate their horses.

When they reached California, the men were treated to the greatest meteorite shower in recorded history (11/12/33 - paintings done of the event make it seem as if it were literally raining meteorites) which terrified all but Walker (he really seemed unflappable); and were amazed to see a beached whale and Indians growing pumpkins, melons and squash. Unlike his predecessor Smith, Walker made sure he got an introduction to the authorities and, rather than being treated with suspicion, was offered 30,000 acres of his own if he would settle there. He ruled it out due to his love of travel. He was also offered a wife by a local Indian tribe, but turned that down as well.

Walker continued gathering fame and respect during the 30s and 40s as a guide. Often he is described as celebrated or famous, although we have now long forgotten him. He was unusual in a number of respects. Unlike those few famous mountain men who were not killed by Indians or bears while still young, or who settled while young in one area, Walker continued to explore and guide for decades. Caravans heading West sought him out. Sometimes they were frustrated that he refused to move on until they were well supplied while others passed by them, yet he always got his charges where they were going safely, and sometimes had to rescue the groups that had moved ahead of them without foraging or hunting first.

Walker made friends with many tribes, although particularly the Snakes (a Shoshoni tribe). He also made friends with the terror of the Great Basin, an Indian who specialized in kidnapping and horse thievery by the name of Walkara. After they met, Walkara even took to calling himself Walker or even Joe Walker, which led to a little confusion. Supposedly Walker endeared himself to Walkara by returning his kidnapped wife and children to him. This was not unusual for Walker as he seemed often to buy or otherwise obtain kidnapped woman and children and return them to their families.

Walker himself married an Indian woman whom he often traveled with from 1937 to 1946. Other than their marriage and the fact that they had children, little is known of her, including what happened to her; just that she was gone after that. Although Walker sided with whites in a conflict, on at least one occassion he organized a posse to track down and return horses whites had stolen from Indians.

It was in the 40s that Walker gained greater fame by twice guiding Fremont. The first time, Fremont was being guided by othe" legendary figures, including Carson, Fremont's favorite,and Tom Fitzpatrick (aka "Brokenhand"). They were lost, and believed they were about to be attacked and massacred by local Indians. Walker road into camp with men and many horses (horse trading had become a profession for him). Walker told him they had nothing to fear and even introduced Fremont to his friend, Walkara, smoothing out any further problems.

Fremont, who, remember, was already accompanied by two exceptional guides later wrote of Walker: "Nothing but his great knowledge of the country, great courage and presence of mind and good rigles could have brought him safe from such a perilous enterprise."

To Walker's credit, he later said that Fremont over-dramatized: "The fact is, the danger was all in Captain Fremont's fears . . . (I) would have traveled at that time with eight mountain men, well armed, anywhere over the length and breadth of the plains."

Walker, for reasons you will see below, thought little of Fremont, once saying that "morally and physically, (Fremont) was the most complete coward I ever knew". Probably not fair, as Fremont, an egomaniac, did show courage as was attested to by others (and during the Civil War made an effort to free slaves within his control which order Lincoln overruled). However, Walker had watched him run away from a fight and it stuck with him.

Walker took over as lead guide for the expedition (he had been offered the lead by Fremont on his first expedition but had turned it down), with which even Fitzpatrick could have no quarrel. It is hard to conceive of any other Western man who would have been thought Fitzpatrick's superior, and only a handful, his equal. There was no question though concerning Walker.

It would not be only time either than other famous mountain men guides had to take a backseat to Walker, although not always with the grace Fitzpatrick showed. On Fremont's third expedition, they met Walker in Utah. Carson, Lucien Maxwell of the famous Maxwell clan, and the another legendary figure, Ole' Bill Williams, one of the greatest and most colorful of mountain men, who had been in the mountains even before Walker, were all along. Williams was many things: certainly one of the great guides and trappers, but also a hard drinker, gambler, horse thief and even murderer. Nevertheless, the captain was given the lead role. When Williams protested too mightily, the captain faced him down and Williams stalked out of camp that night, taking a couple of Walker's horses for good measure. Although Williams had last many decades in the wild he had betrayed the Utes, his Indian family, and was killed by them not too long later.

It was on that trip that Walker, with Fremont, came into conflict with the Mexican government (we took California and much of the Southwest that very year) and barricaded themselves on top of Hawkes' Peak, ready to battle. It was from this that Fremont fled. Walker was furious, but the group disbanded (it was after this that Fremont was successfully court martialed, although it little hurt his reputation).

This isn't a book, so I have to leave out a lot of Walker's adventures, but one which deserves mention is the 1862 (thus during the Civil War) stand off between Walker, who was leading a group in Arizona, and Mangas Colorado, father-in-law of the more famous Cochise. Colorado and his tribe followed Walker for weeks in a battle of wills, almost like a chess game. Each time the Indian chief thought he had them penned in, they escaped. Finally, in a strange and celebrated move that is not entirely clear, Walker sent a tough guy named Jack Swilling out to arrest Colorado. He found him, approached Colorado and his men alone, put his hand on his shoulder and apparently told him that they were surrounded and he had no choice but to surrender. For whatever inexplicable reasons he had, Colorado surrendered, saying to his men -- "Tell my people I will see them when I see them". He was imprisoned, but quickly murdered by the U.S. troops to whom he was turned over.

It may have been more impressive for Walker if he had done the job himself, but remember, he was at this time 63 years old, and, although able to tramp about, was not impervious to age.

Walker soon after settled on a ranch in California where he operated a horse business with his family members who had settled there, particularly a nephew James from whom much about Walker was learned. He lived until 1876, dying at the age of 77. For famous Western guides, this was exceedingly long.

Think about it. Lewis & Clark certainly deserve front rank for their great expedition. But there travels went on for 5 years. Ole Bill Williams was killed by Indians as was the impressive Jedediah Smith while still in his twenties. The astonishing Ed Rose and the equally tough Hugh Glass were both also killed by Indians. Jim Bridger, also incredibly impressive, lived to about the same age as Walker, but had a few big black marks on his record, and settled down to one area (Bridger Fort in Utah) in the earlier 40s. Walker was active exploring and guiding well into the 1860s though he was about 5 years older than Bridger (who died in 1881). Solid Thomas Fitzpatrick, who we have seen would take a back seat to Walker, was active as a guide until the 1840s and died in the mid '50s back East. Carson, who was rarely a leader of men, but certainly was an experienced trapper and guide, never challenged Walker for leadership -- he died at age 59 (a personal note -- while in Taos I sought out his grave and asked a guard at the cemetary where he was buried where it was located. The next day, miles away, I read that the headstone had been vandalized that day and that they were looking for the culprit -- I think of this whenever I have an unexpected knock at my door).

Most importantly, the hundreds of thousands of people he led, many times greenhorns and settlers, all lived but for possibly two of them, neither of which could in any way be tied to his choices or leadership. It is not difficult to understand why. He came prepared for any fight, was fearless, but sought out the friendship of Indians, never treating them hostily unless he was attacked. His friendship with Walkara provided him with great leeway. He was always prepared ahead of time for hardship, and seemed to have not only an uncanny memory of places he had been decades earlier, but an almost eery ability to locate water. Wherever he went, because of his gentle nature and leadership qualities, he seemed to impress everyone.

I would only put one Western explorer in his company, but I hope to write about him another day. My secret.

Walker's nephew set his headstone, which briefly summarized his life in geographical terms:

Born in Roan County, Tenn -- December 15, 1798
Emigrated to Mo -- 1819
To New Mexico -- 1820
Rocky Mountains - 1832
California -- 1833
Camped at Yosemite -- Nov. 13, 1833

For a man who constantly traveled around the West for nearly five decades, any epigraph can only be an understatement. It does help place him in New Mexico at the very beginning though, and adds at least the family opinion that he had seen Yosemite first.

The King of the Mountain Men is an opinion, but it is my opinion. We should at least celebrate Walker as much as we do Daniel Boone, Kit Carson and Davey Crockett. But, this is what happens when you won't talk to the press.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Political Update for February, 2008

You know who was really upset about the broohaha over John McCain (hard to believe it is pretty much over already -- but more about that later)? I guess the McCains are (although he looked serene at the press conference Thursday morning) but I think the Clintons were more upset. Unless McCain turns out to be the same phony most politicians are, he will benefit from it, in fact, already has, as Republicans and conservatives rallied around what appears to be a hit job from their arch media villain -- The New York Times. But Hillary C. is desperately trying to find a way to gain popularity against the charismatic political figure in my memory. And yesterday, no one was paying attention until the debate (Serbia was a little distracting too).

If you read these pages, you know that I prefer McCain to all other candidates and have long predicted that he has the best chance to win the election amongst Republicans. It appears like I was wrong about Clinton winning for the Dems, but that we should know soon enough. However with Obama in the race on the left, they do get their best candidate. Clinton may have more experience (and I do not deride experience gained from her time as first lady, although it is limited), but her negatives are so high, and she will so rally the conservative troops against her, that she would be the worse candidate of the two.

If Obama and McCain are the candidates, it might tell us something. That people really are sick of politics as usual, and the partisan bickering that goes on in Washington. I know McCain has apparently dropped the f' bomb on a few people in his career, but that has never bothered me (really, I use it so often I'm thinking of printing up cards with it in bold). On the whole, it appears to me that his career is about the same thing that Obama's campaign is about. Let's cut down on the partisan attacks, debate civilly and try and work on the problems people have. That is the "change" people are looking for.

That being said, is it really true? Or will we just find that when push comes to shove, people will run back to their partisan bases, and find the other candidate evil and angry and unfair? I hope not, but after more than a quarter century of watching politics (I was a late starter) I have to say that I am cynical that a substantial amount of people feel more like I do, and less like Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann does. Frankly, almost everyone I personally know looks at the other side for the most part with a leery eye, even if they occasionally have a position independant of partisanship. If the other side does something good, then it is for secretly selfish reasons. If they do something they disagree with, it is because they are evil and want to destroy America, or gather power for themselves and their friends. I have to admit that often a lot of that is true (except the destroy America part) but it is certainly widely displayed by both sides, and it is not always true.

I will almost certainly vote for McCain (hard to think of circumstances where Obama or Clinton would convince me otherwise unless he turns so hard right to please the conservative base that it becomes a toss up). The Democrats and Republicans I like generally would not do well in primaries and caucuses. He did.

There are a number of reasons that McCain, against the grain of the conservative side of the Republican party, is going to be their candidate. First, his personal story is pretty much acknowledged by all to be impeccable. Although it is sometimes still brought up, I do not believe that most people who know about it believe he was more than a nominal name in the now ancient Keating scandal. He handled it as well as can be expected, by acknowledging that he had made a mistake (without saying he did anything wrong). Unlike with John Kerry, who served less than a half year in Vietnam and is perceived by some as speaking against the military, McCains military record is not only praised by everyone, but is genuinely taken to be heroic (although I have to admit, I have never understood the part of the story where he was given an opportunity to leave ahead of other men due to his status of being an Admiral's son, and chose to stay a prisoner -- could not his captors just have forced him to leave?).

Because it is clear that the Democrats have the upper hand right now in the congress and polls show that Obama or Clinton would likely beat any Republican) intelligent conservatives realize that if they do not want the two most powerful branches to be totally in the power of their political enemies, they had better put up someone who can win with independents.

I like McCain for the same reason I believe Obama will be a formidable candidate. They both appear that they will be principled and, at the same time, work with their adversaries. The difference will come down to experience. If Clinton can score points with some folks about her experience advantage, imagine what John McCain will be able to do.

Of course, Obama's campaign is proofed against an attack in that manner, as he showed recently. He will simply acknowledge that McCain has more experience, but insist that his judgment (get out of Iraq) is better than McCain's (stay in Iraq). He certainly will have popular opinion on his side, particularly if there is another sustained blow up.

Obama has been incredibly impressive as a campaigner. His presence coming on stage reminds me of Dean Martin (cool and graceful). Even when he danced on stage last night he did so in such a restrained fashion. If you can, check out Will Smith's character in the movie Hitch instruct Kevin James' character how to dance in a restrained fashion and then watch Obama move to the beat. I bet he saw the movie.

While he rightly countered Clinton's plagiarism attack by calling it silly to say that he plagiarized from one of his campaign chairman who told him to use the lines (and I think she is done with that -- having garnered boos from the debate audience last night when she brought it up) it is more annoying when he channels Martin Luther King, Jr.'s diction when making a speech. Although he carries it off very well, I'd rather he talk like Obama.

I'm not going to revise my prediction. They are for fun, as no one can really predict what is going to happen consistently, and if you change them, what was the point in making them. So, I have to stick with Hillary unless she gives up after next week. And I will stick with McCain too, regardless of who he faces.

McCain handled the mini-scandal, engendered by a New York Times article first appearing on it's website Wednesday night as well as I have ever seen any do it before him. In fact, he was so good, he could give a seminar to those who are telling the truth or lying. He had the press conference the very next morning, making that the story; he was exceedingly calm; he started right out by saying that the story was untrue; he did not rely on a faulty memory (which, after 8 years, would not be unfair); he brought his wife up on stage with him, ruling out questions like - "Did you ever have any type of sexual relationship with Vicki Iseman?"; when he was asked a direct question such as did you have an "improper" relationship, he gave a one word answer -- "No" and moved on to the next question. No finger wagging for him. In fact, he handled the whole matter the way Obama dances -- understated but with confidence.

Still, although I would hate to see someone I have hoped would be president for the last decade fail because of an old sex scandal, I still do have a few questions. Was it really within bounds for him to write two letters on Iseman's client's behest? A spokesman for the FCC said it was highly unusual and unprecedented. Did he do it at her specific request? If I wanted to pursue the prurient aspects I would have asked him if he were ever alone in her home or in a hotel room with her. Or if he ever had a meal with her alone. It's a better way to ferret out an admission that there was something.

As for my beloved New York Times (and here in Virginia, I still have The Sunday Times mailed to me), they blew it. It probably was not for the wrong reasons. After all, they did endorse him and even this week conservatives were still saying how McCain was the darling of the left wing media.

So, what happened? Why would they go with an anonymously sourced story (at least for the sordid part) where other editors have come out and said they would not have published it? Possibly, some in the media suggest, they have other information they can't corroborate, but that is really not even fair to consider unless there is some evidence of it. I think it is more likely they just goofed when they felt the heat from the New Republic which was going to publish a story about the story (this is getting ridiculous).

One thing the media politely does not mention is that it is long acknowledged that at least when McCain was young, he was quite the ladies man. Who could blame him? Women are going to be attracted to handsome war heroes in office. He does have a trophy wife, you know. Again, not that I blame him. So do many politicians. And it doesn't mean the trophy wives aren't wonderful people too. Being attractive doesn't make you dumb or mean (unless you are raised in the entertainment business). But, those of you who who are middle aged men -- can you deny that an attractive women half your age making a fuss about you, perhaps touching your arm occasionally, or laughing at your jokes, isn't going to give you --- ummm, manly thoughts? And that perhaps you would be tempted to play around? Hmmm? No? Yeah, right.

I would not be surprised to hear that just about any politician or otherwise famous person had an affair from the Pope to Bob Dole. These things happen. I'd be more surprised if they turned them down. Me, cynical? Naaah.

I have never understood the media's determination to get scoops. Does anyone usually remember who reported something first? News organizations even create quasi-scoops -- "this just in special to FoxNews" -- "CNN has just learned" -- and that sort of nonsense.

A McCain-Obama race would be exciting. Both are generally very popular and will, when push comes to shove, have the backing of most people in their party. But both also attract a fair number of independents, which will make it interesting. There is no doubt that McCain has far more experience than Obama, but the polls have convincingly shown that people really don't care about that right now. Bush didn't have much experience qualifying him to be president the first time around, but his team had oodles of it. And what haven't they messed up?

There are some people who absolutely will not vote for Obama. I can think of people I know or who I have met, who will not because they "know" or fear he is a Muslim (and, apparently, they conclude, that would make him sympathetic to terrorists and middle-Eastern tyrants). Frankly, those people would not have voted for Clinton either, so this is not much of a negative. I suppose that if I hear enough talk radio hosts call him Barack HUSSEIN Obama, I might get mad enough to sit out the election. Probably not though, unless McCain comes off like the old, cranky powerful white man that the left would like to paint him as.

My advice to Mr. McCain should Obama be your opponent -- never go negative. It would not work for you anymore than it did Clinton. Although that is McCain's nature as a candidate, when he went negative against Romney, he got a lot of flack. It will work with Obama all the less; he is just too likeable. He has even made being of mixed race cool (which is a good thing).

He should also ignore Mr. Limbaugh's suggestion to learn the lesson that you must beat liberals, not pal around with them. Being controversial gives Rush a lot of listeners (I'm one, although I turn him off every few minutes when he shifts from policy to partisan, but the real fight will be for independents and he has no good advice about how to win them). As an independent, I would really, really like it if just for once, both candidates had to pander for my vote. McCain must convince independents that he will be as non-partisan as they think Obama will be, and that they might as well have the one who also knows a few world leaders

I'd also suggest McCain pick up on my early suggestion (and, believe me, he and all powerful politicians read this) that he think about Michael Steele of Maryland, a moderate Republican -- not coincidentally a black male -- for a running mate. It galls me that I think picking someone partially based on race might be helpful, but there you have it. McCain should not even deny that skin color was a consideration because he can also say that is as qualified as anyone for the VP slot. Steele is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the current president of GOPAC, the premier Republican action committee. He lost out on a 2006 Senate bid, but I liked the way he debated. We know that McCain must go with a relatively young person, in any event. Failing that, I still think Huckabee (although perhaps too critical of McCain's legislative history) or Duncan Hunter would be a good choice. That way, the whole South would get to hope that McCain wins and then dies. Don't put it past them. Partisans aren't known for their sympathy.

I also think that Obama picking a black man or any woman would be a bad idea. Many people are very ready, even want to, vote for a minority or woman. But picking another minority or woman as a running mate will give many of those same people the feeling that he may be carrying a very liberal agenda with him. Balance is the name of the game this time around.

My main advice to Obama would be to be respectful but not deferential. Actually, he doesn't need to hear that from me. He is a rock star and knows instinctively how to act like one. Perhaps he is just a really nice guy. Of course, every instinct I have tells me to avoid humanizing any politician who has been around more than one year. Still, he shows that he is a force to be reckoned with -- a perfect example, perhaps, of the man meeting the moment.

But, so many things could happen in the next eight months or so up until the election. There could be another terrorist attack, which might be good or bad for McCain, depending on who wins the spin battle. Or, McCain could stumble over a cord and fall. Fair or unfair, it would hurt his chances.

My last subject. What is Ron Paul doing still running? Now that the nomination is all but certain, he has gone from eccentric internet phenom to quack. It was one thing when he could get a word in edgewise at the debates, but does he really think anyone is listening anymore?

I conclude these long winded remarks with my traditional, if not bold -- who knows? It's always safe.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Vintage WWII

It is somewhat cold here in the mountains of Virginia (compared to the 70s last week) and that makes me think of the North, which makes me think about Scandinavia, which makes me think about Norway, which makes me think about my favorite WWII story that took place there. Now you know how I pick a topic.

There are so many, seemingly endless, riveting stories out of that war that it is hard to pick one. But this one was fascinating enough that some have called it the most successful mission of the war, and Kirk Douglas starred in a not very accurate version of it in 1965 called The Heroes of Telemark . There have also been several books, including one by participant, Knut Haukelik (Skiis against the Atom), . For a more unbiased account you can try Heavy Water and the Wartime Race for Nuclear Energy by Peter Dahl, and Assault in Norway: Sabotaging the Nazi Nuclear Program by Thomas Gallagher. My favorite modern non-fiction book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes also covers it briefly, but well. There have been a few documentaries too, including a 1948 Norwegian one featuring some of the saboteurs, which I have not seen and probably would not understand. You'll see why below that it has attracted so much attention.

The Nazis had conquered Norway back in Spring, 1940, long before the United States entered the war. Initially, it was just one more European country under German domination. However, once the race to develop the atomic bomb began, it became of strategic importance. A plant producing what is called heavy water, or deuterium, was located in Vemork in the South of that country. Deuterium was critical to the development of the atomic bomb. Basically, it moderates the atomic reaction allowing a controlled chain reaction to occur. It is probably toxic to humans (they have done mice studies only). There are only a few places where it was produced (still too). Thus, to deprive the Nazis of this specialized water became an important objective.

The plant, sometimes called the Rjukan-Vemork complex, was located in a ravine surrounded by a wild mountain area known as the Hardanger Vidda. There was one bridge to the plant which crossed a ravine about 600 feet high. It was, however, also connected to the outside world by a little used rail station, which would prove important.

The first effort, Operation Grouse/Freshman, went not so good, or, as we Norwegian say - "Ikke så fint". Four Norwegian commandos trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) were parachuted into the area on October 19, 1942. This was the Grouse team. Although, of course, they were dropped off course, and got lost, they finally arrived at their hiding spot and made contact by radio with the code words "three pink elephants". A month after their drop, two RAF bombers towed gliders with 17 men each, which were to land on a nearby frozen lake. The first bomber crashed into a mountain killing everyone aboard. Although the glider broke free, it also crashed, injuring many of the men aboard. The second tug determined to return to base, but, unfortunately, the tow cable broke and the second glider also crashed. When you read enough WWII material, you realize that before all of the successes, there were too many adventures that resulted in tragedy like this one, often much worse.

There were fourteen Survivors who were picked up by the Gestapo, tortured and executed, all in one day. Efficiency. This was done upon orders by Hitler for any allied commandos (out of uniform). This itself is of some interest if you take a look at my earlier post, The Nazi Invasion of Long Island (1/24/07), and see the handwringing that went on when we caught German Saboteurs in America. Same result, we executed them, but a legal process was required. This still has ramifications today when we catch purported terrorists in America.

The four man Norwegian team, however, was barely surviving on mountain plant life (i.e., reindeer moss, a type of lichen). The head of intelligence for British air services, R. V. Jones, called the decision to send in another team one of his toughest decisions. Although they knew that the Germans were now alerted and would take precautions, the importance of the operation ruled out greater caution.

They were much more successful with Operation Gunnerside, parachuting in six more Norwegian commandos in mid-February, who were hooked up with and re-supplied the Grouse team, now dubbed Swallow. They wore British uniforms (which, they probably hoped would keep them from being summarily executed as spies) under their jump suits and along with food and weapons carried skiis, a radio and enough plastic explosives to blow each of the electrolysis cells that produced the heavy water.

One of the newly arrived group went on to do reconnaisance and reported back that not only had minefields been laid on approaches to the plant, but that there were armed guards on the bridge. There were also search lights in use and machine guns at the ready. However, the good news was that, probably due to overconfidence based on the plants location in a secure location (or perhaps dubiousness as to its importance) there were only about 15 guards on duty.

On the 27th of that same month, they mounted their raid. Despite the increase in security, the commandos had one distinct advantage. The designer of the plant was now heading the intelligence/sabotage wing of the refugee Norwegian High Commandback in England and was able to give detailed information as to how to sneak in.

One man stayed behind with the radio and nine set out to destroy the plant capacity. Five of them carried Tommy guns. They all had at least a pistol, knife and grenade. They also each carried a cyanide pill which they promised to use before capture and interrogation.

Naturally, they had to avoid the guarded bridge, so they descended down to the river, crossed it and then ascended to the shelf upon which the plant lay. Everything went perfectly for them. The searchlights were off, it was a moonless night and the wind prevented noise from warning the defenders. They entered the plant through the railroad opening, had a snack and waited until the sentries had changed and relaxed.

A little before midnight they cut through a thin metal fence and split into two teams, one to cover, and one to do the demolition. The team watching the barracks covered the wooden barracks and waited for the blast. Finding the doors locked, the demolition team entered the plant through a cable intake the designer of the plant had advised them about, and which two of them crawled through.

Boom. The charges went off as planned. Outside, however, the noise was greatly reduced and there was initially very little investigation. The one German guard who came to check, noted that the doors were locked and apparently thought snow from the shelf above them had fallen and set off a mine. The commandos all escaped, partly by skiing, partly by descending and then ascending the mountain again. They left a British weapon behind so that the locals would not be blamed. They had made their escape before sirens were set off.

The German general in charge of Norway, Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, probably prevented the workers at the site from torture after they were taken to be interrogated by the Gestapo. He chewed out the Germans guarding the plant, but praised the mission with admiration, calling it the best coup he had ever seen. The official German report from the site attributed it to three armed men, likely British. Leaving behind the gun worked.

Six of the commandos left the country but some remained behind. Good thing. By April, the plant was up and running again, although not full capacity. This time the allies bombed the hell out of it during a lunch break (trying to keep from killing the Norwegian staff if possible) Although most of the 140 B-17s which got through the German flak missed their target, and all the main target, enough hit to cause some damage, but it only shut the plant down for at least a while.

The Nazis eventually decided to ship the critical parts to Germany in 1944. Only Knut Haukelid of the commandos had remainded, other than the radio man, and the task fell to him to destroy the shipment of heavy water to Germany with a new team he had to assemble from local talent.

Although Haukelid was living in Norway at the time of the German invasion and had spent most of his life there, he was actually born in Flatbush, New York, with a twin sister in 1911 and went to Massachusetts State College. Thus, he was in his young 30s when called to duty. His sister, Sigrid Gurie became a movie star during the war years, her best known film being Algiers.

First, Haukelid met with the plant's chief engineer, Alf Larsen, at night and worked out a plan. Larsen had himself been trying to secretly aid information getting out to the allies, and was not onsite when the initial raid was made the previous year, but rushed there in his wood burning car. From Larsen, Haukelid learned that the heavy water would be transferred in drums marked potash-lye by train down to a ferry at Lake Tinnsjo, then across the lake, to another train to the coast, and thereafter by ship to Germany.

The transport engineer, who also cooperated, was able to arrange that the shipment was made on a Sunday. By leaving the train alone, and attacking the ferry, they would minimize Norwegian deaths, although there was no way to prevent some aboard the ferry from dying. Sunday would be the day of least local traffic and was the best they could do.

Still, the engineers were dubious that an atomic explosion was possible or, if it was, that the Germans were anywhere near accomplishing it (wrong on the first count and right on the second). They believed that there would be German reprisals on the locals and they naturally doubted the demolition was worth it. Nevertheless, when they radioed London they were told it was necessary to go ahead.

Haukelid learned which ferry would be used to transport the material and took it himself, disguised as a working man (with a hidden sten gun, just in case). He needed to time just when the ferry would be crossing deep water so that it could not be beached and the product recovered. Using alarm clocks, detonators picked up by a local contact and the plastic explosives he had received from the British, he made a test run of the device up near his mountain cabin. He and a team member, Rolf Sorlie, had actually fallen a sleep in Haukelid's mountain cabin when it went off. They jumped up and grabbed their guns before realizing what had happened.

The night before the ferry was to leave, Haukelid, Larsen (the engineer) and three other local men including Sorlie and a driver took off in the driver's car after some trouble starting it. Eventually, they decided to take the driver home and not involve him. Larsen intended to escape Norway to avoid capture and had his valuables with him. Earlier that night he had met a musician who was going to be on the ferry the next day. He was not able to dissuade him from going.

The team came prepared with sten guns, grenades and pistols as well as the explosives. Larsen was left at the car with a pistol and told to escape if they did not return. Haukelid snuck on board and was surprised that there was no guard. He overheard what he thought was a party and a poker game. Sorlie and the other local man, Lier-Hansen, who actually had a pass to go where he pleased, came aboard with him. They snuck down to the lower level where they intended to leave the timed explosives in a 12 foot loop pattern on the lowest level to blow a big hole. Unfortunately, they ran into the watchman, Berg. But, more fortunately, Lier-Hansen knew him from a sport's club, and, in fact, had been told by another local that he could be trusted.

They told Berg that they needed to hide something from the Gestapo. Although nervous, Berg was very sympathetic with that and indicated that this was not the first time he had helped out with something like this. While Lier-Hansen chatted with the watchman Haukelid and another local slipped below, which was covered in a foot of water and set the device. Haukelid did the last work himself as alarm clock devices were quite dangerous to set, there being less than a third of an inch between the hammer and the contact plate they had substituted for alarm bells. He finished at 4 a.m. The timer was set for 10:45 a.m., about forty five minutes after the ferry would leave, and when he expected it to be over deep water.

The local chatting with the watchman advised him that they had to leave to collect their belongings and would be back. Haukelid had to make one of those decisions that must take immeasurable moral courage. He did not warn the watchman, but thanked him and left him to his fate.

Having left the ferry, they dumped the car and Haukelid and Larsen made their escape to Sweden. Sorlie took a report to be given to the radioman for London. Lier-Hansen stayed to watch events and then returned to his job at the plant. The transport engineer who had arranged for the Sunday delivery arranged to have his healthy appendix taken out that same week end, giving him an absolute alibi.

The explosives went off on time. Of the fifty three aboard, I have read different accounts for how many died, but most often twenty six, although not the musician. He and his violin escaped. The freight cars containing the heavy water rolled overboard and sunk.

Haukelid lived until 1994 (his sister died of an embolism in 1969 -- he suffered an embolism soon after but survived). After the war he formally joined the Norwegian military and died a lieutenant General, much honored in both Norway and America.

Whether these thrilling operations really helped stopped the German bomb is still debated. Unbeknownst to Haukelid, there was a second team of saboteurs and then bombers ready if he failed. There are some who believe the shipment of heavy water would have made no difference, that it wasn't rich enough in heavy water to have been useful, and, others who believe that the Germans had shipped regular water when they learned of the mission (disproven by recovery of some of the barrels) or that the Germans had sufficient heavy water stocks in Germany. I can't decide that. All I said I would do was to give you my favorite World War II story. And now my job is done.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I love NY

This is a moving week -- me moving from New York to Virginia. I look forward to some mountain vistas and a river running near my home (buying a kayak very soon) but am currently thinking of the things I will miss in New York. They seem to be centered around books, food, old towns and nature. Some are abstract but some specific. It doesn't include friends or family, though, obviously, I will miss them most.

10. Bookstores. First, Borders. I've spent so much time in Borders pleasurably shopping or reading and drinking their unfortunately bad coffee this year, that it easily makes the list. However, The Book Revue in Huntington, New York, is my favorite bookstore in the world. I have heard it is the biggest (revenue? size?) independent bookstore in the country, but that could be hype. The racks are old and some of the selections have been around forever, but they have a fantastic military and history section, a great loft area where there is a wealth of used books and travel section as well as a little table and sofa area. Never went there and didn't feel happy about it whether I bought anything or not, but have walked out with everything from multi-set encyclopedias of mythology to ragged old novels from the 1930s.

9. Northport and Greenport. Two small and similar old towns devoid of modern chain retail stores and the other ugly stuff that makes you think you are in the same place no matter where you are. It is old building, docks, sails and sunsets that make these villages so captivating. Northport is in Huntington Township, only a short drive from Huntington Village, but much smaller and quainter. A great place to get some ice cream and sit out on the dock stretching into the water. Greenport is near the end of the North Fork of the Island with a couple of places to eat right on the water. A slow trip there past the wineries and the Sound shore is worth it tens times over. I much prefer the North Fork to the glitzier South Fork where the Hamptons are. You don't get the crowds or the noise, but that is what I like.

8. Rockefeller Center at Christmas. I don't have to tell you what that's like. Either you've been there yourself or you've seen it in the movies. For many years I went there with my daughter and nephew to skate in front of the tree. They are old enough to go themselves now, but I tried to skate last year with them and learned a lesson -- when I visit, I'll just be looking at the tree from now on.

7. Restaurants. I've traveled enough to know that the best and most varied restaurant experience in the world is right where I grew up. I've been to a Himalayan one and even an Ethiopian one, and too many Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, German, Swiss, French, Brazilian-Portuguese, Argentinian, Cuban and Indian ones to count. In all these years, I can think of very few meals that weren't good and I can't say that about the other countries and cities I've been in.

6. Northern State Parkway in the fall. It's not upstate or New England, but the parkway, particularly from Eastern Nassau until its end in Hauppauge, is spectacular in October (actually, this year not until November). Nobody likes a rush hour drive, but doing it in fantastic foliage makes it much better.

5. Manhattan Island in general. They can knock down its tallest building and it is still the greatest city in the world. I went to a holographic museum once in a store front set up. St. John's untrammeled cathedral uptown is as close as you are going to get to a European cathedral in America. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was called the greatest museum in the world by art critic, Sister Wendy. I take her word for it, but I prefer the Frick House a few blocks down 5th Avenue, which is possibly an unparalleled small collection. Everyone should go there for the art, but if that's not your thing, the home itself will blow your mind. I haven't been to the Cloisters on the Northern tip of the island in years, but will never forget it. There have been days in my youth where I spent twelve hours or more walking the city streets or playing in Central Park and Greenwich Village.

4. Huntington Village. Even without the bookstore, Huntington has been my favorite town on Long Island since I could drive. It is about as old as you get on Long Island, but recently renovated, with two great intersecting main streets, and just the right combination of brickwork and flowers, eateries and shops to make it great fun just to walk around. It is usually packed in the Summer with lots of places to sit and dine outside. I counted 6 coffee shops one year, each one filled to the brim with customers. No better date town around.

3. The last three are very personal. Blydenburg Park is about a square mile of quiet wood paradise, enclosing a huge lake I couldn't walk around in three hours, with many trails. Somehow, it is, seemingly impossibly, nestled between two major roadways. Very few people seem to know it is there or, if they do, what it contains. Every season is a different look and I've captured each one on film. One Summer I walked there every single day and I believe found every back trail. There were a lot. Horse people like my daughter ride there, but otherwise, you can walk for hours and never see a soul or hear a car.

2. The end of the Greenbelt trail in King's Park. Another virtually undiscovered paradise. You drive into the old town of King's Park, find Old Dock Road and take it North down a winding road past the old abandoned mental hospital until you come to a parking lot with a boat launch and a single restaurant. Drive up to the highest parking lot and get out. This is where the Nissequogue River feeds into the Long Island Sound (and sometimes visa versa). You will see a little tiny entrance to the woods with some steps. Go up into the hills and look down at the water and sand bars. You'll think you are in Europe. Eventually you can loop around and go back, or, if you are a little more daring, go down the steep hills towards the Sound, clinging to tree branches, until you come to the end of Sunken Meadow Park where there is a huge sand bar that contains a spectacular bird sanctuary. I've seen osprey and egrets and sand pipers and comorants and heron and so forth. I can't imagine why I rarely see more than one or two people there.

1. My bagel store. Several times a week, sometimes five or six times a week, I go there for breakfast. They know what I want and get it ready when they see me. They have the only coffee I know that I like better than Dunkin' Donuts. Don't know where I'm going to have breakfast and read the paper now.

That's my will miss most list. Long Islanders and New Yorkers can tell me what else should have been on it.

Two quick political notes just for the hell of it. First, Ann Coulter's meltdown on Hannity and Colmes where she claimed she would vote for Hillary Clinton over McCain was silly and dishonest. What it also is is a sign of the civil war going on between social conservatives and security/economic conservatives. Ann, Rush et al are furious that the social conservative domination of the party may be coming unraveled. Believe me, they will all vote for McCain, if he wins the nomination, and particularly if Hillary is his opponent.

As for Super Tuesday, I disagree with pundits who say we will know both nominees after today, although I think it is more likely there will be a conclusion among Republicans. Hillary and Barack are going on for a long time, perhaps to the convention. The polls show that McCain will probably do well today over Romney, but I do not think Romney will drop out unless it looks like he is very unlikely to win later on. If he has a reasonable shot, he has the money to burn. Ron Paul isn't going anywhere, but not too many people care.

I hope to be online at my new home sometime next week.

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 . . . .