Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obama and Palin: Both inexperienced

Do you remember back when it was not politically incorrect to call a Down’s Syndrome kid a “retard,” and occasionally two of them would yell at each other “You’re a retard.” “No, you’re a retard.” “No, you’re a retard.” and so on? Not only did I personally witness that, but I have heard enough people talk about it that I know it was not a singular event. Sad but true.

But, sadder, that’s pretty much how I see the current argument about who has too little experience, Obama or Palin. Both have relatively little experience. Obama’s supporters don’t care a fig that he doesn’t have it. They rely on his “judgment”. Even thought they favor electing an actual president with little experience, they sneer at the Republicans putting up someone with relatively the same experience for Vice President.

And, of course, hypocrisy in politics is so often mirrored by the opposition. The Republicans say that having a president with Obama’s lack of experience is dangerous, but somehow it is ok to nominate a woman with virtually the same limited amount of experience to back up a candidate who has already exhausted the average life span of American men. And who wouldn’t agree that if the Republicans win, due to his age she at least as good a chance of being sworn in as president as any VP ever did.

What amazes me is that partisans make these arguments without shame as if they make perfect sense. We should not be surprised that two people in their 40s don’t have that much political experience. You will not be the only one who sees that the emperor has no clothes. Kirsten Powers, an Obama supporter, was being temporarily lionized right at this moment by the right wing of the blogosphere for pointing out the hypocrisy of these charges from Obama’s supporter.

She was the mayor of a small town for a few years. He was a state senator for a few years. She has been a governor for two years. He has been a Senator for two years. She has executive experience, which she doesn’t. He has federal experience which she doesn’t. It seems pretty clear that even if you want your candidate to be the one with greater experience you should have to acknowledge that they are relatively the same in length. But, that’s not what you hear from the partisan warriors.

The truth of the matter is it matters not a whit if either of them has lots of federal or executive experience, although it would be nice if they did. Bush and Cheney both have tons of experience right now. Who would want to vote for them again? A few, not many. Biden and McCain both has tons of experience. But what conservative thinks he wants to vote for Biden because he has been in the senate for over 30 years. What Democrat wants to vote for McCain because he has a quarter century in the Senate and military experience to boot. Not a one.

What people really care about is whether the candidate agrees with them which feeds into what party they are in and whether they can trust them. If they do trust them, then that person’s failures are overblown and their attributes are lionized. If they do not agree with them, then they feel the candidate is anything from untrustworthy to a criminal who have not been caught.

I know as little about Sarah Palin as most people do. I’ve been aware of her for a few months and actually did think she would have been a good pick, particularly while Obama struggled for support from Hillary supporters. But, I let the pundits (who get nothing right with astonishing regularity) scare me off because of the Alaskan ethics investigation. It is never wise to listen to pundits.

Although I always acknowledge that I am likely to vote for McCain I was disappointed that he did not run as an independent in 2000 and 2004 and still think it was a mistake. I’m equally disappointed that he has run not only as a Republican but an avid one.

But, being likely to vote for him doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything or even most things. His star has been dimming for me lately with every dark voiced ominous commercial slamming Obama, who seems to me to be a pretty decent guy too and certainly not scary to me, as the right would like you to think.

I was prepared to be really disappointed if he chose Romney as his running mate. Romney may also be a really decent guy himself (how do you ever really know?) but I do not trust him and even see him as the quintessential used car salesman. The expression is certainly not original to me with regard to him, but that shows that I’m not alone in my opinion.

McCain’s pick of Palin revived my respect for him some for a number of reasons. Even though she is a popular choice in her party, he had to stand up to forces in his party that really wanted Romney at this point or someone like him. He showed he was comfortable choosing someone who is much younger and perhaps personally more appealing than he is. He showed that he could pick someone who has made her short career attacking Republican corruption, which takes the kind of courage McCain knows about.

The pick is not without some risks. Palin is not going to be able to answer questions about federal public policy issues without trouble unless she is the fastest learner on the planet and you know the media will be gunning for her with no reasonable expectation of fairness. And then there is the investigation, which, if pursued aggressively, will greatly hamper the campaign.

However, you have to admire the way she is handling the investigation. If you haven’t heard what it is about yet, this is apparently the skinny: Her sister was going through a bad divorce with a State trooper who supposedly even threatened to kill their father. Among the number of appointees her predecessor put in office just before he left and that she let go was her bro-in-law’s boss. There is no doubt that someone from her staff made inquiries into whether the brother-in-law was going to be fired or not. The guy she let goes feels it was because he wouldn’t fire her brother-in-law.

That’s one side of it, of course. Here’s the other. The investigator says that cooperation has been so good from the governor that he didn’t even need to issue subpoenas. His main piece of evidence that might be held against her is an audio tape of the guy who made inquiries from her office. But it was provided to the investigator by her own office. She claims that she has absolutely nothing to hide and knew nothing about it. Certainly, her cooperation at least suggests innocence. Compare that to the stone walling of almost every president under investigation (I’ll exempt Carter) and you have to be impressed.

Nothing would surprise me. She may be totally innocent (I don’t even think it would be a crime) or she may be guilty of at least bad judgment and the type of bullying we don’t like to see. If so, it would not fit in well with the reputation she has made for herself on pressing ethic investigations against people in her own party.

She seems like the type of person you want for a neighbor. She married her childhood sweetheart and they have five kids. When she had her last child this year and she learned he was going to have Down’s Syndrome she stuck with her pro-life values and had the child. Plenty of pro-lifers have abortions. Personally, I admire anyone who makes the hard choice she did.

The fact that she is young and personable and, arguably, beautiful, is not really important. The fact that she has an 80% approval rating in her state (go ahead – how many other governor’s have ratings like that) means that pretty much all but a small group of the most extreme partisan’s have thought highly of her over a two year period. That doesn’t mean everything, but it must mean something.

She also steals thunder from both Obama and Hillary. Suddenly, Obama really looks like a Washington insider compared to her. If he wants to claim that he has more experience than she does, it can only be for his Washington experience. But, just as he has that on his side, she has the executive experience he lacks. She also vaults into Hillary’s spot as the woman most likely to become the first female President.

If she wins VP, it will, of course be historical, just as it will if Obama wins. I don’t know about the rest of you, but even if my guy loses, I will feel very good that America has grown so much since my childhood that it can elect a black president. I know lots of conservatives who feel that way too.

However, having a women VP, particularly a young one, will raise a lot of other issues that maybe should not be raised. What will her relationship with McCain be like? If he treats her the way most VPs have been treated throughout history (and Cheney was a rare exception) and she goes to funerals and meets a lot of other politicians, will he be accused of paternalism? Remember, this is politics; it doesn’t have to be fair.

What will her relationship with Cindy McCain be like? Will that cause problems that would not exist if the VP was a male? You hate to think yes, but, remember, they are humans who will react to things like other humans. People who think that there is no difference between women to women interactions and women to man ones, live with their eyes shut. Will Palin have to go shopping with Cindy and pay court to her?

You don’t need precognition to suspect there will be rumors of an affair between her and McCain. In our culture it seems almost unavoidable even if there is not an iota of evidence. Will they hug more warmly than, say, a McCain and Romney would? Or, do they keep each other at a distance simply to tamp down on any insinuations. And that in itself will lead to insinuations.

Like all controversial picks, any woman or minority presidential or vice presidential pick is exciting whether you like them or not. Our media makes it so. It usually means fun for us political geeks because there are so many opportunities for partisans to unfairly berate them for every one of their choices or failures which will be counted much more heavily against them than if made by a white man.

Count on it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain, Obama, Palin and Biden go into a bar

Once upon a time, Obama, McCain, Biden and Palin were scheduled on the same flight to Ohio to campaign when they were grounded by a storm. They walk into the airport lounge and start drinking. Fortunately, everyone else in the bar had video recorders in their phones, cameras and hats, and we can pick up the conversation when they get loud.

Biden: I'm just saying, and I've said this before, and you've heard me say this, John, because, we're good friends, and friends are important, particularly in the Senate, and you know, or maybe you don't, but I'm certainly aware. . . .

Obama: Joe. Joe.

Biden: . . . that it goes without saying that not one person who thinks, and I'm all in favor of people thinking . . . .

Obama: JOE!

Biden: Sorry, boss. What's the matter?

Obama: Didn't we talk about this?

Biden: Sure, we've had lots of talks, but, you know. . . .

Obama: JOE! Look at me. Joseph. Stop. Ah! Look . . . at . . . me. Good. Now, remember, short sentences and wait for someone else to reply.

Biden: 'Kay.

Palin: I’ve been in National politics for 15 seconds and already I want to gag him.

McCain: Don't feel sorry for yourself, baby doll. I've had to listen to that blowhard for 25 years. Bet you can't name the other Senator from Delaware, Barack.

Palin: (to herself) Baby doll?

Obama: Ummm. No. Who is it?

McCain: No one knows. He was seated on a plane next to Joe and when they had to circle before landing he couldn't take it anymore and jumped.

They all laugh, including Joe.

Obama: What I was trying to say before Joe's filibuster is that I can't win. Either I'm an Uncle Tom or I’m bought and paid for by the Black Caucus. Just pick one, please.

McCain: Now that isn't true. We all look at you as a human, not as a black man or a white man, or a gook.

Palin (whispering to McCain): Psss, John, you can't say gook. You have to use another word.

McCain: Oh, is gook not good anymore, Sugar pants? No offense. I should have said the yellow man.

Palin: (to herself) What did I do to myself?

Biden: Sheesh. And they say I can't control my mouth.

Obama: Look, I'm not Asian, anyway. OK?

McCain: Really? Sorry. I just noticed the high yallow coloring and . . .

Obama: OK, that's it. Now I seriously have to kick your ass. You can't say that to a black man, you mummified honky.

McCain: No offense meant, my friends (laughs grandly). Actually, you look more Vietcong to me.

McCain goes glassy eyed.

Biden: I think he's having a flashback. Or . . . .

McCain: Szzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Obama: Look, I'm bi-racial. Is that so hard for old guys to understand?

Palin: I have no problem with that. (She shakes McCain) It's just you seem to be black one day and bi-racial the next. How come you never say you are white?

Obama: Well, I identify with blacks because we've been persecuted.

Palin: Persecuted? You live in a mansion. Your suits cost more than my home town.

The white guys laugh and slap five.

Obama: JOE!

Biden: I'm sorry. It was funny. And you won't let me say anything.

Obama: Maybe I'm just worried you'll steal something I said.

Biden: You know, that plagiarism thing is getting old. Were you even out of diapers when that one was passed around, Bambi?

Obama: Don't go whining again, Joe. If I wanted whining I would have asked Hillary to be VP.

Palin: Careful. There she is, Barack.

Obama: (Ducks his head and furtively looks around) That's not funny, Sweetie.

Palin: (sputtering) S-s-s-sweetie?

Obama: I have been persecuted. You guys wouldn't know from that.

McCain (raising his hand): HelllO! Prisoner of war here. 5 1/2 years. Torrrrrrtured.

Obama: Wah! Wah! Wah! Here we go with the poor little war Admiral’s son story. You're starting to sound like "9/11" Giuliani. . . . . Hey, Joe, can I get a chuckle.

Biden: Hah, hah, hah, hah, hah, hah. Hoooo boy. Yep, my wife is gorgeous.

Palin (to the bartender): The guy with the big teeth and balding yellow hair is cut off. Now, wait a minute, Barack. You can't talk to a vet like that. John McCain is an American hero (whispering - John, your hand is on my leg).

Obama: He got shot down and beat up. Big whoop. Any pro wrestler can do that and make it look more realistic.

Palin: You boys think you know persecution. Try being a mayor of a town where the collective IQ is lower than the seal catch every spring. Try being a governor and every male cashier and janitor you have lunch with still expects you to clean up after them.

McCain: (into his hand) Bee-otch.

Palin: Drop dead, you stupid old man.

McCain: I knew I should have gone with Lieberman.

Obama: (pretending to sneeze into his hand). Aah aah aah-Jew!

They all laugh and Obama and McCain give high fives.

Palin: Oy veh!

They all crack up and pound the table.

Biden: Ah, that was rich. Can I say something?

Obama, McCain and Palin: NO!

Obama: I'm just saying that you whitees don't know what it's like to be pulled over and questioned by the police because you were driving while black.

McCain: For crying out loud, Barack, they beat me so bad I cried for longer than you've been in the Senate. They wouldn't set my broken bones. I lost over five years.

Biden: Like that's as bad as having to turn over your driver's license on a rainy day.

Obama: Just shut up, Joe, or I put the shock collar back on.

Biden (Put's his hand over his own mouth): Srrybss.

Palin: I admit blacks still have issues in America, but a black man with a law degree from Harvard can make out his own ticket. You have no ideas what barriers there still are for women.

Obama: Women! You mean like women who are beaten fair and square in a contest AND JUST WON’T GIVE UP? LIKE WOMEN WHO STARE DAGGERS AT THEIR HUSBANDS BECAUSE YOU CAN’T READ THEIR FRIGGIN’ MINDS? PERSECUTED? MORE LIKE BLOOD SUCKING VAMPIRES. I mean that respectfully, of course.

Palin: So much for liberal tolerance.

Obama: I'm tolerant. And I still am getting heat from Southern Democrats and Republicans for choosing a Catholic VP.

Biden: Hey, I'm Catholic too.

Obama: I was talking about you, moron.

Palin: Well, at least I'm not a Muslim.

Obama (standing): Oh, I am so telling the media on you. Where's Brokaw?

McCain: Look under you. The whole media’s got their head up your ass, soldier.

Biden laughs hysterically and Obama glares at him.

Biden: I'm sorry. I just love it when McCain does that whole military tough guy humor thing.

Obama: Look. I am not a Muslim. Not that there is anything wrong with it. But, you know, wait a second -- is there any media around?

Biden: No, Boss.

Obama: OK, to tell the truth, those guys give me the creeps. Especially the ones who use their shirts for hats. Muslims think they are the new blacks but they haven’t suffered as much.

Biden: I don't know. The swamp Arabs and the Kurds, for example . . . .

Obama: JOEEEE! (To McCain and Palin behind his hand) He's been like this ever since I told him I need his foreign policy advice. Palestinians, Kurds, Abadabadooistan. I have no idea what he babbling about?

Biden: All right, all right, that’s it. I'm getting a little sick of your whole victim mentality, too. I mean, McCain's been tortured, Palin isn’t taking serious because she’s a foxy little minx . . . .

Palin: He really is a human gaffe machine.

Biden: Sorry, foxy little minx is one of those subtle racial or misogynist things I say that I get forgiven for because, frankly, I’m considered a little daffy. But, seriously, guys, I lost my wife and daughter in an accident. That was really tough and please make it into a joke. I don't want to hear how the rest of you think you suffered.

There is silence at the table for a minute as they all look down, broken by --

McCain: Where are we and why is there a gook at my table?

Palin (head in hands): Good God. Al Zeimer here is going to be MY boss. AND TAKE YOUR HAND OFF MY KNEE you albino walking corpse.

Biden: Don't you complain. I'm taking orders from a black guy. Oops, there I go again. Didn't mean anything by that. Look at my record. Somebody get Sharpton on the phone.

An airline pilot approaches.

Pilot: I'm sorry, folks, but I have to tell you that your flight has been commandeered for some VIPs and frankly, it’s no contest.

Biden: Who is more important than us? Not the Pope?

Obama (shaking his fist): I bet it’s those Clintons!

McCain (getting in a rage) That Bush!

Pilot (shakes his head): Nope. Brangelina.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Watching the Democratic Convention

Don’t worry mein liberal friends. I will be happy to bash the Republicans next week. Right now, its clobbering time for your Rocky Mountain party.

Are we really as dumb as the media thinks we are? Pundits say things like that more people would be affected by the appearance of Obama’s little girls on stage with their mother and him calling one Sweetie, than by policy issues (NBC’s Norah O’Donnell). Really? Can we find out who these people are and deny them the right to vote? I have no doubt that some people are that easily persuaded, but I do doubt that many of the people who haven’t made up their minds are going to be pulled to Obama’s side his calling his daughter, Sweetie.

Speaking of which, am I the only one who noticed the strange pause before Obama called his daughter “Sweetie” as if he was reading from a script and they didn’t change the page fast enough? Watch a video of it if you didn’t pick it up. I was curious enough about it that I did some research on whether he had a “sweetie” problem. Wasn’t hard. It turns out that Obama had been criticized for calling a women reporter by that particular pet name this past May. By using the same phrase for his daughter, I guess he is trying to show us that it is just a term of affection, and he was not condescending. As Doctor Evil would say -- Rrrrriiight. If only it wasn’t so calculating, it might be persuasive. Then again, we are idiots, right?

The campaigns, of course, believe that we are idiots too. During her speech, Michelle Obama, doesn’t have to actually say – “I didn’t mean it when I said I was proud of my country for the first time (because her husband won a primary). I meant I was proud how far we've come on racism.” Instead she can give some pollyanna speech about her and her husband’s opportunities and accomplishments and then says “And that’s why I love this country”. Well, if it was so good to you and gave you so many opportunities, why do insist other people don’t have those same opportunities? Why have you described the country as mean? Frankly, I could care less she said these things, but why not be honest about it? Of course, I'm being deliberately obtuse. Politics is rarely ever about telling the truth

But, we are idiots (and whiners), and I guess, because she now says she loves the country, we can all forget her previous spontaneous and candid statements, right? Honestly, I don’t doubt she loves the country right now, but will she love it if she loses? I don’t know.

I don’t even care if she and her husband, or McCain for that matter, do "love" the country just so they like it better than any other and are dedicated to its success.

Did you see the look on Michelle Obama’s face when Hillary Clinton said during her speech that she was a proud supporter of Barack Obama? For the few seconds the camera was on here, there was an occasional flicker of a forced smile, but it was more like the face a General’s wife makes when a Colonel’s wife has to make way for her. This may be an unfair characterization of Michelle, as I can’t read her mind and she must have a lot on it, but, then again, there is that “rumor” that she did not return Clinton’s call before the convention. And I sure noticed her smiling at a lot of other times during the convention.

I’ve been listening to some pundits say that if McCain picks Romney, Obama’s campaign is going to dig out all the mean stuff Romney said about McCain during the primaries in order to combat the commercials McCain is playing of Biden, Clinton and others saying Obama was not ready to be commander in chief. They will do so, if Romney is picked; in fact, the commercials are doubtlessly already made. But I don’t think they will have much success. Romney and McCain mixed it up a little, and at one point Romney even called McCain dishonest about one of his claims. But Romney also called McCain a hero and said he respected him, and they have long patched things up. Biden and Clinton have just come aboard and their conversions seem miraculous.

I can't be sure (I rarely am) but I don’t think I have ever heard so many candidates for a nomination say so many negative things about the front runner's basic ability to hold the high office, as I have this year about Obama. Of course, they all fall back on the refrain -- well, it was just campaign talk. Ok, just one more reason you can’t believe anything you guys say.

The keynote speech is often given by an up and coming politician. Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, gave this one. He is a relatively young and handsome man. His speech bored me to tears. Most of these speeches do. In the past few nights I fell asleep before the end of Michelle’s speech and Biden’s as well. Boooorrrinnng. I actually would like a policy speech.
Details are fine. I already know your life stories. These speeches are all all so pat and rah rah.

I’ve never liked rah rah speeches. I dislike the phony cadences and artificially raised voices. I dislike that so many now run through a string of states or cities to get cheers (“and we’re going on to Boise, Idaho and Tallahassee, Florida and . , ,” ). I dislike that they all have to say “God bless, America” or “God bless, you” at the end. I’d really like to know how many times these people actually say “God bless” in their real lives when the cameras aren’t on. I dislike the call and response stuff with the audience. I dislike them having to refer to their wives or husbands in the audience. Did Churchill point out his wife before he launched into “We will fight on the beaches . . . .” or Lincoln before “Four score and . . . .” I dislike the speakers repeating “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you,” over and over until the crowd calms down. Just wait until they settle down (Bill Clinton almost lost his temper waiting). I dislike them telling their little stories of people who met them on the campaign trail and made them promise to do this or that when they are in office (“Take care of our children, Senator”). Personally, I think they make most of that stuff up or grossly exaggerate it. I dislike the laundry lists of talking points. I could go on, but I feel your pain.

We have so watered down what a great speech is that we now call Bill Clinton’s speech last night "great". Do we have to say that every speaker “knocked it out of the park” if it is only not bad? Everyone will say that Obama’s speech tonight was great. I’m sure it will be good. But great, I doubt it. Not by my standards.

Not all the speeches were awful. Ted Kennedy’s speech on the opening night was touching. It didn’t matter what he said. Even some conservatives acknowledged getting a tear in their eye. Brain cancer does a lot for anyone’s popularity, particularly if it may be fatal. I wonder if Hitler was alive and got brain cancer today whether a lot of people would feel sorry for him (“Well, he has cancer, we shouldn't be critical”). No, I’m not comparing Hitler to Kennedy. Just making a point.

John Lewis spoke tonight. He is a humble man and it is hard to conceive how anyone can not admire him for his sacrifices during the civil rights struggles. While noting that he was present when Dr. King made his speech 45 years ago today, he did not mention that he made the other exceptional speech that day (of which no reporter who interviews him seems aware and he probably doesn't mention). He made a real speech at the convention, quite short, but with an actual topic other than himself, without all the above listed characteristics I so dislike. Despite a little slurred speech (he's no kid), it was the best one I've heard so far. Naturally, it wasn't on in prime time and few will have heard it.

I'm sorry I missed Dennis' Kucinich's speech which I understand was on at some unloveable hour. I'm sure it was a barn burner. He's a strange fellow, but a lot of fun (and has the best looking trophy wife of all of them).

We now accept gross hypocrisy in a speech as par for the course and take no offense at it. Hillary Clinton campaigned hard on the fact that Obama wasn’t ready for the job. It was her primary talking point. Suddenly, in her convention speech, he’s the guy. I laughed when I heard her say that can’t wait until Obama signs the bill giving all Americans health care insurance, because she spent so much time complaining that his plan leaves millions uninsured. By the way, at risk of sounding overly picky, Clinton’s Harriet Tubman quote (“keep going”) is most likely spurious. Not that it matters. It’s still a good idea.

More than anything she said about Obama, the tone of Clinton’s speech struck me as hypocritical too. Remember her own parody of Obama style ending with “ . . . and everything will be wonderful.” Didn’t her own convention speech sound just as flowery and overly high minded as her parody? Only, she’s no longer mocking.

Her husband is still one of the best speech makers around and his performance last night was about as good as it gets these days. Perhaps Obama will top him tonight, perhaps not. Even Karl Rove admitted that Bill Clinton made a case for Obama (if not, the case) and that is equal to Keith Olbermann doing handstands and blowing a horn. If his wife's speech was hypocritical, then Bill Clinton's speech was thrice so. The antipathy between the two men, and Clinton's well known refusal to say that Obama is ready for the job, leaves no doubt that however good an actor Bill Clinton is, he is as hypocritical as they come when he needs to. And I say that believing he was the best president we've had since I've become politically conscious.

I posted now not knowing whether Obama’s speech later tonight will be worthy of comment. I expect he will say that tonight America has cashed a check, if you get the reference. Maybe he is saving it for his hoped for inauguration speech.

And then, on to the Republican convention. Those poor bloggers stuck in their tents in Denver and next week in Minnesota. It’s much easier to do this at home with one’s own facilities, bookshelves and refreshments of choice. Of course, there is no massage table here, but would I partake if I was there? Not likely.

Being a non-partisan has its benefits. One of my favorite liberals told me he will not be able to watch the Republican convention because he will just fume the whole time. I get to watch both and enjoy all of the hypocrisy in all its various forms and glory. And there’s just so, so much.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Trivia II

After my first trivia post (4/25/08), a second round was demanded by popular acclaim (actually it was only one guy, but he might have been enthusiastic). Like the last one, these represent some of my favorite trivia questions, and nothing more. If you don't have the same interests I do, you will do miserably.


1. Which of our presidents was a citizen of France? (not kidding)
2. It is well known that Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton were our youngest presidents. Who was next youngest?
3. In 1952 Puerto Rican citizens started a gun fight in Washington D.C. involving 8 people that lasted about 40 seconds during which 30 shots were fired and two people died (eerily comparable to the O.K. Corral gunfight). What was the fight about?
4. Samuel Sewall was one of the first American writers on abolition (1700) and women’s rights (1725). But, before that, he apologized for his role in a sad episode in American history? What was it?
5. What were used as moving targets in one of the shooting events in the 1900 Paris Olympics?
6. How many gold medals were awarded at the first modern Olympics in 1896?
7. Jesse Owens 1936 Olympic victories are the stuff of legends. But, in the 200 meters he narrowly beat a teammate whose little brother is even more famous than Owens. Who’d he beat?
8. Which one of these smart guys was also an Olympic champion: Socrates, Plato, Einstein, von Braun or Sartre?
9. Which of these was an early and short lived Olympic sport? The standing pole vault, the standing long jump, the standing javelin throw or the standing high jump?
10. This famous athlete/actor, and childhood hero of mine, was on the University of Southern California team that set a world record in the 4x110 yard relay in the late 1960s.
11. Who's older -- Popeye, Olive Oil or John McCain?
12. Hamlet famously suggests that two of his adversary’s will be “hoisted by their own petard”. What the hell is a petard?
13. Hamlet also says to Orphelia “Get thee to a nunnery.” What was he suggesting?
14. During the Civil War the president’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, managed to slip at a Northern train station so that both legs were caught in the gap between the train and the station, risking his life. He was rescued by a celebrity who yanked him free. Who was that celebrity?
15. The vice president of the confederacy stood out from the other high officials on either side because of what characteristic?
16. The biggest battles of World War II were all fought where?
17. Gandhi is actually a common name in India and means what?
18. It is well known that the oldest man in the Bible was Methuselah, who lived to 969 years. The Bible doesn’t say how he died, but you can figure it out. So, how?
19. Actor Albert Brooks real name is much more famous than his stage name. What is it?
20. Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert were the co-authors of the John Denver hit “Country Roads, Take me home” (Denver only tinkered with it) which reached number 2 on Billboard. But later they performed their own pop classic which was a number one 70s hit which you almost certainly have heard. What was it?
21. The 67 highest mountains in the world are in Asia. What country has the next highest?
22. If you thought “boondocks” as in “I live in the boondocks” was a Southern expression, you are dead wrong. It means mountains, and derives from what language?
23. British actor Stanley Jefferson’s stage name was? How did he get it?
24. Other than the obvious, Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphreys, Jack Kennedy, George H. W. Bush have what in common?
25. He pardoned Robert E. Lee.
26. Who was the first Vice President to be called “Veep”?
27. Which Big Band leader gave Sinatra his big break?
28. In Tolkien’s first draft of what became The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn was not a man. What was he?
29. Which three angels are named in the canonical Bible?
20. He stole home plate 50 times in his career. Home plate! Blows my mind. Who was it?


1. Believe it or not, George Washington was given citizenship in France. Not that he ever lived or visited there. They made Hamilton one too.
2. Ulysses Grant.
3. The two gunmen were trying to assassinate President Truman at the Blair House. The other combatants were assigned to protect him.
4. He was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials.
5. Poor little pigeons. Can you imagine that today?
6. None. The winners got Silver medals.
7. Matthew (Mack) Robinson, whose little brother Jackie you probably heard about.
8. Apparently, Plato, if history can be believed.
9. The standing long jump, won by Ray Ewry, a standout in two Olympics.
10. O.J. Simpson. Most of my other childhood heroes ended up better.
11. Olive Oyl was created in 1919, ten years before Popeye. She was seventeen when McCain was born (1936).
12. A petard was a new fangled bomb at the time.
13. A nunnery was slang for a whorehouse.
14. This is one of history’s great coincidences. John Wilkes Booth’s older and more famous brother, Edwin Booth, who lived in and supported the North, saved Lincoln’s only surviving child. This sounds like a myth, but its not. Both Booth and Lincoln acknowledged it during their lives and there were other witnesses.
15. Judah Benjamin was Jewish.
16. In the Soviet Union against the Germans.
17. It means grocer.
18. If you do the math (I did personally), he almost certainly drowned during the great flood which only Noah and family survived. I suppose he could have died earlier that year of old age, but I’m going with it.
19. Albert Einstein. Can’t imagine why he needed a stage name.
20. Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band). Who could forget that song?
21. Argentina has number 68. I never remember its name so I won’t include it.
22. The language is Tagalog, spoken in the Philippine Islands. The expression was picked up by Americans during our occupation of the islands.
23. Stan Laurel. He picked laurel by opening the dictionary to a random page, supposedly to a picture of one my favorite Romans, Scipio Africanus, who was wearing a laurel leaf crown.
24. They all fought in WWII. I left Eisenhower out so as not to make it too obvious.
25. Gerald Ford got around to it in 1975. When Andrew Johnson gave a general amnesty, Lee and other confederate leaders had to make special application to the president. For some reason, Lee’s application was put aside or given away by Secretary of State, William Seward, probably by accident.
26. Alben Barkley, the now forgotten VP during the Truman administration. According to Barkley, his grandson came up with it.
27. Harry James had him before Tommy Dorsey, with whom his career really took off.
28. Actually, he was a hobbit. Would have been a different book, no?
29. Gabriel, Michael and Lucifer.
30. If you guessed Rod Carew, you are wrong. He did it 17 times in the 60s and maybe 70s, 7 times in one year (the record) which I consider underappreciated. But, it was Ty Cobb who had 50 in his career way back when.

Biden for VP

Well, making predictions is a hazardous business. At one point, my presidential election predictions, begun in December, 2006, looked pretty sound. McCain had rebounded from his near campaign disaster (highlighted by the dreaded report that he was carrying his own bags), Hillary had won New Hampshire (my best single prediction; at the time it seemed only Bill and I thought so) and my VP choices looked pretty sound.

Now, the tables have turned. I always said Obama had a shot, but thought Hillary would take him down, which, of course, she almost did. My belief that Bill Richardson would be the Democrat’s VP candidate is now, of course, shot to hell. Nothing left for me on the Democratic side. I was wrong about everything (big deal; so were all the experts).

My picks on the other side are better. McCain is the candidate, a pick I stuck with even when he was in the gutter. My thoughts about his likely VP choice, Huckabee or Duncan Hunter, don’t appear so wise, although my underlying belief that he will pick a true conservative seems sound. Of course, I now realize that Hunter is not a good campaigner, and Huckabee almost seems destined for an entertainment career. No pundit even mentions either of them anymore. Of course, unlike Obama, McCain has not promised his pick would not be a surprise. I’ve always thought RNC chairman and former Maryland lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, would be McCain’s best choice, but I am a voice crying in the wilderness with that one. If it happens, then I look like a temporary genius, at least in the same way coaches whose teams win the Super bowl are described as geniuses. Don’t count on it.

The most important prediction I still have a good shot at – probably 50/50. That is, who will ultimately win? And way back when, I chose McCain. He was also my favorite, but I rarely think the guy I like will win. However, Obama has turned out to be the best pure politician in the field, to everyone's surprise, so I feel no great confidence, but will stick to my selection.

So, what about Biden? Watching Morning Joe this morning, the “pundit” consensus is that he is a good choice. That surprised me. Speaking to “regular” people this week who followed politics, the general feeling was that he would not be a good choice. Not only was he tainted by the plagiarism scandal (unfairly, I believe), but he is by nature verbose (if there is more than one way to say something he will choose all of them), sometimes arrogant and probably easy to mock, which is all too important in presidential politics. His whining temper tantrum during supreme court appointment hearing should be shown again and again by Republican advocacy groups. Clearly, he recognized these things during the campaign and tried hard to tamp down on himself. It didn't do much good.

Biden also has a long, long record. And when you have that, it is easy to make someone look like a hypocrite, or, as we say these days, a flip flopper. Within one day the McCain campaign has an ad out showing Biden dissing Obama and praising McCain. There are already top ten lists out for Biden gaffes.

Not that either campaign cares that much about Delaware. It will go Democrat with or without Obama and has few electoral votes. Ironically, Mr. Delaware, Joe Biden, received only 3% of the primary vote as opposed to 53% for Obama and 42% for Clinton.

Chris Dodd, although not as exciting as Biden, would have been a better choice. He has Biden’s strengths without his weaknesses. The fact that he was disqualified because he got a sub-prime loan is political correctness idiocy, of course. Who wouldn’t take the best loan they could get? He did nothing crooked or underhanded? It’s just this blockhead way of thinking that the sub-prime scandals somehow taints the people who got the loans. (take a look at my July 24th, 2008 post -Various Nonsense - where I discuss whether political do-gooders created this problem years ago by forcing banks to weaken their underwriting requirements in order to have more minority homeowners).

McCain has a harder job than Obama. He will almost certainly make some happy and others unhappy whatever his choice is. Conservatives want Romney for VP, just as they wanted him to be the presidential candidate to begin with. On the other hand, independents like me, who liked the moderate, aisle hopping, maverick McCain and are disappointed by the true believer McCain who is running for president, want a more moderate choice. I’m not a big Joe Lieberman fan, but he would excite me as the VP choice just because it means that one candidate is spitting in the face of his party. Of course, it would be Republican convention suicide, and is not going to happen.

At the end of the day, the VP selection is a bit like a roller coaster ride. It’s thrilling and seems very important in the midst of it, but when it is all said and done, it won’t mean much at all. But, you take the ride anyway, because its fun.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Most Valuable Olympian

A young friend of mine (age 7 actually), on being explained that Michael Phelps had won 8 gold medals, more than anyone else had ever done, asked they just don't name him winner of the Olympics and get it over with. Hmmm. Winner of the Olympics. Maybe a little much, but why isn't there a Most Valuable Olympian (MVO)?

Here's my own list starting at the beginning of modern Olympics. I thought I would need more help in remembering all of these athletes, but I was obsessed with these athletes when I was young, and though, of course, I never saw most of them, I remember reading about all of them with great pleasure, brought back by this exercise.

1896 - Spiridon Louis, a professional water carrier, had to be persuaded to run in the Marathon for the host country, Greece, and, upon winning, became a national hero, being their only gold medalist. Asked by the King what he would want as a reward he replied a carriage and donkey for his business. Good runner. Obviously, either very content, or not so smart.

1900 - Easily Alvin Kraenzlein, a boyhood hero of mine (I can't remember why). He tied for first in the 60 meters (now the shortest is 100), and won the 110 meters, the 220 meter hurdles as well as the long jump. Sort of an early version of Jessie Owens.

1904 - Very difficult choice. Three U.S. stars were outstanding. Archie Hahn won the 60, 100 and 200 meters. Jim Lightbody won the steeplechase, 800 and 1500 meter races, setting a world record in the last. However, a gymnast named George Eyeser, who had a wooden leg, won 6 medals total (3 golds). You got to give it to him, no?

1908 - A rather lackluster Olympics except for a big controversy in the Marathon, where eventually the American Johnny Hayes was declared the winner after the Italian leader had to be helped across the finish line. Later, Hayes lost two challenge matches to the Italian, but he still got the gold. Still, he can't win the MVO with a win like that. Mel Sheppard set an Olympic record in the metric mile (a little more complicated than that, but look it up yourself) and a world record in the 800 meters. To top it off he got a gold for running the final leg in the bizarre 1600 meter medley relay (no longer run).

1912 - Jim Thorpe, who won the decathlon and pentathlon is considered by many the greatest athlete ever. See my January 8, 2008 post for more about him in a story about another Olympian who will probably surprise you.

1916 - No Olympics due to WWII (post publication correction; as my sometime blog-nemesis, Bear, commented below, I meant WWI, not II.)

1920 - Paavo Nurmi. The most amazing runner in history, says I, and many agree. See my April 11, 2007 post for the story of his racing life. In this Olympics he won the 10,000 meters, the individual and team cross-country races as well getting a silver medal in the 5,000 meters. There were also great performances that year by U.S. sprinter Charles Paddock, Britain's Albert Hill (800 and 1500 meter events) and the original Flying Finn, Hannes Kolehmainen, relatively old by then, but who won the marathon anyway.

1924 - The Chariots of Fire Olympics. But none of the guys featured in the movie comes close to the great Nurmi, who won five middle and long distance golds, perhaps the greatest feat in all Olympic history (it is easier to win medals in swimming). He took gold in the 1500 meter, the 5000 meter (and, amazingly, with less than an hour in between the finals), the 3000 meter (team) and the individual and team cross country events. Unreal. My runner up Peter Johann (Johnny) Weissmuller (later starring as Tarzan) won three swimming golds and even one in water polo. A Frenchman, Roger Ducret won five fencing golds, three of them gold. Incidentally, little Sonja Henie was in her first Winter Olympics, and was awful. But she dominating skating for the next 16 years or so.

1928 - No great standouts. Nurmi won his last gold (they would not let him compete in 1932 although he was still the best in the world) so Weissmuller, who took gold in the 100 freestyle and in a relay, gets the nod.

1932 - Babe Didrikson (a woman, if you didn't know), later a great golfer, won the ladies' javelin and hurdles, and came in second in the high jump, but only because they did not recognize her form on one of the jumps, a rule that would not disqualify her now.

1936 Jesse Owens. Four for Four. 100, 200, 400 relay and long jump. Too easy. The emotional impact of his victories at the "Nazi" Olympics in the face of Hitler is legendary and not to be repeated here.

1940 - For obvious reasons, the Winter and Summer Olympics, scheduled to be in Japan, were canceled.

1944 - Still canceled.

1948 Fanny Blankers-Coen, a Dutch 30 runner won four golds in the 100 and 200 meters, the 80 meter hurdles and 4 x 100 relay. If she was American we'd all know her name. One of the all time great women athletes.

1952 - Another boyhood hero of mine, Emil Zatopek from Czechoslovakia, won the 5000 and 10,000 meter races but also the marathon in his first attempt.

1956 - Vladlimir Kuts, a Russian, beat out his nemesis, Chris Chataway, and even Emil Zatopek in the 5000 meter and then took gold in the 10,000 too. But, the MVP goes to Tony Sailer of Austria who won the downhill, the slalom and the giant slalom in the Winter Olympics, a triple.

1960 - With tough MVO competition from those like Cassius Clay, Wilma Rudolf won the 100 and 200 meter sprints and then got gold in the 4 x 100 relay.

1964 - Don Schollander, an early version of Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, won four gold medals in 100 and 400 meter freestyle, and in two relays.

1968 - In my humble but biased opinion, the greatest Olympics ever, held in Mexico City. With too many choices, you have to give it to long jumper Bob Beamon who broke the world record by about two feet, a record that lasted for 23 years. But what a list of those he beats out including high jumper Dick Fosbury, who revolutionized his sport, Heavyweight flag waving, George Foreman, Jim Hines (100 meters) and the great Lee Evans (400 meters, with a world record that lasted 20 years and part of the world record setting 4 x 400 meter team). If not for Beamon, however, I'd have given it to skiier Jean Claude Killy who swept the slam, giant slalom and down hill events (although it was a very weird slalom event that I won't go into here -- look it up).

1972 - Mark Spitz won 7 golds in swimming and until this year, that wasn't touched. If not for him, I would have to give it to Olga Korbut, an amazing Russian gymnast, who only won two gold medals but electrified the world with her charm and athletic ability. No one who watched her will ever forget her.

1976 - Another gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, scored 7 perfect scores and won the all around and two other medals. She had stiff competition for MVO, though, from, Alberto Juantorena, who won both the 400 and 800 meters, a feat never performed before, and a Finnish runner, Lasse Viren, who almost managed to equal Emil Zatopek by winning the 5,000 and 10000 meters (for the 2nd Olympics in a row), but only (I'm being sarcastic) finished 5th in the marathon. The American boxing team won gold medals with Sugar Ray Leonard, Howard Davis, Jr., Leon and Michael Spinks and Leo Randolph, all future world champions. And in the Winter Olympics, Franz Klammer won the downhill with the most amazing run I've ever seen, that would have won him my MVO, if not for Comaneci's best ever performance that has set the standard in the profession until this day.

1980 - Eric Heiden won 5 speed skating golds between 200 and 10,000 meters, so dominating the sport that the likes may not have been seen again until Michael Phelps this past week.

1984 - An easy one. Carl Lewis pulled off a Jesse Owens, winning the the 100, 200 meters, a spot on the 4 x 100 meter team as well as the long jump.

1988 - Matt Biondi won 7 swimming medals, 5 of them gold, making him the probably the third best swimmer ever after Spitz and before Phelps, though he has none of their notoriety. He beats out Flo Joyner (3 golds and 1 silver in sprints) and skiier Alberto Tomba (Tomba la bomba) who won two golds in the slalom events. Yet, I give it to another water sport competitor, Greg Louganis who won the 3 and 10 meter diving contests after smacking his head on the board. Sorry, Matt.

1992 - Vitaly Scherbo, an undersung Russian gymnast, won 6 events, 5 of them gold, 4 in one day. Again, were he an American, we would all know his name.

1996 - An amazing little man known as "The Pocket Hercules," whose real name was Naim Suleymanoglu (believe me, I had to look that up), from Turkey, becomes the first weightlifter ever to win 3 golds. He had tough competition from the amazing Michael Johnson, who set a world record in the 200 meters and won gold in the 400 too.

2000 - Ruland Gardner, a great big, but not particularly accomplished graeco-roman wrestler, gets the MVP for winning the gold medal by beating possibly the most dominant athlete in any sport in modern times, Alexander Karelin, whose legend I can't even begin to go into here.

2004 - Believe it or not, it was Michael Phelps, this years star, who won the 100 and 200 meter butterfly and the 200 and 400 meter medley's as well as taking the bronze in the 200 meter freestyle, not really his event, just to try his hand against the two best at the time).

2008 - Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, without it even being over. Right? Well, yes, but it is a tie, because in the last few days, Usein Bolt, a Jamaica speedster, utterly smashed the world record in the 100 meters without even trying (literally, he almost stopped to celebrate), and then beat Michael Johnson's own stunning world record in the 200. He is the probably the greatest sprinter of all time (obviously, the fastest too). Both very young men, they may do it again in 2012. If you put a gun to my head, I couldn't pick one over the other. You might say Phelps because he actually had competition (winning one race by a finger tip) but on the other hand, Bolt has redefined what it means to be fast, and has no competition at this time.

Thanks to Wikipedia which I used for the specific stats (really, y'think I could actually remember all this stuff without checking? Come on).

In making these picks, I admit a bias towards track and field and then swimming, and for the Summer over Winter Olympics. Deal with it, correct me if you like, and see you next week.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Anti-Muldar Society - I don't want to believe

Sometime in my pre-teens, I believe, I became interested in paranormal research. Visits to the bookstore were often a search for books on UFOs, mysteriously vanished ancient civilizations, esp, psychic powers, ghosts and magic. Although I enjoyed the ride immensely, and even tried to be persuasive in convincing others, I was Scully triumphing over Muldar – I wanted to believe, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t.

I’m cynical. That’s often meant as a negative, but if it was good enough for Diogenes, it’s good enough for me. Surveys show that I’m in a minority. Some people believe in most of the things I am going to go through below and many believe in some of them. And I’m not even going into theology here.

I find that business is often a good guide for what people really think. Because they need to make money, they have to be realistic about it. How do you know what topics belong in a category you should at least have doubts about. Because the business of bookstores lumps them together on the shelf bearing the topic label “paranormal”, “metaphysical” or “alternate”.

Long ago I came to deeply appreciate a magician named the Amazing Randi, whose fame was obtained not so much from his magic act as from his secondary career going around proving that the magical feats psychics and other mystics performed are really magic tricks. Not since Houdini has paranormal detective work been so well done.

For example, you can see on the web a video of him performing psychic surgery just like certain Philippine “psychic doctors” were supposed to have done it and which was reported in the media seriously. The only difference is he told you how it was done. Just go to YouTube and put in – “amazing randi psychic surgery”- and you can see his Tonight Show expose. Looks real – its not.

Randi is the author of one of my favorite books, The Mask of Nostradamus, in which he tells how he went to the expense of actually buying a several hundred year old Nostradamus text and then step by step debunks all the blather you have heard about it.

I can’t tell you how many intelligent people I’ve met who believe that Nostradamus predicted Hitler and Napoleon and even the destruction of the twin towers. The Mask is a fascinating story including some genuine World War II history.

Knowing that many people believed in Nostradamus’ powers didn’t stop me from being shocked when I learned that one of my closest friends not only completely believed it, but thought I was just being argumentative in denying the obvious truth of it. To his credit, when I gave him Randi’s book to read (well, I told him what chapters), he acknowledged his mistake.

But, I give him credit for that. It's unusual. Most believers would not even look or acknowledge the truth of the matter no matter how undeniable. Anyway, that experience puts the French seer on top of my list of things I don’t believe in and wish you didn’t either.

1. Nostradamus. Simply put, it is all nonsense, distortions and lies. Most often, what Nostradamus wrote about events, places and people at his time (16th century) and it has been repeatedly altered to fit modern situations. That was, for example, what was done to give him a prophecy about 9/11 that he never really had as well as the Hitler and Napoleon stories. The Mask of Nostradamus even includes a thrilling World War II intelligence story concerning Hitler and Nostradamus, that you might appreciate.

2. ESP. I give my father credit for opening my eyes about this one when I was a kid. We were discussing a fascinating book I had read about a renowned psychic, Peter Hurkos, and I admit that for once, my cynicism was shaken a bit by his story. I explained to Dad something I didn’t think he knew. The book was written by someone who was initially very skeptical and became convinced by the evidence she saw with her own eyes. He explained to me, correctly, that this was merely a trick that was frequently used to convince people like myself of the truth of something that just wasn’t so. Now, when I hear someone try to convince me or others about something mystical, I am never surprised to hear that they too were initially skeptics.

Lots of us feel we have extra sensory experiences. A frequent one occurs when someone calls us that we were just thinking about. My explanation of the experience, and it happens to me frequently too, is that we think about people we know all the time, but don’t really focus on it. Lots of times it is a brief thought such as . . . I should really call so and so. Sure enough so and so was thinking the same way and called first. No telepathy going on.

My favorite esp story - my sister, another skeptic, at least then, told me that she had become convinced that her secretary was psychic and that I would believe it too when I met her and she went to work on me. I got my chance. I was helping my sister move when her secretary pulled up out front in her car, walked up and said “You look just like I knew you would.” Problem was, she was talking to the landlord’s son. My sister looked at me and said “Just shut up.” I didn’t have to say a thing.

And I know that many of you out there will have stories told to you by friends or family that you trust and which seems inexplicable. The story has been subtly changed to make it more astounding (I wouldn’t believe my own mother if she told me a story about psychic powers), sometimes unconsciously, but sometimes very consciously. People simply want other people to believe the irrational things that they believe.

In fact, I believe it is more important to people in general that you believe the same irrational things they do, than the rationale beliefs they hold. Twice in my life people have admitted to me that they made up or embellished a story about paranormal events because they wanted me to believe. It’s just two, but it’s a start.

3. UFO’S – This topic was the subject of one of my first posts (9/13/06). I fully agree that there likely exists what we would consider life in the universe on other planets (we no longer have to speculate that there are other planets). It makes sense that in the trillions of solar systems out there that this has happened many times, not just this once for our benefit. I would therefore expect that there is also intelligent life out there. If there is a God, may he make alien women as good looking as they are on tv with the same fetish for belly shirts.

Despite the fact that I will watch any tv documentary about UFOs or aliens, I do not believe they are visiting us. My reasoning is this: If there are beings which have solved the problems of interstellar travel, seemingly insurmountable to us, then they are much smarter than we are. What our physicists can tell us about the universe lets us know that in order to travel these distances, they must have such phenomenal power in their ships, that they could easily watch us from the other side of the moon, if not the galaxy, and would not need to come down to earth to steal our cows, drain power from our lines or fly so slowly that they could be followed by our jet fighters.

Moreover, if they have come here, then they are enough like us psychologically that they would likely do the same things we did when we were exploring the world – kill, conquer or trade. None of these things has happened and it’s been a long time.

If I am wrong on any one of these subjects, I expect and hope this is the one.

5. Ghosts – There are no such things as ghosts. I don’t care what stories you have heard, there are no such things. When you are dead you are dead.

When I went to junior high I let it be known that there was a ghost in my basement. At one point all of the guys in my class came over to see it. A number of others (including fellow blogger Bear, who wrote a story about it for the school paper 5 years before we became good friends) also visited. It sure seemed like there was a ghost there.

I even remember my friend, Reiner, watching from behind a closet with his bb gun in hand, for the ghost to appear. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the door to the closet slowly and noisily started closing on him. There was no wind down there and neither of us touched it. We ran. That’s what we always did. Despite lots of “evidence,” I don’t believe it was a ghost, but our imaginations acting on random events. Frankly, if I ever really believed it, I never would have been able to go to sleep at night. But, it was lots of fun.

Not believing in ghosts can come in handy. A few years ago I was sleeping in a creepy old mansion in Ireland. I was kicked out of my room for supposedly snoring (I think she was just being mean) and had to walk past a large cracked mirror in the hallway, down a very creaky stairs, into the dusty and portrait filled library to lie down on the couch to sleep. I looked around the room, said to myself, “Damn, I’m glad I don’t believe in ghosts” and went to sleep. I know quite a few people who never would have closed their eyes.

In my own experience, women are much more inclined to believe in ghosts (and psychics) than men, or, at least, take it much more seriously. I have known very few men who have gone to a medium (not including men forced to by their wives), but any number of women who do. When I’ve discussed it with them, the reason for their beliefs always seemed to be a version of the same – do you want to believe you die and don’t get to see the people you love? That’s a nice thought, but it’s just a thought.

6. The powers of crystals, pyramids and amulets - How many people do you know who believe in this? I’ve met more than a few. I used to work with a very congenial woman who believed in pretty much everything. If it was even remotely supernatural, she bought it. On her desk was a collection of four beautiful crystals. They really were stunning. So, one day, I talked her into going to the bagel store for everyone. While she was out, I confiscated her crystals and replaced them with four of the ugliest rocks the same size I could find outside. When she came back with the food we sat around her desk and waited. The way her eyes opened when she noticed the switch was priceless. I’m giggling now thinking back on it. She admitted that the thought that something demonic had occurred briefly entered her mind. She was a good sport though and laughed along with us.

7. Spells - Are you serious? If you believe in spells raise your hand? Now put your hands down and schedule yourself for a lobotomy. It won’t make any difference to you, but will improve the rest of our lives immensely.

8. Reincarnation - I would like to believe in reincarnation. I would come back as a rich and beautiful lesbian living in Hollywood. What real man wouldn’t? But, despite the large number of people who believe in it, it is about as real as ouija boards.

I am often amazed that so many religious people believe in reincarnation even though it completely contradicts their own religion’s doctrine. That’s the beauty of supernatural stuff. It doesn’t have to make any sense.

9. Ouija boards - I guess there are people who still believe in the power of these boards to communicate with the spirit world (as if there is a spirit world), but, I suppose those same people expect Snap, Crackle and Pop to jump out of their box of Rice Krispies in the morning too. I’m happy to report that most people seem to grow out of this one.

10. Fortune tellers - Too many women I know also swallow this flummery whole. C’mon folks. Do they ever tell you anything specific? Ever, ever? Usually it's of the order of “You will meet someone named J.S.“ Well, with all the Johns, Jennifers, Joes, Jills, Jacks, etc. in the world, it really isn’t much of a surprise, is it? You will meet someone, someone you know will die, blah, blah, blah. Oy vey.

I remember with relish a friend who went to a psychic many years ago and wrote everything down. She refused to read me her notes, correctly assuming I would mock her, but repeatedly said that virtually everything predicted had come true. After a year of merciless teasing from me she triumphantly took it out and we thoroughly went over it. Even she admitted, not one thing was accurate. Nothing.

11. Hypnosis. Even Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine and author of Why Smart People Believe Stupid Things, believes in hypnosis. How disappointing. We should be skeptical when a supposed state of mind can’t be measured, when it can’t be defined, when an active imagination is a key characteristics of being “susceptible” to it, when people who don’t believe in it can’t be affected by it, etc. Michael, it seems to me, is pulling a Muldar – he wants to believe at least in something. Maybe he thinks it gives him credibility or makes him seem more open minded. I can’t think of a good reason.

There are studies which seem to show a hypnotic state. My advice to you – don’t just swallow the blurbs for the studies or media reports (virtually always wrong). Studies are hard to get by non-academic people, but you may know some college kid or professor with access. Read the actual study. If you can do so easily it is probably not very scientific because real science is drowned in statistics that are Greek to most of us. Frequently, even the ones with lots of statistics frequently prove to be wrong even when peer reviewed (which I’ve also learned means nothing much; often they are prefunctory with the reviewers wanting to be judged just as easily when their turn come).

What I’m trying to say in my awkward longwinded fashion is, don’t swallow it whole without examination. Let me go back to business people. If it was real, it would be marketed big time and not just by “hypnotists.”

Some of you may say, but I personally have been hypnotized. I think you think you have, but I don’t think you have. It’s not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of it contradicts my understanding, however limited, of the universe.

12. The power of prayer to heal. This is a difficult one to study. My own skepticism makes any form of distance healing impossible whether prayer or shooting white light at someone (my spiritual uncle tried shooting white lights at my mother when she was dying of cancer. Result - she died.)

A number of studies have been done testing intercessory prayer and things like faith healing by touch. Some resulted in no positive findings, but others have. My personal belief is that the positive studies were either badly done, i.e., they did not randomize patients well, weren’t sufficiently blind or controlled, etc. There is also the possibility of fudged data in this very emotional area. If it really worked, don’t you think that hospitals would be relying on it a lot? Why aren’t they? Because, in real life, it doesn’t work.

As with many things in life, you can’t prove or disprove anything absolutely. I choose not to believe these things because they contradict everything I know, however limited, about the real world.

All right, do I have proof of all my beliefs? Of course not. Would it matter if I could? Of course not.

None of the above will convince you of anything if you choose to believe. I can never quote enough The Amazing Randi at the end of The Mask of Nostradamus. It’s one of my favorite quotes and if I spread this gospel to ten people in my life, I’ve contributed something to the world:

“The legend of Nostradamus, faulty as it is, will survive it all. Not because of its worth, but because of its seductive attraction, the idea that the Prophet of Salon could see into the future will persist. An ever-abundant number of interpreters will pop up to renew the shabby exterior of his image, and that gloss will serve to entice more unwary fans into acceptance of the false predictions that have enthralled millions in the centuries since his death. Shameless rationalizations will be made, ugly facts will be ignored and common sense will continue to be submerged in enthusiasm.”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Political Update for August, 2008

Race and the election

If you had one bet to make about this race since Obama sewed up his nomination, it was that race would rear its ugly head sooner or later. You would have won, but who would have given you odds.

I try and be as fair as possible here. When I give it to one side, I give it to the other. And, its easy, because running for president means you throw out logic, fairness, insight and even your own personality and just try and appear as the image that you (meaning, sadly, your advisors) tell you will work.

By election day both sides have so disappointed me with their brazen unfairness, partisanship, false modesty strangely accompanied with a total lack of humility, that I wish we had ten other choices. I've even taken a look at Ron Paul's book Revolution and thought about him a great deal. If he had run as the Libertarian candidate I would have given him some thought (although I like much of what Bob Barr has to say these days, I have trouble forgetting his bulldog like partisanship during the Clinton years and cannot vote for him).

John McCain has been my choice for president since the 2000 election. I believe he would have had a better shot as a third party candidate then or in 2004 than any other candidate in history. He made his bed and picked his bedmates since then, desperately trying to secure his base on the far right, those he had deeply disappointed and even insulted in the past, at the risk of alienating the independents who were waiting for him. It is a difficult balancing act and leaves a lot of room for Obama to court those independents, and he has put on his best suit and showed up at their doors with bouquets. Suddenly pro-gun rights, possibly pro-drilling and who knows what else - pro-life (actually, that is one place he can't go).

McCain's lean right has disappointed me. Cynically, I just tell myself, well, who can believe him? He's running for president. When he wins, he will be himself, and, that is, by nature, a compromisor and independent minded. Frankly, I don't believe either of these guys. For one thing, among other topics, I sincerely doubt that either are anti-gay marriage in their hearts. Not because I feel they must agree with me, but because it seems to me that it doesn't fit their basic natures.

As well McCain disappoints with his negative campaign ads. I don't feel that they are over the top, although I have a fairly broad spectrum of what is fair. If it is true, or, arguably true, then it is usually fair. I just felt he is better than this and he said he would be.

Obama, not surprisingly, has disappointed me too. I find him very hard not to like. He is a good speaker (not as good as they say). He is charasmatic. He reminds one of Dean Martin when he does that little jog up the stairs onto a stage, just radiating cool. But, he has cried race and it isn't fair.

He knows he has to be careful in doing so because it might turn off a lot of white voters. At the same time, he has a base too and they are very focused on race (polls show this to be more true among black voters than white voters). So, he has not smacked down his supporters who repeatedly cried race throughout the primary season, slandering Geraldine Ferraro and both Clintons. Calling someone a racist who doesn't deserve it can be as bad as being a racist. It may be racist itself.

If Obama wants to point out that he is black or part black, I have no problem with that. If he wanted to say, you should vote for me because I'm black or half black and it will be good for America to show it can elect a black man, I have no problem with that either. If he wants to say that there are a lot of people out there who will spread falsehoods about me (that I'm Muslim), that I hate white people, that I am a Manchurian candidate, I have no problem with that.

But when he makes it quite clear that "they" (when he has been talking about the McCain campaign) will point out that he is black as a negative, then that crosses the line.

I understand why black men and women will still feel paranoid about American politics despite the gains they've made in the past half century. That is probably true among all minorities. That's no excuse for throwing out this card. Save it for people who actually are racist.

Columnist Bob Herbert, who shouted from his soap box as a New York Times columnist, that recent commercials by McCain, are racist, did Obama no favors among people like myself who are listening to him and trying to give him a chance.

Herbert argues that the ad comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton because it will remind people of the white fear of black men with white women. The problem is that those two unfortunate women (and rich or not, I pity both of them) are the icons for undeserving celebrities. No one would have recognized Kevin Federline.

McCain is making fun of Obama's celebrity and there is nothing wrong with that. Running for president is not for the faint hearted. Obama and Herbert should both have more of a sense of humor. Complain about commercials that are untruthful. No problem with that and McCain has to take some blame for those ads already (claiming that Obama did not visit the troops because he couldn't take the press with him, for example).

But, Herbert's argument that the commercial where Obama was parodied as thinking he was a Moses type was even more absurd, and I cannot think of another word for it. Herbert points out that the commercial uses clips of Obama where he was standing in front of what Herbert termed phallic symbols. Again, he claims that this plays to fears about black men.

I saw Herbert discussing this yesterday on Morning Joe and they played the commercial. Obama was standing in front of tall thin monuments in Europe. Of course, Herbert doesn't mention that it was Obama who placed himself in front of these monuments in order to use their aura to his advantage. That is precisely the posing of which McCain is making fun.

Were I guest on the show (as I often fantasize myself, although I can see how the many cranky letters I write MSNBC would rule that out) I would have asked Herbert if seeing those images made him think of Obama having sex with young white women. If not, why would he think others would. I don't think anyone had that impression. Modern society has much better phallic symbols these days than tall monuments. Has Herbert ruled out anyone other than Obama playing a tape of Obama standing in front of Washington Monument? And why, Mr. Herbert, do Americans and Europeans build these giant phallic symbols for monuments?

Had the celebrities, or even on of them, been black in the commercial, would Herbert have complained that was racist too. Yes.

Ironically, as two commentators debated this, Chuck Todd and Pat Buchanan, on the next segment, I counted a dozen or more phallic symbols, that is, long straight objects on the screen. Another subliminal? Even the ornamental scrawl across the top of the screen could be described as phallic if you wanted to see it.

Of course, watching the various journalists on television, who take such pains to appear knowledgeable, talking about the monuments being subliminal images, was amusing. If it was subliminal, how can we see them? They are actual images, not below our sensory perception. Moreover, have none of them noticed the overwhelming evidence that real subliminal images do not influence people?

Of course not. Because, they are not as smart as they would like us to think they are. More likely, that is just me being bitter because they have jobs that I would love.


I not only stick with my 2006 pick that John McCain will be president (I hate it when real pundits change their picks based on the latest polls), but want to restate my long held beliefs as who will be vp choices.

I think both nominees will surprise us and the vp candidates will not be among those who the media are pushing.

On the Democratic side, I always thought that Bill Richardson had a good shot, and believe it still despite his having almost disappeared from public consideration. I have also said that Evan Bayh was a possibility. The fact that some mock him as a boring speaker is unimportant.

On the Republican side, I still think that former Maryland lieutenant governor, Michael Steele would be a good choice, not only because he has a pleasant personality and seems intelligent, but because he is black. Cynical or not, that might help McCain a lot. Conservatives like conservative black candidates.

I also long ago opined that former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee (where did he go?) and Duncan Hunter, congressman from San Diego, would be good choices. Forget Hunter. He's an awful national candidate, but still think Huckabee has the personality and humility to be a great vp candidate. He also doesn't mind wielding the hatchet, something he did for McCain even in the debates before he irritated him a little by extending his own campaign a bit too long.

But, if McCain could forgive Jerry Falwell, he'll have no problem with Huckabee.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Christian the Lion video

Many of you have seen the Youtube video of Christian the lion. If you haven't, it is an emotional reunion between a young lion raised in England and then set free, and the two young men who brought it up. A year later they go to visit, and to the sounds of I Will Always Love You the three of them frolic and practically make out with each other. Very, very touching.

At the end of the short video you will see an old man enter. I did a double take because I immediately recognized the ambling shirtless fellow as one of my boyhood heroes, George Adamson, whose wife, Joy, wrote the first book I ever read, Born Free, later made into a song and a movie. The Adamson's, a fascinating couple, lived in Africa and released several big cats into the wild, one of which was Elsa, the star of Joy Adamson's book. After they had released Elsa and others, they grew apart and separated, although I believe they remained married and close friends. They were both murdered later on, though not at the same time. A remarkable, if tragic story, that probably should be made into a new movie for this generation.

George Adamson being present in this video tells me two things, at least, that were not included on the tape. First, he and staff were the ones who almost certainly did the work of getting young Christian rehabilitated to live in the wild. Second, the lioness you see near the end, is probably not a wild lioness at all, but at least a half tame member of the Adamson family. Christian does not look old enough to me to have a pride, although I guess it is possible. There is no way he could have fought off a larger, older lion, if there was any competition. But a wild lioness, even if his "wife," as the tape tells us, would not be able to sit there and be petted by the two men, even if they are the most talented animal trainers in the world. Don't believe it.

Still, I see why this tape is a phenomena, and, believe me, I got misty-eyed watching. Although, come to think of it, I get misty-eyed everytime I hear I Will Always Love You, so, that may have been cheating a bit.

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 . . . .