Monday, February 16, 2009

Stimulus or succubus?

I thought I hated TARP. I really hate this stimulus bill. I do myself violence by calling it by the name attached to it – stimulus. Stimulate what -- is the big question. The economy? How so? A great deal of it is not even supposed to take effect until next year and it’s only February. The bigger question is whether spending unheard sums of money is going to help at all, or hurt deeply. If you haven’t heard or read the statement of Henry Morgenthau, FDR’s treasury secretary during the New Deal era, to a congressional committee in 1939, here it is:

"We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong ... somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises ... I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started ... And an enormous debt to boot!"

When I railed against TARP we were told we had to do it because it was an emergency. If this isn’t done, the whole system would fail. I’m not being metaphorical. Not only did the politicians say so, but I personally had people explain it to me as if all mature adults knew better. As we know, it turned out that the money wasn't even spent on what we were told was necessary.

Watch the recent congressional hearings. The congressmen and women who voted for TARP are livid at what happened with the money. The ones who voted against it are livid, but at least get to say – I told you so. That's because they don’t know what happened to a great deal of the money other than it went to big banks that won’t tell us what they did with it.

Maybe I’m overstating it. We know a little. The hundreds of billions of dollars were given to a small numbers of banks in order to allow them to lend. Except, they didn’t start lending and still haven't. In other words, they took the money under false premises; there was no danger of the economy completely failing at the time, and patience and care could have been taken AT LEAST to put safeguards into place before the money was distributed. Yet we continue with under the same theory.

We know that the banks have spent some of the money on lavish entertainment and bonuses, but on what else? We just don’t know, even though the CEOs have testified before congress just this past week. It seems that some, maybe all of the banks are simply treating it as an unearned revenue stream, a gift from the American people which we paid for by borrowing the money and will pay back for possibly the life of everyone existing in America today. To be fair, some banks and executives are playing fair and even deferring compensation until the U.S. is paid back, but many are not. I have no confidence that the government has employees smart are enough to rule out the banks doing what they like. I think Madoff proved that for us.

Now congress has voted finally passed the stimulus bill last Friday. Yet, probably not one single member of the senate or the house has read it. Don't tell me that's not true. I watched the hearings. The Republicans (who have passed plenty of bills no one read when they were in power)screamed they needed time to read it and the Democrats (who have complained about not having time to read bills when they were not in power) screamed back that there was no time to read it.

Chuck Schumer is not my favorite politician. Repeatedly during these last debates, he scolded the Republicans and emphasized the need to pass this bill immediately. Yet, when George Bush was pushing the first TARP, Schumer had wisely said – what’s the rush? Can’t we take our time and authorize a little money at a time?

It interests me that while the Democratic leaders were saying there was no time to read it over the week end and voted Friday, President Obama hasn't even signed it days later. Why couldn't the congress have been given 48 hours to read it (which was the original promise) and he (with his staff also having time to read) could have signed it the same day. Obviously, 48 hours to read, would not have made any difference. This will quickly be forgotten in a short time as the new battle arises. This is one of the many problems with the control of the congress being in the hands of two partisan ideological entities. It doesn't matter who is in power; they take full advantage and continuously hurt the country.

Despite it all job loss goes unabated and credit remains largely frozen. Nothing congress or either administration has tried has worked. Here is the real question. Which of Mark Twain’s statements best applies –

Suppose you were an idiot. And then suppose you were a congressman. But I repeat myself.

Or -

There is only one indigent criminal class in America – Congress.

Is congress doing this because they are just trying to rape the nation for the benefit of their own constituents or friends, or, because they are idiots. Hmmm. Above my pay grade, I’m afraid and who cares? It’s just a horrible idea.

I admit to being Chicken Little, screaming the sky is falling. I feel pretty good about that position because I’ve felt that way for about a year and a half and so far, so bad. I’m a little concerned that the professionals who should have been saying this were very few, and among the missing includes Bush's treasury secretary, Hank Paulsen. In an effort to spare you one of my several page long rants, check out my earlier rant where I explain why the famous economist, F. A. Hayek, is spinning in his grave (11/13/08).

Life is so complex that we have decided that common sense no longer applies and cling only to myths. Perhaps because it all just too much for us to understand, when it doesn’t make sense, we think its because its too hard for us to understand.

Take the government investments in large banks under TARP. Everyone candidly speaks of the investments as taxpayer money. That means that unlike most investments, which we choose, we as an entire people have against our will invested in risky enterprises. I love it when a congressperson asks the executives they are chastising - when this money will be repaid - or, even when the executives say the taxpayers will make a profit on the investments. Is any taxpayer so foolish as to think, even if the government is repaid, we will ever see that money again? If so, you have slipped into our dimension from another.

Why is it hard to understand that the eight or nine HUNDRED BILLION (on top of the first seven HUNDRED BILLION and not including interest and ongoing projects) being spent must either be created out of whole cloth or borrowed. Either way, we must pay it back for the rest of our lives. Isn’t this like digging a hole to get out of a hole? Forget inflation, forget international debt to countries competing with us – WE HAVE TO PAY IT BACK.

Why should anyone complain that some people borrowed money for houses that they couldn’t afford to pay it back when now, that is government policy?

Sometimes, I am told, by supporters of the stimulus, that no one thinks this will actually stimulate the economy, but it will give confidence to the American people, who want the bill. Do they? There are a few polls out there with different results but the last I saw, it was under 40% for it.

This particular debate is one instance where the right is right and the left is wrong. I’ve been watching the House of Representatives and Senate hearings for days, going back and forth, some of them angry, some of them resigned, all of them sure that there side is right.

Here’s what I’d like to stop hearing.

- No one is happy about this, but we have to do it. No you don’t.
- It is either this or nothing – Completely untrue.
- We have to do this immediately. Sure, like TARP and Iraq.
- We’ve bent over backwards for your side. Really – both sides?
- You left us out of the process. Same as you did when you were in power.

We also know what both sides will say if it fails.

- We inherited this problem from you.
- Maybe, but you made it worse.
- Well, you ran up huge deficits and said they didn’t matter.
- Sure, but never anywhere near this much.
- It's your fault (pointing both ways).

These are fairly easy predictions.

Just for fun, how much is a trillion. Sometimes when you see these calculations online they are grossly exaggerated, but I’ve worked these out myself and I'm pretty sure of their rough accuracy.

How much is a trillion pounds? Take the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. As far as I can tell (by looking at the internet), it weighs roughly five million nine hundred thousand tons. That’s tons, which is hard to conceive because we can’t lift a ton. It translates to eleven billion eight hundred million pounds. Obviously, this is already an inconceivable weight. So how many Great Pyramids do we need to build to get to one trillion pounds. Not ten such pyramids, or twenty or thirty or . . . skip ahead . . . sixty, seventy - no - eighty – roughly eighty five such pyramids. And that’s just one trillion pounds. We are actually spending many trillionsssssss of dollars on stimulus.

Take one foot blocks and start piling them on top of each other to see how close to the sun you can get with a trillion of them. Actually, you would not only can get all ninety three million miles to the sun (at its closest) before you get to the end, but you can then turn around and come all ninety three million miles back, and still have over eighteen billion blocks to go, enabling us to go back and forth to the moon fourteen or fifteen times. And again, that’s just one trillion feet. We are actually spending trillionsssssss of dollars.

One more. How about a trillion seconds in the past? Go back past George Washington, past da Vinci, past the Norman Invasion, past King Arthur, past Caesar, past Herodotus, Homer and Agamemnon, past Hammurabi, past the pyramids and past Uruk’s Gilgamesh, and keep going, going, going, seemingly forever until you get to roughly thirty one thousand seven hundred years ago. And did I mention that this is only one trillion seconds? We are actually spending trillionsssssss here.

Why do I keep saying we are spending trillionsssss? Well, take TARP I and II. That’s seven hundred billion. Add the stimulus bill, another almost eight hundred billion. That’s 1.5 trillion just there. Then take the federal reserve, our national bank, and the FDIC, the agency that guarantees our bank accounts. According to a recent article in Bloomberg News, these agencies “have lent or spent almost $3 trillion over the past two years and pledged up to $5.7 trillion more?" Throw in, for the hell of it, another 168 billion in 2008 tax cuts, etc. and soon you are up to nearly TEN TRILLION DOLLARS.

And that is without servicing the debt (many hundreds of billions if not trillions itself) or figuring out how much some of these programs will cost that continue for years. When has the government last underestimated the cost of anything?

Now, keep in mind, our entire national debt from inception to date is all ready at an all time high - nearly eleven trillion dollars. Those on the left correctly criticized the right wing for creating this debt in the last few years (with their help, especially the last two, shhhh). Now, they want to double it in a matter of only a few years, and most of it in the last few months.

Does this sound possible? Sure, there are conspiracy theorists who might believe that those few true dedicated socialists around, who want the government to own all the banks, control all the medicine, all the jobs and so on, are conspiring to use this economic down turn to spend so much that there is nothing to do but go at least European style socialist. But, you have to remember that back in the 80s some thought that Reagan and gang wanted to spend so much money (albeit a tiny fraction of what we are doing now) so that we would have to completely cut all spending and become reactionary fiscal conservatives.

Shouldn’t insane spending cause one or the other - either socialism or an end to social spending, but not both? Apparently, people believe one or the other because of their political philosophy. Here's a silly thought. Can't we all just agree that insane spending causes insane consequences.

We haven’t even discussed the unintended consequences of this huge change in government policy (entering the free market) and unparalleled spending. Naturally, no one can know what they will be, which is the problem with central planning. But, take the $8000 tax credit for first time home buyers, which is part of the stimulus bill, just as an example. Wasn't one of the causes of our financial woes our encouraging people who couldn’t afford to buy houses to do so (big hint, yes)? Will this just create another generation of buyers who can’t afford their mortgages in a few years? What will it do to the rental market? Will it increase new home building to a degree that the existing home market is crushed further? Or, visa versa.

As a fun prediction to really make your day – I don’t know how the markets will react to this. People expected a bump in the market when TARP passed and it went down. Same when Obama was sworn in. But, I am sticking with my prediction that eventually – a few days, a week, a month, who knows, it is going to go down between 5-7000. It is already below 8000.

Economists are historians who try and predict the future. They have all the success of those who try and pick stocks or horses. We all politely act as if it is a science. It would be like a "history scientist" predicting who will be president in 2012 or 2016. Actually, it's even harder because there are more than a few possibilities.

Naturally, you would be right to say it is easy to criticize and much harder to come up with a solution. So, here are some ideas. Since most of the money isn’t going to be spent right away, why did we have to vote on all of it right away? You are not making the public more confident by a trillion dollar plus bill. We are worried about loss of manufacturing jobs – how about dropping the capital gains tax on manufacturing investment dramatically. See what happens over the course of a year. How about trying a closely defined group of infrastructure and R & D jobs right now? How about, instead of throwing money at education, which doesn’t work, free the states to try educational programs they like best without fear of losing government funds and see what happens. Really, could they do worse. Maybe next year, everyone will say – Idaho has this reading problem nailed or something like that.

There are probably lots of good ideas out there, many of which I admit I don’t even understand. For example, a number of finance minded people have suggested doing away with something called mark to market accounting (look it up – I don’t have the knowledge to simplify it). A cousin of mine suggests doing that, plus reducing the reserves banks need to keep for a short while, and last, allowing bad banks on a one time basis to spin off their bad mortgages which the government will buy and eventually sell for whatever they are worth in two years. At least these are ideas that won’t cost enormous amounts of money and rely on market economy to straighten itself out.

I am not predicting the end of the United States, at least as a world power, although in the course of time, things inconceivable become obvious in retrospect. The problems with our country, perhaps all countries not struggling with crushing geological problems or invasion, always, are cultural. The deep need for constant comforting and luxury are so thoroughly entwined in our own system that a great shock may be necessary for us to recover the values that helped make the country what it was and still can be. From a people who expected our government to do little to help us, we now believe they need to do a great deal. Some day perhaps, it will be almost everything. And some will like that.

Of course, with respect to all of the above I hope I’m completely, irretrievably, and inarguably wrong.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Let's get ready to rumble with J. Q. Adams

I can see folks checking out this blog, seeing the title of this post, and then saying, "let's see what comes up on Google's I'm feeling lucky search today." Let's face it, a post about John Quincy Adams would not seem to cause a rapid increase in one's pulse and I’ve pondered for a while even doing it. Our sixth president, and son of the second, he was one of the least popular. There are good reasons he has not had his David McCullough, Ron Chernow or Doris Kearns Goodwin. He didn't lead the country in a war, was by my lights, almost certainly depressed and doesn't seem particularly loved by most Americans of his time.

It was somewhat surprising then that his diary, kept for over a half century, is so interesting and has been mined by so many authors.

A little time spent with him and his father would lead you to conclude that they had several overwhelming characteristics in common – they were both highly educated, intensely curious and pompous asses. JQA, and that was how he regularly signed his name, was not someone I’d want to have dinner with, particularly if I knew he was going to write about me later. We should be happy he kept his diary though as we get to eavesdrop on a long formative period of our country – the late 18h to the mid 19th centuries - by a man intimately involved with his times. Men who were giants in their time besides his father, and whose names still resound – Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr, Madison, Webster, Clay, Jackson and Calhoun still walk the earth in the pages of his private memoirs. JQA was extremely literate and quite possibly the most educated men ever to hold the presidency. Feel free to argue that, but he certainly is in the uppermost bracket.

Surprisingly, even when solemn, and he was virtually always solemn, he was not a boring writer, although highly stylized. His diary, usually found in truncated form, is like a delicious holiday trifle – you can dive in wherever you want and find something interesting. Take this strangely formal description of the duel between Burr and Hamilton, which popped up when I opened the book to a random page the first time (Nov. 5, 1804):

“The Vice-President, Mr. Burr, on the 11th of July last fought a duel with General Alexander Hamilton, and mortally wounded him, of which he died the next day. The coroner’s inquest on his body found a verdict of willful murder by Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States. The Grand Jury in the County of New York found an indictment against him, under the statute, for sending the challenge; and the Grand Jury of Bergen County, New Jersey, where the duel was fought, have recently found a bill against him for murder. Under all these circumstances Mr. Burr appears and takes his seat as President of the Senate of the United States.”

Although Hamilton was a royal thorn in his father’s side when he was president a few years earlier and even tried to prevent him from being elected in 1796 and 1800, JQA recorded it as if he is writing an impartial history of the United States. It appears to me, that although he was writing a private diary, he presumed it would be read someday by the public, just as his father and Thomas Jefferson knew their own correspondence and writings would one day be left to posterity. Thus, he explains many things that a diarist would ordinarily not bother with as if he were instructing one of his classes at Harvard.

It is not clear to me whether JQA was drawn to the presidency himself by ambition, a sense of entitlement or duty. Perhaps this entry from when he was still relatively young is a clue though (July 11, 1812):

“I am forty-five years old. Two-thirds of a long life are past, and I have done nothing to distinguish it by usefulness to my country or to mankind. I have always lived with, I hope, a suitable sense of my duties in society, and with a sincere desire to perform them. But passions, indolence, weakness, and infirmity have sometimes made me swerve from my better knowledge of right and almost constantly paralyzed my efforts of good. I have no heavy charge upon my conscience, for which I bless my Maker, as well as for all the enjoyments that He has liberally bestowed upon me. I pray for his gracious kindness in future. But it is time to cease forming fruitless resolutions.”

He does keep from his diary, and therefore us indirectly, many signs of deep emotion, particlarly once youth had passed, at least where it might be affectionate or tender. Expressing criticism came much easier to his pen. When hearing about one man’s attempt to replace an older man in a diplomatic post, he commented (March 18, 1820):

“There is something so gross and so repugnant to my feelings in this cormorant appetite for office, this barefaced and repeated effort to get an old and meritorious public servant turned out of place for a bankrupt to get into it, that it needed all my sense of the allowances to be made for sharp want and of the tenderness due to misfortune to suppress my indignation.”

Fortunately, he didn't suppress his indignation in his diary or it wouldn't be so much fun. I was tickled by his use of “cormorant,” a water fowl, to describe such a negative feeling. Without doing too much research (Wikipedia only), it appears to have been held "unclean" in the old testament and was used by Milton as a satanic representation of greed. Good luck using that metaphor today.

Years later, after another famous duel (see my October 2nd, 2008 post for a little discussion) he was able to express praise for the deceased, but then, just when you think he is going to go make the leap to genuine emotion, he turns to social commentary (March 22, 1820):

“Before I left my house his morning to go to my office, W. S. Smith came in and told me that Commodore Decatur had just been brought in from Bladensburg, mortally wounded in a duel with Commodore James Barron, who was also wounded, but not dangerously. . . The nation has lost in him one of its heroes – one who has illustrated its history and given grace and dignity to its character in the eyes of the world. . . The sensation in the city and neighborhood produced by this catastrophe was unusually great. But the lamentations at the practice of dueling were, and will be, fruitless, as they always are.”

As he showed at Decatur’s funeral, he seemed to prefer the quick cutting remark to the blunt instrument (March 24, 1820):

“John Randolph was there; first walking then backing his horse, then calling for his phaeton, and lastly crowding up to the vault as the coffin was removed into it from the hearse – tricksy humors to make himself conspicuous.”

It wasn’t all politics. Some of it is recreational. It is hard to imagine that so few Americans swam in those days, but they didn’t. JQA took lessons while secretary of state to President Monroe (July 8, 1823):

“Swam with Antoine in the Potomac to the bridge – one hour in the water. While we were swimming, there sprang up a breeze, which made a surf, and much increased the difficulty of swimming, especially against it and the current. This is one of the varieties of instruction for the school. It sometimes occurs to me that this exercise and amusement, as I am now indulging myself in it, is with the constant risk of life. Perhaps that is the reason why so few persons ever learn to swim; and perhaps it should now teach me discretion.”

Possibly, he not only didn’t learn anything, but promptly forgot the episode, because only two days later he wrote (July 10, 1823):

“Swam with Antoine to and from the bridge, but as the tide was strongly rising, we were full three-quarters of an hour in going to it, and not more than twenty minutes in returning. This was one of my swimming lessons, and a serious admonition to caution.”

It makes me wonder, did he write the first entry at the time it happened, and then some days or even a week went by before he went back and caught up, perhaps covering the same event a second time on a different date by accident. Pure speculation, of course. I have to admit, although it is easy to see JQA as just an old fussy prig, swimming for over an hour, including against the tide, is quite impressive.

General Jackson and JQA were political enemies and both took it personally. In 1824, Jackson won the popular and electoral votes by a good margin (there were two other candidates), but as Jackson did not have a majority of electoral votes, it went to the House of Representatives, which chose JQA. This was the first time in our history that the winner lost. Adams was quite conscious of what this meant to him (December 31, 1825):

“The year has been the most momentous of those that have passed over my head, inasmuch as has witnessed my elevation at the age of fifty-eight to the Chief Magistracy of my country; to the summit of laudable, or at least blameless, worldly ambition; not however, in a manner satisfactory to pride or to just desire; not by the unequivocal suffrages of a majority of the people; with perhaps two-thirds of the whole people adverse to the actual result. Nearly one year of this service has already passed, with little change of the public opinions or feelings; without disaster to the country with an unusual degree of prosperity, public and private.”

This lack of public support weighed on his mind, and he had even mentioned it in his inaugural address. I note that his father, although quite elderly, had the pleasure of seeing his son become president in 1824. The Adams’ scion would die on July 4, 1826, the same day as Jefferson, after watching his son have two years of as miserable a presidency as he himself had suffered. The Adamses were undoubtedly great men in most senses, but in both cases, their enemies made it uncomfortable and unrewarding.

JQA perhaps comes closest to expressing something akin to emotion at the death of his own 91 year old father, admitting to “anxiety and apprehension” when he tried (and failed) to make it home in time for a last visit. Although he made a few references to his father’s greatness, and expressed admiration and slightly veiled affection for him, it so often seemed to come back to being all about him rather quickly (July 14, 1826):

“It is repugnant to my feelings to abandon this place, where for near forty years he has resided, and where I have passed many of the happiest days of my life. I shall within two or three years, if indulged with life and health, need a place of retirement. Where else should I go? This will be a safe and pleasant retreat, where I may pursue literary occupations as long and as much as I can take pleasure in them.”

A week later (July 21, 1826), he makes note that when his father died, he had (mistakenly) said “Thomas Jefferson survives” but the last word was indistinct. Jefferson basher that I am, I like to imagine the competitive Adams really said, “(Why won’t) Thomas Jefferson . . . die” Almost certainly wishful thinking on my part. As Jefferson and Adams had patched up there friendship some 14 years earlier, and engaged in affectionate correspondence thereafter, I suppose the witness had it right.

As his presidency progressed, JQA's unhappiness seemed to deepen (March 5, 1827):

“I was from ten this morning till ten at night never five minutes without one or more of these marginal notes [from congressmen]. And I can scarcely conceive a more harassing, wearying, teasing condition of existence. It literally renders life burdensome. What retirement will be I cannot realize, but have formed no favorable anticipation. It cannot be worse than this perpetual motion and crazing cares. The weight grows heavier from day to day.”

One of the problems with being president, and which remains so today, is alienation from one’s friends. It can be a lonely job (March 18, 2007):

“There came on this morning a heavy storm of rain, which detained me from attendance at church. I finished a long letter to Albert Gallitan. I write few private letters, and those under irksome restraints. I can never be sure of writing a line that will not some day be published by friend or foe. Nor can I write a sentence susceptible of an odious misconstruction but it will be seized upon and bandied about like a watch-word for hatred and derision. This condition of things give style the cramp. I wrote also the weekly letter to my son. These at least will escape the torture of the press.”

If you think that was depressing, try this cheery entry which shows off his lack of what mortal men might call normal human compassion (March 29, 1827):

“Hearing the clock strike at the half-hour, I rose, believing it between four and five. After rising, I found it was an hour earlier; but I beguiled the tediousness of time with occupation. Wheaton came to expose to me his penury and distress. He told me that he was seventy-three years of age; that he began with the American Revolution; that he received in the course of it many dangerous wounds. He was one of the clerks in the Land Office, and is among those recently dismissed from it, to starve with a daughter who has a worthless husband – worse than dead—and four small children, all destitute even of bread. He has almost totally lost his memory, and has long been unable to perform any duty at the Land Office; but his removal from it has placed him in a pitiable condition, and his appeal to me was pathetic, not without tears.”

He lost to General Jackson by an embarrassing amount in 1828. At the time, he was the only president since his father not to win a second term. Shouldn’t he have been happy to be free of the “arduous duties” he referred to in his inaugural speech? In answer, let’s look at his reaction to his fortuitously running into a Jackson subordinate after he was out of office, who would not only become Jackson’s vp, but president after that (June 8, 1829):

“Rode the ten-mile round before breakfast. Met Mr. Van Buren riding also his horse, and we stopped and exchanged salutations. Van Buren is now Secretary of State. He is the manager by whom the present Administration has been brought into power. He has played over again the game of Aaron Burr in 1800, with the addition of political inconsistency, in transferring his allegiance from Crawford to Jackson. He sold the State of New York to them both. His first bargain failed, by the turn of the choice of Electors in the Legislature. The second was barely accomplished by the system of party management established in that State; and Van Buren is now enjoying his reward. His pale and haggard looks show that it is already a reward of mortification. If it should prove, as there is every probability that it will, a reward of treachery, it will be but his desert.”

Looks like he took it personal to me. It would be unfair not to give JQA credit for nuance and sometimes it was more difficult to tell when he liked someone or not (April 2, 1834)

“James Blair, a member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina, shot himself last evening at his lodgings at Dowson’s, No. I, after reading part of an affectionate letter from his wife, to Governor Murphy, of Alabama, who was alone in the chamber with him, and a fellow-lodger with him at the same house. . . Poor Blair! Blair was a man of amiable natural disposition, of excellent feelings, of sterling good sense, and of brilliant parts, irredeemably ruined by the single vice of intemperance, which had crept upon him insensibly to himself till it had bloated his body to a mountain, prostrated his intellect, and vitiated his temper to madness. He had paid three hundred dollars fine for beating and breaking the bones of Duff Green because he had charged the Union party of South Carolina with being Tories; he had discharged a pistol at an actress in the theatre at Washington, from one of the boxes; he had within the last ten days given the lie to Henry L. Pinckney while speaking in his place at the House of Representatives; and he was in the constant habit of bringing a loaded pistol with him to the House. The chances were quite equal that he should have shot almost any other man than himself.”

Fortunately, he was not Blair’s eulogist. It is well known he did not like Jackson at all. Although he would sometimes back him politically when he agreed with him, even after he lost to him, he did not have a lot of nice things to say about his successor (November 11, 1836):

“Jackson came in upon the trumpet tongue of military achievement. His Presidency has been the reign of subaltern knaves, fattening upon land jobs and money jobs, who have made him believe that it was a heroic conception of his own to destroy the Bank of the United States, and who, under color of this, have got into their hands the use of the public moneys, at a time when there is a surplus of forty millions of dollars in the Treasury.”

Jackson (for another day) irritates me, although he was a much more important president, but JQA's opinion is much more enticing to me when discussing Jefferson. Forgive me for the long quote below, but Adams speaks for me so precisely, I can’t help myself (August 29, 1836):

“To refresh my memory on these subjects, and to retrace the history of those controversies more accurately, I read over the portion of Jefferson’s correspondence during that period, published by his grandson. It shows his craft and duplicity in very glaring colors. I incline to the opinion that he was not altogether conscious of his own insincerity, and deceived himself as well as others. His success through a long life, and especially from his entrance upon the office of secretary of State under Washington until he reached the Presidential chair, seems, to my imperfect vision, a slur upon the moral government of the world. His rivalry with Hamilton was unprincipled on both sides. His treatment of my father was double-dealing, treacherous, and false beyond all toleration. His letter to Mazzei, and his subsequent explanation of it, and apologies for it, show that he treated Washington, as far as he dared, no better than he did my father; but it was Washington’s popularity that he never dared to encounter. His correspondence no published proves how he dreaded and detested it. His letter to my father, at the first competition between them for the Presidency, the fawning dissimulation of his first address as vice-President to the Senate, with his secret machinations against him from that day forth, show a character in no wise amiable or fair; but his attachment to those of his friends whom he could make useful to himself was thoroughgoing and exemplary. Madison moderated some of his excesses, and refrained from following others. He was in truth a greater and a far more estimable man.”

I can't agree with him that Madison was the more estimable, as he seemed to me to be Jefferson's creature throughout his life, but I leave it aside. It often seemed a little difficult for JQA to speak entirely admiringly of anyone outside his family. Here he is on some famous personages (August 2, 1849):

“A young man, named Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a classmate of my lamented son George, after failing the everyday avocations of a Unitarian preacher and school master, starts a new doctrine of transcendentalism, declares all the old revelations superannuated and worn out, and announces the approach of new revelations and prophecies. Garrison and the non-resistant abolitionists, Brownson and the Marat democrats, phrenology and animal magnetism, all come in, furnishing each some plausible rascality as an ingredient for the bubbling cauldron of religion and politics.”

Here’s his take on another name you will recognize and hear a lot about this very year (February 14, 1844):

“At the House, Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, and author of the majority report from the Committee on elections, had taken the floor last evening, and now raved out his hour in abusive invectives upon the members who had pointed out its slanders, and upon the Whig party. His face was convulsed, his gesticulation frantic, and he lashed himself into such a heat that if his body had been made of combustible matter it would have been burnt out. In the midst of his roaring, to save himself from choking, he stripped and cast away his cravat, unbuttoned his waistcoat, and had the air and aspect of a half-naked pugilist. And this man comes from a judicial bench, and passes for an eloquent orator!”

JQA died the year after Lincoln joined the U.S. House of Representatives, and we are spared his views on the gangly westerner. My guess is he would not have been flattering, even if he found him “amiable”. But now that I have picked on JQA a bit, I do want to say that his sitting in congress for 17 years after his presidency without seeming concern of “demotion,” his gallant defense of the slaves from the ship, Amistad, his magnificent battling of the slave power in congress, are not just impressive, but worthy of great praise. His compassion for the slaves themselves sometimes pierced through his normal formality like a ray of sunshine through a window in a dark room. Even his usual stately language surrenders to Hemingway like sentences (January 23, 1844):

“A poor negro came almost in a state of distraction, to implore me to save his wife from being sold away. I asked him, how I could do that? He said, by purchasing her myself for $400. I told him that was impossible. The poor fellow went away in despair.”

Perhaps he merely became more sympathetic and humble as he found his owning powers failing (February 20, 1841):

“The arrangements had been made for the funeral of my poor, humble, but excellent friend Jeremy Leary. I walked to the capitol this morning, with a spirit humbled to the dust, with a hearted melted in sorrow, and a mind agitated and confused.”

I’ve sought to entertain here and perhaps arouse some interest in JQA's diary and really don’t mean to disparage someone who I believe was one of the best secretaries of state, diplomats and congressmen we have ever had in this country. No attempt to be comprehensive in deed or thought is made, and I note that I made no reference to his deep religiosity and little to his seemingly acute depression, both which resonate throughout the diary.

His presidency was actually not in any sense troubled or disgraceful. Perhaps it is just for lack of the right biographer that it seems so uneventful now. But, probably most unfortunate for him in terms of posterity, he was placed in the path of Andrew Jackson, who was a freight train of a man and who could not have been more overtly different or more popular than JQA was.

It is now ironic that the mild “improvements” that JQA wanted accomplished by government were so polarizing to his adversaries during his time, as they are no doubt spinning in their graves over the present government’s spending and intrusion into public matters. Perhaps they just saw the camel’s nose under the tent.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Political update for February, 2009 - Obama to the rescue?

I've been waiting until the passions of the election cooled down to review it or to comment on the president. Time, as usual, doesn't wait, and now I'm behind. Just a brief comment here on the stimulus bill.

I had the luxury to sit in my living room and watch the Senate debate, which, if you have a choice between the Senate and the House, is the much better selection, for interesting discussion and sometimes, more decorum. This is because of its rules, that is, not only the possibility of a filibuster halting any legislation, but, also, because the majority cannot control the legislation to the extent it does.

When Obama won the election my belief was that the Republicans were marginalized to the degree that it was not between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress, it was between the President on one side and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi on the other. More so, it's Obama versus Pelosi, because she is politically more aggressive and possibly stronger than her Senate counterpart, plus, the house originates spending bills.

I was happy to see Tom Delay go, and although the way it was done -- through an apparently phony prosecution in Texas (he's never been prosecuted), that is just the kind of thing he would enjoy doing to his adversary. Now, Nancy Pelosi has said pretty much the same thing that Delay said - we win, we rule - get out of our way. Fortunately, it doesn't work that way, at least when there aren't 60 votes in the Senate for one party, and the Obama administration is paying the price. I don't know if rumors that Rahm Emanuel is pointing fingers at Nancy Pelosi for the failure of the stimulus bill to be pushed through is true, but I like it. Obama versus Pelosi.

Because I voted for McCain for two main reasons -- one, I believed he would greater resist spending, and, two, because I didn't want a one party government, which was the biggest problem the Bush administration had for six years. One party government leads to overreaching, arrogance and fueling your opposition.

Sadly, I have to admit, that if McCain took office, they would probably be debating the same type of bill and his vaunted claim to eradicating pork from bills would probably be left in that sad pile of unfulfilled presidential promises that grows ever larger every four years. Usually the first go is the promise for better ethics and the second is for an end to bickering. That has already proved true in this administration.

In the Senate yesterday, Democratic California Senator, Barbara Boxer, asked to put a question to the Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, who politely agreed. She immediately accused him of theatrics because he had held the bill in her hand and brandished it, and asked if he ever did that with respect to a Bush bill. He took offense, reclaimed his time and insisted that he was second to none in opposing his own party. Were I able to whisper in his ear, I would have told him to say to her that there was an element of theatrics in all speeches, if you want anyone to listen, but he had not seen in a while anything as theatrical as the question she just asked. Many of my complaints about our partisan warriors is not the accusations they make about the other party, but their refusals to acknowledge that their own party does the same thing. An example - I don't remember her complaining when Democratic Illinois Senator, Dick Durbin not only brandished the bill, he actually ripped one page out of it. Nothing wrong with that, but it is nothing but theatrics.

Here's the giggles - Senator Durbin made the point that all of the Republican complaints could be contained in one page of this several hundred page bill. That's probably not literally true, but, somewhat true. If the Republicans got their way, we would probably not have a record bill of 900 billion, but, 800 billion. Big deal. Were I a Republican congressman, I would have just said, if it is so small, just give it to us and we'll vote for your bill. More likely, the Republicans are just sore that it is Democratic pork instead of Republican pork.

I joyfully cling to my cynicism about our economy. This is a reckoning. Growth is crucial in modern economies, but growth by our phony bologna bubbles (one, which I benefitted from by selling my home before a total collapse) is building houses on sand, and this is what happens. We don't need more bubbles - whether they are created by a market or a government, they are going to burst.

Some respect to John McCain, who is back at work in the Senate. He accepted his loss and went back to work; gone are the silly theatrics of campaigning, the pandering of his heroic story and sneering at the opposition for much the same absurd reasons they sneered at him. His amendment, to stop spending after two quarters of growth was pretty reasonable as is his call for spending and tax cuts that actually might stimulate the economy. Democrats don't seem interested. As another Republican Senator commented, so much for this being a stimulus bill.

I have no problem with a stimulus bill that uses tax (preferably not borrowed) money where it creates jobs and deals with real problems. We know from the New Deal that spending alone probably doesn't work. I do have a problem with giveaways to some groups of people, whether they are banks or homeowners or particular industries which already have a market, while other suffering people and industries get to pay taxes but not receive from it. I know of no reason that people who didn't take loans they couldn't pay back should have to watch this go on while they can't pay their own bills. Not that any of these are easy.

All that being said, even a good stimulus bill is a little like the effect of eating "right" or not smoking on your health. They have their effect, even an important effect, but I believe the "hidden hand" which is so beneficial in our system, and sometimes so destructive, is far more powerful than any cure. We all know that economies are cyclical and that there must be some recession even as there is growth. We are in an era when we foolishly believe we can have a greater effect on things out of our control. Sometimes our fiddling just makes things worse.

Note to Obama. It's not so easy when you are in office, is it? He seems to be following the same play book as Bush. We have to do this NOW. No more debate. Not my fault. I just got here - and you are a partisan. This is not exactly calm and reassuring and it's not really fair in this case. I note that the Republicans were already cynical about big spending and the Democrats for it, when Bush was in office. This is really about basic governing philosphy. Admittedly, it gets mushy, as, arguably, the Democrats have a better record of restricting spending than the Republicans for the last three decades despite their philosophies, at least if you compare the deficit to the gross domestic product and don't allow for other factors. But, perhaps that's for another post some day.

Right now, despite Obama's urgency and trying to get the feel of the bully pulpit, I'd counsel more patience. You know, haste makes waste, even if you are in government.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Harry Markopolos and the problem with experts

Harry Markopolos doesn't want to be a hero. He says that he didn't stop Bernie Madoff's scam - Madoff was stopped because the market turned and he ran out of investors to keep his Ponzi scheme going. Then, he confessed to his sons that he had bilked people out of Billions. If not stopped by these factors, he could have stolen 100 billion. Markopolos is right, of course. His story is still very worthwhile even though he will be known to few (unless they make a movie) and may be quickly forgotten. He might like that actually.

You can read up on Markopolos' testimony to a House of Representatives committee of adoring reps who, one who virtually offered him the chairmanship of the SEC. My guess is that some magazine or maybe a number will do features on him that have far more facts than I want to cover here. And I believe 60 Minutes is already doing a piece on him (not that I have ever respected their journalism). But, I fear that in the media's usual over the top and little substance approach to "news," the important part of his testimony will be overlooked. At least, the important part to me.

Markopolos, who I already enjoy immensely, because of his slightly disheveled look and his Mr. Smith comes to Washington approach, took it to the SEC yesterday in what must have been cathartic for him after ten years of trying to tell the SEC what Madoff was doing. He called them incompetent and in bed with big banks. They "roar like a mouse, and fight like a flea." He "gift-wrapped" the biggest scam in history for them and they were too busy fighting "higher priority" matters.

How did he know Madoff was a fraud? Simple, while running a competitor of Madoff's he looked at the yield Madoff was advertising and immediately knew it was impossible. He wasn't earning 45% in the markets year after year. Just wasn't. To use my own comparison, it would be like if someone told you of a high jumper he had seen who could jump over a twenty foot bar.

How long did it take him to realize it? A few minutes. How long to prove it to himself with some math that I'm sure most of us would not understand? Four hours. The rest was him and his staff taking their own time, and without compensation, to gather evidence that was available in public. He has a small stack of papers. When asked exactly how much time, he said, that his team weren't lawyers and don't do the billable hour thing. He didn't seem to think much of lawyers, though, he said that it wasn't true - he even brought his own with him.

Unlike the SEC, he pointed out again and again, he could not just go into Madoff's office and take the records and emails that would immediately prove the scam. Why didn't the SEC do this although he was telling them over and over again what he had seen?

A few reasons. First, he says, the SEC is grossly incompetent and not run by people who have the experience to understand what was being done even when it was shown to them. Wow! But, should that surprise us? It shouldn't, but it usually does. Second, the SEC doesn't bother to go after the big guys. They don't have the knowledge or power to do it and leave them alone. He had similar words for many of the other agencies. Some he seemed to think were outright corrupt.

Why didn't he go to the FBI. Because he knew he'd have to tell them everything and realized as soon as he said he had been rejected by the SEC over and over, they would immediately dismiss him. Imagine going to the FBI and saying the government experts on security trading doesn't think I have anything to go on, so, I'm going to try you. And, speaking of the FBI, another so called expert in forensic detection, it is only a few years since they were exposed as running a grossly incompetent laboratory, although it was ballyhooed as one of the best in the world. The point is not that the SEC or FBI or alone in this. The National Academy of Sciences is coming out with a report supposedly detailing the gross incompetency of police forensic sciences, which end up falsely convicting people with nonsense science (not that defense science is any better).

I love it. A private person whose career is fraud investigations tells congress in no uncertain terms that government experts - the watchdogs - were grossly incompetent.

I loved his testimony because it was another confirmation for me of my long held belief, one I find myself making in private arguments all the time - "experts" is a meaningless term. It is very often applied to people with little and sometimes no expertise. We all too often judge people on their apparent success and fame, and very often, their success doesn't have much to do with them, it has to do with circumstances around them.

I first saw this in my own life when I began practicing law. Some lawyers who were quite successful and some even famous, seemed to know very little and have very little ability. Often they tried to rely on reputation for everything. I came to love the saying - "Some lawyers wouldn't know their own reputation if the met it on the street." Better still, I found when up against someone who was considered a legal expert in a particular field, that often a few days (not years, days) of study would make me at least as, if not far more knowledgeable than them. How is that possible? I assure you it wasn't genius. You just had to open a book and spend a little time because the experts often really didn't know much and were relying on reputation. I am more fearful of a real working attorney in court than a famous one.

Then, I noticed something worse. Many lawsuits were determined by expert testimony. And, it turned out that most of the experts were hired guns, pretty much paid for their perspective. Those who told the truth, that is, that they could not definitively testify to the truth of something or other, or, worse, that their opinion did not favor the party who was paying them, would find themselves unwanted as experts. I also discovered that I, the lawyer, and no expert on dentristry or orthopaedics or engineering, was sometimes telling experts in these field the scientific theory I thought they could testify to, and they were responding, oh, yeah, that does seem right. Yet, I came to my conclusions with really bare bones logic and little knowledge of the subject. It wasn't even hard. Why couldn't they do this when they were immersed in the subject? Simple - experts often don't know that much, and, sometimes, when they do have real expertise, they try and spread it to similar areas that they don't have expertise in.

Case after case, and policy after policy in our country is determined by jury verdicts based on experts who, when really exposed to scrutiny, prove to be frauds, or, sometimes, just grossly wrong, and were bolstered by judges and jury verdicts. Real science, as imperfect as it is, doesn't stand a chance against it. It is really only a short time since our Supreme Court required that so called scientific experts actually prove they are doing science, know something worthwhile before getting to testify. The legal world was shocked when expert after expert failed the test. In many states, the standard is so much lower -- basically, if you call yourself an expert, have some kind of credential, the trial judge lets you testify. Very rarely are they knocked out of the box although it should be very often.

Of course, there are many competent people in the world and a raison d'etre of this blog is to highlight some of these amazing people. I delight in them and, like everyone, rely on "experts" every day of my life. We all have to do this because there isn't enough time in the world to learn everything we need to know. But, in the day to day running of the world, incompetence is very often the rule and we should all be much more skeptical. What takes the place or real knowledge in our lives are credentials in the Ozian sense - a medal is proof of courage, a diploma of brains; greed; old boy networks; and reputation. This is probably more true in government that anywhere else. Everyone should know this, but, we, and I include myself, need to be constantly reminded.

And, I thank Harry Markopolos for doing so particularly as this financial crisis is a product of our collective belief that big banks and government agencies have a clue about what they are doing. When it comes to economics, there is little in the way of expertise. If something like letting poor people take out sub-prime mortgages which are going to bump up tremendously in a few years makes little sense to you, a non-expert, it may be because it makes no sense. Be cynical (although, it annoys everyone who just wants to just go along).

Markopolos is seemingly honest and forthright when testifying, but apparently shy of fame, wants nothing to do with the Hollywood folk bothering him for rights, is jealous of his privacy with his family in his little house, and possibly doesn't want to see what he actually did greatly exaggerated. He doesn't want to get on the pedestal and I don't blame him. I'm sure he's made mistakes in his own life and doesn't need them plastered all over paper. Such is often the price of instant reknown and he is wise to be wary of it. Will see if that continues when he sees the size of the check.

And, because you never really know anyone, particulary those who the media is obscuring with coverage, maybe it will turn out he's not so wonderful after all. Who knows? But, right now, even the cynic in me think he's terrific and I'm going to to watch him again and wonder why none of the congressmen seem to know that it's pronounced Mar-KOP-o-los, not Mark-O-pol-os or Mar-ko-POL-os. Don't they know any Greeks?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Top ten week

I loved top ten lists way back when David Letterman was still funny (sometime in the 70s if you ask me) and way before his occasionally humorous, but now so over top ten lists started. These are my choices. If I don’t get comments, I presume you all agree with me.


Jazz numbers
10 Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – The Andrew Sisters
9 Mack the Knife – Louis Armstrong
8 What a Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong
7 When the Angels Sing (Fralich in Swing) – Ziggy Elman (born Harry Finkelman)
6 Song of India – Tommy Dorsey take on a Rimsky-Korsakov piece
5 Tie - Opus One and String of Pearls – Glenn Miller
4 Every Tub - Count Basie (a really underrated number - the great Lester Young on sax)
3 Beginning to see the Light – Louis Armstrong version of the Duke Ellington classic
2 In the Mood – Glenn Miller
1 Sing, Sing, Sing – Louis Prima (see my 12/10/07 post on Prima’s remarkable number)

Honorable mention - Take Five - Dave Brubeck

Non-domesticated animals
10 Monarch butterflies
9 Chameleons
8 Octopi
7 Otters
6 Wolves
5 Kinkajous – aka honey bear or nightwalker. I used to care for one when I was young
4 Orangutans – so what chimps are closer dna-wise – these guys are more human to me
3 Blue whales (unless they are extinct, and then, sorry)
2 Ants/Spiders – any kind
1 Cheetahs

Kings and Queens
10 Ghengis Khan
9 William the Conqueror
8 Peter the Great
7 Ramses the Great (because those amazing piles of rocks are still standing)
6 Sulla the Happy (pre-figured Julius Caesar)
5 Sargon II (Assyria - look him up)
4 Charles XII (Sweden – a real swashbuckler; see my June 27th, 2008 post)
3 Psammetichus (from Herodotus’ Histories – fascinating and more than a little nutty)
2 Mad Ludwig II of Bavaria (no Ludwig, no Disneyland Castle)
1 Cleopatra (what are the chances we’d still be talking about her today)

Honorable mention: David; Solomon; Cyrus II, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great; The Great Inca; Napoleon

Magical beings
10 Witch from Snow White (“Who’s the most beautiful one of all?”)
9 Witch from Hansel & Gretel (the archetype if there ever was one)
8 Tinkerbell (people forget how murderous she was – but cute)
7 Puck (Shakespeare’s magical imp from Midsummer Night’s Dream)
6 Mr. Mxyplx (a magical little man from another dimension in Superman comics. The only way to defeat him was to trick him into saying his name backwards, which Superman always managed to do)
5 The Wicked Witch of the West (I’m still scared of her)
4 The Weird Sisters from Macbeth (“Double, double, toil and trouble”)
3 Peter Pan (was there anyone ever cooler in a fight this side of James Bond?)
2 Merlin (the greatest traditional sorcerer)
1 Gandalf (a mix of Merlin and the god Odin; he has become so much more)

Black and white movie/tv comedians (even if they did some color)
10 Lou Costello
9 Oliver Hardy (the prototype John Candy)
8 Bob Hope
7 Charlie Chaplin (not as funny as some others; points for being an often imitate, original icon)
6 Buster Keaton (Better than Chaplin in my book)
5 Harpo Marx (he would have nothing to say about this)
4 Danny Kaye (possibly the most multi-talented star of that or any era)
3 Curley (the greatest Stooge)
2 Stan Laurel (originally Stanley Jefferson, if you care)
1 Julius “Groucho” Marx (tv/movies/Broadway – who was funnier than Groucho?)

Honorable mention: Buckwheat (Our Gang), Harold Lloyd, Chico Marx and Moe, Larry and Shemp.

Aliens (he/she/it must interract with Earthlings and be an intelligent being)
10 Thor (Stargate One - not the Norse God)
9 Q (Star Trek – The New Generation)
8 Superman (hard to think of him as an alien, but he was)
7 Starman (a great Jeff Bridges’ role)
6 Valentine Michael Smith (from Stranger in a Strange Land; not sure he qualifies as he is an earthling, but was raised by Martians on Mars)
5 Predator (so good, they spun a whole series off of him)
4 Shape shifter from X-files
3 Uncle Martin (from My Favorite Martian)
2 Spock
1 ET

Presidents (a list I change regularly, at least from 7-10)
10 Dwight Eisenhower (because I needed a number ten and he enforced Brown v. Bd. of Education)
9 John Adams (even though a one term president; he prevented a ruinous war we could not win through no fault of his own and had to fight off the hidden hand of one of the worst VPs in U.S. history)
8 Harry S. Truman (tough time to be President; remember, after the war, the Brits even kicked Churchill out for a while). He gets criticized for “seizing” a steel mill, but if you actually read the case, it wasn’t that bad. Ended segregation in the military.
7 James Polk (you might not like the way he did it, but he expanded this country to its modern continental borders, and, is anyone complaining anymore?)
6. Ulysses Grant (a recent spate of biographies this past decade or so convinced me he was a far better president than he is given credit)
5 FDR (even if he screwed everything else up as his critic’s claim, what credit do you get for fighting WWII? – most polls rate him with just behind Lincoln and Washington)
4 James Monroe (although not one of the Olympian like forefathers, he is highly under rated as a president)
3 Theodore Roosevelt (Not perfect, but an interesting balance of conservative and Progressive ideology)
2 Abraham Lincoln (If nothing else, the most beautiful writer in U.S. history, bar none, in my humble opinion; and let’s face it – he’d be number two even if he never wrote a thing)
1 George Washington (Because he set the standards for our presidents to come)

Meals not including deserts
10 Linguini with meat sauce and a soft, doughy Italian bread
9 McDonald’s two cheese burgers with fries and a vanilla shake
8 French toast with maple syrup
7 Roast beef, mozzarella and coleslaw on white bread sandwich
6 French onion soup au gratin
5 Chimichanga with rice and twice cooked beans
4 Chicken Marsala
3 Prime Rib (rare, and only rare; did I make myself clear? Don’t bother if it’s not rare)
2 Slice of Pizza (I grew up with a thick somewhat doughy crust, but crispy is growing
on me)
1 Sesame Chicken with fried rice, egg roll and won ton soup dinner

Sexiest women entertainers
10 Pam Anderson (I know all the complaints - too much make up and implants, but her body is a prototype that makes other starlets look like little boys)
9 Shakira (I like to look at her too, but when she dances, there is no one like her today)
8 Mariah Carey (sure, a prima donna and a nut, but so sexy, I just stopped thinking)
7 Angelina Jolie (so beautiful, sometimes it hurts to look at her, but not when she’s anorexic; she may have ruined everything with this mommy business)
6 Racquel Welch (what the prototypical woman looked like before Pam Anderson)
5 Kim Basinger (director John Huston said he had seen many women at 5 in the a.m with no make up and she was the prettiest. I believe it)
4 Joey Heatherton (oh, my God; oh, my God – I’d have killed all of you for a night with her when I was 14)
3 Jean Harlow (the first modern sexy woman in movies)
2 Grace Kelly (almost perfection; and the sexiest standing still or lying down)
1 Cyd Charisse (perhaps others were more beautiful, though others might differ, but when dancing, no one could touch her; not even Vera Ellen, or you, Shakira)

Honorable mention - Gabrielle Anwar - this tiny little beauty was the girl who danced with Al Pacino in Scent of a Women is now a 30 something sex symbol on a little known cable show called Burn Notice where she plays the sometimes homicidal and always exciting wannabe girlfriend of the star. I say she gets him in the end unless they cancel it in the off season some day.

Basketball players
10 Nate Archibald
9 Kareem Abdul Jabbar
8 Pete Maravich
7 Julius Erving
6 Magic Johnson
5 Larry Bird
4 Jerry West
3 Wilt Chamberlain
2 Oscar Robertson
1 Michael Jordan

Black & White Movies
10 Angels with Dirty Faces (my first beloved movie; I still cry at the end)
9 Miracle at Morgan Creek (a new old favorite)
8 Topper
7 Inherit the Wind
6 A Night at The Opera (my favorite Marx Bros. movie)
5 The Maltese Falcon
4 The Mark of Zorro (the 1940’s version)
3 March of the Wooden Soldiers
2 Casablanca – (“I came to Casablanca for the waters” “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert” “I was misinformed” and a hundred other examples of brilliant writing)
1 Miracle of 34th Street (The original and ONLY the original)

Did you notice Bogie made it three times on that list?

10 Salvatore Dali
9 Van Gogh
8 Giovanni Bellini
7 Hieronymus Bosch
6 Andrea Mantegna
5 El Greco
4 Da Vinci
3 Pieter Bruegel
2 Caravaggio
1 Michaelangelo

I started these lists well over a year ago, and every once in a while I found it and added to it. Glad I finished it before Shakira was too old for anyone to remember her.

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 . . . .