Friday, December 24, 2010

Fifth Annual Holiday Spectacular

My responsibility can be enormous, but it is the price of unparalleled success. Every year, knowing that my next holiday spectacular will be judged against the last one, I have to find a way to make it bigger, better, more audacious and, of course, spectacular. As Jimmy Wales was saying to me the other day when we were shelling walnuts for the Christmas tree – “I’ve been trying to come up with something bigger and I just can’t seem to do it.” I knew exactly what he meant. Last year’s Christmas spectacular – or is it holiday spectacular? – was ranked by as the 3,778,265,772nd most visited page in the entire internet, just below a video of Larry King interviewing the cast from Broadway’s Glory Days. But, I don’t want to brag.

Somehow, the following rule has manifested itself for my holiday spectacular – I can’t prepare for it – I have to just start writing and see what comes out, kind of like putting a chimp at a typewriter. That might not seem like much of a rule, but it’s all I got. Hold on. Here we go.

Best comments on for 2010

10. “There is nothing unusual or singular about a horse and pony show. It makes no sense! Wait, I'm talking to you. Never mind.”  Comment by Bear from Just another day in congress watching the ponys (7/2/10).

9. “I’m really worried about myself. I find myself agreeing more and more with your political update posts.” Comment by Don from Political update for October, 2010 (10/5/10).

8. “skynxxxx-zzzzzhhhhhh-zzzzzzzzzhhhh- huh? what? Oh... Wake me when he writes about books or history again.” Comment by Bear from Buying guns in Westbury (4/20/2010).

7. “Love,Actually??? Love.... actually?Love, Actually! Did you say Love, Actually?? Okay, to re-cap: Casablanca, Outlaw Josey Wales, Groundhog Day, and, wait for it...LOVE,ACTUALLY. HAAAAAAAAAAAAA...hahhhaaaaaaahaaaaahaaaaaahaaaaaahaaaaaahaaaaaaaahaaahaaaaahaaaaahaaaaahaaaaahaaaaahaaaahaaaaaahaaaaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaahaaaa!” Comment by Bear from Movie Night (8/6/10).

6. “Oh omniscent one, however do you tolerate us of little brains? Do now get an official ‘sychophantic commentator’ badge and decoder ring.” Comment by Conchis from Just another day in congress watching the ponys (7/2/10).

5. “You know, you are starting to sound like a talkshow host in your replies to comments and it’s generally starting to piss me off. ‘Thanks for the comments’, ‘For those in the know’, ‘DummiesbDummies was very gracious and we’ve visited each others sites. . .’ Wellll goody for you. Gag me.” Comment by Bear from Political Update for June, 2010.

4. “I have notice lately that when your thoughts are challenged you respond with a thin vaneer of ideas without much intellectual rigor.” Comment by Lee from I promise not to eat your children (5/31/10).

3. “This is why you need to expend more intellectual rigor and firepower in your argumentation on this subject. Your second grade analysis is just not of sufficient depth for a mature man of your intellectual prowess.” Comment by Lee from I promise not to eat your children (5/31/10).

2. “Bless your foul, direction-enfeebled heart.” Comment by Bear from Who said it IV? (5/2/2010)
And the winner is . . .

1. “I think ‘almost no one reads you’ because you are a terribly boring writer...not because of the amount of vapid mommy bloggers supporting each others boring blogs. Just saying.” Comment by Anonymous from The Mayans are coming – run for your life! (3/15/2010)

Top dead celebrities from 2010

Many websites list the who's who of dead folk for the year. These are the one's I heard of, anyway.

King Curtis Iaukea (a professional wrestler - I wouldn't have noticed if Bear hadn't pointed it out to me).
Steve Landesberg - Best character on Barney Miller.
Ron Santo - Great baseball player. Always deadly with a man on base.
Don Meredith - Monday Night Football great not to mention a pretty good quarterback.
Bob Feller - One of the all-time great pitchers. I would have thought he died 30 years ago.
Blake Edwards - Producer of the Pink Panther movies.
J.D. Salinger - reclusive writer. Never read him. Probably should.
Howard Zinn - Controversial historian.
Art Linkletter - A funny writer with a newspaper column.
Dino De Laurentis - Movie producer.
Dennis Hopper - Movie actor.
Eddie Fisher - Singer, actor, fourth husband of Elizabeth Taylor, who stole him from Debbie Reynolds. She was his best friend's widow. Suspicious?
Fess Parker - actor - played Davie Crockett on TV.
Gary Coleman - actor who played Arnold on Different Strokes. "Whatchyou talkin' bout, Willis?"
George Steinbrenner - Yankee owner.
Jill Clayburgh - actress.
Joan Sutherland - actress.
John Forsythe - actor.
Manute Bol - Basketball player. Tall even for that. Manute Bol died?
Mitch Miller - musician, band leader.
Merlin Olsen - Football player, actor.
Lynn Redgrave - Actress.
Peter Graves - Actor.
Robert B. Parker - Writer of the great Spenser series, among others.
Robert Culp - Actor.
Tony Curtis - Actor, father of Jamie Lee Curtis with Vivian Leigh.
Leslie Nielson - Very funny actor. "And don't call me Shirley."

Celebrity tribute

I know it’s unseemly to fall in love with your own work, but I typed this out the day I learned that Robert B. Parker died and any time I come across it I read it again and get a little misty-eyed. If you never read his books, this will mean nothing to you. If you have, you will understand completely:

"You worried?"
"Nope. You?"
"No. They'll put me where they see fit. I'll try and like it."
"Got to face it - we may not end up together."
“They’ve tried to separate us before. Never seems to work out for them.”
“'At least the beer’s good up here.”
"Maybe it's 'down' here."
"Doubt it. I’m still cool."
"Maybe you're right, but I'm feeling warm."
"Then take off your overcoat."
"Can't. I still have on the wife beater I wore when I fought Jersey Joe."
“That was a good day."
"Yes, it was."

. . .

"You miss her?"
"Not yet. But soon."
"I meant Pearl."
"Me too."
"How about the skinny one?"
"She'll be along soon. She's no spring chicken."
"Still beautiful though."
"Course. She's with me.”
“Guess that's why I’m still beautiful too.”
“I may have to wait for her, but we're forever. No debate allowed."
"She's definitely going upstairs, you know."
"Naturally. She's one of the chosen people."
"A good person, too. What if you don't end up in the same place as her?"
"Then I'll go find her."
"Could be consequences."
"Always have been."
"You decide. I'll back your play."
"Always have."
"Always will."
"Same here."
"I know."

Christmas stuff

I almost forgot to add something about the most wonderful time of the year - Christmas -my favorite holiday including Neanderthal New Year and Franco-Prussian War Armistice Day. I’ve think I’ve already done best Xmas movies, songs, books, birthdays, iconic experiences, historical moments and some other stuff in previous years. Frankly, I’m out. Wait - I just got an idea. Here are excerpts from articles from the past - courtesy of The New York Times archives:

December 25, 1851

Burning of the congressional library

"About 7 o'clock, yesterday morning, fire was discovered in the Library rooms of the Capitol at Washington. The alarm was immediately given, and the Fire department, promptly on the spot, used their utmost exertions to arrest the flames, but unhappily failed to do so before the splendid collection of books upon the shelves, was more than half consumed."

When the British burned the capitol in the War of 1812 (really our fault – American soldiers burned some towns in Canada first) we lost our first library, and TJ, who takes all kinds of abuse in this blog, sold his entire collection of something like 6500 books to get it started again. In 1851, there were 55,000 books, but 35,000 were lost in this fire, including most Jefferson’s.

France.; the revolution in Paris

"The much-talked-of coup d' etat is struck at last. Paris is again in a state of siege. LOUIS NAPOLEON has assumed the Dictatorship. He has begun his march towards empire. The Assembly met and jangled for the last time on Monday."

Full name Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of the Napoleon Bonaparte. He was president of France, but was frustrated by the National Assembly and pulled off a coup d’état. He was, for a dictator, not a bad one in many ways, particulary after he loosened up his dictatorship about 10 years into it. He made the mistake of attacking Prussia in 1870, making a star of Bismarck, helping create the German empire, and lost his throne, living in exile for the last 3 years in England.

December 25, 1860

The Mysterious Disappearance of Mrs. De Forrest Heard from at Last

"Our readers probably remember the general interest excited three years ago by the mysterious disappearance of young DE FORREST from the Metropolital Hotel, -- and the utter failure of all endeavors to detect any trace of him. He had very respectable connections, was of good habits, and it was impossible to account for his sudden absence. The general belief was that he had been murdered, -- or had fallen into the river during some momentary attack of insanity. The last Australian mail, however, has brought letters which place beyond doubt the fact that he is alive, and in his right mind."

Wonder what really happened. Yes, the headline does say Mrs. De Forrest, but everyone makes mistakes.

December 25, 1870

The Greek Brigands

"The lovely countries of classic antiquity continue to be desolated by marauders whom no inducement will persuade to work, and no terrors doter from theft. In Lord BYRON'S day, the Greek excuse for brigandage was that the land was enslaved, and that there could be no encouragement for labor whore there was no protection for its fruits."

December 25, 1880

A Select Prize Fight

"John Sullivan, of Boston, and Prof. John Donaldson, of Cleveland, succeeded to-night in having a fight, with small hard gloves before a select, and very small party. Ten rounds were fought, in every one of which Donaldson was either knocked down or went down to avoid punishment. At the end of the tenth round Donaldson said he was satisfied that Sullivan should take the money, and the fight was ended."

John Sullivan was, of course, the great John L. Sullivan, the first official heavyweight champion. He only lost his belt in 1892 to Gentleman Jim Corbett, but Sullivan hadn't fought for 4 years at the time and had fought about 500 prize fights, often bare-knuckled and in a much more brutal fashion than would ever be allowed today. The Prof. was about 6 years older than John and fought until his 40s, but the last few years really shouldn’t count as it was part of a play he was in with Jim Corbett – Gentleman Jack - and was really sparring. It was Donaldson’s and Sullivan’s 2d exhibition in 4 days, but obviously, Sullivan wasn't kidding around. Prizefighting being illegal in Cincinnati, they were both arrested a few days after the second one, but the charges were later dropped.

December 25, 1880

An Actress’s Affections

"Miss Mary Patrice Whitebeck, an actress, playing in “Midnight Call” at one of the theatres here, is a plaintiff in a breach of promise suit for $20,000 begun to-day against A.P. Blakeslee . . . who is said to be wealthy.

. . . The actress claims to have a number of letters showing conclusively that Mr. Blakeslee promised to marry her. . . ."

Ah, the good old days of breach of promise and seduction suits. Couldn't find an article on how it turned out. Maybe they settled.

December 25, 1900

Cured by Electricity

"Thirteen-year-old Nettie Rosch, daughter of President John Rosch of the White Plains Board of Police Commissioners, given up by eminent New York specialists as a hopeless paralytic, not having had the use of her legs for nine years, returned to her home yesterday, after undergoing treatment in Brooklyn, apparently absolutely cured. She was able to walk from the station to her home, much to the delight of her parents."

Umm, if that worked, why didn’t they keep doing it? I smell a rat.

December 25, 1870

Wife, Left Alone, A Christmas Suicide

"An hour after George M. Luersson and his wife, Margaret, had finished their Christmas Eve dinner in their apartment on the third floor of 225 West 110th Street, overlooking Central Park, last night. Mr. Luersson put on his hat, saying he had to go out to keep a business engagement. Mrs. Luersson, his young wife, whom he had married a year and a half ago, pleaded with him to stay at home on Christmas Eve. She pointed to the many Christmas gifts, many of them from him, which were stacked in the brightly decorated apartment, and to the new silk dress and jewels she had put on for the occasion, and she begged him not to leave her. But Mr. Luersson said he was obliged to go. He promised to return in a short time.

He was somewhat surprised at the odd look she gave him, and at her words when, kissing him, she said:

'Now, Dearie, sleep well.'

He telephoned for a taxicab and stepped out into the hall. While he was waiting in the elevator, he heard a shot in his apartment. Rushing back, he found his wife on her knees between the parlor and the bedroom. Blood flowed over her silk dress from a wound at her heart, a revolver they had kept under their pillow, as a protection against burglars, lay on the floor beside her."

Any of you buying that? Sound a little too Scott Petersonish? I wonder what color dress his business associate was wearing. Never would have gotten away with it if there were a Columbo or Monk around.

On that happy note – Merry Christmas – happy holidays.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Who the heck is reading this thing?

When I was writing my post last week I noticed a button I hadn’t seen on the home page called “stats”. I clicked on it and saw that it was, in fact, stats on my blog. It was more interesting than I would have thought.

I can check on which posts were the most visited, what websites visitors came from and what countries the audience is from. I was curious enough to add a tracker a few months ago to see how many visitors I had (about 1500-1600 in the last 5 months) which number surprised me a little, but it is still hardly The Huffington Post or TMZ, I know that because I just checked the 15 most popular blogs and those two are, respectively, nos. 1 and 2. I never heard of any of TMZ before or any of the following 13. The Huffington Post though has 28,000,000 visitors a month, or roughly ninety three thousand times more than mine. But, I feel the quality of my readers is far superior (a sycophantic compliment to you, if you weren’t paying attention).

So, what is my most popular post ever, you are wondering. It is not even a contest. Chimeras, coydogs and a really strange chimp is by far the most popular, having 687 page views since it was published on April 30, 2007. If that seems like an embarrassingly small number of visits, the stats have only been kept from June 22 of this year since I turned the tracker on. I am extrapolating that there have been several thousand visits in the past three and a half years since it was written, but, of course can’t know for sure. It is more than five times as well visited than the next most visited post.

I’ve learned from stats that its popularity has little to do with me, but more to do with the popularity of searches on Google for Oliver the Chimp, a rather interesting primate who was thought for a while by some to be half human/half chimp. He’s been around for a few decades, but, a in recent years his owners had his dna read, and he’s just a strange ape that prefers people to other apes, walks and looks somewhat in the same way we would imagine a caveman would and is unusually bright and obedient.

The particular post is still being read a lot compared to my others. It has 145 page views this month, more than 3 times more than the next favorite. It has almost 4 times as many views as the next favorite this week and 3 times as many today.

Out of the approximate 4,600 page views I’ve had since June 22 this year, here are the most popular posts of all time:

Chimeras, coydogs and a really strange chimp – April 30, 2008 – 687 views
Death Match: Socrates v. Thoreau – March 28, 2010 – 131 views
A mountain man is an amazing man – June 14, 2007 – 97 views
Thomas Jefferson and the Decl. of Ind. – March 7, 2009 – 79 views
Look, it’s their opinion – Snyder v. Phelps – October 10, 2010 – 54 views

Some of those are among my personal favorites. The second one compares Socrates and Thoreau’s views on what we can call civil disobedience to the law. The third one is on the almost indestructible and definitely undersung mountain man, Edward Rose, who is to some extent unique in that he was a black mountain man. Not that there weren’t other blacks in the mountains in the early 19th century, but there are very few we’ve heard about. The fourth article was a look at how overstated is the acclaim Jefferson gets for writing the Declaration. The fifth one is on a very recent Supreme Court case.

When I check the most popular for the month, it changes slightly in that Chimeras . . . is still number 1 and Death Match falls to number 5, with the middle three being the last three posts I wrote. I presume they are up there for exactly that reason – they are recent.

Clicking on this week though, the picture changes again. Chimeras is still by far the first, but then it is followed by a post on the Mayan Calendar (March 14, 2010), a very recent post next, then A Mountain Man and fifth, Most Valuable Olympian (August 14, 2008). The one on the Mayans was probably up there because for some reason I started off the post trashing Mommy bloggers which resulted in what passes for a firestorm of angry mommy bloggers commenting. If I switched my name to Mommyblog, I would certainly get a lot more hits. The one on the Olympics is my rating of the most valuable Olympians for each of the modern Olympics. It has the makings of a pretty good book, now that I think of it.

And when I click on those viewed today, Chimeras is still number one, which the Mayan piece, Edward Rose’s each with one visit as well as one each for Tales from Herodotus (June 20, 2010) and Toughness Personified: George Chuvalo (a post on one of the toughest boxers who ever lived). I really enjoyed writing that last one, as he is an inspiring story.

Checking on my referring URLs, in other words, what led many of these visitors to me, most of it was Google, from one site or another, also Microsoft’s Bing, and a, which is written in the Cyrilic alphabet. I can’t read it, so I have no idea what it is or why people would come from it to my blog. Some accidental link perhaps?

These stats also show me the keywords that led to my site. This is how I know it is searches for Oliver the chimp that make that post so much more popular than others. Apparently, there isn’t enough on the internet about him if they are getting directed to little ole me. Six of the top ten keyword searches had to do with Oliver. The other most popular keyword searches leading searchers to me were “wacky supreme court cases,” “to what extent was Jefferson a plagiarizer,” “when Criton asked Socrates how to bury him . . . ,” (seriously, that’s a search) and the bizarre “fulfilling her favorite fantasies venice knight”. No idea how that last one leads anyone to one of my posts.

The locale of the audience also surprised me a bit. Of course, overwhelmingly, most visitors are from the U.S. (2,869), but –

Russia – 184
Germany – 183
United Kingdom – 181
Denmark – 124
Netherlands – 107
Canada – 96
Slovenia – 64
China – 31
India – 29

Russia? Denmark? China? India? Slovenia???? Who knew?

Those were all time figures. When I check this month, it didn’t change all that much, but Latvia and Romania popped in place of India and China. Yes, I was very popular in Latvia this month. 21 page views. Could be one person looking 21 times, of course. But, what were they (or he/she) looking at? Could there be a sudden interest in Oliver the chimp in Latvia this month? Stats doesn’t tell me.

When I checked on it for the week, Slovenia was now number 2, more than a fifth of the page views of the U.S. How’d that happen? France, Hong Kong and Hungary pop in and Latvia, Romania and Denmark out.
I have no explanation for any of that. My hope is someone from one of those visitors from those other countries will comment and let me know why they are looking. Then again, I’m told that a great deal of the time readers aren’t able to comment when they want to, so maybe not.

Next week is my fifth annual Holiday Spectacular which I prepare for each year by not thinking about it until I start writing it. But, you aren’t going to want to miss it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Political update for December, 2010

First, I will engage in audacious self praise and say, now with the election results final, I didn’t do so bad on my predictions. I thought the Republicans would end up with 48 Senate seats. They won 47 (Bear called that precisely). It’s obvious where I went wrong. I did not think that Harry Reid would pull out Nevada, despite his off the wall opponent (and yeah, any candidate who hints at violent revolution is off the wall to me). The polls were probably more off there than anywhere else. Admittedly, the Senate was fairly easy to pick relative to the House, and although some believed the Republicans might take the other house, it did not seem likely to me. As to the House of Representatives, I predicted a 62 seat pick up. The final tally was 63. Now, I didn’t pretend I went through each race individually. I just analyzed professional political scientists and poll numbers and decided what I thought reasonably likely given my appreciation of the public sentiment. It’s the same way that I pick stocks and horses, but usually with less success than I had here. Out of the 435 seats available, getting within one was pretty good. Dick Morris, who gets to write a column despite what a bad predictor he is (he thought the 2008 Republican nominee would be Condaleeza Rice,) guessed about a 100 seat pick up. Bear faired much worse on the House, predicting a 42 seat pick up. This will teach the political world to take me lightly.


Four years ago, that is two years before the 2008 election, I was able to go through a list of candidates for the Republican and Democrat nominations here, and give my opinion as to how it would work out for each of them with a fair degree of accuracy (although, I did not think Barack Obama would win. I did think Ms. Clinton would edge him out and Senator McCain her).

It is not the same this time around. For one thing, the Democrats have an incumbent who will run again (will cover a possible primary challenge later) and the Republican field is just smaller at this time. I’ll take them first.

Here’s my two year out call for the nominee in descending order.

1. Mitt Romney

2. Sarah Palin

3. Mike Huckabee

4. Tim Pawlenty

5. Chris Christie

6. Mitch Daniels

7. Newt Gingrich

First – I know this is not exactly genius. There are no outliers like Mike Huckabee (when I wrote about them in 2006 Mike Huckabee and even Barack Obama were virtually unknown to the general public).

I don’t see Mike Huckabee giving a serious try this time. We may see him testing the waters – who in his position would not. He reminds me a bit this time of Fred Thompson last time around – too comfortable in the entertainment world and just not enough fire in the belly.

Newt Gingrich will always tease, but I don’t see him even declaring. As bright and interesting a speaker as he is, I think many feel the same way as I do about him – too divisive. Plus, remember, he lost his last race for the House of Representatives.

Let me lump 4-6, Pawlenty, Christie and Daniels, governors of Minnesota, New Jersey and Indiana, respectively, together. They are in my mind the best choices of those whose names are among the usual suspects – executives who show a dislike for the culture wars and who have an eye towards fixing their own state’s budget problems. They are grown ups. Given a choice between them and Barack Obama, I would likely vote for any one of them. It comes down to this – spender versus reducer. But, they don’t stand a chance, except possibly as VP choices for Sarah Palin, were she the nominee, to give her ticket some appearance of that all important gravitas (she might not, though, as she seems dedicated to the Rush Limbaugh approach oriented on values and beliefs, not competency). Here’s why they couldn’t win themselves. They are kind of boring and they are fiscal guys, not value guys. No offense, but they aren’t going to get anyone excited. If Romney is the nominee, it is less likely they would have a chance as he might feel that he should pick a southerner or westerner. Anyway, I am ruling them out for a nomination and Christie and Daniels have already indicated that they are not running. But, there names are still bounced around. Pawlenty is still thinking about it, but he just doesn’t have the juice. He could not win one caucus or primary, possibly not even in his own state. I could have listed Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor with these three, but he’s said he’s not running at all, and interest in him has long died down (one boring speech and boom).

Which leaves us with two. I’ve given my opinion of Sarah Palin before, and I have it down to a science. She was badly mauled by the media in 2008. Most of it was untrue and some of it vicious. Liberal women in particular seemed willing to believe the worst about her, regardless of proof, and she made them see red. One accusation was that she remained silent while someone screamed out “Death to Obama”. Some claimed they heard she led a chant. Of course, as that was a threat against a presidential candidate, the Secret Service investigated, starting with the reporter who claimed he heard it. They interviewed those who were around him in the audience. None of them heard anything like it. Other claims – she wanted women to who were raped to have to pay for the rape kits (she did have a police chief who tried it when she was mayor but he was stopped). Accused of ethics violations while governor, she was cleared shortly before the election. She had a shorter campaign than Barack Obama, Joe Biden or John McCain, but, during the time she was running she spoke more clearly than any of the other three more experienced men. And despite her recent North/South Korea goof, she made less gaffes than they did too.

However, no matter how it is spun, her interview with Katie Couric showed her glaring weakness. She doesn’t know much about the substance of national or foreign affairs, and she doesn’t seem to care to learn. Her decision to be interviewed since the election only by friendly journalists (mostly Fox) may help her with her base, but it can’t help her with independents (no liberal is going to vote for her, anyway). Until she can do an interview with the mainstream press, particularly on television, she is not going to win a general election. She might have to also give a more plausible reason for quitting as governor. I can think of a few, but she has to say them, be sincere, and persuade others she is sincere.

But, that doesn’t mean she couldn’t win the nomination. Rush Limbaugh, certainly the most respected voice among the right has been beating the tom tom that Sarah Palin can win without independents and moderates and that the right should be relentlessly attacking the left because they are going to win. While I think it is probably suicidal for the right to nominate her (unless Barack Obama has some kind of ethical or other meltdown and couldn’t win against a Kardashian sister) she could certainly win Iowa and South Carolina (two of the three earliest contests) and elsewhere in the South. I doubt she could win in New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney is well known, but this still puts her in the driver’s seat and he must take it from her uphill against the ridiculous expectations game our weird system of primaries and caucuses plays when someone wins Iowa.

No doubt, if she runs, she will excite her base more than anyone since Ronald Reagan. It has been known for years that Republicans care far less about academic success or the trappings of intellect than Democrats in their presidential candidates. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were known for their intellectual prowess whereas the President Bushes and Ronald Reagan were not - whether or not it was true. She fits in that mold. Republicans/conservatives trust that she will do what they want her to do without a lot of messy over thinking about it. Keep taxes low, support Israel, talk about God, cut the budget, and so on. This might seem facetious but I don’t think many conservatives would be upset if she would just listen to Rush Limbaugh every day and go along with his ideas.

But, in the end, I don’t think the result would be much different than the polls tell us now. She would lose to President Obama by a large margin. It would take a miracle for her to sell herself to independents, particularly as she doesn’t seem to care much about doing it.

So, Mitt Romney. His two biggest problems, other than Ms. Palin, are Rush Limbaugh and his push for a rock solid conservative, and . . . John McCain. The senator from Arizona got the nomination last time for two reasons – Mike Huckabee seemed to be running interference for him, splitting the religious votes that might have gone towards Governor Romney and at some point, enough Republicans thought that going more moderate would be a good idea. And, other than the collapse of the economy under a Republican’s watch, Bush fatigue and his own miserable campaign, there might be a President McCain now. But, he lost, which gives impetus to the Limbaugh/Palin school of thought - run a real conservative and damn the torpedos. Despite the governor’s desire to be seen as a conservative, many Republicans don’t believe him, particularly given his association with the Massachusetts’ health care plan, which is similar to the federal one in some aspects and has proved a disaster economically there, and his prior pro-gay, pro-choice positions when he was running for office in Massachusetts. Personally, I have a visceral reaction to him as a stereotypical used car salesperson – I don’t trust him. His attempt to pretend to be a hunter a few years back fell as flat as when John Kerry tried.

Still, if he can find a way to win the primary, he has the best chance to beat the president. Polls show he does the best against him of all the potential nominees, while Sarah Palin gets blown away by him. You’d think that would be obvious to conservatives, but just let someone say it to them and watch them accuse even other Republicans of being RINOs. How many times do I have to say it – partisanship makes everyone a little crazy.

Okay, now for the Democrats, which will be a lot shorter. Recently, with the president showing he is willing to work with Republicans, liberals are outraged. This is not only foolish on their part economically, as their plans for greater entitlements and stimulus strike me as similar to pouring water on a drowning man, but also unfair. President Obama has pursued the liberal agenda with great success, even at the cost of the House of Representatives and the loss of his own popularity. The public might not have liked it so much, but his base should be overjoyed.

So, already we hear the drumbeat for a primary opponent, which at least will bring glee to the right. Nothing could be worse for the Democrats than a primary fight, which would undoubtedly weaken their party. Even the thought of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama going into an undecided convention pulled their party apart for a while. But, partisan liberals see no clearer than partisan conservatives.

Besides, who would it be? I know my conservative friends have had a wet dream that Hillary Clinton, filled with ambition and thoughts of revenge, would challenge him. That seems to remain a dream. Besides, she stands in everyone’s perception to the right of President Obama. The people who are unhappy on the left are standing to his left. What would the point of having her challenge him be?

Who’s left? John Kerry? Howard Dean? Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. Did I say yet that partisanship makes everyone a little crazy?


I presume you know what Wikileaks is and who Julian Assange is. If not, Google or Wikipedia it.

I can’t speak for other countries, but I am not sure exactly how the United States would successfully prosecute Julian Assange. For one thing, to prosecute someone, you need a crime. There are no common law federal crimes, so it has to be a statutory crime. There are two choices I see right now (please keep in mind he is not a U.S. citizen, so treason is not available).

First, though, let me say that even if Mr. Assange is very much against the United States interest, even if he hopes bin Laden blows us to kingdom come, we should not prosecute him unless he has broken a valid law. Sure, there can be a kangaroo court, but there shouldn’t be. If we do that, then maybe we are slowly becoming the totalitarians we so criticize.

One possibility is the 1917 Espionage Act, which was last amended in 1970. Although it was used to imprison and convict men and women during WWI, it was a gross abuse of power by the government, and, in many people’s opinions, a violation of the first amendment of the constitution. It has been twice amended and I am not going into an analysis here of whether it is constitutional. Probably in a later post if he is indicted here. The other possibility I know of – and there may be others – is a statute (18 U.S.C. 793) which forbids even someone who gets specific defense information in their hands to dispose of it contrary to the law.

As for his arrest in Britain without bail  just so that it can be determined if he should go back to Sweden to face sex crime charges, those sex crime charges seem more than a little flimsy. Apparently, and these are the facts I heard – correct me if you think they are wrong - he had sex with a woman who had recently gone out of her way to meet him and bring him home. They had sex. The next day she had a party for him and his friends and she referred electronically to him and them as the “coolest people in the world”. Then, shortly afterwards, he had sex with a friend whose apartment he was staying at. They had sex. Later, the two women learned about each other. Now both claim he molested them, one by having sex with her in her sleep (after they had sex wide awake, mind you) and the other for supposedly pinning her down with his weight (and, of course, that was before she referred to him as one of the coolest people in the world, which makes you wonder - is she just referring to the missionary position?)

Now, even though he has surrendered himself in Britain, he is held without bail. I don’t know British law, but I believe the right to bail is basically the same as here where we generally have a constitutional right. Could be wrong though.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like the guy and think he is misguided. But, I’m not sure at all he’s committed any crime, and he shouldn’t be convicted of pissing off governments without a real crime. That’s too fascist for me.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Reviewing an earlier post I see that I had previously misunderstood DADT, which I thought had been brought about by presidential order. I think President Obama used to believe that too, based on what he said (why I believed it). But, now that I am paying attention I see it comes from a federal act.

I am a little dismayed that my favorite politician (though he dims in my appreciation over time), John McCain is at the forefront of prolonging DADT, which I believe is wrong in several dimensions.

It should be remembered that a federal trial court has already declared the law unconstitutional on 1st amendment and equal protection grounds (which, at the federal level, would have to be found implied in the due process clause) and that it is now before the Supreme Court in an appeal to be heard this year.

Why am I against DADT? I did give consideration for a while that the military is a very different creature from other federal departments, and that has been recognized since the founding. But, given that many other nations have managed to do this without big problems (there are always problems), that even our cousins in England and Australia have managed to do it (Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has testified that his counterparts in those two countries told him that after all the fuss, when it happened, it went down smoothly), I can’t imagine why our troops should be thought less disciplined or less tolerant.

And, of course, we know that gays are serving in the military. The poll the Pentagon took of service men and women showed that while many of them had a problem with open homosexuality, those who knew they were serving with a gay man overwhelmingly had no problem with it. One special forces member reported on a gay man he was serving with – paraphrasing – he was big, mean and killed a lot of bad guys. No problem. I have no doubt Senator McCain and other Senators and Congressmen who want to prolong DADT have no answer for this, as they continue to ignore that part of the poll whenever they speak.

One of the myths about this proposed change is that the military will be distracted by bizarre gay behavior. But, there are already gays in the military – where is this behavior? Where is it in other countries? Everyone in the military is going to have to follow the military code regardless of whether DADT exists, straight or gay.

Many conservatives who oppose this claim feel that it has to be this way because of the special mission of the military – and they are offended that they are called homophobes. I have looked to see if there was a poll correlating those for DADT with those against gay marriage and can't find one. So, sure, I’m speculating, but want to bet it is a really, really strong correlation? I say that with confidence because everyone I personally know who has a position, they are either pro or con on both issues - no split decisions.

Time to end this nonsense. It’s the 21st century. Homosexuality is no longer a crime. Many have come out of the closet and the ones I know well are decent hardworking people who don’t deserve to be discriminated against. And, it is discrimination. And it is homophobia.

I frequently read on an online site I frequent,, that God disapproves of homosexuality, often followed by a Bible citation. Yet, despite all the arguments I have been in on that site, no one, not one single person, has ever responded to my question as to whether they also approve of stoning adulterers, which is also mentioned in the Bible.

Today the Senate said no to a vote, so the debate will likely be over at least for a few years as it would never pass with the House in Republican control. And, of course, it may stay that way a while.


Just a brief comment here on this thorniest of issues. Once again, another president who hoped to solve this problem bites the dust. The administration acknowledges that it will no longer try to get Israel to stop building in disputed territories. And, as the Palestinians won’t negotiate until that happens . . . at least for now, that means more violence, more poverty, more deaths down the road.

While some Israel supporters might smile at that and say, What us worry? – We are on top - I suggest that someday, the smile will be wiped from their face, and that unless a political solution will be had, the little country that has survived so much will cease to be one day.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Potpourri day

Today is a potpourri day, which means I couldn’t decide what to write about so instead I’m covering a few little items that I find interesting.

The General Says -

On May 18, 2009 I posted here a comparison of General Grant’s vaunted autobiography with that written by the much less important southern brigadier general Edward Porter Alexander. EPA's book was just much better. However, I did say that I did like General Grant’s effort and thought it was important - just overrated. Some say it was wonderful the way he wrote it because he was so plain spoken. I don’t get it. I see nothing special about his writing at all. Some of it was quite boring and I found myself skimming. Reminds me how some people fuss over some actresses just because they are not so beautiful or past their prime in looks. But, below is my favorite bit in General Grant’s whole autobiography, as it was a very human part:

"After we had secured the opening of a line over which to bring our supplies to the army, I made a personal inspection to see the situation of the pickets of the two armies. As I have stated, Chattanooga Creek
comes down the centre of the valley to within a mile or such a matter of the town of Chattanooga, then bears off westerly, then north-westerly, and enters the Tennessee River at the foot of Lookout Mountain. This creek, from its mouth up to where it bears off west, lay between the two lines of pickets, and the guards of both armies drew their water from the same stream. As I would be under short-range fire and in an open country, I took nobody with me, except, I believe, a bugler, who stayed some distance to the rear. I rode from our right around to our left. When I came to the camp of the picket guard of our side, I heard the call, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general." I replied, "Never mind the guard," and they were dismissed and went back to their tents. Just back of these, and about equally distant from the creek, were the guards of the Confederate pickets. The sentinel on their post called out in like manner, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general," and, I believe, added, "General Grant." Their line in a moment front-faced to the north, facing me, and gave a salute, which I returned.

The most friendly relations seemed to exist between the pickets of the two armies. At one place there was a tree which had fallen across the stream, and which was used by the soldiers of both armies in drawing
water for their camps. General Longstreet's corps was stationed there at the time, and wore blue of a little different shade from our uniform.

Seeing a soldier in blue on this log, I rode up to him, commenced conversing with him, and asked whose corps he belonged to. He was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General
Longstreet's corps. I asked him a few questions--but not with a view of gaining any particular information--all of which he answered, and I rode off."

The meaning of the three paragraphs is evident, but it is just so hard to fathom how two years into the bloody war, the civility could be such.

Living undercover

I’ve been to Turkey, but not Cappadocia, an area known for its soft rock and many caves. One of these underground hollows is almost beyond belief and even calls for the conspiracy buffs to claim alien intervention.

It’s usually known as Derinkuyu or Derinkuyu Underground City. It is entirely underground and has 11 levels dropping approximately 280 feet deep. Thousands of people would be able to fit in it, perhaps up to 50,000 of them. It was connected to yet other underground cities by long underground passageages. There was also room for food and livestock. Typical of cave sites in the area, it had wine and oil presses, stables, storage rooms and wells among other specialized rooms. A vertical staircase starting at the third floor drops down 8 floors to the bottom where there is some type of temple or church. Rooms for worship were common in Cappadocian cave dwellings, but, on the second floor of Derinkuyu was a supposedly unique room, a large chamber with a vaulted ceiling. I sneer at the assumptions that this was a religious school as a pure guess.There was also a 180 foot long ventilation shaft which was also used to provide water, probably in both directions.

One of the fascinating features is that the whole environment and each separate floor could be closed off with huge round stone doors that were set on rollers. They look not unlike the entrances to Middle Earth’s hobbit cave dwellings. They doors were between 4 feet to 6 feet in height, 1 to 2 feet in width and weighed somewhere between 400 to 1000 pounds.

Who built them? I don’t know. The consensus is the Phrygians (those who don’t believe it was aliens), but others suggest the Hittites, between 600 and 800 b.c. That’s who lived around there at the time so they are good guesses. Just for perspective, this was probably contemporary with the composition of The Iliad and The Odyssey and the first written versions of the Old Testament, and hundreds of years before the golden age of Athens. It also appears that Christian societies lived there after the common era began, probably as hiding places from Roman persecution early on and later from Muslims. It is also possible that the Byzantines expanded what they found there.

Fun facts about foreign Muslims

I often find myself defending American Muslims here given the desire of some, particularly on the right wing  to paint them as radicals. But, the opinions of many millions of Muslims worldwide can be pretty scary from our viewpoint.

Here are some fun facts from Pew Research Group’s poll on foreign Muslims taken just this year. 34% of Muslims in Jordan have a favorable view of al Qaeda, 49% in Nigeria, 23% in Indonesia and 20% in Egypt.

So, using round numbers:

Jordan – 6,000,000 pop. – 2,000,000 support al Qaeda

Egypt – 83,000,000 pop. – 21,000,000 support al Qaeda

Nigeria - 155,000,000 pop. – 76,000,000 support al Qaeda

Indonesia - 238,000,000 pop. – 55,000,000 support al Qaeda

That’s over 150 million in just four countries, of course, representing less than over a quarter of the foreign Muslims in the world.  There are over a billion of them. Even in a country like Turkey, still very secular despite its religious revival, where only 4% of Muslim Turks favor al Qaeda (and have almost as unfavorable views of Hizbollah and Hamas), that’s still 3,000,000 people who support the terrorist organization. Of course, supporting a terrorist group is not the same as being a terrorist, but it makes for a really big pool.

Muslims favoring Palestinians to Israelis is not a surprise, particularly from middle eastern Muslims. Supporting Hizbollah and Hamas is not always the same as supporting Muslim militants in general. For example, in Lebanon, a completely divided country, 52% favor Hizbollah and 49% Hamas, but only 3% favor al Qaeda. That’s not always the case, of course, but it shows that it has to be analyzed differently.

How about this one? - Three quarters plus of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan are in favor of stoning adulterers, whipping or removing the hands of thieves and the death penalty for apostates, that is, Muslims who decide they prefer another religion. This is not likely to give Americans confidence in Muslim immigrants, although arguably, most who want to come here do not want that Shari’ah law in their life.

Still, scary.

Can I help you?

Don’t you love working with customer service departments and help desks? Here is a paraphrasing of my conversation with McAfee, the computer protection company yesterday.

M (them) Yes, Mr. Eisenberg, how may I help you?

D (me) Okay, I received a pop-up notice from you when I turned on my computer. It says New Internet Connection detected. I don’t know what this means as it has never come up before but there is a big exclamation point next to it in a yellow triangle. But obviously this is something you want me to be concerned about.

M Sir, is there a warning there about some virus infection?

D No, it’s just what I told you. New Internet Connection Detected. I don’t know why it would say that. All I did was turn the computer on. It’s the same internet connection.

M Okay, Sir, I’m going to transfer you to our service department. There is a $9.99 cents charge. How would you like to pay it?

D No, I’m not paying for it. You sent me a message alerting me to something. You didn’t say – don’t worry about this, it’s nothing. You put an exclamation mark next to it. So, no I’m not going to click on one of the choices it provides when I’m not sure what it means. I’m going to call you but I’m not going to pay for the privilege of responding to your message unless you tell me that there is some danger to my computer first.

M Sir, you purchased a two year plan which expires March, 2011. However, only the first thirty days is free service. After that you must pay.

D Look, this is nothing personal between you and me, but I am sick of these companies ripping everyone off. When they sold me the product and I paid for it and then tried to download it, it wouldn’t download. When I called up, they tried to stick me with a $9.99 cent charge then just so they could give me the product I already paid for. I wouldn’t pay it then and I’m not paying it now. I pay for your protection. Don’t alert me with an exclamation point for no reason unless you also tell me don’t worry about it. I’m not paying for this unless you tell me what it even is. For all I know, it’s nothing. Why should I pay?

M Yes, Sir, but you see that you no longer have free service.

D If you charge me I am telling you and you can write it down in your notes that as soon as my contract runs out, I’m going to change to someone else even though I otherwise like your product.

M Okay, Sir, since you don’t want to pay the service charge, we are happy to provide it for free on a one time basis. Is that okay?

D That will be fine.

I expect to have a similar conversation with them in the future, and no, I’m not paying then either. Here’s a chat exchange a college professor I know had with his own college’s help desk. I changed the some names to protect the innocent and shortened it a bit.

STAFF: Hi, my name is Ken. How may I help you?

TOM: Morning. Are you Big College help desk?

STAFF: Yes. I will be happy to help you.

TOM: Tried so many passwords on my that I got locked out. Automatic password reset not working

STAFF: May I know your email address that you have provided at the time of registering in the course?

TOM: Big College email is

STAFF: One moment while I look up your information based off of your name and email address.

TOM: But not about a course. It's about

STAFF: Okay.

{long pause}

TOM: Ken?

STAFF: Thank you for waiting, I have found information that I believe is yours, however I need to verify this with additional information. To the best of your ability, can you please provide the following?

1. A course you are enrolled in

2. A secondary email address

3. Your Student ID

TOM: I'm faculty. Faculty ID is D99011348

STAFF: Thank you for waiting. I have found your information. The ID you provided is your Login ID. However for security purposes I will need to email your password separately to the email address you provided

TOM: OK. Which one?

STAFF: You will receive the right password via email after this chat session gets over.

[Later that day]

STAFF: Hi, my name is Marshall. How may I help you?

TOM: Hi Marshall. This morning your colleague Ken reset my password for me after the account was locked with numerous wrong guesses. Just went to try but it's still locked: D# 636363666

STAFF: Ok, I will help you with that.

TOM: Great

STAFF: May I have your registered e-mail?


STAFF: One moment while I look up your information based off of your name and email address.

{long pause}

TOM: Marshall?

STAFF: Yes, I would make sure that your password is send to you e-mail address right away, I apologize for the inconvenience caused.

TOM: No, no. He sent me the password but the site is still locked: Username is my D#, right?

{long pause}

TOM: Marshall?

TOM: Marshall? U there?

TOM: OK. I give up. Will try again


TOM: Ah, do you see my problem?

STAFF: Ok, we suggest you to contact your educator, perhaps your course resources are yet to be activated by the instructor.


STAFF: Are you trying to access the course shell?


TOM: I'm trying to access

STAFF: Ok, Please make sure you login under the web site URL: http://Big with your login credentials.

TOM: Marshall. I'm writing because it is still locked after your colleague reset the password: That is not the website I'm talking about: I'm talking about my.Big

TOM: Never mind Marshall. I'm talking to someone who won't read my responses. I don't even think you're real
Is it any wonder so many people take blood pressure pills?

Various stuff I learned lately -

- There are six elements that are deemed to be necessary for life on earth (and possibly elsewhere) – carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur.

Phosphorous? Sulphur? Really?

- When our special forces went to Afghanistan in 2001, they often had to fly helicopters at 15,000 feet due to the terrain and fear of hand held missile attack, far higher than they had ever been flown before. Sometimes at that height they would still be below the peaks of the mountains. Often they would fly into a “mass of . . . sand, snow, and God knew what else” which “measured hundreds of miles across” and “materialized not from the ground up but in midair, at around 10,000 feet”. They called it the “Black Stratus”. When they flew that high, everyone except the pilots would pass out, as they weren’t equipped with oxygen.

- I have known for some decades that John Adams was a jealous and petulant man, personally honest, but so cynical of the merits of others that his envy has become a lasting shadow on his otherwise good character. However, despite his jabs at everyone in the pantheon, this one on Franklin, which I’ve only recently come across, seems to me more unkind and poorly timed than his other verbal broadsides and not even fair to Franklin, who rarely defended the many attacks against him. It is also so self-contradictory in its beginning and end, that it is almost laughable:

"Franklin is gone, Peace to his Shade – Personal Resentments and Hatreds are not to be found in my nature in public affairs. I feel no ill will to his Memory –but I owe more to Truth than to his Fame; and I owe the Truth to my Country and Posterity. The last Letter of abuse to Congress in which he mentioned me he said I “was always an honest Man.” – I wish my Conscience would allow me to say as much of him. – But from the first to the last of my acquaintance with him, I can reconcile Conduct in public affairs neither to the Character of an honest Man, nor to that of a Man of Sense."

- Archie Andrews, a comic book character I grew up reading, was created in 1941. He was partially based on Mickey Rooney’s movie characterization of Andy Hardy. His first name was Archibald and his middle name was “Chick.” Before Archie Comics became the company name, it was MLJ Magazine, which eventually featured Pep Comics, and their big star was a superhero, The Shield, who pre-dated the similar Captain America by over a year. As many Archie Comics as I read as a kid, and it was a lot, I never knew these things.

If I'm reading your mind right, you are thinking that's enough. Okay.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who Said it V?

Time for another Who said it?, the world’s second most popular trivia game. There are one and a half rules but they are for me, not you. One, the quote has to be found in my own library and, two, it (usually) has to be someone that most people who like history or politics or literature would have heard about. In one case below the person the quote is from the wife of a famous person about him. Nine of the ten are Americans and the other one an Englishman speaking about Americans.

1) When I was a little fellow, as long as I can remember, I would go into a panic if I heard strange voices in the house. I felt I just couldn’t meet people, and shake hands with them. Most of the visitors would sit with mother and father in the kitchen, and it was the hardest thing in the world to have to go through the kitchen door and give them a greeting. I was almost ten before I realized I couldn’t go on that way. And by fighting hard I used to manage to get through that door. I’m all right with old friends, but every time I meet a stranger, I’ve got to go through the old kitchen door, back home, and it’s not easy.

That’s from President Calvin Coolidge, sometimes known as Silent Cal. Despite his name, his speeches and press conferences were quite frequent and lengthy. He also was a prolific author, but he was shy and quiet in company. If we can believe the story, at a party he was seated next to a woman who said she had heard about his reputation for not talking much and that she had bet someone that she could get three words out of him. He replied – ‘You lose.”

2) Nothing has ever hurt me so much and affected me with such keen sensations as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me, in a cause wherein my good fame, fortune and life were all at stake.

* * *

I have made a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, 'John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money,' with a figure of a hat subjoined. But thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word 'Hatter' tautologous, because followed by the words 'makes hats,' which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word 'makes' might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy them, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words 'for ready money' were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, 'John Thompson sells hats.' 'Sells hats!' says the next friend. 'Why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?' It was stricken out, and 'hats' followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to 'John Thompson,' with the figure of a hat subjoined.

Ben Franklin is my favorite founder, bar none. The first quote is from a letter to his son William, the governor of New Jersey when the revolution broke out and an unrepentant tory. Dad wrote him off, and if I recall correctly, saw him only once more in his life, never forgiving him.

The second, one of my favorites, is actually told by Thomas Jefferson, and relates how Franklin tried to comfort him when congress was picking apart his original draft of the declaration of independence. Cynic though I am, and always suspicious of Jefferson, I hope there is more Franklin in it and less Jefferson. It sounds like the type of story Old Ben would tell.

3) Assassination is not an American practice or habit, and one so vicious and so desperate cannot be engrafted into our political system. This conviction of mine has steadily gained strength since the Civil War began. Every day's experience confirms it. The President, during the heated season, occupies a country house near the Soldiers' Home, two or three miles from the city. He goes to and from that place on horseback, night and morning, unguarded. I go there unattended at all hours, by daylight and moonlight, by starlight and without any light.

Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, showing why he was not famous for his prophetic powers. It is sometimes forgotten that he was nearly assassinated himself the same night as Lincoln. Booth’s confederate Lewis Powell chose a knife instead of a gun and did not finish the job, but the recovery was long and the scars endured.

4) After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gun boats till I was forced to return wet cold and starving, with every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for, what made Tell a Hero. And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat. My action was purer than either of theirs. One hoped to be great himself. The other had not only his country’s but his own wrongs to avenge. I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone. A country groaned beneath this tyranny and prayed for this end. Yet now behold the cold hand they extend to me. God cannot pardon me if I have done wrong. Yet I cannot see any wrong except in serving a degenerate people.

That is from the diary of John Wilkes Booth, kept while he was on the run after the assassination. There are some pages missing and that fact has raised not a few eyebrows as to who he might have implicated.

5) Being more than usually pale, I ventured to put on a little rouge, which I found relieved the black and made me quite beautiful. Wishing to evade Mr. [A. . . ‘s] observation, I hurried through the room telling him to put the lights out and follow me down. This excited his curiosity and he started up and led me to the table and then declared that unless I allowed him to wash my face he would not go. He took a towel and drew me on his knee and all my beauty was clean washed away, and a kiss made a peace, and we drove off.

* * *

One evening, when I had dressed to go to Court, the everlasting teasing about my pale face induced me to make another trial of a little rouge, and contrary to my first proceeding, I walked boldly forward to meet Mr. [A. . . ]. As soon as he saw me, he requested me to wash it off, which I with some temper refused, upon which he ran down and jumped in the carriage and left me planté là, even to myself appearing like a fool, crying with vexation.

Ah, the rouge wars of the Adams' clan. These descriptions of life with John Quincy Adams make you wonder why his wife Louisa didn’t do away with herself. Between her depressing and arrogant husband and her opinionated and overbearing mother-in-law (Abigail was not so wonderful from Louisa’s viewpoint as history makes her out to be), she did not enjoy much of her life. At one point poor Louisa bought Abigail a ring only to have John Q. refuse to let her send it, and then telling his mother that he refused because it was too showy.

6) I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the wall. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor or that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH.

* * *

I look to the colonies alone for aid; unless it arrives soon, I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms. I will, however, do the best I can under the circumstances; and I feel confident that the determined valor and desperate courage heretofore exhibited by my men will not fail them in the last struggle; and although they may be sacrificed to the vengeance of a Gothic enemy, the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse to him than a defeat. I hope your honorable body will hasten on reinforcements ammunition, and provisions to our aid as soon as possible. We have provisions for twenty days for the men we have. Our supply of ammunition is limited. At least five hundred pounds of cannon powder, and two hundred rounds of six., nine, twelve and eighteen pound balls, ten kegs of rifle powder and a supply of lead, should be sent to the place without delay under a sufficient guard. If these things are promptly sent, and large reinforcements are hastened to this frontier, this neighborhood will be the great and decisive ground.

This first quote is from the letter addressed to all Texans and all Americans in the world from Lt. Col. William Travis as he and his men approached destiny at the Alamo at the hands of the Mexican general Santa Anna. The second quote is from a little more than a week later, still trying to sound confident, but with reality creeping in. The courier John W. Smith brought it out, the last man to leave the Alamo alive.

7) The Americans will have no interest contrary to the grandeur and glory of England, when they are not oppressed by the weight of it; and they will neither be inclined to respect the acts of a superintending legislature, when they see them the acts of that power which is itself the security, not the rival of their secondary importance. In this assurance my mind most perfectly acquiesces, and I confess I feel not the least alarm from the discontents which are to arise from putting people at their ease; nor do I apprehend the destruction of this empire from giving, by an act of free grace and indulgence, to two millions of my fellow citizens, some share of those rights upon which I have always been taught to value myself.

This is from a speech by Edmund Burke to parliament in 1775, when a declaration of independence was still a year away, but hostilities were already joined. Burke is rightly celebrated as a great friend of America, liberty and democracy, but his predictions about America, which would declare independence be a great rival and sometimes enemy of Britain for over a century afterwards, shows that even someone who others put forth as the great man (Dr. Samuel Johnson, for one), cannot see the future.

8) My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every state in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair state of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the state of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation, shall we, their descendents, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers?

This is a question that is probably worth asking every generation. We are now 300 million and the pressure to meld into some sort of world government or give away sovereignty always grows. Recently, listening to the physicist Michio Kaku discuss mankind’s evolution into what is called a type one civilization – that is, mastery of the resources of a home planet (this is actually called the Kardashev scale - we are now a type zero civilization), he suggested that as part of reaching that goal in the future we will have a world government. I emailed his blog and asked him if that didn’t show a political bias, and that maybe advancement to a type one civilization could involve the end of government, rather than what sounds like must be prototypical Platonic global tyranny to me. No answer, of course. The quote above though is from William Jennings Bryant famous Cross of Gold speech in 1896. He was focused on the issue of bimetallism – gold and silver. This is a very difficult subject to get our heads around now when we do not have a metal standard at all, but at the end of the 19th century it was quite the big deal.

9) First he expressed his condolences. Then he said . . . this might be part of a worldwide plot, which I didn’t understand, and he said a lot of people down here think I should be sworn in right away. Do you have any objection to it? And – well, I was sort of taken aback at the moment because it was just an hour after . . . the President had been shot and I didn’t think – see what the rush was. And I thought, I suppose at the time, at least, I thought it would be nice if the President came back to Washington – President Kennedy . . . . But I suppose that was all personal . . . . he said, who could swear me in? I said, I’d be glad to find out and I’ll call you back.

This quote is taken from Arthur M. Schleshinger, Jr.’s Robert Kennedy and His Times and is somewhat eerie for a number of reasons. The speaker is Bobby Kennedy, brother of the assassinated president, JFK. He was relaxing by his pool with his wife and some co-workers during a break in a Justice Department conference on organized crime when he learns that his brother had been shot and then that he was dead. The caller in this case was LBJ, who some conspiracy theorists like to think had a hand in it. If you’ve read the first three volumes of Robert Caro’s awe inspiring biography of LBJ, you might just think he had the sociopathic personality for it, although I have never read anywhere any reliable evidence to support it (hearsay evidence has it that LBJ thought the CIA was involved). However, I look forward to Caro’s last installment (he says in 2012), which will cover this period of time, with great eagerness. The phone call had to be difficult for many reasons – Johnson and RFK were not admirers, in fact they were antagonists, and LBJ is calling right after RFK learns of his brother’s assassination, mostly because RFK is the attorney general. Johnson was right, of course – he should have been sworn in immediately, and RFK acknowledges his reluctance was probably personal. It also is a little weird that he refers to his brother as “the President,” rather than Jack or “my brother”. But, it is easy to understand how RFK might feel affronted by a call like this from his brother’s main opposition in their own party who will now replace him in the presidency so soon after his death. According to Schleshinger, JFK only asked LBJ if he wanted the VP job out of propriety and was shocked when he accepted, or he wanted him as VP so that he wouldn’t be majority leader in the senate anymore and would be gotten out of the way.

10) The Jew waited until I paid him before he laid the watch on the counter. He gave his signal -- and this other fellow suddenly appeared, from the back, walking toward me.

One hand was in his pocket. I knew he was a cop.

He said, quietly, “Step into the back.”

Just as I started back there, an innocent Negro walked into the shop. I remember later hearing that just that day he had gotten out of the military. The detective, thinking he was with me, turned to him.

There I was, wearing my gun, and the detective talking to that Negro with his back to me. Today I believe that Allah was with me even then. I didn’t try to shoot him. And that saved my life.

I remember that his name was Detective Slack.

I raised my arm, and motioned to him. “Here, take my gun.”

I saw his face when he took it. He was shocked. Because of the sudden appearance of the other Negro, he had never thought about a gun. It really moved him that I hadn’t tried to kill him.

Sounds like a detective novel, doesn’t it? It has the tone of a Walter Mosely Easy Rawlins’ mystery. But, it is from the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I recall reading during law school for some reason and found fascinating.

I am aware that there is a claim that at least some of the episodes described in the autobiography were manufactured, but have never looked into it myself. It still makes for arresting reading. Alex Haley, later the author of Roots collaborated on it based on his interviews, and it was brought out after X’s assassination. Haley supposedly had an important role in toning down the anti-semitism which would have made it less appealing to many audiences. At the same time that I read X’s autobiography, I also read that of Patrick Buchanan. Both grew up in Washington, D.C., one a privileged white kid and the other a poor black one. Their perspectives about blacks made for quite an interesting juxtaposition.

Okay, all done. As usual, this is really just an excuse for my ruminating about history.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Knockdown, drag out vacation

After the unstinting ponderousness of the last post, this one is autobiographical and more whimsical, being a travelogue of some of the places I’ve been to in Europe and some of my adventures there.

My first trip out of the country was in 1985. It was a good year. I had been an attorney for about ten months, liked my co-workers, had a little money for the first time in my life (emphasis on little), was having my best year of casual dating (apparently I immediately got a lot better looking when I became a lawyer), and I got to visit Europe for two weeks.
I started off in London. I was there for not even a day when I crossed the street at Trafalgar Square. With Lord Nelson looking down upon me, I was as happy as a young American abroad could be. Although the square is, naturally, square, the road is circular. About halfway across I heard a roar and looked to my right. A motorcycle was coming around the curve. We were quite a distance from each other, so I wasn’t worried – yet. I took a few steps forward towards the curb and noticed that the gentleman rider who I will refer to here as His Royal Moron (HRM for short), seemed to be on a collision course to run me down.

So, no problem. I just stopped where I was and faced HRM so he could move around me. I don’t know if he was really a moron, but as far as I’m concerned, he was dumb as a box of spanners. He still seemed zeroed in on me. I stepped to the right (or maybe it was the left) and he adjusted at the same time, still having me in his moron sights. Then I went sideways the other way, just as he made the same move. You’ve probably played this game with someone before as you approached each other in the hallway or sidewalk. You both keep trying to walk past each other but can't help almost bumping. Finally, one or both of you stops and you laugh, while one of you goes by. Yeah, well, this wasn’t as much fun.

At the time I was a fairly agile fellow, but I had my heavy backpack on, not yet having checked into my fleabag hotel. It was fairly heavy and I was exhausted from the flight and had not slept in about 24 hours. As the HRM got closer to me, maybe 6 or 7 feet away, I realized this was not going to end well. In fact, it dawned on me – I was going to die. I actually said to myself, “Oh, I’m going to die.” At least I had the presence of mind to try and relax my body, as I heard somewhere that it increases your chances of surviving. Isn't that what helps protects drunks in auto accidents?

Smack! His handle bars hit me in the chest or stomach and his front wheel ran over my left foot. At least that is the way it seemed to me. I went airborne (so I may have hit my leg on his bike while flying as I can’t see how I went airborne while he was on my foot). I landed on my back.

I didn’t take a kip, if you get my meaning, guvna, but, I did lay in the middle of the street with my eyes closed for a bit. I opened them up and standing above me was a crowd of young men and women. But something was wrong. They had blue and red and green hair and it was shaped in anything but the way a person’s hair is supposed to be. You see, this was the 80s and punk was the thing. Quite ‘orrible looking, actually. I told myself the old joke – “I hope this isn’t heaven.” I don't think I said it out loud, because even to punkers, that might be insulting. And, I was rather defenseless at the moment.

A few seconds later a young woman, I believe what we would call a traffic cop or a brownie, was at my side and helping me to stand up. I checked myself. Obviously, I was alive and I was really feeling good with adrenaline coursing through my body. In fact, I felt ecstatic. I AM ALIIIIIVE!

The brownie spoke to me. "Brhhghhgghugghuh." “What?” I said. She spoke again. "Rrrurderureerrurhah." “Oh,” I said, “I’m fine, but I can’t understand a word you are saying.” I did actually say that out loud. I think she was Scottish, but, for all I know, she was speaking with a Welsh or had a Manx accent.

She helped me to the sidewalk, directly under his lordship, where I was immediately surrounded by well wishers, a number of whom claimed to have pictures of the accident. After all, this was London in summer and there were American tourists everywhere. I picked one person to send me photos because she lived in Philadelphia, which was closest to me of the group. Of course, that was  pretty stupid as whoever might have sent me pictures would do so by mail, and it didn't matter where they lived, but keep in mind I was just run over. Anyway, she snapped a picture of me. For some reason, I covered my smashed camera, possibly thinking that the sight of it might offend someone who looked at it. Again, I was just run over, so . . . .
And HRM, you wonder? He was sitting on the curb. His motorcycle was lying in the street and would clearly need major repairs, if it could even be fixed. Don’t ask me how, but I came out of it better than he and his bike did. Perhaps it was because I relaxed at the last moment and definitely my backpack saved me from greater injury. Probably just lucky. It’s one of my 9 lives though (a post for another day). No one was crowding around him asking him how he felt. Given that he could have just stopped his cycle, public sentiment was on my side. I didn’t feel bad for him and eventually walked away without speaking.
About a half hour later my leg started to feel not so good. I rolled my jeans leg up and pulled off my shoe and sock. As far as I could tell, the only damage I received was a tiny dime sized dot – a little bruise – on the lower left portion of my instep and I had a little bang on my shin. I can't recall if there was any blood. Okay, I can handle this, I thought.

A little later, with all the adrenaline gone, I was in a spot of pain. I limped to my hostel, which I called Ye Old Fleabag Motel, where I shared a room with 7 or 8 drunks. This was not a posh place. I didn’t have a lot of money for this trip, and my airfare used up most of it. Ye Old Fleabag Motel cost me 35 dollars for a week. Get it? Even though I stayed only 5 days, it was a bargain.

Sharing a room with these young men, who seemed to be living there, was an experience. They would talk almost all night. I remember one very entertaining fellow, pissed out of his gourd on radiator hooch, saying to another roomate, “I’ve seen your eyes so red Michelangelo couldn’t paint it.” This was about 4 a.m. and despite the pain I was in I cracked up out loud. I doubt he made it up, but it was funny.

As I found out the next morning, he was quite the humorous fellow. We were all sitting in the breakfast room, and he was at his table repeating over and over “I wonder what we are having for breakfast. I wonder what we are having for breakfast.” Then breakfast came and he shouted. “Oh, boy, toast and beans, my favorite!” It may have been his favorite but all I could eat was the toast and there are few things I can't eat. I also noticed the tea was extraordinarily delicious. I know I asked the brand, but I forget now what it was. In case you don't find that so funny, the next day, when we sat for breakfast, he started in again. “I wonder what we are having for breakfast. I wonder . . . Oh, boy, toast and beans, my favorite!" He was pretty funny. Probably a millionaire industrial magnate now.

One night there I was lying in bed sleeping on my back. The head of my bed backed up to a window. I woke to the sight of a body climbing in the window over my head. He looked down and said “Shhh.” I know I should have been frightened. I know he might have been there for a nick. But, I didn’t think so. I thought he was one of the boys and got home too late for the front door. So, I went back to sleep. It’s astonishing the things you can do when you are young.

On my last day there I notice that I couldn’t find my plane tickets which had been sitting on a little table with my books and other stuff. I figured whoever cleaned the room had thought it was garbage and thrown it out. Going on a search through every garbage can I could find, I came upon it ripped up into dozens of pieces in the trash can in the loo. I scooped it up and put the remains in my pocket. Now, I know, dear reader, that doesn’t sound like much of an adventure. Just wait.

I couldn’t really walk very well after my accident. Fortunately, my boss’s daughter was in London and I was able to hang out for a couple of days with her and her friend whose uncle lived there and had a car. But, after that I was on my own. I even spent a day limping around Oxford, grimacing every step, yet having the best time of my life.

Before I was run over that first day I had met an old woman while walking to Kew Gardens, an amazing arboretum even more beautiful than Long Island’s Planting Field Arboretum, my prior favorite. She was in her 80’s if I recall. She insisted I come with her to her friend’s house on the way, another old woman she told me had been a film star in the early days of movies. Delia somebody or other. Can’t really remember and there was no at the time, so I never found out what she was in. Anyway, my friend walked the rest of the way with me to the Gardens. She told me that her dream was to get on the supersonic Concorde and fly to America but her doctors said she wasn’t allowed. One day, she was going to do it anyway. I wonder.

After my boss’s daughter left I met a businessman perhaps 10 years older than me. I told him that I was not impressed with the food in London. Years earlier I had met some British folks in America and they told me they liked to come to the U.S. because the food was so much better. Now I understood. My new friend insisted I didn’t go to the right places and he took me to dinner that night at a fancy steak house. He was delighted with the meal and asked me what I thought. I’m proud to tell you I lied to his face. Diplomacy, you know.

I’m not doing a traditional travelogue here. If you want to know what to see in London, send me your email address. But, the churches, particularly St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Martins-in-the-Fields, Kew Gardens, Speaker’s Corner and Oxford stand out in my head.

I left Britain and flew to Copenhagen, Denmark on British Airways. You remember my ripped up ticket? So, there I am going through Danish customs. The customs officer asks me for my return ticket out of the country. I was actually going to other countries first and flying out of Amsterdam, but I pulled out of my pocket the heap of papers that had once been my ticket home from Holland and smiled. Why would they care?

Apparently, they did. I was unaware that when you go to a foreign country they often want to know you have a way to leave their country. That makes sense, but I had never really traveled like this before and I had no idea. He looked quizzically at my scraps of paper and soon I found myself being escorted by their customs police. Okay, what could they do to me? I found myself in a little room. It wasn’t a cell, but it had no windows either. It was where they put people who they were going to evict from the country while they figured out what plane you were getting on (and paying for). I and a kid from Algeria were stuck there. I was not happy I was being sent back, but I try to roll with the punches and I decided to make this an adventure.  Unfortunately, I had not eaten breakfast and I had a headache.

Now, the Algerian fellow, he had the same problem I did, only worse. First, I was just flying back to England, which wasn't all that far. He was going to have to wait there until there was a flight to Algeria, which wouldn't be quite so quick and was a much longer flight. Also, he didn’t speak Danish or English. He only spoke French. That meant, the only one he could talk to was - me. I had only my very poorly learned high school French. Surprisingly, as bad of a student as I was, I have found several times in Europe I could converse with other French speakers so long as it wasn’t their first language. However, it was his first language, so I just did the best I could. He had worse problems.

After about an hour there, with my good mood rapidly fading, the door opened, and a pilot walked in. He was smiling and called me out of the room. I said good-bye to my poor Algerian friend, thinking he would fare only a little worse than me. The pilot turned out to be my pilot from British Airways. For some reason  he ended up with my shredded ticket. And, like a jigsaw puzzle, he had pieced it together. I was staying in Denmark. As I thanked him he said to me “The Danish can be a little heavy to dance with.”

I don’t recall if I had to take a train or a bus into Copenhagen but I remember getting off something. There were people all around. They were really good looking too for the most part. Many of them were holding hands, much more frequently than you see Americans do. Most of them were in big groups, but everyone was at least with one other person (I am telling you that the four days or so I was in Denmark, I saw not one other person like myself – alone). And, some of them were singing. I have to stop here and say – I’m not kidding - some of them were singing. I remembered instantly the marvelous movie, Hans Christian Anderson, starring Danny Kaye, my pick for the most all around talented performer ever (at least in my lifetime). It was, in fact, Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen.

My headache went away instantly and I was in love with the city. And that was before I got to Tivoli Gardens, the most beautiful, warm, fun amusement park I have ever seen. It was not at all high tech like Disney World, but it didn't matter. If you are young and it is not on your destination list, and it is probably not, you might just consider it someday. I have traveled many places by myself and do not get lonely easily (now, with cell phones and email, of course, it is virtually impossible unless you are a sociopath, but there was no such thing at the time). But, I admit for an hour or so in the ebullient fun-filled amusement park I felt a little lonely that I had no one to share it with. I met a young American woman, and I thought we might have hit it off, but her friends did not approve of me and it ended before it got started. How could anyone not like a bushy haired crooked jawed limping American male like me?

I stayed in someone’s house there, just a room with a bath.  I looked at my leg one day as I lay in that bath nursing it. The little dot on my instep had grown. The black and blue now went from my lower instep beginning where the little bruise had been and ran almost to my knee. And there really was no blue anymore. It was black and I was pretty sure I saw some green. “You’re going to lose your leg, you idiot,” I thought. But, I had come to Europe to walk and look at stuff and I wasn’t about to let some doctor put me in a cast. Bad judgment, I know, but I was 26 and having a spectacular time.

As I headed to Sweden by Ferry, I stopped off first at Kronborg Castle on the Danish coast – the scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is one of the few places I’ve ever taken a formal tour. The dungeons were fun, but the most remarkable thing was a mesmerizing cracked stone statue of the Danish national hero, Holger Danske, a Viking who was sleeping in a chair. The story goes that he fell asleep forever but would awake whenever Denmark needed him. Thus, in WWII, the underground was named after him. Lots of other stuff too as you see his name everywhere there. After the tour was over, I went up to the English speaking guide and said, “I love that statue. How old is it?”  I figured it had to be three or four hundred years old. He answered very matter of factly. “Last year. It was a gift from America.”

Sweden is a story I really can’t tell here as I didn't do much but chase girls. I know this will sound like bragging, but for the only time in my life, I felt sought after. Turns out, it had nothing to do with me. I had brown hair and was American, and, apparently, that worked well in Sweden, as I've learned from some other travelers. At least at the time. Who knows now. Suffice to say, after I left Sweden 4 days later, I had seen nothing except the town of Helsingborg that I had landed in (which was celebrating its 900 year birthday that year). A young woman escorted me back to Denmark and I vowed to myself no more girls while I was traveling. It wasn’t why I came to Europe. But, I want to repeat something to you young men out there that I was told in the late 70s by a college professor in a comparative religion class. “Young men," he said, "you must go to Sweden before you get married.” I doubt a professor would dare say that nowadays, but he was dead serious. So am I.

The one story I can leave you with is that I invented a saying in Sweden. Well, not exactly invented. I was with a group of people who had explained to me that they didn’t really work because in Sweden you are not allowed to be poor. And, without making a living, they resided in a much nicer place than I did in America, and I worked my arsel off. Anyway, we were talking the first day I was with them and for some reason I said, “Piece of cake.” They nearly fell down laughing. There is no such expression in Sweden, or there wasn’t until then. If there is now, I accidentally started it. In Swedish it sounded something like ein bate calkye, which cracked them up again as they tried to teach it to me. Oh, and a nurse I met there told me she could feel a bone chip in my shin. It turned out she was wrong (I got an x-ray when I went home). It was just a terrible bruise, but, this is why one goes to American doctors.

In Denmark for one more day, I spent most of it at Tivoli Gardens and then went by train and ferry to Amsterdam overnight. I had a traveling companion in the train by the name of Helge. Not Helga, he explained, which is a girl’s name. But, Helge (maybe the Danish is Holger). Helge spoke 6 languages besides English (If I remember it was Norwegian, German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, but, let’s face it, they aren’t all that different from each other) and was going to be a tour guide or something like that. When we got to Amsterdam, with its beautiful canals, tall canal houses with impossibly steep staircases and its awe inspiring museums, he asked me if I would like to share a room for one night to save money. I’m not good at saying no, and he was a pleasant guy, so we did. Even though I had to share a bed with him, which isn't real comfortable, it was better than a room full of drunks.

Walking around the town, Helge asked me if I minded if we went to the red light district because in Norway, unlike Sweden, there was no pornography. I told him it wasn’t hard to find in America, but I didn’t mind as long as it wasn’t for too long. We looked at the incredibly ugly prostitutes in the windows. At his request (I swear) we went to a porno movie (I fell asleep) and then a live sex show (I fell asleep again). If you wanted to, you could have a private meeting with the star of the show afterwards, for a fee, of course. She was, at least, very attractive. Not for me, but there was a group there from Italy and I'm pretty sure someone got lucky. I've been in two red light districts in my life (the other one in Turkey). I left both being temporarily repulsed by sex.

There is one part of the story I cannot tell you. No, nothing sexual happened, you pigs. But along that line. You'll have to wonder and maybe some day I'll write about it, but I doubt it. But, I can tell you this. After I parted with Helge who left in the morning before I got up, I was standing around a tram station on my way to Haarlem. The trams ran on electricity. They don’t have tracks like we do, just little rails in the ground that you can’t even trip over. Everyone just stands around and waits for the virtually silent trams to arrive. I stood there a bit, then I walked to the other side of the tracks, and then I just leisurely wandered about.

All of a sudden, I felt a hand on the back of my collar and I was yanked a few feet into the crowd. I looked around to see who did it when I realized, whoever had, saved my life. I had wandered right onto the tracks and was about to get run over. I’ll never know who saved a second of my 9 lives on one trip.

I was intending, dear reader, to cover all my trips to Europe in this single post, but, I have exceeded the time and space I allot to this every week on my first trip, and it will have to wait until another time. Too bad. I think you might have enjoyed the time I was hanging off the rampart of a castle by my legs overlooking a boulder strewn beach on the edge of Portugal just to take a picture and couldn't get back up, or the time I started the war that broke up Yugoslavia, or the time I was interrogated by Boris Becker (I suppose it was a look alike) near the Monastery of Melk in Austria, or . . . .

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 . . . .