Sunday, March 28, 2010

Death Match: Socrates v. Thoreau

Didn’t think there’d be two Thoreau posts in as many weeks, but wasn’t paying attention when I started writing this and bam - there he was.

But this one isn’t about the woodsy zen-like pond-gazing Thoreau, but the defiant and outraged Thoreau who wrote one of the most powerful, persuasive and influential political speeches of all times, ranked with that Pericles’ Funeral Oration and those of Lincoln, Churchill and King in more modern times. Because it was originally a speech, when it was later publish it went under a bunch of different names but Civil Disobedience will do. Gandhi, Tolstoy and King, just as examples, have noted its effect on them.

The post isn’t so much about him as it is about a philosophical problem, and I pair him up with perhaps the most influential western philosophers of all time – Plato and his Socrates. Unlike figures such as Jesus, Buddha, Lao-tse, etc., we can be as certain as you can be about anything historical that Plato and Socrates were real people as the Athenians were quite literate and the two were well known figures in their own time. In fact, Plato was not the only contemporary Athenian who wrote about Socrates. Nor were there mythical or miraculous elements to the dialogues in which he presented him. In fact, the general Xenophon's writings about Socrates coroborate much of Plato's work.

Here’s the ethical problem:

We are sometimes faced with choices of whether obey laws we don’t like for a variety of reasons. I’m not talking about the petty laws we violate all the time, like traffic laws (I’ve done two informal experiments on the Long Island Expressway – EVERY single person who was a subject was speeding), nor the many laws we violate because there are so many of the pesky things, no person can hope to know them all.

I’m talking about the kind of laws which one finds immoral or perhaps unconstitutional and deliberately disobeys.

Thoreau and Plato’s Socrates provide two different answers. I use for argument Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (”CD”) and for Socrates, who left nothing written, Plato’s Crito (a dialogue named after Socrates’ friend, Criton, and often referred to as The Crito). Both are fairly short works which can be easily read and understood. And, although the language of Crito, obviously a translation, may come off a little stilted, they are both exciting works unless you are just one of those people for whom political philosophy is like a glass of warm milk. I don’t remember when I first read CD, but it was a long time ago. I do remember finding it passionate and filled with pithy little sayings. I also recall when I read Crito because it just happens to be one of the very few things this lazy college freshman actually read. I had dutifully bought a collection of Plato’s Dialogues for Philosophy 101. Like many of my college text books, I read as little of it as I could get away with at the time. I believe we were assigned The Republic, a long and complicated dialogue on government, and at the time that was just too much work for me. However, alone of Plato's dialogues I read Crito, and for a good reason. It wasn’t assigned, which made it more palatable, and, it was really, really short. It presented a little moral problem and solved it. And although I can’t remember whether I read CD or Crito first, whichever was second made me think – it’s almost the same problem as the other one. 

The two cases aren’t completely analogous. Thoreau’s problem simply wasn’t as dramatic as Socrates'. Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax for a number of years as a protest and ended up serving one day in jail when someone intervened and paid it for him. However, he could have ended up there endlessly had that not occurred. He apparently wasn't intending to pay it. Being Thoreau and having a pleasant cellmate, he even enjoyed his day in jail.  Socrates was sentenced to death for allegedly corrupting the morals of youth and preaching new gods. The vague charges were apparently not true. In fact, Socrates made such a point of goading his jurors, it would be hard to believe that if it were true, he would have just said so. Soon after his death, Athens regretted it, turned on his accusers, and put up a statue of him.

Thoreau to some degree chose his own path by refusing to pay taxes, whereas Socrates was accused of crimes. On the other hand, while Socrates defended himself, he did so in a fashion designed to annoy and provoke the jurors (hundreds of Athenians) unless they just completely agreed with him. He was almost successful as he apparently fell only a little short of acquittal.

CD was written as a protest against slavery and the Mexican-American War as was the refusal to pay the poll tax was a result of his abhorrence of those two institutions. The M-A war is little remembered by the public now in the way most of our wars are (outside of Civil War buffs, as it was the proving ground for many a future general) which is interesting as a large portion of the western portion of our country was the spoil of that war.

Thoreau is perhaps closest politically to what we would call a libertarian today. Sometimes in it he sounds a bit like an anarchist, although I would not go quite that far. He begins by adopting the motto (which he slightly altered from elsewhere) and so either coined or just made famous the phrase “That government governs best which governs least.”

He had little use for government at all. In fact, immediately after writing that, he wrote that when men were ready, the motto would become “That governs best which governs not at all”. Apparently no one is quite ready for that as it didn’t take off in popularity the same way. For Thoreau, governments paled in force and vitality to a single man. Men should not cultivate a respect for law, but for doing right. Nor should they subjugate their conscience to that of a legislature.

What should men do then? “It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous, wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.”

But, those who “disapprove of the character and measures of a government, [but] yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.”

When laws are unjust we should not wait until a majority agrees with us, but “transgress them at once.” He sneers at the fear that if the government is resisted, then the remedy would be worse evil it seeks to cure. In other words, don't worry about the country falling apart. Not good enough, he tells us, because it is the government that makes the remedy worse as it is always to slow to follow a wise minority and make reform now. “Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?”

He sneers too at the legislative process we all seem to revere. It takes too long. Moreover, there are too many other things one must do in one’s life. Thus, if the law is wrong – just break it.

Besides, any “man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”

But, Thoreau’s path is not an easy one. “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” I’ve refrained from comment so far, but this strikes me as just absurd. While I recognize that he is really speaking of  slavery, his statement is so broad. Even the wisest of wise governments will inevitably imprison some unjustly, unless it is without a penal system. I would not choose to go to jail myself because we do not live in an unobtainable utopia.

But then he rattles us with a unique revolutionary call which inspired so many great leaders. “A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose.” Thus was Gandhi empowered to withstand the force of mighty British Empire and ultimately succeed without guns or bombs.

As foreign to many of us as Thoreau’s words might sound in our time of great apathy, when there are so many creature comforts available that the thought of giving up our email or cell phone or water jets for one day on account of a needed repair, never mind jail, seems unendurable, it becomes positively inspiring when the wrong that is being fought is a great one. The state, he tells us  . . .

“is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.”

I haven't led any revolutionary causes nor has my life been very dramatic. But, I do know that at times in my life, when feeling oppressed by a more powerful force (even an employer), this or a similar concept, that I was trying to do "the right thing" was not only empowering, but sometimes irresistible. And, I was in fact inspired by Thoreau (although these were not legal challenges). Some would probably call it just being difficult. And it definitely doesn't make you popular. But that's not the point.

There is so much more we can find in this single essay in the way of aphorisms, qualifications and nuance. In fact, to really complicate matters, Thoreau says that from one point of view, the constitution and our laws (not slavery) are very good, but from another, not so much (guess he covered all bases) - but I will leave CD here with this libertarian bugle call:

“There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, form which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined but not yet anywhere seen.”

Thoreau too much the non-conformist for you? Too taxing and expensive for us to now challenge the state? Or perhaps he was just too pollyannish and while happy to live in his own world, did not realize that others did not feel the same way. If so, we can take a look at Socrates' (or Plato's) view when he is unjustly convicted and condemned to a slow death by drinking hemlock. Although no less brave, perhaps far braver than Thoreau, he comes to a much different conclusion.
Socrates greets Crito when he arrives at Socrates’ prison early in the morning. Crito tells Socrates that he has done a favor for the guard, but it is not clear to me if that meant a bribe or if he just once did him a real service. He’s there for good reason. He wants Socrates to run for it. It has been arranged. Crito’s motivation is not all altruism. He seems overly concerned with what people will think of Socrates’ friends, including himself, if they don’t help him escape.

Socrates questions him in what is often referred to as the Socratic method and what I would say is a combination of a very bad cross-examination, treating your friends like morons and using the type of logic one can find in The DaVinci Code.

Where Thoreau cared not what the majority thought, but who was in the right, Socrates seemed not to care what anyone thought – “My dear Criton, I only wish the many could do the greatest mischief, so that they could also do the greatest good! That would be well indeed. As it is, they can do neither; for they cannot make a man either wise or foolish; they do things quite at random.”

But, at some point Socrates and Thoreau come together, for they love some of the same concepts. I say concepts as opposed to things, because like justice, truth, good and the like are as subjective as you get. Socrates was not concerned about what would happen to him. What he wanted to “examine whether we ought to do it or not; for my way is and always has been to obey no one and nothing, except the reasoning which seems to me best when I draw my conclusions. . . . we must not consider at all what the many will say of us, but only the expert in justice and injustice, and what he will say, the one, and truth herself. . . . [W]e must examine whether it is just that I try to get out of the this, or not just; and if it seems just, let us try -- if not, leave it alone.” Brave words for a condemned man.

But at the end, the two philosophies diverge and when they do, drastically so. For Thoreau is all for the will and conscience of the individual, come hell or high water. Socrates was all for truth and justice, but he was most concerned for the state. At the end of Crito he actually imagines a dialogue within a dialogue, but instead of him using his method on the some poor friend, it is the state and the laws which puts Socrates to the test and chastises him for imagined selfishness. Indeed, the penalty for Socrates, an innocent man saving his own life, would be, in his own mind, the death of the state:

“Tell me, Socrates, what have you in mind to do [says the personified Laws and the state]? In trying to do this, can’t you see that you are trying to destroy us, the Laws and the whole state, as far as you can do it? Or do you think it possible that a city can exist and not be overturned where sentence given has no force but is made null by private persons and destroyed?”

Not only did he have the weight of the fate of the state on his mind, but despite his peril, was quite concerned that saving his life meant he was breaking an agreement (which he and Crito had agreed in the abstract would be bad):

“Was that the agreement between us Socrates? Or was it to abide by whatever statements the state may make? . . . Are you so wise that you failed to see that there is something else is more precious than father and mother and all your ancestors besides – your country, something more reverend, more holy, of greater value, as the gods judge, and any men have sense? You must honor and obey and conciliate your country when angry, more than a father; you must either persuade her; or do whatever she commands; you must bear in quiet anything she bids you bear, be it stripes or prison, or if she leads you to war, to be wounded or to die, this you must do, and it is right; you must not give way or retreat or leave your post, but in war and in court and everywhere you must do whatever city and country commands, or else convince her where the right lies. Violence is not allowed against your mother or father, much less against your country.”

In Crito, we come upon the obsession of Plato (and perhaps Socrates) that makes me wonder why he is still so revered – for his philosophy of the state as the end all has been the cause of so much pain and suffering through the centuries. I understand that Plato was an original and important thinker (who was it who said that all philosophy was a footnote to Plato - Whitehead?), but was somewhat perplexed that he was also seen as a saint like figure. That tells you the perspective that I was raised with - that the success of individuals is the point of the state, not visa versa. This is far from universally accepted.

But, Socrates' self subjection to the state isn’t finished. Guilt is layered on top of cataclysm on top of breach of contract:

“And he who disobeys us is, as we maintain, thrice wrong: first, because in disobeying us he is disobeying his parents; secondly, because we are the authors of his education; thirdly, because he has made an agreement with us that he will duly obey our commands; and he neither obeys them nor convinces us that our commands are unjust; and we do not rudely impose them, but give him the alternative of obeying or convincing us;--that is what we offer, and he does neither.”

Finally the imaginary state and laws reminds him that it was he who loved Athens best and most benefitted under her laws.

“You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception, but after you have had seventy years to think of them, during which time you were at liberty to leave the city, if we were not to your mind, or if our covenants appeared to you to be unfair. You had your choice, and might have gone either to Lacedaemon or Crete, both which states are often praised by you for their good government, or to some other Hellenic or foreign state. Whereas you, above all other Athenians, seemed to be so fond of the state, or, in other words, of us her laws (and who would care about a state which has no laws?), that you never stirred out of her; the halt, the blind, the maimed, were not more stationary in her than you were. And now you run away and forsake your agreements. Not so, Socrates, if you will take our advice; do not make yourself ridiculous by escaping out of the city.”

Perhaps at age 70 Socrates was just ready to die. I don't know, but it did not seem like he was from all description of him. Given his wife and children, and his still active love life, you have to ask if he really believed this stuff. To paraphrase Thoreau in Walden, perhaps Socrates was just marching to a different drummer.

Which to choose, Socrates or Thoreau? I leave you to your own answer, but I will say that there are other considerations and not surprisingly, they become more obvious under the gentle light of moderation. Rather than describe it myself, I give that honor to Supreme Court Robert H. Jackson, who has opined on the need to temper liberty for the common good:

"The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact."

Leaving the facts of that case aside though, as you might not agree with Jackson's conclusion there, I quoted his words for their general proposition. It is a middle road that lets us apply two contrasting considerations in any real life situation. Because that’s the problem with most philosophers and philosophy. Abstract rules or philosophies can sound great until you have to apply them. Then it becomes thorny as hell. Thoreau, Socrates and Plato have the weight of their names behind them, and their brilliant arguments and eloquence - but context rules.

The good news is, is that we live in a relatively free country and those in my age group and younger have been blessed to live in it during a period of time when it is perhaps at its most free. Some would disagree with that, and I won’t go into great detail about it, but you can feel free to stand outside the White House and criticize the president during a war, or go into almost any business you want (some licensing, but I find in cases of the professions, most favor that), buy almost any property you can afford and some that you can’t, accomplish almost anything you are capable of regardless of race, creed or color, etc. If you are accused of a crime, you have more rights here at this time and place than probably any other time and place in the history of the world. The police can’t even question you for serial murders if you so much as peep out the word “lawyer.” More, they even have to tell you that you don’t have to speak to them at all and can have a lawyer. Naturally, there are many exceptions to all this for the sake of civil order and it’s not the debate I want to have today.

Generally speaking, most people believe, at least in the abstract, in following the law, at least where it can be easily checked. But, there are most likely some modern laws I hope I would violate because I believed a great injustice had been done in the course of law enforcement ("[I]f I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." – E.M. Forster). Hope is the key word. It might take more courage than I or most of us have. 

But, what would I and you do if we were faced with a situation where our very liberty is called into consideration? The last time there was really a great public issue raising this question was during the 1960s (Vietnam War and civil rights issue). However, it is the recent health care reform bill that is motivating some to challenge the legislation as destructive of our liberty. Right now, the challenges are legal in nature, but many people are certainly angry, and even the whole nomenclature of "tea party" is a call back to history for inspiration.  I will talk about all that more next week in my political roundup, but the controversy was, in fact, the inspiration for this post.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The following pictures are not remotely my favorites or "bes.t" But, fortuitously, they are all available from my property and that makes them special to me. They are accompanied by words from Thoreau, who adorns my dining room table and often gets read paragraph by paragraph as I pass by .

I took particular pleasure in this breaking of ground, for in almost all latitudes men dig into the earth for an equable temperature. Under the most splendid house in the city is still to be found the cellar where they store their roots as of old, and long after the superstructure has disappeared posterity remark its dent in the earth. The house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow.

It is darker in the woods, even on common nights, than most suppose. I frequently had to look up at the opening between the trees above the path in order to learn my route, and, where there was no carte-path, to feel with my feet the faint track which I had worn, or steer by the known relation of particular trees which I felt with my hands, passing between two pines for instance, not more than eighteen inches apart, in the midst of the woods, invariably in the darkest night.

See those clouds; how they hang! That's the greatest thing I have seen to-day. There's nothing like it in the old paintings, nothing like it in foreign lands - unless when we were off the coast of Spain.

It is a soothing employment, on one of those fine days in the fall when all the warmth of the sun is fully appreciated, to sit on a stump as such a height as this, overlooking the pond, and study the dimpling circles which are incessantly inscribed on its otherwise invisible surface amid the reflected skies and trees.

Whichever way we turned, it seemed that the heavens and the earth had met together, since he enhanced the beauty of the landscape. A blue-robed man, whose fittest roof is the overarching sky which reflects his serenity

A simple and independent mind does not does not toil at the bidding of any prince. Genius is not a retainer to any emperor, nor is its material silver, or gold, or marble, except to a trifling extent.

The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things claim.

Some would find fault with the morning-red, if they ever got up early enough.

Greece, who am I that should remember thee,
Thy Marathon and thy Thermopylae?
Is my life vulgar, my fate mean,
Which on these golden memories can lean?

The shadows chased one another over wood and meadow, and their alternation harmonized with our mood. We could distinguish the clouds which cast each one, though never so high in the heavens.

My most serene and irresponsible neighbors, let us see that we have the whole advantage of each other; we will be useful at least, if not admirable, to one another. I know that the mountains which separate each other are high, and covered with perpetual snow, but despair not.

The sun was just setting behind the edge of a wooded hill, so rich a sunset as would never have ended but for some reason unknow to men, and to be marked with brighter colors than ordinary in the scroll of time.

Still less do we imagine the sun shining on hill and valley during Philip's war, on the war-path of Church or Philip, or later of Lovewell or Paugus, with serene summer weather, but they must have lived and fought in a dim twilight or night.

[I]t is so much pleasanter and wholesomer to be warmed by the sun while you can be, than by an artificial fire. I thus warmed myself by the still glowing embers which the summer, like a departed hunter, had left.

Every child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay out doors, even in wet and cold.

The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it. Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

The night is the winter, the morning and the evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Mayans are coming - run for your life!

I’m writing this blog thing for something like three years and a half years now, and looking back, I find it hard to believe it still exists. Every week (almost without fail) I write about something that is interesting me at the moment. I’d guess it’s mostly split among politics, history, culture and miscellaneous. It’s never been a struggle, although sometimes when I have to goddamn work that gets in the way. My sole policy is to stick to what I’m thinking about, and only to try and please my audience in trifling matters.

Naturally, since it’s my blog, I think the topics are interesting and varied. Most weeks I have between two and ten readers. Even if it were two, that’s about twice what the average blog has, so, yeah for me. If it was about getting readers or making money for me, I would have stopped three and a quarter years ago.

And, I admit, my blogs are far longer than the average blog, which, is the most frequent comment I get (never, shockingly, as a compliment). Still, when I want to say something I want to say what I think and that takes me time. When I’ve written the handful of op-eds the local paper has published, I’ve never felt I could say all that I wanted in the just 700 word limit. That was work.

This is just an outlet for me to talk about things I want to talk about but don’t get a lot of opportunity. A few years ago my friends, middle aged, started having kids and buying houses. Suddenly, and naturally, the conversations with many of them started coalescing around kids and kitchen cabinets. Now, I don’t mind talking about kids and kitchen cabinets. BUT NOT ALL THE TIME, OKAY? I waited a few years before expressing my feelings about it, and then casually let it be known – can we sometimes talk about something else? The men, honestly, were all for it, but it was nigh impossible to get the mother’s to talk about anything else in a public arena. And, we know who wins these things, no? Perhaps this is also why my child bearing female friends find me so much less important these days. Y’think?

For me, this change represented the end of one era and the start of another. So, no doubt it was one of the reasons I started this blog – another era - because I find Nikolai Tesla and the origins of Santa Claus and mountain men and George Patton and the presidential campaign and ancient kings and Tolkien and so on, much more interesting than babies and kitchen tiles (and I actually have a kid).

So, you can imagine my disgust when I read a New York Times article about the HUGE SUCCESS of mommy bloggers who WRITE ABOUT THEIR KIDS! They were invading my territory, the one I escaped to so I could blather on about stuff I find interesting and they can blather all they want about bottles and diapers and wall paper.

Here’s roughly half an article from one of these mommy blogs (found at

“There is an emerging trend in my household and I am not sure how to feel about it. Part of me is amused. Part of me is sad. Part of me is frightened to death.

My sons have discovered GIRLS.

A couple of weeks ago I mused about how iCarly had stolen Young Jedi’s heart. At that moment it was funny because he had never had an interest before. In fact, he had repeatedly told me how gross they were. She wasn’t really a threat.

But the mommy gloves are now off. Selena Gomez is now in the picture and he is OBSESSED. Compounded with that is the fact that Tiny Ninja (who is 10) has claimed his long time friend (who shall not be named) is his true love and he is going to marry her.

Both boys are discussing kissing. . . .”

I only gave you half her article because a few lines in I started shaking and three quarters the way through I went into a 20 minute coma. I could get all smug and laugh at her, except, she gets about THIRTY SIX THOUSAND HITS A MONTH. And that’s just one of these blogs. There are apparently lots of them and lots of mommies (God, I hope it’s just mommies) reading them.

Let me put this in mathematical terms. That means I get, taking the largest number of possible hit I get a month, somewhere in the range of 1/3600 of the hits this MOMMY WRITING ABOUT HER SONS LOOKING AT GIRLS GETS!!!!

So, basically, any mother can sit down and write the stuff that makes all non-parents and parents of older kids and people too young to be parents – stifle a yawn if it goes on too long, and plenty of people read her. And I can stand on my head and write all stuff you see on the sidebar to this blog and almost no one reads it.

Oh, well. Maybe if I thoroughly proofed these posts before I published them I’d get more hits. Sure, maybe that’s it. And maybe Shakira is going to knock on my door in three, two, one – nope.

Actually all it really does is confirm my view that I was not meant for this world.

So, you might be asking yourself exactly where I’m going with this diatribe, because I still mean to write about something that I find interesting and if you look at the title of this post, it has nothing to do with cradles or pacifiers or even kitchen tiles.

I’m going to talk about the END OF THE WORLD, which is apparently coming quite soon. So, I’m told.

Someone mentioned to me recently that according to the Mayans, the world was going to end in 2012. Because I’m an arrogant know-it-all, I couldn’t let them have their fun and immediately said – no, not the end, but the completion of the turn of the wheel. And then we start again. Nothing more.

It’s been years since I’ve studied the Mayans at all, maybe 20 to 30 years. It’s been probably 15 years or more since I visited Chichén Itzá in Mexico, climbed the temple there and walked through the ancient ball courts. But, I remember some stuff about them. Much of it is difficult, as is all history, but due to lack of evidence, Meso-American history is particularly so.

The Mayans were actually not the first of my Meso-American interests. First were the Incas, then the Olmecs, and then the Toltecs and then the Mayans and last the Aztecs. The Olmecs probably preceded the others, but it is very difficult to tell who got what from whom. For example, modern scholarship seems to indicate a belief that the Mexicans or Aztecs took much from the Mayans and even more from the Toltecs and were their inferiors in it all, not including warfare. But, each group no doubt contributed, just as, for example, in Europe. In fact, due to invasions and migrations and the like, no one can quite clearly say where the dividing lines actually were.

No doubt the main interest for me about these groups was their developed civilizations complete with complex governments, monumental buildings, roads, highly ornamental art, engineering and agriculture, written language, complicated math and various inventions, taxes, rubber products, medicine, raised and incredibly straight roadways, blah, blah, blah (what’s my motto? – this isn’t Wikipedia – look it up yourself).

And, of course, there was their astonishing calendars, which required a deep knowledge of astronomy as well as math. The Mayans took the calendars to a higher level, as they did writing and art, of all the groups, and they often get the most attention. However, that is also possibly because the left a true written record – their system, although comprised of pictographs, was partially syllabic.

There really wasn’t just one Mayan calendar; there were many. Thanks to Bishop Landa, a Spaniard, we will never know as he destroyed much of the Mayan records. Ironically, scholars were able to finally decipher the Mayan writing system starting with the highly flawed writings of Landa himself.

We use calendars to keep track of time, but for them the calendar provided religious, spiritual, predictive, astrological, and other purposes – even things like predicting the gender of a child. Among them they had a calendar synchronized to the human gestation period. Another was a 52 year cycle, five of those being the 260 year cycle and a thousand of those being the 26,000 year cycle (you might or might not want to know that the Mayans used 13 and 20 as their most significant numbers – 13 x 20 = 260). But, 26,000 years was nothing to them. There is evidence of their calculating dates into the hundreds of millions of years (for all the good it did them).

Not to get too deep into the mythology, which along with their writing, was my main focus in my youth, but in traditional Mayan belief, humans come from four races and the Mayans from the red race. There were apparently many gods, but there was possibly a Godlike god as well, known as Hunab K’u. Actually, he may not have been personalized, but more like a creative force, and there is some belief he is a post-Christian creation modeled after the Western God and even the puppet-God of Catholic missionaries whom they associated with another high godm Itzamná (but sometimes he was Hunab K’u’s son). Scholars can’t find reference to HK before the Spanish came, but then again, so much was destroyed, it is not possible to say with certainty. As I said, it is all rather confusing.

The Mayans also measured the days (“k’in,” that is, the sun) and 20 days made a month and 18 days made a year (360 – not quite). They did know the year was actually 365 days and had a separate calendar. Indeed, they apparently understood that there was a quarter day in there too and calculated it almost exactly – 365.2420 to our 365.2422 – off by seconds (I have some doubts about their 365 day calendar, although it is popularly believed and need to read some scholarly articles to satisfy my cynicism).

Actually, to make matters more confusing – they used that calendar for secular purposes and the 360 day year for the long count described below and a 260 day long calendar for religious purposes. It is interesting, to say the least, that the 360 days of a calendar, usually circular in design (typical of Meso-America since around 500 b.c.), would so exactly correspond to our mathematical degrees – 360 degrees in a circle. They also calculated Venus’ year to within a day. It is possible they did the same with Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Saturn.

One of the Mayan calendars is known as “the long count” and goes for a period of 144,000 days or roughly 394 years. The initial year in our Gregorian calendar was in 3114 B.C., although we do not have historical evidence about the Mayans that far back. The end of the 13th B’ak’tun (that’s the roughly 394 years) should occur about December 21, 2012, give or take a day or so. Eventually, somewhere around the 16th century or thereafter, they discontinued the long count and began the short count. Scholars have never been able to quite figure out just how the short count fit into the long count.

There is no doubt, that all of the end of the world hoopla is a modern day creation patterned after the Y2K nonsense at the beginning of 2000 (a date upon which I won a bet with a friend who thought cataclysmic events would occur). There is no evidence whatsoever that the Mayans thought the end of any of their calendars cycles resulted in the end of the world (leaving aside that the thought that a man created measuring system could end the world is just absurd to begin with) although there is some evidence of a belief in the world ending and being reborn on more than one occasion. In fact, Mayan predictions certainly go farther into the future than the end of 2012. Besides, quite frequently there have been ends to the 52 year period calendar. Nothing happened. Our calendar just went through its millennium and again, nothing happened. The Russians apparently thought the world was ending in 1492. Why in the world would just one of the Mayan calendars coming to the end of its cycle mean anything different?

If you have any interest in this stuff, I have to warn you about the Mayanism, which is sort of a mystical new age version of Mayan history and mythology. Hunbatz Men, who I’ve read, just to see how credible it was, is probably the leader in this field. He did not pass my intuitive tests. However, he would claim that he is the descendant of a long line of Mayan holy men, and he knows better than the white scholars, who he often derides. Even if he is genuine, he is not scholarly, and takes the traditions he likes as substituting for it. At least, this is in my opinion.

Those of you who religiously watched the X-Files may have noted that the long awaited day of the alien invasion is set for December 22, 2012, one day after the end/beginning of the B’ak’tun. What date could be more appropriate?

But, you knew all this and were probably really hoping I’d tell you stories about my kid when she was growing up. Well, once, and this was really cute . . . .

Monday, March 08, 2010

Kvetching Sunday

Stranded in NY for work purposes, I am far from my beloved library from which I fact check, get my quotes or just get inspired for whatever post I'm writing. Left only to my own mind and the puny resources of the internet and its few billion pages, I decided (I have decided . . .? I am deciding . . .? my decision is. . .?) to just kvetch for a bit, because, one, I want to and it's my %$@#* blog and two, it is Sunday, and that is the best day of all to kvetch. Whether I've written about these things before, they are the ones that bug me these days.

Child raising

Got to say something about child raising because sometimes it is all I can do not to explode. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe it's okay to let your child sleep in bed with you no matter how old they are. Maybe it's okay to have them always miserable because you always give them a choice in what they do; maybe we should teach them that if they can't curse, then we can't either; maybe we should always let them win; maybe we should keep them in a crib until they are four; maybe we should let them know that we have no lives except to please them; maybe we should teach them that it's okay to pout and sulk and we will then give way; maybe their ability to cry should outweigh our patience to listen to it and we should give way about that; maybe if they ask enough times we should buy them whatever they want; maybe we should never let them know about our failures in life so they think if they fail - it's all over; maybe we should let them play video games 6 hours a day even when they are together; maybe we should let them dominate everything when we have guests over; maybe we should let them be physical with us but we can never hit them back; maybe 15 minutes of punishment is too much for them; maybe they should get to disobey us with impunity; maybe no other adult should ever be allowed to discipline them; maybe club leaders and teachers shouldn't be allowed to be alone with them; maybe we should never let them play outside of our sight; maybe we should teach them that the world is a terrifying place and everyone wants to hurt, rob or molest them; maybe we should teach them that screaming discrimination or abuse is the best way to get what you want.

Maybe I'm wrong even though everything I've experienced in my life tells me all these things will produce weak, lazy, frightened and unhappy children. Then again, my parents were not exactly child-raising geniuses- perhaps idiots - and I felt I did okay. I look at my daughter's friends, many who were raised with some of the above and they all seem to be out there working hard, educating themselves, being anything but lazy.

We know, of course, that every generation that comes along fears for the ones coming behind it. Maybe we should. But, maybe technology cures all the problems this style of child raising causes. Maybe it really is 80 or 90 percent genetic and we are who we have to be.

That would be great for me actually. The reason I can't control my weight, work on one thing without getting up every few minutes, can't get motivated about earning money, am terribly awkward on social occasions, feel weird about belonging to groups, can't sit quietly while people proffer urban legends ("Actually," he said in a bored distracted way as if correcting an idiot who couldn't possibly know better, "that's not true . . ."), can't tolerate wasteful meetings (I swear if I hear "best practices" one more time I'm buying a gun) is because I'm genetically programmed that way.

Good. No need to work on myself.

Maybe all these are true things. But, I don't think so.


I just don't get it. Why do I care what my virtual "friends" "friends" are doing. I'm pretty sure I don't. I love my daughter, but I don't care whether her profile says she's in a relationship or it's complicated or single (by the way, my "girlfriend's" profile says she is single). I don't care what she (back to the daughter) has to post. If she wants to tell me something she'll tell me. If I want to know, I'll ask.

Recently, someone I know - a terrific guy who I'm very fond of - can't even think of a character flaw in him - wrote me to say it's hard to keep up with everyone and he knows it's strange, but here's his facebook page. I wrote back that it was great to hear from him and I look forward to talking to him but I just don't do the facebook thing. The truth was, I realized, that despite that it was a nice thing for him to do, I felt a little insulted. I'm so unimportant that I can only contact you through a public medium.

The truth is - I do have a facebook account. I had to go through the pain of telling real friends and family who wanted to be my "friend" (because they are normal people and that's what you do) that I don't have any "friends". I don't have my own kid as a "friend". Worse, she actually "friended" me on my own computer and I had to de-friend her. I have an account for two reasons. One, it is a phenomenal people search tool that has already borne fruit for me. Two, sometimes businesses and people only communicate through facebook (that hasn't happened to me yet - well, sort of once - but I hear from other people it has happened to them).

More than anything, I don't want to have to turn anyone down who doesn't know me and I can't explain to them why I don't want to be "friends" (my real friends know I'm strange and understand). Maybe even worse, I don't want to have to play digital games with people when I don't really want to (I do know some people who feel trapped in games with others).

Of course, as I've said here many times, there is no avoiding technology. In a few years, tv's and computers and radios will be one, and networks like facebook will be so institutionalized we have no choice but to play along. I know that because I HATE texting too, yet I believe I have received or sent out between ten and twenty texts this year.

The media

I am staying at my friend's house in New York. He reads Newsday, a paper I haven't really enjoyed in many years. At this point, it's just ridiculous. For example, they had an article about Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Senator who refused to go along with unanimous consent on a bill that spent money just a few weeks after it passed into law a bill which requires them to pay with spending cuts elsewhere for whatever they spend in that bill.

I don't care what you think of his actions, but Newsday gave a completely Foxnews/MSNBC type treatment of it - one sided. They left out the fact that he was actually in favor of the expenditure, that he was only protesting the violation of a law that was just passed and that he said he would vote for it when they paid for it. And, they also forgot to mention that he won - they finally paid for it.

There really is almost no place to go for news anymore. C-Span is impartial, but they really don't do the news per se. Jim Lehrer has his public tv show, but, I'm going to be honest - they manage to make it deadly dull. The NY Times is fairly criticized for being biased - has admitted it in fact, but various sections of the paper are still unparalleled in my opinion - science, books, Travel, foreign affairs in particular. I've rarely ever read an editorial in any paper that I recall so I can't speak much to that. But, my thought has always been - if you don't know who is writing an opinion piece and their perspective - what good is it? The Wall Street Journal has some credibility but, they don't really cover things that interest me all that much.

So, I pretty much ignore the news. When something is real enough and important enough, it will come to light eventually. But, for now, not many places to look for a fair report.

But, there is a flip side - there are so many different sources that if you work hard and are cynical about where you get information from, you can sometimes piece it together yourself.


Thank God for blue jeans or I'd never have been in fashion my whole life. Not entirely true, now that I think about it. There were a couple of years in the 80s where the dorky clothes my mother still bought me were in fashion. But, mostly blue jeans.

Asked what bothered her about me the most, the woman I refer to as my "insignificant other" (we are now battling over who created the phrase- I've got to learn to memorialize and copywrite every damn thing I say) will tell you that I dress poorly.

Guilty. If I live to be 100 (very unlikely unless they put me in a coma when I'm 66) I will never understand why people care how they dress. I would be perfectly happy if the president of the United States wore shorts and sneakers to work. The idea that someone will be more professional if they are in a suit and tie is just so much hooey.

I realized a long time ago that my "heroes (and they are fairly conventional) were often men who didn't dress very well. Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, John Marshall . . . no reason to go into the list. I have no idea if that figured into my liking them and doubt I even knew it when I first became enchanted with them. But, it's there.

If I never have to wear a suit again it will be too soon, although, probably before the year is out I will have to don the monkey suits a few times again.

It's funny how it works, but just as many are impressed by the suit and tie I admit I have an immediate bias against it. Show me a podium with 5 people dressed to the nines (I've read articles on the etymology of that phrase - and whatever you've heard, no one knows where it came from) and one guy in jeans and a sweater and my bias will be for that guy to be more sincere and genuine. But, I'm probably in the minority. Thought about it some more - definately in the minority.

Often I find fashion just means ugly but popular. Probably the clothing item to suffer the most from fashion is the lady's shoe. While the truly graceful and attractive models seem to survive all fashion and continue unabated, every little while we have to survive a run on big clunky ugly shoes that only a mother gorilla could love. Men, of course, don't have the courage to tell women when they look terrible, and really, women dress for each other's approval, so there is nothing lowly men can do about it.

We just wait and one day, they look at those shoes and go - ugh, and put on the pumps.

I have a letter from a little girl from . . .

No, not my usual rant about extreme partisanship.

I was watching the tea party convention a few weeks ago while I was trying to fall asleep. Glenn Beck was talking. Sometimes he is just plain ridiculous (we are no longer a capitalist country - Obama hates all white people, etc.) but I liked his talk because he mostly addressed some things we agree on.

I don't have the exact quote, but, at one thing he said I just sat up in bed and said, "Yes!!!". He started talking about a generic politician who is making a speech and starts saying something like, "I met a man in Laredo, Texas, who came up to me and said, Senator . . . Oh, Shut up."

Yes, shut up. Of course, the difference between Glenn Beck and I is I don't want to hear either side do it. The meeting between libs and cons with President Obama two weeks ago was replete with these whiny messages which somehow all seem the same.

The first person I ever remember hearing anyone use this was President Reagan, who was speaking for the first time after getting shot. He read a letter (I think it was a letter) from a little boy who said to him . . . and all I could think was, Oh, shut up! Who cares?

I'm sure there are a lot of horrid stories out there (the worst at the presidential health care meeting was the story about the women who was using her sisters dentures - oh, shut up) and it's not that I don't feel sympathy, but, the argument really goes something like this -

You and I disagree about some policy.
We each want people to sympathize with our own position.
Everyone knows the policy arguments and no one really cares.
So, if I can tug a heart string about some person which would seem in the abstract to support my side, well, I win, don't I?

No, because you have a nation full of people out there who are listening and saying - oh, shut up - if we don't actually hit the mute button the second you say - "I met an old woman from . . . "

But, in case anyone is feeling that way about me right now, I'm just going to shut up.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Political update for March, 2010

This is a partisan free zone dedicated to the destruction of the partisan instinct in our countrymen.

Tea, everyone?

I reserve judgment on the Tea Party movement, but it is a cautious reserve. There seemed to be two wings. I am attracted to the wing that is dedicated to a capitalistic system of success and failure, consistent rule of law, limited government and local control, and against insane crazy spending. I am not attracted to the God and birthers side, the side that which feels threatened by gays who want to marry or serve the country without going through a charade.

I have frequently goofed on my liberal friends who thought that once Obama was elected that the end of the Republican Party was in sight. Not surprising to me, the Republicans have managed to convince themselves that recent electoral successes means they are guaranteed to taking over congress in 2010. I can’t say what that election will bring, but, I can say that already I see signs that the partisan elements, the angry and the distorted, the “we are always right about everything and everyone knows it” crowd is going to blow it, at least to some degree. The conservative PAC, C-PAC, held a convention this weekend. Like the Tea Partiers, they went from serious speaker to clowns.

As always, I enjoyed listening to Newt Gingrich (who I would probably never vote for – too partisan) as he is a human idea machine. I particularly liked his 2 + 2 = 4 idea for t-shirts and the like, and I hope people do start wearing them (if only I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body, I’d make my own and sell them on the beach in Hawaii). The idea stems from Camus’ The Plague and Orwell’s 1984, both of which wrote about government convincing or insisting that 2 + 2 does not equal 4.

The problem is, Mr. Gingrich, people often don’t want to believe basic arithmetic, whether in buying securities they don’t understand or houses for sub prime rates or birthers or anti-evolutionists (yes, I know it’s a theory, but it’s a good theory). They are convinced of their irrational ideas because they want to believe them. As simple as that. I’ve quoted more than once the Amazing Randi from his icon-busting book which demolishes the whole Nostrodamus myth, that it didn’t matter what he wrote because people will believe in Nostrodamus because it’s more fun for them to do so.

Getting back from my diversion, some Tea Partiers recognize that for them to be on the ballot likely means Democratic victory in some jurisdictions. In fact, there is no doubt that in Nevada, the Tea Party candidate is pulling votes from the Republican candidate and Senator Harry Reid is actually catching up. A Tea Partier is hardly an independent. In fact, Tea Partying in some aspects is just the institutionalization of the conservative wing of the Republican Party – so conservative, they have felt it necessary to distance themselves from their own party. But, we will see. Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the presidency. Someone at a Tea party rally should say that every time if they are smart.

The established rule is that independents can’t win the presidency in America. They haven’t yet. Ross Perot had a shot. John McCain might have been the first independent president in 2000 in my opinion had he gone that route (alas). I despair that a successful independent candidate is not possible until a sufficient number of people understand that the Democrats and the Republicans are the problem, as they so dominate Congress through archaic rules, that any member must be grouped together (“caucus with”) with at least one party or the other. Only the majority leader guided by a leadership committee decides what comes to the floor. I’m not sure how I would replace that, but I have some ideas. Another time.

I will tell you this. I am coming closer and closer to not voting for anyone with a D or R before their name on the ballot this year although I doubt I’ll be voting for a tea-partier, Liberal, Conservative or similar parties either.


The party in power always hates the filibuster because it keeps them from exercising their majority will. They hate it with every fiber of their being until they are the minority party, and, then the magical thing happens which partisans somehow don’t see as hypocrisy – the majority and minority switch positions. The one that hated it loves it and the one that loved it hates t.

They senate could get rid of the filibuster easily, if they would just agree to do it in 2016, when we don’t know what party will win and there is no incumbent. If they refused to get rid of it completely they might consider getting rid of it with respect to presidential appointments. However, they don’t really need to do that either. They could have a rule that presidential appointments are automatically confirmed if not voted on within 60 days.

Filibusters don’t really mean that you need 60 votes to pass anything. It means you need 60 votes to end debate. Debate in congress is antiquated and meaningless. Nerds like me watch C-Span, but that is a very small group. Usually the senators and congress persons are speaking to an empty or near empty room. They never convince each other on controversial votes (Ben Franklin said that it was futile to try and convince people of anything in public discourse). The other day I heard Mayor Ed Koch, a former congressman, explain that when you were called in for a vote, you just looked for someone who was involved in the legislation on your side and ask him how to vote. No one reads anything.

It is not 1804 anyway. If congresspersons want to communicate with each other or the public, then they can blog, communicate through other websites, go on tv or radio or write an op-ed. They don’t need to speak to an empty room. They could still have a congressional record, which, thanks to the fact that you can always amend and revise remarks for days, and put anything written in the record on unanimous consent, is also meaningless.


I liked this paragraph from a post by Linda Chavez on February 20th:

“Now, I am all for going after terrorists and killing them, if we can, before they hit us. But it is sheer hypocrisy to say that we have the right to kill a terror suspect, even a U.S. citizen, so long as we do it thousands of miles away; but if we happen to capture someone red-handed -- or should I say red-underweared, in the case of would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? -- we have to read them their Miranda rights or at least make sure they're not handled too roughly.”
It really is hypocritical. Wouldn’t you say that the warrior/terrorist/jihadist who comes to your homeland out of uniform and kills civilians deserves less protection than the innocent civilian who is bombed into dust due to a mistake?

That has, in fact, always been the rule. Spies and commandos were regularly just hung, and were lucky if they even got a military trial. John Adams wrote that any nation can take as prisoner any “subject” of a country we were at war with and hold them for the duration. Some refuse to substitute NGOs for country, but, if you don’t, you leave us defenseless. They are the only ones who will fight with us openly any more.

Civilian trials for foreign commandos, spies or terrorists who we catch are a mistake. Most of the country recognizes that. I don’t care if civilian trials have a better success rate than military tribunals. It is not really comparing apples and apples because many of the military tribunals they speak of are really just to decide if the people involved are enemy combatants. We don’t want them to have positive findings if it isn’t true.

The terrorists aren’t citizens. That doesn’t mean they have no rights. But, when they are non-uniformed foreigners who are caught red handed trying to blow up a plane – that means they have almost no rights. To give them constitutional rights other than basic due process (the right to know what they are charged with and a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves) and protection against torture is a mistake. This is akin to the modern premise that you can’t fight a war to win to anymore. It would be great if the human race was ready to eradicate war, but its not.

We are not likely going to be invaded by an army any time soon. Attacks against America are going to be made in the most effective way – by terrorist attacks against civilians for the most part, and by spies and commandos, and the weakening of our system from the inside. While I do not want us to just sweep up anyone we want for no reason, generally speaking prisoners of war should be treated like prisoners of war instead of suspects, particularly when they are caught with a bomb in their underwear.

Speaking of Afghanistan (weren’t we? At some point I’m sure we were) yesterday I watched a hearing on C-Span on Afghanistan. When it was over a man stood up and loudly kept repeating - we are at war and people are dying and only FIVE of you thought this was important enough to show up (I’m paraphrasing, of course). I hate it when people do that – what’s the point? Everyone present just cringes and walks away. And remember, the few congress members hearing him were the ones who actually showed up for the hearing. But, of course, he is right. No one cares much.


The other day a highly educated person asked me what I thought about the new free energy machine some major distributors are marketing. The product was showcased on 60 Minutes. He suggested I look into it. I told him I don’t need to but had already made up my mind. Although it supposedly requires no energy to produce energy, for some reason the offices the company runs from uses natural gas to supplement their contraption. Hmmm? And, it can be hooked up to a solar panel? Now, why would it need that? Some engineers who watched 60 Minutes have written on blogs that it is just a fuel cell, like all other fuel cells. Fuel cells, of course, require fuel.

Einstein said that the only physical laws he was sure would not be overturned were the classical laws of thermodynamics, which rule out perpetual motion machines. Which is also why I will spend no more time on this. There are no free lunches, and no free energy machines.


Big Brother isn’t just coming; he’s here. In Britain activity on all roads are now recorded and at least temporarily stored. A number of other European countries follow suite. Many people don’t like this. I don’t. But, it is inevitable. Technology will make it available, and fear will make it necessary. We have a lot of technology. A lot of fear too.

How long before we have this in America? Don't blink. Those who believe there are serial killers on every corner ready to eat their children will demand it.


Got an email recently concerning Virginia Gov. McConnell issuing a new executive order on discrimination, protecting the very same groups as did his predecessor, except he yanked out of it protection for those discriminated against for reasons of sexual orientation. It’s why I could not vote for McConnell although I thought him the superior candidate in most other ways to Creigh Deeds. Here’s the troublesome paragraph:

“This order is in furtherance of the stated policy enacted by the General Assembly, and specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, (sexual orientation) age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities. . . .”

If you are a private person, generally speaking you should get to discriminate in your private life (not discussing the ’64 civil rights acts here – but I do believe that the provisions preventing private discrimination in places of business was good for America even if I severely question the constitutionality of it - that's for another day). But, this is the State administration which the executive order effects, not the private sector we are talking about.

So, now, in Virginia, and some other states, they can apparently discriminate against someone who has once had a same sex partner, but not against someone who is a member of the American Nazi Party. I wonder. Suppose you are a man and have a good male friend you travel with or even live with. Is discrimination allowed on the suspicion of homosexuality, or do they have to have pictures. So, Hitler and Richard Simmons both apply for a state job and both are turned down. Hitler because he's a Nazi and Simmons because of his shorts and his lifestyle. Only Hitler has a law suit. Somehow that doesn't work for me.


What reason did most Republicans in congress have for voting against the job bill. Yes, they were prevented for offering amendments. Yes, the Democrats said they'd listen to them and didn't. But, my ears are closed to Republicans who did the same thing when they were in power just as they will be shut against the Democrats when they are whining some day about their fate.

The ideas in the jobs bill are not only non-partisan, if anything, they are Republican or conservative in nature. Tax credit and incentives for hiring the unemployed and keeping workers on is not your basic liberal philosophy. I haven’t heard policy reasons against it from Republicans, just whining that Republicans wanted more. The R’s are squandering their Scott Brown bounce.


Just kidding, but isn’t it about time they say – okay, we shouldn’t cost the economy billions of dollars on something which is at best unproven and at worst a scientific hoax. Phil Jones, the dean of global warming experts who is the basis for much of the global warming philosophy has now admitted that the globe hasn’t warmed for at least 15 years and claims he doesn’t have data anymore to back up his hockey stick graph showing that the climate is going to warm increasingly fast very soon.

Don’t have the data? He claims it’s because he is a mess. So, basically then, he must not have shared it with any other scientists so they could verify it? Hmm. Ever hear of email? Hmmm.

You know, there is going to come a sad day for liberals when they have to say to Rush Limbaugh and others like him – okay, maybe it was a hoax.

The sudden rush to argue – it’s not global warming – its climate change is not going to fly either. There is a real theory backed by data or there isn’t. If the temperature is staying stagnant or is even cooling – where is the evidence of change?

Besides, the climate does change. Always has, always will. We already know that. In fact, Professor Jones even acknowledged it might have been warmer in medieval times. Isn’t that one of the reasons that evolution happens?

Moreover, the so called climate is really an average, or series of averages. The fact that it snowed the hell out of the Eastern U.S. this winter is no more proof against global warming than the fact that the northern. U.S. has been rather warm.

I stick to my position. I don’t know if there is going to be substantial global climate change in the near future or not. I am not even convinced we are capable of amassing the data whch might tell us a global temperature. Right now there is no real good evidence of it or that man is somehow contributing to it. And that means, we shouldn't be revising our economy to confront a probably imaginary problem. Let China lead. They need to clean their rivers and their air first before we listen to them.

You would think that Professor Jones’ admissions would hit the liberal sector hard, but it hasn’t. The media and politicians just ignore it and continue to talk about global warming or climate change as if it were an established fact.


Why can’t conservatives admit the administration is doing a good job in Afghanistan? Are they afraid if they admit ANYTHING Obama does is right, they will lose the next ten elections? Of course, they do, because as never tire of telling you, partisanship makes everyone just a little bit crazy.

We have a plan in Afghanistan. We are executing it. By we, of course, I mean the military. Often I am against announcing our plans, but it appears that announcing the attack on Marja resulted in many tribal leaders signing up with the government side once they were convinced it will be take and hold. The military success in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan has to be approved by conservatives unless they want to claim they are now anti-military. That, of course, would not surprise me at all. Today’s conservative champions of the armed forces, intelligence agency and police used to refer to the FBI as “jack booted thugs” during the Clinton years and suggested that Clinton was a war criminal because Serbia was bombed. I have already heard similar refrains from conservative friends now – if a liberal is in charge – you can’t trust any one under their control anymore – so they claim. And what will they do with much of the highest military leadership wanting to end don’t ask, don’t tell? Disown them?

Somehow I’m pretty sure the prediction I’ve heard from some conservatives that all of the homosexuals in the military will be murdered, isn’t going to come true.


Bob Barr used to really irritate me when he was front and center in the war against Bill Clinton. But now that he is out of congress and has emphasized his libertarian principles, I like him a lot more. I especially liked his comment on a panel at the CPAC conference when he said “Waterboarding is torture, plain and simple.” He got a lot of cheers too. I have never understood the argunment of those who say it is not. How can making someone think they are drowning in order to elicit information from them not torture. We all seemed to think it was torture when Iranian troops put guns to the heads of hostages, even though they didn’t shoot. We all seem to think it is torture to sit through an hour long meeting run by someone from the human resources department. Of course, it’s torture.

I wonder if Mr. Barr will run for president again. Let me help him out by suggesting that he doesn’t. He doesn’t have the career or the popularity or the personality for it. But, some politicians are slow learners.

Which, by the way means, we are getting close to the time when I start making predictions for the 2012 campaigns and elections. Give me until the end of the year though, and I will lay out for you the winners and losers with penetrating accuracy usually only known to zen archers and Olympic curlers.


Best event - I loved the short track skating which keeps me on the edge of my seat. How they manage not to constantly plow into each other amazes me, particularly in the relays. Apollo Ohno is not the best, but he is the most exciting. The biathlon is pretty cool too. Ski, shoot, ski, shoot. It's like a James Bond movie. Best moment - Shaun White's last "just for fun" run on the half pipe. He is the Michael Jordan of the sport. The last move he did on the run seemed as impossible as when Jordan or Julius Erving would just float in the air and then twist again when everyone else was being affected by gravity. Best looking - tough call, but I'd say American skiier Julia Mancuso. Feel free to disagree.

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 . . . .