Sunday, May 30, 2010

I promise not to eat your children

A few weeks ago I engaged on another blog with the author regarding whether or not it was necessary to believe that our freedom and rights came from a deity. Being an atheist, I naturally disagreed. Anyway, I enjoyed the debate, so I decided to prattle on a bit here about some things about atheists you may not have known. But, first, what we in the blogosphere call biographical crap:

I realize I rarely write about atheism (although my second post ever was Do atheists feel spiritual? published on 9/10/06), but I am actually thinking of my dear readers in not doing so (as they normally believe everything I say without question and I don't want to corrupt them). I honestly can’t think of one time in my life where I began a debate on the subject, although being at the half century mark, I have to concede there may have been some occasion in my youth which I forget. But, it strikes me as unlikely. I have always recognized, but only recently formulated into a pithy saying, that people are more attached to a-rational or irrational beliefs than they are their rational ones. I am not sure why this is so, but I suspect it comes from a desire to defend their beliefs with more passion when where they can’t be defended with evidence.

My atheistic beliefs arose in the second grade, and although I do not remember the first time it occurred to me, I can remember sitting in Mrs. Granite’s class (she seemed really old to me then, but might even have been in her 30s or even 20s) and thinking that it was an important belief that most people didn’t share and that I should remember the moment. In fact, and keep in mind I was about 7 or so, my concern was that there was a hoax of world-wide proportions in which “they” were fooling people into believing that there was a creator and that he (yeah, or she or it) intervened in our lives. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind so much, but later on I would replace the word “hoax” or “fooled” to something more sociological.

But, I kept it for myself for a little while. I recall my mother being concerned that I understand at some point that the Greek gods were not real. I was obsessed with them from infancy, but maybe, Mom, if you didn’t raise me on Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, you wouldn’t have had to deal with it. Anyway, I was always a little put out when some adult thought I believed in some fantasy character (I was really embarrassed when she tried to explain to me that there was no Santa Claus at age 4, but I’m pretty sure that was because our family was Jewish) and to torment her, I said that I didn't believe the Greek gods were real  - except for gods like Eos (dawn) because those were part of nature. She really looked worried. It is amazing how young one can be and still tease your mom (who was pretty nice to me) about things like that, but there you have it. Even when I came to a firm conclusion about it, I recognized that non-belief in God upset people and I didn’t talk about it a lot. But, I did think about it quite a bit, as everyone else seemed to take the whole God thing very seriously. At some point, and I don’t remember when, I naturally realized you could get killed over it, and that millions of people had died because of something I felt was quite untrue.

When it came time to get bar mitzvahed (is that a verb? – it is now) I refused, which quite upset my mother. My best guess was that she thought the usual - what would the neighbors think - and wasn’t worried about my soul or anything of that ilk. Ironically, my father, usually the less reasonable of the two, spoke his mind that I should make my own decision and got his way (that was gonna happen anyway, folks - no way I would have done it), but I was forced to go through all of the lessons as if I might do it, and when I told mom that I couldn’t go through it, she froze me with a disappointed look that remains one of the most upsetting moments of my young life. In fact, on her death bed, she told me it was the only thing for which she couldn’t forgive me. I sat there, and, because she was dying, did not say, 1) your fault for raising your children to be so independent minded, 2) thanks, I’ll have such uplifting memories of your death (actually, she was very brave and I do).

By the time I was in junior high and high school though, I was certainly discussing it with friends. I recall a bike ride with two young buddies (I must have been about 13 or 14 as the bar mitzvah episode had already occurred). Both of my friends told me that I was immoral for not doing it. I argued with them about it, but didn’t make a dent. Pissed me off too, I seem to recall, as I had a high falutin’ view of my morality. But, rather than disagree vehemently, I just let it slide (possibly because I didn’t have that many friends).

Later on in 11th or 12th grade the idiot who published the student writing journal at the end of the year chose to publish the one thing I had written for class which was atheistic, nearly resulting in my ass getting kicked by angry students and possibly some equally angry teachers (I was already somewhat disliked by some teachers for being a slacker and laying down on the radiator during the pledge of allegiance and by students for being a generally weird guy). Miss Hayes, who I had a ferocious crush on, was heard to say that they should not have published it. That disappointed me, but had little effect on my fantasies either -she had a mohair dress that made me wild - and no one actually attacked me because of it. Less than a handful of students came up to me and thanked me for saying what they would like to have said and a couple told me that it was widely discussed and either liked or despised. I actually had no idea it was being published. The teacher had asked me if he could use a bunch of stuff I wrote and I always said yes.

At graduation, I refused to stand up for the religious figures speaking (our beloved commenter Bear as well) but was a little concerned I was going to upset other people. Big surprise, no one noticed other than the kids sitting right next to or behind me and none really cared.

After that, well, pretty much nothing. Lots of kids in college go through atheist phases – I sneered at their pseudo-intellectual non-belief as a fad - and after that it really ceased to be a topic of conversation because not too many people really cared enough to even argue it. There have been some kind souls over the decades who thought that they could persuade me to believe by telling me how religion saved them when they were depressed or poverty stricken, but I've warned them before they started that they might be sorry. I’ve been thinking and talking about this for roughly 43 years, so I’m at least hard to pin down on it, if I can’t persuade anyone either. But, I can see that after their arguments don’t work, some of them are frustrated, whereas I am perfectly happy if they fervently believe, as long as they are tolerant. I would not debate it with anyone I thought might get angry in the first place, but like with abortion, it is a perilous thing to do, as you never know who is going to wig out about it.

Here are ten things you might not have known about atheists:

10. Atheists can be spiritual. But, I already wrote that whole damn (no pun intended) post on that, so go read it if you care. Here’s the short version. In my view, feelings of spirituality are emotions related to being connected to the universe which most people associate with a deity. But, you can have that feeling without the deity. All I can tell you is that I feel that way whenever I go outside, look at the stars or the mountains, float down a river, or read an ancient text. Now, you can argue with me that you are feeling something I can’t, I’m not going to argue it because short of attaching us to an fMRI machine to see what neurons are firing, we aren’t going to know.

9. Atheists can have morals. That might seem like an obvious thing to say, but, not everyone thinks that way. Forget religious militants who think I deserve to burn at the stake or be beheaded (if you are thinking about it, I prefer the latter). And forget my young friends on their bikes. Even forget my self-appraisal of my morality, because most people think they are moral regardless of what others think. Many people still believe that if you don’t believe in God you can’t be moral. 

Obviously, there is no measure of this. The few people I know who are or were atheists, certainly didn’t seem to lie, cheat, steal, murder, rape anymore than the general public. It was my impression, in fact, that they were among the more moral people I knew, but, again, this is of course subjective.

Back in the 90s, a little before Columbine, a student down south murdered some classmates. There was a big uproar when it came out he was – gasp – an atheist. The media went crazy with it and it seemed to explain to a lot of people why he did the heinous deed. And then, oops, it turned out he was an ardent Lutheran. Somehow, that did not explain to people why he did it. I have no doubt the same feeling would be had today, and debated on television, when the next murderer turns out to be the rare atheist.

Even on occasion when I disagree on some moral ground with someone I have been told that I feel the way  I do because I am an atheist and can’t have a moral position. I’m not sure what my beliefs in whether an intelligent being created the universe has to do with my moral beliefs, which is, after all, based on the same culture as theirs, but, you can’t get away from it. People are comfortable with it.

And, of course, I had fun a few weeks ago quoting a very religious fellow from his speeches and book, going on about God this and God that, but that turned out to be Hitler. So, feh on you.

8. People really are still prejudiced against atheists. No really. I know this from blog comments – go ahead, write you are an atheist in a blog comment (especially a conservative one) and see if someone doesn’t question you with incredulity and maybe say an unkind things. Sometimes you don't need to say anything - they just say atheists the way I say lima beans.

A few years ago I saw Ann Coulter on a show debating an atheist. She mocked him (she is good at that – almost always makes me laugh) for playing the victim card, which, I didn’t see, but, she’s not famous for being fair either. The truth is, he was right. Years of Pew polls show that most Americans would vote for a black (now, obvious), a Jew (90 something %) and to a lesser extent a gay person (70 something %) but far less, nearly half, would not vote for an atheist. Only one of a million reasons I don't run.

According to one reporter (at least, he was trying to be one), George H. W. Bush told him that atheists do not deserve the right to the benefits of our beloved country. And I had always liked the guy. He has never commented on the accusation, which gives me the feeling . . . .

7. It is not anti-American to not like the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. You might be aware, the phrase was never in there until the early 50s and was stuck in during the cold war to sort of say – hah, you commies, we are going to win because we worship God. We did win, and we could pointlessly debate if that had anything to do with it. I tend to think it was because we had far more freedom and consequently a far superior economic system. Of course, it appears to me that the losing side in wars has often been quite pious people (the Taliban were pious, but I guess they haven’t quite lost yet), but who wants to listen to the losers whine. Obviously, they were praying in the wrong way.

When I was in school I refused to say the pledge and those words were precisely why. I didn’t have anything against the country. It was the idea that I should be required to stand up and recite what I considered a prayer. Even if I believed in God, I would not be comfortable with ritual public declarations. I kind of like the part in the New Testament where Jesus tells his followers to pray in a closet (in Matthew, I think). I actually have nothing against moments of silence, or, moments of silence or prayer at football games or public functions – let’s face it, the great majority seem to like it, but I don’t think prayer alone belongs in public school or at public functions. And though I am not as rebellious as I used to be and just like to please people or at least not make them too uncomfortable, I will stand during the pledge, but I won’t say it. Nope, not until they take that out.

6. Atheism is not a religion or a faith. I hear this, a lot. I think it is considered an intellectual argument. I’ve tried to figure that logic out but I can’t and I haven’t heard anyone give me a logical reason that it would be so. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that atheism is superior because I don’t believe it is faith based, nor would I care if someone could convince me that it is faith based.

In fact, like everyone, I believe in most things on faith. It's impossible to go through life otherwise. But, this is faith tempered with experience and what seems likely based on what I've observed in life. For example, I do not have real evidence that the earth revolves around the sun. It appears everyday to me to be revolving around us.

But, based on observations by others of the planets and stars through telescopes, and probably because everyone else believes it and it seems to make sense to me, I believe it too. That's one of the reasons I had severe doubts about unproven quantum physics and few doubts about relativity - the former neither makes sense to me nor is it true based on my experience, whereas the latter seems to make a lot of sense (and is now, essentially proven experimentally). Of course, like believing in God, there is no real punishment for believing one way or the other as it doesn’t change any thing.

But, the argument about atheism being based on faith just doesn’t follow for me. Suppose you believe in God. Now, unless you believe God has personally spoken to you (and I have met those who claim so), you know that there is not direct evidence of his existence and you believe in him on faith. All well and good. But, if I do not believe in God because I do not see sufficient evidence and still not believe in him on faith, then . . . it is sort of true by definition. It is not just not a logical argument, it is illogical.

I think, in all honestly, that it is an argument made by people who are very rational and proud of it. For a number of reasons they believe in God but may feel uncomfortable that they don't have evidence to support it, and feel embarrassed or diminished if they believe in something for which they can't. If that is so, they should lighten up. Go believe in God on faith and don’t feel embarrassed. Almost everyone else in this country and most of the world does too.

5. Most liberals are not atheists and atheists are not necessarily liberals. I really don’t know the stats here. I don’t consider myself a liberal, but many conservatives would, and it is part of the conservative creed that you have to believe in God (whether there is any real connection between that and many aspects of conservatism is a different question). But, I know I was a liberal when I was growing up and I was an atheist too. And, the majority of people I knew who were atheists (not many) were or are liberals. But, if I look at those who I now know are atheists  - one is liberal, one is a moderate (me) and two are conservatives. Obviously, that is too small a sample to convince anyone, including me. 

And, if you put a gun to my head, I would say more atheists are liberal or liberal leaning by a fair, if not large margin. After all, conservative theology doesn’t really approve of atheism and liberal theology is more accepting of it.

But, if you look at the percentage of people in America who don’t believe in God, and it’s small, it means most liberals seem to believe in God too. I welcome any group doing research on this.

4. Consequently, most atheists in this country are not communists. I see the two linked together so often, that I think some comment is required. First, I don't believe that all communists are atheists, even if the USSR was officially so (after communism, Russians flocked to religious groups) and it was and is in China, party doctrine. However, we also know that beneath the surface, many communists are believers. It is just safer to hide it.

Even back in my liberal days, I was not a communist, not by a long shot. I remember a class in college where I was the only one in the class to criticize Marx' Manifesto.  I thought China and the Soviet Union were horrible places and we had to fight them, hopefully in a cold war.

None of the other atheists I have known are or were communists, and the one liberal I know now who claims to be sympathetic to the modern communist movement, believes in God.

So, there may be some truth to the fact that many communists are atheists (at least officially) but I don’t see any truth to the argument that most atheists are communists, at least not in America.

3. Atheists don't care what you believe. I hear sometimes that atheists want everyone to believe as they do. I actually don't know any atheist personally who tries to persuade people. There are a lot of believers trying to persuade people to join their team though. Sam Harris wrote a book recently arguing that even moderate religious belief is dangerous, and although I like a few of his arguments, I didn't, and I doubt most people, agree with him.

I actually love religion in its conceptual aspects and read frequently from the Bible and other religious texts. I am more interested in mythology than any other aspect of it, but I enjoy theological and ethical aspects too. I live in a little town with more churches than banks and restaurants put together, and love to see people dressed up walking to church on Sunday. One of my favorite pastimes when I travel is popping into churches for the architecture, but also the ambiance.

Now, I would hazard a guess that most atheists believe in a strong first amendment and that it includes a metaphorical wall between church and state. But, that is with respect to what government can and cannot do, not people.

Be as religious as you want. If you are tolerant of other’s beliefs (and everyone I personally know in our wonderful country is - at least outwardly) then I am all for you. I suspect most atheists are too. I’m sure there are exceptions, but there are exceptions for theists too.

2. Modern law is not based on the Ten Commandments. I know this topic is really not about atheism, but frankly, I ran out of items and I wanted to make it to ten. Besides, this is a pre-cursor for number 1.

So, you might be shocked when I argue that it is obvious that it is not so because you’ve been told it’s true your whole life in the Matrix and it is frequently repeated in the media and even more serious works. But, it’s not even remotely true.

Let’s start with the fact that we are really talking about a few commandments – murder, stealing, adultery, things like that. It is preposterous to claim that pre-Mosaic people did not have rules against it or that it spread from the commandments.

Additionally, if this is so, how do we explain that they have the same rules in Asian and African countries they have the same general rules – don’t kill, steal or sleep with someone else’s spouses. You can always find exceptions, but you can find lots of exceptions in the Western world too.

Of course, we also know that recognizable law existed in places long before little Moses was placed in a basket made of reeds. Indeed, much of our present law can be seen way back in ancient Sumeria – contracts, deeds, receipts, judicial decisions, immigration, family law, pardon power, the feudal system, police force, postal law, women’s rights, notary publics, oath taking, private property, estates, banks, drafts, bonds, and really almost everything we have was already well developed many centuries before any hypothetical Moses or even Abraham could have existed.

1. It is not necessary to believe that our rights came from God. This is the topic I had commented on at that inspired this whole post.

It is part of conservative theology that it is necessary to believe that our rights came from God, because that means they can’t be taken away. This is fraught with error for several reasons.

First, the truth is our rights can be taken away from us. If this is not so, why is everyone worried about it? In fact, there has been more time during the historical period when people existed without what we would think of as freedom.

Second, quite obviously, we did not always have them. That’s why we had a revolution. That’s why we had a bill of rights. That’s why we had some further amendments such the 13th – 15th. That’s why we have state constitutions and civil rights laws.

Third, you can believe you are should have rights without believing in God, or, if you do believe, that he gave them to you. To claim otherwise is to despise or minimize the hard work, sacrifices, determination and even death that have accompanied the cause of freedom over the centuries. Rights are won and then lost. No piety can give it to you. No lack of piety can take it from you (but other people can, whether they are pious or not).

If nothing else, I am proof that this is so. In order to disagree, you must prove to me that I don’t believe I have rights or should have rights, or that they are less important to me than yours are to you.

When I read Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, I was delighted. I actually said to myself, someone gets it. Someone who understood that tying rights and freedom to any a priori circumstances or conditions (he calls it historicism) is more dangerous to freedom than the belief that they are developed by legislation over time, that they are always ad hoc, and subject to change. He also castigated Plato, for which I was overjoyed as I honestly thought since college that I was just about the only one to think that the beloved Plato was an apologist for totalitarian government. The evidence is quite apparent, and I would think it would be harder to argue the opposite, that Plato (admirable for other reasons) is not a beacon of Democracy, which he despised. But, I digress.

The belief that God gave us our rights is far more dangerous than believing rights and freedom are a good idea for our society and we need to make them law for our own sakes. For one thing, someone with a different view of God might take them from you. One only has to look at English history, or the history of Europe and the schism between Catholics and Protestantism, just as example, to recognize this.

And someone might have quite a different view of freedom as well. Even the view from this country 50 years ago, never mind 150 years ago, was quite different. I posted an article - Perspective - studying a scholarly militant - Saffir Qtub on 9/26/08. People have very different ideas of freedom. To pretend they are written in stone might feel good, but it is really very culture bound. Another reason local representative government is a good thing.

Feel free to disagree with some or all of the above. I always appreciate actual reasons more than just - your wrong, but, I tend to get more of the latter.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The latest flap over racism - The Rand Paul saga

I thought I’d help Rand Paul out of the trap he’s walking into. He’s been involved in politics for a few years helping his father. But, Poppa Paul, for all his interesting ideas, his humility, his courage and his truly American patriotism, is the perennial deer in the headlights.  While the audience at the debates last year wildly applauded some of Poppa's statements, the other debaters and the media mocked him. He had no spirited comeback and no avenue to make it. His son may not be that good in handling the press either. But, the world has changed a little since then and the elder Dr. Paul’s ideas are now popular at the Tea Party level. I have sympathy with some of them, although others I think are impractical in the real world.

A few years ago I was able to help John McCain out of a similar jam, when he was being reviled by conservatives – his hoped for base – when he led the administrative fight from congress for immigration reform. While I don’t believe it was really amnesty, the legislation attempted to pragmatically get a handle on the immigration problem, and was an attempt at the classic definition of politics as the art of the possible. I was personally against the law (which was not passed) because I do believe we need to stop the border leak first, but then some pragmatic solution is required.

It didn’t work. It was blasted from the right with the one word – amnesty. Having no access to Senator McCain I used the vast power of this blog read by millions of individual cells (making up a few pair of eyes). I wrote a speech for and he seemed to adopt it. It worked. He obviously read my blog and he at least mollified some of his worst critics in his own party.

My more recent open letter to Tiger Woods, urging him to fight his relentless hypocritical critics, was ignored by him, and look what happened. He’s probably getting divorced anyway. And although that will let him enjoy the fruits of his fame with the ladies without the virulent attacks, he lost his family, which was probably important to him too.

Here's my speech for Rand Paul - telling him what he should say in response to this media flap:

“When you enter politics, you give up something – the right to be left alone. This is serious business. When you ask to represent others, you have to accept that you will be targeted by others who disagree with you. That’s one of the things that made America great – the open debate. I welcome that. And, I admit I made a mistake. Because for a minute I ceased to be myself, but became a candidate.

During the 2008 campaign others in my father’s own party mocked him onstage for stating truths and values which were long the standard in conservative and libertarian politics. But, I learned something from my him and his courage in speaking the truth, popular or not. It wasn’t about him and this isn’t about me. It’s about the country.

Last week, I made a mistake. I was asked about a position and instead of just answering it frankly, I hemmed and hawed, even danced around it because for a moment I let it be about me. I shied away from a straight answer because I was afraid of being accused of racism. And, to tell the truth, that is very quick to happen when you don’t go along with the politically correct media in this country. I understand that whatever I say now, that part of the media which opposes decentralization of power from Washington and basic freedom from government intervention will brand me a racist, no matter what I say. But, I am speaking not to the media now, but to Americans and particularly my fellow Kentuckians and those in my party who honored me by choosing me to be their candidate. I won't let concern for my own reputation or candidacy get in the way again. That's a solemn promise.

So, let me clarify some things. First, I am an admirer of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Frankly, some changes made then were a century and a half too late in my mind. Not just the leaders but the pious, courageous, greatly outnumbered men and women who marched in the face of hostility, violence, the snapping teeth or trained dogs, bullets and insidious intimidation, are heroes of mine. They are American heroes and enough can’t be said about them.

I am not in favor of repealing the Civil Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act. I would have voted for them. Anything you hear to the contrary is just a lie. I can’t call it everything else because that is what it is.

But, if you know anything about me and my family, you know that we are deeply interested in freedom. And if my campaign is about any one thing, it is about freedom. That was the dream of the founders, the meaning of the declaration of independence, and it is the message of the tea parties in this country – freedom.

Life is not simple. And sometimes even our beloved constitution can not solve a seemingly insolvable problem. The truth is - neither government or even a constitution can solve real problems. Only people can. Racism in America was one of those problems. Because for all the greatness of our founding fathers, they were neither perfect nor men of the future – they were men of their times and with all the flaws humans have. And, despite the belief of many founders in freedom for all men, there is no doubt this country did not start with an even playing field. The scourge of slavery, in the north and south, dominated politics right through the Civil War.

It didn’t end there. Laws in most states, maybe all of them, continued to be grossly unfair to minorities. They were bad laws. And despite the efforts of great men and women, in one form or another, these laws held on for 150 years.

And in the 1960s an effort, not for the first or last time, was made to rectify some of the truly horrific practices still going on in this great country. I’m proud to say, that although the leadership for those ideas came from the left and the North, Republican conservatives provided the majority of votes to pass these laws.

They were the right laws and should have been passed. But, I am not here to mollify the media or my opponents who will find racism in anything I say any way. There is another side of the coin and that is too often just thrown under the bus in the pursuit of public office. That happens because it is dangerous for a candidate to tell the truth. But, it is more dangerous for our country if the candidates do not do so. Besides, I gave you my word I will tell the truth.

This country was set up with a dual system of sovereignty. The federal government had some powers set out in the constitution and the states and the people retained all the other powers. The idea was that accept for certain things that only a central government can provide, people would locally control their own destiny and make their own laws. Federal laws were supposed to be few. The reach of the federal government was supposed to be short.

But, it has not stayed that way. The force towards centralization is a powerful one and has many supporters. And, it has won many battles. One of the ways that proponents of federal power won power was by taking a very expansive view of two clauses in the constitution, the commerce clause, which allowed congress to control interstate commerce, and the necessary and proper clause, which allowed congress to pass laws needed to enable them to effectively deal with problems that were within the scope of their powers in the constitution.

Over the years, through judicial decisions, the meaning of those two simple phrases in the constitution has grown to the degree that there is scarcely anything not within congress’s power and reach. A farmer cannot grow food on his own farm to feed his own family if the federal government wanta him to do something else with it. Under interpretations from the Supreme Court in the last century, interstate commerce came to mean vitually all commerce and somethings that weren't commerce at all. Necessary and proper was reduced to meaning if congress wants to, they can do it.

That too is not right. Because freedom from slavery, however important, is not the only freedom. And when congress takes rights from people or states, then they are less free than they have the right to be. 

So, let me be clear. I am against the expansion of the federal government’s power into your lives, your businesses, your bedrooms – even over the way you raise your own children. Because we are and always have been a free people.

In the 1960s the tension between the rights of the people in the southern states to rule themselves rightly or wrongly and the rights of minorities to share freely and fully in the blessing of our country came to a head. Blacks in many southern states didn’t even have the right to vote because the system was manipulated against them. And I am here to say that I believe that after 200 years of a one-sided story, something had to give. And despite my love of state sovereignty, my belief in a small federal government, my desire that people everywhere of all kinds be free to determine their own lives, the outrage against minority groups was so grossly unfair and had been of such longstanding, that it was right and proper for the federal government to step in and level the playing field.

While it seems almost inconceivable to us today that blacks, Indians, Hispanic and other people could be barred from public transportation and public accommodations, they could and that had to be resolved in favor of the freedom and fairness.

We have a much better country because that happened.

The other issue involved was more difficult. Because that included the right of people to decide what to do with their own property. And while there is still prejudice over skin color and ethnicity and it repels me, I do not believe that this repulsion necessarily gives me the right to tell other people – individuals, in their own homes and business what they must do. Or tell them that they must not be prejudiced or have hate in their hearts. I am not convinced that forcing people to give up their biases does not create even greater hatred. I do not believe our gains in this arena have come by force, but mainly by persuasion and good examples.

Yet, part of the changes in the civil rights laws allowed the federal government to tell people that their businesses must accommodate people they didn’t like. That is the only part of the civil rights laws being discussed that I have even questioned on purely legal grounds. And there must always be an open discussion of our rights when the federal government wants to impinge upon them.

Now, here’s the part of my speech my political opponents and some of the media are waiting for – hope for – and I will give it to them, because we must not be afraid to state the truth even when we think it may hurt our chances for elective office. And, I promised to tell the truth.

I do not believe that this portion of the civil rights law – which forbids private businesses to bar people they don’t like because of their color or ethnicity – was constitutional. It was not a power contemplated by the founders when they crafted congress’s powers including the commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause. In fact, all of them I believe – many of whom were slave owners – would have been shocked that the government could tell them what to do with their own property. This is what I was trying to say when this flap started. Probably, because I was hesitant, I didn't say it right. I believe I am rectifying that now.

Yet – and this part those who oppose individual freedom will scrupulously ignore – it was the right thing to do and long overdue. It was the right thing to do because race issues has been the single most destructive problem our country has faced over the course of two centuries – more threatening to us than any foreign power - and there was no other way to address the problem without including that private businesses that engage in interstate commerce must not discriminate in the running of their business.

We are humans, not deities. We cannot claim perfection. In our imperfect system, the Civil Rights Acts of 1965, also imperfect, and in fact unconstitutional, made things better by eradicating a great social injustice. And I say that again, even though I believe if you interpret the constitution as it was written, that law was unconstitutional. And even our most treasured law, the basis of all other law in this country needed to surrender to a principle that it itself had ignored.

And, I think it worked. But, we must understand, it worked because the people – we the people - believed it should work. Because we made it work.  If enough people were against that law, it could not have stood. That was the message of the revolution in 1776. As powerful as England was, it could not force a free people to obey unjust laws. Laws cannot be legitimate without popular support. And, you don’t get popular support when the people don’t have a say or you violate their basic freedoms.

We are not the precisely the same people we were in 1776 or 1860 or 1960 although they were are forebearers and our guides. We are still not perfect, but we are striving to be better. For whatever the level of prejudice in this country is now, it is a much better, fairer place than it was 45 years ago and some of that credit is due to the Civil Rights Act. But, that was a one time violation of the constitution I think we should live with. And it is only because from the beginning the playing field was not level, not remotely fair.

But, do not make the mistake of thinking that I am now in favor of unlimited government power. I am not. I voraciously oppose it. Do not make the mistake of thinking I am in favor of every law that might help minorities when it corrodes the rights of all free Americans, including minorities. I am manifestly against that. Do not think I am in favor of laws that favor minorities over the majority. I am certainly not. In fact, some laws that might seem to help minorities hurts them, in fact hurt all of us.

I believe we have the strength and wisdom to freely choose to make all our lives better, not by letting the federal government tell us what we have to do. Let us leave it to free people in free states to continue to do so. We no longer have the federal government’s nose in the tent. In some cases, they own the whole tent. It has expanded and grown and now crushes us economically under its boot.  If I am sent to the senate by the people of Kentucky, it will be to help them rectify it and put us back on the right course.

I am for individuals raising their own families as they see fit. I am for local government to determine local matters. I am for the federal government to live within its means and the scope of its powers and not to drain us of our money and our property to try and create a utopian government that is too big and must fail.

Many years ago, the most revered figure in American history along with George Washington wrote that the leading object of government is “to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

That was Abraham Lincoln. He was born and raised in Kentucky. I’ve chosen Kentucky as my home. But, the comparisons have to stop there. Because I can’t compare myself to him without drawing laughs and jeers, which would be deserved. But, I can listen to his words and aspire to follow his meaning in fighting for the greatest experiment in the history of the world – that of self government.

I am here to help the people of Kentucky take their government back – to clear the paths and lift off those artificial weights from their shoulders. I am against congress picking winners and losers. I am against the changing of our laws, especially our constitution, when it doesn’t suit congress’s whims or their patrons are in trouble. I am against the regulatory mindset that says congress knows better than we do how to run our lives and businesses. I am against the principles of victimization, the demonization of business and oppose those who tell us that they are here to help us when they are here to control us.

With me or without me, I solemnly believe we will take our government back because the American people are determined to do it. That is the promise I give to the people of Kentucky if they honor me by sending me to Washington. To help them fight for their freedom so they will never have to worry about the heavy boot of the government on their throats and they can pursue their dreams."

Obviously, I put my own thoughts and words into Mr. Paul’s mouth. I think he believes something like the way I do, but I'm sure there are differences, maybe big ones.  I doubt I am nearly as anti-regulatory as he likely is and I don’t really know if there is a political difference the width of a credit card between his father and he. I need to learn more about him and expect him to win. If it was me making the speech, I would be less dramatic too. But, I'm not a politician.

On the other hand, I meant what I wrote. I do believe the part of the Civil Rights Act which requires private citizens operating a business solely within a state and not involved in true interstate commerce to serve and contract with people they do not want there because of their color, however stupid and obnoxious that might be, was unconstitutional. I doubt Mr. Paul will ever explain it well unless he reads this post. Of course, the chances of that happening are about the same as when I wrote the speeches for McCain and Woods. None to far less than none. Their problem, not mine. I just write them.

However, I also believe that this law, in combination with the public accommodation/transportation laws, was among the best laws ever passed by the federal government. I’m glad they passed them and enforced them. We are now a much better country and I believe a much better people than we were. Our constitution is not perfect and I have long said here that I believe we have an unwritten constitution as well as a written one. But, I also believe, although probably not to the degree Mr. Paul does, that our federal government has run amok and it needs to be scaled back. Actually, I believe that of the state governments too.

I am also against demonization in politics. The worst part of the Obama campaign was the repeated refrain that those who opposed them were racist – even some people with a long pro-civil rights history. It is a fiction of the left that anyone who opposes laws designed to give minorities a benefit at the cost of freedom or parity are racist, just as it is a fiction of the right that anyone who wants some government regulation is against freedom. However, there is a balance and we are, with this administration and congress, tilting too far left right now.

Of course, I’m not running for office which means I can just say what I want without fear or repurcussions. Besides, running for office would interfere with my kayaking time and that’s my pursuit of happiness. And, in the long run, I believe it will all work out, all of the crazy economic troubles we are in for notwithstanding, and they don’t really need me to clean up the mess.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A second visit to the unilateral virtual bookclub

Last month, flagellating myself a little for not writing anything about fiction I did a post on it (4/11/10) - A visit to a unilateral vitual book club (the only one I belong to - consisting of me, myself and I so I don't have to sit impatiently through anyone else's opinion). But, it grew too long and I realized I had to break it in half. This is part two.

Next to my bed sits a 6 foot book shelf, packed with books stacked at least another foot on top with my favorite fiction (the larger non-fiction collection is in the living room). There sit my Tolkiens - 22 volumes by him or about him and his work, the Dumas collection - only three of this word machine's work - The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years later and The Man in the Iron Mask - but what a three, Fenimore Cooper's wonderfully wordy but adrenaline producing Last of the Mohicans, Deerkiller and Pathfinder, the Chandler's and Hammets, the Rex Stout novels comprised of 38 Nero Wolf volumes - my largest collection, my beloved Flashman novels and a few other unsung gems by George MacDonald Fraser, the 29 Lawrence Block novels - second largest collection, Adam Hall's Quiller novels  - with more fast paced derring-do in any one of them than in two James Bond novels, a few Agatha Christie's, the Sherlock Holmes books and John Mortimer's Rumpole books. A bunch more. Too many to ever dream of re-reading.

Last month I pulled five off this shelf and wrote about Matt Lewis' brillian gothic classic The Monk, Twain's Letters to the Earth, Jim Thompson's gruesome pulp fiction, Eric Eddison's pre-Tolkien fantasy classic The Worm Ourobos and the irrepresible short stories of Damon Runyon who I am incapable of reading without smiling.  I think, if I can bloganalyze myself, the point was to choose wonderful but relatively little read works - even if the writer was famous and the book has some fame in a literary sort of way - it deserve more notice because of great writing. That wasn't too hard because I'm pretty sure that is the point of half the non-political posts I write. Maybe three quarters.

I thought I'd start with an author I doubt you've heard of, even if you are an English major. He's written only a handful of books. 

The name of the author is Abraham Rodriguez - an intriguing name because the first part sounds Jewish and the last Hispanic - and how many of them are running around? Actually, I have no idea of his religion or clue if he's part Jewish.  He barely exists in our collective consciousness. I can say that because the Wikipedia article about him says almost nothing except he wrote four books. I can tell you the first book was published in 1993 and the last in 2008, neither of which I have read. The middle two I did read and the first of them, I didn't like so much - Spidertown

I just know that he is capable of magic as when he wrote the The Buddha Book, his third, a tale about teenagers, but not teenagers like I grew up with. They live in the South Bronx and they are full of murder and mayhem and tantalizing talents. Teenage boys writing a comic book that is mysterious but all too true, a murderous and sexy villainous, the constant pounding of young hormones doing just the stupidest things.

Here's how we open the novel:

The fight led them into the bathroom. the tub was full of water. She had just stepped out of the bath when he came.
She ended up under the water.
Jose couldn't say how it happened. All of a sudden Lucy was under the splash frantic rocking. He had been thinking about how it all had to end somewhere and here it was, no way out. Even mouthed the words as Lucy's moves went slow motion and bubbles streamed past her lips. The, the sudden sinking down of everything. The eyes straight up, forever.
And then the quiet, dripping.

The man understands how to write for the senses - "the bubbles streaming passed her lips," "the sudden sinking", "the eyes straight up, forever." I can see that. Forget the usual - oh, more violence against women - rap - like most great pulp writers (which he is imitating, but is not really) you won't think that after you finish - there's violence for everyone and the women aren't all so innocent. In fact . . . 

Deep strangle. Black pouring. The change in her eyes. She was not there with him. She was someplace else.
"Anita, stop."
I can't.
But'chu gonna kill me.
You're so sweet.
The faster he moved the tighter she squeezed. She wanted him slow. To feel it leaving him in waves.
A tremor spasm. Shook her happy. Her vague, throaty laugh."

And that, my friends, is the sex scene.

But along with the violence is friendship and the kind of things that just reminds you of being young, of doing secret fun things with your friends that you don't tell your parents about:

Jose waited. It occurred to thim that a pitch was coming, some sort of deal. Barbara waited too. She pulled the tape out of the VCR and held it. Just held it like she might give it to him-if. Jose dug into his bag and pulled out the folder. Handed it over. Inside was the master for BUDDHA BOOK #4, ready to be printed up.
"'This is too much," she whispered, examing every page as if she were proofing them.
The tick-tock of some big clock. her fingers caressing those LUCY panels, running over those ANITA pictures as if sher were reading Braille. Touching the images like she longed to get inside of them. She lit that joint like a housewife reaching for a Valium, sitting up against a stereo speaker."

Sitting up against a stereo speaker - makes me feel young again.


I forget an awful lot that I learned in college but I remember the things that were most fascinating to me. There were a handful of books I was introduced to which are still special to me, and one author in particular. I am partial to British authors and although this one is Indian, he wrote in English, short little books he intended you to read in a sitting or so.

They all involved a mythical town called Malgudi and the stories were more about character than plot. Always it involved the tension between the old ways and the modern. Always they were delightful and I loathed to leave his world when it ended. You could smell the spices on the street and feel the benevolent stress of the inhabitants of Malgudi as they went through their day.  I read a lot of his books, all I could find in fact. The author was R. K. Narayan and he probably makes my pantheon of top ten or twenty all time authors. According to Wikipedia his real name was Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami (Tamil: ராசிபுரம் கிருஷ்ணசுவாமி அய்யர் நாராயணசுவாமி), which I never knew until now, and am sure I will forget as soon I click "publish". But those Indians sure write real purty.

Narayan, who died in 2001, was actually quite successful in his day after his mentor Graham Greene got him started. He wrote for 60 years, garnering numerous awards in India. He was read in England and much less so here, but if you go to Barnes & Noble or Borders, they will likely still have one or two on the shelf. If one of them is The Guide, choose that, as it is the greatest of his achievements, and I would say a wonderful book (it was not only made into a movie, but also made Broadway). It involves a con artist tourist guide who gets out of prison, is mistaken for a holy man, and begins to live the part. There is an unorthodox love story, which is the type I prefer in books.

And, if you happen to be interested in eastern religion, as I have always been since I can remember, there is an added dimension that you will grip you, one quite subtle yet cosmic in scope.

I see I have only one Narayan on my shelf as I believe I read him in my library days. But my copy of The Guide is not my first. The first one fell apart and so did this one. I keep it anyway.

I'll give you a taste of Narayan, from The Guide, but since it is really about characters, families and relationships it is difficult to convey. Nevertheless, skipping around:

Gradually arguments began to crop up between us, and that, I said, put the final husband-wife touch on our relationship.

After Raju spends the night admitting his fraudulent swamiship to a follower:

Raju asked, "Now you have heard me fully?" like a lawyer who has a misgiving that the judge has been woolgathering.
"Yes, Swami."
Raju was taken aback at still being addressed as "Swami.""What do you think of it?"
Velan looked quite pained at having to answer such a question. "I don't know why you tell me all this, Swami. It's very kind of you to address at such length your humble servant."
Every respectful word that this man employed pierced Raju like a shaft. '"e will not leave me alone,"Raju thought with resignation. "This man will finish me before I know where I am."


I was considered a model prisoner. Now I realized that people generally thought of me as being unsound and worthless, not because I deserved the label, but because they had been seeing me in the wrong place all along. To appreciate me, they really should have come to the Central Jail and watched me.

The end is controversial. You'll have to decide for yourself what happens.

For those who are interested in mythology, Narayan also wrote a very short version of the Ramayana and one of the Mahabharata (an impossibly long and ancient Hindu work), making easy and enjoyable two Indian classics.


Another one of my favorite authors is from far Norway, and is of quite a different disposition than the lighthearted Narayan. That is Knut Hamsun, once a Nobel prize winner and unfortunately also a nazi-phile.  Readers and writers respect him in spite of that, but for a while in Norway he was hated and his books were burned after the war. Treason charges were brought and dropped (they thought he was insane, but probably not). He was sued civilly and fined a huge sum of money though for his membership in the local fascist party. He was born a hundred years before me and lived almost until I was born. He traveled in America when he was somewhere around 30 and wrote a critical memoir about it - I hear it can be funny, but also pretty mean. Life's too short to read it, but maybe next lifetime. Sometime in the 90s, the Norwegian actor Max von Sydow played him in the film Hamsun, which I have no desire to see. I love his writing, like I love Wagner's music, and do not want either of their disturbing social beliefs to affect that.

His books are bleak, usually about men enduring poverty, sometimes agonizingly so. His heroes are tough, usually wanderers and often grim, and more than a little mad. If that doesn't sound enticing, there was something unique about him and he was fairly acclaimed by people as diverse as H.G. Wells, Ernest Hemingway (who recommended them to F. Scott Fitzgerald), Andre Gide and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Herman Hesse called him his favorite writer (at one time at least, he was mine as well - still high up there). His use of the inner voice prefigured Joyce, although, unlike Joyce, you could read it and no what the hell was going on. His descriptions of nature are marvelously evocative and I felt like a was walking beside his quiet angry men. I would not be surprised if the author of Out Stealing Horses, the recent acclaimed novel, was a big fan. Actually, I just remembered I am living in the 21st century and googled it. Sure enough, that is the case. If you like Out Stealing Horses, which I thought just okay, you should love his inspiration.

Despite Hamsun's infuriating love of the Nazi's (he actually wrote a eulogy for Hitler and gave Goering his Nobel medal) I am entranced by him and have on occasion thought that it would be easier for people to understand me and my love of nature if they read him.

His most famous novels are probably Hunger and Growth of the Soil, but they are not the ones I would recommend. Pan, which actually has some parallels to Narayan's The Guide, now that I think about it, is by far my favorite, followed by Under the Autumn Star, which is actually a little funny. Frankly, I don't think most of his works are translated, or always available, but they are worth it if you can get it and like this type of stuff. I'd recommend Dreamers and The Wanderer too.

Singer, writing of Pan, said "A work neglected in our time . . . . It is as gripping as ever, and its descriptions of nature remain original. The work contains a harmony found only in the highest types of poetry; it is actually poetry set in prose, and boasts the best traits of each . . . ." and of Hamsun in general said “the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun". That is certainly to some degree true.

Here's a little bit from Pan:

A MILE below me I see the sea. It is raining and I am up in the hills; an overhanging rock shelters me from the rain. I smoke my pipe, smoke one pipe after another, and every time I light up the tobacco curls up from the ash like little glowing worms. So is it also with the thoughts that teem in my head. In front of me on the ground lies a bundle of dry twigs, a shattered bird's nest. And as with that nest, so is it also with my soul.


But now, in the night hours of the forest, great white flowers have suddenly opened out, their chalices spread wide, and they breathe. And furry hawk-moths bury themselves in their petals and set the whole plant quivering. I go from flower to flower; they are in ecstasy, and I see their intoxication.

As I sit outside my little country house, listening to the quiet broken only by the shrill chorus of gently croaking frogs and looking up at the stars, I know just what he means.


From Hamsun we go easily enough to the German writer who loved him, Herman Hesse. I cannot get into everything Hesse wrotef and I gave up trying decades ago. But two of them are shining stars, Siddhartha, his fictional account of the life of Buddha, and Steppenwolf, a work which has favorably haunted my mind since I read it in the 70s. The style may be too thick for modern readers - this isn't Robert Parker or Elmore Leonard you'd be reading. The paragraphs are long and filled with contemplative navel gazing. In fact, some paragraphs go on for pages.

We must read a translation (unless, of course, you speak German), but even the one I have, published in 1970, but however it reads in German, I found the writing beautiful (I was in my young 20s when I read it) and passionate. More, at risk of over-generalizing the book, he had put his finger on the pulse of a psychological insight - the question of who is running the show - the mind or the body, or is it an indivisable synthesis.

Hesse was an intellectual who understood he was not for everyone. In fact, in the part of the book where the Steppenwolf wrote a little treatise on himself, he entitled it: "Treatise on the Steppenwolf. Not for Everybody." As time goes on, and even MTV is antiquated, that must be increasingly true. But, here is a little bit from Steppenwolf itself, the first paragraph of the treatise:

There was once a man, Harry, called the Steppenwolf. He went on two legs, wore clothes and was human being, but nevertheless he was in reality a wolf of the Steppes. He had learned a good deal of all that people of a good intelligence can, and was a fairly clever fellow. What he had not learned, however, was this: to find contentment in himself and his own life. The cause of this apparently was that at the bottom of his heart he knew all the time (or thought he knew) that he was not a man, but of the Steppes. Clever men might argue the point whether he truly was a wolf, whether, that is, he had been changed, before birth perhaps, from a wolf into a human being, or had been given the soul of a wolf, though born as a human being; or whether, on the other hand this belief that he was a wolf was no more than a fancy or a disease of his. It might, for example, be possible that in his childhood when was a little wild and disobedient and disorderly, and that those who brought him up had declared a war of extinction against the beast in him; and precisely this had given him the idea and the belief that he was in fact actually a beast with only a thin covering of the human. On this point one could speak at length and entertainingly, and indeed write a book about it. The Steppenwolf, however, would be none the better for it, since for him it was all one whether the wolf had been bewitched or beaten into him, or whether it was merely an idea of his own. What others chose to think about it or what he chose to think himself was no good to him at all. It left the wolf inside him just the same.

That may seem a little too analytical for you, but the book itself is about is about relationships, relationships, suicidal thoughts, murder, a magic shop, loneliness, fidelity and even sex, although in not in the graphic style we would have today. However, for me, in writing about sex, less is more. Ironically, although Steppenwolf became Hesse's most famous work, however little read today, he thought it was grossly misunderstood. It may have been, but when you cross reality and fantasy to the degree he did, such that it is hard to tell them apart, you have to expect that. In fact, you read it and tell me if the murder actually happened. A little knowledge of Buddhism might help too, but that is perhaps easy in the days of Google and Wikipedia.  Hesse was writing in the late 20s. Frankly, Siddhartha, at first appearence a more accessible work, and obviously concerning eastern thought, is not so easy to understand either. But great writers often offer us questions and mysteries and don't solve them for us. And that, grasshoppers, is the key to much eastern philosophy.

By coincidence, and that is all it is, the lead in the movie version of Steppenwolf was also the very same Max von Sydow who played Knut Hamsun in that film. 
Speaking of eastern philosophy, my last discussion in this unilateral virtual bookclub is a book that seems to have nothing to do with it - The Legend of Bagger Vance (which I'll just call TLBV) which I first read in 2000 in paperback about 5 years after it was first published. 
Stephen Pressfield is a magnificent writer who I feel deserves great renown, but has little. His subjects are often mythological or historical in nature combining action with great learning. Most of his books feature characters and scenes from ancient Greece, including The Gates of Fire (about the battle of Thermopylae) which, according to Wikipedia, is now required reading at a couple of military institutes and a cult classic in the marines. It should be a cult classic for everyone. I recommend that and The Last of the Amazons, as his best works.
But TLBV is not about Greece at all. It's about a golf match between the legendary Bobby Jones, Jr., Walter Hagen and a fictional character back in the days of the depression. I'm not a golf guy, and wasn't going to read it. But, one day I picked it up in a book store, read a few pages and said, hey, this looks like fun.
I took it home with me and started reading it. On the first page, before even the Note to Readers, he introduces the story with one of those quotes which sometimes stand at the head of a chapter or book - there's a word for that, but I can't remember what it is. It goes like this:
Tell me, Sanaya, of the warriors' deeds
On that day when my sons faced the sons of Pandu,
Eager to do battle on the field of Kury,
On the field of valor.
                                        - The Bhagavad-Gita
Now, the Gita, as it is sometimes called, is an Indian classic, and a part of the much, much longer Mahabharata, which I mentioned before discussing Narayan. I have read it three times, and twice slowly. And, I have to tell you, I just don't get it. I mean I can tell you what it is about, and discuss the philosophy (don't worry, I won't), but I don't understand why it is so beloved. Just in general, it is about the Indian Wheel of life and Karma and all that stuff you can google if you feel like it.
I had no idea why that quote was there in a book about a golf match (actually based on a real one between Jones and Hagen) but I figured it wasn't too important. So, I turned the page and started reading.
And 17 pages in (I just checked) is the first mention of the local golf champion who gets to compete with the golf legends in a 36 hole tournament. His name is Rannulph Junah. I looked at the name, certainly unusual, and something clicked for me. I went back and looked again at the opening quote. R. Junah sounded an awful lot like Arjunah, who was one of the two protaganists of the Gita. 
A coincidence? I didn't think so. I looked at the back of the book and then at all those quotes from authors, publishers and book reviews saying what a great book it was, and there was no reference to Hinduism or the Gita.
I read on. And, despite my absolute non-interest in golf, it was a great story. You don't need to know the first thing about karma or samsara or Vishnu/Krishna or the Gita to love it. Pressfield is just a great writer. And the golf tournament itself was mesmerizing and kept me on the edge of my hammock.
But, Pressfield also introduced a third main character (the narrator, who was 10 at the time of the story), Junah and then the real star - Bagger Vance, an old mysterious black caddy. You know right away there is just something a little magical about him. For me, that was the clincher though. The Gita is basically one long discussion between Arjuna, a warrior, and his chariot driver, Krishna, who is an incarnation of the god Vishnu (another incarnation being Rama). I had no doubt that TLBV was a rendering of the Indian classic. And it was, even if you can't find that many places and you don't need to know the first thing about it to appreciate the book.
Am I sure. Well, yeah. Somewhere in the story, the humble Bagger Vance reveals himself in all his universal glory exactly like Krishna does in the Gita. If you haven't read the Gita, and it was mere coincidence I had, it would just seem like a weird surreal interlude between two characters but if you've read the classic, it makes perfect sense. Just like The Lord of the Rings can be immensely enjoyed without knowing anything about Norse mythology or languages, LTBV succeeds on its own. But, I have to add, knowing something about it (even if I didn't really get it) added a lot too.
What really surprised me was that the publishers, who must have known, made nothing of it. Perhaps they thought it would scare readers away ("Oh, God, religion? No way am I reading that.") It was so little known that even on Amazon, which existed when I got around to reading the book, had nothing about it on the professional or reader reviews at the time. I tried to add one explaining it, but my computer inabilites got in the way and it never happened (I think). Eventually, some on got around to writing a book about LTBV and the Gita, the title of which I can't remember, but I'm sure it was not exactly a best seller. I just visited Amazon again and now there are a number of reviews that mention it. I don't know if modern versions of the book itself do. But, the Wikipedia articles on Pressfield and the book have no reference to it, although there is an external reference to another site called The Buddhist Interpretation of Bagger Vance, which I wouldn't bother with as it is completely wrong - the Gita is Hindu in the first place and TLBV is an interpretation of it, not visa versa.
I haven't seen the Disney version of the movie starring Matt Damon, and not sure I want to, as if they make it a love story. I would ruin the essence of the book to me.
Anyway, if you like golf or just great sport stories, or eastern philosophy and religion, or you've read the Gita (and would you explain to me what is so great about it?) you will probably love TLBV. In fact, out of all my choices above, I'm sure it is the one most people would like the best.
I do notice, having now finished the post, that unconsciously, I chose books which almost all have something to do with eastern religion. In fact, the only one that you could argue doesn't, is Pan, and you could make an argument that it does as well. Huh, go figure. I really did not intend that. Tells you something about me though, doesn't it?

That's it for the book club. I'll visit with this again some day as I can see from ransacking my bookshelf there are many more books I'll want to talk about.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Political update for May, 2010

I actually wrote most of this a month ago for the last political update, but it just got to damn long. Fortunately, the world doesn't change all that fast.


I don’t know if I’m ready. Last presidential election cycle, it started earlier than ever before. There was enough C-Span coverage of visitors to Iowa and New Hampshire that in 2006 – two years before the election – I already knew quite a bit about presidential contenders (now they are household names – but then few people had heard of them) like Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. This time, it is going to be even easier because the candidates have learned how important it is to get a good start. Rudy Giuliani, if no one else, showed us that.

Something happens to people the closer you get to the election. I’m not just talking about the candidates. I mean people people. They get angrier and more insulting the closer to the election we get. I thought John McCain the best man to be in the White House from the beginning. Perhaps that’s why I was told repeatedly I was a racist once President Obama won his nomination (the other option being that I’m actually a racist) and was also told I was a Communist and a Nazi depending on which side my attacker preferred. Naturally, these weren’t blog trolls, but my own friends and family!

I also heard the most ridiculous charges against Obama, McCain and Palin. Joe Biden, a nice guy who has said more dumb things than any president or vice president since Dan Quayle (another nice guy, but he really did say some phenomenally dumb things) and has an ego bigger than the little state he comes from, was somehow exempt from criticism. He even was overwhelmingly judged to have won his debate with Sarah Palin after saying that we (the U.S.) chased Syria out of Lebanon (when?), botched an easy constitutional question of which he claims expertise and one more big mistake which I just forget now. Palin made a mistake about the vice presidents role, but that was writ large pretty much everywhere but Fox and talk radio. Of course, the truth is, we just pretend all these people are up to the job.

In a way, despite the excitment which surrounds presidential elections I don’t think I really want to listen to over two years of vicious attacks against candidates (or me). And, if you think the last campaign was ferocious, just wait until this one. Let me guess – both sides are going to say it is the most important election ever, or at least in 50 years and that our whole existence depends on it. Yawn. Been there, done that, heard that before. Well, maybe it is a little important. But not as important as who controls congress.

I refuse to make any predictions until at least a month after this year’s elections. But, I wonder how many of the hopefuls are now making regular visits to one of the least visited states in the country.

Greece; the end of civilization as we know it

I love this old joke. A religious man is caught on his roof top in a flood. He prays to God for help but gets no response. A little later a police helicopter comes by and tries to get him to board. He refuses because he believes the lord will provide. He prays again for deliverance and gets no response. The police make one last try in a boat collecting stragglers. Again he refuses on religious grounds. Finally, when the water is up to his lips, he asks “God, why have you forsaken me?” And, a voice responds, “Hey, I sent a helicopter and a boat.”

If Greece isn’t a sign for us that we have to change our ways, that we can’t have ridiculous government pensions, endless entitlements, borrow more than we can pay back, and so forth, I don’t know what is. If Europe won’t learn, we should while there is still time.

Yet, do not despair. In fact, hooooooooooolllllld everything (quoting Joe Jitsu of Dick Tracy fame, for the uninitiated). My dismal economic viewpoint is shared by many people now. But, civilization has been on the brink of collapse for thousands of years from warfare, disease and bad rulers and leaders. Ours apparently think that you can make straw into gold if you say it enough times. So, it looks bad . . .


. . . then STUFF happens. I don't know what stuff, but stuff. The council of the wise meet or the riders of Rohan come over the hill and wipe out the army of orcs or the Ents finally get mad enough to do something. You know, stuff. And some people and countries that were rich may become poor, and some poor rich, and some people will die young and others live to 110. But, I do believe we will survive as a civilization without reverting to barbarism. More, as Faulkner at his acceptance of the Nobel prize for literature, we will prevail.

In fact (and this will make my long dead mom happy as I'm pretty sure she is living with him up in heaven now - sorry Dad) I think I'll give you the gist of his speech, which Mom kept on her wall:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. 

Like old Bill, I'm not suggesting we don't need to keep working on it. Of course we do. And, despite my whining about the constant idiocy of the governing class in this country, sometimes you have to step back and say, overall, we are not doing so bad. It is, after all, the most peaceful time in the history of the planet. It is the healthiest time for us in the history of the planet. It may in fact be the happiest time in history too even when you consider how miserable so many people are for no good readon - and all this despite all the stupid things we do, all the mistakes we make, and all of the violent acts against each other we commit. For those who want to deny this and point to the plight of the poor, there are fewer of those, and many who qualify as poor now would be deemed wildly rich by earlier standards not so many years ago (running water, heat, cars, even computers) .

We will clearly need a cultural re-awakening where there is a blending of ideas of liberty and order. But that's too big of a topic to tackle in just part of a post, so on too . . .


After the Times Square bomber was caught the usual question came up of how much Miranda does he get. I’ve blogged extensively on Miranda (June 13, 2009 - Miranda on the field of battle), so I don’t want to go to far with it again, but let me make several points.

Miranda rights, that is the right of criminal suspects being interrogated in custody to know they can remain silent, that anything they say can and will be used against them, that they can have an attorney and that they can have a free one if they can’t afford one, didn’t exist before 1963, when the Supreme Court created the right out of whole cloth, based on the majority opinion that protecting us from secret interrogation by the police was more important than the police protecting us from criminals by extracting confessions. Some judges, Antonio Scalia for one, claims it isn’t even a constitutional right at all, but a prophylactic judge created right to prevent the breach of the constitutional prohibition of forcing someone to testify against oneself. There are arguments on both sides but I’ll skip ahead to the safety issue.

When Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen, was arrested, he was questioned before his Miranda rights were given him. The basis for this is the so called safety exception. There are lots of exceptions to Miranda, the basic reason being that it is sort of a created right and sometimes other things are considered more important than applying it to protect someone’s right to silence, etc. Like police and public safety. In the 1984 Supreme Court case, New York v. Quarles, it was deemed that the police officers right to protect himself or anyone else who came into the supermarket from the gun the suspected rapist had hidden there was more important than the suspect's fifth amendment right. So, the officer who arrested him and had seen his empty holster, asked him where he hid his gun and Quarles showed him. The Supreme Court upheld the questioning under the newly created safety exception.

The court reasoned that the Miranda court thought it was worth a few guilty people going free to protect people’s 5th Amendment rights. But, they decided the safety issue trumps that desire even if the police officer was really just looking for evidence and the whole safety thing was sort of manufactured afterwards.

In fact, the truth was, the whole safety issue was blown out of proportion in that case. They had already frisked Quarles and handcuffed him when the officer asked him where he had put the gun. There was no safety issue. Obviously, the police were going to search the place – only the clerk was there – and so no stranger to the situation would have picked up the gun. But, the court liked the concept and maybe they have a point. However, shouldn’t there have to be a safety issue before we call it the safety exception.

There was no safety issue in this case either. You could take any suspected violent criminal and question him under this theory to see if there are any plans afoot. As Justice O’Connor pointed out in dissent, this would just make Miranda harder to apply. She was right, of course, but the court hasn’t seemed to care. Courts and I think people like the safety exception. In fact, just about everyone except defendants who it applies to like it, and the road was set to expand upon it.

Just suppose this case - Shahzad's - made its way up to the Supreme Court. Do you really think they would overturn the conviction of a man who tried to blow up a car in Times Square in this day and age. Of course not. Even though the court has freed a small number of people under constitutional rules like Miranda, the danger of a crazed serial killer being freed was very slim. Usually, maybe always, they are just put through the system again.

But, our courts seem to prefer legal fictions to just stating the truth. And the truth is that the government just wanted the opportunity to question Shahzad and learn as much as they could about cohorts, other plots, etc. Of course they would. As with Quarles, once he was arrested there did not seem to be any chance of immediate danger with respect to other officers and the public that frisking Shahzad and searching nearby couldn’t cure. 

Arguably, you could apply the same standard to a suspected serial killer as with Shahzad. Why not ask them what else was going on before they are given Miranda rights? Isn't that important for public safety. Maybe they have an accomplice. Frankly, I have never quite understood why the law is not better tailored to the severity of the crime suspected. Because, frankly, that is really the key to what they are doing.

But, let me add one last thing on this issue with respect to Shahzad. The hue and cry about Miranda in the Shahzad case is really about politics, not whether or not the government was prevented from getting information it wanted from him. Almost everyone nowadays understands that they have Miranda rights - even teenagers. Shahzad was an educated person. I would be very surprised if he didn’t know he had a right to be silent and to an attorney. In fact, I would suggest at this point the burden is on those claiming foul that he didn’t. Moreover, just as Quarles did, he kept talking once he was read his rights. So, really, is this not a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing? The answer is . . . of course it is.


I have criticized President Obama as one of the two worst presidents of my politically conscious life (from the 70s on up, really). So, I have to give him his due when I approve of something he does. I could quibble about a few things, but I have not been aghast at his foreign policy so far. I cannot agree with the rather extreme statements that Obama is a militant Islamophile (or Muslim himself) or wants America to fail, etc. That’s just nonsense. That doesn’t mean I don’t think his economic policies aren’t disastrous. They are.

But one of the things he has done of which I approve is his tougher attitude towards Israel. Admittedly, my position might seem a little complex to some. I do not believe any people have a moral right to any land because of religious claims. I do not believe Israel should have been created in the area it is created. I actually agree with Ahmadinejad that it would have been a better idea to put it in Israel Germany. Nevertheless, I accept it as status quo as even many Arab nations do at this time. I have always supported Israel as our ally, sort of a democracy, and as the more moral of the two sides in the Middle East conflict over the past 60 plus years. Nor did I have any qualms when Israel defended itself from Hamas and Hiabollah missiles and kidnappings. They didn’t do enough. The effort Israel goes to in order to keep down casualties of civilians is heroic and dangerous to them. Its one of the reasons they have my support.

That being said, that doesn’t mean Israel should get a free hand to do whatever it wants. I don’t trust them any more than I trust any tribal group of people whose society is based on any form of blood purity. No, I'm not swallowing the whole Zionism is racism thing, because if anything, the surrounding countries claiming that are far more racist. But, if given their lead, Israel might continue the occupation of the West Bank with settlements virtually forever. In fact, there are Jews and Israelis I have spoken with, with no fear of political ramifications (as they aren’t politicians), who openly argue for it.

They miss the natural end to this drama. For Israel to survive, it must come to a political arrangement with its enemies. Many of the Arab block of nations has come to terms with Israel emotionally – that is, they no longer seem to believe that this land shall be forever Muslim or that they must attack Israel. That doesn’t mean they love Israel or that there isn’t a good deal of prejudice against there people. I’m sure the feelings are mutual. But, they have enough enemies - between Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran and Syria that they had better pay attention to the following. Someday, the technological abilities of Hizbollah and Hamas will improve to the degree that by launching enough missiles, they can effectively wipe out the itty bitty tiny little country of Israel. An atomic retaliation will do them no good. They are just too small and will cease to exist.

But, coming to a political solution means giving up settlements and land. When I hear Israel complain that it must have natural growth, honestly, it reminds me a little of the concept of Lebensraum that Hitler favored, and what Jew wants to be associated with that?

So, when President Obama lets them know that he disapproves of yet more building on disputed territory in Jerusalem (even though it did not violate any agreement), I go along with him. I don’t know if it is true that Israeli scientists were refused visas that are routinely granted by us, but, if it is true, then it was a childish and spiteful act by us that shouldn’t be repeated. But, I have no problems with the American government telling Israel – you like our money and our weapons – you have to play ball. Not suicide, not give in, but play ball. It is about time some U.S. president made the statement. I expect a lot from Israel for our support. Often we get it, but just as often we are lax in what we insist upon.


The first thing I want to say, if you haven’t read the bill, you are probably ignorant of the important issues. If you are going by the media reports, you definitely are. I bothered to read the bill, which wasn’t that hard. It was very carefully crafted to withstand constitutional attacks. Predominantly, it is basically a direction to the Arizona law enforcement to enforce federal law. How could that possibly be offensive to people unless they believe that we have no right to a border? It does not, as some claim, permit police to just look for Hispanics – that's pretty easy to find in Arizona – and ask for their papers. It does charge them with doing so when there is reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed.  Racial profiling is expressly made unlawful by the same bill.

Do you realize that now - whatever state you are in - when you are pulled over for speeding the officer takes your license and registration back to his car to see if you are wanted for anything? If there is a warrant, you are hauled into court. Why can’t a police officer do the same in Arizona with illegal aliens? Should they get protection some snook like me wouldn't get for failing to pay a parking ticket on time.

Leave aside the extremists on both sides, most Americans I speak with – liberals, conservative and independents - agree that we need immigration, that illegal immigration is bad and that we have a border problem particularly in the Southwest which is growing worse by the week. Why then, should attempts to close the border be found to be racist?

The only section in the Arizona law that gave me pause was that concerning the outlawing of pulling up to a group of people for the purpose of hiring them and blocking traffic. I guess, if illegals think about it a little, they will only do this in an area where they have a parking lot or common ground to stand on so traffic isn’t blocked. But, I just don’t like nitpickity laws like this making non-dangerous and non-fraudulent behavior illegal. Recently I got a ticket for blocking the box in New York City when there was no reasonable choice but to do it and the officers were standing around handing out tickets like visiting royalty shooting bison from trains for sport in the old west. I didn't like it.

However, the most frequent constitutional charge I hear about the Arizona legislation is that the law is too vague. I don’t think so. If it is, they are going to have to do away with a lot of laws like obstruction of justice, harassment and criminal negligence just to name a few.

Last on this topic – the idea that police officers can ask for i.d. and even frisk you upon reasonable suspicion of a crime was decided in 1968 in Terry v. Ohio. Other cases have also made it clear that merely asking for identification in those circumstances is not unconstitutional. Terry was an 8-1 decision which included Justices Brennan and Marshall in the majority. Only William O. Douglas, who fairly pointed out that the constitution requires probable cause for every search and seizure, dissented. This is one of those areas where originalists seem not to mind a little distance from the text of the constitution.

The Arizona law is not an unfair law. I approve of it. I hope other states enact their own versions. Yes, some cops will do the wrong thing, but most won’t. That’s true with every law.

The Supreme Court

Just my guess as to President Obama’s nomination for the next Supreme Court justice -

Harry Koh. I hate to say the reason, but it is because he is Asian and went to Yale. If not, Koh, then Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Her problem - there are already two Jews on the bench (six Catholic!) The Jews tend to the liberal side and the Catholics to the conservative side.

I’m not suggesting we should pick our judges like this. But we do. In fact, other than having Harvard and Yale on the resume, ethnicity may be the most important factor. I’d also rather that we didn’t have a Harvard-Yale litmus test for the high court (they all are alumni once Stevens goes) but we do. Frankly, we only seem to elect presidents who went there too (Both Bushes, Clinton and Obama – Hillary Clinton would have been one too – only McCain could have broken that trend).

Has our government done such a good job that we want to continue their reign?


Topics I’d most like to cover that I didn’t get to do

California’s race to being the worse state in the union.

Goldman Sachs - good, bad or otherwise?

Maybe next time. See y'all in church.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Who said it IV

Famous people say the darndest things (for those of you who don't remember Art Linkletter, the opening line is purloined). And I enjoy immensely combing them out and collecting them, now on a computer.  Here are some recent gleanings. Unlike previous versions of this, I have clumped two or more from almost each person. The quotes are in bold, separated by * * * and the writers separated by --------:

I think the only bad thing I did during the whole ceremony was when I kissed her after the minister gave me permission to, I gave her a pat on the ass, which has always been customary with me when I kiss a girl. I don’t know why that ever started but it just seems okay to do something with your right hand and that was sort of natural.

* * *

I’d never seen or heard in my life, such vitriolic—un-based attacks on one man as had been directed to me. Sometimes, they didn’t spell it out. But “coward----uneducated----ungentlemanly----bigot” and all those things. I’ve never in my life seen such inflammatory language as has been used by some men who know better. . . . I think these people should, frankly, hang their heads in shame. Because I think they’ve made the fourth estate a rather sad, sorry mess.

* * *

During a libel trial:

Q By the way -- I would just like to digress from this a minute -- you have a bulldog, don’t you?
A I had a bulldog.

Q You had one?
A Had two of them.

Q He had a gold tooth, didn’t he?
A He had a gold tooth, yes.

Q Did you and a dentist friend pull out his tooth one night and put a gold tooth in?
A No. He broke one of his big teeth off. Bulldogs have two teeth in front. He broke the top off and it was obviously hard for him to chew, and so this dentist friend of my sister offered to pull it out and make a cap for it, and she said “Well, as long as you are going to do it, you might as well make it gold.” So he had a gold cap on his tooth and he wore it until he died.

When I was being raised in New York, I was pretty much taught that people like Barry Goldwater were the enemy. In my more moderate adult days I find him a fascinating, fun loving, adventerous family man who shares many beliefs with me, not least a deep love of nature and a notion that feeling free trumps being conventional (both, sometimes to my detriment). The first quote is about his wedding, when I imagine he probably got a few glares for patting his wife's butt. The second was his reaction to the press during his run for president in '64 and the third from a truly humorous deposition wherein the attorney was trying to paint him as a raging extremist. In this little tidbit counsel was trying to show that Goldwater was some kind of monster who would pull a dog's tooth on a whim. A few years ago I was touched to see that he and George McGovern, both who were WWII pilots and both who were demolished in their bids for the presidency in the '60s (Goldwater by LBJ and McGovern by Nixon) were good friends who said that they really didn't disagree on much anymore.

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or was likely to see; but I apprehend that it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize on, having never studied it, and I think it is needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.

* * *

He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree, near the river where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him. With all this injustice he is never in good case; but, like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides; the little kingbird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.

These are from my founding hero, Benjamin Franklin, the subject of enough biographies to fill anyone's library (I have only six on my shelf, but have and will read many more). The first is his take on Jesus - much in line with Jefferson and Adam's view as it being a superior moral philosophy, but doubtful of his divinity. Reading Franklin you can see his belief in God flourishing as he aged. The second is just pure Franklin, making his case that the turkey would be a better symbol for America. I respect his inspiration, but, having watched turkeys and eagles fly, I'm glad we he was outvoted.


Why is it that nobody understands me, yet everybody likes me?

* * *

I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.

* * *

[My wife] is an unfriendly, humorless creature who gets nothing out of life and who, by her mere presence, extinguishes other people’s joy of living.

* * *

I’ve been so preoccupied with what would happen in the event of my death that I’m surprised to find myself still alive.

* * *

You must be aware that most men (and also not only a few women) are by nature not monogamous. This nature makes itself even more forceful when tradition and circumstance stand in an individual’s way.

Albert Einstein may be the 20th century's most iconic figure (Churchill? Gandhi?).  Aside from his brilliance in physics, it interests me that he met with failure in his great attempts on the great problems time and time again up to his death. Because he seems superhuman in some ways, revered even by other physicists, his human qualities are quite entertaining. As a family man he left something to be desired, but perhaps that is true of many "great" men. Even reading hagiographies about him, I grieve for his first wife and wonder what became of their daughter (unknown).

If I were at the place of execution, and I saw the fire lighted, and the faggots catching and the executioner ready to build up the fire, and if I were in the fire, even so I would say nothing else, and I would maintain what I have said at this trial until death. I have nothing more to say.

* * *

If I said that God had not sent me, I should damn myself. It is true that God sent me.

* * *

Alas, I am so horribly and cruelly used, that my clean body, never yet defiled, must this day be burnt and turned to ashes. Ha! Ha! I would rather be beheaded seven times than suffer burning.

* * *

I pray you, go to the nearest church, and bring me the cross, and hold it up level with my eyes until I am dead. I would have the cross on which God hung be ever before my eyes while life lasts in me. Jesus, Jesus!
I can't explain why I have a thing for the medieval Xena, Joan of Arc, but I do. She was as devoted a theist as can be and was burnt to death for her beliefs. Her passion is inspiring. Of course, she reported repeatedly talking to phantom saints and might literally have been crazy. But society often makes exceptions for religiously inspired psychosis when there are enough followers or fame. I highly recommend William Flasker's little book, Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words, which is, no surprise, almost entirely her own words. I'm not kidding that I have gotten misty eyed reading it. Yet my interest in her was sparked many years ago upon reading George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan. I haven't read Shaw in probably close to 30 years and wonder myself how much I would enjoy it now, but he took some of it from the her actual trial.

It is odd that neither the Church nor modern public opinion condemns petting, provided it stops short at a certain point. At what point sin begins is a matter as to which casuists differ. One eminently orthodox Catholic divine laid it down that a confessor may fondle a nun’s breasts, provided he does it without evil intent. But I doubt whether modern authorities would agree with him on this point.

* * *

According to St. Thomas the soul is not transmitted with the semen, but is created afresh with each man. There is, it is true, a difficulty: when a man is born out of wedlock, this seems to make God an accomplice in adultery. This objection, however, is only specious. There is a grave objection which troubled St. Augustine, and that is as to the transmission of original sin. It is the soul that sins, and if the soul is not transmitted, but created afresh, how can it inherit the sin of Adam? This is not discussed by St. Thomas.

I do enjoy Bertrand Russell, who writes about the most readable philosophy you can find. I wish modern parents could read his The Conquest of Happiness, which, although somewhat dated in spots, I am in great sympathy with (another literary admission - when I read it I repeatedly said to myself - He gets it! Somebody gets it!)

She must be young, handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape), sensible (a little learning will do), well-bred (but she mush have an aversion to the word ton), chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness), of some good nature, a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist). In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of; I think I have arguments that will easily convert her to mine. As to religion, a moderate streak will satisfy me. She must believe in god and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better. You know my temper and circumstances and will therefore pay special attention to this article in the treaty. Though I run no risk of going to purgatory for my avarice, yet as money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world—as I have not much of my own and as I am very little calculated to get more either by my address or industry—it must needs be that my wife, if I get one, bring at least a sufficiency to administer to her own extravagancies.

 * * *

Some time in the summer of the year 1791, a woman called at my house in the city of Philadelphia, and asked to speak with me in private. I attended her into a room apart from my family. With a seeming air of affliction she informed me that she was a daughter of a Mr. Lewis, sister to a Mr. G. Livingston of the State of New York, and wife to a Mr. Reynolds, whose father was in the Commissary Department during the war with Great Britain; that her husband, who for a long time had treated her very cruelly, had lately left her to live with another woman, and in so destitute a condition that, though desirous of returning to her friends, she had not the means; that knowing I was a citizen of New York, she had taken the liberty to apply to my humanity for assistance.

I replied, that her situation was a very interesting one—that I was disposed to afford her assistance to convey her to her friends, but this at the moment not being convenient to me (which was the fact), I must request the place of her residence, to which I should bring or send a small supply of money. She told me the street and the number of the house where she lodged. In the evening I put a bank-bill in my pocket and went to the house. I enquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shown up stairs, at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bedroom. I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Some conversation ensued, from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.

After this I had frequent meetings with her, most of them at my own house; [my wife] with her children being absent on a visit to her father. In the course of a short time, she mentioned to me that her husband had solicited a reconciliation, and affected to consult me about it. I advised to it, and was soon after informed by her that it had taken place. She told me besides that her husband had been engaged in speculation, and she believed could give information respecting the conduct of some persons in the department which would be useful. I sent for Reynolds who came to me accordingly.

Alexander Hamilton was a pretty boring writer but a fascinating character. The first is his description of what he wanted in a wife he wrote to his young friend, John Laurens. In it you can see his pride and ambition, unvarnished, as was often the style of the day. However, his devotion to fidelity you can question as he had the first true political sex scandal in our young Republic in the early 1790s while he was Secretary of the Treasury. He outed himself a few years later because he was happier humiliating his wife and family in public by admitting to the illicit sex (for which he also paid the blackmailing couple) rather than accept the charges for failing in his professional duties as secretary of state. Maybe it was cathartic for him. The line "it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable" will forever be among my favorite euphemisms. I'd like to know what happened when he told his wife (or did she read it in his pamphlet for the first time), but there seems to be no historical record, and it wouldn't surprise me if she thought he gave a little too much detail. If the story interests you, I recommend you to my March 28, 2008 post which covers it extensively.

In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and of adders. . . . When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil, if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom today this poor people is plundered and exploited.

* * *

There are three words which many use without a thought which for us are no catch-phrases: Love, Faith, and Hope....

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What we are we have become not against, but with, the will of Providence. And so long as we are true and honourable and of good courage in fight, so long as we believe in our great work and do not capitulate, we shall continue to enjoy in the future the blessing of Providence.

* * *

In this world him who does not abandon himself the Almighty will not desert. Him who helps himself will the Almighty always also help; He will show him the way by which he can gain his rights, his freedom, and therefore his future.

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Whoever would dare to raise a profane hand against that highest image of God among His creatures would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise?

That loving Christian man is none other than der Fuhrer, who I just love to quote for shock value. I avoided the give away references to Jews that sometimes accompanied his paeans to the lord. All are from his speeches except the last, being from Mein Kampf. I suppose this is what Shakespeare meant when he wrote "[t]he devil can cite Scripture for his purposes."

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 . . . .