Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tales from Herodotus

Back in 78, I got married. It didn’t last so long but some good things did come out it. I stopped school for a year and went to work for a year to help pay for the apartment ($150 a week). It was not a great job. I was a picker/packer of car parts. Although some of my co-workers were entertaining, generally speaking, I was sometimes known as “the college boy,” and wasn’t well liked. I don’t think they hated me, but I wasn’t going to get any backyard barbeque invitations either. Then again, at one point, the foreman (“overseer”) challenged me to a fist fight. Anyway, after a few months there, I realized I needed some intellectual stimulation and decided to get a reasonably challenging book to read during lunch hours.

I had always loved history, in particular ancient history, and most of all ancient Greek history. Although I had familiarized myself with some ancient history before then, I can’t tell you how I learned it other than from some almanacs. I just know that I knew something about it without having to read textbooks. Thus, the year on ancient history was the only “good” grade outside of gym I ever received in high school, but the teacher expressly told me that she couldn't put me back into honors unless I would read the textbook and do the homework. Having already been thrown out of the other honor's classes, I was relieved and told her that would be fine.

Any way, I picked Herodotus’ The Histories to read during my lunch break from picking and packing, he being the father of history and all that. He is in some sense also the father of Greek prose. He certainly wasn’t the first to write non-poetry (or history for that matter), but his history of the Greek/Persian conflict plus a myriad of diversions into other known people's is the earliest complete work we have of what you might call real Greek prose.

It was love at first sight for me, and I ransacked The Histories faster than Alexander ran through Persia. It was the start of over 30 years of reading history for me, and is one of the great literary loves of my life. Certainly I would have started reading history seriously at some point anyway, even had I not then read Herodotus, but having a really boring job inspired me.

As much as I love this book, enough to include it on my desert island list (see my May 30, 2007 post), I certainly wasn’t going to re-read the whole thing in a week just for a post or to meaningfully summarize a long book so completely stuffed with facts. The following is merely a collection of some of my favorite stories from The Histories:

1. Take my wife, please. Not long after I read The Histories, I saw the movie 10, a tale of adultery and love that caused a bit of a stir in its day. It dawned on me then how important adultery was to literature, even going back so far as The Epic of Gilgamesh, a book that makes Herodotus seem as modern as a Green Day concert, (and which starts with Gilgamesh claiming the right of kings with local brides) through Homer (Paris and Helen) and many Shakespearean plots. And, having just read The Histories, I realized that the father of history also chose to starte off his grand project with a little adultery.  I guess he wanted people to read him just like Shakespeare and the screenwriter of 10 wanted an audience too.

Herodotus explains to us how it is told how some Phoenician traders kidnapped a king’s daughter, Io (the Phoenicians say that their captain knocked her up and she fled), and how some Greeks revenged themselves by doing the same to Asian princesses, Europa and Medea (all three girl’s names will be familiar to students of mythology). This all led to Paris (aka Alexandros) of Iliad fame kidnapping Helen from Menelaos and setting off the Trojan War. But, this appears to be a mere sketchy introduction, as he rushed through it. The first real story of any depth is the tale of a schnook named Kanaules, a descendant of Herakles, no less.

I’m not sure what it means sociologically when Herodotus’ writes – “Now this Kandaules fell in love with his own wife . . . " but obviously, it means something, and strikes me a little funny, as us soft 21st centurions believing you are always supposed to be in love with your wife (at least up to the point of marriage). Not only was he in love, but he thought her the fairest of them all. And, being a vain man, he loved to brag about her, particularly to his favorite bodyguard, Gyges.

Kandaules was a little concerned that Gyges thought he was exaggerating, so he insisted that Gyges hide behind the door in their bedroom so he could see his wife (known only to us as the queen or wife) undress. Gyges, not an idiot, begs not to be put to this test. Even then, we learn, seeing women naked was considered a violation of their dignity. But, Kandaules tells him not to be afraid of either of them and Gyges goes through with it.

As it turns out, the lovely wife observes Gyges leaving (after all, he was only behind the door and sneaked out when she turned her back) and, realizing her husband had to be responsible, decides to get revenge on him.

The next day she gave Gyges a choice – kill Kandaules and take her and the kingdom, or die. As I said, Gyges chose the latter. Hiding behind the very same door, he waited until the king was asleep and slew him. But, sometimes, Kevin Costner, the bodyguard does get to keep the girl and the kingdom, and ruled for 38 years.

The moral of the story is obvious. If you want someone to see your wife naked, don’t have them hide behind the door. Even then, there were better ways to do it (closet, under the bed perhaps?)

2. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask. Gyges had a descendant, Croesus, as in the expression “rich as Croesus.” King of Sardis, he was a really rich guy and quite proud of it. Jewels, clothes, you name it. He was visited by the famous Solon, the great Greek philosopher who after changing all of Athens laws’ quickly left the city on a ten year sightseeing tour so they couldn’t make him change them back. Croesus asked Solon if he knew of a happier person than himself. Solon gave him a name and then two more. This pissed the arrogant Croesus off quite a bit, but Solon explained that while the wealthy man had riches, he might not be happy or fortunate, whereas the fortunate man not only has a good life, but if ends his life well (one hopes in battle, of course), then “he alone deserves to be called happy and prosperous.” Essentially, you never know if you have had a good life until you are dead.

Croesus sends Solon packing, thinking him a fool, and consults the oracle in Delphi.The oracle advises that if he invades Persia, a great empire will be destroyed. Croesus thinks this is a great idea, of course, and invades. Things don’t go so well. When Croesus was about to be burned at the stake by Cyrus, king of Persia, who captured him, he remembere his question to Solon and began mumbling his name. He was forced to reveal what he meant by that, and once he told them, Cyrus decided to spare him, thinking, "You know, that could be me some day." When the Persians can’t put the flames out. Fortunately, the God Apollo, whose oracle's advice Croesus had followed, took pity, and put the flames out with a storm. Deus ex machina, of course. Herodotus often states that he doesn’t believe these miraculous events, but he is recording what he was told.

Not surprisingly, reinvigorated as Cyrus’s advisor, Croesus sends to the oracle in Delphi to say – hey, what the hell was that all about? What happened to my great kingdom? But, it was explained that by telling him a great empire was to be destroyed, it was meant his own kingdom. To add insult to injury, the reason this was done to him by Apollo was because of Gyges’ killing Kaudanes generations before. Gods being inscrutable, who can say why it wasn’t taken out on Gyges instead of Croesus – but someone had to pay.

The moral of this story is - do you really need to know what others think of you? There's a second moral, that fortune tellers seem to have low rent offices and not great big palaces for a reason. Don't ask them anything.

3. Cyrus and the bitch. Cyrus, one of history’s most important kings, didn’t exactly pop of out of nowhere, and Herodotus takes his time telling us his tale too. Before Cyrus, Astyages was king of the Medes (at that time, the rulers of the Persians, although at other times in the book Herodotus refers to them collectively by either name). Astyages had a daughter named Mandame. When she became older he had a couple of dreams I'm too polite to talk about here (involving his daughter’s genitals) that led his dream interpreters to conclude that her son would one day supplant Astyages. He married her off to a Persian and she had a son, whose name was Cyrus.

When Cyrus was born, Astyages remembered his dream and called upon his most trusty kinsmen, Harpagos, to take the babe and kill him. Naturally, he warned him not to screw up and Harpagos assured him he’d take care of business if he did. You've read enough to know what happens, of course. Harpagos didn’t want to do it at all. But, playing out the consequences in his mind and with his own wife, he decided the kid had to die, or Astyages might kill him, but it shouldn’t be by his own hand, or Mandame might someday kill him.

So, he called for one of Astyages’ herdsman by the name of Mitradates and told him that Astyages said Mitradates should kill Cyrus by exposure in the wilderness upon penalty of death if he disobeys. Mitradates goes home to his wife, not too happy either. She has a solution. While Mitradates was out, she had given birth to a still born child. So, she suggested and he agreed to swap kids. They would raise Cyrus and their own son would get the big funeral.  His wife's name happened to be Kyno, which meant (in Greek) a female dog or bitch.

When Cyrus was 10, he was playing a game with other kids who selected him king, and, being disobeyed by a nobleman’s son, had him actually whipped. When the kid whined to his dad, he complained to Astyages about his slave’s son’s abusive behavior. Mitradates and Cyrus were brought before Atstyages and little Cyrus told him what happened. Astyages noticed Cyrus’s resemblance to himself and his lordly manner, and put two and two together. Under threat of torture, Mitradates confessed all.

Astyages summoned Harpagos, to whom he had assigned the task. He too now confessed all and the king seemed pleased the way it worked out. He told Harpagos to summon his own son to play with Cyrus and invited him to dinner. Harpargos did as ordered and had plenty to eat, but he was then told to lift the lid on the last tray and help himself. When he did, he saw the head and other parts of his own son, who Astyages had slain and fed him. But Harpagos did not bat an eye and said if it pleased the king, that was just fine with him.

The king’s dream interpreters decided when little Cyrus was made a king in his game with his friends, it had fulfilled the prophecy that he would become king, and that Astyages was safe. So, Astyages sent him home to Persia to his real mother and father, who were fairly shocked to find that he was alive. He praised his adopted mother, Kyno (“bitch”), so much that they used her name to spread the story that when he was exposed as a baby, he was raised by a bitch (shades of Romulus and Remus and many others), a story that remains to this day.

In the meantime, Harpagos plotted his revenge. When Cyrus got older, Harpagos conspired with Cyrus to plot against his grandfather, and Cyrus went along with it. When Astyages learned that Cyrus was doing this he sent for him. Cyrus sent back a message saying that Astyages would be seeing him sooner than he wished. Astyages was taken aback and summoned again his most trusted servant to defend the Medes. Unfortunately for him, that was still Harpagos, who had, of course, betrayed him.

Later, when Cyrus was made king and Astyages was a prisoner, Harpagos gloated over the fallen ruler who had murdered his son. Astyages, for his part, told Harpagos what a fool he was, that he could have been king himself. Besides, if he was going to give it away, why not give it to another Mede, instead of making them slaves to the Persians. But, some people prefer to be the number two guy, and Cyrus and Harpagos made quite a team for a long time.

The moral of the story is if you are going to feed someone his own kid, don’t keep any leftovers. It has an after taste.

4. Babylonian marriage and prostitution. Herodotus tells us of the Babylonians, also conquered by Cyrus. They had a tradition of auctioning off their women to be married. They would start with the most beautiful eligible woman and get as much gold as they could for her and so on down the line until they got to the women who couldn't raise a bid. For these women, they offered more and more gold to those who would marry them, right down to the least attractive. Herodotus adds, “This was their finest custom; however, it is no longer observed.”

Another Babylonian custom was described by Herodotus as their most disgusting, though it is hard to see the difference for us. At some point, presumably when they were young, every Babylonian woman was required to wait in the sanctuary of the Babylonian Aphrodite, Mylitta, until she was selected by a stranger to have intercourse. For some, unfortunately, that took three or four years.

Frankly, whether these are mere tales about customs foreign to the Greeks in Herodotus' time and exaggerated or not is still debated by scholars. I believe there may be some truth to them as there are other sources which, if they don’t confirm, at least are consistent, and that includes from the Persians themselves.

5. Psammetichos the Wise. This kooky king was my favorite of all of those we learn about from the father of history. Before he ruled Egypt, he decided to find out who were the first people on earth, the Egyptians or the Phrygians. So, he took two children and had them raised by a shepherd. The instructions were that no one might utter a word in front of them. Another version has them raised by women who had their tongues cut out. One day, the children came running to the shepherd saying “Bekos.” After they repeated that a few times, he took them to see Psammetichos and they said the same thing to him. The word he learned meant bread in Phrygian.

He was an experimental guy over 2000 years before Francis Bacon. Another time he tried to find how deep the water was at the source of the Nile by having a rope thousands of fathoms long dropped down in it. It never hit bottom. But, the scribe who told Herodotus this added that the water is fast and strong there and no rope, however long, could ever do reach the bottom due to those factors. I never said Psammetichos was good at experiments. He just did them.

How he became king is more ancient lunacy. For a while, the Egyptians were under the sway of the Ethiopians. But, eventually, they freed themselves. Egypt was divided up into twelve districts and twelve kings were appointed, Psammetichos being just one of them. The twelve agreed to be friends with one another. An oracle predicted that the one to pour from a bronze libation cup at a sanctuary to the god Hephaistos, would be the next sole king. This is not an unknown thing for a group of hopefuls to do, at least in legend, when they can’t decide who should be king.

One day, they met to sacrifice together at a sanctuary of Hephaistos. You’d think that being at the very place where someone could become king merely by pouring a libation from a certain type of cup, they’d all be wary. Apparently not. But, the priest goofed and brought only eleven cups. Psammetichos took off his bronze helmet and poured his libation with it. Instantly everyone realized what that meant, but rather than make him king, they stripped him of “most of his power” and banished him (the other option being to kill him, but they didn’t think he had done it on purpose).

Put out, Psammetichos had the best Egyptian oracle consulted and got a response that said he would become king when bronze men appeared from the sea. Even I can figure that one out, but then again, I remember Shakespeare having the forest “come against” Macbeth, and many similar scenes in literature (even in the Lord of the Rings). Sure enough some Greeks pop up on shore and help Psammetichos take the crown.

As much as a character as he seemed to be, Herodotus seemed to think him a pretty good king, and tells us he ruled 54 years (although, much of the data Herodotus got from the Egyptians seems to be pretty bad).

6. You think you have bug problems? In India, there is a desert near where men live who are black like Ethiopians (“men with burnt faces”) and even have black sperm. The go out in the desert to collect gold dust. There was one little problem. Giant ants, smaller than dogs but bigger than foxes, lived in the desert too. When the Indians came, the ants immediately smelled them and gave chase. And these ants were really, really fast.

So, to avoid getting eaten by them, which has to be among the worst ways to go, the Indians yoke three camels together. In the middle of two males was always a female who had just been torn away from her newborn. When they have gotten some gold collected, the Indian rode the female who was anxious to return to her child and could run very fast. The males were slower and were released one at a time (I presume to be eaten by the ants, which must have slowed them down a bit).

There’s a moral to this story too, which can be told in the form of the old joke about the two guys hunting who were discussing what to do if they came upon a bear. One said, “I’ll run as fast as I can.” When the other reminded him that he couldn’t outrun a bear, the first one said, “I don’t have to outrun a bear. I just have to outrun you.”

7. What’s with Homer? My two favorite stories in The Histories are told back to back. The first of these is what Herodotus suggest is the truth about Troy. Herodotus seemed quite familiar with Homer, which is not a surprise, but he claims to have learned the following in Egypt, proving Homer wrong:

After Alexandros (or Paris) stole Helen from Menelaos in Sparta he headed straight for Troy but was thrown off course by a storm and wound up in Egypt. There was situated a sanctuary to Herakles. If a servant came there, dedicated himself to the god and was branded, he was free. Herodotus claimed that the sanctuary still existed and that was still the rule in his own time. Alexandros’ men, learning of the sanctuary, fled there, and blabbed about his abduction of Helen.

The guard sent away to the king in Memphis, Proteus (actually a mythical character possibly created or first related by Homer), relating the story to him and asking if Alexandros should be allowed to go free or would pay for his behavior. Proteus was also outraged that anyone would so disrespect their host and wanted to question Alexandros himself. Alexandros tried to lie himself out of it, but his own former men refuted him. Proteus told him he was keeping Helen and the property safe for Menelaos, and gave Alexandros three days to scram.

The Greeks went to Troy anyway, as we are told, but in the version Herodotus was told, Menelaos and others who are sent into Troy itself to demand Helen's return were told that she was with Proteus in Egypt. The Greeks didn’t believe it and besieged the city until they sacked it (Herodotus doesn’t tell us how long it took in reality). But, when they had entered the city they saw that the Trojans had told the truth. Menelaos himself went to Memphis to reclaim her and his property. The Egyptians said they knew all this, because Menelaos himself had told them so.

Menelaos wasn’t exactly a great guy either. He was reacquainted with Helen and all his stuff in Egypt. But when the weather turned and he couldn’t sail, he grabbed two local children and sacrificed them, hoping to appease whatever gods were listening. The Egyptians gave chase, of course, but the sacrifice may have worked because he sailed safely away.

The moral of the story (not Herodotus’ – mine – his moral is that great injustices merit great retribution from the gods) is that when things are going bad, take it out on someone else. It worked for Menelaos, and he was a king.

8. The thief without a head.  This is my favorite story in all of The Histories, and the one that seems to me the most likely to be made into a Disney film.

Proteus’ successor was one Rhampsinitos. In order to secure his wealth in silver he had a storage room built outside the living quarters. The builder secretly build a trap door, a stone in the wall that could be removed. When he was nearing death, he told his sons how they could control the treasury.

The boys got to work once their dad died, and started removing treasury through the secret passageway. The king notice large amounts of things missing and set a trap. The next time one of them went in, he was snared and had no way out. He called out to his brother, who came in, and told him to cut his head off so that they wouldn’t recognize him and know the other brother was guilty too. So, he did as his brother suggested and made his escape.

The king, quite disturbed at finding a headless thief and still no explanation, had the body displayed and told his guards to arrest any mourner. The mother of the boys was quite upset and told her remaining son to get the body down at penalty of her exposing him herself. Once he saw no way out, he loaded some donkeys with wineskins and made sure one started leaking right next to the guards. While he pretended to be all upset, the guards began filling jars of wine from the leaking skin. Finally, they stopped and calmed him down. He went a little away and heard the guards begin to make fun of the way he had carried on. He came back with more wine. Eventually, of course, they got drunk and fell asleep. He slipped off with his brother after shaving one side of the face of the guards.

The angry king came up with another plan. He ordered his daughter to prostitute herself, but before anyone slept with her, she required him to tell her his most evil and clever deeds. The living brother heard about the plan somehow and went to see her. When he told her about he had cut his brother’s head off and how he rescued the body, she grabbed his arm to hold him. However, the clever brother had secreted an arm in his shirt he had taken off a fresh corpse and she was left with it.

The king was so impressed he let it be known that if the man who did this came forward he would be pardoned and given rewards. The boy did so, and Rhampsinitos, good to his word, married him off to his own daughter.

The moral of the story is, if you ever find yourself in this situation, have your companion cut off an arm or a leg. Not your head.

Herodotus frequently mentioned that he didn’t believe the more dramatic or mythological aspects of these stories, but was recording what the people he visited told him and believed themselves. The book is not just a collection of tales such as these, which are just a part of the long narrative history. Sometimes it seems he (or his sources) got it right and is still given as the history by modern authors today. But, sometimes not, thanks to the unreliability of his sources. But, it is also great fun, and inspiring, enough so that I've read it about 3 1/2 times in my life, and why I'm taking it on the desert island.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Return of the top ten lists

The usual top ten lists. More fun than shooting fish in a barrel (did you ever consider that there would be holes in the barrel if you actually shot into it?) I hope what you get out of this is to ponder for a while why a grown man would spend his time making up lists like this.

Top 10 Wild West gunman.

It seems to me that the honor of getting mentioned in any book about old western gunfighters is often related to whether that man interracted with Wyatt Earp, for better or worse. But, when it comes to much of the history of the gunfighters it is wise to just say - who really knows? There was so much exaggeration and outright lies, and journalism was so bad, that the best we can do is say, I think maybe, possibly this is what happened. Ironically, we can sometimes be more certain of things that happened in ancient times, if we have some evidence, than in the Old West.

1. Wyatt Earp. This quote from Bat Masterson says it all – “Wyatt Earp is one of the few men I personally knew in the West in the early days, whom I regarded as absolutely destitute of physical fear. I have often remarked, and I am not alone in my conclusions, that what goes for courage in a man is generally the fear of what others will think of him . . . Wyatt Earp’s daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger is wholly characteristic; personal fear doesn’t enter into the equation, and when everything is said and done, I believe he values his own opinion of himself more than that of others, and it is his own good report that he seeks to preserve. . . . He never at any time in his career resorted to the pistol excepting in cases where such a course was absolutely necessary. Wyatt could scrap with his fists, and had often taken all the fight out of bad men, as they were called, with no other weapons than those provided by nature.”

Nowadays Earp is primarily considered a benevolent legendary figure but back then he was also a controversial figure. There were even national political implications. It may be strange that a small town cop and gambler, and that's essentially what he was, became so renowned, but that has happened to others too, when lightning struck and some journalist decided you were his meal ticket. But, forgetting right or wrong for the moment, Earp seems like the real deal, and even if all the stories aren't true, they could have been, because he had a special quality about him.  Depending on who you read, he may have been the greatest Western lawman without a stain on his reputation, or, the greatest lawman with lots of stains. I prefer to believe the heroic version, but I recognize my bias and there is at least some evidence to the contrary.

2. Wild Bill Hickok (Hitchcock, Haycock) - Like Earp, he was seemingly fearless. He claimed that the difference between him and other gunfighters was that he would wait an extra fraction of a second to fire to assure his aim, but he was also known to lightning fast and incredibly accurate in a time when guns and gunfighters were so inaccurate armed conflicts often left no one dead or injured. His getting shot in the back playing cards while holding aces and eights (supposedly, this is where we get the notorious “dead man’s hand” - but, that is probably spurious and the phrase may have long existed before then) is still the reason men – including me for a while - don’t like to sit with their back to the door. He was a Civil War era vigilante in Kansas, possibly a union spy, a stage coach driver, a dangerous if erratic lawman, a gambler, a terrible actor and a true gunfighter (unlike many with the reputation). As to how many men he killed, I guestimate it was somewhere killed between 5 and a dozen. His 1865 duel with a man named Tutts may have been the first of the stereotypical "draw" gunfights. Late in his career he accidentally shot and killed another deputy who was running during a battle, which reportedly haunted him the rest of his short life and pretty much brought his law career to a close. His supposed romance with Calamity Jane probably never happened. He slightly preceded and was perhaps a template of sorts for Wyatt Earp. Now, Earp vs. Hickok – that would have been a classic match up.

3. Jesse James’s legend can be difficult to understand. He was a murderous thief who got what he deserved. His young life as a rebel guerrilla, his long career as a bank and train robber (long for that profession, anyway), the way he, his brother and the Younger family hammed up their robberies, the enmity he made of the great detective, Allan Pinkerton, who in turn had James' family’s home burned down (killing Jesse's brother, maiming his mother and creating great sympathy for him) and the way he died at the hands of a gang member all served to make him a western icon despite his profession. At one point the Missouri legislature almost gave him amnesty. But, in the Old West, the line between good guy and bad guy was often blurred, and I am looking at things like the notches on their belt, the reverence in which they were held, even their notoriety - not whether they are going to heaven.

4. John Wesley Hardin – He was perhaps the baddest of the villains, killing many men. How many is not just uncertain but really speculative. But, undoubtedly, it was a lot. It is quite possible that many of his early killings were justified. Eventually it seems he just became nasty. The story that he was friends with Bill Hickok for a time seems legitimate, but it also looks like he blew it by doing a little shooting for fun and had to flee town. He was eventually caught by a Texas Ranger (who really did seem to always get their men) and went to jail for murder, serving 17 years during which time he tried to reform himself. Just a couple of years after he got out, he was, like Hickok, shot from behind while playing a game.

5. Bat Masterson – Did he actually kill anyone? Hard to say. I read one work which went through all the claims one by one and concluded no. Others disagree, but put the tally at far less than ten. However, there is little doubt that he was as fearless as he described Earp (I think in the above quote he may have trying to describe himself too), ready to mix it up with almost anyone, and would pull a gun only when he had no choice. He was a warrior, an effective lawman, a buffalo hunter, a true Earp friend and co-worker. He accompanied Wyatt on many an adventure (like Earp, Masterson also fought alongside his own brothers), a gambler and later on in his life, a sport’s writer with a pretty good reputation. Plus, there used to be a tv show about him, which is immortality.

6. Clay Allison – I have read so many different things about Clay Allison that I don’t know what to believe. It seems he almost fought everybody if you give credit to all the stories. I don’t. But, he was definitely a temperamental so and so who waged war for the South under Nathan Bedford Forrest, followed him into the clan after the war and then became a legendary gunfighter who called himself “a shootist.” The big question is did he really have a showdown with Wyatt Earp in Dodge City. Maybe, maybe not. If it happened, it didn't come to shooting and that may have only been due to the sight of Earp's friend Bat Masterson’s shotgun covering them. I’ve read many versions of that story, and there is both evidence it happened but also that Allison wasn’t even in town at the time it supposedly happened. Whatever the truth is about him, he was never on the side of the angels, but was a widely feared man. I cannot even fathom a guess as to how many men he might have killed.

7. Doc Holliday – The most interesting thing about this hot-tempered tuberculosis ridden dentist with a classical education turned gambler and gunfighter was his friendship with the mild mannered Earp. Earp claimed Doc saved his life in Dodge City when he was about to be assassinated by Cowboys, although he had no reason to stick his neck out. Doc was definately with him at the well documented OK Coral fight and on Earp’s vendetta ride after the Cowboys killed one brother and permanently maimed another. Wyatt later wrote, among other good things about Doc, that he was the speediest, deadliest man with a gun he ever knew. There probably can't be a better testimonial for a gunfighter. Wyatt’s brother Virgil indicated that all Doc’s supposed crimes seemed to be hearsay and he was first to step up to help out when there was trouble. But, he also said that the Earps seemed to be Doc's only friends. The truth is, we all probably like Val Kilmer’s Doc in Tombstone more than we’d have liked the original, who could be pretty ornery.

8. Ben and Billy Thompson – These two bad guys brothers were just trouble and they weren’t even Americans; they were British. But, they came here young and particularly Billy was made for mayhem. Ben was older and probably a lot saner. It is not clear how many men they killed, but I speculate around a dozen or so together based on what I read. The supposed showdown between Wyatt Earp and Ben may also be legend and there is again controversial evidence on both sides, but if anything, Wyatt just volunteered to walk up to him unarmed and talked him into throwing down his gun when Ben was facing off a whole town. Ben was also a lawman for a while, and he befriended Bat Masterson, who allegedly rescued Billy at Ben’s request when he was jailed up north. Ben was jailed for two years when he killed his own brother-in-law. He died in a famous ambush in San Antonio and his reckless younger brother long outlived him.

9. William H. Bonney – Billy the Kid. Talk about speculation. The only thing we can be sure of was that he died young, fought in the Lincoln County War and was shot by Pat Garrett. After that, I can’t find two books or articles that agree on much of anything about him. That’s the only reason he’s so low on this list. Otherwise, he’d be number 3/4 with James.

10. Jim Riley – This one is a bit of a surprise, because we know almost nothing about him except he performed an amazing feat in what is known as the Hyde Park gunfight, or the Newton massacre. Mike McCluskey, a railroad cop and Bill Bailey, a cowboy, were both hired to help keep the peace in town as special officers, but couldn’t stand each other. They got into a fight. McCluskey had the better of it and finally shot Bailey, who died the next day. Bailey’s friends wanted revenge. Riley was a young kid who McCluskey had befriended and he backed him up in a dance hall the next day. At least four if not more Texas cowboys went up against McCluskey (who died quick), another McCluskey friend, Martin, who just tried to keep the peace, and young Riley, only 18 years old and referred to as McCluskey's shadow. Riley had never been in a gunfight while some of the others were very experienced. Nevertheless, guns blazing, Riley shot seven people, killing four of the attackers. Unfortunately, he also accidentally killed Martin, and one of the two bystanders he also hit while he was emptying his guns. Still, destroying the enemy as a tuberculoid teenager with bullets flying all over is pretty impressive, especially since you have to consider that other than the initial McCluskey murder, no one else hit anyone. I think we call those he accidentally shot collateral damage these days. He certainly had promise as a gunfighter. But, he walked out of the dance hall and disappeared forever - the original 15 minutes of fame. It was a big story at the time, but now, you never hear about it unless you really look.

Best animal cartoon characters with sidekicks

Why is this necessary, you ask? Because cartoons are a huge part of our introduction to society as children these days and I don't think you will likely find this list elsewhere. Although I don't believe what we watch on tv makes us killers or even evil, it is where we do a bit of learning about things like friendship, adventure and heroism. All right, I just made all that up (although it is probably somewhat true). I just liked cartoons. And, yes, I am a little koo koo for Hanna-Barbera.

1. Yogi Bear and Boo Boo – Bugs Bunny didn’t have what I’d call a sidekick, so Yogi wins this hands down. Eh, Boo Boo.

2. Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse – I just spent a weekend with friends saying thinks like – “I’ll use my anti-Frog repellant gun, Minute,” in a high pitched voice, paraphrasing this Batman like cat. Minute Mouse was about as effective a sidekick as Barney Fife, but, it was a cartoon, and he had celluloid heart.

3. Peter Potamus and So-So – I never could wait until Peter unleashed his Hurricane Holler and saved the day. So-So was long my favorite sidekick. He was a monkey, not a chimp. That was common in cartoons. Why, you have to wonder, when chimps are so much more like us and much more powerful? I suspect it is the tails.

4. Ricochet Rabbit and Droop-a-Long – Bing, bing, biii-iiiing Richochet Rabbit was as great a hero as the west knew, but his slow moving and talking sidekick Droop-A-Long (“I’m comin’ Mr. Ricochet”) often stole the show (I remember him drawling out - "Coming, Mister Ricochet" so vividly).

5. Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey – I particularly liked Quick Draw’s guitar bashing spanish alter ego, El Kabong. Baba Looey was perhaps the greatest of all sidekicks. He referred to his heroic pal as "Qweecksdraw". That would probably be considered racist or at least politically incorrect these days, because real people don't have accents, do they?

6. Touché Turtle and Dum Dum – you noticing a pattern with Boo Boo, So-So, and Dum Dum? Touché Turtle never really caught on big time, but I loved his flashing sword and his dull witted sheepdog friend (who fenced a bit too).

7. Breezly and Sneezly – I can’t even tell you why I liked this stupid cartoon, but I’d watch it over and over even as a teenager. Must have been Mel Blanc's magical voice.   Shhh. And at some innappropriate point, Sneezly would sneeze and . . . ?

8. Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey – “Call out the goofy guard – Yippee, Yappee and Yahoooo-ey.” One of my all time favorites. These lovable mutts' collective job was protecting the king. They reminded me a bit of canine Snap, Crackle and Pop. Put a sword in a cartoon characters hand or paw, and I loved it.

9. Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy – It must have been tough being a dynamic father and son team like these two and always having to explain to autograph seekers that you weren’t Huckleberry Hound and his stupid nephew. But AD and DD were one of a kind and among the best of their canine cartoon generation.

10. Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole and Danger Mouse and Penfold – I just through them in because obviously James Bond like rodents with fat little sidekicks were very in at one time. Never watched either much.

Literary, TV and Movie spies

1. Evan Michael Tanner – The creation of mystery writer Lawrence Block before his much bigger successes, Tanner has long been my favorite spy, if little known outside of Block fans. For a while, among my friends, anyway, the answer to “Who is the world’s greatest spy?” was “Evan Michael Tanner.” He was unable to sleep (at all) and learned dozens of languages, crossing borders and traveling the world working for a mysterious intelligence controller, bringing off miracle after miracle. It was as much fun as it was exciting and I highly recommend the The Spy who could not sleep and all the sequels to anyone who likes this stuff.

2. James Bond – Most people would put him number one, and I don’t even need to say anything about him. You already know.

3. Quiller – But I do about this guy. Little known in America, he was James Bond on steroids. Faster, crueler, more devoid of emotion than Bond, he could beat you with a fist or a gun or with his brain; a true super-spy. Sometimes his own organization was as much an enemy. The author, writing as Adam Hall, died a few years ago just after finishing his last book. Someday, I’m going to read them all again. The one Quiller movie I saw with Michael Caine was dreadful.

4. Jason Bourne (born David Cain) – The Bourne Identity, familiar to many just from the excellent movie, is among the greatest spy thrillers ever written. I didn’t like the two sequels and the characters were about as cardboard as you can get. Still, it was an awesome book which I have frequently recommended to those heading for a beach vacation.

5. George Smiley – John Le Carre’s brilliant Smiley trilogy would not be for everyone. They are slow paced, don’t have much in the way of action, and can be confusing. Yet, they are also brilliant and suspenseful and worth the effort. You can get lost in the magical intelligence world he created/borrowed quite easily between the covers. Whereas Ian Fleming and Hall were writing about cartoon like spies, Le Carre was trying to write about real ones. Plotwise, they were about Smiley's contest with his Soviet nemesis, Carlo. But, beneath that they were about the politics of the intelligence world - England versus America, new versus old, and Smiley's rather pathetic personal life (his wife screwed around a bit). There are actually a couple of pre-trilogy Smiley books where he was more like a detective that were quite good. There is no body of work in this genre which is as much respected by those who like literature than Le Carre's work and he remains the most revered figure in all the genre.

6. Sherlock Holmes – Yes, he was occasionally a spy for London and so gets included here, but just not as high as he would if the list were about detectives (where he made and broke the mold forever).

7. Kimball O’Hara – Don’t recognize the name (I had to look it up)? Maybe you’d recognize it if I just called him Kim, Rudyard Kipling’s young British spy playing the “great game” against the Russians in India. Fun stuff.

8. Maxwell Smart – I know, it was slapstick, but he still makes the list. Sorry about that, Chief.

9. Matt Helm – The Dean Martin movies were silly, sort of like satirical James Bond stuff, and really more about looking at gorgeous woman than action, but the books were more serious and pretty good, if not exactly Ian Fleming either. I probably could have put Flint next, but never really liked him.

10. Jack Ryan – Spy? Not a spy? Close enough. And, when you sell as many books as Tom Clancy did with this character, who finally ends up president (how many spies do that), how do you keep him off the list?

Mark Twain quotes

One thing you learn about Mark Twain when you read about him. He didn't say a lot of things he said. He is up there with Shakespeare in having quotes attributed to him. And a lot of the stuff attributed to him wrongly does sound a lot like things he did say.  The following are ones I reasonably believe he actually wrote or said.

1. Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world – and never will. I quote this so often, they ought to put it on my headstone (as if I'm going to have a headstone).

2. Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. And that pretty much describes my feelings, at least when they put their minds together.

3. A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar. A pretty paradox it's especially important to remember when we deal with politicians, lawyers and salesmen.

4. It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native criminal class except Congress. Okay, pretty close to the other quote about congress, but rules here are sort of lax.

5. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. Which is why I like to say, partisanship makes everyone a little bit crazy.

6. All you need in life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. This may just be the cynic in me. One of my sisters would just say I like it because I am so unsuccessful. Maybe she is right. But, I really think the saying isn't so much meant to be technically accurate as to point out that sometimes success is not all about capital, talent or hard work. Sometimes its about marketing, and luck too.

7. We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it— and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again— and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore. A great saying, but probably not all that true. How many times do we do the same stupid things over and over regardless of the result? I'm guessing cats are like that too? It be an interesting Mythbusters episode, but then they'd be attacked by the PETA crowd.

8. When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. Sure he could. Because he already knew to doubt himself and that his own opinions can change.

9. The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning. Sure, but that takes a lot of work and we aren’t all Mark Twain. I'm just going to continue using the wrong words where they suit me and everyone will figure it out.

10. Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. See your dictionary under "politicians".

Bonus. If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.  Sad, but often true.

Another bonus. There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless. So true. If Jesus' opponents had just laughed at him heartily instead of torturing him, we'd never have heard of him. 

Clint Howard roles

Clint is the brother of the more famous Ron Howard (aka Opie and Richie Cunningham). He has been in so many movies and tv shows that when Rob Meyers just had him show his face for a moment in the Austin Power movies, we all knew to laugh. I shouldn’t really make fun of him about his brother because it isn’t really original. Everyone does it. But, it is true, he's had small roles in almost every movie his brother makes. I don't know why he won't give him a bigger one. But, he’s also been in well over a hundred other movies and shows (you can look it up - I'm guessing how many - it's a bunch). Plus, like Ron Howard, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. And, some people think he is actually a very good actor. I have no idea, to tell the truth. But, here are my rankings for him.  The following are either some of his best work or just great stuff he was in.

1. Balok – Star Trek – Remember the little baby-like alien. Yeah, that was him.

2. Cocoon – His brother directed it and he only got to play an orderly. Well, work is work, I guess.

3. Splash – Great movie, but, hmmm, why did he play a wedding guest, again? Oh, his brother directed Splash. I had forgotten.

4. The Rocketeer –  I loved this movie – seen it ten times (back when Jennifer Connelly was still sexy) and can’t remember his character for the life of me. He played someone named Mark. I have to check if his brother directed this (sound of googling). No.

5. Seinfeld – He played Tobias Lehigh Nagy in a classic Seinfeld. Kramer is accused of murder. Jerry and George were in L.A. to visit him and were in the back of a police car next to the real murderer, who also happens to be a good tipper. They accidentally help him escape. Our boy, Clinton, played the killer. Seinfeld fans will rate this one higher.

6. The Andy Griffith Show – Clint actually appeared a few times in the show that made his brother famous as an infant named Leon.

7. Apollo 13 – He plays a flight controller – the quintessential role for him, parodied in Austin Powers. How did he get this role again? His brother directed it? Yup.

8. Gentle Ben – This was his show, not that I really remembered that (or most of this stuff) until I started researching him. Of course, his co-star, a bear, usually upstaged him.

9. Cinderella Man – referee. Good movie. I teared up a bit. Why would they bother putting him in there? Don’t tell me his brother directed this too? No kidding.

10. Austin Powers movies where he played Johnson – like I said above, it was funny just seeing him. 

Honorable mention - The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.  Who of you knew that Mrs. Livingston was a big star in Japan and an Academy award winning actress before she played the wise Mrs. Livingston? And, then, she never acted again. And Clint Howard was in one episode playing a little kid at a party. You have to start somewhere.

That's all folks. Let me know if you disagree. As Touché Turtle would say in leaving - "Touché and away".

Monday, June 07, 2010

Political update for June, 2010

Three subjects today. The next presidential election, the Sestak matter and the Israeli-Palestinian situation.


How nice it was for the president early on when even some of his opponents congratulated him on his election, said that they were (at least momentarily) pleased that America showed it could elect a black man president, when his poll ratings were high, when he could face the press and even got a Nobel Prize (which he had the good sense to be embarrassed by). If I recall, by this time in their first or only term, every single president since Carter - I’m starting with my political consciousness - had problems by this time, so he shouldn’t feel alone.

The press is still overwhelmingly on his side. I watched a talk that Woodward and Bernstein gave to a group of press members on C-Span last week. They asked of the audience who voted for him (almost all of them raised their hands), and who would like to switch or was sorry - (almost no one raised their hand). But, despite that, even the NY Times is starting to ask questions about some things. And a word of displeasure from the Times has a far greater impact on him than Fox, Rush and the Wall Street Journal, put together, as the criticism is coming from his “team”.

Many of the high sounding promises of his campaign have been ignored (I’m actually glad for much of that),  unemployment remains a major problem, Greece has illustrated for the world what happens when the philosophy is to spend your way out of all difficulties, the oil spill fiasco has been to some degree hung around his neck (that certainly isn’t his fault, but I suppose is a fair comeuppance for his blaming Katrina on Bush) and even some liberals are even asking the truly ridiculous question of whether he is showing enough rage.

That may all bring some glee to his enemies, but they must exercise some caution. Because it doesn’t mean at all he will fail to win next time – 2012 - as no doubt he is aware. Take our last three two term presidents. Reagan, Clinton and Bush II each had various difficulties early in their presidencies. Each took a beating in the first midterm election, but still won their second term. But, Carter and Bush I did not win again.

Why? Although it is a generalization, my belief is, the three successful incumbents were re-elected, not based on their competence or because they were beloved, but because the opposition put up a weak opponent – in all three cases, fairly uninspiring people – Mondale, Dole and Kerry. Personality trumps politics. All were considered, even by many of their supporters . . . boring (although Dole was actually quite funny – he seemed old and drab).

Where the newcomer was able to beat the incumbent, they had personality – Reagan and then Clinton. Even their opponents admitted that they had charisma. Newt Gingrich said that he couldn’t help but like Clinton personally and we all know about Tip O’Neill and Reagan. But, you can’t manufacture these candidates. Unfortunately for the Republicans, they don’t really seem to have anyone with the required charisma out there who really has a chance. I’m trying to figure out who they might actually nominate.

The closest they come to a personality that grabs attention is Sarah Palin, and even many Republicans realize that lots of independents will actually feel more comfortable with President Obama than they will with someone who just doesn’t seem capable of winning or running the office, even if they agree with her policy-wise more than him. And that would be even before the media turns their full anger on her (she was the most mistreated candidate I have ever seen, including Dan Quayle) should she actually win a nomination. But, it will not get that far. At least, I just don’t believe it.

Who is out there with the personality and the support to drub Obama? Right now, guys like Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty just don’t seem to have it – personality I mean. McCain is obviously too old and we mostly have an unofficial one shot and you are out nomination rule anyway. Certainly Mayor Giuliani has personality (I personally don’t get it, but I realize that some others do), but I just don’t think he will run in an environment where social conservatives will shoot at him for some of his liberal views. Thompson is likeable but just didn’t inspire people. His book is not selling that well. Ron Paul isn’t personally exciting himself, but many people are excited by a lot of his ideas. However, I think he is too much of an outlier with some of his beliefs to really go far.

Yeah, there are governors like my state’s Bob McConnell who are relatively young, personable and energetic (yes, the one whose enemies call him Taliban Bob). But, he doesn’t seem like he is making any moves and I think he is aware of his negatives. So far, I don’t see anyone on the right like him who has the right combination of money, public notoriety or personality to consider a run. Obviously, late moves are possible – Presidents Obama and Carter, were examples of nobodies who became somebodies in one election cycle, but it is unlikely. I’ve reviewed all of the governors I can think of who might even possibly think of running and I don’t think any of them makes the personality cut. There is a possible governor, Marco Rubio, a conservative from Florida, who, if he wins, I think might have a shot some day, but I doubt he would try and pull an Obama and would instead wait until 2016. I can’t see Jeb Bush having a shot – too much family damage. Today I heard Governor Mitch Daniels described as a Republican front runner, and all I could think was that someone took a poll in Indiana.

That leaves, of known players, excluding the fringe, Mitt Romney, and Bill Mike Huckabee. Both of them are former governors but I think of them more as candidates. Leave aside that those on the opposite side of the political spectrum will, of course, despise them. Both would have some shot at the Republican nomination.

Of the two, I’d have to give Romney the early nod in terms of probability for the Republican nomination. Both have some conservative support (although also some ideological weaknesses from that viewpoint), but Romney has the wealth to carry on whereas Huckabee does not. Moreover, I don’t believe Huckabee’s time on FoxNews will make him seem more credible as a candidate. One, I’ve watched the show a couple of times and it just isn’t very entertaining in my opinion. Not like, say, The Factor or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck among conservatives bellweathers. Two, I believe going into entertainment makes people doubt your seriousness as a candidate. Reagan had long been in politics when he became president.

Besides, I don’t know that Huckabee is thinking of running again. Just a feeling.

I have my doubts about Mitt Romney. I think many people do. Instinctively, he has always struck me as a person who will tell you whatever you want to hear, a stereotype of a used car salesman coming to mind. Even some conservatives feel that way. But, I will keep an open mind about him. People change over time and I tend to forgive politicians for playing to different audiences as almost all of them seem to do it. And, of course, it is really early to make any predictions (although my predictions for the last election were very accurate until the end), so I will only suggest that he is my Republican front runner at the present time.

Whether Romney or not, whoever it is will have to concern him or herself with the philosophical split in the Republican Party, social conservatives/tea parties versus fiscal conservatives, which is much deeper than any divide that exists in the Democratic party. And, it is a much bigger problem than they like to admit. But, that is for another time.


Every presidency seems to have its political scandal. You think it is nothing and then it goes viral, to use an internet term. There are those working very hard to generate something out of the Sestak affair (I’m thinking of Sean Hannity, for one; he is a one man army when it comes to Sestak as he was when he was working against Obama in ’08, but he (and I) were very wrong in believing Jeremiah Wright would resurface as an issue during the main campaign).

If you aren’t up on it, here’s the skinny. Joe Sestak, a retired admiral and a present day congressman decided to run for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat up this year. The White House felt it owed a favor to Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party for political reasons (it didn’t work) and supported him for the slot. Sestak publicly and repeatedly said that he was offered a job by the administration to back off, which would have left the Democratic field to Specter.

It caused a minor ruffle then, but eventually, people started saying – is that a crime? Now, not that most Republicans cared – they were still going to go after it, and not that most Democrats cared – nothing could have been done wrong as far as they were concerned. I’m just not sure. There are a few sections of the U.S. Code that make it a crime to offer a federal job for a political favor. Enough pressure was raised that the White House had to speak in response. And it was deliberate before it did so. And then . . . it didn’t say very much. And what it said didn’t make a lot of sense. That kind of makes me think there is more to it.

All we know now, after what appears to have been enough time to compare some notes and possibly the squaring of stories, that supposedly Bill Clinton called Sestak on Rahm Emanuel’s behalf and asked if he would consider not competing in exchange for a seat on an intelligence oversight commission that Sestak wasn’t even qualified to sit on right at the time due to his service in congress. According to Sestak, he declined and Clinton said he thought that’s what he’d say. We haven’t heard Rahm Emanuel speak to this nor really the president.

If there was nothing to the story, and the administration wanted to be honest, why doesn’t Mr. Emanuel speak to it directly and in detail? Who asked Clinton to do it? What was the conversation exactly? (Sestak says it lasted 30-60 seconds). Did President Obama know this was being done? Would he not have had to give a nod to it being done for it to have happened? If not, why wasn’t he told? Deniability?

Does it seem likely that someone would even consider asking someone who had a chance to be a senator if he’d rather sit on even some advisory commission that is just going to be ignored anyway? Who would think a senatorial candidate with a legitimate shot would even consider that? Personally, I don’t buy it, but that is speculation on my part.

Although I disfavor political witch hunting, such as the Clinton impeachment and the indictment of Tom Delay in Texas, a few years ago I wrote here that my belief that a crime had been committed with respect to the Valerie Plame affair (and at least I can say that I read the presidential orders and statutes involved) and that Scooter Libby did in fact commit perjury. He was basically convicted on the testimony of fellow Republicans. His clemency was one more example of politics trumping justice. The cover up by the White House was disturbing. In fact, the one person whose job it was at the White House to investigate this type of thing was ordered to do nothing (I watched his testimony – that’s what he said).

I also believed, although President Bush had every right to fire whatever U.S. attorneys he liked, Attorney General Gonzales, should have said to congress – in essence - it’s none of your business – we’ll fire who we want. But, he hemmed, hawed and lied (even a few Republican Judiciary Committee members said as much). However, the White House did such an effect job of stonewalling any investigation that it never went anywhere other than Libby’s prosecution and some people getting fired.

Now, it is Obama’s turn. Although it may seem like small potatoes to the White House right now, there should be a real investigation or he is just one more political president avoiding the truth coming out, in the tradition of the American Presidency since I remember (Carter excluded this time – he cooperated fully with his one big scandal). I believe the Justice Department could do a fair and professional job, but the unofficial rule against questioning the president early on should be thrown out the window immediately (it’s just a stupid rule – Reagan was already entering his senility when Schultz questioned him on Irangate), and President Obama should testify under oath. Why not? Is the president above the law? We always say no, but do we mean it?

And, if it turns out that a crime was committed, then we have to see where that leads, don’t we? Some will like it, some will hate it, but that’s the way it goes. Naturally, it isn’t going to happen unless the Republicans take over a house and have the opportunity to go after it.

You can read about most of the above in many places on the web. What I will add to the usual gibberish is a little discussion of the law. There are three sections of the U.S. Code being batted around. For those who care what the facts are, here is Title 18 section 600:

“Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment,

position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit,

provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of

Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such

benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any

political activity or for the support of or opposition to any

candidate or any political party in connection with any general or

special election to any political office, or in connection with any

primary election or political convention or caucus held to select

candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this

title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

I don’t see this applying. What Obama haters are either forgetting or leaving out when they mention this section as a possibility is actually a biggee - the advisory committee supposedly offered Sestak was created by presidential order and not one which was in whole or in part created by congressional act. Thus, it does not seem like this section could be used to prosecute anyone on the admitted acts. Different story if it turns out it was a different position offered than Mr. Sestak says.

Section 211 of Title 18 also probably doesn’t apply as it is solely directed against someone who “solicits or receives” the favor. But, Mr. Sestak neither received nor solicited an appointment from what we know.
The other section we’ve heard about is 595 of Title 18. This looks like the most likely avenue to me right now. It states that if you work for the government, you can’t use your official authority “for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate” for certain offices including the senate. Sounds like it works perfectly if they can tie anyone in the administration to it, but otherwise – not.

It seems to me that there should be an investigation because the story just doesn’t make sense. But, if they can find nothing else, it is not going very far. Of course, just as with Scooter Libby, if there has been a cover up, it can have devastating consequences.

Really it comes down to – are they telling the truth about the facts, and if they aren’t, can anyone prove it?


Like with most controversial things in life, those of us not blessed with certainty that those we support are always right will have to wonder what happened aboard the flotilla. Even with photographic or video evidence, you still don’t know for sure what is doctored or not and what you are not seeing that happened off camera or before. The videos I’ve seen look like the Israelis are dropping in and immediately being attacked. I’m told there are other videos the flotilla believes support their being attacked. However, others would certainly argue that commandos dropping onto a ship with guns is by itself an act of violence, and that tear gas was used before the commandos landed. Those on board might feel that they don’t have to wait until they are getting shot to react and no doubt all of us would feel that way if we were aboard. And, we don’t see what happened before the videos start.

In this instance, there is no need to wait until partisanship takes hold and clouds everything because with the Middle East, the propaganda and the extremism is automatic - pro-Israeli on one side and pro-Palestinian on the other.

I’m sure there are those who would suspect I am biased in Israel’s favor because of my Jewish heritage, and I would never be able to convince them otherwise, and I’m sure there are those who know me, who would believe my hesitancy in supporting some of Israel’s acts is due to the all to traditional Jewish self-loathing. I don’t anyone blame for thinking in this manner. This is our natural reaction to those who disagree with us – that it must be based on some personal prejudice, because otherwise we are sure EVERYONE sane would agree with us.

Certainly, I am guilty of the same thing. I know my knee jerk reaction is to believe that Jews tend to supports Israel due to their heritage and that Muslims tend to support Palestine because of theirs. It is hard for me to believe that isn’t correct. Both bias and the suspicion of bias are problems we will never avoid, and maybe we are not capable of it, at least in general. If we were, then there would be no need to have the concept of conflicts of interest.

Here’s why I am supportive of Israel with respect to their blockade and, probably with respect to this incident:

Israel is a country at war, not of its own making. It has been attacked or under threat of attack for over 60 years; its entire existence.

The inhabitants of Gaza have elected as their leaders a political party not only hostile to Israel, but which the United States, Israel and other countries have determined is a terrorist organization openly pledged to destroying Israel. The leaders of the West Bank are from a different political party which once unified Palestinians in their hostility to Israel and which also still officially questions its right to exist.

Israel has blockaded Gaza to protect itself from Gaza obtaining powerful weapons which would be used to kill Jews. You might not know, if you don’t spend any time on the issue, that Egypt is also blockading Gaza. You should read that again. Egypt feels threatened by Gaza and Hamas and is also blockading it (although they at least briefly opened the border in a limited fashion after this incident).

The West Bank is not so much a problem right now, from Israel’s point of view, but, again, only in comparison to Gaza and because of the big wall separating Israel from it. However, Gaza is still occasionally flinging missiles into Israel, even after being positively crushed last year for doing so.

There is no doubt that the international media and community is actively pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. No attack on Israel, no missiles, no kidnapping seems to most of the world justification for Israel’s actions. The fact that Israel tries to clear buildings before destroying them is ignored; the fact that they allow other nations overflight privileges for humanitarian purposes even when they are actively in combat, is ignored. The fact that Israel could easily utterly destroy the Palestinian lands and does not do so, even when attacked, is ignored.

Although I know the rest of the world claims that the United States media will not recognize journalism pointing to facts in the other direction, and that might have been true at one time, it is laughable in the age of the internet. I occasionally even look at Al Jazeera for their point of view. The BBC is on my tv. What is it you think we don’t know? Give me a particular.

Does anyone really think that if it was Hamas that had captured Israeli ships, that they would have brought immediate medical relief to those who were shot and would have let everyone go home afterwards? Do you think that they would have then passed all the materials on the ship to Palestine in the regular order of things once they inspected? If you think Hamas would have done any of those things, then I’m afraid I think you are delusional.

Are you aware that Israel sees to the arrival of many tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza every day? Are you aware that Israel tried to work with Turkey and the leaders of the flotilla to just go through channels and that the materials could be then delivered. Are you aware that Israel negotiated for hours to let them inspect the ship to make sure there were no weapons and only boarded once that failed.

This was a deliberate provocation, and an attempt to destroy the blockade by force of public opinion and at the cost of lives. Here’s a reaction from one of the groups which organized the flotilla, quoted in the New York Times: “On Tuesday in a bustling neighborhood in Istanbul, the Turkish organization was celebrating a strange success. ‘We became famous,’ said Omar Faruk, a board member of the group, Insani Yardim Vakfi, known by its Turkish initials, I.H.H. ‘We are very thankful to the Israeli authorities.’

Well, there’s someone who really cares about the lives lost.

I am not pleased with Turkey’s position in this. Turkey is a country which is in a decades long fight with the Kurdish people who want independence or even to maintain their identity. Their treatment of Kurds can be said to be quite similar to that of Israel’s towards the Palestinians. Yet, Turkey is outraged that Israel defends itself.

I wonder where Turkey’s outrage is about the three U.N. teenagers who are being held in Iran when they were hiking and crossed over the invisible border. Where’s the world’s outrage that Hizbollah and Gaza still hold Israelis as prisoners. I am not forgetting that Israel has many Palestinians held as prisoners or that Israel assassinates Palestinian leaders. If I did not believe Israel had a moral advantage I would think much as the rest of the world does.

I am mindful that Turkey is an ally of ours as well, but Israel has virtually always been a faithful ally, and sometimes even does for us what we ask, whereas I cannot forget that Turkey would not even let us invade Iraq – a Saddam Hussein led Iraq - through its country, which would have made the invasion faster and safer. And although Turkey has made overtures of friendship to Israel, this seems like a reversal of attitude.

I'm also not pleased with our position on it. President Obama should have come out on Israel’s side and respected their unique situation as a fortress. Although I am not one who is critical of him for not unconditionally supporting Israel, I think he failed this test. In fact, Iran has now offered to lead the flotilla and he is somewhat to blame. Had President Obama done the right thing - gone to its ally's aide, no such offer would have been contemplated. In fact, if Iran does lead the next flotilla, our Navy should be waiting for them in support of Israel. I felt the same way a couple of years ago when Iran grabbed some British soldiers.
Israel’s P.M., Netanyahu, ran for office as the Sharon of his time. We’ll see if he has the fortitude to keep this up. Another ship is due this week to try the same thing. More from other countries may be on the way. Frankly, if a ship with a European flagship, it will be difficult for Israel to pull this off. The only way it can be prevented, is with our support. I’m glad that Netanyahu has taken a tough stand on this and refused to apologize. I’m so tired of politicians apologizing when they have nothing to apologize for.

All this being said, I still think my ultimate solution would be the best one for Israel and Palestine, but the first part of my idea would be deemed a crazy idea by Israel and their hell or high water supporters and the second part seen as genocide by Palestinians and their supporters. But, at least read the next few paragraphs before castigating me.

Israel should evacuate the West Bank as it did Gaza. It should remove its settlers as it did in Gaza. Gaza and the West Bank should be free to organize any way they like. Jerusalem is a tougher problem and I leave it for another day (its not like I have to decide right away, because this is not happening, but it would have to be resolved at the same time).

Now, I’m sure that to many Israelis and supporters that sounds like surrender, but it’s not. It is what is going to happen anyway someday – it is pretty much what would have been agreed on during Clinton’s time in office if Arafat had a brain in his head, but it should happen on Israeli terms, not world community terms or Palestinian terms. They should do it because it is the right thing to do and is the only way to get peace short of genocide (which might ultimately end up meaning the end of Israel too).

Naturally, if that happened, Palestinians would celebrate the way they did when Israel demolished them in Gaza and the way Hizbollah did when Israel demolished them. Countries celebrate their independence whether they are in the right or wrong. Israel should send its congratulations, and not look while Palestinians act as if they just won the Olympic decathlon with the might of their own hands. There should be no restrictions on Gaza or the West Bank.

What does Israel get? Freedom from the unrewarding task on controlling people who don’t want to be control them, for one thing. As many of Israeli citizens, soldiers and administration know, controlling Palestine is deleterious to Israel’s own health. I’m not going to try to sell that, but go read what many Israeli’s say about it.

Right now, some of you are thinking, why should Israel do this – so Gaza can arm itself and fire rocket after rocket into Israel? No, that’s not it. Because, here’s the second part. For every rocket fired from Gaza one hundred should be returned. If Gaza fires 600 missiles, Israel should fire 6000. If the stakes are raised by the country of Palestine or Hizbollah, Israel should raise the stakes too. Remember, Lebanon is a sovereign country. So is Jordan and Syria and Egypt. All learned not to attack Israel. It doesn’t pay.

One or the other thing will happen. Hamas will learn to be civilized, or their will be a terrible war and Gaza will lose big time. By making them sovereign the stakes are upped to the degree that Hamas cannot afford to lose. And, sadly, Israel must shut its ears to what the world says about it at the point. Because, Israel would have already done whatever they could to save the Palestinian people short of their own national suicide. If France,or some other country wants to intervene to maintain peace, as it did in the Hizbollah war, it can put its own soldiers’ lives at stake, but it must understand that if they aren’t successful, they have put themselves in harm’s way and fault cannot be held against Israel when they get hurt.

I admit my bias in that Israel is our ally – lately, sometimes our only ally - has some type of democracy relative to the rest of the Middle East - unfortunately, one including apartheid, but mild compared to its neighbors - and seems to respect enlightenment values, which I believe might blossom for the entire region if given a chance.

But, all that is just my idea. It's not going to happen because then there might be peace. So, from Israel’s point of view, they had to stop the shipment, because otherwise, their blockade is at an end. 

From the Palestinian point of view, the world press always seems to favor them when Israel defends itself, so they have every reason to hope for and even instigate violence. Hamas would happily sacrifice any number of children or so called, never mind actual peace workers for favorable press. They celebrate when people are killed and they feel that they can point at Israeli’s as the cause, or at least the immediate cause.

Listening to C-Span the morning following the battle, I got the sense that more listeners were calling in with pro-Palestinian positions than usual, a couple of them comparing Israel to South Africa and even Dachau. That doesn’t surprise me. America still has a pro-Israeli media so powerful that reporter Helen Thomas was forced to retire after making one anti-Israeli remark, even though she immediately apologized for it. But, this may be slowly changing. Some others will undoubtedly be swayed towards the Palestinians.

That's all folks. Next week, we need to get off these serious topics. I feel top ten lists coming on.

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 . . . .