Monday, May 30, 2011

The why of Hitler

I was just sitting down on my porch to write a post in the nearly 100 degree heat on WWII when a flock of pigeons exploded off the telephone wire running between two evergreens they habitually sit on, and flapping like mad birds flew about in every direction. A second later a fairly large sized hawk flew by which I only saw for a second as it swept over my house and out of sight. Apparently, it wasn’t looking for lunch as it didn’t seem to give them any notice.

It makes for a nice metaphor about WWII, Hitler being the hawk, and the European neighbors being the pigeons, rushing about in disorder, at least in the 1930s. But, metaphors are limited, and this one would have been better if the pigeons got their act together and kicked the tail feathers out of the predator. That didn’t happen. The hawk flew away, and after flying about in separate packs for a minute or so, they all settled down on the wire again. A vibrantly yellow finch, who comes by a few times every day to sit on the same long stalks to peck on the candy corn colored tubular flowers at their top, also came by. He wasn’t alarmed by the hawk at all, but maybe he wasn’t on the menu. I tried so hard to fit the little yellow flitter into the metaphor here, but no luck. Maybe Switzerland. So, back to the war.

I started reading WWII history with Winston Churchill’s six volumes aptly named The Second World War. I don’t know how many books I’ve read on the war since then, but right now I count 30 volumes on my shelf completely or mostly about it, one in the mail on the way, one I’m reading now from the library and another on my bed which I start and stop. I would estimate these volumes comprise roughly one half the total number I’ve read so far. Often if you read that much on a subject, you can become expert in it. But, without question, this merely makes me a rank amature on the subject, because there is an endless amount of information about the war and I can’t imagine you can call yourself an expert unless you’ve read hundreds instead of dozens of books on them (although, I have a friend who once told me he was going to read four books on the Civil War one summer, after which he would be an expert). Though the general outline of the war is very familiar to me, and it is relatively difficult for an author to totally surprise me, in every well researched volume I pick up that is not a general history, I find oodles on information I did not know before, so much so that I’m sure I forget most of it, at least until I read it again, maybe years later, and refresh my recollection.

There are so many WWII histories that you can break the war down into categories. What interests me much more than works on battles and weapons are those on intelligence and codes, commando and partisan activities and diplomacy. But, perhaps most of all, what I gravitate to is the question of why people fell for Hitler, loved him, died for him, and what does it say anthropologically more so than sociologically or culturally. In other words, what does the fact that a man like Hitler and his detestable cohorts were able to so deeply influence a country, that they trusted him so much, even when their destruction became imminent and obvious, say about humans in general, as opposed to just Germans?

I am lined up to read Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which takes the position that ordinary German’s knew about and were willingly participants in the extermination of the Jews and others. As I haven’t read it, I can only offer my bias against it -- that he goes too far, that while many German citizens were fine with the financial destruction of the Jews, the vicious harassment, the theft, and even their being rounded up – but that most of them did not know of the extermination and were horrified when they learned. Of course, I could be wrong, and I'll let you know.

One of the first insights I received in trying to understand what had gone through the German citizens’ minds I got from reading Albert Speers’ Inside the Third Reich. I think I read it in law school, so between '81-'84. Speer, for anyone who doesn’t know, was Hitler’s architect, perhaps the closest thing Hitler had to a friend for a long period of time, then his armaments minister (after the predecessor was perhaps assassinated for telling Hitler things he didn’t want to hear). He performed miracles in armaments for Hitler, having what many describe as a genius for organization (certainly a stereotype of Germans, but it was even more so for Speer). Although personality-wise, he was nothing like Hitler’s other closest ministers and followers – not even being particularly anti-semitic in the perspective of his time and place - in many ways he was closer to Hitler than any of them. He was dignified, and not personally greedy, emotional, or grotesque in comparison. Consequently, many expected he would be Hitler’s successor.

But, Speer needed workers to perform his industrial miracles, and he used the foreign slave labor that was provided for him, even at times callously emphasized his need for more (but at other times suggested well treated German workers, even women) and suggesting punishment for resistance. Nothing could get in the way of his work. While there is evidence that when he directly saw the conditions the slaves worked in, he was outraged, and tried to ease their plight, and to get as many Jews as he could for sophisticated work that would require better treatment for them, there can be no doubt that his acts were those of a war criminal.

You only need ask Speer himself, because unlike the other Nazis at the Nuremberg Trial, he mea culpa’d as loud as he could, even though made him persona non grata among his co-defendants and among many Germans. He also undoubtedly, particularly during the last year, fought hard at the risk of his own life to stop Hitler’s scorched earth policy and intended destruction of Germany’s people at the time of final defeat. These activities undoubtedly saved his life, as he was given 20 years at Spandau Prison (the subject of another book of his), instead of being hanged like most of the others.

Of course, Speer was subject to criticism by not only Nazis, but by those who felt he had merely acted in a fashion to save his own life by making him seem reasonable and sympathetic.

“Georg Thomas, the head of the Wehrmacht’s economics and armaments office, characterized him as a masterful liar, as adept at prevaricating by omission as commission. By pretending frankness he aimed, first of all, to disarm the opposition. He then tried to mask the truth with flurries of statistics, profound generalities that at first glance seemed relevant but in actuality evaded the question, and by a subtle shifting of responsibility." (From Justice at Nuremberg [“JaN”], another landmark WWII history). It wasn't just Thomas. JaN’s author, Robert E. Conot, had far less trust in Speer than did the judges.

Even were he dishonest about his activities or knowledge (and I’m sure he was), he also showed great moral courage (although he always insisted he was not a hero type), repeatedly risking his life in the end by disobeying, even countermanding Hitler’s orders, despite still being within his reach and power. Had he been given the death penalty, as he perhaps deserved, I do not believe he would have complained.

Certainly, everyone agreed he was extremely intelligent (although, oddly, he was generally not considered a great architect except by Hitler, even among his friends and co-workers) and it is hard to believe that he did not understand when all was lost, that these behaviors – countermanding Hitler’s orders and admission of guilt - were his best chance to survive. But, it is quite possible, that in such an incredibly conflicted man, contrary simultaneous thoughts are possible. He could be honest and dishonest, a slave master and a protector of slaves at the same time.

But, given his great intelligence, far more so than most of the other high ranking Nazis, why did he feel as he did about Hitler? One answer is power, but, it does appear, like so many others, he truly believed in Hitler. Following is a description of his is first exposure to Hitler from his own Inside the Third Reich:

“Hitler was delivering an address to the students of Berlin University and the Institute of Technology. My students urged me to attend. Not yet convinced, but already uncertain of my ground, I went along . . . The room was overcrowded. It seemed as if nearly all the students in Berlin wanted to see and here this man whom his adherents so much admired and his opponents so much detested. A large number of professors sat in favored places in the middle of a bare platform. Their presence gave the meeting an importance and a social acceptability that it would not otherwise have had. Our group had also secured good seats on the platform, not far from the lectern.

Hitler entered and was tempestuously hailed by his numerous followers among the students. This enthusiasm in itself made a great impression on me. But his appearance also surprised me. On posters and in caricatures I had seen him in military tunic, with shoulder straps, swastika armband, and hair flapping over his forehead. But here he was wearing a well-fitted blue suit and looking markedly respectable. Everything about him bore out the note of reasonable modesty. Later I learned that he had a great gift for adjusting-consciously or intuitively-to his surroundings.

As the ovation went on for minutes he tried, as if slightly pained, to check it. Then, in a low voice, hesitantly and somewhat shyly, he began a kind of historical lecture rather than a speech. To me there was something engaging about it-all the more so since it ran counter to everything the propaganda of his opponents had led me to expect: a hysterical demagogue, a shrieking and gesticulating fanatic in uniform. He did not allow the bursts of applause to tempt him away from his sober tone.

It seemed as if he was candidly presenting his anxieties about the future. His irony was softened by a somewhat self-conscious humor. His South German charm reminded me agreeably of my native region. A cool Prussian could never have captivated me this way. Hitler’s initial shyness soon disappeared; at times now his pitch rose. He spoke urgently and with hypnotic persuasiveness. The mood he cast was much deeper than the speech itself, most of which I did not remember for long.

Moreover, I carried on the wave of enthusiasm which, one could almost feel this physically, bore the speaker along from sentence to sentence. It swept away any skepticism, any reservations. Opponents were given no chance to speak. This furthered the illusion, at least momentarily, of unanimity. Finally, Hitler no longer seemed to be speaking to convince; rather, he seemed to feel that he was expressing what the audience, by now transformed into a single mass, expected of him. It was as if it was the most natural thing in the world to lead students and part of the faculty of the two greatest academies in Germany submissively by a leash. Yet that evening he was not yet the absolute ruler, immune from all criticism, but was still exposed to attacks from all directions.

* * *

Here, it seemed to me, was hope. Here were new ideals, a new understanding, new tasks. Even Spengler’s dark prediction seemed to me refuted, and his prophecy of the coming of a new Roman emperor simultaneously fulfilled. The peril of communism, which seemed inexorably on its way, could be checked, Hitler persuaded us, and instead of hopeless unemployment, Germany could move toward economic recovery. He had mentioned the Jewish problem only peripherally. But, such remarks did not worry me, although I was not an anti-Semite; rather, I had Jewish friends from my school days and university days, like virtually everyone else.”

Keep in mind, the first draft of Speer's memoirs was written while he was already in prison and an edited version not published until he was long out. All that was at stake was reputation, and that might have been enough reason to criticize Hitler, but not to praise his qualities as he does here, were it not true.

Although the passage only says so much, it struck me some 25 or so years ago when I read it, that it was the type of thing I was looking for, because at least it tries to explain what it was that attracted him. And, we know from so many others that it wasn’t just Speer. There were millions of Germans who felt as he did. In fact, it was the crowds, Speer claimed, who really led, which is maybe not as astonishing as it first sounds: “But as I see it today, these politicians in particular were in fact molded by the mob itself, guided by its yearnings and its daydreams. Of course Goebbels and Hitler knew how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audiences, but in a deeper sense they derived their whole existence from these audiences.”

There is something to that. Yes, there were Germans who were appalled by Hitler and Nazism, and many learned to be silent about it.  But the connection between Hitler and Germans seems to surpass any other I have known of in modern times. If we ever listen to Hitler now, it is for laughs. Particularly to non-German speakers, his mannerisms and passions now seem obviously pathological, even ridiculous to us. Yet, he connected with the German people on a deep and personal level and many who served him long suffered conflicting feelings even after they learned everything.

“Underrating Hitler has become a norm, less for historians of course than for the media, but it is the media which largely informs the public. It has never been quite clear why so many intelligent people find it more comforting to deprecate Hitler’s manic gifts than to view them with awe. But he was by no means only manic--as already said, he could also be intelligent and be considerate in his more personal relations. Certainly all those who lived around him were keenly aware of his exceptional capacity for compartmentalizing. Hitler would no more have had the ladies of his household-his four secretaries or the young wives of his aides, such as Below, and those of his closest associates, Speer and Brandt--disturbed with war horrors than he would have had the gentlemen of his court, and quite a few of them were indeed gentlemen, involved in his most secret of secrets.”

These are words from Gitta Sereny, a phenomenal and unique historian whose Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth, of which I am almost finished. I consider it one of the finest WWII histories I have ever read, although perhaps it seems so to me because it concerns so much my special interest.

The following paragraph summarizes her lengthy book as well as anything:

“I have asked a number of these people what they would have done if they had known of Hitler’s plans of the murder of Poland’s elite and of the Jews. It is a measure of their honesty that none of them simply said they would have departed in horror. I think several of them spoke the truth when they said that they would have felt horrified. But I believe that all of them would have tried to put it out of their minds: not because any of them were monsters, but because they were totally convinced that Hitler wasn’t, and that therefore, whatever they might have heard couldn’t have been quite as bad as it sounded-not ‘if the Führer knew.’”

Over and over, Hitler’s persuasive abilities are described as hypnotic. Sereny writes: “The word ‘hypnotized,’ describing Hitler’s ability to bend people to his will, came up in almost every conversation about him. Even though many of those who had lived in his immediate surroundings professed to deplore Hitler’s crimes, there was not only a defensive but, curiously enough, an almost pleasurable element in their descriptions of these hypnotic powers they had been subjected to. It was almost as if the fact that they-so few among so many-were in a position to provide such a description made them feel somehow proud. It was perplexing. And with the single exception of Traudl Junge, who had been the youngest member on Hitler’s staff, none of them expressed a retroactive understanding that what he had hypnotized his people into was--however secondhand, however removed--participation in murder: of millions of Russians in POW camps, by starvation and exposure; of Jews and Gypsies, by shooting and gassing: of slave laborers and concentration camp prisoners, by overwork, hunger and torture.”

Yet, despite what she says there, Traudl also spoke of “that tearing feeling of pity, yes, for Hitler too. Even today, when I know of his terrible crimes, I can still think of him affectionately, for what he was to me.” When it was all but over and he sent the two oldest secretaries away, they asked to stay, despite knowing they could be killed.

Speer’s assistant, Annemarie Kempf, who Sereny seemed to adore, stated to her: “I often wish now that I could say that I had by then unequivocal feelings of hatred for Hitler. But it wouldn’t be true; it was never so clear-cut. It was very ambivalent, very complicated. One’s feeling about him had been too deep, life became too confusing, too violent, loud, ugly. One couldn’t really think.”

Speer himself writes in Inside the Third Reich, “During my activity as his architect, I noticed that being near him for any length of time made me feel weary, exhausted and empty, as if it paralyzed any effort to act or think independently. It was because of this that, when he named me Minister, I tried to schedule my discussions with him two or three weeks apart, thereby maintaining detachment from [him].”

Hitler’s hypnotic influence seems to have extended over his closest associates, including those we are certain are homicidal maniacs.

One of Hitler’s secretaries, Christa Schröder, relayed the following story to Sereny: “I clearly remember a day in 1941, I think it was in early spring . . . I don’t think I will ever forget Himmler’s face when he came out after one of his long, ‘under four eyes’ conferences with Hitler. He sat down heavily in the chair on the other side of my desk and buried his face in his hands, his elbows on the desk. ‘My God, my God,’ he said, ‘what I am expected to do.’ . . . Later, much later,” she said, “when we found out what had been done, I was sure that that was the day Hitler told him the Jews had to be killed.”

Himmler was undoubtedly one of the more loathsome characters surrounding Hitler, and it is hard for us to give that credit. We don't want to think of him as having normal feelings. But, Speer, who detested Himmler and thought him mad, certainly had no reason to be an apologist for him decades after his death, but said to Sereny:

“. . . Himmler was a very paradoxical personality . . . I have read many memoranda in which, for instance, he regulated precisely the treatment for workers in concentration camps-so many calories, so many vitamins-and if they had received them, believe me, it would have been enough. The fact that they didn’t get it had less to do with Himmler than with the stupendous corruption in all administrative areas, with countless people amassing fortunes for themselves . . . Certainly he was cruel and ruthless in his persecution of individuals . . . but he did have this other side, and I can perfectly visualize him coming out of Hitler’s office after one of those ‘under four eyes’ conferences, and slump[ing] down at a desk and saying, ‘My God, what I am required to do.’ Perhaps he wasn’t saying it to Christa Schröder, but rather to himself, as a reaction to what he had experienced on the other side of the door. Yes, I can see him having just that reaction . . . .”

If that was true, Himmler was schizophrenic, at least as laymen use the word. It was a term Speer applied to his own behavior, particular in the last two years of the war – almost openly opposing Hitler, even contemplating killing him for a while – and in another ways, wanting to be with him until the end. When Sereny asked him why he was relieved that his plans to kill Hitler with poisonous gas fell through – fear or danger or his feelings, he answered: “Both, I think. I think I was afraid, for myself and also for my family. But I’m not sure that that was the primary reason for my relief. You see, the curious thing, throughout those two weeks when I thought of little else, was that whenever I could get back to Berlin I almost particularly sought Hitler’s company. At the time perhaps I thought it almost particularly sought Hitler’s company. At the time perhaps I thought it was a safety precaution. But later I didn’t think that was the answer. I think I needed to be near him; his nearness and his death were in some way fused together. It’s again that same thing, isn’t it? That division in myself, my schizophrenia about him?”

This conflict lasted through the end. Speer stated as much at Nuremberg: “On April 23 (1945) I flew to Berlin in order to take leave of several of my associates and—I should like to say this quite frankly—after all that had happened, also to place myself at Hitler’s disposal. Perhaps this will sound strange here, but I was still so beset by conflicts about what I had done . . . I somehow needed to clarify my feelings and my relationship with him, and that is why I flew to see him. I didn’t know whether he knew of my ‘doings,’ nor did I know whether he would order me to remain in Berlin. But I felt that it was an obligation not to run away like a coward, but to face up to it once more.”

He also told Gereny that he couldn’t bear to be “on the outside. . . Somehow I had to be in, on the end.’”

Understanding what Speer – and by analogy – what Germans felt for Hitler is so complex, it is almost maddening:

“’We often say that genius and insanity are closely related,’ Speer observed in a monograph . . . “This could have been applied to Hitler at a pretty early stage.” Even before the war Hitler had had periods of mental disturbance. Sometimes in the midst of an important report or discussion, people became aware that he was staring rigidly at some fixed point in space; and no one knew how much, if anything, he had heard. By 1944, Speer said, Hitler ‘often reminded me of a senile man.’” (from JaN).

When I was growing up, I was all but overwhelmed, as were many kids in Jewish families, with stories about the holocaust and warnings that it could happen here at any time. I can’t deny that this has had an effect on me in ways, although psyches are so complex, it is hard to say what character traits, likes or dislikes of mine, I can fairly attribute to it. But, I think for certain some, or at least parts of some, like my deep-seeded distrust of authority and charismatic figures, and such a preference for individuality that I don’t even like to join organizations and even prefer watching individual sports to team games. And, if you haven’t noticed before, I have a pretty intense dislike of partisan knee-jerk behavior which demonizes political opponents and prefers character assassination to reason. Almost every day I argue with people online who, perhaps because they are protected by anonymity, engage in vicious rhetoric. What concerns me most is that when someone goes way over the line, even to the point of calling for genocide, so few people open their digital mouths to say anything about it. It’s not because they are afraid, it’s because they are on the same team. And nothing can be too extreme for them, unless it is said by someone they rightly or wrongly see as a political adversary. Then, the slightest insult or disagreement is seen as extreme and unforgiveable. Yet, I have little doubt, if I knew these people, we could have as polite political conversations as I have with anyone.

I don’t really believe in people with hypnotic abilities. Sure, some people are better speakers than others and have an instinct of determining what their audience wants to hear and then giving it to them with real or apparent sincerity. But, unless the audience is receptive, most speakers are not going to be successful.

And, America is not mid-20th century Germany either. Despite our many mistakes throughout our short history, particularly with past treatment of blacks, Indians and others, we do also have a conflicting tradition of liberty, individuality, and despite all of our political shouting at each other, a tremendous amount of tolerance for each other, for freedom of speech and religion, the peaceful transfer of power, and other enlightenment values. I don’t expect a Hitler to arise anytime soon. We wouldn't have it. I think.

Of course, history can change in a week or a single night. A nuclear explosion on American, perhaps even Israeli soil, would change anything. For example, 9/11 created great animosity towards Muslims. I was saddened to see last year, the great majority of Americans polled, wanted to somehow stop, legally or illegally, the building of a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero. If I were interested in voting for Newt Gingrich, his demagoguery on that issue alone would have dissuaded me. Then again, after 9/11 and during the GZ Mosque protests, there was almost no violence against Muslims that could be attributed to it. Meanwhile, a minister in Florida burns a Koran, and group of Muslims go crazy in Afghanistan and slaughter innocent Westerners there to help them.

To 1930s Germans, suffering from their devastation after WWI and the Versailles Treaty, Hitler seemed like the solution, and for a while, some positive things happened for them. At one point, Speer said to Gereny, “[Y]ou prove that you cannot understand. You cannot understand because you can’t empathize with that absolute commitment to country which is-or perhaps was, as today’s young Germans don’t seem to feel this-a characteristic of Germans of my and earlier generations. When a minute ago I mentioned our ‘tragedy,’ it was that in those earlier years Hitler and Germany were one, for those men as well as of course for me. . . .”

Hans von Luck, a Panzer commander (Panzer Commander also being the name of his memoirs), wrote little on the subject, but what he write was poignant: "How could a people from whom a Goethe and a Beethoven had sprung become blind slaves of such a leader and fall into hysteria whenever he made a speech, as for instanc at the Berlin sports stadium? I believe all people are ready to follow idols and ideals if they become sufficiently emotionalized. Though every epoch brings forth its own idols, the people who cheer them remain the same."

I think of that every time some poltical figure in America is treated like a saint or glorious leader, whether on the left or right. It’s what we need to remember in America. We shouldn’t ever feel the way von Luck or Speer describes. A man or woman, no matter how much we like them, cannot ever be the answer. I don't care whether it's Barack Obama or Sarah Palin. Neither can a political party. The real solution is always adherence to pre-set rules of law and to enlightenment values, many enshrined in the constitution. 

And, I know, some reading this may think it wasn't necessary to point this out and that you've heard this song from me in other forms. But, an awful lot of people out there really seem to disagree with it - to want to find some great man or woman to lead them and tell them what to do, how to think, feel, believe and act. I can be as stubborn as they are.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why I am not a conservative (or a liberal).

I was working on this all week, bit by bit, and it just got way out of hand. So, I decided to make this several parts. This part is - Why I am not a conservative and I will worry about the liberals another day. It was in a large way inspired by Friedrich A. Hayek’s Why I am not a conservative, which was a rather short essay he wrote at the end of his Constitution of Liberty in 1960. It can be found online and is worth reading, although it is a little bit dated. Though he is Hayek and I am just lowly me, I think he wrong - not in his point - but in its importance.

Just as I added "(or a liberal)" to the title of this piece, Hayek could have done so as well. However, he clearly didn’t feel it necessary, as he was much closer aligned to conservatives than to those we call liberals and he called socialists or progressives (the last one having come around again into favor). To make it more even more confusing, when you read Hayek, you must also remember that he doesn’t use “libertarian” to describe himself, although it is the closest fit today. Even though that term already existed, for some reason he didn’t seem to know it when he earlier wrote The Road to Serfdom, his most famous work, and rejected it in this essay for reasons that seem to me more aesthetic, or possibly egotistical, than anything else. Instead, he called libertarians “liberals,” using the English or 19th century meaning, which is nothing like the liberals of today (and he sort of complains that they use the name he wants to use for his group), who are closer ideologically to his use of socialist or progressive (which latter term is often preferred by some liberals nowadays). Then he distinguishes conservatives from conservatism, and, to be frank, I really didn’t understand his distinction. Confused already? No worries, as I will use the terms with which we are all familiar and brackets to make it clearer.

Hayek’s got to the real abstract essence of the conservative/liberal dichotomy. He doesn’t talk about the concrete issues of his day at all there, but almost the underlying sociology or psychology of those ideologies. Mostly, he discusses that conservatives are too resistant to change and that liberals (or progressives or socialists) are too eager for change.

I’ll let him summarize this point himself by abstracting like so: “Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. . . Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments."

If I can take great liberties with Hayek, who took exacting care in everything he wrote, the liberal or progressive moves towards control by the state in response to change, the conservative opposes or too slowly adapts to the change and the libertarian moves towards individual liberty in accordance with the new developments.

On the other hand, he put the task of the libertarian (again, whom he called "liberals") this way: “What the [libertarian] must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move. In fact, he differs much more from the collectivist radical of today than does the conservative.”

In some senses, His essay is out of date because starting in the 1960s, conservatives began gravitating to a broader adoption of libertarian principals into their ideology (think Barry Goldwater and William Buckley) and nowadays, many conservatives, sure of their (imagined) adherence to original principles or fundamentalism as any religious zealot might be, believe that has always been the case.

But, that history is a side issue I won't expand on here and I'll move along to why I believe he is wrong. I'm certain the question he poses for libertarians is also the questions liberals and conservatives feel they are asking too - deciding where to move (or what to do), and other motivations, like resistance or proclivity for change, would be unconscious or perhaps inherent in the way they tended to think. But, it is almost as if he is suggesting that libertarians are somehow immune to psychological or sociological forces, which, whether you are one or not, is a bit absurd. You can perhaps say that libertarians might be among those who are unconsciously less interested in how fast or slow times are changing, and that is possible, but I don't think it would be anything but a factor in deciding any particular issue. Besides, it is kind of relative to the issue. Take abortion, for example. The status quo now is that some abortion must be legal. Without taking sides on the issue here, conservatives believe progress would be in affirming life values and eradicating abortion. In this case, it is they who are advancing change, and the progressives are resistant. And, a conservative wants to change the law of abortion as fast as possible. You could apply this to other issues - certain civil rights, certain criminal rights, affirmative action, and so on.

And really, what good is a general rule about who moves too fast and who moves too slow, even if it is more true than untrue in the abstract. What really matters is what an individual believes about individual issues. Does the conservative or liberal really care if they are moving too slow/too fast? Of course not. Every political minded person is at heart baby bear - and believes the way they do it is just right.

Let me now gravitate away from Hayek's essay and into my own problems with the two predominant ideologies, in terms of more concrete issues. My great problem with the conservatives is not with matters like the economy, taxation, spending, regulation, affirmative action, civil rights law or some first amendment speech issues, all of which I am at least closer to, if not beyond many conservatives in my approach.  It is their views on religion.

This shouldn't be a surprise because religion is the institution normally the most inherently conservative and dogmatic. In fact, were I in agreement with whoever will be the Republican nominee for 2012 on virtually every issue (not likely), I will have great difficulty voting for him based on his likely position on gays, American Muslims and atheists – especially now that Mitch Daniels has announced he will not be running.

Naturally, I am generalizing, as you must do in discussing politics, and there are conservatives who differ on these issues from the run of the mill conservative. But, the drumbeat from the political leaders and punditry and opinions of most “regular guy” conservatives that I know of or have read, lead me to believe there is a very strong correlation with conservatives and political/religious convictions I cannot abide. I won’t do my usual "partisans are ruining the country" song and dance either (and I know how disappointed everyone must be with that), nor will I take the most extreme conservative position on it I can find and paint the whole group with that one broad brush. I leave that to partisans. But, I want to look at the positions of some of the contenders for the nomination, who are, in fact, not known to be among the furthest right:

I’ll start and spend most of the time on Newt Gingrich because, despite the fact that some conservatives find him too liberal, he is very persuasive to conservatives on political/religious issues. Or perhaps he is the follower (as many candidates are) and his positions on Islam, atheists and gays is typical of what many conservatives believe. For example, he is one of the most outspoken on the make believe threat of Shariah law coming to America. He has gone so far as to want to "ban" Shariah law in America. Now that is interesting, because it would be a fair question to ask if he has ever read the constitution or knows any constitutional law, a subject upon which he claims to be quite familiar. Which of the most featured aspects of Shariah does he think are even possibly constitutional in America? Stoning adulterers? The death penalty for converts from Islam? Cutting the hands off of thieves? Marital rape (of which in the not too distant past some American conservatives did not disapprove). If he thinks these are possible, he must state why they are constitutional. No one among the media asks this question, of course. That’s not the way the media works. But, obviously, he would not be able to provide an answer. As he knows, the threat of Shariah law here is much akin to the yellow peril of yesteryear. Out of the millions of cases each year in America, there are only two cases those engaged in Shariah fear mongering always mention. One was a NJ case where some idiot judge let slide a Muslim who beat his girlfriend because he was just following his culture’s dictates. They very often don’t mention that it was - of course - overturned on appeal. The other case only involved a judge enforcing an agreement between practicing Muslims that they would let the Mosque elders determine their controversy. Enforcing agreements by parties to a religious process has been part of the law in America, certainly since I’ve been practicing law (25 years). It is neither new nor a sop to Shariah. From the very few cases of it I’ve seen in the past, it was Judaic law that was being used. Should we fear Levitical law in America, which also includes stoning for things like an unmarried woman engaging in intercourse? You wouldn’t like that any better than Shariah, as they share many features. And, of course, neither could a court legitimately enforce arbitration with either religion's rules that included such obviously unconstitutional punishment.

During the heyday of the Ground Zero Mosque argument he was deliberately provocative, comparing supporters of the mosque to Nazis. I approved of the mosque (really a cultural center that includes a mosque), and I would love to debate him or those who agree with him on what is more Nazi-like, supporting the first amendment right to free exercise of religion, or the demonizing of a religious group for political advantage? Hmmm? Any takers?

He also lumps together radical Muslims with the apparently dreaded atheist as a threat to America’s religions, despite the fact that last year an extensive Pew survey with a huge sampling found that atheists (lets pretend they are a threat first) made up 1.7 percent of the population, only slightly more than the 1.6 percent which are Muslims. Yet, Gingrich, who sounds delusional to me here, has stated: “I have two grandchildren -- Maggie is 11, Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." He should read the Pew survey. He’ll feel a lot better. He should also read the constitution.

But, why equate radical Islamicists with atheists at all? Fundamentalist Muslims have no tolerance for atheists. If anything, the Muslim devotion to the concept of one creative being, omnipresent and omniscient cannot be rationally denied (religiously, certainly).

And why fear atheists? Is his faith so shallow that someone can threaten it by saying they don’t believe in God? Does he seriously believe that if an atheist does not believe in God, he is likely to murder a man for his ipod? Or that he will try to ban Christmas, which a poll by a religious research group last year found was celebrated by 55% of atheists? If he believes atheists are a threat to Christians and Jews, who I believe he means when he says Americans, then he really is delusional. Thomas Jefferson, who Gingrich has quoted himself on religious matters, wrote “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg....”

And, lest we forget gays, Gingrich is against gay marriage to the degree that he found that President Obama's finding DOMA unconstitutional (I agree with Obama, believing it violates Article 4, section 1) was a very dangerous precedent, despite the fact that it is a conservative principle that presidents can do exactly that - find laws unconstitutional, which George Bush frequently did (his father as well). So have other presidents, even going back to Thomas Jefferson (I do not recall if Washington or Adams did, but Adams believed the president should not enforce an unconstitutional law). Gingrich also believes that gays openly serving in the military is destructive to it (despite all other modern industrialized countries seeming to find no problem with it). But, in 1992 he wrote: “"Homosexuals are entitled to the same rights as all Americans" . . . "what goes on in the bedroom is private, and the government should not be in the business of being 'bedroom' police." In 1993 he voted for don’t ask/don’t tell himself, but then reversed course, and desired to go back to the days where gays were simply busted out of the military.

I have no problem with politicians changing their mind (although it is politically dangerous). In fact, I expect and appreciate it. What bothers me about Gingrich is that he doesn’t own up to it, but often has a made up reason for doing so, as he recently did over the Libya invasion and even insurance mandates (2007 op ed) – “Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.” An “individual mandate,” he added, should be applied “when the larger health-care system has been fundamentally changed” and 2008 in his own book “Real Change”. And, against the bailouts in 2008, he reversed course in a week, saying he supported it, claiming it was now a better bill (only $700 billion – so much better. Oh brother). Just say I changed my mind. It will even go down smoother with your own followers.

But, enough on beating up on Gingrich, which is just too easy. Tim Pawlenty I feel sorry for, as he is desperately trying to whip up some support from the conservative base, but he has done it by jumping on the easy red meat issues. Supporting (or, I guess, not to be opposed to) the Ground Zero Mosque was unpatriotic, he said. Ironically, he had previously set up a Shariah compliant mortgage program (which just really means something to do with interest – Orthodox Jews have also found a legal end round to interest on loans) in Minnesota, and then realizing it was political death in the Republican primaries, canceled it. I’m not even sure if I’m for the program because I don’t know enough about it, but, canceling it for political purposes was a craven act if there ever was one. He came out heavily against the repeal of don’t ask/don’t tell as if had been a repeal of the declaration of war against Germany and Japan (okay, okay, that's hyperbole) and said he would repeal it. He also vetoed a gay marriage bill. He recently said “The Constitution was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith.” He should read his James Madison. It was both.

And, the supposed front-runner, particularly with Mike Huckabee out of the picture (I’ve been saying he wouldn't run for many months – I thought it was pretty obvious), Mitt Romney first said there weren’t enough Muslims in America to justify a cabinet position for one, but, then made a pretty quick backtrack, saying he had no ethnic quotas and would treat people based on merit. That’s the right answer. Too bad it wasn’t his first and real one. He’s in a tougher position than the others, being an ethnic minority himself, one disliked by some other Christians. He is against gay marriage (but really just the use of the word) and was in favor of gays in the military, but is now against it – one of his well known flip-flops.

I am quite disappointed that Mitch Daniels has determined not to run as he was by far my favorite of the possible Republican candidates, and though he has some positions I don’t agree with, at least he is generally not the demonizer that Gingrich or some of the others are. He did say that “atheism leads to brutality,” which made he unhappy, but he was talking about the cruelties of communism (I could use centuries of religious extremism to date if I wanted to suggest the opposite) and I am not sure he would not qualify it if questioned closely (as if that ever happens in the media), opposes gay marriage and I believe also the repeal of don’t ask/don’t tell, but also said he had enormous respect for those on the opposite sides of the issue (which would have really hurt him in the Iowa caucuses and the debates). He also does not engage in the mudslinging at Muslim-Americans. He actually is third generation Arab-American himself and on May 4th received an award from the Arab-American Institute for focusing on the economy and avoiding anti-Arab and Muslim invective. That wouldn’t have helped him win the nomination either.

And, aside from the political/religious reasons, conservatives are as subject to all the hypocrisy, tunnel vision and outright flummery of their counterparts on the left. I'm not sure which is worse, the intentional or unintentional aspects of it. It might not matter, as whatever mental processes cloud the minds of partisans, often makes them unaware of just how biased they are being. I will give an example from this week, which I believe was unintentional and happened right before my eyes.

I was speaking with a self-described conservative (and I agree with her designation). She mentioned that she had read that Bobby Kennedy had had many affairs. I said I wouldn’t know, but could she name any women with whom he had affairs? She said Marilyn Monroe, for one, which I have researched a little (yeah, I was just, you know, curious) and it has certainly never been proven to me (not that many haven’t taken a shot at it – also that he had her murdered or murdered her himself). She could not name any others but was emphatic that there had been. She could not state any evidence, except - you know the Kennedy’s - of course he did. I asked her if she believed the accusations that George H. W. Bush had cheated on Barbara. She thought that was ridiculous. I asked if she was aware of the rumors. She was not. Personally, I cannot believe that she had not heard of it at least in the 1988 campaign, because she is politically conscious, but I expect she did not recall because she could not believe it. Of course, I can’t say whether Jennifer Fitzgerald and Bush had a long time affair, although there are a number of still living and credible people who insist they did. You can read about it online, if you like – there is nothing definitive, but there is certainly more to it than with Bobby Kennedy (and, by the way, in case you are wondering, I liked the old fellow). The point, of course, is not whether one or the other story is, but that partisanship makes us believe that negative facts are true about those political figures we don’t like and not believe them about those we do like.

I never mean any of these posts to be comprehensive (however long they may be), and there are other issues which I thoroughly disagree with conservatives in general. One, for example, is criminal law, which I won't go into here deeply, but of which I can't shake the feeling, after studying criminal law cases for over 25 years, that some of their opinions are born not out of constitutional jurisprudence, but more a conviction that those convicted must be punished irrespective of guilt or innocence, because to do otherwise would imperil our system of order and justice - which is more dangerous than punishing some innocent people to them. Possibly it is also in cases a conviction that those convicted of crimes by a jury are almost certainly guilty, and the legal system is not meant to free them on technicalities or legal principals. I admit, this is a pretty broad brush, and I would need to coalesce my thoughts and review many cases before I would feel more certain. It goes against my predilection that the state's high burden to convict (though most often it is easily met - hence all the plea deals) and that the presumption of innocence are among our most precious liberties.

As I said at the beginning - I am not a liberal either, and I will explain why sooner than later - I hope next month - in another exciting installment at, an equal opportunity nudge.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Picture day

I'm traveling (NY) and having had to go through the hell of actually having to work a little and being forced today to power wash a deck, will not have much time to blog this week. So, today is picture day, where I will shoot through some of my favorite photographs, most of which I don't think I have posted here before. Then again, I am not going back to look, so deal with it if I did.

This striking scene comes from a town in Portugal not far from Lisbon called Sintra, and is the home of a number of beatiful Moorish castles. If you want to see the difference between a good picture of a castle and a bad picture, take a look at the boring shots on Wikipedia's Castles in Portugal page. People are always telling me I'm a good photographer, and maybe I am better than I think (I know nothing about cameras and how to dress up a picture digitally), but if I have any talent in it, it is just shot selection or composition.

This shot down into El Tajo gorge was actually taken from my hotel veranda which floats over it. A wide angle lense of the whole gorge and valley would be even more spectacular, but you meet the limits of my weaponry. This was in the Spanish hilltown of Ronda, a fun place to visit. You don't have to stay there to get a picture like this as you can go with everyone out to the Puente Neuvo Bridge that spans it. I prefer the privacy of this which heightens my imagination.

Visiting Portugal with a couple, we went to the beach one day. A small mountain lay on the border of the beach about a mile away. I decided to climb it in my water shoes, and did manage, shredding my shoes, and sometimes being nearly upright as I made the precarious (and stupid) climb. When I got near the top I heard voices, and as I gained the ledge, saw the parking lot and road that led to it. Because of the steepness I could not climb straight down and had to take a diagnol path that led me far from the beach. I walked back in a dry ravine hoping it led to the sea and my friends (no cell phone back then) and that Portugal no longer had any wild animals that considered this narrow channel its home.

This picture, also from Portugal, represents one of the dumbest things I've ever done (the list is lengthy).  We were at a castle at the eastern extreme of Iberia. While my friends walked away, I slithered over a parapet with my camera around my neck so I could get a shot of the waves pounding the shore below the castle walls. Accomplishing it (that's the picture), I found that having extended my body so that only my insteps were holding on to the rampart, I could not get easily back. My friends were far in the distance and I had to slowly gyrate backwards, wondering if I was going to make it. Apparently, I was a decent enough gyrator, as I lived to tell about it.

For those of you who know the name Ephesia only from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians in the Bible (or never heard it), it has some of the most spectacular Greek ruins I've ever seen. This is the facade of an ancient library, and a shot that I am far from the first to have taken. I've even seen it in advertisements. Despite that, and all the tourists who would not cooperate with me, I like it a lot.

I took this picture with a cheap little Instamatic camera in 1992 while visiting Santorini with three friends. Despite the limited technology, out of the hundreds of pictures I have taken of Greece, including with a much better camera, this picture of the caldera at sunset may be the best one I have.

This was taken from the top of Preveli, in Crete, Greece, also in 1992. It took us 45 minutes to walk down to the beach you can see in the center of the shot. It was an hour and quarter to come up and we were hot and tired. At the top was a man in a truck who sold cold squeezed orange juice. I deemd him then the smartest man in the world . . . and I don't even really like orange juice.

No, not the Parthenon in Athens. There a several places on the south and east coast to see them, but my favorite was in Agrigento, where they were not the most numerous, but I thought the most beautiful. Also, if you stay at the Villa Athena, you have a view of the lit temples from your veranda at night. There also was a model sunbathing topless on the next veranda, and it is possible that is why I kept my sunglasses on, but, she probably will have moved on by the time you get there. Ah, memories.

What combination of light and magic makes this picutre look like a 1950s photograph is beyond my ken. I took it in Cefalu, Sicily, where I didn't spend much time, but loved dearly. You could walk across the bay to the other shore, which, for some reason, I find great fun. That night, I left my wallet in the restaurant in which my friend and I ate. He was beside himself with anxiety about it (his nature, I'm afraid) but I was sure it would be there and we drove back the next morning. Sure enough, as soon as I asked, they pulled it out of a drawer with about $1000 intact. I also lost my plane ticket home that same trip, but the same thing happened. Went back and got them. Either I'm lucky, or most people are decent and honest enough.

Just a random shot in beautiful Ireland, which has as many shades of green as you may have heard claimed, and where a perfect photograph lies in every direction. With five friends plus one kid, we toured the island, and, outside of some of Dublin, was uniformly stunning in a myriad of similar, but always different ways. You could not take a bad shot.

This one is also from Ireland and is a shot from a hike taken in a national park. Despite the virulent cold I suffered with the entire trip (and long afterwards), the hike was exhilirating and spectacular. I call this one "The Black Pool," partly because I know it irritates Bear when I name pictures, but also because that is the ancient meaning of Dublin, or so I'm told (not that we were in Dublin at the time, but . . . .)

I love this almost drawing like shot of two hornless unicorns I came across during a bike ride in Ireland. I did not approach as it is well known that unicorns will only suffer to be touched by a virgin. Everywhere you went, the horses posed for pictures.

I showed this picture of a reflection in a perfectly calm lake when we were briefly off course in Ireland. Few could tell me with any certaintly which was real and which the reflection. Time has faded the shot some (it was not digital originally) and it is easier to tell now, plus, of course, I am showing it right side up.


The Irish have a phenomenal eye for compostion, or else, by pure pure chance, they have built homes in picture perfect proportion to the landscape all over the country. I'm going with the first.

My insignificant other and I (she with a broken foot) slowly climbed down a path in Corsica which led to this magnificent waterfall, which a climber had the decency to scale so I could get this picture. I am no longer able to even conceive of physically being able to do something like that, nor do I have the mechanical sense to ever trust a little bolt in a rockface while I tried. Still, I imagine that his/her experience was even more serenely exquisite than this view.

Coming out of the climb that led from the waterfall, we passed a pine forest. I'm not sure why I love the sight of pine trees massing like soldiers, but I always have. For some other reason though, I love this picture, probably because of that one bent tree near the front which emphasizes the relative straightness of the rest.

The southernmost city in Corsica is Bonifacio, and you can tour around it on a boat, viewing the sandstone cliffs. We stayed out of the big cities (big for there) for the most part, but wanted to see this one, which retains more of its charm than the others. However, the highlight of that day I cannot show you in a picture. We drove a few miles out of the city and came to a small beach where the beach between the mountain and the sea (which is what the shoreline is like throughout most of the island) was very tiny. For a while we watched as people walked what seemed like about a mile into the sea to get to a small island. Finally, we did it ourselves. You can walk with your head above the surface almost all the way and it is a great memory for both of us. There wasn't much to do when we got there and we didn't have towels and the like, so we just went back.

The Mayan temple at Chitzen Itza. We were there the very last year you were allowed to climb it, up those incredibly steep steps, with the aid of a chain running down the middle of it if you needed it. When we climbed down - always harder when it is steep - my insignificant other became paralyzed with fear a few feet from the bottom. Nothing I could do for a while would induce her to take another step. Even if she fell, she would not gotten all that hurt. So, I did what came naturally - I laughed at her. Finally, after an elderly and overweight woman passed her stationary body coming down, she got the courage.

I absolutely adore this picture from Mastic Beach on Long Island where I was born and spent most of my life. This was taken from my friend's back porch. There is a little white dot just as the tall grass ends at the meadow, which was a long necked heron or egret.

The Mohonk Mountain house near New Paltz New York is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. In leaf season there are so many people who want to climb the mountain to get to the hotel that you must make reservations well in advance or they won't let you on the mountain (I found that out one year the hard way). This is a view from the amazing hotel which I'm sorry to say, of which I am sorry to say I apparently never digitalized any pictures.

There is one week in Spring where the cherry blossoms outside of the courts in Mineola, New York, are awe inspiring.

There are innumerable pictures of the amazing Monument Valley you can find on the web, and I could show you twenty beautiful ones I took myself, but this one, a shot of the sunset and moon I took on a trip there in the early 90s, one which unfortunately, I partially damaged, is unique and one of my favorites.

And, of course, there are million shots from the Grand Canyon too, but I chose this one of my own which I think is a little different. I can't remember if I shot it at dawn or sunset, when you can get the best pictures because of the shadows. If you can go only one place in America, folks, this is the one I recommend. You will never forget it.

We stayed at the Bucky O'Neill Suite, the oldest remaining building on the lip, built by - you figure it out. It is a cabin maybe twenty feet from the canyon wall. I took this shot in the dark as the morning light poured through the window. Unless you must have a/c, I highly recommend it as a very authentic feeling adventure. Either lock the door or enjoy the people who walk in thinking it is a  museum.

I suppose I could go on forever, but these will do for today.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Stream of consciousness

Here we go. About 45 minutes of stream of consciousness. No reason why. Just doing it. Follow.

Never read Ulysses, which is certainly the most famous work of fiction in the style. I did read Camus' The Fall, which is supposedly also stream of consciousness, but I didn't notice. Not as pure as Ulysses I guess.

There are so many famous novels I never read and probably never will. Faulkner for example, except for the short story, The Bear. My mother was deeply dedicated to Faulkner, working towards her doctorate on him when she got sick and eventually died (I guess she would have been a doctor of English literature as you probably can't be a doctor of Faulker). I always imagined that if there was an afterlife (nice thought, but I sure don't believe it) she would either be living with Faulkner or stalking him. Poor dad. Maybe he wouldn't notice though.

My daughter, Nicole came down from New York to visit this week for about 4 days. She's 23 and a really good girl. I always say I am the luckiest father in the world, because all the time she was growing up (not including infancy) there really were no fits to speak of. I remember two, I think both around 7th grade, and they weren't that bad. That's it. I know some parents who are happy if that's it for the day. We were hoping to go kayaking, but, life being what it is, the week of beautiful weather ended the day she came and started up again after she left - just like that.

The Kentucky Derby was today. I sometimes bet on it, but I didn't pay any attention this year. Still, since I had to walk down to the river (10-15 minutes) to get my bicycle I decided to stop in the theatre in town where they were showing it for free on my way. They had said it would rain today, but it was beautiful, so I went kayaking, which was why my bike was down by the river. If I am kayaking alone, this is how I do it. I strap my kayak on top of the car and place my bike in the back seat after removing the front tire (and, it is a pain because there is no quick release). If I am paddling downstream from my town, Buchanan, as I did today, I drop the kayak off at the public access, which, I might add, is the best one on the river that I've seen, by far, as you are right on the edge of town. Then I drive to Arcadia where I am going to get off the river, about 6 miles downstream. I take my bike out of the car, put back on the tire, and ride/walk back to Buchanan. I walk part of the way because there are two very long steep hills that this old man cannot handle. My heart beats too fast and I start heating up. So, I get off. However the last mile and a half or so is almost completely downhill, except one short part where it is fairly level.

I know I got off track - Kentucky Derby. So, I walked down to the town towards the theatre, which is one of the those real old looking ones, that is fairly well preserved. They show second run movies (out on DVD) or old ones, or sometimes have things like a blue grass festival or talent show. I've gone only twice since I moved here three plus years ago; the first time to see Hope and Crosby in one of the Road movies - not as funny as I remembered - and, coincidentally, last night, with my daughter, to see Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder in The Dilemma, which was a fairly decent - not great - romantic comedy. I used to not be able to stand Vince Vaughn, but he has grown on me. He always plays Vince Vaughn, which doesn't mean he isn't a good comic. After all, Kevin James pretty much always plays his one character, and that is really fairly typical of comics in general, even actors. Anyway, a young guy with a small role, Channing Tatum stole the movie in my opinion. It actually raised an interesting dilemma which is hard to solve. What if you find out your best friend, or just someone you are close to, is being cheated on by their spouse. Do you tell? We all know what might happen if you do. They'll shoot the messenger, think you are lying, or trying to hurt them. Still, you might feel obligated to do it anyway, or, as here, give the offending party a choice - them or you. Either way you probably lose. And, of course, there are complications. Like, how do you know what their arrangement is - express or implicit? Maybe they know but don't want to believe it or acknowledge it. Maybe they are better off in the marriage and just getting cheated on.

Here are the factors I'd look at if trying to decide.
Are you sure?
Which of the two is more of your friend? Or are you close to both of them?
Have you ever tried telling your friend something before they didn't want to hear? What was their reaction?  How likely is this going to be a big mistake on your part?
How certain are you that they don't have what you might think is a good reason (that's obviously subjective - one man/woman's good reason is another man/woman's cheating). In The Dilemma there were actually other circumstances which I thought made some difference, but, no one in the movie seemed to think so (of course, it is a movie).
Are you biased in inclination because of your sex? My experience is, men tend to sympathize with men and women with women. Maybe that's human nature.

Let's face it. No matter what you do, you lose.

Yeah, I know - Kentucky Derby. So, I walked down to the town and coincidentally ran into Howard and Liz as I passed the post office. They are an older married couple, 75 and 61, who are among my best friends and my frequent breakfast companians at the best "diner" (as we would call it in New York) around - astonishingly cheap with plentiful food and endless coffee. We sit around a few times a week for about two hours, Howard and I trying to one up each other with cheap shots and ridiculous arguments, or watching (and mocking) Howard as he does the crossword puzzle. Liz seems to find us very amusing, and I have to admit, sometimes strangers sitting at nearby tables do too. It is the kind of place with many regulars, where people who go get themselves coffee walk around to all the tables with the pot (not me, too shy), and where the owner, Debbie, rules the roost in a very pleasant way. Anyway, it is one of the few places left that Howard hasn't been thrown out of for teasing the staff or owners, and I think he knows better than to do it there.

So, anyway, Howard and Liz drove me the last 100 yards or so to the theatre where I got out and went in, just in time for the Derby, which was won by a horse named Animal Kingdom, who came from behind and the outside to outsprint the leaders down the stretch. Not a bad race. I was only in there for five minutes, the highlight - other than the race - being when the commentator mentioned that one of the jockies (maybe all, for all I know), wore 9 pair of goggles, which he would discard as they got clouded with dirt. I did not know that.

After than, I walked down to the river, which was really only about two or three minutes walk. And, of course, it started raining. So, I road my bike back in the rain. Fortunately, if you take Lowe Street, it is down hill most of the way too until you get to the long street leading up to mind. I had to walk that too - in the rain. Story of my life. There was a wonderful book, later made into a radio series in Britain, and then a movie here, called a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by a deceased writer named Douglas Adams. It is silly stuff, but I thought very creative and funny. Anyway, there was a character in the book who, unbeknownst to himself, was a rain god. He just found it unfortunate (and depressing) that wherever he was, it rained. I have sometimes thought I may have a bit of the rain god in me too, although I have been rather lucky on most vacations.

The kayak trip, by the way, was fantastic. The weather was perfect for me - about 70-75 degrees, with some cloud coverage, as I'm not a big sun worshipper. The water was pretty cold, and you can't help but get splashed a little, but it was still warm enough to go in just a bathing suit. There was one place, where the river is cut in two by an island, and the left side has class 2 rapids. It travels in an arc around the island back to the main stream. You have a choice, you can punch through the really fast rapid current with big waves and stay on a little tributary for a bit, or - the one I took - follow the current around the arc and try and straighten yourself out suddenly when you come back to the main stream. When you hit it, you are being propelled in two directions at once and I really strained myself so that I did not tip over. Honestly, I don't know how I avoided it. When I got to the take out, a young woman was there with her labarador (she had a life vest). She was throwing sticks into the water for the lab to retrieve (she is a retriever, after all). If the stick didn't go far, the lab would rush in and get it. If she threw it more than ten feet, the lab would turn and look at her and say (I'm sure), "Seriously, that water is really cold. You go get it." Somehow, it was fairly comical.

And, I saw a heron - a familiar site I see almost each time I go - fly away with a little fish - which I've only seen twice - the first time by an osprey on the Potomac river, and now. I also saw my first owl. Here's the list of the animals I've seen on the river that I can identify.

Snapping turtles - they lay on top of logs or down trees, one on top of the other in a chain, but fling themselves into the water when you come close. Some are pretty big with shells at least a foot long.
Otter - I saw two, male and female, last year (and one once the year before). They both dived in the water. The female escaped while the male floated in front of me with his head out of the water, hissing at me. He was not persuaded to be petted by my docile demeaner.
Deer - I've seen many deer down here, even crossing my own yard, but I saw two once while paddling the most beautiful little brook under a canopy of trees that I have ever seen. It is passable only in high water, and it is normally part of the woods around the river. The scene was breathtaking as they carefully forded the stream in front of me in an almost Disneyesque landscape, until the second one saw me approach and dashed to safety.
Bear - I've seen one on the river in the early morning at about 600 yards. I'm sure he notice me too as he loped off.
Cows - I know that sounds pretty pedestrian, but it is fun to see them in the river, where you just don't expect them. Sometimes they flee when I come near, but today one stared me down and I made a circuit around him.
Beaver - I've seen a few. I thought there would be more.
Bald eagle - I've seen these majestic creatures several times and it is always thrilling. I don't care if majestic is a cliche. It fits.
Grey herons - these large and graceful birds are a pleasure to watch take off and leisurely flap away.
Coyote - one very scraggly one on the shore. No, it wasn't a dog. I know the difference.
Monarch butterflies - I know that also sounds pedestrian, but the first year I was here there were thousands on the river. Often the would congregate in mass piles on a little puddle or moist spot. It fascinated me that the dark blue ones would have their own piles separate from the more plentiful yellow ones. Segregation even in the animal kingdom.
Many hawks, vultures, innumerable water fowl, most of which I can not identify and many different types of small colorful birds of the finch, nuthatch type and about 1 gazillion dragonflies, damsel flies (they are different), water spiders (which look like they are riding on tiny little personal jet skis.
Very rarely a fish, which does not sound right, and is sad, but I think they have killed them off with pollution. People do fish there, but they don't catch much, and certainly not big ones.

Heading to New York tomorrow. Have to decide what books to bring. I am one of those people who has to read a bunch of stuff at the same time. Sometimes when I count them up I am stunned myself. Here's the list right now. I won't include The Iliad and The Bible, the first a constant for me, the second too frequent too mention.

The Empiricists. A collection of works by Locke, Berkely and Hume (epistemology)
The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukov. An explanation of modern physics through the prism of Eastern philosophy.

First time
The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. II (Hegel and Marx) by Karl Popper. A great book but not as fascinating as Vol 1, on Plato, which gave me a great feeling of vindication that I wasn't the only one in the world who thought Plato was a friggin' Nazi.
Essays in the History of Liberty by Lord Acton. Other than his defence of the South in the Civil War, is great stuff, by a true politician-scholar of the sort they just don't make anymore.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. A classic in scientific history, it is not easy to read and I am slowly slogging through. Check with me next year to see if I finish it. I have a vague feeling I tried once before.
The Blue and Brown Books by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Popper's nemesis, and a revered poltician that no one can seem to understand. Was he brilliant or just nuts? These were not planned books, per se, but notes from students made into books.
Iran-Contra: The Final Report by Lawrence E. Walsh. If you ever make the mistake of believing we can trust government, read this and weep.
Her Majesty's Spymaster by Stephen Budiansky. This is a biography of Queen Elizabeth I's councilor and secretary (not the kind who takes dictation), and, spymaster. It is interesting, but I would not say fascinating.
Argonautica by Appollonius of Rhodes. This third century B.C. epic is mildly interesting, but perhaps most because reading it lets you understand just how brilliant Homer was. No comparison in any manner.
The Best of the Achaeans by Gregory Nagy. One of the leading Homer scholars, his book is very scholarly and very hard to understand. However, if you are fascinated by Homer, it is breathtakingly informative.
Active Liberty by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The justice explains his jurisprudence. It is written for the laymen. Not that impressed so far, but I'll give him a chance.
An Enlightened Life by Nicolas Phillipson. A recent biography of the many times covered Adam Smith. I'm actually reading this on frequent visits to Washington & Lee University's library. Now that I got a card, I'm probably going to take it out soon.
Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth by Gitta Sereny. I have read all of Speer's books many years ago and was fascinated by his view of Nazism from the inside. Sereny seeks to take the hide off of him as a self serving liar. I just started this so I can't say what I'll think.
Rivers of Gold, The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan by Hugh Thomas. He is a great if little known historian who rights on Spain. I finally understood the Spanish Civil War after reading his book on it.
A Short History of Everything by Bill Bryson. He's a great writer. His Mother Tongue is one of the books I most frequently recommend. This one is my car book, and it is great fun and red lights and (shhhh!) long highway stretches when I am all alone.

I'm sure I am forgetting a few, but so what.

This actually took one hour and thirty nine minutes, but I came back afterwards and added one animal and one book that I forgot. This was interesting, but I am still not going to read Ulysses. Who has time?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Ding dong!

The witch is dead.

I couldn't wait a week to post on this, to say that despite my spidey-sense tingling like crazy when he was reported to be shot in the face and his body disposed of at sea, so he couldn't be facially identified even with photographs and no more dna can be taken from him, and the reports that he was already identified by dna so that it must be asked - is that even possible when it just happened, and when the material could not have been sent by any means to a lab so fast, and it seems pretty unlikely that there was a lab set up for it in the helicopter? -

that on seeing the news I immediately felt a great swelling of joy in my heart, and though not being a celebratory type person, I watched the celebrations. Not being much of a conspiracy theorist either, I hope the above questions are answered very soon. In the meantime, I will presume he is dead and be happy.

Ding dong!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Political update for May, 2011

Things might be speeding up in the world. I finished this Saturday morning and was going to go through it for obvious typos and publish today, but in that one day I had to amend to sections because of developments.

Trump schmump

After wasting everyone’s time for a month or so on the birther issue, he loses and claims victory. If you know Donald Trump, no big surprise.

I don’t know when I first became aware of The Donald (not a bad nickname), but it was probably in the 1980s. He was a business man mostly in real estate development. He liked to put his name on buildings, which were ostentatious but beautiful, and I've gone in “Trump” buildings just to see them. When I became a lawyer I learned from some others who had represented him that he was ridiculously demanding and quick to fire them. Obviously, I don't know his reasons and they may be valid.

I have also read that he or his companies have gone bankrupt more than once, and been close to it other times, but I don’t care about the details. He had a rather public divorce, which mostly served to make his wife’s attorney well known, although he didn’t accomplish anything for her that I could see (they had a pre-nup, which was abided by).

In the past few years, he has also became a reality tv show star (which is one notch below serial killer). And, occasionally, he says he is thinking about running for president. No one took him too seriously until this year when he jumped on a fairly discredited idea that President Obama was born out of the country and was therefore not qualified under the constitution to be president.

Trump kept saying that he thought the president actually was born in America but that he needed to show his birth certificate to end the dispute. But, he’d also throw in his remarks that if he wasn’t born in the country it was one of the all time great scams (and, of course, it would have been, were it true). He also said he had investigators looking into it who were amazed at what they were finding (were they going to break into the two safes in the Hawaiian government’s office which housed the certificates?) He says he can call them back now that it is over (please, laugh along with me). Do you think they hadn’t heard the news themselves? Honestly, I don’t believe these people even exist. If they did exist, they were either completely incompetent or were taking him for his money. Neither scenario is too flattering to him.

He had no serious answer to the fact that a short form birth certificate had been produced, showing that a Hawaii State official had seen the birth certificate and verified its existence, and, even more persuasive, two local Hawaiian newspapers at the time of the president's birth printed notices about it. Even Sean Hannity said he thought the president was born in America. Now, if you have ever listened to Sean Hannity, you know that if he acknowledges that President Obama is right about anything, it must be true beyond any possible doubt.

Sure, even Chris Matthews, whose credibility when it comes to President Obama is as weak as anyone's on the right - just the mirror image - has asked publicly why President Obama didn’t just show the original long form birth certificate. The opposite rule applies with him as the one for Hannity - if he is critical in anyway of the president, you have to give it some credence. And, I had the same thought as him too. Why not just show it? Pride? Or, as occasional commenter Don suggested, because there was something embarrassing on it. But, wondering about the president's motivations didn't mean this still wasn't a ridiculous issue. I would say it was only less ridiculous than the popular belief on the right that he is a Muslim.

And, of course, by coming out with the original certificate, the president trumped Trump, which probably embarrassed someone without Trump's ego and sense of importance. Of course it didn’t stop The Donald from declaring victory in a most pompous way. “I’m very proud of myself,” he said. Why is he proud? – because he “forced” the president to do this. This is the single most embarrassing thing he has said since a week or so ago when he was going around saying how smart he was.

Which leads me to this. I don’t like to climb all over (living) politicians personally (not that The Donald is really a politician yet), call names or assassinate their characters, unless they are really heinous, and that is rare. So, I feel kind of guilty about this. But Donald Trump has always been a bit of a blowhard, someone who shoots his mouth off about how great he is, changes his mind frequently, and says whatever he feels like at the time regardless of consistency. That actually doesn’t make him a bad person, but not someone you want in your face for 4-8 years. That might seem rough, but I’m being gentle because a lot of people would say he was a major blowhard, with few equals. In fact, as arrogant as many on the hard right claim President Obama is (I'd say about average for a president), apparently a good deal of them want to elect someone who makes him look like a Jimmy Stewart character.

But, Mr. Trump not only made himself look foolish, he has made the tea parties and conservatives look foolish by bringing this all up again (to their initial great joy). I support the tea parties’ efforts to get the government to reduce spending, but I can't follow them in their questioning of the president's religion and place of birth. Even with the certificates production, some of them are still questioning it on legal grounds. In truth, it is a decision the court has never made. Being a natural born citizen might or might not have been something that had a definitive meaning to a founder (like, as some argue, being born in America of two American citizens), but, now, it will be very difficult or probably impossible to determine what they meant over two hundred and twenty years ago. That doesn't mean the Supreme Court, or maybe a lower court won't try to define it anyway.

As for The Donald's presidential aspirations, if you consider his flip flops on issues, and that some of his previously uttered opinions were decidedly liberal - Mr. Trump is Governor Romney on steroids. If he runs, these will all be flung in his face by Romney supporters. But, I don't think the people supporting him realize what they are doing if they nominate him.

The other smart guy

Now, I personally think Newt Gingrich is much smarter than DT. I would rather listen to him give a speech than any other politician. But, I would not vote for him. He is way too partisan for me. While he has some positives in his former speakership (ironically, accomplishing some things legislatively that are often attributed to President Clinton), his career in the House led to a government shutdown that might possibly have been more about his hurt feelings than any policy issues, an historic ethics prosecution against him while he was Speaker, and then his decision not to take his seat in 1999, although re-elected, because he thought he'd be hurting the party by continuing on. I don’t think he can ever be president, and I suppose it hurts him every day that people don’t realize how smart he is (or thinks he is).

His behavior in the past two months hasn’t helped my opinion of him. I wrote in my last political update about his waffling over Libya. Last week I watched him on C-Span give a speech to a health care economics forum. As always, he was impressive, speaking of both history and the future with what seemed like some authority. And, then, because I don’t think he can help himself, he took a shot at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the White House’s Office of Management of Budget (OMB) over something that doesn't bear scrutiny. His complaint was that when they “score” something – that is, decide how much a piece of legislation will likely cost to do – they don’t also score the probable cost of not doing it as well. As example, if we don’t do research in a certain area of medicine – what’s that going to cost to us? He'd like them to tell us.

He didn’t say he had a way for them to do this, but that didn't seem to matter to him. It didn't make much sense to me. Which of the infinite number of things that we don't do, do they score? How would they know the costs and ramifications of what we don't do? Even the stuff they already do is fraught with so much conjecture, it is of questionable value.

After the former Speaker finished his speech, a former head of the CBO took the mike and gave a very intelligent, if much harder to understand and less dramatic speech. At one point, he said that he always took Speaker Gingrich seriously, and, when he was at the CBO a few years ago, he invited him in to explain to him how they might go about predicting the cost of things if they don't pass certain legislation. The meeting never happened (although he didn’t exactly blame Gingrich). But, you would think if Gingrich had an answer for him, he would have made it happen.

I haven't changed my mind about him when it comes to the presidency. Smart guy, fun to listen to and sometimes I'm with him on things – particularly on the economy. But, he is way too partisan, too quick to leap to conclusions (like Libya) and has a difficuluty admitting his mistakes (as he did when he flip flopped on Libya recently). Plus, I found his position during the so-called Ground Zero mosque isssue last year to be demagoguery and a deliberate attempt to demonize a minority. No thanks.

The Hermanator

One of the other maybes thinking about running for the Republican nomination is Herman Cain. Some people like to call him the Hermanator. I kind of like that. He’s a businessman (Godfather's Pizza) who turned into a talk radio personality with his own show and who now substitutes in on days Sean Hannity is out.

There are other things about him that I like. Probably his personality, which is grandfatherly, but also some libertarian aspects. He is from Georgia, and speaks with a slow, deep and and distinct voice. He is black, and some people think that would be a good thing for the Republican Party (though, I know some who would not be real happy about it). He’s among the most popular among tea partiers. I honestly don’t think he has a chance unless everyone else clears out except him and Mitt Romney. One on one, I think he might do well in debate, but amongst several other candidates with positions similar to his, not so much.

Unfortunately, that same Muslim issue again comes into play with him. At a recent event he stated that he believes Shariah law is a serious threat in America (sure, some states are going to start permitting the stoning of women any day now) and that therefore he would not allow any Muslims on his cabinet. Has there ever been a Muslim in a president's cabinet? Maybe, but not that I know of.

This may be a position that hopeful nominees are required to take in order to satisfy their base. There is no evidence that there is any serious possibility of Shariah law getting a footing in America, as he claims. Why can't he give an example (I won't go into details here, but the two examples bandied about to support this are grossly exaggerated). My problem with the right in America right now is not so much on policy, as their general antipathy for Muslims, gays and atheists. Although it is said that Mitt Romney gave the same answer concerning Muslims in his cabinet, what he said was actually not so draconian, if also silly. He really said that he didn't think that there were enough Muslims in America to justify a cabinet position (also a dumb answer, indicating that a president should have ethnic quotas). Cain might have had second thoughts about his own statement, as he later stepped back from the cliff on Fox and said that if a Muslim stated that he was dedicated to the Declaration and Constitution, then Cain could consider them for the cabinet. The problem with this is, how does that work? Do all American Muslims have to sign a pledge? Or will there will be pressure on him to appoint a Muslim for Secretary of Treasury who is an al Qaeda member? Is there some well known Muslim who might be considered for some Republican president's cabinet post right now? Who?

Leaving that issue aside, I get the feeling that he could do better in the nomination process than many of the other maybes. Here’s my wrap up for who’s running and who’s not, obviously, on the Republican side:

Christie - He said no emphatically, and efforts to draft him will fail.
Barbour – He already said he was out, which shows he is smarter than some others.
Huntsman – Give me a break. I've never heard one regular person mention his name, and he is probably too liberal to win a single state in a Republican primary or caucus right now. He does not make it to Iowa.
Gary Johnson - Give me another break.
Roehmer – Same as Huntsman and Johnson. I’d love to see a poll of how many people have even heard of him.
Huckabee – No. His life is too good on Fox.
Trump – No. Although it really would make things so pro-wrestlingish and fun if he did.
Gingrich – No. Because he is smart.
Palin – No. The grown ups in the party realized it would be a mistake and I think she did too.
Daniels – Small possibility. He has given some indications he will not run, and I don’t think he will, but I would personally welcome it. He might be the only one who would run that I could feel good about, although, as I’ve learned, eventually everyone discourages me. There have been a few news stories about him lately suggesting that Barbour leaving the field has encouraged him, but these stories seemed based on speculation to me.
Cain – Possibility. Probably greater than 50%. He is my dark horse surprise.
Ron Paul – Another possibility. I'd say 50-50. He also might do better than expected if he goes in it.
Santorum – Very small possibility. I’m leaning no as I think he will garner virtually no support and wrap it up before the primaries.
Pawlenty – A strong possibility but he would not last past Iowa, if he gets that far. Why do I feel a little sorry for this guy? Maybe it’s because he seems to want it so much.
Bachmann – Possible. I’m leaning no. She would not get past New Hampshire.
Romney – Yes. Of course he is going to run. He’s never really stopped. In fact, since my first draft, he has actually quietly announced. Despite sometimes getting outpolled, I beleive he is the acknowledged front runner or guy to beat.

Egypt Schmegypt

Last month I wrote a little about life after Mubarak in Egypt. I’m not alone in wondering just what we are going to get with him gone. We know this now - Egypt is opening their border with the Gaza strip and no longer will enforce the embargo on their side. That would seem to open up the possibility of a lot more weapon smuggling into Gaza. This is not a sign that the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over, as the military is still in charge. But, it is a reflection of popular opinion.

They are also resuming normal diplomatic relations with Iran. Both of these things, of course, are irritants to the U.S. and Israel.

I’m not positive that Egypt's move is necessarily the best thing for Hamas, though it may seem so at first blush. Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt still in effect, and therefore it seems highly unlikely they will do an end run around Gaza, take Egyptian land, and seal the border that way. That would definately mean war, and I doubt even the U.S. would accept that from Israel. However, Egypt's actions might mean that if Israel feels substantially less secure, their crackdowns in Gaza will be more severe than in the past. Personally, I am for very forceful counterattacks by Israel when attacked by Gaza. But, overall, this move by Egypt makes war more likely, and few are for that.

One of the reasons cited for Egypt's change of position with regard to Gaza is that Israel continues to build in the West Bank. I can’t disagree with them on that. I can't say it enough. They should get out for their own good. It keeps them less secure and without moral superiority.

In any event, Egpt's action probably gives us a good idea what we will get in Libya too, if the rebellion is even successful in ending Qaddafi’s regime. Which brings me to another topic where I may be outside the consensus.

Assassinations schmussassination

I had to rewrite this section because of the assassination attempt yesterday.

The leaders of the world understand that they are more secure themselves if they agree not to try and kill off each other. Even Israel makes an effort not to kill Hamas' prime minister, and they don't even recognize him as legitimate. This idea makes the world a lot safer for people like our president and the prime minister of Britain, but also for every tyrant and dictator out there. Why shouldn’t we kill the heads of countries with which we are at war? Why is it okay to kill a lowly soldier but not them. Get past the fact that - wouldn’t it be nice if no one had to kill anyone in a war. When we are in one, being too nice often leads to more trouble and more deaths. Killing the leaders is the best way to end a war. Not doing so means that more regular Joes and Mohammads are going to be killed, both in the military and among civilians.

NATO has tried to take out Qaddafi more than once recently, and it seems that to some degree they are now acknowledging that they are going after him deliberately (maybe because it is so obvious). Lybia, of course, complained bitterly about this as did Saddam. I’m against our involvement in the war to begin with, but if that is what we are doing, then we should try and end it as swiftly as possible, as it will save more lives in the long run. So good for NATO. And, if this makes our leaders less secure, that is too bad. It’s not like other people aren’t trying to kill them anyway or that the have to increase security for themselves.

Of course, I doubt Q is sunning himself on the palace roof any more, so taking him out might possibly mean boots on the ground. Just what we were told wasn’t going to happen. As long as it is not our guys. We are busy elsewhere.

Supervisors schmupervisors

About 8 years ago, I started a horrific job working for an insurance company (worse job I ever had for a number of reasons). As I was getting to know the people in the office, I stated during a lunch that based on my experience, the higher up someone was in an insurance company's legal department, the more incompetent and out of touch they were with practicing law. Their involvement with any particular case usually meant trouble for us, rather than our adversaries. My opinion met with general consternation and criticism from my co-workers. But, sometime after I was there maybe a year, some of them who had vehemently disagreed with me, were now in complete agreement.

This isn't just true with lawyers. It is generally true. It's not that those in management have a lower IQ on the average than regular workers. But, when it comes to the nitty gritty, they are often just not in practice (if they ever were) and sometimes unaware of what is really going on. Often the are pressured to do something because their boss wants it so, and they just don't care if it really works out well. And, sometimes they are dealing with what they want to be the case, rather than what is the case.

Of course, it may just be human nature, or possibly just cultural, that we (the general “we”) seem to assume that because someone is higher up in an organization, they are better than someone below them in what they do anyway, despite common experience telling us this isn't so.

I’m raising this issue here because of a story I heard on the news recently that made me shake my head. There has been a great deal of coverage lately about air traffic controllers who have been caught sleeping on the job. Having fallen asleep at work more than once in my life myself, I asked a friend who was a controller for many years if that wasn’t in fact quite common. I knew the answer, but asked anyway. He said, of course it was. He had fallen asleep many times himself and it was, in fact, more the rule than the exception.

So, last week when Michelle Obama was on an airplane that came within 3 miles of another airplane, all hell broke loose, and now, the controller on the ground for her has to be a supervisor. When they announced this, I went back to my friend and asked him if that wasn’t making it more, rather than less, dangerous. Now, I have to add, my friend is someone whose schtick is disagreeing with everything you say for fun. And, he had also been a supervisor for a long time, which you might think would bias him in their favor. Yet, he couldn’t agree with me more. He said the supervisors are out of practice and are much less competent than the rank and file in actually being air traffic controllers.

So, why do we have supervisors now taking over when the president (long the case) and now the First Lady's plane is landing? The reason is, that most people are more contented with authority figures in control, and expect they do a better job, regardless of the truth of the matter. My bet is, when Air Force One or the first lady's plane is approaching or taking off, the supervisor in control is really just present, and a regular every day controller is the one actually handling it. It only makes sense, because a controller has to know where all the planes are, not just one.

Perception will, naturally, trump reality. As I never tire of saying – the whole world runs on incompetence and fraud. This is just one more example.

Budget schmudget

Like in all political issues, most people seem happy to line up behind whichever political party or ideology they happen to identify with no matter what the issue and no matter whether they know much about the subject. I complain about this so often, I imagine you are sick of hearing it. But, I'll stop complaining when most people stop doing it.

Opinions about the budget and deficit are no different from the general rule. I generally was in favor of the Paul Ryan budget for 2012 because someone finally, after all these years, took the deficit seriously, and tried to reckon with our impending doom if we kept going. He also touched third rails of politics like Social Security and Medicaid/care. Although I'm sure I've watched more debate on this than most, I can't pretend I really know the details either. I am aware of the Democrat/liberal criticism of the Ryan budget (which has passed the House), and I do not dismiss it out of hand. There may be a better way to do it.

After Rep. Ryan came out with his budget, then President Obama came out with his budget, which cut less, but was also claimed to fall less upon “Main Street's” shoulders than the Ryan budget did. Then Senator Paul Rand came out with his plan, which was more severe than the Ryan budget version. Now, the so-called “Gang of Six,” that is, six senators from across the ideological spectrum, are supposedly coming out with their own plan, which is supposed to be a compromise.

I know that I want severe cuts, but I also know that making decisions on this takes a lot of study. Although I believe this is the biggest issue facing us outside of keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists, I just don’t know yet where I stand yet on raising taxes, although my bias is against it. As for where to cut, there is no way to do it so that almost everyone isn't unhappy. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure that cutting “smart” (that is – cutting some here, some more there, according to perceived need) was the best way to do this. I'd rather cut across the board - including for non-discretionary matters - and make every department and agency operate with far less than they have before. We can always tinker later on.

David Stockman, former congressman and head of the OMB under Ronald Reagan is someone for whom I have always had respect. During the so-called Reagan Revolution, he butted heads with the president a couple of times, got “called to the woodshed” by him at least once for openly being critical of the administration, and then finally resigned. Many years ago I read his book - The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, which was deadly dull (how exciting is the head of the OMB’s life going to be?). Although he was always a big supply sider, and should be an elder statesman among the Ryan set, he has recently come out critical of the Ryan budget for not raising taxes among the wealthy, which he say is absolutely necessary given the size of the deficit. But, he is also critical of the Obama budget because it doesn’t raise taxes on the middle class, which he says is also absolutely necessary.

Now, I’m not for our doing anything because of “who” says it, but, he is someone whose voice should be listened to on both sides.

Royalty schmoyalty

I refuse to spend a lot of time on THE WEDDING, but I will comment. I really don’t know anything about the couple except she seems like a good looking woman to me, not that it will make any difference in my life. I never thought much of her predecessor, William’s mother, Diana, who had the last big royal wedding I can recall. I found her annoying, selfish, and I wondered even if she could even have been a good mother when she was jet setting all over the world with boyfriends. As her own brother pointed out when she died, she was no angel (or was it no saint?).

Frankly, the idea of royalty in general seems ridiculous to me. I've never liked even the pretense of it and can’t figure out why they still celebrate it the way they do over there. To show you how much I dislike it, it bothered me in the Lord of the Rings that Aragorn was crowned king, and that's fiction.

This weekend where I live, is the re-enactment for Civil War battle fought here. A bunch of guys get in uniforms and putting on a show for 2-3 days. Yet, they don’t really live their lives as if they were still fighting it out. If the British are going to make a big deal about one family based on their dna, how about Churchill's descendents? What did Queen Elizabeth ever do that her grandchildren should get this much notoriety? What is the difference between William and Kate and the Kardashians, except you are slightly more likely to see the Kardashians in bikinis.

European royalty, particularly the British, act as if they are characters at Disney World who keep their costumes on when they go home. They are embarrassingly rich on the public's pound. They live in castles. They have weddings where people pretend that the brides are Snow White and the goofy groom is Prince Valiant.

I turned on the tv the other day. Watched C-Span a bit (which I am grateful to say - did not cover it) and then went down the channels to find that all of the cable news channels were covering it. You would have thought Joe Scarborough was born in Buckingham Palace, he was so excited.

In the couple of minutes I watched, more from disgust, I heard more than once just how "discreet" Kate was when they had briefly broken up, that she didn't write a tell all book. So, we've turned something someone is not supposed to do - a snitch on a former boyfriend, and elevated it to a sign of greatness. But, if she had a normal wedding and gave the other million pounds they spent, or whatever it cost, to charity, I'd be a lot more impressed with her.

And I don’t know about you, but it makes my skin crawl when the bride is referred to as a "commoner". then again, the Queen game him a dukeship and she became a duchess - which may be worse.

I know, some people, even Americans, love the whole idea, and it doesn’t make them bad people, but I wonder what they are celebrating exactly. If it is heritage, why do they have to focus on this one family? Why don’t they have performers playing royalty, and they can switch roles on and off every few years? There are certainly actors and actresses who might make better royalty than actual royalty. Brad and Angelina might make people happy for awhile, for example (although, probably not Jennifer Aniston).

Some bishop in Britain - I don't know his name, who has now grudgingly apologized, predicted their divorce within 7 years. I don’t know the first thing about William other than he was in the military for a while (but was very carefully protected) and I believe served in Afghanistan. For all I know, he is the single greatest guy in the universe. But, just like when a woman marries a celebrity of any stripe (even if she is also a celebrity), I think that if and when he cheats on her, she can’t really complain very much. It isn’t that she deserves to be cheated on anymore than anyone else, but it is like the well known story of the frog and the scorpion. This is the version I'm most familiar with:

One day a scorpion came to a river it wanted to cross. He couldn’t swim, so he asked a frog that was passing by if he would carry him on his back.

The frog said that he would carry him if the scorpion promised not to sting him.
The scorpion promised, saying, “If I sting you, then I would die too.”
So, the scorpion got on his back and the frog started swimming across the water.
Halfway across, the scorpion stung him.
The frog, before he went under, said “Why did you do that? Now we are both going to die.”
And the scorpion replied, “I couldn’t help it. It’s my nature.”

If you are going to marry a scorpion, expect to be stung.

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 . . . .