Monday, July 25, 2011

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

On May 23, 2011, I posted my Why I am not a conservative (or a liberal). Because of the length of it, I decided to concentrate on the conservatives and this is the follow up on liberals.

Let me put this in perspective first. A few months ago I was taking off on Friedrich Hayek’s essay Why I am not a conservative published in 1960 and will now summarize my essay in one paragraph at super speed. In essence Hayek claimed that progressives or socialists seek rapid change and gave too much power to the state, while conservatives move in the direction that the progressives have laid out, only slower, and libertarians (who he calls liberals - the 19th century term) ask not how fast we should change where we should go. I thereupon tried to falsify the premise of one of my political scientist heroes by showing how his analysis breaks down in real life, including using the example of abortion to do so. Whether an ideology is for moving too fast or slow or asking where instead of how fast is really a matter of perspective. Besides, no one cares. What they really care about is how people feel on the issues of the day. After that, I busted on the conservatives running for president on their positions on American Muslims, gays and atheists. I probably went easy on them on account of being such a nice fellow and all.

Now, as promised then, I turn the same light on those we still usually call liberals, but who now often again refer to themselves as progressives, and who many conservatives or libertarians call socialists or even communists. Thus, today I explain – why I am not a liberal. As with conservatives, most people really do not care so much about the underlying ideology of a liberal’s thinking – people really care whether you agree with them or not on the issues that are important to them and often have no understanding of ideology or political philosophy. That's okay, but I'm going to talk about it anyway.

As I showed in the last installment why the definition of conservative is not as easy as it seems, I have the same, if not worse problem here. It is worse for the following reason. Conservatives like calling themselves conservatives. They revel in it. And, liberals and independents and libertarians, all recognize conservatives when they see them (although it is sometimes hard to distinguish between libertarians and conservatives). So, even if they can’t define it – most people are fairly happy knowing if they or others are conservatives, provided they care about such things.

To the contrary, without having done a study, it is my observation that many people who independents, libertarians and conservatives call liberal, not only don't revel in it, they do not accept the term. Certainly, anyone has the right to deny belonging to an ideological group, and they might have different opinions than many liberals on a number of issues. That is true of conservatives and other ideologies too, but the tendency to disagree with what everyone else thinks is obvious is noticeably greater among those I see as liberal.

I will use one example of someone I know well for many decades (and who does not read this blog), recognizing it is just one example. This friend has never voted for a Republican president or any Republican except a personal acquaintance running locally. He voted for Ralph Nader once but then decided he was too “conservative” to be president (I’m not making this up). He has admitted to being sympathetic with the platform of the American Communist Party. He voted for Obama and detests McCain and Palin, and spoke of Joe Lieberman in the scurrilous terms when he ran as an independent and backed his friend McCain. He is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, calls himself multi-cultural, is against drilling in America on land or sea, believes steadfastly in global warming, is against school prayer, seriously believed that Dick Cheney was planning on declaring martial law if Obama was elected (again, seriously) and often refers to Republicans as racist, bigoted, ignorant and other colorful names. Yet, and I do not make this up either, he does not accept liberal as a correct label for him. It's not that he minds labels. He has insisted at times he is a conservative. In fact, he has also recently called himself a Communist Libertarian, which must be sort of like a Constitutional Anarchist or The Santa Bunny.

But, as I said above, I recognize that is just one person and he is in an extreme condition of denial. Yet, many others I know who may not be communists, but never or rarely would vote for a Republican, who voted for Kerry and Obama, two very liberal politicians, who are pro-choice, believe in global warming, etc., also deny their liberalism. Of course, I do know some liberals who say, sure I’m a liberal, but I think it is roughly evenly split.

Usually, I find those who I think are liberals, but believe they are not, claim to be independents. By that they mean the same thing as I do when I call myself an independent (who leans libertarian) - that they are neither liberals or conservatives. No one likes a label they don't agree with, me included, but I often disagree with them for the following reasons.  I (or you) can usually tell the political opinions of an admitted liberal or conservative, but you would have a much harder time with someone who is a true independent, because their beliefs are usually all over the table. If we can usually tell someone’s political opinions on the big issues of the day which match those that are usually described as liberal or conservative, then they are probably not independent, and likely conservative or liberal. You can disagree, but I will wager if you know someone's opinion on global warming or abortion and other issues, more often than not you can guess what their other policies are.

Ironically, one of the reasons I call myself independent, which is not an ideology, is because so often I am called a conservative by liberals and a liberal by conservatives, very often on the same day or week. I am not alone, of course, for which I am grateful, as the number of independents have been growing in recent years and there are of course liberals who are less liberal than most, and corresponding conservatives.

But, to return to my theme, I find that those I consider liberal are far more likely to see themselves as an independent, than those I consider conservatives are likely to call themselves independent. Again, I can’t explain why. I believe they are sincere, and I do not think they are ashamed (as conservatives would have it).

Let me play political scientist for a little while longer. Can I define a liberal without reference to specific issues?

I would say that ideologically liberals can be defined by the following general propositions which compares them not absolutely, but relatively to what “most other” Americans want.  I could probably define conservatives with an opposite slate of propositions, but I’m not thinking about that right now. Some of these propositions also overlap.

First, liberals are more likely than others to call for change in law based on changes in the culture, or to move the culture in a desired direction.

Second, they are more likely than others to call for or approve of bigger government and greater involvement in, if not takeover of, traditionally private matters, which includes what is sometimes called central planning or corporatism, and also greater taxation.

Third, they have a greater desire for equal outcomes than others relative to their desire for equal opportunities.

Fourth, they are more desirous than others of protecting the rights of those they perceive as minorities or especially vulnerable.

Fifth, they are more comfortable than others with nationwide law than local law.

If you are liberal  or lean that way, and you are screaming "not so," because you can think of exceptions, there are probably an equal number of conservatives who think I’ve given liberals credit for things they don't deserve.

And don’t think because I’m picking on liberals today that I disagree with them on everything. There are many great things in this country which arose because of liberalism and of which I approve, even if I find the legal underpinning laughable - Eradicating voting discrimination based on things like color and sex, extension of so called “fundamental rights” as against the state, relaxation of ridiculous consensual sex laws and mores, the civil rights movement (the attempt to claim that popular feat by conservatives is absurd – the Southern Democrats in opposition were conservative), criminal defense rights, and so on. I don’t intend that to be a comprehensive list.

There may be a number of answers or criticism to these propositions which I’ll take a shot at too. First, these propositions don’t include all issues which might be said to be typically liberal or conservative. I agree, but that’s because I do not believe all issues which divide the two ideologies are necessarily inherent in that ideology. For example, while it might be said that liberals are more likely to accept new scientific theories, but I believe that includes those which will not prove true as well as those that do. But, I see nothing inherent in the idea of global warming that is either liberal or conservative. I suspect, without hope of proof, that if Limbaugh, Hannity and most Republican leaders had been sold on it, and Kerry, Clinton, ABC and the NY Times had ridiculed it, then many liberals and conservatives might have developed different positions. It is not that I am ridiculing either liberals or conservatives who have firm beliefs on it and who study the issue, but I am saying that I do not believe that even our climatologists have the capacity at this time to understand whether the earth is warming, at all, over a sufficient period of time to measure real change, or to determine whether it is man-made.

I also don’t think going to war and making peace are determined on liberal or conservative principles. I would say instead that partisan feelings are more determinative of how people feel about it. Conservatives tend to agree with wars started or ended by their presidents and liberals with their own. There are exceptions of course – World Wars I and II and the first couple of years of Afghanistan being generally approved. As a perfect example, smacking Qaddafi around was quite popular with conservatives when Reagan did it, but not so popular with them now that Obama is doing it, and visa versa.

Another criticism might be that there are exceptions to my propositions. For example, a conservative might say, why do you say that liberals are more desirous of protecting minority rights when they oppose inner city citizens having guns? Gun rights is an especially thorny issue and I can't analyze it here; I'm just raising it as an example. A liberal might as well argue, why do you say that we are more likely to approve of government control when it is conservatives who are clearly more prosecution and police oriented? Again, I'm raising it as another example to give credence to the criticism, not to discuss here.

My general answer to this, though, is - well, of course there are exceptions and thorny issues. Political science is much closer to philosophy than actual science, even when they use some scientific methodology, because it seems to have little any ability to falsify a proposition with measurement or predictive ability. All of it is subject to criticism and exceptions. Try reading my beloved Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy and see how he builds up the philosophies of each man (yes, all men) he covers and and then shoots each one down. Philosophy is all about generalities. Even that statement is one.

Additionally, I’ve studied these political issues on and off for a number of years, increasingly as time goes on, but I wrote the propositions just tonight based on my reading and observations. I'm not unhappy with that as this is a blog, not a book. Nor are propositions that are written over a long period of time necessarily wiser. But, I might alter my own propostions tomorrow or I might not. Next year or not. I’ve been changing my mind about politics for a quarter century and see no reason to stop now. But, basically, I think these propositions are basically correct and probably a good way to look at the issue.

Another criticism which might be quite fair would be that some of the things I might give liberals credit for should actually be given to libertarians, and I would certainly agree that many of the things that I find admirable about liberals are due to their own libertarian leanings, but I would say that is at least equally true of my feelings towards conservatives, if not more so. What I like about any partisan ideology is usually the part of it which agrees with libertarian values.  Still, libertarians must recognize that they are outnumbered vastly by liberals and conservatism, and that to "get their preferences," they almost always have had to influence or go along with one of the two major ideologies. The libertarian connection is more often claimed for conservatives and libertarians, but I don't know that this is correct. But, I am going to talk about libertarianism on a third day of this ("Who said 'please no more?' I heard that.")

So, all that aside, you may ask if I appreciate so many things about liberals why do I say I am not one. Actually, I was one for a long time. I was raised a liberal and considered myself one until I was in my mid-20s, then gradually less and less until I was confident enough in my beliefs to consider myself opposed to too many liberal or conservative ideas to feel comfortable with either. But, despite my upbringing, at the same time I also had a very strong independent streak, which was pretty obvious, and as strong a libertarian streak, although I did not realize that for a long time. Frankly, these were things I just really didn't talk about a lot until I started blogging in 2006. Even in 1980 I was independent enough to want to vote for John Anderson for president and wished he would win, but, recognizing that he had no chance, I was also liberal enough to vote for Carter because I wanted him to beat Reagan.

But, just as I have said that I more likely agree with conservatives on economic issues and oppose them on their attitude towards American Muslims, atheists and gays, I would say the opposite is true with liberals to some degree, particularly with respect to their economic principles, which I think are quite destructive. By this I am referring to the prediliction for central banking rules that gave tremendous power to bankers via the Federal Exchange with little ability to oversee them by elected leaders (supposedly our system, but increasingly less so), the desire for large comprehensive and often anti-competive regulatory regimes (e.g., the health care plan, but many others) which are so corrupt or complicated and incompetent they might be as bad or worse or in bed with those they want to regulate (perhaps the Dodd-Frank Act is a good example), the preference for taxation over reducing government (both parties are guilty of this, but ideologically, conservatives have it all over liberals - let's face it, right now, who is asking for less taxation and small government?), and, for coercive economic legislation (probably again the health care mandate for those who don't want to buy health care insurance is a prime example and if they had their way, a carbon tax regulatory scheme which is not only coercive, but probably economically destructive).

No matter how you slice it, anything approaching centralized planning (like too big to fail and bailouts) which picks winners and losers and phases out competition is a bad, bad, bad idea. I am fully aware that the Bush administration started some of these policies in reaction to the economic crisis, which were then taken over by the Obama administration, but they were liberal ideas, whoever started it, and are the reason many conservatives now look back at President Bush with a little disappointment (too late, I tell them).

And, indeed, the things I do like about liberalism have in many cases been achieved years ago, and now they go too far. For example, I am opposed to the federal law which requires ethnic or race success as opposed to opportunities and racial quotas (only illegal rhetorically - if you call it diversity, you can do it).

I am not sure that open immigration is an inherently liberal idea which would fit within my propostions, but clearly, the resistance to stronger borders and enforcement of federal immigration laws is all on the left and not on the right (although some on each side cross over on it like with many issues), and I more often agree with the right on this topic. Close the border as best as possible and then worry about who can stay. If you do not have a border you do not have a country, and if everyone is an American, then there is no American.

As usual, my interest has probably outlasted your interest and I'll wrap up here. Next time I revisit this subject - Why I lean libertarian and why I don't go whole hog with it either.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A New York Yankee in Botetourt County

"I really have to apologize," said the well dressed blond as we walked up to my porch brandishing an index card.

I'll get back to that. I live in a wonderful and interesting place. Yesterday morning I got up and went to breakfast with the “kids,” age 61 and 75. Betsy Ross (not quite her real name, but it fits) is a retired school teacher who seems to know everyone in town along with their life stories and likes almost all of them (couple of creepy men – no). She is retired for years now, but has started substituting again and can’t get enough of it. She doesn’t really need the money but enjoys interacting with the kids. I have to say, high school kids would probably drive me crazy and I’d be out on the step pretty quick, but she loves it and knows how to be tough enough when she needs to be.

She is one of the few people I know who is genuinely more interested in other people’s opinions than her own, and I admire her for it. She is a reader and sometimes when I arrive, she is sitting with her husband is at a table with her nose in a history or biography while he does a crossword puzzle. Almost everyone I have introduced to her comments on how ladylike she is. She is a natural hostess, even when out, and gets me coffee when she frequently gets up to get her husband his, and I can’t say I mind. She might have among the most perfect set of teeth ever known to humans and is the mother of one of the most beautiful women I have ever met (but, if my insignificant other is reading this – not that I noticed). Born in West Virginia, she has heard all the jokes about incest and road kill.

Her husband, “Scabby” (a childhood nickname he made the mistake of telling me about), is a retired air traffic controller and supervisor, who was on the right side of the table when Reagan fired the strikers in 1981. He has now been retired longer than he worked. We have a schtick that we developed pretty soon after we met between 2 and 3 years ago. Scabby and I insult each other in every way we can. I frequently predict his imminent death (which would seem harsh if you didn’t know him), psychoanalyze his dreams in the most offensive ways I can think up, and basically call him a welfare queen for living off his federal employee pension. He calls me fat, mocks me for my finances (or lack thereof) and mimics my New Yawk accent (“sore” for “saw,” “warter” for “water,” and so on). Betsy pretty much just laughs at everything we say, and Scabby complains that she is encouraging me.

Scabby and I are well aware that sometimes we are being listened to by neighboring tables, and admittedly, we put on the dog even more then. But, it hasn’t gotten old yet. Scabby has a story about everything, though most are about his childhood in a small Pennsylvania “main street” type town where boys got guns when they were young, his time in the service in Japan, and his life in the FAA. I have heard these stories so many times I can tell them myself, but at least he doesn’t change them like some people do when they repeat them. I often claim they never really happened and he made them up, but he loves them too much for that to be true. Sometimes he will start, stop to say that he knows we’ve heard it before and that he is telling it for himself and then go on. He feels he has a book in him and maybe he does. He can’t spell so well though, so he’ll need a lot of help.

Sometimes Yankee Bill will sit down with us. I don’t know his real name for sure, though I’m guessing it is Bill. They call him “Yankee” because he is originally from Connecticut. He is 64 years old and often rides his bicycle several miles to Northstar, the incredible roadside “diner” (they wouldn’t call it that) I go to 3 to 4 times a week. Other times he rides his motorcycle, and with his German style black round motorcycle helmet, looks like someone who could have been an extra in Clint Eastwood’s Every Which Way But Loose. He has a booming voice you can often hear from everywhere in the restaurant and he's not even raising it. Often he sits down with the three of us to talk politics. Like Betsy, he seems more interested in what I have to say and asks question after question. It is very different than where I am from.

The owner of the establishment is a woman who appears to me to be in her 50s, and who I have never seen in a bad mood or frazzled, although she gets up at 3:30 in the morning to come to work and they close after dinner (not sure if she is still there then, though) and are continuously packed – it might be the only truly successful business in town. She is no shrinking violet though and mixes it up with the regulars, and has even had to tell a few to get lost and don’t come back when they needed it. She charges about 1/3 the price IHOP does and you usually get much more food. I am told she started there as a waitress, was uncommonly shy and then finally bought the place. She's not shy anymore.

This is the south and it is a small town of about 1300 people, but with 14 churches I've personally counted, and I don't think I got them all. On some days, even I, a Yankee myself with unaccountably bad facial recognition skills, recognize most of the people there, even if just to nod at. It is one of those places where people wave to you as they drive by, and here in the morning, they get up to get their own coffee and walk around to pour for everyone else. I don't do that on account of my own weird shyness, but I am offered by everyone else just the same. When we are done, we usually grab our plates and all our garbage and stack it or put it in the garbage. Why not? I am regularly charged $1.50 to $3.00 for an enormous breakfast. The five dollars I leave doesn't seem sufficient.

Later, after lunch, I spent about 4 hours on the river among rapids, mountains, swallows, hawks, damsel-flies and a species of water fowl I could not identify. It has a long tweezer like beak, a brown chest with a white line running down the center, bluish wings, long yellowish velociraptor like legs and a silvery patch on its back. When it was looking for little fish on the shore line it walked along like Groucho Marx (those under 30 just google “groucho”) and partially extended its pseudo-stumpy neck until into an s-shape until it was about 8 inches long. Then, like a darting mongoose targeting a cobra or the lightning fast tongue of a frog snatching a fly, the neck uncoiled and it walked away with a small prey in its beak. It seemed wary, but curiously unafraid of me, unlike most birds which won’t come near me. I hadn't expected to get that close. When I approach the much larger great blue herons that occasionally make the river their home, they fly away like pterodactyls long before I draw near.

When I finished kayaking, I started to walk the 3 miles back to town in order to get my car so I could put my kayak on it. As always, I stuck out my thumb and one of the first vehicles, a truck, stopped and an older fellow gave me a lift to town. And also as usual, in the five minutes together in the car, we swapped part of our life stories. Like me, he is from New York, growing up in the 50s and 60s, but has lived here for over 40 years. He saved me an hour’s walk by his simple act of kindness. I never stop to worry about the horrible hitchhiker stories you can’t avoid hearing and I doubt he does either. I only think of it now as I write this.

Sitting now on my porch a few hours later, I watch a number of other birds go through their daily routines. These include a bobwhite (I think), which is a rather ordinary looking bird when sitting on a perch, but becomes spectacular with bi-lateral white splashes when it takes wing. Yellow bellied finches or blue and red ones I can’t identify, but I think are in the same family, suddenly burst out of bushes. A flock of doves sits on the same wire every day together between the house across the street and a huge Rockefeller Center worthy evergreen tree. They are only occasionally disturbed when a hawk flies by and they scatter in an explosion of air buffeting feathers. A brilliant cardinal I sometimes think of as Will Scarlett because of the striking contrast when he flits across the greenery, makes an appearance. Obviously, I can't recognize faces, but the regular appearances of these birds day after day doing the same things over and over, tells me I know them. Sometime in the early evening a faun will gallivant across the lawn in front of me; but two nights ago a doe and two fauns galloped from the direction of river, through my yard and then dashed across the street onto the big lawn to disappear up into the woods. Really, it's just great.

A little while ago a white 4x4 truck pulled up in front of my house onto the edge of grass in front of the property here. J, my landlord’s daughter, steps out of the truck all dolled up in a bone white church outfit with a pretty intense white lace needle work, and walks up to me saying “I really have to apologize.” I’ve noticed in life when anyone tells me something like that I almost never know what they have to apologize about.  Of course, the people who I think should apologize rarely do.

J is a really interesting, maybe remarkable person. She is a country girl who once brought me a copperhead snake she killed with a shovel while gardening, and while we were talking about it she said “Excuse me, I have a tick,” reached up behind her shirt and picked one off the middle of her back, crushed it between her fingers and flicked it away. Girls from Long Island can’t do that. There would be a lot of shrieking. Guys from Long Island can’t either (as Bear, who picked up a couple of ticks visiting here, will attest). Yet, despite what might seem quintessential “country” in that behavior to a yankee like myself, she is every bit a lady, polite, fun and talkative, able to bake an exquisite looking wedding cake or make a pizza, create a lifelike plastereagle float with a fifteen foot wingspan for a parade, decorate a gym for a prom and do a lot of other artistic things seemingly effortlessly. Her dad tells me she is a dead shot with a pistol or a rifle although I haven’t seen it myself. She doesn’t seem to realize how talented she is though and I’ve never heard her brag. More the opposite. Her bright blue eyes that she gets from her dad, her pearly white teeth and lack of wrinkles (not to hear her tell it) make her passable for 10 or more years younger than she is.

Two nights ago she had come by to pick up one of her father’s ladders and we ended up talking on opposite sides of her truck bed for a few hours about religious beliefs. She is a devout Christian, very involved with her church, and I am an atheist who for a multitude of good reasons decided to settle in the Bible Belt. But, it was fun discussing our different views, even stimulating. I have never really had an argument with a religious person about my atheism and I am happy to debate it with anyone who likes, but I never expect to persuade anyone to my view or to challenge them about their beliefs unless they want the debate. But some of them are so keen on saving my soul they end up frustrated. It also strikes me that if I did persuade them, it might make them miserable. I do a bit of arguing online with people from all over the county about politics mostly, but sometimes religion, and I wish I could say it was the same pleasant discourse there, but alas. Anonymity apparently brings out the worst in people.

So, what was she apologizing about? During our discussion the other night she had offered the opinion that though she was a Christian, believed in Jesus and that you got to heaven through his grace, she also believed some people who were not Christians went to heaven to because they knew Jesus, even without realizing it. She was kind enough to suggest that it would probably include me, and that she was sure I believed in God even if I didn't know it. I've had people before look me in the eye and say, "sorry, you are going to burn forever." I mentioned to her the position of some religious Christians that the only way to get to heaven was through Jesus and that they would reject her position. In fact, I mentioned that I had just heard a radio personality talking about it the day before (I actually listen to Christian radio down here sometimes while I'm driving, which I didn’t even know existed until I moved to the Bible belt) and he took exactly that position. It was Jesus or nothing. I understand.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, in church the next morning (she was on her way again last night when she stopped by) the pastor gave a sermon on this very topic. J now handed me an index card on which she had written the verse and the message he was speaking about. She wrote –

“ACTS 4:12
neither is there salvation
in any other: for there
is none other name under
heaven given among men,
whereby we must be
saved.
JESUS!”

J and I had actually been talking about Acts the night before in another context when I told her my favorite story in the New Testament concerning Ananias and Sapphira, whose tale of woe I analyzed here on 4/16/11 and which I won’t repeat now (it was one of my favorite posts – I thought I would get some comments, but only received one ill tempered remark from a curmudgeon). In a nutshell though, I believe that Peter – yes, St. Peter - killed or had killed the unfortunately cheap couple who didn’t quite understand the consequences of communism and held back some stuff. She was well aware of the verse and thought that God had killed him, which I argued would have been an unlikely event in the New Testament and gave her some of my reasons why I thought Peter was guilty. She said she would read it again to see if she agreed.

The quote which was the subject of her index card is found in the very chapter before the one about Ananias and Sapphira, and starts with Peter and John, the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope of the NT, finding themselves seized by the Temple leadership who came upon them preaching about Jesus. When they were brought before the high priest and his family they were asked “[b]y what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and explained that they healed the cripple today through the power of Jesus. He quoted a psalm to them, sort of putting it in their face that they had rejected Jesus (although, of course, he had denied him three times himself before the cock crowed), and then said:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

I suppose it is a little gratifying that her pastor confirmed my understanding of the passage, but, my point had actually been that the idea disagreed with me and I reject the idea of justification through faith, as it means it is all God's doing and not the acts or ethics of the doer which is rewarded. It is the opposite of the more new agy “all paths to God are good,” which were I not an atheist, I would believe (but not, the similar "all paths lead to God"). But, wasn’t I talking about my town and not religion? I am so easy to sidetrack with theology.

J’s father is Ashton, although no one uses that name and he goes by a much more colorful and descriptive one he's been called since he was little. He is, as I said, my landlord, and, at 81 he is the hardest working man I know. He was born in the house I live in. Remarkably, Ashton has died twice from accidents, once brought back to life with a shot of adrenaline from his own uncle. This is not a secret, and I don't think he's proud of it, but just realizes it is kind of interesting.

He is almost always cheerful, drives a convertible, a van and a motor bike (no helmet, of course), helped build the roads around here, still regularly plays 27 holes of golf in 100 degree heat and later looks fresh as the proverbial daisy. He can tell you where every tree was on his property or around town since he was a kid, and has as many stories as Scabby, my favorite being the time the mayor ran away with the hoochie coochie girl at the town fair when Ashton was a lad, and how he wasn't allowed to go near the river at night because that's where the knife fighters hung out. We floated the river once together, and he knew that just as well, pointing out clearings on the shore that are still there where he had picnicked with his friends. His father told him when he was young the river was crystal clear. In his own youth (the 30s) it was filthy dirty, even disgusting. Now, it is somewhere in between (but, I wouldn’t drink out of it).

His girlfriend, who I’ll call Michigan, for that’s where she hails from, is about 15 or so years younger than he is, and seems to me one of the most financially successful people in town, although I’m not one to really know. She takes care of emotionally challenged adults at one of her homes (I believe she owns 3), and seems to have almost endless compassion for them and even for people who have done her wrong. For a while she owned a pizzeria in town run by Ashton which she did for fun, not money, and where I met almost everyone I have mentioned in this post – J, Betsy, Scabby, Ashton and her. It was there one day that Ashton, who I barely knew because he never seemed to stop working long enough to talk with, mentioned to me that since I was looking for a place to live, he had a house I might want to look at. We went right away and moving here was one of the best things that has happened to me - maybe ever. The pizzeria closed when Michigan had a health scare, and too bad (although she will probably save a fortune). Then, again, the store next to it and the one next to that are closed as well. Great town, but not a lot of business.

Michigan's best story is terrifying, about a young man who she lived next door to when she was a young woman with children, who snuck in her house when she wasn't home one day and waited to kill her. They found the evidence when she got home. Eventually, after doing some stuff I'm not going to repeat, he had left and went into another neighbor's house. He is likely still out there somewhere and she does think about it occasionally. Brrrrrrr.

Did I mention I live in a wonderful and interesting place - perhaps magical - and I am not done telling you about it (except, I am for today). Yet, when my friends from up north come to visit, most of them say something like - "it's very pretty" and in the same breath, "but I could never live here." I am sure they think so, but I think a little living would convince them.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Political update for July, 2011

Hostilities

I can’t believe that it was way back on April ’09 I stated my belief that President Obama needs to be impeached over his attack on Libya. I believed that then and I believe it now. This is, in fact, a most grievous breach of a critical constitutional protection.

But, now it is even worse, and President Obama is living up to the worst stereotypes of the right against him by playing an Orwellian word game, insisting that the action in Libya is not “hostilities” under the War Powers Act. I mean Leapin’ Lizards.

I’m not going to over analyze it. It takes the same Rosanna Rosannadanna logic to suggest that bombing another country and trying to kill its leader does not fit under the definition of “hostilities” as it did to come to the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture or that someone who has given up on getting a job should no longer counts as unemployed.

Many commentators have written on this and I hate to be noise, so I will be brief. No one really cares. Okay, maybe Dennis Kucinich and Rand Paul and Walter Jones and a few others care, but it’s not many and certainly not the leadership of either branch. The senate really doesn’t care at all and even Boehner doesn’t seem really concerned about it, though he is asking appropriate questions.

What would happen if Boehner really cared – if McConnell really cared, is that they would simply refuse to negotiate any debt limit raise until the “non-hostilities” was over. They’d just sit on their hands. Sure the Democrats would love it because the war in Libya isn’t unpopular – everyone hates Q – and the surveys already indicates that more people will blame congress, and particularly the Republicans, more than the president and the Democrats.

But, sometimes, when people make a principled stand, perceptions change. And you have to remember that we shouldn’t care when the party of a president agrees with him, because of course they agree with him (most of the time). And we don’t care when the party opposed to the president doesn’t agree with him for the same reasons. Of course they disagree. We (me and right thinking thee) should care what relative independents think.

The problem is that neither party seems really comfortable making principled stands because they want to get re-elected. The tea party, which claims it is not a real party but a a collection of people motivated by pure principle, may be little different at the end of the day, when it comes to their members who just happen also to be congresspersons or senators. Those who voted them in would happily vote them out if they are disappointed by them. Their dedication to principle is still an open question for me and the birther wars hurt them significantly in my book.

On the other hand – this might not seem so bad from a Republican point of view. It’s a Democratic president violating the constitution, which fits in well with their portrait of him as an inveterate liar (I mean, does anyone seriously buy the "not hostilities" line outside of some people in the Justice Department?) and gives whoever their candidate is one more thing to shoot at the president. But, since it is Q Obama's actually shooting at, it doesn’t really matter to them so much if he is violating the constitution. It’s sort of like my opposition to the death penalty, which is based on the fallibility of juries and not because some people don’t deserve to die. If it’s applied, and I feel morally certain the person is guilty, it doesn’t bother me as much.

The last wrinkle is the nuclear option being raised up the flagpole by the Democrats – which is that article four of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution states that:

“[T]he validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

Secretary Geithner and all of the pundits who want to extend the limit without making tremendous future cuts, claims that the president doesn’t need congress to do this because to refuse to extend the limit is questioning the “validity” of the debt. This is, of course, preposterous (this year’s word of the year for me to describe absurdities and the like). How not extending a limit which the branch of congress responsible for setting the limiting, has already set, could possibly be invalidating a debt, makes no sense. Congress would not be taking any action at all, merely letting the limit they set stand. To suggest that a limit on debt was the same thing as invalidating a debt - that’s right up there with saying bombing Libya isn’t an act of hostility.

Of course, my motto (one of them, anyway) is Democrats and Republicans/conservatives and liberals deserve each other. During the Bush administration the Democrats in the majority were filibustering Bush’s judicial nominations. Dick Cheney threatened to use what was termed the nuclear option back then – ruling from the seat of the president of the senate that the senate had no choice but to give an up or down vote on presidential nominees, which would therefore take the filibuster weapon out of the Democrats hand. Of course, the Democrats whined about it as if they would never do such a thingwere they in the majority. There was a compromise struck at that time so it never got that far. But you notice now that the Democrats have the majority, it has stopped Republicans from filibustering Obama’s appointments or Democrats from now complaining about it. Hypocrisy in politics is not only a two way street, it is a two way traffic circle. 

Which all brings us to the usual Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle (modeled on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for quantum mechanics illiterates). Without trying to make too close an analogy with its model - you can analyze politics from two different perspectives with clarity, but you cannot foresee which, or if either, will come to pass with any certainty.

Nevertheless, we can certainly make some educated guesses. No impeachment over the hostilities in Libya (unless something horrific happens to us) and eventually, there will be a debt limit agreement, probably in the next month.

The most holy president of the United States

I love quoting this bit from Sam Harris’ The End of Faith:

“Of course, religious moderation consists in not being too sure about what happens after death. This is a reasonable attitude, given the paucity of evidence on the subject. But religious moderation still represents a failure to criticize the unreasonable (and dangerous) certainty of others. As a consequence of our silence on these matters, we live in a country in which a person cannot get elected president if he openly doubts the existence of heaven and hell. This is truly remarkable, given that there is no other body of “knowledge” that we require our political leaders to master. Even a hairstylist must pass a licensing exam before plying his trade in the United States, and yet those given the power to make war and national policy – those whose decisions will inevitably affect human life for generations – are not expected to know anything in particular before setting to work. They do not have to be political scientists, economists, or even lawyers; they need not have studied international relations, military history, resource management, civil engineering, or any other field of knowledge that might be brought to bear in the governance of a modern superpower; they need only be expert fund-raisers, comport themselves well on television, and be indulgent of certain myths. In our next presidential election, an actor who reads his Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not. Could there be any clearer indication that we are allowing unreason and otherworldliness to govern our affairs.”

Even if you reject every other conclusion of his book, and regard what he describes as positive, you have to give him credit for knocking the truth out of the park on it.

There’s a reason I bother to quote him here. Every once in a while, some polling group like Pew or Gallup asks if Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified member of a minority group or similar question. Gallup has been asking these questions for a long time.

The good news is that Americans now largely accept most minority groups, more or less, anyway.

94% of Americans would vote for a black president.
93% for a woman.
92% for a Catholic or a Baptist.
89% for a Jew or for a Hispanic

but . . .

76% for a Mormon
67% for a gay or lesbian
and my favorite – only 49% for an atheist.

The statistics are interesting for many reasons. First, who’d have thought that blacks would be the highest rated of all these groups. Second, are there really still 7% of people who would not vote for a qualified woman? I'm guessing these are rarer older people. The numbers for religious minorities are almost encouraging even if there are a substantial number of people who are so biased they would not vote for a Jew or a Catholic, etc., because it shows that somewhere around nine out of ten would.

The Mormon problem? That’s more than one in five who say they wouldn’t do it and that’s discouraging. However, it is interesting. My guess is that it’s because some Christians just have a problem with the whole Angel Moroni thing and that Mormons call themselves Christians.

Liberals undoubtedly believe they are more open minded than conservatives when it comes to religion and race. Conservatives dispute it, but I think some half-heartedly. However, what can’t be disputed is that while only 20% of Republicans wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, 27% of Democrats wouldn’t. There may be reasons for that I am not considering, but I suspect if Mitt Romney was running as a Democrat, these numbers might be reversed. It is also likely that if Romney actually wins the nomination, these numbers will drop a great deal over all. It happened when JFK ran. Gallup polls tell us that the year before Kennedy’s election, ’59, a full quarter of Americans (22% Democrats, 33% Republicans and 18% independents) claimed they would not vote for a Catholic. A few months before the election it dropped to 21% and about 6 months after his election, it was only 13 percent.

One interesting thing about the prejudice against Mormons – it has remained pretty much the same for the last 44 years. In 1967, 75% said they would vote for one, which is almost exactly the same as now. For over four decades, it has not changed that much, going no lower than 72% and no higher than 80%. And, it hasn’t been like that for all the groups:

             Past             2011   
Woman (’67) 53       93
Blacks   (’67) 53       94
Gays     (’78) 26       67
Atheists (’58) 18      49

Atheists, of course, had been long been stuck in last place. For all the hub bub about gays, far more would vote for a gay than an atheist, even now. The intolerance for those who don’t have a religion is far greater than any ethnic or even most religious prejudice. Gallup has not included Muslim candidates in their polling, but Pew Research found in 2004 that only 38% of Americans would vote for one. But, considering the emotional impact of 9/11, it is saying something that atheists find themselves only 11% better off.

More self congratulatory back patting on the Republican field

I’m still looking pretty good in my predictions on the Republican candidates. Sure, I was technically wrong about Gingrich getting in – I thought he was too smart. But, I was right it wouldn’t go real well. He has almost nothing left. Michael Barone wrote last month:

“{H]is campaign is effectively over, just a month after he declared he was running. There is plenty being written about Gingrich's flaws. His personal life has not been entirely admirable, to say the least. He is prone to hyperbole, to making outrageous statements he cannot defend, to shifting positions without informing allies. He spreads himself too thin, writing counterfactual histories of the Civil War and World War II, making documentaries on subjects such as Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit to Poland, setting up one organization after another.”

Actually, after that, he wrote about what an amazing career Gingrich had. But, I think it is only a matter of time until the former Speaker officially announces he is out or he is seen vacationing with his wife again.

Tim Pawlenty should get the award for “best effort” but his Mike Dukakis level personality hasn’t done him any favors. Frankly, I think he’d be a decent president for the most part, and merely dislike his proclaimed religious biases that so many of his Republican peers share and his recent showing off of his knowledge of Lady GaGa. Two months ago I wrote about the guy with the best nickname in the race – T-Paw:

“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.”

That still seems right on. Recently, he acknowledged how important the Ames Straw Poll on July 13th is in his mind, which in my mind, was all but acknowledging failure there meant he'd fulfill my predictions about him immediately. Unlike so many others who seem to have almost disappeared from the news like Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain, as examples (which has as much to do with the media as anything else), T-Paw is fighting like crazy, with the only Iowa tv ad out, an Ames Poll website, door to door canvassing and so on.

If Pawlenty wants to stay in, of course, he has to do something, but how much does his precious Ames Poll even mean? How much does Iowa even mean? Let’s look:

In 1979, G.H.W. Bush won the Ames Poll and the Iowa primary. Reagan won the nomination and the election.

In 1987, Pat Robertson won the Ames Poll and Bob Dole won the Iowa Primary. Then, Bush won the nomination and the presidency.

In 1995 Bob Dole and Phil Graham tied in the Ames Poll. Dole went on to win Iowa and then the nomination. But, he lost the presidential run to Clinton.

In 1999 G.W. Bush won all of them.

Then in 2007, Romney won the Ames Poll, Huckabee Iowa, McCain the nomination and, of course, Obama the whole enchilada.

In other words, with the exception of 1999, you win the Ames and you pretty much lose everything else. In fact, if you win Iowa, you lose.

Good luck, T-Paw. In the mid-June Des Moines Register poll, Romney snared 23% to T-Paw’s 6.7%. Romney brought in 18 mill recently just for the primary and T-Paw can use only a fraction of the total 4.3 mill he brought in for it. Does this sound possible yet for T-Paw? No. No-maw T-Paw. Go home, please. I'm starting to cringe.

I have to admit, I have been a little surprised that Michelle Bachmann has done as well as she has (whether or not it is really due to her “sex appeal,” as one of T-Paw’s staff members said). Much of the gaping hole that Palin’s non-entry into the race has left, has been filled by her. Tea Partiers and conservatives love her, not just because she is in sync with them policy-wise, but because she seems to have the guts to fight, something they are not sure that Romney has. And, she has nearly drawn even with Romney in Iowa, polling 22% to his 23% in June.

With Bachmann, there is at least a scenario in which you can see her smacking Romney around a bit. If she wins Iowa and he wins New Hampshire as expected, she might still pummel him all over the south starting in S. Carolina (nobody cares about the Nevada caucus). Not that I’m predicting a victory for her, as she is still running way behind Romney in national polls, not to mention the still unannounced Perry and she is running fairly even with Palin. Still, if they don’t get in, that would increase her numbers dramatically.

Unless Perry, who is an unknown factor gets in, I really don’t expect this to be much of a drawn out contest like last time. The last one standing against Romney has a chance, but only if it happens early enough. But you can’t expect candidates to cooperate with each other. Sabotage is more like it.

But, Perry is the wild card now, the one we are watching. If he comes in, everything changes in a way that it didn’t with Huntsman, and even in the way it wouldn’t if Palin came in (and she won’t), for more than a few weeks anyway.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Top ten top-ten lists

I'm about three days late with my weekly post due to actually working and having company. Why do I feel guilty, like I took time off of work I wasn’t entitled to? I don’t get paid to do this. I don’t have a boss. There are more players on the field at a pro football team as there are those who read this every week. Why do I care? I don’t know, but I do and feel as if I somehow let down the world.

Top ten lines from movies from action movies

10. “We’re outgunned and undermanned. But, you know sumptin, we’re gonna win. You know why? Superior attitude. Superior state of mind." (Mason Storm” played by Steven Seagal – Hard to Kill. I live to say this sometimes, but I also attribute it)

9. “Well, there goes this new suit.” (townsman in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles while being dragged along the ground by a man on a horse. I know you think this is a comedy, but it was a cowboy movie too and I want it in my list)

8. “Never tell me the odds.” (Hans Solo in Star Wars, after an android tells him the odds of escaping an imperial attack)

7. “I know.” (Hans Solo in The Empire Strikes Back to Princess Leia after she says “I love you” just before he is put in suspended animation)

6. “Isn’t that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gun fight.” (Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables just before he himself is surprised and shot)

5. “Look out, Little Lady. Hell is coming to breakfast.” (Lone Watie played by Chief Dan George, in Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales when he sees Josey Wales hailing the comancheros who kidnapped him and a traveling Missouri family)

4. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. . . Smell like . . . victory.” (Robert Duvall playing the irrepressible surfer, Colonel Kilgore, in Apocalypse Now)

3. ““Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?” (Eastwood's Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry. Eastwood had a lot of great lines written for him)

2. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker.” (Bruce Willis in Die Hard. More plot flaws pure minute than a bad porno film, but you just had to root for the guy. If I ever have to shoot someone [don't get me wrong - not looking to]I hope I get to say this first)

1. “Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is.” Eastwood's Josey Wales instructing a bunch of amateurs how to survive a fight)

Top ten Seinfeld guest characters


10. Mickey (Kramer’s midget friend)

9. Susan Ross (George’s waspy fiancĂ©e)

8. George Steinbrenner (Larry David’s own wacky version)

7. FDR (a truculent friend of Kramer who gives Cosmo the evil eye)

6. Mr. Kruger (one of George’s bosses for a while who doesn’t seem to care much about his job)

5. Tony the mechanic (Brad Garrett from Raymond plays a crazy car repairman who steals Jerry’s car when he feels Jerry isn’t caring enough about it)

4. Lieutenant Bookman (high school library police)

3. Kenny Bania (an awful comedian always sucking up to Jerry)

2. Puddy. “That’s right.” (Elaine’s boyfriend for a while)

1. The soup nazi. “No soup for you.”

I was not a fan of Jackie Chiles. And, yes, I do notice they are mostly men.

Top ten super heroes

10. Wonder Woman

9. Monel (a Superman like hero from the future)

8. Sub-mariner (much cooler than Aquaman; he almost stole Sue Storm from Reed Richards)

7. Doctor Fate (he had magical powers and in my opinion – the coolest costume – a vibrant light blue and canary yellow)

6. Hawkeye (the Green Arrow of Marvel’s line up and an Avenger, he has a difficult personality and clashes with his teammates. But, gritty, and comes through a lot despite being a mere mortal)

5. Silver Surfer (a unique, powerful and really cool super hero with a flying surfboard)

4. Daredevil (they destroyed this character in a very bad movie – but great comic hero)

3. Martian Manhunter (a Superman like hero from Mars, but can turn invisible and change his shape

2. Spider Man

1. Superman

I never was a big Batman fan.

Top Ten Wars

10. Anglo-Sikh Wars (really two wars in the 1840s during Britain’s heyday, but the Sikhs one of the toughest opponents the British ever faced)

9. Norman conquest

8. Expedition of the Thousand (while we were warming up for the Civil War Giuseppe Garibaldi and a band of amateurs conquered The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies leading to the creation of Italy)

7. Russo-Japanese War (little Japan surprised Russia. Teddy Roosevelt earned a Nobel for his negotiating a treaty. Decades later Japan recreates its surprise attack on America at Pearl Harbor, but gets a different result in the end).

6. Trojan War (I know it may never have happened, but that’s why I’m not putting it first)

5. The Greco-Persian War (against Xerxes – Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis make this a classic

4. Second Punic War (the one between Rome and a Hannibal led Carthage)

3. American Civil War

2. Peloponnesian War

1. WWII

Top Ten Scientists

10. Nikolai Tesla (the alternating current motor, radio, arguably x-rays, to name a few. Contemporary of Edison and I thought the greater of the two)

9. Lucretius (I am probably just playing favorites here – I love his On the Nature of Things, a long poem from the 1st century B.C., it explores Epicurian philosophy, discusses atomism and is more an explanation of and inspiration to science rather than actual science, so if you feel cheated, put John von Neumann – perhaps the brightest of the Hungarians of the early 20th century who helped revolutionize physics. He has too many fields to discuss – google or wiki him)

8. Max Planck (in some ways, his comprehension of quanta is as important as relativity; he also pretty much “discovered” Einstein for us)

7. Leonardo Da Vinci (the renaissance man)

6. Niels Bohr (in some senses a great rival to Einstein and possibly smarter in some ways – we may not know for a while as their great debate isn’t settled – Does God play dice with the universe?)

5. James Clerk Maxwell (the electromagnetic field)/Michael Faraday (classical field theory)

4. Galileo

3. Francis Bacon (So important in developing the scientific method. He had too many fields – law, philosophy, politician)

2. Albert Einstein

1. Isaac Newton

I could switch one and two, but Newton was probably greater. Obviously, this is physics and engineering heavy. Soft science is so much less certain, but perhaps it is so much harder and that is why a Darwin or Lyell belongs here.

Ten best American Novels

10. The Buddha Book (a classic urban almost surreal novel by the occasional and virtually unknown author, Abraham Rodriguez)

9. The Stand (Stephen King)

8. Ragtime (E. L. Doctorow)

7. The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)

6. Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

5. The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammet)

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)

3. The World According to Garp (John Irving)

2. Pudd’nhead Wilson (Mark Twain)

1. The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper)

I do not like conventional fiction too much and my list is admittedly controversial. I think Pudd’nhead Wilson was Twain’s best book other than the posthumously published Letters from Earth. Sometimes I think Irving’s Setting Free the Bears was better than Garp, but I might have just liked the subject matter better. I am not a Stephen King fan, and The Stand is the only book of his I really like (because I don’t like him much, I’ve read only a few) but it was brilliant. Besides than Rodriguez’ family and I guess his agent, I’m pretty sure no one else would pick him. Bear and I were discussing how Cooper has gotten harder to read as we get older, but I believe that is because modern novels are so much more slam bang easy to read.

Ten Best NBA centers
10. George Mikan

9. Moses Malone

8. David Robinson

7. Bob Lanier

6. Nate Thurmond

5. Shaquille O’Neal

4. Hakeem Olajuwan

3. Kareem Abdul Jabbar

2. Bill Russell

1. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt was greater than Bill, who had better teams. Argue about it all you want but live with it. Nate Thurmond was always underrated. I am not a Patrick Ewing or Bill Walton fan. They were good, but not as good as these guys. Ordering 7-9 was tough and you could convince me I have it wrong. Mikan is in mostly in because he was the first great big man and I apologize to Dave Cowens and Wesley Unseld for leaving them out.

Ten best non-musical sounds

10. Soda can flip top opening

9. Solid contact between a fist and a jaw

8. horse clip clopping on solid ground

7. rhythm of train on a track

6. the crack of a bat on a ball

5. birds chirping at dawn

4. crickets/toads chirping at night

3. shower running

2. Waves pounding

1. Babbling brook

Yes, I like water sounds. Sue me.

Ten worst things about Thomas Jefferson


10. The Louisiana Purchase was a critical act in American history. Jefferson gets credit for it but really had nothing to do with it – Robert Livingston, James Monroe and Napoleon did. But, he himself thought it unconstitutional. So, what did Mr. Strict Scrutiny do? He let it happen anyway without a constitutional amendment. Hypocrite.

9. When his neighbor and friend went away and asked him to look after his wife, Jefferson did – and took liberties which were rejected.

8. The Sally Hemmings matter is still complicated and controversial. But, it seems pretty evident that it was he, not one of his relatives who was the father of Sallie’s children. He kept them as slaves (her too) but freed the children eventually. So, he either kept his own children and their mother as slaves for a while, or his relative’s children. But, the slavery was so reprehensible, keeping his children as slaves is only emotionally worse.

7. Jefferson had his scandalmonger James Callendar write scandalous attacks on John Adams and Alexander Hamilton – his political foes. It was justice when Callender, shunted aside by Jefferson, turned his pen on him.

6. Jefferson publicly humiliated Britain’s representative Anthony Merry, which almost resulted in Britain assisting Burr in his Western plot – whatever it may have been, and indirectly helped lead to the war of 1812 by his strength through weakness approach.

5. His war with Hamilton while both were in Washington’s cabinet drove Washington bonkers and he begged both to stop. It is of no moment that Hamilton was as bad as Jefferson.

4. When Haiti became the next country to win independence Jefferson refused to recognize it and even embargoed it rather than have a free black state so close to America and particularly the south. He pretended not to be politically ambitious, but was anything but.

3. His secret writing of the Kentucky Resolution and getting Madison to write the Virginia Resolution while Vice President. He was right on the issue, but this was political backstabbing like no other. There were more honest and better ways. His position indirectly led to the Civil War decades later.

2. His keeping slaves while decrying slavery was a lesson for all others that there was no reason to give them up. It is hogwash he couldn’t afford to let them go. He did not have to live at Monticello. It is hogwash he wasn’t allowed. In fact, his friend Robert Carter III let go far more slaves than Jefferson even had.

1. The 1807 embargo act, meant to teach France but particularly Great Britain a lesson, nearly brought our own country to its knees. His enforcement of it was tyrannical.

Jefferson’s ghost is lucky this is only a top ten list. I could go on.

Top ten ancient civilizations
 
10. Qin Dynasty (a relatively short lived Chinese empire (from whom we get the name China, of course, and not so early in time, 3d century b.c., it was the model for so much that came later and its language was a unifying force)

9. Rome (they are not really among my favorites, but how can I leave them out. They conquered Europe and much of the east, and influenced more cultures in more ways than perhaps anyone else on this list)

8. Huns (who were these mounted archers who could defeat almost anyone, had no written language, and yet seemed very civilized in other ways? We really don’t know. What was their language even like? We don’t know this either. Maybe Turkic)

7. Mongols (yes, Genghis Khan and co. I love the way they came out of nowhere and took over everything)

6. Indus Valley civilization (a contemporary of Egypt and Sumeria, they were equally inventive and creative. Archaeologists have found well over a 1000 cities of it so far; they were practicing dentistry over 7500 years ago, but that is just a smidge of information; I could have moved them up)

5. Olmecs (I love this short lived, mysterious pre-Columbian civilization that was sort of an inspiration for the rest of the Central and South American empires)

4. Egyptians (same as the Sumerians. The pyramids are still around and that, my friends, is amazing)

3. Sumerians (because they invented it all before the Greeks did. You could substitute the Egyptians in their place)

2. Hebrews (if they did nothing but create the old testament and lay the foundation for the new, that was enough. Besides, a few of them are still sneaking around, I hear)

1. Greece 9th century through 5th century b.c. (because we are who we are because of them, including the inventors letters I use to write this for the most part)

I apologize to the Phoenicians/Carthagians. It would have been a lot different if you had defeated Rome.

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 . . . .