Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Political update - early report

My political update for December is due at the publisher later this week, and I may or may not get to it. But, while I'm sitting in front of the computer, let me make a couple of quick comments (how unlike me).

First, one of the best thing going for Newt Gingrich, which makes me worry, is that the so-called pundits and experts keep saying he doesn't really have a chance. That makes it much more likely he will get nominated.  Those guys are so wrong so often they are poison. I'm still calling Romney, but something may get in the way. Here's what.

Herman Cain is going to - it was inevitable and now is doubly so - get out of the race. When he does - where do you think his supporters are going? Not Romney. His best buddy up there so far has been Gingrich. And, they attract the same kind of religious following (which, of course, is ironic in both cases given their personal histories, at least as reported). If Cain goes out, expect Gingrich to take big leads in Iowa and S. Carolina and some kind of lead, or at least a statistical tie in New Hampshire.

As for Cain, I have two remarks. First, what is the delusion these men have that this stuff will not come out in a presidential run. Second, does anyone now doubt any of the reports about Cain except his most ardent followers or conservatives who are just positive someone with their political philosophy could never behave that way?

Let this be a lesson to you pols (I'm laughing because they never will listen to anyone about this. If you have bad skeletons in the closet. Bring them right out before you start and say it is no one's business any further than this - and then be as expansive as is decent. Or don't run and ruin your family's lives? How do you think Mrs. Cain and their children and grandchildren feel right now?




Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why don't we have a Franklin day?

I have delayed and delayed writing about my favorite founder, Ben Franklin, for a long time now, but not just because the amount of material out there is overwhelming. Unlike with Thomas Jefferson, whose character I loathe, I have nothing really original or bad to say about Franklin and the subtitle to this blog says – My thoughts, what else? However, now that I decided to write about him anyway, his having been on my mind for a couple of weeks, I’m not sure how I will keep it from growing like a stalk out of a magic bean, given how verbose I am even on limited topics.

I have lost track of the biographies I have read about Franklin, but I usually recommend his own brilliant, but short autobiography on the first part of his life and H.W. Brands’ The First American (although I am not the biggest Brand fan otherwise). I’ll also expand below on Tom Tucker’s Bolt of Fate, which is a sensational book on a limited topic. But, I’m not going to scare you away from Carl Van Doren’s classic, Benjamin Franklin (my first after his autobiography when I was a kid), the always readable Catherine Drinker Bowen’s The Most Dangerous Man in America, the equally fun Thomas Fleming’s The Man Who Dared the Lightning or Stacy Schiff’s recent award winning retelling of his years in Paris, A Brilliant Improvisation, which was much better than I had thought it would be.  Less interesting to me were both Walter Isaacson’s somewhat prosaic Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Edmund S. Morgan’s Benjamin Franklin, though he might be the best historian of the group (if not the best writer).

I’ve decided what I’ll do is talk about a few things about Franklin that make him my favorite founder and why we should have a Franklin day. Although I think he and Washington, were the only indispensible Revolutionaries, I will not try to convince you about that here. It’s enough for me that other than the ever cranky John Adams and a few other contemporaneous critics, almost everyone else thought so too. Maybe another time. As always, this is not Wikipedia, and if you love Franklin or find any of the following interesting, try one of the books I recommended above. The information I give here is derived from them, among others, original research not being in the cards for me.

A really, really brief and completely inadequate overview

I heard Walter Isaacson say once that Franklin was not a genius. I don’t know what he is talking about. If he was not, I’m not sure we ever had any. Franklin's list of inventions, not least his revolutionary discoveries in electricity, his ability to re-invent himself and be immensely successful at whatever he tried, his unparalleled diplomacy in France (against all odds), his civic work and writings among other achievements, cannot be compared levelly with any other American's, at least in sheer talent and diversity of talent. He was the American Leonardo DaVinci. He showed his genius in his writings and even in his playfulness. I understand Isaacson doesn’t want to be a hagiographer, but, really? 

Franklin was endless fun

Long after Ole Ben was dead, Jefferson recalled his own torture while congress tore apart his draft of the Declaration of Independence (Franklin had been on the committee and helped a little) and his conversation with Franklin about it while he was listening. Someone else less inventive than Franklin might have just said, “Don’t worry so much, Tom,” or "It will be okay," but according to Jefferson, Franklin said:

"I have made a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, 'John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money,' with a figure of a hat subjoined. But thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word 'Hatter' tautologous, because followed by the words 'makes hats,' which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word 'makes' might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy them, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words 'for ready money' were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, 'John Thompson sells hats.' 'Sells hats!' says the next friend. 'Why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?' It was stricken out, and 'hats' followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to 'John Thompson,' with the figure of a hat subjoined."

The Great Speech

Franklin was a very old man approaching death when the Constitutional Convention was held, and if it were not in his home town, he would not have been there. He contributed little to it. But, what contributions they were. If Franklin did nothing in his life but write his last great speech which was read for him by James Wilson at the convention, he would deserve the title – great man (excerpt follows):

“Mr. President:
I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it: For having lived long, I have experienced many Instances of being oblig'd, by better Information or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow the more apt I am to doubt my own Judgment, and to pay more Respect to the Judgment of others. Most Men indeed as well as most Sects in Religion, think themselves in Possession of all Truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far Error. Steele, a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only Difference between our two Churches in their Opinions of the Certainty of their Doctrine, is, the Romish Church is infallible, and the Church of England is never in the Wrong. But tho' many private Persons think almost as highly of their own Infallibility, as of that of their Sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French Lady, who in a little Dispute with her Sister, said, I don't know how it happens, Sister, but I meet with no body but myself that's always in the right. Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison.
In these Sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its Faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution: For when you assemble a Number of Men to have the Advantage of their joint Wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those Men all their Prejudices, their Passions, their Errors of Opinion, their local Interests, and their selfish Views. From such an Assembly can a perfect Production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this System approaching so near to Perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our Enemies, who are waiting with Confidence to hear that our Councils are confounded, like those of the Builders of Babel, and that our States are on the Point of Separation, only to meet hereafter for the Purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.
The Opinions I have had of its Errors, I sacrifice to the Public Good. I have never whispered a Syllable of them abroad. Within these Walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the Objections he has had to it, and use his Influence to gain Partisan in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary Effects and great Advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign Nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent Unanimity. Much of the Strength and Efficiency of any Government, in procuring and securing Happiness to the People depends on Opinion, on the general Opinion of the Goodness of that Government as well as of the Wisdom and Integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own Sakes, as a Part of the People, and for the sake of our Posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution, wherever our Influence may extend, and turn our future Thoughts and Endeavours to the Means of having it well administered. . . .

His brilliance still shown there, even after the great speech.

While others were just milling about during the signing of the constitution, Madison recorded Franklin saying as follows:

“Whilst the last members were signing it Doct FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”

Come on, who says things like that spontaneously? Pretty much no one but Franklin:

The Inventions, improvements and innovations

If he had invented or played a role in only a handful of the following, it would have been remarkable. I include those social innovations attributed to him as well as improvements or introductions of institutions to America:

Electricity – I’ll cover this later. But, it was the hallmark of his great fame which led to his great success as a diplomat. Aside from that, he was one of the first proponents of the theory that light traveled in waves.

Flexible catheter: he didn’t invent it, but his was probably the first ever made in America.

The lightning rod: He invented it. How many lives and how much property did this one invention save?

The first volunteer fire company in America.

The first fire insurance company in America (at the least, he was one of the founding members and the inspiration)

Bifocals (which he called “double spectacles.”)

Refrigeration. No, that wasn’t until the 20th century. But, he and one John Hadley made early experiments with ether demonstrating it almost two decades before the revolution.

Copperplate printing press (first in America). He made this himself after observing them in England.

First political cartoon (you’ve seen this – the segmented snake representing the colonies and the words “Join, or Die”.)

The Franklin Stove (more heat, less smoke)

The Gulf Stream (not that others didn’t know about it – sailor’s did, but by taking temperatures with ingenious methods, he discovered how to map it).

First secular subscription library (at least in America)

First use of matching funds to raise money.

The glass armonica (a musical instrument – Franklin’s was not the first instrument to work by touching whirling glass, but was a remarkable improvement – Handel, Beethoven, Mozart and Richard Strauss all composed for it and Tchaikovsky almost used it in The Nutcracker, settling instead on another recent innovation).

Hospital – he didn’t invent this, naturally, but in connection with a doctor, he started the first one in America.

I’m not going to try to be comprehensive here.  But, please don’t tell me the man was not a genius. By the way, the invention by him of the rocking chair, is most likely just apocryphal.

Scientific skepticism

While Franklin was in France during the Revolution Mesmerism, that is, hypnotism, then called “animal magnetism, was foisted upon the public by Friedrich Anton Mesmer. Ironically, he initially tried to use (inspired by Franklin’s electrical experiments) electricity as a conduit from the stars to humans, then turned to magnets and finally a Mesmerizing personality. When the French medical establishment denied him a license, Mesmer created a public company and raised a lot of money from citizens. The government intervened and created a committee to investigate it. It’s three most famous members were Joseph Ignace Guillotin, who later became famous for something obvious if you read his name again, Antoine Lavoisier, father of Chemistry and one of France’s greatest scientists who happened to end his life at the wrong end of a guillotine, and the world’s most famous scientist, Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin and his co-committee men did scientific experiments with one of Mesmer’s followers and determined that at best, Mesmerism was unproven, but also dangerous (but, because it might excite women to you-know-what).

Franklin did not, however, doubt that Mesmer got results - psychological ones - just that his explanation - that some kind of magnetism was responsible, was correct. Despite the report condeming it, he did not believe that they could stem the popularity of what we now call hypnotism. As he wrote later, “[s]ome think it will put an end to Mesmerism. But there is a wonderful deal of credulity in the world, and deceptions as absurd have supported themselves for ages.”  And, he was right, as hypnotism is still quite popular and believed by many people. Even America’s crusading skeptic, Michael Shermer, who has worked on debunking many magical and superstitious beliefs, accepts it as true (I still don’t understand why). But, I know many credible people who tell me they have been hypnotized. I don’t believe that, though I believe they think they have been hypnotized, much as I believe many people who are sure they have seen a UFO, have seen something else. Of course, all they need to say is, you just haven’t experienced it, and how do you argue with that. Yet, whatever you have read or heard, there is no credible scientific evidence of a “hypnotic” state. And, please, no jokes about using my blog to put people to sleep. Anyway, this topic is for another day.

I just like that Franklin was involved in debunking Mesmer.

The great electrical hoax

I don’t like to do book reports here, but I don’t mind turning you onto a book. Tom Tucker’s Bolt of Fate: Benjamin Franklin and his Electric Kite Hoax, was published in 2003 and I came across a library copy up for sale a year or two later. I am always skeptical of historians who come up with radical ideas for which there seems little but speculation in support, like - X (Jesus, Homer, etc.) was a woman, or, that Dead Sea Scrolls are really evidence of an desert drug cult or there is a code in the Bible, and so on. Sometimes though, scholars or even journalists convince me of something I didn’t think true before. Lionel M. Jensen’s Manufacturing Confucianism, which I recently browsed at an afternoon at a library (yes, I didn’t say I read it completely  – Will Durant pointed out in one of his books that you can’t read everything, and I no longer even try after reading that; if he couldn’t, I certainly can’t) which very ably argues that Confucius is a creation of 17th century Italian missionaries to China, is one example. Donald Foster's research showing that Henry Livingston, Jr., not Clement Moore, wrote A Night Before Christmas, is another.

Tucker goes after an American legend that we all grow up on and believe. Franklin flew a home made kite to which was tied a thread and a key, to demonstrate that electricity and lightning were one and the same. I can’t believe it after reading Tucker’s book. Instead, it seems more likely that it was one of Franklin’s many hoaxes. His career is filled with them, beginning from when he was a child. Certainly many other historical figures have engaged in hoaxes, but I doubt any with Franklin’s regularity or success.

You can read the book if you are interested, but he shows how, for example, there was no key in Philadelphia that would have been light enough to float on a kite. Moreover, the wet thread Franklin described would have likely ruined, not helped, the experiment. If it hadn't, the experiment might have killed him (and, in one instance, apparently did prove fatal to another scientist). Also, he laboriously goes through various correspondence from Franklin and others further showing the likelihood of the hoax. Tucker’s book is a great piece of detective work and it includes a lot of material on Franklin’s literary battles with the Royal Society (which later made him an honorary member) that I had not seen elsewhere. Franklin won. He almost always did since he was little.

Don’t go away thinking that most of Franklin’s scientific experiments were a fraud or hoax. He was correct that lightning and electricity were the same, but was certainly not the first to suspect that and he certainly did not completely prove it even if his experiment was real. He coined the terms plus and minus, conductor, armature, positive/negative, battery, condenser, to explain his single fluid theory of electricity, which was also correct.

Franklin's electical experiments are his greatest achievements other than his political one's. Tucker's book does put a little hole in this claim, but, though he has persuaded me of his point, it does not erase all of the rest of it.

Franklin and Slavery

I have always been a critic of the founders when it came to slavery, not just because they owned slaves or tolerated them among others, but because they absolutely knew better and emphatically said so. Some like Washington, Jefferson and Madison kept many slaves and John Adams, the only early president not to own one himself, would make no argument to Southerners of their deserving freedom, thinking it not his business. One of Patrick Henry’s letters, which I’ve posted before, stated it most accurately, admitting that however much of an abomination it was, it was to convenient to give up.

Franklin was a slave owner. He did not own very many (I think 3, but maybe it was more – too tired to research it - you do it), but numbers don’t matter. Is there perdition for slave owners? I hope so or Franklin is sunk. But, like Hamilton (whose wife owned them and he also bought some at least once for a relative) and Burr (who also owned slaves during his life), Franklin became an abolitionist. With only a few years to live he took up the presidency of the old Quaker Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery . . . and really tried to make it a force. There had to be a solution to what to do with newly freed slaves who were incapable of living on their own, and he proposed that America had a duty not just to free them, but to educate them. Good luck on that, of course, and in this, he failed.

Also, in the year of his death, Franklin wrote another hoax, which he never published, likely because he died soon after, in which he created a historical character to lampoon our own slavery, a supposed African Muslim arguing against a petition by a group known as "Erika" against the enslavement of Christian slaves.” I give you only a small part of it:

“Have these Erika considered the consequences of granting their petition? If we cease our cruises against the christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary for us? . . . Who are to perform the common labours of our city, and in our families? Must we not then be our own slaves? And is there not more campassion and more favour due to us Mussulmen, than to these christian dogs? . . . But who is to indemnify their masters for the loss? Will the state do it? Is our treasury sufficient? Will the Erika do it? Can they do it? Or would they, to do what they think justice to the slaves, do a greater injustice to the owners? And if we set our slaves free, what is to be done with them? Few of them will return to their countries, they know too well the greater hardships they must there be subject to: they will not embrace our holy religion: they will not adopt our manners: our people will not pollute themselves by intermarying with them: must we maintain them as beggars in our streets; or suffer our properties to be the prey of their pillage; for men accostomed to slavery, will not work for a livelihood when not compelled. And what is there so pitiable in their present condition? . . . While serving us, we take care to provide them with every thing; and they are treated with humanity. The labourers in their own countries, are, as I am well informed, worse fed, lodged and cloathed. The condition of most of them is therefore already mended, and requires no farther improvement. Here their lives are in safety. . . Let us then hear no more of this detestable proposition, the manumission of christian slaves, the adoption of which would, by depreciating our lands and houses, and thereby depriving so many good citizens of their properties, create universal discontent, and provoke insurrections, to the endangering of government, and producing general confusion. I have therefore no doubt, but this wise Council will prefer the comfort and happiness of a whole nation of true believers, to the whim of a few Erika, and dismiss their petition.”

And . . . I just love

- that when someone at a gathering suggested that all of the great animal fables had been written, he was able to make up a pretty good one on the spot.

- that he developed a new phonetic alphabet in which he removed letters he thought redundant but added others (it went nowhere, as have so many other attempts).

- that he seemed so unlike other politicians then and particularly now, truly interested in doing public good for no reward, and was all but indefatiguable in it.

- that he so often met his greatest critics and defeats with silence, except when absolutely necessary, and that his fame still greatly exceeded their own (excepting, I guess, Adams, who is in our pantheon).
- that he avoided public argument, instead only asking questions of those he disagreed with.

- that when he went to France he did so without his wig on, which was fairly shocking at the time.

- that he appeared at the peace treaty signing with England in the same gown he had worn when he was humiliated in front the Privy Council 9 years earlier.

- that he swam long before it became popular.

- that he loved to play chess. In fact, there is no one else in America known by name who played before him - but he had to learn from and play with someone, didn't he?

- that he wrote his epitath (it wasn't used) that stated:

“The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author”

- that though he believed in God and frequently referred to him, he was non-denominational and wrote some memorable lines about “Him.” At the Constitutional Convention, in suggesting a prayer – he argued: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

- that shortly before he died, when asked about his beliefs about Christianity, he wrote with his customary humor: As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.” (Italics added).

Jefferson, another great founder-writer, was never so funny.

The virtues

At the very last, having long exceeded your patience, I give you his 13 virtues, and, in blue, my own comments upon them:

"1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Good advice, of course, but did he look skinny to you in all those illustrations?

2. "Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation." Please, Ben, that is half the fun in life.

3. "Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time." I suppose. But, I’d add – but first read number 9.

4. "Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve." I try, I try, but he didn’t have NCIS or the internet to take up his time.

5. "Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing." Probably great advice. Some people actually follow it and we call them cheap or boring.

6. "Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions." Isn’t this the same as 4?

7. "Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly." This from a man who would do anything to win a contract or job.

8. "Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty." No complaints.

9. "Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve."

10. "Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation." He clearly had no idea of how a real bachelor lives and of the pleasures of messiness.

11. "Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable." If I could, I’d put this before the eyes of almost everyone I know, every second of the day.

12. "Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation." Chastity? He (like me, but the similarities end there) had a child out of wedlock. By venery, he must be referring to sexual desire (and not hunting, the other possible meaning). And, of course, screw him when it comes to that.

13. "Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates." Sure, try, but not when it comes to accepting death meekly. Then listen to Clint Eastwood’s in The Outlaw Josey Wales:

"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."

How is it possible to write about Benjamin Franklin and not mention his almanac, his printing business, any many great writings I couldn't get to here? I'll tell you. It's because there is just too much to talk about with him.

Peace out, fellow Franklinphiles. I have a busy week coming, so I may or may not skip a post next week. Try and live through it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Potpourri II

It’s one of those weeks when I’ve had a few things on my mind to talk about. So, it’s a potpourri week (did I steal using potpourri for this purpose from Jeopardy or did we both steal it from somewhere else?) 

No, Grandpa, you graduated school in 1976, not 1977

In the last couple of years I’ve been discussing with people my belief that in two generations, that is – at the worst, my great grandchildren, will have a computer right in their heads. They will be cyborgs in a real sense. My only doubt about it is that it might be much sooner than that. Naturally, over time, the cyber part will greatly increase, just as computers in my lifetime have gone from room filling monstrosities owned only by the largest companies that could perform a task or so, to desktops that could run games or a maybe a word processing program to little phones you can hold in your hand which seem almost magical to the older generations.

The power of these cyborgs may become so superior to ordinary humans that no ordinary parent would want their own child not to have all of the advantages. The genie, or shadow, or whatever it will be called, will cure deceases, increase all performances, eradicate normal learning time or limits, bad habits and obsessions, sharpen every sense and make what is fantasy no less real than anything else in your brain.

Just to take one example, because the possibilites are endless, at some point, it may just seem ridiculous to continue with things like sex since you will be able to realistically dream any fantasy you want for pleasure while conceiving babies without physical contact (they can already do that). To give other example, when you can someone the image of anyone you want to talk to, alive or dead, real or imagined, why would you need to even leave your house? You could go anywhere or have anything come to you without moving. Of course, we can take this all the way to the premises of The Matrix or the Terminator movies, but, you’ve seen those and know the risks.

Sometimes I add that I hope I am dead before my grandchild says to me something like the title to this section, because age will lose its last advantage - experience.  But, who knows how I will feel if I'm alive when it happens (and if they can hook up an already grown person)? It took me a while to get used to cell phones and email, but now they are completely integrated in my life. I have even considered the possibility of getting – don’t be freaked out now – some ipad like device, now that the prices are crashing. On the other hand, I still resist getting my emails outside of my home, but really – what is the practical difference between that and getting cell phone calls and text messages on the fly? Hard to see any but the most technical difference, although the junk and work email I receive at home makes me want to continue my practice. Later on the ipad and Kindle.

Of course, I’m no expert or even well informed about computers or cyborgs or anything related. I just learned what SEO means (if you don’t know, you are more of a Luddite than I am and that is sad). But, when I pontificate about the likelihood of computer chips being implanted in humans upon birth (for whatever reason, I imagine at the juncture of the spinal cord and the brain), I notice that other people seem to like it and sometimes later restate the same thoughts to me, sometimes just weeks later, usually in the form of “they say that . . . .”  That’s okay, as I haven’t invented or even conceived of anything that many other people haven’t thought or written about before me. It’s been a science fiction plot pretty much forever. All I really say is my conviction that I think this will happen before most people do (if they have ever thought about it) and believe that we already have the rudimentary technology for most of it.

What do we need for this futuristic process?

Computer hardware and software. This already exists, of course, and if you are reading this, you use it, probably every day. And, it has already made its way into humans. A working robotic arm complete with a nerve graft has been operated. Scientists have made brain computer interfaces that allows quadriplegics to move a computer cursor, though it is external right now. This is, of course, just the beginning.

Miniaturization. The capability to have a superchip the size of a pea or as thin as a sheet of paper does not seem far away, does it? As I stated above, the earliest marketable computers filled a room, and  now we're down to tiny little phones that even poor people can own. That’s just marketable computers. The University of Michigan has developed what it claims is the first complete millimeter size computer. Take a penny out of your pocket and look at it. That’s way, way bigger than this computer. Look closely at the word “ONE” on the penny. That also is way too big. Now take a look at just the letter “N.” That’s the size of this little computer. How soon before a commercially viable one is made? A few years? How soon before it is the size needed to put in a human? I say 10 years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 5 either. How small? Already they have made chips a few atoms – I said atoms – thick. That means millions in the dot on the letter "i" in the words "millions." Do we need it smaller than that?

Safety. I see two minor issues here. You can’t just put stuff in human bodies willy nilly, because your body may reject it as an immune response – typically, this is done by covering it in a collagen fibers as a type of scar tissue (yes, I looked that up). When these fibers thicken it can compress the enclosed object causing pain or malfunction. However, we know that they put all kinds of things in people's bodies already – organs, metal, balloons filled with silicon, etc. – and have mostly mastered this problem. They have also placed chips in animals with gps locaters surrounded by bio-compatible material (I’ve read glass is the most useful material), but without batteries, and which are only activated by being scanned from the outside. If it has gone beyond that, I am not aware of it. The other safety aspect is damage caused by radiation from the device. I don’t believe this will be much of a problem either, but more of a fear. Frankly, though radiation poisoning can be real, I don’t think any of the radiation fears we read about electro-magnetic radiation from power lines or cell phones are much of a concern. In any event, if a mini-computer or chip presents more of a problem, it will be solved by shielding.

Problems – The more we use technology to solve our problems, the less we are capable of surviving without it. Already this is true in the high tech world we live in. It is believed right now that an attack from a high altitude nuclear bomb would create an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) that will throw us back to the stone age. And, I don’t just mean it will be a year without street lights and the internet. Pretty much everything electronic – and these days, what isn’t? - will stop working and possibly hundreds of millions of Americans, at least, will be dead in a year. One year. Doubt it? The first shielding for an EMP was used back at Trinity when we exploded the first nuclear device in 1945. Still doubt it? Watch http://www.c-span.org/Events/Heritage-Foundation-Discussion-on-Electromagnetic-Pulse-Threat/10737423521/ and then ask yourself why we don’t actually do something about this very real thread? And there is so little we really need to do - relatively inexpensive shielding.

The other big problem with be extra-personal involuntary control ("EPIC attack," I just made the name up, but I like it). It refers to control of cyborgs by external computers either from the government or private persons. Imagine if the government could convince you of any fact they wanted simply by downloading it into your brain. Imagine if you could be given a computer virus. I expect that will be an ongoing battle, just like internet security is now.

This is all very real. I would find it incredible if we do not have cyborgs in my lifetime, absent unfortunate accident or illness leading to an early death. Of course, like most technology, they will just get better and better. The science fiction of today is really about to be overtaken by science. Whether this is good or bad is up to us, not the technology. But, I really don’t think I want to be around for it.

Natalie Wood

We’re not done with this? Are you kidding me?

Why are they opening up the Natalie Wood case? She drowned in 1981, 30 years ago later this month. Every one on the boat has by now long spoken their mind - the Captain, her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and Christopher Walken, then a young actor co-starring with her, and now a famous one, who may or may not have had a thing with Natalie. Not for the first time the Captain has made some provocative statements to the media and the L.A. Sheriff’s department is opening the case up once again, supposedly because of tips from multiple sources, but also admittedly because of the media pressure. Ridiculous.
The Captain has made statements before and nothing came of it. Both he and Wagner have published accounts in books. There was no sign of foul play that I have ever read before, but apparently, there was a witness on a nearby boat who says she heard screams from a woman that she was drowning and a male voice saying help was coming. If so, the Captain didn’t hear it (though, admittedly drunk) or Walken (who was supposedly asleep by all accounts). Were they all in it together? No one jumped in to save her? Come on. Additionally, an EMT who saw the body said that rigor mortis had not set in six hours later, indicating she was not dead all that long. If there was any credibility to these reports, why wouldn’t Wagner be a suspect? If he’s not a suspect, why didn’t he hear cries for help?

There definitely was a very heated argument that night between Wagner and Walken over Wood’s commitment to acting (Walken's position) as opposed to her caring for her and Wagner's children (Wagner's position), and she disappeared sometime later after things cooled down between the two men and was later still found drowned after a search. The boat’s dinghy was found on the shore, but the paddles were tied down. She had only recently gotten over her terrible fear of water but it did seem unlikely to me that she would have tried to take a dinghy in the dark over open water by herself. One theory is that she heard the dinghy banging on the side of the boat, tried to retie it, and fell in. That does not sound far fetched to me at all.

Now the Captain says he lied 30 years ago about what happened, and he blames the argument over her for her death. Obviously, that is an opinion, not an accusation. But, he has also claimed he saw bruises on her when he identified the body. If so, why didn’t the police see them? And why would Wagner not be a suspect? The sheriff’s office has unmistakably said that Wagner, who now occasionally appears on NCIS as the parent of a lead character, is not. Who does that leave? The Captain? That doesn’t make sense, since he’s the one who brought it all up. Christopher Walken? Again, everyone says he was asleep at the time.

I could have sworn that I had written on this in the past, but, I can't find it in my archives, so I guess I imagined it, or maybe I wrote it and then posted something else (I do that and forget a lot). I admit, as celebrityish and gossipy as it is, I do find it fascinating.  I’m not a cyborg yet, you know.

Wood was a beautiful woman, of course (very much my type too, although she was grown before I was born), but I was not a big fan of hers and didn’t even like West Side Story very much. I saw the movie when young and then saw the play on a secondary run on Broadway, during which I fell asleep. That may be heresy to say, as the show is considered a classic, but I think America is the only good song in the whole show.  

Then again, Wood did have an important role in one of my favorite movies, Miracle on 34th Street when she was a little girl, and that is really how I think of her still, not as the sex symbol she grew into.

Do I think this new investigation is going anywhere? No. Just in the media. Could I be wrong? Sure I could. But only if there is a smoking gun and it doesn’t look like there is.

You can’t make enough lists like this
Speaking of Miracle on 34th Street, it is not only one of my favorite films (maybe THE favorite) but the original was also the greatest Christmas movie of all time (I always warn - do NOT see the remakes). I’ve written too much about it in the past (12/22/08) to spend a lot of time on it here, but there is no limit to the amount of times I can give a list of my favorite Christmas movies, which, like all my lists, is subject to change.  

10. It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart classic that flopped at first, but became for many the ultimate classic of the genre.

9. Miracle at Morgan Creek. Nowadays, it is a virtually unknown movie, but it was ground breaking at the time, and very funny.

8. Bad Santa.

7. When Harry Met Sally. Like the next one, there are a few holidays scenes, particularly at New Years. Billy Crystal’s best. Meg Ryan’s second best.

6. You’ve Got Mail. You could argue that this is not a Christmas movie, but there were a few Xmas scenes, and I love this movie so much, I’m including it. Its predecessor, Little Shop Around the Corner, a Jimmy Stewart vehicle was terrible in my opinion, but was definately considered a Christmas flick. So, going with it.

5. Babes in Toyland. Laurel and Hardy. The print I’ve seen on tv the last few times is damaged but still viable. There was a time this movie was in my top two or three movies period, but little boys grow up, a little anyway, maybe just enough to knock it down to no. 5.

4. Elf. Will Ferrell playing a human raised by elves. It could have been horrible, but I’ve probably watched it twenty times and planning twenty more.

3. Serendipity. John Cusack back in the days when he played charming characters with the irresistible Kate Beckinsale and an effervescent Jeremy Piven at his best.

2. Love, Actually. A movie I never would have seen if my daughter didn’t insist. Great music and I think nine interwoven stories, one better than the other.

1. Miracle on 34th Street.

Runner ups: Scrooge, Home Alone, A Christmas Story, A Muppet Christmas Carol. I am not a fan of Holiday Inn and White Christmas, as much as I love Kaye, Astaire and Crosby. I feel the same way about a sullen David Niven and too charming Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife. But, see them at least once.

Mrs. Malaprop redux
On 4/26/07 I introduced the New Miss Malaprop, who is also known as my Insignificant Other (Are your reading this, honey? Gulp.) She has the incredible tendency to merge different words and sayings together and make other word puzzles that defy description. I’ve been trying to keep a record, but, I am really bad at it. If more than a few minutes go by and I don't write it down, I can’t remember them, no matter how funny. However, I have recorded a few more that I post here. Some of these you have to think about:

I refuse to answer upon the grounds I may be discriminated.

* * *

She finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

* * *

Mrs. Malaprop: You don’t even know Jesus.
David: I know more about him than you do.
MM: No you don’t.
D: Okay, name the four gospels.
MM: Old or New Testament?
D: (laughing)
MM: I don’t know. 1, 2, 3 and 4?

* * *

It’s not worthwild.

* * *

MM: [Telling me about speaking to someone who was about to wake a dog] I said to him, don’t you know the expression - let sleeping babies lie?
Me: MM, the expression is actually about dogs – let sleeping dogs lie.
MM: Whatever.

* * *

Me: Don’t be so intransigent.
MM: I am not in transit!

* * *

Me: I don’t need more than three plates.
MM: What if you have a big shin ding?

* * *

How little they forget.

Can our leaders please learn just a little history

I have a feeling I’ll be talking to myself on this one. History is my passion, but, of course, I don’t pretend to know everything about it. There are many whole areas that I know nothing or next to it about. And I sometimes have to look things up because my brain just goes – uhhh, even if it is something I, and everyone, should know. And, once in a while I say something dumb that I should know better, because we are human and make mistakes (at least, we are for a while). I mention this because I don't expect anyone to be perfect. But, nevertheless, when someone is supposed to be an expert and makes some historical reference, usually something about the founding fathers, often with great certainty, and it is wrong, it that just annoys me.

For example, one day I was watching C-Span and the author of a book on the Constitution and the Constitutional Convention made a comment that Alexander Hamilton could not have been president because he wasn’t born in this country and the Constitution prevents it. I was a little surprised because the very same short provision in the constitution he cited for his opinion also says that anyone who was a citizen at the time the Constitution was ratified could in fact be president. And though Hamilton had pretty much ruined his chances of getting elected by outing himself on a sexual scandal (and then, of course, dying), he had been, of course, a citizen at the time of the Constitution for many years, having served in the Revolutionary War (although many non-citizen foreigners did), then serving as a representative at the Constitutional Convention himself, later as the first Secretary of Treasury and he was even appointed by Washington as the Major General of the Army. To suggest he was not a citizen would have been absurd. But, this author, who had just had finished his book, wasn't suggesting it, didn’t even seem to have actually read this provision. What made it worse was that later that day I heard two so-called pundits on television smugly re-state this proposition about Hamilton, as if they thought of it themselves that day. Of course, they were just as wrong, but this is why I get peeved about it. They should all know better.

Now, for what set me off about this, this week. I was listening to an oral argument in the Supreme Court that took place earlier this week. C-Span, tv's greatest gift to mankind, replays them. Very complicated stuff, as usual, about whether the president had a right to control what a passport says if the way he does it also violates a federal law passed by congress and signed into law. I am not sure what the outcome of the case will be, though I side with the plaintiff who submits that the congressional act is superior in this case. But, when the Solicitor General of the United States, who should be an expert on early American history, as it plays a major role in so many cases, made an important point about the Washington administration, he gratuitously stated that his cabinet had included Thomas Jefferson (right), Alexander Hamilton (right), James Madison (whattttt????) and John Jay (double whattttt????), I was floored. I was hoping one of the Justices, some of whom had to know (I hope), say – “What are you talking about?” No one did. For the record, Madison was in congress during Washington's two terms and then Secretary of State years later under Jefferson and then president himself. Jay was the first Chief Justice, Governor of New York (where he was instrumental in freeing the slaves), and a critical ambassador (minister).  But, neither was in Washington’s cabinet, and anyone even remotely familiar with it, as the Solicitor General must be, should know that.
Senators, congressmen and other run of the mill politicians, of course, quote the forefather’s so freely and inaccurately, I can't keep up.

Okay, now that you’ve said to yourself – Okay, soooooo? – I’ll move on.

Eye of Newt
Speaking of history, the present rise of Newt Gingrich, who has a doctorate and taught history before entering politics, as he determinately eyes the presidency, annoys me. Not because of anything he says about history, but because I affirmatively don’t want him to win the nomination.

I should mention that I predicted he would not run because I thought he was smart enough to know he would do badly, but he has not only proved me wrong by running, but, after embarrassing himself several times early on (like, when he was caught repeatedly contradicting himself about Libya or when his entire staff quit after he went on a two week Greek Island cruise with his wife and now claims that he gained valuable knowledge about the problems of Greece), he has actually started to do quite well in the polls, even topping some of them.

Of course, I think he and everyone realizes he may be Queen for the Day. The cultural right has sent Bachmann, Perry and Cain to the top in succession, and now that one after another has shown themselves not up to snuff, and is now, at least (I imagine) promoting a professional, Gingrich. He is a pro. He was Speaker of the House in the 90s, unofficially advised the Bush administration and deeply immersed himself in policy so that he can probably easily out argue anyone on the stage with him, except maybe on some issues Ron Paul.

So, if he is so professional, why don’t I want him to win the nomination? Starting with the fact that I presume, like I do with every candidate and president, that he has good intentions and is patriotic, and despite my dislike of attacking candidate's characters, I am going to talk about his personality, because that is actually what I have against him - not really most of his general policies. In my humble opinion, he

- is too arrogant and narcissistic to be president – and remember I am comparing him to other politicians! His feelings of superiority are self evident to me every time I hear him speak. This is, of course, very subjective, but conservatives who find Obama to have these characteristics are going to just love Gingrich when he turns his charm on them.

- is one of the most partisan politicians around. Politically, he is a flamethrower, a non-violent version of the ante-bellum Southern crowd that wanted war, and he does not know compromise. He seems to worship Reagan (at least, the semi-legendary version), but Reagan was capable of compromise – Gingrich is often not, unless he is absolutely defeated.

- cannot bear making mistakes and makes ridiculous excuses for himself. His excuse for his serially contradictory comments on our involvement in Libya was that Obama made him do it – he was reacting to him. His excuse for taking at least $1.6 million from Freddie Mac was that he was acting as their historian – a hysterically funny excuse, except that it is so obviously a complete lie. His excuse for making a commercial with Nancy Pelosi about the importance of dealing with global warming is that he just felt that conservatives should have a voice in the conversation about the environment (who says they shouldn't? He still still didn't need to make the commercial.) 

- is a hypocrite and untruthful when in trouble (yes, much worse than Obama or Romney or many, many others). He suggested Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should go to jail for their dealings with Freddie Mac, while his company made millions off representing them. He lambasted President Clinton for his adultery while he was himself cheating on his wife (now, unable to make excuses, he admits it – big deal).

- is religiously bigoted to an extent that exceeds conventional conservative religious concerns, demonizing gays, American-Muslims and those who don’t pray (who, he said in debate, could not be moral). He believes, and I don’t know how this could be constitutional, that mosques should not be allowed to be built in America while churches cannot be built in Saudi Arabia (which, makes sense how? – do we now base the first amendment on what foreign countries do? That doesn’t sound like a conservative position.)

- too in love with a younger wife. His Greek adventure with her in the midst of campaigning, leading to the bolting of his entire staff made me doubt his judgment even more than I would otherwise. This is, not surprisingly, the least of my reasons.

Besides all that, I would like someone who can beat President Obama, and it’s not him. He is way too vulnerable. Whether guilty or not, he also pleaded guilty to an ethics violation while in congress, and his attempts to explain it away have always sounded weak and defensive.

Despite these concerns of mine, right now some conservatives I personally know think he’s just nifty, despite earlier being disdainful of his marital dishonesty.

Yet, ironically, he has taken positions far to the left of other conservatives which have sunk other politicians, and are the reasons that conservatives don’t want Romney - including on immigration (pro-guest worker), health care, global warming, flex-fuel engine mandates for auto makers and even disparaged Paul Ryan’s budget plan. What gives? Why don't they look at him like they look at Romney. It may be that he just makes the right religious noise, now that he has found religion. He is the cultural right's last hope to defeat Romney before they have to get on board. And they just don’t trust him (you can understand why), and that is all there is to it. 

That's all folks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Who said it VI?

I enjoy playing Who said it? more than watching yet one more endless Republican Party debate. This one focuses on just one person, unlike my usual schtick, one of the many great 20th century men who moved civilization one way or another from Gandhi to Einstein. Are there great men of the 21st century? If you took a poll today, some people would say Steve Jobs. Not me. Anyway, without googling (do you capitalize Googling?), see if you can guess who he is? I'll try and present him in various guises:

1. Here is is on automobile safety, of all things.

It is truly not an art to drive fast and to endanger the lives of others. Rather it is a great art to drive safely, i.e., carefully. Lack of caution coupled with high speed is the most common cause of automobile crashes. And it is discouraging to realize that the majority of those driving could easily spare the extra ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes that, at best, they can hope to save by their insane reckless driving, even on long stretches.

2. A man of his word.
I shall never, as a statesman, put my signature on a treaty that I would never sign as a man of honor in private life, even if it were to mean my ruin! For I would also never want to put my signature on a document knowing the back of my mind that I would never abide by it! I abide by what I sign. What I cannot abide by, I will never sign.

3. Everybody is conceited about something, aren't they?

I have been a prophet so often in my lifetime, and you have not believed but instead ridiculed and mocked me. Once again I will be a prophet and say to you: you will never return!

4. Scholarly discusses Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West and speaking of leadership.

Is this then really the end of our history and hence of our peoples? No! We cannot believe or accept it! It must be call not the “Decline of the West,” but “Resurrection of the Peoples of the Western World”! Only what has become old, rotten, and bad dies. And it should die! But new life will generate. The will shall find the faith. This will lies in leadership, and faith lies in the people!

. . .

It is mankind’s misfortune that its leaders forget all too often that ultimate strength does not lie anchored in divisions and regiments or in cannons and tanks; rather, the greatest strength of any leadership lies in the people themselves, in their unanimity, in their inner unity, and in their idealistic faith. That is the power that, in the end, can move the mountains of resistance.

5. Heroes, history and the immortal future.

Power and the brutal use of force can accomplish much, but in the long run no state of affairs is secure unless it appears logical in and of itself and intellectually irrefutable. Above all: [our movement] must profess its faith in the heroism that prefers any degree of opposition and hardship to even once denying the principles it has recognized as right. It may be filled only by a single fear, namely that one day a time might come when we are accused of insincerity or thoughtlessness. The heroic idea must, however, be constantly willing to renounce the approval of the present if sincerity and truth so require. Just as the hero has renounced his life to live on in the Pantheon of history, so must a truly great movement perceive in the rightness of its concept, in the sincerity of its actions the talisman which will safely lead it from a transient present to an immortal future.

6. A man for all seasons.

May this feeling of solidarity between city and country, between peasants, manual laborers, and intellectual workers continue to sell to become the proud consciousness of a tremendous unity.

7. Sounds like one of the forefathers, for crying out loud.

And I can tell those doubters something else, too, namely, that I am well aware of what a human being can accomplish and where his limits lie, but it is my conviction that the human beings God created also wish to lead their lives modeled after the will of the Almighty. God did not create the peoples so that they might deliver themselves up to foolishness and be pulped soft and ruined by it, but that they might preserve themselves as He created them! Because we support their preservation in their original, God-given form, we believe our actions correspond to the will of the Almighty.

8. God helps him who helps himself.

If we adhere to this path, decent, industrious, and honest, if we do our duty so bravely and loyally, it is my belief that the Lord will help us again and again in the future. He does not abandon decent people for any length of time! While He may sometimes put them to the test or send them trials, in the long run He will always allow His sun to shine upon them and ultimately give them His blessing.

If we all sick together in the city and the country, if each and every person decently does his duty in the place he occupies and thinks not only of himself but of his fellow humans as well, then you can trust that there is nothing that could break us asunder. We shall prevail! In the year to come, and in the decades to come!

We have a magnificent sun today. A year ago, we had pouring rain. What next year will bring is something I do not know. But that we will be standing here over and over again, that is something I do know, no matter what the weather! When we meet here again after a year has passed, we will once more be able to pledge anew: the year is over, and once again everything has gone will. Everything has become even more splendid.

 9. Thank goodness for little girls . . . and Jesus, of course.

Sometimes when I see shabbily dressed girls, shivering with cold themselves, collecting with infinite patience for others who are cold, then I have the feeling that they are all apostles of a certain Christianity! This is a Christianity that can claim for itself as no other other can: this is the Christianity of a sincere profession of faith, because behind it stands not the word, but the deed!

10. Freedom of the spirit.

In this period of the most inward orientation, Christian mysticism demanded an approach to the solution of structural problems and hence to an architecture whose design not only ran contrary to the spirit of the time but also helped produce these material dark forces that made the people increasingly willing to submit themselves to cosmopolitism. The germinating resistance to this violation of the freedom of the spirit and the will of man that lasted for centuries immediately found an outlet in the foreceful expression of a new form of artistic design. The cathedrals’ mystical narrowness and somberness gave way to more generous room and light, reflecting the increasingly free spirit of the time. More and more the mystical twilight gave way to light. The uncertain and probing transition to the twentieth century finally led to the crisis we face today and that will find its resolution in one way or another.

11. He sure sounds like a founder.

Besides that, I believe one thing: there is a Lord God! And this Lord God creates the peoples. And, as a matter of principles, He accords all these peoples the same fundamental rights.

12. Leadership.

Leadership is always based upon the free will and good intentions of those being led.

13. Now, he sounds like a libertarian, for crying out loud.

This is an iron-clad, yet also a just, principle. The earth is not there for cowardly peoples, not for weak ones, not for lazy ones. The earth is there for whim who takes it and who industriously labors upon it and thereby fashions his life. That is the will of Providence. That is why it has placed man upon this earth, along with the other beings, and has paved the way for him, has freed him to make his own decisions, to lead his own struggle for survival.

. . .

On this earth, no Englishman has more rights than a Frenchman, no Frenchman has more tights than a Russion, no Russian has more rights than a German, no German has more rights than an Italian, and so on.

14. Burdens of leadership.

It is one of the most uplifting tasks of leadership to allow one’s followers to mark only the victory, and to take upon oneself the entire responsibility at critical moments, to step in front of one’s followers to shield them against this responsibility.

15. Responsibility and why we live.

In the end, we do not live for ourselves alone; rather, we are responsible for everything that those who lived before us have left behind, and we are responsible for that which we shall one day leave behind to those who must come after us.

16. Don't you hate it when they call you crazy?

The fact is, however, that every act of human progress, seen from a mental and objective point of view, originates with a very few individuals; from a mental viewpoint, because the invention is born only of the imagination of individual s and not of the cross-section of a collective endeavor; objectively because each himan invention, regardless of whether its value is recognized or underestimated, always appears initially to be an additional pleasure in everyday life and thus a luxury article for a more or less limited circle. It is not an isolated incident, but rather unfortunately quite often the case, that this circle is regarded by the amiable collective of fellow mankind as being crazy . . . .

17. And, Mr. Nice Guy.
Please accept my sincere sympathies on the grievous loss with which you have been afflicted  as a result of the cowardly assassination of your son.

18. Such a comedian, I tell you.

This appears to me as though chicken and geese will one day make a solemn declaration to the foxes that they no longer intend to attack them, in the hope that the foxes will then become vegetarians.

19. Mars and Venus.

The more masculine a man is, the more he is undisputed in his sphere of influence from the very start; and the more feminine a woman is, the more her own work and thus her own position is conversely uncontested and undisputed. And the mutual respect of the sexes for each other will ultimately not be achieved by the rules set up by two different communities, i.e., the community of men and the community fo women; instead, it must be acquired day by day in real life. The more a man is faced with a woman who is truly female, the more his arrogance will be disarmed from the very beginning –idneed at times too much so; and conversely, the more a man is a whole man and carries out his work and his life-task in the highest sense of the word, the more the woman will find her natural and self-evident place beside him.

20. And, last, as the art critic.

The fact that something has never existed before is no proof of the quality of an accomplishment; it can just as easily be evidence for an inferiority that has never existed prior thereto. Thus if a so-called artist perceives his sole purpose in life as presenting the most confusing and incomprehensible portrayals of the accomplishment s of the past or the present, the actual accomplishments of the past will nevertheless remain accomplishments, while the artistic stammerings of the painting, music, sculpture, and architecture produced by these types of charlatans will one day be nothing but proof of the magnitude of a nation’s downfall.

And the answer is . . .

I can't help myself. I love to quote Hitler sounding normal. Of course, in culling this out of his speeches, I had to leave out all the references to the Volk and the Reich, the Jews and a bunch of other crazy talk. Whenever I do quote him like this, I notice I also make myself a little sick, as if I'm committing a crime of the soul to make a game of it. Go back and read these brief quotes knowing who it is. It will make you a little sick too. But, last year I started revisiting WWII history, and I keep finding these little quotes by him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Political update for November, 2011

Oh, Herman.

One thing about being a political independent is that you don’t get absolute knowledge about whether accusations about political figures are true or not.  Yesterday, I watched Chris Matthews on his show, almost giddy about the press conference held by someone accusing Herman Cain of unwanted sexual advances, while feigning impartiality, and listened to Mark Levin on the radio dissect every sentence she uttered at her press conference, while feigning . . . impartiality. Well, there’s a shocker. Partisans taking their own team’s side.

I can’t know for sure if she is telling the truth, but, unlike the accuser of the Duke Lacrosse players, or Tawana Brawley, this one feels true. And though conservatives are arguing for Cain in the media, privately, some pretty conservative people have told me that it looks like it may be true to them too. I’ve always laughed at the common phrase – “Well, if he’s faking it, he’s the best actor in the world.” That’s just wrong, in my view. People are often good liars, and we learn from our infancy how to do it effectively by trial and error. Of course, most little kids are terrible at it, but, then again, they still believe in Santa Claus. But, very quickly, some people become exceptionally good at it, just as some don’t. I’ve known many people who lied as easily as they breathed, with complete confidence, and others who just goofed up every time, stuttering and stepping on their own confabulations. Maybe it’s a talent like anything else, partly nature and partly nurture.

Before this came out, I was enjoying my early prediction that Cain might just have a shot, particularly if it came down to him and Romney. He has personality. He can be charming. He is running a different type of campaign, and I do appreciate that, because it does make it interesting. But, now he blew it for the both of us. His big chance and my big chance for bragging rights until 2016.

I read an article by Michael Barone, in my opinion one of the most sane political commentators, just this morning about Cain. But, he was confused how Cain could be running a campaign that violated every rule, and still be at the top. He even wrote about going to Cain’s Iowa headquarters one day recently and no one was there. That is astonishing. Some other candidates practically live in Iowa now. Not Cain. It doesn’t seem to matter much either, according to the polls. I don’t think the so-called pundits really understand what he is doing. He’s marketing like a businessman, not running like a politician.  9-9-9 is no different than Charmin being “squeezably soft” or “Where’s the beef.”  It’s not even important if it makes sense or not. What’s important is that we remember the schtick and associate it with him. And, we do. Can you think of another economic plan that has a name?  I do. Reaganomics aka supply side economics, or as George H. W. Bush called it, voodoo economics. But, Reagan won twice. He was so well marketed to us, that he lives on in political memories in a half-mythological state, even among liberals to some degree.

On a panel of pundits earlier this week, I saw an all-star team predicting that Cain wasn’t even serious about running. That he knew he couldn’t win. They just don’t get it. People are sick of the usual rot and they are enjoying something just a little different. They affirmatively like that he is breaking the “rules.”

I was watching a presentation he was giving the day after the story broke last week. He ended it by singing an old Negro spiritual to the audience. It’s not that he sings so well, but, I’d like to hear any of the other candidates try that. Yes, Bill Clinton played the sax and we’ve had to suffer through seeing Obama and Bush dancing, but this was different. It was a news event.

Actually, I was and am still predicting that Romney would win the nomination eventually, when this story broke, but obviously, the better Cain polled, the more experience he got at presidential campaigning, the better he was likely to do. I did believe that if he could get into a one on one with Romney after the initial primaries (and it wouldn’t matter if Ron Paul was still around too), he might just win everything. But, running for president takes practice, and it is different than running for any lesser position. Some politicians only get one shot, and it is often not enough. Obama mastered it in one effort, but, he was helped by circumstances in no way in his control (the economy, Bush fatigue and McCain’s inordinately bad campaigning – he was a candidate who actually got worse the second time around). As has been pointed out by many writers, conservatives were looking hard for an alternative to Romney, who they will settle for only if they have to (which, amusingly, he has to count in order to win). Cain has come to the top, only after conservatives tried out Bachmann and Perry, and others wouldn’t even try (Christie, Daniels, Jeb Bush, Palin, Trump, for example).

Of course, Romney has to be the happiest guy in America right now. Because, yesterday’s press conference sunk Cain, in my opinion. Short of the accuser suddenly saying that she made it up, I think his Christmas goose is cooked. I’ve been wrong before on what scandal will take off or not. I thought the Joe Sestak scandal was going to matter, but, you might be reading this saying to yourself – what’s a Sestak? And I thought Jeremiah Wright might sink him too. Wrong again. But, this scandal is about sex, and sex sells, for better or worse. Is there a sex scandal out there about Romney or Perry or Paul? I doubt it, but, no one exactly saw this coming about Cain either. You can’t tell with sex.

When Anthony Weiner got in trouble earlier this year, I allowed a very small percentage of chance that he was telling the truth, but, it was almost certain he was lying right from the start, based on the peculiar way he handled it.  He tried refusing to speak about it, but, eventually, when, he answered questions, it just came out weird (like, not being sure if a photograph of a man’s equipment encased in underwear was of him).

If Cain is innocent of any hanky panky, he has handled it in the worst possible way. Like Weiner, he initially refused to talk about it, then finally denied it and made inconsistent statements about the facts, and now refuses to talk again, except for a broad denial. He has even snapped at reporters in the usual ridiculous way that politicians sometimes do when they refuse to talk about the only thing that reporters care about when sex rears its sexy little head (no pun intended) - sex.

What does he think is going to happen? Are reporters going to start a new policy and violate human nature just for him? Say, okay, Mr. Cain, what would you like to talk about – 9-9-9? Of course not. When the media gets a whiff of a sex scandal, they pursue it relentlessly. And, despite claims of bias, liberal and conservative media both eat their own when it comes to a sex scandal. Fox News, for example, was on top of this story from the beginning and MSNBC did wall to wall Weiner jokes until it was over. Ratings ΓΌber alles.

Cain has little choice now but to talk about it. Sure, he can stick to forums where he can write the rules and forbid questions about sex, and not speak to undomesticated reporters anymore, or he can face this head on. His grandfatherly scolding is not going to work. In fact, it is pretty much convincing everyone that he is guilty! Not for nothing, but if it was me being accused of sexual harassment, and particularly if I was a married man, with kids and grandkids, and supporters who spent oodles of money for me, I’d do what John McCain did when an apparently untrue rumor was floated by The New York Times concerning him and a female friend. He came out like a tiger the next morning in a press conference he called himself, and completely snuffed out the story. It took less than a day.

Of course, the key words there were “untrue rumor.” Despite the fact that most of the claims are still anonymous in Cain’s case, my Spidey Sense is tingling like crazy.

Well, for us news junkies at home, this will continue to be interesting for a while as another benefit of stories involving sex is, they don’t get old very fast. But, I do feel sorry for Cain’s family. When the media is hot on the trail of a story, they just don’t care about your family at all. They are like prosecutors who threaten to arrest your wife or kid on trumped up charges unless you plead guilty.  I feel sorry for his wife, of course. Cain might even be saying to himself, now I know how Bill Clinton felt when he had to tell Hillary.

And, I feel sorry for Cain’s kids and their kids. I’m sure it was fun for a while to have Grandpa run for office, but it can’t be fun for any of them anymore. Even if it blows over with us, they still have to deal with it. Oh, he’s going to have to answer some questions, all right, and unless Mrs. Cain is just one of those women who'd rather not know, I'd pay to watch.

I admit that I am rushing to judgment a bit here. I am going not by facts, for the most part, but on the way Cain has been acting and the way things seem to go in these familiar circumstances. This is a bias and unlike the libs and cons I hear on the radio and tv, I’m content to watch the train wreck before I am ready to pronounce final judgment. Maybe I’ll end up with my patented waffling – who knows? But, still . . . .

Even before yesterday’s press conference, I presumed that there was some truth to the claims that were filed with the National Restaurant Association, which were hypothetically being kept from us by virtue of a confidentiality agreement. But, I wasn’t sure at all that it was anything to be worked up about. Perhaps Cain was or still is a flirt. Suppose he even cheated on his wife. Would it stop me from voting for him for president? No, not if I intended to in the first place.

Character does count to some degree in voting for a president, although it is often overstated.  But, I don’t necessarily consider personal fidelity to a spouse as indicative of dishonesty in any other way or evidence of a general lack of character, unless there is some other element of it that is particularly vicious or unsavory. It is just its own category. I have friends who have cheated on their spouses and I haven’t noticed that they were any more dishonest than those who never cheated (far as I know, anyway). And, unlike many people, I don’t always think it is wrong. Most of the time, sure. Even people who cheat on their spouses often think it’s wrong. But, it is a human weakness like so many others, and some people succumb to it. Obviously, it is a reason to get mad at someone, or be disappointed in them, and, of course, divorce them, but I would no more think it disqualifies someone for president any more than I would think it disqualifies them to run a major corporation or be on the New York Jets. I expect that given enough temptation and time, many more people would cheat than already do, particularly men.

We don’t expect a president to never have told a lie. We don’t expect them to have never lost their temper. And, we even expect most of them to break the commitments made to us that they made when they were campaigning. Sometimes we hope they do if we don’t like the promise they made.

And, if he did cheat on his wife, or try to cheat on her, would that have been anything different than what Newt Gingrich did or Rudy Giuliani in their prior marriages? Only a few decades ago you couldn’t even run for president if you had been divorced. Today, thanks to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, it is no longer a bar. It shouldn’t be. Even conservatives, who like to think they don’t change, don’t care anymore about that. Now, apparently, even adultery is no bar to election, even if it was done in a kind of tawdry or humiliating way (as with Clinton, Gingrich and Giuliani). Then again, there are limits to what people will accept. I don’t think Arnold Schwarzenegger could get elected now because by hiding a child from his family and the world, he crossed a line, at least for many people, including me. It is not a litmus test, but a factor.

Cain may have crossed a line too. The story told by the Sharon Bialeck yesterday (with, unfortunately for her, with Gloria Allred by her side, which doesn’t really help her credibility with me) was disturbing, if true. If he, in fact, barely knowing her at all, actually put his hand on her leg and reached under her skirt, and pulled her head towards his lap  – that is not only creepy, it’s reprehensible. Wait to the second date, guy. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t, when young, come on to some women in work related situations in a way, had I misjudged them, that would have been considered harassment, particularly by today’s standards. But, never in my wildest days would I have touched someone in a work situation who I didn’t know really well or made a sexual advance that wasn’t invited or I wasn’t really sure about. And, Cain wasn’t even a young man when this happened. The description we got today – if it is true – was of a very sordid, narcissistic and even coercive man. If it turns out this is true, and perhaps we’ll never know for sure (unless you are a partisan), I certainly would not vote for him. But, if it turns out to be true, we won’t have to worry about making a choice, because he wouldn’t be running at that point. Are we at it?

Possibly there are other shoes to drop. Others might come forward, if they exist. People tend to repeat behaviors over and over, particularly stupid ones. Maybe the other claimants we already know about will remain anonymous for their own reasons, particularly not wanting to be exposed to the anger of enraged Cain supporters or the inquisitiveness of a frenzied media. Maybe they have their own skeletons.  But, the spotlight is hard to ignore, and I have a feeling others will want their 15 minutes. Now, the National Restaurant Association has waived its rights under their confidentiality agreement for at least one of the complainants. At this time, she apparently still doesn’t want to come forward and it is hard to blame her. She knows what happens when people make claims against powerful people. We all know that Sharon Bialeck might soon regret doing what she is doing too, if Cain chooses to fight this. The accused and his/her supporters do everything they can to make your life a misery. Kobe Bryant’s attorneys, for example, trashed his accuser until she gave up, and then he all but admitted the truth of her claims (for which he was only punished by his wife – but, nothing a huge diamond couldn’t fix). Bill O’Reilly and his attorneys made it very clear they were going to try to destroy his accuser. Of course, there are enough crazy people in the world, that they might all be fakes coming forward. But, undoubtedly, with numbers comes credibility.

So, what happens next, if Cain can’t go forward, or is severely damaged by this scandal. The early predictions are that Newt Gingrich, who continues to improve in the polls, will become the next anti-Romney, and that could be right.

Gingrich is a fascinating guy. He is truly interested in policy and obviously knows more about more presidential issues than anyone on the stage, perhaps excepting Ron Paul in certain areas. Gingrich is certainly my favorite politician to listen to when he has the mike, because he talks about interesting stuff.

But, I don’t like him for president. I had enough problems with Cain, who I liked personally. His anti-Muslim rhetoric and fear mongering is ignorant and calls for unconstitutional policies. He seems to have little political knowledge, which is stunning for a guy running for president and who had a political radio show for five years. He contradicts himself in a most illogical way and then blames the media and the person who asked him the question. His fantasy about bringing clarity to foreign policy smacks of a pollyannish fantasy not so different from Bush’s “You are either with us or you are against us,” or Obama’s belief that kowtowing to other country’s leaders would gain the United States’ international respect. Would I like Cain more than Obama? Yes. But, that’s because the economy is the number one issue by a long shot and Obama has it completely backwards from my perspective. Would I vote for Cain then? Probably not. I’d probably vote for a third party, if Cain was the nominee, if I could find one. But, I vote for third parties a lot these days, as the Republican and Democratic parties are both the kind of self-interested factions that kept James Madison up at night.

Gingrich though, surpasses even Cain in playing to his base in demonizing others. I still remember his political assassination of Jim Wright (not that he didn’t deserve it), his arrogant partisanship while Speaker of the House, his calling for the impeachment of Bill Clinton while he was cheating on his own wife, and his present demonization of atheists, American-Muslims and gays under the guise of his new found religiosity that smacks of insincerity to me, not to mention his smug narcissism that comes out in every sentence he utters (even if interesting). It is almost as if he were prefacing each sentence with – “Another way I’m smarter than the other candidates is this . . . .”  

No, Gingrich is not for me, and, I suspect if he does make his way towards the top, he will find a way to shoot himself in the foot as he did in the beginning of his campaign.

This story has drowned out almost everything else in the news except the manslaughter conviction of Michael Jackson’s doctor, which has the Michael factor. We still face an economic crisis that seems to have no happy resolution. The super-committee that congress dreamed up to handle it seems paralyzed. I watched a committee meeting they held last week, and it was just pathetic. Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who chaired an unofficial previous commission, came down to Washington to scold them, but it didn’t seem to matter. As entertaining and folksy as Alan Simpson can be, politics will continue to trump economic disasters until we are clinging to the rocks overlooking the cataract. We might be there and just can’t see it. Israel/Palestine continues to fester. I won’t do my usual rant here about it except to say that for her own sake, Israel needs to get ahead of the facts on the ground, recognize Palestine’s sovereignty and remove the settlements, while making it clear that she will not hesitate to destroy Palestine (and/or Lebanon), if attacked.

But, sex sells, and unless Cain cries “Uncle,” or it turns out that Obama has been having trysts with Kim Kardashian, it’s going to be groin-groin-groin instead of 9-9-9, for a while.

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 . . . .