Sunday, January 22, 2012

Political update for January, 2012

It is here, a year of ugliness and hysteria, where reason is replaced by sneers, an itch scratched becomes a character flaw exposed, a tired cracked voice is a howl and every actual flaw is either an unbearable  offense or a poorly orchestrated hit job by the opposition, depending on whose ox . . . .

Whatever scandals erupt or are created by the media or opposition research, partisans of both sides deserve each other. The things we should remember this year is that allegiance to party means non-allegiance to country and that partisanship makes everyone a little crazy. Here’s my new year commentary on the whole slop:


Perry can blame no one but himself for his poor performance. It was one of the worst run campaigns, rotting from the top, that has been seen in a long time. Those advisers and campaign workers who fled from Gingrich en masse to Perry must have actually regretted it and that is hard to believe.

Perry teaches us several things though, that are well worth remembering. First, fanfare about someone entering the race is just media hype. It may be accompanied by big numbers at first, but it is meaningless. Rudy, Giuliani and Fred Thompson in 2008 and Huntsman, Cain,  Bachmann and Perry this time all attracted lots of attention. So what?

Next, it reminds us that though the United States is a religious nation, in general, few have a taste for inviting even more religion in the door. Almost everyone believes in God,and last survey I read something over 40% attended services weekly.But, other than a small group of people, we don’t want our politicians to try and be religious leaders or to drag religion into the White House.


Partisanship is like watching sausage being made. Very ugly. Can you imagine if the same report was made about Obama asking his wife for an open marriage, how many conservatives would find that forgivable? Imagine how many liberals would believe it was true? To both the answer is not very many. The bottom line should be that adultery - wrong, but a human failing which does not make someone untrustworthy in other arenas - should not be a weapon in a political contest. But, liberals and cons are identical in tactics, should drop crowing and heehawing when it is the other guy, and snarling and disbelieving it when it is their own. But, because they don't, they get what they deserve.

My personal loathing for Gingrich is well known for the millions of people (if you count individual cells) who read this blog. His victory in South Carolina is distressing to me, but it is hard to say what it means.

The conventional wisdom is that South Carolina picks the Republican nominee, and historical, it is true. But, every election brings new and surprising things that make a mockery of conventional wisdom. There being a President Barack Obama  is enough to tell us that. And, this time there is a twist on the usual facts.

Different situation no. 1: The tea party. 64% of the voters were tea partiers in South Carolina. They largely voted for Gingrich, not Romney or the others. But, the rest of the country has to some degree become disenchanted with the tea party. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it will not be very influential in Republican politics and primaries, but it is especially heavy in South Carolina. Additionally, Gingrich did best by far among the evangelicals who also make up an unusually large percentage of South Carolinian Republican primary voters (65%). The Carolinas have more than half as many again evangelicals as say, Florida, the next state to come up in primaries and it has very high church attendance. This may make a big difference there as opposed to non-southern states (or, Utah, which will vote for Romney).

On the other hand, the media does have power, and they make a big deal out of South Carolina as kingmaker, and many people just like to follow along. I am hopeful that an independent strain prevails.

It amazes me that Gingrich was able to sway so many evangelicals, but much of it has to be his demagoguery with respect to American Muslims, atheists and gays as well as the well known antipathy by some to Mormons, which swung them, because, really, considering his Catholicism, his three marriages, serial adultery and his not so ultra-conservative views on things like global warming and immigration, you have to wonder. Even Ann Coulter has been a Romney man, and has written some excellent articles tearing down Gingrich. If Ann Coulter is for Romney, it is hard to understand how other evangelicals are not.

I’ve said for a long time, I missed big time with my Gingrich predictions. I didn’t think he would get in and then I thought he would stumble out. He is bright, ambitious, glib and passionate. It is possible he could be the man. But, I sure hope not.


Since the beginning, I have wanted a libertarian in there. Gary Johnson was preferable to me, but, he had no shot at all (his third party run will create, no doubt, much excitement among his family and friends. So, I'm left with Paul. But, if he cannot prevail, I cannot see another possibility to not only undo the excesses of the Bush/Obama years, but to fundamentally change our system.

Sure, it would be difficult for any president to get congress to do what Paul wants done, and he has acknowledged that, but I do not think he is an extremist like some people do. With the sole exception that he seems to think there is no threat to us from radical Islam without our being overseas and that we started it (I’m not impressed by his going back to the 1953 Iranian cult to prove we’ve intervened too much).

Yet, if the Republicans control congress (short of being filibuster proof), and especially if the Tea Party Caucus retains heavy influence in congressional politics, then yes, I think is possible that the following might, I said might, be accomplished to a far greater extent than if any other candidate or the incumbent wins:

-The fed will become more transparent (but will not end).

-We will scale down our military, particularly our overseas military (but we will not retreat from the world militarily), but not our defensive capacity.  Paul makes much of the difference between military and defense in his speeches. Not many listen. And, it can be argued, that since no one would attack us here except in a terrorist attack, but will attack us overseas (we have business everywhere), that he does not understand it is not as severable as he might think.

-We will slowly undo TARP control of banks, put an end to the bailout mentality, the picking of winners and too big to fail in favor of a do or die market economy.

-Welfare and entitlements will drastically changes so that there is no culture of welfare, but it becomes closer to the safety net for which it was intended. This will be replaced by an insurance program on a competitive basis with provisions made for the poor.

-Obstacles for markets to perform outside of the dictates of the government will be pared back, but hardly done away with.

-Foreign aid will be scaled back, but also hardly done away with, particularly to Israel and other countries with a special relationship with us.

-The federal budget will be slashed.

-Tax rates will be lowered to correspond to the smaller budget (but the income tax will not disappear).

- Rule by presidential fiat will be lessened. Both Bush, whose defenders promoted the idea of the unitary executive and Obama, who seems to think presidential order is a good way to rule, have seriously diluted constitutional protections against a tyrannical president. Both sides would point to the other as an excuse to continue the practice. It is merely one more excuse. But, I believe Paul would not operate in that fashion – at least not to the same degree. Of course, politicians tend to disappoint, don’t they?

Despite all this, and other possible changes, the nanny state will not disappear, as people like not having lead paint on their walls, sucking down cigarette smoke in restaurants or having drunk drivers ruling the roads. Our military alliances will stay intact although some apparatus, like NATO, may greatly change and someone else will be paying for it. Federal Civil Rights laws will not be changed, at least, not more than if he wasn’t president.

I listen to all these guys (the remaining four) make speeches all the time. Romney talks about business and tweaking the status quo. Santorum talks about morality and tweaking the status quo. Gingrich talks about everything in terms of bold and fundamental changes, which is really tweaking the status quo, and Ron Paul talks about freedom. I like that better.

If I am rating them on speaking ability, I rate Paul after Gingrich, because Paul does not his subject, and his followers love his hobbit like appearance and style.

Paul's chances as a Republican, and he is not going third party no matter what in my opinion, are very small despite his ability to stick with around. His candidacy is mostly a pipe dream and a prod to whoever wins.


Here is what it comes down to. Rush Limbaugh has decreed that independents don’t matter. Republicans must DEFEAT the Democrats. He even declared that Romney was done fairly early in the process for one heresy or another (I think it was something about immigration). Of course, ironically, he has reluctantly come to Romney’s aid by bashing Gingrich over his attacks on Bain Capital.

But, independents do matter. They will in fact likely pick the next president, by the weight of the majority of their votes one way or the other. It is the reason that Romney is roughly tied with Obama in head to head polls and Gingrich gets trounced.

Romney and Gingrich’s styles and strategy are basically, the tortoise and hare. Gingrich is the hare, all flash and frivolity, look at me, look at me, look at me. Romney did best when he managed to shrug his shoulders, tortoise-like, and look like the adult up there (but not so adult that he comes off like Herman Munster scolding Eddie as he did after he lost South Carolina). Romney is bland. Not Dukakis bland. But bland. And any new face coming up in the polls looked exciting to him. But, slowly, or sometimes quickly, they faded and he stayed about where he is – slightly better nationally than his 27.8% finish in South Carolina.


I really have little to say about him because I don’t think he is going to be around very long, whatever he says. Bachmann and Cain and Perry and Huntsman all said they weren't leaving. My only question for him is – does he endorse Romney or Gingrich (I think we all know that Paul is out of the question)? Endorsements really mean next to nothing, but it will be a news cycle.

Santorum is actually the most personally likeable of the four left, if you ask me. That’s subjective, of course. Though like all politicians (people), he is flawed, I would still likely vote for him if it were – however unlikely – Santorum v. Obama. That's not saying much as I would vote for Paul and Romney too (not Gingrich - I'd vote 3d party or stay home). I don’t like the whole anti-gay rights thingee he’s got going, but I disagree with most conservatives on that point. I’ve seen him interviewed on C-Span, which lets famous people present themselves in a non-antagonistic way and I like him. I think he would endorse Gingrich, as they seem to be friends. But, again, so what? The majority of his followers would gravitate their anyway.


Who is killing Iranian scientists? I don’t know, but if it is us, it is a bad idea. We are not at war with them. Not yet, anyway. You can’t just say, well, had someone killed Hitler . . . because that legitimizes murder by any country or ideology of any other. Iran has not shown itself to be Nazi Germany although I despise their government and almost no one in the West would consider them a free country. Part of me wishes they would attack one of our ships (unsuccessfully) but I am reminded of the warning to be careful of what you wish for – you might get it. I expect in ten years that many more countries have the bomb anyway.

If it is Israel doing it – and it looks like it is either them or someone trying to look like them - that is a harder question. I  sure don’t speak Farsi and I am just not convinced about the translations of certain quotations attributed to their spokesmen I've read. It seems to me, from the little research I could do, that quotes from Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel off the face of the earth are not correct (I have even analyses by Israelis or Jews who read Farsi claim it is a mistranslation), though obviously, he is extremely antagonistic to Israel. However, it appears that their Supreme Leader, Khamenei has made it clear that Iran and Israel are on a "collision course."  We are continuously told that Iran is funding Hizbollah and Hamas and whether I can personally verify it myself, it seems highly likely.  If that is true, then it is as good as war for Israel and I can see why they would not want even the remote possibility of an Iranian bomb.

But, please, no war for us with Iran, outside of completely repulsing and punishing any attack on us. And if that happens, we should not put troops on the ground other than what is needed other than to secure Iraqi borders (and that only if it can be done relatively safely). We should go into the straights of Hormuz full naval force and take "as a prize" any Iranian vessel which is aggressive with our ships based on the principles of freedom of navigation. If that is met with bombs or terrorist attacks, then we do have to step it up to make the government of Iran loathsome to its own people. It is possible in today's world to get the word out to them, despite their tyranny. But I see no need for ground troops, save, potentially, a strong special forces attack on a so-called nuclear site to see if there is any truth to it. But, these hit jobs are wrong.


Martin Luther King Day has passed and once again I am struck by the number of conservatives who seem bothered by it being celebrated. They insist it is not racism, and maybe it is not. But, I think for some it is. While I do not believe most conservatives are racist, I am often saddened by the continued bigotry of some, particularly older conservatives I know, who actually detest the civil rights hero (and loathe Obama on a very personal level). MLK is a great American in my book, and to accentuate his flaws - mostly that he wasn't faithful to his wife – and ignore his accomplishments is to make a mockery of some of their own elected leaders. I'm glad to see some other conservatives pulling the other way. Before someone mentions that it was Democrats who opposed civil rights, the southern Democrats were conservatives, and many fled their party after Johnson pushed it through. The 60s was the source of some left wing problems and excesses we still struggle with but the civil rights aspect greatly improved this country and King, with courage and creativity, helped changed our little corner of the universe for the better. It is hard to think of any political/moral leader who deserves it more. I’ll take suggestions.  If the fact that Washington and Lincoln each don’t have their own day like King bothers enough people, then fine, fix the supposed slight. Most people want more holidays.

And, none of the three could care less.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A case of the stubborns

I have to wonder - did he really think he had a chance? The media, because they just chase stories and could care about reality, made it seem like a big deal that he might and then did enter the race, as if it would make a difference. Huntsman seemed dead on arrival to me. The only mistake I made was thinking he wouldn't even make it to Iowa. He did, but only because he didn't compete there, and then New Hampshire, which he camped out in for months, and briefly made crazy people think he looked like he was a contender by finishing third. He had said that Iowa didn't matter after it was over, and he was right, but it is true of New Hampshire too. South Carolina is more important but probably everyone who was thinking of voting for him there was named or married to a Huntsman too.

It is reported that he is going to endorse Romney, which is the second biggest endorsement any candidate has gotten so far since Ashley Madison, the dating site for adulters, endorsed Gingrich. These endorsements by candidates who just got finished criticizing the person they are now endorsing make me uncomfortable. But, that's what politicians do, isn't it? Be endlessly hypocritical with a smile.

By endorsing Romney, you may have gotten yourself another gig in China, but didn't you criticize them a little bit too during your campaign? That might not go over so well. He can't make you VP (as, you are both Mormons, and God forbid), but he'll find something for you. Frankly, if I were you, I'd write a book and hang out with your large family skiing and doing other fun stuff. You can run again in four or eight years when everyone forgets that you won the Michael Dukakis award for scintilating performances at a debate. We know - Utah was the number one job producer. Tells us something we don't know.

Actually, I like the guy. But, as I said the first time I mentioned him in these evalovin' pages - he had a slightly better chance of winning than I did.


I love nomenclature and etymology. I didn’t even know the word nomenclature until a few years ago when I read that Tolkien, who I’ve argued here is the most important English speaking author of the 20th century  - okay, possibly a tie with Hemingway, but maybe I’m just trying to sound reasonable, because other than the short novel The Old Man and the Sea, the short story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and one of my all time favorite novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls, I couldn’t finish anything else he wrote - loved nomenclature. I can’t find Tolkien’s letter to his son I want to quote, but after his son had described some historical fact to him, the master replied that he just couldn’t get interested in history unless there was some nomenclature involved – that is, either lists of names or something about how names got their meaning. I thought – Me too, but not so much as him, as I do love history for its own sake too.  But, a name meaning makes it special.

This post is dedicated to nomenclature – Of course, people have written books on this, and I’m not going to, but just select some nomenclature, mostly that has always interested me.

1) Nomenclature – I’ll start with the name for the thing itself.  There are actually all kinds of nomenclature, including what must be the most well known – etymology (a word, which, of course, has its own etymology), which is generally speaking, about the origin of names. Take the word – “nomenclature,” for example, the roots for which can be dated back at least to Homer (I am not the least familiar with earlier Greek languages, so, maybe earlier).

In Ancient Greek, the word for “name” is – transliterated – onoma. The –a is an ending, so take it off and you are pretty close to our word. The word for “to call” is kalein. The “ein” at the end just means it is an infinitive, so dropping it, you realize how much it is also like the modern word. Putting the two words together with a few changes, you get something close to - onomakledev (caller of names). The Romans dropped the initial o, played around with it a bit according to their own rules and came up with nomenclatura. From Latin it went into the romance languages, such as French – nomenclature, from which we got our own identical word, although I suppose they pronounced “ture” as a nasal “toor” (rhyming with poor) instead of our “chure.” See. Simple.

If you don’t find that fascinating, you just aren’t someone who loves etymology or nomenclature. I find most people are interested though, if it is a word they use themselves and there is a cool origin for it. So, I’ll give you one.

2) Wednesday. When I taught a class in Constitutional law I started one session by asking why Wednesday was spelled so strange. There were roughly 75 students there and not one knew, although they used the word all the time, so don’t feel bad if you don’t. Obviously, I’m not talking about the “day” part, which has its own etymology, but the “Wednes-” part, which is a strange spelling for an English word. The answer is, it comes from the Old Norse or Scandinavian father of the gods – Woden (really the “d” was the Old Norse and English Þ, þ, which was pronounced like our “th.” Over time, we changed “th” sounds to “d,” according to Grimm’s law (the same amazing Jacob Grimm who was the older of the Brothers Grimm).  It’s not the only day of the week we get from the Norse gods. We much more often derive words from Greek and Roman for (planets, months, etc.) things like this, but for some reason the god we now usually called Odin and his kin got to stand in.  Like –

Tuesday – Tiu’s day (Tiu was a Norse god of war), and

Thursday – Thor’s day (Thor was the god of thunder, made more famous today by Marvel Comics), and

Friday – Frigg’s or Frigga’s day (Frigg was the goddess of marital love), and, of course, as described, Wednesday.

3) Dwarves. While we are talking about the Norse and Tolkien, I’ll give an example using the other meaning of nomenclature – a list of names. The “Bible” of the Norse gods is called The Elder or Poetic Edda (a word which, of course, has its own interesting etymology), compiled in the 13th century, has a list in it, which, if you love The Hobbit, you will instantly recognize some of these names (which I highlighted in case you don’t):

“There was Motsognir | the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next;
Many a likeness | of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.

Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin,
Nar and Nain, | Niping, Dain,
Bifur, Bofur, | Bombur, Nori,
An and Onar, | Ai, Mjothvitnir.

Vigg and Gandalf) | Vindalf, Thrain,
Thekk and Thorin, | Thror, Vit and Lit,
Nyr and Nyrath,-- | now have I told--
Regin and Rathsvith-- | the list aright.

Fili, Kili, | Fundin, Nali,
Heptifili, | Hannar, Sviur,
Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.”

If the last one threw you – it means “oaken shield,” (just look closely) as in, Thorin Oakenshield, leader of The Hobbit’s dwarves. Of course, you also recognized Gandalf in there, which means magic elf or maybe wand elf. Regin is also an important character in Norse mythology and if you look again, you will also see the Old Norse words for North, South, East and West.

4) Bosporos (or Bosphoros) Straights. This is the world’s narrowest internationally navigated straight, which cuts Turkey into two parts and is also a dividing line between Europe and Asia. I was there once in 1990. Foreign travel is always wonderful for me, but this was all more exciting because I knew that both Darius and Xerxes, Persian emperors who tried and failed to conquer Greece, also crossed there. Its name comes from the Greek - Bos-poros, means cow-crossing (or ferry or ford). The Roman poet Ovid, whose Metamorphises I read sometime in the 1970s tells us why, and I’ve like the story ever since. But, Aeschylus, the first of the great Greek playwrights, told it centuries earlier in Prometheus Bound and it seems obvious it was already known in the time of  Homer, who (if he existed) may be from the 7th or 8th century, B.C., as he referred to the god Hermes (Mercury to the Romans) as Argus-Slayer, which will make more sense in the next paragraph. Anyway, that’s the thing with words. I can’t even explain to you why having the story surrounding a word being at least 1700 years old is exciting, but if it is for you, then you are a lexophile too, and I mean that in a good way.

Generally, the story goes like this. Zeus, who just could not keep it in his pants, seduced the nymph Io. Hera, Zeus’ wife, seeks her out and Zeus changes her into a cow, which Hera asks for, and Zeus, a jerk if there ever was one, gives up. She chains her up and has the 100 eyed Argus watch her. Zeus sent Hermes (remember – called Argus-Slayer) to kill Argus, which he does after lulling him to sleep with a boring story. Hera, unforgiving, has Io pursued by gadflies and eventually she, a cow, crossed a body of water which we still call – cow crossing, or, in Greek, Bosporos. By the way, gadfly in Greek was “estrus,” now used for estrus cycle. If I have to explain that, you need to take high school health again (actually, I failed that course, but that is a tale best told on another day).

5) Gamecock. Right after New Year’s Day I noticed that the South Carolina Gamecocks were playing in some bowl game or another. I could care about the game (although I went to a Virginia Tech football game this year and it was a lot more fun than I thought it would be) but it made me think of their nickname Gamecock, which was originally the nickname of a Revolutionary War hero most people strangely associate with the Civil War instead, for reasons I will explain. Actually, our hero, Thomas Sumpter, was originally not from South Carolina, but Virginia. He moved further south though and became a colonel in the South Carolinan militia, resigning his commission early in the war. But, when the boisterous British calvary led by “Bloody” Banastre Tarleton burned his home to the ground, he reconstituted the militia and was made their general. On a recruiting trip, he stopped at the home of the Gillispie brothers who were well known for their fighting cocks, including one known as Old Tuck. They were impressed with General Sumpter and pronounced him a second Old Tuck, who was, of course, a “game cock.”

At least, that is one etymology, and they are often confused and conflicting. Other versions have him being so tagged by one British general or another, including Cornwallis. But, whichever version is true, it became his nickname. Oddly, Sumpter, later a congressman, is hardly a household name from the revolution, although Cornwallis deemed him his greatest “plague.” But, his name is preserved for us in other ways such as most famously, Fort Sumpter, the fort whose defense set off the Civil War. And, he was at least one model for the fictional hero of the movie, The Patriot, and, of course, the inspiration for the University of South Carolina’s teams.

6) California. No, not an Indian name. It most likely comes from a Spanish novel, Las sergas de Esplandian (1510), itself a sequel to a series of books about a fictional knight, Amadis de Gaul, which novels were also the inspiration for the more famous Don Quixote. Good luck finding a translation in English of Amadis de Gaul. I found one printed in the 19th century – one of my few treasures, though I expect it is not worth very much. In Las sergas, California was the name of a mythical island where Amazon like women resided. This land was somewhat legendary in Mexico and its environs. Both Colombus and Cortez had written about these women and island. Cortez actually sent out explorers in search of them. Either those guys or another Spanish explorer (not really clear) soon after referred to the Baja Peninsula, which they thought was an island, gave it the name of California from the still recent novel. There are some other stabs at the origination of the name, one of which sounds at least plausible (an Indian word for high mountains), but this one seems pretty evident to me from the historical record.

7)  Consider the following words:

Terrific, pandemonium padlock, sensuous, earthshaking, moon-struck, lovelorn, jubilant, impassive, didactic, unprincipled, stunning, liturgical, unaccountable, self-delusion, dismissive, irresponsible, arch-fiend, debauchery, fragrance, gloom, embellishing, literalism, chastening, civilising, satanic, divorceable, ecstatic, endearing, depravity, extravagance,  flutter, cooking, hurried, well-balanced, well-stocked, economise, half-starved, unhealthily, untack, unfurl, acclaim, ungenerous, criticise, disregard, awe-struck, jubilant, enjoyable, exhilarating, complacency, attacks, airborne, exploding, far-sighted, vested, undesirable, persuasively, unconvincing, hamstring,  chastening, unintended,  unenviable, defensively, beleaguered, embittered, enlightening, civilizing,  hot-headed, cherubic, loquacious, impassive, adjustments, idol-worship,  frameworks, helpfulness,  pettifoggery, full-grown, incompleteness, belatedness, circumscribing, expanses, reforming, slow-moving, surrounding, unoriginal, echoing, awaited and discontinuous.

They all have sought of a common etymology, or really, creator. And it’s not Shakespeare, who also invented hundreds if not thousands of words. No, they are the creation of another poet, John Milton who lived later in the 17th century. Many of them are derived from other words or the Lation or Greek of other words, but according to the Oxford Dictionary, he was the first. I just want to look closer at one of them (the only one I knew was his when I started researching this) – pandemonium, which might have my favorite etymology.

We usually use pandemonium to the noise occuring when people are going crazy with some wild emotion (I’ve read the definition – a very noisy place, but we really mean more). It could be used to describe fans when there team scores a touchdown or in China when the Apple store doesn’t sell iphone 4s on the day they promised. Pan is another ancient Greek, not just the word for the half goat, half man god who played the pipes, but the word always meant “all” or some synonym of that. Demon come from daimonos, which in Homeric times meant a friend or a divinity, but at least by the time of Christ, and maybe earlier, demon. So, adding the -ium ending, Milton used it to mean, all-demon home or land. If you think about what a land filled with demons would sound like, our modern usage makes perfect sense.

8)  Boondocks. As in – I live in the boondocks. Who hasn’t used that expression without knowing where it comes from? I sure did. We mean a really wild place away from civilization (by which I mean a population center containing at least one McDonald’s restaurant or two iphones). It sounds vaguely British, like maybe a place in London near the main port, but actually the word is Tagalog, a language spoken in the Phillipines. It is hard to believe it is only since 1946 that America gave the Phillipines its independence (after all, we did make the Brits give up theirs), having won her almost a half century earlier in our battles with Spain (which included our taking Cuba and Puerto Rico too). The Phillipine-American War is probably the least well known war in our history and I don’t pretend to know much about it either, never having bothered to study it. It started in 1899, officially ended in 1902, but went on in some respects until 1913, that is, almost up to the start of World War I. Many Americans were against our occupation, most famously, Mark Twain, who started an Anti-Imperialist League. Ironically, today, it is one of the places in the world where the United States is most popular (not counting, of course, the Islamic rebels).

Where was I? Oh, right, boondocks. Boondocks was a word brought back to America by soldiers. It meant “mountain” there, and mountains are usually wild places, which gave it its English meaning.

9) Spain. This is a weird one and maybe not true, although no one really knows. Still, I like it, so I’m going with it anyway. Spain means (supposedly) land of hyraxes. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a hyrax is, as almost no one does. I actually learned about them in the very first book I read, Born Free, about a lion returned to the wilderness. The author, Joy Adamson, also had a pet hyrax, which is best described as a rodent-like creature that lives among the rocks or in the trees in Africa. There were giant hyraxes once upon a time and for various reasons, they appear not only to be the ancestors of the little tiny hyraxes, but also elephants and water mammals like manatees. Even now the tiny hyrax shares with the elephant a number of traits including small tusks and rather advanced intelligence for its size (you can train a hyrax to use a toilet, making it a great pet in my book).

So, how do we get from hyrax to Spain, which has none? Apparently, Phoenician sailors, who colonized Spain, thought that’s what the rabbits were, and used their name for it. Apparently, the problem worked both ways, as English Bible tranlators used rabbit for Hyrax, as they had no idea what they were either. But, the Phoenician word for hyrax went through Latin and then Norman French (espagna) and then English before we got to the word Spain. There are a number of theories about the name Spain, actually (I studied this before I traveled there in I think, 1996) but none of them grabs me as an – aha, that has to be it – so I’m sticking with hyraxes until someone makes a strong argument for something else.

10. Cincinnati. That’s a weird name for an American city, sounding more like it should be in Italy. And, there’s a good reason why. We actually know this derivation for sure. The city was named for the Society of the Cincinnati, which is still in existence and begun in 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War. It was comprised of soldiers who wanted to preserve their comraderie and became a hereditary society of their descendents, with branches here and in France. Washington, the first president of the Society, as well as the United States, was known as the Cincinnati of America or Cincinnati of the West. He, and the Society after him, were both named for a fifth/sixth century Roman hero, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who was twice given temporary dictatorship over the Romans for military purposes and twice gave it up as soon as he was done with his work to go back to his farm. Apparently, the Romans were just as struck by this noble behavior as Americans were with Washington when he too went back to his farm. Actually, cincinnus itself has a meaning – curly or curly hair.

Not everybody was thrilled with the society. Jefferson was appalled by its hereditary nature and Franklin, at first, was suspicious (later becoming an honorary member) both fearing a hereditary military organization in the infant country. Apparently, it was no big deal though.

What we now call Cincinnati, Ohio was founded a few years after the society and called by the even stranger name Losantiville, which was an amalgamation of four words from different languages meaning city opposite the mouth of the Licking River. But, a few years later the governor of the territory, who was a member of the society, changed it to Cincinnati.

Last two - David is Hebrew for Beloved and Eisenberg German for Iron Mountain.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

What's the matter with Ron Paul?

First, what is right about Ron Paul? Of those running, he is the at least the second most interesting; Newt Gingrich – who I do not favor – is probably more so. But Paul’s being interesting is part of the reason that independents are so excited by him. It is the reason young people are so interested in him. He is more dedicated to the text of the Constitution as written than any other candidate. He is more dedicated to the idea of individual liberty than any other candidate. It would be hard to believe that a strong majority of people would not, at least in the abstract, view these positions positively. Even in 2008 he was getting the loudest cheers in debate audiences for saying things that made the experts cringe. Words like liberty and freedom, the Constitution and the founder’s vision resonate with many people.  

So, what is so wrong with him so that virtually every “expert” on tv says he is unelectable and his opponents go so far as to call him dangerous? On the other hand, when they start thinking about what it means, it scares them. That’s because the world has changed much more than the Constitution has and they don’t want to go back. Thinking about that leads to questions I’m not going into here very deeply (I predict a deep sigh of relief from any reader). They include – How have we moved away from the Constitution? Why did we move away – changing values, changing policies, something inherent in the Constitution? Is doing so dangerous to our liberty interests? Is it indicative of a rule by mob or an aristocracy? What should we do about it? 

The aforesaid are issues I have studied almost every day at least for two to three years and less consistently before. I personally find them really interesting and therefore I’m afraid you’ll have to bear with at least a short answer – The Constitution has never really worked in many details because no written document can by itself live up to that heady title. Life is too complicated and values change too quickly and are too diverse for any primary law such as a Constitution to keep up. In my own family I recognized that my mother encouraged me (and I suppose my siblings) to be an individual and then was disappointed in some ways when I did just that. That reaction is not a surprise with any parent, if you think about it. You want your kids to think for themselves, but you also really don’t want them to be that different from you. I raise this because I think our political system does the same thing. It – and predominantly the first (free speech and religion) and fourteenth amendment (prohibiting the states from violating due process and equal protection of the law) - allows each of us to be individuals. It is not surprising that in some ways each of us deviates in what we believe the law should be and what we can expect from it. This idea is rarely expressed and is not said or written about frequently near enough. People think in terms of being right in their beliefs and those who disagree with them wrong, rather than about having different interests and values which might lead to different conclusions. And a little thing like the Constitution should not get in the way. It can either be interpreted out of the way or ignored.  

All that brings me to the first thing wrong with Ron Paul – the Constitution scares the heck out of many people. They listen to him and they think – are we all supposed to walk around with a pocketful of gold coins and how do you pay for a movie with gold?  When the Constitution says congress may legislate to “coin” money – does it mean no paper? Believe it or not, this was a big issue that has been resolved with a yes. Right now, I do not want to discuss it in detail, just point out that most people are not applauding at this line, but thinking – “What? How would I pay my credit card bill? With a strong box filled with metal?” Ron Paul asks where the Constitution has allowed for many of the departments and laws we have. Where, for example, is the right to create an EPA? Nowhere, of course. But, though libertarians and many conservatives like this idea, most people are very fond of clean air and water and would be horrified if they found out that industry will no longer be regulated by the federal government. They do not want each state bordering the Mississippi to decide what chemical waste can be dumped into it. And, no, they do not trust the states or the people to make or enforce their own laws, if they even could. You can decide this is wrong thinking, but I seriously doubt most people would agree with you. For example, the American Lung Association released a survey about a year ago conducted by one Democratic and one Republican polling firm that showed a very strong majority were in favor of the EPA and enforcement (even increased enforcement) of the Clean Air Act. A similar result this past summer was found with respect to voters in Appalachia with respect to the Clean Water Act. Most people see the environment as a national (if not international) issue. This is different, of course, from things like the department of education or housing, whose power I think most citizens would be happy to return to the states. 

Ron Paul’s second problem is other libertarians. Libertarians are a diverse group, in some ways, more so than any other large political group. Some are rich, others poor. Some are religious and some atheists. And so on. As for myself, I claim to be only a moderate independent (don’t hate me) who leans libertarian. By independent I mean that I am not for any political party, whose primary interest almost always seems to be their own power and my political beliefs do not tend to be very strongly in agreement by either party or ideology. By moderate I mean that I tend not to like or dislike or intuit politicians personal values based on their political predilections, although there are exceptions (Nazis, for example). By leans libertarian I mean that preserving or not limiting individual liberty should be the default position with respect to every law, and any inroad on it should be for a very good reason – the more important the liberty interest – say, free speech and privacy in your home as opposed to when you water your lawn – the better a reason it has to be to suppress it. The Bill of Rights is a good guide for what’s really important, but it is not exclusive. However, none of the above means that I do not believe in laws or regulations where they are not anti-competitive or create inequalities under the law, so long as they do not target people or groups as winners or losers and do not give everyone an opportunity (it's easier to say than to do). This is a deep subject – what legislation should be lawful or not – and a subject for a future day. 

Liberty, of course, is a little like truth. People have different ideas of what it means? We have a copy of a speech Lincoln gave during the Civil War (so, not my spelling) –

“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name———liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names———liberty and tyranny.
That’s one reason I never call myself a “libertarian,” but say I lean that way. It is just that hard to define. Another reason is personal to me – I just don’t like to join groups. But, a third reason I don’t like to call myself a libertarian is that I’ve watched some gatherings of Libertarians and a good number of them scare me a little. Some a lot. There is sometimes a thin line between those who call themselves libertarians and people who call themselves anarchists or nihilists and I, and I think most Americans, don’t want anything to do with that. It is not a secret that having some type of ordered society increases your liberty. One Supreme Court Justice put it this way –  

The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.” 

I actually do not like that particular justice’s opinion in the case for which he wrote his dissent, but I do agree with his larger point. The libertarianism that attracts me does not rule out order and certainly not all regulations. Americans do not want to be overregulated, but they also do not want lead paint on their children’s toys or a bank to open its doors without sufficient assets.  They do want to know the tires they buy meet a safe standard and that their doctor had to pass a stringent test. Whether the federal government or the state should regulate something is too long a discussion for this article. And whether pure libertarians like it or not, almost no one has a problem with required seat belts or smoke free restaurants anymore. 

A third thing wrong with Ron Paul is that while our own personal notions of what  freedom or liberty means is easy for each of us to know, the ramifications of libertarianism immersed in a complicated culture and constitutional system is not so easy to learn as one might think. I read Thoreau and De Tocqueville when young, been re-reading Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and his other works for about a quarter century, increasingly the last few years, and other authors. When I read Spinoza or Kant or Locke or Hume, which I do sporadically, but not comprehensively, one of the two issues I’m most interested in is their perspective on liberty. All of them were to some degree inspirations for our system of freedom. I’m still learning and still occasionally changing my mind. In fact, I only added the “lean libertarian” to independent moderate a few years ago when it finally dawned on me that this was the closest I would probably come to describing what I have probably always been to some degree, especially as an adult. 

Libertarianism simply has not been defined for people the way liberalism or conservatism has been defined for most voters who have minimal or even moderate interest in political theory. When people don’t understand something, they tend to fear the things they don’t grasp. When they hear that everyone should be free to choose who they contract with and how they use their own property, they expect or fear a return to Jim Crow. Paul has acknowledged he has a problem expressing these sentiments well and wishes he could do better. Because of this, he seems to spend a lot of time explaining what he doesn’t believe or want, and when he doesn’t, it is easy for the public to believe in the worst version of him. I have visited his campaign website and he really doesn’t try at all to increase interest or explain libertarianism very well. Maybe you can’t do that during a political campaign because you will scare people away. 

Sometimes, when Paul does explain things right, he just makes it worse, because when you run for president, you do not do so in an abstract vacuum, but in a culture with its own myths, legends and, particularly, fears. In one of the debates, discussing the possible death of a theoretical person who chose not to have health insurance, he explained that freedom was about taking risks that you want to take. Libertarians in the audience understood and cheered. I think most people cringed. It’s not 1930 anymore. There’s been well over a half century of varying degrees of the nanny state. We now fight wars half hoping and half expecting that no one will get killed except for some designated bad guys. Even the collateral damage that has always existed in war is now seen as totally unacceptable by many people, at least if it can in any way be avoided. Certainly Americans in their own country aren’t supposed to die when they can be saved by even extraordinary means – and even when their peril is their own fault. Maybe this is self destructive to a culture, but it is the culture now.

Essentially saying about someone - if he dies he dies - is honest, and that is another Paul strong point. But, let’s face it, honesty wins elections like nicotine cures cancer. When Walter Mondale said – “Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did," he was being honest too. Some partisan might use a loaded word like “stupid” for it also, but if that’s true of Mondale, it is true of Paul. Because he just doesn’t seem stupid by any stretch of the imagination it leads me to wonder if he cares. 

And that brings us to yet another Paul problem. Unlike all those other candidates going through bottle after bottle of Purex, smiling at people asking them rude or offensive questions, Paul seems above it all, suspicious of even conservative media and cantankerous if you cross a line with him. He doesn’t seem to want to ask people for their votes, but I expect it is because he would believe, as I would, that it was demeaning to them and to him. Yet, there can be no doubt that people like to be asked for their vote and there is an expectation that they will along with all the kowtowing that accompanies it. I’m glad he doesn’t do it, at least not much relative to other candidates, but there can be no doubt it hurts him. 

But, the last thing wrong with Ron Paul is obviously his foreign policy, which is his biggest problem. Sure, peace is a great idea and we are a country that can take a lot of aggression and deal it back when we need to in whatever measure we need. And, if you listen to him, he actually is not talking about curbing our defensive abilities, but our interventionist nature. Again, Ron Paul is much more like a founder here, in particular Adams, Jefferson and Madison. But, in my view – and this is yet one more subject there is not room to get into here – Jefferson and Madison’s foreign policies were ruinous for the most part, particularly with respect to Britain and France, the two most important powers in the world. Everything today is a topic for another day except Paul.  

Ironically, his biggest problem is the one he actually explains best and he ties it to our financial problems exceedingly well. It does make some sense except for one thing which I would like to present with loose analogies. Suppose you are playing checkers with a friend. Every once in a while when you take a piece of his off the board, he just puts it back on it. It is even a worse analogy if you imagine that he does it while you are not looking. Worse still, if, when he is losing, he upsets the board. And worst of all, while you are sitting down to play, he hits you over the head and takes the money in your pocket. No matter what your personal values or morality, no matter how much you stick to your principles or mind your own business, you are not going to have a good game of checkers and you certainly can’t win except by resorting to violence or coercion yourself.  

But that was a vague and general comparison. We do not see foreign affairs in general terms. We see them in terms of specific other countries and movements. We care about Iran, Russia and China. We care about Israel. While there is never unanimity in how Americans feel about foreign affairs, there is at least a general agreement about these countries. We want to deter the first, compete on a level playing field with the second and third and encourage and protect the fourth. Paul has counter arguments.  

Take Israel. He says that Israel wants not to have to rely on the United States; that we give more to Israel’s enemies collectively than we give to her and that we have never solved her problems but only increased our problems with other countries and groups by intervening. All that may be true, but does he not realize that our weighing in on Israel’s side has kept them from being involved in more violent attacks from their neighbors and perhaps has also protected her enemies from them?

With respect to Iran, he argues that there is no proof they are building a nuke, though he suspects they want one; that we were wrong about Iraq building a nuke and that we engaged in a long war because of it; and, that we intervened wrongfully in their country in the 1950s. But, others don’t care about that. The fact that Iran is developing a nuclear program in a way that might enable them to eventually have the bomb, that they are a nation openly hostile to us and the west that has alienated most of the countries of the world, and a totalitarian dedicated to religious tyranny.

With respect to al Qaeda though, Paul seems to not only go off the tracks, but to really hurt himself. He didn’t like bin Laden and isn’t shedding tears for him, but it is almost impossible for Americans who celebrated his death to understand someone wanting to be president who feels it was illegal. And while he may get more sympathy with respect to al Qaeda members who actually are Americans, most Americans don’t really care about that either, seeing in their acts enough aiding and abetting a terrorist group to be deemed a military target. You can argue these points legally and morally, but it is very hard to argue that they are not unpopular and almost incongruous for any Republican candidate, particularly as it is opposed to most Republican’s views and that his prospective opponent, Barack Obama, can crow about their deaths. Paul's view that they hate us because of what we have done clangs just as badly.

While my views on Iran and Israel are probably more mixed than most Americans, there can be no doubt that the overwhelming number of Americans, not to mention Republicans, would see his wanting to take financial support away from Israel as a deal breaker and his not vociferously calling Iran to account as crazy. I could actually see some Republicans voting for Obama rather than Paul and more than that staying home or voting for a third party.

Personally, I would vote for Paul and he is my favorite of the eight who originally made the debating stage, though I would prefer Gary Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, if he had the slightest chance of even beating out Huntsman. I do not believe Paul, if we pretend he could be elected short of some existential American crisis while he was running, would accomplish most of his goals, because he could not get even a Republican controlled congress to go along with many of them. In fact, even winning as a Republican (and I think he would be clobbered for all the reasons I stated above), he would have to govern like an independent, and it is unknown how that can work very well at all. He would be relugated to governing by presidential order, vetoing bills, to sometimes having to suffer the indignity of having the congress override his veto and possibly even arousing Constitutional crises from time to time when he refuses to comply with what he sees as unconstitutional. But, that's okay with me. Just not almost everyone else.

It comes down to - he can't win. And, as my beloved and faithful readers know, I think Romney can.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

And then there were six

Going to try not to use the word "wobbly" this post.

Iowa is over and Michele Bachmann made the courageous, but only realistic decision. She quit. It was a move she should have made months ago, as despite her one time surge, she never had a chance. I've said before I like her personally. I've listened to a half dozen speeches or public interviews with her. At least in public, she comes across sweet, happy and motherly. None of those are qualifications for president. She indicated a number of times that despite a predilection to sprinkle speeches with American history, she doesn't know very much about it. Not a problem, as I rarely ever come across a politician who does. But, most of them try not to be so obvious about it.

Governor Perry has decided to stay in after one day of soul searching. That's a mistake, I think. One thing we learned from his and Bachmann's poor performances is that even in relatively evangelistic states, it doesn't really sell unless you have something else religious voters want. But, religion was, at least hypothetically, a selling point for Perry. He held a public prayer meeting before joining the fray and has run commercials advertising his Christianity and that he intends to bring it into the White House with him. That's enough to scrub him for me, but he's not a bad guy, from what I can tell, at least. But, he peaked early and could not even begin to hold onto it. Could he improve his debating skills? Sure. Spend his money better? Of course. Improve his policy arguments and make people believe he understands it? Maybe next time.  But, you still are who you are. I'm not saying at some point he might not do all of those things. Romney sure did over the course of the last 3 years. But, I don't see Perry doing it this time around, even with his many years in politics.

Gingrich did not disappoint me. He lashed out on the last day at Romney, obviously thrown by the negative attacks on him. Where Romney was cool, said he liked Gingrich and his wife, who he referred to by her first name, Gingrich was not. He called Romney a liar (which, if accurate, come on - how many times has Gingrich lied?)  And then he has called Romney unelectable. In other words, now that he has been crushed, out the window does the whole do no harm to other Republicans. It also, was typical Gingrich stupidity. No one thinks Romney is unelectable; even those who don't like him. But, when did not making sense ever stop Gingrich?

Ron Paul looks like he couldn't be happier after his third place finish. It is hard to tell what he is thinking, but it may very well be that he just keeps telling the truth. It is liberating. Whereas everyone else has to pretend to be someone they may not quite be, he seems to go against the usual rule. Maybe he has other reasons to be happy. Santorum probably does not have legs, though he will do well in the south. Paul might end up being Romney's only real competition and he could take it all the way to the convention if he wants. Most states divvy up the votes according to the votes your received and Paul might be able to pull it off that far. Is there any chance he could be nominated? Well, if Romney pulls a Cain and turns out to have done missionary work in France than we know of, maybe. But, that's too much to hope for by all but the loopiest libertarian. But, look at some of the stats below and they too might indicate a reason he feels happy, and I will return to it when later.

And Romney? I am really impressed. Iowa was by no means a lock for him. He had a very small staff there and only really put an effort into it in the last week. I do not particularly admire him for any quality he possesses other than the remarkable poise he has maintained, even when being pummeled by both Gingrich and the media (who all seem to find him guilty, guilty, guilty when it comes to being involved in targeting Gingrich through a Super-Pac). But, he knows his policy issues; he never stumbled in the debates even when taking heat from almost everyone else, and he does look like a president out of central casting. You can never say anything is inevitable, but I don't think he has far to go. Right now, I'm glad I stuck with him all the while the Queens for the day took their turns.

One last thing. There was a pretty interesting chart on The New York Times website ( detailing the results of a poll of voters entering the caucuses. Here are some of the results:

Ron Paul got more votes from men (marginal) than either Romney or Santorum (24%, 23%, 23%, respectively) but the reason he did worse than them in total was that women did not like him as much, where as the other two slightly improved (19%, 25%, 27%). Being a woman did not help Michele Bachmann at all. She received only 5% of their vote.

Rick Santorum received the lion's share of the evangelical vote, 32%, with Paul the next best at only 19%. Perry and Gingrich, for all their praying, did no better than the Mormon Romney with them - 14% each. Michele Bachmann, poor soul, could only manage 6%. It is interesting though that of non-evangelicals, Romney did better even better than Santorum did with evangelicals - 38%. But Paul again came in second in this category - 26% - far better than anyone else.

Santorum also did the best with tea partiers - 29%, ten percent better than Paul's and Romney, but Romney did substantially better than anyone else with those who said they were opposed to the tea party (43%) and that bodes well for him; the tea party is now, according to at least one poll, the most unpopular political group in the country. His 32% was also by far the tops with neutrals. Paul again was second in both those categories.

Santorum did by far the best with those who considered themselves "very conservative" (35%; Paul next at 15% - ironically, in response to the question of whether the candidate was a "true conservative," Paul beat out Santorum 37% to 36%)). Yet, with those who considered themselves "somewhat conservative," Romney did even better (38%; Paul next at 21%) and with "moderates" (38%; Paul next at 34%). Not surprisingly, Paul did by far the best with independents at 43%. The only one who topped that in any category was whether they thought the candidate could win the general election, in which case, Romney scored 48%.

Which brings me back to Paul. Of course he is happy. If Santorum turns out to be a flash in the pan and Romney has enough momentum in New Hampshire to actually do well in South Carolina (the downfall of many a candidate and the king maker of some), it is not unlikely every one else will drop out after it. Too soon to tell, of course. But, even if Santorum stayed in, it might bode well for Paul, who does well, if not best (except with independents), in almost all categories except, arguably, women. That's not bad. Romney's weaknesses will appear greatest if he is one on one with someone who can focus all the attention on his former liberal views. Of course, Paul would be equally, if not more vulnerable with respect to foreign affairs questions, not to mention those that make people scrunch up their faces when listening to libertarians.

If Santorum wins the nomination - and I just don't see it, then the Republicans will have done what the Democrats did in 2004, nominated someone they wanted for cultural reasons, but who wasn't going to win. If they nominated Paul, also very unlikely, they have done the same.

What if Paul went third party, as he has hinted he might? That's an interesting possibility. I am not a believer that a third party cannot win. I think Ross Perot could have won in the 90s if he hadn't self destructed. And, I think Paul could by pulling all of the independents and some liberals and conservatives. But, it might require another economic disaster to inspire him and voters. There are always intangibles in politics and there is only so much you can speculate on without knowing all the facts (which is pretty much impossible).

For their own sake, they better push the tea partiers to the side and nominate Romney.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Iowa and whatnot

Some brief thoughts on the caucus. As I said the other day, I predict Romney to win, but I’m wobbly. I forget if I said, but I expect Paul to be second and then Santorum. All I’m really saying by this is that I agree with the conventional wisdom, as most professionals are going with those three in some order, even though I usually say they don’t know what they are talking about. But, I don’t have any information myself from an unlikely source or any insight which might make me think they are wrong. Romney and Paul have the best machines there, reaching back to their last run for 2008. No one would be surprised, of course, if Paul come in first, as he has the most enthusiastic supporters and is polling right behind Romney. Caucus’s are very hard to read though as they talk and make speeches at their meetings first and try to sway each other, and nearly half who are likely to attend have said they are undecided right up to today. Polling Iowans isn’t the same thing as polling the caucuses. But, I think we will all be shocked if Perry or Bachmann or Gingrich crack the top 3.

It has been an interesting process, highlighted by the theme of “Anyone but Romney” as one after another candidate has been thrust into the spotlight briefly, only for everyone to realize that they are just not acceptable either because of scandal – Cain; snafus and deer caught in the headlights moments – Perry; just not being up to snuff – Bachmann; baggage and wobbly personality – Gingrich (he may have been ready to explode in anger today calling Romney a liar, but kept his cool). I don’t even know how to describe Trump, who, in my opinion, embarrassed himself and his party with his birther nonsense, even if some conservatives still believe it. Last, of course, Santorum is thrown forward, though no one, not even the most religious pro-life Iowan seemed to think he had any possible chance until a few days ago when Gingrich – not surprisingly in my opinion – self destructed (though the Super Pac supporting Romney is given the credit by politicos). It would be interesting as Santorum has been to South Carolina, where there isn’t a recent enough poll, more than any of the others. If he wins South Carolina, he could actually win this thing – as strange as it seems. Romney would not go quietly as this is probably his last shot and he would probably take it right to the convention. Republicans divvy up the vote, unlike the Democrats, where it is winner take all. I personally like Santorum, though I am put off by his anti-homosexual rhetoric; I don’t care about his pro-life position (no one else seems to care much either), and he is certainly as qualified as anyone in terms of knowledge and policy education.

What I don’t think he could do, though, is win a general election. In fact, I think he would get smushed. But, I really think any of them would get smushed other than Romney, and, he will of course have a tough time of it, like even the best candidate.

Romney is so interesting. I did not like him four years ago. He is probably the same person, but he now comes across as unflappable and friendly and presidential in a way none of the others do. He is the only one who might win tonight and not have the White House smile. Last time I likened him to a used car salesman. He is too smooth for that now, but he reminds me as someone who would keep driving if he ran you down, but phone 911 while he attended to his affairs.

You know what I like? Gingrich and Perry have both gotten a little choked up on the campaign trail and no one seems to mind. Having gotten choked up speaking publicly myself more than once (even on trial once – but, fortunately, it worked), I like the development. Our leaders cry, even icons for manliness like Churchill and Patton and Hillary Clinton (okay, cheap joke, but she would laugh herself at it). And the media has finally gotten used to it, unlike say, when Edmund Muskie’s career ended in 1972 when he teared up while defending his wife.

Will Iowa, which has more often than not proved itself irrelevant to the actual nomination of a candidate, continue to be important? It does play a role in winnowing the field and it is fun the way they do it there, making the candidates play the game because the media wants them there shaking hands and serving food. Even Ron Paul, no hand shaker or food server, made frequent visits and competes too. I think it will be as big in 2016.

One media point tonight before they start counting votes. I put on MSNBC, which rendered itself important to watch in the 2008 election thanks to Olbermann – now gone – and Fox, to watch the pre-caucus show. You can’t help but notice how good looking the Fox women are, even the ones in their 40s. These women are also very accomplished for the most part, but you have to wonder how many of them got where they are at least in part because of their looks, not to mention having famous or connected parents. Just concentrating on looks, I made this short list, which might be an understatement.”

Shannon Bream, Miss Virginia, 1990; Miss Florida, 1995 and competed in Miss America and Miss USA.
Gretchen Carlson, Miss America, 1990
Jenna Lee – Wikipedia – According to Wikipedia, Lee had a photo spread in Cosmo in 2009 and was ranked number 75 “on the Ask Men list of Top 99 Women of the World which came out in October 2009.”
Arthel Neville, Days of our Lives actress
Kimberly Guilfoyle, Macy’s catalogue model
Lauren Green, Miss Minnesota, 1984; Miss America, third runner up, 1985
Courtney Friel, television show hostess
and, even if they don’t have the technical creds -
Megyn Kelly and Heather Nauert are just gorgeous
Call me a male chauvinist pig, and forget politics for the moment, but given the opportunity to watch Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC or Megyn Kelly on Fox – yeah, I think I know who most men would pick. No wonder Fox runs over CNN and MSNBC on ratings every single month, every year.

Last -

Is there any Sherlock Holmes fan who is not secretly tickled that a dead body was found on a royal estate and is not hoping there is some mystery about it?

In the same vein, my American compatriots, can you admit you would not be gratified if an Iranian vessel took a shot at one of our naval ships in the Straights of Hormuz and we blew it out of the water? No? Sure, and you probably want us to believe you don’t like watching the women on Fox either.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

My thoughts

I’m back from nearly a month in NY and then a weekend in Baltimore. It was hard to write about the stuff I really wanted to while away from my oh so precious library. I'm going to get back to that next week. In the meantime, these are my thoughts for the end of the year and the beginning of the new.  

Please don't try this at home 

While in New York I spent about 3 ½ weeks being a witness and giving support on a sad family (not mine) trial that really broke my heart. Having just written a long paragraph about it here, I erased it all and will just say that those who read this who have children and who think they can leave assets in the name of one or more children expecting them to distribute to others, just because they love and trust their child, should think hard about it. Your pollyannish vision of your child/children may not survive your death, and you may very well not be aware of family dynamics that will lead to disaster. Of course, it does happen as planned sometimes; it did in my family. But in any number of other families, it does not. Even where it does not result in litigation, it may result in an eternal lack of trust and the end of peaceful family relations. Every family is different and how it will play out is usually not predictable.


I just wrote about my dieting a few weeks ago and won’t repeat what I wrote there (a frigging long article but a couple of people have told me it is their favorite of my efforts). But, having lost over 75% of the weight I intend to and hoping to lose the next 20-25% in the next few months, I have turned my intention to maintaining weight loss. Without mentioning studies or articles, my research so far tells me the following.

It is natural to regain all or more of your weight back within a year of your maximum loss. In fact, statistically, it is almost inevitable. If you do not want ir to be inevitable, you must not only continue doing what you did to lose weight, but you might very well have to increase your efforts as your body/brain makes changes to fight against what it feels as starvation. This does not sound like fun. It is my intent to do it, but, one of my mottos is – failure is always an option. Let’s hope not.


I have predicted Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination. He has always been the most consistent top performer, so picking him wasn’t hard. Sticking with him through every challenger has been harder. But, so far he has withstood every serious challenge by Bachmann, Trump, Perry, Cain and Gingrich. I still think he will succeed even if Ron Paul wins Iowa. I really don’t know if Paul, who I prefer to Romney, will have a shot outside of Iowa and maybe Texas and a few other states. A victory by him in Iowa may make it more difficult for him in contrary New Hampshire, but Romney has that state all but sewed up. I will make a further prediction. Romney will win Iowa. Right now he is caught up in a close contest with Paul and Gingrich, according to the polls, but I believe he will prevail. Maybe it is not that important a prediction because I feel New Hampshire is more important and South Carolina more important still. However, if Romney wins Iowa, with few expecting him to do so, and his making a very lukewarm effort until recently, would generate more excitement about him – and he needs that for the general election. Ironically, I am not crazy about Romney, and have as much trouble trusting him as others do. He is an opportunist, though no more than Gingrich and much less than Trump. He just is acceptable and has a better chance of winning the general election than Paul or the others.

If Romney prevails, it could be asked, why this strange pattern of one challenger after another passing him in the polls only to fall by the wayside? We all know that the challenge arises because cultural conservatives want “anyone but Romney.” But, as they put up each candidate, there are enough of them who are rational enough to recognize the faults of the contender, even if they prefer him, in a general election, and they try someone else. Those are the ones whose desire to beat Obama is stronger than their desire to nominate a dream candidate.

Of all of them, I will be happiest if Gingrich loses for reasons I’ve stated here a number of times (but too arrogant, narcissistic and partisan sum it up pretty well – it is a rare time I am disqualifying someone based on their character rather than their policies). But, I will also be happy that Perry gets smushed. I was very open minded about him, waited to see how he would do and to learn his views. I don’t even care that he was awful at debating. It has little if anything to do with being a good president. But, I am getting more and more fed up with candidates who pander to a religious base.  I could care even less that someone’s morality is “informed” (a weasely word, if there ever was one) by their religion, or even that they are very religious, but don’t want to hear about how they are going to bring their religion into the White House, as Perry has announced in a commercial in Iowa. Who said you needed to be ashamed about being a Christian, so that you have to say you aren’t? Give me a name. And, the shot he took at gay service men or women for purely political purposes was revolting. But, he is not alone. Most of the main contenders have similar views. Although Republicans have better policies right now (not that they would necessarily follow through if given the opportunity), in my view, I am just done with their unrelenting attacks on gays, atheists and American Muslims for political purposes and will not, absolutely not, vote for a candidate who makes that part of their campaign even if I have to vote for a third party candidates that gets less than 1% of the vote.

No, no, neutrinos

For some time it has been almost a parlor game for physicists to discover that something can travel faster than light. This is impossible according to Einstein’s theory. It is the impossible part that makes it so much fun for them, but the stories inevitably fade away. The latest culprit are neutrinos, a very strange (to us) and malleable particle (presuming they exist; what do I know?) which can easily travel right through the earth. This was done by measuring neutrinos which were created in one of those giant particle colliders and whose arrival was measured a few hundred miles away. Most stories neglect to mention that they arrived 3/1000s of one percent faster than expected. Not surprisingly, many scientists are expecting some kind of human or mechanical error. Me too.

Not another war on Christmas?

Every year we must wallow through (at least those who read political literature) the ultimate right wing fantasy that there is a war on Christmas/Christianity in America. It is perhaps their greatest canard. We live in a country nearly 80% Christian, with atheists making up only 1.6% of the population (Pew). Yet, some few conservatives act like the sky is falling and there is actually a plot against Christmas in this Christmas obsessed country whose season starts the second Halloween ends (and earlier at shopping malls). Out of the couple of hundred million celebrating Christmas (Pew), if any one person – even one - dare suggest that they have a different opinion about the constitutionality of some public religious display – it is seen by these few as a massive attack on Christianity. I’ve even read comments by those who claim using “Xmas” is a slur. That’s not politically correct?  

Lifeways Research, which is a Christian research group, found in 2010 that:
“. . . . nine in 10 Americans (91 percent) personally celebrate Christmas and those aren’t all self-identified Christians. A majority of agnostics or those claiming no preference (89 percent), individuals claiming other religions (62 percent), and even atheists (55 percent) celebrate Christmas along with 97 percent of Christians.”

There are, of course, parts of the world where it is not safe to be Christian. But, that’s not here. Christmas is the single most observed cultural event in America – even greater than the Super Bowl. I’m glad. I love Christmas and celebrate it more than most (it still saddens me when someone doesn’t love Christmas – even Jews). My answer to the Christian warriors sure that the citadel is being besieged – go to a mall starting in November (although earlier some places) and wallow in the season. Take a walk in your neighborhood and look at the beautiful lights, decorations and trees. Turn on your radio and listen to the Christmas music or watch Miracle on 34th Street or Elf.

iphone you

My older brother calls me a luddite, and to some degree, he is right. No, I’m not going around smashing machinery and I have, obviously, a computer, use the internet and even have a cell phone which, to my chagrin, becomes more and more a bigger part of my life. Last month, while in NY, I accidentally left my cell phone at my home away from home while out and for the first time ever, felt a loss, like I was cut off. I do not like this, Sam-I-Am. So, to get back to where I was, now that I returned home, I am leaving it off or home more often.

But, I always say that technology is inevitable, there is no stopping it, and it is only a matter of time before even naysayers adopt it, because, realistically, what else are you going to do?

The newest toy out there, at least for the general non-technical population, is the iphone – particularly the 4 gigobyte models, or its cousins, the Android phones. My friends, my age or older, who own them, are in love with them. They gaze at them tenderly. They delight in showing you how they can talk to them, although this is almost hype. But, they can take instruction, and, of course, it will only get better in time. They are amazing devices and would have seemed magical or science fiction 20-30 years ago.

In my little world, a piece of technology is only as good as its value to you. I do not need technology that makes it harder or me less happy. There is no doubt that these devices are superior to their non-digital predecessors in almost every way, and that, inevitably, they will completely replace them (and then be replaced themselves). But, it is the cultural aspects that disturb me, as it does many people. But, these are random thoughts, so I’m not going into detail. I will just mention my one friend who had – had – to have the newest and best model of iphone. 3 months later his wife was mad at him because he didn’t answer when she called. His reason – he didn’t know how. I probably wouldn’t either. Every time someone has showed me something on one of them I accidentally turn it off and they had to start from scratch. The same friend has several high tech, extremely expensive televisions. He was not happy with even a similar television which he had bought two years earlier and that was almost indistinguishable from the new one he bought. But, I can turn my crummy little portable set (do they make portables anymore?) in my living room on with one button. Neither I nor his wife can work any of the televisions he owns and neither can his wife. Is he happier because of these devices? He thinks he is and probably he wouldn’t be happy without them, knowing there were “better” out there. He’d be happier, in my mind, if he’d let go of the need for top of the line models. Another friend of mine, a relative, is so hooked on social networking, he cannot bear to be without a device, or two, in his hand. You cannot really talk to him anymore, at least, most of us. Is he happy? I know the answer is no.

Open letter to Kim Jong-un

Dear Mr. Kim,

You have an opportunity few have had in their lifetimes. You can save your country by opening it up to the world, freeing your people. To do so, you will have to give up your power and much that comes with it (not the girls or being rich and famous, but the ability to have people kill or intimidate on your behalf at your whim). I don’t know if you are so brainwashed in your family’s way, or so grateful for the power you can not give it up. That seems likely. But, let Juan Carlos I of Spain be your model instead of whoever you have admired from China or Russia. As the great international man of mystery, Austin Powers, once said, “It’s freedom, baby. Yeah.”

Open letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I hope you lose in 2012. I want to get that out of the way because it is awkward to say that to someone. Domestically, you have traveled the path of your predecessors and tried to improve our economy by not allowing failure (and thereby ensuring it), by putting into effect a supposedly Keynesian policy that has never worked, by insisting, by pressing for unprecedented spending, by mistaking equal outcomes for equality under the law, etc. You are not the first to do these things, but you have done all of them and done them the most. It is not that you were dragged along by the Democratic congress (before 1/11), but you yourself were for these things. Failure and correction are necessary for a long term healthy economy as forest fires are to healthy woods. But, in foreign affairs, you have done much better. I respect your position on Israel. You’ve backed them but showed displeasure when they acted against our and their interests. It is not necessary to support allies in everything. Don’t worry about the nonsense from the right about you hating Israel or any cockeyed thing like that. Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2 all quarreled with her at times. Reagan even had us condemn them in the U.N., something no Reaganite will acknowledge. They just want to smear you to win the election. You know what I mean. It’s what you will do to their nominee. And, it was time to get out of Iraq. Good for you. They may end up in a civil war. I care, but ultimately, we didn’t belong their once Saddam and his power base was destroyed. If enough of them want civil war no power on earth can save them.  They either will learn to share power and have a peaceful transition of power or they won’t. You can’t save everyone. I am not happy with Libya, as I’m sure you know. You overstepped your authority and made it easier for future presidents to do so too. I would have voted with Dennis Kucinich to impeach. I know he’s kooky, but have you seen his wife? Then you know what I’m talking about. I’m also praising you for pushing congress to get rid of don’t ask, don’t tell. It’s about time. I’m embarrassed for our country that we had that in place. I wonder where the violence and bad effects are that we heard so much about. I haven’t heard of one incident yet. There will be some, of course. But, there are rapes in the service too. It doesn’t mean that having women serve is a bad idea.

Bigger is better? Really?

I just don’t get it. What is the big deal about big televisions? Someone just offered me what looks like a 48 incher to me (you measure diagonally, right?), replacing my 12 incher. I wasn’t going to do it, but my daughter and my evalovin’ gf both insisted that the one I had was just too small for when they visit. So, I took it. And now that I have it in place and have watched it a bit, I understand. I understand that I was absolutely right. Who cares how big your tv is, so long as it is big enough to see? And why do people want ipads and iphones, which are much smaller than computers, if big screens are so important? One of the many things I don’t get.

The things I’m not very good at

This is a long list and if I try and be anything like comprehensive, it will not only be the longest post I ever wrote, but it will take too long. But, please feel free to add your own if you don’t see your favorite here:

Small talk
Funerals (you know, what do you say? “I’m sorry” seems so lame)
Poetry (My best efforts usually begin with "There once was a man . . . " or "Roses are red . . . ")
Career choices
Working out
Dishes (you wash one and two new ones appear in the sink)
Ironing (how do people get all of those wrinkles out? One shirt is an endless project to me)
Washing the floor (I can’t explain it, but it just gets dirtier)
Dressing (I mean, I know how to dress myself, but my choices are not, ummm . . . considered fashionable)
Shaving (you have no idea how often I cut myself, even with today’s super razors)
Dancing (not that I do anything but avoid it – I once ran out of a wedding when the bride asked me to dance)
Singing (not that I try, but, I don’t think I need to explore this much to know)
Driving (well, avoiding fender benders and tickets, anyway)
Dreaming (I know this is unconscious, but I never have sex dreams; maybe I shouldn’t say I am bad at it; it’s just unfair)
Remembering where I put my wallet, keys, etc.
Taxes (I hate doing my taxes and always pay someone to do it for me but I’m sure I’d be really bad at it if I tried)
Keep things (you want to lose something; let me hold it for you a while; actually, despite my poor reputation in this area, I much more likely misplace things than lose them completely)

Like I said, I could go on. But this should satisfy.

Reality shows

I have never watched American Idol. I have never watched Survivor or Big Brother. I have watched The Biggest Loser when sitting in a room where it was being watched by my hostess, but I don’t like it. I did watch the finale of the original season of The Bachelor while I was packing to go on a trip. It was like watching a train wreck and I didn’t believe it when he picked one of the contestants and she accepted his proposal. I understood they broke up without ever seeing each other again once it ended. I hate reality shows. I can't stand that so many people want to watch them.

But . . . the only time I have ever regularly watched one of these shows was in 2005 when there was a show called Beauty and the Geek, which paired up good looking women with nerds. I was talking to my daughter in her room and the first episode was on. One of the characters was a very Woody Allenish contestant named Josh who actually slept in the bathroom rather than share a room with a good looking woman. There was just something about him that made you root for him. I ended up, to my shame, watching the entire season. And, in the last episode, he and partner, “Cher,” (no, not that Cher) won. But, she was the only woman who hooked up with one of the nerds – and it wasn’t Josh – it was another one who was much better looking and more normal (if you possibly care, I read they broke up later on). Why do I mention this? I suppose I am exorcising a demon and admitting I once regularly watched a reality show, at least for a season.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

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 . . . .