Sunday, March 25, 2012

Top ten for March 2012

I. Ten best Elton John Songs

1. Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

2. Daniel

3. Sacrifice

4. Grey Seal

5. Hercules

6. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

7. Crocodile Rock

8. Candle in the Wind

9. Rocket Man

10. Tiny Dancer

With apologies to fans of Your Song, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, The Bitch Is Back, Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting), Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Ticking, Step Into Christmas and a lot of other incredible songs. What a career.

II. Ten best classical pieces (meaning all symphonic, chamber, choral and related music before 1900, and one afterwards, even if not technically classical)

1. Forest Murmurs – Wagner

2. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (including Ode to Joy) – Beethoven

3. Brandenburg Concerto – Bach

4. Violin Concerto in E Minor - Mendelssohn

5. Toccata & Fugue – Bach

6. 1812 Overture – Tchaikovsky

7. Carmina Burana - Orff

8. Messiah – Handel

9. Fur Elise – Beethoven

10. Tie - Romeo and Juliet – Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev versions

Apologies to fans of Mozart (sorry, but I just don’t enjoy his like the other most famous composers), Mussorgsky, Ravel, Vivaldi and so on, infinitum.

III. Ten best Science fiction movies

1. Star Wars (and by that I mean what is now no. 4)

2. The Empire Strikes Back

3. E.T.

4. Revenge of the Jedi

5. Time After Time (1979 – Nicholas Meyer)

6. Back to the Future

7. Starman (Jeff Bridges)

8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

9. Blade Runner

10. Total Recall

Apologies to fans of Soylent Green, The Matrix (all 3), Alien, Commando (with Arnold Schwarzenegger featuring what became known as the Predator), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Westworld, Robocop and Barbarella. Yes, Barbarella. Sue me.

IV. Ten Greatest Founders Not To Become President

1. Ben Franklin

2. Alexander Hamilton

3. James Wilson

4. Sam Adams

5. John Jay

6. Patrick Henry

7. Albert Gallatin

8. Thomas Paine

9. John Marshall

10. James Otis, Jr.

V. Ten greatest cities

1. London

2. New York

3. Rome

4. Paris

5. Vienna

6. San Francisco

7. Amsterdam

8. Istanbul

9. Seville

10. Florence

Admittedly, I have not been to nos. 3 and 4 except to touch down briefly and rely on reading. Sorry if it is American-Euro centric, but, you know. . . . Venice is no. 11. Italy is big to me.

VI. Ten greatest Broadway musicals

1. Fiddler on the Roof

2. Guys and Dolls

3. Jesus Christ Superstar

4. Grease

5. Little Shop of Horrors

6. A Chorus Line

7. My Fair Lady

8. The King and I

9. A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum

10. Annie Get Your Gun

I did not have any interest in seeing or did not like Evita, Pippin, Les Mis, West Side Story, Oklahoma and Damn Yankees.

VII. Ten greatest Gibbs rules (and, if you don’t watch NCIS, sorry)

1. Rule 9 – Never go anywhere without a knife.

2. Rule 35 – Never screw over your partner.

3. Rule 40 – Always watch the watchers.

4. Rule 51 – If it seems someone is out to get you, they are.

5. Rule 13 – Sometimes -- you’re wrong.

6. Rule 4 - Never, ever involve a lawyer.

7. Rule 1 – The best way to keep a secret? Keep it to yourself. Second best? Tell one other person - if you must. There is no third best

8. Rule 1 (They had two no. 1s) –. Never let suspects stay together.

9. Rule 8 – Never take anything for granted.

10. Rule 3 – Don’t believe what you’re told. Double check.

Worst rules: Rule 12 – Never date a co-worker, and, Rule 39 – There is no such thing as a coincidence.

VIII. Ten greatest literary detectives

1. Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)

2. Puddinhead Wilson (Mark Twain)

3. Sam Spade (Dashiell Hammett)

4. Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie)

5. Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler)

6. Archie Goodwin (Rex Stout – it may be heresy to put him ahead of Nero, but . . .)

7. Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout)

8. Spenser (Robert Parker)

9. Matthew Scudder (Lawrence Block)

10. Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin (Edgar Allen Poe - arguably the original)

All you Miss Marple and Maigret fans relax. Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant would have been no. 11.

IX. Ten greatest desserts

1. Pecan Pie

2. Apple Pie

3. Vanilla Ice Cream (actually, vanilla ice cream goes with many of these other desserts)

4. Fudge Brownie

5. Red Velvet Cake

6. Pumpkin Pie

7. Cherry Parfait

8. Chocolate Pudding

9. Banana Split

10. Banana Cream Pie

So, I like pie. It’s not a crime. I also consider chocolate chip cookies a snack, not a dessert. Just want to be clear about the important stuff.

X. Ten most memorable sports moments (I have to come off my blogger’s pedestal and admit that these are subjective – not that the rest weren’t – this is just harder to pretend)

1. Dave Wottle. Wottle passing the favorite, Ukrainian Yewgeniy Arzhanov (not to mention the entire field on his way), in the 1972 Olympic 800 meters race with an astonishing kick during which he claims he mentally went from hoping just to save face (he was the world record holder), to hoping for a silver, to winning by 3/100s of a second, is still the most exciting sport's event I have ever seen. Here’s a link. . Watch how far back he was right from the start. But, he catches up and then in the last 15 seconds does what I would think was a trick my mind was playing on me if it wasn't recorded. But, then, watch in slow motion how much ground he makes up in just the last THREE seconds. That was magical.

2. Franz Klammer This Austrian’s 1976 Olympic downhill run is a study in winning ugly. Klammer was already considered the greatest downhiller of all time before this race. Someone who still watches skiing would have to tell me if that is still the case. But, in this run, he almost loses it a few times and still comes out on top. It was breathtaking. I couldn’t sit down the whole run.

3. Alexis Arguello's first loss to Aaron Pryor. Arguello was one of the greatest fighters of all time as well as almost universally acknowledged to be the classiest act in boxing. His combinations were both beautiful and lethal. He could knock opponents out with just a left jab, but watch how many times it is a straight right set up by a left. Check out this series of knockouts (but I'd turn the sound off and play your own music) Of course, Arguello’s two fights with Aaron Pryor, a great fighter himself, are legendary. In the first fight, with Arguello was going for a record 4th title in 4 weight classes - this being his heaviest. Bear and I watched it together when we were still young men in 1982. Pryor got a tko in the 14th round, disappointing both Bear (a bigger fan than I was) and I, but Arguello gave it everything he had and sometimes hit Pryor so hard I think he could have knocked out some heavyweights. The fight was tainted by Pryor being given a drink mixed by his trainer, Panama Lewis, which seemed to revive him (possibly, it contained antihistamines, as another of Lewis’s fighters revealed in a 2009 interview). A rematch was granted and this time Pryor beat him in 10. They actually became good friends for life. Ring Magazine rated the first fight #8 and Arguello the #20th greatest puncher and the #1 junior lightweight, all of all time. Not bad. Watch the video for the beauty of it. His knockout of Boom Boom Mancini, where Boom Boom just wanders off dazed into la la land, and the last left jab, straight right combination against Kevin Rooney are my favorites.

4. Ali v. Foreman. So many great Ali fights, some of which I could only read about, but many which I saw. The first Ali v. Frazier fight may have been as good as Ali/Foreman fought several years later, but that was my favorite, among many, and I wish Ali retired as The Greatest after it. The fight was remarkable for many reasons. First, Foreman, was younger, bigger and possibly boxing's hardest puncher ever (so said Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey). He was undefeated, demolishing everyone on his way to a 40-0 (37 KO) record when they fought the Don King named Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman had already beat the stuffing out of Frazier and clobbered Ken Norton, who were the only two who had defeated Ali. The fight had to be delayed 5 weeks when Foreman cut himself, but the King of Zaire literally would not let them leave the country. Ali continuously mocked Foremean as he had Frazier earlier during that time. When they fought, Ali played his rope-a-dope card, which I originally thought he created out of necessity. But actually Ali and his trainer worked on it. For 7 rounds Foreman pounded him, only occasionally getting hit himself. But, the punches were not connecting with anything critical and he was exhausting himself. At the end of the 8th Ali caught him with a two punch combo that sent the big champion down. The knockout is a classic moment.

5. Sugar Ray Leonard v. Marvin Hagler and Davey Boy Green. Leonard had so many great fights, as did Hagler, it is hard to pick any as favorites. Leonard was, in my mind, the greatest fighter of the 1980s, beating all of the other great fighters at his weight - Benitez, Duran, Hearns, and so on, losing only once to Roberto Duran before later humiliating him in a second fight (The “No mas” fight – they actually fought years later and Leonard won again, but no one cared). I saw Leonard v. Hagler in Nassau Coliseum on a big screen with friends - I believe both Don and Bear were there, and it was as good as anticipated. Leonard had to come out of retirement for the fight and Hagler was going to retire afterwards. Leonard won a split decision, and in my mind deserved a unanimous decision. But, if you want to see a beautiful Leonard knockout, try this four punch combo against a hopelessly overmatched, Davey Boy Green.

6. 1985 Lakers over the Celtics in the NBA finals. The Lakers and the Celtics met three times in the mid-80s, and Magic Johnson of the Lakers and Larry Bird of the Celtics, both playing with all time great teams, were the best of an era ending with the rise of Isaiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons and Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Jordan was, in my mind, and I think most experts, better than Magic or Bird (my all time top ten NBA regardless of position and not in order – Robertson, West, Chamberlain, Russell, Jabbar, Erving, Johnson, Bird, Jordan and Cousy with Havlicek and Isaiah Thomas (and I don’t care if you don’t like him personally) runner ups. The Lakers beat the Celtics twice, but the 1985 Laker win was my personal favorite. I’m not going to get into the whole – who was better, Magic or Bird debate, but might another day.

7. Greg Louganis. This diver is tougher than you might think. He is actually half Swedish and half Samoan – not your typical diving heritage - but was adopted by Greek-Americans. His autobiography in the mid-90s revealed that he had gone through drug and physical abuse, rape, attempted suicide, being HIV positive and having an eating disorder. A machine like diver, who seemed unaccountably graceful compared to everyone else, dominated diving for years. He missed the 1980 Olympics because of the U.S. boycott, but won both the 3 meter springboard and 10 meter tower diving gold medals in 1984. In 1988 he tried to repeat his feat. During the springboard preliminaries, he misjudged a reverse pike and smacked his head against the board, flopping into the water. He was given some sutures and came back to finish the preliminaries. Despite having suffered a concussion, he went on to win both medals again. It’s hard to believe someone would compete after that, particularly as divers can’t cringe at all while performing, but he more than managed. The high board dive final was especially dramatic, as he needed a practically perfect difficult dive to win. He nailed it and passed the leader by only a little over a point (638.61 to 637.47), a squeaker for diving.

8. Affirmed. The last horse to win the Triple Crown beat the first horse, Alydar, to come in second three times, in the 1973 Triple Crown. They were three down to the wire races. It is hard to remember that Alydar went into the Kentucky Derby a slight favorite, having had a better season, although Affirmed had bested him 4 out of 6 previous races. Each race was magnificent, the first won by 1 ½ lengths but the next two by a neck and then a nose. They raced one last time and though Affirmed crossed the line first, Alydar was given the victory because Affirmed had cut him off (perhaps we blame the jockey for that). Affirmed had to race against not only Alydar, but also Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid in his career. Affirmed was, of course, the greater horse, but Alydar is one athlete who came in second that is remembered. Blood-Horse Magazine ranked him the 27th best thoroughbred champion of the 20th century (Affirmed was #12  - but was descended from Man o’ War, #1* and War Admiral, #13).

9. Bob Beamon. In the 1968 Olympics, Bob Beamon leaped an unreal 29’ 2 ½”, beating the world record by nearly 2 feet. That’s mind boggling and perhaps the greatest world record ever. It was bested by only 2 inches some 23 years later (which record has lasted another 20+). Beamon’s jump overshadowed that same Olympics, which were possibly may favorite ever. Lee Evans ran a 43.86 second 400 meters, also a record that would last 2 decades. America had an amazing group of runners at that distance that year, including Larry James, Vincent Matthews and Ron Freeman, who together set the world record in the 4 x 400 meter relay there too.  This Olympic team is worth a whole post someday.

10. Unknown. I was at my daughter’s 11th grade homecoming game. Her school was being badly beaten. In the last two minutes, one kid on her team made an awe inspiring three touchdowns. One was a kickoff return for a touchdown. Another was a run and another was a diving catch in the end zone. I believe he also intercepted a pass during the same time frame. Wish there was a video of those last couple of minutes and I’ve looked. It is one of those games that will likely remain in that kid’s memory forever. Mine too. I heard he broke his leg later that year. I don’t know his name and don’t need to, but that was one of the most exciting things I have ever seen in sports.**

*Just feel I should say, if not for one crazy judge, who ranked Secretariat 14th, he would have been first and Man o’ War second and that is the way it should be.

** I could care about the U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey team’s 1980 victory over the U.S.S.R. My no. 11 -Kerry Shrugg’s last vault with an injured ankle during which I maybe, possibly, had a tear in my eye.  I was alive but only 2 or 3 when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points against the Knicks, but it probably belongs in a top ten somewhere. I give it no. 12 though I did not see it and there is no tape. The Montana to Clark pass - "The Catch" - to win the 1982 NFC Championship game would be No. 13.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Founding Paine

Very often when historians or commentators are making lists of the greatest founders, they do not include the name of Thomas Paine. Sometimes I haven't included him myself. Historian Joseph Ellis once suggested that a founder had to have signed both the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution, which, of course, is preposterous. But, even a lesser standard, signing one of them, makes little sense to me. In my little heeded book, if you were a soldier, sailor, politician, writer, spy or anyone else who contributed to independence or up through the first congress - we can call them a founder. Even some wives would probably qualify - like Martha Washington, who was at Valley Forge, or Abigail Adams, merely by virtue of her private letters to her husband and others, though I admit that might be stretching it.

Qualifying as one of the greatest founders is, of course, a different story. Very few can reach that rank, or we wouldn't call it a greatest list. Almost everyone includes Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton. It would be hard not to include those like John Marshall,  some James though his greatest contributions came later, and probably James Wilson, who is virtually unknown except to history buffs, and I would suggest Thomas Paine.

Not everyone was an admirer. John Adams, not surprisingly, can't give him much credit. "The third part of Common Sense which relates wholly to the Question of Independence, was clearly written and contained a tolerable Summary of the Arguments which I had been repeating again and again  in Congress for nine months. But I am bold to say there is not a Fact nor a Reason stated in it, which had not been frequently urged in congress." He also wrote to his wife, that he "appeared to . . . be mad, not drunk," and that he had "the Vanity of the Lunatic who believed himself to be Jupiter. . . . She herself had seemed pleased at false news of Paine's death, writing, "[h]e was an instrument of much mischief.

Gouverneur Morris, who also misses the greatest list, called him "a mere Adventurer from England, without Fortune, without Family or Connections, ignorant even of Grammar," and also, "Although he has an excellent Pen to write he has but an indifferent Head to think," "he seem[ed] to become every Hour more drunk with Self Conceit" as well as "[i]n the best of times, he had a larger share of every other sense than of common sense, and lately the intemperate use of ardent spirits has, I am told, considerably impaired the small stock, which he originally possessed."

But, I am not making that argument here, but another one. I have thought that of the founders that Jefferson and Franklin were the best writers, but if I include Paine as a founder, I realize that he would probably get the nod. Obviously, this is as subjective a question as there can be, but I have good company. Jefferson, who is usually considered to be the best writer among them by professionals (David McCullough aside), wrote in 1821 when many in the founding generation were dead, "No writer has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucideantion, and in simple and unassuming language. In this he may be compared with Dr. Franklin . . . ."

Here are selections from Paine's own writings with which you can make your own judgment. I don't offer them as being right or wrong, but just as a smattering of support for my argument that he was a better writer than either Jefferson or Franklin. When you read him, it is hard to find a paragraph that doesn't sparkle, even in letters or involving subjects that would have called for dense prose if written by anyone else.

Common Sense, 2 14 76

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

. . .

Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz., freedom and security. And however our eyes may be dazzled with snow, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and of reason will say, it is right.

. . .

There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required. The state of a king shuts him from the world, yet the business of a king requires him to know it thoroughly; wherefore the different parts, unnaturally opposing and destroying each other, prove the whole character to be absurd and useless.

. . .

But where says some is the king of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.

The American Crisis, Number I, 12 19 1776

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

The American Crisis, Number III, 4 19 1777

IN THE progress of politics, as in the common occurrences of life, we are not only apt to forget the ground we have travelled over, but frequently neglect to gather up experience as we go. We expend, if I may so say, the knowledge of every day on the circumstances that produce it, and journey on in search of new matter and new refinements: but as it is pleasant and sometimes useful to look back, even to the first periods of infancy, and trace the turns and windings through which we have passed, so we may likewise derive many advantages by halting a while in our political career, and taking a review of the wondrous complicated labyrinth of little more than yesterday.

Truly may we say, that never did men grow old in so short a time! We have crowded the business of an age into the compass of a few months, and have been driven through such a rapid succession of things, that for the want of leisure to think, we unavoidably wasted knowledge as we came, and have left nearly as much behind us as we brought with us: but the road is yet rich with the fragments, and, before we finally lose sight of them, will repay us for the trouble of stopping to pick them up.

The Crisis, Number XI, 5 11 1782

In the situation of confusion and despair their present councils have no fixt character. It is now the hurricane months of British politics. Every day seems to have a storm of its own, and they are scudding under the bare poles of hope. Beaten, but not humbled; condemned, but not penitent, they act like men trembling at fate and catching at a straw.—From this convulsion in the entrails of their politics, it is more than probably that the mountain groaning in labour, will bring forth a mouse as to its size, and a monster in its make. They will try on America the same insidious arts they tried on France and Spain.

Letter to Samuel Adams, 1 1 1803

But all this war whoop of the pulpit has some concealed object. Religion is not the cause, but is the stalking hourse. They put it forward to conceal themselves behind it. It is not a secret that there has been a party composed of the leaders of the Federalists, for I do not include all Federalists with their leaders, who have been working by various means for several years past, to overturn the Federal constitution established on the representative system, and place government in the new world on the corrupt system of the old. To accomplish this a large standing army was necessary, and as a pretence for such an army, the danger of a foreign invasion must be bellowed forth, from the pulpit, from the press, and by their public orators.

The Rights of Man, Part One

The streets of Paris, being narrow, are favourable for defence; and the loftiness of the houses, consisting of many stories, from which great annoyance might be given, secured them against nocturnal enterprises; and the night was spent in providing themselves with every sort of weapon they could make or procure: Guns, swords, blacksmiths hammers, carpenters axes, iron crows, pikes, halberts, pitchforks, spits, clubs, &c. &c.

The Rights of Man, Part One, Conclusion

Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a country, the machinery of Government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.

Rights of Man, Part Two

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. The sun needs no inscription to distinguish him from darkness; and no sooner did the American governments display themselves to the world, than despotism felt a shock, and man began to contemplate redress.

The Age of Reason

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow creatures happy.

But lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise. They have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving: it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

Monday, March 12, 2012

On happiness

           I threatened recently to write a post on happiness and mean to carry it out today. Happiness is, of course, a pretty broad theme, and maybe I could just write that though we all know when we feel happy, everyone seems to flounder and fail when they try and define it. It might be that my favorite modern day philosopher, Alexander Doruphoros, got it right in his Happy Meal solution to the question.

            But, before I get to Doruphoros, here is a brief recounting of the opinions of some philosophers I’ve looked into. By looked into, I mean not only my own attempts to wade through their usual obtuse nonsense – an occupation which for me ranges on the happiness scale from utter delight to utter frustration and boredom - but also trying to condense the views of others who have concentrated on the topic much more than I ever will. Some philosophers wrote about happiness a lot – in some cases a whole a book on it – and, of course, not always perfectly consistently or clearly, so it is impossible to be comprehensive about even one of them in the short space I will take for each. So, my aim will be cursory and general. That’s probably a good idea, because the more I read about one of them, the more vague and ambiguous it gets anyway. Nevertheless –

            In the Old Babylonian version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, a goddess tells the hero: "As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man."

            That found its way into the Bible at Ecclesiastes 9:7-10: "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom."

            The early Greek wise man, Solon, felt that you could not tell if a man was happy until he died, and his death was good one. Nonsense, of course, even if based on some true visit by him to King Croesus.

            The Buddha suggested following the eightfold path, too complicated to go into here (although it takes about eight seconds to read), but involves "right" thinking and behavior and attitude.   

            Plato seems to think there is some inner component to happiness, and that it is a means to an end (but that would be, counter-intuitively, the success of the state or justice).

            To the contrary, Aristotle believed it was an end in itself and that it has to do with utilizing reason so as to activate the “soul” to act in virtue. Pleasure, politics and study are all components of it. Aristotle gets complicated and tt would be tedious to go further.

            Epicurus, later that century founded Epicureanism, which was actually quite popular for centuries. Maximizing individual pleasure was his key, but less well known, he recommended moderation.

            Even Jesus might be said to have a contribution to the understanding of happiness if you take the first word of the beatitudes to be happy, instead of blessed. You know, “Happy are the meek . . . .” but that was very much tied to the coming of the Kingdom of God.

            Spinoza ties happiness to understanding of God/nature and by satisfying some internal guide as opposed to external forces. I would add that there is an element of what would commonly be called stoicism or equanimity in face of adversity. Some might call it a zen-like attitude. It is widely considered by scholars that his view was influenced by Maimonides, who was in turn influenced by the Islamic philosopher, Avicenna, who was influenced by the Greeks, particularly, Aristotle. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote rhythmically in Slaughterhouse-Five, “So it goes.”

            Immanuel Kant, to the best I can ascertain, thought it was pretty hopeless to try and figure out what will make you happy, as it is too ambiguous a term to be useful, a product of experience, and different for everyone. It is better to try to be moral according to the use of reason.

            Hume wrote many things on happiness, but I’ll go with a quote from his essay, The Platonist:

            “The most perfect happiness, surely, must arise from the contemplation of the most perfect object. But what is more perfect than beauty and virtue? And where is beauty to be found equal to that of the universe? Or virtue, which can be compared to the benevolence and justice of the Deity?

            So, perfect happiness comes from contemplation of beauty, virtue and the justice of the Deity? I do love Hume, but sometimes . . . .

            Schopenhauer, channeling the pundits of the East, wrote “. . . all happiness and satisfaction, is negative, that is, the mere elimination of a desire and ending of a pain.”

            Thoreau, who wrote almost in aphorisms, said “[t]hat man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.”

            Sartre ends one of my favorite plays, No Exit, with the line – “Hell is other people.” I don’t know who would disagree with that, but they can be heaven too (at least, in small doses).

            For Camus, Sartre’s friend and later enemy, and who I was very interested in when a young man, I’ll give a passage from his Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a character from Greek myth who is condemned for eternity to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll down again (and for Camus, is a symbol of absurdity):

            “One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness. "What!---by such narrow ways--?" There is but one world, however. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd. Discovery. It happens as well that the felling of the absurd springs from happiness. "I conclude that all is well," says Edipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.”

            Honestly, I’m not completely sure what that means, but it's sure not describing a real giddy, good feeling kind of happiness. But, then he writes,

            “All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. . . . He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

            I’m going to say it has something to do with accepting the absurdity in life and leave it there. 

            Last of the philosopher survey is Bertrand Russell, who wrote in his The Conquest of Happiness: “The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.” That might work for me, as far as it goes, but after a whole book on the topic, it falls horrendously short to be generally applied to everyone.

            Alexander Doruphoros, a pseudonym for a cantakerous old coot, is probably my favorite “philosopher,” writes about modern day ethical, cultural, legal, metaphysical and epistemological issues from social media to benevolent alienation syndrome. I reprint his essay, Happiness is a toad in a miniskirt, in full:

“A seeker of knowledge approached Siddhartha just as he was about to attain enlightenment under the bodhi tree. 'What, wise one, is the secret of happiness?' he asked. To this, Siddhartha answered, 'Happiness is a toad in a miniskirt?' At that moment enlightenment occurred. The seeker asked, puzzled, 'But what is a miniskirt?' to which the Buddha replied, 'Who said anything about a miniskirt?'

            No doubt, knowing well what a miniskirt is, you have instead asked yourself what is the point of that story? I have to tell you, I still don’t know, but I have come a long way from the point in time when I was sure I must have figured it out and that seems to be the key to most stories arising east of Instanbul. Don't try so hard. On the other hand, the moral might also be, don’t inquire about the meaning of anything if you aren’t prepared to be disappointed and you aren't already enlightened.

            I am not, however, a Buddhist, nor a follower of the Tao or Zen, as interesting as those ways can be. Nor, for that matter, can I follow any other religion or ideology. For the minute you commit to one of these programs, you must give up an element of freedom of thought. Of course, giving it up might actually be a good idea, if we were lucky enough to be pointed in the right direction, but we can never know that for certain. Perhaps one of the wisest things ever written about philosophers belongs to Hume in The Sceptic – 'When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favourite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phenomenon, though by the most violent and absured reasoning.'

            There is no doubt a greater problem in reading even the most insightful philosophers on happiness. Most of them seem either stuck upon what makes them happy, or worse, what they imagine they’d like to make them happy. Frankly, whenever some catalog cuddling library dweller insists that happiness comes from virtue or understanding or some other high faluting attribute, I’d like to hit them over the head with the nearest lectern. Undoubtedly, the lowliest thug making good his escape after a successful mugging; the dumbest eleventh grader making high score on his iphone; or the luckiest loser who ever put a quarter into a slot who hits for a million, is a lot happier than the sex starved stack monkey sitting in the library reading Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise in Latin, waiting for an epiphany about substance and nature and how to tell the difference.

            Besides, what in the name of Socrates makes philosophers think they can define happiness any more than they can anger, disappointment or puzzlement? After all, one man's Happy Meal is another man's bowl of gruel. But, they try and try and fail and fail.  The variety of circumstances that will make any one person experience any feelings at any given time and place is so varied, inconsistent and hidden in the minds of the feeler, that it is as impossible of precise definition as determining both the speed and momentum of a quantum particle at the same time. Sure, you think if we only had the technology, we could measure both those things – but Heisenberg said you can’t and no one has disproved him. The same is true of emotions which are as much defined by a person’s own experiences, definitions and expectations as they are sparking synapses. I have little doubt that the unhappiness experienced when I am endlessly waiting for a webpage to load or when I nick my finger for the umpteenth time with an improbably sharp piece of paper is as great as Kant’s when he thought maybe he should have gone back and returned the quill pen to the person he borrowed it from before he kicked off.

            We could, of course, go through the great philosophers and pick them apart. It’s never hard. Each one of them might be a little bit right, but were always a lot wrong. Any of the philosophers, and there were many, who thought that virtue figured in to any large degree, was not as wise as the film maker, Samuel Goldwyn, or the person who attributed the following words to him – 'Sincerity is everything. Once you’ve learned to fake that, you’ve got it made.'

            It might for a moment seem as if Nietzsche hit upon some deep insight in understanding that getting your way (he’d say fulfilling your will, of course) brings happiness. But, there are so many other aspects, that it can only be said, it is one thing that can bring happiness – sometimes. Just for two out of billions of examples, you can get your own way as much as you desire, but if you suffer from depression or chronic pain, it’s not going to amount to a hill of beans. Not to mention, at some point in our lives, someone is going to whisper to us the anonymous proverb that we instinctively know to be true - be careful what you wish for because you might get it.

            Schopenhauer did no better. The absence of pain can bring us pleasure or happiness (and I leave to muddleheaded metaphysicians or linguists proving to us that there is a significant difference). But, it is quite likely that intelligent but pathetic man never experienced the pleasure of being the sudden recipient of a smile from that special person or woke up at 17 feeling the world was his oyster and all else in it sand for making pearls. Possibly also, no one ever told him that you can look at a glass as half full or half empty. I would counter him with the words the author, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. attributed to his uncle - 'I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."'

           We'll have to settle for this. We might not be able to conquer happiness as Bertrand Russell would like us to (and I have no way to know whether his alleged affair with T.S. Eliot’s wife added or detracted to his own) but we can probably make a checklist of things that at least figure in to our happiness. I have to put these in some order, but the one I chose is meaningless. They are all generalizations and they are all feelings. They can all be phrased in a positive or negative way. None of them is absolutely required, but the more any one of them is lacking, the more likely the person will be unhappy.

            So, a general feeling of . . .

. . . physical health.

. . . physical security.

. . . a connection to other people you like.

. . . a special personal relationship, usually with the opposite sex and including a sexual relationship, at least for a significant part of the persons life.

. . . contributing to others, whether a family or friends or co-workers or society in general.

. . . being able to express the truth about oneself.

. . . the attainability of happiness.

. . . of being thought well of by some others.

. . . of having gotten one’s way.

            This is a pretty good list, vague as it is. It is not supposed to be comprehensive. You can say any one of a billion things makes you happy. But, these are categorical. I feel reasonably comfortable that most other things that philosophers or people in general come up with can fall into one of them. It could easily be reframed into a negative list so that the absence of general bad feelings would make one happy. In other words, you could say the absence of pain makes one happy rather than a positive feeling of good health.

A comment is needed on one of them – being able to express the truth about oneself. That comes across as a little pretentious. But, it has a specific meaning. It has always appeared to me that people suffer from having feelings of shame which they keep secret. This can be a secret they keep from their family or their husband or wife or even everyone. So often when someone comes to me for advice, the answer seems to me to be – just tell him/her/them and you will probably feel better. Of course, we colloquially call that getting something off your chest. But, many people just can’t. The feeling that the revelation will be worse than keeping the secret keeps them in suspended misery. Many of these feelings of shame are, not surprisingly, sexual in nature (an affair, being gay, etc.), but they don’t have to be at all.

            Another thought that doesn’t fit easily into one of these categories is a general impression I have always had that some people seem generally happy absent a reason to be unhappy and others (more, unfortunately) seem unhappy. It is a chicken and egg thing. We cannot know without some hard to conceive experiment that violates every current code of ethics for psychologists whether those who seem generally happy because they feel the things I’ve listed above, or whether they feel those things because they are just congenitally happy. It must be taken as possible until proved otherwise, that happiness is as inheritable as schizophrenia appears to be (the greatest predictor of schizophrenia is having a schizophrenic identical twin; but even having a schizophrenic parent increases your odds ten times).

            Those who tend to be happy absent a reason to be unhappy also tend to have three helpful strategies.

            First, they are problem solvers. When they have something that makes them unhappy, they try and figure out a solution to it. It doesn’t mean they are successful, of course. Besides, that would require a definition of success.

            But, fortunately, second, they understand that a happy life is not about the absence of problems, but about how you handle the one's you have.

            Third, they can be resigned to defeat – Failure is always an option - is not a bad motto. And perhaps a key to happiness."    

            Thank you, Mr. Doruphoros.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Political Update for March, 2012

It was a good night this past Tuesday for those who want Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination. I'm still torn. I find the Ron Paul message on liberty so much more appealing, and I think he is the only one of the four who would actually try to do something about the deficit on the spending end, but I don't think he can win because the general public will like the message, but too many will be too scared to try that approach. The problem is that freedom equals risk and we are now conditioned to avoid risk as much as possible.  I do think Romney can win and he is better than the other two. Just okay is all I can hope for in a president.

The four candidates are all getting better with practice.  I listened to all of them after the primary returns this week. These are basically stump speeches, well rehearsed by now, and they are trying to make them sound very natural, though Paul and Gingrich are better at it than Santorum and, especially, Romney.

From Paul, who was possibly most awkward of them when this campaign started, even though he has done this twice before and run for congress many times, we get the most genuine, plain spoken, humble speech of the bunch. In fact, he has become positively jolly during them. Unlike the others, the speeches are not about him, but about his "message of liberty." It is so easy to make that sound pollyannish and trivial, but no one else talks about it at all, save for religious references (okay, Gary Johnson does too, but no one who anyone is listening to is talking about it). Call me gullible, but I believe he means it and would live it when he says that he doesn't want to increase the power of the president. That would be refreshing.

And it is easier said than done, of course, but it is also refreshing to hear a candidate say - I didn't think up the stuff I'm talking about myself  - instead of someone like Gingrich talking about how he defeated the Soviets and was the reason for the boom times in the 80s and 90s, or Romney going on about his "severely conservative" governship in Massachusetts or Santorum talking about how he changed welfare and wrote No Child Left Behind (or as I call it, Every Child Left Behind). Paul doesn't claim credit for the economy during good years while he was a congressman. He says, there are business cycles and we have to learn to understand them better.  He says he will not declare wars on his own, because it is not constitutional for a president to do so. Of course, it is more complicated than that, as most people agree the president has a right and a duty to "defend" us, and what that quite means in a world where someone can fly from Cairo to D.C. in a matter of hours, or a virus can infect computers around the world in seconds, is hard to say. But, we know he means we won't be trying to teach Afghanis not to riot and murder when someone accidentally burns a Koran. We won't be there.

Foreign policy is, of course, the weakest link in his candidacy and what is least understood about him. He is not against defense; he is against militarism, policing the world and going in search of monsters. But the media doesn't really cover that part of it, nor even other conservatives. They are more concrete - he's not for Israel (they say). He doesn't want to stand up to Iran (they say). Neither of these are fair criticisms, in my opinion, but that is typical of what will be reported. Here are some of his other "ideas" from his standard speech:

- The entitlement system really helps the wealthy, not the poor.

- Wealth is fine if people make money honestly and don't get other people's from the government. It is not fair to dump the problems of those who make wasteful products on the American people by giving companies subsidies or bailing them out.

- We should defend the country but get out of business of policing the world and nation building. We can't tell people overseas how to live their lives. It doesn't work. We should have had no wars since WWII because they've all been undeclared.

- If the Patriot Act was called the Repeal the 4th Amendment Act it never would have been passed. They don't even need search warrants anymore.

- Obama thinks he can do anything that isn't prohibited by the Constitution. Not true. He can only do what is authorized by the Constitution.

- Liberty should bring us all together. It's not that liberty will be used the same way by everyone. But, if we all the government to decide what we can buy, what religion to practice, what to read, and so on, it is a disaster. Governments can't protect us from ourselves. We have to be responsible for ourselves. That includes taking the risks are behavior results in.

Do most people really disagree with these ideas? Most people do, but only in the abstract. The nanny state is actually quite popular.

Romney has a very polished speech now despite the fact that he will always remind people a little of a smiley-faced Gordon Gekko. I still feel like I did in 2008 when listening to him that he is trying to sell me a used car. But, I also believe he understands the main ideas about capitalism, and more, actually wants to apply them, but also that he has an understanding that people want some regulations so that there isn't lead paint on their walls. In other words, that used car he sells me may be the best we can do right now. He very gingerly curtseys to the right, knowing where his bread is buttered, but has not kowtowed to the religious right the way Gingrich, Cain, Perry, Bachmann and Santorum have. I have picked him to win for a long time now and stuck with that prediction despite strong runs from virtually every other campaigner except Paul and despite the media's insistence each time that it is over for him. Slow and steady has worked for him and it is impressive. People make a big deal that he sometimes says something which, if taken out of context, sounds like he is - rich. Well, he is rich. He has it right when he says - if you don't want someone successful, vote for someone else, and has it wrong when he is embarrassed by it.

I feel really petty about the next remark. I am not saying don't vote for Rick Santorum because he mixes metaphors or misuses words. I have my own problems with the language (in my case, I almost always pick the wrong homophone when writing quickly and fail to proofread and I go often go blank on simple words when speaking). And one thing I noticed of this year's crop. They don't make the really absurd factual slips that the '08 crew was making all over the place (e.g., Obama visited all 57 states). But, last night Santorum said that shale "leaches oil," in the same way you would say a bucket leaks water, when he should have said it is the oil that is leached from the shale. Sure, anyone could make the mistake, but if you are going to make a big point of the issue and are actually holding shale in your hands in a speech when you are running for president, try and get it right. Speaking of rocks, he also said that his wife was the rock that was beside him. Somehow that makes her sound like an obstacle, though that was the opposite of what he intended. We stand on supportive rocks or build on top of them. They don't stand beside us. Of course, we would say our spouse stands beside us and I think that's where he got confused.

I told you it was petty. I like Rick Santorum personally. I think a lot of people do. But, his religious emphasis has made many people "want to vomit," to use his own phrase concerning President Kennedy's speech on religion. Though he later said he wished he could take the line back, he hasn't really changed his approach. Of course, how someone running for president uses a phrase like "want to vomit" is a little surprising. But, he has said before, he tells it like it is. In 2008, he told it like it is thus, when asked about names he has found attached to religion and politics: "It comes down to sex. That’s what it’s all about. It comes down to freedom, and it comes down to sex. If you have anything to with any of the sexual issues, and if you are on the wrong side of being able to do all of the sexual freedoms you want, you are a bad guy. And you’re dangerous because you are going to limit my freedom in an area that’s the most central to me. And that’s the way it’s looked at." 

Well, yes, Senator, that is precisely how most people, and I'm including many conservatives, see it. Freedom means - stay out of people's bedrooms.

Gingrich's speech is also very polished and he can sound bright and fun when speaking. Don't let him fool you. I've gone off on him enough here that I can sum it up very briefly now - too arrogant, too narcissistic and too partisan - and that's for a politician. He's also full of it. His $2 to $2.50 a gallon gas is a perfect example. Who wouldn't like that? Okay, maybe many folks in the Obama administration, including the Energy Secretary, Tom Friedman, Al Gore, and, well, a lot of people, but I mean among those who actually realize that it would benefit the poor and middle class immensely to lower gas prices and harm them to raise them. But, whatever measures he wants to take to lower the cost of gasoline, I'm all for it, so long as it makes sense. But, how likely are the prices he is suggesting? Try - showing the price of oil yearly since 1979. It went down like Gingrich describes only once, in 2008. Remember what happened in 2008. The economy collapsed. There was a temporary deflation which the fed countered by printing huge supplies of money and the price quickly went back up. We do not want the bottom to fall out of everything in order to get temporarily low gas prices. Deflation causes its own problems. But, as you can see from the chart, that's the only time it happened since Jimmy Carter, and most people are too young to remember him at all.

So, whose winning the nomination process? There's three ways to look at it and realclearpolitics is the best way to get a snapshot of it:

Republican popular vote tallies:

Romney    Gingrich   Santorum   Paul
1,749,677  978,229    932,508     463,176

Romney +771,448

Republican delegate count:

Romney Santorum Gingrich Paul
153        69             33           26

Romney +84

Republican national polls:
RCP Average 2/16 - 2/29

Romney Santorum Gingrich Paul
35.3      29.3         14.8          11.3

Romney +6.0

Looks to me like Romney is still winning and right now he also has a little momentum coming out of Michigan and Arizona. But, it is still very early in the race and we know these things change in an instant. If Newt Gingrich fails badly on Super Tuesday this week and does - against his own ambition and ego - the right thing, and steps down, Rick Santorum will reap the rewards big time and the social conservative v. fiscal conservative issue will flower again. That will be Romney's biggest challenge. And, in a nutshell, it is the challenge for all future candidates for the Republican leadership in the near future. Finding a way to balance the two warring strands of their party without completely alienating the third - the libertarians - to the degree that someone like Paul goes off and runs third party. It is not easy to do. Bush managed, but McCain failed. Reagan managed, but Dole failed.

My debate

There isn't a snowball's chance in hell I will ever get to write the questions for debates, but I have my own for ideas for them. For one thing, the media which monitors these events are always asking questions the debaters are prepared for so that they can give pat answers or avoid answering them. My rules are a little more draconic. The length of answers to questions depends on the question, which I will give them at the beginning, plus ten seconds to actually think. There is a big clock so they can see how much time is left, but I have a button which cuts off their mike when their time is up. Too bad. Learn to organize your thoughts. They are not permitted to refer to any of their competitors in their answers at risk of losing the chance to answer the next question (or, if it is the last question - loss of a $250,000 stake their campaing puts up). They will all declare victory, of course, but I will have as non-partisan a panel as I can find rate them on three categories:

1) how many times they avoided answering a question; 2) how quickly they got to the point and avoided blather; and, 3) how often they said things that were simply factually untrue. Points are lost for trying to criticize me or the media or for trying to make jokes (I can't stand it when politicians try to be funny - even most of the most famous moments just aren't that funny and always leads to the others trying to be funny too). They don't get their rating until the next day, so the judges actually have time to think about it and fact check. This isn't American Idol.

Here are my questions, many of which concern the Constitution and are meant to be hard for conservatives, which is really what their contest has come to be about. Nos. 7-10 are each aimed at a particular candidate:

1) Conservatives and even some liberals have been very critical of President Obama over the U.S. involvement in Libya; many claiming it was an unconstitutional usurpation of power by him. Explain whether you feel it was unconstitutional, and, if you do, whether it was impeachable, and where you stand on the War Powers Act in as much detail as possible. Five minutes.

2) Consider the following possibility. The citizens of a state overwhelmingly determines to secede from the union in a referendum. Leaving aside the possibly unsolvable technical problems with accomplishing in the present day (do they keep the telephone system; who pays medical bills for seniors for the next year, etc.?), do you believe that a state has the right to do this? Explain your answer, with particular attention to the U.S. Constitution. If you believe that a state does not have the right to do this, please explain whether your position differs from the Declaration of Independence and where you think Thomas Jefferson would stand on the question. Eight minutes.

3) Almost all conservatives have criticized President Obama for trying to put into effect a Health and Human Services regulation which would require religious groups to offer insurance policies for employees which includes provisions anathema to church's positions, particularly on birth control, on the grounds it infringes upon religious liberty. With that in mind, please explain your position with respect to the law against polygamy for those whose religion find it acceptable. If you believe anti-polygamy laws are acceptable, explain how it legally or constitutionally differs from the recent HHS regulation. Three minutes.

4) Ronald Reagan had his U.N. ambassador vote to condemn Israel after it attacked Iraq's nuclear facility in 1981, the only president ever to do such a thing. He gave amnesty for illegal immigrants; he raised taxes a number of times, and greatly increased spending and the debt. He "saved" social security and protected welfare as it was. He increased corporate taxes. If he were alive and a politician today with those positions, would he not be considered a RINO? If not, why not? Three minutes.

5) Many commonly held conservative positions have changed over the years. Some things once completely unacceptable are now not only acceptable to many conservatives, not open for discussion. This includes voting for a presidential candidate who has been divorced; using contraceptives; pre-marital sex; belief that some rights in the constitution are fundamental and apply against the states (like the 2nd amendment); and others. With that in mind, can you explain why conservatives should adhere so forcefully to postions they are so adamant about now but might change their minds about in the future? Five minutes.

6)  Conservatives have been very critical of President Obama making executive orders which they claim usurp congressional power. However, when President Bush was in office, conservatives approved of signing statements which would declare what parts of legislation signed into law by the president were constitutional or not and we heard much about "the unitary executive," something we hear nothing about from them now. Will you be issuing signing statements that declare parts of legislation unconstitutional and what do you make of the idea of the unitary executive - how far does it go? Three minutes.

7) Congressman Paul: Many other conservatives consider your foreign affairs positions frightening. If you are the next president and learn that within one month of your inauguration Iran will have a fully functional nuclear weapon capable of delivering an attack on Israel, will you authorize an attack on that country to destroy their nuclear facilities. First answer yes or no, and why? Three minutes.

8) Governor Romney: You have differed the Massachusetts health care reforms from what is known among critics as Obamacare, being one was state law and the other federal. But, the central issue in both cases is whether people can be forced to pay for insurance policies they don't want. Is it constitutional for a state to require it's citizens to buy a service they do not want? Is there a limit to the state's power to tell people what they must do? Three minutes.

9) Senator Santorum: There is no doubt that at this time in history a large majority of Americans favor birth control and that a majority are for the legality of some abortion, although it is harder to define what exactly that would mean. There is no doubt that if you are nominated that this, and your positions on gays and even the devil will immediately come to the forefront. Even if you believe that principle trumps winning, should you be the nominee for your party? Three minutes.

10) Speaker Gingrich: According to's average for head to head contest with the president and the four Republican candidates, Mitt Romney comes in first, with the president winning by 4.4 points and Ron Paul comes in third, with the president winning by 6.6 points. You are last by almost double Congressman Paul's tally, 12.4 points behind the president. Simply put, why should your personal ambition or even deep belief you are the best one for the job, mean your party should go down in defeat? Isn't electability important and how do you claim you are more electable when you consistently do so bad in polls? Three minutes.

The truth is, I expect that not only will I prefer Ron Paul's answers to most or all of these questions, but so likely will the studio audience. But, that doesn't mean they aren't important questions, because they show what each candidate believes far more than the topical or supposedly newsworthy questions the media regularly asks them.

The Gift

What is the gift, you ask? I'll tell you. It's refighting the social battle of the sixties - which the liberals won so fully, some issues are virtually off the table - like the freedom to use contraceptives. In my last political update I wrote about the mistake some conservatives are making with respect to religious fulminating against those who don't have the money or fame to get young trophy wives (like Gingrich and Limbaugh, for example), but still want to participate in the sexual revolution. It hasn't stopped. In fact, some people seem to want to double down on it. One of them might be Rush Limbaugh. He's made more than one mistake in this campaign so far.

First, he immediately dismissed Romney as the nominee, which, obviously, has problems I don't need to explain.

Second, he continuously insists that independents don't matter, and they just do, probably more than any other ideological group.

Third, he engaged this week with a student over the issue of contraception, and, it doesn't matter what side you take in the argument (I would agree with Limbaugh - it is insane that anyone's tax dollars goes to pay for people's contraceptives). Limbaugh, who usually is the politest of the radio talk show personalities, in my opinion, called her a slut and a prostitute and said that we should all get to see the movies of her having sex. Slut? Prostitute? That's just not smart. And supposedly being smart is what he is proudest of. He should have said this is the typical socialist mentality that is going to drive us over the cliff financially.

Possibly stung by criticism over what even he now realizes was dumb, at first made it worse for himself by whining that there go the liberals again, attacking their critics. Really? This is, of course, the problem with Limbaugh, who I find very creative, and often fun to listen to for a little while, but as ridiculously partisan as they come. Perhaps my favorite Limbaugh moment was a couple of years ago when he said that conservatives criticize liberals out of love, and liberals criticize conservatives out of hate. It all comes down to the same tired partisan rhetoric from both sides - we can attack them with gusto and they must take it and like it. But when they attack us -- that's offensive.

Of course, today I read that he himself has come to his senses, even if the fact that some of his biggest advertisers have decided to dump him have helped him come to them, and apologized.

Even Santorum said Limbaugh's comments were absurd, but then he chickened out, probably afraid to criticize Limbaugh, and said that entertainers can be absurd. Of course, that wasn't his opinion about five months ago when he was the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit -

It's a free country and Limbaugh can say what he likes. I would support his right to say far worse. But, the question here is how will he affect the election, if at all. Maybe in itself, not much, but I'd say he is helping give the president a gift. This religious strategy is backfiring in all the polls and with people in general (although, I doubt where I live). If they want to lose the election, conservatives should vote for Santorum on Super Tuesday.

I like to keep things balanced, so next month I think I will turn my attention to the president and the liberals. Stay tuned. Same bat channel. Same bat time.

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 . . . .