Monday, September 17, 2012

Political update for September, 2012

It took me two weeks to write this post, and I think I know why. Yes, a little busy the past two weeks but really, I didn't like what I was concluding here, but feel driven to write. The financial scenario we face is far more dangerous than any war we've fought, the great depression, any recession we've faced so far. Probably only the explosion of a nuclear weapon in the continental United States or one of our allies would be comparable. It is not that Mr. Bernanke or David Walker (Bush's comptroller general), Alan Greenspan or any other so called expert tells us this. It is patently obvious to anyone whohas ever paid their bills that you just can't spend that much more than you have or will have without their being a vast reckoning. And, our debt is far, far worse than the 16 trillion we routinely talk about as "the debt." The uncounted and unfunded numbers are the truly staggering ones. The real debt is so large that we would have to be idiots not to realize what is going to happen. Yet, on we go. Us and the rest of the world.

With that in mind, I am disappointed, though not at all surprised, that I don't have confidence that Romney is going to succeed. Not that he is a messiah (the usual conservative slur on Obama followers) by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, it is important. Though I also believe we will survive and prevail, someday, no matter what our financial stupidity leads us to.  But, it will be much darker and more difficult, and, we best find a way to like it.

But, nevertheless, this bleak preface being done, here's my sense of what has happened and what will happen.

Thank GOD they are over

Okay, the conventions are over. Now, seriously, is there anyone who isn't dependent upon them or makes money off them in some way, who actually enjoys them? They are worse than the Oscars, the gold standard for productions which should be fun, but are stultifying, and which at least have the benefit of celebrity watching and the occasional few seconds when something actually happens, like a celeb we like gets to take home a statue and make a speech.

But, I learned something from the little watching of these conventions that I did and I can't say it makes me happy. Obama is, unless something drastic happens, likely to win, much as I would prefer he wouldn't. What was the highlight of the Republican convention? Clint Eastwood, right? Not that he was really all that good. His shtick was derived from old Morey Amsterdam and Woody Allen routines and was neither smoothly delivered or original. Even the media didn't seem as hyped up as they were four years ago. In the end, the broohaha over Eastwood is largely irrelevant because it really had nothing to do with anything except his own opinion.

And, how much can you remember from the Romney or Ryan speeches? I thought that John McCain gave the best speech of either convention, but, I'm partial to him and still think he should have been president in 2008. And, isn't that really what it comes down to? If you like someone, you often think more of their speech? Did any liberals really like Eastwood's speech, or Romney's or Ryan's? Any conservatives really like Clinton's, Obama's or Biden's? I guess there must be some somewhere who would say so, but you will have to work to find them as they keep it quiet. Moderate independents may seem to have a little more leeway, but instead, they often find themselves disappointed by just about everyone.

What was the highlight of the Democratic convention? A sad spectacle with none of Eastwood's charm. The Democrats vote on their platform concerning the inclusion of God and calling for recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was perhaps the most brazen piece of political chicanery and shamelessness since the passage of the health care act. It was the equivalent of a Potemkin Village. Some might think my feeling is based on bias because I support Romney (at least over Obama - I will likely vote for Gary Johnson) but then you would have to explain why so many at the convention booed the ruling on the vote so heavily. It's not because as some on the right have conjectured, that they were booing God, but instead they were booing both the craven and undemocratic nature of it and mostly, getting robbed. Ultimately (my word for the day), it doesn’t matter much more than the Eastwood speech, as it was an internal matter that has nothing to do with any meaningful issue between the parties. Are we to pick our leaders based on whether they want God mentioned in their platform? Some would say yes, but I think they are a minority. The Jerusalem question is an actual policy issue, but, realistically speaking, both parties have treated the question the same. G. W. Bush issued the same waivers to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that Clinton did and now Obama has. I find it hard to believe that Romney would act much differently, whatever he may say as a candidate. All three previous presidents have claimed that act as a congressional usurpation of presidential powers. I disagree, but history is history.

My feeling during the conventions - both of them - was that ordinary people who vote, but do not spend much time thinking about it (the non-political class) just didn't care much and that was certainly borne out by the ratings.

But, if they are meaningless and boring tripe, for the most part, when the conventions are over, we can often have a better sense of who is going to win. Look at the polls. While you can't take any poll too seriously, and a trend can swing in a single day, for a long time Obama has been winning in most of the battleground or swing states. That is what matters most. Few things are as unimportant as national polls, even if that is primarily what the simple minded media focuses on (and Obama has been consistently up in those too). Take a look at The New York Times or even Fox New's websites, particularly the electoral college maps. That, much more than national polls, tells the story of the election. Around the same time last year, it gave me the bad feeling that Obama was going to win and they do again. I know, anything can happen. But, I feel Romney is already trapped in the narrative of his campaign and it is not getting any traction.

Half right Republicans are too late with too little

Paul Ryan tells us that Obama is taking us down "a path of decline." He’s half right. Obama believes if you redistribute income, and there is nothing else to call what he says is “paying your fair share” in reality, but he did not do this alone, of course. The suggestion that he did for political purposes excites his base but makes some independents made. Obama is doubling down on policies that haven't worked for one hundred years. For example, more recently, some of our financial "geniuses" tried to create a system where by selling mortgages in bulk, the ones likely to fail were hidden in the huge numbers. Perhaps they believed the bad would be watered down by the good. Perhaps that no one would ever  notice. They actually had impossibly complicated and very wrong formulas to prove their theory.  It failed, as all such experiments must fail. But, Obama did not start that system or the welfare state or the endless borrowing. You could argue we’ve been on this path from many points in history, but in some sense it started in the early 1900s, with increased meddling of the government in the economy – things like the income tax and the central bank, the first supposed to create a system where a little bit of our income (no longer little) was hoped to be used to make everyone’s lives a little better and the second to enable the government to fund enormous projects, including, of course, war, and flatten out economic downturns. Both seem, in retrospect, foolish. It was like riding a tiger by its tail. Not only could they not control the economy, but the ability to spend more money just increased congress's fervor to spend yet more.   

It doesn't work because it can't. Picking winners and losers is a terrible development for our country. Can we not see the difference between using tax dollars to build a highway system and giving the same tax dollars to a specific company or industry. Both parties know they are guilty of this. But, we will not stop. Until we do, we cannot expect long term success.

Romney, in my view, would be better than Obama, or Bush for that matter, because I do believe that he means what he says to some degree - that he will at least marginally try to stem the debt, reduce the budget, get rid of business-crushing regulations (some few, anyway) and try and get government out of the way as best as he can. Obama will not do this at all. Instead, he will likely continue to try and take more money from business and taxpayers (now and in the future) to redistribute, but, I believe, harming them. We all know that this doesn't work. We need to slowly change our system (even Ron Paul says slowly) so that we have safety nets, and insurance, not huge entitlement programs. The notion of entitlement, other than to equal rights under the law, has to leave our system of government, except perhaps for those who can neither care for themselves nor are capable of getting the help from friends or even charity. Our economy has not kept pace with the change in our culture that people do not want to share living quarters, or live with their families, or keep granny in the house when grand pa dies. And, all this costs money. Plus, people who are sick, or failing or old are much less likely to die and that costs money. And, we have become the policemen of the world and that costs money. Not least, technology continues to make many jobs unnecessary, or, at least, less valuable. And that is a problem for job seekers.

I may be the only one in the country who thinks the scheduled automatic cuts might be good (I mean, other than John Stossel), but I think they will if allowed to happen. Don't believe Leon Panetta. This is not going to gut our military for generations if anyone there has a brain in their head up in the military, this will make it leaner and smarter. But, only if they are willing to root out corruption and waste.

But, we could go on and on about the economy, and I've covered that before many times. Let's talk politics.

The actual reasons

Why are the Republicans probably going to lose? These are my beliefs.

The Republican Party is much like the Democrats of the 1950s-60s or the Whigs of the 1840s-1850s, split politically and culturally. The split can be seen in a macrocosm at the tea party rallies (Are their tea party rallies anymore? I haven't even heard of one lately.)

One aspect is the libertarian, fiscally conservative, deficit/debt reduction, smaller government, less regulation side.

The other aspect is the pro-religion, pro-life, anti-gay rights (they would say religious freedom) side. I include something specific like gay rights along with the more general religious aspect because it looms so large in our public discourse.

I would hazard a guess that most Republicans feel relatively strongly about both aspects, certainly relative to Democrats and liberals. But, relative to each other, they do not. It seems to me that the economic aspect is more generally felt among Republicans, but that the religious side is more passionately and pro-actively felt. This is the reason that the Republican candidates were able to keep making runs at Romney, but ultimately, either self-destructed or could not satisfy enough fiscal conservatives to succeed. They had economic plans too, but they campaigned on religion. Gingrich said in a debate that people who don't pray have no judgment. Perry said he wanted to bring religion back in the White House. Santorum announced in the first debate that this is what it was all about. Let's face it - "anyone but Romney" was not because conservatives did not believe Romney was a capitalist or fiscally conservative enough, but because they do not believe he is really dedicated to their social values. For my part, I've backed him, but one reason is because I believe he gives the more religious notions of his party lip service and will make them as small a part of his administration as he can make it while not completely pissing off his base.

But, the policy schism of Republicans is not just an in-house affair. It is of the deepest importance to the election because, as I keep reminding anyone who will listen (and, I think even Rush Limbaugh has figured this out now), independents will decide the election. More so, the independents in about a fifth of the states will decide it. I would even guess that most independents have made up their mind already. So, it is really just the super-independents now who matter most, or, those who can still be swung.*
[*I've written previously on what I think being an independent means and don't want to go into it here, but, especially in an election year, the number of independents seems to me to include people who call themselves that, but will almost certainly vote for the party with whom they have always been most comfortable for any number or real or imagined reasons. And, though I don't fully understand why, it also seems to me that many liberals are not as comfortable with their ideological affiliation as conservatives and relatively more of them call themselves independents, but are not. I could not guess at the numbers. But, if I am correct, it is important, as it gives the Democrats a small hidden advantage in the election. And a small advantage with "independents" is all any candidate needs.]
It is impossible to tell, of course, what will tilt enough independents to swing the election. That's what makes them independents. It might be the candidates looks or height, but also temperament. It might also be a feeling that one party is more competent than another or that they share one side's values more.

I am troubled by the example of a young man I know who was very liberal, but has moved more and more over to the fiscally conservative side. But he refuses to vote for Republicans because he believes too many in that party despise him because he is gay. I could, if so inclined, say an analogous thing.  Right now and for a long time, I have more in common in terms of economic theory with Republicans than Democrats. But I am well aware that many conservatives look down on atheists, or, at least stand by quietly while their compatriots disparage them or call for measures that I believe violate the first amendment religion clauses in significant ways. Unlike the young man I know, I deal with it, because, overall, we live in such a tolerant society, the intolerance towards atheists by conservatives, is almost always harmless. I spent 4 1/2 years living in the Bible Belt. There was some discomfort by some friends/acquaintances of mine when they learned I was not a believer. But, they were certainly not violent nor did it end up affecting our personal relationships in any significant way. If anything, it just made them feel bad for me and be curious. Frankly, my personal views on a host of seemingly less controversial matters cause people much more discomfort. There is occasional violence against gays and it is horrible, but it is really rare. And, the ban on their serving openly in the military is now gone. Gay marriage is becoming legal in more and more states and I believe in a generation - say 20 to 25 years - will be to a large degree a non-issue. Similarly, I believe, even if we continue in the endless war with radical Islam, the bias against American-Muslims is relatively mild and will disappear in time. I am not saying there is no important discrimination (it is always more painful when you are the subject of it) but that it is not sufficient now for me to vote Democratic in the presidential election. Times could change that. I have voted for Democrats before and might in the future.

But, that's me. It's not everyone. And I believe there are sufficient numbers of true independents, not liberals thinking they are independents, who are disgusted by conservative social positions and will not vote for them. There was a time that I voted based on those same issues, so it is difficult for me to be too critical of those who still do, but, I think they are making a mistake.  It doesn't mean conservatives need to give up their values, but they do have to live with the consequences.
Neither life nor politics is particularly(or think we are). Two politicians might bang away at each other but one may get beaten up by the media for it and the other not. Two politicians might make gaffes and one gets the reputation as a flubber and the other not. I thought that both Al Gore and George Bush said relatively equal amounts of dumb things in the 2000 election. Yet Al Gore was mocked mercilessly for it and Bush, not so much (then, later on the media tortured him for the same reason). In 2008, I counted three bone-headed statements by Joe Biden (as, apparently, is his wont) in the Veep debate with Sarah Palin and only one by her. But, despite the fact that he was considered the pro and she the newbie, outside of Fox and talk radio, the media and I think independents gave him the nod (not that I think it was a major factor in the election). That's the way it goes. Right now, most of the television and news media is clearly and demonstrably for Obama. They are not fair to Romney on a number of fronts (though he does little to help himself and much to hurt). Obama and his supporters are dreadful with him. And, he and his followers are dreadful about Obama. This much is to be expected. I only concern myself with independents. My impression is that the Romney attacks on Obama are not viewed well by many of them , while they shrug at the unfair attacks by Obama on Romney. It may be that more independents are liberals than I think. It might also be that people just like the usually loose Obama more than the stiff and easy to caricature Romney.

But one reason that criticisms about Obama are falling on deaf ears is that conservatives have for the longest time criticized Obama about everything. The attacks on Reagan were fierce. The first Bush, though he didn't get a second term, seemed to avoid it. But, revenge by the conservatives was taken on Clinton, and then by liberals on Bush, each time increasing in tone and mockery. But, the attacks on Obama have been as great or even greater in my view. Some of them are plain foolish and others too personally disparaging. I include online comments by ordinary readers because other people read them.  It is part of the reason I will blame the far right if Obama wins. This kind of stuff just pisses people off who aren't inclined to hate the president already. The birther claims were completely bogus. Even Sean Hannity knew enough to say he didn't believe it. There were birth notices in two Hawaiian papers, for crying out loud, and don't tell me they knew he'd be running for president some day and were covering. I personally know conservatives who still swear that he is a secret Muslim (and, for some, at the same time, a Black Liberation Church Christian) and an enemy of America. They can't explain how they also criticize him for doubling down on the popular war, Afghanistan, at the same time, continues his drone assassinations and made the call on bin Laden, while he was supposedly secretly hoping for an al Qaeda victory. Please. And, while easy to criticize on domestic policies, he is much less so on foreign affairs. Yet, nothing he does seems in the world seems above criticism to conservatives with the single caveat that many of them grudgingly acknowledge that he gets some credit for at least giving the go ahead to take out bin Laden. Very grudgingly.

To the contrary, while, like all presidents Obama makes foreign policy errors and is tossed about by the things out of his control, Romney's attacks on Obama's foreign affairs all come out as contrived and simply to criticize him. Obama, who went into the presidency naive and a complete foreign affairs beginner, is now - sorry conservatives - much more experienced than Romney. I just say that the economy is so important right now, that foreign affairs just doesn't matter so much. Without a sound economy, we will have no foreign affairs worth discussing except to mourn our loss of prestige and power.

The foreign affairs criticisms may be the best example of why Romney, who should be only talking about the economy and explaining in the simplest terms why socialist or social democratic or progressive economics is a disaster, and never say a word about foreign affairs except that he will learn on the job or general platitudes, is fumbling it big time. He continues to make statements trying to look knowledgeable, yet looks foolish, be it about Russia, China, Israel, the embassy attacks and so on.

It's not that Obama does not have foreign affair faults. He is naive about the Middle East.  He thought he could pacify the jihadist strain of the Islamic world by telling them they are great and just different than us. His rhetoric in this manner exceeded Bush's. His apology tour, though not as bad as claimed by his antagonists, was in fact an apology tour. His vaunted speech in Cairo, though also not as bad as his antagonists claim, sent the wrong message. You can't just talk nicely to everyone. We share many things in common with Islamic countries, but there is a large strain that accepts violence as the solution to disagreement and we cannot reason with them. This is evident by his handling of the embassy crisis ongoing, particularly in the speech of his secretary of state, who pretty much said that free speech is debatable, and their system just a different view, while, of course, condemning the violence. I was also disgusted by our giving billions of our money to Gaza early in his administration, thereby helping Hamas, after Israel justly defended herself against them. And I thought his actions against Libya, while well intentioned, was impeachable and an usurpation of congresses authority that is a signal to future presidents and maybe himself, that congress is irrelevant when it comes to war.

But, unless I am leaving something out that just hasn't occurred to me, that is it. The rest is not so bad and occasionally good. He did get us out of Iraq carefully. He has not abandoned Afghanistan allies, who now understandably depend on us, despite tremendous provocation from their own idiots, and I despair that any president could handle it better without also finding himself somehow on the losing end. Afghanistan is among the most difficult of foreign affair pickles affairs we face, and no good can come of any solution. Despite the impeachable offense of attacking Libya from whom we faced no threat without the permission of congress, he handled it well. No American lives were lost, and though, naturally, it took much longer than he claimed, one of Americas oldest nemeses. Conservatives can mock leading from behind"" all they want. I like it. What we did militarily was exactly what we should be doing more of if we are going to fight a war. Use our technological advantage and spare American military families more suffering. Let others carry the torch. We've done enough as a nation militarily and we all know, even our enemies, that if push ever comes to shove in the world again, all will look to us again.

There is not much he can do with Russia or China. I find nothing he did that some criticize more than carping. They are formidable opponents who are too experienced and self-sufficient to be bullied by us. Ronald Reagan was himself criticized with great fervor by Republicans for being soft on the Soviet Union, particulary when they shot down KAL007. He rightly asked, short of war, what would they have me do? Romney's pre-election aggression towards both those countries is preposterous. He will eat crow for it if elected. They are not our allies, and sometimes cause us grief, but they work with us on many issues. Russia takes our astronauts into space, for crying out loud, and we trade with China as if they were a 51st state. We do oppose them on human rights and they do oppose us when we try to stop their client states or preferred trading partners from committing atrocities, but, we are not going to war with them any time soon (I admit, there are times I have qualms that one day we will wake up and China will be in Taiwan, though they have kept their promise not to do so.)

As for Israel and Palestine, it is another intractable problem that no president has been able to settle. But, I like the way he has handled it better than Bush. First, Israel is not always right and our presidents have always quarreled with them. To use Reagan a second time, no conservative I know with the exception of Ron Paul will even acknowledge that Ronald Reagan had his U.N. Secretary vote to condemn them. CONDEMN THEM. He regularly bickered with them as have both Bushes and Clinton. None of this is secret history (though I like to dwell on these things, I don't have room today.) Bush publicly called for a two state solution at the BEHEST OF SAUDI ARABIA and Obama's suggestion on the borders barely differs from his predecessor's.

With respect to Iran, this is another very thorny problem no one seems to be able to solve. Bush was not equal to it and neither is Obama. Any conservative who wants to criticize Obama for not resolving the dispute has to explain why Bush was helpless to solve it or North Korea either. I certainly would not be surprised that Iran is moving towards a nuclear device, but, I know when I am biased, and there is no smoking gun. We've already done Iraq without evidence and cannot do that again. It is quite possible that we've already taken actions with Israel in killing Iranian scientists and attacking their nuclear industry that are not only despicable, but international crimes, if in fact they are not making a weapon. I say this while despising Iran's government. Israel's own former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan has been outspoken in saying that there are years to go before they have a bomb and we have some time. Ironically, he was on 60 Minutes tonight (I didn't watch, as I have no faith in the show in having even relatively unbiased journalists - but he has spoken elsewhere on it.) What Netanyahu and Romney claim they want is premature. WWII taught us many lessons, but they are not the only lessons. It is not appeasement to refrain from attacking a country when there is not substantial proof they are doing anything wrong. That might be because Iran is very good at hiding it. But, this is a risk we take in the nuclear world. I doubt we will ever outright attack any powerful nation who can harm us because they want or have a nuclear weapon.

I can't be comprehensive, but look at the latest crisis. As I said above, I don't like Obama's verbal response to it. He criticized the message from the Egyptian embassy staffer prior to the outbreak of violence, but after that Clinton's speech was worse and sent the same message. But, let's not pretend that there is anything he can really do other than send warships over there to rattle sabers, threaten financial consequences (and I believe Obama did so to get Morsi and Egypt more in line). He may have done a good job with Egypt, but it is hard to say yet. The governments in the countries where the violence is going on are mostly on our side, at least outwardly. We work with them on terrorism every day. We trade extensively. These countries do not want to become persona non grata in the banking world, which is probably the strongest tool in our belt.
Let me use Reagan, the icon of the right, as another great example. When enough Marines were killed in Lebanon (and mass bombings happened twice in 1983, not just once as is sometimes thought) Reagan had us retreat off shore. Certainly many conservatives cringed when we did but they did not act as if Reagan was incompetent or too willing to accomodate.

The world started changing after WWII. People understood that they could not hope to defeat those so much more powerful than them. Government are more inclined to cooperate, but others are not. So, they found another way. The greatest threats to peace are not just governments, but non-governmental organizations like al-Qaeda and Hizbollah. The only change that will make any long term difference will be internal to the Muslim world, a rejection of violence in response to perceived deviance and an acceptance of what I call the enlightenment values. Short of a modern crusade coupled with genocide, which I do not expect in any way, the war between the cultures will be long and hard fought. No one really knows how to fight it. We just know we have to kill the bad guys and hope to kill as few good guys while we can as we do it, because it is really hard to tell the difference. We will almost always screw up in this manner. No one can claim that Obama has not tried to kill as many "bad guys"as he reasonably could.

But, while considering internal change, let me finish this post with the question - what will happen to the Republican Party internally if Romney loses? The Limbaughs and Gingriches, etc., will claim that it is because they did not go with a true conservative and insist the next candidate be of that mind. By that they will mean, among other things, that they want someone who is against gay marriage, any abortion (for some excepting the situations involving the health of the mother, or rape and incest), wants to prevent Muslims from building mosques in America and establish prayer in school and religious symbolism (mostly Christian) in our government institutions. If they are successful, I believe they will fail in the general election again, and then there will be no defense to the economic policies of the liberals in the Democratic Party.

Another Republican group will claim that the Limbaughs and Gingriches (I use them merely as examples) are the problem. I tend to agree with that, but if that group is successful and right wing third parties may result in the most energetic part of the party ensuring liberal success just the same.

The only resolutions I see that I can at least stomach right now are a Romney victory or, in the event he loses, the unlikely advent of a true middle ground third party, more right than left in economy and law, and more left than right in the religious aspects.  Good luck to me on that one. But, the Republican Party was itself a third party that eclipsed the Whigs. So, you never know.
There is always hope.  


  1. Let's review:
    David on the economy: "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!!!!"
    David on the election: "I think Obama is going to win."
    You may skip the remaining 30,000 lines that are as boring as 'Being John Malkovich' and get on with the rest of your lives.....

  2. There's a Kurt Vonnegut novel, can't remember which one, but a later one I think, and in the foreward he talks about a reader who wrote him that he can sum up all Vonnegut's books in a sentence - something like - "Stop loving me so much and just treat me with common decency." Vonnegut then writes that if he had known that earlier, he would have saved time writing all the books and just sent everyone a short telegram. I guess I could have done that.

    But, even if they can be summed up in a few words (MacBeth - The Queen gets MacBeth to kill her husband; now he's king but she feels guilty and kills herself; then someone kills him; The end -) I still enjoy writing them, although I admitted this one was tough. My guy lost the last election too and it is a lot more fun when your guy gets to disappoint than it is wishing he had the chance to disappoint you.

    Actually, I know that there are people who like the political posts, because they tell me, but they are not usually commenters. I expect agreement with me to be rare because I will always offend the libs and cons; independents are independent, so they won't likely agree much either. But, I do own being long winded. I have a lot to say and actually cut most of them down.

    Of course, you will certainly win all the awards for best comments this year (actually, I think you win most of them every year).

    Thanks for blasting me.


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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 . . . .