Monday, November 12, 2012

Potpourri day

This is a potpourri day. The online dictionary has as one definition:

"4. any mixture, especially of unrelated objects, subjects, etc."

So, this is just a bunch of different stuff I was thinking about this week. There is easily the capacity to take notes on whatever we are thinking these days, but, it is apparently too much effort for me (though oddly, I can spend hours every day copying out of books I find interesting). I find that even if I'm thinking about something that interests me and I want to dredge it up later I often can't recall anything but a shadow of it as soon as a few minutes later. I'm all long term memory.  But, I brainstormed yesterday to try and remember a word here or there. These are the fruits of those words.


Emails? Really, oh, super spy?
When I was a law student a professor gave, as an aside, what I've always said was one of the best pieces of advice I'd ever heard.  Don't talk in the courtroom bathrooms until you've checked all the stalls. The reason is obvious. You don't want anyone to hear what you are saying.

Today, I give similar advice to my friends all the time - even strangers. Don't put anything in writing - especially via email, text, chat or any other digital device - that you don't want someone other than your audience to read - or someone in particular you don't want to read, because sure as the night turns to day, they will be reading it by next morning.   
In virtually every case that I have dealt with recently in a substantive fashion the "bad guy" had left an email trail or something similar. In one case I had, and this goes back even ten years, a paralegal accidentally forwarded us emails from the other side that included their attempt to bribe a witness. It had a huge impact on the case. In another case I litigated myself, the whole argument the "bad guy" attorney was making was undone by a single sentence in a letter to a client that he had attached to a discovery response, thinking he was giving up nothing (and, he literally gave nothing else).  In another situation, a friend of mine lost a great business opportunity by calling the big boss a crude name in an email to a co-worker.  And so on.

Because we type these things in private and we trust the people we are sending them to, we think that they are safe. But, Ben Franklin was right (I am not checking to see if this is apocryphal or he really said it). "Three can keep a secret if two are dead."  Of course, Franklin violated the rule himself.  Once in writing, it can read by any amount of people and is hardly deniable, much as you may try. 
So, here's my simple rule. Don't. Don't write bad things about people whose feelings, for any reason, you don't want to hurt. Don't write things that would harm you or someone else if you don't want that to happen. Don't make fun of people even harmlessly, if you don't want them to see it.

This is very easy advice to give - incredibly obvious, but very little given out or followed by people. Lawyers violate it every day. I'll admit that I have on occasion violated it myself, because I'm as human (stupid) as Benjamin Franklin, or the "next guy." But, I do try very hard to follow it and do far more often than I don't. My interactions with others though tells most people are the opposite.  
Why did Petraeus do it? I don't mean why did he cheat. That's obvious.  But why did this military expert put in writing what he would have gone to his grave not wanting anyone else to know? I don't know. Too many possibilities. Maybe he got sucked into the belief that it would remain a secret, which is ASTONISHING for a general or head of the CIA? Maybe she promised to delete them (as if that works)?  Maybe they were just too important emotionally for him to get rid of. Or maybe he/she thought that they were too unimportant to bother with -- who would look?

What we do know is that it was put in writing. And that is a mistake.

There is a commercial on lately for a charity that talks about ordinary heroes which makes me think of a western little shown these days called The Magnificent Seven. TM7 was based on a Japanese film, The Seven Samurai, by a lauded Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, whose films bore me to tears. Call me uncultured.  But, the western was fantastic and starred Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and one of the all time great bad guys, Eli Wallach. Elmer Bernstein did the score which has been used by many others, including Bruce Springsteen as he comes onto stage. There are many reasons to watch TM7, but most of all because it is fun and inspiring. And what heroism means is the main underlying theme. In one scene, three hero worshipping boys are asking to go with Charles Bronson's character - a half Mexican, half Irish gun fighter, who is there to help rescue their village from the baddie, on a mission, when one of them says that their fathers are cowards. It's going to seem hokey when you watch it now, but, in the movie, when you are caught up in it, it was great. Bronson spins, grabs the kid, spanks him, and then gives the kiddies a lecture. 
Better you watch it than I talk about it.

We all like heroes and there are all kinds. My favorite heroes are the obviously flawed and unsung ones. Which is why the end to Angels with Dirty Faces, another great ensemble movie  -- Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogard, Pat O'Brien, Huntz Hall, Leo Gorcey, and others,  is one of the great endings in all movie making.  I haven't seen it in many years, but I know if I watched it now it would still make me cry.

You can argue by analogy, but don't think it is likely to score a point if there isn't an independent audience or judge.  Whenever I make an analogy in an argument, I find it is always shot down as being different than the situation at hand. My friends, whoever I am arguing virtually always tell me it is a bad analogy.  There is a possibility that I am just very bad at making analogies, but I really don't think so (I once posted an actual list here of things  I think am bad at - it was really long and necessarily incomplete, but making analogies wasn't on it). 
The whole point of an analogy is that it is meant to make a point, not to be exactly the same situation. If it was, it wouldn't be an analogy.  But, try telling that to the person you are arguing with. It appears to me that it doesn't matter if my analogy is of the weak or strong variety (or if I say it is a weak analogy), it is stomped upon.

Nowadays, when I make one (in an incredible display of optimism that it will work), and it is inevitably shot down with some version or other of - No, because in your analogy the crayons were red and these are orange crayons -- I like to say, "You know, it's funny. When I have taken a standardized test, I do surprisingly well on analogies. But, somehow, when I use one in an argument, it is always bad. Amazing how that happens." Believe it or not, I have found that works well.
I tried reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.  It always looked too long for me to try, but so many people insisted I'd love it that I gave it a shot. I did like it a bit at first, but it was too long after all. And, a little repetitive. We got it in the first few chapters. Libertarians good, socialists bad. Anyway, I bring it up because there was a sentence or so about arguing by analogy which made me happy, because it as similar to what I thought and now write here. But, though I tried a few times, I could never find it again so I could use it in a quote.

My Aunt Tess passed this week.  She was either 99 or 100. We will find out soon when her safe is opened if her birth certificate is in there as it is supposed to be.  

In her last few years she suffered a great deal. Her husband died well over 30 years ago; his sister -- my grandmother, about 30 and my grandfather, who became Tess's last real companion of her generation, about 20 years ago. She has lived in her own apartment all these years, and had few friends, not being a very social person, though she was very dignified and pleasant. Eventually she needed help and then inevitably, a nursing home, going into one initially as a rehab in June.
Her recuperative powers were so amazing that a few times in the last few months we wrote her off as dead shortly, or going to continue in a coma or vegetative state, and then I'd get a call from her to say hello. I visited as much as I could in the last few months, but there is only so much time you can spend there. She was not one to spend time in the social events.  But, there were a few of us of younger generations, so, though she did not get the support that many do, it was more than many others get.

Though physically she continued to deteriorate as you might expect, her mind remained strong until a month or so ago when she seemed unable to any longer tell the difference between nightmares and reality. She lay or sat day after day in her room by herself, unless she had a visitor, or a nurse was taking her tour and felt she would go crazy from boredom, being surrounded by people who had lost the ability to communicate or reason. Yet, sometimes she would say something very insightful and you had to wonder how she knew things she couldn't well see or hear.
Though she was by nature a gentle person, she became angry she had to be there and was often disappointed at the staff who could rarely meet her standards. As she came nearer to the end it got worse.  Eventually, she could not even feed herself and she became frantic that her bedclothes or clothing they put on her weren't "smooth." The staff, who were kind to her, were described as "fresh," or the like.

My aunt has wanted to die for at least ten years, though I suspect it was only when she began to say it out loud. She was very vocal about it. I don't think it was because she was depressed, though I'm sure she was often lonely. But, many people are lonely. I think it was because she was deteriorating and knew it would never get any better. Sure, if she was surrounded by family, it might have been easier for her, but even when my family took her out she complained that she could not follow the conversations and wanted to die. Once at her birthday party in a restaurant she simply began to cry because she was here another year. Despite that, she maintained her dignity, made sure she was always presentable and acted according to her lights.
Why, she would ask me in the last few months, am I here, over and over. I did not have an answer, of course. I would smile and say I understood what she wanted, but she unable to kill herself and no one could help her, though I would gladly - done so if I could have avoided jail for doing so.  Perhaps at the end a grand jury would have understood if I videotaped her at first, but, I doubt it.

At the end, the state, which will not legalize assisted suicide, took her dignity. Right up to the last few weeks it was so important to her that she thought her hair was combed and what nightgowns she had.
In the last week or so, she changed dramatically. My niece had a horrific experience and I went I think two days later to see her, hoping she would be improved as she always seemed to after she slept a while. But, the last time I saw her was terrible. She was like a creature with, as my niece described it, a goblin like voice, and she did not seem -- except for one horrible moment-- to recognize me. She thrashed and reached out, moving quicker in the last few minutes I saw her than in the last 30 years. She made me think of a dying fish swimming upstream.

As I stood by her bed that last time, she grasped at my shirt sleeves desperately seeking something - but what? I asked, but she could not say what it was. I guessed and finally said as calmly as I could - "Tess, can you tell me what you want?" She turned to me for the first time, and said in a low, raspy, angry, betrayed and, yeah, goblin-like voice --"You know what I want," and she turned away to battle with some unseen foe.
I did know what she wanted. She wanted to die. And as much as I'd like to believe she could not tell it was me there, I think she did. It was all she wanted and I could not give it to her.  I went to the head nurse and confessing that I was an ignorant man when it came to palliative care, this, I said, I am sure is not palliative care, and I described her. The nurse was already familiar with what was going on (she was hardly the only patient in this condition). She was on my side, she said, and wished we could put her out of her misery.  Why don't we put her on hospice, she asked?

I was puzzled. I thought she was on hospice, though it didn't seem like much. I said I would get my brother and niece on it as I had no authority. I called them - they were also surprised that she wasn't on hospice - and it was put in motion. She died two days later before it could take effect and I imagine it was horrible for my poor aunt.
I hope there was a second she knew she was dying and could breathe a sigh of relief. I am realistic but part of me wished I could have been there at the end, though I thought I was no longer a comfort, much as she wanted me with her in the months previous. You couldn't be sure.

I have always been for assisted suicide. I think not allowing it is a relic of religion and state authority that makes no sense and is in fact cruel.  My aunt deserved a good life, but she deserved to die peacefully and with dignity when it was time, with, of course, proper safe guards in place. In all likelihood, she would not have done it the last decade when she was speaking about it, but she would have done it this year. I would have been happy to help, however hard it might have been.

The storm was bad. In some senses historic for our region. People died , were severely injured, made homeless and had their property destroyed.  Very sad.  Others never lost their power and still others lost it but not for long.
And then, there was me, who was kind of in the middle. We lost power for ten days. No heat (and it got colder every day), no tv, internet, warm water or lights. I went to a lot of bookstores and friends of ours made their home very available after a few days when they received power back, but, we slept at home.  

The toughest part was the showering.  Often it occurs to me that if you have some place to rest, food, a decent bathroom and hot water, you have nothing to complain about.  For me, I have to add . . . and something to read all the time, but that's an obsession. Like Churchill said about getting shot at without result, taking cold showers concentrates the mind wonderfully. You learn to work real fast.
So, though I know others meant well and were being compassionate, and though I joined in telling people what everyone seemed to want to know - what my energy status was, I was a little embarrassed that people kept saying how sorry they were for me. There was nothing for which they had to be sorry.

Third Party
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about our need for a legitimate third party. I was aware of course that this would be anathema to my natural enemy, the partisan. One wrote a column of his own about how we should not have a third party. His reason - his party would lose out.

He's not necessarily wrong. The author was a Republican named Rich Galen. He seems like a nice guy and sometimes I agree with him. But, usually, like all partisan writers, even when he is right he takes it too far, thinks his side's arguments were ordained in heaven (or in liberals case's, are scientifically proven). He thought Romney was a sure thing too.
If there was a third party of so-called moderates it might take more people more Republicans away as people who economic conservatives or even libertarians, but are repelled by the gay/atheist/American-Muslim bashing, prayer in school and ten commandment in court crowd, might just flock to a real third party they thought had a chance to win. But, if there was such a party, then I have a feeling an awful lot of people who were socially liberal or even libertarian, who were repelled by the let's tell everyone what they have to eat, abortion on demand, tax and spend crowd might just flock there too. Hard to say. But, I would say that the Republicans would likely lose more at first. The reason is, right now, the Republicans are far more split than the Democrats, who, if not lock step, are much closer together than the religious and fiscal branches of the right wing.

I look in the past and I think of the last time there was a third party that ended up having any legs  (no, not the Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party or Perot's Reform Party), but the Republican Party in 1856. They were carved out of the ruins of the Whigs, but, they also took from the Democrats (mostly northern Democrats). Ironically, though the Republicans were also a new party, they were worried about other new ones who would keep them from winning in some states. We know this really because of how closely Lincoln is studied. He knew that in Illinois the competition from the Know-Nothings (anti-slavery, but, also anti-Catholic - how weird is that in modern thinking?) would split the anti-slavery votes with the Republicans and give the Democrats the victory. And, that's exactly what happened.
Eventually though, in 1860, the split of parties including the Southern Democrats and the Northern Democrats splitting up and having separate nominations, led to Lincoln's victory, while getting a smaller percentage of votes in the entire South than Romney did in Philadelphia.

So, sure, it might hurt the Republicans more if there was a legitimate third party (by the way, the Tea Parties were not so much parties as a movement, and they were always a motivated, if now divisive  branch of the Republicans). The Republicans would split into two and the Democrats perhaps 2/3rds 1/3rd.  But, eventually, I believe that party could fly.

The problem is, as many have discovered the last few years, you cannot plan or manufacture a party. It has to be organic and grow - like the Tea Party, but not flame out either.  I hope it happens, but I'm a watcher, not a doer, so I'll just be waiting to see what happens.


Why is it that physics accelerated so quickly in the end of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century (and, no, not just Einstein) and so much slower in the second half and beginning of the 21st? Whether hooked on the standard model or string theory or super-symmetry, not that much has happened. I know, they think they found the "God particle,"  or Higgs Boson, they think there is dark energy and dark matter.  Just words for now and doesn't mean much. Let me know when they have a completely new view of the atom, or come up with the equivalent of relativity or the development of quantum theory or atomic energy.

I have a short answer. Big physics technology has developed much too fast, too fast for new theory. While new technologies often provide the final proof of theory - such as the way that geosynchronous satellites and gps have proved relativity (they wouldn't work if it weren't true).  We need both theory and experimental physics, but we sorely lack the first.  So, we can see further and further with our telescopes and do more and more with the giant accelerators, but not much theoretically or practically has come from it to excite anyone who isn't involved. Maybe some nice pictures.

Doc Holliday Wyatt Conversation

Like many men, I love the movie Tombstone, which I've written about here before. It has great acting, production, direction (really Kurt Russell) and brilliant writing. I think my favorite scene, which I've mentioned to people this week and quite often before, involves just Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Doc is dying in the hospital and Wyatt comes by to see him (from -

"Doc Holliday: What do you want Wyatt?
Wyatt Earp: Just to live a normal life.
Doc Holliday: There is no normal life, Wyatt, there's just life, ya live it."

So many people I know spend their lives doing their best to appear "normal," though it has little real meaning. I don't pretend to be above it. In fact, as strange as some people find me, I believe I acquiesce in about 99% of conventions. Yet, I often find that the 1% drives some people crazy. When I was young, it was very much an issue for a lot of people. As I get older, it appears that it may be an issue once again. What can you do? People want you to act and believe just like them and they want you to think they fit in perfectly too.

The answer many of you are looking for is this, particularly those of you who are unhappy - There is no normal life. There's just life. Ya live it.  All you had to do to learn that was go to the movies.


  1. third party - you meant 1856, not 1956 you dingbat. Minor quibble. The section on your Aunt Tess may be the best thing you have ever written (there may be a few things you've written I haven't seen, so exclude those). You choked me up, Frodo. Very unfair. I come here looking for a witty book thought or some ridiculous point of view I can make fun of. Serious reality checks are not on the agenda, don't do it again. On Tombstone, huge fan, as you know, the actors saved the movie, but sloppy production, the errors are almost comical. Still, script and performances turned it into a classic western. Now go back to being an opinionated idiot and stop making me remember what hospitals smell like and why getting old sucks.

  2. Obviously, yes, 1856. My proofreader gets sleeply late at night and, well, you know. I'll actually fix that one because it just looks stupid, but thanks. The world is hereby on notice that I fixed it.

    Sounds to me that you are finding some fault with Tombstone. Those are fighting words. What production errors? Enlighten me.

    1. Two of the most obvious production errors in Tombstone: 1)when Cowboy Bill shoots Sheriff Ed White, there is a full shot of White just prior to the shooting that shows the tubes that spray the blood, running up his pant leg from the ground.2) The other is when Wyatt is hysterical about Morgan's death and he wanders out into the rain crying Why, Why.. it's only raining over him. the other side of the street, and the rest of the set in the shot is completely dry. There are so many of these, that websites have compiled them. Google something like Tombstone production errors and you will get tons of sites.

  3. I love production errors. Did not know this had so many. Good job. Still on the short list for greatest western.

  4. I agree with Bear, very good (sad) section about your Aunt Tes. My grandmother is 91 and approaching that phase. Although she still has good days, they seem to be fewer.

  5. Thanks.

    Saw a medical bill for my Aunt in her apartment this weekend which listed her birthdate as 01/01/13. No birth certificate though. So, she missed 100 by less than two months. Not that she cared.


Your comments are welcome.

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 . . . .