Saturday, May 26, 2012

"OH, MY GOD, NEWT - PLEASE STOP HELPING!!!!

It is 5 in the morning and I am watching a re-run of Newt Gingrich on Hardball, Chris Matthews’ show. All of I can think is that in some hotel room Mitt Romney is getting up for another brutal day campaigning and he’s watching the same thing that I am and his staff has to come running into his room because he is screaming – “OH, MY GOD, NEWT – PLEASE STOP HELPING!!!

I’ve said here on previous occasions, and many times in online comments, that Gingrich is too narcissistic, too arrogant and too partisan to be president – and that’s for a politician. And, as much as I hate personal attacks in politics, I don't think I've ever had a more correct assessment.

And I'll admit, I have been frequently wrong about Gingrich. I thought he was smart enough to stay out of the race. I thought that when he did enter the race, he would be drubbed quickly (and he was), but did not foresee him sticking with it after his team left him and that he would again ride to the top, at least for a while. When he finally gave up and said that he would help Romney campaign if he wanted, I thought he was kidding. I have never seen in some 30 years of watching politics, a man so angry at his opponent on the presidential stage than Gingrich was at Romney with the sole exception of Rick Perry, who may have been close to punching Romney on the debate stage one night (just my opinion, but I really think so). And, he is now, in the most passively-aggressive fashion, acting out that anger.

Gingrich, who I acknowledge has always been bright and knowledgeable, and has become quite glib and eloquent (far beyond anyone else campaigning this year), is a nightmare for the Romney campaign. A NIGHTMARE. He is still calling Romney a liar – he actually said that again last night (each times that I’ve seen was in response to a question). You might say, what else can he do? It might be less honest, but he could do what John McCain did after getting drubbed by Bush in ’00 – stating that what he had said about his opponent was in the heat of the action and nobody means what they say then. Gingrich is not above lying. In my opinion he was the single most dishonest campaigner other than the president.

Do not mistake me, I always appreciate honesty in politics, and Gingrich should say what he means. They all should (not that those people would ever win). I actually did not like it when McCain weaseled out of what he had previously said about Bush. I just can’t believe that Romney’s disciplined team is having this guy out on the road for their boss. It’s crazy.

He acknowledged to Matthews, who must have loved this interview, his belief that his attacks on Bain Capital were true and that he lost in Florida only because Romney had more money than he did. He did not deny that he would have won the Republican nomination had he more money to spend.

In fact, when Matthews, who now acknowledges his pro-Obama bias, unlike the independence he used to pretend in ’08, argued that Romney has no knowledge of American political history, Gingrich defended Romney by saying he was surrounded by smart guys and listened to them, and that he was tough enough to run him over. He couldn't even bring himself to say that he was sure Romney knew plenty about American history or that Romney's business experience is what he needs to know, not what George Washington said at Valley Forge.

So - liar, tough enough to run someone over and a capitalist pig - this is Gingrich's take on Romney. Great. What’s, in a nutshell, his whole argument for Romney – he’s better than Obama. That's it. Can you imagine Gingrich answering independent questions at a campaign rally and having to say again that Romney lied about him and that Bain was vulture capitalism (actually Rick Perry’s phrase)? There would either have to be silence or boos from Romney’s supporters. Can you imagine them together on stage and Romney having to defend himself by calling Gingrich’s remarks “envy” and “class warfare” as he did during the nomination process? If I were Obama’s campaign or a lefty Super-Pac, I wouldn’t bother to make an attack ad on Bain. I’d just play the pro-Gingrich Super-Pac made – When Mitt Romney came to town, even though Gingrich himself had to admit it was factually inaccurate.

The one thing that Gingrich said that was in tune with the Romney campaign, when asked why people in his party keep pushing the birther thing was – “Beats me.” Two words.

The funniest part of the interview was, when asked why he would accept whatever role at the convention that Romney wanted to give him, he said – “I’m a team player.” Matthews almost choked, by the sound of it, but then politely let it slide, saying, “When I see you smile, I know what you are.”

This was a friendly interview that Gingrich had on enemy territory. And, don’t get mistake it, MSNBC is enemy territory just as Fox is friendly territory for Romney. But, did he have to throw Romney under the bus with such relish. I don’t think that anyone on the right will complain that he went on an MSNBC show, because – if you are campaigning for president, you have to deal with the enemy – one reason I believe that Sarah Palin did not run – she’s done with that. The miracle is, Romney has made Gingrich part of his campaign. What was he thinking?

But, after watching this, I hope, for his own sake, someone on the team sits Gingrich down and says “OH, MY GOD, NEWT --  STOP HELPING!!!!”

Friday, May 25, 2012

This week's thoughts


Back in the day, CNN stalwart Larry King used to also write a column where he would list his random thoughts. I seriously doubt he invented it, and I also thought they were pretty insipid. I’ve read some others who use the same format, and I hereby take it on myself:

Dahrun Ravi secretly recorded his roommate Tyler Clementi having sex with another man and and showed it live to friends. Soon after, Tyler, who had only recently “came out” to his family, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail plus years of community service, classes and probation earlier this week. He also might get deported back to India. But, he could have gotten up to ten years in jail. Even some gay rights groups had asked that he not be given an absurd amount of time, because there were likely other reasons, including the general stigmatization of gays, why he might have killed himself. Now, though, there is a lot of outrage by those who think the judge was too lenient.  Obviously, the judge was not comfortable really attributing the death to Ravi. Were I the court, I would have given him more than 30 days, but not years either. Certainly, this was way beyond a mere prank. A prank might be telling your roommate you videotaped him having sex and letting him hang for ten seconds. This was a gross violation of privacy and anyone's sense of decency. 30 days is not enough for just putting someone’s naked picture online (at least someone who didn’t know you were taking it). And I would include someone’s own spouse in that. 

On the other hand, I seriously doubt Ravi intended anything more than humiliation for Tyler, if he even thought that far. While I feel terribly sorry for Tyler and his family and friends, Ravi is either a very immature or emotionally damaged young man himself who made a very stupid mistake. While he needs to be seriously punished, he will also pay for this emotionally the rest of his life (unless he's actually a sociopath). In my opinion, the sentence should have been some 3-9 months, because even if a victim had no visible reaction to such provocation - the humiliation most people, regardless of sexual persuasion, would go through is enormous. I can't hold him responsible for Tyler's death either (however, I do not expect stoicism from Tyler's loved ones, who are entitled to be more outraged). The behavior Ravi is convicted of must be deterred, particularly with the ready availability of tiny or unseen cameras in the world. Some months' jail time is deterrence enough. Even a few days in jail is pretty horrible for most people. Though I would have given more time, if I were the appeals court, the sentence is not so disparate with what I believe should have been the sentence that I would increase it, particularly as there are other non-custodial penalties that last years.
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Is it me, or is the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin affair looking like a repeat of the Duke Rape case that could even end with a prosecutor losing her job, if not worse. If this case (Zimmerman) taught of anything - again! - it is that you have to wait until you have all the facts that can be had before you make up your mind. It is easy to get swept up in what everyone is saying at the beginning. I did. But, sometimes there is never enough information to be sure, even after a trial. At this point, and from shortly after the initial fraudulent NBC airing was exposed, it is still very reminiscent of the sham we went through at Duke. Conservatives are right that there is an acceptance of reverse discrimination in the media and even a drumbeat among many to find old fashioned white majority racism and to hide black racism. Neither is acceptable. We are, as a society, making a mistake on top of a mistake that will delay the cessation of both.
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I think everyone is aware of the Secret Service Cartagena sex scandal to discuss it without much of a preliminary paragraph being necessary. I watched Mark Sullivan, the head of the agency, testify before the Senate this week and the number one concern everyone claimed they had was security. Did the agents put themselves in position where an enemy could get information that might leave the president vulnerable by bringing prostitutes (legal in Colombia) back to their hotel?

My question is - what is the rule if a secret service agent meets a women on a trip and brings her back to his hotel for sex without there being any payment involved? Isn't there the access to classified information in that case too? The same access to the agent's weapons that there would be if she were a prostitute? If the agent is married, or it is a same-sex encounter, there is possibly the same chance of blackmail too as with a prostitute. I'm not suggesting that any of this should or should not be allowed, but, I do not see the big difference between those scenarios and taking a prostitute back to a hotel room in terms of security. In fact, I would expect that an agent having a relationship of any sort, even here at home, might present a greater security threat than a one time event with a prostitute where information and weapons can be carefully secured. Also, isn't drinking itself a bigger secuity risk? I suspect that the answer from many people would be something on the line of - "Oh, come on. It's just different." And that is because the real issue here is prestige and embarrassment, not security.

Moreover, as was pointed out in the hearing by Sen. Collins, these men did not act in a group as if on a big bachelor party, but individually or in small groups and did the very same thing on the same night, indicating repeated behavior, at the least. If, indeed, this has long been the case, as some indicate, and there have not been security breaches, why should we expect there would be one now at all?

Mr. Sullivan stated at the hearing that draconian rules have been put in place but that he did not believe they were necessary for secret service agents. Though I condone his honesty, it means he is now acting for political points and to save his own job. I thought he testified well and probably should not be blamed for the behavior of some agents, but, on the other hand, if he cannot run his agency without taking draconion steps in order to preserve his job, it might be best that he step down without any loss of benefits or prestige.

But, those conservatives sure aren't right about everything. It is just baffling to me that they, who claim that they do not want goverment telling people what to do, so desperately want gov't to tell some people that they can't use a word "marriage" to describe their relationship. It has  seemed to me for a long time just silly that conservatives believe marriage is a word fixed in stone (the only one ever on the planet) and do not realize that their own sexual mores have changed too, over time. Ask Newt Gingrich and Mayor Giuliani. No, they probably don’t realize it either.

It is equally baffling that conservatives, who claim they want religious freedom, want to tell people whose religions would permit same sex marriage, that the government should not recognize it because it is against theirs.

It is also baffling that conservatives, who claim that they believe people should be in families, don't want gay people to be in families.

I’ve debated all of the conservative points on these issues (although I can rarely get a conservative to address any point I make on it directly). Some, like the fact that any gay person is entitled to marry a person of the opposite sex, just like heterosexuals, reminds me of separate of equal. And, no, I disagree with them that you can't compare racism with bigotry against gays.  Conservatives try and get past this by claiming that homosexuality is a choice. Why someone would ever choose to go through the pain and suffering the gays I know in coming out went through, no one can explain to me.

There is nothing wrong with people clinging to tradition. I cling to mine. In fact, I buy that some of our most important rights and customs have been carried forward by traditions rather than some creative artificial step by step process (which doesn’t seem to work at all), although it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. But that doesn't mean we should cling to traditions that deprive some people of the same rights as others.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia said that Speaker Boehner’s raising the debt ceiling again was incredibly irresponsible. But, somehow, spending, borrowing and printing more money than we can obviously afford is not so. How . . . ?

Where do we have evidence that stimulus money from the government equals growth? Roosevelt’s own treasury secretary said that it didn’t work. It is admitted that the stimulus in ’09 didn’t work. Why is there still an argument about it in Europe and America?  Does anyone recall that Russia and China both turned around by, at least in part, giving up Communism and adopting capitalism? That the U.S.S.R was helpless before Germany without the “arsenal of democracy” (that is, capitalism)? I don’t think Paul Krugman does.

Just as sometimes it is okay to cling to a tradition, it is also okay to give a strategy a chance to, although it is difficult to known when to fold. But there is something wrong with clinging to strategies that have never worked and probably never will. There is a basic flaw in the approach that government spending is a good thing. The money isn't the government's. It must be either collected from people, borrowed and paid back (ultimately through taxes on people) or created in a way that results in inflation, which eventually costs people too. Almost every argument I hear about spending more ignores these basic facts.

In the case of spending our way out of a recession, other problems arise. One of them is that in order to give certain people or groups money, the government is taking from people (who might very well need it to survive) and giving to other people or groups so that they can do better. The same scenario as described in the above paragraphs applies, except that the additional problem we usually describe as "picking winners and losers" also applies. The money going to, just as an example, GM, is not being given to competitors or to those who might want to enter into competition. Sometimes, the spending of money on certain industries becomes so institutionalized, that it is seen by some as deserved or just part of the system. This would include "big" energy and Wall Street. And both Democrats and Republicans participate in it. It seems that in their minds, if they don't do it, the system will fail. Of course, as we see, it fails anyway, and other systems that might work are frozen out, never to be given a chance. I can write on this subject for a long time (and just deleted several paragraphs when I saw it getting out of hand), so I am going to do the smart thing and move along.
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The last few years there have been two books, one philosophy and one psychology, both dealing with the unfortunate workings of our minds, which have been big best sellers. One of them is Nassim Taleb’s Black Swans, which instructs us that you can’t rely on experience to tell you what is going to happen next and the other is Daniel Kahneman’s Fast and Slow Thinking, which explores the mistakes we make in our judgments by relying on the wrong kind of thinking. The authors have a mutual admiration society thing going, but, if you've read them, can you explain to me, what do they tell us that David Hume didn’t teach a quarter of a millennium ago?

In fact, I would argue that Taleb overstates his case that we should not pay so much attention to experience as many things in life are quite predictable for a long time. While Taleb certainly recognizes that many things are predictable, the emphasis and tone of the book minimizes it too much. I know at least two people I regularly debate who completely learned the wrong lessons from the book - believing that almost nothing is predictable (except, of course, for everything they rely on everyday, as we all must, and less certain things they think likely, because, we all do that too). I can't blame Taleb completely, as it is not his fault that people skim or take from books only what supports their theories. But, he did not help in my view.

I have fewer issues with Fast and Slow Thinking. Kahneman, considered one of the world’s great experimental scientists (and perhaps, economists), reviews studies showing us that we come to many decisions we think are rational for largely irrational reasons, in some part because we tend not to think statistically or logically, which is hard work. Instead, we rely on strategies that doesn’t take much hard thinking and often work on a very elemental level, but not more complex ones. Now really, what successful businessperson, magician, writer, politician, salesperson, stock trader (and so on, ad infinitum) needs Kahneman’s book to know that? Of course, there are many people who don't, and I guess that is the point of his book. However, Fast and Slow Thinking does provide us with some ammunition, in the form of experiments, to bolster our own arguements, and I appreciate it.
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I’ve been having trouble reading fiction the last few years. Maybe there is no reason to analyze why, but there’s no real reason to write this blog either. I just want to. My guess is that there are three reasons. First, as I learned about myself when I was young, I mostly read for the sake of information. You obviously can learn much more with non-fiction (and you can’t trust what you might think is factual in fiction at all), although certainly you can also learn much more that it not true. Spare me that fiction is closer to some metaphorical "truth." I get it, but that's not what I am talking about. Second, there really are very few themes in fiction, just as we learned in grade school. It gets repetitious when you’ve read enough, and I’ve read who knows how many hundreds (probably more) novels. Maybe more. When I moved from Long Island I know gave away about 300 books alone and that was a fraction of what I’ve read. Third, and this is the most subjective reason – I like what I like. Most of my favorite authors are either really old or even dead British guys. That narrows your search mightily. And, with most writers, even some you might love, after a while, they start to repeat themselves to the degree that you just don’t want to read them anymore, or, if you do, it is out of some strange loyalty to a fictional character. I find that happens with television too.

So, while I'm on fiction, I might as well list my favorite fictional authors here with my favorite book(s) or series of theirs. Deep breath – Shakespeare (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth stand out), Tolkien (you guess which ones), H. Rider Haggard (The People of the Mist and Eric Brighteyes, which were far from his most famous), James Fenimore Cooper (Leatherstocking Tales), Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers novels and The Count of Monte Cristo, plus the less well known La Reine Margot), Mark Twain (Pudd'nhead Wilson and Letters to the Earth, but it may be his zillion pithy quotes I love best), Rudyard Kipling (Kim, The Man Who Would be King and the poem, If), J. M. Barrie (do you really have to ask which one?), John Fowles (The Magus), Albert Camus (The Stranger), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Mother Night – probably not the standard choice, and Player Piano), Knut Hamsun (Pan), Hermann Hesse (The Steppenwolf), George MacDonald Fraser (I’ll take his Flashman books to hell with me – perhaps I loved Flashman at the Charge best), John LeCarre (The Smiley trilogy, of course), John Irving (would that I could write something like The World According to Garp or Setting Free the Bears), Larry McMurty (Lonesome Dove), Damon Runyan (many short stories come to mind, but the The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, the basis of my favorite musical, Guys and Dolls, shouldn’t be missed), John Myers Myers (Silverlock), Agatha Christie (but only the Poirot books),Tony Hillerman (I can no longer differentiate between his Navajo Indian reservation mysteries – just loved them all), Ian Fleming (From Russia with Love), Steven Pressfield (perhaps my favorite historical novelist - Gates of Fire stands out), Dashiell Hammett (The Glass Key more than The Maltese Falcon), Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me), Raymond Chandler (I really can’t choose between them, but, I guess I’ll just say The Big Sleep because it is probably the best known), Rex Stout (another one so hard to choose from, but probably The Doorbell Rang and The Black Mountain top my list), John Mortimer (all the Rumpole books, of course), Lawrence Block (the brilliant Mr. Block, still writing away like a madman has the Evan Michael Tanner series and the Matthew Scudder series and The Bernie Rhodenbarr Burglar series and the Hit Man series – he must never stop for a second), Robert Parker (who with Block, conquered the modern serious/light hearted detective genre – his Spenser series is priceless, the best of which was Valediction), Adam Hall (whose Quiller was even edgier and more adrenaline fueled than Bond – if I had to pick one, Quiller’s Run),  Robert Crais (there are a slew of great Elvis Cole and Joe Pine novels, but one about a cop on the periphery of those characters, Demolition Angel, was my favorite), James Lee Burke (I’m done with him, but his Robicheaux novels were perhaps the most lyrical American mystery novels ever – In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, best), Robert Ludlum (if for nothing else, The Bourne Identity) David Lindsey (whose Mercy was like a roman candle of a novel, and one of the few sexual novels I was not bored with – why has he stopped writing?), Andrew Vachss (the first six Burke novels were superb and I’d take them in order; after that they became a little too dark and sad for me) and George C. Chesbro (one of the most original mystery writers – his Mongo and Veil series were virtually unknown mystery/fantasy classics – but even the titles sparkled – try just these three – Two Songs This Archangel Sings, The Fear in Yesterday’s Rings and Dark Chant in Crimson Key).

I left out some who really wrote only one book I loved, Hemingway (For Whom the Bells Tolls – yeah, that and The Old Man and the Sea were the only ones I could get through), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Matt Lewis’s somehow less well known but I thought even better gothic novel, The Monk), E. R. R. Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros), John Bellairs (The Face in the Frost) and Abraham Rodriguez (The Buddha Book). Who knows what I left out – many I’m sure - but I have to move on.

I may get tired of novelists, but having lived in Virginia for a few years surrounded by national parks, I find I don’t get tired of looking at the views at all. I asked my landlord, who has lived her most of his 82 years, whether he ever got tired of the view of the mountains from his house. “Not yet,” he said, with no hesitation. We had pouring rain this afternoon. Two reasons that makes me happy. First, it keeps the river water high, which is good for kayaking. The second reason is that clouds in the mountains are more beautiful than anywhere else. I know you might be thinking clouds are clouds, but if you live around mountains you know it ain’t so. I read The Iliad endlessly, and I am pretty sure that the descriptions of cloud-gathering Zeus, clouds that hide combatants and lovers, clouds that gate Olympus and so on work for me so much  because of where I live. Living on Long Island, I didn’t have a lot of reasons to drive in the rain. Now, with clouds peeking out of valleys, stretching across meadows, enfolding the peaks and so on, it is probably my favorite time to drive or sit on the porch.
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I was sitting on my porch with Montana Don a few weeks ago when a red fox ran from my back yard across the street, did a jig in front some bushes and then tore off into the woods with a house cat in pursuit (I hope it didn’t catch the fox, but there didn’t seem to be a chance of it given their vastly disparate speeds). Foxes are really cool. I saw one on Long Island only once in my 48 years there in a woodsy area. They look like cartoon characters and there is something about their faces that do make them seem crafty or intelligent. They also seem to keep clean and well groomed – at least the two I’ve seen.

Speaking of which, with the fox, my list of animals I’ve seen here grows: bear, deer, vulture, wild turkey, otter, coyote, bald eagle, beaver, weasel, ground hog, many types of hawk, snapping turtles, rattlesnake, cottonmouth, copperhead and other snake, tiny chirping toads and endless amounts of insects and birds I can’t even name. This year 17 year locusts hatched. They are much like other cicada, but prettier. I found one in the river the other day and rescued him. He stayed on the front of my kayak clinging to a cord until he dried off and could fly. I called him Fluffy. Actually, I don’t think he made it. They don't live too long. Still haven’t seen a bobcat here and I think the myth of the Eastern cougar, regardless of how many sightings from credible people there are, has been completely debunked.

I’m listening to a Cato panel talk on C-Span about the U.S. Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship. The Navy is betting heavily on them. They are small and very fast but also powerful, and large enough to carry helicopters, land vehicles, troops and cargo. They have a shallow draft for landings. It launches air, sea and underwater vehicles. It is, hopefully, cheap (please – like all military equipment, the cost overruns have been punishing) and a multi-tasker, but a little weak in air defense and surface to surface missiles. There is a lot of controversy with it, but maybe that is inevitable when you bring something out where everything is new. This is the new Navy though. Get used to it. Actually, there are apparently two different versions, which look alike, but with different capabilities.
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I don’t think it has sunk into many people’s heads how much our Air Force is going to change in the next decade or so along with everything else. The amazing F-22s (if they can ever get them to work right) and F-35s (really four somewhat different planes) may not be virtually obsolete by the time they can really use them, but I think they will be the last piloted fighter planes we really rely on. Drones are going to be everything. They will be smaller, some too small for any person or radar system to see, and they will be more powerful in terms of speed, communications, surveillance and weapons. But, it won't just be for the military. Domestically, they will spy on us, probably completely destroying any notions of privacy we have ever had. You don’t think so? It’s already happening. Look at, e.g., http://www.electronista.com/articles/12/05/09/usaf.can.keep.drone.footage.for.90.days/ . You don’t think you are going to have to stop speeding and going through yellow lights when thousands of tiny drones are recording you and sending tickets wirelessly to your home? No, they will not need to testify in court. It is inevitable, I’m afraid, just like the wireless devices for internet connections that will be imbedded in every baby (“Do you want your child to be the only one who can’t instantly access the internet? You might as well not vaccinate him either.”) Part of me hopes I’m dead before all that happens, and more than a older people I know have echoed the sentiment, but stronger, when we discussed the possibilities.

Some people, including in the military, will continue to like the idea of the manned plane, but, it took people a while to get used to cell phones, electronic databases and readers, etc. The new drones will be so superior – and, will be controlled by one or more men sitting in lounging chairs, anyway, that the end is inevitable. My general rule for how fast something new is going to take over is to take what seems possible and then divide that in half.

Of all the American commercial successes, McDonald’s tops my list. Despite the fact that I rarely eat there anymore, their burgers and fries taste so good I could happily spend my last month on earth eating nothing but them (although at the end, I'd like some Chinese, a prime rib from The Wobbly Barn in Vermont and a slice of pecan pie with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream). I laughed when two friends who fancy themselves the arbiters of taste told me that McDonald’s objectively did not taste good. There has to be a reason the golden arches can be seen all over the world and it can’t just be that it is cheap. According to Wikipedia, McDonald’s Corporation operates in 119 countries and serves 68 million people A DAY. Dick and Mac McDonald essentially married Henry Ford to fast food. Was Ray Kroc, who joined them and then bought the business, a marketing genius, or did he just know how to hire marketing geniuses? Never really looked into it, but he sure did something right. I still remember the commercials and jingles from my childhood – You deserve a break today/At McDonalds!  There is a scene in Vonnegut’s autobiographical fantasy, Slaughter-House Five, when his character (he actually writes in his book that it is him – the author – which some people loved and others didn’t), a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, sneaks a taste of sweet syrup, and has been so starved of good things to eat the effect is orgasm like and causes his friend to cry when he tries it. I feel that way with each bite of fries or cheese burgers. Not tasty?  Well, they can argue it is not tasty to them, of course, and you can't argue it, but, there is such a thing in this world as consensus, and McDonald’s has the numbers on its side.
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Apparently some kooky women on an airplane this week asked for a doctor and said she had an explosive device implanted in her. A jet fighter escorted them to an emergency landing. There is only one reason to have a jet fighter escort - to blow the passenger plane out of the sky if it headed towards a city. It certainly can’t help it land or stop a bomb from blowing. But, I bet that, oddly, the sight of it made the passengers feel comforted – as in, yeah, the cavalry is here.

What’s more emblematic of how foolish we are in the way we chose a president, when one side is busy still bashing Bain Capital as if Romney is Gordon Gecko and on the other side some are still playing the birther card as if Obama is the Manchurian Candidate (despite, to be fair, some on each side saying to the campaigns and supporters - What are you doing?) Really, what are they doing? The truth is – as a group – this is what we must want and what the professionals believe we want, or we would do something else. A friend of mine said to me a few months ago that there was no choice to exaggerate grossly about the other side. It all makes me realize yet again, that running for office must be a horrible experience in so many ways, and I actually feel sorry for those who have the drive to do it, at least until they retire. I would have liked Indiana’s Governor Daniel’s to run for president, but I understand completely why he has acquiesced in his family’s desire that he not do so. It doesn’t matter at all that campaigns were worse in the past (and it was). Lots of things were worse. It reminds me of a quote from Friedrich Hayek on a related subject – “One cannot help wondering whether those who habitually use this cliché are aware that it expresses the fatalistic belief that we cannot learn from our mistakes, the most abject admission that we are incapable of using our intelligence. . . .” I think we can, but few want to.

Of course, nowadays, if you are president, you pretty much get to be fabulously wealthy the rest of your life after you are out of office just by showing up places and talking or signing your name to a letter. That might be a good enough reason to run.

So, Mark Zuckerberg got married. I hate it when that happens. None of my business, of course, but don’t you just want to say to her, “That’s fine if it’s about the money, but if you really love the knucklehead, sorry, because he probably IS going to cheat on you.” Look at who Tiger cheated on. Hugh Grant cheated on Elizabeth Hurley – and how many of Christie Brinkley’s husbands (is it all of them? I don’t really keep up). I know I’m being unfair. I know that I can’t base what this billionaire will do just because so many other wealthy celebrities do it. I know they’ve dated a long time (actually, I just learned that). And I know she’s not a supermodel. I know, I know, I know. But, it’s not going to surprise you either when it happens, is it? Sometimes, contemplating celebrity unfaithfulness I think that George Clooney might just be a really thoughtful guy. And, without any right to think so either, I suspect that every once in a while his buddy Brad Pitt is on the line, and George says, “Hey, I tried to warn you.”
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You want to know why our political campaigns are about such nonsense? Take this Pew Research Center poll from 2010. Asked who was Chief Judge of the Supreme Court and given 1 right and 3 wrong choices, far more people knew that it was John Roberts, than the next highest guess. Unfortunately, that "far more" for Roberts was only 28%, a little more than a quarter of those asked. And, the "next guess" was Thurgood Marshall (8%), who hadn't been on the bench in 19 years and was never the chief. Just below him was John Paul Stevens, who was at least on the bench then, but was never chief judge either (6%). Amazing, 4% guessed Harry Reid, who is a Senator (and I pray anyone who reads this knows that). Actually, Roberts was not really first choice. He was second. "Don't know" was first by close to double the amount (53%). At least in 1986, when they asked the question, some 43% knew that Rehnquist was the chief. And that name should be a lot harder to remember than Roberts. Are we getting less knowledgeable politically as a country than a quarter century ago? I really don't know. I just know it's not too good.
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Last random thought. I often spend time thinking about frivolous things when working out. I really do dislike every second, of every minute, of every hour doing it and I have to entertain myself. I have spent way too much time lately wondering how the folks on Gilligan’s Island would match up romantically while working out. I find when I discuss this with other people, they all seem to agree that the Professor and Marianne have to be together. They are caricatures like the others, but there’s something about them that seems normal. We must want “normal” people to be together. As for all the rest, I don’t think anyone hooks up with Ginger. Gilligan wouldn’t know what to do with her - he'd probably have fallen out of the hammock, and as for the Skipper, he can’t even take being with Gilligan for very long without blowing his stack. How’s he going to deal with Ginger? Oh, at some point, she will make a play for Mr. Howell. He’ll be tempted, but I really think he will resist. After all, who can compete with Lovey for his affections? Ginger might make a play for the Professor too, so Marianne better keep tabs on him.
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Done.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Political update for May, 2012

Not that this is facebook, but I’m been busy lately and thus have only written this slowly over two weeks. During that time, some newspapers,  have actually jumped in and written about some of the same topics. I hate that.

Five things Romney should keep in mind about the 2012 Election

It’s no secret I prefer Romney to Obama, regardless of my many reservations about him. So, although it is possible that I will vote third party (but not if Virginia is as close as some political scientists now think it will be), particularly if Romney ends up trying too  hard to please partisans on his own side. But, for the meantime -

5. Why gays matter

Raise your hand if you thought gay marriage would be a big issue in this election. Not me. I hope it’s not one because really, can’t we all get along?  Most likely the economy will eventually trump it, unless a miracle happens (Greece discovers oil at the base of the Parthenon, France’s socialist PM converts to capitalism and facebook’s initial offering sets off a 2,000 point rise in the market). But, certainly those who are among the most passionate partisans on both sides are very focused on gay right now, and it’s a topic I think there is a lot to talk about.  

First thing to know, both sides (and by “sides,” I really mean, the more partisan among them) are, as usual, not only sure they are right, but that it will help them in the election. Those two things often go together. When we believe something, we tend to think that other people will believe the same thing (I believe it - I am reasonable -If other people are reasonable they will believe it too.) I can’t say that this works for me that much, as I spend too much time being told I’m crazy or just wrong my whole life to think others believe as I do. But, in this case, I have always supported what are usually called gay rights – first, decriminalization, lately the right to serve openly in the military, and slowly, the right to associate in the same type of consensual legal coupling as heterosexuals. In my opinion, debating the issue as part of the presidential debate will hurt Romney more than Obama.

Right now, some polls show that those favoring gay marriage may enjoy a slight majority in the population. But, when it has come to an actual vote of the citizens in various states over the last few years, it is – this is the number I hear - 31 to nothing against them. However, the vote this time is for president, and the gay issue is only one factor in it. Still, it is more likely the issue will hurt Romney than Obama.

The reason is that not only that the trend is towards pro-gay marriage but that independents are right there in the middle of the trend, as I will show below. In just a matter of years, support for gay marriage has risen dramatically. There is no reason to believe that this trend will change. That’s because there will always be more young people reaching ages when they will be thinking about the issue. The polls also tell us they are more tolerant of gay rights than their elders. Older people, more likely to be opposed to gay marriage, will get older, drop out of the political debate and eventually die. Of course, it is not going to change all that much in less than a year, but the fact of the election could spur more attention on it. Plus, it is hard to conceive of things that might happen that might make more anti-gay rights people. Either they believe as they do or they don’t. But, a single attack on a gay person, or a gay person who couldn’t visit his loved one in the hospital, etc., might result in some more sympathy for gays. It is speculative, of course, but I raise it as the more likely possibility.

Here’s some stats from a recent Pew poll showing that both Democrats' and independents' support for legalized same-sex marriage increased this past year by 13 and 10 points, respectively. Those are pretty big numbers. According to the poll, 69% of Democrats now support gay marriage and 59% of independents (only 28% for Republicans, which has not changed in a year). 59% is actually a fairly big margin in a country which is so often split down the middle. There are even better numbers for gays when they measure ideologies -  moderates, liberals and conservatives.

The unfortunate incident that came to light recently about Romney bullying a closeted gay student in high school will probably not have legs, as most people who aren’t already dead set against him will probably agree that it is unfair to characterize a 65 year old man with a known history for what he did as a teenager (always exceptions). It shouldn’t be considered when voting for president.  

But, it also needs to be said that there was something about the incident that left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouth and it is hard to say whether, in a close state, even an unconscious feeling about it might have an effect. Those who claim that it was mere hazing and not a big deal are probably as biased for Romney as those who think it should matter a lot. Having a gang of kids hold someone down, gay or not, and cutting his hair, goes way beyond hazing for a high school student. Almost anyone not emotionally dead would have been enraged and humiliated if it happened to them or to someone they knew.   Clearly Romney’s childhood friends who took part in it feel traumatized by it to some degree.

Romney certainly could have handled the revelation much better, but he was probably not prepared for it and a weak apology with a semi-admission was the best he could think of at the moment. It is not credible to me that he does not recall the incident as he claims. Nor is it palatable to dismiss it as a prank. If it comes up in a debate or in an interview, the better strategy – and I am not pretending this will be anything but that – is for him to say that after a lot of reflection he does remember it, that it was him at his worst, that he was a bully and to whole-heartedly show remorse. It is not easy to have pretensions of religious piety if you cannot admit your faults. But, people like it when you admit your faults and it is very hard to attack you if you do.

You might fairly ask – what about all the negative things about Obama’s youth, like his past associations, drug use, and so on? Well, not all politicians are equal. Obama is just better at this than Romney, just as Bush was better at it than Gore, and Romney still comes off stiffly and disingenuously in a lot of people’s minds – including conservative minds. Plus, it is not a debate that the large majority in the media are on Obama’s side. It is alright for Romney’s side to complain about it in the right forums, but it is not going to turn the tide any more than Gingrich’s abrasive assault on the media helped him in debates outside of some conservatives.

But, to get back to the gay issue, Romney gets it and would like to discuss gay issues as little as possible. He can’t flip flop on it himself as it will trigger the narrative about him that he is a flip-flopper (although, I believe Obama is much more so). Romney’s instincts are right. He should tread as light as possible on the issue regardless of how hard the anti-gay crowd wants him to go for it. Obama has correctly stated that it is a state issue, and plainly it is. What is good for the goose . . . .

4. Calling names is not going to help Romney.

Karl Rove was someone I had a lot of questions about when he was a partisan campaign manager and then policy guru in the White House for Bush. I did not believe that he was behind the Robo-calls against John McCain in South Carolina in which the caller spoke about McCain having a black child (he and his wife adopted Pakistani handicapped child) because, as he himself said – they’d have to be idiots to try that and then hope it didn’t get out who was behind it. But, I just don’t like partisans much and he was very partisan. Yet, since he has been a commentator, he seems to me one of, if not the most informed guy in terms of research, history and strategy that I’ve listened to so far on television. Recently, he was on a panel at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC with Joe Trippi (Dean’s 2004 and then Edward’s 2008 campaigns and many others before that) talking about the election, and at least in my mind, he blew Trippi’s doors off in the discussion – and I don’t mean about policy or ideology at all. I mean in terms of political knowledge and strategy. It got to the point that everyone – even the moderator and the audience - were laughing about the obvious difference.

One of the questioners asked Rove and Trippi a loaded question, saying how Obama had been going against Romney not just on policy matters, but personally, and shouldn’t Romney go after him to show people just who he is – and then he politely characterized him as a European Socialist who doesn’t think like other Americans (and indicating by non-verbal signals he meant something worse).

Rove responded – “No.” He explained that Romney better not make that mistake. People generally like the president, he explained. They may be terribly disappointed in what he did once he was in office and they are concerned about the economy and policy matters. Romney should stay away from the policy stuff as much as possible. I agree whole-heartedly. As I’ve said over and over to people. This is not mainly a fight over women. It’s not so much a fight over Hispanics or blacks or religious people. It’s a fight over two things – 1) first, three states – Florida, Virginia and Ohio. Second, independents. If either party isn’t studying independents, they are out of their partisan minds. They will decide, more than any other group, who will win the election. And independents generally don’t like personal attacks.

The following attacks should be avoided at all costs, however much your strongest supporters like it. That Obama is (a):

Communist

Traitor

Unpatriotic

Stupid

Islamic

Un-American or American hater

A bad Christian

Racist (although he can point out where his policies are racist)

Evil

After I wrote this section but before I published I saw to articles in the Washington Post that Romney know it already. One was his criticism of an ad linking Wright and Obama and the second was an article about how Romney’s allies on the right keep steering him off course from the economy where he wants to be. So, he doesn’t have to read this now. The problem is that even those who are emerged in politics are not able, without a lot of effort, to differentiate from Romney’s campaign and those of supporters. I think he would like to differentiate himself from Obama’s attack campaign in this fashion, but it is probably not going to work.

Many people who are what I would call reluctant supporters of Romney, such as Sean Hannity, are going to make this tough. I sometimes listen to Hannity, who is very popular and I think a trend setter on the right, and he has a campaign to “vet” Obama as he was not vetted the first time. Hannity’s fans love this, of course, but it is really all stuff that was heard the first time and didn’t do anything to help McCain. I had actually thought the Reverend Wright stuff was going to have legs because he is a racist and angry looney tune and Obama did sit in the audience for 20 years looking at it - but I was plain wrong.

Nevertheless, the bare bones memo to Romney – the gutter is not going to work.

3. Stop talking about what you don’t know – and you don’t know foreign policy.

One of the standards hobgoblins of political thought is that - whoever disagrees with me about anything, is presumed to disagree with me about everything. Again, because I believe that independents are critical this election (as they were the last one), both sides must, if they are wise, forget about rallying those who are going to vote for them no matter what, and concentrate on those whose votes are up for grabs.

I watched an interview with Romney’s campaign manager on CNN not long ago, and Wolf Blitzer was pretty fair in pointing out that both candidates had pretty much the same view on Afghanistan – and neither is in accord with the majority of Americans. Instead of agreeing with him and perhaps admitting the differences are small, so that they could move on to another issue, he tried to make mountains out of the molehill that Romney doesn’t approve of giving public timelines for when we are going to leave (me either – at least, it should be a military secret). But, this was such a small difference, it just made him, and therefore Romney, look petty and like they had nothing to really say.

There are things that I can’t agree with Obama about on his foreign policy. In the beginning there is what was termed “the apology tour,” including the speech in Cairo that made me cringe. But, so many of the assaults on him about foreign policy are not only wrong, they are bogus.

Last night I watched on C-Span one of Bush’s ambassador to NATO, who seemed to have nothing but praise for the way Obama has dealt with NATO issues, with Russia, and particularly with Iran. I said Bush’s ambassador, not Obama’s. Criticism of Obama on Israel is especially bogus. While Obama is certainly not the best friend Israel ever had, he pretty much takes the same positions that most American presidents have taken on Israel since it became independent. I will except the billion (or whatever it was) we gave to Gaza after their last war with Israel. It didn’t work. It didn’t make Hamas like us more or be more open to peace with Israel. But, I keep reminding conservatives I know that Reagan – supposedly Israel’s great friend, actually had his U.N. ambassador vote to condemn Israel. I can’t get one of them to even acknowledge that as a fact. And, actually, he had other run-ins with Israel as did Bush I, II and Clinton. Bush II was the first one to say in public that there had to be a two state solution. Not Obama. And he did it on the recommendation of Saudi Arabia (revealed by Bob Woodward and not denied by the Bushies).

Romney himself looks rather wild when it comes to foreign affairs, almost childish. He has basically declared Russia public enemy no. 1. This is just crazy. Despite a number of problems with Russia, we are actually on the same page with them on a lot of issues, including to a large degree, Iran, terrorism and even – get this – the Afghan War, which they are helping us with by giving us access. They give our astronauts rides to the space station because we can’t get there ourselves anymore. Romney has also stated that he intends to go nose to nose with China on currency matters as soon as he gets into office. I don’t mind him criticizing China – particularly on human rights, but his talk is so obviously going to exceed his walk if he is elected, given the way China and we now co-exist financially, it makes him seem especially ignorant if not dopey about the reality of modern trade.

Romney’s a smart guy. He can learn this stuff, just as Obama did. But, it is going to take a while.

My advice, lay off of foreign policy until you really know your stuff. And maybe think about getting a new foreign affairs advisor soon. You have to be ready for debates where you will be judged very broadly on any gaffe, but also on whether you look like you are just tying to show a difference between the two of you, which really doesn’t exist.

2. Go where he’s vulnerable – economic and other domestic matters

I saw an anti-Obama ad the other day that was, I thought, very effective. It played recordings of Obama blasting Wall Street, and then showed example after example of his actually being tied to Wall Street through his appointments and also campaign contributions. The ad named names, and their affiliation with both Obama and Wall Street. It was short, to the point, repetitious enough without being deadening, did not include that black and white, deep voiced narration doomsday type material that many attacks ads do, or end with something like – “Tell Obama to stop . . .” or variation on that which would cause me and many others to hit the mute button.

Neither side is going to stop taking Wall Street money (which, considering how much money the government gives Wall Street – is actually our money – but, it is hypocritical for Obama to bash Wall Street as “fat cats” on The View, while taking records amounts of contributions from them.

Here’s a list of stuff that are good topics for the Romney team to cover:

- Weakest on the list is Obama’s going to war against Libya without congressional approval after earlier stating that he believed it was unconstitutional for a president to believe this way. Because of the antipathy for Qaddafi and the success of the war (and no American deaths), this will be hard to sell. Plus, Romney will probably want to abuse the Constitution in the same way, and congress will let him, just as they let Obama.

- Refusing to take public financing after promising he would. This was the first outright lie told by Obama. It dates back to the campaign, but was the first indication that there would be no rules for him he would not break with a smile.

- The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which, even if held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court before the election, is still probably the worst case of public sausage making we’ve ever seen, including what in any other forum would have been considered outright bribery.

- The Justice Department may actually be worse than it was under Bush’s friend, Gonzales. The Civil Rights Department has been attacked from within by its own employees as being hopelessly racist in favor of blacks. The Fast and Furious scandal has been pretty much ignored, although even the conventional media has shown that not only was selling American guns to Mexican gangs was a horrible idea, that the Justice Department wanted it to be used to support gun legislation in America. As is well known, these guns were found at the scene of the murder of U.S. agents and have been used in multiple crimes by drug dealers. I can’t say for now whether I agree that Holder has lied to congress or been involved in Stonewalling, as I have not studied it myself, but this is a big deal, and I don’t think can be swept under the rug.

- The Stimulus and the attempt at a second stimulus. Nothing the administration said or promised turned out to be true about the wisdom of these huge government giveaways which ended up creating a few jobs at the rate of millions of dollars in spending per job created.

- Bailouts. These are very unpopular even where they show an eventual favorable return to the government. But, Romney must do a better job showing how it should work – with bankruptcy allowing other groups to step in and do a better job.

- Explaining how Obama’s desire to raise taxes on the wealthy will eventually fall on the poor and middle class, even when made against others – people will get it eventually although it is a difficult task.

- Like Reagan, Romney is going to have to make it clear that he is not going to take away entitlement programs despite their unpopularity on the right. But, this is a very broad field to talk about how to save the systems by cutting back.

- Romney must practice, practice, practice talking about in the simplest terms that every time Obama or one of his spokes persons talks about “fairness,” what they really mean is taking from Peter to pay Paul, or creating greater debt, or picking a winner and a loser. In the same breath, he must make a basic case for capitalism as opposed to socialism. It cannot be credibly said that we are not, in part, a socialistic system. We have been for a hundred years. But, left to run amock, it will be the undoing of our entire financial system. No credible person denies that, while our government continue on that path.

If Romney cannot sell independents on the basic tenets of capitalism and that Obama believes a much greater degree of socialism than I think most Americans want, he will probably lose. As I indicated above, the argument must be made on a higher plain than calling names. But, I do think it can be done. This is why Romney was selected. His supporters believe he can do it.

1) Getting along with strange bedfellows

Of course, he can’t explain it if he is spending all his time on the side issues we’ve been discussing above. Just as I believed when Obama took office that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would be his biggest problems, so I believe that Romney’s biggest problem may be the Tea Party movement and social conservatives.

No right wingers will be as important to Romney as Tea Partiers, who are organized and still powerful, despite having taken a terrible beating in their popularity in the past year. We all know from our own Whigs, not to mention the Nazis, how a motivated minority political group can move mountains, particularly if those opposing them do not have the will or cohesiveness to counter them. Romney is not a tea partier himself, but he has done his best to align himself with them as much as possible without joining them. At an early debate he kind of shilly-shallied through a question from Brian Williams about it to say that they believe in a lot of the same things, and if they are “for keeping government small and spending down, and helping us create jobs, then, hey, I'm for the tea party."

Fair enough. Aligning himself with them so as to not make himself a target and possibly get their support when he won the nomination, but not being one himself to distance himself from some tea partiers beliefs (like the whole birther thingee), he tried to have the best of both worlds. If that doesn’t describe Romney to a «t,» I don’t know what does.

But, let’s face it. What he was also saying sub rosa was – but it means the whole Obama is an American hating Muslim born in Kenya who is secretly trying to sabotage us – then I’m not for the tea party.

The Tea Party is about as mixed a bag as you can get for him. They have no choice but to prefer him over Obama, but their lukewarm enthusiasm for him will not do him much good either. Unfortunately for Romney, his chance comes at a time when tea parties are very unpopular.

According to Pew, just as support for gay marriage has gone up in the past year or so, support for Tea Party movement has become more unpopular. Six months ago, Pew surveyed feelings about them. And, they showed a complete reversal from just a year earlier.  

Worse for the movement, the survey also shows that even in “Tea Party” districts, they are barely more popular than unpopular. A New York Times/CBS survey in August, 2011 showed the Tea Party to be more unpopular than Muslims and Atheists – and those were the gold standards for unpopular.

A much more recent poll from last month by Langer Research Associates (for ABC) showed that interest in learning about the Tea Party had also dropped significantly since 2010.

You can argue, if you like, that all these polls are biased, or wrong. But, I can’t find any showing more popularity or more interest in the Tea Party.

I predicted in 2010 that the Tea Party movement would eventually fail as members elected to government would be coerced and seduced into getting into line with more traditional Republicans who still control congress. That may prove out, but, there is a chance for a resurrection. That would involve though something they are not good at – moderation. If you listen to the professional Tea Party leaders who have not faded away – say a Jim DeMint or Dick Armey, it is all about the money. That’s why people liked the Tea Party in the first place. If, however, you listen to some of the amateurs who gave the Tea Party its ballot box clout in ’09 and ’10, and the army of followers commenting online or visible at rallies, it was too often about other things.

For Romney, the question is – can he stop being such a chameleon trying to please every group he speaks before, and instead try and be a leader of people who want someone they can believe in. There is a reason Republicans ultimately rejected Santorum and Gingrich and Perry and Cain (well, other reasons there) and Bachmann. They were talking about other things which dripped with religious or cultural issues which aren’t important to most of them and you stuck to your theme - the economy.

This is, as he knows, his only chance. If he can’t find a way to galvanize the religious right and Tea Partiers support, without reservation, the way Ronald Reagan and Bush II were able to, he is going to be listed next to John McCain in the 2013 almanac. It’s probably going to take a lot of personal meetings where you ask them to step back from issues they want to talk about and talk only about the issues you want to talk about.

Romney's good at outwaiting people. And, he's shown he can take a hit and come back and get on message. Very disciplined. But, if he can’t manage to reign in his passionate friends, he is not the leader he thinks he is and he's not going to win.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Photo journal

I started a political update and there just wasn't really anything new I wanted to say. We are in a really boring place in the campaigns with both major parties settled on their candidate, both of whom we already know what they have to say and what positions they will likely take as each story develops. There doesn't seem to be any personal sex scandals or big stories about either of them. So both sides are trying hard to gin something up. Sean Hannity is desperately trying to get some interest going in all the "vetting"of Obama that wasn't done the first time. But, it's all stuff we've heard before. And the left is busy telling us that Romney is all about money and likes to fire people (well, the idiot did say actually say that, but we know what he meant). Ironically, the right's biggest problem is a candidate who is perfectly cast for the role, and is a chameleon or mirror for whatever it is he thinks the people he is talking to want to hear. If he's in Michigan, it's about how the trees seem just the right height there (see how riveting that is?) and if he's in the south - he loves grits.  So, not so fascinating a time, maybe at least until the conventions and debates a few months from now. While thinking about it, I started looking at some photos I've taken and the next thing I know - photo journal. I hope I haven't already shown many of these pictures here. I'm sure some are repeats but it is too hard to keep track.

This first picture is the icon I use online when websites want a picture of me. I'm not real comfortable putting my actual picture on them - never have, actually, but that's because I feel there aren't any good pictures of me (good reason for that too) rather than privacy, which is a quaint notion with satellites in the sky and Google grabbing all our computer data. This shot is from the James River not too far from me. I took it the first year I was down here - 2008. I doubt the hanging branch is still existing there like that. At least, I haven't seen it since that year and don't remember exactly where I took it. The river changes every year with respect to its plant life. I took my first river trip of the year this past weekend. I went about 24 miles - a marathon - in six hours. It was a Goldilocks trip - not too hot. Not too cold. Just right. The first half was a stretch of river mostly unfamiliar to me, the second part well traveled. I've probably done that part 20 times or so. There were places I couldn't believe how much it had changed in one year. In one spot, the trees in the water had always formed a short channel with a few danger spots, in particular one rapid that took a little skill and energy to avoid. Now, all the trees right in that spot are gone and though the rapid is still there, you'd have to go out of your way not to avoid it. In other spots, the channels on the sides of the river are filled with water, so you can glide in them, each one being like a pristine wonderland of woods and water, often with trees lying across your path or blocking your exit back into the main channel and the light colored green from the foliage. Often I end up in the water in them, and not voluntarily. These channels can be the best part of the trip, but are only available early in the season while the water is high.


This one is of one of the famed Peaks of Otter, about 20 minutes from me, on a beautiful, but very snowy, fall day, around dawn. Dawn is a great time to be awake. Given a choice, like most people, I'd rather be sleeping, but, most of the time, I'm wide awake by then. In fact, as I type this, it's 4:32 a.m. and I've been up for an hour, having slept four. But, I'll get sleepy later and maybe get another hour in.  On this day, I woke early and saw it was snowing. I got in my car and drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway which runs along a ridge a few hundred miles not far to the south of my house, and which also runs by the Peaks a few miles down the road from where I enter. When the sun came up I took picture after picture as I traveled around. Some of these by the Peaks are among the best I've ever taken. Not that I did anything different. I find something pretty, frame the picture and click. Modern technology does the rest.

Pictures like this give us a great feeling. Without getting maudlin about it, low light feels mysterious and exciting, full of promise. I can't imagine looking at a picture like this and not feeling good about it, but I am wired to appreciate nature since I'm a child. Only one of my five brothers and sisters seems to have anything like a similar interest. I don't know why it was so important to me and not to them. Right from when I was a little kid I wanted to know all about animals and wild places and thought my career would have something to do with that. When I was young I even thought I might be a forest ranger. I even thought that as I headed towards college. Then I realized that I had never really gone camping or knew anything about it. For some reason, I thought that mattered. It would not have at all. But, we can't go back and change things like that, can we? Ever thought about how different your life would be, if you made even some small change? Most of my friends in my adult life I knew until I moved four years ago, I knew because of my profession. Most of them I would not know had I been a forest ranger instead of a lawyer outside of high school buddies and a few women I dated. I would not even have the same daughter - or maybe a child at all. If you by the multi-universe theories that physicists throw around that seem pure ridiculous speculation to me, there is a David out there in a parallel universe who is just retired from the federal government after 25 years as a ranger with three kids, a wife who can't stand the thought of having me home full time and a pet porcupine named Fluffy. Or, maybe I fell off a mountain in my rookie year. Who knows?


This next one is about the clouds, not the buildings you see at the bottom. I don't know why you have to be a kid to look at clouds with great interest. I've never stopped, but people do look at me as if I had two heads if I talk about how much I enjoy them (why do I hear in my head Bear snickering that this isn't why they look at me like I have two heads?) One of my favorite things to do on airplanes is look out the window at clouds from the top, where they often stand up from the main body in great towers of mist. You can only look at it so long, but a they are some good minutes. Here, in southwest Virginia, I get to see them from a much different perspective than from when I lived on Long Island. This is due to the mountains and the James River a few hundred feet away. Even the rain is more exciting here for me, because when it is ending, there are clouds caught in pockets in the valley or playing around the mountain peaks. One day I had a visitor and we went out to eat while it was raining. I realized when we finished that there would be a spectacular sunset from up atop the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooking the valley. I made it up to the top to my favorite spot with a few minutes to spare. I am, if nothing else, a sunset afficiando, having probably hundreds if not thousands of photographs of them. But, this was, in my view, the most amazing one I ever saw. My guest, who was seriously addicted to facebook, looked for a few seconds, noted how beautiful it was, and then got back in the car and tried desperately to connect to facebook while I watched the sun set for ten minutes. It was surreal, magnificent and a crying shame my guest could not appreciate it. I did not have a camera with me. He had an ipad, but I didn't know anything about them. A couple of months later I was out west and watched people take pictures of it with them. It has a really good camera on it. I could have asked him to do it, and I'm sure he would have taken at least a few seconds for me to take the picture. Talk about a moment I'd like back.


One of my favorite views from one of my favorite hikes on Cornelius Creek Trail in The Jefferson National Forest. It is one water spout or slide after another. Walking on a trail next to a flowing creek is another of my great pleasures. It never gets old. Recently, when Montana Don was visiting, I went to one I hadn't seen before called Roaring Run. Climbing a not too difficult trail outside of a small town called Eagle Rock you are right on top of the bustling stream coming down the mountain the whole way. At one point you come to the top of a beautiful falls. This is more unique than you might think as at most falls around here it is difficult to find a spot where you can see it from above. Most trails are made so as to pass the bottom of them and you can't get to the top of it. Already, it is among my favorites.


This one is of a frozen river on my way to the Appalachian Trail. Coming across blue reflecting water in the winter is one of the great benefits of hiking in the snow. I was disappointed this year that there were no real opportunities for it. You have to make choices when you hike about where you go, and often I don't want to drive so far. I tend to hit the same beautiful trails again and again, with an occasional excursion to a new place. But, that doesn't mean the ones I don't go to much aren't spectacular as well. As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate familiarity a little more in some things - going to the same places to eat, watching the same movies, even re-reading some of the same books I've loved, even closer than the first time. Even in travel I notice that the last couple of years I've revisited places I've been to long ago rather than tried new places. Many of my friends enjoy going to the same place year after year. I can't say that appeals to me yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it does in a few years. Actually, though I still love to travel if given the opportunity, since I moved her my longing for it has decreased a great deal, as my day to day sojourn fills many of the needs that travel fulfilled, mostly in pretty vistas and outdoor opportunities. Still, I have a list of places I'd like to go and perhaps some day.


I never, and I mean never, get tired of looking at Mt. Purgatory from my backyard. This one was in the fall (obviously), when the mountain is, in my view, at its most beautiful. I have mentioned here before that a friend of mine from New York, who is among the politest people I know, asked me with a bit of a sneer if I didn't get bored looking at the same mountain every day. I found that very funny as she looks at the same boring neighborhood every day. Then another asked me the question, also with a sneer. And then another. Unlike when I lived in New York (and, by the way, I still love Long Island, but for different reasons), my mountain view often changes minute by minute. I eventually put a block of pictures on Picasa.com which I called "Why I live here," which highlighted my mountain and seemed an easier way to explain it to people. I used to frame pictures I took and put them on a wall. Maybe I will again some day. But, now that I've slowly gotten more used to the digital world, I'm satisfied with them here, particularly as the real thing is right outside my door.



I passed these falls on a country road on my way to Warm Springs, Va. Finding waterfalls is one of my great joys since I moved here. I knew of none on Long Island, which is famously flat, apparently having been ground so by glaciers back in the last ice age. I have read that Manhattan was once filled with waterfalls, but whatever there was is now long gone, undoubtedly paved under a parking lot or building. A few years ago they (the powers that be) put up a few fake waterfalls in New York City. That is, they strung a hose up to a high spot and let the water come down. I was not only surprised, I was actually shocked and saddened for people that they had to look at a fake contraption to sort of experience nature. But, many people were very pleased by it.  I passed one once while visiting and was just appalled, I say with a sneer, much like the ones my friends from New York had on their faces while thinking of my life in the country. Don't get me wrong. I love New York City. I think it is one of the great places in the world and it is filled with history. But, a fake waterfall? Please. You're killing me here.


Despite the fact that I am slowly getting more used to the digital world, it is not getting more used to me, and for some reason the thingee that uploads pictures to my blog stopped working. So, maybe it is God-o-matic's way of saying to me - Stop!

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 . . . .