Monday, April 27, 2015

Random thoughts

So, I’ve actually been busy working at my real job lately. Since I’ve recovered from some illness this Spring I’ve had to do some catch up.  Busy is a relative thing, and other people probably wouldn’t consider it too busy.  This is my excuse why since my April Fools’ Day post I’ve not written a thing (and I promise the following is not made up) – or nothing I thought post-worthy anyway. Of course, the funny part is no one has asked for an excuse.  Even today, I have to work most of the day, so I decided to do a quick post of random thoughts, which, frankly, is a lot less time consuming than writing on one topic.  Ironically, it probably is more fun for readers as I’m frequently told by readers that they don’t real all my long-ass posts. That’s okay. I can’t say I don’t do a lot of skimming myself.

When superstition no longer blinds the eye.

When I was young I had to go to temple on Friday nights despite the fact that I was an atheist. I didn’t like it and it left me with a lifelong discomfort going into temples even for a bar mitzvah or wedding.  I almost always sit in the back so that I feel like if I need to, I can escape. There are probably other reasons, but that is one of them, however irrational it is.  Anyway, my strongest memory about sitting in temple all those years ago is of part of a prayer they would say every week. Actually, it’s just a few words. I can’t remember the rest of the prayer - “. . . when superstition no longer blinds the eye. . . .”

It seemed to me at the time and still, that it was all superstition.  The irony hit me every single time and every once in a while it comes back to me.  I have to guess that the rest of them sitting there, or at least most of them, didn’t see it that way.  Being an atheist was something I was, but by default.  I never saw it as a thing, just the absence of a belief most everyone I knew had.  When I was really young, I actually thought I was the only one who didn’t believe, or, as I thought then, saw through the giant conspiratorial hoax being played upon the word by some vague bad guys.  As I got through high school, I realized that others felt as I did about God, because a small group of people told me so, although some privately.  Not that many though.  As a 55 year old, I can tell you that far more people have confided to me that they are secretly atheists than have told me they are openly atheist. The reason is obvious. People disapprove of atheists and they want to avoid that discomfort of feeling different or like an outsider.  I can understand the reluctance to be open about it and there’s an attraction to keeping it to myself, but I know I’d feel worse if I didn’t say it when someone asked me about it or if it came up in conversation.  There have even been times when I’ve told people who were criticizing atheists so that they wouldn’t feel embarrassed later on when they found out they were insulting me. That’s a little awkward, but it always ended well enough.

Times change.  The past few decades have seen people coming out of the closet about other things, mostly sexual ones.  But, many atheists remain incognito. Recently, however, there appears to be an upswing in people coming out of the godless closet. Some of them are forming groups. I have no interest in that. First, the idea of people who don’t believe something forming a group about it seems odd to me. What do they talk about – what they don’t believe in? I guess the topic is discrimination, though I believe in America the actual consequences of acknowledging atheism are quite small.  I can see the need to associate with others of like mind in places where there is real persecution for it, but not here. Also, I’m just not a joiner.  But, if having atheist clubs turns out to let more people out of the closet, I’m all for it. It’s just not for me.


As you probably know if you look at the news, 2 hostages, one American, one Italian, held by Al Qaeda, were killed a few months ago when we used a drone to fire a missile at some militants (and we got them too). We have a lot of protocols to avoid this type of thing, but sometimes it fails.  Our president apologized for it.  I see this as self-defeating and foolish, but very much in keeping with this president’s ideas about humility and expressions of remorse.  I wish he’d stop this when it comes to our fighting abroad.  I wrote this in the NY Times comment section this past week in response to an article on whether we should continue the drone program, which has apparently been very successful in killing the bad guys (taking, as always, the opportunity to correct my grammatical and similar mistakes in comments):

“I keep find myself quoting General Sherman lately - “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.” Characteristics that may be very appealing and work in a largely open civil society with enlightenment values like our own will get you wiped out in a war against implacable, murderous and armed enemies. Even Gandhi understood this. The idea that we can always talk with people who will only compromise or surrender once they are pulverized is not working throughout the old world. It didn't work before WWII, in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan (how many talks there with the Taliban) or most places outside of the west. Countries where there is generally peace are those where the opposition has been subdued (e.g., China). There are always exceptions, but in a civil war it is usually only after one side is defeated. We and our allies have to realize that if we want peace there (and sometimes here), sometimes only force works. And if we don't, more people will start thinking it’s safer to join the bad guys. It is, of course, more complex than can be covered in a comment, as it is very hard in some countries, where everyone seems like a bad choice for an ally.”

I was stunned at an article in the NY Times this week where it was actually proposed that we have a special court determine when we should make drone strikes.  The idea that we can fight a war without killing innocent people is either crazy or naive. Decent countries like our own and many of our allies do their best, but sometimes to the point of paralysis.  Of course I would not like it if I or someone I knew was collateral damage, but it’s sad no matter who it happens to. But, unless we want to give up or surrender, we have no choice but to keep doing what we are doing.  People should read some of Rick Atkinson’s wonderful books about the American experience in WWII, particularly the second one. The numbers of people who died from friendly fire - our own soldiers, pilots and sailors as well as citizens - was enormous. Sometimes you’d read it and just cringe. It actually happens far, far less now because we learn from experience and our weapons are easier to control and aim (“smart”).  But, it has to happen sometimes.

There has been a cultural change since WWII where we and our allies don’t seem to want anyone to win a war for fear because we are so fearful of genocide or mass slaughter of innocents. What this has accomplished is the realization of those fighting us is that massing tanks or having an air force is not a good idea, but that terrorism works best. Note the decrease of the former and the increase in the latter. This is particularly why they now mix with citizens and take hostages - so that we have to be careful and hesitate in attacking them. And it works. The wars go on forever.  It costs us a fortune and them far less.  I’m not suggesting we stop caring. I’m suggesting that we take into consideration that how long a war will last if we don’t fight hard enough and how it lets militant groups take root, expand and survive against vastly superior forces. And stop apologizing.

Yes, let’s rush to an uninformed opinion.

If you collected all the comments I have made online in the past few years (certainly hundreds), and you put them in categories, you would find a ridiculous number of them dedicated to two issues – anti-partisanship and NOT RUSHING TO  JUDGMENT. I’m focusing on the latter today.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we learn our lesson about rushing to judgment, people really do never seem to learn.  When the GermanWings plane went down, people were immediately saying it was terrorism. Some people I know were positive about it.  Then came the guessing about the co-pilot’s mental state.  

My online comments about rushing to judgment usually follow the same pattern – I make a sarcastic plea about waiting just a little while.  I ask how many times have we learned our lesson that first reports are often wrong, not to mention second, third, etc.  I acknowledge that is possible the popular guesses were correct and suggest that sometimes we never really know. I should really just have a generic response. It would save me time.

It can take years to learn what really happened with a news story, if ever.  Have you read that the FBI now acknowledges that almost all its forensic evidence for the last 20 years was tainted? How many people were wrongly convicted because of it? This is hardly the first time information like this has come out about them either. Another example - years ago, everyone assumed that Matthew Shepherd was killed by gay bashers even though from the beginning it was reported that this was just made up by the killers (and, they do apparently have the right killers) who thought it would help them.  This past year a book came out by a writer who has interviewed all the participants many times, not to mention their friends and families and has studied it for ten years. He is certain he wasn’t killed because he was gay and documents why.  In fact, one of the killers was bi-sexual and a lover of Shepherd.  It was, instead, about crystal meth. You might think this was written by a FoxNews correspondent. But it wasn’t. The writer is a self-described gay liberal man who set out to write a different book.  He tells us that to show that he has no reason to twist the facts to make it other than about being gay.  Despite his book having been around for a while, it gets almost no coverage.  If you ask almost anyone who Matthew Shepherd was, they’d likely tell you that he was a young man who was tortured and killed because he was gay. These are two examples.

Right now most everyone is also certain that the GermanWings co-pilot took down the plane because he was depressed and had thoughts of suicide.  Certainly there are reports (that we assume, at our own risk, are true, but we don’t really know) that lead to these beliefs.  And maybe it’s true. For me, even if we accept the consensus of “fact” about it, it still doesn’t add up. People who are depressed and suicidal don’t usually go out and kill 150 people with them absent some sick political, religious or other agenda that just seems absent here. He apparently left no note. There doesn’t seem to be anything showing he was psychotic, which is what such an act like this, without some ulterior motive, would seem to require. I don’t know what happened.  I am subject to the same forces as everyone else that makes judgments almost automatically. It’s part of being human. And, at some point, we had better make judgments or we will be sorry.  I just think we should fight the tendency as best we can.  Doubt is usually wiser than certainty.

Right now people are rushing to judgment about Hillary Clinton and there will be another this week. It is an endless story.

Star Wars refreshed?

Those of us old enough to remember the first Star Wars series in the late 70s through 80s witnessed a great change in movie making.  It wasn’t just the rapid development of special effects but the glory years of the great film makers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who also, as far as I know, have managed to avoid the scandals that plague so many of their stature in the movie business. Although both are married twice, that’s hardly unusual.  And both, of course, are billionaires a few times over.  Lucas’s Star Wars and their joint Indiana Jones trilogy (I do not count the most recent Indiana Jones movie either - horrible) were two of the three great multi-part epics of all time, Peter Jackson’s more recent Lord of the Rings being the third.

The original Star Wars, now renumbered IV, blew filmgoers’ minds at the time with its very believable effects, far surpassing even 2001: A Space Odyssey, which won the Oscar in its year for visual effects and some consider the best movie ever made.  The effects  got better and better over the next two movies. But, I-III made many years later had even more amazing special effects, if not as groundbreaking. What is the difference then between the movies?  It’s the writing.   People who saw the original three films when they came out can recite so many lines and remember virtually every scene.  “Never tell me the odds,” “Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?” “’I love you.’ ‘I know,’” “Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you can ever imagine,” “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, my only hope,” and so many others, probably dozens. The characters were great, the design was great, the creations of things like light sabers and the Force, unforgettable. The music from the original, which carries on in the theme song of the latter movies, was also wonderful.  But, it wasn’t just the theme song either. Touches like Darth Vader’s music and the bar scene band were unforgettable as well.

My understanding is that the Star Wars franchise has been sold to Disney and the last three films will be its product. Now, I have loved some Disney stuff, but, let’s face it, this is not your grandfather’s Disney anymore.

I’m going to have to wait and see.  I did not like the prequels, known as I-III, much with the original three now being IV-VI. . I can’t remember anything but a few random scenes from the next three movies together, mostly a few fight scenes.  The last three will be VII-VIII and will have characters from the original movies, like Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. I don’t know how much they figure in it or whether they are stars.  C3PO and R2D2 were always destined to be in all 9 that Lucas planned long ago.

Will I like it or will this be like the horrible Hobbit series that was just horrible following the exceptional Lord of the Rings? I don’t know. You can’t tell from the preview. 

What a choice.

What a choice we have.  I was listening to a writer talk about ISIS today and he bashed our government policies and shortsightedness. I agreed with most everything he said.  I realized at some point that it was a talk hosted by a prominent member of a tea party. However, the writer, while obviously hawkish and pro-Israeli (very tea partyish), seemed to address everyone, whether they were in concert with the tea party or not.  Then came the questions and one women in the audience said, to applause, that she believed our White House was already inhabited by a Muslim.  When the author didn’t shake his head and scream “No, that kind of thinking is why the tea party became loathed in our country,” I turned the channel.

At the same time the other day I was listening to a civil rights celebration and became disgusted and turned the channel as soon as they started to talk about how Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were murdered.

This is why I shake my head at the prospects for 2016. What choices do we have? A group of conservatives arguing about gay marriage, for religious privilege and sometimes against reasonable uses of government or a group of liberals who can’t see anything beyond the reach of government, believe we can absorb any amount of spending and are obsessed with identity politics and a class society favoring minorities.  I could have thrown in the rights obsession with all forms of abortion at least starting an conception and the lefts obsession with choice even when it clearly is taking a human life, such as in late or even relatively late term abortion, but both sides have for the most part left the abortion battles behind since the 90s.

Right now I have a favorite, who has long decided he would not run – that’s Purdue University president Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor.  Of those who have either announced or will announce, I have no favorite among the Democrats unless Clinton actually gets a real challenger, and one among the Republicans, Carly Fiorina, mostly because she doesn’t sound as crazy as the rest of them, but also because she has not been in politics and isn’t tainted yet.  But, like most people I prefer for office, she has near zero chance unless there is a massive natural disaster in Iowa one day when she is not around.  After her, I’m thinking about Rand Paul and Scott Walker.  But, even they are kowtowing to the religious crowd that controls the Iowan caucus as hard as they can and at some point it will become revolting to me. Always does.

I ended up not voting last election because I had just moved back to NY and didn’t realize I had to register a month before the election. As the state’s choice of Obama was decided even if I could have voted 100,000 times, I was going to vote for Garry Johnson, the libertarian candidate, who I thought the best man for the job. But, if I had been given a choice only between Romney, who I never really liked as a candidate, but thought had the best chance to defeat Obama in a general election, and of course, the president, I would have voted for Romney. I look back at the things Romney was mocked for by the left and the media – Detroit, GM, Russia – and it seems he was right and Obama wrong every time.

Do I think that McCain and Romney, both often criticized by the far right as being too moderate, even liberal, would have been better presidents than Obama? Absolutely I do, though I have little doubt I would have found plenty to complain about with them too.  But, though right now, given how unrealistic to expect a third party to have any chance, I very slightly and generally (that is, it is still issue by issue) prefer Republicans like them (that is, despised by their own party) to most Democrats, because I think Republicans at least have more moderates, if too few. That’s why there is rarely the Democratic equivalent to the Republican RINO.  However, I certainly don’t want some candidate who basis his appeal on his religious beliefs, or thinks there’s a war on Christians or Christmas in America (a country 75%-80% Christian and with coast to coast Christmas celebrations for two months every year) or thinks government can’t be the answer to anything.

One more terrifying thing.

Speaking of presidents, I don’t think I’ve written here about the astonishingly poor performance of the Secret Service. When I watched the new director, Joseph P. Clancy, testify before congress about it, I cringed over and over. It was the worst performance at a hearing by a government official since Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez.  Clancy has to be one of the nicest government officials I’ve ever seen at a hearing. I’d take him as a friend, relative, neighbor, co-worker in a second. But he seemed like the proverbial deer in the headlights in front of the committee. Unfailingly polite, humble (too close to subservient) and obviously willing to work with congress, he couldn’t answer very many questions and those he did answer showed an almost paralysis of the system and an organization so weakened that I can’t imagine that terrorists around the world aren’t lining up with plans to invade the White House. You can watch his March 24, 2015 hearing yourself on, but prepare to be amazed. Let me give him every benefit of the doubt. He was only a month or so into the job – the Secret Service agents are grossly overworked and understaffed – the Civil Service Law makes it very hard to fire anyone – most of the agents are very dedicated and only a handful are the “bad seeds.” Still, the revelations were stunning, particularly about events in the White House on March 4, 2015. But, you watch the video if you want.

Having watched the Clancy hearing twice, I eventually found a library copy of Ronald Kessler’s new book, First Family Detail. Kessler is a longtime investigator and author about government police type agencies like FBI and the Secret Service.  I’ve seen him speak and he strikes me as someone who is interested in getting a great story right, rather than having a partisan position he is espousing.  I could be wrong, of course.  In any event, his story about the Service and the presidents, VPs and their families was as shocking as the Clancy hearing.  It reminds me again, people are people, and every group, no matter how famous, wonderful or competent they may appear, is riddled with problems.  

The worst president, but also the funniest.

I’ve written a series of posts about Obama being the worst president in my lifetime (I’m definitely not alone in that opinion, though some think him the best too). Despite that, he always seemed personable to me.  In fact, in Kessler’s book, he writes that both he and Michelle are well liked by Secret Service agents. In the 2009 best seller, Game Change, about the 2008 campaign, they seemed far more normal and collected than the other candidates and their families).  But, I definitely think he’s the funniest. I watched his performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and he knocked it out of the park. I’m not going to repeat the jokes here, but most were hits and I don't think any misses. In fact, I thought he was better than featured comedian, Cecily Strong, who wasn't bad. Obviously, he doesn't write his own stuff. I'm just talking about performance. I really can't think of another politician I think did it as well.  You can find it on the web, of course.

Okay, that’s it. Everyone go to work.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really apprehensive about the new Star Wars. The amazing experience of the first one back in 77 probably makes the apprehension worse.
    I think the Hobbit movies were watchable but way too long (should have been 2 movies not 3). And they were not even in the same league as the LOTR movies.


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .