Monday, November 26, 2007

Three Principled Secretaries of State

Sunday School yesterday was on Chapter 9 of Jim Junke's "The Missing Peace". The chapter was on the period of 1898 through WWI. Jim started by asking what period of history we would want to live in, if we had a choice. His choice was this period, which he calls the "progressive era". Many progressive ideas were flourishing, Dewey in education, Jane Adams and her settlement house, and on and on. WWI killed all that, and afterwards it was again a time of repression of progressive ideas.

One thing the book points out is that William Jennings Bryan was a tireless worker for peace, and he resigned as Wilson's Secretary of State rather than be a part of an increasingly belligerent and militaristic administration. This brought to my mind two more recent similar instances: in 1979 Cyrus Vance resigned as Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State because of his disagreement with Carter's plan to use military force to try to rescue the hostages. Then more recently Colin Powell resigned as Bush's Secretary of State, presumably over his disagreement with the war in Iraq. It is said that Powell had a two-hour conversation with Bush, literally begging him not to go into Iraq, but Bush would not heed his advice. This seems to be a common pattern, in which Presidents will listen to their military advisers but not their diplomatic advisers. We need future Presidents who value the peacemaking process more than the warmaking process.


Today's film: "Three Strangers" (1946)

This film noir features three strangers who agree to split a winning lottery ticket. It has a decent 7.1 IMDB rating, though with only 285 voters, reflecting the fact that this film is unavailable on DVD or videotape.

I first heard about this film in a book on "Casablanca". "Casablanca" veterans Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre both appear in this film, with Geraldine Fitzgerald playing the female lead who brings the three of them together. Please help me lobby for this film to be made available for viewing.


Today's foreign word: kumla

This is a Norwegian potato dish. It was mentioned in today's USA Today, in an article discussing North Dakota's shortage of working age people. Despite their desperate need for more workers, the people of North Dakota are resistant to having immigrants come to their state for fear their culture will be diluted.

Part of that culture is of course the food. The article described how the old men meet in the diners each day and eat kumla.


While swimming at the Y this morning (sorry I cannot add the adjective "daily" to that, perhaps some day in the future), it occurred to me that the agony and torture of doing lap swimming is like playing the French Defence, characterized by Black's 1...e6 response to White's 1 e4. In the French Black endures an agonizing period of passivity and defensive moves to end up with a favorable endgame. So with swimming, one strengthens one's heart to enjoy a better endgame to one's life.

My copy of Modern Chess Openings (10th edition) has a famous introduction to the French: "French players are a breed apart. They are willing to submit to cramp and countless indignities in order to reach an endgame where the pawn structure definitely favours Black."

Weighing myself after the workout showed a weight of 182. My range from March 14th to the present has been from 177 to 183.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nations vs. States

It has occurred to me that much of the turmoil in the world is due to countries (states) not coinciding with nations (a group of people with a shared identity). Most states seem to have artificial boundaries, unrelated to any legitimate division between nations.

I am trying to identify countries which actually are legitimate nations. The list so far includes Japan, Somalia, Tonga, Italy, and Greece. Are there any other nominations?

First Snow

The warm weather of the first part of the week is a thing of the past. I woke up this morning to see the ground covered with snow! This is always a welcome development, as snow tends to clean the air, helping my allergy situation.

Another increase today in my weekly overall score at Up to 16,137, good for 6th place. In the specific categories, general wisdom is at 3170, for 17th place, history at 3840, for 12th place, and sports at 3718, good for first place in that category.


Today's rhetorical device: chiasmus

Chiasmus is a reversal in the order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases. This is the definition used by Dr. Mardy Grothe, who has a good website,, devoted to this delightful literary device. One can sign up there to get a weekly email from Dr. Grothe which always contains many juicy nuggets of chiasmus, oxymoronica, et al.

An example of chiasmus is the title of Dr. Grothe's book, "never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you". Another example is from Samuel Johnson, who famously returned a manuscript to a would-be writer with the comment: "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." This one is from Peter De Vries: "The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults."

Of special interest is implied chiasmus, where one of the two phrases is so well-known that it can remain unsaid. An example is "Time wounds all heels."

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Benefits of Writing Things Down

Part of my morning routine is to do the 5 daily trivia quizzes found at I record my results, and I have noticed a curious phenomenon about this process. Every time I start anew, after missing a number of days, my overall "weekly" scores, once they get started again (they require 6 prior days of answering the questions), go upward each day. At the moment, my overall score has risen from the previous day on 12 out of the last 13 days!

This is too striking to be a product of random chance. I believe that as I write down more and more scores, it triggers greater concentration and resolve within me and somehow leads to steadily increasing scores. I noticed the same thing years ago when I used to record the results of my blitz chess games. Once my opponent saw I was writing down the results, he always started trying harder and concentrating more intently. The same principle applies to my daily checklist--the simple process of recording things I do focuses my attention better on these daily essentials.


Today's website:

For many years I have wanted blank maps, i.e., maps with the country boundaries filled in but not the country names, so that I could learn all the countries of the world. At one point I requested that Superior School Supply order some for me and some weeks later they called and said they were in. I went clear out on the far West side of town to pick them up. However, they turned out to have the continents on them, but not the countries! Boy was I disgusted!

Now, at long last, I have discovered a website which will display a country on a map and ask you to pick out which one it is. This is exactly what I have been looking for. Thanks to, I will eventually know every country.


Today's foreign word: kabary

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, kabary is "a form of traditional Malagasy oratory, based on the unhurried telling of ancestral proverbs, metaphors, and riddles, frequently in a dialogue using call and response." The cellphone, which requires one to get to he point quickly, is said to be the biggest enemy of kabary.

The CSM article goes on to state: "One of the main rules of kabary is that the subject or point of the conversation can never be broached directly – and in some instances cannot be stated at all. During a funeral or condolence call, for instance, uttering aloud the name of the deceased is taboo. To express that someone is missed, one might begin with a story about the short grass on the highlands plateau that a great grandfather once trod upon. Then, the speaker might embark on a tale about the pearls of the deep sea and how grass and great grandfather and sea have become torn apart."

On this day after Thanksgiving, it occurs to me that family gatherings are a time when unhurried reminiscences have their place, and are important to maintaining one's identity as part of an extended family and community.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Advantages of Aprtment Living

Today I turned on my heat for the first time this Fall! This is surely the latest in the season I've ever gone before first turning it on, but it illustrates the benefits of apartment living compared to single-family home living. I discovered after moving into my apartment in 2000 that utilities are significantly lower, which makes sense when you consider how exposed a house is to the elements. Here, the rest of the building offers help in the heating and cooling process. Plus, my apartment is on the Southwest corner of the building, which is said to be the ideal location as the afternoon sun offers significant heating help.

I think the movement toward single-family home living got started after WW2, when millions of returning veterans took advantage of the GI bill to buy houses. Looked at in this light, it is a fairly recent phenomenon, and perhaps will turn out to be a passing fancy. Personally, it was not until I was 54 years old that I discovered that I much preferred apartment living, but, as they say, better late than never!


Today's Phrase: "Share and share alike"

I Samuel 30 tells the story of David's revenge upon the Amalekites, who had burned down the city in which David' two wives lived. Some of David's men were too tired to go on the raid, and stayed behind at the base camp. After recapturing the spoils, the men who took part in the raid did not want to share the booty with those who stayed behind. But David says "For the share of the one who goes into battle shall be the same as the share of the one who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike". I Samuel 30:24.

How interesting that a principle of equality and sharing should come out of such a bloody Old Testament story! Jesus re-emphasizes the principle with a parable in Matthew 20 about a vineyard owner who pays everyone for a full day's work, even though some only worked a partial day. When the full-day workers complained, the owner points out that they received what they had coming. It is no harm to them that he chose to also give full pay to the others.

How often do we feel envious of others, for no good reason? I am reminded of Opinion Line callers who called to complain about an Andover family who received a new house in an "Extreme Makeover" episode. Along with the house came other benefits, such as payment for the kids' college educations. People complained about this. But why begrudge somebody else their good fortune, if it's no skin off your nose? Shame on those callers!

The phrase "share and share alike", is used in many wills in the United States, as in "I leave all my property equally to my two children, share and share alike". In my experience parents usually do want to treat their children equally, even though inevitably some could be considered more "deserving" than others. Indeed, a recent couple who were leaving their property to only one of their two sons felt funny about it, and they took pains to explain why. One son was very well off already and had no family, while the other had a lower-paying job and had a family to support. The well-off son specifically requested that everything go to his brother. I wrote all of that explanation into the will, so that there would never be any misconceptions about why it was being done, and the clients were quite happy with the resulting document.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping Case and the Role of the Jury

Over the past number of years I have read two books on the famous Lindbergh kidnapping case. The first was a 1989 book which was part of the Notable Trials Library series. It had excerpts from the trial transcript, along with a summary of the case written in 1937 by Sidney B. Whipple. Whipple clearly believed the defendant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was guilty and this bias permeates the entire book.

The other book is called "The Airman and the Carpenter", by Lubovic Kennedy. The subtitle, "the Framing of Richard Hauptmann", indicates the bias of this author towards innocence.

I have long intended to reread both and attempt to make my own determination of guilt or innocence. I finally attempted this recently, but the biases of both books were so strong that it became obvious that no objective analysis of the evidence could be made.

I will have to be content with making a few observations. The Lindbergh baby was kidnapped from his home on March 1, 1932. It created a media frenzy, which lasted for years. My dad says that Charles Lindbergh at that time was the most famous person on earth. More Americans knew who he was than knew who their President was.

On April 2nd, $50,000 in ransom money was handed over to somebody in a Bronx cemetery. On May 12th the baby's body was discovered. Two years then went by with no breaks in the case. Finally, in September of 1934, one of the ransom bills was discovered and on September 19th, 1934, Hauptmann was arrested. His house was searched, and much of the ransom money was found in his garage.

So, a period of two and a half years had passed in which the case was on the front pages, and the public clamor for a resolution was putting intense pressure on the authorities. Once they had a suspect in custody, they came to believe in his guilt and looked for any evidence they could find to convict him. Kennedy writes at great length about how law enforcement officers will, in this situation, look for anything to corroborate their pre-formed theory, and discard any evidence indicating innocence. They do this not because they want to convict an innocent man, but because they honestly believe the suspect to be guilty.

And this is what happened with Hauptmann. The original case filed against Hauptmann was an extortion charge in New York. However, the authorities wanted to use Hauptmann to clear the kidnapping and murder case, so they came up with "eyewitness accounts" supposedly placing Hauptmann in New Jersey, where the Lindbergh house was, on the date of the kidnapping, and they filed charges against him in New Jersey and extradited him to that state. Kennedy points out how notoriously unreliable such eyewitness accounts are, and this would be especially true more than two years after the fact.

The authorities further came up with the outlandish theory that Hauptmann had constructed a ladder to get to the second-floor bedroom where the baby was sleeping, using in this construction a piece of wood sawed off from wood in his attic! It is absurd to think anybody would saw up his attic to make a ladder, yet this was the theory. The prosecution came up with a so-called wood expert who claimed to be able to match up the ladder wood to the wood in the attic. This sort of "expert" is today known to be responsible for many convictions of innocent people, and the name of "junk science" has been given to this sort of pseudo scientific testimony. (The book "Actual Innocence", by Barry Scheck and others, documents cases of wrongful convictions based on junk science testimony.)

As I write and think about this, it becomes more and more obvious that the proper role of the jury here would have been to bring back a conviction of guilty on the extortion charge, Hauptmann having been found with all this ransom money and not having a credible explanation for how it came into his possession. However, there is no strong evidence he had any part in the kidnapping and death of the baby, and it should have been "not guilty" on that part of the case. All the efforts to break Hauptmann down, including what today we would call "torture", yielded no results, and he maintained his innocence to the end and never named any of his accomplices (which of course did not exist if he was in fact innocent). The kidnapper had knowledge of the house's layout and the habits of the staff which only someone with inside knowledge of the Lindbergh family could have had. In retrospect this was an unfortunate rush to judgment and a miscarriage of justice likely did occur.

I have to think of the relevance here of a book I read recently called "We the Jury", by Godfrey D. Lehman. The author discusses important trials throughout history in which the role of the jury was important in preserving our basic freedoms. Lehman argues that in many instances in which a result has been attributed to the brilliance of the lawyers, credit should rather go to the 12 members of the jury who had the guts to vote their consciences.

Lehman discusses the seminal case from 1670 England, known as "Bushel's case". Bushel was a juror in the case against William Penn for unlawful assembly, a charge brought under an English law restricting certain religious practices. The jury came back with a "not guilty" verdict, infuriating the Judge who fined them and sent them back to reconsider. Bushel refused to pay the fine, and the Judge's response to him was that "you shall be locked up without meat, drink, fire, and tobacco. You shall not think thus to abuse the court; we will have a verdict, by the help of God, or you shall starve for it."

Sitting in jail for not paying the fine and for bringing in a verdict the Judge didn't like, Bushell contested his punishment, and in his case against the Judge he established the principle that a jury could not be coerced into giving a particular verdict. We take the independence of juries for granted today, but it was not always so. Thank you, Edward Bushel!

Anyway, the public clamor being what it was, there was no way the Lindbergh jurors could have summoned up the courage to bring in a "not guilty" verdict. Despite serious doubts on the part of the New Jersey governor about Hoffman's guilt, the governor had the power under New Jersey law only to grant a 30-day reprieve, and Hauptmann was executed on April 3, 1936, maintaining his innocence to the very end.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No Red Meat

On of the items on my daily check list is "no red meat". I added this in May in anticipation of my upcoming retirement, at a time when a number of office-related items needed replacing.

Since I give myself 3 days of credit for each day it is complied with, this is an item I can "work ahead" on. Initially I worked ahead significantly since I started the category in May, and the pages for credits didn't start until August. However, a month ago the calendar caught up to me, and I was no longer ahead of it. Now all of a sudden I am ahead again. Saturday I made an awesome chicken rice soup, with 6 big carrots, 3 celery stalks, 2 onions, and a whole baked chicken. Adding in a healthy batch of brown rice and some great seasonings, it made for a great soup. The next day I made tuna salad for sandwiches, and voila!, I had my no red meat stuff ready to go for days to come.

Don't get me wrong, I like a good steak as much as the next person. But the studies uniformly show that a steady diet of red meat is not good for us. An emphasis on a no red meat diet has to be the way to go, and I feel good about again having "worked ahead" in that category.


Today's quote: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use."

This is part of a famous exchange between Faulkner and Hemingway, two American Nobel Prize winning novelists. The controversy was started by Faulkner, who wrote of Hemingway: ‘He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.’

I have recently read "Tjhe Snows of Kiliminjaro", and it is apparent that Hemingway has no need to use big words. Point here to Hemingway.

Monday, November 19, 2007

WPD Activity on a Warm Day

Beautiful warm weather the past few days. I broke a drought of several weeks and jogged outside on Friday and again yesterday (Sunday). Last night I then took my first hot bath since last Spring.

At the start of Sunday School class yesterday, Jim Juhnke asked if the chapter we were studying, on gender issues, belonged in the book (we are studying "The Missing Peace"). I said it seemed out of place. He mentioned it was written by his co-author, Carol Hunter. After the discussion it was more obvious to us why it did belong, although the famous exchange between John and Abigail Adams still seems to be mostly tongue-in-cheek.

In the 70's again today, but colder weather on the way in the next few days.

An odd day of running into police cars today. On the way to work, I had to detour because many streets just South of my office were blocked off. It was obviously more than just a routine fire or accident, and sure enough, I discovered from the receptionist that there had been a shooting and the police thought the perpetrator was holed up in an apartment building in the block South of my office, and had called out the SWAT team. Just found out on the 5:00 news that the person holed up was someone who had run when he saw the police, because he had 5 city warrants. He is now not believed to have anything to do with the shooting.

Then this afternoon, my daughter and I come home from the library, and notice a police car blocking the alley behind my apartment builoding. I asked another tenant here what was going on and he said "how many Wichita police officers does it take to deal with a drunk White chick". When I got to the alley I saw what he meant, as there were a bunch of police cars in the alley, not just the one I originally saw blocking the West end of it. A woman was sitting in her car in the alley drunk, and the someone had called the police thinking she was in some kind of trouble. A lady officer explained to me and a couple others as they left that she had given up her 8-month-old baby for adoption this morning, and was feeling down and started drinking vodka. She told the three of us to not let her drive this evening (the police had gotten her into her apartment), as it would take till tomorrow for her to sleep it off.

As I write this I heard a noise outside and noticed the woman was being arrested. Not sure what led up to this arrest.

While waiting for my daughter at the library, I had the thought that reading a book is like watching a baseball game. A book, in contrast to the other more frenetic forms of entertainment so prevalent these days, is to be savored, pondered over, and appreciated long after being read. Same with a baseball game, it is designed to be savored, discussed, and the good ones remain in the memory long after they occur.

A real treat for me from 7-9 A.M. yesterday. I had just discovered the week before that Bob Costas had a radio show on at that time on Sundays. I tuned in and the whole two hours was spent with Tommy Lasorda, who has a new book out. What a wonderful two hours! Of course Costas is great to listen to, and his love of baseball is 100% genuine, and to listen to him draw out Tommy Lasorda on his life in baseball was a real treat.

This brings up what has been one of my pet peeves for many years--the lack of radio listings in the daily newspaper. Why in the world does the paper devote most of a page a day and a whole section on Sundays to TV listings, and not one word about radio!!! The local paper calls me every so often about subscribing, and when they ask about why I don't I always mention the problem with the lack of radio listings. The latest caller finally said, ""Well, you're talking to the wrong person, I can't really do anything about it." Then why the bleep are you asking me about my problems with the paper? It seems like such a simple thing to list the special programs on the radio, yet the paper refuses to do it.


Daily trivia question: What is the origin of the phrase "smoking gun"?

This, in a different form, was the final jeopardy question today. In an 1894 Sherlock Holmes story, Doyle writes "The chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand." This is thought to be the origin of the phrase "smoking gun", a phrase made famous in the Watergate era when everyone was looking for the "smoking gun" that would implicate President Nixon in the conspiracy.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Obesity Epidemic

Hardly a month goes by in which there is not another major news item about the obesity problem in this country. The statistics show a striking increase in obesity among people in the U. S. over the past few decades, to the extent that it is not an exaggeration to call it an "epidemic".

And now this past Wednesday comes a major report linking obesity to cancer. Quoting from the USA Today story:

"This was a much larger impact than even the researchers expected," says Karen Collins, a cancer institute nutrition adviser. "People forget body fat is not an inert glob that we are carrying around on the waistline and thighs. It's a metabolically active tissue that produces substances in the body that promote the development of cancer."

The story emphasizes that "no amount of processed meat is considered completely safe."

What we should do about this on an individual basis is rather obvious. However, the interesting policy question is what the government should be doing. Certainly the government could undertake a national campaign against obesity, similar to the anti-smoking campaign which has been waged since the Surgeon-General's report came out in the 1960's.

Most striking in the stats is the huge increase in childhood obesity over the past few decades. This points the finger directly at the schools, which could and should be doing so much more to promote a healthy, active lifestyle. No candy or pop should be sold in the schools. Here in Wichita we went through this issue a few years ago, with the conclusion that pop machines were going to be still be allowed in the high schools, because of all the revenue they generated from the pop companies. The tax increase needed to offset this lost revenue would have been less than a dollar a year per Wichitan. And yet, the School Board cowardly caved in to the pop lobby.

Another policy change would be to require phys ed every year throughout a child's 12 years of public education. Schools should be in session longer each day, with an hour at the end for phys ed, like is done in China. Increased mandatory health education should be required, emphasizing nutrition and exercise as important for good health.

We have become a nation of couch potatoes, but this trend can be reversed. Otherwise, we will crumble from within like the Rman Empire centuries ago.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Murphy's Law Upended

As I ease into retirement in this, my 63rd year on this planet, I have been struck by several things working well, contrary to Murphy's Law which says if something can go wrong, it will. My application for social security went quite smoothly, and I received several calls during the application process from social security, with the caller adopting a friendly and helpful attitude concerning the need for a certified copy of my birth certificate which was needed to complete my application. I eventually got this submitted, and anxiously awaited the fourth Wednesday in October, when my first check was to be deposited into my bank account. Sure enough, I called the bank that morning (as I usually do to double-check my current balance) and the funds were already there! Let's face it, the government *does* do some things well!

The other thing which has struck me is the efficiency of NetFlix, a company from which DVD's can be rented on a monthly basis. They promise same-day service, i.e, the day they get your old DVD in the mail, they will send out the next one on your list. This has held true every time. (I always thought the old "allow 6-8 weeks for delivery" was completely bogus and this proves it.) But even more than this, my daughter and I had an incident in which she put two DVD's into the mail without the mailing cover on them. I wondered what would happen to them, or why the mail carrier even picked them up that way out of her mom's mailbox. Lo and behold, NetFlix somehow received them and mailed out the next ones just like nothing untoward had happened!

Sometimes things do work like they're supposed to!