Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On Pandering, Part Five: The Sean Goldman Case

After five years of battling the powers that be, David Goldman has finally gained custody of his son, and father and son are now in the United States following the terrible ordeal which has played out over two continents.

Sean's mother had taken him to Brazil, but she later died and the battle was between his father and third-party relatives (actually step-relatives). One can't help but think back to the Elian Gonzalez case in 2000.

The law is clear that a parent has priority over non-parent third parties. One has to say kudos to the Brazilian court system for being wise and mature enough to honor settled international law, and to resist the nationalistic passions pulling it in the direction of the Brazilian third parties seeking custody.

One only wishes that that pandering SOB Al Gore had had this sort of integrity when the Elian Gonzalez issue came up in 2000, when Gore decided to pander to Florida voters in an attempt to become President in his own right. Instead of showing integrity, Gore broke with the Clinton administration and made the horrendous statement that custody of Elian should be determined by a Florida family court. Imagine! If it were up to Al Gore, Elian's father would have had to come to a foreign country where he'd never been, and did not speak the language, hire a lawyer, and fight for his right to custody of his own son!

Kudos to the Clinton administration for its understanding of the basic rights and obligations here. And shame on Gore and all those right-wing nuts in Florida who he tried to get into bed with.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Sanctimonious Presidents

On his Q and A show on C-SPAN Sunday, Brian Lamb interviewed the author of a recently-published book on James K. Polk. The author made the comment that Polk was sanctimonious, and he went on to say that sanctimonious Presidents have never been good Presidents. He listed John Quincy Adams, Polk, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush as being in this category.

This is a concept I have never thought of. Perhaps those of us who have been critical of Obama for being too accommodating and conciliatory, in other words, the opposite of sanctimonious, should take a step back and give the man some credit.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Necessity Defense

Word from NPR this morning is that the killer of Dr. George Tiller is seeking today to be allowed to present the so-called "necessity defense", that it was necessary to kill him to protect the life of unborn babies. This is ludicrous of course and one hopes the Wichita court system will have the good sense to laugh him out of court as he should be.

But it reminds me of that dark time in the early '90's when an unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of Dr. Tiller. The defendant in that case had the good fortune to draw Paul Clark as the Judge for her case. Now Paul Clark was normally one of the better Judges in Sedgwick County, so his actions in this case were inexplicable, at least inexplicable at first blush. In a series of actions on the case Clark revealed severe bias and a total absence of impartiality. For the first appearance of the defendant, he surreptitiously borrowed another Judge's courtroom, and sneaked into it while the news media waited in his courtroom to tape the appearance. He even passed one of the reporters on the stairs going up to the other courtroom (the stairs being the best way to sneak around, as they were used considerably less frequently than the elevators). He greeted the reporter but said nothing about the change in courtroom for the court appearance.

But this was only the start of Judge Clark's shenanigans on this case. The same request was made, and Clark *allowed* the necessity defense, making the case into a total mockery of justice. But why did Judge Clark do this? In retrospect, all these many years later, the answer seems clear. It was no secret at the time that Judge Clark was angling for an appointment to the Court of Appeals. The person making that appointment would have been the governor, who at that time was a pro-life Democrat. It appears Judge Clark was cynically trying to ingratiate himself to this Governor, so as to secure the appointment that he so desperately wanted.

The bottom line is that Clark never did get the appointment he sought, and the administrative judge for Sedgwick County ultimately removed him from the case because of his obvious bias. Sometimes lady justice prevails despite the best attempts of men to defeat her.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On Scientific Illiteracy

In discussing the recent recommendation against yearly mammograms for women between 40 and 50, NBC reporter/analyst Dr. Nancy Snyderman opined that "we are on the verge of becoming scientifically illiterate". Dr. Snyderman is much too generous in her observation. We have actually been scientifically illiterate as long as I can remember.

The agency involved balanced the negatives and the positives in making the new recommendation. The negative of course is that of every 1900 women, one will actually get breast cancer. The positives are an avoidance of anxiety based on the many false positives in those 1900 cases, and of course the reduction in expense and trouble.

The media perpetuates this scientific illiteracy by prefacing every statement with "Of course if you are that one person, then it is important." This is akin to the statement often heard from folks when you try to tell them that the odds of winning the lottery are one in ten million. The response one often gets is, "But what if you are that one person". Or, upon telling my ex-wife the odds on something, she said "But there's a 50-50 chance the odds are wrong!"

Recently I heard it said that a single person who wants to work and can't find a job is unacceptable. This represents not only scientific illiteracy, but a sort of pandering to the least common denominator of intelligence which is completely unacceptable, whether it comes from the media or from the administration. It is the same sort of mathematical illiteracy demonstrated by the acceptance of Dan Quayle's justification for getting into the Indiana National Guard during the Vietnam War, which was that "there were a hundred openings at the time", ignoring the fact that in a Guard of 10,000, there are always going to be at least 100 openings based on normal comings and goings in personnel. In other words, the Guard was full and the stats show that Quayle *did* get special treatment; but of course the media, in its ignorance, let this slide.

Now today we have a report that radiation causes 29,000 deaths per year. Part of the problem is said to be the insistence of many patients that they be given CT scans. It will be interesting to see if this information is processed by the media and the public with any kind of scientific literacy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Public Option Bites the Dust

Recently I heard Howard Dean say that in Vermont they have had universal health care for children under 18 for 15 years. And of course under Medicare we have had universal care for those 65 and older since 1965.

The question is, if we can do the above, why can't we go the next step and make it universal? What is it that the Republicans fear so much about it? What is it that all European countries have figured out, but we can't seem to?

The Republican plan is to leave the control in the hands of private insurance companies. In fact, the current plan would expand the role of private insurance companies, as coverage would be mandated through the private system for every American.

Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse! Private insurance companies exist to make the maximum profit for their sharehodlers, not to promte the public welfare. Current plans mandating that the companies can't reject an applicant for a pre-existing condition will only drive up premiums past their already ridiculous heights.

It is a damn hame that Obama and the Democrats are so willing to cave in on providing real health care reform, which can only come through a single-payer system. And it is a damn shame that archaic Senate rules require 60% approval, instead of a simple majority.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lessons from the Fifties: Part One, McCarthyism

Treatment of President Obama by the far right has been aptly called "the new McCarthyism". In light of this despicable current syndrome taking place, I thought it would be useful to examine what the original McCarthyism was like and how it developed. The account is taken from David Halberstam's "The Fifties".

Halberstam says the phenomenon had already existed, but McCarthy's involvement began with a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia on 2/9/50. He made an offhand comment during his speech that there were Communists in the State Department and that they controlled foreign policy. He claimed he "had in his hand" a list of 205 Communists in the State Department, but didn't have time to name them. A local Wheeling reporter mentioned this in his story on the speech, and it was picked up by the AP and the circus began.

McCarthy next flew to Denver where he said at an airport press conference that the list was in his other suit. Then he was on to Reno, where two reporters undertook to pin him down on this list accusation. McCarthy had never met them, but he put his arms around them like they were old buddies. McCarthy would not be pinned down, but said to come to his speech that night and names would be given. At the speech that night he did name four names, but it was unclear what he was accusing them of. His words were deliberately vague, which led one reporter to exclaim that "Talking to Joe was like putting your hands in a bowl of mush".

Since it was unclear what the number was being claimed (seemingly it had gone from 205 to 4), the reporters collared McCarthy after the speech and went out drinking with him. One said later that he had never seen anybody drink so much so quickly. The reporters repeatedly tried to pin McCarthy down on just what he was claiming, but he dug into his pockets and could find no list, and at one point he accused the reporters of stealing his list!

And so it continued. McCarthy's basic charge was that the Democrats were "soft on Communism". Halberstam says that "the real scandal in all this was the behavior of the members of the Washington press corps, who, more often than not, knew better". But they enjoyed the way McCarthy cozied up to them, and they consistently refused to press him for substantiation of his vague charges.

Many right-wing demagogues in Congress played the same game. Richard Nixon beat a respected incumbent, Helen Gahagan Douglas, in a campaign which Halberstam says was "virtually a case study in red-baiting". The most interesting example is Robert Taft, "the most elegant and principled Republican in the Senate", who Halberstam says was like two people: one was "the thoughtful conservative who was uneasy with the coming of America the superpower and its growing obsession with anti-Communism", while the other Taft "could exploit the fall of China and attack the administration for being soft on Communism". Halberstam says that Taft's throwing in with McCarthy was "a low moment in an otherwise highly principled career".

Similarities to today are readily apparent. The "birthers" disdain the documentary evidence of Obama's birth, in favor of vague charges which they cannot substantiate. Even when shown a birth certificate and a newspaper announcement of his birth, they refuse to back off of their baseless accusations.

The role of journalists in McCarthyism is disturbing. At first blush one might suppose that after Watergate the role of the press has improved in regard to investigative journalism. Certainly Watergate led to a huge increase in interest in journalism on the part of college students. But it is one thing to be interested in a field, and another to actually be able to pursue the interest and make a living at it. In order to make a living, somebody has to be willing to pay you.

Upon examination it seems the failing of the press today is as severe as ever. Just think of the thousands of inches of ink, and the thousands of hours of air time, devoted to things like the O.J. Simpson trial and President Clinton's affair with a White House intern. Where is the coverage of truly important things, like global warming, going to war in Iraq on phony evidence, all the problems of disease and poverty in Third World countries, and on and on. The conclusion is inescapable that the media fails us daily in not reporting on the truly important issues that we need to know about in order to become better citizens of this world. The axiom "if it bleeds, it leads" is, sadly, still the norm.

The "soft on Communism" charge has been plaguing the Democrats ever since McCarthy. Sensitivity to this charge led Democratic Presidents to take us into war in Korea in the '50's, and Vietnam in the '60's. And today, Obama is no doubt sensitive to the charge of "soft on terrorism", the modern counterpart to the old accusation during the McCarthy era. People like Dick Cheney irresponsibly throw this type of charge around every chance they get. No doubt Obama's unfortunate Afghanistan escalation is based on a desire to appear tough on terrorism.

Another point is the danger of letting fear rule our lives. We did it in the McCarthy era, when we lost sight of our core values, and when fear of Communism caused Truman, an otherwise great President, to go off the deep end under the delusion that "fighting Communism" was essential. Today we let fear dictate a surge in our troop presence in Afghanistan, a surge which is totally unsupported by any intellectual thought process. In the process of surging, we will lose more Americans than would otherwise be in danger from terrorist acts.

A final point is that McCarthy showed how negative campaigning can work, if by "work" we mean win an election. We have seen despicable use of negative campaigning by Republicans ever since McCarthy. Nixon hit "law and order" in '68, his point being that Democrats were "soft on crime". Watergate can also be seen as an outgrowth of McCarthyism, the idea that it is an "us against them" world, a world in which it was deemed necessary to compile an "enemies list", and persecute your political opponents using the IRS, the FBI, and the CIA. Ford and Reagan were decent campaigners, but then we come to the first Bush in '88 and his despicable Willie Horton ads, painting Dukakis as soft on crime because of a furlough program, the irony of which is that the federal government at the time had a similar furlough program and a similar mishap which Dukakis could have fired back with had he been willing to get down in the gutter with Bush. Then of course in '04 we had the "Swift boat" ads which lied about John Kerry's war record. All of this can be traced back to the demonstration by McCarthy that just saying negative things, regardless of whether they are factual or not, and repeating those things over and over, will bring success in an age in which the media is willing to disseminate everything you say to a gullible and ill-informed electorate, without offering that public any intelligent analysis of the lies being propagated.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the Metaphor of War

When John McCain says you go into a war to win, no matter how long it takes, and you don't quit until you have broken the will of the enemy, he is arguably right if you are talking about war in the traditional sense.

However, it seems we have expanded the use of this term "war" to include many things totally unrelated to warfare, and this has led to much confusion. I believe this whole syndrome started in the'60's when Lyndon Johnson characterized his anti-poverty efforts as a "war on poverty". Then in the '80's we had the "war on drugs". Now, in this decade we have the "war on terrorism". None of these are wars in the legitimate sense of the word, and we should recognize this and find better terminology. We set ourselves up for failure in that there is no way any of these so-called wars are ever going to be "won". Why not use precise terminology and use clear thought for a change?

Obama's Double Blunder on Afghanistan

Obama first blundered by not firing General McChrystal for his obvious insubordination in going public with his request for 40,000 more troops, rather than respecting the chain of command. He should have fired him just as Truman fired MacArthur for the latter's insubordination.

Now he announces his ridiculous plan to send 30,000 more troops to this so-called "country". CNN had an interesting panel of people who were familiar with Afghanistan talking about this after Obama's speech Tuesday night. One was a journalist who had spent substantial time with the troops and knew the state of things there. He described what he had found going into police stations. One had a former chief who had been harboring theTaliban right in the station. In another everyone in it was high. In another the policemen were afraid to leave the station.

Obama's plan is that we are going to train these people to provide the security for their country. How do you correct these problems with "training"?? The very thought is ludicrous; hence, Obama's plan is ludicrous. The fact is that Afghanistan is not a nation in the normal sense of the word, but rather is a collection of tribes. There will never be a government there strong enough to control the territory and take over the duties we would expect them to assume when our troops leave.

On Pushing to Game in Contract Bridge

The other night at men's bridge I pushed to game twice when by rights I should have stopped a trick short of game. I got to wondering what the math of this decision is.

The scoring for this type of bridge is that a non-vulnerable game is worth 300, a vulnerable game 500, and 50 points are awarded for a part score.

Say it is 50-50 whether you make 4 spades or 3 spades. Bidding 3 spades yields you 140 half the time, and 170 half the time, for an expected gain of 155. Bidding 4 spades when not-vulnerable yields you 420 half the time, and a minus 50 half the time, for an expected gain of 185. If vulnerable, you make 620 half the time, and lose 100 half the time, for an expected gain of 260. (This sounds great, but remember if you are doubled and go down the penalties can be severe.)

Hence, one can conclude that if you have a 50-50 shot, go for it. The reality in the men's group is that there is such a variation in skill level, that the decision really rests on your evaluation of the relative skill levels of you and your partner, compared to your opponents.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Millionaire Show's Tournament of Champions

"Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" has had a different feature the past two weeks. They brought back the ten highest scorers over the previous two-month period for what they called the "Tournament of Champions", or "Tournament of Ten". During each show one of the ten gets to answer a question for a million dollars. If the contestant answers and gets it wrong, he/she goes down to $25,000, from the original amount won on the show.

The odds favoring answering seem overwhelming here. The first few contestants were at only $50,000, so they were risking only $25,000 for a chance to win a million. This seems to be a no-brainer at first blush, but there is a kicker. If anybody ahead of you also gets the million-dollar question, then you go back down to your original amount won.

The guy in the #8 position had the question "how many people have ever lived on the earth"? The choices were 50B, 100B, 1T and 5T. He guessed (the only contestant to do so) 100B and was right. Then he had to wait the next seven days while one-by-one the other seven took their shots at their respective questions and the chance to knock him back down to his 50K.

What is interesting mathematically is how do you assess your probabilities when guessing? Without the chance of getting knocked back down, it is easy: 3/4 chance at losing 25K, compared to 1/4 chance of winning an additional 950K. But say at position #8 you assume there is a 90% chance that you will not survive as the winner. Now the odds look like this: 3/4 chance of losing 25K, 1/40 chance of winning 950K, and a 9/40 chance of staying where you are. The odds now put you at only 5K ahead (18.75K expected loss vs. 23.75K expected gain).

As it turned out this 90% assumption would have been way too high, as all the other contestants were too risk-averse to hazard a guess (even though 7 of the 9 would have guessed the right answer had they been bold enough to guess). The bartender who sweated out all the others from the #8 position ended up winning the million!

The plans of the final contestant raised an interesting issue. She wanted to create scholarships for needy children. This altruistic motive actually presented the interesting point that the mathematical approach was valid for somebody with this motivation. That is, one can say that she will do four times the good with four times the money (she was at 250K), so the math works.

By contrast, when you are using the money for your own purposes, rather than for others, it is false to say that four times the money will make you four times happier. Indeed, I think one can assume that many lottery winners actually end up with miserable lives, because they don't know how to handle the sudden riches. If somebody offered me a sure $100K, or a 50-50 shot between nothing or a million, which would I take? Mathematically it is a no-brainer, but we are talking human reality here, not math. If I was thinking solely of myself, I would likely take the sure 100K, because that is enough for me to achieve any goals I can conjure up. This is essentially what 9 of the 10 contestants did, they took the sure money they had, rather than risking even part of it for the big score.

The final show was quite special. The last contestant was a very classy lady from the South, and though she had the right inkling she declined to guess, and it was obvious after that that she and the bartender had bonded over the period of the taping of the 10 shows, and in fact one of the things he wanted to do with his winnings was take the Southern lady skydiving. An interesting sidelight here is that the bartender said he knew the answer to the question, and expected the lady would get it.

A whole new game theory dynamic enters in here if you open up the possibility of collusion between the contestants. Total winnings for the two combined would be only $1,050,000 if #1 guessed right, while if she walked away that total would be $1,250,000. I don't for a minute think that there *was* collusion, but the game theory analysis is interesting. Given the history to that point, that the questions were hard, yes, but that most contestants had the right answer but were too risk-averse to guess, it would be rational for #8 to reason that there was a good probability that #1 would guess and get it right (she had been brilliant during her earlier time on the show). Why not offer her a good chunk of his million in exchange for her walking away?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Pandering, Part Four, Foreign Policy

Some years ago I heard the editor of the Wichita Eagle describe his paper's approach to news as "relentlessly state and local". He said this without any hint of embarrassment, but if Paul Simon is to be believed, the editor should have been greatly embarrassed at his paper's policy of ignoring national and international news.

In his book "Our Culture of Pandering", Simon documents how foreign affairs have been covered less and less in recent times. He asks the question, "which is more important, the O.J. Simpson trial or the fall of the Berlin Wall?" The answer of course is self-evident, but you wouldn't know it by measuring media coverage of each. Air time and ink were weighted overwhelmingly on the side of the Simpson trial. Many other examples can be given, but the conclusion is inescapable that the U.S. media is seriously failing in its responsibility to inform the public.

Simon says that when a constituent complains about money going for foreign aid, he asks what percentage of the budget the complainer thinks goes for this purpose. The usual answer is in the neighborhood of 15-25%. In fact, less than 1/2 of 1% goes for foreign economic aid. Of the 22 wealthiest nations, the U.S. is dead last in % of GDP going for foreign aid!

Chicago columnist Steve Chapman hit the nail on the head when he said that "We often resemble one of those talking dolls that has an inexhaustible voice but no capacity for hearing". That is, we like to boast of being the greatest country in the world and we like to tell everyone else what they should be doing, but we put precious little effort into *listening* to others and learning what their needs really are, as opposed to what we think they are.

What it comes down to is that both politicians *and* the media are guilty of failing to show enough interest in foreign policy. Politicians here get elected by focusing on domestic issues, not foreign issues. Most elected Presidents have little interest in foreign affairs (Bush Sr. being a notable exception), and they don't give it the attention it needs.

The education system comes into play here also. I have long felt that any high school student should have to identify the countries of the world as a condition of getting a diploma. At least to some reasonable level, say 70%, the traditional dividing line between passing and failing.

In a world that we know is shrinking rapidly, it is insane to continue this pandering to the isolationist tendencies of most Americans. Let's wake up and join the world community!

E Pluribus Unum?

I don't usually agree with Pat Buchanan, but he is a thoughtful person and I usually find his columns thought-provoking and worthy of attention. Yesterday's column is no exception.

Buchanan writes of Major Hasan and his divided loyalties. He notes that "conflicts in identities and loyalties are common in the cauldrons of war". He gives examples to back this up, such as in the Mexican War Irish Catholics deserted the Union army to fight beside Mexican Catholics.

But his conclusion after this analysis is quite sobering. It is this: only in this era has "religious, racial and ethnic diversity" been declared to be "not only a national good but a national goal". Up to now we have believed in the "e pluribus unum" concept of out of many, one. But now we celebrate diversity.

Now, there is nothing wrong with diversity in certain aspects. But when it comes to a country, history teaches us that diversity is a recipe for failure. In the last ten years I have made it a point to pay attention to trouble spots around the world, and it has been quite a depressing eye-opener to see how many of these trouble spots are due to different ethnic groups which just can't get along. And not only that they can't get along, they too often insist on killing each other and even engaging in genocide.

So, a fair reading of history tells us that Buchanan is right in his analysis. He writes that "America is unraveling. No longer are we one nation and one people". He continues: "There is no American Melting Pot anymore. It was discarded by our elites as an instrument of cultural genocide. Now we celebrate America as the most multiraical, multiethnic, multicultureal country on earth." Then he concludes, "And yet, we are surprised by ethnic espionage in our midst".

He concludes, "Eisenhower's America was a nation of 160 million with a Euro-Christian core and a culture of its own. We were a people then. And when we have become, in 2050, a stew of 435 millions, of every creed, culture, color and country of Earth, what holds us together then?"

What indeed. History teaches us that only homogeneous cultures are stable cultures.

Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15, based on allegations that he threw a grenade which killed a US soldier. Though the evidence against him is shaky at best, he has been held in Guantanamo for the past seven years, and has undergone torture for the first part of that time.

By chance I happened onto a C-SPAN broadcast last night of argument before the Canadian Supreme Court of the case involving Khadr. Khadr's lawyer was asking that the Canadian court system require Canada to "request" his repatriation from the US. He acknowledged that Canada couldn't *require* the US to act, but apparently he had reason to believe that the US would comply if repatriation were requested.

The basis for the request is that Canada was "complicit" in the torture, in that the Canadian government sent agents to question Khadr, knowing he had been tortured prior to the questioning. "Complicit" seems to be a word that has special meaning under Canadian law, as it was used repeatedly. Under the Charter (Canada's equivalent to our Bill of Rights), he has certain rights by virtue of this complicity.

The problem is fashioning a remedy to fit the wrongdoing. It is a unique case and the attorney could offer no precedent to help the Justices. However, the trial court and the court of appeals have both ruled for Khadr, so he does have that going for him.

Several observations spring to mind:

1. Most of the questioning was done by three female Justices, leading me to wonder about the gender makeup of the court. Looking it up just now, I see that 4 of the 9 Justices, including the Chief Justice, are women.

2. A graphic stated that the Court has allowed cameras since 1981.

3. The questioning was mild-mannered and deferential, compared to US Justices.

4. The attorney for Khadr was simply outstanding, fielding a barrage of questions without hesitation and without stuttering. His name is Nathan Whitling, kudos to Mr. Whitling for his stellar advocacy.


By coincidence, I heard on NPR this morning of a ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court in another unrelated case. It involved a female ski jumper who was being denied the chance to compete in the Olympics, even though she has jumped farther than any Canadian male. The report stated that ski jumping is the only Olympic sport, winter or summer, still closed to women.

Apparently the aforementioned Charter guarantees equality of the sexes, but the Court nevertheless ruled against the ski jumper because it was the International Olympic Committee setting the rules, and not the Canadian government.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Gun Control

A column today by Jacob Sullum asserts that had Major Hasan's victims had firearms, some deaths could have been prevented. This analysis may be correct, but it is horribly short-sighted. He apparently advocates allowing everybody to carry guns wherever they may be; this ignores the fact that the instances in which carrying a gun contributes to more violence and death far exceeds the instances in which violence and death could be prevented.

Think of how many instances of heated arguments there are compared to instances of mass shootings as Major Hasan committed. A thousand to one? A million to one? Think of the hundreds of road rage incidents in this country every day. Think of the hundreds of barroom arguments there are every day. Any one of these instances could easily escalate to deadly violence if one of the participants had a firearm.

One can only conclude that limitations on firearms save many more lives than it costs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On Pandering, Part Three, Social Security

I once wrote to my Congressman expressing concern about the health of the social security system. I received a letter back promising that my benefits won't be cut. This missed the whole point of my letter, which was to point out that changes needed to be made if the system was to remain viable.

This illustrates several problems. One is that members of Congress are so used to people contacting them with personal concerns, that they react by rote as if all communications were in this category. It also illustrates that Congressmen have become little more than errand boys, doing favors for constituents and looking into problems constituents are having with government agencies. There is little time to actually legislate.

Perhaps no issue is more prone to pandering than social security. Nobody wants their benefits cut, and nobody wants to pay more taxes. But how else to keep the system healthy? In "Our Culture of Pandering", Paul Simon says that when President Clinton held two forums on social security, he said "only" two things were not on the table: increased taxes, and decreased benefits. Huh??

True leadership is needed on this important issue, someone who is willing to tell people things they don't want to hear, but that they *need* to hear. Simon says that when Harry Truman proposed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after WW2, only 14% of American people supported the idea. Had Truman followed public opinion instead of being the leader that he was, we would never have had a Marshall Plan.

A sensible plan for social security would be to tax *all* of a person's income, instead of only the first so many dollars. This would correct the regressiveness of the tax system caused by the social security tax hitting lower income people the hardest. Other ideas readily present themselves, when we become willing to look at the issue in an honest, non-partisan way. All we need are leaders who are willing to do this.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Pandering, Part Two

As a further introduction to this subject, I can't help but think of a study I read about some years back. (I think it was in the groundbreaking book "Megatrends", but I haven't been able to verify this yet.) Anyway, the study looked at literature (I believe) since the start of this country. The conclusion was that up until WW2, the main theme in literature was personal character. Since WW2, that has pratically disappeared as a theme.

This shows the difference betwen now and the "olden days" (pre-WW2). In days of old, people cared about their personal character and their reputation for character. It was the most important thing to most people. I don't have stats for this, but I think it's fair to say that libel lawsuits were much more common in those days than they are now. This reflects the importance of one's reputation for personal character back then. When someone destroyed that reputation by spreading lies about you, then you had suffered a grievous wrong and had a viable lawsuit to pursue (or, you had a duel to fight).

The only significant libel lawsuit I can think of in my lifetime (i.e., post-WW2) is General Westmoreland's suit against CBS for its special report on Vietnam, in which it claimed that the military had deliberately reported inflated enemy body counts to articifially prop up sagging public support for the war. Westmoreland ultimately dismissed his suit, after his deputy testified at trial that the CBS report was in fact true.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Pandering, Part One

Last Sunday my blood boiled watching the Sunday morning talk shows on ABC and NBC. In both we had a moderator who was badgering an administration representative to get them to admit that a tax increase would be necessary. This represents the worst of journalism in the U.S., a subject which I will explore in a later post in this series. It also illuminates the pandering of politicians in not being willing to admit to unpleasant realities, a subject I will also explore in a later post.

But something in Treasury Secretary Geithner's response struck a chord I want to explore now. First, Geithner said that this is no time now to talk about raising taxes, while we are still in a recession. So far so good. But then he said that Obama is committed to his campaign rhetoric, which is that any family making less than $250,000 a year would not be subject to any tax increase.

I say this latter position presents a serious pandering issue. Implicit in this is that Obama is saying that any family making less than $250,000 a year is not rich. This is utter nonsense. Think how many families the world over would be tickled to death to see a small fraction of $250,000 a year. The fact that in American politics the $250,000 figure would get thrown around as the gateway to being considered rich just shows how spoiled rotten Americans are. Surely America is way past its prime as a civilization if we cannot recapture the energy and frugality and resourcefulneess which made us great, and stop feeling entitled to a mountain of luxuries just because we exist.

What would an honest, non-pandering response look like? Perhaps something like this: "In our democracy the tax rates are subject to constant review and revision, based on changing conditions and changing understandings and changing social policies. Some rates will inevitably rise, and some will fall, as a consequence of this continuing analysis. What we pledge is that any increases will not hit those families which can afford it least, these being the families in the lower half of the income spectrum."

Of course, this sort of thoughtful analysis will never be offered by anybody in American politics, as it would be the kiss of death for anybody who did. The stupid media in this country would sound bite it down to "Obama to raise taxes", and that would be the end of the road for Obama's effectiveness.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Andy Pettitte, Cheater

Watching Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte in this postseason, I am struck by how he repeatedly gets away with balk moves. The announcers haven't ignored this, they just say that if you do something consistently, the umpires will tolerate it.

The announcers are really shirking their duty to the viewers here. They should state unequivocally that the umpires are not doing their job with their non-enforcement of the balk rule. The rule states that it is a balk if "The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery." Pettitte repeatedly starts to go to the plate, then switches in midstream and throws to first. There are other rules which apply as well, and Pettitte is allowed by the umpires to violate them all without sanction.

Pettitte is no fun to watch, he is a lousy cheater, and the umpires should be disciplined for their tolerance of his cheating. It is said part of the reason for the tolerance is that he is a veteran. Well, if it is a balk when a rookie does it, then it should be a balk when a veteran does it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On Blackmail

A recent comment in "The New Yorker" questioned whether "blackmail", as we normally understand it, should really be a crime. He used the example of the TV producer who has been charged with extorting money from David Letterman, threatening to expose his affairs. Apparently what the threat consisted of was that he was going to make a TV movie about Letterman's affairs, unless Letterman paid him two million dollars.

The conceptual problem here is that blackmail makes it a crime to threaten to do something which you can legally do. If you can legally do it, then how in the world is threatening to do it a crime? Interpreted broadly enough, many acts which people do regularly may be perceived as "blackmail". But it should not be criminalized.

Wikipedia defines it thus: "Blackmail is the crime of threatening to reveal substantially true information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand made upon the victim is met. This information is usually of an embarrassing and/or socially damaging nature. As the information is substantially true, the act of revealing the information may not be criminal in its own right nor amount to a civil law defamation; the crime is making demands in exchange for withholding it. English Law creates a much broader definition of blackmail, covering any unwarranted demands with menaces, whether involving revealing information or not."

Blackmail is to be distinguished from "extortion", which consists of threatening to do something criminal to the person if money is not paid. This clearly is, and should be, a crime.

I am reminded of the Kansas attorney who nobody liked and the bar was anxious to get rid of. He was disbarred for sending threatening letters to people prior to suing them, demanding money. The thing about this is that it is common, and the better practice, to send a demand letter prior to suit. This gives the defendant a chance to engage in negotiations toward settlement if he is so inclined. To sue somebody out of the blue, without prior notice, is certainly not good practice. And yet, the attorney was disbarred for this, showing just how far this nebulous concept of "blackmail" can be extended if you stretch it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"A Good Woman"

I typically do not like movies that are derived from stage plays. They come across as artificial, too talky, and too stagy. However, in perusing my favorite film list, I see there are some notable exceptions to this general rule. These exceptions include "Casablanca", "Inherit the Wind", "Judgment at Nuremberg", and "Fiddler on the Roof".

Halfway through "A Good Woman", I was ready to abort the viewing and send it back. But I persevered due to a desire to learn more about the genre of Oscar Wilde plays. There were a number of famous lines I had heard in the past, such as, in talking about opera, "Words that are too foolish to be spoken are sung", and "Men and women can never be friends".

Basically that is the only redeeming feature of this film, which I cannot recomend. It is based on Wilde's play, "Lady Windemere's Fan", and contains many memorable lines in which the characters are talking aobut relationships between the sexes. Coincidentally, I was reminded that I have a book of famous Wilde lines when my sister returned it after having borrowed it to read on the plane during a recent trip to Kansas. A better way to experience these lines is to read this book, rather than sit through a movie with unbelievable characters sitting around and gossiping, which is mostly what this movie consists of.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Profile of a Conservative

He came back from the Korean War and went to college on the GI Bill; bought his house with an FHA loan; saw his kids born in a VA hospital; started a hardware business with SBA loans and advice; got his electricity from TVA and, later, his water from an EPA project. His parents retired to a farm on Social Security, a farm on which they got their electricity from REA and their soil testing through USDA. When his father became very ill, the family was saved from financial disaster by Medicare and a life was saved with a drug developed through NIH research.

His kids participated in the school lunch program, learned physics and math in high school from teachers retrained in an NSF program, and were able to go college through the guaranteed student loans. He drove his car to work every day on the Interstate and moored his boat in a channel dredged by the Army corps of engineers. When floods hit his town, a couple of years back, he took Amtrak up to Washington to apply for disaster relief.

And then--after all that was said and done--he sat down one day and wrote his Congressman an angry letter asking the federal government to get off his back, and he complained about paying taxes for all those programs created for grateful people who were getting a free ride.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Division Series Issues

1. Use of closer. In the Cardinals' second game, manager Tony LaRussa watched his starter, Adam Wainwright, pitch a masterful game, and after 8 innings the Cards had a 2-1 lead. So naturally, Wainwright went out in the 9th to finish off the game, right?

No, the Cards brought in their closer to finish the game, a guy who was not in the flow of the game and not used to the playoff atmosphere at Dodger Stadium--50,000 noisy, towel-waving fans trying to distract him. Of course, he would have been through the inning with no problem if not for Matt Holiday's two-out error when he lost a fly ball in the lights (and possibly in the white towels being waved).

But even then, he had a runner on second with two outs, but still he couldn't close the deal. It is a mystery to me why a pitcher who is still going strong is taken out like this. It makes no sense, and oldtimers are no doubt turning over in their respective graves at this type of thing in the modern game. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel showed better sense than LaRussa when he allowed his game one starter, Cliff Lee, to finish the game. LaRussa should have done likewise with Wainwright.

2. Posada vs. Molina. This one really makes my blood boil. Yankees game two starter A. J. Burnett prefers Molina to catch him and has been doing much better this year when Molina catches him. So what's the big deal about starting Molina for one game instead of Posada? Posada reacted like he had some sort of entitlement to start every game, which is absurd.

The stats in recent years have revealed many situations where a team's pitching staff has allowed a whole earned run a game less with on catcher compared to the other catcher. And the irony is that it is usually the backup catcher with the better earned runs allowed stats! Teams usually go with the better offensive catcher as the number one, ignoring the advantage they would get going with the better defensive catcher.

I can't help thinking back to my Senior year in high school. We had an outfielder, Tim Warren, who was in my class and started the first few games. Then one game the coach started a Sophomore, Tom Basinger, instead. One of my teammates complained to me that he didn't see what Tim had done wrong. My reaction was, "well, what has Tom done wrong?"

One player is not entitled to anything compared to another. To say otherwise is to buy into the "entitlement mentality" that seems to have overtaken this country. The idea seemed to be that Tim should remain as a starter, unless he commits some horrible blunder. (Similar to government workers, who can't be fired unless they commit some horrible blunder, due to due process rights.)

Moina's lifetime batting average is .237, compared to Posada's .277. This means Posada gets one more hit every 25 at bats, or one more every 5-6 games. Is this really a basis to deny Molina the chance to catch more often?

3. Umpiring blunders. Phil Cuzzi missed a call down the left-field line, calling Joe Mauer's blast a foul ball when it should have been a double. I have written on this blog about Cuzzi before, he is a bum and should be removed as an MLB umpire.

A number of sub-issues here. First, the extra two umpires added for the post-season seem useless. It has been said that the third-base umpire running out to left field really has a better view of this ball than the left-field umpire, whose initial response is to get out of the way of the ball. If so, why have these extra two umpires?

Second, what is MLB's method for evaluating umpires, and why aren't the evaluations made public? MLB claims that every game is evaluated, but where is the transparency? MLB is so worried about the game's credibility that it continues to ban Pete Rose for placing some bets many years ago, and yet it does nothing about incompetent umpires. Again, the entitlement issue rears its ugly head.

MLB should make its evaluations public, for the good of the game. The K-zone data will show which umpires call a good game and which don't--why not make this public? And why don't announcers highlight the umpiring discrepancies more? I think I know the answer to this one--their network's contract to broadcast games will probably be revoked if they are deemed to be too critical of MLB. Or, the network will retain the rights but the critical announcers will be canned.

The third issue here is the replay challenge like football has. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has publicly advocated this, saying the manager should be able to throw a challenge flag, and if upheld, he should get the flag back to use again. If the challenged call stands, then he loses the flag for the rest of the game. It would certainly disrupt the flow of the game, but isn't it worth this disruption to get the crucial calls right?

In an ideal world the worst 3-4 umpires would be replaced each year by the best 3-4 from Triple-A. But we know this will never happen. When good cause is needed for firing someone, the hardest sort of good cause to establish is sheer incompetence.

4. Baserunning blunders. There should never be blunders in the major leagues like we've seen during the past week. The Twins, so proud of their attention to the fundamentals, were guilty of two monumental blunders during the 3-game sweep by the Yanks. One guy, Gomez I believe, overran second base and was tagged out before the runner ahead of him scored, costing he Twins an important run. Then yesterday in game 3, the runner Punto rounded third too far and was thrown out at third, rally costing the Twins as they were in the process of rallying back in the late innings.

At least two of the baserunning blunders I've seen recently have been committed by pinch-runners. Again, this illustrates the problem of taking out a player who is into the flow of the game, and replacing him with someone in who is coming in cold.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"The New Season", by George F.Will

Unlike his other books (at least the ones I'm familiar with), this one is not a collection of Will's columns, but rather is a series of five long essays on politics, written in 1987, before the candidates for the 1988 election were selected. In fact, the subtitle is "A Spectator's Guide to the 1988 Election."

Will loves politics, saying early on that "All American elections are entertaining. They, like baseball, are dull only to the dull." In his first essay, entitled "Introduction", Will expands on this concept, saying "Politics as Americans practice it is a serous business because it is about ideas. So pay attention to the words. The public utterances of politicians, not the private machinations, are the important story."

In line with this thought, Will distinguishes between the "outside story" and the "inside story". Will cites approvingly the work of Richard Brookhiser, who argues that journalists have become too preoccupied with the nuts and bolts of political activity, i.e., the inside story. As a result, journalists have been shortchanging the outside story, which concerns the "words, themes and ideas that are the most important ingredients in elections".

Will goes on to state that "A theme of this book is that politicians' words--the most public acts of public people--matter and should be taken seriously by serious students of politics. But this does not mean that words are invariably reliable indices of a politician's probable behavior." Will says the discrepancy between the words and (later) actions is not that the politician is lying or being misleading in some way, but that "words, especially those spoken in campaigns, often express values and intentions out of the context of responsibility. This does not make the words unimportant. But it does mean that words must be examined in the cold white light of the expectation that between words and deeds fall the shadows of compromises....The problem is just that words, although important, often are not the last word in politics. Conditions often speak last and loudest."

We can certainly see this discrepancy today with Obama. Many of the things he said he wanted to do (what some would rudely call "campaign promises") are things he has not been able to accomplish. Just this morning NPR had a story on "don't ask, don't tell", which Obama clearly stated during the campaign that he wanted to abolish as it has resulted in some 400 soldiers being thrown out of the military. As Obama prepares to speak to a gay rights group, he will surely be asked about this, which seems so simple to do. I am reminded of JFK who in 1960 said that segregation in public housing was wrong and could be removed by a simple "stroke of the pen". Well, it took JFK almost two years after he became President to pick up his pen and accomplish this "stroke" to eliminate segregation in public housing. This does not mean JFK was "lying" when he made his comments, just that reality intruded.

Also in the news is word that Obama will likely not be able to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by January as he said he would. Again, reality has intruded. Same for getting out of Iraq. And the biggest headache of all, Afghanistan, which Obama stressed during his campaign, is looking now like it will become Obama's biggest test in office. Will he stick to his campaign rhetoric of military action and send the additional troops being requested, or he listen to his advisers who are pointing out there is no clear strategy for success, no reasonable prospects for success, and certainly no exit strategy. What are we going to do, stay there forever and try to build a government in a country that has never been governable in the past, and is really a collection of hundreds of tribes rather than an actual nation? This truly is Obama's biggest test, and how he handles it will determine what sort of President he will be.

Will applies this principle to Reagan, and concludes that if you look at his actions rather than his rhetoric, he comes off as not nearly as radical as his rhetoric would imply. Unlike other conservative commentators who blamed Congress rather than Reagan for the huge budget deficits during the '80's, Will correctly points out that "Congress has spent about what Reagan has requested. And Congress has enacted only as many balanced budgets as he has submitted." Will goes on to say that "Reagan has supported almost all the water projects President Carter tried to kill, has supported 'swollen farm subsidies and generous farm-loan guarantees, has supported subsidized electric power and grazing fees for his Western friends, has pledged that he will 'not stand for' cuts in the biggest sector of big government (Social Security), and wants some new deficit-enlarging programs, such as tuition tax credits."

Will says that the era of "big government", if you will, started by FDR in the 1930's has been embraced by every President since, both Republican and Democrat. The idea that there was a Reagan Revolution", as idiots like Sam Donaldson like to call it, is quite false, as Will amply demonstrates. Rather than a revolution, Reagan kept us going along the same path we had been, with minor corrections. Implicit in this is the idea that there are few true conservative in politics these days, and that Republicanism today has strayed far away from its stated conservative philosophy.

The experience with the 1980's-era Grace Commission is instructive. This was a much-ballyhooed group of private citizens who were to study government and recommend ways to make it more efficient and economical. The commission came u with 2,478 recommendations. Will says the bulk of the savings were to come not from correcting "waste, fraud or abuse", but rather would involve changing policies which had been embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike. The largest single chunk of savings--14% of the total--was to come from cutting federal pensions, both civilian and military. Of course that recommendation went nowhere, and Will says if Reagan had acted on, or even endorsed, the dozen or so most important of the recommendations he would have lost all fifty states when he ran for re-election in 1984.

Will acknowledges that Americans have a lot of growing up to do, and need to be talked to in a frank way instead of pandered to as both parties usually do. The disconnect which afflicts American conservatives can be illustrated by a story Fritz Hollings used to tell, which I have reproduced in the post "Profile of a Conservative".

Will then moves to the Democrats for his fourth essay. Here he discusses Arthur Schlesinger's cycle theory, which says the cycles come in 20-year intervals in American politics. This theory would have predicted a switch to the Democrats in 1988. Instead, the Republicans got four more years, but there *was* a switch in 1992 with Clinton so Schlesinger's theory holds up pretty well IMO. And the idea that the cycles can be explained by the fact that one generation of leaders inspires the next, who then come to power when they are old enough 20 years later, seems to have been demonstrated: FDR to JFK, JFK to Clinton and Obama. Of course, the bad news here is that after Obama we will get someone who was inspired by Reagan.

Will compares the Democrats to a family which inevitably has to lay down the law to its kids about use of the F-word. Yes, that rascally 4-letter word which wreaks such havoc in families. After thus teasing us, Will reveals that the dreaded word is "fair". At the end of this essay Will sums up the Democrats' task: "Just as the party must acquire foreign policies that acknowledge that the world is dangerous and there is little the United States can do to make it less so, the party also must acquire domestic policies that accept the fact that life is a corduroy road and there are limits to what government can or should do to smooth it."

I can't help but think of something Martin Dickinson, my tax law prof, once said. He said "You can't have both simplicity and fairness in the tax laws". This illustrates the Democrats' dilemma nicely. In an effort to take too many factors into account the tax code has become so complex that nobody can hope to understand it all. These complicating factors are almost all put there to make the code more "fair". (I have to put the "almost" in there, as Professor Dickinson showed us a provision inserted by Louisiana Senator Russell Long which benefited a single university in his state.)

The Democrats have attempted to smooth the corduroy road of life, to use Will's terms, and in the process have created a monster with the tax code (and other needless laws and regulations). Going to the "flat tax" advocated by some is surely going too far in the other direction. But can't we find a happy medium somewhere?

In his final essay, "Conclusion", Will again expresses his sense of wonder at the American system: "Americans have more fun than any other people, in part because their politics--their collective conversation--is so astonishingly amicable, and, all things consider, intelligent. America's political system--the day-to-day success of it, the mundane miraculousness of it--is the big news of he modern world and, I think, of human experience."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Twins Move On

Wonderfully exciting game last night between the Twins and the Tigers. Technically it was the last regular-season game, as the two teams tied for the AL Central title and needed the one-game playoff to break the tie. But it certainly had the feel of a post-season game.

Adding to the drama was the fact that it was the last regular-season baseball game in the Metrodome, as the Twins will move into their new home next year. Further drama was supplied by the Vikings game Monday night, featuring Bret Favre against his former team, the Packers. This Monday Night Football game pushed the baseball playoff game from the usual Monday to Tuesday.

Adding still more to the intrigue was that the Tigers had led the divison almost the whole season, since early May, and the Twins caught them on the final Saturday with a furious 16-4 run in September, including making up 3 games in the final 4, the first time this has ever happened.

Then there is the Tigers first-baseman Miguel Cabrera, who had provided the Tigers with a huge distraction when he got into a dometic violence situation with his wife over the last weekend of the season, getting home at 5 AM and winding up at the police station after she called the police. As it turned out, he bounced back from this and had a good game last night.

The game was back and forth the whole way, with the score even at 4-4 after 9 innings, then the 10th inning ending with the Twins' Alexi Casilla getting thrown out at home after he failed to tag up properly on a fly ball to right. His run then would have ended the game, but as it was it went into the 12th, when Casilla turned from goat to hero by driving in the winning run for the Twins, sending the packed house into a frenzy.

The Twins are quite the story. They have won the divison something like 5 out of the last 8 years, depsite being a small-market team, in an era in which small-market teams supposedly are not able to compete. How they do it should be a lesson for other teams. The Tigers, on the other hand, are loaded with high-priced stars, but couldn't quite hang in long enough to close the deal this year. Now the Twins get the Yankees in the Division Series, another team with loads of high-priced talent.

Play in the Division Series starts today with three games, the first starting at 2:30 P.M. The games are staggered so that one can watch them all. They are on TBS, which I can watch now that I have full cable (the last two years I've been limited in which post-season games I could watch). Let the games begin!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall Arrives

Last Wednesday night (Sept. 30th) we had the year's first frost. I am looking forward to much more color from the trees now; before all we had was the dull yellow and dull brown of the Box Elders and the Mulberries, but hints of the red and orange to come are appearing now on the Oaks and Maples.

Speaking of trees, a couple weeks ago my daughter and I hiked out to the college nature preserve, and we found scads of Pawpaw trees, which I had not identified before. And the other day I found a Basswood along College Avenue, between Spring and Lawn.

First frost also means I can again sleep next to the outside air, which I haven't been able to do since August 19th.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"He's Just not that into You"

In an effort to dissuade me from keeping this movie on my Netflix queue, my daughter found a negative review by Richard Roeper and printed it out for me. I wanted to give the film a chance and I got it anyway.

Roeper must be in a long-term marriage, because he seems totally unable to empathize with the problems of single people, as depicted in this film. I will refute his many objections.

He objects that the characters are played by good-looking actors, so their problems therefore are not believable. Does Roeper not understand that being good-looking does not mean you will have no trouble with relationships? Give me a break.

He objects that the women are "clingy and often desperate". But doesn't this describe many women we all know? Of course it does.

The narrator, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, is obsessed with trying to figure out what every little thing means that a man says or does when with her. This does get a tad annoying, but the movie shows a capacity for growth in that she does eventually make a move on the man she really likes and does end up with him in a successful relationship. And some self-awareness is good; my own history shows a singular lack of self-awareness. Twice I have been asked "are you married", not realizing till later the intent behind this. And twice men have asked if I wanted to "come home for a nitecap", and I failed to realize the import of this till much later.

Roeper objects that "virtually everyone in the movie seems to be living in fabulous, spacious lofts, even though they have seemingly average jobs". First, Roeper doesn't know that the rent on these would be high-dollar, as the neighborhood is not really defined. Second, the jobs are not all "average". And third, who cares? What's the harm in showing an attractive and interesting setting for the homes of these characters.

Roeper objects that the women sit around at work and talk about personal things, but never seem to actually work. First, we all have personal conversations at work. And second, what would Roeper do, have the director clutter up the movie, which Roeper already says is too long, with scenes showing the boss yelling at them to get back to work? Again, give me a break!

The real drawback of the movie is it attempts to do too much, to show us too many characters. It is hard to develop a caring attitude towards any of them, when the movie keeps jumping around from one character to the next. In particular, it is hard to see what the Drew Barrymore character is doing in this movie.

The characters border on the cartoonish, but the one who is the most unlikeable and cartoonish is played by Jennifer Connelly, who Roeper singles out for praise, calling her "particularly strong"!

A better movie, in my opinion, would have been to focus on the Justin Long-Ginnister Goodwin relationship, and have the others come in only as they relate to that main relationship. This would allow us to devlop a caring about those two characters, and then enjoy the payoff of seeing them get together in the end. After all, many men and women go through a period of "delayed adolseence" before growing into adulthood. This is essentially what these two characters do, they grow into repsonsible adults from the adolescent clingy and desperate woman and cavalier and uncaring man that they are at the beginning of the film.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Hannah and her Sisters"

Usually I like my movies to have a story, to have a plot line, to be *about* something, but "Hannah and her Sisters" is an exception to this general rule. I first saw this film in the theater after if came out 23 years ago. I liked it then, and I like it even more after watching it a second time the other day.

This is Woody Allen at his best. It depicts the ebb and flow of life in an extended family over a period of time between two Thanksgivings. The acclaim Woody has received for writing and directing women so well is exemplified in a great scene in which the three sisters have lunch at a restaurant and talk about their lives.

But the scene I want to highlight is when the two unmarried sisters meet an architect at their first catering job, and he offers to take them home. The dialogue in the car while the three of them are trying to figure out who should be dropped off first is priceless. But then later, one sister tells the other she has been asked out by the architect, and would it bother her sister if she accepted. The other sister says "I'm seeing him." This one three-word sentence, which is not followed up on (because it says it all), illustrates so well how many women tend to live in their imaginations rather than in the real world. The sister had had one date with the architect, and translates that to "I'm seeing him"!

This is reminiscent of the line "He's just not that into you", which became a bestselling book, and now a movie (which I will see in a few days via Netflix). the point being made by this line (and by the authors of the book, who I've seen interviewed), is that if a man really wants to call a woman, he will make time to do this. The idea that "I've been busy" is a legitimate reason for not calling is just plain horseshit. Rather than having a fear of commitment, or being too busy, maybe the man "just isn't that into you". Anyway, Woody captures this sentiment so well with one three-word line.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On Eliminating the Middleman

One of the blogs I follow is a review a day by Powell's Books, the bookstore in Portland which claims (accurately, I believe) to be the largest independent bookstore in the world. The review for today is of a book about Wal-Mart. It is really more of a summary than a review, which makes it an excellent source for anyone trying to understand what is behind Wal-Mart's success.

Many concepts and practices are already well-known to most of us, but the thing I picked up on was the idea of "eliminating the middleman", as the author puts it. Wal-Mart attempts to do this whenever possible, by buying directly from the manufacturer, usually at a negotiated discount price based on the large quantities being purchased.

There is an application of this concept within the company also. Wal-Mart deliberately minimizes its storage space, so as to force its managers to put items being delivered directly onto the floor of the store. There just isn't room to store much stuff. They know what sells and what doesn't, and they avoid stocking things that are going to sit around for years at a time. (This allows Wal-Mart to avoid having to have "clearance sales".)

Lately I have been thinking of other examples of "eliminating the middleman". Saturday I shopped at two Farmers Markets, one in Bluffton and the other a *huge* one in Ann Arbor. Both were great examples of buying directly from the source with no intervening middleman. There is something inherently satisfying in this type of purchasing.

I am aware of a recent trend in the car industry of arranging to purchase directly from the manufacturers in Detroit, thereby avoiding the unwholesome process of dealing with the car dealers. It occurs to me that perhaps one good thing to come of the recent auto industry crisis is a vast reduction in the number of car dealers in this country. Do we really need these huge numbers of car dealers, and are they good for this society? I think not. Surely there is a better system for getting cars to people who need them.

I think the health care issue currently raging is relevant here also. What the single payer system would do is in a sense eliminate the "middleman", the middleman here being the insurance companies with their endless stream of red tape and regulations which they use to deny coverage whenever possible. (My brother says he has to fight with his insurance company whenever his family has a medical bill to be paid. One study I saw found that in California 21% of all claims are denied.)

With a single payer system, payment would become more automatic, saving lots of "middleman" type of hassle and expense, both for the doctors and for the consumers. The advantages of such automatic payment are tremendous. Think of the Mississippi case in which a public interest lawyer sued a hospital on the basis that his client was being charged *four times* as much for a service as someone with insurance would have been charged for the same service, hence his client was being denied equal protection of the laws. This illustrates well the economics of the health care situation. In billing individuals, payment is problematic; perhaps such bills only get paid one-fourth of the time, justifying the quadruple charges being made. When payment is assured, you can charge much less.

Another example is a private practice lawyer representing indigent defendants. In Kansas the State paid $50.00 an hour, a fraction of what a good defense attorney would charge a client. Yet the system worked, because $50.00 an hour assured is about the same as $150.00 an hour which may or may not be paid. In 1984 the State took things a step further and established Public Defender offices in the largest Counties. The savings were again on the scale as just mentioned. This is demonstrated by the figure used when a defendant is given probation, with a condition being he has to repay the State for his Court-appointed lawyer. The figure used in the run-of-the-mill case was about $100.00. This is a fraction of the $250-750 range formerly paid under the $50.00 an hour system. So, one can see how doing things in volume can mean tremendous savings all around.

I was able to do unemployment compensation hearings for $100.00 each, by doing them in volume with a client involved to make payment and filter and prepare the cases before I got them. Doing them on an individual basis, I had to charge $250-300 for the same thing, just because that was the time and effort involved, compared to the volume system.

With a single payer health care system, the economies for the doctors and hospitals would be tremendous. I don't think people realize how much more efficient and cost-effective this type of system would be.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The State of Baseball Today

As the 2009 season rolls to a close, the lack of excitement in this year's pennant races is noteworthy. There are no real races in any of the six divisions, nor even in the two wild card races. This is the first time since the wild card was introduced in the mid-90's that September baseball was so dreary and uninspiring.

Add to this the fact that the big-market (hence big-money) teams seem to be dominating more than in recent years. The only exceptions are the spectacular failure this year of the Mets, and the not-quite-as-spectacular failure of the Cubs.

A dreary example of the state of baseball today is yesterday's game between the Reds and the Pirates, which drew only 3,00 fans to Pittsburgh's new park. The small-market Pirates are the prime exhibit for the proposition that baseball has more work to do to restore a competetive balance. The Pirates have extended their streak of losing seasons to 17, the longest such current streak among any teams in the four major North American pro leagues. This despite the fact that their brand-new ballpark is considered one of the best, if not the best, park in the country, a sentiment shared by my friend John Pilarowski who has visited almost all of the major league parks.

Tom Usher of The Lima News opines in today's paper that baseball needs the type of revenue-sharing that football has. Football has a huge pile of revenue each year from all of its TV contracts with the networks, and shares this equally among all the teams. Baseball, by contrast, shares the national TV revenues, but unfortunately teams keep their local revenue, which for big-market teams like the Yankees is huge. One wonders if all of those yahoos who keep whining about creeping socialism in our country are criticizing football, which is purely socialistic in the way it is structured financially.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Even More Farkle Odds

A situation came up this morning which left me unsure what to do. I had scored all six dice and was rolling again on the same turn. I rolled a one, so I have a decision of rolling the remaining five dice or quitting. I think I was at 700 or so.

Naturally one has to figure the odds for future situations like this. Rolling four dice the odds of rolling no 1's or 5's is 256 out of 1296. But there are about 52 other ways to score, this being three of a kind. This makes the odds of farkling 204 out of 1296, or about 16%.

Rolling five dice, there are 1024 rolls containing no 1 or 5, but about 360 of those rolls contain at least three of a kind, so odds of farkling with five dice are 664 out of 7776, or about 8.5%.

What you should do depends on your estimate of the expected gain in your score by rolling. In the table below I have estimated an expected gain by rolling for 4, 5, and 6 dice.

# of Dice---- Farkle Odds---- Expected Gain-------- Break-even Point

---6----------- 3.3% -------------200 est.---------------6,060

---5------------8.5%...................150 est........................1,765

---4-----------15.7%-------------113 est..........................720

---3----------- 27.8%-------------86.9--------------------312.6



Sunday, September 20, 2009

More Farkle Odds--On Picking up a Five

Yesterday I had the situation of being at 250 and having to roll a single die. Given a choice one would never choose to do this, but Facebook rules require you roll till you get to 300. This relates to the problem of sitting at 250, but with the option of rolling either one die or two, i.e., you have two dice which scored, so you have the option of picking up a five and rolling it instead of taking the 50 points. I decided to figure the expected result rolling 1, 2 and 3 dice.

The possibilities are few enough that a brute force method is feasible. With one die, you will roll a one 1/6 of the time, for a total of 350, expected score here of 58.3. You will also roll a five 1/6 of the time, expected result here of 50. The rest of the time you farkle and lose the 250 you have, expected result of 0. Your expected score thus is 108.3.

Rolling two dice (when sitting at 200), there are 36 possible rolls. A 1-1 will come up 1/36 of the time, expected score of 400/36 or 11.1. A 5-5 will also come up 1/36 of the time, for expected score of 300/36, or 8.3. Similarly, 1-5 is 1/18, for 19.4, 1-X 8/36 for 66.7, and 5-X means you have to throw again, i.e., you are in the situation with one die. This means that 8/36 of the time you have an expoected result of 108.3, which figures to 24.1.

Add all these up and we get an expected result of 129.6. So, we have conclusively shown that when given a choice, one should pick up a five and roll two dice instead of just one.

When rolling three dice from a score of 200, there are 216 possible rolls. One roll is 1-1-1, for 1200 total points, or ER of 5.6. All 6's is 3.7, all 5's 3.2, 2.8, all 3's 2.3, and all 2'2 1.9.

We continue on: two 1's and a 5 will come up 3 ways, for ER of 3/216 x 450, or 6.2. Two 5's and a 1 is 5.6. Two 1's and an X (2, 3, 4, or 6) are 12 rolls, for ER of 22.2. Two 5's and an X is 16.7. 1-5-X is 24 rolls, for ER of 38.9. 1-X-X is 48 rolls, for ER of 66.7. 5-X-X puts you at 250 and you have to roll again; your result from below is 188.9, which will happen 48/216 of the time, for ER of 42.0.

Total ER for rolling 3 dice from 200 is 217.8.

When you have the choice of rolling 2 or 3 dice, you have to figure the result for rolling two dice at 250, which we haven't done yet. 1-1 has ER of 12.5, 5-5 og 9.7, 5-1 of 22.2, 1-X of 77.8, and 5-X of 66.7. This totals up to 188.9. Since this is less than the 250 you started out with, this means you would pick up the dice and not roll again if the rules allowed this.

Since 217.8 is higher than 188.9, we have shown that it is better to roll 3 dice from 200 than 2 dice from 250, i.e., pick up the five when you can.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Some Farkle Odds

I recently started playing the game of Farkle on Facebook. The basic decision is whether to "pick up your dice" and thereby end your turn, or throw again and continue your turn. If you use all six of your dice to score, you can then roll again (with all six dice) and continue that same turn. It is this decision which has aroused my curiosity; i.e., what are the odds of farkling when rolling all six dice?

First of all, we note there are 6 to the 6th power possible rolls of the 6 dice, or 46,656 possible rolls. We seek to determine how many of these rolls are farkles. The number of rolls in which neither a 1 nor a 5 appears is 4 to the 6th power, or 4,096. This already gets us to less than 10% farkles, but this is not the end of the inquiry, because some of those 4,096 will score in other ways, i.e., 3 of the same number, or 3 pairs.

We are only interested in ways of scoring which don't involve a 1 or a 5, since we have already ruled those rolls out. Let's take 6's, keeping in mind that at the end we will multiply by 4 to cover the other 3 numbers that aren't 1 or 5. There are 20 ways of rolling three 6's (combinations of 6 things taken 3 at a time). Those other 3 dice can be rolled 3 cubed ways, or 27, but then we subtract for the 3 times they will all be the same number, leaving us with 24. So the total rolls for three 6's is 20 x 24, or 480.

For four 6's we have 15 combinations, with the other two dice having 9 possibilites, for a total of 15 x 9, or 135. For five 6's, There are 6 x 3 = 18 ways. And for all six 6's, of course only one way.

Adding these up, we have 634 ways of throwing three or more 6's in a roll, and multiplying by four gives us 2,536. Subtracting this number from the 4096 yields 1,560, which is .033 of the total. Thus, one will farkle about one out of every thirty times rolling six dice.

The actual odds are even less, since I have not taken into account the possibility of rolling three pairs. (Note the straight has already been excluded, since it will have a 1 and a 5 in it.) However, the 1 in 30 should be solid enough to inform our rolling decision.

Say we have a straight, which scores 1,500 points. By rolling our expected loss would be 1/30 of that, as that is how often we will farkle and lose those points. This comes to an expected loss of 50 points. In my experience the average score on a turn is about 300, so the expected gain would be 300, making rolling an easy decision. However, the 300 average score is achieved through much more daring play than one would be willing to make when risking 1,500 points, so I am going to say the expected gain is more like 150-200 instead of 300 in this situation. (Or, to put it another way, you will likely only roll once, instead of continuing to roll as you normally would. So, we are looking at the expected gain from only one roll, and this I estimate at a minimum of 150, this being rolling a 1 and a 5.)

The highest possible score is actually 4,000, achieved when one rolls all 1's (1,000 for the first three, and an extra 1,000 for each of the next three 1's rolled). If my figures are anywhere near right, it would still be correct to roll here, since your expected loss is 1/30 of 4,000, or 133, although that gets close to the expected gain and in reality it would be hard to risk that many points on another roll.

Facebook rules require one to keep rolling until 300 points have been scored. This leads to the interesting question of whether you would ever want to re-roll a 5. This situation does come up fairly often. Say on your last roll you rolled a 5 and another counter (either 1 or 5). Your total is now 250. You can roll two dice with the 250 score, or pick up a 5 and roll three dice with a 200 score. I like the idea of rolling three dice because of the possibility of rolling three of the same number. However, I haven't yet been able to get the odds to come out in favor of re-rolling the 5. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On Breaking up America

Interesting column by Pat Buchanan in this morning's paper. Upon returning here from Europe, he reflected on the deep divisions in our country, as manifested in countless ways. He cites our slogan "E pluribus unum", and says he can see the pluribus, but not the unum. He ends by asking "Is America breaking up."

Considering all of the disparate elements which make up this country, the miracle is that we have lasted this long. I doubt that there has ever been a democracy which has flourished with as little cohesiveness as we now have.

What really brought this home to me was a recent analysis of the "birther" movement. Most people in the South doubt the authenticity of Obama's birth; even though one can hold up the contemporary newspaper account of his birth, as Chris Mathews has done, and show it to a birther, they still question it. (As if there was a great conspiracy started back in 1961 to perpetrate a fraud on the people of this country!) The rest of the country (i.c., the "real" United States) overwhelmingly accepts the legitimacy of Obama's birth.

After that awakening, a study of issue after issue shows the South at serious variance with the rest of the country. I say it is time to acknowledge that the South should have been allowed to secede 150 years ago, and that Lincoln made a horrible choice when he waged war on the South instead of allowing it to go in peace. Lincoln conned himself and the people into accepting that the South was "in rebellion" (his favorite phrase), when the fact of the matter was that it was the union which took up arms against the South, not the other way around. Any reasonable definition of the word "rebellion" does not include the South attempting to secede. A rebellion is an armed insurrection, not a peaceful attempt to leave. Yet through his skillful and deceitful use of language, Lincoln managed to wage a horrible and unnecessary war on his own people. Shame!

But of course the past cannot be changed. We can, however, correct the mistakes of the past to the extent possible. The South should be allowed to split off today, as it obviously is hopeless out of touch with the rest of the country. Each of the new countries would then have a chance for the sort of cohesiveness which is necessary to have a viable and thriving democracy.

Think of everything the South could do, were it not shackled to the rest of the country. It could ban gay marriage, it could ban abortions, it could allow everyone to walk around armed, it could use the death penalty more often and more efficiently, it could mandate prayer in the schools and the Ten Commandments posted in each Courthouse, it could fly the Confederate flag from each state capital building, it could ban assisted suicide, it could proudly torture captured prisoners of war, it could make war on any country it doesn't like, it could refuse to enact any health care reform, it could ignore global warming, it could ban the teaching of evolution, and on and on.

As for the rest of us, we could work toward a more tolerant and humane society, one which respects individual differences and respects international law. What an improvement that would be!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The confirmation process--Saying as little as possible.

I am always frustrated by the Senate confirmation process for prospective Supreme Court justices. They seem to be unable to answer the questions we really would like answers to.

Justice Sotomayor stated her judicial philosophy as "Simple: fidelity to the law". This has been the norm ever since the 1987 hearing of Robert Bork, in which a detailed discussion of his judicial philosophy was followed by his rejection. However, this response ignores the fact that the Supreme Court to a large extent makes the law.

In a thoughtful comment in "The New Yorker" of 7/27/09, Jeffrey Toobin pinpoints what is wrong with this approach. In response to Sotomayor's statement that she will adhere to precedent and keep an "open mind", Toobin writes:

"When it comes to interpreting the Constitution, one can scarcely imagine a worse qualification than an open mind. The issues are difficult and profound and require a lifetime of study to master, and one would hope that Justices arrive with heads full of firm ideas about the document they are charged with understanding."

If this be the case, it follows that Senators on the Judiciary Committee should be able to ask questions of nominees about their philosophy or view of the Constitution, and get reasoned answers to those questions. How much more informative and useful the confirmation process would be if this were the case!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


To The Mennonite:

I note the existence of your moratorium on letters and article concerning homosexuality. For the life of me I cannot understand the wisdom of running away from an issue. How are we to be peacemakers in the world, when we don't even know how to be peacemakers within our own denomination?

I suggest that The Mennonite run a series of profiles of persons in our conference who are working to bridge the gap between the two sides of the homosexuality issue. I submit that there are such people in our conference. The Mennonite could play a positive role by profiling these people and describing what they are doing that is working to promote understanding and positive dialogue. This would be much preferable to standing passively on the sidelines, as the Mennonite has chosen to do since 2000.

Letter Regarding Pete Rose

To the Lima News: (Parts in parentheses were edited out by the newspaper before publishing).

Thank you for publishing the commentary by Mike Schmidt on the Pete Rose situation. I applaud Schmidt for having the courage to speak out on this (controversial issue).

While Rose's handling of the situation has not been very good, I ask people to keep in mind that Pete is a baseball player, and not a politician. Bud Selig, on the other hand, *is* a politician, and he has bungled this situation horribly. Under the agreement Pete signed 20 years ago, he has the right to apply for reinstatement. This he has done. And what has been Selig's response? Simply to say it is "under advisement". I think Bud Selig owes a more thoughtful explanation to Pete Rose and his numerous fans; he should issue a detailed statement explaining what his thinking is. (He may say that Pete should never be reinstated; if so, it would still be preferable to the silence he has exhibited so far.)

The Hall of Fame board is equally culpable here. They could rescind their ill-advised decision that nobody on the "banned from baseball" list is eligible for the Hall, and let the voters consider Pete (for admission). What the board is not appreciating is that Pete's betting took place when he was a manager, not a player. Pete would be admitted as a player, not as a manger, and hence it should be his playing career which is looked at in considering whether he should be admitted.

Further kudos are due to Schmidt for having the guts to compare what Rose did to the many players in the past 20 years who have cheated the game by using steroids. These players are still making many millions of dollars each year, far more than Pete made in his career, and have been largely free from any sanctions (due to the head-in-the-sand attitude of the Players Union).

(It is important to distinguish between people of vision and political hacks. Former baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth showed he was one of the former when he reinstated Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays early on in his all-to-brief tenure as commissioner in the 1980's, after Mays and Mantle had been banned by former commissioner Bowie Kuhn for working as greeters at an Atlantic City casino. By contrast, Bud Selig has demonstrated that he is a political hack.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why Are People So Ignorant?

Former Mets pitcher Jerry Koosman was sentenced recently for not filing income tax returns. He was quoted as saying that "his research led him to conclude that only federal workers and District of Columbia residents had to pay federal taxes."

We see this type of incredible ignorance all the time. Why can't people think for themselves on at least a minimal level? Is it a failure of the education system?

As I write a town meeting is on the tube, showing th usual morons who yell and scream and dont' let anybody talk. Where are these people coming from? Why can't they understand basic realities, like the fact that our health care costs are running way more than other countries who have government-sponsored health care? Why are they such suckers for the lies that Obama's plan wil lead to death panels which will kill grandpa and grandma?

Afghanistan: Obama's Vietnam?

Lately we have seen more and more people who know what they are talking about writing negatively about our military involvement in Afghanistan. For example, Nicholas D. Kristof writes:

"My own trips to Afghanistan have taught me to never, ever underestimate the savvy of the traditional fighters there. In 2001, when I was covering the war around Kabul, I came across something that stunned me. A group of Afghans had figured out that American war planes were bombing anything they thought were Taliban camps. So these Afghans would build groups of fires off in the hills, away from any village, and then withdraw a half mile. Then the Americans would come along and drop $20 million worth of bombs on the campfires. And the Afghans would come along and load their horses or trucks with the debris from the bombs, which they would sell for a few hundred dollars as scrap metal. They made a tidy profit off us American taxpayers."

The problem for Obama is that during the campaign he chastised Bush for getting us into Iraq, when Afghanistan was where the terrorists were. He liked to use the line that Bush "took his eye off the ball."

I fear that Obama will now feel so committed to this that he will ignore the intelligence reports which an objective person would use as a basis to withdraw our forces. I hope Obama doesn't fall into the liberal trap (liberals being people who think government action can solve problems) of staying way too long with a failed policy, as LBJ did in Vietnam.

Only time will tell if Obama has the statesmanlike qualities needed to make the difficult decision to withdraw. At some point we know we will be withdrawing, as we surely aren't staying there forever! History tells us that the Afghan fighters will persevere and win out; the Soviets found this out during the 1980's; fortunately for them, they had a leader, Gorbachev, who was statesmanlike enough to recognize the need to get out and to do it.

Why Are People So Hateful?

News Item: Madonna gave a concert in Romania recently. She paused during the concert and said "It has been brought to my attention that there is a lot of discrimination against Romanies and Gypsies in Eastern Europe. It made me feel very sad." And the result? The cheers of the audience turned to boos and jeers.

News Item: A disabled woman tries to speak in favor of health care reform at a recent town hall meeting. She was met with boos and hisses from the audience throughout her attempt to speak.

When did people become so hateful toward those who are different than they are? Or has it always been this way? Either way, it depresses me to no end to see this sort of thing still going on in this poor world of ours.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Conservatism or Republicanism?

A few days ago my daughter told me that when I rail against Republicans, I should really be railing against conservatives, because there are many different kinds of Republicans. I have thought about this a lot since, and I have concluded that I must disagree.

I have long enjoyed the writings of George Will and Pat Buchanan, who are conservatives by anyone's measure, and this past week my interest was again aroused by several of their columns. A few days ago Will wrote we should get out of Afghanistan. He quotes de Gaulle as saying that "genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop." And now today his equally long and thoughtful column advocates the U.S. leaving Iraq.

I submit this is in the true conservative tradition, the tradition which supports self-determination, as I do. It is in the tradition of the great British statesman Edmund Burke, a conservative who opposed going to war with the American colonies, and who pushed for the impeachment of Warren Hastings for misdeeds committed while governing India. He pushed for this even though Hastings was no longer serving as Governor General of India when the impeachment process started. For you see, to a true conservative it is the principle that matters; it was the principle of accountability which Burke worked his butt off to establish, the principle that misdeeds should be brought to light and punished, even if the impeachment process takes nine long years, as it did with Hastings.

That principle of self-determination pops up in a recent column by Pat Buchanan, in which he questions whether the war with Hitler was really necessary. He points out numerous facts about Germany's lack of preparedness for war which establishes that in the 1939-1940 time-frame war could easily have been avoided. But the specific item of interest here is the German-Polish conflict; Germany was trying to re-take the relatively small city of Danzig, which was 95% German and wanted to be part of Germany, but which had been taken from Germany under the Treaty of Versailles, in violation of Wilson's principle of self-determination.

(A side-note here. I recently read the book "The End of Order: Versailles 1919", by Charles L. Mee, Jr. This is a very well-researched and well-written book on the Paris Peace Conference, at which the victorious allies met to decide on the terms of the peace with the defeated Central Powers. The underlings, i.e., the career diplomats who knew what they were doing, in contrast to the leaders, Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George, assumed at the outset that at some point the Central Powers countries would be brought in to negotiate terms of the peace. As time dragged on, it gradually became obvious that the leaders had no such intentions; they simply were going to come up with the terms and present it to Germany on a "take it or leave it" basis. The German viewpoint was that they had surrendered based on an understanding that the peace terms would be based on President Wilson's 14 points. When the Germans got the proposed treaty, they systematically went through and demonstrated how it violated the 14 points on almost every one of its many pages. At the end, Germany was given a deadline and told the war would be continued and Germany would be invaded, if the treaty was not accepted by the deadline. Based on the country's desire not to go back to war, it was accepted. Taking of territory from Germany, not to mention Hungary, was a major part of the treaty terms.)

Buchanan demonstrates that what Hitler was doing in the 1938-1939 time period was trying to undo the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles. He was not trying for world domination.

The writings of Will and Buchanan show how a true conservative approaches these world issues. When George W. Bush went to war in Iraq, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Richard Nixon used the CIA, FBI, and IRS to spy on, and harass, the American people on his "enemies list", he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Richard Nixon had the CIA overthrow the democratically-elected government of Chile, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Ronald Reagan funded guerrilla groups in Central America who were terrorizing the people there, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. No, I have no beefs with conservatives, only with Republicans.