Monday, June 17, 2013


The Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and we citizens were devastated. In the maelstrom of reports, we were heartened by the report of a genuine American hero, Colin Kelly. He, we were told, dived his bomber down the smokestack of a Japanese capital ship and blew it to pieces and we went wild with joy. His son was voted an automatic entrance into West Point and a Brooklyn machine gunner on his plane also achieved some notoriety. 

Even at thirteen, it seemed dubious to me, but along with the rest of the country, I believed. Later on we learned that our country had lied to us, that the Colin Kelly story was fiction but by then things looked better and we were not too distressed.

The story had all the elements of heroism, personal sacrifice for a worthy cause. Still, the Japanese Kamikaze pilots did exactly the same thing and we called them all sorts of names, but heroes was not one. German pilots rammed American bombers, again heroic from the German perspective but I think we called them cowards on the home front.

An essential part of heroism is the hero’s vulnerability; an invincible character surely does not qualify. Achilles could not be defeated in battle; all he did was chop down the enemy, hardly heroic. Superman’s authors had to invent kryptonite to add vulnerability. Batman? Totally vulnerable so he fully qualifies.

In truth, there are two defining characteristics of a hero. The above is one; the other simply is the hero of a story. More precisely, it is the protagonist, but what do we generally call characters that do great things in our stories? You got it: heroes.
The general notion: “He that fights and runs away lives to fight another day,” does not fit our concept of hero . . . all of which takes us to Sanborn.

The details about Sanborn are somewhat murky. We know he worked for a company that contracted with the CIA to do what I have no idea. Suddenly, he disappears with many documents, his story exposing the NSA surveillance systems appears in a British newspaper and he has zipped off to Hong Kong. In a public announcement, he tells us that the people have a right to know about their loss of privacy and states he is willing to face the consequences. Somewhat irrelevantly, he also tells us that he trusts the Hong Kong courts more than American courts, thus he is now an expert of jurisprudence.

There is some talk that he has given the Chinese government some information but he also has exposed that the UK has spied on friendly and not-so-friendly governments. In spite of his willingness to face the consequences of his behavior, he continues to hide. There is no hint about what resources he has. I mean, it costs money to live and I doubt he qualifies for Hong Kong charity. Surely, before he made his move, he amassed sufficient funds for him to live and apparently comfortably. This clearly was not a spontaneous adventure but a carefully planned one.

Well, here there is an extraordinary argument about whether he is a hero or a traitor. On the hero side are the extreme right and the extreme left wings, both of which hate government secrecy. On the traitor side are those who insist that the NSA has acted lawfully, that he has broken laws and should punished.

Of course, there are not certainties about such matters. A case can be made that however he did it; he opened up a debate long overdue. Senator Udall has already , or will introduce legislation that will curtail the Patriot Act and I think that is a good idea though it probably stands not a chance. But, now we are hearing that our allies are less likely to share information with us because we leak too easily. Shaking our relationship with our friends cannot be good.

I come down on the side of traitor. Had he been willing to face the consequences, hero would have been better. In the event, he seems a bit too self-aggrandizing for my taste.

Is this fellow named Sanborn a hero?
Or simply a traitorous zero
He exposed many secrets
And expressed no regrets
The ethics of his act seem clearo.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Some decades ago, when the women’s liberation movement was fully in swing, some coed published pictures of all the male students under the heading of potential rapists. As you might imagine, this shocked the sensibility of the young men so listed and sent a tremor through the American male population. Of course, there were many women also so shocked and protests filled the media denouncing the young woman who had been so blatant in her distrust and hostility toward men.

Me? I knew I was not a rapist and could never imagine any situations in which I might act so and thus felt the unfairness of her accusations. Time passes, the women’s movement loses some of its fervor though not its concerns and it appears as if society understands women’s concerns. Rape, was once thought to be a consequence of a woman’s provocative behavior. “Your honor, what could I do, she looked so enticing and I’m a red-blooded man. I only did what any man would do under the circumstances.” That was often enough for an “innocent” verdict. Or, rape was thought to be a function of time and place. I knew a number of men, somewhat ashamed of themselves, but not much, who raped “enemy” women in Viet Nam. They also (not all) engaged in rather sadistic behaviors, but that is not this essay’s topic.

Well, here we are and while rape is perhaps less common, we find old men of some authority telling us about legitimate rape in which pregnancy is almost not possible. I suppose if no conception the rape itself is of little consequence. What’s the phrase, “No harm, no foul.”?

Clearly, the readers of this essay likely remember some of the above and are enraged by some current attitudes, but I suspect that the issue has currently seemed less significant. Until, the generals gave testimony at a recent Senate hearing. As you are aware, the incidence of sexual assault and rape has grown considerably in our military services. Commanders have refused to try men accused of such behavior and at least once, a commander overturned a verdict of guilty. The officer in charge of the military’s effort to curtail such activities himself is now accused of such. In spite of the warnings to the generals, what has been accomplished is an increase in such ugly behavior.

The solution seems obvious; create an independent judicial system that would take commanders out of the loop. But, but, wait, that would interfere with the sacred chain of command. The commanding officer is in charge, period. He or she has to weigh the accused importance to the service and sometimes may decide that the needs are greater than justice. It’s as if the accused is so important that he (yes, he) can get away with anything.

It’s important to understand that the military likes to change only on its own terms. President Truman desegregated the military, but there were black divisions well after that. They did poorly because their white officers were not very good and desegregation occurred only when those black divisions were broken up and mixed in with the white divisions, those that had better officers. What happened? The black soldiers performed as well as their white counterparts.

I suspect that the generals, in spite of their promises to do better will be forced to give up a bit of their power and things will be better. When John McCain said that a woman’s daughter could not be safe in the military, we know they have to get better.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


This is not about the TV show in which the good wife manages to be unfaithful to her husband and still smell like roses. After all, she is super competent and plucky and has much to complain about re her philandering husband.

No, this is about the concept of a good wife, not something I know much about, but as you know, I don't have to know much about anything to write a few hundred words exposing my ignorance.

First, what is a good wife? Dumb question? Not at all. Once, a good wife brought land and money into her new family and hoped they'd treat her well. Once, a good wife had wide hips and promised many children, males preferred. Mothers desperately hope their sons will marry, preferably a good woman who will treat them with love and respect. Lacking such criteria, the mother can usually put the kibosh on any future enterprise. There are always issues of fitness for the new role in the particular family and social culture so good wife is always hard to predict. After all, Anne Boleyn looked perfect for Henry VIII but she produced only girls and a feeble son so off with her head to clear the way for another. His first wife was good to cement a relationship with Spain, but lacked in the production of sons. At least, she kept her head.

In our sophisticated, modern way of freedom in love, there are fewer such objective concerns. There are some guidelines, such as similar background but such are like a wisp of smoke in the wind when confronted with love. When a king gives up his throne for love, what cannot it conquer?

Just about everyone knows about that. For most, it starts like a tickle. In some cases explodes into massive passion and demand called the “thunderbolt.” Whatever it is called, it dominates all existence and demands, yes, demands gratification. In looser days, women have been abducted into new families and even now, men steal women seeking a good one.

Other ways of getting there are slower to develop. Mine took three days, Shirley's four. But however it grows, love includes, the intense desire to be in the others company, difficulty in keeping hands off, a demand for exclusivity and threats, usually implied if that is violated and promises of a glorious future together.

If both are of the same mind there is much hugging, kissing, canoodling and, dare I say it bedding until finally formal declaration in front of family and friends (Or at least, two witnesses) and all is signed and sealed into perpetuity or divorce, whichever comes first.

Do you notice there is no place in the formula for a good woman? Love has no use for the concept but somewhere down the road, the excitement, the passion slow down. In a lovely movie with Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray, he passes by her and farts. Startled, she mutters “Animal noises?” Clearly, she has a new perspective about her husband.

When the honeymoon ends, the good wife construct enters and many a man (women also) wonders, “What have I done?”

So, we come back to the conundrum: What is a “good wife?” If you can figure that out, let me know.

If you find yourself a good wife
You have clearly augmented your life.
She will satisfy your needs
With many good deeds
What, no strife in your life, what a wife!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

WHAT DO I DO TO STEAL? (Or Cheat or lie)  blog

First, you must understand that I am four square honest. I don't have no truck with sliding into dishonesty. Of course, as a lad I had no such qualms. My first dishonest act, when I was ten or eleven was to steal a fishhook from the local Sears. Understand that in the middle of Williamsburg, Brooklyn the only water I knew about came in a bathtub, the sewers or the Gowanis canal. Understand that the latter was almost mythical; I have never seen it or knew anyone who had ever seen it so the notion of using my illegal hook to catch fish misses the point. I stole for the excitement of it.

I had not known of such stealing until a few years before the above when I saw a little old lady steal three bars of candy from a theater vendor. In those days, the wares were open to all and the expectation was that kids would do the dirty. That an elderly woman would commit a criminal act changed my perspective about honesty and women forever.

In the night, my friends would raid local warehouses and wanted me to join them. I would gladly have done so except my parents, incomprehensibly found evening tasks for me. I'm convinced now that they bought a piano to keep me too busy to embark on a life of street crime. Sometimes I think I might have become a master-burglar much like Raffles who confounded the Surete, certainly a more exciting pastime than, yawn, doing psychology. Lost opportunities have a tendency to haunt us.

Because of my parent's malign influence, I became less criminally active and pretty soon I would not lie, cheat or use foul language. My friends thought I was a paragon of absurdity though I admit they knew not such words. But, I was content to be as I was and then, I married. After marriage, not before but after, I discovered that my new wife was a thief who upon arriving home would boast of her achievements in pilfering. It did not take me long to understand that her family was pretty much the same. Her younger brother whenever he had the chance shoplifted or smuggled cigarettes or stole TV sets from motels. During holiday season, he'd work at Macy’s or Gimbels and always, I mean always came home with piles of loot. To her credit, his mother, while giggling and accepting his “presents,”
always told him he “shouldn't.”

Whenever she wanted something but thought it over priced, Marilyn would “acquire” it. Her family mantra was, “They're all crooks so stealing from them is just getting back a bit of one's own.”

Marilyn gradually shifted toward honesty, though sometimes I emulated her. Imagine, you have a lamp and an obscure part of it became inoperative. The small part was available only from the manufacturer, otherwise, toss the lamp. Well, I found a similar lamp in a shop and lifted that part. Damn them for turning me into a crook.

Some of you know that I was an indifferent student so some cheating was for academic survival. Obviously, it worked because here I am with PhD and all the appurtenant perks. Do any of you suggest that I return the degree? Good luck, goody-two-shoes! It turns out that we trailblazers showed the way to current students who apparently never honestly take a test.

OK, so crime pays, but with advancing age, I have come to realize that civilization requires some trace of honesty so I now provide that trace. I don't steal or cheat thus preserving our basic tenets of decent behavior. I have again become a paragon of absurdity. Well, most of the time.

If there is something you want, just steal it
And, if convicted you can always appeal it.
For any massively fraught crime
Judges might fine you a dime
And suggest you not be such a dimwit

Sunday, May 12, 2013

MAY 6, 2013

Shirley and I take an annual trip to Las Vegas where we eat, and make merry We eschew drinking) in my time share (. We would run to wonderful shows and restaurants and spend money like water. There is a certain amount of exhilaration in all such. Gambling? Of course, we do some of that but it is not the purpose of the trip; instead, we love the glitter, and the throngs of people. Las Vegas is one of the few places where class and caste matter little. Except for the special places for the extra rich, all are together in the mad passion for pleasure.

Our trips were daily lunges toward this or that excitement and for the most part they were well worth the effort. If you haven't seen Cirque du Soleil, well they travel to Denver and you'd be wise to hie ye to that venue for the chance to observe extraordinary human capacities. Or, we'd never miss Rita Rudna, funny as hell, or the Blue Men . . . but Shirley hates the Harley-Davidson restaurant so that is off limits. Don't ask me why, but it no doubt is a minor example of that human capacity to find neuroticism in anything. I, for example will never eat okra and if you ask me about that rejection I'll mutter the equivalent of “because” and change the topic.

And, there are really great restaurants. There is the one which exists inside a great bird cage made of gracefully curved wooden bars and with wonderful food and immaculate service. And an English pub which provides meat pies that are rarely found elsewhere. The extraordinary Belagio buffet offers foods from around the world and their amazing display of gelato not to mention the amazing taste of the stuff must be experiernced. Also, Bellagio is gorgeous.

But, if such are too pricey, you can find two eggs, potatoes and toast for $1.98 with lunch and dinner equivalently priced.

We'd spend our time running from hither to yon and back, but this time was different. Our flight to Las Vegas was not direct. In some fashion what was to be a direct flight went to Phoenix first and we were somewhat flattened when we arrived at our destination. We wanted to run to our room but were diverted by a concierge who offered, a “catered” dinner (hot damn) lunch the next day at an obscure Italian restaureant and a show for $179 and all we had to do was sit still for another sales pitch. Ah, those sales pitches, the hard sell in action. Their assumption was that if only we understood the joys we could purchase tem for much gelt and no wild horse could stop us from showering them with money. I hate the damned things and refuse to go which produces the usual “Why not?” from sundry staff and to which I responded in a curmudgeonly tone “none of your business.”

Anyway, we fell into our room, refreshed ourselves and went to a formerly favorite restaurant and realized how the food had deteriorated. But, the next day, instead of cavorting about we lay in bed. Perhaps we climbed out at 10 AM and I went down to their general store for two news papers and some breakfast food. Back in my room, we leisurely ate, read the papers, thought about what we might do, finished the papers and finally decided to wander over to MGM where we would be part of a survey of potentially new TV shows. This time, they gave us each $20, so before gambling were ahead. After that, we wandered around MGM, threw a few nickles in some slot machines and then took a cab back. And, that was how we spent our trip, lolling (a wonderful word) about until the early afternoon, later dropping in on various hotels and finding nice places to eat. Once we saw a terrific magician and later we dropped in at the Mob Association. I got to speak with a “mob boss” who warned me against spilling the “beans” to a lurking policeman. The policeman tried to worm out of me the secrets I learned from the “mob boss” but I held to my oath of omerta. We learned about the seamy origins of Las Vegas gambling, the big shot bad guys and how things were cleaned up. If you ever get to Vegas, it's worth the $25.

Mostly, we enjoyed each other, enjoyed lolling (that word again) around and had a hell of a good time . . . even though it was the dullest vacation ever. I guess love is the difference.

Las Vegas is quite a neat city
If you like garish, it really is pretty
But, now the truth I'm exposing
We really preferred dozing
Laying around was the real nitty gritty.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

4-8-13 HUMANITY The Ego-centric Animal  blog

If you trace human history as far back as is possible, you will find evidence of some sort of worship. While I do believe that paleo-anthropologists over-estimate the meaning of some artifacts as religious still there is no doubt that humans have always built religions. And, it is reasonable to wonder for what reason.

We originally hunted and gathered fruits and nuts for sustenance; life was a commodity that we took from animals so we could eat them. But, somewhere along the way, perhaps because of guilt, perhaps because the children loved their pets or perhaps simply because we have a highly developed sense of empathy (not enough but that's a different topic) we began the practice of apologizing for our killings. Still, that begged the question: To whom, or what was the apology directed?

The world, a mysterious place had to have spirits and godlets to make sense of things and, the self-love of humans required immortality.

Well, bodies deteriorate - no eternal life there. So, to preserve our self-esteem, to preserve the notion that we could not simply disappear from existence we argued there is more to us than the body. We postulated an essence, and a different kind of existence populated by the souls of the dead.

We a simple stroke of the brain, we had conquered death. To augment our new idea we developed a set of understandings called religion with rituals and idols and the comfort provided by a gathering place for the dead. Heaven beckoned.
The soul idea, providing comfort in harsh, unpredictable environments has lasted even until now though; in spite of the wisdom of our elders we cannot find any evidence for it. Of course, before humans learned and continue to learn to understand how the universe works there was no significant challenge to the idea. Of course, burning heretics at the stake certainly cooled the ardor for soul investigations. But, the religious had disagreements and with the reformation the disagreements became bloody. The Vatican sold indulgences so that loving relatives could get the souls of their loved ones out of purgatory. Luther put paid to that. Do you get to heaven by doing good works or because you have proper faith? Again, blood was spilled. Baptisms at birth or when the child could reason disputes provided another occasion for killing

No solutions seemed possible and after more bloody warfare, perhaps only by exhaustion things settled down . . . until science. Science is nothing but an attitude about the material world. The question shifted from why to how. It no longer was why did God make the grass grow, but what were the circumstances under which grass appeared and prospered. Did the flood actually occur? Of course, look at the fossils high in mountains where the flood deposited them. Wonderful explanation until geology described how mountains formed; they rose high carrying with them the desiderata of dead animals. Yet, the argument persists even now.

Again, many wise people have attempted to use science to prove the existence of the soul. In one experiment, as people lay dying they were weighed and after death weighed again. The religionists anticipated lost weight because of the disappearance of the soul but no matter how much they finagled, they could not demonstrate a physical difference before and after death.

So, is there a soul? It is important to understand that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To say that differently, because we cannot find evidence for a soul is not proof that soul does not exist. The lack of evidence means only that we don't know. Of course, we can ask the believers why they believe in the absence of evidence but surely their response would not satisfy. There is a bumper sticker that says, “Don't believe everything you think.” I love it.

So, when the day comes when I die, who knows perhaps I'll be happily surprised. Nah, I don't think so.

If you want to fit in with society
Belief in soul is a necessary priority
Their mentation is lazy
So soul believers get crazy
But, as ecclesiasts says, "All is Vanity."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

NRA:  In the American Tradition

According to our history as presented by American and Italian film, this is a nation built on gunfire. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Tom Mix, the Lone Ranger and a vast number of others all fought for the American way by shooting up the bad guys. We boys (girls too?) surely identified with such American heroes and John Wayne has reached near Iconic proportions as the personification of American values. Self-reliance, impeccable ethics and quick with a gun.

And, now we have the NRA to continue the tradition. Our American heroes cleared the land of Indians with their Colts, Winchesters and Henrys; shooting it out is part of our heritage. So, it is no surprise that the NRA urges that we transform our schools into mini-forts. Of course, they are not so designated. I mean, who would wish to send their children to Fort Overland or Camp Erasmus etc. Yet, that is what they urge. Never mind banning assault type weapons, or large magazines, or creating background checks for would be purchasers. According to the NRA, such laws could never work perfectly so no law is preferable. By the standard of failed perfection, they ought to prefer school shoot-outs; after all, school guards might not be able to do the job perfectly.

Let’s not quibble and consider the ramifications. Each school would have either police officers on site, or teachers, volunteers, would receive training in the handling of hand weapons and in small arms combat so to be on a par with murderous invaders. Would there be bulletproof glass? That would seem reasonable. Would the doors be locked? Better that than permit shooters to simply walk in and start their deadly fandango. And, if someone knocked at the door asking for entrance, the armed protectors would have to gather at that site just in case the visitor would come in shooting. But, if the shooter came in with a thirty shot magazine, he or she could likely handle pistol-armed defenders . . . unless the defenders also had such rifles. What a sight that might be. The OK corral revitalized with enough heroes to go around.

The reality is somewhat different. As experts have pointed out, in school is one of the safest spots for children. Mass school killings are rare. That means the protectors would become bored with their assignment and bored defenders are not exactly what we might prefer. The cost? Millions, with thus less money for education. And, if bad guys decided that school forts were too dangerous for them, well, there are always the movies or the malls or buses or restaurants where they could do their nasty work.

What is so distressing is the sheer dumbness of the NRA’s proposal. The old saying: “If all you have is a hammer, all problems look like a nail,” describes their mental cul-de-sac.

NRA experts argue that there is no evidence of reduced gun crime after assault type weapons were banned. They don’t tell us that the congress made it illegal, that’s right, illegal, to gather any evidence of the efficacy of such banning. So, yes, the NRA is right, there is no evidence.

Let’s do it, let’s contact our legislatures and urge them to pass gun-control laws and make them work. As I’ve pointed out, there are always exceptions to constitutional mandates, how is it that our constitution loving, gun-toting zealots don’t go mad in their defense of them. Yes, let’s get it done.