What's All This Then?
Monday, October 29, 2012
CHICAGO TRIBUNE QUOTE-ACROSTIC ANSWER FOR OCTOBER 28, 2012
The quote is from the late Bennett Cerf and the puzzle compiler is Robert O’Neill, probably the trickiest of the group of people who create these puzzles. O’Neill is fond of one word clues that can have more than one meaning or can be either nouns or adjectives - "close," "supplement" and "clown" for example- are three that appeared in this week’s puzzle. He also comes up with some strange clue answers. Again, from this week’s puzzle - "shoehorn" for the clue "squeeze" and "eat up" for "adore." Anyway, here’s the rather odd quote, with the title of "Show Cases."
"Ask some questions" demanded the judge to the dumbstruck attorney Chico Marx, opposed by Groucho. He stammers "what large animal has four legs with a trunk?" "That’s irrelevant" screams Groucho. "Correct" agrees Chico.You’re welcome.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
POLITICS AND RELIGIOUS BELIEF - AN UNHOLY MIX
Readers of this blog know that I am an atheist. Nonetheless, I believe that belief in a deity has value for the human condition. It helps billions of people deal with the knowledge of their own mortality - that by the time we get the hang of this thing called life, it’s close to being over. But if we believe that it isn’t over, that we continue to live in some other form and in some other place after we die, the senselessness of so short a life doesn’t seem senseless at all. It’s like an opiate that keeps us from going mad while we indulge in the madness that is that belief. And that’s really not a contradiction of terms.
The flip side - the evil of deism and the religions founded to deal with it - is everywhere. Nations whose governance is in the hands of religious leaders with religious laws rooted in centuries old ignorance. Nations where religious madmen rain down death and destruction on those they deem insufficiently religious or who are breaking their insanity induced religious laws. Religious fanatics who revere death over life because death is the passport to paradise. And then there are the Richard Mourdocks of the world and those who are afraid to condemn them to the obscurity they so richly deserve.
Richard Mourdock wants to become a member of the United States Senate and help to pass laws under which we all have to live. But Mr. Mourdock believes that nothing happens on this earth that is not dictated by God. Thus, a pregnancy resulting from a rape, according to Mr. Mourdock, should not be aborted because that pregnancy is something that "God intended to happen." If Mr. Mourdock is elected, we should therefore not expect him to use his judgment to help fashion laws, since it could be construed as defying or questioning whatever "God intended to happen."
Using Mr. Mourdock’s logic, we can assume that it was "God’s intention" for the Holocaust to have taken place as it is for murderers to murder, for wars to be fought, for planes to crash and for rapists to rape. This is more insanity than it is religious belief - even for those of us who think of religion as being an insane practice. You would think that Mitt Romney, who has endorsed Mourdock for the Senate and has appeared in a television ad supporting him would be breaking world speed records getting as far away from this madman as possible. But all that we have heard from Mr. Romney on the question of rapists and their progeny being something that "God intended to happen" is that "it doesn’t reflect his views" but he still supports the man. Hate the sin but love the sinner. So what is going on here?
In a rational world, a man who would be president of the United States would want nothing to do with anyone expressing such crazed notions - and wouldn’t hesitate to condemn the person expressing them. So why is Romney still supporting Mourdock for the Senate? The simple answer of course is that with the election only a few days away, the last thing Romney wants to do is help the Democrats pick up the seat that Dick Lugar will be forcibly surrendering at the end of the year. But that would just mask the details that would very likely apply under similar circumstances a little further removed from election day and the details, as we all know, is where the devil resides.
Why else would a presidential candidate support someone like Mourdock? We could of course look to Mr. Romney’s own religious beliefs. All religions have their complement of nuttiness and Mormonism is as nutty as they come. Still, most deists go along with and are reasonably comfortable with their religions and don’t let them dictate their lives But Romney isn’t your run-of-the-mill Mormon. He’s been a Bishop and had other leadership positions in the church. He’s deeply into it. So it isn’t hard to assume that he holds beliefs that are as nutty as Mourdock’s and maybe thinks it’s unreasonable to condemn someone for a religious belief as nutty as some of his own - even though, obviously, he doesn’t think they’re nutty. But maybe there’s something else going on here.
Anyone running for high office in the United States knows that he or she has to tread very lightly when dealing with religion or religious beliefs. Presidential candidates in particular have to establish their religious bona fides very early in the game. I would imagine that there have been men and women running for national office who in private pay no more than lip service to the religions into which they were born or who may actually be atheists, but there is no way that they would ever be disrespectful or critical of religion in public. Not if they want to be elected. And in the case of Mr. Mourdock, apart from Mr. Romney’s desire to have another Republican - any Republican - fill Dick Lugar’s seat, there is the obvious difficulty of criticizing an expressed bit of religious nuttiness that may be shared in some generic way by millions of voters. Not that they agree with Mourdock’s specific ideas about abortion but they too believe that God has a direct influence on what happens in their lives.
In just about every national election we hear about the so called evangelicals and how important it is to appeal to voters who have religious beliefs as deeply rooted in their being as is Islam in madmen who commit horrendous crimes in the name of their religion. No candidate hoping to corral the votes of such people would dare to condemn acts or expressed beliefs of religious nuttiness. But I suspect that the concern goes beyond evangelicals - that despite our tradition of there being an accepted separation of church and state - the church, in the form of the various Christian religions to which a majority of Americans belong, are part and parcel of "the state" as manifested by the unwritten rules governing U.S. elections. It may not bother most people, but left unchecked, if increasing numbers of candidates with Mr. Mourdock’s views continue to run - and worse, get elected to Congress and maybe even to the White House - look over your shoulder because a budding theocracy may be catching up to you.
Monday, October 22, 2012
WITH ENOUGH LIES AND DAMN LIES - WHO NEEDS STATISTIS?
Not being a lawyer or having any particular legal knowledge, I’ve been searching the Internet to learn about our libel and slander laws. I know we have them but I find it difficult to understand how and when they can be used by those claiming that they’ve been libeled or slandered and what it takes to achieve a successful outcome. I wasn’t particularly interested in the general description of the laws - just in whether they could be or ever are applied to what politicians say or write about opponents during elections. What I found was pretty disturbing to put it mildly.
Members of Congress can’t be sued for anything they say in the House or Senate. As far as I’ve been able to determine they can lie with impunity about anything or anyone and they’re protected from legal action as long as they’re speaking in their official capacity. What they or Congressional wannabes can say without consequence during national elections is not that clear. Campaign opponents do occasionally sue each other for libel or slander or defamation of character but it’s hard to find them or their outcomes on the Internet. It would seem that in most political campaigns for national office, the privileges of protection for things said in the halls of Congress extend to those seeking reelection and their opponents. It’s a conclusion one has to reach because or what we see and hear on television and radio every day during the campaign season.
Anyone following only the media advertising of the candidates in this election would have to conclude that those representing us and wishing to represent us in Congress, particularly in the House, are thieves, scoundrels, villains and generally a bunch of blackguards who would only do us harm if elected or reelected to Congress. I don’t have the time or the patience to list the hundreds if not thousands of examples that are permeating the air waves, but I’ll describe the attack ads of one Illinois race that likely typifies what is going on around the country.
The newly drawn eleventh district of Illinois pits 13th district incumbent Judy Biggert against Bill Foster a former incumbent who represented the 14th district for one term ending in January, 2011. According to the campaign advertising of these two opponents, neither should be allowed within one mile of the DC Beltway. Foster, a physicist and highly successful business man sent jobs to China according to a Biggert ad. Foster runs ads saying that he creates jobs and competes with China. But Biggert, he says, awards companies that send jobs to China. Foster, on the other hand, got an inside briefing in Congress just before the bottom fell out of the stock market and sold stocks before prices fell. This of course according to Biggert or whoever is running this ad, who was also in Congress at the same time - so how come she didn’t get the same inside briefing? (Actually, National Republicans admit that they have no proof of this allegation. They just go ahead and allege it anyway.) Foster says Biggert voted for the Ryan budget which gives big tax breaks to millionaires and will probably kill Medicare. And Biggert says…well you get the idea. Distortion after distortion and lie after lie.
These people know they are lying about each other - but nobody sues anybody. It’s the way our politicians try to persuade us to vote for them because the other guy or gal is a monster who should really be in jail. And what does this say about how they regard American voters and what does it say about voters themselves? It would seem to me that neither of these people or any politician who runs attack ads full of lies and distortions, has any respect for voters - or at least the voters at whom these ads are aimed - so called "low information" voters. Who else could they be aimed at? Of course a lot of thoughtful voters throw their support to these candidates in spite of the attack advertising. We just wish there was some way they could campaign without using these horrible methods. It’s not going to happen of course because these attack ads work. Maybe even on some of us who don’t think of ourselves as low information - and that’s a horrible thought.
Another reason that we’re not likely to see an end to this kind of campaigning is that there is no apparent fear of repercussions. You can accuse your opponent of being a terrorist sympathizer or a devil worshiper and the chances of such accusations becoming the basis for a law suit seem to be slim and none. In the world populated by the rest of us, attacks of this nature would have the courts struggling to keep up just with the paperwork. You have to wonder how we ever allowed our political system to sink this low - to allow our politicians to do what the rest of us could never do without serious consequences.
Across the pond they have a more rational way of dealing with politicians who lie about their opponents. They have something called the Representation of the People ACT 1983 which makes lying about a political opponent illegal. It doesn’t happen often but a couple of years ago, a cabinet minister was kicked out of Parliament for just that reason. Can you imagine the effect if such a law was to be applied here? We wouldn’t be able to elect anyone. But what the lack of such a law here - or even some reasonable voluntary code of conduct for election campaigning says about us is that we are incapable of having honest elections. There must be lies - and that’s as sad a statement as may ever be posted here.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
CHICAGO TRIBUNE QUOTE-ACROSTIC ANSWER FOR OCTOBER 21, 2012
Here’s the quote from Bette Davis - compiled to puzzle us by Jay Engle. A couple of tricky clues - "cream or point" - the answer to which of course was VANISHING and I learned that a name for a "bed canopy" was TESTER and thaf "fossil footprint study" is ICHNOLOGY. But all in all, not too difficult a puzzle
There are words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains, the people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch.You’re welcome.
Friday, October 19, 2012
THE NEW REPUBLICAN REALITY - CHANNELING BILL CLINTON
I was in my car for a couple of short trips the day after the second presidential debate - and that’s the only time, when I’m driving, that I get a chance to listen to some right wing radio pundits. I get glimpses of their television counterparts by switching from station to station when whatever program I may be watching pauses for a commercial break or otherwise gets a little boring. But it’s only with my push button car radio - something I wish I had on my radios at home - that I can get to hear Rush Limbaugh. I don’t stay long when I punch in the local station that carries his nonsense, but long enough to get the drift of his nonsense of the moment.
From the couple of minutes I listened, I gather he was unhappy with the idea, shared by a great many people that Obama had "won" the debate. "If Obama won the debate" said the mouth that fouls - "why is everyone talking about Benghazi today?" I may not be quoting him verbatim and I didn’t stay long enough to hear why discussing Benghazi on Tuesday contradicted Obama’s alleged debate victory on Monday - but he did provide me with a springboard for these comments.
Indeed there was a lot of post debate punditry about the back and forth exchanges about the attack on the US Consulate in Bhengazi. That punditry persists to this day and likely will for some time to come with folks on the left applauding moderator Candy Crowley’s real time fact checking and the right wing chorus deploring her un-journalistic intervention and insisting that she and Obama were wrong to say that he had called the attack "an act of terror" the day after it happened.
What I believe happened during the debate is that Romney confused the day after statement with the subsequent changing statements about what kind of attack it was - culminating with a yet to be totally confirmed conclusion that it was a planned and organized attack that perhaps would have happened on the anniversary of 9/ll whether or not there had been protests over an Islamic insulting video playing on the Internet.
It had been generally assumed in the world of punditry, that the events in Benghazi would be pounced on by Romney during the debate to deliver a knock out blow to the President - but as we all know, what was delivered by Mr. Romney was a self inflicted wound - from which point on the efforts of the right to repair the damage have become sillier by the hour and reminiscent of a famed bit of silliness during the Clinton administration.
There isn’t any question that during his Rose Garden statement the day after the attack that killed four Americans he used the words " act of terror." But the right wing defenders of Romney insist that the statement was a generic reference to terrorist attacks and not a specific description of the Benghazi attack. Romney was right they say and Obama and Candy Crowley were both wrong. It wasn’t that long ago when Romney stood next to Bill Clinton and had nothing but nice things to say about him. You have to wonder if that inspired the defenders of the indefensible to take a leaf out of the ex President’s instructional manual on convoluted legal argument. Remember his answer to the Grand Jury about his sexual relations (or non sexual relations) with Monica Lewinsky? "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is." Now John Sununu, Ed Gillespie and others are applying the same illogic to what Obama said in the Rose Garden on September 12. "It all depends on what "act of terror" means.
There is of course room for legitimate discussion as to whether we should have been prepared for this kind of attack and no doubt the question asked but not answered during the debate about the request for more security that apparently was denied will surely come up again in next Monday’s third and final presidential debate. But we need to understand the obvious - that no amount of US security could have warded off the kind of attack mounted by the terrorists. That kind of security is the responsibility of the host country, not the occupants of an Embassy or Consulate. Can you imagine an armed attack against - say the Egyptian Embassy in Washington - being repelled by those inside and not by the DC police and whatever other force that might be needed?
But what took place during the debate was an exercise in silliness that makes our presidential election process look ridiculous to the rest of the world. As if who used what words in what context on what day is a matter for voters to give serious consideration when deciding which candidate can best steer this nation for the next four years. But then our standard method of campaigning for any national office is to run as many attack ads as possible about ones opponent, hoping that voters will be persuaded to vote in a certain way - the same way Madison Avenue strives to make us believe that one cereal is more healthful than another or that every auto insurance company in the country has cheaper rates than every other auto insurance company.
I’ll have some comments on those ads and what they do to the fabric of this nation in a future post. Meanwhile, one can only hope that the debate on foreign policy will include a minimum of silliness - but I’ve heard some of Mr. Romney’s views on the subject and I have family members who watched him up close and personal during his London Olympics visit, so I’m not holding my breath.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
CHICAGO TRIBUNE "QUOTE-ACROSTIC" ANSWER FOR OCTOBER 14, 2012
Here’s this week’s Quote-Acrostic answer, which you shouldn’t need to be looking for if you’re a true word puzzle enthusiast. It’s a comment by John Tirman, presumably from one of his books.
War, we are often told, is a last resort, yet war enhances presidential power. It always has. It has an almost irresistible allure, especially for those faltering as a result of other political shortcomingsYou’re welcome.
Friday, October 12, 2012
COLUMNIST JJ GOLDBERG ON WHAT WE WILL BE CHOOSING ON NOVEMBER 6
This morning I received an e-mail with links to articles in the October 18, 2012 edition of The Jewish Daily Forward, including one titled "MORE THAN MITT" by editor-at-large JJ Goldberg. After reading it, I had two reactions. Damn this guy writes well - and this needs to be read by a lot of people. It’s not possible to link directly to this article from the e-mail I received, so I am reproducing it here and hope that you will agree with me that it is well worth reading.
It’s a wise old rule of the heart, too often forgotten: When you choose a spouse, remember that you’re not just marrying a mate — you’re also marrying into a family. There’s a corollary that’s worth remembering when you enter the voting booth in November: You’re not just electing a president. You’re electing an administration and the party that will staff it up.My thanks to Mr. Goldberg for his brilliant word picture of what we would face with a Romney administration. To which I can only add - my sentiments exactly!!
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
COMMENT ON THE POST DEBATE PUNDITRY
For someone who was reluctant to say anything about the first presidential debate, I find that I have a lot more to say. However, I am going to restrain myself and not follow in the path of all the pundits who analyzed, dissected and passed judgment on the performances of the participants. Instead I am going to pen a few words about those self same pundits.
It was when I was watching some of the post debate news programs that it hit me. Some clips were shown of both Romney and the President making arguments. Not the shots of Obama looking down while Romney was speaking or of the President not responding to a Romney etch-a-sketch statement when it was his turn to respond. Just isolated clips of each man making his case. And the President sounded confident and competent. Specially if one looked away and just listened. And if you did that while Romney was speaking, he didn’t sound as confident and commanding as he looked. And I thought back to Nixon Kennedy and the reactions of those who watched them debate compared to those who only listened on the radio. The watchers thought Kennedy had won while the listeners opted for Nixon. I’m not saying that there is a direct correlation between Nixon/Kennedy and Obama/Romney but obviously how it was seen as well as how it was heard contributed to the overall impression of viewers. But I believe it is not just the debate itself that has moved the polls slightly in Romney’s favor.
I’ll admit that the President didn’t do as well as he should have done, but had there been no post debate punditry, less people - maybe far less people - would have thought that he did that badly or that the aggressive attack style of Romney and his sudden etch-a-sketch move to the center was a reason to think of him more favorably than before the debate when who he was and what he believed had been made abundantly clear. (Think 47% ). But the debate was only 90 minutes long and the post debate punditry has been flowing non stop ever since.
Obviously I couldn’t watch or listen to all of the punditry. There were too many stations and too many pundits. But the few that I watched from the progressive side - supporters of the President, acted and sounded as though they had witnessed some cataclysmic event. On MSNBC Chris Matthews was positively hysterical in his analysis - and on Current TV, Al Gore and his panel of analysts looked and sounded like they were attending a funeral of someone who unexpectedly had dropped dead at a young age. And I can only imagine the celebrations that are still going on over at the Fox cable channel.
What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t just the debate that swayed the kind of voters that can be swayed by this kind of a television event , but the pundits who rendered instant judgment and called winner and loser. It made me think of a line from one of the great Allen Sherman’s song parodies - " Al and Yetta" sung to the tune of the French children’s song- Alooette, Gentile Alouette
Al 'n' Yetta Watched An Operetta. Leonard Bernstein Told Them What They Saw.
And on Wednesday the pundits told us all what we saw and how we should think of it. A disaster. A catastrophe. A stunning victory. A masterful performance. Pick your pundit to discover what really happened. Or maybe do something to surprise the pundits. Pretend they don’t exist. Think for yourself.
Monday, October 08, 2012
POST DEBATE OBSERVATIONS
I suppose if I want to be true to the stated theme and purpose of this blog - to comment on the passing parade - I can’t not comment on the Obama-Romney debate, much as it pains me to do so. There’s no point in rehashing what happened but of course I, along with most if not all Obama supporters are asking why. Why did he let Romney get away with murder? The two explanations being postulated are that the President was "off his game" - he had a bad night - or that it was some kind of strategy. Let me comment first on the strategy explanation - though as far as I have been able to determine, this isn’t an explanation being offered by the Obama campaign.
If there was a strategy going into the debate that consisted of letting Romney "talk himself out" - that would be the verbal equivalent of Mohammed Ali’s "rope-a-dope" - except that after letting his opponent wear himself out, Ali would suddenly come to life and deliver a knockout blow. Again, if there was such a strategy planned by the President or his advisors, they forgot how it is supposed to end. I don’t know what Ali is doing nowadays but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to add him to Obama’s strategy team.The other explanation being tossed around is that the President had a "bad night." That is a more plausible explanation and indeed in terms of his demeanor and body language, I would agree that he was "off his game." He should have known that the cameras would go back and forth between a single shot of whoever was talking and a wider shot of both of them and that being caught looking down and somewhat distant while Romney was talking - while not the "no no" equivalent of Bush senior looking at his watch, conveyed an equally negative impression. And of course, many of the millions watching were not necessarily people who have been following the campaigns closely and able to recognize Romney’s "etch-a-sketch" performance for what it was. Those other people saw and heard the bombast and, mistaking it for knowledge and assertiveness, were favorably impressed. You and I know that if this had been an Oxford Union debate, Romney would have been hauled off the stage in disgrace.
A third explanation that I haven’t heard raised by anyone is that maybe Obama isn’t that good a debater - or is a reasonably good debater but not that good on his feet when confronted with a form of debate that he didn’t expect. The aforementioned Mohammed Ali would be able to explain what you do when confronted with an attack that you didn’t anticipate - change your tactics. Apart from a few times when he seemed to wander and was less succinct, I didn’t think Obama did that bad a job of making his case - but in not matching Romney’s aggressiveness, he seemed less convincing.
We are hearing that the President will be "changing tactics" for the next debate. I’m not sure what that means. It’s supposed to be a town meeting format with questions from the audience at which Obama is pretty good. Where he may have to change tactics is if Romney continues to repeat lies - his health plan includes covering pre existing conditions or Obama is cutting seven billion out of Medicare.. When he said the latter I was virtually screaming at the television - how many times does that claim have to be refuted by independent experts before you will stop repeating it?
Based on past experience, we know that presidential debates can influence some voters who have not carefully followed the campaigns of the candidates and are not fully aware of their positions, but even in "losing" as decided by pundits on both sides, there is something to be gained by the President. This morning I sent an e-mail to his campaign with a suggestion that I should have sent the day of the debate in the hope that someone might actually read it and agree with me. It reads as follows.
I hope he listens. Too many people are easily influenced by style over substance. This election is far too important for it to be decided by such nonsense.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
CHICAGO TRIBUNE "QOTE-ACROSTIC" ANSWER FOR OCTOBER 7, 2012
As promised, here’s the answer to this Sunday’s Chicago Tribune Quote-Acrostic puzzle. I’ll get back to some delayed commentary on the first presidential debate shortly.
The great enemy of language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
The author of the quote is listed as G - obviously George -Orwell - and the title of the puzzle is "Tired Old Idioms"