Monday, July 27, 2015

Ben's Picks

I was gonna call it Ben's Books because that alliterates and sounds punchy.  But it is wrong because they are not MY books, they are merely my book recommendations.

And I just thought of it today as I finished reading a very good book.

So what do I mean by "a very good book"?  The subject is interesting and you will feel nourished by learning stuff that is not a waste of your time, stuff that is good for you (protein and not sugar or other worthless carbs).  And the author is so engaging that his book is hard to put down.  VERY important!

So, the book that I just finished reading today is David McCullough's The Wright Brothers.  I have read other books by McCullough, and he can be very good; but he can also be not so good.  It was an effort to read his 1776 even though I am primed for books of our Revolutionary period, especially "popular" books.  Nevertheless, ...  Also, his immediately previous book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, young American artists in Paris in the middle of the 19th century, a subject in which I have little or no interest, was an absolute delight to read and revel in.

Of all the authors who write mostly about the American Revolutionary period, I am an especially big fan of John Ferling, who is always engaging and always hard to put down, despite (because of?) all the facts he puts before your eyes.  Let me particularly recommend Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Sometimes politics as a spectator sport is FUN!  Please note that I write very little about "politics"; I prefer issues to personalities, and politics is all personalities.  So few discuss issues independent of the passions associated with a personality; that is my niche.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence
The two most ringing phrases in all of American history are indisputably “We the People of the United States …” from the Preamble to the U S Constitution and “… all men are created equal …” from the Declaration of Independence.  And they both seem to argue for democracy – rule of, by, and for the people.  But every once in a while, a stray Republican, one not running for President, reminds us that democracy is not called for or even mentioned by the U S Constitution, or any other founding document for that matter.  He is right.  By all rights, we are a republic, a nation ruled by laws; but not by Constitutional mandate a democracy.  In addition, none of our Founding Fathers (excepting Thomas Paine himself) desired universal suffrage (suffrage is the form of a democracy, it is the right or privilege of a citizen to vote or otherwise participate in the processes of governing).  Indeed, to a man, they all feared democracy.  They feared the voice of the demos, the herd, the common people.  Consider that all of our Founding Fathers were highly educated and highly successful men.  Their version of “We the People” meant “we and our social peers,” a natural aristocracy even if not an inherited one (as in the old country).  A “real democracy” (in today’s usage) implies universal suffrage, suffrage of the common man.  But no democracy for these demigods.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The War of Northern Aggression

That is what a speaker in the South Carolina House of Representatives called the Civil War: “the War of Northern Aggression.”  I don’t know how ironic he was being, but there it was, one more name for the Civil War, a name that still resonates for some.

Some names for the great conflict include The War Between the States and The Brothers’ War.  There are a dozen or more names that combatants and others have used, some in an attempt to remain “objective,” others in an attempt to assign blame.  And to re-ignite still burning embers.
The optimal causes, the immediate causes of the war, were two-fold: firing on Fort Sumter was a clear act of war and the Union did not blink.  Secession was the other immediate cause.  Was secession a possible act under the doctrine of states’ rights?  As long as this was being debated, it was an exercise in free speech.  But the Confederate states’ official acts of secession were immediate causes of the war.

Slavery and states’ rights were enduring arguments from the first moments the terms of the Constitution were being argued, nearly 75 years before the outbreak of the Civil War.  So in themselves neither slavery nor states’ rights were operative causes of the War.  But firing on a government fort and the political acts of secession were optimal causes of the war.  Still, slavery was the underlying reason for the argument in the first place, the underlying cause of the war.  The South fired the first shot, the South split apart the Union, the South precipitated the Brothers' War.

But what does “The War of Northern Aggression” tell us?  It tells us what we have long suspected, that the Civil War, and its underlying arguments (slavery, and even states’ rights), are not settled issues among all Americans.  Gridlock in Washington, DC and the partisan passions across America are proof that as a nation we are not one people, one more argument that democracy cannot work in today’s fractured political environment.  <sigh>

The Iran Nuclear Deal

No doubt you are expecting some words of wisdom from me about a critical issue of war and peace, the Iran Nuclear Deal.  Sorry.  No can do.

I am ill-equipped to offer an informed opinion on the question “to sign or not to sign,” as my emphasis in political thought and deed is always domestic, not foreign, policy.
I will say this though: a major failing of the Obama administration has been its tendency to give away the farm before even sitting down at the negotiating table.  I would never trust them to win a good deal for me and I would never trust them with any of my money at a poker table.  So, NO, I say NO DEAL as the recent past makes altogether too probable that they gave away too much, even if I don’t know this and cannot prove it.

On the other hand, the Republicans were universally up in arms from the moment the deal was announced.  But they would be all over Obama if he dared to suggest that a mile is 5280 feet.  I trust them less than I do him.

I guess I am between signing and not.  But the only way to thread that needle is with not signing it.

I could be wrong and I am always open to hearing more.  But in the meantime, NO DEAL.  But I am prepared to change my mind at a moment's notice.

Michael Ramirez cartoon
Let me add now that I am not "anti-war."  Nor am I "pro-war."  I am neither hawk nor dove.  I judge each conflict on its own merits.   I'd have fought in World War II had I the chance.  I would have avoided Vietnam as it was not our war, and for reasons that you all know.  The same for Iraq-Afghanistan.  Not so sure about Iran but they have not provoked any such reaction - yet.  But I just wanted you to know that my foreign policy choices, such as they are, do not have a pro-war or anti-war bias.

Addendum: Friday, 07/24/2015 
I posted the above too soon.  Now I will make up for it.

I listened to three State Department spokespersons explain the Iran Deal on C-SPAN several days ago.  Needless to say, they explained with logic and detail why The Deal was a Good Deal.  Let me say that I was convinced!  However, I have done politics long enough to know that if one side of any argument has the stage, anyone with an open mind will be convinced of their argument.  Indeed, if on another occasion you hear the other side take the stage alone, you will change your mind to support them.  Whoever you hear last will win your support.  Politicians are not fools, they can make a good case for anything.  The only way to really be able to make a good judgment between two sides of one issue is to hear a debate by both sides sharing the stage on the common theme.  Even though, if you have been following politics for any length of time, your mind is already made up, and it will be impossible for you to hear the other side at all.  I, on the other hand, pride myself on being able to listen with an open mind, putting my prejudices aside for a time.  Nevertheless, I was convinced by the State Department spokespersons.

The other side, the Bad Deal side, argues that Iran cannot be trusted, that they have entered into any number of deals before and they have never kept their word.  That is their entire argument, as far as I can tell.  The Good Deal side might counter that if Iran breaks any agreement, the Deal is off.  So that OUGHT to pacify the Bad Deal side, but apparently it does not.

The Bad Deal side is led by the Israelis, by their Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  Once again, Iran cannot be trusted.  “And we, Israel, have the most to lose by a Bad Deal that is not enforceable” (a paraphrase).  I have some Jewish blood in me and I can identify; the Holocaust is recent history for every Israeli, it is NOT ancient history.  I can identify.

Last, it is easier to go from a NO Deal to a YES Deal.  That simple.  Once The Deal kicks in, we are all trapped by the terms of The Deal.  We can be more flexible and able to respond creatively to new stimuli with no deal in place.  Maybe that is the real reason I lean toward the NO Deal position. 

All really hard decisions are hard because the positives and the negatives of both sides are very close to each other.  They "score" the same.  In some ways, when it is legitimately difficult to come to a decision, one may as well flip a coin and get on with it.

A lot of words and no real guidance for my readers!  Actually, I admire myself for not having solid opinions on every verdammte (German for "damn") subject.  <wink>