Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Birth Certificate

Donald Trump has re-raised the matter of the President’s birth certificate, and has been castigated and celebrated for it. Although I have no doubt that Obama was born in Hawaii (and two of my college classmates taught him at Punahou (sp?) School), I do share with The Donald the wonderment as to why he just doesn’t produce the certificate and get it out of the way. I think it is more a matter of bull-headedness, or arrogance, than it is anything being concealed.

Let me speak of my own tale of misery on a birth certificate. I was born in 1935 in NYC of “green card” parents (they lived out their lives here as green carders by choice). My name, on the certificate is Alan Jonathan Wyman Murphy, a name I used until the ’70s when the computer had finally become the primary record keeper for business and government. The system designers, in their wisdom, allowed for three names, usually First, M.I., Last. I had been using Alan J. W. Murphy on official forms (passport, bank account, etc.). I have always been called Jon, or Jonathan, but the “J.” initial showed that.

In order to fit the forms I dropped the Alan (informally, no court order as I still considered my name to be the full four). Wyman is a family name and the Alan meant nothing to me. New York State DMV had no problem with that, nor did Social Security or the Passport office – or any others.

Then in 1995 I moved to New Jersey and went to get a driver’s license – I had my valid NYS license, my Social Security card, my passport and other things. But they wanted my birth certificate, or naturalization papers. I had a copy of the certificate, the original copy given to my parents. But in 1935 copying wasn’t as advanced as today – it was a “negative image”, and not certified a “true copy”. They demanded “the original”. I drove to NYC, sat in line for hours, and got a certified copy (NYC keeps the actual original in its files). I brought that to the Jersey DMV.

Oops, “your name isn’t Jonathan W. Murphy, it is Alan J. Murphy”. I pointed out that it was actually Alan Jonathan Wyman Murphy on the birth certificate. “We can’t use four names, we need First, M.I. and Last”. “I don’t have a M.I., there is no middle to four”. “You have to use your real name as it is on your birth certificate”. “But that is four names, can’t I pick which one I want to drop?”. We went back and forth over several visits and interviews with supervisors – amounting to probably about 20 hours total over some days.

Finally I gave up and drove illegally on my NYS license, renewing it at my former address in the city. Luckily Gov. McGreevey did at least one good thing, he outsourced the DMV and they made a more flexible set of regulations regarding “proof of self”. I was able to get the NJ license in the name I use.

What does this have to do with the matter of the President’s birth certificate? I had to make major efforts to prove who I am for a driver’s license, he refuses to make the minor effort of showing a copy of his birth certificate to allay the suspicions (which I think are not well founded) as to his natural  born citizenship. I’ll not contribute to conspiracy theories, but as Trump said, there may be something other than the place of birth he wants to conceal. I have no idea what that might be, nor do I care. I am not a fan of the President, but only for his political philosophy – I do not suspect his qualifications other than those regarding his experience and viewpoints.

I had to drive to NYC, pay to park my car, and wait in an interminable line to get a true copy of my birth certificate to show to the DMV for a driver’s license. The President need only ask some agent to get a copy from the primary records in Hawaii and send it to him. Is it too much to demand of him that he do for the office of President what I had to do for a driver’s license?

Do remember that there was an issue on John McCain’s qualifications, he was born in Panama. It went on for months even though it is clear law that a military base overseas is considered U.S. jurisdiction. This is not, as Whoopie said, a matter of a black man – and she was wrong as to a white man’s qualifications being questioned as to birth. I think it was William Henry Harrison who had that issue first.

So is it an arrogance, a bull-headedness – or is it some other issue? I don’t know and I don’t care – except to the extent that it seems to be one or the other.

Best, Jon

Truth and Theory, Creation and Evolution

There is no such thing as truth, everything is theory.  How’s that for a provocative statement?

I am watching a PBS documentary on the recent court case on Intelligent Design. Those on the side of science are arguing that their theory is scientific and the ID design theory isn’t. The opposition argues that evolution is but a theory, and therefore not fact.

A  tempest in a teapot, both are wrong – as there is no way to know what is factual. The theory of gravity is not factual, although the results of what we call gravity are observable each time we drop something (or, more painfully, trip over something).  Newton stewed over the matter of the location of the center of gravitational force until he worked out the math showing it to be a point source. Early astronomers showed predictability in planetary motions using an Earth centric universe – complex, but predictable.

The core of science is to create a theory that provides predictability, and experimental repeatability. It also suggests a reduction to the simplest solution – Occam’s Razor doesn’t exactly apply, but it is close enough. Yet those rules do not ensure truth, it is quite possible that the universe was designed by an intelligent and omnipotent being on 9 September, 1935 (the day before I was born).  He created it all – the fossil evidence, the back copies of the NY Times about the Titanic, and my parents.

Obviously that is ridiculous, although there were times I had that childhood illusion that has been so well expressed in literature and film – a world in which I was the only being, and the rest were actors. It usually comes when stricken by a fit of conscience.

The obligation of education is to teach critical thinking, not a set of  “truths”.  All “truths” are a matter of faith in some way. I believed in the Einsteinian theory (the space/time continuum making gravitation less a force in the Newtonian sense than a curvature of the route) until some new evidence from high energy physics that adds to it (not refutes, adds) the quantum nature of particles.  I confess I’m not overly sanguine on 13 dimensional strings as the nature of matter – but more as I don’t like limiting reality to a particular sub-atomic theory than as a resistance to it.

I have no problem with the teaching of Creationism, as an alternate theory. But in doing so I’d insist that there be a reference to an old Christian hymn which has the line “a thousand ages in Thy sight are but an evening gone”.

As I stand on my porch on a sunny day at noon I have a theory that the sun is shining normally. Given the light takes about nine minutes to get here, my theory could be wrong.  In nine minutes I may be fried by a super nova, or on my way to being frozen should the sun have “winked out”. Neither is likely – years of observation of distant stars have shown us a life cycle not consistant with a solar change of state without warning. But it is possible! It is also possible that all the oxygen molecules in the room where I’m typing could collect at the opposite end and I’d suffocate. Brownian motion is a statistical thing of interactions.

Truth is our best current guess, our best current theory. Belief, or faith, is not inconsistant with that as long as it is presented in context. God could exist, and be the Intelligent Designer of a universe that spent about 14 billion years evolving – or He could exist and have created the appearance of that evolution. Either way, that is some God. Critical thinking is the goal of education, not specific facts.

Personally I believe that the current science is asymptotically approaching an accurate portrayal of the reality of the universe – but like all such curves will never get there. Knowledge is fractal, it can always be subdivided.

There is a moral compass often used in these arguments, and I hesitate to go there as it is not really relevant. The advocates of the various forms of creationism often use the Ten Commandments and accuse the advocates of evolution relativist morals – their opponents decry the many immoral things done in the name of God over the millenia (and yet today) in the name of  a God (whatever His name be). I look at them both and say I don’t give a damn whether the Rules came from a God or were evolved in the social evolution of our species – I just live by those rules (or try to).

It would be nice if there is a God, at 74 eternal life sounds like a good alternative to a future of oblivion. I don’t have a choice, either I will find a life after death or I won’t. I cannot imagine a God, whatever His name, who would deny me entry through the Pearly Gates for not knowing His name – as long as I’ve lived my life according to either His commandments or the code evolved randomly by mankind.

Those latter paragraphs were for those who would argue the virtues of their position, and not really the relevant part of this commentary. Scientific theory is an evolving thing,  getting closer to reality all the time. Only those who ignore the alternatives, on one side or the other, are ignorant (by definition, to ignore is to be ignorant).

Best, Jon

Embryonic stem cell research

I don’t like the idea of government funding of embryonic stem cell research, but not for the reason you might assume.  I don’t like the funding of any directed research. Researchers are human, they have families to feed and house – a pool of grant money for a particular line of research tends to pull them toward that line.

For years it has been said over and over “If we  can put men on the moon we can xxxxx”, even by President Obama in the last couple of months. But the fallacy in that is that the basic science was done a few hundred years ago by Isaac Newton, the flood of money that got us to the moon in ten years went into the engineering and materials research, we already knew the theory of force, mass and trajectories (with a bow to Einstein, but at the speeds involved relativity was a small component).

I remember meeting a gentleman in the late sixties at a party in Tuxedo Park (ironically, as there was a branch of the Manhattan Project there). He was the brother-in-law of a friend of mine and in medical research, not a  medical doctor but a biological scientist. He had a theory of approaching cancer cures from an immunological standpoint. It came up as in our conversation he discovered that my father was in medical research at the Rockefeller Institute (now University). His approach wasn’t in the currently popular view, he couldn’t get a grant and wondered if my father could help (which he couldn’t as he was an adjunct “guest investigator” in semi-retirement).

My point on that is that his line of research was ignored, yet years later we have seen that line (immunology, the attempt to get the body to reject the cancerous cells) has been revived. Grants go to those who those whose applications fit the latest, the  “au currant”, trend in “political science”.  Basic discoveries seldom come from directed research.

Another example, which I’m close to. The transistor (without which I wouldn’t be posting this on my blog). My father, at the time a researcher in solid state physics at Bell Labs, came up with a thought as to some possibilities at the P/N junction in doped crystals – and sent an internal memo about it. As a “side bar” may I say that Bell Labs at the time didn’t direct the research to a particular problem (as the Watson Labs of IBM in the ’60s and ’70s didn’t), they set the scientists loose to follow their head. Six months later Bardeen and his assistant (with their boss, Schockley’s name in front) published the paper on the use of crystal as a “valve” (the English term for a diode) and had invented the transistor. They weren’t looking to do that, they tryed the suggested effect. My father was working with quartz which was too stable, they were playing with the characteristics of germanium.

This isn’t a complaint, my father didn’t invent the transistor – Bardeen did (I knew Shockley, a regular visitor at our house – a manager rather than a scientist). It is meant to make the point that most basic discoveries come from general basic research rather than directed research. When a theory of a causality becomes an obsession we lose the basic research into the characteristics of the cells (in this case), or of nature in general.

Just for fun may I add that my father did some directed work during WWII for the Navy on electrical discharges – the advent of spark vs. arc.  It was meant to study lightning strikes on military aircraft. Many years later I was involved with a firm designing real time computer controls for electrostatic precipitators for Research Cottrell (the originals weren’t to clean the air from the stacks, they were to recover precious metals from the smelting process). The criterion we were given was to control the voltage on the plates by allowing sparks but shutting it back on arcs (the process they had used for years). At dinner with my father (now long retired) we discussed it. The upshot was that he got a $2000 honorarium for a lecture on the topic, the spark doesn’t always precede an arcing – came from his Navy research forty years before. Research Cottrell’s engineers listened, as did my fellow consultants. We suggested changing the criteria to better achieve the “green” purpose of cleaning the stacks, they cancelled our contract and went with what they had.

I will gratutitously add that the same applies to “global warming”, a theory by one man(James Hansen) has directed funding into proving his point. Statistics are interpreted to fit the thesis, facts ignored if they don’t fit. Government or foundation funding to study a particular approach, or particular theory, distorts the general research into the basics.

I would be happy to see government or foundation funding of research into the characteristics of stem cells – all stem cells, including those of mice and men. Without the base understanding the engineering is a waste of time and money – and the waste of time is the worse as it may delay the understanding, and therefore any possible solutions.

Jon Murphy

Climate Change, and greenhouse gasses

I am going to try to avoid any controversy in this post, although on such a “hot button” issue that will be impossible.

Global climate change is occuring, that is not news. It would be news if the global climate were stable. I intend to address the current claims of anthropogenic (wow, a word for man-made) disaster as regards climate change.

Before getting into the history of the earth and climate let me first speak of “greenhouse gasses”. All atmospheric gasses are greenhouse gasses, although some to a greater extent than others. The planet Mercury, and our moon, have no atmospheric gasses – and therefore no “climate”. The sunward side is baked and the other side is frozen. The existence of an atmosphere creates a climate, the circulation of the atmospheric gasses – both vertically and horizontally – provides a balance. In a thick atmosphere like Venus this involves considerable retention of heat – and in a thin one like Mars the climate is less dispersed. Earth has a reasonably optimum atmospheric density for a relatively uniform climate.

The great guru of Al Gore, James Hansen, is a qualified scientist – but so was the Nobelist in Chemistry who advocated massive doses of Vitamin C as a cure for the common cold. Hansen started in planetary studies, and  concentrated on Venus. It was a great surprise to the world when the first probes found Venus, which we had thought to be a good prospect for Earthlike life, to have a temperature of around 800 dgs. F. The Venutian atmosphere is somewhere around 80% CO2. Hansen extrapolated that as a cause.

I think Hansen is right, at such a high concentration the CO2 would entrap the heat. But let us look at the atmosphere of our Earth. About 3 billion years ago we had similar high concentrations of CO2, and it was very hot here. But that doesn’t mean that it was a greenhouse effect involving incoming sunlight and entrapment of that energy. There was also a very active volcanic core, the energy entrapped could easily have been the internally generated energy, with the radient energy of the sun being a minor factor.

So let us look at the current situation, disregarding other planets in other stages of development – and our own planet in other stages of development. There is good argument that there is a greenhouse effect, the direct radiation of the sun could pass through the atmosphere while the lower energy radiant heat reflected or emitted from the Earth might be entrapped. But that begs the question as to the nature of greenhouse gasses.

There has been a massive increase in atmospheric CO2 in recent years, if you use the measures provided by the alarmists. In a hundred years it has jumped from under 250 ppm to about 350 ppm. Let’s put that in perspective. The Earth’s atmosphere has been stable for millenia at 99% oxygen and nitrogen (in a ratio of 20%/ 80% respectively). The remaining 1% is about 80% argon, an inert gas of light molecular weight.  That leaves us 0.2% for everything else. The advocates use PPM as it makes a nice big number, but 10,000 ppm is 1%. The increase in atmospheric CO2 in the industrial era has been over 30% if you use @220ppm to @350ppm, a significant increase. But if put in percentage terms it is from 0.022% to 0.035%, not a large percentage of the overall.

Now to the pollutant aspect. The “Greens” would have you believe that CO2 is a pollutant, as well as a greenhouse gas. My first question for any of them is “what is the appropriate level of CO2 in the atmosphere”. I confess that I haven’t yet found an idiot who would say “zero”, but I hope to find one so I can ask him “what will you eat?”. The complicated process of the symbiosis between plant life and animals involves a food chain that started in the pre-Cambrian period somewhere between 1 and 2 billion years ago. I’ll not be definitive here, as no one is quite sure of the when and where – I could be a half billion years off. Early life seems to have been similar to photo-plankton, life forms that used photo-synthesis to absorb energy and grow. The Earth went through cycles of extreme heat, and less extreme heat, but the primitive forms developed.

Now to more modern times, the explosion of life about 700 million years ago. Climate had settled a bit, the atmosphere was gaining oxygen from the excretions of the photo-synthetic organisms that took in CO2 and hydrocarbons and water to convert energy (from the sun) into growth. The nature of the organic hydrocarbon, that is the basis of all our living forms, is a combination of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon – along with a lot of other elements and molecules. The nature of the sugars (hydrocarbons) that are the nutrients of plants allows the release of oxygen as the H, the O, and the C bond. CO2 has an extra oxygen atom for the normal combination – and now we get the oxygen we breathe.

What is the right level of CO2? The more the CO2 the faster the plants grow, and therefore the more O2 released. Without the plants we would have no vegetarian meals, but then again we would have no meat meals either as the ruminants we use as meat wouldn’t have anything to eat.

At zero CO2 we have no life, at 80% (like Venus) we probably have no life. Somewhere in between lies an optimum, and I doubt that we can judge between 0.05 % and 0.01% – and we are ranging between 0.025% and 0.035% now.

Deepak Chakur, and Dorothy Rabinowitz

Deepak Chakur, on Hannity and Colmes tonight, decried Dorothy Rabinowitz’s knowledge of history when asked about her WSJ column regarding his statements. I’m afraid that Mr. Chakur is the one who needs to do a bit of research.

His thesis is that the proper response to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is to treat it as a negotiable difficulty in social relations – a view that can be supported, although I disagree with it. In advancing that view he suggested that Ms. Rabinowitz should understand the history of the Taliban, the former Mujahadin of Afghanistan that was supported in their war against the USSR by the US.

Perhaps Mr. Chakur should review the history, and I would have thought that with his own background in the Indian sub-continent he might have known it. The Tailiban are not the product of the Muhahadin of the Afghan/Soviet war. The Muhahadin, by definition, were the fighters defending their Islamic culture against the Sovietized central government. The Taliban wer not involved in that long battle, in fact I think the name Tailiban comes from an Afghan word for “student” (my linguistic skills aren’t that great, but I seem to remember that from somewhere). The Taliban were in the ideological schools while the Muhahadin were fighting the war. In the vacuum of victory the Taliban came out of hiding and snatched the nation, creating a theocracy that the Mujahadin didn’t envision in their quest to displace the Soviet style communist government.

I am not an historian, nor an expert on the nature of the Afghani culture. But what little I know of that country suggests that it is more a collection of tribes than a nation, and that they will resist any outside influence. And this is not a denigration of that, the entire history of mankind as a social animal has been a record of transition from family to clan, from clan to tribe, and from tribe to nation. The idealists among us would say that it is time to go from nation to world – and I’d agree with them, except that in many places we have barely gotten beyond clan.

This latter is not an indictment of any peoples, it is a recognition of differences that I think are geographically based. Can one expect that the peoples of a mountainous area like Afghanistan, where for centuries subsistance has been a problem, would form the same social thinking as a relatively uniform Europe? Hell, it took many centuries for Europe to develop from tribal communities into nations, and that on relatively uniform geography – and those nations were fighting bloody wars among each other until very recently.

My late father was a World Federalist as a Canadian in the thirties, a fond hope and a fine goal – but first the peoples of the world have to change their attitude. When some are religious fundamentalists, and others are clan or tribe based, there is no common ground.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Saturnalia, or my best for a winter Solstice, or whatever you celebrate at the time when the days start to lengthen and you can anticipate the advent of Spring and the budding of the flowers. My wife and I are a bit pagan as we aren’t docrinaire in any religion, but she has been keeping me busy in setting up the Christmas tree. A celebration of a season, and of memories – a time when we elderly reflect on the past, and plan for the future.

Deepak Chakur was wrong in his history of the Afghan conflict, and wrong in his view that good will can mitigate the problems of nations and/or tribes. I commend him for his views, and I wish he were right. This Conservative would prefer a world where the nations came together.

Best. Jon

Health, Insurance or Care

This is not an argument for one thing or another, it is meant as a discussion of the differing aspects of proposals for medical insurance or health care. The two phrases are often used synonymously, but they are quite different.

I listened to the speeches at the Democratic Convention, particularly Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Clinton. A part of their platform is “universal health care” as a right of all citizens (and some non-citizens). Sen. Obama hasn’t yet spoken, but in his previous speeches – as well as the speeches (and legislation) by Gov. Romney – the term is insurance. I have no axe to gring on this matter, but I believe that before voting on an issue the public should be well informed of the distinctions.

Insurance is, by definition, a pooled fund contibuted into by all members that will pay out funds to those members who have unexpected expenses. Homeowner’s insurance, accident insurance, etc. Health care, as proposed by many, is a universal right for all people and paid for by the general tax revenues. Let us look at the ramifications of the difference (and do so without predjudice for one or the other).

I had health insurance from my employer (IBM) in the early sixties. My wife’s pregnancy, and our son’s birth, were not covered as these were not accidents. (It turned out to be covered, she had a difficult labor and an emergency Caesarian was performed when the baby’s heart stopped in the womg). With my previous employer, the US Navy, I had health care – all medical attention was covered. Which is better? I don’t know! IBM paid me a lot more and I could afford the routine medical procedures (not that obstetrics is routine in a philosophical sense, but it is in the sense of expectation). The Navy paid me less, but gave me the full health care.

Here is the problem, the mixing of the terms “care” and “insurance” confuses the issue. There is great pressure in NY State to cover birth control pills under medical insurance,  the excuse being that Viagra is covered for men. Personally I don’t think either should be covered by insurance, unless the Viagra is being prescribed for something other than sexual activity. No prude here, the blood flow medicine Viagra might have medical value in some real life theatening diseases which aren’t expected.

The key word is “expected”. Insurance is meant to cover the unusual and unexpected – and to do so with funds that are voluntarily contributed as a pool. The members of the pool would far prefer not to have the “disaster” that makes them draw from it – I pay for homeowner’s insurance but I’d rather not get my money back as I’d rather not have a tree fall on my house.

In contrast the implication of universal health care is that all medical care will be the responsibility of the government (even if it farms the actual administration out to insurance companies under contract).  The argument of “single payer” versus “multiple payers” is irrelevant – the relevant thing is a defined right to medical care. There is a Constitutional rationale for this, even if it is a stretch. The Declaration of Independence speaks of “life, liberty and the persuit of happiness” – so perhaps we can include health care as a right to the extent that the Constitution is a fulfillment of the goals of the Declaration.

Where we run into difficulty is when we confuse the care and the insurance. And I beg the reader to not make any value judgements from what follows – I am only presenting both sides of a case, it is up to each voter to decide for themselves which system they prefer. There are plusses and minuses to each.

One philosophical ramification of universal health care would be (or should be – in many countries with “health care” people with money can get better care by buying it) that all – rich or poor – would have the same access to the same doctors and facilities. For that to work it would seem to me that medical personnel would all have to be government employees by law, else how do you require them to not take private patients. I suggest that I’m putting up a bit of a straw man here, I doubt that legislation would go that far. But if it doesn’t then how do you ensure that all get the same health care? Does the rich man wait in the same line as the poor man? A nice goal but not likely attainable. So we have already got a problem.

Universal Health Insurance is another matter, but as soon as we call it insurance then it must only cover the major matters, the unexpected health crises like cancer or accidents. Routine care would be on the tab of the patient. If the Federal government were involved then the individual states wouldn’t be able to include their laundry list of covered items, and the contracted insurance companies could sell in competition across state lines. There are proposals for similar programs (and Romney’s Mass. program is an example of required insurance, with state subsidies for the indigent, but I understand the experience isn’t good so far).

I’ll not insult the reader by going into further detail, each of you can imagine the various constructs and possilities – and each judge according to his own philosophy. Health care, by government mandate, and health insurance (whether mandated or voluntary) are yet different. The former covers everything from hangnails to hip replacements – the latter covers only the extraordinary expense of disease or accident. To confuse them allows the fuzzy logic of insuring against pregnancy among the sexually active.

I take no stand on the issue, I only ask that it be debated with clarity rather than euphemistic terms. Access the costs both to society as a whole and to the individuals, look to your conscience and to your pragmatic side, judge as you will. Were I a Roman slaveholder, interested only in economics, I’d give health care to my gladiators and valued house slaves, but let the field slave be replaceable. I hope I’m a better man than that, and I claim to be.

Best, Jon

Barack Hussein Obama, a Jew?

I am a conservative Republican and not a supporter of Senator Obama – but that as a matter of the issues. I am a bit tired of web sites and commentators using his middle name, Hussein, to imply that he is (or was) a Muslim. I’ll make the case that he is actually a Jew as his first name is from the Old Testament (Judges 4,5). Or should I put more weight on his Kenyan family name of Obama?

 Obviously this “name game” is silly. I take myself as an example (Jonathan Wyman Murphy). Jonathan is an Old Testament name (and I was once asked by a jewish gentleman why I had a jewish name), Wyman is English – and Murphy is Irish. For the latter name I’m often assumed to be Roman Catholic in background, but the last Irishman in family came “off the boat” in Canada in the early 19th century. I was named after Jonathan Wyman Wright, a descendant of Wymans and Wrights who came to the Boston area around 1640. They fought in the Colonial Wars (French and Indian being one), and in the Revolutionary War. Their only problem was that they chose the wrong side in that conflict between George III and the colonials – and they found it expedient to move north to Canada ahead of the tar and feathers (not all Wymans and Wrights, just my particular branch).

 So if you go by my names I am a Roman Catholic Royalist Jew, and by the same token Obama is a jewish Muslim Kenyan. I have perfectly adequate reasons for voting Republican, and for voting against Senator Obama, without impugning his patriotism or suggesting a hidden agenda.

Senator Obama espouses a philosophy that is legitimate (in that it is held by many), but that I believe is wrong. He is apparently a confirmed believer in the Liberal view that government is good and capitalism is bad (I may be overstating this, but allow me the indulgence). His opponent, my candidate Senator McCain, also has some of those characteristics – but I believe his basic philosophy is closer to my own. These are the choices each voter has to make, and should make independently of the “hype”, but matters of one’s name are totally irrelevant (and smack of having no better argument than name calling).

 Best, Jon

Obama after Wisconsin

Barack Obama made a 45 minute campaign speech in Texas after his victory in Wisconsin. His theme is change, but his speech was themed on a return to failed policies of the past. I heard Woodrow Wilson, I heard FDR, I heard George McGovern, I heard every union organizer of the twenties and thirties.

 If Obama is the Democratic party’s candidate for the general election that speech will come back to haunt him, McCain’s speech on change in the right direction is a better direction. McCain (full disclosure, he has been my “man” for years) has a problem in presentation, and how much of that is due to injuries in his captivity is not clear (broken jaw and shoulders).

 Until that speech tonight by Obama I was rooting for him over Ms. Clinton because I thought that if my man lost the general election he would be a better President than she (a tabula rasa who would learn in office, a fox versus her badger). That one speech has changed my opinion – this man is committed to policies that might have been valid seventy years ago, but are not now. This is not the empty suit I thought of him as, this is a committed leftist who would “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs”, i.e., our free market economy that, although flawed in many ways, is an engine of productivity – and in being that is also a fount of help for the weakest of the world.

Prayer, and faith

By now any of you who have read my posts on this site know that I’m atheist – not an Atheist – just a man without enough certainty of knowledge to take sides on the issue. Technically that defines me as agnostic (the Greek “a” prefix meaning “without” and the word “gnostic” meaning, approximately, knowledge). Agnostic, however, is often used for one who is “seeking”, when used in the religious sense – so I prefer the more definitive “a” “theist”, without a god.

Nice preamble, now to the point. This evening I watched a TV show called Fight Quest on Discovery, an obvious play off their successful series on martial arts. The protagonists were learning the French Savate form of fighting (in a week, of course they were already fighters). Just prior to the defining fight (a set up, of course) one was taken to the church in Marseilles to pray – and the side bar said this was the norm for the French fighters.

Much of the press, and all of the group that Bill O’Reilly calls the “secular progressives”, say that President Bush in his open admission of praying to God each morning is asking God to tell him what to do. The fighter said it right, “I always pray before a fight – so this is nothing new to me. I don’t pray for victory or help, I pray for strength and courage to do what I must do”. Our President said a similar thing, although not so succintly, in his recent interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News – and has said it often before. I pray that I may have the strength and wisdom to do the right thing.

I have no problem with that, I do the same. In my case it is an introspection rather than an appeal to a higher authority, but it is yet a prayer. One can never be sure that one is right in one’s decisions, but the decisions have to be made. Some of the faithful pray to God for guidance in their decisions, that could be taken as resigning their judgement to the interpretations of the scriptures. I think that fighter, and our President, pray only for that indefinable calm/strength to look at the future with clear eyes. It matters not whether there is a God to answer the prayer, it matters only that the prayer is offered and the man has the humility to see a greater purpose outside himself.

A disclaimer, I notice that my only examples are President Bush and the anonymous Savate practitioner. I don’t mean that to be an endorsement of either in general, I chose them as they were the testimonies I’d just seen.

A greater purpose may not be a universal purpose, it may just be one defined by the random events of evolution that have brought us to being mankind. It doesn’t matter how you read it, or define it, there is a value set that is ingrained in most of mankind. Whether we find it within our selves, or in the communal conversation with our God, is a personal matter. What is important is to live by those values, and to make our decisions with regard for them.

There are those within each of the many religious communites of the world who do act according to interpretations of scripture – but most of the religious act according to the universal principles that may for some be written on stone tablets, and for others be the simple gift of humanity. When the action is the observance of some “laws”, such as Kosher or meatless Fridays, then it is innocuous. When it involves violence against others who don’t obey those laws then it is a matter for concern for all.

A Personal Manifesto

I am a Republican. I have been a Republican all my independently sentient life (born 1935, you decide when I became sentient). My parents were resident aliens (green-carders) from the British Empire (he Canadian, she English) – they intentionally didn’t involve themselves in US politics as they felt they had no right to unless they chose to take citizenship.

They tended toward the Democrats, as FDR was a hero to them for supporting Britain in WWII, but US politics weren’t dinner table conversation. I chose to be a Republican while in college in the fifties – a basic conservative attitude. But back then there was an overlap in the spectrum.

 I am tired of listening to the right end of my party speaking of  “real Republicans” as only the conservatives who pass all their litmus tests.  In the sixties I would have been called a “Rockefeller Republican” or a “Progressive Republican” – but I voted for Goldwater in 1964. I am also tired of listening to the left end of the Democrat party using litmus tests for their candidates. Democracy is a bad system, Plato pointed that out – but democracy isn’t what we have. True democracy would be the system suggested by Ross Perot of having an electronic vote by the entire populace on each and every bill before the Congress – that would be a recipe for chaos, and no Congress would be needed. Ron Paul and the libertarians, and the anarchists of the left, would like that. But it is necessary for a bit of balance and compromise to have a viable government.

 At the extreme, let us take a population divided into two uniform groups, each of which share all opinions among themselves and are diametrically opposed to the opinions of the other group. Let us make them 50.1% on one side and 49.9% the other. Stability of the nation would be impossible, a shift of a small percent in the population would make a radical change in the nature of the nation. My Jurisprudence professor in college likened the job of the Supreme Court versus popular opinion to the pendulum on an old clock. Popular opinion swings through the full range of the weight at the end of the pendulum, the Courts should follow popular opinion only to the extent that the root of that pendulum swings from side to side. Should the swing become permanent then it is time to review the Constitution.

 What a wonderful document, the ability to change it legislatively is in it – the strictures are assignment of responsibilities rather than details (do you want a 500 page Constitution like the EU). There are things proposed as Constitutional amendments by both left and right – but they are themselves unconstitutional – the key to the Constitution is the clause that assigns to the several states all powers not assigned to the Federal government.

 I have digressed, I started this as the personal manifesto of a Republican. I am liberal – in that I have an open mind, and that I subscribe to the Utopian goals of eliminating poverty and bringing a decent life to all. I am conservative – in that I believe those goals can be best attained with a free market capitalist society, and that I believe in “family values” (more on that in a moment). I am strongly conservative when it comes to international matters – I believe in the best defense being a good offense, but I’m also strongly liberal there – I’m all for negotiations and compromises in the internation arena where there is any chance that they will bear fruit. “Trust in God, but keep your powder dry”.

 All in all I’m a “moderate Republican”, and I don’t like it that Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter would read me out of their party – I was a Republican before they were born! And for the other side, the denigration of Joe Lieberman by the left wing of the Democrats is equally anathema to me. His domestic policies I find far to “left” for me, but he is a man of principle whom I admire personally.

 Where is the place, in this polarized environment, for those of us in the middle. A third party is not a solution, there are too many disagreements as to the methods for reaching that unattainable Utopia. Government dictat versus free markets, personal responsibility versus the “nanny state”. What is needed is a return to the two parties being more representative of the general population. May I refer you, if you have read this far, to my essay on the Shape of Politics in this same blog.

It was the great genious of the Constitution to balance the popular vote with the representation of interests (and being an interest is not a sin, whatever John Edwards says – neglecting his interest in tort lawyers, and their support of him). It has recently been pointed out by Ralph Edwards that our concept of democracy is inappropriate for many nations  – as the “one man, one vote” will suppress minority tribal populations. But he left out that our own Constitution recognizes that. The bicameral legistature of the Senate and the House recognized the particular interests of the several States, and the democratic interest in “one man, one vote”. It remains applicable today in our representative democratic Republic. We are not called the United States for nothing. There have been objections to the Electoral College – and they come from either side “depending on whose ox is gored” in a particular election.

 So why do we insist that other “democracies” follow the principle of “one man, one vote” when we don’t – and when we have been quite successful over the long haul by combining the “tribal” interests (the States) and the majority vote of the general populace? One size does not fit all, but the principle of the rights of all the people pertains. My cat (Lucky) is luckily not watching me type this – so I can say that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

 The goal of all good men should be that all people should be able to rise to the level that they can, opportunity should never be suppressed. But there is a great divide in the way that can be accomplished – and my view is that general prosperity is best achieved through free markets and individual efforts. There will always be those who fall between the cracks (and I’m one of them), it is the responsibility of the “tribe” to address that.

 Let me address primitive mankind. Many millenia ago there were cave paintings made, and musical instruments. Given that there was a lot of work to do just to feed the family/clan/tribe these would seem to be frivolous. We can see from burials of 50,000 years ago that some members of the clan could not have been productive, they had dehabilitating injuries that had healed long before death. The culture took care of their disabled, and perhaps they were the painters and musicians. A value to the clan despite their incapacity, or perhaps even just a love expressed for the weaker members of the family.

 It doesn’t require a belief in a higher being to have a love of family – I’ll give to the religious right that it could be a commandment of God that we should take care of our own, but I’ll ask them to accept that it could be a natural evolution of our social hominid to do the same. It is a mystery of life that we are as we are, it is a mystery that I’ll accept as a mystery. I’ll not denigrate those who see it as the result of divine providence, nor those who see it as the result of natural selection. But I will object to those who denigrate the opposite view. Man is man, and there are good men and evil men – whether the evil are influenced by Satan or just bad seeds of the evolutionary process is of no concern to me. They both exist.

 I am a Republican, I think my party (as a whole) has the best route for the future of our nation, and all the people within it. I think the Democratic party’s general view would be counter productive (kill the goose that lays the Golden Eggs), but I do not think that the Democrats (as a whole) are the radical left that the primaries suggest. I wish for the days when Dirkson and O’Neill would argue all day, then toss back a couple of drinks together afterwards.