PolitiFact Wins the Mr. Magoo Award

in this post I tackle the second on my list of PolitiFact “Pants-on-Fire” statements by President Trump.

Disclosure: I disagree with President Trump on the elimination of the estate tax. I believe the tax doesn’t have to be eliminated to protect small businesses and farmers from excessive taxation. To quote Winston Churchill, estate taxes are “a certain corrective against the development of a race of idle rich”. And I believe that the ‘idle rich’ cause as many problems in a society as the idle poor.

PolitiFact Writes

Donald Trump

Ending the estate tax would “protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.”

— PolitiFact National on Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Here is My Opinion

In its efforts to peg President Trump a shameless liar, PolitiFact does a very good job of explaining why the “Death Tax” should be kept. In fact, PolitiFact’s position won my vote on that score.

But the question before us is not whether the estate tax is good or bad, but whether President Trump lied when he said that ending the estate tax would “protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.”

This is only the second PolitiFact claim than I’ve examined, but I’m already seeing a trend. PolitiFact doesn’t like Donald Trump, consequently, whenever he opens his mouth, they’re immediately charging the matador’s cape with their eyes closed, and consequently are missing their target completely.

The PolitiFact argument in a nutshell: According to the Tax Policy Center (an organization that claims to be nonpartisan but is generally thought to have a liberal bias – especially by the WSJ https://www.wsj.com/articles/tax-policy-center-propaganda-1506889612 ) only 5,460 estates will likely have to pay estate taxes in 2017. And of those only 80 or so could be considered small businesses or farmers. Eighty small businesses and farmers is quite a ways from the millions that President Trump claimed he was protecting. Therefore, according to PolitiFact, President Trump’s statement is ridiculous and deserves a pants on fire ruling.

I’m sorry PolitiFact: despite your facts, which I have no reason to dispute, ending the estate tax really does protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer. And I’m surprised you don’t see it.

Let’s supposes that instead of talking about the estate tax, President Trump had been talking about toughening up the gun laws in Chicago, a city with a population of 2.7 million. If President Trump had said that toughening the gun laws would protect millions of people in Chicago, would PolitiFact have disagreed? Would PolitiFact argue that since only 762 people were killed by guns in Chicago in 2016, it is ridiculous to claim millions would be protected by the new law in 2017?

Or perhaps, if after the new law was passed and gun deaths dropped to, let’s say, 700, would PolitiFact then claim that only 62 people had been protected? I assume so. Because this is essentially the argument PolitiFact is using against President Trump on the estate tax. PolitiFact would have said that President Trump was an audacious liar and only 62 people had actually been protected by the new gun laws, just as only 80 small businesses and farmers are being ‘protected’ by the repeal of the estate tax.

Why is it that I can clearly see President Trump’s point and PolitiFact can’t? President Trump is saying that there are millions of small businesses and American farmers who now will forever be protected from the estate tax. Is it salesmanship? Yes. Is it putting the best window dressing on a bad law? Yes. Is it a lie? No. I’m not even sure it qualifies as an exaggeration.

True, most small businesses or farmers will never be big enough to qualify for the estate tax. But they’ll all wish they were. I suspect the vast majority of small businesses are earnestly striving to be worth the $5.49 million required to be subject to the estate tax. But, most will never make it. But, nevertheless, with the tax eliminated, they will forever be protected from ever having that problem.

President Trump’s wording of his message is called putting the best spin on a situation. This is hardly a reason to call him a liar.

My ruling: I used to have a professor in college (Boise State University – Rulon Hurt’s alma mater! Go Broncos!) who was fond of saying, “Every way of seeing the world is a way of not seeing the world.” In this case, PolitiFact seems to have a blindspot about President Trump, and neither PolitiFact’s principles, review committee, or followers seem able to open their eyes to that fact. Unfortunately, this blindspot is not serving PolitiFact well if they want to be known as an objective, reasonable, and nonpartisan purveyor of truth.

For this ‘pants on fire’ claim about President Trump, PolitiFact earns the “Mr. Magoo” award.

For those not familiar with Mr. Magoo, Wikipedia states: Quincy Magoo (or simply Mr. Magoo) is a cartoon character created at the UPA animation studio in 1949. Voiced by Jim Backus, Quincy Magoo is a wealthy, short-statured retiree who gets into a series of comical situations as a result of his extreme near-sightedness, compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit the problem.

In my next post, I’ll tackle the third pants-on-fire statement PolitiFact attributes to President Trump:

Donald Trump

White nationalist protesters in Charlottesville “had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.”

— PolitiFact National on Thursday, August 17th, 2017

 

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PolitiFact Wins the “Artful Dodger” Award

There are so many conflicting stories and opinions in the press these days. And so many persuasive speakers and writers whose motives and honesty we have almost no way of judging. For this reason, I finally decided to personally investigate some of the claims made about President Trump in the press. In other words, I’ve decided to fact-check and logic-check the Fact Checkers.

Over the years, an organization called PolitiFact, a non-profit opinion arm of the Tampa Bay Times, http://www.politifact.com/ has hammered President Trump relentlessly over the veracity of his statements. I decided I would start with them.

PolitiFact’s mission is to ‘fact check’ statements by politicians and other public figures and to issue a “ruling” over whether the statement is true or not.

PolitiFact gives only the clearest and most egregious of lies its PANTS ON FIRE ruling, defined by PolitiFact as: The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. PolitiFact pants on fire definition

In today’s post, I examine the first of twenty-one President Trump “Pants-on-Fire” statements as determined by PolitiFact. I did not cherry-pick these statements. This list was emailed to me by a good friend who endorses PolitiFact. I’m addressing the statements in the order they were sent.

Is President Trump a compulsive liar, as several of my friends have suggested? Or has the press been giving him a bum deal? By the time I’ve checked all twenty-one ‘pants-on-fire’ claims, I should know.

Below is the link to the PolitiFact website with its argument that President Trump egregiously lied when he said that Chicago had the strongest gun laws in the nation. Did he? PolitiFact is adamant he did.

Donald Trump: Chicago is “the city with the strongest gun laws in our Nation.” November 7th, 2017

          I’ve read PolitiFact’s argument and below is my opinion

In the end, while attempting to drive home its point, PolitiFact only succeeded in trivializing the entire issue of guns laws and gun violence.

Does anyone doubt that Chicago has tough gun laws? Does anyone doubt that Chicago’s gun laws are up there with the toughest in the country? Even PolitiFact doesn’t dispute that. And yet, PolitiFact chooses instead to get bogged down in a discussion on whether Chicago has the toughest or second toughest, or third toughest laws in the country.

In fact, there are considerable differences in opinion as to where Chicago ranks in the list of toughest cities on gun crime. A person’s opinion on the point seems to rest on what weight they give the various laws. For this reason, it seemed even stranger to me that PolitiFact would waste its time on this.

This even appears to be a violation of PolitiFact’s own charter.
PolitiFact states on its website: “Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.” truth-o-meter/principles

PolitiFact also states: “To assess the truth for a numbers claim, the biggest factor is the underlying message.” truth-o-meter/article

Here again, PolitiFact violated one of its own principles. President Trump’s underlying message is that Chicago has really tough gun laws and still has a rising murder rate. Is President Trump’s point not still valid even if Chicago doesn’t have the absolute #1 toughest laws in the country?

Still, PolitiFact rates President Trump’s statement to be inaccurate, ridiculous, and deserving of their most caustic, pants-on-fire rating.

Well, I’ve already made my point about this PolitiFact argument, but, at the risk of being accused of ‘piling on’, here are some additional problems I found – not factual errors, so much as simple errors in logic and generally wide of the mark comments.

Problems with PolitiFact’s reasoning :
1. PolitiFact’s claim against President Trump positively screamed out for a simple answer, i.e., simply tell me the cities you think have stronger gun laws than Chicago, then list and compare the significant laws between them. End of story. Case closed. The fact that PolitiFact couldn’t/wouldn’t do this leaves me gobsmacked as to why they still insisted on calling President Trump a liar over his statement. I mean, if you can’t list the cities with stronger gun laws than Chicago then walk away!
2. In its opening argument, instead of answering the question which cities have stronger gun laws than Chicago, PolitiFact answered the question: Are Chicago’s gun laws today stronger than they were in 2010? Apparently not, but that doesn’t prove Chicago still doesn’t have the toughest gun laws in the nation. This is simple logic.
3. PolitiFact said that it cost ~$200 more to obtain a gun license in NYC than it does in Chicago. This is one of PolitiFact’s key arguments. However, it’s a pretty minor one given that guns themselves can cost $thousands.
4. PolitiFact tried using NYC’s longer gun-license processing period as an argument, however, the NYC processing time appears to be an administrative issue rather than a legal one.
5. PolitiFact argued that New York and six other states have stronger gun laws than Illinois without explaining what effect that had on cities within those states. Again, off the mark. President Trump never claimed that Illinois had the strongest gun laws.
6. PolitiFact stated that judges in Chicago gave felons in possession of a firearm four-year sentences when they could have given ten years, suggesting that Chicago judges were lax on enforcing gun laws. Okay, I have no reason to dispute this, but it is also off the mark. President Trump said that Chicago’s gun laws were the toughest in the nation, not that Chicago’s judges were the toughest in the nation.
7. PolitiFact mentions that New York and Los Angeles run their own concealed-carry permit process while Chicago does not. I checked this: In Chicago, the concealed carry process is handled by the state police. I’m not sure why PolitiFact considers this is a problem. They never say. Gun_laws_in_Illinois
8. I’m seeing a trend here: PolitiFact has the annoying habit of answering every question but the original one they started with.
9. Finally, in its entire argument, PolitiFact never actually names a city in America it believes has overall stronger gun laws than Chicago. I’m not making this up. Read the PolitiFact fact-check yourself.

All in all, PolitiFact didn’t make their case. Didn’t even come close. Which begs the question: who chose this issue? If this is an example of the most egregious lie they can pin on President Trump, PolitiFact is tacitly admitting they don’t have much to choose from.

In conclusion: For this, PolitiFact earns my “Artful Dodger” award. Throughout their response, they managed to dodge the very issue they themselves brought up.

Full disclosure: I’m left of President Trump on the issue of gun control. I believe there is ample room for toughening our nation’s gun laws without violating the Constitution. Here is an excellent article on the subject: reforms-gun-laws-actually-make-difference

In my next post, I will tackle the PolitiFact claim that President Trump lied when he said that repealing the estate tax would protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.

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My New Blog Writing Direction

To better advertise themselves, writers are encouraged by their publishers and agents to have websites, write blogs, and become part of the ‘literary community.’ There are even books on the subject of “Promoting Your Book” that encourage this, and also encourage leaving comments on other writer’s blogs so as to ‘integrate’ yourself into the world of successful writers – comments such as, “You are truly a masterful writer! Your last book was so good, it reminded me of my last book, titled, “XYZ” which can be purchased on Amazon at www.Amazon.xyz.

Increased book sales would surely follow.

These suggestions all sound like good ideas to me, if you are already a well-known author to begin with. If I were a on the NYT Bestseller list, other authors would love publishing my comments on their blog. And I could write endless blog posts myself containing praise from book critics, sneak previews of future books, and even fan fiction spurred by my books’ characters. But I am not a best-selling author. My books are not inspiring fan clubs, movies, spin-offs, or extravagant amounts of praise – though, truth-be-told, the relatively few people who have actually read my books appear (mostly) to like them quite a bit, even the readers I’ve never met!

Author’s note: I don’t want anything I’ve written above to be construed as discouraging other authors, particularly famous, bestselling authors, from leaving favorable comments on my blog! Really, I would appreciate it!

I need to write blog posts. I understand that. But on what? It must be on something that is interesting. Perhaps even controversial. I need to stimulate interest on a subject I can sustain for a long time. But on what??

For about twenty years, I was a competitive analyst for a multi-national computer company. Among other responsibilities, I was expected to analyze messages and advertisements from our competitors and expose their inaccuracies. I wrote white papers on the subject. I trained our sales force on how to combat competitor attacks against us, and what attacks to use against them. I also had lots of interactions on public, computer-industry websites with my counterparts from rival companies. We would exchange messages with each other, tearing each other’s arguments to shreds, fighting off slanders, and launching devastating counter-attacks. Mostly it was great fun. But in the process, I learned something.
I learned how people can tell a lie without obviously lying. I learned there were many ways to tell a lie, and only the very inexperienced in the art had to actually lie to do it.
In other words, I learned to recognize sophists and sophistry. I have decided to dedicate my next few months of blog postings to that subject.

Recently a very good friend sent me a list of twenty-one alleged ‘lies’ told by President Donald Trump. They were published by an organization called PolitiFact, a service of the Tampa Bay Times, the “liberal voice on Florida’s conservative west coast.” PolitiFact published the ‘lies’ with commentary and then assigned a metric of its own making. In this case, the twenty-one lies were all marked ‘pants-on-fire’ – PolitiFact’s most egregious category of lies.

My interest in PolitiFact began with my reading of their very first ‘lie,’ – that President Trump had lied when he said that Chicago had the strongest gun laws in the nation. At first, it struck me as a strange point for a serious journalistic institution to quibble over and to list as their number one proof-point of anyone’s dishonesty. I mean, honestly, if liberal Chicago doesn’t have the toughest gun laws in the U.S., certainly it’s got to be up there with the very toughest. Maybe President Trump is guilty of a little exaggeration, but certainly it is odd and petty to label it a lie.

Curious, I read the entire PolitiFact explanation of why they ranked President Trump’s statement as ‘pants-on-fire.’ Wow, it was deja-vu all over again! It took me right back to my days as a competitive analyst marveling and sometimes laughing at the ingenious ways people can obscure and twist the truth without telling an overt lie themselves.

In my next blog post, I’ll cover the first of PolitiFact’s Donald Trump Pants-on-Fire lies, and analyze their argument with the tools I learned as a competitive analyst in the IT industry. Next blog post: Did PolitiFact make its case that President Trump lied when he stated that Chicago is the city with the strongest gun laws in the nation?

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Things I wish one of the candidates would say

     As the presidential election lumbers to its conclusion in November, I have decided that the only certainty in politics is that a country always gets the government it deserves – which is both a curse and a blessing. In the case of the United States, as I listen to what each party says about the other candidate, I am reminded of the old Woody Allen quote – “Mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”  
   Which leads me to the subject of this posting: Things I wish one of the candidates would say: 

1.      Leave well enough alone. Since the 1970’s the U.S. middle class has shrunk due to the influence of lobbyists working on behalf of the rich and multi-national corporations to change laws that were working quite well up until then. 

2.      Neither a borrower not a lender be. The U.S. has a massive debt because even though we were already the richest country in the world, we still felt the need to borrow money to fund our extravagances. All of us are to blame. The legislators were cravenly buying our votes in return for promises we couldn’t afford, but we the people accepted their bribes in return for our votes. 

3.      Don’t let the fox into the hen house. The 2008 economic meltdown was caused by the economic policies of both parties. A poorly regulated housing market, two unfunded wars, and a poorly regulated financial industry were the cause. Thank you Democrats and Republicans. 

4.      Love of money is the root of all evil. The U.S. election process is broken. The supremely near-sighted U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling allowing the creation of Super PACs has given the rich undue influence over elections and candidates. 

5.      The hand cannot say to the eye I have no need of thee. The country needs the entrepreneurs and the job creators, but the job creators also need the worker bees to bring their dreams to life and to buy the products and services that make the job creators rich. If you kill the middle class, you’ll still have your rich, but you’ll have fewer of them and the pie will be smaller for everyone. Note: If you doubt this, consider the economic history of the U.S. in the de-regulated 1800s as opposed to the regulated post-depression 1900s.
6.   Every abortion is a tragedy. While it is necessary in some rare cases, it shouldn’t be used as a form of birth control. No one really knows when the spirit enters the body, so, for that reason, if for no other, we should err on the side of caution when it comes to abortion. And late-term, partial-birth abortions where the child is delivered live and then put to death afterwards is legalized murder. Virtually all of us fervently cling to life even if our circumstances aren’t the best. If all those silenced male and female babies had a voice, they would plead eloquently for their lives.Best regards,

Jim
Zurich

 
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The Golden Goose Drives a Model T

     Everyone knows Aesop’s story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Eventually, assuming that the goose must have a stomach filled with gold, the owners killed the goose to get all the gold at once. As one writer put it, “Greed loses all by striving all to gain.” 
     I came across a wonderful article a few weeks ago in the New York Times titled, “When Capitalists Cared.” You can find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/opinion/henry-ford-when-capitalists-cared.html  The article talks a lot about Henry Ford and how, in 1914, shortly after he began producing the Model T, he raised the salaries of his workers to the unheard of amount of $5 per day. The article doesn’t mention it, but $5 was double the previous daily rate, and at the same time Ford also lowered the daily working hours from 9 to 8. Was he mad? Surely, his company would go broke from such generosity. Or stockholders would flee. Or workers would be spoiled and start feeling entitled and work less. I’m sure at $2.50 per nine hour day he was paying a fair and just wage by prevailing standards. Nevertheless, he doubled his workers’ wages and shortened their work hours. 
    Again, I ask, was he mad? Apparently not. Confirmed capitalist though he was, he improved the life of his workers for three reasons. First, the Model T assembly line jobs were so boring that Ford couldn’t hang onto his workers – they were constantly quitting. When he raised the salary to $5 per day, the story goes, the wives pressured their husbands into staying. Second, by shortening the workday to 8 hours, he could run three shifts a day and increase production. But third, he reasoned that if workers were paid enough, they could own a Model T themselves, and his business would grow and all would prosper. And he was right. If he had crushed his workers under his heel, he might have made stronger short-term profits but surely his company, and probably the entire industry, never would have seen the dramatic growth it eventually achieved.    
    I believe the stories of the goose and the Model T are related. Capitalism unregulated can be a most vicious enterprise and quite capable of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, i.e., crushing the middle class that it needs to buy its goods and services. Think of the industrial age in Britain and America, the stories of Charles Dickens, the sweatshops, the workers tossed out when injured, the child labor – all justified under the banner of freedom, capitalism, and the law of supply and demand. And it never would have changed if the progressive Teddy Roosevelt hadn’t been vice-president when William McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt promised Americans a ‘square deal.’ He regulated businesses and busted the trusts. One of his first speeches to congress after becoming president was to ask their help in limiting the power of large corporations. He also proposed common sense regulations for the food industry.     
     A healthy society can only occur when the symbiotic relationship between capitalists, stockholders, employees, and customers is clearly understood. There was a time when I thought that capitalists could be trusted to maintain that balance, trusted not to kill the golden goose. Certainly, capitalists like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard who founded computer company HP, were men who understood their responsibility to society. They built a company that built an industry that built a powerful middle class – who then bought HP products and other companies’ products and cars, and homes, and appliances, and sent their children to colleges and trade schools, and so the next generation prospered too. 
     But now, I sense the capitalists of old are returning and for massive, obscene personal profits would risk destabilizing society, heartlessly driving up unemployment, and squeezing the very middle class that would buy its products. Aesop’s fables have stood the test of time because they’ve never stopped being relevant.  
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Zurich 
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The Men Who Would be President

     An acquaintance in Europe once made an offhand remark to me that America doesn’t have freedom of the press. I looked at him strangely, thinking he was making a joke, but he was dead serious. And dead wrong. America has the freest press in the world. The problem is there’s too much of it, and we are swamped under a daily blizzard of truth and lies. The truth is out there on any subject you care to name – even the Kennedy assassination. The problem is knowing how to find it when deluged by a flood of papers, books, blogs, opinions, interviews, twitters, articles, billboards, and PAC ads all seeming to contradict each other. 
     Nowhere is this more evident than now during the U.S. presidential primaries. To paraphrase an old joke, the process for becoming president is so painful and embarrassing that any man who willingly runs for the office should be considered too dumb to handle the job.  
    With all that said, here is an article by Anne Coulter, a conservative spokesperson and wit comparing Mitt Romney with Newt Gingrich. She does a great job of sifting through the nonsense. I’m not always in agreement with Ms. Coulter’s opinion pieces. She’s too unflinchingly conservative for my taste. I like my columnists to fool me sometimes and agree with the opposition once in a while – after all, no one can be wrong on every issue 100% of the time. In any case, I feel that in this article she gave an honest and accurate appraisal of the two leading candidates for the Republican nomimation:   http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2012-01-25.html
     In my next post, I will discuss one of my proudest moments – I recently set up my new cable converter box and WLAN all in the same day, and they worked. Or maybe I’ll discuss two young adult books I recently read, The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game.  
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich
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Political Attack Ads on Female Candidates and Mitt Romney

     I’ve never known anyone to admit that they were susceptible to the siren-like enchantments of Madison avenue advertising – but they are. We all are.  And that is the genius of advertising. It achieves its amazing results, whipping audiences into a frenzy of white hot shopping, and no one senses it happening to them. The sobering truth is that advertisers are extremely sophisticated at manipulating oblivious audiences. In other words, when it comes to any form of advertising, we would be wise to remember the age old saying that if you sit down at a poker table and can’t spot the sucker, chances are it’s you. 

     Is it any wonder then, with so much at stake, that political advertising works just as effectively and scientifically as retail advertising? Here is an example of how a media-savvy campaign would plan a political attack ad if their male candidate were facing a female opponent.  

1.      Using sophisticated polling methodologies, they would first determine which voters would choose their candidate even if he was a paroled serial killer and which ones wouldn’t vote for him even if he was Abraham Lincoln.

2.      Having determined which voters they didn’t have to persuade and which ones they couldn’t persuade, they would then construct their attack ads to appeal only to the undecided voters.

3.      They next would assemble focus groups made up of the same demographics as the undecided voters and ask them to identify the traits they most despised in women. The usual answers are: controlling, overly emotional, hysterical, unfeminine, neglectful of children, ugly, stupid. They might even ask them to identify female characters in movies or books that they most feared, despised or mistrusted.

4.      Next, they would review every speech and peruse every video and picture of the female candidate looking for something she said or did which matched-up with one of the negative traits.

5.      Armed with this information they would create a commercial blending all these traits into a narrative about the opponent. For example, if ‘over-emotional’ were a hot button, they would find a picture of the female candidate crying and then splash over the screen angry, bold letters that said, “Will she crack under pressure?” – forgetting to mention that the picture was taken at the funeral of her mother. You get the idea.

     If you doubt what I’m saying, please check out this excellent article filled with links to real political attack ads aimed at female candidates. It makes clear that in the world of political attack ads, if you are a woman, you are very likely to be attacked in a certain way – regardless of facts or your record. 

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/11/elizabeth_warren_ad_from_karl_rove_s_crossroads_gps_pac_how_political_attack_ads_against_men_and_women_differ.html

     But the same thing goes for men. They attack each other using the same principles. For example, men find it unmanly if male candidates don’t ‘stick to their guns’ on issues. Is it any wonder then that Mitt Romney, over and over again, is accused of being a ‘flip-flopper’ – regardless of the facts? Romney has changed his mind on some issues, as has every candidate with a brain during the course of their career, but Romney’s opponents have worked their “Madison Avenue Magic’ especially hard trying to paint him with the ‘flip-flop’ brush. Don’t fall for it. Check out this link to a non-partisan organization called FactCheck, which looks at 15 issues where Romney is accused of changing his opinion.  

http://factcheck.org/2011/11/flipping-through-dnc-playbook-on-romney/

     My next blog post may be something Christmasy – or it may be a movie review, if I happen to see a movie. Or even a book review. I just finished reading The Honorable Schoolboy by John LeCarre. Or it may be about life in South Africa. If you have a request, let me know.

Regards,

Jim

Umhlanga, South Africa.

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Today, the 48th Anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination

     Today, on the 48th anniversary of his death, I still vividly remember the day that Kennedy was assassinated. It was after lunch, and I was sitting in my 8th grade class at St. Brigid’s in Brooklyn, NY, when Brother Ralph, our Franciscan principal, announced over the loud speakers that President Kennedy had been shot. Later, while walking home from an after-school activity, I bumped into Brother Vianney, one of my teachers, who gave me the news of his death. Since then I have read several books on the Kennedy assassination, seen the Oliver Stone movie, viewed the Zapruda film, visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas, watched a Dan Rather investigative report, and listened to a televised debate.
     After all this, I am convinced, more than ever, that there was a conspiracy and a cover-up. I say this without anger or even cynicism, but with a numbness. I remember the world before Kennedy and immediately afterwards. For a while I wondered how the world could ever be a happy place again. Those who weren’t alive in that era have no idea what America was like or how positively Kennedy was viewed by the nation and the world. He seemed to embody all that was good in America: War hero, Pulitzer Prize winner, educated, cosmopolitan, respected even by the opposite party. When he needed a break he would gather up his brother Bobbie and close advisors and play touch football on the White House lawn. His children played at his feet in the Oval Office. For a while after his death, colors seemed less bright, the world was a very puzzling place, and America was like a man trying to run in chest deep water.  
    And then came the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and it’s promise of “a big, bright, beautiful tomorrow sitting at the end of every day” sung hundreds of times a day at the General Electric exhibit (later to be dismantled and reassembled in Disneyland as the Carousel of Progress). Somehow the country recovered. Me too.
     Why do I believe there was a cover-up? The answer is complicated and partially wrapped  in the question “How and at what point does a person become convinced of anything he didn’t personally witness?”
    I’ve read most of the arguments and counter-arguments on both sides of the debate. In the final analysis, after both sides brought up all their arguments and counter-arguments, there were only a few unresoloved points left on the table – and every one of those irrefutable points fell in favor of the conspiracy nuts.     
1.   The Zapruda film shows Kennedy being blasted backwards from the fatal head shot – meaning the shot had to have come from the front and not from the 3rd story of the Book Depository where Oswald was supposed to be lurking. Further, I have heard the theories attempting to explain how Kennedy could have been knocked backwards by a bullet from behind – and let me say, they defy common sense.  
2.    On the 25th anniversary of the assassination, Dan Rather did what was advertised to be a thorough, definitive, in-depth, impartial investigation’ of the assassination. However, the documentary addressed only those parts of the conspiracy theory it could reasonably explain. It never even discussed the truly troubling pieces of evidence such as the pristine bullet found on the stretcher in Parklan hospital that had riflling marks from Oswald’s rifle, or the single bullet that supposedly caused seven wounds in Kennedy and Connolly.   
3.   In the 1970’s I saw a discussion on late night television between a conspiracy theorist and a man who had just written a book agreeing with the Warren Commission’s single-gunman conclusion. In the debate the theorist said that if you added up the weight of all the bullet fragments found in Kennedy and Connally, it definitely proved that they were hit by more bullets than was claimed by the WC, and therefore there had to have been a second shooter. In fact, he said the WC itself stated in one of its 26 volumes that the weight of all the bullet fragments added up to more than the weight of a brand new bullet. The WC apologist agreed that that would conclusively prove the existence of a second shooter, but he scoffed at the notion that the WC report provided any such proof. The show then cut to a commercial. When it came back, the theorist’s desk was covered with books and within a few seconds he found the reference in the Warren Report and read it out loud. The author and the host sat there stunned. Sitting in my living room, I was also stunned. After that there was much confusion and attempts to change the subject. Eventually the program ended.  
     Perhaps next week I’ll be talking about my writing again. But I must admit, the principle of reinforced behavior is certainly working here. I get far more hits on my blog when I talk about politics than when I do about writing. Maybe that will change after I write my first bestseller.
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich.
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They Burn Witches Don’t They

The famous conservative pundit and long time host of Firing Line, William F. Buckley, once said words to the effect that the reason we don’t burn witches at the stake anymore is because we no longer believe in witches – not because we are better people. I have to agree. Which leads me to a few comments on Mitt Romney’s run for the U.S. presidency. In some circles, Mr. Romney is taking a fair amount of flack for being a Mormon. Some of the attacks are subtle – such as suggestions that good Americans should only vote for ‘true’ Christians. But other attacks are blatant appeals to religious intolerance. How strange for this to be happening in America.  
Many people immigrated to America in the 16 and 17 hundreds to escape religious intolerance and outright persecution in Europe. The Thirty Years’ war between the Protestants and the Catholics was fought mainly in Germany from 1618 to 1648 and took the lives of approximately 8 million people. This was, of course, only a few decades after the French Wars of Religion from 1562 to 1598 where an estimated 3 million were killed. No wonder so many people risked life and limb to come to that savage new continent called ‘America.’
I wonder what those early pioneers would think if they could see the current presidential race. I suspect they would be shaking their heads in dismay to see that same old prejudice at play – the one they voted against with their feet by making the long and dangerous journey to America.
As a digression, let me say that I’ve recently read two Michael Connolly thrillers:  The Lincoln Lawyer and The Fifth Witness, both about ace defense lawyer Mickey Haller. Dang, they were good. The Lincoln Lawyer was made into a very good movie with Matthew McConaughey – in fact, the movie screenplay changed the plot around a little at the end and did a good job of it – in my opinion. The Fifth Witness had some great courtroom scenes. I highly recommend both – for mature readers.
In my next post, I will give a little more information about my sequel to Einstein’s Trunk. Have I mentioned before that I’ve changed the title and am now calling it “A Thousand Suns.” I’ll tell you why next week.
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich
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Born in the U.S.A.

Communication is a wonderful thing. But sometimes it can leave you speechless. I’m doing a little rewriting these days of the sequel to Einstein’s Trunk, and I’ve inserted a scene where the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Born in the U.S.A. is mentioned. In doing so it prompted a memory and I did a little research.
Now, for those of you who don’t know that song, it was released in 1984, and even today is still well thought of and rated number 275 on Rolling Stone’s list of top rock-n-roll hits. The song is about a working class guy who gets “in a hometown jam and has to go serve in Vietnam”. He has no idea what the war is about, loses a friend there and comes to see the war as senseless and the promise of America as unfulfilled.
In other words, the song was not particularly positive about America’s direction at the time – though the title could make you think it was. But here’s the communication angle: In 1984, conservative columnist George Will saw Springsteen in concert, complained the music was too loud, obviously couldn’t hear the lyrics, but loved the title and sound of Springsteen’s hit song – Born in the USA – and decided that Springsteen must be a real, true-blue, supporter of conservative values. Will  mentioned this to his friend, Michael Deaver, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Deaver later mentioned it to Reagan’s speech writers, and the next thing you know Reagan is talking about Springsteen in his campaign stump speech. Reagan said, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts, it rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”
In fact, Born in the USA told a completely opposite story. But thanks to the office of the president, the ‘branding’ stuck despite the obvious contradiction provided by the lyrics. As a side note, Lee Iacocca, who obviously never listened to the lyrics either, offered Springsteen $millions to use the song to promote Chrysler, but Bruce turned him down.
But I digress: I received an email a few weeks ago enlightening me on the origin of the name “Yohaba Melekson” – the heroine of Einstein’s Trunk. It turns out that Melek means king in Hebrew and Melekson means ‘son of the king’. Also, the name ‘Yohaba’ has connections to the Hebrew name for God. And it turns out that Rulon’s name also has a religious connotation. I originally chose the name ‘Rulon’ because it was an old Idaho pioneer name that stirred up notions of someone who was straight-laced but perhaps a bit of a hick – remember, Rulon likes to be underestimated! Well, it turns out that Rulon as a first name is a native American name that means ‘Spiritual’. So both Rulon and Yohaba have a name with a spiritual side to them – albeit unintentional.
My next post will either be on Mitt Romney’s chances of being president or a review of mystery writer Michael Connolly’s book – The Fifth Witness. Let me know if you have a preference.   
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