A Birthday Celebration for Those That Live in the Shadow

 

Frederick the Great plays, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach at Keyboard -wikipedia

Frederick the Great plays, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach at Keyboard -wikipedia

Yesterday, March 8th, was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s birthday.  Born March 8th, 1714 to the most illustrious of fathers, Johann Sebastian Bach, one can feel some sympathy for C.P. Emanuel as the role of living in the shadow of greatness is not always the easiest of jobs.  It is fitting to celebrate Herr Bach’s birthday though as, all things considered, he held up the family mantle rather well.  Somewhat better of a politician than his father, he ended up in the court of Frederick the Great, and in his lifetime was well known across Europe for his own prodigious talents at the clavier and composition.  Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven all recognized his contributions, George Philipp Telemann was his godfather – you could hardly do better with a set of connections such as that.  Yet as for all offspring that had to stand in the shadows of the brilliant suns that were their fathers, C.P. Emanuel faced the battle of achieving happiness and personal accomplishment permanently measured against the Promethean accomplishments of his progenitor.

We might take a moment to acknowledge a profound contributor to advances in sediment transport, Hans Albert Einstein. Maybe hydraulic engineering doesn’t exactly elicit the same awe as the Theory of Relativity, but Hans knew about sedimentation, and his father Albert was proud of him as a full professor at Cal Berkeley. Or Ernst Freud,

Ernst Freud's Modernism Architecture

Ernst Freud’s Modernism Architecture

an architect in the Art Deco to Modernist style, who generally allowed none of the submerged psychological conflicts outlined by his father Sigmund to confuse his clean and accessible modernist style of architecture.  John Quincy Adams managed to achieve the height of success that was his father John’s legacy, the Presidency of the United States,  but a generation removed from the concept of founding a revolutionary democracy, he is not about to have David McCullough write a book about him.

Unfortunately, there are also the legacies of greatness that devoured the sons that seem to be telling.  Charlemagne’s son Pepin was potentially gifted the Holy Roman Empire as heir to the throne, but misfortune was his calling.  Two strikes were present upon Pepin’s birth and youth that doomed him to history. The presence of significant scoliosis made him Pepin the Hunchback, not exactly the impression the first Emperor of a continental power wanted to project to his people as his progeny, and additionally Pepin had the misfortune of his father’s contracted relationship with his mother Himiltrude deemed illegitimate, making him in mid-youth a bastard son and out of the line of succession.  Such blows of fate are not exactly historical foundations for greatness.  Pepin responded like all diminished sons, spending the majority of life plotting against his father, resulting in his permanent banishment to a monastery, and guaranteeing no statues commemorating Pepin the Hunchback.  Randolph Churchill was the son Winston and the great, great, great, great grandson of the Duke of Marlborough.

Randolph Churchill - son of Winston

Randolph Churchill – son of Winston

Unfortunately he was also the grandson of Sir Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father, inheriting his grandfather’s tendencies for poor choices and rash behavior.  Living in the shadow of the man who saved western civilization is obviously a burden that would be great for any offspring, and Randolph cascaded between jealousy, alcohol, and womanizing, obscuring the additionally present familial character traits of courage, adventurous spirit, and literary talent.  He paralleled his American compatriot, James Roosevelt, son of Franklin in that both felt the pull of politics that defined their father.  But though both James and Randolph eventually were elected to political office, neither could establish individual identities from their famous fathers, and their political careers floundered.  Randolph late in life seemed to find stability in writing for history his father’s legacy through a biography of the famous father, but his alcohol driven poor health, crashed this salvation in its infancy with his death in 1968, just three years after Winston.

And that brings us back to Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, not ever to be confused with his father on the Mount Rushmore of composers, or perhaps even with his somewhat more innovative brother, Johann Christoph Friedrich.  All in all, given the immense legacy he labored under, C.P. Emanuel Bach proved to be a decent composer, a respected intellect in Frederick the Great’s court, and a pretty good piano (clavier) player. Not bad.

Happy Birthday, Carl Philipp Emanuel.

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The Most Irrelevant Man In The World

The Empty Podium

On October 24, 1973, in response to the rapidly deteriorating position of the Arab forces during the Yom Kippur War against Israel, The Soviet leader Brezhnev sent President Nixon a communique stating

“I will say it straight that if you find it impossible to act jointly with us in this matter, we should be faced with the necessity urgently to consider taking appropriate steps unilaterally.  We cannot allow arbitrariness on the part of Israel.”

The Russian leader was expressing  to the leader  of the United States its determination to increase its belligerence with any evidence of increasing Israeli advantage in the conflict against its Arab client states.  Brezhnev was implying that the Soviet Union was expecting the United States to stand aside as the Soviets injected military forces into the region, or face the consequences of direct contact between the Cold War foes themselves.

There is no video of the President of the United States’ response to this provocative communique.  There is no public response, as none was necessary.  The United States proceeded to reinforce Israel through supply, move Sixth Fleet forces into the Eastern Mediterranean, and increase the readiness status of its world wide forces.  The Soviet Union understood exactly what this meant.  The President of the Soviet Politburo Nicolai Podgorny pretended  bewilderment at the aggressive response, and expressed it was not reasonable that the Soviet Union be engaged in a war with the United States because of Egypt and Syria, and the KGB head Andropov recommended reduced Russian provocation because the United States was clearly “too nervous”.  The Soviet Union recognized that a regional conflict had been elevated silently by the United States president to the position of the direct national interests of the United States, and was therefore no longer a conflict with controllable consequence.

This moment achieved the elements necessary for all parties to determine to find a way out one of the most dangerous moments for the world since World War II.  The cold war foes the United States and the Soviet Union understood the rules of the game – and the capacities of each without the need for either to assert in public these rules and thereby risk possible humiliation and loss of control of dangerous moments.

This careful understanding of capacity, national interest, regional roles and need to control events without potentially dangerous humiliation was the central focus of all diplomatic efforts during the Cold War.  Presidents, whether Democrat or Republican, knew that, what was at stake when they expressed themselves was inherently and fundamentally more than their personal reputations.  The President of the United States and the Premier of the Soviet Union realized that in public they were the personification of the national identity of their powerful countries, and their spartan use of words had to reflect their profound responsibilities, their actions, to send clear and precisely understood messages as to consequences.

This was the diplomatic concept that President Obama has spent almost six years of Presidency undermining and disassembling.  From the public disdain for the previous President’s foreign policy, to the public apology tour of the President across the world, to the inaction and indifference to constant challenges to American prestige across the globe, to inane public announcements of so called “red lines” for the United States which are crossed then ignored, to the pathetic public “reset” with its traditional global opponent without the careful development of alternative responses for poor behavior- the president has publically and foolishly confused his public persona with the country he represents.  This narcissism is leading to calamity after calamity and somewhere someone is going to make a tragic mistake.

During the republican convention of 2012, the actor Clint Eastwood pretended to have a conversation with the President, speaking  to an empty chair. The unfortunate truth is that this actor’s prop may have been the most illuminating caricature of this President that could possibly be made.  The picture of the empty Presidential podium above has become an unfortunate symbol of this president, as he has with every overexposed public word, become increasingly irrelevant to management of world events.  The latest “red line” announced by the President, the movement of Russian troops into the Ukraine to reinforce their Crimean interests, was humiliatingly ignored as soon as he said it.  The enormous danger of having a leader who believes his personal views are the world’s views is progressively coming to bear.  Having the most powerful country in the world, led down an incalculable path by the most irrelevant man in the world,  is a story that is going to have a tragic ending, and stories like that, are ominous and ugly for all of us inhabitants.

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Liberty Has Its Own Timetable

Kiev Independence Square - jeffmitchell/getty images

The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants

– Thomas Jefferson

On February 21th, diplomatic representatives of the European Union, the President of the Ukraine, leaders of Ukrainian opposition groups, and Russian foreign diplomats agreed to a compromise to seek a way out of the violent upheaval in the streets of the capital city of Kiev and across the Ukraine.  The plan sought a reduction in the current president’s powers and earlier elections then planned for the nation’s federal offices. Solemn remarks of the participants after the agreement suggested it was the only way out of the crisis.  The EU’s Polish representative Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski told opposition leaders, “If you don’t support this deal, you will have martial law. the army. You’ll all be dead.” An agreement was signed and the current government had achieved some breathing room. President Yanukovych, the hated focus of the protestors for selling out the Ukraine to Russia after previously agreeing to a stronger relationship with the European Union, was allowed to remain President to the next election.

Apparently no one asked the opinion of the people of the Ukraine.

Revolutions don’t seek compromise, they seek fundamental change.  And what was seen as a mob driven protest by the negotiators was instead an overwhelming surge of national conversion, driven by the blood of 100 dead and thousands injured in the violent battles in Maidan Square.  Blood was not spilled for compromise, but for liberty, for the country to direct its own future free of Russian domination.  The political leaders did not recognize the depth of conversion that had taken place.  Within hours of the agreement, the fundamentals of government control began to crumble in the face of overwhelming public pressure.  Opposition leaders, explaining the agreement to the masses were shouted down, and the call rose for the immediate resignation of the hated President.  The police, sensing the shift, began to side with the demonstrators.  The army stood aside as the nation convulsed in determination.  Governmental offices were overrun.  President Yanukovych, sensing the sand shift from beneath his feet, hurriedly abandoned the capitol for the supposed safety of the Russian speaking city of Kharkiv.  What he found in Kharkiv was ten of thousands of more protestors and his ability to exit to Russia blocked.  The Ukrainian parliament voted for his impeachment, and arranged the release of his imprisoned rival the previous Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.  This incredible 24 hours of events is reported minute to minute by the UK Guardian in a way that current American newspaper organizations could not hold a candle to.

One week ago, President Putin of Russia was sure he had bucked up his satrap in the Ukraine with enough money to use what ever means necessary to maintain governmental control, and Russia’s dominant position in the affairs of the Ukraine.  A week later it appears his dream of a greater Russian confederation in the style of the Soviet Union is in tatters.  As it turns out, money can’t buy everything.

Maidan Square- Kiev Ukraine   voanews.com

Maidan Square- Kiev Ukraine voanews.com

The people of the Ukraine have achieved through their blood and determination a chance at a better future.  Given the miniscule current backbone of the United States and the European Union, however,  it is an uncertain one at best.  Putin may yet prove to be a Brezhnev, who 1968 sent his tanks into Prague, or achieved the silencing of  Solidarity with marshal law in Poland in 1981.  He has suggested on multiple occasions that he sees the inaction of Gorbachev allowing the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991 as the mortal sin of governance.  With tens of thousands of dead in the Chechen republic battles he is not about to go “weak kneed” in the face of a few hundred dead in Kiev.

Whatever the outcome, the people of the Ukraine, and less recognized but equally passionate, the people of Venezuela, have determined that casual acceptance of a life under socialist tyrants is not their vision of a livable future.  The world, including the previous citadel of individual freedom, the United States,  continues to slide in governance to a progressive socialist mediocrity.  It is no surprise that large bureaucracies like the EU, felt it important to tell the Ukrainian opposition that, aspirations aside, the agreement for a surrender to managed decline was the best the people could hope for.

The message from Kiev is that the understanding of and desire for Jefferson’s eternally defined rights has not yet been eliminated from the face of the earth.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Thomas Jefferson

And THAT – is what its all about…

 

 

 

 

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El Pretendiente Is No Bolivar

Simon Bolivar - The Liberator

Simon Bolivar – The Liberator

On September 7th 1821, General Simon Bolivar stood astride a liberated land colossus of current day Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Panama and northwest Brazil as President of the republic of Gran Columbia.  Born of the age of Enlightenment, and intensely shaped by the American and French Revolutions, Bolivar envisioned the possibilities of his own native Latin America and with brilliant strategy helped by 1825 to eject the Spanish overlords from nearly half the Latin American continent.  A fervent admirer of the American experiment and philosophy of Jefferson he none the less differed from the American founders in two significant ways.  He was virulently against slavery, and he felt the 400 year Spanish rule of the region had corrupted the capacity for unfettered democracy.  He described the Spaniards as having dominated through unholy triad of “ignorance, tyranny and vice”, and that it would take a firm leader to shepherd the people to a point where their own aspirations could be fairly realized.

Simon Bolivar, a son of Venezuela born in Caracas, but father to the hopes and dreams of an entire continent, could not know that his efforts to mold the concepts of the American dream to a Latin American version of paternal guidance, would lead to two hundred years of pretenders, who would corrupt Bolivar’s vision and retrench the concept of master rule.

The nineteenth century of nationalist dictatorships gave way to a twentieth century of military dictatorships, with patchy occasional experiments with democratic process. The new century has found an even more disturbing model in Bolivar’s home, Venezuela. A military coup leader, Hugo Chavez, who in the fine tradition of South American militaries unsuccessfully attempted in 1992 to overthrow the democratically elected government  of Venezuela, was elected in 1998 to the presidency of Venezuela, on a

Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez

platform of providing the poor with their fair portion of the bounties of the state.  After his failed coup in 1992 and brief imprisonment, Chavez was released from prison, and determined to learn from the coup master Fidel Castro as to how to attain ultimate rule. Castro’s unique combination of fascist and socialist tenets, creating one man permanent rule and a progressive destruction through socialism of a nation’s economic fabric, had succeeded in holding Cuba for the Castro family for fifty years.  Chavez saw Venezuela as prime for a similar future, with one spectacular advantage Castro could only dream of, Venezuela’s huge oil reserves available to fund the vision.  Chavez had learned well from Castro, and declared upon winning the Presidency, “the resurrection of Venezuela has begun, and nothing and no one can stop it.”

Nationalizing the oil wealth and reorienting media and government to fit his vision, Chavez ruled for 14 years, progressively organizing the socialist state to permanence, and was stopped only by cancer leading to his death in 2013.  Using the Castro concept of “permanent revolution”, he was able to suppress rising discontent from the Venezuelan middle class that had progressively to pay for the brunt of his anti market strategies.  Learning from Castro the necessity of fascistic imagery, Chavez put for his charismatic personality in similar form, wearing the uniform of the revolutionary, promoting the concept of an “indispensable” leader, railing against anyone who saw through his cartoon image.

The plan broke down with Chavez’s cancer, and he was forced to find a substitute who would continue the process of centrally dominating the Venezuelan society.  His clone was to be Nicolas Maduro, a union leader of bus drivers, who had worked his way up Chavez’s inner group, and had the willingness to maintain the grip on power that would be necessary when the charismatic Chavez was no longer on the stage.

Nicolas Maduro

Nicolas Maduro

Maduro has positioned himself to be the natural successor to Chavez’s one man rule, creating laws for the purpose of centralizing military and police power, declaring”economic war”, and requesting emergency dictatorial powers.  The typical effect of socialistic management and fascistic cult  worship is leading to a historical collapse of Venezuela’s economy, and the people are getting tired of the pretender to the cult.  Maduro is no Castro, no Chavez, and definitely no Bolivar when it comes to charisma and is responding to progressive societal unrest with all the subtle reflexes of a union thug.  Average Venezuelans have seen the oil wealth  squandered to create a price control economy  now with an inflation rate of 56%, among the highest on earth, with massive shortages of daily necessities, such as medicine, food, and even toiletries.  Maduro has responded to the unrest in the nature of a strongman, using force to suppress protest, resulting in injuries and death, and increased suppression.  Like Ukraine earlier this year, Venezuela is heading for a showdown and the cap on significant violence may be uncapped in a horrific way.

Simon Bolivar hoped that eventually the yoke of Spanish intimidation, once lifted, would allow the flourishing of a better life for Latin Americans  in a land of immense resources. His problem was that he presumed that the men who would follow Bolivar would be upholders of the Rights of Man, not pretenders to the goals of his revolution.  The false promise of the twin deceivers of socialism and fascism is that they exist for the benefit of the people. As the current  Pretendiente Maduro in Venezuela, like all before him, has proven, the only ones who will ever see a better life in the socialist reality are the elite, and the rest of us are left to accept their good graces if they so desire.

As for the violent suppression of a people, Washington DC is likely once again to stand silently by.  After all, we have our own Pretendiente to consider.

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Sports As Epic Story- The Kaiser in Kitzbuhel

Franz Klammer 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics

Franz Klammer 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics

The 2014 winter Olympics at Sochi has had its fair share of distractions somewhat obscuring the always interesting stories behind competitive sport.  Pictures of inadequate toilet facilities, rancid water, Olympic rings that don’t open  and overbearing Russian presidents have distracted from the games inherent value, the celebration of human capacity and courage.   I have no doubt, though, that great accomplishments will soon take over from the other nonsense and give us some really stirring memories.

Sport is unique in that characteristic – creating a universally shared suspense and awe at what the athlete, challenged, can achieve.  The venue is intense competition without violence.  The Olympics, specifically, allowing nationalist fervor without the need for rancor.  In some venues of course, the lack of violence does not imply the lack of pressure or the lack of danger.  There is perhaps no more dangerous venue to the athlete than the Alpine Ski Downhill, and perhaps no less forgiving of an error.

There have been many great downhills in my memory that etch intense memory, but nothing comes close to the accomplishment of Franz Klammer at the 1976 Winter Olympics.  The story has all the components of an epic, the tension of watching something unbelievably special unfold.  As acts of profound human accomplishment in the face of overwhelming pressure, the Kaiser at Kitzbuhel has them all beat.

Austria is a nation of skiers and assumes their champions will represent the country as champions at the pinnacle of the sport. The test for the Austrian athlete is demanding – win and be immortalized, or lose and be forgotten.  In 1976, the Olympics came to Austria at Innsbruck, and fittingly, the one of the most epic two minutes in sport, the Men’s Downhill, was placed at the most demanding course for that event in the world, the Streif run on Hahnenkamm mountain in Kitzbuhel.  The Streif, a run with a 840 meter vertical drop and average 27% angle of decline with maximums of 40 degree inclines can break the will of the most courageous skier.  The word, loosely translated from German as “graze” or “streak”, lives up to its foreboding reputation from the very outset, with the skier instantaneously assuming top speeds  approaching 140 kilometers an hour. The course enters almost immediately into the famous ‘mousetrap’ where a jump of  nearly 300 feet leads to an almost immediate left turn, resulting in severe gravitational compression and many falls off the course. The run continues with steep drops, hairpin turns and infamous limited visuals that can bring the bravest skier to feel apprehension not only for failure but for injury or worse.  In a race often determined by hundreds of a second in outcome, a moment of hesitation can be fatal to success.

In 1976, the most prideful Alpine skiing nation hosted the greatest skiers on its greatest downhill course, and put forth its greatest champion.  Franz Klammer known as the Kaiser for his domination of World Downhill from 1974 onward, was the greatest of Austria’s formidable team, and was holding the entire nation on his shoulders when he took the last run at the Streif on February 5th, 1976.  He trailed the defending Olympic champion, the great Bernhard Russi of Switzerland, by a half second, with the course rutted, icy, and extremely treacherous from the courses of so many previous competitors.

The Starthaus at the top of the Streif at Hahnenkamm

The Starthaus at the top of the Streif at Hahnenkamm

Klammer was considered unconquerable in the downhill event, having won 8 of 9 on the world championship circuit and genetically bred for this particular downhill and its terrifying turns.  Regardless, it is difficult to identify with the pressure he felt when he stared out of the starting gate down at the mousetrap and the perils beneath.

Of course, that’s where champions live – the place the rest of us can only dream of.  Klammer, with the weight of his country and his own sense of history on his shoulders, determined to leave all caution behind, and release his skills at their maximum, regardless of personal risk – and see what would happen.  What happened of course was epic. The world watched a person defy physics skiing at the edge of control and disaster, and determining go even faster.  On two occasions, he seemed completely out of body control, hurtling sideways, and heading into hay bales and fences. Most of the time he somehow controlled speeds of 60 to 80 miles an hour on one ski, absorbing ruts and ice with perilous angles.  His goal after all, was not to finish, not to survive – but to win.

The grainy video does not do the original visual full justice but the announcers let you know what is being witnessed, because they know the fine line this man has chosen between victory and perhaps death. It is perhaps even more intense in local television broadcast.  The Kaiser at Kitzbuhel made all of humanity shimmer that day in the glory of a man conquering his own mortality, and a nation explode in the pride of watching someone prove to be even better than advertised.  With such moments, sport reaches perfection.

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People We Should Know – #25 Milt Rosenberg

Milt Rosenberg     For almost 40 years, when most of the world had converted what is considered entertainment into a certain kind of superficial fluff, the Chicago radio station WGN stubbornly held on to an anachronistic concept of entertainment that was unavailable in almost every other forum.  From 1973 to 2012, in the evening hours on WGN  a very special idea that learning and enlightening listeners through conversation could be a popular form of entertainment, was made possible by a unique man, Dr. Milton Rosenberg.  For decade after decade, Dr. Rosenberg with a mesmerizing voice, commanding intellect and bottomless interest in a universe of conceivable topics captivated his audience with thousands of interviews with the famous and unknown, topics great and obtuse, side by side.  The concept that quiet and in-depth discussions with individuals most knowledgable in their area of expertise could survive in a culture where the acquiring of  opinions have progressively been based on feelings rather than facts and logic was revolutionary.  It could not have been done without the special personality and abilities of Milton Rosenberg.  The fantastic legacy of this program is one of the major influences that formed the logic for the existence of this blog, as is why Milt Rosenberg is Ramparts  People We Should Know-  #25.

Milt Rosenberg was already a distinguished professor when he started with WGN in a cultural affairs program that eventually became the program, Extension 720.  With a doctorate earned in Psychology, Dr. Rosenberg had already been a teaching professor at distinguished universities such as Yale, Dartmouth, Ohio State and the Naval College, when he became a full professor at the University of Chicago and became involved in the radio program.  The concept was a two hour conversation with an expert or investigator in the subject of the evening, followed by an hour allowing the listeners to call in and ask the host and the expert questions.  The subject was ‘everything’, or as Dr. Rosenberg put it, “just about everything except pop psychology and poodle trimming.”   Night after night year after year, listeners could hear in depth discussions from scientists, writers, reporters, historians, actors, and politicians, the growing influence of the program bringing prestigious guests as diverse as Carl Sagan, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Bob Feller, MArgaret Thatcher, George Will, Mark Steyn and David Brinkley.   It required Rosenberg’s magnificent mind and voracious study habits to make each interview an enveloping thought process, rather than a question and answer session with shallow questions and staged answers.  It was brilliant, it was wonderful, and it was interesting.

In 2012 at age 87, Dr. Rosenberg’s program as a regular feature on WGN was finally terminated, and a special piece of American culture was thought to be lost.  The wonderful thing is that despite Dr. Rosenberg’s advanced age, he remains a powerful intellectual force and is completely in tune with the times.  He has seemlessly moved on to the current great foum of ideas, the internet, continuing to entertain people with wonderful conversations now available in podcast form sponsored by the website Richocet.com which is hosting the current Milt Rosenberg Show where Milt is continuing with ongoing wonderful energy and brilliance the ideas central to the original Extension 720.  Even better, he is assuring that the almost 4 decades of radio history that encompassed his show will now be made available to current generations with a thirst for knowledge through conversation, by subscribing at 45 dollars a year to the library of all his previous radio shows.  It is a treasure to go back and listen to a Henry Kissinger, a Martin Gilbert, a Margaret Thatcher at the height of their intellectual powers review the pressing ideas of their day, and for me has been already worth every dollar.  I don’t now how long Dr. Rosenberg can keep it up, by I am certainly cheering him on as tries to preserve for all of us a vanishing form of discourse that can so enrich our lives. For his many years and ongoing efforts to bring the richness and diversity of learning and knowledge in a comfortable form to all of us, Milton Rosenberg is Ramparts  People We Should Know-  #25.

Milt Rosenberg interviews Martin Gilbert on the Life of Winston Churchill

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Why Don’t We Care About Facts Anymore?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

 

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The latest Harris polls have come out this past week regarding the state of the country’s confidence regarding the nation’s management and future and they are grim. Powerline reviews these polls in anticipation to the President’s State of the Union address and finds that Americans by an almost continuous ratio of three out of every four citizens feel the direction as to managing the large challenges of this country, whether the environment, economy, education, health care, jobs, or foreign policy, is poor.  The conclusion is that this is one of the most comprehensively pessimistic index of American confidence ever.  What contributes to such pessimism and drives the most self correcting government mechanism ever developed to drive a Lamborghini of countries off the cliff?

I think it is as John Adams once said – “Facts are stubborn things.”

The country has spent the past fifty years of its history increasingly turning philosophically to the measuring stick of Values rather than Facts to guide its direction. Values and what they say about us are infinitely more comforting then dealing with the harsh realities of facts.  Values declare an ideal world as it should be and define a truth that does not require a carefully constructed argument based on facts.  It is an unpleasant sensation to recognize that people should respond and how they react in reality to facts are dissonant.  The very liberal but factually enlightened Daniel Patrick Moynihan discovered this almost fifty years ago when he made the mistake of critically assessing  the social effect of government’s war on poverty on a specific group, the nation’s African American poor.  As a disciple of Lyndon Johnson, Moynihan was determined to find the government’s aggressive effort to wrench the nation’s poor out of poverty successful,  but found instead dangerously opposite trends in the reaction of the population to the “help”.  The positive values in the civil rights movement overlaid with  the timing of the war on poverty were assumed to create an environment of opportunity and safety net that would improve the situation for the average urban poor – but Moynihan was finding disturbingly opposite trends.  The crux of the issue seemed to be the fact that illegitimacy and single parent families were exploding in what had been a population that had lagged but at least paralleled the rest of the nation’s population in terms of economic progress and family stability.

This wasn’t a liberal versus conservative argument.  Certainly Moynihan as a staunch liberal wasn’t rejecting the concept of the nation providing a strong hand in helping its nation’s poor or overturning hard won civil rights.  He was instead pointing to facts and the need to understand them in guiding policy.  What he and other factualists were not prepared for was the spectacular blow back from value biased proponents that vilified the report, not for its logic, but for its argumentative ‘illegitimacy’.  In the values world, the facts suggested an effort to “blame the victim”, and imply a racially tinged “promiscuity” to the urban poor that was opposite of Moynihan’s argument.  Although many bright individuals saw similar trends to Moynihan’s observations, the corrective actions that might have helped generations of poor were stamped out by the a progressively entrenched group of powerbrokers that felt they ‘owned’ the values argument, and that being non-judgmental regardless of outcome was the appropriate judgment.

What neither Moynihan or much of the nation recognized at the time was this values movement, philosophically being non-judgmental about fact and result meant being progressive and politically correct, would overwhelm all the naturally corrective capacities of adjusting to facts.

Fifty years later, and trillions of dollars of right minded non-judgmental expenditure has left us with gaping holes in urban poor education, family stability, economic capacity, and confidence in the future.  No set of facts are up to withstanding the blizzard of invectives regarding victimhood, accepting any socially dissonant behavior,  or continuing to explode the budgets of failing programs designed to “help”.

This willful ignorance and war against facts and their basis to constructively correct actions is the foundational cause of this nation’s pessimism.

The values movement has metastasized in many elements of policy discourse, particularly the economic ones, as significant money is to be made from arguing victimhood. The enormous redirection of funds to “modify behavior” in order to “save the world from global warming” continues despite the overwhelming evidence that the so called “settled science” of anthropomorphically induced  global warming has collapsed.  The pouring of trillions into “stimulus” projects when  economic fundamentals suggest the opposite effect to economic growth incentives is created.  The crash of health care stability against the desire to make it more fair or equitable, rather than better.  The value of democratizing populations that hunger for stability rather than unencumbered elections before any other societal stabilizers are in place.  The throwing away of thousands of years of educational concepts on formative development for the desire for each individual to be allowed to ‘ seek their own place’ in what they are educated on, with its resultant disastrous effect on cultural literacy.

And on and on and on.

Facts are stubborn things. Human behavior follows fairly recognized paths that our social engineering efforts often helplessly thrash against.  The country is growing increasingly pessimistic because it can’t discern a way out of this mess; it can’t see that good intentions unencumbered by factual adjustment lead only to further deterioration.   We are trying to be good by trying to do good, with the opposite effect resulting and contributing to our fatigue. The cure would be in accepting facts to lead to improving the conditions that would lead to progress against society’s ills, rather than projecting value judgements that perpetuate their very existence.   The cure would be in listening to voices that discern the balance between values and facts necessary to begin to build some confidence back into the system, and trust the correcting capacities of the system as it was designed, not as we wish to manipulate it.  As Senator Moynihan presciently stated so many years ago, no one owns the facts.

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight

ARIEL SHARON

ARIEL SHARON

Cincinnatus was a farmer. In 458 B.C., as he was plowing his field, a representative of the Roman Senate travelled to the farm, and described the crisis facing the Roman nation in a fight to the death with neighboring tribes the Aequi and the Sabines.  He told Cincinnatus that the Senate had determined to vote him dictator and give him all powers necessary to save Rome from the invaders.  The farmer Cincinnatus became the patriot general Cincinnatus and accepted the charge, eventually leading Rome to a crushing defeat of its adversaries.  With the roman world at his feet, he then did what was unheard of for a warrior general with absolute power.  He gave up the power voluntarily and absolutely, and returned to his farm.  He served the country that he loved, then returned to the farm that he loved.  He never confused himself as to who he was, or what was asked of him.

Israel’s farmer general died today, on his farm, and like Cincinnatus , never confused his role as a savior general with his role as a citizen of the country he loved.  In various roles, he helped lead Israel from its inception in 1948, through almost every conflict the nation faced over 50 years and returned to his farm until asked again to lead.  Ariel Sharon had been in a coma since 2006, but according to his family, decided his time to leave the mortal coil was now. Sharon as through his life, determined his own timetable for action.

And lead he did, to the often stunning unpredicted results as interpreted by those that would be his eternal foes.  Sharon was as he put it, a simple farmer, but as a military and political leader he was anything but simple.  In the field of battle, he was a implacable foe of the enemy, strategic and innovative in action, and single minded in his determination to defeat those before him. In politics, he often brought his strategic vision into actions that flummoxed his opponents who could not appreciate the clarity of his singular focus, the permanent existence of a viable Israeli state.  His strategic realism, saw each battle political or military, as a battle of survival, in which the outcome was to be contributory to the permanent existence of the state.  All else was merely charade, he didn’t play charades.  His foes despised him because there was no way to defeat him, and his friends struggled with him because he had already determined his victories before his actions.  He gave voice to the adage that he achieved results, and left it to others to devise a theory to explain it.

From Israel’s formative battles for independence in 1948, to his spectacular victories against more powerful Egyptian tank forces in the Sinai in 1973, Sharon was a brilliant leader of troops and recognized tactical genius.  Such heroes are enormous targets for critique, and Sharon’s aggressiveness was felt intolerable by some who felt Israel’s best position against its foes was an compromising co-existence.  Sharon understood the concept of enemy and studied his enemies.  He saw no conversion of Arab nationalism or Palestinian desires to seek the obliteration of the state of Israel, so he accepted all issues as to their positive or negative impact on Israel’s ongoing existence.  He never made any assumption that he could trust others to protect Israel’s fundamental interests, and did not seek the trust or respect of his foes.  To world liberalism and to Israel’s peace lobby, he demonstrated his intolerable flaws in 1982, when he did not hide behind excuses of a massacre of Palestinian refugees that occurred in Lebanon under his watch in 1982 during the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon to rout out increasing dangerous and aggressive Palestinian cells.  As defense minister, Sharon sought the elimination of Palestinian forces from southern Lebanon and allowed the blisteringly vengeful forces at work in Lebanon to work toward that goal.  In a country torn by competing forces of Christian Lebanese, Sunni and Shia, Druise militia, and a huge dose of Palestinian interlopers, Sharon permitted the Christian Phalangist forces to enter Palestinian refugee camps, to identify Palestinian fighters, and to the Maronite Phalangists, all Palestinians were usurpers to Lebanese territory.  A massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps ensued, and although the actual history of the raids are a confusing morass of Lebanonese versus Palestinian versus Syrian atrocities, the world blame fell directly on the shoulders of Sharon.

He was forced to resign, and returned to his farm in disgrace.  And so he remained in the political wilderness, until the Palestinian Intifadas of the turn of the century brought Sharon’s version of realism rather than idealism back into vogue.  Despite Israeli efforts for ten years to reach a negotiated accommodation with the Palestinians, The Palestinian leader Arafat found that 96% territorial concessions by Israel were insufficient to the 100% he felt appropriate, and turned the West Bank into a war zone. He achieved the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians and returned terror as a weapon to his negotiating technique.

Sharon as always was unaffected by enemies acting in expected ways.  As leader of Likud and eventually the hybrid political party, Kadima, he became Israel’s eleventh Prime Minister despite his controversial background, and proceeded to turn the concepts of peace upside down.  Seeing the Gaza strip militarily indefensible by Israel and meaningless strategically. he unilaterally pulled Israel out and left it to the Palestinians, stunning the world that always assumed he would see all of Israel’s military gains as inviolate.  To that end he dismantled and moved Israeli settlements in Gaza, considered politically impossible, but achieved by Sharon in short order.  Negotiating with Palestinian leader Abbas, following the death of Arafat, he determined that decisions henceforth regarding territory would be singularly based on Israel’s strategic defensive interests, and was on his way to a comprehensive  process for permanence when he was suddenly silenced by a stroke in 2006.   He remained in a silent coma until his passing today.

There is no telling as to what might have been the sequence of events with a Sharon in power for the first decade of this century.  It is clear that his enemies are happy to see him gone, as he was unbeatable, and tireless in their destruction.  It is also clear his country and neighbors lost the pathfinder that envisioned a  way out of the blind idealisms and dysfunctional radicalisms that haunt the region today.  Today the lion finally sleeps, and the world has lost one of its great leaders.  Somewhere, as in the picture that leads this blog, Sharon and Moshe Dayan are again sharing the tactics that allowed the survival of Israel against overwhelming odds.  The farmer of the Negev desert would remind Dayan, that even in the desert, unyielding will and visionary thinking can make for a bountiful harvest.

 

 

 

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May 10th, 1940

Churchill Becomes Prime Minister 1940On May 10th, 1940, His Royal Majesty advanced the seals of office of prime minister to Winston Spencer Churchill, thus finally placing Churchill in the leadership position he had coveted for 4 decades.  The previous prime minsters Baldwin and Chamberlain had managed to coddle the bombastic dictator of Germany Hitler through the policy of appeasement, allowing  the territorial acquisitions of the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, followed by laying prostrate before the ruthless acquisition of Poland and Norway. The day before, May 9th, a hundred division German army exploded on the western front slicing through Luxemburg, Belgium, and the Netherlands and stunningly, out of the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes forest into the heart of France.  Through these previous stalwart leaders Great Britain had responded to such aggression by symptomatically reducing its investment in Britain’s own forces leaving the home of the British Empire at a spectacular disadvantage to the Nazi war machine.

Now they turned this unsolvable mess and crisis over to Churchill.  Thank You very much.

There are tremendous lessons that can be learned by watching what Churchill did with such a craptacular gift bestowed upon him.

It would be assumed the first response would be to whine.  After all, he had spent the previous eight years warning of the impending and building disaster, only to be ignored, disdained, and humiliated by the very men who now expected him to somehow find a way out.  Even at the moment of governmental collapse, amazingly  Prime Minster Chamberlain and the King, hoped to avoid an ‘uncontrollable’ Churchill government, looked to Lord Halifax, one of the architects of the appeasement policy and sure to seek an accommodation with Germany, as their first choice to succeed Chamberlain. Halifax, a better politician than thinker, realized he had no hope of securing the confidence of now thoroughly disgusted and anxious House of Commons and deferred to Churchill.  With such wobbly indications of support, Churchill became prime Minister.

Lesson #1 – no whining.    Churchill’s first public announcement of where to start in such a crisis was to define , unequivocably, the end:

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

The hand Churchill had been dealt was all but unwinnable, but he wasn’t about to compromise on the necessity of defining the end as complete victory, not a set of “make due, our time is past, the challenges are too great” compromises. The aim? Victory. The means? Whatever it takes, however long it takes.  Churchill knew that in order to toughen people up for great hardship, it would be critical to assure them their leaders would not in the end sell their sacrifices out to some weak compromise that would ensure their enslavement.  Everybody would be in together to victory, or annihilation. With such stark realities, there would be no time for whining or playing the blame game.

Lesson #2 – complete commitment.  The first stunning surprise of the British governmental bureaucracy to the new Prime Minister’s style was ‘nobody rests until the goal of victory was secured’.  Entering into the job at the advanced age of 65, no one was prepared for Churchill’s incredible work drive.  Every minute of every day was committed to the goal, and the days were as long as even much younger men could possibly tolerate.  Churchill drove everyone to care about everything, no matter or fact too small or unimportant if it might contribute to the fabric of victory.  Churchill defined progress as Action- “Action this Day”. “Action in Three Days”, “Potential Action”.  Moving, probing, challenging, resisting were the processes to be developed. Sitting back and reacting was defeatist, and would not be tolerated.

lesson #3 – Man’s best instincts evolve through crisis.  Churchill had an unassailable historical perspective, and understood that true crisis often brought about great achievements of will.  Once he had succeeded in focusing the national will not on achieving the best of possible outcomes of defeat, but on a future victory, he knew determination and creativity would take hold.  Under the pressures of expected overwhelming defeat, Britain found the capacity to win the Battle of Britain, solve the Enigma code, advance the secrets of the atom, develop radar, and understand the complementary role it would have to play to the emerging super power the United States.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Lesson #4 – Transparency.  It was assumed by the British government before Churchill that the people were best left in the dark about the menace presented by the German military machine and the potential horrors of assault on the homeland.  Churchill would have none of it.  From the start he accepted the intelligence of his people to understand the task at hand, and the dangers they faced.  Though not professing religiousity, Churchill embraced the Christian Virtues of Temperance, Patience, and Diligence as essential elements in the DNA of the people he led, and recognized the need to support the those traits with unvarnished Truth.  He never underplayed the dangers or the sacrifices required, nor the difficulties that lay ahead.

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Lesson#5 – Tools of Victory.  Great challenges are won by inexorable will, but Churchill knew that one could not fight modern battles with sticks and stones.  The fundamental weapon in victory was a people’s understanding of their basic position in the battle as one of being in the Right.  Victory however has to be achieved on a progressively level playing field, and Churchill looked to seal the leaks in capacity so permitted by his predecessors and look to all avenues to achieve capacity, including developing his relationship with the United States.  He wanted to make clear that it was not expected by the British people that the world would need to share the sacrifice, but rather that the world would accept that the battle outcome was one worth winning.  Churchill believed that the tenets of western civilization were a shared responsibility and advantage, and the investment in preservation was in the interests of not only Great Britain, but like minded democracies like the United States, and even the subjugated peoples of Europe now living under the Nazi tyranny.  Churchill was not asking for sacrificing lives for British existence, he was interested in supporting the unalienable existence of western principles, and by providing the means where available to support and supply, stand up for those rights.

We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.

———–

On June 22nd, 1940, France capitulated and all of continental Europe was under the yoke of the Nazi war machine. Five weeks into his premiership, Winston Churchill faced the overwhelming crisis of our times – alone.  Less than five years later, the omnipotent Nazi threat was crushed and no more.  The achievement is truly stupefying, but grounded in the recognition that in all crisis management , principled focus on your inherent strengths, grim determination, and marshaling your resources can with destiny’s help achieve victory.

Unfortunately, I feel today’s  western world is approaching similar moments of crisis and threats to their existence.  Although the menace is not so much state sponsored, the pattern of defeatism, appeasement, and self destruction is progressively apparent, and our leaders reflect similar traits to the British bumblers of the 1930s.  Progressive debt, isolation, appeasement of foreign tyrants, and draw down of a nation’s defenses are sowing a defeatism in our nation that make it increasing difficult to imagine defeating the impending crises of existence that our wayward habits are driving us toward.  The President stands in a posture that almost seems blind to the tides of destruction, not dissimilar to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who seemed progressively denser as the risks grew higher.  Churchill, in perfectly framing Stanley Baldwin, may have inadvertently defined perfectly our current President Obama as well.

“Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened”

As we gear ourselves up for what will be necessary to return to stability and progress as a people, let us hope that a Churchill awaits in the wilderness to tell us the truth, a show us the way out.

 

 

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It Turns Out, the World is Still a Dangerous Place…

 

ukrainians attack iconic lenin statue with hammersThe Obama administration has had a fairly busy month trying to keep a wayward internet site from flummoxing up people’s health insurance coverage, charging inadvertently their bank accounts for insurance they did not yet have, and struggling to maintain the site with a capacity for volume and security remotely consistent with sites one fiftieth as big in scope.  Its very stressful, and it absolutely doesn’t help that the rest of the world will not give America a break and allow it the space and time to be converted to a socialist utopia, without forcing international instability on the administration as well.  After all, the governmental takeover of one sixth of the largest economy in the world was to be the Magnum Opus of this president, and his entire foreign policy was designed to put international issues behind him, so he could concentrate on domestic revolution.

The Obama Doctrine, removal of the United States as a determining force in world affairs, initiated with the infamous apology tour. the Russian Re-Set, and the extrication of American forces from  the hard won military stability in Iraq.  With the United States acting more like an absent uncle singularly concerned about the world’s environmental health, respectful and even submissive before all other nations, regardless of their malevolence or darker intent, Obama assumed a period of tranquility that would allow him the time to focus on the real enemy, America’s individualist tradition.

The roll call of untoward responses to this policy is mind boggling, starting with A and the Arab world chaos and ending at Z with Zawahiri and the re-emergence of Al Qaeda, and constituting a myriad of mis-steps in between.  After a summer of ineffective and contrary bungling of the Syrian debacle and the dangerous appeasement of the Iranian totalitarians in their desire for nuclear armament, the last thing the President needed was two more cracks to develop in the Doctrine.

The above photo captured an event in Kiev, Ukraine last week but shadowed eerily the events of 1989. An enormous mob decides the period of Soviet dominance has stood long enough and pulls down and destroys the primary symbol of all powerful communist oppression, Vladimir Lenin.  Across eastern Europe and even parts of Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was an epic and essentially peaceful sight twenty years ago, but this time there is a more ominous pall to this event.  The Ukrainian people are not celebrating the demise of a dictatorial foreign oppressor , but rather the re-insertion of it in their lives.   The president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, on November 21, announced the reversal of a decades long movement of Ukraine into the European orbit pointing towards the establishment of ties with the European Union and NATO, instead directing Ukraine back into the sphere of direct Russian influence and dominance.   President Yanukovych, who since his election in 2010, has succeeded in positioning his family and friends along the lines of a typical Russian criminal oligarchy, syphoning key Ukrainian industries and power into their hands, hoped to “seal the deal” with blessing of the ultimate overlord Putin, who has perfected the format in Russia and seeks to restore old fashioned Russian dominance on former Soviet Republics. The minority Russian population of Ukraine, ~18% of the Ukranian population has felt its influence diminish with independence and supports the president.  The great majority of the Ukrainian population has no intention to go back to subservience and demands follow through with impending agreements with the European Union.  The BBC has reported on the massive rallies in the Ukrainian capital and this time tearing down Lenin statues in Europe’s second biggest country may not go down so peacefully.

The Obama Doctrine would have suggested that the Russian Re-Set fashioned by the president and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have solved this issue, but no one bothered to tell the Ukrainians that their future might not jibe with the acclaimed Re-Set. Dealing with a more belligerent Russia certainly would be within the capabilities of the United States as long as the Pacific sphere of American influence was to remain – ‘pacific’.  Unfortunately, not so much.

At the very moment the European door is coming off its stable hinges, the Pacific Rim, stable for decades is wobbling dangerously.  China, seeing the bent knee nature of American foreign policy evidenced in a tired ‘here-we-go-again’  presidential bow to another tin horn dictator, this time Cuba’s Raul Castro, moved aggressively to declare the South China Sea in its sphere of influence, extending its military defacto control over strategic islands that just happen to be in the sweet spot of oil and gas deposits. Sphere of Influence  just happens to be a sensitive subject in these parts, given that the Imperial Japan declared a Co-Prosperity Sphere of Influence leading to World War II, that wasn’t Co anything and was prosperous only for Japan.  Japan and South Korea, having more than enough instability from the deranged Chinese client state North Korea, are in no mood for unilateral declarations of influence, and issue is setting up for some serious moments of potential conflict.  Earlier this week a Chinese naval vessel attempted to get the US Guided Missile Warship  the USS Cowpens to stop  in its transit through previously accepted international waters in  the South China Sea.  This move was clearly designed to intimidate, and forced the 560 foot 10,000 ton craft to perform dangerous avoidance maneuvers.  This kind of action, against naval vessels of countries such as Vietnam, Korea, and particularly Japan, may create a tension that is not so easily deflected, given the history of the region.  Since the days of the British Imperial Navy ruling the waves, the maintenance of “open sea lanes”  has been considered the critical ingredient to world trade and peace. China may see the current guarantor of safe and open international waters, the Untied States, weakening in its resolve. Somebody, somewhere is bound to make a fatal mistake in such a vacuum.

When you own the car, and drive the car, all the passengers are at the mercy of your skill in operating the car.  The United States for decades has “owned” the position of guarantor of world stability, and its weaving all over the road, is making the passengers very nervous, and very leery of the driver’s competence.  The best we can likely hope for under this administration is, despite their tendency to overt their eyes from the road and spend their time texting while driving, that we don’t end up in a major pile-up.  The reality is putting incompetent drivers in charge of such a powerful car is bound to lead to multiple serious fender benders at the least, and nobody is going to want to be along for the ride.

 

 

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