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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The Savior of Private Enterprise(?)- Space

 

Space X Dragon capsule supplies ISS - space.com

Space X Dragon capsule supplies ISS – space.com

President Obama has maintained a consistent vision of converting America into a socialist utopia.  Though he objects to the moniker ‘socialist’ , he has delivered an unceasing attack on the pillars of private enterprise through tax policies and regulation that create no doubt as to his ideological bent on the forces that brought  America to economic greatness.  The country’s priorities have been reset from economic vitality and defense supremacy to social investment, wealth redistribution, and marked retraction in defense expenditure.  He has done what he could to suppress private sector  financial creativity, energy exploration, small business enterprise, and most spectacularly, health care, in an effort to assure the ultimate direction, and with it power of determination, comes from the government.

In one industry, however, President Obama deserves credit as an economic visionary.  Either through personal lack of interest in the subject, or the desire to remove the resources of the government from huge expenditures for which he could discern no social value, President Obama in 2009 declared a revolutionary privatized strategy regarding space exploration and development.  Since 1961, the vision of the national government was for steady progress in manned space exploration, with the moon landing achieved by 1969, reusable space shuttle by 1981, and a permanent space station by 2000.  The assumption was that the manned missions would progressively point outward toward the planets, with returns to the moon and ultimately Mars and the other planets envisioned.  Given the spectacular costs and engineering support required for such goals, it was assumed that only a national consensus project could achieve the economic wherewithal for such undertakings.

President Obama declared, however, with the coming retirement of the space shuttle, that the national government would divorce itself from direct manned orbital flight, and would rely instead on private corporations to achieve the capacities to secure safe low earth orbit flight, satellite launch, and space station re-supply.  The problem was, of course, no such capacity in the private sector existed, and the result of the policy was a howl protest from well informed  traditional supporters of NASA, such as former astronauts Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell.

Four short years later, we should give the avowed socialist President Obama a private enterprise medal. A remarkable amount of progress has been made in the private sector, led by the particular entrepreneurial genius of Elon Musk (see Ramparts People We Should Know #21 ) and Space X.  Space X has already achieved successful cargo delivery reproducibly to the space station, and the commercial exploitation of manned flight for both tourist and orbital ventures are progressing nicely.  New companies such as Orbital Sciences Corp., Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Sierra Nevada, as well as established aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin are preceeding to goals of successful manned space flight, and not just to low earth orbit.  The directions each are taking are diverse, aggressive, and ultimately unbound by the typical stultifying bureaucracy of governmental creation usually dominated by congressional bias.  The Washington Post has an exceptional overview of old versus new space development that is worth exploring fully to grasp this exciting development, as we live through so many other disappointments of the current economy.

The President deserves credit for stumbling upon a prime example of how trusting the arena of ideas and the process of private market competition can lead to dramatic improvements in human development and life quality.  And if he’s not careful, might just make America an economic leader in the current century as great as the last.  Were he only to have such stumbles in the other areas of our moribund economy.  In reflecting upon the overarching principles of human behavior versus utopian ideal, we once again turn to Winston Churchill for some prescient words:

“Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others  look on it as a cow they can milk.                       Not enough people see it as a healthy horse,  pulling a sturdy wagon.”

 

 

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The Gardens of Aranjuez

The Palace at Aranjuez

The Palace at Aranjuez

In the locale of Aranjuez , south of modern Madrid, the royal family of one of the world’s greatest empires placed their spring home to celebrate their spectacular power and wealth.  At the end of the 15th century, with the Castilian monarchs having finally ended 700 years of Moor colonization of the Iberian peninsula, the  confident rulers of Spain and Portugal saw no issue in dividing the entire world between them.  In the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the lands of the New World (minus Brazil) and the Far East were considered to be in the Spanish sphere of hegemony, Africa and the Indian islands the province of Portugal.  No one of course bothered to tell any of the indigenous peoples, but such was the air of supreme authority that Spain spent the next two centuries taking this divide very seriously and proceeding to exploit their sphere with dominant conquest.  For a time the inhabitants of Aranjuez injected intense catholic religiousity and the Spanish language into a third of the planet, and absorbed unimaginable wealth.

Spain became Europe’s most intense empire, its explorers Conquistadors, its religious intellectuals Inquisitors, and its monarchs supreme authoritarians.  The intensity was felt throughout the culture, in the intensity of linguistic expressions, the power of its religious art, and particularly the music.   The home of Flamenco, Andalusia, married the supreme confidence, intense romanticism, faint mysticism, and woven rhythms of Moor culture into an erotic and powerful cultural dance and music that survives to this day.  The family of plucked stringed instruments of the renaissance, the lute and the mandolin, particularly appropriate for solo expression, proved inadequate to the Flamenco artist until idealized in the  the form of the guitar.  The guitar deepened the resonation of the sound and the scope of the available expression.  Although the inherent  strengths of the guitar attracted many composers of many nationalities , it was in the venue of Spanish culture that the instrument seemed to be invented for.  The dry heat, the vast plains, the inescapable power, and the apparently eternal nature of Spanish influence long after the supreme monarchial power was gone, seemed to resonate through the guitar.

By the twentieth century, the spectacular reach of the Spanish Monarchs and the pilgrimage of the world to the Gardens of the palace at Aranjuez

Rusinol Garden at Aranjuez

Rusinol Garden at Aranjuez

to seek their blessing was a faint memory.  The  intensity and  sense of  mysticism that was Spain flowered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as the empire’s power collapsed.  The music of De Falla, Tarrega, Sor, and Granados all found beautiful expression through the guitar, but it was a mid-twentieth century composer who achieved the perfect expression of unique Latin passion, intense and expression, and maybe, a real dignity that the true conquistadors never had.   November 22nd was the 112th birthday of Joaquin Rodrigo, who managed to compose the unrivaled king of guitar concertos as an homage to his homeland and the magnificent gardens at Aranjuez.  The modern concert hall is deficient without at some point performing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the perfect expression of the guitar’s musicality, dignity, and capacity for expression.  The second movement in particular, in which the guitar is sublimely echoed by the English horn , cousin of the oboe, expresses the composer’s love for his homeland vistas better than any photograph could provide, and the depth of the Spanish soul that one great guitar performer after another has attempted to make their own.

In this quiet last week of leading to the celebration of fall’s harvest bounty before winter sets in, we wish Joaquin a happy birthday, a immerse ourselves in the splendor of Spain.

 

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Peace In Our Time

Prime Minister Chamberlain returns from his meeting with Herr Hitler with a Peace Agreement - 1938

Prime Minister Chamberlain returns from his meeting with Herr Hitler with a Peace Agreement – 1938

On September 30th, 1938 an ebullient Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain spoke in front of an enraptured crowd, having just stepped of the plane from his triumphant visit and negotiations with the once Chancellor now Fuhrer of Germany, Adolph Hitler.  Raising a piece of paper above his head he declared that what he had achieved was “peace in our time”.

“The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem which has now been achieved is, in my view, only a prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace.  This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper that bears his name upon it as well as mine.  Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains, but I would just like to read it to you – ‘We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’  “

The ‘Czechoslovakian problem’ was of course the unwillingness of Czechoslovakia to accept unconditional surrender and the takeover of their country by Nazi Germany without a fight.  The British and French were caught in a dilemma in that they were obligated by treaty to support Czechoslovakia in any threat to her borders, and now they had to find a way to relieve themselves of their obligations.  The ‘way’ was appeasement – they declared Germany had the natural right to assume sovereignty over any territory with a significant German population, and the borders of “a small, far away country over which we know little” seemed immaterial.  The concept of appeasement – achieving a country’s martial desires without actual war so as to prevent war – was obviously predicated on the idea that there was a point of satiation to a country’s lust for power, territory, and dominance. It also required a complete willingness to throw one’s own principles and the target country’s existence under the bus.

On September 1,1939, after four consecutive years of appeasement strategy, and 335 days after Chamberlain’s clutched paper declared  ‘peace in our time’ , Germany invaded Poland and World War II was underway.

In Geneva in 2013, an eerily similar group of participants, Britain, France, And the United States are having negotiations with a martial country, Iran, which basically will determine the potential existence of another country, Israel, which is of course is not invited to participate. As the BBC reports:

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told a press conference that there had been a lot of “concrete progress but some differences remain”.

Baroness Ashton said talks would resume on 20 November.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he was not disappointed with the outcome in Geneva, and that the talks were “something we can build on”.

He said all parties were “on the same wavelength” and “there was the impetus to reach an agreement”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “There is no question in my mind that we are closer now than we were before.”

The considerations of negotiation are whether to determine as to whether Iran can achieve its national interests without a conflict.  As Chamberlain discovered in 1938, there was no value in attempting to discuss with Hitler any other nation’s potential interests.  It was only if Hitler would be able to achieve what he wanted through non-combat means.  The president of Iran indicates a very similar philosophical view:

Again as reported by the BBC:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that his country would not abandon its “nuclear rights”, which included uranium enrichment.

“The rights of the Iranian nation and our national interests are a red line. So are nuclear rights under the framework of international regulations, which include enrichment on Iranian soil,” he told parliament in remarks quoted by the Isna news agency.

The fundamental reality that is obscured by all the diplomatic language is Iran’s view of its innate destiny.  It believes Israel’s existence is an aberration to be eliminated.  It believes Islam is not a chosen religion but a means of dominance over individual choice, and there is no room for other opinions, other than submission.  It believes the western world has circumvented its national destiny and that as great Persian nations in the past it intends to achieve total control of its sphere of influence.  Like another nation did in 1938, it believes it is a nation of racial and cultural superiority that is destined to achieve its goals regardless of any temporary considerations.

The good news for Iran is that the United States, once the bulwark of defense of religious freedom, individual rights, and sovereignty of nations is now led by an administration who feels Neville Chamberlain’s failure was, that he didn’t go far enough.

Obama - Chamberlain

 

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American Adagio

SAMUEL BARBER  1910-1981

SAMUEL BARBER
1910-1981

The musical world of the 1920’s and 30’s  was taken with the influence of the bold American genre of jazz which seemed to capture the independent, self reliant and mildly undisciplined nature of the new world.  To sophisticates, however, the musical creations of American composers such as Morton and Gershwin were relegates of the music hall, not the decided seriousness of the concert hall.  American music held for them a decidedly superficial rhythm oriented character that fell short of the depth of conscience and emotion that were the province of the great European composers.  Of particular sensitivity was the concept of the middle movement of a classical piece, since Haydn’s classical construction a piece of contemplative and reflective interlude that elevated classical music from entertainment to a direct treatise on humanity itself.

The center movement was typically framed at a pace that projected at 55-65 beats per minute, or about a beat a second.  Not morbidly slow, but consistent with breathing or walking, to focus on the individual and inward direct nature of the movement.  The tempo was known as Adagio, and the great composers were noted for the Olympian heights their creativity carried this uniquely human tempo.  Wolfgang Mozart with his magnificent Adagios in the Piano Concertos No. 21 and 23, Ludwig Beethoven  with his heavenly Adagio in the Emperor Piano Concerto No.5 set the standard for the performer rising above the hushed mass of the orchestra to strike a very individual strain of beauty and contemplation.  The sound of something almost otherworldly projects from these masterpieces that always leads the listener to clear their mind, breathe slower, and consider a connection to the sublime.  The depth of soul required was felt to be confined to a European sophistication that projected from almost 2500 years of civilization.  Americans were juveniles to that tradition.

As in art, American composers were creating every bit as sophisticated a musical composition legacy as their European counterparts, but the credit was scant.  Composers such as Copland, Hanson, and Ives brought American inflections to classical compositional structure but fought for attention at the concert hall even in their own country. The American ear sought the traditional voice of the European composer as much as the European audience.

Samuel Barber (1910- 1981)  changed all that with a piece of music that connected to the soul every bit as much as the great composers, and using the sacred weapon of the Adagio. With his String Quartet Opus 11, composed at the age of 25 in 1935-6, Barber plugged deeply into the evocative tempo of the Adagio and created a composition that resonated at all levels, from the intimate sounds of the quartet to the intense layers of the orchestra.  Here was pathos, yearning, searching, and otherworldly in nine minutes of perfection.  Barber knew he had in his words a ‘knockout” of creation, and it didn’t take long for the serious performance world to agree with him as Barber created the Adagio for Strings for the concert hall.  Toscanini, who saw American music as casual and rarely performed it, recognized Barber’s masterpiece for what it was, a magisterial creation using the Adagio tempo, worthy of any European composer’s best work.

Barber, born in West Chester, Pennsylvania to a musical family, likely stands as the greatest American composer of the classical concert tradition, with his Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto and Second Symphony having a regular rotation in any international orchestra’s  armamentarium.   But the Adagio is his moment of genius, when he discovered the perfect language of humanity’s core that transcended all nationalities. Whether in Beijing or Berlin, Boston or Beirut, audiences are immediately transported to their inner depths of recognition of the soul and frail majesty that is human creation.  From the occasion of national crisis, state funeral, personal tragedy, or evoking of a simple human life, Barber’s Adagio brings everybody to the edge of intense emotions and to the verge of tears. Not for its sadness, but for its clarity of what is so human about all of us.

The Adagio for Strings has taken its place in the pantheon of great orchestrial Adagios, but I am emotionally struck but the simple beauty of Barber’s genius in the form of the quartet.  I am particularly moved by the organ like performance of the Amstel Quartet’s version below that goes through one’s chest like a great bellows, using an instrument I usually avoid for any introspective listen, the saxophone.  Barber by his death in 1981 achieved the recognition as a composer of stature, but the singular achievement of his Adagio, raised him to greatness.

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The Clash Within Civilization

Thomas Paine - author of Common Sense and the Rights of Man

Thomas Paine – author of Common Sense and the Rights of Man

Thomas Paine in 1776 did in 1776 what Thomas Paine in 1774 was incapable of.  In an extended treatise called Common Sense, he laid out the logic of why even soft despotism was an unnatural condition for an enlightened time, and why it was a act of common sense to remove oneself from monarchial oversight and govern oneself.  The singular change that had transformed this Englishman  was his move from Thetford, England to America in 1774.  Having placed his very existence at risk to come to America, in a few short months, the profound energy that new found freedom injects turned an English corsetmaker and excise officer into the clarion for a revolution.

In his new book Inventing Freedom, excerpted in the  New Criterion,  Daniel Hannan reflects on the uniquely ‘Anglo-Saxon’ nature of what we characterize as civilized governance, and how it is under constant attack from within by those purporting to be ‘western’ in their outlook. Hannan, an English member of the European Parliament and Ramparts of Civilization’s #9 on People We Should Know has long been a vocal defender of the hard earned rights of the individual against the ever more burdensome state.  From Hannan’s perspective, Paine’s very Englishness positioned him to recognize how individual freedom provides the final crucial patina to English common law and how the American experience offered an improvement, not a rejection of the English tradition of governance.  Hannan draws the wonderful quote from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America regarding the roots of  this evolutionary process:

“The American, is the Englishman left to himself.”

Hannan posits three fundamental features of governance in  anglosphere civilization that sets it apart from its other cultural inhabitants of the western world, and is leading to a progressive clash across the western world.

First, the rule of law. The government of the day doesn’t get to set the rules. Those rules exist on a higher plane, and are interpreted by independent magistrates. The law, in other words, is not an instrument of state control, but a mechanism open to any individual seeking redress.

Second, personal liberty: freedom to say what you like, to assemble in any configuration you choose with your fellow citizens, to buy and sell without hindrance, to dispose as you wish of your assets, to work for whom you please and, conversely, to hire and fire as you will.

Third, representative government. Laws should not be passed, nor taxes levied, except by elected legislators who are answerable to the rest of us.

Its no small thing to suggest that the growing trends in both European and American governance are in progressive conflict with this definition of ‘western’ civilization.  Hannan attacks the current tendency of each to rule by regulation, not the concept of debate, passage and then living under the law. He is particularly harsh on European bureaucrats that see laws as superficial instruments meant to be observed by the public when it serves the dictate of the state, or ignored by the state when it does not fit the ruling class’s  long term goal of progressive state control.  He reflects on this as not particularly surprising, given that the tradition of individual freedom and governments as servants of the people is not a long cherished value of the non-English speaking world.  For the Frenchman, Spaniard, German, or Russian the history of governance has been more one of top down rule then a reflection of the various peoples.  By this argument western civilization is more than a commonality of love of individual expression in art, music, literature, and science.

The current American experience with the recent perversion of time tested principles of anglosphere governance becomes ever more clear when viewed under this particular view of civilizational clash.  The Obama administration views the principles of governance laid out by the country’s founders as dated, obstructionist, and faintly racist. The administration is in love with the European bureaucrats’ view of the populous.  The citizens of the country are backward and corrupted, self absorbed, and needing to be managed. This leads to laws to govern each individual’s very existence, like Obamacare, with the provisions of the law less important then the power it gives the state to manage. Thus, the components mandated by the law can be arbitrarily delayed when it exposes the  government’s failures, enforced when allows the increasing hold over the population.  The very passage of the law itself required a tortuous bending of the rules of debate, and once in place, a complete removal of the legislative process from any role in its application.  It is the age of the top down bureaucrat and the soft despot like Obama, who suggests that opponents to the ‘law’ are terrorists, extremists, and reactionaries. This is the language of despots, who suggest that the overarching ‘good’ occasioned by their actions takes precedence over any ill placed upon the individual.

Daniel Hannan is another one of those voices who need to be read if our society is  to be more than an expression of celebrity, sport, and political horse races.  There are hundreds of years of evolved thought under attack in this clash of forces as to who owns our civilization, and we would do well as the defenders of the Ramparts to expand our reading lists to people like Daniel Hannan and measured important venders of ideas like the New Criterion. It will be worth your time and investment.

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The New Kind of Monument

Mt Rushmore    The battle between the incredible shrinking president and congress plods along with no end in site of any kind of solution that will not involve the requirement to squeeze the tip of one’s nose to eliminate the acrid odor of what will be ‘the deal’.  The perspectives of country and principle that at one time inspired and emboldened an nation to consider a permanent memorial to greatness to be etched on the side of a mountain, now leads the midget leaders of that same nation to attempt to block the view of such a monument to greatness with barricades.  Well, it is understandable in a certain context.  You certainly wouldn’t want people to take a moment to contemplate what they once had, and what they now have.

Frankly, the better perspective to understand the current batch of leaders is not a monument in stone , but rather, a bobblehead. Obama Bobblehead Small, plastic, and distinctly non-monumental. Something that can shake its head yes and no at the same time.  The bobblehead serves as the perfect reflection of the throwaway nature of our society, and its reproducibility of one indistinct forgettable figure after another.  Yet, its not that these leaders are not into building monuments.  No, they are building monuments every bit as lasting as the granite edifices in South Dakota’s Black Hills.   They are taking care to meticulously achieve a lasting memorial to their smallness that will dwarf the achievements of the epic giants we see on Mt Rushmore.  The current leaders’ children and  grandchildren will not have to travel to the Great Plains only to have their view of a great momument obstructed by a National Park Service barricade. Instead they will see the special immenseness of our modern momuments in their everyday lives, casting an colossal shadow over their every activity, their hopes and their aspirations.

The modern monument to be constructed is made of promises and paper, not granite.  The initial plans were constructed decades ago, but were vastly improved by the current architect.  The monument will be comprised of trillions of dollars of debt obscuring any shadow of the country the leaders we see in granite on Mt Rushmore felt they were endowing.Obama Deficit Spending - nationaltaxpayersunionThe current foundation of the mountainous monument is being added to at approxiamently a trillion dollars a year, with a recent slowdown taking into account the wrenching effect on the nation’s economy of such an epic burden.  We need remind ourselves of the stature of such a monument.  We can gain some perspective if we consider the hundred dollar bill, and project what just one trillion dollars (much less our current 17 trillion in debt) would look like in stacks of one hundred dollar bills:one_trillion_dollars_USDThe small figure to the left of the semi-trailer truck is you.  The pallet in front of the truck supports a hundred million dollars in one hundred dollar bills.  Every day, your leaders add 40 of those pallets to the innumerable pallets to the left that comprise a trillion dollars in one hundred dollar bills.  And that huge collection of pallets on the your left is only one 17th of what we currently owe.  And estimated to be only one hundredth as high as our unfunded mandates we are leaving our future generations.  More owed then the current accrued value of all the economies on earth.  This is the monument the current generation of bobble heads are building.

In Washington, the argument is not regarding this ominous future prospect, it is about whether a president gets what he wants.  If a president wants the future destruction of a nation, are we obligated to give him what he wants?  In a world of little, soft dictators with protruding egos and cults of personality, leading country after country down a path of societal collapse and economic paralysis, are we obligated as a great nation designed to be ruled by law not men, to allow the appeasement of our own leader who fashions himself after such soft dictators?  Is the progressive belligerence and police action of previous administrative arms of government as disparate as the National Park Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Environmental Protection agency the emblems of this soft dictatorship? If the answer to these questions remains the current neglectful ignorance by the very citizens the country’s founders worked so hard to protect against such action, then I would submit the time is coming where we need to think of building a new granite monument, one to the new generation of leaders whose influence will tower over those that were giants.  This monument will be a very interesting engineering and artistic challenge – how to support the bobble that will rest upon the granite shoulders.  Like the monument this leader is building, there’s a decent chance it would come crashing down.

 

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Insane Asylum

Honor Flight Vets Overcome BarriersIn 475 AD, the western Roman Empire received its new emperor, Romulus Augustulus.  This particular child, estimated to be about 15 years of age when elevated to the pinnacle of Roman power by his father Orestes to serve as a figurehead, is known to us only because he was deposed by the German chieftain Odoacer in 476 AD, effectively ending over a thousand years of continuous Roman rule.  The last emperor, named for the founder of Rome and its greatest emperor, achieved nothing remotely deserving of the name he took, and is lost to history as soon as he was replaced.  Such a magisterial name, such an ignominious end to the greatest empire the world had ever  known. Neither Romulus or his dominant father Orestes, head of the Roman army likely had the slightest idea they were participating in the end game of a millennia of history.

Such are the times we now live in.  For nearly 240 years, the greatest democracy the world has ever known is undergoing cultural implosion, and the elected ’emperor’ has not a clue of the wrenching historical pivot at play.  Great nations, so superficially permanent in their appearance, actually are quite transient actors on the historical stage.  The magnificent power of Genghis Khan ruling half the land mass of Asia held little solace to the frustrations of Pu Yi, the last emperor, as he met the manipulations of the many European overlords and the revolutionary  Sun Yat Sen, ending ignominiously as the puppet leader of the stump state of Manchukuo, and pathetically powerless to be a Chinese balance to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito.  The court of Queen Victoria’s  Britannia lording over one third of the globe, seemly immortal in its power, finding itself within a century fending off the cries of irrelevance  of the monarchial  existence on the home island of Britain itself.  The mighty Soviet Union, astride the Asian and European landmasses, holding an intense intolerance to any deviation from absolute rule, took barely eighty years to collapse under its own corrosion. It appears no matter how apparently powerful, nothing is forever.

And so one wonders if the American experiment, of a governance ruled by its people, so profoundly the ideal by which all other peoples striving for individual freedom have held up as a bulwark, may be tottering on its own contradictions.

This past week saw the government barricade an open memorial just off the sidewalk on the most public ground in America, the National Mall, as if to say the government, not its people, was the owner of the land, the history, and the symbolic projection.  The World War II memorial, was dedicated in 2004, to the citizen commitment to the greatest conflict the country had ever seen, at a price of over 175 million taxpayer and privately donated funds.  With the inability of the country’s legislature and its malignantly bull headed chief of executive to come to collective agreement on a continuing resolution to fund the government, the government saw fit not to undertake its moral responsibility and reach a compromise to keep the government services running.  This government has  exploded the debt of its citizens, turned its back on its warriors, allowed its borders to become sieves, and passed bloated unworkable laws , only to make itself exempted from its malign demands of everyone else. After all that, it now seeks to claim ownership as if it were an entity, not an expression of the will of its people.  The World War II Memorial was barricaded by the government to feign compliance with the financial necessities of the closure of government.  An open square visited by the very aging warriors that participated in the brutal fight that allowed this form of governance to continue to exist were denied access.  Barricades were placed to prevent wheelchair restricted octogenarians and nonagenarians, the true owners of the space and its history access.  A government declaring, “Everything is mine, and you will use it at my pleasure.”  The Sun King of France would not have been so bold.

This is how an insane asylum works.  In particular, an asylum run by its inmates.  This out of touch government, slouching toward Gomorrah, has the arrogance to keep its government golf courses open for its private use, but shut down the very symbols of freedom, to the men and women who made its continuance possible.  This government, that has increased the indebtedness of its future generations by nearly half in only five years, who mines with impunity  the personal privacy of every citizen on the sketchy premise it is trying to stop foreign malevolence, that sears the country with intolerable laws and regulations it itself refuses to live under – this government seeks to ‘punish’ us for electing representatives that are trying to stop the runaway train.

Insane Asylum

An insane asylum, its halls filled with wannabe potentates, mirror gazers, giggling idiots, and irrational self immolators, has infested our beautifully balanced principles of governance.  I, for one, don’t care if they ever restore their funding.  The longer the lunatics are without their levers of power, the less we will miss them and their paltry contribution to our welfare.  Look up, and see if you are truly punished by their inaction, or rather elevated to a new awareness of their true irrelevance to your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

We will need to reform this asylum, before they do any more damage to themselves, and us.

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