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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Exceptionalism in an Unexceptional Age

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism 

“Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer in the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different.  That is what makes us exceptional.”                                                  President Barack Obama  September 10, 2013

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.  There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy.  Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget God created us equal.”                                                                      President Vladimir Putin   September 11, 2013

What is this exceptionalism that draws leaders of two great powers to engage in verbal combat and frame the possibility of going to war over that word?  Exceptionalism as a noun has connotations that suggests a righteousness that many like President Obama express and President Putin distain. It has led to more than one misunderstanding and misstep by America in the last several decades, and depressingly is misinterpreted by both leaders in an age that is proving increasingly unexceptional for leaders that can grasp the essential truths of ideas.

To be exceptional implies a unique set of circumstances.  The exceptionalism that Putin derides is not essence of the argument of American exceptionalism. Putin selects the portion of the idea that implies universality, not uniqueness.  Thomas Jefferson in his declaration of independence  framed the birth of an American nation on what he implied were self evident, universal truths that applied to all men, regardless of nationality:

“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.”

These are clearly expressed as not unique to America, but rather an innate constituent of the makeup of each human being regardless of nationality.  This is not the exceptional argument of Jefferson to which Putin inadvertently subscribes.  Jefferson’s argument of exceptionalism comes in his next sentence in the declaration, in which Jefferson relays how Americans would form a unique governance that exists to secure those rights:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

There is clearly no descriptor in Jefferson’s immortal words that unique abilities and talents, intelligence, clarity of philosophy, national achievement, and charity toward others are isolated to the American character.  But the concept of governance he spoke to, limited and responsive to the securing of an individuals rights, are unique, and as history continues to unfold, clearly exceptional.

President Obama, who is progressively becoming renowned for his superficial grasp of historical concepts, equally misses Jefferson’s point. His declarative final paragraphs of his speech on Syria imply the exceptional characteristic of America is the ability to see wrong in the world and have the fortitude to right it.  This would suggest a righteousness of action that he himself decries in  his proceeding sentences, declaring “we should not be the world’s policeman“.  Excepting the vacuous logic of declaring contradicting statements as both inherent truths of American perspective, the reality of the existence of tragedy in this world has no correlation to America’s character.  Syria is not remotely the first time children have been viciously treated under Obama’s watch.  Child rape in Africa’s civil wars, Child slavery in south Asia’s darker corners, forced child marriage in multiple Islamic societies, and child drive by murders in many of America’s cities have not stimulated Obama’s righteous indignation.  Nor is America’s indignation or charitable involvement unique among nations.  In this particular point, Putin is correct.  America has no exceptional role as the enforcer of what is right.  Instead, it stands as an exceptional example of the rights themselves, and as such an example, has been the hope of the oppressed of the world to which  other nations can not hold a candle.

America does not exist as a salvation for people; its ideas exist as an exceptional way to salvation.  In a time where even the leader of this country does not have a grasp of the foundation of ideas he espouses, the clarity of why to act, where to act, and how to act become increasingly more muddled.  Every nation has a unique story of origin and a unique character of development.  American exceptionalism is uniquely American.  President Lincoln beautifully crystalized it in his Gettysburg Address, ” Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty,  and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Charles Murray, in his book, American Exceptionalism, surmises that this set of unique characteristics is decaying because the elements that brought it into being, a foundational libertarian philosophy conceived in a land of limitless westward growth capacity, ideology of self determination, industrious work ethic, and religious conviction is progressively exhausting itself.  It is difficult to project oneself as a beacon of hope and a deliverer of righteous morality when you are increasingly working so hard at trying to become just like everyone else.

The catastrophe in Syria is not going to be solved by arguing about who we are.  Like Russia, America’s position should be about representing its own national self interest, projecting its capacity in such a way to achieve an end to the violence without it becoming a calamity that is larger than the sectarian hatred that is at its root.  The ideas of what makes America exceptional need a self directed American repair, not a foreign injection in another country.  However appropriate our intentions, the process of nation building, and the energy, investment, and commitment it requires,  is best directed at building our own nation back up on its founding principles.  We should be very clear in our projection of who we are to those would seek to effect our demise or take advantage of our charitable nature.  Foreign engagement is what civilized nations do, but foreign involvement, specifically, and only,  when it affects our national interest and survival, shouldn’t be delivered like a seminar to those who would seek to harm us, but with the clarity of a terrible, swift sword.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in CULTURE | Leave a comment

Between Scylla and Charybdis

War in Syria 2013

War in Syria 2013

In ancient Greek mythology, sailors determining to traverse the straits of Messina faced an intolerable dilemma.  Hugging the northern coast of Sicily led them directly to the cave of Scylla, a sea nymph transformed into a sea monster with a predilection for devouring sailors. Trend to far off the coast to avoid Scylla, and the journey ended just as ignominiously in a ship devouring whirlpool known as Charybdis directly opposite the cave.  Thus the ultimate predicament, the effort to avoid one danger simply positions one to meet the fate of the other.  The Syrian civil war, hatched out of nonviolent demonstrations against the Assad regime in March, 2011, has evolved into a death match pitting monsters against monsters and drawing in the world’s greatest power into a no win situation.

Syria, the home of some of the oldest continuously inhabited real estate in the world, is now officially a Hades.  Estimated deaths in this progressively spiraling war is felt to exceed 100,000 and the means of destruction has escalated to weapons of mass destruction, very possibly used by both sides.  The Syrian people have become the ancient Greek sailor trying to navigate, and survive, the impossible situation between the two monsters of a Baathist dictatorship well aware of their fate should they pull back their killing machine one iota, and an opposition that has made a pact with the devil himself in securing an alliance with al Qaeda.  The scene now displayed is out of Armageddon, destroyed cities, splattered bodies, roadside beheadings, and chemical warfare mass slaughter.

The world governance has played its usual worthless role in attempting to stop the disaster.  The Arab League, a pitiful group of diplomats used to slinging unwarranted slop on the easy target of Israel, has proved incapable of calling into account one of their own.  Of course, how could they, when half the members are not so secretly financially supporting the endless continuance of the conflict.  The United Nations will likely reveal, surprise, that chemical weapons were used in the conflict, yet do nothing to force accountability when their many treaties are treated with scorn.  Well, they actually might do something – perhaps a confirmation as to how all this violence is contributing to global warming.  The former great powers of France and England, so involved in determining the original unstable design of the Middle East, crow about the horror of WMD, but find themselves buckling at the knees when they realize their threats to intervene are empty without the capacities of their American partner.  The Russians are frankly immune to the concept of savagery,  having had a first row seat through Stalinist pogroms, Nazi leviathans, Afghan mujahedeen, and Chechnyan terrorists.  Having given as good as they have gotten, the Russians fail to see any shades of grey in a world of black horizons and therefore are willing to support their strategic needs whatever the dirtiness of their partnership.

Of course that leaves the United States.  Once considered the last remaining superpower and moral force in the world, the impotent Americans have been driven into irrelevance by leadership that functions at a level of  incompetence that would flunk them out of any basic strategy course or even a tough game of battleship.  Having displayed a brazen contempt for the hard won  victories of the previous administration’s strategic vision, the Obama administration has led a bumbler’s hall of fame game plan over the next five years, putting themselves in their current intolerable strategic corner:

1) The painful investment over 5 years of a trillion dollars and over 4000 lives was required to achieve by 2009 an incredible strategic positional victory with a functioning Arab democracy in Iraq, an incalculably important dominant position at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, complete superiority of the air lanes, and a capable and mobile  mobile force separating the two most radical forces for instability in the Middle East, the totalitarian mullahs of Iran and the Baathists of Syria.  The residual price to hold this incredible prize was to negotiate a state of forces agreement with the Iraqis, but President Obama felt the undoing of all that was done was more important than the facts on the ground, and gave all the advantages up to remove any trace of America on the Euphrates.

2) The cynical and disgusting  abdication of any support for the opponents of the Iranian mullahs when Iran’s people rose in the Green Revolution of 2009 to protest a stolen presidential election and had the dictators of Iran on their heels.  The strategic opportunity for a moderation in middle east tensions, possible defanging of the Iranian nuclear threat in a constructive way, death blow to numerous vicious terrorist conduits, and detachment of Iranian malevolence from Lebanon and eventually Syria was all a promising outcome of fairly painless strategic actions.  And the Obama administration threw it all away – for nothing.

3) The acceleration of a war  commitment to Afghanistan in 2010 at the exact moment of announcing the date of retreat and withdrawal, an absolutely unique martial strategy in world history in its special stupidity, affording any enemy to simply wait out their losses, and any village “liberated” to fail to cooperate in any positive way, knowing their ‘protectors’ were transient, and their ‘warlords’ soon to return.  As Napoleon so aptly put, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake’.

4) The heavy hand of the so called peace president in the Libyan civil war of 2011, providing conclusive armaments and air power that achieved  the overthrow of a stable tin horn dictator for a completely unstable cornucopia naïve facebook liberals, tribal warlords, assorted terrorists and gun runners.  Libya, once a significant oil producing nation, is now a nest of ungovernable clans and has an economy in complete shambles.  The final lesson to the terrorist cults was the President’s willingness to go unpunished the horrific loss and humiliation of a direct assault on US territory and the assassination of its ambassador.  The determination to effect the collapse of one regime without the least bit strategic planning of the possible contingencies is foreshadowing the much more massive dilusions of a Syrian intervention.

5)  The vacuous understanding and ham handed handling of Egypt, from dithering as to whether to back Mubarak, then clumsy support to an increasingly totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood, followed by insensitivity to the intensity of the Egyptian population’s revolt, and the indecisive yet irreverent lecturing of the military coup leaders has led to an America trusted by no one of any persuasion on Egyptian soil.  Literally no one.

6) Now, the dilemma in Syria, ignored for two years,  allowed to proliferate into a potentially explosive international conflict.  The dithering so emblematic of this administration has reached its zenith. The lack of strategic overview.  The red lines that aren’t. The transfer of armaments in a non influential way. The lack of coordination with allies. The lack of firmness with its strategic competitors.  The announcement of formal action at the same time of announcing the decision to use will be in the hands of others.  The complete unwillingness to lay out a strategy in which the fundamental ‘winner’ should be the government and people this administration is supposed to represent.

On Tuesday September 10th the President is supposed to finally come before the American people and explain that, while he has managed to unfold the record of strategic incoherence presented above,  the American People should be willing to support him unreservedly  in the misadventure he has managed to find himself mangled in.

It had better be one powerful message.  The next day is September 11th, and his enemies have on many occasions used that anniversary to send a message of their own, to us.  Sad as the disaster in Syria is, the unfolding disaster of a pitiful giant helpless to find its way, is just as tragic to the world of free people.

 

Posted in POLITICS | Leave a comment

The Years in the Wilderness

Winston Churchill - The Years In The WIlderness

Winston Churchill – The Years In The Wilderness

To absorb history, and use it to help understand the chaos of current events requires considerable work.  Unfortunately, the current crop of world leaders show a profound aversion to the discipline of historical context and participate in one blind blunder after the next on the world stage.  History as context is the key perspective – a recognition of the past events, underlying forces and prejudices, geography, and psychology that so wrap a current action, as to make its future direction at least discernible.  In the twentieth century no public figure understood this more than Winston Churchill, who catalogued his own life in a sweeping canvas of historical perspective from My Early Life  and Frontiers and Wars,  through The World Crisis, and epically, the six volume The Second World War.   As stated previously, the absorption of history into your personal fabric is hard work, and I have done the work of reading them all.  Ultimately they are told from the perspective of someone who felt as a chief participant, he had a unique perch upon which to delineate the underlying truths, and of course to provide his own best defense of his actions.  The impressive inference, is how well Churchill stands up to historians’ analyses, with great historians such as Roy Jenkins, Martin Gilbert, and  William Manchester   finding Churchill an irresistible subject in the recognition as just how profound the role of an individual can be in effecting huge historical forces.  Recognizing character flaws in the man does not prevent them from reveling in the magnificent canvas he presents of history as story, with thousands of antidotes presenting as overarching themes of courage, conviction, persistence, brilliance, and magnanimity that can not help but draw you in through such massive treatises.

I am currently re-reading William Manchester’s The Last Lion with the final volume having been completed after his death by Paul Reid.  Manchester pulled better than anyone the essence of Churchill’s heroic humanity out of the many efforts to define his life, and is a wonderful read.  Perhaps the greatest learning comes from the second volume, Alone, which focuses on the ten years that Churchill spent as an outcast from both power and contemporary political consensus. From the venue of our current times, in which it seems almost every principle of achievement of our constitutional republic seems under attack from those in power, it is transcendent to observe someone utilize his intellect and whatever resources available to him to sound a clarion call above the madding crowd of appeasement.  The appeasers tried to ignore him as irrelevant, then progressively as he maintained his tenacious exposure of their wayward and casual path to calamity, more and more belligerent and attacking of the force that was Churchill.  They battled his facts with increased vitriol, calling him warmonger, false prophet, glory seeker, adventurer, and most cuttingly for one of history’s most ambitious leaders, a ‘has been’.  Blocked in every way from positions of authority, he used his special gift of language to achieve equal heft of argument with those in power.

And what a gift it was.  Soaring prose and clarity of logic was infused with special moments of cutting scorn that left his opponents flummoxed as to what to do about him.  On one such daggerous occasion, in which an opponent in the House of Commons attempted to rebut Churchill’s oratory regarding preparedness with a tedious screed of Germany’s diplomatic trustworthiness, Churchill in his accustomed front row seat  feigned sleep through the rant.  The ever more labored snoring eventually made Churchill impossible for the speaker to ignore. The exasperated opponent relented to Churchill’s  machinations and declared, “Mr. Churchill, are you asleep?”, to which Churchill slowly and dramatically elevated his eyelids and growled, ” I wish to God I were.”  The entire house collapsed in laughter with the master’s linguistic riposte.

Words as power were incredible weapons for Churchill, but he backed them up with facts that were irrefutable by his opponents and left them constantly on the defensive. Alone as a clarion he was , but he had a small army of unknown collaborators that helped him immeasurably.  Having touched base in his long career with every corner of government from the military as First Lord of the Admiralty to economics as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had many secret passageways into the information available to the government.  He used them all to expose to the unwilling the ugly truths of German rearmament and expansionist designs, and used each fact as an arrow into the heart of appeasement rationale.  It didn’t hurt his argument at all when events progressively showed the painful verity of his protestations.

For Churchill , the willingness to lean into the blizzard of derision and fight through, was underpinned by his sense of history.  To be perceived as popular was immaterial to him, at a personal moment of historical recognition when he felt the very tenets of western civilization were at stake.  That was too huge a price to pay, to sit back and risk, without giving his all to the defeat of those that threatened its existence.  He saw such basics of humanity in contrasts of light and darkness, when the majority preferred the shades of gray they felt might protect against the potential violence that might  be required to defend the ramparts of civilization.  This was after all a people that had been asked to sacrifice nearly an entire generation to futility of war not two decades before, and held their positions not as cowards but as  exhausted realists.  Churchill was asking them to risk all against only one potential outcome out of many, and they felt they had seen his brand of fatal jingoism before.

Churchill’s brilliance was in his understanding of the historical context of their hesitation, and the clarity of his argument that the surest way to avoid conflict was to maintain strength, not weakness, in the face of such challenge.  He did not doubt their patriotism, only their illogic, and declared that taking a principled stand made an enemy less likely, not more likely, to seek violence to achieve retribution against perceived injustices from the last war.

Manchester weaves the inner steel skeleton of Churchill through a decade of doubters to the point of crisis when the curtain has been raised on a new calamity and Churchill, once so alone against the appeasers, is seen as the lone defense by all against enormous odds Britain faced against 1940’s triumphant Germany.  Churchill,  miraculously converted from has been outcast to pinnacle of leadership, accepts his return, not as dictator, but as framer of what is at stake.  The magnificent words that framed civilization against the darkness poured out of him, and inspired the civilized world to gird itself to the task at hand:

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it; Ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word:  freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”

“If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and is not too costly; you may come to the moment when you have to fight with all the odds against you and a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case.  You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

And there are so many others.  When the darkest days were upon it, the nation turned to the man of history who had foreseen history, and asked him to take on the challenge of the ages.  The years in the wilderness had shown him to be a prophet, and showed western civilization that the elements of its greatness lay in the principles of its origins.

History leads rather than follows.  It is no small coincidence that one of the most anti-historical presidents ever, currently inhabiting the White House, has struggled so mightily to recognize trends and direct policy.  It is in keeping with his virulently anti-historical persona, that one of his first official duties upon becoming president was to return to Great Britain the bust of Winston Churchill that had inhabited the oval office as a gift of the people of Britain to their fellow defenders of western civilization’s ramparts, the United States.   President Obama was not about to face every day with the silent gaze of one of western civilization’s most zealous defenders peering down on him, as he worked to undo the order of things.  But the curve of history is not so easily put aside.  The warnings that history provides, so ignored, are destined to be repeated.

As the great man once said so pertinent to our times:

An Appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last.”

 

 

Posted in HISTORY | Leave a comment