Theater of the Absurd

Welcome to the Theater of the Absurd that has become the narrative of crumbling western institutions.  Like the audience of Waiting for Godot, those of us who are observers in the audience don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or simply maintain a dumbfounded muteness at the inactions and confusions on the stage.   In Beckett’s play, Vladimir and Estragon vainly wait for an acquaintance named Godot to arrive, blithely unaware as to whether they would even recognize him if he were to appear.   So go the stumbling, bumbling leaders in charge of running the western assemblies who presumptively stand vanguard over two thousand five hundred years of western civilization’s most shining achievement, the elevation of each individual to a creature of value.  We individuals, having bought the tickets for this absurdest drama, are frozen in the audience, the theater doors bared to any conceivable escape.  We can only look back and wonder why we thought buying the tickets was such a good idea in the first place.

In our pitiful play, Greece is our Vladimir and the United States our Estragon. Greece, the citadel of western civilization, as a free willed country, is now at a point past death.  Having involuted its entire economy into a vehicle for self digestion, the bill for the lavish feast is long past due.  The puppets that are the face of the Greek assemblies agonize over the steadily increasing vise the international community, and in particular, the European Union, place on their ability to ingest themselves.  And everybody is upset at the forlorn Greek taxpayer, a steadily diminishing segment of society that has realized that paying taxes is over rated, when the taxes simply go to those who demand more taxes from those foolish enough to pay.   The fact that enormous financial burdens of the state have overwhelmed its ability to obtain receipts to pay for it all is looked upon hilariously as a specific character flaw of the Greeks.

The current supportive plan of the European Union is a ponzi scheme that should lead to our old friend Charles Ponzi to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Economics posthumously.  The Greek government forces the selling of short term bonds meant to pay their explosive debts, to insolvent Greek banks that long ago had their available capital washed away in debt restructuring, who in turn are held up by loans from the European Union countries, particularly Germany, at interest rates that everybody knows the Greeks will never be able to pay back.  This, of course will lead to the wonderful absurdest moment in Act II, where the German Chancellor Merkel will get to explain to the German people in her bid for re-election, how investing Germany’s hard earned capital sustained through taxes on the German taxpayer, needs to be invested in an enterprise with no hope of return on investment from the incapable Greek taxpayer, and that this scheme needs to go on indefinitely.  I suspect that will certainly produce some nervous guffaws from the audience.  Luckily, a potential villain has surfaced.  It turns out that the only surviving economy in Greece is the large group of small business owners, the individual mom and pop shops that make up 30% of business in Greece, far exceeding the percentage in any more civilized western socialist democracy.  It turns out these little businesses have learned to survive by under-reporting their meager receipts, in order to avoid the oppressive taxes that would destroy their businesses.  To European Unionocrats, this is an intolerable situation, that demands the coalescing of these businesses into a more manageable and cooperative bureaucracy.  Thus furthering the destruction of individual incentive and enterprise.  Who would have guessed?

Ah, but wait. The play, seemingly wandering about without answers, holds for us even more surrealist directions. We are beginning to hear from Estragon, in the form of the United States.  Here is where the play will abound in absurdities.   The recent election has confirmed the public’s confidence in the economic musings of a former Hawaiian prep school pothead, positioned to lead the once great American economic miracle into the rocks.  Facing the “fiscal cliff” of enforced tax raises and dramatic directionless spending cuts guaranteed to throw the country back into recession, the former Cannabis connoisseur has determined the way to deal with the crisis is- no really- “stimulus” spending.  You see, how this works is, the government overspends thereby needing more tax receipts thereby raising taxes thereby reducing economic performance thereby reducing receipts thereby needing economic stimulus through more spending.  Estragon would be proud of such logic as he took off his bowler and stared inquisitively into it, seeing nothing.  The legislative bodies sit by and wonder if cannabidiol has made logic invisible to the man who woke up one day and discovered himself Leader of the Free World.  Certainly it can’t it can’t get more absurd than that.

The end game for a play which has no end is the lonely waiting for someone who will never come, a sustained and constructive policy to get the West out of this mess. The United States will unfortunately ignore its ridiculously prevalent bounties of personal incentive, creativity, innate  thriftiness, and natural resources, and instead propel forward to economic decline, spiraling debt, and progressive paralysis.  Europe will tumble into Act III, where suicide is contemplated but the characters of the play lack the energy and incentive to follow through.

Western Civilization, whose two thousand five hundred year brilliant journey is now in the hands of such characters, is best eulogized by Samuel Beckett’s most memorable line in the play regarding the frailty and brevity of such existence:

They give birth astride a grave,  the light gleams an instant, then it is night once more.

 

Posted in ECONOMICS, POLITICS | 1 Comment

A Knight Templar of Classical Music

        The victorious First Crusade established the capacity for believers to pilgrimage to the holiest sites in Christendom to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and identify with His life on earth.  Biblical references were brought to stunning reality for the pilgrim in Jerusalem.  The immense injection of vitality that this would provide to the church was obvious to Pope Innocent II, but the world of the twelfth century was a very dangerous place for a believer on pilgrimage.  The road to Jerusalem was treacherous, filled with bandits, murderers, and many countries with little incentive to protect the pilgrim on his travels.  A special group of evangelists were created out of the First Crusade whose calling was to be as defenders of the faith and those that sought the pilgrimage.  Housed in the Temple of the Mount in Jerusalem, the monastic group of knights  known as the Knights Templar proved to be Innocent’s vehicle for defense of the rights of pilgrims. He made sure they received unique abilities to transcend national borders and take a leading militaristic role in defending the base elements of the faith and the faithful.

At the turn of the twentieth century, classical music was in need of just such a knights templar to defend itself against the inroads of radical transitions and intellectual demolishing of the elements of technique and romantic passion that had been responsible in achievement of its height as a primary cultural force.  The group of passionate technicians that would save the concept of classic in classical music – the knights templar of musical performance that saved the human element of classical music – turned out to be a group of Russian Jews. Linked to the unique struggle for basic human rights in a Russia first under attack by authoritarian anti-Semitic czars, and later by atheistic Communist totalitarians, a stunning group of Jewish musical knights  sprung forth from the vast Russian countryside from the years surrounding the birth of the 20th century.  They managed through their brilliance to secure classicism in music and grudging respect for their people under enormous pressure for the destruction of each by forces that saw both classicism and Judaism as characteristics of a failed cultural model.  The names Heifetz, Horowitz, and Rubinstein ring through the ages, but an equally talented and perhaps more monastically pure performer, Nathan Milstein, was as vital to the defense of classicism as any of his more famous fellow knights. Unlike the the aforementioned trio, however, Milstein was not a self promoter, and tended to let his music performance  speak for itself.

And how it spoke.  Milstein was a performer who saw the music as the spoken verse of the poet.  The clarity of the language was critical to him.  He devoted his performing to find ways to articulate the most difficult of passages with the precision he saw demanded by the composer.  His technique was not the bounding passionate noise of explosive pyrotechnics of Horowitz.  He wished to strive instead for the perfection of celestial music with superhuman clarity.  Like the great Russian performers of the century’s turn, Milstein was identified by his prodigy status and brought to the great teacher of the Russian Conservatory, Leopold Auer.  Milstein was not a revolutionary; he was truly a defender of the catechism, and took to Auer’s severely demanding style of instruction requiring surgical precision and humanistic passion in performance as indelibly intertwined forces, not conflicting truths.  Milstein learned from Auer that difficult passages required not only physical gifts, but mathematical and geometric ones, and Milstein would ceaselessly work and re-work fingering techniques and strategies until he had achieved the most logical and efficient means of articulating the passage with precision.  It was a philosophy that made Milstein a master of the classicists such as Beethoven and Bach, while bringing a humanity to the carnival aspects of Paganini.  He proved you could marry both with clarity, and made it possible for Milstein to present reproducible interpretations that didn’t depend on his mood that day, or the romantic idealism so true of his good friend and fellow “child of the revolution”,  Horowitz.

Nathan Milstein did what all of the Jewish Knights Templar did during the cataclysmic years of the twentieth century.  He immigrated to America permanently in the 1930’s where he spent the rest of his performing life basking in the freedom and protection that America’s unique take on individualism allowed for.  America became the Temple of the Mount to the defenders of human expression and personal freedom, and there, any undertones of anti-Semitism proved feeble against the power of talent and free expression.  One wonders in an America that has forgotten its mission, what country will be the welcoming temple that brings the pilgrims of human excellence and free expression to her shores, and preserves for at least one more century the calling of civilizational greatness.

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People We Should Know #22 – Xi Jinping

       With the recent election, the relatively brief period of assumed responsibility of the United States of America as the world’s hyperpower has been firmly shorn by the voting public.  Confirming a “lead from behind” strategy of global diplomatic consolidation with other fading powers, the U.S. will becoming progressively reactive to the burgeoning influence of the world’s new dominant economic force, China, and the time is therefore apropo to look closely at China and its conceptualizations about leadership.  Unlike America, which has leaned progressively on societal security with the alignment of its resources toward that goal, China has been single minded on the conversion of its national energy to growth and prosperity.   The United States will spend the next ten years looking inward as the financial wherewithal for investing in expansion will be limited by the constraints of an ever burgeoning debt owed to others. China’s challenge will be making the shift from the world’s secondary to primary influence in a peaceful fashion respected by its neighbors and competitors, and secure the equality of prosperity at home. This coming week will see the elevation of Xi Jinping to the Presidency of China, succeeding Hu Jintao.  This culmination of career through the difficult and secretive politics of the Chinese Communist Party to the position of ultimate leadership in China, makes Xi Jinping a worthy addition to Ramparts – People We Should Know.

The Chinese Communist Party for the past 30 years since the death of Mao Zedong and the elevation of Deng Xiaoping has been all about preservation of the party while unleashing of economic potential.  This has resulted in leaders with a certain pedigree and Xi Jinping fits the mold precisely.  Xi has the critical family pedigree.  His father was one of the mythical leaders of the initial Communist victory over Nationalist forces, and then just as crucially, was discarded by Mao for his “reactionary” flaws in the 1960’s Cultural Revolution, for the crime of suggesting small market reforms in the face of the horrific forced starvation of millions of  Chinese by Mao’s catastrophic edicts to preserve his version of the revolution.  Xi therefore started his life in the dangerous world of being a member of an enemy family to the Revolutionary Guard, and his survival was at times a matter of luck.   With the progressive weakening by Mao by aged infirmity and collapse of the Chinese economy, small windows of opportunity were seized by rejected “reformers” and Xi began to be cultivated like a potentially star athlete for eventual leadership.  Xi was educated at China’s most prestigious university in the hard science of chemical engineering, then sent through a series of developmental resume building projects, including a stint in military organization and period of overseas exposure in agricultural management, spending time with a family in Muscatine, Iowa.  He returned to begin the climb through a series of provincial Party positions, becoming governor in the vital eastern provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, where China’s economic miracle was exploding and the critical questions of the relationship of Communist Party dominance and free market activities were under continual fulmination.

In 2007, Xi was elevated to China’s ultimate administrative leadership structure, the nine person Politburo, as First Secretary, a direct line to the ultimate leadership position.  From this position he ran the highly successful Beijing 2008 Olympics, China’s coming out party, and crafted a reputation for having an open ear to reforming China’s inevitable inbred corruption problem , fused to the monolithic party structure.  Critically, it appears he became the favorite of China’s kingmaker, former President Jiang Zemin, while not alienating the current leader, Hu Jintao, an impressive high wire performance.

This week, Xi will assume the Presidency of China, at the zenith of China’s thirty year history of progressive ascendancy.  Although Chinese leadership selection process is cloaked in byzantine processes, murky vetting, and unknown strains, Xi is reported to be a modern conceptualizer.  He is comfortable on the world stage, personally open and confident, and seemingly concerned with addressing Chinese internal issues before they become structural dangers to the leadership.  In a crucial window into the thought process that lead to the elevation of Xi, the exiting President Hu Jintao provided a valuable clue as to the internal problems, declaring the Party’s incestuous corruption is the single greatest risk to the survival of the Chinese Party’s continuing survival and China’s ability to navigate its ascendancy to the primary economic force in the world.

Make no mistake, Zi Jinping is carved of the same stone as each of his preceding Presidents.  He is a stalwart of the Chinese Communist Party and will cotton to no weakness in Party dominance in Chinese society.  Unlike the American President, he will be laser focused on Chinese national self interest as the one and only determinant in policy, and though he may show a welcoming personality, the concept of American politicians that it is important for America to be liked in the world in order to be respected, is completely foreign to him and all Chinese leaders.  China will continue to make its decisions on relations, economy, trade, environment, energy, Taiwan, and ultimately military security questions based on what is best for China.

As the Chinese and American destiny ships cross in the night, you can be sure that Xi Jinping will quietly but confidently ask the American ship to yield right of way.

Posted in PEOPLE WE SHOULD KNOW | Leave a comment

Aftermath

       It’s hard to admit when you put a lot of time, investment in emotion, and thought into trying to understand  a complex relationship, that it turns out you had it all wrong.  You wake up one day and the relationship is broken, and you are dumbfounded.  It turns out the deep abiding  relationship the American people have with their history, their constitution, and their form of government, a bond fired and forged through birth, strife, wars, and depression, was fractured, and the papers of formal separation were given on November 6th, 2012. The original bond was formed on the foundation that the people would be the steward of the relationship, the careful watchmen of the government designed to serve them.  The election shows unfortunately that the bond had grown stale and tired, and the people declared they no longer want to shoulder the responsibility in this relationship.  The responsibility has proved too onerous, and they just want out.

And so we wake up to the reality that what we thought was permanent is gone, what seemed to be involuble, was swept out easily with the high tide’s current.  What do we do with the aftermath? How do we understand it?  For the first time the retort, we’ll get them next time, no longer seems applicable or appropriate.

Thoughtful people as we are, the first step perhaps  is to do some introspection, a cold shower of some facts and realities to begin to the process of personal healing and recovery.  The deep considerations in the aftermath of a great storm take years to sort out, but we can begin tentatively and somewhat randomly by looking at what happened, what was lost, and what might be still standing.

Images versus Issues

A few days before the election an apparent Romney momentum was staunched by a horrific storm Sandy that bludgeoned the east coast of the country.  The President hustled into a series of meetings with victims of the storm, projecting an image of concern and attention.  He stood beside the vitriolic governor of New Jersey, who had spent the greater part of two years calling the very structures the president epitomized,  centralized top down apparatuses, one disparaging name after another.  This time, the governor lionized the President as the vital link to salvation, the great bipartisan in moments of crisis, the critical component to moving forward.  The multiple images were striking. The image of a believer abandoning his beliefs when trouble strikes, and clinging to his alter-ego the President when he has real need and is desperate, is going to be an image that will haunt Christie, but hugely benefited the President.  It cemented the image that this was a man who cares, and when it really matters, is relied upon even by those who would disparage him in easier times, when there is no crisis or calamity.  The electoral exit poles were unanimous on this point; the image of sincere caring for the concerns of the average man or woman, outweighs any constructive review of the specific issues that would suggest the contrary.  Issues proved to be arcane in their importance.  Understanding for instance how a modern economy works, the concept of an unfunded mandate, the nuances of shale oil exploration, the imploding tax structure, the complex constitutional questions of healthcare delivery created no emotional ownership in the great mass of voters.  On the issues of economy, debt, obamacare, right way or wrong way direction, the voter overlooked their concern that the actions of this President were detrimental to their future – and voted for the image.  Who can I trust to look after me and make sure my needs are secure?  The modern candidate that dominates this image of trust transcends all political philosophies – and President Obama proved it in spades.

The Great Detached Electorate

A stunning set of numbers has come out of the 2012 election.  11 million less voters voted in 2012 then did in 2008, and Mitt Romney received 2 million less votes then John McCain in 2008.  Andrew McCarthy has a brilliant review of this phenomena in NRO, reveling that the President won by simply and efficiently getting out the Democratic vote that would normally vote to support their candidate, while losing a spectacular 13% of the voters he accumulated in 2008.  This implies 9 million voters determined rather to stay home, disappointed in the direction of the country and its leadership, rather than take a chance and vote for the alternative.  In an election that saw 2 million fewer voters than 2004, though the country grew  in population by 16 million, the opting out of the voter was of staggering proportions.  How does one explain such dis-interest?  It appears the progressively driving force is the sense detachment that a growing part of Americans feel regarding their system of government.  To them, it appears not to matter who is in charge, Republican or Democrat, that the outcome of larger government, insoluble problems, and addictive bureaucracy will be the same.  Why come out and vote, when the outcome is already assured?  A democracy crumbles on such feelings, and the ominous effect is being projected in democratic elections worldwide.

Hispanic Revolt

Since the Republican Party lost permanently the African American voting bloc after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Great Society, an enormous amount of hand ringing and effort to understand and restore some balance to this bloc’s voting habits is undertaken every four years.  The effort is fruitless because African Americans have become a statist monobloc and will vote 90% or greater for the Democrat statist nominee whatever the set of issues are on the table.   The diverse group of Americans collectively labeled “hispanic” has been to this point notably different.  The concerns of the Texican border voter have been significantly different from the exiled Cuban American in Miami, the Puerto Rican immigrant in New York, and the five generation American chicano in Palo Alto.  No more. A democrat wave was seen in the hispanic vote that crossed all cultural differences. It seems the frustration with Americans being unable to equitably solve the plight of millions of hispanic immigrants who have circumvented the archaic immigration system was magnified by candidate Romney’s “extreme” position, however objectively appropriate,  that the starting point to solution had to be an obeyance of law and a return to their native country of those that were breaking immigration law, and punishment of those who would illegally hire them.  The hispanic bloc is now the second largest group of identified voters and the inability for a country, whose message has been to immigrants to come and contribute, to continue to ignore this issue was disastrous to the more rigid candidate.  Interestingly, candidate Obama was exposed by the reporters of Telemundo of having ignored his promise of prioritizing this issue as President, but the “caring” image discussed above overwhelmed the President’s wimpish performance on the issue.  The diversified hispanic voter capable of objective issue voting is progressing toward a image vote identification previously associated with African Americans and this is an inescapable problem for any future non-statist candidate.

War Fatigue

The American electorate proved profoundly skittish to candidate Romney’s call for a more robust military and more forceful foreign policy position for America.  The logic of “peace through strength” rather than “peace through neglect” espoused by the President on his lead from behind strategy struck Americans as war-like.  An over decade long obsession with foreign conflict has left the electorate adverse to any potential actions involving American troops.  A fundamental mistake has been made by President Bush, candidate McCain and now candidate Romney, that Americans, once involved in conflict, understand the import of achieving identifiable objectives or discernible victory.  It can not be underestimated how popular President Obama’s policy of leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of circumstances and potential risks has been.  The reality that America was in sight of a considerable strategic victory in Iraq requiring ongoing military presence was seen as a price not worth paying, and the same has proved to be true in Afghanistan.  Americans are weary of being the righteous policemen for the world and look to handle these issues with a Jacque Chirac type realpolitic view with multiple nations behind the scenes.  President Obama has cleverly captured this image, while still participating in far flung escapades such as the debacle in Libya and the ongoing”kill lists” for identified “enemies” of the United States.  The public sees this as the necessary evil involved with world governance, and as long as ground troops are not involved, likely to continue to avert their eyes.

The Death of Convictions

A dramatic shift in Americans perception of themselves has been the death of convictions transcending immediate politics.  Documents of conviction used to be the guiding principles for most people’s lives.  The Bible and religious conviction  were at one time sacrosanct.  Previously, a believing Catholic would see themselves a practicing Catholic under a Democrat or Republican Administration.  The idea that a basic principle of religious conviction, the church’s right to espouse principles to right to life and the freedom to live these principles at their own institutions seemed to be an inviolate consideration.  The Obama administration proved this to be a Potemkin Village, trashing Catholic teachings and bishop leaders on the fundamental issue of forced payment for abortion and contraception by Catholic institutions, while managing to gain the majority of Catholic votes.  Professed lifelong Catholics like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden pledged their ongoing fidelity to their church while participating in the very destruction of the basic tenets of the church dogma.  It indicated that like the argument regarding the fundamental value of imagery, the imagery of seeing oneself as catholic was sufficient to overwhelming the hypocrisy of not practicing any of its tenets.

At the secular level, the eternal stability provided by the base convictions stated by the country’s Constitution is meeting the same crisis of hypocrisy.  The checks and balances so carefully positioned in the constitution are fraying in the face of an executive branch perfectly happy to rule by executive order and ignore legislative process. the constitutional conviction is progressively undermined by a liberal judicial system that seeks at every opportunity to block legislative acts not for their objective legality under constitutional principles, but in the court’s desire to “right” what they see as a legislative “wrong”, regardless of the voice of the people. We see ominous examples of this in Wisconsin district judges ruling on non-constitutional questions such as collective bargaining and voter identification legally passed by a dually elected legislature and signed by the executive branch governor, because they see themselves as providing ultimate veto power to determine “fairness”.  We note the progressive ignorance of the voting population of the various elements of the constitution that protect individual rights and freedoms, and the progressive declaration of the codified convictions expressed in the document as “archaic” and requiring evolution.  The death of conviction as a source of strength through bad times and good times is the single most dangerous trend in the future survival of the uniquely American experiment with individual freedom.

The Comfort with Decline

Sometimes the responsibility of always being the example for others to emulate proves to be too much to bear.Great societies inevitably decline because of the loss of the vital energy required to support and preserve the elements of its greatness.  The Roman empire, a thousand year permanency declined in a few short decades to vastly inferior forces.  The energy needed to maintain defenses, clean out corruption and ennui in its leaders, recognize the individual’s role in preserving the culture, and the simple strain of maintaining maturity and flexibility as a society proved too great a burden.   There is no reason to suspect the American experience won’t be the same.  Being the ultimate superpower, wielding great influence with others, and defending the “exceptionalism” of this unique society is proving to be a progressively abhorred burden.

Europe dealt with this by blurring the individual cultural uniqueness of each of its cultures and suppressing their aggressive tendencies to any form of national pride, by injecting the blandness of the European Union with its strangulating bureaucracy on the previously diverse relationships of Europeans to their history, individual expression and government.   I don’t think it is a significant leap to see in the near future  an American leader suggest a North American Federation that eliminates the “exceptionalism” of the American Constitution , thereby binding the North American continent in the ultimate free trade zone of completely open borders, one currency, and fidelity to an innocuous state that provides individual security, a massive expansion in the tax base, and a huge expansion of the government to resources that will feed its every expanding need to grow.  If you don’t think Americans could possibly vote to disband their hard won uniqueness for the greater security of an expanded governmental culture, you need only ask the voters charged with voting on Tuesday and quiz them on the relationship of the Constitution to the actions they just undertook.  Most would be hard pressed to identify any elements of the Constitution in a discernible way and frankly would not be the least bit embarrassed by their ignorance.  We are close to the time when the individual citizen will assume the government’s chief responsibility is  the indivual’s security and the means of supporting that security the job of an unnamed someone else.

Final Tally

Ramparts predicted incorrectly the final tally of these election but  not its importance.  Fundamental changes are present, not in the officials elected, but in the electorate that elected them. Depressing as the thought is, I don’t think this time we will absorb these changes and ultimately triumph.  The progression in debt is inexorable and the willingness to perform the hard tasks of reducing debt are nowhere in sight.  The attitude of leading from behind and isolating from conflict has historically always led to greater conflict, and I suspect the acceptance of this laissez-faire attitude is going to get a lot of people killed.  The strangulating of access to the means of production, whether by energy decisions, regulation, or suppression of innovation will suffocate this country’s power to recover.  I would like to be more optimistic, but I don’t see the silver lining visibly apparent.  It looks like we are locked in a loveless marriage of convenience and divorce is not an option.  As the President so aptly put previously, there isn’t going to be much place in the new society for the “bitter clingers” – the champions of what we once espoused to be.

Is there a possible path forward? History would say generally no; societies have and inexorable birth, life, and death cycle.  America has been somewhat unusual in this regard, however. We have a personal stubbornness that seems at times irritating to others.  We have still an exceptional number of people who believe in a God and His Providence.  There are untold numbers of people that like to re-live the mythical moments, dressing up as revolutionary soldiers or civil war soldiers and eating hardtack, re-enacting the signing of the Declaration of Independence , or memorizing and reciting the Gettysburg Address. Legions of hunters see their guns as their certificate of freedom, and will fight any effort of the government to “clarify” the Second Amendment.  We have Freedom Flights, and battleground living tours, Flag days and Fife corps.  We have families who lose their son to the government’s incredible ineptitude in Benghazi, only to have the brother of the deceased respond to such ineptitude by joining to serve in the very governmental force  whose leadership determined his brother expendable, so strong is the virus of patriotism.  And we have bloggers, like me, that for no apparent reason, find the need to spend countless hours expressing  their love for the amazing story of western society and twenty five  century journey of  individual expression and achievement, read by a small group of readers who feel the same. To the modern statist, these activities and need for expression are beyond conceptualization.  Perhaps the way forward is encouraging the tending  of these modes of expression, into an eventual constructive clarifying light, when the weight of our current society’s need superficial and momentary security crashes down on the rocks of reality.  It just might take a really hard lesson for society to realize what all those supposedly arcane convictions were all about. In the Middle Ages, the darkness was eventually extinguished by those who preserved the great ideas and kept their conviction, when all about them swirled chaos and destruction.  The clarity of human freedom is a light hard to extinguish.

 

 

Posted in CULTURE, HISTORY, POLITICS | Leave a comment

The Ramparts Manifesto

There are historical inflection points that determine the flow of man’s progress or decline.  Sometimes the moment is clear at its apex to the participants.  The crowning of Octavian as the Emperor Augustus creating the end of republican concepts and creating the idea of a universal citizen linked by shared principles across cultural differences.  The declaration of independence of colonies from the greatest power on earth in 1776.  The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.  Sometimes the moment is seen only in retrospect as to its lasting and profound significance.  The death of a religious prophet in Judea by crucifixion in 32 A.D.  The victory of the Norman, William the Conqueror,  over Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D.  The exile of the radical Lenin to Switzerland by the Czar Nicholas in 1907.  History binds us to its outcomes in that the moment of inflection allows only one response to its inflection point, the way forward.

For many of us, the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States was such an inflection point. November, 2008 saw the elevation of a man of color to the most powerful executive position on earth by an electorate of a country  that once espoused the right of bondage and servitude by one person of another, on the basis of  color.  Regarding the final maturation of the ideals put forth by the founding architects of the American manifesto of guarantees of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it is indeed a hugely important inflection point.  We are, however, coming to an even more critical inflection, as to whether those guarantees codified in our founding documents hold less value to our modern society, to the extent that we as a society are unwilling to defend them under the assault of the very individual who is sworn to uphold them.  We must now perform a value judgement on November 6th, 2012, as to whether the inflection point of celebrating universal access to the position of ultimate executive power in a democracy overwhelms the studied evaluation and judgement of the performance of that individual who finally achieved that access.  Can we as a nation base our perception of our leaders not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character, and in doing so preserve the best outcomes of both inflection points?  President Barack Obama has been a formative President over the last four years.  Ramparts looks to review and assess those four years for their content and recommend the way forward, for this country needs to preserve the capacity of every person to succeed as intended by nation’s founders, in the ultimate historical teaching moment, and inflection point, of November 6th, 2012.

Leadership

A great leader has characteristics that reflect not only in their words, but their impulses, character, and actions.  It is not enough to describe vision as an end, but to articulate the means and difficult road of getting there.  This usually requires an understanding of context, where a people have been, what their capacities and talents are, what they hope to be.  Lao Tsu, the Tao Chinese philosopher, described this leadership skill as follows:

Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders, when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves.

Great nations have significant a significant historical thread and purpose that define their greatness. Great nations require their leaders to have a conviction of belief in the nation’s greatness, a recognition of the elements that keep it great.  In times of ease, the leader’s intensity of faith in those base convictions may not require constant trumpeting, but in times of crisis, the trumpet calls must be certain and clear. He or she must show the character of conviction, leading with clarity and personal integrity, forming the people’s confidence in the perilous journey, the unshakable will to search for a way out, and ultimately succeed.  The people should feel their leader understands the extent of the sacrifice that is asked for, the price that is being paid, the worthiness of the ultimate outcome that is desired.  St. Francis of Assisi put it succinctly:

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.

In the test of leadership, President Obama has too often shown his ignorance of the facts of history,  the superficiality of vision, the lack of clarity of how his path to the future would solve the future’ s problems, to get the people he leads to confidently follow. He has often struggled greatly with the truth.   His own administration coined the phrase, “Leading from behind”.  It is a epitaph of a leadership style that subverts a nation’s present and future greatness.

Performance

The focus of any election with an incumbent is ultimately a judgement of performance, between the performance of the incumbent weighed against the expected performance of the challenger who seeks to unseat him. Predicting future performance is much more ethereal than grading past performance, and thus  the true test of the upcoming judgement is after all our current President’s performance, the assessment of Barack Obama’s record in leading a great nation at a time of challenge.

Domestic record:

President Obama admittedly came into his job with great challenges domestically.  Collapse of the housing bubble and a dramatic banking crisis plunged the nation in a deep recession.  The response of the President was the great Stimulus package of 2009, a 787 billion dollar government infusion of money into the economy that represented easily the largest injection of government influence on the economy in history.  Together with the TARP government guarantee to failing and in jeopardy banks and actions such as the Automobile industry bailout, it represented well over a trillion dollars in the nation’s resources.  It was sold like Franklin Roosevelt’s  Work Project Administration, a huge tsunami of “shovel-ready jobs” that would propel the economy out of its doldrums. Right out of the starting gate, though, the stimulus package showed all the tenets of President Obama’s leadership style.  He deferred the details of the huge expenditure to others, showing very little interest in where the money actually went or accomplished.  Thus a trillion dollars found its way instead into expansion of government processes, with a whole cadre of “czars” functioning independently of both cabinet departments and the legislative process.  The result was predictable.  No identifiable investment in crumbling infrastructure beyond roads. Rejection of access to easily available resources like  leasing American oil drilling or positioning for completion of the Canadian Keystone pipeline project.   Capitalist cronyism at its worst in green industry companies like Solyndra.  Faux-brilliant programs with no identifiable purpose other than popularity such as “Cash for Clunkers”, and billions upon billions to underwrite inevitably unsustainable union perks and pensions.  Where all the money went, and to whom, will never be known and likely represents one of the great heists in history.

The huge debacle of the 2009 stimulus was followed by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or as better known, Obamacare.  The administration determined to address the crisis in burgeoning healthcare expenditure by devising a plan of eventual government takeover of healthcare, establishing a new entitlement, extending healthcare to a supposed thirty million “uninsured” Americans at a Medicaid entry level, forcing the mandatory nature of health insurance, and “paying” for it with huge penalties on the currently insured, including draconian shifts from current Medicare subsidies.  The result was a calamitous bill that was forced through a reluctant congress using questionably legal out of budget reconciliation joint resolutions, that few congressmen understood or investigated.  As the bill was bludgeoned through the system, the then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi famously declared, “We have to pass the health care bill, so you can find out what is in it.”  Democracy died a thousand deaths that day.  The bill’s future fundamental re-working of the American healthcare system is outdone by its visible break on current economic activity as those with functional insurance through their employer are only now realizing the reality of the loss of their insurance security, and companies are recognizing the enormous bill and suppressing hiring and expansion.  The President’s response to the coming calamity, again classic Obama, deferments for union and political supporters, and good luck to all the rest.

The third strike blow to the nation domestically was that the stimulus was only the initial harbinger of a government willing to annually overspend at the level of the supposed one time stimulus investment , resulting in annual deficits of over a trillion dollars.  In four short years, the country’s debt ballooned 5.6 Trillion dollars, making the President’s administration the most profligate debtor in history,  increasing by half what it took the previous 235 years of government  to accumulate.  The pathetic result was the United States experiencing the first loss of its triple AAA bond rating in history.  It resulted in the need for three rounds of Federal Reserve Bank’s “quantitative easing“, printing money at accelerated rates to purchase the burgeoning debt, and thereby severely threatening the value of the dollar and ultimately, people’s purchasing power and future savings. It resulted in the American government borrowing 42 cents on every dollar it spent, with no end in sight and no plan to deal with coming crisis in debt.  The incredibly prescient examples of socialist Europe’s current financial calamities were ignored by this administration as if they were whistling past their own grave.

Three strikes and you’re out in baseball parlance.  Domestically the Obama Administration proved to be on of the most ineffectual, and damaging administrations in history.

Foreign Policy Record:

The Obama Doctrine of “Lead from behind” truly found its muse in foreign policy.  A basic philosophical Obama underpinning of previous American history was at work.  Where others saw standing up for American self interest, Obama saw imperialism.  Where history saw American leadership, Obama saw arrogance.  Where others saw totalitarian suppression of freedoms, Obama saw self determination.  From the beginning, the President set on an “apology” tour,  meeting with some of America’s most nefarious enemies, such as Chavez of Venezuela, and proclaiming understanding with such stalwarts such as Castro of Cuba and Ahmadinejad of Iran.  He immediately re-set the Israeli- Palestinian access, declaring an “equality” of right, snubbing the elected leader of their erstwhile ally Israel at every turn, and encouraging the recalcitrance of the Palestinians to meet on any level with the Israelis to solve their issues.

The President re-oriented the fight against terrorism, implying the United States harbored an unhealthy understanding of Islam, that needed to be cleansed.  The war in Iraq, having been essentially won by the American surge of 2007-08, was undermined by a callous disregard of residual security needs, resulting in the abrogation of the Status of Forces agreement with Iraqis, the pre-mature removal of all US forces, and the inevitable crumbling of the hard won Iraq democratic process that had barely begun to take hold.  He announced in Cairo the wrongs committed to the Arab nation by American cultural ignorance, resulting in significantly increased confidence by fundamental Islamic elements that the President would do nothing to impede their long desired goal of taking over nationalist Arab governments.  The once in a lifetime Green Revolution by millions of brave internal dissenters in totalitarian Iran was brutally snuffed out by the regime, when they realized Obama would do nothing, and a relentless progression in the development of a fundamentalist and nihilist nuclear capacity..  The stability of a Libya led by a neutered Qaddafi was destroyed by an American led rebel force, in an undeclared American war.  It continues to have devastating ramifications with the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the recent murder of an American Ambassador on American sovereign ground, enabled by a President who saw the Al Qaeda attack on his consulate as a larger threat to the myth he had woven of defanging Al Qaeda and contributing to a new moderate Libya then to his representatives on the ground, resulting in their disastrous sacrifice.

The presidential record on the the self declared”good war” in Afghanistan was no better, with a surge of American forces initiated at the same time as the declaration of their eventual withdrawal, resulting in a meaningless sacrifice of American lives in a country with an impressive history of simply waiting out its foreign invaders.  The result, a predictable strengthening of the Taliban, reversing the brief modernity of schools, roads, and reduced foothold of sharia that allowed a middle way to briefly flower.

The President’s solitary success in the war in terror proved not to be his re-definition of “Terrorism”, but in the utilization of all the previous administration’s tools of interrogation, drone patrols, and special forces development, culminating in the discovery and dispatching of the murderer Osama Bin Laden, as well as other high ranking terrorists.  The supposed sin of previous terror definitions to be reversed, such as the goal of closure of Guantanamo and the ludicrous plan to try international terrorists in domestic courts as criminals, has long since been abandoned.  This  was replaced with a disturbing attraction to a “kill list” as a indirect means of control of terrorism, resulting in a perverse rationalization that the United States had the right to assassinate on the basis of implied guilt on foreign soil, while demanding a criminal court and redefinition of the dastardly murder as “workplace violence”, as when a terrorist such as Major Husan, self declared as a “soldier for Allah”, murdered Americans on American soil at Fort Hood.

The progression of an Arab Spring dominated by the uncontrolled emergence of Islamic fundamentalism to national positions of power, the belligerence of Russia in defying the supposed American Re-set in policy, despite the sacrifice of relations with American allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Georgia to appease Russia, the instability of an enfeebled Europe that has linked itself into a bond of progressive economic insolvency, a return of terrorist capacity now under the cloak of fundamentalist regimes, the progressive collapse of any Israeli-Palestinian momentum, and the ominous advance of Iran toward nuclear capacity fully indicates the Obama Doctrine of “Leading from Behind” is  guaranteed to lead to more, not less American vulnerability and potential future conflict involvement.

Verdict

Leadership. Attention to history. Understanding of the foundations of American greatness.  Stewardship of our national resources.  Positioning our country to succeed beyond the previous generation. Defending our national sovereignty, both economically and militarily. Providing and following through on the vision and promise of a national consensus.  These are the duties we place upon the individual who assumes the chief executive position in our land.  It is concisely and summarily stated in the oath of office all Presidents swear to:

I do solemnly swear, that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The record of this President, Barack Obama, as a matter of philosophy, integrity, leadership abrogation, and performance, has consistently defied the fundamental requirement of this oath.  Ramparts does not believe the carefully tendered fundamentals, checks and balances – defended, fought, and sacrificed over for 236 years – can survive in a recognizable form under such leadership.  History has inflection points.  The nation election of 2012 is just such an inflection point.  On November 6th, 2012, the future freedom and  prosperity of history’s most successful creation of a nation of human fulfillment and actualization is at stake.  The President, Barack Obama needs to be defeated, and Mitt Romney elected, as the next President of the United States.  The time for hope and change is past.  What we need now, is plain old change.  If the American public deliberates correctly and opts for change from  its current disastrous regime, it will elect Mitt Romney as President of the United States.  With such change, real hope may yet once more spring eternal, and the country remove itself from self applied shackles, to rise again, like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes.

 

 

 

 

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Follow Up to the Benghazi Debacle – The Story Takes A Darker Shape

The story of the terrorist assault on the U.S.  Benghazi Consulate on September 11th,2012,  continues to take shape, and shake the confidence we hold in our leaders to tell us the truth regarding the perils and threats to the nation.  Bret Baier of Fox News has put together a must see summary of the conditions and events leading up to the assault, the response of the precipitants, and the progressive stonewalling of our nation’s leaders in bringing forth the truth of the awful day.  I am sure the entire scope of what is to be revealed is not even been scratched, but what has come out thus far is tragic, disturbing, and ominous.  Please watch the entire report, and recognize how important next week’s election will be in determining if we will ever learn the right lessons from this building tragedy.

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The Benghazi Debacle Grows From Bad to Scandalous

On September 11th, 2012, something truly awful happened to America at the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. At first glance, it might be said it was the deaths of four brave American representatives serving their country in a battle to defend American territory in a godforsaken backwater of a country in the throws of post revolution Libya.  Four dedicated and impossibly brave people who were in Libya to try to bring some coordinated help and sanity to a country torn asunder by years of barbarous dictatorship and subsequent war projected by foreign powers, supported by the armed might of the United States. Four irreplaceable U.S. citizens to their country, their families, and their devotion to their duty.  Such loss this country has had to bear once again, in the shadows of so many others of equally irreplaceable value lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Such loss is by any measure, awful.  Yet,  what is proving to be even more devastatingly awful to America, is the realization that the governmental leaders that sent these brave men to Libya to serve this nation’s interests, may have consciously permitted these men to be sacrificed to save their agenda, then lied about it to save their own political skin.   What level of dishonor has been perpetrated upon these men they were elected to lead, to the public they were elected to represent, to the constitution they were elected to uphold?  The awful truth is progressively brought to bear.

With each passing day the nest of deceit surrounding the tragedy in Benghazi is coming to light. The first pathetic cover story was a supposed anti-Islamic video unseen by all that somehow incited a protest to become a murderous mob. The nonsense of this cover story was promoted serially for weeks, first by the American Ambassador to the U.N., then Secretary of State, and ultimately ginned up by the President himself in television interviews and in front of the United Nations General Assembly.  This blatant disregard for the true events of the murderous day – not a spontaneous protest gone awry, but a planned, coordinated military assault on the Consulate –  turns out to be a set of facts known to all in real time during the attack, as revealed by drone videos and cellphone transmissions.  The problem was, Libya was not supposed to be a hotbed of radical Islamic terrorist hordes spiraling out of control. No, it was to be an example of the President’s effective leadership role in the Arab Spring and an example of the fruits of the final defeat of the Al Qaeda influence in the Islamic world.  The disastrous events of September 11th, 2012 did not fit the narrative, and thus a narrative had to be built to somehow package the tragedy in acceptable terms.  A willing press allowed for weeks this nonsensical story to hold the veneer of serious reflection.

The narrative was bad enough, but what is becoming clear is that the very highest leadership positions of the United States, a willful premeditated deceit was undertaken to “own the truth” at least until safely through re-election.  The Vice President of the United States in his debate, the President of the United States on multiple occasions, stated unequivocally that they had no intelligence information that suggested that a security risk was present to the consulate and ambassador, no evidence that the “mob” was a coordinated military attack, and that they did all they could to discern what was happening and work to secure the safety of the consulate individuals.  The Secretary of State Clinton herself stated that  “protesters” “carried Chris to the hospital”, not dragged through the streets as a trophy display.  Today we find out that all was deceit. Transmissions to the State Department described a seven hour attack on the consulate, and identified at least three urgent requests for help for military backup from Tyrone Woods, who with fellow former SEAL Glen Doherty, returned to defend the consulate from off site when they heard it under attack, and died defending American soil and their fellow Consulate staff and Ambassador.  Three requests reserved real time, over time, to a White House that insists it “had no intelligence” – three requests that were serially denied.  We now know that there were gunships with laser guided armament fixed on the enemy combatants, that were denied the permission to shoot and defend.  We now know there were special forces positioned to re-enforce, within an hour of travel time in a seven hour attack, that were denied the opportunity to re-enforce the defense perimeter so desperately  held by the two SEALS.

We now know, that President Obama received this real time information, and proceeded to a fund raiser in Las Vegas, in the window of time where Tyrone Woods died at his machine gun, defending the consulate to the last measure of his capacity, waiting for help that would never be allowed to come.

Whoever decided to ignore the pleas for help and allow the massacre of Americans to occur does not deserve to continue as a leader of anybody.  Any person with a shred of self dignity, who allowed such actions to occur on their watch, and did nothing,  would resign.

If it proves out that it was the President of the United States , in the face of direct assault counseled inaction, to the pleas of help directed passivity, and in the face of knowledge to the contrary, knowingly lied to the American people, he should resign immediately.  If he was, after all, the actual ringleader of this tragic circus, and he doesn’t have the dignity to resign, he needs to be summarily fired on November 6th, and with him the entire corrupt team of  enablers that serve under this deceit.

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Re-Acquainting with our National Treasures – the Museums


The national capital of the United States is not only the citadel of governance for the world’s most powerful democracy, it is also the repository for an incredible diversity of treasures of art, science, culture, and history.  The city itself was designed as a jewel of urban expression by the famed architect Pierre L’Enfant, presented in 1792 as an ideal of a world class city laid out on a marshy elevation north and east of the Potomac River, at a time when most of the country’s population was hundreds of miles away from the District of Columbia’s wilderness.  French born, L’Enfant was every bit a revolutionary American, who had served as an engineer under Washington, was wounded in the war, suffered with him and the troops at Valley Forge, and later was present for the general’s ultimate victory over Cornwallis.  He saw the fledgling nation as a eventual world power and saw no fantasy in designing a world power’s capital stage, with massive boulevards, epic public buildings, and beautiful gardens and squares.  The capital he left us is every bit the work of art, and on its grounds contains treasures of incalculable value and diversity.

Prominent on the National Mall are its magnificent art museums, among so many  I would humbly  like to highlight two great art repositories, the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery.  The Corcoran Gallery sits at the west end of the mall juxtaposed to the White House grounds and contains a spectacular display of great American artists of the country’s expansive beginnings.  The great portrait artist of the revolutionary period, Gilbert Stuart, is best known for capturing the strength and humanity of our nation’s fathers, no more prominently displayed then in the wonderful Washington portrait of the president seen above.  Excellent representations of the American wilderness glorifying American exceptionalism with religious overtones, as a chosen land, abound the walls in great works by Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church.  Bierstadt’s Corcoran Peak reminded Americans that the Rockies were every bit as epic as the Alps.  Church’s Niagara captured  the epic scope of the great falls and reflected the pristine beauty and power of the American wilderness as representative of the country’s power and inexorable drive.  The ultimate in scale, imagery, and symbolism of America’s special connection with its  pristine,  savage wilderness is Bierstadt’s Last of the Buffalo,  an homage to a disappearing innocence when the horizon, and the bounty was limitless.The Corcoran collection extends into other great examples of American painting genius such as Singer Sargent,  Mary Cassatt, and Whistler, but does not neglect European masters such as Gainsborough and Rembrandt. It would be the premier display of artistic greatness were it not for the overwhelming spectacle of the collection on the opposite end of the Mall, the National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art defies a proper adjective for its bounty in fantastic art. Thousands of absolute masterpieces line the walls from the brilliance of American Winslow Homer to three exquisite Vermeers.  The very majesty of the collection may be in the Mellon family’s greatest gift to the nation, Leonardo DaVinci’s Ginevra de Benci , a painting in my mind every bit as special and beautiful as the Mona Lisa herself.  The National Gallery had in 1995 maybe the most spectacularly popular art exhibition in history in providing in one place the entire collected works of Johannes Vermeer, and the representations present currently of this enigmatic Dutch master are worth an hour alone of contemplation.  The play of light in its complexity on the every day female subject exemplified in Vermeer’s classic, A Woman Holding a Balance, knows no equal in art.  The Americans are also spectacularly represented with the early portraitists such as Copley and Stuart, the chroniclers of American life like Caleb Bingham and James Whistler, and bookended by the brilliant 19th and early 20th century work of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.  Homer’s Breezing Up displays common American courage and fortitude in the everyday lives of  Americans against the violent environment of the sea.  Homer framed America in quiet dignity overwhelmingly influenced by his absorption of the selfless examples of everyday Americans caught up in the brutality of the Civil War yet able to rise above it, and it showed in every subsequent painting.  Singer Sargent was a modern painter caught in a 19th century traditionalism that eventually exploded out of his portrait work into emotionally tense works such as Street in Venice where a young woman catches the not so innocent stares of  young men with a latent sexuality more appropriate for the 20th century than the Victorian principles ruling the nineteenth.  Singer Sargent dissolves the puritan impulse forever in the languid Repose,  the subject  cascading over the boudoir couch in satin finery,  her mind distant to the presence of the artist studying her.

The bounty that is the National Gallery continues over six centuries of European and American art,  from  Giotto to Gauguin , Raphael to Rembrandt.  Though absorbed for hours over each visage like a boy in the candy shop unable to choose, I still managed to focus on a few artists I have been anxious to see in person.  One in particular that brought particular pleasure was J.M.W. Turner, the well known 19th century English painter with extraordinary gifts. An artist who grew out of the romantic stylings  of Byron and Beethoven to presage the luminescence and abstraction of Impressionism, Turner imparts a special emotional longing from the viewer.  In Keelmen Heaving In Coals By Moonlight, an intense impressionistic lightshow is brought to bear with the furious red glow of the coals juxtaposed on the pewter metallic moonlight, and ghostly ships appearing and disappearing out of the mist. Fantastic.     The art alone would take a lifetime to see and absorb it all, but the Smithsonian collection along the Mall is of equal import and diversity in treasure.  From Natural History to American History, the Museum of the American Indian, Arts and Industries, and the Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian spans the American experience.  The visual highlight for me on this trip is the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  The entry alone, contains three epic giants in the history of flight – the Wright Brothers Flyer, the Spirit of St Louis, and Apollo 11 – from the first controlled flight to man’s conquering of the ocean by air, forever shrinking the planet, to escaping earth to land on another celestial globe.  All in the same room and all within 66 years. For whatever reason, I feel the most connectiveness with  the little monoplane that carried Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic in 1927.  This was no decade long monumental commitment of a nation to achieve a goal.  This was a 24 year old postal service pilot, who rigged a design out of a small American entrepreneurial aircraft company, had them build the craft over a few months, flight tested it by flying it cross country to break the record at that time for solo transcontinental flight, and on the same mission hopped over the Atlantic in 33 consecutive solo flight hours with no backup, no escape plan, and no previous indication of success for such an undertaking.  This spectacular little plane would go on to achieve thousands of hours of flight, but the first one is seared in our memory, and our national mythology.The museum has superb examples of passenger service flight, from the original passenger carrier the Ford Tri-motor to the workhorse of the mid-century the DC-3 to the modern Boeing 747.  It shows in close up fashion the story of combat craft from the Sopwith Camel of World War I to the German Messerschmidts, Japanese Zeroes and American P-51 Mustangs of the Second.  The history of rocketry is noted with Minuteman missiles and V-2 rockets, as well as the critical contribution of Russian aerospace from Sputnik to Soyuz.  The journey is endless from Tomahawk cruise missiles to Saturn V engines,  LEM lunar landers to Space Ship One, the first private service  passenger ship to space. Its a visual feast for the air afffectionato and the perfect bookend to the museum extravaganza on the National Mall.

This brief survey does not scratch remotely  all that there is to explore in the national repositories celebrating our civilization’s watershed achievements.  each venue offers days of study and a lifetime of reading.  Consider the story of the electric light bulb or the electric guitar, the harvesting of hydroelectric power, the prayers of the Navajo, the invention and outgrowth of the gasoline engine, the crafts of the native Americans and those who suffered in servitude, the portraits of all the nation’s chief executives, the dresses of the First Ladies. On and on and on in magnificent promotion of what it means to struggle, to seek, to conquer, to create, and ultimately to triumph in the never ending celebration of life well lived.

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Re-Acquainting With Our National Treasures – The Monuments

I had the occasion this past week to plum with some depth the national treasure that is our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.  I had visited it some eighteen years before, but viewed the incredible wealth of venues as a quick aside to a business trip.  I was determined this time, to absorb with more gravity, all I could physically reach on foot in three days, and despite only scratching the surface of what is available, was thrilled with what I saw, and frankly, emotionally moved by our nation’s story.   Washington D.C. is not only the source of much of our history, it is the keeper of our historical flame, and no where is that more profoundly put in perspective than on the monuments that frame the National Mall.

The epic story of the mall is framed by its immense bookends, the obelisk of the Washington Monument and the temple of the Lincoln Monument.  There is no more dramatic tale to tell than that of the revolutionary leadership of Washington, who risked all to secure the improbable birth of a nation against the resources and will of the most powerful nation on earth, a man who could have been King but refused, a man who recognized that he as a leader was the one indispensable component to securing a revolution, but as a man representing  a true republic ruled by its people, critically and ultimately dispensable.  The soaring obelisk reaches for the sky and approaches the heavens as fitting for nation’s father figure whose calm and steady demeanor in the face of incredible stresses and odds was  Olympian in its majesty.  At the other end of the reflecting pool, the massive temple to our national martyr Lincoln, seated solemnly contemplating the incredible sacrifice required to preserve the union and cleanse it of its greatest scourge, slavery.  The two men, so different – the greatest landowner and wealthiest man in America, Washington, and the commoner Lincoln, borne of the most primitive circumstances and abject poverty in the Kentucky wilderness, arose to shared immortality as our nation’s greatest servants, bound by the foundation of an ideal that in this place called America all men could pursue  their destiny with equal birthright and opportunity.  Unique among monuments is the pronounced stillness of the crowds within the Lincoln Memorial, a quiet not of worship but of reverence, for the man and his profound understanding of his nation and the weight of the task he took upon himself to accomplish in order to preserve it.

Centered now between the homage to the two great leaders of the nation is a memorial to the greatest shared challenge of the nation’s  people, the World War II Monument. It balances beautifully the two great structures bracketing the reflecting pool, to celebrate a nation’s shared heroic will and sacrifice, rather than the individual warriors of the conflict.  Each state and territory holds a place in the circle of honor for the commitment of lives and fortunes to the national engine of victory.  The individual battles provide only background context for the scope of the nation’s shared focus and contribution.  Before I personally saw this monument I was somewhat doubtful as to how it would project such a complex and profound story in a place more occasioned to illuminate individual heroes.  In person, it does so beautifully and in context with the surroundings and the streams of people visiting it speak to its success as a monument in a place of epic monuments.

Just off the reflecting pool are other reverent displays of our nation’s battles. The Vietnam Memorial has become legendary for its starkness and its solemn focus on the individual sacrifice, as evidenced by the mirrored listing of each dead soldier sacrificed in what was, until Afghanistan, our nation’s longest war.  Lesser known, but equally moving is the Korean War Memorial, that takes a slightly different approach to the individual American sacrifice, in a war of shorter length but perhaps more brutal and intense fighting.  A platoon of soldiers wordlessly exits out of a stand of trees, warily searching the horizon and each contemplating the potential dangers, yet marching onward nevertheless.  To the side, a polished granite wall has  thousands of ghostlike etchings of the faces of the conflict that touch so many lives, yet is lost in historical perspective between the immensity of the war that preceded it and the controversy of the war that succeeded it.  On this particular day, a wreath of flowers from the Republic of South Korea showed the mists of time have not diminished this nation’s recognition of what role America played in preserving their independence and ongoing prosperity.

As one leaves the Mall for the Tidal Basin, the Mall’s symbolic reflection of national struggles are now left behind to return to the epic adoration of individuals on a massive canvas. The newest is the Martin Luther King Memorial at the crest of the Tidal Basin.  One walks between the cleft of a marble mountain to confront a  man emerging out of stone, with a look of resoluteness and determination convinced of the righteousness of his cause. Despite the structure’s  almost “soviet” overtones, there is a real sense of this man’s capacity to confront and overcome human inequities with the power of his intellect and logic that speaks to Mr. King’s critical place in the American story and the overwhelming propriety to place his presence among America’s pantheon of heroes. A mild complaint is the selection of a relatively political nature of his quotations, rather than the multiple magnificent quotations that spoke to his universality – I guess this should come as no surprise in today’s more politically correct world.  From the King Memorial, one travels the Basin to the monumental Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, huge in scope and story, highlighting the President’s leadership framing his most famous statements against the pain of the Great Depression and the challenge of the colossal World War.  The most significant statue is that of a war weary President comforted by his dog Fala, as he gazes back on the huge events that bookended his three terms and four elections as America’s longest serving President.  The most poignant is a line of hungry, desperate men leading to a door that suggests an unemployment or perhaps food line that underscores the devastating effects on the nation in the torment of financial and personal collapse.  We could certainly take some heed as we approach our own generation’s approaching fiscal crisis with a currently casual nature that it was not so long ago that an equally confident America succumbed to a financial calamity.

The Tidal Basin than completes its beautiful circularity, populated by beautiful cherry trees,  with the appropriately cool and isolated Thomas Jefferson Memorial  and the tiny and unfortunately neglected George Mason Memorial.  These colossal intellects of the American Revolution, Jefferson, the supreme poet of the Declaration of Independence and Mason, the Father of the Bill of Rights and intellectual framer of the Constitution have surprisingly unequal treatments.  Thomas Jefferson peers across the Basin detached from his heroic compatriots on the Mall, his elevated words providing the cool logic and intellectual force of the Revolution, rather than participating the calamity directly as a military man as did so many of his fellow Virginians.  The memorial  building so beautifully reflective of Jerfferson’s own Monticello stands in stark contrast to the little garden trellis that hovers over George Mason, seated at a bench like a country gentleman rather than the intellectual force he was.  It is one of the peculiarities of history that unfolding of the story is not always weighted by the profoundness of the contribution but rather the perspective of the story teller – thus the relative neglect of the great contributors to the nation’s birth, John Adams and George Mason.

The return to the National Mall from the Tidal Basin completes the circle of history as memorialized in stone and sculpture.  On a beautiful day like the one I appreciated above, the memorials exult in a special magnificence of scale and profundity.  We are reminded that our heroes have reached national veneration not so much through their circumstances as much as their selfless actions. They are immortalized for the eternal validity of their ideas and clarity of purpose by which they made such lofty ideas actionable.  In this nation of common birth, the most uncommon brilliance has sprung forth.

 

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Debates – 2012 Style – A Tragic Comedy

     In 1858, the Illinois senatorial contest between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas was occasioned by the most spectacular debates between the two men, that to this day resonate with passion and intellect and remain a focus of intense study.  The arguments were carefully constructed, the rebuttals pointed and clarifying, the respect for each other’s opinion profound.  The very discussion centered not on winning or losing the election, but entirely on winning or losing the argument, for each man knew that nation was listening, and contemplating, the immense import of the topics on the nation’s future, and which set of guiding principles should reign supreme.  It was brilliant, vitally important theater.

The 2012 Vice Presidential debate between Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan  – not so much.

Its not as if the topics were of any less significant to the survival of the nation.  The continuing foment of radical Islamic terrorism despite 2 wars, thousands of lives lost, and a trillion spent in national treasure to attempt to defeat this fundamental threat to our civilization.  The burgeoning debt of the primary economic stabilizer and guarantor of freedom of the world, the United States, as the debt spirals past 100% of GDP, increases at the rate of a trillion dollars a year, and is progressively beholden to foreign powers.  The rise of the threat of thermonuclear war in the Middle East.  The fundamental argument of whose version of interpretation will prevail as to the founding principles of this nation.

The issues were indeed profound, but television allowed the hostage taking of the event by one of the participants into the theater of the absurd.  Instead of the solemnity and probity expected of such daunting issues, the Vice President of the United States, Mr. Biden, determined  we were to be treated to a national version of the typical discourse we see on the Judge Judy show.  As if he were the jilted girlfriend of a wayward relationship, we were treated to a hyper emotional, bordering on hysterical, cacophony of forced laughter, guffaws, cat ate the bird grins, feigned outrage, and dismissive smirks that Judge Judy producers would be hard pressed to achieve from their hyperbolic participants.  In between the clownish behavior the Vice President managed to treat facts and fabrications like long lost brothers invited as equals in Mr. Biden’s version of the world.  He proclaimed the administration had no knowledge of the reduced security presence in Benghazi, Libya that led to the most successful terrorist raid on an American dominion since 9/11/2001 and the murder of the American ambassador, despite his own state department stating the exact contrary the day before in Congressional hearings.  He declared the tax policy of the administration to represent tax increases on millionaires and reductions for everyone else, in the face of the repeated demarcation line at 250,000 and up in every campaign declaration.  He insisted the difference between the restraint required in Syria and the active intervention undertaken by his administration in Libya is the need to understand that Syria is five times as big and population half as large as Libya, when the exact opposite is the reality.  He dismissed any concern for the administration’s policy in achieving a brake on Iran’s intentions to become a thermonuclear power, as saying it is not about how much fissile material for making bombs Iran accumulates, its about preventing the bomb casing – a change in decades of nuclear proliferation policy that is bound to have the mullahs of Tehran doing handsprings. Too many distortions, too many outright fabrications to go on contemplating to any sensical end.

In the face of such nonsense, the opponent in a debate has two choices.  He or she can attempt to aggressively respond to each fabrication, leading to what appears to be argumentative violence and noise rather than debate, or simply sit back and watch the prevaricator to be hoisted upon their own petard.   Mr.Ryan accepted the second course, and as the days unfold from the event, this may prove to be the better course.  Each Biden petard is showing a slow fuse to progressive damage as the light of the facts stray into the nonsensical framework of Mr. Biden’s so called arguments.  Mr. Ryan, who has spent his professional life framing the discussion of difficult topics into extended logical reconstructions, was out of his league in trying to convert the debate into a battle of bombastic flame throwing, and was smart enough to recognize it.

So Mr. Biden was clownish, bombastic, and time and again prevaricating – so what? The dismal reality of such debating behavior and personality display is that this individual is Vice President of the United States, one tragic moment from being the most powerful executive in the world.  The issues to be adjudicated are of fundamental import to the future of the United States, not whose most at fault for the lack of garbage pick up in the 8th city ward in Chicago.  It has been said by President Roosevelt’s Vice President  John Nance Gardner that the role of the Vice Presidency is “not worth a bucket of warm p**s.” For that, in Mr. Biden’s case, we can be thankful.

Unfortunately, it is the damage to the tradition of careful choice of words, crafting of arguments, and recognition that what you say has great import on the national and world stage, when you are representing your country at its highest offices.  Lincoln and Douglas knew that. Webster and Calhoun knew that.  Kennedy and Nixon knew that.  It appears from Thursday’s debate, that only Mr. Ryan knew that.  We are diminished as a nation and a culture when the tools of democracy are used by a leader to promote a theater of the absurd, and attempt to appeal to our most base instincts, instead of our most fervent aspirations.

 

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