The World Reacquaints with a Dark Genius

This past week brought forth an announcement that perhaps as many as 100 artworks not previously known correctly credited to the Lombardy painter Caravaggio were discovered in Sforza castle in Milan. Italian experts suggest  the implied cumulative value of the find may approach a billion dollars.  A two year study of the works have led to the conclusion that the hand of Caravaggio crafted the works while under the tutelage of Simone Peterzano, and the potential authentication of a vast new store of masterwork from this critical artist would be a sensational discovery.  Few works survive from this conflicted master, but his place in converting art from a distant emotionless perspective to the spectacle of human passion and drama on canvas is not disputed.  Through this find, we may be able to see with more clarity into the means  by which history was permeated by this dark genius.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio lived towards the end of the 16th century, a time dominated by religious art and patrons looking to fill the spectacular new churches of the height of the Renaissance.  Art was bound at that time by the concept of Mannerism, a cool, restrained projection of idealized humanity with a tendency to occlude emotion, flatten light, and soften perspective.  As Renaissance evolved into the Baroque, a new determination to play with light and evoke drama began to take hold, with the use of a technique known as chiaroscuro, providing perspective of of action and depth by the utilization of illuminated light, heightening the tension between light and darkness .   The ultimate master of this perspective proved to be a belligerent and unstable artist from Lombardy, Caravaggio, who brought the violence and passion from his personal life into his creations.  The zenith of chiaroscuro was achieved by Caravaggio in a technique known as Tenebrism, in which dark and light abutted with little hesitation or gradation, magnifying the intensity of the subject matter and the emotion of the scene.  As with the painting that fronts this blog, David is seen as if suddenly entering from the dark into firelight, his confident grasp allowing the projection of the fire’s illumination on his grotesque prize.  Religious scenes had been painted before, but not with such immediacy and direct human reflection.  This was not so much an exalted religious figure as it was a human event raised to religious fervor through the use of dramatic lighting.  The illumination was not of a simple candle but rather a white hot intensity that leads each viewer to be both in awe as well as in foreboding.  Caravaggio had initiated a style that would influence great painters of the immediate next generation such as Rembrandt and Rubens with such force that it is has been said that Caravaggio may have been the first modern painter.

Caravaggio instilled the passions and fever of his own life into his work.  A brawling, difficult man accused of multiple infractions against authority and charged with at least one alleged murder, this was no shrinking violet who projected into such a short 39 year life.  Yet, great artists seemed comfortable with him, and his reputation in his life despite his fractious behavior was a shooting comet.  He never wanted for commissions and has left us with spectacles of art that dynamize the viewer and leave him or her wanting for more Caravaggio.  Shafts of blazon light directed by the deity call St Matthew to his mission and direct an ordinary man among other men to an extraordinary calling.   My favorite Caravaggio is the masterpiece of the Conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, driven off his steed and blinded but the brilliant light of his God, the complete illumination of his form against the darkness evoking the Holy Spirit at work – as if the light source was internal as well as external.   No mere mortality is at work in Caravaggio.  This is the clash between light and darkness, evil and overwhelming good, damnation and eternal salvation, external violence and internal ecstasy that Caravaggio saw around him in the struggles of life.

The unique perspective of Caravaggio was the recognition that every day life was full of drama and that humanity was as conflicted as his own life journey.  If indeed the discovered works prove to be authentically Caravaggio, we may have almost doubled the known available projection of Caravaggio’s immense talent to the human story.  Such a find, indeed.

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The God Particle

The majesty and glory of the Universe is raised to supernatural mysticism by the very consideration of how it is possible to have existed at all.   To the best understanding of the unimaginable, the Universe Became from a single point and single moment, the Singularity, and from nothing came everything.  This creation has been theorized from the visible record provided by the expansive universe studied by scientists for centuries, referred to as the Big Bang, with only the resultant evidence available for interpretation billions of years after the fact to infer what must have occurred at the creation of everything.  The greatest creation scientists from Ptolemy acknowledging a heaven and earth, Copernicus defining the correct relationship of earth to those heavens,, Newton providing the natural laws that govern the heaven’s behavior, the quantum physicists constructing the building blocks, and finally Einstein reflecting how the energy of the universe and the building blocks creating all that is, are interchangeable and one and the same, have progressively pealed the shadows and fog off the light of truth.  With each achieved clarity of definition, we grow more and more in awe of that unknowable truth.

Some fifty years ago, a young theoretical physicist from Edinburgh named Peter Higgs surmised that some “structure” would have had to be in place to progressively “slow” and  collect particles from such an explosive birth, to explain how particles from an exploded singularity that should have progressively travelled away from each other began to collect together and form mass with atomic structure- resulting eventually in gases, stars, and planets.  The theoretical field, in order to slow and capture massive particles traveling near the speed of light, would be  comprised of innumerable particles that would create “drag” on the particles, much like barnacles on a ship.  The field has become known as the Higgs field, and the particle, the Higgs Boson.

Like all incredible mental leaps of theory, the theory remained just a mind exercise until technology existed that could possibly discern such fantastic conceptualizations.   It took five decades for man to finally create the environment that could finally prove the existence of such elusive particles. It appears that at Hadron Collider in Switzerland, a vast particle accelerator sending protons around a 27 kilometer magnified loop managed to achieve a head on head collision of protons that produced a briefly visible subparticle, existing for millionths of a second, that fits the expected field particle, the Higgs Boson to a tee.  Suddenly the unification of concepts of the fundamental particles and forces that control our universe from the time of its birth are starting to crystallize and the capacity of man to peak into the infinite and provide some measure of understanding is upon us.

Peter Higgs is about to join the select group of mind voyagers such as Galileo, Newton,  Heisenberg, Einstein, and others that have elevated our understanding of who we are and why we came to be.  The Higgs Boson has been referred to as the God particle for its elusiveness and its fundamental necessity of existence in order to explain how the entropy of Creation was possibly corralled into a conceivable universe.  Einstein himself felt that the immensity of what is required to conceptualize an entity like the universe would not be a discussion of elements, particles or theorems:

I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this       or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know       his thoughts. The rest are details.

Peter Higgs in one mystical way fifty years ago tried to imagine how God might think, and thanks to the window provided by the Hadron Collider and its scientists, we appreciate what is slowly unveiled, and gasp at the wonder of it all.

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The Glorious Fourth

An aging parchment of paper holds on a single page the miracle and incalculable power  of free will. The story is well known to those interested in history and the birth of this nation.  The declaration stood as the culmination of great debates and impassioned arguments of the representatives of the Continental Congress assembled for the purpose of determining what should be the relationship of a government to its people, and what events could make those bonds irreconcilable.  The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were completely aware of what they had crafted and were asking of themselves.  It was every bit a radical reworking of the role of the individual in defining his own destiny, and in concrete terms,  a death warrant for each of the iron men who put their signature on the document.  John Adams, the Massachusetts lawyer who perhaps more than any other delegate forged the will to move toward independence, recognized the immensity of the signing day, expressing to his wife Abigail in a letter the next day,              ” Yesterday the greatest question was decided that was ever debated in America; and a greater perhaps never was, nor will be, decided among men.  A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, that ‘ these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States’.”

The struggles of conscience and philosophy that led to the fateful decision of the signers was born in the perfect storm of the unique position, isolation,  and bounty of the North American continent, the special mettle of the individuals who risked all to forge a future in a foreboding wilderness, and the power of the era of the Enlightenment to instill for the first time the dominance of individual intellect in interpreting the natural world and each individual’s place in it.   Philosophers like John Locke reflected on each individual being born with a clean conscious slate, a tabula rosa, upon which through life is intimately shaped by the individual’s unique experience,  molded by sensation and reflection.  Locke’s man could gradually accumulate experiences and educations, and through the power of self reflection and self realization fashion his own destiny.  Locke’s view was the kindle that ignited intellectual fire in men like Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  A self realized individual did not require circumstances of birth or the direction of a king to maximize his potential.  If indeed all individuals were born with the same blank slate regardless of class, birthright, limitation of original sin, or other distinction, then by logical outgrowth, at creation, all men are equal, and the resultant inequalities are a consequence of each individual’s experiences and reactions to his unique world view through life.  The perfect environment to bring this radical philosophy to fruition would be an isolated continent with unbounded  potential available equal to all with the prescience to see its potential and the perseverance to overcome its challenge.

The entire cauldron of colony versus mother country, old world versus new, king versus subject, individual versus collective, and  free will versus original sin was encapsulated in a single sentence by the brilliant author of the declaration tome, Thomas Jefferson:

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.

Upon such words the bedrock of 236 years of the great experiment in freedom and self determination known as the United States of America has flourished.  The further expression of Jefferson of the natural consequence of these rights, that government exists and derives its powers only by the consent of the governed, has led to the greatest prosperity and personal freedom that the world has ever known.

On the 236th anniversary of the founding of this countryRAMPARTS expresses undying gratitude to the brilliant and courageous men who took the great leap into the unknown in July, 1776, and every man and women who since has participated in the building of this nation, propagated its message, and defended its principles.  July 4th, 2012 is additionally the second birthday of RAMPARTS OF CIVILIZATION , and through over 275 essays, hundreds of thousands of words, and the ongoing and appreciated support  its hardy band of readers has persevered through the trials  and challenges of maintaining those ramparts through all of life’s intruding pressures.  Happy Birthday, America, and Happy Birthday RAMPARTS!   On this glorious 4th of July, we will continue to defend the ramparts of western civilization inspired by this nation’s magnificent example, and strengthened by the words of our hero John Adams invoking the credo of freedom to his  son John Quincy in a letter in 1816:

 Let the human mind loose.  It must be loose.  It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.

 

 

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June 2012 – the Yin and Yang of the Western Ideal

The month of June proved to be an epic month for the forces that will determine the future of western ideals of individual liberty and free will.  As modern society seems to have determined, the forces are not directional, but in direct conflict with each other.  Taoist Chinese philosophy describes an equal and polar opposite juxtaposition of forces, the “dark” and “light” or yin and yang of events or actions.  Western philosophy as expressed in the enlightenment put forth the notion that the individual could take a hand in his destiny through free will and placed protections in the form of contracts with the individual, such as the precursor Magna Carta and the Enlightenment’s masterpiece, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.  These documents placed a firewall between individual liberty and destiny and the external forces that could drive an individual’s fate or shackle his free determination.

June 2012 may have indicated the Chinese philosophers are on to something.   The month began with the dramatic democratic expression of Wisconsin’s June 5th governor recall election, where the voting population under enormous pressure voted to preserve their capacity to dictate how the hard earned resources of the state would be used, rather than a special interest.  The month climatically ended on June 28th, with the Supreme Court of the United States determining the polar opposite,  a constitution wrenching decision that the government has the capacity for the arbitrarily greater good of society to compel people to participate in actions regardless of their individual desire to do so.

We are at this crossroads for the obvious reason that society itself is conflicted.  We are not the confident culture of the founders generation that universally trusted their own work ethic, personal responsibility and faith in God to secure their futures.  We live in a time when personal freedom is oft seen as a burden that too often allows the risk of bad choices and looks for a general blanket of security to protect against failure.  The evident security bargain has led to the “freedom” to obtain abhorrently expensive yet meaningless degrees that celebrate victimhood and security over personal elevation and competitive advantage. All the better to have someone else pay for this false choice then.  It has led to a government that seeks to remove free will from the map of life – whether its the car you own, the type of fuel it uses, the food you eat, or investments you make in your own health.  As it apparently it is no one’s responsibility to make these choices it becomes everyone’s responsibility, and burden.  It has driven us to support our fear of choice to invest in our own security at the expense of future generations, celebrating the perfect society, only to irreversibly sew the seeds of its inevitable collapse.

The Wisconsin election suggested the recognition by the voting public that mandating the future does not preserve the future, is not a dead concept.  Like a morbidly obese person who recognizes that their personal exhaustion and moribund status is related not to the  architecture of their humanity but rather the increased burden excessive weight  places on the usually capable physical machinery,  the Wisconsin voter opted for governmental weight loss, and the result was a state that can breath easier,  walk farther, and more confidently face the future’s challenge.   The Supreme Court decision implies that it remains for the national voter to grasp the effects of a morbidly obese national debt on the nation’s health and energy, and face the hard decisions the Wisconsin voter did.

Chief Justice Roberts failed in one crucial sense when he voted to uphold a law he knew to be adversarial to the tenets of the Constitution he took an oath to preserve.  It was his failure to recognize he became political by suggesting the Court had to be above politics and therefore not interfere in policy.  He stated:

“We do not consider whether the Act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation’s elected leaders.”

“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

Chief Justice Roberts may have been correct when he stated that it was not the Court’s role to determine whether policy was bad or good, but he failed in discerning that whatever the political pressure,  it is the Court’s unique role  to determine as to whether  policy , bad or good, is constitutional or not.  His logic implies an underlying absence of conviction that the constitution as designed with limited and enumerated powers  is good.  Bad or good policy ruled unconstitutional can be re-written  to reflect constitutionality and voted on again.   Unconstitutional policy whether bad or good alllowed to stand destroys the fabric of law enforcement’s constitutional basis.  If the Chief Justice feels it is politically damaging to apply the standard of the Constitution to legislated law, it calls into question why any law should accept the Court’s constitutional role by the founders to check and balance for legislative exhuberance.

The month of June ends with the ying and yang of western civilization becoming ever more acute and pertinent.  Is it the role of western society to evolve in such a way that it evolves itself out of existence?  Are we smart enough, prescient enough to recognize the elements of our own survival lies in trusting the latticework constructed by our greatest thinkers so long ago to guide our future?  Chief Justice Roberts is yin, Scott Walker is yang, and We the People are the inevitable whole that will need to provide the ultimate destiny.

Posted in CULTURE, POLITICS | Leave a comment

Things That Can’t Go on Forever, Don’t

The American economist Herbert Stein, counselor to presidents Nixon and Ford has been quoted as saying in various alliterations, “Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”  The great social experiments in history, roman citizenry binding unlike peoples, islamic caliphates achieving the submission of  cultural disparities through religious”truth”,  the French Revolution eliminating social strata by eliminating the social elite,  and the Communist manifesto subjecting the self determination of the individual to the will of the collective have all come under the eventual reality of Professor Stein’s law, as natural economic forces for need for expression of individuality, survivorship of the most agile and fittest, need for rule of law, and the corrosion of the original experiment’s purity all come to bare.  We may be seeing a evocation of Stein’s law with the 75 year experiment of attempting to achieve social equality through the marriage of elected governments and the governmental growth industry of a population beholden to that government, a process strengthened and ever emboldened by the vast access to tax dollars.  Access that is truly vast, but owing to Stein’s law, not unfettered.  The citizens of Wisconsin June 5th determined to put Stein’s law into effect and soundly put an end to the progressively disastrous idea that a government held hostage by its own citizen employees was a permanent feature, and democracy in its current state existed only to re-inforce the notion and replenish the coffers of its enablers.

Wisconsin, a posterchild for the national and international trends of democratically elected governments to feed upon their own to sustain the ideal of achieving the universally secure life, had found over the last ten years the supposed  promise of  guaranteeing security to all had become an unholy burden.  Locked into having to produce a balanced budget by a constitution written years earlier by a more fiscally responsible and mature citizenry, increasingly unethical fiscal tricks were required to assure the entitled their unfettered cut of the budget.  Multiple elevations in the tax rate for both individuals and businesses eventually proved insufficient to feed the multi-billion dollar requirements of entitlements and the democrat Governor Doyle  did the only rational thing felt he could given the inseparable link of the entitled to the health and power of his party – he stole.  First hundreds of millions from the transportation funds exclusively set aside through energy taxes to maintain the transportation system, and then from health care professionals and patients through the state’s malpractice fund.  When that didn’t prove to be enough, he took what he could from a one time subsidy from the federal government’s stimulus funds, and retired, leaving the whole stinking pile for the next governor to deal with.  The election of 2010 between Scott Walker, a fiscal realist, and Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee, who promoted a further expansion of unsupportable tax mechanisms, was Wisconsin’s first dip into the cold water of fiscal reality and stunned every one with electorate’s decision to go with the adult in the room, and promote Walker to Governor.

Walker proved to be one of those politicians that people who had co-opted government for their own devices had assumed they had intimidated out of existence – a politician who believed in every principle for governance he laid out,  and was determined to stand behind what he had campaigned on.  The backlash was immediate and total, because the stakes were so high.  If Walker could actually achieve fiscal sanity of government through realistic budgeting, shared sacrifice, and mechanisms for restoration of a more balanced relationship between the government and  the people it supposedly served,  without identifiable calamity, then all the myths and dire predictions of those who controlled the governmental entitlements would be exposed.  That would be intolerable, and the next two years reminded everyone of how determined, entrenched, and vicious the governmental oligarchy syndicate could be.  Wave of recall after recall election was promoted and paid for.  When the legislature did not immediately dissolve in the face of the intimidation, the syndicate looked to unseat the Supreme Court majority that stood in the way of constitutional support for legislative actions.  Death threats were aimed at the governor and legislators that stood in their way.  The indentured democrat servants were forced to flee the state by their masters in order to obstruct the process.  A mass of radical professional protesters filled the halls of the people’s capital with a cacophony of noise and filth and threatened to not leave until they got their way.  And when none worked , they risked all and aimed for the head of the beast.  They looked to recall Walker himself, and did so by presenting the mirror election of two years previously, Walker vs Barrett, so the electorate could show the world that they had been wrong the first time and recognized the error of their ways.

On June 5th, the governmental oligarchy rolled the dice for ultimate control – and lost.  Not by the squeakily narrow margins they had for so many years been able to manipulate, but resoundingly.

In just two years the impossible had occurred.  The political elected forces had balanced the budget through sustainable means, eliminated a towering 3.6 billion dollar deficit, achieved job growth rather than company flight in the state, funded its healthcare mandates,  restored local municipal control over budgets and investments, and did so without unethical pilfering or onerous tax increases on the backs of its economic producers.   Most stupefyingly of all to those who thought everyone was in on the take, the electorate recognized what they had achieved, and showed its overwhelming stamp of approval.

Herb Stein the professor may prove to be Herb Stein the prophet.  In democratic free market societies, there may yet prove to be self correcting capacities.  Deficits as far as the eye can see and beyond what might be conceptualized does not have to be the fate of an engaged electorate. If the alternative is securing one’s security at the expense of prosperity and all that future citizens, the electorate may be capable after all in discerning who is willing to present and follow though on solving problems, and   making a course correction before the crisis strikes.   The Wisconsin motto,  Forward, may have reached fruition in this election and may be the way forward for a nation that is about to face the same moment of electoral truth.  When all is said and done the resilience of the American Idea, that the unbounded power of its people to move forward is a beacon for the rest of the world may once again be the positive miracle of our times.

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Memorial Day and the 1st Minnesota

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many vignettes that ennoble the concept of Memorial day that to select one brief story seems wanting. Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have served a higher purpose and sacrificed all for that purpose, is a special part of the American fabric.  The element of sacrifice certainly wasn’t in every case heroic – very likely in most it was the element of fate driven bad luck- in the wrong place, at the wrong time – but in all cases the sacrifice was contributive to the greater good that freedom and free will are worth exposing oneself necessarily to the harsh judgement of fate.

There have been some very special moments of great clarity in American history when the participants knowingly chose their sacrificial destiny in hopes of in some way extending the fragile life of the candle frame of freedom.  Many are sacrifices known but to few; some have reached the legendary status of epic saga.  What drives a man to face impossible odds and end his time on earth is no doubt individually diverse, but is it possible that hundreds of men could accept the same moment, the same clarity of purpose, the same love of freedom to willingly and collectively snuff their own lives out in defense of it?  It happened on the second day of Gettysburg, and it happened to the 1st Minnesota regiment.

The 1st Minnesota was formed in the initial passion of the start of the Civil War  in 1861.  The newly formed western states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa were among the most enthusiastic to the cause of the Union, and there was little difficulty in filling the ranks with men who hoped to show their willingness to defend the concepts of the Union.  The regiment by the time of Gettysburg was already significantly battle tested, having served in the initial battle of the war at Bull Run and many engagements since.  Gettysburg was clearly to all however something all together on another level.  A vigorous southern army led by General Robert E. Lee, fresh from crushing serial victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville determined to take the war to the northern states and end it there.  Convinced of its own superior generalship and mettle of its troops, the southern army looked to a knockout punch and by the fateful connection  of various roads and turnpikes found itself in the “country” of Pennsylvania at the little town of Gettysburg.  The reeling army of the north, now led by taciturn General Meade, was positioned on the southern army’s flank protecting the capitol of Washington until direct contact between the two armies was initiated just outside Gettysburg.  The battles of the first day secured the positions of the two armies, and the next two days were to witness the ultimate clash of wills.

The fighting of the second day was filled with epic stories, and epitomized the snarling aggression of the Southern army to split the Union forces in two and finish the war for good.  Places with names like the Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, and Little Round Top saw man to man fighting of an intensity and drama that have reached legend and have been told innumerable times.  The Union army, bent like a fishhook around Cemetery Ridge, was pummeled on its left by savage thrusts of Southern warriors.  Southern Generals Mclaws and Hood punched deep into Union reserves all afternoon and the wavering the Union defenses were recognized by its on site Corps Commander William Hancock.  At about 6:20 pm a new blow north of the battered Union left came to the weakened center that had spent the day re-inforcing the left flank.  Alabama troops under General Cadmus Wilcox staggered the vulnerable center and a massive gap began to form.  All eyes saw the moment the same way.  Wilcox could eye the cottage that held the Union senior command and beyond it the road to Washington.  Hancock could see the unmitigated disaster of a union line split in two.  Devoid of troops and needing to gain time, he called out to the commander of the 1st Minnesota regiment, Colonel William Colvill, and ordered his 262 men to fill the gap and against over a 1000 southern marauders buy that precious time for the Union forces to reinforce the breech.

The great historian Shelby Foote captures the clarifying moment for all time:

“Colonel, do you see those colors?”  As he spoke he pointed at the Alabama flag in the front rank of the charging rebels.  Colvill said he did. “Then take them,” Hancock told him.

Quickly, although  scarcely a man among them could have failed to see what was being asked of him, the Minnesotans deployed on the slope- eight companies of them at any rate; three others had been detached as skirmishers, leaving 262 men present for duty – and charging headlong down it, bayonets fixed, struck the center of the long grey line.  Already in some disorder as a result of their run of nearly a mile over stony ground and against such resistance as Humphrey had managed to offer, the Confederates recoiled briefly, then came on again, yelling fiercely as they concentrated their fire on this one undersized blue regiment.  The result was devastating.  Colvill and all but three of his officers were killed or wounded, as well as 215 of his men.  A captain brought the 47 survivors up the ridge, less than one fifth as many as had charged down it.  They had not taken the Alabama flag, but they had held onto their own.

And they had given Hancock his five minutes, plus five more for good measure.

For those precious five minutes General Hancock needed to marshall enough reserves to stem the breech and save the Union army to fight another day, the 1st Minnesota sustained a casualty rate of 83%, the single greatest loss of men of any surviving military unit during a single engagement in U.S. military history.

To knowingly give up all that one has to potentially preserve freedom for five more minutes.  The 1st Minnesota serves as a reminder to all on this Memorial day of what true selfless behavior is and what it means to be called and accept the call.  In honor of Colonel Colvill and every one of the 215, as well as the untold others who gave their last measure so the rest of us could live in this great land of free people, God bless, and Thank You All.

Posted in HISTORY | 1 Comment

Euro Collapse – 2012?

 

 

 

 

 

The prudent thing to do when a major storm with potentially cataclysmic destructive power is heading your way, if you have sufficient warning,  is to prepare by boarding up the windows, gathering supplies, and make plans for the aftermath.  It is clear that the countries and organizations that are oases of financial stability in Europe are seeing the gathering storm clouds and preparing for a very rocky night.  The crushing weight of bond obligations are beginning to violently  shake the southern foundation of the Euro zone and the painful efforts at austerity by the countries at risk and the financial shoring up by the European economic giant Germany may be reaching its limits.  The aggressive efforts at trying to sufficiently underwrite Greece to allow it to stay in the Euro is cracking the will of both Greece and the underwriters, and the prime minister of Greece has declared the end of June as a point of bankruptcy and default, unless further funding is made available.  German patience and financial wherewithal is, as German Foreign Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has declared, limited, with Germany “unwilling to just pour money in a bottomless pit.”  DeutscheBank Co-CEO Juergen Fitschen described Greece as a “failed state run by corrupt politicians.”  When your major lender has such opinions of your credit rating, the future is dark indeed.

The inevitable Greek default on their financial obligations, and resultant exit from the Euro now appears – inevitable.  The countries outside the Euro are preparing.  Switzerland, with its rock stable Swiss Franc looking Olympian compared to the Euro, fears the inevitable over valuing of the swiss currency as billions of euros pour into the safe haven of the Franc, and is contemplating a minimum rate for the Euro against the Franc to protect its export economy if default occurs.  Lloyds of London is reviewing the capacity to switch to multi-currency underwriting to protect its exposure on the continent.  The  overt effect upon Europe and in a global economy, the world at large, is return to deep recession, and to Greece, a catastrophic default with dramatic reduction in economic value, loss of savings, lack of supplies, and blackouts, as creditors cut off the lifeblood of the country.

Other than that, things might just get worse.

Spain’s major banks are reeling under the strain of increased interest rates, and the credit ratings for the massive economies of Italy and potentially France are due a significant downgrade in their credit rating, resulting in borrowing costs that may prove unsustainable in the continent inflexibly on a single currency. Defaulting by  Too Big To Fail countries like Spain, Italy and France would likely plunge the world into a depression.

The sixty year experiment of buying European peace and stability by assuring cradle to grave security for its citizens is coming to an end, and it is not yet clear its citizens have grasped their role in precipitating their impending crisis.  France, faced with limited,  peripheral reductions in its welfare state under Sarkozy, determined with its recent election of the Socialist Hollande to throw its fortunes to whims of destiny.  The United States, a debt behemoth that dwarfs any European obligations, is heading toward its own election in which the current socialist president who blithely expanded the national outlays by 22% over the last three years with no means of paying for it, stands a reasonable chance of being re-elected.

The concept of democracy is an old idea, but the inherent instabilities of this old idea are very modern.  Can a citizen recognize the difference between promises of security and the responsibilities of personal freedom?  Can a citizen be their own country, recognize their responsibilities and obligations, contribute where they can contribute and start being part of the solution, rather than the nexus of the problem. The world is going to find out and it looks like 2012 is as good a year as any for some real self realization.

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In The End – All Fizzle, No Sizzle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The present and future governor of the state of Wisconsin met in debate on May 25 in advance of the epochal recall election of June 5th, 2012 at which time the voting citizens of Wisconsin will determine if they are the same person, Scott Walker.  A year and a half of trench warfare politics with comments and actions at times bordering on buffoonery and hysteria have led to a culminating vote that will frame not only for Wisconsin but for the nation an electorate’s capacity to discern adult and necessary policy and electorally stand behind it.  The debate was a microcosm of the entire calamitous process of the past year. After all the yelling, Governor Walker remained serene and on point and his opponent Barrett, who gagged on the word governor, calling Mr. Walker “Scott” or “you”, waddled around the issues like – a man with no issues. If you are the political junky type, you can watch the nothing left to debate debate in its entirety  on C-Span.  After 18 months of incessant protest, innumerable recalls, million signature petition drives, and claims of Armageddon, the protest voter’s candidate found himself even unable to stand up for reversal of Act 10, the bill that constrained collective bargaining for some public unions and allowed Governor Walker and the state legislature to finally achieve budget sanity and balance, and the supposed line in the sand issue that led to all this recall nonsense in the first place.

The mayor of Milwaukee, Thomas Barrett, has engaged in two previous runs for governor and lost, with a recent clubbing by Scott Walker in the 2010 election fresh in his memory.  A politician who takes pride in having no discernible opinions that would irritate anybody or accomplish anything, Barrett has compared himself to Goldilocks,  “neither too hot or too cold- just right” as if  personality was the defining issue to solving the massive current problems of state and national budget crises.  Mr. Goldilocks while apparently personally aghast at Governor Walker’s legislative process to achieve budgetary balance had no problem in using the tools Act 10 provided him for balancing his own city budget, to the chagrin of the same public unions who must now stand wobbly behind him.  It seems Goldilocks was a hypocrite.

The problem for the democrat party of Wisconsin is after all the hullabaloo the polls are showing Wisconsinites are beginning to absorb the successes achieved by Governor Walker and elements that comprise his  true political talent.  The first legitimately balanced budget in years without one time gimmicks or tax raises. A pending budgetary surplus next year. The initial evidence of real private sector job growth and reduction of the unemployment rate. The restoration of rational purchasing and budgeting to local governments and local school boards.  The achievement of educational savings without significant layoffs or reduction in class size.  Mr. Barrett was left arguing that such success was making Governor Walker a national figure and a political “rock star”, and that was not what the state would get if they voted for Barrett.  Translation – I don’t want to be a success, just a guy …vote for me.”  I must say, that doesn’t  exactly send a tingle up my leg.

The polls would suggest that Governor Walker has a small but consistent lead of between 5 and 8 percentage points over Barrett in the final week leading to the election.  In the state of Wisconsin where  voting is done repetitively, and by busload,  and with voter ID being suspended by a liberal Dane County judge conveniently for this recall vote, the  Walker lead may be ethereal.   The process of democracy is at times very messy, but the Wisconsin recall drama over the last year and a half  has framed the issue in increasingly sharp focus progressively for the nation.   People – do you want a “guy” – or do you want a future?  Let’s hope we are done with those “guys”, and both democrats and republicans will finally be free to vote for people who are willing to be part of the solution.

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People We Should Know #21 – Elon Musk

          If all goes according to plan, tomorrow, May 7th 2012 will be a seminal day in the annuals of American entrepreneurial know-how spirit and the advance of science.  The Falcon 9 spacecraft, a heavy load rocket capable of manned orbital flight, will blast off from Cape Canaveral for an intended rendezvous and docking with International Space Station.  The unmanned spaceflight, if successful, will represent the first wholly private commercial orbital space transit and will throw the doors open to a huge new venue of private American economic enterprise and development, private enterprise space.  The driving force for the breakthrough company, SpaceX, and another of those amazing individuals America’s free enterprise system with its risk/reward pathway seems to continually produce, is Ramparts People We Should Know #21 – Elon Musk.

     Elon Musk is among those rare individuals who maximize their talents and energies on the concept of creation.  Like unique human forces like Steven Jobs and Burt Rutan, Musk has been forever searching for the path to the end product he has already envisioned, and success and failure along the way are assumed characteristics of the eventual conquering of the vision.  Elon Musk has already achieved conceptualization and production of the world’s foremost internet financial transaction system, PayPal, devised and shepherded the most advanced production line electric drive train automobile, the Tesla, and with Monday’s launch, potentially will be America’s primary private cargo and eventually manned transport service for the United States, a country without an available transport system since the retirement of the shuttle.  If you feel that this represents several lifetimes of contributions to the advancement of civilization, recognize that Elon Musk will not celebrate his 41st birthday until June 28th.

     Musk was born in South Africa of a South African engineer father and a Canadian mother.  At 17, he determined to emigrate from South Africa to avoid compulsory military service and eventually live in the United States, as he was quoted, ” It is where great things are possible.”  Settling with relatives in Regina, Saskatchewan, he eventually emigrated to the United States where he attended the Wharton School of Business where he achieved dual undergraduate degrees in business and physics.  He was accepted to graduate school at Stanford in applied physics, but lasted only two days before he was tempted with an internet software entrepreneurial opportunity with his brother in California’s Silicon Valley.  Musk has stated a driving force for him intellectually was to be involved in solving “important problems” – particularly internet, clean energy, and space.  Early success with Zip2, the company he started with his brother, brought capital of over 300 million when they sold their fledgling company to Compaq.  Capital led to the start of Musk’s company X.com, a financial services and internet payment company that morphed into PayPal.  In just three years PayPal grew into a force in internet financial services and was purchased by EBay in 2002 for over a billion dollars. 

      A 31 year old Musk could have taken the money and bought yachts and castles, but instead poured the money into two venues with visions of spectacular advance and horrendous risk.  He started the electric car company Tesla Motors in 2003 and the space exploration and transport company SpaceX in 2002. Musk poured much of his own money in both start up ventures and by 2010 was almost completely tapped out.  As if that mattered to such people.  Musk began to see some light with the addition of more deep pocketed investors and the resources of the United States government – as well as that old stand by, creative success and innovation.  The Tesla Roadster, an all electric sports car initially produced in 2008, and the soon to come Tesla S sedan, have carved out a market for the innovation buyer, promising the drive capacity of a modern vehicle tied to the clean energy of all electric power.  SpaceX, if successful on the launch and orbital docking test on May 7th, is in line for a multi-billion dollar services contract with the U.S. for cargo and eventually manned transport, that will revolutionize space transport and likely explode innovation, as only private competition can do.

     Elon Musk will create, because that is what he was genetically programmed to do.  We can all be thankful that people such as Elon continually focus their talent and energies on risky but worthy projects that benefit all of us, and make our lives better.  In a special way America’s unique entrepreneurial laboratory continues to produce amazing results that drive progress better than any organized educational process.  College dropouts like Steven Jobs and William Gates, savants with 3 months of official schooling like Thomas Alva Edison, and Google Stanford schoolboys Larry Page and Sergey Brin join Musk among the many who have thrown their talents into the success and failure game of American entrepeneurial adventures and advanced civilization beyond the what could be devised from an advanced degree.  What a magnificent creative cauldron is the American ideal of personal initiative, risk, and reward.  We do honor to our past by recognizing the elements of society that help nurture the Elon Musks of this world, and protect our future by preventing government from interfering with this very successful but fragile process.  Elon Musk will soon be 41, and one can only imagine what he has yet to offer.  Ramparts salutes Elon Musk as People We Should Know #21, and looks with certainty to next Elon Musk somewhere in our American midst, as long as we remember to let them fail or succeed upon their own unique vision – without us getting in the way. 

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Triumphalism

 

     Modern politics continued its progressive downward spiral in relevance last night. We were treated with the bizarre circumstance of an American President travelling half way around the world  to give a speech in the middle of an Afghan night to an empty room , fronting his only attendants, some lonely Humvees, extolling his leadership in achieving the triumphant “conclusion” of the war on terror.   And then he flew home.    This was to be the pinnacle of a carefully choreographed week of focus on the Obama commander in chief review.  First, the intense focus on Obama the Warrior, bravely leading a decision to send special forces into Pakistan against Osama Bin Laden, and contrasting it to the supposed hesitation of a President Romney facing the same odds.  Then, Obama the Avenger, with his army of drone assassins seeking out the Al Qaeda fugitives and annihilating them in their hideaways.  Finally Obama the Peacemaker, closing out conflict in Iraq, and the Afghanistan, and standing before the cameras of an empty room declaring victory and closure.

     If only…

     The current president certainly didn’t invent triumphalism.  It was not so long ago that a President Bush found himself landing a fighter on an aircraft carrier, standing before a Mission Accomplished sign and prematurely declaring the end of hostilities.  But there is a uniquely narcissistic character to this President’s framing of himself as the indispensable cog that drives the successes and fashions a compliant world.  It is disturbing and unseemly that the President and Vice President celebrate the “kills” as if they are bounty hunters or democracy’s enforcers.  First, the elimination of Bin Laden, then the “taking out” of Awlaki in Yemen, and now the the President bragging about the erasing of “over 20 of the top 30 Al Qaeda leadership”, continuing today with the evaporation of 15 nameless Al Qaeda militants in the Yemeni desert.

     What is the end game of this triumphalism? When did the policies and international interests of the United States becoming inextricably linked to  a hit-man superhero and a scorecard of results?   History is unfortunately littered with examples of premature crowing and assertions of personal indispensability.  These examples have more often than not ended  in untoward ends for both triumphalist and the cause they so blatantly declared superior.  The American model of being about the philosophy not the individual is being subsumed by a new kind of politics more suited for the propagandistic bellows of a 20th century dictator, and its bound to end ignominiously.  Being the President who has collected the most scalps is unlikely to be a respected leader among those who still have their hair.

     We are left with the scenario of an awkward gladhanding  speech to an empty room have way around the world designed to impress a nation back home.  It does nothing for me, and I suspect intimidates no one who is in this President’s crosshairs.  Triumphalism. Profligate spending.  No budget in three years, and no budget in sight.  Extra-constitutional judicial leanings.  A country in economic wilderness.  The driving force of re-election – I may have accomplished little, but I am great nonetheless.

    Put it all together, consider the delusion of the man and his conceptualizations of the American process and I remain convinced. Worst. President. Ever.

 

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