100 Days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One hundred days separate the American voter from the day of decision in the 2012 Presidential election.   The weight associated with decisions of such magnitude only slowly begin to pervade the consciousness at the century day mark.  Americans are tied to their Presidents – even unpopular Presidents seem to hold on to a veneer of poll support as the election approaches, weighed against their lesser known opponents.  The idea of “starting over” is not a comfortable concept with most voters; the tested seems preferable to the untested.  The discomfort comes from the simple premise of having to admit an electoral mistake the first time – the pesky recognition that the selection proved to be not quite up to the task of running the the most powerful and complex country on earth.  Such determinations are not flippant decisions but rather gut checks that become rational to the voter in the last days before the election.

The hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent by the current candidates in a blizzard of campaign advertising in the next one hundred days will be focused on convincing us of the capacity of each candidate for the job, to the denigration of the other.  The more personally negative the campaign typically the weaker foundation of performance of the candidate and the greater concern of the candidate to their own progressive image they  have developed in the eyes of the public.    This year appears to be entering into just such a phase, and the owner of the negativism appears to be – the President.  Struggling to project his “successes” on  a wary public digesting a burgeoning public debt, extended recession, and flagging international respect, the President’s talk has turned to the dismantling of his opponent.  The President’s caricature of Romney is a man who is too rich to relate to the plight of “folks”,  whose Mormonism is “too weird” to reflect the values of the everyman, and who’s determination to reduce the nation’s burgeoning dependence on governmental largess is stealthily racist.

A similar script defined the election of 1980 between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger Ronald Reagan.  Carter’s record of performance in office battered by the twin economic peaking headwinds of 15% inflation and 20% interest rates and shackled to immobility by the Iranian hostage crisis, Carter re-directed the focus onto Reagan’s capabilities.  Despite a record of innovative and stable governance of the nation’s most productive state, California, Reagan was labeled a dunce, a failed  B-movie actor, an extremist, a demagogue, and most tellingly, a warmonger.  The polls at the time suggested Carter and his accomplices in the media had marked their target well – a January 1980 Harris poll had Carter leading Reagan a stunning 65-31% and across all voting groups, and Carter continued with a double digit lead into September of that year.  Under considerably worse economic trends it appeared the 1980 voting public was comfortable with staying with the known factor Carter against the potentially “unstable” Reagan, regardless of their sense of Carter’s grasp of the nation’s needed course corrections.

The result was stunning reversal of the predicted polling trends.  Reagan squashed Carter winning the Electoral College by 489-49  and the popular vote by 10%, with the greatest damage to Carter appearing to come from his own voter base, so called Reagan Democrats who abandoned Carter in the last few weeks of the campaign and latched their hopes on the more positive views of America’s future elicited by Reagan.  The foundations of the landslide turned not on the popularity or likability of the two individuals nor their personal proclivities but on the premise Reagan framed so brilliantly in the final debate with Carter:

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions ‘yes’, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”

The devastating conclusion of the voter was that things could not keeping going the direction they were going, and that they could not continue to be led by the current office holder in the direction he was leading.  An election of personalities in the final two weeks became an election based on competence, and the voting public had seen enough of the competence of one to decide to take a chance on the competence of the other.

The elements of the current sense of unease are in my mind similar to the buffeting winds of 1980.  The polls suggest a tight election and the electoral college maps still forecast an Obama victory.  I believe however the next hundred days, baring some unforeseen calamity, will progressively focus the voter on the logic of the echoes of Reagan’s framing of the above question.  Are you better off? Will your children be better off? Will the world be better off?

I believe the question as to four more years of expanded governmental influence on economic decision making, debt proliferation, loss of individual determination, and the permanence of government as central decision maker in our lives will be answered conclusively.  Romney 51.5%, Obama 48.5% ,  Romney 307, Obama 231.  The driving force of this year’s election?  A voting group heretofore not known – the Romney Democrat.

 

 

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Bushville Wins!

The summer has proved to be oppressively hot, the news of the day generally negative, and my own baseball team is mired in mediocrity.  It seems to be a perfect time to indulge in some nostalgia and sit down with a good book that speaks to an earlier, happier time.  John Klima’s book Bushville Wins! fits the bill very nicely.  A tome to the love affair between the city of Milwaukee and its Braves baseball team reminds us of the special link sports and sport teams have to the esteem, pride and general well being of their partner cities.  Klima tells the story of a forward thinking owner, Boston Braves owner Lou Perini, who determined to change the face of baseball by directing his 1953 Braves team to leave its spring training home in Florida and return not to its ancestral home in major league Boston, where it had existed as one of the founding members of national professional baseball since the 1870’s, but instead go west and take its chances in a backwater minor league town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  To the East Coast teams and the writers that covered their seasons for the public, this was a move to Podunk, USA, and guaranteed to fail, given the last of sophistication and understanding of baseball in the rubes of the west outside of St Louis and Chicago.

What Perini saw better than most though, was the enormous change that had come over the nation since the cataclysm of the second world war, and the potential for re-invigorating his sport of baseball, his team the Braves, and certainly his personal prosperity.  His Braves were permanently mired as the second alternative to Boston fans to the exalted Boston Red Sox.   From the beginning the Braves had suffered the loss of players, prestige, and loyalty of fans to their American League competitors, and despite having recently played in the 1948 World Series  with a young and talented team, could barely draw 300,000 fans a year to their park, a financial loser of epic proportions.  Perini sensed that the compressed east coast league geography that allowed the financial and on field dominance of the New York teams was ripe for change after World War II. Distances that seemed scheduler breakers were contracted by the new flexibility provided by air transport.  Cities in the west had taken huge roles in providing the manpower and industrial muscle of the American war behemoth and were financially awash in a prosperous and hardworking  populous.  Most importantly, Branch Rickey’s rupture of the color line in baseball opened up a huge influx of spectacular talent to all teams willing to search the Negro Leagues and a new fan base available in towns that had supported Negro League teams.  The gems to be mined might eventually be far west in the burgeoning cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, but Perini wasn’t interested in waiting for their development.  The twelfth largest city in the USA had city leaders that wanted their city to be major league, and had taken the spectacular risk of build a major league ballpark to house their minor league team, just in case someone might take notice and move their team.  In 1953, Milwaukee County Stadium was ready made and Perini had found his match in Milwaukee.

And what a match it was.  When the team got off the train from 1953 spring training to begin the season in Milwaukee, an estimated throng of 60,000 fans were there to greet them, and the love affair only grew from there.  Perini, in spring of 1953 contract negotiations with his star pitcher Warren Spahn offered him his base contract of 30,000 or a contract of 10 cents for every patron that came through the turnstiles in Milwaukee.  Spahn, who knew how the Braves had struggled to draw 300,000 fans the year before took the guaranteed money – to his spectacular detriment.  At a time in baseball when drawing a million fans was considered a great season,  the 1953 Braves drew 1.85 million, smashing all current attendance records, and would have made Spahn the richest player in baseball at over 180,000 dollars- it would be twenty years before a major league baseball player would be paid more.  The city became the turnstile king of the 1950’s frequently topping two million fans a year and treated their baseball heroes like royalty that could do no wrong.

All that was left to make Perini’s fantasy complete was to win a World Series and to do it, he would need his Babe Ruth.  The Milwaukee Braves of the 1950’s were an extremely talented team with future Hall of Famers slugger Eddie Matthews and ageless pitcher Warren Spahn anchoring the team, but the magic came with the signing of an unassuming young Negro League Indianapolis Clowns infielder with the bat quickness and sting of a Scorpion tail  and wrists of iron, Henry Aaron.  Baseball produces great athletes but snagging the special ones, the Ruths, Williams, Mantles, and Bonds, are a once in a lifetime proposition and Hank Aaron was once in a lifetime special.  Paired with slugger Eddie Matthews the pair would together hit 853 home runs for the Braves, one of the most prolific tandems in baseball history.  The already dangerous Braves lineup was now the rival of the Dodger, giants, and Yankees and by 1957 it appeared the inevitable was to take place.  The upstart westerners from Milwaukee, the podunks from the sticks, were going to have their shot at the mighty Yankees, and the baseball world would see if there was a new order in the universe.

Klima’s book is full of wonderful stories of a baseball world gone by, played by men who had second jobs in the off season and who played the game with a special desperation, managed by men who had played with Ruth, and edgy and confrontational at a time before baseball business was forever exposed to modern media and its political correctness.  It also captures the world of a confident post war America anxious to prove itself the best in whatever the competition, and will to slather its love on any entity that would fulfill its image as major league in every way.  Like all love stories, the end of the Braves’ romance with Milwaukee was a sad one with the team abandoning the fans for Atlanta in 1965, despite all that Milwaukee had done for the Braves. Klima’s story is however about requited pure love between  a team and its city, and makes this summer’s stress take a backseat to a great story worth living one more time.  In America, if you play hard and compete to be the best, Bushville can win – isn’t that the way it always should be?

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Solving “The American Problem”

I have just finished the fourth installment of Robert Caro’s epic biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and in keeping with the preceding three, it is exhaustive, dramatic, and moving.  Caro has given thirty years of his life in re-inventing the American biography through the persona of Johnson, focusing like a laser through the complex machinations of a immensely talented but flawed individual on the recognition, utilization, manipulation, and abuse of power as the driving force in this individual’s life.  This most recent treatise takes Johnson from the pinnacle of legislative power as Majority Senate Leader in 1958, through the humiliations of the Vice Presidency under a regime that distrusted and disliked him, past the searing intensity of a nation’s stunned reaction and grief to the assassination of President Kennedy, to the achievement of the pinnacle of power of the Presidency with Johnson’s skillful dis-assembling of the logjam that had prevented America from addressing its “problem” , the denial of civil rights to a portion of its people on the basis of their race, codified since the Civil War.  Living through the current administration’s distaste for detail and political discourse, the book The Passage of Power is a stunning reminder of what can be accomplished when the Presidency is in the hands of an individual that understands its legislative checks and balances and the perspective of history in the American Story.

The extent of Caro’s biography, after thirty years on still incomplete in the telling of the story of the majority of Johnson’s Presidency,(still to come), joins the Iliad like treatments of the Civil War by Shelby Foote and the biography of Lincoln by David Herbert Donald as re-framing iconic American moments in journey frameworks for the protagonists.  Journeys as a reality of their origin and completion require chronology and progressive layering to achieve complete understanding of the outcome, and as such, starting Caro’s treatise with The Passage of Power would be ineffectual.  It doesn’t take thirty years to conquer Caro’s biography but it does take some serious hours of concentrated study.  The story starts with The Path to Power highlighted by Caro’s framing of the very essence of Johnson in his unforgettable description of what it was like to live, and survive, in the desolate hill country of Texas at the turn of the twentieth century, forever linking Johnson’s roots to his compelling will to utilize the nation’s resources to attempt to reverse poverty and balance its inequities. This is followed by  Means of Ascent, the shortest and darkest chapter of the biography showing Johnson’s ruthless and desperate attempt to cling to power through any manipulations necessary, including the probable stealing of the 1948 Texas Senate election, barely avoiding his permanent disappearance from the aisles of power.  The behemoth in the biography is  Master of the Senate , Johnson’s meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the Senate as Majority Leader and the skillful positioning of himself as the country’s “inevitable” leader by succeeding at overcoming concrete- hard entrenched Southern interests in accomplishing the first comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Civil War.  Each book builds on the previous until a complex prism of Lyndon Johnson of profound core of understanding of the common man’s personal struggle cracked by egotistical need for blatant, naked power emerges.

  The Passage of  Power is highlighted by the metamorphosis of Johnson almost overnight from country rube to statesman and primordial political force, as he is thrust into the pinnacle of power as President by the stunning horror of the Kennedy assassination.  To the surprise of everyone, Johnson mutes his most overbearing features of bluster, bullying, and undercutting, to rise to the occasion in profound terms.  In the unstable weeks following the murder of the President, he achieves a smooth transition, clarity, and spectacular focus that no one in the Kennedy administration thought he was capable of, and sets out the goal of completing President Kennedy’s stated but moribund goal of universal civil rights by the 1964 elections.  In a few short months he proves to be an eloquent statesman for the cause, magnificent political operative, and powerful executive that leaves the anti-Johnson forces consumed with unseating him and replacing John Kennedy with his brother Robert as President in tatters and retreat.  Within eight months of the assassination the current, and future, President is clearly Lyndon Johnson, in a stunning reversal of the expected ebb of this man’s career though one step short of his life’s goal, the throne of Franklin Roosevelt, in the committed journey of this man from the dusty heat of the Texas back country.

Robert Caro is in his late 70’s and one hopes he does not befall the fate of William Manchester, who fell short by the ravages of age, in completing his multi-volume magisterial biography of Churchill.  Caro states he is in the process of completing the final volume, the presidential years of Johnson subsequent to the Civil Rights achievement of 1964, in which Jonson’s flaws of character eventually overwhelm his re-framing of domestic American life with his immersion in the Vietnam conflict.  The journey so spectacularly told by Caro so far is in mold of greatness in literature, and I wait with great anticipation the final volume, that completes Johnson’s journey as the forces of raw fate  expose his internal contradictions and set the stage for a country’s calamity of which it  continues to suffer the scars to this day.

The blather that passes for great speeches in today’s world show how important a belief system is to the capacity to explain a nation’s course.  Whatever his flaws, Johnson believed in the fundamental rights established in his nation’s constitution and framed his argument for civil rights not on egotistical righteousness, so repetitively displayed by our current leader, but in the strains and choirs of a nation’s historical  reason for existence and foundations of principle. We would do so well to have our current challenges framed in the cadences of another time.

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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.

Posted in SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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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