George Frideric’s Masterpiece

 

George Frideric Handel
                                                      1685 – 1759       photo wikipedia commons

Every composer from Bach to Berlin has likely faced it.  After a significant period of adulation related to a reputation for “hits” that speak to your generation’s audience, you begin to become predictable and have your reputation tied to a form of music that later audiences find old hat and “yesterday’s news”.  The adulation becomes an echo, the audiences smaller, the crowds move to other, fresher talents.  The truly great ones find their muse in the midst of a down phase and come back with acknowledged genius.  Sometimes, the genius re-orients into a masterpiece that is as peerless as it is timeless.  George Frideric Handel in 1741 at age 56 reached down into his magnificent talent and inspiration,  and in a mere 21 days in August -September of 1741 created the oratorio Messiah.  The world  has wanted to hear to hear it again and again in the intervening 275 years.

Born in Halle, Germany, Handel is for the most part remembered as a British composer.  He initiated his musical training in Germany, but became entranced with the musical theater revolution that was sweeping Europe in the early eighteenth century, that of Italian opera, and discovered he had a real gift for linking a prodigious musical talent to the stage.  He received an invitation to work and study in Florence, and subsequently Rome, where it became progressively apparent that the student Handel was more appropriately the master of the Italian form.  The music young Handel was creating was immediately known for immense depth and grand scope, that made his reputation skyrocket.  Returning to Germany in 1710, he became Kapellmeister  under the patronage of Prince George, the Elector of Hanover, who as a consequence of the Hanoverian line of succession became King George the First of Great Britain and Ireland.   Handel followed his prince and moved permanently to London in 1712.  Magisterial works poured out of Handel that resonate today including the 1717 Water Music and 1727 Zadok the Priest, but it was his forty some operas that captured the permanent attention of the public.  In the Italian style, Handel placed solemn music into massive set pieces that reflected mythic or historical events.  His hit parade out of Xerxes, Serce, Solomon, Rinaldo, Scipio and Tamerlano resonated across Europe.

The London scene however, progressively became susceptible to the trend of seeing the majesty of the English language in both theatrical and sacred music, and Handel’s clinging to the ornate form of Italian Opera left him looking by the 1730s for scarcer and scarcer financial resources to produce his operas.  A more solemn form of music was forming from the opera structure, retaining the arias, choirs and orchestra, but eliminating the set pieces and theatrical ebullience.  It was referred to as the Oratorio.  The power was in the language, and no more powerful gift to the English language had been provided than the English translation of the Bible known as the King James Edition, completed in 1611, and harnessing along with Shakespeare, the complete flower of English prose and poetry.

Handel initially struggled to leave the theater of opera for the oratorio, but others saw Handel as the perfect muse for this form, when the wordsmith process could fully match the majesty of the music.  The sacred oratorio was something Bach not Handel, but a librettist named Charles Jennens had fashioned a sacred libretto fashioned on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus cleaved from the majesty of King James, and implored Handel to set it to an oratorio.  Laid out in Three Acts conforming to Jennens’ structure, Handel created the music in three weeks, preparing to present it the following year in a theater performance.  Jennens was of the opinion first that Handel missed the mark, as he felt the performance of such works required a break from the vocal structures of the opera.  The first audience in Dublin of the oratorio, dubbed Messiah, tended to agree with Jennens.  But the soaring brilliance of the oratorio, the aching beauty of its most abject moments and the zeniths of euphoria created by the choirs soon led it to be acclaimed as the signature composition of Handel, performed again and again in every conceivable venue eventually the world over.  Late in his life, Handel had written a greatest hits in a single oratorio, that has become indivisibly associated with the celebration of Christmas.

There are so many wonderful moments in Handel’s epochal work that choosing a few seems somehow heretical.  I had the occasion to hear Messiah in one of the most beautiful churches in the world, Milwaukee’s own Basilica of St. Josaphat, and the spectacular surroundings brought special emphasis to the sacred in a performance that approached theater in its own perfect conception and strong soloists.

Not having access to this performance to share with you, there is always the crowd fascination with the Hallelujah chorus.  For me however of my many favorite moments, two always seem most poignant, the soul wrenching aria of the mezzo soprano relating the beautiful sorrow of Isaiah  in “He was Despised”,  and the choral joy and serenity of Luke in “For unto us, a Child is born.”   Among so many, these soar with the miracle of the Messiah, God made human for us, to suffer for us, and to redeem us.  The Messiah is Handel’s unintentional but perfect Christmas gift to us, that restores our deeper core and allows us to share communally the essence of this life.  Composer George Frideric Handel’s greatest hit turns out to express our greatest moment as well.

 

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The Season of Anticipation

Advent Calendar 2016

Advent calendars are special things.  The season of Advent is a season of anticipation of what is to come, with signs and events that suggest, the mysterious, far flung, but ultimately inevitable occurrence of something majestic and wonderful.  The calendar counts out, with the simple act of opening of each day’s window, the building sense of expectation and celebration that in the Christian tradition was brought to flesh in the moment of the Christ’s nativity.  Something majestic, something wonderful.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them; fear not.  for behold,  I bring you tidings of great joy, which will be to all people

for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,  which is Christ the Lord”                            the gospel of  St.Luke 2:8-11

With each passing day, hints of a better world.  We are living in the season of Advent now, and after what seems like years in the wilderness, we are beginning to see ourselves in a new light.  Following a protracted era of prostration, self absorption, and apology for our humanness, there seems to be momentum towards a new found truth.  Not that the world is perfect, or should be perfect, but that its acknowledged imperfections is an order of truth that brings some hope for a better world.  We are no longer viewing ourselves as problems, but bringing the problems themselves into the light of truth, and a potential road to solution.

The truths can be painful when first illuminated.  But just as Newton’s laws of physics imply an equal and opposite reaction for every action, so do I painful truths hold the kernels of salvation.  Helping oneself first positions others to be able to be helpful.  The world can be harsh and unjust, but there is the overwhelming call to love and justice that is core of our humanity.  Evil triumphs when good men do nothing, but evil only exists as a stimulant for good people to rise together and stamp out its existence.

With each passing day it seems the world is opening the windows to the truth again, being willing to say things that need to be said, to set the table to do things that need to be done. Thought leaders are being to debate the means for solutions for problems, not apologizing for problems. Recognizing the human dignity that comes with having a purpose in life.  Seeing the progress that comes with coalescing behind a challenge, rather than exploiting divisions.  Improving the real world, rather than holding  all accountable for a world that doesn’t exist.  With each window on the calendar, more insight, more clues, more anticipation of the opening of the next window.

At the end of the advent calendar, all the disparate events that led up to the final window come to fruition,  and joy becomes total.  And yet, there is always the recognition, that the work does not end in the realization of a dream, but only the continued hard work perpetually required in defeating the forces of chaos that seek to deinnervate the miracle.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”                            Isaiah  53:3

There are glimmers of hope among the sorrows.  We need to hold our heads up, open each window, and bravely see through to the other side.

Enjoy this season of Advent.  Good things are coming.

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The Individual vs the Collective

Fidel Castro 1959

The Revolutionary Icon of the Collective  –  Fidel Castro 1959

Fidel Castro, the scourge of the United States and the people of Cuba for nearly sixty years left the stage of history last night at age 90.  The response of the world was predictable.  Those that saw him as a romantic revolutionary figure who “stood up” to the oligarchs  and brought “equality” to Cuba eulogized him as a unique and transformative leader.  Those that saw him as a dictator who sought singular power and nearly brought the world to nuclear war, saw his death as overdue and good riddance.  For the Cubans who had suffered under his oppressive rule and managed to escape his grasp the emotions were more direct and less philosophical – it was spontaneous celebration in the streets of Miami’s Little Havana.

The twentieth century was full of despots whose propagandistic manipulation of mass media brought them impressive cover for their dark and vicious suppression of those who might obstruct their total control.  The slaughter of innocents and opponents was often sublimated by a press enthralled with the trappings of revolutionary rhetoric.  The New York Times, consumed with the energy and zeal of rallies they observed in Germany, on November 22. 1922 reported on an emerging radical named Adolph Hitler :

“Several reliable, well informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism is not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.”

The use of mass rallies, uniforms, poster art, and movies to express the enthusiasm of the collective, caught left leaning investigative reporters into reporting the narrative, rather than totality of the cost of such collective impulses upon individuals.  The violence and enforced directives regardless of the human toll were looked upon as a necessary side product of any desired collective societal change to overcome the obstruction of the “less enlightened”.   The Berkeley Daily Gazette January 1, 1931, caught in the glow of Stalin’s ruthless but, in their mind,  necessary transformation of Russia into a Soviet State, reported:

“The Soviet Union can look upon a year of enormous achievements in the direction of industrial expansion and collectivization.  Translated into human terms, it means that the economic ways for the 160,000,000 were fundamentally changed.  At the same time it was a year of costly sacrifices, sharpened internal conflict, food shortages, and political pressure.”

Fidel Castro had learned all the appropriate lessons of the tyrants before him.  Socialism, to succeed in attaining complete power,  must always have a youthful, revolutionary, and collective face that implies an inspirational and idealistic message of equality that will mask the reality of stolen freedom and failed collective economic production.  He rode into Havana in 1959 a uniformed revolutionary, armed to defend the revolution, and never took his uniform costume off in public for decades.  Parades and armies followed, patterned after the “citizen” brigades of the the French Revolution’s Jacobins and later the Directive, exporting Cuba’s revolutionary zealotry eventually into Latin America and southern Africa.  Offspring like Sandinista Brigades of Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega  and the beret wearing soldier for socialism Venezuelan Hugo Chavez attempted to export the Castro melding of militarism for the cause and distracting pageantry with some propagandistic success but similar economic destruction.

For all these despots, the literal truth for their people of economic collapse and massive oppression of individual freedoms in the name of collectivist victories of so called “universal” healthcare and education.  The result each and every time was the accumulation of massive quantities of wealth in the hands of a very few, and the economic calamity to the masses, hidden behind a ruthless “protection” of the revolution behind a military and secret police domination.  The socialist heroes Castro and Chavez became billionaires, their generals millionaires, living in exclusive enclaves, while their people struggled for existence.  In each case, “liberal” celebrities jockeyed to have their picture taken with the dictators, to connect with the “juice” of revolution and laud the “equality”, only to retreat to their own mansions and private planes supported by their own success in their own “unjust” society.

And always, the crushing of individual incentive, personal liberties and freedoms, the destruction of families, the starvation of the culture beneath the artificial global message of “social justice”.   Despite the clamp down by left leaning media sublimating objectivity for the “truth” as they wanted to believe present, the real truth always managed to bleed out.  In Castro’s case, it was the non-stop incredibly dangerous whatever the odds exodus of his people across the Florida Straits to the beacon of individual freedom they perceived the United States to be.

Cubans flee Castro's Cuba across the Florida Straits

Cubans flee Castro’s Cuba across the Florida Straits

The collectivists will always be enthralled with those who are willing to be ruthless for the “greater good”. Socialism hates the individual, who keeps getting in the way of the equality of the greater good, sold in propagandistic and pseudo-religious overtones, such as ‘global warming’ and ‘social justice’.  Individual expression is a dangerous weapon for “other”, that exists to reinforce the inequality of innovation, creativity, and success that are seen as non-progressive.

The finality of death is unfortunately often the only weapon to remove these dictators from  the money and idolatry that supports their nonsensical economics and totalitarian hold on their people.Mortality offers the one universal weapon of the oppressed that sometimes gives them the crack of weakness necessary to overthrow the rickety dictatorial structures of the overlords  and restore a nation’s  humanity.As so often in the past, there is nothing about these dictator’s staying on history’s stage way past their welcome that is worth celebrating in the least.

The President elect put it most succinctly for all of humanity that has suffered under the Castros of the world. Fidel Castro is dead!

Version 2

If only we could believe the collective oppression that has stood in the way of humanity for the past 110 years might be on the way across the River Styx with Fidel. Good riddance indeed.

 

Postscript:  To understand what Castro and his ilk created in Cuba, read City Journal reporter Michael Totten’s “The Last Communist City”.  Its worth your time to the last word.

 

 

 

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Perfect Storm

2016 US Presidential Election Trump 306 Clinton 232

2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Donald Trump 306      Hillary Clinton 232                                                                                                    electoral map wikipedia

At 1:31 AM on November 9th, 2016, the impossible became possible, and the possible became reality when the Associated Press declared on the basis of projected results Donald J. Trump as the winner of the election for 45th President of the United States of America.  The stunned establishment media, pundits, professional pollsters and bicoastal elites that had assumed their version of history was irresistible and unstoppable, were speechless.  Trump, derided throughout the election process as a misogynist nincompoop with a cult following of racists, deniers and loony birds, faced the universal prediction of a comfortable win for the establishment candidate Clinton, that despite all her faults, clearly would dominate the incompetent Trump when the American people entered the voting booth and faced the two alternative futures.

The American people entered the voting booth, faced the two alternative futures, chose Trump and never looked back.

I have taken several days to digest what just happened, and face up to my own journey regarding this election.  For a conservative like myself, I have dreamt of the magical moment when I could wake up the day after the election and contemplate the following conservative American electoral revolution.  A Republican House. A Republican Senate. 33 of 50 states run by Republican Governors.  31 of 50 state legislatures are fully controlled by Republicans. And… The President of the United States is the Republican candidate……Donald Trump.  Wait….Donald Trump?!?

The last part, as unexpected as the extent of the revolution, was of course the part I had struggled to contemplate for months.  I looked initially to Rick Perry of Texas. Then Marco Rubio of Florida.  When it came down to two, Ted Cruz.  Anything to protect the principles of classical conservatism I had spent my adult life educating myself upon and looking for candidates who saw the answers to the world’s problems as I did.  Limited, effective government.  Personal freedom.  Protection of happiness and opportunity for all.   There was no place in my universe for emotional populism and nativist appeals.  Trump was the poster child for just such appeals.  He threatened to build a wall between America and Mexico against all reality.  He threatened to throw out all undocumented immigrants, than let them back in. He threatened to throw out all trade treaties, install nineteenth century tariffs.  He stated President Bush’s mistake was not only going into Iraq, but not confiscating their oil.  He recommended the withdrawal of the United States from NATO, the allowance of Russia to absorb sovereign Ukraine.  A supporter of Democrats all his life, he promoted  “infrastructure spending” on a massive scale,  and declared sacred all entitlements against any attempt at reform.  On a personal level, he attacked everything that moved against him.  Bush was “low energy”. Fiorina was “ugly”  Rubio was “little”. Cruz was “Lyin’ Ted”.   And in the end game, “Crooked Hillary”.  He egged on many of the darker elements of American society to see immigrants as “other” and stood back as lewdness and crudeness poured out of such dead-enders onto the other candidates through social media.

Not exactly a dream candidate.  It is however critical to recognize that it is likely no other candidate other than Donald J Trump could have brought about the November 8, 2016 revolution.  Try as I might, I can not imagine any of the other Republican hopefuls standing up so courageously under the withering barrage of the establishment media that had crushed so many others, and giving it back more than he got,  to spectacular effect. I can see no other candidate focusing like a laser beam on the flaws of Clinton as a candidate, and not giving an inch, until the entire world saw her for what she was.  I can’t conceive of any other candidate ignoring political operatives and managers  who relied on mechanized,sterile get out the vote campaigns,  trusting instead the motivation and enthusiasm of the masses he saw so clearly in ever larger mass rallies,  held in the outback of America the establishment had ignored for years.  In retrospect, Donald Trump was THE unique force of nature to pull off one of the greatest upsets in American electoral history.

There were obviously other realities in the perfect storm that produced a President Trump and the republican wave election.  His opponent, Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party, were the perfect foils, and profound contributors, to  just such an outcome.

The revenge of the “Deplorables”:

In mid-September, the normally careful Clinton made the gaffe of the election when she stated, “half of Trump’s supporters belong in a basket of deplorables.”  Her insulated audience laughed and applauded.  Of course they did.  Democrats had for decades derided massive quantities of Americans as “fly over country”, “rubes”, and to quote the current President, “bitter clingers”.  When these rubes defended their  liberty to see marriage or abortion as a religious philosophy, they were harried.  When they stood up for the Second Amendment, they were castigated as accepting mass murder.  If they defended family values or showed concern regarding the societal fractures and flaunting of government preferential treatment to non-citizens over citizens, they were denounced as racists.  If they complained that they were concerned about government delivered health insurance, they were told to pass it to see what’s in it –  the designers of  Obamacare stated the insurance was passed in such a way “to fool the stupid people.”  The result were massive premiums, huge deductibles, and loss of insurance for hundreds of thousands of the “stupid people”. This massive swath of the American electorate decided to form the famous coalition that President Nixon so famously called the “Silent Majority”, and crush Clinton in the “fly over” vote.

The Disappearance of the Vote Machine:

Hillary Clinton developed a massive war chest and huge ground operation to do what President Obama had managed to do in the previous two elections, turn on the Democrat vote machine.  Sickly, and lacking the personal stamina to physically drive enthusiasm, she relied on traditional voting turnout processes that would replicate the overwhelming numbers in the patchwork coalition Obama had built: urban votes driven by democrat political machines and unions, female and minority votes driven by perceived grievance and fear of exclusion from a place at the decision table, and young idealistic voters pushing societal redesign.  Her lack of personal charisma drove a dramatic imbalance between the negative of voting to prevent an outcome and the positive of a projecting a better world.  The result?     Although it appears Trump will equal Romney’s 2016 popular vote, Hillary Clinton will fall nearly 7 million votes behind Obama’s 2008 voting turnout.  Having been provided nothing by Hillary Clinton to vote for, they just stayed home.

It’s The Corruption, Stupid:

In 1992, the male Clinton candidate for President, Bill, famously recognized the underlying gorilla in the room, the anemic economy, as the insurmountable reality the  first President Bush would not be able to overcome.  The Clinton war room made sure they never overlooked this fact, pasting the sign “It’s the Economy, Stupid” on the wall.  In 2016, failed female candidate Clinton after the election pathetically blamed her loss on FBI Director Comey’s letter two weeks before the election announcing the reopening of the Clinton email investigation due to new findings.  Clinton felt the re-opening of the investigation lost her the election.  It wasn’t the letter.  It was the Corruption Itself, Stupid.  Clinton’s brutal abuse of the law regarding the maintenance of a private server for government business, exposed high level security information to foreign government hacking, in order to cover up the even larger scandal of ‘pay for play’ of the Clinton Foundation selling US government influence for millions and millions of dollars of personal Clinton profit.  This was cynically  followed by the willful State and Justice Departments’ coverup of destroyed documents, producing nonsensical immunity agreements to keep the most culpable quiet, highlighting the fundamental corruption of having one standard for regular americans, another standard for the elite, rife throughout American government.  The voting American had seen it again and again. Sanctuary cities.  The marauding IRS targeting conservative Americans.  The environmental nazis flying private jets burning massive quantities of oil, to devise treaties to lambast normal americans heating their houses or driving their cars with oil. A Culture of Corruption so vast, that Clinton merely was the pathetic, greedy poster child.  It was the Corruption Stupid, and the chant that took over the last days of the election was  – “Drain the Swamp.”

Americans are Patriots:

It may be that the average American can not recite the document that contains the fundamental differentiator of American identity, “Life,Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, but they feel it in their gut.  For too long, the meme had been America is evil, America has abused others, America is in inevitable decline.  The Democrat Party had progressively positioned itself as the defender of personal emotions, over societal success.  Americans recognize the uniqueness of the American experiment, and want to pass on the hopes and opportunities to their children and grandchildren.  They wanted someone who could articulate this, hoping first it was President Obama with “Hope and Change”, but soon recognized this was predicated upon giving up the American Dream of a life well lived.   This sense of American patriotism wasn’t building empires or rigging the system to the “victim” of the moment, it was a positive belief that being American focused most on hard work and fair play winning the day.  Hillary Clinton promised more of the same sagging of the American spirit.  More victimhood, more collosal government oversight and hegemony.  Like the Brexiters in Britain, the voters in America were not yet willing to undergo an enforced setting of the sun without a fight.

On November 8th, I went into the booth for the first time in my life truly questioning what I would do.  In the isolation of the voting booth, I thought about all the things I previously believed were important in a President.  Deft understanding of foreign affairs to avoid mistakes in a dangerous world. Respect for the American Constitution and what it uniquely protects for every individual in the nation. A life time of respect for the rule of law and equal justice for all.  A clear understanding of fair play and respect for people of differing views. A life of public service to understand the complicated world of compromise and values.

I thought about the country and the path it was on.  I thought about how I have defended the ramparts of civilization as the means to a better world.  I thought about who was willing to go to the mat for the country and its people.

In the end, I did my job as a citizen, and  pulled the lever.  The lever for Donald J. Trump.  I don’t know if he can help make America great again, but I at least know he has not already decided America should never again be great. I may regret selecting the neophyte over the known quantity, but like 62 million of Americans, I decided I’m willing to risk seeing if he can learn on the job.

The election is over and the hard work now begins.

As a curious postnote, it turns out that the most clairvoyant political pundit, the person who saw America more clearly than any Washington DC pundit,   was someone as unexpected as the candidate Trump who pulled off the electoral miracle.

This Guy:

Kurt Cobain -Lead singer of the rock grunge band , Nirvana

Kurt Cobain -Lead singer of the rock grunge band , Nirvana

img_7616

That’s right, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.  Who knew?

Posted in HISTORY, POLITICS | 2 Comments

The Death of Resignation

Wallowing in the Mud - and Liking It

Wallowing in the Mud – and Liking It

We are ten days away from an epically unpleasant choice for the presidency of the United States between two candidates who show genetically ingrained layers of sleaze in their makeup heretofore not seen.  The virtue of entering a polling booth, completing by decisive vote an extended period of consideration as to who can best effect a positive future for the nation, a privilege not universally held in this world still populated with tyrants, is truly absent to us this year.  Instead, we will have to wallow in the mire adherent to both candidates covering our own virtue with shame, or opt out, and passively accept the decision of those who wallow better.  Do we select the candidate who has lived a  life bereft of principles, of shady deals, broken contracts, meandering ethics and political loyalties, history of cheating and uncouth,abusive behavior? Or do we select the candidate who has epitomized self-aggrandizement, character assassination, decades of corruptive behavior, and very likely criminal behavior that placed at risk the nation’s very security through their malfeasance?  Worse, is this election a simple house of mirrors and both candidates reflect the same essential person?

The seeds of this disaster of democracy were planted over many years and have many contributors.  We lost our compass as a society when the binding force of holding common virtues gave way to an undisciplined meme of the immature, to do your own thing and accept no consequence, and was subsequently elevated to the status of ultimate virtue for the society as a whole. Individual rights, once celebrated as protecting one’s intellectual capability of changing their own life tract and protecting individual expression against the tyranny of the rulers,  became the compromise of giving up the right of individual beliefs for the right of being anti-societal and forcing society to accept.  Some bargain there.  Life in this set of “freedoms” is one of constant hypocrisies – demanding unique freedoms and demanding others reduce their understanding of virtue to bend to your own.  This gashing of virtues has led to candidates stating they are best positioned to restore virtues because they have lived lives of literally ignoring every one of them and have paid no penalty.

The concept of “cleaning house” by voting in the ‘outsider’ attracts many voters this year in the theory that burning down all foundations is the best tact to severing our connection with this path we have been on.  Given the alternative, it is easy to see the attraction to this option.  The hard truth is of course the outsider has always lived as an insider, showing no identified introspection that would suggest he has any remorse for his life inside the bubble, or would govern any differently.  In fact, at times he has shown dark behaviors of personal threat and intimidation towards those that disagree and quiet passiveness in those supporters who hold racist or violent beliefs, that border on a very dangerous fascist core.

The alternative candidate has shown her core to be the intertwining of power and greed that is  even more dangerous.  Decades of using levers of power to create personal wealth has destroyed her capacity to separate out the nation’s best interests from her own family.  Recent Wikileaks emails suggest the personal aggrandizement of the Clintons through their foundation has already succeeded 60 million, with more millions yet mandated, for favors that have stunk for decades as “pay for play”.   As they used to say – you can put lipstick on a pig….   The result as is typical for those who would hang around the slop for some reflected glory or profit, they are increasingly covered in the mud themselves, whatever their original virtues.

The self corrective mechanisms once in place to identify and root out such people have long since been broken.  The Department of Justice progressively functions as the long arm of intimidation and coverup of those who benefit from the status quo.  The FBI has twisted itself into knots to avoid doing due diligence, providing immunity to the most culpable, and injecting itself into interpretation of the law rather than obtaining the dispassionate elements of facts that would allow judgement to be considered in an objective setting.  The tools for maintaining the independence of our virtues used to be housed in individual’s personal value system fortified by the shared virtues we all respected.  In positions of power, the weapon of choice was resignation for both the virtuous and the culpable.  On Saturday, June 20th, 1973, President Nixon, in an effort to maintain executive privilege in a matter of potential criminality demanded his Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the Watergate independent special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who had subpoenaed Nixon’s personal secretly recorded tapes of Oval Office conversations.  Believing the demand to be extra-constitutional, Richardson resigned.  Nixon then demanded the deputy attorney general  William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus on identical principles, resigned.  Nixon was forced to go to the Solicitor General Robert Bork and name him acting Attorney General who finally complied.

The acts of personal virtue in the face of enormous pressure inevitably had their profound effects.  Within eight weeks, Nixon himself was forced to resign under the weight of proposed articles of impeachment reinforced by his behavior.  Robert Bork, one of the truly brilliant minds of constitutional law, destined for a career culmination on the Supreme Court was forever tainted by his subservience to the executive at the risk of his personal virtues, and was turned down by the US Senate for the Supreme Court in 1987, a Senate that had not forgotten or forgiven.

The tradition of resignation for principle has left our country’s political class and our society as a whole.  When the Attorney General of the United States sees massive flaunting of the laws that protect our nation’s security, does she demand an independent and cleansing investigation that upholds the rule of law?  No – she rapidly secures immunity for those most culpable to protect the executive against any exposure of the slovenliness that may well have reached the Oval Office.  No resignation for those who left their principles long ago. Does the FBI director who recognizes the extent of involvement demand the concept of equal protection and enforcement under the rule of law, or resign as a matter of personal integrity and respect for that virtue?  No – he tries to ride the razor’s edge of acceptance and survival.  Does the Chief Justice of the United States when facing the objective extra-constitutional nature of a law in its coercion upon all citizens to purchase a governmentally mandated product, stand up for the principles of his life long advocation, or resign in the aftermath?  No-he subverts the law in front of him to call the mandate a tax, when no one, pro or con to the law which will affect society permanently has argued, to protect his ‘reputation’ as non-interventionalist.

Ten days from now, we will face the most odious choice in years in the election booth.  We are in this position, both Democrat and Republican, because we have wallowed in the mud with such people, and have gotten used to the dirt and the stench, to the point where it doesn’t effect us when we are covered in it.  Certainly as long as we don’t notice it affects us, all is forgiven.  We have sacrificed our personal virtue as a beacon of how to act, and how to expect others to act.  The result will cover us all, and not in glory.  Regardless, this is a democracy, and it relies on participation.  As someone recently said, vote your conscience, but vote you must.  However it turns out, the new America must demand a more rigid standard of virtue from the winner, or prepare to withdraw support from those who will not be virtuous.  We must ask of all who serve, and of ourselves, the willingness to balance the scales of virtue, or resign in their absence –  to let those in power know, their hollow core of corruption will no longer be tolerated.  We will need to show once and for all, they don’t own us, and they can’t buy our personal virtue.

See you on November 8th.

 

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Ophelia’s Flowers

 Ophelia John Everett Millais 1851-2

Ophelia
John Everett Millais
1851-2

In a large rectangular room in the Tate Britain Museum, a modestly sized painting draws the eye among all others.  A beautiful young woman floats in a stream surrounded by a dense, fecund growth, drifting silently down a quiet stream, surrounded by  flowers of florid color and variety.  But this is not a scene of serenity. A  pall lights her features, her eyes see nothing but madness and impending death. Her hands are held in a pose of complete surrender, grasping but not feeling a bouquet of violets, nettles and daisies, which cascade into a floating pool of withered stems on her shimmering waterlogged gown.  She is Ophelia, Hamlet’s scorned love, driven to madness and suicide by the dark Prince of Denmark.  And Ophelia is the signature painting of John Everett Millais, that announced the arrival of a brotherhood of British artists known as the Pre-Raphaelites, heralding  a full blown romantic movement in 19th century art.

In 1848, a group of young artists determined to shake the art world through a conviction that art had become statuary, overblown, and disconnected from the natural aesthetic of the world of creation. The group  of seven – John Everett Millais,  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, Frederick Stephens, Thomas Woolner, and James Collinson – declared their disdain for the accumulated artifice of contemporary art, and harkened back to a time prior to the revolution of art propelled by Raphael and his acolytes.  For inspiration, they left the subject matter of fawning portraiture of royalty and idolatry, and defined a list they referred to as the “Immortals,” a disparate list of historical figures such as Jesus and King Arthur, diverse literary scions such as Shakespeare, Browning, Poe  and Shelley.  They set four basic rules for the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphaelite.  1) To have genuine ideas to express 2) To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them 3) To hold sympathy with what was direct, serious and heartfelt in art prior to the Raphaelite school and, most importantly, 4) produce throughly good and beautiful paintings and statues.   The sentinel evocation was Millais’ masterpiece of Ophelia, and the art world was stunned and even disturbed with what they saw.  Prior romanticism was held privately between the pages of a book.  Ophelia pulled the viewer into a world of intense feelings of pathos, pity, the world of mental derangement, and an intimate voyeurism that left many uncomfortable.  In the age of Victoria, the public acknowledgement of baser human feelings and passions were not a socially acceptable norm.  The popularity of what propelled from the seven artists suggests however, that the contemporary norms veiled a simmering intensity that had found a vehicle for expression.

The pre-Raphaelites formally cooperated only until 1854, then broke apart into various art directions. The intense romanticism of the paintings inspired a whole school of art and literature focused on the simple aesthetic of beauty as found in both human form and nature.  In literature, the Aesthetic Movement emulated the artistic strokes through writers such as Oscar Wilde and stylized through physical crafts such as furniture and pottery, the so called “art for art’s sake” of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The painters Rossetti and Waterhouse expanded the art form into overarching portraiture of idealized human beauty that bordered on sensual in a time of contracted public emotional expressions.   John William Waterhouse’s  Hylas and the Nymphs extends the flower symbolism into the realm of the human sensual, with the pure water lily painted along side nymphs that symmetrically reflect the lily’s youthful beauty and purity,.  They are colorized by the artist as a reflection of the lily in human form, peerlessly white skin, languid lines, but with a hint of danger as they, like the lily, float above a dark murk and intend a dangerous attraction for Hylas, who is mesmerized by their ethereal beauty.  The flower allegory pulls the intense power of nature and its primordial instincts through the painting that prevent it from becoming a vehicle that could suggest leering without the balance.

Hylas and the Nymphs John William Waterhouse

Hylas and the Nymphs
John William Waterhouse

The focus on beauty as an artistic expression pushed into the twentieth century but became mired in excess and repetition that left the world ready for the bound away from realism through the light show of Impressionism and inevitably the distortion and evocativeness of the genius that was Picasso.  Beauty, like flowers in bloom , appropriately is transient and comes against the harsh realities of life.  Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, presented an anti-hero to the world and evoked the pitiful fragility of beauty and innocence through the brief but unstable vision of Ophelia.  John Everett Millais achieved the core of Shakespeare’s expression through his alliteration on canvas of Ophelia in a stirringly poetic and faithful representation of the tragedy of Ophelia, so masterfully evoked by Shakespeare through Queen Gertrude’s beautiful eulogistic soliloquy:

There is a willow that grows askant the brook,  that shows his (hoar) leaves in the glassy stream.                                                                There with fantastic garlands did she make                                       Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,                           That liberal shepards call a grosser name,  but our maids do “dead man fingers” call them.                                                                 There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds Clam’ring to hang, an envious silver broke,                                                          When down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the sleeping brook.                                                                                                                  Her clothes spread wide, and mermaid like awhile they bore her up, which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,  as on incapable of her own distress.                                                                         Or like a creature native and endued unto that element.  But long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink,   pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay                   To muddy death.

There is a willow that grows askant the brook,   that shows his leaves in the glassy stream.   There with fantastic garlands did she make.  John Everett Millais captured the moment for  us all to glory in, the majesty and beauty of life, so fragile and so capable of madness and sorrow that comprise humanity.

 

One can see Ophelia and the many other masterpieces of the Pre-Raphaelites at the Tate Britain Museum.

 

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Poor King George III

King George III of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

King George III of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

I have had a long respite from the challenges of maintaining an interesting blog, spending a goodly portion of time traveling to London and the surrounding countryside, storing up wonderful memories and visuals I cant wait to share with you.  For an amateur historian like myself, the journey was a veritable feast.  A city and country chocked full of the magnificence of 2500 years of people, places, and events that form so many of the cornerstones of western thought and civilization.  But then, you knew that already.  I will do my best to resist a tired litany of the stops that you can get from any travel guide or commemorative. Sometimes, unassuming things you note on your travels have a more profound effect  upon you then the more illustrious sites.  And certainly can make for more interesting writing.

For instance, I was struck by this beautiful statue of King George III under a pleasant tree on the east end of Pall Mall, the thoroughfare extending along St James Park, from St. James Street projecting towards Trafalgar Square.  The statue, dedicated in 1836, sculpted by Matthew Coates Wyatt, is a magnificent equestrian statue showing a confident and intelligent sovereign aboard his powerful steed Adonis.   One can certainly not say that the statue’s location is not situated among the most prominent street addresses in London.  But as statues go, it is quite isolated from the nation’s most honored heroes, from Nelson soaring over Trafalgar Square to Prince George, Duke of Cambridge on Whitehall to the brooding Churchill gazing upon Parliament.  The Boulevard of Whitehall the perfect scale for pageantry and prestige. And George III?  Under a tree off of Pall Mall.

I’m sure I’m making too much of the statue’s location but it works into the psyche that the location is the subtle reference to this king having done something not associated with the other glamorous statuary subjects.  George III lost some serious empire.  And the nation memorialized the monarch in a respectful but not quite forgiving location.

George III ascended to the throne in 1760, and for the next 59 years served his nation with the longest reign of any male monarch in British history.  By the time of his death in 1820, George III had presided over an epic period of history with both spectacular triumphs and ignominious defeats that have few equals in that nation’s annals. A descendant of the Hanover line of kings that had ruled Great Britain from 1714 to rescue the country from the succession crisis that resulted from the end of the House of Stuart as a provider of sovereigns.  Despite being associated with German royalty, George III was a complete breath of fresh air when he first ascended the throne.  This king was the first of the Hanoverian line born in England, proud of his englishness in speech, and a true son of the Enlightenment.  He spoke multiple languages, was a religious and ethical man,  immersed himself in science and other scholarly pursuits, and ruled the country with an eye on transforming the island nation into the most modern and powerful of nations on earth.  Fortuitously in 1763, just three years into his reign, he stood astride a colossus that had just defeated its mortal enemy France in a world war, that resulted in England gaining a huge swath of the North American continent.  The fragile english colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America could now look over two thousand miles of common language, law and commerce without the competition of a hostile French periphery.  The new King could define himself as ruler of one of the great empires in human history.

Oh, to be King.

The problems started almost immediately with victory.  The huge debt incurred in achieving the massive military victory had to be paid, and the King was not so enlightened when it came to the relationship of sovereign to subject.  The Americans, who had gained security and spectacular opportunity with the expulsion of the French, were expected to help pay for their home country achieving such bounties for them.  It would take the form initially of the Stamp Acts, means of deriving revenue from the Americans to help pay for the war that all had benefited from.   Which takes us back to the Enlightenment, which brought new ideas from people like John Locke that influenced the American colonists to the point of confrontation with their king.  Taxation without representation, however imprecise in the actual actions of the British parliament and king, was an intolerable act to the colonists.  By 1775, the pressure cooker exploded into armed violence, and the king was faced with real insurrection.  Kings and insurrection don’t go over well, and George III was not about to allow such affronts to his absolute authority.

How serious was the King?  Ever so serious.  Great Britain, so recently involved in worldwide conflict and stretched financially, determined through the will of its King to raise the largest amphibious force to that time assembled, and move over 35,000 fully trained and armed troops across the ocean to crush the rebellious colonists and their ragtag army.  The idea that a set of colonies orders of magnitude larger than the homeland would be allowed to separate was absolute anathema.

Yet, in one of the truly amazing outcomes in history, the underdogs managed to beat their masters in an 8 year long struggle.  The King was forced to release through treaty millions of square miles of the North American continent so soon after previous triumph.  The humiliation so great, King George III was willing to abdicate as a testimonial to his acceptance of his role in the debacle.  That’s how you end up under a tree in an obscure corner of  a park.

But the saga and pathos of course don’t end there.  Under George III’s rule, the loss of portions of North America propelled a sequence of events that culminated in the overthrow of the monarchy in France, the very real danger of an invading republican army from France, and progressively the crisis propagated by the rise of a military genius dictator on the continent named Napoleon Bonaparte that threatened the very existence of the monarchy.  True to form, King George III once again marshaled his forces, and under the epic triumphant heroism of Horatio Nelson at Trafalgar and the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, Great Britain reigned supreme.   Guess where their statues ended up.

Crushing Louis XV and gaining half a continent. Crushing Napoleon and gaining an empire.  One might see a good reason to place poor King George III more among the pantheon of national heroes.  But losing to Americans, that just proved undigestible.  King George III steadily buffeted against mental illness, and by the time of the triumph of Waterloo, was in no position to reorient  people’s opinions.

The record would suggest one of Britain’s more substantial monarchs, and the peerless gift he made to the nation of a library befitting of an enlightened world power is still seen today in the masterful library of King George III in the British museum.

dsc_0457

As an American, I am certainly glad that King George III was the rigid foil upon which a great nation was able to birth and overcome.  But a little bit sympathy and respect is in order to someone who on the basis of one loss has seen forever tainted his role in his nation’s  greatness.

I’m not saying move the statue, but maybe when you’re in a rush to see all the other paeans to winners, remember old George didn’t do so bad himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trump Ceiling, Clinton Floor, People Basement

donkey-elephant-usa

The national election of one of the world’s great democracies is now two months away and our moment of truth is soon upon us.  On November 8th, 2016, the American people will take on their Constitutionally granted duty and select among perhaps the two worst candidates ever nominated by the major parties for the job of Chief Executive.  Horrors.

The seeming ease for those of us most resolved to stand back and not in engage in the misery was but a month ago a Hobson’s choice.  The supposed competent Criminal was going to beat the incompetent Clown like a screen door in a hurricane.  Well, the  political competence of the Criminal has proven to be – not so competent.  The polls now suggest the election has tightened to the point where we might all go around on November 9th and hear those immortal, nightmare inducing words of 2000 – how do you count a hanging chad?

The swing states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado are now swinging because the Orange One has managed to get his mojo together and show some real prescience and discipline, and the Ethically Challenged One has managed to be herself.  The establishment media, which is used to parroting lockstep the meme that will reinforce the good guy liberal  bad guy conservative story to an effective conclusion in November, has struggled mightily with the seeming disinterest of the public in what they have to say.  The media obviously has not been helped by the chosen one’s incredible weakness as a candidate to the point where it appears she may have to be physically carried across the doorstep to victory.

Hillary Clinton’s aversion to the truth and obsession for secrecy to obscure her lies has proven to be genetic.  William Safire so many years ago nailed her persona precisely.  She lies to prevent real malfeasance from coming to light, and we have let her off the hook each and every time.  The latest blizzard is connected to the bottomless pit of lying she has performed regarding the never ending email saga.  Every remark she has ever made about it is a lie, and every lie she tells, attempts to cover a lie she told.  Now that’s a real liar.  Many might say, so what, we all lie a bit as our reality is often less sexy or self enhancing.  But as our mothers all once admonished us, lying will make you sick.  For Hillary, whether its the lies that making her sick, or the lies about her real sickness, the two devastating blows to her character are showing a rickety and sagging floor in her voter’s enthusiasm for her, and it might be terminal.  Even a party like the Democrat Party, which has such voting discipline when it counts that one might rename it the Hold Your Nose Party, is struggling mightily with this Clinton.  You don’t need enthusiasm for New York, Illinois, and California – those states are so long gone to rational debate that Mrs. Clinton could abdicate and she would still beat her opponent.  You do need it however in the large swath of the country that still foolishly believes an election should be a debate about the future, and there,  the Clinton screen door is banging loose from its hinges.

Then there is Donald Trump, who was supposed to have a real ceiling of enthusiasm, and oh boy what a rigid ceiling.  Its bad enough having the Democrats decrying your blissful ignorance regarding every conceivable policy debate, but what do you do when at least a quarter of your own voters think you are a knucklehead?  Well, maybe its not a quarter of the republican vote any more.  Trump’s last month of simply avoiding every single cow pie of his own making, has made him looking like, dare I say, the competent one.  The apparent ceiling of 40 % of the voter’s who would vote for  Mr. Moose  to effect change is now a ceiling no more.  Mr. Trump is in a statistical heat with Mrs. Clinton and it is reflecting not only on swing states but even the supposed lock down states like Michigan and Nevada that Mrs. Clinton’s union brigades were going to bring home for her.  The adage that 60% percent of the country couldn’t possibly vote for a clownish, completely unprepared figure like Trump for our nation’s most complex political position, is abutting the realization that 55% may not be able to vote for the alternative. Trump has helped the perception of a rising ceiling with a heretofore unrevealed discipline to follow the script of competence, even if his id wants to drive him into nonsensical ‘lookatme’-ism.

So here we, the American People,  stand in the basement, the ceiling above pushing on the floor below, just waiting for the whole unstable pile to crash down on us.  From our dim perspective the future does not look very bright, but what it is definitely looking like more and more, is unpredictable.  The first debate comes at the end of September and we will all be drawn to watch like moths to a flame.  Can Hillary stand on her feet for a half hour under bright lights without collapsing?  Can Donald Trump go five minutes without stepping in a cowpie so huge even his own hugeness can not extricate himself from it? Can a formative debate occur where literally no one is capable of telling the truth about anything?  Are we so beaten down that we can’t any longer discern the difference?

Don’t lie. You want to watch.  Reality television has become – reality.

 

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15 Years

September 11, 2011 abcnews.go.com

September 11, 2001
abcnews.go.com

 

We are 15 years removed from one of those seminal events in history when a shared recollection is seared into our consciousness for all time. The shock of the first impact on the North tower on one of the most serenely beautiful September mornings. The confusion as to how such an accident could happen, only to be followed shortly later by subsequent second strike to the South tower, with the agonizing realization of the premeditation. Then a brutal morning of accelerating chaos and death. A third plane strikes the Pentagon in Washington DC. The immolated south tower of the World Trade Center collapses. A hijacked fourth plane headed to destroy the nation’s capitol is driven to the ground by brave passengers in a field in Pennsylvania. The North tower of the World Trade Center collapses.

It has been 102 minutes since the onset. Thousands are dead. The nation is paralyzed. Air traffic is grounded. The President of the most powerful country in the history of the world, is sequestered in Armageddon mode.

Fifteen years has not been long enough to remove fully the memory of the raw emotions of helplessness as one watched in real time the unfolding horror. The confusion, the fear of potentially more events, and the slowly building outrage that over the next weeks fused the nation’s will to act are equally memorable.

The great sacrifices of that morning, the indescribable courage, and the subsequent responses are known more intensely and personally to the families of those directly involved. The passenger brigade that selflessly chose communal suicide to stop the terrorists who planned to use Flight 93 for further horrible destruction. The police and firemen who went into the burning towers to rescue as many as they could before the sequential collapse took many of their own lives. The pilots of unarmed fighter jets preparing to take down through impact any plane that remained in the air as a potential terrorist weapon against Americans.

All are remembered as the indications of the national character. What is less remembered because it does not fit for some the political narrative for some is the performance of the nation’s government to identify the ringleaders and hunt them down, eliminate the terror cells at their source in Afghanistan, and most impressively, for eight years prevent any further terror events on the nation’s soil.

The great coming together through national calamity has been clouded over the distance of fifteen years by a progressive sense of detachment, despite multiple events of recent revealing the ongoing and very real present danger that has percolated from the death cults of radical Islam. We are somehow anesthetized to the concept of struggle and what is at stake. We accept “events” as workplace violence or mental illness, when the perpetrators clearly announce their motivations. We stand in long security lines to travel, to attend public events, losing our own freedoms to pretend to protect us against ourselves, when the evil is before for all to see. We have been hacked, Snowdened, even bullied by our own government to reveal our most personal information as a side effect of the death cult piggybacking itself upon modern technology. Most devastatingly, we have begun to reject actual history for made up narratives that impugn the leaders who responded that day, and the decisions that led to enormous sacrifice of treasure and our nation’s finest people in conflicts borne from the violence.

In New York City this morning, at a remembrance ceremony, two candidates desiring to lead this nation through future challenges, two candidates who are commissioned to help this great nation stay the course in a sea of danger and threat, were present to attempt to suggest they were up to the job. Two old, tired, and reactionary candidates. One could not even get through the entire event without having to be helped from the public stage. Our full history is not yet written from the calamity of 09/11/2001, and the reality of sclerotic leaders must make America look to her enemies as a very vulnerable and wounded prey.
Fifteen years is a long time, but in the tides of history an eye-blink. We must try to hold on through our time of inwardness and sclerosis to remember what it is that they hate about us, and what is at stake. Ideas that are eternal, and eternally young. Freedom. Liberty. Opportunity. Civility. Justice.

A world that remembers such things, and treasures such things, will ultimately triumph. No death cult can long weather the illumination of ideals of such innate human power.  We shall be strong.

Posted in CULTURE, HISTORY | 1 Comment

People We Should Know #30 – Kayla Mueller

Kayla Mueller - 1988-2015 "For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal"

Kayla Mueller – 1988-2015
“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal”

A very ancient practice in humanity is veneration of those that come before.  In the catholic church, the process of veneration occurs after a person is gone, and the sum total of their life experiences upon reflection appear in retrospect to have elevated them beyond others who have lived as exemplary in their sanctity or in their living example to others. They are canonized, and venerated as saints for their faith and godly inspiration. Sometimes the saintly life is witnessed by tens of thousands, and the acts appear miraculous and possessing power beyond the mortal coil. Others, the life, no less inspirational, touches very few over a brief interlude, and is buried in the obscurity of every day tragedy and suffering.

Kayla Mueller is a young woman who lived in obscurity and whose good works are reproduced by thousands of people every day who see their life’s calling as selflessly helping others.  She is brought to our attention only by the dark misery of her final months on earth brought about by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Examples of saintliness, often whispered, however have the power to break through the  15 minutes of  focus our attention crazed culture will willingly allot to any one event.  The story of Kayla Mueller, a young woman who stayed true to her convictions through the darkest and most unholy of circumstances, simply grows in stature since her death.  Through the witness of others, Kayla Mueller lives on as an example of the power of faith and goodness steeped in our western civilization, and a oh so worthy venerable Ramparts People We Should Know -#30.

Kayla’s brief but exemplary life was not unique in its path.  Young people imbued with intense idealism have always decried the world for its realities, and strove to do their part to elicit change.  Whether the young monastic voyagers who preserved civilization in the 8th and 9th centuries as they proselytized the concept of permeable monasticism and set up centers of learning across Europe, to the missionaries of the nineteenth century across the world who expanded the Word, and with it the concepts of hygiene, education, and sustainable farming.  The twentieth century was flush with organizations inspired by idealism regarding poverty, environment, refugees, and health that sought to apply these universal concepts of civilized humanity across borders.  Young people flush with the desire to help have been drawn to Catholic Relief, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Peace Corps and many other institutions that seek to reduce suffering no matter how chaotic the environment.

It was to this world, the world of helping others as a foundational element of her own existence,  that Kayla was drawn.  When she left college, she knew that a routine life that she had grown up in, of marriage, children and a comfortable life in a small town in Arizona were not her calling.  Her idealism tightly interwoven with her faith pointed her in a far different direction:

“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal”                                   Kayla Mueller

She traveled the world – to India, the Middle East and Tibet – to seek out human misery and do what she could to bring attention to, and in her own small way, alleviate suffering. Typical for a millennial activist, she was cause driven – hunger, poverty, human rights-and was often offended and idealistically desensitized to the very real politics and conflicting forces that created such conditions of poverty and suffering.  This desensitization led her to make mortal mistake, when she ignored her Syrian boyfriend’s repeated advice that she stay out of the hyper-dangerous world of war torn Syria.  Desiring to see first hand the calamity rather than deal with refugees across the relative safety of the Turkish border, she talked him into letting her accompany him on a job at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, one of the epicenters of the conflict.  The August 3,2013 day trip became calamitous when she and three other aid workers were abducted by ISIS on the car ride back to Turkey.

The following 18 months can only be described as an ungodly hell.  The perverted cult defined by the inner circle of ISIS saw Kayla as a particularly valuable form of chattel compared to her other miserable hostages, given her American passport and her Christian faith.  She was subjected to torture, repeated rape, isolation, and humiliation in a monstrous effort to subjugate her.  Her value was apparent to the king gangster, the Abbadon known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS crackpot who took her as his personal sex slave.  She was forced to watch the beatings, rapes, and execution of her fellow hostages, and mercilessly, the release of others while she stayed captive.  Her horrified parents in Arizona did what they could to bring her home, from working towards a demanded ransom of millions of dollars, to pressuring the US government to do something to change the brutal fate she faced.  The 18 months of hell was only brought to an end on February 6, 2015, when it was declared by ISIS she had been killed in an American bombing, though those close to nightmarish story professed doubt regarding the exact circumstances of her demise.

Kayla would have been simply another of the tragic stories of innocents caught in the trap of another manmade historical hellhole, were it not for a steady and increasing witness to the very special nature of this nondescript woman.  On such witness, saints are recognized.   Two characteristics are common to every shared survivor of that hellhole that managed to escape Kayla’s fate. Kayla Mueller, under murderous pressure and torture, never renounced her faith and humanity, and selflessly sacrificed for others whenever she could. In the hellish world where her chief captor was ‘Jihadi John’, the sick masochist seeking fame through media recorded beheadings, the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot, and the forced sex slavery of Yazidi women and massacre of Yazidi men, Kayla was reported as directly denying Jihadi John’s boast to other hostages that she had converted to Islam, when this example of defiance most surely led to more beatings and sexual assaults.  When given a once in a lifetime chance to escape with two Yazidi captive girls, Kayla selflessly declined, telling them they would have a better chance if not in the company of a western woman.  While those around her achieved rare freedom, in what must have been for her unbearably painful to remain behind, she never lost her dignity in front of them and held on to her faith that god would find an answer to her suffering, much as she always hoped to bring to others.  Witness after witness, the same story of the American woman who maintained her faith and dignity, and reinforced their belief in humanity, through the worst that humans can offend.

Kayla Mueller ended up triumphing despite her despair and horror, and through her suffering and martyrdom did more to bring resilience to the fight against evil than any of her previous actions.  She is the purest of martyrs, not to be remotely compared to those pathetic posers who immolated themselves in service of a death cult and their own hoped for cartoon glory.

The politicians have reminded us that real world politics remain the dirty business of near scoundrels.  The US government, as responsible as any for giving the murderers of ISIS the foothold they needed in the Syria and Iraq to live out their perverted fantasies, told the Muellers in their desperate attempt to pay a ransom to gain her freedom, informed the parents it was against the law to pay ransom to terrorists.  The merits of such a law apparently had no sway on the administration recently when it recently paid 400 million to Iran in immediate proximity to release of hostages, a ransom by any other name.  I guess it just depends whether someone’s legacy is directly at stake.  Whether blaming an innocent man’s video for the death of Americans in Benghazi or paying non-ransoms for hostages, its pretty clear,  politics is a dirty business indeed.

C.S. Lewis once tried to explain the incredible power of faith that provided the rock that allowed Kayla Mueller an average, flawed person to triumph supernaturally over evil:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Kayla wanted to tell the story of her life as if the afterlife depended on it, but not in the delusional way that current death cult drives its followers, an afterlife of dominance and personal reward for those who have been pathetic in this one.  Kayla’s reward was always in her mind of living a fulfilled life in the service of others. “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal.”  Her desire to live her life in a way true to her faith rather than true to her comfort, is her triumph, not her martyrdom.  Whether anyone would have ever heard of Kayla Mueller had she stayed out of Syria that fatal day and remained anonymous, her faith and selfless acts assured that her God had heard.  She knew this desire, a yearning which no mundane experience in this world can satisfy, and in the depths of her despair, recognized she would ultimately triumph.  On the shoulders of such giants, we flawed mortals must stand back in awe.  For living her brief life always with the intent to bring meaning and alleviate suffering, Kayla Mueller is Ramparts  People We should Know #30.

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