Friday, December 30, 2011

Loose Change

I viewed the movie "Loose Change" not long ago.
Consider the following...

1) US SAT scores were recently reported at the lowest levels EVER recorded for
 verbal skills.

2) Some version of "Loose Change" has reportedly been viewed by over 100
million people.

3) Mere Coincidence...?  I think not!!!

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2011 -- The Hat Trick!

May 2nd, 2011
2011 has been a terrible year for dictators.  Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il all reached room temperature this past year! Not a bad year for the rest of us though...
October 20th, 2011
December 17th, 2011

Defusing the O-bomb in 2012!

To have voted for Obama in 2008 was understandable, perhaps even admirable, but to vote for Obama in 2012 requires, let us say, a very forgiving nature!

Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is proof that men can become better feminists than women if they put their minds to it!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's a Wonderful Conservative Life!

The holiday season is not complete without another screening of Frank Capra's Classic movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."  This movie is a truly wonderful conservative movie on several different levels.

First, it focuses on the critical importance of the human individual.  Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey character learns what a tremendous difference he has made in the lives of so many different individuals in his community.  Its is the individual that has the power to alter and improve his society.

Second, "It's a Wonderful Life" is the ultimate Pro-life movie.  It celebrates and affirms the value of human life.  It also celebrates and honors the family.

Finally, it presents a main street business (the building and loan) that helps the lives of the whole community in a very positive light.  The Occupy Wall crowd street sees all businessmen as Potters building grubby Pottervilles, but this movie shows that it is the building in loans of the world that have built this country and enabled the American dream.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

American Exceptionalism

Living as an American abroad for me has reinforced my belief in American exceptionalism.  I can appreciate all that the US has to offer much more when viewed from the distance of foreign shores.

Americans are not racially, ethnically, religiously or ideologically homogeneous.  We are the proverbial melting pot.  As a group, we are not superior intellectually or in terms of personal virtue.  We have many problems in our country over which we are happy to bicker and complain of.  We disagree loudly about the solutions to our manifold problems.

What then is it that unites the restless people of these 50 states?

We all share a constitution and a bill of rights given to us by our founding fathers.  This constitution enjoins us to pursue our own individual happiness as opposed to forcing our vision of happiness onto other peoples.  We are free to worship as we see fit, or not at all, if we so choose.  We have to right to speak our minds and to publish our thoughts and expressions to others.  We live in a government of laws rather than men--need not bow to King or dictator.  Our government was constructed very deliberately to limit the authority of itself and its constituent parts.  We are a freedom-loving people who know in our hearts that all men deserve to be free.

Immigrants still flock to our shores longing for greater freedom.  The immortal words of Jefferson continue to give hope to those who suffer under the yoke of tyranny in foreign lands.   Smart young people around the world flock to American Universities.

Karl Marx still dead (Photo James Hooper)
America continues to be a land of economic opportunity.  After Steve Jobs death, many Syrians took pride in their connection to his biological Syrian father (who he never really met).  In an interview in the IHT, one Syrian lamented the undeniable fact that Steve Jobs could never have become Steve Jobs had he been born in Damascus.

An American in London can easily seek out Karl Marx's gave site in London.  There he will find where the founder of international communism is buried.  The good news from a conservative perspective is that he is dead and remains buried in Highgate cemetery.  To echo SNL's take on Franco, Karl Marx is still dead!  The specter of international communism has beed swept away around the globe.  Marxism truly remains dead and buried throughout the world with the conspicuous exception of the faculty lounges of American Universities!

As the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens (another proud immigrant) said, "it is only the American Revolution that lives on."

Life Versus Ideology

The conservative, who values human life above all else, puts people over ideas and ideology.  Keeping in mind Descartes' Cogito we recognize the simple truth that, without people, that can be no thinking, no discussion, no rational consideration of the alternatives.  The pro-life conservative sees value and dignity even in the lives of his most ardent ideological opponents.  A true believing communist is simply another opportunity for conversion.  In the course of our lives our thinking changes and can become more mature.  People's hearts can be turned around.  We are free to make mistakes, but also free to change our minds and alter the course of our lives.

Bumper Sticker from the 1980's I would have liked to have seen...

You can't prevent a Soviet first strike with a mother's arms!

The Euro--Good News, Bad News

1st Airborne invasion of an island
German Paratroopers on Crete 1941
Their is good news and bad news about the Euro.  The good news is that the Germans are willing to help Greece out with the Euro.  The bad news is that they want Crete back!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Liberals and Conservatives / Plato and Aristotle

Raphael's School of Athens, Rome, IT
The chasm that opens up between Liberals and Conservatives can be traced all the way back to the differences in temperament and philosophic worldview of Plato and Aristotle.  

Let's first consider Plato.  Plato was the disciple of Socrates who wrote many interesting dialogues.  In Plato's "Republic" he recognizes the problems in existing governments of his day and then sketches out his vision of a Utopian society.   In his ideal world society would be ruled by an elite group of men he calls, "The Guardians".  These "Guardians" would receive a systematized education and training that prepared them to rule society.  He was an idealist.  Plato conceived of the Platonic form or ideas of all manner of things.  He believed that the Platonic ideal of a chair, for example, was superior to all real existing chairs out in the world.   Though he was a great stylist himself he mistrusted poetry and drama feeling that it would have a corrupting influence on the young and impressionable.

Plato was Aristotle's mentor, but Aristotle developed quite a distinct worldview.  Aristotle was essentially a realist who preferred to take the world as he experienced it directly.  He believed in the empirical method of discovery.  Observe, record, build lists and categorize you findings.  Aristotle was the founder of the natural sciences making direct contributions to biology, zoology and many more.  He was also a rigorous logician who believed in the power of human reason to solve problems.  Though not as great a stylist as Plato, he appreciated poetry and the dramatic arts and developed theories of art criticism.

Plato was an elitist who believed that only those in possession of superior knowledge as he defined it were capable of ruling.  He was a "top down" kind of guy--wisdom is dispensed the elites and the masses must follow.  He was the founder of Liberalism and clearly had a direct influence on other Utopian schemes such as Marxism as well.  His censorship and intolerance of the poets was the Ur-spring of contemporary political correctness.  His inflated fears about the corruption of youth are echoed directly by the contemporary defense of the nanny state.  Plato also insisted that knowledge of the good would always lead to virtuous living.*

Aristotle wrote in reaction to Plato.  He reasserted the claims of realism.  The world must be taken as it really is.  We must not neglect to use our senses and gain empirical knowledge in order to understand it better.  Aristotle was a "bottom up" kind of guy.  Anyone who has eyes and takes the time to really observe can start to see into the reality of nature particularly when aided by rigorous logic.  He was pragmatic and he became the teacher of Alexander, making a tangible impact on world history.  He was intrinsically less ideological than Plato.  The Platonic idealized Form always ends up disparaging the glorious diversity of nature as we find it.  Aristotle, in short, laid the foundation for Conservatism.

* The Judeo-Christian tradition insists that knowledge does not necessarily equate to virtue.  Man is inherently sinful.  One can know the good and do the opposite.  As St. Augustine expressed it in his Confessions, "Lord make me pure but not now!"

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Blazing Saddles Presidency

I love Mel Brooks!  "The Producers", "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles" are all cinematic comedy classics.  "The Producers" stage shows have sold over $1b in tickets.  Less well know, is the fact that Mel Brooks was also a combat veteran of WWII, serving in the combat engineers.  According to an NPR interview, he would occasionally taunt German soldiers with schtick during evening patrol duty.
Movie Poster 1974

Mel also deserves credit for creating the film which is the best metaphor for the political times in which we live for we now live in the Blazing Saddles presidency...

I happened this past summer to be watching the 1974 Comedy Classic "Blazing Saddles" this summer when a revelation hit me.  Why did it all look so very familiar...?  Where had I seen this before?  Of course, we have been living through the Blazing Saddles Presidency this past two years!
Just about two years ago, the American electorate chose the good looking young back guy with no experience to wear the silver star.  The role of "Bart" would now be played by Barrack instead of Cleavon Little.  Gene Wilder's role would now be played by Axelrod/Rahm.  The corrupt governor Will J LePetomane who cynically appoints Bart as sheriff would now be played by the corrupt and recently convicted Governor Blagojevich who cynically attempts to sell Barrack's senate seat to the highest bidder.
Even the least sensitive nostrils among us cannot help but detect the odour wafting from the campfire of Chicago power politics!
The unforgettable character Mongo who punched the horse and said mournfully, "Mongo only pawn in game of life" would now go to Joe Biden instead of the NFL's Alex Karras. 

Who else but Hillary Clinton in the role of Lili Von Schtupp?

The good news is that if the 21st century real life remake plays true to the Hollywood original then we are in for a one term sheriff!

American Eagle Squadron

American Eagle Grosvenor Square
Visit Grosvenor square in London just adjacent to the site of the American Embassy and in London and you will find a small statue commemorating the American Eagle squadron.  These men were a band of Americans who volunteered to serve with the RAF and fought in the battle of Britain BEFORE Pearl harbor.   They, along with Czechs, Poles, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans and others joined the British in becoming a part of "the few" that fought and won the "Battle of Britain".

Astonishingly, there was even a solitary German in the ranks of "the few"--Ken Adam.  He was a German Jew born in 1921 who went to live in London before the war broke out.  He went on to design sets for many of the early James Bond films and also "2001 a space Odyssey".

Many of the American Eagles lost their lives fighting to save the West from brutal fascism.  They had, at times, to defy American law in order to do so.  Other Americans residents in London at the time also joined the Home Guard.

Ron Paul's Wingnut supporters would call them Interventionists, Warmongers or Neoconservatives.  I prefer to call them heroes.

God Bless the American Eagles and their tremendous sacrifice!

Thank God for Pearl Harbor!

December 7th, 1941
We just recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor earlier this month.   I was privileged to visit the Pearl Harbor earlier this year with my wife and eleven year old son.  We saw the entombed Arizona which continues to emit its "tears" of engine oil to this very day.  We noted that many Arizona survivors have also chosen to have their mortal remains buried alongside their shipmates in Hawaii.  We were moved to see the handful of Pearl harbor survivors who come out every day for photos and autographs.  I find it so interesting that these vets have chosen to spend their golden years near the locus of the maximum trauma that touched their youth.

Just a few hundred yards away from the Arizona you will now find the final resting place of the USS Missouri.  It was on her decks that the final articles of surrender were signed by the Japanese in 1945.  Within this small area you will find the alpha and omega of America's WWII experience--where the war began and ended for the USA.

Imagine if the pearl Harbor attacks had never taken place.  Would Churchill's eloquence and the steely determination of the Brits and massive sacrifice of the Soviets have eventually enticed us into intervening against Hitler?  Perhaps, but what a problematic war and outcome that would have been, even if the West had been victorious.  The second guessing would have gone on for years.

It was the Pearl Harbor attack that united the country.  Even Charles Lindbergh became a strong actively engaged supporter of the war effort against Hitler and Japan.  It was fear of naked fascist aggression that ended American isolationism forever that bright Sunday on December 7th 1941.  From that date on the US would be engaged with the rest of the world.  We would become the arsenal of democracy and a beacon of freedom throughout the globe.

It was also Pearl Harbor that ended the Great Depression and brought full employment back to the US economy, but that's another story...

Woody Allen -- Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris movie poster
I enjoyed Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."  I have always appreciated Woody Allen's brand of comedy even going back to his stand up routines in the 1960' which I enjoyed on recordings.  I really liked "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."  His latest movie, Midnight in Paris, was entertaining.  I particularly appreciated the way it presented the nostalgia dilemma as an infinite regression of disappointments.

The movie was also, sadly, a classic manque.  For years Allen has eschewed cheap political satire in his productions.  In "Midnight in Paris" he proves unable to resist the temptation of typical Hollywood leftism.  He could not resist exploitation of the usual leftist anti-war cliches.  His hero played by Owen Wilson is a Bush-basher opposed to the Iraq war and contending with a tea-party supporting potential father in law.  Allen set up the tea-party straw man in order to knock it down for dramatic effect.

How interesting that Allen shows an exalted reverence in his depiction of his Hemmingway character while at the same time opposing war and conflict.  Did Hemmingway not serve in the First World War as an ambulance volunteer?  Was Hemmingway not a committed, indeed, addictive war correspondent?  Did Hemmingway not try to blow Nazi submarines out of the water in his fishing boat off of Cuba?

It seems that Allen is but a pale shadow of the reflected cultural heroes for whom he feels such keen nostalgia.

In his defence, it may be argued that he did provide gainful employment for the pulchritudinous Mme. Sarkozy who did a great job in the pic, by the way.   Hard to imagine Woody hiring Laura Bush for a role though!

Ron Paul and Onanism

Even the most rabid Ron Paul supporters out there are aware that their messiah cannot win either the Republican nomination or the Presidency.  Yet they persist.  They are political onanists--while their activities may perhaps be pleasurable they will never be productive.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ronald Wilson Reagan

A statue of Reagan was recently unveiled here in London in Grosvenor square right adjacent to the American embassy.  He now shares the company of FDR, Ike and the American heroes of the eagle squadron who volunteered to serve in the RAF before America became involved in WWII--no isolationists in their ranks!

Reagan was simply the ONLY successful US President of the last 50 years.  I would define a minimum criteria for Presidential success as follows...

1) Must be re-elected and serve two terms (no resignations).
2) Must not be impeached (sorry slick Willy!)
3) Must not leave office under an economic cloud (sorry W!)

Reagan in London (Photo James Hooper)
Reagan did that and much more besides.  He inherited an economic mess from his predecessor (sound familiar) which included rising unemployment, high inflation and high interest rates.  Recognizing the reality of the Laffer curve he cut taxes, stimulating the economy.   US GDP grew from 1980 to the end of Reagan's term in 1988 by the size of West Germany.  Jobs were created.  Regulations were slashed stimulating business activity.  The US economy boomed.

Reagan's swift and decisive firing of the striking air traffic controllers in 1981 sent a clear message that America was open for business and would not be intimidated by government employee unions--a lesson that Prime minister David Cameron could have taken to heart recently when Immigration workers in the UK held a one day strike very nearly crippling tourism.

Liberals loved to portray him as a mindless actor regurgitating spoon fed lines.  The reality was quite different.  Reagan demonstrated enormous personal courage and great wit.  After he was shot by Hinckley he joked with his surgical team, "Please tell me you're Republicans." (Lou Cannon)--hardly a line fed to him by a scriptwriter.

Reagan helped restore America's self-confidence after the shocks of Vietnam and Watergate.

God Bless Ronald Reagan!

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All Politicians the Same...?

How often have you heard it expressed that "all politicians are just the same? The difference between the Democrats and the Republicans in America is like the difference between Coke and Pepsi--mere sloganeering."  But is this really true?

Let's take some a concrete example.  Was Reagan really "just the same" as Carter?  I would submit that they were not.  Carter presided over a recession while Reagan ignited an economic boom in this country.  The Carter years witnessed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan while during the Reagan/Bush years the Soviet Union was decisively routed without a shot being fired in anger.  There was an appreciable increase in human freedom that is directly attributable to the efforts of Ronald Reagan aided, of course by Thatcher and Pope John Paul.

Those who claim that "all politicians are alike" are simply not being sufficiently discriminating.

Secret Service

It required the assassination of no less than THREE American Presidents (Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley) before the US government saw fit to create the Secret Service.  This tells us most of what we need to know about the speed and effectiveness of the US federal government.

Isolationism in USA

Founders of the "Special Relationship"
There is a strong strain of isolationism in the USA.  It had a noble start with George Washington who counselled his countrymen to eschew "foreign entanglements."  Years of catastrophic internecine European wars made the ears of those immigrants or their descendants receptive to this message.  Isolationism was at this point arguably the best possible course for the fledgling republic.  Survival was of paramount importance to the new nation.

When the nation grew stronger Monroe articulated his doctrine that the old world should stay out of the new world.  During the American civil war the US was unable to enforce the Monroe doctrine and Napoleon III was able to attempt to impose a  French imperial outpost in Mexico with disastrous results.  The Monroe doctrine, in a sense, extended Washingtonian isolationism.  Not only should the US stay our of European quarrels, but Europe should steer clear of the Americas as well.  The new world would be allowed to grow and develop without interference from Europe and the new world would not take sides in european conflicts.

The 20th century, of course, brought an end to American isolationism.  Wilson lobbied congress to declare war on the Kaiser's Germany in 1917.  Isolationist sentiment helped keep the US out of the league of Nations.  "Lucky" Lindbergh was a sincere advocate for American isolationism prior to Pearl Harbor and the American entry into WWII.  Joseph Kennedy was a defeatist proponent of American isolationism.  Churchill remarked of the US ambassador to the court of St. James that, "I thought daffodils were yellow until I met Joe Kennedy!"  America first, last and always--to hell with the rest of the world!

The alliance between the US and the UK grew into the special relationship.  NATO was formed to combat and   and contain the communist menace during the cold war.  The global burdens of the US grew though out the world.

Now in 2011 isolationism is sadly resurgent in the presidential campaign of Ron Paul who calls himself a conservative.  He advocates non-intervention as the solution to our foreign policy.  How would non-intervention have worked out on Omaha beach?  Would an isolationist administration have launched the Marshall plan that helped to rebuild Europe from the ashes of WWII?  In the 1980's a hypothetical President Paul would have asked the Soviets to "keep up that wall!"  In the 1990's Saddam would have been allowed to remain in Kuwait.

In the "good old days" US foreign policy questions "ended and the ocean shore."  Both parties supported the ultimate victory of Freedom in the cold war.  Both parties supported NATO's creation.   JFK eloquently called on Americans to "bear any burden, to pay any price."  In Vietnam, however, the price turned out to be too high, the burden too heavy.

 Now, however, unscrupulous politicians buy into the typical anti-American propaganda that US policies are exclusively to blame for our alleged unpopularity in the world.  If only America would retreat from its engagement with the world all would be well.  If only we could afford to bury our heads deeply in the sand.  The hard truth is that there is just not enough sand in today's interconnected and interdependent world!

The Revolutionary

The revolutionary is clever enough to perceive that something is wrong with the world, but not clever enough to realize that HE is that something!  The terrorist too.

Strozzi Exhibit Florence

I recently saw an exhibition in Florence at the Strozzi museum called Money and Beauty.  It showed the conflict of the Renaissance and Medieval world over issues such as money, banking, status and the collection and patronage of fine art.  During medieval times it was a sin for a Christian to collect interest (usury) on a loan.  A good Christian could not, therefore, become a banker.   On the other hand banking (and also medicine) was one of the few trades permissible for Jews in medieval society.  There was quite literally a "ghettoisation" of the banking industry as a result of medieval church teaching.

It seems to me that the "soapless" protesters of Occupy Wall Street (recently honoured by "Time" magazine) are nostalgic for a return to the rigid values of the medieval church.  They too yearn for a "ghettoisation" of banking and financial services.  They use "morality" as cudgel to pommel those whose existence and necessity they only dimly comprehend.

Conservatism in Your Wallet!

Adam Smith (Photo: James Hooper)

If you are a visitor new to London and have just arrived at Heathrow you are very likely to already have significant conservatism in your wallet!  Did you change money at the airport?  Open your wallet now.  Is there a 20 pound note inside?  Take it out  There, opposite the Queen, is a portrait of the long haired gentlemen on the 20 pound note.  This is not, however, some rock star!  No, you see before you the portrait of Adam Smith, author of the "Wealth of Nations".   The butcher does not cut my meat out of charitable feelings for my welfare.  It is not altruism that drives the baker to wake up early to bake my bread.  By each of us pursuing our various self interests we also end up serving our own wider collective interests as well.  The invisible hand guides our forward progress as individual interests are catered to in new and different ways.

In Smith's own immortal words, ""It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neccessities but of their advantages."

Christopher Wren wrote of St Paul's that if you want to see my work you need only look around you.  To see the works of Adam Smith you need only look around the City of London.

Any economic system ungrounded in man's self-interest must inevitably founder.  A lesson apparently forgotten by the Occupy Wall Street crowd!

Why London?

London is a terrific city.  It has vast amounts of interesting history.  It has interesting museums, most of which are free of charge.  It has a vibrant cultural scene.  It is an incredible multi-cultural melting pot.  All the world comes to London, and many stay.  London contains a small city of 300,000 Russians for example.  One Russian, Abramovich, owns the Chelsea football club.  It has surprisingly good restaurants these days.  The pubs are, of course, very friendly and welcoming.  The weather is usually mild.  I love London!

Two Party System

As long as divorce remains a legal option in America the two party system will continue to flourish.  Viable  third parties make the cancellation of one's ex-spouse's vote too problematic!

US Politics

"Every four years there is a transfer of wealth FROM those in the US who have political opinions TO those who own television stations," I used to say.  Now it is every two years.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Conservative? Life is sacred

I, like most conservatives, believe that human life is sacred.  I believe that the core societal unit is the human individual in all his glory, misery and everything in between.  It is the value of the INDIVIDUAL that must be constantly re-affirmed against the aggrandisement of of the collective in all its manifold forms--the church, the community, one's peers, one's school, the media culture.

The individual is sacred because he is free to choose.  Will he always choose wisely?--of course not.  He is however, free to make choices, to learn from mistakes and to reshape and rebuild his world.

Descartes recognised that it was the thinking individual (ego) that was the irreducible element where doubt must finally cease---Cogito Ergo Sum.   I think, therefore I am.

The collective does not think rather it reacts.  "Insanity is the exception in individuals but the rule with groups", Nietszche once wrote.  Committees like all collectives suffer from "group think".  A crowd can all too quickly turn into a seething mass of violent thoughtless swinishness.  Markets are mass collective forces that are particularly subject to panics and hysteria.  They veer from periods of "irrational exuberance" (bubbles) to times of manic collapse (depression).

Individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs have undeniably done tremendous things to enhance and reshape the societies in which they lived.  The possibility for greatness lies in each one of us.  How much does society actually do for individuals?  Society has a mixed record, at best.

We must constantly celebrate and affirm the value of the individual.  He is the atomic unit upon which the family and the community is always based never vice versa.  A society, on the other hand, that can deprive the individual of life and liberty for no cause (e.g. Kristallnacht) must always be a tyranny.

Why conservative?

Magna Carta founding document of conservatism
I believe in limited government.  One can trace the origin of conservatism straight back to King John's seal on the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.  The Barons compelled the King to recognise that his absolute powers must be limited.  One can also trace a direct conservative line from Reagan to Magna Carta.

King John signing the Magna Carta
Absolutism gives all the powers of the state to the King or Emperor.  Patronage is dispensed to the "friends" of the royal court.  The only upward path lies through the gates of the palace.  Social evils can only be redressed or ameliorated if the King recognises their existence and chooses to do something about them.  A royal hospital may be founded, a royal park may be set aside.  All these good works depend on the will of the King.

At Runnymede by the banks of Thames the Barrons sought to end the King's monopoly on power.  They recognised that no none individual has perfect knowledge or insight into society's needs.  Some rulers have, of course been virtuous, gifted and well intentioned on behalf of their subjects.  Marcus Aurelius, the Philosopher Emperor of Rome, springs to mind.  Yet Marcus Aurelius's reign would be succeeded by Commodus a beastly and inhumane ruler.  A king would always attempt to expand his powers and extend his reign into perpetuity through hereditary succession.  The results would often prove horrific.

England was the birthplace of the conservative movement.  Magna Carta was the start of checks and balances so beloved of US constitutionalists.

Welcome one and all!

Welcome one and all to the vast right wing conspiracy!  I am an American conservative who lives in London.  I look forward to sharing much more about being an American conservative in London.