Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Conservatism and Change

Dancing Revolutionaries 

Many regard conservatism as opposition to all forms of change.  They see conservatives as hidebound preservers of the status quo.  Conservatives are old-fashioned traditionalists and intrinsically reactionary. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary defined "Conservative" thus: "n. A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wished to replace them with others."

Unsurprisingly, I do not happen to share this view of conservatism.

Consider what Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address on January 11th, 1989...

"We meant to change nation and, instead, we changed a world."  These were no mere empty words.  The Welfare reform of the 1990's which had the support of a Republican congress and a Democratic President (Bill Clinton) would not have been possible without the Reagan revolution.  Nor is this welfare reform even controversial from the perspective of 2012.  The Reagan administration changed not just the Republican party but its opposition as well.  Bill Clinton was a different kind of Democrat than Tip O'Neil.  On the international front, it was only a matter of months after Reagan spoke about changing the world that the Berlin Wall was reduced to a heap of rubble (Berlin Wall opened November 9th, 1989).

Thatcher in the UK also changed not only her own party and Britain.  Her success also changed fundamentally the nature of the opposition Labour party.  Tony Blair and New Labour would never go back to policies of nationalisation and complete trade union domination.

Consider what Daniel Yergin wrote about Thatcher recently in the Wall Street Journal...

'Yet her true impact has to be measured by what came after, and there the effect is clear. When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took the leadership of the Labour Party, they set out to modernize it. They forced the repeal of the party's constitutional clause IV with its commitment to state ownership of the commanding heights of the economy.

They did not try to reverse the fundamentals of Thatcherite economics. Mr. Blair recognized that without wealth creation, the risk was redistribution of the shrinking slices of a shrinking pie. The "new" Labour Party, he once said, should not be a party that "bungs up your taxes, runs a high-inflation economy and is hopelessly inefficient" and "lets the trade unions run the show.'  Daniel Yergin, WSJ, January 26th, 2012.

For his full article check out...

If you seek a quick "un-devilish" definition of conservatism, Reagan summed it up pretty well in his same farewell address...

 "I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts."

If government has grown bloated, corrupt and inefficient, then a conservative has a duty to become an agent of change in reforming it.

G.K Chesterton, the great English mystery writer (Father Brown mysteries) , was a strong conservative, a devout Catholic and a traditionalist.  He offered a great explanation of the conservative's proper attitude towards the spirit of reform and change...

English writer G.K. Chesterton in "The Thing" (1929):

"There exists . . . a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." . . .

G.K. Chesterton
Some person had some reason for thinking [the gate or fence] would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. . . . The truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served.

But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. . . . This principle applies to a thousand things, to trifles as well as true institutions, to convention as well as to conviction."  From WSJ Notable and Quotable 12/30/11.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sherlock Holmes a Conservative Hero?

Men of Honor

Raymond Chandler in his brilliant essay, The Simple Art of Murder, writes,

"Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic...

Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings. It is one of the things that distinguish them from the three-toed sloth; he apparently–one can never be quite sure–is perfectly content hanging upside down on a branch, and not even reading Walter Lippmann. I hold no particular brief for the detective story as the ideal escape. I merely say that all reading for pleasure is escape, whether it be Greek, mathematics, astronomy, Benedetto Croce, or The Diary of the Forgotten Man. To say otherwise is to be an intellectual snob, and a juvenile at the art of living...

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in."  The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler, 1950.

Chandler's heroes, such as Philip Marlowe, are essentially conservative.  They are not "anything goes" moral relativists of the liberal school.  On the contrary, they have a code of honor by which they live and sometimes die.  Even the politically liberal Dashiell Hammet was a creator of conservative fiction in this sense.

Moreover, the structure of the mystery is intrinsically conservative.  Crime has put the world out of joint and the hero detective must restore order in a world that constantly seems to be spinning out of control.  The conservative principle is, at its heart, a struggle against the forces of entropy and chaos.  The detective/hero re-establishes order by bringing the criminal to justice even when this may contravene the law (e.g. Agatha Christ and Murder on the Orient Express).  By doing so, he struggles towards redemption.

Have you seen the new BBC production of Sherlock (two seasons produced thus far)?  It is simply a revelation of how good television can actually be.  This Holmes and Watson (an Afghanistan veteran) are set in 21st century London.  The writing on the show sparkles and is constantly allusive to its source material while at the same time being thoroughly modern.  Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the "complete man and yet an unusual man" that Chandler praises while Watson (Martin Freeman) fulfills the role of the "common man." Dr. Watson blogs.  Holmes has a web site and uses nicotine patches instead of smoking a pipe.  Irene Adler, "the woman," is a high-class sex worker.  This Holmes is assuredly "a man fit for adventure" with "a range of awareness that startles you" at every turn. 

Holmes famously is indifferent to whether the earth rotates around the sun or vice versa.  The world's meaning lay entirely in the sphere of the ethical as far as Sherlock Holmes was concerned.  The brute facts of natural science were only of real interest when they could be put to use in serving an ethical end (e.g. solving the crime).

Sherlock Holmes is the embodiment of conservatism on so many different levels.  First, he is a practical Aristotelian examining the world and making deductions* based on his findings.  Second, to consult with Sherlock is to enter into a free and private transaction (Adam Smith would approve!) because government based solutions (the police) are so clearly inadequate.  Third, Sherlock Holmes prefers reason over feeling, thought over emotion.  Fourth, through his work, he restores the moral order of the universe.  Finally, Holmes and Watson celebrate the importance of male comradeship.

The success of Sherlock tells us that conservatism remains utterly relevant in the 21st century. 

Commander Kelly says, plan your escape with Sherlock!

* Technically, it should be "inductions" but Arthur Conan Doyle conflated "induction" and "deduction" in the original canon and Sherlock perpetuates the error.  If I wake up in the morning and observe that the streets are wet, I would usually "induce" that it rained during the night, in spite of the possibility that the water mains may have burst .  Induction, therefore, involves the calculation of probability.  If all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then I may correctly "deduce" that Socrates is mortal.  "Deduction" demands a logical necessity.  If Sherlock Holmes notices the cigar ashes on my vest and "induces" that I am partial to Montecristos, it could be that I am a non-smoker who brushed up against someone in the tube that morning.  Sherlock Holmes is, correctly speaking, a master of "induction."


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Friday, January 27, 2012

A Day out with the Duke of Wellington

The "Iron Duke"
The start of a period of general European peace that lasted for nearly 100 years (1815 to 1914) can be dated with great precision. It began on Sunday, June 18th at about 9:00pm in the evening with the handshake between the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshall Blucher that followed the successful conclusion of the battle of Waterloo.  The Allied armies were victorious over the French at Waterloo and Napoleon was sent into exile to the Isle of St. Helena.
"Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won"

This is what historian John Julius Norwich wrote about Waterloo....

"Had Napoleon been victorious...we--together with much of the continent--might well have been speaking French today.  The threat posed to England, though far less evil, was comparable to the threat posed by Nazi Germany in 1940: that this country might have been reduced to a minor province in a vast empire.  The Second World War, however, was won through any number of different factors; Napoleon's ultimate defeat was brought about in a single battle, on a single day.  that is why Waterloo was one of the most important battles of all history."  A History of England in 100 places, John Julius Norwich.
All the world knows the Duke of Wellington as the general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.  Many are also ware that he served as Britain's Prime Minister (actually twice, 1828-30 and briefly in 1834).  Here, however, are some things about the Duke of Wellington that you may not be aware...

1)  Arthur Wesley, the quintessential Englishman, was born on May 1st 1769 in Dublin and later became the first English Prime Minister to have been born in Ireland.

2) His mother, Lady Mornignton, described him as her "ugly boy Arthur" and suggested that he was "food for powder and nothing more."

3) A veteran campaigner of many battles in India and the Peninsula before Waterloo, he never lost a battle. (George Washington, in contrast, lost more battles than he won during the American Revolution.)

4) Wellington, like Lord Nelson, was unhappily married, in his case, to Kitty Pakenham, a woman to whom he felt pledged prior to his extended departure for India.  He is said to have remarked to his brother on their wedding day, "She has grown ugly, by Jove!"

5) His brother in law, Sir Edward Pakenham, was killed by the American's during the Battle of New Orleans fighting Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812.

6) In 1829, when he was Prime Minister, he challenged and fought a duel at Battersea park in London with Lord Winchelsea who disagreed with him vehemently about Catholic emancipation.  Neither party was injured.  Can you imagine any contemporary politician in America or Britain acting with such evident personal courage?

7) He had Iron shutters placed in his home in London at Apsley House in order to avoid the expense of replacing broken windows from mob demonstrations, hence the term "Iron Duke."

8) He was buried with full honours at St Paul's cathedral in 1852.

In regard to the Dueling incident of 1829 here is what Wikipedia has to say..."As prime minister, Wellington was conservative, fearing the anarchy of the French Revolution would spread to England. The highlight of his term was Catholic Emancipation; the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. The change was forced by the landslide by-election win of Daniel O'Connell, an Irish Catholic proponent of emancipation, who was elected despite not being legally allowed to sit in Parliament. The Earl of Winchilsea accused the Duke of, "an insidious design for the infringement of our liberties and the introduction of Popery into every department of the State".[116] Wellington responded by immediately challenging Winchilsea to a duel. On 21 March 1829, Wellington and Winchilsea met on Battersea fields. When it came time to fire, the Duke took aim and Winchilsea kept his arm down. The Duke fired wide to the right. Accounts differ as to whether he missed on purpose; Wellington, noted for his poor aim, claimed he did, other reports more sympathetic to Winchilsea claimed he had aimed to kill. Winchilsea did not fire, a plan he and his second almost certainly decided upon before the duel.[117] Honour was saved and Winchilsea wrote Wellington an apology.

The Duke of Wellington was a conservative through and through.  He was, like Nelson, a champion of liberty against the tyranny of Napoleon.  Recall that Napoleon planned to restore slavery in Haiti.  Napoleon also did his best to try to transform Europe into the Bonaparte family business. Wellington was a Tory Prime Minister.  His conservatism was not, however, simply a manifestation of hidebound reactionary attitudes that opposed all forms of change.  His words and actions in regard to Catholic Emancipation hold up remarkably well even from the politically correct viewpoint of 2012.  Many of the troops that served alongside him at Waterloo were Catholics and he did not believe that they should be given second class citizenship based on religion (somewhat analogous to Eisenhower integrating the US army after World War II).  He was willing to champion sensible reforms that increased the scope of British liberty and did so vigourously.
Apsley House

To gain a better appreciation of The "Iron Duke" be sure to visit Apsley House in London.  It features a a priceless collection of art and memorabilia from his life.  During World War II, George VI (Of King's Speech fame) and the Queen mum are reported to have driven up to Apsley House with a truck in order to load up its artworks for safekeeping in the countryside during the war's duration.

Here is the link to Apsley house...

After a visit to Apsley House, be sure to drop by The Grenadier pub which is nearby on 18 Wilton Row in Belgravia.  Wellington's officers used it as a mess in his time.  Try the Beef Wellington which is excellent!  They even have ghost!  Here is the link...

The Grenadier pub

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A Real Life Warhorse

Wellington on Copenhagen

Copenhagen "became Wellington's favourite charger and survived the `Napoleonic Wars when many other horses died under their demanding master.  Copenhagen himself died in 1836 and was buried at Stratfield Saye...Wellington said of Copenhagen, 'There have been many faster horses, no doubt many handsomer, but for bottom and endurance I never saw his fellow.'" Wellington: A Personal History, Christopher Hibbert.

"He carried the Duke of Wellington all through the Peninsular campaign and then all day at Waterloo, when the duke was in the saddle for 18 hours.  For any horse,that should have been enough; but the moment he dismounted Copenhagen lashed out and broke free; it took his groom half and hour to catch him.  He retired to the Wellington estate at Stratfield Saye, where the duke and his children continued to ride him for many years, eventually dying in 1836 at the age of twenty-eight, and being buried with full military honours."  A History of England: 100 Places from Stonehenge to the Gherkin, John Julius Norwich.

Copenhagen's gravestone is incised as follows...

"God's humbler instrument, though meaner clay,
Should share the glory of that glorious day."

Copenhagen endured the horrors of war with courage and without complaint.  He was a loyal servant to the Duke of Wellington.  We celebrate Copenhagen's life of glory and accomplishment.  He was not, unlike Joey in Warhorse, a mere victim.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A President with a Flawed Character?

Could a man, who had not attended University or even graduated from High School, become President of the United States?

What if he were a slaveholder, would that disqualify?

What if he had fought numerous duels, some of which were fatal to his opponents?

What if he lived with a woman who was married to another man at the time?

What if he had grown up fatherless (perhaps his father died 3 weeks before his birth)?

Could such a man, with such grave character flaws, become a successful President of the United States?

Well, Andrew Jackson (b.1767 to d.1845) was all of the above and did a pretty good job as 7th President of the United States supporting a limited role for the federal government.

Old Hickory

Newt in South Carolina

Man of the Hour
What a huge difference a week makes!  All the air seems to have gone out of the Romney balloon of inevitability.  Last week, Romney's initial "win" in Iowa was overturned in Iowa with a recount that favoured Santorum by a whisker.  Yesterday, he lost to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina blowing a significant lead in the polls from barely a week ago, in spite of outspending Newt 2 to 1.  Newt's superlative performances in the last two debates, with two standing ovations, have clearly galvanised his candidacy.  Newt was also aided last week by endorsements from Rick Perry, Chuck Norris and, informally,  Sarah Palin.

Newt has always been the most intellectually gifted of all the Republican candidates.  He also has, by far, the greatest record of legislative achievement of any candidate including Obama.  The three main questions about Newt are...

1) Will the baggage which is attached to his record and personal life will drag him down?
2) Is the American electorate willing to vote for an intellectual? (the Adlai Stevenson curse)
3) Will his unfortunate attack on Romney's tenure at Bain Capital from an anti-capitalist perspective hurt him with primary voters?

Romney still has lots of financial backing and support from the party establishment.  He also has better hair than Newt.  If the USA wants a better CEO to fix the economy, then he is the man.  Romney does, however, seem to keep floundering on the rather predictable issue of his taxes.  South Carolina and 2008 have tarred him with a "loser" image which will be hard to shake.

Florida is now up for grabs in a winner take all primary on January 31st.  Santorum, Romney and Gingrich have each won one state thus far.  After Florida, one of them will have won two.

I strongly suspect that Palin is correct in desiring the process to continue.  Steel sharpens steel.  Rather than weakening the Republican party this intensification of the contest (the substance of the debates has been ratcheted up markedly) will make the ultimate winner all the stronger and more battle-tested for the general election in the fall.

The only absolute certainty is that a ton of money will now be spent on local broadcast stations in the primary race at least through Super Tuesday.

The roles of Santorum and Paul will also be very interesting to observe.  I note the chorus of "Veep" that was heard during Newt's post-election speech in south Carolina at the mention of Santorum's name.  There is now the distinct possibility of a brokered convention.  It is quite possible that either Santorum or Paul could play the role of Kingmaker (or spoiler) in helping to make the choice between Romney and Gingrich.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Burning Question

The three great and easily-remembered historical years that every Englishman knows are...

1) 1066.  The Norman Conquest.  Harold catches an arrow in the eye.

2) 1666. Great Fire of London.  2/3 of London burnt to the ground.

3) 1966.  England wins the World Cup.

Great Fire of London, 1666

It is number 2 above, the Great Fire, that interests me right now.  The fire was started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner of Pudding lane on September 2nd during the reign of Charles II.  It soon spread west throughout the city.  The fire cleared the way for Christopher Wren's great works including the magnificent St. Paul's cathedral.

Clearly the English monarchy was not particularly effective at preventing the spread of urban fires,  nor did the monarchy have any particular love for the city of London.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the matter...

"The relationship between the City and the Crown was very tense. During the Civil War, 1642–1651, the City of London had been a stronghold of Republicanism, and the wealthy and economically dynamic capital still had the potential to be a threat to Charles II, as had been demonstrated by several Republican uprisings in London in the early 1660s. The City magistrates were of the generation that had fought in the Civil War, and could remember how Charles I's grab for absolute power had led to that national trauma."

Was Charles II complicit in allowing his political enemies to burn to the ground or merely neglectful..?

Now let's fast forward forty years to 1706.  Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston Massachusetts, a crown colony.  He would grow up to become one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.  He became a writer, scientist, inventor, publisher, entrepreneur, ambassador and statesman.  He would become one of the archetypal Americans who now graces the $100 bill.  He was the only founding father who signed all four documents which created the USA--the Declaration of Independence, the treaty with France, the US constitution and the treaty of peace with England.  I also regard Franklin as a founding member of the conservative movement as well.

Benjamin Franklin House, London
He lived for many years in London (1723-1726, 1757-1763, and 1765-1775) and, in fact, his house on Craven street in London is the only one still standing that Franklin actually lived in.  You can make a visit to see it near Charing Cross...

Franklin had many friends in England which made his separation from the mother country all the more traumatic.  His only son, William Franklin, became the Tory governor of New Jersey and was forever estranged from his father due to  the American Revolution.

If you really want to understand why the USA is different from Europe you must understand Benjamin Franklin. Allow me please to quote at length from Walter Isaacson's excellent biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life...

"The essence of Franklin is that he was a civic-minded man.  He cared more about public behaviour than inner piety, and he was more interested in building the City of Man than the City of God.  The maxim he had proclaimed on his first trip back from London--'Man is a sociable being'--was reflected not only in his personal collegiality, but also in is belief than benevolence was the binding virtue of society.  As Poor Richard put it, 'He that drinks his cider alone, let him catch his horse alone.'

Great Franklin Biography
This gregarious outlook would lead him, as a twenty-something printer during the 1730s to use his `Junto to launch a variety of community organisations, including a lending library, fire brigde, and night watchmen corps, and later a hospital, militia and college.  'The good men may do separately, ' he wrote, 'is small compared with what they may do collectively."

Franklin picked up his penchant for forming do-good associations from Cotton Mather and others, but his organisational fervour and galvanising personality made him the most influential force in instilling this as an enduring part of American life.  'Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of dispositions are forever forming associations,' Tocqueville famously marvelled.  'Hospitals, prisons and schools take shape this way.'

Tocqueville came to the conclusion that there was an inherent struggle in America between two opposing impulses: the spirit of rugged individualism versus the conflicting spirit of community and association building.  Franklin would have disagreed.  A fundamental aspect of Franklin's life, and of American society he helped to create was that individualism and communitarianism, so seemingly contradictory were interwoven (my italics).  The frontier attracted barn-raising pioneers who were ruggedly individualistic as well as fiercely supportive of their community.  Franklin was the epitome of this admixture of self-reliance and civic involvement, and what he exemplified became part of the American character...

Using the name Pennsylvanus, he wrote a description of the 'brave men' who volunteer to fight fires, and  suggested that those who didn't join them should help bear the expense of ladders, buckets and pumps.  A year later...he proposed the formation of a fire company...Philadelphia had a lot of spirited volunteers, he noted, but they lacked 'order and method."  They should therefore consider following the example of Boston, he said, and organise into fire-fighting clubs with specific duties.  Always a stickler for specifics, Franklin helpfully enumerated these duties in great detail: there should be wardens, who carry 'a red staff of five feet,' as well as axmen and hook men and other specialties.

'This was much spoken of as a useful piece,' Franklin recalled in his autobiography, so he set about organising the Union Fire cCompany, which was incorporated in 1736.  He was fastidious in detailing its rules and the fines that would be levied for infractions.  This being a Franklin scheme, it included a social component as well; they met for dinner once a month 'for a social evening together discussing and communication such ideas as occurred to us on the subject of fires.'  So many people wanted to join that, like the Junto, it spawned sister fire companies around town.

Franklin remained actively involved in the Union Fire Company for years.  In 1743, the Gazette carried a little notice: 'Lost at the late fire on Water street, two leather buckets, marked B. Franklin & Co.  whoever brings them to the printer hereof shall be satisfied for their trouble.'  Fifty years later, when he returned from Paris after the Revolution, he would gather the four remaining members of the company, along with their buckets, for meetings."


As a longtime resident of the city of London, Franklin was, of course fully aware of the catastrophe of the fire of London and the abject failure of the English monarchy to prevent it (there is indeed some conjecture that Charles II welcomed the fire which affected his Republican opponents).  Franklin's words and action set forth an alternate template for civic behaviour. In the face of social ills (fire, disease, ignorance, etc.) the American would seize the opportunity to band together with like-minded individuals to work for their collective eradication.  Citizens would sleep in their houses free from fear of a fiery conflagration engulfing their homes.

36 Craven Street, London

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the Union Fire Company...

"The Union Fire Company was an association for mutual assistance. Each member agreed to furnish, at his own expense (italics mine!), six leather buckets and two stout linen bags, each marked with his name and the name of the company, which he was to bring to every fire. The buckets were for carrying water to extinguish the flames, and the bags were to receive and hold property which was in danger, to save it from risk of theft. The members pledged themselves to repair to any place in danger upon an alarm of fire with their apparatus. Some were to superintend the use of the water, others were to stand at the doors of houses in danger, and to protect the property from theft. On an alarm of fire at night it was agreed that lights should be placed in the windows of houses of members near the fire 'in order to prevent confusion, and to enable their friends to give them more speedy and effectual assistance'"

Moreover, he invented the famous Franklin stove which became a safe source of heat for the colonists.

The individual is not, therefore, the enemy of the collective in some kind of alternate Randian universe, but rather the individual is the engine of altruism that benefits his fellow man.

The monarchical principle in many European nations encouraged faith in the charity and wisdom of the monarch to provide for their citizens.  Thus we have the "Royal Charity" model of social reform.  Over time, this evolved in Europe from the wisdom of the King to the collective wisdom of the worthies in Parliament or the European Union (e.g. socialism). Citizens of a Republic, on the other hand, believe that individuals can and will band together to form voluntary collectives that will address the most pressing social ills of their day.

Franklin would be proud!

The United States today, following the example of Franklin, is one of the most generous nations on the planet.  The Guardian, a very left-wing publication in the UK,  recently reported that the USA was tied for 5th place (with Switzerland) in terms of global generosity ahead of the the UK and most others nations...

3 Days in May

Now Playing!

I had a chance to see the play Three Days in May this week in London.  It is very refreshing to see an entertainment with a historical theme which presents ideas in conflict with a surprising fidelity to history.  The play concerns the three days in May of 1940 when France was about to fall to the German onslaught and the fate of the British Expeditionary force on the continent which would be evacuated to Dunkirk was still in doubt.

Britain's War cabinet must make momentous decisions about  the war.  The Germans at this point had conquered Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.  Paris was about to be occupied.

Churchill had only become Prime Minister, succeeding Neville Chamberlain a few weeks before the plays' action takes place.  Neville Chamberlain, the great appeaser of Munich, was still serving in the British cabinet.  Lord Halifax, who was Chamblerlain's preferred successor as Prime Minister (not to mention the King's and most conservative MPs), was now serving as foreign secretary.  Clement Atlee ("a sheep in sheep's clothing" as Churchill described him), the labor MP and future PM, was serving in the government of national unity.

Britain seems to be thoroughly whipped.  America is in the throes of extreme isolationism and will not help oppose fascism.  The Soviets led by Stalin have joined forces with Hitler in a non-aggression pact and a cynical partition of Poland.  Soon France will fall and Britain will stand alone against the might of a triumphant Germany.  Senor Mussolini, who thinks the war is already won, is threatening to join Hitler in order to gobble up British possessions such as Gibraltar, Malta and Egypt.

Lord Halifax makes an eloquently reasoned case for a negotiated settlement with Hitler to be brokered by Mussolini.  Britain cannot possibly win against the overwhelming strength of the Luftwaffe.  Her army is trapped in France and desperately fleeing for the coast.  England's cities are vulnerable to German bombers just like Warsaw and Rotterdam before them.  Britain might as well try and secure the best terms possible and preserve Britain's independence.

Churchill appears to wobble from his notoriously hawkish stance.  Maybe Halifax is right?  Peace is preferable to war.  A vast number of civilian casualties loom ahead.  The war cannot be won.  Will Britain "make a deal" with Hitler?

The surprising resolution to this drama takes shape with the emergence of a most unlikely hero.  It is not Churchill, but rather Neville Chamberlain who is the ultimate hero of this piece.  He sides at first with Halifax in the defeatist camp. Churchill, in private meeting with Chamberlain, must threaten his own resignation to avert an attempt at a negotiated peace.  Chamberlain recognises that he was made a fool of by Hitler at Munich.  He will not take "that man" at his word again.   Chamberlain is a dying man determined to do what is right with what remains of his life after so many grievous errors.

Churchill, the old warhorse, is trying to build a consensus.  Of course he will not accept a negotiated settlement with Herr Hitler.  He would rather die fighting a Nazi invasion in the streets of London than give in.

Three Days in May has no female characters, no sex appeal.  All its actors are dead white males.  Suspense is lacking because the audience already knows how the war actually turned out, unlike the play's protagonists.  It has no remarkable stagecraft or pyrotechnics.  Why, then, does it succeed at drama in a way that Spielberg's Warhorse does not?

What it does show is the excruciating process of making tough choices in regard to issues of war and peace.  It shows sincere, reasoning men in conflict with each other and, to use Faulkner's phrase "the heart (Chamberlain's especially) in conflict with itself." The focus of this play is on thought rather than raw feeling.  It is a triumph!

"Snorehorse" and the Ron Paul campaign

Spielberg's Warhorse was released recently with much fanfare in London and around the world.  The film is based on the Michael Morpugo novel. The London stage production of Warhorse featured amazing stagecraft in its presentation of mechanical horses.  Spielberg's Warhorse features gorgeous cinematography of rural England as it tracks a horse named Joey through the horrors of World War I.  A terrific and disastrous cavalry charge is one of the film's highlights.  The senseless slaughter of World War I's static trench warfare that "put the lights out all over Europe" forms the backdrop for this movie.

The Germans of World War I, according to Spielberg, are quite a bit jollier than the Germans of World War II.  They are portrayed with sympathy and humanity.  They are the victims of the War every bit as much as the Brits and, of course, Joey.  Near the films' conclusion, in its "payoff" scene, an English and German soldier collaborate to rescue a stricken Joey caught in barbed wire in no man's land.  Joyeux Noel was frankly far more effective at showing an historically accurate telling of the German / English no man's land reconciliation on Christmas day 1914.

In London near Hyde park you will find a monument to animals in War featuring horses, donkeys, dogs and birds.  "They had no choice," is the motto.  Warhorse is the cinematic equivalent of the Animals in War Memorial.

Animals in War memorial, London
The first half of the movie in peacetime in the English countryside is bathed in the lambent glow of Spielberg's lens.  Even alcoholic poverty seems twee and endearing in this telling.  This deeply unsatisfying movie is guilty of bucketfuls of sentimentality and manipulation.  The pleasant myth of a rural pre-war paradise, as seen through the nostalgia coated lens of city slickers, is on full display here.

Joey seems to be the ultimate bad luck charm for all those who come into contact with him.  The human body count just keeps growing around him.  Warhorse suggests that all those who come into contact with war are its victims.  It is a celebration of victimhood.

What on earth does the anti-Semitic (I am still waiting to see the graph of how contributions from racists and anti-Semites to the Paul campaign dwarf the contributions of these folks to his Republican primary opponents!) Ron Paul campaign have to do with Spielberg's treacly film?  The apparent popularity of the Ron Paul campaign, coming as it does after the withdrawal of the US military from Iraq for political reasons, is ultimately an expression of war weariness.  The US and its allies in Afghanistan are now fighting the longest lasting armed conflict in American history--10+ years and counting--with no end in sight.   This administration's inability or unwillingness to clarify the goals of our mission in Afghanistan has created confusion and bewilderment among the American people.
But we do!

Ron Paul's campaign, like Warhorse, wallows in victimhood and helplessness.  Both visions regard all armed conflict as wasteful, brutal and unnecessary (right on 2 out 3!).  Ron Paul gets lachrymose in describing our casualties.  He tends to see Americans as pawns or dupes of a vast military industrial complex rather than as agents shaping their own destiny.  Quite curious for a supposed libertarian!

The truth is that we humans always do have a choice.  We have choice, for example, of which films to see and which candidates to support.  The choices that America's commanders in chief have made from Wilson to Obama have, at times, been exceedingly difficult.  They have not always been right.  Some Presidents have done a better job than others as commander in chief.  The question is "do we want to elect a man who is unwilling to make the tough decisions on intervening or not and would prefer to leave it up to the 535 worthies that make up our congress?"

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Fighting Temeraire

Britain's Most Popular Painting

"In August 2005, BBC Radio 4 ran a poll to find the nation's (Britain's) favorite painting.  It was won by Turner's The Fighting Temeraire Tugged To Her Last Berth To Be Broken Up, 1838, and it won by a landslide: it received over a quarter of all votes cast, fighting off Constable's The Hay Wain and other equally well-known works by Manet, Hockney and Van Gogh.  Turner was a genius whose techniques revolutionised art history, and The Fighting Temeraire is his masterpiece.  It is one of the greatest works of art ever created by a Western artist."*

You can find The Fighting Termeraire today in London's National Gallery ( right on Trafalgar square.

The author, William Thackeray, described the painting as follows...

"The Old Temeraire is dragged to her last home by a little, pitiful, diabolical steamer. A mighty red sun, amidst a host of flaring clouds, sinks to rest on one side of the picture, and illumines a river that seems interminable, and a countless navy that fades away into such a wonderful distance as never was painted before.  The little demon of a steamer is belching out a volume (why do I say a volume? Not a hundred volumes could express it) of foul, lurid, red-hot, malignant smoke, paddling furiously and lashing up the water round about it; while behind it (a cold grey moon looking down on it) slow, sad and majestic, follows the brave old ship, with death, as it were written on her..."

The ship Temeraire, which is the paintings' primary subject, served in the Royal Navy and was second in line after the Victory at the battle of Trafalgar.  Her Captain, Eliab Harvey, had been instructed by Nelson that, "No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy."  On October 21st 1805, Captain Harvey followed these instructions to the letter, engaging for twenty minutes the Santissima Trinidiad--the Spanish Admiral's flagship and the largest ship in the world at that time.  He then rammed The Redoutable, at the time engaged with Nelson's flagship, The Victory.  A boarding party from Temeraire captured The Redoutable--the same ship whose marksman had shot Nelson fatally earlier that day.  Thus Temeraire helped to avenge Nelson's death and to win victory at Trafalgar.

The Temeraire later served with further distinction in the Baltic and the Mediterranean.  She was for a time a recruiting ship.  Still later, she was put to other uses.  Here is what Sam Willis, author of The Fighting Temeraire, has to say...

"While the Royal Navy no longer wanted ships like the Temeraire for active duty, however, with the British still committed to fighting both the French and Americans; there was an unrelenting demand for prisoner accommodation.  Between 1803 and 1814, 122,440 French prisoner were brought to Britain, an astonishing figure in itself, but one that makes no allowance for the Italians, Swiss, Poles, Saxons, Spaniards, Dutchmen and, of course Americans who were also held as prisoners of war in Britain.  In fact it has been estimated that, during the war of 1812, fourteen per cent of all American naval and private seamen were held as prisoners of war in Britain, perhaps ten thousand in all.  The accommodation problem was therefore acute...In particular, in autumn 1813, more hulks were needed at Plymouth.  In October, the superintendent of the hulks there had complained that his prison ships were all being filled owing to the success of the war in Spain and Admiral Sir Robert Calder's requirement that between three and four hundred places were to be kept available at a moment's notice.  In December 1813, therefore, the Temeraire was fitted as a prison ship to serve in Plymouth."*

The principle of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) was clearly operational in Britain during the Napoleonic era.  The  English did not want to have thousands of prisoners of war filling their own prisons or local neighborhoods.  Their solution was to use older ships like the Temeraire as prison hulks and anchor them offshore.  They were, in fact, a floating Guantanamo Bay, anchored just off the shores of Britain.

Here are the ultimate questions in regard to Turner's fabulous Fighting Temeraire.

1) Would it possible to imagine a future American artist creating a sympathetic (irony-free) representation of an American piece of military hardware that is used in the war on terror?

2) If so, would it be possible for this work, let us call it, Drone over Sunset at Guantanamo, to become the most popular painting in the USA?

Until that day comes, we can celebrate Turner's masterpiece.

* The Fighting Temeraire: the Battle of Traflagar and the Ship that Inspired J.M.W.Turner's Most Beloved Painting.  Sam Willis. Penguin Books. 2010.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yankee fan kills Gaddafi with his own Golden Gun!

Al Shebani--Yankee fan (Sic Semper Tyrannis)

Does this headline sound like something from overblown fiction?  Yet, it seems to be true.

Eighteen year old Al Shebani (depicted above) was the apparent killer of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi this past October.

Could we start a collection to buy him box seats for the home opener and airfare to JFK?

The Chronology of Human Liberty

If the wide swathe of human history is anything other than "the record of man's crimes and follies" then, to the conservative, it must be the halting but steady progress of the idea of individual liberty in its struggle against tyranny, slavery and ignorance.
Here is an attempt at a brief Chronology of Liberty...

1) 460 to 404 BC.  The Age of Pericles: The golden age of Athenian democracy.

2) 399 BC.  The Trial and death of Socrates.  The heroic individual versus the toxic, poisonous state, round one.

3) 384 BC.  Birth of Aristotle.  Founder of Ancient Conservatism.

4) 508 to 44 BC.  Roman Republic.   Limitations placed on government by an aristocratic elite--the Senate.  SPQR.

5) 73 to 71 BC.  Spartacus leads the slaves in the Third Servile War.  Roman power is shaken for three years by a rebellion led by a slave and ex-gladiator.

6) 697 to 1797.  The Venetian Republic flourishes in the Mediterranean with naval power, free trade and fine glassware.

7) 1040.  Invention of Moveable Type in China by Bi Sheng.  Wider dissemination of knowledge becomes possible.

8) 1215.  Magna Carta.  England's King John compelled to embrace rule of law and share power with the Barons.

9) 1450.  Guttenberg invents the Printing Press.  Technological sine qua non of a free press.

10) 1492.  Columbus discovers the New World.  New vistas opened in which liberty will flourish.

US Constitution
11) 1776.  Adam Smith publishes the Wealth of Nations.

12) July 4th 1776.  Declaration of Independence.

13) 1787.  Ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, including the Bill of Rights.

14) 1789.  Beginning of the French revolution.

15) 1790. Edmund Burke, founder of modern conservatism, publishes Reflections on the Revolution in France.

16) October 21st, 1805.  Battle of Trafalgar.  Nelson's victory guarantees British liberty and allows spread of free trade and liberty through the 19th century under the banner of the British Empire.

17)  1807.  Parliament votes to end the slave trade.

18) June 18th, 1815.  Battle of Waterloo. Duke of Wellington leads the Allied forces over Napoleon and the French.  Dictatorship, French hegemony and Continental system (Euro prototype I) all vanquished.

19) 1859.  Publication of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty.  "Over himself, over his own body and mind the individual is sovereign."

20) 1861.  Emancipation Reform of 1861.  Tsar Alexander II of Russia frees the serfs.
First Republican

21) January 1st, 1863.  Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln.

22) December 1865.  13th amendment passed in the US outlawing slavery.

23) 1883 to 1929.  Carnegie Libraries.  2,509 libraries built by Carnegie throughout the world forming the prototype of the Internet.

24) 1920.  Women's Suffrage.  The 19th amendment is ratified in the USA which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex by states or the federal government.

25) 1933.  Repeal of Prohibition with the 21st Amendment to the US constitution.

26)  December 7th 1941.  Pearl Harbor attacked by Imperial Japan.  End of American isolationism.

27) June 6th, 1944.  D-Day.  Allied forces begin the liberation of France and Northwest Europe from Nazism.

28) 1945.  World War II ends.  Worst war in human history ends with the suicide of Adolf Hitler and unconditional surrender of Japan.  Second Euro prototype lies in ruins.
Future Imperfect

29) 1948.  Creation of Israel.  Foundation of a Democratic Jewish state in the Middle East.

30) 1948.  Publication of George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four which along with Animal Farm (1945) make the case against totalitarianism of all stripes.  "Big Brother is watching and some pigs are more equal than others!"

31) 1949. NATO founded.  North Atlantic Treaty Organisation created to defend the West against Soviet communism.

32) 1964.  Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Outlaws major forms of discrimination against African-Americans and women.  Supported by a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats.

33) 1979-1990.  Margaret Thatcher serves as Prime minister of Great Britain.

34) 1980.  Ronald Reagan elected 40th President of USA.

"Tear Down that Wall"
35) 1989.  Collapse of Soviet communism.  Fall of the Berlin Wall.

36) 1990-91.  Operation Desert Storm.  Liberation of Kuwait.

37)  1990's.  Commercialisation of the Internet.   Spread of human knowledge across borders.

38) 2001.  Afghanistan invaded by coalition forces following the events of 9/11.  Taliban government toppled.  Elections held.

39) 2003.  Invasion of Iraq.  Eventual capture and execution of Saddam Hussein.  Elections held.
Saddam's statue 
40) 2011.  Arab Spring sweeps North Africa.  Ending dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on