Archive for the ‘civilization’ Category

A simple act of kindness goes a long way

June 12, 2017

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

These words were spoken by a man who had spent eleven years imprisoned in a Stalin-era Russian gulag. The act of kindness of which he speaks was something very small, but very important. In 1953, a young woman doctor who was working in the prison smuggled in a blank postcard, then passed it secretly to a prisoner, Roland Gottlieb, so that he could send a message beyond the prison walls to his wife and three daughters.

By that time in 1953, Roland’s wife, Ruth, had already spent more than eight years waiting for her husband to be released from the political prison. During those years she didn’t even know if he was alive or dead. It was a very long period of terrible anguish for her and for their  three daughters, as they lived from day to day wondering where the hell  Poppa was, or if they’d ever see him again.

Hell on earth it must have been for them, and for him.

For Poppa, who endured not only cruelties, near starvation, physical abuse and the frigid Siberian weather, the worst part was not knowing anything about his family, not knowing where they had ended up after he was taken prisoner by the Russian army in Bulgaria, not knowing if the girls even knew what had become of him, not knowing if he would live to ever see them again, not knowing anything except the day-to-day hell-on-earth of captivity in Stalin’s gulag.

Then one day a brave doctor’s willingness to risk her own career and safety made it possible for Roland to at least send a few words–a long-overdue update– about his location and condition (alive) to his loved ones.

Here’s a cover pic of Ruth, to whom the secret postcard was addressed, and to whom the card was delivered, four months after it was mailed.

LivesDiv

  https://www.amazon.com/Lives-Divided-family-apart-Russian/dp/1490404236

You can read more about this long ordeal of separation in Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard’s autobiographical memoir, Lives Damaged. It’s a good book about the first eleven years of her life, which happened to be the same eleven years that her father was in prison, simply because he was (doing his duty as a German diplomat protecting war refugees)  in the wrong place (Sofia, Hungary) at the wrong time (when the Russian army took over the place) in 1944.

Birgitta was born a few months after her father was hauled to a Soviet prison in Siberia. She never even saw her father, never even touched him, until she was eleven years old. And when she did finally see him, and hug him, and at last get to talk to him and get to know him, she asked him some questions about the bad people he had encountered  in prison. And he spoke to her and to the family about the bad people there, some of them prisoners and some who were staffers. But then he said:

“Just as these blatnois were bad, I found equally many if not more ‘good’ Russians, like the young female doctor who took pity on me when I was in the punishment camp after the Vorkuta Revolt in 1953, where writing was strictly prohibited. She smuggled a postcard to me so that I could write home. She could have been severely punished if she hand been caught. If it hadn’t been for her kindness, you never would have received that first postcard from me.”

That “first postcard,” when it finally was delivered, was a major milestone, a turning point in the life of their family.

That major milestone was made possible by a very small, seemingly insignificant act of smuggling a postcard in and out of the prison, and yet . . .

Later, after his release in 1954, looking back on it and trying to capture an explanation of it all for his daughters, Roland Gottlieb said:

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

Kindness stands out. Its effects go far beyond the pale.

The milk of human kindness–it goes a long way toward the healing of the nations, and the healing of people whose suffering is a consequence of the injustice and evil that men do to each other throughout history. A brave doctor’s small act of postcard benevolence, along with a few other small deeds like it, is what  enabled the prisoner to hang on to a thin thread of hope. It’s what he remembered more vividly than anything else about what happened in his eleven-year gulag nightmare: Kindness from a brave soul whose courage to act enabled him to cross a bridge from perpetual discouragement to newfound hope.

It’s no wonder that Paul, the 1st-century itinerant Christian messenger, included kindness in his lists of the “fruits” of our Creator’s Holy Spirit.

Kindness. You can beat it, but you can’t defeat it.

Smoke

Overcoming Mediocrity and Alienation with Freedom

June 10, 2017

Trying to fix this world is no easy task. Many people have pondered about what is wrong with it, and some have offered remedies about how to correct the perpetual problem of human activity and its destructive effects on our collective life on this planet.

For instance, about a century and a half ago, a very smart German fellow named Karl Marx theorized that the prosperous owners of the world’s production facilities should be replaced by the working folks who keep all the nuts and bolts turning. If this transition of ownership could be accomplished, the world would eventually be a better place, or so Karl thought.

Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades got a hold of that idea, and they enforced the Russian Revolution of 1917. After they deposed the Czar and his Romanov dynasty family, and after the revolutionaries had manhandled power unto the people for purposes of taking control of the “means of production,” the newfound Communists of Russia took a stab at running the country, with their sights sent on the entire world.

There was some confusion in their ranks about exactly what needed to be done; Lenin and his diehards had to push Trotsky and his people out of the picture, but that wasn’t really enough purging to settle all the issues. So later, in the 1930’s, Joe Stalin took it upon himself to purge the revolutionary and bureaucratic ranks of all questionable persons who couldn’t get with the (Stalin’s) program.

Well, that was a sinister and bloody affair. Meanwhile, further down the map in Europe, Hitler and his Nazi goons were making a big bloody mess of Germany and the surrounding countries, and that whole conflagration turned into one hell of a humongous World War, in which we Americans had to go over there and help the Brits and the French, et al, put an end to it.

After the Big War, the Communists were still in control of Russia, and Stalin was still running the show and the gulag, and the working out of the Marx-theorized dictatorship of the proletariat and so forth. Part of the strategy of the International Communist plan to save the world from Capitalist abuse was to spread the revolution into other parts of the world.

After World War II finally skidded to a long-overdue frigging halt, when the dust settled in Europe, the continent was pretty much divided down the middle between the freedom-cultivating Capitalist Allies and the pushy Russian Communists. There was a kind of imaginary dividing between these two entities, which Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

Over here in the West, we were flat-out tired of making war. The Nazi war machine had worn us out, even though we won. And the Russians, although they were certainly tired of fighting the war, were also tired of the whole damned war thing.  Nevertheless, the Ruskies were still quite stubborn in their resolve to save the world from Capitalism.

So they began a new, very big project to impose their Russian version of Communism on the rest of the world– Starting, mainly, in eastern Europe where they were already occupying those post-war-torn Nazi-disaster zone nations, most notably Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

BrshnvK

Recently I picked up a book, from my precious local library, about people and events in Communist-occupied postwar eastern Europe.

   https://www.amazon.com/Prague-Sprung-Notes-Voices-World/dp/0275945367

David Leviatin’s Prague Sprung  presents a penetrating view into the Communist world of power mongering as it existed from the 1948 takeover until the overthrow of Russian hegemony in 1989.

In his book project, David interviews many Czechs who, as members of the Communist party, performed roles in the development and administration of Czechoslovakia.

During one interview, David Leviatin speaks to Miroslav Jindra about his career as an educator. Jindra’s training as a teacher of English and Czech language began in 1948 when he entered Charles University in Prague. After graduating he taught languages at both elementary and college levels.

During that time Mr. Jindra encountered there, however, a double-minded mindset that tended to complicate everything. It seemed that academic excellence and enquiry were not the first priorities. Rather, he found that behind the surface of the institution was a certain Marxist mindset which was being promulgated by the Communist regime. The politicos in charge of Czech education had an agenda, and it was more about political control than academic enquiry. Consequently, to function in such an academic environment was no simple matter.

“I belonged to the group of people who developed some sort of maneuver, some sort of defending mechanism, because otherwise it was impossible to survive. I learned at the same time to be as inconspicuous as possible. If you were very good, you were conspicuous. Something would happen to you. If you were too lazy, you were also conspicuous. This is what we now call the tendency to mediocrity.”

Jindra goes on to  explain that the Russian takeover of his country in 1948 was followed by a period of radical leftist change, which was imposed methodically by Communist taskmasters. But later, during the 1950’s their doctrinaire extremism began to run out of steam. The demands of economic and political reality required more practical applications of human motivation and activity. By the 1960’s narrow-minded apparatchiks who had imposed Stalinist cruelties had to tone down their rhetoric and their programs as it became apparent that something was wrong.

By 1956, Khrushchev’s admission of Stalinist abuses and crimes initiated a shockwave of reassessment that rumbled across the whole communist world.

As Jindra states it: “They found out something was wrong.” So the Stalinist phase of world communism began to morph into something else.

But Khrushchev’s admission wasn’t the only crack that was then appearing in the Soviet wall of oppression.

Also at that time, in 1956, the partisans of Hungary, next door  to Czechoslovakia, rose up in undisguised anger against their Russian overlords. As a Czech speaking about their 1956 news of the Hungarian uprising, Miroslav Jindra says:

“We were told that the Revolution in Hungary was endangered by some reactionaries, but everybody knew what happened there.”

Which is to say, everybody knew what (really) happened there.

As citizens of eastern Europe found themselves, over the years, mired deeper and deeper in sloughs of Communist Party control,  they were cornered into a new, schizo way of thinking and speaking. Euphemism– saying what is generally known to be true but saying it in a way that would not be objectionable, or even understood by, Communist party officials– became a necessity. Saying what you meant without really saying it become a finely honed, stealthy strategy–even a mindset– of mounting resistance.

Eastern Europe came to be something like a kettle put on low heat; it took a long time to boil. It didn’t actually boil over until 1989.

There were many Soviet oppressions that provoked discontent and bitterness among the people of eastern Europe.

Here’s one bitter bi-product of Soviet oppression in  particular, that Miroslav Jindra’s narrative brings to this reader’s attention. But it was not an obvious one. Rather, it is subtle thing, and it slithers into the fearful comrade’s mind like a serpent: alienation.

Think about it this way. Have you ever been in a job where you wanted to do good work, but could not, because your micro-managing boss or co-workers were obsessed with unimportant details instead of actually accomplishing good work?

That’s what was going on in the world of Soviet political correction.

From page 66 of David Leviatan’s Prague Sprung, educator Miroslav Jindra speaks of the doublethink that was required to function as faculty member at Charles University, in Prague:

“In 1976, I was invited to come back to the faculty since two people had retired and they needed some help. There were some very good people in the faculty. If you had some contacts with them, you were quite safe. On the other hand, there were some very nasty people in the Party, people who were not qualified as experts, as specialists, who were just political figures. Their task was to watch over what we said. If you were careful enough you could evade them. We didn’t have any intellectual freedom at all. We had very limited area to maneuver. If you were clever, you could. I think that quite often I managed to tell the students what I wanted to tell them, but maybe I didn’t tell them directly. I tried to make them find out for themselves.

But it’s a big relief now (circa 1991). I don’t need to think over anything, my next word. This was crazy. It was double-thinking.”

The mindset that requires fearful, constant double-minded euphemism is destructive. When truth cannot be plainly spoken, a kind of collective schizophrenia takes hold of a society. This is what the history of communism has revealed about human nature. In State-controlled regimes, Party-appointed–or even self-appointed– micro-managers who are obsessed with political correctness and petty rules dominate everything that is allowed to happen. The end results bring mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence. For serious teachers, students or workers who want to discover truth and strive for productivity, alienation plagues them and drags them into sloughs of discouragement and despair.

By the late 1980’s, the peoples of eastern Europe–and even the Russians– were sick of the double-minded burdens that the communist State had been demanding of them, so they overthrew it. The revolution began with bold people like Vaclav Havel in the Czech lands, Imre Nagy in Hungary, Lech Walesa in Poland.

Eventually leaders such as Yeltsin and Gorbachev got a hold of it. The rest is history. Gorbachev took Reagan’s advice; he tore down a wall. That certainly to helped to get the ball of liberty rolling.

Much to the doctrinaire Communists’ surprise, the people of Germany turned out to be more than willing to help in tearing down that Berlin wall–piece by piece. Freedom is irresistible when you get a whiff of it.

But freedom is not easy to attain. In America, we are fortunate to have prospered in the liberty that was attained, at great sacrifice, for us long ago. That liberty has since been assured and secured by men and women who are willing to defend it. We defend it, not only militarily, but also politically, academically, and economically.

Let’s keep it that way. Freedom is a way of life that we don’t want to lose. Let us not squander it.

King of Soul

The Teacher

June 1, 2017

Over there in the middle of the world there seems to be a controversy about who is in charge of the place.

There are some people who will not accept the fact that the Jewish people have a very long history there; their ancient saga originated in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. So now that the Jewish people have crowbarred their way back into that land strip, which they call Israel while many Arabs and Muslims call it Palestine, we do have a problem.

It is a very old problem, and yet it is new every morning.

Gutnbg

On this morning, I contemplate the words of a Teacher who claims to have been king over Jerusalem several millennia ago. This king/teacher is known by the name Solomon; he is reported to have been a very wise man.

Solomon’s notes reveal that he wrote down such thoughts as this:

“That which has been is that which will be,

and that which has been done is that which will be done.

So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say,

‘See this, it is new’?

Already it has existed for ages

Which were before us.”

Now this wisdom is somewhat of riddle, because as I tap this musing, and my own musing along with it, out on this keyboard, I realize that there is some contradiction here between what Solomon intended to say way back in the mists of time, and what I experience here and now in the world as it exists in 2017 c.e.

Because this laptop could not have existed during the reign of King Solomon. So, there is something–this laptop–which I can say is, in fact, new.

Electronic devices did not exist in Solomon’s time.

So, does this discrepancy call into question the validity of Solomon’s message to me? Is the Wise king contradicting the obvious truth of technological development? Is he flat-out wrong about my silly little MacAir being “nothing new” under the sun?

Did his successors go online to discover his wise sayings?

Did Jeroboam use Windows? Was Rehoboam a Mac guy?

Is that what they were fighting about after Solomon died?

No, no, no and no.

Nevertheless, I am reading the wisdom of Solomon as it has been passed down through the ages in the Bible. His wisdom-seeking questions and pronouncecments, as found in the book of Ecclesiastes, arrive at my historical doorstep as a book of the Bible.

Now we all know the Bible is controversial.  Many people consider it to be the Word of God, while many other people think it’s just an old history book with a lot of errors and contradictions.

I say it is a valid history of our Creator’s plan to bust into human consciousness during a certain period of time, with ecclesiastical wisdom that is applicable for all time.

Modern folks who disdain the Bible often think that we believers are just naive, gullible, and subject to the manipulations of religious leaders who want to use us sheepish believers for their own financial gain or power.

Bible-believers generally accept the Bible in faith. What they don’t understand about it, they just chalk up to the possibility that we cannot figure everything out, so at some point, for the sake of getting on with life, we just need to believe the revelation that we accept as a basis for navigating the challenges of this life.

Smart people, cerebral people, on the other hand have to get everything figured out. They generally analyze  our ancient fuddy-duddy faith proclamations  to death, and relegate them to the realm of mythology, tall tales and wishful thinking.

But here’s the real deal: What smart people call cognitive dissonance, people of faith  call “faith.”

Believers understand that they can’t figure out this whole thing called “life” so they are willing to submit themselves to the legacy of faith that has been presented to them since childhood, or since crashing at the bottom of their own sinful limitations and cognitive confusion.

We’ll never get the cosmos all figured out: at some point out there in this never-never land, we have to believe in something, something “out there” that can carry us through the mountains and valley’s of this life.

Now maybe smart folks don’t need faith because they think they’ve got it all figured out.

Whatever.

I think that, somehow, this is what Solomon is getting at. Consider this observation that Solomon wrote:

“Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;

And hastening to its place it rises there again.”

Okay, so Solomon obviously had jotted this ditty down before Copernicus and Galileo came along and proved that the sun does not move, but rather it is the earth moving around the sun that produces our daily sunrises and sunsets.

Does Solomon’s ignorance about the actual machinations between sun and earth negate the quality of his wisdom?

No.

That is my statement of faith about Solomon’s wisdom. We know what he’s saying; it’s not rocket science. The Hubble had not been invented yet, but wisdom is as old as the hills of Judea.

So I’m not going to analyze a thousands-of-years-old nugget of wisdom to death, simply because Copernicus and Galileo figured out our solar system and subsequent scientific data has confirmed their observations.

Solomon was a wise king, even if he did have the sun/planets physical relationship turned around backwards.

We all have our blind spots; not a one of us sees the whole picture.

So, as I explore further in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, I see that, a few sentences later in the first chapter of Solomon’s Ecclesiates, he writes this:

“All things are wearisome;

Man is not able to tell it.”

I mean, I’m tired of thinking about it, y’all.

Which is to say, we’ll never get it all figured out. At some point, we just need to stop trying to decipher the DNA and the Cosmos and the Pangeatic records etcetera etcetera, and just go with life itself.

Here’s an example from the conclusion of the 2nd chapter of Ecclesiastes:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good (even if it contributes to climate change -ed.). This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.

For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without God?

For to a person who is good in God’s sight, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner God has given the task of gathering and collecting so that (s)he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after the wind.”

And if you’re still wondering what it is I’m trying to say here, I will release you from my wandering thoughts with this ecclesiastical proverb from cousin Bob, who is, with his 20th-century wisdom, not unlike Solomon:

“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

My conclusion: Just Believe, and get on with the business of life, making use of what you find helpful and productive, because we’ll never figure it all out.

King of Soul

We all live in a Blueish Bussarine

April 13, 2017

It’s amazing what we humans have done with techno throughout the ages of time

Way back in the mists of anthropological mystery some Croation CroMagnon got a bright idea to knock off the angular faces of a stone. He kept chipping away at it until the thing was more or less round; it looked so cool he decided to make another one. Then he got the history-rocking idea  to punch a hole in the middle of each stone and  then connect the two together with a wooden pole.

Next thing you know he’s wheeling his stuff around on a cart, gathering his food a la cart. This was definitely an improvement.

Human history rolled along at a quicker pace after that.

Eons of time went by. Then a while back ole Isaac Watts put mind and metal together with the the potentialities of heat and water.  in an advantageous arrangement. that became know as the steam engine and so it wasn’t long before we homo sapiens were using the thing to power everything up. Some guy came along and slapped that steam engine onto a cart with a set of wheels and whammo we humans had ourselves a powered vehicle for purposes of transporting ourselves and all our stuff.

Wow!

Henry Ford happened along and he paired up assembly line strategy with mass production productivity. Next thing you know, everybody and their brother is out driving around on Sunday afternoon in a Model T or Model A.

Soon afterward, some other folks come along and did their version of Ford’s world-changing whirligig, so then we had wheeling around not only Models A and T but also models GM and MG and model GTO and BMW and model ’57 Chevy and ’65 Mustang and so forth  and so on.

All along the way, these fossil-fuel-powered motorized mobilizers were extending their influence into the other elements such as air and water.

Airplanes in flight, Boats on water, millions of them puttering along with their enginary cousins everywhere here there and yon and all over the world.

In 1966, a scant year after the historic ’65 Mustang made its mark on the prairies and the dusty deserts along Route 66, the Beatles came up with a new idea, the yellow submarine.

“We all live in a yellow submarine,” they sang.

This is a fascinating concept.  The Beatles never stated it blatantly in their song, but the idea is this: in our evolving 20th-century consciousness we can surmise that this planet–even as huge as it is–is nevertheless a closed ecological system, not unlike a submarine.

Another expression of this idea is seen at Disney World in what the Disneyites call “Spaceship Earth.”

While our ancestors thought of the earth as somehow infinite in its distances and its capacities, we 21st-century world-dwellers are understanding that what comes up must come down. Pollution up, pollution down. Carbon up, carbon down, and everything (as the stuff spewing from our exhaust pipes) that goes up eventually comes down. All that stuff we spew into  the air and all that stuff we bury in the landfills, it doesn’t just magically go away.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is a fallacy that perpetuates our fantasy of an earth that possesses infinite capacity.

We the people who inhabit the so-called “developed world” are now starting to take this emissions stuff seriously. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the so-called “third world” and “developing nations,” those folks are trying to develop their economies and their infrastructures under the constraints of our post-modern enlightened consensus about us all living in a limited-capacity closed ecosystem–a sort of yellow submarine.

In our present world, India seems to be in a developmental category that is somewhere between “developed world” and “third world.”

As I was strolling along yesterday on a high-tech promenade of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I lingered to appreciate this old disabled bus.

It used to be a carbon-emitting transportation machine in a third world country, but now it has morphed into an ice cream booth in our hyper-entertained theme park of USA inc.

I would like to  thank the Artist(s) of India, whoever he or she was who decorated this bus. Nice work!

And I would like to commend the Disney person(s) who saw the historic value of this work of art. To me, it represents the idea that we all live in a blueish bussarine, and not everything that wears out must be thrown away.

Glass Chimera

Ask not what the world can do for you

April 12, 2017

If the mandarins of this world want to manage everything from their databases

if they wannna fix everything so everyone is the same and everyone has the same

opportunities and all are equal in the eyes of world and all hues and colors and

shades of gray and shades of brown black and white blend together having the same

access to all the good stuff that this managed world has to offer such as

access to all the education, employment, electoral, and economically elevatable

opportunities that can be put together by the Fed and the IMF and the UN and the

G20 and the G-hundred and the G-thousand and all the world together appointing

managers who assure that everyone is on the same page and nobody

gets blowed up and and everybody is safe and secure and fat and happy

or slim and lean as the case may be

If the bureaucrats and the directors of this that and the other feel like they need to

manage all this stuff and turn back the rising tide of climate change

and the ancient, undeniable, irrevocable urge that rises between a man

and his woman

and  therefore the renegade loins of men and women who unite in their beds every night

and ever day bringing forth all these children and this family

busting forth out of their mama’s womb and then growing up in Africa or Indonesia

or Uruguay or Gary Indiana or Mesa Arizona or Mexico City or Moscow or Orlando

and if they feel the need to put a rein on all our emissions

all our carbon spewing forth from all our cars and our planes and trains

and our monorails and our leaping’ lizards and leviathan whales and

our males and females,

and if they think they can manage all this and

turn the unquenchable tide of the life force and and the gaia

so that it becomes something other than what it is

which is the life force itself that comes

from the loins of a man

and the womb of his woman,

and then those subsequent young boisterous bucks and does

who spring forth from the loins of mankind

then let them come to Mickey’s place and see

what its really all about.

Let them discover that the proletariat has now become

the bourgeoisie

with every man chomping down on his family’s piece of the pie

and every woman bringing forth her children and proud

of it

and all those neuters who wish to not participate are

free to do so because

we’d all like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony if

we could, buy hey

we’ll settle for the next best thing, which is having youn’uns

and watching them grow and if you don’t believe me then

come to Mickey’s place and see

what’s really going on.

You can’t put a tether on this thing. We must be free

to live and work and have our being and have

our children and watch them grow

and hohoho every Christmas

and hiedee ho gonna get me a piece of the pie

you don’t need to get it for me

gonna get it my own dam self

and for our kids too.

What’s it to you?

Let them come to Mickey’s place and see what’s

really going on.

Earthship

Ask not what the world can do for you,

but what together we can do for our children and our children’s children.

Glass half-Full

What’s a Republican to do?

March 26, 2017

Lincoln

Donald Trump thought he could use the Republican party to enforce his bully twitter program.

However, if Republicans will work smartly, holding steadfastly to the classic values of individual liberty and collective strength, we can turn this situation around.

The Republican party can use Trump, instead of (the other way around) him using us.

This regimen makes more sense for retaining America’s greatness than letting one strong man steal the show just for the sake of gaining advantage over the other party (the party of whines and poses).

As for ole Mitch, he just needs to, at this point in time, do whatever is necessary to facilitate the Gorsuch appointment.

Lastly,  here’s a word of encouragement for our Speaker, Mr. Ryan: keep up the good work. We can see you have a burden for governing the entire nation of USA, not just the conservative part of it. This is what a true statesman will always do, instead of allowing politics to perpetually trump governance.

In other exhortations: Centrists unite! Save America from the extremists who strive to dominate us from both sides.

Glass half-Full

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke

The Rights of Humankind

February 20, 2017

Archives

Twelve score and one year ago Thomas Jefferson submitted an innovative set of political principles to a congress of delegates from thirteen American colonies. The gathered assembly, known as Continental Congress, debated the contents and the merits of Jefferson’s proposal. The document began with these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness–that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .

The world has changed a lot since those words were adopted  as the philosophical basis of a new experiment in civil government. Here are just a few of the ways our world has changed since those revolutionary days:

~ Our fledgling national legislature, known at that time as the “Continental” Congress, is now called the Congress of the United States.

~ We Americans now associate the world “Continental” with Europe.

~ On the “Continent” of Europe, citizen-groups are now struggling to form a workable political basis for a European Union.

~~ Whereas, In the year 1776, when our American Continental Congress adopted a plan for a United States of America, we had a nominal consensus for the basis of our Union; and That consensus was based, rhetorically, upon “certain unalienable Rights, . . . Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; which Rights that had been “endowed” by a “Creator,

~~ In the year 2000,   the European Parliament adopted a Charter of Fundamental Rights of European Union, by which the peoples of Europe are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values. . . indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity. . . based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

We see, therefore, that the American Union was initiated during an historical period in which faith in a Creator God was still, at least rhetorically, allowed to be a basis for political consensus.

The European Union, however, is coalescing in a post-modern, humanistic age in which their unity can only be expressed in terms of human agreements and motivations, stated above as common values.

As we Americans ultimately divided ourselves into two primary political identities, Democrats and Republicans, with one side being generally associated with  progressivism programs while the other is  based in conservatism,

We notice that in Europe, in what is now a churning crucible of 21st-century economic constraints, the divisions seem to be congealing toward two uniquely Euro polarities. On the Right side, we find the  Austerians, whose values are based on fiscal responsibility and the austerity that is thought to be necessary for maintaining economic and political stability. On the Left side, we find the Socialists, whose values are based on equality that is assured and managed by the State, which should produce solidarity among the people.

As Thomas Jefferson had proposed a declaration based ostensibly on the zeitgeist of the so-called Age of Enlightenment, so has a spokesman stepped forth, in our age, to propose for the Europeans a document that aspires to manifest the zeitgeist of this (perhaps) Age of Equality.

Toward that end, Mr. Yanis Varoufakis, former Finance Minister of the Greek Syriza party, has proposed a five-point plan by which the Europeans would collectively assure the rights of persons as they are understood in this, the 21st-century.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/01/new-deal-save-europe/

Stated simplistically, those rights are:

~ a collective investment in green/sustainable technology

~ an employment guarantee for every citizen

~ an anti-poverty fund

~ a universal basic dividend (income)

~ an immediate anti-eviction protection.

So we see, now, that in the 200+ years since the inception of American Democratic-Republicanism, the zeitgeist that was then seen as inevitable has changed. In the so-called Age of Enlightenment (c.1776) we were demanding a Government that would Protect our Unalienable Rights, defined broadly as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.

The modern zeitgeist, however, as it appears to be evolving in the Europe of Our Age, is demanding: a Government to Protect our Basic Life Necessities.

Instead of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, citizens of the World now appear to be demanding Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Equality.

EURomeHdq

And that’s the way it is, 2017. We shall see how this develops as the 21st-century unfolds.

Smoke

An Ambassador On Point

February 16, 2017

President Trump went to our Capital city with an intention to drain the swamp.

Good luck with that. However, if I’m not mistaken, the swamp in that Chesapeake area was drained at about the time President Washington took office, over 200 years ago, and Congress decided to build us a Capital in that environs.

Now two weeks into the Trump administration we already see some rearrangement of the chairs from which our multi-layered  executive branch of governance will administrate.

With Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, all the media talking heads were abuzz  yesterday with speculation about what this early switcheroo means for the future of our  security and national defense. Trump’s  shoot-from-the-hip  leadership style seems to impose on his nascent administration a wild wild west kind of drama upon which the media talking heads thrive.

In order to gain some comprehension of what is happening on that national security front,  I, citizen, was listening on my radio yesterday to Tom Ashbrook’s  NPR talk-show On Point.

   http://www.wbur.org/onpoint

Host Tom’s introduction of his 2/15/2017 guests included a few words about William Burns, who is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.   

That mention of the Carnegie Endowment triggered a 2015 memory in which I had been walking along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. On that summer day, I had snapped this pic:

CarnegEn

I suppose I had thought to  take this picture because the  legacy of Andrew Carnegie in our national development has, for a long time, fascinated me. His work as an immigrant industrialist turned out to be a fulcrum in our  exceptional westward continental expansion. Carnegie’s role, in later life, as a generous philanthropist is legendary.

So Ambassador William Burns’ role as President of that Carnegie foundation for peace got my attention. Furthermore,  I found Mr. Burns’ comments to be informative and well-delivered.

I daresay it was the voice of experience glinting through in his cogent analysis that lent authenticity to Ambassador Burns’ observation.  William Burns’ former role (2005-08) as Russian ambassador certainly lent to his perspective a readily identifiable authenticity on the currently hot topic of Russian influence in our internal affairs. It seemed to me his perspective is not that of your run-of-the-mill inside-the-beltway pontificator, but rather, a truly informed opinion.

Our former Ambassador to the Russian Federation said,

“New administrations typically try to do a couple of things early on. The first is reassure your allies and partners, and the second is to sober your adversaries. What we’ve seen in less than a month is almost the opposite of that, creating a fair amount of unease among allies and unnerving partners, while at the same time giving adversaries and potential adversaries the sense that there are opportunities out there.”

After hearing this, and listening to yesterday’s On Point discussion, I visited the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website. I read there an Op-ed letter written by William Burns that the New York Times had published on Jan. 7.

In the letter, he describes Vladimir Putin as a leader who is playing rough.

He observes that Putin has sought a deferential government in Kiev while grabbing Crimea and trying to provoke a dysfunctional Ukraine.

Vladimir is flexing Russia’s military muscle in Syria to preserve Assad’s brutal government, thus emasculating the West by making us appear conciliatory. The Assad/Russian brutality forces  many war-displaced Syrians to flee toward Europe and the West. Putin’s  Assad-boosting military adventure thus spawns the infamous emigration that destabilizes those countries to which the Syrian refugees flee.   Putin  exploits this ongoing destabilization  by striving to  replace, by strong-arm intimidation, European instability with Russian power.

This scenario becomes evidence of our need to maintain our “absolute commitment to NATO.” William Burns writes, “Our network of allies is not a millstone around America’s neck, but a powerful asset that sets us apart.”

I agree with this statement. American alliances based on shared values and principles that cultivate liberty do set us apart from the  bullies of the world–the historical ones such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez etc, but also those dictators who may be lurking in the world today, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on weakened nation-states.

Ambassador Burns served in Moscow as our Ambassador during 2005-2008. He  expresses respect for the Russian people and their contributions to Western civilization. But he warns that Putin’s aggressive tactics must be countered with American firmness and vigilance. We Americans should remain confident in our enduring strengths, and unapologetic about our values.

Our values call for, I remind you, government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Not power plays by bullies.

Glass half-Full