Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, Part II: Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism

Theodore Roosevelt may have been the last down to earth, gritty politician America's had. Two of his speeches are classic, and it's interesting how a person can be so close-minded and yet so astute at the same time. Links to the speeches are below, but you can also do an online search for Roosevelt, The New Nationalism (August 31, 1910) and Expansion of the White Races (January 18, 1909). I am including a portion of the New Nationalism speech below as part of my ongoing series exploring how history repeats itself.



(general link) http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/speeches.htm

"Now, this means that our government, national and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice - full, fair, and complete - and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, and I most dislike and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man's making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done. We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs...

Those who oppose all reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism.

If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need to make our political representatives more quickly and sensitively responsive to the people whose servants they are. More direct action by the people in their own affairs under proper safeguards is vitally necessary...

So it is in our civil life. No matter how honest and decent we are in our private lives, if we do not have the right kind of law and the right kind of administration of the law, we cannot go forward as a nation. That is imperative; but it must be an addition to, and not a substitution for, the qualities that make us good citizens...You must have that, and, then, in addition, you must have the kind of law and the kind of administration of the law which will give to those qualities in the private citizen the best possible chance for development. The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Angels, Demons, and Lawyers

I've sometimes contemplated writing a novel. This could be the first chapter, which I started last year:

The 20th century killed the romantic. Capitalism vanquished socialism and then proceeded to elevate the twin values of starvation and survival. It didn't matter if it was real starvation, the kind that took place in Africa, what Robert Kennedy saw in the South--or high-class starvation, the kind that newly laid-off fathers with families understood. Choosing survival, the men in the modern world, tempted by luxuries of beauty and bare bellybuttons, reached back into Biblical times and remembered the fable of the apple. Women, not happy with being demonized, decided to either cut down the tree or plant their own gardens, further confusing Adam’s progeny.

Meanwhile, modern men branched out into three realms: one, the creature that refused to conform, saw political correctness as an affront to his being, spawned The Man Show and the Coors Twins; two, the blessed kind, that saw equality and self-control as either entitlements to Beemers or, perhaps more appropriately, to responsibility; and three, the other, the nerd in the corner, never popular in high school, now older, taller, appealing, but the holder of the modern apple of fear–scared of commitment, of falling behind, of starving and of losing the motivator of starvation. It was the last camp that Rustem Mahdy fell in, and his stomach rumbled as he took the elevator to the sixth floor of the law firm, where he played an attorney, propping up partners with wizened faces and dusty knowledge. He had contemplated stopping on the second floor to flirt with the office manager of a process service firm but decided against it. It was too early, and besides, work had to be done.

Women, of course, defied any easy description, but branched generally into several camps: the kind with strong, loving fathers (who of course had strong, loving mothers) and either chose to emulate their fathers professionally, or, having been given faith in man, gained the knowledge of how to identify men who would not let them down. Flannery O'Connor aside, it would be one of the surprising features of the modern world that the women who could identify a good man, even if lacking all other skills, would somehow be better off in terms of love. In the third camp were women who knew they were not as smart as the men they wanted, or as attractive as the women men wanted, and decided to gain security through the unifying force God had given all women. It was an interesting trade-off, and those women--once married--did seem to be quite happy. There was another camp, slowly dwindling in numbers, of women who had spent their lives raising children, ironing and cleaning, only to see Proctor and Gamble and the microwave culture passing them too quickly to give thanks (or even their condolences).

But Michelle Mosi, Esq. wasn't wondering what camp she was in. Born and raised in the Midwest, she was too practical for those kinds of questions and was more intent on getting opposing counsel to submit to her very reasonable demand of scheduling an independent medical exam in September rather than October. "It's all so simple," she thought to herself--"just get Plaintiff to the the exam, and I'll make my billables and keep the client happy. " Love-wise, Michelle was married with a reasonably-sized diamond ring--it wasn't a Tacori, but at least it was from Borsheim's. Michelle stopped looking at her ring and re-focused her attention on work. "Left Message for Client re: IME, 0.2."

This was the new world that God had to play with, and He wondered how to manage marriage and love in a culture suspicious of sacrifice and unused to thinking in terms of centuries rather than seconds. The Devil cackled, egging on his right-hand man, Materialism, and informed him of the pullback. The news from the front came soon enough: Cupid had been shot and was D.O.A.

God, never one to appreciate losing a round, sent one of his most trusted angels, Bryan Gabriel, back to America to assess the damage and to help restore faith. Gabriel, after surveying how he could be most effective, decided to apply for a law firm emphasizing employment law. If it didn’t work out, Gabriel thought, he could always become an investment banker and hear what this Soros character had to say. Gabriel decided to set up an office on the second floor of a tall commercial building in downtown San Jose. There was work to be done, and not a second to lose.

[In later chapters, Milton Black aka the Devil, will send down a man named Mark Lusy, who will apply for and be accepted at a law firm called Nicholson, Lytler, and Reese.]

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Music Lyrics 1

While Supertramp’s less eloquent song, "Take a Look at My Girlfriend" is more mellifluous, the lyrics for "The Logical Song" are classic, and if you want to see a timely satire, google Barron Knights and The Topical Song. I thought I'd share this one, in case anyone's forgotten the song and/or the lyrics. My favorite line is, "Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical."

Someone should call Bob Dylan, because we need better lyrics in today's music scene. Without the rock n' rollers, modern music no longer seems to fill in the role of counter-culture. The younger generation used to function as a counterweight to war, and in doing so, promoted idealism. Today, with many of the largest media outlets in the hands of shareholders, whose job is to maximize profits, and much of the younger generation in debt, it will be interesting to see where new societal counterweights come from.

The Logical Song, by Supertramp

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical,
Liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re
Acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable.

At night, when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

First in an occasional series. I will be posting links to speeches that remind us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. See, for example, President Sukarno of Indonesia: Speech at the Opening of the Bandung Conference, April 18 1955:


This twentieth century has been a period of terrific dynamism. Perhaps the last fifty years have seen more developments and more material progress than the previous five hundred years. Man has learned to control many of the scourges which once threatened him. He has learned to consume distance. He has learned to project his voice and his picture across oceans and continents. lie has probed deep into the secrets of nature and learned how to make the desert bloom and the plants of the earth increase their bounty. He has learned how to release the immense forces locked in the smallest particles of matter.

But has man's political skill marched hand-in-hand with his technical and scientific skill? Man can chain lightning to his command-can be control the society in which be lives? The answer is No! The political skill of man has been far outstripped by technical skill, and what lie has made he cannot be sure of controlling.

The result of this is fear. And man gasps for safety and morality.

Perhaps now more than at any other moment in the history of the world, society, government and statesmanship need to be based upon the highest code of morality and ethics. And in political terms, what is the highest code of morality? It is the subordination of everything to the well-being of mankind. But today we are faced with a situation where the well-being of mankind is not always the primary consideration. Many who are in places of high power think, rather, of controlling the world.

Yes, we are living in a world of fear. The life of man today is corroded and made bitter by fear. Fear of the future, fear of the hydrogen bomb, fear of ideologies. Perhaps this fear is a greater danger than the danger itself, because it is fear which drives men to act foolishly, to act thoughtlessly, to act dangerously. . . .

All of us, I am certain, are united by more important things than those which superficially divide us. We are united, for instance, by a common detestation of colonialism in whatever form it appears. We are united by a common detestation of racialism. And we are united by a common determination to preserve and stabilise peace in the world. . . .

We are often told "Colonialism is dead." Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. 1 say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree.

And, I beg of you do not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation. It is a skillful and determined enemy, and it appears in many guises. It does not give up its loot easily. Wherever, whenever and however it appears, colonialism is an evil thing, and one which must be eradicated from the earth. . . .

Not so very long ago we argued that peace was necessary for us because an outbreak of fighting in our part of the world would imperil our precious independence, so recently won at such great cost.

Today, the picture is more black. War would riot only mean a threat to our independence, it may mean the end of civilisation and even of human life. There is a force loose in the world whose potentiality for evil no man truly knows. Even in practice and rehearsal for war the effects may well be building up into something of unknown horror.

Not so long ago it was possible to take some little comfort from the idea that the clash, if it came, could perhaps be settled by what were called "conventional weapons "-bombs, tanks, cannon and men. Today that little grain of comfort is denied us for it has been made clear that the weapons of ultimate horror will certainly be used, and the military planning of nations is on that basis. The unconventional has become the conventional, and who knows what other examples of misguided and diabolical scientific skill have been discovered as a plague on humanity.

And do not think that the oceans and the seas will protect us. The food that we cat, the water that we drink, yes, even the very air that we breathe can be contaminated by poisons originating from thousands of miles away. And it could be that, even if we ourselves escaped lightly, the unborn generations of our children would bear on their distorted bodies the marks of our failure to control the forces which have been released on the world.

No task is more urgent than that of preserving peace. Without peace our independence means little. The rehabilitation and upbuilding of our countries will have little meaning. Our revolutions will not be allowed to run their course. . . .

What can we do? We can do much! We can inject the voice of reason into world affairs. We can mobilise all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength of Asia and Africa on the side of peace. Yes, we! We, the peoples of Asia and Africa, 1,400,000,000 strong, far more than half the human population of the world, we can mobilise what I have called the Moral Violence of Nations in favour of peace. We can demonstrate to the minority of the world which lives on the other continents that we, the majority are for peace, not for war, and that whatever strength we have will always be thrown on to the side of peace.

In this struggle, some success has already been scored. I think it is generally recognised that the activity of the Prime Ministers of the Sponsoring Countries which invited you here had a not unimportant role to play in ending the fighting in Indo-China.

Look, the peoples of Asia raised their voices, and the world listened. It was no small victory and no negligible precedent! The five Prime Ministers did not make threats. They issued no ultimatum, they mobilised no troops. Instead they consulted together, discussed the issues, pooled their ideas, added together their individual political skills and came forward with sound and reasoned suggestions which formed the basis for a settlement of the long struggle in Indo-China.

I have often since then asked myself why these five were successful when others, with long records of diplomacy, were unsuccessful, and, in fact, had allowed a bad situation to get worse, so that there was a danger of the conflict spreading. . . . I think that the answer really lies in the fact that those five Prime Ministers brought a fresh approach to bear on the problem. They were not seeking advantage for their own countries. They had no axe of power-politics to grind. They had but one interest-how to end the fighting in such a way that the chances of continuing peace and stability were enhanced. . . .

So, let this Asian-African Conference be a great success! Make the "Live and let live" principle and the "Unity in Diversity" motto the unifying force which brings us all together-to seek in friendly, uninhibited discussion, ways and means by which each of us can live his own life, and let others live their own lives, in their own way, in harmony, and in peace.

If we succeed in doing so, the effect of it for the freedom, independence and the welfare of man will be great on the world at large. The Light of Understanding has again been lit, the Pillar of Cooperation again erected. The likelihood of success of this Conference is proved already by the very presence of you all here today. It is for us to give it strength, to give it the power of inspiration-to spread its message all over the World.