"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Recipes–Spicy Noodles With Basil And Peanut Sauce

This recipe is a combination of classic Szechuan spicy noodles and Thai peanut-based sauce.  It is delicious and very simple to make.  The combination of fresh basil, peanuts, and traditional soy-sesame-vinegar is perfectly balanced.


Spicy  Noodles with Basil and Peanut Sauce
* 1/2 lb. spaghetti, cooked, cooled, and reserved
* 3-4 Tbsp. chunky peanut butter
* 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
* 1 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
* 1 tsp. sesame oil
* 5 shakes hot pepper flakes
* 1/2 lg. onion, chopped
* 1 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly chopped
* 1 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1/2 cup water
* 10 grindings fresh black pepper
- Cook the spaghetti and allow to cool thoroughly

- In a large mixing bowl, combine the other ingredients, and mix well

- Taste and adjust for spices; add water if necessary

- Place the cooled pasta in the bowl and mix well.

- Add grindings of pepper and serve

Friday, April 29, 2016

National Identity–Are Americans Becoming More Global In Outlook?

The BBC World Service has produced a series on ‘Identity’, addressing how that formerly simple issue has become far more complex in a world where traditional  sexual, national, racial, and ethnic identities are being challenged.

The most recent episode focuses on national identity, and the World Service sponsored a poll asking citizens of a variety of countries where they saw themselves on a national-global spectrum.

Graphic showing how respondents from 18 countries answered a question about whether they viewed themselves more as a

The poll focused on the issues the BBC was covering and  in this case immigration.  Questions were asked concerning attitudes towards racial and ethnic intermarriage and acceptance of Syrian refugees.  Nevertheless, it gives some idea of how different countries see themselves in a changing world. 

Not surprisingly the United States was far more on the ‘national’ end of the spectrum.  Despite our long history of immigration, assimilation, and pluralism, we remain a very inward-looking nation.  American exceptionalism is borne of the belief that America still is the democratic beacon for the world, the home of liberty and justice,  and the defender of capitalism and free markets.   It is no surprise, then, that Americans look warily at the rest of the world and conclude that they want little part of it.

Image result for images statue of liberty

This survey, however, begs the question of identity.  National identity is shaped by far more than attitudes towards international inclusion.  In fact, although the world without a doubt is becoming smaller, more inter-related, and connected, identity is far more a function of national culture than any worldview. 

When asked what most defines America (as the BBC asked Americans on a previous program in the series), the responses were similar and ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ were always the first things mentioned.  We are a nation conceived in liberty, respondents replied; and we have upheld and maintained the principles set forth by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.  Although we have no millennia-old history like Asians or Europeans, no long traditions of art, literature, and music, no grand architecture, we are still unique because of these foundational principles which, because they are moral and reflect both Biblical injunction and the highest Enlightenment thought, are the equal of none.


But is ‘Liberty and justice for all’ only a convenient rallying slogan in a country where poverty, racial discrimination, and income inequality have skewed the moral and ethnical balance?  Where only the wealthy have the opportunity and the ability to enjoy freedom of economic mobility, superior education, high-paying employment, and access to privilege and power?  

Most members of  marginalized groups still recite the litany of ‘The Land of Opportunity’ and claim passionate patriotism even though their chances of realizing the dream are very slim indeed.  Whoever we  may be and no matter how put-upon or disadvantaged we may claim we are,  few of us would rather be French, Indian, Nigerian, or Russian.   We’ll take our chances here, for at least here we can make our grievances known.

There is something to the myth, then, that makes up a part of our identity.   Myth usually trumps facts, and even if people had access to those data which quantify income mobility, job access,  economic opportunity, or wealth creation and show that freedom is not all it is made out to be, they would still cling to the hope that their case might be different.

Yet a focus on liberty, freedom, justice, and opportunity to define national identity is far too narrow to be of use.   There is something permanently iconic about the  French Revolution, Imperial Russia, dynastic Egypt, Persepolis, Athens, the Roman Empire, or the American War of Independence that will never be lost by citizens of France, Russia, Greece, or America; but it is not an all-encompassing feature. 

Image result for images ancient rome

More important for defining American identity are our cultural myths. The Wild West is just as iconic as The Bill of Rights.  It represents a very unique American individualism, sense of Biblical justice, private enterprise and ambition, risk-taking and fearlessness, and unlimited vision.  We have not lost the same wanderlust of the Conestoga wagons, Manifest Destiny; nor the determination of the territorial wars against the Indians, French, and British,  or the economic migrations from the Upper South to the Lower South, the bounty of the Plains. 


We are proud of our frontier justice, our territorial destiny, and our ability to build a powerful country out of grasslands, swamps, and desert. 

America is popular culture, perhaps our most important export.  We may sell things, but ideas and myths are far more influential in a world market.  We are movies, reality television, glitz, glamour, image, and Barnum & Bailey.  While New York and Chicago may better express American ambitious capitalism, and Silicon Valley the best of  American entrepreneurial spirit, Hollywood and Vegas are more expressive about our identity.   Las Vegas is simply a modern, neon-lit, showy version of the saloons of the Old West.  Hollywood is vaudeville.


American popular culture has thrived in an intellectual cultural vacuum.  We cannot expected to have developed and established a European-style civilization when we are so young, and when our ambitions were so focused on material success and wealth.  Saloons, vaudeville, myth, and a very peculiar untamed character created who we are.

Although Europe is becoming more ethnically and racially mixed, it will never be like America a country which has always taken in all comers.  Some may complain about the influx of unwanted wetbacks and other ‘illegals’, there is no stopping the flow.  Every major city on the East Coast is for the European visitor a bewildering but fascinating kaleidoscope of races and ethnicities.  Despite the current the divisiveness of politically correct ‘diversity’ and forceful attempts to include everyone in a super-big top, America will always be more variegated and acceptingly so than any other nation.  Immigration and assimilation is who we are.

Language defines culture just as culture shapes language.  Our American English, never governed by an academy has always been a language which reflects America itself.  Our speech is influenced by street culture, hip-hop, Wall Street derivative-speak, regionalisms, youth, social trends, movies, and country music.  Our language is as assimilative as our culture.  The rate at which new words enter the American English lexicon is geometric. 

What do we miss most after a long trip to a foreign country.  Not the hamburgers, fast food, ribs, or fast Internet, but English.  Even those of us who are fluent in another language are rarely funny in it.  As much as we may have mastered grammar, syntax, phrasing, and vocabulary, we can’t make others laugh because we are not connected enough to their culture.  Back home our language and our culture are one. 

So, no, Americans are not global by any means.  Proud of our tradition, principles, and ethic; saturated with popular culture, speaking a hybrid language, and understanding instinctively references to Mississippi, Texas, Marilyn Monroe, Ferguson, the Castro, or the Yankees, there is nothing global about our identity whatsoever.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

America Is A Free Country–Oh, Really?

While few people examine the concept of freedom in any depth, most hold liberty to be the most defining aspect of our culture.  Yet, free to do what, exactly?

Freedom of speech is being slowly curtailed and eroded by political correctness.  Even the most legitimate and appropriate arguments questioning the progressive canon are shouted down, conservative speakers disinvited from public forums, and ‘safe places’ to protect students from perceived grievances and micro-aggressive speech are everywhere.

The Patriot Act, passed without objection by Congress in October, 2001 shortly after 9-11 gave sweeping powers to government to collect information on ‘potential terrorists’, subversives, and anyone even suspected of seditious activity.  Given this unusually broad and permissive law, and the nature of all governments to grow exponentially, it has been no surprise to learn of the startling invasiveness of ours.  The American public has been warned in no uncertain terms that unless it cedes some of its freedoms, another 9-11 is sure to happen. 


A complaisant public and very willing Congress has given government free rein, and every agency from the NSA to local police are encouraged to track phone conversations, Internet clicks, travel, purchases, and even intentions.  ‘Sentient’ software which can detect likelihood from a mass of presumably random and irrelevant Facebook posts, is used widely.  Government can detect emotional commitment to questionable causes, track the suspect, record, and ultimately use all information gathered.

This abridgment of free speech by government is of course not new.  In the Communist hysteria of the Fifties, Congress, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy went on witch hunts for supposed Communists.  Charges were trumped.  Assumptions went for fact, and thousands of Americans were unfairly and unlawfully charged.   Had Government had the tools available today, one can only imagine the damage that would have been done.


Americans who grew up in earlier eras are now astounded at how terrorism hysteria curtails their freedoms.  Any serious student of history wishing to understand ISIS, Boko Haram, or al-Qaeda, their ethos, principles, and purposes must necessarily go to original sources.   Yet most are reluctant to visit their websites or those sympathetic to them, for if a pattern of Internet use is detected, they could well be put on a watch list.  It never was this way in America.

Surveillance cameras are everywhere.  No purchase of falafel in Dearborn – the city with the highest percentage of Arab-origin residents in America - is innocent if it is made anywhere near a mosque, Arab bookstore, or community center.

Government intrusiveness does not stop with politics.  Given the hysteria about pedophilia, rape, and assault against women, anyone cruising ‘illicit’ or ‘suspect’ pornography sites on the Internet is immediately suspect.

All this is bad enough, but America has become a more regulated and litigious society than ever.  In the name of public safety, traffic cameras are everywhere, enforcing responsible behavior rather than rely on individual judgment and the force of community norms.  Public swimming pools have become gulags, ruled with absolute authority by lifeguards who enforce No Running, No Bullying, No Horseplay, No Dunking rules with the severity of a prison guard.

The Nanny State is present everywhere.  Not only pools but school playgrounds are policed.  Not only have all ‘unsafe’ slides, swings, see-saws, and monkey bars been removed, but behavior is controlled.  Children are not allowed to scrap, fight, shove, or show any aggressive behavior.  Unsuitable toys are not allowed.  Children are no longer free to express normal, natural, innate instincts.  Under such regulation they cannot observe the impact of their behavior, learn from it, reinforce it, modify it, or reject it.


In an illogical, moralistic , but not unsurprising move , government is trying to regulate e-cigarettes.  Recently the UK Royal Academy of Physicians (4.27.16) has endorsed e-cigarettes because they promoted better health.  The issue is lung cancer, they said, and since burning tobacco is the culprit, e-cigarettes provide a far safer ‘nicotine delivery device’.  Of course they should be endorsed.
Not so in the United States where the desire to legislate, the insistent overreaching of government, and the patronizing attitude of legislators, dominates.  Make it difficult to get e-cigarettes, not easy.


Every aspect of American life is tightly regulated.  Cars, decks, home improvements, signs, and displays are regulated.   Seatbelts, helmets, and protective eyewear are required.  Guns, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs are controlled.  The busiest government agency is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

No infringement of the law is tolerated – no approximations of legal distance from alleyways, fire hydrants, corners, or parks is permitted.  No give on requirements for block parties, street fairs, or demonstrations. 

The list is endless.

Which, then, are our freedoms?  If speech is curtailed, the free flow of information interrupted, behavior regulated, and every aspect of practical, political, and social life under review, then are we really free?

Some would point to the political process.  We are free to vote for the candidate of our choice.  Really? There is no doubt that the political process is determined and ruled by monied interests.  The courts continue to adjudicate in favor of free spending by corporate interests, influential lobby groups raise millions for their preferred candidates, old boy networks continue to work the aisles for power and influence.  By the time candidates get to throwing their hat in the ring, the election is all but determined. 


Of course there are outliers.  In this current presidential election (2016) both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are fringe candidates. Trump, a billionaire, is beholden to no one, and has been attacked by every conservative establishment voice in politics.  He is disrupting the normal flow of money and influence.  Bernie Sanders, an old Socialist sticks to his principles and little influential money follows him.  In the main, however, politics is as usual; and the electorate takes what it gets.  What choice does it have?  Given the process of election and the money-driven politics afterwards, does it really matter if one votes?  Is voting really free?

Progressives add one more criticism of American ‘freedom’.  Given the dramatic social and economic inequality in the country; given persistent racism, sexism, and homophobia; and given the almost unassailable centers of extreme wealth, few Americans are really free.

The Chinese laugh at our naïveté.  They see the cacophony of individual interests, the  howling for individual rights, and the erosion of social and cultural cohesion because of it, and dismiss our so-called freedoms out of hand.  They through discipline, authoritarianism, and political will have raided hundreds of millions of citizens out of poverty, helped China to become a major economic, political, and military power.  Freedom?

Vladimir Putin has the same view.   His authoritarianism is necessary to restore Russia to the glory of its Imperial past, to restore its international standing, and to grow to a unique world power.  Divisiveness – the natural and inevitable outcome of ‘freedom’'’ – is unacceptable.


The only important question concerning freedom is ‘What for?’.  Freedoms alone mean nothing, and only have value if they are used for higher ends.  Freedom to support venal individualism – the unfortunate characterization of America today – is worthless.   Freedom itself has no intrinsic value as even a cursory look at history will show.  It is a variable concept.  France was freed from the tyranny of Louis XVI but only a few years later ceded all its freedoms to the new tyranny of the Jacobins and The Reign of Terror.  Republics and monarchies come and go,  and freedoms along with them.

Yet for most people whether citizens of monarchies, republics, or dictatorships, the principal variable affecting freedom is money.  Poverty enslaves, and few people at the bottom of society have any say in anything.  The Chinese leaders deserve some credit for understanding this.  Freedom, they say, is not speaking your mind, but having a living wage.

Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor challenged the returned Christ by saying that men only want magic, miracles, and authority – not free will.  Man was sold a bill of goods by you, the Inquisitor says to Christ, when you said to the Devil in the desert, “Man does not live by bread alone”.  Of course he does, said Dostoevsky.

For determinists like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Schopenhauer the whole concept of freedom was inane.  No one is free.  Every decision is dependent on the millions of others which preceded it. 


The term ‘Freedom’ in never more heard than in a presidential election.  Every candidate flies the flag, contends that America is the greatest country on earth, and avers that its greatness is dependent on its freedoms.  Most people believe this, and will wave the flag along with the candidates.  Yet few of us ever stop to ask, “Freedom? What freedom, exactly?”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Who Are We? The Illusion Of Identity And The Corrosive Nature Of Identity Politics

A longtime resident of Washington, curious about investigating family lore linking her to the First Families of Virginia is researching her genealogy.  In Bess Carter's case, descended from the earliest colonists, settlers of Jamestown and Tidewater Virginia, it is a look not only into her past but that of America.  Her family history is connected not only to John Smith and Pocahontas, but to King Carter – entrepreneur, agriculturalist, financier, and territorial visionary.  Before he was finished, the entire Northern Neck was his. 

A visitor to Kilmarnock, Irvington, or Weems will see the Carter name everywhere.  Robert Carter’s descendants still live there and own funeral homes, real estate franchises, and restaurants.  The Carters, unlike other families, husbanded their wealth, were judicious in their investments, modest in their expenditures, and left their fortune to heirs who were responsible custodians of their inheritance and the family name.

Image result for images robert king carter

A Connecticut woman, Martha Carpenter, similarly interested in family history because it coincided with that of America, followed great-great-great grandfathers on their way west to the Gold Rush and south to the Florida Panhandle.  Each of these ancestors were recorded in historical records.  One was one of the first land developers of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, helping to plat the new towns of Biloxi and Gulfport and investing in deep water ports and investing in the first railroads to link the coast with the interior.  Another made a fortune in California not from panning gold at Sutter’s Mill but from his lucrative wholesale business.  He bought unrefined gold from the thousands of newcomers who hoped to get rich quick, and sold it at a significant profit to San Francisco and New York merchants.

Neither Bess nor Martha had any interest in claiming membership to the First Families of Virginia or the Daughters of the American Revolution, or joining the Society of the Cincinnati.  They were interested only in the trajectory of their families which happened to coincide with important historical movements of early America.   Neither was politically conservative as one might expect.  The closer one comes to Jefferson, Madison, and the Founding Fathers; or the more closely one’s career reflects American ambition, ingenuity, and westward expansion, the more legitimate one’s claims to a place of honor.  If not in the pantheon of early American heroes, then at least in the same temple.

Image result for images thomas jefferson

Both were moderates who made their political choices on the basis of candidates’ positions, moral philosophy, and rectitude – not on any sense of historical right, Constitutional proximity, or democratic fundamentalism.  Identity with minor but important figures in America’s past was neither a source of particular family pride nor political legacy.

Nevertheless, both were increasingly intolerant with the ‘progressive’ Left which seemed to veer radically from the foundational principles of the 18th Century – the era in which their first ancestors came to America and prospered.   Each of their early relatives were men of unique enterprise, courage, and ambition.  Tidewater Virginia would never have been the early locus of American wealth without the Carters and Bess’ family. The Old Florida Southwest – long a battleground of conflicting French, English, Spanish, and American interests – would never have become an important center of trade with the Caribbean, the upstream interior of America, or Europe without Marie’s family.

A particularly interesting offshoot of Bess Carter's family followed the fictional journey of Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen – a man from the West Virginia hills who made his way to the Mississippi Delta, cleared 100 square miles of bottom land, and made a fortune.   early American ancestor, a Scots-Irish from Londonderry, who migrated to America in the early 19th century, settled in coastal Virginia.  Then, when the tobacco lands lost fertility and productivity because of over-cultivation, he packed up family, slaves, and household and made the trek to Mississippi.  His journals chronicle the difficulties of the trek – snakes, disease, Indians, and impossibly impenetrable thickets. 

Image result for images book absalom absalom

Not only did he survive, but after only a decade was one of the richest land owners of the Delta.
How could Bess not be a political conservative with this personal history? Her identity was so linked with the risk-taking entrepreneurs, that there was no way that she could abide the culture of entitlement and patronization in vogue in 21st Century America.

Bess’ identity was clear and undisputed.  She was the descendant of early Americans who through their vision, enterprise, and ambition built the foundations of the new Republic.  Hers was a storied family history, one which encompassed more than two centuries.  She was proud of her ancestors’ determination, ambition, and fearlessness.  Yes, many of her family were slave-owners, but so were Washington and Jefferson.  Yes, her forefathers made fortunes from cotton and tobacco thanks to slave labor. 

Yet Bess did not dwell on these historical factors – slavery was a common and familiar institution since the Aryans and ancient Greeks – nor on the intersection of Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and Native American rights.  America was all about enterprise, territory, wealth, and industry; and she was proud of her ancestors for having built the Republic and laid the foundations for what it was today.

Bess Carter never defined herself in historical terms.  In fact, she never felt the need to describe herself within any particular category. or context.  “One simply is”, she said – a necessary combination of genetics, environment, history, geography, and personal preference that need neither be touted or defended or even brought up.  Identity is really only relevant to one’s private self; and exaggerated pride in any one of the random pieces that make up the quilt is nonsense.

What to make, therefore, of today’s identity politics? Why is it that Americans are so anxious to define themselves? And perhaps more importantly, why in so exclusively narrow racial, ethnic, and gender categories? 

Granted that few people have Bess’ or Martha's American history; and fewer have ties to the royal families of Europe.  Most of us are cultural mongrels – Irish potato farmers, Italian peasants, itinerant Jewish tailors, Chinese laborers on the Western railroad.   We have nothing in our family histories to be particularly proud of and often much to hide.  It is easy for us to subsume our personal family histories within the democratic culture of America.  An Italian-American whose grandfathers left Naples in the 1880s feels no link to la patria; nor why should he?  A life on the factory floor, laying tar, or cutting hair in America is nothing to brag about per se, nor is the perpetual toil of unproductive lands in the mezzogiorno.

We are not Italian-, Irish-, or Jewish-Americans.  We are not even Americans.  We are individuals who have benefitted from the ambition and courage of our forefathers, who have seen an advantage in distancing ourselves from their history, and who have become assimilated.  We are who we are, not who we were.

Ah, easy for a white male to say, carp ‘progressives’.  Assimilation was easy, fluid, and the hard work and enterprise have been overrated. Try being a black American.

Without a doubt, an African American has had a difficult row to hoe in America.  Brought over as slaves, taken from a savage and uncivilized environment, deprived of any opportunity for education let alone social integration, then set free into a society which necessarily continued to regard them as backward primitives, how can anyone expect them to look back on their history except in shame?

So why is it then, that racial identity still trumps innate identity?  Why are black Americans so insistent on reminding everyone of their color, their history of slaves and African tribal chattel?  Why is there not an acceptance of an resignation to a difficult and often brutal past; but a decisive ambition to leave it far behind?  An emphasis on individual achievement, enterprise, and innovation would not only fracture the current liberal cast of entitlement, but would enable those most marginalized to gain acceptance into a middle class mainstream which values individual achievement.

Most Anglos look to Hispanics who cut their lawns, paint their houses, and take care of their children as true Americans, made from the same mold as early immigrants.  Why ‘celebrate diversity’ when the way to integration, assimilation, and profit from the American Way is to reject labels, historical, racial, or ethnic.?

Most Americans would not only tolerate but accept gays under any and all conditions if sexual identity were not so much an issue.  The current demands for transgender rights and the ‘celebration’ of a lifestyle which most Americans find a bit untoward does little to further the entry of gays into the American social mainstream.

This call for integration and subsumption of particular identity within the larger, middleclass American society misses the point, say gay activists.  Our gayness is important and is who we are?
Really? Insisting on gayness, blackness, or any other –ness defers and delays what every minority in America wants – inclusion, prosperity, advancement and equality.  Not only would the LGBT community benefit from toning down bathrooms, Bay To Breakers, Castro Halloween, and the Folsom Street Festival; but individuals would benefit.  They would not have to walk around with the yoke of insignificant identity around their necks.

“One simply is” Bess Carter said; and no truer words were ever spoken.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What Defines America–Texts, Process, And Myth

As part of a two-part series on America, the presenter on the  BBC’s Why Factor (4.25.16) asked why texts were so important – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible especially.  “Because they are the foundational documents of the country”, came the universal reply.  The codify our beliefs in God, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  They are who we are.

Most people may read the founding documents of the Republic only once in school, and few may grasp the subtleties and complexities of the philosophy and historical precedent contained within them, but they are common, familiar points of reference.

The Bible, another central text that is more revered than read thoroughly, is nonetheless central to the American ethos.  We are a Christian nation, say most Americans; and even though we have become religiously diverse , the principles of Christianity are respected by all.   Assimilation, perhaps the most defining feature of America does not mean leaving Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism at the door on the way in, but adopting the Judeo-Christian propositions on which the country was founded and which provide the foundation for moral action.  The Ten Commandments are as much important secular guidelines as religious ones.

Was the BBC presenter right in focusing on the importance of texts?  Wouldn’t it have more correct to focus on tradition rather than documents?  Yes and no. 

The British, for example, do not have a written Constitution; but their belief in if not reverence for Anglo-Saxon law, jurisprudence, and institutional arrangement is as strong and devotional as that of Americans.  Nigel Morris of The Independent (2.13.09) suggests why Britain has no Constitution:
Essentially because the country has been too stable for too long. The governing elites of many European nations, such as France and Germany, have been forced to draw up constitutions in response to popular revolt or war.
Great Britain, by contrast, remained free of the revolutionary fervor that swept much of the Continent in the 19th century. As a result, this country's democracy has been reformed incrementally over centuries rather than in one big bang. For younger countries, including the United States and Australia, codification of their citizens' rights and political systems was an essential step towards independence.
The seeds of democratic rule were sown as far back as the reign of Henry II (1154-89)who instituted the magnum concilium, a council of barons and bishops who advised the king.  Although Henry had and insisted on his absolute rule, this ‘great council’ set a precedent for reforms taken by his successor, Henry III (1202-1272):
The term "parliament” first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry's reign.  They were used to agree the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to support the King's normal revenues for particular projects.  During Henry's reign, the counties began to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons (Wikipedia)
 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) ushered in a short period of popular democracy which provided the model for more structural reforms a century later.  Cromwell signed the death warrant for Charles I and went on to promote and establish a rudimentary representative Parliament.  His influence was short-lived, however, the monarchy restored, and Charles II sat on the throne.  Although Cromwell is reviled in many quarters, he was revolutionary in his political philosophy.

In other words,  The Independent’s Nigel Morris was right.  Great Britain progressed towards liberal democracy incrementally, and over the centuries worked out the best, most suitable, and fairest form of government – a truly representative Parliament and a ceremonial monarchy.

In other words our reverence for The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution has less to do with the enshrinement of rights and liberties than those freedoms and responsibilities per se.   It is because of the particular conditions surrounding the birth of our nation that these texts have become sacred.

Yet this argument about texts misses a more central point.  What is America, after all, but a nation of process?  Freedom, justice, independence, and civil rights are not simply the mechanisms for assuring economic and social progress, but are the defining characteristics of American culture.

The history of France dates from the Gauls, the Danes, Frisians, Romans, and Normans.  Its culture is defined by the Catholic Church, monarchy, and the secular civilization of arts, letters, and science that both enabled.  A Frenchman when asked what it means to be French will not reply in terms of process and procedure as Americans would – enterprise, individualism, civil rights and authority, equality and justice – but with reference to Louis XIV, the Sun King; Descartes, Pascal, Moliere, Rabelais, and Montaigne; Roland and Charlemagne at Roncesvalles, the Crusades, and the richness and elegance of the French language.

Indians speak of the Aryans, the Mauryan Empire, and the sophistication, complexity, and all-encompassing authority of Hinduism.  Muslims more and more are subsuming their secular life within a religious one.  Islam is their culture, their religions, and their Law.

‘The business of America is business’, said ‘Engine’ Charlie Wilson, President of General Motors many decades ago; and although he has been parodied as a latter-day Babbitt, bourgeois Middle American, and caricature of American ambition for wealth, he was right.  America has no culture like those of Europe or Asia – no ancient dynasties like Egypt and China, no intellectual history like Greece or Persia, no Versailles, Chartres, or Reims.   Our culture is as assimilative and accretive as the process which created us and continued to sustain us – waves of immigrants all subscribing to the American dream (culture) of ambition, opportunity, mobility, and success.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the principles enshrined in our texts have become myth.  We do not exaggerate when we confess that America was chosen by God, given an exceptional place in the world and the obligation to spread the gospel of enterprise and liberty.   Even today when America has taken its licks, appears adrift in international waters, is out-maneuvered and beset by civil unrest, ethnic, religious, and cultural divisions; and is dismissed by many who see our liberal democracy as hopelessly outdated, nearly one-third of all Americans still say it is the greatest country on earth. 

Those who state only that it is ‘one of the greatest’, still have an abiding belief in its foundational principles. Democracy is not just a political philosophy but a God-given right and as such should be promoted universally.  Individualism, free enterprise, and ambition have been the engines of our remarkable and historic economic progress since the beginning of the Republic and should also be evangelized.

In other words, the myth still prevails.  Very few Americans indeed conclude like Vladimir Putin that liberal democracy and the nation-state are mere temporal constructs of the West, and that the restoration of empire based on ethnic homogeneity, religion, and central authority is the wave of the future.  Few of us will admit that the idea of an Islamic caliphate and the establishment of theocracies throughout the Muslim world is not only becoming acceptable but desired. 

The myth prevails because that is all we have; and it is very fragile when compared to the glories of Imperial Russia or the idea of a vast, multi-regional caliphate.  Even France, la fille  aînée de l’Eglise, the country that defended Europe from Islam, that spread Christianity through the Crusades, and set the socio-political standard for the world in The Revolution of 1789, is perplexed by the wave of Muslim immigrants and residents who want no part of French laïcité.

When liberal democracy is questioned as it is now; when it is dismissed out of hand by Russia and the proponents of Radical Islam; or when it is simply thought naïve and foolish by China, America is in trouble.  Not only is our political influence in the world waning, but the very fabric of our myth is being unraveled.   However the political philosophies and politics of India, Russia, or China may change, they will still have Hinduism, Empire, and Confucianism.

Culture does matter, and countries without a distinct, substantive moral, ethical, and religious core around which civilization has been built will be lost in the coming scuffle.

It is not too late for America but getting there.  There is still a chance to regroup, reject the divisive calls for ‘diversity’ which result only in a chaotic pluralism far removed from the vision of Jefferson and Madison, embrace Christianity as the moral foundation of the nation (like the Founding Fathers did), and restore democracy to Jefferson’s original vision – individual rights and the pursuit of happiness only within the context of community and social harmony.  Not much, perhaps, when compared to the great Egyptian dynasties, Ido, or Versailles; but at least a recognizable central core around which our modern cultural, scientific, and technological achievements can be built.

The myth of American exceptionalism may have to be destroyed; but a nation built on solid and unquestioned moral, philosophical, and religious principles without the arrogance of myth does indeed have a culture.

Finally, what is one to make of our texts?  They are far less important than the traditions, principles, ideas, and beliefs they have engendered; but they are essential within the context of myth.  A nation characterized by process and procedure needs a Ten Commandments.  A Christian nation without much to show for it (i.e. cathedrals, Crusades, the Holy Roman Empire, the Vatican) except its faith needs an icon – an untouchable and irreproachable statue of cultural values. 

The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are no different – within a mythological culture they need to be enshrined and revered.

All this may be moot, of course.  There are so many radical changes in political configuration, genetics, cybernetics , and virtual reality that the whole idea of country, nation, republic, or empire may well dissolve in a thousand years if not before.  We have already entered a post-human world with the introduction of genetic modification, mind-computer interface, and robotics.

For the time being it is good to rethink our insistence on text, process, and myth.  At the very least it will prepare us for what’s coming.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prince On The Front Page? Of Course - In America Cultural Icons Always Trump Hard News

A conservative friend of mine was grousing over the coverage of the death of Prince (2016), especially its front page news. “As if there weren’t other things to feature”.


She didn’t get it.  The coverage of Prince’s death was not a comic interlude – the brief pauses in the seriousness of events that Shakespeare always included in his tragedies to give his audiences a break– but a true reflection of the American ethos, culture, and image that the world has come to expect.
Europeans may think us a nation of bullies, ignorant and naïve exceptionalists, faux adventurers, and petty bourgeois content with Walmart and fast food; but they too miss the point. 

Donald Trump is not some twisted caricature of Las Vegas and Hollywood.  He is Beverly Hills and The Strip – a circus performer, vaudevillian, star of stage, screen, and television, hero to those who love his glitz, bimbos, and gaudy towers.  We in our love of reality TV, People Magazine, E!, McMansions, show trials, WWE,  and celebrity chefs are not just as outrageously tacky.  We made Donald Trump possible.  We are him.


Most reporting in the mainstream media is about sideline issues which make good headlines.  Balance of trade; diplomatic negotiations with Syria, Turkey, and Russia; and the legal, historical, moral, and ethical subtexts underlying race, immigration, abortion, and civil rights do not make good copy.  Bathrooms, violent political protests, tabloid stories about Planned Parenthood and dismembered babies; and endless feel-good stories about poverty, urban misery, lost children, blight, and injustice sell papers.

Why is it that our most respected journals have resorted to such coverage? Where is the Washington Post of Watergate fame, or the New York Times of The Pentagon Papers?  Because we love dreck and will pay to read it.  Because dreck requires no in-depth reporting or analysis.  Because no one really cares about the complexities of energy supply, the intricacies of financial markets, or the religious foundations of conflict.

This explanation begs the question, however.  The real issue is how we have become a more plastic-minded, image-driven society than we ever were?  Yes, of course there have always been snake-oil salesmen, carny barkers, and big tent evangelists since the founding of the Republic; but not like this.  A number of factors have contributed to our dumbing down.

The first is the exponential growth of the Internet which has become the breeding ground for exaggerated images, hyperbole, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and pandering.  The Internet was meant for a generation weaned and bred on Hollywood fantasy, fast-and-loose facts, sexual allure, glitz, glitter, and big egos.  Because we are Hollywood at heart, and fantasy always trumps fact, then the Internet - free and open to more fanciful ideas than the studios could ever have thought of – is the perfect medium for us.


The Internet allows us to create our own Hollywood fantasies.  We can write anything, photo-shop our Facebook portraits, mix fact and fiction in our posts and stories enhancing our appeal and legitimacy; and subscribe to causes, movements, and political groupings according to desire rather than rational commitment.  We then have two personas – the invented, fanciful one so carefully curated on Facebook; and the real, shy, overweight, insecure, rather dim real one.

Virtual reality which will allow us to discard facts altogether and live in a fanciful world which we have created out of our dreams and desires, mediated together with billions of other fancies and illusions, will be the final Hollywooding of America.


Another reason for our focus if not obsession on image is ‘political demographics’.  Not only is America more varied in its racial and ethnic composition than ever before, but that identity politics and a culture of ‘diversity’ have eroded the national fabric so carefully woven by Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Adams that there is no longer a common cultural core around which to frame, define, and debate issues that affect not only the individual but the republic.  If we have been conditioned to believe than only our causes matter whether gay, black, Latino, women, disabled, disenfranchised, abused; and taught that confrontation, contention, and protest are the best ways to get media attention and political consideration of our grievances, of course we will Hollywood it.

The lack of civic or political harmony today did not just happen.  It was the result of an increasingly economically and socially diverse population, forced into ethnic and racial ghettoes not by discrimination but by calls to celebrate diversity.

The combination of an image culture already willing to suspend rational judgment, and a diversity culture in which hundreds of sub-groups feel they must howl to get attention is heady and lethal to coherent reflection.

Perhaps the most telling reason for Americans’ easy acceptance of the beautiful, the glamorous, and the seductive is because our version of popular culture is the world’s. it is what everyone wants.  Despite French cries of cultural imperialism, no one forced every movie-goer from Chad to the Orkneys to prefer Hollywood over anything home-grown or regional. 

The French may have played an important role in updating cinema with The New Wave, interior films like Hiroshima Mon Amour, political dramas like The Battle of Algiers, and subtle movies about sexuality, intellectual art films are passé; but Hollywood rules the day.  Europeans, Asians, and Africans want our movies because they – like all people – are bourgeois at heart.


The difference is that other cultures still consider movies apart from their lives – escapes, temporary fantasies in a world of metro, boulot, dodo, and a pleasant way to spend an evening.   In America Hollywood is pervasive.  Its fantasy is in our blood.  We have been conditioned by, demand, respond to, and expand its ethos.

Only educated senior citizens complain about the purple Prince front-page stories.  The rest of us implicitly, instinctively know, that Prince is the real news and that farm subsidies, derivatives, the decline of the Euro, and North Korea or not. 

Any of these serious issues could make it to the front page if – and only if – there are some graphic images or human interest stories to go along with them.  The execution of Daniel Pearl, the American journal killed by Pakistani extremists, an event that reflected the growing political dysfunction of Pakistan, the growth of Islamic terrorism, and questioned the already dubious ties the United States continues to maintain with that country – but it didn’t.  The most notable outcome?  A Hollywood movie., A Mighty Heart.


The image of Alexander Hamilton was permitted to stay on the $10 bill (and replaced by more modern icons of American politics) because of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, a show which limits any serious treatment of his ideas (how to sing about the Department of the Treasury?) and focuses on his personal life.


The institutionalization of Hollywood popular culture in America is a given.  We could not generate so many films for the rest of the world if fantasy, image, and emotional simplicity were not in our veins.  It is a win-win situation, really.  Movie-goers get what they want.  Americans can be proud of their influential and financially rewarding export; and the world can take its mind of serious things for a while.  Or in our case, permanently.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Importance Of Statesmen And Heroes- Where Is Winston Churchill When We Really Need Him?

Winston Churchill was an adventurer, soldier hero, national leader, visionary politician, and prolific and heralded writer.  Who else could have fought as a common soldier in three wars, led his country to victory over the Nazis, stirred the nation and the world with soaring oratory, foreseen the closing of the Iron Curtain and the demonic spread of Communism, and written one of the most comprehensive histories of Great Britain ever written? 

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Sir Richard Francis Burton, like Churchill was an adventurer, writer, soldier, and a man of extraordinary courage. A  geographerexplorer,translatorwritersoldierorientalistcartographerethnologistspylinguistpoet, fencer and diplomat, he spoke 29 languages so well that with his uncanny observation of culture he could pass for an Arab, an Indian, or an Afghan. He successfully disguised himself as a Pashtun and his perfect accent, demeanor, and knowledge of local customs allowed him to be only the second European to gain access to the holiest of shrines in Mecca.
Burton's best-known achievements include travelling in disguise to Mecca, an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights, bringing the Kama Sutra to publication in English, and journeying to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile. He was a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behavior, travel, falconry, fencing, sexual practices and ethnography. A unique feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and information.
He was a captain in the army of the East India Company, serving in India (and later, briefly, in the Crimean War). Following this, he was engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa and led an expedition guided by the locals and was the first European to see Lake Tanganyika. In later life, he served as British consul in Fernando PoSantosDamascus and, finally, Trieste. (Wikipedia)
Where are men like Churchill and Burton now that we really need them?   Churchill especially was a remarkable man.  The photograph of the Prime Minister in top hat, cigar, wainscot, overcoat and bow tie walking through the ruins of a bombed out London was the image of resolve, courage, and leadership.  
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Of all of the admirable qualities of Churchill (and Burton) bravery stands out:
Bravery was a constant throughout Churchill’s long, eventful life. D’Este notes that “long before he became a statesman,” he “was first a soldier.” The young Churchill, with his miserable childhood and miserable personality, chose military service as a way to make his name and prove himself worthy — especially to his cold and distant father. As a young man, he fought in India and was almost killed. In 1898 he fought under Kitchener at Omdurman and barely escaped death again. Then he fought in the Boer War, where he was captured and escaped. In World War I he served as first lord of the Admiralty, but after the failure of his plan to force open the Dardanelles, which led to the death of thousands of British and Allied soldiers at Gallipoli, he had himself assigned to fight alongside such men in the bloody trenches of Flanders. (Robert Kagan in the New York Times, reviewing Carlos D’Este’s biography of Churchill 11.08)
It was this bravery in defense of this country, said D’Este, which helped form the patriotism and sense of duty that he demanded of all Britons. 
He was a soldier, a “warlord,” a warrior-statesman in the mold of Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell or his great ancestor the Duke of Marlborough (Kagan)
Churchill used his understanding of history (his History of the English-Speaking Peoples was begun in 1937) and his battlefield experiences to correctly predict the course of modern events.  Kagan continues:
In political exile following World War I, he warned of the rise of dictatorships in Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the Soviet Union, so much so that his critics, who did not want to think anymore about great confrontations, called him a warmonger. When he denounced the agreement reached at Munich in 1938, he warned that there could “never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power.”
Churchill understood that Hitler could never permit an independent Britain, which would always threaten Germany’s control of the Continent, and would use peace only to gather strength for a final assault.

Churchill was turned out of office in 1945 in an election which favored the Labor Party.  Despite his heroism, the British electorate felt that Labor would do a better job of rebuilding the country and effected needed political and economic reforms.  The glory of Empire was fading in the minds of the British, and they were turning inwards.
Nevertheless, the British were lucky to have such a great man as leader during perhaps the most crucial years of their history:
Like Lincoln, Churchill saw the importance of bolstering public morale, and he understood how deadly it was to talk of peace deals when the nation was losing. “We shall go on and we shall fight it out,” he declared. “And if at last the long story is to end, it were better it should end, not through surrender, but only when we are rolling senseless on the ground.” No one doubted him when he promised to die with pistol in hand fighting the Nazis in the streets of London.
These were the qualities that made Britons choose him over other men, and to follow him in a desperate struggle against the greatest odds. Margot Asquith, describing why people looked to him for leadership, observed that it was not his mind or judgment they respected. “It is, of course, his courage and color — his amazing mixture of industry and enterprise. . . . He never shirks, hedges or protects himself. . . . He takes huge risks. He is at his very best just now; when others are shriveled with grief — apprehensive . . . and self-conscious morally, Winston is intrepid, valorous, passionately keen and sympathetic.” He may have longed “to be in the trenches” and was “a born soldier,” but it was not as a soldier that the world needed him.
In a recent biography of Churchill, Peter Clarke focuses on his writing, and in a review of the book in the Times Literary Supplement Geoffrey Wheatcroft comments on Churchill’s extraordinary ‘prolificity and precocity’.  As Churchill’s daughter, Lady Soames once remarked “The thing you have to remember is, he was a journalist”.  Not only was he a journalist, but a war correspondent, and even before his career as a soldier, he was part of battle:
In 1895,before Churchill turned twenty-one, the 4th Hussars had tolerantly given him leave to go to Cuba where he witnessed the patriotic rebellion against Spain, and he paid for the trip with his first newspaper commission, from the Daily Graphic.
Two years later, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 found him on leave again, in England. “On the lawns of Goodwood in lovely weather” he heard the riveting news that a “field force” was being raised under the improbably named General Sir Bindon Blood, to subdue the unruly Afghan tribesmen (a good deal of Churchill’s early life does have an eerily premonitory ring more than a hundred years later). He rushed back to India, having secured a contract from the Daily Telegraph, an adventure which provided enough copy for his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force.
By the time it was published in 1898, Churchill had wangled his way on to one more expeditionary force which Kitchener was leading up the Nile, switching in true freelance spirit to the Morning Post, and producing another book. The Sudan was followed by the Boer War, which he covered for the Morning Post at the age of twenty-four.
In later years he wrote a biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a history of WWI, The World Crisis, a biography of the Duke of Marlborough, and his above-mentioned History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
Churchill’s journalism and books were lucrative and the fees and royalties financed his political career.  It is historical writing which has received the most criticism in recent times – not objective enough say modern historians:
“Give me the facts, Ashley, and I will twist them the way I want to suit my argument”, he had once said, doubtless meaning to shock, and he later said of The Second World War that “It is not history, it is my case”. So were all his books: his case for his father, and for Marlborough and for himself. Clarke quotes the damning verdict of Robin Prior in Churchill’s “World Crisis” as History: “The reader is never sure that the version given by Churchill is complete, or if material damaging to the case Churchill is building up has been omitted, or if any deletions made have been indicated in the text”
Yet Churchill himself was quite aware that he was writing more than just history but anapologia for Great Britain.  It is not surprising that he wrote in this way.  His passionate patriotism, belief in country and empire, and full understanding and respect for the power, sweep and importance of Britain since the days of the Romans could never be disguised or hidden.  His histories were as eloquent as his wartime speeches.  If they omitted the facts that a modern historian would have kept in for the sake of objectivity, they were elegiac works, resoundingly reaffirming Britain’s greatness, and for that they will be remembered. 
For Churchill, the past was never a foreign country, and they did not do things differently there: King Alfred, Marlborough, Chatham and Washington were his contemporaries, who surely thought and felt as he did.
Churchill was never fully appreciated for the great leader, statesman, and hero that he was.
“Rarely can an author’s writings have received less attention than those of the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953”, Clarke observes at the outset. It is idle to ask whether Churchill deserved the prize: like the outrageous praise showered on him at the time, especially in the American press, and with none more fulsome than Isaiah Berlin, it was the mood of the age. Today we can view those writings with more detachment. Churchill was a born storyteller, and an unashamed exponent of what Giovanni Giolitti called “beautiful national legends”; at one extraordinary moment in history, his faith in such legends helped save civilization.
In recent years, many have branded Churchill a pariah because of this long, persistent, and immutable defense of Empire.  Whether it was the Roman, British, or Spanish Empire, it brought Western Civilization to the undeveloped parts of the world.  Churchill never flinched from this conviction, believing that the legacy of the Greeks carried on throughout the history of Europe and later America was worth preserving.  If the British benefited from the wealth and treasures of India, they gave India Anglo-Saxon law and administration.  They left India with the foundations for a modern society.  He was reluctant to let go to this colonial tradition because he believed that the countries demanding independence were not ready, and that Britain could still provide the investment and guidance necessary for their eventual evolution into free states.  Many critics look at Africa and say that the colonial abandonment was indeed premature, and that a more gradual, determined, and progressive turnover might have been more appropriate. 

Rejecting Churchill out of hand because of this defense of empire is revisionist history at its worst.  He grew up in the Age of Empire and within a 19th century moral and ethical world.  His absolute belief in the destiny of Britain which helped motivate the country to resist Hitler’s onslaughts and to ultimately defeat him was the same belief that was behind his defense of empire.  His extraordinary perspicacity failed him at the moment of independence – he could not see that the colonial era’s time had indeed come – but that should not be held against him.  For most of his long life, his solid, honest, and committed beliefs were important for Britain, for Europe, and for the world.  

Would Winston Churchill be an anachronism today?  Would his absolute certainty, unshakable rectitude and resolute convictions be considered relics of  kings, court, and divine right?  Would his belief in empire and its civilizing mission be considered patronizing, retrograde, and ignorant of diversity and cultural legitimacy?  

Most certainly yes.  Yet the failure to understand the value of the moral and ethical principles which underlay Churchill's leadership is the problem today.  Men of such resolute conviction who base their governance on rational inquiry, philosophical conviction, historical review - i.e. who lead on a foundation of principle - will always govern best.  Today's politicians are elected either thanks to their mastery of 'the issues'; or more likely their demagoguery.  This was not always so.  Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln were leaders in the mold of Churchill.   Lincoln perhaps more than any other embodied the same moral resoluteness, conviction, and political courage of the Prime Minister.  More recent presidents have been close to the ideal.

 George H.W.Bush embodied American noblesse oblige. Member of a wealthy New England family, son of a Senator, fighter pilot in WWII, and political leader for decades – Congressman, Ambassador, and head of he CIA – Bush embodied the notion of service. He served because it was his duty and responsibility.  No one accused Bush of personal ambition. He is rightfully proud of his record, and a man who has always shown a respect for family, faith, and country.  Whatever he did right or wrong as President, no one can take away his principal legacy.  He was a good man.

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Ronald Reagan was also a man of principle, good humor, and rectitude. Although he was savaged by the Left for his vision of ‘A Shining City on a Hill’ and ‘Morning in America’, no one doubted his sincerity.  He really did believe in the greatness of America and its moral purpose in the world.  He stood up to the Soviet Union not out of political posturing, but because he honestly felt that it real was evil.  It was godless, autocratically dismissive of individual worth and importance, hegemonic, and dangerous. It was as far removed from the Enlightenment vision of the Founding Fathers as he could imagine.  It was a socially, economically, and spiritually retrograde regime and must be stopped.

Image result for images ronald reagan
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was also a man of the American aristocracy and imbued with the same sense of noblesse oblige as George Bush.  Roosevelt led America to victory in World War II.  He helped the country out of the Great Depression, and despite his patrician roots, built the foundation for American social liberalism. There was never a doubt that Roosevelt believed in what he was doing, was committed to the people of the United States, and moved by duty not ambition.

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All of these world leaders made political mistakes.  Ronald Reagan may have overstepped his authority in Nicaragua and Iran-Contra. Roosevelt distorted the private market and the consequences of his emphasis on big government are still being felt. Churchill has been criticized for persisting in his Victorian views of Empire long after the world was being altered by independence and nationalism.  Yet few can doubt the honesty, principled purpose, and sincere commitment of these men.

Like it or not Vladimir Putin has a clear, principled vision of the restoration of Imperial Russia.  The new Russia like the old will be proudly Slavic, Orthodox, authoritarian, and powerful.  Putin's vision includes no tolerance for ethnic or religious separatism; no patience for Western whining about the 'nation-state', their invention and one totally unsuited to a world which will be defined by borders which more closely reflect those of the 19th century than the 21st. 

Like it or not, ISIS and its radical Muslim counterparts also have a clear vision, foundational principles, rectitude, conviction, and ambition.  There is no doubt in their minds that a Muslim Caliphate where religion is not just an aspect of the State; it is the State. 

President Obama seems flummoxed at best by the new world order.  Trapped in an antiquated vision of American exceptionalism and an almost spiritual belief in liberal democracy, he sits by while the world's borders are redrawn, unimaginable political alliances are formed, and American influence declining. 

Given the potency of these new world leaders, the appeal of their vision, and the increasing criticism of the United States as a chaotically 'diverse' and rudderless nation, the American electorate should be considering men and women of principle, courage, decisiveness, and resolve.  Yet the campaign has either been about narrowly-defined 'issues' or out-sized personalities.  There are no real leaders among the candidates, but American voters do not seem to care.  Worse, the banalization of American politics and  the carny world of vaudevillians and snake-oil statesmen, charlatans, and poseurs that it has become assures the corruption of the electoral process.  Even if there were any Winston Churchills out there, they would never even make it into the light. 

Candidates like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have at least demonstrated some sense of principle and rectitude, and therefore are good for America and for the political process.  They help to resuscitate the legacies of  Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  Even more importantly they put the idea of leadership back in its proper perspective.  They are by no stretch of the imagination Churchillian leaders.  They are not even the best America has to offer; but at least one can see a glimmer of honesty in them. 

Roosevelt and Churchill were both patriotic, courageous, and visionary. They embodied the values enunciated by Cato the Elder more than 2000 years ago in his curricula for the education of Roman leaders – honesty, courage, honor, justice, compassion, intelligence, and dignity – values which have characterized great civilizations since Mohenjo-Daro and Mesopotamia.
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‘Values’ have come under attack by the progressive Left, for being too Western, white, Christian, and male.  Personal integrity based on a well-defined set of moral standards is, they say, considered retrograde and antithetical to secular social progress. Yet such moral and ethical principles should be the foundations for leadership.