Thursday, November 17, 2011

Three Young Masters

I have been going to concerts at the Disney Hall in downtown L.A. more often these days. I find that as I grow older I need the live experience of music, and the hall is a wonderful venue for concerts of all kinds. Actually, I rather love the space, which is eclectic, welcoming, acoustically brilliant, and clad in wood, which, being a man of the 19th century, I enjoy.

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing three young masters of their crafts. The first was the wonderful Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, whose performance of the Bach Chaconne in D minor from the second partita for solo violin (which is my favorite piece of music), impressed me very much when I heard it by accident on the radio. I was so taken with her interpretation that I had to remain in the car long after I had turned off the engine to find out who the violinist was.

Now let me say that the great Chaconne is unique even among Bach's works. Each of the pieces for solo violin, the partitas and sonatas, is a dance form, and they average three or four minutes in length. Then there comes the Chaconne, which is nearly fifteen minutes long. It is breathtakingly complex and beautiful, and just given its length, it is clear that Bach knew that he was doing something special, something completely different from all the other pieces in those extraordinary suites.

What he was doing was paying tribute to his predecessor Biber's exquisite Guardian Angel Sonata, which is the capstone of Biber's Mystery Sonatas for violin and continuo, which Bach admired. In them, Biber - a truly great and much overlooked composer of the early Baroque - wrote one sonata for each of the fifteen mysteries of the rosary. He then added a passacaglia for solo violin as a tribute to the guardian angel, and this was his masterpiece. It was an evocation of the Guardian Angel Sonata, in the more complex and challenging chaconne form, that Bach intended when he wrote the great Chaconne in D minor for solo violin.

For me, the Chaconne is the litmus test for any violinist, and Janine Jansen played it masterfully on that radio performance which I listened to in my driveway. So when I heard that she was playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto at the Disney I rushed to buy tickets.

She did not disappoint me. Much larger a woman than I had expected, she took powerful command of the stage, communicated expertly with Gustavo Dudamel and the orchestra, and played the Mendelssohn (one of the five great violin concertos) beautifully. Her size enabled her to muscle the instrument in a way I would not have expected. She is strong, clear in her voice, brilliant in her technique, and supremely confident. I have never heard the cadenza played more feelingly and touchingly, a real accomplishment for a violinist of her power. She could easily have bullied her way through it, but instead she expressed it with true reverence and delicacy. It was a wonderful performance.

A week or so later, I heard on the radio that Hillary Hahn was coming to Los Angeles. For several years, she has been one of my favorite violinists, and I jumped at the chance to see her perform live in concert again. I had heard her some years ago, on my birthday, play the Sibelius Concerto (perhaps my favorite violin concerto) with the L.A. Phil when she was still a teenager, and had been wowed by her talent. And her solo Bach, which I had heard several times on the radio, is among my favorite interpretations. I was looking forward to seeing her again, no longer a girl, but a grown woman.

Her program of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms was interspersed with pieces by contemporary composers - she announced from the stage that all had been written in the past few months, and some expressly for her. In each she was accompanied by a young Russian pianist who was also marvelous. It was a brilliant program, highly intelligent in its choice of material, provocative, and, at points, beautiful and moving. But I think most of us were there for the war horses, and especially for the Bach.

She played the first sonata for solo violin, which, she said, she had performed in part in her first major solo recital twenty years before (she is only 31!). It was flawless Hillary Hahn; perfect in technique, filled with reverence for the music but also with original ideas and personal insights. It was, in short, a joy. I said to my companion afterwards that hearing Hillary Hahn play solo Bach in person is one of the greatest artistic experiences we can have in our lifetimes. I compared it to taking my girls to see Ian McKellan's King Lear. I truly believe she is on that level; one of the greatest interpreters of Bach of our times.

I paid her the homage of waiting in line after the concert to have her sign my program for my son. My reason was simple: I wanted to look into the eyes of a genius. Now those who follow this blog will know that I use the word genius very sparingly. But I attribute it unhesitatingly to Hillary Hahn. She is a true genius of violin performance, and her playing of Bach is an experience not to be missed by anyone who appreciates great art.

She was much smaller than I expected - as petite as Janine Jansen was robust. Still with the allure of a teenager, she has, nonetheless, grown into one of the consummate artists of this age. Her program notes bespoke a keen intelligence, and her choice of program an enthusiasm for the modern as well as the traditional. She told me that she had graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; I mentioned that that was my hometown and that I had lived at 19th and Spruce. She smiled and said she had lived at 18th and Locust, just down the street. I must say that I was charmed.

The third artist whom I went to see was the young Chinese pianist Lang Lang. I had heard about him and had once heard a recording of his playing a Liszt rhapsody, but I had not thought much of it as it seemed to me rather exhibitionist. However, a dear friend was in town and there was nothing else to do, so we went.

I learned a good deal from the experience. Lang Lang is much more than the Liszt recordings and video for which he has become a sort of Asian cult figure -- he is an excellent pianist. He played solo Bach, and did so respectably, though not with great insight or originality. Then he turned to one of the late Schubert sonatas, and acquitted himself with great aplomb and feeling. I love the late Schubert, and was, frankly, anxious about what he would do with it. He did wonders. His technique was exquisite, admirably suited to the Schubert, and his ideas and feelings were spot on.

What came across to me especially was his deep love for the music, and his intense personal involvement with it. In performance, he gives everything to the piece, which is clear from both his playing and his body language. He is very enjoyable to watch, and since he never makes a false gesture or plays a false note, one can relax and enjoy the music with him. The Schubert showed me that he is, indeed, a genuine master of his art.

But it was in the second half of the program that he came truly into his own. He played twelve Chopin etudes, and played them about as well as anyone could, expressing himself with tremendous confidence, skill and feeling. The Schubert had been wonderful; the Chopin was his element. He was at turns delicate and soulful, powerful and bombastic. But all was measured precisely to the music; nothing was gratuitous, no matter how far he took the material. The audience loved it, and with good reason. Lang Lang is a master of Chopin.

In his encores, too, his peculiar talent shone. He played Liszt, for which, I think he is especially famous; and a piano transcription of Paganini's Campanella, which was exuberant and delightful in its unvarnished virtuosity. Though I knew little about him beforehand, it was clear to me that it is with the late romantics that he feels most at home, and it would be difficult to imagine anyone more in tune with them aesthetically and temperamentally than he.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blaming the Victims

I listened in dismay the other night as the lawyer for the Penn State pedophile declared that the allegations of the children made against his client are false, which was only to be expected. What troubled me in that interview, however, which was conducted by a photogenic young TV reporter, was that, when the reporter asked why eight boys would all claim falsely that the coach had molested them, the lawyer replied: 'Why does anyone make false allegations? You wouldn't; I wouldn't.' He then went on to accuse the boys of wanting fame and money, thus making exactly the kind of allegation he had just claimed he would never make. And the handsome young TV reporter was too stupid to call him on it.

The same sort of blame game, observed by the media with bland indifference, is being played by President Obama. First it was George W. Bush, then the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, then the Arab Spring, then the Tea Party, then the financial crisis in Europe, then "bad luck," then "messy democracy," and now, presumably having run out of things to blame for the failure of his economic policies, Mr. Obama is blaming us. That's right: The president says it's our fault, the fault of the American public, because we are unimaginative and lazy.

Which raises a few questions that seem to have escaped the mainstream media: When will this president take responsibility for his own failures? (Never.) When will he change his ideologically-driven course and try to correct the situation? (Never.) When will the blame game stop? (When he is removed from office.)

Meanwhile, this affable incompetent wanders the nation campaigning for re-election at taxpayers' expense, while the so-called Super Committee deadlocks, and a further downgrading of the U.S. credit rating looms. (And on the point of the Super Committee: What led anyone to suppose that an elite group culled from among the very political hacks who presided over the collapse of the American economy would be able to resolve it?) Earlier this year I heard a report that Belgium had for some time been operating without a government; well, we are doing the same. I think that it was Woody Allen who quipped that Dwight Eisenhower proved that America could function without a president. Mr. Obama is offering further proof.

Has anyone alive today ever seen such a woeful abdication of presidential leadership? Mr. Obama has spent more time on vacation than any other president. He has spent more time campaigning than any other president. And he has spent virtually no time actually governing. This is because he does not like the business of governing. And that is because he has no talent for it. He is good at campaigning, good at making speeches (when he has a prepared text), good at smiling and shaking hands. But where has he been during the many economic and international crises that have confronted his presidency? Why was he absent and silent during the alleged debt ceiling crisis? Why is he not leading the Super Committee in its deliberations? Where the hell is he?

He is, apparently, enjoying himself on the golf course and in Hawaii and at basketball games and on Martha's Vineyard. Is this what we elected him to do? Has he said anything profound or to the point recently about America's worsening economic crisis? His own party in Congress did not want to bring his sham of a jobs bill up for a vote. His own party voted unanimously against his budget. And his own party members seem to be distancing themselves from him as the 2012 election nears.

It is time for even Mr. Obama's most fervid supporters to admit it: He has been an unmitigated failure as a leader. The lone accomplishment of his presidency has been the forcing through Congress (without a single Republican vote) of the health care bill, which most Americans do not want, which most of his union supporters have opted out of, and which more than half of the states have challenged in court as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has now agreed to take up that challenge, which turns on the relative relation of the federal government's power to that of the states and the people. At stake is the question of individual liberty, the very principle upon which this nation was founded. A lower court has found that the general welfare trumps individual liberty, and this is a terrifying prospect. It does nothing less than cancel out America's philosophical birthright; and if that decision is allowed to stand, America, as we know it, as we inherited it from past generations, will be finished.

I will say it again: If the Supreme Court decides that the power of Congress to promote the general welfare trumps the people's right to individual liberty, the experiment which we call the United States of America will be over. And Mr. Obama may well win re-election on the shambles of its demise.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And Now Penn State

Those who have followed this blog will be able to anticipate what I am going to say about the child abuse scandal at Penn State University. All of those involved, both in the molestation and in its cover-up, must be punished. It matters not what positions they held nor how long and distinguished their service. Everyone who committed the acts and knew about them and said and did nothing to put a stop to them - and by that I mean intervening directly or alerting the police - are equally guilty.

What astonishes is the similarity between the Penn State scandal and that involving the Roman Catholic Church. In both, boys were being systematically molested and raped, persons in authority knew about it - had even witnessed it - and the hierarchy conspired to contain the truth and cover it up. What struck me as different is the statement by the Pennsylvania Attorney General, who declared that no one in any position of authority who was complicit in the abuse should be sheltered from the law. No sooner were the words out of her mouth than I was shouting at the television: Arrest the bishops!

This has not been done, though the pattern and longevity of the abuse and the conspiracy to cover it up by the Church hierarchy far exceed those of the authorities at Penn State. If the university officials are not beyond the reach of the law for their silence and lies, then neither should the bishops and cardinals be. The Attorney General is being praised for her courage in not allowing herself to be intimidated by the prestige of the university and its football program. Yet so long as she remains intimidated by the Catholic Church, she should be branded as a coward. I, for one, demand that she apply to the Church in Pennsylvania the same standards which she enunciated regarding the Penn State scandal.

But let me go farther... The underlying point here is that nothing is more important than the safety, innocence, and well-being of children. Not the football program at Penn State, not Joe Paterno's legacy, not the reputation of the university. Neither is the hierarchy of the Catholic Church more important than children, nor the liturgy, reputation and power of the Church. And neither is feminist ideology, liberalism, and a woman's right to choose. NOTHING is more important than the life, safety, welfare, and innocence of children.

Now in the last case - a woman's right to choose - apologists will argue that the fetus is not a child. Of course they will; they have to. In order to protect themselves from being charged with a great moral wrong, they will pretend, they will lie, that what we are talking about is not a child. They do this precisely to insulate themselves from the knowledge that they are doing evil. It is a hideous reversal of Pascal's famous wager. We cannot prove that God or the afterlife exists, he wrote, and so we should act as if they do. Because otherwise, if they do not, we lose nothing, but if they do, we stand to lose everything. And so, he argued, we should bet that God and the afterlife exist. That is only rational.

The abortionists make the opposite wager. We cannot prove that the fetus is or is not a child, and so we should act as if it is not. This is irrational. Reason demands that we act as if the fetus is a child because, if it is not, we lose nothing, and if it is, we avoid a great moral evil. The pro-choice position, is, therefore, absurd, and yet its advocates wish to codify it in the laws of the nation. That is, they wish to incorporate into our body of law the possibility of committing a great moral sin without punishment. This, too, is absurd.

Let me repeat: NOTHING is more important than the health, safety, welfare and innocence of children. Nothing. Jesus said that those who violate children should be thrown into the sea and drowned. I would not go that far; but they must, whoever they are, be punished as severely as the law allows. And in the case of abortion, we must act as if the fetus is a child if only to avoid the possibility of committing a grave moral evil. That, it seems to me, is only rational, and humane.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Man Out of Season

There is a very troubling trend developing in our society, and it is being directed from the top.

I wrote earlier about my concern that the president had authorized the murder of Osama bin Laden in what appears to have been a violation of established American law prohibiting any government official from engaging in a conspiracy to assassinate a foreign leader. Now, I would like to make myself clear: I do not regret bin Laden's death. He was a homicidal religious fanatic of medieval world view, and his death renders us all, in civilized society, that much safer. But the question that does concern me is precisely that one, of a civilized society.

Since the death of bin Laden, we have seen the administration engage in the killing of two Americans associated with terrorist causes living abroad. The decision to murder them, via high-tech drone aircraft, was authorized at the highest level of government, and carried out with deliberation and precision. Their murders, though once again unregrettable, appear to have been undertaken in violation of American law; namely, the basic Constitutional prohibition against government depriving any American citizen of life and liberty without due process of law.

In these cases, the president appears to have arrogated to himself the role of judge, jury and executioner. The fact that at least one of the two men was included on the government's list of most wanted criminals makes no difference: The Constitution is clear, and the president is bound by oath to respect it. That President Obama appears to have authorized the killing of these two Americans seems to me to represent not only a violation of the law forbidding political assassination, but also of his oath of office.

Now, this is not a popular issue, and for that reason it has received relatively little attention. I have read the administration's legal opinion rationalizing the murders, and, frankly, I find it insidious in its intent and pathetic in its reasoning. It says, in effect, that the killings were legal because we did them. That is it. Because the president ordered them, they were legal.

This reminds me of Richard Nixon's declaration during Watergate that anything the president did was legal because he did it. That argument was specious then, and it remains specious today. In my view, unless someone can persuade me to the contrary, by authorizing these killings, the President of the United States has violated the law, the Constitution, and his oath.

The identities of the victims are irrelevant. The rationale for the killings is irrelevant. The effect achieved is irrelevant. The only question for a civilized society is whether the actions of the president were in accordance with law. If they were not, then the president must be held accountable, if not in the courts, then at least in the court of public opinion.

I am reminded, too, of the argument put forward by Sir Thomas More in the play "A Man for all Seasons" when he asked the ardent servant of the king the following question: If the devil came to Britain and hid behind the law, would you be justified in destroying the law to get at him? His point was that, once you begin dismantling the protective barrier of laws which alone separates us from evil, then what will save us when evil turns around and attacks? He knew that the answer was: Nothing. We will have been exposed and made vulnerable by our very zeal to destroy the devil.

The terrorists are devils; of that there can be no doubt. But in suspending or violating our own laws in order to to destroy them, we make ourselves that much more vulnerable to them, since they know or respect no law but violence.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A little more than kin and less than kind

I rarely get excited. Which is odd since I work in the film business, wherein everyone seems to exist on a continual diet of excitement. "I'm so excited," is the phrase I hear most often, or, "This is so exciting." But no one means it. You can hear it in their voices, see it in their eyes. Excitement, in the film business, means: "I perceive the prospect of actually getting a film made, and of thereby making money."

Nonetheless, this morning, I felt genuine excitement. Why? Well, it happened like this... (ripple dissolve to:)

I was driving my son to his horseback riding lesson this morning, at the ungodly Saturday morning hour of 8.30. I was thinking about Hamlet, as I often do. It is, as I have said before on this site, my favorite play; perhaps my favorite piece of literature. In particular, I was thinking about Hamlet's first line in the play: A little more than kin and less than kind. I asked my nine-year-old son: What is the first thing Hamlet says in the play? And with his ineffable sense of humor, he replied: Which play? (He is, verbally, a very clever boy.)

Now, the first thing that Hamlet says in the play, after the appearance of the ghost, and after we watch him sitting in somber silence on stage for several minutes while King Claudius goes about his bureaucratic business (for which he appears to have been born, rather like a member of the Senate), he says in response to his uncle/father's prompting, that he regards the king as being: A little more than kin and less than kind.

That is his first line in the play. Now, I have lived with that line since I was sixteen years old. And the sorry truth is that I had never really thought about it until this morning. A little more than kin and less than kind. It is a pun, on the words kin and kind. Everyone understands that. You can read it in any book or essay about the play. I am my uncle/father's kin, since you are married to my mother and you are now both my uncle and my step-father; but you are not kind since you married my mother and (I suspect, and we will soon learn) you killed my father. A little more than kin and less than kind.

Those words kept rolling around in my head as I was motoring up Altadena Drive in search of the stables. And then it hit me: My singular contribution to Hamlet scholarship, after my obsession with the play for over forty years...

A little more than kin and less than kind... Hamlet's first line in the play.

Now, I have been a professional writer for thirty-five years. I have written millions of words. I have examined and experienced virtually every permutation of the English language (which I love) imaginable. I have discovered hidden meanings, obscure implications, impossible contradictions, and unexpected riches. I have defied every rule of grammar and punctuation, and illuminated (at least to my own mind) every deep mine of possibility of syntax and meaning which it not only contains but implies. I have learned to laugh at books of style and usage, and have learned to be in awe of the endless possibilities of expression that English presents. (I am reminded of something I discovered while writing a film about Bobby Fischer, the world chess champion: After the seventh move in a chess game, the number of possible moves exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.) And I know that, when a genius such as Shakespeare introduces a character like Hamlet, he gives him an opening line of considerable significance.

A little more than kin and less than kind... That was when it hit me.

Where was Hamlet before the play begins? At college. And where was he at college? The University of Wittenberg in Germany. And what does that mean? That Hamlet spoke German.

Now, consider his first line: A little more than kin and less than kind.

What, in German, does the word "kind" mean?

Child. It means child, as in kindergarten.

Hamlet is saying that, with regards to the king, he feels him a little more than kin (since his mother has now married his uncle) and less than kind (since, as he suspects, his uncle has killed his father), but also, he feels less than "kind" in German (since he has just come from Germany), meaning he has lost his father, and feels less his uncle's child since he was not his father. Kind is therefore a double pun, when we understand that Hamlet must have spoken German.

And there it is... the thing that has excited me more than anything else in recent days; my unique contribution to Hamlet scholarship. A little more than kin and less than (German) kind.

Use it in your next term paper. I don't care. My life is now complete.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fire Them All

Yesterday, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, announced that "private sector jobs are doing just fine" and that the priority should be on government jobs. This is madness. Later that day, Vice President Biden declared that if Congress did not pass the administration's jobs bill - which had already been defeated and was not supported even by members of his own party - the result would be rape and murder. This is madness. In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the president can think of nothing to do but campaign for re-election. This is madness. Meanwhile, the Republican Party offers us a field of candidates none of whom can garner the enthusiasm of even a third of Republican voters. This is madness.

There is a crippling lack of leadership in Washington. Our economy is bankrupt, our nation is in decline. Our preeminence in the world is slipping rapidly away, and we are being overtaken by a monolithic communist dictatorship, to which we, even now, are mortgaging our futures. The president, the administration and Congress are devoid of ideas, integrity and honesty. People across the country are suffering; they are anxious, frightened for the future, and growing desperate. Well, desperate times call for desperate measures, and I am proposing one:

Fire them all.

In the 2012 elections, I propose that we unite as a people to defeat every incumbent who runs for re-election. Every one. All of them, from the top down. Throw them out and replace them with new faces and fresh ideas. But not randomly or arbitrarily. Listen carefully to what the candidates say and judge for yourselves whether they are speaking frankly and sincerely about the problems the nation, the states, the cities and counties now face, and the measures that will be necessary to solve them. If you hear the same worn rhetoric, the sycophantic platitudes, the hackneyed political jargon, find someone else to elect. Or run for office yourself. And vote only for candidates who will term-limit themselves, that is, who pledge to serve for only a definite period of time, and then retire.

This extends to the Republican presidential candidates as well. Fire them all, now, and draft someone who will speak honestly to the American people about the crisis we face, and propose real world solutions, no matter how dire and demanding. Someone who can inspire and unite us, instead of scaring and dividing us, as is now being done.

Send a signal that we will stand for this short-sighted, self-serving political nonsense no longer. And send it to the media as well: Expunge the political agendas from your reporting. Give us facts, raw and unbiased, and let us decide for ourselves. Stop cheer-leading for one party or another, or one candidate or another, and dispassionately investigate stories and report what you have discovered. Treat us like intelligent consumers, not wayward children whose minds needs shaping.

We must take control of our nation and our destinies again. We must act as the Union soldiers did at Gettysburg when, after two years of corrupt and incompetent military leadership, and knowing that their cause was on the verge of defeat, ignored their generals and rushed to the center of the line to repulse Pickett's charge. That spontaneous gesture of popular intelligence and outrage, perhaps more than any other, saved the Union. And that is what we must do now, politically.

I think we all understand that the solutions to our current crisis are relatively simple: We must reduce the size and power of the Federal Government, severely cut its spending and curb permanently its ability to grow, adopt a flat and fair tax, impose term limits on all elected officials, break the power of the lobbyists and special interests whatever they may be, freeing government to carry out its Constitutional duties, and pass a balanced budget amendment as quickly as possible.

The politicians will not do these things, and so we must. And it begins with the coming election. Send an unmistakeable message to government and to the world:

Fire them all.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

11905; 12333

I am sorry to bring this point up once again, but I feel that someone should. The other night I watched a documentary about the killing of Osama bin Laden. In the course of it, a government official stated what I had suspected to be the case: The raid was never intended to take bin Laden alive; it was intended to kill him. If this is so, it means two things. First, the Administration lied in the aftermath of the raid when it insisted that the idea was to capture or kill bin Laden. I recall clearly Administration spokesmen stating that an effort was made to capture bin Laden, and when he and his thugs resisted, he was killed in the gun battle. (Whatever the intent of the raid, no such battle took place, as the Administration now admits.) Second, if it is true, it may mean that President Obama and his national security team are guilty of violating U.S. law.

President Ford's executive order #11905, reiterated by President Reagan's order #12333 made it the law of the land that "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination." Ford's order, reinforced by President Carter, was in response to revelations about what President Lyndon Johnson referred to as "a damn Murder, Inc." the CIA was running in the Caribbean.

This continuing program of political assassination began in North Africa during WWII (under the CIA's predecessor, the OSS) with the American-led assassination of the Vichy French collaborator Admiral Darlan, continued with the murders of Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Raphael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, perhaps the murder of Salvatore Allende of Chile, and at least fourteen attempts to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba. In the course of these programs, the CIA entered into contracts with the worst sort of scum in the world: international contract killers such as QJ/WIN and WI/Rogue (Jose Mankel and David Dato), and the American mafia. (All of this, in my view, led eventually and inevitably, to the murder of President Kennedy.)

It was in order to prevent such lethal political activities that Ford, Carter and Reagan banned any effort by any U.S. Government official to conspire to assassinate any foreign leader. Yet this is precisely what Obama's team did. Now I understand that President G.W. Bush issued an "intelligence finding" marking bin Laden for death, but it is unclear whether this had any legal validity, and whether it overrides the three previous executive orders.

So far as I know, no one in the mainstream media is examining this possibility, in part because no one regrets bin Laden's death, and because it was ordered by a liberal Democrat president. Nonetheless, it is not the nature of the victim that matters, in this or any other case: it is the integrity of the law; law established by three former presidents and, it seems to me, violated by the present one.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Scared to death

I listened tonight to the Republican presidential candidates' debate. There is not a single one of them I could, in good conscience, support. Let me make this clear: I am scared to death.

I am scared for my children's future and for their children's future. Our nation is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the current administration seems utterly incapable either of understanding that fact or of doing anything to prevent it. Today I read three articles from separate sources declaring that we are facing another recession as part of a global economic collapse, and all three stated that the leaders of the Western World can do nothing to stop it.

We fought a sixty year war against international communism, and now I see our nation selling its economic future to one of only four communist dictatorships left on the face of the Earth. Today I watched our president being rebuffed, indeed, humiliated, before the United Nations (which we created in the aftermath of World War II), the unemployment rate remains above nine percent (the effective rate is eighteen percent), the national debt has tripled to an unimaginable number, and I learned that one in six Americans are now defined as being below the poverty level. And the current administration appears to have no new ideas, no new insights, no new solutions.

I am scared to death. And so should you be.

I think...

I think that all of us will die but few of us will survive.

I think that the glorious experiment that was the United States of American is on the verge of extinction.

I think that our children and their children will be poorer than us, have fewer opportunities than we had, and will execrate our memories. And it will be our fault.

I think that the current crop of political "leaders" is the most venal and scabrous in American history.

I think that the Founding Fathers would not recognize the nation they created, nor would we recognize them if they were suddenly to reappear. Indeed, I think that if that were to happen, we would mock and malign them into insignificance.

I think that no one in the current political structure has the courage or the will to fix the problems we have created.

I think that the President of the United States is an incompetent.

I think that Lincoln would be shocked and shamed at what the nation he suffered so much to preserve has become.

I think that our national future will be worse than our national past.

I think that those who predicted we would become a nation of sheep were right. And that this is largely due to the state of public education in America. And that is largely due to the influence of the teachers' unions and their alliance with the Democratic Party.

I think that America has relegated itself to the position of a second-rate power. And, ironically, after a successful sixty year war with international communism, we are selling ourselves to the Communist Chinese.

I think that the Tibetan people have every right to curse us, but that, given their stoical, spiritual nature, they will pray for us. I think we need their prayers now more than ever.

I think that organized religion has failed us monumentally; and that "salvation," if the possibility of it exists any longer, resides with the individual. And yet, few of us, as individuals, are capable any longer of embracing it.

I think that our hope is indicated in the purity of the animals. And yet, we eat them.

I think that the Mayans were right: The world will end in 2012 -- it deserves to.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bad Luck?!

I sat slack-jawed in disbelief this evening as I listened to the President of the United States assert that our current economic crisis, which grows worse by the hour, is due to "a run of bad luck." Having exhausted the Arab Spring, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the situation in Europe and every other imaginable excuse for the failure of his policies, Obama now falls back on "bad luck"?! Can you imagine any other president attempting this, let alone expecting to get away with it?

When I was born, Harry Truman was president. In my lifetime, I have never seen such a comi-tragic abdication of presidential authority. Bad luck?! Is Obama the Diviner in Chief? Did we elect him to prognosticate, to calculate the odds, to read the Tarot, or did we elect him to lead? Bad luck?! Does it never occur to this man that it is what he is doing and not what is happening that is causing the problem? The fault, dear Barack, is not in our stars, but in us, that we are ideologues.

Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln after the defeats at Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville declaring that the Union had merely suffered a run of bad luck? He took responsibility - personal and political - and made the changes necessary. He did not go on a campaign tour; he did not go on vacation. And yet the nation now faces a crisis analogous to, if not of the magnitude of, 1863: We face the threat of the collapse of the American economy.

The situation in Europe, as in the United States, is proof positive that creeping socialism leads only to bankruptcy -- the bankruptcy of the human spirit as well as of the economy. Americans are tired, they are frustrated, they are exhausted. We cannot continue paying bills run up by politicians in search of votes for re-election, and debts accumulated that our grandchildren will not be able to pay. But the president and his cronies are oblivious to this.

The much anticipated jobs plan which the president has graciously withheld until after his vacation on Martha's Vineyard from a nation whose effective unemployment rate is 18 percent will, by all accounts, represent nothing but another government stimulus package. But where will the money come from? Shall we borrow more from Communist China, which already upbraids us (the U.S.!) for fiscal irresponsibility, or shall we merely print more money as Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke suggests? Either way, we saddle our descendants with the onus of a debt they cannot hope to repay.

I ask again: Who will vote for Obama next year? Who wants four more years of these inane policies, this vacuum of leadership? Who but those so steeped in the cult of "social justice" that they will drink the Cool-Aid of pseudo-socialist ideology until we all choke to death, will mark their paltry ballots for this man?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Ghost Factory

More young Americans have been killed in Afghanistan today. I have just been looking at their pictures on line. And they remind me of nothing so much as those of my high school classmates killed in Vietnam.

I used to write in my yearbook each time I learned that another one had died. Above their photographs I would hand print "Killed in Vietnam" and below, the date. Five, ten, fifteen... eventually I lost count. But what haunts me is the fact that the faces now are so much the same: young men, boys really, smiling, earnest, innocent. In the past, every time I visited Washington, I went to The Wall to look for their names, and each time I traced them with my fingertips. Not just names -- memories of boys I knew, with whom I shared lockers, classes, laughs and the hysterical agonies and joys of growing up. Dead. All dead. Forever.

It's happening again. Now at this point in our history, and at my age; and though politicians and pundits can explain at length the necessity of it, still no one can express the loss. The poignant inevitability. The emptiness. The senselessness. Walt Whitman, a Civil War nurse, wrote: Think how much, and of importance, has been lost forever, buried in the grave, in eternal darkness. They had parents, they had promise, they had lives and loves. To which they were entitled. Just like you and me.

And our "president" enjoys a ten day vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

Killing the Wrong Guy

I learned yesterday that the unofficial Democratic Party strategy to re-elect President Obama is to "kill Romney." My reaction to this inadvertent revelation is threefold.

First: This concept is coming from some of the very same people who reared up in righteous indignation after the shootings in Tucson, blaming the Republicans in general and Sarah Palin in particular, for having "targeted" certain Democratic incumbents for defeat. Their high dudgeon then was irrational, given the fact that neither the Republican Party nor Governor Palin had anything to do with the shootings, and that the shooter was certifiably insane. But these facts did not concern the critics on the left, which just proves my point that not even reality can sway an ideologue. This sort of hypocrisy is beyond breathtaking; it is asphyxiating.

Second: The enunciation of this strategy simply lays bare the fact that the president has nothing to run on. He cannot boast of his record, which consists of record spending, record deficits, record unemployment and record national debt and the downgrading of America's credit rating. There is an old adage in the law which holds that if you have the facts on your side, then argue the facts; if you do not have the facts, then argue the law; and if you do not have the law, then attack your opponent. This is the position in which the forces that have created and have sustained Obama find themselves. They have no recourse but to assassinate the character of whomever runs against him. It is not a strategy; it is a confession.

Third: Relieved now of the threat of Sarah Palin, the Democrats propose to kill Romney. I do not believe that Romney can get the nomination, and so I am pleased that all of their venom is focused upon him. They are killing the wrong guy. In the debt ceiling debate, Romney was silent, as were most of the Republican candidates. There is a vacuum of leadership in this country, and Romney had neither the courage, the independence nor the insight to step into it. That demonstrates to my satisfaction that he is not the antidote to the poison of Obama. We do not need to replace one vacuum with another.

Barack Obama is an utter failure as a leader and as a president. His is the most tragically ineffectual presidency since -- no, not Jimmy Carter -- James Buchanan. That pudgy, milquetoast president presided in the late 1850s at a time of imminent danger to the nation, and still he managed to do nothing. The result was the Civil War -- the nation torn apart, 612,000 Americans killed.

What I believe we have to look forward to here and now is what we see in silhouette in Europe: widespread discontent erupting into civil disorder in the streets. For generations, politicians on the left in Europe and America have sold their electorates a bill of goods; namely, that pie in the sky can not only be afforded, it can be expanded indefinitely. My fear is that what we see in London and Birmingham today will soon play itself out in the streets of New York and Chicago.

What we suffer from in the long term is the creeping sickness of socialism in our society, coupled with the current lack of leadership, vision and integrity in Washington. Meanwhile, the president enjoys a ten day vacation on Martha's Vineyard. And Rome burns.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reply to Comment

Occasionally it is necessary for me to reply to a comment at great length, which is not possible given the limitations of the comments section. I wish to take all comments seriously, and so I shall reply to a recent one here...

--Thank you for your comment. Let me respond to each point in turn:

You find my analogy wanting.
Then let's return to the crux of the matter: cherry-picking.

--Cherry-picking is the crux of your matter, not mine. I did not say that I would withhold taxes for programs I disagree with or do not benefit from; rather, that I am prepared to pay a reasonable amount of tax to support legitimate activities of government. I do not consider 50-plus percent of my income reasonable. Neither do I consider many, perhaps most, of the government's activities legitimate.

You don't think you should have to help pay for the California public school system your "entire lifetime." Is not some of that tax money going to what is generally thought of as a rather good state university system? One you would presumably not be ashamed to enroll your own children in?

--The same point applies. I will support public education to a reasonable degree, which is not now the case. But the fact that the elementary and secondary school systems in California rank near the bottom in the nation for quality of education regardless of how much we are taxed rankles, and speaks to a larger problem. For too long public education in this state and in the nation at large has been the hostage of the teachers unions and their cronies in the Democratic Party. That iron grip must be broken before educational standards can rise. (On the subject of state universities: I learned recently that over fifty percent of the employees in the state system are administrators and not teachers. This is an absurd and disgraceful waste of money.)

On the non-university level, you might argue that substandard schools are not in the common good. Ok, they're in the common less-than-ideal. But what would you have your fellow citizens do? Stay home and work their way through Wikipedia entries -- assuming they learned how to read on their own at some point? (Assuming they have a paid-up electric bill and a computer, too.)

--Your alternative to government-sponsored education is glibly ridiculous. But the larger and more relevant point is this: Every argument you make contains the same erroneous assumption, which lies at the heart of the malaise from which our nation suffers; namely, that if government does not do it, it will not get done. This is the true crux of the matter, and it is a numb, counter-productive way of thinking into which too many of us have slipped. Lincoln said that the government should do nothing the people can do better for themselves. I agree emphatically. I consider myself the chief educator of my children – that is my primary responsibility. I taught them how to read, write and do math. That is part of my job as a parent, and part of the joy of parenting.

--Which brings us to the second crucial point: personal responsibility. It is my responsibility (and no one else's) to see to it that my children are well educated and well trained. That is every parent’s responsibility. What I resent is public interest groups using government to force me to take responsibility for other people’s lives, and using the cynical tactic of confiscating my income to do so. Government should be the educator of last resort, providing a quality education to the children of those who cannot provide it for them. Every statistic available shows that private schools do far better with far fewer resources than public schools. Thus, everyone should have access to private schools, and the way to do that is to work hard, save money and plan for your children's futures. Sacrifices must be made, priorities must be set, and that is the individual's responsibility. Those who cannot achieve such access for reasons beyond their control have a right to expect a good quality public education for their children, which is simply not now the case. Government is a failure as an educator, and again, I resent being forced to pay an exorbitant amount of tax to sustain that failure.

You think it's an unfair burden on your finances to help pay for stuff you don't personally use unless it's outstanding and/or of direct use to YOU? What a strange standard.
Does that mean that your taxes should not go for public libraries that may contain books that you, personally, have no interest in reading or have already read?

--Again, your point is so glib as to be absurd. I am prepared to pay a reasonable amount of tax to support the legitimate activities of government as outlined in the Constitution. I have that duty as a citizen. What I resent is being compelled at the risk of imprisonment to support the pet projects of special interest and activist groups whether they work or not and whether I agree with them or not.

In a recent posting you say that people who are unwilling or unable to care for children should not have any. Excellent advice -- but not compatible with your anger in saying "I am now told that under Obamacare, I will be paying for strangers' birth control pills?"

Surely you agree that the pennies of your earnings that might go toward making birth control available to all women is a far better investment than having to terminate or carry to term an unwanted pregnancy?

--No, I do not agree. (And bear in mind that those “pennies” will be on top of everything else I am compelled to pay for.) In effect, you are saying: Young women are getting pregnant and can't help getting pregnant, and so government must take money from me and give it to them. Viewed as this simple schematic, the idea appears preposterous. The logic of it (if there is any logic at all to it) breaks down at the point where you imply that they cannot help getting pregnant. Yes, they can, and they have a responsibility to do so. It is not my responsibility to see to it that you do not get pregnant or to pay for it if you do. That is your responsibility, and again, I resent the advocates of planned parenthood or any other special interest group using government to make it my responsibility.

So, in the interest of constructive exchange, if the nation were to return to these values you find so denigrated, how would you see to it that children are educated? What measures would you propose so that no unwanted child is ever born?

--The answer to both questions is: Take responsibility for your own life and the behavior of your children. Work hard, save money and put your children into private school, school them at home or, in any case, lower taxes and allow people to use the money to provide vouchers for private education. This last will reduce public school enrollment and allow competition to compel the public schools to do a better job, rather than using the tax laws to force me to support a failed system of public education.

--As for your question, How do I propose to see to it that no unwanted child is ever born? Again, it is absurd. No one can do that; certainly not government. What I can do, and what every individual can do, is to take responsibility for his or her own behavior and train their children to do so. And, if the unwanted happens, to take responsibility for that too, rather than shunt it off onto the government and the taxpayers. Once more: I am not responsible for your life and behavior. It is not my responsibility to provide for your birth control – that is your responsibility, and government should not be used to force me to become responsible for it. Confucius pointed out that if every person swept the sidewalk in front of his own house the whole city would be clean. If there is a solution to the question of unwanted pregnancies it lies in that – people taking responsibility for their own behavior and that of their children. But further on this point: To be born unwanted is not to lack value as a human being. Unwanted children may lead valuable, productive, even exceptional lives. Again, it is a matter of taking personal responsibility, and not simply blaming others and relying on government to run one’s life.

--As I said: Inherent in all of your arguments is the reflexive, mind-numbed assumption of the liberals that government is the answer, and that government should substitute its power for the responsibility of individuals. For too long we have lived this way, and now we see where it leads: to the bankruptcy of the economy, the denigration of personal responsibility and dignity, and to the depletion of the spirit of society.

Monday, August 8, 2011

P.S. -- P.O.'d

Okay, I'll just come out and say it: I'm pissed off. I have in my lifetime done just about every job you can imagine, from agriculture to publishing, from working in a butcher shop to working for an NFL team. I have mopped floors, emptied trash bins, milked cows, pumped gas, taught school, written novels and screenplays. I got my first job when I was thirteen, and I have not stopped working since. I worked through high school, college and grad school. And I expect to go on working until the day I die.

In college I vacuumed floors at the Ben Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia (I once calculated that I vacuumed no less than three miles of carpet in one summer.) While I was at film school in Paris, I worked as an apprentice butcher. My first job was to go into the meat locker every morning, get down on my hands and knees, and mop up the frozen blood from the carcasses that hung overhead. Later, when I graduated to cutting meat, my hands became so frozen during the day that, while I sat in lectures at film school in the afternoon, they would thaw and blood would flow from dozens of cuts I had unknowingly inflicted on myself. My mother committed suicide when I was fifteen and my father drank himself to death. My family left me nothing. I started out my adult life with nothing.

At one time in my twenties I moved fourteen times in two years because I could not afford to pay the rent. There were many months when I had to choose between food and rent, or between eating or paying the phone bill. I was even homeless, briefly, on two occasions. Anything I have now I acquired through unremitting hard work, a stubborn refusal to give up, and a talent with which I was born.

I am not wealthy, largely because the government will not permit me to be. Currently, the government confiscates over fifty percent of my income in taxes of various kinds. And yet, despite this, the president tells me that I am not "paying my fair share." He pontificates that I have been lucky, and because of that, that I have a moral obligation to contribute more. I have four children. I have put one through college and grad school, I have two more in college currently, and the fourth is in private elementary school. None of my children attended public school, since I consider it a form of child abuse to put a child into a public school in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, I am forced to pay taxes to support the public school system, which I cannot in good conscience make use of.

And still the president, this smug, sanctimonious son of a bitch, insists that I must contribute more. For what? I am now told that under Obamacare, I will be paying for strangers' birth control pills? With Nancy Pelosi's twisted logic, I must fund years' worth of unemployment benefits that actually pay people not to work? Under the new California law, I will have to subsidize a college education for illegals, who cannot even work legally once they have graduated? I am certainly willing to pay a reasonable amount in taxes to support the legitimate activities of government, but over fifty percent of my income? The American Revolution was fought because the nominal tax rate under the British was twelve percent!

I own a small business. I would like to hire an assistant, someone to answer the phone, handle the scheduling, take notes at meetings, and learn the film business from inside. I would like to, but I cannot afford to because I must pay so much in taxes. I would gladly create a job for someone who needs a job and wants a career, someone who would pay taxes, and I would do it if the government would get off my back and out of my way. Don't they understand this? No. They keep demanding more to fund their criminal overspending on programs the Founders never envisioned when they wrote the Constitution. Programs that, as often as not, waste money, accomplish nothing, indeed, produce the opposite of the intended result - programs the main purpose of which is to buy votes for professional politicians.

The government did not generate the wealth I have created - I did. The government did not earn the money I have worked my entire life for - I did. It is not their money, it is mine, and Bill Clinton's bald assertion to the contrary, the government does not know better how to spend my money than I do. I feel like a fool. I play by the rules, I obey the law, and yet everywhere I see scoundrels and wastrels flourishing - at my expense. It has to stop.

I see this country becoming a shadow of itself, spending itself into oblivion, utterly bereft of leadership, cut from its spiritual, philosophical and political moorings, drifting toward a bleak future in which my children and grandchildren will have to labor under the debt my generation has accumulated, and for this they will rightly upbraid me. Obama promised change, and he gave us more of the same, and worse. In short - he lied. It is now time for a true change: a return to the values which made this nation preeminent on Earth, the dream of all those who, like me, feel cheated of their liberty and opportunity and the rewards of their labor by a cynical system populated by buffoons, liars, toadies and worse.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starring Obama as Reagan

I think it has now become clear that the current administration's policies have been a disaster for the American economy. Never in my lifetime have I seen such a vacuum of leadership at the top in Washington. Only the lamentable presidency of Jimmy Carter comes close. As I watch President Obama attempting, pathetically, to assign blame for his failures to George Bush, earthquakes, tsunamis, drought, fires, the Arab Spring and the economic crisis in Europe, I wonder when he will simply chalk everything up to the idea that God hates the United States. I have never witnessed such a despicable attempt on the part of a chief executive to shirk responsibility and deny that his policies, driven by an inane and futile ideology, have failed. His behavior is a disgrace, and in face of it, it is no wonder that the credit rating of the U.S. has been downgraded.

In watching this farce of a presidency, I notice that Obama more and more quotes from and refers to Ronald Reagan. This, I think, is telling. When Reagan was elected president, left-wing pundits pontificated that he was nothing but an actor playing the role of president. History has proved them wrong. But as I have watched Obama, whose miserable failure to lead the nation becomes clearer with each passing day, I began to wonder whether he actually wants to be president.

Then it occurred to me that the truth is that all he wants is to be president. He does not want to lead and he does not want to govern, simply because he is incapable of doing so. Whereas Reagan was accused of being an actor who merely wanted play the role of president, Obama is, in fact, merely playing that role. He is the actor-in-chief, incapable of actually exercising the duties of the presidency, concerned only with his re-election. He looks the part, he reads well from teleprompters, but when he is obliged to speak on his own, he is confused, uninformed, nearly incoherent. This is the man who claimed that he had campaigned in "fifty-seven states," who wrote in the guest book at Windsor Palace that the year was 2008, and who could not remember his own daughter's age. This is the president who submitted his budget to the Senate only to see it defeated 97 to 0. During the critical debt reduction debate, he presented no plan of his own, was largely absent, and when, briefly, he intervened, he only made matters worse, blowing the deal he had himself made with Speaker Boehner. Mr. Obama has proved amply that he cannot govern; he knows only how to campaign.

At Tucson, after the tragic shootings there, he delivered a campaign speech. In the wake of the so-called debt-ceiling deal, he delivered a campaign speech. After the downgrading by S&P he delivered a campaign speech. Now he is on a "jobs" bus tour - paid for by the taxpayers - delivering one campaign speech after another. He does not have a clue what it means to be an executive, let alone the chief executive. Before being elected to the presidency, he ran nothing, was the executive officer of nothing, governed nothing. He is not an authentic leader, nor an authentic president, but merely a political shill whose only skill lies in running for office.

In the meantime, as he poses for photo-ops and delivers the same pointless, prepared speech over and over ("Americans voted for divided government, not dysfunctional government"), American servicemen are being killed in the Middle East (30 were killed yesterday), the deficit grows by billions each day, the jobless rate remains above nine percent, the nation's credit rating is downgraded for the first time in history, and all Mr. Obama can think to do is to go on a bus tour, celebrate his birthday, and play golf.

(Just now, this evening, I see that today Obama suggested that the federal government should pay unemployed construction workers to repair the nation's aging infrastructure. Where will the money come from? We are broke, and he still does not seem to understand that. But, further, the federal government does not create jobs - only the private sector can do that, and so how does making unemployed construction workers de facto employees of the government help solve the unemployment problem? Better for the government to get out of the way, as Reagan said, and let the private sector do what it does best - create jobs and produce wealth. Lower taxes, relax regulations, and provide incentive which translates into opportunity. But Obama and his cronies on the left cannot or will not see this, because they believe in the power of government and not in the power of the private sector and of individuals.)

I ask you: Who wants four more years of this? Who will vote again for this man, regardless of the color of his skin? Who has confidence in his "leadership"? When are even his most ardent supporters on the left going to admit that Obama and his pseudo-socialist agenda have failed, and failed miserably?

Never, I suspect, just as Obama himself will not admit it since he is incapable, ideologically, of facing the fact that he has failed. Treasury Secretary Geithner and all of his ivory-tower economic advisers should be fired. Attorney General Holder and his corrupt Justice Department staff who refuse to enforce the laws of the United States should be fired. But they will not be, because this administration is not driven by concern for the long-term interests of the United States, nor for the near-term welfare of its citizens, nor even by reality. It is driven by a left-wing ideology which, even in the face of its own failure, insists upon the correctness of its policies. And Obama is driven, apparently, by nothing more than his desire to be re-elected. This is madness, of which even Richard Nixon in the depths of Watergate would not have been capable.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Passing Thoughts

Children: If you are not prepared to raise them, don’t have them. If you do not enjoy them, don’t have them. If you are not ready to love them, don’t have them. You are much better off living without them.

Love is finding yourself in another person. Loneliness is the inability to do this. The deepest, most destructive and pathetic form of loneliness is atheism. Atheism is the inability to find yourself in anything but the material. I do not despise atheists; I pity them.

It is important to have animals near us. They are pure, innocent and without guile. They neither deceive nor do they have pretensions. They remind us how we should live. For this, we should love and respect them; and it follows, of course, that we must not abuse, torture, kill and eat them.

The Founders were right: Government is the greatest threat to personal liberty. Unless we do something radical and soon, we will have no personal liberty left – at least, none worth defending.

A friend recently said that the challenge we face is whether democracy can survive with deficits. I think he is correct. Excessive government spending – and the chronic inability of politicians to resist it – is undermining our democracy.

A recent poll indicates that the majority of Americans believe that the nation is in decline. They are correct; it is. I believe that this fact not only does not trouble the current administration; but, worse, that some members of the administration actually welcome it. They do not see America as an exceptional nation, in fact, they attack and deride the idea. Our decline suits their ideology and their world view; they prefer that America be one among many, rather than first among many.

It is absolutely essential for the future well-being of the nation that the present administration be defeated at the next election.

We have reached the point in our slide toward collectivism and centralized authority where the very suggestion that we should revert to our founding principles, that government should play the smallest possible role in the affairs of the citizens and that its power must be carefully proscribed, and to Lincoln’s dictum that the government should do nothing that the people can do better for themelves, is met with puzzlement, derision and bemusement. Yet doing so is the only way to resolve the current debt crisis, and to preserve our liberties and our birthright as Americans.

As Chekhov said: Above all, do good. As Tolstoy said: Kindness can be added to anything. Look for truth, not in a church or in religion or in vague metaphysics, but deep within yourself. For it resides there, as surely as you embody a spirit that breathes love and yearns for eternity.

The human soul is a being in exile. For a few moments, it inhabits a body, experiences the joys and sorrows of the world, finds love, suffers loss, learns, wonders, despairs, and deepens its nature thereby. But always it longs to return to that timeless essence of which it is a mirror. Remember: You are not sad or happy, not full or empty, not alone, fearful, nor doomed to die – You are eternal.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Life and Death Redux

Somerset Maugham wrote in his memoirs that the idea of reincarnation was the only meaningful solution he had ever found to the problem of evil, suffering and death. (Now, since it is possible to argue that death is the ultimate form of evil and suffering, we may shortcut that formulation to speak solely of death.) In other words, death becomes a problem only if we assume that any individual life is a unique event, with a beginning, middle and end, implacable and unrepeatable.

That life is a continuum from conception to death would seem to be a given. (This, by the way, is the ultimate argument against abortion: The continuum of life stretches from conception to death. That continuum does not begin at birth nor at some arbitrary point in gestation. The process of life and living and dying begins where it begins: at conception. It is a continuum unbroken though not unbreakable, and to argue otherwise for personal or political purposes is pernicious.) To put the matter more simply: Death becomes a problem when we believe that we live only once.

As Maugham pointed out, the idea of reincarnation provides a solution to this problem since it posits that individual life is not a unique event, confined to a single nexus of space and time; but, rather, that it is a part of a chain of being that stretches throughout time and space, offering the soul (which transcends time and space) the opportunity to free itself from death. Thus, any given life is groundwork, as it were, for the soul's self-liberation.

There are three components to this proposition: life, the soul and liberation. In contrast to this, the Western or Christian point of view offers life, death and salvation. The difference is critical, since reincarnation removes death as a problem if not as a fact. If one lives and dies and never lives again, then the idea of salvation is all one has to sustain hope. But no matter how we conceive of salvation, it still leaves us with the problem of death. All those who have gone before and died, whether saved or not, are simply gone once and forever. They may live in our hearts and memories, and we may believe they are in some sort of paradise, but the fact remains that they are dead, and will not live again until the purported resurrection of the body at the end of time.

The Western view thus makes us the victims or slaves of time, wholly at its mercy, unable to liberate ourselves from it. And what becomes of space? The Christians do not say. Time, they tell us, will end at the Second Coming of Christ, but what of space? Herein has always lain a contradiction, for if the resurrection of the body which they posit occurs at the end of time, it must nonetheless occur in space. And there can be no space in the absence of time. The resurrection of the body is a silly, pointless and meaningless idea, and it fails utterly to solve the problem of death. In fact, it serves merely to place death at center stage - the focal point of the relation between life and salvation. To put it another way: The Christian view of life makes life impossible without death, for salvation is impossible without death. Death thus becomes the determining factor, as crucial as it is final. For that which must follow death in this schema is not life at all, but some contradictory, mutant form of life, a fantasy that exists in space but out of time.

The Western, Christian, view of life, death and salvation does not solve the problem of evil, suffering and death. And there is a further contradiction: As Tolstoy pointed out, Christianity is unique among the world's religions in insisting that the individual can do nothing to achieve his own salvation. Instead, Christianity posits that Christ accomplished this through his suffering, death and resurrection, and so, all that we can do is to make ourselves worthy of a salvation which Christ has already achieved for us. Far from liberating the individual from the problem of death, this view makes him entirely helpless in the matter of his own survival of death. It shifts the responsibility for salvation from the individual to Christ and, conveniently, to the church which he is said to have founded. Believe and you shall be saved, the church says; or, in other words, Refuse to believe and you shall die. Thus not only does this approach make us slaves to death, it also makes us slaves to the church, wholly dependent upon it for our salvation.

And so the alternative, as Maugham realized, lies in the idea that we do not possess one, unique lifetime, but that our lives are part of a much longer chain of being stretching through time and space, and offering us the possibility, through greater spiritual insight and self-realization, of liberating ourselves from them. In this view, it is the soul which lives, and the soul which experiences evil, suffering and death through consciousness as a means of self-liberation. Evil, suffering and death thus take on a positive, teaching role (as it were) in human experience, neither malign by nature nor neutral in effect. They are cast as opportunities for self-liberation through understanding, spiritual struggle and growing enlightenment.

This latter is key, for it is essential to self-liberation that one profit by the experience of evil, suffering and death (as well as that of rebirth, joy and hope) to work out one's own salvation. This idea, that the responsibility and opportunity for salvation lies with the individual, is potentially terribly liberating, and does offer a solution to the problem of death. For it posits that salvation lies, not with some misty, dependent relation to a church, but rather with the education and realization of the soul. Because the soul survives any particular death, it says, it may survive death entirely, by using death as a means to rebirth and, so, to the re-experience of life and the attainment of enlightenment.

One implication of this idea which does not exist in Christianity is that of the relation of love and life. If one believes that death is the unique end to the unique event of life, and that salvation is its goal, then it follows that one must despise one's life and hope for that which follows life. We can enjoy life, of course; but, ultimately, life has no intrinsic purpose beyond the experience of becoming worthy of something which lies outside of life; namely, salvation. And so Christianity teaches us to despise life (certainly in Catholic school I was taught to do so), and to prefer and cherish and hope for that which lies beyond life.

Reincarnation, on the other hand, implies that one should embrace and love life fully since any given life is part of the process of liberation from the cycle of suffering and death and rebirth. Life, instead of the trial and transit toward salvation which Christianity posits, becomes a hope for freedom and a celebration of the endurance of the soul. In this view, we are continually moving towards self-realization and self-liberation as we move through the process of life, death and rebirth; understanding and accepting the role of death as a transitional experience, rather than dreading it as an end point from which there is no hope of return. In other words, Christianity makes us fear death and despise life, while reincarnation offers us a means to understand death, and to love life.

Now, I think it should be needless to argue that the Christian view of life, death and salvation is utterly inadequate to offer a solution to the problem of death. This should be evident on its face. There is no heaven - that is a primitive child's fairy tale which every thinking person ought to have shrugged off by adulthood. There is no celestial reunion of the long deceased, resurrected at the end of time by a triumphant Christ, and invited to bask in eternal bliss (at least, those who have not been condemned to eternal torment for sins committed in their paltry few years on earth). This is nonsense, and no thinking person can entertain the idea seriously, let alone take solace from it.

But, on the other hand, reincarnation contains within it, if not absurdity, at least a conundrum. One part of this conundrum lies in the question of the relation of one consciousness to another in the chain of life, death and rebirth. Can the soul be said to be individuated, at least to the extent that it can recognize itself from one life to the next? To believe this suggests that the soul retains consciousness, and I am not convinced that this is so. Consciousness, it seems to me, is the product of the soul's interaction with organic life, heightened to its grandest extent in man. But does the individual soul carry this consciousness with it after death? And does the concept of "the individual soul" even have any meaning?

Yet if the soul does not retain consciousness after death, how is it to profit from successive rebirths? Would not death break the chain of consciousness, forcing the individual to begin the process of learning and the movement toward enlightenment over again with each rebirth? How, then, is enlightenment ever to be achieved, and liberation of the soul realized? Yet, if consciousness, or some part or form of it, remains with the soul after death, why then are we born, as it were, clean slates? And how, exactly, does consciousness remain with the soul in the absence of a corporeal substrate, such as the central nervous system and brain? Is not consciousness the product of corporeal incarnation of spirit, and, thus, must it not cease to be when that incarnation ceases?

The second part of the conundrum is more subtle, pernicious and dismaying. What impressed Maugham about the idea of reincarnation was that it alone, in his experience and thought, offered a solution to the problem of death. That solution, it seems to me, appealed to him because it was so rational; in other words, because it was an intellectual solution. Reincarnation makes sense of suffering and death; it gives us a way to understand them; it puts them into perspective. But is it the truth? For we know from our experience that that which make sense is not always true. May reincarnation merely be a forlorn hope in the presence of death; yet another grasping at straws?

Here one is tempted to ask for evidence, for proof, and indeed, there are some proponents of reincarnation who try to offer this. They point to the possibility of the knowledge of the existence of past lives as evidence; but I find such tenuous and tendentious recollection no more satisfying than the Christian notion of heaven. There is no proof that reincarnation is the truth, and the fact that the majority of the world's people accept it does not make it so. And so we are (or at least I am) left with the possibility that reincarnation, though it makes good sense, may not in fact be true. Rather, it appeals to us and offers solace as an intellectual proposition only.

On the other hand, the absence of evidence does not necessarily render an idea false. Before Columbus there was no hard evidence that a New World existed, but that did not mean that Europe, as a continent, was unique. And so we are thrown back on the question of belief, full in the knowledge that believing something, likewise, does not make it true. What, then, are we to do?

To abandon hope for a solution to the problem of death is to despair altogether; to submit to the idea that life has no purpose and that death is the end. And while this may, in fact, be the truth, there is no joy or meaning or solace in it. To accept death as the absolute end of life is to cancel out life itself; to render it null and void, arbitrary and pointless. Love, hope, joy, suffering and death all become empty since they are transitory and death is terminal. Nothing endures, and the soul, if it exists, disappears into some eternal ocean of its own substance. There is no individuation, no salvation, no liberation. As Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych realized to his horror: There is nothing but death, and death ought not to exist.

Can one live under these conditions? Can one survive with this suspicion? In fact, many people do, meandering through their lives as if they had meaning, while all the time suspecting that they do not. They are like skaters on the most delicate film of ice trying to blind themselves to the possibility that the depths beneath it are infested with sharks. Logic, emotion, instinct suggest that there must be an alternative; that this vast and deep experience of life must possess some purpose.

It seems to me that life itself may be the evidence that death is not the end point, not the negation of consciousness and hope and life. It is irresistible to my mind that life itself, and the consciousness which it engenders, argue for something which transcends them; that life is the problem which must be solved, not death. What is the meaning and nature of life; what is its purpose and point? What is its destiny? And so I come back to Maugham's conclusion: that rebirth, renewal and self-realization, perhaps uniquely, offer an opportunity for the soul's liberation, and for a freedom finally, from death.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tree, Weiner, Sarah and Donne

Here are some thoughts in passing on matters of the moment...

Tree of Life

The three film directors working today whose work I most admire are Ang Lee, Peter Weir and Terrence Malick. Recently I saw Malick's new film, Tree of Life, and I found it breathtakingly beautiful and brilliant. It is not a film for everyone; you must have a certain level of film culture in order to understand its intent and appreciate its execution. This is a film about the tragedy and travails of a Waco, Texas, family in the 1950s that includes dinosaurs and the Big Bang. In short, it is an art film, the kind of film I watched when I was in film school; the kind of film that is rarely if ever made these days. But it is a masterpiece, and when it was over, I was speechless.

Malick is a visionary, a poetic filmmaker who reminds us that film is essentially a visual medium. He never hesitates to stop a film cold and demand that we look at an image, indeed, meditate on it. His cinema is almost mystical in its quest to find the most profound meaning in the most mundane image - a bird in flight, a young woman in love in flight, a child's imagination in flight. Tree of Life is a magnificent visual poem about life and hope and love; the kind of film which only a visionary of Malick's talent and integrity could have conceived and accomplished. Credit must also be given to Bill Pohlad of River Road Films for having had the courage and independence to bring this work of art to the screen.

Weiner's Dilemma

I do not share the incipient delight of most conservatives at the auto-destruction of Congressman Anthony Weiner, though I do welcome his imminent departure from the political scene. The embarrassment caused by him to his constituents and to his family, and the deepening sense of cynicism which his arrogant stupidity must engender, are not a cause for celebration. I have long felt that Congressman Weiner, in his hubris, self-righteous elitism and nasty-minded behavior represented a threat to the nation. We now see that they represent a threat to himself.

Weiner's smug, bullying far-left politics are, in my view, dangerous to the Republic. Weiner, and those like him on the left, despise the United States and the values upon which it was founded, and seek nothing more ardently than to transform it into their elitist concept of a socialist oligarchy over which they alone will have control. He has not learned the lesson of history, that those who erode democracy in favor of centralized control in the name of ideology become the first victims of the concomitant loss of liberty. While I take no joy in the manner of his demise, I do welcome his disappearance. If he is capable of feeling shame about his own misbehavior, and compassion for those whom he has injured by it, he will resign.

Palin Obsession

Why is the mainstream media so obsessed with Sarah Palin? I heard a report recently that even they now admit that their absorption with her is excessive, and like addicts, they are trying to wean (or Weiner) themselves from it. That the media is shamefully biased toward the left is indisputable; but the unceasing reportage on everything to do with Governor Palin, her family and her aspirations is, quite frankly, bewildering to me. She does not hold public office and does not appear to be seeking to hold public office, yet the leftist press covers her as if she were the Empress of America gone berserk.

Now let me be clear: I am not a fan of Governor Palin. Though I find her generally sincere, in my view she has turned herself into a joke, and I earnestly hope that she does not enter the presidential race. But for the press to demand the release of thousands of her emails as governor, and to send dozens of reporters to Alaska to comb through them looking for scandal or dirt, for the editors of the New York Times and Washington Post to ask its readers to help them to sift through the massive release and report back to them, goes far beyond any normal interest in a former public servant. In fact, it strikes me as a new low in journalistic standards.

I can only imagine that the self-important poohbahs of the press hate Sarah Palin, and that they hate her because they fear her. Yet given her lack of official standing, surely this fear is irrational. But the fact is that she speaks to average Americans with an earnestness and a plainness which the mainstream press have long since eschewed in their elitist righteousness, and in their firm conviction that they own the news in America, and only they have a right to shape public opinion. Sarah Palin, for all her missteps and shortcomings, threatens their ossifying grip on opinion in our society, and they cannot forgive or forget her for it.

Bin Laden

In much the same spirit in which I wrote about Anthony Weiner, I felt no need to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. In fact, I found the spectacle of people cheering in the streets at the news troubling. It reminded me of reports I had seen of Palestinians dancing publicly in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Both demonstrations, I thought, were inappropriate to the point of being repulsive. As the poet, John Donne, said: Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

I learned the news of bin Laden's death with a feeling of relief, and a rather grim sense that justice had at last been done. He was a murderer, a lunatic, a religious fanatic. He made a sham of the faith he claimed to propound, and, as all cowards do, he sent young, brainwashed followers out to die, while he remained in safety. His death was the inevitable end of a despicable despot.

That said, I continue to be troubled by the official reports of the circumstances surrounding it. At first the Administration claimed he had been killed in the course of a fierce and protracted gun battle, and only after having refused to surrender and having lunged for a weapon. As the hours and days went by, all that changed. There was no gun battle, evidently no attempt to take him into custody, and no resistance on his part. It seems in the end of it that he was simply shot to death, unarmed, in front of one of his wives. The public lack of will to learn the truth in this killing is understandable given the subject of the story; nonetheless, I believe that history demands it.

If, as it now appears, the raiders simply burst in on bin Laden with orders to kill him, then the President has violated American law. I refer, of course, to the Presidential directive issued by Jimmy Carter prohibiting the United States from engaging in the assassination of any foreign leader. As far as I know, no one in the media or the political establishment has raised this question. We would, I suppose, prefer just to forget the matter. But my reading of history tells me that such matters reawaken eventually and at great cost. Perhaps, rather than boast of the event, we ought to be examining it soberly and, as bin Laden never would have done, in the light of reason and the law. That is the best way to put his lethal legacy behind us.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Over dinner with my older son tonight, to celebrate our respective birthdays (they are three days apart), I listened with barely concealed delight as he told me about the books he has been reading lately. They are all the books I could not induce him to read when he was younger: Maugham, Waugh, Tolstoy (of course), Dostoevsky, Joyce, Hemingway, and to my great satisfaction, Babel. I think Isaac Babel was the most talented of the post-revolutionary Russian writers, and therefore, the most tragic. A brilliant young Jewish intellectual, he served, incongruously, with the Red Cavalry in the Russian civil war (though he did not know how to ride a horse), participating in the invasion of Poland, which gave rise to his greatest work, the cycle of short stories entitled "The Red Cavalry."

I based my own book, "Lt. Ramsey's War," structurally on "The Red Cavalry," which is a work I admire very much. It is wonderfully made, expressive, moving, and profound. My son said that he had done a bit of research on Babel prior to reading him, and was dismayed to learn that he had been arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and finally executed in the Soviet camps. But that was inevitable. The Bolsheviks could not tolerate so lyrical and liberated a soul. They killed, tortured or silenced all of the great talents of the Soviet era, including Mandelshtam, Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn, Tarkovsky and, perhaps most touchingly of all, Yuri Olesha.

Olesha, who is little known or read these days, was, after Babel, I think, the most talented of the Soviet writers. A chubby, spectacled little man, he was essentially a romantic of the 19th century who found himself in the nightmare world of communist Russia. His greatest work and his only novel is entitled "Envy," because he saw the new world, and the new "Soviet Man" who was to inherit it, and he knew he could never be part of that. That was what he was envious of: a new generation of super-men of the communist state, with their steely eyes and sledge hammers who served the state slavishly -- lived, labored, sacrificed and died in its service.

They were creatures of the new collective government, these New Men, its minions, its mice who ran its tortured labyrinth their entire lives, ceding to it their freedom, their individuality, their very souls. They gave their children to state orphanages to be raised in the principles of Marx and Lenin, married when they were told whom they were told, and devoted their lives to the greater good of the communist populace. They were, in short, the ants of Dostoevsky's ant hill, that massive, inhuman, impersonal collective of which he warned the Russian people in the 1870s. Fortunately he did not live long enough to see it come into murderous reality.

As I thought of Olesha, that timid, tender soul who also tried to warn the Russian people of the cliff over which they were rushing, and whose brilliant promise was cut short when he was warned by the secret police to write no longer, I could not help but think (forgive me) of our own nation in our own time. And so I feel moved to warn my fellow Americans, as Olesha did his fellow Russians, that we are in the process, very gradual but unmistakable, of selling our souls to the government. In return for what? "Free" health care, cheap prescription drugs, entitlements, and a phony sense of fairness.

My fear is that our children may be the last generation of what the world would recognize as Americans -- those unique people who created their own government, constructed their own nation, lived their own lives, possessed their own souls and died in the certain knowledge that their children would be better off for their having done so. Like Olesha, I envy those who came before me in my land, and I fear and despise those who are usurping it in the name of greater social justice, greater collective good, greater dependence on a government which even now has swollen to proportions that can absorb us all.

We must resist. We must reinvent ourselves. We must restore our nation to what its Founders intended: a land of opportunity, where great accomplishment is possible because great risk is inevitable. We must be free to fail even if that means some of us fail miserably. The goal of this nation was the greatest good for the greatest number, not a mediocre level of satisfaction and security for everyone at the expense of liberty and individuality. America was meant to be, as Jack Kennedy said, the last, best hope of mankind. We must not barter that hope away for a phony fairness and a false promise of security from cradle to grave. In short, we must once again begin behaving like Americans.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I have been listening a good deal lately to the Cesar Franck violin sonata, which I have enjoyed for many years. It is, in some ways, perfect. That is, for at least one time in his career, Franck got everything right. The first two movements, taken together, are huge for such a small form, filled with colors and textures, and possessing great strength. The third movement is wonderfully inventive and modern-feeling, while the finale contains one of my favorite themes in all of music, beautifully crafted and balanced, irresistible in its lyrical delicacy and expressiveness. It is a great work of musical art.

This led me to reflect on other composers who got it right at least once. Bizet is an example, with 'Carmen.' It is a wildly successful opera, and stands almost alone in his body of work for its achievement. Everything is right; it is dramatic, entertaining, and contains some of the most famous melodies in all of music. Now, I admit that Bizet wrote one very good symphony (when he was 17 I learned recently), which among other things contains a wonderful oboe solo; and the suite from l' Arlesienne remains popular, but 'Carmen' stands apart as a magnificent anomaly.

I find as I get older that I appreciate more the work of Jean Sibelius, whom I now regard as one of the best composers of the twentieth century (I think Prokoviev is the best), and I listen more often now to his music. He was an enormously talented man, but, I think, he was limited by the fact that he rarely transcended the confines of his national character. Much of his music sounds vaguely like a Finlandic winter to me, although his work, especially the symphonies, contain themes of great beauty and power. The problem is that the listener has to wade through so much turgid and tedious development to get to them; rather like trekking across the tundra to reach a few wonderful resorts.

The exception in Sibelius is the Violin Concerto, which, like the Franck sonata, is perfect. In that one work, everything comes together, everything is right. The piece has all that a great violin concerto should have: a big, powerful first movement, a lyrical, moving second, and a wonderful, exuberant thrill ride of a third. I love the Sibelius Violin Concerto, indeed, it is one of my favorite pieces of music, and it represents, to me, the best example of a composer getting it all right at least once in his career.

Vivaldi wrote a large number of pieces, some of which are wonderful, many of which are virtually indistinguishable from one another, but in the Four Seasons, he created one of the icons of Western music. Carl Orff was an important musicologist and pedagogue, but he is primarily remembered for one work, the oratorio Carmina Burana, which is absolutely brilliant. Biber's great accomplishment is the Mystery Sonatas (the pasacaglia from which inspired Bach's great Chaconne in D minor for solo violin, my favorite piece of music), and Guillaume de Machaut is remembered for his Messe de Notre Dame, which is one of the jewels of the pre-Renaissance.

There are other examples that I could cite, but the larger point is that such unique outbursts of brilliance serve to remind us of those composers who got it right over and over, year after year, in masterpiece after masterpiece. Bach is the greatest example of this. The sheer of volume of his masterworks is almost incomprehensible. That one man could produce works of such genius over so long a period defies imagination. Mozart is another, and Beethoven, too, of course. Brahms produced a very large body of masterful works during his lifetime, as did Schubert, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and, to a lesser extent, Prokoviev and Ravel. For such composers, 'getting it right' was the norm, and the occasional misses were the exception.

All this leads me, in turn, to reflect that there are two modes, if you will, of genius: sustained and punctual. Some artists are capable of moments of genius, while a few, a very few, seem to dwell in genius as a nearly permanent condition. Where, I wonder, in our own time, are the latter kind of artist? I don't see any. Perhaps some of you can suggest them.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Posting Redux

I have been absent for a while because I have been struggling with illness, work, and depression, but I shall make an effort to resume posting.

Someone asked recently why I was silent during "the most deplorable period in American history." While I do not think this period is our most deplorable - I would have chosen the period immediately preceding the Civil War for that distinction - I remain deeply concerned about the current condition and the future of the nation. I heard recently that the International Monetary Fund had informed the European Economic Union, by way of warning, that the United States has "no viable plan" to deal with its debt, and that China would overtake us as the world's leading economy within five years. I fear this is true, and it means, among many other things, that we are witnessing our nation's deterioration into a second-rate power, and that we will leave our children and grandchildren a country less prosperous and dynamic than the one we inherited. The great irony of course is that China is succeeding by adopting the methods which we are abandoning as we seek to become more like the nation that China no longer wishes to be - centralized, collectivist, socialist.

This is a sad state of affairs, and I feel that I must take a bit of the blame for it, since I was a leader in a generation of youth that believed that government was the solution to the nation's inequalities, and that socialism was the cure for its economic injustices. And while I think we were right insofar as the Civil Rights struggle and the campaign to end the war in Vietnam were concerned, we were wrong in just about every other regard. Nonetheless, through our strident activism, we left a legacy of the growth of government and the corresponding diminution of individual liberty, and of reliance on the power of government as a first and not as a final resort.

We now see the effects of that philosophy: More Americans are dependent on government assistance than ever before - fully 20 percent by some estimates - and government is the single biggest employer in the nation; the tax code in its baroque illogic punishes achievement, enterprise, and the desire to excel, while making it impossible for the middle class to accumulate wealth; our health care system is being collectivized and nationalized under a bureaucracy infamous for waste, incompetence and indifference; the public education system, which is the prisoner of the teachers unions and their servile cronies in the Democratic Party, is a disgrace (I heard yesterday that 47 percent of the people of Detroit are illiterate!); the nation's infrastructure is decaying at an alarming rate; and mediocrity and cynical self-interest have become the chief virtues of our political system.

It is no wonder that we are in the dire condition in which we find ourselves. And all this in pursuit of a phony ideal of fairness which exists only in the minds of the left-wing elite, and which they use government to impose on the rest of us whether we agree or not. Has it not become amply clear that this "fairness" is always purchased at the price of freedom? And while we, in my generation of youths, fought for fairness in race relations, we never intended, indeed, never even imagined, that that goal would one day be so inflated and distorted as to result in such atrocities as the government rationed health care and the death panels of the new health care law. For if everyone is guaranteed the freedom to live by the government, under the liberals' fairness doctrine, we must all also accept the responsibility to die when the government decides that our lives are no longer of any value. That is the ultimate form of leftist fairness: The right to life, liberty and happiness, so long as the government bureaucracy decides it makes actuarial sense for us to possess it.

The Constitution is being stood on its head by the left, for whom Cuba is a better model of fairness than America. Now the rights which the Founders declared came only from God are depicted as coming from government, in which God no longer plays a part. The left in this country has succeeded finally in doing what the Bolsheviks did from the start: secularize the nation's public life, substituting their own ambitions, values, and power for that primary source of power from which all rights flow. It is the collectivist inevitability of which Trotsky, of all people, warned - the substitution of central power for popular sovereignty - and, excuse me my friends, but President Obama is the convenient stooge of that ideology.

The left has now succeeded in realizing the socialist vision which we, as twenty-year-olds in the '70s intoxicated ourselves with, and the result is that our system is poorer, more unfair, less dynamic and productive, less innovative and entrepreneurial, more unequal, more destructive of the human spirit, and makes far less sense politically, socially, and economically than did the one against which we were struggling. My generation has won, and I apologize for it.