Friday, October 24, 2008

Once Upon a Time in America

Continuing to read Garret's The People's Pottage, and found this gem of how Americans used to think, used to be.

[Americans] were deeply imbued with the traditions and maxims of individual resourcefulness---a people who grimly treasured in their anthology of political wisdom the words of Grover Cleveland, who vetoed a Federal loan of only ten thousand dollars for drought relief in Texas, saying: "I do not believe that the power and duty of the general Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering . . . A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people. . . . Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our National character."

Which was only one more way of saying a hard truth that was implicit in the American way of thinking, namely, that when people support the government they control government, but when the government supports the people it will control them.
(The People's Pottage, p. 55)

Americans used to take pride in supporting themselves, in freedom. Today, they can't give away their freedom fast enough, and crave the paternalistic protection of the government. Just compare America's embarrassing reaction to Hurricane Katrina, in which many shamelessly demanded Federal aid.

We have become a nation of beggars. And self-righteous beggars, at that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The People's Pottage

The People's Pottage is a book by Garet Garrett, about what the New Deal meant for America. I'm just starting to read it, and if the Forward is any indication, it is going to be an outstanding book. From the Forward:

A time came when the only people who had ever been free began to ask: What is freedom?

Who wrote its articles---the strong or the weak?

Could there be such a thing as unconditional freedom, short of anarchy?

Given the answer to be no, then was freedom an eternal truth or a political formula?

Since it was clear to reason that freedom must be conditioned, as by self-discipline, individual responsibility and many necessary laws of restraint; and since there was never in the world an absolute good, why should people not be free to say they would have less freedom in order to have more of some other good?

What other good?


What else?


And beyond that?

Beyond that the sympathies of we, and all men as brothers, instead of the willful I, as if each man were a sovereign, self-regarding individual?

Well, where there is freedom doubt itself must be free. You shall not be forbidden to interrogate the faith of your fathers. Better that, indeed, than to take it entirely for granted.

So long as doubts such as these were wildish pebbles in the petulant waves that gnaw ceaselessly at any foundation, perhaps only because it is a foundation, no great damage was done. But when they began to be massed as a creed, then they became sharp cutting tools, wickedly set in the jaws of the flood. That was the work of a disaffected intellectual cult, mysteriously rising in the academic world; and from the same source came the violent winds of Marxian propaganda that raised the waves higher and made them angry.

Even so, the damage to the foundations might have been much slower and not beyond simple repair if it had not happened that in 1932 a bund of intellectual revolutionaries, hiding behind the conservative planks of the Democratic party, seized control of government.

After that it was the voice of government saying to the people there had been too much freedom. That was their trouble. Freedom was for the strong. The few had used it to exploit the many. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, boom and bust, depression and unemployment, economic insecurity, want in the midst of plenty, property rights above human rights, taking it always out of the hide of labor in bad times---all of that was what came of rugged individualism, of free prices, free markets, free enterprise and freedom of contract. Let that be the price of freedom, and who would not say it was too dear?

Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it? The same excuses are being used to sell further curtailments of freedom today, by both parties now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The lovely, wonderful actress, Irene Dunne, with a magnificent performance of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, followed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, from the movie Roberta. This is how movies used to be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When the Government Intervenes in the Economy: Unmerciful Disaster Follows Fast and Follows Faster

Until now I haven't written about the sudden, precipitous descent into socialism that America is undergoing. But with every failed attempt to "stabilize" the economy, the government has pushed further and further into the mire of socialism, until one day I woke up and found the financial system--which was already strangled by regulations--nationalized. These actions are to be "limited and temporary." Naturally. If there is one thing government is good at, it is maintaining power, once it has acquired it.

According to an article on
banks are being coerced into accepting the government's "limited and temporary" assistance:

The opposition [to the plan] suggested that the government may have to continue to press banks to participate in the plan. The first $125 billion will be divided among nine of the largest U.S. banks, which were forced to accept the investment to help destigmatize the program in the eyes of other institutions.
[Emphasis added.]

Here we see the government openly admitting the immorality of this scheme, such that they must force banks to pretend to like it, in order to get other banks to like it. Faking reality, in broad daylight.

"We will encourage institutions to apply," said John C. Dugan, the comptroller of the currency, who oversees most of the nation's largest banks.

In return for its investments, Treasury will receive preferred shares of bank stock that pay 5 percent interest for up to five years. After that, if the companies haven't repaid the government's initial investment, the interest rate goes up to 9 percent.

Participating banks cannot increase the dividends they pay to shareholders without federal permission, they must accept some limitations on compensation for their executives, and Paulson said the government would press companies to limit mortgage foreclosures.
[Emphasis added.]

As if government interference with the mortgage process hadn't been disastrous enough, already. And the friendly element of government "encouragement." How does the government encourage anything? Persuasion? Or force? Telling banks what dividends to pay, what salaries to pay, not to foreclose mortgages: it all adds up to socialism, of the fascist variety.

Also yesterday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said it will create, essentially, two new insurance programs.

The basic insurance program still guarantees all bank deposits up to $250,000. A new supplemental program guarantees all deposits above $250,000 in accounts that don't pay interest. The program basically covers accounts used by small businesses.

Some European governments had already guaranteed deposits, creating a competitive advantage for banks in those countries. Banking regulators also were concerned that small businesses were transferring deposits from community banks to larger institutions perceived as less likely to fail. Finally, small businesses contributed to the failure of Washington Mutual and the collapse of Wachovia by pulling uninsured deposits from those banks.
[Emphasis added.]

This is a textbook example of the government causing problems, and then blaming them on the free market. What caused the failure of Washingtonn Mutual and Wachovia was not small businesses pulling out their deposits. It was the government's decision to insure other banks that ruined the uninsured banks. How can any business compete with the limitless power and money (the printing press) of the federal government? Either toe the party line, i.e., take government protection (kind of how the mafia works, isn't it?), or try to compete with the omnipotent state. It can't be done.

If this trend continues, how will America be better than any other country? How can I support any military action the US might take, when we aren't any better than whatever country we might do battle with? That is how desperately bad these measures are, if they stick.

If they don't stick, they will merely have been a colossal injustice to all the taxpayers who were forced to bailout all the banks and other companies that failed due partly to their own incompetence, but mainly due to government interventions in the economy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dae Jang Geum on the Value of Purpose

Episode Seven of Dae Jang Geum addresses the value of purpose in man's life, and the awful state of men without purpose. Having decided to dramatize this issue, how to proceed?

The wonderful writer of DJG solved the problem in this way. First, Jang Geum got into trouble for going outside of the palace, which was strictly forbidden without special permission. The Head Lady decided to expel her from the palace, the standard punishment for that transgression. Everyone is appalled, knowing as they do that Jang Geum is one of the best among them, if not in fact the best. Finally, the Head Kitchen Lady, named Lady Jung, and Jang Geum's mentor, Lady Han, offer to forgo three year's worth of their salary if the Head Lady will allow Jang Geum to stay in the palace. This shows how highly the best and the brightest of the palace women value Jang Geum. The Head Lady greedily accepts their offer, but still banishes Jang Geum to the lowliest section of the palace grounds - the herb garden. It is a place to which loafers, miscreants, drunks and criminals are sent, and no one expects to return to the palace proper from the herb garden. It is essentially a place of exile and abandonment.

At the herb garden, the workers are supposed to be growing herbs. But none of them do any gardening, or in fact any kind of work, at all. When Jang Geum arrives, she finds the workers - and even their supervisor - lying in the fields, asleep. When she asks them what she is supposed to do, the supervisor tells her not to do anything, unless she wants to drink. No one expects any work to be done in the herb garden, and all the people there are content to do nothing, wasting away their existence drinking, eating, and sleeping, without purpose. These men are clearly going to pot, their minds and bodies atrophying from lack of use. It is against this background that we are able to contrast the behavior of Jang Geum.

Jang Geum finds their behavior incomprehensible. She literally goes to bed weeping at the apparent purposelessness of life in the herb garden. Finally, she tells the supervisor she cannot "do nothing," as it would drive her crazy. So she begins collecting all the assorted herb seeds she can find in the storehouse, none of which have any identifying lables attached to them. Those she recognizes, she labels accordingly, for those she cannot identify she bothers the supervisor until he identifies them for her. Soon she has them all identified, and she begins clearing some of the weed infested field and planting some of the herbs.

The other workers, and the supervisor, watch her and laugh at the "futility" of her actions. They begin taking bets on how soon she will give up - or worse. The last court lady sent to the herb garden had committed suicide. But Jang Geum persists in her methodical categorizing and gardening.

One day she comes to the workers and asks them for better gardening techniques. One of them mentions a particular herb that no one has succeeded in growing, though they had been trying for 20 years. Immediately, Jang Geum's face brightens, and she says: "Good! I will use that!" When they ask what she means, she explains that she will use that as her goal, as a purpose toward which to strive while in the herb garden. But why that particular goal? "Because you said it was hard!"

After a methodical trial and error period, Jang Geum succeeds in growing the rare herb - and finally the other workers, and the supervisor, begin to admire Jang Geum, and to want to bring some purpose back into their own lives, as well. They all recognize, once they have seen it again, the ennobling, uplifting value of purpose.

Jang Geum taught them that, though it was not her intention. She simply wanted purpose in her own life. But her good example had a salutary effect on all those around her.

And not coincidentally, Jang Geum's success in growing the rare herb brings about the thing she most desires at the moment: she is allowed to return to the palace as a court lady in training, her status fully restored.

Thus did the writer of Dae Jang Geum - Kim Yeong-hyeon - dramatize the value of purpose in man's life. This is but one wonderful episode in a magnificent, 54 episode series called Dae Jang Geum.

I paid more than $200 for the full three volumes of this series and it was worth every penny - and would still have been worth it at ten times the cost. It's that good.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Men of Harlech, Lie Ye Dreaming?

Men of Harlech is a traditional Welsh song, which has many different versions of its lyrics. It tells the story of a Saxon invasion of Wales, and the Welsh defending their land and freedom. It's a rousing song to hear performed. If only the West still exhibited the spirit immortalized in this song. Unfortunately, we still lie dreaming.

In this Charlotte Church rendition, the first part is sung in Welsh, but it switches to English when the male choirs joins in. Here is the English portion of the lyrics:

Hark, I hear the foe advancing
Barbed steeds are proudly prancing
Helmets in the sunbeams glancing
Cymru fo am byth
Men of Harlech, lie ye dreaming
See ye not their falchions gleaming
While their pennons gaily streaming
Cymru fo am byth.
From the rocks resounding
Let the war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria's call
The haughty foe surrounding
Men of Harlech, on to glory
See your banner famed in story
Waves these burning words before ye,
Cymru fo am byth!

That line in Welsh, Cymru fo am byth, means something like "Cambria ne'er can yield!"

And here are two other versions of the song, which I like even better. The first one, I think, has the best poetry. The second one is the best philosophically.

Men of Harlech, lyrics by John Oxenford

Men of Harlech! In the Hollow,
Do ye hear like rushing billow
Wave on wave that surging follow
Battle's distant sound?
Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen,
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen,
Be they knights or hinds or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground!
Loose the folds asunder,
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! 'tis the country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us
Honor's self now proudly heads us,
Freedom, God and Right!

Rocky Steeps and passes narrow,
Flash with spear and flight of arrow
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven!
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And mercy shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and Right!

Version 2

Men of Harlech, march to glory, Victory is hov'ring o'er ye,
Bright eyed freedom stands before ye, Hear ye not her call?
At your sloth she seems to wonder, Rend the sluggish bonds asunder,
Let the war cry's deaf'ning thunder, Ev'ry foe appal.

Echoes loudly waking, Hill and valley shaking;
'Till the sound spreads wide around, The Saxon's courage breaking;
Your foes on ev'ry side assailing, Forward press with heart unfailing,
Till invaders learn with quailing, Cambria ne'er can yield.

Thou who noble Cambria wrongest, Know that freedom's cause is strongest
Freedom's courage lasts the longest, Ending but with death!
Freedom countless hosts can scatter, Freedom stoutest mail can shatter,
Freedom thickest walls can batter, Fate is in her breath.

See they now are flying! Dead are heaped with dying!
Over might has triumphed right, Our land to foes denying;
Upon their soil we never sought them, Love of conquest hither brought them,
But this lesson we have taught them, Cambria ne'er can yield.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Great Movie Lines

Some memorable lines or short scenes from movies I like.

John Russel: "If it's all right with you, lady, I just didn't feel like bleeding for him. And even if it isn't all right with you." Hombre

Sgt. Murdoch: "I'm going to miss Lt. Holloway."
Cpl. Gilchrist: "Ah, that's a lot of talk, Murdoch. If the truth were known, you're probably glad that Holloway got killed. It just gives you another chance to apply for a commission."
Sgt. Murdoch: "Huh. I'll never get a commission as long as Lance is around."
Cpl. Gilchrist: "And would you say that was his fault -- or your fault?" Only the Valiant

Lady Bracknell "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness." The Importance of Being Earnest

Cpl. Miller: "I'm not anxious to kill anyone. You see, I'm not a born soldier. I was trapped . . . No, I prefer to leave the killing to someone like you, an officer and a gentleman, a leader of men."
Cpt. Mallory: "If you think I wanted this, any of this, you're out of your mind, I was trapped like you, just like anyone who put on the uniform!"
Cpl. Miller: "Of course you wanted it, you're an officer, aren't you? I never let them make me an officer! I don't want the responsibility!"
Cpt. Mallory: "So you've had a free ride, all this time! Someone's got to take responsibility if the job's going to get done! You think that's easy?" The Guns of Navarone

[the boys watch the burning model ship in the "Viking funeral"]
Beau at age 12: "There. That's what I want when my turn comes. I'd give anything to have a Viking's funeral... with a dog at my feet and 'last post' blown for me. If it weren't too much trouble."
Digby at age 12: "Beau, it isn't too much trouble. I'll give you one whenever you like." Beau Geste

[after she reads the letter Beau had written to explain what happened to the jewel - he has signed the letter with his name - she reads... ]
Lady Patricia Brandon: "Beau Geste"
Lady Patricia Brandon: [to John] "Beau Geste... gallant gesture. We didn't name him wrong, did we?" Beau Geste

Rick: "I congratulate you."
Victor Laszlo: "What for?"
Rick: "Your work."
Laszlo: "I try."
Rick: "We all try; You succeed!" Casablanca

Cyrano: "I had never known
Womanhood and its sweetness but for you.
My mother did not love to look at me--
I never had a sister-- Later on,
I feared the mistress with a mockery
Behind her smile. But you--because of you
I have had one friend not quite all a friend--
Across my life, one whispering silken gown!"
Cyrano de Bergerac

Mu Bai:"Shu Lien."
Shu Lien: "Save your strength."
Mu Bai: "My life is departing. I've only one breath left."
Shu Lien: "Use it to meditate. Free yourself from this world . . . as you have been taught. Let your soul rise to eternity . . . with your last breath. Don't waste it for me."
Mu Bai: "I've already wasted my whole life. I want to tell you with my last breath . . . I have always loved you. I would rather be a ghost, drifting by your side . . . as a condemned soul . . . than enter heaven without you. Because of your love . . . I will never be a lonely spirit." Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon