Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Saving a nation

We need a complete regeneration.
Count Stephen Széchenyi
Speech to Hungarian chamber of magnates
April 22, 1840

The story of an obscure, 19th century Hungarian count who took it upon himself to rebuild his broken nation may illustrate for us exactly what is missing on the part of both contenders in our quadrennial political prizefight:   a spirit of sacrifice.

First, some back-story:

As a young man, uber-wealthy Hungarian nobleman Istvan Széchenyi came across a prophecy by the German writer Johann Gottfried Herder, written in 1791.  Herder said there would be no such thing as “Hungary” in just 100 years.  The country was too backward, too beset by problems.  In effect, he was saying “you can’t get there from here.”

Széchenyi was struck as though by lightning by this pronouncement.  Which was a bit strange for someone who had spent a lot of time away from home, first in the military and then traveling.  As a result, even his magyar language skills were just so-so, yet something stirred within him:  patriotism.   Soon enough, he determined to set about with his whole being, his intellect, imagination and capital, to make the dire and somewhat cynical prophecy not so.

Today, more than 200 years later, and half a world away, America seems nearly as pressed on all sides as Hungary was back in the 18th century.  We may not face imminent demise, but the problems we face are daunting.  And we are not on a path to solve them.

Consider just these:

Finance.  Since it is constantly growing, our staggering debt – federal, state, individual – has made real the threat of financial collapse.  No, not this week, or next, perhaps, as so many are fond of pointing out, but down the road the probabilities increase.  That should still matter, but to so many, it doesn’t, possibly because it would require sacrifice.   There’s that word again.  Anathema to Washington.  The Obama administration doesn’t’ “sacrifice,” it borrows.  It has increased the national debt more in four years than in the eight years of the Bush administration, and that is really saying something.  As recently as 2000, the national debt stood at $5 trillion; by 2008, $9 trillion, now it is nearly $16 trillion.  “Unsustainable” is the word we often hear applied to this thriving malignancy, but even the most financially sober national political candidate – Paul Ryan -- only proposes cutting the rate of growth of the deficit near term versus the actual deficit.  

Széchenyi would not have gone along with this.   He knew sound money was the foundation for prosperity.  To promulgate his views, he wrote on credit and other issues of political economy in three books (Credit, World, Stadium).  He wanted a strong and solvent nation.  He called on his fellow aristocrats to follow his lead for the good of the nation; it was a hard sell then, he was regarded as a traitor to his class, but he did it.

One cannot discuss our financial situation without considering our military policy, and energy policy.  Of the former, with 900 to 1,100 military bases around the world (no one knows for sure), too many; on the latter, we have none.   Széchenyi was very much opposed to war, by the way.  He knew its death and destruction first hand, something none of the current four candidates do.  None have served in the military.

Economy. Let’s say the USA was solvent, and the world, at peace everywhere.  Still we have economic competition vis-à-vis China, Brazil, India, Russia, and a host of emerging nations.  Széchenyi was concerned with production, he wrote on agriculture, the biggest industry of the day, and promoted new methods to increase production.  He engineered a bridge spanning the Danube, linking Buda and Pest, to stimulate trade, earning the nickname, “Bridgeman.”  The famous Széchenyi Bridge still stands.  Széchenyi was first to navigate the Danube to the sea, again to set the stage for more trade, a stronger Hungary. Széchenyi had a vision; our incumbent president does not even seem to know who creates a business.

Education.  American schoolchildren have fallen far behind their overseas counterparts.  Some third world nations have higher literacy rates than the U.S.   Széchenyi knew the future belonged to the educated.  Not waiting for government action, he founded Hungary’s National Academy of Sciences with funds from his own pocket.    What is the U.S. plan?  Very far down the list, unfortunately.

Health.  None of the above matters if you aren’t alive.  The obesity epidemic is a modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague.  It is everywhere.  So, too, is heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, arthritis.  Some of this is genetic, but some of it is environmental, brought on by consumption of excess calories`.  Factor in alcoholism, drug abuse and all the rest.  America is facing a health crisis, which precipitates a financial crisis to pay for it.   So very little of our discussion goes into prevention of disease, so much of the popular imagination goes into figuring out how to pay for new diseases instead of preventing them, as best as one can.

What drove The Count?  A complex man, motivated by many things, one of these was faith, Christianity.  A Roman Catholic, Széchenyi went to confession and received communion all his life.  Before undertaking an overseas trip with his Protestant friend, Wesselényi, Széchenyi warned him it was his custom to pray on his knees each night.  But it didn’t end there, his faith required action, as he put it, to join the battle of good and evil as an “active citizen.”   Which would mean addressing – straight-on – the aforementioned issues that beset us all.   Many in the faith community are not even aware of the financial crisis, let alone demanding our feckless legislators make necessary cuts, raise revenues, balance the scales, to invoke a Biblical image.  Faith for many is compartmentalized.  For Széchenyi, life was all of one cloth.

Sacrifice, then, to achieve necessary goals was second nature to him.  It couldn’t be so easily put in a box and forgotten.

Our times cry out for a Széchenyi , a leader with the moral caliber to own up to the problems at hand, face them squarely, not flinch and then to call for the requisite sacrifices, the regeneration, the imagination to develop solutions, the vision to see a better day, and the energy to make it all happen.

And with the moral courage to call for sacrifice, on the part of all, not just some.  That’s the missing and catalytic dimension so far in the race of 2012.  The concept of “nation,” of “all” versus the concept of “me.”  Instead we have a class consciousness, an ‘us versus them’ mentality, red vs. blue, left vs. right, versus a problem-solving mentality.  The talk radio hosts who should know better fan the flames, better to earn personal profits.  Again, the “me.”  The Count put his personal gain last, the betterment of his country first. 

Széchenyi the iconoclastic aristocrat, was anything but a narrow partisan, he was a problem solver.

Instead of a ‘kick the can down the road’ mentality, Széchenyi manifested a sense of urgency.
For the Count, the clock was ticking, and it was not for the next generation to tackle the problems at hand, it was for him.  Széchenyi took responsibility.  After a lifetime of creativity and hard work, Széchenyi was successful enough to earn the appellation “the greatest Hungarian” from another individual who could himself qualify for the honor (Lajos Kossuth, his political rival, and leader of the 1848 rebellion).

Right now we need another “greatest,” leading an entire nation not just one party.  With real programs not slogans about “change.”  With the spirit of Széchenyi-type sacrifice, and new fiscal soberness, and new urgency, our nation could attack and overcome all its problems.  We could achieve a complete regeneration.  We need nothing less.  Széchenyi shows us, 200 years later, it can be done.

John A. Sarkett is author of Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Success and has re-published Stephen Széchenyi And The Awakening Of Hungarian Nationalism, 1791-1841, by Dr. Geo. Barany, originally from Princeton University Press.  More at sarkett.com.  For this and any other blog post, he solicits your comments.

Ex-Bear Chris Zorich agrees to pay back charity funds that remain unaccounted for - chicagotribune.com

An extraordinary comedown -- the flip side of an "extraordinary comeback"

Former Chicago Bear Chris Zorich, who was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 1993, retired from the NFL in 1997. He went on to receive a law degree from Notre Dame, never passed the bar and worked for a few years in the school's athletic department. He is currently unemployed, Lydon said.

The full story:

Ex-Bear Chris Zorich agrees to pay back charity funds that remain unaccounted for - chicagotribune.com

Monday, August 20, 2012

No yolk: eating the whole egg as dangerous as smoking? - chicagotribune.com

No yolk: eating the whole egg as dangerous as smoking? - chicagotribune.com

Isaac Stern's initial NY reviews

In his autobiography, Isaac Stern spoke of the reviews that followed his New York debut: "We were so bitterly disappointed...I was being patted on the head by some of New York's most eminent critics and told that I hadn't yet crossed the 'Great Divide' into the lofty realm of the artist; that my playing was 'erratic'; that I ought to go back to San Francisco, to the 'land of violinistic prodigies, movie yes-men and sunshine,' and practice some more."

Fortunately for us, Mr. Stern used this as fuel to work even harder, the result being that he did indeed enter that "lofty realm of the artist". 

From The Violinist blog

Stern would go on to become on of the violin greats, and in his "spare" time, save Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball.  How much richer we all are because he didn't quit when his initial reviews were unkind....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

EconomicPolicyJournal.com: Paul Ryan Insider Trading Thief

EconomicPolicyJournal.com: Paul Ryan Insider Trading Thief

Again we predict:  Obama wins it.  Race is as "over" as all the ones in London last 2 weeks.......

Fact Check: Ryan budget plan doesn't actually slash the budget | Fox News

Fact Check: Ryan budget plan doesn't actually slash the budget | Fox News

This is not "conservatism."

This will backfire.  Obama is now assured a win.....there will be QE to infinity, until the markets take U.S. down, as they did with Greece.  It will take longer, but the outcome will be the same.  Profligate spending is always punished, sooner or later.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Finjamos Que Soy Feliz
Let us pretend that I'm happy
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695)

Finjamos Que Soy Feliz

Let us pretend that I'm happy,
Sad thought, for a while;
You may actually persuade me
but I know otherwise

(alt.) Feign we that I am happy
Sad thought, a little while,
For, though ‘twere but dissembling,
Would thou couldst me beguile.

In feeling apprehension
They say the trouble lies:
If you’ll only feel you’re happy,
You needn’t be otherwise.

(alt.) Yet since but in our terrors
They say our miseries grow,
If joy we can imagine,
The less will seem our woe.

Let my intelligence serve,
For once, as a source of comfort.
Must wit forever be
The enemy of profit?

(alt.) Must our intelligences
Some time of quiet find
Not always may our genius
With profit rule the mind.

The world is full of opinions
Of what is or is not true;
Whatever is black for one
Will be white in another’s view.

(alt.) The world’s full of opinions,
And these so different quite,
That what to one black seemeth
Another proves is white.

What one man finds attractive
Will make another recoil.
What is relief for one.
Another rejects as toil.

(alt.) To some appears attractive
What many deem a bore:
And that which thee delighted
Thy fellow labors o’er

The man who is sad condemns
The cheerful man as inane.
While the cheerful are greatly amused
When they hear the sad complain.

(alt.) He who is sad condemneth
They gay one’s gleeful tones;
He who is merry jests
Whenever the sad one groans

The two Greek philosophers (Democritus and Heraclitus)
Were always of opposite cheer:
What split the one with laughter
Reduced the other to tears.

(alt.) By two old Greek wiseacres
This truth well proved appears
Since what in one caused laughter,
The other moved to tears.

Renowned has been this contest
For ages, without fruit,
And what one age asserted
Till now is in dispute.

Into two lists divided
The world’s opinions stand,
And as his humor leads him
Follows each one his band.

One says the world is worthy
Only of merriment;
Another, its distresses
Call for our loud lament.

For all opinions various
Some proof or reason’s brought,
And for so much there’s reason
That reason is for naught.

All, all are equal judges,
And all of different view,
And none can make decision
Of what is best or true.

Then since can none determine,
Think you, whose reason strays,
To you God has committed
The judgment of the case?

O why to yourself cruel,
Do you your peace reject?
Between the sweet and bitter,
The bitter you elect?

If its mine my understanding,
Why always must it be
So dull and slow to pleasure,
So keen for injury?

A sharp blade is our learning
Which serves us at both ends:
Death by the point it gives
By the handle, it defends.

And if, aware of peril,
Its point you will demand,
How do you blame the weapon
For the folly of your hand?

Not is true wisdom knowing
Most subtle speech and vain;
Best knowledge is in choosing
That which is safe and sane.

To speculate disaster,
To seek for presages,
Serves to increase affliction,
Anticipate distress.

In the troubles of the future
The anxious mind is lost,
And more than any danger
Does danger’s menace cost

Of him the unschooled wise man
How happy is the chance!
He finds from suffering refuge
In simple ignorance

Not always safe aspire
The wings that genius bears;
Which seek a throne in fire,
And find a grave in tears.

And vicious is the knowledge
That seeking swift its end
Is all the more unwary
Of the woe that does impend.

And if its flight it stops not
In pampered, strange deceits,
Then for the curious searching
The needful it defeats.

If culture’s hand doesn’t prune
The leaves of the tree
Takes from the fruit’s sustainment
The rank, wild greenery.

If all its ballast heavy
Yon light ship not prevents,
Will it help the flight of pionions
From nature’s battlements?

In verdant beauty useless,
What profits the fair field
If the blooming growths of springtime
No autumn fruitage yields?

And of what use is gen;ius
With all its work of might,
If are its toils rewarded
By failure and despite?

And perforce to this misfortune
Must that despair succeed,
Which, if its arrows kills not,
Must make the bosom bleed.

Like to a fire does genius
In thankless matter grow;
The more that it consumes
It boasts the brighter glow.

It is of it own master
So rebellious a slave,
That to offence it turns
The weapons that should save

Such exercise distressful,
Such hard anxiety
To all the sad world’s children
God gave their souls to try

What mad ambition takes us
From self-forgetful state,
If it’s to live so little
We make our knowledge great?

Oh! If we must have knowledge,
I would there were some school
Where to teach not knowing
Life’s woes, should be the rule.

Happy shall be his living
Whose life no rashness mars;
He shall laugh at all the threatenings
Of the magic of the stars!

Learn we the wise unknowing,
Since it so well appears
That what to learning’s added
Is taken from our years.