July 9, 2011

Cannavaro Retires

Soccer legend and Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro retires after persistent knee injuries. The photo of him holding the trophy aloft became the defining image of the 2006 tournament.

Current Issues

Enduring Questions: Traditional approach vs. postmodern approach. I stand for the former, what about you?

Henry James’ Venice

My summer readings’ list includes re-reading Henry James’ Italian Hours, published almost exactly one hundred years ago, in 1909. It’s a classic collection of essays, three of which are about Venice—James had visited Venice for short periods in 1869 and 1872 but his first extended stay in the city took place in 1881—and the novelist’s “special relationship” to this wonderful city. As his biographer Leon Edel has written, “Venice was one of the greatest topographical love affairs of James’s life.” Apart from his hints to the “misery” of Venetian people in those times—a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, though changes are not always for the best…—what he wrote is surprisingly topical, and amazingly true. Take this statement for instance:

Venetian life, in the large old sense, has long since come to an end, and the essential present character of the most melancholy of cities resides simply in its being the most beautiful of tombs. Nowhere else has the past been laid to rest with such tenderness, such a sadness of resignation and remembrance. [“The Grand Canal”]

However, if what he loves most about Italy, as he wrote in another essay in the same collection (“Florentine Notes” Part I), is “the faculty of making much of common things and converting small occasions into great pleasures,” this is true a fortiori in the case of Venice. And that seems to be the leitmotif of the essays on Venice. The following two excerpts are fairly representative of the whole:

[Venice] is a city in which, I suspect, there is very little strenuous thinking, and yet it is a city in which there must be almost as much happiness as misery. The misery of Venice stands there for all the world to see; it is part of the spectacle--a thoroughgoing devotee of local colour might consistently say it is part of the pleasure. The Venetian people have little to call their own--little more than the bare privilege of leading their lives in the most beautiful of towns. Their habitations are decayed; their taxes heavy; their pockets light; their opportunities few. One receives an impression, however, that life presents itself to them with attractions not accounted for in this meagre train of advantages, and that they are on better terms with it than many people who have made a better bargain. They lie in the sunshine; they dabble in the sea; they wear bright rags; they fall into attitudes and harmonies; they assist at an eternal conversazione. It is not easy to say that one would have them other than they are, and it certainly would make an immense difference should they be better fed. The number of persons in Venice who evidently never have enough to eat is painfully large; but it would be more painful if we did not equally perceive that the rich Venetian temperament may bloom upon a dog's allowance. Nature has been kind to it, and sunshine and leisure and conversation and beautiful views form the greater part of its sustenance. It takes a great deal to make a successful American, but to make a happy Venetian takes only a handful of quick sensibility. The Italian people have at once the good and the evil fortune to be conscious of few wants; so that if the civilisation of a society is measured by the number of its needs, as seems to be the common opinion to-day, it is to be feared that the children of the lagoon would make but a poor figure in a set of comparative tables. Not their misery, doubtless, but the way they elude their misery, is what pleases the sentimental tourist, who is gratified by the sight of a beautiful race that lives by the aid of its imagination. The way to enjoy Venice is to follow the example of these people and make the most of simple pleasures. Almost all the pleasures of the place are simple; this may be maintained even under the imputation of ingenious paradox. There is no simpler pleasure than looking at a fine Titian, unless it be looking at a fine Tintoret or strolling into St. Mark's,--abominable the way one falls into the habit,--and resting one's light-wearied eyes upon the windowless gloom; or than floating in a gondola or than hanging over a balcony or than taking one's coffee at Florian's. It is of such superficial pastimes that a Venetian day is composed, and the pleasure of the matter is in the emotions to which they minister. These are fortunately of the finest-- otherwise Venice would be insufferably dull. Reading Ruskin is good; reading the old records is perhaps better; but the best thing of all is simply staying on. The only way to care for Venice as she deserves it is to give her a chance to touch you often--to linger and remain and return. [“Venice” Part I]

There is something strange and fascinating in this mysterious impersonality of the gondola. It has an identity when you are in it, but, thanks to their all being of the same size, shape and colour, and of the same deportment and gait, it has none, or as little as possible, as you see it pass before you. From my windows on the Riva there was always the same silhouette--the long, black, slender skiff, lifting its head and throwing it back a little, moving yet seeming not to move, with the grotesquely- graceful figure on the poop. This figure inclines, as may be, more to the graceful or to the grotesque--standing in the "second position" of the dancing-master, but indulging from the waist upward in a freedom of movement which that functionary would deprecate. One may say as a general thing that there is something rather awkward in the movement even of the most graceful gondolier, and something graceful in the movement of the most awkward. In the graceful men of course the grace predominates, and nothing can be finer than the large, firm way in which, from their point of vantage, they throw themselves over their tremendous oar. It has the boldness of a plunging bird and the regularity of a pendulum. Sometimes, as you see this movement in profile, in a gondola that passes you--see, as you recline on your own low cushions, the arching body of the gondolier lifted up against the sky--it has a kind of nobleness which suggests an image on a Greek frieze. [“Venice” Part IV]

~ First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

July 7, 2011

Italy's Austerity Budget

Giulio Tremonti
In the first three months of the year, Italy’s economy—the third-largest economy in Europe—expanded 0.1%, while the euro-zone as a whole grew 0.8%. That’s the real issue, not Italy’s public debt, which is projected to peak at 120 per cent of GDP this year. In fact, many analysts say Italy should be more worried about its long-term prosperity than its solvency. Hence the government’s three-year austerity plan (see here and here), presented by Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti yesterday. The plan—€52 billion (about $74 billion) in fiscal savings—is designed to reduce the budget deficit to 3.9 per cent of gross domestic product this year and gradually to zero by 2014, but also and especially to reignite Italy’s feeble economy with measures including tax breaks for young entrepreneurs and longer store opening-hours on weekends, and to boost Italian productivity, which is among the lowest in Europe. Will it work? Well, ask credit rating agencies, if you still trust them, otherwise, follow your nose—that’s my favorite option right now, though not entirely disinterested, I must admit…

July 2, 2011

Deconstructing Independence on Independence Day

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

"It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. [The Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect." ~~Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on a National Bank, 1791

This weekend we celebrate the independence of America, specifically marking it by the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Lip service is given to it by many, but what emanates from it is the U S Constitution. For the five to six thousand years of civilization before 1776, humankind's evolution was slow and horrible. Not much was accomplished under the tyranny of kings and emperors. Since the creation of the U S Constitution, we have accomplished more, in technology, wealth, religion and liberty than the whole of history before. The Constitution is under direct and deadly attack by the Left; yet they will pretend to celebrate freedom from tyranny this weekend with the rest of us that truly embrace liberty.  

During the healthcare debate in 2009, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked by a reporter where in the Constitution it authorized Congress to mandate that citizens buy health insurance, her response was “Are you serious?”  Democrat from South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn: “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.”

Democrat Congressman Phil Hare on the Constitution

In the past couple years Conservatives have tried to pass a rule that any legislation brought up has to state where in the Constitution it allows them to pass that law. It’s been rejected every time by Democrats and RINO’s (Republican In Name Only).

“Time” magazine had a cover story asking about the Constitution, “Does It Still Matter?” (Rob posted about this in the entry below.) Time's managing editor, Richard Stengel: "To me the Constitution is a guardrail. It's for when we are going off the road and it gets us back on. It's not a traffic cop that keeps us going down the center." Interpreted this is that the Constitution means whatever the Left wants it to mean. Jefferson: "a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

Which is just what the Left wants. They can’t gain full power if they obey the “enumerated rights” specified in the document. Jefferson again:  "Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction. ... If it is, then we have no Constitution. ... [T]o consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions ... would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. ... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

Stengal makes this incredible observation: "If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn't say so. Article I, Section 8, the longest section of the longest article of the Constitution, is a drumroll of congressional power." I don’t know what he’s reading, but that article states specifically what the government is allowed to do, and is allowed to do no more. The Left, enemies of the Constitution, attacks it by ignoring what it says, and then says it says something else. James Madison: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State."

Obama ran on the notion that he was going to “fundamentally transform” America. That can only be done by ignoring the Constitution, which he swore to uphold when he took the oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." He has ignored the law. He declared a moratorium on offshore drilling after the oil spill and kept it in effect. Several courts have said this is unconstitutional, so he instructed his energy czar to not issue any permits to drill. Several courts have said Obamacare in unconstitutional because it forces citizens to buy a product provided by the private business sector. He’s not put that legislation on hold until the issue is brought before the Supreme Court, he keeps enforcing it. He’s gone to war (Libya) without Congressional approval. Just some examples. We essentially have an anti-Constitutional, lawless president, supported by a Media and political party that states the Constitution is nonbinding and meaningless.

Another attack on the Constitution was made by Leftist Washington Post writer Ezra Klein: “The issue with the Constitution is not that people don’t read the text and think their following. The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago and what people believes it says differs from person to person.” The Constitution of course was written over two hundred years ago.
His statement means to, proving absurdity by showing absurdity, is that we can’t understand anything written by Adam Smith, Shakespeare,  Tolstoy, Dickens, Emerson…you get the picture. Klein interpreted means that stupid Conservatives don’t understand that Constitution is designed to implement a Socialist State.

This 4th of July, our Independence Day, as much as I’ll celebrate our freedom, I’ll worry over how far down the road we are to the shredding of the Constitution and becoming Obama’s and the Democrat Party’s vision of a “transformed” America. The move toward Statism has been slow, taking a couple hundred years, but Leftists are poised to kill liberty by the last triumphal act of shredding the Constitution. This is the last thing they need to impose their rule. I suppose then we can rename Independence Day, Government Day.

July 1, 2011

“The Shot Heard Round the World”

When the bullet that began the American Revolution was fired at Concord, historians called the event “the shot heard round the world.” Autocratic rulers heard that shot, and things that had not been questioned for millennia were now open to challenge.

Today, many among “the intelligentsia,” as well as “political messiahs,” are doubtful about the American exceptionalism. They ask whether the United States has really been “exceptional.” You couldn’t be more exceptional in the 18th century, they say, than to create the Constitution of the United States—by opening with the momentous words, “We the people...” Hence articles such as the cover story in the July 4th issue of Time magazine, “a long and rambling essay” in which Time magazine editor Richard Stengel “manages to create a toxic blend of the irrelevant and the erroneous,” as Thomas Sowell rightly puts it. Stengel asks of the Constitution: “Does it still matter?” Simply, Sowell answers back, “if it doesn’t, then your Freedom doesn’t matter.” A must read as we approach another July 4th celebration.