Boys with Toys

In the James Bond movie “Goldeneye,” Polish born actress Izabella Scorupca played my favorite Bond female character Natalya Simonova. She gave Bond the devil for his penchant for using violence with any weapon or machinery around. “What is it with you boys with toys,” she admonished him.

I think of this line as two separate countries are led by a man-child who are both acting like “boys with toys.” The scary part is the toys include nuclear weapons and both are beating on their chest like apes ready to do battle.

I have written a parable about the younger of the two leaders called “A Monkey with a Hand Grenade.” Since the hand grenade is a substitute for a nuclear weapon, we must be careful, judicious and diligent in our actions and words. Just a few days ago, our Secretary of State said the right things about “not advocating for regime change” while being stern, serious and sober. This tone reminds us that President Eisenhower became reassuringly calmer as the USSR’s Khrushchev became more blustery in the 1950s.

However, our monkey with a hand grenade did not follow the Eisenhower calm and started beating on his chest. Our man-child bragged about his deployment of an arsenal that would bring “fire and fury” the likes of which the world has not seen. He basically said to ignore what the Secretary of State said.

Two supposedly grown men are acting like the men-children they are. Boys with toys. Let’s hope the adults surrounding them will seek an intervention and tell them to stop acting like children. We need them to. At least the older man should emulate Eisenhower. The world will rest a little easier as a result.

 

Edwin Starr’s plea for peace

Almost fifty years ago, Edwin Starr belted out an anthem simply called “War.” Written by Barret Strong and Norman Whitfield, Starr’s disdain for war and its aftermath comes through in his powerful rendition.

As I thought of this song, I mentally included it with two others – John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” he sang with CCR and Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the Flowers gone,” sung so well by Peter, Paul and Mary. These three songs come at this topic with sadness, skepticism and disdain.

But, for now, here are the lyrics to “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all
War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives
I said, war, huh good god, why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
War, whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Oh, war it’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die, ah, war-huh, good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker
Oh, war, has shattered many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But lord knows there’s got to be a better way
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for you tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it nothing

Truly, what is it good for? Starr asks an excellent question, one we must ask before we send our young men and women into harm’s way.

More Friday Freakiness

Most bloggers recognize these compilations of thoughts for what they are – not enough subject for a post, but something to touch on. In this spirit, a few thoughts for the week.

I want to commend the White House for having a briefing for all 100 Senators over the troubling issue of North Korea. This is a sobering topic and it deserves sober review. I would encourage more of the same on topics of national security.

With that said, I am hopeful that cooler and more knowledgeable heads will be advising the President and he will heed their advice. We do not need the President doing what he is prone to do which is running off at the mouth and letting his ego make decisions.

One of several examples of this is the White House staff being careful not to endorse the recent Turkey election results which gave more power to President Erdogan. The election results have been called into question and are being reviewed by a third party, who Erdogan is making fun of. Of course, our President did not get the memo and fired off congratulations to Erdogan for gaining even more power.

The devil is in the details, but the President has outlined his Tax Reform plan. Several things need to be highlighted therein, especially after hearing Mnuchin and Mulvaney talk about it. Several nonpartisan tax measurement groups have noted the tax cuts will raise the debt from $2 to $6 trillion over the next ten years, a 10% to 30% increase. The M boys – Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Budget Director Mulvaney – have said the common refrain that the “tax cuts will pay for themselves through growth.” While tax cuts have some economic effect, the data from these nonpartisan tax measurement groups said they have historically fallen well short of paying for themselves.

Then, we must look at who benefits. While everyone seems to benefit, the folks who make the most benefit the most. In addition to the individual tax rate cut proposed, the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax rate are eliminated, both which help the wealthy. Adding to this the reduction in corporate tax rate, which has a few interesting twists, plus repealing the ACA additional tax on higher paid people, the folks who “have” will have more which will increase the income disparity.

On top of this, Mnuchin said the President has no intention of releasing his tax returns. Mulvaney said people do not care. So, I guess the more than 2/3 of Americans who said they want to see the tax returns do not matter. For those keeping score, this becomes an official broken campaign promise and to me is firm indication our President has something to hide.

I wish I could talk about other things, but this man dominates the news which is the way he wants it.

A few mid-week musings

Since we are at mid-week, let me offer a few miscellaneous musings, mostly good with a few bad. Let me start with some good news:

A Federal appeals court in the Chicago area ruled that the LGBT community is protected under the 1964 Civil Rights amendment even though they were not specifically listed. The court case was around a community college professor who contended she was fired for being a Lesbian. The ruling was 8 to 3, but will of course be appealed to the district court in Indiana.

On what appears to be good news, but falls way short, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a repeal to the discriminatory HB2 law, yet left the most important piece of discrimination therein. They rolled back the change on the transgender bathroom issue, yet left in place the exclusion of the LGBT community from protected status for discrimination. Reviewing the above ruling in Chicago, it is apparent that feature is unconstitutional.

The electric car maker Tesla blew past expected deliveries this past week for their first quarter with over 25,400 cars. Tesla is on pace to deliver the high-end of their 45,000 to 50,000 first half of the year estimate. What is interesting the stock market is valuing the future for this company and its current market capitalization value is $48 Billion which is now higher than Ford at just under $45 Billion. Tesla is owned by Elon Musk who is leveraging his battery technology to aid in solar and wind energy storage, working on a key project to help Australia with an outage problem.

Reuters reported today that utility companies are not being influenced by our President’s fight to end the war on coal. With the exception of one of 31 companies, a two-thirds majority said it would not impact their plans to move to cheaper and cleaner natural gas and increasingly cheaper renewable energy sources. The other companies were silent. In a piece I read last year, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy and it was postulated about utilities why would they invest in an expensive coal-fired plant that will be obsolete before it is completed?

On the bad side, I am increasingly concerned by Bashar al-Assad and his willingness to gas people. This man has a history of doing this and then lying to reporters and other leaders about it. It would be great to see the UN powers come together and say, we will help end this war in your country, but you must step down now or face charges of war crimes. While our former President did many good things, his handling of Syria was not one of them. He and Congress let the world down by not spanking this SOB for his last gassing of civilians. I am a peaceful person, but there are times when you must stand up to evil.

Then, there is North Korea who remains a threat as it is run by a petulant tyrant. China must join with the rest of the world in helping put a lid on this man’s chest beating. Otherwise, we leave it in the hands of our own mess maker. While I trust some of his military advisors in doing the right thing, I have little confidence in our leader solving this problem without some diplomatic help. What at least should scare North Korea is our President is a loose cannon, as it scares me.

Well, that is all for now. Have a great rest of your week.

 

Genghis Khan – Beyond his Brutality

My oldest son and I attended a traveling Genghis Khan museum exhibit on Sunday which is on our city for a few months. He is fascinated by Khan and his legacy that brought his Mongols to the doorsteps of Europe and conquered most of Asia, including China. He listens to a podcast with an avid and knowledgeable historian about Khan.

Khan first consolidated the nomadic tribes of Mongolia who tended to fight amongst themselves. He then turned his sights on other lands and was quite brutal in his quest. Yet, the story that cements his rule is he was a great leader that understood merit hiring over nepotism and allowed certain freedoms. More on this later.

The Mongols were a formidable fighting force for three principal reasons. They were superior horsemen where the entire battalion would attack on horseback overwhelming superior numbers. And, what amazed me is each rider would travel with two to three horses. Their army could move 75 miles in contrast to an opponent’s ten.

They were prolific archers with self-made and unusually shaped bows, which could shoot as far as 350 yards, much longer than other bows. And, they could shoot them accurately off horseback, even backwards. Often, the Mongols would pretend to retreat to lure their foes out and then reverse course and attack.

Finally, Khan organized them into a fighting force in numbers of ten. Each battalion had multiple groups of ten, who picked their own leader. And, the group of ten would be punished as a group for the failures of the one. These tens would be multiplied to a battalion of a thousand or ten thousand, which would be a potent and organized force.

Once a group was conquered, after certain leaders would be killed, the subordinate troops would swear allegiance and fight with the Mongols. They would not rule as harshly as they conquered, as they wanted the civilians to support the conquering enemy and new leadership. Plus, there were several governing principles that last to this day.

  • Religious freedom was provided where people would worship their religion of choice. Several religions were readily available even in the capitol city.
  • Civil service officials came from a wide swath of people based on merit. So, civil service officials were more proficient than if they were hired on relationships..
  • Diplomatic immunity was afforded any envoy traveling from another kingdom to visit. Kings do not kill envoys was a stated rule.
  • People could move around with some limits as a passport system offered organized travel. One passport we saw had three languages on it.
  • Environmental mandates were given for communities to protect their water sources.
  • Taxation was often lowered on the conquered lands and exemptions afforded teachers and religious figures.
  • Communication and organization were key. Some say Khan brought an organized purpose to previous rivals to fight together. The same held true in his governance.

These principles can be found in many societies today. The empire lasted for several hundred years, but what caused its retrenchment, in my view, are the vast distances to govern, but also the infighting of the Khan siblings and offspring. HIs grandson Kublai Khan was the last of the great Khan leaders, so after his demise, the empire started a slow wane.

If this exhibit comes to your city, I would encourage you to go see it. I am certain their are people more knowledgeable than me who can offer more specifics about the Mongolian empire, its rise, its governance and its decline. I would welcome any and all comments, especially if I am off base.

 

Casablanca quotes resonate in real life

One of my favorite movies is “Casablanca” and, from its ranking on the list of greatest movies, I am not alone in my admiration. A love triangle is set in the context of the outset of World War II after Germany took possession of France. But, it is also filled with an interesting plot and characters played by marvelous actors who say some wonderfully written lines primarily written by Julius and Philip Epstein.

In another list of the 100 greatest movie quotes, lines from “Casablanca” appears six times. These and other lines from the movie still resonate today as a reflection of our times. Here are a few from memory, so I will likely misquote them.

We will always have Paris – Rick (Humphrey Bogart) says this a couple of times to Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) as a reminder of their relationship where they met. To me, this reminds us of our own special places that mean so much, whether it is a love interest or a special time in our lives.

Louie, I think this is the beginning of beautiful friendship – A key subplot is the relationship between Rick and Captain Louie Renault (Claude Rains), which is friendly, but with some distance. When they come together at the end to go fight the Germans, it lifts your spirits to see the two walk off together with a mission and true bond of kinship.

I am shocked, shocked there is gambling going on here – Captain Renault is asked to close Rick’s (a bar) at the behest of Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser (Conradt Veight) and used gambling as the reason, even though it is routine. The line is followed by the pit boss handing him his winnings. This reminds me of politicians, who know or allow a problem to occur, and then act shocked when the problem does occur.

Human life is cheap – This evil line is uttered by Major Strasser and gives me chills. People traveled to Casablanca to get transport to America, but must wait to bribe or pay heavily for papers to get out. This reminds me of the refugees who are being exploited by opportunist to sell them unsafe passage to Europe. Whether they get there is irrelevant.

Round up the usual suspects – This is a key line in the movie that is used often. Captain Renault uses it several times to convey that he is doing something about a crime, but actually is doing nothing. It is also how the writers figured out the ending, which they were struggling with. I find this line is also indicative of politicians who are good at pretending to do something, when they are actually doing nothing. Over 50 repeal votes of Obamacare is too easy an example.

Here’s looking at you kid – Rick, who is older than Ilsa, uses this line to show great affection, usually touching her chin lightly to look into her eyes. It plays an important part in Rick’s journey back. It reminds me of lines we use with each other that mean more than the words themselves. In the movie “Ghost” the line “Ditto” had huge meaning in the plot, e.g.

Play it for me Sam. Play “As Time Goes By” – I probably misquoted this misquoted line from Ilsa, which usually is seen as “play it again Sam.” Sam (Dooley Wilson), who has a velvet voice sings this melancholic song which lilts often through the movie. Like Paris, it reminds the two lovers of better times, as Sam who has always accompanied Rick when he sets up a bar, would play it for the two of them. We each have milestone songs that take us back in time. This may be music’s greatest gift.

Play it. Play La Marseillaise – To me, this is the most powerful moment in the movie. You see first hand the leadership and bravery of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) as he asks the band to play the French national anthem to drown out the Nazi bar singers. In an interview, the Jewish writers said it gave them chill bumps as they wrote it. Leaders like this are few and far between and are much needed, as their quiet fortitude speaks louder than any bombastic chest beater.

Welcome back to the fight – This line is uttered by Victor to Rick as they say goodbye. It is a major moment of recognition of the noble efforts of Rick that are not unnoticed by one who does them all of the time. Today, we need more folks who are willing to speak their mind against tyranny, bigotry, disenfranchisement and hatred.

I realize I left off several key lines for space reasons. I also recognize I left off the contributions of Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet who added so much color to the movie. Let me know what you think and please share your favorites. As time goes by….

 

 

 

 

Of all the people

One of my favorite bosses had a unique way of not saying something bad about another person, while getting his point across. He would say about the person who consistently wronged others, “Of all the people in the world, he certainly is one of them.”

This comment would draw the appropriate chuckle. I mention this as name calling and insulting folks are becoming too much the norm. Civil discourse is increasingly rare. It is important to respond to some criticism, but do so without stooping to the level of the offender, who is baiting you. And, sometimes it is best not to respond at all.

A good example is arguing with folks like Donald Trump. He wants a mud fight, as his arguments are so poor. He would rather engage in a Twitter fight, so he can feign being insulted and attack back. Plus, with only 140 characters, it is easier for him to call someone the devil, crooked, stupid, weak, loser, ugly, etc. than actually debate points. Like many narcissists, he has a hard time seeing his role in the argument.

The best thing to do with folks like a Trump is push back with civil disagreement. I have said before being politically incorrect does not give anyone the right to lie or be a jerk. It does not give anyone the right to name call or demean people. A disarming comment is to say “I understand your points, but do not agree with them.” This works with many who feel if you just understood their arguments, you would agree with them, so it is an unnerving comeback.

Yet, when faced with such a mean-spirited and divisive person, we cannot be silent. Trump is relentless in his attacks and uses a false bravado that carries more weight than it should. My grandmother said the louder someone shouts, the worse his argument. Also, be very respectful of quiet strength. My grandfather said little and rarely raised his voice, but you listened when he talked.

We must stick to the issues and when Trump attacks with venom, focus on the attack and push back with data and conviction. His attack on Muslim American parents who lost a son in Iraq was not only wrong and spiteful, it also revealed extremely poor judgment that he actually thought it was a good idea to attack a family who lost a son fighting for our country. Yet, that is the nature of the man, as for some reason, he will not argue points, but prefer to attack the person making the arguments.

There is one thing for certain, a President is going to hear a great deal of dissent, so temperament and judgment are key attributes, that this candidate seems to lack. And, a final piece advice he should heed is when you dig yourself a hole, stop digging.