Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Burrowing into Books, Anthony Trollope "The Small House at Allington"

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings

                                                                                                                                    January 29, 2017

“The Small House at Allington”
Anthony Trollope

The squires of Allington had been squires of Allington since squires,
such as squires are now, were first known in England.”
                                                                                                Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)
                                                                                                The Small House at Allington, 1864

If one wants facts, read non-fiction. If one wants to understand character, read fiction. Novels allow authors to explore emotions and responses, unencumbered by historical events or bothersome statistics. This was especially true before the advent of movies or television. Mythology, stories from the Bible and Shakespeare provide examples of fictional character traits we recognize in everyday relationships, as do 19th Century novelists like Trollope, Dickens, Eliot, Austen, Hardy and the Bronte sisters.

Male-female relations have been fodder for novels since books were first written. “None but the most heartless of women know the extent of their power over men,” wrote Trollope in The Small House at Allington,” – as none but the most heartless of men know the extent of their power over women.” This story is one of triangulated and unrequited love – that of Lily Dale, one of Trollope’s most enduring (and endearing) creations, for Adolphus Crosbie, and of Johnny Eames for Lily Dale. Lily, who is the heroine of the story, lives with her widowed mother and elder sister Bell in the “Small House” as guests of her brother-in-law, the Squire of Allington, who owns the Big House. The late critic Stephen Wall said of Lily, that while she is “instantly recognizable, she remains a mystery.” Trollope thrived on the complexities of people and relationships. Among the best-known episodes in the book is the walk in the moonlight, where Lily first realizes her love for Crosbie. The reader, however, gets a harbinger of things to come: To Lily, moonlight and poetry represented romance; to Crosbie, they were nonsense.

Having been jilted, Lily Dale might today be considered a victim of false promises, thus a candidate for #MeToo. Maybe she would have marched, but I suspect she was too independent. Romances do not always have story-book endings, which Trollope understood. Crosbie, though older, is weak and immature – “a swell,” as Lily described him. She is young, pretty, smart, and headstrong. She knows her mind, but loses her heart. The reader understands, even though Lily does not, that she is better off without him.

At 600-plus pages, with multiple characters and plots, the story is too complex to summarize. In part, the reader is left unsettled: why, for example, did Lily not reciprocate Johnny Eames’ love? After all, in the story he stops being a “hobbledehoy and enters manhood.”  Regardless, the mark of a good book is when the reader is sorry to turn the last page, and when we miss those we cheered and jeered. However, Trollope’s characters often return in future books. This is the penultimate in the Barsetshire series. So, I look forward to The Last Chronicle of Barset, in which Lily, Johnny and Ambrose reappear. After all, to paraphrase Robert Frost on birches, one could do worse than be a reader of Trollope.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

"Deflections - Watch What Gets Done, Not What is Said"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Deflections – Watch What Gets Done, Not What Is Said”
January 22, 2018

“Mr. President, are you a racist?”
                                                                                    April Ryan
                                                                                    Washington bureau chief
                                                                                    American Urban Radio
                                                                                    January 12, 2018

In days of old, knights used shields to deflect arrows and spears. Today, planes dispense chaff or utilize sky shields to deflect in-coming missiles. But, in the world of politics, words are the means by which the tide of battle is turned – attention deflected away from deeds to malapropisms. This is especially true when the enemy is President Trump. Peggy Noonan recently wrote on the subject: “Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form.”  The self-righteous (and self-serving) statement/question by April Ryan – cited in the rubric above – is an example.

Ms. Ryan’s question was rhetorical. It was used to make a point, knowing it would be the story. She may even have expected Mr. Trump to respond; for she, like most of her fellow travelers, see him as vulgar, arrogant, sexist, racist, xenophobic, and stupid. His character, faulty at best, is denigrated further, because his politics are disliked. It is easier to impugn character than to challenge policies, especially those that have helped those the Left claims to support: Black unemployment, the lowest in over forty years, and women’s unemployment, the lowest since October 2000.

Parents, teachers (and the Clintons) would have us do as they say, not as they do. But Carl Jung suggested we are what we do. Jesus, as quoted in Corinthians, said: “Do as I do…” Mr. Trump’s syntax and Tweets can be grating and inimical, but his deeds have been positive. Regulation has been reduced, taxes have been lowered, and the economy is experiencing its fastest growth in a decade. Obama’s “nanny state” is being dismantled. Russia and China, contrary to expectations, have been put on notice. Israel is again our friend. NATO is stronger, as more countries have increased contributions close to the requested 2% of GDP. Relations with Japan and Taiwan have improved, and 98% of the land held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been recovered. The Mullahs of Iran are being called out for what they are – unrepentant dictators – as is Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Brussels is not seen as the capital of a self-proclaimed moral, unified Europe, but as an impediment to national and individual freedom. And, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has stood up for real human rights and faced down illiberal members of the UN Human Rights Council.

Mr. Trump, with his off-color and politically-incorrect statements, makes an easy target. But, despite cries of ‘for shame,’ it is not his character that really bothers the left – after all, these are the people that brought you Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken and the Clintons – it is his policies. Progressives prefer a paternalistic state, with them in charge. As for Ms. Ryan, Mr. Trump had the correct response: He ignored her.

Don’t be fooled by sanctimonious expressions of false shock. Whether Mr. Trump did or did not refer to Haiti, El Salvador and some unnamed African nations as “shitholes” depends on who you believe. But he may have; the word fits his profile. However, keep in mind, his reference was not to the people of those countries, but to their governments and culture. Consider Haiti, a nation of 11 million: Over decades, billions of dollars have gone to Haiti. Since the earthquake of 2010, $13.5 billion has been sent – an amount that exceeds a year’s GDP, yet the country persists as one of the poorest in the world. The country’s GDP per capita is less than one third that of its island neighbor, the Dominican Republic. More than 300,000 Haitians now live in the U.S. Why is it so poor and why have so many left? Because their country is a “shithole,” made so because of the graft and corruption of their political leaders, who have created a system of political cronyism, aided and abetted by a “progressive” West.

Democrats were once the Party of big ideas: the concept of “safety nets,” the progenitors of women’s and civil rights. But now, devoid of big ideas, they are focused on small issues – identity politics – that serve to divide the country: gays and women in the military, Muslim immigration, Black Lives Matter, trans-gender bathrooms, etc. – those singled out as victims of White, Republican oppressors. They promote multiculturalism, which speaks of a people not unified as Americans, but Balkanized. Today, Democrats represent moneyed coastal elites, academics, government bureaucrats, unions and those dependent on government largesse. Their immigration policies are not designed to better the country, but to add to their body politic.

Democrats are masters of deception and invective. They accuse Mr. Trump of cavorting with “strong men,” while ignoring that it was Mrs. Clinton who presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a re-set button in March 2009, and that it was President Obama who made a deal with the Iranian Mullahs in 2015 – a deal which removed sanctions, freed billions in assets, allowed the country to sell their oil, and set the country on a path to become a nuclear power. Yet, the lives of ordinary Iranians have not improved, as recent demonstrations show. David Brooks recently wrote that Mr. Trump lives in self-imposed isolation: “…trying to unite his clan by declaring verbal war on other groups; trying to shrivel his life into a little box by building walls against anybody outside his categories.” Mr. Brooks has read Mr. Trump’s Tweets, heard what he says, but ignored what he has done: His first wife, Ivana, was from the Czech Republic; his third, Melania, from Slovenia. His closest family advisor is a woman, his daughter Ivanka. And Ivanka, in marrying Jared Kushner, converted to Judaism. Does that sound like a xenophobe or a polyglot?

Donald Trump frustrates liberal elites, because he is coarse and refuses to kowtow to the Establishment. Despite reducing the role of government, Mr. Trump is accused of despotism. The Left hates him with a venom reserved for Nazis and child molesters. Reconciling that hatred, with acknowledgment that his economic policies appear to be working, is difficult. They want to keep that hate alive, so that in 2019 a Democrat Congress may impeach Mr. Trump. But, as Andrew Klavan wrote in City Journal (referring to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), “Mr. Trump is Randle Patrick McMurphy to the Left’s Nurse Ratched,” who “pretended to be the soul of motherly care [but] was actually a castrating, silencing tyrant.” It is Mr. Trump’s straight-forward boorishness that penetrates the stranglehold the Left has on cultural, political and academic niceties. That he does so in a thuggish manner is unfortunate, but rude is better than lies. More attention should be paid to what he does and has done, than what he says and has said.

Being a coastal conservative is like being part of an underground movement. Like Mr. Trump, I was once accused of being a racist from a reader dripping with disdain. In my case, like his, the question was phrased as an arrogant and patronizing statement. Even recognizing the truth in the observation that “Only racists say they are not racists,” I felt insulted and sullied. I was certain the reader had not read carefully what had been written. Accusing another of being racist is a way of deflecting one’s own shortcomings. It reminds me of my father’s admonition: “Never argue with a fool, for a passerby is unable to tell which is which.” Ms. Ryan heard what she wanted to hear, and my reader read what he wanted to read; so, both made accusations in question form. Hear what people say, but watch what they do. It would be better if words and deeds conformed, but watch what Mr. Trump does.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

"Government, Compassion & Charity"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Government, Compassion & Charity”
January 15, 2018

Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
                                                                                                            Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Year-end is when requests arrive to support myriad causes. Some are of no interest or are fraudulent, but most are from organizations we want to help. Most of us have to make decisions, as our pockets are not bottomless. Nevertheless, the exercise is cathartic and feelings of altruism add to a sense of well-being.

For more than eighty years, safety nets have been a structural part of federal budgets. Now, they dominate spending. According to Pew Research, entitlement programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, veteran’s benefits, unemployment compensation, etc., accounted for 67% of 2016’s $4 trillion budget. We are a compassionate people, and politicians are especially so when it comes to other-people’s money. The dispensing of largesse is a popular way to win votes, and nobody is more expert at this than Washington politicians. But, as Margaret Thatcher once warned, we risk running out of “other-people’s” money. Removing the cookie jar (or making it more difficult to access) – what adults must do – is unpopular. Those who have grown dependent on government – and millions have – lend credence to a modern-day interpretation of that post-World War I song: “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)” It is right to be compassionate. It is not charitable to foster dependency.

President George W. Bush once said, “I call my philosophy and approach compassionate conservativism. It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on responsibility and results.” The first part of Mr. Bush’s explanation is agreed to by all. The second is ignored.

What happens when compassion becomes charity? Government should mirror its people. But it is devoid of feeling. Its purpose and responsibility is to create, administer and adjudicate laws, ensure the rights and property of its citizens, provide defense against enemies at home and abroad, and to ease commerce via treaties and through the building and maintenance of roads, bridges, and ports. It should provide youth a basic education. It should ensure a safety net under those who because of age or infirmity are unable to care for themselves. Compassion is healthy, as it reflects the people, but federal deficits, a crumbling infrastructure and a depleted military suggest politically-motivated hearts are bigger than fiscally-responsible heads. Charity is distinct, and best left to individuals and to private, non-profit organizations.

This is not to be critical of Mr. Bush. His post-Presidency has shown him to be a decent, empathetic man, especially in his treatment of soldiers wounded in wars to which he committed them. I look at his book, Portraits of Courage, and marvel at how he captured despair and bravery, sadness and joy, grief and relief. He wrote in his introduction: “I painted these men and women as a way to honor their service to the country and to show my respect for their sacrifice and courage.” What greater devotion to his country can a former President express?

There are those who argue we are a nation of equals, and we are, before the law and in our rights as citizens. But that notion becomes convoluted by those who feel compassion requires outcomes to be equal, despite inherent and unalterable differences. We have myriad talents and aspirations. Some are more intelligent, more dedicated, with greater ambitions. Some more athletic, and others willing to work smarter and harder. A few are born with limited skills and opportunities. A free society allows people to achieve what they can, within the law and with deference to civil behavior. A compassionate society ensures that those unable to care for themselves will not be forsaken. But we should not encourage recipients of government largesse to become dependent. Throughout history, inequality becomes exaggerated during times of rapid innovation, as happened during the industrial revolution and as is happening now, with innovative new technologies. However, over time, these “creatively destructive” changes benefit all society. In the U.S., we partially compensate for different outcomes through the provision of services to aid the needy, aged, infirm, and those born with conditions that prevent the realization of dreams. We fund those costs with an income tax that is the most progressive in the world. But, we are not the same, nor can we ever be.

At his son’s graduation from the 9th grade at Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire last June, Chief Justice John Roberts spoke: “From time to time, in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice…I wish you bad luck, again from time to time, so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.” Roberts words might have been taken from the Gospel according to Luke: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” He was right about justice and the role luck plays in our lives.

He was speaking to a people who are the most magnanimous on earth – not because of government entitlement programs, but because of the nature of its people. As a percent of national income, no nation comes close to the U.S. in the generosity of its citizens. According to the IRS, Americans gave away $373 billion in 2016, to 1.5 million registered non-profits. That amount does not include hundreds of millions in cash contributions that millions give to the homeless on city streets, or the millions placed in collection plates in houses of worship. It does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars in non-itemized donations. It does not include volunteerism, Kickstarter, or Go-Fund-Me. According to the latter’s web site, $5 billion has been raised in contributions from 50 million people. Other countries have more lavish welfare programs, but our citizens’ generosity is unique in the annals of nations. We take pride in self-sufficiency, and we recognize the dignity that is attributed to work and the independence that self-sufficiency brings. Nevertheless, in a world tilting toward selfies, the Chief Justice’s wisdom was refreshing.

A Chinese proverb that has pertinence says: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  We cannot feed all in the world who are hungry. We cannot provide sanctuary for all who have been forced to emigrate. We cannot protect every person against the ravages of nature, or the bestiality of mankind. We cannot protect every forest, river and stream, nor clean up every ocean and pond. Like individuals, options must be weighed. We can help educate people. We can show the advantages of democracy and liberty through the example of our lives and our government – of how freedom, which can never be taken for granted, is illusive and worth defending. We can call out those who repress their citizens, and support those who revolt against tyranny. But we must acknowledge that behind the empathy we offer is a free people and the free-market capitalism that allows us to be charitable. We should be compassionate, but we must measure economic costs, less we become a nation and people in need.

The Left must understand that charity is individually driven, and that making people dependent is not charity. The Right must recognize that government reflects the compassion of its citizens. Both sides must realize the necessity for economic growth. Both must know where compassion ends and charity begins. In 1 Corinthians, in the King James version, the Apostle Paul speaks: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” He wasn’t addressing the Roman Senate (or the U.S. Congress); he was speaking to the people.


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