Green shoots in the Caribbean

In my last post I talked about the near-monumental announcement that PLO president Mahmoud Abbas would not seek re-election.  In light of the near- and full-revolutions in that part of the world, his announcement (conditioned and far-off in actual action) seems meek and was duly ignored by most of the world’s press.  I’m happy to see that another similar positive outlook hasn’t been overlooked: the peaceful conduction of a runoff election in Haiti.

Haiti’s initial election was marred by obscene amounts of fraud and scattered violence with the established structure’s candidate “winning” enough to qualify for the runoff, despite being universally disliked (most importantly by actual Haitians).  For whatever reason, a peaceful acknowledgement of the error happened and the two candidates with the most votes eventually were recognized.

The runoff between the singer Michel Martelly and the professor Mirlande Maniget occurred with only a single incidence of violence and widely acknowledged legitimacy.  And with neither candidate being part of any real ‘establishment’ we should fail to see an escalating civil war after the results are announced next month (unlike the Ivory Coast).  Haiti should be able to look forward to a peaceful transition of legitimate power to the hands of one of these right-of-center politicians (similar to what happened in Liberia).

I say “should” because as always there’s a wild card.  Despite his responsibility for the torture and killings of large number of the population, former president Jean-Claude Duvalier has returned to his country.  Somehow he maintains some sort of popularity, with some voters stating that if he had ran they would’ve voted for him.  His far-left politics, which ended up putting a lot of wealth in his hands, stand in stark contrast to the current candidates.

Haiti has a history of deposing leaders via coup, even early in their terms and against high-percentage victories.  What a blow it would be if Baby Doc Duvalier rode into Port-au-Prince a la Napoleon.  The incomprehensible web of NGOs importing money and supplies would instantly dry up and favorable trade deals being arranged for the struggling nation would wither on the vine.  Most likely Haiti would become the pet project of Chavez and Castro, helping it limp by, avoiding total collapse while letting its populace slip deeper into poverty.

This is, in my opinon, a worst-case scenario.  But it is easy to imagine a frustrated nation if rebuilding does not truly show results in the next year, even more so if an all-too-common hurricane happens to worsen conditions.  Still, the spirit in the air is one of hope, that Haiti may become like many of its Latin American neighbors who threw off dictatorships and found economic improvement.

Type of Media: Web news
From: Reuters
Title: UN urges patience in Haiti’s wait for vote result
Read it at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/21/us-haiti-election-idUSTRE72J0O620110321?pageNumber=1

A tree fell in the forest

As the west sits back practicing frantic “diplomacy” while waiting for Qaddafi to stabilize his realm, we are starting to witness the ugly aftershocks of revolution. Flanking Libya, both Tunisia and Egypt have seen splinter protests, over everything from wages to a cry that too many old-regime hands are still leading government. New Prime Ministers have been appointed and elections called, but not much actual change seen. Saudi Arabia has sent troops to stabilize Bahrain and Yemen continues to see President Saleh compromising yet failing to disperse the masses.

Today, though, an Arab leader made an announcement that a scant few months ago would have shocked the world: Mahmoud Abbas will not seek another term as president in Palestine. Granted, he’ll only relinquish the position once the West Bank and Gaza are peacefully reunited as a political unit, so who knows when that’ll be. Still, after decades of Yassar Arafat and current events the concept of willing abdication seems surprising.

What this means for the abandoned Israel peace process is anyone’s guess. Perhaps given new economic strength from open borders with Egypt, Hamas will find new support from its constituents in Gaza. As their Hizbullah-allies in Lebanon have recently done, Hamas may find themselves playing a kingmaker even if Fatah retains the presidency. Certainly the sting of failure in the latest round of talks won’t help anyone seen as Abbas’ heir-apparent.

This should be something Israel should watch carefully. Netanyahu’s at best half-hearted attempts at peace may end up causing Palestinians to once again revert away from a diplomatic path. This can only bode ill for Israelis as they continue to brazenly build more settlements and projects in East Jerusalem, seemingly purposefully antagonizing their neighbors. Both Hamas and Hizbullah are suspected of redoubling their missile arsenal and investing in even more sophisticated armament capable of reaching well past the border. Given the stronger political stand of both Shia militias, and the constant distraction in the region, now is not the time for Israel to be the rude neighbor.

Media type: Online news
From: Wall Street Journal
Title: ‘Abbas Offers Hamas an Olive Branch’
Read it at: Wall St Journal

A changing demographic?

I’ve spent a couple posts now bemoaning the role of modern women on television: the naggers, the background eye candy, the emotional wrecks, etc.  It turns out I’ve been missing one show that has so far refused to put women in those roles: White Collar.

A career forger (Neil Caffrey, beautifully played by Matt Bomer) escapes prison only to be re-caught and put to the work for the FBI.  I know, you’ve already seen Catch Me If You Can.  In USA Network’s television series the characters are dashingly attractive, charming, intelligent, and obsessively well-tailored, think more Ocean’s 11.

There are a total of SIX women with reoccurring roles and not a single one has

Special Agent Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason)

failed to rise to the occasion on their own at some point in the two short seasons.  If you lost the sexual tension, any of these characters could be played by either sex and you’d seldom notice an issue (ok, Neil’s season one pursuit of his ex-girlfriend might be a bit progressive in this scenario).  An insurance adjuster tracks and out-wiles thieves, two FBI agents not only act with initiative but taunt Neil his captivity, a cat burglar/former fling plays to her own agenda and rarely offers selfless favors, a kindly older women reveals a past of dubious legality, and the loyal FBI agent’s wife pushes cases and spurs the leads to action.

If you’re familiar with USA, you’ll know the show follows an almost rigid pattern: the first and last few minutes focus on the season-arc while the middle 45 deal with some crisis-of-the-week.  Characters keep secrets and run hidden agendas, betrayal and trust drive stories.   You’ll also know the usual show has maybe 10 regular characters, so when I say that six (SIX!) are women in this cops-and-robbers genre, you can appreciate the heft.  And unlike, say, Burn Notice the strong female characters aren’t constantly over-compensated by being femme fatales with near-homicidal urges.

I’m not the first to theorize that cable feels more comfortable ignoring the ratings-driven stereotypes seen on the majors.  Personally, I think making every character independently strong has let the show move in directions most cop shows can’t: any two characters can have an issue without needing a lead to step in and keep the audience’s attention.  This helps keep a fresh edge despite the usual failings of successful shows (ever more complicated plots, ridiculous histories being drudged up, multiple lifetimes’ of experience and expertise despite youth).  Instead of a will-they/won’t-they Ross & Rachel dynamic, we’ve seen Neil struggle with conflicted attraction to multiple women as each relationship seems viable and realistic; and we’ve seen women walk away in pursuit of their own interests.  As shows that feel realistic tend to be more enjoyable and watched, I look forward to watching White Collar for quite a few more heists and capers.

Media type: Television
From: White Collar
Title: “Under the Radar”
Watch it at:http://www.hulu.com/embed/FOJPo1-FEvCvNYzk-Ke_Ig

Pandora for podcasts


Apple is a company that makes investors and entrepreneurs alike tremble with envy.  Sleek new smartphones, products that create entirely new markets (iPods, iPads), and an online music store that has found a way to monetize some of movement to online music.  But there is one flaw so glaring on the Apple facade that leaves many increasingly irritated: the inability to sync.

I am lucky enough to have a home laptop, a work desktop, an iPhone and two iPods (mainly for long car trips) and I devour podcasts at a prodigious rate (see aforementioned trips as well as long hours spent at the bench).  Check any one of these devices and you will seldom see any overlap in the podcasts.  I constantly have to re-upload the latest editions, re-connect USB cables, and re-download new subscriptions.  But lately I’ve found stitcher.

Stitcher radio is a bit like Rhapsody and Pandora all mixed together.  It’s web-based podcast radio.  You have one user-generated account and in it you can “favorite” your usual podcasts (searching through my standards only one was not in the stitcher library: NPR 7AM ET News Summary).  It then keeps track of what you’ve listened to, downloads the latest editions, keeps an order, and automatically syncs anytime you log in.  Oh, and there’s an iPhone app.  No more awkwardly transferring from the iPod app to the iTunes store app, waiting for a download, etc.  Since it’s all on-demand, it just starts streaming the podcast just like Pandora!



If you’re like me and always looking for new podcasts, it’s got you covered: click on a single podcast and there’s a ‘find similar’ button.  Or simply go to the playlists of what’s currently most popular, what the staff recommends, etc.  I’ve previously used the iTunes store suggestions or Hunch.com’s “tailored” recommendations to varying degrees of success.  The jury’s still out on this, but so far it’s been interesting.

Of course there are downsides:

  • I’ve yet to figure out how to download older episodes.  For instance ,the Moth is a great live story podcast and there’s no reason why last week’s story is irrelevant, so I’d like to be able to call it up.
  • Like I mentioned, it has yet to offer every podcast.
  • It’d be nice to see it have a recommended list of podcasts to check out based on my current favorites and other podcasts I’ve thumbs upped (undoubtedly this option exists I’m too slow to have figured it out).
  • And finally, there’re ads.  Granted the ads are usually 20-30s promos for stitcher itself, but given that most successful podcasts now start and/or end shows with the hosts plugging audible.com, carbonite.com, or stitcher.com, you may have three annoying bits in a row.
  • My iPhone does not connect to my car’s stereo, but my iPod does (thanks Apple for lack of backward’s compatibility, way to try to shill more money out of me).

Overall, these flaws are exceedingly minor for the service stitcher provides.  Can I guarantee I’ll still be using this app in six months?  No.  But at least for the moment it’s worth playing with and incorporating into my daily life.

Media Type: iPhone App (also available for Blackberry, Android and Palm)
From: Stitcher
Title: Stitcher
Try it at: http://stitcher.com/home.php

The fairer sex

I usually shy away from narcissistic media.  Kismet (a play about a play), Tropic Thunder (a movie about a movie), Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy(a book about a book, ok, it’s a stretch).  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a great example of narcissistic media, feeding off a belief in the brilliance of one’s field often comes across as neither entertaining nor illuminating.

Episodes struck me as such a show and so I ignored it until a friend recommended it.  I found it cheeky and self-deprecating, this show about a British writing couple trying to recreate success in LA has its moments of both humor and introspection.

It is the character of Beverly, the British wife/writer (Tamsin Greig) that has most intrigued me.  Beverly is a chronically pessimistic, unhappy, nit-picking shrill compared to her just-go-along husband who is willing to take on all setbacks as an exciting challenge.  Her one-liners are what we wish we were witty enough to think much less say, and her frank portrayal of reality in the face of so much Hollywood fakery helps us sympathize with her alienation.  But I can never really get behind her in the face of her husband, who seeks only to  please all parties enough to do what he loves.  Their dynamic is the real heart of the show (and, one suspects, the show-within-the-show) and anyone who’s ever had to drag a loved one into something interesting can relate.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that many of the female leads today are the fun-blocking, nagging wife roles.  These women hold back those lovable, goofy, well-meaning men from occasionally enjoying themselves.  This isn’t new to the small screen, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was criticized for casting all the women as balls-and-chain to the likable guys and their pursuit of identity.  Women are being portrayed as the grounded, realistic sex forcing the dreamers to accept their plight.  I struggle to think of a single fun-but-not-flighty female lead currently on (though I’m hardly an expert on everything currently playing).  Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, Claire Dumphy on Modern Family, Fionna Glenanne on Burn Notice, even Marge from the Simpsons are all downers (the ensemble cast of Community stands out).

Comedians have been playing up the stereotypes of the sexes for ages.  But shows like Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to succeed with female characters that aimed high and kept it light, though its hard to mention either show without reflexively saying “strong female role model,” that’s how unique of a situation it is.  Come on TV-land, let’s see a different type of woman.

Media type: Television
From: Episodes
Title: episode four
Watch it at: http://www.sho.com/site/order/preview.do#/Episodes_s01_e01 (sadly just episode one)

What a difference a desert makes

I mentioned yesterday that only those who live in a state with near-absolute media control are unaware of scenes from the Arab street, specifically the outright rebellion in Libya.  How interesting that a few hundred miles southwest is another African country suffering a leadership transition, but unless you are checking the BBC or Al Jazeera you’ll have barely heard of it.

I’m talking of the disputed election and its aftermath in the Ivory Coast.  Since late last year, incumbent-president Laurent Gbagbo has refused to recognize the election results placing him in second (that is, losing) to Outtara.  During the initial counting and announcement, Gbagbo tried numerous tricks including having an ally rip up the election results on television before they could be officially announced by the election commission!  Can you imagine if on election eve Karl Rove had stormed onto CNN’s set and smashed the colored electoral map?  Ok, maybe it’s not quite as absurd as I initially envisioned.  Regardless, Gbagbo holed himself up in official facilities refusing to leave like a spoiled toddler.

After a UN-certification of the results, Gbagbo did the usual thing: he called for demonstrations in the street of his supporters, brought the military to bear, accused his opponent of being a foreign-backed puppet, and refused to meet with the carousel of African leaders who requested a visit.  Currently rebel forces (that is, militias in support of the recognized winner, Outtara) are pressing around the capital.  Outtara has called for an embargo on his own country, denying the Gbagbo-controlled ports and banks the ability to collect dues from the immense cocoa trade.

It all makes for quite high-drama.  All the more so considering the fragile democracies that emerged in west Africa after so many bloody ethnic civil wars that frequently spilled over borders. And yes, there’s even oil involved as Nigeria prepares for its first election with no automatic winner.  And yet, news from the region fails to make it near the top of the hour or the front page.

My first theory was that the Arab world has upstaged this region, being larger and more immediate to western commercial interests.  This cannot be the sole reason, the Ivorian election was in November.  Perhaps crowded out by our mid-terms, few news organizations feel they can now bring in their audience mid-crisis?  Perhaps the constant conflict of the 90s has acclimatized us to the region, whereas the ossified Arab leaders’ downfall is grander.  Or perhaps after painting Muslims as our enemy (but shhhh, not officially) for the past decade, their news catches our eye more easily.

Personally, I believe this last point.  Look how little we care about Russia and its perversion of democracy and capitalism after they ceased being the frightening USSR, or how much the media seem to comment on China’s machinations now as opposed to when they reclaimed Hong Kong or attacked one of our spy planes at the turn of the century.  If this truly is the reason why one revolt is covered while another ignored -one region thrust to the spotlight while the other resigned to the shadows- then we can look forward to a drop off in the denigration of Muslims as we simply ignore them in favor of some new bogeyman.

Media type: Online news
From: Reuters
Title: Ivorian rebels take western town as violence mounts
Read it at: http://tinyurl.com/4oc97vt

People Power vs Actual Power

Unless you live in China, you can’t escape the near constant reporting on the upheaval in the Middle East and north Africa over the past two months.  The jasmine revolution continues to inspire demonstrations, riots and outright rebellion from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic.  We may be witnessing a world-changing event on par with the various color revolutions in eastern Europe of barely a generation ago.  It is easy for the media and the casual observer to get swept up in the belief that when the people truly want change, change is inevitable.  Numerous articles in such high-thinking publications as the Economist, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times tell us that regardless of short-term stability we should always be pro-democracy, or else we end up on the wrong side of such history!

No one can deny the power of an outraged populous, and current events serve only to remind us of that.  The theory that greater access to communication and information help break authoritarian rule suggest that as xerox and personal computers were to the Soviets, so twitter and facebook are to the Arab autocrats.  But that is hardly the end of the story.

People have continually risen up against oppressive regimes.  Prague Spring, Tienamen Square, and the Green Revolution in Tehran are all examples of people power trying to burst the dam but ultimately falling short.  All three of these examples were quashed by a no-nonsense military crackdown.  As with all things political, one only has to look back to the Roman Republic crisis to see that a disrupted population can be brought to heel with the use of a disciplined military and its unflinching commander.  For all his craziness, Qaddafi seems to have understood this fact and despite near-universal disgust may yet cling to power.  Even civilized Bahrain toys with more forceful tactics as it inches closer to instability.

So while the west’s role in propping up dictators may be outdated, instead of backing various pro-democracy groups we should instead put our focus on creating tighter bonds with nations’ armies .  In the chaos of a new order, revolutionaries can get shut out of the very government they helped make possible in favor of stronger figures; but those with the biggest guns always seem to find a seat at the table.  Such influence may be enough to convince leaders not to let loose the dogs of war.  Slow, steady influence may even help convince them that their fate is tied with the citizens-at-large.  While some demonstrations have overcome armed response (Kyrgyzstan, the Bolsheviks, even the American Revolution), few regimes have stayed in power when the army takes itself out of the equation.

Media type: Online news
From: Al-Jazeera
Title: Thousands protest in Bahrain
Read it at: Thousands protest in Bahrain – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

SLOW – Red Light Ahead!

Or maybe yellow light.

I’ve noticed NBC has really clawed its way back to the top of prime time network comedy after its post-Seinfeld, post-Friends collapse.  30 Rock and the Office have stood out, but they’re not quite enough.  NBC reached out this year with a new show called Perfect Couples‘ and since it’s Hollywood we shouldn’t be surprised that a rival network has a show that touches on the same theme: Traffic Light.

Both shows are about the wacky trials and travails of the 30-something crowd.  Whether you’re 30, 60, or 15 you can understand the painfulness of becoming an adult: leaving behind the near-limitless potential that defines childhood.  Or at least, that’s what the shows are hoping for.  It’s interesting that this “growing up is comically hard” theme used to be the domain of Friends, Scrubs, and even the Office.  You know, shows about 20-somethings?  Here of course goes the obligatory line about how this generation seems to hit milestones later and later.

Still, PC and TL have their moments, mainly pushed by the more outlandish of the characters.  Unfortunately, this means that TL is doomed for mid-season replacement as its lone wildcard is the commitment-phobe Ethan, played cheekily by Brit Kris Marshall.  While funny and providing room for a conveyor belt of eye-candy guest stars, there’s only so much of the goofy bachelor routine we’ll handle.  And tonight showed that the other two couples are lacking both the comic plots and acting chops to really carry the show.  PC on the other hand has two “crazy” couples (the ultra-devoted, and the ultra-impulsive) that are written and acted well, and even lets the straight-man couple Dave & Julia have their moments of insanity.

But these early-30s relationship shows are like bite-sized candy bars: the initial kick feels good but there’s no lasting satisfaction.  After you enter a social scene that doesn’t involve a keg and flirting banter about midterms, we all can relate to the sacrifice of some individuality for security, the unrealized dreams we had for careers, and the distance of friends who’ve succumbed to careers or family.  These are all comic things that we can laugh about it, but in the end a 30-minute sitcom needs to make us escape our lives a little.  It can’t be like a stand-up routine, just exaggerated observational humor.  Shows like Arrested Development, Community, Seinfeld, and Futurama were amazing because they took characters that were simply unreal and let them play in situations that the audience knew didn’t exist!  What’s more, these shows appealed to anyone not just those reflected by the white, middle-class cast and situation.

I think it’s at this point that I point out it’s a crime that both shows basically stole their theme from the League.  FX’s solid late-night comedy about a group of guys who socialize over fantasy football does a much less lame version of showing men reverting to inner boy and carving out some irresponsibility from their lives.  And not a single character can claim to be the straight man in this comedic group.  Also, unlike its network counters, the League manages to show the women as full characters, not just nags or emotional wrecks; surprising for a network that exclusively targets men.

 

Media type: Television
From: Traffic Light
Title:  Credit Balance
Watch it at: http://www.hulu.com/watch/218199/traffic-light-credit-balance#s-p1-so-i0

Back in my day, we knew how to party

With Washington’s Warnings wandering within my wits whilst working (so close!), I stumbled upon the latest Intelligence Squared podcast: “Is the Two-Party System Making U.S. Ungovernable?”  The Oxford-style debate featured the media-darling Arianna Huffington and NY Times columnist David Brooks arguing the motion against the charming PJ O’Rourke and the Zev Chafets who by far had the more quotable lines.

Having grown up in America the words “Oxford” and “debate” immediately give my mind free-license to roam; but these podcasts are almost always entertaining if not informative and this one in particular delivered the goods on both accounts.

Over the past four or so years, my opinions on US politics have matured and developed but my interest in longer-term trends have come to the forefront.  I’ve noticed that there is never a shortage of people claiming we live in an extraordinary time, or that in this age things are really different.  Yet no matter what revolutionary new tool or system is set up there is invariably something in our past to compare it to.  For instance, the tech and finance bubbles are hardly new as railroad speculation and savings & loans brought about similar market enthusiasm in “new business models” that saw a subsequent crash.  And for anyone who really thinks Obama’s victory was groundbreaking and unique I beg you to read Ted White’s The Making of the President 1960, which is built off his notes following around the candidates of that election.  The young, minority senator struggled to make connections to the middle class and blue-collar workers, while his more experienced opponent abandoned the center to appeal to his ‘core supporters.’

In my opinion, and well articulated by the ‘nays’, it is a similar story with our current “deadlock.”  We seem to forget that barely ten years ago, government effectively stopped to delve into the insignificance of marital fidelity in the White House.  A few years prior government literally shut down over partisan politics.  For those who think though, that our current situation is far worse we have only to look back to that inconvenient period of history called the Civil War, when political battles traded rhetoric for bullets.

This debate initially seemed in the hands of Huffington and Woods, who effectively argue that America has lost some of its luster: social mobility has diminished, real wages have dropped, and the wealth gap has continued to expand.  But somewhere around the midpoint of the debate O’Rourke manages to make the fatal point that it is asinine to blame these things solely on a two-party system and that the ‘yeas’ have no alternative to offer.  A brief mention of one-party rule by Arianna sent a noticeable chill on the forum.  And while Huffington argues that government only finds “sub-optimal solutions,” all pundits find any compromise “sub-optimal,” a compromise by definition is not getting all that you wanted!

The idea of instantaneous runoff was floated by the audience (whereby if your first choice candidate is not in the top two, your vote goes to your second preference), which in general I think is a good idea.  The city of Oakland recently elected its mayor in this fashion, and interestingly the winner was a good 10+% behind based off just first-choice ballots.

But really, do we need more parties?  As I reflected yesterday, Washington had a clairvoyant’s gift on predicting the discord sewn with parties.  By fracturing the vote into ever more tribes who hold the primacy of different ideas, we risk becoming a populous disconnected from other’s ideas.  As a fiscal conservative, I am forced to confront my political allies’ views on social and global governing.  Were we in a system where I could vote only on the issues I cared most about, I would wash my hands of all others. I may vote for my candidate on my issue and let him decide how all other issues should play out.  Instead in the two party system I’m forced to weigh all the issues.  Of course, in Washington’s utopia I would still have this luxury/responsibility, but the mashup of political agendas would change every election and be more varied.

Media type: Podcast
From: Intelligence Squared
Title: “The two-party system is making America ungovernable”
Hear it at: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/america-divided-us-politics/

Rambunctious youth never listen

I’ve been shopping around a number of podcasts lately due to an uptick in labwork.  Some, like Skeptics Guide to the Universe, help keep my scientific processes in gear while others, like Great Speeches in History, tap into a deeper, visceral interest.  During today’s session I was privileged to hear both Malcolm X appeal for black nationalism and George Washington’s farewell address.

For the record, I’m not black, nor was I raised in an environment were race was an uncomfortable, confrontational issue.  So what was surprising about today wasn’t the outright revolution Malcolm X was striving for, nor the possible ethnic conflict that could’ve resulted, possibly mirroring some of the unrest we see in Sri Lanka, Iraq, or Xinjiang.  Instead, what I found more disrupting was the message that Washington gave as he declined running for a third term as our nation’s first executive.

I confess to long being an admirer of GW.  First hooked in high school, I’ve since read James Flexner’s superb one-volume biography, McCullough’s chronicle’s of that pivotal year 1776, and even the somewhat dull analysis of the constitutional convention: The Summer of 1787.  And while I was as familiar as any student of politics with the immortal warnings against political parties and “entangling alliances” I found myself pausing in my work to listen and contemplate on the advice from an astute actor in both realpolitik and high theory.

Barely over half an hour, the president touches on so many timeless issues: party politics, war, national spending, even the nature of taxes.  By far, his most powerful piece is on parties.  Washington saw the inevitable harm from political parties on accomplishing the real goals of any nation.  That bickering would so obsess the leaders, that national priorities would place second to one-upsmanship.  That region would be turned against region; false, exaggerated stereotypes would isolate us within our own country.  Finally, by luck one party would gain the upper hand and that domination “sharpened by the spirit of revenge” would lead to a new despotism resulting in  “miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”  Indeed, history is full of men who’ve played party politics for personal gain: Caesar and Pompey played their factions off each other so well it led to first one and then the other being declared Dictator, Napoleon rode the fighting factions of the revolution.  We complain of bureaucratic and rusted government in Washington and Madison, where petty political tricks and maneuvering have been used more to capture headlines and the next election; as such more power has been ceded to the executive branch in an unheralded number of cabinet-level departments.  In light of the current recession, many in the press have drawn attention to China’s ability to get things done quickly, the underlying tone suggesting our pesky, self-erected impediments could be swept away if we were willing.

Washington continues with prudent talk on government finances.  Regarding public credit he admonishes “use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace .”  But he admits timely spending to prevent danger would ultimately be far cheaper than repelling such danger.  But debt was too be immediately repaid so that we would be “not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”

It is interesting that in terms of finance, he seems to think only in terms of spending on the military.  There’s nary a mention of a bureaucracy to pay, entitlements to hand out, infrastructure to ‘invest’ in.  And for such a dominated budget, despite being a soldier Washington seems to have fervently detested a standing army, thinking if it existed it would be misused.

Instead of armed conflict, we are told to maintain friendships with all nations, make no new alliances, but not to besmirch our name by removing ourselves from those that presently exist.  Commerce would be our strongest foreign policy move.  It is a message that modern-day globalization supporters would trip over themselves to agree with.

Being Washington, the speech is peppered with remarks praising his audience and peers for so well-designing a government, and that he is but an inept player called to serve his country.  His humility rings genuine and in the end we are left with words which at least touch us.  But it is fitting that much like so many adolescents, we have listened but not heard to what our greatest Founding Father considered his greatest advice.

 

Media type: Podcast
From: Greatest Speeches in History
Title: Washington’s Farewell Address
Hear it at: http://www.learnoutloud.com/Catalog/History/Speeches/Great-Speeches-in-History-Podcast/21306#
(scroll down to nearly the bottom)
Read it at: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp