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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cocumella, Vera, Amalfi, Capri ... and Me

It was just two years ago today that my special angel, Miss Carol had me post her memory of a very special stop on what I think was our favorite trip together ... I think it was our favorite because each was different and each in their own way deserve that honor!
The picture almost looks fake, doesn't it? An amalgamation of beautiful things pulled together from a multitude of sources ... but fake it is not, for I have been there and it is real. Walkway skirting the Bay of Naples, sunset over the Bay of Naples, sailing ship Vera at anchor awaiting tomorrow and awe-struck guests from the Grand Hotel Cocumella in Sorrento, Italy. That's what this picture shows.
Sometimes life's dreams do come true. All my childhood years, my father said to me ... "If there is one thing that you go see in your life, you go and see the Amalfi Coast in Italy". He told his stories of the beauty of the Amalfi Coast so many times that I felt that I had already seen it. When Bob and I had the chance to go to Italy, I wanted to be sure that I understood what my father had been talking about ... and fortunately, we chose a grand hotel ... The Cocumella.
Our trip to Italy was scheduled to be a tour of Rome, Florence and Venice. My company was rewarding agents for meeting sales' goals and I was lucky enough to be invited along. We scheduled staying on after Venice and I told Bob that we were going to see some of the most beautiful places in the world.
After a wonderful two days to ourselves in Venice, we flew to Naples where the hotel in Sorrento was having a driver pick us up. We were supposed to arrive about mid-afternoon in Naples but Alitalia Airlines has its own timetable. We finally arrived just about dark at the Naples airport. The poor driver was totally exhausted and got us to the car as quickly as he possibly could. He zoomed out of Naples and we were on the road to Sorrento. It was dark by then and all I could see was the outline of the umbrella pines. We knew we were driving along a road that hugged the seacoast, but we couldn't see the ocean. By the time we got to the Grand Hotel Cocumella, the restaurant was closing ... they offered to see what the chef could do but all I wanted was to go to bed.
By the next morning, I was convinced that I had made a terrible mistake in choosing Sorrento and this hotel. Our room faced an internal courtyard. The room delivered breakfast, however, was very good. Flaky, crusty Italian rolls with homemade marmalade and fresh cut tomatoes with mozzarella cheese. The cheese was obviously just made and the coffee was the best I ever had.
Still not enough to overcome my depression, I continued to bemoan my mistake in extending the trip. Bob, finally tiring of listening to me, went downstairs to scope out the rest of the hotel. When he came back, he brought me a small red flower and said that I had to come outside. I finally did leave the room and went outside into - heaven on earth.
The hotel was originally a Jesuit monastery, opened in 1637. The hotel was started in 1822. The hotel sits in the most beautiful garden/citrus orchard ever seen. The sights and smells were heavenly. Sorrento lemons are world famous and are the size of oranges. They emit their fragrance while still growing on the trees. The gardens were full of other fragrant flowers and plants. You walk a path through the garden to the terrace overlooking the bay and look back on Naples and Vesuvius.
Bob worked his magic with the Chef Concierge, Giuseppe di Pietro, and, almost before you could snap your fingers, Giovanni and his car showed up. Giovanni had been a merchant mariner and spoke passable English. Our plan - morning in Pompeii and afternoon driving down the Amalfi Coast. Bob's magic ... he asked Giuseppe what he could do on short notice!
Giovanni retraced our previous night's route, this time to Naples. We saw what we had missed the night before. The coastline is unbelievably beautiful. My father was correct. It is the one place you have to see. Pictures can't really do it justice. "See Naples and die."
He got us to Pompeii and we walked up to the beautifully excavated town. It's real and it's human. Once you are there, you know why they would have delayed and delayed leaving. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
After seeing Pompeii, we rejoined Giovanni and we drove down the Amalfi Coast. It's a narrow 2-lane road with the land falling straight down from the roadside to the sea. It gives you a magnificent view of the ocean. You drive through small charming towns and sometimes have to back up the car to let the large tour buses through. Amalfi is touristy but still charming with beautiful pottery and cameos for sale.
Bob lucked out ... He didn't have to buy me a cameo as I have two. My father bought one for my mother and one for my grandmother when he was in Amalfi at the end of World War II. They are both now mine.
Positano is also touristy but very sophisticated. We stopped outside of town and I bought a pottery plate. Bob wanted to buy out the store, but he had no idea of how to get all the breakable stuff home. In Positano, it's helpful to be a mountain goat ... you get to from the top to the bottom by climbing up and down narrow stairs. There are no roads down to sea level. Your car must be parked at the top and you climb up and down these charming, steep staircases with shops and restaurants on either side.
That evening, we ate on the terrace of the Cocumella Restaurant. We both had minestrone soup. I almost didn't order it. We always had cans of Campbell's Condensed Minestrone soup when I was growing up. I never liked it but my father was addicted to it. I understand now that he was trying to somehow recapture what minestrone soup should taste like. He had eaten it in remote farm cottages outside of Naples and in small restaurants in Naples. Campbell's minestrone soup - forget it. The real thing is a simple vegetable soup made with the freshest ingredients possible.
The evening's entertainment was provided by the hotel's excellent musicians and an American family; man, wife, son and his New York "Princess" betrothed ... members of the nouveau riche, or pretenders thereto ... gauche was the operative word. They were a real hoot ... the father belittling "foreigners," announcing to the world how wonderful his son was, ... and loudly telling his family how he had used his influence to arrange for the Vera to take them to Capri. He also used his influence to assure that we were able to enjoy "New York, New York" over and over again, throughout the evening ... instead of Mattinata and Torna a Surriento.
The next morning we were off to Capri on the sailing ship Vera. There were two other couples ... plus the American family, who couldn't understand why we were all on their "boat". We went under sail and the water was a blue that I have never seen before. And, then there was Capri, rising out of that blue water. I know that you can get to Capri more quickly by ferry and hydrofoil but under sail is really the only way to go.
For lunch, the crew served us wonderful roasted chicken, Insalata Caprese (sliced tomatoes and basil from the hotel's kitchen garden, freshly made mozzarella cheese) and crusty rolls.
We sailed around the island and through the Faraglioni, the limestone masses called Sea Stacks that stand out of the sea.
We then disembarked on Capri with Bob and I taking the funicular to Anacapri, which is at the top of the island. We walked back down, sightseeing and eating gelato, as we came down to the harbor.
We sailed back to Sorrento. Since we were flying back to Rome the next day, I wanted to eat in the room. The Cocumella didn't really have a room service menu at that time but the chef made me a simple tomato and basil pasta, which was incredible. Home made pasta and tomatoes and basil from the kitchen garden.
We were really treated like royalty there ... in fact, I wonder why our names aren't listed on the hotel web site with some of their other distinguished guests like: Goethe, Hans Christian Andersen, Sigmund Freud, and the Duke of Wellington.
Somewhat more than 48 hours of life's magic moments, never to be forgotten.
My father was correct; it was something that I had to do in my lifetime. I understand him better now after that trip. We weren't that close (there are many reasons for that) but he had really wanted me to have an extraordinary experience and lacked the financial means to send me or take me himself. He saw that I got a good education and understood that you had to work very hard at your job to be successful. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to do it and to share it with Bob. We still share the experience; we talk about it and relive it from time to time ... I really don't think he had even heard of the Amalfi Coast before we took the trip.
Like Dr. Ben said to me back in 1787, "the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others" ... Comments and Discussion please

Friday, April 22, 2011

Washington, Jefferson and Obama on Party Politics and Public Credit ...

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10 CommandmentsWhich is the greater sin ... doing something you believe should not be done, or failing to do something you believe you should?
For many if not most, sin is tied to commission and so failing to do something isn't sin ... "I didn't do it so I'm not guilty" ... so in a country subject to majority rule, it would seem the answer is the former rather than the latter.
I'm not so sure ... but if we look at all of the bad that has occurred throughout history, my guess it that failure to do what should be done has been the more responsible. In the 20th century, there is no question but that the evil wielded by the Nazi regime had no equal ... but, many had the opportunity to stop Herr Hitler before he became der F├╝hrer.
As it relates to "nonpolitical politics" ... good government depends upon adherence to sound principles by those who govern and the people holding their elected officials strictly accountable. Failure to do what should be done is responsible for the corruption of our system, more than any other ... responsible for our being beset with the problems we find ourselves now being confronted.
I oppose political parties, all of them! Good government demands of our representatives that they work together in good faith, in a spirit of cooperation; using their independent judgment in reasoning the common good of the nation ... and that their governing be guided by it. Political Parties are incompatible with good government as they represent competing forces ... each having its own version of the common good, with it's members expected to be advocates.
John AdamsBoth George Washington and John Adams warned against Political Parties ... said John, "There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. George WashingtonThis, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution"
Washington warned that "the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension" was a frightful despotism. Counseled he, "The spirit of party serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption ... thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another"
Additionally, we've seen that party spirit and influence undermine the system of checks and balances established by our constitutional framework ... indeed, when both houses of the Congress and the Office of the President under the control of the same party, there are no effective checks and balances.
That is not to suggest that there are not those guided by principle within each party who understand and support this tenet of good government, for certainly there are. However, until we can divest our governing bodies and electoral process of the spirit and influence of party, our government will be permeated by the weak, incompetent and corrupt minions of party.
Public Credit ... it all started out right enough ... "no pecuniary consideration is more urgent than the regular George Washingtonredemption and discharge of the public debt; on none can delay be more injurious, or an economy of the time more valuable" ... Barrack Obamathat from the President who could have been King had he so wanted to Congress in 1793.
What did you expect ... “Failure by Congress to raise the US debt limit could plunge the world economy back into recession" ... “I'm the person who is best prepared for us to finish the job so that we're on track to succeed in the 21st century" as declared last Friday by our sitting President.

Washington had something to say about credit in his goodbye speech too. That man had a genius for putting a whole bunch of wisdom in one paragraph!
  • As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit.
  • One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible
  • Avoid occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remember also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it.
  • Avoid the accumulation of debt by
    • shunning occasions of expense, and
    • vigorous exertion to discharge the debts in a timely fashion
  • Do not ungenerously leave for posterity, the burden which we ourselves ought to bear!

Thomas JeffersonJefferson was of the same mind and sang from the same hymnal "It is a wise rule and should be fundamental in a government disposed to cherish its credit and at the same time to restrain the use of it within the limits of its faculties, never to borrow a dollar without laying a tax in the same instant for paying the interest annually and the principal within a given term; and to consider that tax as pledged to the creditors on the public faith."
He was outspoken in his opposition to incurring public debt ... “there does not exist an engine so corruptive of the government and so demoralizing of the nation as a public debt” ... forewarning, “It will bring us more ruin at home than all the enemies from abroad.” It can't be much clearer than that!
Daddy stated it differently, "If you don't have the cash to buy it, wait until you do!"
Inherent in those maxims is the same virtue as instilled by my parents ... most parents methinks, that your word is your bond and that credit will only be extended to those with a strong moral, religious sense of obligation to repay debt in a timely fashion, without regard to circumstance or convenience ... credit is good, debt is bad!
Both Jefferson and Washington were explicit in their beliefs that no generation has the right to burden future generations ... that every generation should pay off the entirety of its own debt. Said Jefferson, "is it the less dishonest to do what is wrong because not expressly prohibited by written law? Let us hope our moral principles are not yet in that stage of degeneracy, and that in instituting the system of finance to be hereafter pursued we shall adopt the only safe, the only lawful and honest one, of borrowing on such short terms of reimbursement of interest and principal as will fall within the accomplishment of our own lives."
Obama urged swift action, saying he was confident Congress ultimately would raise the limit. "We always have. We will do it again" said Obama, who voted against raising the debt limit as a freshman senator in 2006.
To suggest that "we always have" shows a flagrant disregard for our history though no doubt it's true that "we will do it again" Warned Jefferson, in 1816, "a departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. ... And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression."
And so too is it with men ... a departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on ... until they are consumed with corruption with but one remaining principle ... self-serving expedience.
Senator ObamaIn defense of his 2006 vote, in his second year as senator and two years before being elected president, Obama said "I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a Senator versus the vantage point of a ... President. When you’re a Senator, traditionally what’s happened is this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars.
As President, you start realizing, You know what? We ... we can't play around with this stuff. This is the full faith in credit of the United States And so that was just a example of a new Senator, you know, making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country. And I'm the first one to acknowledge it
I rather doubt that he's the first ever to have acknowledged voting the party line but perhaps it's true ... "nobody likes to be tagged as having as having increased the debt limit by a trillion dollars, especially if they are planning to run for President"
Senate FloorThat's the 2011 explanation ... how would the Senator have explained his vote back in 2006, had he been so asked? It seems that on 20 March, he eloquently answered that in no uncertain terms, not in an interview but from the floor of the Senate: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. Senator ObamaIt is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies.
Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better!
” ...
Admittedly, that's strong rhetoric, but it seems consistent with the principles of Washington and Jefferson, and spoke well for someone interested in good government, regardless of party and regardless of tenure ... as one believing in those principles, I would like to believe that he spoke from the heart ... certainly it was much more than a simple "political vote" so as to not to leave a bad impression!
The President's dilemma isn't to be envied but it's of his own doing ... Emperor's New Clothesthe problem is that his own eloquence speaks strongly against the possibility of his failing to properly appreciate the importance of his vote. To some of those who accept his explanation and believe his 2006 eloquence and vote were "political" and made against what he thought was in the country's best interest, there isn't a problem as they consider it expected behavior ... but for the rest, he's shown himself as unprincipled and unworthy of his office ... falsely presenting himself, his feelings and his values to the people as he served in the senate and sought the presidency.
That seems to be what he would now have us believe ...but true or false, it certainly appears to serve his current purpose of justifying his having now reversed his position.
For those believing his 2006 eloquence was sincere, the felony must be compounded 10 fold for it makes the President's Friday explanation seem a politically expedient sham.
The people are dependent upon the soberness, honor, integrity, wisdom and general virtue of those who would govern ... no ifs no ands no buts!! "Nobody likes to be tagged as ... " as a reason for one's voting posture and record bespeaks something other! Like the senator said, "Americans deserve better! Perhaps we're seeing for the first time, the cloth of the Emperor's new clothes ...
I truly believe violation of principle to be at the heart of all of our problems ... is, and has always been. Noah WebsterNoah Webster, had this to say ... "If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for the selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded" ... Noah always did have a way with words.
"Making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what is important for the country" is behavior unbefitting those holding the public trust ... and exclusively reserved for the unworthy minions of party; most often the ambitious, seasoned and corrupt professional politician. Newcomers are expected to vote according to conviction, as idealistic champions of cause, before becoming corrupted by avarice, greed and thirst for power. But, no member of the Senate, House, or any governmental body ... from the day they're first sworn through the last day they serve can rightfully justify such behavior or avoid our rightful condemnation.
Obama 2004When Obama joined the US Senate in 2005, it was not as a political novice ... he brought both experience and political ambition with him. Obama 2004He served in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 to 2004, attempting to unseat the Democratic incumbent for the US House in 2000 and delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July, 2004. His presidential campaign began in February 2007.
To say the least, it is inexplicable that anyone worthy of holding public office would even consider seeking any such office without having first secured an understanding and appreciation of the gravity attending the position to which they might be seeking election. A virtuous man would consider it unthinkable, if not dishonorable.
Humpty DumptyInfallibility is not expected of our governors, and especially the new ones, but a sober appreciation of the gravity attending their duties and responsibilities is ... and indeed, such appreciation is expected and demanded of all levels of public service, elected and appointed. Thus, if we are to believe the President's assertion that he didn't appreciate the importance of the 2006 issue because he was but a senator, then he must be held accountable and in contempt!
Contrary to our president's protestations, it is not reserved for the presidency. "As President, you start realizing ... You know what? We ... we can't play around with this stuff” ... his folksy style may be just as innocent and sincere as it is disarming, but surely any sober thinker and supporter of good government must conclude that the appropriate time for him to have started so realizing was before seeking public office, not after becoming President of the Fifty!
Neither is "You know what? We ... we can't play around with this stuff" reserved for public debt ... it applies to virtually every issue with which our representatives and leaders can be expected to be confronted ... it's all serious "stuff" of the highest possible order! You know that, I know that ... one would think that a senator and teacher of Constitutional Law would too!
Neither our sitting President nor the current Congress can rightfully be singled out and taken to task for our long and established adherence to flawed policies and practices that violate sound basic principles and engender such oxymoronic conclusions ... it is a responsibility in which we all must share.
President ObamaNow that he's come to those realizations, Obama posits "I'm the person who is best prepared for us to finish the job so that we're on track to succeed in the 21st century
Ben FranklinWith all due respect, "I have a better opinion of our country. I think we shall never be without a sufficient number of wise and good men to undertake and execute well and faithfully the office in question" ... I believe that, as did Dr. Franklin back when he said it at the 1787 Convention. One thing's for sure ... it's obvious that his range of realization doesn't yet include the fact that such self-aggrandizement is not presidential.
The President acknowledged on Friday that HE must "compromise on spending so as to get the public debt ceiling raised" and avoid a financial crisis. It's truly frightening how sinister that sounds to me. Maybe it's because I can make no sense of it ... were we to raise the public debt ceiling, would that not tell the world that our government anticipated needing even more money to stabilize our economy? One would think that sending such a signal might well cause, rather than prevent a crisis. And maybe it's because the Legislative Power controls spending and it's the Executive Power that should serve a check against their excesses, rather than the reverse.
Not being an expert on Keynesian economics, I have trouble understanding how increasing the public debt ceiling so as to empower a government to increase its country's burden of debt to levels beyond the capacity of its people to reasonably assimilate ... can be important to its best interest, but I suspect it's flagrant abuse of Keynes' theory.
It makes no sense to me, except as ... you know, someone making what is a political statement rather than something important to the country. Again, though my reaction is negative and one of most serious concern, my motivation is not political ... it is not intended to suggest that Obama's qualifications, performance or behavior as a public official are better or worse than those of his colleagues who are ambitious and driven by the spirit of party.
Ovsl Offices
I truly respect the Office of the President, regardless of who resides in the Oval Office and support their efforts to govern ... theirs is a burden not to be envied. However, given the evidence as it now stands, it would be a disservice to myself and those who depend on my exercising my best judgment were I to continue to place confidence in the integrity, trustworthiness or creditability of the President.
However, you know what? Like Obama said, we ... we can't play around with this stuff ... for the moment, we must now play the hand that's been dealt. If it can, let's attend to it without our usual party politics. If we can, let's take advantage of the opportunity to return to the principles of Washington and Jefferson rather than depending on governmental control and artificial manipulation ... that is, kill the snake rather than scotch it!
Who among us can relate to 14 trillion dollars of public debt? ... and yet, we treat it almost as casually as pocket change. It's simply another example of Jefferson's wisdom that departures from principle become precedents. Like the President said when he was but a misguided freshman senator ... America deserves better! $14,000,000,000,000 of Public Credit is Good ... $1 of Public Debt is bad!
The virtue of those who govern is far more important to good government and our well being than their positions on specific issues! Each of us must most carefully evaluate the candor, qualifications and worthiness of those seeking or holding public office for ourselves. Indeed we should as it's our duty and obligation to our neighbors who depend upon it ... and our failure to do that is why we find ourselves where we are.
Edgar BergenIn an environment controlled by powerful Media and Party interests, it is especially difficult for those of us on the outside looking in to know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. "Who Do You Trust?" may well be the "nom de plume" of choice for describing our plight, but we were better served when it was appropriate but as the name of a TV game show hosted by Edgar Bergen.
Hard to improve on Noah ... but why not try?
In a word, "good government is what we get when the citizens perform their duty and do what they should ... place principled men in office. Bad government is what we get when they do not" ... Mama would have been proud and Mrs. Gillespie would have awarded me a gold star, that's for sure!
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Like Dr. Ben said to me back in 1787, "the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others" ... when you've read all the pages Comments and Discussion please