Cicero: No Slave of Plato ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Cicero never hid the fact that he wrote his own On the Republic in imitation of, and as a corrective of, Plato’s more famous Republic. Indeed, Cicero reveled in the idea. Yet, his own work is never slavish. In book four of Cicero’s version—of which, sadly, very little survives and much of it only in fragments quoted in other works—Cicero openly criticizes Plato for several things. Even in his criticisms, though, Cicero is playful, with the participants of the dialogue noting that Plato seems to be exempt from all wrong doing.

Not so, Cicero declares
— Read on

A deed of mercy:The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Richard Berkey and to the right my kinsman, whom I knew very well as a boy and young man NORMAN ELIASSON (10th Armored Division) Bronze Star V for Valor (Bastogne, Dec 1944)

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant
there.—  Portia, In William Shakespeare, the Merchant of Venice, Act 4 sect 1

Shortly before the liberation of Dachau Concentration camp in April 1945, my uncle Major Norman Eliasson, of 10th Armored Division and his men captured two German SS soldiers.

They were young boys –no older than 11 or 12 years old. My uncle spoke German fluently.

He asked them: “Yunge, Wie lange bist du schon in der Armee?” (Boy, how long have you been in the Army?)

“Wie lange seid ihr beide in der Armee?” (how long have your both been in the army?)

They answered, “nur zwei Wochen” (ONLY TWO WEEKS)

Nur zwei Wochen? ONLY TWO WEEKS?

They boys answered, “Jawohl, Bitte erschießt uns nicht” (Yes, please don’t shoot us).

Norman asked them to remove their tunics. They had no SS tattoos. They had no military ID.

Then boys told their story tearfully.

SS officers had come to their elementary school two weeks previously and had forcibly recruited all the 11-12 year old boys in the school. Some of them had been killed in the fighting. They said,trembling, “PLEASE DON’T SHOOT US.”

My uncle said, “Don’t worry kids. We won’t shoot you.” (Ärgern Sie sich nicht, dass wir Sie nicht erschießen warden)

My uncle and his men talked a little bit. They decided to take them prisoner would be wrong.

“We’re Americans,” my uncle said. “If we want to have peace we are going to have to treat these people right.”

Then my uncle asked they boys were they lived. They pointed the way.

It was not far.

Then they escorted them home. They let the boys take off their uniforms. The mother of one of the boys was absolutely ecstatic. Norman and his men gave them some food and were on their way. The German woman waved as they marched off and Norman and his men waved back.

Some months later my uncle and his friends –they were in the Army of occupation- were in a bar in Munich when a good looking German woman in her mid 30’s came up to Norman and kissed him.

We were present at Norman’s funeral. He had written to me Dec 10 to wish me a happy birthday and to tell him how eager he was to see us all for Christmas.
Major Norman Eliasson’s funeral caisson in Dec 1999 at Arlington.

She said, very emotionally:

“When I saw you I had to speak to you. Thank you for saving my son and his friend. I will never forget you and the other Americans for your kindness and humanity. Niemals. Never.

( “Ich werde dich und die anderen Amerikaner niemals für deine Freundlichkeit und Menschlichkeit vergessen. “)

When my uncle died in 1999 –he is buried in Arlington Cemetery- He had quite a sendoff. A full band and caisson with horses (I have photographs of the funeral).

Besides the American anthem and his favorite hymns, they played the German national anthem.

It surprised some.

Because after all, Norman had fought the Germans in France and at Bastogne. He was at the liberation of Dachau. He saw the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime. But it didn’t surprise me. My uncle was a Germanophile despite everything.

And in his 30 plus years in the Department of Defense, he had many close friends in NATO and the Germany military. He was highly respected.

Norman was proud to have been an Allied soldier but he was proudest of all of being not a conqueror but a liberator, not an overlord but a friend.

Men like him made Germany an ally during the Cold War. Quite an accomplishment, really.

That really was the greatest generation.

It was an honor to have known such men. NE OBLIVISCARIS…do not forget.

Norman Eliasson took this picture of Officer Candidate Richard Munro on July 4th 1976 at Ft. Meyer. I was serving in the Marine (Reserves) at the time.
my uncle Norman, having recently enlisted in the US Army circa 1943. After the war he attended Columbia University.

True Law is Right Reason in Agreement With Nature ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Second, real law comes not from the mind of man but from the essence of creation itself. That is, man does not create law, he discovers it. It has always been there, though man has ignored, mocked, distorted, or forgotten it. And, as it is always there, it can never be destroyed, while it can always, critically, be remembered. A people might go two thousand years in ignorance (willful or not) of the true law, but the true law remains. If it fails in Troy, it can be remembered in Rome. If it fails there, it can be remembered in London. And, if it fails there, it can be remembered in Philadelphia. Truth, after all, is permanent and nothing man does can destroy it, no matter how vicious our intentions.
— Read on

Dennis prager is onto to something

I am reading a book of essays by Joseph Epstein (The Idea of Culture) and Dennis Prager’s second volume on the Bible (Genesis). I think I can say with certainty that the most recent shooter was not reading these books nor were any of the recent shooters reading anything similar. I think we will find, if we investigate more deeply, what all these shooters have in common is a deep nihilism and existentialist despair. Married men with deep ties to their community and deep bonds of friendship, trust and love suffer also, at times, but have some pride of ownership for this generation and for future generations. There are times I have despaired, briefly. But I have 1) always felt the love and support of close family members 2) have always felt a duty to my family, my country, my faith tradition to my “little platoon” in my school which has taken the place of the Regiment (a sort of substitute and continuation of the clan’s tribal levies). When you feel part of a tradition, part of a something bigger than yourself you are far less likely to hurt fellow citizens for whom you will quite naturally have love and respect. When I read of these massacres and killings. I say to myself, “How dishonorable!” I think to myself I would never dishonor in this way my family, my country, my school, my former Regiment (in my case the US Marines). I would die for my family, my country and for a Great Cause but I would not kill innocents out of desperation and I think, a spirit of jealousy and revenge. I know people act out of hatred, jealousy and revenge. And these base killers, I surmise, act out of desperation at their miserable, alienated “dead-end” lives in order to inflict pain and suffering on others as a kind of vengeful act of murder and mayhem. These killers cannot have been happy, well-adjusted people. They cannot have loved as I have loved. They cannot be as loved and appreciated as I have been appreciated by others. They cannot have been virtuous citizens who took pride in Old Glory and the Great Republic and its splendid ancient heritage of freedom.

I have not achieved great things in life. I was not a great baseball player though my love of the game has given me great solace and pleasure. I was not a great singer or musician but I can sing songs in several languages and know dozens if not hundreds of songs and poems by heart. I was not the greatest coach of soccer, baseball or softball. I was mostly distinguished by my teaching sportsmanship and love of the game not winning and for always valuing academics over ephemeral sporting glory. One time my soccer team came close to tying for the championship but fell short 2-1 due to the superior skill and training of our rivals. But I am proudest that the entire team graduated from high school. My military career though honorable was brief and undistinguished but I am proud of the fact I volunteered and worked hard at getting in and finishing basic training. I failed my first physical and passed by using extra strong glasses. But I wanted to serve as my father and uncles had served and I wanted to serve honorably. Financially I have only been a marginal success but through hard work I have managed not to lose the middle class status my working class parents did so much to achieve. I never did great things or had great jobs. In fact, I had many dirty and miserable jobs but I am proud of the fact that I always worked and strove to support myself and support my family often taking extra jobs and rarely taking a real vacation. I love Spain but have not been back to visit for almost 30 years. But my wife and children have been able to go back to Spain to work, visit and study because of my sacrifices. And when they came home the house, the garden and the pets were all thriving and in order. Academically, I have been a dedicated teacher and have always done my best chiefly as a language teacher. I can say with all honesty I was a relatively successful rural schoolmaster helping students mostly on the lower scale of society.

Of me it could be said, charitably, that I did my bit for my country and for my school. Some give some and some give much more while some give all. No, I have not created works of art nor gained anything more than a small countywide reputation for diligence and caring. As a father and as a husband I have always tried to do my duty morally, financially and academically. As a man I have tried to keep His Commandments, to be a Good Neighbor to others and to teach reverence for life and for our great freedoms and traditions which my father, translating from Gaelic, called “our splendid ancient heritage.” A good conscience is the best reward.

And “when the evening comes at last, and there is peace on every hill” how peaceful is the sleep of the man of honor, the father, the soldier, the citizen, the teacher. For he saw not the sacred flame extinguished, he saw not the Colors lowered in dishonor or defeat in his time. Others look at the flag and see some colors. I feel a pride in belonging to this great though imperfect nation. I feel gratitude for those who came before me and who fought and sacrificed for our liberty and independence. I see, in my mind’s eye many things. I see the blood of patriots at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima or Normandy. I see the 50 stars that symbolize our Federal Union and the blue that symbolizes hope for the future. I see white that stands for liberty and justice for all. I see the thirteen stripes that remind me of the Original Thirteen Colonies and our humble, fragile origins. And of course the Red, White and Blue remind me as it reminded George Washington, FDR and Churchill not merely of the Great Republic but of our mother country. A person who belongs, a person who has reverence for God and Country, a person who loves others would not massacre innocents in nihilistic, suicidal rage. A gun is only a tool and it is only as good or as bad as the man who wields it. The USA has always been a nation in which hunting and the bearing of arms was more commonplace than most countries. Yet up to the 1950’s and early 1960’s mass shooting were almost unknown. So we have to look at many factors not merely the relative easy access to firearms and ammunition. The most important factors are, in my view, the spiritual, social and psychological factors of a few depraved socially alienated and culturally deracinated individuals.

Rocketman Reaches the Stars


The Elton John biopic, Rocketman, opened this weekend, and it is an amazing film. From 1970 through 1976, his music was inescapable on radio: AM top 40 radio was saturated with Elton songs, and FM progressive rock stations played his deeper album cuts. For several years, Elton John was the biggest musical star on the planet.

So it makes sense, given the success of the recent Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, to give Sir John the same treatment. However, Rocketman is a far more successful film. It begins with Elton stomping down the hallway of a rehab center in an outrageous devil costume with horns and wings. He bursts into a group therapy session, confesses his many sins, and begins talking about his life. As he opens up more and more about his childhood and early career, he gradually removes various parts of his costume, until he eventually looks like everyone else in the group.

What makes Rocketman such a memorable experience is director Dexter Fletcher’s decision to make this a musical, and not a documentary. His willingness to play loose with the chronological sequence of John’s hits, and let them serve the overall narrative of his life may annoy some fans, but it works. Throughout the movie, there are surrealistic sequences of singing and dancing that are wonderfully entertaining.

For example, a very young Reg Dwight (Elton’s real name) is asked to play a song in the local pub. He begins playing piano tentatively, but at the urging of his family quickly rips into “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. The walls of the pub recede, and an young Elton – several years older – is running through a carnival belting out the lyrics while followed by a troupe of choreographed dancers. It’s a thrilling moment that drives home his promise and talent.

Another highlight is the moment when he and lifelong collaborator Bernie Taupin first meet and agree to work together. As Elton tries out the first few chords of “Your Song” while peering at Bernie’s handwritten lyrics, the audience is swept up into the excitement of their discovery that they are going to be huge.

No rock biopic would be complete without the star’s obligatory descent into drugs and paranoia, and Rocketman pulls no punches. As he gets bigger and bigger, and more and more people depend on his touring to fuel their greed, he gradually succumbs to every temptation given him. And this is where Taron Egerton’s performance as Elton deserves praise: his vocals are extraordinary, and his portrayal of Elton’s slow descent into drug and alcohol-fueled madness is harrowing. He truly deserves an Oscar for his work.

Of course, Elton’s sexual preferences are no secret, and they are an integral part of the story from the beginning. There are some love scenes that, quite frankly, would never have made it to the screen a few years ago. That said, everything in the movie is there for a reason, and nothing is gratuitous. His brief marriage to Renate is covered sympathetically, and his brotherly bond with Bernie is a constant source of strength and stability throughout the turmoil of his career.

The final scenes where Elton confronts his demons, both chemical and familial, are uplifting and satisfying. If you grew up in the 1970s as I did, or you are simply a fan of Elton, Rocketman is a fitting tribute to one of the most talented composers and performers of our lifetime.

Sweet Jesus, Hear Me Cry

Prayer can pop up in the strangest places. Even in the prayer of desperation, hope in Jesus shines brightly.

Where’s the lady and the time I used to know
I think that I’ve been on the road too long
Scenes of better days are pictured in my head
And haunting me those old familiar songs
Oh sweet Jesus hear me cry
Let me see a clearing sky
For tomorrow I may be back home again
So take the shadow from my eyes

Sunday morning comes I’m feeling kind of down
I can’t see back to where it all began
And I know you’d help me if you only could
I don’t know why or where or who I am

Oh sweet Jesus hear me cry
Let me see a clearing sky
For tomorrow I may be back home again
So take the shadow from my eyes
Take the shadow from my eyes

— Barclay James Harvest, 1975

The Natural and the Foreign: Republics from Rome to America ~ The Imaginative Conservative

As Cicero critically notes, during all of its history, Rome came about by trial and error, custom and habit, not by design. “Our commonwealth, in contrast, was not shaped by one man’s talent but by that of many; and not in one person’s lifetime, but over many generations.” Livy, later, argued the same point, but in Polybian fashion. Cicero notes that through On the Republic he hopes to “show you our commonwealth as it is born, grows up, and comes of age.” By implication, of course, Cicero anticipates the decay, corruption, middle-age, and eventual death of the republic. Unlike in the American experience, the Roman republicans could not appeal to its “founders” or its “founding” or its specific constitution. Instead, all things came into being over time and through incredibly difficult and painstaking work. America’s Republic might be a mighty fortress, but Rome’s was poetic. Only in the divine, Cicero claims, could one find an origin of Rome. The rest was, simply put, experience and tenacity.
— Read on

Hume and that cat

Once this motorcyclist asked me – “What do you call her?” – pointing at the motorcycle. I responded — “nothing!”, and casually explained how it’s just a machine. She was shocked, and retorted in a rather jovial way — “You called her a machine, now she will breakdown!” Sort of reminded me of this David Hume quote “There is a very remarkable inclination in human nature, to bestow on external objects the same emotions, which it observes in itself; and to find everywhere those ideas, which are most present to it.” Hume goes on to attribute these inclinations to mostly children, poets and ancient philosophers. May be the lady was a poet? My own instincts tend to go the other way, I rather bestow on humans the characteristics of inanimate objects. We are also machines, just really complex ones. Guess I am no child, a poet or that ancient philosopher.

Hume’s insight is probably more prevalent, and often a cause for serious mischief. Recently I went riding to Orcas islands, but had an overnight stay at Anacortes to catch that early morning Ferry. Overnight motorcycle parking in a motel lot is always risky, so to minimize the attention I draped it with a dull two-wheeler cover. Next morning I noticed this feral cat sitting and staring at the motorcycle. In a parking lot filled with cars, this draped bike might have invoked his curiosity? We can actually never know. If I say the cat was curious, all that means is — if I was a cat, then I’d be curious. For all you know, that cat might have been a fan of Triumph motorcycles, and it was simply gazing in admiration. Or maybe it was just day dreaming. Possibilities are endless. Unless we place sensors in his brain, we can never truly understand that intend behind his action.

Not just in animals, we have this propensity to assume intend based on the actions of our fellow humans too. Sometimes it’s related to the curious actions of our spouse, or parents or maybe relatives. Our subject of scrutiny can also be the distant actions of some movie star or politicians, as seen through YouTube or TV. Lengthy contentious discussion on the behavior of such a celebrity is not that uncommon. But, whenever we assume intend based on actions, it only tells us more about our own mind, our own assumptions, which may or may not be relevant to the actual object, animal or the person being scrutinized. Not surprising that Hayek once said “We are studying mental and not physical events, and much that we believe to know about the external world is, in fact, knowledge about ourselves