Thinking Aloud: Lessons From King Lear

Sept. 20,  2014 by Darius 

Last night, I saw a performance of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear, the story of a British king’s descent into madness and his treatment at the hands of the malicious daughters to whom he leaves his kingdom.  Watching King Lear reminded me of a number of lessons that individuals, leaders, and countries should all heed.

  1. Don’t make it all about you. King Lear couldn’t stand to be contradicted and took personal revenge on those who didn’t say what he wanted to hear.  Yet sometimes we all need to hear what is not easy to hear.
  2. Don’t say anything you might want to take back later. In a fit of rage, King Lear banished his only loving daughter and his most faithful servant and advisor.  Later, Lear’s stubborn refusal to seek rapprochement accelerated the loss of his sanity.
  3. Verify your information before acting.  At a number of points throughout the play, Lear and others act rashly based on information from only one source – which turns out to be malicious and false.  Be sure of the facts, verified by multiple sources, before making a big decision.

I’ll admit, I find most Shakespeare, including King Lear, overlong and a bit ponderous, but there are always nuggets scattered throughout that continue to provide insight into the human condition, even in the 21st century.  And the insult “a most toad-spotted traitor” isn’t bad, either.

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News You Really Need To See: “U.S. Hopes Face-Saving Plan Offers a Path to a Nuclear Pact With Iran”

“U.S. Hopes Face-Saving Plan Offers a Path to a Nuclear Pact With Iran”

The New York Times, September 20, 2014, p.A4

Over the years, the United States has shown considerable ingenuity in its effort to slow Iran’s production of nuclear fuel: It has used sabotage, cyberattacks and creative economic sanctions.  Now, mixing face-saving diplomacy and innovative technology, negotiators are attempting a new approach, suggesting that the Iranians call in a plumber.  The idea is to convince the Iranians to take away many of the pipes that connect their nuclear centrifuges, the giant machines that are connected together in a maze that allows uranium fuel to move from one machine to another, getting enriched along the way.  That way, the Iranians could claim they have not given in to Western demands that they eliminate all but a token number of their 19,000 machines, in which Iran has invested billions of dollars and tremendous national pride.  And if the plumbing is removed, experts at America’s national nuclear laboratories have told the Obama administration, the United States and its allies could accurately claim that they have extended the time Iran would need to produce enough fuel for a bomb — and given the West time to react. … It is far from clear that those suspicious of the deal, in Congress and in Israel, would buy it.  And there is considerable opposition within the Iranian establishment, including the military. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, gave a speech in the summer calling, with great specificity, for an eventual 10-fold increase in the country’s enrichment capacity.  Clearly, Mr. Zarif cannot go home with a deal that seems to violate the course that the ayatollah wants to set.”

Quickie Analysis:  There is substantially less optimism than there was a year ago that a deal can be reached.  The longer the diplomatic wrangling goes on, the more likely that powerful interests on both sides will oppose any reasonable deal at all.  And no amount of plumbing can fix that.

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Thinking Aloud: “Blood Royal”

Sept. 19,  2014 by Darius 

I recently read Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris by Eric Jager.  The book focuses on the assassination of Louis, Duke of Orleans, in 1407 and the detective work that followed as authorities attempted to find the killers.

The king of France at the time, Charles VI, suffered from months-long bouts of madness.  During these periods, France was ruled by Charles’s brother, Louis, Duke of Orleans.  Even by the standards of the day, Louis was a debauched ruler: he extracted ruinous taxes which funded his own lavish lifestyle and made many enemies at court by cuckolding leading knights and nobles, including possibly his brother the king.  One night in 1407, as he was riding through the streets of Paris, he was hacked to pieces by more than a dozen armed men.

The first section of Blood Royal is about the aftermath of the crime and the attempts of the Provost of Paris, Guillaume de Tignonville, to find the killers.  Tignonville used many modern detective methods, such as deposing witnesses in an orderly fashion and tracing the sale of a unique item to the house rented by the killers.

Tignonville did not have long to wait to find the killers of the Duke of Orleans.  Soon after the killing, John, Duke of Burgundy, confessed to ordering the assassination, justifying it on the grounds that Louis was a tyrant.  John had myriad personal and political reasons to want Louis dead, the foremost of which was the fact that with Louis dead, John would become ruler of France during the king’s long spells of insanity.  The second part of Blood Royal is dedicated to chronicling the events that followed Duke John’s exposure as the mastermind behind the plot.

Though John was victorious in the short term, his act ultimately sparked a civil war in France between Burgundy and Louis’s supporters.  This war greatly weakened France in the face of the English invasion of the Hundred Year’s War and shaped European history for hundreds of years.

The first half of Blood Royal isn’t a terribly enthralling read, being chock full of obscure details of life in medieval Paris.  The second half, though, is in many ways an exciting political drama.  Blood Royal would appeal to anyone interested in medieval European history.

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News You Really Need To See: “Scotland’s ‘No’ Vote Could Still Splinter the United Kingdom”

“Scotland’s ‘No’ Vote Could Still Splinter the United Kingdom”

Bloomberg Businessweek, September 19, 2014

“But the referendum campaign is likely to produce a United Kingdom that’s less united. Even before all the votes were counted, Cameron was facing demands from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales for greater autonomy and fiscal authority.  There were also calls from within his own party for London to curb subsidies to Scotland. … In the runup to the referendum, Cameron promised to give Scotland’s parliament enhanced powers on taxation, spending, and social policy.  That angered members of his Conservative Party, because Scottish members of Britain’s Parliament are able to vote on legislation affecting only England. … The Scottish campaign has also renewed calls for greater autonomy in Wales and Northern Ireland.  ‘Wales needs its own say on taxation, policing, rail franchising, large energy projects, and much more,’ Kirsty Williams, who heads the Welsh Liberal Democratic Party, said in a statement after the referendum.  The Liberal Democrats, while opposing Scottish independence, have said they favor a ‘federal U.K.’ in which defense and foreign policy would be set in Westminster but most other powers would be handed over to national parliaments.  A federalized U.K. could lead to rekindled tensions in Northern Ireland between Protestants who want to remain part of the union and Catholics who want independence and closer ties with the Republic of Ireland.  The U.K. has ‘changed forever’ because of the Scottish vote, Gerry Adams, leader of the pro-independence Sinn Féin party, told the BBC today.  ‘London must deliver on its promises—to Ireland also,’ he said.”

Quickie Analysis:  Pretty much every region in the UK now wants to change the UK’s system in its favor in light of the promises made to Scotland.

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Quick Thought to Amuse and Edify

The Onion is a satirical newspaper.  The article below is from yesterday’s Onion and is modeled on newspaper articles about highly recruited high school athletes :).  It tickled my funny bone so I thought I’d share it.

“Highly Touted Terrorist Prospect Weighing Multiple Recruitment Offers”

AL-BUKAMAL, SYRIA—Saying that he does not want to rush such an important life decision, highly touted terrorist prospect Mansur al-Hawrani told reporters Wednesday that he is continuing to carefully weigh recruitment offers from several radical Islamist militant groups.  “I’ve heard pitches from nearly every major terror network in the world, and I’m close to narrowing the list down to my top five,” said al-Hawrani, who, as an impoverished, impressionable 19-year-old with a propensity for violence and a virulent hatred of the West, is seen by many as a future jihadist superstar.  “Al-Qaeda is obviously an established institution with a long track record of success, and Boko Haram has promised to assign me to a major suicide operation as soon as I give my verbal commitment.  But more and more, I think ISIS is a jihadist group that’s really on the rise, and I know I’d be in on the ground floor, helping to build something truly special.  No matter what, though, I’m just blessed to have this opportunity.”  Al-Hawrani added that he does not plan on announcing his final decision until visiting each of the militant groups in person and seeing how committed they are to drowning America in blood.


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News You Really Need To See: “Syrian Forces Are Seen Stepping Up Attacks on Rebels as U.S. Sets Sights on ISIS”

“Syrian Forces Are Seen Stepping Up Attacks on Rebels as U.S. Sets Sights on ISIS”

The New York Times, September 18, 2014, p.A11

“In Talbiseh and across Syria, insurgent fighters who oppose the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the foreign-led militants of the extremist group called the Islamic State are being pummeled by a new wave of attacks and assassination attempts.  The assaults are coming at a crucial moment, as President Obama tries to intensify efforts to defeat the Islamic State extremists. … Insurgents of all stripes, except for the Islamic State group, say the Syrian government appears to be stepping up its attacks on them ahead of the threatened American air campaign.  Pro-government and antigovernment analysts say Mr. Assad has an interest in eliminating the more moderate rebels, to make sure his forces are the only ones left to benefit on the ground from any weakening of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.  Mr. Assad has maintained from the start of the conflict that he and his allies are the only force in Syria capable of battling the extremists effectively.  But Islamic State activists in Homs said on Wednesday that there had been no recent government airstrikes against the group, adding to opposition suspicions that Mr. Assad prefers to focus on attacking his other opponents while letting the Islamic State’s unchecked brutality argue the case to Syria and the world that his rule is the best alternative.”

Quickie Analysis:  It’s easier for Assad to kill rebels before the US arms them.

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Thinking Aloud: Happy Constitution Day

Sept. 17,  2014 by Darius 

Today marks the anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution in 1787.  Even though Constitution Day pales in comparison to Independence Day as a holiday in the US, the Constitution was far and away the more important document and event.

As South Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, and other countries have discovered the hard way, becoming independent of an old regime is not the same thing as having a functioning government, let alone a government that protects individual liberties and can transition peacefully between opposing parties and ideologies.

The Declaration was a bunch of pretty words on a page.  It was the Constitution that actually had an impact on the United States by providing the new country with a solid framework for a functioning government and protection of individual rights.

September 17 may not be as good of a time as July 4 for barbecues and fireworks, but  Constitution Day deserves a lot more respect.

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