Archive for January, 2011

Monday morning, January 31, 2011

King George V abhorred the very thought of it.  The inevitability of his son’s ascension to the throne gave him nightmares.  His heir apparent.  Succession written in stone.  No options.  When George died on January 20, 1936, that wayward son was recognized as monarch by a reluctant nation.  King Edward VIII quickly fulfilled his father’s prophecies.  But his Coronation was delayed.  His reign lasted less than a year.

George V and Mary had two sons: Edward, a philanderer, and Albert, a stutterer.  My recollection of this chapter in British history was hardly comprehensive; but I do remember the sentimental story of abdication.  King Edward VIII voluntarily gave up his throne for the love of Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee, that same year.  Since the King is head of the Church of England, such a marriage would trigger an intractable constitutional crisis.  My shadowy memory of the 1936 affair seemed romantic if not noble – summed up in the quote heard round the world.  Edward explained to an anxious nation, “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

Ah – love trumps the throne.  So very Shakespearian.

But if David Seidler’s screenplay is at all accurate, The King’s Speech paints a much different portrait of George V’s firstborn.  Edward, the playboy, had no royal sense whatsoever.  He was a daredevil, a womanizer, an inebriate, and a prodigal.  King George feared his son would singlehandedly squander the royal estate and leave the kingdom in shambles.  When George died, and the nation turned to Edward, the son balked.  By romancing the flighty Ms. Simpson, he was not so much in pursuit of nobility – but rather – a way out.

The world faced a menace on both sides of the globe.  Germany and Japan took advantage of their burgeoning economic prowess to expand their territory.  Hitler emerged as a power player – willing to provoke the sensibilities of most every nation in Europe, goading the world towards armed conflict.  Winston Churchill saw what most missed.  Great Britain would soon be drawn into a terrible war.  The nation needed a King.  Edward ducked out the back door.

Next in line: Albert.  The stammerer.  Married to the lovely Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Albert had all the qualifications to succeed his brother save one: he could not speak without tripping over his words.  The media now required royalty to be, as his father declared, an actor.  Albert was crowned King George VI in May of 1937.  The Prime Minister, the Archbishop, the courtly advisors all would do their best to cover up.  But the people wanted to hear the voice of their new King just as they had his father – the articulate, forceful orator, King George V.  During his reign, he comforted them with his dulcet baritone voice and clear diction over the wireless.  Now it was George VI’s turn.

Albert, “Berttie” as he was known to his family, needed help.  He tried every accepted methodology, suffering every indignity.  The physicians and therapists attacked the speech impediment with a vengeance, to no avail.  None could deal with perhaps the greatest contributor of all: the tyranny of British repression.  That Anglo restraint.  The stiff upper lip.  The debilitating power of inner self-loathing.  All embodied in his father’s brand of royal bravado.

It would take an unlettered Aussie with battlefield credentials to loosen up the King.

The King’s Speech is based on a true story.  Lionel Logue, a real character (played by the incomparable Geoffrey Rush), was the Australian speech therapist who assisted King George VI throughout his life.  The title, The King’s Speech, is a reference to an actual address made by George VI calling the nation to war against Germany on September 3, 1939 (Collin Firth reenacts the speech flawlessly and word perfect*).  King George’s eldest daughter became HRH, Queen Elizabeth II.

I was moved and entertained.  The film is deserving of all the accolades.

But most inspiring for me was the juxtaposition of the two brothers and their response to the high call of Royalty.  The oldest avoided it with all his might.  He found a convenient escape route.  The other – reluctant, unsure, self-aware, flawed – let none of that keep him from stepping up.  He worked hard.  He took advice.  He took his duty seriously.

When the country needed him, he was there.  Ready.

And maybe that is the way it is with high call.  If it doesn’t make us face our fears, if it doesn’t demand the best of us, if it doesn’t raise the bar, requiring us to overcome, well, maybe “the call” isn’t high enough.

Edward VIII was neither a noble nor a romantic (though apparently the marriage lasted).  The playboy was a coward.

George VI?  A King.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011


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In Praise of Penmanship

Click for a special edition of LeaderFOCUS.

PDF Version (B/W) – hold for download.  Print out for easier reading.

CBS Morning Show on Handwriting

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The High Road

Monday Morning, January 17, 2011

Last week, I fully intended to write about “The King’s Speech,” a wonderfully entertaining film based on real historical events that is all about friendship and royalty and language and the power of speech. (Already, in this season of awards, it is on the top of most lists.) And then on the way home from the theater, the news reported the shooting in Tucson. Details were sketchy – a congresswoman, young, smart, a Democrat who did not fit the mold, married to an astronaut, gunned down execution style, a shot to the back of the head, along with a collection of other good people, young and old. A federal judge, too. Many dead. The perpetrator: a crazed madman.

I thought, “This is going to be big.”

Like you, I was angry. I knew enough to picture the scene; an innocent gathering of politically concerned folks speaking openly to an accessible congresswoman about issues when unprovoked, multiple staccato gunshots rang out. LeaderFOCUS became my means of expression.

So again, I knew it would be big. But now a week later, I did not imagine how big. Gabrielle Giffords’ battle for survival dominated the news for the full week. When I suggested a link between vitriol and violence, apparently, I was not alone. The question triggered controversy at every corner. I didn’t consider myself a prophet then or now, but the mere question certainly stirred up the pot. My little LeaderFOCUS got way more hits than usual – by nearly three to one.

And in the talk, the suggestion has been made that finding a link between extreme rhetoric and violence is tantamount to an accusation of cause; as in, those who spew vitriol are responsible for the violence. That one didn’t even occur to me until I saw a couple of headlines (Wall Street Journal and Washington Post) implying that liberals had blamed conservatives not for the rhetoric that creates a climate of violence, but for the tragedy itself. That’s a stretch. Some complained about Sarah Palin’s media campaign “targeting” liberals, putting them in the “crosshairs.” That the mere complaint is an assessment of blame for the shooting is missing the mark entirely. Sarah Palin didn’t pull the trigger, Jared Loughner did. Then, there was Palin’s voluntary seven-minute YouTube speech, which was conciliatory enough, until she lamented over the opposition invoking a “blood libel,” a sentence that could just have easily been omitted.

In retrospect, in the aftermath of a tragedy that touched the nation, getting to know the stories of the victims and the mind-bending cruelty of the shooter, I do wonder if I took the high road last week. True, for some time I have been looking for an opening to vent over my annoyance with much of conservative talk. At the time this seemed a fitting opportunity. Maybe even courageous. But I realize now, perhaps, that I could have deleted a few sentences of my own. Righteous indignation can sometimes be confused with empty rant.

So today, a week later, I would prefer to take that high road. There was something noble, something truly American about the response of the people of Tucson to this tragedy. The innocent smile of the nine-year old Christina Taylor Green, the recitation of the First Amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Giffords, an elderly husband shielding his wife, taking the bullets and saving her life at the expense of his own, a surgical team skillfully tending to terrible wounds; all of this and more unleashed a national civility that for the moment, melted partisan barriers, prompted a healthy national pause, toned down the heated rhetoric and reminded us of something that too often gets lost in the never-ending national debate. This young man’s assault on the Congresswoman and her friends was an assault the things we value most as a nation. And as a people, we rose to the occasion.

The perennial debates over policy and allocation of resources will certainly pick up speed again. All too soon. As we return to the business at hand, may we remember the high road.

And may we remember young Christina’s smile.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

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Monday Morning, January 12, 2011

We’ll never escape the outbursts of random rage that leave beautiful, innocent people in pools of blood. When a politician or law enforcement official or community leader takes to the microphone and proclaims, “We must take the necessary actions that will assure our community that this will never happen again,” I wonder out loud if this expert knows any history. Deranged people do deranged things. They’ve been with us since Cain and Abel.

But make no mistake. This weekend in Tucson, the senseless murder and mayhem inflicted on a gathering of people meeting with the energetic, articulate Congresswoman and her guests trigger outrage in even the most calloused among us. Apparently, the crazed perpetrator of the crime was on a premeditated mission.

It is difficult not to link this episode with the current political climate. Vigorous political debate is one thing. Vitriol quite another.

It’s been about three years now since I tuned Fox News and Rush Limbaugh out of my life. I listened in for too many years. I think I was one of the first when Rush showed up at UC Irvine on his “Rush to Excellence Tour.” I was in business for myself. I was intrigued by his pro-business stance. While his attacks on Clinton were fierce, I found them amusing and entertaining. And when Sean Hannity came along, I believed that someone had come onto the scene worthy to assume Rush’s mantel. I pretty much kept my interest in conservative talk shows to myself, living by the old maxim that religion and politics were private matters.

I soured on the whole conservative enterprise as the Obama phenomena gathered momentum in the last Presidential campaign. It became clear to me that in spite of the brisk denials, conservative’s fears of Obama were quite more than opposition to a liberal democrat agenda. The Jeremiah Wright fiasco clinched it. Yes, Wright’s preaching was provocative; offensive to most all of us. But the sheer relish with which Hannity and Limbaugh and their friends played and replayed the audio and video over and over and over again betrayed something deeper. I became embarrassed. Fair and balanced seemed to me anything but. Then they brought in Glenn Beck.

And as I stepped away from a pre-occupation that took way too much of my time, I began to realize that, in Orwellian terms, I had bought into the Newspeak. Old familiar terms redefined often enough lose their original meaning and their power. It came to me that good strong labels that were once noble, that had character, that brought understanding and mutual respect had been turned into buzzwords for evil. Words like “liberal” and “tolerance” and “diversity” and “compromise” and “egalitarian” and “multi-cultural” and “pluralism” in the world of conservative talk are synonymous with everything that is wrong with America. If you are liberal or tolerant, if you affirm diversity or argue for equality, if you celebrate pluralism – you are the enemy. If you care about the poor, you are a socialist.

To suggest that conservative talk radio is the only culprit is to miss the point. It just happens to be the narrow world I have lived in for too much of my life. Fox News somehow believed it was needed in the marketplace as “equal time” to counter the “liberal media establishment.” But the Glenn Becks give us the Keith Olbermanns. Sean Hannity gives birth to Rachel Maddow. Jerry Falwell gives us Mel White. Ann Coulter is in a class of her own. The vitriol escalates, all in the name of point/counter-point.

Rush liked to posit that there is only one thing worse than a liberal: a moderate. Give me a flaming liberal any day – he would say – but we must not, under any circumstance, accept the moderate. The moderate has no backbone. No ideological compass. The moderates will give it all away. They are compromisers. They can’t handle the heat. They can’t handle the truth. Pretty convincing, or so I thought then.

Reminds me of those preachers I listened to in the early years who sincerely believed that the hottest real estate in hell was reserved not for prostitutes and drug dealers, murderers and thieves, but those “liberals” who planted all those modern propositions in the minds of our vulnerable children causing them to question their precious faith. Or worse, those lukewarm believers who will be spewed out… moderates all.

So the placards express the rage. They label. They condemn. They legitimize bigotry. They reinforce prejudice. They trigger resentment. They seem so justified in the mind of the holder. And they become sensational grist for the deranged.

In Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonheoffer, he exposes a sad moment in Christian history. Martin Luther’s vitriolic anti-Semitism fueled Hitler’s philosophy of Aryan supremacy. It was a primary rationale for what became his “Final Solution.” Christians like Bonheoffer were convinced that the church had a biblical duty to counter Luther’s misplaced rage. Sadly, too late.

It is popular to fault grand conspiracies. Hilliary Clinton blamed a “vast right-wing conspiracy” for her husband’s troubles. Conservatives cling to a notion of a vast liberal conspiracy. Both are pleased to have a scapegoat with a name. It works really well as a fund-raising technique.

But for me, in the shadow of this terrible, irrational slaughter in a Tucson retail center, I need to make this confession: I do not believe that “liberalism” or “conservatism” matter nearly as much as so many seem to think. (Most people, I’m convinced, would have a hard time defining either one other than a way to choose sides.) I value diversity. I long for reconciliation; for civility; for genuine dialogue; for cooperation; for mutual respect; for inspiration that brings out the best in us.

And if that makes me a moderate, so be it.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Peggy Noonan wrote her year-end essay for the Wall Street Journal – a reflection of the old Scottish folk tune that makes its appearance at midnight every December 31.  As she well points out, most of us would be hard pressed to quote the full verse.  Without her text, or maybe Google or Wiki, I’d likely misspell the hook – “Old Angzine,” or maybe “Old Lang Zign.”  Certainly not Auld Lang Syne.

And, we’d find it difficult to exegete the lyric.  “Auld Lang What?” asks Noonan.  But the tune is connected with champaign (or Martinelli’s) and hugs and clinking of long stemmed glasses and a long kiss for that most important person in the room and as we hum the tune we say good-bye to last year and hello to the new one; all with hopes for improvement, prosperity, peace laughter and love and often associated with emotional intensity evidenced by tears.  While we don’t know the meaning of the text, we associate the melody with good feelings of hope and cheer.

Noonan answers her own question.  The exact meaning of the ancient phrase may not be precise, but the concept is simple: long ago.  Days done by.  Times past.  Should old times be forgotten?   They too often are.  But it’s a rhetorical question.  The answer is assumed: No, they will not.  Those old times will never be forgotten.  We’ll drink a cup of kindness; given us by those days gone by.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Like when George Bailey of Bedford Falls discovers that his life really did matter and the townsfolk he helped return the favor, casting off Mr. Potter and the bank examiner and his war hero brother calls him the richest man in the world and Clarence gets his wings.  A toast to Auld Lang Syne.

So wherever you were at the stroke of midnight at year’s end, you tipped your hat and your glass to those good old days, trying to find the kindness.  You overlooked the pain and loss and fears and brokenness and as the music played, you remembered the good.

And today we are back in the world we left behind as Christmas day approached.  The calendar will fill up.  The calls will return.  You’ll pick up where you left off.  Me, too.

And this holiday past will in future days serve up a cup of kindness whenever we remember.  They will be auld lang syne.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2011

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