The signers of the Declaration of Independence were certainly men of principle.Their action clearly defines them as such. From George III’s point of view, however, these men were contravening natural law in defying their king. In essence, he was correct for at least 100 years as the British Empire expanded around the globe and the monarch became the leader of vast quantities of land and people. But from the point of view of the 20th and 21st centuries, George III’s concept is not only anachronistic, it is flat out wrong. The relevance of kings in the scheme of human affairs today is nil and our allegiance to such could almost be seen as servile.

Given this, it almost seems as if principle is mutable depending on the world situation. How does one know what principle, the right and moral way, is correct? That question resounds and can best be answered by saying that principle is not transitory, it comes from the head and the heart. It is the thing that separates the good banker, the good antique dealer, the good doctor, etc., from those that are unprincipled or who are acting only on impulse. Indeed, a principled person is leaving his principle for future generations–it is among the only things of value that we, as human beings, can leave to posterity. If our judgment is wrong as was George III’s, we will be judged harshly, if it is deemed correct, that principle will be held in high regard as it is with the signers of the Delcaration.

The problem is, of course, is that no one is pure. We all make mistakes and we compromise ourselves. Winston Churchill, Britain’s great war time PM, is almost remembered as much for his intransigence on the emancipation of Britain’s colonies as he is for his valor in the face of the enemy. Is that fair? Probably not, but Churchill’s emotional attachment to the Empire did not allow him to make the right judgment. Indeed, it is our emotional attachments that often lead us down a slippery slope that lead away from principled action. Remember that our White House was burned down nearly two hundred years ago and that has not prevented us from partnering with Britain in just causes since that date. It has always been the principle that matters, nothing else.

I wonder about myself at times. I think I have the perspicacity to divine a good book, but every once in a while, I fail miserably in my choices. “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon, is a bad story written by a capable writer who has annoying habits like using nouns as modifiers. Before that, it was Kazuo Ishiguro’s, “Never Let Me Go” a thought provoking story so turgidly written that I found myself sighing whenever the author said, “I will tell you more about that later.” The book was short listed for the Booker Prize, a renowned honor, so I was more than a bit surprised.

One of England’s under rated novelists, also one of her first, was Fanny Burney (1752-1840), whose first novel, “Evelina” was published in 1778. (She wrote three more, as well as several plays and diaries.) Among the people she hung out with were Samuel Johnson of dictionary fame, Edmund Burke the philosopher economist, David Garrick the actor and Hester Thrale a wealthy widow who often hosted literary salons. I read “Evelina” years ago and have largely forgotten it, but I also read her biography which is extraordinary. One of Burney’s more memorable moments was being operated on by seven male physicians for breast cancer without anaesthetic. The operation lasted all day. Somehow she lived into her eighties.

I have also been lucky in my reading. The two Kafka books, “The Castle” and “The Trial”,are brilliant. They get into your brain, your nervous system, your stomach, they wrap you up and don’t really let you go. Hans Fallada, “Every Man Dies Alone” isn’t a literary masterpiece, but the story is breathtaking and was a good segue between the Kafka books. Pascal Mercier’s, “Night Train to Lisbon”, is a very good story that could use either a little editing or a better translator, but it is still worth the read. I can see why the publishing industry has problems, however. Good writing is very hard to come by.

Listening to “On Point”, an NPR radio program that comes out of Boston, on immigration was extremely interesting. The discussion was on the new Arizona law. Essentially, there were two debaters and an observer. What interested me most was how the old chestnut of, “we are a nation of immigrants” never arose, even with the callers. That is a pro immigration chestnut that is designed to move the hearts of every true American, because it is true. I guess, in an economic downturn, the economy short circuits all the old standards.

Immigration to England in the last quarter of the 17th century resulted in making London the cabinetmaking powerhouse of Europe. No other country came close to exporting as much as England although they exported almost no furniture to France. Had France not expelled all the Protestant cabinetmakers, the English trade would have not nearly have been so robust. The net gain for England was huge although there was an initial bias against the foreigners, a sensibility that the British have never wholly abandoned. (Adam Bowett’s book “Early Georgian Furniture, 1715-1740” has some very illuminating information on the cabinetmaking trade in the early 18th cnetury in London.)

What is obvious about the immigration issue is that it is grounded in money. Take the profit out of immigration and illegal immigration will grind to a halt. It is happening with marijuana and gambling after all, why can’t it happen with human beings? The problem, of course, is that human beings are a long term solution, education for example within the Central American countries that provide most of the illegals, might be one place to start. Do we have the patience for this? When it is clear that laws and walls don’t work, will we use common sense to deal with the problem, or will we grand stand about the 14th amendment? How easy is it to hate Congress these days?