Who the Hell is Milo?

Pop culture is not something that occupies my concerns a great deal. I do not live for the latest story of who is sleeping with whom; my imagination is not seized by the lifestyles of this or that know-nothing with a microphone or a bully pulpit.

Shock for shock’s sake – outrageous and false and dangerous. Impropriety dressed up as avant-garde; pornography as art; willful ignorance as tolerance – civilizational destruction masquerading as progress.

All that is the domain of the ‘progressives’, and I shun it. It holds no place in the tales of nations – no, not even in the footnotes.

Oh sure, sometimes things seep into my twitter feed and I inadvertently read a blathering quote from a know-nothing and I (sometimes reluctantly, usually not) am forced to stop watching his or her movies (their books I have never read – for know-nothings rarely write, it takes too much effort. Which is a good thing). Incidentally I’m really enjoying Netflix original series, they are very well done and bring together new talent which – wait for it – are not so self-involved as to think that I care one iota what their opinions are about things of which they are not informed, and whether they subsequently want to move to Canada or not.

Then came Milo. I hadn’t really heard about him – maybe the name. As usual I didn’t care. The Berkeley thing caught my attention – more because the closing of America’s academic space has become something that I follow. As America shutters her mind against unwanted ideas, ideas that might indicate a preference for one thing over the other – because we all know preference is the gateway drug for discrimination – somebody needs to occasionally think, reason and respond. If only to a limited forum such as this.

CPAC. A political forum to discuss the fate of our nation, to debate the ideas that have proven themselves in the kiln of history and come out refined and purified, as Zachariah in the Old Testament has said, “And I will put (sic) into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.” CPAC is not supposed to be an episode of Real Housewives of Republicans. It is not a Howard Stern assault.

Which brings me to my point, have we lost our minds? CPAC, the greatest forum for conservative political debate reduced to the status of a 12 year old girl, chasing around after a shock-jock celebrity in the hopes that something “cool” might rub off?

For shame.

I read a lot of The Imaginative Conservative. Their own description of themselves is as follows, “The Imaginative Conservative engages readers in a reflection on the great ideas, the great books and the great persons that make up our Western Tradition.” Dead white men – I suppose – as Berkeley know-nothings say. One of the frequent visitors to the page of the online journal is J.R.R. Tolkien. That British writer who gave the world fantasy – and thereby single-handedly made his indelible mark in the community of civilization. Tolkien’s fantasy is beautiful, and it is profoundly conservative. At the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam return home to the Shire. The scene is called “The Scouring of the Shire”, and they find Frodo’s home, which he went to the fires of Mount Doom to save, defiled by Saruman. Frodo realizes, in shock and dismay, that even after defeating such a great evil as he has vanquished in Sauron, he must undertake one last fight to save his home which is being ‘destroyed’ by ‘progressive progress*’.

I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you.


Tolkien was a true conservative – a romantic of the past – who understood that the value of our lives comes only if we understand the great ideas and epic struggles – those that the fires of time have purified – and learn from them, putting them to use in our own time, sprinkled with stardust product of nostalgia. But he was also of this world. The scene has always bothered me – the previous scene ends on such a high note that I’ve always felt that the story should end there. But Tolkien had one last lesson for us. The “Scouring of the Shire” it is said is taken from his experiences returning home from the Great War**; of how his Oxford countryside was changed forever by rapid industrialization, war-mobilization and a traumatized population. Of how things must change – and of how our fight to preserve that which is good in them is never-ending.

That there are no safe spaces anymore.

Tremendous learning, a depth of wisdom and knowledge and experience put to the articulation of ideas that are good and true – would that Tolkien were alive today to speak at CPAC.

Quite obviously Milo – who I have been forced to learn about against my will – is a deeply troubled lad. I wish him well, and I hope he gets the counseling that he needs for the sexual abuse he has so publically disclosed – because there is nothing in the world more evil, with a more consuming darkness than sexual crimes against our children. But I certainly do not accept that he has a place at the podium to “inform” me about my conservatism – studied and tested and researched as I have developed it to become. “Dead white men” (yes, there were some women too, Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand – don’t tell the know-nothings. Yes, there were some Muslims too, Ibn Tufayl who Jefferson used to read and Al Ghazali and Al Jabbar – don’t tell the know nothings). Ideas old and purified through great tribulation, which are also exciting and strong, which have lasted as our common understanding of who we are, of where we came from – of what is right and good and what is wicked and vapid and passing.

Vargas Llosa once lamented that young people would rather run to listen to some TV actor than to a novelist. I have shared this frustration of Llosa’s at the know-nothings; and it appears now that frustration extends into the heart of conservatism.

And I go in fear.

* Some other time about the Orwellian metamorphosis of our language which is causing a great deal of confusion.

** Tolkien has denied that “The Scouring of the Shire” is allegorical. I, for one, don’t believe him.

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Brazil’s Moment of Madness

I wrote this a while back for InBrazil – I thought I’d reblog it here.

“But what can I say about a country that experiences a near miss? Like a distressed man who, in an act of madness cuts his veins – but in his anguish misses the artery and only inflicts upon himself a flesh-wound. Sure it hurts; but he will recover. He will feel foolish – he might even be left with a scar that he will talk about only at parties, displaying for the crowd when he drinks too much; pulling up his sleeve for all to see. But usually he will cover it over with bracelets or makeup or whatever he can find – to not have to repeat the humbling tale.”

You can read the whole article here.

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The Torture of Leopoldo Lopez

Today, Leopoldo Lopez marks 3 years as a political prisoner. I wrote this 2 years ago – and it breaks my heart that it is still relevant today.

Joel D. Hirst's Blog

As I write this, I am sitting in a hospital waiting room as my wife undergoes a routine surgery (she’s now in post-op). Over the last hour we spoke together with the doctor and the anesthesiologist; asking questions and seeking clarifications. Then they wheeled her into the operating room while I went to the waiting room for her procedure to be finished, after which I will meet her in post-op.

What a natural process that for most Americans is second nature. Handing over my most prized treasure to group of experts who act in good faith to help both extend life and make it more abundant. A natural, uncoerced interaction taking advantage of the division of labor and of the liberty of free men and women seeking to add value to the world. A world built on trust, where I trust the men in the custody of my unconscious wife while…

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“Housekeeping” – A Book Review

“And let God purge this wicked sadness away with a flood, and let the waters recede to pools and ponds and ditches, and let every one of them mirror heaven. Still, they taste a bit of blood and hair.”

Children should not have to know the feeling of abandonment. Children should not have to wonder why their parents left them – to die, to commit suicide, to run away. They should not have to spend their quiet nights going over things in their heads, wondering if there could have been another way, if only something had been different. If only…

“Of my conception I know only what you know of yours. It occurred in darkness and I was unconsenting.” Sad; desperately sad.

This book is about a pair of abandoned sisters, whose mother left them with an eccentric old relative before she filled her pockets with rocks and walked into the lake. About how the girls feel – about their lives with their unfit ward who loves them, but that isn’t always enough, is it?

On the literary side, the novel was a little hard to read. It was slow starting and didn’t really draw me in. In fact I almost put it down, but I’m glad I didn’t. The last two chapters, which I won’t give away, were worth the effort to get there. A good novelist knows that you can save a mediocre novel by a home-run at the end. Marilynne Robinson certainly did this. And that makes a novel worth reading.


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Camus “The Fall” – A Book Review

“I always hope, in fact, that my interlocutor will be a policeman and that he will arrest me for the theft of ‘The Just Judges’.”

Seems to me that Camus thought a great deal of himself – which is apparent in this novel as well as in the general approach to life that the existentialists hold. That the purpose of life was not to aspire to grand things – be they big or small – but to bring everybody down to your miserable level. To destroy the “just judges” by proving that nobody is actually just; that everybody is petty and vicious. And that these non-strivers actually control the world’s impressions of the epic men of mind and muscle. As if we don’t know that nobody is wholly good – and somehow revelation of that well-known reality will rock our faith in morality and truth to the core.


Existentialists must be very weak men indeed.

These are the “confessions” of Jean-Baptiste Clamence; protagonist (and narrator) of Camus’ novel “The Fall”. The whole short novel is a monologue, sort of stream-of-consciousness by Clamence who is a lawyer explaining to a new ‘client’ whom he met in the Mexico City bar in a shady part of Amsterdam what his life’s goals and trajectory had been. In a roundabout, indirect way Clamence described three periods of his life. The first was when he was trying to find his relationship with the world through excessive ‘faux’ kindness. But this did not fill him. Next he tried viciousness, but that still did not define his ‘existence’. Finally, he arrives at the third idea – set himself up as a corrupter of the un-corruptible; bring everybody to his miserable level; prove that there are no “just judges”; and thereby find ultimate power.


An ode to amorality. I’ve never loved existentialism. Even in my sophomore-in-college days when the nihilism might have appealed, should have appealed, I just never got into it. My fancies always took me into the epic words of Tolkien and Lewis and Rand where heroic great people fight terrible evils; not the existentialist nothingness.

Nevertheless, the book is an important one and I’m glad I read it. It made me think, I’m all into that. Also, showed me that even a weird stream-of-consciousness novel that is just sort of verborreah can be considered a classic. This is good news, my newest novel “From the Camps” (provisional title, not yet released) is sort of existentialist I suppose in a very dark – “African violence” kind of way. And its first person and also sort of ‘streamy’. Maybe ittle be a hit too.

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Accra, and the Future

Mine is not a travel blog. Though I travel all the time, the places I go and the situations I encounter don’t fit the “wine and cheese” feel-good stories that make travel blogs so cathartic. Castles in Europe; deep wide lakes in front of a charming log cabin, a log fire burning and delicate spirits enlivening the leisure; an African safari, hunting elephants and rhinos with a camera lens.

Not me. The Anthony Bourdain of civil war and famine and communism; doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

Sure, I’ve been to the lovely places; stone town in Zanzibar eating curry chicken beside an open window over the cobblestone streets where a little boy plays with sticks; a bowl of that weird lentil and noodle and crunchy-onion concoction in downtown Cairo that is so great for a hangover after a night watching belly-dancing; an alpaca steak on a 2nd floor balcony restaurant in front of the cathedral in Cuzco, Peru. Yup – I do think I would have a lot to say, in another career (or maybe in my next career, if I’m lucky…)

It’s not that these experiences feel shallow – life is about goodness and richness and experience and decency and pleasure, of course – even (or I’d say especially) the poor and the downtrodden and the war-oppressed know this. But writing about how lean an alpaca steak is for some reason feels to me like it would offend the victims of so great a suffering. So I don’t, at least not right now. Again, what the future holds…

All this to say I just spent a few days in Accra, Ghana. A conference – to be sure. Hotel conference room to hotel buffet. You know. But the escape from my war was nice. Not as nice as it would have been if I were touring the old slaving forts and remembering that people hundreds of years ago also fought to be free from oppression (there, see I did it again. I can’t seem to help myself). But just standing in front of the ocean remembering its immensity. Watching travelers and tourists who were not burdened daily with the misery of people they try to help, but cannot.


Africa is a vibrant place – for those who haven’t been, its not all war and misery (although you wouldn’t know that reading my stuff). Music. Color and life. Ghana has a lot of color – dread-locked folks selling red and green and gold; t-shirts and bracelets and sandals. Music blaring from the back of a pickup truck. Little tiny green taxis, beaten up and abused, rushing to and fro in the bustling traffic. The food, seafood of course.

The future.

Africa is the future, did you know that? Add it all up, but if you’re looking for positive momentum, it’s in Africa. Economic growth, increases in education, increases in social media, growth of a middle class. The increase not only in productivity but also in the sophistication of the markets. All of it. Sure, it’s miserable in so many places; and there are plenty of wars. But in Accra you can feel the energy of the future like a primal force that moves around the currents in a rain-swollen river; it scares you and there’s no certainty or security and you wonder if you should jump in but you also know that if you do it will take you somewhere new and exciting. In Accra you can see why.

When I first got to Africa 20 years ago, it was different. Granted, I arrived for a war – of course. Another war, one that ended a long time ago, although the violence continues – isn’t that always the case in Africa? But there didn’t feel the same kind of energy as there does today in places where Africans are finally saying “no” to the victimization of their parents, who only complained about colonialism, and embracing the creation of their own future.

The future is going to be African – I think. If they can make it, if they can harness their energy and their youth. In Accra, the future might even have arrived.

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Meme Away, Oh Fearsome Warriors

There’s a lot of debate these days about the future of America, our values, and our place in the world, isn’t there? The agora it certainly is not, to be sure. Sage figures expounding logic has been replaced by Facebook memes and 140 characters – but I suppose ittle have to do in our virtual world. Outrage and hate – faux mostly, prejudice masquerading as indignation. What is certain is the outcome of this fight will decide our fate – and because we are having it means we are a nation that has already changed.

I’ve been accused of being a romantic; which is especially true when it comes to America, my land which I have scarcely known. Not a ‘realist’, not a ‘pragmatist’. A dreamer, a seer of things as I prefer, not as they are. Of how they should be. “Rose-colored glasses” as if America were as it appears on the glossy pages of Arizona Highways and in the black-and-white stories of Bob Hope and Cary Grant.

Guilty – I suppose. Maybe knowing more about traffic patterns in Prisren than Portland. About where to buy the best meat in Bamako more than in Boston: maybe that has made my nostalgia fictional, nestled as it is among so many stories of human suffering.

What my critics forget is that it is we – the storytellers – who inspire imaginations and motivate people to see things as we see them; to push people to see beyond to what could be as sort of lights illuminating in order to instruct and guide. That’s what I try to do – albeit poorly, as if from a great distance I feel, or from behind a thick veil.

The pristine towns and idyllic villages and exciting cities that we drive through and visit, that end up gracing the pages of our novels or as the backdrop for stories of faith and family – they exist. Sure we clean them up, give them purpose and passion – make them meaningful to fill them with value. But we cannot breathe life into something that is already dead. Corpses hold no allure in the minds of men.

The problem is not, as some say, with the land and the lakes and the people.

Wellesley Girls College teaching generations of women about dignity and propriety. Out of the way diners at the crossroads of old roads feeding men drifting from town to depression town looking for work – unwilling to surrender. Pastors calling together men and women, who come from the farms or apartments or condos, from their hardware stores and office buildings, to hear the gospel and remember the importance of faith and the goodness of God.

The old ways are not defunct; despite the devil’s greatest efforts to pull off the greatest scam of all: a bait and switch which labels them instead tired prejudices in order to discard them definitively.

The problem is we’ve stopped telling the stories, becoming embarrassed in response to the assault of the shameless. No more; because as is the cyclical nature of things, the old has become new again. Celebration!! The debate is not over – “the science is not settled” as it were. And at last, we’re winning again – so now is certainly not the time for temerity. So meme away, ye fearsome warriors, meme away on the online agora for idiots. Extend your voices across a land that you are fighting for. As for me, I’ll keep trying to tell the story of America as she was, as she is and how she will be.


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