That Which is Old

Why do we treasure that which is old? The mundane – an earthen bowl purchased for two-pence in an African market; ah but take it from the bottom of the sea, a shipwreck discovered. Priceless, they will call it; setting it carefully upon display in a museum under glass and guard. A cracked teapot, rusted and worn and useless; an old button, a soiled banner from some distant campaign of yore – so many castoffs; but dust them off and place them beside an old lamp and a tired bust of Aristotle – antiques!


IMG_0033The other day I was walking through a market in Accra when I came across an old wooden bowl filled with coins and bank notes from the dark colonial past; ripped and worn. After haggling, we agreed upon a price and they were mine. They must have thought I was mad, those sellers-of-sculptures, of carved diabolical effigies and demon idols from pre-Christianity when men feared rock and snake and sea. Trading good money – money that could be used to fill a hungry belly, purchase school equipment for the thousands of children wandering aimlessly the ungoverned areas of Africa. Exchanging that money for money that time had relegated to a piece of paper, a worn out reminder of other times. Of better times? Of worse times? Who is to say.

Of course for me – as a collector (numanists, they are called – those men overweight and vest-wearing who spend their days at arcane conventions in stained hotel conference rooms drinking cheap wine and discussing serial numbers); OK, not one of those collectors – but a collector nonetheless. For me banknotes are a reminder of history, of the stories of places I have been or want to go and of how things were before they became as they are. And I have many; banknotes with Saddam Hussein’s face on them – Idi Amin’s: my most valuable, Patrice Lumumba’s face across the boldest declaration of his independent Republic of Katanga, their sovereign right to issue currency, brief though it lasted (that one goes for $1000). Germany before the wars; notes printed by imperial Japan to prepare for their occupation of the West Coast of America.


I think of course the answer is found, as all good answers, in fiction: specifically Tolkien:

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.

I am keeping things of mine for my son. I’ve never been much of a collector of other people’s history: it seems somehow arbitrary, how to choose between an old Spanish sword or an Inca pot? To say they are old – collectors looting the museum in Baghdad to display for themselves something they had no part in? No, I’m keeping pieces of my life – such as they are, such as it has been. A Tuareg box with copies of a peace deal I once helped seal; an old constitution printed, proposed and denied and then forgotten, the act of a despot who I fought for a season. First copies of my novels, each of them carefully signed and shelved. Paraphernalia from a life more abundant; a box of my stories which someday I will tell to my boy.

Ah, but if they are kept – after “all things have been devoured” maybe they, too, will become – priceless.

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“The Great Escape” by Angus Deaton – A Book Review

There is no more controversial of the social sciences these days than the study of economics. Yes, a social science – the study of human interactions; and though it does contain laws (supply and demand, unintended outcomes) proven and repeatable, it is still after all just about humans. Of course, many people want us to forget that; those who want to use economics to advance their political projects (Marxists and socialists) and their unscrupulous defenders (Paul Krugman, cough… cough…)

Controversial, because economics is always used these days in the defense of violence. Who can take my property, break up my company, force what should be free interactions with those to whom I seek to engage in the trade of goods and services – and why. Of course the most evil man of all time – Karl Marx – was an economist. And a bad one, his children starved to death and committed suicide. That certainly isn’t a recipe for a ‘life more abundant’.

Because THAT is what economics should be about; and that is what Angus Deaton’s thoughtful book “The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality” is about. It is an attempt to understand, as he eloquently states, “…the endless dance between progress and inequality, about how progress creates inequality, and how inequality can sometimes be helpful – showing others the way, or providing incentives for catching up – and sometimes unhelpful – when those who have escaped protect their positions by destroying the escape routes behind them.”

The book delves into two main areas of human existence which are illustrative of humanity’s recent (and dramatic) escape from ‘misery’: the increase in life expectancy and the increase in income (material well-being). The Industrial Revolution, the “Great Divergence”, measuring the progress that has allowed life for the average middle-class American to be better than even that of the Pharaohs of old. It is an optimistic story: yes India and China are emerging so quickly from poverty that it gives reason for hope. It is a sad story: Africa is worse off now than it was when measurements of poverty started.

As a serious economist, Deaton does not offer prescriptive answers – instead merely laying out facts and hypothesizing as to why they are, and what might be required for things to change. Good economists help us see patterns, what helps ‘make things better’ and what ‘makes things worse’ and encourage us to follow small decisions one after another as they lead us to well-being. This is why ideological economists advocating utopias and recipes of how to achieve them are so dangerous; because as Hayek said, “To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.”

I do have a couple of caveats – Deaton rightly highlights the fact that there is no proof that the dramatic increase in the population of the planet has resulted in increased poverty, as Thomas Malthus famously worried, but in fact the opposite has been true. I am not as sanguine as Deaton on this – but I have lived my entire adult life in countries ravaged by poverty; where all the trees have been chopped for firewood and animals eaten to stave off hunger – and I think we’re on the verge of combustion. Perhaps I’m wrong to be pessimistic about “the arriving ordeal”; but I doubt it. My next concern is the use of traditional measurements of poverty, especially in the third world. While $2 a day might be what the World Bank says is destitution, “a life more abundant” requires significantly more. Others have flirted with the idea of a “happiness index” to capture not monetary but quality of life indexes, but these are imperfect as happiness is too subjective an idea. I prefer a “choices based” approach to well-being – because a life more abundant is a result of our ability to choose products, careers, vacations, the number of our children and so on. I don’t know of any economist who has thought of such a scale, more on that later. All that to say is, stating “650 million Chinese escaped extreme poverty” says little about the real improvement in their lives; the threshold seems arbitrary. Same is true for health – while the reduction of infant mortality has increased life expectancy the world over (except for Africa) to about 70 years, it says nothing of the quality of those years – and let’s be honest, compared to Methuselah 70 years is a paltry sum indeed. I also doubt the permanence of our “escape”, given humanity’s penchant for reinventing misery. Deaton recognizes all this, and this is not a criticism except that the title of the book is a little self-congratulatory.

Finally, the end of the book goes into the relatively new field of Foreign Assistance (International Aid). “It is not surprising,” Deaton says, “that, in spite of the direct effects of aid that are often positive, the record of aid shows no evidence of any overall beneficial effect.” This is of course true, and he helpfully and correctly explains the problem with the “tyranny of foreign good intentions”; our foreign assistance is government to government. Never in the history of history has government intervention sparked development. Our own disastrous “New Deal” and “War on Poverty” efforts demonstrate this. And large sums unbalance democracies and cement tyrannies. No, it is best to remember (as Deaton reminds us) that government sets the table; government codes the rules and makes sure everybody is playing fair – but the story of human development is written by the ingenuity of individual people.

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Dubai – And the Return of the City State

Often when I find myself in a faraway land I stop to take a minute, perhaps seated on a dock surrounded by the sounds and smells of fishermen and their craft or lounging unseen against an old wall beside a fruit stand to contemplate, filling if only for a moment the shoes of Marco Polo, of Amerigo Vespucci or Alexander Gordon Laing. To see things through eyes fresh; to experience the unknown, un-judging. That is hard these days, in a world become smaller and where our “cyber interactions (have…) wrought a more claustrophobic and ferociously contested world.” Places we know only enough about to sanction our deeply held misconceptions of the way things ‘should be’ as they blind us to the way they are changing, and what they are becoming. “…a world in which territory still matters, and where every crisis interacts with every other as never before.”

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We like to think that things abide; it gives us a sense of comfort and constancy. We are surprised when we return from a long trip abroad to discover that our children have grown. We are amazed at a new shopping mall erected beside our house during our sojourns; the replacement of our favorite taco joint with a sushi franchise – unfamiliar neighborhoods and streets where before there was only desert. Worse perhaps, more disturbing is the transience which is not progress. Yes, we stare as tourists at the ruins of the Parthenon in Greece and the Mosque of the Booksellers in Marrakesh as comforting reminders of past greatness but long after time wiped away the sharp edges of catastrophe, of empire fallen and tragedy un-averted, leaving us with a warm glossed over golden memory. “Wasn’t it always like that?” we ask naively even as we watch while in Venezuela mechanical escalators over which flowed the tide of human prosperity seize up and rust over, elegant atriums that once held stalls of colorful candies fill with water and snakes. As empty outlets over which can still be read the famous names are now become empty except for the cries of new-born poor and the barefoot echoes of idle children at play.

The world is changing – Westphalia is ending. Our maps are being redrawn, as we return to the age of the city-state. “…because of the erosion of both hard boundaries and cultural differences, the map will manifest a continuity of subtle gradations…” as Robert Kaplan eloquently states. These gradations represent a hard nexus where political will meets governmental control and economic opportunity. The seats of empire – large and small – these days protect only their elites who dwell in relative luxury, citizens of Elysium. Radiating out from these nuclei are the places where people live as the inverse of epicenter, one which preserves the center but exudes destruction in incremental waves of neglect farther afield; heralding a new instability. These new city-states mirror the ancient nations they could not safeguard. Karachi and Lagos and Mexico City; Kinshasa and Abidjan and Dhaka – chaotic and violent and ungoverned, ceding control as they have successively to the hinterlands as they desperately seek to stem the tide of anarchy in their ever-spreading fringes. Abandoning the interior – and what about the people? Because they are still there – though they are rarely considered anymore. People who roam the borderless worlds, to traffic in illicit goods or join one of the myriad jihadi or gang operations to safeguard their lives and give themselves a future – such as it will be. “…loose molecules in a very unstable social fluid, a fluid that was clearly on the verge of igniting…” And who wants to be around when it goes? That combustible compound saturating the ungoverned spaces in between, somehow distending them; volatility moving as osmosis infecting once stable lands; making them explosive.

And it’s happening all over – empty villages for sale in Spain; makeshift camp towns on the English Channel where you are more likely to hear Arabic or Somali than English or French. Whole countries emptying out – able bodied fleeing to search for opportunity leaving behind a panicked aristocracy, crusted and brittle. Rusted out factory towns in Iowa – new ghost towns emerging to squat beside the old ones in Nevada and Oklahoma and Kansas – remains of the past in a world that is moving on. Slower in some places – faster in others; California’s accelerating decline juxtaposed against sanctuary states free of the folly – like Arizona and Texas – but for how long?

Dubai of course belongs to one of the ‘special status’ city-states in the new world order. Like Hong Kong and Singapore – and perhaps Reykjavik – Dubai is fortunate to be free of home-grown poor. It is small, newly constructed. Fresh perhaps. To be sure, there are imported poor – Pakistani cab drivers and Philippino retail workers and Indian construction workers – but they are not the concern of the Emirates. They are disposable, as the rigorous health screening before issuing worker visas shows; and they are there of their own volition and hold no claim on the attentions of the Sheikh. This is not a criticism – nations have enough trouble with their domestic concerns to be saddled with the weight of others; that is after all the beauty of sovereignty as a two way street, a right and a responsibility that suffers no foolishness. The stakes are too high.

All these considerations are existentially political. Dubai might be able to escape – small populations and privileged geography married to good ideas and the willingness to compromise, to make deals, to have grown-up discussions with people who are different as each seeks their own selfish interest, for them and their people clear-eyed and cold. But in Turkey, in Iran and in South Africa and in Venezuela – where resentment feeds ideology as those with equal claim to protection battle each other on the streets and across borders that have become like cheesecloth, no longer seeming to either contain or protect but only accentuate that for which they no longer serve. Or Europe, which has pushed its ‘social democracy’ to the limits of viability and has begun to “dissolve from within and from without (…). And with it the west.”

This is the world into which Dubai is striding – boldly I might add. Frivolously some say, but clear as to its role, who it benefits and who are its benefactors; not claiming any duty beyond that which is defined by birth and geography. Yes, I think the future belongs to Dubai – to Hong Kong and Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Models which do not extend their protection beyond what they believe is reasonable – and take no shame in being compared to Atlantis, instead of to Rome and the USSR.

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The Dark World of Nobilities

We read books like “The Maid and the Queen” because we are interested in what happened in the past. But why? Why are we interested? Is it of any consequence at all the story of a peasant girl who became a prophetess, a prophetess who commanded armies, a commander who saved a king, a savior who became a prisoner, a prisoner who was dubbed a heretic – and a heretic who became a saint? What does any of this have to do with the world we live in today, so far removed from the feudal battles of medieval France?

The answer is of course that we learn from those who came before us. We are not a ‘tabula rasa’, a history-less culture-less entity only seeking that flawless prejudice-less tutor for the creation of the “new man”; as the progressives would have us believe. “Just deny everything that came before, atone for it by paying it no tarriance – except perhaps to seek exculpation – and we shall all be free,” they say. What a dark world that would be indeed, where there are no great books, no great thinkers, and no great ideas. When there is no objective truth, only various perceptions and degrees of discrimination in a world where victimization has become the new Marxism and the new alleged oppressors are guilty not by action or even association but simply by their existence.

I digress. “The Maid and the Queen,”; this is an excellently written book about Joan of Arc and the end of the 100 Years War between France and England. Of how a peasant girl from a French village served pivotal in the resolution of this war, and by extension the future of European history since what was at play was England’s claim on the throne of France and had France not won the war the entire country might by now be speaking English and eating bangers and mash. The book is full of rich anecdotes and powerful prose which gracefully escort the reader through tumultuous Medieval society; one where Lords and Ladies wiled and schemed away their lives in a quest for power and survival, while peasants died.

My takeaways from “The Maid and the Queen” are perhaps twofold.

Pre-Westphalian Europe was a bit of a mess; ruled as it was by two oft-competing and oft-colluding forces, neither of which is conducive to “life more abundant” for the common peasant class. Of course I’m talking about the Church and the Nobility. The Church was concerned about retaining its power and position over the nobles and through them the peasants in order to preserve their power and their wealth. They had ecclesiastical judges, called inquisitors, and they raised armies and held temporal power. Their calling card to control? Excommunication, the regulation of peasant beliefs – weaponized.

And then there was the nobility; constantly scheming to increase their power and position over each other through marriages, alliances, invasions and assassinations. No concern for the peasants because nobilities were born into their position and hence their only competition lay in the ‘economy of intrigue’. “…past wealth was always obtained by the subjugation of others or the theft of their goods. All the elites in the empires of old built their fortunes by taking land, enslaving peasants, and sacking the bounty of wealthy neighbors. Inequality was said to be ordained by God and preserved by blue blood and one’s condition at birth,” if I am allowed to quote myself.

The aspect of these medieval tales of war that always hits home to me is the description of the battles. “Then 3000 foot soldiers were slaughtered,” it says in passage after passage, “and Lord X or Duke Y was taken to be held in the tower of this or that castle to be ransomed.” You see, my family is of English descent and we moved to America more than 150 years ago to escape just this. We were the peasants cowering in fear of the church, handing over our money to the nobles and serving at their command in their armies to be slaughtered unnamed upon fields of battle at the behest of their personal aspirations for power. My family, and the rest of us came to America so long ago because we had had ENOUGH of this type of behavior – and we committed to building a place where never again would we fear the arbitrary pretensions of church and nobility vying for control over our powerless lives.

But the fight for freedom is ever-present; and always the same. Today those who seek power are constantly telling us the ‘Dictatorship of Capital’ is the greatest modern threat to our freedom. But this is not true, is in fact a bait and switch. Because capital and its nobilities are extremely vulnerable to the next good idea; to the shifting moods of a vast and unknowable market. It is in fact the ‘Dictatorship of the State’ (and more specifically those who control it) – new nobilities who are not bent to the consent of the governed – as has been proven a thousand times over to be the real threat to liberty. States that these days do not come in the form of nobles of old – only insomuch as they have lost all sense of ‘noblesse oblige’ – and who instead think it is their right to rule because they are part of a new nobility that knows no blood but nevertheless expects power. The Davos crowd; the media; the arts and yes the church – facilitated by the ‘Managerial Elites’ as James Burnham has called them. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who have learned that in the 21st century, socialism is the best “Road (back) to Serfdom”.

“Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy. And an authority directing the whole economic system of the country would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable…it would have complete power to decide what we are to be given and on what terms. It would not only decide what commodities and services were to be available and in what quantities; it would be able to direct their distributions between persons to any degree it liked.” ― Friedrich A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

But we will not be serfs again. So we should give thanks to the American people for giving us Donald Trump; and before him Barack Obama; and before him George W. Bush – because in the changing hands of power the people are protected from the establishment of new predator nobilities.

Posted in Book Review, Liberty, philosophy, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Salute To The Dreams – A Poem

Salute to the dreams that were broken;
In times as of yet undefined;
The thoughts, were they God’s will bespoken?
“Tis so,” said the men oft-opined.

But uttered aloud words don’t flourish;
Escaping men’s lips, power who seek;
The ground, cold ambitions don’t nourish;
Fertilized by those who are weak.

Might ever divine we designs;
Which are brought to the world from on high?
And those are for naught, what the signs?
What thoughts for to lead us awry?

For all, to this the great question;
Befuddles the futures of men;
Leads people toward their obsession;
Though foolish so often they’ve been.

Now for them as seek good, the rebuttle?
Tell, how to descry what is true?
When waters beneath us, a muddled;
By boastful, and their zeal to rule.

The answer? Is found in the sonnet;
In literature you might obtain;
Submerged in the thoughts that are written;
Ink on paper suffers not the vain.

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2017 – And America’s “Age of Misery”

The bombings started in the cold of the Texas winter. The rebels had quickly come to terms with the reality that they could not hold and keep land; and they turned instead to terror. Strapping bombs on little girls – because they were easier to infiltrate among the throngs of people moving to escape the madness – they deployed them into crowded supermarkets in Galveston and bus stations in Durango. It was mayhem they were seeking after all; raiding cattle ranches, rustling as a means to sustain their war while people flowed like floodwaters from the quiet interior to Houston and Dallas and Austin there to sit in squalid camps by the millions waiting for something – for anything. The armies from Washington, deployed tired and stretched didn’t have the numbers or the will – the war that was raging in the north was more existential to them than a backwater dust-up to win the love of a population that had grown angry and tired of the corruption.  

Besides things were hard all over.

The People’s State of California had finally gone bankrupt, unable to afford any more its ‘progressive’ policies after taxation had driven away the businesses and uncertainty the creditors. No way to obtain legal tender after the FED had cut them off – cold turkey like an addict raging and throwing themselves against the walls of their padded cages – hyperinflation had set in, and as the funny-money printed under the State Capitol building in Sacramento melted away in people’s pockets like ice on a hot San Diego morning, the migrations started. Now it was famine that the Californians were facing; a quiet famine to be sure, because reporters dared not go there to tell the tales of suffering for fear of the prisons; and nobody was swimming against the tides of people in their cars, buses and organic bicycles headed away, going somewhere – anywhere – hoping to start anew. Not a famine of vultures stalking little children and reporters throwing candy bars from out of shiny white 4X4s; but the famine of children wasting away one by one silently in their once-opulent homes, of life expectancy reducing by one year then two then four for lack of a generic pill or a condom. Ten million people, that’s how many had fled – engulfing Arizona and Nevada and Utah which had set aside special land for camps wherein to hold the migrants, keeping them out of the diners and off the streets where they had become a nuisance. Yet all of this paled to the genocide in the northwest, in Seattle and Washington States where the people of one ancestry turned suddenly and deliberately against that of another, unleashing an orgy of hate and blood. Raping of women; slaughter of entire towns – first Wenatchee had fallen, then Chelan and Omak and Winthrop, emptied out, men lined up and shot in the back of the head to fall into mass graves and covered over with lye. National Guard members throwing babies into bonfires; Palouse Falls State Park turned into a massive displaced camp where people defecated in the rivers beside others washing their clothes and still others collecting water to cook the beans distributed by foreigners; and cholera started to spread, one infection became two became four became eight – became one million and more.  

The nation’s capital could not be bothered, too distracted were the country’s leaders with preserving their own power; filling the great stadiums of the northeast, the malls and universities too with the wretched corpses of bloggers and activists and journalists who had dared report about the dictatorship or tried to have their voices heard. “The Tomb”, a special prison for special prisoners of the regime, where it was personal – psychological torture meted out responding to the rage of one or another of the offended elites, anxious for payback. The worst was the Naval Academy which had been converted into a concentration camp; men held forty to a room, twenty five square feet where they coordinated their lying down and defecating time to take advantage of the single toilet while they noted the names of those killed by torture on their undershirts written in blood collected from their swollen gums leaking from malnutrition and rickets. Above barrel bombers buzzed away on their nightly raids, to pulverize the towns of Altoona and Harrisburg; the heart of resistance.

No, this is of course not the story of America in 2017 – though you wouldn’t know it to read the newspapers and watch the television. And I’m being provocative on purpose, because what makes my statement more dramatic is that it is the story of 2017 for tens – nay hundreds of millions of people in dozens of countries across the world (like Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, Venezuela – articles I linked to above).

America’s 2017? Four trillion in new wealth, unemployment at 4.7% is the lowest in 17 years, consumer confidence highest in a long time. A return of the rule of law after eight years of lawlessness; tax cuts that make even the EU tremble. Our supermarkets are full; our universities are the best in the world; we live long and prosperous lives full of choices and opportunities. Elysium in a world of want and suffering; something we were sensitive to in the age of our grandparents, prosperity and sacred values which we used as a platform for great acts of kindness product not of our moralizing vanity but because we truly believed that ancient axiom “To those who much has been given, much is required.”

That is before the arrival of the “The Age of Outrage” stole our sight, our soul. Narcissism marauding as correctness; ‘stilted justice’ as compassion; unknowing as wisdom.

“Age of Outrage”, or maybe I should call it the “Age of Misery”. And why? Why do we choose to be angry? Everybody is miserable all the time nowadays – and it doesn’t make any sense; measured against any standard you wish to choose, anywhere in the history of histories, America is a land of tremendous opportunity and incredible bounty and almost unlimited personal freedom; even more so in 2017.

I am genuinely baffled.

In his viral podcast Joe Rogan says “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”


Its so much about this, isn’t it? Gratitude, discipline in the small things, love of community and family and the reverence of gentleness and of those things which we know to be right and true and good. So, lest our “Age of Outrage”, our “Age of Misery” extend and we transform our planned paradise into a raging inferno through our bitterness, our wickedness – let me make a humble suggestion on this my last entry of 2017: Whatever your political leanings, I urge you, nay implore you to forget about the White House, forget about the Governor’s Mansion, forget even about the town council and the special election for the dogcatcher you are certain will herald national calamity. Find something you care about, something which involves an act of creation. Let this creation lead you to opportunity, for yourself and for others, and invest in that as down the rolling road of wonder you travel. Be positive, put down the IPhone upon which you are typing that spiteful Tweet to hurl against an unknown enemy, and lift your head. That first person you see…? Say something nice to them. Walk next door to your neighbor’s house and take a cookie platter or a box of chocolates; each time you find yourself filled with rage, make a kind decision. To those with whom you find yourself communing, devote yourself to constructive intercourse that uplifts and builds. And finally, do so locally in your communities and the places where you naturally rest your ideas of home. If you do this, you might end up turning the corner on your miserable 2017; and we might even discover again the bounty which we have so often used to help our hurting and suffering world.

So Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Joyous Boxing Day and a belated Eid Mubarak and Happy New Year to all!!! Go in peace. And see you in 2018.

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The Destitution of the ‘Noble Nobels’

“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’.” So said Albert Camus in his simple short novel “The Fall”. The theft of the just judges; a metaphor for the opening of people’s eyes, ‘rose colored’ glasses slipping to fall onto the pavement where they are trampled under the feet of refugees fleeing rape; of men surging toward those who should protect them, soldiers who have instead inexplicably spun to fire into the oncoming parade. Children looking desperately into the heavens, as they too flee, with that one silent plea screamed from parched throats “But who will help us?”

Humanity has always cherished our heroes. My little boy often sets up armies of ‘evil’ stuffed animals at one end of the living room to be fought off by the Transformers he requests for each Christmas, each birthday; stories for children to teach them of good and evil, of right and wrong. Novels like “Lord of the Rings” and “Chronicles of Narnia” where good triumphs over something profoundly wicked but only after so great a struggle; ‘Frodo of the Nine Fingers’ broken and sad but somehow satisfied for he has stayed the course, and Sauron was defeated.  We see it in our movies too, The Gladiator saving the Roman Republic from the depredations of crazed emperor Commodus. Art pointing us back to that part of our nature where we hold our understanding of what is right and true.

But not, alas, anymore in our lives…

If Camus lamented the loss of ‘Just Judges’, I sorrow at the destitution of the ‘Noble Nobels’. Of course I’m referring to Myanmar, Burma of old. How could I not? We all had such hope, such dreams – those of us who watched the torture of monks were amazed when that Saffron Spring slowly cracked open a door that amazingly stayed open; allowing a Nobel Laureate into the light. It was the symbol of everything for which I have fought my whole life. How has that hope slipped away?… How did it become ugly? Isn’t there enough of that in the world – and can’t they leave us at least with our Just Judges, our Noble Nobels? Why must we always watch as the pedestal is upended, as the “democratic flower that has germinated is crushed under the weight of ancient prejudices and our legendary tolerance for injustice,” as Oscar Arias once said. And Desmond Tutu, emerging sclerotic, old and tired from self-imposed retirement to protest so great injustice – a fight that is not his, for his fight is cemented firmly in the past, “It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country…” as Burma has become.

Alas I have grown old, crusty and hard, we all have – accustomed to the prejudices and the brutality. They have, after all, been part of the human condition forever – something too that does not seem to want to change. But I am reminded, when I read the stories, that the children are still the same – each generation fighting again the battles between the evil stuffed animals and the Transformers who shine pure and bold in their minds. Except the ones who have to flee; and our rage burns bright again as we double down, what else can we do? Because we can still work, and we can still dream.

Which brings me full circle to our art, the last line of defense exhorting us to, “live very well, and grow old,” and reminding us, “when you step into the light (…) play your role with everything you’ve got. Invest every tear, every laugh, everything beautiful and ugly from your lives. Do your show, and live your lives with humanity; because whatever you do, it changes someone’s life forever.”

Words to consider, especially for those who so recently themselves have stepped into the light.

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