Re-Igniting America’s Imagination

“Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train, and told they were going to another camp. Suddenly the train screeched to a halt. A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the worst. Then, his father cried out with joy, “It’s the Americans.”

Today the shrillness will continue. Yes, today the silliness will go on; it has to, for it is hard for people to change course even if they will it. They have too much invested to admit, to even acknowledge that last night was majestic. It was majestic for reasons that most people do not consider, lost as they are in themselves. It was an extraordinary show of civility and democracy, of tradition and love of country. Of honor. A moment when we consider ourselves and the health of our great experiment which we are all powerless to control (and thank God for that) but in which we are obliged by love to participate.

In the entire speech – which I found grand – the most powerful line (quoted above) even brought some mistiness to my eyes. Let me tell you why. It is because THAT story reveals in a few short lines the DNA of America. And there are so many of us who still fight for her. Though the partisan battles rage at home, there are still people far and wide on this troubled earth who say, with relief unto joy, “It’s the Americans!!!”

I know, because that is the world in which I have lived – and for twenty years. Fighting for those who cannot for themselves; righting wrongs which only a great power can address; challenging enemies dark and brutal and evil. And every place I have gone I have met people who repeat to me that line above; from the Congolese civil war of rape and blood and child soldiers to a Venezuela fighting their oppressors with their nails and their smartphones and their feet, marching so much that rivets have been worn in the great roads down which they ceaselessly, fearlessly, tirelessly tread. From the baked alleys of a Timbuktu of violence and jihad to the quiet camps clutching desperately a patch of earth between a jungle and a lake, they all ask me “When will the marines come?” and “When will we be saved from our tormentors (which, so often, is their own government)?” and most often “How can I get to America?” Five African civil wars I have witnessed and worked. Pakistan and the Balkans and Central and South America; political disasters and fraudulent elections and terrible crippling and crushing poverty, and always wherever I go the reaction is the same. “Thank God you have come!” followed quickly, humbly by “Can’t you, perhaps, do more? Can’t you save us?” I sincerely doubt that the Russians or the Chinese or the French or the Cubans are met with this cacophony of hope and expectation. Incidentally, I am not here speaking of myself, lest the haters accuse me of vanity. It is that which I represent wherein to so many is found the idea of salvation and the great hope of rest.

Why do you think we have an immigration problem in the first place? There are no great caravans of progressives marching on the jungle borders of Venezuela, are there?

For long the socialists have been trying to tell you this is not the case. They do so because it is in their self-interest; they do so because they want you to believe that America is reviled. They want you to think we are dangerous for the simple fact that too long we have been allowed to gallop ahead driven by the power of our extraordinary engines of productivity and our miraculous imagination for the possible – and they don’t like that, for it gives them no lever to control. Those who would be our masters need us to slow down, for we are so far ahead of them that is impossible for them to catch up. They must make us doubt ourselves, for in doubt and insecurity power is found. They must highlight our more malevolent demons – and yes there are some, though fewer (oh so many fewer) than in other places (and I’ve visited many) – and seize ‘morality’ for themselves through envy and guilt in order that they can use those to put on us a harness, and clamp over our mouths a muzzle.

But we will not be harnessed and muzzled, for we are not wicked – no, we are not wicked.

What happened last night shows that. Occasionally (too rarely in America, for we are not one to stand on too much pomp) a great pageant shines bright through the partisan mess. And it was that which was majestic about last night. Yes, it was an amazing speech. It highlighted our heroes, it spoke to our better angels, it laid out a future and it inspired us to look to ourselves and our traditions and each other to solve that which ails. But it was more than that – because for one night at least we came together and reminded ourselves that we really are (mostly) fighting for the same things; safer streets and better care and a less war-filled world. That’s what made it grand – there is still more that unites us than divides us (with of course a few outliers – but what would life be without them? And they are powerless too, a fact for which we can be grateful). After eight years of speeches, Ronald Reagan – our great communicator – became best known for his use of the words “It’s morning again in America.” Donald J. Trump will best be known for the simple word that appeared only once in the eighty-minute speech – imagination. “This is the time to re-ignite the American imagination.”

So be proud to be an American! We who fight the darkness in places lost and sad certainly are.

“Our most exciting journeys still await. Our biggest victories are still to come. We have not yet begun to dream. We must choose whether we are defined by our differences — or whether we dare to transcend them. We must choose whether we will squander our inheritance — or whether we will proudly declare that we are Americans. We do the incredible. We defy the impossible. We conquer the unknown. This is the time to re-ignite the American imagination. This is the time to search for the tallest summit, and set our sights on the brightest star.”

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La “Ley Comun” de una Republica Libre

Inglaterra tiene una linda tradicion que llaman ley comun. “El Common Law —término que conviene no traducir si no es estrictamente necesario—, está formado por un conjunto de normas no escritas (unwritten) y no promulgadas o sancionadas (unenacted). Se fundamenta, por tanto, en el Derecho adjetivo o formal (adjective law) de carácter eminentemente jurisprudencial.”

Esta ley se rige por su flexibilidad y de su procedencia de los costumbres de un pueblo conviviendo en un lugar especifico, agregando valor el uno al otro en su proceso de vivir libre. Nosotros los Americanos solemos usar constituciones y leyes escritos, que agrega valor en dar un rumbo especifico a un pais pero suelen ser poco flexibles.

Abajo leo para ustedes el ultimo discurso de Panco, de mi 2nda novela “El Incendio de San Porfirio” donde el protagonista explica su ley comun para una republica libre, desde el Balcon del Pueblo en Caracas despues de que la revolucion finalmente se extinguio.

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Common Law for a Free Republic

England has an amazing tradition of common law. These are “the part of English law that is derived from custom and judicial precedent rather than statutes.” This has allowed England to be resilient, refining its governing laws based upon customs that change and morph, and adapting to them. As a result England’s common law goes back more than 1300 years, and these legal structures have allowed her to be one of the oldest monarchies on the planet.

In America we tend to be formulaic with our laws, emerging all as they do from our constitution and then codified and interpreted often without reference to “custom”. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for it does give America a unity of vision which England lacks. But the downside is that this at times makes our laws brittle and unbending, unable to stand when under extreme stress.

Below is an excerpt which I read from “The Burning of San Porfirio”, my 2nd novel. In the scene, Pancho – who has endured a lifetime of tribulation – stands at last on the Balcon del Pueblo, where Venezuela’s presidents rail against their enemies. But he does not stand there to declare a new regime which will become corrupted and eventually fall away. He announces the establishment of a new common law, a common law for a truly free republic.

I hope you enjoy!

 

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Reading “Jews, God and History”

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’.” Genesis 12: 1-3

Civilizations are funny things, following mostly as they do the Spenglerian progression of “a spring phase, giving birth to a new religion and world outlook; a summer phase, culminating in philosophical and mathematical conceptualizations; an autumn phase, maturing into enlightenment and rationalism; and a winter phase, declining into materialism, a cult of science, and degradation of abstract thinking, leading to senility and death.” Whether the Aztecs or the Romans or the Aymara or the Persians or the Muslims or the British, all civilizations wax and wane. It is the natural order of things. And when they are gone, it is to never return. Oh sure the old buildings still stand along the dusty alleys in front of which beggars squat, but what made those places resonate with grandeur as long since departed. Which is what makes the Jewish story so unique. Over the course of 4000 years the Jewish civilization has been able to re-define itself and re-emerge, not once or twice but producing six distinct but all fully Jewish civilizational periods.

“Jews, God and History” by Max I. Dimont is the story of this. An extraordinarily well researched book which takes us through Jewish ancient history, a subset of human history, from the very beginning; from Abraham through Moses and the Prophets and the Kings and the Maccabees. I say a subset, because the Jews were present in most ancient civilizations and in which “all peoples of the world will be blessed through you.” The book then takes us into the roots of modern history through the Diaspora period of Jewish history as a stateless people interacts and engages with the Greeks and the Romans and the Islamic Caliphates and Medieval Europe, wherein all these civilizations were also blessed through the leavening and preserving presence of Jewish ideas and institutions. Then on into modern history, concluding with the rise as-yet-unwritten of the new chapter in Jewish history, the return to the land promised to Abraham so long ago by a God who does not forget His promises. It is a story also about individual people, names that roll off the tongue like Einstein and Brandeis and Spinoza. For history is not made by collectives but by extraordinary individuals.

This book tries to tackle that one controversial and complex truth of human history; that there is something special about the Jewish people – God’s chosen people – in their ability to not only survive in the most trying of circumstances, not only preserve their culture and institutions and ideas, but their ability to thrive. Dimont I believe was an atheist (or at least agnostic) so his attempts were particularly interesting for me, as somebody who believes our great God when he says, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. Dimont, however, spends his magnum opus searching for non-metaphysical reasons for this.

For Dimont Jewish exceptionalism emerged from the amazing ability of Jewish culture to be ahead of its time. Mono-theistic when everybody else was a pagan, and the natural ability of monotheism to focus people’s capacity for learning and understanding. Social programs like universal compulsory education which prepared the Jewish people naturally for bureaucratic roles in increasingly complex society and government while others forced their children onto the potato patches. A system of stateless social security programs which assured that as a civilization the Jews were not reliant upon the state with its often-malevolent coercive power. Their ability as a Diaspora to separate their identity from that of the state, and how this protected them (until it didn’t, see more below) allowing them to carry out functions unallowed by host civilizations (best example is profitable banking in Islamic societies – the less well known was the ability to escape from the noble-serf dynamic in feudal Russia and thereby become wealthy).

It is impossible to summarize this whole 4000 year old saga well, so please just read the book.

Now any review of Jewish history would be incomplete without a discussion of the holocaust. While this event was brief (in relation to the Jews’ 4000 year history) it was also perhaps the single most defining event for modern Jews (as it should be) and the greatest act of evil in world history; followed only by global communism’s orgy of blood. Socialism is the ideology of failure advanced by greed and envy unto violence. National Socialism is a variation of this that is not rooted in bad economics and does not consider classes or casts but instead blood and pigment. The rise of the Nazis was the bizarre story of a group of perverts and drug addicts and losers who captured the popular imagination of a disgruntled society through bitterness, pity and weaponized envy; turning itself into a colossal killing machine aimed against the prosperous members of that society, the Jews, for the purpose of pillage. To be sure, there were more Christians killed than Jews (7.5m to 6m); and the Nazis knew no quarter when it came to wickedness, but their particular animus, stemming from anti-Semitic ideas propagated first by Nietzsche (among others, though he was the worst) was against those who were ‘different’ than they and oh so much more prosperous. Murder those who you blame for your poverty and steal their wealth – that is what socialism, in all its varieties, comes down to. Incidentally, when the Russians overran the camps in Poland alone they found enough Zyklon B (for use in gas chambers) to murder 20 million people; evidence that the carnage was foreseen to continue. And only this year a little book went on sale in Canada, from Hitler’s personal library, outlining the locations and structures of Jewish communities in America down to the last village – in case anybody believes we would have survived the carnage had we lost the war. The holocaust is a story of collective failure to prevent a great evil; a stain on the 20th century, our supposed “Pax Americana”.

Finally, it is essential to discuss Israel. For 2000 years the Diaspora waited for the Messiah to return and lead them all back to the re-establishment of Israel. Following the holocaust (and leading up to it, through things like the Balfour declaration, etc.) a group of intrepid leaders decided that the time had come to give faith a little nudge. In 1948 they re-established their homeland on a tiny desert patch of earth which 4000 years ago was given to Abraham, 2000 years ago was lost to the Romans, and has now been reclaimed. It only makes sense, for when racism turned into anti-Semitism and the Jewish leadership decided they could no longer trust the world to protect them if they kept their heads down and did not challenge their states – the Diaspora’s 2000 year-old recipe for existence – it was time to go home. This has caused significant stress in the Middle East and led to conflict and frustration the world over, and nobody (especially most people in the Jewish community I know – I am a graduate of Brandeis University) has a cold heart for the Palestinians; however it must be clear that as for America we will always stand with Israel.

“Jews, God and History” is the important story of the Jewish people, a book that should be mandatory at all American high schools – for the best way to combat bigotry is through knowledge and understanding. This book is tinged with a prideful tone, and we will excuse that given that there is so much to boast about over the course of 4000 years. It is nevertheless a fair accounting of a tiny group of people and how they made their way in the world against all odds. And that is a great story!!!!

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#LiveOffline

#LiveOffline and read novels from paper;
Yellowed ancient preserve musty smell;
Hand-drawn illustrations;
Which tell story’s stations;
Enclosed in a fine leather shell.

#LiveOffline and find faith in communion;
Streaming preachers a saint you’ll not be;
So don you your suit;
Go collect you your lute;
And to worship by old olive tree.

#LiveOffline when you find yourself boozing;
Out with friends you should rightly go;
And leave back your phone;
For to foolishness prone;
Is a mind with libations aglow.

#LiveOffline in the quiet of the morning;
When news with your coffee you seek;
Fold open the pages;
Take the stories in stages;
Tweeting ‘fore breaking fast makes you bleak.

#LiveOffline for a true education;
For you’ll not build your world where you sleep;
So down, don your pants;
To campus go prance!
Lest after years wasted you weep.

#LiveOffline when camaraderie yearning;
Go under the sun yes you must;
For when you’re in need;
The guys on your feed;
Are the ones who you’ll least want to trust.

#LiveOffline if you seek that your presence;
Upon this broad planet is felt;
Cuz opining in tweets;
Through stranger mistreats;
The iron of change you’ll not smelt.

#LiveOffline because life more abundant;
Is to see, smell, and touch and to taste;
So go live life’s pleasures;
And go touch her treasures;
For life lived through a screen is a waste.

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Venezuela’s Fight is Also Our Own

We get goose bumps when we see streets full of people and somebody standing on a podium or at the base of a noble old statue draped in a flag and exhorting their people to stay the course, to count all costs for the cause of freedom.

Its something about our national narrative, about who we tell ourselves that we are. But freedom isn’t a man on a statue shouting; freedom is a concept, an idea. A principle.

And unfortunately freedom is a word we have abused lately; cheapened lately. It has been taken to mean all things, defend all things, compel all things and excuse all things. We use freedom equally talking of Nelson Mandela staring through the little window of his cell and over the sea to the place wherein his hopes were set; as we do defending the petty little obscenity on Saturday night television or the modern-day pillorying by the perpetually-outraged. We use it in our movies and our music and in every speech by every politician even as they are trying to take something from us. It is an irony not lost on me that even in America these days we are hearing people use that word to sell a pre-cooked Venezuelan revolution, rotten and stinking though it has become. “We should be free from inequality” they say, and we know they are coming for our paychecks. “We should be free from hate” and we know they are coming for our minds.

Socialism, that age old balm which does not soothe.

“Venezuela will soon be free,” we tell each other in America, and most yawn – for are they not there living the freedom that some are so anxious to impose on us at home? Are they not the beneficiaries of so great an experiment that people like Jeremy Corbyn and Sean Penn and Michael Moore and Danny Glover and Bernie Sanders went out of their way to applaud? Before the bread lines and beatings, that is. How long have we been hearing this debate, which no longer has any meaning apparently? How long has every petty totalitarian been using the word “freedom” and its mechanical vehicle “democracy” to advance their tyranny?

The ancients, when they wrote about freedom, were not talking usually in political terms. They meant freedom to mean freedom from our darker urges and our baser instincts. Freedom in discipline, to be discovered in self-control, in virtue and in a healthy sense of place and self. A wisdom derived from those who came before and a dignity which came from knowing ourselves. And it meant a freedom discovered in shame. But we are shameless these days; narcissists to the point of recklessness. A few months ago, in Germany on a work trip, I was having a debate with some friends. “Freedom should be our ability to do whatever we want, like if I want to walk around naked. Why should I not be able to?” A little taken aback, I answered, “What about my freedom to not have to see that?”“Fair point” was his answer.

Our modern sense of the idea of freedom has purposefully robbed us of our idea of shame, of censure, of community mores and of how to live together. It has become legalistic, coded in laws written far away and argued in formal courts in order to assure that it is applied chokingly even across the rich colorful tapestry of our society. Our new sense of freedom is lonely, isn’t it? It is tired and worn; it is somehow petty and mean and wicked and greedy. It is envious and bitter. Our greatest trait has been seized, emptied of meaning in order to be filled up with ancient prejudices, hollow rage and the rising industry of offense.

These days Venezuelans are again marching and fighting – and dying – for their freedom. Not freedom to not have to read a book assigned by their teacher; not freedom to be naked where and when they please; not freedom to police the thought and attitude of those who come from the hills and dales and think differently or those who love their lands and traditions and who revel in the quiet study of the ancients. Not freedom to never be confronted by the presence of a moral and righteous God. No, they are fighting for real freedom. Physical freedom for those in jail and being tortured. Mental freedom to stand on the street corner and say what they believe about their leadership. Freedom to vote and have those votes honestly counted. Freedom to make their money, turn that money into property which adds value to their life and be assured that property will remain theirs. Freedom from “expropriate that” policies, freedom from judges who only defend a dying political project and freedom to embrace a rule of law which does not see the color of the t-shirt worn. Freedom to seek prosperity from a tropical “You didn’t build that” and a jungle “Now is not the time for profit.”

So as we hear that Venezuelans are again fighting for their freedom, lets stand in solidarity with them but let us do so with understanding of what it is they are fighting for, and that what they are fighting for is not that foreign from that which we also fight, and fight for; because the freedom that the socialists preach, whether at home or abroad, only ever leads to sadness, and the only equality offered ever will be the equality of the bread line.

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Pinker, Progressives, and Plastic in our Oceans

Following on my theme of our arriving ordeal, juxtaposed as it is against the narrative of our ‘great escape’, I read this weekend a long interview by Stephen Pinker defending his book Enlightenment Now. The summary of his defense in this interview parallels the summary of his book, specifically the following, “If measures of well-being, such as health, prosperity, knowledge, and safety, have increased over time, that would be progress. In fact, they have. As Rosling and others have shown, most people deny progress not out of pessimism but out of ignorance.”

The reason you right now are shaking your head is the very reason that this is hard to swallow. It comes from the nature of America’s “fierce urgency of now” problem – immediatism that exists in the paradox of seeing fires everywhere but not really believing that any of them are ours. The “morally hazardous” urgency of elites who will return after their day exhausted from fighting ____ (fill in the blank) evil to their pristine communities nestled in verdant valleys.

That makes it a faux emergency, a faux crisis, a faux urgency. Because Americans see themselves as fundamentally safe. “You (and Kaplan, so I’m in good company) should come back to the suburbs,” was a friend’s response to me after he read my recent piece on Dubai. Africa may be burning, but the minimart is open 24 hours and the electricity never goes out!

Part of America’s problem is her extreme isolation related to having no external enemies and rarely any contact with places where things have gone desperately wrong. Also her tremendous prosperity, product of our extraordinary productivity has allowed enough runoff somehow for people with a limited good world view to ignore that one fundamental aspect of economics – scarcity (the rich have too much, but there’s enough for everybody without limits??). We think we are immune to enemies, to bad ideas, terrible laws and to incompetent representatives; that the consequences of stupidity will not fall upon our shores and shoulders but instead the brunt of them will be born by others in faraway lands who we do not have to witness or consider. This is the arrogance of empire talking; and it is true, for a season. That season is coming to an end.

I am a bit of a space enthusiast (this year we even bought my little boy a new telescope with which we observed the lunar eclipse from our perch here in West Africa, where the show was spectacular). I often wonder, if there are aliens out there, what they think of us? What they think of our “great escape”. They would probably chuckle a little at the hubris of Pinker and Deaton; a brief blip in human history smoothed over and buttered by $200,000,000,000,000 in fake-printed money, a mortgage on our future that is rapidly coming due and the scraping of 20,000,000,000 more tons from off our swiftly desertifying planet than she can recover from. Have you seen the soil in Africa?

duyb4835

But we need not go that far – President Obama once famously said “If you could choose any time to live, you would choose now”; as if closing the book on Pinker’s argument. But even that statement is naïve. Most Americans I know would rather live in the 1950s; most Malians during the great empire of Mansa Musa; most Venezuelans in the epic period of “La Venezuela Saudita”; most Congolese under Belgian rule; most Italians (if they consider it) under the tremendous period that was the glory of Rome. The Greeks look back upon their Agoras from their food lines and wonder what went wrong; the Iraqis to Babylon – and the list goes on. Oh sure, we have better widgets these days – technological advances which progressives mistake for progress.

Because hidden deep in Pinker’s interview lies the counter-point to his entire argument. “At the same time, progress does not mean that everything gets better for everyone everywhere all the time. That would not be progress. That would be a miracle. Progress is not a miracle; it’s the result of solving problems. Problems are inevitable, and solutions create new problems that must be solved in their turn.” Does anybody think we are solving problems particularly well these days? Lets be honest, we haven’t solved a real problem as a nation since we dispatched the Nazis; despite our flat screen TVs.

But I’m also not entirely pessimistic. “Life finds a way” was the famous line in Jurassic Park before all the tourists and engineers got eaten by their lab projects. Recently LiDAR revealed from under a dense jungle that 1000 years ago basically all of southern Mexico was a huge megalopolis which probably beat out Paris and London for sophistication and wellbeing (who knows they might even have had smart-phones…). Then something happened – probably inflation product of loose fiscal management and soaring debt – and the society returned to the stone ages. Our planet will heal itself, after we all die off. Hell, we recovered from five great extinctions, and as we perpetuate the sixth we must consider that we will probably be the seventh. So what are the progressives worried about? “Never miss an opportunity to take advantage of an emergency” they say, always as they do so with their eyes aching for the chance to again provoke the extreme belt-tightening exercises necessary to coax their utopias out of a bread line (exercises which will accelerate our ordeal, not slow it. But who’s noticing? They sure sound nice on TV). Nothing new here. As for me, I am worried about the future world for my little boy who I hope is still able to visit the great African savannas to see lions and owls and to dive the deep seas without fighting his way through plastic bottles and used Qtips.

pollution

Jose Ortega y Gasset once wrote, “What makes a nation great is not principally her great men, but instead the stature of her innumerable mediocrities”. Utopians are always looking for that one savior who will free them from ____ (fill in the next blank). Hunger, despotism, racism, violence, plastic, traffic, Sunday morning church. What I do agree with Pinker about is that the enlightenment changed this and gave us a world in which we all are agents of our own future, and the future of our nations. We have the knowledge to save ourselves from ourselves – but do we have the will?

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