That Eternal Question

art

Impressionism

Do you ever wonder about greatness? How about mediocrity? I have been considering these things lately – as I grow older and the future ceases to be laid out in a great plane of opportunity before me. As the path narrows and becomes more craggy; the hills become steeper and more barren while the end approaches more quickly than I – than any of us – would like to consider.

When we are young we think of ourselves as people apart. Invincible, different, special – unique; certain we are that in our very demeanor and bearing lay the hallmarks of our greatness, something to which we are predestined. None of us are alone in these delusions; most people I have met have harbored them, illusions that are best abandoned but sadly sacrificed as the realities of the limitations of man are laid like a heavy blanket over a fire that is burning out of control.

Greatness. Our world seems to confuse this with the physical; beauty not in the eye of the beholder but as the magazines tell us they should be. But of how many of those who were great, do we remember their appearance? And how many of those would we consider – or were considered – remarkable? Da Vinci? Benjamin Franklin? Homer? Sir Thomas More? St. Paul it was said was a hunchback. Jesus might have been a redhead.

I am currently on vacation, with family, in Dubai. That resort town of the Persian Gulf, the playground of princes and paupers, of the rich and famous and the painfully middle class. Of diplomats, dreamers and day-laborers. I see them all around me, at the hotel pool and on the beaches and walking through the crowded shopping malls. We don’t consider appearance, not really. Sure when we are young and the hormones rage we cannot help but see the innuendo in everything, a glance and a careless brush and a gentle smile. But we get older, and all we come to see are humans as they are. One, a little overweight; another balding. An unfortunate tattoo; a melancholy sag product of a life hard lived. Any of these, a possible Claude Monet… – or a nobody.

And what do they see, when they look at me? A washed-up novelist entering middle age; dreams of what could have been crashing upon the shallow shores of reality? Probably not – for they do not consider me, nor I them. We are silent companions upon this planet, each thinking more of ourselves than is warranted and each meaning less to the relentless rotation of the world than we would care to admit.

I recently finished “Villa Triste” by Patrick Modiano. It could be said that all French novelists are channeling the spirit of Baudelaire, Sartre or Camus. Not Nietzsche’s violent nihilism but instead a comfortable existentialism, gently held in the spirits of a people who do not consider greatness and who do not rage. That’s hard for us to understand, American’s are taught to rage. We are raised on stories of Paul Bunyan and John Henry and Lord of the Rings: we are told that to rage is our responsibility and that in our tremendous violence will be found the answer to that eternal question for which we really do not want an answer at all. “Do I matter?”

“Time has shrouded all those things in a mist of changing colors: sometimes a pale green, sometimes a slightly pink blue. A mist? No, an indestructible veil that smothers all sound and through which I can see Yvonne and Meinthe but not hear them. I’m afraid their silhouettes may blur and fade in the end, and so, to preserve a little of their reality…” 

Posted in Book Review, Literature, philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Moby Dick

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This book was not easy to read. Melville is certainly erudite and has a prodigious command of the English language; but the prose is not beautiful, nor is the structure of the novel commanding. The word count on Moby Dick is 209,000 – today a publishable novel is between 80,000 and 120,000 words and I cannot but imagine that a modern-day editor would have had Melville remove the tedious lists: types of whales, pictures and paintings of whales, annotated summary of a literature review regarding whales, and all the other digressions which rob the novel of its sense of purpose and drive. And perhaps the novel would have had more power had he done just that – but would it then have survived the test of time? Who knows…

Its almost as if Melville was not writing a novel at all but the precursors of our modern documentaries. The book itself can be broken down into sections (introduction, the search, the whale) or into types of writing (poetry, essays, monologues, the Bible) – and for analysis of this I recommend the review in Patrick T. Reardon’s blog.

Is the novel an allegory? Is it modern mythology; is it meant to be an epic like the Iliad and the Odyssey? Maybe neither, maybe all of the above. The thing that struck me, as a student of theology, was the intensely spiritual and religious nature of this novel. From the names – the protagonist was Ishmael (Abraham’s prodigal son) and the antagonist was Ahab (the wicked king of Israel famous as the husband of Jezebel). Elijah the prophet that stands on the quay warning Ishmael and his cannibal companion Queequeg to abandon Ahab and the Pequod and their diabolical mission – against the leviathan described by God in the book of Job, that most ancient of Biblical stories (which probably predated the flood).

Ahab

Or  maybe, just maybe, it is the first environmental novel. Perhaps it is a parable; Ahab representing the rapacious madness of human ambition and Moby Dick the viciousness of nature fighting back – to the destruction of all and sundry except for one because somebody must tell the story, “I only am escaped alone to tell thee” (from the Epilogue and taken, of course, from Job). There are some surprising hints at this possibility: one can be found in the description of the first sighting of the great white whale, “A gentle joyousness – a mighty mildness of repose in swiftness, invested the gliding whale. Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering eyes sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness, rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam.” And the second as Stubb, in the darkness of night, orders the preparation of a steak taken from a recently killed whale, “It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with abhorrence; that appears to result, in some way, from the consideration before mentioned: i.e. that a man should eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light.” Its almost a lament for nature of a mariner knowing he was doing wrong.

What the novel does, for posterity and once and for all time, is enshrine a peculiar period in American history when we depended upon the great leviathans of the seas to light our homes. A ridiculous idea, absurd and wicked in its very essence. No wonder the whale killed everybody.

Now, just a little bit on art. I find extremely odd the ‘natural selection’ process by which history and posterity select works of literature that survive, while allowing others to fade away. Why history has picked “Moby Dick” and “East of Eden” to embed themselves into the fabric of America’s literary tradition while “Pacific Viking” (in every way just as grand), self-published (as Nietzsche and Thomas More also were), sells only a few dozen copies and will probably fade into oblivion.

Perhaps, as in all things, it is the presence or paucity of a champion. And I do regret that that my pen does not represent so great an advocate as to guarantee the survival of literature I find amazing. But alas, so goes it in the estates and affairs of men.

Posted in America, Literature, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Art Predicting Life in Venezuela – On Predictive Fiction

“He withdrew from his satchel his old notebooks, writings that had begun in prison and extended through his wanderings across the country, from the deceased general’s lair of sumptuous violence, to the self-governed villages attempting to free themselves from the chaos, to the communist camps and the religious libraries and onwards. It was his collection, his lessons, and his learning—his life. “I offer you only this,” he said. “What I have learned over these years as I have watched one political experiment after another descend into agony, finally turning my beloved Venezuela into a wasteland.” He gestured at the smoldering buildings…

In an essay called “The Decay of Lying” famous novelist and poet Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. But there is another side to this ancient philosophical argument going back to Plato and Aristotle (mimesis or anti-mimesis). That is, art predicting life.

Today Reuters ran a sad article titled “With Venezuela in collapse, towns slip into primitive isolation”, and then proceeded to report on the different ways that towns lost in the eternal greens of Venezuela’s jungles or the deep blues framed by white sands of their storied beach villages are reverting to prehistory to survive. Bartering for nuts and berries, for fish taken from the seas in exchange for a plantain pulled from a bush. A potato for an artisanal doctor’s consultation.

“‘Residents of the coffee-growing region now exchange roasted beans for anything from haircuts to spare parts for agricultural machinery. Based on the cost of the product, we agree with the customer on the kilos or number of bags of coffee that they have to pay,’ said hardware store manager Haideliz Linares. The transactions are based on a reference price for how much coffee fetches on the local market, Linares said. In April, one kilo (2.2 pounds) of beans was worth the equivalent of $3.00.”

Amazingly enough, and in a case of art predicting life, this emergent reality seems to come directly out of my second novel “The Burning of San Porfirio”; written in January 2013 before even the death of Chavez, to say nothing of the collapse which has lopped 50% from the GDP. Is then, the below quote from the article, or the novel? And, might this have been averted, if people learn to read fiction…? For often, truth is stranger than fiction – and less often, but sometimes that same fiction becomes the truth.


“We no longer have to deal with the government,” said the farmer. Pancho thought about his science classes at the university—astronomy specifically. The revolutionary government had been like a red giant that had expanded beyond its natural bounds, becoming too big and unstable, and then in decay and waste, it had gone supernova, collapsing upon itself in violence and abandoning the rural areas. “Now it’s the mafias that are the problem—filling the space the government used to. I suppose,” he said, “that it’s the same thing. Hard men wandering around, sitting here at the cantina drinking cerveza and glaring malevolently at the townspeople. They talked in hushed tones and often didn’t pay. Extortion was their business, and guns the tools of their trade. But without work and without a future, too many of our young people—those who had not moved to the cities—took up arms to try their hands at the ‘work.’” He shrugged. “So we built walls. When there is no government, people always build walls of one kind or another.”

Pancho signaled the barkeep for two more glasses of beer. “How do you sell your food?”

“We all bring it here—those of us who can. When we’re ready, we pool our resources and rent a truck or two and an escort. Then we drive it up the valley to El Triunfo, where we exchange it all at a government warehouse for bonos—they usually don’t have asnos. We take the bonos and exchange them for items we can use here and can’t make ourselves and make the trip back. Usually somebody is lucky enough to get their hands on some asnos. When we’re back here, we turn those in to the mayor’s office in exchange for tokens.” He pulled out a bottle cap hammered with a special insignia on the back. “We use these locally. Mostly we barter these days. A potato for a beer, a piece of bacon for a visit at the clinic …” His voice trailed off for a second. “The value of the tokens is fixed to the market price of coffee. It’s our greatest commodity and has increased in value as the economy around has collapsed. The traders buy the asnos at the mayor’s office using tokens and make the dangerous trip to El Triunfo as often as they have to.”

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Ancient Battles Underground – A Poem

Ancient battles, under ground;
The living they hear not a sound;
Voices plead in soft despair;
Telling those who come “beware!”

“Here were fallen men of old;”
The tortured tales to living told;
“They fought for things that had no worth;
In darkened caves a’fore your birth.”

“The wars they raged a’far from sight;
The violence burned through day and night;
The soldiers wicked with their foes;
The horrors melt into their woes.”

“At first one side did claim advantage;
To seek a victory from vantage;
Then in hubris down, defeated;
Surrendered to themselves conceited.”

“Walls round towns were felled, the pillage;
Burned destroyed abandoned village;
Morlocks clashing in obscure;
Their pallid skin, their eyesight sure.”

“Until the last of them was dead;
And spirits’ vapor fought instead;
Hatred did keep them as shades;
For to keeping up the raids.”

“Cyclical did tale abide;
For the undead soldiers of cave inside;
Peace, to vanish did each seek;
A kind of respite for the weak.”

“Now you have come to set us free;
For this tale, alas, is me;
And those of mine who stand beside;
Waiting, anxious, for the tide.”

“So tell us, tell us you who’re here;
Are you to allay our fears?
Will you save us from our past?
Will you see us dead at last?”

“No,” I said, though with some sadness;
“I cannot save you from the madness;
For though you’re dead, yet still you bow;
To set you free I know not how.”

I b’lieve in cavern still they wait;
For he who mightn’t change their fate;
Warring, warring underground.
While still above we hear not a sound.

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I Will Write More of Africa

I will be writing more about Africa. For I am to leave this place, and proximately she will exist only in my memories; in my hopes for a better tomorrow and in my sadness at things unchanged, at suffering unstemmed and at a future very much still uncertain. I will write more about Africa, as father time performs that magnificent cleansing ritual whereby he shines up and polishes away the jagged edges of the past to lay the finished product as a curio upon the mantelpieces of our imaginations in the form of wisdom. Stories we can tell our boys and our boy’s boys – when we need them. Mementos of a more intense significance.

Africa, for I have known her and have fought her wars. Four of them, five perhaps; and over twenty years; my feet firmly planted in African soil for a decade. My little boy, oh he is not African – of course. Or is he?

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Six years playing in the sandy depleted soils of West Africa? Dancing with the Malian griots? Chattering in French to his nanny and his little friends? Visiting the animals at the little zoo in Bamako; the last morning after the terrorist attack which marked the end of the hope, and the beginning of another wave of wickedness. For us a silent solitary sad goodbye to the last remnants of Mali’s animals, protected behind wire and fed by the keepers: but for how long? Sheltering in place – Micky Mouse clubhouse to the sound of machine-gun fire and explosions – how do we account for such a thing?

But this is Africa.

Poverty – that is something he will be taking with him; an understanding that it exists, that it is the natural human condition. That we come into the world naked and penniless and must build from there – that wealth is ephemeral and destitution is always that ominous specter lurking behind the door or under each bad decision made in a frenzied state of hubris and envy and nihilism. Theft, justified by ideology and seized, a tag end cushion to stave off mayhem; a life more abundant rarely considered for looted goods never afford prosperity just as stolen earth does not germinate the seeds of a generation. Taken and used up and cast aside – in a world where our bulwark rights have become instead something to be negotiated with states large as red-giants on the verge of collapse, with violence as the first, last and inevitable response. Race; that ever-more-complicated issue – identity in a world where it seems so important as people circle the wagons to fight for what they consider theirs. But is it? For who are we – after all? My little boy; half latino who speaks no Spanish, a quarter black though he is blond, and American while believing that Africa is home.

Africa. Nigeria, specifically. For if Congo is Africa for Africans, Nigeria is Africa for the rest of the world. A land of extremes. Of Bentley limousines careening over dirt roads; of Learjets parked beside old Antonovs and broken down Mirage fighters and the chartered Boeings ferrying people to Hajj. Of Banana Island, Africa’s most exclusive property and Dalori – the camps, unwashed and starving and suffering.

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Did you know Nigeria will have 400 million people in a decade? Did you know it will be the world’s third largest country in my lifetime? And what then…? The Coming Anarchy, as Robert Kaplan would say. And in it will be nestled the memories my little boy will have of who he is. “I’m going to be homesick, when we leave, daddy”. Homesick – except this is not his home. “You’re not from Africa, little boy. Though we have lived here, and it is what you know. We are Americans. You will miss it, but this is not your home.” A quizzical look; a raised eyebrow.

My wars in Africa certainly have extended – and this is only my latest. An insurgency that burns unabated at the fringes, at the inverse of epicenter where people sit upon desiccated lands beside shrinking lakes seeking to coax a maize shoot out of the barren earth or use their distributed mosquito net to fish out the hauntingly sterile lakes for the last remaining minnow before they pack everything upon their heads to walk to the camps – to be fed by foreigners with food brought in from places cold and clean. Like happened in Kigoma; in Abeche; in Bukavu; in Loki – in all the other places I have come to know so well over my twenty years coming and going from Africa.

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Yes, I will write more about Africa. For Africa is not necessarily the future – though she is home to the greatest population growth and some of the fastest growing economies (Ghana for example). She is also not the past; for she has not yet had her moment. Empires rise and fall – never to return. The Mongols, the Greeks, the Romans, the Han, the Persians, the Ottomans. To be sure, Africa has had her own dynasties – the Songhai, the Mali, the Sokoto, the Sosso. Regional, powerful – salt, slaves and gold to be sold abroad. But never anything that has moved beyond the imagination of the continent. Is that what the future holds? Perhaps – nothing is written beforehand, and nothing is foreordained.

Yes, I will write more about Africa, now that I am leaving her. Because how do we consider war, those who have not known it? The Congo war – a young man still soft and moist carrying bags of beans and seeds across wooden planks to islands quiet and hungry lost in the vast cavernous expanses of Kivu’s great lakes. A war that has never ended, though I have moved on. In fact no war I worked on actually ended – except maybe Uganda’s Lords Resistance Army wars. I wrote a novel about that one – full of anguish and bitterness and violence. How else could I write about it; for you who cannot imagine the wickedness, how else could I be fair to the victims of the madness? Chad; Mali – Nigeria, which I am leaving as the villages still smolder.

“We are not from here,” I tell my little boy – and we go in sadness and gratitude. Sadness and gratitude, for those of us who have stopped to consider Africa and share with her the vast skies and the mighty rains will never be the same.

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To Talk of Many Things… (Vol. #2 – Overton)

“The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head–“

And our wars of culture rage.

But who knew we were fighting over a window? Specifically the Overton Window. The Shangri La of policymakers in which policymaking is stress-free. Shangri La because these days the valley has become imaginary. For there is no window anymore through which we all can examine her contours; or perhaps more articulately stated there are two main windows, both shining onto different Himalayan valleys neither of which look anything like each other and both of which are in some ways thorny and fraught and perilous. Unrealistic. But why? It’s because our post-modern world has become wrapped in mists and legends, fables teaching us about the world around us (in the form of news which is now at least partly “fake” and facts that have become somehow “alternative”).

Some of this is actually a good thing, for example where the cracks in the veneer of the dogmatists are allowing some small lights of truth back into our society; pressures against “settled” science experiencing a resurgence, a renaissance in knowledge and inquiry.

Take, for example, evolution. Since the Scopes Money Trial (I drove by that spot in Tennessee last Christmas) we have been told that evolution is settled science. A done deal. Our secular 1990s put the issue to bed definitively, enshrining it in our curriculum and taking prayer from our classrooms – and the Creationists? Cranks; Bible banging Jesus freaks; witch-burners. The Overton Window was in its sweet spot, where pro-evolution scientists could discuss amongst themselves and indoctrinate my six-year old telling him he came from a monkey – filling cartoons and Sesame Street with their hypothesis (yes, hypothesis – as in “a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation”). Now, alas for the settled scientists, things have in fact become unsettled using (wait for it) more advanced science. A new study by Stoeckle and Thaler has revealed (after an epic feat of DNA analysis involving more than 100,000 specimens) that 9 out of 10 living creatures emerged simultaneously about 200,000 ago. This of course lit up the blogosphere of the scientific world and turned evolution on its head. Sure, the age old question “How then did we get here?” is again on the docket. And its gonna take the textbooks a generation to recover; government education at its finest!! But we can now get back to the process of learning. The Overton Window just shifted – and challenging evolution no longer is suicidal. I can go on (there’s a new archaeology book that challenges the ‘settled’ story that America was populated by nomads from the east of Russia over an ice bridge) – but I won’t digress any further. You’re welcome.

But that is science. Its impossible to fight against scientific inquiry, however hard you might try (ISIS is just now allowing that, perhaps, the world is not flat); and the doctrinaire evolutionists in their crumbling towers or the new-world-populated-by-tribes-from-Kamchatka groups are gonna have to adjust.

But what about the more turbulent waters of society; of governance and economics and the nature of legitimacy and role of the state in the lives of individuals? It is in this arena, they like to call them the ‘social sciences’ but there is nothing scientific at all about them, where the situation is dramatic (see the below video on the degree to which our two parties have become two tribes). The problem, of course, is that ‘social science’ is about the interaction of humans – and as such does not lend itself to scientific inquiry. It is hard to ‘know’; especially when we reject the means by which we are able to ‘know’ (this is incidentally what conservatism seeks – to preserve the founts of ancient knowledge and understanding – it’s called wisdom – and protect them from the maelstrom which surges around). In this case the Overton Window battles are taking place wholly within the two camps, in which nair the twain shall meet (a congress which is necessary in a healthy republic – hence the term ‘congress’).

Case in point, this morning I read an interesting exchange between Sohrab Ahmari (the managing editor of the NY Post) and David French from the National Review with the ‘moderator’ or third rail being Michael Brendan Dougherty; the point of which was Ahmari accusing French of being basically accommodationist, that French believes “that the institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should, in theory, accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side” with French responding that, “Moreover, I firmly believe that the defense of these political and cultural values must be conducted in accordance with scriptural admonitions to love your enemies, to bless those who persecute you, with full knowledge that the ‘Lord’s servant’ must be ‘kind to everyone, able to teach, and patiently endure evil’.” Basically, the debate within conservative circles these days of whether to “go to the mattresses” against the illiberal progressives or to attempt to reason with them. These are old fights (most people have forgotten that sixty years ago there was a fight for the heart of conservatism between Bill Buckley and Ayn Rand. Buckley won… – I wonder what America would look like if it had been Rand?). But they are reinvigorated by intellectual Trumpism (JAG anyone? Flight 93 Election? American Affairs Journal?) which certainly has pulled the Overton window way in the direction of a higher conflict agenda; “finally fighting back” many conservatives would say – a fight that no conservative in recent history was willing to prosecute – and they may be right about this.

To be sure, the ‘left’ is also having their own Overton Window debates, with the illiberal progressives pushing socialism against a more modest strain which does not cradle national suicide as its collective ambition (maybe Joe Biden?). But I rarely read those debates – I read them for years in Venezuela, there’s nothing new there for me. For you either, incidentally – if you bother to read history.

This also explains why the fighting has become so brutal between the two tribes. The Overton Window represents compromise in the minds of those living in good faith within a society and well within the tensions allowed in the heart of liberalism (in the correct sense of the word) between liberty and equality (as Edmund Fawcett would argue); a situation where nobody is really happy but they will not oppose an action because they fear being caught “outside” the range of accepted societal discourse – with all the implications that excommunication brings. But if government is the great club with which to bludgeon your enemies (and for the socialists loot their goods); then of course the fight over its possession is existential. Case in point, the smoke had not even yet cleared over the funeral pyre of DOMA when the illiberal progressives were pushing trans-gender bathrooms for our six-year olds. The conservatives have responded with making abortion virtually illegal (presumably trying to pick a Supreme Court fight). I’ll let you guess which side has my sympathy.

None of this is a recipe for the success of our republic. Because we have problems to solve. Burgeoning debt; immigration crisis; emboldened enemies; failing school systems; colleges which no longer teach our young-adults anything except how to quote Marx and hold a beer bong – etc. Those all require good faith debates between good faith people within an Overton Window in which we are all looking down into the same golden valley. But how do we get there? We talk to each other – because I do believe that there are more freedom-loving people in our republic than totalitarian socialists. If we can find a way to engage together, we can leave the commies out standing upon the darkened mountainside engaged in a creepy séance as they attempt to raise the spirit of Vladimir Lenin, while together we seek out our golden valley.

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For there is no other way – lest our culture war turn into a real shooting one.

Posted in America, Liberty, philosophy, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

To Talk of Many Things… (Vol. #1 – Obstruction)

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—

Each morning as the African mists release their hold on the stories-high trees just visible over the concertina-crowned walls of my compound I sit quietly to drink a cup of coffee the beans for which were grown far away and shipped in for the pleasure of we who pretend to manage world affairs, and I try to make sense of our ‘new world in the morning’. It has become a challenge to understand what is going on in our new absurdist world, bequeathed to us by those who found it too much of a bother to think. We should not be surprised, for we live our lives cramped tightly into our pillboxes through which we gaze at the horizon through swollen reddened eyes, guarding against the Italian invasion from across the Aegean; an invasion that never comes (Enver Hoxha reference for the know-nothing’s sake; and certainly worth a google). And in looking day after day through the same slit it is easy to forget that the world around us is wide and grand and beautiful and exists beyond the tiny sliver of the human experience allowed through by our cement encasement. ‘Prejudices’ we would say, if that word was not so heavy-laden. World-views perhaps; and breaking out of the rounded sarcophagi into which our civilization has gone to die seems perilous and ill-advised. So we self-select on twitter, unfollowing and blocking until we have a perfectly pure river of excrement gushing in torrents through the pillbox slits, each little ‘micro-blog’ elevating our blood pressure until our coffee has turned bitter in our mouths and we no longer notice when the African mists have long been burned by the sun that has risen well into the sky. Facebook’s Machiavellian algorithm trolling through fake news to serve us just what we need to stay longer on their site – sharing and liking as the stories become more lurid and our sinister masters in their valley of silicon chuckle.

Incidentally this is why I no longer have Facebook, nor Twitter. I do have a Goodreads account; if you are curious to find out about me, examine what I read. Not that anybody reads anymore; taking more than 140 characters to form an idea and conclusion is passé in our modern world, where we no longer need to think, only repeat. East of Eden? Pacific Viking? The Cause of Hitler’s Germany (this last one extremely important in our post-truth world)? Who has the time? Would not we rather read the nasty little barb Megan Markle has fired into the ether? That is more instantly satisfying to the cauldron burning within our souls.

So what do I do, if I do not read Facebook and Twitter in the morning? How do I get my news, if not from the Valley’s digital overlords? How do I know what is going on – when I do not trust them to inform me? It takes the discipline of the ancient monks – which once I flirted with becoming – and (if you really care) I visit Realclearpolitics, Realclearworld, Quillette, The Imaginative Conservative, Aeon, The Federalist, The American Conservative and – yes I do! – Drudge. So do you, admit it.

Often times there is one particular issue which captures my attention; and I write about that or reflect on it on my blog (this one) and for my limited readers (you). And I do, indeed, talk of many things, of the aforementioned cabbages and often of the kings. And their knights; because there is so much going on which speaks to the end of our glorious republic which nobody seems to want to defend except the knights at their round table at Hillsdale.

The issue at hand today over which I have been ruminating is the now-famous (or infamous, depends on who you are) William Barr interview with CBS.

The ‘resistance’ is of course apoplectic and also somewhat nervous, for their coup attempt against President Trump has failed and also subsequently been found out (coups most often are) and now the esteemed Attorney General has decided that it well deserves a gander. Now, I’ve lived overseas for many, many years. And I cannot tell you how many coup attempts I have witnessed and lived through; but the number is not less than ten. They are considerably more frequent than we in our (increasingly unstable) republic might realize, and they come in all forms; from tanks rolling down streets to the more procedural ones concocted to befuddle the weak-minded: the elites rigging the game in their favor and self-dealing to assure things work to their advantage (and those pesky things called elections? Don’t worry about that). The best quote of the week is Barr’s, “’Resisting A Democratically Elected President’ is Destroying Our Institutions, Not Trump.” Read my piece on resistance here – because that is something I know a lot about. Real resistance, against real despots – not millennial meltdowns against free and fair elections. Resistance and a coup are not the same thing – this was a failed coup attempt. I know the difference.

Which brings me to my next topic, on justice. America has been, above all and before anything else, a land of justice – of rule of law. To make that system function we adopted an accusatory system of justice (the official term I think is adversarial) which we inherited from the Ango-Saxon system crafted on the English isle 1500 years ago; juxtaposed against an investigatory system (inquisitorial) which came from Medieval Europe (Latin in origins). Latin American systems are mostly inquisitorial – they assume the bad faith of all their citizens and set up mechanisms to assure that their wicked, oh lets call them ‘constituents’ can do as little harm as possible; except bad does happen as the subsequent intrusive bureaucracies become so large and powerful that they are sclerotic and easily corrupted. Did you know that birth certificates expire every six months in Venezuela? Did you know that to get married in Colombia you have to put an advertisement in the newspaper for two weeks in the assumption that you are a bigamist in order to allow your wife – who also is perusing the paper that morning with her coffee – to call in to whatever number provided to say “Hey that’s my husband!”. Adversarial systems allow the government to serve as arbiter between people, one accusing the other of something (and only with sufficient evidence provided). Our government does not spend time trolling through people’s private lives looking for crimes. That’s what the Stasi did, keeping files on every citizen in East Germany. Its what the Gestapo did; the KGB – its what the Communist Party of China does, it’s what Venezuela’s Bolivarian Intelligence Services do. And its what the Democrats in Congress are doing with Trump (yes it has to be said); going through his life with a fine tooth comb to see if they can find something where no unanswered accusation exists. This is extremely terrifying; hearkening back to McCarthyism, which was a particularly complicated period (even if, like me, you agree with the goal – to keep the commies out). Because, let us be honest here, who of you reading this has not committed (usually inadvertently) some crime? I sure have (speeding ticket anybody? But what about that time you were speeding and never caught? Do you live in fear? I can go on…) – for even the best of us run afoul of our complicated legal systems and if somebody wants to find something in each of our lives, they will. Period.

Incidentally, there is a third type of justice system – transitional justice (built usually upon restorative ideas – which seek to put things right). These are particularly valid when our justice system is collapsed due to corruption and bias (or the magnitude of the population involved in a particular crime). Imagine if every poor person from the slums caught with a dime-bag of blow was, instead of being incarcerated, forced to seek out those to whom they sold and advise them of their mistakes, pay back the money they made tenfold, and spend months with a church group helping those in need? What if they were sent to serve the poor in Africa for a season – learning the true nature of oppression and injustice? “Victimless crimes” they are often called. What if these folks emerged from their experience better than when they started – and society with them? That is restorative justice. But I digress.

Which brings me back to the Mueller investigation – it seems people have lost the plot; like a Dostoevsky novel in which you realize suddenly you are following the wrong character – that the protagonist has somehow become a minor actor without your noticing. The whole two-year long colonoscopy live-streamed on MSNBC was ostensibly about the Trump campaign colluding with Russia. That was definitively disproved/thrown out. Full stop. Did that resolve the issue? Of course not. For now people are all pretzeled up about obstruction; what is it, what isn’t it, when does it happen and can it happen over Twitter? All of this is – frankly – irrelevant. There was no collusion with Russia (in perspective, since we heard so much about it, imagine if there had been no Watergate Hotel break-in?) You can’t obstruct justice if there has been no crime. Is the President intemperate? Yes, I think that’s fair to say. Should he be more careful on Twitter? I’d sure like him to be. Did he break traffic laws as he was rushing to arrive quickly to the scene of a murder where the detectives in charge were busy planting evidence against him on the body? Maybe (and this would seem to be Barr’s conclusion). But that is over. And Internal Affairs now has the case. Lets stop worrying about the speeding or the violated stop-sign; they are irrelevant. And the dirty detectives? They might want to find good lawyers.

OK this has gotten long, but has been quite fun! I certainly feel better – and I certainly am desirous that you are feeling the same. I may rant tomorrow again, perhaps regarding the disgrace which has become of our system of higher education – and how it is destroying our republic. And why rant at all?

Because if we don’t speak out, who will…? – (the answer, of course, is the un-examined minds on Twitter).

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