The Day The Music Died (but only for a few…)

I have started this piece a dozen times, each time drawing my cursor back up to the top highlighting and deleting in order to start anew. Because how does one express relief, and not sound naïve? In our cynical world, jaded and tough, our hides scaled and sharpened to thwart the daggers of violence and hatred hurled from the anonymous avatars denizens of the nasty morass, it’s easier to pretend that it does not bother us. This side, or that side – my tribe or that other tribe across a dividing line red or blue who have earned, and continue to earn, all the ill-will I can against them invoke.

A recipe for misery, a race to the bottom where the loudest voices and those in possession of the largest knife with which to slash and savage their way into my news feed prevail. It isn’t new, really – many recall the famous battle between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton for the presidency and point to that bitter feud as setting the tone for our contests; but is that true? Or have our occasional tournaments resembled more a pro-wrestling match where the match is for the enjoyment of the spectators and the faux sense of thrill, a game where the winners were pre-selected – being ourselves, a free people who battled each other in liberty and for the rights of even those who we opposed.

That sense of joint victory, that single-mindedness; for having engaged in the clash, for having been permitted to by a system which allows our voices to be heard, through our votes – of course – but through our donations and our participation in meetings and our volunteerism, pushing the issues in which we believe and challenging those whose are opposed to our own; a grand arena in which we all have become contestants, anti-gladiators who state bravely before each bout “We, who would live better, salute you!” to the emperors who sit above us – but always by our consent… Yes, they are still emperors, though we choose them through a process that is messy and frustrating but often enough, frequently enough astounding us as to the results to show us that anything remains possible in America. A black man from a broken home. A real-estate mogul with no relevant experience. An actor from when Hollywood had honor. We cherish these stories – because in them we all win, because in their hope lies our hope, in their opportunity, our opportunity. A vicariousness that keeps us all engaged, animated, knowing opportunity might descend upon us at any time and change things forever like the clinks of the slot machines in Vegas that occasionally ring out into their metal bins for all to hear about the life-altering luck of somebody not too far away or different.

This time, our 2016 contest was a little off, but I won’t dwell on that. At least not today. ‘Illegitimacy’ is not a mantle the free winner of a fair fight will easily accept; the rules must be adhered to after all or the joust has no meaning. It’s no wonder that the last years have been so acrimonious. It’s been unfair, simply put. But that is in the past, and things worked out – amazingly. Even, yes even now: I started this piece with the deleted phrase, “An enfeebled specter is rowing its way back to Cuba – the specter of socialism. Like all specters, this ghost was finally shown to be ephemeral, transparent, unreal, fiction. #FakeNews.” And onward, but it seemed facile and mean-spirited; for this is the great story of the season and must not be cheapened by spite or cynicism, for we all have something to celebrate!! American socialism is dead. Ring the bells for all to hear, roll out the carpets and open your homes for your neighbors to eat, wealthy and poor alike, knowing they are not entering to measure the drapes or with an eye thrown askance upon the silver. American socialism is dead, because it never was. We are not a thieving people; we are not a greedy people; we are not a people whose sole motivation is envy and hate. That, at least, has been shown crystal clear, in technicolor HD. For the people were given a chance to self-immolation – presented in fact even with the knife, as they were in Venezuela, and a demonstration of its use – and they responded with a polite, emphatic “No thank you. We have heard you out, but we have determined that yours is not the path to a life more abundant.”

We are returned to the national debate as it was intended, rancorous though it is and somehow more bitter today, between the two underlying principles always in tension which have buttressed our liberalism since the founding of that idea three hundred years ago: the search for liberty and equality. Liberty, freedom to do that which we believe is right, to pursue our happiness in the ways that make our souls sing – and to allow others to do the same; and equality, the egalitarianism which reaffirms that all men are created equal under God and are entitled to the same opportunities as those higher up the ladder. Liberty we have been good at as a modern nation – equality is something we have struggled with, and continue to do so today. And this is not helped by the fact that too many participate in a bait-and-switch replacing equality of opportunity with equality of outcomes. And too many use the chimera of inequality to engage in incitement, “In criminal law, incitement is the encouragement of another person to commit a crime.” In this case, it is most often incitement to grand larceny.

But that is over. The “socialist wave” was not a tsunami, it was only ripples in a park-pond. And why? Because Americans are good people, free people, people who believe in law and cherish their lives. This assessment is not based on social media (or in point of fact the regular media these days), those toxic environments where hate-mongering is encouraged; but is in fact to be found in our HOAs, in the parking lots at our malls, in the lines at Disney World and on our juries. Where real physical people interact with real, physical people. All else is fleeting, on a boat back to Cuba with the few dozen people who proposed that there was a better way until they were drowned out and humiliated by we a people committed to living free!


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Stepping Stones in Time

Time marches on, leaving stepping stones to remind us of where we have been, show us where we might be going and reflect upon whether or not things turn out as we expected. This is the job of writers. Some writers are prescient for their discernment to be able to see the paths ahead and point the way. Some, for their missteps which show how things could have been or might have been before we went astray. I was thinking about this today – I’ve been collecting articles for a while – and thought perhaps as we move into something new I would highlight a few, for posterity, for myself more than anyone but also for my companions on the journey. These are only some, I’ve limited myself to ten (10) and also to those after the end of the Cold War, our last epic struggle – though of course that is an arbitrary date. Nevertheless, one must pick somewhere. And that seems as good a place as any:

“The End of History?” – Francis Fukuyama, 1989 – Of course it must begin here, the article that put the bookend upon 70 years of Cold War battles, of our epic struggle against our great foe. And what would come after. No matter that it was wrong, that the future of humanity is not relegated to tweaking the machinery and tightening the screws on our purring ‘world order’. This article captured the mood of a season, before it fell away.

“Clash of Civilizations” – Samuel Huntington, 1993 – The other side of the argument, perhaps Fukuyama was incorrect. Perhaps the end of the great ideological battle with the soviets simply lifted a lid on the ancient animosities that have lasted forever, ushering us back into a time of prehistory where small conflicts govern a world on fire. Ironically, forced to recant his theories by “End of History” politically correct Fukuyamistas, Huntington has proved to be the winner of that debate as tiny conflict one after the next has brought down empires.

“The Coming Anarchy” – Robert Kaplan, 1994 – So if Huntington is correct, if Fukuyama is destined for failure (as all other utopians have been), what does the future look like for us? What can we expect? A world of civilizational class overlaid with a glaze of globalism, perhaps, leading to the failure of states that never arrived at legitimacy, never answered that fundamental issue of consent – starting at the peripheries and marching ever-closer to the centers.

“The Urban Archipelago” – Seattle Stranger, 2004 – The end of history led to a fundamental (mis)belief that culture, that ideas, that tradition and values no longer mattered. We were part of a global class, the rulers of the world – not globalization but globalism, the haunting reality that residents of New York have more in common with the elites of Tokyo or London or Dubai than with people in Akron or Tulsa. That the beliefs held, which ‘made America great’ as it were, were in fact wicked superstitions to be stamped out. This article, in the wake of the 2nd term election of George W. Bush, lifted for a second the veneer of polite poison of progressive America. With venom and unveiled hatred of their political opponents, they declare a death-wish upon those who oppose their ‘cultural revolution’. A plan which continued through the Obama years, with its mask back in place but which was jettisoned forever with the 2016 elections.

“The Land of Topless Minarets and Headless Little Girls” – Amal Hanano (Lina Sergie Attar), 2012 – The end of globalist foreign policy hubris was the failure of the Arab Spring, when neocons (that group which straddles left and right and have run global foreign policy for years) created a multi-headed hydra that is still alive today. In Attar’s hauntingly beautiful tribute to her hometown of Aleppo, cataloging its destruction even 8 years ago as the violence continues to rage, one cannot help but think that there must be a better way, that there must have been another path. The road not traveled.

“What ISIS Really Wants” – Graeme Wood, 2015 – The Islamic State. The end result of Huntington’s civilizational clash played out in a macabre spectacle upon TV screens, murders live-streamed in real time around the world, barbarians rabid with hate pursuing Yazidis up the mountains to rape and enslave them in a show that still takes my breath away for its bizarre wickedness. The third great challenge to western ‘hegemony’ (yes perhaps in a Gramscian sense), after Fascism and then Communism. One that lasted longer than the first but shorter than the second and itself has been laid to rest in the basket of failed world ideologies.

“The Suicide of Venezuela” – Joel D. Hirst (me), 2016 – Writers are narcissistic to a degree, and I will allow myself (and hopefully you will too) to include this work of mine in this list, a blog post with 400,000+ views and translated into 15 languages. If “Topless Minarets” was the requiem for a country murdered by dictatorship, violence and foreign intervention, “Suicide of Venezuela” is my poignant lament of self-inflicted wounds, goaded on by jealousy and greed, which nevertheless caused a humanitarian disaster exceeding anything the western hemisphere has ever experienced.

“The Flight 93 Election” – Publius Decius Mus, 2016 – “End of History” globalist politics brought us a nouveau aristocracy (see next article), but left out the 90%. Those who could not defend themselves against the globalist “Urban Archipelago” class, and who nevertheless were tired of being called “clingers” and “deplorables” (and – yes – #leavers) and voted to buck the system, to rebel, to start a rebellion that continues on into today not just in America but all over the world. This article explains why.

“The Return of Marco Polo’s World” – Robert Kaplan, 2017 – If “The Coming Anarchy” was a clarion call to what will happen if America and the west did not return to realist global policy, “Marco Polo’s World” is the realization that the window closed, and something new is upon us. The “End of History” crowd could not pull it off, and the return of empire has come. Kaplan, in his heavily geographical prose – taking us through the valleys and hills of the returning empire – tells us about the return to a multi-polar world of empire.

“The 9.9% Is the New American Aristocracy” – Matthew Stewart, 2018 – Belatedly the “End of History” globalist Urban Archipelago class (of which The Atlantic is their best voice) has figured out that, and how, the system has been increasingly rigged against people in the land of the free finding hope of improvement. Intergenerational elasticity is at its lowest levels (both in terms of history and in comparison with other western countries). This excellent review of America’s new elites and the mechanisms they use to retain power is worth a read.


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Less Calvino More Camus

Kiran Bhat reached out to me over email to review his new novel “We Of The Forsaken World” after reading my review of “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino. “But things are not lasting, not eternal nor stable. They rise and fall and rise again – like the cities of Italo Calvino’s novel ‘Invisible Cities’.

This clue has given me a good starting point from whence to begin a review of “Forsaken World.” Bhat’s novel follows the paths of four civilizations: Tribe, Village, Lake and City as they “fall apart” as is written on the book’s jacket. Bhat was seeking to have the stories interconnect at precise moments along the paths of mayhem; and diverge again in a dance of destruction.

I think it probably makes sense for me to treat this goal objectively, juxtaposed against the subjective reviews which I often give when a novel I have chosen makes my heart sing. This, because “Forsaken World” is not a beautiful book. It is gritty and violent and uncomfortable – as it is supposed to be, these civilizations are falling apart and the process of destruction is never as glorious as the ruins left behind for tourists to ponder over, far in the future.

Does Bhat pull of what he’s trying to achieve? Sort of. “Forsaken World” is, I think, less Italo Calvino and more Albert Camus. Less Invisible Cities and more Myth of Sisyphus where Camus boldly states that the human situation is absurd and devoid of meaning. Less a delicate dance of construction and destruction, and more theater of the absurd, nihilistic in its lack of joy – for Camus’ existentialism was joyful. But there is nothing joyful about “Forsaken World“.

When I was reading this, I could not help but think about the 2006 Brad Pitt movie “Babel” – also a group of four stories that are not related, in that nihilistic, absurdist sense of “Why do things happen as they happen?” Or perhaps the 1994 movie “Being Human” by our departed friend Robin Williams, stories that are interesting and beautiful in a way but fundamentally unsatisfying, for in them are not found the answers of our great human experience, and humanity is above all in search of answers – especially these days:

Now a thing or two about absurdism. I wonder if it is not moving resolutely into our past. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his famous Harvard keynote address said, ““Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror.” I’m not sure this is necessarily true, at least not anymore. I’m seeing a reawakening these days of the ancient human motivations of glory and duty and honor and the thrill of the fight against evil and a reconnecting with that which makes us human in the first place. In that way, “Forsaken World” belongs in our past, as a reminder of a time when things had no meaning before the theater fell away.

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I Am Not Raising A “Greta”

Incidentally I’m not raising a Naomi either – although this little duel is quite funny. For what its worth, Naomi looks like she’d be much more pleasant to have a chat with.

Joel D. Hirst's Blog

I am not raising a Greta. It’s not really right; in fact the tragedy of that train-wreck sometimes takes my breath away. Life is sad enough, hard enough, and with more bitterness and frustration all of its own to foist it upon little minds un-prepared. Its like robbery, a thief in the night stealing away the great joys of life; beauty unimaginable and the satisfaction of small acts of discovery in preparation for the tremendous triumph of achievement long fought and well won, if we ever get there; but even if not, the realization which comes with wisdom in knowing that there is happiness to be found in the journey and rewards even in a struggle unsung.


With my boy, we’ve decided to guide him along the rolling road of wonder as we introduce him slowly and methodically to our amazing world, a world he will call home for the…

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Latter Plates of Novel Men – A Poem

In words that paint, I hide away;
Hoping armistice to stay;
Immortal craft ‘gainst tempest brewing;
Ever madness quill eschewing.

We write of beauty ‘fore the storm;
Our words they dye the summers warm;
The flowered glade, the meadow golden;
Practice kept from times now olden.

Composing sketch of bronzen harvest;
Gusting flurried fronds of varnish;
Crunching leaves piled in a heap;
In glee upon a child to leap.

Penning muraled winters, whitened;
Tables full and families brightened;
Glow red and gold our jubilee;
To shush the alpine slopes carefree.

Drafted in pasteled rebirth;
With soft-hued words scribe shades the earth;
Meadowed lands where yearlings frolic;
Lord returned, creation aulic.

And when it comes, the storm at last;
We grasp the pen, we hold it fast;
We cry out not, we do not squeal;
Tempera words in calm appeal.

At maelstrom end, did phrase abide?
Did pigment last upon the hide?
And if we find we’ve weathered true;
It’s restoration, we must to do.

Tis all a part of glowing writ;
Reward for those who shun to quit;
Discover they a hue enduring;
Custom letters proved a mooring.

Yes, there are those who dare to write;
And ‘tis with golden shaft they fight;
‘Til old they grow and pass the pen;
To latter plates of novel men.

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“Seven Songs” is a Symphony

Seven Songs Emin

“To know wisdom and gain instruction; to discern the words of understanding.” It is said that these were the first words written by Mesrop Mashtots after inventing the thirty-six character Armenian alphabet. Though written 1600 years ago, Mashtots might very well have been referring to Gevorg Emin’s extraordinary work of scholarship “Seven Songs About Armenia”.

“Seven Songs” is a reflection about the past, present and future of Armenia from one of her finest poets and writers. Each “Song” represents an aspect of Armenia’s national character, each a facet of Armenia’s multi-faceted diamond which makes her sparkle, a great and ancient jewel nestled in the crossroads of past and future, east and west, empire and village – which still glistens brightly despite hardship and war and violence and which, following each tragedy, polishes itself up to again place on display its glories to enliven a weary world. The songs: Song About the Centuries, which tells the ancient story of a land and her people that march together resolutely through history; Song About Stone, which tells of the land; Song About Water which tells of the rivers and the sapphire of Lake Sevan; Song About the Soil which tells of the ancient vineyards, planted perhaps by Noah himself; Song About Fire which tells of the tribulations, of the violence and the endurance of a people who seek always to overcome; and, my favorite the Song About Letters which tells of the amazing literary tradition of which Emin is only one in a long line of scholars going back to Mashtots and then further back still. Finishing up with the Song of Songs, the crescendo, bringing together all the other songs into a beautiful symphony.

It is hard to convey a sense of the extraordinary learning that flowed easily from Emin’s pen to page after page of his ‘Songs’. Writers today don’t have the same command of knowledge, the same passion for their tales, the same commitment to their readers – to give to those the best of who they are, to leave not only the drying ink but a little bit of sweat and even blood as a reminder of so great an effort of creation. “Seven Songs About Armenia” does this, and leaves the reader spellbound for a season to consider so tremendous a tradition and so great a bard as is Gevorg Emin; son of Ashtarak, son of Armenia.

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Revolutions don’t just happen. They are in fact product of profound societal stress; the status quo is too much of a powerful force even in the most unjust of countries to be eschewed lightly in favor of a great leap into the unknown. And there was no ‘modern’ country more unjust than Tsarist Russia. The calcification of a once-great empire, the folly of a dynasty that had lost its connection with its land and its history and any sense of noblesse oblige, as were the Romanovs and their last hapless emperor Nicholas II. But not even this figure, alone, was enough to spark revolution; thick and rich in the winter palace eating caviar while his serfs worked bent and aggrieved in the fields. It was in fact the great war that brought on revolution – a war that ended the old ways in all of Europe, and Russia was no exception. The fact that Nicholas doubled down on serfdom while the rest of his peers across the continent were liberalizing their stranglehold on their people was his own special madness; the hands of Rasputin, the hemophilia of his son and heir. No not even in this was unleashed the madness. It was the war that did it; sending serf/slaves to fight and die against the Kaizer’s Germany armies, a war that also ended that monarch’s rule, along with the Ottomans. Everything was changing, why should Russia be any different?


That is what Alexei Tolstoy’s three-part epic ‘Ordeal’ is about. The start of the war, the death of the Tzar, the murder of the mad monk, the fighting first against the Germans but then the Russian Civil War into which the country was plunged – the White Armies against the Red Armies with the Anarchist Greens throw in there. The disintegration of a massive empire after hundreds of years of corruption ending in an orgy of violence that gave way to the stale totalitarianism of communism. It is a grand story; those of us in the west often think that one day Lenin wandered into St. Petersburg, grabbed the Tzar and his family and lined them up in front of the shooting range and that was it. In point of fact the Russian Civil war was begun not by the Bolsheviks but by the Constituent Assembly, the Mensheviks and resulted in more than one interim government and an almost-return of the Whites to power; five years of mayhem until Lenin and Stalin prevailed. And it could have gone many different ways. Had the French or British intervened – had the Mensheviks’ more rational reformations prevailed, had assassination attempts on Lenin been successful history would have turned out very differently. Nothing is written beforehand – that is the lesson with which one enters into the commitment of reading Alexei Tolstoy’s masterpiece.

Alexei, the nephew of the great novelist Leo, member of a great noble family that began with Andrey who moved to Moscow to serve in the court of Vasily II in the 1400s at the very beginning, before even St. Petersburg was built, and witnessed the entirety of Imperial Russia’s 600 year story. A family that still exists, Nikolai and Artemy and Vladimir who are still active in Russia today. Alexei was a monarchist, a supporter of the Whites, an exile first in Paris and then in Berlin where he grew disaffected by the Russian refugee-elites and returned to become one of the greatest voices of the Reds. Life is strange that way, and there is no accounting for how it will turn out.

No, revolutions do not simply happen for if there is one thing that people can be counted upon to consider it is their own welfare. The moral hazard for those living day-to-day attempting to raise their families and hold the ends together is zero, every decision is existential. If they feel, even just hope, that their lives are improving – or that there is somebody fighting for them – they will be patient, keeping their heads down and plowing forward. The tremendous discipline of men and women raising a family, juxtaposed against those whose moral hazard is complete and who, in the Gramscian sense, seek to foment radical change secure in the utopian belief that the violence will not reach them – people like Alexei Tolstoy who only survived by becoming a mouthpiece of revolution, selling his tremendous talent to the perpetuation of a great evil.


Today Lenin is dead, Stalin is dead. What is left over are broken down statues abandoned under the trees growing around them and the lessons acquired from a time of great turmoil and preserved as if in amber by the tremendous talent of Alexei Tolstoy and his compatriots. It is up to us, then, to learn from those lessons as we seek to build the worlds for our children and our children’s children. You can start by reading ‘Ordeal’.

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