Thursday, February 16, 2006


Concord, Massachusetts

I've dropped off the radar recently. I'm moving to Massachusetts to a demanding job while attending to the rigors of searching for a new home. That mission was accomplished this week -- we have a Purchase and Sale Agreement signed for a house surrounded by New England maples and apple orchards. Our Big Fat Check has been tendered. And so now there's only six weeks to go before we move East. Blogging has taken a back burner for a spell during the transition.

I've been seeing the headlines of course -- cartoon jihad and American torture. Europeans -- some seemingly in their death spiral, while others are finally turning a corner to actual indignation for being designated infidels. Maybe opening all the windows in the European house let in a lot of bees and wasps. Maybe their stings actually can't be ignored. Maybe Europe's like that man covered in bees, not flinching. Just one flinch and...

Can we win history? Can we hold the fabric of life as we've known it together? Some people want me to look at the new Abu Ghraib photos with a renewed sense of horror. I'm not proud of them -- how could I be? What can I say? War sucks. War brings out the worst in mankind, on both sides. Wars aren't fought in tuxedos. It's not an excuse, but it certainly isn't news.

The big story in all the torture images are really the motivations behind their publication. True, it's free speech, and we're free people. We ought to see what our men and women in uniform are up to. But of course, torture isn't the whole story of Iraq and the post 9/11 era, or probably anywhere near it. There are people who want me to think that Abu Ghraib defines us. There are others who want me to think that GIs handing out candy to Iraqi children defines us. Maybe, just maybe, they're both wrong if taken as absolute truths. Maybe, just maybe, there's countless layers to this story, and we need to take them all in as a whole, and keep our eye on all the balls. But nobody seems particularly interested in that. There's no way to press one's agenda with that kind of thinking, preferring to express indignation from one side of the boxing ring or the other. Perhaps I'm naive to think that we can be as broad-minded as it takes to overcome this war. Perhaps it's indignation that stiffens spines. Perhaps.

Muslims riot and break things all over the world because of some cartoons of their prophet. I'm mixed on that whole story, because on some level Piss Christ pissed me off indeed. And I'm not much of a God-fearin' teetotaler, either. At the time, I just thought Piss Christ did more harm than good -- that's all. I didn't think it bound society together -- it pulled it apart. But whatever. People are grown ups. They should be able to handle plain old unsophisticated vulgarity, which I've always thought to be a kind of inverted piety. The motivations behind extreme piety and vulgarity are very similar, and take water from the same well.

So now Mohammed gets the Christ treatment, finally dispatched by our irreverent secular culture to satire and scorn. Part of me thinks it's about time for some sense of balance from the Vulgarists, obsessed with pissing only on Christ; part of me thinks the Mo cartoons just fan the flames further, with no real gain in any useful direction; part of me thinks it's free speech and that trumps all, and how nice it is to see Europeans find their verve; part of me is just tired. Tired of the Great Unravelling, brought to us by cartoonists. How terribly fitting.

Mo-toons demonstrate that there are two civilizations in Europe now, as never before. It's hard to tell who's playing offense and who's playing defense. Good luck with that, my cousins across the sea. I hope you can manage it. You might actually have to get tough, though. Tough times are only deferred, never prevented, dear cousins. It's true you have a lot of history to overcome. But history might overcome you first.

Those of you who have bought a house for the first time might relate to how I am feeling now. It's a little bit like having your first child. It sends shivers of joy and trepidation down my spine. It's a stake in the earth, a line in the sand that says, "Here I will make my stand." There's a lot of hope in buying property, for if I was completely hopeless, owning land would make no sense. The same goes with having children. It's the endeavor of the hopeful, even if hope is a momentary impulse through all the headlines of rage.

I can't stop wondering about the history that will be made while I watch my daughter grow on my patch of New England soil. I have pleasant dreams of watching her chase fireflies with a jar while we sip ice tea on our screened summer porch, listening to crickets and the night owl. And I have unpleasant nightmares that rage will have its way, if only for a little while -- long enough to turn out current obsessions into the cold snow, to be replaced by the thud of reality. We still think we're talking absolute sense these days, like we actually know what we're doing. But I fear we'll look back on all the rage right now like men in a barrel headed for Niagara. I try to suppress that thought while I go into massive debt for my patch of maple.

I've made my bid for a slice of sanity in a land that is 3,000 miles away from my home. I am betting that the comfort of fireflies will endure for years to come. That requires faith in the future. Through all the indignation in this world, I hope you can find yours too.