Picture yourself in England at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign. If you have some skills as a part of the growing middle class, things look better every day. That life comes in part from unskilled workers driven into the growing (and filthy) cities who are more productive than ever before. The great symbol of the improving standard of living greets you in the morning as a cup of this once luxury beverage, tea. It comes from China, traded under the barrel of the guns of the Royal Navy through the new colony of Hong Kong. The latest in technology, the Clipper Ship, brings it to you with great speed and makes it possible to run this enterprise at a distance. The sun never sets on the British Empire, and tea is both its greatest commodity and emblem of success.
Today, in the waning daze of the American Empire that isn’t an empire, things could hardly be different even as they are the same. Coffee is the beverage of choice for 54% in the US. It has always been the workingman’s drink, but it is moving more yupscale – even though 35% of us still drink it black (as it is meant to be, damnit). It is shipped from tropical, underdeveloped nations in unromantic cargo containers as the second most traded commodity in the world by value ($15B per year), behind only oil. The nations that produce it are rapidly urbanizing into filthy cities. The trade is managed over the internet by a cadre of traders and speculators.
History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes like a street poet hitting a beat.
The pictures and stories coming from Donetsk, Ukraine, are horrifying. Bodies flung from Malaysia Air flight 17 have been lying in the fields right where they fell from the sky, rotting in the summer sun for days. Wreckage is everywhere, some of it disturbed in what appears to be looting as much as recovery. How can this happen?
The short answer is that the area is not under the control of any organized or trained government, but held by a group of separatists with guns. Some have been described as “visibly intoxicated” as they fired into the air to shoo off international investigators. It seems ridiculous, but the families – indeed, the entire world – is being held hostage by a few wackos with guns.
That’s the state of the world right now as we all draw much closer. A little bit of chaos in one part of the planet affects everyone – even when the number of people involved is small.
The 1970s were a tough decade on everyone. Everything was changing rapidly as a new generation came of age in the wake of social and political turmoil. Television had given us characters like Archie Bunker so that we could laugh at how ridiculous it was to hold onto the gone away glory days, but laughing wasn’t enough. To a young kid soon to make his way into this new world pop culture needed to offer something more profound yet subversively simple.
“The Rockford Files” started in 1974 as one of many detective shows that were popular diversions away from the chaos. It quickly became a vehicle for the talent, the personality, and in a sly way the values of its star, Jame Garner. Garner’s death today at age 86 brings back a flood of memories from Friday night TV time with Dad, but there was more than that to him. James Garner taught my generation what it meant to be a man.
A group of mourners arrived to express their condolences and support for the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was killed in revenge for the death of three Israeli teens. But they were not family or even friends – they weren’t necessarily welcome. They were Israelis reaching out to perform their own “Tikkun Olam”, or fixing the world. When asked if it was hard, one offered her reason for beig there. “Maybe,” she said. But, she added, “I think the peace will come from the people, not from our leaders.”
This may be more than just a gesture of grace. It may be the start of something bigger, something even more than the peace sought by the mourners. A lasting peace means a permanent arrangement that promotes peace – justice, order, respect, and cooperation. It may be different than anyone has contemplated in a long time.
Everyone has the experience at some time. You’ve read a book or seen a movie that you absolutely loved, and you want to tell the world about your new obsession. You might even know someone that you’d love to share this new world with. So you start telling them about the intricate details of the plot and characters and after rambling on and on … and then you see their eyes slowly glaze over. What went wrong? Often it’s that you had suspended your disbelief in something that sounds too absurd to tell easily. It makes sense to you, but the retelling leaves you sounding a bit crazy.
This doesn’t just happen with fiction. A disconnected world requires a lot of suspension of disbelief.