Diary and Commentary
I returned yesterday from a 14-day walkabout through the jungles of northern Peru. Extraordinary it was. The internet connection here in Chachapoyas is absurdly slow, and more writing will have to wait until I am in Lima on Sunday.
It is clear that I will not have enough time to do all the backpacking I wanted here in Peru. The problem is the dry season---it ends sometime in October and I still have some jungles to traverse in Bolivia and Brazil. Stay tuned...
So there was a car bombing by Islamic terrorists in Iraq. They set off the bomb at a mosque, killing almost 80---all Moslems. I guess there were no Jews to be had nearby. (Though truth be told, Moslems began killing Moslems before Mohammed was even cold in the ground.)
I have traveled and backpacked throughout the rural parts of Latin America for 20 years. Many times my wanderings would take me to remote regions where I would have to ask campesinos permission to camp near their home. Never once was I refused. Each and every time they would bring out plates of fruit, yucca, beans, rice, and whatever else they had.
What is this nonsense about ´deforestation'? Every school, hospital, orphanage and workplace---in fact every city---is built upon deforested land. So are the offices of Greenpeace for that matter. Environmentalists scream when a road is built into some rural forest in Latin America, though for the locals who have to live and survive there a road means civilization and a better life. That is, the sort of life the environmentalists enjoy.
Movies with foul language are labeled 'FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY'. Why? Mature people do not use such words. Such talk can, however, be heard at any American high school. Not exactly a mature audience, that.
There are miracles. Many occurred during my time in the jungle. I am alive because of them. If you do not believe in miracles you are not looking carefully enough. But then, perhaps you are closing your eyes. If you saw a miracle you would have to acknowledge its Author.
Crazy people are not products of Western Civilization. I have run into them---sometimes literally---throughout my travels.
The myriad problems of the Third World have no solution. They can be treated, but only partially, incompletely and temporarily.
Every campesino I encountered mentioned the war against Iraq. They were conversant about Hussein and his family, and about the situation in Iraq both before and after the war. They understood more about Iraq than the 'NO BLOOD FOR OIL' crowd, the Hollywood glitterati, and some of my students ever did, alas!
Call Me Nostradamus
They hit us on September 11. We buried our dead and hit them back---hard. We are still hitting them. Since 9/11 no terror has occurred in the US; we have brought their war home to them. Now in Iraq it is the Americans who are setting the terms of engagement and choosing the battlefields. From across the Muslim world---from Syria, Gaza, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia---have come the haters of Western Civilization to Iraq to throw themselves against the legions of the USA. It is a war they must win, for if it is lost the entire Arab world will experience a revolution that will make the French Revolution seem like a tiny ripple upon the fabric of History. For democracy and freedom are coming to Iraq, the first in the Arab and Islamic world. Every terrorist killed in the sands there is one more terrorist who cannot fly a plane into an American building or blow himself up in an Israeli shopping mall. Bring ´em on.
And Miles to Go Before I Sleep
Backpacking at 50 years of age does take its toll, especially the type of solo experience I have chosen. For one thing I am thinner---skeletal, as a superintendent once described me when seeing me after I had done some rough traveling through the Andes. And I am sore all the time: shoulders, knees and back cry out for chiropractic care---or a whiskey sour, which has a similar effect. Right now I am recuperating from my Gran Vilaya trek and preparing for a ten-day solo hike through the Andes to the ruins of Choquequirao. (Do not try to pronounce it.) On this walk, unlike the one to Vilaya, there will be no charming little villages to rest in, no families with whom to stay and little in the way of human contact. I will be on my own---just me and my little old GPS.
More and more I think of Central America: the jungles, the ruins, and the rice and beans at every meal. And the distances are considerably shorter. Example: to get to and from the Vilaya region I had to spend two days on a bus, five hours in a truck, two hours in a taxi, five hours in a combi and another six hours in yet another bus---almost three days of travel just to get to one expedition, and all in a rather small part of Peru. And it will take two more days to and from Choquequirao, a day to La Paz, another to Santa Cruz, another to Paraguay---enough already!
In Guatemala it takes 10 hours to the jungles, and then it is all on foot if you desire. From San Jose, Costa Rica it is 3 hours to the jungle, and then on foot. And so on.
So after Choquequirao and Amboró in Bolivia, I will head for the Paraguayan Chaco and then Rio---and then to the USA for some R & R before landing in Guatemala City around December 1.
But what if there is some unexpected backpacking to be had in the Paraguayan Chaco? After all, no one---and I mean NO ONE---backpacks there. Rumor has it that in 1937, give or take some, a wild peccary was shot there by a farmer. The carcass looked a bit odd, so the farmer sent it to a university in Asunción. It seems that this species of peccary had been extinct for 35 million years. It is now called Wagner's Peccary (Catagonus wagneri). Just what the Hell is out there anyway?
And about those peccary...they travel in herds of between 20 and 1000 members. When numbering 50 or fewer they usually take off through the forest at the sight of man. But in greater numbers they stand their ground and grind their teeth---a set of formidable weaponry. Using your machete (you DID bring it, did you not?) stick the lead peccary hard---and I mean hard---in the snout. (No time for animal rights imbecilities now.) Stand your ground! Slowly back to a tree. If there is no tree to be had, hope for the best.
Once in Costa Rica I happened upon a jungle camp---what was left of it---of some prospectors who had had a nighttime visit by a herd of (probably) White-Lipped Peccary. There was not much to see: a scrap of bone, a ruined pot, some material from clothing.
Just bad luck.
Before the bombing of the UN building in Iraq, the US military offered---pleaded, actually---to provide security. UN officials refused. They did not want their noble efforts compromised by association with the US. After the bombing the US military rescued dozens of survivors. Guess who the UN blames for the bombing? The United States.
The vice-president of Indonesia called the US "the terrorist king" of the world. The reason? Because it attacked Iraq. Indonesia is the largest Moslem state by population. Saddam Hussein murdered almost 1,000,000 Moslems before his overthrow by the US military. During all that time Indonesia had not an unkind word about Hussein---and neither did any other leader of any Islamic state.
"Hollywood star Johnny Depp said on Wednesday the United States was a stupid, aggressive puppy and he would not live there until the political climate changed." If for no other reason, let us hope it never does. Johnny, please stay where you are!
During the recent heat wave in August 11,000 elderly French perished from heat stroke. More than 400 of the bodies went unclaimed. Imagine if this had happened in the US. Meanwhile Mr. Chirac remained on vacation in Canada. The French cannot---and do not---even care for their own. Why would anyone trust them to care for others---others such as Iraqis, for example?
During the 1970s most Latin American nations underwent horrific civil wars as Cuban-supported guerrilla movements sprang up and made war upon their governments. Tens of thousands---the innocent and the not so innocent on both sides---were slain, many in isolated rural regions where no activist or journalist dared venture. These were truly secret wars waged with "extreme prejudice" by both sides. The economic cost just for Peru: 20 billion dollars and 70,000 dead. Always take this into account when observing the state of Latin America today. Recall that the scars of the US Civil War can still be seen and heard and felt---almost 150 years later.
I am back in Cuzco, my third visit. My first was in 1987 when I traveled overland from Lima to Huancayo, and then on to Ayacucho, Andahuaylas, Abancay and Cuzco. Then there was war in the mountains between Sendero Luminoso and the Peruvian army. No quarter was asked and none was given. The army won, as armies pitted against guerrilla groups usually do. Like virtually all such uprisings in Latin America---Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Chile come to mind---the leaders of these movements sprang from the upper middle classes, usually from professors and students at universities. Their minds addled by communism and fantasies of egalitarianism, their expeditions financed by Cuba, and their morality fueled by the goof-ball heresy of Liberation Theology, these self-styled Robin Hoods embarked upon a decade of political violence. Teachers, priests, mayors, soldiers, police---anyone who could be said to represent the "oppressor classes"---were murdered.
The hills are silent now, the guerrillas and their fellow-travelers dead, in prison or fled. Some would argue that the conditions that led to such civil wars are still present. Well, maybe. But the wretched condition of most of the world---the poverty, the inequality, the corruption---has been present since the beginnings of civilization in Sumer 5600 years ago. They will not be rectified until Christ returns, alas.
Cuzco is the center of South America as far as most are concerned. The place is full of foreigners planning a trip to the Inca Trail, returning from a trip to the Inca Trail, arranging some expedition or simply taking in the sites---and there are enough to go around. Cuzco was the absolute religious and political center of the Inca Empire (the word "Cuzco"---more properly Qosqo---means ´navel´.) From here I planned last year's 9-day solo expedition to the last Inca redoubt of Vilcabamba, and from here I am planning another such journey, one to the ruins of Choquequirao and then on through the Andes until the town of Huancacalle ten days later. I leave Monday, full of anticipation.
Why are the stories of our troops and those that appear in the media so different? From CNN one hears of failure, of quagmire, of increasing Iraqi anger at the Americans, and on and on. None of this is true, but CNN is not daunted.
From the troops over there another story emerges, such as this one, from a US Marine:
I was in eight or nine cities in Iraq. Starting from Kuwait, we saw pretty much every city
along the river on the way to Baghdad. People absolutely loved us everywhere we went.
There were big parades. We'd just roll down the streets, or sometimes be on foot patrol,
and kids would run out of their houses just to wave at us, just to get a wave back from us.
People would give us flowers; they'd give us flowers and gifts and Pepsi -- all kinds of stuff.
And from another Marine:
"All you hear is negativity. Ninety-five percent of the population in Iraq,
in my experience with the locals -- they had nothing but good to say about us.
"A lot of them would come to us with information, a lot would come to thank us."
Kids jumped up and down when they saw his convoy, Cristea said.
In Baghdad, Iraqis would crowd the barbed wire perimeter of his unit's compound
and call out "USA! USA! Bush! Bush!"
"Whenever we drove anyplace, it was like we were in a parade," he said.
I would ask how many from CNN---or any national media---have served in the military? How many vote Republican? How many regularly attend a church or mosque or temple or synagogue?
This morning I heard on CNN a talking head announce that President Bush would give a press conference on Sunday "where he would attempt to answer rising criticisms from the Democrats".
So Bush will only "attempt to answer"? And the Democrats are criticizing? But what else are they to do as this is campaign season? Will not Mr. Bush be speaking to the entire nation and not just to Democrats?
CNN is fooled (and foolish) but the American people are neither. They support both the war in Iraq and the War against Terror---that is, World War IV.
I just finished two works of History by Xenophon, numbers 256 and 257 on my list of books read since 1996. They were written more then 300 years before the birth of Christ, yet they speak to us now. Xenophon was an Athenian who fought in the Peloponnesian War (431 - 404 BC). He had Spartan sympathies---think of an American who admired the Soviet Union during the Cold War---and so was exiled from Athens for much of his life. He took part in many battles, and was present at the astounding "march up country" as ten thousand Greek mercenaries found themselves unemployed after their paymaster Cyrus died on the field on Cunaxa (401 BC). They were forced so march back to Greece through thousands of miles of hostile territory. They succeeded and so gave an idea to Alexander.
The years between the end of the Peloponnesian War and destruction of Spartan power after the battles of Leuctra (371) and Mantinea (362) were ones of continual warfare in Greece as Athens, Sparta, Thebes and Persia all struggled for hegemony. The pages of Xenophon´s History of My Times is filled with the clash of sword against shield, slaughter after slaughter, siege after siege, treason and treachery and civil war---rather like our own 20th century. What emerges at the end is an age of great instability, an age that saw the end of the city-state and the beginnings of great Mediterranean empires---Macedon and Rome both spring to mind. Rome eventually destroyed Macedon and incorporated her into its expanding empire.
Thucydides accompanied me into northern Chile, Polybius into the Cotahuasi Canyon, and Xenophon into---and out of---the Peruvian jungles. They have proved to be superb companions. Walking through the Andes with me from Choquequirao will be Plutarch. (On another walk long ago Dante had Virgil.)
Why this focus on the ancients? Simple: We read too many modern things. Modern books reflect the virtues and vices of our own times and so leave us blind to them. The Ancients are not so encumbered and are well-placed to show us our own imbecilities and exaggerations---they are excellent mirrors. C.S. Lewis said that one should read at least one ancient book for every modern one. I have some catching up to do, and my reading list during my year of living dangerously reflects this. Soon to arrive in my backpack: Tacitus, Livy, Arrian, Ovid and Procopius.
Of course since I began my solo backpacking 16 years ago never have I been without a New Testament. Now there is a book that will teach us something about ourselves. But one must read it and not simply have it on the bookshelf.
Stop the Presses!
This just in: Most Europeans deeply question US leadership in the world and resent the role of America as the world's superpower.
Well now, this from those oh-so sophisticated folks who brought the world two world wars, Nazism, the Holocaust, communism, socialism, the Gulag and other such progressive things.
During all the period when these great European achievements rocked the world and stacked up the corpses, the US enjoyed one form of government, one Constitution---the longest written constitution in history---saved Europe thrice from its internecine wars while freeing hundreds of millions from tyranny (say, how many have Europeans freed?), and built an economic machine that carries much of the world.
Oh, and along the way the Americans took a little stroll upon the moon---four times.
And those Europeans? They occupy themselves with bickering about the price of cheese. Heavy stuff, that.
The Europeans want a share of power in Iraq. If they get it, can we predict what Iraq would become? Well, yes, there is precedent---quite a lot actually. Tell me dear reader in what condition is all those former European colonies in Africa?
Has anyone ever heard of an environmentalist who is against abortion? We all know how they feel about snails and owls and whales. How about children in the womb?
Let us stop all the silly talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger being a conservative. He is nothing of the sort. He is pro-abortion, favors marriage between sodomites, was disgusted with the Republicans in the House when they impeached Clinton and has had an "interesting" sex life until marrying into the Kennedy clan. Any conservative who supports Arnold places power before principle---assuming he has any principles. (There is a real conservative in that race, by the way. His name is Tom McClintock.)
Around 3600 BC in ancient Sumer appeared the following: the wheel, metal working, writing, the arch, irrigation, the epic novel, mathematics, astronomy, brewing, political organization, theology, law codes, private property, domestication of animals, agriculture, military tactics and arms---in fact, much that undergirds the foundation of modern civilization sprang up then and there, all of a sudden, in an instant, almost as if they were simply given to man by Somebody else.
And let us stop the silly talk about China. She is most definitely not any sort of superpower. She is even now fretting about the possibility of a swarm of North Koreans near her border in the event of another Korean war. Any nation that cannot handle a border disturbance is no superpower. She cannot even invade little Taiwan right off her coast. Now, as far as raping Buddhist nuns, kicking pregnant women to death, torturing her own citizens----especially Christians---and engaging in mass executions, China has no peer.
CNN this morning mentioned Saddam´s "alleged" weapons of mass destruction. Why "alleged"? Saddam used a variety of such weapons many times on Iranians and on his own people. The evidence is incontestable; indeed, no one contests it. (Witness the career---if one can call it that---of "Chemical Ali".) Why then does CNN speak as if such weapons never existed?
And so the violence continues in Iraq, though of a different sort and at a different pace than under Saddam. This is not surprising to students of History. Ancient Iraq was long a focus of war and violence. Conquerors great and small swept through the region. The list is a long one---Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Seleucids, Parthians and Romans are only a few. A few miles from where the Americans now battle saw in 612 BC the siege of Nineveh, in 400 BC the battle of Cunaxa and the ´March of the Ten Thousand´, in 331 BC the battle of Guagamela, in 53 BC the battle of Carrhae. I could go on but I would be showing off, and besides you get the point.
The campaign season is coming, and so we should expect all sorts of silly statements by both parties. One to which the Democrats are particularly prone is that "the president needs to create more jobs!". Dean said this very thing a few days ago. But in a free economy no president creates jobs, the private sector does. A government can hinder or encourage this function of private enterprise. It does this by taxation usually. Lower taxes tend to encourage both individual savings and investment. Higher taxes tend toward the opposite effects, but allow the governing party to spend more, at least for awhile.
The Democrats have their work cut out for them:
Almost three-fourths in a CBS News poll released Sunday said the president
has helped make the country safer. Even a majority of Democrats agreed.
Depending on your stance, this is either great news or horrendous news. (OK, it is great news.)
The grossly immoral and silly creature Madonna continues to do things on film and in public for which she would have been arrested and imprisoned a generation ago---and rightly so. While surfing the cable in my hotel room I saw her on MTV using a telephone for something which it was most definitely not intended. Why do some parents knowingly allow their children to watch such things?
And since I am in a preachy mood---OK, I always am---why do some parents allow their teen and pre-teen girls to dress like prostitutes?
No question about it, there has occurred a moral decline in our world. Who can tell where the bottom is? I assure you we have not yet hit it. Recall that most great nations have been brought low not by invasion but through the sort of moral declension occurring in the USA. (But it is worse in Europe.)
And now, some real preaching:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:
for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman,
burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly,
and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
If the guy who wrote this spoke with the Truth, then those who practice the above are dammed. If the guy who wrote this lied, then all of Christianity is an absurd and foolish waste of time. (But one could say the same about any part of the Bible.)
Why do environmentalists look to the jungles for miracle cures for AIDS, cancer and their like? How about looking at the 43,000,000 million babies murdered in their mothers´ wombs since Roe v. Wade in 1973? Surely among some of them were the next Pasteurs, the next Aristotles, the next Newtons, the next Einsteins, the next Mozarts...and so on. Shall we speak of waste?
World War IV
Those of us focused merely on Afghanistan and Iraq really have no concept of the tremendous resources being deployed in the war on terror---what I and others have termed World War IV. This war is the most complex and far-reaching in history. There are more nations and battlefields involved than you might imagine. Such as:
Southeast Asia: Setting up bases in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, shifting troops away from their old base in Japanese islands. Mission: To combat Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda, such as Jemaah Islamiyah.
The Philippines: Heavy Special Forces and CIA presence in the south, preparing to send in thousands of additional troops to help Manila combat Islamic opposition and terror groups.
Central Asia: Remote steppe nations ruled by dubious governments, such as Uzbekistan, have provided airstrips and intelligence in exchange for aid and arms, and are home to Islamic groups tied to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Horn of Africa: A major installation in tiny Djibouti allows the United States to operate on a permanent basis in Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia.
Chechnya and Georgia: Military assistance and weapons are being provided to Russia, which claims the former Soviet republics have rebel movements tied to al-Qaeda.
Sahara: Suspicion that al-Qaeda may have sought refuge along ancient desert trade routes when driven out of north Africa has prompted military aid and support to Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad, perhaps sites of future bases.
South America: Thousands of Saudi expats live in the remote jungle "tri-border region" between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, where al-Qaeda is rumoured to have training camps and to be receiving financial support from locals. U.S. covert forces now in the area, and eyeing Arabs living on Margarita Island, the tourist hot spot in Venezuela.
Pakistan and Afghanistan: Still a major military focus, with al-Qaeda and Taliban forces active in mountainous regions between the two countries. Considerable financial and military aid goes to Pakistan, even though elements in its military appear to back Islamists.
Iraq: Intelligence officials never believed there were any substantial links between Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime and al-Qaeda (which once declared it an enemy). But now a terrorist presence seems to have emerged, fuelled by foreign mujahedeen who have entered the country just to fight Americans.
You did not know this? Then you have not been paying attention. Pull your eyes away from the likes of CNN, BBC and the Democratic candidates.
Veni. Vidi. Vici.
I returned today from the most extraordinary and difficult backpacking experience of my career---and I have walked the Darien Gap. Twelve days were spent backpacking alone through the Andes from the village of Cachora to the Inca ruins of Choquequirao and then on through the mountains to the road head at Huancacalle. The route I chose was 100 kilometers long. Several passes were crossed, one at 4200 meters and another at 4600. All told over 10,000 meters of ascent and descent were involved. Yes, I was worried at times, scared at others and delirious at others. At all times I was astounded at the sheer magnitude of what was all around me, surely God's creation in all its frightening magnificence. I am a bit thin now, my waist being what it was in college 25 years and 1000 summers ago.
And I am invincible.
Oh...did I say that was alone? Well, not exactly. At my every step walked Christ: encouraging, challenging and carrying me. Of miracles there were many. I live, that is one.
See you tomorrow. Sleep well. I know that I shall.
There is a tradition for young Israelis who have just finished their military service to do a four-month stint of travel either to Asia or to South America. I have seen hordes of them, usually in groups of four. They tend to be remarkably fit and do not care who knows it. When they backpack they are fast---very fast. Some years ago I was doing the entire circuit around Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. I ran into some Israelis---that is, I spoke to them briefly as they passed me on the trail. It took me nine days to walk the entire thing; they took four.
An entire group of businesses has arisen to meet the needs of these Israelis. Anyone in Peru can see laundromats, restaurants, clubs, hotels and bars with signs only in Hebrew. But why cannot these Israelis simply use the facilities that other tourists use? Some history please.
After the Diaspora during the time of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD) the surviving Jews were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. They kept their Law, their ways, their language and their God. Every nation which sprang from the ruins of Rome viewed the Jews with suspicion. Often forced to live in ghettos, they were many times and many places simply expelled from wherever they were living---after being robbed, of course. Massacres, pogroms, expulsions: this was the norm for European Jews. Many occupations and professions and markets were closed to them. They fended as best as they could, usually by avoiding problems and trying to keep as low a profile as possible.
That is, until the Holocaust and its child, the state of Israel. Though no longer fearing the whims of arbitrary and suspicious government, the problem of being refused services overseas still existed. But not in Cuzco. Even local establishments now have signs in Hebrew.
I should add that there are none in Arabic. Or French.
Can we stop all this nonsense about France being a great friend of the US? She is nothing of the sort. Everywhere and at all points she has for the last 100 years tried to weaken or stymie US foreign policies. Recall that the first war fought by the fledgling American republic was against revolutionary France. It got worse under the proto-Hitler (Paul Johnson's inelegant phrase) Napoleon, which led to the War of 1812. French colonial expansion in Africa and Asia left a bad taste in American mouths, and France's ambitions and capriciousness in Vietnam led to US intervention there. The US almost went to war with the French puppet ruler in Mexico Maximillian in 1865. All during the cold war France continually took the side of the USSR. France is an enemy, but an unusually incompetent and impotent and silly one. Proper foreign policy toward her is to ignore her.
Can we stop all this nonsense about the UN being "the senate of the world" or the "voice of humanity" or some kind of source of international opinion? It is nothing of the sort. Most member states are crude and incompetent thugocracies whose citizenry have no say in government policy. China, for example, boasts 1.2 billion people. but all policies are formed by a mere handful of old men in the politburo. Yet China sits on the UN permanent Security Council. The UN speaks for the world in the same way that Castro speaks for Cubans. The only voices of humanity possible in this world are the views expressed by democratic governments.
Speaking of the UN, Kofi Annan said that no nation has the right to wage pre-emptory war. In other words, if a nation were developing nuclear weapons with the publicly expressed purpose to use them on another nation---consider Iranian nuclear ambitions toward Israel---then the target nation must wait until a mushroom cloud bursts over one of her cities. I have said this before: Iran will never get nuclear weapons. The decision is not in her hands. It will be made in the Knesset.
During the Cold War the domestic and international Left vociferously and violently criticized the US for supporting thuggish regimes. Now that the US has eliminated one, the Left criticizes still. There is no pleasing these people.
Funny, when Democrats control the presidency great wars begin : WW I, WW II, Korea, the US Civil War, Vietnam, the Cold War, the War on Terror. Funny, Republicans have to finish many of them: Korea, the US Civil War, the Cold War, Vietnam, the War on Terror.
If President Wilson had not involved the US in WW I France would have been defeated---yet again---and the Bolshevik baby would have been "strangled in its crib." No Cold War, no Nazi Reich: both results of WW I as it actually happened. Historians call such musings "counter-factual." Of course they have no idea of how the world would look today had Germany won the war in 1917. Ludendorf had plans drawn up for a settlement program in the East that looked remarkably like the one conceived by Hitler. So perhaps the US would have had to fight Germany anyway, but a Germany much stronger and more stable than the Third Reich ever was. Not a pleasant thought.
Say, why do a lot of vegetarian restaurants try to make their products resemble meat? You have seen them yourselves: "Try our broccoli burger! Tastes just like the real thing!" Nothing of the sort goes on at real restaurants. Imagine this at you local steakhouse: "Our prime rib tastes just like broccoli!"
And speaking of vegetarians: They do not live longer. They just look like they do. (Gosh, I wish I had written that!)
An evolutionist finds a Swiss watch on the street. He examines it and says, "What a superbly designed instrument! Whoever built this watch was surely a genius who put much thought and time in its construction!" Now, a man is infinitely more complex than that watch. But what does our evolutionist say about him? "Obviously just a creature accidentally formed out of a random collection of basic elements with no mind or designer involved." Are not these evolutionists gullible?
Call Me Nostradamus
The American press is starting to see its own reporting from Iraq as narrow, inflammatory and biased---though Republicans have been saying this for a year. Now even the Democrats are chiming in.
What? France and the UN involved in an arms and corruption scandal? Gosh, who would have guessed?
Iraqis know the difference between Americans and French. Akila al-Hashemi, the member of the Iraqi governing council who was wounded in a recent attempt to kill her, said:
"Don't think the Iraqis will ever forget what the Americans did in liberating them,"
she said she told French officials, adding, "we will not allow the Americans to fail."
She need not worry. We will not.
Degrees of Degrees
Once upon a time in America a Bachelors Degree actually was worth the sheepskin upon which it was printed. That is, its possessor would be fluent in those things that make up what we know as Western Civilization: Latin and Greek, History, French, German, Philosophy, Theology, Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, Literature. This would be true no matter in what field the degree was earned.
And now? Alas, such an education is getting harder and harder to come by. University catalogues are rife with trivia, tripe and perversion. Search then yourself and you will find the oddest things offered up to young minds. Western Civilization from Homer to Moses to Plutarch to Aquinas to Bacon to Descartes to Moliere to Schiller to Goethe and on and on has been castigated as nothing but sexist and racist musings of "dead white males."
One result is that the glue that held Western societies together---the common language through which communication and understanding was possible---no longer holds. Today's BA and BS degrees are barely worth what a high school diploma was worth 100 years ago. One who had earned a BS or BA then could truly have been called educated. And now?
It is not just undergraduate programs that have been hollowed out, but the once rarely earned Ph. D.---the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Now it is common. The next time you are in the presence of a Ph. D. ask yourself if he is a worthy inheritor---and a capable transmitter---of 5600 years of civilization.
It takes an average of four years for a Bachelors, two more for a Masters and a further three for the Ph. D. All that study and time and money---mostly a colossal waste and almost a guarantee of ignorance, vulgarity and barbarism. It is the rare Ph. D. who should not demand his money back from the college registrar's office.
I have decided to fly to Santa Cruz, Bolivia from Cuzco, and thus avoid La Paz. The Bolivians are having one of their all-too-common strikes, and all transport in the region has come to a halt. The route Cuzco - Puno - Lake Titicaca - La Paz is usually filled with tourists seeing the sites. Now, there are hundreds of them stuck somewhere along the way without transport in or out.
This is pure stupidity. What do the Bolivians hope to gain by denying their nation the hundreds of thousands of tourists dollars that would normally have poured in? I was originally going to go to La Paz and then bus to Santa Cruz and on to Amboró, but not now. Striking to make a political point is like cutting off your foot to lose weight. It works but there are unintended consequences. (Oh...the French strike all the time too.)
Besides, the Bolivian National Park of Amboró has become difficult for solo adventures to walk through, as it has acquired the "eco-tour" disease. What exactly is this one might ask? It happens when a formerly wild section of jungle is set aside for cabins with showers and full board, guides, and so on. In other words, what I do---solo backpacking---is frowned upon or downright impossible. All visitors are strongly encouraged to book through a travel agency, join a tour and be under the supervision of certified guides. Not exactly heroic or demanding, I should say. Environmentalists would be quite comfortable here. So scratch the place.
And: this leaves me more time for the northern Paraguayan Chaco, truly a wild and savage land. There are no tourists (there are no tours), no Ten Commandments and the place is as natural as it gets. Animals of all kinds and temperaments---puma, tapir, peccary---roam freely. Snakes slither about and hundreds of species of birds fly overhead. (Alas! I am without a shotgun!) It is difficult to get to and get out of. Temperatures can reach 45 degrees centigrade. There is only one road, and it is impassable after a rain. Oh, and there are no environmentalists.
My kind of town.
Why do good people suffer? Why is there disease? Why do sinners so often profit while saints so often end up in lions´ mouths? Why is there such obvious---and not so obvious---evil in the world? The Christians say that God is Love, that God is good, that God loves His creatures. How can this be true?
These questions have bedeviled man since Adam. You might not like the answers, but here they are in no particular order of importance.
Free Will. God wants man to love Him as an act of devotion, not from compulsion. He made men not robots. If man is free to love then he is free to hate. It is his choice. He respects your decision. The consequences of that decision come later.
Fallen Man. Even the greatest of saints are sinners. They themselves say this---and they should know. (Recall that Peter himself denied Christ three times.) The difficulty is in our very nature. It is corrupted and does not function as it was supposed to. We try to do good but we stumble. We become angry. We kill. We lie. We allow our carnal natures free reign. It is because we are broken.
Lucifer. He is a creature. That is, like us he was created. He chose to use his angelic gifts for evil. One-third of all angels followed him in his revolt against God. (Yes, there was a war in Heaven.) You see, Lucifer ("light bringer") believed he should be in God's place. His sin was that of Pride, the greatest sin possible. Lucifer, being a smart fellow, most certainly knows your weaknesses. He or his pals are always at your side tempting, enticing, trying to thwart whatever good is in you. But he cannot make you do something against your will. If you surrender to him, the fault is yours.
Sin. This is all around us, in us and in others. No one escapes it, sorry to say. Sin is like a virus, a cancer of the soul. Once you allow it to enter (that pesky free will again!) you create an opening for more sin---and more and more. Unrepented, it takes more and more of you until you actually become the sin. Bad enough this is, but you then spread your infection---for that is what sin is---to others. A homosexual delights when he---or she---can seduce another, a cocaine user delights when he can get others to use his drug, a pornographer delights when his products sell well. When enough sin infects a nation, odd things happen: neighbors are invaded without cause, citizens are shipped off to Gulags, Jews are stuffed into ovens.
Not pleasant prospects, it would seem! How to escape from all this? Easy answer: Trust in Christ and accept Him for what He is, for He is God. But you must choose to do this---free will again. He offers Himself to us all the time. But if you continually refuse Him, He will allow your will, rather than His own, to be done. You will like it for a while, but not for long. And not forever.
Why do I write all this stuff? It is to keep my mind sharp while on the road. Call it intellectual exercise. What if no one reads it? Impossible: I read it. God reads it. Call it a diary of where I am---mentally, spiritually---while traveling. A mind needs constant work to remain vital. Does an athlete only work out in public? By no means! At home alone he is doing push-ups and sit-ups and stretching and running and pumping iron---away from all eyes except those of God. That is audience enough.
Tacitus was a Roman historian who wrote during the reigns of Domitian (81-96) and Trajan (98 -117). Some of his history is lost, including the 4-year rule of the crazy Caligula, alas! When reading Tacitus one gets the impression that, with only a change of names, one could be reading any history of our own times. The cruelty, the corruption moral and political, the sexual perversion, the arbitrary use of power, the lies---here is a 2000-year old Clinton presidency in togas. Hillary is there both as Nero's wife Poppaea and his mother Agrippina. Then there is the sycophantic senate who applauded Nero's crimes even as our own did those of Clinton. There is Lucan and Seneca and Petronius who served as earlier types of Tony Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Arthur Schlesinger---fawning, lick-spittle literary types who excuse any action of those in power. A read of Tacitus might lead one to believe that the fall of the US is imminent.
Not so fast. The historian Plutarch was not Roman but Greek. He wrote a little later than Tacitus, and like him his purpose was to paint a moral picture. His interest was not so much the abuse of power---for who could compete in this historical field with that Roman master?---but rather to show how moral flaws can lead to the destruction of both the man and his nation. Plutarch´s method was contrasting biographies, one Roman with one Greek: Alexander with Caesar, Nicias with Crassus, and so on. The volume I read was concerned with the last century of the Roman Republic as it fell into civil war and destroyed itself. From this wreckage arose the Empire.
Any reading of these ancient historians will show yet again that human nature is unchanged, is unchanging, and is unchangeable. This then is the primary lesson and purpose of the study of History. If a teacher of history does not see this---and thus certainly cannot teach it---he should find another line of work.
Can we stop the silly talk about how Islam and Christianity believe in the same God? Judaism and Christianity, certainly. But any reading of the Koran would show quite a different fellow than the God of the Bible. In these times it might be polite in mixed company to claim that all three religions pray to the same God, but it would be bad theology.
The latest Gallup poll:
Only 24% of Americans consider France an ally today,
up from 18% this spring, but this is still only half the number found in
May 2000 -- the last reading on this measure before differences about
the Iraq war chilled relations between the two countries.
I bet those 24 percent voted for Gore.
The life expectancy of an American male is 74 years. The life expectancy on an American male homosexual is almost 40 years fewer, far fewer than a male elephant. We are told that homosexuality is just another life-style as equal in all aspects---and as worthy of praise and support---as any other. But the truth is that this awful and terrifying disparity in life expectancies demonstrates to those with eyes wide open that the wages of sin are indeed death.
Seventy percent of Iraqis say life is better now than it was under Saddam. Well, yes: they are not stupid. They can also see who is building schools and roads and electricity plants. It is not the UN, which just high-tailed it out of there. (Too violent for those UN bureaucrats.) It is not the French or the Germans. It is the US, especially the US military. And the US will stay until the job is done---just as she stayed in Western Europe and Japan.
Movies that praise adultery and fornication and sodomy are applauded and win awards at Cannes and Sundance. Art that displays a Crucifix in the artist's own urine or that shows the Virgin Mary covered in cow-dung is hailed as a work of genius. Photos that show nude homosexual males with whips up their backsides win plaudits for boldness. But let Mel Gibson make a movie about the final hours of Christ, and out come the demons, shrieking "Intolerance!" and "Hate speech!" and "Bigotry!"
Sitting at a computer terminal for hours a day in a foreign land is a bit disconcerting. Funny mouse, funny keyboard, funny letters, funny screen, funny people next to you at other machines. You read something comical in the news, and laugh, and everyone wants in on the joke. Sorry folks, it is a private joke. Go away.
Yet there is no other way for strangers in strange lands to keep a handle on their home far away. What did they do---what did I do when I traveled?---before the internet? Oh yes, they drank, I drank. Every capital city had its bar where foreigners would go to kill a thirst and to amble about trying to nose out some news about home.
During the wars and revolutions in Central America during the 1980s these bars---in Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, Managua---saw Peace Corps workers, foreign mercenaries, State Department types, obvious CIA employees, local military, hard-boiled traveler types and the foreign curious---me, for example. Friday nights were really on-site Poly-Sci seminars as these tribes circled one another, distant yet willing to talk about their lives, such as they were. The bar in Tegucigalpa was called The Totem, that in Guatemala City was called Bar Europa, that in Managua was in the Hotel Intercontinental.
Now the guns have gone mostly silent, the mercenaries who still live are working in one of the -stans and the CIA is busy elsewhere. All is probably for the better, but then I am not sure about this.
One thing that I know: whatever went into me while walking beyond Choquequirao is begging to stay, and like an animal it needs to be fed. But not in Bolivia. Paraguay perhaps. Central America, most definitely. Already she calls, she beckons, she implores. I hear there is a lost city somewhere near the headwaters of the Rio Platano in Honduran Mosquitia. Gold miners once told me of a golden monkey god buried 500 years ago near a tributary of the Rio Sico.
All this and more---so much more---soon and very soon. Stay tuned.
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