The Bells Of Notre Dame


Several years ago, we rented an apartment on Rue du Petit Pont in Paris.  And for a lifetime of springtime, we walked, talked, laughed, cried and slept within the sound of the bells of Notre Dame.  They woke us up in the morning and put us to bed at night.  In the afternoons, we heard them with “une verre de vin rouge, s’il vous plait.”  And in the evenings, they rang as the great cathedral itself emerged from the gathering night, heavy with light.  And it was always there, from the sidewalks of the Seine, that we saw the people – people drawn to the light – drawn to the cathedral – drawn to the beating heart of Paris.  People from around the world and across the street.  We saw mimes and jugglers and fire eaters who blew plumes of flame into the sky.  Once, we saw a woman cross the bridge on rollerblades, weaving through traffic with one hand on her telephone and the other holding a cigarette – Gauloises, I suspect.  Once, we saw a line of pilgrims alive with faith and purpose and each one alone in exaltation.  We saw children with balloons and teenage lovers and workers eating their lunch.  On one particular afternoon, we saw a troupe of Esmeraldas, dancing through the tourist crowd, their brothers and boyfriends lurking with pickpocket intent.  We met a man from Italy who thought we were German. A man from Normandy who liked Kay’s hat.  And an elegant woman who became a character in one of my stories.  All in the shadow of Notre Dame.

Today, the heart of Paris is burning, and I whisper a prayer because once, in an infinite springtime, I sat in the warm evening and watched the world light up with the sound of the bells of Notre Dame.

Paris IS Burning — Again

parisThere is no “why” for the murderous violence in Paris.  I’m sick of the excuses.  No amount of poverty, unemployment, Islamophobia, neo-colonialism, “he hit me, first,” corporate greed, cheap oil or anything else ad infinitum, can justify this crime against humanity.  It’s like trying to find out why a rape victim was asking for it.  No, there is no pie-in-the-sky “why.”  There’s only the reality.  And we, in the West, better start living in the real world or our children, and our children’s children, and their children are going to be mopping up blood on the Rue Mouffetard, de Kalverstraat, Hackescher Markt, Times Square, Piccadilly Circus etc. etc. etc. forever.

This is the reality.

Western society has been so benevolent for so long we no longer believe evil exists in the world.  We think it’s something fascists made up to piss us off.  We’re even afraid to say it out loud, type it on social media or even think it might be true.  Get over it!  If there’s another name for a person who wantonly pumps high calibre bullets into the back of a fleeing teenager, I’d like to hear it.

This is war.  There have been hundreds of terrorist attacks on our cities and our citizens since 9/11.  This is not outrage boiling over into random acts of violence.  These are methodical and coordinated assaults on our way of life.  The jihadists want to fight.  It’s time to quit wasting time and energy trying to figure out why — and accommodate them.

This is not a war on Islam.  Quit saying that!  Use your head!  When Anders Breivik started shooting in Utoya, Norway, we didn’t declare war on Lutherans, for God’s sake.  Portraying this as a war against Islam only emboldens the politically correct among us to turn up the volume on how misguided our society must be.

This is total war.  The jihadists have one goal: the destruction of Western civilization, and we’re not going to TALK them out of it.  They’re not going to stop.  There is no negotiated peace.  No amount of appeasement will satisfy their thirst for our destruction.  It’s either fight — or die.  Choose!

The Age of Reason is barely two hundred years old.  On the line of human history, it is a young and fragile ideology.  It isn’t even fully formed yet, but already it has given us pluralism, the rule of law, personal liberty, tolerance, representative democracy and a ton of other good things.  It’s worth preserving.  For more than a decade, The Age of Reason has been under attack by people who profess to hate its tenets (if they even understand them in the first place.)  It’s time to fight these people with more than sadness, speeches, tears and clichés.  It’s time to step forward and protect our way of life.  And if you don’t think The Age of Reason is worth fighting for, then get the hell out of the way so somebody else can do it for you.

Friday: How To Win The War

*image — Sputnik News

Paris: The Internet

Last week, I discovered a place where the Internet wasn’t alive.  It still existed, though.  After all, I was just outside Paris, not roaming the orangutan valleys of Borneo.  However, when I looked around, I found the www dot world didn’t breathe, pulse or walk on two legs.  It was just a machine.  It was convenient and smart and autocorrected my spelling, but like the ancient rotisserie toaster in my breakfast-included hotel, it didn’t change my life.  It just did as it was told.   That’s not strictly true.  I never figured out WiFi, for example, but that wasn’t the machine’s fault.  I don’t speak technologese in any language.  Regardless, it surprised me that within church bell distance of one of the most connected capitals on the planet, young people had unmasked the omnipotent Internet for what it is – a tool.

I love the internet.  It’s the greatest thing to happen to humanity since Gutenberg decided that the big money was in Bibles.  And like Gutenberg, the Internet has gone from changing history to shaping it — in just a couple of decades.  Of course, most of the big-gun commentators point out that this is because we’re all connected blah, blah, blah.  While that’s true, it’s not the only reason.  In fact, a lot of this new-found connectivity has simply trivialized much of our communication.  Texting, by its very nature, is not serious.  Don’t believe me?  Try double-thumbing your way through a complicated conversation sometime.  It can’t be done!  Personally, I prefer Graham Bell’s 19th century technology when I want to argue a point, if for no other reason than there are no passive aggressive LOLs or LMAOs to get in my way.  Of course, as in poker, if you’re going to be serious, you need to see the other person’s eyes.

That’s what the French kids were doing in a couple of cafes just outside Paris.  The national election was over and they were talking politics the way their grandparents did (just short of the other fellow’s nose) but with an extra kick.  Every once in a while an animated face would drop back and, with a few finger strokes, reach into cyberspace and haul out a fact.  The Smart Phones then became part of the argument presented like evidence in a court of law.  “Hollande said this.  Look!  It’s right here!”

This is what the Internet really is: a democracy of information.  It gives each of us the same opportunity to be just as smart as the rest of us — or the best of us.  We are no longer ignorant savages.  We have the world’s mightiest tool at our disposal: knowledge.  It doesn’t matter whether we want to know how to tie a Windsor knot or build a flying buttress, the Internet can show us how.  Those French students were going through encyclopedias of information at warp speed so they could wade back into the discussion like political fencers armed with sharpened epees.  They were using the Internet for its primary purpose: a vast depository of the world’s knowledge – everything from Herodotus to Sam Huntington — delivered to the palms of their hands by a digital Prometheus.

But remember: Prometheus was punished for giving gifts to humans and fire unleashed can be destructive.  For the most part, the Internet has been hijacked by social media — Facebook friends “Liking” everything under the sun and telling each other what they had for breakfast.  Serious debate has been overshadowed by Angry Birds™ (a great game, I might add.)  However, for a couple of days, I saw what the Internet was supposed to be: a really, really smart intuitive machine.  Like a paintbrush or a chisel, capable of greatness in the right hand and practically useless without a hand to guide it.