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IN THE COLLEGES where I learned and taught, students were required to write papers and reports to demonstrate their understanding of topics or concepts. The emphasis was always to support a premise or an argument using credible sources: facts and authorities, proven theories or accepted logic, studies, and experiments. The strength of a paper or report relied upon the foundation of existing knowledge–of Truth.  Almost all we  can point to as human progress is a result of the process of establishing what is True and then building on it. The structure of human advancement is a citadel atop a mountain of Truth. Certainly the leaps in sciences could not have occurred with if we had designed our cars and boats and planes  based on how

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IMPORTANT SPIRITS FROM OUR PAST summoned their experiences, perspectives, and talents to deliver blessings and admonitions—invaluable gifts–to posterity. Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hugo, Sappho, Simone De Beauvoir, Ursula Le Guin are just a few that come to mind. They used books, plays, and poems to craft messages and warnings that would be relevant for millennia. After all, the human drama is nothing if not a series of remakes and sequels. Because human group behavior is so repetitive, many such messages and warnings have the clarity of a premonition or a revelation. I just finished reading the George Orwell (his real name was Eric Blair) classic 1984 for about the seventh time. I have read it every four or five years since I was in college and

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  A Token of the Holly King By William Hecht Weekday afternoons at two o’clock, he began to look for her. Each time the little bell sounded to announce that the door to Ye Olde Coffee and Tea Shop had been opened, he would turn his head. As three o’clock grew near and brought with it the possibility that she wouldn’t arrive that day, he began to resent the other customers who instead appeared in the door at the sound of the bell. He imagined that she must have begun working at one of the neighborhood shops in mid-November, and that she probably arrived at work in late morning and took a break in the afternoons. Though it was nearly Christmas and she visited most

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  AT THE AGE of 22, my life path was given a shake when a roommate spontaneously recited a few poignant passages of a book he was reading. The title was The Day on Fire and the author, James Ramsey Ullman, had fictionalized the life of a great poet. Arthur Rimbaud was the enfant terrible of French Poetry; he was only 17 when he arrived in Paris, and by the time he turned 21 he had shocked the literary world.  He shocked my world, too. He wrote things powered by vision and imagination–and their impact was not overly weakened by filter of translation: As soon as the idea of the Deluge had subsided, a hare stopped in the clover amid the swaying bluebells, and said

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    “We have to live without sympathy, don’t we? That’s impossible of course. We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren’t like that really, I mean…one can’t be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold…d’you see what I mean?” “I can’t talk like this, Control. What do you want me to do?” “I want you to stay out in the cold a little longer.”                                         –Control and Leamas, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold   On Sunday, my favorite author died at 89 years of age. John Le Carre’, born David

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    [Author’s Note: I wrote this seven or eight years ago, before I moved back. Every time it snows during the night, I am reminded of this piece.]     I AM IN THE NORTH for a family visit. My elderly parents manage their simple life with a grace that humbles me. They could be threatened by the simplest acts. My minor setbacks would be their calamities: a fall, the flu, a minor accident driving to the store. Today they were mirthful and sweet and I could not decide if they were revisiting childhood or auditioning to become angels. Last month, I watched the movie “Amour,” an intense look at a couple managing change after half a century of life together (they managed it

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Movies

Movies are more than entertainment. While film is one of the most powerful mediums for storytelling, movies can inform and inspire. First of all, Movies—the good ones—are part of our culture. Once a movie is established as “good,” it conveys some valid message about the human experience. What people watch is important—just as it is important what they read and listen to.

Movies inspire, too. When I see  an impassioned performance or notice an exceptional display of cinematography, it makes me want to try and create art.  Great stories are there to ask us if we, like the hero and heroine, could rise to become our best selves when a lot was at stake, or when no one else would do the right thing.

So do I watch movies at home?  Yes, but the movie theatre, as Joseph Campbell noted, was like a temple. Moviegoing is a ritual. We go there to receive the potent “myths” of our time, and we hope to walk away slightly charged with purpose or reminded of what it means to be human—which is why we should be seeing movies at the theater, with strangers, humans.

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Markets

The markets are probably more interesting than the movies. After all, every day billions are pilfered in elaborate schemes, the equivalent of warfare takes place in the currency and equity markets, and heroes and villains make the headlines.

Aside from the drama involved, the spectacle of crowds in action is something to behold. The average person sees little more than the change in the value of their stocks or funds at the end of the day. But imagine watching a few bankers at the Federal Reserve change a couple words in their statement, only to add or erase half a trillion dollars in global values of bonds and stock.

Macroeconomics is essential. And the history of markets is priceless—people repeat the same patterns for centuries.

Does it matter that we use computers or smartphones to buy stocks? No.

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…and More

I have taught for about fifteen years now. But I got lucky. I was offered the chance to teach classes in world religions, diversity, economics, finance and Africa—to name a few.  The value for me was to see how those subjects interrelate.

I do not see political parties, or terrorists, or despots or ideologies any more: I see power structures and patterns. History did not have much value for me in high school or college—oh, it was interesting, but I did not see the usefulness. I see it today.

People have not changed in ten thousand years. They were just as smart then as we are today. And when they get together in groups, they do the same things. Over. And over.  Africa, for example, is a study in power structures. First tribes, then empires, then colonial powers, then religious influences, then Cold-War rivalries.

The world is anarchy. In anarchy, power is king. Watch the power. It’s a little like “follow the money.”

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