Sunday, June 05, 2005


You gotta go read this :

I just stumbled across this brilliant site purely by accident, following one link and then another, from page to page. And I'm entranced. It's long, it's wordy- and it's right on target. Why we're the good guys. What's wrong with people who can't recognise the good guys anymore. And everyday miracles we've grown too familiar with, to recognise as such.

My favourite section is below:

"As an exercise in perspective, let’s briefly compare our civilization to another. Let’s compare our supposedly soulless, banal, hum-drum society to the splendors of ancient Egypt.

And let’s tie both hands behind our backs while we do so. Let’s not compare the Great Pyramid to one of our skyscrapers, or airports, or hospitals, or even our shopping malls. Let’s take a moment to compare the Great Pyramid of Cheops with the most common and drab and ordinary structure on the block: The Great Pyramid vs. the 7-11.

Assume that we could transplant a corner 7-11 to the Egyptian desert, with all of the support systems that make it what it is. It is a tiny speck compared to the gleaming white marble sides of the pyramid. It looks small and poorly made. From afar.

Pharaoh comes by barge and litter to inspect the competition, laughing at the mismatch. He and his princes and a retinue of servants approach the plain, unadorned metal doors and step inside.
By the Gods! It is cool inside! As cool as the desert night, here, in the middle of the relentless day! Outside the servants sweat and minor officials fan themselves, but Pharaoh is, for the first time perhaps, comfortable in the middle of the desert sun. He turns to exclaim this wonder to his underlings, and -- By the Ghost of Osiris!! The walls! You can see right through them!

Ten seconds into the contest, and already Pharaoh has been rendered mute by miracles.

He commands endless lines of bucket-laden servants to throw water upon this transparent wall, flinching and then laughing endlessly with his children as the water stops in mid-air and slides to the ground. It is called, glass, Great King. It’s cost? No, hardly a years harvest. It is a trifle, the cost a nuisance should it need replacing.

After an hour or so of pressing hands and faces against the glass, of running inside and out, of feeling the smoothest surface they have ever experienced, Pharaoh reluctantly moves on to the magazine rack. Glancing at one, he recoils in horror, making a sign of protection against evil. There, like a tiny row of jail cells, sits face after face of imprisoned souls, bound into small rectangles. What else can they be? We have all seen Egyptian hieroglyphics: they are entrancing, but photorealistic they are not. How many monuments, how many man-years of backbreaking labor, how many deaths could be averted for a man obsessed with being remembered, if only Pharaoh had been able to be photographed? Immortalized! Captured with a precision and nuance greater than that of all of his artisans working together for a thousand years?

And there, on the rack beside the magazines: newspapers, pictures and text detailing the most significant events across the entire globe, covering an area that makes the Egyptian empire look puny and insignificant. How to explain to a king who must wait weeks or months or even years for critical information that each bundle of paper contains news no later than a day old from every remote corner of the Earth, and sells for about a tenth of what our most poorly paid laborer makes in a single hour? Now he begins to think we are mocking him. Yet there is much more to vex and amaze Cheops.

Toilet paper. Draw your own picture of what the highest-born Egyptian must do in those circumstances. Down the aisle to the back – wonders on either side. And then: Ice.

Likely Pharaoh has never seen ice, let alone touched it. At first he recoils, thinking he has been burned. You grab a handful, and gesture for him to put a cube in his mouth. Pharaoh grows enraged – you are trying to kill him! You do so first, sucking on an ice cube. Tentatively, he tries, for the first time in his life, something cold – a diamond that turns to perfectly pure water in his hand.
Think, for a moment, that you have drunk river water for your entire life. Think what a taste of cool, clear water would taste like. Just imagine that one, garden-variety wonder. Then beers and wines, refined and brewed and filtered, not the murky swill he will have known. And as Pharaoh hesitates with each can and bag and box of food he opens, you will have to reassure him, time and time again, that even though you have no idea where the food was made, or when, or by whom, you know it absolutely to be safe to eat. Corn flakes and potato chips – how many lives would a bag of Ruffles be worth to this man, he who has never seen, let alone tasted a potato? How many men would Pharaoh send to die to obtain another box of Oreo cookies for his sons? An army? An entire fleet? Cans of ravioli. Peanut butter. Eggs and milk, of course, but of a quality and size unheard of.

Grab a frozen lasagna and hand it to the Great King. Frozen, like a brick, and like a brick he gnaws on it. Delicious! Then across the room to a small black box, which opens with the same magic lantern that lights this palace of wonder day and night. A moment of conversation passes, and Ding! What was frozen is now steaming hot! Without fire, and in an instant!

The Princes have been exploring every nook and cranny, reporting back to their father: In back, water which flows endlessly, purer than any they have ever tasted, and some of it is hot! It flows from the walls, father! A stream unending! Behind the counter, scores of small, beautifully-colored cylinders which make fire! Made of – what? Not wood or metal – something smooth and hard and perfect! Soaps, of wondrous scents and soft as pillows! Father! Come and see this!

But Pharaoh hardly notices. He is staring up at a box mounted in the corner of the wall, and there, for the first time in his magnificent life, Pharaoh can see…Pharaoh!

Cheops raises his arm, and the small shwabti Cheops raises his! Pharaoh advances, makes a face! The imprisoned Pharaoh does the same! And there, in one of the four corners! The back of the slave Pharaoh’s head! And in another small square, the Crown Prince! He is not in the room, and yet Pharaoh sees him plainly! When he emerges from the storeroom Pharaoh hugs him as if he had returned from the dead.

Yes King, we can on such boxes see any event of significance around the entire world, as it happens. And we can see singers and minstrels and performers – not only those alive today, but those who may have died many years ago! Yes, as real as any other! Preserved forever in language and form!
What would that be worth to such a man?

Over there, in a corner, another magic tablet that communicates back to you, and upon following a set of instructions you give it, disperses money at your command, a seemingly bottomless pot of gold (although, it must be said, the only flash of disappointment Pharaoh has shown was for the quality of money – gold coins would have made a much better impression.)

The sun is setting, and yet the magic of the palace grows ever stronger. Light does not fade. Having read by candlelight his entire life, the idea of day during night is powerful magic indeed. The princes have fallen silent. They have discovered the Slurpee machine and mortgaged their birthrights, entire kingdoms to the clerk for another refill.

There, behind the counter: a machine that will do mathematical calculations to eight decimal places, flawlessly. Instantly. There sits a machine that can do in five seconds what it would take an entire court of astronomers and scribes five years to calculate. The eyes of the underlings, the Egyptian bureaucrats who must count and account for everything in the kingdom – by hand – begin to glaze over. What they could do in a single day with such a wonder! But Pharaoh now is transfixed by the metal of the countertop. Hard. Very hard. On impulse, he removes his short bronze sword and hacks at the steel. Impervious. Cheops’ prized sword is dented and useless. What a sword and shield such material would make – and it’s everywhere: in the doors, the cabinets…common as sand.
But Pharaoh is no longer happy. Like many of that era, he suffers from terrible toothaches. There is so much sand that even the grinding of flour produces bread that erodes the tooth enamel. Pain is a constant companion for him, and like many of his age – like many of every age, before our own – he suffers in silence. That is his life. This, the most powerful man on the planet, suffers just like the poorest. But here, in this bland, ubiquitous convenience store, there is mercy for rich and poor alike. Cold medicine. Medicines to reduce fever. Medicines for toothache, too. And medicine for pain.

In fifteen minutes, this Great Pharaoh will know a few moments free of pain. His children, whom he loves as we love our own – also free of pain.
What would the most powerful man in the world give for such a thing? How much gold? How much land? How many lives?

The pain subsides. And although perhaps not a good or a wise send off for a man with a toothache, the transcendental look of joy on Pharaoh’s face when he first encounters a Coke and a Snickers bar is a sight that his children will never forget. Even after he is long dead, they will always remember him thus, as they ride toward the river on the dark night of the new moon, the little palace glowing in the dark like a beacon visible for fifty miles and more.

Now, on the other hand, the Great Pyramid of Cheops is a massive, beautifully decorated and cunningly designed pile of stones.

We live in an age of miracles, and we just don’t see it. "

He's right. We're so blessed, and yet we don't even notice it, so commonplace are these modern wonders of the world.

1 comment:

C.Y. said...

If you like his blog, you'll probably like his book, "Silent America: Essays from a Democracy at War."

Bill did alright for himself...