January 28, 2023

Aspen Ideas Festival and a World Burning

The car in front of me looked like it had been hit by a roadside bomb. Within a minute, the entire car was in flames. One young guy was standing off to the side, using his cellphone to explain why he might be on the news instead of at work this day. The other young guy was sitting in the grass with a WTF expression on his face. I’m also fairly certain he had a lot of practice using that expression. If the FBI’s micro expressions guide is valid, I suspect he is, or was, the owner.

They must have drove for awhile with the smell of smoke in their nostrils. I wonder how many holy and oh shits were said as flames shot out the back of the car. Praise the Lord and pass the fire extinguisher.  They came close, real close, to making it off the expressway. What they were intending to do on a main road with a car in flames isn’t exactly a better option than leaving it on the side of the expressway. These guys had Pulp Fiction written all over them. If the car hadn’t burst into flames so quickly, they might have gone straight through a car wash. It’s certainly never a dull moment traveling the cement jungles. The burning car provided a nice fireworks display to the holiday travelers. A big, burly cop blocking traffic on the other side of the street was trying to hide a grin. It’s a good day if sheet metal from Detroit is the only casualty.

The most interesting talk of the Aspen Ideas Festival was from General Stanley McChrystal. He was interviewed by Bob Schieffer who had talked earlier with Charles Murray, political scientist and author of Coming Apart. McChrystal said the greatest threat to America isn’t coming from overseas. The greatest threat comes from our own schools. McChrystal said less than one percent are doing all the fighting overseas and the draft should be considered again. Charles Murray also talked with Schieffer of the social and economic disconnect. Schieffer was amazed, and disappointed, at how many people in his social and professional circles who don’t know a single person with military experience. If the draft was brought back, a significant percentage  would fail to qualify for military duty, says McChrystal. The education and health of many Americans is that poor.

I hit all the socioeconomic points this past week. I expect an invitation to Aspen next year. The great divide was quite obvious. The country club in the wealthy suburb had young  moms wearing sunglasses the size of industrial eye wear hurrying in SUVs full of kids to golf and swimming lessons. Signs were all around the country club with stern warnings not to trespass. Membership into this tribe requires a high dollar admission. Life was good, and disconnected from out there beyond the manicured lawns and trespass signs.

I had taken a wrong turn and found myself later in the worst of the worst. All around me this time were new and more threatening signs of trouble for the trespasser. I was shocked at how bad this area looked, and felt the danger. I was more used to this stuff than most but the young people walking the streets here were doomed to death or prison by the age of thirty. I would bet ninety percent on the street were goners by the time they hit the big 3-0. Commentators at the Aspen Ideas Festival discussed how prison population was calculated for future needs and whether reading scores of third graders was a valid metric. You didn’t need to ask for reading scores at this intersection. Many didn’t wear shirts and their shorts and pants had the brownish orange hue of living outdoors, in the wild refuge of the cement jungle. They watched the lone cop drive fast past them and went back to business. No doubt the drug trade.

The rural area in a remote part of the Thumb was in its own way cut off, disconnected from The Show, as the ballplayers call the major leagues. There aren’t a lot of jobs but no one seems to mind as much. Nature, Budweiser, and ballgames on the radio make the defeats of the day easier to take. Occasionally you’ll hear of someone moving to Chicago in search of a bigger horizon but for most Lake Huron’s horizon is big enough.

The back gates were unlocked at the Dow Diamond in middle class Midland. A Single A minor league franchise for the Dodgers apparently doesn’t have the trespassing concerns of the country club. The wide open gates seemed like an invitation. I went inside and walked around the field, ignored by a group of men discussing something important. Their star pitcher had been promoted. He was one step closer to making The Show.

During a return trip to the asphalt jungle, I met an intoxicated man loudly telling us that he had been shot three times in Vietnam, used to be rich, and lived all over the world. He made his wealth in minerals, silver, especially. Then he lost everything and became a drunk. He thanked everyone for being kind, wished God’s love for everyone, and fell flat on his face in the parking lot. A woman with a small child helped him up and to the car. One of the quotes posted on the Aspen Ideas website is about empowering the ordinary person. That’s a person I still want to meet. I’ve never met an ordinary person. Never.


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