Sunday, July 31, 2005


"One swallow does not a summer make." The epigram reflects the heart of Aristotle’s ethical philosophy. Character isn’t the product of random acts of kindness or of good intentions as evanescent as the head on a mug of cold beer. Instead, practice and habit are keys to transforming good ideas into virtuous reality.

Live 8, the international rock concert christened by Coldplay’s Chris Martin "the greatest thing that’s ever been organized probably in the history of the world" flies under a different aphoristic banner--this one offered by the event’s producer, Bob Geldof: "Something must be done, even if it doesn't work."

Only the term "probably" reflects well on Mr. Martin’s sense of historical proportion. Not much more can be said of Geldof’s urgent plea that endorses opening windows in a house on fire under the theory that it’s better than doing nothing.

It isn’t surprising that Aristotle’s party-pooping point-of-view doesn’t generate much enthusiasm among the Pepsi X-Generation. After all, what could be more attractive than an eleemosynary approach that distracts from a group’s own moral failings, makes a show of concern for individuals living far away, and features puerile music that fans would pay to hear in any case--a pathological trifecta.

Such one-shot exhibitions of emotional solidarity amount to little more than sops to consciences sated with excess. They resemble Andie MacDowell’s character in the opening scene of Sex, Lies, and Videotape where she ponders for her psychiatrist the fate of a trash-filled barge cruising the high seas in search of a friendly port-of-call. That mental voyage steered her thoughts away from a troubled marriage.

Aristotle, by contrast, asserts that there is no quick fix--not for individuals and not for societies. It takes more than "doing something" to produce an admirable result. What it takes is doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, over and over again. It’s not a formula that sits well with narcissistic entertainers or undisciplined fans.

As far as Africa is concerned, there are, indeed, "simple" answers--but they involve long-term practices unfamiliar to revelers who mindlessly parrot the musical mantra that self-indulgence is the highest form of integrity. Asian nations like South Korea and Taiwan, for example, have moved from poverty to prosperity because of policies that provide a stable legal framework, foster private enterprise, and encourage education. Absent such basic reforms, money sent to corrupt regimes will only subsidize failure.

In the age of advertising, silver-bullet solutions sell well. People are drawn to Hollywood endings where problems vanish after a single dramatic intervention. For these folks social liposuction is always the answer.

One concert, however, will not a continent remake. Indeed, based on the ideas articulated by Live 8 promoters, it’s likely to make things worse.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Bepeckled, gaunt, he stood erect,
then cocked his head to interject
and sprayed his syllables like bullets at the crowd.
"I am a Leftist," he avowed
--his dull and tainted teeth, projections
gravely cast against a bearded disposition.

"Power to the people," he implored
--praising Marx with jargon weighty,
lauding Castro, Che, and Warren Beatty.
"Revolution!" cried the man whose tenured post
was funded most
by porcine forces he deplored.

"Redistribution!" shouted harder,
he who sought with eyeshade ardor
to reduce to naught assessments owed.
"Comrades, comrades," droned
the frothy intellect
whose peers he held beneath contempt.

"Workers of the world, unite!
Discard your gilded chains!
What’s his is yours by right!"
Declared the well-fed orator
who never worker one employed
but lived, sans sweat, off others’ gains.

Venom-spitting lover of mankind,
Egalitaire--elite in his own mind,
Parasitic prole du jour,
This cogitating amateur,
Content to fill his acolytes with bilious rage
(and pants with cash)
Till hist’ry be as classless as its shabby sage.