You live to serve this ship:
Burt Aims was the scoutmaster of troop 84 when I was a boy.  That was the official number.  We always called them Troop Two because that had been the earlier designation and we didn’t think any officials had the right to make us change.  I was in one twenty seven.  Troop Two was so popular under Mr. Aims that a second troop had to be added.  We were at full strength, four patrols of eight scouts each, from the beginning.  We tried hard, but everybody knew we were number two after Two. 

Mr. Aims also taught Sunday school.  He would read to us from classics, which I much enjoyed since my father also had done the same thing when I was younger.  Daddy’s choices were rather less ambitious.  He went for fun while Mr. Aims went for inspiration to noble acts.  Among Mr. Aims’ choices was Ben Hur, so when the movie came out many years later I was excited to see it. 

For me the best two moments involved the same line.  Ben Hur himself had, for no fault of his own, been condemned to be a rower on a Roman galley.  When their new commander took over he went down and spoke to the crew, criminals all of course, who might have been executed.  He told them, “You live to serve this ship.”  Working themselves to death at the oars was the Roman version of mercy. 

Well events followed each other until the ship galley was sunk in battle.  Ben Hur rescued the officer, actually the admiral of the whole fleet, and dragged him onto a chunk of the ship which served them as a raft.  When the officer came around he decided that losing the battle (which he had in fact won) was such a disgrace he would commit suicide, but Ben Hur prevented it.  The officer asked why, and Ben Hur mocked him, “You live to serve this ship.”

Cool.  For the Roman everything was the system.  You were part of the system and had no life outside it.  Ben Hur was more of an adventurer.  He was off the grid, at least in his mind.  It was all very American: Land of the Free, if you remember the phrase. 

Skipping forward to medical school, I was told a joke.  There was an airplane with pilot and copilot up front and a Catholic priest, a hippie complete with back pack (Do you remember the image?  The back pack symbolized being off the grid, having values outside the system.  It wasn’t just all about drugs and random sex at the beginning.), and Henry Kissinger, then secretary of state.  The pilot and copilot came back from the cockpit and announced, “The plane is going down.  There are four parachutes, and we’re taking two of them,” and jumped out with half the chutes.  Kissinger jumped up shouting, “I’m taking one of the parachutes.  The smartest man alive must not die,” and he jumped.  The priest said, “Take the last parachute my son.  You are young and have much to live for.”  The hippie said, “It’s really not a problem, father.  The smartest man alive just went out the door with my back pack.”

I’ve been an adventurer most of my life.  When I got old enough I went off adventuring into what was for me the unknown by motorcycle, afoot, by motor boat, by canoe and by airplane.  In time the unknown that was not unsafe shrank, but I could still seek adventure with my mind in writing, drama, movies, and now research.  I tried art and music, but I had not the talent.  The unknown remains enormous.  My very web site marks my latest journey into what nobody has ever known before; it is my blazed trail open for any to follow. 

So now, unthinkable years since I was told the joke, it turns out that Kissinger is still alive.  You know the hideous atrocities of ISIS.  Kissinger has dismissed them as “adventurers.”  Speaking for adventurers, I am outraged.  They are sadistic, sick monsters.  I don’t buy any religious element in their trail of atrocities at all.  It’s all ethnic hatred.  That means they are in the system; they live to serve this ship of their identity.  Sure they’ll accept the sacrifices of others outside their group.  But that is not their driving force.  They are anything but adventurers.

Kissinger sees Iran as a threat because they might forge an empire.  Evidently for Kissinger everything is the system.  Control is what it is all about.  He cannot conceive of a powerful Iran failing to lust after more control.  I’m not Persian, so I don’t know, but what appears to be the case is that the Iranians are Persians, and they despise Arabs.  There are Arabs on all sides of them.  Expanding their territory past a certain point would mean courting the ethnic diversity they don’t want at all.  A former secretary of state should know better.

Well Kissinger is still in their trying.  I have to hand him that.  But he and I stand at poles, the admiral and the Ben Hur.

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