• Richard Murff

Ashes, Inflation & a Moral Dilemma


I was taking my mother to Ash Wednesday services when Father Gargantutus stuck his massive thumb the holy ash-pot and put the sign of the cross on my forehead. That was when I saw a falling black snow of soot drifting onto my hands, shirt and pants. I resisted to urge to ask, “How big ya’ making that cross, Padre?” because, for the initiated that sort of banter at the alter is frowned upon. I suppose that I should have been directing my thoughts to heaven, but all I could think was that I couldn’t go through the day looking like this. The ash on my forehead is regulation; a little odd in a country founded by Protestants, perhaps, but I’m used to that.


What struck me, while resisting the urge to smudge the soot on my shirt further, was that this was as good a metaphor as any for the sacrifice a spoiled world needs to make to stop trying to bring down liberal world order. Lent, it seems, is going to be a little tighter than we’d planned: Knocking the world’s third largest oil producer out of the market, even for the short term is going to pinch. A barrel of Brent crude opened today at a seven-year high, over $107, and as I’m writing this, has climbed to $114.


It’s not just energy either – one can’t help but think that the mega-yacht industry is going to sink. I never heard President Biden suggest that the guru’s of Silicon Valley take up the slack, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Down on my end of the income spectrum, Russia and Ukraine together account for some 30% of global wheat exports. Russia is getting cut out of thatmarket as well. As for the Ukrainians, their farmers are a bit distracted right now. What this means is that the inflation that was exacerbated by Biden’s earlier stimulus is likely to get worse. On the other hand, I ought to lay of the cereals if I’m going to fit into my seersucker by Easter, so maybe that’s the silver lining.

It’s also a small price to pay. Vladimir Putin is fiddling with nuclear threats like the rest of the planet deals with tequila shots. The go-to moral dilemma for the last three generations has been “How could we have stopped Hitler before the world went sideways?” Or words to that effect.


Well, with the hindsight of nearly eighty years, not letting him chop up smallish European states to avoid a fight ourselves would have been a hell of a start. It would also have helped had the French not been so damned French about it. They’re showing more backbone this time around, but that’s just because Germany is standing in the way. Neither the Czechs being handed over, or the French rolling over actually avoided the larger crisis. It just made the rest of the world look like milqetoast until things came to a head and we had to fight the damned war – and longer more terrible disaster – anyway.


And Hitler didn’t have nukes.