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The End is Nigh
Of this website, that is. In case you missed my earlier announcement, I want you to know that will be folded up and put away for good at the end of June, 2023. I also want to thank you for your attention and support over the years. It’s been challenging and fun.

You’ll have another four weeks or so, then, to take a last look or two at everything collected here. After that, the my web presence will be limited to Instagram (under “timeagancartoons”). Beyond that, I will still be spending time in my studio working on other art projects…and my memoir.

I’m enjoying writing the memoir, by the way. It’s partly for my own satisfaction, but of course it is also meant to be a communication with a my reader. I just don’t know yet who that person might be. Maybe no one, but that would be a shame. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’ve still got a few weeks left at, and I’m not quite done yet.
It would be hard to name a figure from the French Revolution more despised than Maximilien Robespierre. As the leader of the Committee of Public Safety, he oversaw the Reign of Terror. At his direction, more than 17,000 “enemies of the Revolution” were executed, mostly by guillotine.

There have been worse bloodbaths, some of them in recent history. Stalin and Pol Pot both slaughtered millions. Millions! But unlike those mostly surreptitious cruelties, the mass killings of the Reign of Terror were conducted openly and in the name of civic righteousness. They were rationalized as necessities for protecting the fledgling French democracy. Still, it is a particularly awful chapter of human history.

That is the historical backdrop to a peculiar vignette I witnessed recently in the Musée Carnavelet in Paris. The Carnavelet is dedicated to the history of Paris itself, and assigns almost an entire floor to the Revolution. Among its trove of artifacts is the most famous portrait of Robespierre.

It is difficult to get a true reading on someone from a painting, particularly if it was commissioned by the subject himself. He would want the best possible image to represent him, after all. That said, this likeness of Robespierre projected a persona of sensitive erudition. He seemed a thoughtful scholar, a man of humanistic ideas. I found it hard to see the architect of the Reign of Terror in this mild face.

As I stood there, an elderly French woman, being pushed in a wheelchair, paused in front of the portrait. “Robespierre,” she said simply, but there was something in her tone that caught me. Not revulsion, as one might expect, or anything like it. Her voice rose slightly at the last syllable, as if something more needed to be said about this man.

There is more, of course. Though Robespierre was not a towering intellect, he and his beliefs were the very flower of the Enlightenment. He believed in universal suffrage (for men, at least, though he did argue against other gender biases), religious freedom, and equality of all before the law. He was a consistent champion for the poor. Most notably, before his turn on the Committee of Public Safety, he was a strong opponent of capital punishment.

Even today, he a controversial figure. That is not surprising, given the times he lived in. Relations among political factions were so poisonous that no version of the truth coming out of that era can be completely reliable. But he was certainly a complex man caught up in a turbulent time.

So I want to honor that woman in the wheelchair. For her, I will choose to see Robespierre not just as a killer, but as a tragic hero. Here was a man who first came to Paris from Arras as a young, well-educated, newly elected member of the national assembly — and stepped right into the middle of the French Revolution. Despite the promise of his leadership and his ideals, it ended up destroying him. Five years later he would be guillotined at the Place de Revolution.

His journey from that hopeful arrival to his chaotic final hours is certainly the stuff of tragedy. During that time, he was motivated by one desire: to keep the republic safe at all costs. On its face, it was a noble cause, but it also became his tragic flaw. He stayed true to that cause, but along the way managed to forsake much of what he believed in.

Perhaps my impression of the old woman was a product of my imagination. She may have simply been expressing her recognition of the man in the painting. Even so, it was a reaction that took special notice of that one portrait among all the others in the room. Whatever significance we might give to him, it clearly had not waned in over two centuries.

Robespierre died where the king had been beheaded only months before. We are free to wonder if the Revolution and the republic might have fared better if the young leader’s opposition to capital punishment had prevailed and the Reign of Terror had never happened. He and Louis XVI would have survived, and he might now have a museum all to himself.
Pastry Apocalypse
Well, did you miss me?

No? It’s possible, I suppose, that you didn’t even notice that I was gone. That’s okay, I understand. We’re all busy these days. No worries, I’m just glad to be back.

Not that I didn’t enjoy myself. I’ve been in Paris for the last three weeks. Yes, Paris France. The capital of planet Earth. Or at least the cultural center of western civilization. It was a great experience, one that drew my attention, once again, to one of the great mysteries of my life. And that is the impenetrable conundrum of retail economics.

I don’t understand retail. Never have, really. I get how it purports to work, I guess. Merchants offer goods for sale, and customers buy those goods. The product in each instance finally reaches its intended owner. Makes sense. But if you look behind that deceptively simple facade, you realize that there is no way that this system could actually work. It’s just too complex and wasteful and financially risky to function.

I’m not talking about the whole system here. I have no quarrel with production and wholesale. They are quite straightforward. Production happens on a farm or in a factory — or perhaps with some individual artisan producing things one-at-a-time — and that concept is easy enough to grasp. From that point, large quantities of the product are often dealt to wholesalers. These folks then provide their link in the supply chain by selling goods in bulk to the retailer. Easy enough so far.

But then we arrive at the point of sale to individual customers. It it here that I lose my grasp of the story. I have participated in such transactions all of my life. We all have. So what is it that confuses me? Why don’t we take a moment to pull back the veil and see what is actually going on behind these seemingly mundane transactions?

Let’s take, as an example, the croissant. Buttery, flaky, delicious. With coffee au lait, it’s part of the perfect Parisian breakfast. Of the 2.1 million Parisians, I’d bet that at least a million have one every day. Maybe two if you’re a tourist. That’s a lot of pastry. Furthermore, that one million number could easily fluctuate by as much as a couple of hundred thousand every day.

Consider also that croissants are available everywhere. Not only in bakeries, but cafes and patisseries and bistros and brasseries and charcuteries and super markets. There can be as many as a dozen croissant-buying options on a single block. And since nobody wants a day-old croissant, all those puffy, scrumptious delights must be sold and consumed on the very day they are offered for sale.

Are you starting to catch my drift here? How could this huge, intricate delivery system possibly work? How can it possibly deliver fresh, perfectly baked croissants every day, all the time, across this city of millions and its visitors? It just doesn’t pencil out.

Now add to the equation the possibility that any or all potential croissant buyers might choose some other pastry on any given day. They have multiple choices, after all, in all these outlets. Why not have a scone today? Just to change it up? Or a danish, or a tarte? Or a beignet or a palmier or an eclair or a chouquette or a millefeuille or…

You get the picture. Every “simple purchase” carries with it a geometric progression of uncertainty. The whole system is a gigantic house of cards that could collapse on any given day, sending retailers into bankruptcy and threatening the entire French economy. In fact, our entire free market system might be under threat once the dominoes began to fall.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen while I was there. The croissants, moreover, where uniformly fresh and delectable…even in the shadow of a looming global catastrophe.
Just How Stupid?
I’m not as stupid
As I used to be
But way more stupid
Than I used to believe
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