“Regardless of whether you are Jewish or not Jewish, Republican or Democrat, if you greatly value having the strongest relationship possible with Israel, welcoming the Israeli prime minister to America with open arms should be something members fully embrace,” he [Rep. Lee Zeldin] said. “It is an opportunity to let not just the Israeli prime minister know, but the Israeli people know, that America is united in strengthening our relationship with Israel.”
It’s also an opportunity to let Bibi and the Israeli people know that America is clearly not so united in strengthening that relationship as they would like to think. Continue reading →
ICYMI, the Democratic Party has been doing some navel-gazing and just released its collection of belly-button lint for public inspection. After their embarrassing losses in the 2014 mid-terms, they finally realized they must be doing something wrong. One task force and an embarrassingly thin seven pages (9! Count the covers!) later, we discover this finding, for example:
“It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party’s ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.”
Islamic terrorists aren’t attacking churches, they’re attacking schools and newspapers.
In 2001, Bush called for a “crusade” against Islamic terrorists. His choice of words caused many to cringe, although as it turned out he was on the money. The last thirteen years have been a never-ending battle between Judeo-Christians and Muslims that has destroyed much of the Mideast, just like Crusades 1.0. Also just like the original crusades, this latest effort has been a colossal rort, rife with waste, chicanery, profiteering and downright theft. Bush said “crusade,” and by golly, he meant it. (In fact, you could probably argue that most wars we fought in the 20th Century were crusades, from WWII to Vietnam, where the uber-Catholic Dulles brothers supported the Catholic Diem against Ho Chi Minh, to our cold war on “godless Communism.”) Continue reading →
The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, wikipedia.org
In a move of unprecedented celerity and international cooperation, the Summit Against Violent Extremism launched a worldwide counterattack on the recruiting methods and radicalization techniques used by the Islamic State and other extremists. Recognizing that the threat must be neutralized on all fronts, the summit presents a comprehensive approach, from building awareness through education, to destroying extremist narratives online with facts and larger counternarratives, to empowering community efforts to disrupt radicalization before the damage is done. Specific attention was given to the role of religious leaders. From the press release: Continue reading →
Turns out there was an article in eBioMedicine, an Elsevier service, so legit as far as I can tell. The paper appears to be by a bunch of legitimate researchers. According to eBioMedicine, the article is in press, publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof. To wit, no publication date as of yet. So far, I’ll be damned if I can figure out when it was originally written. Just skimming the intro, it appears that the research started in earnest in 2007. In the Discussion section, the most recent reference date is 2013. Maybe there’s been no further publication/debate/controversy on the subject since then. Plausible.
Call it Simplicius Simplicissimus or The Adventures of a Simpleton – H.J.C. von Grimmelshausen’s picaresque novel of the Thirty Years War is the godfather of all great anti-war literature whether solemn indictment like The Red Badge of Courage or All Quiet on the Western Front or absurdist comedy like Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-Five.
The Adventures of a Simpleton also known as Simplicius Simplicissimus (image courtesy Goodreads)
The Adventures of a Simpleton, also know as Simplicius Simplicissimus (and by other titles) is a book that I have long loved, though this re-read is only my third of this classic satire of the lethal nonsense we call war. The edition I used this time was one I picked up in my favorite used bookstore, my original copy from undergraduate school having disappeared on its own picaresque adventures at some unknown moment in the last 40 years. This entry on the 2015 reading list moves us forward in time several hundred years from the folk literature (with some Horace thrown in) of the last few weeks. As a result we get a known author (although we don’t know a lot about him) and we get our first prose work since those outliers about World War I and John Winthrop I wrote about at the beginning of the year.
More interestingly, from a literary standpoint anyway, we get what will come to be called variously a novel, a mock-heroic romance, a picaresque novel, or a picaresque. The adventures of the hero, initially called Simplicius because of his naivete (and because discovering his real name, indeed his true identity, becomes an important subplot of the work) are episodic, disjointed, and certainly varied. Continue reading →
By burning alive Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the Islamic State reinforced an apparent commitment to behave like a terrorist organization, not a state.
Government building in Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr)
It’s well known that revolutionary movements and/or terrorist organizations generally moderate the extreme violence that may have brought them to power. The Islamic State, however, which fancies itself even more than a state — a caliphate spanning existing states — seems intent on overturning the conventional wisdom.
In fact, is the Islamic State’s leadership channeling Satan? By burning Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh to death in the most torturous manner possible, its members are apparently making another payment in the deal they seem to have signed with the devil (known as Shaytan in Islam). Continue reading →
If you’ve been following the latest scandal du jour, you already know that Brian Williams has been caught in and called out for a long series of big, fat, juicy lies. The “shot down” lie was one he put on heavy rotation for over a decade, according to Variety:
In multiple retellings over the years, though, the NBC anchor has gone from saying he was “on the ground” when he learned about the RPG threat to suggesting the copter immediately in front of his took the hit to saying his own chopper was battered by both the RPG and AK-47 fire.
Called out for it recently, he vaguely admitted to the, shall we say, botched recollection, and poorly at that, at least in context of Variety’s claim. Continue reading →
NATO intercepted 400 Russian military flights in 2014. That’s four times as many as in 2013. An intercept is necessary when the aircraft is flying with its transponder turned off to avoid detection. The Russian planes do not file a flight plan, meaning they are not supposed to be there, or they file as a commercial aircraft and turn off their transponder because it would identify them as a military aircraft. All NATO planes on all missions have their transponders turned on. Continue reading →
If one wanted, hypothetically, to win a world war, and studied the previous world wars to glean what relevant information might be revealed, one would be struck by the fact that America is a formidable foe, with tremendous natural resources. Americans habitually throw away enough food to feed another continent. Or a war effort. It would be advantageous to remove this fertile ground from the equasion. What if Rome had salted the fields before waging war on Carthage? Continue reading →
“Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein: And whoever recommends and helps an evil cause, shares in its burden.” – Holy Qur’an 4:85
There is no possible way to love your neighbor by killing him, yet radicalized “Orthodox Christians” are killing their way westward across Ukraine. There is no way to do good to the traveller by taking him hostage, yet this practice is routine in the “Islamic” State.
In an explosive performance art video, two Russians are seen dousing the doors of Lenin’s Mausoleum with holy water, chanting “rise up and go,” a twist on the resurrection of Lazarus, except the deceased is no friend, but a haunting. It’s an exorcism.
Isn’t it odd that the Donetsk Ukrainian airport and the Maiduguri Nigerian airport are so strategically important to these rag-tag bands of crusaders? Almost as if they were taking orders from the same general who is terrified of an impending airlift.
Do you really believe Africans don’t know about Ebola? As they say in France, c’est raciste. There have been twelve major outbreaks since 2000 AD, all of them in Africa, yet the people are incredibly suspicious of the unarmed doctors and aid workers. Who has been telling them that Ebola is a hoax? Continue reading →
Disagreements about whether The Song of Roland is about Roland’s heroic (and foolhardy) geste or about the ultimate triumph of Charlemagne over enemies within and without his empire seem less important with this re-reading than noting how many people die for that amorphous and deadly social construct we call honor….
The Song of Roland, trans. Robert Harrison (image courtesy Goodreads)
As I make my way methodically through the works of Horace (3 books of odes down, one more to go, then epodes, satires, and his “Art of Poetry”), I’ve been reading at the same time in the epics on my 2015 reading list. I’ve finished The Saga of the Volsungs and am now digging into the Song of the Niebelungs. This made more sense to me than my original plan which was to read about the Volsungs, then go off and do some medieval Chinese poetry before Das Nibelungenlied. Since the German epic tells a version of the Volsung story, I’ll write about those two together – and be able to discuss how a Viking saga got changed for the purposes of courtly literature. Given this dive into epic lit, I’ll probably take on The Mabinogion, the Welsh epic, before heading east for Chinese courtly poetry.
That said, astute readers (and I know you all are) will notice that this essay is clearly going to be about a work not even on the original 2015 reading list. I was (where else?) in my favorite used book store last week when I came across this version of The Song of Roland. It was nearly a giveaway it was so cheap, so naturally I scooped it up. As I mentioned above, it seemed apropos given that Horace is, while most rewarding, in an 1890’s prose translation sans notes (always read the notes, students) that is costing me extra time as I do some background work so that I understand both poet and translator fully, that I read something along with that noble Roman. I raced through the Volsung saga (in a good critical edition) and now the Chanson de Roland (in a good critical edition). Continue reading →
Historian Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August clearly illuminates the truth of war: in any era it is what is done wrong as much as what is done right that decides conflicts….
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman (image courtesy Goodreads)
The first book from the 2015 reading list was a Christmas present. I have long been an admirer of historian Barbara Tuchman and have long considered her superbA Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century among my favorite books of any genre. Given that 2014 was the centennial year for the beginning of World War I, I began looking for a copy of her Pulitzer winning exploration of the first months of that “war to end all wars,” The Guns of August sometime last year. Alas, because of my dedication to what we might call “book rescue” (I try to buy used books whenever I can), I found myself (I suspect) competing with others who thought “Hey, its the centennial of the Great War – good time to read (or re-read) Barbara Tuchman.”
So I floundered about trying to catch a used copy at my favorite book stores both physical and online. No luck. Eventually, my interest waned and when I put the book on my Christmas list, it was with little hope that even my clever and perspicacious Lea could find a copy for a Christmas present.
Oh, me of little faith. Find one she did, and I spent the holidays working my way through this fascinating account of the beginning of World War I. Continue reading →
In a panel discussion with a black woman, a white man, a woman of…judging solely from skin tone, that is…indeterminate origin, and one blond-haired, alabaster-skinned twit, which would you think would be responsible for the following:
Bream suggested profiling may not be effective in situations where criminals are wearing masks or where the tone of their skin doesn’t “look like typical bad guys,” apparently implying that certain skin stones should raise red flags for law enforcement. See video clip here.
“Their prophet is Satan. There is no connection between the Islamic faith and this minority.” -Hassan Chalghoumi, an imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy
“Zeal, in religion, is a pure and enlightened attachment to worship of the Divinity and its maintenance and progress; but when it grows blind and false and takes to persecution, it becomes the greatest scourge of humanity.” – Voltaire, Questions on the Encyclopedia
I am crying as I type this, listening to La Marseillaise over and over in the headphones. The beauty of the Republic of France, which even we Americans envy, is your resolve. While American revolutionaries stopped with a new system of government, the people of France devoted decades to reforming the very fabric of society. We shook hands as fellow citizens. You embraced as brothers. We shook off the physical shackles of tyranny. You rooted it out in your hearts and minds, looking where we dared not, holding a mirror before the entire human condition, willing the change that only comes from within. Continue reading →
The Modern Mercenary—Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order, Sean McFate, Oxford University Press, 2014.
George Orwell is often credited with the quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” He didn’t say it of course. Famous people almost never said the things that are attributed to them, but the quote resonates because of its fundamental truth: Most of us cannot protect ourselves and depend on a network of rough men—police, military, etc.—to allow us to sleep soundly.
One particular group of rough men, mercenaries, occupy an outsized place in our mythology. Whether it’s Kurosawa’s ronin or Sturges’s Magnificent Seven or Forsyth’s Dogs of War, the less violent among us cling to the idea that when all else fails we can call on the services of a group of hard but principled men who will step in and save us from those who would do us harm. Interestingly, based on the number of Web sites and periodicals devoted to becoming a mercenary, it appears that almost as many dream of being those rough men. Continue reading →
Nor does glossing over the Islamic State’s ultraviolence help make the case for non-intervention.
The putative Islamic Caliphate
On Dec. 18, the Guardian published a report by a team of reporters, including Focal Points contributor Ali Younes, titled The race to save Peter Kassig, the American aid worker who the Islamic State captured and ultimately beheaded. The article is full of juicy details such as this about Islamist ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi:
On 18 October, Cohen and Abdel-Rahman flew from Kuwait to Jordan, and checked into the Four Seasons hotel in Amman. Two days later, they finally met Maqdisi, who arrived at the Four Seasons in his beat up ‘97 Hyundai. They set off for Maqdisi’s home, in a relatively poor neighbourhood 10 miles north of Amman. On the way, Maqdisi’s car broke down. Cursing and stuck in the middle of a traffic jam, Cohen said Maqdisi opened up the hood and started beating the engine with a wrench. Five minutes later they were off again. Continue reading →
Does disaster loom, brought on by population increases and a governing economic system predicated on ever more growth?
Scratch a problem involving homo sapiens. Smog choking cities. Carbon dioxide and methane warming atmosphere or ocean. Forests rapaciously slashed. No fish where fish used to be. Nuclear waste with no safe home (ever). Pollution everywhere. Children without education. Billions of poor without hope or safe drinking water or adequate food. Disease and death induced by the absence of health care.
And wars. Plenty of wars.
In such examples of human trauma amid conflicts over life-sustaining resources, there’s a centrality rarely discussed.
When I was born, the Earth had about 2.5 billion people. The Census Bureau anticipates 9.3 billion people globally in 2050. That would be almost a four-fold increase in the people Earth would seek but likely fail to adequately support. Continue reading →
Since Sandy Hook, there have been nearly 100 school shootings. How many more Pakistani children need to die?
Peshawar, site of a savage attack by the Taliban on a school on Dec. 16. (Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari / Flickr Commons)
On Dec. 16, a Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan left 132 children, as well as 13 adults, dead. In the New York Times, Declan Walsh reports that “the Red Mosque seemed a nearly untouchable bastion of Islamist extremism in Pakistan.” To refresh your memory, in 2007, the two Islamic militants running Lal Masjid, known as the Red Mosque, in Islamablad ― the brothers Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi ― called for the overthrow of the Pakistani government. Continue reading →