Saudi citizens may be questioning whether the House of Saud is qualified to be the guardian of holy cities Mecca and Medina. Pictured: King Saud Mosque in Jeddah. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Do Saudi Citizens prefer the Islamic State to the House of Saud?

A poll indicates that Saudi citizens seem to find the Islamic State’s repressiveness and barbarism less objectionable than the House of Saud’s corruption.

Saudi citizens may be questioning whether the House of Saud is qualified to be the guardian of holy cities Mecca and Medina. Pictured: King Saud Mosque in Jeddah. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Saudi citizens may be questioning whether the House of Saud is qualified to be the guardian of holy cities Mecca and Medina. Pictured: King Saud Mosque in Jeddah. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In a New York Review of Books review of an illuminating new book, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, by Abdel Bari Atwan, Malise Ruthven cites a poll that seems to show that Saudi citizens might prefer to be ruled by the Islamic State instead of the House of Saud.

In an online poll conducted in July 2014, a formidable 92 percent of Saudi citizens agreed that ISIS “conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law.”

Continue reading

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Lead U.S. nuclear negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr Commons)

The 7 most incisive comments about the Iran nuclear deal

The Iran nuclear deal has generated an abundance of extraordinary insights. Here’s a sampling.

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Lead U.S. nuclear negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr Commons)

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Lead U.S. nuclear negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr Commons)

We shall start with a headline which, for me, sums up all the excruciating years of accusations, pre-negotiations, and negotiations, as well as the deal itself (which, as I observed yesterday, has no name, but which, I’ve since learned, goes by the singularly undistinctive name Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

Iran Won the Vienna Accords By Agreeing to Stop What It Never Was Doing

That the title of a piece at New American Media by William O. Beeman, who noted:

It was … easy for Iran to give up a nuclear weapons program that never existed, and that it never intended to implement. As a bargaining position this is unassailable as your counterpart at the table insists and insists on something that has no value, it is possible to use giving way on such an empty demand to extract other concessions. Continue reading

norse battlefield

China, respectfully, stop poking the bear.

norse battlefield

image courtesy of alansondheim.org

So you discovered that 21 million people have security clearance in the United States. Is this surprising to you? Because it’s not to us. We are grateful that fewer than a million of them are charged with watching Americans. I am weighing the value of each word I type. I know our cyberwarriors are watching for keywords like “military industrial complex,” and “war on terror.”

The military industrial complex is a renewable contract which makes war (and thereby death) profitable. It is one of the founding principles we never talk about, but it has been with us since the beginning, when Spain, France, and Holland, controlled this land and we, being at war with Spain, France, and Holland, felt entitled to all the lands claimed by Spain, France, and Holland. The fact that other people lived here, and that Spain’s, France’s, and Holland’s claims were suspect and possibly baseless, provided no deterrent. It was profitable, therefore it must have been good.

The history of colonialism is the history of human beings struggling to contain this bear we call the military industrial complex. The bear finds honey and eats it, maybe in the form of a plantation, maybe in the form of a banana republic. It currently controls the Southern Hemisphere and most of the Northern Hemisphere. We have fought it off in the first world. When we talk about freedom, that’s really what we mean. The death machine must satisfy logical requirements before it eats us. We are in the process of expanding that freedom to include people of all colors and genders.

We have discovered, in the process of naming and taming this beast, that fighting it is impossible, because it only grows stronger. War is its food. It must be starved to death. In 2001, a few people who dressed like Arab Muslims attacked America. The bear ate five thousand Americans, and at least a hundred thousand civilians in three countries, most of them innocent, because one guy poked the bear by releasing a video of himself denouncing the United States. Don’t poke the bear. Continue reading

Megabot USA courtesy of businessinsider

Tantō

Kuratas Mecha courtesy of engadget

Kuratas Mecha courtesy of engadget.com

After a courageous performance
Against a team
That was clearly on fire,

And graciously ignoring
The obnoxious juvenile response
Of a nation defined by our wars,

Japan has quietly
Saved the world
By building a giant robot.

Megabot USA courtesy of businessinsider

Megabot USA courtesy of businessinsider.com

It has been a pleasure,
My fellow Americans,
To have served with you

In our common causes
Of freedom and justice,
But the day we feared has come. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

Peter Handke: the truth about sorrow…

What makes Handke exceptional is his willingness to engage us as well as himself in the difficulty of telling our truths, sharing our sorrows, interpreting our dreams….

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke (image courtesy Goodreads)

For the last (well, perhaps next to last) work from the “world literature” segment of the 2015 reading list, I return to an author who has decidedly influenced me in the way I write, in the way I think about writing, in the way I assess writing, particularly the writing of literature. I have written before about the great Peter Handke, the brilliant and controversial Austrian novelist, playwright, and filmmaker and about the power of his work to force the reader to reexamine his/her ways of looking at literature and at life.  No author of our time has been more relentless in his search for truth, nor has any author been able to say more with fewer words than Handke. For those few of you who know my work, a light bulb has probably just come on. For those of you not familiar with my work, please go buy it so that I can become a rich, vapid celebrity and lose all this delicious artistic integrity I’m always on about.

Handke is relentlessly brave, sometimes foolishly so, in his pursuit of what it means to be alive and writing about being so, so it should come as no surprise that he is equally as brave and equally as relentless in his examination of death and what it means to be so. His brilliant short meditation A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, written in the weeks after his mother’s suicide in early 1972, is vintage Handke: his search for the meaning of, in this case not simply the death of his mother but her death by suicide and the reasons behind her decision to end her life, as well as his search for what her death means to him, is a tour de force: terse, sometimes curt as a news item, sometimes poetic as a Heine lyric. The result is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius that actually is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Continue reading

bernie

War and economics: where is Bernie Sanders’ 12th step?

There’s much to like about Bernie Sanders, but can he really help us kick the war habit?

Occupy Democrats and US Uncut have a handy macro going around that highlights Bernie’s 11 point economic agenda. It’s big. It’s important. It’s to be lauded. And if we’re not to have Bernie, it’s to be emulated. But we’ve also seen the devastating effect war has had on our economy, to say nothing of the lives lost to our wayward military adventurism. Below you’ll find my own reasons for supporting this 11-point economic plan as well as some serious consideration of his missing 12th point. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Guns

NRA: the global arms trade’s best friend

AK-47s kill more in a year than nuclear weapons have in all of history. But NRA lobbying against the Arms Trade Treaty helps keep the pipeline of death flowing.

by David Lambert

CATEGORY: GunsIn the isolated northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sits a small town called Dungu. Not too far away from the borders of South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Dungu is in one of the poorest, most volatile regions in the world. A few years ago, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), a psychopathic band of predatory rebels notorious for kidnaping children, began regularly tormenting villagers, prompting the international humanitarian community to take a fleeting interest in Dungu.

But the residents of Dungu are tragically familiar with this sort of thing. Even before the LRA moved into the neighborhood, a particularly high number of child soldiers, under the command of feuding warlords in constant, slow burning conflict, lived throughout the area. Continue reading

How can we best honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day?

Honoring those who died in service doesn’t mean forgiving those who put them in harm’s way.

Today America honors its war dead, those who gave their lives in the service of freedom – not only ours, but in many cases they died to save innocent people in far-flung corners of the globe. This isn’t idle rhetoric, either. Ponder what the world might have been like had the Allies lost World War II.

Unfortunately, in recent years I have grown more cynical about “freedom” and those who died for it. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Book Review: Derail this Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes

What Forbes is after is not easily achieved: he seeks to portray both a society in crisis and the life of a person who, in crisis himself, still strives to draw public attention to the social crisis in hopes of saving, if not himself, at least that society. Derail This Train Wreck is a ray of light in a world going dark.

Derail This Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes (image courtesy derailthistrainwreck.com)

Derail This Train Wreck is a book of our times. It has elements of the near future dystopian tale so popular in our times. Its political satire veers between the somberly apocalyptic vision of a Truthout piece and the tongue in cheek irony dripping humor of an article from The Onion. And its domestic/romantic plot line (a failed relationship and the struggle of the parties to reorient their lives) is the stuff of which our lives and those of many we know is made. That Daniel Forbes has been able to weave these disparate elements into a narrative that is not simply cohesive but compelling is to his great credit – and the reader’s delight. Continue reading

Democrats embrace Citizens United in defense of Clinton

As reported from the actual left

Democrats Embrace Citizens United in Defense of Clinton

Hill just loves her some big money in politics. And the party machinery that spent years on end crying foul about it before? Suddenly they just loves ’em some big money in politics.

I think Hill should just stick with a snappy one-liner that’s served her well so far.

“What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”

Conspiracy

Logic 101 – Day 1: Jade Helm 15

Wherein I “prove” logic can be fun, for me at least.

Welcome to Day 1 of Logic 101. Don’t worry. It’s a one-day class. Actually, the “class” is only as long as it takes you to read this post. Homework may take anywhere from 0 seconds to a lifetime, depending on one’s tolerance for such exercises. Continue reading

101203-A-0193C-004

Former U.S. nukes commander’s steps to keep Ukraine crisis from mushrooming into nuclear war

There are rising concerns that the Ukraine crisis could lead to nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia.

The Ukraine crisis has renewed calls by retired Gen. James Cartwright, former U.S. nukes commander, to wean the United States and Russia from launch on warning. (Photo: D. Miles Cullen / U.S. Dept. of Defense)

The Ukraine crisis has renewed calls by retired Gen. James Cartwright, former U.S. nukes commander, to wean the United States and Russia from launch on warning. (Photo: D. Miles Cullen / U.S. Dept. of Defense)

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, whose last job was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served as the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (nukes, et al) from 2004 to 2007. In recent years, he’s served in capacities as, uh, as diverse board member of Raytheon and chairman of the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction. Those of you who follow nuclear weapons news may recall that, in the latter capacity, he called for reducing the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal to 900 warheads with none of them set to launch on warning. Continue reading

Viewing a state’s aggression as pathology incurred punishment, not the understanding one might expect. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

How aggression went from an act of war to a pathology

Aggression by a state, once considered just an act of war, ultimately became viewed as a pathological act.

Viewing a state’s aggression as pathology incurred punishment, not the understanding one might expect. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

Viewing a state’s aggression as pathology incurred punishment, not the understanding one might expect. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

I’ve been re-reading Sir Lawrence Freedman’s landmark work The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (Third Edition) for a book I’m attempting to write about the rationalizations and counterintuitive strategies that inevitably attend a state’s development of nuclear weapons. (For his part, Freedman has written around 20 books.)

In the first part of The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, Freedman chronicles the rise of air power during the 20th century. He writes that, in the nineteenth century, the concept of aggression referred to a “‘military attack by the forces of a state against … another state.’” But, even before World War I, “the term had become pejorative, referring to a military attack that was not justified by law.” Continue reading

Hillary announces, Progressives already getting thrown under bus

It’s not even damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s just damned.

Of course you’ve probably heard that Hillary has finally announced, on Twitter no less.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The Fog of War: Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front…

“And men will not understand us…and the war will be forgotten  – and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves…the years will pass by and we shall fall into ruin.” – Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (image courtesy Goodreads)

It is often called the greatest war novel of all time.

Erich Maria Remarque’s depiction of the horror of an ordinary soldier’s life in World War I,  All Quiet on the Western Front, is a work of great power that haunts one long after one has completed it. Like other great examiners of war from Grimmelshausen to Stephen Crane to Norman Mailer to Kevin Powers, Remarque has the skill to give us the psychological horror of being lost on the battlefield – and lost at home.

What sets Remarque’s novel apart, of course, is that it is told from the point of view of an “enemy” soldier, Paul Baumer, a private in the German Imperial Army. (Simplicius, the hero of Grimmelshausen’s novel, is German, too. But since the Thirty Years’ War is only vague European history to Americans, one can safely assume that his nationality is not a matter of controversy.) One of the revelations, in fact, of All Quiet on the Western Front is the discovery that the ordinary German soldier felt much the same as the ordinary British soldier, the ordinary French soldier, the ordinary Russian soldier, the ordinary American soldier: like a pawn being moved – and sacrificed – without regard for his humanity. Ordinary people’s lives don’t count to the rich and powerful who believe themselves masters of history.

Ça plus change, etc…. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Hermann Hesse’s Demian: The Quest for the Self

“I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” Hermann Hesse

Demian by Hermann Hesse (image courtesy Goodreads)

We turn in this next essay from the subtle, Zen inflected musings of Kawabata to another Nobelist, this one a lifelong yearning seeker of self understanding. In the original 2015 reading list I had chosen Hesse’s novel describing an artist’s search for spiritual fulfillment, Rosshalde, as my selection from the novelist whose lasting reputation owes as much to his adoption as spokesperson by the Boomer generation (a mistaken adoption) as to his literary merit (which is real). Instead, when it came time to pull Rosshalde from the shelf, I took it down and thought about how many times I’ve read Siddhartha which is a better treatment of the same themes as the earlier novel. Instead, I pulled out the Hesse novel next to Rosshalde, the lesser known and equally fascinating bildungsroman, Demian.

It turned out to be an interesting choice. I had not read Demian for many years, at least since the mid-seventies. Like most of my generation, I’d read Steppenwolf and Siddhartha as an undergraduate, taken in by the mystique attached to both books: in the case of the former, the “magic theater” section that suggests psychedelia (though there is no proof anywhere that Hesse ever used drugs) and in the latter its fable like retelling of the life of the Buddha. Both were, of course, very groovy, read in those heady times. But by the time I came to Demian I was a young teacher and part-time graduate student and had learned a bit more about the author Hesse besides that he wrote groovy books. I approached this tale of a youth’s search for self understanding, self confidence, and self acceptance in a more critical fashion. My assessment from that reading was that the novel was simply a quest narrative wrapped up in a bildungsroman.

All these years later, Demian is still that. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Yasunari Kawabata and The Sound of the Mountain…

“But a haiku by Buson came into his mind: ‘I try to forget this senile love; a chilly autumn shower.’ The gloom only grew denser.” – Yasunari Kawabata

The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata (image courtesy Goodreads)

Reading Japanese Nobelist Yasunari Kawabata’s The Sound of the Mountain, one is reminded of the great films of his artistic contemporaries Yasujiro Ozu and Akira KurosawaTokyo Story and Ikuru, respectively. These two cinema classics, like Kawabata’s novel, deal with the themes of aging, family relationships (particularly parents/adult children and grandparents/grandchildren), and the psychological and philosophical aspects of coming to terms with the end of life. Tokyo Story tells about the trip of an elderly couple to see their beloved adult children and grandchildren and the disappointment they feel when they realize their loved ones have no time for or interest in them. Ikuru (which translates as “to live”) tells the story of an aging bureaucrat who gets a terminal illness diagnosis and attempts to “do something” before he dies that will give his life meaning.

Ikuru appeared in 1952, Tokyo Story in 1953. The Sound of the Mountain was originally published the following year, 1954. This period, short of a decade after the end of World War II, seems to have been a time of bittersweet reflection for members of this generation (Kawabata, Ozu, and Kurosawa were all born within about a decade of each other). Continue reading

Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

What if nuclear war no longer resulted in nuclear winter?

Can nuclear weapons be justified if arsenals are kept small enough to prevent the threat of nuclear winter if used?

Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

Nuclear war, like a nuclear warhead, is actually multiple threats in one. Of the three greatest, the first is instantaneous — death and destruction from the blast — the second two, time-released: radiation and, later, nuclear winter.

Nuclear winter, as you may know, occurs when smoke from fire set off by nuclear detonations (especially in cities, with their concentration of flammable material) rises to the upper atmosphere. The result, as American and Russian scientists learned in the early eighties, was that the atmosphere would heat up and the earth would cool. More specifically, the smoke burns nitrogen causing ozone depletion, which, even worse than causing skin cancer, interferes with photosynthesis, thus drastically lowers crop yields. Millions will starve (just another way that nuclear weapons give new meaning to the phrase “adding insult to injury”) — not to mention all those who may to a depression induced by the cold and the perpetual dirty gray clouds looming over them. Continue reading

Woman-Power

Musings on the patriarchy, 3/28/15 – gendered bombs, mutual outerspace penetration, and astronaut fetuses, part II

This is part II in a series of III.  Part I, gendered bombs, here.

Mutual outerspace penetration

In July, 1975, the first international docking in space occurred involving the American Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz (meaning “union”). An official news release out of Houston, referring to the mating as “androgynous,” explained that the American ship played the “male / active role” on Thursday, July 17, by inserting its “nose” into the “nose” of the Russian ship. The press release further helpfully explained that the docking operation “was a purely male/female arrangement – a probe that fit snugly into a receptacle.” At the height of the militarism and mutually assured destruction that was the Cold War, however, neither country could be allowed to appear more “male” than the other. And so, the press release explained, on Friday, the Russian craft got to be the penetrator – ta-da, masculinity, understood as male-as-penetrator, preserved for both posturing nations. Continue reading