Between war and peace: NATO, Russia, and the dumpster fire in Syria


image courtesy of nbcnews.com

First let us remember our fallen brothers. One Russian airman (possibly two) and one marine are dead. Let’s be quiet for a moment and think about that. For their families, none of this will ever make sense. None of this will ever be justified. This is what war is, families torn apart by violence. The people of Russia have courageously stood up for our shared values, truth, reason, love, and peace, and now their sons are dead. They will not be returning home as their families prayed that they would. Let us honor their spirit and remember their unflinching devotion to Russia and to our collective safety as global citizens.

The Russian military command sees this conflict very differently than we see it in the West. They share our concern regarding global terror. They have been attacked from the shadows by psychopathic cowards just as we have. They understand that a bunch of deposed Iraqi power junkies are using misinformation to lure Muslim youth into a demented suicide pact. They understand that the misinformation itself is crowdsourced, has been propagated for decades by irresponsible hatemongers, just as racist propaganda has been disseminated worldwide throughout history and continues to fester in the shadows. Continue reading


Help me Governor McCrory, you’re my only hope


image courtesy of wikimedia.org

The Syrian refugees who are currently undergoing a two year vetting process had nothing to do with the attacks in Paris. They are the Albert Einsteins trying to get out of Nazi Germany, and we are stopping them. This is how we lose the war. We burn a whole city to get revenge on two already-dead homicidal maniacs. There are a limited number of brainwashed suicide bombers. Remember Japan. It’s an act of desperation. It’s the hallmark of a General out of options. Continue reading


America, refugees and assimilation

twelve-syrians-drown-heading-from-turkey-to-greek-island-1441235628-2607Jeb Bush has proposed only admitting Christian Syrian refugees. On the face of it, it’s an obnoxious, bigoted suggestion, a clear violation of the fundamental principle of separation of church and state, and flies in the face of all this country stands for. But what if he’s right?

The problem is not so much that some of the refugees could be terrorists, although that’s certainly a possibility, e.g., the Tsarnaev brothers, as it is that they could form a potential breeding ground for future terrorists. The risk is second-generation terrorists. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Religion

Women at wells have problems, evidently…

In which we learn that Buddha and Jesus met the same sorts of people…

4th Century statue of Buddha (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Each morning my wife Lea and I read together, a delightful habit which we have been practicing for a number of years. Our readings consist of a religious/spiritual works (we are eclectic, though our readings tend to rotate between the Christian and Buddhist, particularly Zen Buddhist, traditions primarily), works about art (we’re fond of both art history and criticism), and poetry.  We recently finished the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and we are currently working our way through a work called Teachings of the Buddha. This work is a compendium of various lessons and stories – one might use the word parables safely – attributed to Siddhartha Gautama.

Of particular interest to us have been remarkable similarities between stories of the Buddha’s experiences and stories of those of a later teacher, one well known (at least by name) to Western culture – Jesus Christ. One of these “shared stories,” the woman at the well, is worth a look because it gives us insight into the traditions of two major religions and of how we understand their teachings. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

The human detritus of war

After the U.S. Civil War, the violence didn’t stop. Numerous gangs of bandits continued to fight on for almost thirty years after the war was officially over. The most famous of course was the James-Younger Gang, but there were also the Daltons and the Doolins, Henry Berry Lowrie and the Swamp Outlaws in North Carolina, the Baldknobbers in Arkansas and the Klan. Some of these are purely for-profit initiatives, but as often as not, they have a political bent. They are, along with the maimed, widowed and orphaned, and dislocated and impoverished, the human detritus of war.

Some wars produce more. The Hundred Years War in Europe produced so many companies of bandits that various popes proposed Crusades in an attempt to siphon them off into hopefully deadly wars, just as the French would later enlist SS into the Foreign Legion after WWII and sent them to Indochina. Others produce only a few. The Vietnam War contributed a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Gulf War Timothy McVeigh. Sometimes so many are produced that they destroy entire countries, as the Liberia Civil War ended up ravaging Sierra Leone.

Regardless of nuance, the basic formula is the same. Angry young men, trained in the art of war, who come back disaffected and often with limited prospects. So they do what they know how to do—blow shit up and kill people.

Now we’re seeing the same thing in the recent wave of terrorism. New York, Madrid, London, Mumbai, Boston, and now Paris, again. We don’t know all the details yet, but what we do know suggests military grade weapons handled with military-level expertise in a military-like operation.

It’s not really about Islam or a reaction to the devastation created by the foolish adventuring of the Bushes and Cheney. It’s much simpler than that. They’re young, impassioned, angry and deadly and there are simply too many of them.



Book Review: Tortuga Bay by S.R. Staley

Sam Staley’s latest entry in his Pirate of Panther Bay series is a swashbuckling pirate tale with a subtext of social criticism. 

Tortuga Bay by S. R. Staley (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

S.R. Staley, whose alternate holiday adventure, St Nic, Inc. I reviewed last year, is back with a new novel, this one the second in his series on female pirate Isabella. Tortuga Bay continues Isabella’s saga, this time putting her history as an escaped slave seeking justice for her fellow plantation workers. This desire to help others find freedom as she has done forces Isabella into making difficult decisions.

Isabella, who escaped slavery on a sugar cane plantation and learned the pirate trade in the first book in the series, finds herself on the run from the Spanish viceroy of the Caribbean. Complicating that danger is the fact that the man she is love with, Juan Carlos Santa Ana, is the Spanish officer charged with capturing her and seeing her brought to Viceroy Rodriquez who plans her execution.

Another complication in this already complicated scenario is Isabella’s friendship with her partner and mentor Jean-Michel and her pirate crew. Completing this set of complications that create a classic emotional triangle is a prophecy Isabella lives with that she is to be a deliverer of her fellow slaves. Continue reading

John and Sean…

Both John Lennon and his youngest son Sean share the same birthday. Imagine that….

Today is Sean Lennon’s birthday. He’s 40. That’s an eerily special birthday to Sean, I’m guessing, given that his dad John celebrated his 40th birthday exactly 35 years ago – and was dead two month later, murdered by the madman who shall not be named here. I also suspect that he’s doing his best to enjoy his day and find what peace he can in his likely fuzzy (he was only five when his father was killed) memories of John.

I’ve written plenty about John Lennon over the years which you can read here and here. I’ve also written about Sean and his half-brother Julian. Their lives have been like the lives of many children of famous people: not particularly happy despite their wealth and fame.

So let’s remember the good times on this special day in the Lennon family. Continue reading

Nobel Prize

Isn’t it called the Nobel Prize for – Literature…?

The Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded today. There are a large number of arguably splendid candidates. Who will win? Likely none of them….

Nobel Prize Medal (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Nobel committee has chosen the 2015 Nobelist in Literature and their choice will have been announced by the time you read this. The list of candidates with credentials strong enough to be legitimate contenders. There are even those out there who spend time handicapping the field. First, the bad news: it seems highly unlikely that an American will get the award despite a strong contingent of worthy candidates including Joyce Carol Oates, John Ashberry, Don DeLillo, and my personal favorite, Richard Ford. (Odds makers exclude those whom the Nobel committee likely consider “regional” writers – worthy authors such as Cormac McCarthy or John Ehle.)

Even Bob Dylan is mentioned as a candidate. But that choice is by all accounts blowin’ in the wind. Or tangled up in blue. Or something. Continue reading


Book Review: Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion

A bit like a mystery, a bit like a thriller, a bit like the notes from a theological conclave: John Chaplick’s Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion offers all kinds of readers an interesting trip into the search for the various forms of truth religious texts offer us….

Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion by John Chaplick (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

A Roman centurion who knew the Apostle Paul sends his son an original version of the New Testament. Twenty centuries or so later, the letter he sent along with the manuscript is discovered by an archaeologist and brought to the attention of a museum curator, a couple of theologians, a history professor, and a graduate student writing on material related to the discovery. These five enlist the archaeologist, they split into two groups of three, and each group goes in search of that important – and likely controversial – document.

That, in a nutshell is the plot of Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion, a book that explores some profound ideas even as it veers between being a mystery, a thriller, and a theological symposium. What Chaplick seeks to do is almost as elusive and difficult as what his characters attempt to do in his novel: explore a profound religious question while at the same time keep readers entertained.

He comes close to pulling off this near impossible feat.

What will make Forbidden Chronicles a challenge to the reader attracted to its Da Vinci Code like narrative is that author Chaplick peppers the novel with at times almost dauntingly philosophical and theological discussions among his main characters. Continue reading

Iranians gather to show their support of the people of Syria and Iraq, in Tehran, Iran on June 24, 2014. Demonstrators said if ISIS attacks holy Shiite shrines in Iraq, they will go and fight against ISIS.     UPI/Maryam Rahmanian (Newscom TagID: upiphotostwo319406.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Foreign policy: make Iraq great again

                                                       image courtesy of dailysignal.com

The answer to the Syrian refugee crisis is Iraq. As Secretary of State Colin Powell famously warned President George W. Bush, “If you break it, you own it.” (Read that whole article, by the way, because Colin Powell is one of the great American Generals and he speaks the truth.) We have many allies in the region and they are doing everything they can to help us. Turkey is housing nearly 2 million refugees (half of whom are children.) That’s 10% of Syria’s pre-war population. Jordan has embraced almost 650,000, which means that 10% of Jordan’s total population is now Syrian refugees.

Lebanon (not an ally) has accepted 1.1 million refugees. Lebanon and Israel are in the midst of a Cold War. As a result, the United States offers Lebanon no assistance, even though 25% of their population is now Syrian refugees. The children keep coming, and Lebanon keeps housing, feeding, and sheltering them, even though their resources are well beyond the breaking point. Even Iran has been sending aid, as much as they are able, to fellow members of the Red Crescent Society (think Red Cross for Muslims.) Continue reading

Dr. Walter Palmer

Cecil the Lion’s killer doesn’t quite get it

Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, says he did nothing illegal and that he’s going back to work.

I don’t think Dr. Palmer understands the issue. He doesn’t grasp why people are so upset. He thinks we’re all mad because we mistakenly believe that he broke the law.

No, Walter, we know you acted legally. We live in a country where it’s legal for rich people to buy Congressmen. Most places it’s called “bribery” or “graft” or “corruption,” but here it’s called “lobbying” or “free speech.” Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Paul McCartney: boy in a band to man on the run…

Tom Doyle’s excellent book on Paul McCartney during the Wings years reveals a Paul most don’t know very well: a conflicted, sometimes lost, boy/man trying to carry on as a musician while also trying to be husband/father and rock star/cultural agitator at the same time – until traumas of very different types made him settle into adulthood and, ultimately, self-acceptance.

Sir Paul McCartney, my favorite Beatle (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Much of what the average rock aficionado knows about the break up of the Beatles comes from either Jann Wenner’s interviews with John Lennon or from casual attention during those years to news reports about the legal hassles the Fabs endured while extricating themselves from their partnership in Apple. Like any break up, personal or professional, (and this was both the severing of an indescribably successful musical collaboration and the splintering of friends who’d been almost inseparable since childhood), the Beatles’ demise was messy and hurtful for all involved.

Tom Doyle’s superb book Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970’s fell into my hands as a birthday present from my beloved sister a few days ago and I dropped my usual reading to devour it, both because I wanted to make sure my sister knew I appreciated her thoughtfulness and because I will read anything written with something approaching competence about The Beatles generally and Paul McCartney specifically. Hell, I even read the incompetent stuff.

This book is as good as any I’ve ever read on these subjects. Kudos to Tom Doyle and to my sister Janis. Continue reading

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare was a Doobie Brother…?

We now have not even close to definitive proof that William Shakespeare smoked marijuana and perhaps used cocaine. Good thing Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe wrote those plays, huh…?

Bill Shakespeare, mellow dude (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Busy with a lot of stuff for school and behind a little on my reading these days, though by the weekend I’ll have an essay on an excellent book on Paul McCartney during the Wings years.

So today we talk about Shakespeare. Actually we talk about Shakespeare on crack. Well, maybe not crack but cocaine – and pot.

Wow. Just wow….

According to that bastion of journalism USA Today, a study published in July suggests that Shakespeare may have smoked marijuana and cocaine. The researchers, from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, after examining shards of clay smoking pipes from Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon property with a new type of spectrometry, report that traces of cannabis and Peruvian cocaine have been found in those pipes. The pipes may/may not have have been used by Shakespeare, but the pipes date from the early 17th century and come from Shakespeare’s property. So possibly… Continue reading

Vote Labour

Labour chooses a new leader, again, except this time it’s kind of fun


After its election debacle last May, when Labour got crushed, the road back, or forward, or in any direction whatsoever has been a bit uncertain. Results were so bad that Labour’s Ed Miliband, the Lib Dem’s Nick Clegg, and UKIP’s Nigel Farage all resigned. Why Farage resigned is a bit unclear, although UKIP only gained one MP, against some higher expectations, and Farage himself didn’t achieve a seat. However, the thing to keep in mind about this election is how dominant the conservative vote was—The Conservatives and UKIP together managed to garner over 50% of the vote, and all those overblown fears about another coalition government, or about an outright Labour win, proved to be misplaced. Continue reading


Intolerance of intolerance: how much is enough?

ISIS is but one example. What about the rest?

Dr. M. Neil Browne of Ice in the Head, author of Asking the Right Questions, posted today about the merits of selective intolerance. Warning: videos linked from that article are of graphic violence, so don’t click that video link as the contents aren’t safe for work or much of anything, really. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Salinger and Hemingway Were Pals, Sort of – Who Knew…?

Salinger and Hemingway got be be friends in Hemingway’s favorite context for male bonding: war. What kinds of friends they were says something about each man….

Ernest Hemingway doing what writers do (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Nicolaus Mills, a professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, is currently writing a new book on Hemingway – just what we need, right? But Mills’ focus, Hemingway’s life during the Second World War, has yielded some fascinating information not known to the general public. For instance, Hemingway entered recently liberated Paris in 1944 not in the company of American troops but instead with a group of French partisans.

That’s the sort of thing one expects from the American Byron, of course, but Mills gives us an even more interesting bit of literary history: during that period in 1944 J.D. Salinger, he whose most famous character called Frederic Henry and A Farewell to Arms  “phony,” struck up (cultivated is more likely) a friendship that lasted for at least a few years.

The poster boy for schoolyard style machismo in all things and the ultimate alienated loner punk walk into a bar…. Continue reading

The Arts

Art as production for use turned into art as production for profit

The art world can’t help but be pleased with the efforts of its victims — there’s money to be made, after all. But there are those of us who watch these developments with increasing alarm, wondering if the art world will ever wake up. The saving grace is that art’s machinations generally have little effect on the rest of the globe. That may be the reason that art — especially today’s art — “is the only human activity that does not lead to killing.” Contemporary art has made itself so meaningless that nobody can be bothered to pull the trigger over it. – Alex Melamid

On Kawara (image courtesy Wikimedia)

I am almost finished with Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, but rather than rush through the novel’s ending and write hurriedly about it, I wanted a few days to ponder it since I feel it deserves thoughtful consideration. I’ll write about it in my next essay over the weekend.

That, of course, leaves me with the need to find a topic for this essay. I have two, and after careful consideration (that sound you hear is the coin landing on the table), I’ve decided to write about an interesting piece from Huffington Post that is yet another complaint about the problems facing contemporary art. The piece focuses on visual art, but I think the same is true for literature and music, so much of what the author says applies to art in the broad sense of the term’s usage.

That problem is, perhaps explained by using terms that will set of alarm bells for all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons: “production for use” and “production for profit.”

But first a few words about On Kawara who is sort of a poster child for what the title of this essay is on about….

Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

A question of what matters: hyperrealism and the literature of detachment….

Complete detachment or complete engagement – as Billy Joel observed, it all depends upon your appetite….

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (image courtesy Goodreads)

I am still making my way, rather too leisurely probably, through Walker Percy’s marvelous novel The Last Gentleman (about which I will have much to say, since I corresponded with Mr. Percy while completing my first book, a novel, The New Southern Gentleman). I’m also awaiting delivery of my copy of about which I’ll write some more once I’ve read it and digested its what promises to be awesomely hyped mediocrity.

That left me casting about for something to write about for this essay, and I found it by stumbling upon an essay in The Nation about the latest trend (counter trend might be another way of viewing it) in literary fiction: novels composed of the musings of completely detached narrators rambling on in some sort of Onionesque version of the literary equivalent of a “nattering nabob of negativitsm” that the vice-crook of the Nixon administration once was on about.

I think this trend says something (interesting? troubling? useful? useless?) about American culture – particularly the culture of creative writing programs and the sorts of literature they produce. It is also important to note why the trend in European literature has been for an almost diametrically opposed trend in litfic from across the Atlantic. Finally, and this is mighty important to remember, as Bullwinkle would say, none of this may be anything but footnotes in the great narrative where The Dude abides and one should know the first rule of Fight Club. Continue reading


Greece votes “No,” leaving us where?

When Yanis Varoufakis left academia to take up his position as Greece’s finance minister after the far-left electoral victory which brought Syriza to power, he said words to the effect that – if things didn’t work out – he could always go back to university.

“I mean, I really don’t want to be in this office … I will go back to my book about Europe, which is half-finished. It’s very difficult to find an ending when I am still in this job.”

I took away from that soundbite that he, akin with many of his ivory-tower colleagues, is unsuited for the real world and would abandon the consequences of his actions as soon as he got bored.

Today, he did just that, saying, “I wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.” Continue reading