Friday, May 31, 2013

Three Rules of Life

Ignoring passed out drunk on Clark Street
Art Shay,  Chicago, 1952

"Never play cards with a man called Doc.  Never eat at a place called Mom's.  And never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own."

--Nelson Algren
(1909 - 1981)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Problem of Muslim Leadership

Julie Siddiqi, executive director of the Islamic Society of Britain; Omar Bakri, a radical Muslim cleric barred from Britain.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali in WSJ:
"The question requiring an answer at this moment in history is clear: Which group of leaders really speaks for Islam? The officially approved spokesmen for the "Muslim community"? Or the manic street preachers of political Islam, who indoctrinate, encourage and train the killers—and then bless their bloodshed?
 [...] "I wonder what would happen if Muslim leaders like Julie Siddiqi started a public and persistent campaign to discredit these Islamist advocates of mayhem and murder. Not just uttering the usual laments after another horrifying attack, but making a constant, high-profile effort to show the world that the preachers of hate are illegitimate. After the next zealot has killed the next victim of political Islam, claims about the "religion of peace" would ring truer."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Born in Fire

From Leif Babin, a former Navy Seal who deployed three times to Iraq:

Let's remember on Memorial Day—and every other day, for that matter—that America did not become a nation without a fight. Last week, I found myself in Washington, D.C., admiring a bronze statue of George Washington. The statue shows him as a general, astride a horse, sword drawn at the ready. This was Washington as a true American leader, inspiring those around him by showing that he too was willing to risk death for the cause of victory. The statue brought to mind the thousands of soldiers who marched with him into battle against the British, facing seemingly impossible odds.
It was not the Declaration of Independence that gave us freedom but the Continental Army. America was born from conflict, delivered by soldiers willing to pay with their blood the tremendous cost of freedom.
The dead did not wish to be martyred. They no doubt longed to return to their homes and families. But they believed in the "glorious cause," something far greater than themselves. Despite knowing the dangers before them, they followed Gen. Washington into the fray even when victory seemed hopeless and the cause all but lost.
In America today, there are those who believe that under no circumstances is war the answer. Violence only begets more violence, we're told. The unstated message: Nothing is worth fighting and dying for. History disagrees.
Knowing firsthand the hardships of combat gives me all the more reason to admire and stand in awe of those who marched with Washington and gave their lives for the United States of America. Most will never be depicted in bronze, but their sacrifices matter. The legions of American warriors since then who sacrificed their lives have not done so eagerly, nor have they done so blindly. They acted willingly because they believed in a great nation that is worth fighting and dying for.
Memorial Day is a living monument to them, a recognition of freedom's cost. May we never take those sacrifices for granted.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

of If and Then and Since and Or and And

Wingless Words

Let us praise poets who are not afraid
of Therefore – or of other wingless words
that do what they are told, and nothing more.
The shiny words fly in with their ideas
scattering light, and settle on the hand
of these old neighbours, friends from Lexicon Street:
their wooden arms hold up such procreant cradles,
such rainbow angels – and such smelly fiends –
almost invisibly, like the anonymous tree
on which the phoenix sat, and sang, its claws
grasping the bark, sensing the ancient hardness
that lets us flash our iridescent scales.
With them we praise Lucretius, his great song
of Whatsoever – the nature of the world.
He picked his way among the filmy visions
and saw how sheep speckle a mountain-side,
and how the breathing earth creates big waves.
But also, at his marriage to the muse,
we saw them, hurrying off toward the Void,
being caught in a shower of atoms, the confetti
of If and Then and Since and Or and And.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What's More Sad Than Sobbing

From Lloyd Evans, in a review of John Logan's new play, Peter and Alice, comes this dry-eyed observation of something we've all noticed but perhaps never articulated:
"Alice, as an adult, recalls her sons’ deaths on the western front. This gives Dame Judi [Dench] a chance to have a good old blub. The sight of an actor giving it the full Niagara is invariably tedious to watch although reviewers are usually polite enough to call it ‘profoundly moving’ or something like that. Here’s the difficulty. Yielding to tears is an abject and finished action that disengages our interest. The attempt to defy grief, on the other hand, and to overcome tears, is a heroic and unfinished act that sustains our interest. When actors sob, drama dies."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Style in Genre Fiction

"My theory has always been that the public will accept style provided you do not call it style either in words or by, as it were, standing off and admiring it. There seems to me to be a vast difference between writing down to the public (something which always flops in the end) and doing what you want to do in a form which the public has learned to accept."
     --Raymond Chandler

Mark Sanford, Buddhist Christian

Now here's a rarity--a Southern Republican Christian talks about practicing Buddhism (Chris Moody, Yahoo News 5/6/13):
"My view is, bigger the crowd, the fewer the votes," Sanford said. "If you can just keep moving as an individual and you're present—I don't want to sound Buddhist on you—but you're in the moment. You're present with them, you actually can have a real conversation. You can talk about issues that they like, what they don't like, in a way that you can't if you have a crowd."
I asked him about Buddhism. (Let's face it, it's not every day that a Southern candidate for national office will drop a Siddhartha Gautama reference in casual conversation.)
Sanford told me that his interest in Buddhism stretches back three years, to when he retreated to his remote family farm after his term as governor ended—a term marked by scandal over his secretly leaving the country to be with his Argentine mistress, whom he now plans to marry.
While in exile, Sanford began studying meditation, a practice he continues to this day.
"A buddy of mine said, 'Mark, you're becoming a Buddhist Christian.' I come from the Christian faith. That's my faith tradition. But what I do like about Buddhism is the idea of being present," Sanford said during the car ride. "I think that that's missed in Western culture, where we're so busy looking a week out, two weeks out, a month out, a year out, and we're hurried and we're busy. And I think if there's any one thing I learned from that year I spent on the farm in the wake of getting out of office and just having a very, very quiet year, is the importance of stillness and quietness. And that extends beyond just the physical location. It extends really into the moment of, are you really with that person or are you thinking of the next thing you've got to do? So I do like very much that part of Buddhism. I think it's right."
Sanford declined to describe his meditation techniques, but said, "I've tried to be disciplined about a quiet time each day."