Thursday, November 28, 2013

Winter reading vs. follow the music

Charles Krauthammer    Alan Dershowitz           Erik Prince

If you are in the mood for winter reading

I reviewed more than a few books during my time as an active journalist, but right now I wish only to recommend three without actually reviewing them. Do a bit of further research if, after reading these brief introductions, you think you might benefit from and/or enjoy one or all of these books:

Charles Krauthammer: "Things that Matter"

Krauthammer was a medical student when he dove into a swimming pool and emerged to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Despite the crippling injury, he finished his studies at Harvard Medical School and became a practicing psychiatrist. As a political liberal, he changed fields and became a speech writer for Democrat then-Vice President Walther Mondale, eventually moving on into journalism. Over the course of a few decades, he transitioned to become a conservative. He writes that as a doctor, he was trained to be a pragmatist; hence, he saw that conservatism worked while liberalism did not. The book is a compilation of columns Krauthammer wrote as a journalist, and offers the reasoning and progression why he and others evolve from a liberal to a conservative political philosophy as they gain in knowledge about rights, responsibilities and freedoms. Incidentally, Krauthammer is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his newspaper columns.

Alan Dershowitz: "Taking a Stand"

I might label this book under the category of "know thy enemy" because many of the beliefs Dershowitz professes and many of the actions he has undertaken during his adult life I find somewhere between objectionable to downright offensive. He has spent his entire career teaching at Harvard Law School and defending in courtrooms those who often are indefensible (in my opinion). For instance, he was an advisor in the defense of O.J. Simpson at his trial for the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Never-the-less, the book is fascinating in the sense of understanding the world as seen through the eyes of those who believe in an extremely liberal social and political philosophy. There are times the best friends might be political opposites, and Dershowitz could easily be one in a strictly social sense. However, to me he seems unable to draw a line between legal concepts and justice, and is willing to act as a legal mercenary if he is paid well enough.

Erik Prince: "Civilian Warriors"

This is one fascinating story. Prince, originally from Michigan, dropped out of the U.S. Naval Academy, but after graduating from Hillsdale College became an officer and a SEAL in the U.S. Navy. For a time, he belonged to a SEAL/CIA "nasty" team. (Nasty is my term, since assassination teams do not exist under the official auspices of the U.S government, right?) After the Navy, he returned to run his family's billion-dollar business and later created Blackwater, which, in polite terms, would be called a private security firm and the world's largest private military company. A generation ago, it would have been called an outfit for training and supplying mercenaries to the highest bidder, which included (whoops, you probably guessed it) Uncle Sam. Is it not fascinating how rhetoric and semantics have changed the face of America? Prince explains how Blackwater often took the bullets and the blame when things went wrong for U.S. government operations and assignments in places like Iraq. Prince has vowed he never again would work for the federal government because of its corruption and dishonesty. I, for one, agree wih him.

FramWinter: November through March

Those who have passed this way at this time of year before know that I do not measure seasons by the calendar, but, rather, by their general arrival and departure in my niche of the world. So, then:

FramWinter began November 1. It will end March 31. Which is not to say winter storms cannot occur before or after those dates, but is to say this is a pretty accurate, general measurement of typical weather in this neck of the woods.

I really would like to hibernate this year, more so than most years. I often say I have bear blood in my veins because, just about the time October is in full stride, I want to sleep and to forget the world until the sun awakens me around the end of March. Well, we shall see what develops between now and Yuletide. Perhaps, the end of 2013 is not too late to leap off some proverbial cliff and to discover what awaits below.

As for the music, this time around includes a pair of songs I have used in past posts. The first is representative of the "never a winter alone again" promise I made to myself during the winter of 2009 and failed to keep .... here I go again .... alone again, without you. The second is symbolic of my mood and my thoughts and my notion of going on the road for a while and following the music until I arrive at a place in the sun.

Happy Thanksgiving ....

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, Kennedy & other ghosts

There might be a few in the United States and around the world who actually need words to explain the events which were unfolding when this photograph was taken in the early afternoon of November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. At least, I would hope there are not many adults who do not recognize the event about to take place: The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the U.S. The photograph comes from the Bettmann/Corbis Archive. The music today is almost cliché to this national tragedy, but seems appropriate, and a second video offers a glimpse of JFK's manner and style during press conferences.

So, here we are .... is it time yet?

Yes, I know. President of the United States John F. Kennedy was murdered on this day fifty years ago.

Like many Americans and, I suppose, many in countries around the world, I have my thoughts and beliefs and opinions and ideas about the who, what, why and how of this notation in the history of mankind. Where and when are established facts.

I will not write anything lengthy on this anniversary, but I will go on record saying that I do not believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. This is not because, as some claim, there is no way he could have fired three times in six seconds with a bolt action rifle and scored the hits he did at the range he did at a moving target. I can do it and, if I can, others can, as well. It is from a combination of many reasons that I have the beliefs I do.

A year ago, I wrote a post in which I admitted that I literally had passed over November 22 without recalling it was the anniversary of Kennedy's death, and that much of America was guilty of the same sin of omission or forgetfulness. I suppose a fiftieth anniversary is sort of a "magic number" and easier for the media to remember, because there has been story after story in the news about it for at least the past week.

I suppose what I wrote in my post on November 27, 2012, largely applies this to year, as well, so there is no use dwelling on this event or repeating pretty much what I wrote last year. So, read my last year's commentary, if you are the curious type.

However, I will note that certain "facts" related to the Kennedy murder which were not released in 1963 when it happened were to be given to the public fifty years after his death. That is what was promised to the American people by the American government back then.

So, here we are, fifty years later. Is it time yet? Honor the promise. Tell me those facts which were kept secret at the time of JFK's assassination.

Tell me.

.... Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth / Act 5, Scene 5
William Shakespeare

Look around you

We all live with ghosts.

Let me rephrase that. At some point in our lives, most of us begin to live with ghosts. I suppose it is related to conscience and sanity. There are people we have known who have died -- family and friends -- maybe, a few enemies, too. There are loves we have won and lost and betrayed. There are people we have mistreated or, simply, not treated fairly.

If you do not have people and situations such as these in your life, you either are very young or do not have a conscience. And, do you realize that point? That there actually are people who do not have a conscience? At this junction, if we were to acknowledge it, we would wander off into a discussion about the concepts of good and evil. But, we will not do that this evening.

I think I live with too many ghosts, and I need some way to forget them. Well, I mean, to push them into the background for a few more years. Until I am ready to confront them or to join them.

The ghost of Caesar hath appear'd to me ....

Julius Caesar / Act 5, Scene 5
William Shakespeare

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hair & the 1903 Springfield rifle

Nice wood, on most of the firearms and on the cabinet. Modern guns have little beauty. Synthetic materials have replaced both wood and steel, for the most part, and while firearms once often had allure and mystique and art in their construction, these ingredients have been replaced by a phony bravado and film-fantasy appearance -- by macho ridiculousness in sort of an effort to make guns "sexy." The firearms in the cabinet in the photograph are old, their age ranging from 1894 to 1942 with most dating to the early years of the twentieth century. The cabinet is sort of new. I bought it in a moment of weakness last summer, but just this week managed to move it from the garage into the house. I might also note that the pitcher and the clock atop the cabinet are well over one hundred years old.

Give me a head with hair

I had five inches of hair cut the other day.

This is the pattern which has been a constant during my life: Very short hair as a boy, long as a teenager, short as a Marine .... long to short and back and forth as a man. My hair usually has been worn rather long as an adult -- except when I have been looking for a new job.

I am not sure, but I think it might be time to cut it very short again and, probably, to leave it that way, not because I am looking for a new job, but because it is time for me to settle down and to make a few decisions about what I am and who I want to be during the next few years. Besides that, it is thinning with age, and it might be appropriate to throw in the towel in terms of long hair.

I always have preferred long hair on both men and women. I suppose for me, when thinking about long hair for men, my preference originates from the Bible and the story of Samson. His strength was in his long hair. In the Marines, the boot camp super-closely-cropped hair was symbolic of rebirth from the recruit's existing life into the Marine Corps. I did not agree with that notion then and do not now, and could tell you a story or two about peace-time Marines and war-time Marines and the way hair was worn.

Someday, maybe ....

Alexander the Great had his men cut their hair short so "the enemy" could not grab it and grip it in combat. Very logical and very practical, indeed. I suppose the question, therefore, is who to emulate: Samson or Alexander? I know my choice, and I have trusted the wrong woman a time or two to demonstrate it. Whoops .... I am assuming you know the story of Samson and his fate at the hands of Delilah. If you do not, I leave you to your own resources to research it.

I am not sure how to apply these thoughts to women. Their hair, I mean. Where does the concept of short hair vs. long hair come from among women? I do not know. Enlighten me.

Those are the questions, Horatio

I spent some time today "playing with" an old rifle I just acquired. It is a Springfield Model 1903. Which means its "brethren" went into action one-hundred-ten years ago. It was one of two rifles used by U.S. troops during World War I. My particular rifle was manufactured in 1930, between the world wars, and making it eighty-three years old.

Since this rifle is eighty-three years old and "began its life" as a military weapon, a doorway is opened to speculate about the hands which have held it and the places it might have been. When World War II began, American soldiers carried rifles such as it into North Africa and American Marines went ashore with ones like it at Guadalcanal. Production and use continued during the war despite the introduction of a new and improved rifle -- the M1 Garand -- which held on to being the primary U.S. rifle of war until just before the Vietnam era. Noted for their accuracy and range, many 1903s were adapted for sniper use during the Korean War and into Vietnam.

You have heard me often "say" here that I greatly enjoy old watches, old coins and old guns -- especially in the sense of thinking about who might have held them before they came to me.

There is nothing about our existence which is simple. Even the time-worn objects which come into our hands travel just as we travel from our beginning to our end. And, in my sorry excuse for a personal philosophy, Horatio, these objects have within them a Manitou which measures them and records what they have done and have seen.

Where has my new-old rifle been? What has it seen? What has it done? Those are the questions, Horatio. I hope it will begin to trust me and will tell me these things ....

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy 238th Birthday, U.S. Marine Corps

This is the United States Marine Corps War Memorial adjacent to Arlington, Virginia, National Cemetery as it appears at night in a photograph by Catie Drew. I was there once, while I was in the Marines, not at night, but on a sunny Sunday. I had traveled north, coming from a base at Quantico, Virginia, for a weekend in Washington, D.C. I would hope this site is a special place -- even a sacred place -- for every American and not just for Marines. A walk through the national cemetery and a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns create an emotional awakening which is difficult to describe -- so, I will not even try. Today -- November 10 -- is the 238th birthday of the Marine Corps. Monday -- November 11 -- is Veterans Day in the U.S. Once called Armistice Day by Americans and still referred to by that name or as Remembrance Day in many other nations, it marks the end to World War I. Originally, the day was meant to pay homage to veterans of the "war to end all wars," but later was revamped to include veterans of all wars. Few people observe Veterans Day and fewer still realize today is the USMC birthday. If you are reading this, now you know and I hope you will devote a minute or two to dwell upon the significance of each. I looked at probably fifteen videos trying to find one that fit this post. I found nothing that took hold of me, but I settled on this one which briefly shows a ceremony at the American cemetery at Belleau Wood in France. It seemed to be symbolic of the Corps because it was Marines who stopped German forces advancing on Paris in their tracks there in 1918 and because it was a World War I battle and, therefore, linked to the origins of Veterans Day .... sort of a salute to the memory of both events, which are among those which shaped the world we live in today.

Something special ....