Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons)
Down here in Arizona opponents of “illegal” immigration (they are really opponents of all immigration, whether “illegal” or perfectly legal) are fond of putting an end to all discussion about the subject with the following question: “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you get?” That settles the issue in their mind. Period. End of story. I have never had an opportunity to answer because the question has never been put to me directly. Mostly, I suspect, because such people think that my immigration status is shady at best and flagrantly illegal at worst. No one ever likes to mention the rope in the hanged man’s house.
But now our clown dynasty (I use the term coined by H.L. Mencken to refer to US politicians) has voted in the House of Representatives that it does not want to accept Syrian refugees, and several Republican presidential candidates are advocating the surveillance of Mosques and the government registry of Muslims (including American citizens who are Muslims). I take the liberty of answering, and explaining my answer, to this preposterous question for all readers of our blog.
The part that I don’t get about “illegal” is how come I’m not?!(more…)
Photo of the Sunday, August 22, 2010 Cordoba House protest. (Credit: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons)
Inspector Malcolm Fox—the protagonist of Ian Rankin’s Scottish crime novel, The Impossible Dead (NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2011)—reflects upon the ever-presence of fear, whether in news reports from 1985 or today:
When you’d stopped needing to fear a US-Soviet conflagration or an impending ice age, something else came along in its place. Fear of crime always seemed to outpace the actual statistics. Right now, people were fearing for their jobs and pensions, fearing global warming and dwindling resources. If these problems were ever resolved, new worries would fill the vacuum. (pp. 329-30)
Fear fills the vacuum of resolved problems. Fear engenders problems. Problems are a figment of fear, the chimera of exaggeration—or at least can be. Exaggeration, whether of crime levels or threats to national security, perpetuates the perception of crisis. The status quo remains on the verge of CRITICAL. (more…)
Official portrait of George H. W. Bush, former President of the United States of America, circa 1989. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
I am not sure what to make of the prepublication report of Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H. W. Bush’s presidential “odyssey,” Destiny and Power. I am intrigued by the mythic overtones of calling the 41st president’s term an odyssey, a wandering, but I’ll have to wait to read the book to decide how that actually plays out.
The hype for the book is interesting both for what it reveals and what it implies. News reports (I saw them in the Guardian and the Washington Post)—serving as book advertisements—offer a tantalizing appetizer. I usually don’t order the appetizer at a restaurant because it ruins my appetite for the main course. In this case, the appetizer may be the meal. (more…)
“The Adoration of the Golden Calf,” oil on canvas, by Nicolas Poussin, circa 1634. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
When Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he saw the people of Israel dancing and worshipping the golden calf. “Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” (Exodus 32:9) During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)
And yet in the land of the free we have created the “Land of the Dollar,” and we worship Mammon and build temples to the Golden Calf. (more…)
U.S. Army vehicles in Afghanistan. (Credit: U.S. Army)
Has the regime of continuous warfare finally run its course?
Scanning recent commentary on US military engagements, I noted an emerging sense of America as a wandering empire, meandering from one engagement to the next and back again, as if it lacked an agenda for militarism other than war for war’s sake. Perhaps US imperialism is a spent project and the time has arrived to consider a different way of engaging the world?
The editors of The Nation raised a version of this question when they asked, “What’s wrong with Obama’s decision to keep troops in Afghanistan”? Their answer—that those troops are propping up an unpopular government’s tenuous grip on power—prompted them to conclude that Congress’ post-9/11 “blank check for endless war” has left the US and its military forces lacking a strategy other than “eternal conflict, which has only fueled regional chaos, provoked more terrorism, and led to a catastrophic refugee crisis. It is time for an end to endless war.” (more…)
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin Meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Credit: President of the Russian Federation / http://www.kremlin.ru)
Brian Amsden, who teaches at Clayton State University, produces podcasts about once a month answering—one story at a time—the question of how we humans come to believe the impossible things we believe. His show is called Rhetorical Questions.
The most recent episode, Episode 7, is Brian interviewing me about Hunt the Devil: A Demonology of US War Culture. Brian asks great questions and makes excellent observations throughout the interview. (more…)
“The Hell,” mosaic by Coppo di Marcovaldo, circa 1301. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In times of trouble, I do not consult the Bible. I visit the astonishing and still very relevant Devil’s Dictionary by the bewildering Ambrose Bierce. Its word definitions—compiled during the last half of the nineteenth century—are cleansing, illuminating, and especially joyful during times when our minds are full of signs (indeed the certainty) that the prophesied and long-awaited Apocalypse is upon us.
Observe, for example, its sober definition of ABSURDITY = A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion. Take heed, all those who labor in “new” universities and houses of learning, of the dictionary’s stern proclamation of the decadence of such institutions: ACADEMY = A modern school where football is taught.(more…)
“The finding of Don Juan by Haidée” by Ford Madox Brown, 1870, watercolor and gouache over pencil. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the early twentieth century, George Bernard Shaw took on the “frightful responsibility” of composing a Don Juan play. His immediate sources were “a very great play” (Moliere’s Dom Juan), and “a very great opera” (Mozart’s Don Giovanni). But he understood that the spirit of the Spanish hero is that of a mythological trickster.
In a brief exegesis of the first Don Juan play (El burlador de Sevilla by Tirso de Molina, 1583-1648), Shaw explained:
The prototypic Don Juan … was presented, according to the ideas of that time, as the enemy of God, the approach of whose vengeance is felt throughout the drama, growing in menace from minute to minute. 
Shaw rejects the notion of Don Juan as a vulgar “libertine,” and makes clear in Man and Superman that his John Tanner (Juan Tenorio) is one “in the philosophic sense”:
Don Juan is a man who, though gifted enough to be exceptionally capable of distinguishing between good and evil, follows his own instincts without regard to the common, statute, or canon law; and therefore, whilst gaining the ardent sympathy of our rebellious instincts … finds himself in mortal conflict with existing institutions.
1899 political cartoon by Winsor McCay. Uncle Sam (representing the United States), gets entangled with rope around a tree labeled “Imperialism” while trying to subdue a bucking colt or mule labeled “Philippines” while a figure representing Spain walks off over the horizon. Reference to the United States taking control of the Philippines from Spain at end of the Spanish American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In 2008, seven years into an unending war on terrorism, historian Howard Zinn raised the question of whether the time had come not only to acknowledge America’s imperial past and present, but also to break the habit of militarism.
Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense — that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization — begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity?
Zinn’s question signals a moment of transition or, at least the possibility thereof, which implies an alternative vision of how to live in the world. (more…)
“Four Horsemen of Apocalypse,” by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Like Gabriel sounding the trumpet for the Final Judgment, or like an unwanted guest who names the rope in the hanged man’s house, Francis I stood before our Clown Congress and spoke the names of four American warrior saints. If our legislators would know them, or come to know more about them, they would realize that the Pope was urging upon us the consequences—in the course of time—of following the words of these Four Riders of the Apocalypse. (more…)