John McCain

Last of the Cold War Warriors

Senator John McCain, 1936-2018. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Even the tempests of Caliban’s island must pause at the passing of John McCain.

Writing about the three great Liberators of the Americas—Bolívar from Venezuela, San Martín from Río de La Plata, Hidalgo from México—José Martí once taught us:

Men cannot be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns with the same light with which it heats. The sun has spots. Ingrates talk only about its spots; grateful ones talk about the light.[1]

As a resident of Arizona, I have had occasion to witness John McCain’s services to his constituency with punctilious efficiency and graciousness. The tag of “maverick”—an unfortunate banality that often diminished the complexity of the man—has led commentators in the last few days to praise his memory as follows: “I disagreed with him on many issues, but …,” usually followed by a lengthy encomium. I will add my voice to this chorus of praise and condemnation. I will write, reducing “a person’s entire life to two or three scenes,” not only about my disagreements with John McCain, but also about the good that should not be interred with his bones.[2]


The Water Detail (Part 1 of 2)


“It’s not torture when U.S. forces are doing it…” by Carlos Latuff. (Credit:

Now, this is the way we give them the water cure…. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.

Letter by a U.S. soldier in the Philippines during the Filipino insurgency, 1899-1902.

Abject hypocrisy will bring about the collapse of the US Empire and the end of American democracy. Our tragic flaw was in resplendent, sartorial display last week: hypocrites accused each other of hypocrisy; crocodile tears were in abundance; psychological projections were the order of the day; pious, self-serving justifications were rampant; and all throughout the garish spectacle we could do no less than agree with Mark Twain and feel ashamed of the human race. (more…)

What Do You Mean ‘We,’ White Man?

Photo of Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, 3 February 1956. Moore is riding Silver, while Silverheels is riding Scout. (Credit:  ABC Television)

Photo of Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, 3 February 1956. Moore is riding Silver, while Silverheels is riding Scout. (Credit: ABC Television)

The joke was old even before it appeared in print.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hostile Indians. The Ranger asks Tonto: “What are we going to do, Tonto?” To which Tonto replies: “What do you mean we, white man (or paleface, or kemo sabe, depending on the version)?” Its racist ancestry is undeniable: the joke partly evokes the picture of a feckless subordinate who will treacherously abandon his superior at the first sign of trouble—usually with the ethnic or social group to which the subordinate belongs. But even before 1956, ancient variants of the joke were meant to deflate the condescension of individuals who used the royal “we,” and the insulting presumption of people who assumed, for their own purposes, what they had no business assuming.

Perhaps because one becomes cantankerous with advancing age, I have increasingly resorted, in the last few years, to Tonto’s wise words to defend myself against the mind-bending onslaught of U.S. political rhetoric. (more…)

Wall of Jericho and Woody Guthrie

"The Taking of Jericho" by Jean Fouquet, oil on canvas, c. 1452-1460. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

“The Taking of Jericho” by Jean Fouquet, oil on canvas, c. 1452-1460. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city….

And it came to pass, when the people … shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat.

Joshua 6: 16-20

A recent article in USA Today commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall characterizes the event with this headline: “Presidential words helped bring down Berlin Wall.” The sub-headline of the article declares that speeches at or near the wall by JFK and Ronald Reagan “proved the power—and the limits—of rhetoric in putting Cold War on ice.”

The article reflects the conventional narrative that has been adopted by U.S. political culture: Kennedy acquiesced to the building of the Berlin wall with words that seem quite sane: “A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” (more…)

The Shame of Murrieta

Murrieta, California.  Photo credit:  R Lee E / Wikimedia Commons.

Murrieta, California. Photo credit: R Lee E / Wikimedia Commons.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 

Matthew 18:5

In this great country, teachers and school staff members have often thrown themselves in front of the bullets of shooters to shield their young students from harm (and that, by the way, is how a truly good person stops a bad guy with a gun); elderly and infirm grandparents have taken on the daily care of their grandchildren when parents are absent; single mothers and fathers have offered themselves in daily sacrifice to the welfare of their offspring. In spite of our craven worship of Founding Fathers (where, if you please, are the Founding Mothers?), the true backbone of this nation has always been a profound commitment to its descendants—a devotion to its children. This is what fuels our belief in the American Dream, and what fires up our irrepressible hopes in the future.

In the past, the United States has welcomed children fleeing a murderous tyranny (I was once one of these children), and has offered them sanctuary from oppression and persecution. That is why the recent events in the town of Murrieta, California, are a stain on the national honor, an affront to the American spirit, and shameful to every decent citizen of this bounteous land. (more…)

Saul or David?

"David and Goliath" (1888) by Osmar Schindler.

“David and Goliath” (1888) by Osmar Schindler.

In Abrahamic mythology, God enabled his people to destroy evil giants and to occupy their land.  Oversized pagans were ousted from the promised land by a chosen people.  David, not timid Saul, was fit to lead the people, for David was “a man of valor, a warrior” (1 Samuel 16:18 NRSV).  Young David slew the taunting Goliath; King David and his army killed Philistine giants to secure Israel and Judah.

Killing the ungodly Goliath is a parable of the courage that comes from knowing the faithful underdog is victorious over those who have “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17: 36 NRSV).  The parable equates virtue with the strength of courage, evil with the monster’s bluster.  Aggression is symbolically transformed into defense when one fights the Lord’s battle against satanic forces.

The story of David and Goliath is embedded in U.S. war culture.  It projects evil and transforms the world’s most powerful nation into the righteous defender of the oppressed.  Cowering before a bully does not befit an American president to lead the world to glory. (more…)