Archive for the ‘east meets west’ Category

Say it ain’t So.

May 6, 2020

These are perilous times in many ways:

Perilous pandemic

Perilous politics

Perilous protests

Perilous proclamations

Perilous pandemonium

Perilous publications

Perilous panic

Perilous parlance

Perilous pathogens

Perilous politicians

Perilous partisans

Perilous Powers

I heard a perilous report this morning. I found myself wishing some wise person would or could refute the perilous parlance I heard.

I was thinking: Say it ain’t so!

~Say it ain’t so: that the CCP are out to get us.

~Say it ain’t so: that the CCP unleashed the perilous pandemic with intentions of debilitating the US.

~Say it ain’t so: that the CCP place no value in human life.

~Say it ain’t so: that the CCP leaders are willing to sacrifice large swathes of their own people to the Covid just for the sake of having an alibi.

~Say it ain’t so: that the CCP want to dispose of many of their own old people because they’ve got too many of them due to their past one-child policy.

~Say it ain’t so: that Xi’s heroes are Hitler and Stalin.

Say it ain’t so!

~Say it ain’t so: that the CCP are willing to make a deal with Perilous Putin to debilitate North America with Covid and then divvy it up so that Ruskies can have Alaska back and CCP can grab USA to repopulate it with their presently overpopulated people.

Say it ain’t so!

~Say it ain’t so: that we actually have Americans who claim that our nuclear arsenal is obsolete and needs to be upgraded.

Say it ain’t so!

~Say it ain’t so: that any leader would even think about firing one of those damned warheads.

~Say it ain’t so: that we are headed for another world war.

Somebody please say it ain’t so.

Tiananmen talk

Somebody please prove to me that all the above Perilous Reports are not true and they  could never happen.

More likely, however, than someone actually proving that to me is:

that I would do better to put aside this perilous rant and resort instead to a different “P” plea to hang my hopes on:   

Pray!

Pray it ain’t so.

Perhaps you’ll join me. Pause for a word of Prayer for all People everywhere and for the imperiled Planet we inhabit.

P.S. If you are Chinese, and reading this . . . Please don’t take this wrong way.

Have a nice day.

Glass half-Full

The SwanSwoon of our Era

March 21, 2020

In her recent article at Social Europe,  Indian economist Jayeti Ghosh  accurately identifies a major consequence of our worldwide collective anti-COVID restrictions:

  “Supply chains are being disrupted, factories are being closed, entire regions are being locked down and a growing number of workers are struggling to secure their livelihoods. “

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/the-covid-19-debt-deluge

Her statement does indeed identify the crux of our economic problem right now, and the global complexity does unleash trouble on a very large, international scale.

You might say this COVID-crash is the “Crash of ’29” of our era.

Some compare this tsunami to the crash of ’08, or the blah-blah of ’87 (whatever that was.)  But it seems to me this thing is unwinding as an event historically more far-reaching than those two economic downfalls. This Covid thing can be compared to  what happened in 1929.

The Crash of ’29 exposed the vulnerability of a newly-Industrialized USA. This present Covid-crash exposes the vulnerability of a newly-Internetted World.

Ms. Ghosh is correct in her observation when she writes:

  “Today’s financial fragility far predates the Covid-19 ‘black swan’.”

The black swan represents the unlikely possibility that something like this could happen . . . . even though it did.

It seems to me the immensity of our present global Covid co-morbidity is indeed directly related to our newfound world connectivity in trade, travel and talk. The black swan in the background represents this unprecedented development in world history.

Swans

In that same technocratic network to which Ms. Ghosh contributes, Social Europe, Karin Pettersson posts her insightful analysis of our Covid conundrum, which includes this accurate assessment:

   “Already however, we know this: this type of disease cannot be efficiently fought at an individual level, but only as a society. It requires preparation, co-ordination, planning and the ability to make rapid decisions and scale up efforts. A strong state.

But nor is government enough. The situation demands personal responsibility, a sense of duty, concern for one’s neighbour. “

     https://www.socialeurope.eu/the-corona-crisis-will-define-our-era

What she writes there is so true. I agree.

Karin goes on to pose  a question that is surely the crux of the problem for millions of earth-inhabiting workers:

   “Yet what will you do if you simply cannot afford to stay at home?”

And I’m thinking . . . because of this widespread affordability problem, the response of governments and corporations in the days ahead should reflect benevolence, not authoritarian oppression. At least I hope it will.

Karin Pettersson also presents this profound thought:  

   “I wonder if young people might come to think that authoritarian China dealt with the crisis better than the US—the land of the free.”

We shall witness, in the days ahead, how this dilemma is dealt with between China, USA, and all the other nations of this planet.

Karin’s bright insight becomes dimmed, however, when she criticizes, in the same article cited above, Vice President Mike Pence’s public act of leading scientists in prayer.

She is displeased that Pence, a former Indiana governor, had cut funding for HIV-virus research and prevention, back in the day. . .

I can understand Ms. Petterssen’s emphatic let’s fix this humanism. It is quite the de rigeur among technocrat intelligencia who would like to run the world, because they could certainly do a more equitable and better job than all those corporate 1%ers whose rabid profit-taking shenanigans have now made such a mess of things.

 Yes, Virginia, the news is bad. Read ’em and weep. . . but act, benevolently. That also  goes for all you 1%ers out there who think you’re in charge of things.

But I also like to remember, and take seriously, a statement that I heard, many years ago, from a fellow who was then what I now am, an ole geezer.

  “What we need now is some damn prayer!”

So Let’s all work together harmoniously to get these problems solved. And remember that a little help from the OneWhoIs could only render our burdens a little easier to bear.

Glass half-Full

A World-class Sacred Mountain

February 4, 2020

About 27 centuries ago, the Jewish prophet Isaiah urged his people to live righteously, according to the laws that God had delivered earlier to the prophet, Moses.

By his use of predictive prophecy, Isaiah reinforced his exhortations toward the necessity  of holy living. As his biblical message has been brought down to us through history–even to this day–actual fulfillments of Isaiah’s predictions lent credence to the legitimacy of his message.

Consider this prediction:

“And it shall be at the end of days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be firmly established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall stream to it.”

This prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled repeatedly for many centuries, and continues to be actualized every day of our 21st-century life.

In a steady stream of faces and pilgrims of all types, people from all over the world visit “the mountain of the Lord’s house” in Jerusalem.

Every day.

IsPlaza

In this large flat area, Jews from all over the world congregate to pray at their open-air synagogue, the Kotel, which is an ancient wall that retains the side of the mountain where their temple had stood in ancient times.

Christians also visit this site in great numbers. We  are welcomed every day by the Jewish people. Most Christians stroll through, gathering faithful inspiration, on their way to their own holy site nearby, in the Christian quarter of the Old City . . .

IsHSscene

where Christ was crucified almost 2000 years ago, and laid in a sepulchre, before rising from the dead on the third day after his death.

In my photo below. . .

IsPlaza1

. . .  notice the long ramp that connects the ground-level plaza to a higher location at the top of the wall. Through this stairway, the Muslims allow some visitors access, at certain times of the day, to their holy site, al-Haram al-Sharif, which happens to be the same location as the ancient Jewish temple. The Muslim shrine there, built in 692 c.e., is  known by us Christians as the Dome of the Rock. Believers of all three faiths— Jewish, Muslim and Christian— believe Abraham was led by the Eternal One up onto that high spot with his son.

In that world-famous episode, God revealed his will about ritual sacrifice; the Lord Himself provided an animal for Abraham to offer instead of his son. Muslims believe that the son was Ishmael. Jews and Christians believe it was Isaac. Whatever you believe about it, suffice it to say that the Eternal One thereby clarified once and for all: his call for sacrifice did not include any human victim.

A Christian rendering of that event is painted on a wall inside the nearby Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

IsSepcIsac

This clarification from God about the offering of sacrifice took place on the mountain–called Mt. Moriah by Jews–and called al-Haram al-Sharif  by Muslims.

In our day and time, some visitors are more fortunate in the timing of their pilgrimage. At certain times of the day,  the Islamic-administered mountaintop is opened to visitors from other faiths. Christians and others may walk up the wooden-covered stairway to gain a limited access to the sacred mountaintop. Up there, they are allowed a brief access to Islam’s third-holiest site. They can amble for a while, to get a closer view of Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. They can also stroll around and get a panoramic view of Jerusalem, from Mt. Scopus, toward the northeast, to Mt. Zion at the westward view.

After a brief time, they will be conducted away, back to their own quarters, by Islamic devotees, so that the followers of Mohammed may express their devotion to Allah among an exclusive gathering of the faithful.

Infidels who do not subscribe to Mohammed’s revelation are thus asked at the appointed  times to leave the mountaintop, al-Haram al-Sharif. This practice is more restrictive than what is allowed by  the Jews and Christians below.

Muslims arrive on the sacred height by other entrances, from the Muslim quarter. After being summoned by several muezzin callers who chant their calls through loudly amplified minaret towers, the Mohammedan faithful enter those two holy structures to pray.

All of this carefully controlled sharing of the sacred mountain takes place every day in Jerusalem. Thanks be to ____ that this happens peacefully.

And this Christian says, may it always be so! until ____ visits the place in a more persuasive way, and perhaps aligns us all on the same page.

Pray, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Back down at the lower plaza level, the Israeli administrators of this dividedly sacred mountain have posted a sign that acknowledges the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy so long ago.

IsIsaiah2

If you enjoying listening to music, you may appreciate hearing a song about this mountain. My friend David wrote and recorded it many years ago, with a little help from our friends, Danny, Donna and Jenny:

Aliyah Yerushalayim

Glass half-Full

From Andalusia to Zagreb

August 24, 2019

Breeze blew ‘cross Byzantium

   ages ago,

passing passion along from ancient souls

   o’er peninsulas and shoals.

From Alexandria to Andalusia

   it blew the Medi stirring of our arcane East

   by westward winds past the European feast.

So it drifted between Aranjuez and Zagreb

   in periodic flow and ebb

   with rhythmic ebb and flow

   through passionnata on stringéd bow . . .

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g91kQyy4G7E.

   . . . at providential and the muse’ behest,

   and set in sculpting stone: eternal rest;

   portraying Piéta Jesu through Michelangelo,

  Pieta

   as still the women come and go

   ‘cross Eliot’s wasteland scenario.

From Ave Maria in Madrid

   this opus we/they did;

   even SaintSaens’ secular Swan

   summons that age-old bond:

   reflecting melancholic tension

   in existential apprehension

   again and again and again;

   the passion passes

   through striving laborious hands

   in colored or melodic strands.

On moonlit nights;

   sonata strains reflect the light

   from hand to frantic hand

   and back again.

Did history require

   two world wars

   and a string of smaller frays

   to say

   our living legacy dies daily?

Yet does our living tragedy thrive daily,

   in this human soul of frailty.

Why even a saintless ’60’s Superstar

   drove our anguished digression,

   our zeitgeist obsession,

   as passion passed through

   rejected hands again

   as passion passed through

   conflicted lives again

   as passion passes through

   immigrant pathos again

   and again and again

   to reveal those nail-scarred hands again

Again.

   Must be something to it;

   we should not eschew it:

Those despiséd and rejected ones of men–

   again and again and again:

   the passing man of sorrow,

   yesterday, today, tomorrow—

   the woman acquainted with grief,

   through death that steals in like a thief

   the stranger and the strange,

Again and again and again.

Must be something to it;

   we should not eschew it.

Glass half-Full

Search for Blue

June 5, 2019

The Traveler’s main burden is a restless soul. He has carried it dutifully for a long time.

Traveler’s roots were deep, but not necessarily set into a specific place on this earth. Having  traversed many a mile of land and sea, this sojourner had been driven westward, in search of some destination that could not yet be clearly identified. So it might be said his roots stretched deep into life itself, rather than a place.

   At least for now.

   From a continental origin he had sailed o’er channel, into stillness and storm, outside of the norm, through  unknown , and out the other side of somewhere . . .  arriving for a season upon an ancient isle. But finding very little solace there, traveler had redirected  weary legs to ascend yet another gangplank, so that he might be transported to that great land he had heard tales of, beyond the blue.

   The seaport where he disembarked was, as it happened, a frontier for foreigners not unlike himself. They had uncovered motivations to—for whatever reason—not remain where they had begun. And so, having hung their hopes upon such vague restlessness, they undertook yet another phase of the great journey to somewhere yet to be determined.

    By ‘n by, the traveler eventually found himself ascending a long piedmont hill, and so it seemed when he had reached the top of it, the extended journey was now delivering him to a wide westward-looking vista.

    Pausing to catch breath, Travis trained his eyes on a string of  faraway ridges. Obviously high, yet . . . it seemed . . . gently-sloping. . . forested they were, and having no cragginess that he could see from here. That string of mountains  stretched like great slumbering beached whales across the entirety  of his new horizon. From  north  to south . . . blue, and blue to blue on blue, and more . . . blue.

He had never seen such a thing.

BlueRidg

So  this must be the  beginning of Search for Blue . . .

Vietnam, at ground level 1970

July 10, 2018

Herein I recommend a novelized real story from that infamous “War in Vietnam.”

  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13437

John Podlaski’s novel about a brand-new American soldier in Vietnam strikes at the heart of the matter— just what the hell were our soldiers over there supposed to be doing?

Them brave boys were  putting their asses on the line, stalking communist enemies in strange jungles on the other side of the world, when all the while their survival instinct was demanding them to just hunker down, lay low, and get through their year-long sentence of jungle warfare in one living, still-breathing piece.

And All for what?

Because we sent them to do a job—kill communists, and run the ones we couldn’t kill back to the North.

Now we all know it didn’t work out that way, but we learned some lessons—and the world did too—in the process.

The problem our guys had over there was: how could we know, in a SE Asian village scenario, which villagers were helping the NVA, and which ones were on our side? As if these rice-cultivating peasants knew the difference between Karl Marx and George Washington!

After reading this book, Cherries, it seems to me that, in the midst of the terrible gun battles, every soldier’s internal war must have been a constant conflict between these two missions: to kill enemies and thus keep the brass-mandated “body count” on an upward curve, or to stay alive!

Which would you choose?!

In most cases, it seems it came down to protecting yourself and your squad buddies, while treading fearfully through the booby-trapped minefield of two opposing international ideologies whose political strategies had turned absolutely, militarily lethal.

That project required real men—brave soldiers who could bite the bullet— who could launch out and give it a shot while death and danger stalked them at every turn along the path.

This was a terrible, terrible ordeal that our nation put these guys through! We need to talk about it.We need to acknowledge their incredible bravery.  We need to ask: Just what the hell happened back then and there in Vietnam?—in that war that so many of us managed to evade.  Whether you were for the war of against it— reading John Podlaski’s “Cherries” is a provocative way to begin the assessment— an evaluation that needs to take place, for the sake of our nation’s future security.

Read the book, because this quasi-autobiographical story gives a close-up, day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground account of what our guys were doing over there in Vietnam, while we were trying to figure it all out here, stateside— here, safe in the home of the free, while the brave were answering the terrible call that our government had imposed on them.  They endured that jungular hell-pit so that we, as a nation, could, in spite of defeat,  pass successfully through the 20th-century burden of Cold War paranoia.

John’s fictionalized personal story fleshes out the constant conflict between two soldierly inclinations: fulfilling military responsibility by driving up enemy “body counts,” vs. following  the human instinct to just stay alive, and somehow make it through your one-year tour of duty without getting your ass killed.

Our American purpose there was unclear. No definite battlefield could be found;  the war was waged wherever our boys happened to run into the Viet Cong or the North Vietnam Army, in a perpetual theater-game of deadly hide-and-seek. Our teens and twenties recruits and draftees were dropped into unfamiliar Asian jungles, then immersed immediately in extreme fear—fear like you would feel seeing two of your platoon-mates’ heads staked on bamboo poles.

Not in Kansas any more, Toto!

Khe Sahn. A Shau, Ah shit! What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Read John’s book to find out what perils our boys  were trudging through while we stateside were trying to figure out the whys and the wherefores.

BTW, by the 1990’s it was plain to see that  the free world, led by the USA, had prevailed in our struggle against both fascism and communism. In the big picture, our effort in Vietnam played an instructive role in that victory. The governance of nations has more to do with learning from your mistakes than fighting a lost cause to some idealized bitter end.

VNGame

Thanks to you all you guys—Cherries, LongTimers and Lifers—who answered the call to service at that time. Oh yeah, and here’s another belated message: Welcome Home!

King of Soul  

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

An Ambassador On Point

February 16, 2017

President Trump went to our Capital city with an intention to drain the swamp.

Good luck with that. However, if I’m not mistaken, the swamp in that Chesapeake area was drained at about the time President Washington took office, over 200 years ago, and Congress decided to build us a Capital in that environs.

Now two weeks into the Trump administration we already see some rearrangement of the chairs from which our multi-layered  executive branch of governance will administrate.

With Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, all the media talking heads were abuzz  yesterday with speculation about what this early switcheroo means for the future of our  security and national defense. Trump’s  shoot-from-the-hip  leadership style seems to impose on his nascent administration a wild wild west kind of drama upon which the media talking heads thrive.

In order to gain some comprehension of what is happening on that national security front,  I, citizen, was listening on my radio yesterday to Tom Ashbrook’s  NPR talk-show On Point.

   http://www.wbur.org/onpoint

Host Tom’s introduction of his 2/15/2017 guests included a few words about William Burns, who is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.   

That mention of the Carnegie Endowment triggered a 2015 memory in which I had been walking along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. On that summer day, I had snapped this pic:

CarnegEn

I suppose I had thought to  take this picture because the  legacy of Andrew Carnegie in our national development has, for a long time, fascinated me. His work as an immigrant industrialist turned out to be a fulcrum in our  exceptional westward continental expansion. Carnegie’s role, in later life, as a generous philanthropist is legendary.

So Ambassador William Burns’ role as President of that Carnegie foundation for peace got my attention. Furthermore,  I found Mr. Burns’ comments to be informative and well-delivered.

I daresay it was the voice of experience glinting through in his cogent analysis that lent authenticity to Ambassador Burns’ observation.  William Burns’ former role (2005-08) as Russian ambassador certainly lent to his perspective a readily identifiable authenticity on the currently hot topic of Russian influence in our internal affairs. It seemed to me his perspective is not that of your run-of-the-mill inside-the-beltway pontificator, but rather, a truly informed opinion.

Our former Ambassador to the Russian Federation said,

“New administrations typically try to do a couple of things early on. The first is reassure your allies and partners, and the second is to sober your adversaries. What we’ve seen in less than a month is almost the opposite of that, creating a fair amount of unease among allies and unnerving partners, while at the same time giving adversaries and potential adversaries the sense that there are opportunities out there.”

After hearing this, and listening to yesterday’s On Point discussion, I visited the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website. I read there an Op-ed letter written by William Burns that the New York Times had published on Jan. 7.

In the letter, he describes Vladimir Putin as a leader who is playing rough.

He observes that Putin has sought a deferential government in Kiev while grabbing Crimea and trying to provoke a dysfunctional Ukraine.

Vladimir is flexing Russia’s military muscle in Syria to preserve Assad’s brutal government, thus emasculating the West by making us appear conciliatory. The Assad/Russian brutality forces  many war-displaced Syrians to flee toward Europe and the West. Putin’s  Assad-boosting military adventure thus spawns the infamous emigration that destabilizes those countries to which the Syrian refugees flee.   Putin  exploits this ongoing destabilization  by striving to  replace, by strong-arm intimidation, European instability with Russian power.

This scenario becomes evidence of our need to maintain our “absolute commitment to NATO.” William Burns writes, “Our network of allies is not a millstone around America’s neck, but a powerful asset that sets us apart.”

I agree with this statement. American alliances based on shared values and principles that cultivate liberty do set us apart from the  bullies of the world–the historical ones such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez etc, but also those dictators who may be lurking in the world today, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on weakened nation-states.

Ambassador Burns served in Moscow as our Ambassador during 2005-2008. He  expresses respect for the Russian people and their contributions to Western civilization. But he warns that Putin’s aggressive tactics must be countered with American firmness and vigilance. We Americans should remain confident in our enduring strengths, and unapologetic about our values.

Our values call for, I remind you, government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Not power plays by bullies.

Glass half-Full

Hammer and Sickle ’65

August 23, 2016

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 5 of the new novel, King of Soul,  now being researched and written. We’re talkin’ ’bout 1965:

       The manipulations of human history had conspired to contrive a vast, geographical hook. The hook itself was forged in the shape of a country; it was a skinny little wire of a nation, slung long and slender along the 900-mile S-curve of an Asian sea strand.  Upon this seacoast hook the fearless pride of Pax Americana would be fearlessly snagged, fish-like. But the snagging ended up requiring an extremely long expedition, for the catch fought on the line for eleven years before being reeled in.

       This was Ho’s intention all along; he was a very patient angler. Ho was not a novice; he had been around the world a time or two. He’d been to London and to Paris, Hong Kong and Can-ton. He had spent part of the 1930’s in Stalin’s Russia, and had learned a thing or two by observing Uncle Joe’s tactics. Ho Chi Minh understood what it would take to get his fish on the line, and how to handle the catch once it was snagged. The expedition would take 11 years, but eventually South Vietnam was dragged up into the Viet Minh boat.

       Uncle Ho had learned a thing or two.

       Around the world, especially in defeated France and in bold America, there was talk about Ho Chi Minh—who was he and who did he think he was and what the hell was he capable of.

       Some folks never saw the hook at all. When they looked at that odd-shaped southeast Asian country on the map, it resembled something else, with its long arc curving around the western shore of the South China Sea. .  . . . maybe a domino?

       No. Vietnam was no domino; there was nothing straight nor square about the place. Nothing predictable. But we didn’t know that until much later in the game.

       The shape of Vietnam did, however, have resemblance to a sickle, like that sickle of the  infamous hammer and sickle. It was a curved blade,  hauled upon the lean, hard backs of legions of peasant laborers. As the years of the 1960’s rolled by, the sickle was forged into a weapon, to be skillfully wielded in the hands of militarized Viet Minh insurgents and Viet Cong guerillas. And that army of sickles was backed up by the persistent pounding of Uncle Ho’s communist hammer.

       Vietnam was a hammer and sickle; that’s all. It wasn’t some great domino scenario that toppled the Republic of the South during the 1960’s, ultimately rejecting President Diem and killing him, and then later ousting Thieu and Madame Nhu,  like Ho had swung up at   Dien Bien Phu.

       After the French pulled out—with tail between their legs in 1954—when  the Americans pulled in, hellbent on showin’ the world how to defeat communist incursion, it was pretty slow going for awhile. B’rer Ho Chi Fox, he lay low, waitin’ to see what  B’rer Rabbit-ears would pickup on his radio, because B’rer Rabbit did have a pretty fancy radio, and a lot of heavy equipment to back it up with, and a heap o’ ordnance to fling around with a lot of fired-up thunderations. B’rer Rabbit-ears could sho’nuff make some powerful destructions when he put his mind to it.

       By the time things got really cranked up in 1965, the man in charge of yankee warfare had come up with a plan. But there was a problem.

       The problem was an old one; stated simply, from a mathematical viewpoint, it was this: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

       No way around it; shortest distance between Hanoi and Saigon was a straight line. But the line didn’t go through Vietnam; it went right through two other countries.

       If Uncle Ho were to set a taut insurgent line of troop transport from, say,  Hanoi to Saigon—like from the handle of the sickle to the endpoint of the sickle’s curved blade—it  would pass, not through the south part of Vietnam, but through Laos and Cambodia.

       This was a problem. It wasn’t so much  a problem for Ho—his stealthy, low-lyin’ insurgent diehards just crawled right under the rules of international proprietary expectations; they slouched through Laotian jungles and beneath Cambodian canopies like it was nobody’s business. After a while, the clandestine route they had cut for themselves was called by the name of the one who had commissioned it: the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

King of Soul

It’s the Contest

August 13, 2016

TheContest

The destroyer is a spirit, a corrupted zeitgeist.

But in spite of his apparent worldwide heist,

he is no christ.

He’s eloquent in spreading fear

while whispering in your ear.

She slides in on a sled of doubt

chewing up our courage, then spitting it out.

He serves up fodder for defeat;

she slices delectable discouragement for meat.

The destroyer fastens our attention

on cultivating nervous tension.

He’s obsessive with dismay;

she casts hope and care away.

They display

excrutiatingly excellent excuses

to focus on all those world-driven abuses

for which we have no productive uses

so that accomplishments can be decimated,

achievements aggravated

and defeat elevated

to a sordid art form

so as to blot out our war-torn

mission

as if by atomic fission.

Hey, they say,

it’s all going to blow someday,

maybe the big one even comes today.

The destroyer will habitually say

conspiracy is the order of the day,

and rational order has been put down

as we’re all just fooling’ around.

She says decency went out with the tide,

been cast aside,

and integrity is dead

and that we should just party down instead

because the whole damn system is fixed

for sure, bewitched

and our course cannot be switched

cuz life’s a bitch,

not a beach.

So don’t bother to reach

out.

Just glory in the art of pout.

We’ll make of complaint an art form

and criticism a craft, to adorn

our death-wish thanatos

with exquisite, tragic loss.

On the other hand

as far as the east is from the west,

in spite of all that, we could be supremely blessed.

The comforter says you can do this;

your arrow is not destined to always miss.

If the system is rigged what does it matter;

your hopes and dreams aren’t doomed to splatter

on the mean streets of this world

because the true kingdom is not of this world;

it displays a flag unfurled,

that flutters in our heart

urging us to start

a work, an art

apart

to begin anew

a place for me and you

a place in the son

no matter what the gun

has done

to make us turn and run

from the challenges of this screwed-up life.

We can overcome and defeat this strife

by faith, by hope, by true love,

bestowed to us from above

if we can allow the destroyer in us to be crucified.

On a cross of sacrifice, that enemy has died,

and to its own defeat is tied.

But I’m not tied to it;

they can’t make you do it.

Death doesn’t have to overcome me, nor defeat you;

I tell you true.

We shall rise above it all

if you can hear the call

of resurrected victory

for you and me:

He’s signaling from the other side

if you can resist the tide

of death-wish thanatos

and the destroyer’s proposed eternal loss.

You may hear otherwise,

but death itself in the end just dies.

Selah.

Traveler’s Rest