Posts Tagged ‘books’

Birgitta’s Historic Book

November 22, 2017

If you’re an early baby boomer like me you grew up with a sinister presence in the background of our American life—the threat of nuclear war with the USSR. On the distant edges of all that fear we could almost hear the low rumble of a Cold War; it was perpetually being waged somewhere in the world between “us’ and “them.”

We young Americans were told that those Russians over there in the Far East were perpetrators of terrible, repressive political system called Communism.

In 1956, the Premier of the USSR, Nikita Khruschev, began to talk about the widespread abuses that were heaped upon the a Russian people through Josef Stalin’s cruel network of surveillance and prisons.

It was said that many, many citizens, perhaps millions, of  Soviet citizens were unjustly persecuted, arrested, imprisoned and executed without due process of law. American paranoia about the threat of Russian aggression and enslavement grew more and more intense through the 1950’s and ’60’s. We generally heard and believed reports from our Western news-gatherers, both military and journalistic,  warning us about the nefarious presence of a horrific Communist empire on the other side of the world.

In 1973, Alecksandr Solzhenitsyn managed to publish to the world his voluminous report on the Soviet system of imprisonment. His book, Gulag Archipelago, was written from personal experience. Its IronCurtain-busting contents became for the world generally, but also for the Soviets, a basis for a widespread re-evaluation of the Soviet Union and its immense network of prisons and slave camps.

In 1989, the peoples of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fomented a revolution in which they overthrew the old communist system and began to replace it with something new and far more democratic than Russians had ever known. The great thrust of this revolution was powered by the people being sick and tired of communist oppression and cruelty.

In 2017, I learned that a woman in my hometown is daughter of a man who survived eleven years in the Soviet gulag, in a slave camp in Siberia, above the Arctic Circle.

Having heard about this stuff all my life, I was amazed to meet someone whose life had been directly affected by that infamous gulag archipelago.

In her historic book, Years Stolen,  Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard releases to the world her father’s own written account of his enslaved life, which was imposed on him by Russian soldiers in Bulgaria in 1944. That long imprisonment included months of miserable train transports, years in Lefortovo and Lubyanka prisons in Moscow, and ultimately Arctic imprisonment at Vorkuta slave labor camp in the faraway, frozen Siberian north.

YearsStoln

Yes, Virginia, there really was a Siberia. And it was absolutely as bad as anything you ever heard about it. This terrible tale was not made up by yankee Red-baiters.

Birgitta’s account, obtained and documented meticulously from her own father’s memoirs, is a truly amazing testimony of his survival saga through unimaginably cruel, cold conditions. Roland Gottlieb wrote and spoke of his real life experience there after his release in 1955. Birgitta’s writing about his ordeal is laced with the tenderness of a daughter’s love; it is also strengthened with a visceral thoroughness that painstakingly communicates the immensity of Roland’s achievement in surviving eleven years in the gulag.

If you have ever doubted all those post-WWII reports of Soviet oppression and cruelty, this book will dispel your doubts. Thank God the people of the former USSR have seen, since 1989, the light of freedom and are now following that hopeful star of democratic reforms instead of the old Red Star of communist enslavement. One reason that beacon burns brightly in our world today is because of the testimony of survivors like Roland Gottlieb, as reported by his daughter, Birgitta.

The book is, as they say, a good read. Buy it now and you will be much the wiser after this textual journey into the hell of suffering that some humans have historically imposed on other humans.

Glass half-Full

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“The Press”

January 24, 2017

Our world was forever changed when, about 577 years ago, Johann Gutenberg devised an effective way to reproduce printed documents. His invention enabled the printer man to apply controlled mechanical pressure to an inked image in a manner that facilitated efficient multiple printings.

When the printer man repeatedy applied “the press” (more about this later) to those blank pages, the world was changed forever.

Gutenberg’s innovation enabled printers to print multiple editions of documents and books. Our Library of Congress recently displayed  a centuries-old Bible that was printed by means of the Gutenberg innovation.

BiblMainz

The printing industry progressed rapidly. It wasn’t very long before books and other documents were being churned out all over the world in great numbers.

Books have changed the world.

Our fascination with the stories, literature and information we find in books has revolutionized the way we live. In the late 1800s, the American artist John Frederick Peto painted this image of a pile of books. His picture, recently displayed in our National Gallery of Art, captures the fascination that I find within those printed pages.

BooksPntg

The spread of printing throughout the globe induced an information revolution that has affected the way we think about, and do, just about everything. As people became more and more literate, news of the times we live in became a larger and larger factor in the ways people think about the world. People in the modern world use news and contemporary information  to inform their decisions, and modify their strategies for living life successfully.

TimesLon'37

News became such an obsessive element in our modern life that large institutions were built for the purpose of informing people about what’s happening in our world.

ChiTrib2

Those massive news-spouting institutions now find themselves being cornered into a different role.  The big picture of 21st-century information dispersal is being turned on its ear by an unruly multiplicity of online mini-sources. This development is along the lines of what George Orwell called the “brave new world.”

Actually, it’s the wild, wild West out there. What we have now is like a million Okies hightailing it across the internet prairie, every one of us hell-bound to claim our little stake of the cyber-dirt that’s now being divvied up for the media of the masses.

Or “dictatorship of the proletariat”, if that’s what rings your chimes.

It used to be that “The Press” was all those journalists and editors who gathered and published the news on a daily basis.

But not any more. Our meaning of “the press” is now something else entirely, and I’m not sure how to define or describe it.

But I do surmise that our new understanding of “the press” has something to with that collective pressure applied by reporters on public spokespersons.

Here’s an example. Sean Spicer, the new White House Press Secretary, argues with The Press about how many people showed up for the inauguration.

PressCon

That’s The Press now, and this disconnect between “us” and “them” is the new “news.”

Lastly, as Uncle Walter might have said:

And that’s the way it is, Tuesday, January 24, 2017.

Glass half-Full

Robert McNamara’s Tragic Choice

August 27, 2015

My freshman year of college at LSU was a real eye-opener. The world I entered that September was remarkably different from the high school existence from which I had just graduated.

There was a lot going on in 1969. I understood practically none of it, so my college education would be a huge learning experience–not only about the subjects of classic university study, but about the tumultuous times that we lived in then.

If you have, in your life, spent a freshman year at a large university, then perhaps you know something about the changes I was dealing with. But if you were a baby boomer like me whose collegial initiations happened in the late 1960’s, then you might agree that our experience then was even more intense that most college frosh would typically experience.

Nowadays, in my 64th year of life, I have undertaken to write a novel that is centered around this experience. The book, which will be a fourth novelic publishing project, is called King of Soul.

Who is the King of Soul, you may ask. You’ll have to read the book to find out. But of course you cannot read it, until I finish writing the dam thing, probably about 3 years from now.

Now when I’m doing this sort of project, I’m heavy on the research. The direction of my research will determine much of what happens in the story. For the last six months or so, I’ve been reading many books and articles about the 1960s. My historical novels are subjective explorations of selected time periods. The three previous novelic projects were propelled by research explorations in these years: 2005 (Glass half-Full), 2000 (Glass Chimera) and 1937 (Smoke).

1969 was, as Frank Sinatra might say, a very good year. On the other hand, in some ways it was a very bad year.

Just like any year, I guess. Depends on who you are, where you are, and what is happening around you.

What I found was happening around me and the other college students of 1969 was this: a helluva lot of change, and it was going down at a very fast clip. Most of the change revolved around three areas of societal ferment: civil rights, the Vietnam War, and sex.

I wandered, like millions of other high-school graduates, into a maelstrom of disruptive events and ideas.

My current enquiry about that anarchic decade has identified three main influences:

~the civil rights movement, which had started long before, but was accelerating in its intensity during that time

~the Vietnam War, and the draft

~the metamorphosis of the 1950’s “beats” into something new called the hippies

My first great discovery has been that the groundbreaking civil rights activists of the 1950s-60s taught the antiwar activists of the late 1960s how to mobilize and organize in order to get things done. The “Freedom Summer” of 1964 is the clearest expression of this development. That’s when bunches of white kids from up north spent their summer going down south to help blacks in their struggle for civil rights, and America was never the same after that.

My second great revelation is (as if we didn’t already know) the elephant in that era’s living room: the war in Vietnam.

This may seem obvious to anyone who was there, in the USA at that time. But God, and my advancing age, have taught me a great lesson in recent years. And the lesson is this:

One of life’s greatest satisfactions is to, by study, delve back into the time in which you were growing up, and learn about what the hell was going on then when you were so young and clueless about it all.

Toward that end, I am reading a great work of jouralism now, one of the best I’ve ever picked up: David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Best-Brightest-David-Halberstam/dp/0449908704

Today I encountered in that book a startling realization. You can perhaps discern what it is by reading this selection from page 242 of the 1972 Ballantine paperback edition:

“. . .in making his (Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s) arguments against nuclear weapons, forcefully, relentlessly, he had to make counterarguments for conventional forces. We had to have some kind of armed might, so he made good and effective arguments for conventional weapons (and if the Chiefs wanted to use them in Vietnam, to send American combat troops without nuclear weapons, he had to go along, since he had developed the thesis, the mystique of what conventional weapons could do with the new mobility). He gave them a rationale, for his overriding concern was quickly to limit the possibilities of nuclear war, to gain control of those weapons.(emphasis mine).”

In other words, the slippery slope of  conventional warfare in Vietnam war escalation came about as an effort to prevent ultimate nuclear war with the Communists!

That’s something to think about. Who knows, maybe the strategy worked. Maybe it will help us understand how that war slid, over the course of a dozen years or so, from a few military advisors deployed in 1961 to 54,000 Americans dead by the time we finally got out of there in 1975.

There was, admit it or not, a rationale to the tragedy of Vietnam.

As we (still) face a 21st century situation of potential nuclear disaster, maybe the strategy of conventional war–a lesser evil– can fend off the worst possible bellicosity–nuclear war against the “Communists” of our present age, the Islamic State of Iran, or North Korea.

Our detonation of atom bombs over Japan in August 1945 has changed the world–and the world’s strategic inevitable realities–forever. We’d best not forget that. For the preservation of human life on this planet, any bellicose nations who strive to develop nuclear warheads must be kept in check.

 

Smoke

The Old Men and the Young

July 25, 2015

If ghosts could speak, they would probably agree with what the old man said. Sitting on the lowered gate of his black pickup truck, Ramus was saying that old men make wars; but young men fight them.

Now while we understand there is some truth in such a statement,  we all know that it’s not really as simple as that. Nothing in this life is so easily explained, especially the thing called war.

Ramus blinked both his eyes at the same time. It was a habit he had. Some crows were making a ruckus in the nearby hickory, but he paid no attention to them.

“Consider Medgar Evers: he was a young man,” Ramus said. “He slogged his way across Europe, along with thousands of other Allied soldiers, to arrive triumphantly in Germany and then knock the hell out of the Nazi war machine. So he contributed to that great collective effort through which we won the big war. But then he came back to Mississippi and was told to go to the back of the bus.

“So, at the end of his homeward journey, Medgar entered, almost involuntarily, into another great war. It was an old war that had been started by old men. That is to say: men who we think of as old because they had lived and died long ago—men who, in centuries past, had embodied the fallacies and the limitations and atrocities of their own era. Those men had brought his ancestors to America in slave ships. It was a helluva an evil thing to do, but that’s what was happening at that time; there was shit just as bad going on over in Africa that enabled the slavetraders to do what they did, and that’s what started all this trouble we got now.

“Any trouble you find on the face of the earth is traceable to shit that happened a long time ago,” he said. “I don’t know if it ever ends. I hope one day. . .”

Behind Ramus and his truck, the morning sun was peeking up from behind distant pinetops. For whatever reason we know not what, the nearby troop of bothersome crows decided to vacate the hickory tree they’d been in, and get the hell out of dodge. Their sudden departure presented a scene of black wings flapping out against a cloudless summer sky. Ramus glanced at their disturbance, but gave it not a thought. In these mountains, their antics were as old as the hills.

The volume of Ramus’ speech, which had steadily increased in order to compete with the birds, now rescinded to a soft, summary tone. “The Mississippi man’s newfound battle—a great struggle into which he found himself caught up, by default—it eventually killed him. So he was a young man who never tasted the privilege of becoming an old man. Although he had marched with the victors in World War II, the battle that he found simmering back home was the one that put him in his grave.

“In 1963, only six months before Kennedy was killed, Medgar Evers was shot dead in his own front yard in Jackson Mississippi. He had just come from speaking to some brothers and sisters at the New Jerusalem church.”

That quiet following the crows’ departure was blissful.

“But I got to go now: places to go and people to see.” Ramus said. He slid off the tailgate, called to his old hound dog and prepared to leave. His talk about old men, young men, and old wars was put on the shelf of memory for a while.

Now in 1969, a new war, hot off the press, was being waged. But it was fast becoming an old one. Young men were dying by the thousands. Old men too, and women and children. What else is new?

VietMem2

The scene above is an excerpt from the new novel being written:

King of Soul

The Minotaur is dead; long live the Minimal

May 12, 2015

The surprise ending in this book is that Yanis Varoufakis, the presumed leftist former finance minister of Syriza Greece, says it has to be the United States to lead the way of fixing the world’s financial mess.

He’s been called a Marxist, but Mr. V is not calling for revolution; he’s not advocating, as Marx did, that the workers of the world expropriate the “means of production”, meaning the industrial infrastructure that makes the economic world go around.

He’s not looking to the European Union for truly effective financial leadership. He’s not even looking to China (the most likely candidate) to grab the baton of world demand-driven economic vitality and run with it.

He says, at the end of his book, The Global Minotaur, that it has to be the USA to repair the international financial disaster.

The United States was, after all, largely responsible for the post-WWII arrangement (which he calls the Global Minotaur) that propelled, then ultimately toppled in 2008, the economic stability of the world.

The US had accepted the reins of power for internationally reconstructive wealth-generation in the aftermath of World War II. At the 1944 financial summit in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, the seeds were sown, through a meeting of Allied minds, for worldwide reconstruction and recovery from the devastation of war. This actually worked out quite well for about thirty years for most countries who were involved, until about 1971.

In that year, President Nixon, in an effort to arrest the US’s unraveling surplus, announced that our Treasury would no longer sell gold for dollars. Thus did the USA, the principle player and beneficiary of post-WWII world reconstructive prosperity, set in motion the demise of its own international hegemony.

The worldwide financial tailspin that resulted from America’s abandoning the gold standard set in motion a debilitating chain of destructive financial consequences, beginning in the 1970s.

The wizardry of world-conscious financial minds, however, had constructed a financial framework for “recycling” capital around the world. When those minds had conferred in 1944, much was agreed upon. But there was, at the Bretton Woods conference, a divergence of strategic proposals for effectively restructuring the world’s capitalism. The famous (or infamous, depending on your economic worldview) John Maynard Keynes proposed an international policy that would include automatic mechanisms for recycling surpluses between rich nations and poor nations.

Mr. Keynes, genius that he was, was not able to convince the assembled heads of State and their finance people to accept his plan. Instead, the Bretton Woods conferees devised their dollar-pegged arrangement according to a proposal  from an American, Harry Dexter White. This settlement positioned the United States pretty much in charge of things.

The demand-generating, growth-driven Bretton Woods agreement was humming right along until 1971 when Nixon’s announcement about the gold window amounted to throwing a monkey wrench in the works of world currency valuations.

As burgeoning trade deficit and fiscal deficit began to debilitate American purchasing power, our financial and political heavyweights were nevertheless still adept at reconfiguring the Global Plan for economic development in a way that sustained our yankee advantage. Some exploitive characteristics of the new deficit-driven (instead of surplus-driven) financial machination rendered the whole Bretton Woods arrangement as a beastly, power-obsessed system rigged for devouring foreign assets to enrich US corporations and  “Wall Street.”

Hence, the analogy of the Minotaur, a mythical flesh-eating creature of ancient Greek mythology, was chosen by Mr. Varoufakis as the central force of his narrative.

The imagery works adequately for the purposes of Mr. Varoufakis treatise, because there are some parallels between the mythical, terrible man-bull beast that feasted on young virgins, compared to the US-driven Global Plan for sucking up 60-80% of the world’s capital for a very long time.  With Mr. Harry Dexter White’s plan, tweaked and fortified along the rocky paths of the 1970’s, ’80’s and ’90’s by Mr. Volcker, Mr. Greenspan, and President Reagan, the recycling plan for surpluses morphed into a reversal of the Bretton Woods Agreement. So it still favored American interests with exorbitant privilege that arose from managing the world’s reserve currency. Thus was the good ole USA sitting’ on top of the world, even though our trade and fiscal deficits were expanding in leaps and bounds; the Minotaur was gorging on debt, and so were most Americans.

So after the stagflationary 1970’s, we were able to rig the game of international capital flows so that the lion’s share (the minotaur’s share) of world capital just kept coming back in yankee directions.

Which worked well until about, you know, 2008.

With all the world-friggin’ capital recycling that had been humming along through the ’80s, ’90s, 2000’s, the wizards of wall street managed to concoct up a handful of magical innovative financial instruments to keep themselves gainfully occupied and the stock markets thoroughly inebriated. Dubbed MBSs, CDOs, derivatives, and credit default swaps, these wonder working financial “innovations” kept the profits rolling along to the tune of billions. Until 2008.

By that time, the real industrial-based, home-building, retail-flourishing music of sound economy was screeching to a grinding halt; suddenly myriads of those fancy high-steppin’ financial dancers  found themselves with no musical chair to sit in, and no way to repay all those millions of $$$ they had borrowed to purchase all those perpetual motion money-machine MortgageBackedSecurities, CollateralizedDebtObligations, CreditDefaultSwap-protected HFT electronic and/or sometimes paper fragile financial instruments.

So the Wall Street guys came out of the 2008 financial meltdown with a tarnished reputation because what had been a fairly constant flow of world capital came to, like, a standstill.

At which time, according to Mr. V’s book, Mr. Summers, Mr. Geithner and a few of their cronies cooked up a plan to keep the whole perpetual motion money-making machine cranking along like nothing had really happened, which is what, in some ways, we’re still operating under, a little like smoke and mirrors as they used to say back in the day (the ’80’s-90s.)

Now looking back on it all, the international financial infrastructure for continuous capital and liquidity around the world actually worked reasonably well for one hell of a long time–even when, in the 1970’s the big sugar daddy US of A started to slide into major deficit territory (on both fronts: trade and fiscal).

It was only (in my opinion) at the end  of the big Capital flow run, in the dozen years 1998-2008, that the US-led machine became what might be called predatory. ‘Twas then I saw a long-bearded guy on the street in Seattle with a sign that said Send Banksters to Jail. 

Which is why–the predatory attribute– I suppose, Mr. Varoufakis, used the flesh-feasting Minotaur analogy for his treatise.

But the US-driven plan for world hegemony was no cannabilistic beast. That’s a little bit like overkill, Mr. V, isn’t it?

More like a couch potato with a credit card.

A very good read, though, Yanis–your treatise, The Global Minotaur.

Here’s the book excerpt that I found most interesting. (This pertains to President Reagan’s policies in the 1980’s)

From chapter 7:

“As for the actual ideals underpinning free market fundamentalism, their fate was identical to that of Marxism in Moscow:

they (the ideals of free market fundamentalism, –ed.) became the first victims of its political champions’ rise to power. Indeed, when, in 1981, Ronald Reagan entered the White House, he spoke the language of supply-side economics, balanced budgets, the withering of big government (ironically, an expression first coined by Marx), etc. However, after a few months of toying with such policies, and once unemployment skyrocketed  in 1981, Reagan performed an abrupt U-turn (just as Lenin had done by adopting his New Economic Policy the moment he discovered that socializing the factories did not work as well as planned). Instead of shrinking government and balancing the budget, the president put his foot on the accelerator. The twin deficits (trade and fiscal, –ed.) ballooned and, as a result of his unbridled Keynesian practices, unemployment shrank and the Global Minotaur was on its merry way.”

So, considering Mr. Varoufakis’ book conclusion that the US should lead the way out of our worldwide money Crisis, I’m wondering if he, (ironically) like so many libertarians  on the internet, is looking for another “Reagan”? to take the ball and run with it toward our new goalposts for some kind of demand-generating, surplus-recycling 21st-century game plan for the nations of the world.

Glass Chimera

What Mr. Nawaz says about Islamism

March 22, 2015

Among the people of my Christian tribe, a big question these days is:

Does Jihadi extremism represent, in any appropriate way, real Islam?

This is, as you know, a timely question. And I am curious about the answer, so I thought I would get a Muslim’s written perspective on the matter.

The book I chose is Maajid Nawaz’ autobiographical testimonial, Radical.

http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Journey-Out-Islamist-Extremism/dp/0762791365

Now, having read it, I am inclined to give the “moderate” Muslims of our world the benefit of the doubt. So yes, to answer my own question, I am of the opinion that there is such a thing as a legitimately moderate Muslim, in spite of the Islamofascists who are striving terribly to drag all the Muslims of the world into their gruesome quest for khilafah domination.

My rationale is based mostly in Christ’s sermon on the mount, recorded in Matthew 5, which says this:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

My inclination is to make peace with Muslims in any way I can. There is nothing wrong with this.

Some of my Christian friends say, however, that it is dangerous to make peace with the Mohammedans. While that may be true in some cases, I believe Christ calls us, based on the beatitude stated above, to take a chance on peace with other religionists whenever possible.

Love your enemies.

For me to cast a blanket judgement on all Muslims, based of the atrocities of ISIS, al Nusra, Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk, would be like casting judgement on all my fellow Christians because of what has been done in times past by the IRA, or Bosnian Serbs, or pedophile priests, or Spanish Inquisitors, or medieval Crusaders.

That’s not to say there are no fundamental, prejudicial problems with the primary Islamic scripture, the Quran; it contains passages that assign second-class citizenship to non-believers, and displays blatant antisemitism in other commandments. This is nothing new, and we should, accordingly, keep an eye, and a legal reign if necessary, on their oppressive Islamic tendencies in places where Muslims are in charge.

And it’s not like we have no problematical passages in our own Bible Scriptures. As a realistic Christian, I can admit that, but I still believe our book is a very long account of our Creator’s deallings with a fallen, sinful mankind, starting with the Jews, then us Christians, and eventually the whole damned world.

So get ready for God’s judgement on all of us. I have an advocate in Jesus. Who will defend you in the final courtroom? Will you have a leg to stand on?

I have read the Bible, and I believe it.

I have not read the Quran, but that is no requirement for citizenship in this world. And I suppose that as long as there is no caliphate governing American lands, there will be no such requirement. And of course there is no obligation in my country, USA, for anyone to necessarily read the Bible, or Torah, or any other sacred book.

Let’s keep it that way.

I am a citizen of this world, and when I hear or read that the third Abrahamic religion contains scriptural judgements about Christians, Jews, and other kaffir types who do not subscribe to Muhammed’s legacy, I am paying attention, because I want to do whatever is necessary to protect me and mine.

At the present time, I am in no danger of harsh punishments from so-called Muslims who are mad as hell. There are, however, Christian brethren of mine who are, as we speak, enduring terrorism in other lands, such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and God only knows where else in this unstable world.

So recently, when I was seeking answers about all this, I did turn to Maajid Nawaz’ book, Radical, and I read it.

There’s a lot I could say about his testimony; I recommend the book. But I will wrap this up simply with a quote, which explains in a cogent, concise way, the essential relationship between Islam and “Islamism.” Maajid Nawaz writes:

“Important to grasp is how Islamism differs from Islam. Islam is a religion, and its Shari’ah can be compared to Talmudic or Canon law. As a religion, Islam contains all the usual creedal, methodological, juristic and devotional schisms of any other faith. In creedal maters, there exist ancient disputes, from which we have the two major denominations of Sunni and Shia, each giving rise to numerous sects within their ranks. From methodological disputes, legal theorists and traditionalists debated whether scripture was best approached through systemised reasoning or oral tradition. From juristic differences, major schools of law emerged. And from a devotional angle, lapsed, traditional, fundamentalist and extremist Muslims have always existed. Superseding all these religious disagreements, and influencing many of them politically, is the ideology of Islamism. Simply defined, Islamism is the desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam over society as law.”

And a little further down  page 80:

“. . .one can see that, ‘though religious extremism and fundamentalism may pose social challenges, it is Islamism that seeks real power. Like Mussolini’s fascists, who were also socially progressive, it is the toatalitarian aspect of Islamism that gives rise to major concern.”

Yes, Maajid, I am concerned about that, as are many other kaffirs. And that sounds like a “moderate” analysis if I ever read one.

Therefore, in order to, as posited at the start of this, give Muslims the benefit of the doubt, I must say: I  finished reading Radical thinking that if there were more Muslims like Maajid, this world would be a better place.

The book was, as we say in evangelical circles, “edifying,” which means: I learned something from it. Thank you, Mr. Nawaz. Help us keep a rein on those totalitarian-leaning ones among your tribe.

Smoke

You gotta respect yourself

December 14, 2014

I was in Greensboro yesterday, and visited Scuppernong Books on South Elm Street downtown, where I picked up a copy of Greg Kot’s excellent historical book about Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers.

After reading 40 pages about Pop Staples and his singing family, I was very impressed with these people, and what they did with their lives. I really identify with old Pop Staples, who got his young’uns started in music back in the 1950s, when I was a clueless white kid growing up in Jackson Mississippi.

Now everybody knows that Miss’ippi mud gave birth to the delta blues.

There ain’t nothin’ really wrong with the blues. I’ve spent many an hour myself singing the blues, crying the blues, being blue, and feelin’ that ole E7 12-bar a-wailin’ blues. Ev’body have the blues now and then, and some folks are born into the blues, spend their lives in the blues, and make powerful emotive music in the blues. But the blues is hard, and there are lifestyle choices connected to singin’ them blues that can render a life that is just damned hard, too hard.

Ole Pop Staples learned his blues down in the delta where he was raised, and he played along with them wailin’ boys, but when it came to Sunday morning, Pop took his wife and young’uns to church, cuz there come a time when you gotta rouse yoself outa that funky blues and do somethin’ right.

So Pop Staples got his younguns started out right in the musical life, singing in church, praising God.

Few years later, when they moved up to South side of Chicago , and them Staples saw deeply into all what was going on there in that big hub city of America’s stockyard-smellin’ heartland, and they heard Mahalia and sang with her and all that, Pop’s commitment to gospel music got stronger and stronger.

So he made sure his singing kids stayed on the gospel track, even though what they were doing sounded real bluesy, like his delta roots.

That man from the delta had a unique combination of blues and gospel runnin’ through his veins, and he brought his children on board that train. There wasn’t no one who would sing like Pop with his children; they were good at it. As we say in the Christian heartland, they had “the anointing.”

In his book, Greg Kot mentions on page 34 that, nevertheless, their first record release was a flop. After that, a certain record company was

“. . . looking for hits and encouraged the Staples to move in a rock’n’roll direction, according to Pops, but he would have none of it.”

And Pops said:

“. . .He wanted us to sing blues. He said Mavis could make a lot of money singing blues. I didn’t want her singing blues.”

Prodigy singing daughter Mavis agreed:

“I just enjoy singing spirituals.”

Some time passed. Then the singing had to go on the back burner for awhile. Kot reports:

“When the Staples’ contract expired in 1955, Pop returned to his job at the steel mill, in no hurry to jump back into the music business.”

But that little disagreement with the music professionals turned out to be just a bump in the road for Pop and his soulful singing kids. Long story short, here’s what happened later:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oab4ZCfTbOI

 

Glass half-Full

“Death of a King”, Tavis’ book

November 16, 2014

If ever a man lived who actually wrestled the demons of his era, Dr. Martin Luther King was that man.

Tavis Smiley makes that point absolutely clear in his new book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year.

Dr. King’s steadfast espousal of non-violence, having been firmly founded in his biblical faith, was a burden he bore with dignity his entire working life. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer had earlier called “the cost of discipleship” is a very high price for any Christian disciple to pay, especially one who accepts a mission on the front lines of a never-ending battle. The battle that Dr. King chose to fight–for dignity and wellness among his people, and indeed, among all people–was but one 1950’s-’60’s phase of very long war struggle against injustice and poverty. It is a righteous war that has extended back into the times of Old Testament prophets such as Amos, Moses and Isaiah.

While reading Tavis’ account of Dr. King’s last 365 days, I am convinced that the man stood forthrightly in the line of prophetic anointing that stretched back to those prophets of long ago, especially Amos, and including the Messiah himself, Jesus.

There are some among my Christian brethren who question Dr. King’s authenticity in the high calling of the Christian gospel. Their objections gather around accusations that he was a troublemaker, an upstart, an adulterous sinner, all of which is probably true.

But this  Christian agrees with Dr. King, and with our greatest Book, which teaches that we are all sinners.

We are all sinners on this bus, whether it’s a bus to Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta, Washington, wherever. A bus to hell itself can be turned around by the power of a man’s faith.

In the unique case of Dr. King–that one man’s exemplary faith,even sin-tainted as it was– was a rock upon which millions have clung for stability since those heady, raucous days of the 1960’s.

Including the honky who writes this review.

In fact (and Tavis’ book makes this absolutely clear) Dr. King’s unyielding stand on Christian non-violence is the main attribute of that leader’s fortitude that set him apart from most of his comrades during those cataclysmic days of 1967-68.

The preacher’s insistence on non-violent civil disobedience instead of violent confrontation compelled him along a lonely course of isolation, with periods of self-doubt and blatant rejection on all fronts friend and foe.

Those other luminaries who labored with Dr. King during that time–Stokely, Rap, Adam Clayton, and many others, including men in his own SCLC camp, Jesse, Ralph, Stanley–those other movers and shakers, who marked Martin as an Uncle Tom whose relevance was being eclipsed by bloodier strategies– wanted to leave the preacher in the dust.

Which he ultimately was, as we all will be, in the dust.

I haven’t even finished reading Tavis’ book yet. But I just had to let you know. . . there was a man–he lived during my lifetime– whose

 “radical love ethos at the heart of Christianity–is not to change with the times but, through the force of his constant conviction, to change the times.”

Thank you, Dr. King. Your life has been, always will be, an inspiration to me. I look forward to hearing directly from you when we are all together as God’s children, black and white, in that place he has prepared for us.

And also, from this white boy to you, Tavis Smiley: thank you for this timely illumination of Dr. King’s work among us. In spite of all the turbid waters that have passed beneath the bridges of our times, we are still a divided nation. We could stand to revisit the vision of peace that was manifested, not so long ago, in the life and work of this one man’s faithful legacy.

my song about him: Mountaintop

Glass half-Full

Kent State 1970

November 9, 2014

While doing research for the novel I now am writing, King of Soul, I read James A. Michener’s non-fiction book entitled

Kent State: What happened and why.

http://www.amazon.com/Kent-State-What-Happened-Why/dp/0449202739

Toward the end of it, here are some thoughts that came to me:

Oh, the insanity of those days,

shrouded in tear gas haze:

our dutiful young Guards, slogging in sweat-drenched gear,

moved against fellow-students erupting in fear.

They eyed each other across grassy knolls

while the crowd mocks and the clanging bell tolls.

Our ragged nation was ripping apart at the seams,

as confusion conspired to assassinate our dreams.

Sandy and Allison, Bill and Jeff didn’t know;

they never looked back when the bullets laid them low.

The shock and the awe, the plan and its flaw

could offer no reason to explain which law

had judged them worthy of martyrdom, sentenced to death:

a sinnish twist of fate  fired right, but hit on the left.

Things were never the same after that.

The movement waned thin; the bitter got fat;

America was laid low when those four  lives got spent

on that deadly tragic Mayday at Kent.

Smoke