Church Shootings, South Carolina, President Obama, and Podcasts


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There is a line I quote a lot, but it’s because like many quotes, it’s a truth in it that endures, and is applicable to many. And it is definitely applicable to me.

I’ll quote it here again…

“You writers live too much out of the world.” –Graham Greene’s THE THIRD MAN.

Here’s the thing about the world, there is always some new atrocity the 24 hour news cycle is waiting to feed you. Someone’s misfortune that, with crocodile solemnity, they are eager to spread before you like some banquet, some forbidden feast, for you to put your snout in and snuffle.

I know people who make a home in-front the TV when the latest atrocity breaks, and they ‘tsk’, and ‘cluck’, and they make the expected exclamations of “horrible” this, and “what’s this world coming to” but you get the feeling it is more rote than real.

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That ‘real’ left town many atrocities ago, and they have yet to notice that what remains is something that watches for reasons less altruistic than information, and more hungry than concern.

I can’t do the 24 hour news cycle. I gave up on networked TV a long time ago and haven’t looked back, or particularly missed it. Too much of CNN or Insert News Station here, and I have to get away, I have to move, I can’t watch people suffer.

I’m old school that way.

I believe in heroes to rescue maidens, and Knights to slay dragons. And I’m fool enough to believe we can all be heroes… all of us. In small ways, and personal ways, and local ways.

But the 24 hour news cycle inundates you with a world’s wrongs, many wrongs too horrific and large and endemic for you to change.

So there becomes a war within you between the desire to change what you can, and the 24 hour news cycle that indoctrinates you, numbs you to a world beyond your time, or means, or scope to change… a news cycle that tells you “relinquish hope, relinquish the idea of days without horror, relinquish the lie of action, be a spectator, be a consumer. Live in the world we give you, the way we give it you.”

And reduce all your rebellions to a tsk here, and a shake of the head there. That’s what the 24 hour news cycle says to me if I watch it too long.

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I have to pick my battles. I have to pick my fights. I have to narrow my atrocities. And some days I have to have no atrocities at all. It’s the only way I can live without rage all the time.

I have to have the courage to change the things I can, the strength to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Not being a part of the 24 hour news cycle, using the Internet to consume news in my time in my way, means sometimes, if I’m embroiled with my life, and the people in it and around it, the real news, then I may not consume another man’s definition of the news… for days on end.

I find I’m a better man for not being suckled every moment on the teat, and rage, and hate, and horror of Rome the metaphorical. I find I’m a better, calmer man, and people find me a calming, even soothing presence, and it’s because the nightly news is not on the back of my eyeballs when I look at them, I look at them without the media’s biases or fears, I do not fall asleep to Rome’s tirade, and I do not wake to her gnashing.

And that has made all the difference.

I think too many, especially the young, who not yet having learned the value of their own life much less anyone else’s, internalize Rome’s madness, drink deep and long of it, and adopt the American past time of mass murder; as if it was no more than a fashion you could put on. Killing for hates handed down to them like ill fitting suits, and reasons not understood by them, killing with no real sense.

No real sense.

Not understanding really, that killing is easy, but the hole it leaves is large, and affects so many. That every life… even the most paltry, took a million million miracles to breathe air into, and you can never know how even the most unworthy life, might, if no more than via tangential fate, give us a painter or poet or astronaut or hero. And with one bullet you can unwind innumerable tomorrows, kill innumerable tomorrows, and we are all the poorer for all those doors closed. All those lives changed. All that unneeded pain, piled upon all our souls.

We are all… by these atrocities, broken and put back together, broken and put back together, broken and put back together. But each time there is less of us, and less of us, and less of us.

Until, we are so removed from every step we took toward the light, we find ourselves mad, hopeless animals, penned in a coliseum, screaming for the fall of blood. Our souls are fragile things, that can bloom or wither, depending upon what they are fed.

So resist the 24 hour news cycle. Resist assumptions. And seek out things that will feed the better angels of your nature.

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You might find the link below, a thing for feeding your soul. I did.

I must first state I am not a President Obama apologist. As an Independent I have taken him to task for what I feel is the dismantling of Liberties, and his paying back his corporate backers by selling generations of Americans into debt, to bail out a stock market comprised of companies that should have been allowed to burn.

That said, even with those we disagree… we must find that common ground where we can, so if we can not agree with their choices, we can at least perhaps understand the making of those choices.

If we can relate to each other as more than ‘them and us’, see politics as less bloody warfare, and more people all honestly looking to make their home, their neighborhood, and their nation better… if we can see ourselves as tied by our commonalities first, then our differences become strengths rather than sticking points, ripping our nation and our world apart.

So I ask you Republican, You Democrat, You Independent, You Man, You Woman… to listen to the following pod-cast.

And take away from it, the parts that will make you better.

I was feeling such insufferable rage in the wake of the Church Shooting and what I saw in the media’s handling of it… However, I listened to the below pod-cast, and the easy grace a President of the United States brought to a moment devoid of all grace… and I could breathe again, easy deep breaths. And I could see beyond the pumping of my own rage.

A long term fix? No.

But only death is long term. In life we must take the fleeting moments of grace when we can find them. And use that grace to empower us to end atrocities one person at a time.

You might find in the below pod-cast something hopeful.

WTF_-_EPISODE_613_PRESIDENT_BARACK_OBAMA.mp3

Art Book of the Day : FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA by Edwin Lord Weeks

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Less an art book than a travelogue/diary and historical exploration of an at the time still largely mysterious region, FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA is an 1890s scholarly work (done during a time of an earlier Afghanistan War)on that area between the lands of Nubia and Asia that today we call the Middle East, by one of the preeminent artists of the 19th century, Edwin Lord Weeks.

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I first became aware of his glorious oil paintings when visiting the Richmond Art Museum a couple years back. His HOUR OF PRAYER painting in person, is simply massive in scale, and cannot truly be appreciated except in person (when you stand in front and beneath the painting, it’s like you could walk into it), carrying as it does not just the seminal strokes of a realist at the height of his powers, but the weight of history and a moment of time, and region, and culture (all of which is under threat of going away) preserved here; hauntingly captured.

For more on my first exposure to Edwin Lord Weeks go here!

I have since seen several other Edwin Lord Weeks paintings in person, Weeks was a very prolific artist, and another standout is INTERIOR OF THE MOSQUE AT CORDOVA.

While not as large as HOUR OF PRAYER it is a gorgeous painting at any size, unlike HOUR OF PRAYER where pictures on the web don’t do it justice. Part of what makes HOUR OF PRAYER the award winner that it was, is the play of yourself against its vast spaces. There is an alchemy that happens when you see that picture in person, that is not reproducible on your computer screen. INTERIOR OF THE MOSQUE AT CORDOVA, in contrast, is a far more repeatable image. What you see on the web or in a book, is a good approximation of what you’ll see in person.

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Along with Virgil Finlay, Robert Duncanson, and Zdzislaw Beksinski; Edwin Lord Weeks quickly became one of those IT artists for me. A massive artistic talent whose work was largely unknown, or under appreciated to this day, and definitely still largely unheralded/uncollected in a comprehensive tome. He became an artist I set out to find books by and about.

Today’s selection is one of those books.

“With the permission from the War Department to visit Central Asia came an urgent telegram from the American legation at St. Petersburg, advising us not to go on account of the cholera which, after devastating Meshed, had left Persia and invaded the Russian provinces. We were then leaving for Constantinople by the Camboge, and finding that she would not proceed to Batoum, by reason of quarantine we were again forced to change our route. This time we elected to follow the old caravan from Trebizond on the Black Sea, to Tabreez, through the mountains of Kurdistan, that country of indefinite boundaries.

In short, there was no other route left open to us; we must either turn back, or, setting our face forward, head straight for the Persian frontier, five hundred miles away, and we decided to go on.”
—-Lord Edwin Weeks, from the preface to FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA.

Being in the public domain there are numerous variations of this work online. The quality is all a bit less than stellar, as largely it looks to be photocopies of photocopies, and the pencil drawings/sketches that accompanies the words, all a bit muted… still there is enough there to get the brilliance, and you can flip to any page, read a paragraph and be entranced by Weeks’ evident love and romance for the region.

So until a proper tome dedicated to Lord Edwin Weeks is done, for reasons both historical and cultural this 462 page book, to any fan of the work of Weeks, is a must own.

Get your copy here:

From the Black Sea through Persia and India

Nineteenth-Century American Painting: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

And American Gallery offers a great look at Weeks’ paintings here.


Netflix Streaming MOVIE OF THE DAY : THE WILD GEESE [1978]


Netflix Streaming MOVIE OF THE DAY : THE WILD GEESE [1978]

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Directed capably, if unexceptionally, by Andrew V. McLaglen, what elevates this tale of aging mercenaries and an off the book mission, is a surprisingly incisive script, that includes three or four exchanges, about Africa, and colonialism, and war, and ethnic cleansing, and bigotry and apartheid, that still resonate today.

Based on a novel by Daniel Carney, the exceptional screenplay is by Reginald Rose of 12 ANGRY MEN fame and involves the rescue of a deposed African president called Limbani (loosely based on the real life Lumumba). Add to that a stellar cast that includes Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Stewart Granger and a host of great British character actors, and you have a movie that exceeds expectations. Strongly Recommended. Grade: B+.

Review: TED Talk Eric X. Li on China and the US


“We live in the dusk of an era. Meta-narratives that make universal claims failed us in the 20th century and are failing us in the 21st. Meta-narrative is the cancer that is killing democracy from the inside.

Now, I want to clarify something. I’m not here to make an indictment of democracy. On the contrary, I think democracy contributed to the rise of the West and the creation of the modern world. It is the universal claim that many Western elites are making about their political system, the hubris, that is at the heart of the West’s current ills. If they would spend just a little less time on trying to force their way onto others, and a little bit more on political reform at home, they might give their democracy a better chance.

China’s political model will never supplant electoral democracy, because unlike the latter, it doesn’t pretend to be universal. It cannot be exported. But that is the point precisely. The significance of China’s example is not that it provides an alternative, but the demonstration that alternatives exist.

Let us draw to a close this era of meta-narratives. Communism and democracy may both be laudable ideals, but the era of their dogmatic universalism is over. Let us stop telling people and our children there’s only one way to govern ourselves and a singular future towards which all societies must evolve. It is wrong. It is irresponsible. And worst of all, it is boring. Let universality make way for plurality. Perhaps a more interesting age is upon us. Are we brave enough to welcome it?

Thank you.”— Eric X. Li’s TED talk: A TALE OF TWO POLITICAL SYSTEMS

I do not subscribe to China’s one party system, but the faults of China’s system aside, it is maintaining itself and its people, unlike the US and its western model that is increasingly about survival through annexation.

The US model is about putting off the problems of here and now, by putting effort into destroying and annexing always the next thing, the next country, the next resource.

However a country that does not resolve the issues of its own back yard before expanding and enforcing its will on other countries, is like a dog with rabies, running around the neighborhood and jumping fences and killing and mating with other dogs. It is a policy of barbarism and ultimately genocide and madness.

So while I do not think China’s system is an answer, compromised as it is by corruption and human rights violations, it is clear to me that unchecked Capitalism masquerading as Democracy, what the US and other Westernized Nations are calling Democracy… is a more compromised, more untenable, more destructive, and ultimately more evil system.

So the crux of Eric’s closing speech (quoted above)is sound, not that we should adopt China’s system, but that we should be flexible, and open to a changing and changed system, and the idea that there are a multitude of systems and solutions that remain untried.

Open to the idea that we as individuals, groups, and nations must always be looking to form… a more perfect union.

A successful nation is perhaps not an end, but a journey. And it is the things we allow a nation to do on that unending journey, in our name, that defines not just the success and the failure, but the good and the evil, of our lives.

Murder in the Age of Rome: American Heroes and American Mass-Murders

Superbowl Sunday I should no doubt have a post on the Superbowl like the rest of America.

However other things grab my interest. Other things that perhaps transcend caring what group of modern gladiators, beat another group of modern gladiators.

This weekend, according to the AP, Chris Kyle, ex-Navy Seal Sniper and author of the 2012 best-selling AMERICAN SNIPER was killed along with another veteran Chad Littlefield in a shooting at the gun range at Rough Creek Lodge and Resort in Glen Rose, Texas. Killed by another former veteran.

The details and the reasons are still sketchy, but aren’t they always. What is known is this is the latest in what is seemingly an endless parade of American mass-murders.

Why?

Why?

And reading the coverage of this latest violence, something of interest struck me in the coverage.

The CNN coverage states:

“[Chris] Kyle learned to shoot on hunting trips with his father, then went on to serve four combat tours in Iraq with the SEALS, though his official biography notes he also worked with Army and Marine units. He received two Silver Stars and other commendations before leaving the Navy in 2009 — claiming that, in his years as a sniper, he’d killed more than 150 people, which he called a record for an American.”

and

“The first time, you’re not even sure you can do it,” he [Chris Kyle] said in the interview. “But I’m not over there looking at these people as people. I’m not wondering if he has a family. I’m just trying to keep my guys safe. Every time I kill someone, he can’t plant an (improvised explosive device). You don’t think twice about it.”

and

“In a statement, the [Fitco Cares]foundation described Kyle as an “American hero” and pledged to carry on his mission.”

And maybe it’s that simple.

Maybe from Sergeant York to Audie Murphy to today’s efficient killers, maybe it has become the American pastime to define as hero the indiscriminate taking of lives. While we live in a world where the pursuit of life, is often dependent on those adept at death, perhaps what is increasingly lost in the American mindset today… is the sense of that act as an evil, perhaps a necessary evil, but an evil none the less.

Perhaps the American media’s glorification of men of war at the expense of men of peace, seeps into the American zeitgeist, the American Soul if you will, and America’s export of indiscriminate horror and blood abroad, returns to us at home.

From Columbine to Aurora to Sandy Hook, perhaps these uniquely American Massacres are part and parcel of the increasing unrepentant and murderous definition of American Heroes.

We glorify the wrong things in our Soldiers, and by so doing glorify the wrong things in ourselves. They are heroes because they are willing to sacrifice, not because they are willing to kill. They and we are victims, when we have to kill. When the killing is all we have left. And worse when the act of that killing ceases to have meaning.

Chickens coming home to roost. By its fruit will you know a tree.

A soldier and a warrior died this weekend and that is a tragedy. But it is only a tragedy if the loss of the 150 lives he took, is also a tragedy.

Like any soldier, like every soldier; either every life has value or no life has value. That is the lesson of America and the world in the 21st century. The more easily we justify killing the other, the more valueless we make their lives, the more valueless we make our own.

That’s the lesson I learned today, while all of Rome was watching the Gladiators in the Coliseum,

Somehow I think… a lesson of value.