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Of Cartoons and Carnage

Jan 11, 2015
Leaving aside for the moment the wisdom of printing unfunny cartoons whose only point seems to be to express one’s elitist contempt for another’s deity, let us contemplate the awful events of the last week.

The boys and young men who have paid with their lives for their desperate acts have their roots, even if they were born in a civilized country, in uncivilized ones. They or their immediate forebears hail from North Africa or the Middle East, from failed states ruled over by tyrants, where “democracy” and a “liberal education” are as unknown as they were in the Dark Ages. They find themselves in a land that has no decent education or work for them; where day to day they struggle for subsistence, never mind inclusion or respect, in the midst of an obscene level of plenty; where any role models they can find fill them with hatred for the Other and a lunatic dependence on a willful misinterpretation of their deity.

And, for the most part, they are poor. Oh, yes, Mohammed Atta apparently was middle class and bin Laden was from a wealthy family. Spare me the “Yeah, but”s. This is poverty we are speaking about. Poverty of knowledge, poverty of experience, poverty of exposure, and just plain poverty. It is hopelessness, and not the siren call of an adoring deity, that delivers these young people to their early demise.

And it is anger. They see the West and our militarized over-reaction to matters appropriately left to the police. They know about the Afghan wedding parties, the Afghan children, the Afghan, Iraqi, Syrian, Pakistani, Yemeni, Somali, and other civilians slaughtered by our soulless drones, and every infant death produces a dozen more of them ready to die in order to avenge our brutality. Would it be any different with us, if the drones were dropping their fire on St. Louis?

The Forever War. It is enormously profitable for the American military-industrial complex. How much does a small-diameter bomb cost? $50,000. $100,000? Try $250,000, brought to the drop point by a plane that costs $68,000 an hour to operate.

How does it end? Who can tell? Easier to say how it will go on, because it will. And once again, it comes down to those two vital areas: education and adequately remunerative employment. We must pledge ourselves to the liberal development of every one of our human resources here in the West. No child can be left behind to be forged in the furnace of ethnic hatred and pseudo-religious fundamentalism. And we must guarantee every adult a decent job at a living wage. We must reverse the alienation and disenchantment which is turning more and more of our fellow human beings, here and abroad, into instruments of death.

And we must stop supporting tyrannies, even the creeping tyranny of the one-percenters that threatens our own democracy here at home.

It can happen if the people can be brought to realize it must happen. And that must happen soon, because already it is almost too late.

tags: Religion | Terrorism | Governance

My Four-Star Books in 2014

Jan 01, 2015
I rate the books I read (I usually finish about 64 a year). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended. Here are my 21 Four-Star books from 2014 (the fewest since 2005). Though there are some standouts, it wasn't a great year for reading. Bold-face items received 4.5 stars:

Julio’s day, Gilbert Hernandez
At last, Edward St. Aubyn
Bad news, Edward St. Aubyn
Mother’s milk, Edward St. Aubyn
Stitches, a memoir, David Small
The infatuations, Javier Marias
Castle Richmond, Anthony Trollope
Lady Anna, Anthony Trollope
Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
Miss Mackenzie, Anthony Trollope
The apartment, Greg Baxter
The colony of unrequited dreams, Wayne Johnston
Three strong women, Marie Ndiaye
The unwinding, George Packer
The light of Amsterdam, David Park
To rise again at a decent hour, Joshua Ferris
How to read and why, Harold Bloom
Swing, hammer, swing, Jeff Torrington
The sense of an ending, Julian Barnes
The dog of the south, Charles Portis
Norwood, Charles Portis

I'd love to hear your reaction to any of the above. Happy Reading in 2015!
tags: Books and Libraries

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