January, 2015

Killing with Good Intentions

January 24th, 2015 12 Comments



Over thirty years ago I joined Safari Club International. I had been seduced by men like Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark and others, and I had dreams of someday going on an actual safari myself. I even went so far as to make preliminary arrangements with an outfitter for a horseback safari. Death intervened when he was killed in a riding accident, and life intervened with my dreams, and now, what with time and injury to my body and injury to my checking account, it is very unlikely I will ever go on any kind of safari.

But I remained a member of SCI. They were, at least as far as I knew at that time, the only organization that was involved in international (primarily African) conservation efforts and they had an interesting theory that the only way to preserve African wildlife in particular, was by making that wildlife represent money-on-the-hoof to the people who lived with and among that wildlife. It was, back then, a theory that was widely derided by various self-proclaimed conservation experts, but time has proven SCI right.

Joe Smithson is a custom rifle maker. He makes the kinds of guns that will someday, in the future, hang in museums as testimony to man’s ability to transform a working tool into a work of art. I have written about his rifles for various magazines, and he and I exchange emails from time to time, and he recently sent me the link below. I urge you to take the time to look at it. It is fascinating and informative and has some of the most beautiful footage you will ever see. Beyond that, it reiterates the truth of the message SCI has been trying to spread for well over thirty years. You may have zero interest in hunting or Africa or African wildlife, but the ramifications of desertification will have an impact on your children’s world.

Here is the link: http://vimeo.com/user17366897/review/116473289/88ae4be861

Enjoy, and then please send it on. Who knows? Your grandchildren might want to visit Africa someday. 



Helping Fallen Officers

January 23rd, 2015 6 Comments



Another video has been released of the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer, this time during a traffic stop in New Jersey, a shooting that has resulted in outraged “activists” demanding an investigation.

Frankly, doing an investigation after a police shooting isn’t a bad thing. It helps keep everybody honest. But what drives me absolutely nuts are the smug, self-righteous pundits who pontificate from the warmth and safety of their studios as if they had a damned clue what they were talking about. I learned about the video of the shooting (which apparently occurred about a month ago) last night while watching CNN, where they showed it over and over again as they tried to dissect what was going on. And that should tell you much about the reality of the situation right there: watching the police dash-cam video repeatedly, in the safety and calm of a television studio, no one could say for certain what had happened. Now try to imagine how you might react if you were one of the participants, with your blood pressure in quadruple digits, your heart red-lining, and adrenaline squirting out of your ears. How perfect is your judgment going to be? How perfect are your reactions going to be?

But it was a lady named Sunny Hostin who really got to me. In the interests of full disclosure, I have no idea who Sunny Hostin is or what her background is. Nor, at this point do I care. What I do know is that she is self-righteous and judgmental, sanctimoniously sitting there and condemning the police officer (who in this case was also a black man) for use of excessive force and—and this is what caused me to lose it—his use of “inappropriate” language.

I kid you not.

Imagine you are walking along the edge of the Grand Canyon and your foot slips. Sunny Hostin would demand that you maintain a decorous silence or softly mumble eloquent platitudes as you fall to your death.

Just so you know, the man the police shot was a convicted felon with a lengthy record of multiple arrests who had served two substantial (not long enough) terms, once for narcotics trafficking, and once for shooting at police officers. This record was known to the black officer who shot him because that officer had already previously arrested the decedent. A handgun was seen in the car by the black officer and retrieved by him with extraordinary courage.

It was at this point that the black police officer began to use highly colorful language, notably the F-bomb as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and an adverb, which apparently offended Ms. Hostin. What did she want? “I say, old chap, that chrome-finished semi-automatic pistol you’re waving around is making me a trifle uneasy. Would you mind very much placing it on the ground with all possible dispatch?”

The officer then repeatedly told the decedent not to get out of the car, an order that was ignored by the decedent. (It appears from the video that the decedent pushed his way out of the car with considerable force, but I put that observation in parenthesis because it’s not an unqualified fact that I could tell for sure.) When the decedent got out of the car, he was moving quickly, and his hands were up by his chest. Whether that should be interpreted as a gesture of surrender or as preparation for an attack has yet to be determined, but it was at that point the black officer fired several shots, and the white officer on the other side of the car fired at least one.

Let’s review the bidding: a convicted felon; a convicted felon known to have attempted to murder law enforcement officers before; a convicted felon known to have attempted to murder law enforcement officers before who had a handgun in his possession; a convicted felon known to have attempted to murder law enforcement officers before, with a handgun in his possession, who ignored an officer’s clear and repeated commands not to get out of the car and who did so possibly with force and certainly with speed.

Why of course that officer had no conceivable reason to believe his life might be in danger. What could have possibly given him that silly idea?

I don’t know why there is this wave of anti-police sentiment in so many corners across the country these days. God knows law enforcement officers are no better or worse than you or I, but they sure as hell are a lot more courageous, and they risk their lives for us on a daily basis, and are rewarded for their efforts by the Sunny Hostins of the world judging and condemning them after the fact from the comfort and security of a television studio. And unfortunately many a moron across the country will listen to the morons pontificating and take their judgment as gospel.

I have been doing some research on how you can support your local police, and there are, apparently, three options.

A law enforcement officer on the East coast sent me an email recommending an organization called Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S. http://www.nationalcops.org/) whose mission statement is: [to provide] “resources to assist in the rebuilding of the lives of surviving families and affected co-workers of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty as determined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB), National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) or Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) criteria. Furthermore, C.O.P.S. provides training to law enforcement agencies on survivor victimization issues and educates the public of the need to support the law enforcement profession and its survivors.”

There is the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (http://nleomf.com/) which is, as I understand it, primarily an organization dedicated to paying tribute to fallen officers and preserving their memories. Their mission statement reads: “As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations and corporations to carry out our work of honoring and remembering the heroes of American law enforcement. The Memorial Fund does not receive any taxpayer money to fund our day-to-day operations.”

And finally, and most importantly, my local sheriff’s department, who have been very kind and patient and helpful, recommended contributing locally whenever—God forbid—an officer in your area is killed or injured. In the event of such a tragedy in your neck of the woods, you can walk into the local sheriff’s office or police station with your checkbook in hand and write a check to help the family of the fallen officer. It will get to them, and it will be remembered.

Sea of Blue

January 18th, 2015 10 Comments

Support your local police


In Washington, DC yesterday, police families and supporters marched to show their support for police officers across the nation who routinely risk their lives to keep our society safe. Over three hundred people dressed in blue, carrying signs and small children on their shoulders, marched from the National Law Enforcement Memorial on E Street to the steps of the Capitol, where they raised American flags and where a minister ended the rally with a prayer. No one was arrested.

In San Francisco yesterday, an estimated two hundred protestors attempted to close down the rapid transit system. They were either protesting the killing of black men by white police officers, or the arrest of fourteen protestors who blocked rail service two months ago while protesting the killing of black men by white police officers; it depends which statement you choose to believe. They succeeded in closing down two rapid transit stations, snarling the morning commute, as they banged spoons on pillars and transit cars and attempted to block transit car doors. Two protestors were arrested.

Which group would you rather belong to? Which group contributes more to our society? Which group represents people who contribute to our society? Which group would you turn to for help if your life were in danger? Or for any other reason? Which group do you think has the higher aggregate I.Q.?


Investment Opportunity

January 16th, 2015 8 Comments



From: Mohammed

Sent: Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 10:38 am

To: undisclosed-recipients

Subject: investment opportunity



I am Mohammad Gaddafi, son of the killed Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi. My family has been in Algeria until we were recently granted political asylum in Oman. For your personal consumption and information, my family has a huge sum of money somewhere for investment for the benefit of my family. I am open to investment in any part of the world provided the investments are lucrative and not directly linked to my family and high returns guaranteed on investment. You will be given freedom to invest in any aspect of your countries economy. Once I receive your email response and confirm that you are capable of investing/managing the funds for us, I will then give you information on how to access the funds and how much it is. You will be entitled to 30% for all your services. Keep this proposal confidential, please reply me via my private email for further discussion xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.com

Regards, Mohammad.


From: undisclosed-recipient

Sent: Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 10:32

To: Mohammed or Mohammad

Re: investment opportunity


Dear Mohammad or Mohammed,


Wow! 30%! I am overwhelmed by the generosity of your offer. I’ll be able to pay off my truck, maybe buy a new hunting rifle. I mean, after all, your dad had billions stashed away, so you must be rolling in the stuff right now. By the way, please accept my condolences on your loss. I know all those billions must be bitter fruit indeed every time you think of your dad. That’s probably why you’re being so generous giving me this opportunity.

As long as we’re talking about your dad, I always thought he spelled his name “Muammar.” Is your spelling the more traditional Arabic version, or is it just a sort of affectionate diminution, the way Joaquín Guzmán Loera is known as “El Chapo?”

I am so impressed by your offer to let me handle your investments that I just had to share the good news with everyone, which is why I have posted your proposal, but you’ll notice I did delete your private email address just for safety’s sake. You can’t be too careful these days; there are so many unscrupulous charlatans out there, and I wouldn’t want you to lose any money with someone who might have less probity than I do.

However, as I’m sure you’ve noticed while reading my blog, I am a big supporter of law enforcement, every kind of law enforcement, and I feel those guys just aren’t paid enough, so I am forwarding your email address (by the way, very clever of you to change your email name from Gaddafi to Khalid) to special, carefully selected friends of mine who would also be interested, very interested, in this opportunity. Two of them are in the Secret Service, and one is due to retire soon, so I know this will come in handy for him. I also have several friends in the FBI who could really use this opportunity (think about it: house payments, kids in school and planning to go to college, that sort of thing), and another friend in the Dept. of Justice recently racked up a bunch of medical bills when his wife got sick, so all of these guys will be very, very interested in your proposal, and I’m sure they’ll all be in touch with you very soon. So will I. In fact, I have some pretty unique ideas on how to invest all that money that will give you returns you’ve never even dreamed of.

How are things in Oman these days?




Undisclosed-recipient (but you can call me u-r.)

An Unkindness of Ravens

January 16th, 2015 17 Comments



The other evening we had one of those picture-perfect, God’s-in-his-Heaven-all’s-right-with-the-world evenings: crystalline air, golden glow, sun setting on the mountains across the valley, no wind, pleasantly cool temperature; ideal weather for barbequing, which is what I was doing. I was waiting for the barbeque to heat up and wandering around the backyard, taking it all in, when I noticed an enormous unkindness of ravens about a thousand feet over my head.

An “unkindness” is the correct collective noun for ravens, though I’m not sure why. As smart as they are, the collective noun should be a “Mensa” of ravens; and with as many of them as there were that evening, I can guarantee their collective I.Q. was considerably higher than that of the man watching them.

But why so many together at one time? Normally ravens congregate in groups of six, eight, twelve, something along those lines, but this was about fifty or more birds, maybe a hundred, for all I could tell, circling elegantly around in a widely dispersed, broken black cloud, not climbing, not moving in any direction other than around and around.

Was it a convention? A political caucus? A union rally? A protest? (Everybody else in the wide world is busy protesting something; why not ravens?) Were they just having fun? They are playful birds—I have watched them take turns sliding on their backs down the snow-covered slope in front of my house—so perhaps this was some kind of game for them, or perhaps they were enjoying the evening as much as I was. But why so many?

I have no idea. I don’t know enough about birds generally or ravens in particular to be able to say what was going on, but if anyone more knowledgeable than I about birds has a theory, let me know.


Islam, Revisited

January 15th, 2015 16 Comments

Islamic sword


The great thing about the internet is that it opens up infinite and infinitely varied worlds for us all to explore. Like the human animal himself, many of those worlds aren’t worth exploring, but those that are more than make up for the bad, and like the human animal, there is always far more good than bad.

Case in point: I received a very intelligent, very literate, very thoughtful and insightful letter from a Muslim gentleman who wished to correct some of my statements and conclusions about Islam and the Koran (“Howard Dean, Islamic Scholar,” January 8th, 2014.) He has asked to remain anonymous, with the exception that I may state he is a Specialist in the US Army, currently in the Modern Standard Arabic course at the Defense Language Institute. His letter is well worth reproducing by itself, and I have done so below. (The only change I made to the original was the addition of the letter “s” he inadvertently dropped from the end of a word.) He also included a link to an open letter (explained within his own letter) and that too is well worth reading. I have attached that link at the bottom of his letter.

I still have four issues:

The first is that there is clearly, for at least a small percentage of misguided Muslims, a disconnect between the words of the Koran and the Hadith and the interpretation of both of those. It is only that small percentage that dominates the news with its outrages and atrocities, but the fact remains that there is something in both the Koran and Hadith that allows for that kind of misinterpretation.

Second, for whatever reason, there are far too few people like my correspondent who have the brains, eloquence, intellectual understanding, and willingness to express this side of Islam, and for that or some other reason, this side is almost never voiced. Is it that the media are drawn to the shock value of wild-eyed, hate-filled imams ranting about Jewish conspiracies or American conspiracies or both, and calling for the destruction of Western civilization? Is it because of fear on the part of moderate Muslims? Is because the voice of moderation will always be drowned out by the strident voice of extremism? I don’t know.

Third, my criticism of Howard Dean and, by extension, President Obama and his entire administration, still stands; they all appear paralyzed by political correctness. The adage, “know your enemy” is as old as war itself. If you are unwilling or unable to identify your enemy, how do you know who to fight? Whether it is Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Shabaab, or any other groups of thugs, they are radical Islamic extremists—or, if you prefer, radical Islamic terrorists—and their actions cannot be palmed off on workplace violence. Not identifying them as a lunatic fringe, not making a point of separating the loonies from the real thing, allows all of Islam to be tarred with the same brush.

Finally, I stand by my reference to Islam as a religion of the sword, although I am perfectly prepared to admit that particular phrase may now be considered antiquated by modern Islamic scholars. The history from which I learned the phrase was written around the time of World War Two and came from much older sources, so while it may now be antiquated or even inaccurate for mainstream Islam, it certainly was not so for the first 1200 or 1300 years. I sincerely hope that Mr. ___________ is right and that it is now as valid as the hair shirt and lice-ridden filth that were once the hallmarks of the truly devout Christian.


Dear Mr. Parker,

I want to begin by offering you a bit of information about myself.  I am a Specialist in the US Army, currently enrolled in the Modern Standard Arabic course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  I read your blog occasionally, and agree with you more often than not, but I felt obligated to write you and correct some of the errors in the post you titled “Howard Dean, Islamic Scholar”.

I am writing as someone who is not only studying Arabic in the best domestic program our government has for language training but who has also undertaken considerable study (over eight years formally, and at least four before that) of Muslim and Arab culture as well as of the Qur’an.  After I leave DLI I will attach to a Special Forces group and provide intelligence for their missions.  I am working toward what the Army would term “subject matter expertise”, with hope for a long career defending our nation against terrorism.  I want to begin by saying that I would not call myself an Islamic Scholar, much less a scholar of the Qur’an, but I’m still quite certain that Mr. Dean hits much closer to the mark than you.

First, let me begin with the Quranic definition of Muslim, one that I’ve heard and seen used by Islamic scholars as recently as last year (Hamza Yusuf, a signatory of the letter explained and attached below, and Muhammad al-Jamal, a former Judge and Jurist in Jerusalem and teacher at Masjid al-Aqsa) and as far back as the turn of the twentieth century (Marmaduke Pickthall, who himself translated the Qur’an into English).  A Muslim is someone who submits or surrenders to the will of Allah, the singular God of all monotheistic religions, specifically of Judaism and Christianity.  In the Qur’an itself, Muslim is only ever used with its literal meaning.  When the Qur’an addresses Muslims, it means those who submit to God.  Many scholars believe that the Qur’an addresses Christians and Jews as Muslims throughout, and distinguishes those communities only when referring to specific, historically identifiable groups.  The five pillars of Islam and the common conception of what it means to be a Muslim do(es) not come from the Qur’an but from a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad during a conversation with the angel Gabriel.

Next, I’ll touch on some of the Ayat (verses) from the Quran you’ve quoted (really just a very few, if I waste too much of my time the terrorists may actually win–that’s meant as a joke) with the hope that I can clarify for you the difference between the fighting prescribed in the Qur’an and that carried out by terrorists.  The first verse you cite, from Surah al-Baqarah: Ayat 190, begins, “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress. . .” the verb transgress (based on its conjugation) limits the fighting of those commanded.  It can be rephrased, “Fight in the way of God but do not transgress (His limits).”  Fighting in the way of God does not involve any of the actions we’ve seen attributed to “dash”, it’s remarkably well defined.  A number of scholars have argued that the command to fight given to Muslims only applied as against the specific people who oppressed Muhammad and his followers (as they are the ones referenced in the verses containing the commandments) and cannot be extrapolated to justify fighting in the present age.  Far fewer scholars (I’m aware of none) believe that the command to fight applies as against all “infidels” as you put it.

As to the third verse you cite, from Surat al-‘Imran: Ayat 151, which begins “We will cast terror. . .”  That this is the Divine We speaking should be obvious.  Terror, and terrorism therefore, is not the work of Muslims.  God inspires the fear, those who take it upon themselves claim lordship and commit shirk, which is the greatest sin in Islam.  The reference to infidels or disbelievers in fourth verse you cite is, in Arabic, الذين كفروا, or “those who cover up (the Truth)”, it has nothing to do with what a person believes but rather with their actions, hence the further explanation contained in the verse, “that they fight in the cause of tyranny.”  There should be little doubt as to who fights for the cause of tyranny between the current sides of our global conflict.  Muslims, even according to the Qur’an, are just as capable of covering up the truth as are any others.  Infidel is perhaps the most mistranslated word in Arabic.

The fifth verse you cite, specifically the punishment “that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides” refers to their punishment “in the Hereafter” (it is explained later in the same verse).  In the sixth verse you cite, the polytheists referred to are “those with whom you have a treaty” (referenced in the Ayat immediately preceding it as well as at the start of the Surah), it expressly refers to a particular historical group of people.  I can run through an explanation of every single verse contained in your post and give you a Quranic, an historic, or an otherwise apparent reason that it clearly doesn’t mean or intend what you’ve implied in your post, but I don’t believe you’re so obtuse as to make that necessary. Suffice it to say that you’re gravely mistaken.  Islam has never been a religion of the sword, it was not taught that way by the Prophet Muhammad nor by any other Prophet or Messenger before him.  Those who claim it to be do so out of ignorance.

As context and for additional help with interpretation, I’ve attached an open letter from actual Islamic scholars concerning the actions of the so called “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” and their explanation of the connections between “dash” (the Arabic acronym, which I prefer to use) and actual Islam.  These are not all liberal scholars, nor are they all people with whom most Americans and westerners would agree concerning the role of Islam in the world; many of the men who signed this letter are actually responsible for the spread of Wahhabi and Salafi interpretations of Islam and are thereby linked to what we in this part of the free world consider “extremism”.  You’ll notice they still roundly condemn “dash”, particularly in light of permitted criticism in Islam.  According to the Quranic definition, Mr. Dean is (and you yourself are) much more a Muslim than these terrorists.

Finally, I’m also writing to you as an American Muslim.  The words you’ve published make my life in the country I choose to defend indescribably more difficult.  I signed up because of the permission contained in the Qur’an for a righteous war against ignorance, hatred, and oppression.  I serve because I don’t want terrorists as the voice or image of my religion.  I am going to war with what I pray are God’s blessings.  I do not want to have to perpetually fight violent, fear-mongering ignorance on two fronts.  As much as I want my religion cleansed of terrorism, hatred, and extremist vitriol, I want my country to remain the beacon of freedom, diversity, and acceptance it has always represented.  I ask that you correct some of your misconceptions and work to inform and educate your readers in the future.



Book Review: Memory of a Large Christmas

January 13th, 2015 6 Comments

Memory of a Large Christmas


My sister liked my blog about my memories of Thanksgiving and sent me a copy of a slim and magical volume, Memory of a Large Christmas, by Lillian Smith. I think my sister intended it as a sort of appreciative gift, but I choose to think of it as payment for the blog, because looked at it that light, it makes me the highest paid writer in the world.

I had never heard of Lillian Smith, and from what I can tell, she seems to have fallen out of fashion with today’s readers. She was a Southern lady, a social activist, fighting and writing against segregation in the Jim Crow South, and her fiction is apparently all written with that theme running through it. With segregation no longer an issue in America, she appears not to be read as much as she once was. I hope that is not the case with Memory of a Large Christmas, and if the rest of her work is as charming and evocative and beautifully written as this little volume, Lillian Smith needs to be rediscovered in a big way.

Let’s begin with beginnings. When it comes to Christmas memories, Tolstoy’s famous first line, “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” is only true to the extent that a certain spirit of love and joy runs through all Christmases, but—to paraphrase Betjeman—many changes can be rung on the bells of love and joy and Christ’s spirit, especially when those things and that time are seen, as they should always be seen, through a child’s eyes.

Some leap right into the eggnog and holly and festivities: “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

Some begin in fruitcake weather with the sweet anticipations and preparations that make all looked for events so special: “Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.”

Even the movie, A Christmas Story begins with a slow, loving look back through Ralphie’s eyes at a drab working-class neighborhood in Cleveland made beautiful by snow and love and memory.

Lillian Smith’s affectionate, bitter-sweet look back begins with the essence of her home seen through her very young eyes, which is to say the essence of every home and every Christmas: “Everything about our family was big: there were nine of us and our mother and father and a cousin or two, and Little Grandma when it was her turn to stay with us, and Big Grandma when it was hers, and there were three bird dogs and four cats and their kittens and once a small alligator and a pet coon. And the house took them all in. And still there were empty corners and stairways and pantries, and maybe the winter parlor would have nobody in it, but if it did you could go to the summer parlor, or if you felt too crowded you could slip in the closet under the stairs and crawl on and on until it grew small and low, then you could get down on your stomach and crawl way back where things were quiet and dim, and sometimes you liked that.”

Her Christmas memories, unlike Dylan Thomas’s or Truman Capote’s or Jean Shepherd’s do not look back at a specific Christmas, nor do they look back through a specific, first-person-singular voice. She utilizes a style quite unique, shifting from the second-person singular to a third-person singular identified as Miss Curiosity to first-person plural, shifting too from various pre-World War One Christmases in the vast, rambling house in the opening quote, to a smaller cottage in the mountains of northern Georgia, shifting also in age and clarity of memory, much like Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, mixing and melding times and people and events into an impressionistic pastiche of celebrations and activities that are now as irrevocably vanished as the people themselves. Consider her description, seen through very young eyes, of the aftermath of the terrifying and upsetting but vital ritual of a hog-butchering:

“And now, in an instant, ALL THE WORLD turned into a Good Place with a Good Father and Good Mother and a Good Granny who made good sausage, and a Good Jaspers who said, Little Sister, come here, Old Jaspers will show you how to cut a pork chop.

“You went to him: and the big black hand covered the small white hand, and holding firmly to the long steel knife, the two together pressed down on something, then Jaspers whispered, Hold tight! and you did, and he lifted your hand and his and the knife and came down hard—and lo, the two of you had cut a pork chop. And he was saying softly, I sho do like pork chops, don’t you, Little Sister? and you whispered back, I sho do, Jaspers. And the two words had changed the whole world.”

It is not fashionable in today’s world to write or speak about such things, things that were common in an older time, relationships that were common in that older time between old black men or women and young white children. The time has rightly and deservedly gone, just as hog-butchering has gone as a seasonal ritual, but I too remember those relationships and black hands and the past cannot nor should not be revised, but rather seen for what it was, both good and bad. Snooty young people who know better than you how the modern world should be run will reduce the object of that love to “a mere domestic,” as if a child’s love had anything to do with social standing or job or race or sex or age or anything other the mysterious synchronized beating of two separate hearts.

And it is that beating heart that runs through this Christmas memory, a child’s heart in a child’s time, until, in that final north-Georgia Christmas she evokes the essence of Christ’s spirit in what must be the most extraordinary Christmas dinner in the history of man.

Lillian Smith’s father, aging, in financial difficulties, with all his children out on their own, saving Lillian and her younger sister who have come back from their own lives in other places to be with their parents, has invited the prisoners on a local chain-gang to have Christmas dinner with them:

“When Mother said she was ready, our father asked ‘Son,’ who was one of the killers, to go help ‘my wife, won’t you, with the heavy things.’ And the young man said he’d be mighty glad to. The one in for raping and another for robbing a bank said they’d be pleased to help, too, and they went in. My sister and I followed, not feeling as casual as we hoped we looked. But when two guards moved toward the door my father peremptorily stopped them with, ‘The boys will be all right.’ And ‘the boys’ were. They came back in a few minutes bearing great pots and pans to a serving table we had set up on the porch. My sister and I served the plates. The murderer and his two friends passed them to the men. Afterward, the rapist and two bank robbers and the arsonist said they’d be real pleased to wash up the dishes. But we told them nobody should wash dishes on Christmas—just have a good time.”

It is axiomatic that if you write about a specific person or a specific event or emotion it becomes universal; the reverse, obviously, simply becomes a mess. It may seem strange that a very specific and somewhat eccentric family in a very specific house in a specific part of America in a very specific time so long ago, a time that ended with the coming of World War One, should be so completely accessible and understandable to today’s readers, so that there are those magic moments where you think, Yes, that’s just how it is, but that’s the magic of great writing. This little memoir deserves a special place on your shelf of Christmas classics: The Night Before Christmas; A Child’s Christmas in Wales; A Christmas Memory; Tasha Tudor’s A Time to Keep; whatever others you know of that sing to you. It’s one of those books you’ll want to go back to over and over again with the coming of “fruitcake weather.”

Howard Dean, Islamic Scholar

January 8th, 2015 16 Comments

The Scream


I received a perfectly polite and pleasant email from someone yesterday morning disagreeing with me about a second amendment issue, but he prefaced his argument with a comment to the effect that I would—I’m paraphrasing here—probably dismiss him as an idiot because he was a liberal.

Quite to the contrary: I frequently get emails or comments, or read news items, or see things on television that make me question my own convictions. And that’s a good thing. I welcome alternate points of view when they’re honest, intellectually sound, and grounded in reality. I do not welcome alternate points of view that are dishonest or grounded in ignorance or denial or cowardice or all three. Being liberal or conservative does not absolve anyone from both facing and telling the truth.

I happened to be walking through the living room yesterday as Darleen was watching the news. Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont, former presidential candidate, (and—little known fact—original model for Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream) was pontificating about the horrific events in Paris, and what I heard him say about the terrorists was, “They’re about as Muslim as I am. They have no respect for anybody else’s life. That’s not what the Koran says.”

Really, Mr. Dean?

I read the Koran back in college, and while, ahem, a few years have passed since those happy days, some of what I learned stayed with me, so I went back and leafed through my copy of that book. For the record, and in the interests of full disclosure, this is not my original, collegiate copy. The one I have now is the 1990 paperback Penguin edition of the 1956 translation by N. J. Dawood. It has been widely acclaimed for both its accuracy and its fidelity to the original language, and back in 1990 had already sold over one million copies. In this edition, the surahs (think chapters) are numbered pretty much according to Hoyle, but the line numbers will probably only correspond to this particular translation and may not correspond to yours. Please bear in mind that I did this quickly, so I have missed some relevant passages, but this should give you at least some idea of what the Koran says.

2:190 “Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love the aggressors. Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out from the places where they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage. But do not fight them within the precincts of the Holy Mosque unless they attack you there; if they attack you, put them to the sword. Thus shall the unbelievers be rewarded: but if they mend their ways, know that God is forgiving and merciful.”

2:216 “Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. God knows, but you do not.”

3:148 “We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. They serve other deities besides God for whom He has revealed no sanction. The fire shall be their home; dismal indeed is the dwelling of the evil-doers.”

4:75 “The true believers fight for the cause of God, but the infidels fight for the devil. Fight then against the friends of Satan.

5: 31 “Those that make war against God and His apostle and spread disorder in the land shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the country.”

9:5 “When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them.”

9:12 “Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them and heal the spirit of the faithful.”

9:121 “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.”

47:3 When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.”

Nothing too warm and fuzzy there. Perhaps Mr. Dean read a different translation.

There is a lot more in the same sanguinary vein (you should pardon the pun) but it’s been many years, and by the time I tracked down every reference to slaying the infidel, the Islamic terrorists might have finished the job, so I’ll just leave it there. What part of that does Mr. Dean not understand? What part of that indicates respect for the infidel’s life? There is a reason why Islam is called the religion of the sword.

Only a moron would blame all Muslims for the events yesterday—not to mention all the other horrific, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish events that take place daily all over the globe. It would be like blaming all Christians for the Spanish Inquisition, or all Germans for the actions of the Nazis, but it does not do anyone, least of all innocent Muslims, any good to make inaccurate, apologetic, politically correct noises and pretend black is white and up is down.

When was the last time you saw a cartoon in the New York Times making fun of Mohamed? Is there a Broadway musical in production called The Book of Mohamed? Is the National Endowment for the Arts going to pay American artist Andres Serrano to put a copy of the Koran in a vat of his own urine?

In the wake of such savagery, and with the threat of such savagery going after our own first amendment, this is no time for mealy-mouthed politicians to make politically correct apologies and tell politically correct lies. They would be better served by cancelling their subscriptions to the New York Times and taking out subscriptions to Charlie Hebdo.

If a Congressman Says It, It Must Be True

January 5th, 2015 14 Comments



Remember Senator Joe McCarthy, the one who did so much to inspire trust and faith in our federal representatives by waving blank sheets of paper around and saying with angry sincerity and absolute conviction, “I have here a list of every communist…?” Remember him?

Nothing has changed.

I watched Face the Nation yesterday morning, and Bob Schieffer was interviewing Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) about America’s race problems, and specifically about the distrust black people are reported to have of police officers generally, and white police officers in particular. Rep. Cummings made the following statement:

“One survey said that of the 400 or so deaths from police officers with guns, 96% of them were white officers killing African Americans.”

That caught my attention.

According the US Census Bureau, approximately 65% to 75% of Americans are white, while somewhere between 12% to 16% are African American. (Believe it or not, these figures vary, but the most recent numbers I could find were 65% and 16%, respectively.) So, according to Rep. Cummings, if 96% of all fatal police shootings are of black men by white officers, that is indeed a damning figure. Mr. Cummings’ unstated implication would be that either: 1) all but a tiny four percent of all violent criminals are black, or; 2) that virtually all police officers across the country, saving a negligibly miniscule number, are severely and violently racist. Either way it would speak very badly of one of those groups of people, and the context in which Mr. Cummings made the statement left no doubt that it was option number two.

Fortunately, it ain’t true either way.

I follow second amendment issues pretty closely, and ancillary to that are the statistics the FBI keeps on crime in America. The FBI does an admirable and dispassionate job of breaking down the statistics as carefully and objectively as possible into multiple categories: the kind of offense; the age of the victim; the age of the offender; the race of the victim; the race of the offender; the sex of the victim; the sex of the offender; the weapon used; number of crimes by state; and so on. One of the categories is Justifiable Homicide, which is then further broken down into Justifiable Homicide by Civilian and Justifiable Homicide by Law Enforcement. In 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 461 cases of justifiable homicide by law enforcement officers across the nation, and that is further broken down into the kind of firearm used or other means of death. (For the record, there are wild and shrill—but completely unsubstantiated—claims that the actual figure is much higher—around 1000 shootings annually—but since the corollary to that is a claim that the FBI is in collusion with local law enforcement to keep the numbers down, I regard such claims with great suspicion.) But, and this is the crux of the matter, there is no mention in any of the FBI statistics of the race of the 461 people killed by law enforcement.

The only other governmental agency that keeps track of such data is the Bureau of Justice, but the only relevant document I could find there referred me back to the FBI’s data.

But Mr. Cummings said it was a survey, so I did a web search of all the possible words and phrases I could think of that might direct me to such a survey. I found nothing. What I did find, however, was an article in the Washington Post entitled, “How Many Police Shootings a Year? No one knows.”

That’s disingenuous. Actually, it’s completely false in the context of a later statement in the article that no one knows how many people are killed by law enforcement officers each year. The FBI knows how many were killed each year; in 2013 it was 461. It’s disingenuous because no one keeps track of officer-involved shootings that do not result in a fatality. But again, the point is that the particular statistical subset of race in police shootings is not tracked. To quote the Washington Post, “Comprehensive statistics on officer-involved shootings are also not kept by any of the nation’s leading gun-violence and police research groups and think tanks.”

So how did Mr. Cummings come up with his 96% figure? The closest guess I can make is that he took the number from an informal USA Today analysis of the FBI statistics that averaged the law enforcement justifiable homicide figure over several years and came up with an average of 400 officer-involved fatal shootings a year, of which an annual average of 96 involved a white officer shooting a black person. My Irish math, admittedly always somewhat suspect, makes that out at less than 25%. Given an unpleasant truth, which is that although African Americans make up only 16% of the population, they commit a disproportionate percent of all homicides in the country (14,132 homicides by any and all means were committed in 2013, of which 5,375 were committed by blacks, 4,396 were committed by whites, 249 by other, and 4,112 by race unknown; in other words, a little over 38% of all homicides; it would be even higher if we extrapolated the known number and applied that percentage to the “race unknown” figure) 25% seems to show a reluctance on the part of the police to shoot violent African American offenders. Certainly it doesn’t show any predilection.

Was this just a Freudian slip of Elijah Cummings’ tongue, or was it a deliberate “misspeaking” (to use the Washington euphemism for lying) of a number? A cynical man, like the one writing this now, might suggest this was a deliberate choice, with that number carefully picked to provide a “misspeak” excuse in the event anyone did the math, by which time, of course, it would be too late. And it is now too late: most of the millions of people who watched Face the Nation will accept the figure and repeat it with wide-eyed outrage across the country until it becomes an accepted and calcified fact.

But while Mr. Cummings may be a malicious liar, that isn’t what shocks me about all this; after all, an honest politician is like a virgin prostitute. What shocks me is Bob Schieffer’s behavior. If a sleepy man at a kitchen counter in California, working on his granola and coffee, can be alarmed by such a blatant lie, how is it that a veteran reporter and news anchor can let such an outrageous statement go unquestioned and unchallenged? Why did not Schieffer at the very least ask for a source?

I checked this morning’s news sources. The Washington Post Pinocchio section had nothing about it, nor did FactCheck.org, nor has Face the Nation made any correction, nor have I found any other news source commenting on Mr. Cummings’ claims, so now it will spread and become an accepted part of the false meme that accuses police of “executing innocent young black men.”

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