November, 2015

ISIS in Paris

November 17th, 2015 37 Comments

Arc de Triomphe


I’ve been thinking about Paris lately, ever since the attacks. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the immortal city four times and like every other man before me who has ever been there, it made an indelible impression.

The first time I was so young, perhaps four or five, that all I really remember is Notre Dame, which had a profound effect on me: the rose window, the truncated towers, the statues and gargoyles, the smell of incense, the dim interior that emphasized the stained glass windows; all of it was etched into my memory so strongly that it is difficult now for me to separate Notre Dame from other famous cathedrals I was blessed to see while we lived in Europe. I still have, more than sixty years later, a small, inexpensive crucifix, a tacky little tourist item I fell in love with and that my parents bought for me there.

Notre Dame de Paris

Rose Window


The third time I went to Paris I was in my twenties (“Paris twenties,” as Hawley Truax wrote in his spectacular poem, Fistfuls of Balloons—see the blog of the same name on my website—though since he too put in quotes, the phrase may come from some other source) and it should have been the highlight of my life, to be young and footloose in the city of light and love and laughter. Unfortunately, that trip was made with someone I choose now not even to remember, and in any case I became so seriously ill that I spent most of that visit either unconscious or alternating between praying I wouldn’t die and praying I would. So I will dismiss that occasion as something that never happened.

My last visit was in my late thirties and was for work, so my memories of all that is iconic about Paris are more limited: glorious and indelible, particularly the food, but limited by time and responsibility.

But it was the second trip that lingers. I was only thirteen or fourteen and my parents took us, my sister and me. My family was never poor, but we were never rich, either, and in an effort to save money and give us as much time there as possible, my father made arrangements for us to stay in the vacant apartment of some friend of his. The only other apartment on that floor was occupied by a professional model who was American, drop-dead gorgeous, and very sweet to a loathsome adolescent boy whose body was raging with hormones and barely under his control. My feet were much too big for the rest of me, and I had a pronounced tendency to trip and fall down while standing still. None of my clothes fit properly. My voice seemed to have developed a malicious sense of humor and betrayed me at every most inopportune and embarrassing moment. But there she was in the apartment next door, beautiful and good-humored, joyous and compelling, very much like the city itself.

Apart from falling in love with both lady and city, my salient memories are of the breathtaking beauty that is Paris. Perfectly ordinary streets and buildings that Parisians probably take for granted and never even glance at twice, those same mundane sights filled me with…well, with love, for what else should one succumb to in Paris? Beyond that, it was the Louvre that completely consumed me. We went to other museums, of course, to many historic buildings and sites, but the Louvre captured me in almost inexplicable ways.

David's Horatii


I was overwhelmed by the staggering size of the place and by the staggering size of the Jacques-Louis David’s. I was then equally overwhelmed by the smallness of the Mona Lisa. I remember standing in front of her and later in front of the Venus de Milo and even as I admired them thinking that an American model in a modest apartment building in an unfashionable arrondissement was more beautiful than either. I was only fourteen, for God’s sake. But I also remember thinking—or perhaps just feeling intuitively—how life-affirming and restorative that art was, how reflective of all that is best in mankind, all that we hope will endure forever, a glass of fine French wine for even an obnoxious adolescent boy’s soul.

Venus de Milo


In the wake of the ISIS attacks, these memories and a thousand more came back and I’ve been trying to make sense of it all.

To be honest, Islam (traditional Islam, as opposed to radical Islam) makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but to be fair, perhaps Christianity is as foreign to Muslims as Islam is to me. But when it comes to radical Islam, I am really left gaping in astonishment. It’s as if the Westboro Baptist Church, or some other equally evil perversion of Christ’s teaching, were suddenly taken seriously by large numbers of people. Out of billions of Muslims across the globe and on every continent, only a miniscule handful have made their personal evil the dominant theme of their religion, but it is still amazing and out of all proportion to their numbers. If I were Muslim, I would be outraged to have my religion hijacked and perverted.

Apart from the evil perversion of their own religion, what stuns me about ISIS is their myopic and medieval approach to the stated goal of world domination this tiny bunch of perverts wants to achieve. Islam, I’m talking about mainstream Islam, has tried repeatedly to expand their realm of domination and create a united world-caliphate, just as for many centuries armies of conquerors followed the cross. Mohamed himself took much of the Arabian peninsula; after his death, what was then Persia, and the area then known as Mesopotamia were conquered; the next areas to come under Islamic rule were the northern mountain regions that are now known as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan; the conquest of India began only thirty years after the death of Mohamed, and within half a century most of that great subcontinent was taken and a thousand years of beauty and culture were irrevocably destroyed; the Iberian peninsula and part of what is now southern France fell next; further incursions into France were attempted, but stopped by Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles Martel, but the attempt was made; Islamic expansion was also halted farther east, temporarily, by the Byzantine Empire and Bulgarian kings; a century later, Islam took much of southern Italy and set up an Emirate in Sicily; Crete, Cyprus, northern Africa, eventually the mighty Byzantine Empire and large chunks of eastern Europe, all came under Islamic domination. Most, though not all, of these conquests were accompanied by wholesale slaughter and destruction of everything and anything that wasn’t Islamic, which is to say everything the Muslims saw. (To be fair, much has also been destroyed and lost to Christian armies too, particularly in Byzantium; the difference is that Christian armies—for the most part—stole instead of destroyed.) Today, that kind of destruction, like the destruction of the Goths and the Vandals and other primitive and warlike tribes, is rightly called barbaric.

Good old ISIS, like the Taliban before them, is resurrecting that moronic medieval mayhem. Reports of their destruction of priceless antiquities range from ancient books and manuscripts to Assyrian artifacts. And it was thinking about that evil in their own backyard that made me think about Paris.

Imagine for a moment that ISIS succeeds and that Europe falls to this pathetic evil masquerading as religion. (Given the spineless arrogance, ignorance and incompetence that characterize Washington’s current administration, it could happen, unless Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia all come together and recognize that a sheep cannot reason with a wolf. Unfortunately, only Russia seems to grasp that, though ISIS does seem to have awakened a martial spirit in France that once was world-renowned.) Imagine a world without the Paris that we know, without the life-affirming art and architecture, literature and music that all the world—saving the despicable and barbaric morons of ISIS—recognizes as the best of humanity. That is what would happen if ISIS has its way. Forget for a moment (as if one could!) the blood-soaked streets of the city that is all things to all men; forget the pain and sorrow; forget the fear and the loss. Now imagine a world where you don’t even have the solace of art and beauty and all the best of man to give you comfort. That’s the world ISIS wants. I’d say it’s worth fighting and dying to prevent that world from ever becoming a reality. I hope Europe agrees with me.

We Are All French

November 15th, 2015 13 Comments

French flag

Veteran’s Day

November 11th, 2015 10 Comments

American flag


It being Veteran’s Day and all, I was thinking about my parents. Neither one of them were natural soldiers or heroes in any traditional and conventional sense of that word, but like practically everyone else of that generation, the Monday morning after Pearl Harbor, my father went down to enlist in the Navy, and my mother followed suit shortly after.

My father had dreams of being a frogman (the precursors to today’s Seals) because of his swimming ability. Fortunately, an accident in training blew out one of his ear drums and he spent the war serving as a lieutenant on transport ships; otherwise, I almost certainly wouldn’t be here today, since my father was almost as ill-equipped to be a military man as his feckless son.

My mother managed to get a top-secret job on the Navy intelligence team that finally broke the Japanese code. There was no such thing as a computer in those days, and the team consisted of an eclectic assortment of civilians—mathematicians, housewives, schoolteachers, men too old or unfit to serve elsewhere—who shared a common ability for finding patterns in random groupings of words and numbers. She never once spoke of it until the day I just happened to home visiting and just happened to pick up the mail for her. There was a letter to her from the Department of the Navy, but even when I queried her, she dismissed it all by showing me a few simple cryptograms and telling a few anecdotes of some her fellow team members. (One of those, incidentally, was a British Naval Officer who went on to serve at Bletchley Park, where the first computer was invented by Alan Turing, an incident made famous by the recent movie, The Imitation Game.)

They were ordinary people, my extraordinary parents, but they were members of the greatest generation, made great by time and circumstances they would have preferred not to have known. They, and all the courageous men and women who serve in uniform today, deserve to be remembered with gratitude, and to be emulated.

Rainy Day Elk

November 7th, 2015 16 Comments

Sometimes—not often—everything comes together just perfectly. (When it does, I attribute it to clean living and good single-malt whisky.)

We had two fine days of cold, grey, and rainy weather. I had to run some errands on one of those days and at the last minute, almost as if the universe had whispered in my ear, I grabbed my camera. Then, on the way home, I took a detour through some hills at the end of the valley and in the fog and rain I found what the universe had been trying to tell me.

Elk 002 (2) (Small)

Elk 068 (2) (Small)

It’s Important to Know When to Shut Up

November 4th, 2015 11 Comments

Quentin Tarantino


Since I wrote about Quentin Tarantino’s anti-police tirade, the speech he gave while marching with yet another anti-police protest group, I am going to weigh in on his recent defense of his statement calling police “murderers.” Quentin made his comments during a protest rally of the group, Rise Up October, in New York, a protest that came four days after the murder of a New York City police officer.

Rise Up October is an organization created by Cornel West and Carl Dix. Mr. West is a former Harvard professor who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and he has called Barack Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” Mr. Dix is a co-founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and he has denounced all shootings of young black men by police officers in line of duty as “genocide.” To be fair to Rise Up October, they had scheduled their protest long before New York City officer Randolph Holder was murdered in East Harlem, but to label police officers murderers, either wholesale or selectively, as Quentin Tarantino did, was a masterpiece of poor taste and poor timing. Mr. Tarantino managed to compound the offensiveness of his statements by citing as an example the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, since virtually every subsequent investigation of that shooting ruled it a clear case of justifiable homicide by a police officer in defense of his life.

I’m not interesting in rehashing Mr. Tarantino’s statements, but rather in looking at his peculiar defense of those statements.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Tarantino stated: “All cops are not murderers. I never said that. I never even implied that.”

Well, Quentin, your words, “When I see murder, I cannot stand by. I have to call the murdered the murdered and the murderers the murderers,” would in fact seem to imply precisely that, but let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the American people misunderstood you. After all, your chosen medium of expression is film, not the English language.

But then Mr. Tarantino goes on to say later in his interview, “I have a first amendment right to protest against police brutality as I see it, and I’m not backing down from that.”

Let me see if I’ve got this right. We, the American people, misunderstood you, but you courageously invoke your first amendment right to be misunderstood?

Okie, dokie. No muddy thinking there, by golly, but we’ll let it go. What I won’t let go is the following: “What” [the police and police associations] “are doing is pretty obvious. Instead of dealing with the incidents of police brutality that those people” [excuse me, Quentin, but you were one of those people] “were bringing up, instead of examining the problem of police brutality in this country, better they single me out. And their message is very clear. It’s to shut me down. It’s to discredit me. It’s to intimidate me. It’s to shut my mouth, and even more important than that, it’s to send a message out to any other prominent person that” [sic] “might feel the need to join that side of the argument.”

Quentin, please. That’s just embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for you to play the old “blame the victim” card, portraying the police as the ones in the wrong because they “misunderstood” you and object to what they misunderstood. If you have a first amendment right to be misunderstood, the police have an equally valid first amendment right to encourage people not to go see your films when they are offended by the words you claim you didn’t say.

And more importantly, Quentin, it is really embarrassing for you to try and portray yourself as a lone crusader courageously standing up to the ominous and threatening forces of powerful and entrenched evil in the form of police unions. You’re a movie-maker, Quentin, and you took a position on an issue about which you had not done all your homework, but that’s alright. That too is your right under the constitution. But at least have the dignity to cowboy up and take the heat when other people disagree with you.

For myself, since I haven’t actually seen any of your films so far, I will continue to courageously take a bold stance and boycott the next one as well.

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