Thursday, 16 August 2012

Advice To Younger Women From An Older Man

1) Just because you have a great treasure doesn't mean that you have to give it away to every treasure hunter that comes along.

2) Yes, we know you have tits and we do appreciate them. That does not mean, however, that we like seeing them hanging out for all to see.

3) We do not want you to 'need' us, we want you to 'want' us. Healthy women do not 'need' a man in their life.

4) If you do not truly love yourself you will never find anyone else who will truly love you.

5) Whining is the domain of children. It is not attractive in women. If you need someone to whine to, move home with Daddy.

6) Thongs are sexy and exciting in the bedroom. They are definitely not attractive when the whale tail is exposed when you are sitting down at the coffee shop.

7) Nose and lip rings and studs are ugly. Any man who tells you he likes them or that they are pretty is looking at your tits, not your face.

8) Men are crude and vulgar at work with other men but they ditch it when they get home because they know it is wrong. It we wanted crude and vulgar from women we would go hang out with the local bar slut.

9) Jeans worn so low that wisps of public hair appear above the belt line are not only not attractive, they are disturbing. It may seem sexy to you but I assure you that the moment we see that we stop seeing you as a person and begin seeing you as an object.

10) Romance and love are two different things. If you do not know this you have no business dating. If you do not have the resolve to see romance through until love develops get out of the game because you will never be happy.

11) While it may not seem possible, wearing sweat pants at home is even more disturbing then seeing them worn at Walmart.

12) Slutty is for the bedroom. There is much to be said for mystery and intrigue so dress like a lady when you are out and about.

13) If you are a single mom and it appears that you are putting more effort into finding a partner than looking after the welfare of your children we will be neither impressed nor interested.

14) Men are more interested in strong, mature, confident and intelligent women than they are in window dressing.

(Originally posted to Multiply on March 13, 2008)

Book Review: In Buddha's Kitchen: Cooking, Being Cooked, and Other Adventures in a Meditation Center by Kimberly Snow

Title: In Buddha's Kitchen: Cooking, Being Cooked, and Other Adventures in a Meditation Center

Author: Kimberly Snow

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This book is a real gem with nuggets of dharma scattered throughout in mouth watering morsels.

"The sweet potato queens meet Pema Chodron in this book about "enlightenment having"-as a Tibetan teacher might phrase it-in the kitchen of a California Tibetan Buddhist retreat center. Southern-born, Presbyterian-bred author Snow lays out a buffet of episodes from her life before and during her tenure as cook in the center. She's a divorced ex-gourmet chef and refugee from academia, "always leaving, never staying to work it out." In this book, the Buddhist dharma (teaching) comes from the stove instead of the meditation cushion, making it concrete, engaging and generally highly entertaining. In addition to her raconteur ability, Snow has a gift for applying Tibetan Buddhist teaching, which can seem foreign or esoteric, to real life with its quirky demands and characters. One chapter is even entitled "Dzogchenpa among the Presbyterians." Narrative progression in the first half of the book is a little choppy as the author relates life episodes in no apparent logical order, but later chapters gather steam, providing background that unrolls to drive the book forward to a resolution of dawning wisdom. Some of the episodes could go on longer, because characters are so memorably sketched that it's a shame to leave them so quickly. Overall, this is a small jewel, and it's altogether refreshing to read a Buddhist book with a sense of humor." (Amazon)

(Originally posted to Multiply on March 13, 2008)

Book Review: Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung by Ajahn Braham

Title: Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung
Author: Ajahn Braham
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Amazon says, "The 108 stories in Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung? offer thoughtful commentary on everything from love and commitment to fear and pain. Drawing from his own life experience, as well as traditional Buddhist folk tales, author Ajahn Brahm uses over 30 years of spiritual growth as a monk to spin delightful tales that can be enjoyed in silence or read aloud to friends and family. Featuring titles such as "The Two-Finger Smile" and "The Worm and His Lovely Pile of Dung," these wry and witty stories provide playful, pithy takes on the basic building blocks of everyday like. Suitable for children, adults, and anyone in between, this eloquent volume wraps insight and inspiration inside of a good old yarn."

I have heard most of these stories in the scores of hours I have spent listening to Ajahn Brahm's dharma talks. He is a wry, funny, and engaging speaker. Although his teachings are not deep he makes his point through repetition and anecdotes.

Halfway through this book, however, I found myself becoming more and more irritated until I had to put it away for a couple of days before finishing it. I had heard so much about this book and was quite disappointed to have it be a mere rehash of the stories I had heard so many times. I had wanted more depth from him for a change. I was growing angry at the simplicity. I also found myself irritated at Brahm's earthy manner that sometimes borders on crudeness. Yet, I have read and heard some of these same stories told just as crudely by the great Ajahn Chah without the same irritation. So what was going on with me?

Irritation is just another mental state, of course, and it took me a couple of days to sort out why I was feeling the way I was. I eventually made it back to the book and finished it and was not, in the end, terribly displeased. Perhaps I was just irritated with myself and the truth that it takes simple tales oft repeated before they sink into my brain and even then leave all too soon.

Written in the vernacular of today this is a quick read and worth your time in spite of the miserly 3 stars I have given it in this review. For myself, I will stick with his recorded dharma talks in the future.

(Originally posted to Multiply March 12, 2008)

Book Review: Hitching Rides With Buddha by Will Ferguson

Title: Hitching Rides With Buddha: A Journey Across Japan
Author: Will Ferguson
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Canadian humorist Will Ferguson spent five years in Japan as an ESL teacher. While there he decided to hitch hike the length of Japan chasing the Cherry Blossom bloom as it swept from south to north. His Japanese friends told him he would be unable to live this dream as the Japanese did not pick up hitch hikers.

Of course they do and the adventures Ferguson had with those who picked him up, from the ridiculous to the sublime, are what make this book such brilliant reading. The clash of cultures and the misunderstandings are absolutely hilarious. This may well be the funniest book I have ever read.

More than merely funny, however, this book provides a window into life in Japan as well as being a history and a travelog.

This is one of the best books I have read in several years and I cannot wait until memory has faded to I can read it and enjoy it again.

If you enjoy reading this should be the next book on your reading list!

 
(Originally posted to Multiply March 9, 2008)

You Must Be Present To Win

You must be present to win.

Each New Year's Eve the casino in my little city has a raffle in hopes of encouraging people to spend the evening in their establishment. They give away cash prizes up to $10,000 (which they hope you will dump right back into gambling), boats, 4-wheelers, and gift certificates to local businesses. Printed on the raffle ticket is the disclaimer, "Must be present to win."

Of course they want you to be present. More people in the casino generates more excitement as the draws are held but more importantly the longer you are there, the more you are likely to lose, and the more money they make to cover the cost of the raffle.

"You must be present to win" is also a good metaphor for life.

For most of us life isn't easy. It is filled with hardships and it is often filled with suffering. Suffering, in all its forms, is so universal to life that it is the first noble truth of Buddhism. Hardship is part of our life experience. As unpleasant as these things are they provide the warp and weft with which each of us weaves the tapestry of our lives. The job of weaving our lives is hard, back breaking labor. The job of weaving our lives is often mind numbing. The job is often soul searing. Yet it is the difficulties in life that provide the richness to our tapestries.

We have become a society that tries to avoid the unpleasantness of life at all costs. We spend our ours as if they are endless numbing ourselves with DVDs, CDs. VCRs, iPODs' Computers, Walkmen, and every electronic gadget imaginable. We put our old folks away in institutions as if by not looking at them we can avoid seeing our own eventuality. We sanitize death and leave that nasty business to hospitals and mortuaries. We have become the most obese nation on the face of the earth while we stuff ourselves with food to vaccinate ourselves against the harshness and disappointments of life. Others of us starve themselves for the same reason.

We wonder why our parents and grandparents seemed to have richer, fuller, more meaningful lives while we run full in panic or hide in shadows avoiding the very things that so enriched their lives.

We seem to have lost the lesson. The unfairness of life cannot be avoided and the more we try to avoid it the duller and more impoverished we become.

In reality, life is like the casino. You must be present to win.

(Originally posted to Multiply March 8, 2008)

Book Review: Happiness by Matthieu Richard





Title:        Happiness

Category: Books
Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Author:Matthieu Richard
RATING:   4 out of 5 Stars
At last! I book from the Tibetan school of buddhism that I can easily understand and that was well written. Perhaps because the author is actually French?

Matthieu Richard is the author of the bestselling 'The Monk and the Philospher.' After obtaining a Ph.D. in biology, Richard has spent the last 35 years as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He is a confidant of the Dalai Lama and often acts as his translater. He is also often a contributer to the Dalai Lama's Mind/Life conferences each year where Buddhist scholars and wester scientists grabble with the intersection of buddhism and science.

'Happiness' is an excellent, superb book on finding happiness and ridding oneself of the mental afflictions that block our path to happiness.

If I have a fault with this book it is that Richard spent nearly no time at all on mindfulness and meditation. If one cannot see the affliction arising, how is one to be rid of the blocks?

This is an excellent book. It is an important book and I highly recommend it to anyone who is on the buddhist path or or who is searching for deep and meaningful happiness in their lives.
(Originally posted to Multiply March 7, 2009)

CT Scans and Banana Blossoms

I had my CT Scan this morning. That's the second one in six months so I will probably glow in the dark tonight. Too much radiation. The next scan in another six months will have to be an MRI. That'll mean a trip to the city. We don't have an MRI machine in this small hamlet.

The neurosurgeon wanted me to have an fMRI at the time I was having a headache. Right! There are only 12 fMRI machines in the world. I am certain B.C. Medical would be willing to send me to one and put me up in a hotel until I was actually having a headache.
The results won't be back to the clinic until next week. I will have to find a doctor to give me the news. Mine just quit to go back to South Africa to become a surgeon.

I arrived for my 8:30 scan at 8:25 and they told me I had a twenty minute wait. It seems they make the appointments for fifteen minutes before the actual scan to make sure people are actually there on time. Pissed me right off and I gave them my "my time is as valuable as your time" speech. They told me they didn't like my attitude. I told them I didn't like their booking procedures and that they could be assured I would keep that in mind the next time I had to be there. Idiots!

It was a beautiful, bright, sunny morning and the roads were bare and dry so I took a trip 75 miles up the highway to the next city for the day. My parents came with me. Father drives like shit anymore so they haven't gotten out much this winter and they wanted to do some shopping. I think we went into every store. When they shop they have to go down every aisle of every store they go in so they don't miss a bargain. We wound up at Costco.
Costco is always interesting. They had a twenty pound box of Quaker Oats for less than eight dollars. That is pretty cheap but what the hell do you do with a twenty pound box of oatmeal? They had a good deal on hot chocolate; fifty packages for $5.99. I spent $5.99 for the chocolate and $1.99 for a pound of figs. My parents spent $184.29. I don't know what all they bought but the car was full. I don't think they will have to buy food for the next three months.

I stopped at the Super Store. The part time, some time, on again off again Asian girl friend had asked me to get some stuff for her. I wandered the Asian aisle for an hour trying to get what she wanted. Macapuno String. Caldereta Sauce. Agar Desert Mix. Canned banana blossoms. Banana ketchup. Milk Fish. Asians eat some weird stuff. Don't believe me? Read Iggy's blog from time to time.

I also went to three book stores. Yes, of course I bought books. What did you expect? Now I am broke until the end of the month. I hope nothing interesting gets published.

We had lunch at Red Robbin. My mother had a small bowl of soup. My father had a salad. I had the half pound BBQ burger with Whiskey sauce topped with lettuce, tomato and deep fried string onion rings jammed between two buns. Their basic heart smart gourmet burger. About 1200 calories just for lunch. I suppose that is okay. I didn't eat dinner this evening. I'm still burping up the deep fried string onion rings that were on the burger. That's better than what I will likely be burping up if I eat at the part time, some time, on again off again girl friends house this weekend and she uses those banana blossoms. Yuck! Then again, the banana blossoms, whatever they are, have to be better than the chicken feet she tried to feed me once. Next time she serves those those I'm inviting Iggy for dinner.

I already have two books on the go but now that I have new ones I will probably start in on one of those tonight as well. I bought Ajahn Bram's book. I download his dharma talks. He is a very funny and engaging speaker. Hopefully the book will be as good.

So that was my day and this is my blog. Nothing special. Just everyday Ken. (Apologies to Charlotte Joko Beck. I just stole that from the titles of her two wonderful books "Nothing Special" and "Everyday Zen".)

(Originally posted to Multiply March 6, 2008)

Buddhism 101

First we conceive the "I" and grasp onto it.Then we conceive the "mine" and cling to the material world. Like water trapped on a waterwheel, we spin in circles, powerless.I praise the compassion that embraces all things.

~~Chandrakirti
 
"Mental confusion is a veil that separates us from seeing reality clearly and clouds our understanding of the true nature of things. Practically speaking, it is also the inability to identify the behavior that would allow us to find happiness and avoid suffering. When we look outward, we solidify the world by projecting onto it attributes that are in no way inherent to it. Looking inward, we freeze the flow of consciousness when we conceive of an "I" enthroned between a past that no longer exists and a future that does not yet exist. We take it for granted that we see things as they are and rarely question that opinion. We spontaneously assign intrinsic qualities to things and people, thinking "this is beautiful, that is ugly," without realizing that our mind superimposes these attributes upon what we perceive. We divide the entire world between "desirable" and "undesirable," we ascribe permanence to emphemera and see independent entities in what is actually a network of ceaselessly changing relations. We tend to isolate particular aspects of events. situations and people, and to focus entirely upon these particularities. This is how we end up labeling others as "enemies," "good," "evil," et cetera, and clinging strongly to those attributions. However, if we consider reality carefully, its complexity becomes obvious.

If one thing were truly beautiful and pleasant, if those qualities genuinely belonged to it, we could consider it desirable at all times and in all places. But is anything on earth universally and unanimously recognized as beautiful? As the canonical Buddhist verse has it: "For the lover, a beautiful woman is an object of desire; for the hermit, a distraction; for the wolf, a good meal." Likewise, if an object were inherently repulsive, everyone would have good reason to avoid it. But it changes everything to recognize that we are merely attributing these qualities to things and people. There is no intrinsic quality in a beautiful object that makes it beneficial to the mind, and nothing in an ugly object to harm it.

In the same way, a person whom we consider today to be an enemy is most certainly somebody else's object of affection, and we may one day form bonds of friendship with that selfsame enemy. We react as if characteristics were inseparable from the object we assign them to. Thus we distance ourselves from reality and are dragged into the machinery of attraction and repulsion that is kept relentlessly in motion by our mental projections. Our concepts freeze things into artificial entities and we lose our inner freedom, just as water loses its fluidity when it turns to ice." (1)

(1) Richard, Matthieu. Happiness. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2006. pp 80 - 81

(Originally posted to Multiply on March 3, 2008)

Book Review: The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson

ReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewThe Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

Category:Books
Genre: History
Author:Rick Atkinson
This is Rick Atkinson's second book an a planned three book 'Liberation Trilogy' about the U.S. Army in Europe in WWII. The first book, "An Amry at Dawn," won the Pulitzer Prize. It recounted the U.S. entry into the war in North Africa. It was the story of near complete failure in equipment, men, and command where, without British intervention and experience, the American's would have been pushed into the sea by the Germans.

"The Day of Battle" chronicles the army's push into Italy. It is the story of an Army coming of age. There are still monumental failures of command and lost battles but there are aslo battles won and lessons learned and experience gained. This book also deserves the Pulitzer Prize and I hope Atkinson gets it again.

One little side note was the account of the number of deaths from poison gas, a little known aspect of WWII. None of the deaths came in battle nor were they inflicted by the Germans. Fearing the German's might resort to gas as they had in WWI, the Army had stored a large amount of gas in a ship anchored off a beach head. When the ship was struck by German bombs the gas was released and several hundred soldiers and citizens were killed. While military personnel received prompt treatment the citizens were left to their own devices as the military did not want it to come out that they had provisions of gas. In the end, people dies for no reason. The Germans knew all about it.

Reading serious history is not for everyone but it is a pleasure I have enjoyed since I was in my teens and books just do not come much better than this.
 
(Originally posted to Multiply on March 3, 2008)

Book Review: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIALegacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This explosive, Pulitzer Prize winning expose of the CIA is one of the most stunning books I have ever read. If there has been a botched coup, failed revoultion, political assasination, criminal enterprise, or inadequate intelligence anywhere in the world the chances are the CIA had its hands in it.

If you think the United States is safer because of the work of the Agency, think again. The CIA is a history of failed intelligence and failed covert operations that have destablized the world and most often done while lying to the commander and chiefs they have served.

Based on declassified documents and interviews with top operatives and senior department heads this is a must read book!


"The subject of this book review is Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, authored by New York Times reporter Tim Weiner and published in 2007. The book is based on more than 50,000 documents, many from the CIA's own archives, as well as interviews with former director of central intelligence and employees of the agency. It charts the course of the Central Intelligence Agency from its previous incarnation as the Office of Strategic Services in World War II through its inception in 1947 up until the present day.

Unlike most histories of the CIA or accounts dealing with the agency's activities, Legacy of Ashes presents the case that the CIA was never very effective, suffering one humiliating setback after another. This is a quite different look at the activities of the agency, as numerous other accounts examine more conspiratorial aspects of various operations. These books often grant the CIA abilities which Weiner argues it never had; namely, a clear understanding of the world, the ability to infiltrate communist movements in the Soviet Union and third-world countries, and reasonable planning as a result of good leadership.

In fact, in reading the book, it almost seems to appear that Weiner is presenting the "Homer Simpson" view of the CIA: blundering headlong into situations it never understood, putting untold numbers of people in harm's way that often led to their torture and death due to the agency's own incompetence, and further compounded with laziness and alcoholism. Throughout the CIA's history, there are numerous accounts of various operations where agents were dropped into communist countries with instructions to begin resistance movements and infiltrate the Soviet system, only to be promptly identified, captured, tortured for information, and exterminated. Failure after failure did not deter these types of operations, or cause more than a momentary frustration on the part of the CIA in not knowing how the Soviets knew so quickly and so clearly everything that the US was doing to undermine it.

With each unsuccessful covert operation, the main objective of the agency was to cover up the incompetence -- not learn from previous mistakes. The agency, especially under director Allen Dulles, utilized access to the media to prevent any leaks of these mistakes. As long as the people of America did not hear about the failures, and the documents could be destroyed or classified until long after the fact, they simply did not exist.

Weiner's book also examines the very precarious relationship that each president of the United States had with the Central Intelligence Agency. From President Truman, who wanted a daily newspaper on what was happening in the world, to Nixon, who blamed the CIA for his failure to win the presidential election in 1960 and used it for his own illegal purposes as president, to Clinton, who displayed less interest in foreign affairs than any president before him, the agency was pulled from one extreme to another throughout its existence. Presidents used the CIA for illegal acts against American citizens and to overthrow unfriendly governments, putting the agency in jeopardy of being caught and the bright light of public scrutiny shined upon it. Others dismissed or totally ignored the CIA, causing it to languish and its work to become less and less relevant. Weiner mentions George W. Bush's 2004 remark that the CIA was "just guessing" about the Iraq War as a "political death sentence."

An important distinction that Weiner raises in this book is the difference between the intelligence-gathering aspect of the CIA and the "cloak and dagger" operations. One seeks to understand the world; the other seeks to change the world. The agency, though, attempted to do both and was unable to perform either action effectively. A far greater share of the CIA's budget was devoted towards covert operations involving propaganda, assassinating heads of state, and overthrowing democratically-elected governments. Many of these operations failed, and the most successful of them resulted in the infamous "blowback:" unintended consequences like a hatred of the USA in Iran, hundreds of thousands of dead civilians in Guatemala under an oppressive regime, and the Islamic holy war that was directed at America as soon as the Soviets had left Afghanistan at the end of the Cold War.

These failed attempts to mold the world in the CIA's eyes, along with the lack of interest and resources available for intelligence gathering and analysis, have resulted in an agency that missed one important event after another, while predicting things that never existed. The CIA underestimated the Soviet's and India's ability to build a nuclear weapon, the testing of which came as complete surprises to the agency. They also predicted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the US invasion in 2003, among other predictions and suggestions, nearly all of which turned out to be wrong.

The agency, under every one of its directors of central intelligence, had never achieved its role of providing the US with a clear understanding of the world. It seemed to be at its most effective during covert operations, overthrowing governments, creating its own image of itself in American media, trading weapons for hostages, or conducting extraordinary rendition programs in secret prisons around the world. None of these covert actions, though, ever resulted in one continuously positive consequence for the agency or the United States. Weiner argues that the same problems that faced the agency in its beginnings are the same ones facing it now: an inability to gather intelligence and effectively analyze it, a willingness to take on illegal covert operations without a thought to potential consequences, and a lack of qualified personnel to carry out any of its activities.

Obviously, the CIA is an easy target to take shots at when it is down, possibly at its lowest point in public opinion of its existence. However, Legacy of Ashes' central point is to argue that the agency was never really up to begin with, and its few shining success stories are overshadowed by a long history of failed missions and an unhealthy but potentially justifiable resentment against America. Weiner's book misses issues (such as the CIA's role in the international drug trade ), but his unique perspective on the history of the agency presents one of the most intriguing looks at the CIA ever published. For anyone who wants to understand the role of this agency in the world in general and its relationship to each of the holders of the office of the President of the United States, Legacy of Ashes answers the most important questions that can be asked, and refreshingly presents all of its answers on the record, with no use of confidential sources or classified documents. It is an unparalleled, timely, and significant history of the Central Intelligence Agency."
(Originally bosted to Multiply on March 2, 2008)

Walking with My Father

My father has been an early riser all his life. I am a night person and as a teen I would have often gone to bed just shortly before he got up. Naturally this created some conflict between us. Once retired father still kept up his lifetime habits and is still up and getting ready to go about his day hours before most people. I have never been able to get up and going in the morning without a struggle and most usually found myself running out the door to work with a coffee cup in one hand and a piece of toast in the other. Walking the dog in the morning was something that just wasn't going to happen on my schedule.

Kitten made friends wherever she went and one of those whom she became close to was my father. After his morning routine and after I had left for work he would drive the few blocks to my house and take his morning walk with my dog. They would walk until she had tired him out. Kitten and I would walk in the evenings, of course, because in spite of a days work I usually wouldn't really wake up until 4:00 in the afternoon.

Some years ago my circumstances changed due to illness and for a number of reasons I took up residence in the basement of my parents house. It has been an arrangement that has worked well for all for any number of reasons. It was an arrangement that was especially favourable to Kitten as she now had both her favourite people around and as I was now retired she had much more time with me. Still, those morning walks with my father were high on the old dog's list of favourite things.

The house here is big and it is fairly quiet but Kitten could hear father up and about upstairs while I was still sawing logs in my sleep. Kitten was a 'morning person' also, it turned out, and had slept in with me all those years only because there was no other recourse. Once here there was no sense in laying around in the mornings when someone was up and about and she would pester me until I woke up. Eventually I just left the door to upstairs ajar and when Kitten heard father up in the morning she would just let herself up.

She would lay in the living room while he had coffee and watched the weather channel and then join him in the dining room while he ate breakfast. Kitten would dine on his leftover oatmeal and toast when he was done and then patiently wait while he showered and shaved. Once that was done she would follow him into the bedroom while he dressed and attempt to herd him and hurry him out the door for their morning constitutional and especially anxious to get out for her morning pee.

Father's way of maintaining his sanity in his retirement was to become a 'putterer.' He is always doing something in the mornings: the car is washed and cleaned every day, the drive is swept in the summer or shovelled in the winter and ice is chipped, gardens are watered and weeded, birds are fed, lawns are mowed, something is always being built, fixed, or painted. This all was great entertainment for Kitten who would put on another fifty miles following after the old man in the mornings and trying to puzzle out what he was doing.

About the time father was done with his morning 'chores' and ready for morning coffee with my mother I would be getting up and Kitten would join me for the more sedate part of the her day.

In the last two months Kitten now longer got up in the morning for her walks with Dad. She no longer followed him around in the mornings. She would wait for me to get up and once I would I would coax her onto her stiff and painful hips, we would walk back and forth until she worked the stiffness out and could tackle the stairs and then we would go for a much shorter walk - all the old dog could handle.

Without the old dog as a companion my father gave up his morning walk. He was as attached to Kitten as I was and without her company he lost interest in that morning routine. It was just too lonely. Walks alone are okay but they are better with a canine companion. Or, perhaps, just better with any companion.

Four days ago father came downstairs at some ungodly hour of the morning and ousted me from my sleep. "Get up and let's go for a walk. I need exercise."

So for the last four mornings now I have gotten up in what is surely the middle of the night to go for a walk with my father on the route that he and Kitten took for so many years. We don't talk much. We mostly walk in silence although occasionally one or the other of us will express missing Kitten or remember something she did or would do on a walk.

I suppose walking in the morning with my father is the new routine in my life. It is something we have never done together so it is new for both of us and I suppose we are both breaking each other in as a walking companion. So far it seems to be going okay with one exception. It doesn't matter how far I walk with father I can't get him to stop and take a morning piss.

(I'm doing okay but I really miss Kitten.)

(Originally posted to Multiply on March 2, 2008)

Introduction

I would like to introduce a friend of mine. Recently deceased.

My friend wasn't pretty. Cleanliness wasn't always high on her agenda. She usually only took a bath twice a year and those reluctantly so she often smelled to high heaven with her own distinctive odour. She was very large and, having been the product of an interracial relationship, was unusually hairy. Still, she was very much loved and was my constant companion for 11-1/2 years.

This was Kitten.


This picture was taken last spring. She was an old, old dog even then - 13 years. Her winter coat hadn't come out yet and she looks quite scruffy here. In winter she was a lighter colour then this, her hair fading to browns and whites. The wolf in her, I suppose. Camouflage.

Many years ago my middle daughter called one day and asked if she could move home with me. Of course I said yes. She then asked if I could come and get her and 'Kitten.' Who was Kitten, I asked and was told it was her dog. I vigorously protested that I wasn't having a dog come to live with me and my daughter insisted she wasn't coming if Kitten couldn't come also. In the end I asked myself just how bad a dog named Kitten could be and went to pick her and Amy up.

When I arrived at Amy's place 120 pounds of snarling fury came bounding to the gate. That was 100 pounds of teeth and 20 pounds of dog. On the ride home Kitten sat in the front seat staring at me with those teeth just a foot from my throat but by the time we were halfway through that 4 hour trip she had decided I was okay and went to sleep with her face in my lap. At least that is the story I tell myself. It may have been she simply put those teeth closer to a more vulnerable spot.

Kitten had been a city dog and had spent most of her life inside. I promptly built a dog house and my daughter blazoned Kitten's name above the door in bright, pink letters. I installed a very long run across the back yard. It was a long time before Kitten wanted inside. After having lived mostly indoors in a townhouse the sites, smells and sounds of the outdoors were irresistible. She only came in at night for many years.

In short order daughter decided to go back to school and Kitten became mine. In truth that had happened months before. Wolf hybrids are usually a one person animal but soon after her arrival Kitten switched her allegiance to me. I had already given her mine. For the next 11 years we were constant companions and she was wonderful company. I lived by myself for a long time but with Kitten I never felt alone. She wanted to be with me in everything I did and so she was.

I suppose everyone thinks their dog is special but Kitten was truly exception in many ways. She was the smartest animal I have ever seen and her vocabulary ran several hundreds of words. When I had company Kitten would lie on the floor and look at whomever was speaking and reacted to every word she heard that she knew. Some words I tried not to say: milk, ride, walk, play, ball and hungry were especially not spoken unless one was prepared to deliver. The only time 'Kit' was ever annoying was during thunderstorms which terrified her. Thunderstorms only seem to occur when it is hot and muggy and there is nothing like having a huge, frightened, panting, sweaty, smelly dog try to climb into your lap at every thunder peal.

When she went deaf last year after suffering years of ear infections and two ear operations Kitten never missed a beat and within a couple of weeks had learned all the hand signals she needed to understand that life was still the same. I do not smoke in the house and every time I went out to do so I used to say "Smoke it" and she would pad after me. Once deaf I just held up a cigarette pack and up she would jump. The last smoke of the evening was "Smoke it. Go pee." and she would dutifully go out and squat one last time for the evening. Once deaf I merely showed her one cigarette rather than the entire pack and she knew that would be the last one for the night - time for a whiz. And she knew the difference between the three hand signals for come. One was "I'm going. Wanna come?" She either did or she didn't as she wished. Then there was the hand signal for "Get over here." The last hand signal for 'Come' was the loud hand signal for "Get over here." There was a difference between the normal one and the loud one and she knew it.

Kitten was a fighter. She endured and survived two operations for a very aggressive cancer. She endured the ear infections until we learned how to beat them finally (it was food allergies). She endured her severe arthritis with grace right up until the time the medications didn't work any longer when her hips were too far gone.

Smelly slept beside my bed for all those years, a minor complication when I had overnight 'friends.' Kitten would be banned from the bedroom while we, shall we say, became acquainted, and then I had to explain that she would be joining us to sleep beside the bed. It was either that or lay awake all night listening to her bark outside the bedroom door. For all those years I would get up at night feeling for the form on the floor with my feet until I found her and then step around her. Kitten knew she would not be stepped on as long as she didn't move at that point. It has only been 5 days so I am still hanging my feet off the bed at night and feeling for her.

She had the strangest habit. One I never understood. She loved the snow and the first snow fall of the year was an occasion of glee. She would run and dive into it and then roll in it on her back. For the rest of the winter every time she went outside she would stick her head into the snow and flip it back over her face until she was just a ball of white with two black eyes looking out. A ghost dog. Wolf camouflage?

Wolf hybrids are extremely loyal and attach themselves deeply to their owners. They will usually pine away and die if separated from their master. They are also deeply 'pack' animals. Kitten's pack was my family: Mom, Dad, my children and grandchildren. my brother and sister's families. She had no use for other dogs. She wanted to be with people and at family gatherings in the back yard she would ignore other pets to set in the circle of lawn chairs with us - usually close to my sister who always brought treats and shared food. But in the end, for Kitten, it was all about me: where I was and what I was doing. She hated being separated from me and so for these many years we have been tied at the hip and I could not have asked for a better companion to travel life with.
There are many stories I could tell and over time I may tell them but for now they will remain between Kit and I and the family that loved her.

It has only been 5 days so I miss her intensely. I can still smell her. I hear the click of her nails on the floor. Twice I have found myself thinking it was time to feed her and downtown today I found myself thinking I needed to get home to see if she needed out. It is going to be a long time before Kitten really leaves me. In many ways I think she never will.

(Originally posted to Multiply February 28, 2008)

Kitten

Kitten had another bad night. And a rough morning. She couldn't make it to her feet until 1:00 this afternoon and then she fell twice.

The Vet came and she was put to sleep this afternoon.

I think this is the hardest thing I have ever done and my heart is truely broken. I feel like shit. I have never known how to deal with hurt. I don't know how to deal with this.

She was bright and alert. Her body had just given out.

(Originally posted to Multiply Febraury 23, 2008)

The Old Dog and I

The old dog and I were late getting off for our walk this morning. She slept in until 10:00. It had been a rough night. She was sick or in pain or restless or couldn't get comfortable. She didn't say which and I am not good at sorting these things out. I just know it was a long time until she settled.

Getting up from laying down is a real problem. Even more so in the mornings after having lain all night. Stairs are an absolute nightmare. After struggling to gain her feet the old dog spends the next half hour wandering back and forth between the stairs to the back door and the stairs to the front door. The back steps are few in number but quite steep. There are many more steps to the front door but the steps are surer. If she is feeling well she takes the back exit. If feeling poorly she takes the front. This morning she eventually took the longer journey up to the front door. Not a good way to start the day.

We have run through two miracle drugs for arthritis now. The first one stopped working. Then the second one stopped working as well. Now she is on a double dose. Normally they wouldn't give a dosage so high as eventually it would peg her kidneys or her liver but we don't have that much time left and we will buy pain relief however we can.

I've walked up to the edge of having her put to sleep three times in the last two weeks and then she has made huge comebacks. The two days previous to this she has been like a puppy. Today was not a good day and so we are back to playing things day by day again.

I don't know why they call it putting them to sleep. You aren't putting them to sleep. You are killing your best friend who has been your faithful companion and who trusts you. It is a horrible thing to have to contemplate and it is going to be a horrible thing to have to do but it will have to be done and much, much sooner than I wish: tomorrow, the nest day, the day after. Maybe we can buy another week. Possibly two. No more than that.

Kitten is an old dog; at least 14 and that is extremely old for a wolf hybrid. Her teeth are worn down, she has cataracts and doesn't see as sharp as she used to although you would not know that when you have a can of dog food in your hand. She is nearly stone deaf. The only thing she hears are sharp whistles and hand claps. She sleeps a lot although in her sleep she is still chasing off after things, her legs peddling in her sleep - probably the only walks she gets that are pain free. She has survived two operations for a very aggressive cancer. Sometimes I wonder if her current problems are related to that. Has it returned? Is it internal this time?

Kitten and I have walked many miles together. Both literally and figuratively. I am quite certain she sees no difference between dog and human - we are pack mates in her eyes. Pack mates look out for one another and over the many years we have been together I have tried to look out for her and she has done her best to protect me. Now the lot falls mostly on me but I do not mind at all. I have to help her get up - either steady her or encourage her. She has lost confidence in herself and needs to be encouraged these days. She is both more affectionate and needing more affection. I sometimes wonder if she knows her time is short. I do what I can for her. She has given me far more than she has taken and it is the least I can do.

We finally got out the door this morning and off on our walk. I call it "our" walk but in truth it is all hers. It took half her lifetimes to teach her to walk without a leash but now that she is deaf she has to walk with it again as she cannot hear the cars coming down the street. She seems to understand this. I let he choose our route and which side of the street to walk on. I let her go as fast or as slow as she wishes - usually very slow these days. She has to stop and smell the corner of every snow bank on every driveway and check which dogs have been by. Dogs seem to have an affinity for snowbanks. Kitten sniffs every corner and if some other dog has also stopped she will squeeze out a few ounces of piss to remark her territory. If you walk with a dog much you come to learn that some smells are more interesting than others. Some only take a second to take in and others take several minutes of rooting around and coming at it from different angles. Except when it is very cold I let her spend as much time sniffing things out as she wants.

This morning we saw a grouse sitting on a telephone wire. That didn't interest the dog much. We long ago gave up chasing food. Why bother when you can just go stand in front of the cupboard door where the food is kept when you are hungry? We saw other dogs. Those didn't interest her much either. Other dogs seems to be of a lesser breed and certainly not a member of our pack so they are not worth expending much energy on. We ran across the mail lady on her rounds. That did get her attention. She hates the mail lady even though the particular mail person changes from day to day. I suspect some postal worker really pissed her off at some point. It has been years and Kitten still isn't ready to forgive any of them. She can't chase them but she can stand and bark and growl and let them know how she feels.

No matter how much pain she is in Kitten still enjoys her walks. Her tail comes up and we sometimes even get a spring in our step but by the time we make it home she is tired. We used to walk 5 kilometers twice a day. Now we just go around the block. If it is a good day and she is feeling well we sometimes do two.

Once we are back in the driveway she will walk back and forth checking things out while I have a smoke and then she will wander back and forth from front to back deciding which stairs to use. That is all smoke and mirrors because we both know that once back she will take the front steps. From the front steps we can make it up another flight to see the old folks and say good morning to them. There is always a food treat waiting.

This old dog has taught me more about life than any teacher I have ever had and she continues to teach me every day. I will accept the lessons as long as she can deliver them and when she no longer is able, when that day comes we have to say good bye, I guess she will be teaching me one more. That is sure to be a hard lesson and I fear it will make me cry.

(Originally posted to Multiply February 22, 2008)

Memphis Belle - Courage Above and Beyond

I watched an old movie the other day. You've probably seen it: Memphis Belle. It is the fictionalized account of a real life story produced by the daughter of the man who did the 1944 documentary.

It tells the story of Captain Robert Morgan and the crew of the B17 heavy bomber known as 'Memphis Belle.' Being assigned to a bomber crew in WWII was tantamount to being sentenced to death. The 8th Air Force history records losses for bomber crews in those early days as 80%.

Think of that for a moment. You sit down for dinner in the mess with pilots of nine other planes. The next day you go on a mission and when you return that night there are two of you left.

Moral was so low that the Army instituted a new rule. If a crew could get 25 missions in their war was over. They were out. It really wasn't much of an inspiration, however. The chances of making those 25 missions were very slim.

The Memphis Belle was the first plane to get those 25 missions in. The plane itself flew one more mission and then it and its crew was sent home, the plane refurbish, and the crew did the rest of their service flying around the U.S. selling war bonds. Later in the war, when fighter escorts were able to cover the bombers the entire length if their trips the number of missions required to get that ticket out went up. The survival rate didn't.

This was what made me think of my internet friend Chuck Feree the other day. Chuck was a bomber pilot in WWII. He got his missions in. His active war was over. He spent the rest of his time as a pilot of SHAEF flying the brass around. He flew General Eisenhower on more than one occasion.

I cannot imagine the bravery, the courage, the fortitude that enables a man to get up each day and do a job where he knows he faces near certain death and where living until days end is a long shot. A very long shot. That type of courage makes men like Chuck Feree and Robert Morgan and the thousands of other pilots and crew of the 8th Air Force very special men. I would like to know what they had. I would like to know how they did it.

While flying around the country selling War Bonds, Capt. Morgan was shown the the then sill secret B29. He asked to train in that bomber and asked to be given command of a bomber squadron. He went on to fly another 25 missions over Japan.

What kind of courage is that? What does that take?

(Originally posted to Multiply February 18, 2008)

Book Review: 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East by Tom Segev

1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East by Tom Segev
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

David Margolick's review is so much better than mine:


Peace for Land
By DAVID MARGOLICK
Published: July 15, 2007

During the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War last month, an Israeli friend invited me to hear Tom Segev, the Israeli commentator and historian, discuss his new book on the subject. Once, the occasion might have been a celebration. But no more. My friend, in fact, described it sardonically as a yahrzeit — that is, in Jewish tradition, the date marking the death of a loved one.

Four decades after their smashing military victory over Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Israelis generally concede that in many ways the war was a disaster. The continued occupation of the West Bank, and control over the Palestinians who live there, has sapped Israel financially, politically, militarily and morally. By now, how it all came to be is only barely understood, or even addressed; with crises in that part of the world occurring almost daily, history seems almost a luxury, and ancient history especially.

Ancient history? 1967? If you don’t think so, picture a time before suicide bombings and settlements; when American support for Israel was not a given; when a majority of the Knesset spoke — and thought — in Yiddish; when Israelis still had no television programs, and Jerusalemites assumed explosions must be earthquakes; when terms like intifada, Hamas and even Palestinian were either unfamiliar or not yet coined; when Israelis argued — with straight faces — that Jews everywhere were safer thanks to them. That’s beyond ancient; it’s prehistoric.

But as Segev writes in “1967,” his illuminating, if exhausting, book on Israel’s most fateful year, even at the time there were Israelis who foresaw what ultimately came to pass. True, conquering East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights helped fulfill the Zionist dream and gave the country more defensible borders. But as various Israeli officials warned, it would also radicalize the Palestinians, intensify Palestinian nationalism and force Israel to act with a brutality and intolerance that, as one put it, “we, as a people and as Jews, abhor.” Besides, King Hussein was doing a fine job neutering the Palestinians, either making them Jordanians or prodding them to emigrate.

It all happened in what Segev depicts as a two-act drama of irrationality between June 5 and 10, 1967. The first act came when, in the throes of a national depression and existential angst, Israel invaded Egypt, destroying its air force and seizing both Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. The second came a few days later when, in the irrational exuberance of that victory, Israel turned to the north and east, to Jordan and Syria, extending its realm in both directions.

In the spring of 1967, Segev writes, Israel was a profoundly demoralized place. Its economy was tanking. Its European-born elite felt threatened by the influx of poor Jews from Arabic-speaking countries, who had ample troubles of their own. For the first time, more Jews may have been leaving the country than coming in. Among the young, materialism and Americanism were eroding the Zionist ideal. Terrorism — while almost quaint by today’s brutal standards — was increasing. And presiding over all this was Levi Eshkol, the prime minister with the bad fortune to follow David Ben-Gurion.

Tensions throughout the region rose in May 1967, after months of terrorist attacks were launched from Syria and Jordan. The Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who’d already fought one war with Israel, closed the Straits of Tiran, kicked United Nations peacekeepers out of the Sinai and massed his troops along the Israeli border. Cautious by nature and fearing American disapproval, Eshkol vacillated.

But his generals — notably Moshe Dayan, the former chief of staff who’d been forced down Eshkol’s throat as defense minister — urged a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, and the Israeli public, haunted by fears of a second Holocaust, backed them. Eshkol, Segev contends, was too impotent to resist. Next came Jordan. Israel had long had clandestine relations with King Hussein. But compelled to show public solidarity with Egypt, Hussein fired upon Jewish West Jerusalem. The Israelis struck back, marching into the Old City and then the entire West Bank.

One can debate whether Nasser was planning to attack Israel. Beyond debate, though, is the fact that there were a million Palestinians living in the territories, and Israel marched in with shocking casualness. That was apparent from the helter-skelter, improvisatory way in which crucial decisions had to be made — Would the land be annexed? What would be the legal status of residents? — and from some of the cockamamie schemes bruited about. (The army’s chief rabbi, Gen. Shlomo Goren, suggested blowing up the Dome of the Rock.)

Hopes that Palestinians would flee en masse, as they had in 1948 (the Israelis even had buses conveniently available to them in East Jerusalem), never materialized. Menachem Begin proposed dumping the Gazan refugees in Egypt. Other schemes had them going to Iraq (just what the Iraqis needed: another faction) or Latin America. More realistic was a plan to move 250,000 refugees from Gaza to the West Bank. But it never happened; the settlements soon popping up throughout the West Bank housed Jews instead.

However oxymoronic, the Israelis thought they could run an “enlightened occupation,” and there were signs, at least at first, that they did: when they opened a post office in Hebron, the mayor threw them a fruit and cucumber reception. But any occupation on those terms was doomed to fail, especially given the harshness with which Israel dealt with those not catching the spirit. Then, whether for economic or religious or nationalistic or military reasons, or because they had no one trustworthy to whom they could give back the land, the Israelis settled in.

Segev’s look into the origins of the occupation is invaluable. His research is prodigious, his intelligence obvious, his ability to reconstruct complex chains of events impressive. He writes clearly and confidently and has an eye for the telling, and often witty, detail. But he is the victim of his own eminence — his previous books, on the British Mandate and on the impact of the Holocaust on the Jews of Palestine, among others, have been justly praised — and, surprisingly, of his own parochialism.

The book is way too long, a temptation to which respected writers can sometimes succumb. A timid American editor hasn’t helped. Non-Israelis, even those who read Haaretz daily online, will find “1967” slow going. Indeed, if ever a book reflected the widening chasm between Israel and the Diaspora, it is this one. At times — describing day-to-day life in Israel or the political machinations there — it is far too detailed; do we really need to know that Israelis forsook fresh for frozen meat during the recession of 1967? Similarly, repeated quotations from the war diary of a soldier named Yehoshua Bar-Dayan — and how much he misses his wife, Gila, and young son, Yariv — undoubtedly resonate with Israelis, but will surely be exceedingly tiresome to most everyone else.

At other times, there’s not enough context — as if, as one Israeli writing for others, Segev feels he can cut corners. With only a few exceptions — usually old-world types like Eshkol and Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem, but Dayan, too — Segev seems uninterested in his characters, and never dwells very long or lovingly on them. Good luck keeping political parties like Maarah, Mapai and Mafdal straight, or differentiating among all those generals, who after a while become a blur of Zvi’s and Uzi’s and Uri’s.

By the time he gets to the Israeli occupation, which is what really matters now, even the indefatigable Segev has run out of gas. Crucial questions, like how the Six-Day War emboldened the messianic religious right and Ariel Sharon to build settlements, are all but overlooked. Nor is there anything about the electrifying effect the war had on Jews throughout the world, particularly in the Soviet Union and the United States. And there’s no kind of summation or distillation at the end, describing the Israeli character then and now — something that persevering readers deserve and that Segev, more than just about anyone else, is eminently qualified to give.

So we are left with the dilemma of the occupation, and whether Israel can ever extricate itself from it. It all reminds one of the story of the early Zionist leader who, in the middle of an endless speech, was quietly told he had to wrap things up. “I know,” he replied. “But how?”

http://nyti.ms/MAybKd
(Originally posted to Multiply on February 17, 2008)



The Liberation of Dachau

From time to time I ask young people who their heroes are. Invariably I am given the name of a sports figure. Or an actor. Or a musician. I confess I never understand. How is someone who gets paid millions of dollars to play a game a hero? By what measure is an actor or a rock star a hero?

When I was young we had real heroes to look up to and there were many of them. Mine was Jimmy Stewart. Yes, Jimmy Stewart the actor but not a hero because he was an actor. My hero was General Jimmy Stewart, U.S.A.F.  The Jimmy Stewart who left his family and Hollywood behind to become a real decorated war hero, not the kind he played in the movies.

Of course I had other heroes. My grandfather was one. Later in life as a grown man I found another hero. He was an old man and I only knew him over the Internet and the messages and stories we traded there but Chuck Feree became my hero for many reasons.  Chuck is dead now. Another of a the greatest generation who has passed on. I mention Chuck today because I would like to talk just a little bit about him in my next Blog and thought it best if I introduced you to him now. I will do that by showing you something that Chuck wrote - a war memory of an old man, a letter that Chuck wrote to his daughter.  In my next Blog I will tell you how Chuck came to be in that time and place. For now I just leave you with a bit of Chuck. I will tell you this for now though - after you read what Chuck wrote .... Years later he admitted to having volunteered for duty in a firing squad. He was roundly condemned by some for that. Chuck's reply was the the only thing he was sorry about was that he couldn't have shot more.

And to Chuck I say, "Thank you for your service, your courage, and your dedication. Thank you for touching my life."

The Liberation of Dachau
by Chuck Ferree (Holocaust Witness and Liberator)

Pronounce it as though you were clearing something nasty from your throat...Dachau. My first inkling that this pleasant Bavarian village would become a word to chill the blood, came from the terrible odor as my passenger and I disembarked from our little two-seater Stinson L-5.

We were at least a mile away maybe more, but we could still smell something very disagreeable. The SHAEF officer climbed into a Command car with another General, and off they went. I hopped into a jeep with a S/Sgt. who wore the shoulder patch of the 45th. Infantry Division...the Thunderbird Division, which had been in constant combat for almost three years.

We followed the command car. It was cold in the jeep, even though the sun shone brightly, and I wore my fleece-lined flight jacket. It had snowed the night before. The date was April 29th. 1945. The Sgt. began telling me what to expect when we reached our destination, which was Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp liberated only that morning. I asked about the bad odor, he said, "just wait, it gets a lot worse."

Dachau had its typical Bavarian attractive homes and neat gardens. This gave me no hint of what lay beyond the landscaped entrance to the death camp.

The first place the Sgt. drove me to was the awful proof of the rumors---boxcars and bodies.The stories we had heard gave no indication of the grotesque forms of the victims and their emaciated condition. These miserable creatures had kept an unusual rendezvous with death. The train loaded with prisoners had been shipped away as the American Liberators approached. The camp at their destination refused to accept them. Without food or water they had been shuttled around from camp to camp and ended up back at Dachau. Most had died on the return trip. The few who had managed to climb from the box cars were shot down by the SS. The bony frames stuck out like skeletons, no meat on those bones. Many of the cars were open gondolas. The dusting of snow gave the cadavers a ghostly aspect.

The Death Train...

We passed along a row of imposing homes of camp directors and entered a gate decorated with a large German Imperial eagle. The barracks inside bore lighting-decorated SS insignia. We passed a large kennel, it's occupants lay victims of the wrath of the recently liberated prisoners. Large and once beautiful German Shepherds, throats slashed, heads crushed. We then saw a building appropriately marked "Braus Bad," to lure victims into the gas chamber. Warnings were painted on the building and the door; the international signal for danger...a skull with crossed bones.

Leaving the gas chamber we found further proof of the Nazi claim to everlasting infamy---human bodies heaped hodge-podge filling two rooms and sprawling out the doors. It was here that the cold weather worked to the advantage of the witnesses. The stench of the bodies and the accompanying filth would have been unbearable under other conditions. The order permeated right through my heavy leather jacket.

Hundreds of frozen corpses were found in the wagons...

Between these crowded morgues was the crematorium where four yawning doors stood open and eagerly consumed more victims. Outside there was much evidence of bones and ash where the furnaces had been emptied many times of their gruesome contents. Beyond this scene was a stall which had been used as an execution chamber where many had met death by the firing squad.

This death farm was separated from the main stockades by a high wire fence and a moat. Swarming along the fence were hundreds of the more fortunate prisoners who were now liberated and expressing their gratitude.

Beneath the murky waters of the moat were the features of several SS guards and on the opposite bank was a fitting monument to the depth of the Nazi culture. Frozen on the ground were the bodies of several SS troopers who had been slain by their liberated captives before they could surrender to the Americans. At the bottom of each of the many high watch towers, more bodies lay. SS guards who had tried to put up a fight and were killed by the Infantrymen of the 45th. Division. After seeing many more horrors of Dachau it was small wonder that the only superman who still held his head up high was the larger-than-life-sized statue of the SS trooper on the wall.

After 3-4 days touring Dachau, the SHAEF officer and the others in our group flew back to Frankfurt. My passenger commented to me as we settled into our seats: "Jesus Christ, I wonder how many more of these fucking places we're going to find."
(Originally posted to Multiply February 16, 2008)

Book Review: Longitudes and Attitudes: The World in the Age of Terrorism by Thomas L. Friedman

Longitudes and Attitudes: The World in the Age of TerrorismLongitudes and Attitudes: The World in the Age of Terrorism by Thomas L. Friedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One only has to look at the current crop of thugs occupying the White House to know that being the brightest and the best is not a criteria for holding office in the Bush administration. Nor, in this election year, does it appear to be a criteria for running for the highest office in the United States. I am old enough, however, to remember when administrations sought out those who were experts in their field and brought them into positions to formulate public policy or, at the least, sought their opinions. These days it all too often seems that the only criteria required is partisan party loyalty and an IQ of a turnip. (NOTE TO PRESIDENT BUSH: A village in Texas in missing their idiot. Please return home.)

Thomas Friedman is, arguably, the world's foremost expert on middle eastern affairs. His book "From Beruit to Jerusalem" is still considered a classic and one only has to give that a casual read to see that the exact same mistakes that Israel made in Lebanon are being repeated to a Tee in Iraq and throughout the Arab world by an administration who shows absolutely no understanding of the Arab mindset and the historical events that have driven us to where we are now.

"Longitudes and Attitudes" is a compilation of Thomas Friedman's columns written for the New York Times from slightly before 9/11 until late 2002. He shows a clear understanding of the problems and dangers facing us in a post 9/11 world and he offers thoughtful and detailed positions to get us out of this mess. These are scattered across many articles and one needs to read all of them to gain an appreciation for what Friedman is saying but the journey is worth it.

One could could wish that someone in power would hire Mr. Friedman into the State Department and listen to him because his is one of the few clear analysis I have heard.

(Originally posted to Multiply on February 13, 2008)

Book Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I became addicted to Science Fiction when I was young after reading The Lensman Series by e.e. "doc" smith, probably the greatest science fiction series ever written. Over the years I read all of the 'greats' of that genre" Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Walter Miller, Larry Niven, Harlen Ellison, and Arthur C. Clarke.

For those of us that grew up with Science Fiction these are hard times. Not much hard science fiction is being written these days. Charles Sheffield, Joe Halerman, Kim Stanley Robinson and a very small group try to keep it alive but go into any book store and you will see shelf after shelf of fantasy and little space at all devoted to hard boilded, space faring adventure.

There has been an upside for me however. In all that reading I had somehow missed the greatest science fiction writer of them all - Philip K. Dick. Over the last couple of years I have wrapped myself up in his books whenever I could find them. Dick is always worth reading as he mixes social commentary into old fashioned soft and hard science fiction. My all time favorite Dick book is "Radio Free Albemuth" Dick's novels often seem timeless and his S/F commentary relevant to any age. One cannot read "Radio Free Albemuth" without at least a few thought about post 9/11 America. ("During the several decades spanned by the novel, America slides into fascism, particularly under the presidency of Ferris F. Fremont, who comes into office in 1969. Once entrenched, Fremont begins tossing dissidents into camps and in some cases executing them.")

A Scanner Darkly (also made into a movie Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane) is another of those rich, timeless social commentaries as appropriate to our time as when Dick wrote it.

"Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, Fred takes on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D--which Arctor takes in massive doses--gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize he is narcing on himself. "

(Originally posted to Multiply February 12, 2008)