Afghanistan is not worth the bones of single Nebraskan private. We should let the Afghans rot. My guess is that most Afghans want today what they wanted in 330 B.C., when Alexander the Great rolled through. They want to be left alone, to live their life as they see fit. True, they live their lives in a crappy manner, and their culture is extremely defective in myriad ways, even if not infrequently individual Afghans display strong virtue, usually of the martial type. For the most part, Afghan cultural defects have nothing to do with their failure to buy into modern liberal democracy, which is what we offer them and in which they have no interest, and everything to do with them being a mountainous (and thus insular), poor, tribal culture not blessed by Christianity and the (pre-modern version of) Western culture it created. But that they live in in a crappy way is not our problem to be concerned about. Most Afghans support the Taliban. …I bet the number of Afghans who want truly democracy or any aspect of Western culture, good or bad, can be counted on one hand. Why we should be involved in any of this is beyond me.
I’ll have more to say about individual reviews and the thoughts they led me to — but the site’s fascinating for a variety of reasons. For me the most salient is that it’s the sort of working-my-way-back-through-books-I-picked-up-in-college-but-never-finished website I’d envisioned for my retirement years while I enjoyed the decline, but he writes with a prose quality equal or greater than I’d expect of myself, and definitely a blunter statement of purpose than I’d have dared.
Basically he’s doing “it” first, so I don’t have to. I can just consume his writing, think, read, learn, and come to conclusions. My conclusions differ from his on several points (for example, I’m still an atheist — I think), but holy crap his stuff’s worth reading anyway. Like Kevin Baker‘s uberposts, but shorter and thus generally more polished and direct. And his meticulous internal links to other reviews make for late-night rabbit holes you can feel good about, for once. Try it — it’s addicting!
Anyway, in this review he mentions Baibars, “Lion of Egypt” and lord of the Mamluks, and that reminded me I’d seen that name elsewhere. Last year I rewatched Ridley Scott’s KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005) — twice — and I keep being more impressed by the tale of Balian of Ibelin each time I see it. We should have had Conan films by Ridley Scott, is my point. Here’s some fun film criticism of it.
Since then, I’ve been inspired to dip into Robert E. Howard’s historical-fiction Crusader tales and they’re great stuff. “The Sowers of the Thunder” features a Conan-analogue, deposed “King of Ireland” Cahal, encountering Baibars most memorably. He’s wandering about the Middle East of the Crusades — including Ibelin — after being jilted by a woman who might be related to the “hero” of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, Enguerrand de Coucy. Tuchman’s is a favorite history I picked up from Robert Parker’s Early Autumn, a Spenser book that means a lot to me. From Early Autumn:
After supper I got out my book and started to read. Paul picked up the record albums and looked at them and put them back in disgust. He looked out the window. He went outside to look around but came back in almost at once. The bugs were out as it got dark. “You should a brought a TV,” he said once. “Read,” I said. “There’s books there.” “I don’t like to read.” “It’s better than looking at the lamp fixtures till bedtime, isn’t it?” “No.” I kept reading. Paul said, “What’s that book?” “A Distant Mirror,” I said. “What’s it about?” “The fourteenth century.” He was quiet. Sap oozed out of the end of a log and sputtered onto the hot ash beneath it. “What do you want to read about the fourteen hundreds for?” Paul said. “Thirteen hundreds,” I said. “Just like the nineteen hundreds are the twentieth century.” Paul shrugged. “So why do you want to read about it?” I put the book down. “I like to know what life was like for them,” I said. “I like the sense of connection over six hundred years that I can get.” “I think it’s boring,” Paul said. “Compared to what?” I said. He shrugged. “I think it’s boring compared to taking Susan Silverman to Paris,” I said. “Things are relative.” He didn’t say anything. “I know more about being human when I know more about their lives. I get a certain amount of perspective. The time was full of people that killed, tortured, suffered, struggled, and agonized for things that seemed worth anything to them. Now they’ve been dead for six hundred years. What’s it all about, Ozymandias?” “Huh?” “‘Ozymandias’? It’s a poem. Here, I’ll show you.” I got up and found a book in the box I hadn’t unpacked yet. “Listen,” I said. I read the poem to him. Deliberately in the firelit room. It was about his level.
Robert Parker’s Spenser would have empathized with Conan Cahal in “The Sowers of the Thunder.” The tale is here, and below the fold as well; enjoy.
Hey! How you doing? It’s been a while. Have a seat and let’s talk.
When we last met up, I went off to welding school and became a certifiably insane person who gets paid to play with fire (aka: a Welder). It’s good work, and I enjoy the you-know-what out of it. But there have been some life altering events that went along with it since then.
The biggest being that Wifey-Poo and I split up, amicably and without drama. I kept Firebase Blue in the divorce because she wanted to travel, so that was good. No need to set up preps and defenses elsewhere all over again.
Shortly thereafter, I injured myself doing an activity at age 47 that I did easily at age 25, and my left knee will never be the same. If you’re curious what the activity might have been, click here.
After some healing, I re-entered the dating world.
Let me tell you something: Single moms see a home-owning dude with a healthy work ethic and get thirsty. Really thirsty. And scary clingy. But, after 18 months of that and I decided to take on a relationship with someone I knew before the divorce. We’re co-habitating now, and she’s amazing. You’ll probably meet her soon.
And during all of that, I decided I needed to lose weight. With a torn up knee, both hiking and running were out of the question, and I can basically forget ever having “leg day” at the gym. Rowing machines were also out, as were most of the interesting martial arts, and I’ve never enjoyed swimming as exercise. So…
I bought a mountain bike.
The Trek Marlin is an entry level dual purpose type of bike. For around $700, it’ll do everything one of those big box store “mountain bikes” that cost half as much will do, as well as take on fairly rugged Cross Country trails. I know, because I started out on one of those big box store bikes I had bought years earlier and was collecting dust in the garage. I rode it around my local paved and light gravel trails, but as soon as I got off level ground or even slightly sketchy unpaved downhill trails, I felt like the thing was going to fold underneath me.
So, twice the money gets you quality, capability and confidence.
And boom, I was hooked. I was riding every weekend. Weather didn’t matter. I found new places that were just down the road or across town that I never even knew existed. And then I started slowly enlarging my radius for how far I’d drive to go ride. The bike even got a name: The Pale Horse.
I lost 60lbs before the arrival off the ‘rona. But with the bullshit that went along with that (my work schedule blowing up to 55hrs a week so that had no free time, my nutritionist not seeing clients, the parks that held my favorite trails getting closed) I gained 30 of those pounds back during the summer and early autumn of 2020.
But my adventures continue!
And that is what I hope to start posting here. I’ll do my best to stick with chronological order, and get you all up to speed in the near future. I have been posting these on my IG and FB, but one of those formats limits the word count of your story, and nobody reads the story on the other.
My maternal grandfather was an Arkie — like the Okies from Grapes of Wrath, but he and his wife moved to California from Arkansas in the 1930s. As a kid I was always puzzled by Grandpa’s tendency to use “country” not to refer to the United States as a whole, but to a specific area of countryside — as in, “Well, fact of the business, that whole week I’d get up of a mornin’ and walk about the country for an hour or two before breakfast.” Or: “I don’t much like that country — not enough trees.”
Spotted this piece of art by George Callaghan on Twitter — Vivre dans le pays vert, or “Living in the green country” in French.
(To embiggen images below, right-click and open image in new browser tab. Yeah, I’m still figuring out why click-to-embiggen doesn’t work.)
Reminds me of a few of my favorite artists:
And, of course Eyvind Earle and his fantastically styled yet still absolutely true depictions of California’s green and golden coastal farms, hills, and valleys.
One of the Things I Did During COVID Lockdown was resolve to read a poem every night, generally whilst sipping something with a decently high proof. (See also here.) So I moved my meagre collection of poetry volumes to a spot under the liquor cabinet.
For proper contemplative and immersive value, I resolved to do my poetry-reading solely from printed books. So what you see here is double the size of what it was in 2019, and I’m pretty happy with the results so far.
The half of these books I bought during COVID I purchased used — very used — on Amazon, for what I’m estimating was an average of ten bucks each, shipped — about fifteen bucks a month over the twelve months. Not bad! (All the Easton Press leatherbound editions shown I’d purchased way back in college; they don’t count.)
One of these delight-filled tomes is an ex-West Kentucky University Library copy of Volume II of the 1975 Oxford University Press’s Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Prior to COVID my poetry experience was from high school or from allusions and excerpts in Robert Parker’s Spenser novels. I wasn’t sure I’d like Shelley that much; turns out there’s some gems here.
In this one, Shelley, an atheist who I presume supported the French Revolution, bemoans how the tyrant Bonaparte betrayed the cause of the Republic, and yet moans more still on how the forces of reaction, tradition, and religion combined to defeat L’Empereur. (Interestingly, it’s right below his rant about Wordsworth’s political betrayal of Shelley’s radical ideals.)
While the parallels to today’s politics are inexact, it’s fun to think of them. Observing the foaming-at-the-mouth reactions to both the “January 6th Insurrectionists”* and the subsequent Inaugural shenanigans, I thought of three:
(1) The poet, a BernieBro or BLM activist, crying “I hated thee, fallen tyrant!” at Trump yet bemoaning that his demise came at the hands of the old corporatist Democrat establishment;
(2) The poet, a RINO, crying “I hated thee, fallen tyrant!” at Trump yet bemoaning that the GOP is now firmly in the hands of a Trumpist base that’s legally textualist (“old Custom”), genuinely religious (“bloody Faith, the foulest birth of Time”), and perfectly willing to Do What’s Necessary to Win Next Time Because the Democrats Cheated First (“legal Crime”);
(3) The poet, one of that Trumpist base in (2) above, furious that Trump, “a most unambitious slave,” did so little to prepare for the obvious legal fights required to snatch victory from the forces of the corrupt Swamp (old Custom, legal Crime”) leaving us at the hands of the new Woke religious orthodoxy (“bloody Faith, the foulest birth of Time”).
And yes, this post was powered by a glass of that Courvoisier in the first pic. Napoleon’s brandy, indeed!
* Shit, it doesn’t seem so archaic and weird anymore that the French referred to dates as the “Coup of 18 Brumaire,” does it?
The 70th anniversary of the Chosin Reservoir battle happened last year, so I did a daily post of Sergeant Orville Bierkle’s war diary entries — with illustrative links — in the seminal Calguns.net thread to commemorate it. Entries span from September at Inchon to December 7 when the Sergeant arrived wounded in Japan. One commenter said the link-filled diary was better than a documentary, so that was gratifying. You’ll need to tab through the thread to get to September 2020. Check it out.