Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Spam and Forty Years

Christmas Spam and Forty Years There are two kinds of Spam in the world. One is annoying, the other edible, although there are many who think the edible version is also annoying, or worse. Diane, for one, hates Spam, the meat-like substance in a can. But I love the stuff. In fact, I found a kindred spirit in my nephew Erik, who also loves Spam. Whenever we get together, either here in Montana or there in the Netherlands, we always set aside one day for a Spam eggstravaganza. I discovered in the book Year Zero that I come by my love of Spam naturally, being one of the foods supplied to hungry Dutchmen after their liberation from Nazi rule in 1945. You might say I eat Spam to honor my country’s liberators as well as the Dutch spirit that did not buckle. Or not. This of course means that I have Spam once in a very great while, maybe every two years. I told my grandson Xander about Spam and how much Opa loves it. I even got him to try it – a piece smaller than half a kernel of corn. He spat it out, gagging. “I hate Spam, Opa!” he proclaimed. But then he lightened, telling me, “But I’ll like Spam when I am twenty.” He is six. Oma thinks he has discerning taste. Now I have a running joke with him, asking him if he would like Spam milkshakes or Spamcakes, to which he usually responds, half smiling, “Opa! I don’t like Spam.” “Try it.” I say, “Try it and you might.” But of course he already did try it. I even told him this Christmas that maybe Santa would put some Spam in my stocking. Xander told Papa Frank about my love of Spam. Papa Frank also likes Spam. In fact, he bought several case lots some time ago. So when Xander told him, Frank immediately led Xander to his stash and had him carry up a case for me. It’s a Costco case, with six large tins of original Spam – a veritable treasure trove worthy of the Dragon Smaug. Frank, who just underwent triple bypass surgery, explained that he didn’t think Spam was on his menu planner anymore. Besides, he still had two more cases in his larder. After we got home Diane noticed that the Spam in the case had an out date of December, 2013 – a year ago. I was shocked. I did not know that Spam had a shelf life; I mean, jars found in archaeological digs in Egypt containing Spam proved to be edible after millennia. So I am debating if the out date really matters. Tomorrow I will not eat Spam, and that is a promise. Tomorrow is the fortieth anniversary of the day Diane and I got married. We will celebrate with very little pomp and circumstance. We know that forty is a big deal – twice as long as Derek Jeter’s major league career. We had thoughts of celebrating in Europe before fiscal reality set in (as it always does – rudely). We now are shooting for the Big 4-2 for the big trip. It gives us time to save our stuivers, and 42 is a magical number that has followed me around my entire life. Besides, 40 is just a number, one of many passed and many to come. We have had our ups and downs, but mostly ups. We have been very fortunate in our lives together. Even our worst times were better than many people’s best times. Friends and family continue to be our inspiration and our joy. People salute us for our forty years. Diane likes to tell them dumb luck brought us together and a lack of imagination keeps us so. The truth is, our deep and ever deeper friendship is the key. That, and love. But she still hates Spam.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Onward Christian Soldiers: A Just War for Jesus

Onward Christian Soldiers: A Just War for Jesus I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me . . . I assure you, as often as you neglected to do it to one of those least ones, you neglected to do it to me. Matthew 25:40; 25:46. Here I go, reflecting on my writing for the past week and my direct opposition to war as a means of diplomacy. I have to admit that the definition of the word “war” can lead to several interpretations; of course, the meaning I referred to is that of a clash of armed forces with the intent of imposing the will of one side upon the other through violent and deadly means. We refer to a sporting event as a war between two sides. We have a card game that is called “War.” Other games, like chess, are thought of as strategy games bases on concepts of real war, but played, not waged. And we do speak of waging war when we go after a cause: you might say that I am waging war on war itself by what I say and how I try to act. So, as a Christmas wish or observation, I state the following: Christian, if you are not a hypocrite, look beyond your self interest to the truth: every three seconds, somewhere on this planet, a child dies. In the time it took me to get this far in my blog, 40 children have lost their lives. They died of disease and starvation, war and murder. Two more. I look into the eyes of my energetic grandchildren and try to imagine them sick or starving, with no hope of any end but Death, or living in an environment plagued by raiding maniacs or long distance bombs. I feel blessed that they are safe. But I ask myself: beheaded by ISIS, blown to pieces by a drone, expiring from lack of even simple food or clean water, killed by a disease like malaria that can be easily treated – what difference does it make? Dead is dead. Just because we do not see it, do not feel its impact directly, do not smell its stench, does not mean our responsibility to do something about it is less. The oil will play out. The stuivers and shekels and Euros and dollars and yuan will all remain behind when you leave this earth. So I propose to you all: if we must have a war to fight, wage your war on Poverty. It is a war that we can win; it is pragmatic to devote our resources it it; and the rewards go far beyond conquest. We all like to cite the evil of Adolph Hitler when supporting the concept of a just war. But we must recall the impoverished conditions of Germany in the 1920’s that allowed him to rise to power. He took power in 1933. He gave his people nearly full employment within five years. Prevention can be the cure. It is not enough to say: give a man a fish and he will be fed for a night; teach a man to fish and he will be fed to a lifetime. We must also stock the lakes with fish – continually. As for me: I do what I can when I can. I am fortunate in my own existence but the only power I have is a voice too few as yet are hearing. I am not as good as the widow who gave her last coin to Jesus, but I know my priorities. So did He.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rebuttal: No One Read This!

My triple blog on pacifists garnered one written response. I quote: “I hope your home here in our country is never invaded by an enemy of any kind. And God forbid you defend yourself or your country. I wonder if Hitler, the Chinese, or any other government would accommodate the freedoms we take for granted here in America. I agree WAR is not answer, but for the attacked, it is a defense. Not to fight back may be Godly, but not very patriotic or manly.” This gentleman and I long ago agreed that our viewpoints differ drastically, and I welcome the fact that he took the time to both read my words and thoughtfully respond to them. I would remind him of three things: first, that a patriot who loves his country can and should strive to point out to that country when he or she feels it is traveling down the wrong path – it is our right and our duty just as it is his to disagree; second, that dissent IS the power of democracy; and that, three, to choose not to kill or participate in the killing aspect of War is a matter of conscience, not cowardice. More on the subject of invasion: When the United States was attacked in 1941, we had virtually no standing army at all. What we did have for a Pacific fleet was stationed at Pearl Harbor, the point of attack. It was not an attack on the US mainland nor an attempt to invade. The Japanese calculated that knocking out our fleet would buy them one year, during which they would consolidate their Pacific Empire and then hopefully sue for peace. But we responded mightily: in May in the Battle of the Coral Sea and June at Midway, we had already begun to turn the tide. Our ability to mobilize and militarize stunned the world. If we ever were invaded, we would rally so fast that any invader would be rendered dizzy. And in today’s world, the prospect of invading, occupying and controlling as vast a country as America would be daunting. It has been stated that an occupying force needs one soldier for every ten inhabitants just to maintain control. That would require an armed force of thirty million men. Even if China put together that huge an army, plus the logistics to support and supply it, the price tag would devastate their economy. It is not fiscally possible to occupy the US. China does have the second largest military budget in the world, roughly 30 percent of the largest, which of course is the United States. There might be a madman who would consider it, but even if he could bring it off, resistance among the populace would wear him down. Much better to wage economic battles and erode the current worldwide control of Corporate America by, for example, buying up our public debt. Hitler may have entertained plans to extend his dominance to the entire world, and reshape that world in his own image. But he wore his military thin, in the long run, by trying too much. Yes, we fought him, and yes, we were on the winning side, seventy years ago. The Greatest Generation deserves all due praise for meeting the challenges and enduring the sacrifices asked of them. And yes, the cause was just. But remember this: for all the righteousness of our side of WW2, Hitler tried to get us to go to bed with him against Stalin and Communism. We chose Stalin, and the post-war world was split among the victors with an iron curtain between the halves. Jim, I do not think you have to worry about us being invaded. I also do not think you have to worry, for the present, about pacifists taking over the world. I don’t even think you have to worry overly about my being able to pollute the minds of future generations, because pacifism is not in style today, war is, especially in America, and no one seems to be paying any attention to a liberal from Montana who sees the world as it should be, and the United States for what it is. Our leadership still believes that war is a viable means of diplomacy, of getting what you want. Mohandas Gandhi famously said, “In my humble opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.” War is evil even when good men wage it. And innocents die, which is supposed to be contrary to the teachings of every moral code to which those good men pledge their faith.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Pacifists, Part Three of Three: The Future of War

PART THREE: “My subject is War, and the Pity of War. The Poetry is in the Pity.” -----Wilfred Owen. Pacifism was not yet back in style in 1967. It became fashionable within a year: I was ahead of the curve. I believe to this day that you cannot stop killing by killing, that the death of one soldier never ended a war, and that war is no longer a viable means of diplomacy. And yet we continue, we arm, we fight, we kill, we die. Peace, it turns out, is much harder to wage than war, even though war comes with the Surgeon General’s explicit label on it: “Warning: War has been shown to be hazardous to your health; in fact, War causes death.” Stupidity lives. Ignorance is curable. Human beings enjoy the culture of war and violence. The culture of peace remains a lofty ideal most of us accept as unattainable. I do not want to believe that Mankind cannot change. If that makes me crazy, then so be it. Sanity is highly overrated, and I have seen what allegedly sane people do to each other. We know that non-violence works. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King stand as proof. That change is slow. But all social change is gradual – or gradually accepted. Violent change, such as via revolution, most often leads not to a true change in social structure but only a change in leadership. True social change comes not from the top down, but from within, spreading outward. Not one dead soldier ever brought about true social change. The cost, however, is dear even for the most patient: King was assassinated long before the change he envisioned began earnestly to be accepted; Gandhi saw change come about only to be assassinated at that very moment. Gandhi once said, “There are many causes I would die for. There is not one cause I would kill for.” To those who clamor that such and such would have happened if we did not join the fight, the comment begs the question, “And has the fighting stopped?” It is easy to recognize that pacifism is impractical given the nature of Man. This does not mean that pacifism is wrong; instead, it is the ideal toward which we all must strive. How many Wilfred Owens must we allow to die days before the Peace? Woodrow Wilson tried desperately to keep America out of World War One. When he no longer could, he seized the opportunity to promote his own ideals at the peace talks at Versailles, though less than welcome. His vision of the post-war world included establishing a League of Nations that would prevent further wars. The rest of the world, including his own countrymen, was not ready. The failure of the United States to ratify the treaty nearly killed him. Still, he left us these words: “I would rather fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Pacifists, Part Two: In and Out of Style

“I do wish people would not deceive themselves by talk of a just war. There is no such thing as a just war. What we are doing is casting out Satan by Satan.” -----Charles Hamilton Sorley Pacifism goes in and out of style. Memories are short, and most young people are too naive to realize that all wars are waged to the benefit of a select few at the expense of a great many. There are no exceptions, even if the cause is just. Just causes are a reaction to unjust ones, and justice is often defined – and later conveniently re-defined – by the victors. We stopped Hitler after six million Jews and five million non-Jews were murdered in concentration and work camps. We did not stop the Rape of Nanking, the Killing Fields, the destruction of Biafra, the ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, and on and on. Governments, our own included, examine the costs relative to the gain. Perhaps World War Two was the last justifiable war, from our point of view. We had to stop Hitler. We did not stop Stalin. Since World War Two, the United States has been embroiled in conflict after conflict, leading at least one social critic to call us “cops of the world.” He was a Canadian pacifist named Phil Oochs. For me, the tradition of pacifism is ingrained: my family lived through the occupation of Holland by the Germans. I was a teenager when the Vietnam War escalated into an American war, and faced the possibility of being drafted. I made my decision not to run away to Canada but to stand up for my beliefs and go to prison if necessary, modeling myself after a man who did just that, David Harris. Harris served three years of a five year prison sentence; to us he was imprisoned for refusing to kill. I was lucky. I won the draft lottery, and did not have to face that choice. I was off the hook but still vehemently and loudly opposed that war and our involvement in it, along with millions of others. Vietnam so polarized American opinion that I thought peace really did have a chance. But I was wrong: subsequent history continued America’s path down a warrior’s highway. Once again, an army of brutal extremists demands that we stop them. We created Saddam Hussein (as a buffer against Iran), then toppled him, creating a power vacuum and destabilizing the region. This in turn created ISIS, at least in part within the prison walls we guarded. We did not strangle ISIS in its infancy, and now it is growing into a threat large enough to warrant the return of US troops on Iraqi soil – and probably on Syrian soil as well. Why? Not for humanitarian reasons – we might have intervened w hen there were ten thousand ISIS warriors butchering women and children and beheading Iraqi soldiers. Instead, we have been watching the numbers grow. Our interests are served better by the need for our return. And, why? In a word: oil. It does not matter which billionaires’ politicians control Congress. If they want a war, they will find a way to have it. World War One proved that point a hundred years ago. Germany felt left out of the empire building that dominated Western European politics for the previous three centuries. They wanted their share. The balance of power in Europe, designed to prevent a major war, now aligned the two blocks that would duke it out – one side fighting to gain territory, the other to preserve territory already gained. Most of the nations involved were ruled by descendants of Queen Victoria, but this was no family feud. When Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was murdered in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, it formed the perfect pretext for war. What followed was a four year struggle that is best described as “redundant slaughter.” Incidentally, ethnic cleansing was a big part of the picture. Most of the nations of Europe, as well as the Ottoman Empire, actively sought ways to force “undesirables” to leave or face violent consequences. Large numbers escaped, mainly to America. Some were turned away even from there and sent back to Europe. Millions were slaughtered. The Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915 set a tone for the century to follow. In that century, 187 million human beings would die in war or by genocide. After World War One, pacifism became fashionable among the victors. So much was lost, and so brutally, that repeating the performance seemed out of the question. But the peace that was brokered at Versailles instead set the stage for another global conflict. That war began almost 25 years to the day from the beginning of the first. Pacifism once again slipped into disfavor and those who believed in it were considered cowards, even if they chose to serve in non-combative ways. War after war followed; the United States met its match in a faraway place called Vietnam.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pacifists, Part One

“Jesus was a pacifist.” -----Chris Hedges Mirriam-Webster defines pacifism as, “the belief that it is wrong to use war or violence to settle disputes.” The root word is “pax,” ancient Roman for peace. The word “pacifism” was coined by French peace activist Emile Arnoud (born in 1864, died in 1921). It was adopted by the tenth Universal Peace Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1901. But the tradition of pacifism reaches back millennia. In major Indian religions, the Sanskrit word “ahisma,” which means “to do no harm,” expresses this philosophy. Christ invoked us to “love thy neighbor,” and Moses might well ask, “What part of ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ do we not understand?” What I don’t know always amazes me. When I moved to Montana from California I knew I was leaving a deep blue state for one that I believed to be crimson red. But I discovered that Montana has a tradition of independent thought; I even have found a liberal scattering of liberals throughout the state. More, I learned of a woman who defined pacifism in her whole being, a Montana native. Discovering her has rekindled my personal desperation to write on the subject. Her name was Jeannette Rankin. Jeannette Rankin holds two unique distinctions in American politics. In 1916 she was the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. Nationally, women had not yet achieved the right to vote, but Montana was among a handful of western states that enjoyed full suffrage. Rankin, a Republican, soon thereafter was called to a special session of Congress, in April 1917, to vote on whether the United States should enter World War One. In all, 50 Senators and Representatives voted No – Rankin among them. She did not win re-election, but returned to the House in 1940, just in time to vote on America’s entry into World War Two. She cast the only No, making her the only human being to vote against entry into both world wars. She stated that she could not in good conscience vote to send another mother’s son to die in battle. Despite immense pressure to make the vote unanimous, Rankin stood her ground. After the First World War, dubbed by some as “The War to End all Wars,” eighteen million people lay dead, ten million soldiers and eight million civilians. The conflict was indeed global as distant outposts of various empires became contested property. But at war’s end, everyone, especially the victors, was weary and disgusted. Pacifism as a movement gained favor. In 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, originally supposed to be a treaty between the United States and France, grew into a declaration that war was and is illegal. Although little more than a gesture without teeth to support it, nonetheless this law has never been repealed. Anti-war sentiments dominated the literature of the time. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, told from a German foot soldier’s point of view, so universally captured the plight of all warriors of that conflict that it became an emblem for pacifists. In 1930, Lewis Milestone directed an American production of the film, which stands today as a harrowing and frank account of war in general, not as an issue of strategy but one of slaughter. The film’s young star, Lew Ayres, was so moved by the film of which he was a crucial part, that he became a pacifist himself. When World War Two broke out, Ayres refused to fight. His initial request for conscientious objector status nearly destroyed his reputation. But he was no coward. He had requested status as a non-combatant medic, but military policy forbade servicemen from requesting assignments. Ayres then filed for conscientious objector status and was sent to a CO camp. The military changed his status in April, 1942, and soon he served as a medic in the Pacific Theater. Still, the shift in climate made it almost impossible to be a conscientious objector, or a pacifist.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Montana Blokker Family Christmas Newsletter

The Blokker Family Christmas Blog Hello to all and to all a Happy Holiday Greeting from the beautiful northwestern corner of Montana! 2014 has been a memorable year. Roy put together four collections of poetry and prose on Kindle, publishing one of them in paperback version: Banned in Boston. He also wrote Charles Sorley’s Ghost expressly to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War One both on Kindle and in paperback. He also has been published in eight different magazines and newspapers, and had a feature article written about him in the local paper. Retirement and the mountain air agree with him. Diane has been busy with her job at Glacier Perks, where she is, as she puts it, “the dough fairy.” It’s a great outlet for her need to bake and a way to display her wonderful skills. Those skills are also finding expression through her crochet, which is turning into a (small at this point) cottage industry. It gives her great pleasure to produce something beautiful and then have someone purchase it. We have great and calming fun together on our small double-recliner love seat, Roy with his laptop and Diane with her crochet. Coming into 2014, we had one grandson, the remarkable, charming and sometimes devilish Xander. Xander is now in First Grade and growing like a weed. In June, his sister CharleeRose was born, another beautiful child and joy to behold. In August our daughter Beth gave birth to Chase Hendrix Kissell. Both babies are precious and precocious,, and even though Chase is far away in Los Osos, California, he is in our hearts and thoughts every minute. When we moved to Montana four years ago, in large part to be closer to our then only grandchild, Diane said, “Watch: we’ll leave California and then Beth will have a baby.” It took a few years, but now it’s happened, and we know we are missing out on Chase’s growing. But Beth and Brian are great at keeping us posted, and Chase is already chirping into the phone. It took Chase being born to bring us back to California. It was a whirlwind two week trip during mid-August. We got to see many of our friends and family – all too briefly – and spend four wondrous days with Chase, Beth and Brian. It also gave us a chance to fly, possibly our favorite travel activity in the world. We do apologize to all we missed while there, and all we spent far less time with than we wished. Our daughter-in-law Holli’s father, and our close friend, Frank suffered a heart attack in late September, and had to have triple bypass surgery on December 11. He came through the surgery with those favorite words, “no complications.” He was released from the hospital yesterday. His recovery will be long, painful, and demanding – but Frank is strong and has a powerful desire to hang around and make us laugh. For a while, we have to avoid returning the favor. His presence this Christmas will make the whole family feel very blessed! Another blessing in our lives has been our friend Joop, the elder statesman of our group. A fellow Dutchman with a fascinating history of his own, Joop ranks among the handful of liberals we have met, though the number is growing. He also has introduced us to the Glacier Symphony and Chorale, that remarkable orchestra about whom I have blogged a few times and written an article for the local paper. This past December 6, Saint Nicholas Day, we managed to pass out gifts to an extended family of children here, in Boise, and in California, 24 in all to whom we are Oma and Opa. The gifts were small, but reports back told us that the children loved them. On December 28 Diane and I will be celebrating our Fortieth wedding anniversary, although modestly. We had entertained hopes of celebrating in Holland, but that trip cannot happen this year, so we are setting our sites on Anniversary Number 42 because 42 is my magic number, one that seems to follow me wherever I go, plus, it is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Life in Montana is sweet – cold, at the moment, but sweet. The only bittersweet part is thinking of all the people we love who are so far away. It is hard for us to get out of the Rockies, as much as we like to travel. But our door is always open and a guest room – with its own bath – awaits anyone who would like to come our way! You can ask our Dutch nephews and nieces – Erik and Annemieke, Olaf and Anneke – just how magnificent our back yard is. And on that note, I’ve prattled on long enough. So Merry Christmas and good fortune in the upcoming year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fear of Monkeys Issue 20 - Mt Brag Blog

This one will be brief. I have a plan in mind for a lengthier, three part blog that I hope will be illuminating and season-appropriate, so please watch for it. But today is a brag blog. The Fear of Monkeys online magazine has again published one of my poems in their newest issue, Number 20, “The Banded Leaf Monkey,” out today. The poem is entitled “The Murderers Among Us.” Fear of Monkeys likes to publish politically relevant poetry, and this is the third time one of my poems has graced its pages. So check out the website, and find me there! By the way, Kevin is still doing well. But please send your positive energies to my daughter-in-law Holli’s dad and my good friend Frank, who will have open heart surgery tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The What's Right and What's Wrong with America Blog

I have been putting off publishing this blog for some time. I realize that most of the reading public does not want to discuss things political., not really. We all would rather enjoy lovely stories of happy things and not deal with things about which we have no real input or over which we have no real control. I get that. But I still need to vent from time to time. And you, Dear Reader, can choose not to read me, but I hope you will. The thing is, there is so much self-delusion in the world that a reality check has to happen every once in a while. It is always easy to be critical. When we look at our great nation, we see its flaws. And blind spots: Americans, by and large, slip into the comfort zone of their own personal desires and needs despite the needs of those around them. That’s not an American thing, it’s just a thing. What’s great about America is that we can stare at those flaws without impunity. I am proud that in America we can fight for what we believe. I am disappointed that we still have to. America has the highest Gross Domestic Product in the world. In average per capita income we rank sixth. We have the number one military budget by far. But in other crucial areas we have slipped and are continuing to slip below the rest of the industrialized world. Our generous nature is partially belied by the fact that, although our nation provides the largest physical amount of foreign aid to the world, based on gross national income twenty nations are more generous than we. The World Health Organization ranks the US health care system 37th in the world just behind Costa Rica. I think it fair to say that, in America, the Hippocratic Oath goes only goes as far as the money to pay for it. The Affordable Care Act has done nothing to change this. The Program for International Student Assessment ranks American students 36th out of 65 countries, with below average ratings in mathematics. Educational reforms do not appear to be working. Fifteen percent t of Americans live below the national poverty line; that’s over 48,000,000 people, in the richest nation in the history of the world. Obviously, there is room for improvement – but first we have to admit that we have a problem. A report released on November 17, 2014, stated that one in every thirty children in America is homeless. Homeless. In America. That is 2.5 million (2,500,000) homeless children. They probably don’t have computers, either. Just guessing. It seems that everyone in this country already assumes that everyone in this country has a computer and knows how to use it, or at least a cellular phone of some sort with plenty of apps loaded and ready. I don’t think that’s true, and I think it is a very egotistic, perhaps even hubristic, assumption on the part of American commerce. Maybe if you don’t have apps and wireless you don’t matter. Obviously, there is room for improvement – and I don’t necessarily mean “a chicken in every pot, a computer in every room.” Profit remains king in America. This by itself is not a bad thing, it has driven the economic engine that produced the wealthiest country ever. But profit without responsible distribution – sharing – leads to what we are seeing here. The distance between the “classes” is growing, while the number of classes is shrinking down to two, and in the bargain American soon will no longer be, if it still is, Number One where it counts. We have lots of guns, but our bridges are falling down. We have a high stock market but children who go to bed hungry at night through no fault of their own. We have equal opportunity employers and a glass ceiling. Obviously, there is room for improvement. We have a press that loves sensationalism and calls it journalism, at least on the mass market scale (the Third Estate still exists but newspapers and magazines are slowly shrinking and dying in the face of social media and America’s need for instant gratification). That press seems to enjoy reporting and re-reporting on the things that scare us, and even underlying how frightened we should be: today’s Ebola Crisis so far has involved three “real,” i.e., uncontrolled, cases and grabs the headlines at the beginning of nearly every news program, fueled by the deadly nature of this hard-to-contract disease; meanwhile, a new strain of enterovirus (D68) infected, at last report, 825 people, mostly children, with cases reported in 46 states. This disease has killed or crippled small children, is more easily spread (air borne), and yet reporting on it was casual to non-existent. But the attitude seems to have been: “Let it run its course, and parents be careful.” Obviously, there is room for concern. We also have a President who is all but ineffectual with a Congress that is stonewalling him at every turn. I will say it plainly: the White-dominated Republicans are delighting in making the first Black President look like a failure even if it means stagnation for the country. And I won’t even get on my usual high horse about the ISIS Crisis and the developing ten year plan for dealing with a small band of renegade terrorists, while the Crimean Crisis is no longer mentioned and Al Qaeda and the Taliban seem to be off the radar. This is a good country. It once was a great one and it still projects itself as such. It could be great again, but self-delusion has to stop first. My parents immigrated to the United States in part to find the American Dream. In large part, they succeeded, and my life in this country has been great, and I am grateful. I have been given a voice, even if its reach is small. I use my voice to cry against those things that we can change. I’ve seen great progress made in my lifetime but I also have seen reverse steps willfully taken. We have the resources, we have the manpower. But we no longer have the intellect, and I am beginning to think we lack the will.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Kevin in Print

Tomorrow I may get political again, but today I just want to share a brief blog of self-congratulations and an encouragement to all of you. You all saw my blog a few days ago about a Saint, a Shovel, a Train and a Cat. Dianne Kochenburg of Clever Magazine liked the bit about Kevin the Cat enough to refit her Winter Issue after it “went to bed” and published it, plus a photo of Kevin with our grandson Xander that I took when both were considerably younger. As an added bonus, alphabetically I am at the top of her contributor list. As Dianne so kindly put it, this is a wonderful Christmas story. Ah, the wonder of digital publishing! So please check out the issue and support Dianne’s wonderful work in general, by going to And by the way, Kevin is his old self again. Right now he has managed to position himself on my lap under my laptop, enjoying being close to me and warmed by the heat coming off the laptop. Our house is at peace.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas Spirit, American Politics, and the Sub-Arctic Heatwave

It is the early morning, pre-dawn, here in Lakeside, Montana. Di is at work and I came along for the ride and the excellent WiFi connection. I also have a fear of winter road conditions and would not be able to rest knowing that Di was on those roads alone in the middle of the night. Some would call me over-protective; others would call me sweet. Di calls me most helpful, though she feels a little guilty for my getting up at 2:30 am. It is no bother. We’re on the same schedule. This morning began at a balmy 37 degrees. The snow is melting, then re-freezing, then melting in a schizophrenic water world that leaves the walkways treacherous and the roadways a combination of slushy and possibly icy. I’m glad I drove Di to work. Saint Nicholas Day was a great success for us. Feedback began almost immediately that the kids were all excited that Santa came to give them cadotjes. I think they realize this is a good omen for their Christmas treasures to come, and they feel particularly lucky that Santa comes to their house twice. It pays to know a Dutchman, let me tell you. You may have noticed that I have studiously avoided politics in my last few blogs. That is mainly because I don’t see much happening in that world since the last election, or for the foreseeable future. I must comment: the Republican Party will claim this election as a mandate from the people, a mandate for change. In reality, it is a mandate for the status quo given largely by not showing up. Only 36.4% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the midterm election, the lowest percentage since World War Two (when some voters were slightly distracted). The fact that the Republicans won both houses only shows that they remain better able to get their core out on election day. The rest of us are either lazy or disillusioned, ignorant or apathetic. I don’t know, and I don’t care. The people have spoken and the Silent Majority is back, if it ever left. And if the Republicans think their victory shows how poorly the President is doing, I would remind them that he has an approval rating of 43%. That is not good. But Congress has an approval rating of only 15%, roughly a third of his. I would act cautiously if I were them, and seek cooperation. If you’re climbing the mountain of public opinion, it is better to do so with a lifeline firmly attached to all members of the climbing party and a pretty good idea of the correct footholds on the mountain face. Democracy itself hangs in the balance, and the world is watching. As for me, I’ll be watching a plethora of Christmas movies in the days ahead. Not even American politics can dampen my Christmas Spirit as I await Santa’s second visit – Ho Ho Ho!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Saint, a Shovel, a Train and a Cat

HAPPY SAINT NICHOLAS DAY! It is the Feast Day for Saint Nicholas of Myra, the noble human being who became the inspiration for the jolly old elf we call Santa Claus. Nicholas was the epitome of kindness, particularly toward children. He is the patron saint of children, and of the Netherlands. That makes him particularly dear to me – as a Nederlander and as a perpetual child. Legend has it that Saint Nicholas – Sinterclaas – Santa Claus – goes from house to house on the night of December 5, putting treats into the shoes of good children and sticks or coal into those of the not so good. Diane and I have adopted this tradition and expanded upon it. We used to give our children an ornament and some candy in the night, to be discovered in the morning of the 6th. The kids liked this tradition so much that we do it still, even though they all are well into adulthood. But now there is another generation of children around us, an extended family of little people we know and care about. We now give these little ones small prezzies – the Dutch call them cadotjes – along with their modest portion of candy and an ornament. This leaves Christmas Day for family gatherings (okay, maybe a few extra gifts under the tree and in the stockings for the grandchildren). Saint Nicholas Day is our “Giving Day,” and I think Nicholas would be pleased. Of course, there is a trick to getting the gifts to their respective homes, via mail or via Blokker’s Delivery Service. Snow gets in the way. We had a bit of the white stuff over the past week and a half, no blizzards or anything like that, but enough for me to start my winter routine of clearing the decks and the driveway with my trusty snow shovel. On a good day it takes 45 minutes to remove enough snow for easy navigation. Despite the outside temperature (one day it was 12 degrees F), I come back inside sweating. I want to say I’m getting too old for this s$@&!t – but, thank fully, I’m not. Which, naturally, brings me to trains. Di and I are about to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary at the end of the month. In all that time, and all the years growing up B. D. (before Diane), I have always wanted to have a large train to circle the Christmas tree. It did not have to be fancy or expensive, but I kept putting it off and putting it off. Too many kids, too many cats, not enough money for such a frivolous thing, too many trips departing on December 26 – I always had good reasons, and it felt kind of silly. But now I have my train, a battery operated plastic engine and four car whistle-blower on a perfect round track. It chugs around our very lovely Scotch pine tree happily, even joyfully. And the little kid in me is so very thankful. Oddly enough, the dog and cats couldn’t care less about the train. We almost lost Kevin on Thursday. Kevin is our fourteen year old cat, one of only two left from our old cat raising and rescue days. Jane, the other, is fifteen. She is a young fifteen, though, and Kevin has been aging rapidly. But there is no more affectionate or obnoxious cat in the world. He meets me more like a dog than a cat, waiting at the door for my entry and very vocal in greeting. He sits on laps purring, often rubbing his head against you, casting his loving eyes in your direction and giving out a silent meow. He grooms the dog. He sleeps with us every night. He goes out of his way to make sure you notice him. But over the past couple of weeks Kevin seemed slower, older, a bit unstable and well off his feed. Then Wednesday night he did not come to bed, and Thursday morning he did not greet me upon my return from work. He did not come out for breakfast. I had to find him, and when I did he hissed at me, something he had never done. It seemed to both of us that he was telling us he was done with this life. He was suffering, and we did not want him to suffer. We called the vet and intended to have him humanely put to sleep. When we put Kevin in the crate, he didn’t even fight us. Tearfully, we knew it was time. Like the noise in a car that disappears when you reach the mechanic, as soon as we opened the crate Kevin came out, plopped over onto his back, began to purr and bat at both me and the vet with his paw playfully. Obviously, he had changed his mind about being ready to depart this earth. Maybe it was the fresh air – I may never know. So he got a reprieve and we took him home. We know it is only a matter of time, but the time was not Thursday. It may be weeks, or months away. This morning Kevin was his usual self – head rubs, purrs and grabbing my pen as I tried to write these words. Kevin has the second loudest purr in the history of catdom. When he purrs, the earth rumbles; in fact, seismologists rush to Yellowstone to check if the super volcano is getting ready to blow. I will miss that purr, but not today. So, HAPPY SANTA CLAWS DAY from Kevin the Cat, and to all a good night.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tomorrow is Saint Nicholas Day/Santa's Day

How Santa Got His Name Almost four hundred years ago, in 1625, the Dutch built a trading settlement on the tip of the island of Manhattan. Because of where it sat, it became a major export center from the New World to the Old. Trappers along the Hudson River and places north sold or traded their goods to Dutch merchants, who in turn sent the goods across the Atlantic by ship for resale. Beaver pelts, in particular, were a favorite back in the Netherlands. Their under fur was perfect for making the felt used in the hats popular throughout Europe at the time. The settlement quickly grew into a town. The Dutch called the town New Amsterdam. More settlements followed, as well as farms, places with names like Breukelen, Jonas Broncks’ plantation, and Van der Donck’s plantation, familiar to us now as Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Yonkers. Although New Amsterdam belonged to the Dutch, everyone was welcome. Due to the variety of people coming in to trade and sell, the town had an international flair. Among those who settled were Swedes, Brits, a few Frenchmen, some Native Americans and even an occasional former slave. The Dutch settlers brought their own traditions along with them. Among these was the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey. He is the patron saint of children and of the Netherlands. Celebrating his feast day on December 6 became an important tradition among the Dutch. One feature of the celebration asks all children to put one of their shoes outside the door on the night of December 5. According to Dutch legend, Saint Nicholas and Old Black Pete, a Moor whom Nicholas met in Spain and who traveled with the Saint, would go from house to house. On the morning of the 6th, if a child was good, he or she would get candy and small gifts in their shoe. If bad, they would find twigs or lumps of coal. One version of the story has Nicholas and Pete flying over the rooftops on their horses. The Dutch would leave something for the horses to eat, since they were doing all the hard work. During the Seventeenth Century the Dutch and the British fought several wars. By the year 1674 the British took control of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York, after the Duke of York, the English King‘s brother. The Dutch who lived there were allowed to stay. Many of them chose to do so. They already thought they were separate from native Holland, but they kept their traditions active, including the feast day of Saint Nicholas and the good child-bad child ritual. During the Revolutionary War citizens of New York adopted Saint Nicholas as their battle standard, in opposition to England’s Saint George. After Independence New Yorkers began to look back at their Dutch roots. Some tried to make Saint Nicholas the patron saint of their city and of the New York Historical Society. Along the way the image of Saint Nicholas changed into someone more closely resembling a Dutch burgher, or merchant, who was round and jolly and smoked a clay pipe. This was how Washington Irving portrayed him in the fictional book, Knickerbocker’s History of New York. The poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” thought to be written by Clement Clark Moore, made this new image of Saint Nicholas a part of American tradition. Instead of shoes, we use stockings “hung by the chimney with care.” Instead of putting them out on December 5, we put them out on the 24th. On Christmas morning we rush to find what was left for us. We hope to find that the cookies and milk we set out for the nighttime visitor were consumed, like the hay the Dutch left for Sinterklass’s horses. For us, exchanging gifts on Christmas honors the birthday of Jesus, but the gifts and treats in our stockings remain the magical work of Saint Nicholas. The Dutch call Saint Nicholas “Sint Nikolaas,“ which became “Sinterklass.” By the time the American New Yorkers rediscovered their Dutch heritage, Sinterklass became “Santa Claus.” And that’s why we call him Santa Claus to this day, and sometimes Jolly Old Saint Nick. My son Nikolas adds this tidbit: the original Nicholas of Myra was a very generous man who tried to help anyone and everyone in need. One particular family was too proud to take charity, so Nicholas pit some coins in a bag and snuck by their house. He threw the bag of coins over the wall. The bag landed in the shoe of one of the members of the family. And that is why children put shoes out on December 5.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Thanks for Snow and Beauty

Giving Thanks for Beauty and Snow Two days before Thanksgiving, and Winter is officially here in my back yard up by the Flathead. I could have waited until closer to Christmas for the snow to get serious enough to shovel, but, alas, that is not up tom me. Yesterday, though, the snow was not yet that heavy, but I still decided to shovel the porch and driveway – for the first time this Season. I figured that it would be wise to get the inch of snow out of the way, so that when the sun came out (which it did), the snow wouldn’t begin to melt and then freeze. The weather lady predicted light rain and snow showers (Xander calls this combination shrain), so I thought caution would be the best part of valor. I had a second thought: why not get my body to remember what it’s like to shovel snow, so I would be better prepared. This morning at 3:30, there were better than four inches of snow on the deck and driveway. I was not about to shovel it all at that hour, and Di had to be at work by 4, but I did shovel off the porch. The snow was light and fluffy, making the job easier. I was particularly glad that I had gotten the more dense, half melted snow off the porch the day before, so I was not playing slip and slide, and so the work took very little time. I then drove Di to work as I am slightly more experienced driving in snow and as I would not have been able to rest well if she were on her own and as we like – crazy kids that we are – spending time in each other’s company even at 4 am. So here I sit, with my computer, at Glacier Perks telling you all this on the day before Thanksgiving. I wanted to share a small bit I wrote in response to a question posted on the Linkedin Poets and Writers forum, to which I belong. The question was: “How would you describe beauty? It seems on the surface such an easy question, but I realized it’s like compiling a top ten list, very subjective and likely to be different for each person answering, even changing within that person depending on the hour. I wrote: “Great question! My first thought comes from Danish composer Carl Nielsen, who said (I'm paraphrasing): Beauty can be many things to many people. If I take a hammer and strike a rock so hard that sparks fly, to me, that is beautiful. “Personally, I wake up each day and look out my window into my back yard. Sometimes it's snowing. Sometimes the sun is shining and the light filters through the trees in wondrous patterns. Sometimes there are wild turkeys or white tailed deer looking for morsels on my lawn. Sometimes 'Jumpy the Squirrel" squawks at us, or a woodpecker drills a tree nearby. Sometimes a friend comes over for coffee and a cookie. Sometimes a poem begins in my head and finds its way scratched onto a piece of paper, later to be transcribed and edited onto my computer. Sometimes music plays in the background, sometimes silence. My bride of forty years shares it all with me, and it's all good, and it's all beautiful, and it’s not even noon yet.” So this is my way of expressing thanks for every joy in my life. I am thankful for the sorrows in as much as they help me appreciate what I have. I am fearful of the future, but thankful for the possibilities and always, always, thankful for the work. And all of you.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

JFK and Black Friday

51 years ago today, the world changed forever. This weekend, it seems America’s quantum shift will be complete. On November 22, 1963, our President, John F. Kennedy, was murdered. I was 13 – I remember everything about that Friday and the weekend that followed as if it had happened to me. of course, it had – as it happened to every citizen of the country, whether they actually liked JFK or not. My generation found its innocence trampled in the dust of the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald took aim and fired the lethal shots. When the Vietnam War escalated, it only proved our disillusionment was appropriately placed. Among very bad days, November 22, 1963, ranks as the worst in my own lifetime. But when I look around today, 51 years later, the changes that evolved throughout those years have taken on their own peculiar bend. You see it readily in what has happened to Christmas: the shopping season grows longer and more intense every year. This year Black Friday starts on the Monday before in many places, intensifying on Wednesday. Some malls, as I understand it, are actually going to penalize stores if they do not open on Thanksgiving Day. All this so Americans can fill their shopping carts, drain their bank accounts, and exceed their credit limits. We are conditioned to buy, buy and buy some more. The reason for the season tells us to spread love among those we treasure, and gifts are a way of showing that love. But in America, the giving has become extreme (I am guilty of this myself, continually wanting to get more, more, more – I am, after all, a well conditioned citizen). Schmaltzy Christmas movies try their best to remind us that what matters is each other, and not what we give each other, but it is hard to knock tradition. Still, the tradition of consumerism has plenty of detractors, which I will try to remember as I watch my family members unwrap their assorted gifts. It is better to give than receive, yes, but when I remember that phrase I remind myself of those who gave their everything – like the one whose birthday we are about to celebrate, and the one who died 51 years ago. They did not die so we could shop, but Capitalist America seems to think so.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Riding the Whirlwind

A remarkable chain of events has reinforced my opinion that I can write. Last Sunday, Diane and I attended a concert with our friend Joop, of the Glacier Symphony. I blogged about the cocert on Monday with a deservedly glowing review. I had two aims in this: to pay tribute to what I honestly considered a marvelous performance from top to bottom; and to show my support for our local symphony. My friend Joop called me on Tuesday and strongly suggested that I adapt the material for a proper review, and submit it to the local newspaper, The Daily Inter Lake. I knew it would be an unsolicited, cold offering, but I liked the idea and decided to give it a go. I revised the review Tuesday evening and emailed it to the managing editor, Frank Miele, hopeful but expecting nothing to come of it. Of course, the paper had just run a feature on me for my poetry, so that familiarity may have helped. Frank emailed me Wednesday, saying he does not usually do reviews, but he liked mine, and rearranged things to get it in the Weekend Section, which came out Thursday. With my own byline! I have been on the fast track before, writing papers for a school teacher-imposed deadline (with a touch of procrastination pushing the envelope). But I have never been fast-tracked before, where from concert to blog to concept to publication, the process took only four days. For a writer, that’s the whirlwind.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Best Concert Ever

Yesterday afternoon our friend Joop took Diane and myself to another concert by the local Glacier Symphony Orchestra. As I have stated in the past, it has been a surprise and a delight to find a full fledged symphonic orchestra in a town of 20,000 and a county with less than 90,000 residents. Then to find that they were a quality organization with a brilliant conductor who is passionate about the music and about his performers, and a group of musicians committed to doing their best, compounded our delight. We have head wonderful music performed with passion and professionalism, including Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Those are concert hall war horses that demand strong performance, as their notes are familiar and expected. But John Zoltek likes a challenge. His concerts also provide new music or unfamiliar music whenever possible. It is a delicate balance when you have a small audience and a small budget, but Glacier Symphony has pulled off some magnificent experiences. Yesterday, however, Zoltek and company outdid themselves. The result was the best live performance I have ever had the fortune to witness, of any kind anywhere. I was there for the West Coast premiere of William Russo’s Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra with the Korky Siegel Band and San Francisco Symphony, Segei Ozawa conducting: a truly unique experience that brought the house down. Yesterday was even better than that. They began with John Williams’ March from Superman. All season they will feature the orchestral arrangements to Williams’ movie scores. It made a rousing introduction, but gave no indication of what was to follow. Then pianist Robert Plano sat at the keyboard to perform Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. This concerto is one of the m ost demanding for a pianist in the entire repertoire, and one equally demanding of the audience. It is also long, with an uncharacteristic four movement format. To say that Plano and the Symphony were perfect is to say that the concert was breathtakingly exciting from first note to last. Almost as enjoyable as the music itself was watching Plano’s obvious enjoyment at playing it. We gave the performers the response due them, and Plano offered a brief and robust encore that seemed to move at the speed of light. After the intermission, the orchestra performed the Symphony No. 1 by Vasily Kalinnikov. Kalinnikov is a relatively unknown Russian composer, encouraged by both Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. But Kalinnikov contracted tuberculosis while studying and supporting himself as a student, and was destined to die before his 35th birthday. As a result, his music has been ignored outside of Russia itself. When Maestro Zoltek told the audience, this might me the Montana premiere of this work, he was not joking. Yet his own delight in being able to perform this piece was palpable: he told us the work was amazingly polished yet playful, and demanded the full resources of the orchestra. He was not wrong – and Glacier Symphony nailed it. The music skipped and danced and rejoiced. The performance was so animated that, when they had finished the scherzo and before they began the finale, Zoltek exclaimed to us all, “Wow!” I had never heard a conductor make such an utterance during a performance. And yet, there was still one movement to go. The late Romantic symphony by the doomed yet cheerful composer made its mark on us all. For me, it was particularly satisfying to see and hear the music of an obscure composer championed. I have spent my life calling attention to the undeservedly unknown, partly because I am unknown myself – and when a fine symphony orchestra does the same, I feel myself a kindred spirit to them, even if the best I can do is appreciate the effort. Yesterday, that effort surpassed anything they had ever done before to my sxperience, and I sit here, grateful, hoping they managed to record their work so I might enjoy it again, and again.

Friday, November 7, 2014

In Defense of Christmas Movie Schmaltz

Yesterday evening Diane and I caught ourselves watching a Hallmark Channel original Christmas movie, one of those schmaltzy, predictable holiday fares that used to be confined to the 25 days before Christmas but now begin on All Saints Day. We did not want to watch anything with weight or that was overly dramatic or requiring a great deal of thought. This was perfect. This particular genre of film has many detractors, myself included until recently. I have modified my opinion not because I think this is great motion picture fare, but for other reasons. These films seem to be where solid character actors go to die. They also provide a chance for unknown but attractive actors and actresses to cut their teeth (although one wonders about listing one on an actor’s resume). Then there are the director, writer, producers, cameramen, grips and crew to consider. In other words, these films provide a good deal of work for a good many people. Dean Cain has stayed alive doing them, and he is not alone. And, if the script is decent, with clever dialogue and reasonably good direction, these films can be a guilty pleasure, and I am no longer ashamed to say so. If films are meant to entertain, these do try. This particular film was called One Starry Christmas. If it had been called Starry Starry Christmas instead, it might have been about Vincent van Gogh’s Christmas in Arles. But no one, to my knowledge, has ever told a Christmas story with Vincent as the protagonist. Mmmm. Maybe I should. File for future reference, Idea #529. This film concerns – spoiler alert! – a cowboy who rescues an astronomer and wins her affections from away from her self-centered lawyer boyfriend. Suspense: none. Predictability: total. But the journey was mind-divertingly enjoyable, the storytelling uncomplicated, and the acting sincere. Not one member of the cast was familiar to me, but I liked the people I was supposed to like and I-Snidley Whiplash booed the one I was supposed to boo. Plus, the story proved that a twang doesn’t guarantee simplicity or stupidity, while holding a law degree doesn’t guarantee complexity or intelligence. As for the female lead with the biggest smile I’ve seen in awhile: being a pretty, desirable, up and coming astronomer – priceless. I noticed another element to the broadcast: the ads. They were geared toward someone on or approaching Medicare, with ad after ad addressing Medicare supplement plans. Other ads dealt with being a grandparent, or, most blatantly, selling a toy for smaller kids specifically to us, replete with the young baggers saying, “Thank you, Grandma,” or “Thanks, Grandpa.” I have found my demographic at last! There are, however, a set of Christmas movies that rise above the schmaltz. We all know which ones they are (among others): Love, Actually; It’s a Wonderful Life; The Bishop’s Wife; Elf; and Die Hard. After all, nothing says Christmas better than a full grown human sitting on a tiny elf’s lap, or Alan Rickman blowing the top off a building in LA. Now, that’s distracting.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Futility of Peace: A Brief But Serious Note

I apologize in advance for returning to the world of politics. I cannot seem to help myself – I guess that comes from being what one calls “involved.” I say that yet always remind myself that no one is listening, at least not outside the small choir to which I belong. That does not mean I should be quiet; on the contrary, I need to yell louder in order to be heard. And if I reach one person and only one, I will have done my job. The fact is, I feel great frustration, not with anyone or anything specific but in general. I have come to a disturbing realization. My entire life has been spent trying to find new ways to express the futility of war with language that actually reaches you. Over and over again, the words tumble out, like a crazy man locked in his own Ground Hog Day. But now I realize I am really screaming about the futility of peace. and, crazy or not, heard or not, it’s my job.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Front Page Follow Up: West Shore News

Moving up here to Montana has turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made. Up here, we have time, and the results are showing: Diane has been crocheting beautiful garments (gloves, hats, scarves) and selling her work. It is a great tribute to the talent part of her knows she has but another part wants to dismiss. And I, of course, am writing nearly constantly. I like to say it this way: I’m almost 65 years old, and I’m just getting started! I feel like a living proverb: I plunked a pebble into the lake to see just how the ripples move. And I am the pebble. Ryan Murray neglected to tell me that his article on me would appear in The West Shore News today, as well as the Daily Interlake yesterday. This time the article truly begins on the front page, then continues on Page Three. Instead of my picture, this one features one of my poems. The West Shore News is a free paper for the residents of the area and people passing through. Murray’s article is essentially the same, but with enough changes and expansions, including quoting an entire poem by yours truly, that I feel as though I’ve tossed a second pebble, the ripples growing. I know that I am starting small, but I am starting. Where this goes, nobody knows, least of all me. For me, the wonder, the joy, and the work are a delight to live with and go through; after over fifty years with a pen in my hand, I look at my older work as the chance to build my legacy (as I told Mr. Murray), and with the new work to build upon it. And am I having a great time!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Front Page News! (sort of)

October 27, 2014 Sorley Makes the Front Page Today is another great day. The Giants won last night, 5-0, behind Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout. And I made the front page of our local rag, the Daily Interlake. Okay, it’s not the cover of the Rolling Stone, and it’s not exactly a cover story – my picture and a hint at the story shows up on the bottom bar of the paper, with a nice article dominating Page Three. The article is called “Remembering Warrior Poets: Lakeside Author Inspired by WWI Soldiers.” Reporter Ryan Murray did a nice job with the text and Aaric Bryan’s photos show me in a good light. It is a flattering portrait and ego-inspiring for me. I may be small time, but I’m loud. Of course, I rushed over to the Interlake building and secured extra copies to spread around and use for bragging rights. I bought fifteen copies. The paper will make more money on me than I have, so far, on Charles Sorley’s Ghost. But poets love irony.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Don't Fence Me In

There are no fences in Lakeside, Montana. Well, to be precise, we do have a small area of our back yard cordoned off with a five foot high fence to keep Meg in when she goes to do her business, but there are no fences between the homes. And the homes are a good distance apart: we can see our neighbors’ framework, but only hear them if they’re yelling and the wind is blowing in the right direction. Yet privacy remains a relative term because we have a constant flow of visitors passing through our back yard, and our front lawn. Between the house and the area our grandson calls the Pokey Field is a large patch of green (in summer, with water) or white (in winter, with water transformed). At times it becomes a playground, a rest stop, and a kitchen. Common visitors are white tailed deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, robins, song birds, and cotton tail rabbits. We have seen but more often hear Pileated Woodpeckers hammering away at the trees nearby and on rare brazen occasions the siding on our house. We have seen Mountain Quail and ruffled grouse, a red fox, and once, a young wolf, all from our front porch. A Great Horned Owl lives nearby but we have only caught glimpses of it – when we let Meg out at night we make noise to keep the bird away from our five pound Chihuahua, who would make a manageable meal. But without a fence to lock us in and the world out, our back yard actually stretches across western Montana and all the way into Wyoming. The list of creatures we have had the delight to see includes Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Osprey, Bison, Mountain Goats, coyotes, black bears and Grizzly Bears. Our kids watched a young female cougar watching their dogs just outside their home. I have seen magnificent elk, a small herd hanging with a powerful looking male with a broken antler, walking the street of Gardiner at the north entrance to Yellowstone, while walking back to our motel room after dinner. It constantly amazes me what’s out there if only you’re paying attention, even in the middle of a city but especially on the edge of the natural world. It makes a person glad for breath.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Poetry Best Seller?

Charles Sorley’s Ghost is my tribute to the soldier-poets of World War One. The book recounts the lives and deaths of nearly sixty English-speaking and –writing poets who served during the war and were killed or died in service, from Rupert Brooke and Charles Hamilton Sorley to Wilfred Owen. Owen, who was killed seven days before Armistice ended the war, said, “My Subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Like so many of the poems I read from these men, my own poems are earthy, accessible, but pointed. So far, the feedback I have gotten on the book is strongly positive. As I often quote, George Carlin wrote that “far more people write poems that read them.” Few poets make the bestseller list, a place dominated by sensationalism and escapism, both of which allow us readers to veer away from our own reality for awhile. Now and then, work that confronts reality and strips away its outer covering gains a foothold. And on extremely rare occasions, that work is poetry. All poets dream of reaching a large audience; I am no different. I have long wanted to prove that I can handle fame and fortune and everything that goes with it, and thank you all. I no longer define success exclusively by commercial standards, but I do still dream, and of course I want to reach you – as many of you as possible. I am so very proud of this work. It may be the best thing I have ever written – so far. And wouldn’t it be cool if a volume of poetry by a currently little-known made the New York Times Bestseller List, and better still, if it were mine? It’s not the money I might earn – okay, that’s part of it, but mostly it is this: I wrote Sorley to be read. It became important to me to echo a century later the lessons these brave men learned, so that, perhaps, my grandchildren will not have to learn them all over again. All I can do is put myself out there, which I have done (and will continue to do). The next bit is up to you. So if you agree and want to read some really good poetry, buy me – and spread the word. Charles Sorley’s Ghost, poems and essays, is available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle. Just enter “Roy Blokker” in the search box.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Endangered Species

In the course of a conversation I had with a much younger man, I had the opportunity to use the phrase, “Encumbered garret.” Polite silence followed. The man did not know what I meant but did not have the time or inclination to ask me. After a single beat, the conversation resumed. But the seconds of silence intrigued me, which led me to write a tanka and post it on Linkedin. One of my fellow poets on that network subsequently asked what the phrase meant. I began to feel really, really old when I answered, “It is a metaphor for a cluttered mind. I read it long, long ago when I was young and pterodactyls flew in the sky.” The literal translation of the phrase would be, “an attic loaded to excess.” I encountered the phrase in my Eight Grade English class with Mr. Ford; I admit I cannot find it now, and do not know who said it. This got me to thinking. The phrase seems clever and relevant to me, but am I clever and relevant myself? Or, like those two words, am I an endangered species? Language grows and changes. The dictionary adds an average of 5000 words a year to keep it unabridged. 4000 is a larger vocabulary than most of us possess, or at least utilize. Yet even human expression has changed, modified, abridged. In an era of LOL and BFF and the occasional ginormous addition, other words and phrases face extinction. They still exist, like all the junk shoved into Fibber McGee’s closet, but are no longer part of common usage. I lament their passing. I am not a Luddite (definition: someone who is opposed to or slow to embrace technology), but sometimes I sympathize. Maybe I could call myself a Ledite, someone who objects to smart phones and LED lighting. I am beyond incandescence, but my phone is very, very dumb.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Today's Blog: Thinking about the ISIS Crisis

ISIS is a terror organization. That is, they use terror as a tactic to obtain what they want. They also are a revolutionary enterprise: they have a concrete plan to create their own state within the greater area of Syria and Iraq. This sets them apart from Al Qeda, which seems bent on destruction for its own sake. Al Qaeda are anarchists with no plan to replace what they destroy. We all know how dangerous and brutal the members of ISIS are, and if we did not, our press and our President will make sure we do. I put this to you: if ISIS did not exist, we would have to invent them. we need an enemy to justify carrying the biggest military in the world and the history of the world, and to explain our military and political excursions throughout the world. This is not a comfortable or politically correct observation, but it stands. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are still out there, but diminished or at least apparently diminished. But ISIS is real, and imminent. Conversely, if WE did not exist ISIS would have to invent US. ISIS is growing. By about 10,000 each time the total membership is announced in the press. 30,000 in all. 30,000 against the world. Over forty countries with all their resources are poised against this relatively small force, and yet we are talking about taking years to mop them up. Really? Years? We have more drones than they have warriors . . . But I ask you: between ISIS and America, which poses the greater threat to world peace? Another way of asking: how many civilians have Americans killed since 2001? Bombed or beheaded – it makes little difference to the dead. Whatever the figure, you van be sure our enemies will inflate it. But one civilian’s death is one too many, and war makes monsters of us all. The trouble for Americans is, we intellectualize it, we find ourselves repulsed by it, but we do not live it. Our military is an army of avatars. The people in the region do live it, daily, from bombs to beheadings, as soldiers and as victims, with terror and by terror. Does this mean I sympathize with ISIS? Not in the least. ISIS only proves that Western Man has no monopoly on cruelty – but neither does ISIS – and none of us is civilized.

Yesterday's Blog Today: Nearly Perfect

Nearly Perfect It was another nearly perfect day up in the Flathead. The weather has been a little less than ideal, with cloudy skies and early morning rain. But with California in drought and other areas facing flooding, I won’t complain about a bit of wet. It settles the ndust and lets me avoid watering ky lawn. The lawn had begun to prepare itself for the winter that is coming. It has slowed its growing and is changing color. So are the trees. Autumn is in full swing. One of the things that announces the arrival of true Autumn is the return of the Symphony. Today marked the season premiere of our own Glacier Symphony, that organization that constantly surprises me at its ability to pull off really intriguing programs, under the direction of John Zoltek. Today was no different: Zoltek and the marvelous musicians performed Paganini’s First Violin Concerto and Berlioz’ Symphnie Fantastique to the delight of their nearly full house audience. They began with a short overture, a concert arrangement from John Williams’ movie score to “Hook.” Then 18 year old virtuoso Simone Porter took center stage, thin and beautiful and ready, to take on a concerto written by the man who re-defined what the violin can do. She nailed it. I marveled at how the orchestral parts sounded ever so slightly like Rossini but the violin soared to levels of at the time unparalleled brilliance. After the intermission, the orchestra took on the Berlioz, written in 1830 and utterly revolutionizing what an orchestra can do. It was the first symphony to have a program, and the first to bring a single theme, or idée fixe, into every onbe of its five movements. It also was bizarre and daring in orchestration, even depicting an execution by guillotine! And Glacier Symphony nailed it. After the concert, my friend Joop and I went to the Blue Canyon for a drink and dinner. I discovered a microbrew stout that carried solid flavor and experienced a “bucket of burgers” made with Kobe beef. Better still, John Zoltek, his wife, two other lovely ladies associated with the Symphony, and young Miss Porter all showed up at the same tavern. I got to chat with John and his wife at our table, and as we were leaving we stopped at their table, where I got to meet, and thank, Miss Porter, and Joop got the chance to assure her that she was going to be world famous if she played like that. With a deep sense of contentment, I drove Joop to his house and went home. The day would have been perfect, indeed, except that Diane stayed home, feeling exhausted and a bit off. she felt she could not have enjoyed the concert feeling the way she did. She needed a quiet time, and when I got home she told me she had enjoyed the time to herself. So, in a sense, we all got what we needed today, and that is nearly perfect.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Year Ago to Now: More Positive Stuff

It is difficult to believe that one year ago Diane and I were preparing to return to Montana from our visit to the Netherlands. A full year has come and gone since last we saw our friends/family there. We started missing them even before we left. But it has been an eventful year for us: two grandbabies born six weeks apart, a wonderful slew of other babies born to people we care about, our grandson Xander finishing Kindergarten and entering First Grade, a trip to California during which we saw as many friends and family as we could and met our grandson Chase, and a relatively peaceful life up in the forest above Flathead lake. We even got to see wild horses on Wild Horse Island just two days ago. And Sunday we get the honor of attending a symphony concert at our local and surprisingly professional Glacier Symphony that will include the sonic whirlwind, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Life is good, and I remind myself how important it is to say that life is good, even when it doesn’t seem to be. A year ago also marks the beginning of a remarkable creative journey for me. I always write, I cannot help it: it is part of who I am, a very very large part. Everyone who knows me knows that. My little pocket notebook sits ready in my back pocket wherever I go, much to the annoyance of some and amusement of others. But in the last year I feel my writing has kicked into hyperdrive, and I am seeing results. I published five volumes of my poetry on Kindle, two of which now exist in paperback form. I saw poems published in over half a dozen magazines online, plus several articles and blogs. I re-formatted my novel Amber Waves into a sleeker, more user-friendly, and cheaper version. I formed plans for the revamping of other older material into book form, I write poetry almost every day, and I have come up with a way to let the characters of my first novel interact with new characters in new situations in a follow-up project that is starting to gel and centers around a new name, George Damon Nills. Nills will allow me to do what Kurt Vonnegut said he did in his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five: find a way to tell one story by telling another. Life is indeed good. Life is busy, and that is good. Travel plans are mostly on hold. 2015 will be one in which, like 2014, we wish we could. But our door is open and we hope others, who wish they could, will find a way toward our neck of the woods. And of course there is always the Lottery – I do play, I do buy that ridiculous chance at a bit of hope. Aqnd contemplate how best to use the winnings once they fund. It’s nice to dream. But when I sit at the keyboard and clack out sequences of letters into something sensible and sometimes eerily profound, that is when my dreams come true. And that is when life is really, really good.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Another Perfect Day

It would be so easy, and is so tempting, to rant and rave about what is going on in the world. But today I am basking instead in the afterglow of yet another perfect day in my life. The truth is, I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have had many, many perfect days throughout my life. Almost every single one of them revolves around sharing something beautiful with people I love and love being with, and taking joy in the life surging around me. Yesterday, Frank and Claire Marie took their boat out on the lake one more time before prepping for winter. Diane and I had Xander for an overnight, and they invited us to join them. it was our first lake trip this year, and likely their last (though if the weather holds there may be one more down the line). Before too long the annual ritual of draining the top off the lake will begin, done to accommodate the spring runoff in April and May, when the lake is allowed to fill again. Boating gets to be a scarce proposition in October, but yesterday the weather was – for fear of overusing the word – perfect. We set sail, well, technically, we fired up the motor, around noon and headed south along the shoreline. We saw remarkable “dream” houses and magnificent vistas along the way fifteen miles south toward Wild Horse Island. Wild Horse Island is a wonder in itself, and in three years here Di and I had never gotten a close look at it. Over 5000 acres of protected land is home to bighorn sheep, deer and birds of prey: we saw a Golden Eagle soaring above our heads but he would not stay still long enough for a picture. It is the wild horses that give the island its name. Legend has it that one tribe of Native Americans used to hide their horses on the island when another tribe threatened to raid them, and that some horses were never recaptured, leading to an independent, natural breeding program. Today the population is closely monitored and protected. Seeing horses on the island, especially from a boat encircling it, is rare. In fact, Frank told us he had never seen any, and he’d been in these waters often. Beginner’s luck: off in the distance on the top of a rise we saw five or six grazing in the warm October Sun. Even so far away, it was breathtaking, a real privilege. From Wild Horse, we hustled back up and across the lake to Bigfork, parked the boat, walked down Electric Avenue, and had a very late lunch. By the time we got back to the dock at Lakeside and loaded the boat back on its trailer, it was nearly six pm and the sun was beginning to make its exit for the day. In all, the day was totally satisfying, all the more so to think that Alexander’s two sets of grandparents not only are close at hand, but actually enjoy each other’s company. Meanwhile, Oddball Magazine published another of my poems, “Scent in the Air.” And my dear friend and sister-in-law Catherine sang praises for my book of poems, Charles Sorley’s Ghost to me over the phone, and my new fiction project is starting to gel and morph into an exciting novel-sized book-to-be that may be the best thing yet. Catherine commented that she admired that I do not give up, and I realized, at nearly 65 years of age, with notes and plans and poems and stories to tell, I can’t give up: I’m only getting started. It doesn’t get better than that. Thank you Frank, Claire Marie, Xander, Catherine, the editor of Oddball, and of course Diane, and everyone in my life, for all the memories and all the encouragement, and for giving me happy things to write about from time to time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Publication News: Write On!

The last twenty-four hours have been busy. Having finally discovered how better to format a book for publication on CreateSpace through trial and error, I became confident that I should and could revise my novel, Amber Waves, to a more professional looking product. It took days and days to get things right – the joy of editing, which, if you remember, is the really hard part. But the result is in and Amber Waves is now available in its sleeker, slimmer version. I cut out the fat without loosing a word, and the paperback price dropped $2.50 to a new list price of $14. And it looks really nice. It is now available on CreateSpace and soon will be available on Amazon and most other online book stores. And I am working on a continuation – not a sequel, exactly, but a story that includes some of the characters from AW and a new group in new adventures. I also created a paperback version of my poetry volume, Banned in Boston, which is also now available for just $5.50. I now have two poetry volumes in paperback, and plan to create paperback versions of my other three. Meanwhile, today I learned that another e-zine, Oddball Magazine, wants to publish my poetry. This adds to a wonderfully growing list of publications that find my work worthwhile – vindicating me in my long held belief that I amd first and foremost a poet, and second a storyteller. It also means that my work had just begin, a great situation to be in at 64 years of age! Write on! Now, if you are not familiar with Amber Waves, let me tease you for a moment with the following line-note description: Jason Edwards cannot die. He lives in a world where people can, and do. He hides the secret of his extraordinarily long life by constantly re-inventing himself. But now, in the tiny town of Amber Waves, Nevada, on the edge of the Great Basin, his secret and his very life are under threat. Coming together around him are an FBI Agent, a coin collector, an ancient whore still plying her trade, a very casual deputy sheriff and an old Nazi in a pickup truck. Along the pathway to the inevitable confrontations that end the book, we travel with Jase through the history of his life and meet Nefertiti, Helen of Troy, Charlemagne, Martin Luther, and more.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Self Motivation

The days slide by, filled with inactivity. And yet, several encouragements and some successes have come to us during that time. Our new grandchildren are merrily doing their job: grow. Our six year old grandson is tackling full time school in First Grade and seems to be holding his own in his expanding universe. Diane has been crocheting beautiful goods for sale and a few have already sold. With the season over, her off season hours as a baker have been cut back as expected; she is filling her time with her other talents. Inactivity is not her problem, but mine. For me have come some very very small royalties for my books on Kindle and CreateSpace, and The Fear of Monkeys is the most recent e-zine to publish one of my poems. There also has been a less intense outpouring of new poems, plus an idea which I am reluctant to address for a long project I am reluctant to begin. My reluctance is two-fold. One (and always): can I do the idea justice? And two: will it absorb me and dominate me for the next full year, or two, to the exclusion of all else? Tangentially, am I ready for that kind of commitment and do I have the energy to tackle it? So I hesitate, watching other people’s long projects on TV – The Blacklist, The Roosevelts – and reading long histories by or about Dutchmen. Holland always comes into play, even in my new idea – Gerrit van der Meer, one of the producers of The Blacklist, is Dutch-born like me; the Roosevelts were descended from Nieuw Amsterdam settlers; one book, An Embarrassment of Riches, concerns the Dutch Golden Age; the other, Year Zero, about the immediate after-effects of World War Two in 1945, is by another Dutch-born author with the not so Dutch sounding name Ian Buruma; and Hollandaise flavorings will add character to the new project when I launch it. I thus write this blog to help turn my inertia into, at least for a moment, fingers moving on the keyboard. And then there is always an underlying, convenient thought, that I ought to do some proper research for my Dutch material on location. On that, I can dream. I once read that the hardest thing for a writer to do is to actually write. More specifically, I think it is to start. We will do anything, find any excuse, to put it off. Gotta visit a friend; gotta pick the grandson up from school at 3, so better not start now; let’s go shopping; the world is too depressing for me to focus on my own stuff; oh boy, Doctor Who is on tonight! It’s not writer’s block, it’s reluctance with a heavy dosing of avoidance. So excuse me, please, the last episode of The Rooselvelts is on the DVR.

Monday, September 1, 2014

ISIS: Missing the Point

Of course, I cannot stay away from politics or the world situation. I have been listening for weeks about the weakness in the White House, about a President who is too cautious, about a new threat apparently known for over three years that calls itself ISIS, about what the United States should do to curb that threat, about the dissentions in Congress over what actions to take or not to take. It gives me a headache, listening, so I find I must throw my two cents worth of noise into the mix. ISIS is dangerous. Our pundits claim ISIS is the most dangerous thing on the planet surface at the moment. Obviously, they are brutal and cold and seem to enjoy slaughtering people, even their own. They use terror as a tactic in their war of conquest. They seem to pose a threat for terror attacks on our soil. But we miss the point. ISIS is different. It is a critical difference brought forth in the word, “conquest.” They have a plan, they have a purpose, they have a goal, and that is a separate state combining Syria and Iraq. This is not a bunch of anarchists trying to blow things up and see what happens. This is a conquering army. Point number two that we seem to be missing: there are at the moment an estimated 20,000 soldiers fighting for ISIS. 20,000? Yes, they are well armed and terrifying, and whole armies run at the sight of them rather than be captured and brutally executed. But there are millions of people opposed to ISIS just within the region. So where are they – the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the Turks, the Egyptians, and all the rest? Why does it have to be our fight? That is point number three. Even Iran could come into play here, as an ally, given the danger that ISIS presents. But we are involved – of course we are. Chuck Hagel said it best, saying that ISIS posted the biggest threat to our interests so far. He did not say to Americans or American tagets, he said our interests. That means our money, and that means our oil. But we don’t have to do this thing on our own or even with our troops, though I could see a tactical deployment of special ops snipers raising havoc among the ISIS leadership. Will ISIS win? That depends on the Iraqi and Syrian people, and the powers within the region. Will ISIS attack us on our soil? Always a possibility – but Americans must not allow misguided fear to dictate our actions, or, more specifically, our reactions. Let our President grow a set and tell us what we must do, and how; let the world isolate and if necessary eliminate this fraction of a fraction of a fraction of horribly misguided human beings among its ranks. Conquerors often take the upper hand for a while, but it never lasts, and ISIS will get that point for themselves, or be impaled on it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ketchup: the brag blog

Catching up a bit: We’ve been gone for several weeks, but we are home again and happy to be so. In that time The American Aesthetic published my poem, “The Wait,” in its summer issue. I invite you all to check it out, as well as the seven other marvelous poets represented in the issue, by visiting their webpage (key in American Aesthetic or follow this link: Once again, I am beaming with pride. I also am beaming with pride over our three beautiful grandchildren. Xander is about to start First Grade, which will be an adventure, a challenge, and ultimately a journey of many, many steps. CharleeRose is already two and a half months old and smiling, cooing, and growing. And the latest edition to the group, Chase, is a beautiful little boy sadly far away. Our time with him was short but bewitching and though I do not miss the State of California, I have many people to miss there – and many reasons to go back for occasional visits. It was so good to see all of you we did, and we are sorry to have missed the chance to see the rest of you. Please know we think of you all with great affection in our hearts. So here we sit, Diane and I, side by side, in our home by Flathead Lake, watching over everyone as best we can in our humble way.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Leaving Montana for a California Dream

It is 5:27 am in Montana. This time of year the days are getting shorter visibly if you can get up early enough to watch the sun rise. Before I finish this blog, the morning light will begin to dawn and the cool nighttime star fest will go to bed for another day. It is a marvel to watch, a constant unfolding of time as I know it. Just about 24 hours from now Di and I will be boarding our flight to California to see Baby Chase. Another marvel of the clock ticking relentlessly onward is the countdown. People who know me know how much I love counting down, but not to a finish, always to a start. Montana has been our home for over three years now, and its marvels and welcomeness have kept us more than satisfied in most respects. I have not missed most of what makes California what it is – big. Montana is big but in a natural way. California is also naturally big, but it grew monstrous in its human beehive of activity and all the sorrows that come with that frenzied, pressured pace of living. I do miss the ocean, but I have my Flathead Lake (and no sharks lurking in its waters). I miss the rugged beauty but Montana has rugged beauty in triplicate. I miss my friends – and though I have friends and family here, it will be good to venture into the Golden State in order to see a few, at least, of you. And then come home.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The News is All Good Here Today

Proud Opa: Good News and Good News To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: many of you already know some of this; some of you do not know any of this; now most of you will know all of this! And, for a wonderful change, it’s all good! Welcome into this world Master Chase Hendrix Kissell, our new grandson born Friday He arrived at 8:01 on 8-01! At birth he weighed 7 pounds, ten ounces and measures 19 ½ inches with tiny wisps of blond hair and apparently built like his daddy. Beth and baby are doing well. Diane and I will be heading for California on the 6th to see him and several of our friends whom we have not seen since we migrated to Montana. We will be gone until the 20th, so contact will be sporadic at best from now until then – but I have not forgotten any of you! So happy birthday Chase! Back into the Golden State I go! Another bit of news: my volume, Charles Sorley’s Ghost, is now also available in paperback through either CreateSpace or Amazon, or soon various other online stores, for the bargain price of just $6.95; ISBN13: 978-1500676520. It is potent stuff and perhaps the most important project I have ever undertaken. And, finally, Leaves of Ink has published a second of my poems, “Purpose,” also on Friday. Check it out at (or keyword Leaves of Ink) and support this fine place for poetry.

Monday, July 28, 2014

New Book In Print: Charles Sorley's Ghost

To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War One and the launching of the bloodiest century in human history, I have published a new volume of poems and essays, entitled Charles Sorley’s Ghost. Who was Charles Sorley, you might ask, and why is his ghost so restless? Charles Hamilton Sorley was one of those who have become known as soldier poets, a title attributed usually but not exclusively to British poets who served during World War One. Most of these poets came from upper class families are were commissioned officers. Given the structure of that war, those officers often were in front of their charging men, leading them onward. A disproportionate number lost their lives, among them Charles Sorley. Quickly disillusioned by the nature of this terrible war, Sorley the poet wrote crisp and unsentimental poems that were mature beyond his years. He died early in the war, in 1915, during the Battle of Loos, at age 20. Robert Graves described the battle in which he was killed thus: “It had been another dud show, chiefly notorious for the death of Charles Sorley . . . one of the three important poets killed in the war.” But there were more than three: I found 57 who were killed and more who served and survived. It is easy to forget the horrors of war. Most of us have not experienced them, and hopefully never will. But because we have no direct kinship with War, we tend to ignore, forget, or overlook its rumblings. 187 million human beings have been exterminated in one form or another during the Twentieth Century, and the fighting goes on deep into the 21st. Wilfred Owen said, “All the poet can do is warn. That is why True Poets must be truthful.” With that in mind, and to honor Owen, Sorley and the rest, I offer this volume. It is, I hope, enlightening and thoughtful, and I hope the essays provide information that serves as a jumping off point for each of you. Who cares about people who died so long ago? It is the nature of their deaths that calls to me, and the fact that so many railed against that nature, but surrendered to it anyway. Wilfred Owen was killed on November 4, 1918, seven days before armistice was declared. So, please support me, and pay tribute to them, by purchasing Charles Sorley’s Ghost on Kindle for just $2.99. I hope to have a paperback version available soon, and will post its arrival. This particular project is very important to me, as much for what I learned as for what I wrote, and also for what it all brought me to feel, helping me define my own sense of self on my finite journey across this planet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Balls: The Nature of War and the Struggle for Peace

This is a day of reflection for me. There are days of introspection, when my thoughts turn inward toward my own Self as a writer, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle, and a friend. There are other times, like today, when the thoughts turn outward to events in the world that deserve comment -- for whatever it is worth. Sometimes, the only worth to what I say is in the saying -- getting it out of my system so I can move on. I am among the virtually powerless in the world, and I recognize that. But, together, we have power to make a change (I still believe that) and individually, I have the power to resist. I resist evil. I do not go to battle zones and refugee camps to pass out food and water, I am not that strong. I do not stand in front of a moving tank in order to stop it, I am not that brave. I do scream in unity with those who do. The events in the Ukraine and in Israel have demoted the events in Iraq to barely a squib on the national news. The missing kidnapped girls of Nigeria have been all but forgotten. And once again people are being killed -- innocent people are being butchered -- by soldiers and so-called soldiers who play at war. It is a fact that the hundred years since the beginning or World War One (the anniversary of which, by the way, is next Monday) has been the bloodiest in human history. We are good at killing each other, and getting more efficient every day. We long ago stopped having to see our enemy to kill him, making his death more and more abstract, unreal, forgivable and forgettable. For Americans, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were remote to the Nth degree, with barely one percent of the populace actively engaged in military activities, and they all volunteers. It is also a fact that fighting goes on somewhere in the world every day, like man-made forest fires threatening to burn down a handful of buildings but no major towns. Who cares? Who really cares? The consequence of war is loss, at least for its victims. Yet someone profits from it, uses it as a tool for gain: usually, power, be it political or economic. The axiom, "follow the money," almost always applies. For us, where there is oil, there are we. Where there is none, there are our diplomats. Yet was is illegal. It was so declared in 1928 by the League of Nations, after the French and Americans put together the Kellogg-Briand Pact. But the League had no teeth: one of the two major craftsmen of the Pact was not even a member. And, besides, how do you enforce such a law? It is easier to accept war as a part of human nature, sort of a rutting ritual for our young men, than as something evil to be overcome. I have watched the world for most of my 64 years with keen interest, and studied human history with a particular eye toward the wars that seem to dominate that story. And I want to believe that we can evolve. I know that we should. But what will it take? There is no easy or practical solution, the issue is more complicated and widespread than gun control in the United States. And the United Nations, successor to the League, itself has no balls, even with the United States as a major member. So I propose the UN grow a set and act in an impractical way: declare universal disarmament. Take away the weapons of war, and there is a good chance you take away war. But, of course, sitting up here in my home near Flathead Lake, tranquil, warm, and well fed, it's easy for me to say. And, being an American I realize that disarmament begins at home.