Thursday, January 12, 2017

Forty Years Later: U.S. Armored Brigade from Fort Carson Reinforces Europe

Today an Armored Brigade from Fort Carson, Colorado, arrived in Poland as a show of force to Russia.  More than three thousand mechanized soldiers will spread across Poland and the Baltic States as well as Romania, Moldova and Hungary to the south.

The unit deployed is the 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, including 1st Battalion, 68th Armor.  

Forty years ago, in October 1976, the 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), including 1st Battalion, 70th Armor was sent to Wiesbaden, West Germany, as a show of force against the Soviet Union.  I was a tank commander in Bravo Company of the 1-70th Armor.  

Today's news was certainly deja vu for me. Forty years ago and today, troops from Fort Carson waving a finger in the face of the Russian/Soviet leader.  One big difference is that all the countries where the 3rd ACT, 4th ID will be training are places that were under Soviet control 40 years ago.  

In a further coincidence, after I left active duty, I joined an Army Reserve Armor unit: Company A, 6th Battalion, 68th Armor.  All of my service in armor was in these two units.  Now they are together in former Soviet states, resisting Russia.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Obama's Gonna Take Our Guns

With just nine days left till the inauguration of Donald Trump as President, the current President has less than nine days to take away our guns!  He needs to get those black helicopters revved up really soon if he is going to complete the campaign promise that he never said, but "everyone" knows. By everyone, I of course mean the listeners of Alex Jones and Breitbart News. Also Glenn Beck in 2009 and the always reliable rumor monger and current lover of Russia Sean Hannity.  Fox News did not come out and say it, but......

Eight years ago, I was getting ready to go to Iraq.  The inauguration of Barack Obama was just days away and many of the soldiers I would deploy to Iraq with at the end of January 2009 were quite sure "Obama's gonna take away our guns while we are in Iraq."

Those soldiers still have their guns, but they did not leave their conspiracy theories behind when they returned to America. Every few months on training weekend or during annual training in the summer, I would hear an intense conversation about how the confiscation would actually happen.  Sadly, one occasion was the days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Another was the re-election of the President in 2012.

Part of my military experience from January 1972 to May 2013 has been rumors and conspiracy theories.  I was in the Air Force testing missiles, including the Minuteman missile, during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War when there were rumors that the war would go nuclear while the Israelis were losing. I was in the military when President Nixon stepped down and when Saigon fell. I had just left the military when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan which was supposed to be cover for a Soviet invasion of Europe.

Crazy rumors are just part of the atmosphere of the military. But the "Obama taking our guns" rumor has hung stuck like a barnacle on a battleship. Part of the persistence was the Birther lie pushed by the TEA Party and then by the President Elect.  Alex Jones could already be telling his gullible minions that President Obama will still carry out the confiscation somehow even after leaving office.  Maybe a cabal of Kenyan socialists is waiting and ready in black helicopters......

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Report: The Complete List

It's taking so long to write about my books in 2016, I thought I would pass along the complete list by category.


A Canticle for Leibowitz Miller, Arthur M. Jr.
A Pale View of Hills Ishiguro, Kazuo
An Artist of the Floating World Ishiguro, Kazuo
From the Front Line Grossman, Vassily
Grunt Roach, Mary
Hero of Our Time Lermontov, Mihail
Iliad Homer
Life and Fate Grossman, Vassily
Odyssey Homer
Periodic Table, The Primo, Levi
Sin Prilepin, Zakhar
The Lover Yehoshua, A.B.
The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard's Story Dovlatov, Sergei
When We Were Orphans Ishiguro, Kazuo
Zinky Boys Alexievich, Svetlana

Elements of Style

Strunk and White
Mastermind:  How to think like Sherlock Holmes Konnikova, Maria
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength Baumeister, Roy F.

Does Altruism Exist?
Wilson, David Sloan

New Czar: Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin

Myers, Steven Lee
Prince, The Machiavelli, Niccolo
Why I Write
Orwell, George
World Split Apart, A

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander

Brodsky, Joseph

English Grammar for Students of Russian

Cruise, Edwina
Russian Verbs of Motion for Intermediate Students Mahota, William
Schuam's Russian Grammar
Levine, James S.
Student Activities Manual for Golosa, Book Two Robin, Richard
Голоса: A Basic Course in Russian, Book Two Robin, Richard

A Foreign Woman

Dovlatov, Sergei
Dead Souls Gogol, Nikolai
Eugene Onegin
Pushkin, Alexander
Fathers and Sons Turgenev, Ivan
Hamlet  Shakespeare, William
Il Etait Une Fois 
Savigny, Francois
Nabokov, Vladimir
Nocturnes Ishiguro, Kazuo
Notes from Underground Dostoevsky, Fyodor
Oil and Water Lazos, PJ
Russian Short Stories Various
Selected Poems Brodsky, Joseph
Siddhartha Hesse, Hermann
The Death of Ivan Ilych Tolstoy, Leo
День без впанья, A Day Without Lying  Токарева, Виктория

Gospel According to Mark, The

Focant, Camille
Laurus Vodolazkin, Eugene
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer Lewis, C.S.
Mark Beavis, Mary Ann
Narcissus and Goldmund
Hesse, Hermann
New Testament Mark
The Greek New Testament Mark

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Book Report Part 4: Trump and Obama and Machiavelli

On November 8, starting at about 7 p.m., almost 63 million Americans were showing signs of depression and disbelief.  Me included.  As the night went on it became clear that a reality TV star, the most famous avowed racist[1] candidate since George Wallace of Alabama, was going to become the 45th President of the United States.


Almost no one predicted it, even among the 60 million voters who decided “grabbing them by the pussy” was just something a 59-year-old man would say while wearing a microphone.  But Niccolo Machiavelli saw clearly how that Tangerine Tornado would sweep away all opposition and take the most powerful job in the world.

In his most famous book, The Prince, Machiavelli describes what works in politics, not how the world “should be.”  Machiavelli says the Prince (Leader) must “take power and keep power, for without power he can do nothing.”  While the world wondered what Trump really wanted, he kept charging forward and won.  And now he has the power. 

Trump beat 16 Republican opponents in the primaries before beating Hillary Clinton. How did he beat all of them?  Machiavelli says, “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” Trump lashed out at his opponents and kept at them until they gave up. Since he could not crush his toughest opponents all at once, he attacked them separately. He made temporary alliances with some, and then crushed them later. 

Ted Cruz fell for this like a bass snapping at bait.  Machiavelli says, “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Trump kept Cruz close with flattery, then crushed.

Trump’s method points to the way he is likely to govern. When Cruz and others on his own side get out of line, he will attack them mercilessly, either by himself, or with his attack dogs at Breitbart, supplied by Steve Bannon.  As President Barack Obama leaves office, it is clear that one of his great failures was trying for years to get the Republicans to work with him.  Obama made deals, then the Republicans would back out or defy him.  Trump will not present his back to be stabbed as Obama did.  Trump may end democracy, but Congress will lose when they challenge him.

Trump told so many outright lies at his campaign rallies that even his most strident critics had trouble keeping track of the outrageous things he said. Yet Trump continued to flourish.  Why?  Men are so simple and yield so readily to the desires of the moment that he who deceives will always find those willing to be deceived,” says the writer of The Prince.

Trump followed exactly one of the warnings from Machiavelli that President Obama flouted.  Machiavelli says that the people’s money should be spent in small amounts with great fanfare. President Obama gave away hundreds of billions of dollars to save the economy from depression in 2009. He took no credit.  Many people who owe their jobs to that bailout have no idea they were part of a government rescue program.  Obama’s people said, “We don’t spike the ball.” Sounds admirable, but the loss of the House, the Senate and many state governorships could have been slowed or avoided by taking credit for the way that money was spent.

When Trump saved several hundred jobs Carrier Corporation was sending to Mexico, he took full credit.  In addition, Trump used money from Indiana taxpayers for part of the package.  Machiavelli said the Prince can and should be generous with other people’s money.

For me, re-reading The Prince every four years allows me to keep score on politicians at every level.  With few exceptions, those that defy the advice of Machiavelli bring themselves down.  Machiavelli says that the Prince who touches the women of his subjects will be despised.  I could see this in the reaction to Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” comment.  At the time Trump said it, he was not in a political office.  Trump’s response was to attack Bill Clinton for women he slept with while in office, whether in the White House or the State House in Arkansas. Trump could effectively make the case that he was a private citizen and not subject to the same rules.  And 60 million voters clearly accepted that premise.

At just 68 pages of text, The Prince can read in a few hours and provide fun for a lifetime. 

Next post I will discuss the other political books I read in 2016.

[1] Beginning in 2011, Donald Trump rode the Birther lie to political prominence.  There is no reason to be a Birther except to discredit the President on racial and religious grounds. Every Birther is a racist.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book Report, Part 3: Books on Faith

The last post was about a book that combined worldwide nuclear war with faith among the few survivors.  It was a bridge of sorts between the 15 books I read about war and the books I read about faith. In this essay, I will discuss seven the books I read in 2016 about faith and religion. 

The first book on faith I read this year was the novel Laurus about a Russian healer and mystic. We follow Laurus from his apprenticeship to a healer near the end of his life, through love and loss, to Laurus finding that he is now a healer himself, a greater healer than his mentor. Then the story takes a long and funny detour. Two thousand miles away, the son of an Italian merchant comes to believe he must travel to rural Russia and find this Laurus in order to know when the end of the world will be.  The Italian goes to Russia, takes Laurus on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the tale takes even stranger twists from there. Laurus is a great story, and a picture of the harrowing reality of a truly spiritual life. 

Which led me to re-read Letters toMalcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis.  Since I first read Mere Christianity in 1977 in Germany, I have read or re-read at least one of Lewis’ 40 books every year. Reading Laurus made me feel shallower than a pie plate spiritually and Malcolm pointed right at one of my weaknesses. 

In the fall I read four books for an ancient Greek language class. They were (1) The Gospel of Mark in Greek in a recent edition, The Gospel of Mark in English in Richmond Lattimore’s translation, and two commentaries by Michel Focant and Mary Ann Beavis. In Greek, the words of Jesus are at once more harsh and more clear than any English translation could convey.  Jesus turned down every form of power and riches offered Him. He healed and fed the poor. He publically condemned to rich and powerful.

While I read these unambiguous words, millionaire TV preachers notably James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, Jr. endorsed a candidate who brags of sexual conquest, of having riches, power, and fame, and of having no need of forgiveness—the center of the Christian message.  The health and wealth heresy is now mainstream, the public religion of America.  But you can’t find a word of that in Gospels. 

On Wednesday night, I help out with an English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry at my Church.  In one class I asked the students about studying their Holy Books.  One of the students was from India, one from Ethiopia, one from Afghanistan.  They each said it was strange that in America you could “study” the Bible in translation.  In no other religion could someone be considered as studying a Holy Book if they did not know the language of the Book.

I could tell the students the only writer of the New Testament who was a native speaker of Greek was Luke. The other half dozen were GSL (Greek as a Second Language) writers.  And all of the words of Jesus were spoken in Aramaic or Hebrew, so even the Greek New Testament is a translation of the His words.  By the time you read the words of Jesus in English it has been translated twice: once by the Apostle who heard Jesus speak and translated His words to Greek, then a second time when the Greek was translated to English.  I had a co-worker who learned Aramaic before he learned Greek because he wanted to be able to get a sense of what Jesus said in His language.

The last book in the faith group is Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse.  This lovely book follows the life of two young men who are novices in a monastery at the beginning of the story.  One leaves, one stays but their lives remain intertwined until the prodigal comes home and dies in the arms of his life-long friend.  The book really captures the devotion and drive that leads to a life of faith and how that devotion and drive can be turned to art.  This book is in many ways unlike Laurus, but alike in the intense, lifelong and sometimes funny spiritual journey of the main character(s).

The next post will be books on politics.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Book Report, Part 2, Nuclear War and a Monastery

Before I turn from war to peace, I will add one more book to the war list in which the war is seen only in its effects. That book is A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I re-read for the fourth time this year.  The book is set in the Utah desert in an Abbey hundreds of years after “The Flame Deluge” of the 1960s, a nuclear war. Most of the world was killed. Those that survived had mutant children, the misborn. 

Shortly after the nuclear holocaust, the world turned on the scientists and intellectuals who the survivors believed caused the war.  One of the scientists, before being killed, called the mob “Simpletons.” They took the name as a badge of honor, like the Breitbart followers who embraced being “Deplorables.”  They called themselves “Simpletons from Simpletown.” They burned books as well as killing the learned. They ushered in the “Age of Simplification.”

Some of the survivors started hiding books. The Church hid books in monasteries in the desert.  One of the people who hid books was a nuclear scientist named Isaac Edward Leibowitz.  He was eventually caught and martyred—hung over a burning pile of books.  The Abbey was named for Leibowitz who has been nominated for sainthood when the book opens. 

The book follows life in the Abbey from that time until civilization is reborn. This darkly ironic book is one of my favorites.  With nuclear threats in the air, mistrust of intellectuals common and Deplorables now a moniker for millions, this 1950s book seems sadly contemporary. 

Curl up and wait for the mushroom cloud.  You won’t be disappointed! The New Yorker published a long and thorough review of the book and how it came to be written.