Sunday, July 13, 2014

Maggie and Kim: dear leaders?

Last night we watched The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep as the aging Margaret Thatcher. Say what you will about Maggie's politics, she was one tough woman. Streep portrays her brilliantly as a widow who hallucinates that her husband is still alive and who has moments when she flashes back to her glory days in Parliament. No one, but no one, ever pushed her around. When she was Prime Minister, she declared she had no interest in managing Britain's decline; her goal was to put the "Great" back in Great Britain.

The movie is a stark contrast to the memoir I just finished reading, Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea by Jan Jing-sun. The author had been poet laureate for Kim Jong-il, which gave him the status of "Admitted," one of the very few people with the despot's blessing. In North Korea, no one is allowed to write anything, including poetry, unless officially directed to do so, and the only permissible poetry is praise of the Dear Leader. Jang was assigned to write an epic poem about Kim's glory, and at some point he and a friend had enough of the lies. They attempted a dangerous escape into China.

Thatcher was eventually challenged for leadership of her party, and she stepped down. Kim held absolute power until his death, as likely will his son Kim Jong-un.

I'm planning to write a review of Dear Leader for the Internet Review of Books. Meanwhile, the book and the Thatcher movie are well worth your time.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A murder and its consequences

Gavrilo Princip, assassin
of Archduke Ferdinand
This week, we've been reminded, is the 100th anniversary of the assassination by Gavrilo Princip of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, considered to be the trigger that ignited World War I. Princip had thrown a bomb at the couple's carriage, but it bounced off the top and failed to hurt them. Only when they kept going and their carriage driver took a wrong turn did Princip, by pure chance, meet them again and succeed in killing them.

But what if that assassination had failed? Maybe the Great War would have started anyway with some other spark. But let's assume not. What might today's world look like if the War to End All Wars had never taken place?

Let's see. The Russian Revolution was a direct outcome of the Tsar's disastrous participation in the war. World War II flowed from the reparations and resentment from the first. Where would Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin have been without all that misery and destruction? Perhaps they would have been no more than long-forgotten thugs. Mao Tse-Tung learned his ideology from the Soviet Union, so China may not have had Mao and his Great Leap Forward. The United States would not have sent troops to Europe, thus ending our isolationist outlook forever. Historical artifacts such as the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires would have lingered, if not lasted. European powers would not have redrawn the Middle East into countries with artificial boundaries, as with Iraq and Syria.

And what about the Cold War? No communist Eastern Europe, no American troops in Europe, no Holocaust, no Israel (maybe), no nukes, no space race, no satellites, no Internet or GPS, no Korean or Vietnam Wars, no European Union. No President Truman, a World War I hero who integrated the military, helping to advance the cause of civil rights. We might not have had an interstate highway system, at least in part because war hero Dwight Eisenhower would not likely have become president. Of course some of our technological advances might have happened eventually, perhaps generations later, spurred on by other wars.

Of course, other disasters might have--surely would have--happened instead. How today's world would have looked without the Archduke's murder is impossible to know, as unpredictable events cause unpredictable chains of consequences. That war was utterly wrong and pointless, yet its destructive energy yielded, for both better and worse, the society we live in now.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Dream Endorsement for When Pigs Fly

President Clinton talking about When Pigs Fly
I won't lie. After a phenomenal 2012, my ebook sales hit the skids and haven't recovered--yet. The
successful tactics of '12 faltered in '13, and truth be told, I've been too busy in '14 to even try much marketing when results are so paltry.

So it's with pleasure I share with you my dream endorsement. No, really. It was a dream I had this morning just before my wife told me I was sleeping too late. In an unspecified city I am walking on the sidewalk, and President Bill Clinton sees me and beams with delight. "Hey Bob!" he says, hardly able to contain himself.

Then he shakes my hand with a strong grip. "I loved your book, man."

Next he's giving me a bear hug as I ask him, "You mean When Pigs Fly?"

"Oh yeah, man. That was great."

So there you have it: a presidential seal of approval for my work.

In my dreams.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Nightly entertainment

Walter White,
maker of meth and mayhem
In the evening, after emails are read, dinner done and dishes washed, we spend a couple of hours watching TV shows on Netflix. The run-of-the-mill fare doesn't interest us, and comedies with laugh tracks are a bore. In fact, most comedies are a bore--this from someone who loves to laugh. Our tastes run to dramatic crime shows and smart drama, and if a little humor is occasionally woven in, that's a bonus. Some of the series we have truly enjoyed in the last couple of years include Boston Legal, Grey's Anatomy, Friday Night Lights, Damages, Dexter, and Breaking Bad. My wife is not a sports fan, so for a series about a high school football coach to capture her rapt attention is quite an accomplishment, which is what Friday Night Lights did for both of us. But the most fascinating series are those with deeply flawed characters--a vile, cutthroat lawyer, a serial killer who targets other murderers, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth maker. Now we're watching Walter White, who has lung cancer and has turned to making meth to support his family when he's gone. He sets off a chain of disasters that might make you think the world would have been better off if he'd been strangled in his crib. But he sure is fascinating.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zilker Gardens in Austin, Texas

A gate at the beautiful Zilker Gardens in Austin, Texas. If you are ever in Texas's capital city, be sure to visit there. 

I'm so glad you stopped by to visit my blog during the A to Z Challenge. It's been fun sharing some of the places my wife and I have visited.

A gate at Zilker Gardens
Park bench, Zilker Gardens

Water lily

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park, I am told, is one big volcano waiting to erupt either today or a thousand years from today. And when it does, one is probably better off somewhere on the other side of the world.

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for Texas

"All my exes live in Texas. That's why I'm in Tennessee." 

--Sanger and Linda Shafer

Dang, iddn't that cute? My mom and my three older brothers were born in Texas. Mom came from the tiny central Texas town of Paige, population Not Much. All of us spent most of our lives in Massachusetts, but Mom clearly missed her childhood home and the fields of springtime bluebonnets. Now that my wife and I are retired, we live only a short drive from the Texas border and the city of El Paso, where I go once a month for my writers' group meetings.

Rio Grande in the Big Bend area. Mexico is on the left bank.

Cholla cactus and bird's nest, Big Bend area.