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The Myth of the Missing Welcome

The Napa Valley Register reported a June 28, 2016, program to honor Viet Nam veterans at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, an event sponsored by the Veterans Home of California. I am always glad to see veterans of different generations and their families get together. But the article title suggests that the event perpetuated a myth: “Vietnam Veterans welcomed home after 50 years.” The truth is that we Viet Nam veterans have been thanked, respected, praised, saluted, and honored for decades. Not just by veterans’ organizations, but by every community in America. I was disappointed

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Geoffrey Hill has died, and we inherit his poetry

The truly great poet Geoffrey Hill has died. Death, there is thy sting. Unlike nearly every other poet of every era, Geoffrey Hill precedes his poems in death. I performed a memorial reading of some of Geoffrey Hill’s poems today in the Dialog coffee house in W. Hollywood, California. I was the only one there aware of this ceremony, of course, because I read silently, while having lunch. At the table next to me, five young women were being lavishly and theatrically chatted up by a waiter old enough to seem harmless but not old

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Why the American jury system is endangered

As the United States Balkanizes into hostile political and racial demographics, one obvious victim ahead is our jury system. I have no clue as to how the jury system will be modified, but I do not see how it can possibly survive in its current, flawed form, however important it is to democracy. Our jury system will likely collapse once Americans believe that we cannot rely on jurors to render fair judgments based exclusively on trial evidence and bench instructions — both carefully restricted — rather than on political ideology, race, or other pre-existing allegiances.

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Review: Eye in the Sky

Gavin Hood’s 2015 film Eye in the Sky is a very well constructed thriller, crispy written and mostly well acted. And it is a film with an important central issue. The ethical dimension The central subject of Eye in the Sky is not drone warfare per se, no matter what some reviewers say, it is the calculus of military operations in the presence of civilians. Military operations are intensely complicated by the presence of civilians, even for a realpolitik pragmatist who ignores the ethical and legal dimensions. Senior American military figures with experience in Iraq

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Who Made Donald Trump a popular candidate?

One of the many amusements of the 2016 presidential primaries is watching establishment Republicans panic as Donald Trump elbows his way to the nomination and endangers down-ballot races. That establishment should find Trump’s appeal easy to understand, since they prepared his way: the Southern strategy’s appeal to less-educated working class white men, their relentless and paternalistic efforts to legislate against women’s interests, their near-hysterical Chicken Little claims that the American economy is a disaster, and their blustery insistence on American exceptionalism. But the GOP will never acknowledge, and probably cannot really comprehend, their own culpability

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Review: Welcome to FOB Haiku

In Welcome to FOB Haiku (Middle West Press, 2015), Randy Brown has written some of the best poetry that I know of to come out of our war in Afghanistan. Most poets surely hope that their books of poetry will last, but most books of poetry end up as ephemera headed for the cultural landfill. Their styles and language become dated, and their perceptions seem more commonplace as the years go by. This is especially true of poems that are not rooted in some historical circumstance. A mediocre 1932 poem about the Dust Bowl will

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Film Review: 45 Years

45 Years is a very fine and wise film, modest enough in scale to feel like a stage play, with a play’s emphasis on dialog. A comfortably retired couple is a few days away from hosting a big party with their many friends to celebrate 45 years of marriage. What could possibly go wrong? What’s it all about 45 Years shows the fragility of close relationships, and their vulnerability to what used to be called problems in communicating: withheld experiences, inattention to what the other person is saying and implying, insensitivity to emotional pain other

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Review: Hail, Caesar

Hail Caesar is far more than a parody of or homage to Hollywood, more than a period piece (1951), more than a vehicle for cameo appearances by various stars, and less a series of set pieces than the trailer implies. Forget the tepid New York Times review — this is a good film. There are pleasures here well beyond recognizing scenes and lines from classic films, and beyond the clever, subtle sexual innuendo in dialog and dance. One viewing is never enough with a good film, either to understand it or to get all of

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Sarah Palin and PTSD

Track Palin was charged in January 2016 with “fourth-degree assault, interfering with the report of a domestic violence crime and possession of a firearm while intoxicated.” Sarah Palin blamed President Obama, even though she has tried to deny it since. On Feb. 1, Donald Trump supported her, and also blamed Obama. Only a fool could think that a president’s attitudes (whether real or invented by his enemies) determines whether an American veteran is troubled by PTSD. Only a knave would argue that in a campaign, knowing it to be absurd. Palin’s campaign remark is itself

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Review: Brooklyn

Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley, is an engaging film, well written and nicely acted, set in the 1950s not as those years were but as we might want them to have been. It is a feel-good confection. While Brooklyn is said to be about the quintessential immigration experience, it seems to be more about the quintessential romance novel experience: a winsome heroine, Eilis, torn between two admirers, one relatively affluent and one working class. In this quiet variant of the romance formula, neither man acts caddishly and each is too vapid to harbor dark secrets.

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The myth of the missing welcome