Category Archives: Afghanistan

Afghanistan Plus A Year

[NOTE: The term “moral injury” is used in this article, and may be unfamiliar to many readers. There is explanation about it at the end of the essay.]

AFGHANISTAN — A Terrible Year

It’s been one year since the fall of Afghanistan. Our Afghan allies—the ones lucky enough to be alive—are still suffering.


Will Selber, Lt. Colonel, USAF.

Last June, I flew home from Afghanistan. The dread of Afghanistan’s fate haunted my journey home. I worried that our Afghan allies would struggle without American support. I prayed they would last through the fighting season, giving them time to rearm, refit, and reorganize a long-term defense.

When I landed, I told myself it was time to focus on the next chapter of my life.

Like many military families, my wife and I had spent years apart. We met back in 2016, during my time at Fort Leavenworth. I proposed during my two-year unaccompanied tour to Korea. After our wedding, we spent a year apart while I trained for my year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Midway through my deployment, our daughter was born. I was lucky to be able to come home for her birth before returning to the ’Stan. After four years apart, we were finally going to be a family.

There were more reasons to savor the future. Last July, I assumed command of a 240-man squadron. Nothing truly prepares you for the burden of command. It is a crucible that determines the rest of your career. Flourish, and many doors open. Struggle, and the road narrows.

I savored the rewarding challenges that were in my future. Moving my family across the country for my new gig. Living with my wife for the first time. Commanding 240 Airmen. Figuring out fatherhood.

This year was supposed to be different.

Then the Taliban’s blitzkrieg happened and the fall of Kabul pulled me back into a war I thought was finally finished with me. Continue reading Afghanistan Plus A Year

Update: Quotes of the Weekend: Two Glimpses of Afghanistan, A Year after Withdrawal

[NOTE: Gwynne Dyer has been reporting on and analyzing wars for decades; he has a doctorate in military history & strategy. Adela Raz was the last Afghan ambassador to the U. S.  Their perspectives  a year later are distinct, succinct, valuable and illuminating.]

Afghanistan: down the memory hole
Gwynne Dyer Aug 10, 2022

It’s only one year since the fall of Kabul last August 15, 2021, and everybody in the countries that sent troops to Afghanistan has already forgotten about it (apart from journalists in need of a topic in a slow news month). This was predictable, but it is also unfortunate.

The 20-year Afghan war was never more than discordant noises off-stage for most people in the rich Western countries that sent troops there, so you can’t expect them to remember the “lessons” of that war. The Afghans never had any real choices in the matter, so they have no lessons to remember. But Western military and political elites should do better.

The first lesson is: if you must invade somebody, do try to pick the right country. Americans definitely wanted to invade somewhere and punish it after the terrorist outrage of the 9/11 attacks, but it’s unlikely that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers were aware of Osama bin Laden’s plans. The “need-to-know” principle suggests that they were not.

The second lesson is: whatever the provocation, never invade Afghanistan. It’s very easy to conquer it, but almost impossible for foreigners to sustain a long-term military occupation. Puppet governments don’t survive either. Afghans have expelled the British empire at its height, the Soviet Union at its most powerful, and the United States.

Terrorism is a technique, not an ideology or a country. Sinn Fein in early 20th-century Ireland had the same goal as Kenya’s Mau Mau rebels of the 1960s—to expel the British empire—whereas the Western “anarchists” of the early 1900s had no territorial base and (deeply unrealistic) global ambitions. So do the Islamists of Al Qaeda today.

There are as many different flavours of terrorism as there are varieties of French cheese, and each has to be addressed by strategies that match its specific style and goals. Moreover, the armies of the great powers must always remember the paramount principle that nationalism (also known as “tribalism”) is the greatest force-multiplier.

Western armies got chased out of Afghanistan a year ago because they forgot all the lessons they had learned from a dozen lost counter-insurgency wars in former colonies between 1954 and 1975: France in Algeria and Indochina, Britain in Kenya, Cyprus and Aden, Portugal in Angola and Mozambique, and the United States in Vietnam.

The driving force in all those late-imperial wars was nationalism, and Western armies really did learn the lesson of their defeats. By the 1970s, Western military staff colleges were teaching their future commanders that Western armies always lose guerilla wars in the “Third World” (as it was still known at the time).

The Western armies lose no matter how big and well-equipped they are because the insurgents are fighting on home ground. They can’t quit and go home because they already are home. Your side can always quit and go home, and sooner or later your own public will demand that they do. So you are bound to lose eventually, even if you win all the battles.

But losing doesn’t really matter, because the insurgents are always, first and foremost, nationalists. They may have picked up bits of some grand ideology that let them feel that “history” is on their side—Marxism or Islamism or whatever—but all they really want is for you to go home so they can run their own show. So, go. They won’t actually follow you home.

This is not just a lesson on how to exit futile post-colonial wars; it is a formula for avoiding unwinnable and, therefore, pointless wars in the “Third World”. If you have a terrorist problem, find some other way of dealing with it. Don’t invade. Even the Russians learned that lesson after their defeat in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

But military generations are short: a typical military career is only 25 years, so by 2001 few people in the Western military remembered the lesson. Their successors had to start learning it again the hard way in Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe by now they have, but they’ll be gone, too, before long.

This cycle of learning and forgetting again doesn’t only apply to pseudo-imperial wars in the post-colonial parts of the world. The wars between the great powers themselves were having such frightful consequences by the time of the First and Second World Wars that similar disasters have been deterred for more than 75 years, but that time may be ending. Continue reading Update: Quotes of the Weekend: Two Glimpses of Afghanistan, A Year after Withdrawal

Banning & Suppressing Books: Part of Our (Not Very) Brave New World

New York Times: There’s More Than One Way To Ban a Book

[COMMENT:  I read Lolita some years ago. Creepy. Unsettling. Perverse, but hardly prurient. Not for kids; but ban it? Nope.

I never read Darwin, but if anyone still doubts the nub of his argument, then don’t worry about the latest COVID variants; God created each of them specially for YOU. Banning Darwin’s book, stupid; ignoring it, stupider.

I also read Maya Angelou’s Gather Together in My Name; powerful. I can see why some don’t like it: earthy, unvarnished, but for me, a fine tale of survival.

I expect to skip Mike Pence’s tome; though you never know. . . .]

July 24, 2022

PAUL: In the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” was banned in France, Britain and Argentina, but not in the United States, where its publisher, Walter Minton, released the book after multiple American publishing houses rejected it.

Minton is part of a noble tradition. Over the years, American publishers have fought back against efforts to repress a wide range of works — from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Just last year, Simon & Schuster defended its book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence, despite a petition signed by more than 200 Simon & Schuster employees and other book professionals demanding that the publishing house cancel the deal. The publisher, Dana Canedy, and chief executive, Jonathan Karp, held firm.

I might read Pence’s book, if it comes clean about this Bernie meme.

The American publishing industry has long prided itself on publishing ideas and narratives that are worthy of our engagement, even if some people might consider them unsavory or dangerous, and for standing its ground on freedom of expression.

But that ground is getting shaky. Though the publishing industry would never condone book banning, a subtler form of repression is taking place in the literary world, restricting intellectual and artistic expression from behind closed doors, and often defending these restrictions with thoughtful-sounding rationales. As many top editors and publishing executives admit off the record, a real strain of self-censorship has emerged that many otherwise liberal-minded editors, agents and authors feel compelled to take part in.

Ukraine, War Notes: The End of Euphoria, A Shift in The Odds

Washington Post: Ukraine is running out of ammunition as prospects dim on the battlefield

Hopes that Ukraine will be able to reverse Russian gains are fading in the face of superior firepower

By Siobhán O’Grady, Liz Sly and Ievgeniia Sivorka

June 10, 2022 – ET
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — The euphoria that accompanied Ukraine’s unforeseen early victories against bumbling Russian troops is fading as Moscow adapts its tactics, recovers its stride and asserts its overwhelming firepower against heavily outgunned Ukrainian forces.

Newly promised Western weapons systems are arriving, but too slowly and in insufficient quantities to prevent incremental but inexorable Russian gains in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, which is now the focus of the fight.

The Ukrainians are still fighting back, but they are running out of ammunition and suffering casualties at a far higher rate than in the initial stages of the war. Around 200 Ukrainian soldiers are now being killed every day, up from 100 late last month, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC on Friday — meaning that as many as 1,000 Ukrainians are being taken out of the fight every day, including those who are injured.

The Russians are still making mistakes and are also losing men and equipment, albeit at a lesser rate than in the first months of the conflict. In one sign that they are suffering equipment shortages, they have been seen on videos posted on social media hauling hundreds of mothballed, Soviet-era T-62 tanks out of storage to be sent to Ukraine.

But the overall trajectory of the war has unmistakably shifted away from one of unexpectedly dismal Russian failures and tilted in favor of Russia as the demonstrably stronger force.

Ukrainian and U.S. hopes that the new supplies of Western weaponry would enable Ukraine to regain the initiative and eventually retake the estimated 20 percent of Ukrainian territory captured by Russia since its Feb. 24 invasion are starting to look premature, said Oleksandr V. Danylyuk, an adviser to the Ukrainian government on defense and intelligence issues. Continue reading Ukraine, War Notes: The End of Euphoria, A Shift in The Odds

Quotes from the (American) Era & A Vanishing Kingdom


From “America’s Vanishing Kingdom,”
By Thuy Linh Tu
Ms. Tu, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, moved from South Vietnam to Connecticut as a child, not long after the fall of Saigon.

My dad’s American dream was made of aluminum. Not that he would have put it that way. He did not talk much, and never about his dreams, but most days for nearly 25 years he headed off to a factory and turned aluminum and other metals into parts and a paycheck. He started at the Torrington Company, once one of the largest producers of metal bearings in North America and the biggest employer in Torrington, Conn., where we somehow found ourselves in 1980. Half a decade had passed since the fall of Saigon. My dad had been in and out of a re-education camp; we had been in and out of refugee camps. After we did stints in Thailand and Hong Kong, someone, somewhere sent us to Torrington. My father died there three decades later, having spent the rest of his life making industrial and military supplies in America’s gun belt.

Aluminum is a “magic metal.” It’s so light and strong that without it, “no fighting is possible, and no war can be carried to a successful conclusion,” proclaimed a 1951 pamphlet. . . . During the First and Second World Wars, about 90 percent of U.S. aluminum production went into military uses.

My father spent years working this famously malleable metal. He knew it well — its remarkable versatility, its shine, its feel. I wonder if he also knew that it was a main ingredient in “daisy cutter” bombs — once described as the world’s largest non-nuclear weapon — which were dropped near my mother’s home in central Vietnam to clear out the trees surrounding her commune. . . .

America spent the second half of the 20th century more or less continuously ramping up its production of war technologies, expanding its military-industrial ecosystem. The Korean War was a major leap forward, bringing along with it advances in nuclear weapons, but it was the Vietnam War that changed everything.

As the economic historian Adam Tooze tells it, we inherited from that conflict not just new weapons, but also more sophisticated doctrines of warfare, and better coordination of air and land forces. We also got a professionalized army and an abiding faith in the necessity of military spending. Since the defeat in Vietnam and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it has become nearly impossible to reduce military budgets without stoking outrage over factory closures and international threats.

The United States’ recent withdrawal from Afghanistan has prompted many to ask about our responsibilities to Afghans now that fighting has ceased. Before we’ve even had a chance to answer, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions more. As yet another war-induced refugee crisis mounts, military spending continues to grow. . . .

Inside factories across the United States, war never really ends. Will the newly dislocated also be invited in — to build more weapons, abet more wars? To accept this work as an opportunity, even a kind of refuge? To continue the cycle of destroy and rebuild?

. . . An industrial town, Torrington prides itself on being a place that made stuff: bikes, guitars, needles, bearings. Despite its reputation as the home of sleepy suburbs and commuter towns, Connecticut makes lots of stuff, including guns. . . .

It’s hard to imagine the Stepford Wives state as a ground zero of military-industrial capitalism. But for decades Connecticut has received billions of dollars in Department of Defense contracts annually. . . . These companies made the parts, in other words, that turned men and machines into fighters. Or as an advertisement from Torrington’s manufacturers during World War II put it: “We are ‘Behind the Men Behind the Guns.’”

My father became one of those men. Not that he would have put it that way. Connecticut’s industries gave my dad a rare opportunity for steady, unionized work, open to him thanks to decades of organizing by activists to integrate factories . . . .

As I watched the coverage of the withdrawal from Afghanistan on the news, I couldn’t help thinking of my father. Some scenes would have struck him as very familiar: There is the helicopter, here is the rescue, those are the ones left behind. Many have said that Kabul is a replay of Saigon. For years, while Vietnam was under a U.S. embargo, people hungered in the way that many Afghans now hunger. Left with a decimated landscape and devastated economy, families like mine set off on a raft of hope, following our own arrow forward. I imagine some in Afghanistan are contemplating the same.

But Kabul is not really a replay of Saigon — it’s a continuation. And now the United States has become a shrinking kingdom, with far less generous immigration policies, fewer opportunities and little sense of responsibility for the damage it has caused. Freedom, for the more recently displaced, is all that much farther ahead.

Shortly after retiring, my father died of leukemia, a condition affecting many U.S. veterans, some of whom believe it’s caused by their exposure to the chemical mixture Agent Orange, millions of gallons of which rained down on Vietnam. Who knows what caused it in my dad — the war, the work or the recursive loop that feeds one into the other and from which no one emerges unscathed?

— New York Times

From “Why do Putin, Trump, Tucker Carlson and the Republican party sound so alike?” [The Guardian]

Putin’s lies, and the lies coming from America’s extreme right, are mutually supporting. There’s a reason for that

The Guardian – Tuesday, 29 March 2022

[Vladimir] Putin’s fixation on transgender and gay people has also been echoed on the American right. . . . Last fall – months before Texas’s Republican governor Greg Abbott threatened to criminalize parents who give their transgender children gender-affirming care – Putin argued that teaching children about different gender identities was “on the verge of a crime against humanity”.. . .

To conclude from all of this that authoritarians think alike is to miss a deeper truth. Putin, Trump, Carlson, and a growing number of rightwing commentators and activists, have been promoting much the same narrative – for much the same reason.

Remember, Putin was put into power by a Russian oligarchy made fabulously rich by siphoning off the wealth of the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Trump and the radical right in America have been bankrolled by an American oligarchy – Rupert Murdoch, Charles Koch, Rebekah Mercer (daughter of hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer), Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, and other billionaires.

What do these two sets of oligarchs get in return? Strongmen who divert the public’s attention away from the oligarchs’ hijacking of their economies toward cultural fears of being overwhelmed by the “other.” Putin’s MO has been to fuel Russian ethnic pride and nationalism. The Trump-Carlson-radical right’s MO has been to fuel white American nationalism.

In both cases, strongmen and their allies have mythologized a “superior” culture (replete with creation stories of blood ties, motherlands, and religion) supposedly endangered by decadent forces intent on attacking and overwhelming it.

To Putin, the decadent force is the west. As he put it Friday, “domestic culture at all times protected the identity of Russia”, which “accepted all the best and creative, but rejected the deceitful and fleeting, that which destroyed continuity of our spiritual values, moral principles and historical memory”. Hence, a mythic justification for taking Ukraine back from a seductive but inferior western culture that threatens to overwhelm it and Russia.

The Trump-Carlson-white nationalist narrative is similar: America’s dominant white Christian culture is endangered by Black people, immigrants and coastal elites who threaten to overwhelm it.

The culture wars now being orchestrated by the Republican party . . . emerge from the same narrative as Putin’s culture war against a “decadent” West filled with “sociocultural disturbances.” As does the right’s claim that “secularists” have, in the words of former Trump attorney general William Barr, mounted “an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values”.

These tropes have served to distract attention from the systemic economic looting that oligarchs have been undertaking, leaving most people poor and anxious. Which is why the grievances that Putin, Trump, Carlson, and the Republican party use are unremittingly cultural; they are never economic, never about class, and most assuredly not about the predations of the super-rich.

Reduced to basics, today’s oligarchs and strongmen (along with their mouthpieces and lackeys) are trying to justify their wealth and power by attacking liberal values that have shaped the west, beginning with the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries – the values of tolerance, openness, democracy, self-government, equal rights, and the rule of law. These values are incompatible with a society of oligarchs and strongmen.

. . . But the culture wars won’t end any time soon, because so much wealth and power have consolidated at the top of America, Russia, and elsewhere around the world that anti-liberal forces have risen to justify it.

For Bloomsday: My Weird Odyssey With Joyce’s “Ulysses”

In the zombie edition of his Writers Almanac, Garrison Keillor notes that today, June 16, is “Bloomsday.”:

GK: On this day in 1904, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle went on their first date. Nora, who was from Galway, worked as a chambermaid at Finn’s Hotel in Dublin; she met Joyce on the 10th of June, but with one thing and another, their first date didn’t happen until almost a week later.

They took a walk together in Ringsend, and may or may not have indulged in some hanky-panky, but either way it was the start of a romance that would last the rest of Joyce’s life — as Joyce’s father remarked when learning of Nora’s last name, “She’ll stick with him.”

Joyce commemorated the date in his novel Ulysses (1922), a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in contemporary Dublin, which took him seven years to write. The book recounts the events of a single day — June 16, 1904 — in the inner and outer lives of its characters; the book’s protagonist doesn’t show up until the fourth chapter . . . .

Joyce described Dublin in obsessive detail “to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the Earth, it could be reconstructed out of my book,” he told his friend Frank Budgen.

He used a phone directory to provide the real names and addresses of Dublin residents; Leopold and Molly Bloom’s house, at No. 7 Eccles Street, has since been demolished, but its front door is displayed in the James Joyce Centre in Dublin.

The first celebration of the book, which has been called the greatest book of the 20th century, didn’t take place in Dublin, or even Ireland at all; it was a “Ulysses lunch” held in France in 1929, hosted by the book’s publisher, Sylvia Beach.

The first “Bloomsday” was observed in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the novel, when artist and publisher John Ryan led a group of writers — as well as Thomas Joyce, a dentist and James Joyce’s cousin — on a sort of drinking tour of Dublin in a couple of horse-drawn cabs. Like countless drinking tours before and since, this one didn’t complete its appointed course, its celebrants succumbing to the alcohol’s effects about halfway through.

Today, Bloomsday is celebrated around the world, often with a breakfast of fried kidneys kicking off the festivities, although there’s still something for the vegetarians: a Gorgonzola sandwich and “a nice salad” à la Bloom. Landmarks around Dublin are marked by brass plaques, and one Bloomsday tradition involves tracing Leopold’s steps as nearly as possible. [I]n Genoa, they’ve commemorated the book by reading the whole thing aloud, each section set in a different part of the city.

Most places it’s celebrated by pub crawls, street festivals, Irish music and food, public readings and dramatizations of Ulysses, and of course a host of scholarly panel discussions; the last part, at least, would come as no surprise to the author.

[Joyce] once said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring immortality.”

As for me and Ulysses, the story is not exactly an epic (and this year, I’ll observe it not with fried kidneys but by listening to the January 6 Committee hearing, which has a much more gripping plot.)  But my encounter did start with an epic: not Joyce, but Tolstoy’s War & Peace.

I was living in central Pennsylvania, in 1997-2001, and had a habit of reading while sitting on the john.
It was there that I discovered why  Leo Tolstoy was regarded as a genius.

For years I had owned a fat copy of his War & Peace, a prize from some rummage sale book pile, and had felt faint twinges of guilt every time I noticed it, pretentiously occupying more than its rightful slice of space on my many bookshelves.

“It’s a world classic,” the voices from distant college years whispered. “You’ve hauled it from Virginia to Pennsylvania, and now  halfway across the state . . . . So are you ever going to read it? Or even try?”

”But, but . . .” I replied to myself, “look at it. I did open it once: The bloody thing is 1300 pages & change.  Am I able to concentrate that long? Are you nuts?”

And so the matter stood, until I made the big discovery about Tolstoy’s genius. It happened one day, in the accustomed location, on a morning when I had nothing better to read, and expected to sit a bit longer than usual. So I carried it in, opened it on my lap, and when the flush came, found myself — not exactly transfixed, but still going about a dozen pages in, three or four chapters worth.

And that was the big discovery, the revelation of Tolstoy’s genius (Drum roll): Continue reading For Bloomsday: My Weird Odyssey With Joyce’s “Ulysses”

Free Quaker Music from Songster/Theologian Doug Gwyn: Now Online

Writing Quaker history & theology is not exactly the road to fame and fortune.

But a few still take it, and among those of the passing generation, one that I most admire  is Douglas Gwyn, who is always Doug to me.

One reason for admiration is that Doug has produced some outstanding work. My favorite is his book, Personality and Place,  which I consider his masterpiece (and reviewed at length here).

He calls the book a “theological history” of Pendle Hill, the Quaker center near Philadelphia which has been a main crossroads and watering hole for Friends for nearly a century.

Douglas Gwyn; aka “The Brothers Doug”??

In a style that is always gentle but nonetheless relentless, he charts Pendle Hill’s evolution/devolution from being (as the first sign at its entrance declared) “A Center for Religious and Social Study”, to serving as what a recent board member sadly decried as “a navel observatory.” Gwyn convincingly shows how Pendle Hill’s trajectory mirrors and illuminates a “modern” and “liberal”  Quakerism sliding largely into decadent, self-absorbed conformity and irrelevance.

But important as his written work is, book reviews are not our subject here.  I want instead to pay tribute to Doug’s other “career,” that of a singer/songwriter, which he has pursued for almost as long as his scholarship.  Maybe longer, since he retired from theology in 2017, and is still busy with music five years later.

Doug hasn’t pursued music-making for money, except for an early stint managing a blues-oriented coffee house called “The Morgue” on the Indiana University campus, and selling the odd cassette. He began writing songs in the late 1970s, and has often performed, but mostly for coffee house-sized groups at Pendle Hill or other such venues. As he explains, he’s done most of his recording himself:

My first attempt at multi-track recording was during the summer of 1999 at Pendle Hill. My friends, Peter and Annie Blood-Patterson, well known folk singers and producers of the Rise up Singing songbook, lent me their four-track recorder and effects box. I spent hot summer nights with the windows closed (to keep out the roar of crickets and katydids) and the loud air conditioner turned off, sweating profusely as I learned how to overdub harmonies and vocal sound effects along with my faltering guitar and singing. The recording persona “The Brothers Doug” came out of that experience.

And several albums later, he’s made his music available to the world, on a dedicated website: to listen to and download. On the site he’s included (by my count) 103 songs, and he’s ditched their copyrights for what he calls “commonrights,” making them part of the general wealth of untrammeled creativity.

Many of his early songs had Quaker references, often satirical and sometimes trenchant, such as “A Process In the Wind,” “That of Odd in Everyone,” and “Making Quakers from Scratch.” He’s also unafraid to aim at his own vanity, as in “Hair Envy,” which laments the erosion of his own coiffure (“Why Do I Love Your Hair? Because . . . It’s There.”

One of his sharpest Quaker satires was “Pendle Hill Revisited.” In a way it prefigures in compressed rhymes his book “Personality & Place”. (BTW, the tune here is that of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”:

Bill woke up and said to his wife,
honey, I’ve got to change my life!
Where can I find that higher path,
with courses that don’t require math?”
His wife said, “Let me think for a minute, Bill–
one thing will help (if anything will),
try spending a term at Pendle Hill!

Bill enrolled and had the time of his life,
He finally got round to calling his wife:
He said, “My dear, I’ve found myself,
It’s drying now on the pottery shelf.”
His wife said, “I’m so glad for you, Bill,
Come home for Christmas and review your will,
Then spend another term at Pendle Hill!

Next thing he knew, the year was up,
Joy overflowed sweet William’s cup.
He said, “I’ve got to stay somehow,
I’m on a roll, I can’t stop now . . . .
[So yes, you guessed it, our old Friend Bill
Spent the rest of his career at Pendle Hill . . .]
Bill’s last years were in managed care,

Still trying to learn that centering prayer,
Till death took Bill out on a date,
And he met St. Peter at the pearly gates.

St. Peter said, “Should I let you in, Bill?”
Bill said, “Hell, do what you will,
I’d rather be at Pendle Hill!”

And on moonless nights you’ll find him still,
Along the path at Pendle Hill.”

Many of Doug’s newer songs are more philosophical than theological, though the distinction is often fuzzy. Not a few have an apocalyptic cast, “The Other Shoe”:

Well we all know that the climate is changing,
If we care to admit it or not,
We take positions on the same condition,
But we all know what we’ve got.

We all know something’s got to give,

Oh, yes we do,
But Who? And Why? And What?
While we wait, for the Other Shoe–
To drop . . . .

This near-term gloomy outlook fits his scholarly background (Doug’s dissertation, which became his first book, Apocalypse of the Word, published in 1986). They also have increasing echoes in the social, environmental & political currents of our era.

One I like that straddles the line is “FAQ,” which consists entirely of questions:

October 2018

How did we get here? How soon can I go?
Are you for real? How would I know?
Where did that come from? What’s your excuse?
Is it just me? What’s there to lose?
Refrain: FAQ, frequently asked questions,
FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .

Where is the restroom? How much is enough?
How will the end come? Which end is up?
Does he still love me? How much does it cost?
Why did she do that? Could we be lost?
FAQ, frequently asked questions,
FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .”

But one question that he has answered with glee involves letting go of a lot of what he grappled with for so long, and his song about it brings a smile to the faces of many who are, or are nearing, a certain age:

Well, I’ve been hired, and I’ve been fired,
I’ve jumped through every hoop required,
Til my sell-by date expired,
And now

My very soul is tired.

So I’m putting on that cardigan sweater,
And I’m already feeling better —
Baby, I’m retired!”
(He’s retired, baby.)

On the website, there are 103 songs, including twelve written just last year.

Now, giving away your music resembles doing Quaker theology in one respect, namely that it’s not a road to riches either.

But Doug is already a wealthy man in a lot of other ways, if you ask me: several good books, a quiet life in Social Security simplicity, in his home state, and with access to low-cost technology that makes both his writing and music widely accessible, for those who seek it out, and many more should.

And this is not the first time Doug has shown that, contrary to popular wisdom, there can be a free lunch, at least intellectually/spiritually.

On Christmas 2015, with a little assistance from this blog, Doug posted an entire book, Words In Time, including many of his best essays on Quakerism and its discontents, as an absolutely free download.

NOTE: To read or download this book, you click on the link.

You do NOT sign in.
You do NOT pay. (Not now. Not ever.)
You do NOT leave your name or email address.
(And since we won’t have your name or email, we won’t sell it or trade it or send you stuff or do anything else with it. Because –did we mention? — we won’t have it.)

Here are the pieces you’ll find in this book. Most are otherwise very hard to find:

Part I: Covenant

1. The Covenant of Light
2. Renewing Our Covenant: Can Our Branches Be Olive Branches?
3. Sense and Sensibilities: Quaker Bispirituality Today
4. The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism
5. Can’t See the Covenant for the Contracts

Part II: Seed

6. The Seed: The Power of God Among Us
7. “Sink Down to the Seed”: Going Deeper in Quaker Life and Witness
8. The Seed: Captivity and Liberation

Doug said about Words In Time, when it was first published:
This book is a collection of short pieces, most of which have appeared in print elsewhere. They cover a nine-year period, 1988-97. I chose the title Words in Time because several of the pieces were written for particular occasions, and address specific dilemmas facing Friends at the time. As such, these keynotes and essays are somewhat time-bound and situation-specific. For example, “The Covenant of Light” addressed Friends United Meeting shortly before the “Realignment” controversy erupted at the end of 1990. But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.

[Thee Can Say THAT Again! Okay, he will: But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.]
Doug continued:

All the pieces in this collection attempt to place current Quaker struggles within a larger context. The rootstock of our Quaker tradition, in its unique expression of the ancient Hebrew- Christian faith, can provide important perspective on today’s dilemmas. In particular, two themes encompass this collection: covenant and seed.

The wonderfully inventive cover of one of Doug;s first cassette “albums.”

One more song i want to mention, which is in the collection:  Here’s the concluding verse:

Yonder stand those Quakers
on the far side of the back of beyond
misfit mystics, a boil on the bum of Babylon
they’re too few to make much difference
too peaceful to break many laws
an endangered species of spiritual life
practiced in the art of lost cause.

Yonder stand those Quakers
singing “We Shall Overcome”;
yonder stand those Quakers

God help those poor fools carry on
God help those poor fools carry on

“The irony here,” Doug says, “is that the song adopts the perspective of someone in the cultural mainstream, pondering Friends from the outside.  We Quakers sometimes forget how odd we can seem to others . . . In spite of the song’s cynical tone, the bemused observer still affirms, “God help those poor fools carry on.”

Doug’s music, like much of his writing, also energizes me. And theological Quaker folksongs?

Why not? Better than a lot of the field’s product.

Colin Powell: So Much Was Lost

Colin Powell:

His most memorable statement:

In early 2003, during the rush to invade Iraq, Powell was told that then-president George W. Bush slept like a baby.


Powell’s response was:


In February, Powell read a speech at the U. N. Defending the invasion, a speech which was full of lies.

What is missing: any clear acknowledgement, apology, or any atonement from him.

What was lost (not a complete list):

1. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, killed.

2. Millions more wounded and/or made homeless refugees.

3. Thousands of U. S. troops killed; tens of thousands wounded.

4. Powell’s reputation, credibility & integrity.

5. His future, and that of so many others.

6. Trillions of American citizens’ tax dollars, lost, wasted, stolen and diverted from the humane purposes and constructive needs of two generations, and counting.

May he and all the others rest in peace.
Especially the others.


Reflecting on 9/11: My Other Lost Cause

From a letter to a friend:
They’re talking and talking about the 20th observances for the 11th,
with Biden going nonstop,
and there’s an article in the Times or somewhere
about a bunch of the books which supposedly show
all the ways we totally screwed up the impact & aftermath of all that.
Which is all true enough,
But I can’t bear to read it, though I have read a stack of such titles.
And I don’t want to hear all that retriggering retraumatizing stuff on Saturday, or today either,
Tho I know they have to do it.
I think I’m going to hide out that day.
Oh wait — I’m already hiding out. So where do I go from here?

Continue reading Reflecting on 9/11: My Other Lost Cause

A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.

A substantial Holiday Weekend Read:

I always feel uneasy when finding myself in agreement with rightwing Catholic pundit Ross Douthat. But in his August 31 NYTimes column, he nails it, mocking the spectacle of :

”  . . . generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years.

“Our botched [Afghanistan] withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors.”

But I’m not nodding to Douthat today about Afghanistan. It’s more the “general catastrophe,” or cascading crises, that have been similarly botched and booted by our rulers and most of our reigning “elites.”  And rather than piling on, I’m looking for some help in getting through and making some hopeful sense in the aftermath, if there is to be one. Someone outside the discredited mainstream pundits and bemedaled poseurs.

Which brings me to Jim Corbett.

Continue reading A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.