New Release: Murder Stories!

IT’S HERE! Finally after more than a year of intense effort, my latest book is on the market. It’s a history-lovers delight, but also perfect for fans of true crime. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing the dead back to life in these pages, and I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of this collection each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair.

Available now at Amazon.com

Creating ISIS

warrior

 

Some Facebook posts circulating since the Paris tragedy voice outrage that the U.S. and its allies failed to stop ISIS at its inception.

To those I ask what, pray tell, was the beginning?

Was it during the three hundred years of Crusades when Western European Christians invaded the Middle East to drive out Islam?

Was it after WWI when the Western powers reorganized the colonized Middle East, shifting borders to suit the desires of various Western nations regardless of existing ethnic, tribal, or religious boundaries?

Was it after WWII when Western powers again reorganized Arab lands, shoving the Palestinians aside to carve out a homeland for the Jews? Couldn’t we have predicted that Arabs would resist? Perhaps that would have been the best time to nuke the whole region.

Was it when we armed the Afghan Mujaheddin in the 1980s to help them overthrow Soviet occupation? Couldn’t we have predicted that once the Cold War ended, we would abandon Afghanistan and leave tribal leaders like Osama bin Laden to take what he’d been taught to organize his devastated homeland.

Was it when we marched into Iraq, toppling the strong man government of Saddam Hussein and unleashing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias?

Was it when the 2011 Arab spring spread from Egypt through other Middle Eastern nations and Syria’s President Assad fought back against his nation’s rebellion? The U.S. and allies hurried into Syria with support and secret ‘advisors’ to assist the rebels, bringing in sophisticated arms and other supplies that are now in the hands of ISIS. Gee, how could we have guessed?

The claim that the U. S. could have inflicted a fatal incisive strike against ISIS at any point along this tortured path shows ignorance and a single-minded obsession to heap criticism on President Obama. ISIS has never existed as a discrete target. Any attack on ISIS would result in massive collateral damage.

The entire mess points to one overarching conclusion: the more we intervene in the Middle East, the worse things get.

We’re good at meddling in other people’s affairs. At what point do we have an honest national dialogue centered on the question: Why are we in the Middle East at all?

I can tell you. It’s because of money, oil and religion. And money. Did I say money?[i]

According to a 2013 report, “over the last six decades, the U.S. has invested $299 billion in military and economic aid for Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries currently in turmoil. Egypt tops a list of ten nations, receiving $114 billion since the end of World War II. Iraq comes in second, getting nearly $60 billion from the U.S. (over and above war costs). Far outpacing those ten countries is Israel, an ally that received another $185 billion in U.S. aid in the same period.”[ii]

Why not just hand all that arms money over to the arms dealers and let them keep the weapons?

Are we getting what we paid for? If the objective is to keep the region destabilized so that we can maintain a level of control over the oil, yes. If the objective is to undermine Arab strength in order to further prop up Israel, yes.

We continue to send billions of dollars of foreign aid to the region, larding the already excessive oil profits lining the pockets of the region’s leaders. With all that money, leaders so inclined can invest in distant terrorists or add to their nation’s arsenal by purchasing arms and equipment manufactured in Western nations.

Supporters of Israel dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is religious. People concerned about U. S. energy profits dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is oil. Both groups fail to recognize the larger agenda behind their pet projects: money.

According to a 2013 report, “Each year, around $45-60 billion worth of arms sales are agreed. Most of these sales (something like 75%) are to developing countries. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., Russia, France, United Kingdom and China), together with Germany and Italy account for around 85% of the arms sold between 2004 and 2011.[iii]

Nearly twenty years ago, an incisive review of our foreign aid pointed to this folly:

“An examination of $13.6 billion in U.S. foreign aid activity for Fiscal Year 1997 reveals that almost half of the aid is military in nature. This assistance, in conjunction with large-scale arms exports, may actually be working counter to many stated U.S. foreign policy objectives such as promoting sustainable development, protecting human health and fostering economic growth.”[iv]

George Washington famously cautioned against the quagmire in which we’re now floundering:

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”[v]

Just six days ago, the columnist citing this wisdom called for an end to all but humanitarian aid to foreign nations. He’s not alone.

Opponents of a hands-off approach will cite the potential for increasing interference in the region from nations like Russia and China. In theory, our presence at the arms trade table balances their influence. But we have to ask ourselves, who was there first? I can tell you. It was us.[vi]

If we want the violence to stop, we’ll have to

  • stop giving our tax dollars to nations who spend it on arms,
  • eliminate any and all subsidies to arms dealers and manufacturers,
  • remove our forces entirely from the region and let them sort it out themselves, and
  • rescind and renegotiate any treaties with other nations so that any and all foreign aid is in the form of food, educational materials, medical supplies, and other humanitarian assistance.

Why not? It’s the only thing we haven’t tried.

 

[i] For an excellent overview of the money problem, see http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a39727/paris-attacks-middle-eastern-oligarchies/

[ii] A graph showing money received by various nations: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/06/us-aid-middle-east_n_3223151.html

[iii] http://www.globalissues.org/issue/73/arms-trade-a-major-cause-of-suffering

[iv] http://www.bu.edu/globalbeat/usdefense/whelan0798.html

[v] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/9/bruce-fein-end-mideast-arms-sales-nonhumanitarian-/?page=all

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Middle_East

Ten Lives

joy

I could spend ten lifetimes reading the stories of humankind and still not know enough. Sumeria, Greece, Egypt, Rome. China: the Records of the Grand Historian, Bamboo Annals, the Five Classics. Popol Vuh. Genghis Khan. Charlemagne. Tesla. Secret writings of ancient and medieval women.

I could spend ten lifetimes carrying out the ambitions of various parts of myself and still not do it all or well enough. Art—the swirl of vibrant color on thick white paper. Music—Bach fugue played a nine-foot grand. Literature—a turn of phrase that takes away breath, stories that ache to be told.

Plant, cultivate, and harvest, dry, freeze, slice—onion and butter sizzle in a hot iron skillet, ready for potato. Goats— chewing alfalfa hay at the barn door, watching me with yellow slit eyes. Weave and sew fine cloth, yards of it filling my arms. Gather fallen twigs to kindle a fire, add more wood and watch the flames spread, leap, fall to pulsing coals and pale ash.

I could love ten thousand men and a thousand women and still not have loved enough. Never have touched enough soft skin. Never have kissed enough lips or marveled enough at the mingling of color in the iris of an eye. Lens to the soul I worship with my body.

With endless days would come endless shapes of clouds racing across the sky, dark and turbulent rolling in with thunder, thin wisps high in frozen air. Rain lash the walls, wind bend the trees. Deep in the forest an open glade glows chartreuse. Sun sears dry ground, bakes the insects scuttling for shade. Hoar frost coats the grass and fence wire, forms iridescent lace of spider webs. Snow drifts down at dawn, five degrees and the air is blue.

In these things and countless more, the joy of physical being fills my heart, tells me why I exist. More than the grief, the suffering, the despair, it is the supreme excellence of incarnation that drives me to my stubborn end.

The Scent of Cotton Cloth

ID-10025847A thousand miles away, removed by harvest, processing, manufacture, and the long wait on some store’s shelf, the fabric retains the aroma of its origins. There is the faint trace of vegetation, chlorophyll of its rusty green leaves, and fibrous texture of its stem. There is sun beating down on the surface of the plant, the growing bolls, the dark earth enclosing its hungry roots. What hands, what machines, have planted the small black seed in fresh tilled ground?

Thick round bolls swell ever more white in the steamy rain, the rise and fall of the moon, the passing of weeks toward harvest. Its heart bursts open, waiting to serve its purpose, giving itself to whatever the world might make of it. Cotton is content in its life.

The sheet remembers its beginning. Languorous in summer heat, in the hot breeze, it undulates slowly on the clothesline before falling again to its resting profile. Blinding white, it welcomes the sun to bake it clean, to stiffen its threads, to remind it of its birth.

At the ironing board, pungent with starch, the cloth gives up its moisture in clouds of steam. Slowly, the heavy metal appliance presses the shirt stiff, its clever tailoring sharp at collar tips and cuff edges, its shiny buttons evenly placed down the front and held firmly in the grip of cotton thread. Ready now for hands, for the body that will wear it, even after hours of moving as its wearer moves, absorbing sweat and pain and fatigue, the shirt embodies its natural grace. The scent of cotton cloth rises from the heat of the body, reminding itself and the person whose body it covers that it is of the land, the sun, the wind.

Night settles gently through the countryside, bringing its tired wanderers to rest. Upon cotton sheets they lie, sheets embedded with afternoon breeze, warmth of sun, the comfort of soft dirt fields loose and gentle underneath them as they drift off to sleep. The cloth yields its memory as the fabric pulls close around the face, the shoulders, of its burden.

Months pass, years, night after night, day after day as the fabric is washed and dried, starched and ironed, stretched and pulled in daily lives, humanity’s ongoing race to gain, to finish, to understand. Cotton waits patiently in the towel, the robe, the socks and undergarments, as it gives itself to service. Its thick folds stand at the window, guarding against cold and sun, against storm. Its flexible material waits in the locker ready to run. Its woven pile lies on the couch, soft and nurturing.

Even when cotton’s long life begins to fray, wear thin, tatter, and the shirt can no longer be worn, the sheet no longer useable on the bed, cotton continues to clean windows, mop the floor, wipe up spills. Even there it finds long life, continues to yield its peculiar memory of its genesis as a young plant, its unique ability to absorb moisture, move pliantly, take up tiny particles and release them again, giving according to the need.

And when all has been given, when the life of the fabric ends, cotton moves on. Processed again, it becomes paper. Rich white sheets of paper wait for the word, the number, that serves the user, the future, with its memory. Cotton, still redolent of its birth, its perfume carrying forth in nuances of earth, sun, sky, waits for the hand. On paper, the writer gains insight and purpose, reflects on the meaning. What revelations of man, what declarations of intent, of civilization, take up life on cotton paper, become immortal and await the next incarnation?

Even then, the scent of cotton stirs faintly as the pen crosses its breast.