January 28, 2023

Native species and invasive ideas

invasive species lighthouse Port Hope

Today’s headlines remind me again of passages in Vasily Grossman’s epic novel “Life and Fate.” Grossman was born in Ukraine and reported the major battles for the Red Army in World War Two. His reporting followed the brutality of Stalingrad to the death camp of Treblinka. Grossman used Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” as his model for writing “Life and Fate.” Many passages are delivered as a straight right hand: “Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.” The KGB arrested Grossman’s novel and tried to block publication for two hundred and fifty years.

A year ago the trees around this lighthouse reminded me of another passage in “Life and Fate.” The emerald ash borer, first discovered in China, turned the forest into death camps for the ash trees. The invasive species attacked and killed more than one hundred million ash trees throughout the United States. These trees were in the dying stage last year and now their demise is complete, an invasive species creating a Bloodlands of death as Hitler and Stalin in World War Two. Dozens of tree stumps surround the lighthouse. Grossman wrote of the battle taking place out of sight in the northern forest, comparing it to the life and fate of the human race. Competing concepts of what makes a human, the native species defending the motherland against invasive ideas. Obedience demanded of Stalin versus fascism of Hitler versus liberty from both.

The invasive species failed to kill one hundred percent of the trees here. There were survivors, emerging from the ashes with resilience strengthened in the struggle against the invasive species. The exposure killed many but survivors held promise for the future growth of the forest.

In World War Two, America fought for liberty with a segregated military. Eisenhower, MacArthur, and many officers opposed Truman’s order to end segregation. The official end to segregation of the military came not with dramatic scenes as in Selma and Bloody Sunday in front of cameras, but far out of sight, on a four hundred mile march in temperatures that dropped to forty below zero. The land in North Korea was desolate as the northern forest. These black and white soldiers surrendered the fight from a military sense. A far greater battle took place in their minds. Survivors from the all black and white infantry units slept together in piles to keep from freezing to death. The North Koreans and Chinese used savage tactics to divide and break the minds and willpower of the POWs. Many of the prisoners were veterans of World War Two. They had witnessed the hardship and death of Vasily Grossman’s war. But one incident in the prison camp galvanized both black and white prisoners. James Thompson writes in “True Colors”: “I had been through some of the most vicious circumstances during World War Two, but I had never witnessed a circumstance where a man put his raw personal courage against almost certain death…all for the sake of dignity. God, I admired that! Someone once said it is better to die with dignity rather than live without it. Apparently, Sergeant Riley had made his decision.”

The prisoner camp commander ordered Sergeant Riley to kneel. “Riley kneel!” The guards beat Riley brutally to kneel. The camp commander screamed, “Riley kneel! Damn you kneel!” The guards beat the American POW to a bloody pulp but he kept getting up, refusing to surrender his dignity. Both black and white POWs, with tears in their eyes, shouted for Riley to stay down. “Why doesn’t the big moron kneel?” shouted one American POW. “Stay down you bastard! Stay down goddamnit!” a white POW shouted. “Stay down Riley!” shouted the black POWs. “Then, almost like a beautifully trained chorus the entire assemblage took up the chants in unison. Stay down Riley! Stay down Riley! Stay down Riley! Stay down Riley! Stay down Riley!”

James Thompson, from Detroit, was the only black POW among the “forgotten 33.” He retired from the army in 1967 as a Command Sergeant Major and wrote his slender memoir “True Colors” in 1989. He wrote, “The Chinese were artisans at blending fact and fiction to their own advantage. However one thing they kept misreading was the American spirit. Given all the ills America had, we as a people become one family when put upon by an outside common foe. I don’t think the Germans  or the Japanese understood this during World War Two. I know damn well the Chinese and Koreans didn’t during the Korean conflict. Sergeant Nelson Riley was only a symbol of an American’s resolve to win…to be free. This is the same resolve that saw America through two world wars. This is the same resolve that had sustained black Americans since the days of slavery.”


Where rubber leaves the road

car pulled from river

After hitting three deer and driving twice into a ditch during whiteouts last winter, I can commiserate with the driver of this car. It’s been a tough year. The driver and his son weren’t killed or even seriously injured after their car flipped down the hill, giving new meaning for going down to the river to pray. The picture of the car reminds me of a line in The Fate of the Edsel, a great story in Business Adventures by John Brooks. A reviewer of the Edsel wrote that he couldn’t help but wonder what “this salami” would really do with more road adhesion. If the Edsel kept its rubber on the road, John Brooks never would have written Fate of the Edsel and Business Adventures might not have Warren Buffett and Bill Gates proclaiming it the best business book of all time.

Where the rubber leaves the road is where the story turns interesting. No one was taking pictures of the cars that stayed in their lane. Ford executives blamed the Russians for launching sputnik at the same time of the Edsel launch. A semanticist, writing a nasty review of the Edsel for A Review of General Semantics in 1958, compared automobiles to words “as important symbols in American cultures,” then asked why buy the Edsel when you can get Playboy for 50 cents. By the late 1950s, even the Russians thought they were getting the better of this American salami.

The Edsel was considered a symbol of the times in America- “clumsy, powerful, dowdy, gauche, well meaning.” So what if some of the advertising failed the reality  principle. Sometimes a sledgehammer, not a tooth pick touch, was required for operating all the fancy dashboard gadgets. Hundreds of names were considered for the car. Overruling the market research, executives preferred to suck up to the boss and named the car for Edsel Ford.

But it was in 1957 that more powerful words became symbols. The words were written by a poet in Russia and nearly published in Ann Arbor, home of the Ford executive plotting the Edsel. The University of Michigan initially acquired the rights to the manuscript, to the horror of the CIA. Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago was smuggled out of Russia and the CIA wanted the manuscript published in Europe, without any evidence of American or CIA involvement in the publication. After much pressure from the CIA, the University of Michigan relinquished the rights. Doctor Zhivago was published in Italy in November of 1957 and earned Pasternak the Nobel Prize. Surviving two world wars, revolution, Lenin and Stalin, Pasternak wrote the poem Hamlet with the famous line “life is no stroll through a field.” In The Zhivago Affair, written by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee,  Stalin in 1932  makes a toast to a group of writers meeting at the home of Maxim Gorky- “The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks.” Stalin demanded Russian writers use their words as engineers on the assembly line- massing producing souls to Stalin’s specification like the Ford executives poured over details of the Edsel.

It was this “loss of faith in the value of one’s own opinion” that Pasternak risked his life in writing Doctor Zhivago. It was why the CIA’s Soviet Division, many of them with backgrounds in literature, believed in the power of words and turned “priests, athletes, students, businessmen, tourists, soldiers, musicians, and diplomats” into book publicists for Pasternak. All levels of society were targeted. Russian truck drivers had Doctor Zhivago thrust into their hands. The mass production of souls went down with the Edsel.


Running uphill has benefits

Mackinac Island church

One of the benefits of maturity is using misery as a teachable moment to oneself. After missing most of the nice weather running events with a bad knee, I thought the Mackinac Island Great Turtle Trail Run would be a nice and easy run. Mulling the half marathon while wiggling the knee, I found the convenient rationale for selecting the 5.7 mile trail run instead. I also discovered that stomping the knee in frustration doesn’t work as a cure. All the excuses also don’t work. I listened to everyone around me at the start of the 5.7 trail run explain their litany of excuses why they signed up for the 5.7 rather than the half marathon. It takes one to know one. I recognized that I was in my own tribe when I heard my thoughts coming from their mouths on why the big event failed to get the applicant. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from a literary perspective, begins with Ring Lardner’s Alibi Ike, Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, and works up to Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab.  First chuck alibis, advance to chuck the spears out there in the blue. A neighbor recognized me and said she watched me run the same route at home and had to introduce herself. This was teachable moment number one. I ran the simple, flat five mile route without the slightest variation. It led to injury and complacency. I rarely saw my neighbor running this route. She entered the half marathon with her daughter. She was too nice to smirk. My expectation for something easy began straight uphill and continued through the trails and more hills, realizing this course was perhaps payback for signing up for the short run.

The car miles have outnumbered by one hundred to one the miles on my running shoes this year. Alibi Ike laced up in the Asics for a big year, but darn if all these alibis keep stopping him. Teachable moment number two- doing the work daily, regardless the duration, strengthens the mind and body and the work habits far more than these plans for the weekend warriors. I wasn’t sure what was weaker as I ran uphill- my mind or my legs. But this isn’t about running.

One of the most memorable sights that I saw at the bottom of the hill this year was a shack, surrounded on all sides by liquor stores and abandoned buildings. The shack was in a neighborhood that assaulted your eyes with advertisements for alcohol, lottery, food stamps, and ruin porn. There weren’t any windows on the shack, which was probably a good thing, considering the view. A large banner was nailed to the shack with the message “All Things Are Possible.” The race to the bottom ended here.

The view at the top of the hill on Mackinac Island was worth the effort. I had walked around the island and up the hills for two hours before the race and went to the start line already tired but convinced the race to the bottom is for losers. I will be back next year for the half marathon, or Alibi Ike dies.


The dance for all seasons

Dancing in the snow

The Frankenmuth colony didn’t get off to a good start in the 1840s. The ship carrying the German missionaries ran aground. Storms and strong winds sent their ship into icebergs and the ship crashed a second time, into an English trawler on the Atlantic. The steamboat taking them from New York to Michigan somehow collided with a coal train. They finally arrived, sick with smallpox and malaria. Their spirits didn’t improve when they saw the 650 acres along the Cass River purchased for less than two thousand dollars. Their new home was cold, desolate, barren of the human comforts they had been accustomed to in Bavaria. They would require courage to survive and named their new colony Frankenmuth for “Courage of the Franconians.”

This “Christmas capital of the world” is also home to Michigan’s Military and Space Museum.  The flashy exhibits are elsewhere. These stories are about the African-American prisoner of war in Korea, longest serving prisoners of war in Vietnam, soldiers fighting in two wars (Korea, Vietnam), and the female local soldier killed in a roadside bomb. Owen Hammerberg  was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1941. He was the last to receive the Medal of Honor for non-combat service before Congress changed the rules. He was a Navy diver who went down to rescue his mates trapped under sixty feet of water and mud. The sunken ship caved in on him, pinning him as he worked to rescue the two divers. He died shielding his mates. The historical society for this Christmas capital doesn’t have an exhibit about the history of Santa and Saint Nicholas. Those are at Bronner’s, the largest Christmas store in the world. You must go past the Christmas decorations and tourists flocking the Main Street to discover  an exhibit on “The Hmong Among Us,” the Vietnam War, the CIA’s secret war in Laos, and the refugee camps. One of the local war heroes was the most decorated airman in the Air Force. Duane Hackney was a pararescue jumper and veteran of 200 missions in the Vietnam War. A YouTube video about him includes a comment from a Hmong who had fought in Laos with the CIA’s legendary case officer Jerry “Hog” Daniels. It’s an odd juxtaposition, like the large Nativity Scene here and a beer museum next to it. On one side the sunny disposition of decorations and ornaments and feelings of warmth, a temporary sense of escape from the real world. Farther down are the secret battles, prisoners, and rescuers. The authentic self must learn to dance in all kinds of weather. That’s the meaning of this fountain in Frankenmuth celebrating the courage of the original settlers.

I was caught in a white out near midnight in northern Michigan. I followed the tail lights of the truck in front of me until his tail lights suddenly swerved across the two lane road and went into a ditch. He couldn’t find the way back and drove almost into the trees. I watched him, amazed. I wasn’t sure if I was still on the road but I sure knew he got off on the wrong exit. Suddenly he panicked, swerving back across the road and into another the ditch. The truck lurched back and forth as the driver tried to find his way onto the road. One moment, he’s riding high in his $40,000 truck, secure about his place in the world. Then he’s in a ditch and the snow is coming down hard on him, distorting his vision. Maybe he had on some Christmas songs and Christmas gifts in the back.Or else he was coming home drunk from a Christmas party. The German missionaries began their trip across the Atlantic with a drunk pilot.

There’s a new biography of one of my favorites, Jack London. One of London’s best stories is White Fang, about the Wild trying to conquer life and man: “…Life is an offense to it, for life is movement, and the Wild aims always to destroy movement. It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea…” The land of Jack London is “vast, silent, desolate… so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even sadness…with laughter cold as frost…wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and effort of life…It was the Wild, the savage, frozen hearted Northland Wild.” London’s “wolfish dogs” are defiant of the elements, the cold harsh terrain.

There’s defiance in the Frankenmuth fountain, a refusal to allow the hardship to break the early settlers. It’s also hung on the walls of the Military and Space Museum.  It keeps you warm when going out in the cold, and into the ditch.


Chekhov on Lake Huron

Port Hope lighthouse fall

Alice Munro has been labeled Chekhov on Lake Huron. Jane Smiley described Munro’s writing as quietly powerful, a good comment also for Lake Huron. If there was a Nobel Prize for Lighthouses, this one near Port Hope might have won a 2013 Nobel. Its light shines across Lake Huron, directly toward the familiar settings of Alice Munro’s short stories. Jane Smiley writes in the Washington Post about Chekhov on Lake Huron: “Her voice was practically a whisper, saying: ‘Look around you! Look within! But look closely, carefully. The world is more complex than you realize.’” There were only four comments, compelling one reader of the article to comment that Washington didn’t have any culture, despite its pretensions. Or maybe the world is just too complex for the power brokers to understand.

This lighthouse doesn’t attract a lot of tourists, although a Kickstarter project that concluded in summer will finance a film with the lighthouse as its centerpiece. The motels around here don’t triple the rates for summer tourists like they do for the Lake Michigan side. The clerk near the silently powerful waters of Lake Huron asks what brings you here. On the Lake Michigan side, the motel clerk explains that all rooms are booked, even with triple rates. You’re kidding, I said. Tourists, the clerk explained. Tourists? For what? I said. A young man held a “homeless war vet” sign as the tourists drove past him, saving their money for the inflated motels. A fat kid sticks his head in the car window and shouts at me, “We need a ride.” It’s a familiar shtick. The hustlers never seem to have car problems on the side of a road or highway. The car breaks down or runs out of gas in a perfectly parked high traffic spot just far enough from the front door to escape the looks from security. The kid lacks marketing skills. His eyes are hardened, like he has gotten too used to getting punched no in the face. The other person who makes it a “We need a ride” has stayed out of sight.

This lighthouse facing out across Lake Huron to Alice Munro doesn’t promise a free ride. There’s pain in this lighthouse. But its home base is named Port Hope. The lighthouse beams its own version of look around you! So I keep pad and pen in the car and write down descriptions of the fat kid’s dark rings around his eyes and dirty brown shirt and the black woman sitting slumped over on the parking lot across from the homeless vet. The two of them are competing for dollars and mercy. She could be the kid’s mother. Maybe I was wrong about it being a shtick.

Reading literature like Alice Munro is supposed to be good for the brain. The human brain prefers systems analysis and cheats to make it easier on the thinker. The culture is constantly priming us to think a certain way with its “cultural reminders.” Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow explains the impact of the priming effect, the individual’s conflict with life that causes ego depletion. Graham Greene said it more harshly in his novel Ministry of Fear: “Idealism had ended up with a bullet in the stomach at the foot of the stairs.” Greene’s novel was written during World War Two, a conflict with life resulting in the death of millions of egos.

Great literature must be in conflict with the world to compel the reader to think. Alice Munro’s short stories grow on you. The “mystery and authority” of her Lake Huron are present to the end. There’s a nagging feeling in many of the popular nonfiction books that something is missing. The narrative is too clean and tidy. Everything is primed to perfection in the author’s thesis and world view. The collapse of the family, a shipwreck on the Great Lakes, a late inning grand slam, Hitler’s rise to power, the bullet in the stomach at the foot of the stairs, don’t compute.

It’s almost a six hour drive from the fat homeless kid in the parking lot to the lighthouse near Port Hope. I pass the Amish farms and dozens of Amish are working on the farms and stacking massive wood piles. All the Amish look thin as a rake and resemble a lost tribe. The Amish are three hours and a couple centuries from metro Detroit. Some of them cheat and shop at Walmart. They have a stoic look and always keep to themselves. A group of Chinese visitors come in and stare at everything. The Amish ignore them. The fat kid should have gotten a ride with the Amish. The world is too complex for the rest of us.


History is Everywhere

Vicki Keith

Canadian Vicki Keith is the greatest marathon swimmer of all time. Among her achievements were swims across the five Great Lakes. She began the 48 mile swim in Lake Huron at Harbor Beach. In 2005, she swam for more than 63 hours in Lake Ontario. At one point, she swam four hours without gaining any distance. The waves were that strong.

One day, while working as a swim coach, a handicapped nine year old girl, her arms and legs amputated, came to her with the desire to swim across a lake. The little girl collapsed from exhaustion halfway across the pool. Swimming across Lake Erie was preposterous. She continued to practice and finally, as a teenager, felt ready for the attempt across Lake Erie. Only three people showed up to watch. Their friends were too embarrassed for the girl who was missing arms and legs. Doctors criticized her mother for even keeping her alive.

Vicki Keith believes nothing is impossible. When she was a little girl, the ballet teacher ridiculed her for walking like a horse. She went home and found a book on swimming, staying up all night memorizing the records. She kept telling her friends, “One day.. One day..” She put up slogans around the house and created her own reality. She just kept telling herself over and over that one day…she was going to be a record breaking marathon swimmer. The experts scoffed at her, just as with the girl with the amputated arms and legs.

Halfway across Lake Erie, the critics and naysayers began to notice. Helicopters suddenly appeared and hovered over the handicapped girl as Vicki Keith went alongside her in a kayak. Hundreds of people began to arrive at the distant shore. Only two miles from shore, the girl cried out that she wanted to quit. Vicki Keith didn’t know what to do. They had come this far, were so close. Then she noticed the girl kept stroking after crying for help. All she had to do was touch the kayak and that was it. Her swim was over and they’d pull her out. She’d be instantly disqualified if she touched the kayak. But she never did. She kept swimming and then the shore was in sight. She had done it. Nothing was impossible. Vicki Keith’s TED talk has less than 2,000 views, which is unbelievable. It’s one of the best TED talks that I’ve seen.

Two years ago a Cessna pilot, Michael Trapp, crashed his plane into Lake Huron at Harbor Beach. He came down nearly on the starting point for Vicki Keith’s record swim. She became the first person to swim across Lake Huron. His survival in Lake Huron was a miracle. From CBS:

“All alone and without a life vest, he spotted a smoke stack and set his sights on getting there. He alternated between swimming, treading water, and floating on his back and stomach. He prayed for a rescue.

‘I saw six boats after I crashed,” said Trapp. “Before nightfall came, a big freighter came within 50 feet of me, but never saw me and all the other boats were just too far away to hear me yelling.’

By nightfall, he was exhausted, but refused to close his eyes.

‘If you fall asleep that’s your death calling. So I made sure not fall asleep. I kept my eyes open the whole night, watch the stars.'”

Port Hope and the lighthouse are a few miles up the coast of Lake Huron. On Memorial Day, the old vets held their annual memorial at the cross and flags in front of the lighthouse where Lt. Michael Young crashed his plane  and was swept away in November of 1991. The Great Lakes don’t forgive anything when it turns cold. I’m sure those old vets have some great stories of their own. I listened in on a conversation between an old World War Two vet and a mother with her young son up here awhile ago. History is everywhere.

There’s a remarkable story nearly everywhere and in everyone, if you’re curious enough to look.


Seeking the Great Forgotten

USS Edson

The destroyer USS Edson 946 is named for Merritt Austin Edson, known as “Red Mike” to his Marines. “Red Mike” Edson earned the Medal of Honor for defending Guadalcanal’s Bloody Ridge, and showing Washington that Guadalcanal could be saved. General MacArthur had been informed that the United States Navy could “no longer support the Marines on Guadalcanal.” Historian William Manchester, one of Red Mike’s Raiders, writes of Colonel Edson in Goodbye Darkness, his World War Two memoir of fighting in the Pacific. Red Mike told the Raiders, in his typical understated manner, that they had come to a “quiet spot.” When the battle begins, a corporal shouts, “Some goddamn rest area! Some goddamn rest area!” Red Mike would become Major General, leading his Marines through some the most brutal fighting of World War Two. In 1955, General Edson committed suicide in the garage of his D.C. home.

Edson’s sergeants screamed, “Raiders, rally to me! Raiders, Raiders, rally to me!” The barrels of their machine guns became warped as the Japanese attacked in waves, jumping in the Marine foxholes with bayonets, forcing the Raiders to defend the last point on the Ridge. Edson pushed stunned Marines back at the enemy, shouting, “The only thing they’ve got that you haven’t is guts.”

Edson’s widow launched the Top Gun ship in 1958 with a bottle of champagne. Six years later, the Edson was at the Gulf of Tonkin, the infamous start to the Vietnam War. In 1967, enemy fire shot off the ship’s flag and wounded the Commodore’s pillow with some shrapnel. Radio Hanoi declared the Edson had been sunk with no survivors. In 1975 and still above water, the Edson helped evacuate Saigon.

The Edson’s found a quiet spot to rest its memories. Bay City, “some goddamn rest area,” is home for the Edson. I knew the Edson was nearby and saw it as I came over the bridge. This old destroyer was parked near downtown. The gates were unlocked and open.

When William Manchester returned to Guadalcanal in 1978, he found a marker buried in the weeds for Edson’s heroics. Some weeds, mud, and brown water are the setting for the destroyer Edson in Bay City. Romance and glamour of war are not here. But they’re working on restoring the Edson as a floating museum. Volunteers from Dow Chemical, the company with flags of the world ringing its headquarter perimeter, have committed several thousand dollars and their time to fixing up the area around the Edson. The highways were jammed for the holiday time up north. Most people probably drive past the Edson without giving much thought for the name on it. There’s an Edson Association reunion in the summer and a wedding scheduled on the Edson in September. In Manchester’s Goodbye, Darkness he quotes Thomas Wolfe and the consuming desire to “seek the great forgotten…Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost,come back again.”

The Great Forgotten leaves its trail in the weeds and rust. It must be a grieving wind that swings the gates open to strangers passing by. They’re always looking for someone on these forums, asking about a buddy, a ghost to come back again. A few years ago I was with a friend from Vietnam at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was barns and cows and about one block of commercial activity, including a small restaurant. Even Walmart hadn’t discovered this place yet. The waitress, Vietnamese or Cambodian, stared in amazement and came over and traced her finger around my friend’s face as if she was seeing a ghost from the past. Neither one spoke, just thinking Where? When? O lost…

William Manchester’s nightmares from World War Two finally sent him back to the Pacific in 1978. His first kill made him sob and shit his pants. His Marine buddy burst through the door, looked at the dead Japanese soldier, then at Manchester, and said, “Slim, you stink.” Manchester writes, “I remember wondering dumbly: Is this what they mean by ‘conspicuous gallantry?'” His war dreams end with tears.

The Great Forgotten is a ghost with guts.


Shakespeare’s Blanket of the Dark

The Lying Man- Meijer Gardens, at peace without   a security blanket

The Lying Man- Meijer Gardens, at peace in the light

The neurocriminologists calculate that one percent of the world’s population can be classified as psychopaths. Seven billion people means the seventy million criminals, terrorists, and mass killers among us will feel no remorse for the pain inflicted on their victims. Their number will increase without change to the deadly mix of genetics and environment. Genetics are the explosives. The trigger is in the environment. After the Boston bombing, the two brothers supposedly wanted to go on to New York where its 35,000 police and “Ring of Steel” camera system offered a first line of defense. The last line of defense is more Shakespeare than Homeland Security, more dark theater than 24/7 cable. The equipment of the modern law enforcement, the high tech security blanket, is beaten and the knife in the drawer, a Shakespearean instrument, becomes it. Shakespeare never exhausted his ammunition when writing about the dark soul of the human race. Macbeth can out run the modern killer. There are nearly half a million names in the FBI’s database and if the neurocriminologists are correct, the watch list will add many more names from underneath the blanket of the dark. Millions of applicants to choose from, excluding misspellings and fat fingered mistakes.

Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry “Hold, hold!”

Investigators sift through the landfills and human sewage with the ghost of Shakespeare hovering over their shoulders. The criminal’s grandiosity comes to an end with the FBI searching for evidence in the trash. How they start is often how they finish. A new report lists the most violent neighborhoods in America. The neighborhood ranked tenth most violent is in Saginaw where I stopped to get a picture of the abandoned manufacturing plant. The three most violent neighborhoods are in Detroit and a fourth from Detroit is seventh. A Flint neighborhood makes it into the top twenty. Detroit journalist Charlie LeDuff went to the most violent neighborhood and saw the same story lines found in Saginaw- abandonment, grievances, churches, liquor stores, and from all of this the criminal habits that makes heaven weep and the FBI staffed at full employment.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been translated into every living language. Understand Detroit or any city on the crime lists and you comprehend better than most violence all over the world. The FBI and Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, stake out the mosque in Dagestan where the oldest brother visited nine months before detonating his bombs in Boston. Dagestan is the most violent place in Russia. Its most “notable” people achieved notoriety through either violence or sports. The Boston Marathon has its history in the Battle of Marathon and Phidippides’ run to Sparta.

Shakespeare’s blanket of the dark is a metaphor for the comfort of illusions that soothes the painful truth.

“A man with nothing left to lose is a very dangerous man and his energy/anger can be focused toward a common/righteous goal.”- Timothy McVeigh

McVeigh watched the final gun battle and flames of Waco from a farmhouse in Decker, Michigan. He had left his home in New York without love and without a mission in life. He drove for thousands of miles in his clunker and finally found his mission among the Michigan militias. He had a tribe that wanted him.

“Americans were shocked to learn that the prime suspects in the Oklahoma City bombing were not foreign terrorists but men from the nation’s heartland. The plot was not hatched in Beirut or Baghdad but possibly in the backwoods of northeast Michigan by a paramilitary cell that investigators allege McVeigh formed with accused conspirator Terry Lynn Nichols and Nichols’s brother James.”- Washington Post, July 2, 1995

Those backwoods of northeast Michigan become very dark at night. The only lights are from the stars on a clear night. It’s cold and lonely at night in the winter and warm and lonely at night in the summer. Michigan has a lot of lighthouses and the most rugged is in that northeast corner, sending its light far out in the dark, cold water warning ships of the rocks in their path. I think about Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bombing, Michigan militias, when I drive out there. It’s where McVeigh found his blanket of the dark. Violence in rural areas doesn’t get the attention of a Detroit. The neighbors are too scattered into the dark to receive a ranking. But it’s there with the stockpile of weapons.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts”

Only when everyone is dead will the curtain come down on Shakespeare.


We’re All Dead Enders Now

citizen memorial

This memorial isn’t a tourist stop. The landscape is all about abandoned homes, high weeds, liquor stores, crime, and makeshift churches run by the ghetto’s whiskey priests. I had to pass a tiny one room “Hope Center” to get here. That place didn’t look so filled with hope. It looked abandoned. There weren’t any windows on it and the only door had protective bars and the house next to it had a wanted sign on its front door. Everything here is makeshift, including the hope. The guys walking the streets did it with the usual hopeless slouch. Their winter coats were unzipped. Around here, spring clothing is just the winter clothing unzipped. If there’s a zip code for this country’s dead enders, here it is on the north side of Flint. The Buick City Complex that used to be here is now gone, swept clean as a computer chip. But this makeshift memorial continues to grow. A prisoner of war memorial is across the street. The dead ender architect of this memorial keeps adding and expanding. The man’s a dead ender for hope.

“…a decade in america already, I want out”

Cultural alienation is now being blamed for the Tsarnaev brothers’ violent acts in Boston. The younger brother’s tweets and older brother’s YouTube account display some of their hostility, including the younger one’s whine about wanting out. The older brother, the boxer, got in trouble for hitting his girlfriend and the father explained you “can’t touch a woman”  in America. The dead ender memorial is a few miles from  the gym where Claressa Shields , a girl who hits back, trained for her Olympic Gold in boxing. She trained against the boys and “hit the heavy bag until it split.” Take that, Mr. Jihad.

Boston is famous for its crime writers, being the land of Eddie Coyle and Friends. I believe very much in the criminal mind and criminal seed. The isms and religion are just articles of clothing, team uniforms. I also believe everything starts with footwork. I noticed the older brother was wearing Arabic sandals in the photos of him at the Boston Marathon. Interesting footwear for a spectator at a marathon. I thought the older one’s sunglasses could have meant that he was in some intelligence agency’s file and wanted to hide his face. Not bad. Two guys with sunglasses might have drawn too much attention. Eh, perhaps. Their body language, attire, looks, reminded me of the Mossad agents who assassinated the Hamas leader in Dubai. Whoever trained them was in the ring with the Mossad, an enemy of the Mossad, and learned to fight with similar tactics. Maybe a stretch, maybe not. Choice of the Boston Marathon was odd. Had to be someone familiar with it. Right on. A college educated mentally ill runner, a Unabomber in Asics- nope. Militias don’t give a crap about the Boston Marathon but Patriots Day… Must not forget the war raging in the shadows with Iran. Saudi Arabia arrested 30 spies from Iran, and there’s a restaurant in Washington that could have gone boom! The land of the dead ender has one of its own imprisoned and on death row in Iran for being a spy. The Iranian-American Marine from Flint left the military to work for a company that produces reality based war games. The company signed a contract with the Pentagon for language training. One of its reality based games is “Assault on Iran” which wasn’t interpreted with benevolence when he visited family in Iran.

The land of the dead ender can be more cruel than the land of Eddie Coyle and Friends. Almost like Chechnya and the Middle East. I doubt that authorities would lock down this area to hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. In this area, you don’t throw a punch to miss or shoot to miss. Grandma has a gun underneath her pillow for the intruder and it’s one and done, either way. The Arab store owners have guns. The cops aren’t coming to the rescue. They’ve been laid off. Wolf Blitzer isn’t on the front lawn. Miranda has skipped town with everyone else. You’re on your own, a certified dead ender. While in Boston, it’s a frenzy. Thousands of law enforcement, robots, SWAT, ATF, FBI, flash bangs, hundreds of rounds fired, and the 19 year old pot head comes out from the boat under his own strength. His worst wound is self inflicted. The commentators from England and Israel, veterans of terrorism, bite their lips. The dead enders for hope add another flag to their memorial.

The man in Flint wrote on the memorial for love and prayers to go out to the world. We’re all dead enders now.


The Artistic Coma v the Digital Animal Farm

Animal intelligence

My protest has ended. The algorithms have won (for now) and Google can continue with plans to kill its only product (Google Reader) that granted unfettered (ferreted?) access to the Animal Farm. All animals are equal, of course, but you know the ending…some are more equal than others. In Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pigs and humans ultimately merge into one, the rules enforced with brute force and snitches. In the real world of today, as the algorithms spam with “suggestions” of VIPigs to follow, the real pigs float dead across the dying rivers of China.

The Napoleons in the digital Animal Farm of today call it Data Darwinism. The algorithms will choose the winners and losers, and who will lead the weaker pigs…to slaughter on the riverbank. For years, researchers have underestimated the intelligence of animals. The animals were given tests devised for humans and when the monkeys and elephants failed to think as their human researchers, the results came back in red that some were obviously more equal than others. When the researchers change the methodology to how the animal thinks, they discovered the test subjects were smarter than human testers. The Napoleons are writing the algorithms for the rest of us to behave, and keep us inside their digital pen. A closed ecosystem where some are more equal than others.

Checking footnotes and facial expressions is a habit that’s hard to shake when coming from a history background in a high crime area. The FBI trains its employees on detecting those nonverbal clues. The store television in a bad part of town was showing an interview with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. She and the host were talking about her book and how hard they had to struggle. Life wasn’t easy. The volume on the television was loud. It was a small store and the owner tried to pretend that he wasn’t listening to two very wealthy people discuss the struggles and hardships. I watched owner’s facial expressions as he tried to hide his feelings. He was an immigrant…from Beirut. His customers, their faces battered and stomachs sloshing from too much booze, came in for more of it and to get some lottery tickets. The owner snapped a little too brusque at one of his clerks. He was listening, and irritation crept into his voice. The digital farm of Facebook ain’t Beirut.

Google is competing with Facebook for a closed ecosystem, its Animal Farm, and the Apple CEO apologized profusely to the Chinese government for showing signs of independence. No one has apologized to the pigs. Scientists are concerned now about a pandemic as the fate of pigs and humans collide.

The algorithms are at war with the higher imagination that wants to be free to roam and explore its whims. To entice the higher imagination to stay in its digital pen, to remain on the farm, it’s offered stars and check marks and authorship rankings. Stay here on the farm for another season. Don’t go pro. You’ll be a number one seed. You can be our pig named Napoleon.

The digital Animal Farm fears most of all the “artistic coma.” The period of stillness where activity appears to cease. The page views would plunge and the flow of data would become a trickle and then stop. But deeper thinking is actually taking place. A vision is being created. The pigs are plotting to bust out.


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