Monthly Archives: September 2017

Book Review — Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left

Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left by Ian Parker is a collection of essays on keywords for the political left. Parker is Co-Director (with Erica Burman) of the Discourse Unit, Managing Editor of Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Secretary of Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix, member of the Asylum Magazine editorial collective, and supporter of the Fourth International. He is a researcher, supervisor, and consultant in critical psychology and psychoanalysis.

Revolutionary Keywords is a series of essays based on keywords. It is not a dictionary of definitions but contains commonly used keywords and creates essays built around the word. The essays put the keyword into context in modern socialism. Like most books on socialism, this one, too, becomes complex. The term socialism means many different things to many different people. European socialism, Stalinism, Leninism, Marxism, Democratic Socialism, even America’s capitalist based “socialism” is discussed in order to set the common ground.

The book discusses many aspects of historical socialism as well as modern day.  Topics of race, sex, gender, globalism, and campism are discussed in detail throughout the book. Other topics seem mundane but have deep roots such as discourse, postmodernism, identity, and animals.  The discussions run deep and turn out complex.  At the end, the recap traces the changes in keywords from 1917 -1967 and 1967-2017.  The evolution of keywords leads to the 2017 keywords in this volume.  Although not intended for the general audience, in fact, I found myself a bit entangled in the subject matter.  I felt much the same way on the first day of a semester in graduate school.  Needless to say, it is not light reading, but worth the time and effort for those with an interest in the far left.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Poetry Review — The Collected Poems of Galway Kinnell

The Collected Poems of Galway Kinnell by Galway Kinnell is a collection of sixty-five years of writing. Kinnell, a Navy veteran, experienced Europe and the Middle East while serving. He was also involved in the civil rights movement. Kinnell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for Selected Poems and he studied at Princeton and earned his Master’s degree from the University of Rochester.

The tome of the work is presented in several sections reflecting publications and time. His earlier work takes the form of more traditional poetry with sights and feelings of his ports of call in the navy, particularly France and India.

What storms have blown me, and from where,
What dreams have drowned, or half dead, here

Each year I lived I watched the fissure
Between what was and what I wished for
Widen, until there was nothing left
But the gulf of emptiness.

The traditional form is partly owed to his admiration of Walt Whitman. He then moves to more of a “Beat” type of poetry. His work seems influenced by the movement even though he was not an active participant. His work in the late 1960s and 1970s moves much more into nature poems:

On the tidal mud just before sunset, 
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven

In the 1980s through the 2000s Kinnell finds himself writing as an experienced sage.  He relies on his personal experience and knowledge to create his mature works.  Here, the poems reflect on aging and the death of those who were close and the lives of his children. Kinnell also speaks frequently of religion, but not in the most positive sense. His short poem “Prayer”:

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

He had a strong dislike for Christianity.  Some of that can be seen in the long poem, written in the early 1960s, “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World”:

A roadway of refuse from the teeming shores and ghettos
And the Caribbean Paradise, into the new ghetto and new paradise,
This God-forsaken Avenue bearing the initial of Christ.

Before reading this collected works, I had not read any Kinnell poetry.  Although I was impressed with several poems his two most anthologized poems slipped by me– “St. Francis and the Sow” and “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”.  His poems from the from the 1970s and later poems appealed the most to me.  The widespread of his poetry and the evolving topics will sure to find favor with other readers with different tastes than my own.  As a collected work, Kinnell’s poems, show his growth and refinement as a poet.  The introduction by Edward Hirsch will give the reader ample information and background on the poet and his poems.  A well-done collection that will allow the reader to pick and choose his or her favorite topics or simply give the reader something to pick up and randomly read.


Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy

Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian is a collection of ten interviews conducted between 2013 and 2017. Chomsky is sometimes described as “the father of modern linguistics.” He is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona. Barsamian is an Armenian-American radio broadcaster, writer, and the founder and director of Alternative Radio, a Boulder, Colorado-based syndicated weekly public affairs program heard on some 250 radio stations worldwide.

Noam Chomsky is a giant not only in linguistics, but also political science. His name is familiar to most people without introduction and there are few, if any, ambiguities in his positions. During these interviews, Chomsky reinforces his political and foreign affairs views that have been published in his other works. At 88, Chomsky is not backing down from his long-held positions. The final interview in the series takes place in June 2017. Here some new information is given. Chomsky tackles the Trump presidency, North Korea, and Bernie Sanders. Sanders is an interesting discussion of the idea of “revolution” in American politics.

Most of the interviews contain explanations of Chomsky’s previous writings and how earlier explanation still apply in today’s world. The rise of ISIS is discussed as well as how to deal with North Korea. Both organizations react negatively to outside force and seem to gain more support when external pressure is applied. Perhaps the largest threat Chomsky sees is the threat of climate change and the war against doing anything to stop it. The overwhelming majority of scientists agree but capitalism’s monied corporations have a much larger voice through lobbyists and supported government representatives. Chomsky even mentions an educational program that on the surface seems to recognize climate change, but instead uses its resources to debate the subject sowing seeds of doubt in young minds.

Chomsky also looks in at America too. The “Make America Great” slogan is laughable. Chomsky believes what made America great was not the mythical 1950s image that the right has today but the sense of community and helping. Today so much is put on consumerism and individual importance. One merely has to watch traffic at intersections and crosswalks to see this in everyday life. We don’t want to build community. Schools lose funding. Arts and libraries suffer. Tax cuts feed the consumerism and corporate profits. Much of the labor is done overseas. Resources are removed from poor countries increasing ill will. The US supports dictators who have raw materials we need. One of the most repressive regimes and whose money actively supports terrorism is our ally, Saudi Arabia. We sow the seeds of hate in the poor both at home and around the world.

Global Discontents provides a great overview of Chomsky’s thinking and his earlier writing.  Chomsky also gives the reader some insight into his personal life.  In the discussion of one quote about Voltaire and crossword puzzles, he explains: “But you can learn things much more easily just by opening the pages of a serious book.” Global Discontents is one of those serious books that from which one can learn many things.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Poetry Review — Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke & Mirrors by Michael Faudet is the poet’s third collection of published poetry. Faudet is a bit of a mystery and there is some question as to if he is actually a creation of Lang Leav. I don’t subscribe to that explanation but there is a similarity between the two in writing and the fact that they are partners may add to that speculation. Faudet does seem to follow R.H. Sin in not providing personal information. The style of the three poets mentioned above does seem to follow the same format of short poems about a single loved one.

I read Faudet’s Pretty Dirty Things last year and found that he had a talent for pushing limits without the reader knowing that he or she are crossing any. Faudet’s poems do tend to be a bit longer than the two or three line “song lyric quotes” that have been unbelievably popular with the younger hip crowd. In this collection, there is a rather lengthy piece of prose near the middle. The prose is, again, like many poems, more of an adult fantasy story. Between the sex and love Faudet inserts quite a bit of vodka.

Some poems reach for more like “Freedom” and others like “Fame” are basically teenage dreams. “A Long Distance Relationship” is a prose poem chronicling the end of a relationship. In this poem, Faudet concludes with a statement outside of the poem much like a moral in a fable — Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes it just teaches us that we can live apart. Singling out my favorite would have to be the story “The Missing Sock.” It’s conclusion, although rather simple, is a small revelation of the truth.

Smoke and Mirrors is a well-mixed collection of prose and poetry.  I was glad to see poems that were more than a few lines long and a variety of styles.  The title poem was actually very good too which is a bit of a rarity.  This is a collection that the younger crowd will enjoy.  The success of this collection, again, is in the mix of poetry and prose and the rather adult subject matter will hold most readers attention or imagination.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Poetry Review — The Ballad of Billie Potts

The Ballad of Billie Potts by Robert Penn Warren is an American version of an international folktale. Warren was an American poet, novelist, and literary critic, and was one of the founders of New Criticism. He was also a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry.

John Burt provides a detailed introduction to the story set, in this version, in Kentucky. The story itself is a folktale in Eastern Europe, Ohio, and points further west in the US. The introduction, itself, is longer than the poem. The background provided is excellent. This edition is also illustrated by P. John Burden whose almost three-dimensional renderings are haunting and very much add to the story. The dark works have an unsettling effect as well a constant reminder of doom represented by the crow.

The poem and the drawings represent the land between the water. This, in American lore, is the separation of the established East and the untamed West. The Potts’ Inn represents the border between the East and the West. It is very reminiscent of the introduction to the TV series The Twilight Zone:

It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.

As the poem progresses the separation between wilderness and metropolis shrinks until the middle ground almost sits on the edge of a great city contained in something like a park. No longer wilderness in a true sense but a civilized version of the wild… a safe wilderness.  The Potts are not safe and prey off of weaker and richer travelers.  They are an element of danger in moving to the west.  It is city folk versus those people who live in Charlie Daniel’s “Wolley Swamp” or even Hank Williams Jr “Country Boy” song.  Here Warren uses poetry instead of lyrics, but like lyrics, he repeats a refrain “in the land between the rivers.”

A haunting bit of poetry, folklore, and artwork complete a tale that will chill the reader.  The reader will be left to consider which aspect of the book is most important.  Is it the lore, poetry, or artwork, or is it perhaps a perfect combination of the three.  The introduction and a little US history of the expansion West will give the reader a near perfect picture of the Americanization of a folktale.  The story itself verges on creepy and has an exaggerated Appalachian setting.  As Burt notes in the introduction, there is no redemption in this tale but the reader may notice a progress of time and industry unaffected by  “the land between the rivers.”  Very well done on several levels.


Filed under Book Review

Book Review — First to Fight: The U.S. Marines in World War I

First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.

Marine’s Hymn

First to Fight: The U.S. Marines in World War I by Oscar E. Gilbert and Romain Cansiere is the story of the birth of the modern Marine Corps. Gilbert, Ph.D., (University of Tennessee), is a former Marine artilleryman and currently a geoscientist living in Texas. His previous published works include the widely acclaimed Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific and Marine Corps Tank Battles in Korea. Cansiere is a native of Avignon, southeastern France, with a university diploma in agronomic technology from Provence University.

Every Marine can tell the story of Belleau Wood. WWI was the turning point for the Marine Corps. It went from the traditional role, as British Royal Marines, as a naval security. Slowly that role changed in the early twentieth century when the Marines were used as infantry in the Philipeans and Vera Cruz. Previously the Marines served as “police” in unstable Latin American countries and were known as the “State Department’s troops.” The First World War allowed for the Marines to expand into the role of traditional infantry.

The authors cover, in great detail, the history of the battle at Belleau Wood. A day by day account is given with first-hand information including an uncompleted letter home from a Marine who did not make it. Also included are lesser know battles of Soissons, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne covered in detail. Not surprising the author’s also include some information on the tanks being used on the Western Front.

First to Fight does not exclude those away from the trenches.  Marines serving in anti-submarine artillery in the Azores and those on usual shipboard duty.  The Marines were also one of the first services to use women.  Women Marines took care of clerical and other tasks to free up men who were badly needed in the trenches.  Being the smallest branch of the services, even small losses of men created a severe shortage.  Recruiting was not a terrible problem for the Marines.  News reports from Vera Cruz, sharp uniforms, and a reputation as professionals made the Marines a desired service.  Up to 70% of those who volunteered were rejected mostly for medical reasons.  Marines trained at Mare Island and the still functioning Parris Island.

Another area that is often ignored is covered in First to Fight.  Marine aviation got its real start and almost it end in World War I.  Marines Flew with British who had machines but lacked pilots after years of fighting.  Aviation would become important to the Marines after World War I.  In the interwar years, Marines fought and trained in Latin America.  Marine aviation worked with ground forces and developed close air support.  This allowed planes and ground troops to work together combining their effectiveness.  Close air support became an important doctrine in future conflicts.

First to Fight covers the evolution of the Marine Corps from security and landing party support to an independent acting force that would be the first to fight in many of America’s declared and undeclared conflicts.  That special pride that Marines have always had in the Corps is seen in the pages of this book. And another thing in the Marine Corps over a hundred years is Marines complaining about food and the lack of it.  A well-written and informative (even for Marine veterans) account of the Marines in the First World War. Semper Fi, Marines.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field

The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field by Richard Nephew is the study of sanctions as an effective diplomatic tool. Nephew is a nonresident senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program and affiliated with the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative housed within the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. He is also a research scholar and program director at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. His present research is focused on the use of sanctions for deterrence and impact on present U.S. foreign policy challenges.

Sanctions have a notorious perception of being ineffective as a diplomatic tool. The United States completely blocked Cuban imports and exports but Cuba continued on its path because of support from the USSR and other non-aligned countries and even American allies. For Americans wanting Cuban products, it was a simple trip to Canada or Mexico. Vietnam also fell into this category. Sanctions were and are seen as a failure in Iraq and Iran. Can sanctions be effective in despite apparent string of failures?

Nephew discusses Iraq as the start of his study. Sanctions are meant to cause pain to encourage change. Once the change is implemented the sanctions disappear or are replaced with aid. The problem with dictatorial countries like Iraq, North Korea, and Cuba is that there is no force of change in the country. Sanctions are applied and the corrupt and higher ups still have all they need. The people in general suffer. That suffering is often used as fuel by the local government. It is not the people’s leaders who are making them suffer, it is the US (and or the West). In Cuba, bad times were often off set with rallies condemning the US. North Korea is so closed off that its people believe they have the second best economy, next to China. Also put forth is the belief that the US lost the Korean War and the food aid being sent to North Korea is actually war reparations.

In Iraq, the government was deeply entrenched and the opposition was usually imprisoned or executed. Hussein was not a rational player on the world stage. This made it difficult to pressure any change. Twice he went to war against his neighbors and was at a loss of allies which eventually allowed military intervention, twice. Nephews next turns to Iran which despite the US claim of being a rogue state, does, for the most part, act as a rational player. It has relations with 97 nations compared to North Korea’s 24 nations with full diplomatic relations. Iran’s nuclear program is an issue and a nuclear armed Iran is considered unacceptable by the US. Interesting to note that under the Shah the nuclear program was acceptable. Iran tends to better listen to the world than Iraq and other countries. Its people do have limited choice in the local and national elections. Blindly believing in the Western Devil has faded and there has been a rise in materialism. The massive death toll of the Iran- Iraq War still leaves a bitter taste in the population when the idea of war becomes the topic. Iran can be persuaded with sanctions as long as they are effective. However, the US ban on importing gasoline only lead to Iran developing and expanding its oil distillation infrastructure.

North Korea is the last main player (aside from Russia). With a shared border and a strong protectorship with China, sanctions prove difficult. Although ships heading in and out of North Korea may be searched and checked, only China can control its border with North Korea which provides a gaping hole in any economic sanction. North Korea also knows that there is little the US can do militarily. Seoul is only 35 miles south of the border and provides a more than adequate hostage being well with in range of conventional and nuclear forces. North Korea’s missile flights over Japan also demonstrate another potential hostage in a military conflict.

Nephew examines the use of sanctions in the past and present while offering options of the future sanctions with Iran, North Korea, and Russia.  He recognizes sanctions can be effective if correctly used.  That becomes the main focus of this work, how and which sanctions are effective.   The difficulty of correctly administering sanctions in an effective way.  Varying alliances and the difficulty to get countries to commit are always problems.  Corruption of the local governments prevent sanctions from being evenly distributed and autocratic governments can reflect the blame back onto the countries administering the sanctions.  Sanctions, however, do and can be a successful alternative to military action.  The problem remains in the execution.  Nephew does an outstanding job at describing the problems and benefits of sanctions in today’s world.  Very well done


Available December 19, 2017

The reviewer also holds an MA in International Relations, Security Policy.


Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry

Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry by Konstantin Batyushkov and translated by Peter France is a poetry collection infused into a biography. Batyushkov was a Russian poet, essayist, and translator of the Romantic era. He also served in the diplomatic corps, spending an extended period in 1818 and 1819 as a secretary to the Russian diplomatic mission at Naples. France is honorary fellow and professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh. He has translated French and Russian prose texts as well as the works of many Russian poets, most recently Lermontov, Baratynsky, Mandelstam, and Aygi.

Russian poetry tends to be difficult to find in the West. Russia had no shortage of poets and no shortage of very good poets. Much of the problem lies in the translation. Russian poetry is heavy on feminine rhyme. Feminine rhymes end in unstressed syllables preceded by stressed syllables. In English these rhymes usually depend on suffixes, for example, shocking and stocking. In Russian feminine rhyme is much more common and easily lost in translation. France does an excellent job of preserving the rhythm and form of the original Russian.

Batyushkov lead an amazing life filled with adventure, through wars, and the place of history when he lived. He saw Moscow burn and fought in Finland and was part of the chase that forced Napolean back to France. In his own words:

What a life I have lived for poetry! Three wars all on horseback and the highways of the world.

France weaves together Batyushkov’s poetry and places it in context with his life. His poetry on war is notable in that even in victories he does not resort to false heroics or patriotic embellishments.  Most of Batyushkov’s writing is pastoral with limited rhymes.  His writing was brilliant and he was a leader of Russia’s Golden Age of Poetry.  However, by 1820, at the age of 33, his depression and developing mental illness ended his writing career.  He spent the next 35 years moving about before resettling in the town of his birth where he died from typhus in 1855.

France does a commendable job of introducing the poet and poetry to the English speaking world.  Combining the biography with selected poems adds depth to the poetry as well as an understanding of Russian history and its effects on the poet. Batyushkov’s rich personal life provided ample material for his poetry.  Whether watching Moscow burn or crossing the Neman or the Rhine.  His own return to Russia to stay was recorded the “Return of Odysseus.”  A great introduction to 19th century Russian poets and poetry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Langston’s Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem

Langston’s Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem is an examination of Hughes’s work from a political, religious, and social perspective. Best is a professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University.  He specializes in 20th century African American religious history. His research and teaching focus on the areas of African American religion, religion and literature, Global Pentecostalism, and gender and sexuality. He has held fellowships at Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion and the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.

As a man, in America, Hughes had four things against him — He was black, and accused of being an atheist, a homosexual, and a communist. As an African American his poetry, especially the earlier work, was written in the contemporary African-American language complete with the slang bringing criticism for its unpolished uneducated appearance. Atheism was closely tied to his work “Goodbye Jesus.” Best devotes a great deal of time discussing this poem, its meaning, and reviews.

Hughes’ supposed homosexuality, mentioned but not discussed deeply in this book, is strongest tied to his writings. Hughes writes several of his poems as a convincing female. This may not be an indication of anything today,  but during his lifetime it made a convincing suggestion. Accusations of being a communist are tied, and discussed in this book, to Hughes’ trip to the Soviet Union for production of a film. He also appeared before McCarthy on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The treatment of blacks and darker skinned peoples in the USSR was a refreshing change from the US. In the US, Hughes lost his dorm room at Columbia because the admissions department thought he was Hispanic. His application was sent from Mexico where his father lived.

Best is a religious scholar and also teaches African-American studies. He examines Hughes religious upbringing, mostly from his aunt in Kansas. He visited Catholic churches in Mexico and attended services. In Harlem, he visited and wrote about the store front churches. In his writing, particularly in the plays Black Nativity and Tambourines of Glory, center on African- American religion. I, however, was not convinced that his interests in religion were totally spiritual. Church architecture, especially old Catholic churches are interesting whether or not one is religious and the same can be said of the ceremony. Hughes, too, makes no overt attempt to convert or go to other Catholic churches. Tambourines of Glory reflects the African-American churches in Harlem. Here the draw could have easily have been cultural instead of purely religious. Hughes seemed to write more from a cultural perspective than a religious one. In my take of Best’s research, I see culture and racial politics as the subject and religion serving as the background.

Best presents a well documented and informative study of Lanston Hughes’ rather extraordinary life.  Although religion does play a key role, one does question its role in Hughes writing.  While I may not always agree with Best’s assessment and explanations, he does provide thinking points and a wealth of information on Hughes and African-American culture of the period.  Langston’s Salvation is well worth reading for those interested in Langston Hughes or Africa-American culture in Harlem as well as America in general.


Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Residential Schools and Reconciliation: Canada Confronts Its History

Residential Schools and Reconciliation: Canada Confronts Its History by J R Miller is the study of actions and reforms in the Native Peoples’ treatment and standing. Miller is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Saskatchewan. He is the author of numerous works on issues related to Indigenous peoples including Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens and Shingwauk’s Vision, both published by University of Toronto Press.

I picked this book up as a comparison to how the Native People were and are treated in the areas that are now the United States and Canada. The US Native Americans have and continue to be marginalized. Life on the reservation remains poor. Those outside the reservation must adapt to a Western way of life although the social pressures of “fitting in” have been lessened as society evolves. There is still violence as Wounded Knee in 1975 showed. Presently Standing Rock shows how capitalism trumps treaties and sovereignty.

In my reading and study of history Canada played only a minor role mostly in the War of 1812, WWI, and as a Cold War partner. Treatment of the Native Peoples never made headlines here. The general assumption was, by comparison, Canada did rather well. The reality of that assumption is another matter. The Canadian government teamed up with the four major branches of Christianity — Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian. The government wanted inclusion in education and health care. The church(es) wanted conversion. The churches had the drive and motivation to carry out the work.

The residential schools were disastrous and brutal. Most ended in the 1970s with a flurry of civil suits against the government and churches. Churches and the government started a process of reconciliation with apologies and compensation. Miller covers both sides and details the progress and hangups. The continuing work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal people and the Constitution Act of 1982, section 35 recognizing Aboriginal rights has brought about a great deal of change although not it is not complete it does recognize the errors of the past.

Residential Schools and Reconciliation documents the struggle for rights of Aboriginal peoples of Canada and the progress made so far. It also shows a more conscious effort to correct wrongs and improve the current situation. It is not complete but by comparison, it is much better than other aboriginal peoples have fared. A well-documented history that seems to honestly describe the issues and errors of the past.

Available November 7, 2017

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review