Pandora’s Box, Drones, and Regime Change

May 27, 2015

In recent days and weeks, the news from the Middle East just gets bleaker and bleaker—which makes me wonder. Specifically about the increasing use of drones in warfare. The rationale, of course, is that it’s not nearly as “messy” to surgically remove enemy leaders by drone strikes than having to fight them one on one on the ground. But what scares one is the precedent it sets: what is there then to stop them from returning the favor: using their own drones to surgically target our leaders in Washington?

When a President is Commander in Chief of the world’s largest military, there is an almost irresistible temptation to use it for regime-change. We removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq—now we’re seeing daily imagery of the barbaric ISIS exhibiting widespread atrocities across the Middle East. We step into Syria—and it unleashed a veritable hell in which one of the oldest civilizations in the world crumbles before our very eyes.

I remember hearing a pundit saying early on, where Assad of Syria was referenced: “As bad as he may be, has anyone taken into consideration the possibility that if we remove him from power, we may end up with something far worse?”

Well, it’s happened—and the situation grows more dire by the day.

Back to Iraq: We eliminate Iraq’s leader, arm the Iraquis, and when ISIS forces attack—they run. Whose fault is it?

What about the driving out or killing Christians all across the Middle East? Might that possibly be another example of Arabs taking vicarious revenge for our perceived intrusion into their “personal” affairs?

I don’t know the answers. I only know that there can be grave repercussions when one nation opens the Pandora’s Box of the Middle East and there emerges unimaginably vicious demons that heretofore had been kept safely caged.

And let’s look at Ukraine: Just how many countries around the world do we want to be responsible for? Yet, if our President is the acknowledged leader of the so-called “Free World,” how can he not take a stand in such a grave European dilemma?

It is always unpopular for a sitting President to respond to military “opportunities” in anything less than a macho way. But, since I’m in a wondering mood this morning—somehow nothing on this planet seems quite as simple as it appeared a few years ago.

More questions than I have answers.


May 20, 2015

Forty years ago, when I completed my Vanderbilt doctorate, I mistakenly assumed that I could now put the frontier writer, Zane Grey (the subject of my dissertation), behind and resume my private life. In a way, I could; in another way, I could not. As I explained to one Associated Press reporter, when you are the foremost authority on something, or someone, you become prisoner of that knowledge and expertise. It’s sort of like the old Russian proverb, “He that dances with a bear doesn’t quit just because he gets tired.”


I ought to know: In around a month from now, I’ll be giving my 33rd consecutive keynote address to the members of the Zane Grey’s West Society, this one in Arizona.

Several times during the forty years, I felt the time had finally come to write a biography having to do with the life and times of Zane and Dolly Grey. Each time, for one reason or another, the project failed to jell. But now, my long-time agent, Greg Johnson, has urged me to make one last try.

So I’m structuring a new proposal, in harmony with current biographical trends. In order to do this, I’ve had to sideline several other deadlines. But I’m serious about it, for I strongly feel that if I don’t do it this time, in all likelihood, I never will.

Well, back to work.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know if a contract results from all this.

Is Integrity an Absolute? — The Tom Brady Issue

May 13, 2015

We’ve seen hubris before—think Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Both mistakenly assumed they were too big to fail. Their legions of devoted fans wouldn’t stand for it. Both were wrong.

Ever since the lop-sided playoff victories of Brady and the New England Patriots, people have been wondering whether or not the NFL high command would have the guts to do more than slap the wrist, give a conspiratorial wink, and say, “Naughty, Naughty – don’t do that again” to their favorite cash-cow and glory-boy.

This time (according to newspaper columnists and reporters from papers such as the Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal),  it turns out, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was not amused–least of all by Brady’s arrogance and refusal to cooperate by releasing his phone and e-mail records so that the investigation for Deflategate could reach a fair verdict. Brady clearly felt he was above the law. He was, in short, untouchable. Instead, what few expected: he and the Patriots get more than a wrist-slapping—considerably more.

It is now obvious that Goodell and his team realized a truth that Brady and his win-at-any-cost coach Belichick did not: If once the public perceives that the National Football League can no longer provide a level playing field for all teams (in which all teams have an equal opportunity to win games and pennants) – well, once that perception becomes a reality, millions will turn elsewhere with their allegiances and money.

Machiavelli, half a millennium ago, summed the issue up best: A Prince does not necessarily have to be moral; however, if once the public perceives that he is not moral—all is lost, for it can never ever be fully regained. In this respect, perception trumps reality.

Tom Brady–like Armstrong and Woods before him–had everything: wealthy beyond the average person’s fondest dreams, a lovely wife and photogenic family, world-wide fame, and millions of adoring fans. They were on Mt. Olympus. And assumed they’d stay there. Tom Brady, all too clearly, has made the same false-assumption: Oh it will all blow over; nothing will change.

It already has. Brady’s lustre has already dimmed. In today’s public perception, there will always be an asterisk (a la Barry Bonds and A-Rod) after his name and sports achievements. When people think about him–and this will include sports commentators–, there will henceforth always be a noticeable diminution of their respect for him. A shadow, akin to an eclipse of the sun or moon, has already reduced the wattage of Brady’s once undimmed glory.

It will never return.

It can not return.

Reason being this: like it or not, admit it or not, integrity remains as much an absolute as virginity. Neither can be qualified: one cannot be partly a virgin–one either is a virgin or one is not. Just so, one cannot be partly honest–one is either completely honest or one is not really honest at all.

It is also akin to love: love may precede respect–but it cannot survive the loss of it.

The general perception: that Brady is a man of absolute integrity–is now gone forever.

A pity.

Robert Barr’s “The Sword Maker”

May 6, 2015

Well, there’s always a first time for everything. Quite candidly, when I re-read Robert Barr’s A Prince of Good Fellows after an interval of over half a century, although I was pleased by the second reading, I failed to recapture my original delight. So much so that when I returned the book to my library after writing the April 1 blog (Blog #13, Series #6), I noticed another Barr title I’d evidently never read before, The Sword Maker. After scanning it, I decided to read it and see if I’d been mistaken about Barr’s writing power.

I had not. I literally could not put The Sword Maker down! Turns out it is a much more unputdownable read than was A Prince of Good Fellows. I didn’t quit reading until I reached the last page in the middle of the night. The result? Concluding that I must follow up last month’s blog by another book by the same author.

The setting is imperial Frankfort in Germany back in medieval times. I’ve always been fascinated by the hilltop castles overlooking the Rhine River, thus when I discovered Barr’s protagonist daring to pit his wits against the robber barons who from time to time brought river commerce to a halt, it was a great opportunity to learn more about that period of German history.

I will be most interested in hearing from you, seeing if or not you agree with my featuring this second Barr title.

For biographical information, please refresh your memory by re-reading the April 1 blog.


I’m guessing that a number of you will now be interested in reading more of Barr’s novels.

Here’s a list to help you in your search.

•    In a Steamer Chair and Other Stories (1892)
•    The Face and the Mask (1894)
•    In the Midst of Alarms (1894)
•    From Whose Bourne (1896)
•    One Day is Courtship (1896)
•    Revenge! (n.d.)
•    The Strong Arm (n.d.)
•    A Woman Intervenes (1896)
•    Tekla: A Romance of Love and War (1898)
•    Jennie Baxter, Journalist (1899)
•    The Unchanging East (1900)
•    The Victors (1901)
•    Prince of Good Fellows (1902)
•    The O’Ruddy, A Romance, (with Stephen Crane) (1903)
•    The Tempestuous Petticoat (1905)
•    A Rock in the Baltic (1906)
•    The Triumphs of Eugéne Valmont (1906)
•    The Measure of the Rule (1907)
•    Stranleigh’s Millions (1909)
•    The Sword Maker (1910)
•    The Palace of Logs (1912)

* * * * *

The Sword Maker by Robert Barr (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1910).