Wednesday, February 29, 2012


My youngest daughter turned 16 today, or rather four, as she is a leap-year day baby. She was an unexpected blessing in the days of graduate school. She’s celebrating her birthday this coming Saturday with friends in a rented ballroom at a Best Western. I enjoy the precious few times I have with Monika, as is the case with my other two daughters. While she’s increasingly discovering as she gets older that I’m not normal as a father and human being, I hope she knows that I love her.  I’m proud of her athletic and musical ability, not to mention her academic excellence, but I love her regardless of these great abilities and accomplishments.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Sometimes we like to show solidarity or support for a good cause, so we dress up in similar clothes, don the same colors, or maybe stick a ribbon pin to our lapel.  For instance, some people wear pink to show their support for breast cancer research or red to demonstrate their support for the fight against heart disease in women.  My wife told me about efforts to establish a Wear Purple Day at her workplace to celebrate the gay and lesbian community, though according to my internet search there is already such a day for an equally good cause, epilepsy.  I think this open-hearted display of support for charities is wonderful and important, and it’s fun too.  However, I’ll never participate.  One exception here would perhaps be the event-sponsored t-shirts I’ve worn for half-marathons, but I feel no pressure or even expectation whatsoever to don the shirt.  Otherwise, I won’t put on the patches, pins, ribbons, armbands, or hats.  I won’t observe the color code.  Why?  It’s not because I’m superior or self-righteous; it’s not because I see myself as set apart from the masses, an enlightened soul far from the madding crowd of conformity.  Still, resistance to conformity, however good-natured and voluntary the conformity, is important to me, more so nowadays than it was in my youth.  Let me explain further before you write me off as a stubborn contrarian.

The word Gleichschaltung resonates with Germans.  It means “coordination” or maybe by extension “conformity”; it has particular association with the Nazi regime’s efforts to get everyone on the same (gleich) page back in the Thirties.  No, I’m not likening Purple Day to Hitler’s totalitarian control of society, but there's an underlying principle here.  My refusal to join in the team-building event is personal.  You see, I teach courses on the Holocaust and other genocides.  I often wonder how I would have acted under these stressful situations but lament the fact that in all probability—given the demographic statistics—I would have fallen in line with the rest.  Usually in the final class session, after having spent weeks discussing the varied behaviors of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders, I invite students to ponder this question about their hypothetical reaction to such trials and tribulations, as if they hadn’t already thought about it in the course of the semester.  What would they do if they were, say, Germans living in Nazi Germany or Hutu during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda?  Even if you were not culturally predisposed to at least a mild form of anti-Semitism or if you disagreed with the Führer's excessive response to the humiliation of Versailles, you would still think twice about risking your life, family, reputation or business by disobeying the dictates of the state and trying to help victims of the genocide.  Then again, there were a handful of people—and I do mean handfulwho resisted and sacrificed their lives in the name of humanity and compassion.  We can never know for sure how we'd act, even if we’d of course like to think that we would have conducted ourselves morally and heroically.  I know it’s a stretch, but my resistance to conformity in even little things like Purple Day or Red Day or Whatever Day gives me a tell-tale sign, arguably, that I might not bend the knee to Caesar or Baal when my conscience tells me to stand my moral ground.  But you never know.  As Martin Luther said on his deathbed: Wir sind Pettler.  Hoc est verum.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Today marks the fifth anniversary since a bomb attack at the front gate of Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan killed over 20 people, including an acquaintance of mine, a pleasant and friendly woman named Markie who had just celebrated her thirtieth birthday with fellow contractors and soldiers the night prior.  I can’t believe it’s been five years already.  Tempus fugit.  Markie was a military contractor, and from what I've learned she had served in the Navy years earlier.  I have already written about this awful event elsewhere.  Someone decided to document this occurrence on Wikipedia, if you’d like to read more.  I think about this tragedy from time to time, the snatching of a life so vibrant and beloved.  I did not know her well, but we had talked a few times, most notably on the night before her death, and it turns out that her family went to my father-in-law's church.  Recently I mentioned the Bagram attack in the course on terrorism that I’m currently teaching.  I was discussing with students the difficulty of arriving at a satisfactory definition of terrorism.  My purpose in bringing up the bombing was to show the problematic nature of such attacks, posing the question as to whether it qualifies as an act of terrorism (especially considering the killing of mostly Afghan civilians in the attack) or a legitimate act of asymmetrical warfare.

I must confess that another case of violence at Bagram during my deployment has occupied my thoughts even more: the possible murder of a female soldier (pictured above) by one or more fellow soldiers.  I was hard-pressed to find any information on the internet about it.  I won’t mention any names, in case someone investigating it arrives at my blog via a search engine thinking I know something.  I don’t.  I just remember driving from my compound to the main part of the cantonment in the middle of the night on September 28 (2007), 0nly a week or so after I had returned to Afghanistan from my two-week leave.  Working the graveyard shift as an intelligence analyst, I would make coffee runs for me and my contractor buddy, Isaiah.  On this particular night the military police had blocked the roads and I had to turn around. 

Someone had discovered the woman’s body lying near the chapel with a gunshot wound to the head.   The soldier was part of a National Guard finance unit from Massachusetts.   She handled payroll.  Investigators and the press deemed her death a suicide.  There had been speculation that because she was a Lesbian foul play might have been involved.  You would agree with me that this woman’s death was not a suicide, once you consider a couple of facts.  First, she had evidently told family members to seek answers should something happen to her.  Second, the recorded voicemail of her speaking to her brother on the day of her death does not suggest a disturbed person about to take her life.  This is speculation on my part, and I’m certainly not a trained investigator.  I don’t know if the audio recording is the voice of the victim; presumably the family or friends set up the website, but I can’t be sure about that.  I’m operating under the assumption that the bits and pieces of circumstantial evidence that I’ve read in a few articles are fairly reliable.  Accordingly, based on the soldier's comments to relatives, I believe her death had something to do with her job and not her sexual orientation.  Only the killer knows the real reason.  Moreover, there are others who know  something, for it is almost impossible to murder someone on a small, fortified airbase in an open area without someone in your unit knowing about it.  I smelled something rotten in Denmark then, and I still do.  It was murder most foul.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


My cat Peter evidently doesn’t get the loving nutrients he needs when I’m away from home.  He demanded love and I was the poor sap who had to give it to him.  I don’t like to talk about my soft side, for in truth I don’t have one, not anymore; but I managed to rise to the occasion and comfort my feline friend.  After giving him his favorite dish, yogurt, I gave him a rubdown.  I guess my wife and daughters have neglected him since the arrival of the dog last year, or maybe he just longs for the male touch.  Everyone wants to be loved, even animals, but Peter, it would seem, is more interested in sex than love.  I feel used.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


We should not so readily equate evil with insanity, disease, or idiocy.  I found myself giving this caveat to a student after she claimed Hitler was mentally deranged.  I don’t know why it’s important for me to correct such comments.  I suppose her statement was rather simplistic and as an educator I had to challenge her a bit.   Her pronouncement lacked analytical weight and evinced no appreciation for the complexities and nuances of real life.  Michael Burleigh in his book Blood & Rage wrote that terrorists, according to the scientific literature, are “morally insane, without being clinically psychotic.”  The same applies to architects of genocide.  We can definitely say they are morally deficient, but why do we Americans always assume our enemies—Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—are non compos mentis?  I suppose it’s too difficult to realize that people do awful things out of rational calculation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Erica Bruyère.  Erica Bruyère.  Uttering her name brings back all those memories, pouring down like a spring rain on an overgrown garden.  Pleasant memories.  Bittersweet memories.  Mostly bittersweet memories, which is why I do not invoke her name often, even a decade later.  I can’t bear the thought of paradise lost.  Watching her shun the art of deportment and the expectations of her social class with that mischievous smile.  Sipping wine on the moonlit veranda, but really drinking her in.  The summer evenings walking along the marbled esplanade.  Gazing at candles on the lake, listening to the nightingale’s love song, and talking into the wee hours of the night.  The world before us was a theater for two.   The afternoons reciting Victor Hugo poems to one another in her gilded parlor.  The trip to her uncle’s vineyard, laughing like school children in the hansom on the way.  The years have rolled on, and I’ve receded into her distant past, as she has mine.  A cruel fate.  She was betrothed to the Comte de St.-Peter, forcefully so.  Her father insisted on the strategic marriage, as did the bishop of Metz.  He put his foot down and there was no stopping him, not her mother and certainly not me, a painter of the petit-bourgeoisie.  I wish her well, I wish her happiness.  But I will never be the same, and my melancholy only intensifies with time, the graying of life's erstwhile delights in sync with the hair on my head and beard.  She lit an eternal flame in my heart and I now walk the earth alone.  The passion she kindled inside me will be my undoing, more so than the scars and lingering wounds of the War where I had unsuccessfully sought death.  Bittersweet memories, yet I would rather take them to my deathbed than to have never known this fairest of God's creatures.

Monday, February 20, 2012


For those with discarded religious backgrounds, the knowledge of evil in the world becomes more painful than otherwise with the prospect that the Devil or God does not exist extra mentem.  Now we must face the absolute meaningless of evil.  There is no special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  The evil acts of Hitler, Pol Pot and Jack the Ripper have no import in any cosmological sense.  Speaking of the devil, Satan has continued to raise his ugly horned head throughout history and, yes, I’m speaking metaphorically.  Even those who believe in a literal devil, a spiritual entity with intelligence, often disingenuously slip in and out of metaphor when discussing him—and, sorry ladies, but the devil is almost always a him.  Interestingly enough, the metaphor of Satan seems to have transmogrified into reality millennia ago, only to return once again to metaphor in the modern world.  We know who the devil is and what he wants.  Scholars also know how he emerged in Western civilization and why he appears with horns and hooves.  Still, why did he ever emerge in the first place?  I mean, we can write off the supernatural and life after death as a byproduct of evolution.  The belief in a life after this one emboldens warriors to fight the good fight or it allows one group to control another.  Still, why did this whole concept of a life after death emerge from our benighted, earthly species?  That's a tough question.  How the devil should I know? 

Monday, February 13, 2012


When I returned from Afghanistan some years ago, I decided to bring a more unconventional style of instruction into the classroom, one that utilizes music, humor, and drama.  So I ended up buying a nice Taylor acoustic guitar and an authentic cowboy outfit—including spurs, alligator skin boots, and a black Stetson—and at times made a spectacle of myself. Heretofore I had always kept my musical side separate from my academic life, even though both have equally shaped my ethereal and creative nature.  But there I was, trying to get the class to sing a song about, say, genocide or terrorism.  Sometimes I’d write lyrics that pertain to a lesson and set them to a known pop tune; other times I’d write both the lyrics and music, a simple ditty, usually rockified, to get the class vocalizing.  I beefed up the humor, music, and drama less because I wanted to bring diverse pedagogical strategies and tools into the curriculum, though that was part of it.  Really, I just wanted to amuse myself.  Boys just want to have fun, or Spaß!

I suppose I had already brought humor into the classroom before my deployment to Afghanistan, as it’s intrinsic to my temperament, but I upped the ante, if you will.  Humor can of course be subjective, and my brand of humor is not straightforward joke-telling in a standup routine; rather, while I might take on the demeanor of a standup comic at times, what with gestures, posture, facial expressions, and tone, I infuse sarcasm, wit, and self-deferential comments into the discussion.  Depending on the student, such quipping and ranting can be misconstrued, but I try to make the connection to the curriculum.  It might seem strange that I bring humor and music into courses on genocide, terrorism, and epidemics—which are the subjects I’ve taught over the years.  I don’t consciously think of humor as a coping mechanism, but that’s what it is, increasingly so as I’m making my way through the fabulous forties.   For the student, though, I think it's good to break up the discussion of hatred and mass murder with something, namely music or humor, that eases the tension.

By drama, I mean a dramatic approach in my presentation of the material; it might take the form of storytelling or role-playing.  Good history is essentially good storytelling.  Don't get me wrong.  The historian must get the facts right and offer plausible and cohesive interpretations; but the centerpiece to any consideration of the past is the story of people doing ordinary or sometimes extraordinary things.  As far as role enactment goes, I have on occasion channeled the spirits of bygone eras, impersonating particular or generic historical figures.  Sometimes, I think, I convey a lesson about humanity or make history alive and relevant by such antics; other times, I probably miss the mark and merely amuse (or annoy) my audience.  Oh well.  Either way, I have fun, a difficult and rare feat for me these days.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Many people don’t know this about me, but I…I…Oh gosh.  I’m sorry, I find myself welling up with emotions right now just thinking about it….I’ll just blurt it out, as it will be easier this way: I, I used to be a girl.  No, I’m not saying that I magically turned into a man yesterday, silly!  What I mean is that I was born a female and until I was twenty had a relatively normal life growing up as a girl.   I say relatively, though, because, well, I had never felt comfortable in my own skin and my adolescence was hell.  I don’t normally make such confessions to a stranger such as yourself, but my hope is that talking about it will bring me some peace of mind.  Please don’t misunderstand me, dear reader.  I’m happy being a man, and my resolve to change my situation, an accident of nature, is probably the best decision I’ve ever made.  But it didn’t come easily and I went through years of confusion and shame.  Moreover, the “surgery” went awry, and I ended up with two…Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the details.  Suffice to say, I place surgery in quotation marks because it was a back alley hack job.  I find it ironic that I don’t understand women.  I know it sounds strange, but it’s true.  And do me a favor, would you?  Let's keep these disclosures our little secret.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I’ve been on Facebook for about eighteen months now.  Perhaps like others who share my reluctance to make personal information available on the internet, I only joined Facebook initially because I wanted to be a part of a particular group at a particular time and ended up continuing on long after the initial purpose of joining ended.  To be specific, I wanted to participate in the Facebook site with my classmates at officer candidate school in South Carolina.  I have no big complaints about such social networking; I understand its value, especially for gregarious types and those who want to connect with others.  My Facebook friends are great, though I admittedly have relatively few.  The “blasts from the past” are a mixed blessing, however, what with people turning up from yesteryear wanting to be your friend.  (Do they really want to be your friend or are they just interested in the number count?)  Most people seem to like these kinds of connections.  I’m good on most of these rekindled relationships via the internet, but sometimes you want the past to stay in the past, no?  Well at least I do.  One thing that I’ve noticed is that many of my friends seem to trip over each other in wanting to demonstrate how liberal they are, or at least now anti-conservative they are.  Some of them, I suspect, are trying to compensate for their conservative upbringing and others simply like to wear their political heart on their sleeve.  Different strokes for different folks.

I personally would rather not know about someone’s partisan political views on Facebook, but I've learned to tune them out.  It's not a big deal.  I realize it’s an open forum to share whatever you want.  It got me thinking about the Zeitgeist, or “spirit of the age,” though.  How nice it would be to read more “outside the box” comments, or any viewpoints that don’t mirror the current political culture and social milieu that we live in.  Just sayin’.   Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not asking for right-wing comments either!  But I’m tired of the same o’ same o’.   Most of these political comments on Facebook boil down to the following: Hey, check out these backward Republicans! Or See how non-racist and enlightened I am, everyone?  Or Homophobes and anti-environmentalists make me so angry!  Never mind that such self-righteous, crackerjack commentary often entails the straw man fallacy.  It would be nice, though, to have a more diverse set of voices out there.

Again, I love my friends on Facebook, but if I’m looking for insights and a new, bold vision on life, I need to look elsewhere.  Some might say that insights on life can emerge out of status reports, responses, and counter-responses.  No, I find more useful reflections and analyses in the wisdom of the ancients (i.e., books!).  More to the point, I’ve grown weary of the usual banter from both the Left and the Right.  Until then, I’ll take these internet musings for what they are: run-of-the-mill opinions and concerns that, while not earth-shattering or risk-taking positions, can nonetheless root me in the social world.  Given my solitary-wolf leanings and willingness to walk off the face of the earth in search of enlightenment, I need such rootedness from time to time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


With all the interstate driving I do for my teaching positions and Army responsibilities, you’d think I’d satisfy my wanderlust.  Sometimes I feel like the quintessential wanderer going wherever the wind blows me, a drifter passing through town, even a nomad; but unlike a Paleolithic hunter or Mongolian warrior, “on a steel horse I ride.”  Of course driving across state lines from one gig to another can become rather routine and dull after so many years and it isn’t exactly the romantic kind of travel that wanderlust conjures.  I’ve visited (and lived in) a few countries abroad, some of them exotic from a Western point of view; I’ve written about these experiences on this blog. Yet I still long for that special place: somewhere on the other shore or beyond the next dale.  Given my name, Viator, I’m cursed to keep trekking on, and on, until I step off the last train, relinquish my baggage on the dusty platform, and finally set foot on “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.”  I suspect my wanderlust is not so much about a τοπος, a piece of turf; rather, the odyssey I’ve embarked upon leads through darker and more labyrinthine pathways than the terrain beneath our feet.  Should finances and schedule allow, I hope someday to make another trip to Japan, perhaps one to South Africa, and definitely a return to Turkey and Germany.  But I’m also a wayfarer in another sense; like Joseph Conrad’s Captain Marlow navigating his way up the Congo, or Petrarch’s ascent of Mont Ventoux in the fourteenth century, my travels and longing for other lands are part and parcel of an inward journey.  My wide eyes betray a restless heart.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Welcome to the world of ideologies!  What are ideologies?  Sets of ideas, theories, claims about the human condition, assumptions about human nature, presuppositions about what would make us happy and enlightened, what would facilitate and expedite a brave new world based on fairness or justice or righteousness.  What we ought to do to restructure society so that we can supposedly live our lives more holistically and better manage the fruits of our labor.  What we can do to forge a more productive, industrious socioeconomic system that benefits everyone.  How to reorganize the government, level the playing field, and reap the benefits of our newfound enlightenment.  Ultimately, how to reify a utopian vision, a future bliss, and usher in the kingdom of prosperity.

That's all fine, I guess, but why can’t we just be biped mammals, solitary primates, walking around, eating, and staying out of each other’s way, or at least refraining from imposing our beliefs on one another?  No, we have to come up with these tiresome ideologies, often for the purpose of making others feel bad or inferior, but definitely to co-opt them into our way of thinking, all because some pretentious dude with a beard and an axe to grind thought his ideas were so brilliant and people fell for it.   Isms are the opiate of the masses.  Who lives by such lofty principles anyway, huh?  Humans are almost by definition contradictory.  We don't adhere consistently to any ambitious and naive set of ideas, least of all cockamamie ideologies.  And what more precisely are these ideologies, you ask?  Isms, my friend.  That’s right, isms.  We all have an ism, tucked away neatly in our intellectual pocket.  In fact, we probably have a handful of isms, a friggin’ suitcase of isms, for there are plenty to go around.  If I had a nickel for every ism out there, I’d have a mansion on a hill.  A mansion on a hill on the Westside, I tells ya.

And what are these isms?  Well, for starters there’s conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, Bolshevism, Marxism, Marxism-Leninism.  Leninism?  How ‘bout McCartneyism and RingoStarrism?  Why not?  Let’s not forget utilitarianism, anarchism, nihilism, terrorism, Jacobinism, syndicalism, nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, Darwinism, Social Darwinism, racism, anti-Semitism, totalitarianism, pragmatism, constitutionalism, transcendentalism, romanticism, and republicanism.  And where would we be without positivism, rationalism, intellectualism, materialism, pluralism, populism, pessimism, libertarianism, humanitarianism,  millenarianism, constructivism, hedonism? Hedonism?  How about sexism, alcoholism,  antinomianism, atheism, agnosticism, henotheism, idealism,  patriotism, jingoism, militarism, Nazism, realism, solipsism, skepticism, industrialism, Taylorism,  modernism, feminism, Futurism, fascism, absurdism, life-sucks-ism, too-many-isms-ism, and why-can’t-we-just-all-get-along-ism?

I’m tired of all these isms.  Yet there’s a reason for them, for we all possess a Weltanschauung or worldview, an interpretive grid, a frame of reference, a point of view, and these isms are the logical outflow thereof.  Unfortunately, the wily and cunning species known as Homo sapiens is doomed to create ideologies and follow them slavishly yet hypocritically.

Just look at those wretched people in the Edvard Munch painting above.   They’re living in the 1890s, when Europe was a veritable ideology-factory, churning out one ism after another supposedly to keep pace with a changing world. Do they look happy?   Huh?   No.  The three decades or so leading up to World War I were replete with economic recessions, radical political agitation, labor discontent, acts of terrorism, and the specter of revolution.   Europeans of the so-called Gay Nineties and the Belle Époque were in fact living in an age of anxiety.   What did these ideologies do for these angst-ridden, tormented, and alienated souls?  Nichts.   Nada.  Is it any mystery, then, why I've turned out to be a pessimistic existentialist-nihilist with a background in Calvinist-Protestantism?

Friday, February 3, 2012


Grausamkeit is a German word meaning cruelty, ferocity, or savagery.  Presumably, we get the English adjective gruesome from grausam.  A good example of Grausamkeit would be, say, getting ripped apart by ravenous wolves on a frozen wasteland after having survived a subzero climate and hostile environment for a day or two.  For present purposes, I would like the etymological root of Grausamkeit to be grau, or the color grey, but currently I can’t substantiate this connection.  I don’t have a German dictionary at hand.  Through a Google search, I found a blogger who claims the word stems from grau, but he is probably going by the similarity of spelling—a rookie’s mistake.  The words legible and legal, for instance, have different etymologies.  Anyway, I could imagine the connection in the sense of a horrific event or grisly scene turning someone ashen grey.

So why the word study?  As usual, the Army put me up at a hotel for my military weekend.  I decided to go out for a change, so I turned off the news and set aside the colleges paper I was grading.  I drove to a nearby mall, traipsed around aimlessly for a bit, and finally decided to watch a movie called “The Grey” starring Liam Neeson.  I found the flick more entertaining than I had anticipated, as it is largely a man-versus-nature story, not my usual cup of tea.  A plane carrying a ragtag group of hardened oil-rig workers crashes in the Alaskan wilderness.  The survivors must fight the cold and some wicked wolves whose territory they’ve presumably slammed into.   The film features a great ensemble cast, though only Neeson is of A-grade stardom.  The landscape and concomitant cinematography was as breathtaking as formidable.  The four-legged beasts looked real, and the chase scenes  were intense.  Yeah, I guess it’s a bone fide guy film; yet it had something more to offer than wolves chasing their hapless biped prey around a winter wonderland.

What struck a chord in me while watching the film was the spiritual or existential questions it raises.  Midway through the film I started reflecting on a double meaning in the title “The Grey,” even if the closing credits informs me that the film is based on a short story called “Ghost Walker.”  Was it the genius of Ridley Scott, the co-producer, to use a more ambiguous title?  The film is not merely about a grey landscape, but a beclouded, agnostic hope for something beyond this life, for an ultimate purpose to suffering.  I suppose for some male viewers, the men's talk from the heart, however brief, is merely filler dialogue between the action scenes, an unnecessary and gratuitous diversion from the fighting and carnage; but action for action's sake, without at least a layman's stab at the philosophical or spiritual questions regarding the human condition, does not interest me.

This spiritual dimension, for lack of a better phrase, came through in a couple of campfire discussions.  In what was for me a poignant and emotional moment (for reasons I can’t fully articulate), the main character Ottway (Neeson) cries to the heavens as he’s the last man standing and the wolves are hot on his trail.  The camera pans the beautifully grey landscape of snow-covered mountains and trees as he yells out something to the effect of: “God, here’s your chance!  Save me.”  But no.  The only response is an earth-shattering silence.  Ottway too will die a horrific death as the alpha male and pack close in and surround him.  I find the implications disturbing, even if they indeed correspond to the hard realities of earthly existence.  The men's painstaking efforts to survive were all for naught. 

Also of interest is the beginning of the film when Ottway attempts to kill himself, for reasons unknown, though his voice-over narrative about his wife seems to give a clue.  His flashbacks of them laying next to each other in bed, and her telling him to be strong, turn out to be memories of his beloved wife dying in a hospital room presumably from an incurable disease.  Just before he meets his fate, Ottway, in a touching moment of  humanity, pulls out the wallets of the men who died, as he had kept them for the sake of the families.  He looks at the family photos, giving him and the audience a window into the lives of roughneck men who had left behind spouses, girlfriends, and children.

I fear I’m elevating the movie too much, for “The Grey” is not spectacularly good.  Moreover, it has a disappointing ending as far as Hollywood movies go: everyone dies.  Usually American movies of this type have the main protagonist survive either because of a clear-cut miracle from on high or because of a more ambiguous set of circumstances that leaves the viewer pondering whether something supernatural had occurred.  Not this movie.  The ending, and a few moments of reflection by the survivors along the way, give the film some depth, but it also raises those painfully incessant questions that confront angst-ridden theists and agnostics alike. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012


If you were to look up the word asshole in the dictionary, you would undoubtedly find not only my name but also a short paragraph about me.  If you were to consult an encyclopedia entry on the term, you’d discover a wealth of information about rectums, anuses, and the like—sure; but keep reading and you’ll essentially be looking at my portfolio, replete with photos, memorabilia, and an extensive biography.  Let’s say that you wanted to watch a documentary about the archetypal asshole in his natural habitat, or maybe even a dramatic film about a ragtag group of assholes on an audacious, asinine assignment; well, in either case you’d inevitably see me strutting across the screen like a proud peacock.  I guess what I’m trying to say, in a rather circuitous manner, is that, well, I’m an asshole.  In fact, I descend from a venerable tradition of assholes, going back to my great-great grandfather Jakob, whose valorous service in the Franco-Prussian War did not seem to change people’s assessment of him.  Whenever townsfolk saw him walking down the street it wouldn’t be long before some audacious simpleton would challenge him: “Du Arschloch!”  He resisted the name-calling and flipped his rude neighbors the bird, but to no avail.  The appellation stuck and I carry on the tradition.