Thursday, July 31, 2008

Arrogant And Out Of Touch

Eighty-seven year old Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens -- a long-time and energetic supporter of drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) -- has been indicted for lying about gifts received an oilfield contractor. Reportedly, the gifts included a deck for his house and a kitchen remodel. Setting aside for moment that ordinary people take out second mortgages for such home improvements, consider the spectacle of a United States Senator making himself look like Tony Soprano. That a politician sells himself is no big surprise, but I'm always struck by how cheap a price the ones that do put on their integrity and reputation. The corruption of Alaska Republicans has been a story in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of years now and Stevens has a well-deserved reputation for pettiness and arrogance, but this is nonetheless a seedy and shabby close to a 40-year Senate career...

Speaking of arrogance, Johnny Wattles claims that Barack Obama is arrogant and out of touch.  Johnny W. may have a point, as these photos from Obama's Seattle rally earlier this year clearly demonstrate:




Here, Johnny shows off his version of the common touch:

Just what is he reaching for, anyway? For variations on the same theme, click here.

New Orleans pays a call on Deer Island, Maine to great effect. We went to Deer Island twice when I was a kid. I still remember my father and I and couple of my brothers joining the postman on a boat called the "Palmer Day" as he made his rounds among the surrounding smaller islands...

Tonight, we're checking out the Red Stick Ramblers at St. Edwards's Park in Kirkland. Why is a state park named after a saint? It used to be a Catholic seminary, and the seminary building is still there...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hoops! Applesauce!

What do you want? This--



or this--




Jon Stewart assesses the entire sordid episode at about the 3:00 point here.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on an email "scandal" that has "rocked" the Port of Seattle. Eight employees lost their jobs and seven were suspended without pay for their participation in a ring that distributed inappropriate emails. According to reporter Vanessa Ho, one of the emails contained a video "...of a baby suckling on a partially nude woman doing a headstand." 

Now, I happen to have seen that video. A lactation consultant friend sent it to me a while back. What she found cute and I found charming has the Port of Seattle in dither and Vanessa Ho up in arms over kiddie porn. Judge for yourself:



There's more to it than this, of course, but is the whole business really worth taking away the livelihoods of eight people in a down economy? Port Chief Executive Tay Yoshitani thinks so: "This is especially disappointing as we have been clear with staff about our expectations that employees read, understand and abide by the port's policies."

I'm a flaming liberal. There's no room in any workplace for harassment or discrimination. But there are effective ways of handling the problematic emails without firing people. Plus, this is a port, for God's sake. What kind of language does Yoshitani think the average stevedore uses? Somehow I doubt it, but maybe there really are guidelines like these:

DON'T say @(*^#@)!?!*

DO say "Golly"

DON'T say ^&#)*!@%*!  #!

DO say "My goodness"

DON'T say *@)+-@^?"!!  *>^#}!!!

DO say "Hoops! Applesauce!" 

Example: Steve Dore drops a 200-lb crate on his foot. Steve's old response would have been to react irrationally and scream in pain that "*&$ #%^@ it! That @#&*?^$!*^ing crate just broke my #*^?ing foot!!! Somebody call the #*^?ing EMTs!"  Now he knows to take a deep breath, count to ten, and respond appropriately: "Yumpin' Yiminy but this gol-durn crate was darn heavy! Applesauce it! Could somebody please dial 911?" 

Ya think?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Clean, Well Lighted Used CD Store

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has so much as glanced at Citizen K. to hear that I like a good used CD store. The best kind does not necessarily have the largest selection. Any university district has a used CD store with acres of CDs that college kids have bought, burned and resold. If you're looking for something specific, these are good places to check, especially for mainstream recordings. The problem today is that much of the selection from these type places is available for downloading at the same price (or less) as the used CD version. You can even legally copy purchased downloads (iTunes allows seven copies), so in a sense downloading puts you ahead of the game.

But a small neighborhood shop can be a jewel. Last Saturday when we went over to West Seattle for dinner, I was excited to spot Rubato Records, a place with real potential. It did not disappoint. First of all, it's small enough that I could review their entire selection within 20 minutes. Second, the selection is offbeat, including a small selection of unusual imports. I wound up with four CDs that I didn't know existed, and they're all good.

Chuck Leavell has played piano for The Allman Brothers and The Rolling Stones (among many others) and fronted his own band called Sea Level. Back in 2001, he released a delightful set of solo piano compositions called Forever Blue. Brief but compelling, Forever Blue makes for great morning or dinner listening...The British folksinger Donovan's Sixties hits are familiar to most people (of a certain age, anyway), but I'll bet you didn't know that in 2004 he recorded an homage to the Beat Generation called Welcome To The Beat Cafe. He captures the coffee house spirit in a fun, ambient recording that includes a version of Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight" set to music...The expatriate singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy has lived and recorded in Paris for over 25 years. He releases much of his music on his own label, including Never Say Die: The Best Of 1995-2005...And More. I got turned onto Murphy a couple of years ago; Never Say Die is a great means of catching up on what I've been missing...Rubato Records even had a Cajun selection, and I took a flyer on Authentic Cajun Music by Jackie Callier, Ivy Dugas, and the Cajun Cousins. The Cajun Cousins include a steel guitar which adds an element of Western swing to their sound. Exceptionally well produced in the bargain...And where else would one find Greatest Hits from the Seattle avant-garde composer-musician Amy Denio? Denio's primary instruments are the sax and the accordion. I'm not especially well-versed in the avant-garde, but there's a gentleness and musicality here that I don't naturally associate with the term...

So, support your local used CD store. The smaller and more cramped looking, the better!

Now this is what should have been on the cover of The New Yorker. Thanks, PWALLY!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday Morning And He Sure Looks Fine

Barack Obama is taking some flack for campaigning in Europe. Even Garry Trudeau applies a gentle tweak here. In a sense, though, there's a larger point to be taken from Trudeau's joke. America's prestige and reputation has taken a beating under Bush and Cheney. Many on the right don't give a damn about that one way or another, but for those of us who do Obama's election offers a means of restoring both...

For a panoramic, 360-degree version of the AP photo above, go here...

The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund provides support for the research costs associated with investigative journalism. The Fund emphasizes reporting on subjects often ignored by the mainstream media, and seeks to improve the scope and overall quality of investigative reporting in the independent press. Institute Director Ham Fish writes in the Institute Index  that "we set up our Journalism Fellowship program at the Institute to provide financial support and a protected space to indispensable, gifted, independent writers who would not otherwise be able to report on complex social and political subjects." Here are links to three articles supported by the Institute's investigative fund:

The Subprime Swindle. Kai Wright examines the disproportionate impact of recent foreclosures on African Americans—what he calls "a massive strip mining of hard-won wealth."

Why The Economy Went South. Wall Street insider Nomi Prins focuses on what went wrong in Congress and what should be done to alleviate the crisis in her article and accompanying timeline, Where Credit is Due.

Meet The Wealth Gap (Gabriel Thompson). At lunchtime on the East Side of Manhattan, the worlds of poverty and privilege collide when deliverymen hand CEOs their lunch. Thompson examines the class inequalities he finds in buildings on Park and Madison avenues. The titans of finance who have offices on the top floors of these skyscrapers break income records while the wage-earning security guards and delivery men lack even the union protection to demand higher compensation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reviews You Can Use

Friday night, we saw the Soul Stew Revival with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Trucks and Tedeschi front an 11-piece band that perform roadhouse rock and R&B at a very high level -- just about the best bar band anyone will ever see.  Trucks' solos were dazzling and Tedeschi seemed much more comfortable than the other time I saw her. Especially strong were toDerek & the Dominos numbers -- "Anyday" (two show-stopping solos by Trucks) and "Tell The Truth." The band did a terrific, lengthy workup of Allen Toussaint's "Hercules" which featured a nice contrapuntal workout between the sax and trombone players. The Soul Stew Revival played the Wilson Pickett arrangement of "Hey Jude," which culminated with a Trucks solo and Tedeschi's R&B shouts played against the backdrop of the Pickett version's classic horn chart. All in all, a terrific show that would have been enhanced by a dance floor. SB, I'd love to see these guys in Floore's Country Store!

Premium T. said after that Trucks' talent and stage presence left her transfixed. There's no grimacing or posing from Derek: He closes his eyes, stands still, and concentrates every ounce of emotion and energy into his hands. I'm not a guitarist and can't identify his right-hand techniques, but he does things that I've never seen anyone else do; in the first clip below, he says that he never pays attention to his right hand! I've also included a poorly recorded but well-worth watching version of "Anyday" from this year's New Orleans Jazz Festival. (Full disclosure: The Derek and the Dominos version is one of my favorite songs.)

The trio Scrapomatic -- fronted by Derek Trucks Band vocalist Mike Mattison -- opened. They performed an intriguing amalgam of front-porch gospel and blues with a little Tom Waits styling thrown in for good measure. Members of the Soul Stew Revival joined in from time to time to add a little punch. Definitely one of the better sets I've seen from an opening act: Mature, intelligent music with a unique perspective...

Citizen K. Saw: Dark Knight.
First of all, Heath Ledger's swaggering, lip-smacking, psychopathic Joker is as good as you've heard it is. Ledger's portrayal takes its place in the lists of great screen villains. When he's in jail, I didn't mind that no one wiped off his makeup because by then I was convinced of its indelibility. Unfortunately, Christian Bale's Batman is kind of a drip and Aaron Eckhart's crusading DA isn't much better. 

The film ties itself into rhetorical knots trying to both oppose and justify extralegal means of combatting terrorism and winds up exploiting it. Just once, I'd like to see a movie or TV show that successfully takes on terrorists by observing the Constitution. They constantly imply that the only way to go is for a cowboy type to apply torture, threats and violence. (We've seen how well that works in real life.) Dark Knight even goes out of its way to endorse illegal cell phone surveillance -- but just once and only if Morgan Freeman is at the controls. (We've also seen how likely this is in real life. Real life has a way of intruding on terrorism fantasies.)

BTW, why is a such a violent, threatening film rated PG-13? There are enough guns to the back of the head and knives in mouths to more than justify a R...

Citizen K. Dined At: Ama Ama Oyster Bar & Grill, West Seattle.
Pleasant ambience, original choices, and reasonable prices distinguish Ama Ama from the pack of Seattle seafood restaurants. I started with a nicely selected and prepared plate of raw oysters accompanied by a perfectly mixed martini. From there, I tried the ceviche of the day (halibut). There was a tad too much dressing, but it was quite good, and the idea of rotating ceviche preparations is a winner. After this came the deep-fried green tomatillo salad, something I had never seen or tasted before. At any rate, I scarfed it down. I topped it off with a delicious chocolate cake supplied by the neighboring Bakery Nouveau. (This was a real treat: Too many restaurants ship in mass-produced desserts, so it was extra nice to have one made from scratch by a local bakery.) The pleasant Miami-retro ambience features nice low lighting, well-chosen and appropriate music played at the right volume, and continually running beach movies (sound turned down) on the flat-screen TVs over the bar. Nicely done all around, and I plan to make the trip from Redmond to West Seattle again, and soon.

Citizen K. Read: The Silver Swan, Benjamin Black
A naive but beautiful young wife runs afoul of a quack healer and a cad in this plodding, disappointing followup to the more successful Christine Falls. John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) betrays a faulty grasp of the mystery genre with heavy padding and clumsy, crude handling of what little suspense he attempts to muster. Moreover, the protagonist Quirke (introduced in the earlier book) is practically superfluous. The writing quality is consistently high and the characterizations are strong, but little of this advances the plot. I don't mind a deliberate pace -- see John Brady or Elizabeth George -- but it shouldn't be dull. This is...

The Hands Tell The Story:



Saturday, July 26, 2008

Proof That The System Works


Click to enlarge.  For more Tom The Dancing Bug, go here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Miles

It never hurts to check the bargain bin. Yesterday, I scooped up a new copy of Miles Davis In Europe, recorded live in 1963 at Antibes Jazz Festival. George Coleman, Miles' sax man between John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, helps light up the joint with the assistance of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. Not an innovator like Coltrane or Shorter, Coleman could sizzle nonetheless; with George at his side, Miles delivered some of the most dazzlingly up tempo material of his career. Moreover, the CD features numbers that Miles had been playing for a few years. It's as if Miles found temporary respite from the burdens of redefining jazz and decided to just blow. In Europe is more than that pair trading ferocious licks: Hancock's deft, light touch provides a perfect counterbalance in tandem with Carter's occasional forays into bowed bass solos. Williams -- who died prematurely at age 51 after routine surgery -- was just 17 at the time and already showing why he would be regarded as one of the great drummers of jazz. $6.99? It feels like I stole it. The track list:

Autumn Leaves/13:52
Milestones/9:17
I Thought About You*/11:44
Joshua/11:27
All Of You/16:49
Walkin'/16:15

*Bonus track not on original LP...


John McCain thinks that all decision-making re the Iraq war should be vetted by General David Petraeus, as if Petraeus were Commander-in-Chief. He says it so regularly that it has become a mantra. One envisions him beginning and ending each day sitting cross-legged on an Oriental rug, incense clouding the air while he intones "gen-e-ral-pet-rae-us-gen-e-ral-pet-rae-us-pen-e-ral-pet-rae-us" over and over and over. But it's Barack Obama who has the right of it when he says that  "The notion is, is that either I do exactly what my military commanders tell me to do or I'm ignoring their advice. No, I'm factoring in their advice but placing it in this broader strategic framework . . . that's required." After all, it's the president's job -- not a general's -- to assess the military and political situations and act accordingly. In this case, the strategic situation extends beyond Bagdhad to Afghanistan, and the political situation encompasses Iraq and the United States. (Let's not forget about us.) But it's the supposedly more experienced McCain who wants to let a general drive policy making while it's the supposed novice Obama who correctly grasps the responsibilities of the presidency...

Cornbread Nation: Offbeat reports that Chef Donald Link and Herbsaint host a special dinner Tuesday in celebration of Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing. The menu includes Fried Chicken and Link Andouille Gumbo, Sabine Pass BBQ Crab with Hush Puppies, Guinea Hen and Dumplings w/ Collard Greens and White Cornbread, Lemon Ice Box Pie. Dinner is $45 per person, and reservations can be made by calling (504) 524-4114. Sounds like a deal to me...

Friday's Choice: Tonight, we see The Soul Stew Revival with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Here, they perform "Little By Little":

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Damn, But It's Cold!

My son and I braved gray skies and cool weather yesterday afternoon to attend the Mariners-Red Sox game. Southbound readers will hear with some incredulity that we had to wear sweatshirts and that -- yes -- the game did occur in this universe, on this planet, and in this country. The Sox won 6-3 with three runs in the top of the 12 with the help of timely hitting and defense from third baseman Mike Lowell. After the top of the 12th, the M's fan in front of me -- we'd been needling each other all game -- got up to leave. When I called him a quitter, he turned to his friends and said "He's right. We have to stay." 

As we continued the good-natured kidding on the way out, it struck me that here was yet another great thing about baseball: There's another game tomorrow, which means there's not much danger of the needling getting out of hand. Last year at a Sox-M's game, the two guys next to me were getting into it, with the Sox fan easily getting the better of the exchange. At one point he turned to me and whispered "This guy has no game..." 

It was cold in the house this morning. I would have turned on the heater, except that Premium T. wouldn't let me...

Here are some young people doing what young people do best: Their part to make this a better world. I have a lot more respect for them than for Young Republicans with their very own K Street lobbying firm...

"I know how to win wars," says John McCain. Johnny Wattles doesn't bother to explain where he obtained this knowledge, although it was presumably not in Vietnam. We certainly don't need any more victories like that. After accusing Barack Obama of trying to sound tough and promising that Johnny won't bluster, the tough-sounding McCain blustered that "when I am commander in chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run and nowhere they can hide." So, Johnny, what's your plan for shoehorning them out of the Pashtun in Pakistan?...

In New Orleans, the second line is the group of celebrants who follow the band in a parade. As Nick Spitzer writes, the second line is a barometer of the health of the city:  "The second line as a kind of urban village afoot honors and recalls the grand public nature of many New Orleans traditions...It reclaims the city's familiar spaces for returning dwellers, and like jazz itself, helps balance the needs and talents of individual players with the larger group. The intermingled values of social aid and pleasure are what all New Orleanians can draw on to collectively self-author their future. That future at its best suggests crossing of the traditional boundaries of race and neighborhood, culture and class..." New Orleans needs a second line? Heck, sounds to me like we all do. Read the rest of his excellent article here...

Here's a fun app that allows you to play with demographic categories of race, gender and religion to project the outcome of the fall election. If the same patterns of 2006 hold for the fall, Obama will win decisively; if the 2004 patterns repeat themselves, McCain wins narrowly. Which illustrates his problem: (1) We're closer to 2006 than 2004; (2) He's not the incumbent; and (3) Obama is a much stronger candidate and more capable national politician than John Kerry. It's early and anything can happen, but right now I sure like Obama's chances...

This one goes out to my southbound friends:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Having The "Best Military" Is Not Always A Good Thing

Today's guest blogger, Lt. Col. William Astore (Ret.), originally posted this on TomDispatch.Com. Col. Astore graciously gave permission for me to repost his column on Citizen K. I'll pass on any comments to the colonel.

Having the "Best Military" Is Not Always a Good Thing
Reclaiming Our Citizen-Soldier Heritage
By William J. Astore

When did American troops become "warfighters" -- members of "Generation Kill" -- instead of citizen-soldiers? And when did we become so proud of declaring our military to be "the world's best"? These are neither frivolous nor rhetorical questions. Open up any national defense publication today and you can't miss the ads from defense contractors, all eagerly touting the ways they "serve" America's "warfighters." Listen to the politicians, and you'll hear the obligatory incantation about our military being "the world's best."

All this is, by now, so often repeated -- so eagerly accepted -- that few of us seem to recall how against the American grain it really is. If anything -- and I saw this in studying German military history -- it's far more in keeping with the bellicose traditions and bumptious rhetoric of Imperial Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II than of an American republic that began its march to independence with patriotic Minutemen in revolt against King George.

So consider this a modest proposal from a retired citizen-airman: A small but meaningful act against the creeping militarism of the Bush years would be to collectively repudiate our "world's best warfighter" rhetoric and re-embrace instead a tradition of reluctant but resolute citizen-soldiers.

Becoming Warfighters
I first noticed the term "warfighter" in 2002. Like many a field-grade staff officer, I spent a lot of time crafting PowerPoint briefings, trying to sell senior officers and the Pentagon on my particular unit's importance to the President's new Global War on Terrorism. The more briefings I saw, the more often I came across references to "serving the warfighter." It was, I suppose, an obvious selling point, once we were at war in Afghanistan and gearing up for "regime-change" in Iraq. And I was probably typical in that I, too, grabbed the term for my briefings. After all, who wants to be left behind when it comes to supporting the troops "at the pointy end of the spear" (to borrow another military trope)?

But I wasn't comfortable with the term then, and today it tastes bitter in my mouth. Until recent times, the American military was justly proud of being a force of citizen-soldiers. It didn't matter whether you were talking about those famed Revolutionary War Minutemen, courageous Civil War volunteers, or the "Greatest Generation" conscripts of World War II. After all, Americans had a long tradition of being distrustful of the very idea of a large, permanent army, as well as of giving potentially disruptive authority to generals.

Our tradition of citizen-soldiery was (and could still be) one of the great strengths of this country. Let me give you two examples of such citizen-soldiers, well known within military circles because they wrote especially powerful memoirs. Eugene B. Sledge served in the U.S. Marines during World War II, surviving two unimaginably brutal campaigns on the islands of Peleliu and Okinawa. His memoir With the Old Breed is arguably the best account of ground warfare in the Pacific. After three years of selfless, heroic service to his country, Sledge gladly returned to civilian life, eventually becoming a professor of biology. His conclusion -- that "war is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste" -- is one seconded by many a combat veteran.

Richard (Dick) Winters is better known because his exploits were captured in the HBO series Band of Brothers. He rose from platoon commander to battalion commander, serving in the elite 101st Airborne Division during World War II. A hero beloved by his men, Winters wanted nothing more than to quit the military and return to the civilian world. After the war, he lived a quiet life as a businessman in Pennsylvania, rarely mentioning his service and refusing to use his retired military rank for personal gratification. In Beyond Band of Brothers, he recounts both his service and his ideas on leadership. It's a book to put in the hands of any young American who wishes to understand the noble ideas of service and sacrifice.

Sledge and Winters were regular guys who answered their country's call. What comes across in their memoirs, as well as in the many letters I've read from World War II soldiers, was the desire of the average dogface to win the war, return home, hang up the uniform, and never again fire a shot in anger. These men were war-enders, not warfighters. Indeed, they would've been sickened by the very idea of being "warfighters."

The term "warfighter" -- a combination, I suppose, of "warrior" and "war fighting" -- suggests a person who lives for war, who spoils for a fight. Certainly, the United States has fought its share of ruthless wars. But traditionally our soldiers have thought of themselves as civilians first, soldiers second. Equally as important, the American people thought of their troops that way.

Why are we now, with so little debate, casting aside an ethos that served us well for two centuries for one that straightforwardly embraces war and killing? Possibly because we've invented a distinctly American product: sanitized militarism. I bumped into it last week at a most unlikely place.

Visiting Gettysburg
Last week, I finally made it to Gettysburg, site of the great three-day battle between Union and Confederate forces in July 1863 that ended with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee's army. Walking the battlefield was a sobering experience. I found myself on Little Round Top at 5:00 PM, just about the time of day that Union generals rushed men to reinforce the hill against a determined Confederate assault at the close of the battle's second day. Earlier, I was at the Angle, just when, almost a century and a half ago, Pickett's Charge failed to pierce the Union center, sealing Lee's fate on the third day.

As these events played through my mind, I marveled that I had the battlefield largely to myself. Not that I was alone, mind you. Tour buses circled; cars, trucks, and SUVs whizzed about, but many, perhaps most, Americans who visit Gettysburg get surprisingly little tactile or sensory experience of its difficult topography. Yes, a few kids (and fewer adults) joined me in clambering about the huge, claustrophobically placed boulders of Devil's Den, and I did spy a couple of guided tour groups on foot. But at the site of a bloodcurdling, distinctly septic nineteenth century battle, most visitors were clearly having a distinctly bloodless, even antiseptic, twenty-first century experience.

That day, I learned a lot about Gettysburg the battle -- and maybe a little about us as well. As surely as my fellow tourists were staying in their cars and buses, we, as a people, are distancing ourselves from the realities of war. As we seal ourselves away from war's horrors, we're correspondingly finding it easier to speak of "warfighters" and to boast of having the world's best military.

As we catch a glimpse, from the comfort of our living rooms, of a suicide bombing in Iraq or an American outpost attacked, then abandoned, in Afghanistan, are we not like those tourists in buses at Gettysburg, listening to sanitized recordings telling us what to see and think about the (expurgated) reality in front of us? And who dares challenge the "expert" commentary? Who dares turn off the canned talking heads and stare into the face of war?

But if we are to end our militaristic, yet curiously sanitized, "warfighter" moment, if we are ever to return to our citizen-soldier ethos and heritage, this is just what we must do.

After all, it's later than you think. Our military now relies not only on a volunteer (if, at times, "stop-lossed") Army, but increasingly on tens of thousands of hired guns, consultants, interrogators, interpreters, and other paramilitary camp followers. Private, for-profit "security contractors" -- companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy -- give a disturbing new meaning to our "warfighter" terminology and the rhetoric that marches in step with it. As even casual students of history will recall, a clear sign of the Roman Empire's decline was its shift from citizen-soldiers motivated by duty to mercenaries motivated by profit.

Replacing "warfighters" with true citizen-soldiers in the mold of Sledge and Winters would hardly be a solve-all solution at this late date, but it might be a step in the right direction -- however unlikely it is to happen. For when we look at our troops, if we don't see ourselves, then we see aliens or, worse yet, superiors ("warfighters") in need of "support." And that's a clear sign of trouble for the republic.

Want to Be in the "World's Best Military"? Ask German Veterans

It may come as a shock to some, but the American army wasn't the best in the field in World War I, or World War II either. And thank heavens for that.

The distinction falls to the Kaiser Wilhelm's army in 1914, and to Hitler's Wehrmacht in 1941. Even toward the end of World War II, the American army was still often outmaneuvered and outclassed by its German foe. Because victory has a way of papering over faults and altering memories, few but professional historians today recall the many shortcomings of our military in both world wars.

But that's precisely the point: The American military made mistakes because it was often ill-trained, rushed into combat too quickly, and handled by officers lacking in experience. Put simply, in both World Wars it lacked the tactical virtuosity of its German counterpart.

But here's the question to ponder: At what price virtuosity? In World War I and World War II, the Germans were the best soldiers because they had trained and fought the most, because their societies were geared, mentally and in most other ways, for war, because they celebrated and valued feats of arms above all other contributions one could make to society and culture.

Being "the best soldiers" meant that senior German leaders -- whether the Kaiser, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, that Teutonic titan of World War I, or Hitler -- always expected them to prevail. The mentality was: "We're number one. How can we possibly lose unless we quit -- or those [fill in your civilian quislings of choice] stab us in the back?"

If this mentality sounds increasingly familiar, it's because it's the one we ourselves have internalized in these last years. German warfighters and their leaders knew no limitations until it was too late for them to recover from ceaseless combat, imperial overstretch, and economic collapse.

Today, the U.S. military, and by extension American culture, is caught in a similar bind. After all, if we truly believe ours to be "the world's best military" (and, judging by how often the claim is repeated in the echo chamber of our media, we evidently do), how can we possibly be losing in Iraq or Afghanistan? And, if the "impossible" somehow happens, how can our military be to blame? If our "warfighters" are indeed "the best," someone else must have betrayed them -- appeasing politicians, lily-livered liberals, duplicitous and weak-willed allies like the increasingly recalcitrant Iraqis, you name it.

Today, our military is arguably the world's best. Certainly, it's the world's most powerful in its advanced armaments and its ability to destroy. But what does it say about our leaders that they are so taken with this form of power? And why exactly is it so good to be the "best" at this? Just ask a German military veteran -- among the few who survived, that is -- in a warrior-state that went berserk in a febrile quest for "full spectrum dominance."

Fighting to End Wars
Words matter. Let's start by banishing the word "warfighter," and, while we're at it, let's toss out that "world's best" boast as well. Boasting about military prowess is more Spartan than Athenian, more Second and Third Reich Germany than republican and democratic America.

Indeed, imagine, for a moment, a world in which the U.S. is no longer "number one" in military might (and, at the same time, no longer fighting endless wars in the Middle East and Central Asia). Would we then be weak and vulnerable? Or would we become stronger precisely because we stopped boasting about our ability as "warfighters" to dominate far from our shores and instead redirected our resources to developing alternative energy, bolstering our education system, reviving American industry, and focusing on other "soft power" alternatives to weapons and warriors? In other words, alternatives we can actually boast about with the pride of accomplishment.

Think about it: Must our military forever remain "second to none" for you to feel safe? Our national traditions suggest otherwise. In fact, if we no longer had the world's strongest military, perhaps we would be more reluctant to tap its strength -- and more hesitant to send our citizen-soldiers into harm's way. And while we're at it, perhaps we'd also learn to boast about a new kind of "warfighter" -- not one who fights our wars, but one who fights against them.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School. He now teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and is the author of Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism, among other works (Potomac Press, 2005). He may be reached at wastore@pct.edu.

Copyright 2008 William Astore


Killed In Valor, Buried In Shadows: Margaret Carlson writes about why Americans have become removed from the human costs of war...

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1927) is one of the greatest movies ever made. Don't believe me? Never heard of it? Watch as the male church hierarchy threatens Joan with torture:



Note: This film features prominently in Steve Erickson's 2007 novel Zeroville.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Weekend That Was...





What a rotten weekend (and continuing) for John McCain. After months of being sniped at not spending enough time in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama's Middle East tour has so far been a complete success. Starting with the successful meeting with Afghanistan's leaders, Obama shot hoops for the troops in Kuwait, even draining a three-pointer. Better yet, Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki all but endorsed the Obama plan for a 16-month withdrawal from Iraq. Despite attempt to spin Maliki's remarks as being misquoted or taken out of context, the New York Times confirmed them here...

Both the White House and McCain are in a dither over the Maliki Pivot. McCain insists that "conditions on the ground" ought to drive decision-making in Iraq, but it seems to me that that is exactly what is happening. After all, aren't Iraqi politics part of "conditions on the ground"? Don't they get a say in whether and how long foreign troops occupy their soil. (Oh, wait a minute...I guess not. ) The whole problem in Iraq from the get-go has been the Administration's ironclad conviction that they can impose a military solution on a political problem. And now, McCain offers more of the same. Plus, there are also "conditions on the ground" in the United States, whose people simply don't support the war. McCain claims that the surge has "worked." Fine. Let's declare victory and get out...

The Los Angeles Times uncritically reports that "As Sen. Barack Obama headed to Iraq for his first visit as a presidential candidate, his plan for bringing the war to a swift conclusion was triggering a political furor abroad and at home, with a U.S. military leader declaring Sunday that setting a hard deadline for withdrawing troops is risky." No one explains how setting no deadline has been been a redoubt of stability...

South Texas prepares for Hurricane Dolly. South Texas may not mean much to most, but there are those of us who have a great deal of affection for a place of which my brother once said "if it has thistles or thorns, it grows in South Texas." It's hot, it's flat, and it makes you grow up appreciating the niceties of the shade of a mesquite tree. For better or worse, it's as much Mexico as the United States. But it has its stories and its history like any other place, and the people who live there are attached to it. So remember: Whatever havoc (and hopefully, it won't be much) Dolly wreaks, it's not the fault of the people who live there. Did you hear that, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh? Luckily, South Texas doesn't depend on the promises of the Army Corps Of Engineers...

Many thanks to Foxessa for passing along this fascinating analysis of Yeats' "Sailing To Byzantium," the poem that begin with "That is no country for old men." In an accessible and enlightening way, the 10-minute video explores such seeming minutiae as Yeats' struggle to find exactly the right word with which to begin "Byzantium" (he also considered "Here" and "There") while showing how the poem conveys Yeats' grappling with encroaching old age. Watch this video, and you'll understand why the poet's choice of a single word isn't a matter of minutiae, but an artistic dilemma that can impact the meaning and direction of a work...

Ya know, I was sayin' to my wife just the other day that what this country needs is more young people defending the status quo. So my heart just breaks for these kids. It really does.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Cudgels Of Certitude

Spending a month away, among people who had a lot of questions about where the United States is heading, made me realize more than ever what a colossal, nearly impossible job the next president has. Not only have Bush and Cheney driven the country into a ditch, the wheels have pretty much come off the car. And we all know how expensive it will be to fill it with gas.

When they're not spending their last days trying to exploit high gas prices to produce one more quick profit for their buddies, Bush and Cheney try desperately to bog us down in Iraq indefinitely while they rattle sabers at Iran. Having put us in a ditch and removed the wheels, they now want to dig the hole as deep as possible between now and January 20. Should Barack Obama be elected, it's a foregone conclusion that the Administration will be up to something nefarious and brazenly unconstitutional right up until he says "so help me God."

There's nothing like being abroad to make one think about what one's country stands for. From 1946 to 1980, the United States was virtually synonymous with scientific achievement. The Reagan Administration began the politicization of science, but the Bush/Cheney cabal has carried this to an unimaginable extreme. And it starts at the top with a president who believes that the jury is out on natural selection, a scientific certainty along the same lines as water being two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. 

When I was in Brooklyn earlier this year, a German woman asked me incredulously if it were really true that many Americans -- including Bush -- did not accept evolution as scientific fact. She found that frightening, and I took her point: If the leader of the most powerful nation in the world takes crackpot quackeries like Intelligent Design seriously, what does that say about the intellect and judgement of the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger?

And this is merely the canary in the coal mine. We've become inured -- at least the punditocracy has -- to the endless parade of news reports about the White House political operation directing the scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency to alter or suppress findings regarding climate change. This gang of trolls lurks under the bridge of science with cudgels of certitude, ready to beat facts into lies.  They approach science with the same absence of objectivity with which they evaluate the battlefield: If the facts don't align with political exigency, they dismiss the facts. It's frightening, it's one of many things that the press ought to be screaming about, and it's one of many things that the Administration gets away with by virtue of the sheer volume of falsehoods that they daily perpetrate on the world. 

Perhaps no falsehood is as egregious as Bush's insistence that "we don't torture." And according to the narrow, legalistic opinion provided him by Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, he's right. Of course, this leaves him and the country resting on a moral foundation akin to the legalisms that permitted Kristallnacht. According to any half-human grasp of the realities of Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and extraordinary rendition, we do torture, and any assertion to the contrary is an insult to the name of humanity. 

Watch this repellent video of the interrogation of 16-year old Omar Khaddr, a Canadian who has now been in U.S. custody for six years. How about we get together tomorrow for a talk, his interrogator says. Whatever happens between then and tomorrow reduces Omar to an abject wreck begging for his mother. An interrogator orders him to put his shirt on, a form of torture in itself because Omar can't lift his shoulder without experiencing excruciating pain. Watch it, if you can stomach it:


This is what we've come to. Forty years ago, our country dared to put a man on the moon. Forty years later, we've extinguished the beacon of science on our way to the dungeons of Torquemada. 

Note: Don't miss Dahlia Lithwick's account of the linguistic contortions Administration apparatchiks apply to convince themselves and their Republican enablers in Congress that we don't torture. The corruption of language is yet another of their many affronts to decency. Again, words do matter.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What Do Pittsburgh And Southern Louisiana Have In Common?


Not much, except that Citizen K. happens to like both places. 

Late last night while upgrading my iPhone software -- you can tell from this what wild weekends the middle-aged indulge in -- I stumbled across the Rajun' Cajun', KLRZ-FM ("All Louisiana All The Time") and its terrific late night brew of swamp rock, blues, zydeco, and obscure R & B. This morning played all zydeco interrupted for an occasional dedication or exhortation to attend tonight's fais-do-do. Best of all, it's free...

Meanwhile, USA Today has a very nice feature on my mother's home town of Pittsburgh, here. While I admit that the Steel City is not a tourist destination, it's probably the most unappreciated city in the country. As the article points out, Pittsburgh offers everything from high culture to great neighborhoods, significant architecture to sports, and good local dining spots to world class museums. When I was a kid, I figured that every city had a Dinosaur Hall like the one at the Carnegie Museum, and was surprised to discover that it wasn't so...

Don't miss the Pittsburgh Skyline Project here, which features hundreds of photographs taken by professional photographers. One of them is above...

Take It Off Dept.: Remember when commercials could sell good old fashioned Swedish sex without resorting to scantily clad women either mud wrestling or spraying shaving cream all over each other while dressed in fetish wear? Those were the days, my friend:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer's Here And The Time Is Right...

Part of the summer fun is wondering which CDs will take the country by storm. Here at Citizen K., we make no pretenses of knowing what will capture the imagination of young people, but we already have a few of our own favorites. (Note: You can sample any of these CDs by clicking on the artist name and going to the web site.)



The Baseball Project, Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails, Vol. 1. The brainchild of Seattle musicians Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey (with assistance for REM's Peter Buck and drummer Linda Pitmon), this CD is way more than a cute exercise in nostalgia.  In turns ribald ("Ted Fucking Williams"), bitter ("Gratitude [for Curt Flood]), nostalgic ("Sometimes I Dream Of Willie Mays"), and rueful ("Long Before My Time"), Frozen Ropes successfully and accessibly makes the case that baseball isn't that much different from everyday life, reminding us in "Harvey Haddix" that "We're drawn to tragic stories/The ones that suit us best." Incidentally, the title refers to baseball slang for line drives and pop flies. 



Teddy Thompson, A Piece Of What You Need. With this CD, Thompson emerges from the long shadow of his parents, Linda and Richard Thompson. His first two CDs showed a singer-songwriter of great promise; Up Front And Down Low showed off Thompson's peerless tenor via a brace of country standards. In A Piece of What You Need, his lyrics combine the melancholy reflectiveness of summer twilight with music that reflects the buoyancy of the day. A major talent who should be better known. 



James Hunter, The Hard Way. Veteran Brit R & B singer delivers his usual strong set, propelled by his silky smooth voice, tough picking, and diamond-hard horn section. If you haven't heard this guy, you should. The Hard Way is as good a place as any to start.

Bruce Springsteen has released for download four duets (in both audio and video) from the Magic tour, including the brilliant collaboration with Tom Morello on "The Ghost Of Tom Joad." More here...

I usually avoid internet petitions, but this one is for an awfully good cause. Junk mail is wasteful and depressing and, really, why should we have no say in whether we receive it or not? Plus, circulating this one on paper would defeat the purpose!

Friday's Choice: Lady Day Digs The Prez-- Lester Young serenades Billie Holiday:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back, Barely

I hate JFK airport. It's got to be the...oh, why bother to relive yet another hellish encounter with this monument to corporate, bureaucratic, and design inefficiency? At least our plane was only an hour late leaving...

We arrived in mostly on piece, sans a suitcase that was delivered this morning. I slept until noon and want to go back to bed. It is awfully nice outside, or so Premium T. keeps assuring me. The restaining and refurbishing of our deck was completed while we were gone -- rotten boards replaced, remaining boards sanded, all boards restained, nails leveled. You can walk on it bare foot. Looks great...

On the flight back, I read Dermot Bolger's The Family On Paradise Pier,  a fascinating fictional account of the life and times of the Anglo-Protestant Goold Verschoyle family, whose idyllic life in Donegal becomes shattered by World War I, the Irish revolution and Civil War, as well as long-simmering sibling rivalry and family guilt about its relative wealth amidst poverty. Two of the three brothers turn to Communism while their sister -- the sheltered, romantic Eva -- learns to accommodate the realities and compromises of life without surrendering herself to them. Events take the family from rural Ireland to Dublin to London to the Spanish Civil War to Moscow and to Stalin's gulags. 

Threaded throughout is the antagonistic relationship of the Irish Catholic Church to the Stalinist radicals who sought to elevate Ireland's poor. Bolger shows how the Church's deeper understanding of the fears and traditions of the Irish people easily triumphed over Stalinist ideology even in the face of economic devastation. Compulsively readable -- I devoured most of it in one sitting -- it's one of the most insightful novels about class and the personal relationship to it that I've read. Includes cameo appearances by Brendan Behan, his indomitable mother Kathleen, and James Gralton, among others.

And, Family is based on the on an actual family named Goold Verschoyle. Bolger met the character based on Eva over 30 years ago, taped many of their conversations, and waited for them to ferment into a novel. Accomplished and highly recommended. More on the Verschoyles here...

New Orleans writer Julie Smith says that it's the secrets, not the crime, that make the Crescent City a great setting for mystery novels...

Besides sitting around listlessly and reading depressing accounts of racial divides and near bank runs, I've spent the morning trying to wake up to the strains of some new music that arrived in my absence:
  • The Band Of Heathens, The Band Of Heathens. Austin band that wears its allegiance to Little Feat proudly. How can you miss when Ray Wylie Hubbard produces and Patty Griffin joins in for three songs?
  • The Long Black Line, Spencer Bohren. Slow blues from New Orleans' Bohrens describes the long black line left by Katrina on every home it affected, then goes down from there, introducing a cycle of songs related by "tragedy, disaster, and the hardships of the human condition." Bohren mixes his own material with songs by blues masters of the 20's and 30's to make a strikingly original album unified by its theme and by his spooky Delta blues guitar.
  • 504 And Then Some. Assortment of live performances available to WWOZ donors and subscribers, many taken from the Piano Night they sponsor every year as part of Jazz Festival. I was already glad I'd subscribed, but this is the icing on the cake.
Oh, the president says that everything is peachy keen.

Spencer Bohren performs "Wade In The Water":

Monday, July 14, 2008

Slán A Fhágáil Ag Duine



We leave today. It's always difficult; days like yesterday make it especially so this year. 

Our neighbor Ian and his daughter took us to our first Gaelic football match, the All-Connacht finals between Mayo and Galway at McHale field in Castlebar. Nearly 32,000 fans attended, mostly male. (Although the mix was more even among young people.) Gaelic football is a field sport that can be conveniently -- if not totally accurately -- thought of as a cross between soccer and rugby. It's fast moving, high scoring, and the most popular spectator sport in Ireland. It's an amateur sport that at the county level demands a major time commitment, so the players are generally in their early- to mid-twenties. The principles are easy to pick by the new fan, who can watch without bewilderment while the experienced fan appreciates the subtleties and nuances. Galway jumped out to a big early lead. ("Mayo are playin' for shite," said a fan behind me.) Mayo chipped away in the second half, caught up and went ahead briefly, but two late scores by Galway sealed the deal for them. It was the 74th time the two counties have played for the provincial championship, going back to 1901. That's two years before the first World Series!

We went to Ian and Meena's for dinner, where we were joined by their college friend Tom and his two sons, who had driven down from Belfast. Another neighbor, Ann, joined us for dessert. Wine and conversation and laughter flowed freely. Book recommendations were made and movies discussed. (A digression about the Irish sense of humor: They always pick up on the witticism, no matter what age they are or how dry the comment. I'm talking eight-year olds. It's wonderful.) We finally pulled ourselves away and would have walked home except that the owners of the holiday home next door (Declan and Mary) were outside and invited us in for tea and a chat. We don't know them that well, which didn't stop us from spending another hour there and having to pull ourselves away yet again, with more book, travel, and movie recommendations. 

So, today -- in a few hours -- we pack up the car and head south to Shannon. We'll spend the night near the airport and fly out tomorrow. We change planes at JFK, so it's possible that we'll never be heard from again. Optimist that I am, though, we should be back in Seattle late Tuesday night. Just like that. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sweet Well-Waters

It's late Friday afternoon. I nurse an Irish coffee in a still corner of a nearly empty Matt Molloy's. The strains of John Carty's fiddle (see video below) emanate from the sound system. Premium T. shops while I read Yeats' forward to A Book Of Irish Verse, an anthology he compiled in 1895 to demonstrate the literary prowess of Irish poets writing. Yeats assembled the volume of English-language poems and songs as a rejoinder to the Young Ireland movement, which held that, to be legitimate, poetry must advance the cause of Irish nationalism. Although a nationalist himself, Yeats believed that an authentic Irish poetry was not incompatible with high literary standards and indeed required them. I haven't delved into the poetry yet, but it's hard to imagine that any of it exceeds that matchless prose of his preface.

On a minor Irish poet: "Indeed, his few but ever memorable successes are enchanted islands in grey seas of stately impersonal reverie and description, which drift by and leave no definite recollection. One needs, perhaps, to perfectly enjoy him, a Dominican habit, a cloister, and a breviary."

On Dublin's Trinity College: "...the mother of many verse writers and of few poets..."

"An enemy to all enthusiasms, because all enthusiasms seemed her enemies, she has taught her children to look neither to the world about them, nor into their own souls where some dangerous fire might slumber."

On traditional songs: "The poor peasant of the eighteenth century could make fine ballads by abandoning himself to the joy or sorrow of the moment, as the reeds abandon themselves to the wind which sighs through them, because he had about him a world where all was old enough to be steeped in emotion."

On his hopes for Irish poetry: "I have, indeed, but little doubt that Ireland, communing with herself in Gaelic more and more, but speaking to foreign countries in English, will lead many that are sick with theories and with trivial emotion, to some sweet well-waters of primeval poetry."

The great poet explains the background of "The Lake Isle Of Innisfree" and then reads one of his most well-known works here.

P. S. One reason why I love the internet: This morning, I'm sitting here in Ireland reading the sports page from the Boston Globe while listening to New Orleans' WWOZ-FM.

Gesundheit!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Inishowen

Wednesday, we circled the Inishowen Peninsula of County Donegal. Inishowen is, to say the least, a heart-stopping place of staggering beauty. Our route took us to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland. It also took us to Farren's, the northernmost pub in Ireland. (Things can get pretty wild in Farren's, although it was quiet enough when we were there.)

Our day started on the small ferry -- from which we watched a pair of horsemen take their mounts through the water to a gallop along the beach -- that transported us and the reliable Nissan across Lough Swilley to the town of Buncrana. From there, we proceeded north to Fort Duncree, where we hiked up to the redoubt overlooking the lough. Big surprise: Splendid views abounded. From Fort Duncree, we proceeded through the Mamore Pass to Dooagh, where we visited the Irish Famine Village. (Premium T. describes the village, which was not what we expected, here.) Then it was on to Malin Head and Farren's, where a young publican greeted us with a cheery Donegal "How are yiz?"

He took about three seconds to identify us as Americans and, after ascertaining where we were from, asked us if Seattle was near Oregon. Notably, he pronounced "Oregon" correctly -- it's "Ore-gun", not "Ore-gone" -- something almost no one outside of the Pacific Northwest manages. It turns out that just about everyone in Malin Head can pronounce the name correctly because one of local lads has a relative in Portland. Which explains the local man's nickname of "Oregon," although the publican admitted that he at first thought the nickname was "Organ." (As in, he said, a heart or a lung, but one wonders whether that's really what he thought.) We wound up chatting at length with a couple from Dublin who like Mediterraneo, our favorite Westport restaurant. Premium T. captured the ambience on film here.

From Farren's, we consulted our ordnance map and decided to track down a stone circle a few miles away. (BTW, the Ordnance Survey Ireland maps are indispensable for navigating the Byzantine back roads of this country. Among other things, they show the precise location of virtually every antiquity in Ireland.) Premium T. has become exceptionally adept at reading these necessary but tricky tools, and she got us to the site -- a cow pasture, as it happened -- without a hiccup.



We'd been out for a while by then, and from the stone circle cut straight down the peninsula, then over to Buncrana in time for the last ferry. This was our second trip to Donegal, but it won't be the last...

What? WHAT?  Next thing you know, the French will be drinking Australian wine and the Russians will be downing Scotch vodka...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fort Dunree, Donegal

Wednesday, we circled the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. Our first stop was at Fort Dunree, originally built and garrisoned by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. Although located in what was then Irish Free State, the English only formally ceded it to Ireland just prior to World War II. Today, it is a museum that also offers stunning view on the hike up to the redoubt commanding Lough Swilly. Abandoned barracks and other outbuildings afforded the photos seen here.


Four corrugated window covers (click to enlarge), with apologies to Sean Scully:


More on Sean Scully here.

Friday's Choice: The late, great Rory Gallagher channels Muddy Waters' "Out On The Western Plain"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Only Thing That Matters

"Mikey's companion was introduced as J. J. Gilhooley Senior, former doctor to the town, his  son the present incumbent. He was a gnarled old wrinkle with playful eyes and a dicky bow. His bulbous nose was purple and heavily veined, the imprimatur of an habitual spirits drinker. 'Poor Patch was forever trying to offload that bit of land by the river,' he said of their fallen comrade. The "for sale" sign is all but bald at this stage of the proceedings.'

'Is the land no good?' Ruth asked. 'Is it swampy?'

They looked upon her with something akin to pity.

'All land is good,' Mikey said. 'Sure couldn't you run a duck farm on it and it marshy, or raise plants that love the wet and sell them on to garden centres and the like? Land is never wasted or bad.'"

From The Woman On The Bus, Pauline McLynn (her blog here)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sisters


We saw these two happily indulging in ice creams cones outside of a Westport shop. After I ascertained that their mother was nearby -- in the shop where, they assured me -- they were not allowed to go with the ice cream, I obtained permission to take their picture. The big sister hastily wiped her face clean. The t-shirt on the younger one reads "Trouble But Lovable". Indeed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Westport Pubs (II)


We're off to Donegal for a few days. Even though Donegal is part of the Republic of Ireland, it's in the province of Ulster, along with counties Cavan and Monaghan. (Ulster's six other counties comprise Northern Ireland.) Donegal has the shortest border with the Republic along a thin strip of Sligo. It's beautiful and remote (the northernmost part of Ireland is there, in the peninsula of Inishowen); Irish remains the primary language among many of its older residents, especially the further north one penetrates. We visited the lower part last year; this summer, we're pressing up higher.

In the meantime, here are some more of Westport's 37 pubs.




Incredibly, Nolan's is closed with no sign of reopening any time soon. We suspect that the building is cursed.