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Outlaw

Determined to turn over a new leaf, I sprang out of bed this morning at 5 a.m., brewed a fresh pot of coffee and powered up my laptop.  I will be the first to admit that sometimes my mind wanders.  It’s not an unusual affliction.  Many of you readers out there in Internet-land probably suffer from the same malady.  As a matter of fact, I think the internet may be contributing to the condition.  I mean, come on, the world at present is like one giant train wreck, with news of calamity, war, uprisings, natural disasters and failing world economies springing forth from one headline after another.  It’s the virtual equivalent of rubber necking.  You know what I speak of.  How easy is it to surf from site to site until something snares your eye and manages to keep your attention for a minute or two, before clicking off and onto another site?  It’s the same way with the television.

Kicked back in the lazy boy, bowl of popcorn on the lap and a stack of books piled on the end table, I sometimes find myself flipping through the 400 plus channels made available by my cable carrier.  Personally, I really don’t think I need four hundred plus channels.  I could probably survive with one or two of the cable news networks, National Geographic, the History Channel and Espn.  But neither the internet or the television is truly indicative of my attention disorder.  It still comes down to the books.

I literally have seven new (to me) books I picked up and received from various sources residing on my workstation table as of this past Monday.  I finished the first of them by noon on Tuesday with the intention of immediately scurrying off to my laptop to churn out a review for JoeUnleashed.  Alas, the best of intentions fall prey to the promising allure of another good read.  So as of last night, I realized that I was reading three different books at once and still had not penned the review of the “Outlaw”, the book I started Monday evening and finished at lunch on Tuesday.  It is now Saturday morning and I’m three-quarters of the way through the other three novels and still the review of “Outlaw” remains untouched.  Ugh.

So, with new leaf freshly turned and the smell of strong coffee wafting in the air, I present Angus Donald’s “Outlaw”, a novel of Robin Hood.  I will not waste time or print rehashing the saga and tale of Robin Hood.  It’s one of the world’s best-known stories or mythologies and there are plenty of books and movies depicting the character.  However, none of the previous renditions have presented the noble villain in quite the same light as  Donald has in “Outlaw”.

All the stock characters remain; Robin of Sherwood, Little John, Will Scarlet, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Friar Tuck and the fair maiden, Marie-Anne, Countess of Locksley.  But as mentioned previously, this is not your parents’ Robin Hood, nor that of Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe.  This is Robin Hood as seen through the eyes of fugitive peasant youngster, Alan Dale.  Desperate, destitute and larcenous-minded, Alan runs afoul of the Sheriff of Nottingham when caught thieving a meat pie to feed he and his mother (his father had been dragged out in the middle of the night by the Sheriff and unceremoniously hung from an oak as a warning to others who may challenge the primacy of the local lord).

Faced with losing his hand for the thievery, Alan seeks the intervention and protection of none other than the Lord of Sherwood, Robin Hood.  Hence begins an apprenticeship at the knee of Robin and an immersion into a world of violence, treachery, romance, drunken debauchery and religiosity, both Christian and pagan.

Fast-paced and descriptively presented, “Outlaw” had a familiar feel to it, but with a jolting liveliness that infused a new flavor into one of history’s most favored villains.  In sum, Donald’s rousing yarn is well worth the time.

THE TWELFTH IMAM

Read some newspapers, national periodicals, or internet news sites trumpeted by “trusted” media outlets and the casual reader could very well come away with the notion that America is being overwhelmed by religious extremists of the Christian variety.  Witness judges who tack copies of the Ten Commandments on their courtroom walls, or pastors and priests with the temerity to speak of the Constitution’s guarantee of an individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to life movement in the same breath, and then sit back and wait for the hoots of derision to explode from the pens of editorialists and the mouths of talking heads.  Or witness how a public school down south would dare to conduct a graduation ceremony with a cross lurking auspiciously somewhere in the background. Gasp! Shriek! (Hold on a moment while I wail and tear out my hair at the unimaginable apostasy and affront to secular humanism).  And forget about trying to teach creationism alongside the current scientific dogma of evolution.  If it were attempted I’m sure some offended citizen would speed dial the ACLU hotline and an advocate would be filing an injunction faster than you could say Genesis.

Now, I’m sure some of you are sitting there scratching your heads with eyes wide and rolling in disbelief and mumbling to yourself that you thought this site was about books. Well, it is about books and literature. I’m just pointing out that in my opinion, more than a few intellectuals, academics and a goodly number of journalists seem to savage prominent displays of Judeo-Christian faith while giving an entirely different brand of religiosity a pass, if you will. Call it a casualty of our PC (politically correct) culture.

And what is this brand of religiosity to which I refer?  Is it science as humanity’s newest god and its narrow-minded exclusiveness of its practitioners who espouse science and the attainment of knowledge above all else?  Is it secular humanism and its quest for moral fulfillment through reasoning, ethics and justice absent God or religion?  Yes, and no, but neither is actually the topic of today’s blog post.  What I’m referring to is the brand of Islam currently being exported by Iran.

Before I go any further, I would like to fill in a little background as to what prompted this blog post and consequently, the reading and review of Joel Rosenberg’s The Twelfth Imam.  There’s a growing sense in cultures around the world that the apocalypse is right around the corner. Secular humanists are not immune to the alarmism with shouts of man’s imminent demise through global warming and global cooling, streaking meteors, massive earthquakes and tsunamis.  Merely pick a natural disaster and apply.  We Christians have our books of the Bible that speak of the end times, most specifically, the Book of Revelations, though I refute this May 21, 6:00 pm fad making its rounds as unscriptural and unsupported by the Bible (No one knows the day or hour: Matthew 24:36) . Islam is no different.  They have their apocalyptic messiah as well.

If you have been paying any attention the past thirty years to world events, and specifically, the Middle East (aside from the first and second wars in Iraq), you may have noticed that the fundamentalist regime of Iran is not friendly to western culture in the least. As a matter of fact, the official line is one of direct hostility exemplified by boisterous proclamations of its desire to annihilate Israel, and of course, America. And for good measure throw in the regime’s dedication to the financing, arming and training of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the resident despot of Syria, Bashir Assad.

The current figurehead for anti-western sentiment is embodied in Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  A fiery orator with populist leanings, Ahmadinejad makes no bones about his desire to hasten the return of Shiite Islam’s messiah, the Mahdi, also known as the 12th Imam.  In fact, in Ahmadinejad’s first speech to the United Nations, he took to the global stage in New York City and prayed out loud for the hasty return of the hidden imam. The underpinnings of this messianic yearning for the Mahdi is that he is expected to return before the Day of Judgment to lead the righteous against the forces of evil. Now whom does Ahmadinejad consider the forces of evil to be?

To answer this I suggest letting Joel Rosenberg entertain you with his latest splendidly researched and thought-provoking thriller, The Twelfth Imam.  Rosenberg, a New York Times best-selling author, takes the reader inside the messianic Mahdi movement of Shiite dominated Iran.  The main character of the novel, David Shirazi, is an Iranian-American of Shiite extraction that is initially recruited by the CIA to infiltrate al-Qaeda cells in Europe and Pakistan.  Rumblings from within Iran of a mysterious religious cleric claiming to be the messiah, coupled with the regime’s relentless and secretive pursuit of nuclear power prompt Shirazi’s reassignment:  Infiltrate Iran and gather information on Iran’s nuclear facilities and disrupt its nuclear weapons program before it’s too late.

There was a lot to like about this book.  It was entertaining, relevant to current events and did a fabulous job of simplifying the complex and mystical aspects of Shiite end-times theology.  Rosenberg also demonstrated a deft touch in extrapolating on the geo-political import of Shiite eschatology, an area this blogger and reviewer was woefully deficient.  In sum, this novel was one of the best fiction/suspense political thrillers I’ve had the joy to read this year.  Pick up a copy and enjoy.

Ten Books Every Soldier Should Take on Deployment

Terror mastermind and mass murderer Osama bin Laden may be dead and his body sunk and polluting the depths of the ocean, but the duties incumbent upon America’s armed forces have not waned and likely will not for the foreseeable future.  What that means is a continued strain on our armed forces and the dutiful sacrifice that comes with it.  Witness my neighbor, Anthony Fought, a sandy haired, unassuming thirty-year old, representative of America’s current citizen-warrior class.  Initially serving with the 107th Cavalry and currently a member of the Ohio National Guard’s 148th Infantry Battalion, Anthony has been deployed overseas twice during his tenure as citizen-soldier since enlisting in 1999.  The first overseas activation saw Anthony and his battalion deployed to the Balkans of eastern Europe in 2004; Kosovo to be exact, a city that is home to a majority population of Muslim Albanians, while just so happening to be the ancient home and center of religious devotion to a minority bloc of ethnic Orthodox Christian Serbs.  In short, Kosovo was the typical tinder box of religious and ethnic strife where American citizen-soldiers like Anthony and the 148th find themselves stuck between implacable enemies bent on cleansing the other from their midst and whom were less than friendly with the American soldiers tasked with keeping them from the others throats.

The second time Uncle Sam called up his unit was in 2008. Recently married and the new owner of a well-kept home, Anthony stoically accepted the news of the call-up and made preparations to leave his new bride and home.   He and the other soldiers of the 148th answered the call to arms only to find themselves sweating under the weight of 70 pounds of armor in the 110 degree desert heat of Kuwait and Iraq.  Each mobilization and ensuing deployment took these neighbors, friends, co-workers, husbands, sons and brothers away from their loved ones for at least a period of 13 months.  More months are added to the tally when the pre-deployment training is worked into the equation.

So what’s a soldier to do with his downtime when deployed overseas and surrounded by a hostile, suspicious populace?  It’s not as if every day and minute is filled with missions and it’s not as if the soldiers can stroll off base to shop for souvenirs at the local bazaar. That’s a sure way to find oneself on the wrong end of a jihadist youtube video, a plight no one really wants to contemplate. In between missions pulling security for supply convoys trekking the dangerous roads of Iraq and Kuwait, boredom inevitably sets in and boredom is the timeless enemy of every soldier, just as much as any AK-47 toting, IED-placing terrorist is. The days, weeks and months must be filled and the ways in which that time is filled is key to maintaining morale.

The military does its collective best to thwart this enemy with disciplined physical training, mission briefings and access to the PX (Post Exchange to those readers unfamiliar with military nomenclature). But there are other amenities made available to the soldiers and many engage in epic bouts of xbox, darts and pool, while others stalk the phone banks and computer terminals so as to keep abreast of current events and make much needed contact with loved ones back in the States.

But what about the books?  Is it all guns, tanks, xbox and weight lifting and e-mails home?  Of course not. And that’s why I picked Anthony’s brain for “Ten Books Every Soldier Should Take on Deployment”.  Soldiers are just like you and me and what is especially poignant about the list is the revelation that our soldiers and their corresponding likes and dislikes are a direct reflection of our culture.  Even 5000 miles away from home and with the prospect of a shortened lifespan lurking in the back of their minds, America’s citizen-soldiers seek the solace of a good read, relevant to their current situation.  And so, without any further ado, I present the list of books Sgt. Anthony Fought was so kind to compile for this blog post:

#1 Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose:  Personally, I loved the HBO series based on the novel and if the series is any reflection of the quality of the book itself, it’s pretty much a no-brainer as to why Anthony placed this one atop his list (though I would have placed the Bible at number 1 if it were my list, considering where the deployment is at, the dangers involved and what’s at stake.  But this is Anthony’s list and he and the other soldiers are the ones carrying America’s load in present times.)

#2 D Day: June 6, 1944: the Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose:  America’s foremost military historian is at it again.

#3 The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann:  From across the fence separating our backyards, Anthony gushed about this book.  Someone please remind me to ask him to borrow it. It sounds fascinating.

#4 Inferno by Dante Aligheri: I can’t and won’t disagree with Anthony on this one.  It made my own list of Ten Books Every Guy Should Read.

#5 Forrest Gump by Winston Groom: America loved the movie so why not the book?

#6 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: I’ve read it myself and watched the movie.

#7 Angels and Demons by Dan Brown: Did not read this one, but I’m hoping that Anthony still has it on his bookshelf.

#8 Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars (with Rich Hill): Come on, it’s Pete Rose.  Odds are it’s a good read.  I would wager as much. Any takers?

#9 Lord of the Flies by William Golding: A classic read sporting the timeless theme of good vs evil, chaos vs order, peace vs violence, this blogger was pleased to discover its inclusion on the list.

#10 Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield:  This one, among other titles penned by Pressfield, already resides on my bookshelf.  Historical fiction at its finest, Gates of Fire chronicles the Battle of Thermopylae and the Spartans heroic stand against Xerxes and his invading horde in an authentic and riveting read sure to thrill even the most tepid of historical fiction fans.  A fitting finale to a well-promulgated list. Take a bow, Staff Sgt.  Anthony Fought. Job well done.

 

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