Latest Reading – Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the Rise of Right-wing Extremism

I always found Jeffrey Toobin’s law commentary on CNN engaging. He also chooses interesting topics for his books, for example, Patty Hearst, Monica Lewinsky, etc. When I listened to an interview with him about his new book, I immediately purchased it on Apple Books.

1990s American history and pop culture are a bit of a blank for me. I lived in Colombia and Bolivia from 1992 to 1999 and in the days before the Internet, I couldn’t follow events in America. I remembered seeing the image of the Oklahoma City federal building torn in half by a truck bomb and I remember McVeigh’s stern face on the perp walk, but not much else about the incident. Toobin covers the entire story from McVeigh’s childhood, to making the truck bomb and to the trial. He also connects McVeigh’s extreme right-wing, pro-guns, anti-government beliefs to today’s groups like the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers and the January 6 riot on the Capitol.

I think Toobin is right about McVeigh being a forerunner of today’s QAnon/Proud Boys/Trump base supporters. I grew up in rural Michigan and understand the Libertarian worldview. Toobin describes my home state, “Michigan is Detroit – attached to Idaho. The great mass of the state is rural, agricultural, and a hotbed of right-wing extremism.” My part of Michigan is too far north to be agricultural and the state has some of the most liberal laws in the land (legal marijuana, LGBTQ rights) and has always been a strong Democratic labor union state. So we are far from being Idaho, but his point is that there are lots of “red-state” areas outside of the cities and university towns. I didn’t know that McVeigh’s partner in the bombing, Terry Nichols, was from Lapeer County, in the “thumb” of Michigan. McVeigh was from a town outside of Buffalo, New York.

Michigan Liberty Militia Protest State Mandated Lockdowns During Covid on the capital steps in Lansing

Toobin’s thesis is without the easy communication of today, McVeigh and extremists like him, were isolated back before the Internet. He was greatly influenced by radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and another radio voice in Arizona. McVeigh also read a book called The Turner Diaries which he quoted from often. McVeigh was convinced in his mind that he was like the patriots of the 18th century, fighting against the tyranny of an oppressive ruler. The FBI storming of the Waco Compound really angered him. All of this rage building inside of him resulted in the bombing.

The bombing was horrific with 163 people killed, 15 who were children at the day care center in the Murrah Building. The blast registered 6.0 on the Richter scale and was felt 55 miles away. It was one of the biggest mass killings in American history. McVeigh rightly got the death penalty and Nichols is serving life without the possibility of parole. Another friend of McVeigh, who was a key witness in the case, ended up with 10 years in prison as well.

I see a lot of young men with similar issues to Timothy McVeigh today. A generation ago, there were manufacturing jobs to provide men without a university education or a high level of skills with enough income to attract a wife and provide for a family. I think of my uneducated uncles from my adopted mother’s side of the family. My Uncle Dan worked in a warehouse, my Uncle Norman at a paper mill and they could afford really nice homes in the suburbs of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I am not sure if it is so easy today. McVeigh should have never left the military. He was a decorated soldier in the invasion of Kuwait. He failed to get into the Green Berets and that soured him on a military career. Instead, he left to a life of poverty and wandering. He earned a living through having a small table at gun shows and occasional retail or security guard jobs. What he needed was meaningful work, a woman who loved him, and hope for the future through children. The result was the tragic loss of life.

Below are some other thoughts from the book.

  • American gun advocates are misguided if they think that gun ownership can defend them against the US government.
  • McVeigh was a “white separatist” not a “white supremacist”. He hated immigration, the industrial decline of Buffalo, and women moving out of the traditional roles of housewife and mother.
  • Newt Gingrich was one of the first politicians that started the tribalism movement that pervades politics today. He said some vile things, comparing Democrats to the Nazis and calling them sick, pathetic, anti-flag, traitors. This attitude does us no good.
  • Toobin quotes psychiatrist James Gilligan, “One of the special characteristics that predispose men to commit murder, or other serious physical violence, is an unusually strong wish to be loved and taken care of, and unusually strong feelings of being inadequate and unloveable.”
  • Toobin mentioned Elohim City, a small religious community of a few hundred people with white supremacist orientation 200 miles east of Oklahoma City. I can’t believe compounds like this still exist.
  • Toobin refered to a study showing right-wing extremism was responsible for 76 percent of all extremist murders in the USA from 2009 to 2019. Islamic extremists 20% and Black nationalists 3%.

Kralovec Children Compete in Track & Field – May 23, 2023

We are having an exciting weekend. Oliver and Ocean competed in the annual TIS track and field meet yesterday. The school rents Pakhtakor Stadium, which is an Olympic-level facility for the day. We invited the local schools for a one-off athletics meet. We are a small school and track and field is squeezed in at the end of the school year along with volleyball. It is nice that we have it however and the kids and Nadia and I enjoyed the day. The highlight was Nadia coaching Ocean to victory in the long jump. I ran in the 1,200-meter Parents “Fun” Run and finished fifth. Ocean won two other medals in a relay race and in the 200 meters. Oliver just missed out on medals in the 400 meters and the 4 x 100-meter relay race. It was a long day in the sun but I do love a track & field meet!

After the track meet, we went to the Winesday Cafe and Wineshop to celebrate the kids’ accomplishments. It is Nadia’s favorite place to go out in the city and an example of the rapid changes taking place in Tashkent and Uzbekistan. With a young population that is growing, and an opening of the economy to international investment, the future looks bright for the country.

I am a lucky man to have two such beautiful women in my life! Ocean is growing into an elegant, stunning woman and Nadia and I are so proud of her.

Oliver Attends Prom

Late May and early June is the dinner and party season for international educators. There are a multitude of dinner parties, celebrations, ceremonies, etc. Last night we had two events, the most important being Oliver’s prom. He is in grade 11 and as you can see, he had a nice time with his friends. The kids prepped at our friend’s home while we were at another party. I did stop by later at the prom, which was held at the Golubie Kupola restaurant, a famous restaurant in Tashkent. The youthful energy and excitement is just nice to be around.

Nadia and I attended the US Embassy in Tashkent’s Independence Day Celebration. The ambassador chose to do it in May while the weather is still cool and many of the embassy employees depart during the summer and new people come in August. The event was held outside on the grounds and it was really enjoyable. There was a live band, carnival games, excellent craft beer on tap, food and lots of photo opps with John Deere tractors, marines, etc. I feel like I am an employee of the State Department sometimes as the head of school and appreciate the support and all of the kind people at the embassy.

Family Journal: May 14 “Rafting the Ugam River”

I enjoyed a morning rafting with Uzbekistan Rafting Company. They have an 8-kilometer route on the Ugam River that starts just outside the village of Humson and winds through the village of Beshtut before the Ugam runs into the Chirchiq River. They also rent stand-up paddle boards at their lower site and that would also be a good day out. This is the best time to go because of the spring snowmelt. The rapids were probably Class 2 or Class 3 but I am not an expert. The water was flowing quite fast and there were some good dips and twists but nothing crazy. It is suitable for families and people who can swim. The only danger I noticed was in parts of the river, there were metal and cement debris from old construction projects on the river. I imagine during the summer the river would be quite low.

Along the ride, we noticed many dachas (country homes) and there also looked to be some good hiking areas further up the valley and near the Kazak border. I will definitely come back and explore the area more. The trip is only about 50 minutes long so combining it with another activity is ideal.

We also had a nice Mother’s Day and took Nadia out to Winesday, a new cafe/wine shop in the Shevchenko Street area of restaurants and cafes. Oliver and Nadia are shown above taking a selfie.

I am amazed at how fast the city is developing. Earlier this week on a morning bicycle ride, I took this photo showing 7 new tall buildings under construction. The tallest building is Nest One, which will be the highest building in Central Asia. A Turkish construction company is building it and I think the other buildings are being completed by Chinese companies. This is in the Tashkent City zone of downtown.

Latest Reading: Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

I think I am done for a while with Hiassen crime novels, but I did enjoy another of his “only in Florida” intricate plots with a host of colorful characters. The title refers to a woman who was thrown overboard on a cruise ship by her husband. She survives by clinging to a bale of Jamaican marijuana at sea. I’ve noticed Hiassen with some of the same themes, beautiful women, down-on-their-luck former detectives, crooked businessmen, mobsters, etc. This book featured the Everglades as a setting. I am disappointed I did not spend any time in the Everglades while I was in Florida. It seems to be the most interesting part of the state. I’ll try to get there the next time I am in the state.

Terms I want to add to my vocabulary: sinewy – muscled palisade – fence

I am turning to non-fiction with my next book, Jeffrey Toobin’s “Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the rise of Right-Wing Extremism”. So far it is excellent!

Algebra PTSD

Nadia’s Bolivian Mathematics Textbook

Last week we toured the Silk Road City of Samarkand with my fellow CEESA directors and made a stop at Mirzo Ulugbek Observatory. He is the 15th-century ruler of Samarkand and the grandson of the great Tamerlane. His true passion was astronomy, mathematics, and learning. This was not good for his reign, he eventually was defeated in battle by his son and on his way to exile in Mecca, was beheaded by traitors. His lack of focus on military campaigns and setting religious leaders against him was his downfall. There is a statue of Ulugbek at the archeological site that reminded my wife, Nadia of her mathematics book, from her high school days in Bolivia (above and below).

One of the founders of algebra (Al-Gabr) was Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī who is featured on the cover of the Bolivian textbook. He was not Arabic, but Persian and was from the region that is around present-day Khiva. It is still called “Khwarazm” and good old Muhammad had the region in his name (Al-Juarismi – The Khivan). We had a big laugh that Nadia, who struggled with algebra and mathematics as a student, ended up moving to the land of the founders of algebra and higher mathematics, Uzbekistan! I think this is good therapy for her!

Nadia at the Amir Temur Mausoleum

We also visited the mausoleum of Tamerlane (Amir Temur). Samarkand was his capital and the guy had an eye for architectural design. The restored madrassas, mosques and other public buildings are stunning with their geometric blue tiles. We finished our day in Samarkand with our friend, Abdullahad who took us out for plov and gave us a tour of his carpet factory.

Visit to Bukhara

Kalyan Minaret “The Tower of Death”

There are three ancient Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. I finally got to the middle of the three, Bukhara last weekend. I led a retreat of CEESA directors to both Samarkand and Bukhara. I was awed by the vast history and architecture of Bukhara. The city was a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion for over 2,500 years. Today it is a medium-sized city of 280,000 citizens with a thriving tourist industry. Many of the mosques, madrassas, markets, and mausoleums are preserved and we saw numerous tour groups learning about the history of the city.

Bukhara’s “heyday” was between 850 and 1500 when it was an important center of Persian (Samanoid) culture. The majority of residents today still speak Tajik, a Persian (Iranian) language. Our tour guide said most people she knows are bilingual, Tajik and Uzbek, with the study of English and Russian quite popular in schools. The Uzbeks eventually took over the city and it was a city-state, ruled by the Emirs of Bukhara all the way up until the arrival of Russian armies. The city fell under Red Army control in 1920 and was incorporated into the Uzbek SSR. The long history means much has taken place in Bukhara. I was reading Ghengis Khan sacked the city in 1220.

We stayed at the new Mercure Hotel, about a kilometer from the old city. It was an elegant and comfortable choice and the group enjoyed the rooftop bar and spa. The bus took us to the major sites, including the following:

Ismail Samani mausoleum: This is the final resting place of the founder of the Saminoid (Persian) dynasty and it was built around 900 AD. The intricate brickwork has a Zoroastrian motif. It was saved from Mongol destruction by being buried in mud due to a flood when Ghengis Khan destroyed much of the city. Nadia loved the textures and shapes. The Soviets built parks on the site of cemeteries, hence today, there is a Ferris wheel, games, and rides surrounding the mausoleum.

Ark Fortress of Bukhara: The fort was built around 400 AD and city leaders and citizens lived inside it for thousands of years. It is restored today and we toured the museums and a mosque inside. A cool fact is that it was designed after the constellation Ursa Major (The Big Dipper). Nadia bought some artwork and we took a group photo on a recreated throne of the Emir.

Kalyan Minaret: This was my favorite! The massive tower is known as the “Tower of Death” because city officials executed criminals by tossing them from the top. When we visited, technicians were setting up for a classical music concert. I am always amazed that it just takes a lot of time to change the reputation from a site of gruesome atrocities to a UNESCO heritage site. The gorgeous blue domes, pillars and religious buildings surrounding the tower are truly awesome from an architectural perspective.

Lab-i Hauz complex: Bukhara was founded near the Zeravshan River, a tributary of the Amu Darya, and is surrounded by desert. Water was crucial for survival and the city once has many artificial ponds or pools. The Lab-i-Hauz complex is a preserved area of madrassas, mosques, and markets surrounding one of the last remaining pools. The Russians filled most of the pools because the mosquitos that bred on the water carried infectious diseases. I read in the Lonely Planet Guidebook that the city was known for illnesses and the life expectancy for Bukharans was 32. I found it to be quite pleasant with cafes lining the pool. Walking through the narrow alleyways and coming upon ancient and beautiful buildings was a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon.

You definitely need a couple of days to really see the entire city and I am sure I’ll be back with my family sometime before I leave Uzbekistan. I also have the third Silk Road City, Khiva on my bucket list.

Iftar Choyhona

One of my favorite traditions in Uzbekistan is going out to the choyhana (teahouse) with friends for dinner. Choyhonas used to be shaded tables near a river in the summer where friends gather to share the national dish of plov (rice pilaf). Today, there are many restaurants that recreate the scene with private rooms and big tables for large groups. They still serve endless cups of Uzbek tea. I’ve grown to like the unsweetened, light tea that is always served when people gather in Uzbekistan.

Last night Mukhtor chose a choyhona located in the far northeast of the city, Art Chinor restaurant. 20 of us gathered to eat, talk, laugh, and generally enjoy each other’s company. In Uzbekistan, the teahouses are segregated by sex, and so it is only men or only women in the private dining rooms. The meal starts with salads and bread followed by heaping plates of plov. Plov is usually cooked in huge wide pots over a fire. This plov had rice, garlic, peppers, horse, lamb, “jiz” (sheep fat), carrots, etc. It is quite filling and maybe not the best for my cholesterol. It is delicious and we had a great time.

I learned about a traditional Uzbek dessert called nisholda. It is egg white, with sugar and herbs whipped for a long period of time. You can spread it on bread or crackers like Nutella or peanut butter. It is usually prepared and served around the holidays. With the end of Ramadam taking place tomorrow, it was served last night.

During Ramadan, traffic around sunset gets a bit hectic. Many people go out for their iftar (evening dinner) after fasting all day long. What normally should be a 20-minute drive, took me 40 minutes to go from my house to the restaurant. I like the festive atmosphere of the city in the evenings during Ramadan. I would like to thank Mukhtor for organizing the evening. It is always nice to connect and unwind with my Uzbek and foreign colleagues in a convivial setting.

Camping in the Hills of Tavaksay

Dad, Ocean and Nadia at our campsite

Last weekend we camped with friends near the Tavaksay Canyon, which is in the foothills overlooking the town of Chirchiq, about an hour and 15 minutes-drive from our home in Tashkent. We had a lot of laughs and it was a beautiful evening under the half moon. The temperature was perfect and I slept very comfortably in our tent.

A windy set-up

It was my wife’s and Ocean’s favorite type of camping. It involved no hiking and backpacks. We just drove to the spot, parked, and set the tent next to the car. It was quite windy in the late afternoon Saturday when we set up the tents so we used our vehicles as a windblock. Thankfully, the wind abated and it was a glorious evening. It is so relaxing to be out in nature. We went for a walk up a ridge in the evening and I discovered the iPhone with it’s 3-second button, takes really nice night photos (see below).

The cliffs and lights of Chirchiq in the distance

It was a quiet evening as we were alone with the sheep and cow herds that ranchers take up to graze. The grasses are green at this time of the year. As spring turns into summer, the shepherds take their herds further up the mountains. I am interested in their lives and watched with interest as they guided the sheep to different grazing areas over the weekend. The Central Asian sheepdogs faithfully follow the herds and the herders are either on horseback or foot, corraling wayward sheep and cows. I think I might enjoy being a herder for a summer. It would be fun and relaxing to be outdoors all the time, but I think after a few weeks, it might get a bit boring. Once again, I must state, however, that I would like to see these hills without livestock grazing it all the time. The views are beautiful but there are not many plants, birds, and wildlife and it is mostly a sterile environment, thanks to our habit of eating a lot of meat.

It was cool to hear the call to prayer in the distance. I also got to ride my gravel bike a lot on Sunday morning. I will definitely head back up there during our upcoming Eid break to cycle more of the areas I didn’t get to. There were also a surprising number of cars driving around the hills in the evening. Uzbeks like to go up into the mountains for picnics or drinking. They are not big campers, however, as we foreigners stood out with our brightly colored tents. The mountains are my favorite aspect of living in Tashkent and I can’t wait to explore other areas this spring.

Latest Reading: The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

The Shape of Water is a crime novel featuring police chief detective Salvo Montalbano. It is a classic detective procedural and is the first in a series featuring the fictional detective. RAI, the national public broadcasting company of Italy turned The Shape of Water and the later other novels into the series into a television series. Kirkus Reviews calls Montalbano the Latin version of Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe is a character by Raymond Chandler, the most famous author in the “hardboiled crime fiction” genre that started in the 1920s.

I chose the book because Camilleri’s Montalbano stories are set on the island of Sicily. We are visiting the island in June and I am reading about Sicily to enhance my visit. It was another book I borrowed from the Great Lakes Digital Library and it took me 4 hours and 31 minutes to complete. I don’t know how I feel about digital books providing usage data. It is interesting to learn how long it takes to read a novel and I don’t think I would have guessed that it takes that much time.

I like crime stories and the book is a page-turner. It is set in the fictional south coast town of Vigata. Two municipal garbage collectors find an important politician dead in his car at an abandoned factory on the outskirts of the town. The factory site has turned into an outdoor brothel of sorts with immigrant women plying their trade. Powerful political players try to cover up the crime behind the death and Montalbano sets out to uncover what happened. It is an entertaining, light read and would be good on an airplane.

Ideas I am taking away from the book and things I learned about Sicily are as follows:

  • I knew southern Italy is different from northern Italy and that some Italians feel it could not be part of the country. I didn’t realize that there was a Sicilian dialect that is so different from Italian that it is considered a separate language. Sicily to me seems to be poor, a bit rough-edged (the mafia originated there), hot, dry and having seen better days. I know hundreds of thousands of Sicilians immigrated and their culture is a big part of New York culture today.
  • The carabinieri are the military police of Italy. I guess they would be the equivalent of the Michigan’s State Police but with stronger ties to the military. Officers are assigned regionally and are usually not from the districts they are patrolling.
  • tambasiare – Sicilian verb similar to English to dawdle and specifically refers to poking about from room-to-room without a precise goal.
  • accuttufarsi Sicilian verb meaning to get beaten up and to withdraw from human society
  • pied-à-terre – a French term literally mean “foot on the ground” and it refers to a small apartment or residence used as a secondary accommodation by a rich person. It is not a vacation home but just as an occasional residence. In the book, the deceased victim had a cottage on an isolated cape that he used for illicit romantic encounters. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we used our friends family hunting camps or lake cabins to take girls or drink alcohol. I guess those would have been our pied-a-terres. Cities like New York and Paris have been trying to reduce the number of apartments purchased in this manner because for most of the year they are empty and they drive up the cost of real estate.
  • tufa is a variety of limestone and I imagine I’ll be seeing a lot of it on our visit. It also has the name travertine and we are using it as the facade of our school buildings.
  • cália e simenza – a Sicilian streetfood mixture of roasted chick peas and salted pumpkin seeds
  • Prudence – means good judgment