ISIS vs. ISIL. And What is the Levant?


Is it ISIS or ISIL? And what exactly is the Levant? Obviously, this evil group isn’t going away for a while, so we might as well try to understand the name.

I did a Google search on “ISIS vs. ISIL,” and gobs of articles turned up. The best one was on But I’ll try to sum up what I learned.

levantmapWhether we use ISIS or ISIL, we’re using a translation of what the group actually calls itself. Remember, not everyone in the world speaks American. Their actual name in arabic is “Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham.” That’s quite a mouthful. It roughly translates as “The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.” The “al-Sham” part is where “Levant” comes from. And it can mean several things.

The Levant CAN refer to all the territory from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran–Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, parts of Turkey and Egypt, and even more territory in the Arabian Peninsula. However, “Levant” can also refer just to Syria, or even only to the area around Damascus. Some Arab scholars say the way ISIS (or ISIL) uses the term, that’s what they mean–The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

However, others (perhaps the Obama administration, but it’s unsure) use “Levant” in the broader sense because they say that is the group’s aspiration–to establish an Islamic state covering all of those countries.

And that completes today’s lesson.

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The NFL: 1 in 40


In any given year, 1 in 40 NFL players is arrested for something more significant than a traffic violation, according to the NY Times (32 teams x 53 players each). None of the persons I’ve worked with during my 35-year career have been arrested. Do 1 of 40 persons in your workplace get arrested every year?

Since 2000, there have been 713 such arrests among NFL players, a 2.53% rate. Interestingly, the NY Times says that’s below the national average for men in that age range.  The current 2014 is shaping up to have the lowest number of arrests on record.

Of those 713 arrests:

  • 202 – driving under the influence.
  • 88 – assault and battery (which is their job description).
  • 85 – domestic violence.
  • 82 – drugs.

The teams with the most arrests, in order: Minnesota (44), Cincinnati (43), and Denver (40). At the bottom were St. Louis, Houston, and Arizona, all with just 11 player arrests.

The perceived Bad Boys of the NFL are the Ravens and Raiders. But the Ravens are right at the league average of 22 arrests, and the Raiders are a bit below it with 19 arrests.

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Songs that Tell a Story

I love the song “The Ghost of Vicksburg,” by the Stone Coyotes. It’s a great story-telling song for Civil War buffs. While listening to it this weekend, I mused about other songs that tell a story–famous songs. Here are my ten favorite (only one per performer):

  • “Cats in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin.
  • “A Boy Named Sue,” by Johnny Cash.
  • “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” by Gordon Lightfoot.
  • “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” by Vicki Lawrence.
  • “The 8th of November,” by Big & Rich.
  • “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” by Charlie Daniels.
  • “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown,” by Jim Croce.
  • “One Tin Soldier,” by the Original Caste.
  • “Smoke on the Water,” by Deep Purple.
  • “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” by Ray Stevens.
  • “Billy Don’t be a Hero,” by Paper Lace.
  • “Convoy,” by CW McCall.

Okay, I’ve got to add a second song by Paper Lace, “The Night Chicago Died.” I heard that one a lot during my formative teen years in the 1970s. Along with over half of the other songs in the list–Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Deep Purple, Original Caste, CW McCall, Gordon Lightfoot, and Vicki Lawrence. Amazing how songs from your high school years stay with you.

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The Star Spangled Banner: Beyond the UB Legend


September 14 marked the 200th anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics after watching the British bombard Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

The United Brethren denomination takes a lot of pride in the fact that Francis Scott Key was a United Brethren member and Sunday school teacher. He and a United Brethren preacher named John Snook organized a Sunday school in Keysville, Md. Key donated songbooks and led the singing. Snook and Key also went on evangelistic tours together, with Key handling the music.

But history can be messy. In researching, I also discovered something we don’t talk much about: Francis Scott Key was a slave owner who actively fought to keep slavery legal. As a lawyer he prosecuted various anti-slavery persons. In one case, his summation to the jury stated, “Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country, to permit it to be taken from you and occupied by the abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the negro?”

However, Key was described as a “decent master” who emancipated seven of his own slaves and, sometimes, criticized slavery. Kinda like “benevolent dictator.” He also helped found, in 1816, the American Colonization Society, which helped return freed slaves to Africa. However, his legal cases against slavery opponents continued into the 1830s.

The UB denomination took a strong stand against slavery way back in 1821.

So, Francis Scott Key is kind of a mixed bag. As a slave owner, what exactly did he mean by “the land of the free.”

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ISIS is Evil, But….

child-guns hostage-rescue580

There’s no doubt that ISIS is incredibly evil. No question. They are committing terrible atrocities. They must be stopped.

However, let me provide a word of caution, in the interests of truthfulness (which, last I checked, is a biblical concept even for Facebook). Not everything you HEAR that they do is correct.

  • The photo of three AK-47s being pointed at a little child? It’s from Yemen.
  • That photo of eight persons being crucified by ISIS? It’s from the Turkish massacre of Christian Armenians in the early 1900s.
  • That girl beheaded by ISIS? Actually, she was decapitated when a Syrian shell struck her home in 2013.
  • That photo of a group of women in Mosul, hands raised, being led away by two gun-toting men to become ISIS slaves? Taken during a staged rescue of hostages during SOFEX, a special operations trade-show in Jordan.
  • That photo of Mohammad Fazi, one of the Guantanamo detainees released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, sitting behind five severed heads? Not him. It’s a Dutch national who ran off to fight in Syria. The photo was taken before Bergdahl’s release.

More recently, Christians have been circulating–since early August–an email about ISIS systematically beheading children in the city of Queragosh. The writer says ISIS is 10 minutes from where his team is working. It supposedly comes from someone named Bonnie Lang, who supposedly spoke by phone to Sean Malone of Crisis Relief International.

Actually, Sean Malone heads Crisis RESPONSE International, which DOES work in the areas in question. However, the CRI website says nothing about any of this. Another organization, the National Christian Foundation, quoted the email as coming from “our on-the-ground sources” and said it was keeping it anonymous “for security.” Actually, the anonymity was so they could falsely take credit for the report.

Demonizing the enemy happens in every war. During World War I, propaganda told of Germans throwing babies into the air and catching them on their bayonets. America’s enemies convince citizens of the terrible things American soldiers will supposedly do to them.

ISIS is evil. They are massacring people. But that doesn’t justify spreading lies.

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Ready to Give Their Lives in a Suicide Mission

Heather Penney

Major Heather Penney

Here’s a story from 9/11 which has gone largely untold. Maj. Heather

Col. Marc Sasseville

Col. Marc Sasseville

Penney (one of the first female F-16 pilots) and Col. Marc Sasseville were on duty when word came that Flight 93 was headed toward Washington DC. They took to the air to bring Flight 93 down…but without any weaponry. It would have taken an hour to arm the planes.

“I’m going to go for the cockpit,” Sasseville told her as they geared up.

“I’ll take the tail,” Penney replied.

A suicide mission to end a suicide mission. Quite a story.

Of course, it wasn’t necessary for them to ram their F-16s into the Boeing 777. But the fact that they took off, totally expecting to not come back…very inspiring.

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My Future Encounter with a Grizzly

grizzly-growl grizzly-claws

Being hopelessly eclectic, I read an article about how to survive a bear attack. If a grizzly bear attacks you, the advice went like this: Lay on your stomach, put your hands behind your head, and stay still. The bear may walk away after mauling you. MAY walk away.

So basically, you say, “Hi, bear. You can rip me to shreds with your ridiculously long claws and teeth. Just don’t kill me.”

Further advice: never run, because it just indicates that you are prey, and there’s no way you can out-run a bear. And don’t scream, because it reinforces that you are prey.

Excellent head knowledge, which I would ponder for one second if a bear attacked me. Then instinct would take over. I would run, I would scream, and I would die. That’s just the way it is.

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The Van Wert Fair, and the Missing Ice Cream


Last night, Pam and I went to the Van Wert County Fair, about an hour’s drive from us in Van Wert, Ohio. We’ve gone there every year of our married life (25) plus several years of our dating life. Definitely a Dennie tradition.

We go mostly to eat, and choose from the same menu. We started at the Pork Barn (formerly Rager’s, which I still call it), where I had a sausage sandwich and an extraordinary ham & cheese sandwich. Next came a funnel cake. Sometimes we do Belgian waffles, but not this year. No Fiske Fries or lemon shake-up, either. On the way out, I bought my usual bag of roasted pecans while Pam bought a big bag of cotton candy.

Then, the very last thing: a cone of cherry ice cream. Alas, the cherry ice cream machine was BROKE. And thus ended a streak of nearly 30 years. It was very discombobulating, not having cherry ice cream to cap the evening. I mean, that cherry ice cream truck was there, in the exact same spot, when my mom attending the fair as a child.

Psalms admonishes, “Remove not the ancient landmarks.” In Van Wert, an ancient landmark was missing last night, and I don’t think God was please. Pam and I certainly weren’t.

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An Innocent Family, and a Deal with Gaddafi


Here’s a powerful piece by a Libyan woman who has a very personal stake in the Congressional report on the CIA’s torture and rendition programs–evil programs which put my beloved country in the “state-sponsored torture” category. In 2004, when she was 12, Khadija al-Saadi and her three siblings and parents, who had previously escaped from Libya, were kidnapped and “rendered” to Libya.

It was apparently part of a political deal with Gaddafi, something he wanted in return for helping the US and Britain fight terrorism. To the government officials who struck the deal, Khadija’s family were merely expendable pawns, anonymous Arabs to be traded. But Khadija writes, “For my family, it was personal: it was about my father being handed over to a dictator he had dared to oppose, to be beaten and nearly killed.”

Large portions of the report are blacked out. Khadija wants to see the names, dates, places, everything–a full accounting. She writes, “I wonder who will decide whether my name gets a black line drawn through it, and whether he or she will stop to think what that means…I want to know which places were used for the rendition programme; I want to know how my family were kidnapped and moved around like cargo; I want to know who gave the orders at each level. If there are individuals who are uncomfortable about that, it is nothing compared to the feelings I experienced aged 12, speeding through Libya on the way to a secret prison.”

She’s got a compelling point. I’ve read many tales of rendition from the Bush years. All of them result in torture. That was the idea. A very sad chapter in our history.


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I enjoy the silly games and activities Jimmy Fallon inflicts on some guests. Like the recent game of “Faceballs” with Julia Robert. I guess he’s taken some criticism for these stunts, but I find it very fun. A writer in Esquire agreed, saying the following about Faceballs:

“By the end of the segment, we’d been given a far more genuine illustration of what Julia Roberts is like than could have ever been achieved through one of the traditional sit-down interviews that have defined the host-guest relationship on late-night television for the past 50 years. We saw Roberts’s personality in action, reacting to an unfamiliar and unpredictable set of circumstances, rather than going through the motions of another pre-plotted interview. We even had a better idea of what it might be like to have a beer with Julia Roberts, the human. It was the late-night equivalent of ‘show, don’t tell.’”

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