Book review: ‘A War of Frontier and Empire’

First published: Sunday, October 7, 2007, in the Albany Times Union

sibleyAs President Bush tries to shape his legacy in regards to the Iraq war, he should pick up David Silbey’s engaging history “A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902” (Hill and Wang; 272 pages; $26).

Though both were wars of choice, the details are quite different. Still, the generalizations that can be gleaned from Silbey’s account are eerily familiar: a quick and stunning conventional military victory turns into longer-than-expected guerrilla warfare; a failure by the United States to understand its enemy; a sense of racial superiority that enflames troops and politicians in Washington; and a native population whose loyalties seemed to change depending on the time of day.

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Mike Jarboe, in memoriam; or, snapshots of a newspaperman


Mike Jarboe at the Times Union in 2010.

I am still in disbelief that Mike Jarboe is gone. I am so glad to have read so many stories about him and tributes to him, and that his family knows how many people he has touched and how deeply. Everyone who’s ever met Mike Jarboe has a Mike Jarboe story. Here are some of the things that come to my mind.

We worked together on the Times Union news copy desk for about six years. One of the best things for me about those years were the “slot/rim” meetings I had with him.

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Recent press: Times Union on my Pushcart nomination

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If you read my announcement on this blog last week, then you already know this news. But it caught the attention of the good people at the Albany Times Union, including current arts editor Gary Hahn. He worked his magic and one of the newest hires to the TU, Sara Tracey, was kind enough to write up my literary news.

Thank you, Gary and Sara!

You can read the full story here:

This was also buttressed from some really great social media mentions. Here’s a Twitter sampling


Times Union’s new press

Times Union's new press

Big Picture: Writers worth seeing this spring

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Times Union Studio shot of Entertainment Editor Michael Janairo for his upcoming Unwind “Big Picture” Arts Column, shot on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, in Albany, NY. (Luanne M. Ferris/Times Union)

The New York State Writers Institute recently released its spring schedule, but in thinking about writers coming to the region this spring, my first thought goes to Darin Strauss.

His books include the memoir “Half of Life” (2010), in which he recounts how he killed a classmate in a car accident and its aftermath, which won a National Book Critics Circle award, and his 2001 debut “Chang and Eng” (2001), a fictionalized account of the famous conjoined brothers.

It was because of that book that I first heard Strauss give a talk in the common room of a dorm at Skidmore College. I was a student at the New York State Summer Writers Institute, studying with Marilyn Robinson and Russell Banks, and he was one of the alumni with a success story – the publication of his first novel. He said he had worked on the novel at the Writers Institute at Skidmore, and was especially impressed with the sharp-eyed Douglas Glover, who at that time would read manuscripts from students and offer a one-on-one critique that was both thrilling and terrifying.

What I remember best was how Strauss responded to the question of what it was like going from a writer working away, often alone, to having published a book. He said something like, “You know the saying, ‘the quiet before the storm.’? Well, it’s like the quiet after the quiet.”

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Big Picture: Notes on how to be a critic

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Times Union Studio shot of Entertainment Editor Michael Janairo for his upcoming Unwind “Big Picture” Arts Column, shot on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, in Albany, NY. (Luanne M. Ferris/Times Union)

Happy New Year!

2012 looks to be an exciting year in arts and entertainment for the Capital Region, with events such as the Broadway musical “Memphis” in April at Proctors in Schenectady, Roger Waters “The Wall” in June at Times Union Center in Albany, the release sometime in late summer or fall of the filmed-in-Schenectady “The Place Beyond the Pines” and, in November, the exhibition “Heroes and Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross” at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

The Times Union will have plenty to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about the arts in the region. In that spirit, and buoyed by the promise of a fresh year, I have a three-part agenda that is like a New Year’s resolution, except that it is more about what I want from others than just about what I will do. (Is that even allowed?)

1. I want to read more thoughtful comments on the Arts Talk blog at, where everyone is welcome to comment.

2. I want better comments online in general, because nowadays everyone’s a critic.

3. I want to skew the word critical to its more positive definitions. Too often it means “nitpicky” and “negative”; however, the word also means “analytical” and “vital.” It’s all in the dictionary. Look it up. I’ll wait. Continue reading →

Big Picture: Chance to share stories truly a gift

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Times Union Studio shot of Entertainment Editor Michael Janairo for his upcoming Unwind “Big Picture” Arts Column, shot on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, in Albany, NY. (Luanne M. Ferris/Times Union)

As the year winds down, I and the arts and entertainment team at the Times Union have been looking back on the highlights of 2011. The thought exercise offers a reminder that the greater Capital Region offers a wonderful breadth and depth of cultural opportunities in dance, classical music, opera, literature, theater, visual arts, jazz and popular music.

This fall, I had the opportunity of taking part in one of those offerings from the New York State Writers Institute. It wasn’t the free authors’ readings — though I did attend plenty of those in what was a particularly strong season with Nicole Krause, Ian Frazier, Isabel Wilkerson, Colson Whitehead, Tom Perrotta, Robert Caro and, of course, William Kennedy, the founder of the instituteand author of many novels, including his latest, “Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes.”

The opportunity I had was an eight-week writing workshop for prose writers. The workshops — one was offered this fall in poetry, another in prose — are offered for free to residents of the Capital Region who are selected based on writing samples submitted beforehand.

I had applied for the workshops before, but this was the first time I had been accepted. Continue reading →