Monday, April 29, 2013

Face It: Things May Not Be As You Imagine Them to Be

We inherit our face. Not much we can do about that except to shape it in the most favorable way we are capable of.

The Rapp face includes a mouth whose corners turned down, and even more so when smiling. The only way a Rapp can look truly happy is to stand on his or her head. At my age that is no longer an option, of course. So, since I walk through the world with a genetically fixed frown on my face I must use care in criticizing others who do so as well.

Perhaps the only antidote to such a socially debilitating condition is to make sure that the sounds coming from our ill-formed mouths do not reinforce the appearance offered to the world. Or to say it more bluntly – we may have our parents to blame for how we look but we must take responsibility for what we say.

It seems to me that we have more genuine grouches in the world now than I remember at any other time in my life. Not all are afflicted with turned-down-mouth syndrome; some can, to paraphrase Shakespeare, smile and smile and still be a grouch. (I presume they genuinely enjoy their grouchiness.)  But those whose face and mouth agree in their dourness are most distressing to me.

I’ve mentioned, in previous blogs, several of our political leaders – Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, John McCain, Lindsey Graham – all of whom seem to be suffering from some kind of perpetual mental indigestion. A number of prominent para-church leaders could be added to the list. And of course there are the Fox News-like commercial critics who shape their face and soul to resemble a dour dollar sign. I suspect that, in the latter case, the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs, and their contemporaries can and do smile, but only behind our backs as they lug their ill-gotten loot off to the bank, or to the gold exchange if we are to believe that they take their own dark prophecies seriously.

No one should doubt that we face serious problems in our culture; serious enough to wipe the smile off of the most optimistic and genetically gifted face on certain trying days. But how wonderful it is to encounter a smile when things are darkest. And more to the point, how encouraging to hear some optimism and positivism even when the face can’t manage a smile.

Sadly, those with the most gloomy faces and discouraging voices make claim to be the moral – and in some cases, spiritual – champions of our day. They are quick to declare that God, or at least right is on their side, implying at the same time, that their opponents are bereft of all moral credibility. They justify their stubborn refusal to engage in the dialogue necessary to make progress toward solving our problems by declaring themselves too righteous to compromise with their “satanic” enemies. They seem to be poised to leap on any crisis as an opportunity to prove the ineptness or maliciousness of those whom they oppose.

I have only a little advice for those “dark clouds” who insist on raining on every parade. Take it from one who has carried a frown on his face for three-quarters of a century. The shape of one’s face doesn’t necessarily reflect the shape of the world in which we live. Those who disagree with us are not always our enemies. Those whose values differ from ours may, on some occasions be more in the right than we are.

No one wore a face more dour, I imagine, than that old Puritan warrior, Oliver Cromwell. Yet it was he who reportedly said, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Mark of the Beast


by Jim Rapp

W
e are tempted
to live a lie –
we being you and I –
we being residents
of Babylon.

W
ardens of freedom,
who imprison,
indefinitely,
without trial,
fellow humans
snatched from
foreign streets
in fear –
our fear of them;
their fear of us –
with no evidence
to convict them;
with no plan to
ever restore
their freedoms.

P
roponents of peace,
who bomb and strafe
the world with
sanitary drones
launched
and aimed
from antiseptic
command posts
a world away from
demolished homes –
from scattered bones –
of innocents
whose place,
whose peace,
they shatter.

D
evotees of
semi-automatic,
high capacity gods,
who arm ourselves
with lethal force
and vow to die
defending rights
that neither God
nor man
has granted –
the right of
every man to
be a justice
of the peace;
every man an
executioner –
belying our most
pious boast:
“In God We Trust”.

W
e are tempted
to live a lie –
we being you and I;
profiting from
Babylon’s
inequities,
partaking of
Babylon’s
iniquities,
consenting to
Babylon’s lies,
we are tempted
to wear
Babylon’s brand
upon our hand
and brow;
to say,
“We’ve found
our home, we
play our harps,
in Babylon.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Honest Disagreements

In an ideal society there will be honest differences of opinion. No society prospers without them. Progress is made only because we disagree with each other or with our own previous conclusions. If there were constant consensus it would indicate one of two things: 1) we live in a perpetually perfect world or 2) we are constrained in expressing disagreement out of fear, either of societal censure or political and penal penalties.

So differences of opinion are the fuel of a prosperous society. But the key is that those differences must be “honest” differences. Another phrase used to express this would be “good faith” differences. In other words, in order for our differences to have a positive effect upon our society they need to be unselfishly aimed at producing the most good for the greatest number of people.

It seems to me that people expressing honest opinions should not always be in conflict with the same people. Today A may be in conflict with B but not with C. Tomorrow they may all be in conflict with each other. And next week A and C will be in conflict with B. And on some occasions they should all be in agreement. A, B, and C, being people of different personality, background, and location, they will naturally have different perspectives on the issues they address. But the key here is a determination on the part of each of them to honestly position themselves on the side of truth and to seek the common good.

Unfortunately, our opinion makers today – politicians foremost among them – have too often proven themselves to be unable or unwilling to look at issues through any lens other than their own self-interest. No doubt all of our national political leaders fail the test of objectivity many times in their career. But there are those whose honesty (objectivity) is evident more often than that of their colleagues. We need to be thankful for that and give them the affirmation that will encourage them to continue to work toward honest collaborative solutions to our many problems.

There are others, Senators Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain (most of the time), to name the most prominent, whose opinion on an issue seems to be decided solely on the basis of opposition to the President. I would be the last to argue that the President (this President or any other) is always right, but the odds would seem to dictate that, given a hundred different issues, any honest man would have to agree with him on at least a handful of occasions. Not so with Senator’s McConnell, Graham, and McCain. The media conveniently has a podium and microphones permanently placed near the exit to their offices so they can provide instant rejection of any policy or proposal the President offers. They may smile at times when the public cannot see them, but they seldom appear in public with anything but a frown on their faces and a snarl in their voice.

McConnell, Graham, and McCain are not alone, of course. Three men cannot obstruct the work of our government without the aid of others. In fact, our hapless Senate has so hogtied itself with its own rules that the three Senatorial Trolls need the aid of thirty eight others like themselves to shut down the government, impose sequestration upon the nation, or block sensible legislation to require meaningful background checks for those buying semi-automatic (and other) guns. A body initially intended to operate in most circumstances as a democratic institution now subjects itself to rules that can, and often do, require agreement of 60 percent of its members to appoint a judge or authorize the purchase of a pencil.

This is not the first time our nation has been held in the grip of men who were incapable of honest disagreement. At the start of the 20th century the United States Senate was filled with unelected men appointed to their position by state Governors and approved by state legislatures. They were notorious for their graft, corruption, and dishonesty. A Republican from Wisconsin, Senator Robert Lafollette, was instrumental in getting the U.S. Constitution amended so that Senators were elected by a vote of the entire population of the state they would serve. While not a complete solution to the problem of graft and corruption, the “direct election of Senators” did serve, for a number of decades, as a corrective to the problem.

Today, the introduction of millions of dollars of special interest money into our political process, and into the election of Senators and Representatives particularly, has brought us again to a point of crisis. Our legislative leaders are incapable of the honest disagreement necessary for good government. They are now capable only of self-serving disagreement. Programmed, party-dictated, oppositional disagreement. What’s to be done?

It isn’t reasonable to expect the political parties to change their ways. It isn’t possible for the Congress to change its ways; it has handcuffed itself and thrown away the key. The people, through their state legislatures must propose a Constitutional amendment doing away with the direct election of senators, in fact doing away with the election of political leaders altogether. Democracy as we have practiced it is a failure.

I propose (and this simple proposal would need further elaboration, of course) that all our leaders be selected by random lottery just as we select those who serve on our juries to decided the fate of citizens brought before our courts. Those so selected to serve us should be adequately paid, but their term of service should be limited, and they should be strictly prohibited – under severe penalty of law – from profiting from their service in any way other than the salary they receive for that service.

How well would this proposed system work, and for how long? That is hard to tell, but if we got as many decades of improved service from it as we got from the direct election of Senators it might be called a success. We will never tame the perversity of mankind but we dare not ever cease in our efforts to do so.

You are free, of course, to disagree with my assessment and my proposal, but please make your disagreement, honest disagreement.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Longing For A Warmer Day: A Prayer


by Jim Rapp
 
It’s been days now since we’ve seen your face.
Just now an array of shadowed branches played
across my close drawn window shade –
a display of random hopefulness they made –
and then I sadly watched them fade away.

It’s been days now since we’ve seen your face.
Come, bright brother – come and stay!
Drive the chilling winds and rain away;
melt the snows that, shielded in their northern lays,
defy the power of your warming rays.

It’s been days now since we’ve seen your face.
Hearts are longing for a warmer day.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Haiku for Boston

by Jim  Rapp

Boston’s blood is shed
in solidarity with
Sandy Hook’s deceased

Senselessness

by Jim Rapp

“I heard the sleet hitting the window,”
she said.
“I heard the rain in the downspout,”
said another.

Alas, his deafening ears
heard neither.
Oh the senselessness
in aging.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Deceleration


by Jim Rapp

At the age of four his aspiration
was to be, no less, a woman evangelist.
Now content he is, in resignation,
A blog to write – evangelizing still, I guess.

At ten his hopes and wishes, his ambition,
was to be a major leaguer – at first base.
Climbing up the stairs is now, by definition,
“major league” – wheezing at snail’s pace.

For years he strove in constant agitation,
trying just to “make the grade”; to pay the bills,
propelled by just enough acceleration
to haul the load and climb the next day’s hills.

Now, in dotage, he's developed reservations.
Various wrecks have served as object lessons.
Better far, he thinks, to yield to others' aspirations;
Driving slowly now, he sighs – the tension lessens.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why We Need Gun Controls - And A Whole Lot More

The gun enthusiasts, led by the NRA, are frothing at the mouth again, rabid in their determination to, in the words of Senator Mitch McConnell, “do out” any Congressman who votes for even the slightest modification of the right to buy and possess guns.

As long as they have Senator McConnell, and others of like loyalty, in their employ the gun lobby can successfully block any legislation that might add a little sanity to our gun-crazed culture.

Recently – since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy – spokespersons for the NRA have suggested that legislators should be going after movies and video games that glorify violence and should support the detection and treatment of mental illness rather than seek to keep guns from being sold. That we should do. To paraphrase a statement Jesus made in a different context, we should do the former and not neglect to do the latter as well.  Are we supposed to imagine that the gun lobby would not suddenly oppose any legislation that suggests that the depiction of gun violence in movies and video games bleeds over into the behaviors in society? Their most vocal argument is that “guns don’t kill.” Why then would they support a ban on depicting guns in any but a beneficent light?

The gun lobby (the NRA) rightly argues that the banning of certain types of guns and requirements for background checks or gun registration will not keep determined criminals or mentally ill persons from committing mayhem, with or without guns. Gun sellers have seen to it over the years that our society is super saturated with enough guns for every adult to have a pair strapped to their hips. So gun purchase background checks are not going to make a dent in gun ownership. Besides, the bill about to be debated in the Senate, still allows guns to be sold and transferred privately without any restrictions. It is almost worse than nothing.

What gun control legislation will accomplish however – over time – is an admission that guns play too big a role in the culture; that they are not safe toys that can be made available without restriction. In other words we can begin to build the notion that guns should be owned only by responsible people only for use in legitimate pursuits that are approved by society and that do not endanger the lives of innocent people. We must begin to build a consensus that weapons whose only purpose is to perpetrate massive wholesale slaughter have no business in the hands of ordinary citizens.

But gun purchase restrictions are not enough. Our culture will never curb its violent tendencies until it ceases to portray violence in glamorous and heroic terms. Our Constitution guarantees that, except in particularly egregious situations, laws cannot be passed that inhibit those who callously offer the public violent movies and video games or who promote violence in other forms of “entertainment.” So any change in those areas will need to be voluntary. But that is not impossible to imagine. Perhaps as much as half of the population of the United States professes to be Christian in belief and practice; as many as half of that number call themselves “born again Christian” or evangelical Christian. If just those people would chose to eliminate from their lives all things that promote or glorify violence – movies, books, magazines, video games, sporting events, slanderous e-mails, and ordinary conversation – we would become a dramatically less violent society overnight. If those same people destroyed all their guns – except those useful for hunting or, in special cases, self-defense – we would suddenly become a far less gun-sodden society.

I favor gun restriction legislation because I believe that the laws we pass help define the kind of people we aspire to be. But I am not so na├»ve as to believe that laws prevent any particular individual from engaging in behaviors that are dangerous to their neighbors. It will require far more than legislation to curb the violence we all profess to abhor. Prominent societal leaders – ministers, legislators, entertainers, and the gun industry itself – must begin to speak out against the belligerence that says, “you’ll have to claw my gun out of my dead hand if you want to take it from me.” They will need to speak against violence in our “entertainment” media. And they will need to be willing to support laws that put reasonably restrictions on the ownership of guns of all kinds.

The NRA and its surrogates like to argue that more guns in the hands of citizens make us safer. If that is true then we should not, as national policy, be attempting to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons in places like the Middle East or Asia. If guns in every citizen’s hands promotes peace in our cities then a nuke in the hands of every nation should make the world safer too. Rather than stopping Iran and North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons, it should be the policy of our government to sell (or give) nuclear arms to every country in those regions. If everyone has nuclear capabilities the world will be a safer place to live.

Of course, when we put it in those terms, most thoughtful people shudder to think of the consequences of such proliferation. We ought to be shuddering at the thought that every man or woman we meet each day could be “packing heat” – an interesting, violence-glorifying term that gun advocates love to use – capable of ending our life in an instant.

The Peaceable Kingdom, predicted by the prophets of Israel and John the Apostle, and depicted in Edward Hicks’ famous painting, is one in which swords and spears (guns in our day) will have been made into plowshares. Instruments of destruction and death turned to peaceful and productive use. That should be the desire of every human being but we will not get there by following the path we are on.

There is a vast majority in this country, made up of those who claim as their spiritual leader, One who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Let us stand up and declare ourselves for peace – against violence in all its forms. If we do so, we win. If we don’t the “curse of Cain” will continue to haunt us and our children to the fourth and fifth generations, if our race survives that long.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Whack-A-Mole: The Game of Politics

For $35,000 you can own a Genuine Whac-A-Mole Arcade Game. Or for a lot less money you can play the game the way it is played in Senator Mitch McConnell’s world of politics.

This blog entry is intended to be read with the previous one (Remembering J. David Kuo) in mind. A news story involving Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell broke yesterday providing a clear glimpse into the dark world in which David Kuo had lived and which he described in the memoir he wrote after leaving public service. Kuo’s book Tempting Faith, revealed the extent to which he, and almost everyone around him, allowed their political aspirations and loyalties to overpower their commitment to civility, decency and to the principles of Jesus which many of them professed to believe in.

Jesus taught that there will be a reckoning (a last Judgment) at which all humans will come before the King (Jesus himself) and be found either acceptable or unacceptable. The criteria by which that judgment will be rendered is very straightforward. Those whom the King will approve are those who showed care and compassion to others less fortunate than themselves: 

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. 

Likewise those whom the King will reject are those who refused (or neglected) to show care and compassion for the less fortunate: 

Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. 

Those in the former group were astonished that by doing good for others they had actually been serving the King. They were welcomed into his kingdom. The latter group protested that they had never failed to serve the King when he was in need. The King told them that their lack of concern for others was a lack of concern for him. He dismissed them, barring them from his kingdom with these awful words, “Depart from me; I never knew you.”

Yesterday Mother Jones magazine released a recording of a strategy session in which Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell and his political team were discussing ways to discredit anyone who would oppose the Senator in his bid for reelection next year. The primary opponent (who has since said she will not run for the office) was Ashley Judd.

The Mother Jones tape revealed McConnell telling his aids:  

I assume most of you have played the, the game Whac-A-Mole?” (Laughter.) This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.

As the meeting progressed, McConnell’s aids played audio and video recordings of Ashley Judd discussing her political philosophy and other subjects, especially her personal struggle with depression. Those at the meeting made jokes about her, ridiculed her comments, and laughed at their own witticisms. Not once did McConnell speak up and say, “This is inappropriate. I’ll not have my staff demeaning another human being in this fashion.” No, he and his aids were preparing to play Whac-A-Mole. If Ashley Judd dared to “stick her head up” they were prepared to “do her out” by what ever means they could devise.

In reading the transcript of the meeting one could come to the conclusion that this was just business as usual in our modern world. And they would be right. As Kuo’s memoir so honestly lays out, business as usual in Washington politics (or politics in almost any other setting these days) is conducted in a nasty, soul smothering environment. Those caught in its web soon see themselves as the defenders of righteousness and their opponents as the epitome of evil. Ridicule, slander, and outright lying are justified because the enemy is so despicable and your side so righteous.

It is revealing to note that McConnell is incensed that his meeting with his political aids was recorded and leaked to Mother Jones. He attributes it to the perfidy of Liberals who will do anything to defeat him. He is enlisting the aid of the FBI to ascertain how the tape was obtained and who leaked it. The odds are pretty good that he was betrayed by some trusted person who was a part of the meeting; someone who is either fed up with hypocrisy or has a grudge against McConnell or someone in his organization.

What is dismaying is the fact that McConnell cannot see his own perfidy; that choosing to “do out” an opponent by any means possible is at least as perfidious as leaking the content of a strategy meeting.  Mr. McConnell should be apologizing to Ashley Judd for the things he allowed to be talked about in his presence. But as David Kuo came to realize, once the end becomes more important than the means, all moral caution is thrown to the wind.

McConnell declares himself a Baptist but doesn’t seem to foreground his religious beliefs. There is no requirement for a politician in the U.S. to be associated with any religion. But the mere fact that he declares himself Baptist at least allows one to assume that, at some level, he is committed to the teachings of Jesus, whom Baptists profess to believe in and follow. If Jesus words are to be taken as meaningful then someday McConnell will stand before the King and hear him say, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” It should be sobering, even to a callous politician, to realize that ridiculing and demeaning a political opponent is viewed by the King as ridiculing and demeaning Him.

But then, one has to wonder about the content of all closed door political planning sessions. And one has to recall, even if he is not a politician, the contents of his own conversations. As any of us has done unto others, we have done it unto the King.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Remembering J. David Kuo

David Kuo died Friday, April 5th, 2013, at age 44. Ten years earlier he was nearly killed in an auto accident brought on by a brain tumor induced seizure. Surgery for the tumor bought him additional years but the cancer eventually claimed his life.

Most Americans know nothing of Kuo. Until I read of his death I had only heard of him peripherally. In 2006 he had written a number of articles critical of the Bush administration, in which he had served as an assistant director of President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative. Kuo had joined the Bush Administration, convinced of the sincerity of Bush’s evangelical faith and of his intent to fund faith-based programs to assist the poor. After two years of frustration over the impossibility of getting the promised funding for the program, and increasing disillusionment with politics in general and the Republican Bush Administration in particular, Kuo resigned.

I was intrigued by an Obituary in the New York Times. It confirmed my longstanding belief that both political parties have used certain of their constituents to promote their politics while ultimately doing nothing about the concerns of the interest group whose support they courted with campaign promises, visits to the White House, invitations to conferences, tickets to high profile meetings with the President, etc.

Kuo, an evangelical Christian and a conservative Republican, recognized that Republicans, who occupied the White House for twenty of the twenty-eight years from Ronald Reagan’s election to the end of George W. Bush’s last term, had enjoyed majority status in the Senate and House for twelve of those years, and had appointed seven justices to the Supreme Court. (There are only nine justices so until recently all but two had been Republican appointees.) Still no Republican president had fulfilled any of the major promises made to the conservative Christians who, in overwhelming majorities, had voted for them. Kuo’s conclusion was that though those Presidents were sincere in their personal faith, they nonetheless allowed their political ambitions to overshadow their faith. Politics was more important to them (or became more important to them) than their Christian commitments.

Kuo’s book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, is one I would recommend that every person professing to be an evangelical Christian should read. Those who are not evangelical or not persons of faith will find it to be, not a defense of that faith or even an attempt to persuade anyone to accept it, but rather a critique of those Democrats and Republicans who imperfectly represented their faith as they sought to expand their political power. It is not just an expose of the crimes of Democrats and Republicans however; it is also a frank and honest memoire of Kuo’s own fumbling attempt to be a faithful follower of Jesus, from his Christian conversion as a teen-ager until his resignation from the Bush Administration’s Faith Based Initiative. Kuo tells of the blinding and captivating power that seized him when he entered the world of politics. He likens it to the power of the “ring” in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. First you take possession of it, then it takes possession of you, and finally it becomes so precious that you cannot live without it; you become less and less while the evil, represented by the ring, becomes more and more representative of who you are.

Kuo, like the hobbits, Bilbo Baggins and Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, was eventually able to step away from the charmed life of a Presidential Assistant. The burden of his memoire is a warning to all of us, whether we are actively engaged in the support of a political party or a political cause or just committed to something that becomes all-consuming; really any cause that is not directly focused on our commitment to our faith beliefs. We can allow our zeal for those causes to subvert our good intentions and turn us into tools to be used by those more powerful than ourselves for their purposes.

More importantly, Kuo’s message to followers of Jesus Christ, who hope to honor the One whose name their bear and who hope to do His will in the world, is that we can end up allowing ourselves to be manipulated in ways that bring discredit to the name of Jesus Christ and drive away those who need to come to Him for their salvation. Kuo was challenged by some lines from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Read what he says about Lewis’ book:

"I found a passage in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters that scared me. Screwtape Letters contains fictional correspondence between a young demon, Wormwood, just learning how to vex Christians, and his more powerful demonic uncle, Screwtape. Toward the end of the book, as the Christian has developed, Screwtape advises his young cousin on how to really derail a Christian.

'Let him begin by treating patriotism… as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…[ O] nce he’s made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.'"

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, both Bilbo and Sam, though they ultimately relinquished the Ring of Power, never really got over the charm of having possessed it. I think I sense the same in David Kuo. After leaving the White House staff he still maintained contact with those still there. Even helped ghost write speeches for various Republican candidates. It is impossible to know what he would have done if he had lived beyond his forty-four years.

Kuo’s final advice to the readers of his memoire is that they take a two-year sabbatical from all things political except voting. I’ve felt that we should lengthen that to four years – four years in which all elective offices are left empty; a political Sabbath would be upon the land, no planting or harvesting, let the bureaucracy carry us along while all the political offices are aired out. Then, rather than returning to the corruption of campaigns and elections we could select our representatives as we do members of a jury; all eligible names are thrown into a hat and those drawn out must serve for a specified period of time (with pay) unless they can show they are not mentally or physically able to fulfill that duty. Not about to happen, but what if . . . ?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Uncle Cain


by Jim Rapp

Do not fear us, uncle Cain.
We see the mark upon your brow.
Come near, and let us speak again;
perhaps your ancient wisdom now
can help to solve a great dilemma.

We know, or think, at least, we know
what caused your meditated murder;
jealousy drove you to attempt to show –
shedding brother-blood without a shudder –
your offering was beyond penultima*.

Do not fear us, we are “brothers,” Cain.
See! We too bear the mark upon our brow;
sons of Seth, we nonetheless retain
your inclinations, and so we seek to know,
from you, what drives our fratricidal ways.

What did Abel lack that you possessed
that made his life, compared to yours, worth less?
What criterion did you use as you assessed
your brother’s worth-less-ness?
Did you merely hate his other-ways?

You may be glad to know, o haunted wanderer,
that today your mark is worn with legal pride,
endorsed by church and state; no need to bother
with a conscience grieved, no need to seek to hide.
Your kindred, thusly badged, are celebrated.

But back to that dilemma, uncle Cain;
know that more, endorsed by neither church nor state,
bear, nonetheless, your mark, and seek to gain
by killing, what God intended them to make
through honest toil and not by force appropriated.

And you must know your murderous ways
are now the human norm; that none are safe
in church or school or homes or motorways.
We walk, armed with fear, prepared to strafe
a street, a market – our own home – in self-defense.

Perhaps through centuries of contemplation,
watching sons slay sons down through the ages,
you have thought to cure our lethal inclinations.
Master Cain, can you reverse the curse that sages
in their wisdom can’t, and teach us common sense?
_______________
*penultima = next to last in a series. Meant here as
           “second best.”

Saturday, April 6, 2013

How Much is a Poem Worth?

by Jim Rapp

I’ve just spent, over the last two days,
eight hours or more composing
an eight stanza poem. Now, how do I defray
the cost of such an imposing
enterprise?

Charging by the line – a dollar each –
five lines per stanza equals forty bucks.
Or by the hour – I know it’s quite a reach –
at federal minimum, and with some luck,
a bigger prize*.

It is clear by now that writers are,
by definition, a liability; even Roosevelt
put them on the New Deal dole – on par
with diggers, axmen, and others that he felt
had been disfranchised.
_______________
*$58.00

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Explaining That Last Blog Entry

I hope my most recent blog diatribe (it seems like that should be "monotribe") on eating habits isn't misunderstood. I believe in good eating habits although I've probably violated them as much as any American. And I think all of us should follow the advice of bone fide experts, reducing salt, fat, carbohydrates, sugary drinks, etc., in our diet. But I also think too many of those who are posing as our food wardens send contradictory, and more to the point, a confusing array of information out to a public unprepared to implement it, either because they can't afford the foods recommended, can’t sort out the confused message of the experts, or because their lives are so structured that preparing meals only with fresh organic items is out of the question.

It takes time and money to eat the way our experts expect us to; time to prepare such meals, and money to afford the ingredients for preparing "from scratch" meals. (Many of our poorest eaters live in situations in which they lack proper sanitation for preparing food, lack the utensils needed to prepare it, lack the kitchen space and appliances it would require, and lack the skills needed to cook wholesome meals.)  Even for those who could prepare good meals it is often easier, when one is rushed or tired, to grab something on the way to work or on the way home in the evening or, failing that, to open a can or a box and make a quick meal at home; soup or mac ‘n cheese. These are all problems that theoretically could be addressed but no one I know of is proposing that radical a solution. Rather we get entertainment-based shows that feature unrealistic solutions aimed at the affluent or the rare household that can afford to support a full-time “homemaker.”

But the thing I get most upset about is what I see as, in the case of Dr. Oz, hucksterism, and in the case self-proclaimed dietary experts, extreme excentricism. (That is probably not a word but I mean by it that they are out of balance and far from the center of accepted dietary practice.) It would be impossible to follow the advice of Oz; he has a different guru on each day with a different take on what will make us live forever or quickly lose those unwanted pounds. Figuring out what to believe is as impossible as asking "What would Oprah do?" And I have serious doubts if very many people maintain the exotic diets of their favorite expert for any length of time. I've talked to a few people who have tried one or more of them (sometimes in tandem) and decided they weren't for them. I’ve heard of more.

One other point which I alluded to in the poem is that, since the turn of the twentieth century, longevity has steadily increased in the U.S. (In 2006 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that, for the first time in the U.S. life expectancy exceeded 78 years.) I believe that is because of the healthier diet we were able to afford and obtain, especially in the years after WWII (and the reduction in infant mortality). It is only recently, with the advent of fast food, and ubiquitous convenience store food, that we have been packing on the pounds and threatening to shorten our lifespan again. The problem is, of course, partly what we eat but probably more how much of it we eat, how often we eat it, and how little we do to burn off those excess calories.

I suspect the average neighborhood dietary specialist is very sincere in what she/he recommends. (Their typical story runs something like this; I – or my husband or child – was dying and the regular medical profession could do nothing for me, but I researched and found the holy grail of dietary supplements or specialized foods that cured me, and now I want the whole world to be as healthy as I am. For a small fee I’ll send you my book that will guide you into health.) I doubt that many such experts are becoming rich from their work as “dieticians.” Nonetheless I think they run the risk of steering people away from sound medical advice, often at a time in their life when they need it badly.

Even Oz may believe he is providing useful information to his audience but I have a hard time believing he gives more than a cursory thought to the programs his production crew lines up for him to do each day. If he isn't as highly paid by NBC as Brian Williams he can't be far behind. I'm assuming money is his prime motivation for being there rather than in the cardiac surgery unit for which he is reputedly well trained and expert.

But it is hard to fit all of that into a poem, and you can see that it becomes less poetic the more I get stirred up about it. If you are still around, thanks for listening. I hope this clarifies the purpose of the poem – which, indeed, had little purpose beyond that of entertainment.

I do eat pretty much what I want to. I often think of a Pastor’s statement several years ago, that we all do what we want to. We may wish we didn't want to do what we are doing but we nonetheless are doing what we want to do. I want to eat in a manner that keeps me as healthy as I can be. That includes not eating some things that I wish I didn't want to not eat.

But I don't want eccentrics and hucksters jerking me around either. That is why I go to Mayo (and to those who base their opinions on peer-reviewed evidence – the NIH, the CFDC&P, etc.) for my advice and not to the one-diet-fits-all expert or to the great Oz.