Thursday, July 25, 2013

Too Much Sampling


 
Jose was a fool as everyone knows
obsessively checking the state of his toes;
to assist in assessing his digits down low,
he walked, barefooted, in the heat and the cold. 

Some months ago I was offered the opportunity to receive periodic e-mail reports from the Gallop polling company. “Periodic” turned out to be multiple times per day. Two or three times each day, Monday through Friday, I get to read the results of a survey of Americans, Afghans, Britons, or some subset of them; letting me know in which way – up or down – their opinion of some minor subject is moving; how it compares with their opinion on the same subject one week ago, one month ago, one year ago, or a decade ago.

The picture that emerges is one of a nation (or world) that is obsessed with self-examination, fascinated with the changing appearance of its toes – or other body parts. Gallup is not the only organization checking on the status of our opinions. Every major news agency has it own pollsters, or contracts with one, to gather information for them. The result too often is that they find that “we” have come to see ourselves in the light of “news” they have been feeding us over the previous days, months, or years. When hammered daily with reports of a failing economy it is no surprise that “Americans are less confident in the strength of the economy than they were one year ago.” When treated to snippets showing a smiling President, speaking to cheering, affirming crowds it is predictable that “Americans have a more positive view of the President than they did six months ago.”

It is important to occasionally assess the health of one’s toes. Toes are an invaluable aid to walking, helping to keep us well balanced. But there is no need to walk through the world barefooted, exposing those delicate digits to the hazards of the road. And besides, such constant concern can turn pathological; soon we are seeing problems that don’t exist or that at the very most are insignificant, easily cured by wearing shoes.

There was a time when opinion polling served a good purpose, assessing the mood of the nation annually, between elections, or when some significant event had occurred or was about to occur. Today, the weekly survey of public “persuasion” (what is being surveyed is “opinions” implanted in the public mind by the 24/7 media) does little more than show the mindlessness of a population that allows its opinions to be imposed upon it by the persistent voices of the Fox News, or MSNBC, or New York Times, or Washington Post “opinion makers.” It is time that we put on our shoes and get to work fixing the problems we see around us. There will be time enough at the end of a day of hard work to examine the state of our toes.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thoughts While (and after) Watching President Obama’s Speech

Watching President Obama deliver his thoughtful remarks regarding racial relations and the Trayvon Martin killing, I had several reactions: 
1. I was proud that the United States had finally progressed to the point that a mixed-blood black man could hold its highest office; proud that the nation had re-elected him despite the unremitting attacks on his character and policies throughout his campaign for the presidency and his first term in office. 
2. I was thankful that I had not allowed the smears and slanders directed against Barack Obama by those who profess to be my fellow believers in righteousness to deter me from voting for him as I had done in 1960 during the equally fractious election of John Kennedy. 
3. I wondered if a black man in President Obama’s position can forget his blackness as a white man could, and almost always does, forget his whiteness, or if in every interaction with the white members of his team, and the white leaders of Congress, he is subtly conscious that, though President of the United States, he is nonetheless viewed and treated differently than a white man in his position would be. 
4. I wondered if he has seen the vicious e-mail attacks on his character that come to my mailbox on a regular basis, sent and perhaps originated by those who profess to be followers of the One who said, “I am the way the truth and the life,” or if he has read the unbridled and uncensored, racially laden, Internet attacks that question his legitimacy on every level. I wondered if he listens to the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks and the Fox “News” hate mongers who daily rail against him. 
5. I wondered how he maintains his Christian faith when a large share of the Christian community – nearly all of the Fundamentalist/Evangelical community – has devoted itself to denigrating him as a person, as a believer, and as a politician. 
6. I wondered if it tears at his heart to know that, though he has two beautiful daughters who, by virtue of what he has accomplished, will have advantages that few black or white girls will ever have, they will nonetheless still have to navigate the world as “black women” rather than simply women. 
7. I wondered what percentage of Americans would find in his remarks even more reason to hate him; more justification for their vitriolic attacks on him. 
8. I wondered if those of my Christian friends whom I’ve heard say that they “wished he were dead” –  that they “want to swear” every time they think of him – are among those who are already decrying his remarks. 
9. But I also wondered if he knows how many thousands of people, of all racial groups, and all religious persuasions, heard his remarks, thanked God for them, and committed themselves to pray for him and the success of his work to make of our country “a more perfect union.”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Legions of Darkness


by Jim Rapp

Driving north in Minnesota
on Interstate Thirty-five
just before sunset,
I was startled to see,
a long line of shadows
silently rushing at me
from the west,
hugging the ground,
leaping over depressions,
flowing over obstacles
with an elasticity that science
has yet to master.

As they swept over the car
I recalled that my shadow,
an image of the van
that gave it birth, had,
just moments before,
been romping along
to the right of the car,
playfully shaping itself
to the contours of the land,
stretching farther
and farther afield
as the sun went down.

In panic I needed to
reign it in, to call it back,
but before I could speak
it had joined the dark legions
rushing away to the east,
driven by Sol’s last beams,
and soon my shadow
was far beyond
the sound of my call.

At sunset the dark host,
its harvest of shadows in tow,
slipped over the eastern horizon,
beyond the pain of Sol’s glance,
bearing my shadow away;
whether a prisoner of war
or a willing recruit
I will never know.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Verdict In the Zimmerman – Martin Affair

Let me begin by saying that, in my opinion, based on the evidence available, and my understanding of Florida law, that George Zimmerman was not guilty of second degree murder.

Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin appears to have been an act of desperate self-defense, precipitated by his own unwise decision to get out of his vehicle and pursue what he thought to be an intruder in the neighborhood. In the process he shot and killed an unarmed teenager who was himself acting in desperate self-defense. Both men were “standing their ground” but one had better means of protecting himself than the other.

However, the transcript of Zimmerman’s call to the police reveals some things about Zimmerman’s state of mind that are important to the story even though the jury has spoken and the case is formally closed. The conclusions stated below are my own and I acknowledge that some may not read the transcript in the same way that I do. However, it appears to me that:

1) Zimmerman carried biases into his work as a community watchdog that predisposed him to conflict and confrontation. “These assholes they always get away.” “This guy looks like he's  up to no good, or he's on drugs or something.” “It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.”

2) He expresses a paranoia which became more evident after the killing, evidenced by his fearful seclusion for the months before the trial and his continued seclusion after the verdict. In his conversation with the dispatcher, when asked for his address he replied, “It’s a home it’s 1950, oh crap I don’t want to give it all out . . .” Why not? What was he afraid of?

3) He foolishly ignored the advice of the dispatcher regarding following Trayvon. After being told by the dispatcher, “Ok, we don't need you to do that,” Zimmerman responded, “Okay,” and then proceeded to do so anyway.

These things don’t prove, and I am not trying to prove that Zimmerman follow Martin with intent to kill him. No one but Zimmerman knows his intent. It appears from his own words that he was determined, though, that this one “asshole” did not get away. And sadly, he did not.

There are several lessons I’m drawing from this sad event:

1)  Laws like the “Stand Your Ground Law” in Florida, and the “Castle Law” in Wisconsin and other places, encourage certain types of people to play the role of judge and jury and executioner in situations like that in the Zimmerman/Martin case. Zimmerman had Trayvon tried and convicted of “being up to no good” “acting strange” and being “on drugs”. In the end he was found to be on an innocent trip to a convenience store, carrying home Skittles and a non-alcoholic drink, and totally unarmed.

2  Allowing any adult citizen who lacks a felony conviction to carry a concealed gun neglects the truth that many non-felons are nonetheless too irresponsible, too paranoid, too hot-headed, too irrational, too macho, or too trigger happy to be given that privilege. I think most honest people will admit to knowing those who would legally qualify for concealed carry permits but whose emotional stability, or personality traits would make it unwise for them to have one.

3.  If gated communities feel they need additional police protection they should hire security personnel who have the training to know how to respond to any situation and the self-control to adhere to their training. If Zimmerman had stayed in his vehicle waiting for the police to arrive, as he was encouraged to do, he would have found that his “black, strange acting, drug affected suspect” was instead a young man on his way back from a run to the convenience store, headed to the apartment where his father was watching a football game and waiting for his son’s return. He conceivably might have found Trayvon to be a likeable young man once they ceased to view each other through fearful eyes.

4.  Though Trayvon Martin had every right to be on the street that night it is nonetheless a sad fact of life that it is unwise for young people (really any people) to be out walking late at night in any U.S. neighborhood. If the bad guys don’t get you the good guys may mistake you for a bad guy and blow you away. Or in Trayvon’s case a wannabe good guy may do so.

The George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin case is tragic on many levels. It reveals that the color of one’s skin still determines the treatment one will receive at the hands of the “enforcers” in our society. It reminds us that our NRA driven laws that allow anyone and everyone (with a very few exceptions) to own and carry guns dooms us to thousands of tragic shootings every year. It shows the foolishness of laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” or Wisconsin’s “Castle Law” which allow an ordinary citizen to become judge and executioner of those whom they perceive as a threat to themselves or their property.

I am now an old man. I’ve outlived the Biblical grant of three score and ten years by quite a bit. But there are some things I’d like to see before I leave this world. I’d like to live to see the Rambo philosophy that permeates our society, and even our Congress and State Houses, discredited. I’d like to see a reversal of the conservative selfishness that seeks laws to privilege those who already have, at the expense of those who are in need. I’d like to see a genuine respect for people of all races, religions, genders, and yes, even sexual preferences. (We do not have to like or even respect the preferences of people in order to respect them as persons of equal standing before God and our human laws.) I’d like to see our adversarial legal system, in which two sides attempt to wrest the evidence to their advantage, converted to a true system of justice in which all parties are working to achieve a right-eous outcome. I’d like to see the demise of media which seeks primarily to sensationalize all events for the purpose of generating larger audiences and thus greater advertizing revenue. I’d like to see our political system set free from the strangling effects of special interest money and the self-interested machinations of billionaire donors.

Sadly, if this were the day of my birth, and if I lived to be a hundred, I would not see any of those things accomplished. What I would see is hundreds of Trayvon Martins gunned down for the same sad, mistaken reasons that he was: prejudice, fear, ignorance, arrogance, and – let’s admit it – sinfulness.

Our world is in need of a Savior. Oh, I guess we have been given One. Rather our world needs to submit itself to our Savior and implement in our lives and in our society the principles of peace and right-eousness that He taught us. I won’t likely live to see that either.

Jim Wallis who works through the Sojourners organization is dedicated to bringing about the kind of society that I yearn for. His recent piece on the Zimmerman verdict, Lament from a White Father, is excellent reading. I recommend it highly.

Justice, Blind Justice

by Jim Rapp

(A Haiku Quartet)

If George is pronounced
blameless then Travon had no
right to “stand his ground”

Travon is beyond
questioning and George is judged
innocent – case closed

The wanabe cop
can return to the beat, an
NRA hero

Fathers, keep you sons
at home at night; the night is
full of wanabes

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Shadows

by Jim Rapp

rushing westward,
streaming over undulating land,
ghosts of the morning
over-swarm the view;
climb the sides of hills,
leap tall buildings and run beyond,
always beyond,
racing to the far horizon;
fearing no terrain they
mark the hollows as though
to claim those spaces
as their rightful home;
strong redoubts against
the burning mid-day sun;

then, no sooner won,
their retreat’s begun;
growing ever shorter hour by hour,
giving ground to coming day,
ceding territory quickly gained
in their hasty dash at dawn,
they lie deathly still at noon-tide,
mere pools of darkness
in a desert of burning light,
waiting for the signal to begin
their evening flight to darkness.

in their shadowless eastern home
they’ll while the night,
hoping dawn’s awakening
will give them life again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Long Journey Back to Where We Began:

Hanging our Thoughts in a Vapor
by Jim Rapp

There was a day when man’s thoughts,
sub -lim or self-consciously fraught,
were kept secure for his time;
kept safe in the vault of his mind.

But thoughts kept in a mind –
a mere vapor adrift in time –
are lost when the mind wafts away
or rots under six feet of clay.

And, alas, thoughts commuted in
words are prone too to die;
drifting and shifting they ply
their trade in an unsteady wind.

Ancients attempted to store thoughts away;
to make them forever endure,
engraved on stone, solid and sure,
or baked hard on tablets of clay.

And on each, in its turn – parchment, pottery,
paper, walls of deep canyons and caves,
bones, seashells, the handles of staves –
man preserved his musings and raves.

‘Til they crumbled or rotted away
leaving those holding the fragments,
the task of discerning, among the rents,
meanings lost in the frequent lacunae.

Ashurbanipal’s “books”, locked away
in archives, guarded by scribes and slaves,
only by accident survived ‘til the day
they would be known – for a while – by posterity.
 
Compiled in books and stored in archives,
the wisdom of man has sought to abide
despite the ravage of war, weather, and time,
to say nothing of the censor’s arrogant pride.
 
Now we’ve begun to presumptuously store
our thoughts in an ephemeral “Cloud” –
without weight or substance, our digital lore
resides at the will of the Keepers of Clouds.
 
So we’re back again to no guarantee –
mischief or “outage” may conspire to betray
the trust for which we dearly (and monthly) pay –
in one instant the Clouds may be swept away.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spider Lives

by Jim Rapp

A tiny little spider life
summarily smudged out
leaving an almost imperceptible
smear on the computer screen
engendered contemplation of
a spider’s place
in the scheme of creation.

Ten thousand spiders crowd a square
and in their pride make claim
to be significant
demanding that another  spider
whom they hate
be smudged out so that yet
another can be given place.

Two spiders meet
in a gated town
on a dark and rainy street
each supposing each to be his enemy
each “stands his ground” –
the spider with the stronger
venom wins, smudging out his foe.

Three hundred spiders
crowded in a steel cocoon
drift across an ocean
to crash to earth
sparing some
maiming some
smudging out the unlucky few.

Oh You who sees the sparrow fall
who grows the lily tall
who counts the hairs on
balding heads
show us You’re aware
and that You care
that tiny spiders die.

Do you not know that I
who spun the web of galaxies
came to your spiders’ world
in spider form
and faced the rage
of spider hate
to save your spider race?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Watching An Old Man Outlive His Wisdom

by Jim Rapp

I’ve watched an old man become a fool,
throw away a trove of Godly wisdom;
become the willing but unwitting tool
of those who, caring not a whit for the halidom
he had constructed to the glory of God’s rule,
cared only to advance their earthly kingdom.

This poor modern Hezekiah should have died
two decades sooner, before his judgment failed.
In youth, like his sad ancient counterpart, he had cried
against idolatry, but in old age, pride prevailed –
inviting Babylon’s emissaries in, he crucified
the Son afresh and, at Babylon’s golden altars, dallied.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hand-me-down Warfare

A Meditation from a Lover of Fireworks
by Jim Rapp

Have you wondered if our fascination with –
to say nothing of our participation in –
sport, is vicarious; a venting of our ancient faith
that winners are righteous; losers have sinned?

What shame it is to win the penultimate round,
then not succeed in clinching the final crown.
“Clinch the crown!” – a linguistic reminder, full-blown,
that sport is warfare’s hand-me-down.

And every 4th of July the rockets’ red glare –
the thud of bombs bursting in air –
allow us to stand in safety and stare;
enjoying a “battle” without being there.

The day will include a contest or two –
all cheer for the hometown boys to triumph.
There’ll be feasting and a youthful hullabaloo,
then it all ends with a flash, a roar, a chest-filling thump.

The swoosh, the flare, and the thunder
stir ancient tribal instincts that we
cannot indulge and not wonder
how truly devoted to peace we may be.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Arizona Tragedy

by Jim Rapp

nineteen firemen die
to save the homes and lives of
those they hardly know