Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Late Year Reflections

As we approach year’s end, I glean a tinge of contentment. Editors, perhaps in the spirit, treated me well this month. I had ten new poems accepted, plus a request for a reprint of four poems, for a total of fourteen.

This is indeed wonderful, a gift of depth that involves no money but much passion and time. Editors are hard-working folks, and though almost every day I write a new poem and edit many, I lack the diligence and modesty of those wade through the manuscripts of others. In general, poets should be much more respectful and grateful to editors, and I am no exception.

Although I have done well, a part of me chafes. There are many voices in my psyche but this one will never be satisfied. Indeed, pure satisfaction on all levels is not an option for the sensitive soul.

To illustrate, I want to share a bio I read today in the Chaffey Review (v.3). I just received my contributor copy in the mail. Usually the bios in journals are rather placid, but I have to hand it to the CR team. They picked out some subversively thought-provoking poets.

Anyway, here is the bio that impressed me. It belongs to William Doreski. I hope he doesn’t mind that I reprint it here:


“William Doreski befriends all cats and most dogs ... and rails against development, environmental degradation, and general idiocy from his bully pulpit at Keene State College. He teaches writing and literature, but doesn’t expect it to take in a post-literate world.”


This isn’t your typical pleasantry, and I have to admit the author and I share a common perspective. Let’s face it, within a couple hundred years the wilderness, even as defined from our degraded perspective, will be gone.

The latest National Geographic has an article on the Hadza people of Africa, some of the very last hunter-gatherers. Their culture is wilting fast. Hunter-gatherers have been around for at least two hundred thousand years, probably much longer, given recent evidence that Homo Erectus used fire and partitioned living space into a hearth and a slaughter area. Human species previous to ours used stone tools and made fires to cook. A way of life that endured for almost a million years.

Are you yawning yet? Shame on you. I find it amazing that no one really seems to care that hunter-gatherers are going to entirely disappear in our generation. This is incredible!

On top of that: Lions are going. Baboons are going. Giraffes are going. Rhinos are going. The rainforests are going. The world is becoming a human hive wired up to the Net.

Ho Hum. Pass me the latest video game.

My god, are we such a dull lot of spoiled dominant hominids? It’s repulsive. Somewhere in this universe of 11 billion galaxies dwells an advanced civilization, millions of years along, that puts our ignorance in perspective, exposes us for what we are: ethical clowns.

So, my hat goes off to William Doreski. I’ve read thousands of bios and only the meagerest few show any awareness of how rapidly and astoundingly this planet is changing.

Folks, WAKE UP! What a bizarre, cataclysmic, sad and exciting time this is. You can’t be bored. Not here, not now. You just can’t!

OWL

PS: Here’s my poem from The Chaffey Review. A tourist pitch for Los Angeles?
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



L.A. Impressions

highway sounds,
jejune as the hiss of waves.
the smog brutal.
abusive of its partner, dust.
the sun and moon
cute in eyeliner,

some kind of goth
leather-tar pain-fed life,
corset whose laces are wounded streets.
sex primped to sell.
money attracted
to the most competent seller,
the seller and the money
taking each other’s drug,
the divorce rate rich,
the homeless amassed
like scabs on the city’s
emotional wounds.

the beast hoarding its own purpose,
a beyond-human sin.
cars just blood cells,
legs follicles,
a child’s sob a cut.
only the beast can rise
with its muscles of spires,
hundreds of stories
of lower and lower lusts,
ribs of cement, femurs of steel,
the growling pug snouts
of arenas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New York Times Treads Meekly Around FX

===============================================
Addendum to “FX Channel Trashes Xmas” (see Dec 12)
===============================================


The New York Times just ran an article called “Some Raspberries For Christmas,” in which they softly jibe some of the worse movies of the decade, including “Glitter” and “The Singing Forest.”

http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/18/some-raspberries-for-christmas/


Strangely absent was mention of “Deck The Halls,” which is definitely one of the hideous crew, and which is currently being shown over and over on the FX Channel, as if FX wanted to ruin the holiday season with an endless reel of nauseating gunk.

Why does the Times article let this horrible failure in media ethics slide? Why don't they at least mention "Deck The Halls?"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poem: Ghost Song

Solemn solstice approaches, offering us health through darkness and depth.

Of all the poems I’ve agonized over, edited for months or years, and submitted to dutiful and generous editors, who have waded through my poor excuses for verbal art to find a few gems, this is one of my favorite. It was published in a journal called Thick With Conviction, and it was the first poem I read on the air for my interview with Lois P. Jones, the host of Poets’ Café, a radio show of KPFK Los Angeles.

People have reacted to this poem with a range of emotions, from intense to tepid, or sometimes just a quizzical expression once removed from a shrug. I don’t know why these words mean so much to me. Poetry beckons that way, with hidden fingers that divide us out of our comfortable communities into a very small personal space.




Ghost Song

the dead fly past,
overarching.
to them we are roots
slow to grasp.

they sup our thoughts
like hummingbirds taking syrup,
resplendent of flit,
brief.

we glimpse a quark of flash,
a dash of blush,
maybe some lucent eyes--
love’s aftereffect.

they laugh at us
like wind chiding honey
as we inch full-bodied,
riled by ebbs.

the dead laugh.
they race to our end
and return,
outflanking lazy hops of sun.

they rush past our questions
and back many times,
amused.

the dead laugh,
coveting our worries,
springing off our breaths.




OWL

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Acceptance In Shalla Magazine

www.shallamagazine.com


Yesterday I was contacted by the Acquisitions Editor at Shalla Magazine, Cleo Sharpe, who asked if they could reprint some of my work. After a research check, I quickly agreed.

What I found out is that Shalla Magazine gives a fabulous boost to both literary and genre writers. Shalla DeGuzman, the creator, is bursting with positive energy, and she is not shy about getting interviews with top-of-the-line professionals. For instance, Shalla interviews Patricia Maxwell (aka Jennifer Blake), who is maybe the greatest and most legendary romance novelist of all.

It’s a good interview, too. Here is one excerpt that I found particularly honest and gritty about the working side of the craft:

“Writing is a profession that requires intensive study and practice; talent isn’t enough. A musician doesn’t expect to play to a sold-out crowd at his first gig, nor does an artist think he’ll sell his first sketch; they know they must work to reach the highest level of their profession. So it is with writing. You have to learn the inner workings of story and practice the art of putting readable words on paper. There’s no other way.” (Patricia Maxwell)


I think it absolutely incredible that Shalla Magazine, a relatively new voice on the cyberscene, is pursuing interviews of this caliber. I mean, wow! There’s an assertive charm and sense of star quality about this journal.

I also want to mention that Shalla interviews Barbara Quinn, a talented novelist who publishes and manages The Rose & Thorn. If you don’t know R&T, you should check out their website. They provide all kinds of resources for all kinds of writers. One of the best supports on the web.

Which leads to another strength of Shalla Magazine: They don’t compete with other journals. They share. Part of their mission is to promote other editors and journals.

From the website (www.shallamagazine.com):

“What makes us a wee bit different from other literary magazines--besides the fact that we accept genre (if it's excellent, we will publish it)--is that we honor other literary magazines. We feature other magazines, other editors, other publishers and help them shine!”

In addition to interviews, Shalla Magazine also showcases great work. A recent issue, for example, offers the poetry of Changming Yuan, author of several books and hundreds of poems, who emigrated from China and now teaches and writes in Vancouver.

The practice of publishing reprints and previously published work means that the quality at SM is superb. The site shines with literary luster while making others shine.

That’s what’s what you get at Shalla Magazine: fairness, coolness, freshness and excellence. A passport to glimpse at the best.

A big thank you to Shalla DeGuzman and also Cleo Sharpe and the other editors for their hard work and marvelous accomplishments.

OWL

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thick Skulled Meat Robots

In his latest New York Times Op-ed, Paul Krugman has highlighted one of the most important lessons one can learn in life.

It’s a sad lesson, but anyone who seeks wisdom must suck in their gut and take it, like a wound that leaves a scar.

So sad is this lesson that it validates the lines of Ecclesiastes: “For in much wisdom is much grief, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”

What does Krugman say? Basically, that many people, even of high intelligence, cannot be reasoned with. They will not change their view, even if you have irrefutable evidence and the clearest most reasonable argument:


“When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.”

(Disaster and Denial, December 19).


Let that sink in. You can explain something perfectly, in easy to understand language, supply undeniable evidence, and still be ignored. A corollary to this rule, perhaps even more shocking, is this: people will reject your excellent advice and clear knowledge even after they have suffered again and again from their own mistaken views.

They can be crippled, sick or dying, and you could have the cure, and they will balk, with no good excuse.

You can be a professor and they will ignore you. Or a doctor. Or a highly published writer. Sometimes they will discount you just because you are one of these. The quality of your argument is irrelevant. You could make it simple enough for a ten-year-old to grasp.

Nada.

You can make your argument seven times over seven days. Or for months, or years. Assume that every time you make your case, you do it so well there is no chance of a logical rebuttal.

Zip.

The world itself could be crumbling. Still, many sturdy citizens will not listen to lucid rational warnings, ones that explain the unfolding disaster and provide an escape.

The myth of Cassandra has ample application.

You might be thinking that only the most ardent religious fanatic could be stupidly stubborn in this egregious way.

No.

Take Krugman’s example. He talks about two times in modern history. First, the Great Depression. Unregulated banks fed it. They created a buying frenzy and loan disaster that went pop.

After the Depression, regulations were put in place, which supported a much healthier financial system. Witness the 1950’s and 60’s.

Corporate taxes were as high as 90% in the 50’s. I kid you not. This was so good for the average worker that one parent could stay home while the other worked (gasp!).

Second, Krugman talks about the recent process, ramped up under Reagan in the 1980’s, of deregulation. Letting go of the reins led to all sorts of fiscal bubbles and pops, culminating in the Great Recession of the present day.

As Krugman does, I want to specifically mention the Savings & Loan Bailout of the 1980’s. Reagan deregulated the S&L’s and effectively destroyed them. The taxpayer picked up the hefty funeral bill. The people who bled the S&L’s dry were never brought to justice.

Why do Republicans consider public healthcare a heavy tax burden while the various bailouts and busts induced by unethical and headlong private sector selfishness don't count?

Krugman points out how obvious it is that deregulated banks are greedy and dysfunctional. Eager as slot machine addicts with shiny new credit cards. And guess what? That’s a pretty good description of AIG, Goldman-Sachs and others today.

We need bank regulation by competent Feds as badly as we need traffic lights. Those obsessed with accumulating more and more profit can't regulate themselves.

But, as Krugman points out, much of our leadership in Congress still doesn’t get it.

How could this be? There is so much damning evidence. Lots of financial crashes and panics since the 1980’s. Corporate greed is ordinary, inexcusable, and the costs are monstrous.

For instance, this comment on Krugman’s piece, by Christopher Keith is telling:

“I was a long time executive at the NYSE ... It seems to me the government has had to intervene at least 10 times in the financial markets since Ronnie's inauguration. Not just the savings and loan crisis. The peso crisis. The CitiCorp crisis. The long term capital crisis.., etc. etc. leading up the grandest of them all the credit default swap crisis which was a sham within a scam within a flimflam within a swindle requiring 4 separate layers of moral corruptness. It seems to me if any individual had a similar record they would be at least declared incompetent if not committed. Why don’t you list them [these crises]. Why doesn't someone make that a basis for an awareness campaign.”

Keith is pointing out how truly ugly the ravages of Mammon have been. All kinds of bailouts. All kinds of crises. Isn’t it obvious that the banks need to be policed?

Clear as clean water. But people today have neither clean water nor eyes to see the truth.

Heed the words of Thomas G. Donlan:

“The lesson of history is that we don’t learn the lessons of history.”

We live in a world of thick-skulled meat robots who believe in nonsense that is killing our society.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Acceptance in Monongahela Review

It’s been a fantastic month for me in terms of poetry acceptances. Monongahela Review just took two of my darker pieces, “Monster,” and “Don Giovanni In Hell."

I’ve spoken before about Monongahela, a cosmopolitan up-and-comer of a journal, which has some of the best prefaces I’ve ever read in the small press. They publish a wide range of moods and styles, honoring both new and established poets.

I’m glad they saw the power in my duet of eerie poems. The voice inside me that wrote them is grateful!

OWL

Saturday, December 12, 2009

FX Channel Trashes Xmas

For some reason the FX Channel has decided to run and rerun, ad nauseum, one of the worst movies ever made: Deck The Halls, staring Mathew Broderick and Danny DeVito (2006).

I wouldn’t bother to comment, except that in addition to being awful, the ethical undertones of the movie are despicable. FX is shoveling out moral trash. No wonder our society stinks.

Maybe FX is intentionally trying to ruin the minds of TV viewers. The Wikipedia commentary brings more of a chuckle than the movie, supposedly a comedy. Here is the entire critique:

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“Critics across the board have widely panned the movie. It received a 6% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel named it "A leaden slice of fruitcake, with about as much nutritional value," and concluding that "it's not worth working up a good hate over". Stephen Hunter remarked "I literally didn't count a single laugh in the whole aimless schlep," and suggested that the movie should've been named Dreck the Halls instead. Michael Medved named it the "Worst Movie of 2006." Finally, Richard Roeper, co-host of the television show Ebert & Roeper, wrote:

"You cannot believe how excruciatingly awful this movie is. It is bad in a way that will cause unfortunate viewers to huddle in the lobby afterward, hugging in small groups, consoling one another with the knowledge that it's over, it's over -- thank God, it's over. [...] Compared to the honest hard labor performed by tens of millions of Americans every day, a film critic's job is like a winning lottery ticket. But there IS work involved, and it can be painful -- and the next time someone tells me I have the best job in the world, I'm going to grab them by the ear, fourth-grade-teacher-in-1966-style, and drag them to see Deck the Halls."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What is wrong with FX, vomiting out this bile over and over? In addition, Wiki points out that the film has been nominated for three Golden Raspberry Awards:

(1) Worst Excuse For Family Entertainment

(2) Worse Supporting Actor (Danny DeVito)

(3) Worst Supporting Actress (Kristin Chenoweth)


So, again I ask, WHY is FX pouring this mess all over the airwaves like diarrhea? It’s either a conspiracy to dumb people down, or a way for the network to save money by purchasing the rights to the lowest grade of celluloid possible.

In either case, respect for the public is entirely lacking. Someone needs to send the Ghosts of Christmas to FX headquarters and scare some warmth into the Scrooges working there.


Ethical Commentary


The Wiki entry doesn't deal with the ethical idiocy of the film, so here I go.

The basic plot is that Buddy (DeVito) and his family move into a new neighborhood where Buddy gets upset because the house of his neighbor, Steve (Broderick) is bigger. That’s the catalyst for a neurotic feud that reduces everyone around the two men to pawns in their astoundingly immature game.

Never mind that both domiciles are big enough to comfortably house the starving population of a village in Africa. No. DeVito, exposing vast insecurity over his ‘little’ house, (and, it is insinuated, his little body) decides he will light up the sky with so many Xmas lights that his petite castle will intrude into outer space.

Yes, it's that stereotype of the fragile male ego: Buddy is pathetic enough to want to shine as brightly as god, because he sees himself as inferior.

Throughout the movie, you wait for some criticism of this ridiculous toddler show to appear in the script: Isn’t it a waste of energy to turn your house into a glowing poster child for global warming? Isn’t it wrong to seek approval by heaping on shallow mindless glitz?

The criticism never comes. About thirty minutes into this monster, you realize that Deck The Halls itself is trying to seek approval through shallow mindless glitz.

In terms of virtues like green living, empathy, modesty and moderation, the movie is educational poison. It promotes, in contrast, a rather devilish code: materialism, narcissism, and egomaniacal competition. You know, all those things that the major religions say are wrong.

If only that were the extent of the folly--but no. The producers have to make sure they insult women by making Steve and Buddy's wives some of the most docile and dull helpmeets ever to grace the screen.

Buddy’s better half is a blatant cliche of the clueless blonde. Steve’s brunette is supposedly smart but stays at home, tends to bland children, and pampers her ridiculously self-absorbed husband. She's fixated on her cookbook and gets nary an intelligent line.

In addition to the sexism, Deck the Halls wins a tarnished trophy for racism, never once permitting a peep at a non-white face. This despite the fact that sizeable crowds gather in front of Buddy’s house to ooh at his garish light displays like enthralled zombies.

Caveat: I may have missed the token exotic physiognomy in the crowds; but it sure looked like pure Wonder Bread to me.

Although both Steve and Buddy are as self-focused as Homer Simpson (though even less caring toward their families), Buddy descends to a nadir of conduct worthy of psychopathy. He commits several horrible crimes, including chopping down the town Christmas tree, and committing felony fraud by forging Steve’s signature to buy a new car. This criminally obtained vehicle is presented to Steve as a “gift.”

Unsurprisingly, the stolen good is a gas-guzzling mammoth of an SUV. Buddy explains with obvious relish that it has all the extras. Deck the Halls doubles as a commercial for eco-unfriendly vehicles of the most obese sort, the only worse guzzler being Buddy’s house, which swills enough wattage to light up Miami.

Of course, Buddy is secretly tapping into Steve's electricity to pay for the eye-searing show. There's a good moral lesson for ya!

Buddy doesn't show any remorse for stealing, lying, vandalizing and cheating until his wife gets huffy after he pawns her cherished family heirloom and confesses he lost his job. Once he returns the heirloom, his spouse reverts to gushing approval.

What a gimmick. Steal your wife’s heirloom, lie about it, then give it back and become her hero. Maybe the subtitle of this flick should be Codependency City.

At the end, the viewer is just dying for some kind of redeeming feature. Maybe Santa will show up and lambaste Buddy and Steve’s horrendous worldview of consume, bicker, and sabotage.

But no Deus ex Machina arrives to mitigate this nightmare.

Buddy’s house succeeds, at the finale, in being visible from outer space while hundreds of anglo zombies party in celebration. With emotional depth worthy of guppies, Steve and Buddy shake hands and start over, as if nothing they had done affected anyone else or made an impression in their own insensitive minds.

It’s poor entertainment, for sure. Much worse, FX knew. AND FX decided to air this crap-heap anyway.

What a major failure in media leadership. Does FX care about what they broadcast? Or is it simply about pinching pennies at the expense of decency?


OWL

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Acceptance in The Medulla Review

My poems "Between" and "Death Vision" have been taken by a fairly new journal, The Medulla Review. Editor Jennifer Bowles has a good number of fine publications to her name, including work in the New York Quarterly. The site has a outlier feel of edgy excellence and a tinge of surreal mysterium. Good descriptive guidelines and info.

Bowles has also, in her first issue, published one of the finest young poets around, Susan Slaviero.

All this bodes very well for The Medulla Review. Make sure you send your very best work. You're dealing with a talented, well-published savvy editor.

OWL

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happy Birthday, Brave Soul

Happy Birthday to my brother Gudger. I miss you, sir. And I love you very much.

Christine Klocek-Lim Photographs The Heart

A wonderful poet and editor, Christine Klocek-Lim, has published her latest chapbook, How To Photograph the Heart. You can find out more here:

http://www.thelivesyoutouch.com/touchjournal/Publications/Klocek-Lim.html

Klocek-Lim is an award winning and well-published writer. From her bio at the above link, it is clear that she has been intrigued and involved with the sensuous crafting of language for much of her life. Although young, she is a sage.

Not only that, she has mastered the art of poetic-aesthetic ambience. To understand what I mean, simply go to her website. You’ll understand immediately, or after a few clicks of the mouse: www.novembersky.com

If that link doesn't work (site under construction), try:

http://www.novembersky.com/NovemberSky/NovemberSky.html

She’s very giving of her time and has run an excellent journal called Autumn Sky Poetry for years (accessible through her website). As this journal has evolved, it has become more and more a gift of wonders for the senses and soul, without in any way distracting from the power of the verse, both free and rhymed.

There’s a Zen-like touch to the beauty that manifests in Klocek-Lim’s multi-layered website. Photographic and color effects highlight everyday yet stunning aspects of nature. A mysterious doorway into a tranquil setting materializes--somehow. The reader sees that nature’s simplicity is actually exquisite and vast. Miracles are fresh.

By the time you reach the poems, you have passed many gateways, and are ready for the words, which were carefully chosen by passionate hearts to be ready for you.

Below is a poem of mine that Klocek-Lim generously allowed into Issue 9 of Autumn Sky. If you enjoy it at all, or even if you don’t, go to November Sky and you will see much greater and more absorbing works.

OWL

-------------------------------------------------


Joan of Arc

like a stung monk,
nurtured by solitude not ears,
she rose up among wattle,

not daring to respect
the eyes foaming around her,
white as death cups.

"a prophet! a prophet!" they cried,
lips like shiny scales
on a hamlet-wide snake
that squeezed her in its midst—

pressured her to sing
like a doomed thrush,
until the beast writhed with divinity,

crushing Saxons, salting fields—

and she,
discarded in the spattered coils,
spread her half-real wings,
escaped.



(Published In Autumn Sky Poetry, Copyright of Owl Who Laughs)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Defending Abortion: Part III, Dealing With Potential

(See also Defending Abortion, Part IV in the March 2010 posts)

The argument from potential, I think, is the strongest card the anti-abortionists can play. Anyone considering an abortion should grapple with it both emotionally and rationally.

The basic idea is that by killing an embryo, or even conceptus, you are eliminating an entire potential lifetime of joys, feelings, thoughts and accomplishments. It is a common tactic of pro-lifers to present a woman, say Ms. Chavez, and her a grown child Marcos, and perhaps grandchildren, and have her give a heartfelt and deep testimony: if she had gone through with her plans for abortion, all these lovely people would never have come to pass.

You can take it a step further and point out that killing an embryo wipes out an entire genealogy of future people extending far into the future. In this way, the death of the preborn eliminates thousands of potential lives.

Anti-abortionists usually don’t take it this far. Placing so much weight on the inch-long back of an embryo shows the weakness of the argument. Potential is only reliable so far. After that, it becomes an unruly basis for behavior, even a ridiculous one.

Yes, the preborn might grow up to be a Beethoven; but that doesn’t mean we should treat it like Beethoven now. There’s also, of course, the possibility that the embryo will grow up to be a Nero, or just have a very tough life. Again, we don’t treat the preborn like a criminal just because someday the adult might go bad.

Potential can be used in all kinds of dubious ways. You might argue that children from women who wanted to abort them will grow up in difficult homes--either with the unhappy mother or foster parents. Such children are more likely to have tough lives and sow the seeds of even more misery, creating more unhappy mothers and children, and so on, forever.

Maybe. All this talk about future happiness or unhappiness gets very speculative, revealing flaws in the use of potential for an argument.

One thing, though, is certain: in most circumstances, the embryo will grow to become an infant. The potential to travel through developmental stages is high. Disease, faulty genetics, or accident could cut the young life short; but barring such calamity, embryos proceed toward fully complex brains and body states.

An abortion, then, has a high chance of preventing the existence of a sentient human sometime in the future.

This is the key case that pro-choicers must grapple with. And guess what? It is a tough decision. A choice to abort DOES eliminate a progressing human life. If you’re fully aware of what you’re doing, it should be emotionally painful to choose to terminate.

Just to emphasize: if you chose to abort, you are taking a human life, and you are annihilating that little being’s potential to develop and experience a full range of thoughts and sensations.

If you deny this, and claim you are dealing with a “lump of tissue” you might well regret it later. Furthermore, in a philosophical and political sense, you are playing right into the anti-abortionists’ hands. They want to make pro-choicers to look ignorant, callous and cruel.

That being said, abortion is still morally acceptable. A potential mature human is not a mature human. Pro-lifers know this and often use the potential argument only as a last resort. When you appeal to potential, you effectively admit that there is a relevant difference between the embryo and the developed child.

Pro-lifers want to say that the embryo has a soul, not that it has a potential soul. Potential to have a soul sounds fishy. It exposes a gap. It effectively puts the embryo on a lower level because it focuses on the embryo when it is no longer an embryo--but instead like us.

On the other hand, if you believe the embryo has a soul, there is no need to appeal to its potential to reach a later stage. It’s a no-win situation for the anti-abortionist.

The Supreme Court was well aware of the difference between embryos and later stages, and wisely recognized a legitimate gap. That is why the Court focused on the notion of a “person.” Persons get a right to life, but embryos, not yet elaborated into persons, do not.

A pro-lifer doesn't want to admit that the embryo is different than you or I--no way--but the appeal to potential forces it. They step on their own toes when they talk about future thoughts, future feelings, future loves. It highlights the embryo’s lack of thoughts and feelings, and its inability to love.

Next time a pro-lifer presents Ms. Chavez and her grown son, you can reply: Why do you need to show me matured humans to defend the rights of the embryo? Aren’t you implying that the embryo is lesser?

“But the potential is there,” a pro-lifer might insist, “and it is great.”

“Yes,” you could reply, “but the potential is not the actual. And the difference is great.”

Indeed, potentially having something and actually having something are VERY different.

A five-year-old will have a right to vote someday. That doesn’t mean the five-year-old gets a right to vote. The same goes with the right to own guns, drink, marry, receive welfare, or get a driver’s license.

In all these cases, potential to get a right someday does not mean you get it now. Complicating things further, we often, in ordinary everyday choices, deny human life.

You heard me right. Many potential humans--who might have been Beethovens or Solomons--are denied existence all the time, even by pro-lifers. For instance, if you have two children but choose not to have a third, you are denying a life.

If you use birth control, you are thwarting a potential being, denying it conception.

If you choose not to have wild inappropriate sex at a party, you might have avoided getting pregnant, which in turn means you may have denied life to a new preborn implanted in your womb.

Strange as it may seem, potentials for humans to live and thrive are being created and destroyed all the time. Usually we have no regrets over this, and don’t even think about it. It’s absurd to decide to have wild inappropriate sex at a party just because otherwise you might be preventing a life.

A practical truth, seldom mentioned in the abortion debate is this: deciding to have an unplanned unwanted child now, under pressure, might well lead to not having more children in the future, ones who could have been better cared for.

Ms. Chavez has her son Marcos, but because of the expense and bad timing, she decides not have any more children. These lost children, if they had been born, as originally planned, would have been called Xavier and Maria, and they would have had families of their own. But they will never get an opportunity.

Marcos suffers from behavior and physical problems due to bad timing and preparation, but of course Ms. Chavez loves him anyway. She would have loved Xavier and Maria too, and they would have had a better chance to be well and healthy.

The issues around potential are bewildering, even bizarre. Every time you have a child, it eliminates the possibility of other children coming into being. Countless Xaviers and Marias don’t make it.

When one sperm reaches an egg, millions of other sperm lose the race and the potential people they represent are denied.

You could say that entire worlds are denied every day, all the time, by ordinary decisions and just plain old happenstance.

Such is the astounding reality we live in. Miracles are everywhere, but they are necessarily destroyed as well as birthed as part of evolution and life. (See Defending Abortion: Part I).

When you’re deciding on abortion, you must grapple with a specific potential: you have a human life in the womb. The living embryo is farther ahead in its journey toward the third trimester (where partial rights take hold) than a human not yet conceived. The pregnant woman has a beautiful little being inside her.

But that is not enough to imbue the embryo with the rights we have. A potential person is not an actual person. This is a manifestation of common sense. We couldn’t function at all without the following general rule: potentials vary in strength and importance, they are often difficult to assess, and the potential state is very different from the actual state, once it is realized.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Disney Deals Drugs, Slays Miramax

A special HOOT Award ((Horrendous Outrageous O Terrible!) goes to Disney for its role in dumbing down American cinema. Miramax Films, with a decades-long legacy of intelligent drama from independent creative thinkers, has just released its very last movie ever, ironically titled “Everybody’s Fine.”

Why? Melena Ryzik, reporting on the story, doesn’t hold any punches:

“[Miramax], started by the Weinstein brothers and a key player in the history of independent film in this country, has been progressively disemboweled by its parent, the Walt Disney Company.”

(“A Bittersweet Night for a Not-So-Fine Miramax,” Dec 4, New York Times)


Finally some muckraking journalism that isn’t afraid to tell it like it is: “PROGRESSIVELY DISEMBOWELED.” Brava, Ryzik!

In the photograph accompanying the article, you can see the sorrow in Robert DeNiro’s face as he witnesses this gross tragedy.

Why has Disney done this? The same reason that other corporate overlords are killing off or strangling down their indie theater cells: profit. The flicks that make lurid amounts of money are not the ones that induce reflection on the nature of life.

Along with Disney, these IQ killing leviathans include Viacom, Time Warner and Paramount.

The Director of “Everybody’s Fine” comments:

“It seems to me that people at the top are saying we don’t want to do adult drama, there’s nobody that wants to be reminded of the real world, they want escapist cinema,” he said. “I love watching sci-fi movies and romantic comedies and teenage movies as much as anyone else, but I think it’s about balance, and you have to have adult drama because that’s often one of the few categories that makes people leave the cinema thinking about their own lives and reflecting on who they are and how they are in the world.”

(“A Bittersweet Night for a Not-So-Fine Miramax,” Dec 4, New York Times)


There you have it. People want “escapist cinema,” so Disney is willing to supply them with their mind-numbing drug: the movie equivalent of video games. Hey, why not. Let’s pander to a low urge to hide from reality. Let’s foster a nation of shallow thrill seekers, who goo-goo on the edge of their seats, waiting for the latest techno effect, and the largest flashiest amounts of catastrophe and blood.

The dumber people are, the easier to control. The more addicted. And the addicted can be financially pumped by the one who controls the desideratum.

What we witness, in the death of Miramax, is not just the end of a great production company, one that allowed us a window into our souls. We witness a critical and heartbreaking moment in the plummeting history of film.

The philosopher Socrates distilled his learning down to one all-important statement: Know Thyself. So vast in wisdom was this motto that it was inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

What Disney has done, in the name of Mammon and to the detriment of Miramax, is chisel away this phrase. It has ripped “Know Thyself” out of the very essence of movie-making. To the extent that cinema could have been a source of moral and psychological leadership, Disney has disemboweled not only Miramax but hope itself.

A grim truth rears: the quest for knowledge lies dead in the boardrooms of movie moguls, they who bow down before Transformers, pyrotechnics, and toons. They would have celluloid become the equivalent of Soma, that happy pill of the populace in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Hold onto your seats, and clutch your popcorn tight. We are embarking on a horror-movie trip, into the bowels of cineplex hedonism.

Welcome to the Dark Age of Virtual Titillation.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Acceptance In Lucid Rhythms

http://www.lucidrhythms.com/

An honor it is to be included in this fine journal, which has a sense of dignity and classic beauty few venues ever attain. The cover art is aesthetic and sensuous. The poems read with the ease and harmony of a delicate rill. Editor David Landrum has given us all a magnificient gift of literary jewels, which are so much more valuable, in the end, than those made of stone.

Visit the haunting kingdom of Lucid Rhythms. You will be moved.

OWL

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Acceptance In Offcourse

Two of my best poems, “Church Memory” and “Corroded Coin” were picked up by Offcourse, a journal run since 1998 by Ricardo Nirenberg, professor emeritus at SUNY Albany. The university has ties with Offcourse through Nirenberg, and also provides server support for the journal (http://www.albany.edu/offcourse/).

SUNY shows nobility and acumen in keeping an association with this journal, for Nirenberg is really really smart, a kind of renaissance genius. As a professor of mathematics, he taught a spectrum of courses, including advanced seminars at the graduate level, topics I can’t even begin to understand. For instance, the title of his thesis is: On Pseudo-Quasiconformality in Several Complex Variables.

He has published two literary novels (Cry Uncle and Wave Mechanics: A Love Story) and a raft of probingly brilliant essays. If you read his prose, you find that he has mastered concepts, theories, and worldviews in a broadly multidisciplinary way. He witnesses the universe through the apex lenses of both mathematics and literature, and it is quite evident in his writing.

It is also apparent in the devastating accuracy of his social critiques. Indeed, one of the truly great things about Nirenberg is his genuine appraisal of the world. The resolution of many beams of insight and knowledge into an ethos radiant with wisdom. Although I am not an aficionado of gurus, if you’re looking for highest learning of a philosophical and psychic nature, read the works of Nirenberg, and also take a look at Offcourse.

Finally, I want to give a special mention to Isabel Nirenberg, who does a good deal of work for the journal, serving as a diligent and patient manager. I have been accepted a few times now, and have not always been the most genteel contributor; but she has always shown consummate professionalism and courtesy. The editors Nirenberg make a great team.

It is a wonderful gift not only to the poetry community, but also the larger realm of learned thought and artistic passion, that they exist and strive.

OWL

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Good Government Jobs! Except...

Paul Krugman is absolutely right in his latest Op-ed piece: Washington is exhibiting a “strange passivity” now that the recession, in a "technical sense," is over, one which favors wealthy elites--but not the common worker, who faces a grim unemployment rate, likely to go on for many years.

(“The Jobs Imperative,” New York Times, November 29)


The implication is as plain as a sneer: corporation captains are more important than you and me. We are grunts in the trenches of toil and travail. Economic canon fodder.

Maybe it’s impossible for the government to do anything else. Maybe our leaders have done their best?

No, says Krugman. In fact, he shouts it. Washington’s attitude is heinously wrong and earns serious moral condemnation:

“There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

This is wrong and unacceptable.”


Notice how Krugman puts “This is wrong and unacceptable” in its own standout paragraph. Folks, this is the written equivalent of a scream.

It must be frustrating for Krugman, a genius professor of economics who won the Nobel Prize, to have his keen words fall upon wooden ears over and over. His intelligent thoughts share the stage with lame opinions by colleagues like David Brooks, aka Mr. Status Quo (see, for instance, my blog entry, “The Cruelty Question”).

Krugman lucidly lays out the financial logistics for a government-funded work program. It would create a million jobs, a la Roosevelt’s WPA.

Also, he asserts, more money should be given to the states, so that they can avoid an axe chop to their payrolls, especially the livelihoods of teachers.

And yet his advice will surely be ignored. The plutocrats pretend they obsess about the suffering of the many, honing their well-acted crocodile-tear speeches; but, in actual deed, they dote on their silk-tie masters.

I emphasize with all my literary lungs: our leaders COULD do something to help millions of people avoid years of lean misery--but they are not going to. Their actions express concern only for the wellbeing of the banking and corporate sector.

The tree is known by its fruit.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lubec Real Estate for You? Nah

So, you want to move to Lubec, Maine? Or maybe just own property here? The first thing you should know is that, yes, Lubec is different than most cities or even small towns. There are no traffic lights and very few street lights. The nearest movie theater is an hour away in Calais. Sometimes a bear wanders through, and there’s a good bit of majestic coastal and sylvan beauty for all to respect and share.

The second thing you should know is that if a lot of people move here, it will destroy the town’s charm, cripple its peacefulness, and further intrude on the wildlife. If you decide to build a new monster home or even worse, condominiums, apartments, a hotel or other bulky excrescence, you are contributing to the urban pillage of another quiet little place that still harbors some deference for songbirds and spruce trees.

It will be a selfish act on your part, a stitch in an ugly pattern of human encroachment and colonization of the planet Earth.

If you buy a cabin that is one of the cookie-cutter huts plopped onto pristine land, you help to make a developer rich and pauperize the virtue of a village of struggling individualists. You become a floatie in a tide of 1950’s Levit-style capitalism.

If you bring your new-york neurosis of stress, braggadocio and material vanity, you are blighting a place of simple living, and disgracing a humility before marshlands and bays. There are enough petty thanes, spreading about like a contagion, in this country already. Don’t bring your swagger, gold-obsession and whiny ego here.

Don’t bring your mindset of competition and construction and noise and fuss and hassle and bustle and abrasive pride. Don’t bring your halogen security lights and your paranoia and your controlling attitudes, as if you ruled the deer and the moose and the owls just because you bought a surveyor’s rectangle with that all-important illusion, the dollar.

The Earth existed for billions of years without your dream home and predictable fantasy. The World is magnificent without a thick pimpling of roofs. Don’t come to Lubec like a zit on a lovely face. Don’t be part of the acne of fast growth that mars the USA. This-land-is-your-land of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

If you visit, come with modesty and even contrition. Buy a pre-existing home with a venerable heritage. There are plenty of them.

Don’t be another typical example of me me me me me me me me me me--

and to hell with my neighbors the coyote, the grouse, and the porcupine.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Cruelty Question

If we are to heal our ailing national integrity, we absolutely cannot tolerate the mistake perpetrated by David Brooks in his Op-ed piece, “The Values Question.” (Nov. 24, New York Times)

Brooks claims that affordable healthcare requires a trade-off between commerce and wellbeing. For him, it’s a cost-benefit analysis, and the right answer is necessarily relative: it simply depends on what standard we choose to embrace.

To make things worse, he pits decency against vitality and youth against age, a weird and disturbing linkage of concepts:

“Reform [affordable healthcare] would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth ... America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.”


For a brilliant man, Brooks is chasing so many chimeras that I’m baffled at where to begin.

First of all, the view that the right thing to do is relative to what values we choose is called moral relativism; and it is a shameful, indefensible standard of conduct.

When I teach Intro Ethics, every other eighteen-year-old in the class believes that there is no ultimate judge beyond convention, and that therefore murder isn’t really wrong. Nor is slavery, rape, or any other so-called crime. But by the end of the class, most of them realize they don’t actually espouse this view.

Brooks, however, seems stuck at moral level a few years past pubescence. His reduction of human misery to a “values question” would make a machete-wielding Hutu proud.

It’s not that healthcare for the needy would make us “more decent,” as Brooks asserts. It would make us decent as opposed to degenerate. No matter how you spin it, denying millions of people relief from easily curable pain is wicked. We aren’t talking dismissible twinges and aches of a minor variety; we’re talking chronic uninvited pain that cripples or even kills. Let 40 million hard-working citizens languish in fear, suffer secretly, and lose their life savings by going to the hospital to get basic relief?

“Yeah, that’s an option, sure. It’s better for our pocketbooks, not to mention our youths.” That’s what Brooks implies when he sets up his argument, pitting the old and decrepit versus the young and fantastic. But young people get sick, and seniors contribute to the vitality of the community in many ways.

Brooks has committed another error of false bifurcation. In other words, his picture of the situation is fundamentally wrong, and so any argument he formulates from that picture is specious.

Heck, what about the rest of us, who are neither decrepit nor brimming with winsome vitality? Where do us betweeners fit in Brooks’ beautiful-or-ugly world?

The common sense truth about a crowded Earth is that we’re all in this together; and if we let ourselves be deluded into “us versus them,” we’re all going down, vituperating and calumniating.

Nor is it a trade-off between freedom on one side and health on the other. What Brooks ignores is the simple truth: health goes hand in hand with freedom. Duh!

Peace of mind, confidence, ability to focus on artistic, spiritual or entrepreneurial goals. What use is freedom if you are abandoned and sick, or always having to worry about it. When most of us think freedom, we think room for the mind and heart to grow. We don’t envision a giveaway for the Beasts, corporations without oversight, scheming to grub more profit.

This segues into another Brooks mistake: assuming that a healthy society will be inefficient. Where does he get this gunk? Has he been reading the writs of Antebellum Mississippi judges? Slave owners used the same argument: if you eliminate slavery, you tank the economy.

I guess Brooks would say slavery is just a values question.

As for me, I’m sick (!) of profit-brained pundits blabbing that a good society is at odds with Gross Domestic Product. The GDP is a number. People are more important. To embrace the GDP as the best indicator of a nation’s mettle is scoundrelly. It reveals an obsession with the moment, and a myopic grasp of the future.

An ethical society leads to better people, who are more likely to work with virtue and a sense of kindness and reciprocity. We used to have such positive traits in the USA, and you can still find them in small towns; but for the most part, we’ve been turned into neurotic squabblers by a mentality of money first.

Money before health. Money before kindness. Money before a basic standard of respect and responsibility.

That Brooks can get away with posturing the debate in terms of the suffering of millions versus growth for corporations shows how pathetic our civilization is at this time, in the Age of Money First.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

If you're in a Tryptophan daze, why not read some poems to lull you to sleep?

Thieves Jargon Magazine posted their latest issue, #125, on Turkey Day: http://www.thievesjargon.com/

You’ll find three poems of mine therein, and they’re real festive .... yeah, festive.

PS: by “Turkey Day” I mean a day to appreciate and protect the living creatures of our rare and miraculous planet Gaea. In other words, Turkey Day should be every day.

PPS: Aren’t we fuckin’ lucky to be alive! I mean, isn’t it just ASTOUNDING that you are currently interpreting little symbols strung together on an ethereal sheet of electric paper; and if you let your mind relax you can feel thousands of sensations, all interconnected within your consciousness. Each of us is a “SELF.”

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Preface of Monongahela Review, Issue 4

I just found one of the best prefaces I've ever seen in the small press literary scene. It's titled, "Necessity to Record," and the journal is the Monongahela Review:

http://issuu.com/monongahelareview/docs/the_monongahela_review_-_issue_4?viewMode=magazine&mode=embed


The preface is a philosophical, wistful and somehow romantic reverie, which in a mysterious yet tangible way justifies poetry, life, and perhaps hope.

The editor is Luke Bartolomeo but the preface is not signed. Hence, its provenance, like the well-woven gossamer of its wordplay, haunts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kay Jewelers Audacious Evil Pitch

Now that the buying holidays approach, Kay Jewelers is making its move, sowing the airwaves with pretty seeds that depict fairytale couples spicing up their romance with a diamond. The fantasy concludes with an audacious well-worn pitch, “Every kiss begins with Kay.”

This facile claim could be dismissed as wishful and silly, if only the diamond trade weren’t such a blood-bloated pustule on the face of humanity. I’m talking the 1990’s, not the British Empire in the Age of Imperialism.

The movie “Blood Diamonds” (2006) starring Leonardo DiCaprio was a stunning exposé of this modern monstrosity, which hasn’t magically gone away since then.

“Every kiss begins with Kay.”

It is hard to begin to address the evils of this snake oil. But I’ll try. Number One: the juxtaposition of a beautiful, free and natural thing--love--with something corrupt ugly violent and perverted--the exploitation, massacre, enslavement and torture of the African people in the name of profit.

It is hubris and horror enough, on the part of Kay Jewelers, to suggest that love requires a diamond. But they don’t stop there. Even a kiss requires a diamond, Kay cajoles us. This brazen bauble of exaggeration deserves some kind of award for marketing hyperbole. It’s crazy in an infernal way, admen getting around your defenses by cloaking the dagger in a jingle.

Love is beautiful, yes. But the diamond industry is the opposite. Thoroughly tarnished with a layer of duplicitous shit. Kay’s jingle itself is a mean lie of omission. It hides a corporate karma that has implications for your conscience as a purchaser of hypnotic stones.

Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” has nothing on the De Beers corporation, which monopolized the diamond industry through the 1990’s:

“De Beers is well known for its monopolistic practices throughout the 20th century, whereby it used its dominant position to manipulate the international diamond market. The company used several methods to exercise this control over the market: Firstly, it convinced independent producers to join its single channel monopoly, it flooded the market with diamonds similar to those of producers who refused to join the cartel, and lastly, it purchased and stockpiled diamonds produced by other manufacturers in order to control prices through supply.”

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Beers )


At the same time De Beers was in charge, the following occurred:

“Blood diamonds captured the world's attention during the extremely brutal conflict in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s, where rebels carried out systematic amputations of limbs during an eight-year brutal campaign. During this time, it is estimated that up to 14% of the world diamond production was being used to fund bloody civil wars. Illicit rough diamonds have also been used by rebels to fund conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo Brazzaville). During this time, Unita, a rebel militia group in Angola, generated close to $1.5 billion from sales of diamonds mined in areas it controlled, using the proceeds to wage a brutal civil war that killed 500,000 people before ending in 2002.”

( http://www.diamondsforafricafund.org/realdiamondfacts/conflict.htm )


Have things miraculously changed to an angelic state since 2002?

Not unless those angels are cardboard masks over the faces of sneaky devils.

A collective of nations has a monitoring system in place now called the Kimberley Process, but it is rife with flaws. First of all, it is based on trust and fulfilled through a certificate issued by the producing nation member. Containers of rough diamonds are put in “tamper-resistant” containers with a certificate that promises them to be oh so good.

If anyone messes with the certificate or rough diamonds, the system fails. And of course, if the government in question is corrupt, the certificate could just be bunk.

With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, I seriously doubt that tamper-resistance containers and notices of trust are going to override a fierce history of rampant greed.

Let's face it, African governments and corruption go hand in hand.

To make things worse, a Catch-22 is built into the system. The following is truly mindboggling. I couldn’t believe what I was reading:

“The biggest weakness of the Kimberley Process is how it is monitored. Any country can become a member of the Kimberley Process by sending a letter to the organization's president, currently, the European Commission. Whether or not the country meets the standards of the Kimberley Process, it can still become a member. This means that many conflict diamonds are still getting past the Kimberly Certification Scheme because some countries don't meet the requirements of the Kimberley Process.”

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_diamonds )


Am I reading this right? A country can become a member of the Kimberely Process (KP) even though it doesn’t abide by the Kimberely Certification Scheme? What the F*$% ????

In other words, membership doesn’t imply ethical behavior.

However, Kay Jewelers makes a big deal of the protections provided by the KP on their website:

http://www.kay.com/lwp/wcm/connect/Kay/Customer+Service/Privacy+Policy+and+Terms+&+Conditions/Conflict+Diamonds/

[All future references to Kay’s site are the above url]


“Our Source of Diamonds

We comply with the Kimberley Process and require all our trade suppliers of diamonds and diamond jewelry to provide us with a warranty that they do not supply us with conflict diamonds.”

Kay Jewelers seems all too aware that the Kimberley Process is heavily flawed. They point out that the diamond industry has established its own set of warranties, independent of the KP:

“To supplement the government program, the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) - representing virtually all significant processors and traders - have established a regimen of self-regulation. Its principal element is a system of warranties that will accompany invoices covering the sale of rough diamonds, polished diamonds and diamond jewelry. The requirement applies to rough diamonds mined after December 31, 2002 and products fabricated from them.”


Note that, like the KP, this protection scheme is built on a system of self-regulation, a chain of promises extending through many money-happy hands. If anyone in the chain decides to cheat, the oversight fails.

Moreover, it is unclear at what stage in the production process this corporate chain of promises starts.

Worst of all, a promise doesn’t mean oversight or supervision. It simply states that, to the best of some employee’s knowledge, everything is going fine. Anyone can promise that diamonds are being ethically mined, cut and sold. But if the promisors aren’t doing an inspection themselves, that promise doesn’t mean much, because there’s a knowledge gap.

Who is really watching what’s going on, and who is just saying that they think it’s all fine from afar?

Do Kay staff go into the mines, monitor the treatment of the workers, and watch the rough stones get put in the initial tamper proof containers? Do they guarantee that the tamper proof containers aren’t tampered with? That blood diamonds aren’t snuck into the system?

Kay doesn’t say on their website, which surely means no. Otherwise they’d brag about it.

To make things worse, right after Kay Jewelers reassures us that they are trying hard--but not certain--that their products don’t contain conflict diamonds (ahem, aren’t they more honestly called blood diamonds?), they report that the Kimberley process and other protections have broken down in Zimbabwe. So much for the chain of trust:

“On November 5, 2009 Members decided, amongst great debate against suspension of Zimbabwe, and has instead implemented a 12-month Work Plan, that specifically targets exports of rough diamonds from the country’s Marange diamond fields, the site of reported human rights violations.”

In other words, human rights violations won’t make you lose your Kimberley membership card.

Does Kay buy diamonds from Zimbabwe? They don’t say. All we get is:

“The U.S. State Department ... has called for the full and expeditious implementation of stringent controls for rough diamond shipments from Zimbabwe, and in particular, the Marange diamond fields.”

We are left to imagine the effectiveness of these “stringent controls.”

Maybe the best jingle for Kay Jewelers is, “Kay Don’t Say.”

If Kay cares so much, why don’t they mention the ethical issues in their advertisements on TV? Nah, they hope that people just won’t know or won’t ask. Better profits.

Here is the name of a diamond jeweler who focuses on the ethical issues instead of trying to hide them. Judging by their website, you have a much clearer trail of accountability and ethical oversight if you work with them:

http://www.brilliantearth.com/

To be comprehensive, here is a fact sheet provided by the diamond industry, followed by analysis from external critics:

Corporate Fact Sheet

Critical Documents

NGO Opinions


The corporate fact sheet points out the wonderful things the diamond industry is doing for Africans. The NGO analysis puts this glamorization in perspective.

Finally, note that factory-made diamonds are available. They are pure carbon just like diamonds from mines, and have the same octagonal molecular structure. In other words, they’re every bit as scintillating and fascinating. They only way to distinguish between the two is advanced spectroscopic tests, which the diamond industry developed to save themselves from being wiped out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultured_diamond

Monday, November 23, 2009

Idiot Loyalty, Meredith Vieira, and Amanda Knox

This morning, on the Today Show, a ridiculous account of the Amanda Knox trial in Italy. Knox is accused of tormenting a roommate and slashing her neck after a foiled attempt at starting a drugged-up sex game.

The varnish runs thick as Knox gets painted as a victim of a corrupt foreign government. It’s a hideously skewed slant by reporter Meredith Vieira, including a hocus-pocus of commentary and visuals. A snake-oil salesman pitching his Kickapoo Indian Cough Syrup would be proud.

Knox’s defense attorney gets a sympathetic interview. The prosecution gets no air time at all. Instead, the American author of a book called, “The Monster of Florence” suggests that the prosecutor is tyrannical, belligerent, and incompetent.

DNA evidence against Knox gets dissed by the defense lawyer, who claims a bunglefuck by Italian forensics. No rebuttal allowed. Telling details are strangely absent from the Today Show segment, even though they are juicy and scandalous, something TV shows generally gravitate to like flies on a pachyderm’s dump.

Vieira excludes important points: trouble with the alibi, reasons to suspect that a break-in was faked, and also Knox’s disturbing behavior, including bouts of nonchalance, like making out with her boyfriend in public the day after the murder, and blaming someone else for the crime, one Patrick Lumumba, a black man, who spent two weeks in jail.

Lumumba is now suing Knox for defamation of character. Knox showed no remorse when questioned about it at trial:

“Did you ever apologize to Patrick?” Pacelli [lawyer for Lumumba] asked. “No,” said Knox, passing up what seemed like a good opportunity to make the apology in front of the court.

“Did you ever offer compensation to Patrick?” asked Pacelli. “Who, me?” she laughed. “No.”

( http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-06-12/amanda-knox-tells-her-story/ )


My point here is not to argue for Knox’s guilt, but rather to underscore how unprofessional Vieira’s coverage was. The media version of a drumhead acquittal. Crazy Italians unfairly accusing cute white sweetness.

Why such absurd spin? A large part of it can be explained by a term that I hereby coin: idiot loyalty. The basic idea is that you are loyal to members of your own in-group, defending them vigorously, no matter the evidence that they have done something despicable.

In the Knox case, we have the idiot loyalty of nationalism. How dare those foreigners accuse a US citizen? And not just any US citizen: a nubile paragon of apple pie. She’s beautiful. She’s wholesome. The kind of girl our soldiers keep in their hearts and loins when they occupy other countries and kill their folks.

“U.S.” might as well be synonymous with “us” as in “us versus them enemies of ours.”

Back to Knox. Vieira might as well have said, “How dare those foreigners accuse one of us!”

Idiot loyalty. It manifests in other contexts too, such as the corporate boardroom or the battalion on the battlefield. Anyone remember the cover up after the Mai Lai massacre?

Idiot loyalty occurs in families too, where it is perhaps forgivable in doses. Love for your child is more sincere and deep than love for your CEO, your sergeant, or some anonymous fellow American you don’t even know. This might not be idiot loyalty all but rather an overriding force of healing love.

But if the crime is heinous or the consanguineous bond remote, forget it. Too often a drunk Mr. Jones mows down someone else’s child, only to have it covered up by the Jones household. The family forms a shoulder-to-shoulder wall of deception, a tight team defense while the mother of the slain weeps at the coroner's office.

Speaking of which, a good breeding ground for idiot loyalty is football or some other violent sport, where you root for the home side regardless of their sportsmanship. Perhaps this is okay, because no crime is involved on the field, unless you count the stick jabs frequent in hockey.

We could call the limited fanaticism, the sort that enthralls sports fans, “football-think.” When ruddy throngs take football-think out of the arena and use it in everyday life, trouble emerges. Then you get idiot loyalty: corporate obeisance, brute patriotism, or blind protection of your ‘buddies’, whoever they might be (police officers, frat chums, etc). You get the denial of monstrous wrongs because no wrong can be done by our side.

That’s idiot loyalty in a nutshell, and it doesn’t even have a figleaf of justice.

When idiot loyalty leaps into the mainstream media, it becomes a fulcrum for fascism and mass control. No American overseas can do wrong because, gosh golly darn, America is always right.

The loss of objectivity in journalism is sad, but especially when the root is idiot loyalty, and the robotic outrage it implies.

UPDATE
-----------------

The latest New York Times piece, by Rachel Donadio, validates some of my key points. Here are two excerpts:

"In the press, Ms. Knox is often portrayed as an innocent girl unwittingly caught up in the Kafkesque Italian justice system. But even one of her lawyers, Carlo Dalla Vedova, said that he believed the trial was fair. He added that he “disagreed” with news media coverage that depicted it otherwise."

"The case the prosecutors have presented is largely circumstantial, though even some American legal experts say it could be strong even in an American courtroom."

("U.S. Student Delivers Appeal at End of Italian Trial," Dec. 4)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Acceptance in The Recusant

Alan Morrison, editor of the The Recusant, or tR, as he likes to abbreviate it (at least in his note to me), has informed me that my poem “City Mirrors” is up:

http://www.therecusant.org.uk/

The website for tR is sui generis, a work of art in itself, and absolutely different from the norm. This fits with the zine’s philosophy of assailing the status quo with poems that are looking to push your brass buttons with smudgy fingers or invoke that rarest of outlaws: genuine feeling that doesn’t brake for bureaucracy.

Here’s part of the philosophical creed you will find on location:

“In terms of poetry, we have a preference for work that deviates from the mainstream. We particularly like political, social and polemical poetry. We wish to promote non-conformist work, in other words, that which does not submit to the ease of contemporary trend. the Recusant is here to expose the work of those writers who write on their own terms, irrespective of fashion.”

Renegade though he is, Morrison’s tR has racked up a tally of 181, 571 visitors. Wow. I’m proud to be included, and I’m going to get to work on my “biog” for the contributor’s notes right after I finish this blog.

OWL

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Defending Abortion: Part II, Pro-Choice Christianity

NOTE: See Also "Defending Abortion: Part Three" in the December Posts and Defending Abortion: Part Four" in March, 2010)


Defending Abortion: Part Two, Pro-Choice Christianity


Angelic Wolves

Anti-abortion fanatics often cloak their zeal in religious trappings, convinced that God is on their side, and that they are martyrs for the ultimate Good. However, intense passion and intractable belief do not insure veracity, nor immunize one from misapprehension. History is full of single-minded zealotry, accompanied by hysteria and histrionics, which, in retrospect, was horribly unfounded and tragic in the misery it inflicted.

For instance, in 16th and 17th century England, Protestants and Catholics butchered each other on a massive and constant scale.

Every ardent follower of a cause will tell you they are willing to die for their principles and that they serve the ultimate Good. But thick-skulled single-mindedness is more likely to induce error than enlightenment. When applied to large groups, it correlates with lots of spilled blood.

The dangers of fanaticism and false prophets were well understood by ancient peoples, whose subsistence could be thrown into upheaval by charismatic yet de-stabilizing mystics. Warnings to avoid the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” occur frequently in the Bible, as do exhortations to avoid false prophets, such as the following from Deuteronomy:

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams ... Thou shalt not hearken. (13.1)


Conviction for cherished ideals is wonderful, but must be balanced with judicious thought. Otherwise, a grave danger emerges of being duped, deluded, and drawn into someone else’s scheme for power. History is full of unwitting pawns.

When you see anti-abortion extremists raising their arms to heaven, screaming out to God, and extolling with intense and colorful theatrics, go ahead and get emotional. It is indeed an amazing sight, and probably will invoke a reaction in you, one way or the other. But don’t be swayed to a cause just because the adherents are emotionally tortured.

Although passion is what makes life special, it is not the be-all-end all of Goodness. Wisdom can not live by passion alone, and passion has led many people to the slaughter.


The Pro-Choice Christian


Religion goes well with pro-choice arguments, far better than it does with anti-choice.

Take the Bible, for example. There is no discourse on abortion in this hallowed text, let alone any thunderous decree that forbids it. A lot of things are divinely outlawed in the Bible, including adultery, stealing, and coveting thy neighbor’s ox--but not abortion.

If abortion is a horrible sin, more so than adultery or ox coveting, where is its due comment?

The knee-jerk response is to say that abortion is murder, and murder is strictly forbidden by God. Unfortunately for those putting forth this argument, it assumes what it is trying to prove. This sort of poor reasoning is so common and egregious that it has a special name in philosophy: begging the question, or to put it formally in latin petitio principii. More simply, this tactic is often just called circular reasoning.

Here is the fallacious argument of circular reasoning (begging the question) spelled out. Two premises and a conclusion:

(1) The Bible says murder is wrong
(2) Abortion is murder
----------------------------------------------
(3) Therefore abortion is wrong


If this argument convinces you, I have some oilfields for you to buy, cheap, in Maine. You’ll also be forced, logically, to accept this argument:

(1) The Bible says murder is wrong
(2) Swatting a fly is murder
----------------------------------------------
(3) Swatting a fly is wrong


The problem with both these arguments is that the second premise (2) needs to be argued. You have to give convincing reasons in justification. Otherwise you are simply assuming what you’re trying to prove.


Even worse for the “abortion is murder” screamers, the Bible provides damning evidence, pardon the pun, that in the eyes of the Lord, it is not.

Key passages necessitate this conclusion. As does the overall picture of ancient nomadic tribespeople that emerges from a serious perusal. In legal terms, the Bible sees the preborn as a kind of property, not a full-fledged being that can be murdered.

Given time considerations, I’m going to discuss just a few excerpts. They are already well-known in the general debate, so I’ll include commentary on the responses by anti-abortionists.

The following two excerpts are so telling the Jehovah’s Witnesses rewrote them in their New World Bible, obliterating the original text and its evidence that the preborn did not have full legal standing for the ancient Israelites.

(For more on the New World Bible, which doesn’t deserve to be called a Bible at all, go here: http://www.gotquestions.org/New-World-Translation.html)

For those who don’t bowdlerize or rewrite history, and dare to look at honest translations by expert scholars, as in the NRSV, or even just the good ol’ King James Version , the evidence is clear and determinative. Let’s check it out.



Leviticus 27: 2-7


This is powerful passage that associates monetary values with males and females of various ages. Humans below the age of one month have no value at all. Quoting from NSRV:

“When a person makes an explicit vow to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being, the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels. If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver.”

This passage is legally explaining how much money is needed to substitute for a vow. Pay this amount to avoid the consequences of the vow. As you can see, men are more highly valued than women. Adults more than children. It’s not as if all human life is considered equal.

Furthermore, to emphasize, youngsters below the age of one month have no value assigned. Not a single shekel. Yikes! The Oxford Companion to the Bible sums all this up nicely:

“Biblical legislation, as in Leviticus 27: 3-7, indicates that the lives of children as well as women were not valued as highly as those of adult men, while no value whatsoever was given to a child under the age of one month. There is no indication that a fetus had any status. (p.4)

In other words, the Bible differentiates between the legal value assigned to adults and infants, attributing the big zero to newborns, and in effect the fetus as well.


Anti-Abortion Response to Leviticus 27: 3-7

When I typed “Leviticus 27 and abortion” into Google, or variants of that search phrase, I was surprised to find no ready and easily obtainable statement by the anti-abortionists (in contrast to the next excerpt I discuss, for which they have plenty to say).

I think their best argument is to point out that the above passage isn’t dealing with abortion but rather the avoidance of restrictions placed by vows. If we’re talking about vows, how can this be relevant to an entirely different issue, abortion?

But this argument isn’t going to satisfy anyone who doesn’t want to be satisfied by it. The excerpt sets up a hierarchy of values associated with human life, and legally assigns newborns and preborns a monetary value of zero.

This provides a useful window into the thinking of the nomadic Israelites. These were hard times, lacking modern medicine. The miscarriage rate is estimated to be about 50%, not to mention the likely deaths to disease of infants. Forming tight emotional bonds to preborns and young children could result in huge and frequent amounts of pain.

It is likely, given the physical and cultural circumstances, that the Israelites did not emotionally attach to the preborn as the anti-abortionists seem to love every fetus and embryo, wailing and lamenting and hurling out comparisons to the Holocaust.

The overall cultural perspective in the Bible, exemplified in Leviticus 27, makes this a quite reasonable conclusion.




Exodus 21: 22-25

This section is another killer, pardon the pun, for the Christian anti-choice crusade.

The passage reads as follows:

“When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Note the penalty for inflicting a miscarriage is a monetary payment, whereas the penalty for harming the women is much more serious. Monetary payments were customary for property damage; but if you accidentally break the woman’s hand, your hand gets broken in retributive justice.

If the miscarriage were itself a case of murder, the eye-for-an-eye code would call for the death of the person who caused the miscarriage, wouldn’t it? The little being in the woman’s stomach is not considered to have full legal protections. It’s right there in the Bible.


Anti-Abortion Response to Exodus 21: 22-25

Unlike the Leviticus passage, there is a great deal of anti-abortion response to Exodus. At least ten strong commentaries come up on a Google search. Many of them have a frantic yet excited air, for they are eager to explain away this dangerous excerpt. The crucial strategy is to attack the word “miscarriage.” The woman’s child isn’t dead, they claim, just born prematurely.

Some even serve as primers, telling the reader how to respond when confronted by pro-choice folks, as in the following:

“When someone raises this issue with you, ask these three questions.

First, why presume the child is dead? Though the English word “miscarriage” entails this notion, nothing in the Hebrew wording suggests it. Yasa doesn’t mean miscarriage; it means “to come forth.” The word itself never suggests death.[13] In fact, the word generally implies the opposite: live birth. If it’s never translated elsewhere as miscarriage, why translate it that way here?

Second, what in the context itself implies the death of the child? There’s nothing that does, nothing at all. The fine does not necessarily mean the child is dead, and even if it did this wouldn’t indicate that the child wasn’t fully human (as in the case of the slave in v. 32).

Third, ancient Hebrew had a specific word for miscarriage. It was used in other passages. Why not here? Because Moses didn’t mean miscarriage. When his words are simply taken at face value, there is no confusion at all. The verse is clear and straight-forward. Everything falls into place.”

( http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5700 )


Pro-Choice Rebuttal


The crucial task for the anti-abortionist is to prove that “miscarriage” is a faulty translation. Or is it? Suppose the woman doesn’t have a miscarriage, but only gives birth prematurely. But remember, premature birth is often going to result in death of the child, given the lack of medical technology available to the ancient goat-herders, and their generally hardscrabble and difficult life. Even today, with all our fancy machinery, only about 60% of premature births can be saved.

You’re deluding yourself if you think ancient Israelites weren’t aware of the high chance of death in premature birth, especially if the woman was induced to labor through extreme violence.

Death of the preborn had to be on the minds of the ancient Israelites when crafting the law in Exodus 21:22-25. It’s just common sense. Most pregnant women who “give forth” their child from violence will be giving forth embryos and non-viable fetuses. A majority of violence-induced premature births would be death sentences for the preborn.

And of course we must ask: Is “miscarriage” the wrong word to use for the translation. Now you get into a hornet’s nest of linguistic analysis of ancient Hebrew and translation methodology, a great place to find a loophole to support your own perspective, especially if you're desperate and have no other resort.

The anti-abortionists claim that the ancient Hebrew term, “yatsa” is generally used to mean “to bring forth” and that therefore miscarriage is not implied.

But this ignores common sense. Why make a law that covers only a fraction of pregnancies, and avoids the obvious threat of death?

Maybe the ancient Israelites were speaking in euphemism. Maybe the ancient Hebrew language in the cultural context of the nomads calls for a gentle explanation. Or maybe “bringing forth” is perfect to cover both the case of miscarriage and premature birth which leads to death of the child.

Or maybe translating ancient Hebrew to English is a difficult task that requires looking at variations in culture, predispositions of translators, technical questions in semiotics, nuances in exegesis, etc. Maybe we can't with any certainty hang a lot of meaning on "yatsa" except by stepping back and looking at the issues faced by a hardbitten tribe of herders.

So, I’m not entering the linguistic debate. This isn’t my field of expertise. But there is strong pragmatic evidence that miscarriage, including loss of embryo or nonviable fetus, would have been on the minds of the Israelites when a shepherd’s crook rammed into the belly of a woman.



A Thousand Years Plus

The view that the preborn does not have full status was common and widespread throughout Christianity and Judaism for well over a thousand years. In the 16th century, a young scientist using a primitive microscope claimed to see a small fully developed human in a sperm cell. Based on that sketchy evidence, the Catholic Church changed its view to the current dogma: the soul is present from conception.

Before this ridiculous maneuver, the view of St. Augustine reigned supreme: that abortion was acceptable well into pregnancy, because the soul was not present until the preborn could “feel.” Interestingly, this accords with the scientific observation that the brain’s ‘neural circuitry’ develops later in the pregnancy. At six months the basic system is in place:

“The cerebral hemispheres now cover the whole top and sides of the brain including the cerebellum. Cerebellar development begins from this moment, but will not be complete until two years after birth. Six distinct layers are now differentiated within the cerebral cortex, and almost all of the neurons within the central nervous system are present by the end of this sixth month of life and neural 'circuitry' continues to develop.”

(http://www.learningdiscoveries.com.au/StagesofBrainDevelopment.htm#TheFoetalStageofDevelopment)


The New Testament

Although the books referenced above, Leviticus and Exodus, are Old Testament, the New Testament provides no extra insight on abortion. Jesus condemns many things, including looking at your neighbor’s wife with lust; but he doesn’t feel it necessary to bring up the fate of the preborn. Apparently it wasn’t as pressing to him as members of Operation Rescue.

However, one passage gets frequent use by the anti-choice crew, Luke 1: 41-44:

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.”

The child may have indeed kicked in Elizabeth’s stomach, quite possibly in response to the her excitement. This happens all the time in the third trimester of pregnancy. Many people, including me, think abortion in the third trimester should only occur in special circumstances; for example, to save the mother’s life. The Justices in Roe vs. Wade did not extend the mother’s right to choose to the third trimester, except in special circumstances.

If Elizabeth’s child leapt for joy in the third trimester, it is a moot occurrence.

On the other hand, if the child’s leap was miraculous, prompted by the appearance of the Mother of God, we are left to wonder about ordinary circumstances, when the Divine Mary is not immediately present.

Miracles change things. In a miraculous context, anything can happen. Trees can raise up their limbs to exalt. Rocks and stones can sing hallelujah. Still, no one is rushing to claim that trees and rocks deserve a right to life.


Conclusion

There is no basis in the Bible for the totalitarian mentality of the anti-choice extremists. While they claim they are serving God’s Will, they are doing just the opposite, at least in terms of Yahweh.

I haven’t covered all the relevant excerpts and arguments by any means. For truly in-depth coverage, try these urls:

http://rabbimichaelsamuel.com/2009/10/more-reflections-on-abortion/

http://www.elroy.net/ehr/abortion.html

http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-bibleforbids.htm


Let me supply a quote from the last url, which sums up the general situation nicely:

“The Bible does not comment directly on abortion, even though abortion was practiced even then. All Biblical arguments on abortion are indirect and open to interpretation, and debate continues even among the world's most respected theologians. Even so, the Bible seems to suggest in several places that the unborn are not endowed with the qualities or rights of personhood. In fact, the Jews, who are famous for their preservation of tradition, have never considered abortion to be a sin.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Decline of the US Empire

The decline of the US Empire started decades ago, when the business elite began the transfer of wealth away from the people and into the hands of the richest 1%. This initiated a disease of moral degeneration and corruption that would come to infect the whole.

Now, bled by two stupid wars, a greed-induced recession, and the continuing sickness of fat cat banks and bickering pols, the great Empire is moribund and tottering, almost slain.

Add to the grievous wounds that the US owes a lot of money to China, a police state that does not believe in freedom or equality. Beijing is our boss.

Why do we owe money to China, you ask? Places like Wal-Mart, in which almost everything on the rack is “Made in China.” To save a few dollars, each drooling customer participates in the degradation of democracy and the advance of Communist supremacy.


On Obama’s current visit to Beijing, the New York Times reports:

“Also noteworthy was the range of issues on which the United States was asking China’s help, something that might have been unthinkable before the United States became embroiled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and before its economy was hobbled by the global financial crisis that began on its shores. China, meanwhile, has so far weathered the financial crisis in relatively good form.

“Before the financial crisis, the U.S. was in a world leader position,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the People’s University of China in Beijing. “Now, with China and the United States, maybe we see that the U.S. depends on the China for more issues than China depends on the U.S.”

(“Obama Trip Shows Gaps On Issues As Role Of China Grows,” Nov. 17 )


Yes, the US Empire is virtually dead, brought down by a blind triad of avarice, aggression, and incompetence. And still the citizens don’t realize it, infected with the ethical decay that blights their land. They would rather bicker among themselves, castrate intellectuals, and shout out for more foreign blood, than face their own debauchery.

The typical person of average schooling thinks the blame lies with someone else--preferably of another religion and/or race.

In short, we are an ailing country of neurotics in denial, and we let billionaires and fire-eaters abscond not only our with material satisfaction but also the decency in our hearts. Now our angry and confused hardscrabblers turn to a proto-fascist, Sarah Palin, to vent their misplaced anger.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Protest targets Goldman-Sachs' billions

Al Jazeera English - Americas - Protest targets Goldman's billions


Goldman Sachs continues to get hammered around the world, even though the mainstream US media is now largely silent.

The last excellent indictment I saw from a big US paper was Maureen Dowd's Oped, "Virtuous Bankers? Really!?!" (November 11)

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/opinion/11dowd.html?_r=1

Defending Abortion: Part I, The Embryo Photo

(Note: See also, Defending Abortion, Part II later this month)


There are many reasons why abortion is a morally acceptable practice in certain situations. Applied ethics is a difficult field and in coming to a reasonable judgement it is important to look at the specific context at hand. Nothing I’m about to say is the final word on any particular case. However, my arguments will show that extremist groups like Operation Rescue have no sound philosophical basis for their view that abortion is always wrong.


The Embryo Pitch

Today I want to look at what I call the Embryo Pitch. A pro-lifer displays a photo or a video of an embryo and says there’s a heartbeat or some other physical quality meant to summon tears to your eyes.

The power of this argument is that life is a miracle, even it its most minute forms. There is nothing wrong with being sad when a young life has ended. Scientists who take a cold clinic response and claim that the embryo is “just a lump of tissue” are not only wrong but also play right into the pro-lifer’s hands.

But imagine this scenario: the pro-lifer, after showing this picture of very young life, reveals suddenly that it is not human at all, but a dog embryo. Then she reveals that she is not a pro-lifer at all, but rather a philosopher making a point.

Funny how there was a huge push to save that embryo from death--until it is learned that it was not human. There is no way to tell just from the heartbeat, or even the general shape of the tiny being.

Here’s a video of a dog embryo that shows its wonder and beauty:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD3bmHyVEyo

Yes, the dog embryo is a miracle, but it doesn’t warrant a right to life. The audience wanders away, some of them embarrassed that they were so adamant on saving it. Some of them were even thinking about violence.

It is sad to kill this small unborn being, many of us feel, including me; but again, no outcry of murder or heinous wrong is forthcoming, except perhaps by the most fanatic elements of PETA.

Suppose someone says, “I can visually tell the different between that dog embryo and a human embryo!”

That’s all there is to rely on, isn’t it, the slight difference in shape, if there is one. But how accurate is this, and how early in development can you rely on it? Are the shapes characteristically different, or do they overlap? Suppose you make a mistake, suppose you can’t be certain.

And really, is shape what you want to hang your argument on? Is shape the special property that endows human beings with a right to life?

The problem with claiming that the human embryo is a miracle is not that it isn’t true. The preborn is indeed magical and special. All life is. A dog, a jellyfish, even a blade of grass or a microscopic organism, these are divine manifestations.

But saying that a certain life form is a miracle is not enough to grant it a right to life. If it were, we could not eat lettuce. Each and every one of us destroys many miracles of life each day just to survive. The meat we eat, or the plants. The bacteria in our mouths slain by mouthwash. The ants we spray with pesticide. And so on.

In conclusion, don’t be fooled by the Embryo Pitch. You could respond to it this way:

“Yes, the embryo is a miracle, but so is all life. The heartbeat in an embryo could be a dog’s heartbeat, or a raven’s or an elephant’s. That twitching limb could be a cat using its paw for the first time. Yes, it is beautiful and it is sacred. But we take the lives of beautiful things all the time. To eat, for example. We do it for good reasons, ones that are accepted in sacred texts as well as secular arguments. You’ll have to do more than point out the obvious grace in all living creatures to make your point.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Palin's Propaganda Primp

Michiko Kakutani’s book review of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue is forceful past the point of disturbing. Not because she says anything bizarre or unfounded, but rather because she says what 70% of us already know:

“A CNN poll taken last month indicates that 7 out of 10 Americans now think Ms. Palin is not qualified to be president, and even as ardent a conservative as Charles Krauthammer lamented in September 2008 ‘the paucity of any Palin record or expressed conviction on the major issues of our time.’ ”

(“Memoir is Palin’s Payback to McCain Campaign,” NYT, Nov. 14)


However, things are much worse than run-of-the-mill political ignorance. The terrifying part is the 3 in 10 who think Palin is qualified to supervise nuclear missiles. These folks don’t care that she comes across as spiteful and petty (“Ms. Palin emerges ... as an eager player in the blame game, thoroughly ungrateful toward the McCain campaign”) or that she professes to have no advanced level of insight, experience or education pertaining to the management of an already sinking Empire.

In fact, it’s a weakness in Palin-world to stray beyond a standard deviation from the norm of know-how. In Going Rogue, Palin claims as her best qualification the fact that she is a mother (“There’s no better training ground for politics than motherhood”), and secondly that she is just a Joe Six-Pack like the horde of diploma-loathers, about 90 million strong, who stare at her with starry crusader eyes.

Yes, I fear that Palin’s appeal signals the corresponding ascent of Orwellian evangelical tactics. As Kakutani says, it is alarming how “expertise is discounted--or equated with elitism--in our increasingly democratized era, and just how thoroughly colorful personal narratives overshadow policy arguments and actual knowledge.”

Are you afraid yet? Has it not been pellucidly shown that a wolf in Coors-can clothing could soon come to power and whip up nationalistic furor? Palin’s stratagem is basic: maximize furor to gain the throne. Woe to any that get in her way, or who fail to worship her properly like McCain.

Why am I envisioning a huge bonfire with lots of books, artworks, and writhing witches in its hysterical flames?