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:

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.”


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:

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.”

( )

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.”

( )

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.”

( )

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:

[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:

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:

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.”

( )

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.


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:

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.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Defending Abortion: Part II, Pro-Choice Christianity

Anti-abortionists often cloak their zeal in religious trappings, convinced that God is on their side, and that they are martyrs for the ultimate Good. Reason is irrelevant, because "God says."

However, intense passion and intractable belief do not ensure veracity, nor immunity from misapprehension. History is full of zealotry, often 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 acolyte will tell you they are willing to die for their principles and that they serve the ultimate Good.  In fact, some fanatics, across all religions, do sacrifice their lives in ways that most of us would see as tragic and needless.  It's important to see that, in general, thick-skulled single-mindedness is more likely to induce error than enlightenment. When applied to large groups, it correlates with war, persecution and 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.  Dictators are always accompanied by a fanatic base, so are great religious leaders.

Consider this representative statement:

Young men are particularly liable to become fanatics. Every dictator, every guru, every religious leader, knows this. Fanatics have an overwhelming sense of identity based on a cause (a religion) or a community (gang, team), and a tight and exclusive bond with other members of that group. They will risk injury, loss or even death for the sake of their group. They regard everyone else as outsiders, or even enemies.

 When you see anti-abortion extremists raising their arms to heaven and extolling with 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. Passion is indeed what makes life special, but it is not the be-all-end all of Goodness. Wisdom can not live by passion alone, and unreasoning passion has led to war and slaughter.



The Bible fits pro-choice far better than anti-choice.  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 for justification. Otherwise you are simply assuming what you’re trying to prove.

The Bible provides solid evidence that in the eyes of the Lord, abortion is not murder. 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:

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.


Leviticus 27: 3-7 

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. 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?

However, 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 tough one for the 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 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 main 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.

( )

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. First, keep in mind, Most pregnant women who “give forth” their child from violence will be giving forth embryos and non-viable fetuses. 

Second, even if is a viable early birth, the chance of death is extremely high. 

To sum up, a large majority of violence-induced miscarriages or premature births would be death sentences for the preborn.  Exodus 21 is just ignoring all of these?  Really?

 Translation Stuff

We could also 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.

I’m not entering seriously into the linguistic debate. 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 

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.”

The New 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.


The Bible does not support the anti-abortionist religious view.  It supports a pro-choice view.  It truly seems that anti-abortionists are going against the word of God, as presented in the sacred text.

 However, for the sake of scholarly charity:

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)

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:

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?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Published In Rougarou!!!

Rougarou is an online literary journal run out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Poetry Editor Mark Jenkins is at the head of the team, which includes faculty and students. They are incredibly selective, publishing only one issue a year and only a handful of poets in each issue. Last year they published five poets. This year six.

This is probably the smallest number of poets I have seen accepted by any magazine over a year’s length. To put this in perspective, The New Yorker only takes a few poets per issue, but they’re a weekly publication.

Out of thousands of literary magazines, Rougarou is #1 for discerning and adept parsimony.

I am exceedingly thrilled and pleased to be one of the six accepted. I’m in excellent company too!

My poem is “Long Term Snow,” one of the very best I have ever written, no doubt. I have a deep personal attachment to this work. My relationship to it is somewhat like Nicolo Bussotti’s to his Red Violin.

If that sounds a little eerie, so is the word “Rougarou.” It wonderfully and directly relates to Cajun folklore. The website plays it up nicely with a gentle yet haunting ambience.

Don’t know what a rougarou is? Neither did I. Here’s a rather lengthy quote from Wikipedia:

“According to Barry Jean Ancelet, an academic expert on Cajun folklore and professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the tale of the rougarou is a common legend across French Louisiana. Both words are used interchangeably in southern Louisiana. Some people call the monster rougarou; others refer to it as the loup garou.

The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations, either directly from French settlers to Louisiana (New France) or via the French Canadian immigrants centuries ago.

In the Cajun legends, the creature is said to prowl the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, and possibly the fields or forests of the regions. The rougarou most often is described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to the werewolf legend.”

Kudos to Alpha Editor Perkins and the wolf pack for linking the title of their journal to Professor Ancelet’s research on local myths and legends.

Rougarou is a professional-weight journal that only needs six poems to blow you away, or maybe just one that frissons down your spine with the lycanthropic duality of a caressing claw. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Incredible Artist/Poet Kenny Cole

This Summer, at Lubec Arts Alive, I had the pleasure of meeting a talent who has done something nearly impossible: combined visuals and words in a way that bridges the two mediums and masters both. When you look at his drawings, which are also writings, you are led to a perplexing yet astounding question:

Is Kenny Cole an ARTIST or is he a POET?

And there is no right answer. It’s like the duck/rabbit figure, in which you can alter your gestalt to see two different ways:

Cole has mastered the duck/rabbit trick as applied to art and poetry. He is either an artist or a poet, depending on your perspective, and neither perspective is more valid than the other.

Intriguingly, the question does not go away even though he often uses other people’s words in his intense drawings. And those words are not always those of practicing poets. Cole uses excerpts from political speeches, sacred texts, shop manuals, daily banter, or whatever. No matter the original context, the message is greatly enhanced and often transformed. This adds credence to my argument that Cole is a wonderful poet!

Every single letter gets special attention, and the letters are part of the tenor of the metaphor, which in turn is part of the holism of the overall flourish and energetic ambience of the drawing. And yet the basic semantics of the prose remain integral to the overall effect. In this way, Cole balances aptly on an hypnotic cusp between the literary and the symbolic.

Perhaps Cole doesn’t so much change the words as bring out their innate power. He leads us to an enlightened discovery of the magic inherent in language. But then again, this conjures a conundrum: what is inherent in literary meaning, and what becomes a matter of a great artist’s wizardry?

It’s all so baffling yet wondrous and philosophical and absorbing--and to make it even better, Cole is driven by an ethical impulse of the most profound and exigent kind. You just have to see his work to even begin to understand this ink bard’s prolific expression, and the exquisite levels and interactions of his living scripts--part satire, part cartoon, part pain, part indictment, part poetic.

Lastly, Cole is a friendly and unassuming person, just an “ordinary guy” in casual conversation. Amazing considering the intensity of his work, which surely absorbs much of his time. Support him by buying some of his drawings, or even by becoming a subscriber. He's a true obsessed, dedicated, passionate seeker in the wilds of creativity.

OWL out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mannequin Envy Errata!!!

In a previous post I praised Patrick Carrington, the Poetry Editor at Mannequin Envy; and I should have, because he's a phenomenal poet and a fine editor. Go to the site and check it out, and you'll see what I mean:

However, what I idiotically failed to do was mention the Editor in Chief, Jennifer VanBuren. Let me repeat, this was an idiotic omission on my part. All I can say is that starting a new blog is fraught with opportunities to do stupid things and fall flat on your face.

VanBuren is a superlative poet as well as an editorial impresario. She's been published in some of the same journals I have, classics like Poems Niederngasse, Lily Lit Review and Word Riot, plus some other fantastic mags like FRIGG and Eclectica, and many more.

But back to Mannequin Envy. This journal is truly outstanding and has earned a justified reputation for excellence, and VanBuren is the adroit captain at the helm.

If you're wondering what the story is behind the mysterious and intriguing choice of "Mannequin Envy" as a name for a topnotch lit zine, here is VanBuren's elucidating and eloquent explanation, from the Summer 2009 issue. I guarantee it will make you think deep thoughts:

"There are times when I wish I could re-name this publication. Times when people think Mannequin Envy is about being jealous of the perfection represented in the mannequin's form. Instead, I think of Mannequin Envy as the expression of why the mannequin should envy us. Us with our wrinkles and birthmarks, scar tissue and ticklish spots. Us with our character weakness, poor life choices, immortality, suffering. Why should they wish to break from the illusion of perfection? Read this journal, through the authenticity of voice and brush and you will see, hopefully, why the mannequins envy us."

If that isn't an engaging and absorbing bit of literary philosophy, nothing is. It almost makes me glad to be a foible-infested human.

So, please, GO READ MANNEQUIN ENVY. And when you do, thank Jennifer VanBuren for making it happen.

Chagrined OWL out.

Why Soldiers Are Committing Suicide and Killling Their Wives

It was up less than a day, but for a while the New York Times offered an article about how the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were ripping army families apart and prompting suicides.

This horrible side-effect has been going on for years, but somehow eluded the big media spotlight. Apparently, the powers that be don’t want the public to hear about brave warriors turning into wife-beaters and Russian roulette psychos.

But Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist assigned to counsel shell-shocked veterans, went on a bloody rampage at Ft. Hood, mass-murdering his fellow soldiers, and so the issue of mental damage screamed for attention. Hence, an article popped up, albeit briefly. Part of it went as follows:

“Fort Hood is still reeling from last week’s carnage, in which an Army psychiatrist is accused of a massacre that left 13 people dead. But in the town of Killeen and other surrounding communities, the attack, one of the worst mass shootings on a military base in the United States, is also seen by many as another blow in an area that has been beset by crime and violence since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Reports of domestic abuse have grown by 75 percent since 2001. At the same time, violent crime in Killeen has risen 22 percent while declining 7 percent in towns of similar size in other parts of the country.

(“At Army Base, Some Violence Is Too Familiar,” 11/10/09)

The article goes on to say:

“Since 2003, there have been 76 suicides by personnel assigned to Fort Hood, with 10 this year, according to military officials.”

Fallout from Afghanistan and Iraq destroys the minds of soldiers and threatens those near and dear. The article superbly makes this case. It also demonstrates that the military’s psychological safety net is a pathetic joke, one that effectively tells traumatized soldiers they’re alone and valueless, unless they can still do their job; that is, act like cold obedient killing machines. To hell with what you’re feeling, just be a robot.

What the article doesn’t do is point out WHY the soldiers are coming home mentally crippled. Part of the answer is the obvious horror embedded in the act of pulling the trigger, or just seeing the mangled dead, some of them buddies, some of them just innocent. Who wants to see a five-year-old’s splattered guts?

But there is another factor motivating the soldiers’ PTSD. It might even be the most important. Simply this: The soldiers are realizing that they have sold out their young and innocent hearts. They are dawning to the belief that these wars are unethical--alloyed with oil, ignorance, and political aims; and administered by a callous bureaucracy, which counts dead bodies as if stacking coins.

Imagine: You’re 18 years old and embrace the goals of Freedom, Democracy, and Truth. You’re sent off to fight Evil. But when you get there, and wet your hands with blood, and stain your mind with guilty nightmares, it becomes clear that you have been tricked. Used like a pawn by your government. You’re an expendable chunk of muscle in a power struggle that has little to do with ultimate ideals, and a lot to do with dirty politics and jaded old men sitting in plush chairs under tarnished capital domes.

You realize that you’ve sold your soul. You can’t just go back to being naïve or even hopeful. You’ve obediently done what the Lord of War ordered. But the Lord of War is not the God you thought. He is the collective will of an old boy club, politicians and generals who seem dark, bloody, and uncaring. except for their power lust.

You’re broken. You feel it inside. A real weight. Broken heart, broken spirit, broken trust. You can’t go back. Your spirit is gone. Stolen by a Force that seized what it wanted from you.

What you get in return is some money. Not much. The equivalent of the thirty pieces of silver tossed to Judas. The rest of your life will be the life of a shell. You traded the goodness inside you for a lie and some cash. Your virtue has been ripped out of you. The conscience that cradled it is in tatters.

That is why soldiers are killing lovers and committing suicide. They were swindled in the sanctum of their hearts. They might not consciously realize this; but down inside they know. It manifests in their torn dreams and blasts of rage.

They’ve sold their souls to someone, or some entity, who seems now to be an agent of the Devil.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mark Pawlak's Lubec Poems

I recently learned something fantastic.

Mark Pawlak has been coming to my home town of Lubec Maine for years and writing poems about the area. Pawlak is co-editor of Hanging Loose Press, a poetry journal and book publisher that recently celebrated its 40th anniversary! HL is an extraordinarily rare standout. A non-academic venue that has persevered well beyond the stage of greatness into something ineffably more amazing. In both contemporary and historical terms it is masterful and vigorous.

From the website:

“The first issue of HL contained work by Denise Levertov, John Gill, Jack Anderson, Victor Contoski and other poets who would remain close to the magazine. The editors were in agreement that they were not interested in begging poems from famous writers but that they wanted to stress work by new writers and by older writers whose work deserved a larger audience. In 1968, the magazine introduced a feature which has become celebrated over the years, a regular section devoted to writing by talented high school writers. This section printed early work by such writers as Evelyn Lau and Sam Kashner and has produced three highly praised anthologies.”


I discovered Pawlak’s interest in Lubec accidentally, while checking out a call for submissions by Breakwater Review. BR is a brand new journal run out of the University of Boston, Massachusetts. Guess whose poem is the very first one featured in their very first issue? And guess what that poem is about?

Without further ado, here it is, reprinted by permission of the author:


By Mark Pawlak

From Quoddy Journal 2007, Lubec Maine

(for a life of Sensations rather than Thoughts— Keats)


Today my preoccupation
is this cracked, seamed,
frost-heaved tarmac road
along whose crumbling
shoulders edged with gravel
squadrons of bees patrol
hydra-headed Chamomile
just coming into flower,
yellow clover
already gone to seed.


Isn’t that a beautiful vignette? The poem captures one of the essential feels when you travel that last mile or two in Lubec, toward the Quoddy Lighthouse, which sits on the easternmost point in the United States. Yes, I know this seasoned tarmac well. It is tremendously powerful to walk its last furlong to a hard-bitten angular cliff overlooking the vast Atlantic and the Grand Manan Island of Canada. One of the last spots you pass on the way is Carrying Place Cove, where the Passamaquoddy carried their canoes from one side of the neck to the other.

This is a journey beyond the last vestiges of society to a rugged and magical realm--one that is, as Pawlak says, “cracked,” “seamed,” “frost-heaved,” and “crumbling”--and in which "hydra-headed" flowers and golden bees are lovely yet fierce treasures.

Pawlak is a poet of intense immersions, and reminds me of the sense-addicted writers who are “On the Road” in the style of Kerouac. For them, each moment unveils a new miracle that begs for a swooning scrawl of the enamored pen.

You might have noticed that Pawlak keeps a journal of his visits to Lubec, which include a good number of poems. You can read more of the Lubec poems from his Quoddy journal here:

What an honor to my town that Pawlak has chosen it as a Muse for his rich and energetic mind. And what a great discovery for me to find his words. Poetry in Lubec just took a quantum leap up!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

O Healthy Happy Day!

The House just passed a groundbreaking health plan that effectively rebukes the fat cat insurance companies and affords ordinary folks relief from their tyranny. No more the sick to be dropped from indemnity with a callous flourish of the corporate quill. No more the needy to be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions, which have grown to include absurdities like acne and being beaten by your spouse.

Now if only the Senate would get on board, and the President signs the bill into law.

Yes, the mega-monster insurers, squinting through piggish eyes, can turn away anyone who is a bad gamble, or jack up the price of premiums. They fart at the thought of decency or virtue. Profit is their standard and they seem happy to ignore fear, misery and death to batten their golden guts.

CEO to dying cancer patient: “Us, pay for your costly treatment? It’s only 30% effective and you’re too old to be worth the risk.”

CEO to dying child: “Sorry, that cure is experimental, and those drugs you want would only extend your life by a year at most.”

CEO to person who was a victim of spousal abuse: “Sorry, since you let your husband beat you, you are statistically likely to cost us money, thus we are doubling your premiums.”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Enter the whiny attack dogs of the insurance companies, their loyal servitors: the Republicans. They mewl, bark, slaver, and snarl--whatever might please and promote their corporate masters.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Michigan on the new health plan:

“We are going to have a complete government takeover of our health care system faster than you can say, `this is making me sick.”

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia: “This bill is a wrecking ball to the entire economy.”

Notice that infamous trademark of manipulative rhetoric: hyperbole without argument. The Republicans are experts at hyperbole without argument because they count on non-rational factors like fear and hate to trick the hoi polloi.

And of course the hoi polloi are primarily uneducated and so don’t know their history 101; and hence have not learned that hyperbole without argument has been used to manipulate large masses of dullards since the dawn of civilization.

Hitler on this subject: “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than a small one.”

Anyway, the whiny Republican attack dogs, held loosely on their choke leash by the insurance companies, voted unanimously against this milestone health bill, with one exception, a greenhorn from New Orleans named Joseph Cao. Callow Cao has come through. Maybe he just hasn't been indoctrinated yet.

The Republicans bluster about the expense of the new plan; but first of all, what about those costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, you know, the ones we were led into my Mr. “mission accomplished”?

Without the drain of these corrupt and incompetent debacles, which were immorally thrust upon the public through deceit, universal healthcare would be a breeze to fund.

Secondly, the expense of the new plan will be largely mitigated by the fact that people are healthier, less stressed, and won’t be crawling into the emergency room during the last hour of life.

My granny always used to say: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Thirdly, money will still reach the mouths of the guzzling insurance giants, but they will be put on a diet. Too long their obesity has crowded the rest of us with an asphyxiating odor of greed. It is time for reform, yes, but even more it is time for true equality in terms of who gets to see a doctor at what point in their personal struggle with illness.

The new healthcare plan is funded in part by taxing millionaires and billionaires. Um ... so? If we don’t tax them, what will they do with the extra money? The Cayman Islands look good for a little vacation, or how about Bermuda, or Rio? Nothing like betting a couple million on the roulette wheel in a Brazilian casino. Heck, ain’t that what freedom is all about?

One thing’s for sure: if we don’t tax the rich for the general good, they won’t offer to pay for your child’s broken leg, or your hospital bed when you get H1N1.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

An Ill Empire

The horrific shooting at Fort Hood by Nidal Malik Hasan is yet another snap in the nervous system of a frazzled and bullet-drunk USA. Awash in wealth and power since the end of WWII, America North has become corpulent from frauds and bombs. Sick to the point of toppling off the pedestal of world envy.

Yes, gold and guns have made us morally decrepit. The rash of unthinkable shootings at schools, offices and now military bases could not be a clearer sign. Like empires past, the US is doomed by its success at bullying. We have guzzled from the chalice of stolen loot; and we have been poisoned by our filthy swill. The euphemism for this was Manifest Destiny, then United Fruit Company, and most recently Halliburton.

Rome, Portugal, Spain, Britain, all dominated and expropriated from the weak in their heydays. Like us, they were military monsters of their time, yet grew sclerotic from greed and dissolution. Perhaps the most disgusting was Isabella’s Spain, which invaded the “New World,” grabbed the gold, and proceeded to tear itself apart with inflation, backstabbing, usury, peripheral wars, and so on.

You shouldn’t trust me on this. But then, I’m taking my information from Kevin Phillips, a mainstream exemplar of careful scholarship. Check out his book, American Theocracy. Go to the section starting on page 220, which reads:

Exceptionalism: The Delusion That the United States Is Different.

According to Phillips, we are crashing--just like Rome, Portugal, Spain and Britain. Greed tanks empires. Fuels addiction, denial, sophistry and spite. Drags the empire in question into a sordid cesspit. Every time.

Back to the US. In a shallow culture of fluff, war worship and gun-lovin’ video games, kids and army officers are mass murdering their fellow citizens.

And yet our leaders, who know how to make their neck veins bulge with oratorical pride, trumpet how wonderful and brave our nation is. How perfect and stalwart and righteous our elephantine military, a vanguard of light in a world of darkness.

This pitiable denial spells doom. Truth is, blinkered rhetoric lays like camouflage over an ill king and is snuffing out whatever torch we wielded in the past, and with it any hope of contrition or cure.

Let me end with the words of Edward Said, quoted in American Theocracy:

“Every single empire, in its official discourse, has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort.” (p.74).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Corporate King George And Government Paul Revere

The Bangor Daily News obviously isn't going to publish my latest Oped submission, so I might as well post it here.


Healthcare: Government or Corporation

A vocal faction in the healthcare debate has targeted the dangers of a muscular government, brandishing placards that stoke fear of tyranny and extol freedom. Tinged with a warning of King George’s vise grip on the Colonies, these pleas insinuate a revolutionary heritage. The current craze of political tea parties revels in this assumed link.

But it is no longer 1776. There are new bullies on the block besides imperious kings, ones that didn’t exist in the heyday of monarchy. They are called corporations. And our choice in healthcare management is not between government or freedom. It is, importantly, a choice between accountable public offices, or secretive financial giants pursing their own megalomaniac interests.

Freedom for big corporations, of course, is very different from freedom for the people to seek fair and inexpensive treatment. No longer is medical care a simple deal between a family and their desired practitioner. Insurance companies, once small players, have become juggernauts locked in combat with doctors and hospitals, which have massed together into their own conglomerates. The individual citizen stands next to this battle of behemoths like a powerless ant, shoved by economic necessity and bewildered by mazes of duplicitous paperwork and bureaucratese.

This is just one of many reasons why America should go with a forceful G for government over a bloated C for corporation. When standards such as lifespan and child mortality relegate our wheezy nation to a dismally low rank in comparison to other developed countries; when the corporate sector is selfishly bogged in struggles to reap profit at the expense of dignity, health, and kindness, it is time for the true revolutionary spirit, embedded in the canons of liberty, to take charge.

Not only must we side with policing over profiteering, it must be done decisively to invoke an ethical metamorphosis. As we flounder in this Great Recession, it is more obvious than usual that unfettered corporations are akin to callous money machines. They co-opt or kill competitors, prioritize numbers and spur the market into gluttonous binges.

As many a child’s parable relates, such voracity entails disaster and the immiseration of the populace. Given the ridiculous avarice of today’s business impulse, not only its indictable excesses but also its daily meanness and hunger, the choice for a strong government becomes a straight-up denunciation of fiscal incontinence, and an embrace of human dignity.

Cash obsession leads insurance companies to deplorable acts, obstructing or denying treatment that could save lives of adults and children. It is why they refuse or drop policies of hard-working folks, who are coldly labeled as bad gambles. With a frightening tendency worthy of Gattacca, the list of physical traits earning someone the status of inferior keeps growing. In several states, being beaten by your spouse is considered a pre-existing condition, a blatant money grab that constitutes a sexist and absurd leap.

To emphasize, we have the following choice before us: either C-powers that exist for money and by money, or G-powers that exist for the people and by the people. It is often argued that the government is more corrupt; but elected officials are subject to centuries of legal precedent in Constitutional law, with all the transparency that entails. G-officials have relatively modest salaries, unlike executives who can ride a golden parachute into filthy rich retirement. Ask yourself this question: If you had a chance to jump ship and lounge in a wonderful mansion in the Bahamas, would you focus on the well-being of your fellow citizens, or even the company you worked for?

When defending G over C, legislators often overlook a crucial argument, perhaps because it calls for stricter examination of their own conduct: Corporations and their political pals are always trying to undermine Washington oversight. As a result, private sector corruption tends to infect public realms. But this isn’t a problem endemic to government; it is, rather, another reason to curb and contain the inevitable manifestations of greed.

Indeed, the basic problem is, prosaically, that vines of greed are strangling our wish to be decent to each other, to be humble and fair. These vines have insidiously wormed and coiled for far too long. The most effective way to prune them is to make our ideals happen—make them law. This has been done before with crucial rights concerning emancipation, suffrage and equality, and it is time to do so with the right to good healthcare. Cut through the parasitic vines with the sword of justice, one that can only be wielded by the elected leadership of a democracy.

As we flounder in stress, terrorized by health bills—how entire life savings are swallowed in a single emergency, how critical drugs cost disgusting sums, how premiums twist tighter around our purses like thumbscrews—it becomes imperative that we chose a strong G over an obese C.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Acceptance in Thieves Jargon

Okay, this is a VERY wonderful acceptance for me. Thieves Jargon is a veteran journal, currently on issue #194. Yes, that’s right: #194. It has been publishing monthly, or even half monthly, since 2004. And the content isn’t crap. Editor Dan Scannell only takes about 10% of submitters, according to

However, duotrope is notoriously generous. Poets & Writers gives TJ a 1-5% acceptance rate on submissions. (

All this adds up to one well-deserved word: Legendary.

The Publisher and Founder of Thieves Jargon is Matt DiGangi, who must be a true outlier in terms of dedication, insane enthusiam and gritty prowess. He is the dark horse Hercules in the world of poetry publication.

Chief Editor Scannell also seems, from my very brief contact, to possess the immersed mind of a fiendish talent--one that sorts through a turbid stream of darkling submissions with the fervor of a gold prospector.

Getting into Thieves Jargon is the kind of event that helps me ward off depression. I can bask in the afterglow even during my gloomiest days. Based on previous experience, this effect lasts up to a year.

(Yes, I’ve been writing poems full-time for eight years now, so I’ve had other memorable moments of joy--but, you know, most of it is a lonely slog, full of mistakes, failures and delusional hopes).

So, I salute Dan Scannell and the godly Matt DiGangi. Or is that a cutpurse’s secret hand signal I'm flashing them? Whatever it is, it’s full of admiration for a very hard working team.

Thank them profusely, if you dare to send in your very best poems for consideration.

Poems accepted: “Unipolar,” “On the Street,” “Ghost In the Machine”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Silver Lining in a Dark Wake

Gay marriage has failed here in my home state of Maine, and I grope for a silver lining in the wake of a dark debacle of bigotry. This sad lapse underscores the danger of a group whose minds are straitjacketed by a vulgar version of a narrow interpretation of a single faith.

Somehow, despite all reasonable evidence, the adamant flocks cling to their notion of God as a heterosexual Father who will vengefully burn gays in hellfire--and anyone else who doesn’t believe and obey HIM.

How to engage with people like this? As long as they stay hermetically sealed in their unassailable dogma, thick-headed as burls, they will drag us all down. They are muscle-brained oxen in human form, and just as readily put in a yoke by whip-tongued preachers.

Their blind arrogance, adrift from the solid ground of justification, is perhaps the greatest threat to humanity’s survival. Fanatics, at the heart, are creatures of intense fear, and their fear leads them to hurt, condemn, oppress and make war against anyone who is a threat; that is, anyone who isn’t kneeling next to them in obeisance to illusion.

They even embrace the “triumph” that the entire world will and should incinerate, preferably in their lifetime. Armageddon is good. They kneel down and beg for this horrible ultimate punishment. It means that Jesus is coming to whisk them to their precious heaven, while the rest of us, the heathens--gay, lesbian, bi and straight--Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Daoist, Jainist, Liberal Christian, atheist, agnostic--fry in an eternal oven.

Secretly, I suspect, many of them are happy about the torture of everyone outside the clique. We deserve it, those of us who refuse to lay down our philosophy and join in the irrational reverence of the God of Bronze Age goat herders. Verily, we have earned our reward, those of us who think that partaking of the Tree of Knowledge is a good thing, as opposed to a damning sin.

Yes, they have their victory today, by a 4% margin. But it could be worse. At least we were not voting whether black people should be slaves.

How sad it must have been for antebellum abolitionists, incessantly fighting, always losing to sick denial; and having to look each new day at humans chained up, flogged to ribbons, degraded and branded, stuffed into ships shoulder to shoulder, crammed in like abused chattel.

Yes, it could be worse. But it still needs to get better.

Marc Mutty and the Catholic Diocese of Portland should be particularly ashamed. They embody the anchor of ignorance.

However, the following passage from today's Bangor Daily News is very disturbing, and from the pro-gay-marriage side:

In a defiant speech to several hundred lingering supporters, No on 1 campaign manager Jesse Connolly pledged that his side “will not quit until we know where every single one of these votes lives.” ("Gay Marriage Repealed in Maine")

Connolly, justifiably upset, makes a stupid threat here, or what could be so interpreted. Although I'm liberal through and through, I can't condone this sort of invidious remark. Connolly should apologize to the Yes on 1 Campaign forthwith.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Acceptance In Nibble Poetry Mag .... Kinda

Jeff Fleming of Nibble Poetry Magazine has published me! ... Well, sort of. When I clicked on the mag for a gander, a sudden frisson hit me behind the eyes, the one I get when I unexpectedly encounter my name in print.

Yes, there was my name, and above it the cover letter I had sent to Editor Fleming, along with five hopeful poems, which were nowhere to be seen. But he had published my cover letter!

And guess what? I’m happy about it. It might not be my poetry, but, hey, it’s my writing, right?

Aside from the substantial needs of my artsy ego, there is another reason I was happy to see my cover letter in print: I think it instructive of how to be respectful of editors. Let me explain, but first, I am proud to present my much honored and PUBLISHED cover letter:


Dear Editor Fleming,

What's this about three novels sitting in a box in your garage? I'm
impressed (or is that aghast?)

The other thing I just have to mention is that poignant two dollar bill someone sent you on the verge of being evicted. Serious? That nearly made me cry.

My brief bio is below, and the vagrant poems showing up at your door.

Editors are the lifeblood of the poetry world, and you seem full of vigor, panache and wit, a great presence! Thank you truly for considering my work.

I bow down to you.

Most Sincerely,

[Owl Who Laughs]


Editors do an awful lot of demanding work behind the scenes. We submitters don’t see their concentration and effort, let alone acknowledge it, nearly enough. In my cover letters, I take the time to show that I’ve done some reading of the journal. I point out some things about the editor’s style that I like, and also a few topics that intrigue me.

Yes, it is true, 99.99% of the time the editors are far more important to the poetry community than the poet submitting. And yet cover letters are often completely insensitive to this.

Never lie in your cover letter, of course. Take the time to read your target journal and give deserved kudos. If you can’t find anything to compliment, well, this isn’t the journal for you, is it?

If you take the time to read, you might realize you’ve found a gem. I think this is true in the case of Nibble. Editor Fleming has incorporated elements of traditional journal and blog feed into his savvy site. He’s published some of the great people’s poets of our day, like A.D. Winans. The format of Nibble feels almost alive, a parade of fresh poems and surprises--like my cover letter suddenly showing up.

Check it out!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Some People Don't Want Gay Marriage

The reason why some people don’t want gay marriage is the same reason many still don’t want interracial marriage--a longstanding bias built into their culture and reinforced by the brute weight of tradition.

And what is tradition, in this sense, except an excuse to be biased? And what is culture, in this guise, except an insidious software?

Get a clue: the human brain resembles a computer in relevant ways. It can be programmed. And the programs readily transmit from head to head, generation to generation. The process of molding children includes a good old fashioned brainwash. The goal is to habituate thought into a straight line.

Children are born malleable to facilitate the data transfer. This is evolution’s way of rewarding survival. Unfortunately these are not the best strategies, merely attempts; and when they include the baggage of religion--as opposed to, say, techniques for catching fish or cooking poison out of a certain kind of berry--they are particularly prone to inefficiency and obsolescence.

Read: injustice.

Traditional belief systems that started out as means of survival, and then mutated into sacrosanct feedback loops, have built up mountains of wrongness. Not just mistakes. Atrocious wrongness.

Think of the millennia when women went uneducated and were little more than abused servants. Think of the millennia in which gays and lesbians were condemned and destroyed. Think of the broad stretches of time when innovation, whether in art or science, was the enemy.

Think of all the wasted hope, the unheard pain, the punished truth, and the tortured innocence. From the first kingdoms of Sumer and Babylon to the McCarthyism of the US Empire, the norm has been to lock the human mind in a mental dungeon, overseen by despotic social rules.

And yes these rules have a life of their own, far beyond the strength of any one person to change them. They are the machine code of the Subconscious. In this sense, we all live together in a kind of quasi-Matrix, a lá Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne.


Read: despicable injustice that is designed to reproduce and delude as many minds as it can. A cerebral parasite that perhaps, long ago, might have been a tad symbiotic.

Why don’t some people want gay marriage? They are programmed by a willful self-perpetuating mechanism.

Wake up, please. Become more than numb iterations.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Praise for Poet PJ Nights

Maine poets and journals are particularly dear to me, for that is where I dwell, in a secluded corner, no less, fifty miles from the nearest traffic light. One of the most impressive poets and editors in the entire state is PJ Nights. She has done about as much for poetry as anyone here.

For the last six years, PJ has run an outstanding journal: From East to West: Bicoastal Verse. You can find it on the web:

It not only features Maine poets, but provides a bridge across the nation. Not an insular zine, content to focus on local color and parochial pride, From East To West is consistently vanguard in terms of daring work that flouts the norm, questing after a fresh lens on everything from hooved wilderness to global imbroglios and brow-knitting angst.

PJ has bolstered the value and importance of her journal through a longstanding practice: inviting writers in Maine and elsewhere to present a featured selection of their work, alongside a detailed biography. East To West is, in toto, an historically important document, where Mainers can learn about veteran poets in detail.

Her outreach has another benefit: a self-esteem boost, much needed in the rejection-fraught realm of writing. I can speak from personal experience here. PJ contacted me a few years ago, out of the blue. I was suffering through depression, pining away, and her sudden reinforcement gave me confidence and strength. She has done this for many dedicated eccentrics over the years, and deserves more kudos than she will ever get. Such is the fate of all editors, but especially the good ones.

So, in my own little way, I would like to offer a great big THANK YOU to PJ Nights for years of enriching the literary world and upping the morale of those of us who curse over a scribble-filled sheet of tormented paper.

Last but not least, PJ is a world class poet. Below is a sample. You can see her mastery of language and nuance, her ability to artistically navigate the complexities of life, exemplified in the poem below by a tortuous relationship.

You’ll also see that her writing is brilliantly triadic, joining the psychological, the scientific, and the occult. She teaches physics and has aptly employed the insights of that esoteric discipline, adding a layer of meaning to her literary canvas. The reader gets wowed by a fusion of aesthetic wordplay, existential inference, and the relativistic shape of reality itself.

Brava, PJ! A big Horned Hoot of Approval!

Owl out.



towards a unified theory

what we are comes of chance collisions,
encounters with flotsam — offal and plums

floating in a flood of language we choose
what remains — the fantastic: your coat a sail

on the icy pond, you whooping and flying
on your skates as if caught in a griffin’s claws

the everyday: gossiping as we hang our wet jeans
on the line when we can’t afford the dryer

mornings are a salvo of love promises,
afternoons we come undone, spiraling apart

in our bubble chamber, evenings we calm
ourselves doing mathematics on the fingers

of clocks each day’s unspoken words
become our fluttered history, orbiting us

like the gold planets of an orrery (though much
less neatly as if gravity threatens to let go)

in night’s hallucinations we find ourselves
lassoed, one to the other

copyright PJ NIGHTS