Monday, November 07, 2016

Voting for the Baby Killer

A common tactic of politicians – and worse, their followers– is fear. Instead of providing good reasons to vote for their candidate, they tell me why I should be afraid of the opponent. Both sides do it, and it is quite effective. It helps all politicians to avoid actually having to work for their points, but gets their most ardent and extreme followers to do the work for them.

So it is no surprise that having expressed that we might vote for a Democratic candidate, my wife and I are often assailed with the accusatory question, "So you're going to vote for the baby killer?" This is intended to fill me with fear and revulsion, because of course no one wants to see babies killed, or even think about babies being destroyed. I see this as a common tactic of the right to employee against people like myself who, though being Christian, lean politically to the left, where presumably all of us believe in a woman's right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Remember that to most Republicans, to vote Democratic, in any way, is to vote for the devil.

And I must admit, the question does put me into a moral and philosophical quandary. Because I actually am one of those people, in a very small minority, who still believe that at the moment of conception a human being is formed. However, I believe that the question demonstrates that most people have actually missed the point. And in this case I believe it is Republicans who have grossly oversimplified the question in order to mask the horrible, inhuman, ideologies which many Republicans espouse.

Here’s the thing: I believe that to be pro-life, one must be pro living.

To take the argument where it really needs to go, conservatives have to understand that the babies they want to come into the world need food and shelter and clothing, and most conservatives are not willing to provide that. In fact, most conservatives have chosen to vilify and demonize anyone in need. Further, because of a number of inconsistent and baffling, and frankly made up moral ideals, most conservatives also have worked to block any sort of birth control that would keep pregnancy from occurring in the first place. Thus, it is Republicans who create more abortions.

The word innocent, as in "innocent babies being murdered" to use the phrase of fear mongers, implies a level of deservedness. So, supposedly an unborn child deserves to be born, even though that person has actually done nothing wrong or right to deserve death or life. But let us say, for the sake of argument, the conservatives are right and that by having done nothing wrong, an unborn child does not deserve to be destroyed. Then why is it that a born child does not deserve food and shelter and clothing on the basis of what his or her parents may or may not have done? If conservatives -- who use the Bible as a weapon to try to claim that unborn children deserve life -- are honest, then they have to understand that Christianity is based not on what people deserve. If this vision of the Bible is correct, then no one deserves anything. The psalmist states, “[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:23-24, emphasis mine). Therefore, the whole argument about what is right and wrong concerning or based on whether someone deserves something is invalid.

Four years ago, conservatives touted their candidate, Mitt Romney, as a "job creator." Now many of them are willing to put their vote behind a man whose bankruptcies have cost other people thousands of jobs, and yet he has not had to pay the price for his business failures. This is a man who is willing to see other people out of work as long as he keeps his own britches. This is a man who does not pay his bills. And when someone tries to sue him in order to get what they are owed, he uses his lawyers to put those people out of business. It seems reasonable to me to expect those who supposedly value human life to be on the side of those whose lives are irreparably damaged by this person.

I had to accept years ago that it really does not matter who is president when it comes to abortion. The legality of abortion is never going to change. Whether Clinton or Trump are occupying the White House, it will still be legal for women to terminate a pregnancy under particular circumstances, and under very strict guidelines (which Trump claims, but cannot prove, are frequently circumvented). Abortion as a topic is just something that gets everybody all excited and angry and afraid. Call me fatalistic, but barring Trump’s implied rebellion and a paramilitary takeover of this country, the legality of abortion procedures is not going to change.

I frankly do not like Mrs. Clinton. And I don't believe she is going to be a great president. I do believe that she will be able to help protect the access to birth control that will prevent more unwanted pregnancies, and therefore more abortions. It may well be that Hillary Clinton is very interested in herself, and her personal agendas. But those agendas may well be what protects more human life than the lie that comes from Mr. Trump. To Donald Trump, a man who has been captured in war is not a hero. To Donald Trump a poor person is not deserving of any benefit, but a “loser.” To Donald Trump a disabled person is fodder for jokes, and that women should be judged on their physical attractiveness to him and their willingness to have sex with him. Donald Trump believes that America will be great only when he is in charge of it. This man is a child. And I don't understand why we would vote for an adolescent whose libido is the driving force of his decisions.

So yes, I am voting for the supposed baby killer. And the reason is I value human life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

An insightful, but slightly lacking portrait of one of America's most influential writers

Dashiell Hammett: Man of MysteryDashiell Hammett: Man of Mystery by Sally Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This biography of one of the greatest crime writers is a bit too Freudian for my tastes in the beginning, and since it contains so much about his relationship with Lillian Hellman and his struggles against red-scare tinged U.S. Government, I think it ends a bit abruptly. There should have been some about the difficulty Hellman had in getting Hammett (twice a veteran) buried at Arlington.
On the other hand, the book is well researched, often contesting accounts in previous biographies. It is quite readable, and provides unflinching insight into Hammett's fiction as well as his lengthy writer's block. It may be even more valuable in what it tells us about not only his complicated relationships with his wife and Hellman, but also his influence and help on Hellman's celebrated plays.
This book is not just for Hammett scholars, but a good read for anyone interested in some of the history of the United States, as seen through the life of unique and surprisingly influential person.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Essential Poet

Collected PoemsCollected Poems by Jack Gilbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a number of theories I won't bore you with to explain why Jack Gilbert isn't better known. Instead, I suggest that every person who claims to love poetry buy this collection (or one of the terrific volumes represented in it), read the work of this real and accessible master craftsman, and then buy another copy to donate to a library or to give a friend.

Gilbert wrote of love and loss, common themes for poetry, but like no other poet I know. And yet, his poems, for the suffering a reader might imagine was involved in the writing of them, are also life affirming. In "Half The Truth," he writes, "God has put off his panoply and is at home with us." Elsewhere we have the assertion, "I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,/but just coming to the end of his triumph." And in "A Kind of Decorum," the poet states, "my spirit sings like the perishing cicadas/while I sit in the back yard hitting an old pot."

Here also are poems earthy and philosophical without ornament to obfuscate. In "I Imagine the Gods," the speaker is given three wishes, and asks to eat not luxurious food, but "the great hog/stuffed and roasted on its giant spit/and put out, steaming, into the winter/of my neighborhood when I was usually/too broke to afford even the hundred grams." When told he could be given wisdom, he asks to go and see a woman he was too afraid to be with. Then the gods say they could make him famous again. His response is splendid:

Let me fall in love one last time, I beg them.
Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me to find
the heft of these days.
That the nights will be full enough and my heart feral.

This book contains all five of Gilbert's volumes plus twenty-one previously uncollected poems. Most of these last pieces are not a striking as the others in the collection, but they are still good, and round the book out nicely.

I cannot more strongly recommend this book to poets and readers. Jack Gilbert's name should be familiar to everyone in love with the written word. In fact, I suspect if his poems were read by students, there would be more people in love with poetry.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Notes on 2016 North Texas Teen Book Festival

So I attended the North Texas Teen Book Festival with my wife and son. I'm not a writer of teen books or a teacher of teens, but my wife works in a library, and specializes in children's and adolescent literature. We are all readers, and I always think I can learn something with these programs. What you see below are notes, taken on my phone and quickly edited, of my experience. At the end, I'll give you a couple of general thoughts about the experience, ideas I hope you will take with a grain of salt, as I am very much an outsider.

No mugs in the swag shop. 

Keynote speaker Holly Black
"Why Magic?" 
--won some sort of award 
--applause when she said she would never write anything but fantasy. 
--quoting Tolkien 
--straw man argument
--ghost named Robbie
--folk tale to illustrate belief/fear of fairies
--fantasy helps us "look at ordinary things in a new way" (ugh)
--what Magisterium series is about 
-- Callum's (sp) fears are "like mine"
{left to retrieve something for my wife}

Arrived late for a panel titled "A Class of Their Own" 
--description: "All men are NOT created equal in these society stories." Panel of all women
--one other male (working event) (one photographer came later)
--one author referenced Nina Simone "It's a New Day"
"Old husband people"
--one boy showed up late
--almost skipped president question
-- interesting looking books
--"writing as a woman is political" (Elissa Sussman)
Some dissing of English teachers/assignments

{tasked to stand in line for tickets for author signings}

Teenagers and 35-40 year old women looking at me like I'm a pervert while I stand in line for my wife for authors I don't know and don't care about. I'm here a freaking hour and a half when the line starts to move. Teens letting people in line. 

Afterward, I can't get into anything, and so I wait. Then I think maybe I can sneak into one of the panels, but the only one I am interested in won't let anybody in even though they are not full.

So I try to find my son. I figure he's going to the panel on time travel, only I can't find it. I guess they went to a different place than what was on the damn schedule. I suppose I will enjoy the irony of that later.

Ah! I find it. However, it is also closed: "this room has reached full capacity." And of course there is no place to sit, and I realize that with a room full of people -- most of them children, and the rest mommies of children, and just mommies-- I can't say any fucking cuss words. 

Phone about to die. We both forgot to bring plugs. 

Mom and son picking books before signing. 

While waiting in line, Whovian Max holds court over favorite doctors. 

Covertly taken photo of guy who wrote The Maze Runner. Apparently he's some kind of big deal.   

Sarah Dessen. I accidentally had her autograph a book to my wife instead of the daughter who bought it. 

Soman Chainani: a very nice who wrote a nice inscription for my daughter Tina. 

And then, while waiting for my wife to return from her second trip to get Holly Black's autograph, my phone died. 

This guy pretended he wasn't glad to see me when I got home. 

So here are some takeaways from the event/experience:
First the good--
  • It is always exciting to see so many young people who like to read, and the fact that the line for Holly Black was longer than the one for James Dashner (for whom you had to have tickets in order to get an autograph) tells me that these kids aren't just there because of a movie. When kids have writers as heroes, you can feel a little better about the world.
  • Pretty knowledgeable and helpful volunteers and staff. I had a lot of questions, and was lost a lot. Was never steered wrong or given a teenage eye roll with "Go ask someone else."
  • Authors seemed quite personable (though I personally did not talk to any).
  • Seriously glad that they had strong, well attended panel over LGBT issues/writing/readers.

Now the not so good--
  • I know I am not the audience here, but I take exception with the constant implication that English teachers and adults are out to stop kids from reading what they perceive are dangerous books. Come on! Do we have to make everything look like an us against the world thing?
  • The idea that three authors were so dang important that fans had to stand in a special line to get tickets to get their autographs does not sit well with me. That some people paid $100 or $200 for special packages to spend a handful of minutes with these writers reminds me of baseball players who are paid millions and then charge kids for the privilege to get an autographed card.
  • No bookmarks or coffee mugs in the swag shops? Really? Do they know anything about readers?
  • It baffles me that something as large as this could not find a couple of poets or put together a panel on poetry. We know every third angsty teenager is scribbling poems in notebooks. There are poets who would be happy to spend time talking to young readers and their parents and teachers. When you omit something like this, you tell people it isn't important.
  • Speaking of unimportant, why were so few men involved? I believe there were less than ten male authors, and the board and staff that put this event together is made up completely of women. What do you think such a thing says to the young boys at this crucial time of life when much of how they respond to reading is getting formed?

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Masterful Tribute to Charlie Haden

I have spent my morning listening to this wonderful tribute to the late bassist and composer Charlie Haden. Most of the tunes are remarkable Haden compositions, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who played with the master on several terrific albums, handles each of them with an intuitive touch. Even "Hermitage," a Pat Metheny piece Haden recorded with his Quartet West, sounds as if it was taped inside the brain of jazz. The backing band has no slouches, giving the material the honor and empathy it deserves. But most importantly, this is fine, fine music. Rich in texture, and deep in soulfulness, Charlie should fill the heart of any room with delight.

Listen to the album on iTunes.

This song isn't on the disc, but I like it:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Drifting Along with Hammock

I cannot stop listening to Everything and Nothing. Just getting into "Post-rock," Hammock is new to me, but they have been around a long time, and everything they do is shimmering gold sonic goodness. But this project, rivaling Oblivion Hymns in strength and intensity, just does me in. There are the haunted words and ethereal vocals in tunes like "Dissonance" and "We Were So Young." But most of the songs are instrumentals that which range from ambient moodscapes to pulsing rock, perfect for driving under a wide open sky. The textures created by guitarists Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson are always a delight, even when it is clear the songs address sadness and the transitory nature of life. Whether you are drifting under the stars or watching someone you love drift from your grasp, this is the soundtrack of your movie.

Listen to this album on Spotify.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Meditation XXXVII--Manipulating Ourselves into Slavery

Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
In John's account of the "trial" of Jesus, we have two moments that I have always read as distinct and separate moments, related only in that they are part of the narrative of Christ's crucifixion. After Pilate has had Jesus whipped and humiliated, he brings out the soon to be condemned and says, "Behold your king!" The crowd says, "Away with him. Crucify him!" Pilate responds with the question, "Shall I crucify your king?" to which they respond: "We have no king but Caesar."

It is clear the Jews here did not completely believe this, as the messiah they were hoping for was one who would overthrow the government they lived under. But for the rulers who wanted Jesus gone, the oppression of the Romans was beneficial. It gave them a common enemy to rally the commoners against (in words, not actions), and yet a structure that allowed them to keep power. So the declaration is merely an attempt to manipulate Pilate into killing Jesus.

But what they have done is swear loyalty to the state (not God). It is not only that they do not see Jesus as God. They also see the state's authority, when it suits their purpose, as greater than God's.
When Jesus is put to death, Pilate has written over the cross "the King of the Jews," which shows the state's power over the Jewish nation. The Jewish authorities complain, and say Pilate should change the phrase to "This man claimed to be the king of the Jews." Maybe they get it finally. Maybe they see that Pilate may have been manipulated to kill a single person, but they have signed an extension on their submission to the ruling power.

Does this sound familiar? In America, some see loyalty to God (or their idea of God) and loyalty to the country (or one's idea of country) as the same thing. Of course, they manipulate the words and the ideas so that loyalty is something that has little to do with godliness or reasonable citizenry. They cherry pick portions of the Constitution to fit their paranoia or thirst for dominion, and, having no real sense of the scriptures they claim guide them, turn those few, misquote phrases into their own scriptures.  They are slaves to fear and/or power, and so manipulate the masses with their fake God talk or fake talk of freedom and rights, unaware that they are dragging not only those they rule, but also themselves into deeper bondage.

Lord, save us from thinking our rights supersede your command to love. Help us to seek your peace instead of your power. Demonstrate your strength in our weakness. Amen in Christ.