Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tenuous Tenacity

Life is a calm room,
 hurricane raging outside,
 paper walls between.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Maybe You Have Two Cows

There are some descriptions of various political systems running around the net that are expressed in terms of you having two cows and how each political system affects you.

Here’s one about Democratic Socialism that a friend quoted on Facebook:

Democratic Socialism
You have 2 cows.
You pay your taxes.
You now have free healthcare and free college
 and a government that isn’t owned by billionaires.

I don’t find this to be as useful as it could be. Its tone hints that Democratic Socialism isn’t carefully thought through. Or, at least, that’s how the opposition spins it, unquestioned by media.

I would prefer something more plain and to-the-point. Then again, I don’t know if this describes Democratic Socialism. It just describes what I want. Yet somehow I doubt that Bernie would disagree with a lot of this:

Common Sense Politics
 (as interpreted by Kent Pitman)
Maybe you have 2 cows, maybe not.
Many have far less. Can we stop pretending everyone has it good? People are getting left behind.
People making enough to have a surplus
 pay tax on surplus.
Why are we taxing people who have less than they need to get by? So we can give it back to them later and call ourselves heroes? Leave them alone and get the money we need from the people who can afford it.
Forget this “skin in the game” crap
 about why everyone should pay tax.
Being poor IS having skin in the game. No additional reminder is necessary. The poor are not parasites, they are people society has failed.
And anyway, if you want fewer people, fund birth control.
Rich people pay their fair share
 and stop calling it pain.
Less luxury is not pain. Of course the money for a society is going to come from those who have a surplus. To do otherwise is irresponsible or inhumane.
Corporations pay tax on surplus, too.
Profitable corporations don’t need or ask for subsidies.
And it should go without saying, but...
Corporations are not People.
Corporations pay a living wage.
So employees don’t have to ask for government subsidy. Duh.
The military doesn’t get to waste money either.
No more buying stuff we don’t need just to supply pork to someone’s district.
A healthy and educated society benefits us all.
We pay for these collectively out of society’s surpluses, not by making people choose between these things and basic needs. And we stop calling the money that society pays for these things “expenses.” They are “investments.” It’s not “should we spend on healthcare or education?” but “should we invest in healthcare or education?”
To decide our future, we count citizens, not dollars.
Everyone should participate. Yet another reason education matters: We need well-informed voters. But it’s citizens, not dollars, that need a voice. Money always speaks loudly. Government is supposed to counterbalance that. Any suggestion that money needs a voice in politics misses the point of the Constitution, which assigns no special privilege to wealth, but rather takes it as given that we are all equal.
End Citizens United.
End gerrymandering.
Make voter registration easy and fair.
Fix Climate.
Or none of the rest of this will matter.

But, either way... Go Bernie!

Author’s Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Packaged Terror

After 9/11 we were in a daze, a fog that wouldn’t lift, as if the dust and debris of the towers had spread nationwide. It wasn’t clear at the time whether this was an isolated attack, or the first of many.

As if in answer came the anthrax mailings, about a week or so later. That compounded the daze. It was a strange time, and we were all uneasy.

The terrorists only did a little of the job, you see. They killed a few thousand, traumatized a couple of cities. But to make it a really national event, a global event, that required the media and the government. Each in their own way opportunists, they were—and continue to be—complicit.

We were asked to be vigilant about suspicious packages. At the time, that seemed prudent, almost welcomed. There is such an urge to do something in response to an awful happening. It’s an emotional need. A hunger that must be fed.

It was against this backdrop that I soon found a box hanging from my mailbox. Not in it. Just hanging from it. In a bag.

Never mind that I was no one anyone had ever heard of, living in a small town in the middle of nowhere anyone cared about. One’s own life always seems so much bigger and more important than most lives probably are. We all need to feel important.

The package said it was from my health insurance carrier, which to some less vigilant soul might have seemed fine, but I wasn’t taking “routine” for an answer. I hadn’t asked them for anything. I had no reason to suppose they would send me anything. And we were admonished to be suspicious, so suspicious we were.

After all, only the post office is allowed to put something in my mailbox. And this package wasn’t in the mailbox, just hung from it in a plastic bag, probably by someone willing to dispense anthrax but fearful of prosecution for improper use of a mailbox. That seemed to make sense. The kind of sense that people who live in fear are likely to make. The kind of sense that felt good to me. Never mind the fact that the package probably wouldn’t have fit in the mailbox in the first place, if this manner of delivery wasn’t an outright confession of guilt, it at least had “suspicious package” written all over it.

So I called the health insurance folks to check. “No,” they said. They had not sent it. In fact, the return address was an office that was not even open any more.

Well, that was disturbing.

I wanted to go to the FBI or something. But we had no such office in our tiny town. I wondered if perhaps they had trucks that went town to town, looking for possible anthrax mailings and carting them back to FBI Central. So I went to the post office and asked them. I don’t think they were prepared. The government was prepared to scare us, but not to address our fears.

“Go to the fire department,” they said. I shrugged and did.

They seemed as confused as the post office. They suggested the police department, and off I went.

The policemen puzzled at the box I was carrying and finally one of them said “Come with me.”

So I followed as we walked outside to where some kids were playing basketball in an open area with lots of cement on the ground. The policeman shooed the kids away, taking control of the space for his own clever plan.

“Stand back,” the policeman said, aiming a gun at the box.


I tried to explain that it was anthrax I was worried about, and that a gun seemed the wrong idea.

It was too late. He had shot it.

Fortunately, since we were standing much too close and the kids would have probably never gotten to come back to play, there was no explosion. Nor was there any powder.

We opened the box. It was a catalog.

I called the health insurance company back. “Oh that,” they said with a kind of verbal shrug. “Yeah, maybe they still do catalogs out of that office.”

I worry a lot about terrorism these days, but not always about what the terrorists will do to us. Now I have a new worry: What we’ll do in response to the terror. What we’ll let our government do in our name, just so they can feel good having done something. Seeing that event, and that pointless act, an act so stupid you’d think it was fiction if you hadn’t been there to watch it, it was easier to understand how we started a pointless war.

And I don’t know what’s weirder—that he did that or that I stood by and let him. It was weird what they did, but it was also weird that I just went along with it. Looking back, I guess it was more caught up in that societal daze than I had realized.

But it’s who we are, we human beings, all of us. We’re easily afraid, and then more easily corralled. We need to know our propensities, and to recognize when they’re overtaking us, lest the simple option of exercising sanity elude us at the most critical of times.

Author’s Notes: If you got value from this post, please Share it.

I never got around to telling this story when it first happened, but in light of recent events in Paris, and my worry about the selfish manipulation of politics that will inevitably follow, I decided perhaps it was finally time. After more than a dozen years, one or two details might be off in small ways, but it’s the moral that matters, that we’re vulnerable in times like this—not just to terrorists, but to our own terrors and to those who would exploit them.

For more on the politics of preying on fear, I heartily recommend Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Passing of the Salmon

“I have some bad news,” the bartender tells me, just recently, in fact. I prepare myself for the worst. She’s getting to know me quite well and probably actually knows the things that matter to me, I realize.

I don’t drink, mind you, but I’m there several times a week. I drink diet coke and ask them to take their ahi tuna salad and substitute salmon. I’m pretty regular about that. It’s not typical bar food, I suppose, but it suits me.

I like salmon. I eat it a lot. I have a couple ounces for breakfast. And it’s a common thing for me to eat when I eat out.

“I have some bad news,” she says again, making sure she has my attention, and that I’m prepared. “They’re changing the menu. There’s not going to be any more salmon.”

I am stunned. I stare at her in anguish. It’s what she expected, and she seems sad. She knew this wouldn’t sit well. But I explain.

“The salmon were going away anyway,” I explain. “I always expected that. They’ll be extinct. And often when I eat salmon, I think, I’m really going to miss this. I just didn’t expect it so soon, and for this reason.”

There are still salmon in the world. That’s good at least. But she’s right that I’ll be sad when I come to the restaurant. Still, maybe it’s a wake-up call. Practice. The salmon aren’t quite gone, like the rest of the ecology. Climate change mostly, though we’re fishing out the oceans anyway, and not taking very good care of anything else.

I expect mankind itself to go extinct inside of 20 years. It’s not going to be pretty. Maybe if we started saying it out loud now, it would hit us in time to do something.

I’m going to miss the salmon, when it happens for real.

And soon after that, humanity itself.

Though whatever’s left probably won’t miss us.

Author's Note: I attended a Cary Tennis writing workshop this last weekend. This is one of the stories I wrote. The writing prompt was:
Visualize something you really love. Use the phrase “I'm going to miss you.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Martian Unjustly Triumphs Over Gravity

Author's Note: To clarify, this essay was written and posted Wednesday, September 9, 2015, before The Martian reached theatres, and certainly before I ever saw it. I hear it's due out October 2. I hope and expect it will be excellent, and yet...

I know it's a little early in the game, but I want to be the first to complain that Matt Damon won is going to win the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Mark Watney in The Martian when Sandra Bullock didn't win for her portrayal of Ryan Stone in Gravity.

Oh, it isn't that I didn't won't enjoy his performance. He's a great actor. But The Martian is such a brilliant movie with such a strong story line, that I'm pretty sure I could have won the Academy Award myself had I been cast in the role.

In fact, I came away from reading The Martian with the distinct impression that while, yes, this character is pretty amazing with his ability to come up with good ideas and do back-of-the-envelope calculations, what really gets him through the ordeal is his sense of humor. His teammates who left him behind seem like smart folks, but I bet they would not have survived a similar ordeal because they seem to lack this critical attribute. And this core survival skill, humor, is carried in the character's language, in the words the Mark Watney character would say, no matter who played the part.

I'm not saying Damon is bad at delivering lines. He's great at that, in fact. It's just that to play the character of Mark Watney well, it just isn't necessary to be all that great. The lines themselves exude greatness and the Oscar for best screenplay rightly acknowledges that. But Damon's chief contribution to this movie isn't his performance but his box office appeal.

By contrast, Bullock really took Gravity from a few bleak lines and some clever special effects and turned it into a personal human drama through the sheer force of her performance. Hers was an Oscar well-earned, yet never realized.

Given time, others will surely join me in acknowledging this grave injustice. And the Academy is increasingly well-known for its biases and blunders, I suppose, so maybe this isn't that much of a surprise. But I just wanted to be first to defend what's still a really fine performance by Bullock, and to say that Damon would have done do well to graciously correct the injustice by sharing his award with her in his acceptance speech.

As I said, it's still early in the game. The coming future seems all too obvious, and yet it's not yet written, so there's still time to break the cycle. Perhaps this time it will be different.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Crayola Paradise Lost

We moved between cool cubes of crisp White after White, neatly aligned,
  topped by meticulous matrices of Indian Red,
    shielding us from the melting heat of suspended Lemon Yellow.

Fading memory conveniently omits the incessant Gray interlopers,
  puffs of wet that daily battle to deny Sky Blue its due dominance above.
    My mind relaxes in shaded memories of only richest Blue.

The tropics surprised me, too, with foliage of Sepia and Yellow Orange,
  even as the defining tapestry was a Forest Green so out-of-the-box lush,
    that the Box Itself later cried for redesign to express such riches:

Jungle Green,
  Tropical Rain Forest,
    even Mango Tango to match the gooey feel
                that danced between my sandaled toes.

A never-ending strip of White along the edge of the Universe,
  ten yards wide, glistening with myriad microscopic flecks of Silver,
    a barrier against the vast Blue Green.

Beyond that loomed a world
  comfortably out of childhood’s sight,
    and incompatible with crayon happiness.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

Originally published September 1, 2014 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Crayola® is a registered trademark of Crayola LLC.

Tags (from Open Salon): youth, memory, recollection, recall, memoir, remembrance, color, colorful, colour, colourful, vivid, impressions, crayola, crayons, crayola crayons, poem, poetry, panama, canal zone, panama canal zone, utopia, paradise, paradise lost, simple, simplicity, tropical, mango, jungle, ocean, beach, sand, sun, sky, rain forest

Background & Context: I took a MOOC online course called How Writers Write Poetry at the University of Iowa’s online arm, Writing University. It was a lot of fun. Most of the lectures and exercises were interesting and useful, as was the the discussion with fellow students and occasional site moderators. This is one of several poems I wrote as part of the class exercises.

They have a course coming up soon called How Writers Write Fiction. It starts Friday, September 26 and runs two months to Friday, November 21.

Memory is a fragile thing, and even those memories we intend to share are difficult to articulate. However, for better or worse, this poem above is my attempt to share some memories of my days in the Panama Canal Zone in the mid 1970’s. The photo below is cropped from a photo I got from a friend, which he represents as being, like my memories, quite old. In any case, he thought it has fallen into the public domain, though I can’t easily verify that. My memories of the simple, crisply drawn colors that characterized that lovely place and time inspired me to write the poem. The photo illustrates a little of that, and the poem hopefully gives you a sense of the full palette.

Speaking of palettes, the Crayola® collection of 64 colors from the time of my youth is something I tried to stick to in the poem. In this regard, I relied on some online lists like those in Wikipedia’s List of Crayola Crayon Colors and another that wasn't quite as complete but was easier to reference. Another offered the timeline in easy form, and still another was just visually compelling, not to mention contained useful RGB values.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Turn at the Darkness

Every poet has died.

I mourn that this night has come.
Yet, as I mourn, I see the morning light.
Poets die, but poetry lives.

Poetry is humanity’s plight.
It is the human fight,
 sacred duty and cherished right.
At times at risk of sounding trite.
Yet, even so, both might and light.

Life itself is poetry played out,
 a chain of existence extending across time,
  each of us the next precious link,
   paced and metered.
We are life’s stanzas,
 but our each existence is a fractally recurring chain as well,
  a daily rhythm of linked events,
   chaos out of which we struggle to see reason and achieve rhyme,
    to distill verse from adversity.
Our personal poems join to form a greater epic poem.

We stand as witness to the miracle of this chain’s creation,
 even as we are the chain itself.
We play within its parts,
 and ultimately we play without them.

Awed by the oddity that is the world around us,
 we turn to poetry for context,
   for understanding,
   for perspective,
   for love,
   and for acceptance.

From first words spoken around a fire,
 to modern social gatherings,
  we have only each other,
   —and our poetry.

Who is next we ask, looking around the room?
 Who will speak for us, to stay the darkness,
  bringing the light, even becoming it,
   if only for this moment.

Maya Angelou spoke,
 and brought such light.
Now she is dead,
 but she is also born—

Her life’s text under constant revision,
 is finally published.

Her link in life’s chain is complete.

And what a joy to have been alive for its creation.

She was EveryPoet, and now EveryPoet has died.
 Her time to stand and speak against the night has run its course.
Her turn played out, she sits to rest.
 But we are left inspired.

She was EveryPoet,
 but EveryPoet will rise in her place.

Even from death’s cage,
 the legacy of EveryPoet sings.
She sings to each of us,
 challenging us to spend our lifetimes actually living,
  seizing the stage and strutting proudly in the light awhile,
   before the coming night.

What option is there?
 Only these:
  Next to live, or
  next to die.

Who will speak next?

Author's Note: Originally published July 4, 2014 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Tags (from Open Salon): comforting, comfort, entertainment, englightenment, light, against the darkness, darkness, everypoet, every poet, storytelling, story, taking a stand, stand, fear, cave, society, fellowship, camaraderie, comradery, love, companionship, sisterhood, brotherhood, inspiration, human condition, humanity, power, loneliness, death, life, tribute, death, maya angelou, angelou, philosophy, art, poetry, poem