Customer Service POEM: On Hold

Holed for service
A fool 40 minutes
Before it curse to me
Awe this while
Writing a verse
And now
Awe is write with the whirled
And still
Feeling somewhat loopy
With Muzak
As the soundtrack of my life
A borrowed cell
To get my net back
As technically
I have no phone
Without it
Beating this conundrum again
Buy perpetually wading
Virtually forever
A least weigh
Passed an hour
As much after
Out to lunch
Liable too due the same
In need of stomaching something else
…and halve an our later
I’m done
With out to lunch
Buckeye CableSystem you suck
The poetry write out of me

I wrote this poem while on hold with Buckeye CableSystem after my internet went out. Unfortunately, my phone runs off of the internet, so I can’t use my phone to call service. I have a landline, no cell phone. I borrowed my neighbor’s cell phone. After 90+ minutes on hold, I decided to hang up and dial again. Fortunately, they answered this time, after about 15 minutes. They had the internet up and running after a few hours. Unfortunately, my phone still doesn’t work, 13 days later, as my telephone provider, Pioneer Telephone, concluded after a week that whatever change Buckeye CableSystem made to the network was blocking the phone service. Perhaps typically, the phone technical service folks didn’t bother to tell me what they had concluded; I just got an e-mail that the ticket was closed. I sent an e-mail copied to both service providers asking them to get together and work this out. I haven’t heard anything yet. Perhaps they tried to call me!! I have been pondering stepping up my media sabbaticals. As I will soon enter week three without phone service, I suppose that I should be careful what I pray for.

Testimony for National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — END DRAFT REGISTRATION

I prepared the below testimony to present at a public meeting in Chicago before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission created by Congress to deal with questions of draft registration, most specifically, whether to end draft registration or expand it to women. The Commission designed the format for this meeting with severely restricted opportunities for general public input. I intend to submit this testimony in written form, but I do not anticipate that I will be able to present it in person. At the end of this testimony is a much shorter statement that I intend to present to the media in Chicago, and directly to the Commission, if possible.

FULL TESTIMONY

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to be here today. I have come from 250 miles away to testify to you about service. I am volunteering my time to testify about that which is involuntary: conscience. I have come much further than 250 miles to be here today…

My testimony is rooted in family history predating the existence of the United States of America.  I am 12th generation in this land now known as the United States of America. In the early 1700’s, my ancestors settled on land given to them by William Penn, on what would come to be known as Pennsylvania. My Mennonite ancestors fled Germany to escape conscription and war.

With that wave of German immigrants and refugees, those that occupied the land had much fear about them ruining life as they new it. Newly-arrived German males age 16 and older were forced to take a loyalty oath to the British crown. The English oath was administered roughshod over the newly arriving boys and men, most of whom spoke only German upon their arrival. Apparently, a nominal and blind oath provided some comfort to those fearful residents already occupying the land.

As the Philadelphia harbor bells rang, signaling new arrivals, people gathered to greet them. Many gathered to welcome family or provide strangers with much needed assistance, knowing what it is like to leave one’s home and arrive in a strange land with little or nothing. Others gathered to enlist indentured servants. Here is my most important question regarding service. Serving freely or serving under coercion — which is the greater service? I submit that serving freely is greater. In this particular case, the free service of hospitality and welcoming outsiders is greater than enlisting indentured servants. In the shared scripture of The People of The Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — a similar exhortation is repeated multiple times: “You must love foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” This service of what may be considered radical hospitality is a time-honored practice of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The humble practice is at the heart of every great faith worldwide. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love because you were first loved. My ancestors, yearning to be free, wanted neither to be the cause of war as soldiers nor the tragic effects of war in its wanton destruction. This was at the heart of my ancestors’ journeys in life. This is my heritage.

More recently, in relation to war and peace, my great-grandfather, during World War II, ran an alternative service camp for conscientious objectors. As for me, I was literally born into service. I was born in 1961 in Haiti, while my parents were serving as medical missionaries, a doctor and nurse, with Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee has long encouraged and empowered years-long terms of service, often overseas. For my Dad, this was also as an alternative service to military service.

In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to this, President Jimmy Carter instituted draft registration of young men my age, ostensibly to send a message of military preparedness to Soviet leaders. I was in the first batch of young men required by U.S. law to register for the draft. However, the prospect of draft registration conflicted with a higher law, my conscience and ultimate commitments. I could not and cannot, in good conscience, participate in war-making. As the clarity of my conscience emerged, I could find no way to register for the military draft, whose sole purpose is preparedness for war. My conscience also dictated that if I was to disobey an unconscionable law, then I was to openly take full responsibly for my actions while I worked to change such a law. I began by writing letters to Selective Service and my elected representatives. I may not have had been well-schooled — yet, anyways — on the politics of waging war or peace, but I was intimately familiar with my conscience and the legal duty that my young male peers and I faced. I was a teenager facing obedience to my conscience. This obedience came at the legal threat of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

I quickly learned that my war resistance is not dependent on geopolitical circumstances, political pendulums, or legal threats. I am already opposed to the next war. Unlike in the pragmatism of war, my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. For me, war is the enemy. Nonetheless, the nearly 40 years since my initial confrontation with draft registration affords me a certain perspective as I have lived through a full cycle of history.  While I was a skinny teenager facing taking on the United States government, the U.S. government was backing the soon-enough-to-be-notorious Osama bin Laden as a so-called “freedom fighter,” leading the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation.  Of course, our support of Osama bin Laden, our enemy’s enemy, turned out to be a deadly lessen in the futility of weaponizing violent radicals in the vain hope that it won’t blowback in further violence on virtually all fronts. Today’s “freedom fighter” is tomorrow’s terrorist. Today’s war seeds tomorrow’s terrorist. Gandhi spoke frequently of the seamless connection of means and ends. War IS terrorism. How can we expect it to produce anything else — with it many “means” and “ends”? In the end, I cannot view warmaking as service to this country, or any country for that madder, certainly not to humanity as a hole. I find warmaking incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to be peacemakers, the children of God.

In speaking with hundreds of Americans over the years about draft registration resistance, I have found that people’s objections to my objections are of two basic types. One type of response is basically that draft registration is such a minimal requirement that it isn’t worth much fuss. If this is the case, then why don’t we just get rid of draft registration, without much fuss? The other type of response is about the utter graveness of our warmaking, and usually something about our national doody. If war is so grave, perhaps the concerns around someone refusing to go postal should receive more thoughtful and consequential consideration. To add insult to injury, in a surreal show of moral farce, war apologists routinely cite “necessary evil” as their moral foundation. This is not the God I serve. Straddling these two poles of minimal and supreme concern, are the tired questions that are asked pacifists, such as: “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother in the ally?” I learned to answer such questions with: “I’d register for the draft.” If their perplexity persisted, they might suggest that I go back to Russia (where I’ve never been) or indicated their inclination to see me face time in jail; presumably, so I am not around to not protect them.

Mean wile, back in 1980, soon after winning the presidential election, Ronald Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration. His campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the backs of people rang hollow, like a hollow bullet to my heart. The media wanted to do a story on this broken promise and how it affected the young men subject to the law, particularly those opposed to it. As it turned out, while there were millions of nonregistrants quietly in violation of the law, I was the only local public nonregistrant that they could track down, and I soon found myself highlighted in various media for years to come.

To make a long story shorter, in 1983, I was indicted for failure to register — I prefer refusal to register. In 1986, I was tried and convicted. My indiscriminate honesty more than compensated for their lack of investigatory skills. I served 107 days in the federal Community Corrections Center in Detroit, served two years probation, and served 200 hours of community service. I can’t help but note, today, since the theme is “service,” that the solution to my singular failure was to rip me from my community in order to integrate me back into my community. Plus, the court had to bean-count community service that you couldn’t have stopped me from serving anyway.

Of course, there were larger forces at work. I, and a select few others, had to be made examples of. I, for One, am proud of the example I served. In the case of The United States of America vs. Daniel A. Rutt, there was a focus on my failure/refusal. In the meantime, I had finished college, got married, finished graduate school, had a son, and got a job. I went on to serve in a public health career of almost two decades. I even got a national award from the feds for my work in health promotion — thanks for noticing, U.S. of A. For the last 16 years, I have run my own business promoting social justice.

I do not consider my time imprisoned or countless hours engaging in war resistance as any great burden. In fact, I consider this as service to my country and humanity. I do suspect that most any person who did a tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan has suffered more than I.  Unfortunately, war is replete with suffering. Of course, suffering is of no great inherent value. Nonetheless, whatever we willingly suffer for is a good measure of what we truly value. I hope that more Americans, whether male or female, young or old, will volunteer to put more skin in the game and resist war in any way they can. I believe that the cost of freedom is found in not killing, rather than killing. As General Patton so infamously stated, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

It is impossible for me to separate my service from my conscience. Conscience is that small still voice that emanates from the foundation of our existence, that calls us, at the risk of trademark infringement, to be all that we can be. My war resistance is deeply rooted in following Jesus, The Prince of Peace. The Jesus I follow was executed as an enemy of the state. He was executed at the behest of the religious elite. Today, the religious elite dutifully save themselves and their clan, more faithfully blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war, more conveniently blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war. The first wave of martyrs in early Christendom were men who refused military service. The broader wave of martyrs were Jesus followers who refused idolatry, the literal and figurative “pinch of incense on the altar” to Caesar.

For me, draft registration is that “pinch of incense on the altar” of the state. When it comes to military service, in the great U.S.A., there is no “one nation under God.” When it comes to military service, The United States of America is God. Specifically, The United States of America, does not recognize ANY Constitutional right to refuse military service for ANY reason, including conscience or freedom of religion. As we all know, the U.S. Constitution provides for many rights, rights that cannot be infringed upon by the state. There are many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to equal protection under the law, among others. These are often referred to as natural rights or God-given rights. Such rights define the character of a state, and place limits on its sovereignty, recognizing a power greater than itself. The United States of America, does not recognize ANY natural or God-given right to refuse military service for ANY reason. If you are surprised by this, so was I. I count this as the singular lesson that I learned in my draft registration resistance. This sad and idolatrous reality was unmasked only by a federal judge citing a Supreme Court case in a legal opinion rejecting my motion for dismissal on the basis of religious freedom. Fortunately, I have found that God’s grace extends further than legislative grace or constitutional provision of this republic. I strongly suspect that tens of millions of Americans of faith recognize that holy obedience sometimes requires civil disobedience.

My male ancestors age 16 plus who arrived to this land so many years ago were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the government, even though most didn’t even speak the language in which the oath was administered. This didn’t even seem to matter to government officials. Why is this? I suspect that the nominal and incomprehensible oath was a “pinch of incense on the altar,” a ritual form of national worship needed by a resident populace afraid of strangers. The minimal content of the oath served as a safe and surefire way to maximize compliance and minimize resistance. Who would get back on the boat and return across the sea because they had to mouth or sign an incomprehensible swearing. Who would not submit their name and basic information to the Selective Service System? Well, most young men do not register when they first become legally required. Most young men, hoping to go somewhere, register when they need to secure a driver’s license, or when they reach the shore of an education, needing a student loan.

I suspect that the ritual obedience of a “pinch of incense on the altar” may be more important than an actually functioning, fair and equitable system of potential conscription. Conspicuously absent from the Selective Service annual report is the noncompliance rate with the requirement for registrants to update their address (within 10 days) every time they move. Every observant person knows that 18-25 year-old men move a lot. How many address updates do they get? How many address updates don’t they get? Surely, this can be estimated, and certainly it matters if one actually cares about being able to effectively and fairly enlist young men in a potential draft. The noncompliance rate for initial registration is 8% for all 18-25 year-old men. I strongly suspect that the noncompliance with current address is much higher than noncompliance with initial registration; probably, in combination, high enough to blow a hole in any contention that draft registration is effective and fair. By the way, those young men not complying with address updates are subject to the same legal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In FY 2017, 184,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to initial registration were provided to the Department of Justice. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the names and addresses of suspected violators are forwarded? If the Selective Service System has the names and addresses of potential enlistees, what else do they need?

I contend that what Selective Service is largely after is your assent to civil obedience, participation in a national religion of warmaking, your “pinch of incense on the altar,” if you will. This seems to be a better characterization of Selective Service’s function than, in the case of a military draft, to “rapidly provide personnel in a fair and equitable manner.” Oddly, if you find yourself a male age 26 or older, beyond the age requirement to register, and you failed to register, you could still run into trouble by being denied eligibility for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal employment, or U.S. citizenship; yet, you may be in the clear if your can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that your failure to register was not knowing and willful. Just don’t be too conscientious; that is, until you have to prove that you were not conscientious. Apparently, the true crime is conscientiousness in not registering, more so than simply not registering. The selective prosecution of a few conscientious and public resisters while millions are noncompliant speaks volumes to this.  Certainly, a system where obliviousness is excusable and objecting conscientiously is a crime is a system that distorts our nation’s highest values.  I don’t object to Selective Service being shot full of holes regarding compliance. I do object to Selective Service dishonoring or punishing conscientiousness. As there is no way for a registrant to officially indicate any intent at conscientious objection, I would be very curious to see what would happen if conscientious objector status were a checkbox in the registration process. We might learn a lot about the state of conscientious objection in America. Of course, if Selective Service noncompliance is largely about non-conscientiousness, then I have to ask: What would such a level of non-conscientiousness say about what we might be fighting for and who might be fighting for it?

The draft registration system cannot account for true conscientiousness. The draft registration system cannot muster enough compliance, conscientious or not, to claim fairness and equitability. The honorable course of action, in both cases, is to end draft registration.

In truth, the actual practice of draft registration ignores conscientious objection. While there is no apparent constitutional right to refuse military conscription, there are some legislative provisions for what are called conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to indicate conscientious objection during the current draft registration process. This is objectionable to many conscientiously opposed to war. Somewhat oddly, the only legal way to make such a claim is to submit to a system, the Selective Service System, whose sole purpose is preparing for war, which you must reject completely. Plus, conscientious objector status is only possible as a military service classification, if and when a draft may occur. The longer a registrant is unrecognized as conscientiously opposed to war, the further the objection. Further, conscientious objector status can only be recognized for those who are opposed to all wars. If you in good conscience object to whatever current war in which you are subject to serve, this is oddly irrelevant. You could, in fact, turn out to conscientiously object to every actual war that comes down the pike in your lifetime and this is deemed irrelevant if you are not opposed to every theoretical war (or past war). This renders conscientious objection to a meaningless idea for what is perhaps the vast bulk of being conscientiously opposed to war. Finally, there is no real mechanism to truly count or officially value the service of conscientious objectors, meaning that men will be drafted until the military need is met, whether ten or ten million men have conscientious objection. The service of a conscientious objector is superfluous to the determining aim of the Selective Service System. This itself is offensive to many persons of conscience opposed to war-making. Let’s end the criminalization of conscience.

In truth, the actual practice of warmaking habitually runs roughshod over international law and human rights. The promise of some possible future alternative service as a noncombatant is little comfort to my conscience, and of many others. In a warring world, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants offers fantastical sanitization rather than actual sanity. The fact is that across time and across a myriad of modern armed conflicts, over ten so-called “noncombatants” are killed for every “combatant.” The first casualty of war is the truth; most of the rest are noncombatants. My duty is to oppose war, not escape military service. This is my service to humanity. This service is regardless of combatant status. Plus, the best way to serve warriors happens to be ending war.

In the age of terrorism, some will claim that we live in new era of war, not subject to the old rules of war. We do live in a different time than in the 1980’s, the decade when draft registration was initiated. I can testify to a profound shift toward anti-war sentiment since then. During the first Gulf war, in the early 1990’s, I never felt so isolated as an American, confronting palpable resistance even from liberals. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, our local peace network, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, initiated weekly Sunday demonstrations at busy intersections around town. These demonstrations for peace and against war occurred weekly for 15 years (and continue twice each month). In the early years, most of the feedback we had from passing motorists was angry yelling, middle fingers, and expletives flying. Over the years, this angry response has become rare, perhaps a couple a week, and the overwhelming positive responses are represented by hundreds of “honks for peace,” peace signs and thumbs up. Americans in the heartland of Ohio are tired of war and welcome peace. Draft registration is a relic of ages past. Why have draft registration when even the military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft?

One issue at the heart of draft registration and military conscription is what is the proper role of women in warmaking and peacemaking. I am delighted to see that women serve as 5 of the 11 commissioners. Surely, it is women who should determine what is the proper role of women, in this case, concerning warmaking and peacemaking. In my lifelong work across a wide range of social justice movements, I have found women to be the most reliable and most inspiring leaders and laborers for social justice. I strongly suspect that women will take up the mantle of even greater war resistance if they become subject to military conscription. I take inspiration to serve as a war resister from Julia Ward Howe. She, most famously known as the composer of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, was the founder of Mother’s Day, originally a day of war resistance. She issued this Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

I would much prefer entrusting my conscience and fate to such “a general congress of women without limit of nationality,” rather than the currently constituted National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

Perhaps somewhat ironic, given my heritage, Germany now has a constitutional right to conscientious objection while the United States does not. When Germany ended conscription in 2011, the majority of those serving were conscientious objectors, and the debate had shifted from conscience to whether they should give up a huge pool of cheap labor. I believe that forced national service is incongruent with our nation’s highest ideals. I believe that volunteerism is at the core of authentic service. I suspect that lowering our ideals by forcing service is a poor way to nurture true service. Let us lead by example. This is why I am here today. If you want to gauge both the heart and the cutting edge of service in this country and for this country, look to those who volunteer, willingly, without pay, to live out their deepest values. This is the clearest view of our highest ideals incarnate, that service, that work, which cannot be bought and sold.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Commission. From your bios, I can see that you are exemplary leaders in service. Unfortunately, I think that you may have an impossible job. I appreciate that Selective Service is technically considered under civilian control. Still, I can’t help but notice that both Selective Service and this Commission are heavily represented by persons from the military or traditional national security apparatus. This does not fairly represent America in the civilian service necessary to make for peace in the world. Also, about 4 in 10 Americans are persons of color, including many of those in the military. Why is this Commission even whiter than the overly white Congress who appointed it? This is not a service to America, and raises the question of whether white supremacy is part and parcel to your work. In tandem, the Commission’s overwhelmingly militarized representation and unduly whiteness, inspires little confidence that your recommendations can represent America. Perhaps it would be more honest to call this Commission an Omission. I suspect that this failure is rooted in the failure and cowardice of Congress to deal with draft registration in a changing world, that is, a world that recognizes women as equals. Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road for a couple of years by creating a Commission to address this question for them. Unfortunately, This Congress-created Commission is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, any hopes of sparking a national conversation on service will be sparks falling on damp firewood.  Further complicating the credibility of the Commission is the tightly controlled and choreographed public meetings in conjunction with severely limited open public testimony. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then using this input to shape additional “invited” testimony. This may already be too late to remedy. The chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic or representative. In my years of public service, both as a community planner and as a citizen participant in many public forums, I think that it is fairer to characterize the Commission’s public meetings to date more as “dog and pony shows” than as an open and responsive democratic process. For this Commission’s work to claim legitimacy, there is a lot of changes that need to be made. Lastly, having to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission. I hope that you have found worthwhile input in my testimony to move toward a peace-loving democracy in which every one of us finds ample opportunities, free of compulsion, for self-sacrificial service for the good of all.

###

PRESS STATEMENT

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, about 250 miles away, to be here today. I am one of the select few prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft, back in the 1980’s. We are here today for one reason, and one reason alone: Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Congress punted by appointing a Commission to provide recommendations regarding draft registration a couple years down the road. That Commission is the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Unfortunately, This Commission’s work is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to honestly and openly addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, the Commission will be a failure. Draft registration continues to have no mechanism to accommodate conscientious objection. Draft registration is fraught with noncompliance by young men either not registering at all, registering late, or not updating their addresses. The military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft. This is no time to expand draft registration, whether to women or persons with select skills the military might want. Now is the time to end draft registration. Voluntary service is true service. Let’s keep it that way.

Today’s public meeting in particular highlights the failing credibility of the Commission. Previous public meetings around the country have had very limited opportunity for open testimony from the general public. Today’s meeting has even less opportunity. Previous public meetings have been billed as having opportunities to speak directly to the Commission; and when people get there they find out that there is a scheduled two minutes per citizen. This meeting is being billed as an opportunity for Q&A, not even to the Commission but to their invited speakers. Furthermore, the overall time for the public to even participate in this insular Q&A has been cut down to “20 or 30 minutes.” From the experience of previous public meetings, the chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic. The Commission is moving in the wrong direction. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then used this input to shape additional “invited” testimony as needed. This may already be too late to remedy.

Unfortunately, the Commission has other credibility problems that may very well make their job impossible. This Commission is dominated by members from the military or traditional national security apparatus, all the while trying to couch their work in a broader, more generic view of service. This Commission is extremely white, in a nation where people of color are about 4 of 10 Americans. This Commission is poorly designed to represent America. To make matters worse, the Commission has chosen to conduct its business in such a manner that citizens have had to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission. This does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission.

Originally, I planned my trip from Toledo to Chicago, for this public meeting, to deliver testimony to the Commission, offering a story of conscience and how draft registration fails to meet a broad range of America’s ideals. Because this public meeting cannot accommodate such open testimony, I stand before you, hoping that a free press will shine a light on the ill-conceived and poorly executed work of The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

###

Free Political Poster: BULLY TRUMP – Trump Toadies Celebrate Latest Victory – MOST Lunch Money Collected By Any President EVER – Trump and Toadies Spotted Increasingly Out To Lunch

Trump is a bully. Trump’s bullying may be his most signature style — MOST signature style EVER! Trump’s chronic bullying is particularly surreal in the context of alleged peacemaking. Even the notion of Trump being mentioned for a possible Nobel Peace Prize is cringe-worthy, in both its absurdity and clarion signal of how far away we are from true peace. Violence First Refuge of Incompetent - PEACE QUOTE BUTTONHis strategy of so-called “peace through strength” is nothing new for Commanders-in-Chief. However, his apocryphal deal-making is more likely to morph into apocalypse. Trump demands capitulation, in essence regime change, to Iran and North Korea. When offered the sparse choice of the end of your regime or the destruction of your regime, probably no nation would be able to find a solution resembling peace. Trump, in bullying mode, cannot even see beyond his one-size-fits-all solution of forcing capitulation. He claims that the “Libyan solution” of regime change is not his strategy while ending that claim with the proviso that if they don’t capitulate they will face a “Libya solution.” This sounds like a serious commitment to a “Libyan solution.” Of course, every warmonger in modern “civilized” history has dressed their war-making in the cloak of necessity. Mean wile, the people of the earth endure naked threats with peace eternally delayed as a luxury we can’t afford — well, at least that some people cannot afford. No doubt, history is populated with the emperors who have no clothes. Unfortunately, this emperor, while displaying his naked aggression, does have the most powerful military in human history — eat your heart out Caesars of ode! The rich and powerful, as usual, can be relied upon to bet upon the biggest bully around. The masses are left to the spectacle of the coliseum, either not caring that it is the “other” slaughtered, vainly hoping that destruction will not find its way into their homes, communities, and “way of life” (sic), or just, perhaps…join the resistance.

As my homage to Trump’s bully pulpit, preaching his religion of violence and intimidation, I offer the free political poster: BULLY TRUMP – Trump Toadies Celebrate Latest Victory – MOST Lunch Money Collected By Any President EVER – Trump and Toadies Spotted Increasingly Out To Lunch.

Free Political Poster: BULLY TRUMP - Trump Toadies Celebrate Latest Victory - MOST Lunch Money Collected By Any President EVER - Trump and Toadies Spotted Increasingly Out To Lunch

FUNNY POEM: Weight Fore It

In the dark
Weight fore it
There it is
That singular smile
Making light
Of everything
Taking a twinkle
Over
Awe the whirled
As never
Settling for number one
Even as wading for it
On and on
As inevitable
As unstoppable
Groan
Only doing what comes naturally
Going
That second smile
On that throne
Laughing
In efface of death

	 Human Race has one really effective weapon: laughter - PEACE QUOTE BUTTONCourage to Laugh Master of World as He Ready to Die - PEACE QUOTE BUTTONThis poem is autobiographical, reflecting on my persistent inability to be serious while simultaneously and chronically dealing with serious issues. While my joking may be self-deprecatory, I specialize in deflating and parodying the powerful, dangerously powerful, if that’s not redundant. For me, the lightness that characterizes the best of life comes face to face with the all-to-often brutality and injustice that intersects, often vivisects, our lives. This laughing in efface of death is my most treasured place to be, in the role of jester, for which I am willing to die, that is, die laughing.

Toledo Democracy Day Testimony: Focus on Racism, White Supremacy

Below is the testimony I delivered today before Toledo City Council, or rather the three council members who showed up.  The mayor also showed up for part of the testimony.

Democracy Day Testimony

March 5, 2018

Hi, my name is Dan Rutt.  Today, I want to focus on one thing: that is, racism, or more precisely, white supremacy.

I am trained professionally in public health and I can attest to the effects of racial disparities across a sweeping array of health issues.  It is key to note that these racial disparities cannot be explained away by differences in income, education or the like.  Racism and white supremacy are baked into our system.  Less than two weeks ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism released a massive, nationwide study of access to housing finance, for home mortgages and home improvement loans.  Blacks were 2.7 times more likely to be denied loans than whites.  Again, this is comparing loans for people with the same credit scores, financial ability to pay, and even for loans in the same neighborhoods.  Of particular concern, this racial disparity is larger than during the Jim Crow era.  Racism is not receding into the distance.

Today, I would like to further focus on the criminal justice system, which is perhaps the most palpable manifestation of racism in our society.  At every stage of the criminal justice system, people of color are more likely than whites to be harassed by police, arrested by police, subject to bail or larger bail by judges, given harsher prison sentences by judges, and less likely to get parole.  And please note again, that this is comparing for the same crimes.  The treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system raises inescapable questions of what is criminal, what is justice, and what is the true nature of the system.

Within the last couple of weeks, Danny Brown, who was wrongly convicted of a murder in 1982, exhausted perhaps his last legal recourse to exoneration and access to just compensation for his nearly two decades in prison.  As he enters his fourth decade of this criminally just nightmare, Julia Bates, the county prosecutor, continues her intransigence, in keeping Danny on a suspect list, so he cannot be cleared.  The illusory case that she has held open for so many years denies Danny his chance at justice.  The last time I saw Julia Bates on TV about Danny’s case she spoke about her concern for the money he might get if he is fully exonerated — speaking of valuing money over human life.  Is anyone surprised that Danny Brown is a black man?  Is anyone surprised that a hugely disproportionate amount of people across the country in similar situations are black men?  Today, I call, again, for Julia Bates to close the case on Danny Brown or retry him.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, visited our fine city and had a meeting closed to the media and the public, securing an entire block to keep him safe from looming democratic forces.  He came promoting his initiative, unfunded initiative, to ramp up the failed drug war and get prosecutors to charge defendants with the maximum charges they can. This initiative is in direct opposition to an ongoing effort by our criminal justice system to seek ways to minimize sentences, particularly for nonviolent offenses.  This Sessions initiative has been plagued by secrecy, including foremost, by our own Chief-of-Police, George Kral, who has been less than forthcoming about how Toledo got roped into this initiative, and what exactly does this initiative mean for Toledo.  Does Chief Kral really expect that this hard-edged, law-and-order Sessions initiative won’t magnify existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system?

I am here today because I witness again and again evidence from top to bottom in our community that white supremacy is, at a minimum, poorly understood, and more importantly, in practice, widespread.

A view from the top may be most illustrative.  During the recent mayoral race, CSRN, The Community Solidarity Response Network, our local Black Lives Matter group, held a mayoral candidates forum. The first question was, “How do you define white supremacy?” None of the four candidates defined white supremacy as institutional racism or society-wide systems of injustice against persons of color.  This included our former mayor and our new mayor.  The answers touched on white supremacy as neo-Nazis or the like — the worst of the worst.  There were several versions of “a few bad apples” within society and some of our public institutions.  And there was the issue of implicit bias, a polite term for subconscious racism.

All in all, I was left with the distinct impression that racism was a peripheral issue, largely something in the past, that the still-existing remnants needed some sweeping up; though, alas, there was plenty of regret for the occasional but rare racist that still managed to survive into our largely post-racial society.  I was struck by the seeming apologetics around implicit bias, as if not intending to be racist largely mitigated the real-life effects of racism.  I was left with the impression that racism was more about impropriety than injustice.  Please remember that their answers were at a mayoral candidates forum within the specific context of the sponsoring group being an anti-racism group.  I am hard-pressed to believe that they were caught unprepared to answer such questions, and I strongly suspect that their weak answers came close to their best effort.

I must confess that I was particularly struck by such a weak response of our then-Mayor, the African-American holding the highest elected office in our city.  Yet, on further reflection this seemed less as some personal failure of hers than, in fact, as a rather apt example of how the powers that be, the status quo, is better characterized by the strictures and limits set by white supremacy in our body politic than by the life experiences of any given politician with a black body.

Our community is currently in the process of planning how to rehab our county jail.  I have heard much about location, dominated by “not-in-my-backyard” attitudes, and about cost — not the disproportionate human cost borne by communities of color, but money, money, money.  This is the present nexus and test regarding our true valuing of human persons over money.  We may not have confederate statues to remind us of our racist heritage, yet, if a new jail is built without a bold plan to combat the racism inherent in our criminal justice system, then the new jail will be a very expensive monument to our racism.  This is the $100 million question of the day.  Many of us may take some comfort, even pride, in areas where Toledo may do better than other communities, but let us assure that this in no way dampens a bold resolve to end white supremacy in Toledo.

To that end, I call upon our mayor, Toledo City Council, and the Lucas County Commissioners to come up with a comprehensive plan to eliminate racism from our criminal justice system.  THANK YOU.

Free Anti-GUN VIOLENCE POSTER -Trump – I’m willing to support killer gun laws; trust me, most killer ever

I expect that Prez Donald Trump will come out as a powerful supporter of the status quo regarding gun violence prevention laws, or more accurately, the lack of gun violence prevention laws. What can we expect: more and more prayers and preyers and prayers and preyers and prayers and preyers…  The absurdity of Chief Priest Trump leading the nation in prayer accents the utter lack of moral authority that his right-wing religioneer supporters have to offer. Perhaps, they are stuck debating which unregulated militia Jesus would put his moral authority behind.

I am hopeful that we will reach a critical mass of resistance soon, as the unabated tragedies of mass shootings tear through more and more communities. The pressing urgency to do something builds with every life destroyed by all-to-easily well-armed, angry men — overwhelmingly white men.

Please feel free to share this free Anti-GUN VIOLENCE POSTER: Trump – I’m willing to support killer gun laws; trust me, most killer ever.

FREE Anti-GUN VIOLENCE POSTER -Trump - I'm willing to support killer gun laws; trust me, most killer ever

Feel free to browse Top Pun’s gun violence prevention and anti-gun violence designs.

POEM: Awe The Less

I woke up
Knot a moment too soon
My values dying on the vine
Just realizing
In efface of
Every dollar
Unspent
Awe the less
I had to urn
And in that mean time
Aaah, lined my values
Every little thing on the table
Like the crack of daze break
In hail
Of every thing of late
That interminable rush
Expressly beyond reach
Eclipsing will
To simply be

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Leonardo da Vinci quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONclock with NOW at all times SPIRITUAL BUTTONThis poem is an ode to less is more, aligning life to our deepest values, and slowing down in helping us get there.  Speed kills, substituting urgency for importance.  We rush to accomplish never present values, getting nowhere but in record time.  Rushing to dreamed futures we outrun life’s manifold presents, that which is fixed in unbroken attention to timeless values and awake to now.

This day, may we each experience a deep presence to that which is awe ready present.

Bull Shit Meter - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTONOr…in countering every pretense dropping, cut through the stuff that makes life grow.

POEM: Owed To Stormi, The Poetess

It was a dark and stormy night
The starry heavens
Replaced by blinding light
Striking as lightning
Startling awe
But the bravest
From places unseen
With undeniable power
Sow ready to rumble
Reigning like a queen
Poet, poet her, poetess
Oh my God
Correction!
On my goddess
Her super natural wind
Clears deadwood from mighty oaks
And what remains
Still
Stands
Of gentle reads
On the edge
Of the river of life
And in her wake
Sleepy souls
And well wrested
A like
Find themselves
In what might
Be called
Daylight

I wrote this poem a while back in homage to Toledo poetess, Stormi, aka Paula Blocker, who graciously hosts a poetry reading every Friday night at The Trunk, 3353 Franklin.

ANTI-FASCISM POEM: In Efface of Creeping Fascism

He was a custom
Too accept
That creep
Creep
Creep
Of fascism
Without a furor
Incite
Picking wons
Fights
Posedly agin
And agin
Sow frayed
Peering opposed
Laws and orders
As just
Be for
It’s too late
Over
Due
In efface of populations abashed
In habiting legions of apprehensions
With all
Act right
A weigh
Even as if
Unhinging
On won soul

got fascism? POLITICAL BUTTONThis anti-fascism poem was inspired by some recent situations in my life and my reflection on the endemic response of many to use the rubric of “picking one’s fights” to avoid pushing back against creeping fascism.  My most recent experience with creeping fascism was on a long bus trip when a U.S. Border Patrol agent boarded the bus during a layover at a station in the middle of the night.  The agent asked some riders “Do you mind telling me your country of origin?”  First, this was odd because we were in Rochester, New York, several hours from the Canadian border (a known backdoor for alien entry); and the bus had been in the Buffalo station, which is much closer to the Canadian border.  I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONThe Border Patrol agent was profiling passengers and he never asked me, a white guy, anything.  The agent also did not ask for identification or “papers,” so he was not very rigorous in this fishing expedition.  Perhaps this was a tip of the hat to the honest-faced people he was profiling, but I strongly suspect that the primary purpose was actually to make people afraid rather than nab aliens or criminals.  QUESTION AUTHORITY Before It Questions You POLITICAL BUTTONAs this agent was questioning passengers, I was pondering what to say if he asked me the loaded question: “Do you mind telling me your country of origin?”  Of course, I minded.  Refusing to answer the question was my first preference.  I could answer honestly, that I was born in Haiti.  Perhaps I could reveal to him that I am a convicted felon.  Maybe I could let him know that I detest creeping fascists.  But, alas, I didn’t fit his middle-of-the-night profile.  Perhaps us hippies are going to have to work harder to make the list.

A Nation of Sheep Soon Beget a Government of Wolves - Edward R. Murrow Quote - POLITICAL BUTTONI was somewhat surprised and very much creeped out by this incident, but it has increased my resolve to push back against creeping fascism at every opportunity.  As luck would have it, I arrived back in Toledo early morning Tuesday, in time for our weekly Trump Tuesday protest outside Sen. Rob Portman’s office and his aid happened to be available that day to speak with a group of us.  So, I was able to share this story of the Border Patrol agent on the bus.  Plus, us Trump Tuesday protesters had been experiencing ongoing creeping fascism in the form of building security arbitrarily limiting only four of us in the lobby at any one time to fill out comment sheets for Sen. Portman.  While there was an alleged policy regarding this, I suspect it never existed, nor could it hold up to constitutional muster.  One Nation Under Surveillance POLITICAL BUTTONThis alleged policy apparently applied to an identifiable group of people peaceably assembling, not, for instance to a dozen apparently random people in the lobby.  The lobby security guard didn’t like us, and he spoke demeaningly, especially to the women protesters.  Most of the protesters complied with this arbitrary restriction by herding only four people at a time into the lobby.  However, I made a point of filling out a comment sheet only if I could be a fifth person.  I never got any hassle for doing this, but if I had, I would of insisted on seeing a written policy.  For whatever reason, there was a new security guard in the lobby.  The new security guard didn’t care how many of us came into the lobby.  As five of us entered, I declared the new reality, “We now have 25% more democracy!”

Police Everywhere, Justice Nowhere POLITICAL BUTTONBeside directly oppressing target groups, creeping fascism has the nefarious side benefit of training others to tolerate little creeps of fascism that may seem uncivil to resist.  I find this a good example of how our quest for propriety can interfere with simple, and small, moral actions.  Perhaps ironically, resisting these little creeps may bring about disproportionately large consequences.  I contend that this disproportionality is the best evidence for an unjust situation and social control through intimidation.  Unfortunately, the risk of disproportional consequences is the very reason that people often cite for not resisting, and in solemn pronouncements of practicality state, “You have to pick your battles.”  Of course, you do.  Though I prefer to call them opportunities.

Feel free, to browse my anti-fascism designs.

POEM: This Is Knot Poetry — When Red Allowed

Waiving his red pen
He made his mute point
That spoken word is knot poetry
Like meting
Meter and anti-meter
And the invariable deconstruction of awe
As if
Employing free
Versus
The hire mind
For awe
That its worth
Save in alliteral weigh
Abut
Alas
Bringing too bare
Undisciplined obscenities uddering
As opposed to the ladder
As any won
May eye
Make this suggestive
Perhaps you’s
An unpronounceable cymbal farmerly no’in as prints
Pulling weeds
Of biblical pro portion
Fore whatever
It maybe worth
There is know space
Sandwiched
Between poetry and knot poetry
Between amateurs and prose
Knot that which isn’t
Nor which is
The wurst
I ever metaphor
Whatever
Call me
I am
An outspoken unspoken word artist
Unspellbound in my crappy weighs
And should upon
In the coming daze
Sow called poets anon meet
As shepherds to sheep affix
Due the write thing
Feel free
To shut the flock up

This poem was inspired by a blog article that a friend shared, entitled, “Spoken Word Is Not Poetry.”  My immediate response was simple: “I find it helpful to see everything as poetry.”  Of course, this is the gloriously useless mode of perception I aspire to use awe the time.  However, this poem represents a more detailed critique of the assertion that spoken word is not poetry. The author of this article pined that many readers at open mics are not trained poets and typically use free verse or prose poetry.  I must confess: I am an untrained poet, except by my tutelage under various muses.  Further, the often quick use of vulgarities offended the author’s parently higher sensibilities.  I strongly suspect that the work of any poet or poets is never complete as truth in word, as opposed to doing the deed in life, because life is F’ing ineffable.  Claiming that spoken word is performance art, which it is, seemed to be a means to taint spoken word artists as something other than poets. I certainly don’t mind being seen as more than a poet!  I wonder if the author would consider a novelist not a novelist if they read their work aloud — that would be a novel idea!  I related to the author’s point that an important part of poetry is the relationship of the reader to the written word without being nailed down by a verbal representation (or layering upon it performance art).  Most of my poems are best read silently, to allow for the multiple interpretations and meanings to brew within the reader; this process is at the heart of my poetry.  I find it difficult to read many of my poems out loud because I must pick one way to read the poem which inevitably shortchanges the beauty of dancing multiple meanings.  I must admit that when it comes to my poetry I am conveniently an anarchist, formally rejecting socially constructed boundaries of form. I do not doubt that the many fine forms of poetry developed over centuries are worthy of attention.  Nonetheless, I consider deflating pretensions as fodder for my poetic vocations.  If this itself seems pretentious, please feel free to take a meta view of my sow-called poems as self-parody.  At the end of my daze, I want parity for awe.

POEM: Promedica My Ass — Owed To Branding

Logos used
Too mean
Know ledge
Like that age owed ad vice
Would you jump off a bridge
If every won ails did
As in sayin’
Bye your good will
As money oozes from the non-prophet, health care (sic) system
The sores of philandering philanthropy
Well, come to PR medica
An unholy owned subsidiary
Of Tourette’s Industries
You will swear
Buy them
Weather you want to or not
Their marketing deportment is
As good as goaled
As black as poets inc
Greasing their wills
Stuck with irresistible pitch
As verbally contracted
Not worth the pay per
Printed upon
Yet this awe
Will in deed
Make it passable to live
As resistance is feudal
And being
Penned
Is what poets due
Indubitably
Sow branded
As live stock
For tolled
Too get a rise
The Tao jones
Working in our flavor
Over and over and over
Un-till bank rolled
In a dark ally
Buy and buy
Hour justifiable salivation
Attending too in trap meant anon
Agin and agin and agin
Fore the yoke is on-us
Awe the more
Fore the fire brand
Not with standing
In a flesh of genius
Is incensed
As won red scent
Becomes too
Until udderly crying out
In an unherd-of steer
I love the smell
Of nay palm
In the mourning
High noon
And too fly by night
Sullen this, sullen that
Soully worried
How irate
In some won ails size
Butt, its my skin in the game
Lonely hoping
Knot to be found
Within and without
My pants around my knees
As its only
My panties in a bunch
Over
Awe that madders
Poetic license
And corporate patronage
Some body
Has to
Pay the piper
To keep your roost ere plumbed
As upright as it comes
Why cant you
Say “uncle”
You know
Like that rich uncle
Who wants you
To sit on his lap
And tell you
Bed time
Stories
That will mark you for life
Butt kept mysteriously in a family weigh
As long
As in your genes
As in c’est la vie
Or sow, I’ve herd
As if
We are posed to be prod
Of being cattle
Scarred I’ll go
All Gandhi on you as
BE the beef
Awe the wile beating a different conundrum
Refraining that whole eat me thing
The mark of the best (sic)
Or rather sic sic sic’s
Sow fresh and hoary unholy revelations
Indulging vain wishes for dead presidents
And CEOs
Men of letters posterior to autograft
Ass-ever-rate
In playing defense
At my offense
With such propriety, proprietary and property
For my own good, posedly
Their mirror deflection
But, but, but, but, but
Except two a t
And so
I’m bare assed
And without
They’re money
You’re nothing butt
A bum
And the rush
Too be just
THAT

I am not a big fan of branding, whether it is of livestock or in corporate public relations. I was inspired to write this poem because at a regular monthly poetry reading they secured a small amount of funding to pay invited featured poets. Will Work For Universal Health Care POLITICAL BUTTONThe source of funding included local community foundations plus the nearly ubiquitous ProMedica, the largest health system within the Toledo region.  I have come to call Promedica, “PR Medica,” because of its often over-sized logo and branding in Toledo, aka ProMedica-ville, is nearly omnipresent in venues big and small.  I found its intrusion into the local poetry scene offensive, particularly because I am an iconoclastic, anti-commercial poet who specializes in addressing social justice issues.  This was a little too close to home for me.  I announced before my open mic reading that I did not want to be considered as an invited poet.  I suggested that to de-commercialize this reading, sending back the portion payed for by ProMedica, along with a strongly worded letter (might I suggest F and U), would be in order.

This is not the first time that I have unleashed my poetic visions against ProMedica.  The first time I devoted a poem to ProMedica was when they sponsored a state-wide poetry contest on the topic of anti-hunger with an honorarium to the winning poet that would befit and maintain the status of starving artist.  My unsubmitting, unremitting poem: Speaking With Spoken Sword: Owed To Hungering Fore Anew ProMedica.

Health Care is a Right Not a Privilege - PUBLIC HEALTH BUTTONSingle-Payer Health Care - Everybody In, Nobody Out POLITICAL BUTTONProMedica, if you want to combat hunger, pay all of your employees a living wage.  ProMedica, if you want to fulfill your mission and redeem your non-prophet status, devote 0.01% of your revenue toward advocating for universal health care, everybody in, nobody out.  Until then, you can bye this poet all you want.

MUST READ POEM: Incarcerated Truth

MUST READ POEM: Incarcerated Truth

But for the slip of the tongue
There could be
Having
Been given
The slip of paper
With a key
Too incarcerated truth
Knot to be
Read aloud
There is know God

Many of the simplest and most profound truths in life are best experienced in silence, where anything spoken would only detract from the experience.  If this poem is read out loud, it communicates the opposite meaning of that in silence: “There is no God” versus “There is know God.”  The reference to God sets up the conundrum of trying to communicate spiritual matters when words necessarily get in the way, often turning them into spiritual madders.  This poem is a big tip of the hat to the Tao Te Ching’s opening line: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”  I have longingly loved this opening paradox which offers the poetic challenge of improving on silence.

Truth may very well lie in the manor in which it is spoken or knot.  Free of words, we may experience the hole truth, going down that place from which hares split.  Down, down, down — nothing softer, nor closer to foul.  Sublime temptations beg the ineffable won, only to be housed in feat of clay.  Any peep would be, as if, to bring the roof roof down, that within ear shot of any eavesdropper.  Even the most dogged ear tome would knot avail the rabid homme, the whole as nothing, but hollowed ground.  To no end, as soil one self.  Making me, want to pop eye: I AM, what I AM?!

A Spiritual Autobiography

I wrote the below spiritual autobiography a dozen years ago as part of a servant leadership study group.  While it definitely needs updating, it serves well as a brief overview of my spiritual history and development over much of my life, particularly my early years.  Fortuitously, my humor remains righteously irreverent and my faith grows.

RUTTS
by Alex Haley
(that’s just my pun name)

The year was 1961. Preceded by John, a child was conceived, fathered by a closeted gay man, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the city of brotherly love. In my mother’s womb, I was transported to Haiti, where my parents, as doctor and nurse, were beginning their service as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee. A dozen (and a half) generations ago my ancestors had fled religious persecution and military conscription in Germany to settle in America. For a new beginning, they were gifted with land from William Penn. This land was some of the most fertile in the world; so fertile, in fact, that even gay men father children there! Though now in Haiti, they were soon to be counted again among the privileged of the world. I was born. And on this journey, Joseph followed. Continuing my heritage as a sojourner in a foreign land, I was born a true child of the 60s.

I have no specific memories of those first couple of years in Haiti. However, only in recent years have I realized my ideal vision of serenity as sleeping without a care late in the morning in a mountain cabin while the rain pounds on the tin roof likely came from memories as a baby (now, if only I can figure out why I have a pleasant association with the smell of skunk!). Also, I am told that I was scared of most white people. Strangely, I am still haunted by white people on occasion.

After a brief stint in Detroit, perhaps explaining my love of urban life, I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The town was Mennonite-free, so I was raised a United Methodist. My childhood was strikingly trauma-free (only striking in retrospect). I knew safety. I knew predictability and caring. Our family always ate meals together, beginning with a prayer too short not to recount here: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” A lot more theology in that prayer than I usually give credit. Our family participated in worship and church functions regularly. Worship was generally boring. One of my few memories was a teenager with a guitar, singing “Blowing in the wind.” I guess that would have been contemporary music, huh? And that was before Bob Dylan was a Christian. I attended Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and youth group. I only vaguely remember confirmation. I remember good times. Except for a desperately poor matching of gifts by placing me in a children’s choir – my first, and really only, experience with “playing hooky.” I loved summer camp. First there were church camps, then Boy Scout camps. My younger brother and I earned Eagle Scout ranking (the highest in Boy Scouts) in record time. Our scoutmaster was easygoing and playful. Perhaps paradoxically, it was easy to achieve in that environment. If “achievement” had been required of me, I probably wouldn’t have done it, or at least wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. When we later moved and joined another scout troop, which was probably better organized and certainly more rigid, we dropped out after a while.

My understanding of diversity was child-like. I knew that Catholic families were the ones with five or six kids. Good families to play with. My best friend’s dad was Cuban. He also had two older half-siblings. In retrospect, this was the only somewhat non-traditional family I recall; though I don’t recall giving it much thought.

I was baptized at age eleven. Apparently, I was out of the country at the time such events usually occur. Fortunately, my understanding of baptism was still pretty much that of an infant, so it worked out well. I was confirmed a year later. About this same time, I was in little league baseball. In an attempt to deal with performance anxiety, I kept a pocket-sized New Testament in my back pocket. This crude attempt at spiritual osmosis was discovered by my brothers who with little affection labeled me “Bible boy.” I didn’t like this. I remember that my parent rebuked them.

When we moved to Dearborn, Michigan, before my ninth grade, my parents looked for a church nearby, but had little success – “too suburban” I think. Not surprising, considering we lived in a nice home with a pool, only 100 feet from a golf course. They decided to return to their church from earlier years, Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, 20 minutes away. Central is the oldest Protest-ant church in Michigan, and has been called “the conscience of the city.” Always a leader in social justice, their most widely known pastor preached pacifism before, during and after World War II. I was soon to be raised on 45+ minute sermons, truly epic sermons. A turning point happened to me sometime during my high school years when my mom took me to a peace conference at church. My eyes were opened and my heart would soon follow.

I went to Hope College, a small, private, liberal arts school. It was a Christian College, as were most of its staff and students, mostly Reformed and Christian Reformed. However, it was unlikely that I would ever be Reformed; conservatively speaking that is. My college years began with my father lightly warning me of these Calvinists. I didn’t know what he was talking about. My first roommate and I, who were boyhood friends, unknowingly were matched because we were both Methodists – apparently, a rare breed thereabouts. Early on, I must have been an easy target for an overabundance of evangelism. A friend invited me to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I went to what turned out to be a practically diversity-free zone; even ALL of the other persons in my small group were named “Kathy” (though probably a diversity of spellings). Later, when I saw out my dorm room window the friend who invited me, I said, “hello.” She asked me what I thought of the meeting. I shouted from the second floor window something to the effect that it was “too religious.” I did like church, and I went willingly. I even went to chapel services three times a week – religiously. I was also on part-time staff of the campus ministry. Though a biology major, I was frequently mistaken for a political science or philosophy major. Apparently, I was succeeding at the liberal arts (or at least the art of being liberal).

I very soon got involved with a small group of students known as the World Hunger Committee. Being a United Methodist, I must have known that there would be a committee for that! This formally launched my work in social justice, and my personal interest in stewardship, vegetarianism and nutrition. That first year, God brought together this son of a Mennonite with a Hope graduate who was a Mennonite (perhaps the only one). I told him that I was concerned about President Carter re-instituting draft registration. He said, “Why don’t you start a peace group?” I said, “Yes.” Fortunately, I didn’t now what I was doing. So, I helped found “Hope for Peace.”

For my own concerns, I hooked up with a Viet Nam war-era draft counselor. To make a long story short, when President Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration, I was identified in the Detroit News as a non-registrant. Being the only publicly-identified non-registrant in Michigan, I garnered much media attention. Eventually, the Reagan ‘get the government off your back’ regime and his Attorney General, Edwin ‘people are only hungry by choice’ Meese III, saw that out of millions of non-registrants, I was number 13 to be prosecuted. In the end, six years later, after heroically losing half a dozen pre-trial motions (with the help of a volunteer team of legal experts), my older brother dying, graduating from college, getting married, having a son, graduating from graduate school, and getting a job, I defended myself before a jury of my peers (though none of them were subject to the law I was defending myself from). I lost. But what did I win? (that is, beside three months room and board at the taxpayers’ expense) I learned to live in good conscience. I learned to refine my beliefs, even amidst great public scrutiny. I learned about civil disobedience, or as A.J. Muste, a great American pacifist and Hope College graduate would have said, “holy obedience” (in my write mind I say, “wholly obedience). I learned that the U.S. government has the absolute authority to draft any citizen regardless of conscientious objection. Any exception to this is due only to “legislative grace.” I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my government. Actually, I presented my case at the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, in conjunction with a resolution to support young men’s consciences who were subject to draft registration laws, whether their conscience led them to register or not. The resolution failed. So, I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my denomination.

During college, after guest preaching at my home church in Detroit, someone came up afterwards and said, “I didn’t know that you were in seminary.” Nonetheless, I consider myself a theological mutt. I have drawn from many Christian traditions. I have studied Asian religions, and I am drawn to Buddhism. I am an amateur philosopher (that is, until someone pays me) and I am intrigued by the angst of existentialism. I have experienced a spiritual re-awakening in Alanon, which has given me things that my church could not. I believe that “religionism” may be the ultimate “-ism,” preventing us from experiencing the oneness of God. I may be a leading candidate to be voted, “most likely to be heretical,” by the powers that be. This is my orthodoxy. I believe that paradox lives in the neighbor of truth; and we should love our neighbors. In true Zen-like fashion, I find that irreverence is often the highest form of reverence. Among my heresies is my unabashed appreciation of “The Simpsons” (but, as the Hindus would say, “Don’t have a cow.”).

After an intense summer working for Bread for the World as an organizer, and days before my senior year began, my brother John was killed in an avalanche in Western Canada; but only after dropping out of college while on foreign study, wandering, rock-climbing and working (pretty much in that order) for a couple of years in Africa and the Western U.S. His death has given me a much greater sense of mortality and the preciousness of life each day. I actually find funerals as fruitful opportunities for reflection and renewing my sense of “living in the moment.” I have undervalued such opportunities. One of the few regrets in my life was missing three of four funerals of my grandparents.

My paternal grandparents were particularly religious. Only upon the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary (and doing the math) did I realize that my father was a near-bastard child to a teen mom. Years later, when my sister was pregnant and out-of-wedlock at age 19, my grandfather said, “The sins of the grandfather are being visited upon the granddaughter.” My thought: get over it! Well, at least, I can now understand why my gay father was closeted until his parents were either dead or demented. While I didn’t see healing in my grandparents, I saw that having an understanding of God under construction is a good thing, and sometimes demolition work is required.

That brings me to my marriage. To make a long, and usually happy, story short, my marriage of 11+ years ended 10 years ago. Nonetheless, we were blessed with two wonderful children, Joshua and Kathryn. I love being a parent. It may be the closest I’ve been able to experience what God must feel in His/Her unconditional love for us. Kate’s life is an ongoing miracle since she was born with multiple heart defects. She underwent two heart surgeries, and at one point with surgical complications, a doctor, trying to be optimistic, said, she has at least a 50/50 chance of living. A brush with death. There’s that mortality thing again. Not unlike death, I thought I had no problem with divorce – as long as it was happening to other people. Accepting our divorce was the most difficult thing I have ever dealt with.

Being out of a “relationship” for a number of years helped my re-develop my relationship with myself and with God. This came more through Alanon than church. Now, being in a relationship for eight years with a wise and beautiful woman has taught me to appreciate life as it comes, one day at a time – with both of us half single, half single parent; no longer with in-laws but ex’s. I’ve learned that God makes all things new, and often faster than I want. God never gives me what I want; God always gives me something better!

My career. God brought me to a career in public health, as I savored its roots in social justice. God brought me out of public health, re-naming me “Top Pun,” and appointing me as a jester for peace, where the pun is mightier than the sword, and justice is no yoke. My canvasses are buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the World Wide Web. My business, by definition, is good – that is, maximizing prophets. My business is exactly on schedule; though I don’t know what the schedule is.

God brought me to Central’s neighborhood, and a few hours later, to Central. Centralites were my kind of people. Some happened to be Christians who were gay. Through my social justice work, not my public health work, God brought me to work in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This opened further opportunities to work with persons who happened to be gay. My dad “came out.” My parents divorced. God had prepared me.

I have issues with money. I aspire to live simply, gracefully facilitated by my recent poverty-level earnings. Living with less financial security has inspired me to give today because I may not be able to give later. Whatever old car I’m driving facilitates my prayer life (of course, no “auto”-biography would be complete without a mention of my car).

I am a mystic at heart, journeying as a gifted rationalist, Caucasian, male, father, lover, businessman, American, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada. While embracing the enigmatic, I hope these few words will offer you a clue as to who I am. Hopefully, these few words will offer you a clue as to who we are. One of my favorite poems is from Muhammad Ali: “Me. We.”

In all, God has never left me; except for an instant in 1981, but that’s another story…

Bee Sting Allergic Reaction Health Care Experience Number Three

On Monday, July 17, 2017, I was stung by a yellow jacket. I am allergic to bee stings and the like. This is the third time I had been stung by a bee since I found out that I was allergic to bee stings [see here for account and poem about previous bee sting]. If untreated, a bee sting would cause anaphylactic shock and probably death. The first line of treatment for bee stings in people who are allergic to bee stings is an injection of epinephrine. This can prevent the onset of anaphylactic shock.

Fortunately, I had an epinephrine autoinjector. Unfortunately, this autoinjector had been expired for two years. I had not refilled a prescription for a new epinephrine autoinjector, since the most common brand, Epipen, which has 95% of the United States market, has in recent years been price gouging consumers who rely on such a life-saving device and insurance companies who may pay for it. I could not bring myself to be held hostage to a price gouging pharmaceutical company, even though my insurance would pay 100% of the cost. Since acquiring the company that manufactured EpiPens, the new company (Mylan) kept raising the price until it was 600% more than the original price. Such entrepreneurial genius was rewarded even more by granting the CEO of the new company a 700% pay increase. Not being a complete fool, I had researched if expired epinephrine autoinjectors retained their effectiveness past their expiration date. I found that given reasonable storage temperatures, the bulk of their effectiveness was maintained even years past the expiration date. Thus, I decided to wait until alternative products were available or until the offending price gouging company made their price reasonable.

So, back to the story. After being stung, I looked quickly in the neighbors driveways to see if a car was there and somebody might be home who might be able to drive me to the emergency room. No such luck. So, I injected myself with the epinephrine autoinjector. Since I don’t have a car, I rode my bike to the emergency room at St. Vincent Hospital about a mile and a third from my home where I was stung. It was a nice sunny day in the low 80s. I rode there vigorously on my bike. I was feeling pretty well and had no welts blooming like in my two previous bee sting occurrences.

When I walked into the emergency room, there were two people at the desk and one clerk. After waiting a few seconds after receiving no greeting or acknowledgement of my presence, I asked if somebody was available to provide medical triage for me. I indicated that I had been stung by a bee, that I was allergic, and that I was in danger of going into anaphylactic shock. The clerk called for another person. This person turned out to be another billing clerk. This person took my personal and health insurance information and asked no information about my current emergency. This person walked me through two big double doors into a hallway where I was told to sit on a gurney and wait for help. I was left unsupervised. I was in partial line of sight of the emergency room nurses station. After sitting there for a few minutes, a man in scrubs moved into my view. I asked him if I could get some help, and asked him somewhat facetiously if this was an “emergency” room. He very nonchalantly said that he would see if somebody could assist me. Some minutes later, someone came to ask me questions. They took me into an emergency room examining room. This was about 10 minutes after I had walked through the front door.

They immediately hooked me up to many of the usual devices, such as a finger oxygen monitor, a blood pressure monitor, and EKG leads. Eventually, they gave me an IV. Apparently, my heart was racing, not too surprising since I was having a serious allergic reaction, had an epinephrine injection and a vigorous bike ride. However, the EKG showed abnormalities, which they diagnosed as atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is where the upper chambers of the heart send signals sporadically so smooth, coordinated, regular blood flow is impaired. My heart rate was moving back and forth from about 80 or 90 up to about 160, which is my maximal heart rate. To my knowledge, I had never previously experienced atrial fibrillation. They were concerned that this may be an underlying condition, triggered by the stress of the sting allergic reaction, and/or the epinephrine, possibly in conjunction with vigorous exercise. I indicated to the nurse that if I should die that they should throw my dead body on the lawn of the corporate headquarters of the pharmaceutical company practicing price gouging for epinephrine autoinjectors, i.e., EpiPen made by Mylan pharmaceuticals.

While they were monitoring the atrial fibrillation situation, they asked if I wanted an ice pack for the bee sting site on the back of my hand which was red and swollen. I said “sure.” They brought in an elongated icepack about 3 inches wide and 15 inches long. Oddly, the covering seem to be somewhat insulated so the cold didn’t seem very cold. The physician noted that this device was meant for another purpose — though she did not indicate what purpose. My hand wasn’t suffering too badly so I didn’t worry about it much. It just struck me oddly that’s some ice in a plastic bag would have done nicely at probably a thousandth of the cost.

At about 50 minutes after arriving in the emergency room, I was given prednisone, a steroid to keep the swelling down and fight back the allergic reaction. Fortunately, I was not blooming in welts as in my two earlier experiences with bee sting reactions, both of which were not initially treated immediately with epinephrine.

Their primary concern seemed to be the atrial fibrillation, which they continued to monitor. I half-jokingly submitted that the atrial fibrillation may simply be due to my broken heart over the Senate Republican health care bill. The doctor did not disagree. The supervising physician first recommended that I’d be admitted for further testing and observation. After some questioning about the nature of this, I pushed back somewhat, partially based on my two previous experiences at the same ER and hospital where I was hospitalized for further testing and observation and my experience proved that this was not useful and perhaps even hampered by treatment and recovery. I have recorded one of these bee sting experiences elsewhere in my blog.

Eventually, after the atrial fibrillation did not resolve on its own, they gave me some heart medicine, and within five minutes or so, my heart settled down. While this atrial fibrillation event lasted for quite a while, perhaps an hour and a half or so, I was feeling pretty well physically and mentally, with only one five or 10 second bout of heart racing where I felt moderately distressed — but, then again, I don’t get distressed too easily.

The doctor indicated that my thyroid stimulating hormone test was high normal, that is, 4.75 in a normal range of 0.5 to 5.0. They thought that this might be a possible indicator for low thyroid activity which could contribute to an atrial fibrillation condition. They asked that I be retested in three months. They were encouraged by the fact that I had no other risk factors and was in excellent general health.

They ended up discharging me without any additional request for my hospitalization. This pleased me. I was glad to be saved a day locked up in a hospital. I was glad to have likely saved the health care system another few thousand dollars. Plus, I was planning to attend a health-care protest the following day at noon, where I had planned to read a poem I composed specifically for that event, dedicated to our own Sen. Rob Portman, who has been equivocating over how many millions of Americans losing their health insurance is acceptable.

In the discharge process, I requested a refill prescription of my epinephrine autoinjector, given that it was a generic or less expensive competitor than from the EpiPen manufacturers. I indicated that I had done some research on this before, and that if they wrote the prescription more generically such as epinephrine autoinjector rather than by a brand name, then a less expensive version may be available. They researched this and discovered that only one local pharmacy chain carried a less expensive version. This wasn’t my usual pharmacy, but it was about the same distance from my home. The less expensive version was $109 versus the up to $600 for the EpiPen.

I am very grateful that this bee sting occurrence ended up being less serious as far as the allergic reaction than in my two previous occurrences.  Apparently, my two-year expired epinephrine autoinjector worked just fine. I’ll have to wait and see if this atrial fibrillation occurrence is due to an underlying condition or simply brought on by the very stressful conditions of an allergic reaction, epinephrine and vigorous exercise. I am still aghast that in none of the three times I’ve gone to this same emergency room have I received prompt medical triage. It seems to me that without prompt medical triage, it is somewhat difficult to actually consider your emergency room an actual “emergency” room. Sadly, they are quite efficient at getting your billing information promptly, but it as to dealing quickly with whatever emergency you are presenting with, that is another and another and another story.

KILL The BILL – That is, The Congressional So-called Health Care Bill

The Senate so-called health care bill literally sucks, the life out of Americans.  The House bill does the same.  KILL the BILL – that is, the congressional so-called health care bill!

The below meme uses three pop culture references.  The first is Saturday Night Live’s Mr. Bill from the last millennium, famous for crying out, “OH NOOO!!!” — which is surprisingly contemporary.  The second comes from the movie franchise, Kill Bill.  Kill Bill ends with an exploding heart — which, may also be tragically contemporary.  The third comes from the ubiquitous truism that congress is fueled by payoffs — preferably in large, unmarked bills — by uncountable and unaccountable corporate interests.  KILL the BILL!  KILL the House bill!!  KILL the Senate bill!!!

KILL The BILL - That is, The Congressional So-called Health Care Bill

Summer Solstice Poem: A Day of Longing No More

The longest day of the year
And nothing too due
He was well
Grounded
Sent to his roam
Bye know won
On the level
Of ants
Who never say “uncle”
With blades broken
Beaten by the sun
Sow green
With envy 93 million miles away
As feeled of dreams
Un-till
The king dumb
Of man
Clamoring agin
Fore mow mow mow
Wanting soully
Ever more

On this summer solstice day I took a leisurely jaunt on my bike down to the Toledo Art Museum lawn. Next to a stream of consciousness, I wrote this poem.  This poem touches on a common theme of mine: absconding from the business and battles of everyday life.  May your daze get shorter from now on.

POEM: That Cursory Savor

Life
As present
Did not add up
As if
A zero
Sum game
The passed getting bigger
The future getting smaller
That good buy
That eminent lessen
As holy for gone
As refuse
As waive that fortune
Having only
Too come to wrest
With that cursory savor
The eternal
Now

That was Zen - This is Tao - FUNNY SPIRITUAL BUTTONHere is yet another poem on the theme of the eternal now. Life can seem to pass by so quickly with so many distractions, perhaps wondering where it all goes. Know madder how attached we are to things, they seem to pass.  The present, arisen from the past and cascading into the future, is awe we have.  And we find ourselves, moved by weigh of this exquisite mystery, in the mist of where the passed and the future are knot won or the other.  Long the weigh, most of us look for a savor of some sort, weather short and sweet or lingering and rarefied.  Not with standing, we are prone to cling on, fighting increasingly alien forces, light years beyond any measure of good taste.  Our salivation dries up before our face, caught in a scrunch, as whither every fecund moment reseeds in a parent mummification.  And in spite of everything, the Tao jones arises again and agin…

POEM: Nonpartisan Shootings

Weather running the country
In too the ground
Or playing hardball
So well practiced
America pines
For that national past time
And return to nonpartisan shootings

The shooting on a baseball field full of Republican congressmen and staffers has jacked up partisan wranglings and a united front of buy partisan preyer.  STOP [with bullet hole as O] POLITICAL BUTTONOf coarse, violence is the ultimate partisan activity, fashioning stiff lines between life and death, conveniently favoring won’s life over an other.  Our national celebrity worship teams with hour enduring desire too be led to brake through our collective amnesia over mass shootings daily reeking havoc among mere pee-ons. Gun violins unremarkably persist as congress works to legalize silencers — strange, I never heard that.  In the end, for whatever end, I am agin gun violence, agin and agin and agin…

Feel free to browse anti-gun violence designs.

NRA Not Representing America POLITICAL BUTTONGuns Don't Kill, Gaping Holes in Vital Organs Do POLITICAL BUTTONGet Real, Like Jesus Would Ever Own A Gun And Vote Republican POLITICAL BUTTON

Guns Are Not Pro-Life POLITICAL BUTTONIf Guns Are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Accidentally Shoot Their Children - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTONGuns Don't Die People Do PEACE BUTTON

 

Self-Made Trump Has A Fool For A Maker

In Trumpian fashion, fool of irony, I quote myself: “A self-made man has a fool for a maker.”  The man-child known as Donald Trump runs roughshod over the boundaries of lesser fools.  He fashions his fashion as the boss of a collapsing world, his world, his collapsing world.  If Trump where to know God, he would know himself — he knows neither.  His self-masturbatory god head is a lonely impossibility, even in his hugely culpable hands and with such a big mouth — something is missing, however compelled he is to grab it.  The loneliness of this pitiful and pitiless man is captured well in the essay by Rebecca Solnit, THE LONELINESS OF DONALD TRUMP: ON THE CORROSIVE PRIVILEGE OF THE MOST MOCKED MAN IN THE WORLD, with excerpts below:

Once upon a time, a child was born into wealth and wanted for nothing, but he was possessed by bottomless, endless, grating, grasping wanting, and wanted more, and got it, and more after that, and always more. He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires. He got a boost at the beginning from the wealth handed him and then moved among grifters and mobsters who cut him slack as long as he was useful, or maybe there’s slack in arenas where people live by personal loyalty until they betray, and not by rules, and certainly not by the law or the book. So for seven decades, he fed his appetites and exercised his license to lie, cheat, steal, and stiff working people of their wages, made messes, left them behind, grabbed more baubles, and left them in ruin.

He was supposed to be a great maker of things, but he was mostly a breaker. He acquired buildings and women and enterprises and treated them all alike, promoting and deserting them, running into bankruptcies and divorces, treading on lawsuits the way a lumberjack of old walked across the logs floating on their way to the mill, but as long as he moved in his underworld of dealmakers the rules were wobbly and the enforcement was wobblier and he could stay afloat. But his appetite was endless, and he wanted more, and he gambled to become the most powerful man in the world, and won, careless of what he wished for…

…The child who became the most powerful man in the world, or at least occupied the real estate occupied by a series of those men, had run a family business and then starred in an unreality show based on the fiction that he was a stately emperor of enterprise, rather than a buffoon barging along anyhow, and each was a hall of mirrors made to flatter his sense of self, the self that was his one edifice he kept raising higher and higher and never abandoned.

I have often run across men (and rarely, but not never, women) who have become so powerful in their lives that there is no one to tell them when they are cruel, wrong, foolish, absurd, repugnant. In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures…

We keep each other honest, we keep each other good with our feedback, our intolerance of meanness and falsehood, our demands that the people we are with listen, respect, respond—if we are allowed to, if we are free and valued ourselves. There is a democracy of social discourse, in which we are reminded that as we are beset with desires and fears and feelings, so are others; there was an old woman in Occupy Wall Street I always go back to who said, “We’re fighting for a society in which everyone is important.” That’s what a democracy of mind and heart, as well as economy and polity, would look like…

…Some use their power to silence that and live in the void of their own increasingly deteriorating, off-course sense of self and meaning. It’s like going mad on a desert island, only with sycophants and room service. It’s like having a compliant compass that agrees north is whatever you want it to be. The tyrant of a family, the tyrant of a little business or a huge enterprise, the tyrant of a nation. Power corrupts, and absolute power often corrupts the awareness of those who possess it. Or reduces it: narcissists, sociopaths, and egomaniacs are people for whom others don’t exist.

We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society. Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble—that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars—and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. This is why I always pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation. When you don’t hear others, you don’t imagine them, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it, and that surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine others exist in any true deep way that matters. This is about a need for which we hardly have language or at least not a familiar conversation.

A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not, but the people he bullied pretended that it did. Or perhaps it was that he was a salesman, throwing out one pitch after another, abandoning each one as soon as it left his mouth. A hungry ghost always wants the next thing, not the last thing.

This one imagined that the power would repose within him and make him great, a Midas touch that would turn all to gold. But the power of the presidency was what it had always been: a system of cooperative relationships, a power that rested on people’s willingness to carry out the orders the president gave, and a willingness that came from that president’s respect for rule of law, truth, and the people. A man who gives an order that is not followed has his powerlessness hung out like dirty laundry. One day earlier this year, one of this president’s minions announced that the president’s power would not be questioned. There are tyrants who might utter such a statement and strike fear into those beneath him, because they have installed enough fear.

A true tyrant does not depend on cooperative power but has a true power of command, enforced by thugs, goons, Stasi, the SS, or death squads. A true tyrant has subordinated the system of government and made it loyal to himself rather than to the system of laws or the ideals of the country. This would-be tyrant didn’t understand that he was in a system where many in government, perhaps most beyond the members of his party in the legislative branch, were loyal to law and principle and not to him. His minion announced the president would not be questioned, and we laughed. He called in, like courtiers, the heads of the FBI, of the NSA, and the director of national intelligence to tell them to suppress evidence, to stop investigations and found that their loyalty was not to him. He found out to his chagrin that we were still something of a democracy, and that the free press could not be so easily stopped, and the public itself refused to be cowed and mocks him earnestly at every turn.

A true tyrant sits beyond the sea in Pushkin’s country. He corrupts elections in his country, eliminates his enemies with bullets, poisons, with mysterious deaths made to look like accidents—he spread fear and bullied the truth successfully, strategically. Though he too had overreached with his intrusions into the American election, and what he had hoped would be invisible caused the whole world to scrutinize him and his actions and history and impact with concern and even fury. Russia may have ruined whatever standing and trust it has, may have exposed itself, with this intervention in the US and then European elections.

The American buffoon’s commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe just a sieve (this spring there was an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils and sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune’s fool.

He is, as of this writing, the most mocked man in the world. After the women’s march on January 21st, people joked that he had been rejected by more women in one day than any man in history; he was mocked in newspapers, on television, in cartoons, was the butt of a million jokes, and his every tweet was instantly met with an onslaught of attacks and insults by ordinary citizens gleeful to be able to speak sharp truth to bloated power….

…The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.

HOPE POEM: Hope Can Be

Hope can be
Like an animal cornered by a predator
Fighting for life
Hope can be
Like a wisp of smoke
Wafting through the claws of enemies
Hope can be
Like adore number three
A seeding that grand prize of a lifetime
Byway of a constellation prize
Cheep in hand
Not enough to beguile
A way from blazing stars twinkling upon us
Sow far a weigh
Invisible during daze
Soully to serve
That first class purpose
Best suited
Naked to the night
And inextinguishable light

Hope is a common thread in my poems, even in those that deal with brutal injustices.  This poem offers several facets of hope.  Got Hope SPIRITUAL BUTTONHope Trumps Despair PEACE BUTTONFirst, hope can come in the invigorating immediacy of a direct threat where life is literally at stake.  The awakening of purpose in such situations offers a clarity that is often lost in the muddled vagaries of life.  I see hope in this.  Second, hope can appear as a calm, centered, and artfully wise bypassing of confrontations where violence has the upper hand.  This kind of hope lives within a set of rules not dictated by one’s enemies.  Thirdly, this poem lifts up hope rooted soully in undying truths that can fuel patience for life and fearless courage in efface of death.  As hope wends through our lives, and life itself, may we be bound as won accord as we experience hope’s many threads.