Chris Hedges’ Interviews Noam Chomsky on Precarious State of America

Once again, Chris Hedges nails it in his article, Noam Chomsky Has ‘Never Seen Anything Like This,’ discussing the precarious state of the current American political landscape and bringing to bear Chomsky’s rigorous and insightful analysis over the last several generations:

Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite and the myths they perpetrate. Chomsky has done this despite being blacklisted by the commercial media, turned into a pariah by the academy and, by his own admission, being a pedantic and at times slightly boring speaker. He combines moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship, a remarkable grasp of detail and a searing intellect. He curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.” And as our nation’s most prescient critic of unregulated capitalism, globalization and the poison of empire, he enters his 81st year warning us that we have little time left to save our anemic democracy.

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Chomsky added. “I am old enough to remember the 1930s. My whole family was unemployed. There were far more desperate conditions than today. But it was hopeful. People had hope. The CIO was organizing. No one wants to say it anymore but the Communist Party was the spearhead for labor and civil rights organizing. Even things like giving my unemployed seamstress aunt a week in the country. It was a life. There is nothing like that now. The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.”

“I listen to talk radio,” Chomsky said. “I don’t want to hear Rush Limbaugh. I want to hear the people calling in. They are like [suicide pilot] Joe Stack. What is happening to me? I have done all the right things. I am a God-fearing Christian. I work hard for my family. I have a gun. I believe in the values of the country and my life is collapsing.”

Chomsky has, more than any other American intellectual, charted the downward spiral of the American political and economic system, in works such as “On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures,” “Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture,” “A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West,” “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky,” “Manufacturing Consent” and “Letters From Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda.” He reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive. It challenges cultural and political assumptions. It critiques structures. It is relentlessly self-critical. It implodes the self-indulgent myths and stereotypes we use to elevate ourselves and ignore our complicity in acts of violence and oppression. And it makes the powerful, as well as their liberal apologists, deeply uncomfortable.

Chomsky reserves his fiercest venom for the liberal elite in the press, the universities and the political system who serve as a smoke screen for the cruelty of unchecked capitalism and imperial war. He exposes their moral and intellectual posturing as a fraud. And this is why Chomsky is hated, and perhaps feared, more among liberal elites than among the right wing he also excoriates. When Christopher Hitchens decided to become a windup doll for the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, one of the first things he did was write a vicious article attacking Chomsky. Hitchens, unlike most of those he served, knew which intellectual in America mattered.

“I don’t bother writing about Fox News,” FAUX NEWS - Rich People Paying Rich People To Tell Middle Class People To Blame Poor People (FOX NEWS Parody) - POLITICAL BUTTONChomsky said. “It is too easy. What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that. At least for the educated sectors, they are the most dangerous in supporting power.”

Chomsky, because he steps outside of every group and eschews all ideologies, has been crucial to American discourse for decades, from his work on the Vietnam War to his criticisms of the Obama administration. He stubbornly maintains his position as an iconoclast, one who distrusts power in any form.Stop Terrorism Stop Participating in Terrorism--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

“Most intellectuals have a self-understanding of themselves as the conscience of humanity,” said the Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein. “They revel in and admire someone like Vaclav Havel. Chomsky is contemptuous of Havel. Chomsky embraces the Julien Benda view of the world. There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice. Benda says that the credo of any true intellectual has to be, as Christ said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ Chomsky exposes the pretenses of those who claim to be the bearers of truth and justice. He shows that in fact these intellectuals are the bearers of power and privilege and all the evil that attends it.”

“Some of Chomsky’s books will consist of things like analyzing the misrepresentations of the Arias plan in Central America, and he will devote 200 pages to it,” Finkelstein said. “And two years later, who will have heard of Oscar Arias? It causes you to wonder would Chomsky have been wiser to write things on a grander scale, things with a more enduring quality so that you read them forty or sixty years later. This is what Russell did in books like ‘Marriage and Morals.’ Can you even read any longer what Chomsky wrote on Vietnam and Central America? The answer has to often be no. This tells you something about him. He is not writing for ego. If he were writing for ego he would have written in a grand style that would have buttressed his legacy. He is writing because he wants to effect political change. He cares about the lives of people and there the details count. He is trying to refute the daily lies spewed out by the establishment media. He could have devoted his time to writing philosophical treatises that would have endured like Kant or Russell. But he invested in the tiny details which make a difference to win a political battle.”

“I try to encourage people to think for themselves, to question standard assumptions,” Chomsky said when asked about his goals. “Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin by taking a skeptical attitude toward anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself. There is plenty of information. You have got to learn how to judge, evaluate and compare it with other things. You have to take some things on trust or you can’t survive. But if there is something significant and important don’t take it on trust. As soon as you read anything that is anonymous you should immediately distrust it. If you read in the newspapers that Iran is defying the international community, ask who is the international community? India is opposed to sanctions. China is opposed to sanctions. Brazil is opposed to sanctions. The Non-Aligned Movement is vigorously opposed to sanctions and has been for years. Who is the international community? It is Washington and anyone who happens to agree with it. You can figure that out, but you have to do work. It is the same on issue after issue.”

Chomsky’s courage to speak on behalf of those, such as the Palestinians, whose suffering is often minimized or ignored in mass culture, holds up the possibility of the moral life. And, perhaps even more than his scholarship, his example of intellectual and moral independence sustains all who defy the cant of the crowd to speak the truth.

“I cannot tell you how many people, myself included, and this is not hyperbole, whose lives were changed by him,” said Finkelstein, who has been driven out of several university posts for his intellectual courage and independence. “Were it not for Chomsky I would have long ago succumbed. I was beaten and battered in my professional life. It was only the knowledge that one of the greatest minds in human history has faith in me that compensates for this constant, relentless and vicious battering. There are many people who are considered nonentities, the so-called little people of this world, who suddenly get an e-mail from Noam Chomsky. It breathes new life into you. Chomsky has stirred many, many people to realize a level of their potential that would forever be lost.”

May we have enough hope and faith in one another to act courageously for a bold new world.

POEM: A We Occupation

I get deeply cared away
Buy you being
On the same side as me
Conveniently not paying
A tension
To the under
Lying fact
That there is but
Won side
Which wee occupy

This short poem addresses a theme that underlies much of my poetry, that, in ultimate reality, we are one.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  The ego, wed to its own independence, over and above interdependence, resists a shared destiny, routinely seeking to carve out its own apparent advantage over larger realities.  After experiencing one’s fair share of unpleasant events, and witnessing the sheer pervasiveness of such events in life, competing to rise above such a fray seems eminently natural — eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.  Only a deep humility and an unbound love for life can transform destruction of selves into self-realization.

Must life feed on life?  Of course, as one, what else could one feed upon?  As a literal example, our food comes from living beings.  Now, some meat-eaters employ this fact as a convenient rationalization that killing is normal, or at least a “necessary” evil, and lazily leap to a mode of thinking (and eating) where killing is of little consequence.  I see enlightenment of living beings gently resting on that thin line between eating and being eaten.  If life must feed on life, is there a way of feeding upon life that enhances life not diminish it?  I believe that life can get bigger or smaller, as a whole, and as a self within the whole.  How big or how small I’m not sure.  Nonetheless, that thin line, our consciousness, is where the expansion or contraction rests.  Is our consciousness, and conscientiousness, confined to our self, our family, our tribe, our species, our planet, or what?  Consciousness may very well be the heart of life itself.  In this case, increasing consciousness increases life and decreasing consciousness decreases life.

One construct of evil would be feeding on death, a level of (un)consciousness that does not recognize or share consciousness with other beings.  Evil consumes consciousness.  In a sense, what evil does share is unconsciousness or contracted consciousness.  Functioning with a shared unconsciousness reduces humans to mere billiard balls, a set, albeit complex set, of cause and effect relationships guided by causes (including others’ wills) outside our self.  In essence, “choosing” unconsciousness or declining to expand consciousness takes us out of the game (the game being enhancing consciousness, life).  Contracted consciousness is a set of relationships (a “contract”) created and maintained by our wills, consciously chosen.  It is these contracts that form the substance and style of our culture, ethical debates, and political fights.  Still, consciousness, and its creative existential force, the will, lies outside any particular set of relationships (material conditions) that can be chosen.  Expanding consciousness will necessarily run into this awareness, that any particular culture, set of social conditions, or ideology, cannot control our conscious free will.  The seemingly obvious exception to this is death, or more specifically, killing, presumably ending conscious free will.  Justified killing is included in most contracts among humans today.  What this often overlooks is that killing particular expressions of conscious free will does not eliminate conscious free will; most bluntly illustrated by the fact that this would require suicide (thus, the fascination of murder-suicide by existentialist writers).  No doubt, killing is a very blunt way of trying to reign in conscious free will.  Of course, many contracted belief systems include an afterlife, the survival of conscious free will.  If this is true, this radically alters the effectiveness of killing.  Unfortunately, sometimes the belief in an afterlife, rather than simply leading to bold living, serves in the rationalization of killing (e.g., “kill them all and let God sort them out”).

Conjoining our consciousnesses seems best served by the most profound precept: love your enemies.  That which is not you — or more aptly put, that which you do not want to be you — must be both transcended and entered into.  Each of us and all of us are best served by manifesting the courage to confront and reconcile both our own inner dark side and the darkness manifest in others.  Back to the eat or be eaten metaphor, the question is begged: what if you were the pray.  The more gently profound precept, have compassion on all living beings, spurs us to walk in another’s shoes and no what it is like for shoeless souls laid bare to the world.  May we all be grounded, and laid to rest, with such compassionate and conscious living.  I deeply appreciate the Zen story of the man encountering another man somewhat boasting in tales about his great relationship and love of animals, to which he interjects, “A fish once saved my life.”  The boaster’s curiosity was peaked to hear such a tale.  To which he was told: “Once I was lost in the woods and perilously hungry.  I found a fish in the stream, and I ate him.”  This signature Zen approach is transcendentally funny and, not coincidentally, enlightening.   He deflated pomposity.  Lauded the fish which saved his life.  Plus, he outflanked even the most compassionate ideology, witnessing to the mystery of mysteries needed to instill life into any chosen ideology.  The Christian take on dietary ideologies is less clever but makes a similar point: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11)

All great philosophies and the mysticism at the heart of all religions recognizes the irreducible, creative freedom present in humans.  The mystery of creation parallels the making of humans in God’s image as co-creators, romping around the created universe.  Creation focuses on the will, the power present in human consciousness, and presumably God’s consciousness.  However, consciousness is the prerequisite to experience itself, whereby meaning arises, even made possible. Consciousness gives rise to (the experience of) the other, the myriad of things, including our body and mind.  Consciousness, sometimes called “The third eye,” is the seat of all seeing, even able to see our mind from a vantage point other than the mind itself, the true “I.”  Consciousness enlivens existence with experience and we can meaningfully participate in the myriad of things (the created world) through our will.  I strongly suspect that the foundational importance of relationships, sharing, and creation spring out of the nature of God.  As I see it, God consciousness and will give rise (create) to the other so it can share the experience of an other.  Maybe God just got tired of self-consciousness (see my poem: An Answer to the Problem of Evil, which is much more playful than the weighty title might connote).  Giving/creating seems to be the foundational nature of sharing present in enlightened beings, which cements the centrality of relationships among others.  I am struck by the tripartite truth of consciousness of self, the palpable created reality in which we experience, and the irascibly creative will from which we add our own touches.  Granted, I may be touched.  Still, there is a spirit within me that will not rest until our created reality is won size fits awe.

 

POEM: Silver Bullets

Beware of cellars of silver bullets
Proffering too for won buys
As wear wolves clothing
In the face
Of murder-suicide
Know if, and, or butt
Totally transmogrifying
In a fool moon rising
A dark knight
A bastard sun
Offering kool aid
As a final solution
A straw man choosing
Short cut
Or going long
Whether thirst or lust
The buyer be ware
As passably souled
If the prize is right

This poem is about hucksters of all sorts.  There is something about human nature that leaves us vulnerable to quick fixes, the proverbial “silver bullet.”  I suspect that this has a lot to do with laziness, the resistance to exerting effort, and a commensurately lazy view of reality where if just one thing were fixed then all would be right with the world.  Impatience is a cousin of laziness, as patience is the mother of all virtues.  Also, humans seem attracted to the clever, often at the expense of intelligence.  Even the apparently novel can beguile us to bypass ancient wisdom or just plain common sense.  Wile sellers of silver bullets must be held accountable; of coarse, the buyer must be ware, willing to be sold.  A certain steeling of our souls may lead us behave shrewdly to salespeople.  Not wanting to peer a fool is often the salespersons best tool.  Exorcising wisdom as a passing fad allows us to be taken and retards us from excepting what is given.  May you be forever souled, in awe ways rooted in that beyond accost.

POEM: A Strange Gift From Smother Earth

I awoke
Too the rumble
Of a river of cars
Getting the goods
Being trucked over and over
As fuming motorists
And fuelish consumers
Whirled wide
Tank up
With great import
As their gauges reach emptily
A diction
Beyond words
Feeding this uneconomic engine
Internally combusting
A humanity greased
Plunged into a vain artery
So so leading
To an err tight garage sail
N’air to see O2 again
Only lust C’ing a singular “O!”
To be
Fallowed buy
Cryptic silence
As nature returns
A strange gift from smother earth

This poem was inspired by awaking to the rumble of cars and trucks from I-75 about a mile from my house.  I am quite familiar with this noise pollution, a steady hum 24/7, though I usually only take notice of it at night or in the morning while lying in bed.  Noise (and light) pollution are on my short list of pet peeves and everyday side effects of so-called civilization.  However, this poem meditates on the constant stream of air pollution and inevitable environmental destruction from a carbon-based energy economy and transportation system.  The congested arteries of our highways and buy ways consternate both motorists and Mother Earth — not to mention pedestrians and bicyclists.  This poem also alludes to the military shenanigans (as we “tank up”) needed to assure a steady supply of a crude lifestyle.  The addiction to petroleum leads us to morally depraved measures of success, such as the accepted norm that destroying the environment is part and parcel to a good economy.  Such insanity brings to mind the wise aphorism: don’t shit where you eat.  The metaphor of drowning in our own waste is incarnated in this poem as the suicide of exhausted and fuming motorists in their garages, the final resting place of going nowhere fast.  This poem requires a certain knowledge of chemistry to be fully comprehended, specifically the chemical structure of carbon monoxide.  If you also know that carbon monoxide preferentially binds, in place of oxygen, on hemoglobin, then you can more fully appreciate the breathtaking nature of this poem.  The feedback of nature is neither random nor mean-spirited.  Nonetheless, if humans insist on living in unsustainable ways, then nature will weed us out or prune us down to size.  Perhaps this is poetic justice for smother earth…

POEM: Bee The Sting

As in nature
I did stir
A kamikaze threesome
Of yellow-jackets
Making their presents known
Too me
Wherever egos
Joined by white-coats
Hopefully not fallowing me
As will bee
Or not to be
And little
Did they no
I would swell
With more than pride
At their deathly pricks
And the shock to come
Working best under
Lo pressure
A life long
Pursue it
A pin cushion
Buy day and night
Nature’s suicide cheated
Yet feeling
Thy sting
Eventually in choir
Sew what?

This poem is autobiographical, inspired by a bee sting, actually three yellow-jacket stings, that I got a couple of days ago.  Such a tale is made dramatic as I am allergic to bee stings, and without quick treatment I would be dead.  I was tearing out English ivy from my front yard bed when I felt three stings in rapid succession, probably within 5 seconds, before I even saw the attacking insects whose nest in the ground I had apparently disturbed.  At least one yellow-jacket followed me as I went into the house.  I had to deliberately maneuver to prevent it from following me into the house.

Fortunately, just two days earlier, I had picked up my epi-pen (to inject epinephrine/adrenalin) from the pharmacy.  Unfortunately, I had it sitting on the couch where I had planned to read the instructions at my leisure —  I had not (read, I had sufficient leisure).  Unfortunately, I was not entirely sure whether it was better to read the instructions and self-inject or seek emergency room treatment forthwith.  Being only five minutes from St. Vincent’s Medical Medical Center emergency room, I chose to race off to the ER.   I grabbed my epi-pen just in case things took a turn for the worse on the way. Fortunately, I was not experiencing any significant symptoms yet.  A yellowjacket chased me out to my car, and again I quickly maneuvered to keep it out of my car.

As I sped to the ER I could feel my hands tingling and getting itchy.  When I got to the emergency room, there was no intake person at the front desk.  She was at another desk taking down information from another patient.  I tapped the prescription box containing my epi-pen on the counter to get her attention and announced that I had been stung by bees several times, that I was allergic to bee stings, and that I would soon be going into shock.  She stated that she would need to collect my personal information first. I deftly and quite accurately tossed my prescription box to her and I said that it should contain the pertinent information.  She equally deftly caught the box — perhaps she was well-experienced with such procedures.  Fortunately, I had seen my new primary care physician within the last week or so, so my current information would be readily available on the computer.  I then carefully laid down in front of the reception desk as I had passed out in the ER the last time I was in this same ER for a bee sting reaction, and I did not want to add any injury to insult.  She asked why I was laying on the floor and I explained to her.  She said that they would get me in a wheelchair.  I said that I would get off the floor when I got a wheelchair.  She seemed discomforted by my lying on the floor.  I comforted her by saying that I am sure that their floors were clean enough for me to pass out on them.  By this time, I noticed that little white welts were forming on my arms and legs.  My whole body was flush and my heart was racing.  Given the circumstances, I think that I was rather calm; though I don’t think I was perceived as being the most patient patient.  I was not entirely convinced that the emergency room was necessarily best geared up for emergencies.  This was also based on my previous experience with a bee sting reaction in the same emergency room where they made me sit in the waiting room waiting for medical triage.  In this experience, as the shock took hold, I indicated to the intake person that I was getting light headed.  The next thing I remember I was being lifted onto a gurney, as I had passed out and slumped off my chair to the floor.  Fortunately, this did not add any additional injury; though I did take some insult in this.  The doctor later told me that she feared I had stopped breathing, which apparently moves you up the triage priority list real fast!  Later, I would half-joke that I would fake passing out in order to get seen more quickly.  Lying on the floor with full lucidity was my real-life compromise, given that this was no joking matter.

Okay, back to the situation at hand.  I started to feel pressure around my ears as the swelling and welts continued to bloom.  After a few minutes, a man came to me and asked me what I was doing on the floor.  I explained it to him.  He said that they did not have a wheelchair available, and he asked me to stand up.  I stood up and walked with him to the intake room, sat down in a chair next to a computer, and I started answering questions. He clacked away on the keyboard in what seemed to me a rather routine way.  After measuring my heart rate at 166 beats per minute (about what my heart rate would be if I was running full speed), his sense of urgency seemed to pick up.  He made a call.  Another person came and walked me to an exam/treatment room.  He left me there alone and said that someone would be there soon.  I couldn’t help but wonder how long.  I laid down on the exam table and waited for a couple minutes, though they seemed like very long minutes to me.  At this point, there we so many welts on my arms, legs, and body that they were beginning to merge into essentially one large metropolis of welts for each section of my body..

When a nurse arrived in the exam room, she started asking questions and attaching me to a blood pressure cuff, oxygenation sensor and EKG leads.  Then, a doctor arrived, asked some more questions (plus some of the same), and did some physical exams.  The nurse inserted an IV and the doctor ordered epinephrine.  I noted that the dose they gave me was identical to the dose in my epi-pen.  [They explained later that one should always inject the epi-pen immediately after an offending insect sting.  I know that now.  The nurse later offered to show me how to use the epi-pen and was confused by a different design than with what she had experience — apparently, a new technological, perhaps technical-illogical, innovation sometimes called progress.]  I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the front desk person coming in amidst all of this and having me sign their consent to treatment form.  Was their any expectation that I would read this legal document then and there?!   Perhaps my (im)patient antics to that point, as well as not refusing the ongoing treatment, constituted a legal definition of desire/consent for treatment, but the lawyers must have their way.  My only comfort in that absurdity is that the crooked, illegible, left-handed signature on the form will not likely garner the highest price on eBay upon my postmortem celebrity value.

They sat me up and gave me an oral dose of prednisone, a steroid to bring down the swelling.  Even with the fast-acting epinephrine in me, my reaction got progressively worse.  My face was swollen and numb, feeling something akin to that experience after dental anesthesia.  While I had no difficulty breathing, I did have substantial discomfort like gastric reflux pain at the base of the esophagus.  The doctor indicated that my abnormal EKG could be an indication of a small heart attack, though he did not state any connection to my “esophageal” pain.  I did remember all those ads for not mistaking a heart attack for mere indigestion.

At the height, or perhaps depth, of my reaction, my EKG went abnormal and my blood pressure was 56/30 (normal is 120/80).  The doctor said that the abnormal EKG reading might indicate a lack of oxygenation to the heart.  They were quite stunned and concerned with this extremely low blood pressure.  They were perhaps even more stunned that I was still conscious!  To provide additional motivation, I informed them that I am much more fun when I am alive.  Fortunately, my sense of humor was largely intact.  I was on the edge of consciousness/unconsciousness for perhaps five minutes or so, as they tilted the exam table feet up and inserted another IV for additional medication(s).  I definitely had a heightened concern during this time as I strongly prefer my unconsciousness to be long bouts of normal sleep.  While I meditated on the thought of my potential death for a few moments, I had a fairly high confidence that I was in good enough hands to keep me alive, if perhaps not conscious.  While getting the attention of a team of emergency room professionals may take some time, once you’ve got their full attention, they are quite capable. Fortunately, my EKG was normal within five minutes after the abnormal reading, and my blood pressure started to normalize.  The “emergency” had climaxed, and I was about to move into the chronic patient hood.

As I was recovering in the ER, the doctor explained that he would like to admit me to the hospital so they could quickly get a cardiologist consult in-hospital, who would likely order and conduct a cardiac stress test that next day.  They had already tested immediately for blood enzymes that would indicate a heart attack, which proved negative (which is good).  They did the same test again after two hours, which was again negative.  Still, the doctor explained that it could take 24 hours for the enzymes released from a damaged heart to show up on this blood test, and he wanted to repeat this test every six hours.  I inquired as to whether my state of anaphylactic shock might, in fact, be an “informal” cardiac stress test, and that an abnormal EKG under such conditions might actually be quite normal.  He said that could be the case, but that they like to have controlled conditions to interpret cardiac stress reactions.  The alternative would be to see my primary care physician, get a referral to a cardiologist, who would order a cardiac stress test if so desired.  Of course, this would all likely take several weeks.  I consented to being admitted, partly because of the simplicity and alleged speed of the process, but also because on the observation ward I might get better management and discharge planning for the allergic reaction which would take many days to treat and get back to normal.  I consented to being admitted to the hospital.

After about a total of five hours in the emergency room, I was admitted to the observation ward of the hospital.  It was almost 7 pm.  The nurse speedily did the appropriate intake just before the 7 pm shift change, put me in the one-size-fits-none hospital gown, hooked me up to monitors and various gadgets, and we were off.  To make another long story shorter, I could have managed my post-sting allergic reaction — the blooming of welts and itching — better at home.  As is well-known, sleeping well in a hospital is a lost cause.  For example, I wrote the above poem after being woke up by the phlebotomist at 3 am to take my blood and during the ensuing a 2-1/2 hour ordeal to get two over-the-counter pills (Benadryl), one at a time, to control my blooming welts and itchiness.

I was under an NPO order, which means you can’t eat or drink anything, due to potential testing needed the next day.  So, I was poorly rested and without food or water while waiting.  As I like to say: a hospital is no place for sick people!  Instead of the cardiology consult happening in the morning as they stated as their prediction, I didn’t see the cardiologist until after 2 pm and some uncertainty as to whether the order for the consult was put in.  This consult lasted less than 10 minutes, basically asking me if I had any heart difficulties when I exercise — of which I do not. He matter-of-factually confirmed that an abnormal EKG reading when in anaphylactic shock is quite normal, even expected. He still recommended a stress test but kind of laughed when I asked if they were going to do it that day.  I did manage to get out of there by 5 pm, even getting a meal in the hours waiting for discharge.

Fortunately, I have medical insurance, unlike in my previous hospitalization for a bee sting (when I learned the hard way that I was allergic to such insect venom).  I am curious to see the bill.  Nonetheless, I served society well as a job creator.  Plus, I am deeply grateful to live to see another day!  May we all cheat death occasionally and be patient with the annoying details…

POEM: Owed to Fort Hood Shooting(s)

Owed to Fort Hood Shooting(s)

Welcome to the hood
A fort of freedom
Billed upon violence
Up in arms
With billions in cache
Yet what remains
Unexplained
Bodies of evidence
About faces
Ambushed from deep within
Sow unlike
The enemy without
A projection of force
That no’s know end
United in states
Of con-stir-nation
And the perennial just
Plane crazy
Calling 911
After years
In the making
Veterans in abandonment
The hunters now haunted
By the whores of war
Pawned by kings (and occasional queens)
And all that is rank
Sold on commissions
As common privates beholden
Major embarrassment
Corporal punishment
All under general doody
A mirror lineup of quirks
Cockeyed foibles
And proverbial whoppers
Awe mything the point
Sow full of holes
As we are believed of command
Only hoping
To return
To our census
As children of God
Only to escape
Our brood
In a sense lost forever
Having gone
Owed school
No longer
As easy as ABCD
Coming of age in PTSD
Brain injuring and heart rendering
Equivocating murder and suicide
In such grievous measures
Of military debasement

My heart goes out to all affected by the tragedy at yesterday’s murders and suicide at Fort Hood.  Today, I’ll just let my poem speak for itself.

POEM: The Right and Wrong End of a Gun

I shot Bill
In the gut
He stood there
For a moment
Seeming like a lifetime
His blood flowing
Like
Well
Freely
Or
Might as
Well
Be
‘N aRiA
Souled
A Bill of goods
Now Kosher
A salt of the earth
A haughty boys’ game
So brand-ish
Shrouding
A right end
And a wrong end
Of a gun

This is another anti-gun violence poem in what is yet another recurring theme in my musings.  I can relate to the emotions leading to want to hurt someone, even kill them.  However, I am chronically puzzled by how humanity (or inhumanity?) allows these gut feelings to get the better of us.  This seems to be solidly within the immature stages of human development.  In this poem, Bill suffers from the incarnation of such a gut feeling, by feeling a bullet rip through his gut.  You may note that there is no context given for why Bill was been shot in the gut.  I suspect that many people might presume that Bill somehow deserved being shot in the gut. Our gun culture is moving us ever along a victim blaming worldview.  This thought process is similar to people’s reactions and inquiries when someone’s house has been robbed.  Were the doors locked?  Do you have a security system?  As if not locking your door or having a security system is justification for a robber to rob you!  Similarly, gun rights folks are selling Americans the wholesale paranoid notion that if you don’t have a gun then you are just asking for trouble, with no little irony, from a person with a gun.  The truth of such paranoia may very well be directly proportional to the self-fulfilling aspects of modern America’s love affair with firearms for personal protection.  As a trained public health professional, who has studied gun violence as a public health problem, there is a scientific consensus that the easy availability and increased presence of firearms leads to increased deaths.  Of course, most gun rights enthusiast deny such scientific evidence.  Who knows, maybe their being hot under the collar is confounding this whole climate change brouhaha.  What may be of some surprise to people is that increased gun deaths are very often suicides.  In fact, those with access to guns are more likely to kill themselves than be killed by someone else.  Perhaps this is some cruel twist of human evolution, but surely we can do better than killing off ourselves.  The polarization of views on the role of guns in American culture is stark.  Whatever your views, America is moving toward resembling the OKKK Corral, and I consider this a move toward increased terrorism, never knowing whose home and family might get caught in the cross fire.

POEM: Smoking Guns

Smoking Guns

Gun control is their aim
Bringing a bout
Sad states
And a stag nation
Wear points are sported
Big bucks are the game
Triggering depression
Beyond one’s cope
Looking down
The business end
Of a gun shaking
As one’s head
Worse than beating
Against the wall
Steadied boots
Quaking again
Mourning posthumous convictions
Of scofflaw abiding citizens
Accost paid
Wrapped in flags
Until free at last
Like taking life
Most like one own
Or another
Like black male
Against one’s will
No more amendments seconded
In this ultimate bill of rites
Pain in full
Coffin at the price
High as a kite
And nonnegotiable        
Hostage too smoking
Guns unlocked
And loaded
Still packing
In their sleep
Dreams of night stands
And steel pillows
Leaving red necks
And faces
Like a smothers love
Taking homicides
As common ground
All the wile
Shooting off their mouths
Making impossible Glock suckers
Deceasing and desisting
The Man
Behind the curtain
Firing the lynch pin
For all times
As smoking guns
Don’t prove anything
So says anyone with half a brain

The title of this poem, “Smoking Guns,” is at least a triple pun.  The first meaning, most literal, is a gun just fired.  The second meaning refers to a quest for direct evidence of something (like a gun being fired!).  The third meaning is a bit more nuanced and fleshed out in the poem: literally smoking a gun by holding it in one’s mouth and committing suicide by firing it and blowing one’s brains out.  While this may seem more crude than nuanced, it is referencing an oft overlooked reality about guns and public health and safety: guns kill more Americans by suicide than murder.  The bizarre notion that guns offer some great protection in a dangerous world is negated by the frightening reality that someone possessing a gun is more likely to shoot and kill themselves, then kill another.  Now, this may be some bizarre karmic feedback to those with guns, but it can’t get much stranger — another loaded pun!  If someone possessing a gun manages not to kill themselves, they are far more likely to mistakenly kill a family member than a truly threatening stranger.  Of course, this leapfrogs over the tragic reality of purely unintentional deaths from accidental discharges, most often of a gun owner’s family members or friends!  Only when guns are outlawed will outlaws accidentally shoot their kids!  So much for protection.

The reality is guns are lethal consumer products that have escaped safe, commonsense regulation — unparalleled by any other consumer product with such inherent lethality.  Guns and suicide are the perfect example of this public health problem.  Guns are a very effective means of killing oneself that doesn’t take any special knowledge or training.  Very few people “fail” when trying to kill themselves with a gun.  Combined with the nature of suicide attempts, guns become particularly lethal.  Firearms are involved in over half of all suicides.  Most suicide attempts are by people depressed or distressed who experience an acute episode of severe suicidal thoughts.  These episodes are most frequently minutes or hours.  Without easy access to lethal means, most suicidal episodes are survived.  The choice of suicide methods is key. Moderating easy access to firearms is the most effective means of reducing suicides.  For example, compared to men, women are about three times more likely to experience depression, twice as likely to attempt suicide, yet only about a fourth as likely to “successfully” complete suicide.  This is largely related to the suicidal methods chosen.  Simply put, women use guns much less frequently in suicide attempts.  Women are only about a third as likely as men to own a gun, and are less likely to live in households with guns.

The main alternative approach to preventing suicides is having an excellent mental health system.  Unfortunately, this approach is at least as complex, and perhaps similarly intractable, as altering easy gun access.  Plus, building and maintaining an excellent mental health system is surely more financially expensive and less cost-effective than sensible regulation of firearms.  Of course, pursuing both would have definite payoffs, reducing suicide and much more!

Having worked in public health for many years, I see the parallels in the battles to bring both tobacco use and guns into a reasonable place in protecting the publics health.  Frankly, I see gun right’s nuts as even crazier than tobacco company executives lining up in front of congress and saying that they don’t believe that nicotine is addictive.  It’s difficult to think of another area of public policy and public health where the political and societal realities are so divorced from science and reason.  May we escape the ideological traps that threaten the public’s health and well-being.  After all, guns don’t die, people do!

POEM: Wading for Gödel

Wading for Gödel

A play of mathematical imprecision
Fraught with everlasting interpretations
Malingering, idoling away the ours
For a character whose reputation must impossibly precede him
Like the brutal distinction of jealousy and envoy
More afraid of the unknown than vacant certainties
Hanging around
Where oddly even suicide guarantees no relief
Fearing that nothing can’t save you
You continue with your undertaking
However uneasy your stay of execution
Every certainty begs a certain vagrancy
To wander into a place transcending recognized laws
Leading only to recognizing more laws
And evermore places transcending those laws
Somehow forgetting
Too right your cycle
Hungering for certitude
We become backwards
Taking on some medieval Buridan
Like some starving ass equidistant between two bails of
Hey! That direction doesn’t feed me at all!
How can I drink it all in
This rarified and singularly absurd dox
I’m pailing in the face of a pair!
Grown instantly by the experience
Making bail
A boat
Time
In a whirled that is
“Now,
50% more axiomatic!”
Barely con fronting reason cruelly deductive
The take away message
Be aware of the trip
It’s juxtaposition
The present
The eternal
Borne in mind
Your out
Look!
And if you find yourself
With an accent on the Kurt
Go d’ell
Or waiting for some “go dough”
To get the hell out of there
Don’t for get
Consider it
In completeness

This poem requires you to be highly alliterate!  The title “Wading fo Gödel” is both a tribute to Kurt Gödel and his Incompleteness Theorem and a pun, and tribute, to the absurdist play, “Waiting for Godot” written by Samuel Beckett.  There is also a tip of the hat to the medieval philosopher Buridan’s Ass Paradox.  Please don’t sweat the everlasting interpretations!  Though I will offer one tip to increase your reading pleasure: the line “Go d’ell” should be read with an Austrian accent (Kurt Gödel was Austrian) — that is, give it your most dramatic Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, with attitude!  Enjoy the passage…