FREE MLK POSTER: Martin Luther King, Jr. Quote – TIMELESS and TIMELY Questions of Cowardice, Expediency, Vanity, and Conscience

As Martin Luther King Day approaches this year, I was struck by the timelessness and timeliness of this MLK quote: Cowardice asks, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks, “Is it right?”

Please feel free to reflect upon this eternal wisdom and share this free MLK quote poster with friends and enemies alike.

MLK Quote - TIMELESS and TIMELY Questions of Cowardice, Expediency, Vanity, and Conscience

Cowardice asks, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks, “Is it right?”

Feel free to browse more MLK posters and great quotes.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Peace Justice Is It Just a Day Off?--Martin Luther King, Jr. POSTER

 

 

POEM: Possibility Verses

Her mastery
Of the glorious bounty
Of possibility
Taunts those enslaved
By the vain security
Of mere probabilities

This poem is a tribute to the existential divide between possibility and probability.  Possibility is the purview of free will, introducing new realities through choosing one option over another.  Probability is the domain of calculation, predicting the course of endless strings of cause and effect events.  got creativity? SPIRITUAL BUTTONPossibility is the realm of creativity, launching new cascades of cause and effect, and expanding meaning.  Probability is the sphere of the walking dead, where all that matters is predetermined and life is but ghostly animation, navigating predictable paths.  If predictability is what you are about, then probability is probably where you inhabit predominantly, with habitual domesticity.  If fashioning new ways of being in the world is your manor of being, then possibility may very well be your first and last resort.  Those preoccupied with mere probabilities will undoubtedly shortchange much purpose in life, and find themselves as serf the web of feudal circularity.  Those spellbound by possibility will find immersion in life itself, imbued with meaning and the unfathomable intrigue of other free souls.  	 Got Inspiration SPIRITUAL BUTTONThe predictability of a deeply ordered universe provides sound launching places for curious and free spirits, but entreats us to much more than mere security and manipulating control, the ultimate vanity of the undead.  May you find the incalculable freedom of possibility, inspiring others as you breathe in their spirit as well.

 

You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONGot Freedom POLITICAL BUTTONLet Freedom Ringb--bMartin Luther King, Jr. BUTTON

POEM: Pâté Time Is Soon Over

She re-lied
Over
And over
Up on safety in numbers
A calculating codeness
Betraying her art
Sow low and be holed
In common denominations
A loan in security
As helled together
Buy fences
And dam banks
A laundering cache
Never coming clean
Wile every thing stat
Like awe get out
Eating it up
And getting
As goaled in goose eggs
Nothing
Fast
As pâté time
Is soon over

This poem addresses a familiar theme in my poetry: the hollowness of chasing money in the vain quest for security.  Love Greater Than Money (Heart) - POLITICAL BUTTONThe signature puns in this poem — “goaled in goose eggs” and “pâté time” —  serve as a bit of a screening mechanism to cull out those familiar with high society.  Many might recognize the golden goose reference from the fairy tale, as well as goose eggs signifying zero or zeroes.  Fewer will know what pâté is, a highfalutin French food that is mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste.  Even fewer will know that goose liver is used in an even more highfalutin version of such swanky sustenance.  I suspect that awe will eventually know that none of this matters.  As Shakespeare so aptly noted, “All is vanity.”  Certainly, life doesn’t add up.  Though, life does seem better lived looking up.  May we find the value of life in such presents.

Feel free to browse my designs about the role and value of money in life and politics:

What Money Can't Buy - Medicine But Not Health, A House But Not A Home, Finery But Not Beauty, Luxuries But Not Culture, Amusements But Not Happiness POLITICAL BUTTONMoney is the Root of All Politics - POLITICAL BUTTONMake Love, Not Money POLITICAL BUTTON

If you want to know what god thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to. Dorothy Parker quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONYou cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24) Bible quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONThere Is No Gift Like The Present SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Someone Else Is Happy With Less Than You Have POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Re-lying on Day-old Knews

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
The news drones on
Massaging and spinning
Disembodied heads a top
Heartless ‘n titties in dis cursive and desultry means
Temperately flailing to wake us
From our terrorific slumber
Our tired and true rejoinder
Hit the snooze
Yes! In the land of nod
Obey the well-dressed anchor
Around your neck
Nothing to see, hear!
Accept properly-placed comas
Overlooking a legion of meanings
That might
Arise from our side
Maddened more
By head lines in-grave
As face each mourn
Not up to catching forty hoodwinks
Before rolling over and playing dead
To any smooth promise posed
To have done with the etched of the earth
Penned in stone
Fashioned to suture self
With the bounty of some spell binding medium
Ripped at the seem
Quipped with stupefying farce
As the wise crack
Humanity snapping to a tension
‘n snare with each punch line
It’s how the net works
Naught
To see the catch
Re-lying on day-old knews
In abiding wore
For flagging ardor
And uniform fatigues
Am bushed
And each recurring brake of daze
Pared with a new assault
To be taken
With agreein’
Ennui start all over agin

The news as imperfected by the American media conglomerates may represent the most distant information and perspective in acquiring and harmonizing with timeless truths.  Drowning In Information But Starved For Truth [TV] POLITICAL BUTTONThis incongruence between timeliness and timelessness is a form of endemic violence perpetuated on the American public.  What bleeds leads, and awe is vanity.  Flittering from superficial story to superficial story leaves the cursory public interest unattended too.  The veil of objectivity alludes responsibility.  The conveniently hidden agenda of corporate interests routinely protects itself from authentic critique.  Useful as chain mail, amid evil sensibility is safeguarded for the lords of the manner.  Civility hijacks dissent.  Of coarse, vulgar opinion poses handily as master debating.

I find an antidote to such blindness-producing jerks, listening to Democracy Now (DemocracyNow.org) every weekday.  If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing -- Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONThis bastion of independent media provides in-depth coverage of real issues and real people, speaking truth to power every broadcast.  Also, I relish the launching of Toledo’s own independent, noncommercial radio station, WAKT 106.1 FM, this July.  This radio station will provide locally-produced content free from commercial interests.  My public health show, Just for the Health of it, will take on corporate health interests to aid and abet local folks in powering up their own health, the health of our community, and the health of our planet.

May you find meaningful and uplifting sources of news and information, good for awe.

Check out my dozens of Fox News/Faux News parodies here.

Faux News - Unencumbered by Truth (FOX NEWS Parody) - POLITICAL BUTTON	 FAUX NEWS - Making The World Safe For Stupidity (FOX NEWS Parody) - POLITICAL BUTTONFaux News - Preferred by 5 Out of 4 Rednecks (FOX NEWS Parody) - POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Constipated Destiny

He knew knot
Exactly where
He was going
As fate would have it
Seized by easy convictions
Big house
Auto, pilot
And every won else’s
Re-guard
Of one self full
Filled
Buy in
And sell out
In humanity
A sure thing
The gold
In rule
A void
Apprehensions
Of vassal late
Making one’s self
The whore of certain knowledge
The john of dreams undared
Unfailing in his coarse
Fining himself
Scared to dearth
Of his constipated destiny meting

This poem deals with the vanity and danger of pursuing material success and cashing in on conventional wisdom.  The good life is all too often pawned off as having fine possessions or relishing in status or celebrity.  Possessions have a way of possessing us.  In a world where so many have so little, fine possessions can be devilish.  Status or celebrity has a way of simply highlighting our own emptiness or hypocrisy in a pressurized or scrutinized existence.  Fine possessions and status are typically acquired through the successful use (and misuse) of conventional wisdom, or simply through unmerited privilege.  Albeit, celebrity sometimes comes through more notorious means.  Still, we all know where this leads: the well-worn hierarchies of winners and losers.  In a constipated destiny, everyone knows their place.  Predictability (sometimes better known as ‘security’) and fatalism serve as poor substitutes for true daring and bold hope.  Well-worn rules (and rulers) of the game leave little but cheap thrills and expensive highs to assuage our stultified lives.  The bulk of our lives are leased for weekends.  Passionate vocations are bartered for passing vacations.  Awe sold for certainty.  Dreams pimped for fear of being a sucker, or worse.  May you live a life where you are not scared to dearth, settling for mere material finery or tranquilizing status, a constipated destiny, or hellish blandness.  May you follow your dreams in a way that literally scares the hell out of others!

 

POEM: Awe Full Going On

In oblivious camp
The guard threw shoes at us
My pair was too big to fill
More suited to Tariq
Though mine were newer
Tariq’s were old
And bound to be
A little too snug
Seeing more than a pair
In his eyes
More than a trader
As a Spanish Moor
Don quixotically
His feat covered
In such a broad cast
O Don my don
Won
Never entreating
Me mirrorly
For what
I had
My number coming up
Finding myself only
Equal to death
In life
And awe full
That’s going on

WARNING: This commentary contains spoilers — and/or clues.

This 92-word poem is packed with overlapping and intertwined cultural references.  First, the initial inspiration came from an unexpected source, a source to which I stumbled upon, from a momentary image in the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, where he chronicles his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors; specifically in a short “Making of Maus” presentation by PBS. A character commented on the shoes he was thrown by a concentration camp guard paying no attention whatsoever to matching the shoe with the man.  This struck me as a surreal brandishing of a perversed proverb, “If the show doesn’t fit, wear it.”

Fast forward to today.  Instead of in a concentration camp, the setting is an “oblivious camp,” a self-parody of the horror of genocide.  Given a recipient named Tariq, the implied guard is an Israeli, a Zionist, maybe even a Jew (this is the author speaking).  The apparent irony of Israeli fascism is further multiplied by shoe throwing as an especially insulting gesture to Arabs.  The guard neither knows nor cares.

The story is told in unnamed first-person.  Those who know me, the author, know that I am not Palestinian.  Those who really know me, know that I am Palestinian — at least if weave ever metaphor.  The narrator has a newer, “better” pair compared to his companion shoe receiver, Tariq.  The “too big to fill” as well as “pair” also refer to a man’s balls, i.e., courage.  The hubris of violent retribution may pass for courage, yet, remain “too big to fill.”  Something of a higher spiritual nature is lacking, preventing fulfillment.  Being puffed up with worldly power also leaves us cramped spiritually.  The “too big to fill” is also a reference to “big shoes to fill,” meaning of a challengingly high moral fulfillment — “More suited to Tariq.”  While Tariq’s shoes (and balls) were old, he was “Bound to be,” to exist freely in his being and be bound in his existence.  To the unschooled, “A little too snug” can appear as cramped, naive, even smug. But, alas, “Seeing more than a pair,” there is more to life than mere possessions, or even worldly courage.  “Seeing more than a pair/In his eyes,” is the meeting of souls, through truly looking into the eyes, the windows of the soul, and seeing one another’s humanity.  “More than a pair” alludes to more than a pair of shoes, more than even a pair of companion souls, including and transcending even the oblivious guard, alluding the an ever-mysterious, even awe full third.

Ironically, Tariq means conqueror.  And conquering covers a lot a ground (often with blood).  The Spanish Moor reference deepens the “More than a trader” reference, alluding to more than simply trading tit for tat, more than trading by means of outright conquering, and more than a traitor by alternating roles as oppressor and oppressed in life.  The Moors were African (black), Arab, and Muslim.  They occupied “Spain” for 800 years beginning in 711 AD.  Tariq ibn Ziyad was the conquering Moor general.  They brought literacy and “civilization” to Spain.  The ironies emanating from such history into contemporary life exceed perhaps even that of the most famous Jew, Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, now portrayed as a Christian.  Now, the black Arab, Muslim, Spanish Moor reference turns on Spanish culture with Tariq’s Don status, meaning a lord or gentleman, or even mafia boss; plus, there is the allusion to donning another’s shoes as need be even amidst one’s idealism (Don quixotically).  “His feat covered” alludes to accomplishments lost to history, met with the acceptance and certainty of death.  The inevitable turning of fates does not confound the wise man who sees these as the inexorable breathing in and out of history.

Back to the narrator, “In such a broad cast,” the oblivious dropping of the shoe of history upon us engenders the seeking of redemption in the equanimity of Tariq the conqueror now vanquished of earthly victory.  “O Don my don/Won” is a cry to a Don with a capital D from a don with a lowercase d to move beyond simply donning one set of circumstances after another in a perpetually unfulfilling chase for the ultimate tale — or whatever tale won can muster.  Here lies the reference to “don Won” (Don Juan), history’s most notorious tale chaser, ever confident in youth’s distance from death, ever accessible superficialities, and repentance as procrastination’s crowning achievement in the face of a God sow loving.  What good is clinging to victories when death, the great equalizer, stands over us?

The narrator suspects that Tariq might have an answer.  The narrator’s cry “O Don my don” is a venerable ripoff of Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain,” about Abraham Lincoln and his death, reminding us that after even achieving epic victory (e.g., freedom from slavery), our greatest will eventually fall cold and dead, and we will each be left with “mournful tread” as we seek to fulfill our own soul’s purposes without the benefit of particular great souls by our side.  When you are going through hell, keep going -- Winston Churchill quoteThe narrator’s cry to Tariq, all ready as good as dead, confesses his unreciprocated vanity: “Never entreating/Me mirrorly/For what/I had.”  No matter how high we might be able to crank up our number, our number always comes up.  Tariq lives and dies in this essential equality.  Tariq sees beyond the pinings that box us in.  Mysteriously, the challenge becomes clearer when we have little to cling to, and perhaps clearer still, when what we cling to is an unbefitting shoe, freeing us though its tragic comedy.  Know longer cluttered by the stuff of life, the narrator confronts a new reality: “Finding myself only/Equal to death/In life/And awe full/That’s going on.”  As the awful is going on, may you find yourself full of awe, for that’s going on!

 

POEM: Joining That Mystical Union

Having
Evolved
Too keep
Every last won
Of this sophisticated specious
Under opposable thumbs
Like a perch
In a stream of consciousness
Executing my porpoise
The best
I can do
A thwart on the phase of humanity
This avowing
That it is
Just us
And by what means
Can we make a diffidence
Of that a ledge
Too due
Joining the crowded
Signing off
On that
Collective bargain
As wee
All a greed
As far as we reckon
Bunching up
In a scanty throng
Of self-proclaimed wizzes
In the brook of life
Where awe is swill
In our out standing potable potty
In the heat of august
Quenched
Buy the patently falls
That is
Not so
Crappy
Requited in terminally wading
Who gets
The last ward
From what sores then
Only then
Where naught else fallows
To find oneself
In silence
A loan
Yet not feeling solo
In fact
Feeling unrivalled
Caching in
Empyreal cents
Fore that which is
Unfallible
Without rank
Revolting
Caste a side
Even without
Empty congregation
For going
As it is written
Upon stationery
In place of life
Wear awe is won
In a corporeal merger
Of all that is ardor
With all that is light
Enrolled into one
That mystical union
Joining arts
And boundless trades
Uniting awe
In a baptism of matchless flare
Emerging from water
Besting the supposed fin
By no less than two feet
Upright
On wholly ground
Accompanying sound sole
In the rarefied guardin’
Of one constitutional
Heartwarmingly vein to sum
Countless succeeding
With heir to breathe freely
Living in
The hear and now
Beyond what can be herd
No longer weighting
Only to expire
That which is fleeting
Trafficking in exclusion
Flailing to sea
The catch all
Recognizing each
To be won
Of a kind

Here is a poem that plays with themes of the oneness of consciousness, the oneness of humanity, and the merging of the spiritual and physical realms.  Of course, it begins with recognizing the sea of vanity that passes for much of so-called civilized life.  Seeing past this pollution is a necessary precondition to more fully experience life’s ever-present gifts and freely give our unique selves to the world.  This requires mastering letting go more-so than grasping.  Letting go prepares us to receive the perpetual, dare I say eternal, stream of gifts available to us at any given moment.  This process of freely receiving this veritable tsunami of presents is only possible when harmoniously matched with freely giving, letting go, which continues, reflects, and magnifies the true abundance in which we are awash.  The difference between this process and the close-minded, close-hearted clinging and collecting of much of daily life is the difference between heaven and hell — perhaps even heaven and hell!

Giving and receiving is one of the central yin and yang of our lives.  Much of the pain in life can be traced back to the felt need to keep account of all of the giving and receiving that is going on, and then expending precious energy (sometimes called ‘work’) attempting to make sure that the receiving side of our ledger is adequate.  Then, when we have ‘enough,’ we can be gracious on the giving side.  I suspect that how we answer the question with our lives, “how much is enough?” lies at the heart of how well we contribute to our shared humanity and shared reality.  The harmonious yin and yang of giving and taking is often befuddled and turned upside down by a predominant (and ultimately dominating) focus on receiving, aka taking.  This conundrum rests on how we answer the proverbial question of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” — in this case, giving or taking.  As any practiced Taoist would realize, these yin and yang questions are ultimately incomprehensible without a deep appreciation for balance, or, as the Taoist would say, complementariness.  I think this is also why Buddhists are not big on origin or creation stories (‘egg’ stories); what we have at any given moment is much more important than accounting for where it came from.  The Christian contribution to this dialogue is a focus on grace, that any giving on our part is only made possible by something outside our selves gracing us with anything to give.  In the human experience, grace, and the gratitude that evolves from living in it, quite universally leads to more harmonious (happy) living.  Our natural propensity toward accounting cannot escape the balance shit completely!

There Is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the WayAs a devotee of social justice, the problem of the balance sheet often consumes — or at least dominates — any conception of justice.  I prefer to frame justice as harmony and injustice as disharmony.  Both the way and the goal, the means and the ends, is peace (harmony).  As one of my favorite pacifists, and fellow Hope College alumnus, A.J. Muste proclaimed, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  I see the chicken and egg argument about which comes first, peace or justice, as the divide between self and other; that is, injustice is typically described as conditions of disharmony outside one’s self, amongst the human community and our shared reality. The role we contribute to bringing justice into the world is one of bringing harmony.  And as most any human would agree: you can’t give what you don’t have!

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quoteIf you are still convinced that justice is fundamentally a balance sheet then ponder this: how can you possibly experience injustice if you came into the world on no account of your own, experience a measure of life, and return to nothing (or at least certainly not something less than something) — how can you ever be in debt?  The only “debt” that we have is the positive reality that we have been given anything and everything we have.  This is well captured by Alice Walker who declared, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” I see this debt as the foundation for any ethical system, a shared debt owed with each and every human, setting up solidarity as a fundamental shared human reality. This was eminently stated by Albert Schweitzer: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”  Injustice can be viewed as some having more than others (earned/unearned more than others?) but any conception of this is still rooted (and must give just due) in the harmonious relationship between giving and receiving.  The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quoteTaking away, WAY different than receiving, is dishonoring the mystical ying-yang of giving and receiving, in whatever brand of accounting one might ascribe too.  Any thought that re-framing your account of justice as “giving” justice to others might be well served by meditating on your dependable feeling when others want to give you their justice.  While there are immature forms of resisting others actions “for our own good,” I suspect that resisting others taking our account is rightly and justly rooted (a gift of human nature) in the shared and absolute nature of each and every human being’s life as a sheer gift beyond merit.  Fights about whose debt is bigger are probably best resolved by demonstrating the recognition of our own immeasurable debt.  Albert Schweitzer also infamously said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”  Be the Change You Want to See in the World - Gandhi quoteThis is a close cousin to my favorite Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Hopefully, amidst such ponderings you will find this awe difficult to take!

May you join this mystical union, and whatever dues you may pay, may they be well worth it…

POEM: Albatross Necklace Futures

I stared at the world
I could have built
Had I
Grasped more
Farce fully
A stock pile
Awe but reaching
Heaven
Falling short
Of mature stature
Leaving behind
Child’s play
The ripe now
And not trading in
Futures
Of albatross necklaces
Adorned by all

This poem is a tip of the hat to the story of the Tower of Babel, where mankind tries quite literally to build a stairway to heaven.  This ancient tale of vanity is perhaps even more true now than when it was first told.  With advances in science and technology the notion of building a socialist paradise that saves humanity from its own perennial moral dilemmas seems all the more possible, and therefore, tempting.  Of course, knowledge is no sin; but, the hubris to think that you can cheat reality is.  There are no technological means to bypass courage, faith, and compassion or love.  Humans are the proper instrument for courage, faith, and love.  Any worldview that negates humanity by pretending that humanity can somehow be bypassed, along with its unavoidable moral responsibility, is idolatrous.  Idolatry is simply constructing the foundation of one’s life (whatever you consider authoritative) on images of reality rather than reality itself.  Simply put, humans cannot create a world where they no longer need to be good, that is make moral choices, with their commensurate values or “costs”, which include courage, faith, and love

Any ideology or social system can function idolatrously, if it is considered an end not the means to something greater.  Such rigid, graven images impair proper human functioning, which is relational, not simply a “thing” to be better sculpted.  The something greater is dynamic living relationships.  In religious terms, the great commandments are relational as loving God and loving neighbor.  Unfortunately, humans are quite adept at over-concretizing spiritual truths and settling for worshiping the stone images (e.g., ten commandments) printed word (e.g., Bible), or any system of thought, rather than the reality to which they point: God and neighbor.  Inasmuch as we stop and settle for an image of what our relationships should be, we actually step outside of that living relationship and kill it.  In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the “People of the Book”), God keeps it very simple by declaring to Moses to tell the people only “I am who I am” (or, “I will be what I will be.”)  The rest involves having a relationship with the “I am who I am.”  Of course, in modern secularism, this is epically avoided by denying even the existence of “I am who I am.”  Not surprisingly, the “I am who I am” residing within us all gets short shrift and humanity is left to define itself simply by its material aspects, limiting it’s nature to “I am what I am” — which I call the Popeye fallacy.  The Popeye fallacy omits a dimension of our being, leaving us a mirror caricature.  Much alienation in modern Western civilization is rooted in mistaking humans as “what” not “who.”  People are not things, at least not things alone.  To add to the irony and epic misdirection, legal fictions like corporate “personhood” are considered “human,” while humans have difficulty mustering such status.  Such battles over what a person is, a who or a what, may very well define our age.  May we have the wisdom to know the difference!

Of course, this poem frames the epic theme of idolatrous hubris on a more modest, individual level.  Hubris often hides in the “humble” context of the individual, with a built in rationalization that one person cannot make the difference.  This itself is an amoral or immoral act.  Morality always plays out among individual moral agents.  This is the very point of what is often avoided by shifting agency onto society, deflecting moral agency altogether, or claiming that “the devil made me do it” (insert ‘terrorist’ for ‘devil’ to upgrade to “modern” worldview).

Lastly, moral agency is played out in real time, the now.  Respecting the relational process of being human, which is inherently subjective, must favor the present over some conception or image of a future end.  More simply put, humans are ends in themselves, not to be subjugated to another’s systems of images of the future.  Keeping it real means honoring humans as sacred participants in this process, always valuing who people are more than what they are, or even what they may be.  I suspect that faith in God, the “I am who I am,” is trusting that the greater is lived out by focusing on who, not what.  This may very well be the inseparable nature of loving God and loving neighbor, each reinforcing one another in blessed mutuality.  May it be so.

POEM: Razz Putin: Owed to Ukraine

As things
Go south
And wiled west
Stupefying as some razz Putin
What due we have
Hear
A good ol’ boy
Re-siding in backcountry
Rushin’ cross
Too bear
An unsettling black see
A lynch pin for his sue veneer pogram
A tar-nation
And feather in
His cap
In someone else’s
As I’m-Putin’ vanity
As pass over sanity
Egos wear ever wont
Abounding airs
Occupying armies
A boarder crossing
Mounting manly farces
In along tradition
Of bastards and goose step children
Invading the motherland
Herr outskirts and upskirts
The enemy becoming
Hapless prey
And bereaved to be
On their knees
With horror teeming
As never enough
Given the boot
As importune back ground
Ukraine your neck
In eminent effluence
Its about face
Knowing no boundaries
That final frontier
Where know man
Has gone before
Never just
Covering wons assets
Entire specious over stepping
The acquisitive mine
As nothing conceited
Like some broken
Hysterical record
Never grasping
That which wee
Re-hearse
For in any language
The present tense
Sow surpassing pretense
The dividing lyings
Be tween
Childhood and adult hood
A parent to only a few
The bot and souled
A won for two sail
For those down
Crimea river
Without a paddle
As hope offed spring
Until just
Full groan
Amiss the not-so minor prospect
Of unending descendents
Becoming won

This ode to the Ukraine goes out to all of those harmed by the corruption and violence perpetrated by both Russia and the west.  The people of the Ukraine are being made the pawns of a re-nude cold war, led by Vladimir Putin, who is strangely reminiscent of the wiled west.  May we be won people, not by dividing, but by uniting.

Blood Donor Deferrals Border on Insanity

I just returned from donating blood at the American Red Cross.  I have been a regular blood donor for a long time.  I usually donate blood two or three times a year.  Unfortunately, I have been deferred as a blood donor for two of the last four years.  I was deferred as a blood donor twice for one year each time, both due to traveling to an area where there may be some malaria risk.  The first time that I was deferred as a blood donor was because of travel to Haiti.  The second time was due to travel through rural Colombia.  In my case, these deferrals resulted in a loss of 4 to 6 units of donated blood to the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross is constantly trying to recruit new blood donors and to get previous blood donors to donate again.  From the regular calls and advertising campaigns, I get the impression that the US blood supply may be low at times and that my blood donations are greatly needed.  However, I am struck by the huge range of reasons for deferring willing blood donors.  It seems to me that the threshold for deferral is very low.  The willingness to accept any nonzero risk is very low.  This approach is insane, or least pretty darn close.  The vain quest for absolute security and zero risk is a dangerous fiction.  I understand the reasons for wanting to avoid blood transfusion related adverse events.  However, deferring extremely low risk willing blood donors and potentially depriving someone of a needed blood transfusions is not a zero risk enterprise either.  As stated by Richard Benjamin, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the American Red Cross, “The most dangerous unit of blood is the one we don’t have.  Not having blood for someone who needs it is worse than giving someone a unit of blood that carries a 1-in-5 million chance of disease.”

I am not your average blood donor.  I have a master’s degree in public health, so I have training in epidemiology, the scientific study of the distribution of disease, health and their determinants.  Also, in the 1990s I worked in a health department managing an HIV-AIDS program.  I am familiar with the political and cultural forces that can distort our scientific assessments of risk management.  However, you don’t need a graduate degree to recognize that our culture has great issues around security and fear of losing or risking most anything.

Less than 38% of Americans are eligible to donate blood according to the American Red Cross.  Today, as I read through the pages of reasons for which you could be deferred from donating blood, I was struck most profoundly by the deferrals based simply on where one has lived.  If, in fact, the scientific basis for avoiding such blood donors is sound, then the entire continent of Europe should refuse blood donations from virtually its entire population.  This cannot be sound scientific reasoning.

In the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of hysteria about mad cow disease.  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 22 cases of mad cow disease in the United States since 2003.  Three of these cases originated in the United States.  Most of the other cases were from Canada, which you may note is not one of the restricted countries that will put you on the blood donation deferral list by the American Red Cross.  The United Kingdom was the epicenter for the mad cow disease epidemic.  While in the United Kingdom there had been thousands of cases of mad cow disease in years past, in 2010 there were only 11 cases reported.  Maybe it’s time for the American Red Cross to relax its deferral requirements related to mad cow disease. Or, maybe we should come up with a new diagnosis for this irrational insanity, and declare that the American Red Cross has Mad American Disease.  You are literally dozens of times more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning in the US then getting mad cow disease.  I’m not sure what the chance is of lightning striking the American Red Cross, but I would settle for a light bulb above the head of somebody who makes these crazy decisions.

Over the decades that I have donated blood to the American Red Cross, I have noted the quickly changing and almost always growing list of reasons to defer a willing blood donor.  As a personal example, I had malaria when I was an infant in Haiti where I was born.  During the ensuing 50 years I’ve not had any symptoms of malaria.  However, how the American Red Cross deals with this distant case of malaria changes back and forth.  Many years ago, the American Red Cross simply asked whether you have ever had malaria, and if you indicated yes, the nurse would ask more specific questions.  This always made for an interesting blood donation visit as I suspect there were few Ohio blood donors who had ever had malaria, and the nurses often had to consult with other professional healthcare staff to figure out what to do with me as a blood donor.  Although sometimes it took a while for them to figure it out, it never prevented me from donating blood.  Then, at some point later, they changed the question as to whether you had malaria in the last three years.  I can answer no to this question, and this streamlined my visit quite a bit.  Now, in recent years, they are back to the more general question of have you ever had malaria.  Fortunately, there seems to be better training among the nurses during the screenings and they do not seem to need to consult anyone else to determine that I am, in fact, eligible to donate blood.

The American Red Cross’ quest for zero risk seems to be marching on.  Since I last donated blood less than three months ago, they have added yet another safety precaution.  Now, when they stick your finger with a needle to get a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin, they place a plexiglass barrier between your finger and the nurse.  Really now, how often does anyone ever got blood splashed in their eyes from giving a finger prick?  More importantly, does this represent any risk worth worrying about.  If it does, I’d hate to see what such risk assessment would do to health care workers in hospital settings.  Perhaps we should expect nurses in hospitals to soon be wearing spacesuits just to be sure.  According to the CDC, “Health care workers who have received hepatitis B vaccine and have developed immunity to the virus are at virtually no risk for infection…the estimated risk for infection after a needlestick or cut exposure to HCV-infected blood is approximately 1.8%.  The risk following a blood splash is unknown but is believed to be very small…The risk after exposure of the eye, nose, or mouth to HIV-infected blood is estimated to be, on average, 0.1% (1 in 1,000).” For instance, for hepatitis C,  “the risk is considered to be less than 1 chance per 2 million units transfused.”  That’s for a blood donation recipient who has an entire unit of blood transfused into them.  The risk of  the nurse getting infected by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor would be on the order of that one in a million TIMES the chance of getting a drop of blood splashed in their eye when pricking a blood donor’s finger TIMES the chance that such an event could cause disease.  You can do the math yourself.  For the example of hepatitis C, conservatively, we are talking about one in a million times one in thousands times one in a thousand.  In the end, we are talking about no more than a chance of one in many billions of getting infected by hepatitis C by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor without having eye protection .  For the number of blood donations every year in the US, it would take centuries for this practice to expect to prevent even one case of blood borne pathogens.  The risk for hepatitis C is the highest and adding in hepatitis C and HIV would not substantially change this basic calculation.  From the resource perspective, the question becomes how many billions of times do you want to place a plexiglass barrier between you and a potential blood donor to prevent a single case of infection?

I am well aware of the emotional place from which the quest for zero risk comes.  Unfortunately, the emotional experience of wanting to live in a zero risk world does not match up with a simple costs and benefits calculation of going very far down that road.  It quickly leads to unjustifiable contradictions.  Why defer blood donors due to a nearly incalculably small risk for mad cow disease from people who spend significant time in Europe but not Canada, where most of the US cases have originated from?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Starting a deferral process for people who spend significant time in Canada would expose the insane balance between actual risk and actual costs in trying to avoid the risk.  It seems that we can “afford” to ban, for example, military servicemen who were stationed in Germany or England from donating blood in order to “buy” some unscientific sense of security in our blood supply.  I recognize that plenty of people are willing to pay such prices.  I just ask that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that these choices are based on scientific evidence and well-reasoned analyses of risk management.

Another example of blood donor deferral that rests more on cultural biases than scientific and well-reasoned risk management, is The Lifetime Ban on Blood Donations from Gay Men, where policy analyst Robert Valadez writes:

“So where did this policy come from? And why is it still enforced despite advances in technology that can identify HIV in a unit of blood within days of infection?

The policy dates back to the early days of the HIV epidemic, when knowledge of transmission was nonexistent. Recognizing the disproportionate incidence rates among gay and bisexual men, the FDA responded by enacting a policy that prohibited all men who had sex with other men from donating blood. The year was 1985. Twenty-six years later, the policy remains unchanged.

Current blood donor eligibility criteria are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior. For example, a heterosexual person who has sex with a partner who is HIV-positive is eligible to donate blood after only 12 months. Yet the policy permanently bans all gay and bisexual men, even those who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or in monogamous relationships”

Like many experiences in my life, I find that even the wonderful experience of saving lives by donating blood, comes with the collateral costs of having to participate in the system that is driven by an insane quest for zero risk.  This insane quest has costs.  It has costs for the blood supply and the people who depend on it.  This insane quest for zero risk has costs for those who are subjected to its unscientific cultural biases, and for all of us who live in an environment that unnecessarily models for us this insanity and vanity.  Life has risks.  There are reasonable and scientific ways to reduce these risks.  We should pay attention to these.  However, we should not be driven and reduced by unreasonable fears, unfounded fears.  As is often the case in life, that which we feel threatens us gets a disproportionate amount of our attention.  Nonetheless, we should look at the full range of costs associated with trying to avoid some threat, and realize and accept that risk is an integral and unavoidable part of life.  I would hope that the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, in its broadest sense, would kick in as we live into the fact that taking and accepting risks can far outweigh the costs of those risks.  Maybe even the American Red Cross will take a risk and pare down its blood donation deferral list.  We can always hope — though this entails some risk…

POEM: Commercial Interruption

We interrupt this commercial
Now that wasn’t so hard
Or was it?

How many times a day is our consciousness breached by some form of commercial interruption?  Way too many times!  I consider this commercial assault a major form of violence in our culture.  This short poem is geared to get the reader to think about taking back these interruptions and reclaiming our consciousness.  Rather than the commercial interrupting us, we interrupt this commercial.  Initially, this may not be difficult.  A momentary victory is not difficult to achieve.  However, the assault of commercial interruptions is so pervasive and penetrating that keeping them out of our consciousness requires constant discipline.  In the long run, avoiding those settings where commercial interruptions are prevalent is probably the best strategy.  Like any kind of mindfulness or meditation practice, maintaining complete control over where the mind goes is probably impossible.  Nevertheless, we can train our minds to let go the commercial interruptions and build associations in our mental state that eventually rate these commercial interruptions as not worth paying attention to.  Live Simply So Others May Simply Live-POLITICAL BUTTONAnother suggestion on the social front would be not to buy any of the crap that’s advertised. This is not really that difficult since most of the crap that’s advertised is crap.  Questioning consumption and consumerism, as well as living a simple life, are long-term strategies to interrupt the violent assaults of commercials.  Also, given the sloganeering and design work that I do, I like to parody and satirize the vanity and absurdity of many commercial endeavors.  I find this method of fighting back both cathartic and joy producing.  May the farce be with you as well!

POEM: Those who take things literally are often thieves.

ONE-LINE POEM:

Those who take things literally are often thieves.

Here it is folks, my first one-line poem!  Quite appropriately, this short poem is a poem about poems, as well as a poem dealing directly and simply with social and political philosophy.  Not surprisingly, even this short poem contains a pun.

Oddly, the phrase “take things literally” means taking something at its most obvious face value, without presuming or exploring any deeper or metaphorical meaning.  I would take the phrase “take things literally” to mean something to do with literature and literature’s aspirations to communicate at levels much deeper and richer than considering language to be something that just matches a particular symbol with a particular thing like a rock or a box.

I would submit that meaning itself is something that transcends particular things like a rock or a box.  If literature is ever to rock, or if we are ever to think outside the box, we need to have a rich and robust appreciation for metaphors.  In fact, we should rely on them.  Anything less would not even qualifying as an aspiration.  And we dare to wonder why we find it difficult to find inspiration in such an aspiration-free world. This is another version of a common theme that I deal with in my life and how I see the world, that there is much more to life than the scientific reductionist, materialistic world.  This is a key factor in why I increasingly see the world as surreal.  We are human beings, subjects not objects, that seem intent on reducing the world to things, such as rubble.  It seems that the modus operandi of Western civilization is to take things literally, thus accounting for imperialism and capitalism. It seems that taking such a way of being to its logical and cruel conclusion is to conspire, as opposed to aspire, to the pirate motto of ”  Take all that you can and give nothing back.” And worse yet, our co-conspirators are only of use to us in as much as they assist us in taking things literally.  Therefore, we are literally at war with one another.  Further, we are literally at war with our self, since the subjective realm is inaccessible or denied when we are held captive by taking things literally.  Well, enough political philosophy, let’s get back to the poem.

We all know what a thief is.  A thief is a robber, someone who steals things.  However, this short, one-line poem begs the question of what exactly is being stolen.  With the above philosophical discourse on objects and subjects, I hope that you can guess that I am not wanting the reader to lock their doors for fear of their stuff being stolen.  Rather, I’m hoping that the reader will open their mind, and better yet, their heart, to infinitely more important things that can be stolen from us, if we are not careful and paying attention.  What could be infinitely more important than my stuff?!  What I’m referring to is something that is qualitatively different than stuff, or things.  Qualitatively different means that it cannot be substituted for.  The most obvious and even trite example is “money can’t buy you love.”  Money is clearly, and literally, the currency the modern Western civilization uses for virtually everything.  Not surprisingly, this explains why neglect more important matters, matters of the soul.  It qualifies as sheer vanity and insanity to engage in a commerce of the soul that attempts to exchange stuff for our humanity, the essence of what separates us from dirt, our soul if you will.  Of course, I believe that people, human beings, are more than complicated dirt.  If you believe that you are just complicated dirt, then there is much more remedial work that needs to be done for our minds and hearts to connect, to communicate.  Of course, ironically, if we are just complicated dirt, a wild statistical outlier from most of the rest of the barren material that we can identify in the known universe, and we are  just billiard balls in a mechanistic, cause-and-effect universe, then all that we do is fated, determined, a grand illusion of free will.  If you’d like to go to even one more level of irony, I find myself compelled to believe this!  Ah, the places such spiritual musings take you!

There is one word in this eight-word poem that could easily be overlooked and its significance missed.  That word is: often. Taking things literally is certainly not always a mistake.  Usually when we say “rock” we mean a rock.  Usually when we say “box” we mean a box.  Now, I chose the word “often” to access what I think the reality is, that the deeper metaphorical meanings are ignored or even stolen from us with great regularity (know shit!).  In speaking about subjectivity and objectivity, things and transcendence, dirt versus souls, and the like (and love), people often mistake me for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. More truthfully, in my own dyslexic fashion, it might be more apt to say, “throwing the bathwater out for the baby.”  To be clear, for the literalists in the crowd, I am not opposed to bathwater.  Bathwater is great!  My underlying point is that babies are more important than bathwater.

Okay, there is another word in this poem that probably needs to be mentioned for its significance.  Note that I use the word “those” rather than the word “people”.  This is intentionally meant to be ironic, since devoted literalists seem to be living in a world that denies the very fact that they are people.  Hey, aren’t you glad that this is only an eight-word poem!

Let me try to keep it simple.  Here are some of the things that I think are qualitatively different from stuff, the barren building blocks of our material universe: compassion, hope, gratitude and mercy.  Feel free to talk among yourselves.  Let me know what you think. My hope for you, and my hope for us, is that the trials and tribulations of this billiard ball world will neither destroy nor defeat you, nor steal from you the most important matters in life, and that you will live wholeheartedly in that place infinitely greater than the mere stuff around us.  May it be so.