POEM: Left To His Own Devices

Left to his own
Devices
He was apped to cynicism
And awe of the most virtual of realities
Things looking up
People looking down

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men--Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONThis poem touches upon one of my pet peeves: electronic devices preempting direct human contact and interfering with face-to-face communication.  Quite naturally, layers of technology between humans lead to a degraded quality of communicating and form a barrier to paying full attention to the other person.  That this catalyzes cynicism between people is no surprise to me.  Of course, in this age of corporate and virtual persons, technology and “things” are looking up and real people are looking down.  May you find yourself looking up and see another wondrous human eager to relate directly to you.

POEM: Nevermore Contrived

In the distant future
But not too distant
Man fashions
A machine
That does every thing
For us
For the trees
Imperceptible
To awe but sum
Living in passed tense
Eternal re-pose
Holding sway
In make believe lives
And unexamined lies
So bold over
Weather manner machine
Companied buy nerves of steel
No more tempting stripped ease
Fore incalculable futures
Re-buffed completely
In surging acts of sedation
Knot in any weigh
Quiet getting
What
We came for
Never more
Contrived

This poem is about the many falsehoods being sold as truth in the marketplace of ease and predictability.  Such calculating contrivances pawn the notion that two half-truths are of equal value as a singular truth.  While many such a fool’s formula are accompanied by beguiling animations, the lively hood they occupy is a barren busyness.  Life is not a package deal that can be souled by gimmicks and machinations, no matter how inventive.  There is no technology that can substitute for the disciplines of the heart.  There is no security system that can supplant the the counsel of courage.  There are no makeshift maneuvers that can unseat sacrifice.  There is no peril that does not shrink before wisdom.  There is no coercion that can do a way with liberty.  There is no worldly power or unequaled minions that can equal trust.  There is no status or celebrity that is the match of intimacy.  There is no brand identity, fan club or religion that can replace true solidarity.  There is no ploy that can stand-in for play.  There is no narcotic that can super seed hope and dreams.  There is no outsourcing of accountability.  Reality will have its weigh with you. We must throw our counterfeits into the forge of Mordor, as the hollowed ring of power leads us to false thresholds, revolving adores that steer us to idol pastures and perpetual cowing.

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: A Befitting Size, That Matters

Starring on the big screen
Used to dominate young dreams
Super-sizing them for mass consumption
Today, celluloid immortality miniaturizes
So five minutes ago
Small screens test us
As we flail miserably
In a feudal limbo
‘Tween
Puffed up images
Flickering about
And atrophied soles
Going nowhere fast
No longer facing
A true converse
Of penetrating I’s
Present minds
And supple lips
Flush of heart
Given to a musing gesture
Deflating kings
And giving commoners rise
Surpassing hands shaking
And awe that follows
Neither settling
For collapsing our highest hopes
Nor minute fits
As souls meet the street
And welcoming nature
Banishing the might he
Of lesser woulds
And inspiring fresh heirs
To real feat
Baring our soles
Grounded in realty for all
A shared fete
A fare commune
Wear each mourning
Met lightly
With a celebration of the hearts
No longer idle worship of images
Every won an original
Not merely deference
Bland tolerance
Or thumbs down devolution
But powered by appreciation
You can bank on
A currency turning led into goaled
A redeeming alchemy
The most handsome ransom
For our ugly whirled
A watery swell so grave
Or a cowering inferno
Mything the point
With such hocus pocus
And uncounted allusions
To awe that would suitor
A befitting size
That matters
And keeping it
Reel
Never having too obsess
What’s the catch

This poem is a call to more real and human-scale relationships.  Social media technology, celebrity, and widespread shallow images of ourselves projected to others is robbing us of better ways of being.  We can easily be overwhelmed by images of celebrity, status, and wealth, tempting vainglorious dreams.  We can easily feel inadequate and too small by a juggernaut of Photoshopped images and word processed personalities.  Humans are best suited to face-to-face relationships.  As such real-time, real-world relationships are edged out by other more nominal relationships our humanity and satisfaction suffers.  Nobody wants to be multi-tasked, no matter the purported claims of efficiency.  Long-term, face-to-face, human relationships better reflect the awesome depth, complexity, and eccentricity of humans.  It is by far the best place for healthy intimate relationships to thrive.  Such relationships also keep us humble, rooted in reality.  I see humility as being right-sized, not too big or too small.  Perhaps the greatest threat to humility is technology and institutions which depersonalize human interactions.  Powering up through technology and institutions is a powerful temptation to become too big, overpowering human scales with impersonal agency and concentration of power among elites.  This is dehumanizing.  This creates persistent structural temptations to value things and concepts/ideologies over actual people.  The seductive drive of scaling up power disconnects us from our own humanity and the humanity of others.  I suspect that Western civilization is far-flung from any balance between being rooted in healthy, human-scaled relationships and powering up to “get things done.”  Further, I suspect that there may be a nearly proportional relationship between getting things done and getting humans done.  May we keep things real and not finish off humans.  I kind of like them!

POEM: Destiny Mending

Weave had to live
In the shadow
Of our looming
Self-destruction
It’s time
To take
A strand
Enough
All ready
As we hit the concrete
Beyond erudite
Threads on facebook
Virtually no matter
How tightly woven
Betwixt loose yarns spun
And kittens so darn cute
Attesting we are left
In stitches
Save one
Netting nein
In time
A tangled web we weave
World wide
From pirates patch
People unplugged
The dogs of war heeling
Affronting banks taken aback
A seaming democracy redressed
Mother nature returning
Good work for awe
And sew we go
Destiny mending

This poem is a call to address and confront the multiple fronts on which humanity is racing to its own destruction.  We seem to be endlessly enamored with our own cleverness, even in a desert of wisdom.  We look to technologies for salvation, only fearing that our best stories are of robot or zombie apocalypses.  We float down the lazy river of denial, only to distract ourselves should a toe touch shore.  We beg the powers that be for even soul-numbing jobs to prop up feudal consumerism in earth-destroying lifestyles.  We mine virtual realities for solace and fleeting rations of hope.  We have descended even far below the bite of an apple.  But alas, perhaps even a simple taste of reality can lure us back to overturn the moneychangers, starve the dogs of war, and cradle a gentle democracy in a provident nature.  Hope springs eternal when we can see past winter takes all…

POEM: Trust is the Glue

Trust is the glue
Sticking me to you
The favored few
The spoils of many
Consume mating
The fool
Faith and credit
Of US
Divining
Kindly mirror
Or unwelcome truth
A confidence game
And quiet passably
Escaped convictions
Sow what
Is the catch
Having been borne
Into a flimsy throng
With shortcomings taut
Exposed arrears
And know weigh out
From what hangs in the balance
And scaling up intimates dread
Both
Give and take
Be for you
A present
A forward looking gift
Offering as such
Promise
Seasons swimmingly
A rested development
And good grief
Those early mournings
In one’s out look
As prodigal hearts aplomb
And despite awe
One knows
Turning out
To be
Better than goaled
And silver locks fall away
Any hitch
A mere trailer of coming attractions
The untangled web weave
And too the our
Looming cleave

Trust is the real currency of human relationships and civilization.  True community can only be built upon trust.  We are born vulnerable, and vulnerability remains at the center of human intimacy throughout life.  Authentic human intimacy can only be achieved through vulnerability.  Exploring our vulnerability with others, and sharing our burdens of vulnerability with others, is a necessary process for building trust.  If we put ourselves out there and we are accepted and embraced, the space where we can truly be ourselves and truly learn about others grows wider and deeper.  This knowledge and experience of ourselves and others is essential for reaching our full human potential.  In its most simplest terms, we need others to be fully human.  Trust is an invitation to trust.  If another reciprocates that trust, then trust grows.  If another shuts us down or hurts us, then trust stagnates or recedes.  Similarly, mistrust becomes an invitation to mistrust.

We have all experienced rejection and hurt, and many have experienced outright trauma.  These facts of human existence provide the baseline for how much trust we might expect at any given time.  However, building trust or healing from mistrust can only occur by inviting others to trust, which requires a vulnerability from anyone inviting another to grow trust.  These are the true heroes of human community, not those who “make” things happen (the purview of force).

Without trust we devolve into isolation and fear.  Individualism can only be maintained by increasing control over others whom we do not trust and consider threatening.  This does not play well with the people sought to be controlled.  This is the most fundamental division in forming, maintaining, and building human community.  There may be a nominal alignment of interests within social classes to secure common goals, but these interests will remain forever in tension and at risk of erosion if the primary driver is individual security.  The perpetual warring of competing interests, and continual realigning of interest groups, is an inescapable result of an unwillingness or inability to share vulnerabilities with other people, to invite mutual trust.

Further, the drive to control others emanates directly from a subjugation of the common good to our own perceived good.  Whether conscious or unconscious, this drive is based on the calculation or assumption that, as an individual, one can fare better by competition against rather than cooperation with others.  While this may be true in limited contexts and time-frames, such competition and subjugation erodes the potential for human progress or evolution at any given moment.  There are many things that a trusting community, of two or more people, can build than an individual, no matter how much force they can apply to others to control others according to their own will.  If you have any doubt about the benefits of trust, consider the simple advantages of unlocked doors versus locked doors.  A fortress mentality, built on mistrust, is costly both physically and psychologically.  Of course, physical security for one’s person and property is perhaps the crudest manifestation of trust’s benefits.  At the heart of trusting relationships is self-discovery in the safety of accepting and loving others, and deep knowledge of others; both of which vastly improve our functioning in the human world in realistic and effective ways.

Since community builds from a growing trust in others, it is not surprising that families and close personal relationships are the building blocks of community.  Even the trust of institutions near and far is powerfully mediated by our personal experiences and from the example, character, and opinions of those whom we trust, those closest to us.  For this reason alone, building community is a bottom-up enterprise.

You can’t legislate trust.  Trust is synonymous with authority, not power to coerce but that which we believe has a legitimate claim upon us.  Institutions seem to have a life of their own, a self-replicating or self-perpetuating nature.  However, human institutions are dependent on humans.  Any authority that an institution has is derived somewhere down the line from the “street cred,” the level of trustworthiness of that humans associated with that institution.  Institutions are comprised of a set of humans associated with it, and a set of impersonal “corporate” relationships that govern its behavior.  The consent and trust of humans determines the legitimate authority of institutions (as opposed to simply force), not the other way around.

At the nexus of the personal relationships of humans and the impersonal corporate relationships of an institution, is the next level of human community where trust and mistrust manifest themselves.  Institutions guided by trust are mere tools, a technology to be used, by humans, to achieve some common good.  They act in accord with the will of the people associated with it, and demonstrate authority in as much as it behaves in ways with legitimate claims to creating common goods.   Institutions guided by mistrust are those plagued by humans who value the tool more than the people it was designed to serve.  Such human plague trusts tools, things, more than people.

The difference is between humans using a tool or the tool using humans.  Of course, the tool does not have a life of its own, but its character is derived from the humans associated with it.   Used appropriately, institutions serve as a tool to magnify the common good, and they both deserve and build trust.  Used inappropriately, institutions are weaponized by some to control others, magnifying the invitation to mistrust, and degrading community.  This weaponization of institutions hinges on a mistrust that chooses valuing “things” over people, in a quest for individual security.  In essence, such institutional abuse is a form of dehumanization, reducing people (and their institutions) to things simply to be used for one’s own advantage.  This tension or outright conflict within institutions greatly magnifies the dividing line between people and things.  While institutions can leverage the common good, I suspect that the ease of hijacking institutions compared to the great effort required to build healthy institutions does not bode well for the total net benefit of large institutions in human life and community.  Large institutions with their relative ease of weaponization sets up access to perhaps the greatest area of power differentials in human society.  Perhaps the best basis for securing human equality is minimizing large institutions which can magnify power differentials between people.

I suspect that widespread trust is much more efficient and effective than the widespread large institutions, the hallmark of Western civilization, at bringing about healthy, happy, and free human communities.  The fulcrum between trust and mistrust is compassion, or love.  Without compassion toward ourselves and others regarding our vulnerabilities and imperfections, we will forever fall short of being whole human beings, who can only be made whole in community.  Compassion builds trust and can banish fear.  I am hopeful that the experience of authentic, healthy community is more powerful and attractive than fearful isolation and individualism.  May it be so…

POEM: Twittering Away – Owed to IPO’d

This poem is in tribute to today’s initial public offering of Twitter:

Twittering Away – Owed to IPO’d

Is there a longing beyond
The public stocks
IPO’d
Buy and buy
The Alpha and Beta of existence
Reduced to 140 characters or less
Hovering around tiny luminaries
Passing flesh and mortar like gas
A lusty err to some backwards throne
The writing on the wall
Its singular accomplishment
Bringing the end nearer the beginning
Posing as prose
Vainly bard
To the twitter’s fear
Like the teeniest scandal
In the wind
Exercising their ABBs
As won voidable six-pack
Dreams taken by whizzes
Raining in banality
Hailing nitwits
Flailing to put sole
Too their brevity
A game of hash tag
With a phony high
Never getting off
What’s beneath them
Trumped up charges
Powering a virtual reality
Their fullish ways
Dealing only
In fractions
Courting daft years
As married to miss demeanors
A puerile of grate value
Not just
For characters shy
Of simply being gross
Twittering away
Your life
In the palm of your hand
Exposing your briefs to the world
The embarrassing lengths
Willing to disclose
In heiring your dirty laundry
To the whirled

This poem is a tribute to a technology infrastructure that serves as a superhighway to the inane.  Of course, I’m slamming it ode school!  I’m surfing the vapids, because this insipid superhighway is littered with abbreviated lives, and perhaps the farthest thing possible from the novel!  Twitter is appropriately named.  Humanity flits about distracted by all but the punyest ventures.  Here is to trading up from private capital to the capitol of privates!  So beat it!  Unsuccessfully littering, your company papers and your loan company are strewn with thousands of public heirs. Congratulations, you’ve graduated from matriculating in class, to a mere one hand out from a classless society.  In the face of such inaneness, I must admit: IPO’d.  Still, I for won, am not buying it.

NOTE: there is a very obscure pun in this poem. ABB is the stock symbol for a robotics company.  I think that they build them with 100% irony — you can rust assured.

POEM: Civilization

Dogs pee to mark their territory
Humans build walls
This is called civilization

There are up sides and down sides to civilization.  Western civilization shares at least one thing in common with canines: they both demarcate their territory by the waste they leave at the interface between their territory and the wild.  A dog’s territory is just seems less removed from the rest of nature.  Nature has a way to deal with waste, with its intricate recycling processes.  Nonetheless, humans, in their quest for advancing civilization, put increasing pressure on natural resources and natural processes which maintain balance and health within ecosystems.  Not surprisingly, it appears that humans cannot build a wall secure enough to separate itself from the very environment that it depends. The human race does not yet seem to see the finish line as harmonizing with nature, but rather as exploiting and controlling nature.  This reality is a backdrop for this short poem.  The main gist of this poem addresses the larger issue of human nature.  Humans have their own culture, which seems to be a quantum leap different than other life forms found in nature — separate if you will.  Is this epic clash between human culture and many harmonies of nature at the essence of human nature?  Our propensity to building walls physically, emotionally, and metaphorically, seems as evidence that this might be the case.  Or, are these clashes and divisions simply stepping-stones in the evolution to some higher balance?  The advancing complexity of civilization strikes me as a confounding mechanism that is a barrier to achieving such a higher balance.  There is something profoundly simple in appreciating the harmony of nature.  We should not discount its value by its omnipresence; on the contrary, we should heed omnipresence!  Western civilization’s apparent addiction to increasing complexity and control, in my judgment, is a dangerous substitute for the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature.  Western civilization’s current heading is dangerously imbalanced.  Reestablishing this fundamental balance resides in the already present wisdom of nature rather than some further development of technology to control an unruly nature that can only bend so far to our whims.  Ultimately, we must make peace with nature, or humanity will suffer great harm, perhaps even extinction.  Perhaps this is exactly the awareness humankind must gain before it can evolve to a higher level.  May we grasp the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature and resist the temptation to worship our own ingenuousness to temporarily forestall impending doom.

POEM: Ad Dulled State

Ad Dulled State

Well come
To this ad dulled state
What will it take
To see the light
Tell a vision
Divining every yen
Razing the whys
Jacking up
All that meters
Taxi’ing every quarter our
Static being drug
Swallowing minute libations
To our own
Dram nation
Pros astute
Shop lifting thirsts and seconds
Feigning coy
Eat us
Interruptus
Lusting an instant
To be
A loan
Stop the word and let me get off
Yet in the end
A foreign language oui read
LITTLE PRINTS
Exposing
Astor risks
Like a John going down on the Titanic
Can that
Be conceivably kosher
Such an untold clip
That diabolic scroll
In nothing flat
Can we circumspect nothing else
So ordained
A diction
Razing
High couture
That calling
NOW
To see double
Speak easy operators
Reaching the hype
Of pop culture
Soda whatever happens
The dream of auto pilots
Every wear
Fashioning model consumers
In compassing all the rage
Insuring all lost
A luxurious cell
With the laidest technology
Everyone fast
Food again
Con fronting counter fits
With an app petite
To be ravenous nevermore
Conquering SOBs hankering
Whatever man
You fractured
To undemanding specks
Whatever you craven

The near omnipresence of advertisements in so-called advanced civilization can lead to an addled state of mind.  Capitalism cannot resist, and even lifts to a virtue, monetizing everything possible.  And where does this road lead?  To one big commercial, occasionally interrupted by life.  The need to convince people about all of the needs that they didn’t even know they had takes unrelenting programs of repetition assaulting our senses in increasingly novel and clever ways.  Our brains can find little refuge from such assaults.  Weather coy interruptions or sensory overload, the lowest common denominators of sensuality, status, and power tempt and train our baser instincts to buy products basking in their glow.  Unfortunately, the glow of big-screen televisions, neon lights, and fancy packaging rarely deliver even a fraction of their alleged benefits.  The truth evaporates like ethereal promises scrolling by as incomprehensible fine print.  We are expected to rest upon verbal promises not even worth the paper they aren’t even printed on.  Such means produce similar ends.  The consumer is consumed.  Elusive wants grow larger the closer we get.  In our dreams, we Chase Freedom™ like a fairy tail.  Our simplest needs are crushed under the weight of gadgets, accessories, and the inevitable infestation of bugs in Life v.16.2.01.   What we need is life unplugged.  A blackout might reveal what is truly electric.  Even in the darkest of ages, those who are be-wild-er-ed will find a road less travelled.  The best things in life cannot be manufactured.  The best things in life are free — that is, if you can pay the cost…

Terminal Terminology: Redefining CANCER

A recent news story about redefining cancer raises the issue of how powerful something becomes depending on what we call it.  In this case, I call it “terminal terminology.”  Cancer diagnosis and treatment is literally a growth industry.  About half of us will get a cancer diagnosis during our lifetime.  A cancer diagnosis raises the fear of death. Unfortunately, with increasingly detailed diagnostic technologies, many of the “cell abnormalities” detected have little, if any, clinical significance — except that it leads to patient stress and overtreatment, a major threat to well-being.

As CBS news reports it:

There has been a “dramatic increase in certain kinds of cancer like thyroid cancer [and] melanoma,” Dr. Agus said on “CBS This Morning,” “Almost a 200 percent increase over the last 35 years.”

The increase is due in part with new technology that is “allowing us diagnose many more cancers,” he explained. “The problem is many of these cancers are not ever going to cause a problem.”

“It’s like if you told a firefighter, ‘Go put out every fire, they’d be blowing water on tiki torches and candles when they don’t need to. It’s the same thing [with cancer]. Many of these cancers are so slow-growing, we need to redefine them.”

The risk of aggressive treatment of slow-growing cancers include unnecessarily undergoing “radical therapy” including surgery and radiation, treatments that could cause “lots of side effects when it’s not needed,” according to Agus.

“Lots of cancers…we don’t need to treat,” he said, citing certain types of thyroid and breast cancers among them, “The key is to treat the cancers we need to treat, so we need a new definition.”

Agus advises doctors to educate their patients about the range of treatment options available, so that patients fully understand potential side effects and ramifications and can weigh them against the risks of living with a slow-growing cancer.

Hopefully, reasonable clinical care will win the day over easy profits and hyperbolic reactions.  Of course, rationality often escapes the human experience.  Technically, the term for unexplained irrationality in the medical care system is “idiopathic idiopathy.”

POEM: Being Human Takes Time

Being human takes time
Sometimes going in slow motion
Gets you there faster
Neither switching channels
Nor reading the last chapter first
Helps the race
Turn off the technology of the moment
And turn on to your own life story
Or the race is done

POEM: In God We Trust? Money Speaks!

In God we trust?

A graven image

We never leave home without

Good

For all debts, public and private

When miss taking goods for good

The most note worthy tender legal

By George, Abe, Alex, Andy, Ulysses, and Ben

Close impersonal friends

Treasuring some denominations more than others

Speaking for itself

Silencing those without

Trust

In God

Wee

It is hard to imagine anything much more ironic than engraving on our money, “In God we trust.”  In a so-called Judeo-Christian nation, the irony is even much deeper.  Jesus tells us that “No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13, NIV)  Perhaps, the intent of engraving, “In God we trust”, on our money is to remind us that we are supposed to trust God rather than money.  However, this also just seems to play into the irony.  Of course, this irony has reached the point of the surreal in recent times in the United States, with the US Supreme Court declaring that money is free speech and corporations are persons entitled to rights formerly reserved for human beings.  God has created human beings, and human beings have apparently created some other form of persons.  In Wall Street speak it would be some form of human derivative.  Wall Street is a modern-day Golden calf, creating idolatrous graven images.  The reason such activities are considered idolatrous is because it violates the natural order of things.  Humans are to serve God and one another.  Corporations are legal fictions created to serve humans, a man-made technology or tool to be subservient to human needs.  Corporate personhood is a derivative of the modern-day Golden calf, the worship of Wall Street, its so-called best and brightest, and, in the end, the worship of money.  Money is a tool.  People who worship money become tools, dehumanizing themselves and others.  Wall Street brings us to a very sad state:  we put a precise price on everything, yet lose our ability to value anything other than the almighty buck — deer me!  We must not get caught staring into the bright headlights of unrestrained capitalism and its well funded propaganda trying to convince us that we are helpless against the idolatrous idea that serving money is inevitable and that we cannot do better.  It strikes me that living in this surreal and cynical situation requires that real people speak out freely against this dangerous fiction of corporate personhood and money as free speech.  Otherwise, corporations will rule us rather than the other way around, and money, concentrated in the hands of a few, will drown out the true speech of the people and we will be robbed of our democracy.  This is all just a fancy legalistic way of the richer telling the poorer to shut up.  What say you?

POLITICAL CARTOON: General Jesus – Blessed Are Those Who Kill People Who Kill People

General Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: General Jesus - Blessed Are Those Who Kill People Who Kill People

Welcome to Gen. Jesus!  This is the third installment a new Top Pun series of comics that will run on Sundays, featuring CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!

This week’s Gen. Jesus is an over-the-top parody of the pacifist Jesus.  As you can see, Jesus is quite at home in his oil-rich desert that we know as the Middle East.  This is a top assignment which he probably garnered by being able to speak both English and Aramaic.  Notice that Jesus’ cap is slightly askew, as a tip of the hat to the little people, and perhaps a subtle clue to his truly radical nature hidden behind an unstoppable war machine.  As he humbly points to his “killing people” medals, he is quick to point out that he did not actually do the killing, but he has people who do this for him; it is simply his great leadership and command of billions of dollars of killing technology that justifies such colorful, ostentatious displays.

General Jesus’ lesson for today is a kick ass, shock and awe moral principle: killing people is a very effective way of showing people that killing people is wrong.  If this moral lesson seems somewhat screwed up to you, it must be because you are unable to grasp the many subtleties that spring forth from the moral pillars of brute force and impersonal killing that drone on and on.  Of course, General Jesus knows certain things that we don’t.  Perhaps this is why we are asked to trust him.

The longer version of this moral lesson is that killing people who kill people shows people that killing people is bad, and this is a sure guarantee that we will never get out of the job of killing people.  Remember, it’s all about jobs: snow jobs, con jobs, and the occasional sweatshop job (somebody has to make all that crap).

On a more serious note, it is interesting to note that Jesus was a powerful opponent of Roman imperialism, which played well with the masses since he was part of one of the many groups that were put down by Roman imperialism.  In fact, the book of Revelation in the Bible is considered an allegory speaking against imperial Rome.  Apparently, sometimes you need to couch what you say in terms that your intended audience will understand, but not so obvious that the powers that be will come and take you away.  However, Jesus apparently did not master this ability completely, as he was taken away and executed by Rome and its complicit cronies.   Those of us who are into the power of humor will appreciate that many of Jesus’ titles are actually intended to mock the worldly and political powers of the day.  Calling someone “Lord” in the Roman Empire would be seen as an infringement upon Caesar’s god-given rights.  This would be similar to calling Jesus “Commander-in-Chief” in modern-day United States.  Not surprisingly, religion and the state often do battle over claims to ultimate allegiance.  This is the way it should be, or perhaps, must be.  How these particular battles turn out probably depend upon your view of ultimate power.  If you think that fear, control, and domination are the most deciding factors in human life, then I would say side with the state.  However, if you think that love, solidarity, and service to one another are the most deciding factors in human life, then I would say side in a higher power, sometimes in the guise of religion.  In the end, it seems to come down to voting with one’s feet, voting with the existential force that is our life.  I choose to vote for love, solidarity, and service to one another.  What say you?

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…