Saturday, December 31, 2011


The Mayans did it
and people paid attention...

In the Cave of the Apocalypse
St. John the Theologian
scared himself
and everybody else
when he did it...
The end of anything
is sobering but
insisting that God
is sick of the whole mess
and is going to zapppp
a bunch of recalcitrants
seems hasty...

A wait-and-see
might have done more
in the long run.

at the end of this year
and in the beginning
of another one
in spite of

Friday, December 30, 2011


One of the recurring dilemmas for self-actualizing people is the task of sorting messages that stream to us constantly. Some of the information is just background noise which we can choose to ignore... like elevator music. Some information we may be wise to note and even commit to memory in case we may need to or want to make use of it later. Some information is critical immediately to our well being. As it comes to us, the trick is to know where the information streaming into our consciousness belongs on the continuum from useless, even silly nonsense, all the way over to critical, life preserving advice.

Someone whom I respect and love sent to me one of those ubiquitous u-tube clips that stream constantly into our digital mailboxes. This one, a video sermon by Bill Whittle, who “bills” himself as “a smart conservative thinker,” was designed to move people to the political/social side of those who don’t like the “Occupy Movement.” He begins his sermon by extolling the virtue of honest hard work and thrift and gratefulness for gifts received. Agreed... absolutely... nothing to argue against there. The smart, conservative Mr. Whittle tells us that those young Wall Street Protesters who got their degrees in basket weaving are mostly people who have never had to do anything more difficult or meaningful than changing the cat’s litter box. He says these young people have been damaged by “the self-esteem movement” in American culture. He seems not to have noticed that these are not just young people, and that many of the people participating are scholars with academic credentials much like his own. He goes on to make the point that all the good things in life, the things that make us comfortable and safe, come from Corporations, and that we should be thanking the people who manage the corporations rather than cursing them. According to Mr. Whittle, we should pay tribute in the form of money and respect to the mega heroes who manage corporations for all the good stuff we enjoy... for our X-boxes, smart phones, iPods and iPads, clean water, electricity to light our homes, gasoline for our cars, croissants, and wine coolers. What is very interesting, and scary, about Bill Whittle is that he makes a lot of sense. He makes the kind of sense that some good looking, articulate, clean-cut television evangelists make. We can relate almost everything they say in their sermons to our own experience of living in a complicated world... but only almost. He doesn’t tell the whole truth, and partial truth is sometimes more dangerous than blatant, easy-to-recognize fantasy... and building a case, an argument, around half truths presented as if they are whole truths is not only dishonest; it’s an egregious violation of trust.

Bill Whittle and I are in some ways a lot alike. As my grandma would have said, we are “cut from the same cloth.” By accident of birth, and now to some extent by choice, I live a comfortable life of affluent retirement. I am seventy-six-years-old in good physical and mental health. I can pat myself on the back for not having picked up smoking or some other drug habit and for being a moderate, one-usually-but-never-more-than-two glasses of wine or beer drinker; so I haven’t sabotaged my personal health and the good genes I inherited from the family into which I was born. I worked diligently and honestly in my career to advance to retirement without debt and with an accumulation of savings and enough income probably to see me though to the end of my life. I don’t know Bill Whittle personally, but I’ve checked his bio and learned that his virtue is of the easy-to-come-by variety just as mine has been. I’m guessing that he has had the good fortune to be often in the right places at the right times, just has I have been. He is obviously intelligent; but that means he is smart enough to know that a high I.Q. leads as often to tyranny as it does to virtue. A good read for Mr. Whittle would be the Marquis de Sade’s Justine (original French title Les Infortunes de la Vertu). He might pay particular attention to the following passage: “What is virtue if it cannot prevent the tyranny of the strong over the weak, or the rich over the poor, or those who are in power over those who are out of power! Filled with the will for power, the voices of virtue forge irons with which to chain men. And, men, stupified by their misery, willingly believe everything told them. Can virtue, sprung from such virtues, win our respect? Is there a single truth which does not bear the mark of falsehood and lies?” The novella Justine, written when Sade was a young man and imprisoned in the Bastille, contained little of the obscenity which characterized the later writings for which he is usually remembered.

Not to belabor the point, virtue is claimed by just about everybody in politics. Like Ayn Rand, Bill Whittle is a champion, a paragon of virtue, and an inspiration for Romney, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, et al. Between now and next Tuesday, Iowa and the nation are getting an earful of Whittle’s and Rand’s particular definitions of virtue. Both are ready resources for the writers of political speeches that will be delivered this weekend. Bill Whittle’s claim to virtue has the same ring to it that I hear in Pat Robertson’s sermons. In September of this year Robertson stepped into a pile of his own making when he stunned “700 Club” viewers by saying divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease was justified (September 13, 2011). He said he wouldn’t “put a guilt trip” on someone for divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease, calling Alzheimer’s itself “a kind of death.” His notion is that sleeping around if your wife is still alive but with Alzheimer’s disease would be a sin; so the godly thing to do is to consider her dead (divorce under the circumstances he sees as honorable and virtuous) and marry somebody else in order to have connubial bliss that can be justified.

The issue then is to find ways to justify and to make seem reasonable and virtuous whatever it is we want to do. Bill Whittle does the job of making a pharmaceutical company CEO’s annual compensation of fifty million dollars seem perfectly reasonable. Take his message to heart, Mr Iowa. After all, you might one day win the lottery and become obscenely rich yourself, so why not dream a little and enjoy the fantasy of getting and keeping all that wealth. After all, you’re the one who bought the dream ticket... not the guy who squandered his money on a cold beer.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

No Pear Tree and No Partridges
Sleepy sea lions soaking sun
relishing surf splashed high
hundreds of cormorants
standing around in their own shit
ignoring each other
pelicans, a sea gull, and a pigeon
sharing a rock rising out of the sea
near where harbor seals swim
and sleep and quarrel
and a squirrel sits and watches

finally a fine foggy fog
teasing a white lighthouse wall
just up the hill from agave
all in a cluster unaware
and obviously unaffected
by the sea and me
Margaret and Nancy were there, too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

One of my friends whose value is beyond my ability to put words to his worth is Alex Hajime Birnbaum. Alex has thrown his lot in with Blake Mycoskie and a bunch of other good people who have joined in a one for one movement committed to the idea that the lives of children can be improved by individuals making wise everyday choices. Go to TOMS web site and learn about what they are doing and how they are doing it... and how responsible people everywhere can become involved ( Basically, the program is this: The company matches every pair of its shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. One for One. The program has expanded the scope of its mission by adding a line of prescription eyewear with the same commitment to help one sight-impaired person in need for every pair of glasses the company sells. The needy recipients of shoes and glasses are all over the world.

I believe the company is on the right track. It is a model that demonstrates the good that can be done by a for-profit company that operates with a commitment to match it’s “getting” with “giving back.” Alex guides the international operation of the company. As he told me again today about the work of the company, I remembered the words attributed to King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 11:1: “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days” (King James Bible). Another translation of the Hebrew text (New Living Translation): “Send your grain across the seas, and in time, profits will flow to you.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Way to Go

Automobiles get us there.
People worry
maybe machines will evolve
all out of control
and reproduce
taking over functions
like meeting
and getting acquainted
and marrying
and reproducing
and producing
what they want
instead of what
we want.

it’s not such a bad outcome.

We need all the help we can get.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Critters... Today at The Zoo