Archive for October, 2009
Today, in Michelle Malkin’s continued right-wing drivel, she alerted readers that “left-wing church leaders” want the FCC to “crack down on ‘hate speech’ over cable TV and right-leaning talk radio airwaves.”
First, let me say that the preface, “Lead story,” at the top of the Web site is classic and choice … as if one is about to read some hard-line news piece from The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times … as if she actually talked to people on the ground and did any reporting on her own. Does she even know what “lead story” means? In truth, for this post and all others, she cobbles links together and puts forth some argument like any other blogger. I’m not doing anything much different (although I would like to think I’m a little more even-handed), but to claim this is any sort of “story” a la, a piece of journalism, is laughable.
But continuing on. She said various religious organizations, along with the National Hispanic Media Coalition, have teamed up to compel the FCC via a petition (Malkin fails to link to it directly, but there it is) to launch efforts “for combating ‘hate speech’ from staunch critics of illegal immigration.” Think of this as an illegal immigration version of the Fairness Doctrine critique. Now, not only are conservatives, who, let’s admit it, own the talk radio airwaves, railing against attempts to make radio more “balanced” in its presentation of political positions, but honing in on certain specific issues to argue against such equalization. In her column with Creative Syndicate, she said,
Now, the gag-wielders have a friend in the White House (President Obama) – and they won’t let him forget it. Their FCC petition calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration critics (italics mine) cites Obama’s own words in a fall 2008 speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The first part of this is patently false, and I hope someone more widely published than myself calls her bluff on it. The FCC petition does not call for a crackdown on illegal immigration critics. The summary of the petition is clear:
The National Hispanic Media Coalition requests that the Commissin (FCC) invite public comment on hate speech in the media, inquire into the extent and nature of hate speech, examine the effects of hate speech, including the relationship between hate speech in the media and hate crimes, and explore options for counteracting or reducing the negative effects of such speech.
I’m all for freedom of the press, and networks have the right to air any crackpot talk show hosts or anchors they wish. In fact, members of the press, TV stations or newspapers have the right to be as biased as they want, though I personally think it’s a disgrace to the profession of journalism, and I discourage anyone from encouraging that sort of “news” venue.
But Malkin is wrong here to the nth degree. It’s about hate speech, not about debunking or overthrowing critics of illegal immigration. By their unlearned rhetoric, they pretty well debunk themselves without any effort from myself or others. What Malkin fails to note are any instances of alleged hate speech from members of the “media” (I would use that term loosely for some folks in question, including Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and others, who fall outside that category).
Case in point. Savage, as Malkin fails to bring to our attention, has made numerous incendiary comments toward immigrants, illegal or not. I would dub them as outright racist comments. Here’s a taste, from a May 10, 2006 taping, Savage said:
… [t]he immigrants, when they take over America, won’t be as enlightened as the (European) people running America today. There is a racial element to the ‘immigration invasion’ … We’re going to lose our nation unless one million people go to the border. …
And then on Oct. 13, we have this gem:
… these immigrants don’t have morals that are similar to those of Americans. They haven’t even gone through the Middle Ages. They’re never going to be compatible with America. They’re never going to assimilate.
Yep, and folks in the 18th and 19th centuries thought slaves could never assimilate either. They were ignorantly wrong there as well. I’m curious to know more about Savage’s comment that immigrants won’t be as enlightened as the European people currently running the country. I didn’t even know Europeans were running the country. Sure, some of European descent are members of state or federal bodies, but so are those of African and Latino descent. One is our president and another is a Supreme Court judge. And before Obama and Sotomayor, there were many other black and Hispanic leaders.
Had Malkin read to the end of the petition she references, she would find example after example of commentators in mainstream media and other outlets, railing, not just against illegal immigratants, but immigrants in general as well as blacks, “chinks,” etc. We can trace this immigrant hatred back to similar feelings leveled against Italians, the Irish and others. It’s a very predictable cycle.
Might I add: this post by Malkin, and her others comments, are very curious, as Malkin, born in America to parents who were citizens of the Phillippines, has, ironically, taken a position against the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, although she herself is a benefactor of that same amendment. Peculiar, indeed.
Ok, I admit it. I’m quite addicted to sporcle.com, a site of which you best bring your A-game. Here, you can play any number of games that will test your knowledge of geography, music, politics, religion and other subjects. Recently, I have been playing some geography and have, subsequently, learned all countries in North America and Europe (It isn’t as easy as you think, and there are actually 23 countries in North America, not three.)
If you are interested in getting a firm grasp of the world as we know it, in all subjects, this is a wonderful resource that will, both challenge your knowledge and your patience. Next, I plan to tackle Africa and learn all the countries there, and then on to South America, Asia and Oceania. My friend, Blake, has done all the above and is now attempting, maybe at this point, succeeding, in correctly identifying all 195 countries on the planet. Here are records of my recent conquests. Allllright!, as Quagmire would say.
I was going to write about something else tonight, namely Andrew Sullivan’s piece on torture appearing in this month’s The Atlantic magazine. I previously read most of it on The Atlantic’s Web site, but I got the hard copy version recently and took the time to re-read it. But I will save that for the next post.
I wanted to address a column by Matthew Cooper on The Atlantic’s Web site (I found the column in the process of looking for the online version of Sullivan’s piece, consequently). Cooper basically makes the case that Obama is not following through with his commitment to reach out to his enemies by snubbing FOX News when he “made the rounds” one recent Sunday on a number of TV news outfits. Coopers says that he
wouldn’t argue that Fox is “fair and balanced.” It’s a conservative news outlet, and to argue that it’s not is ludicrous. That said, there’s obviously a spectrum of bias ranging from the straight-style reporting of a Major Garrett at the White House to the rantings of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, and some anchors are more Foxy than others. I like it when Media Matters for America calls Fox on its bias, although it’s a little bit like calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for being anti-Israeli. — theatlantic.com, Oct. 20, 2009
The spectrum of bias (or, more accurately, a bias inside a full-scale bias) to which Cooper refers is true enough. At once, viewers find the traditional “news anchor” pretending to be “fair and balanced,” while, the clues to the contrary are all around (Here, I reference the documentary “Outfoxed“). At the other end, we find Beck and the maniacal, fear-mongering, nonsensical crew. True also, mediamatters.org isn’t much better; it just exists on the other-other spectrum. Maybe that should read: the other hemisphere.
Cooper goes on to say that for the Obama administration to ignore FOX News “seems small minded.” He then claims many Democrats and independents watch FOX News. I’m not sure about this statement. If Democrats watch it, it’s to find fodder for their blogs or other political discourse; if independents watch it, it’s probably because they’re inwardly Republicans or Libertarians. Or, more simply, those folks watch it to get a laugh or for the sheer entertainment value.
Nonetheless, I disagree that Obama should give it the time of day, however big its audience, which is another of Cooper’s arguments: that FOX News would offer a grand stage for Obama to, perhaps, reach some people he wouldn’t be able to otherwise. He claimed the “Obama charm” would work at FOX and said the president was “better off” for appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” last year.
Cooper then comes to this question:
As for reporters, are we enabling a bad animal by appearing on Fox?
He apparently answers “No.” I answer, “Yes.” His response to the question:
I’d appear on Fox and have many times. I’d do it again. It’s a big audience, and while there’s a range of bias, so what?
So what?!? There’s not just a range of bias (a range within the full-scale bias, as I said before). The station makes a mockery of both words, “fair” and “balanced.” To boycott such a mockery to journalism would be an understandable thing and would, at least, slow the downward progression of the fine institution. The continued agreement of “real” journalists and leaders to appear on the network fuels its fire. If journalists, government officials and advertisers who disagreed with the blatantly weighted approach of FOX News made a concerted effort to refuse to support it, the network would surely feel the effects, in the quality of its on-air product and in its revenue.
To answers Cooper’s final question: the “slippery slope” of boycotting the channel ends with the channel itself. We have no need to boycott The Simpsons or the NFL. Does anyone really think Rupert Murdoch cares one wit about what FOX News or any of his other interests are doing? There’s no need to feel the same way about FOX the major network or FOX Sports or any of the others. For Murdoch, as long as they are making money, it’s all gravy. FOX News, consequently, found a niche in the far right-wing demographic, and its running with the shtick to the detriment of journalism. The other FOX networks aren’t involved in this derailment. I can’t speak for Murdoch’s newspaper interests because I haven’t read them at length.
Another point: the idea that the Obama administration would somehow make inroads with the FOX News viewership is silly. Cooper says:
Wouldn’t the White House be better off flooding Fox with its opinion rather than engaging in a fight with news outlet?
No. Obama isn’t going to gain anything by going into that crossfire. Folks don’t watch FOX News to have their cages rattled or their opinions questioned. They watch it to have their views validated. The typical FOX News viewer is an inert, immovable object politically, hanging on the edge of her recliner, clinging to Beck’s or O’Reilly’s every utterance. They question nothing and let others think for them.
Finally, Cooper states,
If the White House can reach out to the Iranians and North Koreans, for gosh sakes, they can talk to Shepard Smith.
No they can’t because Shepard Smith and the gang, in their FOX News cocoon are doing their best, sometimes without even knowing it, to destroy journalism, and we should not support or accept it.
1. Balloon boy — The next ridiculous “weird” news story that, in truth, deserved two paragraphs of coverage and nothing more, yet the media ballooned this thing into the ether (sorry it was irrestible), and we groan collectively.
2. Glenn Beck — We only need to watch Beck’s on-air sniveling, scare-mongering for about two minutes to realize that there’s little in the way of Painean common sense in that noggin.
3. Michael Jackson — Why dredge up yet another posthumous track from another dead pop star? The tradition is an old one, from John Lennon to Kurt Cobain to Tupac. This reminds me of Dave Chappelle’s hilarious skit about Tupac’s song from 1994.
4. Limbaugh, Al Sharpton — Limbaugh (thankfully) won’t be an NFL owner (at least not right now). Rush writes a column for the The Wall Street Journal. Sharpton threatens to file a lawsuit. Again, groans. Both are polarizing figures and are as predictable in such polarization as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
5. Dave Letterman’s personal life — Although it was commendable in some rights that he told his story of bribery and sexual actions on the air, we really don’t care. Just give us jokes, Dave. And if you couldn’t tell, the audience wasn’t even clear whether you were jesting or were actually serious.
6. Anna Nicole Smith — Drinking from a baby bottle? That-a-way to make your life come full circle! Get yourself so screwed up that you are reduced to sipping a sedative straight infant-style.
7. Rod Blagojevich — “Celebrity Apprentice?” ‘Nuff said.
8. Celebrity Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, etc — Again, groans.
9. Larry King — Next four guests on the show: Balloon boy (See No. 1), Suzanne Somers, George Lopez and Maria Shriver. Hard-hitting, important interviews there. I’m not sure at what point King became irrelevant, but the point has long-since passed.
10. Blogs as news aggregates — I don’t make this final point to toot my own horn. In fact, I wish I could write more, but the simple nature of my approach to blogging limits how much time I can devote to it (as I also write news stories, sports stories and usually a column for a newspaper each week). Rarely, very rarely, I might post a single photo and a single sentence and make that “my” statement for the day, but this guy, Andrew Sullivan, is an aggregater among aggregaters. In one day (Oct. 17), I counted more than 20 posts. On another day, I counted about 40 … in a single day! True, he’s a good writer and reporter. His “Dear President Bush” for The Atlantic is exceptional, and I highly suggest folks take a look at it, but we don’t see much of that writing in his blog. Of the 20-something posts I counted today, most of the quotes from other sources were longer than the actual original content of the post itself. One “post” was just a picture of a painting with a caption from another source, saying how the painting, once valued at millions of dollars, was bought for $19,000.
I’m highly hostile of blogs of this kind because they simply don’t say anything. Sure, Sullivan has surely said plenty in his other endeavors, but why have a blog if you aren’t going to say anything? Anyone with a Web browser can find a bunch of quotes and links and put them together. I refuse to roam the Webosphere and collect a collage of news items every single day. Anyone can regurgitate information previously posted elsewhere. Indeed, it’s hard for me to imagine Sullivan having time for other endeavors, when on this day, he “blogged” from 8 a.m. to nearly 9 p.m., cobbling together these 20-something posts of quotes and pictures.
This is the predominant reason I stayed away from blogging as long as I did. I saw it as a short cut, something akin to a slightly wordier Twitter, in which folks who aren’t really writers (Sullivan really is a writer; I just use his ill-conceived blog as an example), turn to this medium to espouse their opinions in a pithy sentence or paragraph, but who don’t really have the wherewithal to flesh out full arguments. Thus, I decided if I were to pursue a blog of sorts, it would actually contain well-thought-out opinions. My posts, then, are more like essays; that’s why they come less frequently than others but with more content. They are an attempt to inform and make people think about concepts and ideas other than, perhaps, what they normally would.
The above points, however, have the opposite effect, and this is the reason why I made this list.
Note: All but the last point on this list were referenced from CNN, the most trusted name in news.
Scoping the net tonight (late tonight) for something to write about, mostly for no other reason than the fact that I haven’t written in a few days, and I like to keep some level of consistency, I came across this guest column on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Web site about gun control. The gist of the story is that an autoshop owner, with a wife and two kids, was shot in the head over an $800 bill.
The writer was angry and remorseful over the man’s death and used it to briefly speak his mind on the need for more gun regulations, noting that
The only thing that could have saved George was the irrational man’s inability to access a gun.
But, we’re unwilling to address that issue, right? Because people kill people, not guns.
Well, if we’re unwilling to somehow curtail the development of irrational people with things like first-rate education and mental health services — which we’re clearly averse to — then we better address the guns. If not both, it has to be one. — AJC, Oct. 13, By Steve Reba
I want to be on board with his thoughts, I really do. Needless killing, with guns or knives or broad swords or cannon fire should never be Ok. But I do have a couple bones to pick with this argument, and frankly (I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way), I can’t say that I’m totally sold on the idea of gun control or ridding the country of guns altogether. My reasons are not moral or ethic, but purely logical.
To address the above statements from the writer, first, we have no way of knowing whether the shooter was rational or not. He, in fact, could have been quite a rational person in thinking he was being being ripped off. True, typically the unethical action of ripping a person off doesn’t license the “victim” to wield a Magnum and start shooting. The shooter could have been insane, or not. We don’t know. Mass murderers have often been quite calm and collected, in the case of Dennis Rader, aka BTK, of whom, after watching the chilling BTK Killer movie awhile back, I could make the case Radar was cool as a salamander as he violently binded, tortured and killed at least 10 women over about a 17-year stint in Kansas and then disposed of the ravaged bodies. One could say Radar was deranged and perverted, but as he carried on his charade (He was also a leader in his church) for such a long time, one could hardly call him irrational. He was smart and one step ahead of investigators nearly the entire way, meanwhile carrying on his “real life” as if he was as innocent as the candy man.
But back on point. I do agree with Reba’s tongue-in-cheek facetious-point: “people kill people, not guns.” If we magically took all the guns in the United States (and it would have to be by magic), we would not end violence in America. Killers half their weight in salt would find other ways to kill. We may hope to reduce the number of deaths initially by eliminating guns, but to say that atrocities like the death of a guy with a family wouldn’t take place in a world without guns misses an important point about human nature: we will never inhabit a world where desperation, irrationality, psychosis, dementia, revenge and evil do not exist (I use the last word as a blanket term for anything else that may motivate someone to kill). I suppose it would be possible to imagine a society that has evolved to some higher order where we have, by no small measure, eradicated the tendencies that cause people to kill or to want to kill, for instance, by increasing the scale and efficiency of education and increasing (by leaps and bounds) the standard of living in even the most slum-like neighborhoods. But these high notions are far, far into the future, farther away in America’s future, less far away in more progressive countries.
I cringe, and yes, cringed even today, upon seeing a “right to keep and bear arms” bumper sticker on the back window of some super-sized tank of a truck, likely owned by a hunter or gun nut who has no notion of the Second Amendment or the context in which it was written. For a detailed discussion of the amendment, see here. We must understand that the Second Amendment was ratified just 15 years after the country declared its independence from an invading country. At the onset, before Congress officially made Washington general of the army, a state militia, mostly Massachusetts’, was fighting against the British invaders. The right to keep a “well regulated Militia” was a very real and necessary concern in those days, as was likely the right of every man to possess a gun to protect his family, as there was, very real in most people’s memory, once an invading army just around the bend. The full force of Britain’s army, was, indeed, at one time, just five miles from John Adams’ homestead, and Abigail, indeed, kept one of John’s guns in easy reach in case the British cut through the state’s militia. So, both the personal right to possess a gun and the corporate, or state’s right to form a militia (I think I would read: the nation’s right) are probably intrinsic in the amendment.
Also, in one important sense, the “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” given the context of the words before, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” do suggest that “the people,” could mean, not each individual person (for it certainly says nothing of the sort), but the people as a whole of the state (nation).
The Supreme Court has ruled on the amendment, and I could elaborate further, but I suppose my grander point here is that we simply don’t know for sure what they meant by the “right to keep and bear arms.” If the full body of the Congress were before us today, maybe they could enlighten us on what they meant. But we don’t know for sure, and impassioned, to use the term here, “irrational,” voices on both sides of the issue of gun control gets us nowhere because they only add to the babble and cacaphony of polarization.
The larger point, I think, is that crime is not going to go away in a gun-free world, and we must succumb to this bitter fact: to erase guns is not to erase the will in some to kill or harm others. They will find other ways. We’re a very inventive species, and the last 200 years has told us that much. The irrationality and non-erudition on both sides, in my opinion, cancel each other out (and this can apply to other issues). The actual truth, as it does on so many questions, likely lies somewhere in the middle.
Much has been said and written today about the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to President Barack Obama, from Michelle Malkin’s spastic, right-of-right, true-to-form fragmentary post on the subject, to the Huffington Post’s more rosey view of the man. This BBC story attempts to give a sweeping view of some of the sentiments coming from the American media on the announcement.
Obama is the third sitting president to have been given the honor, followed by Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. Jimmy Carter has also won it, but that award came 20 or so years after he left office. Al Gore has as well.
I think this award, more than anything else, amounts to Obama being perceived in much of Europe as the “un-Bush,” as David Ignatius of The Washington Post dubbed it, perhaps fueled, in part, by his speech Sept. 23 to the U.N. General Assembly, and his speech in Cairo, and in his speech on race, and his diplomatic policies, his reaching out to the Muslim world, and, finally, his stance on nuclear nonproliferation. As Ignatius notes,
That’s what he’s being honored for, really: reconnecting America to the world and making us popular again. If you want to understand the sentiments behind the prize, look at the numbers in the Transatlantic Trends report released last month by the German Marshall Fund. Obama’s approval rating in Germany: 92 percent compared to 12 percent for George Bush. His approval in the Netherlands: 90 percent compared to 18 percent for Bush. His favorability rating in Europe overall (77 percent) was much higher than in America (57 percent).
Some, of course, like Dick Cheney, would argue that it doesn’t matter whether we are popular. It matters that we are safe. But, unless our plan is to continue our imperialistic ways forever, I think it does matter, and is a good thing, if other, respected countries within the global community think we are on the right track internationally. No good at all can surely come from being disliked by most of the industrialized, modern countries of the world, as we were under the last woeful administration.
This award, in truth, is not about any one thing Obama has done, for he hasn’t done much on the global stage. It’s about an ideal for a more globally connected America. And while some will cry foul and say many of the other 200-something candidates were actually doing hard, hands-on work to promote peace, I do believe that this award says more about this country than this president, signifying the stunning reversal from the last administration’s G.I. Joe approach to foreign matters to our election of a diplomat. The Nobel Prize committee, using any rational, could never give this award to Obama based on any tangible accomplishments (and Obama admits this), but as he said, it’s a “call to action.”
Some, like this YouTube user, wrongly suggest that the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s decision was “apparently made just after the president took office.” (One can gauge this person’s level of credibility by noticing the channel he happens to be watching in this video.) No. In fact, nomination submissions close Feb. 1, but the choice isn’t made until October. Thus, it is true: someone nominated Obama just after his inauguration, but Obama’s leadership through these seven-eight months must have had some impact.
Regardless, as I’ve said, does he deserve it on his own merit? Probably not. And he says so himself. Is it a good thing for our country? Absolutely. John Adams, a founder whom I’m come to revere greatly, saw, not only the importance of believing in his “country,” but also recognized the importance of being respected on the world’s stage. If we aren’t, we’re cowboys. Though Cheney and Bush would seemingly have it no other way, the era of cowboys and gunslinging is long gone, and we must move with, not against or in spite of, other sovereign, modern, democratic nations.
Admittedly, I should be shunned and ridiculed for turning on Wolf Blitzer’s faux-news program on CNN today, but one segment about NASA’s new mission features this embarrassing, mocking and condescending piece:
What the reporter (taking liberty with that word) fails to mention is that NASA already has found water on the moon. I previously wrote about this here. The mission to blow a crater into the moon is an attempt to discover more water molecules than what can be obtained from the surface. Scientists suspect there may be more lurking underneath the surface. As I noted earlier, ice has already been found on Mars.
The presence of water, not just ice, but water molecules, in other areas of our solar system, (this is not to say what might be present in other areas of the cosmos) is a groundbreaking discovery, and with it, I feel hinges many, so far unanswered questions about our own existence, about life elsewhere, quite possibly, about religion (since so many religious texts seem to put forward the assumption that Earth is the central planet on which all else revolves). As we know, water is the central ingredient on which life can build in its most simplest form. So, the implications with this issue are, as I said before, monumental.
Silly notions about how the mission might affect ocean tides or women’s “cycles,” as the video crudely jests, can go the way of the do-do as far as I’m concerned. This is big stuff we’re dealing with and for “The Most Trusted Name in News” to air nonsense such as this says a great deal, more about the entertainment industry than about journalism. The “reporter” ends the unfortunate piece with the idiotically confident and bombastic, “CNN, New York!” which was a disingenuous way to end an already inaccurate report. As I said: embarrassing.
To add: there will be no bottled water direct from the Moon, unless, of course, those are awfully small, molecular-sized containers.
As a frequent browser of The Atlantic magazine’s Web site, today I happened across James Fallows’ blog. Fallows is a well-known, heralded writer and reporter for the print edition, and like most everyone else who takes up the pen, he’s hit the blogosphere.
In a recent post, he highlighted a tool for assessing which words were used more frequently in presidential inaugural addresses. The site does most of the work for us, and lists each president’s speech straight from Washington to Obama, but it would be an interesting study for someone to perform an indepth analysis of the 44 addresses and the word choice down through the generations. Perhaps someone already has. Anyway, the tool behind this idea is something called Wordle, which gives us a visual representation of the most oft-uttered words of any text. The words used the most are bigger, while the least-used words appear smallest in the computer-generated model. To have some fun, go here and enter or cut and paste some text. You can hit the “Randomize” button for different appearances or use the “Layout” and “Color” options to change them yourself. Going back to the previous idea about inaugural addresses, here is Washington’s quite brief address visualized,
and here is Obama’s, rendered in the same font and style for comparison:
Also, here are a few of my own posts, rendered in different styles. The following creations are rather “tame” versions, all on a white background, but some other designs are more intriguing. Here are three of mine. They link to the original post:
The following lines are from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, who was a Persian mathematician, poet, philosopher and astronomer. Obviously, in the Muslim world, Khayyam was not celebrated in his time or after because of his stance against the accepted religion of his land of origin. Edward FitzGerald popularized the man in the 19th century. Before that, he was all but obscure. The work that I present here, even believers will probably find inspiring in parts. The language is exquisite and the imagery compelling. I have italicized the lines or passages that were particularly meaningful to me. This version is from the Richard Le Gallienne translation, and my comments are interspersed:
… The bird of life is singing on the bough
His two eternal notes of “I and Thou” —
O! hearken well, for soon the song sings through.
And, would we hear it, we must hear it now.
The bird of life is singing in the sun,
Short is his song, nor only just begun, —
A call, a trill, a rapture, then — so soon! —
A silence, and the song is done — is done.
Yea! what is man that deems himself divine?
Man is a flagon, and his soul the wine;
Man is a reed, his soul the sound therein;
Man is a lantern, and his soul the shine.
Would you be happy! hearken, then, the way:
Heed not To-morrow, heed not Yesterday;
The magic words of life are Here and Now —
O fools, that after some to-morrow stray!
Were I a Sultan, say what greater bliss
Were mine to summon to my side than this, —
Dear gleaming face, far brighter than the moon!
O Love! and this immortalizing kiss.
To all of us the thought of heaven is dear —
Why not be sure of it and make it here? (Why not, indeed)
No doubt there is a heaven yonder too.
But ’tis so far away — and you are near.
Men talk of heaven, — there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell, — there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk, and future lives, —
O love, there is no other life — but here.
Gay little moon, that hath not understood!
She claps her hands, and calls the red wine good;
O careless and beloved, if she knew
This wine she fancies is my true heart’s blood.
Girl, have you any thought what your eyes mean
You must have stolen them from some dead queen,
O little empty laughing soul that sings
And dances, tell me — What do your eyes mean?
And all this body of ivory and myrrh,
O guard it with some little love and care;
Know your own wonder, worship it with me.
See how I fall before it deep in prayer.
Nor idle I who speak it, nor profane,
This playful wisdom growing out of pain;
How many midnights whitened into morn
Before the seeker knew he sought in vain.
You want to know the Secret — so did I,
Low in the dust I sought it, and on high
Sought it in awful flight from star to star.
The Sultan’s watchman of the starry sky.
Up, up, where Parwin’s hoofs stamp heaven’s floor.
My soul went knocking at each starry door,
‘Till on the stilly top of heaven’s stair.
Clear-eyed I looked — and laughed — and climbed no more.
Of all my seeking this is all my gain:
No agony of any mortal brain
Shall wrest the secret of the life of man;
The Search has taught me that the Search is vain.
Yet sometimes on a sudden all seems clear —
Hush! Hush, my soul, the Secret draweth near;
Make silence ready for the speech divine —
If Heaven should speak, and there be none to hear!
Yea! sometimes on the instant all seems plain,
The simple sun could tell us, or the rain;
The world, caught dreaming with a look of heaven,
Seems on a sudden tip-toe to explain.
Like to a maid who exquisitely turns
A promising face to him who, waiting, burns
In hell to hear her answer — so the world
Tricks all, and hints what no man ever learns.
Look not above, there is no answer there;
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer;
Near is as near to God as any Far,
And Here is just the same deceit as There.
But here are wine and beautiful young girls.
Be wise and hide your sorrows in their curls,
Dive as you will in life’s mysterious sea,
You shall not bring us any better pearls.
Allah, perchance, the secret word might spell;
If Allah be. He keeps His secret well; (and Yahweh too)
What He hath hidden, who shall hope to find?
Shall God His secret to a maggot tell?
So since with all my passion and my skill.
The world’s mysterious meaning mocks me still.
Shall I not piously believe that I
Am kept in darkness by the heavenly will?
How sad to be a woman — not to know
Aught of the glory of this breast of snow
All unconcerned to comb this mighty hair;
To be a woman and yet never know!
Were I a woman, I would all day long
Sing my own beauty in some holy song
Bend low before it, hushed and half afraid,
And say “I am a woman” all day long.
The Koran! well, come put me to the test —
Lovely old book in hideous error drest —
Believe me, I can quote the Koran too.
The unbeliever knows his Koran best.
And do you think that unto such as you,
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
God gave the Secret, and denied it me? —
Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.
Old Khayyam, say you, is a debauchee;
If only you were half so good as he!
He sins no sins but gentle drunkenness.
Great-hearted mirth, and kind adultery.
But yours the cold heart, and the murderous tongue.
The wintry soul that hates to hear a song,
The close-shut fist, the mean and measuring eye.
And all the little poisoned ways of wrong.
So I be written in the Book of Love,
I have no care about that book above;
Erase my name, or write it, as you please —
So I be written in the Book of Love.
What care I, love, for what the Sufis say?
The Sufis are but drunk another way;
So you be drunk, it matters not the means.
So you be drunk — and glorify your clay.
Drunken myself, and with a merry mind.
An old man passed me, all in vine-leaves twined;
I said, “Old man, hast thou forgotten God?”
“Go, drink yourself,” he said, “for God is kind.”
Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think.
And at the same time make it sin to drink?
Give thanks to Him who foreordained it thus —
Surely He loves to hear the glasses clink”
From God’s own hand this earthly vessel came.
He shaped it thus, be it for fame or shame;
If it be fair — to God be all the praise,
If it be foul — to God alone the blame.
The rest of the poem is worthy of a full read, but this will do. The last two lines here present one of the key arguments against God, one that I had been thinking about long before I picked up any book.
It’s this: we tend to praise him (God) when things go well; we pray to him when things don’t. Yet, isn’t he the author of both good things and tragic things? If he isn’t the author of both, some thing or some power supercedes him or he is powerless to stop bad things from happening or he simply has no desire to interject himself into modern affairs or he is not all-loving nor all-merciful or sympathetic to his children. He simply can’t be all-loving (and omnipotent) and sit by idly wild egregious evils take place around the world, some of them in his name, upon his children. If he is, as I’ve said before, he must be nearly infinitely grieved.
Believers will say, “Well, bad things happen because man is a fallen race and is subject to the ‘curses’ outlined in Genesis because of the original sin.”
But I ask: Did God set life into motion or not? If he did, as the Bible recounts, he foreknew every single event leading up to today. God foreknew every misstep Adam and Eve would take. He foreknew every misstep the people of Israel would take. He foreknew every single misstep I would take. He foreknew the doubts that would later fester and has yet to convince me or impress upon me his existence despite my numerous, numerous, numerous, numerous (yes, 4 repetitions would be accurate) and earnest pleas.
He foreknew the Crusades, carried out in His name. He foreknew the Salem Witch Trials, carried out in His name. He foreknew slavery, carried out in His name. He foreknew the Holocaust, the 6 million death of dwellers of his chosen nation, carried out in His name. Germany was a largely Christian nation at the time, and Hitler never disavowed Catholicism, neither did the Vatican speak out against the Third Reich at the time.
Yet, he, knowing all this, allowed or watched the entire bloody affair down through human history to take place and willed, what would become, the ugly episode of human existence into being. Kurt Vonnegut summarized the human condition in shocking bluntness during a PBS interview in 2005:
Look, after two World Wars and the Holocaust and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and after the Roman games and after the Spanish Inquisition and after burning witches, the public — shouldn’t we call it off? I mean, we are a disease and should be ashamed of ourselves.
And for what purpose did God will us into being? According to Rick Warren, our purposes are five-fold: worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship and ministry. But these would be purposes once a person becomes a Christian. Before that, the purpose would be to become a Christian. But what about the purpose of humans in general, believer or not? Is it for the opportunity to know and enjoy him? For him to know us? But, we ultimately have no choice in the matter, do we? The options are either, believe and form a relationship with him or be gone, “I never knew you.” That’s not a relationship.