Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is this a religious blog?

A friend asked me a while back if this was a religious blog. No, I told her, it wasn't. Not that I don't talk from time to time about things that people refer to as "religious," but religion (I'm a practising Roman Catholic, and already I'm feeling the need to explain what I mean by that) is no longer a very nice word, bringing to mind, inter alia, physical and sexual abuse of children, forcing of young women into polygamous relationships, frittering away of tithes on la dolce vita lifestyles, support of unjust wars, vilification and violence towards those with opposing views, etc. And that’s just the religious folks of my faith! There are warriors, oppressors of women and children, dealers out of arbitrary and extreme punishment in other religious traditions as well.

So religion is an increasingly fraught word, having less and less to do with reverence for and love of God, however one conceives of that Great Spirit.

Another thing about this ‘religion’ word is that it can be reductive, shrinking a way of life into mere ritual and observance. I’m all for rituals: morning cup of coffee as you read the paper, bedtime stories with your children, Friday evening movie with your friends, once-a week dinner with the extended family. Rituals are the stuff of our lives, investing them with rhythm, marking them by repeated affirmation of what is good, comforting, worthy of being cherished. So it’s fine if religious people worship once, or twice or three times, a week, offer daily prayers, perform regular acts of charity like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned. I just find myself nowadays preferring to think of these things as decent, good, spiritual, rather than religious. Maybe it’s a phase, but it’s certainly where I am at, these days.

I want my spiritual life to be ongoing, unremitting, and pervasive – to be my whole life, not a small, separate piece of it. That’s my ideal, what I’m working towards. I want God to be part of all my business, a God I recognize as Jah, Elohim, Allah, the Almighty, the Great Spirit and Olodumare, if it comes to that. I hope the discernment of the Spirit informs what I write here, whether it’s a poem or a rant against whatever social, educational, ecological, or political issue is currently exercising me. Hope, I said, hope. I’m not a mystic, nor a great poet, not yet (right Geoff? Donna?), and this is a matter of striving, an essential part of which is conversation with the online community whose responses, corrections and information all contribute to the process of enlightenment.

At midday mass today, the priest spoke of the 'economics' of Jesus, He who ran the merchants out of the temple, accusing them of turning his Father’s house into a den of thieves. Economics, the priest explained, is a word whose roots refer to home management. (I looked it up: oikos "house" + nomos "managing.") Jesus’ economics conceived of all of us as part of his Father’s household. Judas put himself out of the household by becoming a thief, not only when he dipped into the community’s purse, but also by treating Jesus, a person in the household, as if He were mere chattel, when he sold Him to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. It was a fresh take on the old story, and relevant, and I thank the preacher (a new one, whose name I don't know) for it.

The wily young clergyman never made it explicit (I’ve always appreciated Jesus’ embracing serpentine wisdom) but I’m sure he was talking about sub-prime mortgages and CEOs who pocket millions, never mind that they have destroyed the lives of countless human beings, treating them not as people but as things, much as Judas did Jesus, and ruining the world’s economy into the bargain. Small wonder some people expect Jesus to land anytime now, bent on hustling the moneychangers and hawkers out of a temple that they have made a den of thieves with their carbon emissions, depleted ozone layer and acres of oceanic plastic soup!

So back to whether this is a religious blog or not. If religious means concerned with God and matters of the spirit, and the great commandments Love-God! and Love-your-neighbour-as-you-love-yourself! the answer is, I hope, yes. But if it's all that other stuff tied up in rules and regulations, license for the law-giving shepherds and blind obedience for the flock, well, no, I really don't think so.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Will's Flowers" – another poem for spring

Will’s Flowers
For David

I never yearned for snow
though brand new clothes from fat
Sears-Roebuck catalogues
committed to the U. S. post
by Uncle Lannie’s faithful hand
in Cincinnati’s never never land –
those made me glad enough.
He stayed away for years
writing Aunt V long letters
casting box after box onto
the dead slow sea-mail waters
hoarding expiring pennies
for a car a house storing
for ever after the best time
of his life. Adult and old
I never thought, “Is how
him manage foreign? Not
a wife. No family, no kin.”
And so of course I follow him…

Now when spring reach T.O.
and the wild blonde from up
the street that tend to endless
cats and her small garden
with fierce care come forth
with spade in hand to set
again this year pot upon
pot of yellow daffodils
I think how we ex-slaves
enfranchised manumitted
free of snow white queens
Britannic motherland
I think we still don’t
understand the bard’s
peregrinations and sake
of that we dis poor Will
mightily do him wrong.

Niggers still coming North
lured by the siren song
of work and decent pay
the chance to quarry out
a little life. Meanwhile
as dog nyam dog cold
carving up your carcass
vampire cops hunt you
for your dark blood this skip
of light this skemps of flower
that God promote from grass
rooted in blackness bent
on breaching ice just
pushing pushing up to
celebrate sun summer
unrepentant livity…

To rass! What a misguided fuss.
The blasted daffodils is just like us.

from Certifiable (Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions) 2001.

Cancerning John Ibbitson's front page commentary, “Obama Turns Left,” in the Globe and Mail

This is a re-posting of something I originally hung up yesterday, in which I suggested that there might have been racism at play in the matter under discussion. I have not repeated those comments because that’s not the issue of immediate concern. Besides, we can return to that aspect of things, and perhaps will, another time. My observations otherwise remain much the same. What I have added is more of what John Ibbitson said, and a link to the front page feature in the Globe and Mail. What have been lost are some asides, comments on the original post, and my responses. My apologies, FSJL.

I’ve blogged before about people who claim expertise but who really aren’t expert because they lack the attention to detail, the commitment to finding out what’s true, the bothering to check and double-check that identifies persons who care about their work, care about not misinforming those who repose confidence in what they say. Being expert isn’t easy and I’m glad that I make small claim in that direction. But if you say you are, then deliver the goods! If not, the price for those who believe you may end up being very high!

One presumes a considerable degree of expertise on the part of someone writing on politics for a major newspaper. I’m referring to John Ibbitson’s front-page piece, “Obama Turns Left” in the Globe and Mail of April 4. Before I make any comments, though, I have a story. It happened a while back, pre-election and just pre-Global Devastation, if I recall rightly. I’m watching a discussion on the Wall Street Journal’s website. I’m pretty sure that’s the source, but it doesn’t matter much if it isn’t. Can’t remember their names, but two men are discussing Barack Obama’s economic policies and one is describing European economies. He says they grow at about three percent annually, people are accustomed to taking four weeks or so of vacation time, workers are pretty laid back. These economies, the way of life, might be characterized by the word ‘equality'. While he’s talking, I’m thinking, “Good. Someone who sees the virtue of an economic engine with the goal of enabling producers to stop and sniff the flowers, enjoy their families, read, travel, have time to share stories with their children.”

Imagine my surprise when I discover this is not what’s being approved of at all. The European ‘equality’ approach is not such a good thing, it turns out, because it’s not the kind that allows for risk-taking, for the enterprise that has always been the engine of American industry and commerce, and underwrites the American way of life. It seems the American economy can be described by the word ‘liberty,’ its virtue being that people can take risks and become wildly successful entrepreneurs and concomitantly, production can grow, not by modest three percents but by leaps and bounds.

I’m relying on memory here but I’m pretty sure I’m reporting the essence of what was said. Certainly I was knocked over by the discussants not even admitting that the European approach had, as seemed obvious from their own descriptions, much to recommend it. Naaaah! I gathered that I was supposed to think that these economies might be ‘equal’ but were somehow less ‘free,’ and to be watchful lest Barack’s policies lead Americans down the backward paths to socialist unfreedom.

So now to John Ibbitson’s comments on Obama’s turning left. I quote Mr Ibbitson’s first two paragraphs:

“In the space of a few months, the United States of America has been transformed from the most entrepreneurial society on Earth to one so state-directed that even the Europeans are raising their eyebrows.

The government has become deeply enmeshed in the banking and insurance sectors, a chunk of which it now owns. It holds or guarantees $5-trillion worth of mortgages. It is directing the future of the automotive industry.”

Mr Ibbitson then refers to the [American] conservatives’ accusation that President Obama is a socialist and, in doing so, employs a courtroom device that we are all familiar with from crime shows on the TV. He proceeds to quote one conservative, thus…

' “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics may be dead," Mike Huckabee, former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said recently, "but the Union of American Socialist Republics is being born." '

Ibbitson follows with the comment, “It's a wild claim.” But as in the case of the lawyer who asks and then withdraws a question when the judge rules it objectionable, the damage has been done. Obama’s policies have been tainted by the Russian connection (made by Huckabee, true, but effective nonetheless), and people have been frightened by the comparison between the USA and the USSR – an unthinkable one, prior to this!

There’s no space here to properly analyze the article and the accompanying graphics, and, thanks to the Internet, readers may see for themselves – sort of. The graphics were pretty grand! Suffice it to say that, were I still teaching English, this would be an excellent piece to take into the classroom for students learning about bias and subtle manipulation in journalism.

So those reading this post can see the feature themselves, here is the url:

One buys the Globe and Mail because of some good news reporting and some good columnists, and because one can almost invariably count on fine letters to the editor. The readers were quick to pounce. Ian and Angela Trowell asked, “What on earth were you thinking when you blazed across your front page a red striped text and a blue cluster of hammer and sickles? To inflame Americans, who are inherently fearful of socialism in any form, is utterly irresponsible.” Janis Svipilis rebuked: “The parody of the U.S. flag may have seemed clever, but it's a deadly insult to the democracy south of us… As the son of refugees from Stalinism, I find your front page offensive and, worse, morally incoherent.” There were no letters published that supported Ibitson's analysis.

I suppose one can argue that policy can be interpreted at will, and so John Ibbitson is within his right – ha-ha – to paint Obama pink. Ha-ha some more – a doubly ironic guffaw this time. It would be an occasion for loud cackling except that this (Canada) is a nation presently being governed by ill-advised conservatives, voted in by a too-small percentage of the enfranchised. Many Canadians don’t vote. One must conclude that they don’t grasp what will happen if they fail to exercise the franchise. In such a context, the importance of responsible journalism cannot be overemphasized.

There’s no doubt that Ibbitson got one thing very wrong. Early on he remarks: “Mr. Obama is the most activist president since Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Johnson's presidency failed.” Reader Kurt D Lynn to the rescue, this time, to point out that Lyndon Johnson’s presidency cannot be deemed ‘failed’ by any stretch of the imagination. “Mr. Johnson's legacy includes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Higher Education Act of 1965, Medicare (health care for the elderly) and Medicaid (health care for the poor). Moreover, with his focus on cleaning up America, it's not a stretch to say his presidency marked the start of true environmental concern.” Lynn allows that Johnson “expanded the war in Vietnam and that his public persona… left a lot to be desired,” but he concludes that Johnson’s “footprint changed the course of America's social consciousness.” All true. There’s evidence too that, but for some conniving on the part of Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War would have concluded on Johnson’s watch. Instead, Nixon’s intermediaries persuaded the South Vietnamese government to wreck all-party peace initiatives and kept the war alive so that it might be an election issue.

So, for those who know the runnings, i.e., how it really go, Ibbitson's comparing Obama to Johnson turns out to be flattering. If Obama lives up to anything like Johnson's legacy, he'd have done a great deal. Finally, one wonders how much John Ibbitson knows about Obama's chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers. I do believe a recent Globe and Mail carried an article from the New York Times that should lay his fears to rest.

John Ibbitson and the Globe and Mail need to do much better next time.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"To No Music"

So it snowed, as it always does, in April, which is supposed to be spring. Here is my poem on the matter... Called "To No Music," it is taken from by third collection of poetry, Certifiable, which was published by Goose Lane Editions in 2001. (See details on this page.) I post it here as promised. Thanks to whoever asked for it!

To No Music

That is my quarrel with this country.
You hear them say: “April?
April? Spring’s on its way, come April.”
And, poor things, believe it too.
See them outside, toes blue
in some skemps little cotton skirt
well set on making what don’t go so, go so.
And think: this big April morning
it make as if to snow.

That is something that must
make a body consider: if you can’t
trust the way the world turn –
winter, spring, summer, autumn –
what you can trust?

When it reach April
and you been bussing your shirt
for eight straight month just
to keep warm, you in no mood
to wait one dege-dege day more.
Not when you poor
and cold in the subway
cold in the street
cold where you work
where you eat
where you sleep.

But you don’t get a peep
of protest from these
people. “Well, it’s late
this year,” they say, toes blue
peeping out the open-toe shoe,
and hug the meagre little skirt
tight round them, shivering
for all they worth.

They don’t agree with the coldness
and they don’t disagree;
they walk to no music
and that is misery.