Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bashers, Whiners, Subscription-Cancel-Threateners: An Overview of the Editorial Section

Reading the editorial section of our newspaper, "The Roanoke Times," and on Sundays the larger "Horizon" section, is an action fraught with peril and despair. It isn't so much the difference of opinions, or the supposed "liberal" bent of the paper's editors (which, to someone who's experienced life and literature in NYC, isn't all that "liberal"), but the bizarre way mountains are made out of molehills (and, the reverse, molehills are made out of mountains). There are several modes that these things follow, and i will attempt, in the following, a discussion of a few of these modes (and why they i find them irritating).

1) The "I'm Gonna Cancel My Subscription" Mode: This is typically expressed by an individual who has been "offended" by something in the newspaper. It could be anything . . . i've seen this expressed over general content, suspected or real bias. specific editorial columns, lack of focus on local issues, and even comic strips (one was over the comic strip "Boondocks," which the newspaper eventually struck . . . apparently, more than one reader was "offended" by a couple of Black kids in a comic strip dealing with socially relevant issues). First of all, if the readers "cancel their subscriptions," they've pretty much cut themselves off from the only large newspaper that covers Southwestern Virginia. Perhaps they're better served by the numerous smaller newspapers in the area which tend to cover mostly local events, and whose attitude could best be described as "HOORAY FOR OUR_______ (insert town, county, neighborhood)." Naturally, the strictly local focus and attitude certainly limits the number of potentially "offensive" subjects. The next thing to consider is whether or not the Roanoke Times is going to be really concerned over one individual threatening to cancel their subscriptions (apparently, there was a great enough volume of "offended" people to warrant pulling "Boondocks"). I mean, COME ON. Get a grip. If you want to protest something in the paper, don't resort to such childish tactics, acting like a kid who owns the Monopoly board threatening to take the game home if everybody refuses to play by his rules. All you're really doing is revealing your own childishness and taking up space that could be relegated to people actually attempting to DEAL with the issues at hand (i suppose the paper feels some obligation to reprint SOME of these letters). Grow up, people.

2) The ______-Bashing Mode: There's an overabundance of individuals who write in this mode (you could say that i'm writing in this mode now, which is why i'm not going to send it to the editors of the newspapers), and you all know the drill. The targets are numerous: conservatives, liberals (or "lib'rals"), Muslims, Christians, secular people, or other large groups that are easily lumped into one category that can be vilified by focusing on the negative aspects of a few representatives of the group. Uh-huh, that's what it is. Actually, i'm not "bashing," because in singling out a few modes, i'm actually indicating that there are other letters to the editor and editorials who use other modes, such as reasoning, statistics, appealing to common decency or compassion, etc. At any rate, i've read enough of these to know that most of them are written out of vengeance, or out of ignorance. Sometimes both. Now, to be fair, there are certainly members of all these groups, and others, who have traits that are unattractive, criminal, "offensive," repulsive, or frustrating. No sub-category of humanity is entirely free of these elements . . . they are part and parcel of the human condition. It is a mistake, however, to take a few examples from a group (particularly those "examples" which justify a person's pre-existing bias) and use their negative qualities to condemn the whole. One might just as well, on the basis of encountering a few apples with bad spots, declare that all apples were bad. (Even an apple with bad spots can be improved by cutting the bad spots out, but that's a topic for another rant). When you write a letter for the purpose of "bashing" one group or the other, you not only paint yourself as a prejudiced individual, you paint a target on yourself for somebody else's "bashing." If the intent of your letter is to point out a flaw (and a way it can be corrected), well and good. If your only focus is "those _______s are BAD, BAD people," you deserve to have a target painted on yourself, and have no right to complain when you become the focal point of somebody else's "bashing" letter.

3) The "Department of Whining" Mode: These letters may resemble either (or both) of the previously named modes, but their identifying quality is tonal. The complaints (and they are always complaints) have an unmistakable effect in that, if one imagines them read aloud, they would sound much like a spoiled child whining when something they feel they deserve is denied them. A lot of these letters are complaints about the lack of focus on some local event, or the conclusions made in such a report. Granted, the larger the newspaper, the less coverage is given to specific local events. I was once appalled when i lived in the Bronx by the fact that a young man was gunned down at the end of the block where i lived (the fact that i heard this go down may have added to my emotional response), and nothing was said in the paper in the following days (i referred to several newspapers, but saw no mention of it, not even in the "Police Blotter" section). I would argue that the death of a teenager should certainly take precedence over the latest Hollywood scandal . . . but i didn't express my distress in a letter to any of the newspapers, especially after some of my more streetwise friends pointed out that kids being shot was just another fact of life in the city). This event resulted in several poems, and i could advise those who write the "whining" letters to take up poetry as a way to express their frustrations . . . but such an exhortation would undoubtedly fall on deaf ears, since society at large tends to ignore poetry, and those who write these letters undoubtedly would quail at the thought of being ignored. Their issues are IMPORTANT, they would tell me. Why isn't more attention being paid to their pet subjects? A more enlightened approach might be to simply write a letter to the editor ABOUT the subject, without any of the "i-don't-know-why-you-didn't-report-more-on-this" blather that just takes up extra space. Or start your own newspaper.

These are 3 of the modes that seem to irritate me the most, perhaps because it takes the least amount of focused thought or imagination to write them. When i write, i like to focus all my intellect and imagination in what i'm writing . . . to invest less than that is to insult my readers. One could say i'm investing TOO much time an energy in a blog that's only read by a few, but a few is enough. ONE is enough. If something i wrote was going to be read by the readership of the Roanoke Times at large, i would certainly invest the whole of my thought and imagination in writing it . . . and not worry one bit about the whiners, bashers, or people who cancelled their subscriptions over what i wrote.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Poem: Path to Freedom

if there's a path to freedom, put me on it.
not the kind of self-serving egocentric striving
that only confines,
defined by the status quo and possessions
that end up possessing,
where greed and appetites bind me
and blind me to what i need
and what's required of me.

if there's a direction towards truth, set me free to follow it.
like a tiger burning bright whose stripes
match the patterns of my scars,
forward through the darkness towards
that galactic centrifuge where stars
begin and end,
and no bars or barriers designed
by mankind can limit it.

if the truth leads me into mystery, let it be my destiny.
let it grab me by the scruff of my neck
and with a strength that defies
the tides of the times
carry me,
eyes wide open in fearful joy and expectation
to wonders unfolding before me,
microscopic to cosmic,
a dangerous uncharted land
where only the visionary can stand.

if that doesn't sound like freedom to you,
don't stand in front of me . . .
because the force of what drives me on
might realign your gravity,
tug you into an alternate reality
that mocks the tawdry baubles you've used
to decorate your soul,
and that fog that clouds your vision
might be torn to tatters, and freedom
shatters the walls of the prison
you took for granted.

is never selfish,
for it knows no mortal master,
and the pursuit of freedom is a head-on, headlong dash
into a Mystery
whose arms are open wide
to receive those who perceive it.

if the truth will set us free,
it is always fraught with the unexpected,
the inexplicable coloring-outside-the-lines
of the tunnel-vision that freedom's call has rejected,
a process, a yearning
that's burning all bridges behind us,
and all forces that would divert us
are deflected.
we'll ring like bells, and peal like thunder,
scattering seeds of wonder,
and those who've yet to come will reap it.

so if your definition of freedom
keeps you locked inside yourself,
you can KEEP it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Necessary Poetry

I've just spoken via FB Chat to Elysee Thomas, who is back home! Fellow poetic associates in the NJ/NYC area are posting like mad, pictures and comments, about this. For those of you who don't know, Elysee Thomas is an incredible young poet, a friend of mine whom i met during my time as MC/host of the People's Open Mic, "back in the day." Although i don't know all the details of his arrest and imprisonment, a great many people that i personally know and respect vouched for his innocence, and a massive campaign of the spoken word was undertaken by the poetic family to demand his release. I extracted a promise from him to "tell us all about it," which he will no doubt be doing in his poetry.

Right now, my life is pretty much on "hold," but even in times like these, i can rejoice for my brother, and can practically feel the waves of relief and happiness, as if it was a channel that the radio in my skull was tuned to. It reaffirms my commitment to poetry . . . because if Thomas can weather these troubles and come out stronger, then my meager problems are certainly no threat. I keep remembering what Paul said, in Romans, "The One who died for us is standing at the right hand of God, sticking up for us!" and "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Paul, by the way, was in PRISON when he wrote that. God was certainly with Thomas during this time, and He is the author of perfect and true Justice . . . God hears the prayers of the oppressed, and is responsive to their needs.

But this is no time for idleness, no time to rest on our laurels. I'm speaking both to my Christian family and my poetic family. We are weathering great storms here in our own nation, and at the same time reaching forth to those in Haiti who are in such pain . . . and it is my firm belief that if God is going to bless this nation, it is our actions and attitude towards those in Haiti, to ALL who are oppressed or burdened, that is going to create the necessary channel for those blessings. Even in an economic catastrophe, we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, one that has been so gifted with freedoms, and it is an abomination that we've become complacent, haughty, and selfish. So many in America seem to assume that we are somehow "morally superior" to those who are oppressed, that "it's their own fault" for not embracing the WASP middle-class (a rapidly dwindling middle class at that) "virtues" that are--at their root--Mammon worship. And the freedoms we claim to love? Their being etched away, by an acid compounded of ignorance, greed, bigotry, and political sleight-of-hand.

And why is poetry so important? I've expounded on this plenty of times, but at the risk of being redundant, here it is: poetry, in particular the spoken word, is the native tongue of the human soul. It is the freest of free speech, often the only way the poor, oppressed, outcasts, and outsiders have of expressing their emotions that are probably more real, raw, and honest than anything any of us have come up against. But just because you're "safe" right now, don't think that you're invulnerable to the horrific types of misery and injustice that thousands, millions of individuals you regard as "those OTHER people." The oldest example of the written word we have is a Babylonian epic poem about the hero Gilgamesh. That alone should stand to represent the importance of poetry in history . . . and even if it didn't, pick up your Bible and check out the Old Testament prophets, as well as Psalms and Song of Solomon . . . poetry. Every epoch in history has had plenty of poetic voices to speak for it, and the great shame is that the contemporaries of those voices didn't listen very well (and didn't like what they heard). Poetry IS the voice of the oppressed, the cry of the outsiders, the howl of the prophets, and the echo of the Universe. It's not a plaything . . . it's a weapon of war, a way of cutting our way clear through the wilderness of the banal, the boring, and the mass of red-tape and doublespeak that pervert our language, as well as the supidity of most television and movies and radio talk-show hosts who dumb it down. Speech, and the ability to use it, holds us accountable for the ways in which we do--or don't--use it. Freedom of Speech, like a muscle, must be exercised regularly, and in the right way, in order to remain strong.

And that is another reason for my gladness at Thomas' release: we need all the good, strong voices we can get.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Dose of Reality for Reality TV

With all the new "reality" television shows today, the ideas must be running a bit thin. I'd like to propose an alternate concept that would inject some hard reality into these shows, which would also coincidentally make them more gripping, and thereby more entertaining. Here are a few suggestions:

Ubiquitous Disclaimer: To those of my readers who might not be aware of such obscure concepts as "parody," "satire," and "irony," this is not meant to make light of the subjects involved. Consider it, instead, as a contrast of what REALITY means as opposed to "reality television," as well as an opportunity to flex one's mental muscles by assuming uncomfortable positions not generally accepted or promoted by the status quo, which generally involves the least amount of effort combined with the greatest amount of ignorance. You have been warned.


Take 10 average middle-class white American citizens, drop them in an area like the Bedford-Stuy, or perhaps Flatbush, clad in nothing but their underwear, and tell them that there are subway passes and McDonald's food coupons hidden in locations within a 10-block radius from their drop-off point. The drop-off time will be at midnight. They will, of course, have to "survive" the night (during this time, an arrangement could be made with the local police precincts to avoid any intervention . . . a sufficient cash donation, or perhaps an arms deal, would facilitate this). Part of the contract for the show's participants would include a codicil that indemnifies any of the local citizens from any actions that might result in bodily harm to the participants--after all, the point is SURVIVAL, which always entails a risk of physical harm. As far as advertising and sponsorship, which is always vital to a show's continuation, i have already mentioned McDonald's, and even the NYC Police could use commercial time to run recruitment ads (because, even in this massive recession, it seems like the police force is always hiring). In addition, having the participants clad only in underwear would be a prime opportunity for manufacturers of those apparel to prove how tough and resistant to damage their garments are . . . "And as this Survivor shows, a night on Flatbush Avenue and several assaults by the locals haven't managed to damage Fruit-of-the-Loom's super-tensile waistband!" The prize for the winners (if there are any who truly survive) would be . . . drum-roll, please . . . TO CONTINUE TO LIVE! Yes, the true meaning of survival would hit home to these middle-class Americans who are so bored with their hum-drum existence of shopping malls, cheerful kitchens, tranquil bathrooms, and 500+ HD channels of bullshit.


A true "iron chef" must make the most from his or her supplies, no matter what they are, and serve them with flair. What better place to put those skills to the test than a third-world country where starvation is rampant? Of course, these chefs would have the most advanced cooking equipment (although finding power sources for this equipment would be part of their challenge), and they would have any food-like substances that the local inhabitants had access to. On a positive note, the judges would be the inhabitants, who could possibly benefit from having a few top-notch chefs to prepare their food and make the most out of their meager rations. Again, contracts would have to be drawn up to indemnify the locals, because the presence of so much American "culture" could easily cause riots, thefts, and other events (which viewing audiences in America appear to appreciate so long as they themselves are not involved).
The prize, of course, is to be able to return to their lives and jobs in America, where they'd have a greater appreciation for ANY food they are able to get.


How can one truly appreciate the drama of cat-fights and estrogen overload in a location of relative wealth and comfort? Such conflicts could be shown to greater effect if the attractive denizens of some upscale neighborhood were transplanted in some out-of-the-way, poor, and less "enlightened" location. Each houswife would be assigned a trailer or shack, and their families would be portrayed by casting a group of the locals in those roles. Shopping trips would be occasions of great drama, considering that the housewives in question would be given a stipend roughly equivalent to the average wage in that region . . . a trip to the local "____ mart" would be quite grueling, especially with half a dozen kids and an alcoholic husband in tow. The housewives themselves, of course, would receive no prizes at the end of the show, but the families that they lived with would receive stipends based upon what the "housewives" had before the show . . . including real estate and personal property. And all of America would have a chance to view a show that involved REAL people who aren't coached or refereed by directors and actors and makeup artists.

It's easy to see how these shows could become part of a real improvement in the "reality" part of "reality tv," contrasting the "values" of WASP middle-class America with what it truly takes to survive . . . things that seem to matter so much would take on an entirely different light when survival, sustenance, and relationships are not mere buzzwords, but are the very things that one's life hinges upon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Deals With the Devil: The Church in Bed With Politics

Recently, Pat Robertson, who is one among many individuals who are more interested in acquiring capital and entrenching themselves in politics (what i call "politichristians"), had the utter lack of sensitivity and compassion to say that the recent tragedy in Haiti was caused by their "pact with the devil," referring to a historical event centuries ago. Regardless of whether or not the event occurred in the way it was construed, the statement itself reveals the actual extent of Robertson's "compassion," which is about as deep as a mud-puddle. When an opportunity arises to come alongside another individual or nation, out of compassion and love (true expressions of Christ's presence in a person's life), this little bit of caustic fare is nothing more than a political statement wrapped in sanctimonious garb.

The Christian church, by and large, seems to believe that political power and standpoint are more important than spiritual power . . . it's a deadly poison that's spread through all denominations. Once an event or issue becomes politicized within the church, it creates dissention and division, which is exactly what it's intended to do. Any person in a position of leadership realizes the power that comes from associating himself or herself with God, or gods . . . regardless of whether the person in question shows the qualities that one of Faith would consider valuable. The "leader" in question can easily demonize any opposition by saying that their opponents are "against God" or "heretics," and in a time when people within the congregation or range of influence are troubled or afraid, they are less likely to cast aspersion on a person who makes strong verbal claims to being a servant of God (or gods). This is true for any religion . . . when mankind gets its hands on religion, the first thing that occurs to many is that it's a great tool for "putting people in their place." Christianity has been used, over the centuries, as an excuse for war, racism, and hatreds of every type. For a man of Robertson's influence to make a careless statement should, in a fair world, immediately destroy any credibility the man has gained by quoting gospel and claiming to be a servant of Christ. Unfortunately, there are many people who will believe that because a good Christian like Pat Robertson said something like this, then it must be true.

Haiti has had a long history of troubles, both political and natural. Its inhabitants suffer from frequent hurricanes because of its location. It has had a long and bloody history. The United States, its neighbor, regards it--for the most part--as insignificant, partly because it doesn't have a wealth of exploitable resources. "Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion." (see for more information on this). This alone seems to chafe the predominantly Anglo-Saxon "politichristians," many of whom carry the smoldering embers of racism and colonialism in their hearts. Most of Haiti's people are poor and uneducated--but poverty and lack of education are not, or should not be, a reason for hatred, exclusion, or oppression (although they often are). I am reminded of the words of the Ghost of Christmas Present to Scrooge, in reference to Tiny Tim--"It may be that in the sight of Heaven, you are no more fit to live than millions like this poor man's child." In fact, i'd argue that the wealthy are closer to being the "surplus population" than the poor. To vilify or demonize a people in a time of great hardship, especially when one carries the name of Christ, is odious at best, and verges on blasphemy, flying in the face of Christ and all the Prophets. When Christ walked the earth, He associated with people who--in that time--were considered the lowest of the low, people that the status quo regarded as untouchable. If a person is to affirm Christ as their Lord and Savior (and, if asked, Pat Robertson would undoubtedly claim this), then they are to exhibit Christlike qualities. Any reasonable individual, Christian or otherwise, would have difficulty equating Robertson's statement with Christ's example.

This is a symptom of a larger problem that i have already mentioned. Too many people within the Christian church are too willing--almost eager--to immediately gravitate to an individual in politics who claims to be a "Christian," especially when that person touches all the right political "hot-buttons" that are almost guaranteed to generate the appropriate knee-jerks: abortion, the "war on drugs," the "dangers" of Islam, homosexuality, and so on. I'm going to take this a step further: a political "knee-jerk" is NOT a sign of a person's Christianity. The Enemy knows exactly how this process works, and uses it to both cause discord within the Church (the body of believers as a whole), and to distract the Church from its true mission: the spreading of the Message, and the alleviation of human suffering. Christians must, as a whole and as individuals, rush to the aid of those who are oppressed or suffering. The early Christian church made the Message of Christ their first priority; directly behind that, and intimately connected to it, was to render assistance to the poor. If we are to be "on our job," these things need to be pre-eminent features of our lives. Everything else must fall behind--possessions, politics, power, prestige, family ties. I'd call on Pat Robertson to make a public apology for his insensitive, inflammatory remarks--regardless of whether or not they were historically accurate--unless, of course, he wants the same kind of judgement to "boomerang" on him, and hold him accountable for the atrocities perpetrated falsely in "God's name" throughout the ages, from the Inquisition up to the present.