“The perfect voter has a smile but no eyes . . .” (Denise Duhamel)

The perfect symbol

The perfect symbol

In the fall of 1968 I wandered into the Democratic Party Headquarters on Euclid Avenue in Upland, CA, headquarters for the western part of San Bernardino County. Hubert Humphrey was the Democratic nominee for President. Even though he was part of the Johnson Administration responsible for the war in Viet Nam, against which I was one of those irreverent “hippie” types who demonstrated, I could not imagine voting for Nixon. My candidate, Robert Kennedy, had been assassinated a few months earlier.

The election of 1968 was the first in which I voted. It was the first of five in which I worked as a volunteer for the Democratic candidate, except for the 1972 election when I worked for a pittance of a salary for the McGovern campaign. In the election of 1976 I met Jimmy Carter at a neighborhood party in Iowa City when he was “Jimmy Who?” and decided to volunteer for his campaign when he answered a question from one of my neighbors with a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man in an Immoral Society. That he even knew the book was enough for me—his quoting it was the icing on the cake.

After Ronald Reagan was elected Acting President in 1980, I never again participated in “politics.” I was mildly interested in supporting Michael Dukakis. (I had, after all, met him three times and met his cousin Olympia at a concert of the Boston Classical Orchestra conducted by his father-in-law Harry Ellis Dickson for which I wrote the program notes because the chairman of their board of directors was a colleague of mine on the faculty at Bunker Hill Community College—there, I’ve dropped all the names I can possibly drop.)

Looking back on my dabbling in politics, I’d say having some kind of personal knowledge of a candidate is the best reason to vote for or against her. Every other reason—party affiliation, philosophical agreement, religious compatibility, is dangerous. In fact, it’s absurd.

While I was toying with the idea of working for Dukakis, one of my friends was toying with the idea of working for George Bush the Elder because her family’s summer home was in the same exclusive neighborhood of Kennebunkport, and she rubbed elbows with the Bush family as part of the social elite of Maine (I suppose she still does).

Politics is a slug copulating in a Poughkeepsie garden.
Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth
of a king. I voted for a clump of cells,
anything to believe in . . .

My disillusionment is not quite as complete as Denise Duhamel’s seems to be, but it’s close. Her poem says “a slug,” not two slugs. In the slug kingdom it’s possible for one slug to copulate—and thereby reproduce. It’s not masturbation. They don’t often fly solo—usually it takes two slugs, but what happens to the slug playing the part of the male when they are finished is pretty gross.

I think it’s an apt description of American politics. Devouring parts of (or, more likely, ALL of) one’s opponent is the name of the game. And—excuse the extended metaphor—we all seem to slither around in the garden dirt when it comes to politics or even talking about (I won’t say “discussing”) any of the problems that are in the process of tearing American society apart.

I carried my ballots around like smokes, pondered big questions,
resources and need, stars and planets, prehistoric
languages. I sat on Alice’s mushroom in Central Park,
smoked longingly in the direction of the mayor’s mansion.

We all carry our ballots around and ponder big questions—what to do with 52,000 starving, frightened, unmoored children knocking at our doors seeking shelter, safety, and a way to survive as human beings; how to prevent the next mass killing with licensed guns of school children; what to do about the absoluet certainty that the NSA, the NRA, every bookseller and garden supply seller in the country knows you’re reading this—and then instead of finding an answer to any of these questions, we light our ballots on fire, inhale the smoke, and blow it toward whatever politician we think should have helped solved the problem long ago.

Politics: Wonderland or La-La Land?

Politics: Wonderland or La-La Land?

We make ourselves the perfect voters, smiling our way to the ballot box with eyes closed to the realities we are voting on. We accept without investigating that banks and billionaires are the oppressed in America. We accept without investigating that Hamas is a “terrorist” organization. We allow demagogues to convince us that changes of world-wide power structures are the fault of one man rather than the inexorable result of our own materialistic “globalization.” We allow the interpretation of human life that a corporation is the same as a living, breathing body. And so on.

We set ourselves up in armed gated communities prepared to make war on anyone who is not “like us.” STAND YOUR GROUND!

I doubt I will ever again walk into a “party headquarters.” I may never vote again. I don’t want the shame of being a slug slithering in the garden copulating with myself.

My advertised purpose in this blog is to write light-hearted pieces about the process of growing old. I don’t know if this is light-hearted or not.

Slithering in the dirt

Slithering in the dirt

Well, here’s some jollity. Since I “retired,” I’ve taken some actions that might be seen as out-of-character because they are frivolous and odd (perhaps “odd” is not out of character). Only one is obvious and public—the bold and conspicuous tattoo on my left arm. Its Latin phrase, by the way, is the first words of the Medieval hymn,

Day of wrath, O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets’ warning,
heav’n and earth in ashes burning!

So last Thursday evening did you watch fireworks with glee and patriotism? Heaven and earth with ashes burning. Has that become the best symbol of our “democracy?” Firepower?

“Exquisite Politics,” by Denise Duhamel (b. 1961)
The perfect voter has a smile but no eyes,
maybe not even a nose or hair on his or her toes,
maybe not even a single sperm cell, ovum, little paramecium.
Politics is a slug copulating in a Poughkeepsie garden.
Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth
of a king. I voted for a clump of cells,
anything to believe in, true as rain, sure as red wheat.
I carried my ballots around like smokes, pondered big questions,
resources and need, stars and planets, prehistoric
languages. I sat on Alice’s mushroom in Central Park,
smoked longingly in the direction of the mayor’s mansion.
Someday I won’t politic anymore, my big heart will stop
loving America and I’ll leave her as easy as a marriage,
splitting our assets, hoping to get the advantage
before the other side yells: Wow! America,
Vespucci’s first name and home of free and brave, Te amo.

Just because. Another patriotic poem. From Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America, edited by Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave. University of Iowa Press, 2002.

“Patriotics,” by David Baker (b. 1954)
Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy,
out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river.
America, it’s hard to get your attention politely.
America, the beautiful night is about to blow up

and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops
is shaking hands, dribbling chaw across his sweaty shirt,
and pointing cars across the courthouse grass to park.
It’s the Big One one more time, July the 4th,

our country’s perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war,
we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans,
spray the streets and neighbors’ yards with the machine-gun crack
of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer. In short, we celebrate.

It’s hard to believe. But so help the soul of Thomas Paine,
the entire county must be here–the acned faces of neglect,
the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives,
jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy

all gathered to brighten in unambiguous delight
when we attack the calm and pointless sky. With terrifying vigor
the whistle-stop across the river will lob its smaller arsenal
halfway back again. Some may be moved to tears.

We’ll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow
get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others
in the back rooms of our courts and malls–yet what
will be left of that one poor child, veteran of no war

but her family’s own? The comfort of a welfare plot,
a stalk of wilting prayers? Our fathers’ dreams come true as nightmare.
So the first bomb blasts and echoes through the streets and shrubs:
red, white, and blue sparks shower down, a plague

of patriotic bugs. Our thousand eyeballs burn aglow like punks.
America, I’d swear I don’t believe in you, but here I am,
and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.

“. . . We wanted words to fit our cold linoleum . . .” (Vern Rutsala)

Master of the [King's] Wardrobe

You, too, can be Master of the [King’s] Wardrobe

June 28, 1660, was a day of Thanksgiving in England for the return of King Charles II. He had been in exile since the Glorious Revolution and beheading of his father, Charles I, on 30 January 1649.

The “glorious” revolution was a religious war carried out by Protestist Terrorists against the king who had sealed his doom by marrying a Catholic. The Protestists under Oliver Cromwell began liberating great swaths of land in the north and west of England and eventually overran London and the monarchy was declared abolished.

Charles I was executed by a “headsman” with one mighty sword-chop to his neck. The Protestists immediately began ransacking cathedrals and abbeys and other places sacred to Church and nation, and ensconced themselves as the rightful government of the United Kingdom.

Their reign of Protestist terror lasted only 11 years, however, because the people tired of the autocratic rule of Cromwell and his thugs (and his son, who took over when he died, was weak and stupid).

June 28 was only a half-day of Thanksgiving. The real day of Thanksgiving, “Oak Apple Day,” had been declared by Parliament on May 29, the day Charles II returned to London (he was not formally crowned King until April 23, 1661).

One of the most important purposes of the “glorious” revolution had been to establish once-for-all the United Kingdom as a Protestist Christian nation, with full freedom of religion for all Protestists. British law to this day requires that the monarch be a Protestant (a not very committed Protestist) and be married to a Protestant. The Royal Family recently passed the “no-marriage-to-a-divorced-person” test, so someday the monarch will be granted full religious freedom.

On the Day of Thanksgiving, Tom Pepys visited his brother to show him possible fabrics for a new suit. Tom’s brother visited Sir Edward Mountagu, who, even though he was a member of the aristocracy had supported the Protestists. Sir Edward was in hiding and in the process of changing his loyalties back to the royalists. He eventually became a member of Charles II’s Council of State and, for his loyalty to the king, was made Mountagu the first Earl of Sandwich, Knight of the Garter and Master of the Wardrobe.

Tom’s brother and his wife went to dinner that evening at Clothworkers’ Hall, invited by Mr. Chaplin, where they were treated to an entertainment by an opera singer who, of course, had had to sing behind a curtain for eleven years because the Protestists didn’t allow entertainment.

Tom’s brother, Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) kept a detailed diary of his own activities and the social and political life of London, in which he was intimately involved, from 1660 to 1669. His diaries are one of the most important first-hand accounts of many of the important events of the Restoration period (see his entry for June 28, 1660 below).

In 350 years will anyone be reading my blog or any of the other millions of personal blogs in cyberspace?

Probably not. All of us are simply living in the age of public confessionalism—spill your guts in public and hope everyone reads it because what you have to say is worth the attention of everyone. It’s either profound or interesting, or you are repeating the Truth with a Capital T about the world—and society would be much better off if everyone would listen to you.

My writing today has two inspirations.

First, for the fun of it and coincidentally, I looked up Samuel Pepys’s diary entry for June 28, which I do from time to time simply to get some perspective on the day’s news. (The more things change, the more they stay the same).
Then I began research (which I also do from time to time because I’ve not yet found the answer) on the etymology of the word “Islamist.” Yesterday I heard it used in a most bizarre way that I won’t repeat here.

The “Glorious Revolution” was carried out by Protestist terrorists. That’s what we’d call them today. That Sir Edward Mountagu, the first Earl of Sandwich, Knight of the Garter and Master of the Wardrobe was in hiding on June 28, 1660, because of his role as a Protestist terrorist shows that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Protestist, or what?

Protestist, or what?

He was one of the clever (lucky) ones because he managed to hide his Protestist activities (or be forgiven for them) enough to ingratiate himself with Charles II and become part of the new king’s inner circle of advisors. So much for rabid fundamentalist religious beliefs.

So here’s the deal today. I wanna know who first used the word “Islamist.” It’s a dreadful word. I’ll bet most people who might happen to read my profound confessionalism here today are, if not offended, at least put off by my word “Protestist.” Well, what are those folks who believe so much that abortion is murder that they will kill someone who provides abortion services? Protestists or Catholicists. Who are those people who want the law to allow them to refuse to serve an LCBT person in their public businesses? Protestists.

It’s so easy to call someone a name without having any idea who they are, what they believe, or why they do what they do. Mea culpa.

And then to get on the internet and spill your guts as if you knew what you were talking about and as if everyone ought to listen to YOUR truth as opposed to THEIR truth. Mea culpa.

Sticks and stones many break my bones, but words – words are designed to kill. And they do.

Here’s a poem about that. Listen up, all you Protestists, Catholicists, Atheistists, and the rest of us who call people made-up names we don’t understand but sound hateful.

(Vern Rutsala, by the way, was a much-loved professor—reason enough for some Protestists to reject him—at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and poet, who died just two months ago.)

“Words,” by Vern Rutsala (b. 1934)
We had more than
we could use.
They embarrassed us,
our talk fuller than our
rooms. They named
nothing we could see

dining room, study,
mantel piece, lobster
thermidor.
They named
things you only
saw in movies

the thin flicker Friday
nights that made us
feel empty in the cold
as we walked home
through our only great
abundance, snow.
This is why we said ‘ain’t’
and ‘he don’t.’
We wanted words to fit
our cold linoleum,
our oil lamps, our
outhouse. We knew
better, but it was wrong
to use a language
that named ghosts,
nothing you could touch.
We left such words at school
locked in books
where they belonged.
It was the vocabulary
of our lives that was
so thin. We knew this
and grew to hate
all the words that named
the vacancy of our rooms

looking here we said
studio couch and saw cot;
looking there we said
venetian blinds and saw only the yard;
brick meant tarpaper,
fireplace meant wood stove.
And this is why we came to love
the double negative.

Obviously a Liberal Conspiracy

Obviously a Liberal Conspiracy

“Nothing beside remains [r]ound the decay of that colossal wreck . . .”

Roger Ailes. You CAN fool some of the people all the time!

Roger Ailes. You CAN fool some of the people all the time!

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

     (—“Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1817)

If I had the courage of my convictions—who on earth has that?—I’d be writing a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Every person who has any kind of second-class-citizen status in this country (including all women, all LGBT persons, and everyone whose ancestors did not come from Northern Europe) owes King a debt of gratitude for showing it’s possible to change society’s mind.

Lloyd Blankfein. You CAN steal from all the people all the time.

Lloyd Blankfein. You CAN steal from all the people all the time.

Our national tragedy today is that King (or his moral heir) is not here to lead the movement (the uprising?) of the poor (increasingly what we used to call the middle class) against the politicians, Roger Ailes, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs (and Lloyd Blankfein), Alice Walton, and the Koch brothers. Someone to lead people like the deluded Tea Partiers to understand that they are feeding directly into the power of the oligarchy they think is somehow going to save them but which is, by definition, designed to destroy them.

Because I am one of the lucky ones who will be dead before David Koch, Karl Rove, and Alice Walton have completed their strangle-hold on America, I’ll resist the temptation to write about or give the honor due to Martin Luther King, Jr. With my stodgy old opinions, I could hardly honor him, anyway, and what good would it do?

When Shelley wrote his sonnet in 1817, I’m pretty sure he meant Ozymandias to stand for the rich and powerful. Today, we would do better to think of him as a metaphor for the American people who have given away, forfeited in the vain hope of getting richand staying “secure”our power and our freedom. If it were not so trite, one might well ask, “Where is Martin Luther King, Jr., when we need him?”

There’s an old Victorian hymn that, in spite of its quaintness and sentimentality (and its squarely, boringly Anglo-Saxon music), was one of my father’s favorites. I’m not quite sure why because it doesn’t mention Christian theology. My dad simply thought the people were worth saving. I think Martin Luther King, Jr., would have understood. “When Wilt Thou Save the People?” Is anyone asking that question now?

Boy, do I sound like a stuffy, old fashioned, grouchy, holier-than-all-the-rest-of-you old man. Mean-spirited, too. Not at all in the tradition of MLK. I know. Sorry.

Alice Walton. Trying to fool all the people all the time can make you very unhappy.

Alice Walton. Trying to fool all the people all the time can make you very unhappy.

I don’t care if it is your Constitutional right, carrying a gun is. . .

You can't yell "fire," but you can fire.

You can’t yell “fire,” but you can fire.

The last time I attended The Dallas Opera (their production of Carmen on November 10, 2013), I was distracted by the woman in front of me who was texting on her smartphone. Granted, she never turned it on at a time when something was happening onstage. She lit up the theater only during breaks in the action. I never heard the phone make a noise.

But it bugged me. Why should that woman think she—of all those 2,000 people—had the right to disrupt my immersion in the operatic experience? She paid about $200 to be there, as I did, so you’d think she would have arranged her life so nothing would disengage her from her expensive three-hour experience.

I can’t imagine being such a control freak that I would have to be able to control my business, my children, or my friends even from the opera house.

Perhaps she simply felt she had to let the people sitting around her know how important she was, so she responded immediately to the Tea Party request from Ted Cruz for money to work to defund the National Endowment for the Arts which gave a grant to make the opera possible. There’s more than one way to destroy culture!

Curtis Reeves has shown us how to deal with people who text in theaters.

Unfortunately, I have some hurdles to jump. (Question: if the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to mean the freedom of speech does not extend to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, does the Second Amendment freedom to carry a gun extend to packing firepower in a crowded theater? Apparently so. We are inconsistent, aren’t we?)

I have a right to choose to kill you

I have a right to choose to kill you

Assuming I have the Constitutional right to carry a gun within murdering distance of a couple of thousand people who would be trapped within my firing range, I’m not sure I could buy a gun in the first place. The laws of Texas are pretty vague about who’s allowed to endanger two thousand people in a theater. I don’t know if the state is aware of the psychological disorders for which I have been treated in the past. Does it know I’ve been hospitalized for depression resulting from Bipolar II disorder? I take some pretty high-powered psychotropic drugs. But I’m a college professor and respected (I hope) church musician. Which aspect of my character would win out in an application to buy and carry a gun?

Then there’s this matter of my little (and I mean little—only complex partial) seizure disorder. About once every ten years I have a blackout seizure—you’ll have to ask the assistant manager of the Target store where I had my last one eight years ago how I act at those times. I don’t know if the fact there’s a—what, one minute out of ten years—chance I might black out during the opera and do something I’m unaware of will prevent me from buying a gun in Texas or not. (It will now!)

Judging from some of the wackos I know who own—and a couple of them carry—guns in Texas, I’d say even with these little abnormalities I could probably talk the gun authorities (whoever they are) into letting me buy and carry one. And in Florida it seems to be a universal right—kill a kid wearing a hoodie or the beloved father of a three-year-old daughter, on the street or in a theater. Doesn’t seem to matter.

I know, I know. Curtis Reeves was simply obeying the law, standing his ground. After all, someone (no one seems to remember who) had thrown popcorn at him. Surely, popcorn in your face is equal to a bullet to the chest.

Here’s my deal. If I knew for sure one person—it would take only one—in the Winspear Opera House was packing heat, I’d be out of there—and demand my money back. How could the Dallas Opera put me in a position where I could be stuck in a crowd and at the mercy of a psychopath like Curtis Reeves?

And, Kimball, my friend, don’t tell me the problem is the psychopath, not the gun. No, the problem is not the psychopath—or, assuming Curtis Reeves is perfectly sane, the idiot—the problem is the gun. Chad Oulson would be alive today were it not for the gun. He might have some popcorn salt in his face, or a smashed phone, or even a black eye from an alpha male fistfight, but his three-year-old daughter would have a father.

I don’t believe in “evil” the way most people do—no evil force stalking the world in the form of “The Beast” or any other religious nonsense. But I do believe it’s possible for an act to be evil.

Carrying a gun—for whatever reason—is evil.

I don’t have the same religious conviction as St. Augustine, but I understand this. “For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil–not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked” (St. Augustine, City of God, XII, Chapter 6).

". . . the turning itself is wicked."

“. . . the turning itself is wicked.”

Guns are evil not of themselves. They are evil because the person who carries one has turned to that which is lower than human thought or decency. But one carries a gun because one has already turned, and as long as the gun is present, there is no turning back.

“No more let sin and sorrow grow . . .” In which I don’t post the most objectionable thing I’ve ever written

I wrote a little piece about how much I dislike the fighting over what to call Christmas. It was inspired by my reading a review of Sarah Palin’s so-called Christmas book which begins, apparently, with her story of buying her husband a gun for a present last Christmas right after the tragedy of Sandy Hook. She bought it as an act of “civil disobedience” because of the anti-gun talk coming from Washington at that time.

So Christmas is now the Feast of the Incarnation With Guns.

I’m not going to post the mean, cruel, and vituperative piece I wrote.

Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectRead my post about depression. I will not be depressed this Christmas any more than that undercurrent of depression I carry with me all the time.

But I do want to say this. Why is everyone in this country so determined to be mean to everyone else these days? Especially in the name of religion? or capitalism–which for too many people seem to be synonymous.

For God’s sake. If I can try to spread a little joy, why can’t the rest of you–the ones who don’t need Prozac and Lamictal? What the fuck is wrong with us, anyway? I was going to put a photo of Da Vinci’s “Madonna and Child” I took at the Hermitage this summer in St. Petersburg. I decided the Rembrandt “Return of the Prodigal Son” (which I also saw there) would be more appropriate. It shows both the profligate son and the self-righteous brother.

Merry Christmas.

No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of his love
And wonders of his love
And wonders and wonders of his love

“. . . ye, who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow. . . “

San Diego Food Bank, 2013

San Diego Food Bank, 2013

We go through life ignoring the major part of what we see and hear. If you couldn’t filter out the sounds you’re not specifically listening for, you’d hear the din. And if you’re driving down the street and can’t focus your eyes on the path ahead instead of taking in the entire panorama, everyone else on the road better be doing more than defensive driving.

I’ve often taught “music appreciation” classes with the goals of making listening to music consciously enjoyable for the students and helping them understand something of the history of musical style and the place of music in various cultures.

I always include lessons in singing various kinds of melodies—from medieval chant to folksongs to popular songs, to opera arias (anyone can sing a couple arias from Carmen). One of my favorite ways to teach such music is to help students hear dissonances and understand that in tonal Western music, dissonances propel melodies forward because they are set up with chord progressions and they resolve into other chord progressions. Dissonances are to music what “and,” “but,” “so,” “however,” “therefore,” “because,” “even so,” and hundreds more words are to language. Most English teachers call them “transition” words—if they mention them at all. I think, rather, they are “connection” words.

Because the Congress is useless” is not a complete thought. It’s a fragment—even though everyone knows what I mean and agrees with it. The bolded words are like dissonances in music—they make the writing complex and interesting, and they propel the ideas forward by connecting them together. Of course the “because” clause here is a fragment because it is not connected to anything (somewhat like the Boehner/Cruz Congress).

Connect musical ideas and make them interesting—that’s what dissonances do in tonal music. And, like the connecting words in writing and speech, they are so integral a part of our musical patterns that we hardly notice them or know what they are. I’d say—because I’m an elitist and a snob—most people would tell you they don’t like dissonant music. That’s tantamount to saying they don’t like music. Period. All music is (to some degree) dissonant. “Row, row, row your boat” isn’t. “Happy Birthday” has hung on as a cultural icon because it has one crucial dissonance—at the point where we stick in the celebrant’s name. A sort of mellow dissonance, but dissonance all the same, the dissonance for which the song exists, both musically and textually.

Unemployment line, Olympia, Washington, 2013

Unemployment line, Olympia, Washington, 2013

Take the Christmas carol “It Came upon a Midnight Clear,” one of those so ubiquitous this time of year that it might be said to be part of the collective unconscious of the entire English speaking (Christian) world. But a Muslim student told me once it was her favorite Christmas carol.

The standard accompaniment for the tune has dissonances (some so harsh that, if most people heard them in isolation, they would say they were noise) at the bolded words:

It came upon the mid –night clear, that glo –rious song of old; from an –gels bend –ing near the earth to touch their harps of gold. Peace on the earth, good will toward men, from hea –ven’s all gra –cious King. The world in sol emn still –ness lay to hear the an –gels sing.

This little chart does not include the greatest dissonance—the complete change of “key” at “Peace on the earth, good will toward men. . .” It’s almost as if for one sentence in her essay, a tenth-generation American English-speaking student wrote in Arabic for no reason other than to spice up her writing.

I would not try to teach this tune to a group of Russian émigré students again for anything. It’s impossible to comprehend if you didn’t hear it in utero. I know. I tried it once at Bunker Hill Community College.

But the overwhelming problem with the carol—the reason almost no one knows more of the words than the first stanza—is the shockingly harsh dissonance of the words. They are not, like well-constructed dissonance in music, prepared for. They strike out of nowhere and leave the singer horrified. They are not what Christmas, or any other materialistic, capitalism-praising holiday can be about. Members of Congress, for example, cannot—could not, if they ever got beyond the pabulum of the first stanza—believe their ears upon hearing these words. But don’t go feeling all self-righteous about that. If we could believe our ears, Congress would be made up of a much different sort of people, that is, not so much like us.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow,
Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.

For lo, the days are hast’ning on, by prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.

Nope, we don’t even hear the dissonance in that. It’s a hymn to, a prayer for, social justice. No member of Congress is bending low beneath life’s crushing load. Most of us aren’t either. But more and more of us are as the wealthy friends of Congress store up for themselves more and more of the stuff that makes people secure, such as food and clothing and health care and shelter (connecting words bolded).

I don’t know who the angels are these days. But they will eventually arrive. And when they do, those who rest beside the weary road will be able to send back the angels’ song of peace. If you can’t hear that, if it’s too dissonant for you, perhaps you need a course in music appreciation. Or ethical and socially responsible thinking and behavior. As opposed to unthinking militant christianism and capitalism.

I don’t know. Sermon over.

‘. . . your old men shall dream dreams . . .’

The real prophet by Michelangelo  (not Osteen)

The real prophet by Michelangelo (not Osteen)

A few minutes ago I sent a Facebook message to the daughter of  a woman who—were I ‘straight’ – I could well have asked to marry me. Except I think being soul mates and using the same language for just about any old subject that pops up in conversation are not necessarily the best bases for marriage. Even if my sexual orientation were different [at least farther in another direction on the scale of mammalian possibilities], I doubt that Anne and I would have improved our communication or deepened our relationship by getting married.

We simply thought alike on almost every issue and idea we ever talked about. She was almost as committed to progressive politics as I am, and I was almost as dedicated to understanding the fine points of rhetoric as she was. She is one of my dear friends who has died. I miss her almost unbearably from time to time, especially when I want to have a serious conversation about a subject important to me.

I messaged her daughter because she lives in Santiago, Chile, and I want to see Easter Island.

I’m pretty sure there is no ‘tour’ with Easter Island as its destination that I could afford. Almost the only way to get to the island is by going first to Santiago or one of the other major cities in Chile. So I’ve been thinking that Anne’s daughter should—for the sake of her late mother’s and my friendship—offer me a place to stay in Santiago on my way to Easter Island. How’s that for self-centered thinking? The fact is, she and I would have been great friends if she had not spent her adult life in places like Turkey and Jordan and, well, Chile.

Exactly why I want to see Easter Island is something of a mystery to me.

some fascination for me that I can’t quite figure out

some fascination for me that I can’t quite figure out

(By the way—apropos of nothing—I’m using my new computer to type this—but not ‘dragon’—because I discovered its msword here is set to make more letters upper case—or at least give me some red squiggles indicating it wants to—than my old computer, so my typing looks less like one of my students did it. I’m still in the damned sling; 20 more days and counting; believe me, counting!)

Easter Island holds some fascination for me that I can’t quite figure out. I think it has more to do with the people who built those enormous and bizarre statues than with the statues themselves. Those Easter Islanders more or less killed themselves off by not taking care of their island. They over-farmed, they let rats take over, and they just let the whole place go to pot.

That is, of course what will happen to all of us eventually, but Easter Island is one of the few places where we can see that process complete. Most of what we know about the Easter islanders is speculation even though they never completely vanished. And how they built those statues is lost in the dim memory of the few Rapa Nui people who remain. Even they don’t have a real concept of how the statues got planted on the rim of the island –or why.

The question I want to ask is whether or not they, as a group, as a society, knew they were dwindling almost to the point of extinction and why they didn’t do something about it.

They seem to me to be pretty much like Americans. We’re just standing around watching our continent go to hell in a hand basket and don’t really give a rip. If we did, the abominable Koch brothers would no longer be in business. But that’s the question for future generations to ask. The Kochs and their ilk are the equivalent of the rats of Easter Island. And we have our statues that some future generation a thousand years from now will marvel at—you know, the Ballpark at Arlington and the American Airlines center in Dallas.

The Hebrew prophet Joel said a startling thing.

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit (Joel 2:28-29, NRSV).

I don’t have a clue what “my spirit” refers to. I think it might have to do with having common sense and treating everyone equally. Joel goes on to talk about the “portents.” If I were like some fundamentalist (those who think the Bible is both accurate history and good science), I could tell you how Joel has predicted what’s going on today. You know, some citizens of the current state of Israel (not to be confused with the ancient kingdom of the same name) will join “Jews for Jesus” and get out alive, because, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape.”

But it’s the old men dreaming dreams that interest me. I won’t be around here even for the complete automatonization of our society, much less for the disappearance of all but 111 Americans (the population of Easter Island in 1877).

Like the rats that destroyed Easter Island

Like the rats that destroyed Easter Island

But I have a dream that the American people will wake up before the rats take over completely.

If someone can help jog my memory, I’d appreciate it: on NPR not too long ago I heard an atheist philosopher (a real atheist, not an idiot like Richard Dawkins who uses his “atheism” as a cover for the most virulent forms of racism and xenophobia) explaining his view that the way we can understand our immortality is that we know other human beings will carry on our work (whatever that is) after we die.

I love that idea. I dream that dream. And I don’t want the Koch brothers and the Tea Baggers mucking it up.