When Adjunct Professors Drop Dead…My Career as a Canary

An electronics engineer uses visible lasers to...

An electronics engineer uses visible lasers to align various optical components. (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

Margaret Mary Vojtka, an adjunct professor of French at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania dropped dead on her front yard earlier this month.  This reminds me of that tree falling in the forest question…did she make a sound when she died?  Did anyone really care if some part-time educator died due to university/corporate profit margins and sheer neglect?  Guess not much, if at all.  She wasn’t worth health insurance, one of the advantages of employing adjuncts to teach everything from 101 classes to PhD courses.  Her $10,000 per year “job” didn’t afford her enough excess moneys to pay for heat, and in Pittsburgh during the winter, no heat can kill.

Ms. Vojtka had other problems inconvenient to Duquesne also….she had been battling cancer.  She had been a bit of an embarrassment, sleeping in her office for the heat, and they felt firing her would be the best answer to the situation.  That’s what had happened before she dropped dead on her lawn of a heart attack.

Duquesne officials argued their side of the story, or course, insisting they pay adjuncts more than most schools do, but admitting those same adjuncts are underpaid.  (“The least that an adjunct professor could be paid is $3,500 per course, or $7,000 for a given semester,” Duquesne Provost Tim Austen told NPR Radio.  “Whether those are appropriate in a larger context is…a matter that the academic world has not yet found a decisive answer”).  I loved that quote…the Provost is a major part of the academic machine, and exactly what is the “larger” context?

Ronald E. Powaski has lectured at Cleveland St...

Ronald E. Powaski has lectured at Cleveland State University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new corporate/educational model of America is to hire part-time employees….don’t have to pay prevailing wages, or offer medical insurance, or any respect.  It’s kind of like being a tenant farmer.  The school owns the field, the adjunct works it for next to nothing, and the school reaps huge rewards.  The school may award another year, if the professor was tame enough, and the professor is eager to work, knowing there’s not much call in the real world for many of the subjects they teach…except in a well-rounded education.  Adjuncts make up 60 percent of the Duquesne faculty, and about 75 percent around the country.  I was one once.

Cleveland State University kept me, among many others, at one teaching credit below the level where they would have to pay us as full-tiime employees with benefits.  They were very good at this process, creating one or two credit classes to milk the most out of us while keeping us that one credit below the dividing line.  They never seem to quibble about paying athletics coaches $200,000 or 500,000 a year, or building multi-million dollar stadiums, but pay a teacher a living wage?

Before I left the “profession” the president of CSU was Michael J. Schwartz.  He had been the president of Kent State U. for a bit, and spent three years at CSU.  During that time he initiated a grandiose building binge that had the university tied up in warning tape and re-routes for the entire three years, spending millions and millions and millions of dollars.  I knew his secretary…we’d meet outside every now and again, where we adjuncts exchanged info on where to get low-cost medical care at teaching hospitals, or free coffee and donuts at homeless institutions set up for indigents.  We would see Schwartz leaving work in the early afternoon hours, dragging his fat ass out of his comfy president’s chair and waddling off to his status symbol of a car.  He always had a queer smile on his fat face.

Around this time I was using the financial angle to encourage a student to apply herself to her work a bit more diligently.  I asked her if she really felt her work was earning her an education worth around $750 a class, which is what most tuition had been when I was attending the same university.  She looked at me quizzically, then told me she was paying over $1,100 a class.  It seems tuition had been going up a bit.

When Schwartzy retired the same year I left, I found out he had gotten a $600,000 golden parachute.  One check, more than all the adjuncts at the university made for the whole year.  Then I understood why he had that smile, like the proverbial cat that ate the canary.

I was one of those canaries.

Now I have escaped a country where teachers are not worth a good point guard on the basketball team, or a president who sits in his tower office, in a chair that costs more than a student’s tuition for a semester-long class.  Imagine that…give me my Third World country.  Every time I think about my experience teaching the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave I want to puke…and I can’t believe any human being would not want to puke after hearing the story of Ms. Vojtka.  Thomas Hobbes, that great capitalist thinker who proposed that if we just ignore the poor, the non-winners in this great crap shoot of lucre, proposed that if we don’t feed or care for the poor they will just die off, then…the problem of poverty would be solved.

It seems to have worked for Duquesne University.

Immortal Bananas, Super-Sizing for Jesus, and My Last Meal

English: The Last Supper of Jesus Christ

English: The Last Supper of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I survived a few extremely uncomfortable experiences on my trip to GringoLandia, probably the most uncomfortably numb moments were shopping with my wife.  I could go on about that in detail, but it would just decay into cliché bitching.  Here’s one of the weirder things I noticed while shopping – Immortal Bananas.

How can it be that the hundred or more bananas at some Box Store were all the same size, the same perfect color of yellow, and as pristine as the photos on a grocery store advertisement?  And, after making off with a few of these Franken-Nanners, they defied the aging process, staying as yellow and perfect as plastic fruit for several days…no splitting, no browning, no banana activity whatsoever.  I live in a Banana Republic…I eat bananas every day…they’re supposed to get spotty, split at the seams…and smell…and taste like something other than paraffin.

I decided to do some internet cruising while waiting out the Immortal Bananas, and, of course, found weirdness.

One of the stranger websites I came across while waiting for my bananas to act like bananas was one dedicated to last-meal requests in the state of Texas.  Texas proudly claims to be the first state to offer specialized last meals, reportedly starting the ritualistic chow-down in 1924.  That all came to an end though, in September of 2011, after condemned prisoner Lawrence Russell Brewer requested a huge last meal and did not eat it, saying he wasn’t hungry.  Brewer’s refused request –

Two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and jalapeños; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza topped with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon, and sausage; one pint of Blue Bell ice cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.

Most states offer last meals to condemned inmates a day or two before are scheduled to be executed.  Some opt for simple, like some joker named Victor Feguer – a single, unpitted olive.  Timothy McVeigh, of Oklahoma City in-fame, ordered two pints of mint, chocolate chip ice cream.  John Wayne Gacy ordered a full meal, with the addition of a bucket of original recipe fried chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The site I found this on was comprehensive enough to include the fact that before Gacy became a student nurse killer he managed three franchises for the Colonel…ahhhh, the memories.  (Wasn’t he also a semi-pro clown?)

Seems that Super-Sizing has reached into even the most remote niches of American Life…and Death.

Oh well, if you think websites dedicated to last meals is nonsense, get a load of this nonsense:

Brian Wansink photo -- Executive Director of U...

Brian Wansink photo — Executive Director of USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brian Wansink, a food behavior scientist at Cornell University, conducted a study comparing the size of food portions in 52 of the most famous portrayals of Jesus Christ and his disciples at The Last Supper.

I don’t know which is stranger, that some moron gets who knows how large a pile of grant money to investigate and quantify such balderdash, or that some moron would come up with such an idea. But, any how, with the smell of filthy lucre in the air, Wansink brought his brother, Craig, a professor of Religious Studies at  Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia, in on the scam.

Utilizing computer technology that allowed them to scan, rotate and calculate images regardless of their orientation in the paintings, the brothers compared the portion sizes to the heads of the disciples. Their findings…between the years 1000 AD and 2000 AD, numerous artists enlarged the size of the main dish by an average of 69 per cent; the size of the plate, 66 per cent; and the bread, 23 per cent.

I get the picture, I think…though I don’t know why.

Religiously inspired artists through the ages must have put as much value on the size of a serving of food being placed before Jesus the Christ and his disciples as modern-day parents do when grazing their increasingly obese children on the obscenely large doses of what is considered food in these modern-day United States of America.

But, this can’t be the whole story…that only came out when the details of the study were published in the April issue of –

International Journal of Obesity

International Journal of Obesity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The International Journal of Obesity.

Yes, folks…there is an actual International Journal of Obesity. Who would have thought?  I can’t even imagine who the target audience is.  And, this only gets weirder.

Wansink’s position at Cornell – one that would allow enough academic juice to engage in such idiotic research…he’s the John S. Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University.  For his intrepid efforts he also became a 2007 recipient of the humorous Ig Nobel Prize and was named ABC World News Person of the Weekon January 4, 2008.

What a world !

Wansink was no joker though.  He has figured out how to belly up to the private trough, researching the size of the Last Supper, for whatever reason, and he’s also elbowed his way into position at the taxpayer-financed trough.  George W. Bush tabbed Wansink for his Executive Director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), a post which Wansink filled from 2007 to 2009.  And, what good is any of this unless a book deal can be the end result?  Well, there was such a result…

 

Mindless Eating

 

Bon appetit…I think I’m done eating for a week or two.  I’m going to send out an e-mail to the friends I was staying with in the states…ask them if those bananas have started to show any sign of Mortality.

Later…

 

Hot Coffee, Same-Sex Unions, and Ohio – Running for Cover

Rust Belt

Rust Belt (Photo credit: jenni from the block)

So, I’m still on the run…or on vacation, as some people call it.

Morning coffee…cigarette…all good to go – until I spilled that hot coffee on my bare foot, causing me to drop my cigarette in the folds of my cat pyjamas.  The fire was a threat to spread to the newpaper I was reading, those heartless black and white symbols of progress and knowledge all going up in smoke?  Not on my watch !  I should know betterthan to read the news – I should KNOW better !

Yelping for my wife in my usual exaggerated, animated, over-reactive manner, she didn’t know whether to respond to a flood, a forest fire, a visit from a deity, or just go back to bed – which is often her most sensible choice, and she can be sensible.  Despite all that, she rushed to the front deck, carrying a glass of cold water – which she doused my lap with…thanks, hon ! – then tossed a towel at me, then gave me her best scowl, disappointed there was no true emergency, since they usually suggest degrees of her superiority to me in such situations.  But, I was engrossed in the news of the day, and the reason for my latest morning histrionics was a bit of breaking news, and dysfunction from my adopted country, Costa Rica.  Try this on for size:

THE WORLD

Costa RicaConservative lawmakers are mortified that they may have accidentally approved language making same-sex unions legal when they passed legislation this week and didn”t notice that the final version of the bill had changed earlier language that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  President Laura Chinchilla signed the bill late Thursday.  She has refused to veto the bill.

Laura Chinchilla

Laura Chinchilla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do love these fumbling, bumbling attempts to restrict the private lives of human beings…they never seem to work out just right.  And, before anyone in some industrialized, “First World” country gets too puffed up about how screwed up those political posers in so-called “Third World” countries can get while trying to imitate the streamlined, well-oiled legislative processes of their betters, STOP !  I used to live in Ohio, the Mississippi of the North, as I’ve heard a few people call it.  It will always be the Buckle of the Rust Belt to me…but I am getting away from my purpose.

I survived Ohio for fourteen years, finishing a sort of education and teaching at a university there.  I was going to get married at one point, before I discovered it was illegal for me to do so….and it wasn’t because of my sexual preferences.

I was – and still am – an epileptic. My kind has a history with the conservative, uber religious set as being spawn of the devil, a danger to the pure gene pool.  Really…I’m not joking.  Religious influence in early law-making labeled epileptics as “spawn of the devil” and “marked by the beast as his” and were gently – sometimes not so gently – encouraged to not breed.

(These dim wits thought forbidding undesirables the right to marry would keep them from reproducing…”who you calling imbecile, imbecile?”).  I guess I haven’t got to the part about imbeciles and marriage yet, so, maybe I should…here:

In the stilted view of Ohio lawmakers of yore I was bunched in with a class of humans to be banned from that most public of pools, humans such as habitual drunkards, epileptics, imbeciles, or the insane.  These laws were pushed into being by eugenicists…conservative crusaders whose agenda was to cleanse their world of racial characteristics they thought unnecessary, and encourage those they thought needed preserving.  This marriage law forbidding licenses to unapproved persons was passed in 1904, and came into question during a 1925 push to ban interracial marriage.  Sterilization was a proposal included in cases such as these.

Sterilization and culling the herd using medical practices and procedures…proposed by conservatives?  Ohhhh, there are so many plot twists and twirling, swirling storylines in this Work in Progress most people refer to as the World.

Most of this nonsense was kicked around or ignored until it was repealed in a more sober moment.  Epilepsy was forgotten in the debate.  There has never been much of an Equal Rights for Injured Epileptics (ERIE) movement, and Che Guevara never made it far enough north to incite the social outrage and encourage the necessary civil disobedience that Henry David Thoreau did in his landmark work, Civil DisobedienceI guess Thoreau didn’t excite people the way Guevara did…or the CIA was too lax to murder him when they had the chance.  (I jest…there was no CIA back then – hence, Thoreau and his kind).

Speaking of a lack of sobriety, political screw-ups, and Ohio – which are three topics nearly anyone can gracefully incorporate into any sentence, and, I think, belong in a special knowledge-base tested for in the public school system since the No Child Left Behind disaster –  listen to this: Ohio was not truly a state until 1953 !  It was another governmental clerical error, one on a much larger scale than Costa Rican lawmakers could ever imagine.

Thomas Jefferson signed an act of Congress in February of 1803 that approved Ohio’s state boundaries and constitution.  The debate over the sensibility of statehood had been carried out in a tavern…whatever…more heinous crimes have been hatched in kitchens, garages, boardrooms and Senate chambers.  Any Way…Some How, Congress never passed a resolution formally admitting Ohio as the 17th state.  The paperwork was misplaced during the excitement over the Lousiana Purchase and the War of 1812.

The rules for such recognition changed in 1812, during that excitement over the Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812, and the oversight was not discovered until 1953.  Ohio congressman George H. Bender frantically introduced a bill in Congress to admit Ohio to the Union, since the state was in the process of arranging for the 150 year anniversary of their statehood – or non-statehood, as was the official case.  Anticipating inquiries, outrage, and paperwork problems concerning taxes paid to the Federal Government, relatives killed in wars, prison sentences served, and other such rewards and/or penalties of statehood, Ohio’s formal admission to the Union was made retroactive to March 1, 1803.  The new petition for statehood was delivered to Washington D.C. on horseback.

(I have neighbors in Costa Rica who, until fifteen years ago, got their power bills delivered by horsemen).

President Dwight D. Eisenhower postponed his usual tee time on August 7, 1953, and scrawled his signature across the dotted line at the bottom of the bill…and Ohio’s anniversary plans went on as planned.

My answer to this sort of nonsense is, pour another cuppa coffee – Costa Rican only…light another Cowboy Killer, rearrange the sodden pages of the neighbors’ newspaper before I put it back into the plastic covering and replace it on their porch, and just carry on with the more mundane and managable aspects of life.  But, I hear rumblings from the locals…tales of sneaky legislation trying to regulate the pursuit if happiness, pertaining to others only, of course – others those regulators don’t know.  I hear Ohio is still a state, and I guess there’s nothing I can do about that.  So…I guess the boat floats, for the moment.  Be back soon….

Later….

Saving Women from the Abyss of Criminality

people breeding or how rats view us?

people breeding or how rats view us? (Photo credit: Ken Kindoku 菌毒)

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

This comes to you, from me, as quoted from the Equal Rights Amendment.  I was always fascinated by the “…on account of sex.” bit…as if my rights would be abridged or denied for participating.  Then I got educated.

In my Hall of Musty and Dusty Books Library I’ve become a bit more enlightened, and I’d like to share a bit of how Women have been separated from the fates of rats, cats, pigs and she-asses.

The E.P. Evans’ book, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906), has been my starting point for animal criminality…my memories of Ronald Reagan and Pat Robertson – along with a bit of research on the Equal Rights Amendment – my re-education as to the criminal tendencies of women.  Let’s explore the dangers suggested by animals first.

Evans claims to know of 191 animal trials between 824 AD and the year his book was published.  Here’s a few Hi-Lites:

A she-ass condemned to death in France in 1750 was pardoned because of good character.  There’s not much information concerning this case, coming at the end of a paragraph about the Catholic Church’s reasoning for accusing, prosecuting, and punishing animals for crimes usually thought of as exclusively human transgressions.  Their reasoning – it that’s a proper term – was based on Plato’s assertion that animals are intelligent, and therefore responsible for their actions.  This doesn’t seem to follow traditional religious reasoning, but…you know…sometimes times get dull.  There’s got to be someone, or something, to keep the religious persecution business bumping along.

So a she-ass slipped through the legal system of the time by being interesting, or at least trustworthy.  Other cases were more fully documented.

Pig!

Pig! (Photo credit: timsackton)

A sow and her piglets were accused of murdering and partially eating a child in Lavegny, France, in 1457.  Hauled into court, the sow was sentenced to death.  Guess all that Plato-suggested intelligence wasn’t as deeply cynical as the situation called for, since any sow should know that justice is a business, and we all get as much “justice” as we can – or are willing to – afford.  The courts back then did have some mercy though.  The sow’s piglets were acquitted because of their youth, the bad example their mother had set, and a lack of evidence that they had took part in her crime.  Probably went on to terrorize in their later years…cull the bad apples while the culling is good, we all know now.  More nonsense?  Sure…there’s plenty to go around.

In another landmark case of French jurisprudence,  some rats were charged with feloniously eating and wantonly destroying the province’s barley crop.  This was in 1522…Autun, France.  When the rats failed to show, their attorney argued the summons was too specific, and the summonses should be read from a church pulpit.  They were.  Again, the rats failed to show.  This time their attorney argued his clients were afraid to leave their holes out of fear of their accuser’s cats.  A bit of legal maneuvering over bonds from cat owners guaranteeing their animals would not molest the rats left the court befuddled, and another court date was left up in the air, and eventually forgotten as a case of Black Death ravaged the lands about the time of the crimes.  Rat’s favor…they also were acquitted, and more power to them.  Now, speaking of rats, pigs, and asses, here’s a couple of appropriate quotes from some defenders of the common good of men, if not women:

Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del...

Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del Cielo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human beings are not animals,” Ronald Reagan said during the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment, adding “…I do not want to see sex and sexual differences treated as casually and amorally as dogs and other beasts treat them.  I believe this could happen under the ERA.”  Reagan supporter, popular televangelist, and one-time presidential candidate himself, Pat Robertson, made Reagan look like a moderate when he spewed the following:

“It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement,” he said, “that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”  As I often am when fully comprehending I share a common biology with such creatures, I am feeling a bit bedazzled by all this.  Do I need to repeat the full text of the Equal Rights Amendment?  Oh well…here goes a bit of it –

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any other state on account of sex.”

Thaaaaaaats All, Folks…. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Internet Privacy and You…What’s Up With That?

privacy

privacy (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither, and will lose both.”

I made a mistake and watched the news last night…I also received an e-mail.  As usual with life, it seems, these two events collided leaving me in some strange, uncharted territory.

First off, I saw a story on a brand-name cable news network about two previously secret government operations, one called PRISM, and the other BLARNEY.  PRISM, it seems, is an operation set up by the U.S. government to collect images and documents posted on internet sites such as Google, Yahoo, and FaceBook, to name the most popular.  BLARNEY does the same thing with the written word, such as e-mails.  I don’t watch news much any more, so I was surprised that the interviewee felt he was in for a bit of persecution, outing these two previously covert operations.  Would this be considered an illegal search under the U.S. Constitution and its amendments?

Second off, I received an e-mail from my friend in Pakistan telling me that she had been sending me two e-mails a day for two days, but FaceBook was not delivering them.  My friend said she had taken out any mention of religion (she’s a Muslim), drone strikes, and politics…that self-censored e-mail I got.  I know she is not guarenteed anything by the U.S. Constitution, but I am, and it seems I’ve read somewhere I had the right to privacy.  I was wrong, and I’m not just being snide…there is no specific right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution.

Constitution of the United States of America

Constitution of the United States of America (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

The fourth right, in whole, reads – “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the places to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Like all our “rights” in such old documents, they don’t translate well to the current world.  The right to bear arms in conjunction with an organized militia being the one that gets kicked around the most.  These vague and outdated “rights” need a serious bit of updating.  But, the U.S. Supreme Court is supposed to take care of that, and such interpretations have been proferred.  Pertaining to this presumed right to privacy, Justice Antonin Scalia‘s dissenting school of thought has been that searches must be “reasonable” and the warrant requirement has been overly emphasized.  Those italics are mine, the watering down of any rights, pure conservative blather, an asterisk followed by an invisible – “…unless we feel like it.”

Does the U.S. government and that most powerful of intelligence agencies, FaceBook, really need to protect me from a young women using Ishaa-Allah, god willing, following her hopes for sales of her new book of poetry?  I know she’s a Muslim.  Does the U.S. government need to censor the fact that drone strikes happen near where she lives?  I know they do…and probably more often than we are made aware of.  Do I need to be protected from the fact that politics is a dirty business where she lives?  It doesn’t seem so, since only a dolt wouldn’t know it’s a down and dirty business everywhere.

On my guitar I have a bumper sticker that says, “Ignore your rights, and they’ll go away.”  How true.  I really am not some sort of militia weirdo hiding out in the woods of Michigan or Idaho or Montana or Hoboken, New Jersey.  In fact, I think I’m in pretty good company in contemplating what rights I truly have, and how they’re being coerced.  A pretty famous guy who most Americans admire – if for no other reason his mug is on the $100 bill – is reported to have made similar statements when trying to rectify past infringements on rights he thought should not be infringed upon.  I’ve always seen one of his more famous quotes listed as –

“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”

Benjamin Franklin

As with many oft-quoted persons, this was not exactly how it was originally said.  Franklin was preparing some notes for the Pennsylvania Assembly, shortly before February 17, 1775, and wrote –

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

This was published in Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, published in 1818.  But wait…as is often the case, he was probably doing a bit of word “libertion” since he, being a publisher, had occasion to produce a book – An Historical Review of the Constitution of and Government of Pennsylvania – by an author named Richard Jackson in 1759.  On the title page that same warning appears, with the word “purchase” instead of the “obtain” found in Franklin’s quote.  I do love the liberation of words !  But, no fear, Franklin lovers and respectors…seems that a few years before that, in 1738, the following appeard in Honest Ben’s Poor Richar’s Almanack

“Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power.” 

I know…in the writing and publishing games everything gets murky if you dig long and far enough.  The word “murky” seems stuck in my mind since the collision of the news that my government is obtaining information from and about me through what I mistakenly think are private correspondences.  I’m not that naive, really…I’m not.  I never expected privacy, but outright censorship of my private correspondence, and the covert skullduggery from a government that claims to be the bastion of freedom and individual liberty and rights?

I’m sure this little bit of dangerous writing will garner me some more un-warrented attention, unless your name is Antonin Scalia, you front the Fear Factor Gang, and consider warrants “overly emphasized.”  So, if you’re reading this, you’ve joined me on some kind of list that some clerk – whose salary we pay – is compiling in some Virginia basement – which we also pay for.

Weird World…truly Weird World.

 

Comment From an UnFollowed Blogger

Bertolt Brecht „The victory of the reason can ...

Bertolt Brecht „The victory of the reason can only win the sensibles” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a comment I received from probably the most un-followed blogger in the bloggosphere…in fact, I think I’m one of three or so “followers” listed on his blog site.  I find many of his posts to be as passionate, intelligent, and profound as I’ve seen on WordPress.

 

I’ve gotten to know a bit about him over the few months I’ve been blogging: he is a hospice nurse, a taxing occupation I can imagine; he served in the Peace Corps in Armenia, a country whose population has been nearly exterminated by its geographical neighbors, and whose infrastructure is still devastated by a killer earthquake from a few years back; and he is a highly intelligent, articulate, and talented poet, often writing in three languages – English, Spanish, and Armenian.  He fed refugees from his own food supplies, and continues to champion the cause of an abused, terrorized, and destitute people who have become road-kill under the wheels of history.  It all sounds so noble, and in my estimation is…but it is not hard for me to understand why he is probably the most un-followed blogger – he posts quite a bit of erotica.

When I first came across his blog it was one of those WTF moments.  There were images of what some people would deem pornographic.  There was a Supreme Court ruling which has become the common definition of pornography, and that is that art may be graphic, and it may contain adult-oriented material, but if it has artistic merit, it’s erotica, not pornography.  I’ve mentioned in comments that his wonderful poetry and other posts would draw quite an audience if he cut down on some of the more graphic imagery.  He has made it clear he couldn’t care less.  He creates his posts for himself and does not care about any mass readership.

I once mentioned a poet I followed on WordPress that could definitely benefit from reading his work, but she is a deeply religious Muslim, and would be offended by some of the material on his site.  He immediately replied that I should not refer her since the last thing he wanted to do was offend or shock anyone’s sensibilities.  I can respect that.  He recently commented on a post of mine, “Just Who am I Writing For?” with a bit of his usual sensible advice…advice which benefitted me, and, I thought, might be a bit of self analysis on his part, since like me he often posts politically charged material.

This is in no way an endorsement of ch3mical r3nt boy’s blog – I think he’s satisfied creating art for art’s sake…art he knows will evaporate into the ether of the cyberspace unseen, unappreciated by the masses, and completely satisfying to him.  So, here is his reply to my question about just who I write for and why:

I love this post of yours! You ask (and answer) so many question I’ve been struggling with too. You remind me of something I read by Bertolt Brecht, his essay about the difficulty of writing about the truth. For an artist to tell the truth, Brecht said, he or she needed:

1. courage to write the truth

2. the keenness to recognize the truth

3. the skill to manipulate the truth as a weapon

4. the judgment to select those in whose hands the truth will be effective

5. the cunning to spread the truth among many

 

For the most part the moment, it seems to me, 90% of artists who feel compelled to “speak the truth” (whatever that means to them) are very good at points 1 and 2 and then completely fail at 3,4 and 5. It’s why political poetry, say, tends to be less art and more preaching. Blogging is wonderful, I do it every day and am very proud of what I create, but the Internet is a gated community and only those who have the money and time to participate in it can benefit from the wisdom within. In a world were 3/4 of the population don’t even know where their next meal is to be found it’s hard to take blog activists as seriously as they take themselves.

This isn’t to say blogs and social media don’t serve their roles and play important parts for those who use them (we create families here, we make friends and fall in love and get a chance to send our desires and dreams out to an audience of like-minded people), but the Internet is still an echo chamber (granted, a very large echo chamber) and I think a lot of us forget that. In the end the Internet as a tool for spreading truth will never be the solution to Brecht’s five difficulties since those who need the truth the most have no access to it if we keep it on-line.

Cheers!

 

The Politics of Yertl the Turtle

Your Majesty please…I don’t like to complain,/ But down here below, we are feeling great pain./ I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,/ But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

 

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That quote is lines 65-68 from “Yertl the Turtel”, one of three stories from Yertl the Turtle and Other Stories by the rabble-rousing labor activist and raving anarchist, Theodor Suess Geisel, better known to you, me, and millions of other children as Dr. Seuss.  The famous children’s book was published by Random House Books on April 12, 1958, and Dr. Seuss’s demonic, socialistic thoughts, have been polluting minds – young and old – ever since.

But, like all instigators of class warfare, the good Dr. got called to account for his dangerous words a little over a year ago by Dave Stignant, acting director of the Prince Rupert School District in the sleepy little hamlet of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada.

But, let’s start this from the beginning.  The photo of the turtle that heads this bit of pinko thinking was taken by my wife.  The turtle is at home in a pool outside of Auto-Mercado, an American-style supermarket between Tamarindo and Villareal in Costa Rica.

I commented at what a limited world-view this poor creature must have had, and a friend of mine replied that it probably wasn’t all that bad, since the turtle was king of all he surveyed.  I immediately thought of one of the first books I owned as a child, Yerlt the Turtle and Other Stories.

It’s a short piece -probably one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous – from this stanza:

Then again, from below, in the great heavy stack,
Came a groan from that plain little turtle named Mack.
“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
 I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it.  Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food.  We are starving!” groaned Mack.

 

Similar turtles were used in an editorial cart...

Similar turtles were used in an editorial cartoon published in PM on March 20, 1942. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The gist of this story is that Yertl the Turtle is the King of the Pond on a “faraway island of Sala-ma-Sond, and wanting to be more powerful, he had ordered his turtle subjects to pile up so he could survey more to be King of.  Mack, a most common and plain little turtle, was on the bottom.  All was fine until the moon came up, and Yertl called for more turtles since there should be no higher than the highest authority…himself.

How this all became an issue in the Prince Rupert School system was that a elementary school teacher had introduced this book into her class plan.  She also seems to have had a t-shirt with “But down at the bottom, we too should have rights” on the chest.  She was a union member, and there was a bit of re-working to be done as far as contracts and pay-scales were concerned.  The indignant Stignant banned her from using the book in her classroom, wearing the t-shirt, and from even having any items concerning Yertl the Turtle on school grounds, or in open view inside her car.

“It’s a good use of my time if it serves the purpose of shielding the children from political messaging,” the indignant Stignant said.  “I don’t consider it’s taking a stand on the dispute.  It’s a matter of legality and living up to our obligations to children and their families.”

 

YERTLE

I was digging farther into this, the results of the Yertl the Turtle controversy and book ban, and especially the fortunes, or misfortunes of the indignant Stignant…but the internet connection went south, I lost my original post, art, and settings, so I’m getting this off as fast as I can before it happens again.

Save it for another day.

I do know that the end of the tale has plain little turtle Mack burp (which was quite a rude thing to say in 1958) and the turtle tower collapsed, leaving King Yertl face in the mud of the pond.  Maybe the final stanza gives some indication of how the whole union brouhaha, as well as the indignant Stignant’s, fortunes fared:

And tosay the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud.  That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course… all the turtles are free
 As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

The Silence of the “Friends”

20130402_123957It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding                        Upton Sinclair

 

To those of you have been following my blog for a while, you have probably seen a post or two about my friend Maryam Shahbaz, the Poet from Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets.  For those of you who haven’t there are other posts about her.  I don’t want to bore anyone with redundant exposition.

 

Anyway, It’s still odd in this new (to me) world of Social Media to have lost contact with her.  We have been working on a project together, Maryam’s first published poetry collection.  The silence lately has been deafening and a bit disconcerting considering her recent activities.

 

 

20130402_130441Maryam is a busy woman.  She’s in the final stages of editing and publishing her book, which is all fine.  She’s also been working on the political campaign of Imran Kahn, a reform candidate from Pakistan, which is all to the good also, except she lives in a dangerous neighborhood…Eastern Pakistan where the borders of India, Kashmir and Pakistan merge.  It’s also a bit dicey when a young women gets involved in trying to get elders and especially elder males to consider voting for a reform candidate when she often finds herself having to go through male relatives to communicate with those elderly, more conservative males.  These two gentlemen would be a good example of that attitude.  She told me that her cousin had to act as a go-between when communicating with them.  They don’t represent the modern, emerging Pakistan, but they are a reminder of the cultural and religious barriers which have been in place for longer than anyone can remember.

 

I’m hoping that all is well with her, and it’s just a case of my friend being busy, busy, busy. It’s as if a friend who lives next door got involved in a tense situation and no longe answers the door when I knock…in this case my “knocking” is in the form of e-mails and blog posts which in the past have been usually answered within a week.

 

There are other issues at play, of course.  The electricity situation where she lives is one of brown-outs, and sometimes black-outs.  Then, there’s the previous theft of her identity by a hacker who set up internet accounts using photographs and information from her previous social media site.  Her family is concerned over this, as she is, and seems to strongly support her regression from the world of social networking.  That would be a completely understandable reaction for parents and brothers to be protective of a beautiful, young daughter or sister who is exploring a world which they might not fully understand, and have been given reason to distrust.

A Shot of Maryam at WeddingThese photos above of Maryam paying homage at the graveyard where the shrine to Imam-ul-Haq is located is a reminder to me that she comes from a culture I know little of, but am learning about through our social media networking and concerted efforts on a book project.

The reverence that she shows for the holy men and poets of her culture must be mirrored by some reverence and understanding from me, as a novice to the world she lives in and will have to live with.  Her work for a candidate whose campaign gave hope to a changing culture in a changing area of a changing world, I admire.  The conservative, failed politicians of her countries recent history seem to be doing everything in their power to slow, halt, or even reverse that progress.  That can get ugly sometimes.

My well wishes for Maryam, along with my impatience may be conspiring to raise unfounded concerns.

I’m hoping so.

Just Who am I Writing For?

A trip HusbandHave I lost my way?  Have I found my way?  Am I busy being born instead of busy dying, to quote Bob Dylan?  A constant reader commented the other day I was a “softie” under my crusty exterior.  I had written a post about my wife and I rescuing an abandoned kitten.  How mushy is that?  And, I’ve been writing posts about joining in on clean-up projects promoted by a young boy in Florida, and worrying over the fate of people from the other side of the world…people I wouldn’t even know of without this social media connection I’ve fostered.

Where did my inner curmudgeon go?

Have I pawned all my angst, anger and attitude off on the Philosopher Red/alter-ego I seem to use more and more often for dirty work?

Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Case Western Reserve...

Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Case Western Reserve University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reading an old Kurt Vonnegut interview published in Playboy magazine in the early 1970s, post-Slaughterhouse Five, and he answered a question posed by the interviewer about why he writes with this:

Writers are specialized cells doing whatever we do, and we’re expressions of the entire society – just as the sensory cells of your body as a whole.  And when a society is in great danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms.”  Later in the interview he answers further questioning by saying that artist’s work reflects the society they are a part of, and if they’re good at their work, they offer comforting lies to make people feel good about being alive.

Sometimes I think I should be sounding the alarm.  I agree with megalomaniac dictators like Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler that artists should serve their state…I just disagree with them as to how I should serve my state.  But, to do this I need to define my state, just who it is I’m writing for.  I know the most common answer from artists is they create for themselves and the audience can buy the ticket and take the ride, or they can go jump in a volcano…but their work is still affecting their society, even if they reject that society and any approval from that society.  A question I used to pose to students…a writing prompt –

“What does ‘America’ mean?  Is it a geographical area…rivers and mountains and deserts and seashores?  Is it the people who live within those borders?  Is it an idea, started by a gang of rich Virginia planters and Massachusetts importer/exporters and interpreted by succeeding generations to fit their times and fashion?  When you pledge allegiance to the Flag, what does that piece of cloth symbolize?”

I got about as many answers as I had students, and none of them made much sense.  The one know-it-all I had write a screed about Communism’s faults and Democracy’s superiority…I told him he was comparing a method of organizing the commercial life of a group of people with a political one and he should sober up if he was going to preach.  The ones who answered it’s the American people…I asked them exactly who they were including: crack dealers…robber baron CEOs…lazy cretins who live off SSI or other taxpayer-supported programs intended for the truly needy, or people they perceived to be very much like themselves.  I wanted an answer for myself as much as I wanted them to think about something beside “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” or “American Idol” results.

I seem to be going in several directions…or, are they connected in some manner beyond my non-inquisitive intellect?  I guess I’m flailing around for a subject to write about, and I’ve written about one.

Bob Dylan at Massey Hall, Toronto, April 18, 1...

Bob Dylan at Massey Hall, Toronto, April 18, 1980 Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just now I was having an e-mail conversation with a writer, and I told him about the little comic books I saw in Mexico called “revistas.”  They’re turned out every week, and the government gave them away for free in the Mexico City subway, thinking that people who are reading don’t commit as much crime as those who aren’t.  These “revistas” are hyper-sexual, awfully written, and the cheapest form of “low art” imaginable…but they were being used to serve the “state” in a positive way.  Goofy entertainment to reduce the chance your grandmother won’t get beat up and mugged on the way home from her $12 a day job cleaning rich people’s toilets.

Big Joe Stalin, Benny Mussolini, Uncle Adolf, and The Dylan would all probably spit on revistas if they even thought it worth their while.

 

Virginia, Rosalie and Hallie

Virginia, Rosalie and Hallie (Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

But I’m still at an impasse…do I serve my “state” better by promoting small, feel-good posts that make readers go, “Awwww…” or do I dredge up heavy-handed, loaded, and brain-straining issues that are not – and have never been – manageable to the average reader?  I think I’ll just shut up until someone more intelligent than I offers some sort of answer…or write for these three gals.

Later…

 

Killer Teens, The Algebra of Addiction, and Ties to Terrorism

English: Teacher at top of mountain, inviting ...

English: Teacher at top of mountain, inviting student up to the top (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time I was a teenager.  I didn’t receive much of the necessary guidance needed to become a part of the society around me.  I am at an age now when too many people cluck their tongues at the thoughts, actions, and reactions of teenagers trying to establish themselves into a community.  News Flash – teenagers have always been confused and in need of guidance to become a productive part of their family, tribe, community, or society…Always.

I lived in Cleveland, Ohio, for about twelve years, and often in parts of the city where the ravages of the Rust Belt were most evident.  One of my students who lived near me told me this story during an informal student-teacher meeting concerning the declining quality, quantity, and timeliness of her work.

The block this student lived on had been home to a bit of a feud between two neighborhood mothers.  Mother-A had a daughter who was known as a witty, daring, charismatic, skipper of classes and was suffering the consequences of her action.  It seemed a perfectly normal story since several of her extended family members were ex-cons, small-time drug dealers, drop-outs, and all lorded over by a single mother on several assistance programs, descended from a welfare mother, descended from a…  You get the picture, I hope.

Mother-B’s daughter was a casual friend of my student.  Daughter-B was studious, ambitious, and conscious that an education was her only way out of her dangerous neighborhood.  My student told me that Mother-B’s daughter was a bit of an outcast…trying to be “too white” according to people like Mother-A’s daughter.  My take on this was daughter of Mother-A saw daughter of Mother-B as a threat…what if she succeeded in life?  This would invalidate all her excuses for not being studious, ambitious, and getting out of her dangerous neighborhood.  The feud was problematic, with daily insults, squabbles, vandalism, and physical altercations.  Mother-B decided that a change was called for, and moved her family a couple of blocks away to a new home.

English: Teacher and student at top of mountai...

English: Teacher and student at top of mountain, teacher pushing student off (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mother-A took this as very poor form…an insult to her daughter, and, I imagine, to her especially.  She informed her daughter that they were going to visit Mother-B and her daughter and “set things straight” in her own special way.  To make a long story shorter, Mother-A gave her daughter a straight razor, had a brother and a cousin stand guard at Mother-B’s gate  while she hustled her daughter into the yard and onto the porch where Mother-B was hustling her children indoors.  Not quickly enough.  Daughter-A proceeded to slash away at Daughter-B, with guidance and encouragement from Mother-A.

Daughter-B is scarred for life now, psychologically, physically, and sociologically.  Mother-A did a short stretch, while Daughter-A did her first piece of change in a juvenile detention program, and will eventually do some time.  Acculturation is an important part of being locked up, and it carries back to the street when offenders are released, becoming a Red Badge of Courage, so to speak…an initiation rite.

All groups, from a family to a nation, have certain requirements for members to move from one period of their life to another – the most important of these being the initiation rites of teenagers.  They are the future, people say so often, probably not really understanding the weight of that statement.  Roles change with age and accomplishment, and if those roles are rejected or neglected, the person in question would be abandoned, ostracized, exiled, or be so diminished they would wander away on their own, much to the groups advantage.

Where these rituals don’t exist, they will be invented or re-invented by those in need, or those who are looking to take advantage of that need.  This is often seen as an abomination of culture and propriety by those who have passed their group’s initiation rituals.  Recently in Boston two teenagers took part in an initiation rite proscribed by a group they wanted to earn favor with…or they were poorly used by their elders who understand the importance of initiation rituals to teenagers struggling for an identity.

Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsamaev were given an initiative education, I hear.  Word around the campfire is that they were both involved in the Sharia schooling offered by our friends the Saudi Arabians.  If this is true, this is the war of the future…not over border disputes, lust for land and resources, or a personal rivalry between leaders.  It’s a War of Ideas and Religious Philosophy started and urged on by religious fanatics from both sides.  We are as doomed as the Tsamaev Brothers.

How do these schools of intolerance and hatred operate?  The Saudi Arabian government is one of the main promoters.  How could a desolate country fund and promote such ideas of self-righteous, destructive and bloody mayhem?  The answer is simple…there is a lake of oil beneath their desert kingdom, and there are so many Petroleum Addicts in the world they will never run low on cash, and they will never suffer for their actions.  Who assisted Usama bin Laden‘s family out of the United States after 9-11?  You must know who…George W. Bush and his White House full of Oil Gang initiates.  And this ties a lot of people to terrorism…me, you, and just about everyone we know.

Our addiction to Petroleum has corrupted our government, brought rage, turmoil, death and destruction to areas of the world who serve as our dealers, and the last thing a junkie wants to do is piss off their dealer.  And, before anyone starts trying to deny or justify their addiction to Petroleum, try kicking that addiction to the gas pump.  I know…I know…we all live in a world where people live in one place, work in another place, drive their children across town to better schools, and find recreation a few dollars worth of Petroleum products away.  But, that’s all about convenience, the desire for upward mobility, and often signs and symbols of status.  We all have our priorities, wants and desires in mind when we undertake certain actions, and if those priorities, wants and desires run up against a cold, hard, and deadly reality…then rationalize…deny…just like any good addict has to learn to do to maintain self-righteous dignity.

None of us want to deny ourselves the life of convenience we have become accustomed to, so we’ll keep on using…and we will ignore the harsh and deadly actions of our dealers.  I am guilty, and I’m not going to deny it.  I am not going to join the Amish, and neither is anyone who reads this, so we PAY the dealer, FEED the addiction, and blame the consequences on the insanity of others.

I expect nothing but outraged indignation, stretched justifictions, and angry reaction to this post.  It’s how all addicts react when faced with the consequences of their addiction.  If you’ve read this far you are on your way to recovery, or are just looking for a box to leave a hate comment in.  Whatever…

Allama Iqbal, a Naat, and The Mystery Behind the Green Door

Maryam Museum VII

Maryam Shahbaz…young poet on the go…signed into the shrine honoring the life of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Iqbal, and hoping for the best.

 

She found herself caressing the carpet that a poetic icon and national hero tread on so casually in a past, commenting, “…it is hand woven and has a very desirable feel to it.”

 

 

 

Maryam Museum XIIIThe caretaker, Mr. Riaz, offered up the pen (qalam) and ink pot (dawat) that Allama Iqbal used to make words come off the page and dance for those listening to the music.  Words…words…words, such as –

You are the Sacred Tablet.  You are the Pen and the Book; 

This blue colored dome is a bubble in the sea that you are.

You are the lifeblood of the universe

You bestowed the illumination of a sun upon the particles of the desert dust.

The splendor of Sanjam and Selim; a mer hint of your majesty;

The faqar of Juniad and Bayazid; your beauty unveiled.

 

 

Maryam Museum XVIMr. Riaz seems to have his own sense of the dramatic – meant to tantalize the imagination of those sensitive to the mysteries of the universe, and of those chosen to interpret that universe for apprentices of the senses.

He led Maryam and a friend to a green door, telling her that it had been closed since Allama Iqbal passed on to the universal mystery nearly eighty years ago.

When asked why it was closed, he only offered that it had been used for a dressing room addition to the guest room.

Asked if it would ever be opened, he reserved his opinion and said it could be opened some day…some day.

 

Maryam Museum XXIVAn assistant to Mr. Riaz, offered a dramatic reading of a naat – a written epic honoring the master poet’s sense of his desired union with the eternal…the universal…the mysterious…the lines that moved me to think more deeply about my feeling of that eternal, universal, mystery:

It persuaded me with art, it pulled me by force;

Strange is Love at the beginning, strong in its perfection !

Separation is greater than union in the state of ecstasy;

For union is death to desire while separation brings the pleasure of longing…

 

Persuasion – Beginning – Perfection – Separation – Ecstasy – Union – Desire – Longing

 

And the final stanza of the naat, one that sunk into my hand-woven soul with a desirable feel to it that seeks out the magic left by those who have written my world into existence:

The world has become dark since the sun has set down;

Unveil your beauty to dawn upon this age.

You are a witness in on my life so far;

I did not know that Knowledge is a tree that bears no fruit.

 

To this I not only have nothing to add, but don’t even feel qualified to comment.

Later….

 

(Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be found on WordPress through Maryamshahbazmian.  Her poetry collection, The Light Behind the Veil is to be released soon through Multani Press.  Good luck to her…if the truly talented and deserving need luck).

A Young Poet’s Pilgrimage in the City of Poets

Maryam MarketI met the young poet on a social media site.  Over the past few months we’ve become friends – more than friends I guess.  She addresses me in Urdu, her native language, as big brother.  I address her in Spanish as my little sister.  Odd to me, having such a relationship with someone on almost the exact opposite side of the world…Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets.  I asked my little sister, the poet Maryam Shabhaz, if she would visit the shrine of Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan and another native of Sialkot, to give readers an idea of the importance of poets in her country.  She sent me these photos of her pilgrimage.

Maryam started with a photo of the bazaar, not an unusual place to start in a city with a history similar to Sialkot.  Alexander the great made Sialkot the eastern-most outpost of his empire.  Persians, Afghans, Sikhs, Turks, Mughal emperors, Brits, and Hindu Indians all took their turns trying to rule the Punjab, where Sialkot is located.  Cities that have often found themselves in the way of history tend to be market-oriented.  I’m going to let the national Poet of Pakistan, Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Iqbal take over for a while with an excerpt from his poem Age of Infancy –

 

Maryam Market IThe earth and sky were unknown worlds to me,

Only the expanse of a mother’s bosom was a world to me;

Every movement was a symbol of life’s pleasure to me,

My own speech was like a meaningless word to me.

During infancy’s pain if somebody made me cry,

The noise of the door chain would comfort me.

Oh! How I stared at the moon for long hours,

Staring at its silent journey among broken clouds;

I would ask repeatedly about its mountains and plains,

Maryam Market IIAnd how surprised would I be at that prudent lie.

My eye was devoted to seeing, my lip was prone to speak,

My heart was no less than inquisitiveness personified.

 

 

Maryam, it seems, stopped off in the market…did a little shopping around.  Here she photographed a dealer of essential oils, Ittar in Arabic…herbal scents distilled for perfume and home use.

 

 

Maryam Museum XThe next photo she sent me was of the exterior of Dr. Sahib Iqbal’s former home.  I think I’ll let an excerpt of Maryam’s poem The Departed Soul speak for the reverence Pakistanis have for a national hero, one so revered he has a national holiday named in his honor.

Giddily, stand at the light curve,

Wait to embrace the departed soul.

The trifle human remains

Are left of the life carefully mold,

After him, days keep unveiling to unroll

Not any tasks hold gild;

At last, men realize, memories aren’t sacred holes.

 

 

Maryam Museum XXVMr. Riaz, the caretaker of Allama Iqbal’s shrine, told Maryam that photographs were not allowed in deference to the memory the poet, scholar, and politician that had such an impact on Pakistani independence.  She told him about the project she was working on, and he agreed the photos were for a noble cause, giving her the unheard of permission to take photos.  The first photo inside the former home and current shrine to Dr. Sahib Iqbal is of Maryam signing the guest register.  Between 50 and 75 Pakastanis a day visit the shrine, with the number rising to 300 or so when a college or school arranges a visit.  The visitors who had signed the register before Maryam were from Rawalpindi, and Mr. Riaz pointed out a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan who had signed the register not long ago,misspelling Islamabad, the capital city in which he had exercised his official duties.  I guess politicians are the same everywhere.

The final entry to this introduction to Allama Muhhamad Iqbal, and to this introduction to Maryam Shahbas and her poetry, will contain photos taken in the former home and current shrine to Dr. Sahib Iqbal, and will be accompanied by one of his most famous naats, or religious praise poems.

Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be viewed on WordPress under the name Maryamshahbazmian.

Allama Iqbal and the City of Poets

Give to the youth my sighs of dawn;

Give wings to these eaglets again,

This dear Lord, is my only wish –

That my insights should be shared by all !

This poem is from the book Bal – e -Jibreel by Muhammad Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan.  Dr. Iqbal was one of the foremost thinkers and doers of his land of Punjab, formerly India, now Pakistan.  Dr. Iqbal began his education at Scotch Mission College in his hometown of Sialkot,then did graduate work in Arabic and Philosophy at the Government College in Lahore.  He also studied in England, earning a degree in Philosophy from Cambridge University, qualified as a barrister in London, and finally earned his doctorate from the University of Munich before returning to his native land where he practiced law, became a professor of Philosophy and English Literature, and produced poetic and philosophical writings that not only inspired people in their everyday lives, but contributed to the independence of Pakistan from Indian control.

Besides being proclaimed the official poet of Pakistan, born in Sialkot, known in Southern Asia as the City of Poets, Dr. Iqbal collected a raft of titles along the way, a testament to his importance in the academic world as well as Pakistan’s struggle for independence.  He earned the title Dr. for his academic work…he was knighted, and became a Sir…he was one of the most revered leaders of his country’s independence movement, hence Sahib, and a towering figure in Asian literature, adding the respectful title of Allama to his credentials.

The picture above is my friend, the young Pakistani poet Maryam Shabaz, before a mural of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Muhammad Iqbal.  Maryam is a new voice in Pakistani and world literature, her first collection of poetry, The Light Behind the Veil from Multani Press, is due to be released soon.  Maryam is a young woman I met through a social media site, but has become much more than a cyber acquaintance…more than a friend – mi hermanita…my little sister.  I asked her to travel around her hometown of Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets – and take a few photographs so I could write a post or two about her life as a young woman living in Pakistan, and the history of poetry from an area of the world where poetry is not only beautiful words meant to entertain, but essential food for the soul.

“Allama Iqbal’s poetry takes us far beyond the materialistic aspects of this mortal life,” Maryam wrote me.  “The youth, whom he called eaglets, are the only segment of society he believed were able to bring about future change for the better so vital to all societies.”

I am going to be doing a series of posts on Allama Iqbal, Maryam, and Sialkot…the City of Poets.  Maryam made a pilgrimage to Allama Iqbal’s former home, now a shrine and museum.  Cameras are forbidden in the revered site, but Maryam explained to Mr. Riaz, the caretaker, what she planned to do with the photographs, and he gave her permission that is not afforded others out of respect for Iqbal and his towering contributions to education, literature, and his country’s independence.

 

 Maryam Museum VIV

This photograph of Allama Iqbal hangs in his former home and current shrine/museum.  It is one of the few informal images of him in his home. I’ll leave readers with another of Allama Iqbal’s sayings, one I had to have Maryam explain to me.

You despise one bowing down, It frees a man from many bowings down.

This confused me at first.  It seemed as though the poet was implying that not bowing down to “the Creator” would save people from the many supplications to the Creator expected in the future.  Maryam explained that what Iqbal meant by these words was that there are those who think bowing before the Creator is a chore they don’t need to follow, but that bowing down before the Creator gives the supplicant an inner peace and sense of empowerment that keeps them from having to bow down before mortal men in their everyday affairs.  Sometimes I feel so ignorant.  It’s good to have friends like Maryam, poets who are in tune with the power of words and their true meaning.

More of Maryam’s trip through Sialkot and visit to the shrine of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Muhammad Iqbal to follow…Inshaa-Allah, Dios quiere, God willing.

(Maryam Shabhaz’s poetry can be found on WordPress under the name Maryamshabhazmain)

Social Media Rage, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Beheadings – Some Confusion

A "hack" poet desperate for money, f...

A “hack” poet desperate for money, from William Hogarth’s 1741 print, The Distrest Poet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just twenty minutes ago I read a rant of a post by furious young poet.  It seems some person on WordPress left the young poet a comment to the effect that the WordPress Wonder was a better writer than the young poet could ever hope to be, that the young poet might as well cease all literary activities, and then go jump in a lake.  I read it twice, amazed that someone would be so frustrated as to bother writing such an Attack Comment…and I don’t use the word “amazed” lightly.  I left the young poet a comment that I tell my wife whenever she feels belittled or offended by someone’s words or actions – “You can’t be praised or insulted by someone you don’t respect.”  I’m pretty sure I came up with that.  It’s in one of my notebooks, and it has no ascription below it.

Whatever.

Anyway…I go about cleaning up my own blog, still thinking about the toxicity level of WordPress Wonder’s blood system, and I find a comment on my blog that said… “You may be the worst author ever.”  I busted out laughing.  It seemed almost like a piece of bait for a SPAM.  “You could be the worst author ever, but you’ll never know until you go to SadScribblers.com and pay $24.95 for an assessment test and placement in a Worst Author Ever Academy online class.  Hurry, classes fill fast.”

Now I’m even more amazed.  First off there’s the series of events, then, I had to take my own advice into account.  Then I thought, what if this commenter was some high-powered agent from the island of Manhattan….and had an office…and a secretary – and even a web university.  What if I am a hack, doomed to a life of frustration, hunger, and homelessness?  It’s not out of the question…all kinds of people live under the threat of becoming homeless nowadays.  Like…Zsa Zsa Gabor !

 

Cropped screenshot of Zsa Zsa Gabor from the t...

Cropped screenshot of Zsa Zsa Gabor from the trailer for the film Lili (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I see this on Yahoo’s top hits for news the other day – Zsa Zsa Gabor is going to allowed to stay in her Beverly Hills mansion for three years, or as long as she lives.  (For all those too young to know who Zsa Zsa Gabor is, imagine Honey Boo Boo, Marilyn Monroe, and – aw, go google her)  Any Way…it seems that the 96 year-old Zsa Zsa has fallen on tough times living in one of Beverly Hills’ most desirable properties.  In 2010 Zsa Zsa broke her hip, and in 2011 had to have her leg amputated.  And with her Hollywood star having faded some 45 years ago or so, she’s broke…can’t pay the pool boys.  Her Ninth husband had sold their home, with the stipulations that the price would be doled out in payments and the couple be allowed to remain in their former home for three years or until Zsa Zsa dies

First off, this is one of those stupid news blurbs – Number Three on Hits ! – that has so little to do with almost anyone’s life, is something I can do nothing about one way or the other, and raises philosophical questions.  I can think –

A) Zsa Zsa Gabor does not deserve my attention or sympathy.  She lived the high life for so long off so little talent…camping out in Beverly Hills…popping the corks from $100,000 bottles of Champagne…limousines at her service – you know, all the trappings the celebrated enjoy without thought while so many in this world struggle to find shelter, safety, or their next meager meal.  And I’m not talking about some Third World dump, folks…I’m talking about good ‘ol working class Americans, so it is important.  She wasted a fortune on luxuries and now she’s going to get a taste of reality.  Or, I could feel –

B) Zsa Zsa Gabor or not, this is a human being who has fallen on some very hard times and is suffering through old age.  How far did she fall?  Who cares…she is a person like me, and I’ve had occasion to be hungry, have to sleep outside or in makeshift shelter, and been endangered by the rough forces of American economic twists.  She has drank from Bavarian crystal, and has been lowered to Sippy-Cups…having never had so far to fall, it’s probably a bigger blow to her sense of place in the world than I’ll ever know.  Why am I spending so much time on a dying old woman when there’s real news to share?  Here goes –

Saudi Arabia is a country in trouble.  It seems that they are running low on swordsmen trained and certified to behead condemned criminals.  How friggin’ odd is that?  And, how much training does one need to lop off a head?  I want to know.  And I’ve always found it kind of strange that western societies find beheading such a monstrous practice.  Must be some part of the anti-Muslim propaganda push.  Some western nations kill so many criminals to express the high value they put on Life that other western nations condemn them as Barbaric.  I think if I was condemned to death I would want it to be quick and painless, like getting my head whacked off, rather than be hung, shot, electrified, or chancing the grotesque scenes that happen in lethal injection facilities.  This is getting dark…I better go to the beach and lighten up.

Later…

Caturday: A Philosophical Question of Perception

Caturday: A Philosophical Question of Perception

The Situation: I had a cat who for her six years of life had never been outside of my apartment. The apartment had only two doors, one for the closet, and one door opening to the stairway outside. My cat spent a lot of time in the closet…dark, floor a jumble of snow boots and shoes, and a sky of coats and jackets. I never went in the closet, but used the front door, several times a day, or twice a day, leaving in the morning and returning in the evening. She had her door, I had mine. Any time I returned from a short trip, or an entire day outdoors, she would be sitting there in the entryway, waiting for me.

My Question: With my cat’s limited experience with doors, did she think that I spent hours, or whole days in a closet? I could think of no other reference point for her to consider. And, how did she know it was me coming up the stairs of the apartment building…or did she go to the door every time she heard footsteps? Can’t imagine that. But, back to the more philosophical part of my thinking here…

Philosophical Question: How many times a day do any of us take our past experiences, or what we consider innate knowledge, and project our “truth” onto the actions. appearance, or beliefs of others? The people we think are in closets…are they really out in a world of challenge, uncertainty, decisions to be made, mundane, challenging, or life changing – even dealing with desperation and mortality? Or, are they just kicking back in a dark, safe closet full of known and comfortable objects to wrap themselves in?
Of mundane origins…but larger implictions…and –

Songs from the Closet

I Want to Know ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Later….