Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt's Struggle is also Our Own

I have watched the violence and the revolt in Egypt with a heavy heart. On one hand, I am overjoyed to see a people long held in shackles struggling to attain freedom. I hope this sentiment will someday encircle the world, so that, as it is written, the wolf and the lamb will live together. As a pacifist, however, it causes me much distress to see police out in the street, blazes set alight, and the familiar signs of overheated passion. In observing everything from a distance of thousands of miles, I am forced to confront my own beliefs. It may be that physical force alone can bring needed reform and change. But, as others far wiser than I have noted, war and warlike impulses are easy, but peaceful solutions are difficult.

As it is written,

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

Many self-professed Christians have ignored this crucial passage. Count me as one who has not. As is my wont, my thoughts return to the past. Centuries ago, a church in ancient Corinth had grown exceptionally dysfunctional. Its members frequently assumed that freedom of belief in Jesus meant anything was permissible. The outward climate of the city beyond the church walls was full of corruption, bad influence, rivalry, and pettiness. As such, the Corinthians struggled mightily with how they ought to live in this world, and not be of this world. It is a dilemma with which we are consumed in our own time. Even if religious belief was removed from consideration altogether, this difficult question laid before us would work well as a statement of purpose. We can, and should, rage against the dying of the Light.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

I for one do not ascribe to such a necessarily stark struggle. Regardless of intention, I've been wary of oversimplification. To some, the eternal conflict laid out before us is that of good versus evil. The Early Friends, who lived in 17th Century England did hold such a belief among them. They lived, it should be noted, in a time of great persecution and corresponding social upheaval. The old rules, along with the world, had been turned upside down. A king had been toppled from the throne, then beheaded. An experiment in nascent democracy swiftly became a military dictatorship under the control of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. Quakerism was one of many competing sects in a peculiar time, which to many seemed apocalyptic.

I have enclosed several passages below from a particularly instructive essay written by Conservative Friends. I do not believe in all of it, but I believe in enough that it merits inclusion. For the sake of content, I have modified a few words and phrases here and there.

The first generation of Friends developed the term "Lamb’s War" to portray the struggle of Christ with the forces of Satan or evil. For early Friends this was not an abstract theological concept but a reality that they experienced themselves, immersed in this epic struggle that was occurring on a cosmic, national and individual level.

To them, there was something inherently warlike about the struggle between Light and darkness. They did not see war in peace as a contradiction in terms.

This struggle touched all areas of early Friends’ lives - personal relationships, economic relationships, political relationships, religious relationships, etc. Friends came into conflict with the state when they were obedient to Christ’s injunction not to take oaths and to swear not. They refused military service and the payment of tithes. They avoided the vain social customs of their day. They held forth for honest dealings and forthrightness in speech. They avoided the vain amusements, diversions and fashions of the day, choosing clothing that was simple, modest and a witness for their faith. They took seriously scriptural injunctions in their moral behavior.

For first-generation Friends, the Lamb's War was a struggle of an absolute nature, with no room for compromise and lukewarm commitment. Nor did Early Friends see themselves as having initiated this struggle. They understood that this battle was led by Jesus Christ and that they were His followers being led into this great and epic spiritual battle. It was a holy war. The weapons provided by God were spiritual in nature, as opposed to the carnal weapons used by the Lamb’s opponents.

If we seek our own inward purity based on some standard, we ourselves are believers in this same basic idea. Such attitudes are common in times of strife and turbulence. In a prior epoch, many of us might well believe that the Second Coming is close at hand. Some of us still do. In a Quaker context, it is often difficult to try to impose any standardized liturgy or orthodoxy. When individual Truth, based on the primacy of direct revelation with God is valued most, nudging Friends towards a greater, more universal realization proves to be a challenge. Progressives and liberals also place high value upon individual thought and reflection, which often means that its leaders must necessarily be unusually gifted and charismatic to be able to speak for everyone. Reaching resolution by consensus is often a task only for those with Zen-like, if not Job-like patience. Democracy is lopsided and asymmetric, but it is also a distinctly American religion.

This tendency in the western world to elevate humans and the hoped for march to a freer and more decent world have led to a belief in secularism that dominates in western Europe and increasingly also in the United States. It has been especially opposed in the U.S. by Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics, with resultant deep divisions that have polarized American society.

Other dividing forces are at work, such as an increasing polarization in this country between the rich and the poor. The media and the entertainment industry - which are allied to a mass, materialistic, consumer society - increasingly dominate our culture, even its religious aspects, and Christian services regretfully become a type of superficial entertainment. The physical environment is being plundered and irretrievably changed, with mass extinctions of many species and alteration of the physical environment on which we depend on for ecological services. We expect to have a wide variety of food available to us, sometimes grown 6,000 miles away. Our federal government has taken on a debt of unimaginable size that depends for financing on people in other parts of the world, especially Asia. Should something panic the holders of the U.S. debt, the meltdown of our economy and the society built upon it would be catastrophic.

Even in a secular setting, I doubt most of this would be challenged. And this, of course, begs the question. What do we do now? My humble answer is that a vulnerability for the sake of growth is the greatest need. The world tells us the exact opposite. Protect your left flank. Never show weakness. Check your armor constantly for chinks. Be wary of those who might stab you in the back. But I have found that if we allow ourselves the ability and the agency to be both unguarded and naked, this display inspires others to follow our lead. We can only have true dialogue when we are speaking honestly with one another. And, moreover, the process itself takes time. We want immediate results on our own terms alone, and God's purpose never takes human form. I may not achieve world peace by myself, but I might well be able to discern my own role in the proceedings.

It all starts somewhere. Often the genesis is inauspicious, beginning with one or two courageous people. Others join in, and the process continues from there.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quote of the Week

"The one certain way for a woman to hold a man is to leave him for religion."- Muriel Spark, The Comforters

Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Things Never Change

Now that you've found your paradise
This is your Kingdom to command
You can go outside and polish your car
Or sit by the fire in your Shangri-la

Here is your reward for working so hard
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la

Put on your slippers and
sit by the fire
You've reached your top and
you just can't get any higher

You're in your place and
you know where you are

In your Shangri-la

Sit back in your old rocking chair
You need not worry, you need not care
You can't go anywhere
Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la

The little man who gets the train
Got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he's too scared to complain
'Cos he's conditioned that way

Time goes by and he pays off his debts
Got a TV set and a radio
For seven shillings a week

Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la,
Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la

And all the houses in
the street have got a name
'Cos all the houses in the street
they look the same

Same chimney pots, same little cars,
same window panes

The neighbors call to tell you
things that you should know

They say their lines,
they drink their tea,
and then they go

They tell your business
in another Shangri-la

The gas bills and the water rates,
and payments on the car
Too scared to think about
how insecure you are

Life ain't so happy in
your little Shangri-la
Shangri-la, Shangri-la

Put on your slippers
and sit by the fire
You've reached your top and
you just can't get any higher

You're in your place and
you know where you are
In your Shangri-la

Sit back in your old rocking chair
You need not worry, you need not care

You can't go anywhere

Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la,
Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sound Familiar?

Those of you who listened to and watched the State of the Union speech may have noticed some similarities.

Here's Bill Clinton during the 1992 campaign. I should add that this clip is now a mere nineteen years old.

CLINTON: Well, I've been governor of a small state for 12 years. I'll tell you how it's affected me. Every year Congress and the president sign laws that make us do more things and gives us less money to do it with. I see people in my state, middle class people -- their taxes have gone up in Washington and their services have gone down while the wealthy have gotten tax cuts.

I have seen what's happened in this last 4 years when -- in my state, when people lose their jobs there's a good chance I'll know them by their names. When a factory closes, I know the people who ran it. When the businesses go bankrupt, I know them.

And I've been out here for 13 months meeting in meetings just like this ever since October, with people like you all over America, people that have lost their jobs, lost their livelihood, lost their health insurance.

What I want you to understand is the national debt is not the only cause of that. It is because America has not invested in its people. It is because we have not grown. It is because we've had 12 years of trickle down economics. We've gone from first to twelfth in the world in wages. We've had 4 years where we've produced no private sector jobs. Most people are working harder for less money than they were making ten years ago.

It is because we are in the grip of a failed economic theory. And this decision you're about to make better be about what kind of economic theory you want, not just people saying I'm going to go fix it but what are we going to do? I think we have to do is invest in American jobs, American education, control American health care costs and bring the American people together again.

A Few Musings on Illness

At the moment, I am dealing with two simultaneous autoimmune diseases. One is psoriasis, which in the last seven months has produced one severe outbreak after another. As I understand it, I have the genetic history for it. My Grandfather, my mother's father, had frequent issues with psoriasis, even suffering with several places at once on his body that routinely cracked and bled. If he were still alive, I'd ask him about the age of onset, but then again, he was never one to open up about illness. If I were to arrange a seance, I'd first ask him what his strategies were for coping with multiple chronic diseases and disorders.

The second issue is autoimmune thyroid disorder, which I noted in yesterday's blog entry. Having had it formally diagnosed, I am now aware of the effects in a way I wasn't before now. There are times where swallowing is difficult and I stumble over my words. Both are a result of the swollen thyroid gland pushing against the larynx. It's a distressing notion to contemplate that my body seems to have turned on itself, and seeing enemies where there are none, is attacking healthy tissue. My symptoms will only increase with time, but I don't want to wait, helplessly, for the gland to be damaged by years of the process. I have been told that there is no cure, nor any treatment, but I'd gladly modify any aspect of my life to avoid feeling the way I do now. Even so, I sometimes resent the amount of effort I've had to put into just being healthy. Some people go an entire life without significant health concerns. Some of us are not so lucky.

I can't help but note the ironies. In my teens and early twenties I underwent long-lasting, utterly horrifying periods of depression. During some of them, I became suicidal. I attempted suicide seriously two or three times, coming close once. Then, as my condition improved, I embraced living and have gratefully never felt such thoughts since then. And yet, where I once wished to die, on my own terms, by my own hand, my body now has decided to try to kill certain organs, albeit slowly. It's a twist ending on what has been an often frustrating struggle for health. The exact reason why the whole process started is matter for debate, but it's likely to have been in the cards forever.

Is any of this fair? Often times I've wondered what the ultimate lesson is in all this. Is God trying to enrich my understanding of empathy and compassion? Am I being schooled in humility? Sometimes in these circumstances one has only queries for reflection. What I do know is that protracted, prolonged periods of suffering radically change one's worldview. I've never really embraced the notion that life is suffering. There are certain elements of life which fit that profile, but life is often quite good. In my situation, I've not really been able to enjoy life in a while. That's what I miss the most. I have much going for me right now, but illness has a way of overshadowing the good things.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why I'm Not Posting Today

The long awaited visit with the endocrinologist yesterday afternoon provided some medical answers at long last. It also reminded me that this is going to be a lengthy process from start to finish, whereby I have several more months of this. More testing. More doctor visits. More annoyance. I'll just have to be patient.

1. I have autoimmune thyroid disease. In it, the immune system attacks and damages the gland in question, causing it to swell. Eventually, the disease destroys enough of the thyroid that thyroid therapy, usually by way of medication, has to be started. However, that eventuality shouldn't happen for several more years, but it's still not a comforting notion. I'm not sure yet if the condition can be treated before it reaches that point.

2. I do have a tiny, benign, pituitary adenoma (tumor), but it's not secreting a hormone, nor damaging my body in any way. One less thing to worry about.

3. I still have an elevated level of estrodiol, which is a sex hormone that forms the basic building block of estrogen. This is in effect pulling down my testosterone level, which then causes other problems. It is likely that I will be prescribed a medication that is usually indicated for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Used quite successfully off label for hypogonadism, it suppresses estrodiol production, which boosts testosterone as a result.

4. I will still be injecting myself with testosterone for the foreseeable future. I will, however, vary the dosage slightly to see if I can reach a steady level. That has been a recent challenge.

5. I have some still-unexplained issue with insulin resistance. The problem mimics the symptoms of pre-diabetes. Tests will be run to determine if blood sugar is an issue.

To summarize, there's a lot here yet to be determined. Endocrine disorders are complex, intertwined, complicated creatures. Hormonal interaction is a convoluted, multifaceted process whereby the same basic chemical structure influences every organ or gland in radically different ways. I'm glad I know some things, but what I have to look forward to now is constant lab work, tests, and procedures. Each will slowly unravel a bit more of the larger puzzle. So until then, I'm just going to have to sit tight and make my way through this.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All The Madmen

Regarding this video, I'll just say that it has multiple levels of meaning. If you get them, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. But you should probably read more.

Day after day
They send my friends away
To mansions cold and gray

To the far side of town
Where the thin men stalk the streets
While the sane stay underground

Day after day
They tell me I can go
They tell me I can blow
To the far side of town

Where it's pointless to be high
For it's such a long way down

So I tell them that,
I can fly, I will scream,
I will break my arm
I will do me harm

Here I stand, foot in hand,
talking to my wall
I'm not quite right at I?

Don't set me free, I'm as heavy as can be
Just my Librium and me
And my E.S.T. makes three

'Cause I'd rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with
the sadmen roaming free

And I'd rather play here
With all the madmen
For I'm quite content
they're all as sane
As me

Day after day
They take some brain away
They turn my face around
To the far side of town

And tell me that it's real
Then ask me how I feel

Here I stand, foot in hand
talking to my wall
I'm not quite right at all

Don't set me free,
I'm as helpless as can be
My libidos split on me
Gimme some good 'ole lobotomy

'Cause I'd rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with the sadmen
Roaming free

And I'd rather play here
With all the madmen
For I'm quite content
They're all as sane as me

Zane, Zane, Zane
Ouvre le Chien

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Albanian: A Timely Film

This past weekend I saw a recent German/Albanian narrative film entitled simply The Albanian. Rarely have I seen a movie that confronts the fullest picture of the worldwide controversy regarding undocumented workers and illegal immigration. While its sympathies are clearly with immigrants, it does not resort to cheap sentimentality or agitprop. We recognize how the issue involves all the complications and tragedies of human lives. Suffice it to say that the entire matter is much more complicated than we ever usually contemplate, even for those of us who support immigration reform and human rights.

Arben, the main character, is a young Albanian man living in poverty in a small town out in the country. His life and the lives of family and friends seem nearly a century or more out of date. He has never heard of the internet and much of the basic technology we take for granted. As the film begins, he has returned from nearby Greece, where he worked for six months. Without much in the way of employment in his native country, the poorest in Europe, he has no choice but to undergo a stint elsewhere. While arriving home, he notes that his total payout was discouragingly much less than expected. The cost of attaining a visa and work permit alone was so costly that those two necessities consumed two-thirds of it.

There was a time, and not that long ago, where marriage everywhere was a matter of simple finance. Arben's girlfriend, Etleva has been betrothed, against her will, to a man in America who will forgive her family's debts in full. By implication, the two young lovers decide that they ought to try to have a child to prevent this from happening. Perhaps they weren't being as cautious as they should have been, but the consequences were the same nonetheless. It should be said, as well, that the child is not just some exercise in sabotage, so far as the both of them are concerned. The presumptive parents want a baby, especially Arben. He will later on in the film become fixated on the idea of being a father, even buying a small playpen designed for an infant, a impulsive, nonsensical purchase that only underscores his desire to be a father as well as his anguish as not being able to make his dreams a reality.

When the pregnancy becomes known to them, her family is predictably furious. They insist that Arben cannot marry their daughter unless he agrees to pay an obscenely high price to them for the privilege. He knows he cannot make this money through conventional means, but he does recall a relatively recent conversation with an acquaintance. The acquaintance, who makes a living on directing Albanian workers to other countries for employment, mentioned that he'd once made a decent amount of income by working in Germany. There is, however, one drawback. The cost of a German visa is even higher than in Greece, and far exceeds the cash he has on hand. However, it is still arranged for him to enter the country, but this time he will be abroad illegally. Speaking no German and having little in the way of reliable connections, this act promises a series of severe pitfalls and challenges.

Arben arrives immediately attempting to beat the clock. If he cannot return to Albania with the money before the baby is born, his girlfriend's family is likely to disown her. Birthing a fatherless child is unspeakably taboo in the customs of the village. Arben has only six or seven months to establish himself and save up the cash. His first job is low-paying work cleaning public restrooms, but it's sporadic work, at best. He quickly recognizes that honest work will not yield enough to make his stay worthwhile. At this point he boldly enters a shadowy netherworld where it is probably best to keep one's head down and not ask questions. For a time, he obliges.

Smuggling undocumented workers into Germany is big business on the black market. Unfortunately, this also means that violent thugs and elements of organized crime are heavily involved in the process. The benefits of transporting people of foreign extraction provide a relatively high payout at the end, but with that comes risk of arrest, severe bodily harm, or death. It is irony personified that Arben himself is in Germany illegally. Undocumented workers breaking the law to smuggle in other undocumented workers for pay is most telling, indeed. Caught in the middle of a double cross turf war for business and profit, Arben's boss is killed violently by a middle man. There the money source dries up entirely, forcing the Albanian to resort to brutal means. By this point, time is almost up.

Regardless of what immigration policies we or any other nation set out, they will not stop people from trying to enter our borders. They will not stop people from trying to enter anyone else's borders. The human brain is remarkably adept in solving challenging problems and even scaling walls where questions of starvation and economic inequality are concerned. Men and women with an empty stomach will turn to crime and vice if it fills their bellies. Anytime laws are established to prohibit something, be it alcohol, abortion, or illegal immigration, a black market immediately takes hold. Rarely are black markets conducted with a nod towards equality, fairness, respect, and safety.

Even now, some see fellow humans as little more than statistics, a dollar value draining our economy dry. And even with its inadequacies, legally mandated practices and laws contain basic safeguards to prevent such sinister conduct. These also provide legal recourse to punish those who engage in it anyway. Nefarious elements also reduce people to statistics and profit motive, but with this inhumane response, one also adds very real threat of violence and severe injury. Making honest steps to end global poverty is what is needed most. Not making short-sighted decisions that do not consider the greater consequences is also imperative.

But even if we cannot or will not make these massive strides, we can know that the issue itself goes well beyond baseless xenophobic platitudes about "illegals" taking our jobs, refusing to contribute their fair share in taxes, and emptying our coffers. Like Arben, undocumented workers often decide to leave in the first place because they cannot obtain wealth in their own countries. One could flippantly retort that this simply is not our problem. Ah, but it is our problem. It will continue to be our problem until we have devised a satisfactory solution. Build as many bogeymen as you wish, but it doesn't matter how high the fence reaches upward and across. And it also doesn't matter how judiciously you legislate, accuse, charge, prosecute, and deport. The source of the problem remains.

It has remained so for a long time.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. A woman of the streets, a prostitute, heard he was there and brought an exquisite flask filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She's a sinner!"

Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "say it."

"Two men were in debt to a moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, and the other 50. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?"

Simon answered, "I suppose the one who had the larger debt canceled." Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly."

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

We do not know why the woman in this story became a prostitute. It can be said, however, that few women, then as well as now, enter the profession unless they are in dire circumstances. Prostitution is an avenue many women (and sometimes men) from impoverished countries are channeled into through dangerous, debasing means. The woman in this parable has lavished devotion on Jesus with a perfume equal to two or three month's worth of wages. In that time, women were not supposed to learn from Rabbis like Jesus, but he broke that rule and many others. By allowing women to travel with him, Jesus was showing that all people are equal under God. Even prostitutes. Even undocumented workers. And with equality comes equal treatment and due process under the law.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quote of the Week

"To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?

They are like little children who sit in the marketplace and shout to each other, 'A wedding song we played for you, the dance you simply scorned. A woeful dirge we chanted, too, but then you did not mourn.'

But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it."- Luke 7:30-32, 35.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Video

J'etais perdu dans la rue
fatigue et mal au cul
J'ai vu un petit cafe
avec une fille dedans
et je lui disais

'Puis-je m'asseoir aupres de toi
pour te regarder?
J'aimerais la compagnie de ton soleil.

Je ne veux pas plus que ca
Non, ca n'est pas une grande histoire
Encore un beau sourire
et apres ca je peux partir

'Puis-je m'asseoir aupres de toi
pour te regarder?
J'aimerais bien la compagnie de ton soleil.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Budget Reform Requires More Than the Sum of Its Parts

The question of budget deficits and the health of government programs has been the largest can frequently kicked down the road. Though it's become repetitive to warn or caution in this fashion, we need to make the appropriate steps and institute the proper reforms now. This issue is not going to go away. It is perhaps the least politically popular and most divisive. As we have seen with Health Care Reform, it may even inspire a backlash that shows the door to many courageous legislators who dared to paddle upstream against a strong headwind. There are some issues which can be dodged without much harm being done, but then there are others which must be confronted. Some politicians could write whole books (and teach others) about their genius system of embracing political expediency, but what we need now is not an escape artist or a magician. We need leaders.

So once again, we are discussing the ways to keep Social Security and Medicare intact. Medicare is considered a sacrosanct program, and rightfully so. Yet, relying on it as a form of primary insurance has made me recognize that it has some severe shortcomings, too. Back in November, an MRI was performed. The total bill ran to roughly $550. Medicare covered $350 of it. I would have been expected to pay the remaining portion out of pocket, but due to being disabled and thus low-income, I have Medicaid. It serves as wrap-around, secondary, supplemental coverage. Thankfully, this reduced my total bill to zero.

Still, if my net income was even a fraction of a hair above the poverty line, I would not have even been eligible of Medicaid, and thus been required to cover the difference. This is where the system as it currently works has some drawbacks. Here is also proof of why many Seniors and others who can afford it buy supplemental coverage out of pocket to handle coverage gaps like these. During the extremely tense health care debate, many people advanced the slogan that they wanted Medicare coverage for all. It is a noble sentiment and one I agree with, but this does not mean that the program itself does not need additional tweaking.

If I had private insurance, I'm fairly sure that $0 would be the total cost to me as well. I mention this anecdote to speak to the notion that Medicare as it exists now provides free health care coverage. To cite another example, my Medicare Part D prescription drug plan is largely government-run, but it also relies on a partnership with a private carrier. Moreover, it rations care in its own way. Medicaid, in contrast, has been quietly rationing its services for a while. After serving the requisite two years as officially disabled, I was moved to Medicare. Until then, I had to rely exclusively on Medicaid for health insurance. I have written extensively about the dysfunction that plagues many Medicaid programs. That topic alone merits a whole series.

During our last appointment, my psychiatrist showed me a printout he'd received from Medicaid regarding my regimen of medications. Though a cocktail of three prescriptions has effectively treated bipolar disorder for over two years, Medicaid still dictated to my doctor exactly what it would and would not cover, based not on the skilled judgment and years of experience of the practitioner, but merely on the bottom line. In effect, the form questioned whether he had really considered the potential consequences of the regimen, though medical advice was not exactly what it sought to convey. None of this was stated directly, but instead was heavily implied. The language and wording hinted strongly that if changes were not made to switch to lower-cost alternative drugs, then these meds would soon no longer be covered.

Here's another example. At the beginning of my treatment for hypogonadism, I was prescribed a gel-based form of testosterone replacement therapy that is applied to the abdomen, shoulders, and upper arms. Absorbed through the skin, the gel distributes the hormone through the body evenly for a duration of several hours. However, I quickly learned that it cost more than the insurance was willing to pay. After a one-month allocation considered "courtesy coverage", dispensed with a healthy dollop of condescension, no less, a lower-cost alternative had to be prescribed instead. This came in the form of periodic, intramuscular injections needing to given every 14 days. I was quite willing to adjust to the discomfort of now needing to give myself a series of painful shots. The drawback with this form, beyond the pain of injection is that the distribution of testosterone within the body peaks within the first 4-7 days. It swiftly tapers off for the remaining week, leaving testosterone levels extremely low before the time for the next shot. In short, it's a rollercoaster ride, but it's all that I can do right now.

Returning to the larger topic, I know that if Medicare and any health insurance plan that is both government-subsidized and government-run have already resorted to these cost-cutting measures as a means of not depleting coffers, then it does not bode well for the future. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm a fan and supporter of single-payer, universal coverage. We just don't have it here yet. Nor am I complaining too loudly, since I am grateful to have that which I do. If I did not, I would long ago have had to file for bankruptcy due to medical bills, or worse yet, not had the financial means to seek treatment. What I have noted, across the board, regardless of who I've talked to or whatever I've observed, it is that relying too heavily on the Logic of Laws is a fallacy. A system hung up on rules and regulations that must be followed with Prussian military precision is what trips up many programs, workplaces, and departments. The Spirit of the Law is then left no room to breath and flourish, so instead the stifling Letter of the Law becomes the sole determining factor to fix all problems.

The authors David Osborne and Ted Gaebler point out something very interesting.

It is hard to imagine today, but a hundred years ago bureaucracy meant something positive. It connoted a rational, efficient method of organization – something to take the place of the arbitrary exercise of power by authoritarian regimes. Bureaucracy brought the same logic to government work that the assembly line brought to the factory. With the hierarchical authority and functional a specialization, they made possible the efficient undertaking of large complex tasks.

Conservatives uniformly assume that failings like those I have discussed above only apply to government, regardless of their function. But I have observed similar drawbacks in private health insurance companies. They just take different forms. A pursuit of profit means steadily increasing co-pays. It means increased cost of employer-based coverage, often without much notice. The question then becomes, "Where and when do I pay?" I can pay before I've even been granted service, or I can pay at the end of treatment. But regardless of the form it takes (and sometimes it takes many forms), in the end, money still leaves my pockets. We are more aware of the immediacy of a bill demanding payment than we are with more insidious charges. And that's where fear and mistrust begin.

I've noticed that both government plans and private insurance plans have begun to resemble each other in some ways. More frequent usage of an extra step referred to as prior authorization is one such example. This transpires when an insurance carrier requires additional paperwork to be completed and returned to them before a medication will be covered. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the headache knows the frustration. Having no choice but to rely on already busy nurses and doctors to sign off on paperwork is a helpless feeling. Being forced to attempt to reach the proper person to perform the task by way of voicemail hell is bad enough. Having no choice but to stumble across the proper person after several attempts of locating the needle in a haystack is infuriating. Sometimes, I have waited days before the process has been brought to a successful conclusion. And if the form itself is filled out incorrectly, even a little bit, the process has to start all over again, with a new form submitted in its place.

We can discuss sums of money, turn people into statistics, or view everything in terms of the almighty dollar sign. But what is needed is a brand new approach. As noted above, we need to redefine hierarchies, bureaus, companies, and programs. Once, as the quote above discusses, they were designed to be rational, efficient method of organization. Now they have become something like the very thing they were created not to be, arbitrary exercises of power by authoritarian rule. Still, autocratic systems often run with great efficiency, particularly when severe consequences for not following orders are to be expected. This cannot often be said for our current state of affairs.

The French sociologist Michel Crozier wrote,

Each group fights to preserve and enlarge the area upon which it has some discretion, attempts to limit its dependence upon other groups and accept such dependence only insofar as it is a safeguard ... [preferring] retreatism if there is no other choice but submission. The result of this is that goals are subverted and the organization becomes locked into a series of inward looking power struggles. Thus, paradoxically, the result of attempting to design an efficient organization that runs on rational and impersonal lines is to create a situation where the opposite is true.

In effect, it becomes inhuman and brittle. Limiting the potential drawbacks of human relationships, bureaucracy also destroys the very personal interactions that encompass every successful relationship. We are not machines yet, and I pray we never become them. It seems to me that there's a certain amount of "irrational" discourse than is part of human nature and should be accommodated accordingly. Bureaucracies are risk-averse, at their core, and this can be said about the career of politics as well. To stay in office, one must minimize risk-taking at all cost. It's statistically less likely to be voted out if you haven't made controversial statements, but this doesn't exactly lend itself well to reform measures that are, by their very nature, divisive and polarizing.

In short, because some of our systems are made by elected representatives, they reflect their creators. This is a statement made with the intention of being politically neutral. The pox falls upon both our houses and both of our speakers. I am increasingly less and less inclined to want to view these problems through a party lens. The lives of people, their health, and their well-being is at stake here, and the instant this becomes a political football, the more we should expect a duel between punters. It's past time to play the game.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Guess, Just One Guess

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more
than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)

God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

We'd like to know a little
bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you
learn to help yourself

Look around you, all you
see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds
until you feel at home

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more
than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)

God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Hide it in a hiding place
where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry
with your cupcakes

It's a little secret,
just the Robinsons' affair
Most of all, you've got
to hide it from the kids

Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs Robinson
Jesus loves you more
than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)

God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it,
when you've got to choose
Ev'ry way you look at it, you lose

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its
lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)

What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rip It Up and Start Again

To begin, this is a tremendously rough demo recording. The first rule of recording is to set down a backing track first, which then serves as the metronome keeping all other parts on time. I did not do this here, feeling so impatient to try my hand at the lead vocal that I forgot basic technique. Please overlook the one slightly awkward transition towards the end.

Here I am doing my best Edwyn Collins imitating Morrissey impression. I'd add that it's me with the remains of a cold imitating Edwyn Collins imitating Morrissey. We'll see how my skills for mimicry hold up in any case. The guitar part on the original is high up on the fretboard and doesn't sound properly on an acoustic, so I had to move it down a full octave. This changes the dynamic of the song a bit, but there was nothing much else I could do.

The original song was recorded by the UK group Orange Juice in 1983. Partially a backlash against a lack of guitar-driven rock in popular music at the time, it was Orange Juice's one and only substantial hit. Music in the 80's was divided into those who embraced the decade, and those who performed in opposition to it. The latter have stood up with time and the former have largely been forgotten.

When I first saw you
Something stirred within me
You were standing sultry in the rain

If I could've held you
I would've held you
Rip it up and start again

Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and start again
I hope to God you're not
as dumb as you make out

I hope to God
I hope to God
And I hope to God I'm not as numb
as you make out

I hope to God
I hope to God

And when I next saw you
My heart reached out for you
But my arms stuck
like glue to my sides

If I could've held you
I would've held you
But I'd choke rather
than swallow my pride
Rip it up and start again

Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and start again

I hope to God you're not as
dumb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God

And I hope to God I'm not
as numb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God

And there was times I'd take my pen
And feel obliged to start again
I do profess

That there are things in life
That one can't quite express

You know me I'm acting dumb-dumb
You know this scene is very humdrum
And my favourite song's entitled 'boredom'

Rip it up and start again
I said rip it up and start again
I said rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and start again

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Random

This is the opening scene of Maurice Pialat's 1983 film À nos amours (roughly translated as To Our Loves). I could only find a version in French without English subtitles, but the dramatic acting speaks for itself.

Here we see a dysfunctional family and a teenage girl trying desperately to cope with it.


I'm sorry. I just don't have the energy to write or record today.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beyond the Dr. King Tape Loop

On this holiday devoted to Martin Luther King, Jr., I hope that we do not forget his full legacy in the proper context. In Meeting yesterday, a Friend's message rather bluntly noted that she is growing tired of the way that King's life has been increasingly presented. Starry-eyed optimists have reduced the man to some sort of inoffensive Santa Claus figure. Gone is the edginess, the reformer threatening the status quo, and the leader who spoke out not just for Civil Rights, but also against the Vietnam War. And, like the Friend, for these reasons, I am beginning to dislike certain aspects of this day. King would want us to continue to press forward, not pass out rose colored glasses while we romanticize past struggles. It is true that winners write history, but be it known that I disagree strongly with the translation.

We often like our heroes to live unblemished, saint-like lives. We may not even be religious, but we still often put people in one of two boxes: Saint or Sinner. This can not be said for Dr. King. And though I may be in the minority, I prefer to see such figures as flawed and imperfect. We can then resist the temptation to sanitize their life's work. King has become an icon of sorts to a particular strain of pie-in-the-sky liberal with activist leanings. I say this not to insult, but to hopefully make note of the severe limitations of their cloying attitudes. Humans are particularly artful and creative in the way that they construct the best of intentions.

There is a passage in Acts which illustrates the subversive concept of Civil Disobedience, a concept King wholeheartedly believed in and struggled mightily to achieve. To establish the context, Simon Peter was one of Jesus' twelve disciples and also his handpicked choice to establish and spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Peter was also well-known for his gaffes and an occasionally tone-deaf response to crucial interactions with God. In this passage, Jesus has long since ascended into Heaven, leaving to the disciples to spread the Good News by themselves.

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.

Then a voice said to him, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat them." "No, Lord," Peter declared. "I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean."

But the voice spoke again: "Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean."

The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.

Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean?

This passage is not to be taken literally, at least not in any strict sense. It is, instead, meant to illustrate that God's will takes precedent over human law. Dietary codes were central to Jewish belief of the time. If an observant Jew like Peter were to encounter the wrong sort of people, touch the wrong thing, or consume the wrong foods, an elaborate purifying ritual would then need to be immediately performed. Being unclean for any reason was a state of being that was considered almost unspeakably foul. These rules were said to be ordained by God himself, so it's easy to see why Peter would have been so perplexed to be told otherwise. Despite this, God is adamant in his assertion.

Dr. King, through his actions, words, and deeds, challenged sacrosanct laws and codes. What we now see as glorious was once viewed as shocking and disruptive. He spent time in jail for daring to violate established rules and statutes, much in keeping with religious martyrs of every age. Many in the country, not just the South, were resistant to anyone who sought to directly challenge the validity of laws that had long reinforced segregation and the racial inferiority of African-Americans. These had been on the books for years, and whole generations of people had known nothing else. White and black both had never questioned the reasons why, and had instead followed them dutifully. Those who claimed to stand for law and order justified their own resistance by pointing back to established precedent. To them, King was nothing more than an anarchist bent on overthrowing the right of states to make and enforce their own laws. He was a troublemaker, and a particularly dangerous one.

As we mull upon the memory of Dr. King today, it might be time better spent if we do not let our memories become reduced a never-ending tape loop of the "I Have a Dream" speech. It was a powerful display of emotional, inspirational rhetoric and has a rightful place as one of the best feats of oratorical power ever given. But there are many other speeches of King's on many other topics also worth remembering.

Roughly a year before his assassination, King gave an address he titled Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence. It is with a few of these equally inspirational words that I conclude here.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?" "Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don't mix," they say. "Aren't you hurting the cause of your people," they ask?

And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know."- Groucho Marx

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Video

It just seemed appropriate. Don't ask me why.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why I Didn't Post Something Today

I was busy with two particularly important things.

First, I underwent a third round of lab work, the first since mid-November. Blood was taken to check all of my key hormonal levels, particularly testosterone and cortisol. I probably won't get the results back for a week, but when they do arrive, they will provide an idea of whether my testosterone dosage needs to be modified or left as it is. And maybe a few other things, too.

The specialized tests to determine the exact cause of the hypogonadism will have to wait another ten days until January 24. That is when I meet with the endocrinologist, finally. That is also where most of this mystery will be unraveled, and where I will finally make my way towards some final resolution of what has been a lengthy process.

Second, I agreed to see a male trauma specialist, provided insurance will cover it. This is a huge deal for me, since I'm frequently uncomfortable in the company of men. My current therapist has determined that this is the only way I'm ever going to make needed progress. She and I have run into a major impasse regarding an especially crucial therapy goal, and her belief is that the immediate discomfort I will feel under the care of a man, any man, is the only way those specific memories will ever be brought into the conscious mind.

As I've written about before, I was sexually abused in childhood, and most of those memories have been completely suppressed. The object now is to bring them to the surface, otherwise, it is likely I will still be stuck in an unhealthy mode of thinking and of behavior. The process will be painful, but I've known for years that the solution has been long buried in my mind. I just haven't had the means to know where to access it. I am understandably anxious about the change, but I know that I must make it to secure lasting health.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Unmarried Woman: A Review

Actress Jill Clayburgh's death this past November from leukemia was obligingly noted in the newspapers and by feminist blogs. Her most famous film, An Unmarried Woman, was also mentioned, though scant notice was given to its content. A few unsubstantial tropes were trotted out and then reprinted, as though writers had nothing especially meaningful to say or add. Though with time some of its ability to shock and provoke has subsided, the movie is still entertaining, though in some ways it is very much a period piece. I found it helpful to look past the dated bits, or at least use them as a measuring stick to note the progression of a dream still deferred. Thirty-three years have passed and much has changed, though some remains.

In the beginning, we are introduced to Erica Benton (Jill Clayburgh) and her daily life. She is a wealthy New Yorker with a stockbroker husband and a precocious, sarcastic teenage daughter. She works part-time as a secretary and assistant in an art gallery. It is worth noting that while she is not a housewife, neither is she completely independent from her husband's financial assistance, lacking full-time work. The arrangement has never seemed to bother her. She's evidently never given much thought to the matter, assuming that sixteen years into a marriage, the arrangement will last until old age and death. The shock she receives when the rug is pulled out from under her is the central narrative theme of the entire work.

Her husband informs Erica that he has fallen in love with a younger woman and intends to leave her. The revelation sends her into shock, and it takes a long time for her to recover her footing. The viscerally disturbing image of a devastated Erica, having just learned the bad news, vomiting outside a mail box on a crowded city street is an apt metaphor for her inner turmoil. Yet, despite his transgression, the husband is not an entirely unlikeable character. He appears to be genuinely compassionate, sensitive, and acutely aware of the misery he has created. This doesn't give his actions a pass, but it does separate them from a more stereotypical, predictable rendering. An Unmarried Woman resonated with audiences in the late 70's in part because its characters were so real and also so inherently flawed. Films seeking to make a heavy-handed point might have shown the unfaithful husband as a monster or, at best, an unsavory figure. Those will come later.

I noted how closely Clayburgh's Erica Benton character is related to Cynthia Nixon's portrayal of Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City. Both are neurotic, intelligent, high-strung, and exceedingly nervous. Like Miranda, Erica also relies upon the social support of an inseparable circle of female friends. While I viewed the film, I noted that each friend's personality is made to be deliberately unique and separate from that of everyone else. It's not an exact rendering, but it's close enough to be worth exploring. One character is a hardened cynic, gruff, and curt. Another is unconcerned with social taboos and restrictions, particularly when she mentions that she is a dating a nineteen-year-old boy who still lives with his parents. But this is not a film about a group of women. Rather, this is one woman's story of dealing with and eventually triumphing over adversity. Erica Benton is the star here, and her confidants exist out on the periphery. At best, they are a source of comfort. At worst, they make a bad situation even worse.

Still very much processing what has happened, Erica unwittingly commits a few cardinal sins along the lines of Things Not To Do After A Breakup. Not yet emotionally ready to start dating, she reluctantly acquiesces to the pressure of a well-meaning friend. The friend thinks that male company is what she needs to get her mind off her troubles. The non-date that follows is unsurprisingly terrible, leaving her now feeling even worse than before. Having only slept with one man in her life, that being the now ex-husband, she next decides to engage in some harmless casual sex. In a vulnerable state of mind, she goes to bed with a particularly misogynistic Guido painter, who has earlier been making one obnoxious pass after another at her. His particularly outlandish period eyeglasses only emphasize how much of a creep that he is. She has usually been willing to deflect his advances, but still very much healing, she makes a bad decision.

In a era before sexual harassment guidelines and policies were implemented, one never needs to doubt that Erica and all women live in a man's world. Already in a traumatic mind-frame, she has to contend with men who assume that "no longer taken" means an open invitation to sex or to eventual relationship status. If the film were released today, terms we now use frequently like "informed consent", "consensual sex", "unwanted conduct", and "sexual assault" would surely have been invoked by multiple characters. After learning of what happened, Erica's friends would likely have encouraged her to file charges or to otherwise report the details. It is shocking that this suggestion never even enters the discussion for an instant. Their world then, is divided between good men and bad men. Good men respect boundaries. Bad men are forever violating them, in perfidious fashion, regardless of degree and regardless of their fondness for the gray areas.

The absolutely worst experience she endures occurs after another atrocious date. Seeking to end the date early, she hails a cab, headed home. Her date, a pushy man with a particularly bad toupee, forces himself upon her in the back of the cab. The taxi driver, who speaks no English, assumes he is merely witnessing some high-decibel lover's spat until the severity and persistence of her cries make plain what is happening. Much to her credit, she struggles and resists, pushing the man out of the back of the cab, which then quickly speeds away, with her assailant vocally protesting innocence and claiming ignorance. Mercifully, for us the viewer, and she the character, we won't have to experience this again.

While on the subject of boundaries, some of Erica's behavior is unusual at best. Before the breakup, her daughter seems to have an unusually perceptive understanding of her parents' sex life. The daughter also observes her mother wearing only underwear on numerous occasions, always post-coitus. Both parents have a habit of speaking to their daughter as though she is a close confidant and sounding board for their own problems. At the age of fifteen, she sometimes seems as mature, if not a little more mature, than her own mother and father. Interjecting myself briefly here, I have to say that my parents would have been humiliated and aghast if I knew about any of their intimate conduct, opinions, or issues. They drew sharp distinctions between their world and mine. These lines were never to be crossed for any reason.

Erica's boundaries are exceptionally lax in situations where they should be stronger, but part of her development as a woman is to recognize this for herself. Though she has made partial progress towards complete independence, she still behaves as though she has a foot in childhood and a foot in adolescence. The film thus argues that society infantilizes women, never allowing them to fully develop. It's still a contentious point and one worthy of continued debate. Does it take a radical, purely individual shift for women to understand the seriousness of their inequality, and to move past their old ways? Erica would not have willingly made this decision had the tectonic plates not shifted in such an overwhelmingly destructive fashion. The ultimate reform then, would seem to be within the self, not within the whole.

Eventually, Erica finds a predictably sensitive British artist with whom to have a relationship. Even in its day, this was a cliche, and today it's regularly incorporated into many romantic comedies. It is fortunate that at least the character's personality traits are not doctored with heavy gloss and transformed into a romanticized conception of the the perfect lover. The artist has his own personality quirks and fits of irritation, as she has her own neurotic worries and phobias. Nevertheless, the two appear to be quite well-matched and happy. By the last few minutes of the film, one can see that she is well on the path towards long-term healing and is re-establishing stability in her life. Her husband initiates contact after a time, having broken up with his girlfriend, begging her to take him back. She refuses.

Returning to her new love, the artist, he is insistent that Erica and her daughter ought to spend the summer with him. He owns a cabin in a rural part of Vermont. Having two children from a previous marriage he is eager for all of them to meet properly. Erica is ambivalent, unwilling to leave her job, knowing that doing so would mean she would have to quit outright and then be without her own money. She is now eager to start a new career where she can fully support herself without being dependent on someone else's salary. She knows she could exist quite comfortable on alimony for the rest of her life and, if she chose to remarry, could also retain her comfortable standard of living. Her boyfriend is quite famous in the art world and wealthy. Here, the film ends ambiguously, with Erica having made her decision.

In typical Second-Wave fashion, the film's protagonist is an upper class, white, educated, wealthy, cisgender woman living in a large city (New York) on the East Coast. While it does bother to at least incorporate a portrayal of one token person of color, almost everyone else is white. No one appears to be queer, either by implication or self-identification. This is downright laughable, since I find it hard to believe that there are no LGBTs present in any art scene, especially in New York City. Those are my primary criticisms, though An Unmarried Woman is certainly not without its merits. In its day, it was notable for being the latest in a procession of so-called "women's pictures", sparked by Women's Liberation, and can still be classified under the genre of "Feminist Film". A good number of its central messages are now a bit unsubstantial, but a few have application to the current day. I could be more critical, since the screenplay is over-cautious and careful not to push too hard. However, I have also recognized that even moderately controversial efforts reach a widespread audience in ways that something too ideological often cannot. An Unmarried Woman is a classic, albeit a dated one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Her Dizzy Head is Conscience-Laden

I'm still sick, but perhaps my fatigue and raspy voice have added an interesting dimension to this song. The fact that I chose to even cover it is out of character for me, since as a child of the 90's I heard it played to excess on alternative radio.

Regarding the subject, when I get sick, I have a tendency to think of darker, more uncomfortable times in my life. This would explain the last few days. I left off the "conversations kill" refrain because I believed it distracted from the point I was trying to get across.

Drivin' faster in my car
Falling farther from just what we are
Smoke a cigarette and lie some more
These conversations kill
Falling faster in my car

Time to take her home,
her dizzy head is conscience laden
Time to take a ride that
leaves today no conversation

Time to take her home her
lazy head is conscience laden
Time to wait too long to wait too long
These conversations kill

Too much walkin', shoes worn thin
Too much trippin' and my soul's worn thin

Time to catch a ride it leaves today,
her name is what it means
Too much walkin', shoe's worn thin

Time to take her home,
her dizzy head is conscience laden
Time to take a ride that leaves
today no conversation

Time to take her home her lazy head
is conscience laden
(Time to take her home her lazy head)
Time to wait too long to wait too long
(Time to wait too long to wait too long)

Time to take her home,
her dizzy head is conscience laden
Time to take a ride that
leaves today no conversation

Time to take her home her
lazy head is conscience laden
(Time to take her home her lazy head)

Time to wait too long to wait too long
(Time to wait too long to wait too long)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Lied

He holds a creased, red backed book in front of me. The gold, embossed letters in the imitation leather cover are those of a large letter in the Chinese alphabet. Someone told me once what it is and what it means, but I promptly forgot.

I am to quickly recite, in chant-form, unfamiliar characters that I will first learn phonetically. And, if so inclined, perhaps I’ll learn a passable amount of Chinese, too.

She encouraged me to attend, herself no stranger to pain and feelings of desperation. In her own way, I suppose, she meant well.

In her own way. In her own way. In her own way.

That is my own chant. It is the method by which I excuse her curtness, tolerate her self-absorption, and remind myself again why we are together.

I hold onto her body, rubbing her back and shoulders, hoping that through force of will alone I might end a ceaseless litany of vocalized grievances decrying the world’s imperfections. Sometimes I just focus my whole attention on the mole over her left eyebrow until the ranting subsides.

Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking.

The sound of a resonate, large cast-iron bell being struck signals the end of one particular series of chants. He flips over four pages, a thick index finger keeping place, quickly traveling the width of the little book. The super-quick pace reminds me of some kind of race. Those with enough practice and vocal dexterity finish on time with no mispronunciations. This is nothing more than an empty exercise to me, not anything remotely religious or comforting. I came expecting something else altogether. Lacking the context, it all seems incomprehensible and mysterious. Some mysteries beg to be solved and some are so remote that they do not invite further contemplation or energy.

Unemployed, lacking money, lonely, depressed, I scrub her floor with a large sponge. She complains again about the Latina maid who always leaves the linoleum sticky to the touch. Afterward, she shifts to her second favorite topic for discussion, wherein she is obsessed about the look, layout, and effectiveness of her business ad in the Yellow Pages. Never the sort of person to entertain advice from any source beyond that of her own judgment, she refused my suggestions to try the Internet.

Another incoherent chant finished, she quickly waves to me across the room. We never as much as sit together. I am not to specify how we know each other. I am not to say what she does for a living. I am not allowed to reveal our relationship beyond the most innocently platonic. As far as she’s concerned, she has a reputation to maintain, and men to charm. Over time, I figured out that her business connections are always male, but her lovers are always female. This does a little to assuage my jealousy, but not enough.

I don’t want to know. Don’t tell me anything.

Out of cite, out of mind, I suppose. That’s the only way it works for me. Sometimes, though, I see the first few steps and I have to turn my head.

The third topic upon which she is hopelessly fixated is that of noting her numerous scars and injuries. With this also includes mention of an endless number of moves and relocations from one big city to another.

, she says, pointing to a scar that runs down one white, unshaven shinbone. New York, she observes, as she lifts her shirt up to to reveal a neat, horizontal line slightly above the navel. This is where the knifepoint dug into the skin.

The session done, I feign interest in dull small talk. My eyes seek her out again. She is otherwise occupied. The conversation looks transactional in nature. She has presented him with her business card and he has tucked it into a fold in his wallet. I know what this means. Next she’ll offer him a ride back home. This means I must solicit the fleshy-fingered man for a return trip in his huge black SUV. He never minds, but it also means that I’ll have thirty minutes of unsatisfying conversation in front of me.


I have contracted a severe head cold, so my energy and concentration is simply not there today. I should be better tomorrow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Individualism is Not a Right to Be Forever Hands Off

No definitive profile of the Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner, has yet been complied. Nevertheless, what has been released thus far shows a profoundly troubled individual in desperate need of adequate help and treatment. Yes, medication and therapy alone are not necessarily a silver bullet in all circumstances, but something should have been done well before Saturday. From what I have already read, it is not as though warning signs had not been present for quite some time. Every single time a tragedy along these lines takes place, we mourn, we try to make sense of the carnage, we seek to understand the reasons why a violent act took place, but we stop short of proposing solutions to keep them from reoccurring.

In 1989, the Supreme Court of the United States made a controversial ruling regarding the state's role in preventing violence of a slightly different sort. Though the case involved a father who beat his young son so severely that the child suffered severe brain trauma, the lessons drawn from it reflect the current situation. DeShaney v. Winnebago County hinged on whether the Department of Social Services of Winnebago County, Wyoming, should have returned a child to the custody of a father who had been well-documented as being physically abusive. Specifically, my thoughts return to Justice Harry Blackmun's famous dissent against the majority opinion.

"Poor Joshua! Victim of repeated attacks by an irresponsible, bullying, cowardly, and intemperate father, and abandoned by respondents who placed him in a dangerous predicament and who knew or learned what was going on, and yet did essentially nothing except, as the Court revealingly observes, ante, at 193, "dutifully recorded these incidents in [their] files." It is a sad commentary upon American life, and constitutional principles - so full of late of patriotic fervor and proud proclamations about "liberty and justice for all" - that this child, Joshua DeShaney, now is assigned to live out the remainder of his life profoundly retarded.

Loughner may have targeted Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for no other reason than she did not validate his own incoherent soapbox argument.

At an event roughly three years ago, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords took a question from Jared Loughner, the man accused of trying to assassinate her and killing six other people. According to two of his high school friends the question was essentially this: "What is government if words have no meaning?"

Loughner was angry about her response — she read the question and didn't have much to say.

In reading this, I'm reminded of one of the most ancient of stories. As some of you may recall, once, eons ago, two brothers worked together in a field. The effort and offerings of one brother found favor in the eyes of God, but this was not so with the other.

"Why are you so angry?" the LORD asked Cain. "Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master."

One day Cain suggested to his brother, "Let's go out into the fields." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Knowing that something terribly wrong had happened, God calls out to Cain. "Where is your brother Abel?" Coldly, flippantly, sarcastically, I imagine, he replies, "I don't know. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The most massive flaw in the SCOTUS case mentioned above is that it places the burden upon the individual, not the state. This is well and good, unless, of course, individuals are not willing to report violations themselves. If that does not occur, then the entire system no longer functions as designed. A majority of justices in this decision were not willing to place full responsibility upon the state agency assigned to Joshua's case. This to me has always felt like passing the buck, no matter what legal precedent one uses as justification. Regardless of who ought to be liable, government or individuals must intervene in circumstances of abused children, or the severely mentally ill.

The American mindset has always been that of great skepticism towards centralized power in any form. I know if a decision were made today that would, in effect, force the mentally ill into treatment facilities, many would protest that individual rights were being trampled upon in the process. Their concerns would have merit, but when any individual crosses a line into psychosis, which actually means that they are no longer in touch with reality, then they simply aren't well enough to be able to make proper decisions for themselves. We are all fortunate that Loughner's actions are relatively rare. While many severely mentally ill people are cared for by relatives, poverty often forces others to the streets, living without a home. I myself pass by the homeless nearly every day on my way back and forth. In my discomfort, I never fail to reflect upon the tragedy of their own circumstance.

Primarily, our stumbling blocks are money and time. Treatment for those who desperately need it is not inexpensive, nor short-term in duration. The costs of most medications to resolve conditions like paranoid schizophrenia are prohibitively high, and even if Medicaid or local programs pick up most, if not the whole cost, a month's supply often exceeds $1000 per month. One cannot make anyone act in his or her own best interest, but we can certainly do a better job than we're doing now. This also means fully funding clinics who provide mental health services, hiring enough workers and staff, and making sure sufficient funds are available in the system to supply medication on time. Loughner lived with family, but his need was no less urgent.

Moreover, until we are willing to ask difficult questions of ourselves, we will not make much progress. Had someone, long before now, thought to ensure that Jared Loughner undergo a full psychiatric evaluation, we might not be in this awful situation today. While it is easy to be heavy-handed and cavalier in saying so, I hardly think it improper to at least evaluate those who are unwell. If we don't at least do the minimum, we should never expect anything to change for the better. When additional details come to light about Loughner's psychiatrist history, or lack thereof, I will be interested to see how he was treated. Those details likely will not provide a complete answer, but I am curious to see what was tried and what was not tried.

The way we've been doing things up to now certainly isn't working. Returning to the example of the homeless, here is an instance of a typical half-measure. Recently, in DC, there had been problems with homeless people sleeping on benches underneath bus shelters. In response, the benches were completely redesigned to be curved and ridged, in effect making sleeping on them uncomfortable, if not impossible. That solved the cosmetics of a problem, but it didn't exactly do much to stop the greater issue of homelessness. Instead, it just shuffled a contentious issue from one side of town to another. I mention this because mental illness among those without a place to go is enormously common. So this time, I hope we make sensible, humane, intelligent plans towards preventing another horrible event like we have just observed.

When a Congresswoman is shot, it makes major news, but workplace shootings have become so commonplace now that they barely inspire two hours' worth of coverage on the cable news networks. We can talk all we want about the impact of toxic political speech, but that is only an additional conduit and an intensifying factor. Measuring at what point someone snapped seems to be a foolish exercise. Once a human being reaches a state at which conduct of this magnitude is being seriously considered, we ought to focus more on bringing said person back to sanity first. Otherwise, we are merely enamored with sensationalism, which grows orgiastic and unproductive. If we are our brother's keeper, or our sister's keeper, we are required to act in ways that keep us all safe from harm.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Language Wounds in Unpredictable Ways

Last week, a friend invited me out to dinner. Also present was one of her friends, who happened to be hearing-impaired. Throughout the whole of the evening, I found it very interesting to observe two forms of communication going on simultaneously---one that I heard and another that I saw visually by way of American Sign Language. As is true with spoken language, there are instances in sign languages when illustrating a particular idea proves difficult or beyond the speaker’s level of expertise. It is at this point that a creative communicator will often formulate his or her own signs to be understood.

Just as in spoken language, sometimes this succeeds. Occasionally it does not. Sometimes the other party in the conversation is confused. Sometimes the sign chosen resembles a previously existing one that implies something offensive or profane. Yet, efforts like these are the ways by which the language grows to reflect new concepts and words. Living languages constantly shed words that are no longer in use and add words to reflect the current state of affairs. It would seem, then, that there’s a kind of responsibility that goes with adding to a living entity like a language, regardless if one sees it with the eyes or hears it with the ears. We all have a role in shaping language, for better, and these days, especially for worse.

Language is a mysterious form. The process by which words enter the lexicon functions more like a viral video on YouTube rather than anyone’s deliberate effort to influence it. Few would get far seeking to add a word to the dictionary through force of will and effort alone. Instead, words are the byproduct of necessity. For example, if it did not already exist, I might conceivably wish to coin the word, “hatred”, and in so doing add it to the English language. More likely, I’d be wasting my time. However, if enough enmity and ill-will are present long enough, and there is a fundamental need to use a symbolic representation for ease of conversation, then eventually someone somewhere will come up with a word to best define it. When enough people use it, it will become part of the language.

The recent shooting of an Arizona Congresswoman has stoked a long-festering debate about the damage of invective and polarizing politics. To some respect, this debate has been a long time coming and has already taken a variety of forms prior to now. But I think if we are to seriously contemplate the role of words and phrases that inflame passions and potentially empower those inclined to violent outbursts, we’d best first discuss what words are and what words are not. We simply cannot pinpoint what fiery rhetoric, in particular, that is beamed out through the television or the internet is at fault.

A word that might not be too agitating to me might make someone else absolutely furious. When one considers the thought process of someone who is clearly out of touch with reality, the waters are muddied even more so. As much as each of us are into our own heads, it’s sometimes amazing that the same shared, symbolic representations known as a language serve as an adequate and effective means by which we communicate with each other.

What we can do, however, is take note of the words we say and the words used in our company. That may be the only force we have over hatred or increased polarization. The world of words and human discourse that exists beyond us is too changeable, too fickle, too massive. We might take this fact as a humbling realization that all any of us can do is contribute our own best effort, then hope that the wind blows in the direction we’d like. Individual effort is not enough. Group effort is what it will take, but once birthed, hatred and polarization, like Pandora’s Box, rarely shut neatly. Blame who we wish to blame, select a worthy target, if you wish, but first consider what unknown things you are adding into a naturally chaotic environment before you do so.

And to conclude, a few questions. What do we find more objectionable? What is ultimately more damaging? That which we hear, or that which we see? Which is more immediate? That which we see or that which we hear?

Quote of the Day

Here's something a bit different this week. On the subject of garlic consumption and Ty Cobb:

"It keeps him from catching colds and catching friends."

(If you know anything about Ty Cobb, this quote is especially revealing.)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Saturday Video

I have to say that I'm not particularly a fan of this video, but I love the song. As for the former, it's very much a product of its time (the early 90's) and, as is also plain, it was evidently quite cheaply made. Both were later disowned altogether by the group. The lyrics are either a mournful plea to lead singer Brett Anderson's ex-girlfriend, Justine Frischmann, who would soon found Elastica, or a revealing look into tensions within the band itself.

Brett Anderson's stage persona was deliberately androgynous and teasing, more in line with a previous school of rock frontman. The trends of the time were the scruffy, depressive, nihilistic masculinity of grunge, a primarily American form, which competed with Britpop's two best groups: the preppy, self-consciously arty Blur and the celebration of lad culture known as Oasis. Much out of step with the times, Suede's sound in this period is indebted to 70's camp and 80's hard rock.

Friday, January 07, 2011

You Can't Stake Your Lives on a Saviour Machine

Now more than ever.

President Joe once had a dream
The world held his hand, gave their pledge
So he told them his scheme for a Saviour Machine

They called it the Prayer, its answer was law
Its logic stopped war, gave them food,
How they adored 'till it cried in its boredom,

"Please don't believe in me, please disagree with me
Life is too easy, a plague seems quite feasible now,
or maybe a war, or I may kill you all"

Don't let me stay, don't let me stay.
My logic says burn so send me away
Your minds are too green, I despise all I've seen
You can't stake your lives on a Saviour Machine

I need you flying, and I'll show that dying
Is living beyond reason, sacred dimension of time
I perceive every sign, I can steal every mind

Don't let me stay, don't let me stay
My logic says burn so send me away
Your minds are too green, I despise all I've seen
You can't stake your lives on a Saviour Machine

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Savage Beauty: A Review

Documenting the life of anyone is bound to be occasionally problematic. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s life was more in line with that of a Greek Goddess than any mere mortal: impulsive, passionate, effusive, sometimes insensitive, occasionally self-destructive, and thoroughly lusty, to name only a few. In her time, she was considered the dominant voice of rebellious youth in the period of hedonism and experimentation known as the Roaring Twenties. Millay was a talented poet, playwright, and actress, whose popularity was unmatched for a period of roughly thirty years, beginning with the end of World War I in 1918 and her death in 1950 at the age of 58. Her life is masterfully documented in a biography written by the author Nancy Milford. The title of this authoritative work is Savage Beauty.

To know the artist, one must know something of her upbringing. Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in a small coastal town in Maine about a decade or so before the turn of the Twentieth Century. Her father, Henry Millay, was a teacher who would later become superintendent of schools. Her mother, the former Cora Buzzelle, was a nurse. The two of them produced three children, all girls. The marriage, regrettably, was not a happy one and it swiftly ended in divorce. Cora left Henry at the time their oldest daughter, Edna, was 8. Though ordered to pay child support, Henry Millay rarely did, and the decision to legally separate thrust his former wife and their three children into a sustained state of poverty. These dire circumstances produced a tight bond between the Millay girls, a close-knit, highly involved relationship that persisted for each sister’s entire life. They could be loving, competitive, confrontational, and sometimes resentful, but the three of them always identified as a singular unit, of which their mother also played a large part.

To make a living, Cora decided that she ought to become a traveling nurse, going wherever she was needed. She made enough to survive, frequently sending money home. Consequently, she was rarely present in the daily lives of her daughters, particularly in their formative years. In effect, three young children had to more or less raise themselves. Their mother corresponded frequently through the mail, and insisted upon frequent letters from her children, but would sometimes be absent for days, even weeks at a time. Edna began writing poetry in childhood and her first efforts reflect this sense of isolation. It is a motif she would frequently return to later in life, even when surrounded by friends, fans, and associates.

Though she herself occasionally used the feminine first name of Edna, she was more well-known simply as Vincent. Considered to be a boy’s name, this created waves, particularly in a very different, far more conservative age where gender roles were usually adhered to without question. She began to submit her work to literary contests, and her proficiency as a poet was almost immediately acknowledged. Through these, she built her name, and also won the first round of admirers, who eventually gave her the ability to leave the remote place of her birth and enroll in college.

In those days, a university or college education was far more rare than it is today. It was considered a sign of great privilege and distinction and since few could afford it, it was largely off-limits to all but a fortunate few. By the time Vincent was old enough to attend, women’s colleges had been established to counter-balance the number of institutions that refused to admit them. It had, after all, only been in the recent past that colleges and universities had been the sole domain of men. Only a few had even begun to start admitting female students.

Her name now in print, Vincent wrote prodigiously, eventually drafting the poem that would introduce her to American readers, “Renascence”. The work was entered into a contest, wherein she placed fourth, a highly controversial decision. Even the eventual winner, a man, believed that her work had been vastly superior to his. The judges simply found it hard to believe that a twenty-year-old girl from rural Maine could have been possible of writing something of such high quality and maturity. The cloud of dust kicked up by the scandal did eventually produce something quite fortunate for the young poet. She found a patron willing to subsidize the cost of tuition, should Vincent wish to attend college. Choosing Vassar, Millay eagerly enrolled, though at twenty-one she was older than most of her classmates.

At Vassar, Vincent began to branch out and explore same-sex relationships. Nancy Milford’s book is made ever richer because the author had complete access to most of Millay’s written correspondence, this by way of one of her sisters, who fortunately preserved her papers. Though Vincent pursued other lesbian relationships while at college, Savage Beauty in particular explores the relationship between Vincent and Elaine Ralli, one of her classmates. Reading between the lines, one can observe that the two were lovers, though Millay was careful never to spell it out directly. Her relationships with men, in great contrast, were so verbose and detailed as to be excessive. Nevertheless, the pairing lasted only a few months until prominent others caught wind of it.

Vassar was (and still is) a notoriously difficult school to obtain entrance. And as mentioned earlier, a poor small-town girl without a name or a trust fund, Vincent Millay had to depend completely on the charity of wealthy benefactors to keep her enrolled and to pay her tuition. And, true to form, exactly as she would resolve situations like these in the years going forward, she simply cut all ties with her girlfriend. Elaine was very much in love with Vincent. Her partner knew this, but she still severely distanced herself, eventually ending all contact without much in the way of consultation or tact.

Vincent was well-known for her numerous love affairs with both men and women, the details of which frequently made their way into her poetry. The word promiscuous was frequently assigned to her, a characterization that is, I suppose, technically accurate, though it does connote slut-shaming and I use it here reluctantly. In her heyday, Vincent’s love life was a revolving door. Her letters reveal a consistent pattern. She had a habit of proclaiming ultimate love and devotion for a short time before finding something much more attractive and appealing later.

Had she not also left behind a large trail of spiteful, slighted lovers in her wake, this would not have been as much of an problematic issue. Many of these were also writers themselves, so their characterizations of her in written form often show feelings of extreme betrayal and resentment. Many fell in love with her through her writing. Many others became infatuated after meeting her in person or by way of the bedroom.

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.

Attempting to explain where Vincent’s rebellious streak began is not terribly difficult. Her mother, even as an old woman, was fond of saying shocking things. First among them was her assertion, regarding her daughter’s sexual prowess, that she was a slut in her day. Why shouldn’t Vincent be the same way? In traveling through Europe with her daughter, she noted Vincent’s sexual behavior firsthand. At times, she even stumbled upon her daughter in the act itself, when the both of them shared a hotel suite, particularly when Vincent forgot to close or lock the door behind her.

The relationship between mother and daughter, then, often completely lacked any sense of healthy boundaries. Vincent’s mother was not above chiding and, if need be, browbeating her oldest child to write frequently, particularly during her daughter’s trips abroad, just as she had at an earlier time. Mother Millay, as Vincent’s husband called her, also spent vast amounts of time in her daughter's company, in a fashion that would seem intrusive and off-putting to most.

At times, their relationship resembled that of relative equals rather of than parent to child. This degree of intimacy does at times seem obsessive, particularly in certain revealing circumstances. The most prominent of all of these might be when the elder Millay took it upon herself to remedy her daughter’s unwanted pregnancy. Consulting an archaic book of natural remedies, she found a particular root that had abortive properties and personally induced the process herself.

While in her early thirties, Edna St. Vincent Millay eventually married Eugen Boissevain, a relatively well-off Dutch businessman and importer who was ten years her senior. A self-proclaimed feminist, he was the widower of Inez Milholland, a First-Wave suffragist, labor lawyer, socialist, war correspondent, and public speaker who died tragically young at the age of 30. Theirs was an open marriage, in which the two of them could and did take other partners. During the course of their marriage, she often wrote to and kept track of previous partners, to whom she was known to periodically return. These were usually other writers and artists who floated in the same social circles, though a particular infatuation on her part was the poet George Dillion. Fourteen years younger than her, he was the inspiration for several beautiful sonnets. It is occasionally difficult to keep track of Millay’s lovers, as they tended to share similar interests and passions, and as such a vast amount of creative cross-pollination was present, both literally and metaphorically speaking.

The go-to place for young, politically active intellectuals, artists, and activists at the time was Greenwich Village in New York City. Here the term “Bohemian”, applied to their libertine, freewheeling lifestyle was first applied. It was this scene that was the spiritual homeland of many such characters. Even today, their behavior and permissive attitudes would be shocking to many. I myself noted while reading a description of what went on back then that it disproves many cultural myths. The Godparents of free love were not the hippies or flower children of the 1960’s. Rather they were the riotous, high energy jazz babies and high steppers of forty years prior. Even now, much of the way they lived their lives is still well ahead of its time.

The last few years of Edna St. Vincent’s Millay fall into the category of falling action. Her health, which had never been good since her early thirties, began to fail once again. Flare ups of physical ailments combined with nervous breakdowns had been periodically present for years. She gave public readings and continued writing, though at times she was quite frail. Making matters even worse, three crucial people in her life died in rapid succession, a trusted friend (and lover), her mother, and her father.

She became addicted to morphine and alcohol as a means of coping with the pain. Photographs taken of her in the last decade or so of her life reveal a person in swift decline. It is as if she lived an entire life in only a few short years, then found nothing left in reserve to sustain her. Perhaps her most famous poem, written in her early twenties best defines the life she led.

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!