Monday, January 25, 2010

A Poem for Monday

...The wild grass rustles over Babii Yar.
The trees look ominous like judges.
Here all things scream in silence,
and, baring my head,
Slowly I feel myself turning gray.

And I myself-
one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here-
I am each old man
here shot down.
I am every child
here shot down.
Nothing within me
will ever forget.

Let the "Internationale"
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.

In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage all anti-Semites
must hate me now
as if I were a Jew.
And for that reason
I am a true Russian!

-Yevgeny Yevtushenko,
translated from Russian by George Reavey

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The truth about Haiti's deal with the devil

Reverend Pat Robertson explained, yesterday, how Haiti was in such bad straits these days because its founders made a pact with the devil. This is what passes for Christianity in America these days. Of course, not all Christians believe such drivel, even in the U.S.. There are compassionate and erudite Christian believers such as Dr. Cornel West, who espouses a quite reasonable and moderate Christian message. But Rev. Robertson is from the extreme rightwing of the Evangelical movement in America. Given recent events, I thought I would tackle this assertion that Haiti is poor and destitute because of its pact with the devil head on. So, first of all, is it true? Robertson offered no proof for his assertion, so I looked it up.

Just to see exactly what we are talking about, here is another version of this "historical fact" making the rounds in Evangelical circles:
It is a matter of well-documented historical fact that the nation of Haiti
was dedicated to Satan 200 years ago. On August 14, 1791, a group of houngans
(voodoo priests), led by a former slave houngan named Boukman, made a pact with the Devil at a place called Bois-Caiman. All present vowed to exterminate all of the white Frenchmen on the island. They sacrificed a black pig in a voodoo ritual at which hundreds of slaves drank the pig's blood. In this ritual, Boukman asked Satan
for his help in liberating Haiti from the French. In exchange, the voodoo
priests offered to give the country to Satan for 200 years and swore to serve
him. On January 1, 1804, the nation of Haiti was born and thus began a new
demonic tyranny.

But is it "a matter of well documented fact?" Here is the report of a Dr. Gelin, a Haitian scientist and minister, who researched this question because, as he notes, "the idea that Haiti was dedicated to Satan prior to its independence is a very serious and profound statement with potentially grave consequences for its people in terms of how they are perceived by others or how the whole nation is understood outside its borders." I appreciate that his concern is the consequences for Haiti in terms of its image abroad and not the "spiritual" ramifications of the curse itself, because that is quite a reasonable concern. You can read his whole article, but, in short, he found no historical proof for it. Furthermore, as a believing Christian he joined a group who decided to go to the fabled spot of this Satanic dedication and undo any curses that might have been activated, just in case. So, why didn't Robertson know this? Why was he not informed by God that the cursed had been lifted? Must have his wires crossed.

I have searched through several sources of Haitian history and found no proof of this pact with the devil. It was not the devil who set the slaves in Haiti free from their tyrannical French masters, it was some damned fine guerrilla fighting on the part of the Haitians themselves. In fact, in an era of increasing worldwide dominance by European military forces, the former slaves assembled a very effective military that repulsed three different European invasions (British, French, and Spanish.) The nation's troubles since then are due to a number of different factors, from American and European meddling to an acute lack of education, skills, and resources, all historically documented, and none attributable to Satan.

Haiti in the balance

A post of mine picked up by the Daily Dish:

I was on the ground in Haiti with the Marines in the 2004 peacekeeping operation. After what would have been a fairly mild tropical storm in the U.S., our peacekeeping op turned into a full-on relief and rescue effort near the town of Fond Verette. Because of deforestation the ravines in the mountains became swift-moving rivers of mud, swallowing up whole villages. Then, as now, news was slow to come in. What we thought initially was a few hundred dead turned out to be thousands within three days.

The only positive side at the time was that Port-au-Prince was spared.
We had staff estimates then on what the impact to the city would have been, and it was truly frightening. The abject poverty of the area, and the lack of resources to respond to something like this, cannot be underestimated. From that experience I can guess that we have only begun to realize the full extent of the damage. I suspect that the final toll will be in the hundreds of thousands. If the people in this country have any compassion for "the least of these," they will support quick and massive assistance to that beleaguered country.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A poem for Monday

O star above a starless world
O flicker in a cave of stone despair
O feather plucked from flightless love
Blow the rippled horns to the searchers

O sail danced on whispered wave
O petal stretching for the sun
O dream of boys beyond high fences
Blow the child’s dream a hymn of muscle

O errant knight on shadowed hill
O flavor on the tongue of fear
O message to the muddy trench
Awash in heaving death and weary moon
Blow the meaning clear
Blow the road before them
Blow the wayward home

Blow the wayward son
A song of true direction
To fly on strength of wood
And blaze into a vow

O leper chased from hollow streets
O judge above the bloody host
O diamond in a dungeon
Trapped in cages that lock beauty from the day
Blow dying eyes a promise
Blow the newborn to tomorrow
Blow the hero to the moment of his need

O god of earth and wind
Blow the storms of your decree
Through crackling trees and frozen bone
To burst into the artery of hope

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Jefferson Bible

It is fairly well known that Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian. He was probably a deist, but he was definitely a skeptic, who advocated rigorous examination of the evidence for one's beliefs. He was also an admirer of Jesus Christ, but he found the Christ of the New Testament gospels to be unbelievable, a victim of mythmakers who distorted what Jefferson thought to be the prophet's actual philosophy with fantastic tales of miracles and divine fanfare.

So, one day, he sat down and edited out all the things he thought invented after the fact, in an attempt to reveal the natural history of the sage, Jesus Christ. Here is his finished product. I find it to be still quite interesting and often profound, but not nearly as compelling without the mythological elements. But then, my reaction is probably a vestigial holdover from a fervent Christian upbringing. I wonder how those not inculcated as children into the Christian mythos react to it?

One thing is for certain, though. In the current political climate, we would definitely not be raising rapturous monuments (it is my favorite) in the nation's capitol to a man who figuratively chopped up the bible in such a way. Could you imagine if President Obama, in an effort to hone, say, St. Paul's message, had, in his student days, edited the epistles down to their bare philosophical bones? (Actually, I could see him doing this, simply as an exercise in intellectual rigor.) Well, he would certainly not be the president today, and probably not even a senator any longer. Such is the mob fervor gripping the populace.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why Lean Six Sigma isn't good for everything

I have run into, now and then, very slick efficiency-improvement systems such as Lean and Six Sigma that are billed as the answer for every problem in an organization. They are always billed as brand new, the latest thing, but they are not. Years ago there was TQL, or total quality management. Before that something else. Even reading about these systems just makes my soul die in place. I am sure that these systems are good for running a factory, but managers and leaders in every area of life get swept up in the hype and start trying to apply these (to me) stultifying systems to every type of organization. Renowned Oxford Scholar and Tolkien expert, Thomas Shippey, while speaking of the state of academia, addressed these programs better than I could:
Managerial programs work best where there is a clear and quantifiable
outcome and an easy way of checking what the work-force is doing. Neither of
these apply to teaching, or research. Really productive researchers are often
staring at the wall, or going for walks -- and their product tends to turn up
ten years later. Good teaching is not measured by the number of degrees you turn
out, or even how highly the students rate you at the time. But unsophisticated
management systems (and those are the ones we have) insist on counting

Monday, January 4, 2010

Clarence Bass weighs in on coffee.

The fittest 71 year old on the planet, Clarence Bass, (he is 65 in this photo) has weighed in on coffee here, subject of recent posts on this blog. As on most subjects, he is well reasoned and advocates moderation. He drinks three cups a day himself, so coffee drinkers, rest easy. He covers all aspects of diet, health, nutrition, and exercise on his site. Anyone who desires to live long and stay agile, mobile, and healthy would do well to keep Mr. Bass on his/her must read list. See how he looks at 70 here