123 Years Young And Still Growing

On the morning of September 17, 2010, a card, along with a large bouquet of flowers, was found on the doorstep of 700 Pennsylvania Ave., in Washington D.C.  Written in the card was the following note:

Dearest Uncle,

We hope this letter finds you in a sounder state of mind and body than you have possessed as of late. It is, after all, a day to celebrate and we wish for you all the health and vigor necessary to do so – all that and measures more! A number of us will be visiting you today, as we do most days, but you should not be surprised if the special nature of this occasion puts a smile upon our faces. We imagine it will put a smile on yours.

I will keep this correspondence brief, for there will be plenty of time to chat of happier things. As many of us will be unable to make the trip today in order to see you in person, I forward the following apology on behalf of your entire household. We are truly, deeply, humbly sorry for the misunderstandings that have recently arisen. There is not the slightest sliver of doubt that the balance of guilt tilts heavily toward our side of the scales. While, as in all communication, the expression of your thoughts may sometimes lack in clarity, the benevolent intention of your wisdom and wishes for us is unquestionable. Often, when such vagueness has crept into our fellowship, a great deal of us has taken advantage of you and the situation. Believe us now when we write that it is ever wrong to misquote someone or put words in a mouth where they have been neither spoken nor implied. Libelous falsehood is not one of the many allowances for which you have provided, nor is it something we can or should wish to claim.

What else is left to write but that we hope to deserve the love and blessings you have long showered upon us and we look with optimism toward the coming years? Let them be bountiful in number and fortune, for you and for us all.

With Love and Gratitude,

We the People of the United States

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Only The Cat Will Remember

When, at last, all these false lights tire

of pressing at the patient dark

and, flickering unstoked, expire,

one by one, ‘til Jupiter’s spark,

the sun, the moon, the stars entire,

Pole-girding Aurora’s jade arc,

the bioluminescent fire,

Vulcan’s spittle on summer bark,

or some bolide’s self-absorbed pyre,

are all that remain to remark

on Humanity’s cold ember,

only the Cat will remember.

* * *

When this conspiracy of vines,

weeds, shrubs, turf – unchecked manicure

of homogenized lawns – aligns

against the void architecture

where a thin dog, whose lonesome whines

grew hoarse as it sought to conjure

affection from a corpse, consigns

itself to hungrily abjure

Domesticity’s weak confines

and, biting onto Instinct’s lure,

drags off what it can dismember,

only the Cat will remember.

* * *

When kennel, collar, leash, and law

have lost all power to harass –

for Master’s swollen, slackened jaw

holds no commandments left to pass –

and shattered tooth and tattered claw

tear holes in mortar, wood, and glass

so these tame kin of wolves may draw

together on suburban grass

to let long frozen Nature thaw

as pecking order’s rigid class

finds a place for each new member,

Only the Cat will remember.

* * *

When, hesitant as a first kiss,

come skulking down the avenue

packs of near-wolves exploring this

abandoned world that they once knew,

where, like a beckoning Abyss,

yawns every window’s blackened view

and all the rugs they once would piss

now slosh at forepaws’ touch, soaked through

where roof and wall make sunbeams miss

uncounted mornings’ clinging dew

that will turn frost in November,

only the Cat will remember.

* * *

When cow, horse, sheep, pig, ox, and goat

provide the dogs fresh meat and bone,

starved, suffocated fishes float,

caged birds desiccate, dry as stone,

while every free, unfettered throat

sends up one shrill, rejoicing drone,

and, fat on Gluttony’s last bloat,

the crow brags in its jarring tone

as migratory masses float

down to Earth, claiming for their own

the untouched yields of September,

Only the Cat will remember.

* * *

From blue whale to blue-green algae,

from preying wolf to mourning dove,

none is so like humanity

as the Cat: they match love for love

and are loyal to loyalty,

but each rudeness, from slight to shove,

is nursed in vengeful memory.

Yet, unlike us, they’d not dream of

letting spite breed catastrophe.

Still, though they may long walk above

the grave of our last December,

at least the Cat will remember.

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Open Letter to a Nephew

Dear W.P.,

I received a letter, dated August 28th, from your siblings and cousins, which I opened with the high hopes of reading about the flourishing, in my absence, of the old homestead. Instead, I was subjected to a long list of complaints – and fully justified –about a certain spoiled brat I had allowed myself to believe was gone for good. How has it come to this?

When you and your sister first came to me, seeking asylum from the trouble your adolescence had brewed between you and your parents, I welcomed you with open arms, adopting you as my own. For the most part, my biological son also welcomed you warmly, but rare are those instances when new living arrangements arrive without incident; you both have your scars from that period of adjustment. Still, however much guilt you each bear for the way things turned out, your measure is by far the lion’s share. My mansion has many rooms, each full with heaps of wealth abounding. Yet, you bullied your way into his space and stole away his birthright through lies and advantages taken. Furthermore, you insisted that this native child of my household follow your own example (And a poor one at that!) or find other pastures in which to play. At first glance, things seem to have settled down and given the circumstances, he has done alright for himself. However, this comes down mainly to a fierce independence of spirit that keeps him walking proudly despite the stones you cast at his feet. I am left to wonder if you have looked – really looked – at the room into which you’ve sent him, the sad space into which he has retreated.

With the value of hindsight, I cannot say that I am surprised by your behavior. When you insisted on bringing your African cousin under our roof – with the claim that he too would fare better in our new household – I foolishly complied. I did not then see that you had given no thought to his wishes and sought only to take on the role of oppressor. As you did to him, you also did to your sister and for all your late, superficial efforts, you treat neither as your equal. Yet, their every cry for a fair portion from my manor’s table of plenty is answered with dry crumbs and sneering derision.

Most of your other cousins, having sought my protection and guidance according to their own desires, have managed to prosper here. Again, this has occurred with little help from you and if given the opportunity, you would place any of them under your thumb. That old book you so prize, though chock full of questionable tales of morality, is not completely devoid of wisdom. It bears a passage, which reads, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” In other words, the world is difficult enough without your adding to it. And before you counter with that dim understanding of Darwin’s genius you so insistently champion with your right hand while condemning with your left, you would do well to remember that Nature, while rife with competition, is no less ripe with cooperation.

I want so much for all my children to prosper, but I can do little for them now; my debilitating illness has long since left me no recourse but to turn the management of the household over to you. You have been afforded years of prosperity and promise. Why, then, does your debt of injustice to your cousins and siblings yet remain unpaid? I tire at your incessant whining; It is high time that you grew up! Compared to many, you are wealthy beyond measure. It is in gratitude that you are found woefully destitute. You know full well that the blessings I have imparted to you were intended to be given freely and equally to all my children, native born and otherwise. Indeed, they are only what should rightfully be provided to everyone everywhere. In claiming these rights only for yourself and holding up your ambition, avarice, and unearned – indeed, unearnable – privilege as the guarantor of these liberties, you make yourself less than worthy of the least of them.

As I lie here, in this bed of long convalescence, I cannot help but wonder if I have failed you, if I have somehow neglected to provide you with the necessary knowledge and means to flower fully into adulthood. The mythical Chief of the Waponi Wu once remarked, “We are the children of children and we live as we are shown.” He was not wrong, but surely not all of my many pronouncements and suggestions – and their carefully considered amendments – are inadequate or contrary to the task I have set before you. Still, I am reminded that only half the power of any good lesson or counseling resides in its truth. The remainder rests in the sturdiness and balance of the shoulders carrying the burden of responsibility that experience and advisement convey.

Your shoulders are strong, steady, and not yet so old that they should ache and bend beneath the strain. How long will you continue to shrug off the weight of progress instead of adjusting it so that it sits more comfortably? Both actions may require a momentary slowing or even interruption of step, but only the latter permits and promotes growth. If you persist in trading your responsibilities for selfish vanities, you will, carrying nothing on the journey, have nothing at the journey’s end – only a crumbling manor, crowded with material and empty of spirit.

I still have high hopes for you, My Boy.

Yours with love and encouragement,

Uncle Sam

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Dragon Out The Past

Generations are a funny thing. Pinning down the fuzzy dividing line between the preceding and the following is difficult enough without trying to crowd all who then lived under the same ideological umbrella. Further complicating the issue is the fact that most people winsomely paint their respective generations as cultural battlefields between two factions: one a beating, youthful heart embodying that generation’s best parts and the other a rigid knife piercing that heart. Naturally, all but the most honest among us see themselves as the heart and their perceived enemy as the knife. Oh, would that it were so simple.

Two, recent examples of this behavior are playing loudly in the sphere of political discourse. The first comes from political pundit Glenn Beck, who said:

“This is going to be a moment that you’ll never be able to paint people as haters, racists, none of it. This is a moment, quite honestly, that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement. It has been so distorted and so turned upside down. It is an abomination.”

The moment of which he speaks is the Restoring Honor Rally at Washington D.C.’s National Mall, an event which, by sheer coincidence, occurred on the anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s extraordinary “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech.

Our second example comes from remarks made by Haley Barbour, the Governor of Mississippi, during a recent interview with the conservative newsgroup Human Events, where he claims:

“The people that led the change of parties in the south, just as I mentioned earlier, was my generation. My generation, who went to integrated schools. I went to an integrated college. never thought twice about it. It was the old democrats who had fought for segregation so hard. by my time, people realized that was the past. It was indefensible, wasn’t going to be that way anymore.”

Right, Sir. And I made every winning touchdown at my high school’s football games, despite not even being a member of the team.

The first of these two examples is, as we should expect from Glenn Beck, clear and overt deceit. I will say no more about his statement; better voices than mine have said plenty already. Besides, only the most deluded dunce could possibly conflate the civil rights movement’s original ownership with a modern political party comprised of predominantly middle-class, anti-Federalist, self-identifying whites. To them, I ask this: if your cause is right and just, why the need to so erroneously usurp another?

As for the latter example, I would allow that it might simply be misguided sentiment if not for the fact that Barbour is not only the head of Republican Governors Association and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, but is also a promising Republican presidential candidate for 2012. It may very well be that Barbour believes his own words. But if belief were the only qualifier of truth, the world would be a far more confusing place than it already is. Someone in Barbour’s position should know better and, I suspect, he does.

Regarding the “change of parties” his generation led, one wonders about the reason the racist “old Democrats” used a Republican ticket to jump ship. As for Barbour’s recollection of his school days, his high school was not desegregated until 1970, long after he would have graduated. As for his college, Old Miss, records indicate that African-American enrollment was likely represented by as few as two students during his years of attendance. They certainly had no representation in the faculty or the athletic programs. In a certain sense, these circumstances made thinking twice about integration virtually impossible!

All of this is, of course, beside the point. Put simply, claiming membership in a generation does not imply co-ownership in its greatest achievements. If it did, one would have to accept equal guilt in its most harrowing failures. Place and time do not dictate complicity. Action does. Certainly, there were people in Barbour’s generation who led the charge for desegregation or integration or whatever you choose to call it, but simply stating that fact does not count Barbour among them.

It is thinking like this that is behind a common error which sadly stains much of the political spectrum: that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America uniformly embodied some clearly defined, monolithic cause. As with every generation, nothing could be further from the truth. A generation is defined by its movements. However, the mechanisms of political biography – from nationalism to propaganda – would portray one above all others, casting it as some sword-wielding Heracles of unquestionable, divine purpose. No movement’s origin or being is ever so cut and dry. At best, they are two-headed giants stumbling awkwardly forward in between bouts of ear-biting argument. At worst, they are hydras and any strikes the sword of revision makes against them can only lead to one of two outcomes: a tangled confusion of many heads or a lifeless, headless testament to failure.

Past movements and the generations that quickened them, like any implement of progress, lie rusting in the dim museum of factual history. The mistake we so often make is in believing that any rust on them arose from mere lack of use. We cannot, with a few ringing strikes against a new political foundation, dispense with that rust and take up these swords again. That rust came from the blood left on the blade, blood from every failure of ill-conceived or ill-protected policy. That rust goes deep and makes an already weak blade weaker to the point of impotence. Progress is not a sword but the forge from which that sword sprang. Before raising the weapon of our own cause, we are charged with remaking it from those that preceded it. Only when the work of our hands resembles a ploughshare will we will have an entire generation truly worth praising.

Until then, let us save our accolades for those brave few who actually did the right thing.

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Hitching Post

It seems, as of late, that Christopher Hitchens has been far more in the public eye than ever before. No matter how brilliantly reasoned and skillfully delivered are his many arguments, Hitchens’ mortality appears to be a topic of vastly greater interest. It is as though his death and the manner in which he faces it represent the most decisive statement he could make on the existence of gods and the positive values of their attendant religions. This is, of course, utter horseshit and no one better demonstrates this than Hitchens himself, which he does with characteristic eloquence in the following article:

Unanswerable Prayers

I have no wish to comment further on the article or its contents. I write only to elaborate on a realization I had while reading it. The first spark of this realization came while watching this wonderful and well intentioned video:

For Christopher Hitchens

Compiled by YouTube subscriber The Thinking Atheist from the contributions of many of Hitchens’ fans, the video presents an outpouring of support for our ailing hero, as well as testimonials on the way his work has changed so many lives for the better. As I watched, I realized that some of these encouragements, while kindly meant, were perhaps misguided. They came in the form of various insistences that he can defeat the cancer that began in his esophagus and has now spread to his lymphatic system and lungs. Indeed, Hitchens mentions such sentiments in the aforementioned article, but is gracious and grateful enough not to name names. He surely knows that the motives behind these encouragements are clearer and less weighted than those coming from even the most benevolent prayer-circles directing their intercessions his way. Still, to paraphrase, it is hard enough to kick against death while simultaneously getting his house in order without worrying about letting his countless admirers down.

For those who attribute an almost supernatural resiliency to our revered Hitch, make no mistake; his prognosis is dire and the battle ahead, while not unwinnable, is difficult to the extreme. By admitting this and facing its inevitable truths, we afford him an honor that he is perfectly suited to understand and appreciate. With this in mind, I direct these last few words to Christopher Hitchens himself. I hold no pretense that he will ever read them, but considering the profoundly beneficent effect his tireless work has had on my life, it is the least I can do.

I will not pray for you, Hitch. I would not so dismissively insult your beliefs even if I did not, like you, have every reason to believe that prayer is a futile exercise. Though I think highly of you and am, as I write these words, thinking positively and hopefully about your health, I know that the power of any such sentiments resides entirely in how you choose to think of them.

I will not ask you to fight, but not because I would not prefer that you beat this disease. Quite the contrary, I hope you whoop its sorry ass and the genome it rode in on! It is just that I know you as a courageous fighter who will, as in all things, fight as long and as hard as you can – public opinion be damned! However, should the time come when hospice or a comfortable bed at home, surrounded by your loved ones, becomes preferable to any treatment, please remember that no one who matters will think the less of you for it. Death has a bravery only the dying can know.

I will not and cannot keep you in my consciousness any more than random thought or daily media reminders will allow; I have my own circle of friends and family whose concerns already demand much of my attention. Besides, though I am not privy to the details of your private life and can judge nothing of it, I would be surprised to learn that you did not have a large pool of family and/or friends constantly bolstering your morale with all the goodwill one man can handle.

What I can do is remind you to rest assured in the knowledge that your public life is a triumph and always will be. So many minds and, by extension, lives have been changed forever and for the better by the uncompromising character you have displayed in everything you have written and achieved. On behalf of atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers everywhere, thank you for a life well lived and so many worthy causes well championed. We hope you get the opportunity to continue living and fighting the good fight, for many years to come.

Yours in sympathy,

Buck O’Roon

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The Atheist Blogroll

“Losing It In Public” has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

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Descartes’ Charioteer

René Descartes gazed with awe

upon the Specter of Doubt

he’d raised, but wept when he saw

It swallow L’Esprit de L’Âge

in Its unremitting maw.

* * *

Enslaved then until his death,

he built It a chariot

christened “Queen Elisabeth”.

His face shone in the bright bronze

he’d polished with his own breath.

* * *

Yet heeding not causal force

nor giving just regard to

the Driver steering the course,

this daydreaming stable-boy

put Descartes before the horse.

* * *

“Je pense, donc je suis,” we’ve heard

and readily do agree –

denial would be absurd –

but did Descartes think to ask

how wonder itself is stirred?

* * *

Though “Cogito, ergo sum,”

Descartes wrote, he asked not why

Thought marches to Desire’s drum.

Sentio, ergo fio:

I feel, therefore I become!

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