Friday, April 29, 2011

Why is Sarah Palin on the Cover of the San Diego Reader?

I’ve been staying in San Diego for a month in between cancer operations. It’s a lovely city (see my write-up on it called “Paradise on the Left Coast” in the New York Resident in the November 2010 issue—the one with Brendan Fraser on the cover). It’s known for the best weather in the U.S. As a result, it has the prettiest and most numerous golf courses in the country.

People outside of the city may not know this but it has a thriving arts and cultural life. Many artists live in an area called North Park, which is as its name describes, north of the park around which much of San Diego circulates, Balboa Park. There are active studios with galleries, inexpensive tasty restaurants and cozy affordable homes geared to germinate creative types.

There are several free papers in the city, including funky night life City Beat and the San Diego U-T’s entertainment guide, Night and Day. But the Numero Uno free paper is the San Diego Reader. That’s where you find out whose giving an open mic poetry reading or which artist is in resident at the Lux. This week I was shocked to see Ms. (sorry, Mrs.) Sarah Palin dressed in a spiffy suit on the cover of the Reader photoshopped in the doorway of the Filter Coffee Shop with the headline, “The Fall of Western Civilization…at a North Park Coffeehouse.” The enemy combatants within are people armed with words, discussions and ideas which they flaunt at meetings twice a week. On Wednesday there’s Meeting of the Minds and on Thursdays there’s Civilized Conversations where adults come to talk about matters that extend beyond a computer monitor.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats Class

Literature, in particular Shakespeare, is my passion, avocation and the focus of my academic studies. But I find that The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats is particularly relevant for this time in history (the Zeitgeist, if you will).

I can offer a great class in-person with actual students, discussions and writing assignments which can illuminate our current predicament and point the way to global solutions. Grandiose, you might say. What have you got to lose?

Some ideas and deconstruction of the poem:

Proposal: Teach a class with “The Second Coming: W.B. Yeats” as centerpiece.

Can either be “Post-WWI Poems (T.S. Eliot?) or literature in general (Woolf, Hemingway).

Or can be put in context with the cataclysmic events occurring now (the uprisings in the Middle East, the environmental oddities such as hurricanes/tornadoes in U.S., the nuclear meltdown in Japan).

Or teach it alongside John’s Book of Revelation.

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre [Entropy; things become disconnected and further apart]
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; [the natural order of man to animal is upended]
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; [That which glues us together as the global community is spinning out of control; disaster has struck]
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, [WWI was thought of as the Great War; young people eagerly embraced it and signed up in droves; they were destroyed in mind and body]
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst [those who are thoughtful enough to protest hold back while the others, “the worst”, take control of human activity; we head for the cliffs]
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi [“Soul of the World”] Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man, [the Sphinx; an Egyptian pharaoh; posing the riddle for Oedipus-complex?]
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds. [Out of the desert where the holy men/prophets came; the beast/savior is angry, without pity for human folly moving inexorably toward its purpose]

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, [Christ was the nightmare referred to to in the poem; his name means "truth" in Greek; He disturbed the slumber of mankind with harsh truths]

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? [Discuss: Who was born in Bethlehem? Fearful retribution-the cleansing; redemption?]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Leading Lambs to Slaughter

In one of today's Op-Ed columns in the New York Times, Roger Cohen denounces Pastor Terry Jones for burning a Koran, which led to the murder of a Swedish employee at a U.N. Mission in Afghanistan. This is the same Terry Jones who threatened to burn a Koran back when the issue was the creeping threat of the Islamic Center near Ground Zero.

It's a brave and passionate article at a time when rational thinking is in short supply. For example, the budget debate, filled with absolutism (granted, not First Amendment absolutism) and annihilation of public funds for social programs that the private sector would never institute because they would not bring a profit.

But Roger Cohen may be wrong about condoning Jones' action under First Amendment absolutism. If Pastor Jones knew he would incite murderous retaliation, he should be considered an accomplice. Certainly, there is an exception in First Amendment law for provoking threatening or murderous behavior. It's called "shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theater." You can be prosecuted for putting lives at risk with your actions. I think burning the Koran qualifies.

Cohen suggests that Muslims have "work to do":

Muslims have work to do. They should have the courage to denounce unequivocally the Mazar murder. Jihadists have too often deformed a great religion with insufficient rebuke. From Egypt to Pakistan, it must be understood that Islam cannot at once be a political force and above criticism. Once you enter the democratic political arena on a religious platform, your beliefs are no longer a private matter but up for legitimate attack. Pakistan’s violence-inducing blasphemy laws are an affront to this principle.

There are political groups in America, like Operation Rescue, that utilize religious motifs to stir up their followers, often to murder abortion providers. He who is without sin can cast the first stone.

Inciting a mob to murderous rage, as was done in Afghanistan, is appalling and hideous. Let's not move to atavistic primitivism during desperate times. This is when we need cool heads the most.