THE EXISTENTIALIST GAZELLE (A Fable)

THE EXISTENTIALIST GAZELLE 
(A Fable in the Manner of Bierce)

Having thought things through, an Existentialist Gazelle approached a Lion.

The Lion, who was resting in the shade, roused himself from his near-slumber. He was surprised to see the Existentialist Gazelle standing in front of him.

“What can I do for you?” said the Lion politely, for he was a Noble Beast.

“I’m here to be eaten,” said the Existential Gazelle.

“I beg your pardon?” said the Lion.

“I’m here to be eaten,” the Existential Gazelle repeated. “I know it is my eventual fate to be your prey. I accept this, but frankly the waiting is causing me great anxiety. I would rather take command of my destiny, and so here I am.”

“But I just ate your cousin a couple of days ago,” said the Lion. “I’m not hungry yet.”

The Existential Gazelle had nothing to say.

“And besides,” the Lion continued, “I can think of nothing more unappetizing than killing someone who isn’t running away from me as fast as they possibly can. The hunt is the best part of the experience. Now please, return to your herd and let me resume my nap. I suggest you focus on enjoying each moment, and stop worrying so much about the future. It will come soon enough.”

The Existential Gazelle bowed his head in respect, for he saw the wisdom in the Lion’s words. He backed away slowly, and then turned and bounded quickly across the veldt.

The Lion’s stomach grumbled, and he rose to his feet.

“Ah, now, that’s more like it,” he said to himself. And took off in pursuit.

THE SONGS OF BLIND PEANUT NICHOLSON

Just to make a canonical list for further reference… These are the country songs written by my distant cousin, Blind Peanut Nicholson of Possum Claw, Arkansas… We might be able to look forward to some kind of output from the man one of these days…

  1. Trouble, Trouble, Trouble
  2. I Must Be The One That’s Dead
  3. De Facto Divorce
  4. If You’d Been Thinkin’ What I’ve Been Thinkin’ (You’d be Drinkin’ Too)
  5. Never Go Down to the River (With the One You Love)

THE RISING SEA

(Inspired by the People’s Climate March, 21 Sept 2014)

I built a castle in the beach sand
Patted it down with my tiny hands
I watched the waves knock at its door
Soon it was not there anymore

Now we build castles aimed at the sun
So unaware of what we have done
Never a care for what might be
Have we unleashed the rising sea?

Let us go down to the rising sea
We must go meet the rising sea
All of us – you and you and me
Now we must face the rising sea

Nature has laws that cannot be crossed
Fragile balances forever lost
Cannot avoid her penalties
We must embrace the rising sea

Let us go down to the rising sea
We must go meet the rising sea
All of us – you and you and me
Now we must embrace the rising sea

Now there is nowhere left to run
No way to win by bomb or gun
We cannot appeal, there’s no clemency
We must give ourselves to the rising sea

If we would have a planet to save
We must become a part of the wave
Washing away what should not be
Let us become the rising sea

Let us go down to the rising sea
We must go meet the rising sea
All of us – you and you and me
We must become the rising sea

That’s Just the Way It Is

The representative from Tau Ceti IV had brought his own chair, one that was more accommodating to his elongated, six-limbed figure. The noise of the riots raging outside the gates of the White House could be heard faintly, but neither the representative nor the President paid them much mind.

“Our oxygen?” the President was saying. “You came here for our… oxygen?”

“Yes,” the representative replied. “Just the free atmospheric oxygen, you understand. We could hydrolyze your oceans, of course, but that takes more time and energy than we find profitable. We’ll just extract what we need for our purposes and be gone.”

“But – ” the President stammered. “that would mean – “

“The immediate extinction of most of your aerobic land-dwelling species. Including yourselves. Yes, we understand that.”

“Then you also understand that we will defend ourselves!”

“That is why we began our relationship by destroying your planet’s highest mountain ranges, Mr. President. We wished you to immediately understand the futility of your situation, and spare you needless effort. We also understand that you might desire a bit of time to reconcile yourselves to your various deities. You have something we want. We are by far the more powerful; therefore, we get to take what we want. It’s the fundamental rule across the Galaxy, as you well know, as basic as gravity…”

“We know no such thing!”

“Really?” The representative seemed quite surprised. He leaned his carapace in towards the President, his multifaceted eyes staring intently into the President’s face. The President felt his life – no, not his life – the history of his country, indeed his species, flashed before his eyes. Aboriginal peoples, nations, entire civilizations, bulldozed into the maw of Progress, time and time again.

“We have studied your history, sir. We thought you understood perfectly.”

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: THE UNENDING WAR

Maybe you remember: it was a beautiful Tuesday morning, clear and sunny. I had spent a couple of early morning hours training with my martial arts teacher, and I was headed home to start in on my day’s obligations for my telecommuting job. I stopped at a health food store in Hamlin for a beverage – and it soon became clear that something was not right. The radio was tuned to NPR and the newspeople were still on the air, though it was now way past the time for the morning news programs.

And what they were saying made no sense.

“What… happened?” I asked the clerk.

She looked at me with a strange expression. “The World Trade Center… the towers are gone,” she said. “And the Pentagon’s been attacked.”

There was not much else to say. She rang me up, and I headed towards Honesdale. There was no flood of cars on the road, no indication of panic or a disaster. My very first thought, my main concern at that moment, was simple: “Is the Internet still up?”

Somewhat surprisingly, it was – and it didn’t take long to learn what had transpired while I was training. I had been spared the live sighting of the impact of the second plane, the one that made it obvious what was happening, the one that ripped apart all our preconceptions and let us know that we were now in a strange new world. The first plane to hit the towers could have been a fluke, a horrible accident, a tragic coincidence – but that second one spoke of planning, and malicious intent, and the possibility of more to come.

Thus began one of the worst periods of my life, and probably of yours.

But for some people, it was a glorious moment. I’m not just speaking of Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the other terrorists of al Qaida. I am speaking of the people called “neoconservatives,” for whom the 9/11 attacks were nothing short of a Godsend.

The neoconservatives were (still are, though you don’t hear the term used much anymore, not in polite company at least) a group of foreign policy experts (including, among others, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz) who were strongly influenced by the writings of a fellow named Leo Strauss. A good introduction to those ideas can be found in a 2003 article by Danny Postel called “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neocons, and Iraq.”

The neoconservatives did not see war as something to be avoided at all costs; indeed, they regarded it as actually beneficial to society. In its absence, Strauss argued, societies become too concerned with being comfortable – and turn weak, ineffectual, and decadent. (The profits to be realized from defense outlays are just so much icing on the cake, of course.) So 9/11 provided just the kind of energizing “Pearl Harbor moment” that the neocons thought America needed. “If we just … wage a total war,” Richard Perle wrote, “our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”

This fact has to be kept in mind when you hear people calling the “War on Terror” a “failure.” Consider the possibility that the goal was in fact to create a situation of perpetual war – if so, then the neocons have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. All the so-called “blunders” of American policy in the Middle East, during the Bush Regime and after, from Abu Ghraib to drone attacks, actually make perfect sense: they have succeeded in keeping the region unstable, creating an unending stream of resentment and hatred towards America and the West, and guaranteeing that for generations to come someone will have good reason to come attack us.

If you want perpetual war, after all, you need a permanent and reliable supply of enemies.

O Cassandra

Cassandra was a princess of Troy
with a face of such beauty and joy
that the great god Apollo
decided to follow
her though she was reluctant and coy

(chorus)
O Cassandra… poor Cassandra

While plighting his troth one dark night
he gave her the gift of the Sight
yes, he gave her the power
to gaze through the hours
and what she saw gave her a fright

(chorus)

Cassandra knew what fate awaited
the mortals that Olympians dated
so she took her chances
and spurned his advances
but jilted gods get quite frustrated

(chorus)

“You foolish girl, what have you done?
“Denying the god of the sun…
“My gift I won’t revoke
“But I’ll make it a joke
“Henceforth you’ll be believed by no one…”

(chorus)

And so it went on through the years
her prophecies fell on deaf ears
till a horse at the gates
sealed the poor Trojans’ fate
and confirmed her very worst fears

(chorus)

Agamemnon claimed her as his own
She said “You know, when we get home
“A most deadly surprise
“Will flash in front of your eyes
“For you’ll find that your wife’s not alone…”

(chorus)

It all happened just as she’d said
Clytemnestra struck them both dead
But as she fell to the ground
She uttered one final sound
“I TOLD YOU SO” is all she said…

(chorus)

Cassandra, I know just how you felt
No one wants to see the cards they’ve been dealt
Now the oceans are rising
And it’s not surprising
No one wants to believe that a planet can melt

(chorus)

School Lunch: Who’s Holding the Bag?

The “What’s Cooking” column is a weekly feature of the newspaper I work for, the Wayne Independent in Honesdale PA.  Members of the staff take turns writing the column, and this week (8/27/2014) it’s my turn. We don’t archive this column to our website, so I thought I’d reproduce it here for you…

WHAT’S COOKING: SCHOOL LUNCH – WHO’S HOLDING THE BAG?

For some reason, when I was a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of soups, especially tomato-based ones. So one day, when some hearty chock-full-o’-vegetables concoction was the lunch du jour at my little Catholic school in Florida, second-grade me objected.

I raised quite a fuss, apparently; I believe words like “I demand an alternative” got thrown around a bit… Needless to say, the nuns were none too pleased by my defiant and ungrateful performance.  I mercifully have no recollection of the exact nature of my punishment, but I am sure that extended contemplation – not to mention forced consumption – of said bowl of soup was involved.

Nowadays, of course, things are a bit different.  School nutrition specialists – you know, the lunch ladies – are bending over backwards and tying themselves in knots, bless their slotted spoons, trying to provide meals and snacks that (a) are sufficiently nutritious, (b) fit within tight school budgets, and (c) kids will eat without physical coercion.  The problem is that most foods seem to fit into at most two of those categories.

Complicating matters is the degree to which politics – and profits – have become involved in what should be a fairly straightforward process. Surprisingly enough, usually practical and disciplinarian conservatives (who back in the day would certainly have supported the right of the nuns to make me eat that soup) are now backing the rights of kids to exercise their freedom of choice in lunch lines and at vending machines, while also trying to whack millions off school lunch budgets.

First Lady Michelle Obama and her admirable “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity have (with the best of intentions, mind you) presented school nutritionists with difficult-to-navigate schedules of daily allowable dosages for fats, sugars, and salt.  (You can get an idea of what they’re going through by going to www.projectpa.org and checking out the “Smart Snacks in Schools Webinar.”)

Budget considerations are driven by commodity prices, which depend on the subsidies in the Farm Bill passed by Congress (under the strong influence of agribusiness and the processed food industry) – subsidies that frequently result in lower prices for the less nutritious foods while making the good stuff more expensive.  As food writer and activist Michael Pollan says in his article “You Are What You Grow,” “The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow… The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.”

So in the face of all this craziness, what are parents of school-aged children to do? In a recent conversation, Karen Carlson, Food Services Director for the Wayne Highlands School District, pointed out the obvious place to start: setting good nutrition examples at home. “If kids are throwing away apples, that’s not a behavior they’re being taught in school,” she says.  Her colleague Barbara Zeiler at Wallenpaupack Area School District agrees: “The education process has to start at home and we need to get back to basics. Families need to garden and/or support local farmers; prepare nutritious foods together; and eat together as a family unit.”

Experts also suggest discussing nutrition choices with your kids, and getting them involved from the beginning in planning – and making! – their lunches.  Encourage open-mindedness in trying new and unfamiliar foods.

Sarah Wu, blogger and author of FED UP WITH LUNCH, suggests five ways that parents can improve school lunches by getting involved: (1) Starting a school wellness committee; (2) Rallying for salad bars; (3) Requesting ingredient transparency; (4) Fighting to increase eating time; and (5) Encouraging nutrition education across the curriculum. (All three Wayne County school districts have wellness committees, by the way; information is available at each district website.)

The school lunchroom has always been a place of barely controlled chaos – but now it’s also a place where a number of critical social issues collide. What happens there not only affects our children’s health and ability to learn – and hence their future effectiveness as citizens and workers –  it’s also connected to our management of the economy and the environment, and shows us just how willing we really are to “promote the general welfare” as our Founders intended. Whether as parents, students, or citizens, we all need to educate ourselves on the issues involved and make our voices heard.


 

And in the meantime, there are all sorts of resources on the Net for making lunches that are both interesting and healthy.  Here’s an easy and clever idea, for example – a RAINBOW LUNCH BOX: Create a colorful assemblage of red strawberries, orange carrots, yellow strips of cheese, green celery sticks, and blue corn tortilla chips!

And here’s another that sounds right yummy – HAM AND CHEESE MUFFINS:

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup ham, chopped fine

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the first 5 dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs, oil and maple syrup and stir to combine.
  4. Add the buttermilk to the egg mixture and stir.
  5. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour and stir until just combined.
  6. Fold in the cheese and ham.
  7. Scoop the batter 2/3 of the way up into greased muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes (15 minutes if using mini muffin cups).