Monday, January 19, 2009

Organ Trafficking (not the fun kind)

January 19, 2009

It is Martin Luther King Day. He is a personal hero of mine. I can't watch his "I have a dream" speech without getting electric shivers and wet eyes. It is also one day before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The historical significance is not lost on any of us. Change is palpable. It is as if a stranglet has escaped the Large Hadron Collider and is spinning, infecting and consuming all rational matter. It's damned exciting. I made my satellite-high expectations clear for Mr. Obama's speech in my last blog. We're all waiting for the national policy, health care, and economic reforms to come. However, I'd like to appeal for one more change.

America must stop all illegal organ trafficking.

Not the change you expected me to appeal for? In Newsweek on January 10th, Janeen Interlandi reported in her story "Not Just Urban Legend" that human organ trafficking has made its way to the U.S. of A. It's a very informative article and I highly recommend you read it just for the horror factor.

I'm just going to cut right to the chase. There is severe tension in the system. As of 3:28 PM EST, there are 78, 197 people on the kidney transplant waiting list. In many parts of the U.S., the wait for a cadaveric kidney can be up to 10 years with a national median waiting time close to six years. The average patient on dialysis lives 5-7 years. Not very promising. Add to this the fact that a donation from a living person can extend the life of a transplanted kidney from 11 years to 19 years. This creates all the conditions for a thriving black market. Indeed, that's what happening. What's shocking is that some surgeons and transplant centers are pretending not to notice and do not ask questions a when a living donor emerges from thin air and doesn't speak English. I can tell you from personal experience that transplant centers review donor candidates rigorously. So, to turn a blind eye is deliberate. Why on earth would they do this? It is simple really; no one wants to see someone die waiting for an organ transplant.

The ethics here are complicated and not as black and white as they might appear. The basic question is...what would you do to stay alive? Especially if you have the means to pay. Is this fair to those that don't have the means? In contrast, if you are desperately poor and have no hope to improve the life of your family, what do you do? The world endlessly debates the right for people to treat their bodies as commodities without resolution. I must remind you that I am just at the beginning of this journey so I can't pretend to know the abject desperation a person must feel as their life dwindles away waiting for a transplant. I also live in a rich country. I have no idea what it is like to go hungry or have little hope for the future. However, I think it is important to take a stand based on my personal ethics.

Here it is: organ trafficking is evil and repugnant. I would rather die than deprive another person of their opportunity for life. I would rather die than exploit another who has no alternative means.

You see, I also have a dream. I have a dream that the world will wake up and the rich and poor will be treated equally. I have a dream that people will sign up to be donors in order to make sense of what could be senseless waste. I have a dream that healthy and generous heroes exist and will continue to give the gift of life. I have the dream that you will join me and sign up to be donor at

As for me, I will wait for my turn and hope to live.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Words Matter. Context Matters More.

January 14, 2009

I admit it, I have high expectations. When Barack Obama takes the oath of office next week and gives his inaugural address, I expect oratory fireworks. I expect words that spark and pulse and burn hot across the curtain of history, setting the damn thing afire. I expect to oooh and ahhh and let the embers slow fade into my memory. This occasion demands greatness and so do the people.

Narrative has a fascinating article called, "First Words: The Best and Worst of Inaugural Speeches." It's ironic and prescient. I highly encourage you to take a look. Just a taste:

George H. W. Bush, January 20, 1989

There are times when the future seems thick as a fog; you sit and wait, hoping the mists will lift and reveal the right path. But this is a time when the future seems a door you can walk right through into a room called tomorrow.

...and apparently a recession and the first gulf war

George W. Bush, January 20, 2001

We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors.

...he told us his agenda in the first few lines of his inauguration.

Words matter, folks. They really do. However, using beautiful or powerful words out of context just makes you a jackass. This brings me to Rod Blagojevich, the soon to be ex-governor of Illinois.

Literary Douchebag of the Week

Allow me to rant here. This Chia Pet-haired and clay-brained doofus did the world of poetry no favors this week. After the Illinois senate voted to impeach him, he held a press conference. The content of the press conference was laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But he really pissed me off, when at the end of the press conference, he delivered his parting shot. He quoted the classic poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson. He took the ending of the poem out of context and used it as a defiant rallying cry for his continued fight against his usurpers. Disgraceful.

If you haven't read this poem, you should. It's amazing and you will immediately find it familiar. In the context of the poem, Ulysses is near the end of his life. He finds ruling tedious and recognizes that his skills are a poor fit for the job. He proudly passes his kingdom on to his son, Telemachus. Ulysses is wistful and reminiscent of his times as hero. He rails against the indignity of old age and death. He craves to set sail for one final adventure with old friends. How is that for a little context? It's certainly not a rallying cry for an embittered and corrupt public official. I guess co-opting a classic poem is small change for a man who'd sell a senate seat to the highest bidder.

Just a warning, poetry is not a cloak of invisibility that you can hide behind. Poetry is an invisible cloak that reveals what's within.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Poetry Sucks!

January 5, 2009

Does the video below reflect your opinion of poetry?

Ah, the slow motion raspberry. I bet many of you found this little video to be vastly more entertaining than a poem. Former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser writes in his book "The Poetry Home Repair Manual" that "of every one hundred readers of The New Yorker, ninety-nine prefer the cartoon over the poem." Sound familiar? I can feel you shaking your heads in agreement. Why is this? And as a poet, why on earth would I bring this to your attention?

There are many long-winded arguments, erudite laments, and detailed analyses of the "state of poetry," but I think it comes down to this...ninety-nine percent of you are stupid.

No. Wait. That can't be right. (insert winking smiley face here)

Serioiusly, how many times have you read a poem and said to yourself, "I don't get it," or "what the hell does this mean?" Does the word "Poetry" give you a flashback to high school and some dreaded English teacher droning on about a symbolism and the art of interpretation? The truth is that reading poetry is too much damn work for most people. There are many faster and transparent ways to communicate experience.

The problem is that poets forget about audience. They write to themselves or for the benefit of other poets. Don't get me wrong, there are a few folks out there who pride themselves on their ability to get to the core idea of a poem no matter how difficult it is. However, I'm here to tell you that a poem shouldn't be a puzzle. Good poetry is not designed to make you feel stupid. Does this mean I believe poets should dumb down their work? Of course not. I'm just advocating that poets need to work a little harder to meet the reader half-way.

The best poems offer an alchemy of intimacy between the reader and the poet. Let me explain. It's like cooking. How many times have you followed a recipe to the letter? If you are like most people, not very often. If you're making roast chicken, you may modify any number of ingredients based on your preferences, dietary needs and life experience. You may reduce the salt, use fresh rosemary and lemon thyme, cook the bird upright on a beer can or with root vegetables and other's up to you. At the end you'll still have roast chicken, but it will reflect a combination of the recipe, your experiences and choices.

In the right circumstances, the poet's carefully chosen words combine with the reader's experience and imagination. This creates a unique experience that reflects nuances of the human condition and complex emotions that are hard to replicate in other art forms. A good poem that connects with a reader can change their perception forever.

Here's a good example of a beautiful short poem by former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Strand. It's called "The Prediction." I think this poem is accessible yet very rich and reflective. Enjoy.

Do you hate poetry? Let me know what you think.