About Corazon

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Shadowy Life of Robert Frost

If you were to ask the average person to name a 20th century poet, chances are that a large number of people would name Robert Frost. Frost’s poetry has become legendary in modern times. He holds a unique place in the pantheon of elite poets as one of the best (or at the very least most popular) of the modern era.

One of the many attributes that make Frost unique is his interpretation of nature. Unlike most people, Frost seems to be not only unappreciative of nature, but he also associates nature with sadness, as opposed to most poets/writers who view nature as a thing of beauty. For Frost, nature is not beautiful, inviting and warm, but rather a world of darkness and emptiness. In reading and comparing the poems “Desert Places”, “The Road Not Taken”, and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (two of his most popular works) one can clearly see Frost’s view of nature as dark, lonely, and cold. Frost’s depiction of nature is a result of his personal hardships that in turn define nature as dark, lonely, and cold but also give the reader the reassurance that eventually everything will be ok. By understanding this reality, one can come to a greater appreciation and understanding of what Robert Frost is trying to convey through poetry.

The best way for a reader of poetry to understand Frost’s poems is to realize that Frost himself was a man well acquainted with grief. Frost lost several members of his immediate family to death in various ways. His wife died in the middle ages of her life, and three of Frost’s children also passed away unexpectedly, one committing suicide. Losing so many members of his immediate family must have taken a toll of Frost and served as influential moments in his life that shaped his character. Along with losing so many people to death, Frost also saw one of his daughters and a sister, succumb to mental illness. Suffering such tragedies would surely affect the mind of any human being, and Frost was sure to reflect upon those experiences at length during his life. These events come to life throughout his poetry. His ability to use nature as an outlet for his grief is more than apparent, and as Frost himself stated, “I’ve never written a poem without a person in it.” 

Being that Frost was used to death and grief, it makes sense to see images of dark, lonely and cold places in his poetry. In the poem “Desert Places”, Frost refers to the darkness of nature in the first line when he writes, “Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast. In a field I looked into going past.” Frost relates the rapidly approaching darkness with the coldness of snow. The feeling of emptiness in this particular setting, and in Frost’s life, helps us understand the field Frost “looked into going past” as possibly looking back to better days.

The darkness of Frost’s work and its interpretation can also be applied to his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The ending of this poem states, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.” Here the image of a dark, snow-covered forest seems enticing to Frost. He appears to be longing to enter them, but then realizes he has “promises to keep.” What promises? Clearly this is left up to the interpretation of the reader, but can be better understood when taking Frost’s life experiences into account. Perhaps the woods serve as an escape from the painful realities of life. This interpretation would help to explain Frost’s realization of the promises he has to keep, and the miles he must go before being freed from the pains of his life. Frost could have been thinking back on the promises he had made to dying loved ones. Thinking on those promises then serve as the strength to avoid the woods, and to continue on the painful, but correct path.

In his poem “The Road Not Taken” Frost writes about a traveler coming to a fork in the road, and having to decide which route to take. He mentions how the traveler justifies to himself that he can take one rout and save “the first for another day!” This justification eventually gives way to reality when Frost writes, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back.” The traveler’s justification makes it easier for him to stay on the course that has been chosen. Undoubtedly, many readers will look to this passage (and this poem) and relate it to those individuals in life who have made good choices, which have made “all the difference.” Frost however, may have seen this differently. The passage might signify mankind’s ability to justify the decisions they’ve made, so that they are able to feel better about the things they’ve done. There is no doubt that a person who has faced grief and tragedy would reflect on such things.

Throughout these three poems the reader is able to see the picture of emptiness and loneliness that Frost has painted. There are however, reassuring tones that reach out to the reader and reassure him/her that everything is going to be alright. “In Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” Frost depicts the traveler as aloof in the world when he writes, “Between the woods and the frozen lake/ The darkest evening of the year.” Frost then mentions the fact that the traveler is not alone. The traveler’s horse, “gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake.” The reader may interpret the horse to be confused as to why they have stopped, but perhaps Frost was trying to say something else. The horse could have been trying to reassure the traveler that he is not alone, and that he (the horse) is also along for the ride. This reassuring interpretation helps the reader understand why the traveler continued on his way, instead of stopping at the inviting farmhouse.

This theme of reassurance after the darkness of nature is evident also in “The Road Not Taken.” In this poem a traveler comes to a fork in the road. After choosing which path to endure the traveler looks back on the journey, realizing that the path he/she has taken was the correct one. Frost takes courage in the conclusion of this poem when he writes, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference.” After all the struggles and difficulties of choosing and enduring a chosen path, Frost proves here how everything works itself out in the end. By taking Frost’s life experiences into account, the reader can better understand what a dramatic and fulfilling moment it must be to choose the road less traveled, and all that was learned on the way.

Robert Frost is no doubt a man defined by his personal sufferings. The fact that Frost had to learn how to deal with such tragedies throughout his life helps us to understand the motives behind his poetry. In all likelihood, had Frost not endured such hardships, there is a good chance that his poetry would have been much different. It was only through enduring personal trials that Frost was able to portray nature in its dark, lonely and cold elements. In the end however, Frost’s ability to come to terms with the difficulties of life, give the added reassurance in his poetry that everything will be just fine and, “that has made all the difference.”

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Reality of "Reaganomics"

We've all heard it before. Crazy uncles at family reunions, co-workers around the water cooler, and fellow worshipers you sit next to in your church's congregation all invoke his name. "I'm not a Republican" they say, "I am a Reagan conservative." The declaration is usually followed up by a lecture on the evils of taxation, government spending and the overly-complex economic policies of Washington. "Reagan was for the people" they say, as they speak his name with reverence and conclude with the petition: "I want my country back." Yes, it is safe to say that the most conservative elements of modern day conservatism have a love affair with all things Reagan.

Or do they?

As crazy as it might be to suggest, I maintain that most "Reagan conservatives" know next to nothing about the actual presidency of Ronald Reagan (I have blogged about it before here). Reality is that Ronald Reagan was far from your modern day Tea Party disciple. Reagan opposed torture, was against military action against terrorists, and actually supported amnesty for illegal aliens. But setting all of those points aside for now, I want to focus on what is arguably the most popular component of "Reagan conservatism", that being "Reaganomics."

If you were to ask your average Reagan disciple what "Reaganomics" or "Trickle Down" economics are all about, chances are you would hear a lot of rhetoric about cutting taxes, eliminating government oversight, creating jobs, privatizing industry, experiencing indescribably Utopian prosperity, yadda, yadda, yadda. In short, you'd get a lot of hot air with little actual history behind it, almost like a talk radio pundit. Funny thing about those political pundits, isn't it. They really don't like ACTUAL history, do they?!?

The truth about "Reaganomics" is that Ronald Reagan didn't have a whole lot to do with it. Ronald Reagan’s tax plan actually had its roots in the 1970s, with economist Arthur Laffer. Laffer originally drew up his ideas on a restaurant napkin and shared them with an advisor to President Ford. His idea outlined the obvious paradoxes that exist whenever tax rates approached 0% and 100%. Laffer suggested that raising taxes too high would reduce business activity, while lowering taxes would result in dangerously low revenue (really nothing all that profound, even to the layman). Ronald Reagan liked Laffer’s basic approach to economics, and consulted with him and others on his staff regarding how best to implement it. The difference, however, was that Reagan (unlike many on his staff) pushed for a much lower tax rate initially than did his advisers. According to many member of his staff, Reagan seemed to be oblivious to the idea of needed tax revenues, and enchanted with the idea cutting them. In David Stockton’s words, it seemed as though Reagan “had only the foggiest idea of what supply side was all about.” Stockton warned Reagan repeatedly that a large tax cut would spell doom to the national deficit, unless cuts in spending could be implemented. Even during the campaign of 1980 George Bush, Reagan’s opponent for the Republican nomination and eventual vice-president, called Reagan’s economic plan “voodoo economics.” Eventually, Reagan would realize the error of keeping such low tax rates in place, and as a result, raised taxes on four different occasions during his administration. Not exactly the type of facts you hear from self-proclaimed "Reagan Conservative" Sean Hannity!

Reagan’s economic philosophy embraced the idea that by lowering taxes, the people would end up with more money in their pockets. Reagan called his plan a “new beginning” for Americans, and a sure-fire way to economic recovery. This idea was, in part, fulfilled. While the majority of Americans experienced little or no actual economic prosperity, the top 1% of Americans blossomed. The net worth of the 400 richest Americans quadrupled under Reagan's presidency, and corporate CEO’s made, on average, 93 times as much money as did the common American.

While it is true that Reagan’s economic policy gave relief to the problems of the 70s (a fact that Republicans should be very proud of), Reagan also managed to impact the federal deficit as well, which soared from 700 billion to 2.7 trillion during his eight-year tenure. Reagan’s commitment to military buildup created a conflict with his desire to lower taxes. Many began questioning where Reagan planned to find the money. To increase revenue, Reagan signed legislation that created “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco (isn't Glenn Beck against those taxes?). Reagan also increased social security taxes, and forced the burden of funding various programs onto the states, who in turn raised taxes as well to fund the programs. In essence, “Reaganomics” was hardly the tax-cutting phenomenon that so many conservatives celebrate today. In fact, President Clinton had a lower tax rate than did Reagan!

Despite many of the problems he faced, Ronald Reagan should still be celebrated for the many successes he enjoyed. Though managing to raise the deficit, Reagan also helped the nation overcome the financial problems of the 70s, and build up a military that the Soviet Union was incapable of matching. Reagan’s ability to relate to the common man inspired many, who, despite never really benefiting from “Reaganomics” rallied behind their Commander-in-Chief. Reagan became the epitome of patriotism and American greatness. No matter how far the gap between the rich and the poor grew, he will probably be remembered, for many years to come, as one of America’s most beloved leaders, and as proof that a successful modern presidency, at least in the eyes of the masses, rests more with presenting a pretty picture than actual facts and figures.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Titanic's Final Words

On this day, 100 years ago, the HMS Titanic sank after striking an ice berg, taking with her the souls of 1,514 passengers and crew to a cold, dark Atlantic grave. The Titanic disaster has been deemed one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history. The ship, which was the crown jewel of White Star Line, was considered the first truly "unsinkable" boat in the world. At the time of her launch, Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Among some of her most popular luxuries, Titanic prided herself on offering its guests access to an on-board gymnasium, swimming pool, four libraries, a high-class restaurants and opulent cabins.

One of the most interesting of Titanic's luxuries was its high-tech, super-powered "wireless" radio transmitter, which afforded passengers (mostly upper class) the ability to send and receive Morse Code dispatches to and from the eastern United States, Great Britain and parts of Europe. The transmitter also had a practical benefit for Titanic's crew, giving them the ability to easily communicate with other ships on the Atlantic and receive up to date weather reports. Needless to say, the device was in great use on the night of Titanic's horrific tragedy. For us today (especially on this day) these Morse Code messages provide an interesting and compelling narrative of Titanic's final hours and the struggle that her passengers and crew faced as the reality of their fate became more obvious. These messages, which read almost like an early 20th century version of Twitter, are the final glimpses that historians will ever have into the last moments of life for both Titanic and her human compliment. It therefore goes without saying that these messages deserve the interest and the reverence of all who read them.

Titanic's chief radio officer was a 25-year-old man named John (Jack) Phillips. On the surface, the job of a radio operator might appear somewhat boring, since most radio traffic consisted of monitoring weather reports and other dispatches from ships at sea. Titanic, however, was quite different. Jack was also responsible for meeting the needs of passengers who wanted to communicate with friends and family. This kept Jack quite busy and engaged with some of the most prominent of Titanic's compliment. For just 12 shillings and sixpence for the first 10 words, and 9 pence per word thereafter (a substantial sum in 1912, although not for a First-Class passenger) Jack Phillips or Harold Bride (Titanic's deputy radio officer) could send a message roughly 2,000 miles away.

But none of Jack Phillips' experience could have prepared him for what he would endure on the night of April 15, 1912. At approximately 11:40 P.M., Captain Eward Smith received the first reports that Titanic had struck an ice berg on its starboard side. It took the crew an additional twenty minutes before they could assess the actual damage done to Titanic, but once the truth was discovered, Jack Phillips became the most important man on board.

The following are some of the actual surviving Morse Code transcripts between Titanic and responding vessels. They serve to illustrate just how real and tense this tragedy was for those who participated in it, and the efforts made by those (like Jack Phillips) who tried to save Titanic's human compliment. I have added my commentary and explanations of the transcripts in bold, otherwise everything else comes from the transcripts that were made 100 years ago today:

12:14- Titanic: "C.Q.D., C.Q.D., C.Q.D. This is MGY. This is MGY. This is MGY. Position 41.44 N. 50.24 W.
***"C.Q.D." was the Morse Code sign for distress that was implemented by the Marconi International Marine Communication Company. The letters stood for "Come Quick Distress" or "Come Quick Drowning." Even though "S.O.S." had become the accepted international sign of distress in 1908, many radio operators still used "C.Q.D." out of habit, especially when Marconi communication equipment was being used, as was the case on Titanic. "MGY" was the official call sign for Titanic.***

12:15- La Provence, Mount Temple, Cape Race and Frankfurt receive Titanic's first distress signals.

12:18- Titanic: "C.Q.D., C.Q.D., C.Q.D. Position 41.44 N. 50.24 W. Require assistance."

12:25- HMS Carpathia: "Do you know that Cape Cod is sending a batch of messages for you?"
***The Carpathia was eventually the ship which arrived to save Titanic's remaining surviving passengers. Ironically, Carpathia herself was sunk on July 17, 1918, the result of a German U-Boat torpedo during WWI.***

Titanic: "Come at once. We have struck a berg. C.Q.D. Position 41.46 N 50.14 W."

Carpathia: "Shall I tell my Captain? Do you require assistance?"

Titanic: "Yes, come quick. Are you coming to our assistance? We have collision with iceberg. Sinking. Please tell Captain to come."

12:27- Titanic: "I require assistance immediately. Struck by iceberg in 41.46 N. 50.14 W."

12:34- Titanic (to Frankfurt): "Are you coming to our assistance?"
Frankfurt: "What is the matter with you?"

Titanic: "We have struck an iceberg and sinking. Please tell Captain to come."

Frankfurt:"O.K. Will tell the bridge right away."

***This type of exchange between different ships continues for nearly an hour.***

1:51: Titanic issues its first S.O.S. message. HMS Frankfurt responds, "What is the matter with u?" Titanic replies: "You fool, stdbi and keep out."
***It is obvious from this exchange that stress is mounting on Titanic. Frustrated at the Frankfurt's reply, Phillips becomes hostile. This exchange also highlights some of the struggles that different crews had with distress calls. The "C.Q.D." warnings from before did not trigger as big of a response as did the "S.O.S."***

1:52- Titanic: "We are putting passengers off in small boats. Women and children in boats. Cannot last much longer. Losing power," said the Titanic as the situation grew ever more desperate. This is Titanic. C.Q.D. Engine room flooded."

1:55- Virginia hears Titanic calling very faintly, power being greatly reduced. Titanic reports to Virginia: "The Captain visits the wireless room for the last time and says: 'Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Abandon your cabin. Now it's every man for himself'"
***Phillips refuses to abandon post***

1:56-2:15: Several ships receive faint messages from Titanic but are unable to get a reply through.

2:17- At this point, Titanic is beginning to lose power. Water has flooded the engine compartments and is even beginning to fill up in the radio room. There are a series of messages that Titanic is able to get out (along with several replies from other ships) but some of it becomes jumbled in transmission. Eventually, Jack Phillips and his partner, Harold Bride, are forced to abandon the radio room. All transmissions from Titanic cease at 2:17 with the final message being "C.Q.D. MGY", a final plea for help. Jack Phillips was last seen climbing the rooftop of Titanic's radio tower in a desperate attempt to make it to an inflatable life boat. Hypothermia, however, had already severely limited his physical abilities. Jack Phillips' body was never recovered.
And though the story if Titanic is esteemed by most as a terrible tragedy, it can and should also be appreciated as a tale of human endurance in the face of certain death. For the 1,500+ souls who perished together, their death reminds us all of the frailties of our mortal existence. But it also reminds us of how bravery, true bravery, when facing one's ultimate demise, is worthy of our reverence and respect. I'm sure that even after another 100 years passes away, Titanic will still be remembered as a story of tragedy, but hopefully, and more importantly, of human bravery.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jon McNaughton: Bringing Hate to a Canvas Near You

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably well aware of just how polarized American politics has become. It seems that you can't look anywhere these days without seeing some sort of a political spin applied to even the most mundane of daily activities. Everything from Dr. Seuss movies to Christmas trees has become fodder in the never-ending, supercharged, back-and-forth drama that is American politics. The 24/7 media blitz of talk radio and cable news seems to have only exacerbated the problem, as pundits spew hateful rhetoric that depends less on journalistic integrity and more on sensationalized entertainment and doomsday predictions. We have become a society where we prefer to listen to the man/woman yelling at us the loudest through their microphone instead of considering the quiet, steady reflections of level-headed and thorough thinkers.

But this rhetoric isn't limited exclusively to the spoken word. Though political rhetoric does depend greatly on the vocalization of a particular viewpoint, artwork too has an important seat at the table. Whether taking the form of cartoons, posters or campaign ads, the visual image is arguably the most effective and important arrow in the quiver of both partisan and politician. An inspiring painting, a poignant photo, a stirring motif, all have the ability to rouse the soul to higher (or lower) levels of thinking than almost any discourse or poem could hope to accomplish. As the saying goes, a picture really is worth a thousand words!

And sadly, some “artists” have embraced this reality to the point of virtual insanity. Case in point: Jon McNaughton. My Mormon friends are probably more familiar with McNaughton's ilk...er..."art" than are others. As a devout Mormon, his "art" is often a feature in stores like Deseret Book and (until recently) the BYU Bookstore (that is, until BYU became too "liberal" for the uber-sophisticated McNaughton and banned his crap). To put things as simple as I possibly can, Jon McNaughton is a troubled individual. He has taken what I would consider to be a truly remarkable gift (painting) and used it for nothing more than to make a series of cheap, lame, classless, tasteless, mindless, heartless, pointless, idiotic, rude, obscene, hateful and downright pathetic pieces of political propaganda. See for yourself:

Of course, for some, this "art" probably seems like an appropriate summation of "reality." To those of such sentiment I will simply say this: I don't begrudge you your right to your own political views, nor to I deny the fact that Mr. McNaughton has some real talent, but please, for the love of Karl Marx, QUIT BELIEVING EVERYTHING YOU HEAR ON THE DAMN RADIO!!! For once in your life, set your political beliefs aside and consider the following: 1.) Is Jon McNaughton's "art" uplifting in any way, shape or form? 2.) Is Jon McNaughton's "art" the type of stuff that invokes peace and harmony? Or does it breed anger and contention? 3.) Would Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Theresa or any other remarkable person of great character choose to hang Jon McNaughton's "art" in their home? Or would they not even give it the time of day? If you can answer "yes" to any of these three questions, then chances are you probably hate my humble little blog for its "socialist" leanings and have already de-friended me from Facebook for being an evil fascist. That's ok, no hard feelings. Chances are you haven't even read this far into my post anyway, so you won't have the chance to hear me say, "I just won the Mega Millions jackpot and want to buy you a new car!"

The truth of the matter is this: Jon McNaughton is not the problem, but is the SYMPTOM of the problem. McNut...er...McNaughton is the end result of a society that has diluted its political discourse to little more than short, apocalyptic soundbites bent on spreading fear and hate for the "other guy." McNaughton's "art" is essentially a fancy political bumper sticker that tells the world, "My political views are better than yours. Na-na nana boo-boo" Simple-minded men like McNaughton are easy prey for all of the Limbaugh's Hannity's and Beck's of the world. They feel the "call" and begin their "quest" to "save" America from all that is evil in society, which, coincidentally, just happens to be everything found on the other side of the political isle. This is how they can justify creating "scary" pictures of evil, liberal Black presidents burning the Constitution, destroying our freedoms, and receiving the heavenly rebukings of Jesus Christ and our Founding Fathers (while, of course, those of conservative leanings are showered with the gifts of eternal life and always being right). American politics at its best!

We live in a world where religious fervor and political passion are virtually synonymous, so much so that it can be difficult work to separate the partisan politicians, priestly pastors, and philosophical professors from one another. And this convoluted mess has created a labyrinth of confusion that makes almost any sincere political discourse virtually impossible. Any rational or thoughtful inquiry is rendered completely helpless to the impenetrable wall of the prideful partisan mob mentality. This is precisely where Jon McNaughton resides. He is not a critical thinker. He is not a valiant voice crying in the wilderness. He is a bitter, hateful, silly little man. This may sound too harsh or hard but that's ok. I'm sure that Mr. McNaughton is familiar with the verse from the Book of Mormon which states: "the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center." Besides, most hate-mongers rarely if ever realize that they are hate-mongers. They see themselves as brave voices of change who are misunderstood by the "evil" majority of their day. In addition, they usually rationalize their hate by appealing to religion as a justification for their actions (i.e. the KKK, Civil Rights opponents, etc.) But these weak appeals to religion serve as nothing more than temporary salves for their cankered souls. Hate, no matter how it is camouflaged, will always be hate.

In conclusion, if given the chance to meet him face-to-face, I would simply say to Jon McNaughton's the following: Don't give up on your passion for politics. Don't give up your religion. Don't give up on your amazing artistic talent. But please...PLEASE spare us this pointless nonsense. You have everything to lose and nothing to gain with the "art" you have produced as of late. As a professional artist, I am guessing that you are probably familiar with the RIDICULOUS work of one Andres Serrano. If not, let me introduce you to him. He is the IDIOT "artist" who created the "Piss Christ." The "Piss Christ" is a picture of a crucifix that was submersed in the artist's urine. According to Serrano, the purpose of the "Piss Christ" was to "get people thinking" and to "question what we believe." Shockingly, this pile of nonsense was even sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Not shockingly, the public saw the "Piss Christ" for what it really was: cheap shock value nonsense masquerading as sophisticated "art."

And though you haven't urinated in any of your own art (more like vomit than urine), isn't your political "art" essentially the same thing, Mr. McNaughton? Like Serrano, didn't you also say that the purpose of your "art" was to "get people thinking." Aren't you just wielding your brush as a weapon of mass DISTRACTION that does nothing but piss people off? You may have avoided urinating on your art itself, but you have certainly pissed all over President Obama. Again, I don't begrudge you the right to your political views. You are entitled to believe what you want to believe. But is that really what you want to call the fruits of your amazing talent? If so, I pity you. But, if not, I look forward to your other art...your REAL art. The good stuff that I would be more than happy to display in my home:

“In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights, either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe, and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them, therefore, as you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.” -Thomas Jefferson