Reader Mail

An Inspired Profession

Regardless of one's profession -- Hal Colebatch explains what makes a poet. Also: Saving for health. Round 3 of replies to Ben Stein. Plus more.

1.29.07

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THREE MEALS AND A BED
Re: Letters (under "Tennyson, Anyone?") in Reader Mail's Patriotic Poets Society and Hal G.P. Colebatch's Where Have All the Poets Gone?:

My article on poetry produced some very interesting responses, and I feel a couple of them are worth comment. One stated:

"Face facts folks! Poets like all of the rest of America need the basics such as food, shelter and water. Any poet that dares write a 'patriotic' poem would be scorned out of existence, relegated to the trash heap of history and would not be allowed even, to sweep the floors of any university, let alone be recognized, in modern day America. They would be forced to sell match sticks on street corners, in bare their feet, during a subzero cat 5 blizzard in order to survive."

The point is well-taken that patriotic or conservative poets would face the hostility of the establishment by being abused, denied a soft life of tenure on some leafy campus or simply ignored in the journals and reviews. Yet equivalent disadvantages did not stop many of the great poets of the past, conservative or otherwise, who made their livings in all sorts of ways, and when there was no social security. As the Australian poet A.D. Hope wrote, in "Conversation with Calliope":

The towns that strove for Homer dead
To build him a memorial
were those where Homer begged his bread.
There never was an age at all,
Gave poets three meals and a bed ...

Goethe was a professor-administrator, Villon a pick-pocket, Whitman a loafer, Chaucer a civil servant, T.S. Eliot a banker and company director. Kipling spent his first seven working years as a reporter on a small Indian newspaper (where the type-setter praised his poems as "very good, Sahib," when they neatly filled a blank space at the bottom of a column). There is life for poets beyond a college campus. One of Australia's major lyric poets, John Shaw Nielson, was a farm-laborer and road-mender, and half-blind to boot, while the bush balladist Banjo Paterson, author of "The Man from Snowy River," was a Sydney lawyer.

Today the "basics of food, shelter and water" are not hard for a person with brains to find, and a good poet has to have brains anyway. On the other hand, I know of very few if any major poets who emerged from, or even survive immersion in, the easy, cosseted life of university creative writing schools and departments. Poets, like other creative artists, should not expect the way will be easy. J. K. Rowling, not exactly a poet, but a considerable creative artist, wrote the first Harry Potter stories in cheap Edinburgh cafes, existing on a supporting parent's pension and trying to keep out of the cold. Eric Hoffer, a considerable American philosopher and intellectual in the better sense, worked as a longshoreman, and there are many other examples. Conservatives, of all people, should not be ashamed of getting jobs in the real world. Yes, they would often be abused, conspired against and/or ignored by the left cultural establishment, but genuine quality has a way of very often coming out despite this.

I do agree that some moral, emotional and other support for poets is necessary if they are to succeed, as are publishing opportunities and mechanisms (which self-publishing on the Internet etc. lacks) for quality-control. I appreciate the poems which some readers have sent in, but it cannot be said that they are widely known -- which illustrates another aspect of the problem. (Well, I guess they are a bit better known now!)

What we are looking at, perhaps, is a whole systemic failure of cultural conservatism, and in other arts as well as poetry. This is much worse, I think, in countries like Britain and Canada than in the U.S., but is a problem everywhere. There is no reason conservatives should not be artists in the widest sense. Obviously the government/university has supplanted the private patron. The poet of the past who wrote to please a private patron had to at least please someone. The poet who writes to gain a government grant or "creative writing" chair now only has to have the favor of his or her own cronies (or "peer group") sitting on some committee (and those on both sides of the table know their positions could be reversed next time round). Remedying this is not simple, but one thing needed is private patrons of intelligence, taste and discrimination. Who knows what might happen if some conservative philanthropist or culture-warrior with good literary taste, imagination, intelligence and adequate capital, set up a good-quality conservative poetry magazine?

Another problem I have identified from the Internet is that poetry is being taught very badly at schools.

Thomas E. Stuart's letter is certainly eloquent, and echoes thoughts I and certainly many others have had from time to time. Yet I think it is really overly pessimistic. Look at the huge successes of The Lord of The Rings, the Narnia stories, even Star Wars and Harry Potter, as well as countless other works (including, as another correspondent pointed out, a lot of country music). It is still stories of patriotism, heroism and the celebration of traditional values that are the most successful, and for which there is a huge appetite. I guess that is another way of saying that our societies are still full of decent people. But is some ways they lack a voice and an inspiration.
-- Hal G. P. Colebatch
Nedlands, Western Australia

ASK NOT
Re: Philip Klein's The Candidate:

"The best way we remain safe and we retain our freedom... is remaining on offense, remaining strong and not becoming weak in a time of pressure." As memorable sayings go, it's not exactly "Give me liberty or give me death!" but it'll do. Why will conservatives et al. support Rudy? He loves the country. Hillary? Well, it goes something like this; Rudy loves the country for what it has done for him, Hillary loves the country for what it can do for her! And, that's not exactly JFK, but you get the drift.
-- Mike Showalter
Austin, Texas

WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
Re: David Hogberg's Better Late Than Never:

I certainly agree with Mr. Hogberg's view of Bush's tax reform on health insurance. I am a practicing physician. I just dropped my employer-provided healthcare. I had an employer-provided policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, covering myself (age 57), my wife (age 60), and son (age 22, in grad school). My monthly premium for healthcare was $1427.46. My employer covered $375.00 of that premium. That left $1052.46 that I paid monthly (withheld from my paycheck) with no tax benefit at all. My employer would benefit to the extent that the $375.00 was tax-free to the employer, although my employer is a non-profit organization, and I am not sure of their tax status regarding this. I am in a 28 percent tax bracket, so I would have to earn close to $180,000 a year to pay the $12,629.52 yearly premiums. I just cancelled my employer-provided policy and obtained a Health Savings Account policy, on my own, for which I pay $507 monthly premium ($6,084 post tax dollars, or about $8,500 pre-tax dollars) for a $5,000 deductible health plan, and am allowed to put $6,450 yearly tax free in a health savings account, with a tax savings of $1,806 per year, making my net savings with all tax consequences included about $5,000 a year. In addition, I keep whatever portion of the $6,450 I put in my savings account, plus accrued value. Thus I may benefit by up to about $1,145 a year. You can bet I'll be thinking hard about every healthcare dollar I spend. As a physician, I have an advantage. I won't be going in for an MRI to assess my benign positional vertigo, for example, which my patients often demand, because I know it's self-limited, and not a brain tumor. Interestingly, I asked my employer to continue to provide the $375 a month that was being paid on my traditional policy, but my employer adamantly refused. It was my employer's way or the highway. I took the highway. Perhaps more risk, but also greater potential financial benefit. I will not be ruined financially, as my costs are capped by the deductible.

Further, with Bush's tax proposal, if I understand correctly, I would be eligible for reducing my taxable income by $15,000, which would provide $4,200 of additional tax relief, which would go a long way toward offsetting the $6,084 I pay for premiums for my high deductible policy. I would be paying out of pocket then $1884 of premiums, plus $6,450 to my savings account, tax advantaged to be only $4,278, for a total annual expenditure of $6,162, of which I could possibly retain $6,450, making my potential net expenditure a negative $288.

I stand a chance of actually making money on my insurance policy! Better me than Dr. McGuire (recently forced out CEO of UnitedHealthcare, who received about a $2 billion retirement package, after back-dating his own options). I won't, however, pass up my follow-up colonoscopy, or my wife's mammogram and bone density study, and I will keep taking my cholesterol medicine, so my savings would not be quite so great.

Exercise and diet, however, are free. My family is quite healthy, and thus would look on this system as a godsend financially. My wife and I will potentially have an account from which to help pay Medicare deductibles and co-pays when we retire (although even at our ages, we are doubtful of Medicare solvency when we retire). Had we been doing this all of our lives, we likely wouldn't need Medicare coverage. I'm certainly hoping that my son won't, as I am fairly certain Medicare will not be viable when he hits 65, or 67, or 70, or 80...or whatever the coverage age is in 40-50 years. The benefits have been vastly overpromised by unscrupulous politicians for too long, and will continue to be so.

One advantage for me would be if the deductibles on the high deductible policy were allowed to rise, so that as I accumulate resources in my savings account, my premiums paid out of pocket would fall. When I had $20,000 in our savings account, I would like to increase the deductible to $20,000, and thereby reduce my monthly premiums, which would make the system even more financially beneficial to me. If I had expenditures out of my savings account, depleting the balance, the deductible could fall again, etc., but be adjusted according to my balance in the account. Maybe some Congressperson will advance such legislation.
-- Kent Lyon

STAND-UP GUYS
Re: John Tabin's The Long Shot Compulsion:

In spite of (and maybe because of, too) a rather eccentric run for the presidency, you have to love Mike Huckabee. During his first years in office, when his opponents derided him for not raising taxes enough, he set up an Arkansas government account called "Tax Me More!" Anyone who wished could send in more money. He didn't get many takers.

People like Governor Huckabee, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden are wonderful comic relief. I love these buffoonish politicians who take themselves SO seriously!
-- Judy Beumler
Louisville, Kentucky

BORN SNIPING
Re: James Bowman's Wise Guy Webb:

What can you do but shake your head at those poor old donkeys? In political and other discourses, they seem to know few other cards to play than the "we're right, you're wrong" one. Impugning others' integrity is something they also seem to find irresistible.

They've got a dreadful sense of timing, too. Handed an opportunity to show true leadership to the nation and they do what? Squander it with Webb's indignation and self-righteousness. That vindictive junk's got no place in solving problems or unifying our country -- and if they can't offer anything insightful then they should be silent.

Things could've been worse, I guess. Webb could've looked squarely into the camera, scowled and, while pointing his finger at the camera, said to President Bush: "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" Who knows: Maybe the Dems and their allies are reserving that for their next national opportunity to really show us what leaders they are and what fresh ideas they have?
-- C. Kenna Amos
Princeton, West Virginia

James Webb has pulled off a remarkable accomplishment: providing Virginia a senator worse than John Warner.
-- R. Trotter
Arlington, Virginia

NO GREATER LOVE
Re: John Renehan's Of This World:

God bless you and your fellow soldiers, Lt. John Renehan. Do know there are many of us out here who support fully your noble mission and understand the concept of moral victory; and thus are humbled by your absolute sacrifice in achieving this goal.

My prayers are that you and your brothers and sisters in comrade come safely home to your love ones and the respect and honor you so valiantly deserve.
-- Joellen M. Arrabito
Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey

TELL IT LIKE IT IS
Re: Ben Stein's The Lynching of the President and the "Lynch Protection Extended" letters in Reader Mail's Patriotic Poets Society:

I cannot agree more with your statements! I think media went too far! I don't remember the last time I actually watched any morning or evening news. I too wish that the war in Iraq should be over soon. But if we have to, we have to be there as long our leader (who obviously knows much more than I do) thinks it is necessary. Good work! I enjoyed reading your article. Thanks.
-- Junehee Kwon, PhD, RD, LD
Associate Professor
Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences
Texas Woman's University
Denton, Texas

The "Lynching of the President" was WONDERFUL! Thank you, Ben Stein!!
-- Rosie Dion

It has been difficult for me to feel supportive of our President while being in disagreement with policies and decisions that have come out of that office. However, I am not a politician, nor do I feel I have enough facts or input on our foreign or domestic affairs to espouse an educated opinion. I was very appreciative of Mr. Stein's viewpoint as he declared plainly that which I have been struggling to verbalize. Thank you, Mr. Stein, for a very thought-provoking article.
-- Rose Helphinstine
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

You are right on target with your comments regarding the president's speech. Thank you for your insight and thought provoking comments.

I am a 68-year -old grandmother who has watched the savage treatment by the press and wondered if others perceived the threat posed by the left-leaning media.

Hillary Clinton is right when she says there are "no do overs" in this very dangerous situation in which we find ourselves. It is also true, if Bush is right and we come out of Iraq as weak cowards, apologists, divided at home and abroad, there will be "no do overs" to the response and retaliation of these terrorist groups and nations.

Al Gore is a disgrace to himself and the nation with his speeches and spectacle created overseas. I wish these politicians would not take it upon themselves to speak for "the American people". We spoke when he was not elected to represent us.

I for one, support the President. Has he made mistakes? Of course, is he covered with shame? No, he is out there fighting for our survival and doing his best to alert the American public to the threat we face? I believe he is and I believe he has a helluva a lot more courage, fortitude, and foresight than our "cut and run" politicians on both sides of the aisle.

I do not like war! Who does? I do love peace! Who does not? At what cost do we buy peace? I side with Patrick Henry and his answer.

Our lax immigration policy is changing the face and the character of our country. Our voting booths are filled with fraud and we need some changes. We shrink from real change in the name of political correctness.

I will die, but I don't think I like the legacy left by this generation to my grandchildren.

Wake up, America! The good times are over. Support our country!

God Bless Ben Stein for telling it like it is.
-- Rose Beckerwerth

This may sound like a sacrilege, but, candidly, I rarely take the time to read Ben Stein; he's normally seemed quite predictable. So I suppose it was to my detriment that I'd missed his last missive.

Yet, Jim Bono (his last paragraph was dynamite!), Mark Fallert's letter, and the Gene Wright (sure he didn't play bass with Brubeck?) contribution were right on the proverbial mark -- echoed my sentiments exactly on the disaster we have in the White House and an unworthiness of deserving sympathy. Face it, Bush has been a total catastrophe for the Republicans (along with their wimpy Trent Lott and the Porkish Ted Stevens, et al.).

And, as dingy as Jim Webb may be, he sure nailed it with the word "mismanaged" regarding Dubya's handling of that Iraqi mess. Should'a been over a few YEARS ago.

Your readership is often more perceptive than your columnists who too often defend the indefensible (exceptions might possibly include Seitz and Grossman types).
-- Geoff Brandt

I just read your article. I liked what you had to say. I agree 100 percent with you. The press lynched President Nixon, caused us to lose the Vietnam War, and with Scooter Libby, Abu Ghraib, on and on, they will cause us to lose in Iraq. Not because it is right or because they want us to lose, but just because they hate Bush. It is terrible when individuals are willing to truly "cut off their noses to spite their faces." Sad, very sad!
-- Butch Armstrong
Universal City, Texas

Just a note to let you know that I really appreciated the article Ben Stein wrote on Jan. 25, 2007. He is right on. I certainly agree with him and will e-mail others about this article. We need patriotism in this country desperately and Ben Stein is a great American for speaking up. Thank you.
-- Lois Good

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