Why The Lion King Rules

Having descended into the political realm last week, this time I will do a sidestep shuffle into, well, actual realms, as in kingdoms. In thinking of crowns and thrones, though, we move out of our ordinary day-to-day-ness into something grander. (I am currently taken with this shirt, a nice world map with hidden buttons. Wearing the world, a new concept.) When the original movie version of The Lion King came out in 1993, we watched it over and over, on tapes of course. Not as often as An American Tale, but that’s a different story. We learned that Simba means” lion” in Swahili, and hakuna matata (no worries) entered the parlance. James Earl Jones voiced Mufasa then too, following his uncredited voicing of another famous dad in Star Wars.

The new film is good, amazing to watch with live animals that are CGI real, and it falls into that delightful niche of Rotten Tomatoes with low rankings from critics (55%) and high from audiences (88%). The discussion often alludes to Shakespearean influences from Hamlet, but I see other possibilities as well: Penelope from The Odyssey remains faithful to Odysseus just as Sarabi does to Mufasa even when Scar insists she relent and marry him. Or, Simba as Prince Hal, later Henry V. I can think about that later, but I promise it works better than Hamlet.

Back to thrones. I’ve seen them a lot lately. Seven empty ones become important in Shazam! Billy Batson and his crew only fill six, but no one knows why. Four occasionally-occupied thrones in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Of course, the Iron Throne from a recently ended series has been destroyed, so I’m thinking I can remain the last person in America not to see even two minutes of “the best television ever.” Linguistically, it’s related to the word dharma, which is Sanskrit for “law.” Perhaps even more than a crown, it represents power.

In The Lion King, however, there are neither thrones nor crowns, no scepters, no swords in stones, no globus cruciger (yes, you’ve seen it—the orb and the cross, here carried by Queen Elizabeth II during her coronation, where she would leave it on the altar). None of that. Just the mandrill Rafiki holding up newborn cubs and anointing them. The action does prompt bowing from the other Pride Landers, an action I find uncomfortable, but you’ve heard about that already when I wrote about the Queen in April 2017, or not. This is the point of the Circle of Life, however. Mufasa tells Simba, “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.” Ant to antelope, clever, that. He also reminds his son to “Remember who you are.”

So, lions are kings, naturally. Perhaps it comes from their regal bearing. Perhaps from their position on the food chain. Perhaps their mighty roar. (Apparently people like to listen to these on YouTube; here’s one with 9.5 million views. Worth watching.) These days most of our spiritual culture comes from super hero movie quotations: You are much stronger than you think you are. With great power comes great responsibility. In a world of ordinary mortals, you are a wonder woman. Do or not do; there is no try. (Quiz yourself on these. If you disagree that the last one isn’t a super hero, we can talk.)

Finally, of course, it comes down to family. That’s what these stories are all about. It may be all that any literature is about, how a family deals with life and loss, love and life. The Lion King could be better, but days after its release, the audience I was in did applaud.

Tare Weight: Whataboutism vs. Ifthenism

Tare weight is a term I learned recently when a particularly picky grandson needed to weigh his ingredients for breadmaking. Cup or spoon measuring wouldn’t cut it; we had to get out the scale and adjust out the weight of the container. The scale has a spot to choose that option, so it was easy. Another term is “unladen weight,” which is also easy. Imagine, then, a container being X-ed out as flour or salt or water goes into it. Now, imagine that principle metaphorically: The container becomes the standard in which all things are measured. Blind justice, if you will. Hold that thought for a moment.

Some time ago, I wrote about logical fallacies. How 2018. Today I want to elucidate one particularly pervasive candidate: Whataboutism. It has a Latin name, as these things do, tu toque, which simply means “you too.” If you’ve been in an argument and never said “What about…?” then you are a better woman than I am. Nothing is more satisfying than sniffing out a hypocrite, and we all think we are succeeding when, if fact, we’re just logical fallacing.

However, the approach contains a lack of mental energy that transcends hypocrisy. Someone put up a shot of Trump and Putin talking about election interference, with the assumption that “many of you are ho humming about this as well.” I’m not sure what the “as well” refers to, but I’ll wager some (I dare not speculate “many”) people are ho humming the heck out of negative news about the president. Why not just let the news be news and not comment on its reception? Apparently, that is no longer the American way.

The past few weeks we have had a number of stories which inspire one side or the other to launch into a “Well, what about …?” That word “inspire” makes me sad because the actual stories are anything but. A mere two weeks ago, news broke that Jeffrey Epstein once again broke sex trafficking laws in Florida and New York; his Wikipedia page describes him as “a registered sex offender and financier.” Great. He ought to have been in prison a decade ago, but no: he was rich and connected politically. His arrest took down the Secretary of Labor as well when Alex Acosta resigned days later. Two people of note were his friends, at one time or another. Both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump—no surprises here—jetted with him about the nicknamed “Lolita Express.” No need, then, to say “What about Clinton?” when confronted with the news, or vice versa.

The best article on this iteration of whataboutism comes from Kyle Smith. Here he writes about not just Epstein but also Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, not just Hugh Hefner but also Brooke Shields. His scope is much broader than mine, asking his readers to recall the media largely ignoring the historically ignored transgressions and manipulations surrounding the rich and famous and connected genius class which ignored more conservative moral considerations for decades.

A race to the bottom ensued when President Trump decided to tweet about the Democratic “Squad” as people who should leave the country if they can’t love it. It’s hard to say where this ended, either in a rebuke to him when the House voted along party lines to condemn his language or a failed move to impeach him, in articles filed by Rep. Al Green. A parallel quickly emerged when Rep. Ayanna Pressley said her party (D) “doesn’t need any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.” Rather than weigh in on its racism or lack of it, I’d suggest this line of thinking encourages identity politics rather than unity. Or, more simply, she may just want people to think a certain way.

What I want to introduce now is the term “Ifthenism.” Going back to our tare weight, we need to consider a set of principles on which we can all agree. Some ideas are obvious: Women and girls ought to be safe from sexual predators. Prejudice is wrong. Liberty for all. With the basics in place, we can then consider circumstances without retreating to echo chambers. Without ho humming. Without name-calling, and worse. If you’re going to condemn an evil, then it can’t matter who commits it. The understanding must continue from incident to incident. Republicans can condemn racism, for example, and did so roundly against Rep. Steve King in January 2019 when he lost all his committee assignments and received a House rebuke following racist comments. With virtually unanimous agreement.

It’s not that I have much hope that my plan will be adopted. Trust is generally lost. Both sides engage in ad hominem attacks. Rather than sing a chorus of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” I’ll suggest you listen to this version at an interfaith gathering with Pope Frances or this one with Gladys Knight. It’s not a personal favorite, or a Christmas carol. But I can get on board with its sentiment: Let it begin with me.

Sweet Is the Work

Ups and downs. We all have them. So does music. For Easter, we learned that the hymn “Joy to the World” is not a Christmas song at all. Jarring, I know, but true. It is, however, a descending scale. You don’t need to read music to see that in this example, ignoring please the fact it is called Christmas music. Isaac Watts wrote a hymn that is an ascending scale, which you can view or hear in several forms here or hear performed here in a very short instrumental version. The title, “Sweet Is the Work,” holds particular meaning this week: It sort of saved my life.

Pain has many forms but can usually be divided into either physical or emotional. I was reminded this week how much work and effort go into child rearing. There’s the feeding, the cleaning, the dressing, the correcting, the chasing. Not to mention the worrying, the caring, and the hugging. Some parts require endurance, others stamina, others sheer determination. If you are in the middle of it, more power to you. If you are past it, well, you know you never really are, emotionally anyway. I’ve written about worry several times, so enough said on that. The sore feet and aching ankles and throbbing knees are actually easier.

When a friend asked me how I was this week, I told her about those aches and pains. I had been trying to see how she was doing, but as so often happens, I was given more than I offered: She said, “Grandchildren are a lot of sweet work!” My spirits were immediately lifted. Yes, they are work, but the memories of laughter (and tears and bloody noses and spilled drinks and misunderstood questions) will not fade.

Many years ago, I was in an interview when I was also asked how I was. My response let loose a stream of awful. Work was hard, the family was rough, and money was bad. My face had broken out because of all the stress, to the level of needing Band-aids. The interviewer took an unusual tack and replied, “What makes you think you’re different from anyone else?” It could have stung, but that insightful comment also saved my life. “Nothing,” I said, and understood, and never endured another face breakout.

People. The world is full of them, and most of us/them are trying to care for them/us without always meeting much success. And it hurts sometimes. People’s words and actions can wound, intentionally or not. The descending arc of life brings its own sadness, apart from intent. As the elderly fail—what an odd word, come to think of it—much work must also be done: the feeding, the cleaning, the dressing, the worrying, if not all the rest. It’s not failing in the first sense of not succeeding but in the second, of ending, stumbling. On reflection, this work is sweet as well. A three-year-old adds so much humor, lacking with the older adult in my life, but I think the sweetness comes from the sense that at least I can provide care and comfort, even with the bittersweetness that this time will end and that I too will one day probably need some kind of care.

So, thank you, friend, for helping me see something more than exhaustion this week. You sent me soaring.

How Cruel Is Your God

The thing about writing is this: Ideas have minds of their own. I didn’t want to write a poem particularly. Wrestling a bit with the title, it insisted on being in the form we find it. My current goal is to be able to read it aloud somewhere and have my readers become listeners.

In the grand scheme of this title, too, is the thought that those who don’t believe in a big g God still worship something. It has seemed to be that the little g one is cruel and gives them nothing and takes away all hope. I once read Cormack McCarthy’s The Road. Perhaps you did, or saw the movie. If you haven’t, please don’t: Most depressing thing ever ever ever. I felt a sickness in my psyche for months after finishing it. Inexplicably, it won the Pulitzer in 2007. Now, I’m glad to hear what most anyone says in a post-apocalyptic novel or movie, but in this one, there is no life, no future, no God. The earth is not only destroyed; it is also forsaken. I will not give you any details, because some are, sadly, unforgettable and the grimmest examples of depravity I’ve ever read. If you find that intriguing, go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

From that to the constant degradation of life all around these days, from my eternal hopeful nature to the sadness of those who don’t have such, comes the observation that everyone worships something—and if your venerated thing robs you of hope, then I find that cruel indeed.

How cruel is your god:

From nothing you came, edging, moving

partially-realized electric pulses

sentient biochemical disturbances


reacting to stimuli

millennia onward until appendaged

ganglia unbound yet triuned reptilian

wriggling toward


Then, as nothing

unfettered unmoored


now you must believe this

now that

logic dictates

worshiping science conscience

worth less


Finally: Not knowing, the fading out

going going gone

blinking into nothing, blind

ending ceasing stopping

neurons silent at last, dark


no thing



What fear is there in nothing?

All fear.

Who matters?

Never mind.

Inflicted affliction

All for nothing.


Cruel, your god.

Turn. Turn away.