Wednesday, January 31, 2007

 

Jury by Peers

As a law student, I spent a semester interviewing jurors in death penalty cases as part of Texas' Capital Punishment Clinic. I was regularly surprised by the heuristics that jurors used to assess guilt. Most often, jurors stopped listening to the defendant's story because elements of it were not part of their everyday, middle-class life. Some statements I heard: "What kind of person is hanging out in a park at 2:00 a.m.?" "What kind of person hitches a ride to Dallas with someone they just met?" The oddest shortcut I witnessed was a woman who told me that the defendant was probably guilty because his dad was in jail. When I asked her why she thought his dad was in jail (he wasn't), she said that they let him out of jail to testify, and he was in his jail uniform. Unfortunately, he was in his highway construction worker uniform.

More...

 

We Approve

Snitching made easy.

 

An Obstacle to Peace

While much was made of the United Nations decision to establish a Human Rights Council last year, those who've witnessed the evolution of this institution are well aware that the UN was designed by and functions to serve the interests of modern states and their supplicants, not the ancient nations they rule. For those attached to charitable organizations like Human Rights Watch and other pashas of the piety industry, this is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.

In commenting on the difficulties of Fourth World nations like Palestine and West Papua to develop independent of colonial structures like the UN, Dr. Rudolph Ryser--Chair of the Center for World Indigenous Studies--recently remarked that, "Where a people lacks the ability to develop politically, they remain unable to advance their own social, economic and human rights. The age of colonialism has prevented the emergence of politically strong Fourth World nations…the UN Human Rights Council promises to permanently lock these nations into a cage of political subjugation."

Looking at Israel--a state created by the UN--and its ongoing human rights abuses toward the indigenous peoples of Palestine, we can see how the UN has actually been an obstacle to peaceful political development. By acceding to American demands for crippling economic sanctions against Palestine, the UN has undermined their ability to manage their own affairs, in turn creating the desperation and humanitarian crisis to which cynical NGOs often cater.

In a recent post by Dr. Mona El-Faraa of the Palestinian Red Crescent, she observed that, "Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was a step towards making an independent Palestinian state impossible. Its consequence was to turn the Palestinian cause into a charitable not a national issue."

Not mincing words in his commentary, Dr. Ryser stated, "The UN Human Rights Council stands as one of the significant obstacles to dynamic political development in the Fourth World. Many individuals and the peoples they represent in the Fourth World have come to believe that the UN Human Rights Council will relieve their pain from the violence of colonialism. It cannot, and it will not."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

 

Colonies Empires Nations States

My fellow associate, Marc A. Sills--in this comprehensive essay from Fourth World Journal--puts the Global War on Terror in perspective.

Monday, January 29, 2007

 

Target of Resentment

Yielding to ethnic minority demands for self-determination, many of Europe's centralized governments have over the last three decades created a system of local home rule. In contrast to the political passivity, nonresistance, and resignation of most Americans to centralized state malfeasance, ancient nations such as Basques, Scots, Welsh, and Catalunyans have rejected subordination to this form of unjust domination.

With the exception of Native Americans, there is little resemblance to the European regional diversity movement within the United States. This is not to say, however, that there is no dissatisfaction amongst the American majority, only that the disaffected have yet to define an effective remedy for the malign neglect of their corporate state. Functioning in essence as a criminal enterprise in which taxation without representation has become institutionalized in central state structures, the US Government is a huge target of resentment for the millions of Americans without healthcare, jobs, pensions, or access to quality education; it remains only for them to articulate and act on these grievances.

The part intellectuals have in the process on both sides of the Atlantic is to help develop a conscious sense of self and the right to participate fully in society's affairs. By elaborating in the present a more worthy identity, they can help transform social frustrations into positive values that underpin future social movements for economic opportunity, educational attainment, and social advancement.

 

Pursuit of Happiness

Canadian Lefty talks about the suppression of collective joy.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

 

Thirteen Days

Reg Gadney's Cry Hungary: Uprising 1956 is an intriguing photo chronology of the thirteen days of freedom, when ordinary people seized a window of opportunity against all odds. The spare, factual narrative--while allowing the photos to speak for themselves--somehow suits the tone of the uprising: people were fed up, and required only the faintest glimmer of hope to muster the will to risk all for freedom.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

 

No Justice No Peace

If Jane Fonda, Medea Benjamin, and the black flag color guard are the best the anti-war industry can muster, then maybe UPJ should drop the peace part and get on with the war for justice.

Instead of another moo-cow march, maybe they ought to consider occupying capitol hill with Quakers and Catholic Workers for a month--try bringing our war-mongering Congress to a halt. Maybe then they'd get half the attention Bechtel, Boeing, and Lockheed arms merchants get when they show up there.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

 

Reading for Pleasure

(This list is updated regularly.)

African Queen-- C.S. Forester
Ceremony-- Leslie Marmon Silko
Black Eagle Child-- Ray A. Young Bear
The Primal Mind-- Jamake Highwater
Down a Road all Rebels Run-- Mogue Doyle
Solidarity's Secret-- Shana Penn
Soldiers of Salamis-- Javier Cercas
My Name is Light-- Elsa Osorio
A Writer's Reality-- Mario Vargas Llosa
The Business of Fancydancing-- Sherman Alexie
Woven Stone-- Simon J. Ortiz
The Lovers of Algeria-- Anouar Benmalek
Just Passing Through-- Paco Ignacio Taibo
No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency--Alexander McCall Smith
House Made of Dawn--N. Scott Momaday
The Savage Detectives--Roberto Bolano
The Insufficiency of Maps--Nora Pierce
Chemistry and Other Stories--Ron Rash
In the Country of Men--Hisham Matar
The Lying Days--Nadine Gordimer
Young Men and Fire--Norman Maclean
In the Skin of a Lion--Michael Ondaatje
A Book of Migrations--Rebecca Solnit
Half of a Yellow Sun--Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Mali Blues--Lieve Joris
The Archivist's Story--Travis Holland
Tipperary--Frank Delaney
In the Shadow of the Mountain--Edwin G. Hill
The End of the Hunt--Thomas Flanagan
Airman's Odyssey--Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Zoli--Colum McCann
The Gypsies--Jan Yoors
Five Times Maigret--Georges Simenon
The Mule--Juan Eslava Galan
Night Train to Lisbon--Pascal Mercier
The Killing of Major Denis Mahon--Peter Duffy
The Wild Trees--Richard Preston
The Counterfeiters--Andre Gide
The Lazarus Project--Aleksandar Hemon
Sarajevo Blues--Semezdin Mehmedinovic
A Feeling for the Organism--Evelyn Fox Keller
The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo--Paula Huntley
Billy Budd--Herman Melville
The Silence of the Rain--Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Lost City Radio--Daniel Alarcon
Borderlands--Brian McGilloway
The Small Boat of Great Sorrows--Dan Fesperman
Raven Black--Ann Cleeves
The Ghost Walker--Margaret Coel
The Trophy Exchange--Diane Fanning
The Cellist of Sarajevo--Steven Galloway
Voice of the Violin--Andrea Camilleri
The Handmaid's Tale--Margaret Atwood
A Dead Man in Barcelona--Michael Pearce
The Walking People--Mary Beth Keane
Captain Alatriste--Arturo Perez-Reverte
Schemers--Bill Pronzini
The Dangerous Hour--Marcia Muller
The Wreckers--Bella Bathurst
The Reindeer People--Piers Vitebsky
This Human Season--Louise Dean
Blood of the Wicked--Leighton Gage
Full of Money--Bill James
Zulu--Caryl Ferey
The Midnight Choir--Gene Kerrigan
Total Chaos--Jean-Claude Izzo
Black Mamba Boy--Nadifa Mohamed
The Herring Seller's Apprentice--L.C. Tyler
Collusion--Stuart Neville
The Brass Verdict--Michael Connelly
The Sorrow of War--Bao Ninh
Ghost Light--Joseph O'Connor
Open City--Teju Cole
The Damned Don't Die--Jim Nisbet
The Maltese Falcon--Dashiell Hammett
The Far Side of the World--Patrick O"Brian
The Basque History of the World--Mark Kurlansky
Nemesis--Jo Nesbo
Frozen Assets--Quentin Bates
Vendetta--Michael Dibdin
Lord of Misrule--Jaimy Gordon
Listening to Country--Ros Moriarty
Silence of the Grave--Arnaldur Indridason
The Inner Circle--Mari Jungstedt
The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam--Chris Ewan
The Vagrants--Yiyun Li
State of Wonder--Ann Patchett
The Welsh Girl--Peter Ho Davies
The Truth Commissioner--David Park
The Man on the Balcony--Per Wahloo
The Girl Who Played with Fire--Stieg Larsson
Another Time, Another Life--Leif GW Persson
The Lemur--Benjamin Black
Murder in the Latin Quarter--Cara Black
Liberation Movements--Olen Steinhauer
Shipwrecks of the Pacific Coast--James A. Gibbs
Sleepwalking Land--Mia Couto
The Nightmare--Lars Kepler
The Round House--Louise Erdrich
Savage Coast--Muriel Rukeyser
It's Not a Pretty Sight--Gar Anthony Haywood
Negative Image--Vicki Delany
Lost--S.J. Bolton
Saints of the Shadow Bible--Ian Rankin
Bad Blood--Arne Dahl
All That Is Solid Melts into Air--Darragh McKeon


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

 

Attacking Church and State

During the first five years of the current Christian fundamentalist regime in the US, we heard much mention by neoliberals of the need to maintain separation of church and state. What we did not hear much of, however, was the need to curb the disproportionate powers of both.

Presently, in Canada, the government is systematically dismantling First Nations through so called "self-government treaties." We also see increasing evangelical activities by Christian and Muslim activists in the South Pacific, Mexico, Sub-saharan Africa and in Central Europe.

If the traditional cultural systems of indigenous peoples are to survive being undermined by these interventions of church and state, we, as humanitarians, are going to need to address both of these institutions and the threat they pose to freedom and democracy worldwide. The evils they continue to perpetuate demand more than a tepid response.

Monday, January 22, 2007

 

Subverting the Spectacle

Arvin Hill discusses blogging as a medium.

 

Honorable Mention

J. Alva Scruggs contributes his perspective on our current project.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

 

Anchors and Incubators

What impressed me most about cooperatives I associated with was the ability to function as an incubator of cottage industry. They naturally formed affinity groups within a fluid milieu that had both cultural as well as political dimensions while providing food and shelter.

They were not collectives where people lived together and had to negotiate those social aspects, but they did serve as a model and resource for cooperative housing, community gardens, and a free university. As a very profitable non-profit, the food store we started remains the anchor of social experimentation in the community--providing meeting space, grants, and food to unincorporated groups of activists that emerge from time to time in response to various unmet social needs.

I think the ability to focus one's energy is what makes this model effective.

Friday, January 19, 2007

 

Essential Allies

The origins, and continuity, of American Indian rights to self-government are not well-understood, but are extremely important to contemporary American Indian communities. ...Most Indian communities derive their social and political institutions from creation teachings. ...not necessarily out of nothing as in the Christian world origin teachings, but creates a new order and purpose out of existing elements such as land and water. The world is set in order so that the people can live and maintain relations with the plants, animals and cosmic powers in the universe. ...

The roots of American Indian self-government autonomy [as such] do not derive from American law or from treaties, but precede the treaties and the formation of the U.S. Constitution. American Indian nations are not parties to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore not part of the original consensus that is American government.

When Indian nations negotiated treaties with European colonies and later the United States, the Indian nations assumed positions of political and government independence. When Indian nations negotiated treaties recognizing U.S. dominion starting in the 1790s, the tribes were not agreeing to U.S. powers over culture and government, but instead were agreeing to become allies to the United States against other foreign colonial powers such as the British, French, Russians and Spanish. In these agreements, the Indian nations retained powers of self-government that are recognized by the United States to have existed from time immemorial. The Indian nations are giving up a right to negotiate with foreign European colonial powers, and in return, the United States provides protection to the Indian allies against foreign invasion. ...

Today there is much talk about tribal sovereignty; but while the term is used as legal means to protect jurisdictions of Indian nations and other rights, it is not a term that is easily translated to Indian communities from its European origins of centralized political organization based around the divine right and powers of European kings. ...

Indian communities maintain commitments to kinship and culture that do not reflect the way of government of the United States, but often are guided by the values and visions of tribal ancestors and teachings. Self-government and the roots of American Indian national autonomy originate and remain grounded within the values and cultures of Indian communities.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

 

Stupefied

It will be a sad waste of spirit if these persons become ciphers, if they allow themselves to be channeled into quantitative, lowest-common-denominator political projects — tediously drumming up votes to elect “radical” politicians who will invariably sell them out, collecting signatures in support of “progressive” laws that will usually have little effect even if passed, recruiting “bodies” for demonstrations whose numbers will in any case be underreported or ignored by the media.

If they want to contest the hierarchical system they must reject hierarchy in their own methods and relations. If they want to break through the spectacle-induced stupor, they must use their own imaginations. If they want to incite others, they themselves must experiment.
...
Regardless of their ostensibly radical messages, alternative media have generally reproduced the dominant spectacle-spectator relation. The point is to undermine it — to challenge the conditioning that makes people susceptible to media manipulation in the first place. Which ultimately means challenging the social organization that produces that conditioning, that turns people into spectators of prefabricated adventures because they are prevented from creating their own.

[ From The War and the Spectacle by Ken Knabb ]

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

 

Learning to Listen

Afghan women speak for themselves.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

 

Ways and Means

What I attempt to generate in my writing or speaking engagements is a discussion of what people value personally, and then ask which, if any, of our established institutions is currently meeting those needs. For those that are not being met, we can then ask why, and begin to examine alternative ways and means of addressing them.

Once people feel free to imagine new social arrangements and political relationships, they are no longer restricted by the limitations of state-sanctioned civic activities such as voting, jury duty, or partisan campaigning. As an exercise, try to imagine how far the Civil Rights Movement would have developed in Mississippi had the participants in the American Negro Revolution conformed to customary social practices and established political rules of conduct.

Would Mississippi Freedom Summer ever have happened?

 

Over and Over Again

Michael S. Schneider, in the introduction to his book A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe, quotes Marilyn Ferguson, an American writer, as saying, “Our biggest failure is our failure to see patterns.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

 

Patterns of Conquest

Australian TV's Dateline reports on Indonesian Government's resettlement program and military preparations in advance of anticipated ethnic cleansing in colony of West Papua. Much like the Indonesian military's slaughter of East Timorese, the state-sanctioned genocide against West Papuans incorporates an active and well-armed paramilitary to perform preliminary atrocities to which the army can then claim to be responding.

And similar to large scale murder of civilians in other Indonesian colonies over the last forty-four years, American gold and oil extraction corporations are intimately involved in seeing that US weapons are not withheld from Indonesia by the US Congress nor condemned by the United Nations.

For more background on West Papua and US/Indonesian involvement there, see the West Papua information kit.

 

Past Meets Future

Spirit of generosity leads Kentucky physician to reunite ancient Chippewa scrolls with Minnesota tribe.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

 

Longjohn Fever

Not much likelihood of getting snowed in here in the Golden Gate, but my friends up on the Canadian border might want to stock up on Jeremiah Healy mystery novels. Dining outdoors on the plaza, I almost forgot what cabin fever was like.

Hang in there guys--another five months and you can take off your longjohns.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

 

Caught in the Headlights

Locked on to the federal political spectacle, one might very well conclude our future is hopeless. But once one breaks the fixation and takes a look around, there are many opportunities to begin making the local changes required in preparing to dismantle our national disgrace.

Local corruptions like fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion are the tributaries that feed the streams of illicit funds that bankroll larger corruptions of lobbyists and political parties that presently flood our state and national capitols. To prevent our entire society from being inundated by this habitual criminality, restoration has to start in thousands of cities and small towns.

This is a rich country; there is no reason for anyone to be homeless, hungry, or without medical care. When one exposes phony philanthropy, for instance, as a veil for colossal larceny, one gets a sense of how vulnerable the whole culture of white collar crime really is. Lifting the veil is not a mission to take lightly or in cavalier fashion, but it is a prerequisite to de-educating and dis-organizing an in-active populace still caught in the headlights.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

 

Fatal Attraction

I was thinking yesterday about a colleague's comment regarding the lack of imagination in our fellow citizens, and took a moment to consider where most of those who bother to communicate are in their intellectual development.

Many have made considerable progress in their estimate of the situation, no longer attached to institutional conventions, but still return to ineffective tactics out of what seems to them a lack of options. Others, who have thoroughly abandoned hope for our society through established venues, are able to clearly express an understanding of what needs to be done, but find the isolation of this position too lonely, and indulge instead in less than coherent attempts at creating more popular disinfotainment. Some, seeing no social benefit for them personally of pursuing thoughtful discussion, even online, have opted for melancholia.

In this commentary on the role of media in public mental health associated with collective trauma, my colleague Paul de Armond noted that repeated exposure to disturbing incidents or news has severe psychological consequences. Applying this phenomenon to weblog communication, I think that the accumulated frustrations and sense of helplessness generated in part through the belaboring of our horrible state of affairs and absence of social leadership, has induced a collective state of disabling depression.

The only answer I have for people is to become involved in their communities where they can talk with and work with others. They don't have to take on criminal networks like Paul and I have, but they do need to experience success in meeting some social need.

Unfortunately, the present weblog focus on national power-wielders exerts a fatal attraction.

Friday, January 05, 2007

 

Practice Imperfect

In Mike Cronin's book A History of Ireland, we see how over the last eight centuries the Irish learned to experiment with and master the tools of decolonization. As Britain's first colony, the methods of domination used elsewhere in its future empire were also learned there, and combined, these lessons as detailed by author Cronin are useful in understanding decolonizing challenges we face today. It's also a very interesting book.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

 

Mindbender

I’m always amazed at how difficult it is for Americans to get their minds around the fact the US Government has always been a criminal enterprise.

Short of asking people to read Howard Zinn, one simple exercise is to imagine oneself an indigenous resident of North America, and recount progress in terms of the three federal States that comprise the continent from that perspective. EuroAmericans needn’t feel defensive about this; they’re trapped inside the same system of governance that is corrupt by design.

The task before us is to dismantle the system of concentrated power in the central authorities that continue to corrode our societies. Autonomy of the people – not the government or aristocracy – is what we’re ideally about; plus it’s the only way we’re ever going to get what we need.

And showing our fellow citizens how to go about it is the only effective antidote to widespread cynicism and despair.

With all due respect, to affect meaningful social change requires prioritizing intelligence over emotion. Bush may be repulsive, but his foreign policy hasn't differed much from his predecessors in the Oval Office. The obstacle to self-government in the US is our system, no matter who holds high office. Asserting our autonomy might require greater sacrifice than most are willing to make, but it's the only way to stop the criminal enterprise masquerading as the US Government.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

 

Decolonizing North America

This special issue of New Socialist, edited by, for and about the indigenous resurgence in North America, explains how regenerated First Nations are fighting contemporary colonialism--both on principle, and on the ground.

Monday, January 01, 2007

 

Autonomy as Public Good

For indigenous peoples from Ottawa to the Kalahari, the practice of traditional lifeways is more than a matter of dignity and self-esteem. Native foods, medicine, as well as relationships with landscapes and other species, are a matter of public health.

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