Wednesday, February 28, 2007

 

Principle of Subsidiarity

"Where States exist and serve the needs of human society they should be nurtured and celebrated, but where States fail to serve the needs of human society, they should be allowed to disassemble..."

--Rudolph Ryser, from Sharing Governmental Power

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 

Galileo Glory

The kids of Galileo Academy near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco live in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and the group I’d volunteered to tutor on essay-writing reflected that. The low-income, first-generation Chinese and Mexican students I was assigned through the 826 Valencia writing center, were simultaneously straddling two or more cultures while struggling with the normal pressures of being teenagers. Our job as volunteers in the AVID program was to assist their teacher--a kind, devoted young white woman to whom they were fiercely loyal—in helping them surmount the barriers to higher education due to their inability to express themselves adequately in English. The culmination of the pre-college program—their essay--was the final product that would possibly be reviewed in their applications; for some it was what might distinguish them for advancement to state or community college, where they could help their families rise above menial labor, which many of the kids did each day after school in addition to studying.

The twenty or so students who welcomed us on our arrival had positive attitudes, didn’t get into trouble, and were even involved in helping arrange weeknight and weekend fundraisers where they sold candy and their teacher spoke to various audiences about their program. Still, they were jaded enough to know that the odds were stacked against them, and beneath their polite, eager exterior, I could detect an accumulating cynicism that could easily blossom upon the inevitable rejection of some of their college applications.

When we introduced ourselves on the first day, I mentioned that I’d once worked for a newspaper, and had some stories published in magazines and literary reviews. When I sat with my four students in a circle of desks, I asked if anyone had a draft with them for me to look at. One had forgotten his at home, another had accidentally deleted hers when trying to save it on her computer, and the other two had not yet bothered to correct the mistakes circled by their teacher on the first draft from two weeks prior. After reading through the two drafts available and glancing at the course syllabus their teacher had provided them at the beginning of the quarter, I asked the kids what they thought the instructions meant, and proceeded to discuss how following her guidelines would help make their essays more coherent and enjoyable for readers.

After instructing the two with freshly-marked-up drafts in front of them to give it another try, I asked the Chinese boy about what his missing essay entailed, and he instead described a short story he was writing about how his cohort had come to terms with the shooting death of a school friend, and the confusing multicultural customs they’d managed to navigate in attempting to discover the meaning of life at sixteen. He then asked me if I’d like to see his story.

Over the weekend, I e-mailed the teacher, and asked if it was OK for me to make a detour with this student and have him bring in the story the following week for me to critique. With her permission, and caveat that he still had to write the assigned essay, she said she would let him know.

The following week, having thought since about what we could realistically expect, I returned to Galileo with a view that whether or not these students succeeded in getting admitted to college one year hence was beyond my ability to influence, but what I could contribute was a degree of confidence in their worth and potential, a desire to write better, and a joy of learning to do so.

The Mexican girl had rewritten her deleted essay, but could not print it out until we went to the computer lab halfway through class. The Chinese boy had his story in duplicate, in order for me to read it at home; he still hadn’t begun his essay. In the computer lab, most of the students sat in small groups around terminals looking at movie stars or talking about boyfriends or sports. The teacher circulated helping the handful of students who were trying to figure out how to do research that produced credible results. When the Mexican girl in my cohort brought me her essay, I retired to a relatively quiet corner with my red pen.

Her essay was about the new security cameras on campus and the ambience they created from the perspectives of students and teachers, as well as some justifications from the school board. Good basic journalism, but with a natural flare for capturing the reader’s interest at the outset--something she had not been taught but rather absorbed somehow from the world around her. After making some minor suggestions, I told her she would make a good reporter, and might want to consider journalism school. She beamed in only the way sixteen-year-old girls can, and I felt blessed beyond words.

That evening, sitting in my reading chair, I opened the folder with the boy’s story, and realized right off that grammar was beyond our immediate task—it would be too time-consuming and distract us from the important stuff. He had the ability and inclination to write feature stories or novels, but he needed a lot of attention to structure, and his English was atrocious. I decided to emphasize his strong points, note some of the ways he could improve, and told him to rewrite it ten or twelve times, focusing on one task at a time.

On our final day, we all shared cookies someone had baked, and one of the kids pulled me aside and told me the teacher had lost her family in a traffic accident when she was young, but that she had not given up. I had a reassuring feeling they wouldn’t either.

Monday, February 26, 2007

 

Counting Blessings

When I returned to college at age 48 to complete my BA, the present cabal had just hijacked the White House. The opening greeting to our cohort of returning adults by our octogenarian instructor, was that the things we would study that year--if appropriately applied--would serve as a shield against the coming psychological onslaught of a fascist regime recycled out of the Reagan cabal into Bush 2. By the time I received my advanced degree at age 50, the drumbeat to war was already in its 16th month, and the warnings of our former professor were then playing out 24/7 throughout the industrial media.

Learning how to protect our psyches from the imminent trauma foreseen by our mentor was a blessing I hope we've managed to pass on in some small way. If so, then all the effort was worthwhile.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

 

Reflections of Minarets

In researching information for his 1989 book on the OSS during World War II, Istanbul Intrigues, Barry Rubin had to dig through numerous archives and interview dozens of participants on three continents, many of whom--perhaps out of habits acquired working in intelligence--had left no trail. One of them, Lanning Macfarland, wartime head of OSS in Turkey, had already passed away, but his son--inspired by Rubin's letter--decided to finally open a locked suitcase left by his father in which he found a 180-page memoir detailing his father's operations in Istanbul.

And thus began a journey of intrigue for the author who unravelled the mysteries of espionage along the Bosporus and those particular moments when history was at a crossroads and all the onlookers knew it. A rare look at the war from the perspectives of spies, refugees, and exiles in a neutral country trapped between three hostile empires.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

 

For Better or Worse

Feeling powerless to take on the bipartisan criminal enterprise in Congress, even liberals are increasingly susceptible to engaging in scapegoating the already marginalized (immigrants, refugees, dissidents, indigenous) for our declining standard of living, even though the implosion of our tenuous republic was caused in large part by the liberal imperial consensus.

Like they say, it's always easier to fix the blame than to fix the problem, and when fixing the problem requires facing up to the bloody facts of accumulated, unearned, First World privileges, liberals are unfortunately as wedded to fantasy as conservatives.

Creating an industry of detaining immigrants won't solve our problems any more than the industry of incarcerating black men, the industry of dumping toxic waste on Indian lands, or the industry of bombing the Third World. It will, however, further wed American citizens to the criminal enterprise; after all, we're an industrial people.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

 

Promoting War on a No-bid Contract

"Civilians at SAIC used to joke that the company had so many admirals and generals in its ranks it could start its own war. Some might argue that, in the case of Iraq, it did."

Vanity Fair's Barlett and Steele examine one of the largest US war contractors, Science Applications International Corporation, and how (through a combination of fraud, insider-trading, and revolving-door bribery) it manages to perpetuate this lucrative growth industry by fabricating crisis, creating chaos, and cashing in on the confusion.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

 

Making Amends

Few of us reach middle age without wishing we'd had another chance to put things right with someone we aggrieved through unkind behavior. Often times, this perspective comes too late. Sometimes, though, the opportunity to make amends presents itself in unexpected ways, without our even realizing the need having been long forgotten.

When I was 21, I was arrested by tribal fisheries patrol officers for unlicensed fish-buying on an Indian reservation. Feeling unduly hampered in my occupation, and encouraged by my renegade Indian friends, I said regretful things while being escorted from my vessel to the jail.

As things would have it, this was the summer of the federal ruling on treaty fishing rights, and the local newspaper chose to make me a martyr of the Indian Wars, then led by Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton. Nothing was further from my sentiments, but this was soon forgotten as I became employed elsewhere.

Twenty years later, managing environmental litigation and publishing research on the Anti-Indian, Wise Use Movement, I accompanied my friend who was invited to speak by the same tribe that arrested me as a young man at a gathering opposing Indian health and education cuts proposed by the then infamous U.S. Senator Slade Gorton. When we arrived, a Lummi elder was praying for the spiritual growth of the senator, and I was suddenly transported back in time to the day when this gentle giant of a man was a fisheries officer and I a headstrong young vessel captain.

I briefly recounted this long forgotten relationship while introducing him to my friend, and then left to provide some vital documents to the tribal attorney for use in our mutual fight against vigilantes then mustering to the recurrent call of white supremacism.

Six years later, while residing and attending graduate school in San Francisco, I was invited to join colleagues in Washington to honor our friend who did the Wise Use research at a human rights awards ceremony. When I arrived, I saw on the program that Cha da ska dum Which ta lum, the Lummi elder (and former fisheries officer) was being honored posthumously for promoting peace and reconciliation between settler and indigenous cultures throughout the Americas.

After the ceremony, I informed his brother that a story Cha da ska dum told me a few years back was a gift that sealed the bargain in our unanticipated reconciliation. Only now do I realize that it has also stood me in good stead in terms of comprehending the reconciliatory challenges ahead for our society.

With healing comes obligation, sometimes disguised as love.

--Jay Taber

Monday, February 19, 2007

 

Participate

A friend of mine recently inquired about my take on the situation in the US, specifically along the lines of whether I thought there was any hope for our country to move beyond cynical criminality. My initial response was that it was going to take some time, involve considerable pain, and probably happen in ways we can't yet imagine.

Further along in our conversation, though, I admitted to a fascination with the rapid expansion of unmediated discussion taking place on and offline, and couldn't help but wonder what impact this new form of communication might have on us both politically and culturally. To me, the evolution of public perceptions about such things as governance, militarism, and consumerism alone in the last few years has been astounding.

Will all this undirected educational activity translate into a serious pursuit of sanity on a workable scale? I honestly don't know. In fact, I'm not sure we can know. All we can do is participate and see how things shake out. If that gives us hope, then more power to us.

Friday, February 16, 2007

 

Monsters of Anomie

I knew in that moment that this was what the future of teaching about justice would include: teaching war criminals who sit glaring at me with hatred for daring to speak the truth of their atrocities and who, if paid to, would disappear, torture and kill me...The American military and mercenary soldiers who “sacrificed” their lives did not do so for the teacher’s freedom to teach the truth about the so-called war on terror, or any of US history for that matter. They sacrificed their lives, limbs and sanity for money, some education and the thrills of the violence for which they are socially bred.

[ from Killers in the Classroom by Dr. June Scorza Terpstra ]


Thursday, February 15, 2007

 

CWIS

I first met Joe DelaCruz and Rudolph Ryser in 1996 at a conference hosted by the Center for World Indigenous Studies for research activists fighting Wise Use. Rudy, CWIS Chair, was also at the time on the board of the Center for Democratic Renewal, then run by the illustrious Loretta Ross.

Rudy’s mentors included George Manuel who was the spark that generated global communication and coordination amongst indigenous peoples then emerging from post-colonialism. He and Rudy and their colleagues laid the groundwork for indigenous fora and working groups within the UN, as well as parallel organizations like UNPO .

CWIS today is considered the premier indigenous think tank and archival repository serving the Fourth World. After publishing some of my work, they invited me to join as an associate scholar, and recently asked me to serve as moderator for a private online forum serving their associates.

Volunteering (and studying) with the people at CWIS is an experience unavailable elsewhere, and ought to be supported by anyone concerned about the future of our world. If you have a moment, take a look at their website--a little help will go a long way.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

 

Arena of Communication

Yoko Ono once remarked that she was blown away by John Lennon's arena of communication. At the time she made this observation, the U.S. State Department was already making plans to have him deported because of his ability to attract huge numbers of people to his anti-war concerts and recordings. Worse yet, the people motivated by his music to commit acts of civil disobedience against the war were linking up with militants from the Civil Rights Movement outraged by the assassinations of Fred Hampton and Martin Luther King Jr.

John Lennon's arena of communication, as Yoko referred to it, was sufficient to turn out supporters en masse throughout North America and Europe. He could, for example, simultaneously launch peace campaigns in New York, LA, London, Paris, Toronto and Vancouver utilizing billboards, radio and television without breaking a sweat or cutting a check. He had that much moral influence.

How we might effectively apply the principles of communication in the age of the Internet is a discussion we probably ought to begin.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

 

Vigil Land

I receive on average half a dozen e-mails from Bay Area activists* daily. Almost all of these unsolicited notices are for vigils held at various locations in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco. In addition to the daily notices, I receive occasional urgent alerts on matters of utmost importance--generally one or two a week.

Being a middle age man, it's difficult for me to imagine the considerable energy expended by regular attendees of these emotional events, but perhaps piety activates some energy-supplying glandular secretion I'm unaware of, or maybe the drive to acquire status within the moral milieu is something akin to cornering energy markets or establishing religious missions in the Fourth World; once you're on the treadmill, it's hard to get off.

As hobbies go, I suppose, vigil mania does little harm, although I suspect that after several years of this frantic activity, the pointlessness of it all might drive some to depression or violence. Still, as an experience of social interaction, it's possible that some participants will eventually recognize the recurrent theatrics as ineffective role-playing ascribed to concerned but confused citizens. If this is true, then as an inadvertent contributor to subverting spectacle, it is a welcome addition to modern madness.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

 

Just the Beginning

I just listened to some clips from the U.S. v John Lennon, and was reminded of the image I saw somewhere of the US government as a killing machine. I forget where I saw it, or who produced the work of art, but it seemed to encapsulate well the primary purpose of such consolidated firepower from its inception to the present. The clip of Lennon saying "Flower power was just the beginning" ought to be engraved in both our hearts and minds.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

 

Planning Ahead

As Stan Goff observes in this editorial, the reason the US has a permanent war economy and a GWOT program is because weaponry is what it makes. Which explains why the governments of Japan and China are happy to continue funding US aggression so we in turn can purchase their non-lethal manufactured goods. All good business, up to a point.

When their trigger-happy trading partner wants to go on another rampage that might threaten their energy supplies, maybe it's time for a serious talk with those who lube American media and Congress. Unfortunately, that's a closed loop, so the only way to get off the armageddon wagon is to make the lawmakers fear their constituents more than they love the arms merchants. Not an easy task.

At any rate, with war fever already ramping up on TV, and little hope in sight of Americans taking citizenship seriously, it's probably best to anticipate the destruction of another Persian Gulf state as well as the painful profiteering and price-gouging that will undoubtedly ensue. Not that we should resign ourselves to a future of endless moral abomination by our rulers, but we shouldn't expect too much too soon. Changing an entire way of life takes time.

p.s. For our international readers, Professor Goff proposes a global disinvestment campaign as an adjunct mechanism for breaking US imperial power.

 

Rainy Day Book

We recently enjoyed reading No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, and look forward to more of his charming novels.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

 

Stopping the GWOT

It’s unfortunate the paid anti-war organizers can’t make the transition from protest to resistance. If they’d put the resources they devoted to another boring march and rally into occupying pro-war Congressional offices, you can bet it would’ve been a righteous spectacle. If they’d organized a month-long rotation of civil disobedience like they do at Fort Benning on Capitol Hill, Pelosi wouldn’t be the only one looking moonstruck.

Update: Looks like some Catholic Worker renegades are on target. Check them out for a civil disobedience opportunity near you.

p.s. This all dovetails nicely with a local hardball proposal.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

 

Spring Maneuvers

It has become fashionable in some circles to wallow in man's inhumanity as a sordid rite of intensification of feeling to undergird pious posturing. What gets left out in such psychotherapic maneuvers is the analytic exercise that guides us to do what we can. In this sense, it is the companion of cynical isolation of oneself in malfunction.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

 

Time for Soul-Searching

It appears that a cultural transition is in the making here in the US, where people who've gotten into a habit of righteous ridicule since 2001 are now facing an opportunity to do some popular education and community organizing. For some of them, this is going to be a time for soul-searching; do they have the fortitude to take some risks, or will they seek refuge in cynicism?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

 

Symbiosis

One of the advantages of a network (versus an institution or other dogmatic organization) is that we can take the experience and best ideas of each independent correspondent and put them to use. Call it synergy or symbiosis, but the cooperative creation of narrative through unmediated, intentional communication enhances our estimate of the situation, allowing us to develop more effective plans. People with experience in social conflict who’ve also developed curricula on the subject bring a perspective to our discussions that is both authentic and unique.

Friday, February 02, 2007

 

Viva Chet

On the 30th anniversary of the Summer of Love, Paul and Linda McCartney donated a collection of 1960s photos to support their friend Chet Helms efforts to keep the spirit of hippy counterculture alive. What this press release in 1997 did not contain, though, is an account of the ways in which the now deceased Mr. Helms contributed to the anti-commercial philosophy that shaped so many lives since. Free concerts, free love, and free minds just seemed to go together in Chet's world--one in which he operated an art gallery in San Francisco so far behind in his rent that the landlord had trouble remembering what year it was that Chet last paid rent. Something about Chet and his embrace of his adopted city, though, prevented the property owner from giving him the boot.

In this, the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, perhaps there's a lesson there for us all.

 

The Slogan is Attack

In comprehending the distribution of power within the system we all wish to alter, perhaps it would be useful to look at patterns sans labels. Toward that end, as some have pointed out, history can be instructive.

In both Mississippi Freedom Summer, as well as in the long struggle for liberation in South Africa, the freedom fighters had to establish their own, self-determined agenda and organizations independent of the institutions they were preparing to attack. To do otherwise, they resolved, would have been suicidal.

The fact that both these social movements chose at the outset to create popular educational programs within schools they themselves constructed and controlled, tells me they understood the need to free their minds first--then their world.

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