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Does Jersey City have more Creative Potential than NYC?

21 Oct

Can Mana Contemporary make the transition from NYCArt in Jersey City to scene weaver?

It’s time to revisit a question I posed a couple of months ago in the wake of Steven Fulop’s ground-breaking election as Mayor of Jersey City: is Jersey City a 21st Century Florence?

A Time for New Institutions

First let’s once again review a crude little story I’ve been telling for years. It goes like this:

In the Medieval West the Catholic Church was the institutional center of intellectual life. Then the West underwent a massive cultural change, the Renaissance, and new life ways and new institutions emerged. A new system of colleges and universities supplanted the church as the central institution of intellectual life. That system served us well up through the end of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century.

But the world is once again changing. And this time it’s not the West alone that’s undergoing a metamorphosis. It’s the whole world, kicking and screaming.

So, just what are the possibilities for new institutions? Are any emerging?

On the latter question, sure, I guess. But the basic institutions of life in the West, if not the rest, have been inherited from the 19Century and before. This is overlaid by large international corporations and various international treaties, pacts, and NGOs. And the web has emerged in the last 20 years as a vehicle of communication and dissemination, and it’s certainly changing the institutions of higher education.

But the deepest kind cultural work needs to be done face-to-face. What are the prospects there?

Well, of course, I don’t know. But let’s think about the three institutions I’ve been examining recently: Mana Contemporary, the MacArthur Fellows Program, and the SUNY Buffalo Department of English for roughly a decade or so in the 1970s. Can we make something new out of that? What? How? Continue reading

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Civics 101: The Basis of Democracy

20 Oct

We all know these words, from the opening of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Let’s be clear about what’s being said in that second sentence. “Governments are instituted among Men” in order to secure the rights enumerated in the first sentence. And those government get “just powers from the consent of the governed.” That is, they get their powers from we the people, on behalf of whom they are to exercise those powers. Ultimately we rule them on the basis of “unalienable Rights” endowed to us by our mutual Creator.

And we all know this picture, Michaelangelo’s well-known painting of God (on the right) creating Adam (on the left)

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Here’s a detail of the hands: Continue reading

The 1 Percent’s Solution – NYTimes.com

26 Apr

Thus, the average American is somewhat worried about budget deficits, which is no surprise given the constant barrage of deficit scare stories in the news media, but the wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face. And how should the budget deficit be brought down? The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security — that is, “entitlements” — while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise.

You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do.

via The 1 Percent’s Solution – NYTimes.com.

Simon Johnson: Big Banks Have a Big Problem – NYTimes.com

14 Mar

Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony to Congress last week also confirmed the latter point: some banks are so big that the Department of Justice is afraid to bring legal charges against them, for fear of how that would affect the economy. Senator Warren of Massachusetts continues to press this issue relentlessly and very effectively.

via Simon Johnson: Big Banks Have a Big Problem – NYTimes.com.

Occupy Offshoot Aims to Erase People’s Debts – NYTimes.com

14 Nov

The group, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement called Strike Debt, is trying to buy some of the debts that people have accrued — which lenders often sell for pennies on the dollar to third parties who either try to collect on it or bundle it up for resale. Strike Debt, however, is not looking to collect on them; instead it plans to give some debtors the surprise of a lifetime.

“Basically what we’re going to do is exactly the same as what a regular debt buyer would do, with one big difference,” said Thomas Gokey, an artist and teacher. “Rather than collect the debt, we’re just going to abolish it.”

via Occupy Offshoot Aims to Erase People’s Debts – NYTimes.com.

Political Connections: Lafayette to Montpelier

19 Sep

On the one hand I’m involved in projects in my neighborhood (Lafayette in Jersey City, NJ), most notably a community garden, but also an anti-litter campaign, and I’m looking to do something with music. On the other hand I just got back from a trip to northern Vermont where I was part of a five-state aggregation of nine musicians that provided music for a conference on Vermont independence, which means Vermont seceding from the United States and establishing itself as a sovereign nation once again (Vermont was a republic between 1777 and 1791).

What do these two spheres of activity have to do with one another? What are the connections?

Some People Links

There is, of course, the fact that I’m involved in both sets of these arenas. I live in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City and am working to make it a better neighborhood. Lafayette’s my home.

I traveled to Vermont at the behest (when was the last time I used that word?) of Charlie Keil, an intellectual and musical compatriot. Charlie is an anarchist, as am I, and a pacifist, ditto. We were both conscientious objectors during our years of draft eligibility. And we’re both musicians.

In particular, Charlie is interested in getting more people to make live music and he’s interested in what he calls a 12/8 Path band, which is a strolling brass band at home in 12/8 time. We’ve played many demonstrations together in New York City, including a large anti-war demonstration prior to the invasion of Iraq and an anti-nuclear demonstration where Japanese and out-numbered everyone else.

But, how’s that get us to Vermont celebrating the future independence of Vermont? Simple, really. Charlie believes in “small is beautiful” and I’m OK with it. Breaking the USofA into a number of smaller and more flexible states seems like a reasonable thing to do. That’s something advocated by Thomas Naylor, an economist and an activist for Vermont independence. It’s Naylor who brought Charlie to Vermont and I came along.

Me and a bunch of other guys. Since this post is about connections I could legitimately talk about these others. But I won’t. For one thing, that could easily go on and on and on as I start moving out along those networks. For another, I don’t know much about most of them except that they’re good and versatile musicians, which I learned from playing with them, some of the for the first time in Vermont. But I’ll mention one, trombonist Steve Swell, who’s sympathetic to Charlie’s politics and mine. You can track his musical links through his Wikipedia entry. Also, Steve’s loosely familiar with my neighborhood as he went to college in Jersey City. Continue reading

Celebrating the Future Independence of Vermont, at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier: Toward a Politics of Jubilee

16 Sep

I spent Friday, 14 September in and around the Vermont Statehouse. Sometime back in the mists of history past some good Vermont citizens decided that, in the face of the cancerous growth of the American state, that Vermont folks of conscience and caring had to organize and urge their fellow Vermonters to secede from the Union. And so the Vermont Independence Party (VIP) was born.

And Friday was their third state-wide convention, with visitors from several other states as well. This convention was organized toward the reading of The Montpelier Manifesto, listing 29 grievances against the Federal Government of the United States of America and urging secession. The conference was held in the House Chamber of the Vermont Statehouse, for it seems that, by law, Vermont citizens have the right to occupy use the statehouse when it is not otherwise in use.

I was there with the Northeast Irregulars, a contingent of the New York Path to Peace, organized by Charlie Keil. We brought musicians from Jersey City, New York City, Connecticut, and Vermont. At least.

Here’s some photographs of that glorious day. I apologize to all those who were there for the celebration but not in these photos.

* * * * *

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That’s Charlie Keil on the right and Jack Lazarowski on the left. Jack and his wife Linda put Charlie and I up for the night. Thanks, Jack and Linda!

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Julie Buck and Rob Williams at the podium on the House Chamber. They were co-chairs for the event. Continue reading

Worker Ownership For the 21st Century? | The Nation

28 Mar

It may not be the revolution’s dawn, but it’s certainly a glint in the darkness. On Monday, this country’s largest industrial labor union [United Steel Workers] teamed up with the world’s largest worker-cooperative to present a plan that would put people to work in labor-driven enterprises that build worker power and communities, too.

Titled “Sustainable Jobs, Sustainable Communities: The Union Co-op Model,” the organizational proposal released at a press conference on March 26 in Pittsburgh, draws on the fifty-five year experience of the Basque-based Mondragon worker cooperatives. To quote the document:

“In contrast to a Machiavellian economic system in which the ends justify any means, the union co-op model embraces the idea that both the ends and means are equally important, meaning that treating workers well and with dignity and sustaining communities are just as important as business growth and profitability.”

There’s ‘boots on the ground’ history behind the project:

It’s been a few years since the USW first became curious about the Mondragon cooperatives after they had a good experience working with GAMESA, a co-op friendly Spanish wind turbine outfit that opened up three plants in Pennsylvania. In 2009, with their Spanish colleagues’ help, Gerard sent a delegation to the Basque region of Spain to investigate Mondragon, now a $24 billion global operation. Since then, the USW has worked slowly with Mondragon and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) a university based coop-outreach center founded by one of the organizers of the Youngstown initiative, to fine tune the US version presented Monday.

For the details of the proposal, check out the model for yourself. The full text of the union co-op model is available at www.usw.coop or www.union.coop.

via Worker Ownership For the 21st Century? | The Nation.

Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber

26 Feb

This is from the ‘middle’ (I suspect) of an ongoing conversation which I don’t have time to (even attempt to) summarize. But the suggestion is that it’s Jubilee time for all. That is, if the Powers That Be had any sense, which they don’t:

Well, no firm in any business can make a big profit if there is too much supply. Globally there is US$40 to $60 trillion zapping around, fast as electrons, looking for big yields.

Now they are running out of bubbles to blow up, while their yields in the safe sovereign harbors are negative, or almost negative.

The correct solution is redistribution, jubilee. But in today’s terms: let’s have higher fiscal deficits in the short-term to boost infrastructure and human capital (a.k.a. “education”), to get the economy moving again. Then afterward, let’s have a series of slow and progressive tax hikes to pay down deficits until the safety-net programs are long-term robust—which is also, incidentally or double coincidentally, a fiscal policy to reduce inflation from the wage side, and thus also to keep interest rates in check. And perhaps include a charter for a small-business investment bank, perhaps the only one with government deposit insurance.

via Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber.

Innovations in Light – NYTimes.com

3 Feb

Some fascinating stuff here about getting lighting without the overhead of the grid:

If you look at the market for solar lighting in Africa, you’ll be excused for thinking that you’re looking at the mobile phone market some 15 years ago. Both are leapfrog technologies — neither land lines nor the electrical grid is going to reach much of the continent, so let’s just skip that generation of technology and move to the next one. Like cellphones, solar lamps are getting cheaper, smaller, better. Both are life-changing, indispensable. And the market is enormous. Today, about 1.5 million people in Africa use solar lamps. That’s a huge number — but it’s less than 1 percent of the potential market. A fifth of the world’s population lives without electricity. Another large group of people do have access to electricity, but need an alternative because it is too expensive and power outages are daily events.

The problem isn’t finding the technology, it’s coming up with a business model that people can afford. Three examples are discussed.

via Innovations in Light – NYTimes.com.