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President Trump, Thank you! Thank you for all the women who have come forward with stories about being harassed and raped

30 Nov

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Yes, citizen Trump has played a major role in the parade of accusations, albeit an indirect and unintended role to be sure.

The president of the United States serves two functions: 1) he governs the nation and, 2) he’s a symbol of the nation. The British separate these functions. The monarch is a symbol of the nation, but has no power to govern. The monarch doesn’t introduce legislation or sign it, doesn’t negotiate and sign treaties, doesn’t issue regulations, and so forth. Those are functions of government, and those functions belong to the prime minister. But the prime minister is not asked to shoulder the burden of being a national symbol.

It is in his role as national symbol that citizen Trump has motivated and energized these women to tell their stories. As a symbol of the nation citizen Trump represents our ideas and ideals, our hopes and aspirations, our values and commitments. These women are telling us that they do not want a sexual predator as the symbol of our nation, and they are saying this in the most powerful way that they can, but outing the powerful men who have preyed on them.

No more!

To be sure, citizen Trump is not the first president with unsavory sexual attitudes and actions. But he has come to office at a time when the press, for whatever reason, has decided that it will no longer look the other way. Moreover, he has come to office, not from a career in politics, but from a show-biz career. Thus it is fitting that men in show business are among the most prominent predators being called to account before the public, if not before the law.

Yes, Ronald Reagan was a movie star. But he came to the presidency after two terms as governor of California. And he knew something that 45 does not, he knew there was a deep and fundamental distinction to be made between his personal interests and activities and his actions as head of state. Citizen Trump treats that distinction with utter contempt and disdain, the way he treats women.

By ignoring the distinction between his person and the nation he governs, citizen Trump dishonors and damages the nation. Powerful men ignore a similar distinction, perhaps even, when you think about it, the same distinction, when they prey on women who serve them. When these women speak out to demand recognition, redress, and above all, dignity and respect, they are by that fact speaking on behalf of the nation. Let them and their actions symbolize these United States of America.

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Over the weekend the Nacirema Nationals trounced the Trumptastic Bombers

25 Sep

The Trumpistas went up against the Nacirema and were creamed. How’s this going to work out? What makes the question an interesting one is that many Trumptistas are also partisans of the Nacirema ( = “America” spelled backward). I grew up in Western PA, Trump country, but also football country. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out. Will Trump double-down after his defeat by the NFL? Will the players persist? What of the owners, many of whom are Trump partisans?

Across the Nation

On three teams, nearly all the football players skipped the national anthem altogether. Dozens of others, from London to Los Angeles, knelt or locked arms on the sidelines, joined by several team owners in a league normally friendly to President Trump. Some of the sport’s biggest stars joined the kind of demonstration they have steadfastly avoided.

It was an unusual, sweeping wave of protest and defiance on the sidelines of the country’s most popular game, generated by Mr. Trump’s stream of calls to fire players who have declined to stand for the national anthem in order to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.

 What had been a modest round of anthem demonstrations this season led by a handful of African-American players mushroomed and morphed into a nationwide, diverse rebuke to Mr. Trump, with even some of his staunchest supporters in the N.F.L., including several owners, joining in or condemning Mr. Trump for divisiveness.

However:

But the acts of defiance received a far more mixed reception from fans, both in the stadiums and on social media, suggesting that what were promoted as acts of unity might have exacerbated a divide and dragged yet another of the country’s institutions into the turbulent cross currents of race and politics.

 At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, videos posted on social media showed some Eagles fans yelling at anti-Trump protesters holding placards. At MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., before the Jets played the Dolphins, many fans, a majority of them white, said they did not support the anthem protests but also did not agree with the president’s view that players should be fired because of them.

Moreover, there is a rule:

The Steelers, along with the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks, who were playing each other and similarly skipped the anthem, broke a league rule requiring athletes to be present for the anthem, though a league executive said they would not be penalized.

In other sports:

In a tweet Friday, Mr. Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors, the N.B.A. champions, to any traditional White House visit, after members of the team, including its biggest star, Stephen Curry, were critical of him. But on Sunday, the N.H.L. champion Pittsburgh Penguins said they would go to the White House, and declared such visits to be free of politics.

Nascar team owners went a step further, saying they would not tolerate drivers who protested during the anthem.

American Ritual

If you google “football as ritual” you’ll come up with a bunch of hits. It’s a natural. It’s played in special purpose-build facilities and the players wear specialized costumes. The teams have totemic mascots and the spectators will wear team colors and emblems of the totem. Ritual chants are uttered throughout the game and there’s lots of music and spectacle. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When anthropologists go to faraway places and see people engaging in such activities they call it ritual. We call it entertainment. It’s both.

While not everyone actually plays football, a very large portion (mostly male) of the population has done so at one time in their life. When I was in secondary school touch football was one of the required activities in boys gym class. Those who don’t play the game participate vicariously as spectators. The game is associated with various virtues and so participating contributes to moral development.

Other sports are like this as well and other sports have been involved in anti-Trumpista activity. But let’s stick to football as that’s where most of the action has been so far.


And then we have “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States, which is played at football games at every level, from local high school games to top-level professional games. As a 2011 article from ESPN Magazine points out, “it’s a battle song.” The lyrics are from “The Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key, a poem written to commemorate the defense of Baltimore in the War of 1812. The song became linked to sports in the early 20th century. According to the ESPN article:

THAT STORY BEGINS, as so many tales in modern American sports do, with Babe Ruth. History records various games in which “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played dating from the mid-1800s, but Ruth’s last postseason appearances for the Boston Red Sox coincided with the song’s first unbreakable bond with the sports world, in 1918.

Ruth was pitching for the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series. It’s the seventh-inning stretch:

As was common during sporting events, a military band was on hand to play, and while the fans were on their feet, the musicians fired up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They weren’t the only active-duty servicemen on the field, though. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas was playing the Series while on furlough from the Navy, where he’d been learning seamanship at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago. But Thomas’ months of military training had hardly dulled his diamond skills. According to the Society of American Baseball Research, the station’s commander, Capt. William Moffett, was a baseball fanatic who actively recruited athletes for the training center’s team. Thomas, who started playing professionally right out of high school in Wisconsin, later said he “had it made at Great Lakes. All [I] had to do was play baseball.” So after the Red Sox went through nine third basemen during the season, they took a shot and asked the Navy whether he could join them as they took on the Cubs. The military said yes, and Thomas stood at his usual position on the diamond during Game 1’s seventh-inning stretch, present at the creation of a tradition.

Upon hearing the opening notes of Key’s song from the military band, Thomas immediately faced the flag and snapped to attention with a military salute. The other players on the field followed suit, in “civilian” fashion, meaning they stood and put their right hands over their hearts. The crowd, already standing, showed its first real signs of life all day, joining in a spontaneous sing-along, haltingly at first, then finishing with flair. The scene made such an impression that The New York Times opened its recap of the game not with a description of the action on the field but with an account of the impromptu singing: “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”

And thus a venerable tradition was born, though it took awhile. Interestingly enough, the article concludes:

Congress didn’t officially adopt the “The Star-Spangled Banner” until 1931 — and by that time it was already a baseball tradition steeped in wartime patriotism. Thanks to a brass band, some fickle fans and a player who snapped to attention on a somber day in September, the old battle ballad was the national pastime’s anthem more than a decade before it was the nation’s.

Think about that for a minute. The song became the nation’s anthem only after it had been anointed on the ball field.

Whoah!

Fast forward to 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest during the medal ceremony for the 200 meter race at the Olympics. Smith had come in first and Carlos come in third. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played, each raised a black-gloved fist and kept it raised until the anthem concluded:

In his autobiography, Silent Gesture, Smith stated that the gesture was not a “Black Power” salute, but a “human rights salute”. The event is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

The gesture had special force in that context because the Olympics was (and remains) an international event. Smith and Carlos were making a statement on the world stage.

And that’s the context for Kaepernick’s 2016 protest during the 49ers final preseason game. The practice, obviously, is spreading, and spreading.

Trump’s Twitter Finger

How far will it go?

There’s no way to tell. A long depends on Trump’s twitchy twitter finger. We know that, in his narcissistic grandiosity, Trump doesn’t differentiate between his own interests and the nations. His ardent supporters (aka his base) have let him get away with it – for all I know, this behavior is all but invisible to them. But now he’s messing with sports, telling owners what to do, bossing the players around, all with his itchy twitter finger.

We’ve got a very complicated dynamic being played out in real-time in various national media including, of course, the Twitterverse. I have no idea how this will play out.

I does seem to me, however, that a great deal depends on Trump’s Twitter fingers. It’s absolutely clear that he likes/needs to push back. He’s called for a boycott of the NFL. Will the fans do it? If so, will the players continue? Will the owners let them? If not, will the player’s defy the owners? Strike! If the fans don’t boycott, will Trump ramp up the action however he can? What then?

But if he backs off – fat chance! – will it all die away, a tempest in a teapot, just a little trumper tantrum?

Stay tuned.

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An Appeal to the Pope on Behalf of the Creatures in the Cosmos

10 Feb

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I’ve got another post at 3 Quarks Daily, Charlie Keil’s Simple Appeal to the Pope on Behalf of the Future. Here’s a conversation Charlie and I have been having on Facebook:

Charlie Keil: Nice nesting and contexting Bill Benzon! … I’ll spread your commentary and the proposal around as far as I can reach into social media.

Some comments:
A big YES, to all those Firsts for Francis you list: First Jesuit, First Latin American, etc.

And another big YES to making this appeal to people of all religions who will need to form an ecumencal alliance if humans are to turn away from war once and for all.

A correction: be clear about the difference between “nations” (ethnic groups, tribes, those sharing values & traditions, peoples, who have a right to self-determination) and “states” (often, but not necessarily, the war-making enemy of anarcho-pacifists like myself and/or the enemy of nations trapped within states).

Correcting myself in the light of your highlighting the original St. Francis as putting the Creation, the speciation, before us as God’s other “book” to be praised and interpreted constantly. Just as “children’s liberation” and full expression can not be accomplished without peace, neither can the diversity of species by saved, strengthened, praised and interpreted properly without ending wars, banning weapons of mass destruction, creating Peace in all meridiens.

Bill Benzon: Thanks, CK. I was aware of the “nation” issue when writing the piece. Should have used “nation state” at every point.

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Charlie Keil: I’d have to go back to each sentence to see if that would work. I think it is safest, from anthropological, self-determination of peoples, classless society, and human rights points of view to just talk about states as states, because there are so few states made up of just one nation. Even homogeneolus Japan has the Ainu up north, the Okinawans down south, and a long hidden Korean underclass or caste. Whenever you’re tempted to use the phrase ‘nation state’ think of the Kurds existing in the corners of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and looking for self-determination since before the 1920s, or think of the 200 plus peoples caught in the trap that Lady Lugard named Nigeria.

On Behalf of the Future, your phrase keeps me thinking of all the ways that a Papal Peace Initiative opens the key doors to preserving species integrity and diversity, increasing awareness of Children’s Rights (European Network of Masters in Children’s Rights), and reviving the very essence of Christianity and all the other major religions.

Bill Benzon: Ah, but Charlie, THAT’s why I use the “nation state” phrase. It’s because the USofA was conceived as a nation-state that a large and important class of its inhabitants were defined as 3/5 of a person in the founding documents. Nation-states and nationalism go hand-in-hand. And this leads to a whole conversation about how people locate themselves in the world, aka identity, and that’s larger than will fit in these little FB text blocks.

Continue reading

Jersey City Future: the Twilight Zone

25 Oct

I’ve been feeling that there’s something afoot in Jersey City, but I don’t know quite what. For example, here’s an empty block in Lafayette as it was two years ago (August 10, 2011):

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Here’s the same block earlier this year (September 14, 2013):

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Quite a difference.

Two years ago the block was deserted and derelict. This year it’s blooming with plants, art, and people.

What’s Going On?

In the small, that’s easy. Liz Perry and UMMI (Unified Mothers & Men Initiative) got the lot into Jersey City’s Adopt A Lot program in 2012. That summer a few people put plots into the lot and grew some stuff. The lot looked a bit better, but still rather thin.

This summer, UMMI’s Living Village Community Garden really took off. The City fenced it off, more people took plots, and the artists, poets, musicians, and other creatives moved in, the children, too. The garden won a prize for Seed Sowing, and the seeds are just plant seeds. We’re talking about life and friendship and getting along and getting up in the neighborhood.

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That’s one neighborhood, and I could name a lot more people here.

But I’ve got the impression that this sort of thing is jumping off all over the city. The most obvious indicator is all the street art. Some of that is City funded, but most is not. There seem to be a lot of Liz Perrys in Jersey City, a lot of UMMIs, and they’re building neighborhoods.

What’s driving that?

My first theory is that it’s the recent election. A young upstart, Steve Fulop, defeated a two-term incumbent, Jerramiah Healy. It’s not simply that Healy was a two-termer, but he was a member of the Democratic machine that’s run Jersey City for a half to three-quarters of a century. Continue reading

A Birthplace of Spirits

9 Oct

The garden is empty now, at least empty of humans other than me, the photographer.

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But yesterday it was filled with people… Continue reading

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Time for some Cabbage

6 Sep

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Say No 2 War (from the Iraq era, but it’s good now and always)

30 Aug

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Liberty State Park, a Photo Essay

27 Aug

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If you are familiar with Liberty State Park in Jersey City, then you will probably recognize the scene in the above photograph. It’s the walk way along Audrey Zapp Drive leading into the park. If you aren’t familiar with the park, then that photograph gives you an idea of what you might see when you visit that part of the park.

What of this scene?

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Yes, I DID take that photo when I was in the park. But I don’t remember where I was standing when I took that photo and have no more than a vague idea of how to get back there. That photograph is so very specific as to exact time and place that there is almost no change that that scene could be duplicated in another photograph. One could surely photograph another scene more o less like it in the park. But one could also take a similar photograph in any of thousands of other places. And yet that is a photograph of Liberty State Park.

So, what does it make to take a photograph of Liberty State Park? One photo can be used to jog one’s memory of the place, or to set expectations of what you’ll set when you get there. The other is very specific, and it evokes a mood, a feeling, one you can find IN the park. But is it typical? Does that matter?

The next photo is like the first in that it shows a recognizable feature of the park, the Liberty Science Center:

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And this one is like the second; it was taken in the park, but could have been taken any one of many places:

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And then we have this photo: Continue reading

Jersey City, a Photo Essay

1 Aug

If you had to portray Jersey City in only a dozen photographs, what photos would you choose? I took a crack at that this morning and failed. It took me sixteen photos. Here they are, with light commentary.

* * * * *

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I think of that as a Chamber of Commerce shot, or a postcard shot. It’s slick, bright, and cheery. But it’s also real. That’s the Jersey City that’s been getting all the attention, the Jersey City of Big Money high-rise buildings on the waterfront.

This is Jersey City from the other side:

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When you drive into downtown Jersey City heading to New York City by way of the Holland Tunnel, that blither of signs is what greets and guides you. For tens and hundreds of thousands of commuters and travelers, that’s all there is to Jersey City.

And this Jersey City is hidden to most, but it’s near to my heart:

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The graffiti is first class and, like almost all graffiti, it’s transient (as are we). Some homeless men got embroiled in a conflict several months later and set fire to one another’s stuff (see it there in front of the wall?). These pieces were badly burned and are now underneath several more layers of paint. Continue reading

How I Found a Home in Jersey City and Got Steve Fulop Elected Mayor, Part 3

18 Jul

When the second installment ended I was photographing graffiti and had started volunteering in the Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association. There I found out that Janice Monson, who taught in the Jersey City schools and was a hardcore activist, used to take her students up on the Newport Wall and take their pictures upon graduation.

Back in November of 2006, before I’d shown up at an HPNA meeting, I was walking around, or perhaps I was in the car on the way back from my Sunday AM grocery run. One or the other, it doesn’t much matter. Anyhow, I spotted some color:

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That’s the stuff, says I, that’s the stuff. When I got closer, I noticed a ramp against a wall:

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And then this:

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Someone was obviously using this site—the floor slab of an abandoned industrial building of some sort—as a park for skateboarding and BMX bike riding. See:

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I took that one in July of 2007. Notice that the art on the walls has changed. It seems that some local, and not so local, graffiti writers used this site as something of an experimental gallery even as the skateboarders and BMXers used it to hone their athletic skills.

All off the books, so to speak. They were trespassing on this land. But no one cared. The cops certainly knew what was going on. Sure, it was a little off the beaten path, but only a little. The site’s not particularly remote or hidden. Oh, they knew, the cops. But why hassle the kids? They weren’t hurting anyone; the land wasn’t being used for anything. Let ‘em use it; keeps ‘em outa’ trouble. Continue reading