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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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RESISTANCE – Resistance to Trump

21 Apr

Over at Blogging Heads, Robert Wright talks with Erica Chenoweth, a student of non-violent resistance who is Professor & Associate Dean for Research at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Along with Maria J. Stephen she’s published Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia UP, 2011).

Early in the discussion she specifies the kind of resistance they studied (c. 3:26):

People that rely on techniques of resistance that don’t physically harm the opponent or threaten to physically harm the opponent can be categorized as nonviolent. And that when people rely on those type of techniques of resistance, whether or not they have a moral commitment to passivism or a moral commitment to non-violence per se, that the accumulation of those non-violent techniques activates a number of different political dynamics in a society that makes them more likely to succeed.

They discussion spends some time on Egypt and Syria, noting that things were going well with primarily non-violent methods in Syria (17:39 ff.) until regional and international actors began interfering (by supplying arms, etc.). Toward the end Chenoweth about current resistence to the Trump administration in America (c. 52:14):

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/45863?in=49:25&out=52:14

The nice thing about studying nonviolent resistance in dictatorships and in territorial independence movements is that we picked those cases deliberately because they were thought to be the hardest for these campaigns to succeed. And so if there are lessons that can be learned from them that can be applied in cases where there are more freedoms of association and freedom of speech that people enjoy right now, we should expect those lessons to be easily translatable.

And really I’ll just say that the four things that succeed in these difficult situations do, is that first (1) they get large and diverse participation. Second (2) they switch up techniques so that they’re not always protesting, or petitioning, or striking. They’re doing lots of different things that are sort of sequenced in a way that continually puts pressure on the site of oppression in order to dismantle it or transform it. The third thing (3) they do is they remain resilient, even when repression escalates against them. So, meaning they have a plan and they’ve figured out a way to prepare for the repression, they expect it, and they remain disciplined and the stick to the plan even when it starts.

And the fourth thing (4) they do they elicit defections or loyalty shifts from within the opponent’s pillars of support. So in this case it would mean getting a bunch of congress-people who are in the GOP to start coming out more openly and resisting the Trump agenda in Congress. It could mean police that refuse to crack down in certain ways or like deportation officials who refuse to comply with orders they think are unjust, or excessive, or disproportional.

So there are lots or ways we can imagine these taking place in the US and I would argue that many of those have already started, as you mention, the courts for example. I think there are lots of ways that the lessons from the hundreds of other countries that I’ve studied over the last century could apply to our case and there are tried and true methods of nonviolent resistance that apply absolutely in the American context today.

Martha Mills: Defending civil and voting rights in Mississippi @3QD

19 Sep

My friend, Martha A. Mills, is a very distinguished trial attorney and judge. Early in her career she worked in Mississippi and later Illinois as a civil rights attorney. She tangled with Grand Imperial Wizards, an Exalted Cyclops or two, good old boys on their worst behavior, and won some and lost some. She also directed a choir, was city attorney in Fayette, tried to explain “Sock it to me, baby!” to a racist judge, sweated the Mississippi bar exam, and took kids to swim in the pool at the Sun ‘N Sands Motel, prompting the locals to triple the dose of chlorine. She’s just published a memoir of those years, Lawyer, Activist, Judge: Fighting for Civil and Voting Rights in Mississippi and Illinois (2015). I’ve reviewed it around the corner at 3 Quarks Daily.

The first case she tried involved Joseph Smith, president of the Holmes Country NAACP. He was accused of running a red light. It was his four witnesses against the ticketing highway patrolman. The case was tried before a justice of the peace, who had no legal training (Mississippi doesn’t require it of JPs). Here’s how that went (112-113).

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When we got to the town hall, Joseph Smith, myself, and the four witnesses were told to sit down and wait a few minutes. A police officer came over and asked if it was okay if he gave the oaths to the witnesses, as the JP did not know how. I said it was fine. The trial started with the officer intoning “Hear Ye, Hear Ye” and all that (just like an old British movie) and swearing in the witnesses. And then the JP looked at me and at the highway patrolman who, in addition to having written the ticket, was also acting as prosecutor.

“What am I supposed to do next?”

I answered, “The normal procedure would be for the state to present its case first, and then us.”

“That sounds fine, carry on,” he smiled.

The highway patrolman went on to tell his story–adding that he did not give the ticket because of race or anything like that.

I then put on our witnesses who gave uncontradicted testimony that they knew Smith and his car, were right in the vicinity where they could see everything perfectly, and they saw Smith come to a complete stop behind the stoplight. Smith, of course, personally denied running the stoplight. At that point, both the highway patrolman and I said we were finished. The JP and the patrolman got up and started to walk off, discussing the case.

I overheard the JP, “Now son, how do you think I ought to decide this here case?”

Upon hearing that I followed them, “You honor, this is all highly improper. I have to be present at any conferences you have about this case!”

“That’s fine,” both men nodded at me, but it did not temper their conversation at all.

After some argument between us, the highway patrolman said if I did not think his case was strong enough, he would put on another witness. The witness was the police officer who had administered the oaths. He testified that he was in the vicinity of the violation but that he did not see whether Smith stopped or not. That added evidence seemed to convince the JP, and he gave Smith a fine. We immediately posted an appeal bond. I felt like I was in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. It was an unbelievable farce.

On Diverse Uses of Public Lands: An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul

9 Jan

The armed standoff in Oregon concerning the Malheur Wildlife refuge is only the latest is a long series of conflicts over “public” lands, as R. McGreggor Cawley has pointed out in a recent op-ed in The New York Times. In a quick overview of that history he points out:

In other words, the federal government has attempted to do what Payne, Ammon Bundy and their compatriots ask — “return the land to the people.” Had the Western states accepted the offer, we might have avoided a long train of controversies leading to the Oregon occupation. But when the Western states declined, the second caveat in the Hoover committee recommendations was put into play, and Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, establishing a permit-and-fee system for regulating grazing on the public lands. All of that was to be administered by the Department of Interior’s federal Grazing Service — an entity that would eventually become part of the Bureau of Land Management.

But things, as we see, didn’t work out. Conflicts remain. He concludes:

This is what’s important about public-land conflicts: They raise thorny questions about abstract political concepts like democracy. Creating wilderness areas, or instituting environmental regulations, inevitably restricts someone’s access to the land or the purposes they would prefer to see it put to. For those who are restricted, the government’s action may not appear very democratic. It’s in these disputes that we get outside the abstractions of political science and reckon with big questions in a very immediate way: How do we all decide what this land is for, how best to use it, who can be trusted to administer it and how our competing visions for it can be heard — right down to each acre of grass, each deer and each gallon of creek water?

It is in this context that Charlie Keil has drafted an open letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul in which he urges that recognize a diversity of use categories for public lands – the Federal Government administers an eighth of the nation’s landmass – and that we listen seriously to “the armed cowboys in Oregon”.

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Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul,

Could you both endorse a statement along the following lines?

We need to recognize a variety of different kinds of public lands: Wilderness, boondocks, the commons, public property, all increase the value, the sacredness, the importance, the preciousness of private property.

We need to create 1) true wilderness areas, 2) wilderness corridors, 3) boondocks surrounding the wilderness areas and corridors working as buffer zones where only a very few people are specially permitted to go there (mostly for religious or spiritual reasons), 4) commons for grazing and other seasonal usages, and 5) public properties with rules for local community sharing. The more we do this, the better off all the diversity of species and diversity of socio-cultural systems will be. The healthier the wilderness, boondocks, commons and public lands are, the happier the human individuals and societies will be.

Finally, the values and treatment of private properties will be enhanced in direct proportion to the amount of land we can safeguard, keep beautiful and healthy all around our human settlements. What might be called a win, win, win, win, situation for all of Creation! And for all of humanity too. The very opposite of a “race to the bottom” or a “tragedy of the commons” in which everyone (people, plants, animals) become losers as a few people with big machinery plunder MotherNature some more.

I don’t believe the armed cowboys in Oregon are Jefferson’s yeoman farmers wanting to homestead. They seem more like the thugs that genocided the Native Americans to steal their lands. They are there in sympathy with convicted arsonists? Burning trees to create grasslands for cattle and more hamburgers? They want to renew the war between grazers and farmers? Do they stand for a land redistribution of some kind that I don’t understand? Let’s hear them out, amplify their message, have some discussions, explain the urgent needs for more wilderness, and then restore the land to wildlife refuge, this time with a boondocks perimeter, plus a commons where Wes Jackson’s perennial grains can be tried out.

Wish I could sign off as a vegetarian but I still crave some free-range chicken once in a while,

Charlie Keil

The Time Has Come for a Department of Peace

14 Dec

Over at 3 Quarks Daily I’ve posted The United States Needs a Department of Peace. The idea was first proposed in 1793 by Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and has been frequently proposed over the last century (Wikipedia). Starting in 1935 a number of bills have been introduced introduced into Congress, most recently by Dennis Kucinich as H.R. 808. It was re-introduced in the 114th Congress on February 26, 2015 by Barbara Lee as H.R. 1111.

I devote most of my 3QD post to the text Rush’s proposal, but introduce it with some commentary on the allegorical paintings he proposes for the room that would house his proposed Peace Office. He also proposed that the following assertions be posted on a sign above the door to the War Office:

1. An office for butchering the human species.
2. A Widow and Orphan making office.
3. A broken bone making office.
4. A Wooden leg making office.
5. An office for creating public and private vices.
6. An office for creating public debt.
7. An office for creating speculators, stock Jobbers, and Bankrupts.
8. An office for creating famine.
9. An office for creating pestilential diseases.
10. An office for creating poverty, and the destruction of liberty, and national happiness.

Obama’s Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney 1: The Circle of Grace

16 Jul

Make no mistake, it was a remarkable performance. Nominally a eulogy, very much a eulogy. But also a sermon on the past and future of race relations in America.

Though Rev. Pinckney’s funeral was held on June 26, and I heard of Obama’s eulogy shortly thereafter, and heard about it again, and again, I didn’t bother to watch it until a couple of days ago when I was reflecting on some remarks the economist Glenn Loury and linguist John McWhorter made about the ‘authenticity’ of Obama’s performance. After all, Obama wasn’t raised in the church. And yet he chose to don the vestments of a black preacher, the rhetorical and oratorical style, to deliver his eulogy.

I’ll get around to Loury and McWhorter in a later post. In this one I want to look at the eulogy itself, which pretty much took the form of a sermon addressed to the nation. In my preliminary analysis that sermon has five basic parts as follows:

1. Prologue: Address to his audience, quoting of a passage from the Bible.

2. Phase 1: Moves from the Clementa Pinckney’s life to the significance of the black church in history.

3. Phase 2: The murder itself and presence of God’s grace.

4. Phase 3: Looks to the nation, the role racism has played, and the need to move beyond it.

5. Closing: Amazing Grace.

In the course of this analysis I will be referring to specific paragraphs by number. I have appended the entire text to this post and have numbered the paragraphs. Furthermore, I have uploaded an analytical table I am using as I think about the text. Each paragraph appears in the table along with comments here and there. You may view or download this document here: https://www.academia.edu/14123971/President_Obama_s_Eulogy_for_Clemente_Pinckney_an_Analytic_Table

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I want to begin by quoting from an article Michiko Kakutani published on July 4, Obama’s Eulogy, Which Found Its Place in History:

A draft of the Charleston eulogy was given to the president around 5 p.m. on June 25 and, according to Mr. Keenan, Mr. Obama spent some five hours revising it that evening, not merely jotting notes in the margins, but whipping out the yellow legal pads he likes to write on — only the second time he’s done so for a speech in the last two years. He would rewrite large swaths of the text.

Mr. Obama expanded on a short riff in the draft about the idea of grace, and made it the central theme of the eulogy: the grace family members of the shooting victims embodied in the forgiveness they expressed toward the killer; the grace the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina manifested in coming together in the wake of the massacre; the grace God bestowed in transforming a tragedy into an occasion for renewal, sorrow into hope.

First, I would love to be able to compare Keenan’s draft with the eulogy that Obama delivered. Did that draft open with “Giving all praise and honor to God”? Did it quote Scripture at the beginning (Hebrews 11:13), as is typical of sermons? That is to say, did Keenan know he was drafting a sermon, or did that happen as Obama devoted five hours and who knows how many pieces of 8.5 by 14 lined yellow paper to the rewrite? Continue reading

Pope Francis on the Environmental Crisis

18 Jun

An article in the NYTimes opens:

Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, as his much-awaited papal encyclical blended a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.

The vision that Francis outlined in the 184-page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness. The most vulnerable victims are the world’s poorest people, he declared, who are being dislocated and disregarded.

It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this encyclical will have on world affairs. The Pope, of course, is not the first public figure to speak out on climate, and it takes more than words to change the world.

But a papal encyclical is not a speech or a white paper, it is the official expression of an institution whose history stretches back two millennia and whose constitutions live on every continent and speak a multitude of tongues. It is thus transnational in scope in a way that perhaps no other document is. And it is a teaching document (emphasis mine):

Francis has made clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to pressure politicians for change. Bishops and priests around the world are expected to lead discussions on the encyclical in services on Sunday. But Francis is also reaching for a wider audience when in the first pages of the document he asks “to address every person living on this planet.”

Will that happen? And not just on this Sunday, but on many Sundays after, Saturdays too, and Wednesday evenings.

In part we can measure the impact of Laudato Si (Praise Be to You) by the opposition it provokes.

Yet Francis has also been sharply criticized by those who question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change and also by some conservative Roman Catholics, who have interpreted the document as an attack on capitalism and as unwanted political meddling at a moment when climate change is high on the global agenda.

Continue reading

Memories of a King, the Beale Street Blues Boy

15 May

It’s possible that the first photo I ever saw of B. B. King was on the cover of Charlie Keil’s Urban Blues, an ethnographic study that spilled over into common discourse and made Charlie’s career. And I’m sure I read more about him in that book than I’ve read about him since then. But I don’t recall when I first heard King’s music and I only ever saw him live but twice in my life, once at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in upstate New York in the late 1970s or early 1980s and then a bit later in Albany, New York, when I opened for him as a member of The Out of Control Rhythm and Blues Band.

I don’t remember much about the SPAC performance except that before long he had us dancing in the aisles, at least those of us close enough to the aisles that we could get out there and dance. The rest of the rather considerable audience had to be content with giggling and grooving in or in front of their seats. By this time, of course, King’s days of struggling were over and his audiences were mostly white, as are most of the people in the USA – though those days will come to an end some time later in this century.

Dancing in the aisles: that’s the point, isn’t it? The music enters your body, lifts it up, and you become spirit. The blues? Why not, the blues?

My memories of the Albany gig are a bit richer. To be sure, as I recall, King’s music was better at that SPAC gig, for the music comes and goes even with the best of them. Our manager (and saxophonist) Ken Drumm had seen to it that King had champagne waiting for him when he arrived in his dressing room and that got us an opportunity to meet him after the gig. But we had to line up with everyone else – mostly middle aged ladies in big hats and Sunday dresses – and wait our turn. We didn’t have more than a minute, if that, in the man’s presence.

And that meeting is worth thinking about in itself. King was the son of Mississippi sharecroppers. I don’t know about the rest of his band, but I recall a thing or two about Out of Control’s line-up at the time: two lawyers (I suppose we could call them ‘Big City’ lawyers for contrast, though Albany isn’t that big of a city), an advertising executive (that would be Mr. Drumm), a commercial photographer, a Berklee College drop-out, a car salesman, and an independent scholar (me). All brought together in the same place at the same time to worship in the church of the blues. I suppose I could invoke the melting pot cliché, but there was no melting going on, though the music was hot enough. As for the pot, to my knowledge the Out of Control boys were clean that night. I don’t know about BB’s band. Continue reading

Software Mysteries: Roll over Beethoven, let Satchmo come over!

9 Mar

I spent a fair amount of time in the last decade of the previous century working in the software industry (see this post for example) and reading popular prescriptions for improving America’s management style, many of those inspired by Japan. Somewhere along the line I got the idea that these new organizational ideas were more like an improvising jazz quintet and basketball than like the classical symphony and football. That is to say, that, stylistically, high-tech owes a debt to African-America even if African-Americans are not widely employed in the high tech world.

That’s what my current piece in 3 Quarks Daily is about: Cultural Styles in the 21st Century, or the High Tech Debt to Africa. This is the kind issue I’ve looked at elsewhere as well. Here’s a passage from Cultural Evolution: A Vehicle for Cooperative Interaction Between the Sciences and the Humanities:

During the 1960s the late Alan Lomax (1968) decided to investigate folk song styles against the background of cultural complexity. Lomax and his colleagues prepared a sample of over 3000 songs, representing 233 cultures from 5 continents plus the Pacific islands, and had judges code the songs on features of style — nature of the performing group, relationship between vocal part and instrumental parts, melodic style, rhythmic style, wordiness, tone quality, tempo, and so on. They correlated style traits with measures of social complexity and found that the simpler the society, the simpler its song lyrics. The simplest societies used a great deal of repetition and nonsense syllables. Similarly, the precision of enunciation varies with social complexity; the more complex the society, the more precise the enunciation. The prevalence of solo singers was also associated with complexity. In the simplest societies, everyone sang; no one was given or took a solo role. It is only in more complex societies, with permanent leaders and social stratification, that we see ensembles divided into a soloist and accompanists.

This is an empirical finding. And, while it may seem intuitively obvious that complex cultures create a collective ambiance that favors expressive forms that are different from those of less complex cultures, one would like an explanation for this “fit.” I would expect a robust account of cultural evolution to provide such an explanation.

In a similar vein, John Roberts, Brian Sutton-Smith, and Adam Kendon (1963) were interested in the relationship between child-rearing practices, community size, types of games, and folk tales. In particular, they were interested in what they have called the strategic mode. Strategy plays minor role in games of physical skill, but a dominant role in games such as chess and poker, which also has strong elements of chance. In folk tales, we can examine how the outcome is achieved, whether through physical skill, chance (guessing, casting lots, magic), or strategy (e.g. evaluating a situation, deception, out-witting an opponent). They discovered that games of strategy are likely to co-occur with folktales having a strong strategic element and that both are more likely in politically complex societies (chiefdoms and above).

The general point is simple: Expressive culture, how and what we sing, dance, and tell stories, is not just about entertainment. It pervades our society and all that we do. The cultural requirements of high tech industries are quite different from those of ‘classical’ industrial revolution. The fact that high tech culture evolved in a society pervaded by jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop is not incidental. It is foundational.

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