What Did Atticus Finch See From His Front Porch?: What might he see today?

front porch“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch as penned by Harper Lee 

“Art isn’t supposed to answer questions, it’s supposed to ask them.”  David Fincher

One of the most iconic of American figures, Atticus Finch, was created out of the imagination and life experiences of Harper Lee. A fictional Alabamian revered around the world whose apparition was cut from the whole cloth of Lee’s father. Atticus was almost immediately proclaimed a saint, but perhaps it is time to return to the accepting there is but one lone Alabamian who can be forwarded for admiration on a worldwide stage, Helen Keller. All the rest seem to have chinks in their armor somewhere to preclude sainthood, or even the moniker of gentleman in most quarters. Much is hidden from our view from Atticus Finch’s front porch in Depression Maycomb County, Alabama, and in the past decade or so much has been uncovered about what that view from the porch was really like and what was going on in the Southern lawyer’s head, and that of his originator’s and her father’s heads.

The American South, especially in Alabama and Mississippi, is one of contradictions: gentle respect for tradition, violence, repression, a societal DNA of slavery, and a crystalline class structure. Within this structure, the bottom is occupied by blacks (though Latinos in recent years have squeezed into that rung), lower manual labor whites, and the genteel upper class whites, with business split between a white culture and black culture served by their own. These have proven resistant to progressive thinking until recently. At least ‘Bama has been able to integrate its football team to “positive” results, though we might need to linger on that topic as part of Atticus’ visions from the porch, and later parlor when he moved inside after WWII to watch televised games on Saturday in an air conditioned room. You may be intrigued enough to venture into the links at the bottom to explore the nature of segregating “Bama football teams and how Bear Bryant dealt with the South’s racist approach to athletics. Note the game with the University of Southern California in 1970 as a wonderful example. Today’s team is two thirds African/American in composition and ranked at the top of the nation.

Harper Lee loved her father, who was a self-made man, a lawyer, legislator and owner of a newspaper, living in a small Alabama town in the “era of genteel white supremacists”. Her father was part of that genteel class, though his morality was more nuanced. His name was Amasa Coleman Lee- A.C. to the town, with the two initials indicative of that quaint endearing Southern nickname practice. As a lawyer, he defended a black man accused of rape, and lost. After the man was convicted, hanged and mutilate, he did not practice criminal law again. But, he once chased an integrationist preacher out of the Monroeville Methodist Church to demonstrate where his social racial perspectives lay. Initially a New Deal Democrat, he evolved into a Dixiecrat honoring Confederate veterans and their cause, supporting the prosecution of the Scottsboro Boys—nine black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women—and defending the poll tax. He praised law-enforcement officers who protected black prisoners from lynchings, but opposed a federal anti-lynching law, writing that it “violates the fundamental idea of states rights and is aimed as a form of punishment upon the southern people.”

While he certainly wouldn’t have liked the outright racism of George Wallace, A.C. certainly didn’t want to change the system that much. Lee herself knew this and was ever the spokesperson for the genteel South, much as she was pushing for its evolution towards progressive thinking. In college in the journalist role she pursued there she was an outlier in taking on the segregationist policies of the school and state. When she wrote about her south in the post war, living in New York and continuing the friendship began in childhood with her next door neighbor, Truman Capote, it was semi-autobiographical. The viewpoint we, the reader, enjoy from the novel is that of a young girl, Scout. She and her friends and acquaintances offer their story to us, illuminating the worlds of Atticus Finch, Tom Robinson, Boo Radley and Calpurnia, the family maid through her eyes. In “Atticus Finch: The Biography” (Basic Books), published this year, Joseph Crespino, a historian at Emory University, argues, convincingly, that Lee’s fiction was an attempt “to work out her differences with her father.”

She claimed the book was pure and simple a love story between a father and his daughter. You also see within its pages her coming of age and loss of innocence. Her father exudes and values of courage, respect, honor and integrity. He believes that justice, as an ideology, can be supported in a society with universal application if only done by a sole exponent. Because justice, racial justice, will not be served, Scout is forced to accept this harsh reality. She is the protagonist, who is changed, while Atticus is the rock of wisdom throughout, accepting the good in all people no matter their values.

Shortly after the book came out, was acclaimed and Lee won the Pulitzer Prize, Peck earned his Oscar for portraying Atticus Finch in one of the iconic roles of any actor’s lifetime. Lee’s father had recently passed away from a heart attack and Lee gave his pocket watch to Peck, which he wore in the film. Lee was taken aback when she saw Peck in his three-piece suit the first time as he so reminded her of her father. The apogee of Atticus Finch occurred just at about time those White Supremacists were murdering Civil Rights workers, stopping the integration of educational institutions, burning churches and MLK writing his letter from the Birmingham, Alabama jail. In the year that Gregory Peck won his Oscar, George Wallace stood in the doorway barring blacks for entering the University of Alabama.

lee peckIn the meantime, the book has been translated into more than forty languages and sold more than thirty million copies. Since Lee’s death in 2016, the estate oversees the interests of the book and assiduously protects its reputation and Atticus Fitch’s aura. Shortly before Lee’s death, Tonja Carter, a member of the estate group established by Harper Lee to oversea the book’s legacy after her death, pushed for the publishing of the rejected first draft of the book. Lee had finished this first version in the late 1950s and called it “Go Set A Watchman”. In the 50s, Lee found no joy in presenting it to many publishing houses.  Only when she brought it to J.B. Lippincott & Co, where an editor, Tay Hohoff, saw potential in the structure of the writer’s work, did she find a path to publishing it. But, the themes and characters were unworkable, unsellable. The protagonists was openly bigoted, the characters sad and despondent about the South they inhabit. Scout is a young adult and fully deprived of her innocence at the beginning of the story, with the book dragging all its readers through this leadened world. Hohoff spent the next two years working with, perhaps you could say co-writing, Lee as the amended version was completed to become that iconic classic. Hohoff was the figure who opened the door of history for the novel.

In the several years since Go Set A Watchman resurfaced, much has been discussed about race in America, as this coincided with our first black president, premature claims of a post-racial America and then Charlottesville. Concurrent to the decision to publish Watchman, Scott Rudin, a New York producer, was securing the rights from Lee to write a version of the book for the theater. Rudin, a longtime friend and collaborator with Aaron Sorkin, had Sorkin in mind from the beginning to write the play. Only three weeks before Lee died, she green-lighted Sorkin’s handling of the project and Sorkin took nearly three years to adopt the novel into a play. 

This is something he knew was likely impossible, taking on this iconic legend of a story. But he felt it was relevant today and he knew he wanted Jeff Daniels for Atticus. To quote Sorkin (and also relate it to Daniels’ answer to Sorkin when offered the role), “It would be like entering a head-to-head competition with Tom Brady in which points were awarded based on passing efficiency and handsomeness. It wouldn’t be a wise thing to do. Without hesitation, I said yes.

Sorkin’s first draft was a labor of difficulty. He sent it to Rudin who later called to arrange a meeting to discuss the draft. Typically they would hash out thoughts over three or four full days. At this meeting, though, one of only forty-five minutes, Rudin said only two things: Forget what you’ve just sent me. We’ve got to get to the trial earlier…and “Atticus can’t be Atticus for the whole play. He has to become Atticus by the end.

“Well … duh”, said, Sorkin. “That’s Freshman Playwriting. First semester, first week. A protagonist has to change. A protagonist has to be put through something and be changed by it. And one more thing: A protagonist has to have a flaw. How did Harper Lee get away with creating a flawless protagonist who’s the same person at the end of the book as he is at the beginning? Simple. In the book, Atticus isn’t the protagonist — Scout is.”

scoutSorkin continued in his assessment of Atticus the idealist, “He believes that Bob Ewell should be understood as a man who lost his job. He believes Mrs. Dubose should be understood as a woman who recently stopped taking her medication and lives in physical pain. He believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists. He believes … that there are fine people on both sides?”

“In the play, this set of beliefs would be challenged,” concludes Sorkin.  Welcome to 2018

Photo Credit: Julieta CervantesHow is it today on Atticus Finch’s porch in Maycomb County? What has transpired. We have changed, not the book. What has changed?

After the passage of Civil Rights legislation in Washington, D.C. in 1964, Jim Crow laws were outlawed. During the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, a Canadian named Paul Saltzman came to Alabama as a volunteer worker with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He spent ten days in jail with other civil rights workers, and was chased by a trio of Klansmen–one of whom, the son of Byron De La Beckwith, the convicted murderer of activist Medgar Evers, punched Saltzman in the head. At that time, some of the great institutions of America: the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides, the YMCA, the Howard Johnson, even washrooms and drinking fountains, were still segregated. 

In 2008, Saltzman, now a documentary film maker, returned to Alabama to make a film. He met Morgan Freeman and the idea was hatched to film an integrated prom in the tiny town of Charleston, Mississippi. Morgan Freeman returned to Mississippi for good in 1991- because he feels “it is the safest place in America” for him. Yet, the local high school, integrated since the Civil Rights days, still held separate black and white proms as of 2007. (note: Morgan Freeman has alleged issues of his own from #Metoo and he has spoken to this)  Freeman had offered to fund the prom in 1998 on the condition that it be integrated, but his offer was not taken up by the School Board at that time. In 2008, with new exposure and opportunity, the Board accepted Freeman’s return invitation to fund it when Saltzman and his family moved to Charleston for four months to film Prom Night in Mississippi.

Was it a speed bump or a speed lane for change? Though the South is moving forward, will it ever reach a place where the Atticus Finch of the future will see his neighbors’ black children running around in his front yard, playing with his grandchildren and hugging each other unabashedly, free from glares from Maycomb County’s other inhabitants’ racists thoughts, or comments? Would those older grandchildren date the black neighbors’ kids, possibly leading to marriage. Maybe we could see even a gay, interracial marriage. Hope for the future lies in that future new book, one where the black characters are not always victims without hope and support, but one where justice is finally met out fairly and consistent with the rule of law and decency for all citizens.…and a society that would fully embrace it and mirror it in the non-fiction reality of the world.




Other excerpts and links about Lee to peruse:

Santopietro shrewdly refers to the novel as “the right book in the right place at the right time” to resonate with a growing civil rights movement, and in later chapters relates its theme to recent racially charged incidents, including the violence that convulsed Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

Review of Why To Kill A Mockingbird Matters :“The title is misleading. I expected this text to offer a complex and sustained argument about the merits of the novel itself. Instead, much of the book is given over to a biography of Nelle Harper Lee and an extremely detailed history of the making of the 1962 movie. Some light literary analysis is thrown in for good measure. Never does this book take chances or make a persuasive argument for why To Kill a Mockingbird matters to anyone but white people who inexplicably still do not understand the ills of racism, and seemingly need this book to show them the light … Santopietro has certainly done his homework, and he applies the rigor of his knowledge admirably … Most of Santopietro’s work is given over to that movie — so much so that I began to wonder if this book was intended to be a cultural history of the adaptation alone… but the author fails to explain how it supports his argument that To Kill a Mockingbird matters… On top of that, the book’s structure is strange. The groundwork for Why ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Matters is astute, but the intellectual analyses are not, and the book suffers for it.” Roxanne Gay of NYTimes

Hudziak https://www.uvm.edu/we/profiles/jim_hudziak_md 





























“Rising Tides Lifting Boats”, “The Glass Ceiling” or “The Invisible Hand”: Are Humans just too Plainly Stupid – Collectively? Or are they on the wrong path ideologically?

My questions above are loaded with issues to unpack. Can we use a metaphor to illustrate the difficultly of doing this? Actually, humans communicate in most ways through the use of metaphors to make sense of what they perceive. It doesn’t always offer a clear and complete viewpoint in the simplified attempt to make sense of the world, though.

hoursThe metaphors in the left hand portion of the title of the blog have been used to describe economic models. This became a practice as the European world evolved from a Medieval economy based on agriculture, tradition and a strong class system with ownership primarily reserved for an aristocracy. This time period, present everywhere before the 17th century, was predicated on convincing individuals in society that they belonged where they were born and that social mobility was absurd. This changed with the market-based model, and metaphors also became necessary to sell different constituents’ beliefs in how it best worked. We are still unable to find a universal metaphor that is both appropriate and correct.

Historically Man, an animal who has the ability to reason, initially hunted and gathered as his first option in economics. Unsurprisingly, he often chose to share property and the spoils of a hunt within this system. Socialism was known from the beginning, in other words. As man domesticated animals and plants, property and hierarchy entered society’s paradigm. Our religious texts soon followed suit in support of this hierarchy, with the priests high on the list. This approach held sway for over ten thousand years of domestic life, with a few discussions and alternative practices surfacing briefly in some areas. Once the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras make their alterations on societies’ institutions, the use of metaphors and comparisons of paradigms proliferated. 

As Europeans moved through the Renaissance and into expansion of dominion and more specialization occurred, change was both involuntary forced and voluntarily incorporated upon the dynamics of the economic model found in some European cultures (this is a time, too, when nation-states were evolving, another strain on the traditional system. But think of the changes of the European map since 1400 to notice the changes from then to the Eurozone-another recent economic model!). Other factors like the plague and dissolution of Papal power aided in the breakdown of the previous system. 

01mercBy the time they arrived in the early 18th century, those armed with the knowledge and background began to explore why the traditional economic model was as it was and if there might be a better way. Still, those in charge were not going to abdicate control willingly. Their model of mercantilism, most fervently championed by the French and Louis XIV, the most powerful ruler in the 17th century, seemed to make the best sense- at least to those vested with power. It certainly made them converts in the growing competitiveness of the expanding world. How could a country best protect its interests using the mercantilist system; steal ideas and foreign experts, place tariffs on the competition and measure success by accumulating gold bullion. A transactional system, but still very much under the control of the leader and one who did not support upward mobility. 

Some feel it is the best way to protect local jobs, but the world was way beyond that at this irreversible point because the world was becoming interconnected despite attempts to compartmentalize it and many felt it was time to adopt the market-system model due to forces in play since 1776 when Adam Smith articulated another metaphor and introduced supply and demand into the discussion.

The first onto the scene to offer metaphors were those in favor of private property and proprietary obligations. Persons like John Locke, central to the tenets of American political philosophy and respected by our Founding Fathers, had private property as a central tenet of his beliefs. These market-system proponents were the owners of capital and those risking new ventures, whether it be in exploration, colonization, new means of production or ownership of businesses. At first, these individuals had a symbiotic relationship with the aristocratic class, and were granted monopolies in trade during the transition from mercantilism to market-system. This mercantilist system had been built on the premise of increasing a country’s pie by colonizing another land and subjugating its resources and labor for the benefit of the mother country. Each imperial power tried to keep the competition out of their dominions.

invisible-handEvolving from this we have the Adam Smith metaphor of the fledgling capitalists. He felt the market left alone-laissez-faire-guided by an “invisible hand” of Christian buyers who would do what is beneficial to oneself and therefore collectively make the best decision for the whole. Being Christians, they would do no harm or promote no fraud, theft or speculation. Hmmm.

By the end of the 18th century, socialism again returned in earnest with Rousseau, as unworkable as his Noble Savage metaphor was. He was a libertine in personal morals, though.  It was opposed by Adam Smith and his market-driven metaphor. Then, by the first half of the 19th century, communes appeared in Europe and America based on controlled communities and trade between these closed systems based on the unique products they offered. Tension continued throughout the century as new inventions allowed for major alterations in the nature of work, transhumance on a large scale, and the “creative destruction” of jobs lost to innovation.  Labor became a commodity and part of the equation of valuation in the market-system. This led workers in their attempts to unionize and have a collective voice, something not resolved as a process of communication well into the 21st century. The 19th century rural agricultural world started to decrease in size dramatically, yet it would take until the beginning of the 21st century before more people lived in cities than in the country.

rising tide lifts all boatsSocialism splintered into many guises during the 19th century, with Marxist ideology the most extreme. Marxism drove the adoption of many metaphors in many places into and through the 20th century, but it was capitalism that was the most creative in selling its ideology through metaphors. Think, JFK’s “Rising Tides Lifting Boats” or Reagan’s “Trickle Down” and emphasis on the supply side, or “The Glass Ceiling” that has hampered females in the work place since after World War One. They are still poking about its roof. 

trickleSo we enter into the arguments splintering since the 2016 election, with the GOP not anywhere near its traditional beliefs in markets. The Trumpites seem bound for the 18th century mercantilist model, rattling the capital markets with their attempts at control and MAGA, another undefined metaphor. Since China opened up to the world, dismissed socialism and entered into the game with a single-party control of the country’s banks and much of its economic decisions, they have chewed up an ever larger share of the ever growing economic pie. The USA has maintained the largest piece, but proportionally we have a smaller percentage of the world’s share of exchanges. 

Since 1990, with the advent of containerization, China’s cheap workforce and letting the expense of the supply side determine where that supply originates for those on the demand side, the middle class of the United States, as well as the traditional jobs of the Lower Class here, have been hollowed out. The downturns from speculation in the DOT.COM era and the housing collapse that followed continued to eviscerate the class structure. The disparity of income continues to widen and the political landscape is producing Golems. Gene Sperling, and economist, opined: “Indeed, the question of whether spreading globalization and information technology (IT) is strengthening or hollowing out our middle class may be the most paramount economic issue of our time.” The younger generation needs to do some homework, return to some economics classes and develop a new metaphor to take this country forward. I wonder what it will be. Can Aristotle offer a starting place: “The condition of the free man is that he does not live for the benefit of another.” It will be difficult with the IT world to accommodate all factors, though. Think of the rapper Cardi B as the final example of the market and “success” in today’s world. Or the kid who is seven and earned 22 million because of his ability to gather a crowd on Youtube. And then there’s Brexit and Britain’s Seppuku as an economic choice with no solution.

brexithttp://hkr.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:321193/FULLTEXT01   best examples




https://www.thecitypodcast.com/#intro  abuse of the citizenry 




Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: How Would You Draw History?

Recently the NYTimes published and opinion piece penned by Crispin Sartwell. With a little online mining, Mr. Sartwell became a part of the story and a bit of a segue. His philosophical positions support anarchism and individual rights, and his writings have focused on knowledge and aesthetics. While I’m sure he had more thoughts to insert in this piece, I imagine the word count restrictions from the Times prevented such to happen, but there were obvious omissions in his options that need to be explored. Let’s think of a few.

This has led me to this composition, which will involve three themes: conceiving of a drawing or constructing a model by which to view some metaphor for how history can be explored and presented to the living (and future generations); the nature of humans and what is important to them as individuals (and therefore their collective cultural imprints) and how the issues and characteristics of any culture are born, carried forward and impact ‘history’; and a bit of analysis of specific excerpts that will serve these two theses.

The myriad cultures now present in the world each first developed with some form of tribalism, later leading to the following characteristics:

  1. religious understanding
  2. aesthetic appreciation
  3. genetic footprint
  4. interaction in different ways between societal members and established rules of engagement with “The Other”
  5. an economic model to allow for specialization of labor and exchange of goods
  6. understandings about the concept of proprietary arrangements and some form of political hierarchy related to power that had evolved from incidents, individuals and favored opinions that were disseminated by the top end of this hierarchy

The last of these, those in control of the hierarchy, is central to this blog’s exploration.

How does any society move towards “improving upon itself” while maintaining its favored elements. Then, how is the individual who is born into that society satisfied with how her life evolves?  What paradigms are imprinted upon her from birth that allows for some form of acceptance that life is good and the leaders are benevolent in their demeanor and deeds concerning her? And, how are the benefits of that society’s offerings- fair distribution of goods and services, appreciation and maintenance of aesthetic norms, spiritually, and security– performed within any society?. History has provided so many models to illustrate these options and by which we can each illuminate our own understanding of how we each, individually, value them in today’s world. The current climate in the world, though, is often focusing on groups within a country’s boundaries and whether accommodation of any other group is possible in this changing world. At the same time, the power of the individual in that world due to the digitization of information and the ease with which it can be disseminated is complicating the issue, also expanding the power of the individual to gain access to both information and the wielding of power.

Let’s return to the first charge I made for myself in this blog; the omissions Mr. Sartwell neglected or was precluded from exploring. As a philosopher, it is not too far of a stretch to think that he might lean towards an agnostic philosophical position, which perhaps explains why his several models ignored the religious models offered so many of the world’s inhabitants. The Sistine Ceiling is an entire metaphor of history that served for centuries and has been altered by science over the past few centuries to accommodate new understandings. In addition, his reference to Marx could have been updated with noting the Marxist philosopher, Guy Debord’s 1967 work, The Society of Spectacle, whose quote, “by means of the spectacle the ruling order discourses endlessly upon itself in an uninterrupted monologue of self-praise”, was a literal harbinger of how politics in the Postwar capitalist fascist model would evolve. There are sufficient models, one needs only rely on a bit of reason….and reading to temper emotions adequately to arrive at viable options to espouse and follow.

It is a difficult to imagine historical models and their impact on present societies without including the Taliban, ISIL, attacks on Rohingya, Evangelical American Christians (and how the North Sentinel Islanders feel about them), Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Uighurs, some Mormons and other minorities who embrace a paradigm that is inconsistent with those around them. Some societies have methods to accommodate these minorities, but the shift is on to tighten these accommodations.

In Sartwell’s article, he has a basic introduction, which I have copied in the excerpt below. Read it to see where he is in the discussion and then unpack its meanings:

The philosophy of history, which flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries and has enjoyed periodic revivals in the hands of thinkers like Arthur Danto and Francis Fukuyama, set itself the remarkably ambitious project of describing the forces that shape human events: history’s structure, its direction, its aim, its point and even its end. There are good reasons to be skeptical of such a project, which we might associate above all with the names Marx and Hegel, and it is possible that history has no coherent shape or direction, or many. It may be, too, that the shape of history depends on our decisions and not on impersonal forces. But the philosophy of history is also a seductive project because, among other things, it seems to promise an understanding — even an approximate one — of what might happen next.

First, what might those “impersonal forces” be? Is there a grand plan controlled by some superior being(s); are there metaphysical forces that we do not understand, but theoretically, if we did and could control them, that history might be ours for the taking; is the human factor less relevant when compared to these impersonal forces that act through a possibly erratic, or chaotic or indeterminate relationship to the physical world in which we live…leaving us always to react to it for survival?

Or, does history really depend on our decisions? The Old and New Testaments lead us that way, with the goals are not here on earth, though, for the New Testament followers. If we can control and construct the world in which we live, who should have that authority, why? Is fairness for the greatest number the goal; or with the understanding that all future inhabitants are more important than those in the present; or that we must ethically always advise ourselves about the possibility of “playing god” and to avoid any such instances; or was Nietzsche correct, or Darwin, Rand or Marx, or any other idea previously presented?  Is survival of the individual the most obvious and viable option? Is survival of one’s society, though, even more paramount? Is there really an ideal society? Can an economic model be advanced to everyone in a community that is acceptable to all, with legal and ethical paradigms taught in the family, in school and adjudicated in the legal system that can resolve all disputes for such a system? The Social Sciences all need to be incorporated in investing in this exploration, but do we have enough understanding of humans at this point to arrive at a satisfactory answer and model that correctly describes the clear tenets of any discipline within the Social Sciences? Logic and Emotion are counterposing forces that each are critical to the human condition. Yet each are problematic and can easily bias any conclusions.

To further illuminate this discussion, it was helpful when the NYTimes followed with an article about life in China. Using the meritocratic entrance exam for university as an instrument of how its leaders and citizens deal with political and social arrangements for society gives us a useful method of exploring a specific example of how any historian must understand and appreciate the unique characteristics and values of any culture to be able to assess and describe it well. I feel this is useful for illustrating a point I have to make about history and how one needs to view it. The article explored how the Chinese view education and one’s duty to family and community to assist in constructing and controlling social hierarchy. Let’s look at this excerpt from that article (it begins with a reference to a rising female citizen who is willing to capitulate any political power to the government in exchange for security and upward economic mobility):

To achieve all this, Ms. Gong and millions of other Chinese like her have an unspoken bargain with the ruling Communist Party. The government promises a good life to anyone who works hard, even the children of peasants. In exchange, they stay out of politics, look away when protesters climb onto rooftops to denounce the forced demolition of their homes, and accept the propaganda posters plastered across the city.

Ms. Gong is proud of China’s economic success and wants a piece of it. Politics, she said, doesn’t matter in her life. “I don’t care about the leaders,” she said, “and the leaders don’t care about me.”

Yet China’s leaders, and its people, have continued to look for answers, as the party crafts new ones that build on and reshape traditional culture without rejecting it entirely.

The government has offered education as a path to social mobility, unleashed private enterprise by removing Confucian and Marxist stigmas against the merchant class and cultivated a potent brand of nationalism, blending pride and humiliation into a narrative of restoring Chinese greatness.

But for many Chinese, those incentives are only part of the calculation. So, too, are the costs of rejecting the party’s bargain.

The article continues in describing the vehicle of the entrance exam, the gaokao, that controls the lever for upward mobility in the Chinese system:

“The Chinese mentality is very practical,” said Xu Zhiyuan, a Beijing-based historian and writer. “From a young age, you are told not to be idealistic, you are told not to be different. You are encouraged to survive, to compete, to excel within the system.”

“The whole society is a competitive playground.”

Yet if the gaokao is a symbol of opportunity, it is also a tool of social control. Scholars say it is a clever governing tactic borrowed from the keju, the Confucian examination system that determined the selection of government officials in China for more than 1,300 years. Even in dynastic China, the keju lent the government an aura of meritocracy, as it was open to all men. But only 1 percent of applicants passed the exam for the highest degree, since few had the time and money to prepare.

In a modern China rife with corruption, the gaokao is seen as relatively fair and incorruptible, meaning that those who fail are unlikely to blame the government.

“It allows the government to say: ‘If you are not successful, you can only blame yourself. You did not work hard enough,’” said Yong Zhao, an education professor at the University of Kansas. “That is a very powerful way of governing.”

Are our present values most relevant and proper to pursue? Our values have been formed by how much we each individually explore those factors, issues and options. How much authority does our society allow us in this exploration? How is our society presently defined; what are its boundaries, values and abilities to allow for change and maintenance? Of course, this question is more relevant when you respond to it from your own demographic. Into which culture were you born, speaking what language, being taught which paradigm and at what time in history. For instance, take a look at this narrative memoir, called The Last Ones, viewing life from 2018 as a person born in the 1930s and 40s in America. The flavor of this person’s life is very much different that a Millennial born in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

At the beginning of the blog, I queried how history is recorded, what is deemed important, which led to pondering the hierarchy of societies. Those who win in history, have a great deal of control over its composition. Napoleon quipped that history was a set of lies agreed upon by the winners. He was fully aware of his legend as he rose to the top of that hierarchy, writing articles, memoirs, having paintings made in a particular way to portray his image as he wanted it. Churchill, an adherent to this philosophy, too, or MacArthur, were conscious of what was to be said about any event they were involved in all the time. Churchill wrote volumes of autobiography to flavor the view history has on him.

For me, this is the most critical aspect of history. Understanding that human nature has, as all facets of living organisms have, a hierarchy they follow, with the caveat that we seem to be the only species that we know of at present that wonders why there is a hierarchy and why it is as it is and can it be made “better.” Ayn Rand, a favorite of many Republicans, believes that a government that governs least and allows the individual to do as he pleases, with him alone suffering the consequences of his actions and taking full responsibility is best. That would be the most queer assumption if you were to speak to a Native American Comanche, or any other tribe. Some of them even participated in the first democracies found in North America, long before the Europeans arrived and were fully aware of an individual’s responsibility to the community.

I was fascinated with a program aired this year on PBS called, Native America. It was offered in four episodes: From Caves to Cosmos; Nature to Nations; Cities of the Sky; and the final one that I will utilize in this blog, New World Rising. Within this last episode, there are three views presented about how the European invasion impacted three societies, The Aztecs, Comanches and Incas. From the American perspective, and as an historian, the Comanches fascinated me the most. If you are in the demographic of an American born just before World War II or part of the Baby Boomer generation, you viewed Indians in a white hat, black hat way until the 1960s when further evidence by historians brought us to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. When written in 1970, Lee’s book was devastating to read and transformative in its revisionist viewpoints. This article written in 2002 when he died brings us up to date at that point. Now, with nearly two more decades of research, we are yet again revising our view of Native American history through modern technology and the work of archeologists seeking information to enhance our understandings since little written history is available from Native Americans themselves (The segment on the Aztecs offered a very interesting view of an exception to this, the Florentine Codex).  wounded knee

This is where the Comanches segment in the episode on European invasion is so fascinating. When viewing it, think about how they lived, what was important to them, how they treated the environment, dealt with commerce, first found the horse and how we have recently learned more about the Comanche nation from the rock inscriptions we’ve only just found. The moment that the white professor of European descent brings the Native American archeologist to the rock he’s been analyzing to show her the figures, nearly all of which are fighters on horseback, with a lone figure off to the right that seems to be a different figure, possibly a dominant one, a god?, she quickly disarms his theory. He, from his European perspective on drawings and paintings, wants to put a horizon line on the rock for it to make sense. She quickly suggests there is no horizon line but that the artist was showing the attack in a circle and that the figures must be viewed from this radiating perspective, thinking from the center. If so, then that figure on the right is another horseman when you turn the rock on its side. Eureka, obviously so. So much more about the opportunities, culture, lives and information lost by the treatment of the Europeans of the Native Americans continues to resonate from that 1970s epiphany. We need so much more work to move away from John Ford westerns and this viewpoint as offered in the film depicting the book’s message from Wounded Knee.

This example from PBS should offer further food for thought and the paragraph on hierarchies immediately preceding and introducing the segment on Native Americans and the focus on the Comanches is worth hundreds of texts from myriad perspectives and I will leave those thoughts here and charge you to consider how you value leadership, independence, freedoms and how those can be best articulated and supported inside of a community on your own. How is that community defined, both in those values as they play out into laws that are prosecutable and where that community’s boundaries lie. Then expand that to the relationships between the world’s communities…in this digital age. Was it overly ambitious and possibly misguided for the UN in its infancy to pen the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948? And, is this a law that is prosecutable? Or was this the correct step on the long trajectory of that upward leaning model of “progress” the Enlightenment started us on?



1 Sartwell acquired a reputation as an epistemologist whose basic ideas on knowledge involve “three central claims: (1) knowledge is the ultimate goal–the telos–of inquiry; (2) knowledge is true belief; and (3) justification is merely a means for arriving at true belief”.[4] Particularly the claim that knowledge equates to true belief has garnered some attention.[5][6] Wikipedia






https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/movies/roma-review.html   A new movie by Alfonso Cuarón that covers the theme of this blog in a very autobiographical way by looking at a small story of one family in 1970s Mexico City. It is an example of how each person pens his own version of what is important in his own historiography.


The Cider House Rules: One’s Community Values Brought Forward and the Ability to Create Art and Appreciate It

Some decades ago, in 1985, the American author, John Irving, wrote The Cider House Rules. In 1999 it was made into a film, with Irving the screenwriter on the project. It was probably in its opening year when I first saw the film, and I have seen it one or more times in addition to a recent viewing on Netflix streaming. Much has changed between those viewings and, sadly, much hasn’t. The measuring points anyone uses are what has happened in one’s own life and what has happened in the overall view of society as time and events press their immense weight on the body of society to carve it anew as time passes for one living that life.cider house cover shot

There are many paradigms to unpack in the story. There are two geographical narratives in the story, with each demonstrating a micro-community within the wider world’s community, with New England and Maine the setting for the stories. The main protagonists live in an orphanage for the first part of the narrative, which allows you to understand the nature of society’s rules and how those at the orphanage address the world they have been given, not through the fault of their own.

Orphans’ lives, abortion, women’s positions in society, race, incest and the backdrop of life in America during the Second World War are issues and factors influencing the story and its characters’ lives throughout the full narrative. The film’s main character, Homer Wells, is himself an orphan who was twice rejected by the wider society for adoption, and grew up being tutored in medicine by Dr. Wilbur Larch. Larch is the mentor/philosopher who attempts to construct Homer’s life’s paradigm with his own brand of ethics. But, Homer is his own man and also has aspirations for a wider understanding of the world outside. It is in the myriad communities and the wider world that metaphors abound in Irving’s story. Much is there to appreciate.

In my first two viewings of the film, I was still in a teaching career, living in other places and appreciating what those places had to offer me and the world in their own particular way. Though we were already home owners in Camden, Maine, and fully aware of the beauty and attractions of the state, we had not lived in our home for any length of time to offer a perspective as residents. This viewing was far more special from the perspective of living in those other places and the several in between viewings that occurred prior to the recent viewing. I now have a good deal of time to chart my growing appreciation for life in the Pine Tree state as a residence and where the story was set and filmed (though Vermont was heavily relied upon for its beauty, too). I am comfortable now to contrast the many other lifestyles that have defined my life up to this point, while also adding the appreciation of our two year stint as residents in Camden.

While ingesting the movie’s calm and purposeful demeanor, set against the simple roads, buildings, forest scenes and views of the New England countryside, I am reminded and reconfirmed in our solace achieved through our lives here. As a choice to live in these United States in the year 2018, there is no other place the two of us choose to do so. This works.

Yet, what has happened in the America since Irving first penned this story in 1985? Planned Parenthood is under attack and the issue of abortion has not subsided in much of the public’s consciousness. The Christianity he portrayed in the film and book was one that had traveled a long way from the world of Christ, or so one could surmise by looking at Irving’s treatment. While the story revolves around an orphanage in Maine, the central issue for the orphanage, indeed the very reason for its existence, is unwanted babies. The children there are a community of cast offs, dealing with the psychological trauma of coming of age with this huge weight on their shoulders on a daily basis. Irving’s treatment of the characters in this drama is endearing, as he has nothing but sympathy for these victims. We do, though, inexorably view them as victims through Irving’s lens.

Within the story, Dr. Larch, played by Michael Caine (who won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for the role), is known throughout New England as the go to doctor for illegal abortions. Irving sets the film in the years of the Second World War for several reasons: it is pre-Roe vs Wade and therefore Irving can show you the world where women have to resort to whatever is available to address unwanted pregnancy, the issue of the wider world in wartime with the ethical dilemmas of “the other” and volunteering to fight in a place where you have little understanding of the people and the issues that brought you there is possible, the use of ether


the first use of ether in the 19th c

as an anesthetic prior to the switch to the first modern-day brominated general anesthetic developed in the 50s is important on many levels, and Homer and Dr. Larch are polar opposites in their opinions about abortion, leading to a great caveat for exploration of this issue as central to the narrative.

Dr. Larch takes the pragmatic approach that, as a trained physician, he is in a special position to help pregnant women who find themselves in this condition unwanted. He also feels that society has not allowed them a choice in this matter. Dr. Larch will perform the abortion without judgment. Homer, who has been trained for his lifetime in obstetric methods, is the one who takes the remains of the abortion out to the incinerator to burn. He does so unceremoniously, carrying a night pot full of the remains down a cold path to open the door to the incinerator and its flames within, and then plop. It grinds on Homer and he has come to the conclusion that he will never perform an abortion himself. But, ideological positions, black and white, cause one to nibble at the edges. Irving provides the napkins.

For Dr. Larch, is also an addict. We have little back story in the film, and I have not had the pleasure as yet of reading the book, but Larch puts himself to sleep each night with drops of ether. One can easily surmise that the toll of doing hundreds of abortions, heading the orphanage that is outside of society’s direct view, high on a hill and funded by a conservative religiously-oriented group, has led to Larch seeking extra help to enter daily oblivion and rest. Oblivion is an unannounced issue for all of the characters in the story, too.

For Homer, his youth and naiveté will be tested in his own coming of age story within the story. This takes place when a handsome airman, Wally (Paul Rudd), drives up to the orphanage with his pregnant girlfriend, Candy (Charlize Theron), to seek an abortion. All the characters are most sympathetic and it seems Irving’s approach to portray these loving and kind characters as being caught in a natural accident. Though not arrogant or disdainful or blaming in their position, the couple seem also justified in seeking her abortion by Irving’s treatment. As Homer ponders the situation during their time at the orphanage in Candy’s recovery, he asked if the two will drive him away from the orphanage and out to the wider world. They come from Maine, on the coast, and Homer has never seen the ocean. This would be as good a place as any to begin his adult, independent life, away from the issues of the orphanage and abortions.

Wally comes from an apple farm, and Candy’s dad is a Maine lobsterman…both most appealing for Mary and me…and so much more meaningful in our recent viewing after living through two apple seasons and dealing with lobster culture for these past two years. When Homer arrives with his new friends at the orchard, he is first introduced to the owner, Wally’s mom. He is invited to stay and work at the cider house, where he then meets the crew which was already engaged in that particular season’s picking. They have done this for many seasons at the apple farm, with clearly established hierarchies obvious in the introduction. Homer will settle into the orchard’s bunk house, which will become his home through two apple pickings of his own. His home, while semi-permanent for him, is a transient workers’ bunkhouse for the story’s other characters. This is effective for Irving in his plot line, as it serves as a mini-metaphor for the wider world, much as the orphanage served its role for another version of a viewpoint on that wider world in the opening narrative of the book and film. Those who come to work and live in the cider house bunk are not owners, but occupants. They have a specific role in that world, to spend time at harvest picking apples. After their job is finished, they depart in search of warmer climes and another harvest elsewhere. Not quite as elegant and attractive as perennial ski bums, but perfect for this story. Apple pickers have purpose for picking, but are not really fully in control of their lives. They, too, are under the control of some boss and the economy vagaries that occur with transient labor.

All of Homer’s fellow apple pickers are black. This offers Irving another opportunity to shine a light on a failed aspect of American culture and society. How did they get here, what is their value system, how well do they interact with the outside world, how can Homer interact, understand, embrace and receive wisdom from being with these blacks and their world as he lives with them through the two picking seasons of the story? Much is to be learned by all in this inner story within the wider story. Here comes the Cider House Rules.

There’s a head picker, Mr. Rose, and his daughter, Rose Rose, as well as several other characters, all black and all of whom are illiterate. As Homer unpacks and starts to look around the bunkhouse, he notices a slip of paper attached to the bunkhouse wall that offers rules for the occupants. He chuckles as he reads the first of them, drawing the attention from the longer lived occupants. They are curious as to what is funny, but more intriguingly, what do the rules proclaim. They have seen the slip of paper, but had no knowledge of its import or what it emphasized due to their inability to comprehend the letters and words. They are rules by which the owner of the apple orchard wants the occupants to live. After Homer reads a couple, he is cut off by Mr. Rose, who finds them ridiculous. Pointing out that the person who had posted them surely had not lived in this space….how could he know what was important. The others concur or silently assent, signaling as well that Mr. Rose is the force to whom all would answer, though one younger, muscular black is not completely compliant. More on these relationships will unfold to expand upon how rules are followed on many levels and why it is important to do so.

The first rules Homer learns are about apple picking. These are critical, well-intentioned and reasonable. He takes to the tasks well and is embraced for this as well as his other notable and positive characteristics. The grumpy, young black, at a point some weeks in the evolution of the story, affronts Mr. Rose when Mr. Rose sees the young man toss a used cigarette butt into a vat of cider. He calmly and with a smile implores him to reach in a pluck it out, for surely it will spoil the entire vat of cider. Mr. Rose is ignored, which leads to a new lesson..do it or else. The ‘or else’ is a lesson in knife fighting, which apparently the teacher, Mr. Rose, has learned in a lifetime and has obviously never lost a fight. He does not in this instance either, and his skills are such that he only slices the young man’s shirt, thus ending the lesson, gaining the extraction of the butt, not having the incident go outside of the group, unknown to the owner, and unknown to the police in the wider world. Lesson learned, correct action taken. An example of the Cider House Rules in reality.

Others follow, all sensible….and followed. Homer complies readily and the first season ends with friendships among nearly all…even the grumpy one is a restless and partially accepted member. During this time the warm friendships and mutual respect between the cider house occupants is apparent. The blacks love Homer’s brand of wisdom, stories of the orphanage and abilities to learn their craft quickly. They part comrades at the end of the season, even prodding Homer to come south with them as they continue their seasonal sojourns of contingency and alternate enterprise. As Wally has been called back to duty, in faraway India flying “The Hump” of Burma to China, Candy and Homer have moved from friends to something more. Over the following time in between the apple picking seasons, the ‘more’ becomes an option the two cannot ignore, even though they know the realities are bigger than their immediate plans and actions.

When the next season arrives and the crew from last year returns to the cider house unannounced, their return surprises the couple. Though not actually witnessing what we, the audience, have observed, the couple’s demeanor and dishevelment from their recent escapade makes them indictable to the returning crew. Knowing glances and nods are exchanged among all concerned, which completes the wordless paragraph. It is truly a new season.

From here the new season begins, though absent the grumpy young man who has “gone his own way”, and also apparent with the return is a more reserved and sad Rose Rose. Inquiries by Homer of his old friends about Rose Rose are met with more glances to the side and evasive comments. This does not satisfy Homer’s dismay that she seems distraught and in need of help of some kind. After some time it is apparent she is pregnant, as Homer knows the signs. Homer eventually confronts her and offers to assist in any way he can. He is rebuffed and cut off in no uncertain terms, with Rose Rose responding in a way that leaves Homer even more concerned.

Homer and Candy talk of options, as Candy also has obvious experience with pregnancy….and with possible solutions. She speaks to Rose Rose alone in the hopes of informing and convincing her of the possibility of an abortion after a trip to the orphanage and to Dr. Larch. The exchange mines information that is even more disturbing; the father is Rose’s own father. In the exposition of this uncomfortable situation, where rules of a different kind, against incest, have been broken, Homer presses for clarification. Initially he is met with a fully closed door and threats of a knife lesson. Persistent, honorable and naive Homer presses further, telling Mr. Rose he has a way out of this dilemma because of his skills as a trained (though not legal) obstetrician. This avenue is pursued because the situation requires a new look at the rules.

Homer will perform an excellent abortion, completing the complication of the issue in his mind and ours, and Rose’s eventually departure from the cider house. She will exit its rules and her father, which also ends in a mortal wounding of Mr. Rose by Rose, both of whom entered into the conflagration without clear understanding of the rules of that particular knife fight. Mr. Rose, before he dies, alters the outcome of the cause of the wound with his own knife placed in the wound and his finger prints wrapped around it to protect his daughter and, with another bending of society’s rules, gains the assent of the other members of the cider house to corroborate his version to the police as he dies. All is as he wants it to be; more cider house rules.

As the story progresses, reality arrives in waves. Wally is shot down and missing. Conversations and guilt drive the two betrayers of his friendship and love. Wally is eventually found, though has been crippled in the adventure post crash and will never walk again. Back at the orphanage, there are plans to replace Dr. Larch for his too progressive handling of the orphanage even as nothing is known of his sideline abortion practice, which would have ended his tenure there and led to a jail term for him.

Dr. Larch, in another example of rule bending and his exceptional skills of deception, has crafted a diploma for Homer from a medical school, set up a ruse to convince the Board of his candidacy by first offering the Board Homer’s application and university background (to which Homer has no knowledge or interest at the time), objecting to Homer’s conservative approach to solidify the Board’s support of Homer both because of his excellent qualifications and more importantly because Dr. Larch is feinting opposition to Homer’s too Christian views. The candidacy is all but assured by the doctor’s bending the rules, yet again.

In the end, the obvious narratives, Wally and Candy, Homer and the orphanage, progress to the conclusion that is forced by Dr. Larch’s overdosing on ether. Is this another rule bend or an accident? Homer ends the story accepting the position at the orphanage, the conundrum of life and the possible need to examine the source and viability of rules. It is an uncomfortable story that is so well told, with a “happy?” ending. Homer ends the final frame by continuing with Dr. Larch’s good night bidding of adieu to the orphans in the dormitory, “Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” Has he found the community he knows, the one where the rules are ones he can command and follow? Rules….

The #Metoo movement has only just made its most recent inroads into asserting some equalization in the gender arrangements and altering the rules by which our society addresses infractions between the genders. Yet, still, many females have been accosted in a way that would be similar to the presentation offered in The Cider House Rules. For the past thirty years and a bit, the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world did their worst and females felt little support in that span of time for addressing those who perpetrated offensive and unwanted advances on their person. Coincidently, the film was produced by Harvey, though its handling and aura were created by Lasse Hallström, all of whose work I find endearing. Along with the issue of race and the issues with gender roles and complications arising from such, look at our progress or lack thereof in this arena in the last three decades. What would the 21st century version of an Irving Cider House story look like?




Begin with Making Your Bed> The Lessons Learned….and Not Learned..William H. McRaven: He Surely Must Think Trump Is The World’s Biggest Sugar Cookie?

MAGA   A term we all need to unpack in our education systems and lessons. History is a strange practice of recording what happened for the purposes of influencing the current society, and possibly connecting to its DNA or attempting to alter it. Study of what happened before has been followed by humans for millennia, as we have the ability to remember, to record, to analyze and to project from our past, both personally and societally. Often, really often, we get all of those factors found within critical inquiry wrong. There are many ways to approach the process and paradigms of history, too. Take a look at the recent article in the NYTimes about possible models for drawing history, as former historians have developed models to metaphorically explain it to those around them (another blog topic to come). Or, look back as those students assembled on graduation day in June of 2016 at Stanford University to hear Ken Burns expound that there was a lesson in history that now required the graduates’ attention with “ferocious urgency”.

During the disaster that is the Trump presidency, many individuals who are experts in their field have weighed in on what they feel about the job he has done. Using Ken Burns in his Stanford Commencement Speech, or the Washington Post in their one year assessment, or the Business Insider’s opining about outcomes of the presidency or any number of individuals who have spoken out about what is going wrong in the public discourse, in Congress, in the White House, the most recent example of incompetence and misappropriation of authority involves retired Admiral William H. McRaven, a former Navy SEAL and recently retired Chancellor of the University of Texas system.

US President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor

Admiral William McRaven attends the 2011 Medal of Honor ceremony for Sgt. Leroy Arthur Petry, USA, at the White House. (© Shawn Thew/EPA/Corbis)

How does one identify, describe, model and protect best practices? For William H. McRaven, it starts by simply making one’s bed. Mr. McCraven entered the limelight most recently by standing up for John Brennan when he became the object of scorn from the Commander-in-Chief, and again when he called out the Commander-in-Chief for his attack on the press. As a journalism major in college and an advocate of clear expression and objective truth, McCraven has found the president offensive and dangerous, if not perhaps repulsive…my projection because of his misuse of his position. He most recently exclaimed that Trump’s “attacks on the press are the most dangerous threats to democracy“. Trump has hit back with several interviews disparaging McRaven……and these have drawn stark rebukes from many respected experts in their field. 1  2  3  4  5  I wonder if McRaven would also claim that Trump is a “Sugar Cookie” look at #4

History seeks out experts to gather their opinions about what was going on in the past, but also looks at the most mundane evidence to seek the truth, as sometimes the experts have an agenda or have blinders to available options. To find the most objective, widest or discerning view of history are part of what inquiry calls “best practice” when sorting through myriad options. Of course when talking and writing about best practices, one puts forth a theory about what those are, what are their characteristics, where did they come from, why they are important and how one should understand and promote them. McRaven looked back through the history of spec ops coverclandestine military raids when he wrote his thesis in post graduate school. It was later made into a book. Those raids were, in his learned opinion, best practices. What could we learn from them?

For anyone dedicated to finding best practice, learned of the lessons supplied by those experts who mined for those with the most objective pickax, respectful of those at the pinnacle of their expertise and profession, and offering the next generation a reasoned view of all on which to deliberate, William H. McRaven is an individual who has earned his chops in today’s world. From his youth, the son of a military family who deeply embedded in his cultural DNA the need for duty, honor and honesty, it seems from mining for the details of McRaven’s life that we would find little to dissuade us from accepting what McRaven says as important to digest.

After high school, McRaven attended university at UT Austin in his home state where he was a member of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps majoring in journalism. He then went on to the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California, where he was among the first to graduate from its newly established Special Operations curriculum. He became so adept at this new tactical operations wing of the military, that he became recognized as an expert in this field of military engagement, both for the text he wrote and the decisions he made and the success of the actions following from those decisions.

Because of the mistakes in Vietnam, after which it was recognized that the classical goals of wars no longer applied, the US military established a Special Operations wing that included the Navy SEALs, a branch into which McRaven volunteered and excelled. This expertise led/followed him through his military career, where he became Spec Ops leader for NATO, then later in Afghanistan, where he was also willing to take responsibility for mistakes that can occur even with advanced planning. The most important example of this was the failed Raid on Khataba by the US Army Rangers which led to the deaths of several pregnant women, which initially suffered from attempted coverup my NATO and US brass. In contrast, it was met with a public apology by McRaven, who decided the most honorable course was a visit to the village and an traditional offering of a sheep to show his sensitivity to and remorse for what had happened. He takes responsibility when a mistake is made.

His command in Afghanistan ended with his crowning achievement, leader of Operation Neptune Spear, which took out Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Once the CIA found out where Bin Laden was, McRaven was tasked with developing several plans from which the administration would choose, with President Obama selecting the most dangerous and difficult. This plan would utilize a small number expert fighters, secrecy and speed, but was also the least invasive because it would avoid collateral damage. It would require a small team of expert Special Ops SEALs who would attack at night with the element of surprise. Hopefully no innocent civilians would be involved and no SEALS would be injured, captured or killed….possibly even discovered.


image of cabinet viewing the raid

May 1, 2011: In the White House Situation Room, President Barack Obama and members of his national security team monitor the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. He is joined by Vice President Joe Biden (seated, left) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (both seated, right). As they watch drone video of the compound, Admiral William McRaven gives them a live briefing by secure video link from a base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (White House photo)

The raid, which ultimately was successful, did not go completely as planned. The raid followed all the principles McCraven had outlined in his book, with a mock up of the compound being constructed at a base in Afghanistan for the SEAL team to rehearse the raid. Redundancies were provided for, which obviously proved critical when one of the helicopters crashed into the compound. They would be discovered by the civilians in the neighborhood, but none was injured. It was hoped that all could be accomplished in 30 minutes. Planning allowed for unknowns and, as the SEALs recovered from the downed helicopter and planted explosives to destroy it, found their prey and killed any opposition, they found a treasure trove of computer and hard copy information in one of the rooms which took extra time to collect. It took more than fifteen extra minutes to collect this information trove as a result, plus the helicopters returning to Afghanistan needed to refuel in Pakistan. This was planned, but took 19 minutes. The Pakistanis had in the meantime sent up aircraft to hunt for the SEAL team. Those 19 minutes were the longest in McCraven’s life he claims. Throughout all of this mission, McCraven calmly reported what was happening to those assembled in the Situation Room back in D.C., including the phrase that Geronimo, the code name for Bin Laden (creating some controversy later), was EKIA….dead.

As two rounds had entered Bin Laden’s head, photographs only suggested to McCraven by the team it was likely Geronimo. Verification was critical. McCraven, watching the real time feed asked one of the taller SEALs on the mission how tall he was. He was 6’2”. It was known that Bin Laden was 6’4”. The body was taken out of the body bag and the SEAL was asked to lie down next to the corpse, to which he somewhat confusedly complied. Obama, always capable of levity, responded, “Bill, let me get this straight. We have $60 million for a helicopter, and you didn’t have $10 for a tape measure?” McRaven said, “It was one of those light moments in the middle of a very anxious time in our nation’s history. And it was kinda perfectly timed. It lightened a very tough moment.”  A couple of days later, the President presented McRaven with a tape measure mounted on a stand.

william and georgeann mcraven

William and Georgeann McRaven enjoy a visit to California’s Napa Valley with the Academy of Achievement. (© Academy of Achievement)

Later after McCraven’s identity became known, his celebrity increased outside of the military, which led to his being invited to speak at his alma mater’s commencement, and then to his appointment of the entire University of Texas system. He has just retired from his chancellorship and has become the voice of reason and protest against the arrogance and ignorance of our president.

His second book is called Make Your Bed, makeyourbed-mcravenand offers lessons towards a more organized, planned and therefore rewarding life. President Trump, if he ever completes a book cover to cover, should read this one. McRaven has been called upon often to offer his expertise, has been interviewed by Charlie Rose, spoken at the Aspen Institute, and sought out for his ideas by many others. In contrast, Trump’s remarks, again, about our legal system, his implausible reactions to moral leadership opportunities, on the press, on his poor decision to ignore his own CIA and hug MBS….and on Mr. McRaven, show his incompetence in leadership. He may gain insight by learning to make his own bed.




Raid on Khataba by the US Army Rangers JSOC     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raid_on_Khataba







http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/printout/0,29239,2101745_2102133_2102330,00.html   the Bin Laden raid

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZRntXGUO64 doubling down on criticism of McRaven



choose # 79  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/what-it-takes/id1025864075?mt=2

William McRaven: A Life of Service “There are some things in life you control. I don’t know that you control the sweeping hands of destiny.” Admiral William “Bill” McRaven’s destiny was to plan and oversee the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. True, he may not have controlled the hist 11/23/2015 Free View in iTunes

1 Clausewitz had two main goals; reaching the enemy’s capitol and surrounding and destroying an enemy’s main army

Down the Rabbit Hole: Military Choices by the United States and Other Possibilities

Since the United States exited the First World War as the world’s creditor nation, it has, with the brief isolationist history of the interwar years, been involved in military actions in a majority of the countries on earth- by various accounts in over 80% of them. These incursions could have either been brief and limited, or by our huge military by itself or with allies, or through secret CIA sponsored actions. There are ones in our 21st century that have been ongoing for more than a decade, with Afghanistan the longest ever (if you don’t count the Korean War, whose participants still have not signed a peace treaty). Those wars of this century alone have cost our treasury six trillion dollars, taken the lives of thousands of American service men while killing over half a million of our enemies’ soldiers and civilians, and we have destabilized regions that have led to the deaths of millions more and the displacement of other millions. This blog goes out on a limb to opine that the USA, while offering much of good to the world in its Constitution, national paradigms, peaceful incursions for humanity’s goals, and its offerings in culture, has a record not unlike Athens during the Delian League, at the end of which most Greek city-states were glad to see the end of that experiment. Our present offerings are not too welcome in many places in today’s world, I would venture to claim as evidenced by the charts and maps in the latter part of the blog. Here’s a 20th century look at how the military took over our paradigm and our politics…quite disastrously in my opinion.

It could be (and will be in the history written in later decades and centuries) that many of these wars were ill-advised and had no clear exit strategy. Indeed, most of them were not even “wars” as we have a difficult time even defining war at present. The last time the US formally declared war on a nation was in World War II, and the record since that time is not one we should take pride in. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and LBJ’s mishandling of that incident, then later Nixon’s overreach in Vietnam and Cambodia, Congress attempted to curtail presidential powers regarding war and foreign intervention. Still, the president is Commander and Chief and from 1973 forward they have decided on open and clandestine interventions that have led to major confrontations throughout the world and no war was declared. True, in Iraq in 1991, President H.W. Bush sought out UN and allied support for stopping Saddam Hussein in his overreach in Kuwait, but that was something that also had American fingerprints and mishandling all over it prior to the event.

Nearly all the incursions by the United States from that time forward did not have a reasonable chance of victory, as the planning going into the “war” or incursion to alter a country’s course was either unclear, or misinformed, or misguided or just plain wrong. Often the American leaders redirected the goal of victory as the war lacked true progress- Think “Mission Accomplished” by the Second Bush. In the 21st century alone, our record with three presidents is dismal and we are completely adrift now in what to do about what we’ve started. What if six trillion dollars would have been spent within the borders of the United States for programs here? Or more of those dollars had been spent in diplomacy and foreign aid programs?

Anti-war Protestors

Market Street, San Francisco, protest in January of 1991

The last time we openly declared war, in World War II, the need to was thrust upon us by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet, FDR and the leadership knew something was about to happen somewhere in the Pacific in reaction to our embargoing oil and steel bound for Japan. Many felt it inevitable that the USA needed to get involved in Europe after 1939 and even planned (hoped?) for that eventuality. There was tremendous opposition to such a venture, though, dating back to the time before The Great War.

Our isolationists within the country have always decried our efforts for interceding elsewhere, some with peacenik and humanitarian convictions, others for purely selfish, uninformed and Xenophobic desires, while others felt problems outside of the country’s borders were not our concern and that the costs of getting involved were unnecessary, unworthy, unsustainable, unwarranted or some collection of or including all of these reasons. The USA was finally forced into war with the attack on Pearl Harbor- it was needed by FDR in order to declare war- and Hitler’s hubris in declaring war on us a short time later extended our commitment to a two-front war that was truly a world war. The citizens of the United States mostly approached it- and in Congress in a bipartisan way- with large enthusiasm for enlisting, through buying war bonds, sacrificing through rationing and redirecting the economy to a war footing, and with a huge dose of propagandizing on the parts of our and all governments- with an understanding that we needed to participate in quashing Fascism and Nazism and the Imperial Monarchical Militarism that a portion of Japan had adopted in the early 20th century.

It made for some strange bed fellows, some of whom who would become adversaries or enemies after the war. But World War II has proven to be the last great, romantic war of countries against countries with clear goals and territorial capitals as the final objective of the military campaigns. Once Rome, Berlin and Tokyo fell, the Second World War concluded in most places with surrenders, ceremonies and paperwork to prove it.

We did not fight wars like that after 1945 and are now today shifting into war that sometimes produces no deaths from weapons firing projectiles, but from damage, unbelievably catastrophic damage, done through the Internet. War has been thoroughly messy, vaguely defined, causing physical and mental catastrophic damage, and unending since 1945. And, the United States is responsible for much of the carnage. The USA did not always, and some say rarely, have benevolent aspirations for the citizens of the country invaded and the world seemed to come to that conclusion on many occasions in many countries (note Map A below). Security for the economy, or for some business interests, or for a particular political paradigm is difficult to defend and national security is the only true justification.

American military engagements since 1945

USA Military interventions since 1945 (Absent CIA incursions)

The end of the Second World War and the reconstitution of the failed League of Nations as the new, United Nations, saw the articulation of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights document. It is a fine document, but how should it be justifiably enforced? Who has the authority for adjudicating whether its meaning has been trespassed by someone in some land? If that is determinable, how can that authority expunge, eradicate, correct the misdirection caused by those individuals or country? What does sovereignty mean? Who pays for the venture, and its clean up? This was not clearly articulated in the United Nations’ meetings, and the way it had to be organized based on the Realpolitik of 1945-47 has proven to cause stumbling blocks for the nations of the world afterwards, certainly up until today. Veto power within the Security Council has great power over decisions.

After World War Two, the two major superpowers that came out of the war entered into a Cold War. The origins and goals of this war are still debated, and its end in 1990/91 was not one easily understood and certainly poorly addressed by the winner. It could be and has been argued that the United States terribly squandered its opportunity for directing history in a way consistent with the aims of the United Nations. I would argue that the incursion into Afghanistan after 9/11, though justifiable on many levels, was not prosecuted politically or militarily in a way that offered ‘victory’ in ‘war’ as an option.

That President Bush and his advisors took us into pandora2Iraq instead is one of the world’s worst incidents of incompetence in all human history. The list of adversaries the United States has earned because of that crack in the world order, and the continuing fissures in countries and citizens’ lives and that order continue unabated and nothing has been offered by anyone for a rational, possible alternative solution to the Pandoran mess that is now the Arab/Sunni/Shia/Persian/Kurdish/Turkish/ISIL world.

Certainly history will judge the American statista on bombs forbesand Trumpian exploits of the past two years as dismally out of touch with any competence and understanding as to what needs to be done. Yet, the old isolationism that was there in 1914 is alive and well and making its in roads into our policy decisions, with their impact on world order, peoples’ lives…and deaths. Despite Trump’s campaigning for isolationism, note his impact in Afghanistan since taking office.


Here is an excerpt from the Library of Congress to consider at this point:

The postwar world also presented Americans with a number of problems and issues. Flushed with their success against Germany and Japan in 1945, most Americans initially viewed their place in the postwar world with optimism and confidence. But within two years of the end of the war, new challenges and perceived threats had arisen to erode that confidence. By 1948, a new form of international tension had emerged–Cold War–between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the next 20 years, the Cold War spawned many tensions between the two superpowers abroad and fears of Communist subversion gripped domestic politics at home.

In the twenty years following 1945, there was a broad political consensus concerning the Cold War and anti-Communism. Usually there was bipartisan support for most US foreign policy initiatives. After the United States intervened militarily in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, however, this political consensus began to break down. By 1968, strident debate among American about the Vietnam War signified that the Cold War consensus had shattered, perhaps beyond repair. Library of Congress

The key word in that excerpt for me is “communism”. It has been sorely misunderstood, and those leaders who misappropriated its meaning and usage, even those who claimed it as their banner in decision-making like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, to get us to Vietnam and the 60s referred to in the LOC excerpt, had their own understanding and usages of its tenets. I particularly enjoyed Investopedia’s historical context of communist thinking, as it starts with early Christianity. Communism as Marx opined, is a reaction to and an aspirant to using economics as the prime engine for politics. He felt mankind up to that point was a history of owners exploiting workers and that only by having the workers own the means of production would the class system be eradicated. Ownership in general was a topic of discussion that became problematic for the ideology. Also, should any other freedoms be allowed in a communist society, other competitive ideologies, religious beliefs? How those later adherents defined, defended and prosecuted their beliefs is another phase of history and led to horrible disparities and decisions.

Economics involves the ways man exchanges goods. This obviously involves politics in some fashion, and workers, and those who own the businesses, and the environment, and regulation of health, food, water, energy, boundaries, movement of people and goods, monetary policy, taxation and international agreement on how all of this could possible be articulated, understood and processed. It was not then and will never be a binary opposition: Capitalism vs Communism. Both must be transparently understood. Each of the factors involved in the utilization of their tenets need to be clearly explored through education, as well as having the issues of implementation clearly and fairly disseminated through all media platforms. And, most importantly, all the benefits and dangers to all the constituents (animate and inanimate) who could be impacted by ideological constraints must be considered. Hard Right, Hard Left, the Third Way, Green, Liberal, Conservative, etc., all have economic visions and it should be with the greatest concern and understanding of the outcomes that any leader of any country choose winners or losers in the economic game. Additionally, it should be obvious that using violence and invasion to change the sovereignty of another country should not be acceptable. In the following chart, which shows one version of how the USA is projected to spend federal dollars in the coming year. It was compiled by an author who, upon a bit of deeper research, owns some fairly biased and skewed thoughts about liberal thinking in America. chart of total govt spending for 2019 The name of this individual is Christopher Chantrill, a conservative who spends his life, it appears, compiling thoughts, figures and websites to forward his thinking. As it is a conservative viewpoint, I have also given you a couple of other pie charts, the latter two breaking down the sections of the first, which outlines  mandatory and discretionary spending shown in the first. I invite you to read the link to Mr. Chantrill, which might cause you to equivocate on his positions, as well as browse around his many website links to see what those on the Right can say and do in their attempts to influence education and news in today’s world.

mandatory and discretionary_pie_2015_enacted


Look at the list of wars, the countries on the maps below, the number of individual leaders who were targeted for elimination further down, the links provided below to explore and then I will ask, as did Newsweek in its recent article posted earlier in this blog, how better we could have spent six trillion dollars. What were the reactions to such actions by the citizens of those countries affected by the actions and decisions of the US government and military? How much better we would have been here in the States with a better education system and infrastructure, and fewer Republicans using anti-communism as their banner. If individuals have a chance to earn, to be free, to decide and participate in the decisions that determine how their community functions, how disparate visions can be incorporated or accommodated in their world, then the reason for ‘war’ diminishes.

Using destruction to end destruction is the method we have used for the past century. Would that Woodrow Wilson wasn’t arrogant, a racist, unwilling to compromise in too many quarters and that those around him, who were often even worse, didn’t figure out how to set up a world that accommodated various economic models, myriad religious approaches, and a growing number of countries that would arise out of the imperialistic ashes of the world of the 19th century. Afghanistan was not a country in that century, but a collection of various tribes, various economic approaches, myriad religious entities and languages, and being fought over by the Russians and English who called it a country and tried to give it boundaries. It is still the same place it was in 1839 when the outside world, not even for the first time, tried to intervene in its sovereignty, and also after the Durand Line was written onto the world’s map in 1893, and as it is today. More education, please.


https://www.systemicpeace.org/warlist/warlist.htm   list of all conflicts involving violence  note lack of USA accusations for initiating incident or being involved in the incident on list


threat map

Map A demonstrates which country is most feared as the most violent by the host country

There is a reason that most countries polled in December 2013 by Gallup called the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world, and why Pew found that viewpoint increased in 2017.

But it is a reason that eludes that strain of U.S. academia that first defines war as something that nations and groups other than the United States do, and then concludes that war has nearly vanished from the earth.

Since World War II, during a supposed golden age of peace, the United States military has killed or helped kill some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, interfered in at least 84 foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries. The United States is responsible for the deaths of 5 million people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and over 1 million just since 2003 in Iraq.

For the past almost 16 years, the United States has been systematically destroying a region of the globe, bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria, not to mention the Philippines. The United States has “special forces” operating in two-thirds of the world’s countries and non-special forces in three-quarters of them.

The U.S. government as of 2017 provided military aid to 73% of the world’s dictatorships.

usgs_chart 20th century defense spendingIn an attempt to quantify U.S. warmaking, look below for copied lists from these sources:

>> William Blum: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

>> Dr. Zoltan Grossman: A Century of U.S. Military Interventions
James Lucas: U.S. Has Killed More Than 20 Million People

The supreme international crime according to 2017 U.S. media reporting is interfering nonviolently in a democratic election — at least if Russia does it. William Blum, in his book Rogue State, lists over 30 times that the United States has done that. Another study, however, says 81 elections in 47 countries. France 2017 makes that total at least 82. Honduras 2017 makes it 83. Russia 2018 makes it 84.

William Blum’s List of leaders on the USA elimination list:

In a reality-based assessment of U.S. crimes, the serious offenses begin beyond that threshold. Here’s Blum’s list of over 50 foreign leaders whom the United States has attempted to assassinate:

•1949 – Kim Koo, Korean opposition leader

•1950s – CIA/Neo-Nazi hit list of more than 200 political figures in West Germany to be “put out of the way” in the event of a Soviet invasion

•1950s – Chou En-lai, Prime minister of China, several attempts on his life

•1950s, 1962 – Sukarno, President of Indonesia

•1951 – Kim Il Sung, Premier of North Korea

•1953 – Mohammed Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran

•1950s (mid) – Claro M. Recto, Philippines opposition leader

•1955 – Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India

•1957 – Gamal Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt

•1959, 1963, 1969 – Norodom Sihanouk, leader of Cambodia

•1960 – Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Kassem, leader of Iraq

•1950s-70s – José Figueres, President of Costa Rica, two attempts on his life

•1961 – Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, leader of Haiti

•1961 – Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister of the Congo (Zaire)

•1961 – Gen. Rafael Trujillo, leader of Dominican Republic

•1963 – Ngo Dinh Diem, President of South Vietnam

•1960s-70s – Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, many attempts on his life

•1960s – Raúl Castro, high official in government of Cuba

•1965 – Francisco Caamaño, Dominican Republic opposition leader

•1965-6 – Charles de Gaulle, President of France

•1967 – Che Guevara, Cuban leader

•1970 – Salvador Allende, President of Chile

•1970 – Gen. Rene Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of Army, Chile

•1970s, 1981 – General Omar Torrijos, leader of Panama

•1972 – General Manuel Noriega, Chief of Panama Intelligence

•1975 – Mobutu Sese Seko, President of Zaire

•1976 – Michael Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica

•1980-1986 – Muammar Qaddafi, leader of Libya, several plots and attempts upon his life

•1982 – Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran

•1983 – Gen. Ahmed Dlimi, Moroccan Army commander

•1983 – Miguel d’Escoto, Foreign Minister of Nicaragua

•1984 – The nine comandantes of the Sandinista National Directorate

•1985 – Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanese Shiite leader (80 people killed in the attempt)

•1991 – Saddam Hussein, leader of Iraq

•1993 – Mohamed Farah Aideed, prominent clan leader of Somalia

•1998, 2001-2 – Osama bin Laden, leading Islamic militant

•1999 – Slobodan Milosevic, President of Yugoslavia

•2002 – Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Afghan Islamic leader and warlord

•2003 – Saddam Hussein and his two sons

•2011 – Muammar Qaddafi, leader of Libya

Recent Newsweek article  https://www.newsweek.com/us-spent-six-trillion-wars-killed-half-million-1215588?utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=NewsweekFacebookSF&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR2wM03NvAY-5Y–nI3SUQZOqumvcqsNiLk1Rx7N4oZ_aX2qp1ZTe4Kb2Bc

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_military_operations# 1945–1949

http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/history/johnson/milspend.htm  to 1996



https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-now/1945-present   cite


https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/defense_spending  https://americanmanifestobook.blogspot.com/2018/11/what-will-it-take-to-end-progressive.html  all from Christopher Chantrill  https://www.usgovernmentdebt.us/vid04  https://www.roadtothemiddleclass.com











https://books.google.com/books?id=wiVzAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA147&lpg=PA147&dq=cia+incursions+into+foreign+governments+since+1945&source=bl&ots=J10ZnHMy-8&sig=ZdOYq5Q46omlgfVT2ZKdGRbMjjI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjUv-SVsdbeAhVJ5oMKHdguA0wQ6AEwDnoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=cia%20incursions%20into%20foreign%20governments%20since%201945&f=false  all engagements by USA since 1945

https://books.google.com/books?id=Hd3hDQpFYeAC&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&dq=cia+incursions+into+foreign+governments+since+1945&source=bl&ots=upzwe2guKj&sig=4Vit49u2V4teimDiYoYsqZ1vnpk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjUv-SVsdbeAhVJ5oMKHdguA0wQ6AEwD3oECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=cia%20incursions%20into%20foreign%20governments%20since%201945&f=false origins and prosecution of the Cold War







How Countries Educate their Young, largely based on and reacting to the author, فیروزه دوما : Do you want followers, leaders, creators or good citizens from the educational process? 


خنده دار در فارس

Firoozeh (فیروزه دوما) Dumas is one of those perfect Americans to voice her opinions about the American education system. It is my opinion that one learns best when she gets outside of the box in which she was born and sees someone or someplace else for comparison. Once you have a few options under the belt, then that person’s scrutiny and positions have more credibility, in my opinion. The way it is may be good, but there is always room for another viewpoint, a possibility of improvement. Firoozeh was born in Iran, whose father was an employee of an Iranian Oil Company and who was at times sent abroad for education and business. The first time Firoozeh came to the States was to Whittier, California, Nixon’s hometown. Her family’s exploits and her exposure to American values flavored the person she eventually became, which is an Iranian/American, married to a Frenchman with American children raised and educated for the past years in Munich, Germany. She recently wrote a piece in the NYTimes about the educational process, which initiated the formulation of this blog. At the end of the blog are links to her bio and books, all worth a visit. She is a humorist and has several books that give us a perspective on a life of an immigrant in America.

Every society has a duty to its citizens, those who live within an imaginary boundary determined by so many strange factors. As you read this previous sentence, it is complicated by the fact that education is also a commodity that goes beyond only educating those citizens of the country in which the institution lies. What happens in any country is known to other countries for a variety of reasons, and that information is digested and distributed to those who wish to engage in a discussion of what is the best method, the best pedagogy, the best practice to impart knowledge in a variety of disciplines, understanding, compassion, creativity, appreciation, independence, communion, entrepreneurial skills, discourse and cultural awareness.

There are many approaches to this governmental approach to citizens of the nearly 200 countries found in today’s world. The United States has no national curriculum. Indeed, each state has its own sovereignty over how to administer education policy and many options and alternatives to public education are available, even to the point of home schooling by the parents themselves. Other countries vary from strong central control from the top down, to ones that give tremendous autonomy to the individual teacher. Some stress entrepreneurial skills, others STEM courses, or strong citizenship skills, with some curricula more information-based, others based on inquiry and end-of-the-year assessment, and some divide the government schools’ abilities to instruct between vocational-based learning, general education and college preparation.

Many institutions, groups and experts have compiled lists of the best educational programs by country in the world. There is some overlapping within each list of countries status and place holding, but the criteria by which the lists are compiled are interesting to discuss. In fact, what defines “best practice” should be central to forwarding any discussion about education done well. Of course, administration, independence and autonomy, economic costs, curricula, assessment, and other factors need to be prioritized and articulated

11dumas-superJumboMs. Dumas’ article compared the Munich, Germany, education system with that of California, where her children (and she) had been involved over the past decade or more utilizing the two schools’ systems. Her opinion piece, plus a short description of the peculiar nature and history of education in America, recent (the last few decades or so) attempts to address issues of education in the United States, a few opportunities for comparison and an attempt at my own conclusions will serve for fodder in the rest of the blog. There are dozens of links at the end to those interested in following the discussion of education as a business/profession/civic responsibility/provider of possibilities for individual and community.

As a humorist, she tried not to offend too often in the comparison. Her basic issues and thoughts addressed what she felt she got for the slightly higher taxes, which was a lot of peace of mind and the feeling her kids were being served well. She mentioned her own childhood experiences as the Reagan California Republicans successfully passed Prop 13 which almost immediately led to shortfalls and gutting of programs still essential in Germany, but no longer so in most American public schools as the systems here continue to be starved of funds. To have programs that used to be offered within the state-funded system, now Firoozeh pointed out that parents had to raise funds to gain extra curriculum options for their children. There were many points that were not addressed, which is where this blog goes into a bit of national comparison and historical perspective. Political and journalistic changes in the past five decades have led to great changes in the state education systems, with states across the country now experiencing teacher strikes in their attempts to publicize and address the shortfalls in money and programs.

In the States, each state has more sovereignty over its educational programs than the federal government, though the Constitution allows latitudes in decision-making that gives parents a great deal of power over what happens to the childrens’ education. If you look at the article about the evolution of education in America, from its curricular choices, emphases, assessment models, racial policies and such, you will get a slice of how greatly the typical classroom has changed in two hundred years. Since the 1970s, for instance, when the Supreme Court mandated busing to break down segregation in the Charlotte schools, several white flight schools popped up the next year. In all US cities there are independent schools to allow for this distinction/redistribution/resegregation to occur and is still endemic in our country’s present DNA. best-educationIf you add to that change the advent of digital information, then a whole new conversation needs to be involved in searching for possible solutions to seeking the best practice for one’s students/children.

Therein lies the great American rub. We have no national standards to speak of, each of the fifty states has control over their own systems, with some states giving greater or lesser autonomy to local communities, there are many private institutions to compete with the public option- those being religious, boarding, charter, college prep and other many of curricular choice, and the public push for alternatives like voucher choice, public/charter, magnet and other options to specialize and incentivize voters, administrators, teachers and students. Then, there is that recent option to digitize the dissemination of information. Is this a panacea or a danger to be approached with supreme caution?

In the past two decades, Bill and Melinda Gates dove into education as one of their causes, though this has been a problematic conundrum that has obliged them to alter course, abandon options and pare down their goals to something they feel is manageable. To quote some of Gates’ conclusions:

Over time, we realized that what made the most successful schools successful – large or small – was their teachers, their relationships with students, and their high expectations of student achievement.     School leadership, teacher professional development, climate, and curriculum also play critical roles in improving student achievement.  And, they need better strategies to develop students’ social and emotional skills.

While Gates initially concentrated on implementing Common Core standards, which later led him to focus on teacher training, this proved elusive over time, defining best practice and its meaningful application in a way that proved assessable. A Washington Post article outlines the history, problems and recent decisions concerning the foundation. What Gates did over the past nearly two decades is demonstrate that private money can refocus the discussion, but also proved that the complexity of the problem has left the Gates Foundation in the same place as political leadership.

What is the true nature of a good education, if it can be defined, how does one implement a clear and fair assessment protocol to bring it about, and who in the end is being served by the changes? Who should decide this last portion of that question, parents, the states, the national government, citizens in general who may or may not be parents but who pay the taxes? In the US, the national government has some authority and money to influence outcomes, but the states are given the overall authority by the Constitution. The constituents are many and we have not figured out a system that complies legally, implementation that is fair to all, or control of the conundrum that clearly identifies what is needed and how to transform the system in a meaningful, clear and impartial way. If you would look at the section below related to those organizations the attempt to define educational excellence and which rank those countries based on the criteria they define (those criteria are critical to the discussion, obviously), you quickly notice the divergent criteria and descriptions associated with a “good education”.

My own thoughts, after forty years of teaching, have brought me to the inquiry-based model. One where the students seek more understanding, ask each other and discuss openly all possible conclusions. The Harkness Table developed at Phillips Academy serves this best, which requires a small group. Questions asked, in my opinion, are more beneficial to learning than providing answers to a prepared exam that brackets specific information about a particular topic. The methods needed to inquire are more important than the actual knowledge transferred within the classroom.

What if the US federal government, like so many countries, had dominion over a national curriculum? It could control goals, curriculum, text book editions, teacher training, all forms of assessments and the organizations that were involved in each of the aspects of educating the nation’s youth. Those that do vary in the goals set, as evidenced by the comparison found in the charts and websites at the bottom. It could be money better spent, but at what cost? That is part of what the Gates Foundation is trying to find out, though the Tea Party is inherently resistant to this centralization for very good reasons. The splintering of American civil society, its political parties and the very way each of us gain the knowledge to define us both is an impediment and a result of this problem/conundrum.

Macron, in a recent interview with Fareed Zaharia, noted his goals for French education (a country with centralized government oversight). He is stressing literature and an appreciation of non-fiction texts to garner a better appreciation of the country’s past and cultural DNA. To me, that is problematic and indicative of what can happen when the power to construct a country’s paradigm through education is left to politicians. Our Constitution decided to err in the other direction, which is also providing evidence that this can cause other problems.

I feel we allow too much libertarian thought, building on Thoreau and Emerson without balancing that self-reliance with exposing the excesses and inhumane aspects of such a paradigm. Also, the humanities allow for embracing libertarian thinking, appreciation of the arts, understanding one’s cultural traditions in addition to those of the rest of the world, as well as handling the responsibilities of STEM curricula-based courses. Still, having a country’s citizens gain an education that makes them adept at civic law and responsibilities, as well as preparing them for a future job market is often at odds. Our own country’s DNA has been often misrepresented by those in charge of publishing and instruction, and history has often lagged in exposing poor decisions and policies of the past. We are in a period as such right now. Many of our current problems can be laid at the feet of policy decisions made in the past fifty years, some for benevolent goals, and many made to forward an agenda that only served a segment of society that misappropriated the power of the government to serve only a small sliver of that society’s population, in my opinion.

Please enjoy the following links and excerpts that further illuminate Ms. Dumas’ background, Gates Foundation’s attempt to address education woes, and comparisons of national education programs, rankings and criteria for assembling this information.


probably the most important single thing I’ve seen in many parts of the world is the wider recognition of the value that collaboration brings to schooling.

One is a knowledge-based curriculum, recognizing that the purpose of curriculum is to build long-term memory into our students and what distinguishes novices from experts is knowledge not skills.


MET Project   https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/content/METLDB/step1/whatismet.html







Goals and Assessments  http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/download/?Num=2667&filename=MET_Feedback-for-Better-Teaching_Principles-Paper.pdf

NYTimes article





Country philosophies

Estonia “to create favourable conditions for the development of personality, family and the Estonian nation; to promote the development of ethnic minorities, economic, political and cultural life in Estonia and the preservation of nature in the global economic and cultural context; to teach the values of citizenship; and to set up the prerequisites for creating a tradition of lifelong learning nation-wide.”

Belgium has four different genres of secondary schools, namely general secondary schools, technical secondary schools, vocational secondary education schools, and art secondary education institutions.

Canada, due to a wide series of reforms in the past two decades, has emerged as a educational leader in international assessment rankings. There they have increased teacher autonomy and targeted policy directives changed the way Canadian students learn.

Estonia emerged as a top performer on PISA 2012 — a remarkable achievement for a country that only gained independence in 1992.

Finland routinely tops rankings of global education systems and is famous for having no banding systems — all pupils, regardless of ability, are taught in the same classes. As a result, the gap between the weakest and the strongest pupils is the smallest in the world

Singapore asks “If our students are equipped with literacy, numeracy, character development and social emotional competencies, is this enough to prepare them for a much more complex future? This is what we are working very hard on today: projecting forward, we are putting more emphasis on what I call the future competencies, or 21st century competencies. These include competencies like critical and inventive thinking, and how students can be more analytical,  entrepreneurial, innovative and creative.”

Switzerland   From secondary onwards students are separated by ability.

USA according to https://mystudentvoices.com/which-country-has-the-best-education-system-in-the-world-1ca65aba068d

PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests



The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)







History of standards and Common Core  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-bill-gates-pulled-off-the-swift-common-core-revolution/2014/06/07/a830e32e-ec34-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html?utm_term=.d809509dafd2







#Stay Woke, Who are you? or “Qui va là?”: William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope and ….Today’s Personification of Society’s Gadfly-Is there one?

Man is a peculiar animal. In some cultures he disdains God or Gods and is allowed to by others, in other cultures he sees the nature of God in every man, in others he believes he is like God being touched by him on the ceiling of the Sistine Ceiling, in others every thing, animate or inanimate, is a God unto itself, in some cultures duty to the group or family is most important and the individual’s rights and deities are not preeminent. What is the nature of man? We have, as a species, been delving into that problem since we moved from the cave to the suburbs; from when we thought only about the next barrier, threat or meal to the concept of I/me vs you/us/them.

Again, as I start a blog, it is not uncommon to rely on historical precedence for guidance. The argument of nature or nurture is an important one, as we, as a species, have used it to define us and our societies for millennia…usually to the great detriment of someone within our own or another’s society. Today, my own imperfect society, hoping in some quarters for MAGA, is fraying at the moment and we are uncertain of its future. This is not an anomaly in history and societies’ DNA are, like each human’s, based a lot on the nature of what created them with a lot of nurture involved in what they are and will become.

For historical perspective, then, I ran across a quote from one of Alexander Pope’s poems.

“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,” said Alexander Pope, “The proper study of mankind is Man.”  The person who used it in a recent article was prompting us to be humble.

alexander-popeIt was not actually used properly. Pope was part of the Enlightenment thinkers, those who felt reason was the most significant factor in building a society. Romantics of the early 19th century plucked and squashed this historical DNA from their thinking and writing, but he was resurrected later in that century and again more recently in the late 20th and early 21st centuries who appreciated Pope’s ability to master language through balanced rhyming couplets. It is also not uncommon to misappropriate or misunderstand what a person says, is it. Pope was not excited as much about nature, natural landscapes or the emotional component that fired man up. His era wanted to construct perfect English gardens to correct nature’s “erratic” offerings. english gardenHis group of thinkers also felt God had created the world for Man’s benefit and utilization as he saw fit. We are paying for that hubris dearly. The quote raises Man aloft alone as the prime recipient of our focus, not as a warning to be humble.

Historically and within his own personal lifetime, he dealt with nature and nurture in peculiar ways that led to a brilliant opus. He did think about Man’s folly and offered stunning rebukes to those leaders who acted foolishly. He also looked at the construct of society and thinking and prodded those around him (and now us, those who imbibe in his woven tapestry of thoughts and poetic constructs) to open their eyes to the mistaken societal DNA they inherited. His ideas, though skewed, were of the useful and eloquent kind.

Pope’s status in Protestant England and his diseased-activated deformity always made him a Gadfly. Yet, he had contemporaries who appreciated his gift, who supported him and elevated his presence in their midst. As Pope was learned of Latin and other languages, he was asked to translate Homer.  He loved the Classical authors and especially Shakespeare, only shortly removed from his own society’s era and contributing to its historical DNA from only a century or so earlier.

For Pope, his world was one that was much like the recently deceased historian Tony Judt’s world once that world was confined to his mind only as he wasted away, incapable of moving any of his voluntary muscles as ALS took its fatal toll. At that time he wrote The Memory Chalet, where he allows us to make sense of the world as Judt saw it. Pope’s own views were equally weighty and full of possibilities. He was, like Judt, frustrated with the inability of society to make good choices. Both called out the fools and dunces.

Like Judt, Pope contracted an illness, though while not fatal, confined him in so many ways. Pope was born on May 21, 1688 to a wealthy Catholic linen merchant, Alexander Pope senior, and his second wife, Edith Turner. In the same year, the Protestant William of Orange took the English throne. Because Catholics were forbidden to hold office, practice their religion, attend public schools, or live within ten miles of London, Pope grew up in nearby Windsor Forest and was mostly self-taught, his education supplemented by study with private tutors or priests. At the age of twelve, he contracted spinal tuberculosis, which left him with permanent physical disabilities. He never grew taller than four and a half feet, was hunchbacked, and required daily care throughout adulthood. Pope had these three factors that isolated him from his wider society and made him an outcast in many way. His irascible nature and unpopularity in the press are often attributed to those three factors: his membership in a religious minority, his physical infirmity, and his exclusion from formal education. The Poetry Foundation biographical excerpt

While these factors were both detrimental to his personal life, they also defined Pope. Those who appreciated his  brilliance were many. By 1734 Pope was still famous, but his friends (or posse), nicknamed the Scriblerians, were mostly dead, or ill, or stuck in Ireland (Jonathan Swift). Their vision of a peaceable, stable England, with honest government and support for the arts, seemed a relic. Instead, Prime Minister Robert Walpole ruled Parliament, masterminding his corrupt hold on power, and King George II, who hated to read, reigned as monarch. Poetry excerpt

One was a close friend, John Arbuthnot, a doctor who was close to death when Pope used a public arena to thank him for his support. Arbuthnot counseled Pope to refrain from open criticism of powerful individuals, as it could bring him great danger. To pay tribute to his friend, and to allow Pope to air his complaints and defense of his positions publicly, he wrote a very long epistle to the doctor. This piece from the Poetry Foundation examines the piece and also opines that the “flow” of Pope’s language is similar to Hip-Hop today.

Part Six of Dr. Arbuthnot allows Pope to explain that his main duty in life is to expose folly.

And, from this poem, The Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,

Neque sermonibus vulgi dederis te, nec in præmiis spem posueris rerum tuarum; suis te oportet illecebris ipsa virtus trahat ad verum decus. Quid de te alii loquantur, ipsi videant, sed loquentur tamen. 

(Cicero, De Re Publica VI.23) 

[“… you will not any longer attend to the vulgar mob’s gossip nor put your trust in human rewards for your deeds; virtue, through her own charms, should lead you to true glory. Let what others say about you be their concern; whatever it is, they will say it anyway.”]

Other quotes from Pope….

With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,…

What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone. …

Self-love, to urge, and reason, to restrain:

Using the term “duncery” to refer to all that was tasteless, dull, and degraded in culture and literature, Pope mocked certain contemporary literary figures while making a larger point about the decline of art and culture. For Pope, the genius of Shakespeare was worth forwarding.

For this blog, let’s take the opening line of Hamlet..Who’s There? This is a wonderful intro into asking a good question…what does it mean and what are the possible answers? Is this about the literal, the guard, Bernardo, asking who is out there in the dark, and therefore only doing his perfunctory duty? Or is he confronting a ghost; or is it really asking about one’s own identity and a metaphorical tease; are we all in the dark as we stumble through life and hope to see some light and Enlightenment to guide us? What ways then, are there to answer that question? How do we ask this of ourselves? It is central to all of us should we take on the task. For many, though, it is much easier for us to cloak ourselves in a label, to absolve ourselves of this responsibility and to act from a script. In today’s parlance, are we Woke or Lazy. truth seriesOne person who is asking this question is Erykah Badu, who asks for a Master Teacher. Another is Hasan Minhaj, an American of Indian/Muslim background. His parents immigrated to Davis, California where Hasan grew up and slipped into being an actor/comedian who rose through the Daily Show to now has his own series, The Patriot. In his recent segment on the dangers of Amazon, he also covered the meaning and usefulness of woke and lazy. Is he our new Alexander Pope, using his own “flow” to deliver his message? I think we benefit from having him call out a dibbuk me-ru’aḥ ra’ah, as there are too many of late to be given a pass.stay woke

Returning to Pope, and Shakespeare….I especially appreciated a segment from an essay that analyzed this opening line from Hamlet. I have copied it here:

The famous introductory line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, held for centuries to be a universal masterpiece, has caused much ink to flow. To how many commentaries and lectures has it not given rise even outside the realms of theatre and literature? Psychoanalysis has mined the constituent ambiguities of this work, as it has the masterpieces of Greek theatre. How can one not be fascinated both by the structure of the work and by the central role given to theatre, notably in the play-within-the-play, the presentation of The Mousetrap before the King? This is Hamlet’s ultimate strategy for observing on the face of the Spectator suspected of murder the revelation of his true identity; however, in so doing, Hamlet is himself forced to contemplate his own choices.

The French translation of the first line of Bernardo, one of the guards on the ramparts of Elsinore where the shade of the Ghost takes shape, conjures up either the phenomenon of being (“Qui est là” / “Who’s there?”) or of movement (“Qui va là” / “Who goes there?”). For my purposes, I prefer the second. It throws greater light on the fact that the question of identity is organically related to the awareness of the body moving in space.

Each of us is born into a specific time period and geographical location and usually to parents who have cultural personae that will greatly influence our initial nurturing. Each of us, too, is imprinted with DNA from a long line of relatives that offer us some capabilities and handicaps in the way we experience our world.

Historically, man has slid into a dubious understanding of Nature’s place in determining who we are, what our genealogy has done to set us up for life’s experiences. In the distant past, Royalty claimed different, blue, blood from the peons. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln and most of our Founding Fathers felt that Blacks were not capable of the same intellect as Whites. Even Darwin, the initiator of Evolutionary thought, a scientific thesis based on the importance of how one’s environment can change the very nature of who we are and will be, felt race was a factor in intelligence. Most science (by Whites) in the 19th and deep into the 20th centuries also accepted the limitations placed by genetics on humans.

Louis Agassiz, a great 19th century scientist now in the US Hall of Fame, thought social equality between black and white a “practical impossibility” and intermarriage “a perversion of every natural sentiment.”

The Great War was started because a few dozen Blue Bloods (many related genetically and one whose life was greatly determined by poor genes) stumbled into a pride-filled argument of misinformation and prejudice about “the other” that tore the world apart. In the early 20th century HH Goddard tried out his intelligence tests on new migrants and found, that “83% of the Jews, 80% of the Hungarians, 79% of the Italians and 87% of the Russians were feeble-minded. If you look at the book by Kati Marton’s, The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Escaped Hitler and Changed the World, it belies the claim that Hungarians, ones who were also Jews, are feeble-minded. Hitler was so focused on race and religion that he murdered millions of “the other” on mistaken understanding of man. He worked very hard to define “the other”, coming up with a chart to show who was or was not a Jew. These ideas have been thoroughly debunked, yet we still have fools and dunces to carry those fragmented-broken societal DNA pieces of information forward into our own present thinking.

The Bell Curve concept came out in 1994 and influenced politics and public policy. There are still those who accept its flawed thinking and follow the two authors’ thoughts even today. Our own leader is, like those fools and dunces in 1914, making tweets, comments and Executive Orders that take our society in a dangerously skewed direction based on flawed reasoning.

In response to these unfortunate “scientific” and skewed positions of the first half of the 20th century, individuals like Stephen Jay Gould have worked to debunk poor science concerning the exploration of human intelligence. The Mismeasure of Man is a 1981 book by this paleontologist. The book is both a history and critique of the statistical methods and cultural motivations underlying biological determinism, the belief that “the social and economic differences between human groups—primarily races, classes, and sexes—arise from inherited, inborn distinctions and that society, in this sense, is an accurate reflection of biology”.DaVinciVitruvian_man

In the past couple of years, an interesting concept as to who we are theorizes that each of our own micro biomes are a product of where we live and that whatever internal biome we are born with can be quickly changed by shifting geographical locations and that movement can be something that influences evolutionary changes, as well as our health and well-being. The understanding of who we are and how we learn, how we exhibit our curiosity, feed it and look at other individuals’ genius is still a moving target. And, in this global world, that movement is not about to slow…..





https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/nov/12/race-intelligence-iq-science  gould

Stupid, Arrogant and Dangerous …..Against History and Liberal Thought/ Welcome to America 2018 and running: “Homo Americus”

A comparison between Russia and America. How long will it be before we have our own class of citizens who turn to “hunting stray dogs to eat them”? A quote from a referenced non-fiction work cited herein.

It is less than a week before the 2018 Midterm Election happens and all of the polling done recently to figure out what this country wants arrives in that one and only real poll. How many and what percentage of our electorate will participate, how has history (and its truthful, honest and factual understanding of it) influenced the results, how much has the gerrymandering and voter suppression affected its outcome unfairly, how have the results allowed for some respected and intelligent and “fair” adjustment to the voting process to allow for a more inclusive, truly American enfranchisement process to determine future choices based on learning from past mistakes and prejudices, how much have the Russians (and other non-American players) influenced its outcome through cyber subterfuge and even open attacks that fooled the fools…….all these factors are still in the future tense of yet. Also, will there be a blue wave in spite of many contravening factors?

masha Gersen

Russian/American author Masha Gessen

As we enter this week, the person who most caught my attention is Masha Gessen. Born in Russia, a journalist, gay, a mother, and one of the most vocal critics of Vladimir Putin. She has recently written another book of non-fiction, this time winning the National Book Award called The Future is History the future is history. She writes in English and her native Russian, but this title is close to home, as she believes the society and politics of Russia cannot escape its totalitarian past. I am wondering if our own culture is breeding too many terminally selfish citizens, only focused on me or them, and not all that is possible when knowing just a bit more. Lessen calls the citizens of the country “Homo Sovieticus” but was not the first to coin the term. Much has been postulated about the impact/damage done to the collective psyche of the country and its citizens that makes them ripe for authority and willingly accepting the loss of liberties. Seems we could start some other comparisons elsewhere with these aspects…n’es pas.

From a review in the Guardian about Gessen’s new book, a quote/excerpt from its author is posted below. This review found the book “fascinating, if flawed” but it deserves entry into the discussion about our own past, present and future and herein I continue. The review also offers an explanation for the title of this blog. It is useful to read history, learn from it for one’s own sake, well-being and betterment, as well as one’s country’s….and the world’s well-being. But, we obviously have 35% of this country still not heeding that advice…wallowing in self, assenting to being labeled with a title by someone else that allows them to behave, react, obfuscate, taunt, kill, choose, say and cause so much harm because their adopted title frees them from the responsibility to learn, to love, to seek more for the betterment of self…and the betterment of all, regardless of artificial political boundaries (though, admittedly, these often are meaningful and extremely important boundaries on a map…as they will be in next Tuesday’s vote) :

“The “main resource” of this increasingly repressive and authoritarian state is “the Soviet citizen weaned on generations of doublethink and collective hostage-taking: Homo Sovieticus”. As diagnosed in 1989 by Yuri Levada, sociologist and the founder of Russia’s first polling organisation, Homo Sovieticus was in favour of a powerful paternalistic state, deeply conformist and suspicious of all and any individual initiative that threatened to destabilise existing group hierarchies and identities.”

From a review of the book in the New York Times, (an interesting review by Francis Fukuyama, who wrote his own book, The End of History, and the twists of coincidence are fun) this excerpt is useful in my own blog as I follow it up by asking questions and doing so by replacing Russian references with American ones:

“Levada’s surveys revealed the existence of homo sovieticus, a fearful, isolated, authority-loving personality created by Communism. But in the early 1990s this type of individual seemed to be disappearing, and Gudkov was hopeful that it was just a passing historical interlude. The number of respondents, for example, who thought that homosexuals should be “liquidated” began to drop. But, then, to his horror, the numbers began to rise again in the 1990s; under Putin it became clear that most Russians were not craving freedom or converging with their counterparts in the West; homo sovieticus was alive and well. In 2016 the justice ministry classified the Levada Center as a “foreign agent.” “home sovieticus

another excerpt from the NYTimes review that bears airing and comparing is:

“The one area where I wish Gessen had spent more time was in a deeper analysis of ordinary Putin backers, rather than an opportunist like Dugin. Polls, including some from the Levada Center, show high government support. But how deep is that support, how internalized are the “values” now being pushed by the regime and how long will they survive a prolonged economic stagnation? One cannot really label Russia as totalitarian in the absence of a strongly mobilizing ideology. I somehow doubt that fear of pedophilia will be a sufficiently grand cause to rouse a deeply traumatized people and make them great again.”

alecander duginHere is where I need to digress for a moment to speak of Alexander Dugin and “Eurasianism” (Putin’s Rasputin?). That such an individual is given credence and is elevated to the position of power and influence does give support to the Rasputin comparison. As I am comparing the Putin/Russia description with our own Donald Trump/MAGA version, we could easily look for the counterpart to Dugin in the Trump administration and see similarities with several of his closest characters in the administration. That each leader pushes nationalism, populism, fear, exclusion, hatred, envisioning an imaginary past of greatness to pursue, accepting authoritarian solutions and limiting of individual rights, should give us on this side of the Atlantic pause. Perhaps we should all read Gessen’s treatise.

Why is Trump so obsessed with Putin. He surely has not read Soviet history…and certainly not Gessen’s book. If we mirror Gessen’s account of Russia’s thirty year attempts to move towards the new old Russia, where Gessen claims its psychological DNA as a country is pulling it back to a Stalinist predisposition against its will and welfare, can we replace a few names and nouns to come up with our own description of what is happening in America in 2018? Will we soon have those armed and dangerous hunters of gays in America who denounce the propaganda of sodomy at some US university, mirroring those who denounced the “Propaganda of Sodomy at Perm State Research University”.   Like Putin, Trump shares many techniques of leadership and governance with him. Both men’s followers are subject to easy manipulation and acceptance of pure propaganda and falsehoods. Here’s to the hope of a Blue Wave.  



And, finally, this morning a friend and fellow retired educator posted this on Facebook. It is from one of his former students from the 1970s who is now himself and educator and is from the community of Squirrel Hill and recently addressed his students at morning assembly… It is worth a few moments of your time to read to make a bit of sense out of the horror of the past week. Shalom

(From Steve’s post)      I pass on to you another eloquent piece of writing from my former elementary grade student from the mid-70’s, Matt Weiss. Please read this assembly address and then go back to your homerooms, humbled and transformed…

Good morning everyone. I’m Mr. Weiss and my family and I live in Squirrel Hill in the house my wife grew up, so our family has been part of Squirrel Hill for nearly 50 years. I don’t know about you, but I have not been very productive this week. Now, in my case, that’s not particularly unusual, but it has been more pronounced in recent days than I can remember.

Of course, like a lot of you, I have been distracted and distressed. It doesn’t take my mind long to wander from whatever paper I am trying to grade or lesson I am trying to plan to the dreadful events of last Saturday. There is an irony in that what we might rightly call “unthinkable,” we cannot stop thinking about. I would also say that there have been some welcome distractions. The outpouring of love and support, from our immediate community to the victims and their families, from many of you who are not Jewish or from Squirrel Hill to those of us who are, and from the nation and, indeed, the entire world, to our city, has been genuinely moving. I have sometimes wondered if the gestures I see online at times like these–the special profile pictures and tweets in solidarity with people struck by tragedy–are just trite and empty ones we perform to make us feel good, but I don’t believe that now. They are small acts of solidarity, but they make a difference. I have felt, so to speak, the arms of the nation and the world wrapped around our community and our city, almost as palpably as I have felt the arms of my friends, neighbors and colleagues wrapped around me and mine around them this week, and that has lifted me. But it has also exhausted me, and the sleep I have lost reading emails, texts, and posts, and fielding calls have taken a toll. All of this is part of the reason I think we find it hard to turn our minds to our work.

But there is another reason that I want to address this morning: In times like these, it is easy to feel like our work here doesn’t matter–that it is meaningless compared to the life and death issues swirling around us. “What does it matter,” we may ask ourselves, “why Macbeth did whatever he did or Muhammad did whatever he did or this chemical compound did whatever it did when people are being gunned down in houses of prayer? How can I immerse myself in this world of abstractions when the real world is crying out in a hundred kinds of agony and in a billion different voices? What does it matter?”

If you feel this way, I understand, and I share your feelings. I think that, for some of us, we simply want to retreat from this chaos and madness, so little of which we can control, and that is perfectly understandable and, sometimes, necessary. For some of us, however, we want to do something, anything, to make it better. We Jews have a concept for this: it is called Tikun Olam, and it means “to repair the world.” To repair the world means to bind its wounds, to ease its pain, to rebuild where there has been destruction. To make fruitful places that have been barren. To push love into every dark corner befouled by hate. The Mishnah tells is, “It is not your obligation to complete this work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Many of us feel compelled to do this work and to do it now.

And we should.

And your studies, my job–they do not always feel like this work–this repairing the world, especially not now, but I would argue that they are.

Please believe me when I tell you that your work is important, that we need you to be scholars, to be learners. Not just for the usual reasons–to get into college, to get a job–but for much higher reasons: your scholarship will help make you people who are capable of repairing our world.

In some disciplines, this is an easy case to make, starting with my own. History helps us understand how we got to where we are. The past is full of warnings and lessons—few of them easy, but all of them essential. History is your ancestors giving you a light from their world to illuminate your own. English, drama, and art help us understand the human soul, what motivates it, what it needs, and how it can be shaped toward good or twisted toward evil. Greater truths may be told through literature and the arts than can be spoken in any sworn testimony before any court, and these disciplines are dedicated to the propagation of truth and beauty, even in the darkest times, the darkest places. World languages make friends of strangers. They make “us” out of people who might otherwise be “them,” and heaven knows we need more “us” and less “them” at this time.

But what of math and science? These seemingly hard-headed, often abstract subjects? They sometimes seem so removed from the desperate dramas in which we know we must play a role? How can they help us?

I would argue that they may be the most essential, for these are the disciplines most dedicated to reason, and reason is indispensable if we are to combat the forces of ignorance, hatred, suspicion and baseless conspiracy threatening to tear us apart–actively tearing us apart. There is, of course, a practical and tangible role math and science can play in making a brighter future. People my age live in a world where every day we rely on devices, some we can hold in our hands and some we cannot see or may not even know about, that we would not have been able to imagine when we were people your age, but technology can produce problems as well as solve them.

Reason, then, is the greatest gift these disciplines have to offer. They train your minds to demand facts, to insist that proposals make sense, to be bold and imaginative in envisioning what might be but methodical in making what we imagine into reality. It was reason that banished darkness–literally, and brought us light, and it is reason that banishes the darkness of racism and prejudice and reveals to us the scientific truth of our common humanity.

In the television drama, House of Cards, the deeply cynical politician who is the main character turns directly to the camera, speaking to the unseen audience–to us–smirks, and says, “Welcome to the Death of the Age of Reason.”

Well, I am not ready to let the Age of Reason go so quickly, and I am counting on you to make sure we continue to live in an Age of Reason. You will do this in many ways, but the work you do here and now will ground you in reason–that precious, fragile but mighty commodity.

So it is hard, I know, to turn your mind to your work. It is hard for me to turn my mind to my own, but let us commit to it. I ask you this not as a teacher here, not as a parent, but as a person of my generation ready to pass the torch of leadership in this world to yours. I have faith in you, and along with my colleagues will do my best to prepare you so we can step in line behind you and follow you into a better, brighter day.

Shalom, peace, to you all. You are dismissed.

Plato’s Fears and Disdains Concerning Democracy: The Needed Changes in Education to understand the connections between Trump, Buzz Windrip and Godwin’s Law

“Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.” — Plato

zohar lazar-sullivanDemocracy-1

Illustration by Zohar Lazar for Andrew Sullivan article

A reference from Andrew Sullivan in his New York Magazine article of May 1, 2016, where he opined that Donald Trump was an “existential-threat” to democracy:

“The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.” “

Trump Dec 3 2015

Trump speaking in December of 2015

Sullivan also said of the tyrant, Plato believes he understands who and how an attack democracy would occur in the article:

“He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.” 

This was nearly two years ago and before Trump’s election later in that year. He wished for signs of his being tripped up, of the American populace and electorate rejecting him. Andrew is still, I fear, an unhappy and nervous man.

How did we get here? Sullivan opined… “The process had its origins in partisan talk radio at the end of the past century. The rise of the internet — an event so swift and pervasive its political effect is only now beginning to be understood — further democratized every source of information, dramatically expanded each outlet’s readership, and gave everyone a platform. All the old barriers to entry — the cost of print and paper and distribution — crumbled.”

There were also references to the Upton Sinclair character, Buzz Windrip

Here is my penultimate nail from Sullivan’s article:

“And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.”

In this article, Sullivan claims that values in this diverse and many-hued democracy will splinter into ones the many groups find “mutually uncomprehending”. On MPR this Monday, there was a discussion about the current state of politics during which one of the participants in the discussion also used the term “incomprehensible” to describe the political values between each of the political parties. Another begged to differ and refused to allow equivocation on the matter. She claimed she was clearly comprehending the Trump agenda and that it was divisive, ruthless and full of hate and fear, pointing out that it was clear to her that he was singling out Muslims, Mexicans and The Press as things evil, murderous, or rapists and other such public slurs coming from the mouthpiece of the presidency. His policies were separating children from their parents, debasing the LGBTQ advances of the past several years,  attacking the ideas, hopes and bodies of the #Metoo Movement, destroying the faith in scientific research and fact, using invective and ad hominem at will and as his main choice of dialogue, destroying our former alliances and cozying up to tyrants, and leading us towards what seems to me the Plato paradigm for democracies.

And, his final nail (with which I almost fully agree): 

“Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”

Once again, Plato had his temperament down: A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life … is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.” also from Sullivan

It is my, and Mary’s, sincere hope and desire to see the results of the election next Tuesday as a rejection of Trump’s nearly two year path of destruction. The signs, though, are not good based on myriad factors, all supporting the Platonic trajectory. The electoral map is not good regarding the Senate, the siloing is still there as evidenced by the modest popularity (and absent of the will, legal means or method for its removal, all consistent with Plato’s warning) of a platform like Gag on which the current shooter in Pleasant Hills, Pittsburgh, fomented and honed his hatred, and we are still seemingly content with our status of being “mutually uncomprehending”.

I, for one, want the dialogue to focus on issues and competing solutions, where the factors of race, religion and culture are moderated and dominated by the factors of the environment, economics, ethics, gender inclusiveness and fairness to all. I am, as I have since reading him many years ago, rejecting Plato’s arrogance and acceptance of a “philosopher king” (tempting though it may be) as my leader and hoping for salvation in the tools of education and understanding through reading widely and leaving open the possibility that I am incorrect and need to always listen to another point of view. 

A more recent article in the New Yorker had this to say about the current state of affairs following the shooting in Pittsburgh and related to the teetering nature of American democracy:

“But the pluralist American model badly needs shoring up, and some of the necessary measures are obvious ones. The United States needs new gun laws that make it impossible for anyone full of hate to accumulate a personal armory. It needs restraints on the propagation of hate speech that take account of the fearsome reach and power of the Internet. It needs changes to the electoral system that empower the will of the majority, while still affording protections for minorities. And the country needs a President who isn’t an arsonist.”

It is difficult to stand on this platform of late, though. It may be that on Wednesday next the pattern will betray our hopes. Each day, each month, each year, we choose our platforms more carefully, cocoon ourselves ever more and look to distant options to satisfy our continuous curiosity, our love of multiculturalism, of fine music, film, foods, literature and ways to understand in ways that bring us to laughter and tears of compassion or joy. Here’s to a grand Wednesday next….or to a trip elsewhere, perhaps.





Wisconsin and Progressive Populism as a savior for American democracy…..https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/07/opinion/sunday/progressive-populism-wisconsin-trump.html