education in a democracy

It’s reasonable to assume that education in a democracy is distinct from education under a dictatorship or a monarchy; surely school leaders in fascist Germany or Albania or Saudi Arabia or apartheid South Africa all agreed, for example, that students should behave well, stay away from drugs and crime, do their homework, study hard, and master the subject matters; they also graduated fine scientists and musicians and athletes, so none of those things differentiate a democratic education from any other.

What makes education in a democracy, at least theoretically, distinct is a commitment to a particularly precious and fragile ideal: every human being is of infinite and incalculable value, each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, and creative force. Every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights; each is endowed with reason and conscience, and deserves, then, a sense of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood, recognition and respect. Democracy is geared toward participation and engagement, and that points to an educational system in which the fullest development of all is seen as the necessary condition for the full development of each, and conversely, that the fullest development of each is necessary for the full development of all.

The above is an excerpt from Bill Ayres’ piece in yesterday’s Huffington Post

Ayres, now Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was the founder of the militant Weather Underground in the turbulent 1960s.

Many of my beliefs about government, politics, education, and learning were formed during those years of widespread controversy, disillusionment, and rebellion.

Ayres piece, written when two talks that he was scheduled to give at the University of Wyoming were canceled because of “security threats” and “controversy,” reinforces those beliefs I still hold today and is worth reading in full.

ban guns and capital punishment; allow abortions

I want to ban the sale of guns to anyone who just “wants” one and capital punishment for any but the most hopelessly insane serial killers. I want a public health care option that includes funding for abortions along with widespread sex (read “human reproduction and contraception” education). I am an American of conscience. What makes those Congressional “people of conscience” douchebags any more ethical and moral than I.

The power people of this country are as morally bankrupt as so many of the rest of us are financially.

Poor Obama. He might have won, but we are losing.

haunted houses vs global warming

In the United States, more people believe that houses can be haunted by the dead than believe that the living can cause climate change.

The above from here.

The piece cites some polls that only reinforce the general lack of critical thinking among many Americans, particularly those who also believe in evolution, and adds:

Since republicans attend church much more regularly, perhaps a more active stance by churches on climate change would increase the urgency and conviction? Well at the highest levels, this has already happened. In 2001, the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying, in part, “At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both ‘the human environment’ and the ‘natural environment’ …Passing along the problem of global climate change to future generations as a result of our delay, indecision, or self-interest would be easy. But we simply cannot leave this problem for the children of tomorrow.”

A summary of the science of climate change is available at ClimatePath.

Capitalism, Jesus, conspiracy theories, and Bohemian Grove

I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what’s left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you’d have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.

The above is a quote from Michael Moore. Read the entire article here.

According to The Curious Capitalist:

The top 400’s share of the nation’s income went from 0.52% in 1992 to 1.31% in 2006—an even bigger increase than its share of taxes paid. When you chart the average tax rate paid by those in the top 400, the picture is nearly opposite.

Yet, even non-fundamentalist religious people continue to let the Republican Conservatives brainwash them into believing that somehow everyone else who is not them is an instrument of the devil. Despite Enron and Madoff and any number of smaller versions of these capitalist-inspired fiascos, there are people — people wealthy in neither money nor knowledge — who believe that the rich and powerful know what’s best for them.

Now, I’m a big fan on Dan Brown’s novels and just finished reading his latest, The Lost Symbol (which I read on my iphone with ereader). Being an eclectic agnostic brought up as a Catholic, I love Brown’s wild and well-documented speculations about hidden histories and mysteries. The Lost Symbol explores the influence of Masonic beliefs on our nation’s establishment (then and now).

But I know that, while Brown uses facts as his building blocks, he fits them together with the mortar of his imagination. One man’s conspiracy is another man’s frat party.

Which brings me to the stuff online about the Bohemian Grove gatherings, where smart powerful people dress up in costumes, light fires and fireworks, sing and enact a ritualistic “cremation of care”. What looks to me like a glorified frat party or boy scout fest is touted by the likes of Alex Jones as satanic ritual. If you want to see a conspiracy, you’ll figure out how to make it look like one.

I wish I had written down Dan Brown’s reflections on pagan rituals that described the drinking of blood and consumption of human flesh as an empowering and spiritual act — an act that gets translated daily into the Holy Communion of Christian churches.

Now, personally, I am not comfortable with secret societies of any kind, and the “old-boy” Bohemian Club makes me nervous, even though, as Daniel’s Free Speech Zone, describes:

For the last century, an elite group, called the “Bohemian Club,” has been gathering at the grove for a yearly retreat. The “Bohemians,” also called “Bohos” or “Grovers,” are an all-male pack of corporate, financial, military and government leaders. No women are allowed. The group has included every Republican president since Herbert Hoover. Both Bushes have been here; so have Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, and Collin Powell, as well as a horde of lesser-known Bohos. All together, some 2000 of them descend upon Sonoma County each summer in July and assemble in the depths of the dark forest to imbibe huge quantities of costly alcohol, to piss on the trees, and to let it all hang out for the duration of 16 days.

“Weaving spiders come not here,” is the club’s motto, meaning that they’re here to relax and not to negotiate business.

While not a “conspiracy theorist,” I, like Daniel, have a concern, as he expressed:

…given the context of today’s world and the role these men play in it, the form of the Cremation of Care ritual — the priests in hooded robes, the mythologem of human sacrifice — seems to symbolize the mindset of men who profit from war, chop up the forests, pollute the environment and scheme to privatize Social Security. The ritual most likely creates an fraternal atmosphere in which they can bond and set the stage for future cooperation in the exercise of evil.

That seems to be the essence of what the Bohemians bring out from the Grove and foist upon the rest of us.

I don’t believe that Jesus, if here today, would be a capitalist, a conspirator, or an “old-boy” networker. He certainly would not work on Wall Street, although he might be forced by circumstance to work at Wal-Mart.

He would be out advocating for a single payer health care system. And if he tried to run for office, he would be eaten alive by the far Right/eous. [pagan ritual reference intended]

Is this how the moral Germans felt?

While Hitler was spewing his hateful lies and masterminding the most horrific manipulations of all times, the good and powerless German people who understood and feared what he was trying to do must have felt the way that some of us do these days. Nothing we say or write or do seems to deter the crooks and liars who are so fiercely opposing the kind of Universal Health Care system that would save lives and ultimately save money as well. The right-wing conservatives are railroading to its certain death the ability of this country to keep its citizens healthy.

How viciously ironic that the Right/eous portray President Obama as a Hitler figure, when it is they, his opponents, who are copying Hitler’s tactics of spreading distortions and disinformation, manipulating and inventing language that totally misrepresents the truth and stirs up the most primal fears of those who adhere to the right-wing’s philosophy and values

This from an article in The Nation: Reverse Reverse Nazism and the War on Universal Healthcare

The spinmeisters of the right have done quite a job with what used to be straightforward English etymology. Thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, “integration” was inverted to mean “takeover” and “colorblindness” is code for abandoning the advances of the civil rights movement, which itself is synonymous with an “industry” of exclusion. It’s no surprise, then, that whenever a piece of progressive legislation comes to the table, the same manipulations come into play from right-wing pundits who shamelessly profess their desire to see the Obama presidency fail. Thus it is that America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 is being turned upside down as the neat equivalent of Germany’s Bankrupting Forced Death Act of 1939.

Like the Nazis, the Right/eous are playing to the fears of people are afraid that change will somehow mean that they will get less because someone else will get more. They are the same people who were afraid of integration and feminism, and they follow the leaders who validate their fears and keep them riled up and misinformed.

From the article cited above (read the entire piece here):

But if you listen as though deciphering pig Latin and realize that this demographic is speaking from a well-managed, near-hypnotic looking-glass world where every word from the mouth of a Democrat (or a liberal, or a Latina, or a Canadian) is a lie, a betrayal… then it all makes sense. Their world truly has been turned inside out, by the election, by the economy, by the precarious conditions that threaten us all. But for those whose sense of identity has been premised on a raced, masculinist, conservative Christian hierarchy of American power, the world must seem even more emotionally terrifying than any actual facts would indicate.

I am afraid. They are afraid. If the Health Care legislation doesn’t pass, I think ALL of our fears will be realized. They will get less of what they already have. I will be OK because I have health benefits from a government job, but my adult son and the millions (yes, I said MILLIONS) like him will still go without.

This is the time for strong moral leadership to step up and take some risks and vehemently press for a Universal Health Care System that, when enacted, will alleviate all of our fears.

I am inclined to ask here, “What Would Jesus Do?” Certainly not support the profiteers of the for-profit health care industry.

C’mon President Obama. Rise to the position of leadership that we put you on and press for the changes we so desperately need.

digitized for posterity: me

I was tooling around the website of the campus of which I am an alumna because I will be going with a college friend to his 50th reunion next month. As I was looking through the list of events for the reunion weekend, I noticed that the college library was having an event for former staff of the college’s newspaper to celebrate the fact that the old paper copies of the publication have been digitized.

Wow, I think. I must be in those digits somewhere, having been the Feature Editor and having authored several different columns over my coed years.

So I go into the data base and poke around the issues from time period that I was on the paper’s staff.

It’s a whole lot embarrassing to read what I wrote as a college junior that pretty much always appeared on page 3. I pretentiously called my column “The Prism.”

Oh my.



Another groan.

Well, at least this isn’t so bad.

We didn’t have a journalism program back then, and I cringe at what today’s journalism students would think if they had some reason to read what I wrote when I was young and full of myself and still trying out my voice.

The writers’ workshop I joined starts in a couple of weeks.

Funny, but back then I probably didn’t think I needed to take one.

a time to disbelieve

This quote from Talking Points Memo.

Rightwing fearmongers and demagogues
thrive only to the extent the mainstream media
believes they’re thriving.

It’s all a matter of persistent marketing, isn’t it? Say something loud enough and often enough and pretty soon it will be believed.

The leaders of the Right/eous (both political and religious) know and use this strategy well. And, in many cases these days, various Right/eous factions have banded together to strategically defeat a health care plan for America that will both save lives and money.

While there is evidence from other countries regarding how well a single payer national health plan can and does work there is no evidence showing that it won’t work here in America. There is only the persistent and consistent marketing message from Right/eous telling us to believe that it won’t work and that any health care reform has to come about very slowly.

What is this, “faith-based politics”?

The TPM piece cited above ends with this:

Sometimes reform has to occur in a big way, everything or nothing, if it’s to happen at all. That’s the way it is with health care reform at this stage. Every moving piece is related to every other one. That’s also why a public option is necessary.

So forget the authoritative sources. Mobilize and organize. We can get comprehensive, meaningful health care reform if we push hard enough. And we must.

onward to single payer

That’s the Single Payer health plan supported by everyone who understands how the system can work.

Anyone who wants to can easily find out the truths about the health care issue by doing a reality check.

I just don’t understand why people think that corporate-run health care will look out for their interests. Corporations, by their very nature, are in it to make a profit. So, logically corporate run health care needs to maximize premiums and minimize payments so that they can make a profit. Health care corporations

A thoughtful article in The New Republic calls the right-wings manipulations of the health care reform issues similar to the Swift Boat machinations that torpedoed John Kerry’s bid for the presidency in 2004.

Snippets from that article:

Exhibit number one is the treatment of Eziekel Emanuel, the distinguished oncologist and bioethicist who is working on health reform at the Office of Management and Budget. In the course of his writings, which span academia and popular publications, he has argued forcefully and clearly against physician-assisted suicide. Yet somehow Emanuel finds himself accused of–wait for it–advocating physician assisted suicide.

Every year, millions of families struggle to get affordable medical care for themselves or their loved ones–and end up in financial ruin, going without medical care, or some combination of the two. Many of these cases involve diseases like cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s–or other conditions that require ongoing, expensive care.

Insurance companies try their best to avoid taking on these people. Apply for an individual policy with one of these pre-existing conditions and an insurer will reject you if it can. If it can’t–if, say, you’re lucky enough to get coverage through an employer–you may well find the insurance doesn’t cover what you need.

It’d be one thing if the lunatics on the right had a coherent argument for why these initiatives might be ineffective or counterproductive. But they don’t even bother to acknowledge them, preferring instead to throw out scare quotes like this one from Palin: “Who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course.”

Of course, not all conservatives stoop to this level. You can have a rational, if still contentious, debate over health reform with the likes of Stuart Butler (who studies health policy at the Heritage Foundation) or Gail Wilensky (who ran Medicare for George H.W. Bush). But Butler, Wilensky, and others like them aren’t driving the conversation right now. Palin, Bachmann, and their allies are.

We’re stuck in what Josh Marshall has called a “nonsense feedback loop”–a conversation in which Zeke Emanuel wants to kill grandma, health care reform is bad for the people who can’t get health care, and Stephen Hawking has been snuffed out by the British National Health System. Instead of arguments that are unrelated to reality, we’re getting arguments that are the very opposite of reality.

Vehement right-wing opposition to government reform (fueled by those who have nothing to gain from such reform because they gain a great deal from the status quo) is not new. A piece in the Washington Post, In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition shines a spotlight on this pattern of right-wing disinformation dissemination. It’s the old “don’t confuse me with the truth; I know what I believe” syndrome.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can’t stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny. When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. “What’s the matter, madam?” he asked. “What can I do for you?” The woman responded with self-righteous fury: “Well, if you don’t know I can’t help you.”

A comment left on the It’s Your Times website by “Wise Merlin” pretty much covers all the problems with the current health care system in America in language that even the least literate right-wingers can understand.

Meanwhile, closet right-wingers are popping up in the least expected places. According to, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods has launched a major campaign to defeat a single payer national health insurance system.

Whole Foods, “Primo hangout of liberal Democratic yuppies,” should be boycotted, the article goes on to say.

Mackey leads his Wall Street Journal diatribe against national health insurance with a quote from one of his heroines – Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

And the problem with Mackey’s campaign is that it results in the deaths of 60 Americans every day due to lack of health insurance.

Mackey is responsible for these deaths as much as anyone.

And we are responsible for putting money into his Whole Food bank account so that he can continue his campaign without resistance.

I know that this boycott of Whole Foods will upset many liberal Democrats.

Where will they buy their organic wines?

And cheeses?

And tofu?

There are options.

Your local health food co-op.

Farmers’ markets.

Community supported agriculture.

Other corporate chains like Trader Joe’s.

So, please, join the Single Payer Action Boycott of Whole Foods.

Don’t cross the picket lines.

Don’t spend another penny at Whole Foods until John Mackey and his right wing friends are defeated.

And single payer is enacted.

Onward to single payer.

Just as in the times of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President Obama is faced with two connected but separate American crises: the recession/depression of this greedy capitalist economy and the struggle of ordinary citizens to survive on various fronts (health, jobs, education etc.)

According this article:

FDR was not able to solve the economic/capitalist problems of the Great Depression. World War II did that. [Obama is faced with finding a less drastic solution.]

But FDR did make life better for America’s not-wealthy citizens, focusing his New Deal on relief for individuals who through no fault of their own were unable to provide for themselves; recovery of the economy so that business would be able to start hiring people again; and reform of the government and the economy to avoid the recurrence of problems that had risen persistently during the industrial age.

His list of enacted legislation included the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act, which enabled the formation of labor unions.

Highly paid corporate executives, who can afford to sock away millions that slip through tax loopholes and who see labor unions as depriving their businesses of additional profit, don’t believe that FDR’s New Deal was that much of a big deal. And so neither do they support Obama’s administration’s efforts to fix the same kinds of problems that FDR faced. After all, those are the problems of the “common man” and have nothing to do with them.

It is time for us common people to rise up and take our country back from the greedy and self-centered who really have no stake in improving the quality of our lives and our health care.


PS. For those who need a visual aid for health care reform, here’s a great one.

“I can’t not buy those Ferragamos

I’m reading Origins of the Specious and remembering the grammar wars (well, skirmishes, really) that I used to have with (son) b!X back in the old days. I was as adamant about the rules as he was about accepting common usage.

When I taught 8th grade English in the late ’60s, our grammar text book was my bible, and I carried it with me all through graduate school and beyond so make sure that my writing and editing were grammatically “correct.” Now I find out that b!X’s points were the ones I should have been paying attention to.

Like ending a sentence with a preposition (see previous sentence). Or beginning a sentence with a conjunction (note current sentence). And then there’s the split infinitive, as in “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

I rarely read non-fiction, but this book is as entertaining as any Stephanie Plum adventure, chock full of ear-opening anecdotes that explain where those old grammar rules came from and who were responsible.

Here’s a little sample of Patricia O’Connor’s clever chapter headings and her catchy writing style:

Isn’t it Pedantic?

Quick, what’s the plural of “octopus”? If you think “octopi” is classier than “octopuses,” go stand in the corner…..

We live in a postmodern world, but the Latinists are still among us, especially in academia. They insist on using plurals like “gymnasia,” “syllabi,” and symposia,” even though dictionaries now recognize a preference for Anglicized plurals (“gymnasiums,” “syllabuses,” “symposiums”). There’s pedantry off campus too, of course,. I’ve seen real-estate ads offering “condominia” for sale — to ignormani, no doubt.

As Garrison Keillor notes on the book’s back cover:

It’s right there on page 54: ‘It’s better to be understood than to be correct’ — pull that out the next time somene corrects your grandma. This tour de force of our beautifully corrupted language is both. And dull it ain’t….

And yes, as the title of this posts indicates, sometimes double negatives are what make the point. Never say never.

Paul, Ringo, the Mararishi, me, and world peace

Yup, I did it in the 70s — took a course in Transcendental Meditation. It was, indeed, relaxing. And, after all, the Beatles were doing it.

And now Paul and Ringo, along with filmmaker David Lynch, are promoting (and funding) introducing TM to public school students, especially those who are “at-risk.”

Of course, as the above linked story indicates,

“Public schools are not supposed to be in the business of promoting religion – and that means any religion,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Advocating for a Hindu-based religious practice in public schools is the same as pushing Christianity or another faith. It’s equally unconstitutional.”

Personally, I believe that the process that is called “meditation” is a great stress-reducer and can open the meditator to attitude-altering personal insights that bubble up from the subconscious. But you don’t need a religious framework to accomplish that.

Shortly after the rise in popularity of TM, Herbert Benson wrote a book called The Relaxation Response, outlining a meditative practice that is really TM without a connection to any spiritual belief. Sort of a TM for the secularist.

From here:

The relaxation response represents a form of meditation which has been practiced for many years. The technique can be found in every major religious tradition. It is a simple technique, but it is not easy to practice or to incorporate into your life. You will find your mind wandering, and you will probably find it difficult to set aside the time to practice. It feels like setting aside 20 minutes a day to sit and do nothing.

If you do incorporate this or any relaxation technique into your life you may notice at least the following four benefits:

* You will gain increased awareness of whether you are tense or relaxed. You will be more “in touch with your body.”
* You will be better able to relax when you become stressed-out.
* You may even reduce the resting level of your autonomic nervous system – walking around more relaxed all the time.
* Your concentration may improve. By repeatedly bringing yourself back to the meditation you are strengthening the part of your mind that decides what to think about.

Devotees of Transcendental Meditation believe that if enough people participated in the practice, world peace would be achieved. Well, maybe so, if meditation really does reduce stress and, therefore, related frustration and aggression.

But maybe it also would be true that if enough people practiced the Relaxation Response every day, we would move steadily toward world peace. Or, at least have a population less stressed and more insightful.

I wonder what would happen if public schools offered a “Relaxation Club” rather than a “Meditation Club” and used David Lynch’s foundation money to pay at-risk students to attend after school. It would be an interesting study to see if the process had a beneficial effect on those students. It would be the same process as “meditation,” but presented in a different package, one more legally appropriate to the “separation of church and state” Constitutional mandate.

The Transcendental Meditation website cites the value of meditation (AKA “the relaxation response”): creativity, focus, health, happiness, success.

I don’t know about “happiness” and “success,” but three out of five ain’t bad.

The site also quotes Dr. Gary Kaplan, a neurologist at NYU’s medical school:

“The TM technique simply and naturally allows the mind to settle down to experience a state of inner coherence and calm during which time the left and right hemispheres, and the front and back of the brain, begin to work in harmony with each other. This brain wave coherence has been correlated with improvements in memory, problem-solving and decision-making abilities. This change in brain functioning also affects the rest of the physiology, reducing high blood pressure, strengthening the heart, and overall improving health.”

I really do need to meditate (whatever you want to call it), but that means I have to spend less time online.

That’s the hard part.