EMERGENCY!!! Suspend the Debates!

September 25, 2008

And if that sounds remotely reasonable, think of it as a dress rehearsal, a practice run, a prelude:

EMERGENCY!!! Suspend the Elections!

Vultures Coming Home to Roost

September 25, 2008

and, to mix our cliches, the fox is guarding the hen house…


September 23, 2008

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Financial Shock and Awe

September 19, 2008

The mother of all bail-outs is upon us– approaching a trillion dollars in federal funds, that is, in tax-payer’s money, to get the big gamblers and hustlers and sharpies off the hook– and it’s way beyond global. Let’s call it galactic or stratospheric. It is awesome, and the questions just keep on coming:

When the big guys were raking in super-profits, we were not invited to the table to share the wealth, so why are we now told we must share the pain?

Isn’t this socialism for the rich?

If “government is the problem” and the genius of the “free market” the solution to everything from health care and education to national defense and public safety, why are the marketeers in line with their hands out?

We were told repeatedly by the powerful that there wasn’t enough money for decent health care for all, wonderful schools for poor kids, and support for a life of dignity and purpose for the elderly, so how did a trillion dollars suddenly materialize?

Further if full and generous funding for education and health care would turn ordinary, hard-working citizens into lazy, dissolute louts– that’s what they said– then what can we hope for the moral well-being of the financial wizards?

Is the government of the people, by the people, for the people, or has it finally become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Finance, Big Oil, and Big Pharma?

We were reminded that our patriotic duty required that we support a war-of-choice costing $500,000 per minute, but who profits, and who suffers in war?

I’m just asking…

“The end of an empire is messy at best….

September 10, 2008

and this one is ending like all the rest.” Randy Newman

Research and Teaching

September 9, 2008

There is no one better positioned than the late Edward Said to offer advice on the conduct of intellectual life. At the time of his death in September, 2003 he was perhaps the best known intellectual in the world with millions of readers who saw him variously as a renowned professor of comparative literature, a cultural theorist, a musician, music critic, and (with maestro Daniel Barenboim) musical activist, and, with growing urgency over the last thirty-five years, the most passionate, eloquent, and clear-eyed advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people. Idolized and despised, venerated and denounced, Said was impossible to ignore.
The scope of his interests, the depth of his ambitions, the energy and effort invested in every project was vast, and yet each somehow informed and was influenced by the others, and each was animated by his understanding of humanism as universal, inclusive, communitarian, and democratic. Daniel Barenboim (2005) insists that Said had a “musician’s soul” and he traces Said’s fierce antispecialization, his sense of interconnectedness and inclusion, his distinction between power and force, volume and intensity—all insights of a musician—from his work in music to other fields. Said’s great work on Orientatism—which spawned the field of postcolonial studies, a field Said would go on to criticize and question as it developed its own lazy habits and received wisdom—was written and published after 1967, when Said was brought into Palestinian politics for the first time. Linkages abound around issues of conflicting narratives, visibility, and human rights.
As an advocate for Palestinian rights Said was unparalleled and yet he was not a spokesman in any conventional sense, for he held no office whatsoever, nor was he ever a mouth-piece for power. Indeed his criticisms of the official Palestinian leadership were both withering and relentless, keeping with his consistent injunction to oppose all orthodoxy, especially the lazy reductiveness or corruption or failures of those with whom one shares an affinity. Said in regard to Palestine was a powerful public example of someone with a mind of his own, arguing with himself without ever losing sight of the larger contexts of suffering and oppression.
Still the Palestinians had no more powerful champion. Said argued that “Humanism… must excavate the silences, the world of memory, of itinerant, barely surviving groups, the places of exclusion and invisibility, the kind of testimony that doesn’t make it into the reports.” To this end he made it his business to keep talking about Palestine, to say again and again and again—whether he thought anyone was listening or not—that the Palestinian people exist, and that while they have the sorry fate of being the victims of the 20th Century’s emblematic victims, they still have the same rights as any other people. Because all human beings are entitled to the same standards in regard to justice and freedom, Palestinians must be recognized; there simply is no sensible refutation to that self-evident if inconvenient fact. Against the most high-powered propaganda barrage, in the face of threats and smear campaigns, cancellations of talks and spurious “investigations,” Said stubbornly stood his ground and spoke of Palestinians.
His book-length essay After the Last Sky written with the Swiss photographer, Jean Mohr, provides an extended reflection on the lives of Palestinians, and fulfills his injunction to “excavate the silences.” In it he portrays Palestinians, reflects on the images the wider world has of them as well as the images they have of themselves. He maps the corrosive dimensions of occupation, and clarifies the basic human need for people to narrate their own stories in order to move forward.
It is for the Palestinian people themselves “to provide the answer that power and paranoia cannot” he wrote in Al-Ahram and Al-Hayat in 2001. That answer “can only come from moral vision” based on a common humanity, and never from “pragmatism” nor “practicality”: “If we are all to live—this is our imperative—we must capture the imagination not just of our people but of our oppressors.” In order to accomplish that, Palestinians must “abide by humane democratic values.” The moral vision must be “based on equality and inclusion rather than on apartheid and exclusion.” This is a humanist response to a very human tragedy.

Human beings, and particularly intellectuals and researchers, are driven by a long, continuous: “I don’t know.” It is, after all, not the known that pushes and pull us along, although we must be serious about preparation, work, discipline, and labor. Doing research can be hard work, and a researcher can feel (if she is like others who’ve gone down this path) as if she’s crashed into a wall—overwhelmed, uncertain, deeply confused and dislocated in turn. But if she stays with it, if she dives into the wreckage, she will likely find moments of relief, exhilaration, self-discovery, and even of joy.
There is a long tradition of scholarship whose avowed purpose is to combat silence, to defeat erasure and invisibility—this is research for social justice, research to resist harm and redress grievances, research with the explicit goal of promoting a more balanced, fair, and equitable social order. Several questions can serve as guideposts for this kind of inquiry:
∑ What are the issues that marginalized or disadvantaged people speak of with excitement, anger, fear, or hope?
∑ How can I enter a dialogue in which I will learn from a specific community itself about problems and obstacles they face?
∑ What endogenous experiences do people already have that can point the way toward solutions?
∑ What narrative is missing from the “official story” that will make the problems of the oppressed more understandable?
∑ What current or proposed policies serve the privileged and the powerful, and how are they made to appear inevitable?
∑ How can the public space for discussion, problem-posing and problem-solving, fuller and wider participation be expanded?
There is no single procedure, no computer program that will allow this work to take care of itself; there is no set of techniques that is orderly, efficient, and pretested that can provide complete distance from a phenomenon under study or from the process of inquiry itself. Researchers draw on judgment, experience, instinct, common sense, courage, reflection, further study. There is always more to know, always something in reserve. We’re never exactly comfortable, but neither are we numb or sleep-walking. We don’t get harmony, but we do get a kind of arching forward—always reaching, pursuing, longing, opening, rethinking.
Researchers must peer into the unknown and cultivate habits of vigilance and awareness, a radical openness, as we continually remind ourselves that in an infinite and expanding universe our ignorance is vast, our finiteness itself all the challenge we should need to propel ourselves forward. Knowing this, we nourish an imagination that’s defiant and limitless, and like the color blue or love or friendship, impossible to define without a maiming reductiveness. The goal is discovery and surprise, and in the end it is our gusto, our immersion, our urgency, enthusiasm, and raw nerve that will take us hurling toward the next horizon. We remind ourselves that the greatest work awaits us, and that we are never higher than when we’re not exactly certain where we’re going.
What interests, tendencies, or classes does our research precisely serve? What will invite people to become more aware, more critical, creative, active and productive, more free? While researchers might never know definitively how to answer these questions a priori, a certain angle of regard might help each of us to make sounder judgments, to construct a more hopeful and workable standard by which we can examine our efforts. We begin by recognizing that every human being, no matter who, is a gooey biological wonder, pulsing with the breath and beat of life itself, each with a unique and complex set of circumstances that makes his or her life understandable and sensible, bearable or unbearable. This recognition asks us to reject any action that treats anyone as an object, any gesture that thingifies human beings. It demands that we embrace the humanity of every student and every research collaborator, that we take their side.
What are the challenges to human beings today? What does the hope for democracy demand now? Edward Said points out that “Our country is first of all an extremely diverse immigrant society, with fantastic resources and accomplishments, but it also contains a redoubtable set of internal inequities and external interventions that cannot be ignored.” We are faced with the enduring stain of racism and the ever more elusive and intractable barriers to racial justice, the rapidly widening gulf between rich and poor, and the enthronement of greed. We are faced as well with aggressive economic and military adventures abroad, the macho posturing of men bonding in groups and enacting a kind of theatrical but no less real militarism, the violence of conquest and occupation from the Middle East and Central Asia to South America.
Encountering these facts thrusts us into the realm of human agency and choice, the battlefield of social action and change, where we come face to face with some stubborn questions: Can we, perhaps, stop the suffering? Can we alleviate at least some of the pain? Can we repair any of the loss? There are deeper considerations: can society be changed at all? Is it remotely possible—not inevitable, certainly, perhaps not even likely—for people to come together freely, to imagine a more just and peaceful social order, to join hands and organize for something better, and to win? Can we do anything?
If a fairer, more sane and just social order is both desirable and possible, if some of us can join one another to imagine and build a participatory movement for justice, a public space for the enactment of democratic dreams, our field opens slightly. There would still be much to be done, for nothing would be entirely settled. We would still need to find ways to stir ourselves and our students from passivity, cynicism, and despair, to reach beyond the superficial barriers that wall us off from one another, to resist the flattening social evils like institutionalized racism, to shake off the anesthetizing impact of the authoritative, official voices that dominate so much of our space, to release our imaginations and act on behalf of what the known demands, linking our conduct firmly to our consciousness. We would need to reconceptualize ourselves as “stunt-intellectuals,” the ones who are called upon when the other intellectuals refuse to jump off the bridge. We would be moving, then, without guarantees, but with purpose and with some small spark of hope.

“Emancipate Yourselves From Mental Slavery”…Bob Marley

September 9, 2008

We each have an inescapable responsibility to live our lives purposefully, to choose who we want to be and who we want to become in a shifting and complex world, to name ourselves and construct our identities in the noise and chaos of the whirlwind. One of my earliest teachers put it this way: Live your life in a way that won’t make a mockery of your values.

Of course, that injunction settles nothing in the everyday world we inhabit: we still have to make our choices operating largely in the dark, we still live without guarantees regarding the outcomes of our choices or our actions. But the admonition has as well some positive spark: it assumes that we have values that we can access and assess; it asks us to use those values as guides and goals; it challenges us to live a life that ties those values as closely as possible to our behavior every moment of every day. But it’s a bit like the exchange in Wonderland when Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” says the cat. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Making our values explicit and accessible is one way to begin to create, if not a detailed and completed map, at least a sketch and a dream. This is what freedom looks like—it asks us to act with courage, to operate without a safety net, to confront the horrors as well as to celebrate the joys of living, and finally, to choose.

In the 1999 Brazilian film Central Station we find a woman who makes a meager living writing letters for illiterate people in a downtown train terminal.One day a man comes to her with an astonishing offer: he will pay her a significant amount of money if on the following day she will pick up a young boy at a certain address and deliver him to an American couple on the other side of the city so that the boy can be adopted. She of course takes the job, collects her money, and on the way home stops off to buy a new television set. Later, happily watching her new TV, a friend stops by and hears the story of the boy. Her friend reproves her. Are you crazy? she asks. Don’t you follow the news? She explains that children all over Rio are being kidnapped, sold, and murdered, their organs harvested for an international market in such things. The woman sets off immediately to try to find the boy and save his life.

When the woman took the job, there was no burning ethical issue involved. But when her eyes were opened, she had to either act or choose indifference and therefore immorality. A first step, then, in making a moral choice or taking an ethical action is to open our eyes to reality. We must see the world as it is, we must act on the world, and we must also then question whether our action was completely correct. And we act again.

During the time of slavery there were undoubtedly honest slave traders, loyal slave-catchers, and plantation owners who told the truth, paid their bills, and lived up to their promises, but in what sense were they acting ethically? In order to be a moral person then and there—it seems so obvious now—one would have had to work for abolition. Not many did, but we find some comfort today in telling ourselves we would surely have been among the courageous and the righteous few. But is it true? How do we know? We know that a slave society undermines goodness every moment in a million different ways. And since we know that it is very nearly impossible for individuals to live virtuous lives in a slave state, it becomes essential to end slavery—or, in these times, to work toward a more just and peaceful world—as part of leading a moral life. A just society creates the conditions for more of us to act more often in a moral way. Are there any injustices here and now that we take for granted for which the coming generations might indict or condemn us? And, most important, what social and community standards would allow or invite more of us to do the right thing?

Reactionary wing-nut sends national media on witch-hunt…

September 1, 2008

There is nothing to condemn about Ayers’ leadership over the past 20 years.

Chicago Sun-Times

August 30, 2008


Somewhere in the afterlife, Walter Annenberg must be shaking his head and wondering what in the world is going on in Chicago. First, the Sun-Times and the Tribune gave up precious inches of their dwindling news space to report that the University of Illinois at Chicago was refusing — and then later agreed — to release documents detailing Sen. Barack Obama’s role in a nonprofit education project “started” by William Ayers, a founder in the 1960s of the radical Weatherman group, which embraced violence as an anti-war tactic.

The project in question was the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a pairing of nonprofit organizations and schools funded by the late publishing magnate and mainstream Chicago foundations. Ayers had been one of the authors of Chicago’s proposal to get a slice of Annenberg’s $500 million multi-city school reform grant, and Obama was the project’s first board chairman.

The issue of Obama’s role arose when a blogger for National Review raised questions about his relationship with Ayers, a favorite election-year target of conservatives. The blogger felt quite sure that the pair were much closer than Obama intimated when he said he knew Ayers “from the neighborhood” where both live. The blogger hinted darkly that the pair were really ideological soul mates and that Obama was aligned “with Ayers’s radical views on education issues.”

When the appointed hour arrived for release of the documents, reporters, camera operators and bloggers descended on the hapless university library staff to pore over hundreds of files of grant proposals, meeting minutes and reports — a “media frenzy,” the Tribune called it.

And what did the muckrakers find? Horrors, Obama had attended meetings and retreats with the author of The Good Preschool Teacher and To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher. He had actually rubbed shoulders — can you believe it? — with a distinguished professor of education who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in early childhood education and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. He had probably even shared a cup of coffee, as only a co-conspirator would, with this professor, whose writings describe good schools as places that are “organized around and powered by a set of core values” and “effectively meet students where they are and find ways to nurture and challenge them to learn.”

In other words, Obama does, indeed, know Bill Ayers as more than just a guy from the neighborhood. So do a host of civic leaders in Chicago. For example, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge board included Susan Crown of the General Dynamics Corp. family; Patricia Graham, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Arnold Weber, past president of Northwestern University and of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. Indeed, just about everyone active in Chicago school reform in the early days saw Ayers as a colleague. No one ever accused them of being radical because of their association with Bill Ayers.

Whatever one thinks of Ayers’ actions 40 years ago, there is nothing to condemn, and much to admire, about his leadership and commitment over the past 20 years in making schools better places to teach and learn. And there is nothing to condemn, and much to applaud, in Obama’s close association with those efforts.

Some of the reporters assigned to dig into the Annenberg archives felt a little silly about it all, I’m told. Their editors should too.

Linda Lenz is the founder and publisher of Catalyst Chicago, an education newsmagazine published by Community Renewal Society.