Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Through Native Eyes: Seeing New Jersey and Brooklyn in New Ways

There's no better way to see a place than with natives in heart and soul who have a strong sense of place and strong devotion to it. And so I saw New Jersey with Alice and Brooklyn with Jon.

My dear friend from Madison, Wisconsin, graduate student days, Alice Twombly the poet and master literature teacher, grew up in the Englewood, Teaneck, Leonia area of an ever-changing New Jersey just across from the Big City. She still lives there. It's home. Sure, you can see Manhattan from this place, but the towns-upon-towns that constitute suburban New Jersey outside of NYC seemed larger this time, more historic, vital, dynamic.  We toured the ancient Palisades, those dramatic cliffs along the lower Hudson River where Hamilton and Burr dueled it out, and that provide a unique view of the NYC skyline. We went to a poetry reading featuring poet Don Zirilli, a new voice for me, reading from his soon-to-be-published book "Heaven's Not for You" (see poem below, a revisioning and modern-day retelling of a biblical Parable). This Poetry series, held at the Classic Quiche Cafe in Teaneck, was started by Alice and poet friend Zev many years ago and it's still going strong. We shared dinner together at a Greek restaurant before the readings. We also spent a lovely evening at a Shabbat service and dinner at the home of friends. It was there I learned that a lovely college Sophomore, who I saw shedding a tear during the service, was the girlfriend of the handsome young man who was killed along with his entire family in that Costa Rica plane crash just before Christmas. How small the world is, and how sad it often is.  I felt glad she was among such loving friends from her Synagogue.

We marched in Leonia for women and against the current White House occupant, where I met some remarkable resisters, like Anne and Joe Connelly, and the dedicated women who organized an outstanding program of meaningful talks and music.  We sang "This Land is Your Land," a heartfelt echo from the 1960s that is as relevant today as ever and still tells it like it is.

We wove in and around Dutch Colonial brick homes, down Main Streets and side streets. Alice introduced me to NJ American Colonial and  Revolutionary War history, with a stop at the Historic New Bridge Landing where George Washington retreated across the Hackensack River with his ragtag Continental army after a great loss at Fort Lee. It moved Patrick Henry to write those famous words: "These are the times that try men's souls.

And so I saw New Jersey through the eyes of a native daughter.

I saw Brooklyn in the same way, for the first time, through the eyes of Jon Kay, a son of  our very dearest best friends Mike and Bettye Ruth Kay, from our shared time at the University of Toledo. Jon wasn't born in Brooklyn but his Dad was, and Jon knows it intimately, honors it.

How special it was to reconnect with Jon after so many years, to reminisce about his extraordinary parents and family, and to see the Brooklyn that Jon knows and loves.  Jon conducts tours of Brooklyn, among his many other activities, so I certainly got the authentic scoop on this most populous, ethnically diverse and dynamic of  NYC's five boroughs. Over 2.6 million people live here in dozens of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own demographics, architecture, heritage and culture.  Jon thinks it's among the most special places on planet Earth, and after seeing it through his eyes, I can see why!

Here's an interesting fact about the designers and builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, German immigrant John Augustus Roebling and, after his death, his son and wife Washington Roebling and Emily Warren Roebling, taken from Wikipedia.  
"As Chief Engineer, Washington Roebling [who took over following his father's death] supervised the entire project from his apartment with a view of the work, designing and redesigning caissons and other equipment. He was aided by his wife Emily Warren Roebling, who provided the critical written link between her husband and the engineers on site. Under her husband's guidance, Emily studied higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. She spent the next 11 years assisting Washington Roebling, helping to supervise the bridge's construction." (Wikipedia) 
The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is detailed in the 1972 book The Great Bridge by David McCullough and Brooklyn Bridge (1981), the first PBS documentary film by Ken Burns. Burns drew heavily on McCullough's book for the film and used him as narrator.It is also described in Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, a BBC docudrama series with an accompanying book.

"Heaven is Not for You" 
       by Donald  Zirilli
If you've ever been angry at your brother,
you're a murderer.
If you've even insulted your brother,
you're a murderer.
If you remember what your brother did to you, 
Heaven's not for you.

If you look at anyone with lust,
you're an adulterer.
If you remarry, 
you're an adulterer.
Heaven's not for you.

If your right eye offends you, pluck it out.
If your right hand offends you, cut it off.

Don't swear by the earth,
earth is God's footstool.
Don't swear by your head,
you can't change one hair of it.
Don't swear by Heaven,
Heaven's not for you.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Amsterdam and Cologne with Granddaughter Alli

Alli loves Amsterdam, at Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh, around the Dam, the town center, walking the neighborhoods, having pancakes and great food, with Andy and with Kaaren, Jeff and Parks, our fabulous hosts, having the time of our lives. 

What a special trip this was!  Alli's first trip to Europe, beginning in the beautiful cities of Amsterdam and Cologne.  A college graduation gift, to open her eyes to the world. And she was ready! "The advance team for your next trip, and many trips thereafter," I said to her as she jumped with joy in front of the Rijksmuseum. "I'm ready to go back, Nana!" she exclaimed, after a few days in Amsterdam and a train trip to Cologne. She was already planning an itinerary.

The Concertgebouw, the famous concert hall, near the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh.
Our base was the beautiful urban home of my niece Kaaren and her partner Jeff, creative geniuses both of them, and their precious son Parks, right on Sephatipark. Up several flights of stairs, way up, like almost all Amsterdam homes, unless you live on a houseboat on a canal. It's a lovely part of town.

From there we walked or took a trolley wherever we wanted to go, seeing the sites and the highlights, experiencing the spirit of the Netherlands, absorbing the culture, avoiding bikers, the major mode of transportation in this bustling city. I love the canals, the Museumplein area, and the Dam, the center of town where the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk dominate. I went to a wonderful exhibit at the church, "We Have a Dream," featuring the lives and messages of Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr., so needed once again in our times. The exhibit seemed to come alive in the spiritual glow of the church, with its vaulted gothic ceilings and stained glass windows.

We also took a train to Cologne to spend a few days in Germany, a small but tantalizing taste of this diverse country. Getting off at Central Station, after an interesting ride through German countryside and small towns, we were immediately greeted by the enormous, glorious 13th-century gothic Cologne Cathedral with its intricately carved weathered facade and towering twin spires.  We went inside the next day to see its fabulous craftsmanship, art and architecture. It's the tallest Cathedral in Europe, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It inspires awe and hope.

We stayed in a small but nice hotel near Heumarket square. From there we strolled to a nearby square in search of adventure and dinner. That's how we happened upon the historic Malzmuhle Brewery and Restaurant, famous for brewing the Cologne beer known as Kolsch since the 1800s.  We enjoyed an authentic German dinner of wiener schnitzel and bratwurst, and many glasses of Kolsch. We were happy campers by the time we left the Inn to explore the square, sit at one of the many cafes around it, and people watch.  Alli liked the German beer, and even my sister Andy and I, not usually beer drinkers, joined her to salute Cologne, the largest city on the Rhine river. The next day we took one of those City Bus Tours, getting off and on to explore the sights, including the Chocolate Museum. Yum. We also took an enjoyable and relaxing boat tour on the Rhine, which starts in the Swiss Alps and ends in the North Sea in the Netherlands.  I have lovely visions of strolling the promenade along the river.
Bikes and Art near Kaaren's neighborhood.

Full harvest moon over Amsterdam
October 5, 2017
Then it was back to Amsterdam to explore more of the Netherland's capital city. Alli spent more time with Kaaren and Jeff, taking long walks along the canals and enjoying the special places around the town that is now their home. Andy and I went at a more leisurely pace, stopping often to have a drink, sit at a corner cafe, enjoy good coffee and sisterly talks.

On our last day, Alli and I went to the large Amsterdam Market to browse and shop and enjoy. We bought souvenirs, scarfs, hats, tee shirts, whatever caught our fancy. Alli was practical and wise in choosing gifts, while I went for the magnets, shot glasses, and trinkets. I could see she was thoughtful and open to learning new things, to having new experiences. Every once in a while she'd give me a big hug and a big smile. "I love it. So Awesome. I love it!"

It was thrilling to watch Alli on her first European tour, to see my granddaughter absorb the adventure of a lifetime, knowing in my heart that there will be many more to come.
Sister Andy, granddaughter Alli, and niece Kaaren

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fired Up: Glass by Women Artists and Music on Glass by Rela Percussion

At the TMA's Glass Pavilion with friend Jud for Fired Up: Contemporary Glass by Women Artists.
Every time I've been at the Fired Up exhibit at TMA's Glass Pavilion I see something new, something extraordinary.  This time, along with my Peace Corps friend Jud, who was visiting from DC, I saw another layer of  beauty in the art of bringing an image to life in glass.  While the larger pieces stood out on my first visits, like Josepha Gasch-Muche's Pyramid  (German) and Karen LaMonte's Dress Impression (American), this time the little pieces sparkled.  Incredible shapes, colors, use of different materials, tremendous technical innovations, all fused into remarkable art, all catching the light in magical ways.

It's fitting that the Toledo Museum of Art organized this exhibit, and that it's staying up for several months. Afterall, the Studio Art Glass Movement began here. Toledo was the incubator of a new worldwide art movement, truly "the glass city."  In its earliest decades, however, this Movement "dealt with the same sexism that plagued the art world in other areas; women artists faced an uphill battle in their demand for fair recognition of their contributions and their work." (All quotations from TMA artMatters magazine, Sept.-Dec. 2017)

Fired Up features 50 stunning objects showcasing the women who now rank among the most creative and celebrated glass artists in history.

The exhibit draws from the Toledo Museum of Art's renowned glass collection, precious pieces that seemed hidden from view for many years, along with items from personal collections. When my children and I visited TMA in the 1970s and early 80s we loved Dominick Labino's pioneering glass panels that served as the entryway into the fascinating world of glass. But women glass artists? No, I don't remember any.

The Fired Up exhibit changes that. It's easy to see what enormous contributions women from around the world have made to the  movement. The exhibit focuses with laser clarity on "the art that helped women forge a path in the male-dominated Studio Glass Movement of the 1960s to the ingenuity of 21st-century innovations."

 "Their art documents almost six decades of underappreciated influence." (TMA magazine)

A glass artist teaches students
of all ages the art of  glassmaking.
After the exhibit and some lunch at the cafe, delicious beef and mushroom soup, Jud and I went to a glass-making demonstration, which the museum offers daily.  Popular and well-attended, they have engaged thousands of people in the complex process and challenges of using intense heat to shape beautiful glass. The women artists who led this particular demonstration were amazing--physical, creative, confident, a perfectly synchronized team. We watched intently as they created a lovely snowman out of glass, replete with buttons, a nose, a hat and scarf.  The snowman was safely" broken off the pipe" (in the parlance of the craft), paraded in front of the audience to enthusiastic applause, and put away to cool. We left the museum in awe. The demonstrations and classes were still going strong when we returned to the Glass Pavilion that evening.

It was a last minute decision. As I prepared dinner, ads for a concert by a group called Rela Percussion popped into my head.  I asked Jud if he wanted to go back to the museum to hear them. Fortunately, he was as eager to do it as I was, even though we had no idea who they were or what kind of performance it would be. We hastily finished our dinner, bundled up, and took off into a freezing seven-degree snowy night.

What an amazing evening of music and glass it turned out to be, like nothing we had ever experienced before. We were mesmerized as four talented young musicians (who met at Central Michigan music school) started playing on marimbas, a rippling, tingling sound that transported, and then moved gracefully like dancers to playing their soft mallets on a variety of exquisite and colorful fluted bowls, vases, plate glass gongs, goblets, and various art pieces.

We heard the sounds of glass for the first time in new ways: mysterious crackling sounds, harmonic or dissonant riffs, the sounds of bells maybe, or of xylophone, marimbas, pipes, African udu drums and various other drums. I learned later that there is such a thing as a glass marimba, so it might be more natural than I thought to move from playing on a glass marimba to playing on real glass. That's the magic of Rela Percussion, the most innovative fusion of glass and music imaginable. 

The piece was called "Glass Cathedral" and it's four "movements" were taken from the four key elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Jud and I were grateful to have a handout explaining the music. We couldn't tell when one movement ended and another began, of course, but we sure were drawn into the unique, eerie, ethereal and unusual sounds.  It felt like we were in a New York City avant garde venue listening to music of the future, music made out of glass, the sounds of glass, the sounds of angels perhaps.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

EXPOSED! The Consequences of Male Privilege

We are all victims, men and women, of the centuries-old belief that women are somehow less than fully human beings, that males rule the public sphere and women the home, that males have rights, privileges and prerogatives, and women have socially acceptable roles. The fact that women are born with the same range of talent, intellect, interests, and dreams as men does not figure into this equation. Never has.

These social expectations and cultural beliefs are hard-wired into us from birth. This is what Patriarchy is all about. Betty Friedan, in 1963, called it "the feminine mystique."  And  a "mystique" it is.  The mystique that men are born to rule and women to follow, to obey.  The mystique that men's experiences, needs, ways of thinking and points of view are dominant and have authority, while the voices of women are mute, less important.  Persistence is not considered a virtue in women as it is in men, for example, nor is achievement.

These expectations and roles have become so "normal," so pervasive, so ubiquitous, that they are as much an unconscious ideology as a conscious pattern of behavior.

The ideological rigidity of male and female roles drives men to act on their prerogatives in lots of ways, now painfully evident in the exposure of the extent and depth of sexual harassment. It leaves women to deal with it in their own ways. Some succumb, some recoil, some get hurt, some get angry, some laugh it off as 'men will be men, boys will be boys.'  I don't know of any woman who has not dealt with this behavior, from moderate to severe, in one way or another.  I do know, like most women, that lots of men have fallen into this patriarchal trap, and it's not pretty.

Look at Matt Lauer, the most recent to be exposed.  "As his 20 years as a fixture of U.S. morning television came to an abrupt end, the married 59-year-old Matt Lauer found himself joining the fast-growing ranks of powerful men in U.S. entertainment, politics and media to be felled in recent months by accusations of sexual misconduct." (yahoo news, 11/30/17). While Lauer said some accusations were "untrue or mischaracterized," several of the accused have said something similar, he had to acknowledge that "there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed."

Feeling embarrassed and ashamed.  Doesn't feel good. Women know this feeling well. 

Not too long ago, an all-male Congressional committee made fun of a talented women who struggled to become a lawyer, earned a good government job on her merits, and was then sexually harassed in the workplace. Brave enough to step forward, Anita Hill was put down, her words twisted, in order to put an abusive male on the Supreme Court.

This is the misogyny condoned by patriarchy. Whether conscious or unconscious, it is an abuse of women, especially virulent against achieving women. Anita Hill, in the face of her courage even to confront the issue of sexual harassment, let alone do so in public, was treated as if she were less than human, treated with disdain and disrespect, a life to use, abuse, and demean.

Patriarchy (male dominance) and misogyny (ill-treatment of women) are indeed a central theme of  American history, consigned to what's called "women's history." I started the women's history course at the University of Toledo in the mid-1970s and have taught it off and on for some 30 years, here and in DC and Florida. Whenever I get a chance, I still recommend Eleanor Flexner's Century of Struggle as a basic text. Lots of studies have since been published, but it remains a thoughtful introduction to a complex subject. Teaching women's history has been a labor of love, and the field has exploded, but it's also been a daunting effort to have a voice.

Finding a voice is the essence of women's history. From the beginning of the new experiment in democracy, women's experiences and points of view, the way they think and they way they communicate, have been diminished and silenced. Women had few rights and lots of responsibilities for hearth and home and child raising, for working from sunup to sundown on farms large and small. They had no legal rights (married women were "femme covert" in English Common Law), no right to education, no path into the professions, no right to vote.  Abigail Adams, John Adams' wife, urged the "Founding Fathers" in 1776 to "Remember the ladies," but that was not about to happen.

The ladies were forgotten until they forced the issue at the first-ever Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in 1848. And that was just the beginning.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Gage, and Lucretia Mott are American pioneers, but who remembers them?  Who remembers the ordinary men and women who trudged to that epic meeting with a mixture of fear and hope in their hearts?  Who knows that the platform of the Seneca Falls Convention, all-encompassing, transcendent, is still valid, still relevant, still a work in progress. Everyone should read it.

Women like Susan B. Anthony, the Grimke sisters, Sojourner Truth, and Lucy Stone were among the first to speak out against slavery, pioneer abolitionists, but who remembers them? Who remembers that it was when women were forbidden to speak out against slavery that the women's rights movement was born? Who remembers that it took a century of struggle to win the right to vote? Who remembers that Jane Addams, M. Carey Thomas, Carrie Catt, Alice Paul were reformers and pioneers in social justice at the turn of the 20th century, before men climbed onto the "progressive" bandwagon?

The silence of women's voices in American history, the lack of knowledge about women's efforts to gain rights and respect, to pioneer in equality and social justice, has led us to the present predicaments over sexism in our culture.  So has the lack of interest or concern about the meaning of patriarchy and most of all its consequences.  That's what we are dealing with today. Men in power positions are being exposed and we haven't even gotten to the voices of ordinary women, women of all ages, in all fields of endeavor, who are juggling home, child care and work.

Most of us find nothing gleeful about the exposes. They are not a political game of "gotcha," although men are making it so.  Not about conservatives or liberals, Reds or Blues. They are about a changing culture, about questioning societal roles, attitudes, and expectations.  They are about exposing the excesses of an unconscious but powerful ideology. They are the sad consequences of unfinished business in the area of  equality and human dignity, unresolved issues in the long struggle to find places for women in the broader world.

One day society will recognize--for the good of all, for the common good--that women have many talents, skills and points of view to contribute to our society and to lead us into a strong future. Then women will be found wherever their inherent talents and interests take them, without the barriers of an ideology or role expectations in their path to self-fulfillment and human dignity.  It's never been an easy climb.
Still at it after all these years. Women's March in DC, January 2017
For a copy of the Seneca Falls Declaration, see https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/Senecafalls.asp
One grievance reads that men "have endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent life.... " A powerful statement at the time.  The Declaration concludes: "Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States." from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, A History of Woman Suffrage , vol. 1 (Rochester, N.Y.: Fowler and Wells, 1889), pages 70-71.  The most radical of the rights called for in 1848?  The right to vote. And it took incredible effort over several generations to achieve it. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Republican Tax Cut "Reform" is a Trojan Horse

“The tax legislation passed by House Republicans last week shouldn’t really be understood as economic policymaking in any traditional sense. It’s not about stimulating growth or investment or improving incentives. It’s class war. Republicans are assisting the efforts of a very small, very rich faction to take an ever-growing share of the nation’s wealth from the rest of us.”
Zach Carter, "Welcome to the Class War," Huff Post, 25 Nov. 2017.

Thomas Nast, Boss Tweed
Trump, the White House trasher, and Congressional Republicans, enabling it to happen, are doing the Koch brothers' and dark money network's bidding to pass a prize tax cut for the 1 percent. They are pushing all the propaganda buttons and ramping up the doublespeak to beat the band. The poor are rich, the rich are poor.  

Get it done, or else,” is the word from the Koch brothers. They said the same about the repeal of Obamacare. 

The Senate bill, McConnell hungering for some victory, will hurt the middle class, workers and the poor. It will set the economy back by increasing the national debt and throwing millions off health care. The House bill is equally damaging for the majority of Americans and for our national economy, thanks to grinning Paul Ryan who smiles at the thought of screwing ordinary workers to get money for the super rich. Whatever any of the Republicans say in support of these bills is a bunch of lies.    

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report is damning. It notes that by 2019, people earning less than $30,000/year would be worse off under the Senate bill. By 2021, Americans earning $40,000 or less would be net losers, and by 2027, most people earning less than $75,000/year would be worse off. The poor would be hit hard. Health insurance premiums would rise if the bill becomes law, leading 4 million Americans to lose health insurance next year, and 13 million by 2027.  On the highest end of the economic scale, millionaires and those earning $100,000 to $500,000 would be big beneficiaries, as would Wall Street bankers and big corporations.

Leading bi-partisan economic and financial analysts, including CEOs, confirm this analysis.  CEOs acknowledge they cannot promise more jobs or wage increases. Everyone knows "trickle down" has never worked. Some 400 hundred CEOs are writing Congress to let it know they are worried about what increasing income inequality and the national debt will do to the economy.  The media is doing a good job of laying out the facts, getting past the smoke and mirrors, searching for the truth of the matter.

Trump only knows the tax bill would enrich himself and his family. He's pushing it like the lowlife Willie Loman he is. He knows as much about tax policy as he knew about the Obamacare repeal.  He cares nothing for the facts, as usual; doesn't consider options or consequences, no surprise there; and is not informed by principles or beliefs, as McCain reiterates. 

Does the CBO report on its ill effects on his fan base bother him?  Does he care that's it's giving corporations a $2 trillion tax break at a time they're making record profits?  Does he care that the Senate bill would kick 13 million poor people off  health insurance? Does he care that the tax bill is full of loopholes for Wall Street's wealthiest, or that the 1 percent now hold a record 38.65 percent of the nation's total wealth, up from 33 percent a decade ago?

Nah. He's calling the Republican tax "reform" a "Christmas gift" to the people. Tax cuts for the middle class. Tax cuts for all. Best thing for the economy since sliced bread. These are outright lies, shallow and without substance, but Republicans are hammering home the message and ramming it down our throats anyway. 

So we have Ohio Senator Rob Portman shamelessly selling the tax plan as if he's giving out candy on Halloween. It's how Portman operates in his fake compassion for the opioid crisis,too, giving aid on one hand, taking it away on the other, throwing platitudes to the masses on one side, screwing them on the other. This is Rob Portman: a Koch-funded politico par excellence, selling an unconscionable tax scam as a gift to the people when he knows it's a killer of the American dream. It's all a lie, like those slick Koch-funded ads that made Portman look like a choir boy in a hard hat and got him elected to serve his wealthy masters. As someone who calls him almost daily, like thousands of other Ohioans, the hypocrisy is overwhelming.

The Republican tax reform effort is a trojan horse. Adding $1.4 trillion to the national debt, cutting the needy from health care, hurting workers, the middle class, ordinary Americans in order to give tax cuts to the very rich, is about as cruel a trick as the Trojan Horse the Greeks used to destroy Troy. 

It's a trick on the American people.  It's a trick to fool them into believing it's about them, when the truth is, it's all about the super rich. We have to look this trojan horse in the eye and say 'no way.' We did it for health care. We can do it for the Trump/Republican tax scams as well.  

Some Sources:


http://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2017/11/13/more-than-400-millionaires-tell-congress-dont-cut-our-taxes/  "The letter calls on Congress to not to pass any tax bill that adds to the debt and that "further exacerbates inequality." Instead of cutting taxes of the wealthy, the letter tells Congress to raises taxes on rich people like them. It is being released publicly this week, as Republicans debate legislation which would add $1.5 trillion to the debt to pay for widespread tax cuts for businesses and individuals."

From Wikipedia: Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the subterfuge that the Greeks used to enter the independent city of Troy and win the war. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war./
Metaphorically a "Trojan Horse" has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or place. A malicious computer program which tricks users into willingly running it is also called a "Trojan horse" or simply a "Trojan"./ The main ancient source for the story is the Aeneid of Virgil, a Latin epic poem from the time of Augustus. The event is also referred to in Homer's Odyssey.[1] In the Greek tradition, the horse is called the "Wooden Horse" (Δούρειος Ἵππος, Doúreios Híppos, in the Homeric Ionic dialect).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Remembering Loren on his 70th Birthday

Today is my dear brother Loren's 70th birthday. I'm not sure he would have liked it, but he would have carried on, as he always did.  He would keep my sister Andy and me on our toes, too.  He would rant with us, and keep us resisting. He was a warrior for truth and justice. He embraced diversity. He was a compassionate Aspie. He would never be silent, never give up.  His spirit lives on. 

But I miss him. It's been seven years since his last hike. He died along the trails of the Aucilla River in northern Florida, a place he loved. I was in Ukraine then, and my grief at the news of his sudden death from a heart attack knew no bounds. I don't think he was ready to go, but the goddess he loved called him home. I wasn't ready for sure. Nor our sister Andy, who greeted two very nice, grim-faced police officers at her door on a late Saturday afternoon in May 2010. She knew something was wrong, and fainted when the officers told her the news. So sudden, so unfair, just a few months before his autobiography, An Asperger Journey, on which he had worked so hard and for so long, came out. 

Loren would have been on fire at the outrages of the tRump regime and the blatant efforts of the oligarchs to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary, hardworking Americans. He would have railed against the lies, the destruction of government agencies, the tyranny of the Bannon/Mercer/Pence cabinet and Senate Republicans to destroy our democracy. He would have been on the front lines of the Resistance.

Now, only the memories remain. And the fighting spirit, the voice of compassion and empathy, the light from a lovely soul. 

Here is a song for Loren on his 70th, a Mary Oliver poem he would have loved because it is about nature in harmony and at peace with itself.

Song for Autumn 
by Mary Oliver  

In the deep fall
     don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
     the earth instead of the
 nothingness of air and the endless 
     freshets of wind? And don't you think
of the birds that will come--six, a dozen--to sleep
     inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
     the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow?  The pond
     vanished, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
     its blue shadows.  And the wind pumps its
bellows.  And at evening especially,
     the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Media Literacy: Fighting Fake News and Disinformation Propaganda

Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis on which to do so." Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny

It's been hard to watch Trump and his surrogates dissing the mainstream media as "fake news," with abandon and without discernment, while touting Bannon's Breitbart, FOX, and other right-wing extremist media outlets that support whatever he says and does as "real" news.

It's a false dichotomy. It's a form of tyranny. Trump and his surrogates take glee in presenting "alternative facts" as "real" news.  But facts matter.  Truth matters. And it's as dangerous for a president of the US to alienate a free press as it is to alienate the intel community and its 17 powerful security agencies.

It started early, during Trump's campaign, when he accused CNN of being "fake" news and surrogates like Kelly Ann Conway intentionally spouted lies as "alternative facts."  These "alternative facts," now put forward in frustrating press conferences, have been fact-checked, and most all of them found wanting. Lies, mostly lies. As historian Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands and an expert on tyranny, has warned, "to abandon facts is to abandon freedom."

We, the public, need to be smarter. We need media literacy. I learned through a little google research that there is a common definition among educators and journalism scholars:
"Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the complex messages we receive from television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, video games, music, and all other forms of media."
Educators and scholars on college campuses have been teaching media literacy courses for many years. It has long been a stable of journalism studies. But has this knowledge reached the general public. I think not.

We need to bring these studies and media literacy scholars out of academe and into the public domain, similar to what the State Programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities do for history, literature, and cultural studies. We need community forums and free public humanities-type programs that teach us how to apply critical thinking skills to reading and viewing media messages, how to discern fact from fiction, lies from truth. We need continuing education to learn how to become media and social media detectives, thoughtful and discerning. 

A great example is a new program offered in Ukraine by IREX, an international education and funding NGO (non-government organization) that teaches people in public forums how to analyze the Russian disinformation campaign that led to Putin's invasion of eastern Ukraine and his illegal occupation of Crimea.  IREX "has broken new ground in stepping outside the education system to promote media literary," says a report by Edward Lucas and Peter Pomerantsev in"Winning the Information War."  We need this here in the USA, too.

We also need media literacy courses in our schools, beginning in Kindergarden and continuing into high school, technical training programs, and college. In this area a good example is Finland, which has been resistant to Russian influence in part, many experts believe, because of its media education program that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. 

Nina Jankowicz, in an excellent New York Times article ("The Only Way To Defend Against Russia's Information War," 25 Sept. 2017), argues that the fight against "fake news" and the kind of disinformation campaigns we witnessed during the last election, "starts in people’s minds, and the molding of them."    She suggests that states in their K-12 curriculums "should encourage a widespread refocusing on critical reading and analysis skills for the digital age. Introductory seminars at universities should include a crash course in sourcing and emotional manipulation in the media. Similar courses could be created as professional development for adults, beginning with state employees. Large corporations could be offered government incentives to participate, too." 

These are all good suggestions. Maybe they will become the wave of the future.  I hope so. Media literacy programs are needed now more than ever. The preservation of our  democracy depends on it.

Some good sources for Media Literacy education:
*  http://cepa.org/reports/winning-the-Information-War
*  http://www.mediaed.org/?...fatbc68mc 
*  https://www.edutopia.org/blogs/tag/media-literacy?gclid=CLu42_mu6NQCFU1MDQod7NEG0Q
*  http://medialiteracyproject.org/learn/media-literacy/
*  http://www.medialit.org/media-literacy-definition-and-more
*  http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2017/04/10-good-tips-to-spot-fake-news.html
*  http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/donald-trump-will-go-down-in-history-as-the-troll-in-chief

Disinformation can be defeated without the establishment of a shiny new initiative cased in the language of Cold War 2.0. Instead of “rapid information operations,” the United States should work to systematically rebuild analytical skills across the American population and invest in the media to ensure that it is driven by truth, not clicks.
The fight starts in people’s minds, and the molding of them. In K-12 curriculums, states should encourage a widespread refocusing on critical reading and analysis skills for the digital age. Introductory seminars at universities should include a crash course in sourcing and emotional manipulation in the media. Similar courses could be created as professional development for adults, beginning with state employees. Large corporations could be offered government incentives to participate, too.
Training like this has a proven track record. In Ukraine, IREX, a nongovernmental organization, trained 15,000 people in critical thinking, source evaluation and emotional manipulation. As a result, IREX measured a 29 percent increase in participants who double check the news they consume. Another neighbor of Russia, Finland, has been resistant to Russian influence in part because of its media education program, which begins in childhood.
The American government should also work to level the information playing field, increasing its investment in public broadcasters and demanding a hefty financial commitment from companies like Facebook and Twitter — the unwitting agents of Russia’s information war — to support the proliferation of local, citizen-focused journalism. If social networks are unwilling to be the arbiters of truth (despite 45 percent of American adults’ getting news from Facebook), they should at the very least provide grants to reporters who cover the local issues that most immediately affect people’s lives and donate advertising to small outlets that cannot compete with national media giants.