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
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/opinion/the-only-way-to-defend-against-russias-information-war.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0




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.














Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Frank and Roselynn Curro Arts and Humanities Award


Old family portrait.
My sister Andy and I were remembering our parents, recalling the hard times and the good times, recalling their dedication to education and making sure we went to college. It was May 2011 and I had just returned from Ukraine. A year before, our dear brother Loren had died suddenly of a heart attack while on a hike with the Tallahassee Trails Association. He joined our mom and dad we like to say to this day.

That's when we decided to establish the Frank and Roselynn Curro Arts and Humanities Award at the Harley School, a wonderful private school in Rochester, NY.  We wanted to honor our parents, avid supporters of Harley and of the arts and humanities. The award would go to a graduating senior enthralled with the liberal and fine arts and going on to college to pursue their dreams.

Our parents made sure we had a strong foundation in the liberal arts. They were readers and thinkers. Dad, a small businessman, filled our home with music and was a great, and funny, storyteller. Mom was a teacher, artist and opera singer. They inhabited the culture and art of Italy and Europe and we imbibed it as naturally as the air we breathed. Mom loved the Italian and German operas and sang the beautiful arias. She made sure we studied the piano and learned how to read music and to appreciate it fully. I was okay at the piano, but my sister played beautifully and I still hear her playing Clementi, Bach, Chopin. We played duets for family entertainment.  We can still hammer those out.

Both parents belonged to a Great Books Club, popular in the 1950s, which made for interesting dinner-table conversations. Imagine discussions about Plato and Aristotle, Dante's Inferno, Cervantes, Tolstoy, and other classics of the western tradition. Once mom went on a rant about Sartre and existentialism. Andy choked on her pork chop. I was entranced. We went round and round until dinner was over. I remember another dinner where we talked about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Mom, ever the teacher, made it interesting. The best thing about that memory?   Mom and Dad actually planned a trip to New York City, where we went to see “West Side Story!”  I can never listen to that brilliant score by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins, such masters of their crafts, without remembering my mom and dad. The theater experience of a lifetime, one of my enduring childhood memories.

It's hard to believe that the arts and humanities are under attack today when we need them now more than ever. Trump and the extremist Republicans have zeroed them out in their proposed budgets, along with PBS and other cultural, historical, and environmental programs, including our national parks and historic sites. It will impoverish our spirits, impoverish our shared American culture.

What we took for granted so many years ago, we now cherish as a special gift. This year's Curro award went to a young scholar and high school leader going on to study the humanities in college. Previous awards have gone to art, language, and liberal arts students. We hope all the recipients of the Curro award will continue to enjoy the arts and humanities throughout their lives, and advocate for them in the public arena. I think this was one of the best lessons we learned from our parents, and at Harley, and it will stay with us forever.







Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Berlin Painter: Athenian Vase-Painting in Early 5th Century B.C.


The Berlin Painter, his real name and story unknown, painted many beautiful vases for all kinds of uses in early 5th century Greece. That's 2500 years ago! This is a lovely traveling exhibit organized by Princeton University Art Museum and made possible by many private and public funders, including NEA. Thanks to them. Photos: Some of the 84 vases exhibited, beautiful to examine closely; bird on a bear, a favorite (next to center photo of 3 vases); fragments and pieces (far left), showing what conservators had to work with to put them together (and upper right graphic); huge vase of red roses at Grove St. entrance near the Cafe); Teddy at the Berlin Painter-themed Exhibition gift shop, and at TMA entrance (couldn't resist!). 
Hard to read but explains how to
recognize the style of the Berlin Painter.
"The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the early Fifth Century B.C' is now at the Toledo Museum of Art, and it's a most enjoyable exhibit.  The vases, painted in a technique known as red-figure ceramics, are nicely displayed and have limited but helpful text, which I always appreciate.  The vase-paintings are attributed to one painter, called simply the Berlin Painter, his real name unknown, his gender determined by anthropologists and historians, his style bold and distinctive.

The Berlin Painter. A master artisan. His personal story may be unknown, but the Greek world he inhabited comes alive through his vase-painting. Through his eyes we see the gods and goddesses, the heroes and mortals of the early 5th century BC, at war, at peace, at work, at play.  We see Zeus and Athena, Demeter and Dionysos, Achilles and Hector and Aegina. We see warriors and nymphs and satyrs. We see Herakles (the Greek transliteration of Hercules) at some of his 12 labors, taking me back to reading Latin with Mrs. Bullard at the Harley School. It also inspired me to look for Haley's Classic Myths, a  great book that she gave me as a gift.  I especially loved the paintings of nature, a bird on a bear, a sprig of flowers, floral motifs and ivy wreaths.

I wondered how the vases could be in such perfect shape. Thankfully a well-curated text explained that while some vases were found in burial places and in tact, most were scattered in a thousand pieces and had to be painstakingly put together. If you look very closely at some of the vases, now 2500 years old, you can see the seams where small fragments were glued together. The results are amazing. 




From the Catalogue: "The Berlin Painter and His World is a celebration of ancient Greece and of the ideals of reason, proportion, and human dignity that are its legacy. Focusing on the extraordinary work of a single anonymous master artisan, the exhibition provides a window onto ancient Athenian society at a time of economic growth and cultural flourishing through the art of vase-painting, the largest body of pictorial imagery to have survived from antiquity. Depictions of myths, cult, and daily life on red-figure vases posit questions on love and war, life and death, that still resonate today./  Though the artist’s elegant style has long been appreciated, this is the first exhibition devoted to the Berlin Painter. The exhibition features eighty-four vessels and statuettes of the early fifth century B.C., gathered from museums and private collections around the globe, and examines the elements of this artist’s style that allow the attribution of objects to his hand while affording unique insights into life 2,500 years ago."
These three graceful, colorful hand-blown vases, in the Berlin Painter-themed Exhibition gift shop,
were inspired by Greek ceramic vessels and created in TMA's Glass Pavilion by glass artist Alan Iwamura.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Can Trump be charged with Sedition?


“We have a President who lies without a second thought. Big bold lies that are easily disproven. That is not normal... We have serious allegations around obstruction of justice...an FBI director fired for insisting on pursuing an investigation into the sanctify of our republic. It has never happened before in our history. That is not normal. ...We have Federal judges, our closest foreign allies, and the free press under scurrilous attack from the President and his enablers. At the same time we have despots praised. That is not normal....We have a sordid confluence of the President’s business interests and his political power. That is not normal." Dan Rather interview with Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, June 10, 2017

Trump has succeeded in turning the USA into an arena of conflict, and he thinks he is the top dog. It is trump vs. anti trump. Dog eat dog. Survival of the fittest. This is what America has become in just a few months. McConnell in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House are in this arena to destroy the federal government as we know it.

Add McConnell's inhumanity, and we have
the US Congress today, the most corrupt ever.
It's like a boxing match, making a sport of war. In this corner are the tRump, Pence, Bannon regime, a sordid cabinet, and the leaders of the US Congress, committed to dismantling the government one agency at a time. Bannon calls it "deconstruction of the Administrative state."  They take glee in obliterating Obama's legacy.  Dark money, aka the Koch brothers, the Mercers et al, are funding the rampage.

In the other corner are the outnumbered Democratic members of Congress, Constitutional lawyers and ethicists, and the majority of the American people, some 64% according to the latest poll. Whoever has the most money and power are the winners and those with the least money and power are the losers. They get to join the "Losers Club," and the winners take all. Some of the "losers," those still in the Bully's corner, that 36% base, aren't aware of their status in this game yet.

The Comey vs Trump fight reveals the grotesque nature and parameters of the arena. We are talking about our democratic government after all. Trump has called Comey, the top cop in America as head of the FBI, a liar and a coward. It's a credibility pissing match, a game Trump himself created. Most Americans (over 90%) believe Comey. But Trump won't stop talking and tweeting himself into his corner of the arena, encouraging Americans to distrust Comey, the FBI and our intel agencies. At the same time, he rails against a free press. He tells Americans not to trust the mainstream media and has made a sport out of what he and his minions call "fake news." Trump continues to undermine the three branches of government and Rule of Law. He has alienated the judiciary and encouraged Americans to do the same. He has alienated our allies around the world, destabilizing our international relations.

Could this be called "sedition?" asked resister Linda Furman in an Anti-Trump site post. I googled it.
this and the  image at top, yahoo public images
Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition." (Wikipedia).
Sure sounds like the Trump regime.

But sedition as a legal concept has a complex history, dating back to John Quincy Adams and the Alien and Sedition Act. Those opposed to the American Revolution against Great Britain got hit with this act. Its use over time has been situational (dormant or revived during wartime) and often problematic. It cuts both ways when it comes to our First Amendment freedoms.  It can be dangerous. But I wonder if the concept can be resurrected in some form to address Russia's intervention in our election, the extreme conflicts of interest of almost all members of the tRump/Pence/Bannon cabinet, chosen because they oppose their agencies, and their extremist goal of dismantling the federal government. "Subversion of the Constitution" and undermining Rule of Law.  Can it become part of the treason charge in a case for impeachment? "Treason (including a form of sedition), bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors"?

America has descended into a battleground, an arena of conflict. It sounds like a computer game. And in fact, I discovered in doing some research, it IS a video game!  This is Our Times, good vs. evil, real v. fake, and it is surreal.


More from Dan Rather:
“We have an Administration fanning the flames of division over race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and gender. That is not normal....We have an overhaul of our entire health care system being written in secret on a rapid time frame. That is not normal. The list could go on and on. And feel free to add your own to the comments section./What concerns me even more than any of these items is the fact that they are largely being met by a shrug or excuses from most Republican elected officials. Even many Democrats seem overwhelmed and are inclined to let some of this just ride. That may be how politics works. But this is bigger. It’s about our nation.
We are shifting the goalposts for our democracy. We are failing to be outraged by the outrageous because there is something even more outrageous that always seems to hit the news cycle. And that is dangerous.
What gives me hope is we have had waves of abnormality in our country’s history. And we’ve had times when what we would consider now to be not normal, like segregation, was considered normal. What has centered and saved our country time and again is civic engagement. I believe that most people in this nation don’t think any of this is normal."

Some sources:

http://fortune.com/2017/02/25/bannon-trump-cabinet-cpac/

https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-impeachment-calls-surge-president-114002912.html?.tsrc=jtc_news_index


Sunday, May 28, 2017

On Tyranny: History Instructs

Hillary Clinton, at Wellesley, NYT, 27 May 2017,
by Jess Bidgood & Katharine Q. Seelye. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters.
"As the history majors among you here today know all too well, when people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society./That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality. Not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs." Hillary Clinton commencement address, Wellesley College, May 2017
Timothy Snyder, Yale historian and author of The Bloodlands, was in Toledo at the public library to talk about his latest little book called "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century."  He said he sat at his computer the day after the shock of Trump's election and wrote the book right then and there. He made use of his extraordinary knowledge of the tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin and the murderous havoc they caused during and after World War II. He's an expert on authoritarian regimes.

He saw red flags everywhere during the presidential campaign. Trump's overblown rhetoric and Hillary-hatred; his attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, anyone he didn't like; the whipping up of a false nationalist fervor; the way he framed and repeated his rants ("Build a Wall," "Lock her Up"); his ignorance of history; his ego-driven obsession with numbers and winning; the focus on himself and not the issues, which he knew little about; a facile disregard for Rule of Law; and perhaps most disturbing of all, his attacks on the media, the charges of "fake news" against any news he didn't like, the embrace of such outlets as Breitbart, his denigration of facts and truth.

Snyder notes in his book that Trump fact-checkers at one time "found that 78% of his factual claims were false."  That's a pretty high rate of lying. "Demeaning the world as it is begins the creation of a fictional counterworld," Snyder emphasized. Yep, his attentive audience nodded, and we are living with that "counterworld" today.

"On Tyranny" is a series of lessons on how to resist the totalitarianism Snyder sees in the rise of Trump. Lots of us saw it; experience is confirming it. The truth and timeliness of Snyder's message was not lost on this informed and appreciative audience. Marcy Kaptur, our representative in Congress, introduced Snyder.  It was Marcy who introduced me to The Bloodlands when I returned from Ukraine. It's her favorite recent history book, and it's become mine as well. Snyder wrote about eastern Europe caught between Hitler and Stalin.  He revisioned the history of WWII and the murderous legacy of the times, the consequences of which are still felt today. I felt them in Ukraine.

And they have only became worse with time. The rise of Putin's fervent Russian nationalism, his ramped up propaganda machine, his invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, his interference in our world as we know it and his goal to destabilize Europe and the US, confirm that totalitarianism is alive and well, and as devastating to human kind as it ever was.

Now, Snyder fears, it is alive and well in America too, and it will destroy our democracy, as the Founding Fathers feared it would, unless we deliberately confront it head on. Snyder repeats some of the obvious truisms about resistance--be an informed citizen, defend democratic institutions, remember professional ethics, beware the one-party state, stand out, investigate, be a critical thinker. But what for me resonated the most is the very issue Hillary Clinton addressed in her Wellesley commencement address. "Believe in truth."  Snyder puts it as succinctly and firmly as Hillary did: "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.  If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do is.  If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.  The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights." 


Hillary warned us. 
I believe this. The whole phenomenon of questioning what is fact and what is "alternative facts," what are lies, what is real, has swept us onto the terrain of tyranny. People who believe they have facts when they have false information and false news on which they base their votes and their allegiance leaves the rest of us who know it's false news hanging out to dry in a kind of no-man's land. Hillary warned us time and again during the campaign. But a fictional counterworld had already arisen, it doesn't take long, and it spelled tragedy for the United States. When facts don't matter, when truth doesn't matter and becomes awash in "alternative facts" made up by tyrants, we are in dangerous territory. It's where we are today.















































Tuesday, May 23, 2017

McCain and The Trump Titanic on Impeachment Ground

The Trump Titanic: Created by the Senate Republicans
Now comes Senator John McCain, and slowly but surely the rest of his Republican colleagues, starring the Comey memos and the accumulation of outright lies, conflicts and treason  in the face.   He fears we are on impeachment ground the size and scope of Watergate. 

Well sure we are.  You put us there.  

You approved Sessions, Tillerson, Wilbur Ross and the rest of the rotten Transition Team's nominees knowing about their conflicts, having the intel you needed to vote 'no' on every one of them. All the Republicans did.  Did you do the right thing when it mattered most? No, you did not. 

Now you are saying things that you should have said in the confirmation hearings, McCain.  You surely knew about Kisylak, that old KGB spy, and Putin, the invader of Ukraine and friend of Assad, when you approved these guys.  You approved people who worked with the guy you knew was a "murderer and thug."  

America has had to face the consequences of your votes, and all your Republican colleagues' votes, ever since.  Millions of us knew it was only a matter of time before the truth was revealed and the shit hit the fan.

The resistance movement mounted. The women marched. The scientists and the environmentalist marched. The American people took to the streets. We followed the advice in the Indivisible handbook written by former Congressional staffers about contacting our elected officials.  We  started to make our voices heard, the majority of us common folk, outraged at what was happening in Congress.

How many calls did you and your fellow Senators get, flooding you with facts and warnings?  How many letters urging you to hear us out, knowing you were voting for DeVos, Tillerson, Ross, Pruitt, Price? How many emails and twitter and facebook posts, pleading with you, begging you, to do the right thing for America? How many petitions, dozens of them, signed by thousands?  

No matter.  You went ahead and voted for the worst nominees imaginable. You ignored our voices.  You went along and you did nothing.  

Do you know how helpless we felt in the face of your indifference.  Do you know how infuriating it is now to hear you say the things you are saying?  

Your mea culpas are needed, yes.  We knew we needed some Rs with a conscience to step up.  You didn't do it when you brought us the Trump regime.  We tried, to no avail.   Now you have to step up or go down with the Trump Titanic you created. You have to save your ass.  Now it's more a matter of self-interest than patriotism. 

We see it all. We will not forget that you created this monster.  We will not forget.