from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Born Fighting - Jim Webb, Scots-Irish and Iraqis. 

This is not a book review. I have just finished reading Jim Webb’s Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. I found it useful in understanding Webb, who wrote it because it is his heritage. Understanding the nature of the Scots-Irish might help some Democrats - progressive or otherwise - understand why they have lost otherwise winnable elections. Webb notes his belief that Al Gore lost in 2000 because his position on guns cost him among Scots-Irish heavily in TN and WV, which had he carried either Florida would not have mattered.

The focus of this posting will be narrower, and examine only the question implied in the title.
Webb opposed the current Iraq war as a huge strategic error. Unstated in his early criticism is something that I derive from reading the book, and that is the parallel between the Scots-Irish and the Iraqis, people who have a strong fighting nature rooted in an equally strong tribal ethic.

The book is part family history, part ethnic history, very much anthropology. How we categorize it actually is irrelevant. And Webb would not claim that he is doing original historical research. He quite properly addresses a wide range of sources in attempting to explain the roots of his own family, a family which had members participating in every war in this country’s history. Readers may know that Webb just formally kicked off his Senate campaign in Gate City Virginia, nearly 400 miles away from where I now sit in Arlington Virginia. Webb has members of his family, great-great-grandparents and others, buried near there. The book ends in the small town of Kensett AR, where he visits the graves of grandparents. I want to begin this essay by quoting the final two paragraphs of the book. Then I will explain why I think the book is relevant to Webb’s understanding of Iraq, as it should be to ours. The selection below appears on pages 342-343.

But to be sure, the Scots-Irish are a people filled with many off-shoots and derivatives, with common threads that join them while strong differences obviate any thought of “ethnic purity” or even complete philosophical unity. We are related to those who stayed behind in Scotland and the border areas in the north of present-day England. We count as cousins those who remained in Ulster, not only Protestant but many Catholics as well. We ourselves are those who remained in the rough north of New England and especially along the mountain ridges that stretch from Pennsylvania to Georgia and Alabama; those who settled the backcountry and farmlands and new freedom of the Pacific Coast. Some continued to marry among themselves, and some did not. Some are wildly prosperous, and some are not. Some remember at least pieces of this journey, and some do not. Some care, and some do not. Some think it matters, and some do not.
Who are we? We are the molten core at the very center of the unbridled, raw, rebellious spirit of America. We helped build this nation, from the bottom up. We face the world on our feet and not on our knees. We were born fighting. And if the cause is right, we will never retreat.

Webb traces the history of the groups the contribute to this ethnic background. He comments repeatedly on the tribal nature of the group, the willingness to follow those who lead from the front, who place themselves at the same risks they impose upon others. He views the organization as one created not by imposition from the top down but rather as created by bottom-up fermentation. He sees a particular relationship with a direct connection with religion - the Kirk - in which a government seen as interfering with man’s relationship with God and the church is illegitimate and should be resisted. There would a commitment to the values of the religion at the same time as an apparent contradiction in the passion with which people lived - here the tradition of whiskey made locally traveled with the people from Scotland to the Appalachian tradition of moonshine, whether it was the whiskey rebellion of the 18th century or the ongoing battles between mountain people and revenuers that in large part led to NASCAR. And this is part of the indomitable spirit of the people. Webb cites many historical examples of the people of this background being willing to fight and die knowing they might well lose, but going ahead to almost certain death because of the perceived rightness of the cause. As a result such a people could experience a devastating defeat that instead of breaking their will merely intensified their resolve to keep on fighting.

When Edward I of England determined to expand his power beyond Hadrian’s Wall, itself erected because the Romans could never completely suppress the Gaelic tribes in the North of the Island of Britain, he totally destroyed Berwick, then the richest city in Scotland, a major port. As Webb writes on page 45:
On March 30, 1296, Edward entered Berwick with some 5,000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry, and in one day killed an estimated 17,000 people. As Churchill rather drily put it, “Berwick sank in a few hours from one of the active centers {sic] of European commerce to the minor seaport which exists today.”
Why did Edward do this, and indeed, how could a supposedly Christian monarch have lived with such blood on his hands? Centuries later, in 1937, the Japanese would coin a phrase for such ruthless conduct as they took similar (though not so completely brutal) measures in Nanking, China. In Asia the concept was called “killing the chicken to scare the monkeys.” Laying waste to Berwick was a deliberate act of state terrorism, the medieval equivalent of a strategically placed atomic bomb. It was meant to create such fear in the rest of Scotland that the people would hurry to show their deference to the powerful English king.
Wrong country. Wrong people.

Here I want to jump ahead, to see how Webb’s insight applies in Iraq. I see an almost exact parallel in the Scottish response to Berwick - after all, the events portrayed in “Braveheart” of the rise of William Wallace come AFTER the sack of Berwick -- and what happened in Iraq after Fallujah. I remind readers that the Marines under Gen. Conway had worked very hard to build relations in Fallujah, and then were ordered, after the killing of the four “contractors”, to basically level the city. In the first round of attacks in April of 2003, all they did was anger the people and destroy the goodwill Conway and his Marines had attempted to build and maintain. 7 months later the city was besieged, largely destroyed, the US probably used improper munitions and violated international convention, we killed perhaps 1,000 “insurgents” while losing less than 100 of our own, and in the process gave increased impetus in still ongoing insurgency. I wonder if someone who knew the history about which Webb writes and could see parallels between the elements of Iraqi culture and Scots-Irish culture would have made such a strategic error as the destruction of Fallujah.

I do not know how clearly Webb himself saw the similarity between the cultures. He did not address it specifically in his opposition before the war. Here I note that both cultures had a tradition of tribal organization, with something not like the hierarchical fealty of the feudal system of England or France. Their tribal organization was much more like local clans, with a fierce loyalty at the local level. There was a rich history to which people could refer, living in the land of the world’s oldest civilization, which had resisted and worn down and outlasted previous attempts to subject them, in ancient days from the Persians, in more modern times from the Ottomans and then the British. They could look back upon religious heroes who died rather than submit to that which they thought wrong, heroes named Ali and Hussein, who claimed descent from the Prophet -- as some Scots-Irish will claim descent from Robert the Bruce. They could look back upon military figures who had shown great success against those peoples and societies which looked down upon them - the Scots-Irish could look to William Wallace, the Iraqis to Sal-a-din, who was born in Tikrit.

Far too often we as Americans assume that our ways are the only ways. We have a kind of arrogance that leads us into trouble. There can be a real nobility to the American spirit, as shown by the generosity of this country to willingly give of its wealth to rebuild Europe through the Marshall plan, an offer made to the nations of Eastern Europe but rejected by Stalin. But our arrogance in our own sense of superiority can lead us to misunderstand what confronts us when we engage other societies, economically, politically and especially militarily. In Vietnam the Tet offensive was a military disaster fro the N Vietnamese. But it was a political success. That was partly the fault of the American leadership, which had continually understated for political reasons the size of the forces we were facing. Thus the American people were unprepared for the ferocity of the campaign, its breadth, the daring of sappers fighting their way into the American Embassy compound in Saigon. And those who argue that it was a military defeat for the Vietnamese forces arrayed against us are correct, but miss the point -- the leadership in Hanoi was fully prepared to accept those kind of losses repeatedly because they were unwilling to have their will broken, because they were fighting for their concept of their nation, and were willing to risk all that the Americans fighting 12,000 miles from whom would be unwilling to continue the fighting necessary to kill enough of their opponents as to effectively end opposition.

We might note another kind of arrogance - the belief that we could in Iraq make an example that would effectively intimidate other nations in the region so that we could impose our will. Lessons are learned, but as teachers and administrators in schools often learn when the seek to impose order and discipline by force of will, it may not be the lesson that is intended. Other nations know that they cannot stand up directly to the force of the US Military machine, but that does not eliminate other forms of conflict. And if enough people are sufficiently committed, such asymmetrical warfare can be effective in breaking the will of the superior force as the application of overwhelming power is intended to be in breaking the will of weaker nations.

I am not a military expert. My service in the Marines was limited in scope and length, serving as I did only stateside in non-combat units. I am also not an expert in cultures of other nations, as historian or anthropologist or sociologist. I do read, and absorb, and think. I read contrasting points of view, and weigh as best I can the evidence each presents, before I attempt to come to conclusions. I think the only long-term impact of attempting to impose our will by the use of force will be the destruction of the United States as a democracy. That is the strategic blunder upon which this administration has embarked. And I think it could well have been seen as a blunder, an embarkation upon an unrealizable goal, before we even started, had there been people willing to pay attention to things other than ideology and aspirations of grandeur and power and riches.

Let me be clear. I do not think that Jim Webb has drawn all the lessons he could from what he has studied and experienced, about which he has written not only in this book but elsewhere. He has demonstrated -- and not just in this book - an ability and a willingness - to learn history and to see how it might apply in different situations. Eugene McCarthy once said that one problem in the cold war conflict was that Americas’ national game was poker while that of the Russians was chess. By this he meant that we have far too great a tendency to think in shorter periods of time. I realize that many of the Neo-Cons would argue that they are thinking in the longer term, as for example they attempt to ensure access to if not control of the world’s supplies of petroleum. But to me that is still tactical, not strategic. Had we continued down the path of exploring alternatives to a petroleum based economy begun under Carter (but abandoned under Reagan) our own vulnerability would be so much less, and we would have developed the kinds of technology that would have brought great economic benefit as we sold to other countries. of greater importance, the entire world would have seen far less conflict, because it is not just the Middle East which is roiled by the contest over oil, it is also our interference in Venezuela, it is the conflicts in places like Sudan and Chad, it has been the continued conflicts in Indonesia.

The conflict over resources is one example where our vision is far too short. Our total misunderstanding of other cultures, of the motivations of other peoples and other societies, has seen us repeatedly make blunders that were completely avoidable, as the conflict in Iraq demonstrates on both the tactical and strategic levels.

Webb’s book can help us understand things about our own society that can reshape our thinking and our actions, politically, ethically, and on other levels as well. If we do not seek to understand the validity from his viewpoint of the person who opposes us, we have no choice but to attempt to destroy him, and in that attempt we may destroy ourselves. The lessons we can derive from learning about our differences at home are equally important in our relations with other nations, other peoples who may either be scattered across multiple nations, or striving (as are the Kurds) for the nation they never had.

I recommend a thoughtful reading of this book. I do not doubt that you will be impressed with the quality of Webb’s thinking and writing. I am supporting him for the Senate, and wish there were far more seeking or serving in political office who displayed this depth of thinking. I make this suggestion independent of my concerns about who will represent me in the US Senate. I think this book can help expand our insights on many levels. I have chosen to use it to explore merely one, our involvement in Iraq. You may well find issues of greater importance for which it gives you deeper understanding. I hope that you do, and that you will share those understandings with the rest of us.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Inhuman Behavior: A chaplain’s view of torture 

I am hoping that the title got your attention. It is not my title. It is that of an article in The Christian Century by Kermit D. Johnson, a retired U.S. Army major general and chaplain. It is as powerful a piece as I have read about the wrong of what we have done in our treatment of those we think might be terrorists.

Put simply, you MUST read this article, and then distribute as widely as you can. It should be sent to every current federal office holder who represents you, to every candidate for Federal office that you know. And send it to everyone in your email list and ask them to act similarly.

To encourage to follow what I request I will offer some selections, As powerful as I think these are, they do not do justice the entire article. And because Chaplain General Hall’s words need no explanation, I will offer none, except(a) to set up some of the quotes, and (b) for one final comment at the end of the quotations.

The historian Arnold Toynbee called war "an act of religious worship." Appropriately, when most people enter the cathedral of violence, their voices become hushed. This silence, this reluctance to speak, is based in part on not wishing to trivialize or jeopardize the lives of those who have been put in harm's way. We want to support the men and women in our armed forces, whether we are crusaders, just warriors or pacifists.

Furthermore, those who interrupt this service of worship become a source of public embarrassment, if not shame. The undercurrent seems to be that dissent or critique in the midst of war is inherently unpatriotic because it violates a sacred wartime precept: support our troops.

I would say that if war causes us to suppress our deepest religious, ethical and moral convictions, then we have indeed caved in to a "higher religion" called war.

We must react when our nation breaks the moral constraints and historic values contained in treaties, laws and our Constitution, as well as violating the consciences of individuals who engage in so-called "authorized" inhuman treatment.

A clear-cut repudiation of torture or abuse is also essential to the safety of the troops. If the life and rule of Jesus and his incarnation is to be normative in the church, then we must stand for real people, not abstractions: for soldiers, their families, congregations to which they belong, and the chaplains and pastors who minister to their needs from near and far. By "real people" we also mean that tiny percentage of the armed forces who are guards and interrogators and the commanders responsible for what individuals and units do or fail to do in treating prisoners.

Real torture is what takes place in the daily interchange between guards, interrogators and prisoners, and in the everyday, unglamorous, intricate job of collecting intelligence.

Never mind the never-ending debate about the distinctions between "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" and "torture." The object of all such physical and mental torment is singularly clear: to terrify prisoners so they will yield information. Whenever this happens to prisoners in U.S. control, we are handing terrorists and insurgents a priceless ideological gift, known in wartime as aid and comfort to the enemy.

The torturer and the tortured are both victims, unless the torturer is a sadist or a loose cannon who needs to be court-martialed. This violation of conscience is sure to breed self-hatred, shame and mental torment for a lifetime to come.

At this point the General offers a long list of reasons for concerns about torture, despite the McCain amendment, even were the president not to have excempted himself as commander in chief in his signing statement. I offer only a few, and you really should read them all, in sequence.

• There is no indication that the outsourcing or "rendition" of brutal treatment will cease. Is it not odd that some of the countries the U.S. State Department faults for torture are the very countries we utilize in outsourcing interrogations? What credence can we put in their assurances that they will not torture?

• A Defense Department memorandum has said that "no law banning torture or regulating interrogation can bind the president when he is operating in his role as commander in chief."

• In Senate testimony, Senator Jack Reed (D., R.I.) asked the military this question: "If you were shown a video of a United States Marine or an American citizen [under the] control of a foreign power, in a cell block, naked with a bag over their head, squatting with their arms uplifted for 45 minutes, would you describe that as a good interrogation technique or a violation of the Geneva Convention?" The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, answered: "I would describe it as a violation." The next question might be: Why have these and other violations of the Geneva Conventions been certified as legal when employed by the U.S.?

The chaplain’s final two paragraphs focus specifically on the work of military chaplains:

An important footnote to the debate on torture concerns the work of military chaplains. By regulation chaplains have a dual role as religious leaders and staff officers. They have direct access to the commander as advisers on matters of religion, morals and morale. This activity, according to Army Regulation 165-1, includes "the spiritual, ethical and moral health of the command" as well as "plans and programs related to the moral and ethical quality of leadership."

Given this definition, questions come to mind. If torture or abuse takes place, what should be the chaplain's role? Should it be pastoral or prophetic or both? Should there be an ethical framework for interrogation and should chaplains have a part in maintaining it? We need to consult with the ministers, priests, rabbis and imams in the armed forces and respectfully learn from them how they see their role. But unless torture and inhuman treatment cease, chaplains will be placed in a lonely and untenable position—unless they are willing to hear no evil and see no evil.

We know members of the JAG corps strongly objected to many of the actions taken by our military. They are the officials most responsible for ensuring compliance with various legal requirements about conduct in war. They were cut off from the discussion. We now know at least by implication of one ranking chaplain who objected, and who raises in this piece the further concern of chap[ains being unable to ensure the spiritual and moral well-being of troops entrusted to their care. What we are doing in our actions not only destroys the reputation of the United States in the eyes of the rest of the world, it is destroying the very essence of those we have used to carry out our obsence policies in this endeavor. Those who should be held accountable are not those who under duress or by hint, nod, or wink, do the actual misdeeds, but those in command authority who have allowed or encouraged this to happen.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An open letter to Friend everywhere about Tom Fox 

cross=posted from dailykos

On Sunday, Langley Hill Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends approved a Open Letter to Friends Everywhere about our deceased member Tom Fox. I have provided, without comment, the entire text of the letter below. I appreciate the concern that has been shown at this site for Tom, both when he and the others were first seized, and when we received news of his death. Because at the later time there was some misinformation of what had happened, we felt it important to express clearly our best understanding of what had happened.

There is additional information about Tom available at the website (which is hyperlinked to the name of the Meeting).

April 23, 2006

Dear Friends Everywhere,

Many of you have joined your thoughts and prayers with ours on behalf of Tom Fox, Jim Loney, Norman Kember, and Harmeet Sooden, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams International (CPT), who were kidnapped in Iraq on November 26, 2005. Your thoughts and prayers continued throughout the winter and into the spring. We remain grateful.

As you may know, on March 10, 2006, we learned that Tom had been killed and his body had been found. Jim, Norman, and Harmeet were freed on March 23. Jill Carroll, an American journalist kidnapped in early January, was released on March 30. Tom's public memorial service was held at Foundry United Methodist Church, in Washington DC, on April 22. It has been a long time from that Thanksgiving weekend to the end of April—filled with ups and downs and lulls that seemed to never end. Your care and concern have been very meaningful and important to us, and we believe to Tom.

Tom's three CPT colleagues have said that Tom had been separated from them on February 12. Therefore, little is known—or will ever be known—about what happened or why it happened. Tom cannot speak for himself and his captors have not spoken.

Indications are that Tom was shot in the morning of March 9. Contrary to early media accounts, the final autopsy report found absolutely no signs of physical torture or abuse and no knife wounds. There was no conclusive proof that he had been bound. Death came from approximately six shots, either fired in quick succession (typical of an automatic weapon) or simultaneously.

Some media reports (for example The Guardian, 03/25/06) surmise that there was dissension among the captors concerning Tom's death. This is a possibility that is supported in two ways. First, no person or group has taken “credit” for killing Tom—not before the freeing of his colleagues and not after. Also, on March 23 the people holding Jim, Norman, and Harmeet bound them together and left the house, expecting that Coalition forces would soon arrive. The captors had not planted explosives in the building before they abandoned it.

In the end, all we can say is that our beloved Friend was killed and we are bereft. Nevertheless, we join with the Rev. Carol Rose, Co-Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, in asking that “everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done.”

Tom was a member of Langley Hill Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in McLean, Virginia. He participated in other Friends congregations, including Hopewell Centre Meeting and Alexandria Meeting. Prompted by a leading of the Spirit—a leading that was tested by the Langley Hill faith community and others—Tom joined CPT in November 2003. During his time in Iraq, Tom encouraged the formation of Muslim Peacemaker Teams, which has both Sunni and Shi'a members. Tom also aided families whose members had been detained by Coalition forces. He tried to help them locate their loved ones and he listened to their stories.

He and other CPT members documented about 72 stories of detainees, which served as background information when the scandals at Abu Ghraib prison were revealed.

Tom's story can be found on his weblog at http://waitinginthelight.blogspot.com. We knew him as an ordinary guy: a loving father, youth leader, musician, camp cook, grocery manager, student of scriptures, and a friend who listened carefully and respectfully. Like us, Tom had both gifts and human frailties. One of his gifts was compassion and a commitment to peace and justice. We were privileged to watch him grow in his ability to embody compassion and in the courage to enact his commitment to peace and justice.

We are grateful for the way Muslims around the world have entered Tom's story and made it their own. We believe that the immediate outpouring of prayers and support from Muslims, including the Islamic clerics and organizations who spoke out in late November and early December (support came from the United States, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere), joined with pleas from family members and friends, kept Tom, Jim, Norman, and Harmeet alive in those first critical weeks. During those weeks a hostage video of them was shown internationally, demands were made, and two deadlines were given for their executions.

The recent pattern in Iraq has been that if the kidnappers are initially convinced that the foreign people whom they hold have been in Iraq for peaceful purposes, a favorable resolution is the likely outcome.

We are grateful for the story of a little known Iraqi group whose name translates as “Independent Activates, a Society to Defend Human Rights.” On February 24, 2006, CPTers in Iraq reported meeting their representative. CPT learned that this group had about 170 members in several cities. The Activates began organizing for the release of Tom, Jim, Norman, and Harmeet as soon as they heard of their detention. They held press conferences, organized three vigils, and distributed leaflets. One member of the Iraqi Activates publicly offered to exchange himself for the CPT members.

We are grateful for people of faith everywhere who prayed for Tom, Jim, Norman, and Harmeet regularly in their private devotions and during community services. Our spirits were lifted when Quakers from other meetings and friends from other traditions came to our Friday Interfaith Peace Vigils, which began on December 9. We know that many Christian groups activated their prayer trees and prayer circles on behalf of the four CPTers.

We also know that the Sunday after Tom's body was found, many Christian ministers preached about his life and death as obedience to the Spirit and following the path of Jesus. Prior to the convening of their regular quarterly meeting on March 12, women from the several faith communities who form the Northern Virginia Interfaith Women's Fellowship paid tribute to Tom's life and peace work.

Tom's ministry embraced the vision of the prophet Isaiah—that the earth will one day be restored to what Tom called God's peaceable realm. The passage reads in part: “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid...They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:1-9) This vision was depicted as the Peaceable Kingdom over 60 times by the 19th century Quaker painter, Edward Hicks.

We believe that a well-known Quaker quote from George Fox in the mid-17th century applies to this early 21st century situation: “What canst Thou say?” Where are you in the story to bring God's Peaceable Kingdom to all the earth?

As the spiritual community where Tom had his membership, Langley Hill seeks ways to continue his work, especially his work with Iraqi detainees. We are meeting with our U.S. Senators and Representatives and asking them to begin a routine publishing of the names and locations of all detainees in US/Coalition custody and to inform those in detention of the charges against them. While this seems like normal due process to us, giving such information will require changes in current US policy and practice. (For more information, see http://www.quaker.org/langleyhill/howtohelp.html ).

Knowing Tom helps us realize the importance of distinguishing Tom's story from our stories about Tom. Our stories say at least as much about the person telling them as they do about Tom. The real issue is not “What happened to Tom?” The real issue now is, “What does our personal understanding of Tom's ministry, life, and death say about our desire and willingness to work for a world of peace, justice, and compassion?”

In the Light,
Doug Smith, Clerk
Langley Hill Monthly Meeting
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

It is the day of resurrection 

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
If you are surprised to read those words today, one week after you have perhaps celebrated Easter, don’t be. For several hundred million Eastern Christians, today is Pascha, the Feast of Feasts. Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Czech, Antiochian, Polish, Ukrainian, Greek, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Nestorian and more .. even those like my Mayflower descendent wife, Leaves on the Current.

In honor of this day, I will offer a few textual selections for the day. Read and learn about the ancient riches of the Christian East.

It is the day of resurrection ! Let us be illumined for the feast! Pascha! The Pascha of the Lord! From death unto life, and from earth unto heaven has Christ our God led us! Singing the song of victory: Christ is risen from the dead!

The above is from the first ode of the Paschal Canon. The service will have begun with prayers of Nocturnes, including Psalm 50/51 (the Orthodox use the numbering of the Septuagint), with its own canon, a hymn with 9 stanzas, each with an ode and a series of other lines, these separate by a refrain of “Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee.” There are references to various biblical passages seen as foreshadowing resurrection, the central theme of the feast. The canon is completed, there are additional prayers, including a troparion (hymn) which describes the descent into Hell, the raising of the dead.

But all this is anticipation. In the Russian practice, which my wife’s very American (and English language) church follows, the church then goes into darkness and people wait. At midnight a hymn starts with the clergy behind the iconostasis, the big icon screen that separates the altar from the nave. The hymn is repeated over and over as candles are lit, and the light passed from person to person. The clergy, now dressed in Paschal white, and the people exit the church, and weather allowing process around it three times, all while singing:
Thy Resurrection oh Christ our savior, the Angels in Heaven sing, Enable us one earth, to glorify thee with purity of heart.

While the procession is occurring, all the alter coverings - which had been dark, are replaced with blinding white drapery, all the lights are turned on inside. The procession comes to the front of the church, the door is knocked on three times, and the Easter celebration begins. Throughout the Matins service and following liturgy one will constantly hear the glorious affirmation of Christian faith, in one of the oldest forms of what we know as a call and response. The priest or deacon will cry
Christ is Risen!
and the response, in full voice by all assembled will be given
Indeed He is risen!

It will be given in as many languages as are appropriate to the Congregation, quite often Greek, Slavonic (the Russian and Bulgarian liturgical language), Romanian and Arabic being added to the English, but other languages may also be heard.

The entire Matins is glorification -- with incense, with music, with shouts of joy, with language striving to express the understanding of the miracle which inspires Christian faith. The language is of absolute affirmation, of unbridled joy, of amazement.

I gave above the first Ode of the Canon of the Resurrection. Let me offer a few more selections from that Canon. In the Kontakion (a special hymn for the occasion recited in the stanza in which the 6th Ode is sung) we sing and/or hear:
Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal, Thou didst destroy the power of death. In victory didst Thou arise, O Christ God, proclaiming “Rejoice“ to the myrrhbearing women, granting peace to Thy apostles, and bestowing resurrection on the fallen.

Or the 8th ode:
This is the chosen and holy day, first of sabbaths, king and lord of days, the feast of feasts, holy day of holy days. On this day we bless Christ forevermore.

The focus of the 9th ode of canons is the Mother of God, referred to in Orthodox Christianity as the Theotokos, the god-bearer. In the paschal canon there are twelve separate refrains, and we have the repetition of a specific kind hymn, the Irmos, which for this feast reads
Shine! Shine! O new Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone on you. Exult now and be glad, O Zion. Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of your Son.

In the 14 years when I was an Orthodox Christian, I directed the choir for this service on multiple occasions, and sung in the choir for the rest. From the start of the Nocturnes until the completion of the Divine Liturgy (equivalent of the Mass) with everyone coming up for communion is easily a period of three hours or even more. But there is a clear demarcation, at the end of Matins. There are series of paschal verses, which will be repeated throughout the Paschal season. Someone will intone the beginning
Let God arise, Let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him flee from before His Face.

There are five sections sung by the choir after the lines of the intonation. Let me offer the first:
Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us,
A new and holy Pascha,
A mystical Pascha.
A Pascha worthy of veneration,
A Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer.
A blameless Pascha,
A great Pascha,
A Pascha of the faithful,
A Pascha which has opened for us the gates of Paradise,
A Pascha which sanctifies all the faithful.

The words cannot convey the depth of understanding to which they point, this grasp of the mystery that for the Christian believer has transformed the universe.

But this would be incomplete, because the believer is also supposed to be transformed. And thus in the final response the choir sings
This is the day of resurrection.
Let us be illumined by the feast.
Let us embrace each other.
Let uis call “Brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life (this is sung 3 times)>

This is IMMEDIATELY followed by one of the most famous sermons ever preached, by John Chrysostom (the 2nd is not a name but a title -- golden-mouthed - a title he earned for his eloquence). One of the great theological figures of the 4th Century ( he lived from 347 to 407), there are things about him which one could criticize. But this sermon is magnficent, and continues with the magnanimity we have just seen in the Paschal verses, and proclaims the triumph of the resurrection. Here is that sermon:

Whosoever is a devout lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful bright Festival.  And whosoever is a grateful servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of his Lord.  And if any be weary with fasting, let him now receive his penny. 

If any have toiled from the first hour, let him receive his due reward.  If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join the Feast.  And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.  And if any have delayed to the ninth hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay; for the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.  He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour as well as to him that toiled from the first.

Yea, to this one he gives, and upon that one he bestows.  He accepts works, as He greets the endeavor.  The deed he honors and the intention he commands.

Let all then enter into the joy of our Lord.  You first and last receiving alike your reward; you rich and poor, rejoice together.  You sober and you slothful, celebrate the day.  You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today; for the Table is richly laden.  Fare royally on it.  The calf is a fatted one.  Let no one go away hungry.  Partake you all of the cup of faith.  Enjoy you all the riches of His goodness.  Let no one grieve at his poverty; for the universal Kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.  Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.  He has destroyed it by enduring it.  He spoiled Hades when he decended thereto.  He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.  Isaiah foretold this when he cried, “Thou, O Hades, has been vexed by encountering Him below.”

It is vexed; for it is even done away with.  It is vexed; for it is made a mockery.  It is vexed; for it is destroyed.  It is vexed; for it is annihilated.  It is vexed; for it is now made captive.  It took a body, and it discovered God.  It took earth, and encountered Heaven.  It took what it saw and was overcome by what it did not see.

“O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?”  Christ is risen, and thou art annihilated.  Christ is risen, and the evil ones are cast down.  Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice.  Christ is risen, and life is liberated.  Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of the dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  To Him be glory and power forever and ever.  Amen.

There are many websites that can give you the Paschal greeting and response in different languages. Here is a google search to provide you with a number of choices. I will end this by presenting the offerings of this one. You do not have to be Christian (realistically I am not) and certainly not Orthodox to have a sense of the joy that Eastern Christians feel on this feast, and the passion with which they will greet one and all during the Paschal season. And perhaps if you hear some strange sounds, you will realize that they are not gibberish, but the deepest expression of joy that an Eastern Christian can offer. It will be offered whether you believe or not. It will not be intended as missionary work, or to impose a possibly alien faith on you. It will be offered in fulfillment of the final passage of the Paschal verses and in the spirit of the sermon of John Chrysostom.

Christ is Risen!
Indeed He is risen!
Khrishti unjal!
Vertet unjal!
Khristus anahgrecum!
Alhecum anahgrecum!
Khris-tusaq ung-uixtuq!
Pijii-nuq ung-uixtuq!
Kristos tenestwal!
Bergit tenestwal!
Crist aras!
Crist sodhlice aras!
El Messieh kahm!
Hakken kahm!
Kristos haryav ee merelotz!
Orhnial eh harootyunuh kristosee!
Hristolu unghia!
Daleehira unghia!
Xristosi banuytashtch'ey!
Gheli banuytashtch'ey!
Hristos voskrese!
Vo istina voskrese!
Khrystos uvaskros!
Sapraudy uvaskros!
Helisituosi fuhuole!
Queshi fuhuole!
Christos anesti!
Alithos anesti!
Kristus vstal a mrtvych!
Opravdi vstoupil!
Kristus er opstanden!
I sandhed Han er Opstanden!
(or Sandelig Han er Opstanden!)
Christus is opgestaan!
Ja, hij is waarlijk opgestaan!
Christos tensiou!
Bahake tensiou!
Kristo levigis!
Vere levigis!
Kristus on oolestoosunt!
Toayestee on oolestoosunt!
Christos t'ensah em' muhtan!
Exai' ab-her eokala!
Kristus nousi kuolleista!
Totisesti nousi!
Le Christ est ressuscite!
En verite il est ressuscite!
Kriost eirgim!
Kriste ahzdkhah!
Christus ist erstanden!
Er ist wahrhaftig erstanden!
Christos anesti!
Alithos anesti!
Ua ala hou `o Kristo!
Ua ala `I `o no `oia!
Ha Masheeha houh kam!
A ken kam! (or Be emet quam!)
Kristur er upprisinn!
Hann er vissulega upprisinn!
Kristus telah bangkit!
Benar dia telah bangkit!
Cristo e' risorto!
Veramente e' risorto!
Harisutosu Fukkatsu!
Jitsu ni Fukkatsu!
Kristus sampun wungu!
Saesto panjene ganipun sampun wungu!
Kristo gesso!
Buhar ha sho nay!
Christus resurrexit!
Vere resurrexit!
Kristus ir augsham sales!
Teyasham ir augsham sales vinsch!
Kristo ajukkide!
Amajim ajukkide!
Malayalam (Indian):
Christu uyirthezhunnettu!
Theerchayayum uyirthezhunnettu!
Jesu Kristi ebiliwo!
Ezia o' biliwo!
Kristus er oppstanden!
Han er sannelig oppstanden!
Khristus zmartvikstau!
Zaiste zmartvikstau!
Cristo ressuscitou!
Em verdade ressuscitou!
Cristos a inviat!
Adevarat a inviat!
Khristos voskrese!
Voistinu voskrese!
Satvam upastitaha!
Cristos vaskres!
Vaistinu vaskres!
Kristus vstal zmr'tvych!
Skutoc ne vstal!
Cristo ha resucitado!
En verdad ha resucitado!
Kristo amefufukka!
Kweli Amefufukka!
Christus ar uppstanden!
Han ar verkligen uppstanden!
M'shee ho dkom!
Ha koo qam!
Xristos Kuxwoo-digoot!
Xegaa-kux Kuxwoo-digoot!
Hristos diril-di!
Hakikaten diril-di!
Kristo ajukkide!
Kweli ajukkide!
Khristos voskres!
Voistinu voskres!
Atgyfododd Crist!
Atgyfododd yn wir!
Xris-tusaq Ung-uixtuq!
Iluumun Ung-uixtuq!
Ukristu uvukile!
Uvukile kuphela!

Saturday, April 22, 2006


I am by training a musician. I have always loved music, and know few things more magnificent than participating in the performance of a great piece of music. For me the experience is intensified when the performance is by a group, a string quartet, accompanying a soloist, an orchestra, a chorus. Combine that experience with a dedication that carries great meaning for some or all of the performers, the audience, or both and is an experience to be treasured.

The brief offering I offer today will share with you one such experience. It is mine, of last night. You are welcomed to continue reading.

I have written about William Heartt Reese before. Almost a year ago Haverfordians and Bryn Mawrtyrs from several generations gathered to sing under his direction one more time. he was 95 years old, yet his musical command was astonishing. For some it brought back memories as far back as the 1940s. Bill directed the glee club and orchestra for 28 years, retiring from Haverford in 1975.. As I have previously recounted, I actually met him the spring before I began my first term at Haverford, and he was to remain a major part of my life for many years. Although I entered as a history major, I finished 10 years later as a music major, with Bill supervising my senior honor thesis on the songs of the American composer Charles Ives. I sang under him in the various glee clubs, played cello in the Orchestra. i was never a good enough singer for his elite group, the Heinrich Schutz Singers, named after one his favorite composers, a man born in Germany in 1585, 100 years before the triple magic birth year of Handel, Domenico Scarlatti. and Johann Sebastian Bach. Schutz went to Italy to study under Giovanni Gabrieli, and brought the ideas of the Italian Renaissance back to Germany. Bill, who as much as anyone was responsible for raising the awareness of Schutz in the U.S., used to tell us there many great composers, but only two who never wrote a false note, Mozart and Schutz. He helped people to learn about other works they did not know - The Saint John Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach was an especial favorite. One year we performed a magnificent bu t almost unknown work of Handel with the Wheaton (MA) College Choir --- L’Allegro i Il Penseroso, based on the words of John Milton. Bill knew his modern music as well, which is why he supervised my Ives paper. He actually led the world premier of a setting of the C. S. Lewis work Perelandra by Donald Swann. And in my own work with amateur singers, whether directing church choirs or doing musical theater work, Bill was one of the two great influences on what I do, the other being the late and great Margaret Hillis of Northwestern University, under whom I was fortunate to sing several while I was in high school, once at All-County, and at Festival Choir at National Music Camp in Interlochen Michigan in 1962.

Bill passed just about month ago. The Spring choral concert was already scheduled for last night - a performance of Giuseppi Verdi’s magnificent Manzoni Requiem. Tom Lloyd, the director of choruses at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, decided to dedicate the performance to the memory of William Heartt Reese, and invited alumni to participate if they could make at least one rehearsal. I was one of 6 Haverford alums who do not regularly sing with the chorus, and two Bryn Mawrtyrs who also sang in joint performances under Bill, who availed themselves of the invitation. In my own case, I had not sung the Verdi since a summer sing through with the New York Choral Society in the very early 1970s. I pulled out my old score, its age clearly indicated by the printed price of $1.50! I listened through a recording, then began the process of singing along with the recording, stopping periodically to remind myself of the parts I had forgotten, some of which are quite musically demanding. I learned it well enough that I only made one (fortunately not too obvious) mistake in performance last night.

Verdi was an Italian patriot, who participated in the first all-Italian legislature. One of his fellow patriots in that assembly was the greatest Italian novelist of the 19th Century, Allesandro Manzoni, whose magnificent I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) is work which if you do not know, you should. Verdi’s own religious outlook was, tom put it charitably, not precisely Orthodox. He had a great deal of hostility towards the Catholic Church of his day. And yet he poured his vision, his skill, his soul into this work.

Sometimes the work is performed in an overly operative fashion, not surprising given the bulk of Verdi’s musical writing. And yet it is clear his attitude about this work is different. First, it was written at a point when he said that he was finished with opera, although his two great late Shakespearean masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff were yet to be written. Second, he insisted that the first performance take place not in a concert hall, but in a church.

Verdi strayed from the traditional structure of the Requiem Mass, introducing the text Libera Me which is part of the burial service, a pattern we subsequently see in the work of composers such as Gabriel Faure. He has a very rich instrumentation - four off-stage trumpets added to those in the choir, multiple parts for bassoons, flutes and horns, three trombones. The forces of this instrumentation comes through at various points -- in the “Tuba Mirum” one hears the off-stage trumpets, which we had placed on both sides of the balcony, or the full force of the orchestra in places such as the repetitions of “Dies Irae” or during the “Sanctus.” And yet the real nature of the work is perceived most completely elsewhere -- there are magnificent moments of absolute silence, sometimes striking. There are crescendos to subito pianississimos. And there are extended passages with nothing but apparently human voices, whether of the four soloists, or the chorus. You will note the adjective that I used, because at those moments something transcending is occurring. You may not fully experience if your only knowledge of the piece is from a recording. You will have a major appreciation when you sit in the hall and the voices resounding the audience. And when you are a part of that collection of voices, even if only one now fading 60 year old voice that can no longer hit all of the low notes, somehow you are transported beyond yourself -- there is something wrung out of you by the passion, the intensity, then poured back into you as the sound envelopes you and then penetrates to every fiber of your being.

For those of us who knew Bill Reese, even though none of us had ever sung this work under his direction, it was especially poignant. Truman Ballard ‘60, who has served for 40 years as the director of choirs as Dickinson College in Carlisle PA, came out and made some very touching remarks about Bill before we started. But it was touching for the rest of the choir as well, albeit for a more bittersweet moment. Members of the community are invited to participate as members of the choir. One such is dying of cancer, knowing the end is close. She is trying to hang on for another month to see her two children graduate on opposite coasts. She came and sat in a very visible place in the balcony so she could face her beloved fellow altos. In a sense this requiem was also an offering to her.

The only rehearsal I could make was Thursday evening. But I could not in fairness take Friday off from school, as my 3 AP classes face their AP exam on May 9th. I taught on Thursday, drove up for a 2.5 hour rehearsal ending at 10 PM, drove home to Virginia, a trip with construction taking almost 3 hours, got 4 hours sleep, taught, and drove back up yesterday I am still in the area because today we have another memorial, the dedication of our new integrated athletic facility, named in principal after one former athlete who died on 9-11, with parts of the building dedicated to two other athletes who also died that day. As a result of the commitments I had already made to Haverford for this weekend, I will not later today be at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC where there will by an ecumenical and community commemoration of the late Tom Fox, the Christian Peacemakers Team member killed in Iraq. Part of my own participation was in his memory, for Tom was himself a musician. I know he would understand the choice I made to be here.

I should have been exhausted. I was not not. I was elevated, inspired. I did not want to leave after the performance. The work ends in a somewhat unconventional way. After an exceedingly soft repetition of the words of the Requiem by the voices of the choir, there is one final burst of the Libera Me, starting with full orchestra and full throated singing by the choir and the soprano soloist, whose voice soars above all. As the energy from this final impassioned plea begins to fade, the music gets softer, and softer, and with two almost inaudible repetitions of the words “Libera Me” the work ends in absolute silence. We stood immobile for perhaps 20 seconds. The enthusiastic applause which then occurred seemed to me superfluous, but I acknowledge that it was a way for the audience to further participate in our performance.

We sing requiems in memory of those who have passed. It is an acknowledgment of what we have lost, of what they have given us. But there is a greater acknowledgment we can offer, which is to dedicate ourselves to that which they shared with us, to that to which they dedicated their own efforts. In Bill Reese’s case, it was music, but it was more, so much more. William Heartt Reese worked with professional musicians as well as amateurs. He loved inspiring the amateur, helping them to realize how much more they could do musically than they ever would have thought. I remarked to man next to me that the performance was so much more than we had any right to believe we could accomplish, which made it like just about ever performance I ever sang under the direction of William Heartt Reese. He agreed with that perception. I would note that this was one of the most important lessons I learned as a teacher. Bill was usually quite demanding. He expected the highest quality, and would not settle for less. And yet he did it in a way that had his singers and instrumentalists coming to believe that they could rise to his expectations, and thus we usually did. He looked for the best in us, and insisted we do so as well. As I return for the final weeks of this school year, with the sounds of the Verdi echoing in my soul and my mind, I will I hope remember that part of the legacy of Bill Reese.

And as at times face the possibilities of frustration and despair as I survey what has become of the nation and society I love, I will remember that Bill Reese came to a Quaker College and inspired generations of men to love and appreciate music, to want to participate in it. I will remember Tom Fox, who decided that there were more than enough ready to die for war, that someone had to be ready to die for peace, and yet did not consider what he was doing to be other than the work of an ordinary man. And I will remember that frail woman in the balcony, listening to the music al her own acceptance of her forthcoming death, and the inspiration her mere presence gave the rest of us.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Our economic inequality 

Anyone paying attention knows that our economy is becoming increasingly unfair. Rich people and corporations are paying an ever-decreasing proportion of our taxes. And this is happening at the same time as both are gaining an ever-increasing share our our national income and our national wealth. This bothers me, and probably bothers the reader as well.

It apparently does not bother our Secretary of the Treasury. In his column today, entitled Income gap mentality Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe, inspired by a meeting John Snow had with the Globe's editorial board, analyzes the relevant issues for us. I urge you to read the column. I will offer you selections and a bit of commentary of my own.

The column begin with two paragraphs having the force of a sledgehammer:
AS TREASURY SECRETARY John Snow meandered through his thoughts about the pay gap between CEOs and workers, it brought back memories of 1992 when the first President Bush toured a mock-up of a grocery checkout counter, watched a carton of milk, a lightbulb, and some candy ring up via a scanner and said about the technology, ''This is for checking out?"

The scanner came to mind because, as the average American worker watches corporate America slash pensions and healthcare, as the average American has seen real wages decline in the last quarter century, and as the average American family has to work harder to maintain the standard of living it inherited, Snow talked about this as if it were not much of a problem.

Of course Snow came to his current position after serving as CEO of a major corporation (CSX) in which his own compensation soared while that of his workers at best stagnated. Yet despite this he calls the current approach an “aspirational” compensation system which can be illustrated by top baseball players getting exorbitant amounts. He still things, according to Jackson that there is plenty of trickle-down money to go around and that this is equivalent of sharing “the spoils of the game.”

When challenged by one member of the board with the fact that the NFL does better at drawing fans than does baseball, that football has a sharing of tv revenues, and that the Patriots have won 3 out of 5 titles without a star system, he basically ignored the local example and answered that the
”aspirational compensation system works pretty well. People will get paid on how valuable they are to the enterprise.”

Jackson then provides the factual description to what has happened in recent decades. He relies on data provided in part by two liberal think tanks, and tells us the following (which I summarize to stay within fair use):

Annual gap between CEOs and workers:
1980 42-1
1990 107- 1
now 431-1

in current dollars:
$11.8 million to 27,460.

And what if average worker compensation had kept up with CEO compensation? If we used only the 1990 figures as a base, that 27,460 would now be $110,136. Or if we looked at those on the bottom, the current $5,.15 minimum wage, which is unchanged since 1997, would be $23.01.

Jackson uses figures from the Congressional Budget Office which show the shift of national income. The share received by the top 205 has gone from 45.5& in 1979 to 52.2% in 2003. But that only partly shows the increasing discrepancy, and hides the real shift:
The higher you go in that top 20 percent, the more the rise in their share of the income. The top 1 percent of Americans saw their share of America's income zoom from 9.3 percent in the last quarter century to 14.3 percent. The top 10 percent saw their share go from 30.5 percent to 37.2 percent.

Before I go on with Jackson, I think Democratic candidates for federal office ought to be hammering on these figures. Yes, I know some of the disparity occurred on Clintons watch. But from Reagan to part way through Bush 41 saw a major increase, and much of the disparity we are now seeing occurred since the last time the minimum wage was raised. And perhaps we can focus on that last point as far as the current President’s comments of Americans not being willing to do some jobs. Employers want a guest worker program so they are not forced to raise the minimum wage,. Heaven forbid that it would cut into corporate profits.

Let me list several other statistics Jackson offers from the two progressive think tanks. Let’s look at corporate taxes.

In 2003 46 of the largest 275 corporations paid NO federal income taxes. During the years 2001-2003 at least 82 of those 275 had one year (or more) during which they paid no federal income taxes). Of course, at the same time CEO compensation was soaring, as the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which he now wants to make permanent, kicked in.

There is no way I can fairly summarize the final two paragraphs Jackson offers us. So I will offer them uncut:
Despite this, Snow went on and on about how corporate governance has actually gotten better. He said ''the marketplace" is the best place to leave the issues of pension and healthcare cuts to workers. ''The best place to leave compensation is set in a market system," Snow said. But as to that pesky pay gap, he said, ''A full explanation is still awaiting a full exposition."

Like the first President Bush, who did not know that checkout-counter scanners had been common in American supermarkets a decade before his discovery, Snow, in the guise of defending the fiscal policies of the second President Bush, talked about waiting for a full explanation of an American condition that for the average American is fully exposed as a betrayal of average aspirations.

Regular readers know that I am a fan of Jackson, diarying about one of his columns at least once or twice a month. I think the man is long overdue for a Pulitzer, an award for which he has in the past been a finalist. Such honors aside, this column is an example of the clarity with which he can present an issue to us. It is also an illustration of why I do not think Snow will retain his current position for any significant future period. If the new Chief of Staff does have the authority to replace cabinet members, I would have considered Snow near the top of that list of endangered incumbents. If he reads this column, Snow might be promoted to number 1.

But changing the faces will not represent a change to the policy. The issue of economic fairness will not be fixed because the position of SecTreas has a new occupant. We should remember that, remind our candidates, and hammer constantly on the economic injustice perpetuated by Republican administrations in general. Most of all, we need to remind people that this administration, and the Republican Congress that has been in power since the election of 1994, are the ones responsible for destroying the aspirations and dreams of most Americans. This inequity can be laid at their feet, and for it the voters should hold them accountable.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The end of the break 

Today is the last day before we return to the normal pattern of the school year. Our classes recommence tomorrow morning. Today will thus be a transition day. Besides finally filing my taxes (electronically - all the information is ready to go), I will have tasks that I must address today.

I want to use this diary to offer a very few thoughts about what I have learned and experienced during this break, because this is also part of what I will carry with me as we return to the business of classroom learning (although what happens in the classroom is actually a very small part of the learning). I invite you to take a few moments and ponder with me.

Normally during a break such as this (11 days this time), I would to a great deal of reading. Of books. Ones I had not had time to address during the intensity of life when school is in session. Often I will read close to a book a day. This vacation my reading was far less extensive. I have completed only 3 books and will complete a fourth with about one hour’s additional reading after all my require tasks of the day - filing the taxes, copying material for tomorrow (with 153 teachers and only 2 copy machines I am not going to wait until then), posting plans for the week on my website. I think it worth explaining why I did less reading. Of books.

Clearly I have been active electronically. I have taken the time to read a great deal more of what others who post at sites I frequent have written. I have also done a lot of my own writing: those who regularly frequent dailykos know that I have posted a diary every single day. Some of those diaries have taken a fair amount of time to compose. Those finding favor -- at dailykos or elsewhere - have presented me with the responsibility of participating in the ensuing conversations, at least insofar as remarks are directed towards me as the author of the piece (I have no responsibility to jump into dialogues on subthreads that may arise between others - thank goodness, since some of these can be extensive in themselves).

Some of the diaries I have posted did not take all that long to write, because they were the product of extensive and ongoing reflection. During break I finally have time to let the pieces come together. Others took a great deal of time to write -- in doing the diary on the book by Roberts, even after I had finished the book, I could not just sit down and compose the piece. I would work for a while, then I needed to walk away, because in writing the diary I was revisiting the book and reencountering all the strong feelings I had experienced when I first read it.

During the past week and a half I have also had time to catch up with some of the work on educational policy that I have been doing. I met with candidates or representatives, I drafted responses to things they sent me, I sent out unsolicited additional things to be considered.

And as part of the various electronic communities in which I participate, I tried to offer support, encouragement, constructive criticism to others, as well as to hear what they had to say to me in response to anything I might have written.

Sometimes I can judge how the communities will react to what I post, other times I cannot. I may have a sense of the importance or the power of a piece, but I do not know how it will strike those who encounter it, for I cannot know in advance what concerns they will bring with them when they explore a site on which I post, and how those concerns, or prior interests, may interact with the words that they encounter. I can be pleasantly surprised at the amount of attention a diary may receive, and I can also be frustrated that things I think valuable do not seem - for whatever reason - to interest a larger proportion of the community.

My wife -- and a few others -- have suggested that I consider gathering some of the things I have written into some kind of collection, possibly seeing if anyone might be interested in publishing them. I have no interest in self-financing, and I have often brushed off such suggestions, arguing that beside the many typographical and other errors (which of course could be corrected in the editing process) that the pieces were written for a specific purpose at a specific point in time, that therefore they would lose impact outside of the context in which they were first presented. Also, often the diary is but a small part of the story - the ensuing conversation often is at least as important, and some of my most perceptive remarks occur further down the thread.

During the break I have gone back and read a fair number of my previous pieces. I have at least looked at every piece in the past year, going back as far as my statement for Pastor Dan as an illustration of why some progressives should not be considered hostile to people of faith.

I am not the best judge of my own writing. Even so, I was surprised as how well many of the pieces at which I looked retained power and effectiveness. I was also surprised -- overwhelmed in fact - at how often people were thanking me for what I had written, or telling me how well I wrote. I even encountered a few suggestions like those of my wife, that I consider wider distribution at least of some of the pieces.

Some of my pieces have received wider distribution. I am part of the Indy-Bloggers movement that was an outgrowth of the opposition to Gonzales as AG. My personal blog is linked to by several hundred other bloggers. Things I write at dailykos and elsewhere are occasionally referred to by those at other sites. I have on my own sent out on several lists links to things I have written, especially on education. One online publication, HumanBeams, has more than half a dozen of my pieces on their site. And tomorrow Jay Mathews will feature a selection from something I wrote in his online column.

As I noted in my response to Maryscott’s apologia (which is NOT an apology), one reason to write is because we want others to read what we have to express. I acknowledge when I post I hunger for comments, for recommends, for mojo, In my case it is in part because I am insecure, that I want some affirmation that what I express is of value to someone besides myself. But it is also because the process of recognition is something of a feedback loop - get some and it increases the likelihood that you will get more. During this break I have come to realize how some acknowledgment that what we write has been read matters greatly, which is why I have encouraged people to leave the author some indication, in some form, that we have read her words. I know I hunger for it, and I have seen how others do as well. As a teacher this has reminded me how important it is to my students to have some acknowledgment at the intellectual risks they are willing to assay, for without that acknowledgment they will be far less ready to attempt anything not guaranteed to be safe.

I do not consider myself wise. When my students ask how I know so much, I remind them of two things. First, I am now almost 60, which has given me much time to learn and to forget many things. Second, I read, constantly. I am always willing to try to learn and encounter new things. That I may have some gifts of either insight or expression would matter little if Idid not keep my mind open and continue to learn, to be challenged.

One reason diary made the connection between teaching and life. For me they are inseparable. As a teacher I know that I learn more from my students than they do from me. After all, I am one of 7 (or in a few cases 8) teachers each has. I may come to the table with more factual information and more procedural knowledge, but that is more than offset by the cumulative uniqueness of each of them. It is not unusual to find those who respond to what I write commenting about me being a teacher. I hope that they will recognize that it is not because I provide information that gives me any effectiveness I may display, but because I probe, challenge thinking, and most of all listen and observe.

Many of you may now be back at work after this holiday weekend. I hope that before you become completely reabsorbed into the possibly mundane patterns of your quotidian existence, you stop and step back. Last night I was watching a Cspan program featuring the author Karen Armstrong speaking at Politics and Prose Bookstore almost two weeks back, and event to which I had wanted to go but for which I had a conflict. I drew several things from her remarks worth passing on here. First, all of the great movements that developed in the Axial age had an element of quest -- that is, there was a need to seek out something of meaning, but that search often was to find that meaning, that reality, in oneself. She talked about how much of the language was not of intellectual knowledge, but of knowledge of the heart. One example is that the word “credo” may actually be derived from the Latin work for heart. A second key point was the common insight of compassion, expressed in one form or another of what we have come to know as the Golden Rule, an idea clearly expressed by Kung-Fu Tse (Confucius) centuries before it appears in Hillel or Jesus. She reminded people that the word ecstasy comes from the idea of standing outside of yourself - being able to stand in the steps of someone else, to examine and evaluate from without, not just within.

I am not completely coherent about this. Perhaps at some point I can revisit. One comment on yesterday’s diary beseeched me for something more Quakerly, spiritual, because of the devastating nature of the material from the book contained in that diary. In referencing Armstrong I am attempting to respond to that request. I am not a Quietist, I do believe in action. But as I age I recognize that the actions upon which I embark before I reflect tend to be far less effective in achieving their putative goals than those that come from a deeper place, where I have confronted important things, and come to recognize my lack of complete insight. In her many years of study and reflection, Armstrong has increasingly come to a place where theological differences are unimportant except as they serve as a means of keeping people apart. There is so much much in common, there are the things that are basic to the human condition. As we continue to our activism -- political as well as moral -- if we can remember that there is far more that connects us than divides us we will neither despair nor will we ever totally write off another person. They have every right to reject what we offer them, and it may be that they way we present, how we offer, is at least in part the proximate cause of our failure to find something in common. If we speak the same to every person it is we who are at fault, because then we are not taking the time to meet the person where she is, and to invite her to a common understanding.

Enough. I apologize for the lack of focus presented herein. I had a few ideas, and I acknowledge they were neither fully developed nor well-organized. As is often the case, I am to some degree writing to myself as much as I am to a wider audience. If you have read this far, I hope I have neither confused you nor totally bored you. If one of you has gained anything, even if an insight of why I am completely wrong, then it was worth the time, the energy, and the electrons for me to share this.

May you have some moments of peace today.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The War Against Truth 

I offer for your consideration today a book which I read this week. It is entitled,
A War Against Truth: An Intimate Account of the Invasion of Iraq by Paul William Roberts, a Canadian who was reporting unimbedded for Harper's, but I warn you the book is devastating. He cites his own experience, provides footnoted information from others, and weaves in appropriate epigraphs.

When I read his last 3 paragraphs, and the final epigraph from the letters of Aldous Huxley, I sat stunned and in silence for several minutes. I then departed the Starbucks where I had been reading, and walked very slowly across the parking lot to my car, incredibly aware of how normal our lives were, how little we have any real sense of what our nation has done to others.

I ask you to take the time to make a brief exploration of this book with me. I hope that you will be provoked enough to read it, to tell others about it, and to be motivated towards whatever action can make a difference.

Roberts was born and educated (in classics) in England, and now resides in Canada. At the time of the events of the book, largely from 2003 when our current escapades in Iraq took off, he was a correspondent for Harper’s. He had spent much time in the Middle East, in Iraq in particular. He knew people in embassies in Amman, and in the government in Iraq. He had once interviewed Saddam Hussein. During the war, after the Iraqi government fell, he actually twice talked, albeit briefly, with Tariq Aziz. In other words, he knew Iraq and Iraqis. Many became aware of his work through the writing he did for the Globe and Mail during and after the main conflict. He was in Baghdad when the US attack began in March of 2003. In the first attack, the house next to where he was in East Baghdad was crushed by flying concrete from an explosion some distance away. We experience with him living through the attacks, the devastation, the human suffering.

In this book, completed in May of 2005, Roberts is able to place all this in the context of the 5 millenia of settlement in Iraq, in what we know as the place where civilization, writing, urbanization, agriculture, all began. In fact, after some very brief introductory material, including an invaluable timeline of Iraqi history, he begins with an epigraph of his own writing for the aforementioned Canadian newspaper. I will offer many selections from this powerful book. Part One is simply entitled “War” and begins (on page 3) like this:
As I write, Baghdad lies in ruins around me. A reddish-orange fog, aftermath of a sandstorm, hangs in the air, mingling with the cordite, sewage, burning oil and fear. Ever few minutes, there are bomb blasts, near or far, the thump-thump-thump of anti-aircraft batteries, and the dull thud of mortar shells exploding. Twice-hit by the so-called Coalition’s missiles in the past twenty-four hours, Iraqi television is back on the air, broadcasting a call to arms for the tribes of Arabia to rise up in Jihad, holy war, and help Saddam Hussein repel the infidel invaders. It is inter-cut with stirring scenes of military triumph in art ranging from the Akkadian to the British Empire. Apart from technology, we could be at almost any time in Iraq’s long, long history …

I learned a lot of important factual information in this book. I had not known that Saddam Hussein and most of those around him had at best an elementary school education (the dictator only through 4th grade). I had had at best a vague understanding of the nature of the still extant tribal structure of Iraqi society. I had grasped only partly the level of destruction we wrought in the first hours of “shock and awe” – where we reduced Baghdad’s public facilities, which included almost every single building identifiable as a government structure except schools, hospitals, and the ministries of Interior and Oil, to smoking heaps of rubble. As he notes looking back on page 84:
In less than 24 hours, 1,500 cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs had been hurled down on Baghdad.

And as he tells us later, on p. 137, after reminding of Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex:
During the first two minutes of the attacks on Baghdad, thirty million dollars in cruise missiles went up in flames and smoke, destroying some fifty billion dollars worth of Iraqi property, little of it with any military functions. Who gains? The arms manufacturers, of course; the oil companies; and the Halliburtons, the Argyle [sic] Groups. This is what Eisenhower meant. When what a company manufactures is missiles – each of which is like a very expensive match; you cannot use it twice – imagine how concerned it will be to prevent war at any cost. When that same company is actually represented in the highest levels of government – well, clearly they should not be. This seems so obvious. I wonder why it needs to be pointed out. More important is to see that it does not have to be this way. Are countries like Sweden, or Denmark, or New Zealand -- ones that do not have military forces intervening in the affairs of sovereign nations – prey to terrorist attack or threat? No, they are not.

Let me offer another epigraph, which appears on page 149, and which is from W.H. Auden, and very a propos of that which Roberts seeks to have us understand:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

I cannot and will not try to fully present to you all that the book covers. It is too rich. It is superbly well written, well crafted. The selections I will offer will give you some sense of Roberts’ skill as a writer, and the few from the many epigraphs I repeat will give you a glimpse of the range of scholarship and understanding he has brought to his reportage and reflection.

I propose from here out to offer you far more of his words, and those of others that he found relevant, and far fewer of my own. This will be long. Read as much as you can, but please read toward the end.

The experience he had of the reactions of other people from other nations as he had flown from Toronto towards Baghdad. He had been in the Middle East for our previous engagement with Iraq, but now no one was for war, and they had negative opinions of George Bush:
I made note of the terms used across half the world to describe the president of the United States: hypocrite, liar, stupid, moron, cowboy, hick, fool, gunslinger, two-faced, warmonger, greedy, Zionist pawn, idiot, evil, dangerous, half-wit, trying to prove something to Daddy, blind and deaf, insane, ignorant, foolhardy, couldn’t pass a grade ten history test, can’t tell the difference between Iraq and Iran, makes Clinton look like a god, thinks Baghdad is two words, the myopic leading the blind, brain-dead, simpleton, a bad Christian, has watched too many movies, inhuman, a zombie, a tyrant, without conscience, lacking a soul, immoral, a greedy scoundrel, and well-intentioned but naïve – this last being the most positive comment made.
-- from page. 21.

Roberts does remind us that at several points prior to 1991 Saddam Hussein was “our guy” for the powers that be in the US, most especially during the lengthy war with Iran. But what he really does is, on pages 38-39, place this in the appropriate larger context:
To say that America’s post-World War foreign policy made a habit of cultivating – or even creating – leaders like Saddam is no exaggeration. Possibly with the model of Hitler in mind, Washington’s covert ops people sought out, as leaders in places for which they had an interest, men would be particularly easy to take down when or if the need arose. The Shah, Saddam, Pinochet, Suharto, Marcos, Noriega, to name but a few, were all propped up initially or placed in power with CIA help; and they were also all corrupt and brutal dictators who oppressed their own people. Their advantage to Washington lay in the ease with which they could be deposed. The mere revelation to a gullible media of their crimes would have the West howling for their removal – which gave Washington the kind of security it needed, however things turned out. Nothing about politics in America is missionary work.

This attitude of generations of Washington insiders is immediately demonstrated by a quote from Donald Kagan, co-chair of the Project for a New American Century (and simply think of the arrogance of the title of the group, and the impact it may have had overseas):
People worry a lot about how the Arab street is going to react. Well, I see that the Arab street has gotten very, very quiet since we started blowing things up.
(also from page 39).

Our increasing militarization of foreign policy has greatly cost the American taxpayer, a point Roberts visits several times. He puts is bluntly in one sentence on p. 34:
Just the amount of increase in the defence budget from 1999 to 2003 is far more than the total spent annually on defence by China, the next-biggest spender.

The end result of what our nation has done can be described in many ways. Roberts is very blunt on the effects of the actions of the current administration. Let me quote from p. 248:
Rather than enhance and enlarge the legacy of good will that America once enjoyed in the world, the Bush II regime has chosen to rather unveil the ugly face of America that many suspected was the real truth behind the PR façade. The criminal attack and invasion of Iraq will now abide as an emblem of this greedy and violent reality. That such shoddy, barbaric thinking can prevail over all of the alternatives available should give all modern nations pause, just as all Americans should look at their current leaders and wonder if these are the best democracy can provide.

The impact of U S actions on Iraq and its people go back well before this administration took office. Roberts wonders if the encouragement of the administration of Bush 41 for those in the N and S to rise up against Saddam knowing we would not come to their assistance, which inevitably meant they would be slaughtered, weakened as a possible force towards disintegration of Iraq, was not a deliberate tactic. Surely he heard things like from Iraqis.

And as he notes on p. 135, the impact of our actions extends through multiple administrations, as does what can surely be considered the lack of sensitivity of American leaders:
During the thirty years his regime ruled Iraq, Saddam slaughtered thousands upon thousands of his own people – all too true. Yet in a third of that time, the U. S. government has slaughtered many times that number of Iraqis itself. It is still slaughtering them. Yes, there is a difference between the two slaughters, and it is this: Saddam killed men – and a few women – who opposed him in some way; America’s victims were and are largely civilians, old people, women and children who just happened to be in the way, Asked, “Do you feel that 300,00 dead Iraqi children is a price worth paying for the possibility of regime change in Iraq?,” Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine Albright replied, “Such decisions are never easy; but yes, I think it is worth the price.”

And we know the deleterious effects of the sanctions, with up to half a million Iraqi children dying because of lack of nutrition, medicine, and the like. But it has gotten far worse since we began to prepare the 2003 attack. On page 356 we read the following:
The poor suffer most, and poor children are the hardest hit of all. Indeed, Jean Ziegler, the U.N. Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food, recently confirmed that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein's rule than they are now. The number of children under five suffering from malnutrition has doubled, from four percent in 2002 to nearly eight percent by the end of 2004.
. And if anything, the situation is far worse now, with many people having no access to potable water, to medicine, to medical care after we have apparently deliberately targeted hospitals in places like Fallujah, a city whose encirclement and destruction was a clear violation of international norms and agreement binding on the combatants and government of this and all supposedly civilized nations.

We are nearing the end of the diary, and the end of the book. I want to go back, to a long epigraph that I have not yet shared with you, before we explore the very powerful end of the book. It is words by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, appearing at the very end of Part One of this book, on p. 168. It is from a poem “Fears in Solitude”, which Coleridge penned in the midst of the Napoleonic wars, in 1798, “during fears of an invasion.” Here are the words cited by Roberts, upon which I ask you to pause and reflect before you go further in this diary. They start in the middle of a stanza, and run to its end:
Boys and girls,
And women, that would groan to see a child
Pull off an insect’s leg, all read of war,
The best amusement for our morning meal!
The poor wretch, who has learnt his only prayers
From curses, who knows scarcely words enough
To ask a blessing from his Heavenly Father,
Becomes a fluent phraseman, absolute
And technical in victories and defeats,
And all our dainty terms for fratricide;
Terms which we trundle smoothly o’er our tongues
Like mere abstractions, empty sounds to which
We join no feeling and attach no form!
As if the soldier died without a wound;
As if the fibres of this godlike frame
Were gored without a pang; as if the wretch,
Who fell in battle, doing bloody deeds,
Passed off to Heaven, translated and not killed;
As though he had no wife to pine for him,
No God to judge him! Therefore, evil days
Are coming on us, O my countrymen!
And what if all-avenging Providence,
Strong and retributive, should make us know
The meaning of our words, force us to feel
The desolation and the agony
Of our fierce doings?


Part Two of the book is entitled, clearly ironically, with one word: “Peace”. Of course we know that one thing still lacking from Iraq, more than a year after Roberts finished this book, is peace.

I will pick up my citation from just after the passage on malnutrition. I am, at this point, pushing the limits of fair use. I will, if my fingers do not fail me, type out the remaining 6 paragraphs of Roberts’ prose as it appears in my paperback edition, spread over pages 356-358, and immediately follow, as does he, with a quotation from the letters of Aldous Huxley – that is how he ends the book, and it is appropriate that I in this attempt to introduce you to the book end in a similar fashion.

As I just did with the Coleridge, I am going to make a request -- that when you finish you do not move, or think, or speak, for at least a minute, and let the impact of the words sink in. Perhaps then you will grasp at least in part why this book had such a powerful impact on me as I completed it yesterday. Then perhaps you can understand why I tell you that you should, as quickly as possible, get a copy and read it in its entirety. It may break your heart, it may anger you, at times it will inspire you. I assure you, it will in some way change you.

Enough from me.

Since 1991, the United States has been directly responsible for the deaths of over one million Iraqi civilians, more than half of them children. They still run daily bombing missions, flattening entire blocks of buildings where resistance fighters are alleged to be hiding, yet were innocent people also live. This is a form of collective punishment, and is illegal under the Geneva protocols. Cities known to be centres of the Sunni resistance have become ghost towns; the worst example is Fallujah, where some seventy percent of the buildings are now rubble, under which bodies still lie crushed. Of the 350,000 inhabitants living there before the U. S. military launched its campaign of terror in which even the quisling Allawi government admitted at least 2,000 civilians were slaughtered, only 25,000 have so far returned to occupy their homes, or to pick through the rubble for whatever can be salvaged of their possessions and whatever remains to be buried of their loved ones.
Iraq is still largely a tribal society, where traditional codes take precedence over everything, including religion. When a brother, sister, mother or father is murdered – no matter why or by whom – these codes dictate that the remaining sons or brothers must avenge the death or else bring shame upon the family. With 100,000 civilian dead, a large number of them killed by American bombs or guns, it is not hard to do the arithmetic and work out where Iraqi resistance groups are getting their recruits. As Time magazine’s correspondent in Baghdad reported late last year, “the U. S. military here are merely acting as wet nurses to the next generation of al-Qaeda terrorists.”
The devastation of Iraq’s cultural heritage by U. S. forces has also continued. The National Museum’s irreplaceable treasures have vanished forever – perhaps one percent were recovered or returned; the library of ancient manuscripts at Ur was looted by U.S. soldiers, who also sprayed ancient scrolls with graffiti; the ceremonial road of Babylon, made from bricks bearing a cuneiform inscription by Nebuchadnezzer, has been completely destroyed by U. S. tank treads; and 2,500-year-old tiles from the ancient city’s gateway were pried out by army souvenir hunters while their commanders looked on. Babylon is a World Heritage Site, so the barbarians are stealing from all of us and from generations unborn. This is also the case with the latest cultural casualty, Samarra’s unique ninth-century spiral minaret, which Omar had once so proudly shown me. It was partially destroyed in a mortar attack after U.S. troops had been using the roof as a sniper position – yet another war crime according to the Geneva protocols, which provide for the protection of historic sites by occupying armies. Omar and his brother Zaid are also believed to be dead now, victims of the city’s siege by U. S. forces last year. The reader may recall that Samarra was the one city ready to welcome the invaders, and Omar and Zaid had freed American soldiers held hostage there. I can only imagine these good men’s final thoughts as the people for whom they had once risked their lives laid waste to their home town.
Whatever happens to Iraq, no American will be welcome there for decades to come. If something good is to come out of all this misery, it ought to be a recognition that, in an increasingly multicultural world, where few nations do not contain large populations of non-indigenous peoples, war and military force of any kind are no longer viable solutions to political problems and need to be removed from the quivers of leadership. In a sense, all future wars will be evil. The wars already waged will forever remain as the most shameful aspects of our communal past, and their lessons must be studied and learned until the end of time. We are better than this now, I believe, and we will need to be in order to deal with the more global concerns that lurk in the shadows beyond time’s bend.
We all live on this beautiful blue and white ball, and the sooner we realize it is our only home the better off both we and the planet will be. There are no unilateral actions in the Third Millennium. Anywhere is everywhere, and the effects from any cause hit us all. I think, too, that America is going to need the world’s help and goodwill sooner than anyone believes is possible. That help would be so much easier to guarantee if Washington awoke from its evil enchantment, remembered its Constitution and once-glorious destiny, and became determined to lead the world in eradicating the scourge of war -- if only as penance for its deeds over the past half century.
It needs only to be added here that the money spent on destroying Iraq could have been used instead to give Americans the kind of health care and education systems that most other civilized nations regard as basic rights, not privileges for the oligarchy. Of course, it would also have been sufficient to permanently end AIDS in Africa and feed for a hundred years every one of the world’s two billion human beings who go to sleep each day hungry.

“Defending democracy” sounds fine…but to defend democracy by military means, one must be militarily efficient, and one cannot become militarily efficient without centralizing power, setting up a tyranny, imposing some form of conscription or slavery to the state. In other words the military defence of democracy in contemporary circumstances entails the abolition of democracy even before war starts.

— Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

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