Real people suffer

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

My Facebook posting today.

Usually, not always, I shy away from mentioning politics on Facebook. Please tune out, if you prefer. Over on Fox, which is generally the friendly chat platform for politicians who use the pro-life slogan, they’re starting to talk about ending the social distancing very soon, and as they say, likely letting elders die as a result, in order to protect American wealth. (I don’t actually see why the plan would work, by the way.)

I don’t understand why a “pro-life”-chanting national political party could stomach this line of thought, but that national party is almost always uncritically in favor of, for example, our country’s military actions overseas, so the pro-life slogan is hard to take seriously when spoken by that party’s leaders.

Few of the party leaders support a military draft, crudely taking advantage of the military service tradition in lots of American families while avoiding the wide, democratic public discussion that possible declarations of war cause when the whole country is at risk of being called to serve.

That’s a crass manipulation on their part, but no more crass than the party’s well-known perfection of gerrymandering to avoid thinking overly much about the opinions of voters. These politicians do a very fine job of making government look a bit like a democracy while paying less and less attention to what that should mean.

Here in Indiana, for example, my US House member almost never visits places where she would run into Democratic voters. Some but not all of these weaknesses, failings, and manipulations are shared by both national parties.

Anyway, the national Republican Party uses the words “pro-life” as part of a morally incoherent grab-bag of tricks and tools whose focus is power. Nor will most of these leaders criticize the President when he opines hatefully to his rallies or when he doesn’t bother to get the basic facts straight when discussing a deadly international crisis on TV. For reason after reason, when the national Republican Party remains in power real people suffer and die.

Well, if you have read this far, thank you for doing so. I am not going to argue about any of this here—doing so feels unhealthy for us all. If you’d like to argue, please do NOT do so here or in private messages—everyone can read your political thoughts on your own Facebook stream. Thank you.

End of Facebook posting.

PS. Don’t get me started on the national Democratic Party…

Jury duty

February 28, 2020 Leave a comment

The twelve of us got off to a good start. We discovered some points of common ground – for one thing, we joked about wishing we weren’t on the jury. We also shared the goal of completing the task, and we were all relieved to discover the case was brief and didn’t provide very many ways to disagree. One of the jurors had served on a murder trial a few years earlier. She said that it had been difficult and interesting, and telling us that set a proper tone for the work at hand.

Everything at the courthouse was formal and ceremonial in a way that was just right for the serious work being done there. The judge kept us well-informed during the entire trial. “Folks,” he’d say, and then he would explain to the jury what would happen next. I came to respect his careful approach, and I was happy to help re-elect him the following November.

The prosecuting attorney presented a well-organized case that took us step by step through the events. Strategically, he held back until near the end the fact that the defendant had been convicted on related charges twice before. The defense attorney was strategic, too, focusing on the one thing that could win his client an acquittal. Did she know she was cashing a bad check?

If she knew, she was guilty; if she didn’t know, she was innocent. The jury’s job was to figure out what was in the defendant’s mind when she walked into the bank with that check. We especially considered the defendant’s own testimony. I remembered when they brought the check over in the courtroom and she looked at it as a person might look at a small poisonous snake. It was not hard to see the gravity of the work we were doing and the impact it might have on her life. In a little under two hours we were able to reach a unanimous decision.

As foreman of the jury, I filled out the verdict form, signed it, and carried it into the courtroom with my fellow jurors. Soon the clerk took the paper from my hand and carried it across the room. The judge read the verdict, then said that it was signed by the foreman, and then he spoke my name. I felt the weight of our guilty verdict a little more deeply just then.

The other juror had been right. Jury duty is, like some of the best things in life, difficult and interesting. I was grateful to have a chance to talk seriously with a group of well-meaning people about something of substance. On jury duty I saw that it is possible to cross lines that sometimes divide our society, lines like class and race, and come to an understanding through deliberation. That was jury duty’s gift to me.

Called to the front

December 16, 2019 Leave a comment
Gordon Henderson, likely in September, 1944. From the Henderson page on the 1/26/2012 Internet Archive copy of the site.

In the years immediately after World War II, a young man named Gordon Henderson wrote an unpublished novel based on his experience serving in the 82nd Airborne Division from the late summer of 1944 to the end of the war. A member of his family has told me that the novel runs closely parallel to the letters he sent home during those months. Last night I reread the typed pages about the first couple of days of the Battle of the Bulge. At that time, the Division was in reserve, behind the fighting lines, recuperating from the Market Garden battles.

The chapter begins late on December 17th. The main character, George, and his fellow privates are sharing rumors–which they call “latrinograms”–about the Division suddenly making a big move. Lights are on at the officer’s temporary headquarters building late into the night. A big car marked with the insignia of a high officer arrives to join in the secret conversation taking place there.

The privates consider the possibilities. The Division might return to England and prepare for another major airborne mission, a brutal and terrifying prospect that would, at least, begin with a couple of months away from combat. But stirring the Division suddenly, in the middle of the night, for this kind of move makes no sense to them. Still, they plainly long for those remembered and imagined months in England.

A command comes out to pack up all the gear, supplies, and ammunition. By morning the Division will be in trucks and on the road, heading for unfamiliar towns with place names soon to be in the world news. George, the main character, is an artillery spotter, as was Gordon, the author. By afternoon, their convoy encounters streams of traffic fleeing the front. Looks like the whole U.S. Army is leaving Belgium, except for us, the privates observe, ominously. The trucks roll toward the front, towing their artillery pieces. In the back of each truck, a jumble of men sleep as best they can leaning against each other on and among the jumble of supplies.

As you can see from this brief summary, Gordon Henderson was a good storyteller.

Death panels vs. death squads

June 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Death squads work under cover of darkness, kidnapping and killing, robbing people of their lives and inspiring terror among the people.

Death panels have official sanction to take and ruin lives. They meet in government buildings with Orwellian agendas posted at the door.

I had thought that the Senate committee crafting the new health care bill was a death panel.

But to the degree that citizens are demoralized, broken in spirit, by a new health care law, I was wrong.

The Senate committee is a death squad, operating in darkness, stealing peole’s lives, spreading fear and destruction across the land.

Or so it seems today.

Truth driven underground, voices rise up

June 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Society drives a portion of the truth about itself underground, and people create an alternate pathway for that truth as best they can. Both of those ideas are worth studying. How does a society like ours silence and drown out voices, stories, facts, understandings, truths? And how do people find a work-around, and with what kinds of success?

Shorter: Our society drives the truth about itself underground, and people create alternate pathways for that truth as best they can. How does a society silence and drown out voices, stories, facts, understandings, truths? How do people find a work-around? With what kinds of success?

The silence of the citizen

June 20, 2017 Leave a comment

A little theory about the weakness of our democracy.

Silence is the basic mode of a citizen, largely unallied with others, having no regular civic audience, skilled in no form of public address, possessing no reliable stream of information or one so contested and poisoned and vexed as to be more problem than aid, susceptible to cynicism or despair or indifference or fear every moment that is not spent laboring or consuming entertainment or tending the beautiful or bare walled garden of the private life.

Watching the Trustees at work

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Summary: The university’s Trustee governance structure works on a management model that doesn’t seek a lot of input from students, faculty, or the voting public. 

For the first time I attended all the open or public* sessions of the Trustees of Indiana University over the two days of their June meeting, held this time on the South Bend campus. Much good work was introduced and approved there, including new buildings and renovations of older buildings, improvements to programs, that sort of thing. There was an admirable, positive spirit of public service throughout, and I was pleased to have witnessed it.

As a faculty member, I noticed, though, that faculty voices and roles were not very much in evidence. (I think faculty spoke for about ten minutes over the course of the two days of meetings.) Thinking further about that, I noticed that student voices, though present, were also not much involved through most of the two days. (There is, though, one elected Trustee who is a student, as required by the structure of the governance of IU, and that Trustee seemed very capable. That Trustee was, however, perhaps among the quieter members of the nine-person group.) Thinking further, I realize that the general public was not a speaking presence at this meeting, though I believe there are sometimes protests at these sessions.**

What does that mean? Impressed as I was by what I saw, I walk away realizing that this is a management system and not, say, a collaborative system or a democratic system.
Whether or not the university’s future would be improved by the voices of faculty, or students, or the general public, this particular two-day meeting did not look very much in that direction. The university is managed, it seems–often, I thought, managed well***–but managed in a way that minimizes the input of three vital groups: students, faculty, the voting and tax-paying public. If those groups want to have an impact on the governance of the state’s leading public university (sorry, Purdue), they can’t rely on the normal format of a Trustees meeting to make that happen. Fair enough, and point taken.


*The Sunshine Laws, as they are called, for Indiana, leave room for the Trustees to have some private meetings, and two sessions last week were closed, each amounting to about an hour. Possibly, though, these were just the lunch breaks for the group–not sure.

**There was a microphone stand set up in the public seating area, but there was never an invitation to those attending to use it. There was also a press table, often occupied, but no invitation for the press to ask questions during the two-day meeting either. I don’t know if this is typical or not.

***One item for future consideration, mentioned in passing, seemed quite wrong-headed to me. It was, however, the kind of management-oriented proposal that will not be thoughtfully considered unless those largely-missing voices are heard, I believe.

The decay of the open Web

November 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Hossein Derakhshan@h0d3r –has just published an essay that is very specific about the nature of activism, free speech, hyperlinks, and blogging, and also about the stakes for all of us in the way the Web has evolved away from the openness we knew about a decade ago. Like other important pieces of writing, his essay implies a theory of healthy and unhealthy society. A healthy society is a Web-like weYour Voiceb of voices and institutions and texts with hyperlink-like connections that thinking, feeling people make and remake together. The tools in our possession make this easier or harder or impossible to do. A former political prisoner recently released, the writer has stepped out of a time machine, in effect, to discover that the necessary tools have eroded while he was away. Please consider “The Web We Have to Save” and write about it. He considers the responses and his follow-up thinking on his website, too.

PS. A few days later, for the 25th anniversary of the first web page, I added this on Facebook: The ability to publish without a printing press, to link to the words of others, to collaborate with readers and writers around the world, to respond on your own terms and in your own time to important events that you have witnessed, to affiliate yourself with kindred spirits you have never met, to innovate with technology so that other forms of creativity have new ways to grow, to reach for a more meaningful democracy…all owe a debt on this anniversary. And all at risk of being taken back to one degree or another.

PPS. And early in the new year Dave Winer continued this discussion with “It’s time to care about the open web.”

Indiana’s “So That Happened” Moment

April 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Facebook thinks NPR-affiliate WVPE hosts a spam website, I guess, so I have to ask you to click this link to read or hear the essay on Indiana’s walk of shame this spring.

The text and audio are here–please click.

Progress continues

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Progress continues

The effort to make a writer’s Facebook postings also save (or update) to a WordPress blog is moving ahead. Dave Winer’s Little Facebook Editor is testing the concept, and this post was composed on the current version of that software.

I like this approach a lot. Why should a writer contribute to a web service like Facebook without having the ability to save a copy of any serious pieces to a backup site or even another public site? If it is difficult to save your web postings, then a company like Facebook is essentially urging us to throw them away after a quick use. But what we write on the web can be more useful and more important than that. This new software is working out the practicalities of a better way.

If you want to give it a test drive: