Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bill Tremblay's "Brief Encounter"

    In response to my cat poem "here and now" - here -  Bill sent me this poem.  It is from a book called WALKS ALONG THE DITCH which will be published, spring, 2016.


I step westward along the ditch
on snowshoes. Winged clouds stand 
pearl white above the foothills.
 A year ago they blazed orange.
Fire swirled like Chinese dragons
from lodge pole pine to ponderosa. 
Forest rangers say it's the hot 
summers, the pine-bark beetles that

burrow into the trees and kill them.
 The sky shifts from blue to chartreuse.
Silence. A breeze in flocked box elders
brings flakes down on a moving
 hump of crystal, a frosted apparition 
of fur. We look at one another
a moment, then turn south where the ditch
plays out into stubbled corn fields.
Ahead I see her black nose sticking out
from a juniper. She must’ve crossed ice,
 run behind, past me, a ghost, calm
with sharing my space, my interest in
her face. Then she vanishes. 
A chill ripples in my gloved hands 
as she writes herself there 
where I hold her after-image
like a part of myself I hardly ever see.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Poem: clouds

gun shot gray clouds



hanging mountains

scraggly pines go     ing

cold on my walk-around


like smoke

the red collie pulls

of a Parisian winter

the gray Seine


or silver/gray teargas shells by a Wall

into the brush

in Nabi Saleh

where are the jews

of the thirties

or the three year olds

gunshot gray

from Syria

beyond any


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Further thoughts on hunger strikes and assassinations

         Perhaps the most important point in the post on the University of Missouri here was the first: a placing of Jonathan Butler's unusual and courageous hunger strike in the context of the long history, starting with Socrates, of individual, nonviolent actions against the crimes or harms of one's own people.  Socrates went to his death for questioning in Athens. Asking questions is the starting point of both philosophy and more importantly, decent democracy.  In such a democracy, critics of prevailing policies - ones which are often tyrannical or McCarthyite, that is, pursue a particular interest rather than a common good - can instigate public discussion and deliberation.  What Socrates did, thus, fought for a democracy 

    In this context, the claim that Socrates sought to be a "philosopher-king" in the sense of a sole ruler, influential in Al-Farabi, Martin Heidegger and Leo Strauss, is, in fact, a misunderstanding of a satire from Plato's Republic.  That proposal  reflects the interests of a soldier, Glaucon.  It is then read mistakenly and without internal evidence, back into Socrates's speech at his trial. See here and here.


      Tyrannical Athenian democrats sought to silence Socrates with a death sentence.  And yet,  though having broken a(n unjust) Athenian law against questioning the gods - many of the stories of the gods include crimes against humans, for instance, Zeus's rape, in the form of a swan, of Leda - and being unwilling to accept a penalty of not asking, Socrates accepted the rule of the laws overall.  He understood that the decision of the assembly to put him to death was an unjust application by "men."


     As John Rawls saw, in A Theory of Justice, sections 53-59,  Socrates's defense in the Apology and his willingness to go his death in the Crito paradigmatically illustrate Rawls's fine definition of civil disobedience within a democracy: (nonviolent) resistance to an unjust law within an overall context of fidelity to the laws.

    In 1908, Gandhi published his own translation and commentary on the Apology in Indian Nation, a newspaper he edited in South Africa.  He called the six part series  "Story of a Soldier of Truth."  Gandhi saw himself as a citizen of the British Empire - a subject of laws to be equally applied to each person  -  and not, at the time, as a democrat.   Though resisting imperialism and discrimination, he was, in this respect, less insightful than Socrates. Gandhi emphasized the grand courage of Socrates's willingness to do what is right - Socrates's quaffed the poison, he says, "like a sherbet"; yet, oddly, Gandhi does not understand the fundamental issue of questioning in a democracy (I am the first scholar to comment in detail on the translation - see, for example, here and here).


     As an American involved in the civil rights movement, I had seen mass nonviolent resistance, as, for example, to Bull Connor in Birmingham, as part of a broad movement from below.  I had not taken in the aspect of Socrates, so realized in Gandhi's hunger strikes, of taking individual actions against the outrages (or what one regards as the outrages) of one's own people.  For while hunger strikes are best as part of a collective struggle, for instance, among women campaigning justly for suffrage like Alice Paul against President Woodrow Wilson in 1917, a predecessor of Gandhi - see the contemporary New York Times article "Miss Alice Paul on Hunger-Strike" here - or among prisoners, tortured, detained for years without trial and frequently innocent of any crime, held by the United States at Guantanamo, they are often solitary acts.


      Now Gandhi saw himself as the moral leader of a movement, one against the British (to transform both the Indians and the British), but sometimes against his own movement.  He exemplified hunger strikes as a method of protest.   In the strike wave, for example, which Gandhi supported upon his return to India in 1921,  police in a village murdered strikers; some strikers murdered policemen.  Gandhi then went on a hunger strike to curb his own movement, which lapsed for nearly 10 years.


        Even more strikingly, the British policy of divide and rule had broken a united India asunder, at independence, creating India and Pakistan.  In India, Hindu supporters of independence brutalized, murdered and chased out Moslems.  Exemplifying his internationalist rule for satyagrahis - if you are a Hindu, defend with your life a Moslem attacked by a Hindu mob - Gandhi went on a hunger strike to stop this.


     These are not only solitary acts.  They are solitary acts which nonviolently appeal, against the crimes of the moment, to the conscience of a people.  They are, in this respect, like Socrates's solitary appeal at his trial (Socrates did not try to create a mass movement, though he had philosophical followers). Comparatively, if one meditates only on Martin Luther King's "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" and American civil rights experience, one can miss this decisive Socratic/Gandhian aspect of nonviolent resistance.


      Yet Socrates found, to his surprise, that his words nearly resulted in a majority vote for acquittal among the 500 Athenian citizens present at his trial.  Hunger strikes appealing to conscience in a divided community can have a significant political effect.  In Missouri, for instance, the racism that charged the atmosphere was no longer, morally and legally, acceptable.  Black students were harassed daily, and yet Jonathan Butler's strike could crystallize a movement, galvanize broader moral action.


     In referring to Gandhi's hunger strike against Hindu murderers of Moslems, I edited out a sentence about the assassination of Gandhi by the Hindu fanatic, Nathuram Godse, and a connection of this to today's Hindu fanaticism - murdering 5 Moslems for supposedly eating a cow in Gujarat -  and the noble opposition to it by Arundhati Roy and others.  Tom Rowe wrote to me:

    "Hi Alan: Good essay.  Just one paragraph is misleading---as you know, Gandhi was assassinated by an extremist Hindu rather than dying during a hunger strike.  Warm regards, Tom"  (h/t Paul as well).   

      Here is the initial version (I italicize the two sentences I cut from the final version):

     "First, Jonathan Butler, a graduate student, went on a hunger strike to the death about it.  This is a profound example of what Gandhi learned from Socrates and enacted, going to his death, by fasting in support of Moslem lives against murderous Hindu mobs at the foundation of India.  The monster who assassinated him is a predecessor of the mobs in Gujerat who just slaughtered 5 Moslems for allegedly killing a cow.  For Gandhi's translation of Plato's Apology, see here and here.  

      (Arundhati Roy sent back an award to the racist government of Prime Minister Modi last week  - a government which failed to criticize/egged on these murders - and spoke eloquently against it. See here.)

      Exemplifying this classical form of nonviolent protest, Jonathan Butler courageously acted against such oppression.  Lost among publicity about the football team, it was his fast unto death - look at the photo of him above being taken to a hospital last Monday - which was central both to a larger nonviolent movement and great changes."


     What Jonathan Butler did was a part of a growing, but at the time not overriding movement against racism at the University of Missouri.  His action uniquely galvanized support from the Racism Lives Here encampment/protest to a boycott by the football team, black and white.  Hunger strikes can sometimes play, as Butler's did, a unique role in making people realize the seriousness of both a public moment and the need for everyone to stand up/join with a movement to defeat grotesque injustices.


     If one takes in less sustenance than strikers often do, hunger strikes can result, pretty quickly, in physical decline and even the death of a striker.  Jonathan Butler did, evidently, risk his life to fight for justice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The University of Missouri: 12 points about defeating racism on American campuses

Graduate student Jonathan Butler is helped to a car by students and family members, including his father at right, as he is taken to the hospital after ending his hunger strike after the resignation of University of Missouri System President Timothy M. Wolfe on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. (photo: Robert Cohen)

Graduate student Jonathan Butler is helped to a car by students and family members, including his father at right, as he is taken to the hospital after ending his hunger strike after the resignation of University of Missouri System President Timothy M. Wolfe on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. (photo: Robert Cohen)

    Here are 12 points about the recent struggle over intense racism with administration toleration/support/"blindness" at the University of Missouri, worth considering by subsequent movements.

     First, Jonathan Butler, a graduate student, went on a hunger strike to the death about it.  This is a profound example of what Gandhi learned from the death of Socrates and enacted, going to his own death, by fasting in support of Moslem lives against murderous Hindu mobs at the foundation of India.  For Gandhi's translation of Plato's Apology, see here and here.  

      Exemplifying this classical form of nonviolent protest, Jonathan Butler courageously acted against such oppression.  Lost among publicity about the football team, it was his fast unto death - look at the photo above of Jonathan being taken to a hospital last Monday - which was central both to a larger nonviolent movement and to great changes.


     Second, Chancellor Tim Wolfe who resigned had an exchange with black students who asked him to talk about what structural oppression is.  This is a man who when racists sprayed cotton balls all over the Black Student House, allowed it to be characterized as "mischief" and not, as black students rightly said, a hate crime.  

    We are talking about the University of Missouri, all of whose buildings starting in 1839, were erected with slave labor. (Payton Head, the student body President, underlined this).   We are talking about the University of Missouri in which no black student can walk across campus at night and not, very likely, be greeted with the "n-word", in which  Cynthia Frisby, a black faculty member in Journalism, speaks about her long experience with this, including from some other faculty members.  See here.

       Wolfe told the black students: "you should get your act together."  A corporate "educator" who affirms his love for the University but cannot name and oppose extraordinary racist harms, needed to go.


    Third, last year Students for Mike Brown formed after the nearby murder in Ferguson of a young, unarmed black man for walking in the street.  The spirit of Black Lives Matter! has now been projected widely into American society and in the light of nearly monthly racist police murders, begun to lift the still frequent aura of lynching and segregation (see the monuments and flags in the South).  The emergence of this movement from below  is an extremely hopeful development in American democracy (a salute to the 3 women - Patrisse Cullers, Alicia Garza and April Torneti - see here -  who founded this organization....)


     Fourth, one of the crimes was a rape by football players of Sasha Menu Courey, a Haitian/Canadian swimmer.  No one was punished.  She was pushed out of school and committed suicide (In that case, Chancellor Wolfe did reach out to the family....)

       Jonathan Butler knew her and said that what happened to Sasha was part of his motivation.  Her parents wrote him in support - see here.   This movement needs to oppose all forms of patriarchy on campus.


      Fifth, at Yale, black students have similarly protested against a fiercely racist atmosphere (actually, a thousand students including many whites demonstrated there a week ago Monday as well).  Partly this is due to an ignorant comment against political correctness by Professor Emily Christakis, the wife of the "master" of Silliman College, and a black woman turned away from a Fraternity's Halloween Party, being told "we only admit white girls." See here.  Of course, administration bureaucracy is easy to mock, but no one is a racist as a matter of "creativity," and restrictions about this are appropriate.  


    On the issue of freedom of speech - something that we all should understand the moral roots of and defend in almost all cases - as a negative paradigm, those who dress up as Klansmen doing a lynchingin a society where racism today means mass unemployment, horrible schools, being on the front lines in war and in exaggerated numbers in prison, police shootings of people for walking while black, brown or red, and being subjected to frequent demeaning in University settings, incite harm. This garb and patter instigate/legitimize racist violence and oppression. 

     Such incitement is not protected by the general idea that each of us should freely, without government or other harassment, be able to speak our minds.  For a regime of freedom of speech requires equal freedom of speech.  It depends upon mutual recognition among persons of different conscientious or comprehensive views (John Rawls) and, thus, bars doing grievous harms to others.  An overwhelming plurality of views, but only those views that do not wilfully demean others, are justified.

     Racist murder - "making light" of it, let alone threatening it (see below on what the students have been greeted with at Missouri the last week - if you are black, you can only go in certain areas or out at certain times on the four campuses of the University of Missouri - and you will see how grim the physical/mental intimidation by racists is.

    Unlike the American, the English and European understanding of freedom of speech rightly bars people from dressing up as Nazis.  But racism - the secret of divide and rule in hierarchical societies - runs deep in Europe. Swastikas are widely present in anti-immigration demonstrations and violence in Europe as well as scrawled in excrement at the University of Missouri on a dorm wall.  Rules alone, without sustained mass, nonviolent, anti-racist actions from below as at Missouri, will not eliminate it...


    As both a pragmatic and a principled matter, it is better to expose racists through nonviolent protest - consider after the murders at Mother Emmanuel, the nonviolent coming together of the community in the South against the Confederate flag (it came down through student protest at the University of Mississippi  two weeks ago...).  And it is better wherever possible to fight racist speech with more freedom of speech and mass nonviolent resistance.

        But the underlying principle of mutual respect, nonetheless, does not protect those who incite violence against others - and in America, advocating racism is at least as incendiary as "shouting fire in a crowded theater," which is an important Supreme Court exception to the general idea that citizens need thorough and free - that is, uncomfortable - public discussion of issues...


     Of course, no such thought licenses bizarre intimidations of non-racist speech, for instance, threats to and pushing at a campus photographer taking photographs at the celebration after Chancellor Wolfe resigned.

       Worse yet, the publicity surrounding this incident in the corporate media distracts  attention from fighting to change the racism at the University of Missouri.  As Charles Blow put it in the New York Times yesterday, those victimized by racism need safe spaces, but one can't turn an area of public celebration on campus into such a space: 

         "For instance, it was not wise or right for student protesters and a faculty supporter at Missouri to try and establish a private space, a media-free safe space, on a public one.

     Indeed, public justice advocates have often used media exposure to great advantage in their struggles.

      However, one must condemn the forces of anti-black oppression just as vociferously as one condemns black people’s responses to those forces, including when those responses extend beyond the boundaries of social acceptability and decorous propriety.

     Otherwise, one’s qualms are an overture to pacification and the propping up of the status quo.

     You can’t condemn the unseemly howl and not the lash.” See here.

     Sixth, my university - the University of Denver -  has taken steps to further diversity.  But it is nonetheless true that a bar right at one corner of it (University and Iliff) has a statue of the former racist mascot "Denver Boone" - named for the Indian killer - out front to appeal to an irredentist movement among some hockey fans.   Five years ago, Simon Moya-Smith, an indigenous journalism student, was accosted, his first day on campus, by two white students who screamed at him: "you don't belong here."

     This is a nationwide problem. College campuses throughout America will not be safe places for diversity unless there is serious anti-racist movement from below. 


     Seventh, the protests at Missouri, Yale, Ithaca College and Claremont-McKenna were accompanied last week by demonstrations on some 100 campus, notably the University of Texas, the University of California, Rutgers and Portland State, for a $15 minimum wage for work on campus,  an abolition of current student debt and a demand for tuition-free public universities.  See here.  These events show promise of such a movement.


       Eighth, President Wolfe was out to make money from football and to invest even more in it this fall, stole the money from graduate students medical coverage. He also barred doctors who worked with Planned Parenthood on campus. See here. A broad movement for One University, involving a diversity of just anti-patriarchal causes, developed out of the struggles of  Concerned Students 1950 (see here for the story of  Gus. T. Ridgel,  the first black student at Missouri) and Racism Lives Here (Stephanie Walker, its leader, can be heard here)..


     Last week, black football players, who had gone to see Jonathan Butler and feared for his life, talked, often in tears, to the coach, Gary Pinkel.  Pinkel agreed with their cause and told them he would support them in whatever they decided to do.  A week ago Saturday, they announced that they would not  practice until Wolfe left.  They were joined by the white football players, and then by the faculty association and the student government...See here.  


      Ninth, President Wolfe was a corporate man - large and soulless corporations increasingly shape so-called American priorities - not an educator.  But each cancelled football game would cost the University $1 million.  Wolfe makes half a million a year; Pinkel, the football coach, four million.  As Dave Zirin suggests, the balance is clear.  Pinkel's principle, real enough - listen on Democracy Now here - is linked to power in the University.  Two days after the black football players spoke out, Wolfe resigned.


      Tenth, Zirin knows the history of activism in American sports.  He mentions the football players at the University of Washington who refused to take the field in the early 1970s before an announcer read their statement against the US aggression in Vietnam over the loudspeaker...

      Dave spells out some of the concerns of student athletes who often do not get to be fully students or at Grambling, an all black school, protested last year against a physically hazardous weight room...If students and athletes come together, many injustices on campus could be righted.  Listen here.


    In fact, blacks are only 7% of the student body at Missouri - giving racists a chance to crawl out from under rocks/scream in the dark  - but 2/3 of the football players.  Such an alliance can shake up racism at the University much faster than the Trustees appointing a Chancellor committed to diversity - although a good chancellor can, as my university shows, make a huge difference.


       Eleventh, as Zirin also emphasizes, news about the Missouri team was broadcast regularly on ESPN (with, as an echo, two New York Times stories on it),  People who read only the sports pages would have been alerted to the protest (I read the sports page first in the Denver Post...).  This sparked conversation, revulsion, education and rethinking among many.

     Further, professional and college football and basketball cannot exist without black athletes; most fans follow and root for them.  It is but a step from this to understanding what the degradation, the treatment as nobody, they often get, as at the University of Missouri means.  In the Denver Post article  below, Shane Ray, a star defensive end for the Denver Broncos and graduate of Missouri, says rightly this protest is likely to spread to other campuses.  Cameron Wolfe, the reporter, is black, and both understand, as most of us might, that at last, racism must go...


     Twelfth, in the old days, jews were often not welcome on campus. During World War I, President Abbot Lawrence Lowell restricted jews at Harvard to 15% and when my father taught for fifteen year on the economics faculty, no jew could be promoted to tenure.  Promotion for jews became a possibility after World War II.  Even after the war, stereotyped remarks about jews in the mid-West were frequent (and the German American Bund membership - pro-Hitler - extended to John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Eisenhower, and Allen Dulles, his CIA director).  As part of divide and rule, that racism was added to the racism against blacks and others.  All racism is no longer welcome. We should make sure that all forms of special discrimination against and harms to students go the same way...



Black students report online threats targeting minorities just 24 hours after the institution’s president resigned following protests against racism.

The University of Missouri increased campus security late Tuesday after state authorities announced they are investigating online threats targeting minorities just a day after the university’s president resigned following student protests against systemic racism.

Officials took security measures after two posts threatened violence on the messaging app Yik Yak, which allows people to post anonymously.

The first social media message read: “I'm going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.” The second said: “Some of you are alright, don't go to campus tomorrow.”

Police were on alert 24 hours after the university's president Tim Wolfe resigned following protests over his failure to deal with racial issues on campus.

The university has already called off classes tomorrow as they fear for the students safety, local press reports.

On social media, civil rights activists and bloggers expressed outrage and disgust at the threatening messages.

Civil Rights Activist and Journalist Shaun King posted a screen shot of the threats.

“When white supremacy is threatened, this is how it acts out,” he wrote on his social media account.

Reggie Noble, a St. Louis resident , posted on his facebook page that groups of white University of Missouri students were terrorizing Black students and shouting “white power.”

The local Columbia Tribune reported that it’s not just Black or ethnic minority students who feel threatened, white students also felt intimidated by the racially-charged threats of violence.

According to the paper, Elizabeth Hurst, identified as freshman at the university, said she might not attend class Wednesday because of the threats.

"I'm afraid for my peers," she said. "This shouldn't be happening — it's 2015."

"I will never feel oppression because of the color of my skin," Hurst, who is white, told the newspaper.

Another freshman, Sam David, told the Tribune that she felt scared to walk the campus at night.

"At first I was scared for the ‘Concerned Student 1950,’” David said, saying that he fears the people making threats "may go after students no matter their color."

The Concerned Student 1950 student group on campus that lead the activism against former President Tim Wolfe for failing to address the racial harassment on campus. On Wednesday morning, they posted on Twitter that threats further show the need for a struggle to change what they say is “systemic racism” on campus.

The university’s campus Twitter alert attempted to calm fears on early Wednesday morning, and assure students they were safe, urging them not to “spread rumors.”

Black students at the institution have long complained of a weak responses by school leaders in dealing with racism on the overwhelmingly white campus. Black student leaders have denounced several incidents and have complained that white students openly use racial slurs.

This content was originally published by teleSUR here.


Shane Ray of the Broncos speaks about racial issues at Missouri

The call to action about racial issues could spread to other campuses, Ray said.
By Cameron Wolfe
The Denver Post
POSTED:   11/11/2015 06:37:57 PM MST | 

In the past week, the University of Missouri football team took a stand. It demanded the resignation of school president Tim Wolfe for what it said was failing to properly address what it saw as a pattern of racial injustices on campus. It threatened to boycott the remainder of the football season. More than 700 miles away, Broncos' outside linebacker Shane Ray paid attention to the drama unfolding in Columbia, Mo.

Ray was born in Missouri, went to high school just across the state line in a Kansas
City suburb, then went to the University of Missouri. None of what has happened was a shock to Ray. He's only a year removed from what he said was a volatile community in terms of racial tension.

Ray said he keeps daily contact with Tigers' players. A few told him they would not go to class Wednesday morning in fear of being targeted because of their race. Two Missouri men were arrested Wednesday for making threats on the social media app Yik Yak.

Ray told the players their number one focus should be safety.

"Every athlete's experience was a little different," Ray said. "There were some
situations where being a black student on campus, you were looked at different,
 you were treated differently."

Ray spent the past four years in Columbia. He said there were many situations when he felt uncomfortable and unwanted. But, he said his situation was better than many of his fellow black teammates and students. Because he was a star football player he said he was often shielded from some of the hurt others absorbed.

Ray was about to begin his redshirt junior season in August of 2014 when Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black male, was shot by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, an hour and half away in Ferguson, Mo., an incident that sparked riots. Wilson was acquitted of all charges by a grand jury [the Post could not include a fair account of the State Attorney MacCullough’s deliberate, racist malfeasance...See here].

Ray said he kept in touch with his brothers and cousins, who lived in the area, to
make sure they were OK.

"Being 22 years old, I can't imagine how it was in the '60s. The things I've seen when I was at Missouri has opened my eyes to like, wow there still is injustice in this world, there are still people in this world that don't like each other because of color," Ray said. "All you can hope is that things change."

The call to action about racial issues could spread to other campuses, Ray said.

"This is the time. Missouri has opened up the door," Ray said. "That if (racism) is a
 problem, it can be addressed and change can happen."

With the boycott threat, the Missouri football team showed it had the power to
influence change. The president and a chancellor resigned within 24 hours after the
protest, though neither mentioned the strike as a reason for their departure.

"There's a lot of time where people are like is racism really there," Ray said. "This
makes it so you can't ignore it anymore."

Ray said he was proud of his former teammates for standing up for something that
they believe in.

"A lot of athletes feel like the NCAA has so much control," Ray said. "As a football
program you're bringing in millions and millions of dollars for your school, and there's a lot of things that you don't receive or you're not treated how you should be. To see how quickly, when the football team decides, 'We are going to cut off your revenue,' changes are made. To see how much power they have and to use it, that's pretty powerful."

Cameron Wolfe: 303-954-1891, cwolfe@denverpost.com or @CameronWolfe