#1160 – Peter Barus on politics; plus, an opportunity to view the entire 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

NOTE from Dick Bernard: Peter commented after last weeks post on Swiftboating Hillary Clinton. His always perceptive remarks are below. He writes from Vermont. His previous posts can be found here.
In addition, recently I received the link to all of the plenary session talks at the outstanding 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis. The Forum was outstanding, and I was privileged to attend it. At minimum take a look. The Forum was especially great this year.
In the political discourse effectiveness is measured against what we’re after in the first place. Are we seeking to support a candidate by defending their “narrative” (meaning, the carefully focus-grouped, workshopped and spin-doctored story saturating the corporate media channels)? That’s defending the story, not the candidate. Are we seeking to hold a candidate’s actions and words up to the light of proven fact? Usually we test for consistency of word and deed, and leave fact out of it. Are we hoping for some break in the timeworn, corrupt and entrenched “system” that might finally, for once in all of history, provide for an actual election that is actually free and fair? And results in the elevation of an incorruptible and honest leader? Well, we do almost universally profess to be in favor of exactly that.
The candidates know this terrain very, very well. Bernie Sanders (my Senator) knew from the start that he would fail to be nominated, much less elected: he knows how things are done in America. But it was a kind of reverse-Reagan action: he hoped to shift the center to make an election include values and voices that are always marginalized. Clinton is of course a master of the Way of Washington, and has achieved real and incontestable stature the old fashioned way: she is more “pragmatic” (ruthless and cunning) than all the other aspirants to the Oval Office dare to be. Saving only the Republican Nominee. As for that celebrated personality, his expertise is in fighting by his own rules: on his turf, with him as referee.
In a fight, the first thing is to choose the ground. The Republican did this years ago, and has owned it completely. We may think it is a stupid choice, an insane choice, an immoral choice; but it is the ground on which the candidate stands and hurls his challenges. And it is going to be very tricky for the Democrat to fight him on some other battlefield than the one where he is already fighting. Consider that to hold a debate, the venue will have to be TV, and that’s the ground the Republican has staked out. Clinton’s ground, of international relationships, deep personal understandings with and of world leaders in their political contexts, the management of continual wars around the globe, and the staunch backing of Wall Street – all that is already on TV, and out of her hands. Her ground is part of his ground. Welcome to my world. Said the spider to the fly.
The second thing in a fight is never box a boxer, or wrestle a wrestler. Somebody is going to have to fight a Reality TV host. On Reality TV. That’s two fundamental principles of warfare that he has, and she doesn’t, going in.
The real assets in this campaign are not the money, or the power-brokers, or the smoke-filled rooms. Not the people you insult, or those abandoned by the American Dream, or disparaged for loving Jesus, or too proud to take a government handout. No Minorities or Special Interests matter here. Nor the battle-scars of the top diplomatic office in the United States Government. And most certainly not your “gender”: Lucretia Borgia? Imelda Marcos? Maggie Thatcher for heaven’s sake? What’s sex got to do with it?
No, none of that. What really matters now is attention. Human attention, focused not on the candidate, but on that candidate’s pointing finger, moment by moment. What do they point at? Is it the moon? A reflection? Which candidate will garner the highest ratings while giving us the finger? We will hear all about the type of fake nails on hers, and the exceptional length and girth of his.
There is this funny thing about the human brain. What it perceives it also acts from. This happens before the intellect is engaged. All the intellect can do, after attention has been seized, is rationalize the accompanying behaviors. And there are two basic reactions to the Reality TV candidate’s performances: apathy or outrage. And both of these human responses stoke the fires of his campaign. Outrage for or against, it doesn’t matter at all, the campaign balloons. See, it’s not a “for or against” switch: it’s an On/Off switch. And the light goes on either way while we’re frantically fighting over who gets to flip the switch.
Meanwhile, one candidate trumpets ever more crazy bigotry and xenophobia, and outright lies about economics and his penis; and the other candidate, already trapped in the same discursive space with the opponent’s genital dimensions, sounds like a teacher from a junior high school civics class, going hoarse trying to yell above the noise of excited teenagers as the bell goes off. “DO. YOUR. HOMEWORK! THERE. WILL. BE. A. TEST!”
Whichever candidate’s chosen ground becomes the scene of the big showdown, the real issues will not get any airtime. Instead, one candidate will throw any reasonable discussion into chaos, and the other will flounder helplessly grasping at straws to regain some fraction of public attention. That fraction will hear defensiveness and righteous disdain. And that triumphant, derisive laughter. And the pundits will analyze each nuance of foreign policy, the cost of a wall on the Mexican border, and and whether Clinton killed Bin Laden to silence him about their relationship. But most of the viewers will have passed out by then, after the cathartic relief of seeing the Strict Father put the Nurturant Parent in her place.
Never mind that the former Secretary of State has conducted war after war in precisely that way, sowing chaos. With the Air Force, the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the FBI, the NSA, and the CIA, and organizations that fund aspiring dictators, like the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute. Pragmatic, utilitarian (non-partisan) tools of State. And her opponent has no experience whatsoever with actual invasions, airstrikes or drone-killings; he just uses metaphorical weapons, like the Big Lie, the verbal sucker-punch, the innuendo, the question-as-fact, the straw-man, the begged question, the categorical denial, the stonewall. And of course, mockery and derision. Tools of Reality TV.
It’s happening on TV. The President is elected on TV. We’re in the domain of attention, remember. In this campaign, a shooting war might get attention, except what’s new about a war? War is just background white-noise now, to most Americans. If it comes up at all it will be to blame the former Secretary for losing it. Whereas a good one-line chant like “lock ‘er up!” will cut to the bone.
But. There is hope. We are not just stimulus-response machines. Your attention please: it is your attention. You can direct it elsewhere. Your attention is yours alone to give. Don’t let them snatch it away. Make them work for it, at least. Take ownership of your attention. Talk with people who are like you, and not like you, face to face. Ask questions, and listen to the answers. We could, theoretically at least, elect a President in an election, and not Reality TV.
Then when those politicians point at something, you can tell whether that’s the moon they’re pointing at, or just the reflection in a mud-puddle.
from SAK, in England: Thanks Mr Bernard,
Mr Barus’ comments about choosing the ground for a fight brought to mind part of the reason the UK voted to leave the European Union. The nationalist far right politician Nigel Farage chose the ground to fight on, the same ground Mr Trump has chosen: immigration. The EU means free movement of EU citizens among the member states – it does not mean borders open to all & sundry as the poster Mr Farage hung on his bus seems to imply [hordes of apparent non-natives coming into somewhere]. Furthermore the UK is nowhere near “Breaking Point” as far as welcoming European citizens who wish to live and work there. It seems truth is the first casualty not only of war but of political campaigns as well.
POSTNOTE: Pertinent and timely: Today’s Just Above Sunset, “Under the Volcano
SECOND POSTNOTE, a column in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, the headline says it all: Threats replace political dialogue at State Fair. The exact same example the writer uses in her article was used by some guy I had never seen before out in small town North Dakota in March, 2014, commenting on Hillary Clinton outside a building. At that time, 2 1/2 years ago, Hillary Clinton had not been a politician since being appointed Secretary of State in 2009, and when she was a politician, she was simply one of 535 members of the United States Congress. Hatred without benefit of fact is still easily transmitted. The guy who accosted the woman in the op ed would have been a good candidate for the ruffians who enabled the Third Reich in the early days.

#1145 – Peter Barus: A Reflection following tragedies: I lost friends to violent murder last year…

PRENOTE: In the wake of Falcon Heights and Dallas last week, Peter sent the following reflections. We agreed I would post this on return from an out of town trip. Dick
Been a long time since. It’s always good to read your writings. Feel free to post this response. You have a way of inspiring people.
Here is all I really know, summed up by the late peace activist, A. J. Muste: There is no way to peace. Peace IS the way.
I lost friends to violent murder last year. No firearms were involved. A baseball bat and a sword and a can of gasoline were found to have been used in the killings.
My late friend happened to be the most highly trained martial artist I have ever known, and I know this because I helped to train him for 25 years. I would have said it was impossible for the person accused of this multiple torture-murder to get close enough to this man to hurt him, and certainly not without dying in the process. But he, or most likely they, got to the wife and child first. In the 19 hours that followed, duct-taped to a chair, in a final act of courage my friend got on the phone, and in a calm and matter-of-fact tone, gave his cleaning staff the day off. He saved their lives.
As to “Security”, the family lived within about half a mile of the Vice President of the United States, so among the first responders on the scene after the fire department were the Secret Service, the ATF, the FBI, and the D.C. Police. The big house and the exclusive neighborhood were as highly protected by high-tech systems and personnel as it is possible to be.
Now, to the point of this awful story: “security” is not merely a myth, not only a delusion. Actually it is a stupendous con.
It’s a goldmine. A product that exists only in the customer’s brain. This would qualify it as art, except its purpose is not expressive of the human spirit, it is insidiously detrimental. And I bet you have never heard of a starving Security Expert.
America is not hysterical. I don’t know any hysterical people. There is hysteria, though: it’s all happening on the corporate entertainment feed, which is committed to selling, selling and selling. They sell products, and they sell anything that enhances sales. The selling itself is a product they sell.
To boost sales, they sell fear. That sells a lot of drugs, alcohol, politicians and real estate. Ever notice how much cars look like those white-armored Star Wars robo-troops lately?
All of that sells wars. And the wars sell more weapons than ever. And now the weapons are coming home, along with the awful damage done to human beings. And who’d a thunkit, more fear.
All “security” is false security. Airport security is ineffective at providing safe travel. Its effectiveness in other areas leads one to think it has another purpose entirely from that which is foaming from the media feeds every day. And of course that would be the creation of – no. still more fear? Yes.
The function of police is law enforcement. Not “crime prevention”. They actually cannot do much (legally) before a crime is committed. If you know somebody intends to hurt you, the Police will tell you to call them if they do. If that person says they are going to hurt you, call the police, and they will arrest the perpetrator for the crime of “terroristic threats”. A different crime, but a committed one. See, they only are supposed to respond after the fact.
Like anybody, the police can commit a crime, and there is some doubt these days whether they are treated equally before the law – they need to be treated more equally, but instead the supposed danger they are in at work is invoked as extenuating circumstance, and a lot of them seem to be getting away with murder.
Police are seen in two completely different contexts, depending on where one lives, and one’s physical appearance. Human beings see other human beings through a lens of expectations born of mythology. And that mythology, again, comes from the corporate entertainment industry. Thus some people run to, and some run from the police, when bad things are happening; and both are entirely sensible in this behavior. It is reality in both cases. The same cops exist in two completely disparate worlds. That certainly complicates the conversation in the entertainment feeds, where more than one idea is way too many.
The hundreds (!) of mass shootings we hear about are far are more likely to be the result of badly managed prescription antidepressants than “Radicalization”, the utterly fictional infectious plague we are being sold nowadays. The drugs in the dead shooters are not mentioned, we’re told, out of respect for their privacy. Eventually the pharmacology does emerge, and from what I have read of those since Columbine, it seems almost every shooter was on something with a warning label about violence and suicide. Since research into this might impinge on profits in some quarters, don’t look for it on your “news” channel any time soon. But it well could be that the entire mass-shooting phenomenon could disappear overnight, if a relationship could be established between these savage acts of violence and the things we put in people’s brains to make them peaceful.
Getting rid of guns could only help; but I don’t think it would begin to address the root causes. While we’re waiting for some progress on that, we can attack the natural habitat of terror, though, that’s simple enough: better distribution of wealth, and a restoration (or maybe implementation for the first time ever) of electoral integrity for starters. And free public education, remember that? I got that. That’s how I learned to think this way.
Fear and violence form a cycle that goes around and around until some other influence or friction stops it. This means you have to stop being violent, and/or you have to stop being fearful, if you want to end the cycle. There are no guarantees in this life, but those are the access points, and they are both within reach of every person, because they arise with perception, and perception is language. Violence and fear are both interpretations of the world we think we see. They may be the life-blood of Capitalism, but I’m willing to take a chance on that…
It might help if we could apply something else when we get fearful. Respect might do. We have bears and packs of coy-dogs here in Vermont, so we are careful with the garbage and the bird feeders and so on. We’re not careful because we’re afraid of these creatures: if it were so, we would shoot every last one. But we recognize their part in life. We’re careful because we respect them. We respect fire, and weather events, and floods. We respect people who are not like us.
And by the way, woe betide the rookie officer who shoots a bear in a trailer park after somebody’s open garbage can! People around here really get upset about that.

Peter Barus: A Talk By Amy Goodman

NOTE: Peter is a longtime great friend from rural Vermont. He is an occasional and always welcome visitor at this space. On May 22, he had an opportunity to hear journalist Amy Goodman in Troy, New York. His comments follow, with his permission.
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Peter Barus, front row, left, Oct 23, 2002, Mastery Conference, Annandale MN.

Peter Barus, front row, left, Oct 23, 2002, Mastery Conference, Annandale MN.

Peter Barus:
Amy Goodman spoke last night at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, NY, a lovely little old converted church. Arriving early, I strolled around the block in this economically by-passed neighborhood of old houses, grand old churches, and grinding poverty. A local church still retains its original Tiffany stained glass windows, and the Troy Music Hall is world-famous for extraordinary acoustics. I found that the Sanctuary for Independent Media is very active in the immediate community. At one end of the block is a little park, with an outdoor stage, built by (and commemorating) local artists, craftspeople and community groups. The back of the stage is a wall of intricate mosaic made by many hands. There was chicken being cooked for the $100 a plate dinner, and while I was standing around, a little car parked, and out stepped Amy, with two or three friends. We all walked around the little park while one of the Sanctuary’s leaders explained the history of this little patch of green in the city. There is a community garden at the other end of the block, and inside the Sanctuary is a 100-watt FM radio station that broadcasts Democracy Now! along with music and community affairs programming.
After supper Amy spoke to a packed house in the high-ceilinged former church. Soon everyone was listening as if sitting across the kitchen table with Amy, as she reported on the 100-city tour she is completing with her book.”Democracy Now!: Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America” by Amy Goodman, David Goodman, and Denis Moynihan. Her speech covered almost the last four decades of peace, justice, civil rights action, from an eye-witness perspective only she can provide. The connections, the people and events, touched my own life at more points than I’d ever realized. Her stories are moving and the raw truth of them is immediate and inspiring. They seem to have a common thread, of ordinary people acting in admirable and selfless ways, without a moment’s hesitation, in the face of systematic oppression, violence and injustice. And it seems that this is how human beings normally act in such circumstances – media depictions to the contrary notwithstanding.
One important message is that the media have almost no connection to direct human experience, and politics is covered in proportion to political ad revenues. Punditry demands no actual knowledge of the facts. This is why, for instance, we rarely hear what Sanders actually says, much less in his own voice. Instead we are treated to speculation about violent “followers”. This major Presidential candidate has been “vanished” from the airwaves. The night the Republicans ended up with a “presumptive nominee”, that individual got coverage of an empty podium at one of his mansions, captioned “to speak soon!” while his rivals’ concession speeches, some Hillary sound bites, and zero mention of Sanders droned on. Sanders was at that time addressing an audience of tens of thousands in Arizona, by far the largest actual news event, and the cameras were pointing at an empty platform.
Amy brought stories of a real and very large movement, the same one we are constantly told ended successfully when Obama was elected, It is the current generation’s Civil Rights movement. Occupy Wall Street is part of that, Black Lives Matter is part of that. The many anti-war demonstrations that go almost totally unreported are part of that. The Sanders campaign is part of that. And the real, and unreported, question today is whether the corporate media will manage to keep enough of us distracted, resigned, apathetic and cynical while the forces of blind capitalism complete the looting, militarization and ultimately the destruction of our only planet.
The corporate media are simply ignoring that ubiquitous and vital public conversation. The stakes seem high. As I listened to Amy speak, it became clear that it’s not about choosing “sides” in some mythical epic struggle between good and evil, war and peace, much less “Republicans” and “Democrats”; it’s about discovering one’s own commitment, and whether it is to mere personal avoidance of pain, or to aliveness and possibility for all people, everywhere. To climbing the mythical Ladder of Success, or being of some actual service in making a workable world while we’re in it together.
Amy Goodman is a walking demand that we struggle with this question, for ourselves. Get with “people like us, and not like us,” she says, and express your own experience honestly, and listen honestly to theirs. Instead of accepting the false dichotomies and slogans and polls, endless polls, that pour out of the media echo chamber, take your part in the conversation that matters.
from Dick:
Great post from Peter. I most resonate with the last paragraph.
Each time I hear the conversation about who has the power I think back to a thirty years ago talk, about 1987, about “Referent Power” – how much we have, and how ineffectively the left uses it. Referent Power? Here. Scroll down a little ways. Developing positive relationships with someone who sees some things differently is crucial to making positive change. Relationships are not easy. They are crucial.

#842 – Dick Bernard: An Evening with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall; and watching a family wind down….

The “filing cabinet” on the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout is here.
Thursday, February 11, 2014
We attended the first post-Lock Out Concert at Orchestra Hall on February 8, 2014. This was an evening of immense emotional energy, with the Orchestra led by the father of Orchestra Hall, Maestro-Emeritus Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. The entire program, eight pages, is here:MN Orch Feb 7-8 2014002 This concert, and the one to follow this weekend (we attend on Feb. 15) seem to be “bridge” concerts between the 488 day Lock Out and a to-be determined future of this “family”, which is the Orchestra Management (MOA), the Orchestra itself (including the Conductor), and we in the Audience.
The Minnesota Orchestra is the essence of the perfection of a team sport: excellent players, outstanding conductor and an engaged audience make the team. The team was cooking on Saturday night.
On Feb. 8 all was in resonance.
I hope the good feelings continue, but….
I didn’t write immediately after the concert as the last three days have been devoted to family matters in ND. My Aunt is, as I write, near death in a fine nursing home. She is 93. In the next room is her 89 year old brother. Neither ever married. They are the last living members of Grandma and Grandpa’s family of 9.
There’s was a musical family, as country families often were. Their Dad was a school-trained fiddler and had a small band for local dances. To this day, Vincent is an excellent singer. Many of the kids and descendants of my grandparents are musical.
For their entire lives until 2006 Vince and Edith lived and worked together on the pioneer farm built by their parents, and when heart problems ended the farm career for my Uncle in 2006, they moved into Assisted Living, and then into the Nursing Home in nearby LaMoure ND. [Note 9:20 a.m. Feb 12: Aunt Edith passed away at 1:05 a.m. The funeral is Saturday. We’ll have to miss the Saturday concert, 5th row center. Anyone interested in the tickets at cost? Inquiries welcome. dick_bernardATmeDOTcom.]
My Uncle and Aunt are very familiar people to me. Often I would spend a week or more at the farm in the summer, helping out with whatever.
They were like all families: connected, yet disconnected. They had different personalities and different skills and different interests. They had their resonances and dissonances.
In other words, they were like the rest of us, regardless of what relationship we might have with some significant other.
With all the magnificence of the evening inside the hall on Saturday night, my thoughts following the concert have more focused on what recovery from the long lockout will ultimately look like for the big “family” that is the Minnesota Orchestra community.
Most of us with any seniority in living a life in any “community”, be it marriage, employment, brother and sister (like Vince and Edith) etc., etc., have at one time or another experienced peaks and valleys. I don’t need to be specific. Think of some instance where you, personally, experienced some huge hurt, followed at some point, and for some reason, by reconciliation.
The reconciliation is its own temporary “high”.
But it is a very temporary high; and to maintain and rebuild and improve requires a huge amount of work and compromise by all parties to have any sense of permanence at all.
So it is going to be with the three-legged stool that is the Minnesota Orchestra: the musicians/conductor, the management, the audience.
If last weekend, and the coming one, are considered to be the end of the past, everyone is sadly mistaken. They are only the beginning of the beginning of a new era with the Orchestra, and everyone will be on edge as this progresses…or not.
There can be no “business as usual” if this enterprise is to succeed long term.

In Saturdays program booklet, I was most interested in the words on the “Welcome” page (page two), pretty obviously written by committee consensus, and I read with even more interest page seven, about Beethoven’s Eroica. Whoever chose Eroica to highlight the first concert back in Orchestra Hall probably chose this work intentionally. Read especially the second paragraph of the descriptor, and the last.
The power of the Minnesota Orchestra to come is going to depend on a true spirit of working together by all three legs of the stool: orchestra, management, audience.
We’ll see how it goes.
And Peace and Best Wishes to Aunt Edith, and to Uncle Vince, in this time of transition for them both.
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Uncle Vince "fiddles" with his Dad's farmhouse fiddle, Oct 1992.  Grandpa had a country band and learned violin by use of sheet music.

Uncle Vince “fiddles” with his Dad’s farmhouse fiddle, Oct 1992. Grandpa had a country band and learned violin by use of sheet music.

Aunt Edith's flowers August 1994

Aunt Edith’s flowers August 1994

The Busch family 1927 "PIE-ann-o" (Vincents pronunctiation) August 1998

The Busch family 1927 “PIE-ann-o” (Vincents pronunctiation) August 1998

Aunt Edith August 4, 1989, in the old farm house.  She is at peace: July 20, 1920 - February 12, 2014.

Aunt Edith August 4, 1989, in the old farm house. She is at peace: July 20, 1920 – February 12, 2014.

#835 – Peter Barus: Syrian Peace Haggles.

Too infrequently, good friend Peter Barus weighs in on issues from his home in Vermont. Agree or disagree, his postings always make sense. Here’s his latest, about how negotiations work, as he learned it in West Africa, and how it is in many places, but not so much in the U.S. Peter always has interesting perspectives.
The big news the other day was that the “Syrian Peace Talks” were a spectacular failure, because the belligerents were taking intractable, incompatible positions, loudly insulting each other, and giving Ban Ki Moon and our poor John Kerry a hard time too. It may no longer be so these days, but I think there are still traditions in play here that most of us here in America don’t understand.
I though back to my youth in a West African country, where there were no Wal-Marts or Home Depots or Ikeas. We had two ways to get stuff: go to the market, a vast, stinky, sprawling, brawling, noisy, colorful assault on the senses and sensibilities of we newly-arrived expats; a total multi-sensory delight, in other words. Or, the traders would come to the door.
Word got out before we actually arrived at our new home, and a line of bicycles festooned with baskets waited patiently as we unloaded and found our bearings in the pleasant, shaded, stone-walled and asbestos-roofed house. Then some mysterious signal or change in the pheromones in the air occurred, and goods were spread all up and down the gravel driveway and onto the verandah.
There were incredible bargains. Not just bargain prices, but the actual process of bargaining. We had been instructed briefly in this art and science. We had not been prepared for the theatrical lengths to which these savvy gentlemen would go.
The rule was, you, the purchaser, take the price you are willing to pay, and divide by three; the trader, meanwhile, jacks up his price by a factor of at least three; then somebody starts the game by making an offer.
The first offer elicits dismissive laughter, and (did we but know) a long diatribe concerning our ancestry, our education, and the congenital deformity of our foreign brains. Then there is a counter-offer, which we greet more sedately, but with total disdain, both parties now clearly abandoning any possibility of a deal, and going off to other prospects to start other battles. But everyone knows this is just for show.
Returning to the (actually) coveted item, if the trader has not already told you in English about each of his children, all of their diseases, and the sizes of their feet, which fall between available shoe-sizes, making life very expensive, and causing them all to go hungry or barefoot, he soon will. You hem and haw and finger the goods, and make critical remarks about their provenance and quality. You point out the threadbare sleeve, the base of the antique statue where a little chip exposes new wood, the shabby way the bits of glass are set in the tin-can bezels on the dagger’s hilt, the mangy appearance of the camel-skin purse/drum/wallet/hassock. The Kente cloth “Made in China.”
Eventually, at a pace sure to entertain for the entire afternoon, both the trader and the customer get within shouting distance of a price. At that point, another customary feature comes into play: the “dash.” There are other cultures with other words for this little extra something thrown in to sweeten the deal. In New Orleans it is called “Lagniappe,” as in “por lagniappe.” A Baker’s Dozen. A scarf to go with the handbag, some earrings to go with the necklace. An extra dollop of dessert thrown in. When the price is nearly met, this little extra bonus is displayed, and arrayed delicately with the goods in question. It is now time to be tipped reluctantly over the brink, and accept the final offer. Then is a bond of eternal friendship forged, never to be put asunder, until you ask the price of that other thing over there.
Then, everyone walks away happy, having beaten the other down shamelessly, having taken them for a ride, and having made them like it. Often it has been a community effort, with three or four total strangers chiming in, offering opinions, even making side deals. I once bought a lovely Tuareg sword with a broken watch and a few shillings, in the course of which deal the watch was sold twice to other people, including a repair man, and I never found out what the owner of the sword actually got paid, but everyone was ecstatically happy, and I managed to avoid incurring the wrath of the tall blue man.
I have been through this all around this world, in Africa, India, the Middle East, Europe, even England. It is a perfectly civilized and rational way to do business, almost anywhere but the United States of America. Here, prices are marked, and carefully calculated to meet profit margins, not to be altered by mere employees. After living in other lands, it seems rather boring and a bit belittling to all concerned.
Back to the big Syrian Peace Debacle.
It is a miracle that the killers of what, a hundred and thirty thousand people? – have now gotten together to divide up the spoils, which as I read it, is the only way the real victims – women and kids and elders mostly – are ever going to get some relief. But that’s what this game is now, and it is being done in the traditional way. Outrageous claims and laughable offerings are thrown down at the beginning, true. But this only establishes that (a) there is a deal being made, and (b) that both sides are going to move about halfway from their positions to the middle of the now-established continuum of acceptable bargaining room.
Americans are not considered smart enough to handle this, by our own media. Besides, they need to sell us the stories, not just tell them. So now what we have is one show for the East, and one for the West. Also, Americans are so incapable of enjoying the process that our national legislatures are thoroughly useless. We only understand the word, “compromise,” in its negative aspect, as in “a compromising position.” There is no sense of the joy of haggling here. In the East, nobody is happy with a deal unless it is a hard-fought and hard-won haggling session, after which the real party can start.
If the Syrian Peace Talks are not allowed to move through the stages of haggling that the antagonists’ respective cultures and upbringings require, the alternative is truly awful to contemplate. These are, after all, on all sides, the people responsible for the incredible slaughter that is still going on in Syria. Because it is a proxy war to a great extent, the haggling will be allowed, or interfered with, by the real antagonists, for their own purposes, and probably many more people will be murdered or displaced. Hopefully the talks will go out of the spotlight now, and maybe something can end the killing.
Interfering in a haggle, by the way, is very unseemly, and derided with cries of “Not your water!” by onlookers and bystanders, of which there is always a crowd when the haggling gets good. Maybe this is the Big Picture, and our media are just part of the idle crowd of shouters. I hope so.
POSTNOTE from Dick:
Peter’s words are particularly relevant, in my opinion, because we Americans tend to have a rather parochial, and unusual idea of what “haggling” (bargaining) is. In most of the world, our method is pretty unusual, not at all normal, and this has been so for a long long time.
When I was a kid, back in the 1940s, let’s say I came across an extra buffalo nickel, just burning a hole in my pocket. (I was not from the “penny saved is a penny earned” school). I’d go into the local store and see what I could get for my nickel. There was no haggling, there. If it was a nickel, a nickel it was. Cash or no deal.
That is how the “American” system works. I need a pair of socks, and I find it, and the price is marked, and that is what it costs. That’s how we do it.
Of course, there are variations: Pawn Stars, American Pickers and Antiques Road Show, etc give slight made-for-tv adaptation on the norm.
I’ve seen “haggling” on a couple of trips to Haiti, and it is a hard adjustment for an American like me.
But I’ve had the good fortune of sitting in on good tough collective bargaining sessions here in the States as well: scenarios where employers and employees come together to try to strike a bargain on wages, benefits and working conditions.
There is a strong element of “haggling” in good American bargains between Union and Management. One side starts here, the other there. Both know the general destination some months down the road, but the ritual is the same as described by Peter. Sadly, only a few who comprise the Union and Management bargaining teams experience the benefits of the haggle, among which are the elements of listening and assessing and relationship building for the longer term. (The worst example of a bargaining process was the recent attempt of Management to break the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Union beginning with non-negotiable intractable demands ending with a 488 day lockout. Finally, that too ended with a bargain, which I think was fair…but why 488 days of attempting to break the union? In our own relationships with other countries, that kind of dynamic has played out most dramatically, in my view, in our relationships with Cuba (since 1959) and with Iran (since 1979). Our inclination to want dominion and control over others is our Achilles Heel, in my opinion….)
If a bargain succeeds, regardless of how bitter it might seem, the two parties come out winners in the longer term. That’s what I hope happens with the haggle in Syria and other places.
There were many “best” bargains that I can remember. None of them were easy. They were a process, and if both parties respected the process, even if there might be a short strike to conclude the ultimate deal, both parties and the surrounding public were the better for the haggling. I know, because I was part of the team at many tables.
Experienced negotiators know this.
Unfortunately, most public members do not.
Thanks, much, Peter, for the seminar!
COMMENTS (see additional comments in the “responses” section of this blog)
from John B:
Interesting POVs [Points of View]. In school districts I think there are alternatives, optimally if there is mutual respect, trust and transparency. Unfortunately, these are often in small quantities.
Response to John B from Dick B: Of course. We both worked in School Districts. Even when there is already a well formed “family unit” with well defined community rules/roles – community, teachers, administrators, etc. – there are still problems and a need for negotiated solutions which reflect the needs of each. How much more complex this all becomes when you are dealing with different communities, cultures, values, etc.
Toss in the United States habit, over the years, of using factions of people to divide against each other for the ultimate advantage of the United States, and the problem of negotiating becomes even more difficult. This has played out in many places, famously in Iran in 1953, for instance.
In Dec 2003 – Feb 29 2004 I happened, by accident, really, to witness what in reality was a U.S. sponsored coup against the democratically elected government in Haiti. Our hands were all over this change in governments, and the people on the ground know this….

#758 – Peter Barus: Exercise won't defeat the endocrine system…

Note: Peter Barus is a long-time and great friend (and writer) who writes occasionally from rural New Hampshire. His personal website is here. Once before Peter has posted at this blog. You can find the post here.
Peter Barus:
Exercise won’t defeat the endocrine system…
This is a book review, and a heads-up about our relationship to the famous Obesity Epidemic. It’s not just obese people who are in danger.
I’m not into food fads. I’m not on any diets and never have been, save a brief flirtation with veggies that was really a flirtation with a girl who was into that, about forty years ago. I am, however, a three-decade practitioner of a Japanese martial art, with myself and about two hundred other people as experimental subjects, and rigorous physical training as laboratory. I read a lot of books, mostly on how our brains work, a work in progress. All this is to point out that what I want to say here is not without some long, hard thinking and solid experience, for what that may be worth.
Ever since my adventure four years ago being temporarily paralyzed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, the workings of the body have been even more of a fascination. From striving for perfection in a martial art, I now had to strive to move at all normally. Slowly the full function of arms and legs returns, and sometimes not completely.
The other day, walking beside my neighbor Leon’s hay-baler (to catch the ones that miss the wagon when the catapult flings them), the legs seemed to need very conscious attention, what with the terrain, the machinery, the windrows, the numerous real dangers to life and limb. My body felt sluggish and heavy, my legs seemed to lag just a bit behind the brain’s demands for agile locomotion. I was uncharacteristically short of breath.
Then something shifted, and the smell of hay, the sky, the sighing trees, and the whisper of the seventy-year old two-cylinder tractor going by – the glorious afternoon! – were all I knew. A lot of one’s experience of living is patterns of habit; the legs did fine when I forgot them; the brain handled all the chaotic processes going on around me as we got the hay in before the rain came.
But that was a little wake-up call: at sixty-five, things are changing. Cataracts are starting to form. Joints are starting to ache. I’m getting old. -er.
In the bi-weekly martial arts class I teach in town, my middle seems to be intruding more. Touching the toes is more difficult and less successful. In general, energy seems to fade in the middle of the morning. And this year my training schedule and student population has doubled. More exercise, less strength and endurance? The doc says I’m healthy as a twenty-year-old. Except for a slight cholesterol elevation, for which she suggests I go on statins. Statins?
I don’t eat more than one organized, sit-down meal a day; the rest is grazing, breakfast cereal, three cups of coffee, maybe a sandwich around two, and the meal is supper, often pasta, sometimes soup and sandwich. Meat dishes maybe twice a month, usually turkey or very lean local beef or venison. We’re talking fresh here. The next one is probably walking around in the back field.
My Instructors, sober and reliable gentlemen all in whose capable hands I have placed my life more than once, recommended a book: “Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It,” by Gary Taubes. One of them has lost sixty pounds in two years and has kept it off. One has lost forty in a year. Both say they eat bacon and eggs for breakfast and steak for dinner, as much as they please.
I wasn’t worried, but those blood tests do say if I didn’t get the numbers down there could be real trouble. I don’t look overweight, and maybe I’m not. Still, clearly it’s time to pay attention.
My doc suggested reducing the fat in my diet…
I bought the book.
According to Taubes, who is a science writer, and not peddling a diet fad, nutrition science lost its way after WWII, partly from attrition in Europe, and partly because a few popular American doctors were good at promoting themselves and the simplistic view that weight and obesity are a simple matter of “balancing calories in versus calories out,” a misguided application of the First Law of Thermodynamics. Taubes points out, with numerous citations of medical history and rigorous clinical studies (as distinct from many un-scientific ones), that there is no cause-and-effect there; to say fat is a result of overeating is like saying a room is crowded because it’s full of people. Of course fat people take in more energy than goes out! But what causes this? Instead of examining this obvious question, the medical establishment turned to advising people to stop eating so much (reduce intake), and get more exercise (burn off calories). Nobody has ever been able to show that either of these remedies works. (Quite the contrary, and I am living, though anecdotal, proof. Good enough for me!)
Taubes points out that for two and a half million years humans ate almost nothing but animal fat, and the species thrived; and further, that refined carbohydrates – sugar, flour, grains, starchy tubers – show up in the human diet only in the last .5 percent of human existence, when we started getting all these chronic diseases. And this isn’t his opinion, he’s reporting on hard science. He names names. You can look it up.
Fat is a system, like blood, bone, skin, the heart and lungs. Its function is to act as a kind of expansion-tank or battery, storing extra fuel when we eat, and releasing it when we’re not eating. This is how the body keeps blood sugar – the stuff the brain runs on – precisely regulated, as it must be. Insulin is the regulator. And this is not boom-and-bust: it is a continuous, minutely-balanced flow, more like breathing or pulse than the movement of the stock markets.
Or like this: as was once explained to me by a man named Piccard, whose brother made the first balloon ascent to the edge of space: when a helium balloon goes up, the gas expands; so it goes up faster. If you vent too much gas to level off, you lose altitude, and more you lose, the faster you fall. You have to throw a handful of sand out, or vent some more gas, to maintain level flight. The important thing is to be very close to the ground when you run out of one or the other, or you augur in. Balloonists operate with tea-spoons of sand and tiny puffs of gas to avoid gaining any deadlly momentum upwards or downwards. Normally this is how our bodies use fat.
When the insulin we produce can’t control the extreme changes in sugar levels of today’s typical carbohydrate-heavy diet, the pancreas must take up the slack by secreting more and more insulin.
And no amount of exercise or fat-free dieting can affect this vicious cycle. Contrary to almost universal belief, exercise will not take off weight. I know, I am an expert at exercise. It is not related, anymore than drinking coffee is effective at sobering up a drunk person: they just become a wide-awake drunk person. A fat person who exercises may become a very strong fat person. Their physical wellbeing will still be in serious jeopardy.
I have known several people who attained very high rank as martial artists, and one had quadruple heart bypass surgery; three of my colleagues have departed this life while at the peak of training, two from massive myocardial infarctions and one from liver disease. All of these men were far above average in strength and vitality. The idea that physical exercise can overcome chemistry and control your weight and make you healthy is a myth.
And among my chunky friends still on this side of the dirt, I know they are told by their doctors that they should eat less fat. As Gary Taubes shows clearly, again citing the hard science, that is of no use at all. They should be told to eat no carbs. None.
And myself, I notice I eat a lot of carbs. Almost no fat.
My style with motor vehicles is to fix them when they break down on the road. A body, though, you can’t just leave it in the shop to get repaired, you have to stay with it. I did that when I was fitted to the bed at New England Deaconess with a sign that said, “High Falling Risk” and a roommate who had somehow managed to run over himself with his own bread truck. His case seems a good metaphor now, knocked himself down with a load of carbohydrates. I have a more proactive attitude now. I know when it’s time to change the oil and rotate the tires. I still don’t think I could manage to put the car on top of myself while awake. But we never know.
After reading Taubes, and looking back over the last few years, here’s my situation: I eat a lot of farm-fresh eggs (three or four a day sometimes), which is good, not much meat, which isn’t, don’t put white sugar on anything, which is good, and a great deal of pasta, bread, cereal, and snacks like those little packets of salty peanut butter crackers, which is bad, and a good deal of cheese, which might be ok. If I don’t change this, I’m a damned fool. The responsibility for this thing I call “me” is all up in my face now. Somewhat early, I hope. Still some tread on the tires, and nothing clanking in the motor. A little sway on the turns, though. Need shocks.
Taubes is not peddling anything, he’s trying to report medical facts that are obscured the “Eat less and jog, or you have only yourself to blame” idea. Despite the billions of dollars behind the dieting industry, this is roundly discredited by science, and Taubes is gifted at explaining that. It speaks to his credibility that he is not marketing himself as a diet promoter. His lectures are delivered to academic symposia and medical institutions.
Here is an odd angle on all this that Taubes does not cover in the book: corporate employees are now being forced, on pain of termination, to participate in all sorts of awful “self-help” programs based on the idea that fat employees are ruining it for everybody else, driving up the cost of healthcare and draining productivity, by making “irresponsible lifestyle choices.” Now we’re blaming the obese for our problems as well as their own! A man I know personally was trained to conduct coaching sessions to whip these poor slobs into shape, coercing them to starve themselves and do painful workouts. Cruel, humiliating, unjustifiable abuse has never worked, and doesn’t work now.
The commercial diet that has done best in the most recent studies is Atkins, performing significantly above the rest in Stamford’s large-sample “ATOZ” trials. Taubes suggests Atkins could be improved by leaving all carbs out, but allows that everybody is different and will respond slightly differently to diet changes. Docs are coming around to being supportive for people who should be under medical supervision to make such changes; of course they may have to shop around.
Just in case you don’t think the conventional wisdom, and most of the medical establishment, still persists in blaming fat people for their supposed sins of sloth and gluttony, yesterday I was looking up one of my favorite brilliantly hip cartoonists (search “SMBC”), and the joke of the day was a drawing of a miserably obese woman, and the caption read: “This woman lost a hundred pounds of ugly flab by following this simple rule.” The next panel showed the rule: “Eat Less.” This is supposed to be funny if we believe that fat is caused by gluttony. Taubes has put that myth out of its misery, and it isn’t funny now, yet even an artist with a bleeding-edge wit on the foibles of academics has not caught up with the facts about fat.
You can’t lose weight by under-eating. You only end up consuming muscle, organ and even brain tissue while your insulin levels keep sequestering desperately needed nutrients in the fat cells. You can do real harm to yourself, if you can even stand to starve that long.
In obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and the rest of the myriad train-wrecks that await us once we are on this ride, insulin is the one factor we can consciously control by what we eat. The rule should be, “Eat foods that lower insulin levels, don’t eat foods that increase them.” The data is out there.
Go find out. Start young; but at least start now: many bad things are reversible at any age.
The book can be found at Gary Taubes website, here.
Dick Bernard Aug. 14:
Peter is always an astute observer of the human condition, flowing from many sources. When he talks, I listen more carefully…!
I write this comment after my daily exercise, which is daily (a necessary “addiction” – a habit I need to reinforce every day), and which has diminished in the last several months due to mild arthritis in one hip which reminds me of my age if I overdo things. But, I do structured exercise. I haven’t modified my other behavior (eating) to compensate, so I carry more weight than I’d like.
It follows by several days a close encounter with a young Vegan, very fit, who recommended two movies (which I have not yet watched, but will): “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” and “Forks Over Knives”. (Serious vegans know what essentials their diet lacks, and can compensate for it with supplements – another topic for another time.)
Which led me to recall Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, or Life in the Woods: “One farmer says to me, “You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with;” and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle. Some things are really necessaries of life in some circles, the most helpless and diseased, which in others are luxuries merely, and in others still are entirely unknown.” (1854)
And then, childhood days at my grandparents farm, where the “diet” such as it was lard and fat ridden, and nothing was wasted, and folks had never heard of cholesterol and if they could avoid farm accidents or diseases generally lived to a pretty ripe old age, older than my present 73, and seemed pretty fit, a consequence of hard work.
So, Peter’s words are tempered some by other experiences. But I think the theory espoused makes sense.
And on we go.
Peter’s “rejoinder” to my comment, August 14:
Well, it’s the right version anyway. If I were to make a rejoinder to your thoughtful remarks, it would be this:
Exercise is not a bad thing! It might help a little in the fat department, but mostly it organizes one in other ways.
And: Herbivores have quite different metabolism than humans. We would never be able to graze in the fields, except for my Aunt Anne, who knows what each plant is for. Human evolution happened while about 99.95 carnivorous, and the last ten thousand years is not enough time to evolve to digest the kind of scrubbed carbohydrates we eat now. My appendix, I was told as they snipped it out of me, would have been for digesting cellulose, but I kind of doubt it; and it’s no good now.
“Roughage” is good because it is hard to digest, which prevents the kind of sugar spike that arouses the pancreas to overwork. But reading the label on my “whole grain” bread this morning (over ham & eggs fried in butter, yum!) I see the carbs are about sixteen times the protein. Hopefully the “whole” -ness of the grains is not added after scrubbing off the hulls.
Lastly: moderation in all things, in moderation! We live on a planet in such numbers now, and with such an addiction to fossil fuels, that it is now very doubtful that we will survive as a species more than another century, if that. As I see it, violent revolution would be in order right now, but isn’t going to happen, because humans do not respond fast enough to actualities. Alternatively, the “99%” plan seems to be “attrition of the unfittest,” letting three quarters of humanity just die off in a generation or so. This seems the most likely outcome to this observer. It is going to hurt a lot, and probably won’t save humanity. But if it does, then we will have survived by the cruelest method possible, and I don’t know that life after that would be any fun at all for thousands of years to come. Then, with no cultural memory more refined than some flood myth, it would follow that we overpopulate and deplete all over again.
Maybe my bones will be fossil fuel by then.
Love and thanks,

#684 – Dick Bernard: Towards a rational conversation about guns and need for their regulation….

UPDATE February 11, 2013: February 8 I posted a very brief survey to 46 persons on my long standing peace and justice mailing list. The survey was about Guns. Ultimately, 23 responded to the questions, and the entire compilation can be read here: Gun Survey Feb 82013R1. I was surprised both by the number of responses, and the kinds of responses received. This may help the reader clarify his or her own mind about the issue of Guns in our Society, and the survey certainly hi-lites the complexity of the issue needing affirmative resolution. This is an issue that needs both speaking and very active listening with an eye to resolving the issue.
Here is how I summarized my feelings on the issue to my Government representatives: Gun Issue Position Feb 2013
Today is the holiest of holy days in the United States: Super Bowl XLVII Sunday, where gladiators from Baltimore and San Francisco meet on the field of battle in New Orleans to determine the Champion of the World, at least for today. Then there is the Super Bowl of Super Bowl Ads. Now there’s clamoring for a National Day Off for the day following the Super Bowl….
But then we’re also in the real world: Yesterday’s paper front page lede was about a gang member being convicted for a random act of violence: shooting up the house of a rival, killing a 5 year old in the process. It was the second family member killed in that house. Later in the day, on-line, the same paper had a picture story about President Obama shooting skeet at Camp David…which the NRA mostly ridiculed.
I wish the President hadn’t felt the need to prove he’d actually shot a gun, even in skeet, but, hey, this is America in the year of irrational talk about the need for rational gun regulation.
Additional Post on this specific Topic: here and here.
It happened that the same day a cousin (her Mom and my Mom were first cousins, their parents brothers and sisters) sent a photograph of her Dad, Don Thimmesch, who was among the first 53 highway patrolmen in Iowa (1935). (More here.) And it reminded me of another photo she had sent me some years earlier, of her Mom, Cecilia Thimmesch, who was a national champion marksman with the Rifle.
Best I know, Cecilia is the only National Champion on either side of my family. Hers was a well-earned accomplishment.
Their photos are below:

Don Thimmesch, ca 1935, first class of highway patrol in Iowa

(click on photo to enlarge)

Cecilia Thimmesch, Champion with the Rifle, 1939

Daughter, Carol, is rightly proud of her parents, as she has a right to be.
They were responsible gun users.
If we could go back to those olden days.
But not likely.
As I write, a radical government hater in Alabama is holed up in his survival cellar with a young school child as hostage after shooting the school bus driver last week. In his mind he had some point to make. [Note February 5, 2013: the kidnapper is dead, the child was rescued, yesterday.]
There is no good end to this gun story, as there are seldom good ends to gun stories, unless the gunman comes out of his cave with hands-up before the youngster and the gunman both die.
I suppose the guy thought he could beat the government by being armed and dangerous, having a hostage, and going into his underground shelter.
The moment he took action, he’d lost. And so had his innocent victim.
Yes, we do need to talk about rationale and new gun policies everywhere in this land. A suburban police chief from this area described the problem well, very recently: According to my friend, Greg, who knows the chief personally, here’s what he said: “He told of the progression of weapons his police officers carry. First it was a shotgun in the squad car. Then it became an MP-5. Now his officers carry an AR-15. The reason for the progression to greater and greater firepower? As Scott testified, the changes were necessary to keep pace with what the bad guys are carrying.”
In my opinion the NRA spokespeople can go to hell, at least in their current role as shill for the gun industry.
Where does one start on a “rational conversation”? Maybe how guns were viewed when Donald and Cecilia became noteworthy in Iowa, in the 1930s.

Here’s a commentary I received from a great friend who’s a school bus driver and lives on rural property in Vermont:
From Peter, February 1, 2013
The Samurai Always Left Their Long Knives at the Door
For some reason it has been slow going, looking at this crazy, bloody couple of months. My school has been locked down for a week now. Some jerk said something scary.
As a school bus driver it kind of struck a nerve when somebody shot a driver in Alabama and (at this writing) is holed up in a bunker with a kidnapped five-year-old. I guess the NRA would say all school bus drivers should be packing now. Among the drivers I know, every one of them would get between a shooter and a student without thinking about it first, and still would not carry a gun on the bus.
Among all the people I know, I can’t think of more than one or two I’d want to be around if they were “carrying.” For myself, if I ever find out somebody’s packing heat, I will explain that this is a problem that precludes whatever purpose brought us into the building, and leave.
Around here people check with the parents of their children’s playmates to see if they have guns in the house, and whether they are safely locked away. Half the kids around here, at a guess, are crack shots with a deer rifle.
As for hunters, almost every hunter I’ve met on my property has been drunk, and has pointed the gun carelessly at me or at their friends or their own feet, heads, whatever. I have zero faith in hunters to be “responsible gun owners.” We lose two or three a year, here, including kids, to accidental shootings. A farmer was shot while driving his tractor, mistaken for a deer. A blueberry-picker was shot, mistaken for a bear. Two died last year when one mistook the other for the deer, and then, seeing his mistake, shot himself. Best friends and long-standing hunting club members. This is in a county it takes about half an hour to cross on dirt roads.
I thought the police were supposed to be the ones with the guns and the training about when to shoot people. Imagine whipping out a Glock 9 in a shopping mall, for any reason. Whom would the cops point their guns at?
I like one idea I’ve heard: gun-owners’ insurance, similar to car insurance. Mandatory and expensive and track-record based. This sort of solution functions like a check-dam, changing the course of change rather than trying to plug the system. We used to call this “trim tabbing.”
The NRA is simply out of control, and should be investigated and drowned in lawsuits and put out of its misery, like the KKK.

Franco-Fete Nouvelles Villes Jumelles Minneapolis September 29, 2012. Hon. Jacqueline Regis

On September 29, those attending Franco-Fete heard very meaningful remarks from Hennepin County Judge Jacqueline Regis.
Her 12-page remarks, printed here with her permission, “Serving our Community through the unique perspective we acquired through our French language”, can be seen here: Jacqueline Regis at Franco-Fete Sep 29, 2012
Her talk concluded with sustained applause.
Judge Regis, who grew up in rural Haiti, has her own inspirational story, “The Daughter of L’Arsenal”. It is accessible at a number of sources which can be seen here.
Judge Regis is profiled in the Journal, Francophone Roots in the Midwest, Vol 4, Issue 1, Fall 2012: Hon. Jacquie Regis001
At page 7ff Judge Regis comments on a personal hero of hers, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a leader in the slave revolution which led to Haiti’s declaration of independence from France in the early 1800s. There are numerous references to L’Ouverture on the internet. Take some time to take a look.

#605 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #34 Hubert H. Humphrey: Working for compassion is not a task for the meek….

This morning a friend sent me a quote of John F. Kennedy, which seems apropos today: “If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”
The friend didn’t know that a few hours later I was planning to take a look at the newly dedicated statue honoring former U.S, Vice-President and United States Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.
There were a few of us at the statue about 4:30 p.m. including George and Edna from Brooklyn Center (below photo, click all photos to enlarge).

George and Edna with Hubert Humphrey, August 5, 2012

Both reminisced fondly about Hubert as an important figure in their lives. George recalled the large numbers of African-Americans who paid respects to Mr. Humphrey when he died. Hubert was a lion for civil rights, before it was popular.
Humphrey and Kennedy, liberals, were colleagues in the U.S. Senate 1953-1960. Kennedy had served in the Senate 1953-60, till he took office as President of the United States 1961-63. Humphrey was a U.S. Senator from 1949-64, and again from 1970-78, and Vice-President of the U.S. 1965-69. Before his national recognition, he had been Mayor of the City of Minneapolis 1945-48.
Humphrey was only 68 when he died; 34 when he became mayor of Minneapolis. I remarked that politics is for younger people. It requires much energy.

The basic biography of Hubert Humphrey is here, at the website of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of the University of Minnesota. Many of his memorable quotations can be found at this site as well.
In 2004 I happened across a book which mentioned a meeting with then-Senator Humphrey. It became the basis of my 2004 Christmas letter which remains on the internet here.
Here is a portion of the letter:
Early in October [2004], while reading the excellent book, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life (Henri J.M.Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, Douglas A. Morrison. Image Books/Doubleday c 1966, 1983 pages 5&6), I came across a passage which grabbed my attention: “…compassion can at most be a small and subservient part of our competitive existence. This sobering idea was forcefully brought home to us during the early stages of this book. One day, the three of us visited the late Senator Hubert Humphrey to ask him about compassion in politics. We had come because we felt he was one of the most caring human beings in the political arena. The Senator, who had just finished talking with the ambassador of Bangladesh, and obviously expected a complaint, a demand, or a compliment, was visibly caught off guard when asked how he felt about compassion in politics. Instinctively, he left his large mahogany desk, over which hung the emblem reminding visitors that they were speaking with the former Vice-President of the United States, and joined us around a small coffee table. But then, after having adapted himself to the somewhat unusual situation, Senator Humphrey walked back to his desk, picked up a long pencil with a small eraser at its end, and said in his famous high-pitched voice, “Gentlemen, look at this pencil. Just as the eraser is only a very small part of this pencil and is used only when you make a mistake, so compassion is only called upon when things get out of hand. The main part of life is competition, only the eraser is compassion. It is sad to say, gentlemen, but in politics compassion is just part of the competition….”
I had two thoughts after reading this passage:
1) Here was a public person, well known for his compassion in public policy, relegating compassion in politics to the subordinate status of eraser.
2) I also was aware that an eraser, unused, soon hardens and becomes useless. Is this the same with unused human compassion?
Ours has become a brutally competitive society: winner take all, Losers are…losers. Compassion is, more than ever, only the eraser; its use determined by the Winner.
We have experienced, once again, the brutal polarity of U.S. elections. Once again the electoral “Super Bowl” has identified winners and losers. Once again, the U.S. population is described as split. I wonder: who qualifies for compassion? What does a ‘winner’ – and society at large – lose, in a winner-take-all society as ours has become?
What is the cost of this polarity to the United States? To the world at large?
Does a person deserve compassion as a right? Or does he or she have to qualify for it, or earn it? Do we each set up a ‘compassion boundary’, which we restrict to only certain people: family, certain friends, neighborhood, town, state, nation? Or does everyone in the world – an Iraqi? an Afghani? Someone in Darfur or Haiti? – equally merit compassion whether we know them or not? These are questions, I think, worthy of serious reflection and action.

#92 – Peter Barus: "Out of the loop"

From Moderator: Peter Barus is a great friend, going back a half dozen years or so.  When first I knew him, he was an out-east big city guy, a computer specialist, an excellent trainer and all around good guy.  Two or three years ago or so he and his spouse moved into the very rural northeast U.S., to a farm, and here begins his story….
I have been out of the loop for a couple of weeks or more.
And it strikes me now that this is more than burnout or just an upsurge in activity around here  I’ve really had a change in lifestyle.
I used to be plugged in all the time, writing back to everybody, reading everything that came in within minutes or hours of arrival.
What’s happened?  For one thing, I moved to a farm without electricity, with wood heat, and spent two years living as if I hadn’t.  This year, instead of paying over a thousand dollars for enough wood to stay alive til spring, I decided to go get it myself.  after all, this is a 186-acre forest.
There was a big ice storm last winter that knocked the tops out of about a quarter of the big trees at the edges of the fields and along the roadsides.  The plan was to clean up the mess where its close to home, like the cluster of maples that fell on the old tent platform just up the hill beyond the garden; then go out along the roadsides where the Town crew left major trees for us, before the less scrupulous among our neighbros scarfed it up.  And we had some big chunks out of the logging operation from last winter that a neighbor kindly hauled out of the swamp and left me several truckloads in the front yard.
Lots of people around here rent a splitter and spend about two weeks making their winter pile.  I like splitting by hand.  But first I had to go cut up the trunks and load them in the truck and bring them home.  Then I set up a big stump about waist-high and got out the old maul.  This is like the child of an ax and a sledge hammer.
I got to where I’ve been able to stack about five cords so far; seven is comfortable; a dozen would be nice, cause we can just carry it over into next year.
But it hurts!  My hands are all gnarly and knotted and other words that sound like “nnggg!”  All my joints ache.  I’m not complaining!  I’m strong as an ox now, at age 61.  But how many more seasons can I keep this up?
I think the secret is pacing.  A few strokes a day, rather than a crash-and-burn, all-out, heroic effort.
In between all this, clean the chimneys with the long handled brushes, finish re-shingling the roof, host a family reunion, etc.
We live in the previous centruy, or the one before that, now.  sleep when it gets dark, and up with the first hint of a sunrise.  Life here is a direct struggle with nature, and nature is changing fast too.  Weather like nobody’s seen before, changes in soil, habitats, flora and fauna.
Well, as I say, a change in lifestyle.  By the time I get to the Town Library and hook up to the local wi-fi, I ain’t got much to say, somehow.
But keep ’em coming.  I’ll get to it.