But for the Grace of God

November 20, 2012

I have often thought back to a conversation I had many years ago with one of my students. She had come from a rural background with a strong, and in many ways admirable, streak of self-reliance. She was dumbfounded when I quoted the saying “There but for the grace of God go I,” often attributed to a sixteenth century evangelical preacher and martyr, John Bradford. How could I, her professor, imagine myself in the position of people who were down and out, people without jobs who needed help? Read the rest of this entry »


Jajja’s Kids

November 13, 2012

On election night, we spent part of the evening with friends who, like us, had served in the U.S. Peace Corps. The group had invited Diane Reiner to speak about her experience in Uganda. She brought Ronald Sseruyange (pronounced Sse as in send, ru as in rue the day, yang as in fang, and ending with the ge pronounced gay) from Kampala.

Diane described going to Kampala originally on a photographic expedition. While there, she wanted to see the conditions of the poor and was introduced to Ronnie. Ronnie had lived in the street for ten years beginning when his mother died when he was six. As Diane and Ronnie traveled around the poorest areas of Kampala, she saw first hand the efforts that Ronnie was making for the most endangered people there, the children who lived on the streets. Orphaned and without homes to go to, these kids struggled just to survive.  Read the rest of this entry »


Response to rhetoric from the Republican Convention

September 4, 2012

I have no illusion that what I say today will register over the important news that will be coming out of the Democratic Convention in North Carolina. But I want to respond to the Republican Convention and the party line the Republicans have been repeating.

Romney at the Convention told his people that “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.” In other words Romney made fun of the single largest threat to the American way of life, coming in hurricanes, droughts, floods and the spread of serious diseases, suggesting if we didn’t already know it that the basic Republican position on the seriousness of the environmental threat is denial and ignorance.

But the basic Republican attack on Obama is that his policies have failed the economy. Read the rest of this entry »


Real Election Fraud

August 21, 2012

Republican efforts to exclude voters from the polls have been in the news lately. A Pennsylvania judge recently decided it was OK to require voters to have photo IDs there. Many states have been doing that.

Indiana anti-voter fraud efforts got the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court under John Roberts in 2008.[*] Indiana Republicans claimed to be terrified that poor people would show up at the polls fraudulently trying to vote, and worse, they would vote for Democrats. So they required picture IDs. Their claims have been repeated in many states.  Read the rest of this entry »


Romney’s Choice: Paul Ryan for Vice President

August 14, 2012

Mitt Romney ended the suspense with the choice of Paul Ryan for Vice-President. And what did we get? Nothing! The Ryan budget for dealing with our problems is zero – no taxes, no expenses, no government. No regulation, no protection, no help, no investment. We’re in a recession and what do we get to pull out of it – nothing, zero, nada. Read the rest of this entry »


Capitalism, Religion and Global Warming

August 7, 2012

Global warming is the earth’s response to unrestrained capitalism. Everybody gets to make, buy and use whatever they want without regard to how it affects the sustainability of the environment and everyone in it. Drilling in the Gulf, the Arctic or anywhere, hydrofracking in New York, Pennsylvania or anywhere, turning food like corn into oil that can be burned, all make carbon based fuels that contribute to global warming.

The growing list of minor chores that we once did with cranks, like grinding coffee, requires more power for which more carbon based fuel is burned. Planning buildings without regard to natural cooling requires maximum use of power hungry air conditioners. This is capitalist freedom to do whatever we want. And the earth is fighting back.  Read the rest of this entry »


The Weather

July 31, 2012

There are reports from the weather service stating this has been the worst draught in 50 years and in some place since the infamous Dustbowl of the 1930s. Worse, climatologist do not see a way out. They are describing what they call aridification of a large part of the country. And they see the conditions creating it as relatively permanent, a result of major factors, especially global warming. If any of you don’t understand the implications, I’d suggest reading or re-reading Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the story of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. It is no exaggeration to say that aridification on that scale is terrifying. Farms were destroyed, their topsoil blown away in walls of dust that choked the lungs and made it impossible even to go outside. Farmers, their families, all those who depended on them and many who merely lived in the area became refugees in their own country, streaming onto the roads heading toward rumors of work. Many died, families were ripped apart, and many more forced into the most impoverished and demeaning existence.

The drought is in our present, not some distant future. All the harmful consequences of global warming, from aridification to extreme storms, disappearance of many forms wildlife, the movement of tropical diseases to our shores and the inundation of many lands are already beginning. The problem with things that will eventually bite us is that they eventually happen. And it is happening. Too many people have been thinking about global warming as some distant phenomenon that won’t affect them. I’ve never understood how people can casually dismiss things that will affect their children and grandchildren. Do they care? One woman I spoke to said she didn’t want to think about it because it was so awful. But not thinking about it, not taking action and not demanding action on our water supply and on global warming is becoming part of the problem.

On global warming, it is absolutely the case that if you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem. And the stakes are huge – our lives, our children, and our country. If you are a decent person, parent, citizen, patriot, you must take action on climate change – now. If you don’t, you are letting our world, our country and our children suffer unnecessary destitution and permanent disaster.

Yes, dealing with these issues is not free. We cannot save our children and grandchildren from global warming without making any sacrifice in the short term. We have to put the lid on burning of carbon based fuels, whether from oil, coal or corn. We have to encourage people, with their pocket books, to turn to solar, wind or similarly carbon-neutral power, and to conservation.

It is time to return to John F. Kennedy’s call to serve, together, to save ourselves, our families and our country. “Ask not,” as he told us, “what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” That is a noble endeavor, and a selfish endeavor. It is the only hope, and dealing with global warming as opposed to ignoring it and hoping it will go away, is essential to be able to hold our heads high, and seek the good will of our creator.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 31, 2012.


Back from a trip – English and guns

July 24, 2012

I just got back from a trip abroad. We were treated everywhere with the greatest respect while visiting our former exchange student and her family in Serbia and Montenegro, and then in Spain for a meeting, People were happy to help us. We had no Serbian (though I learned how to say “thank you”) and little Spanish (though I studied in high school it’s virtually gone), but they were happy to use whatever English they had. When we couldn’t communicate it was still all smiles. Somehow, only in this country do people believe that English is under fire and all traces of foreign languages should be eliminated, despite the foreign policy disaster if some Americans weren’t conversant with other national languages. Of course there is one place where English really is under fire and has been for decades – Quebec. But I’ve never heard any suggestion that we ban the Quebecois.

That’s what I intended to talk about. But the news here on my return has been overwhelming. Another senseless mass killing of people the murderer didn’t know, had no grudge against, one a six year old child. Read the rest of this entry »


Public Broadcasting

May 29, 2012

The station is about to conduct a fund drive next week. So it seems an appropriate time to talk a bit about public broadcasting. I used to teach Mass Communications Law, read deeply into the history of broadcasting, and remember many of the changes. When I was growing up, New York City was the only place in the country where you could receive seven television stations and many radio stations on both AM and FM dials. We even had competing classical music stations! The contrast was stunning when one drove outside the New York metropolitan area. Often there was a single accessible station. So I think it’s a good time to stop and take note of what has happened.

In most countries, government stations have been used for pure PR on behalf of whichever politicians controlled it. The BBC, organized by the grandfather of a good friend of ours, was the rare exception. It too was quite political – except that Lord Reith didn’t like the incumbent government and fought it – giving the BBC the reputation for independence it has to this day. Elsewhere, government funded trash.

The American airwaves had been organized for political purposes here as well. University broadcasters who had dominated the airwaves in the 1920s were systematically driven off the air in favor of private broadcasters, first by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, then by the Federal Radio Commission and finally by the FCC or Federal Communications Commission. Many Americans kept pushing for educational broadcasting. Eventually, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio were the response to that pressure.

When national public broadcasting was first proposed I was leery of it. And I was not alone. Public broadcasting was organized, here, however, with a system of checks and balances. Participants had to be not-for-profit organizations, whether or not affiliated with a university. A large share of the control was placed in the local broadcasters through their ability to buy and air what programs they chose. And advertising was severely limited to what we have come to call underwriting so that broadcasting would be relatively free of commercial influence as well. Even so there have been efforts to control the public broadcasting system for political ends rather than maintain its independence.

I have been delightfully surprised at the result – professional, balanced, penetrating, fair and accurate reporting told in ways we can all understand. Of course I could get the news elsewhere. But not while multitasking – driving, eating, or getting dressed. I’d have to stop, look and read. I couldn’t get the news as easily or as pleasantly. I enjoy and admire the people who bring us the news and interviews, both on national programs and those which originate right here in Albany.

I do not have a crystal ball. I do not know how all the new forms of communication will affect public radio and who will come out on top. But I know from working in many cities that we have a jewel in this one, a station that has the admiration of people who run public radio stations in much larger places, and it shows in the programming we have. Indeed it shows in the programming that WAMC has maintained in spite of budget cuts. Public radio in general and WAMC in particular are jewels, well worth supporting and protecting.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, May 29, 2012.


What’s Wrong with Spying?

May 1, 2012

The AP recently revealed a spying operation by the New York City police on Muslims and Muslim institutions. What should we think about that? Read the rest of this entry »


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