Black Lives Don’t Matter:  They Never Did

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During the time of the slave trade, it is estimated that some 13 million African natives were captured and sent by ship to the Americas to work plantations in both North and South America.  They were sent because they represented cheap labor.  Not free labor because slaves had to be fed, clothed, and bought.  Of these 13 million individuals, somewhere between 2-3 million men, women and children perished on the voyage over.  They died from malnutrition, disease and outright murder by hangings, drownings, and beatings.  Consider if you will the shrinkage rate.  In merchandising shrinkage of a product is the loss of a product through “unavoidable” circumstances.

A good merchandiser does everything they can to avoid shrinkage.  The loss of a product represents loss of profit for a company.  Such was not the case with the slave trade.  Every slave was regarded as property but with a difference.  They were regarded as “expendable.”

Black lives did not matter.”

A slaver or slave owner could “write” off the loss of a slave as simply a cost of doing business.  The market for slaves was never predicated on a 100 percent transfer of live merchandise.  If only 75 percent of the African natives made it over to the Americas, the cost of slaves would be based on that percentage.  The rest might today be called “collateral damage.”  They never could have been called an “unavoidable” expense since murder and starvation are hardly unavoidable.

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Much has been made of the fact that slaves were regarded as “property” by the plantation owners in the south.  Confederate apologists say that slaves were well cared.  Logically, any property would be regarded as valuable.  Thus, slaves were well fed, well clothed and well housed.  History again is a lie.   The lower the cost of maintaining a slave, the more profit for a slave owner.  Thus, little expense was allocated towards feeding, clothing, or improving the life of a slave.  In any business, the future success of the business, is related to the further development of the workers in that business.  Companies spend billions of dollars a year on Human Resource Development (HRD) activities designed to train, educate, and improve the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their workers.  This was not the case with slavery.  There were no HRD programs for slaves.

Slaves had to clothe, feed, and take care of their own medical problems.  If they died, they were expendable.  Slaves could be replaced by breeding more slaves or by raping slaves and replacing any that died.  Slaves were not educated, and laws prohibited the teaching of reading or writing to slaves.  Knowledge has always meant power and that was one thing that must be denied to slaves.  Some slaveholders would teach select slaves reading or writing skills because they needed someone to run errands for them, but this was the exception in the USA and not the rule.

1819, Missouri: Prohibited assembling or teaching slaves to read or write. 1829, Georgia: Prohibited teaching blacks to read, punished by fine and imprisonment. 1832, Alabama and Virginia: Prohibited whites from teaching blacks to read or write, punished by fines and floggings.  — Anti-literacy laws in the United States

“The United States is unique in that it is the only country known to have prohibited the education of slaves.”  — Wikipedia

“Black lives did not matter.”

Several versions including movies and stories have portrayed the life of a slave as one of happiness and joy.  This version of history shows slaves as well cared for, well treated, and generally satisfied with their station in life.  Happy to be working for their white masters, happy to be caring for the children of their white masters and happy to be singing and dancing for their white masters.   One wonders then why there were over 250 slave rebellions before slavery was abolished in 1865.  This figure does not count the number of slaves who tried to escape by running away.  The famous “underground railroad” is estimated to have helped as many as 70,000 individuals (though estimations vary from 40,000 to 100,000) escape from slavery in the years between 1800 and 1865. — Fugitive slave

See the article “Did African-American Slaves Rebel?” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The most famous slave rebellion took place in Virginia in 1831.  The rebellion was led by Nat Turner.  After a considerable number of white people were killed the revolt was finally suppressed.  As an aftermath of the revolt, 56 slaves were officially executed but over 120 other slaves and free blacks were murdered in retaliation.  Valuable black property was not so valuable when it came to revenge.  To prove that black lives were not regarded as compensable property is the fact that after the rebellion at least seven slaveowners sent legislative petitions for compensation for the loss of their slaves. They were all rejected.

Black lives did not matter.”

Again, one wonders why the happy singing slaves would go to the risk and peril of staging a slave revolt knowing full well that the consequences would mean a terrible death.  The slaves executed were often tortured and put to death with as much pain and suffering as possible.  There was no effort made to provide a humane method of execution.

Black lives did not matter.”

In 1932, The United States Public Health Service (PHS) conducted the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male.”  This so-called study took place between 1932 and 1972.

“Investigators enrolled in the study a total of 600 impoverished, African American sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama.  Of these men, 399 had latent syphilis, with a control group of 201 men who were not infected.   As an incentive for participation in the study, the men were promised free medical care, but were deceived by the PHS, who disguised placebos, ineffective methods, and diagnostic procedures as treatment.   The men who had syphilis were never informed of their diagnosis, despite the risk of infecting others, and the fact that the disease could lead to blindness, deafness, mental illness, heart disease, bone deterioration, collapse of the central nervous system, and death.”Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

“Black lives did not matter.”

The Vietnam war was in full swing from 1964 to 1973 in terms of major US troop involvement.  During this period, many of the men who served in front line combat units were enlisted from the draft rolls.

“By lowering the education standards of the draft, an estimated 40% of the 246,000 draftees of Project 100,000 were Black. Some activists in the US speculated that the uneven application of the draft was a method of Black genocide. Black people were starkly under-represented on draft boards in this era, with none on the draft boards of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, or Arkansas.”Military History of African Americans During the Vietnam War

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“African American troops were more likely to be assigned to combat units.  Twenty-three percent of combat troops in Vietnam were Black.  The combination of our selective service policies, our testing of both drafted and volunteers, the need for skilled enlisted men in many areas of the armed forces, all conspired to assign blacks in greater numbers to the combat units of the Army and Marine Corps.  Early in the war, when blacks made up about 11.0% of our Vietnam force, black casualties soared to over 20% of the total.”Vietnam War Statistics

“Black lives did not matter.”

A recent Harvard Study (2020) found that blacks were up to six times more likely to be killed by police during an encounter than whites.  They analyzed 5,494 police-related fatalities using data from Fatal Encounters a database of people killed in encounters with police.  There was a great deal of variation across the country but on average, blacks were three times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than whites.

The Harvard study did not show how many more times blacks are going to be encountered by police for routine matters.  A Stanford University study of nearly 100 million traffic stops from around the US has concluded that, on average, black drivers are 20% more likely to get pulled over than a white driver.  More likely to get pulled over and then more likely to get killed.  A black man or woman stopped for drunk driving is (on average) up to three times more likely than a white man or woman stopped for drunk driving to be killed during the encounter.

“Black lives still do not matter.”

A few weeks ago, up here in the North woods of Wisconsin in our rural Polk County we had a “Black Lives Matter” protest rally.  Mostly white rural people up here in our county.  About fifty or more people showed up carrying signs supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  Karen and I made two signs and joined the rally.  Looking at the numbers of white people in the country supporting this movement, I can’t help but wonder if white people are finally “woking” up.  If they are “woke” how long will they stay “woke.”

Liberal whites are for many blacks more despicable than conservative racists.  Malcolm X noted in one of his talks that:

“The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.”Malcom X Speech 1963.

A recent example of white hypocrisy concerns the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  A Center long heralded for their attacking racist groups like the Aryan Brotherhood and the KKK, they recently came under attack for racial discrimination within their own ranks.  The liberal champion at this organization was a lawyer named Morris Dees.  Famed for his standing up to the Klan and for the number of threats on his life, he resigned during the turmoil over the charges against him and the SPLC.  Some employees claim that the civil rights nonprofit group suffers from a “systemic culture of racism and sexism within its workplace.”

I have had many arguments with liberal friends over the issue of racism in the USA.  I generally find that they agree with me – up to a point.  We disagree on methods of dealing with racism often with large gaps in our strategies.  There is no way a liberal will ever agree to or countenance violence against oppression.  This is the reason that Martin Luther King was championed over Malcolm X.  Malcolm X did not believe in “turning the other cheek.”  Liberals believe that you can “Reason” with racists and help them to see the error of their ways.  In 1857 Frederic Douglas gave a speech now called “If There is No Struggle, there is No Progress.” (I will “reconstruct” this speech in my next blog)

After I argue with my liberal friends (often I defend some of the violence associated with protests) they will go home to their suburban white gated communities with their security walls and security guards who make routine patrols through their neighborhoods.  Driving through these communities, you will not be surprised to find few if any minorities living within the gated walls.  When Karen and I bought a home in Arizona we had to argue with the realtor because she insisted we buy a home in a gated community where we “would be safer.”  We refused and we have Latino and Black neighbors on our street.  We have children running up and down the street and we have no walls to block our view of reality.

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Before the “Black Lives Matter” Rally began in Centuria, a small town in Polk County, an “All Lives Matter” group assembled across from us.  Sporting MAGA hats, Trump Signs and signs promoting “All Lives Matter” they watched us from across the street.  Later during the rally, they “buzzed” us with a pickup truck to harass us.  The police stationed themselves to watch for any potential violence and to keep the two groups apart.  I decided to walk down and talk to some of the guys standing near a pickup truck and ask them a few questions.

I approached two men.  One guy had a long beard, several tattoos and was probably in his sixties.  The other man was tall, muscular, a muscle t-shirt, several tattoos and was probably in his forties.  I told them that I was a member of the “Black Lives Matter” rally.  I then asked them if they supported us (I kept a straight face).  I had my Air Force veterans’ hat on.  They seemed somewhat surprised at my question and replied that “They believed all lives mattered.” They then wanted to know why we singled out only the lives of black people.  I noted the large number of blacks recently killed by police with little or no motivation.  They replied with some statistics concerning the large number of white people who are often killed by police during encounters.

I asked if either of them was a veteran.  The older guy said he was.  He said that he had served in the Army and that he was a Vietnam Veteran.  I asked if he had ever served with any black soldiers and if he thought they covered his ass when needed.  He told me that he had a great deal of respect for the black soldiers he served with.  We talked some military stuff for a few minutes and about the violence associated with some of the recent protest rallies.  I finally decided to ask one last question that I had been thinking about.  I asked “Why did you wait to protest ‘All Lives Matter’ until the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests started?”  I did not get an answer.

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I think the “All Lives Matter” slogan is a disingenuous white method of promoting racism.  It is easier to discount the effort to make black lives important by aggregating all lives into one anonymous amorphous coagulation of people who die.  Then we can ignore the black people who are subjected daily to racism and discrimination in American society.  What they are really saying is that:

Black Lives Still Don’t Matter!

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“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” —Nelson Mandela

Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Danton:  “Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare”

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George Jacques Danton born October 26, 1759 wanted to dare and dare he did.  He dared so much; he lost his head to a guillotine on the 5th of April 1794.  Danton was one of the prime movers during the French Revolution of 1789.  For those of you whose history is limited, the French Revolution was quite a remarkable event.  Here is some background before we look at Danton’s famous speech.  For more detailed history, go to Wikipedia or the library.

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The French Revolution (1789-1799)

What makes the French Revolution confusing is that there was actually two of them.  We are discussing the background of the first one.  The second one was in 1830.  The first one is noteworthy for two major reasons.  1)  It set a precedent for overthrowing the rule of divine right by kings.  You have to keep in mind, that with the major exception of the United States of America, the world was ruled by Kings and Queens.  Many of these rulers professed a “divine right” to rule.  In other words, they believed that they were ordained by God him/herself to rule over the lesser beings on the planet whom they regarded as subjects.  As “subjects” the people under the rulers were “subject” to all forms of abuse and intimidation.  In many countries, people had little or no rights except by the grace of their rulers.

256px-TroisordresThe Catholic Church in France was a major power.  The Catholic hierarchy managed to continue to exert influence in France long after it lost power in other countries.  The Catholic Church kept its power by a political collusion with the French monarchy which helped the Church fight off the Protestant religion that had swept so much of Europe.  From the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Church in France along with the Monarchy had persecuted, exiled, and killed thousands of Protestants.  Thus, there were many in France who hated the Catholic leaders as much as they hated their King and Queen, who by the way also lost their heads during the French Revolution.

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Needless to say, the rest of Europe was not too happy at seeing the servants and peasants overthrow the royalty in France.  This idea that the royalty was not so special might just infiltrate the minds of subjects in other countries.  Which of course is just what happened.  Over time, most of Europe eventually marginalized the role of their monarchies and established a variety of democratic institutions.  These later institutions would rule by laws set by the people and not by “divine right.”

Three of the most important democratic concepts to come out of the first French Revolution is epitomized by the motto “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” which became the national motto of France.  Liberty is the right to express one’s ideas without fear of repercussions.  Equality expressed the idea that all social classes were citizens of France and would have equal rights.  The monarchy and the Catholic Church would no longer be privileged.  Fraternity meant that we are all brothers and would share in a common unity of humanity and respect.  In 1789, The leaders of the Revolution drafted a document called the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” which outlined a set of enlightened principles about governing and government which bore some resemblance to the Bill of Rights in the USA.  Of course, women were still among the unprivileged.  Which leads us to the second major reason that the first French Revolution is noteworthy.

This second reason is the devolution into chaos and anarchy that happened.  Faced with a great deal of opposition both in and outside France to these new enlightened ideas, the leaders of the revolution became increasingly paranoid.  They were beyond cautious about who their enemies might be and what they needed to do to protect the emerging values of the French Revolution.  This led them to adopt a rather expedient method of protecting the Revolution.  The guillotine was developed as a very effective instrument for cutting off the heads of anyone whom they suspected might be either an enemy of the Revolution or even those who did not fully support the Revolution.  During, what has become known as “The Reign of Terror” (June 1793 to July 1794) about 17,000 people were guillotined.  Many more people were shot or otherwise murdered during the French Revolution.

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Looking back, it seems bizarre to think that a revolution founded on the democratic ideas of the American Revolution and such theorists as Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu could have led to the slaughter of so many people.  A slaughter that sadly is now one of the major things we remember about the First French Revolution.  Furthermore, the Revolution eventually led into an outright dictatorship by Napoleon Bonaparte.  Human nature was no more consistent or predictable in the 18th Century than it is today.  We wonder today how so many people in the USA would seem to reject the principles that it was founded upon.  Everywhere you look, we find those who reject the concepts of democracy and the rule of law.

Danton (1759 – 1794)

Some say Danton was the prime mover behind the French Revolution (1789 – 1799).  Before the Revolution, Danton was a lawyer of no particular noteworthiness.  He came into his own as one of the major leaders of the French Revolution.  He held a number of significant offices as the leaders struggled to form a government that would uphold the new values driving the Revolution.  Danton was perhaps as bloodthirsty or paranoid as some other leaders, notably Robespierre and Saint-Just.  Danton’s trial before his execution tended to be highly political and he was found guilty of a number of charges including bribery, financial corruption, and leniency towards the enemies of the Revolution   These charges were founded more on the fears of his political opponents than any real evidence.

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Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare (1792)

Danton’s most famous speech was not given at his trial.  Due to his noted oratory, the leaders at his trial decided not to allow him to speak.  They were afraid that if anyone listened to him, he would convince them of his innocence and perhaps even regain power over his accusers.  This speech was given in the face of threats by enemies attacking France from within the country and outside the country.  Danton as a key leader of the Revolution would have been marked for death should the Revolution be overthrown.  Ironically, he was executed by his former comrades.

“It is gratifying to the ministers of a free people to have to announce to them that their country will be saved.  All are stirred, all are excited, all burn to fight.  You know that Verdun is not yet in the power of our enemies. You know that its garrison swears to immolate the first who breathes a proposition of surrender.”             

France was being attacked by Germany then known as Prussia.  Verdun actually surrendered the same day that Danton’s speech was given.  Danton is lauding the efforts of the French people to fight for the principles of the Revolution.  The monarchies in the surrounding countries want to put down the Revolution for fear it could lead to the people in their countries also revolting.  Thus, Prussia, Austria, Spain and Russia all fought to help overthrow the French Revolution.

“One portion of our people will proceed to the frontiers, another will throw up entrenchments, and the third with pikes will defend the hearts of our cities.  Paris will second these great efforts. The commissioners of the Commune will solemnly proclaim to the citizens the invitation to arm and march to the defense of the country.”

In this speech, you can see a resemblance to the famous French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.”  The song was written in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg after the declaration of war by France against Austria.  One of the refrains from the song is:

  • Grab your weapons, citizens!
  • Form your battalions!
  • Let us march! Let us march!
  • May impure blood
  • Water our fields!

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“We ask that anyone refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms shall be punished with death.  We ask that a set of instructions be drawn up for the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that couriers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here.  The tocsin we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country.  To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare, and France is saved!”

Danton wanted to impose harsh punishments for anyone refusing service to France.  France initially suffered a series of defeats by other countries.  Eventually, by rallying together, France went on the offensive and achieved many victories.  By defeating their enemies, they solidified the gains of the Revolution.  However, these victories also allowed Napoleon to gain power and become Emperor.  Not much difference really between and an Emperor and a King.   France might have gone two steps forward but they also went two steps back.

Danton’s concluding line was an exhortation to boldness and audacity.  “Dare, Dare and Always Dare!”  I have always admired these words and have tried to use them in my own life.  Consider what it means, if you will, when you try to apply them.  What are areas of your life where you have fears?  What areas where you need to be braver or bolder?  Where do you think you need to speak out more?  Where do you need to stand up for yourself more?  If you find many areas where you lack bravery, think of Danton’s speech.

Remember the line from the play Julius Caesar “Cowards die many times before their death, heroes only once.”  The following is a short one minute video I found online that captures the spirit of Danton’s lines.

 

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National Academy of Science issues Garbage Report Recommending Schools Reopen in the Fall.

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“This fall, public school districts should prioritize full-time, in-person classes for grades K-5 and for students with special needs.”   So says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  Many are using this report to endorse opening all education institutions FULL-TIME and even decrying distance learning as a failure.  If you want to read the full report, you can download it in PDF for no cost.  Go to:  Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is one of the worst pieces of research I have ever seen in my life.  It is claimed in the report that “The report includes an updated review of the evidence from around the world and a set of recommendations on mitigation strategies for the corona-virus in school settings.”  In actuality, there is little factual data supporting a reopening strategy but a great deal of conjecture.  Some of the so-called findings would seem to support NOT opening.  For instance:

“there is no definitive evidence about what suite of strategies is most effective for limiting transmission within a school setting when students, teachers, and other staff are present.”

(145 Pages of this report is mostly information you could get online about the effects and history of the Covid Pandemic.)

“The existing guidance documents offer an extensive list of potential strategies but little guidance on how districts and schools can or should prioritize them.”

(Little guidance but they are making their recommendations to open the schools anyway).

“Many of the mitigation strategies currently under consideration (such as limiting classes to small cohorts of students or implementing physical distancing between students and staff) require substantial reconfiguring of space, purchase of additional equipment, adjustments to staffing patterns, and upgrades to school buildings.”

(When and how will this happen?  In the next month? Does this seem realistic?)

“The research community should immediately conduct research that will provide the evidence needed to make informed decisions about school reopening and safe operation. The most urgent areas for inquiry are: • children and transmission of COVID-19, • the role of reopening schools in contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in communities, • the role of airborne transmission of COVID-19, and • the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies.”

(This is a so-called research study but it recommends we make more research to find “evidence” about school reopening that they are already recommending to reopen.”

“Second, the committee determined that, given the short timeline for producing this report, an exhaustive, systematic review of all available guidance documents for schools and districts was not feasible.”

“The committee met virtually five times over a 4-week period.”

(The time spent doing “research” is ridiculous.  It is nothing but a cut and paste job that looks like it came from the White House.”

“If children do transmit the disease efficiently, as they do with influenza, for example, physically reopening schools could accelerate the transmission of COVID-19 in a community.  Data needed to answer this and other important questions are unlikely to be available by the time the decision to reopen will have to be made.”

(The Data will not be likely to be available, but we recommend anyway?”)

“Twenty-eight percent of public school teachers are over 50, putting them in the higher risk age category for serious consequences of COVID-19 (Taie and Goldring, 2020). On a survey of teachers, principals, and district leaders administered by the EdWeek Research Center in June, 2020, 62% reported that they were somewhat or very concerned about returning. Any plans for reopening will need to address these concerns.”

(So how do we protect the teachers? Administrators and Parents?)

There are five major reasons this study offers for reopening the schools, but they give little evidence to support a true analysis of the costs/benefits for reopening.  Nor do they offer any alternatives. They are as follows:

  1. Many families rely on schools for daycare.
  2. Schools provide meals
  3. Schools provide mental health counseling and health care
  4. Schools are a center of social life
  5. Minorities and disadvantaged youth will fall behind wealthy children who have better home access to the internet and distance learning. 

My response to the above issues:

  1. We need national daycare as well as national health care for all.  No question.  But are schools the right place for day care services?  Is reopening going to solve our daycare problem?
  • Many schools have already made arrangements to help provide needed meals.  We do not need to reopen the schools to do this.
  • In Wisconsin there is 1 counselor for about every 470 students in the state.  (See data from “https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Publications/ratioreport.pdf)  It does not seem very likely to me that much mental health counseling is actually going on.  This ratio is even worse in many other states.
  • Schools may be a center of social life, but kids will not die from a slightly diminished social life.  I doubt many high school kids suffer much during summer months from a lack of social life.
  • Suddenly, they are concerned with minorities and disadvantaged youth? This is a quite disingenuous argument.  Educators have been asking for years for more funds to help address this issue and suddenly it is given as one of the primary reasons for reopening the schools. The report even notes the pervasive systemic racism in the education system.  Now they want to reopen the schools to address the issue of racism?

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After reading this 145 pages piece of garbage, I may never have any respect again for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

I can only suspect that the White House threatened to cut off their funding if they did not publish something to support Trump’s determination to open the schools. This is clearly part of Trump’s agenda to get the economy to reopen before the elections. The result of his pressure on states to reopen and his lack of support for efforts such as masks to mitigate the spread of this virus are nothing short of criminal. The administration is willing to sacrifice “old people” for the sake of the economy and now they are willing to sacrifice “young people” as well.

Teachers Say Rush to Reopen Schools Without Covid-19 Safety Plan Shows Trump and DeVos ‘Do Not Care About Students’

 

 

 

Crying

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The mother cries for her dead child

The man cries for the loss of his spouse

The child cries for fear of loneliness

All over the world, there is a blanket of tears.

 

The soldiers cry for the loss of their comrades

The wounded cry for the loss of their limbs

The Generals cry for their failures

The battlefields ring with the cries of the dead and dying.

 

The soil cries out as it is poisoned with a stew of rot and pollutants

The air cries out as it is smothered with a brew of fumes and gases

The water cries out as it is fouled with a soup of oil and garbage

The earth shudders and heaves as it cries itself to sleep each night.

 

God looks down upon the earth and crying says, “What did I do?”

 

A note on this small bit of prose:

At my retreat this week, one of the exercises given by Father Shea SJ was to imagine that we could look down upon the earth.  Using our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, what do we observe?  I closed my eyes and imagined that I was on some distant star.  I looked down upon the earth, but I could not see anyone.  What suddenly came to my attention as the blue ball of earth rotated beneath my gaze was the sound of crying.  All over the earth, I could hear crying.  From every part of the earth I was conscious of the sound of crying.  Hence, I wrote this small bit of prose to capture the lamentations of our planet.

 

 

 

 

Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Martin Luther: “Here I Stand”

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I have attended over 35 Jesuit retreats at Demontreville Retreat Center.  Every year at the end of each retreat, I have received a Plenary Indulgence bestowed by the Pope on people who complete a retreat.  Unlike in the day of Martin Luther, I do not have to pay for these indulgences.  My understanding is these indulgences will knock some of the time off that I have to spend in purgatory as reparations for my less than mortal sins.  You still cannot get time off for mortal sins without going to confession.

I am not sure how much time will be knocked off and since I am an atheist or sometimes an agnostic, I am not sure whether or not they will be valid.  I once wondered if I could put them up on eBay and maybe get some money from them.  This would be more in line with the uses that were associated with these plenary indulgences in the time of Martin Luther (1483 to 1546).

Reformation.crop_528x396_2,0.preview (1)There are many who would consider Martin Luther the father of the Protestant Reformation.  Growing up Catholic, we regarded Protestants as heretics.  We all knew that the one true religion was Catholic, and Protestants did not know what they really wanted.  What does the name Protestant even mean?  Taking it at face value, it would seem to mean to protest against.  The dictionary defines a Protestant as someone who has broken from the Roman Catholic church.  If you are a Protestant you practice a form of Christianity in protest to the Catholic form.  There are over 200 major Protestant denominations in the USA and over 35,000 independent or non-denominational Christian churches which are ostensibly Protestant.  During the past few decade, we have seen numerous splits in Protestant churches over such issues as gay marriages, gay clergy, women ministers.  Even though I am a non-Catholic myself, I can’t help but be amazed at the dissension and disunity among Protestants.  I wonder what Martin Luther would have thought if he were alive today.

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In any case, Luther protested against the selling of Indulgences by the Catholic Church and the Pope.  He published his famous 95 Theses (which were polemics primarily against the monetary abuses of the Church) by nailing the theses on the door of All Saints’ Church and other churches in Wittenberg, Germany.  An extremely dramatic way to advance his opposition.  The theses were quickly reprinted and spread like wildfire throughout Europe.  And thus, began what is known as the Protestant Reformation (1517 – 1648).  It actually started even earlier but Luther’s theses were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

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Martin Luther’s position and actions were quite bold, even audacious.  Luther’s ecclesiastical superiors had him tried for heresy, which culminated in his excommunication in 1521.  This retaliation on the part of the Catholic Church was quite serious.  Luther risked life and limb with his attack on the Church.  The following is a list of people executed for challenging Catholicism during the period from 1500-1600 CE.

  • Ipswich Martyrs († 1515–1558)
  • Jean Vallière († 1523)
  • Jan de Bakker († 1525), 1st martyr in the Northern Netherland
  • Wendelmoet Claesdochter († 1527), 1st Dutch woman charged and burned for the accusation of heresy
  • Michael Sattler († 1527), Rottenburg am Neckar, Germany
  • Patrick Hamilton († 1528), St Andrews, Scotland
  • Balthasar Hubmaier (1485–1528), Vienna, Austria
  • George Blaurock (1491–1529), Klausen, Tyrol
  • Thomas Hitton († 1530), Maidstone, England
  • Richard Bayfield († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Thomas Benet († 1531), Exeter, England
  • Thomas Bilney († 1531), Norwich, England
  • Joan Bocher († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Solomon Molcho († 1532), Mantua
  • Thomas Harding († 1532), Chesham, England
  • James Bainham († 1532), Smithfield, England
  • John Frith (1503–1533), Smithfield, England
  • William Tyndale (1490–1536), Belgium
  • Jakob Hutter († 1536), Innsbruck, Tyrol
  • Aefgen Listincx († 1538), Münster, Germany
  • John Forest († 1538), Smithfield, England
  • Katarzyna Weiglowa († 1538), Poland
  • Francisco de San Roman († 1540), Spain
  • Étienne Dolet (1509–1546), Paris, France
  • Henry Filmer († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Robert Testwood († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Anthony Pearson († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Maria van Beckum († 1544)
  • Ursula van Beckum († 1544)
  • Colchester Martyrs († 1545 to 1558), 26 people, Colchester, England
  • George Wishart (1513–1546), St Andrews, Scotland
  • John Hooper († 1555), Gloucester, England
  • John Rogers († 1555), London, England
  • Canterbury Martyrs († 1555–1558), c.40 people, Canterbury, England
  • Laurence Saunders, (1519–1555), Coventry, England
  • Rowland Taylor († 1555), Hadleigh, Suffolk, England
  • Cornelius Bongey, († 1555), Coventry, England
  • Dirick Carver, († 1555), Lewes, England
  • Robert Ferrar († 1555), Carmarthen, Wales
  • William Flower († 1555), Westminster, England
  • Patrick Pakingham († 1555), Uxbridge, England
  • Hugh Latimer (1485–1555), Oxford, England
  • Robert Samuel († 1555), Ipswich, England
  • Burning of Latimer and Ridley, Oxford, 1555
  • Nicholas Ridley (1500–1555), Oxford, England
  • John Bradford († 1555), London, England
  • John Cardmaker († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Robert Glover († 1555), Hertford, England
  • Thomas Hawkes († 1555), Coggeshall, England
  • Thomas Tomkins († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), Oxford, England
  • Stratford Martyrs († 1556), 11 men and 2 women, Stratford, London, England
  • Guernsey Martyrs († 1556), 3 women, Guernsey, Channel Islands
  • Joan Waste († 1556), Derby, England
  • Bartlet Green († 1556), Smithfield, London, England
  • John Hullier († 1556), Cambridge, England
  • John Forman († 1556), East Grinstead, England
  • Pomponio Algerio († 1556) Boiled in oil, Rome
  • Alexander Gooch and Alice Driver († 1558), Ipswich, England
  • Augustino de Cazalla († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • Carlos de Seso († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • María de Bohórquez († 1559)
  • Pietro Carnesecchi († 1567) Florence, Italy
  • Leonor de Cisneros († 1568), Valladolid, Spain
  • Dirk Willems († 1569), Netherlands
  • Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), Rome, Italy

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The famous scientist Galileo was forced to recant his idea that the earth revolved around the sun.  This was widely known among many scientists, but it was opposed by the Catholic Church which held to the view that the sun revolved around the earth.  Thus, in 1521 Galileo was charged with heresy.  After a rather lengthy trial, Galileo retracted his theory preferring to live rather than to be right.  Nevertheless, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.  Publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any future works.

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Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

On 18 April 1521 Luther stood before the presiding officer, Johann von Eck at the ongoing Diet in Worms.  Luther was called before the political authorities rather than before the Pope or a council of the Roman Catholic Church.  Eck acting on behalf of the Catholic Church informed Luther that he was acting like a heretic.  Pope Leo X had demanded that Luther retract 41 sentences included in his original 95 Theses.  Luther had been questioned the day before, but he had requested time to think about his response to the charges.  Thus, began Luther’s short but famous speech.   His life depended on his response.

“I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right.  I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister; and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.”

Luther begins his speech with humility and with apologies for any lack of etiquette or procedure, but no apologies for his actions.  He is certain that he is right.

“I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God?  Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the church fathers.”

Luther’s words could not be stronger here.  He accuses the Pope of offense that are scandalous, immoral, and perhaps even criminal.  He softens his words here not one bit.  He is not on the defense but on the offense.  Here is a man not dissembling or hedging his words.  If he is afraid for his life, his words show no fear or caution.  He is doing no political two step or making effort to appease the Pope.  Perhaps Luther knew that he was in little danger of being executed but the fact that he spent the next nine months of his life in hiding would suggest differently.

“In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith.  I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic: I do not think of myself as a saint; but neither can I retract these books.  Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.”

Luther does not back down one bit.  He confesses to more passion than might have been required but he will not retract anything he has written.  I am no saint he says but I will not be a hypocrite.  Just think of the people surrounding President Trump and contrast their lies, obfuscations, and baffling oratory with the quite clear words of Martin Luther: “What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings?”  “What if I said my president was lying?  What if I said my president was engaging in double speak?  What if I admitted that my president actually said the words which he claimed that he did not say?  Would I be subject to trial by fire or would I be burned at the stake?”

What makes someone lie on behalf of someone else?

The ending of Luther’s defense was epic.  Perhaps no more forceful words have ever been spoken in history.

“I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience.  Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!  Amen.”

Emperor Charles V passed the Edict of Worms, which banned Luther’s writings and declared him a heretic and an enemy of the state.  Luther fled and although the Edict mandated that Luther should be captured and turned over to the emperor, it was never enforced.  Bear in mind the list of heretics who came after Luther and was executed.

Luther was a German professor of theology a composer and a priest.  He was no warrior or fighter.  In many ways, he was average, except in one especially important way that mattered and would make him a hero for all time.  He was not afraid to stand up to tyranny and to stand up for his beliefs and to speak out on behalf of what he believed.

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Imagine if more citizens were courageous enough to stand up for what they believed and to speak out forcefully and not meekly on behalf of these same beliefs.  It has been said that “Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.”  Doing nothing or saying nothing are one of the same cloth.  If you want to allow a dictator, bully, or tyrant to take power, simply stay quiet and bemoan the fact that you can do nothing.  Or you can write, speak, march, protest and organize against injustice wherever it can be found.  Any less makes us guilty of a conspiracy of silence.

“A conspiracy of silence, or culture of silence, describes the behavior of a group of people of some size, as large as an entire national group or profession or as small as a group of colleagues, that by unspoken consensus does not mention, discuss, or acknowledge a given subject.  The practice may be motivated by positive interest in group solidarity or by such negative impulses as fear of political repercussion or social ostracism.”  —  Wikipedia

Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Socrates: “The Defense Speech”

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It was said that Socrates was the “Wisest Man” in the world.  Actually, Socrates was not that smart.  If he had been smart, he would have realized that teaching people to question authority was not such a good idea.  Socrates was the epitome of Greek philosophy.  He was born in 470 BCE and died in 399 BCE at the age of 71.  He died or rather was executed by taking the poison hemlock after being found guilty of “corrupting” the youth of Athens.  Corrupting should be thought of as a euphemism for actually getting the youth to “think for themselves.”  A characteristic no more desired two thousand and five hundred years ago than it is today.  (See my blog “Are Americans Brainwashed.”)

Hundreds of years later and schools are still not able to teach critical thinking skills to students.  I have been in education for over 45 years and I can testify to fact that rote learning is valued ten times more than critical thinking in any school in America.  True, there are many educators who will tell you how important critical thinking skills are.  However, when push comes to shove standardized tests, SAT tests, ACT tests, GRE tests, GMAT tests, LSAT tests, MCAT tests, diploma requirements and graduation exams all demand facts and data.  The quest for the holy grail of critical thinking goes down the toilet.

Socrates might not have actually been the smartest man or even the smartest philosopher, but he certainly knew the value of critical thinking.  The Socratic Method is still widely revered as perhaps the best method for teaching critical thinking.  Socrates did not leave a large body of writings or principles or admonitions for success and greatness.  Socrates simply left us the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions, also known as a dialectic.  The Socratic method accomplished this by questioning everything.  Wikipedia defines the method as follows:

“The Socratic method (also known as method of Elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate), is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.” —- Wikipedia

If I am sounding critical of Socrates, this is not my intent.  If any man in history was my hero, it would be Socrates.  Not only did Socrates value critical thinking and actually practice it with his pupils, but he had the audacity and courage to stick to his guns right up to the end.  To understand the integrity of the man, you must read and understand his Defense Speech given at his trial.

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The Trial of Socrates and His Defense Speech:

The fathers of Athens and the Athenian leaders had finally had enough of Socrates.  Socrates had created many enemies along the way.  Other philosophers resented his methods and his denigration of their supposed wisdom.  Prominent leaders thought he challenged democracy because Socrates believed that democratic decision making did not always result in the best decisions.  When it came to their children questioning them and their authority, this was the final straw.

Socrates was hauled into an Athenian court and charged with two counts.  Corrupting the youth of Athens and impious acts.  His impious acts involved questioning the Greek gods.  The Athenians did not have a strict separation of church and state.  Socrates really pissed them off by failing to respect their gods.  Even today, such disrespect will get you killed in many countries across the globe.

Now of course, no one has an exact transcript of Socrates trial.  It has also been generally acknowledged that despite Socrates being found guilty by five hundred Athenian jurors of both charges and sentenced to death, they were willing to let him escape to another country or face a voluntary exile.  This is where it gets really interesting and where you see the courage and integrity of Socrates.  His speech is a defense of everything Socrates finds important in life including his self-respect.

Most of what we know about Socrates and his Defense Speech is found in the following documents:

download“Primary-source accounts of the trial and execution of Socrates are the Apology of Socrates by Plato and the Apology of Socrates to the Jury by Xenophon of Athens, who had been his student; contemporary interpretations include The Trial of Socrates (1988) by the journalist I. F. Stone, and Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths (2009) by the Classics scholar Robin Waterfield.”  —- Wikipedia

I highly recommend the “Apology of Socrates” by Plato and “The Trial of Socrates” by I.F. Stone.  The following speech excerpts are taken from “The Apology” by Plato.  The Translation is by Benjamin Jowett.

“Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or of a bad.”

Socrates is declaring that virtue in life comes not from living or dying but from doing what you think is right or wrong.  Virtue does not come from living a long life but from living a good life.  If you suffer ill consequences from doing the right thing, it should not matter.  Your conscience is more important than your body.  Imagine for a second if the US Congress was full of men and women who adhered to this belief.

“They in their fear (of death) apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is there not here conceit of knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And this is the point in which, as I think, I am superior to men in general, and in which I might perhaps fancy myself wiser than other men, – that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.”

Years before Caesar noted that “Cowards die many deaths and heroes die only once”, Socrates was admonishing the Athenians to not fear death but to fear ignorance and to fear a hubris that was overly proud of knowledge and wisdom.  Socrates asserted that if he was wise, it was because he did not try to act as though the knew everything.  He was humble in the face of his own ignorance of the world.

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Consider today the experts that surround us and try to act like they are miniature gods.  Doctors, lawyers, engineers, military planners, intelligence experts and of course academicians all like to parade their wisdom and knowledge that in actuality is far surpassed by what they do not know.  Nevertheless, advice is rendered, fees collected and the sheep among us march passively towards a perhaps ignominious fate buoyed by a firm belief in whatever nostrum has been sold to them.

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“O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this?”

Socrates knew that money, honor, and fame often had little to do with wisdom and truth and the improvement of the soul.  Several centuries later, and we have a populace that has elected a leader because many of the voters believed that “A rich man was a wise man.”  Socrates knew this was false and so has every major prophet quoted in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every holy book every written in history from the Hindu Vedas to the writings of   Abdu’l-Bahá.

“He who hath knowledge and power will rather seek out the glory of heaven, and spiritual distinction, and the life that dieth not. And such a one longeth to approach the sacred Threshold of God; for in the tavern of this swiftly-passing world the man of God will not lie drunken, nor will he even for a moment take his ease, nor stain himself with any fondness for this earthly life.”  — Abdu’l-Bahá

It is amazing to me that the greatest works in history all tell us the same thing.  We must seek out the truth.  We must live a virtuous and moral life.  We must take success with a grain of salt.  We must not be seduced by greed and fame.  We must not judge others by how much they own or do not own.  Jesus said we must feed the hungry and take care of the sick.  Major religions all over the world are predicated on these basic ideas.  Yet, everywhere we look, we see adherents to these same religions practicing the very opposite of what their prophets have espoused.

“If this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.”

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Socrates was more afraid of being a hypocrite than he was of dying.  He would not forfeit his integrity for his life.  Contrast that with the cowards and sycophants we see every day in the news, on TV, in the Congress and in the White House willing to forfeit their soul and anything they say they believe in to support lies, misinformation, disinformation and immoral intrigues that surpass anything imaginable.  People with more money than they can ever spend but still willing to accept bribes for power and position and more money rather than look for the truth or support a goal of knowledge driven leadership.

Socrates did not leave Athens even when his supporters offered to spirit him away.  Socrates saw such flight as cowardice and a repudiation of everything he believed in. Socrates was a martyr to integrity.  Fame for Socrates was not a fifteen-minute exercise in tweeting or attacking someone with less power than he had.  Socrates attacked the very heart and soul of all evil.  He attacked ignorance and offered a search for truth instead.

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