Friday, February 27, 2015

An atrocity-pull

As I was “jogging” at the YMCA today I watched a CNN report about a Canadian adjunct professor being blamed for the radicalization of some students that seem to have traveled to Syria to join the “Islamic State.” Apparently he taught classes about Islamaphobia and injustice. I do not know much about his particular story. But I do know that, in general, teaching about injustice does not create a capacity for evil (or what we seem to be calling “radicalization”).

There is one thing that we should understand about humanity, because it has been shown and explained to us over and over again, demonstrated with depressing regularity: evil is ordinary. Every good villain has a compelling backstory. Maleficent and Elphaba were good girls once upon a time.  

Hannah Arendt gave to us the famous phrase: the banality of evil.
Milgram showed us that regular people, given permission and an order, will hurt  - even kill – other people. They will be drawn into complicity with, even active participation, in evil. History is replete with normal people engaging in crimes against humanity, in genocide, in causing pain and suffering. Given permission and a plausible story of injustice, of Nationalism, of deserved vengeance, of divine right - people can be draw into movements and actions and systematic expressions of evil causing pain and suffering of others. Regular people can enslave other people. Regular people can hand their neighbors over to genocide. Not only in the distant past, but also in the recent past and, yes, in the here and now. Regular kids from the USA and Britain and France and anywhere can leave home to join the “Islamic State.”

It is insincere to call the “Islamic State” and the evils they are willing to commit medieval. How many horrors have been committed in the modern age fueled by groups and nations and individuals ready to commit atrocities? But not everyone is complicit; not everyone participates. What is it that those who have protected the vulnerable from genocide, that assisted the escape of slaves, the kids who refused to push the button – what is it that they had? Whatever they had is the solution to the evil, and the cure that we need. The answer isn’t simply religion. Consider the two Catholic nuns convicted in Belgium of directly assisting in the murder of thousands of Rwandans. The answer isn’t simply education or economic means. Consider so-called “Jihadi John” with his middle-class childhood and University degree. Even kids from middle class America, from loving homes, can be drawn into a movement of atrocities.

But the answer to tearing down systems that create an atrocity-pull (not only the phenomenon of the “Islamic State” but the future yet-unknown groups acting for other sorts of causes) will be some combination of ideas, education and economic possibility all rooted in liberal freedoms, justice and compassion. Not ideas alone, but systems of justice liberty and compassion that protect individuals.

Because the capacity to be drawn into evil when handed a plausible reason, and permission, appears to be an endemic part of humanity, what we really need is to work proactively to tear down the stories that act as the fuel, and that give vulnerable people a sense of permission to be drawn into the atrocity-pull of hate or fear or vengeance or perceived righteousness. Teaching about injustice does not cause radicalization. Teaching about, and creating systems of, justice is one part of the solution to the ordinary problem of evil.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lake Montebello and Us

I love lake Montebello. I love the people that are there, the regulars and the unregulars that come and go the small and big and young and old and every kind of person and family on feet and on wheels, I love them. The trio of ladies with babies gossiping and waddling, the supercool woman with retro rollerskates and clothes and disco moves circling around and around and around, the ever-present and changing group of racing bikers zooming in their formation like geese. I love the geese too, and the turtle we saw that one time. My kids on their little bikes trucking around trying not to trip up the racers and all the friendly smiles that fall on them and us. Lake Montebello looks like Baltimore and it feels how I wish all Baltimore felt. I am most hopeful about Baltimore, about Ferguson, about the United States of America, about humanity, when at the Lake circling the water and the humanity that sustains us.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Thursday, April 15, 2010

messiest (and best?) garden ever.

future potatoes

volunteer spinach and lettuce!

This is the first year that I have not flipped the soil of the entire garden at the beginning of the season. I had a little patch of garlic where I managed to get bulbs in the ground in the fall (for the first time ever) and a bunch of grass and weeds. Then my daughter planted some zucchini in little pots (with help) and then we cleared out little spots for them in amongst the weeds. Today I cleaned out a row under the bean trellis and planted beans. I also cleaned out little spots for yellow squash, butternut squash, watermelon, sweet melon, and pumpkins. There is a big messy spot in the middle waiting for tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants that I will have to buy this year unless the plant fairy helps me out again. So its the laziest garden year ever - in between the plants are some weeds, but there are also fun surprise volunteers - spinach, lettuce, carrots and what might become a forest of basil (yay buckets of pesto!) because I let bunches of things go to seed. So, if I hadn't let everything go to seed and I had flipped all the soil, I wouldn't have all these extra goodies. So, I am happy about it. But it is preeetty ugly. Most people wouldn't want to share a picture. Is that a garden?

There are a lot of firsts in the ground for me this year: butternut squash, potatoes, and pumpkins! I know, how is it I haven't grown pumpkins and butternut squash?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

why bother with the blogging

life is partly about the actual living but also, sometimes it seems more so, in the telling of it. the retelling redefining and recording. thats the blog.
i find i am aware of this when i read everyone else's blog stories. its a sculpting with the self and story as material, or a collage and decoupage with glue and scraps. its best when its most honest. but its never perfectly honest, always a recreation, always a form of artistic creation. a sculpting or collaging. decoupaging.
the art is different when it is published and available to be read even if it isn't, read that is. and looking back at the record reminds me. but, whatever, i don't always feel like recording. even though i find it important to mark the time. and arrange the scraps.
we can tell our story to make our actual living more like the one we wish it was, and then it has a better chance of becoming that. i write and tell myself i am a productive successful academic researcher teacher and baker and knitter and gardener and parent. doesn't make it so. but gives goals and pats on the back when deserved.

today i am another year older. my face looks older this year. last year i marked the time with new ink on my wrist. this year i feel the time and see it in the mirror. subtle. not unhappy. noticed.

ive used this space in a number of inconsistent ways. recipe sharer and keeper (ive been meaning to write about my love for making pizza at home and the best dough and best sauce), garden record keeper (talk about inconsistent - but i have potatoes and garlic and basil in the ground now), notes on parenting and cloth diapers and yadda yadda, but really its a collaged mess.

today i just wanted to dip my toe back in, to make the time, and say happy birthday to myself.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dr. Ravitch and the school question - can we be like Finland and Japan?

The question of how to fix public schools is a vague one until you have your own child and live in Baltimore, where schools have a reputation (not a good one). I want public education to work. I want to support it. One of the two public schools nearest to us has been failing each year, and doesn't seem to be getting better. Oh, and there is the fact that a kindergartner brought a gun to class last year. dear lord.
The charter school in our area gets rave reviews. But it's tough to get a spot. I am watching a good friend wait anxiously to see if her daughter made the lottery, knowing she can't afford public school and not keen on the aforementioned failing one.
And the question remains - what is wrong with schools? How do we make them better? I do not know and can't claim to have studied this. As a liberal person my inclination is that public schools are important and we need to support them. But I look to people who have studied schools, who have worked in schools, to find out what to do to make it so that I want - not just feel ok about, but really want - to send my daughter to one. My inclination as a mother is to get my daughter into a charter school. Do charter schools save or destroy the institution of public education? I don't know.
That is why I found this article about Dr. Ravitch so interesting.
She has reversed course from praising testing and charters, and sees the defense of US public schools as essential to our democracy. I do too - but how do we defend them? She sees charter schools as bleeding resources from the public system, and overall not doing better (it seems in Baltimore that they are doing better than publics, but I am not sure.
The article describes two basic responses to the failing public school system: returning to the old system (with new support) and blowing it up. I do not know which route to go, and I do not know what "blowing it up" looks like or leaves us with. There might be more clear answers to making the old system better; it seems obvious that the funding needs to be equalized, but that is a really tough move politically.
Ravitch draws her conclusions, in part, from comparative analysis of education systems - Pakistan's "weak and inequitable education system dominated by private and religious institutions", and nations "like Finlan and Japan" that "seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, pay them well andd treat them with respect." where they "make sure all their students study art, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects."
Of course, the socio-economic inequalities and struggles that Finland and Japan face are, well, nothing compared to those in inner-city USA. I believe that the disparity in school quality is just as great. Maybe "fixing" the school system, then, is about "fixing" some other, deeply entrenched, socio-economic inequalities in our country. sigh. What is a parent to do?

Human Development Report Rankings, Gini Index (inequality)
Japan - 10, 24.9
Finland - 12, 26.9
USA - 13 , 40.8

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Orleans, notes.

vagabond gypsies playing old eastern european music with sad still faces and dreds and long beards, a perfect combination of something ancient and something new, wandering around this city that is also. they remind me of a time about ten years ago. when life could have led any which way.
imagining life as a vagabond musician in a little busking community.
thinking of the very alltogether different academic conference attending me.
a woman quietly singing scales walks by
a fabulous fantastic rollicking five piece band down the street clapping and tap dancing and playing their faces off
a duet of boys maybe 12 years old playing guitar and singing and impressive for such young children. new orleans in their bones. and dna.
all numbers of people walk by with musical instruments of all kinds on their backs.
a one man band a block to my left, a mini-trapset on his back with symbols that clang.
i wander about looking for voodoo shops to buy a funny gift, some healing voodoo stick for the doctor to shake at his patients. but the tourist-filled pretend-voodoo shops do not sell healing powers amulets, because that is against the laws of magic. funny surprising commitment in a place that sells all numbers of cheap tourist fodder. maybe that salesmanboy really believes.
found the kitchen witch, a wonderful cook book store with surprising and one of a kind finds. bought a bread book. was gifted with a bread novel by the fantastically friendly owner.
i went to new orleans for an academic conference and it was worthwhile. academically and as a two-day break from snow and a moment of independence and autonomy. with which i did not party in the crescent city, but did eat crescents and beignets and went to bed and woke up early.
the happy look and the hug when zoe woke up the morning after i came home was fabulous. and tonight at bedtime she cuddled me and said "im so glad your here."