Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why I Don’t Work for the CIA

One detail of my experience of the sit-in (what we called “occupy” in the ‘60's) in Iowa City in ‘67 came to me yesterday as I was running my giant snowblower, trying to move 6" of wet, gloppy, heavy snow from my 400' driveway. (&$@^%!)

The day of the sit-in, the morning after the SDS planning meeting, I had a job interview with the CIA. The interview took place on the second or third floor, on the northwest corner of Jessup Hall, which is the northwest building of the four original campus buildings surrounding Old Capitol. (Upper right of Old Capitol in photo. Union is far upper right.)

The interviewer told me what they were looking for: History majors like me, with a few years of Russian and French, like me, who could build files on leaders and upcoming individuals in foreign countries. Sounded very interesting. During the interview I was looking out the window, down Jefferson Street to the Student Union. People were gathering for the protest against Dow Chemical.

For a year and a half I had been coming under the influence of Christianity. My Brother-in-law had died in an auto accident in May, 1966, so I had thought through some life and death issues. I had joined First Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, where Jack Zerwas had given me the Phillips translation of the New Testament (more correctly called the Christian scriptures). I had read it and was moved by the teachings of Jesus. And he introduced me to Bonhoeffer and Tillich.

And what is not widely known, one big reason for the campus protests of the ‘60's was that a steady stream of older, Quaker men, were traveling the campus circuit, explaining their anti-war stance. I heard several such lectures, and I heard James Bevel, from King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, tell about the connection between the struggle for civil rights and the disaster that was the Viet Nam war.

So I left the CIA interview and joined the protest against Dow, and later refused induction into the US Army. And I never worked for either of these “companies.” Life is funny, how it works out, how I ended up in the church. The frontespiece of Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections explains it for me: “We must not only live the time of our lives, but also the life of our times.” Yup.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Local (All) Politics and Bug Spray

I have learned a bit more about local politics in our small town. I have been asking about who is who and why. Turns out the biggest vote getter this past election is a big supporter of the biggest organization in town, probably larger than any of the churches -- The Snowmobile Association. Imagine all the relatives and friends and neighbors of these folk, all wanting to vote to keep this activity protected in our area. (The snowmobile trails are extensive and cross highways and corners of private property.) So all I can do is keep on talking with people who care about issues more than or as much as snowmobiling.

Political news elsewhere is filled with discussions about pepper spray being used on students sitting across a walkway at UC Davis. This is an "occupy" event. Police have driven out occupiers from the park in NYC, in Oakland, and some other places. It is amazing that in a country begun in revolution against the powerful British of the time, that any semblance of protest is discouraged. Laws limiting protest have multiplied everywhere in the past 40 years. It is against the law to gather  in certain places. Bullhorns are illegal. Standing on a sidewalk or in the street violates local laws. Just about anything you do is potentially illegal if you are doing it as a protest.

Just watched a 28 min documentary on a demonstration I was in at the U of Iowa Dec. 1967. Several hundred of us blocked the Union entrance where Dow Chem was interviewing. Two busloads of State Police were brought in with white Storm Trooper riot helmets with face shields and carrying 3', 2" thick "batons." Very scary looking. After an hour of speeches the police said we could leave or be removed and arrested. I left, feeling we had made our point. 107 were arrested and several were taken to the hospital. Guess I wasn't very brave. Some might say I was smart.

I was surprised the entire U didn't explode about the state police being brought in, but it was Iowa and 1967. Public opinion was that it was a state school and that trumped any claims of academic freedom or constitutional rights.  A right wing group counter protested. The admin didn't seem to understand that there were other options (There were other entrances, or they could have taken the Dow people off campus and let people interview them elsewhere.) Quote from Dow people: "Our government wouldn't use napalm against civilians. Napalm is an insignificant part of our business."

The protest was planned in the student union basement the day before. It was a Students for a Democratic Society meeting. I was there. It was a lot like a church meeting or a county political meeting. Lots of arguments. Always reasons for why anything suggested was wrong. It turned out according to the documentary that we were infiltrated by one or more police informants. The U knew exactly what we were going to do. That's why the bus loads of state police were brought in.

I took film of a demonstration in Chicago a year later. On my film is a cop filming me. Imagine how much more complete such surveillance is today, both of occupy and tea party events. Maybe the tea party is right. If you want revolution, you need to pack heat. Or maybe first we should do a better job of training in non-violent protest techniques.

A sociological study called “The War at Home” (by Doug McAdam and Yang Su) concluded that to effect real change, protests must change public opinion that in turn must create responsiveness by Congress and the Senate. “The antiwar movement never mobilized the general public support and sympathy that the early civil rights struggle achieved. There was a perceived lack of commitment to democratic practices and the general politics of persuasion.... To be maximally effective, movements must be disruptive/threatening, while nonetheless appearing to conform to a democratic politics of persuasion.” I hope the occupy folks read that. They have done a good job on the first task of educating a majority to agree with their analysis. The students at UC Davis did right by sitting still while being sprayed. May a thousand flowers bloom from non-violence.

We the public should force the president of UC Davis, Linda Katehi, to resign. She is incompetent and responsible for what the cops did. This would send a message to other institutions about values. And UC Davis wasn't even defending its ties to the corporate/military/financial complex. In the photo here she looks frightened. Of what? Perhaps of events out of her control.

In the documentary from '67 a cop called a demonstrator an "animal." Watching the UC Davis incident, I thought that the demonstrators must be bugs, cause the pepper spray seemed like bugspray or maybe even agent orange.

Shame on the U of Iowa for placing their relationship with Dow over education and the nation's involvement in an illegal, unjust war. Would the administration today do differently?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Base Politics

I worked at the polls Tuesday from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It was almost as bad as a church meeting. I do it as my civic duty and as a representative of the Warren County New York Democratic Committee. I have done this for two years and am now the Democratic Town Chairperson. This happened to me once before, in 1972 in Minnesota. As the only one from my town who showed up at the county meeting, I became town chair. I make a few bucks working the polls.

There is a side benefit I had not expected. My anger is subsiding. While I still disagree with 98% of what conservatives believe and want, I realize that I can replace the anger with learning – who the actors are in town and in the county, how they see the world, and what their vision for our country is and how they came to see things that way.

This is akin to the antidote to low self-esteem; one needs to accomplish something to feel good about oneself. I am suggesting that the antidote to political anger is getting even more involved, even with opponents.  The old sayings have some truth: “Don’t get mad; get even.” “The best revenge is served cold.”

And of course: “All politics is local.” Unfortunately, local politics seems to be a lot about running for office to promote your business. In a very small town like this it is a lot about who has the most friends or at least who can call on the most people who owe you something cause you did something for them. This is generally good and positive, so that party labels and ideology don’t mean much locally. It’s both business and personal.

But at the county level, now we’re talking who gets big construction and trash pick up contracts, and who can give jobs to friends and relatives.  There are probably lots of perks I haven’t thought of. I’m pretty naive. “To the victors belong the spoils.” Now all county offices are held by Republicans. Lots of opportunities for mischief. Especially when the newspapers support them. Think I’ll read some Machiavelli, and talk to some locals about who is who and why and what they’re up to. That’s base.

Next Wednesday is our county Democratic Committee meeting. There will be lots of wailing about lost offices. Let’s see, how do we organize ourselves to get out of this box? (Sort of like a phone booth, but we don’t have those anymore.) Worst of all, we can’t pick a candidate for Congress until next June! Re-districting in New York won’t be complete til then. We don’t know what district we will be in. Maybe both parties will have to find candidates. One thing I know after 50 years of following such things: Everything that seems to be the case now will have changed in six months. That’s basic.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sunday, Nov. 6, is Sax day!

Celebrate the birthday of Adolphe Saxe, the Belgian innovator who not only invented the sax but many other instruments in his attempt to make a full range of many instruments.  He also made up the herald trumpet for Aida (and many mid 20th century Biblical movies).

For 18 years I played a Selmer Mark VI.  It was a good one, but I tired of the sound that I got with it and who wants more than five grand in their sax? Then in 2008 Steve Goodson, the Saxgourmet and New Orleans doctor strange of saxes (partly cause he recommends dipping them in liquid nitrogen) designed a new sax, called the Orpheo.  He said “You don’t want to drive a 50 year old car every day. A new sax, better designed and well-made is just a better horn.”

When I became interested he fell out with his partners on the deal, I was able to pick up a new tenor cheap. Dennis Bamber of MusicFactoryDirect, bought them out.  I liked the tenor so much that the next year I made a low offer and won the last alto in stock. So I have a matched pair of rare instruments, in “swirl” finish. I especially love the tenor now with my new Otto Link New York 9 metal mouthpiece. The alto plays well with a Vandoren and with an old jazz Bamber.

The rumor was that these Orpheo saxes were made in a “secret” factory in Viet Nam. I had noticed that the end plug had a sticker reading “Viet Nam,” so I looked into it. Arguments online led to a Taiwan manufacturer, Tenon, maker of Chateau. (And I suspect that they make Vespro, Vento, and L.A. Saxes, too.) I found their wholesale website, and sure enough, they had factories on mainland China and in Viet Nam. So here is the factory, inside and out, about 20 miles northwest of Hanoi.

By the way, I always pictured men making saxes, but notice the women in that factory.  And notice the women at the Buescher factory in Elkhart IN in the '30's.

Celebrate Sax Day by listening to a great sax player.  I suggest Paul Desmond and/or Gerry Mulligan.

I used to listen a lot to Stan Getz but am listening a lot now to Coleman Hawkins (and Lester Young and Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton). 

Sonny Rollins gives us all hope as we age. Ain't he cool? I still like Nino Tempo.

We sax players are all clowns. Note the caption. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why People Should Not Hate History

History is the least liked of all subjects studied in school.  I think that it is because it is presented as a long list of seemingly disconnected facts. But history is not what happened.  History is what we think happened; what we understand to have happened, and it always includes a “why.”  Why did these things happen? What happened that was important, even though it seems not to have been important, in 1834? Or, was there something that happened in 1834 that may have been very important, but which we have previously overlooked? On what basis do we make that judgement?

I was a history major but didn’t know what to do with it when I graduated. Several years later in seminary I was exposed to historiography. The seminary curriculum then was three courses with multiple faculty for a full year: Bible, history, and theology. American church history was taught by Tom Schafer, whose life work was to compile all that Jonathan Edwards ever wrote. (Not my cup of tea, but someone had to do it.) Tom read everything, was interested in everything, and wouldn’t let us study church history without studying historiography.

So I immersed myself in Karl Lowith and others, who asked “What is history?” We read Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History among others. Lowith observed that most of the writers of history had been Christian, until Hegel and Marx. Everyone sees the past, the present, and the future through the lens of their own preconceptions. (Wow; early post-modernism!) So, is history going somewhere? Is it guided by God? Economic forces? We had better look more closely and more broadly.

We make of history what we want it to say. The winners of various conflicts tend to grab the right to tell us what it means. We may think we are objective or that “history is history” but we aren’t and it isn’t. This is what Gore Vidal was exploring in his novels on our history. George Washington wasn’t the GW we think we know, etc.

John Adams (the President, not the composer I am listening to now) distinguished between “experiencing” the past and “remembering” the past. He was troubled by the myth that was growing about the Revolutionary period. Some things become great while other events slide into oblivion. The Revolution was about more than the Declaration of Independence, but the Declaration came to dominate the American narrative. In order to understand who Adams was, we need to watch many films and read many books. (I like both Paul Giamatti and William Daniels as John.)

So onward to the war between the states. First, the one that occurred in the mid 19th century, then to the civil war of today. But I need to digress about saxophones, also a product of the 19th century.