We take support of democracy as a given in the United States. Yet how often do we ask ourselves why we really believe in democracy?
Here are some possible reasons we might support and believe in democracy—
1. To use the overworked Winston Churchill thought on the matter, democracy is the worst system until we consider all the others.
2. Democracy can be supported based on a belief that citizens must have a say in how they are governed. This right could be seen as even more important than specific policies a democracy produces. People must be free.
3. Democracy could be supported as an act of nihilism or even vindictiveness once a personal determination has been made that people in charge of their fates will ruin their lives and ruin society.
4. A reason to support democracy is that it could be seen as the best way to give the people the illusion of control, while in fact society is run by a relative few. Democracy could be seen as form of social control.
5. Democracy could be seen as the best way to give lucky, well-connected, talented or highly-motivated people a meaningful life—in number beyond the few who may actually be running society as referenced above— even if the majority of citizens never really can get ahead.
6. Democracy could be seen as inevitable at this point given the fall of the Soviet block, the decentralization of life with the internet and mobile technology and the erosion, in some respects, of borders. Since it is inevitable, you might as well get on board and make the best of it.
This is my 400th blog post. I’m a bit short on time tonight, so my post will be, in large part, a picture of the great liberal Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Justice Warren led the court on the historic Brown V. Board of Education Case in 1954.
Please click here a good article about Warren’s service.
At core, Warren wanted to know if what he was ruling on was fair or unfair.
Thank you to everyone who has read the blog so far. I’m keeping at it and hopefully getting better and better as I go along.
The view that Williams held, that God could reached by any person, led naturally to his embracing ideas of the equality of all persons and religious liberty long before their time. (If that time has arrived even today.)
Williams lived between 1603 and 1683. He was a Christian who followed no specific creed. He organized Rhode Island on the basis of religious liberty and the equal rights of its citizens.
Rhode Island was established at Providence in 1636. In a fashion similar to my earlier post about John Cotton, here are observations about Williams done with the assistance of Vernon L. Parrington’s The Colonial Mind 1620-1800. This book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1928.
Parrington writes— As a transcendental mystic he was a forerunner of Emerson….discovering an indwelling God in a world of material things, as a speculative seeker…. ( he discovered) the hope of a more liberal society in the practice of an open mind…
Seeing a more open society by having an open mind—This offers a clue to what an individual can do without the aid of institutions or even without the support of others. You can imagine a better world and then help make it a reality.
Roger Williams was the most provocative thinker thrown upon the Massachusetts shores…the one original thinker amongst a number of capable social architects…he was the “first rebel against the divine church-order established in the wilderness”…but he was very much more than that; he was a rebel against all the stupidities that interposed a barrier betwixt men and their dreams.
The “social architects” may have had in mind a process by which the new colony would be organized and structured, but Williams had a real vision of how things should be. From that vision came clear understanding of what people really wanted in their lives.
He lived in the realm of ideas, of inquiry and of discussion; and his actions were creatively determined by principles the bases of which he examined with critical insight…..he was the incarnation of Protestant individualism, seeking new social ties to take the place of those that were loosening.
He was a product of ideas and discussion, and he turned those ideas and discussion into a working colony that still exists over 350 years later in the form of the State of Rhode Island. Relevant to the changes we are facing today with globalization, Williams had the ability to imagine the relationships and the type of society would replace the failing old order.
It was the spirit of love that served as a teacher to him; love that exalted the meanest to equality with the highest in the divine republic of Jesus….He regarded his fellow men literally as the children of God….and from this primary conception he deduced his political philosophy.
It’s the bottom line of any humane and just organization of a society—Everybody is an equal.
Much of his life was devoted to the problem of discovering a new basis for social reorganization, and his intellectual progress was marked by an abundant wreckage of obsolete theory and hoary wreckage that strewed his path.
It takes a lot of mental effort to get past the prevailing views of the day. I’m sure that along the way Williams had to discard many things he once held as true.
In accord with a long line of liberal thinkers…he accepted the major deductions of the compact theory of the state: that government is a man-made institution, that it rests on consent, and that it is founded upon the assumed equality of the subjects…..he had only to translate those abstractions into concrete terms and apply them realistically to create a new and vital theory….he located sovereignty in the total body of citizens.
Again—The ability to take an idea and make it something solid. This is the test of a visionary leader. Realistic application of these ideas is, of course, also part of the plan.
...Roger Williams was a confirmed individualist…
And from that basis of individualism, Williams concerned himself with the lives of others. That is one of the most difficult things to explain—That to care for others you must often start from a position that might at first appear isolated or abstract.
It’s difficult for some not to allow a notion of themselves as individualists to take over their personality at the expense of the connections that can result from free thought and inquiry.
The reluctant judgment of Cotton Mather that Roger Williams “had the root of the matter in him”
What more can you say about somebody than that they understood the core of the matter. It’s one of the highest compliments you can pay anybody.
(Previous posts on John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson have generated a great deal of traffic to the blog. It’s great to know others share my interest in these subjects. I’d love to have your comments. Click here please for all my posts to date on the subject of Colonial America.)
The man who owns the Barry Bonds 756th home run ball is stamping an asterisk on the ball and donating it to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is going to accept the ball.
I don’t know that I’ve heard before of a museum accepting exhibits that have been intentionally defaced.
The defaced ball is meant to suggest that Barry Bonds set the home run record with the aid of steroids. I don’t know if this is true or not.
I do know that every record in baseball set before 1947 was set when no blacks where allowed to play. Should an asterisk be painted on exhibits connected to the careers of Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Babe Ruth?
An argument might be that Mr. Bonds chose to use any steroids he may have taken, while pre-Jackie Robinson players were in a world not of their making.
But didn’t any of those old-time players have an obligation to speak up for fair-play?
I’m not certain the double standard is fully racial—Mark McGwire is not very popular these days.
Still, some kind of double standard appears to be at work.
This is a poem I’ve written. It’s called “Looking Ahead”
He found what had been forgotten
Brought it back to life
And peddled it as new.
Nobody caught on.
Nobody had recollection of the past.
He knew he would be able,
To get away with this for a long time.
He smiled as he considered
Someone like him in the future,
Who would discover what he had done
Claim it for himself
And peddle it as new.
Copyright Neil Aquino–2007
Please click here for other poems I have written in the blog.
This book is meant mostly for people in countries where no free press exists.
The handbook discusses ways to get around official censorship, ways to remain anonymous and tips for running a good and successful blog.
ROB states that in countries without a free press that bloggers may essentially serve the function of a press.
I think this handbook also has value in the United States. Both freedom of the press and the independence of bloggers are under assault from many sides.
I see this in the following ways—
* The Bush administration has scant regard for civil liberties and little concern about spying on private citizens.
* Political bloggers are increasingly allied with political parties at the same time they engage in ritual bashing, (sometimes justified), of the so-called mainstream media.
When will the line be crossed from independent-minded citizens to propagandists? When will the motives of many political bloggers become inseparable from the candidates and parties they promote?
* Traditional media outlets are under great financial pressures from investors. And traditional outlets did indeed give President Bush something of a free ride in terms of hard scrutiny leading up to the War in Iraq. This greatly damaged the creditability of many “old” media sources.
Genuine independence of mind and spirit is a rare thing. Groups such as Reporters Without Borders do great work in protecting this important quality of true independence.
In the end though, the real work of independence and freedom must be done by individuals. Sometimes individuals must work together in groups and other times they must, if need be, go it alone.
Protests in Burma are becoming violent as the repressive military government is attacking and arresting Buddhist monks and others protesting for greater political freedoms.
Here is a link to a blog called Burma Digest that has details about and pictures of the protests.
Here is a link to ko htike’s prosaic collection. This blog from Burma also has pitctures of the protests.
Here is a link to a BBC article detailing the part bloggers are playing in getting this story to the world from Burma. International journalists are not allowed in Burma. The BBC has a number of articles discussing events in Burma.
These monks in Burma are freedom fighters and they merit our international support.
It seems that the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is often surrounded by trouble and controversy.
Now we have a fight over who should serve as the sculptor of the King statue planned for the under-construction King National Memorial in Washington.
The King Memorial will be located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial.
A Chinese sculptor, Lei Yixin, was picked by the memorial foundation instead of a black American sculptor.
Some say only a black sculptor can correctly portray Dr. King in an artistic sense. Also, some are saying, regardless of the art, a black sculptor simply should get this important assignment.
Others maintain that Dr. King was an American leader and a global leader and that his legacy and memory is not owned by any group of people.
Having read a great deal about Martin Luther King and having visited Dr. King’s boyhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, my view is that Dr. King would not have cared about the race of the sculptor.
Also—Here is my Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List—Now Updated for 2009.
This is the second edition of the Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List. There are three additions for 2009.
While it is always instructive to watch a rebroadcast or listen to a recording of the I Have A Dream speech, there is a next level for someone who wants to better understand Dr. King and his message.
Reverend King asked serious questions about America as a war criminal nation in Vietnam and he asked if America merited divine judgement as a wicked nation of racism and social inequality. These questions, even in the time of Barack Obama, are still worthy of consideration.
Here is an admittedly incomplete, but I hope, useful Martin Luther King viewing, visiting, listening, and reading list. The three additions for 2009 are noted towards the bottom of the list.
An excellent book is Martin & Malcolm & America—A Dream Or A Nightmare by James H. Cone. This book follows the words and the careers of both these men. The premise, which holds up, is that Dr. King and Malcolm X (photo below) were not as far apart as sometimes portrayed. Malcolm was a man with a broader vision than one of simple racial solidarity, and King was in many respects a fierce and almost apocalyptic critic of America.
I’m glad to say I bought my copy of Cone’s book at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. This site is operated by the National Park Service. You can tour Martin Luther King’s boyhood home at this location. You’ll also want to tour the Auburn Avenue Historic District around the King home.
Regretfully, the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church (photo below) , King’s home church, is currently under renovation. It will reopen in late 2009. Still, the District as a whole is very much worth a visit.
In Washington, when you visit the Lincoln Memorial (photo below), you can find a small marker indicating the exact spot where Rev. King made the “Dream” speech. It is a good place to stand.
Bearing The Cross was the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography. You can’t help but feel the almost deep-sea like pressure on Dr. King in the final years of his life. I wondered if towards the end of his life King felt that death was going to be the only escape from the exhaustion, the misunderstandings and the conflicts.
An interesting DVD is King–Man Of Peace In A Time Of War. Much of the hour long presentation is a rehash of King biography. What makes this special is a roughly 15 minute interview Dr. King did with afternoon television host Mike Douglas. Mr. Douglas asked tough questions about Dr. King’s stance against the Vietnam War and about the effect of that opposition on the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King is calm, cool and collected. You could see how King was a leader who could speak anywhere and to anyone.
A solid explanation of Reverend King’s theology and a good analysis on the failure of Southern segregationists to mount an even more aggressive opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, can be found in A Stone Of Hope—Prophetic Religion And The Death Of Jim Crow by David L. Chappell.
A Testament Of Hope—The Essential Writings And Speeches Of Martin Luther King, Jr is needed for a complete King library. In honesty though, I’ve always found this book to be sprawling and without clear focus. It consists of King sermons, some interviews and excerpts from his books. You need to have it on your shelf, but there are more concise ways to get the “essential” King. ( Photo below is Rev. King with Coretta Scott King.)
Here are the three new resources for 2009—
A quality children’s book on King is Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. The writing in this book is clear and concise and respectful of the intellect of children. It’s a great introduction to King and a gateway to further studies by young people.
A comprehensive examination of King’s radical views on economic questions can be found in From Civil Rights to Human Rights—Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice by Thomas F. Jackson. King had leanings towards forms of socialism and came to see the fight for fair wages as an essential element in the fight for full human rights. It should not be forgotten that King died in Memphis fighting for striking sanitation workers.
A web resource to learn about King is the Martin Luther King, Jr, Research and Education Institute that is run by Stanford University. There are King sermons and addresses you can read and a link to a King Online Encyclopedia. (These things said, there is nothing as good as having you own printed collection of King sermons that you can take anywhere and make notes and underline key passages as it suits you.)
There are three reference sources on Dr. King that in my view stand out.
Strength To Love is the best collection King sermons. It is a concise manageable book. You can cram it in your back pocket or in your purse. ( A larger purse at least.) I think you could read nothing but this one 158 page book, and know everything you need to know about Martin Luther King.
The audio collection of King’s sermons called A Knock At Midnight might change your life. Stick the CD’s in your car stereo or turn it on at home and you’ll hear Dr. King just as he was—Mighty and frail at the same time. I’ve listened to the sermons on Knock many times and they never get old. You can’t help but learn something or see an old question a new way each time you listen.
The definitive books on Martin Luther King’s life and the Civil Rights era are found in Taylor Branch’s three volume America In The King Years series.
These three books are the Pulitizer Prize winning Parting The Waters 1954-1963, Pillar Of Fire 1963-1965, and At Canaans Edge, 1965-1968. (Photo below is of Rosa Parks being booked during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.)
These books stand not only at the top of King biography, they stand as great examples of American biography. The picture of Dr. King is complete. You get the good and the bad. There will be times you’ll shake your head and ask yourself how Rev. King could have said that or done that.
You’ll also see how brave King was and how brave the Civil Rights marchers and protesters were. You’ll get a clear sense of the obstacles faced not just from whites, but from status quo blacks as well. Mr. Branch offers a great deal of context for King’s life and experiences. He provides full portraits of other great Civil Rights leaders.
I can’t recommend all three volumes strongly enough. Read them and you’ll be an expert.
I’ve been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. This book, just published, is about what the world would be like if human beings simply disappeared.
( Does that sound like a good idea or not? Would you like to see all people go? Or do you wish you could have run of the planet with a few selected friends and family?)
Once people were gone, houses would collapse from various forms of rot and intrusions of water and pests. Our cities would crumble away from untended infrastructure and from the elements reasserting themselves.
Wild animal populations would rebound and domesticated creatures would be in trouble without human beings.
The reviewer in the New York Times suggested that author Weisman seemed to take a bit too much pleasure in the idea of a world without people.
For three or four days after Hurricane Rita passed by Houston in 2005, damaging areas to the east instead, life here moved at a much slower pace. Millions of people had evacuated and it took time to get them all back in town and for workplaces to re-open.
I’m very sorry for the people who suffered because of the storm, but I did not miss the 24-7 pace that characterizes modern life in a large metropolitan area of the United States.
When I was 10, I very much enjoyed the Great New England Blizzard of 1978. Providence, Rhode Island, where I lived, got 36 inches of snow. Just a few miles north in Massachusetts snowfall totals were even higher.
It was not a time without people—But schools were closed for nearly a week and you could travel by foot only. It was a great week to be 10 years old.
(The above picture is of Star Wars snow figures made by students at MIT in Boston during the 1978 blizzard.)
I don’t know much about Burma—or Myanmar— except to say that it is a very repressive country. Buddhist monks and others are currently protesting in Burma for political freedoms. These people appear to be quite brave to protest under such a harsh government.
This link to the BBC offers a number of articles on the current protests and some background to the situation.
9-26-07— Click here for an update on this post.
I recently e-mailed Harris County, Texas Democratic Headquarters and asked if the Harris County Party endorses candidates for Houston City Council. (I said in my e-mail that I was a blogger and that I was going to write on this subject.)
Here is the reply I got from the helpful gentleman at headquarters—
The Harris County Democratic Party does not endorse in City Council Elections, HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg’s policy is “HCDP does not endorse in city council elections, unless and until there is a run-off and there is only one Democratic candidate in the runoff“
Okay—No reason to step into a fight between Democrats.
(A runoff is held if no candidate wins 50% of the vote in the General Election.)
I followed up by asking if the party sends a mailer out informing rank-and-file Democrats about who is a Democrat on General Election Day.
Here was the reply—
Unfortunately, we do not have the funds for such a mailer. On a couple of occasions where we have endorsed in the run-off, we have sent postcards to folks who voted in the first election and also in the last Democratic primary, where the Democratic candidates in the run-off have provided funds for such a mailing.
I understand the party may not have the money this time around. Fine.
What I’d ask is for the Harris County Democratic Party to consider injecting a greater degree of partisanship into Houston City Council elections in the future and, also, to consider raising funds to promote Democratic Council candidates in 2009.
Houston Council elections may officially be non-partisan, but political parties can send any mailing they wish. Or run any radio ad they wish. Democrats are a majority in Houston and this majority should be worked on Election Day.
Partisan identification gives voters a shorthand on what to expect from candidates. Within that identification, candidates still have the ability to carve out specific profiles and stances on important issues that set them apart from a party-line.
The current so-called non-partisan system of voters selecting five at-large Council members and a district Councilperson with musical chairs six-year terms, works against the interests of democracy and against the interests of the majority party in Houston.
People should know who they are voting for. I’d be happy to donate myself for this purpose.
Let’s have no more Michael Berry-types filling at-large seats on Houston City Council.
This is part of an occasional Texas Liberal Series called Central Questions.
The very good blog The People’s Republic of Seabrook recently ran a post with the following title—“How Can A Majority Reasonably Claim To Be Oppressed?”
The post had to do with complaints by some American Christians that they are allegedly persecuted.
I’m not as interested in the specifics of that one TPRS post, which I agreed with well- enough, as I am in the title of the post.
There are in fact many ways a majority can be oppressed.
Here are some—
1. A majority in can be oppressed if they live in a colony of another nation.
3. The majority of people who are not wealthy may be oppressed by the minority that is wealthy.
4. In cases where women comprise a majority of the population, they may not have the same rights as do men.
6. A certain ethnic, religious or racial group may comprise the majority of people in specific city, state, province or region but be oppressed by a national majority.
7. A group of people, such as Christians in China, may be part of the world’s largest religious grouping, even if Christians do not comprise a majority of all the world’s people, and be oppressed within the borders of a specific nation.
So while I don’t believe American Christians are oppressed, it is very possible for a majority to be oppressed.
Tom Wicker’s account of Dwight Eisenhower’s Presidency tops this weekend’s reading list. I would detail what I’ve read so far, but I’m almost done and I’m going to make it a blog post at some later point.
Wicker was a long time political reporter at the New York Times.
The Wicker book is simply titled Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is part of the American President’s series that had been edited by Arthur Schlesinger.
Also, on the list is It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over by Baseball Prospectus. This is an account of great baseball pennant races.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’m reading this because those guys at Baseball Prospectus are a bit libertarian in their outlook and I should not be using valuable reading time on baseball.
But I suppose everybody has their vices.
It’s a great big book filled with both pictures and comprehensive explanations. I can’t suggest it strongly enough for people interested in this topic.
Is Political Representation A Two-Way Street? Does, For Example, Apathetic Houston Merit Municipal Representation?
This is part of an occasional Texas Liberal series called “Central Questions.”
Is political representation a “two-way street?” Can a group of voters, or a group of citizens who do not vote, perform their civic duties so poorly that they no longer merit representation?
Here in Houston, for one example, our Mayor and City Council members are limited to three two-year terms. A condition of employment for these officials is acceptance of the fact that your employers, the citizens of Houston, do not trust you beyond a certain point.
Why would someone want that job?
Further, voter turnout in Houston for municipal elections is terrible. Runoffs for council seats have been know to attract between 5% and 10% of voters. Even on General Municipal Election Day, most citizens do not vote.
If people don’t care who represents them, why bother to run?
If the question seems abstract, and there’s nothing wrong with abstract, it might be said that by limiting Council terms and not voting, citizens do, in fact, cede municipal representation to large money donors and interest groups who, for whatever reasons, are involved in the process.
In this way, maybe the “abstract” question does lead to a solid, and distressing, answer.
Above is a “big picture” way to look at Houston.
(The picture is of John Calvin.)
While this subject may not have been on your mind lately, read the excerpts for a sense of why ideologies and theologies fall out of favor with the public and fail.
Ideas that mean something and are useful to people must have both root and branch. There must both a core logic and a visible benefit.
While it’s true that many folks may place more stress on the visible benefit, you don’t have to be that way. It’s your call.
From Parrington— To preach with convincing force one must appeal to the common experience; dogma must appear to square with the evident facts of life….When it ceases to be a reasonable working hypothesis in the light of common experience, it is no longer a controlling influence in men’s lives….In an aristocratic society it is natural to believe that God has set men apart in classes; but as the leveling process tended to strip away the social distinctions, the new individualism undermined the older class psychology.
As the (17th) century advanced the growing dissatisfaction with Calvinism received fresh impetus from the new social philosophy of France. The teaching of Rousseau that in a state of nature men were good…..would appeal to men whose experience was daily teaching them the falseness of the traditional dogmas (that men were inherently wicked.)
Although the provincial colonial might not come into immediate contact with such speculative philosophy, in the long run he could not escape being influenced by it.
Calvinism had taught that people were depraved by nature. Living in small villages and in many respects dependant upon each other, people saw this was not true. The old faith faded away.
This fading away can happen to any idea that does not adapt to new times or that can no longer make the political case.
Regretfully, we have seen liberalism fail in this political sense in the last 40 years. Though, hopefully, that is now changing.