Sunday, May 25, 2014

YES! to Scotland; No Place for Trident

Q: What's the most important thing happening in global security in the next 12 months?

A: The YES vote in Scotland.

Okay, okay, don't feel bad.  It was under my radar, too, at least until I attended the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Prepcom in New York a few weeks ago.  Scots go to the polls on the question of independence on Thursday, September 18, 2014, and there is a possibility they will vote to secede from the United Kingdom.

The outcome is not a foregone conclusion. "A TNS poll on March 25 showed that 42 percent would reject independence, with 28 percent voting "yes" and 28 percent undecided," reported Reuters. But Reuters also reports that Alistair Carmichael, Britain's Secretary of State for Scotland, "warns that the vote could ultimately go for secession."

But wait - what's that got to do with "the most important thing happening in global security in the next 12 months"?

If Scotland secedes, there is a strong likelihood that Scotland would decide to close the Trident submarine base at Faslane, and its accompanying Coulport nuclear missile depot.

"NO ROOM FOR DEBATE: The SNP's stance on Trident was so firm
there could be no negotiation over its removal, said Scotland Office
minister David Mundell." Picture: PA in Herald Scotland

Faslane/Coulport is the only nuclear submarine base in the British Isles.

Now, there is a diversity of opinion about what might happen next.  England might negotiate to obtain lease on the base, so it can stay open. (Some commentators call that unlikely.) England might decide to move the Tridents to a port in England. (But that would require them to create a depot to store the nuclear missiles - a dicey proposition in densely populated areas.)  England might find another country to allow them to base this dangerous cargo; some have suggested France. (Um - hello? France?)

And all of this is happening smack in the runup to the every-5-year Non Proliferation Treaty review conference in May, 2015.  There is already a showdown brewing over the refusal of nuclear states (read: the U.S.) to move swiftly to full disarmament.  The spectre of British Isle de-nuclearization, combined with pushback against nukes coming from America's erstwhile NATO allies in Europe could lend great weight to calls for disarmament.

I'll be writing more soon about what I learned about anti-nuclear momentum building among the governments of Northern Europe.  In the meantime, think:

YES! to Scotland

No Place for Trident

Read more about the "Yes" campaign at

Read more about "No place for Trident" at the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Related posts

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has filed unprecedented lawsuits against all nine nuclear-armed nations for their failure to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament, as required under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The suits were filed against all nine nations at the International Court of Justice, with an additional complaint against the United States filed in U.S. Federal District Court.

 (See Now HERE'S an "Asia Pivot" I Can Believe In! (Marshall Islands Sues Nuclear "Haves") )

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry)

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )

More related links

September 14, 2014: Stephen Phelan, "A Better Nation: Scotland’s Divisive Independence Vote" in The Boston Review: "At this point, perhaps I should also disclose that I have always been unnerved and affronted by the storage of the United Kingdom’s entire nuclear arsenal at the Faslane naval base on the River Clyde, just twenty-five miles from Glasgow. Even after devolution, all matters of defense are reserved to Westminster, and the Trident submarine missile system has stayed in Scotland over the objections of a massive majority. If I still lived here this issue alone might make me vote Yes; the SNP’s outline for independence makes an emphatic point of removing Trident missiles from Scottish sovereign territory, thus forcing the U.K. government to find another home for those weapons, or to scrap them altogether, which seems unlikely to the point of fantasy and hinges on the faint hope that no suitable alternative bases can be found in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. To me, it seems a relatively straightforward question of morality and democracy, tinged with personal politics and memories of childhood nightmares. For others, it is more a question of jobs." (emphasis added)

September 15, 2014: Bill Kidd and Erika Simpson, "Britain’s Wee Nuclear Problem," on the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation website: "Even if not enough Scots vote Yes to win independence, their voting patterns could provide an opportunity for Britons as a whole to rethink their approach to nuclear weapons. . . . In the face of such opposition from Scotland — even in the possible wake of a decided No vote — it will remain difficult for the UK government to continue its absurd and costly pursuit of renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system against the backdrop of international negotiations to ban nuclear weapons. Scotland’s vote this Thursday could go either way, but it is already sure to push Mother England to overcome her Cold War thinking about security by undermining traditional arguments in favour of maintaining these weapons of mass destruction." (emphasis added)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Does a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) need to be part of a "new plan of Chicago"?

"I ask each of you 
to think about this problem 
and how you can own it."
- Zachary Fardon

The remarks by U.S Attorney Zachary Fardon on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, in Chicago seem to point directly to the need for a democratically-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) for Chicago.

The topic -- the "problem" -- Fardon was talking about was violence, and the thrust of his remarks was that part of the solution lies with specialists, but that the ultimate solution requires the participation of the people.

The Chicago Tribune made this the focus of its lead editorial yesterday -- "How can you own Chicago's violence?" (The words "and subdue" were added to the online version.) And it tied it into the larger discourse about the future of Chicago that the Tribune has been trying to stir up under the rubric "A new plan of Chicago."

The "new plan of Chicago," of course, makes reference to the historic Plan of Chicago commissioned by Chicago civic leaders a century ago.  On its face, the "plan" was architectural -- proposals for how vast areas of the city would be developed, the rational placement of roads, etc.  But underlying the plan was sociology and politics -- how larger and larger numbers of Americans could live together in what surely was the city of the future.

The Tribune has been inviting all Chicagoans -- and people everywhere, in fact -- to become part of the conversation about what it will take to form a vision of Chicago for the next century.

An essential component of the "new plan of Chicago," as suggested by the Tribune, is a fundamentally new relationship of the people of the city to the civil servants who provide for public safety. As things currently stand, the police force is a power unto itself, accountable to no one but the Mayor, and for vast portions of the city this sets an example of force, power, and violence as the way that problems get solved.

Yes, there is a toothless review mechanism -- the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) -- but IPRA is not accountable to the populace, and the popular perception is that it exists to protect the police. There were 138 police shootings in Chicago between January 2007 and September 2009: 138, with 44 fatalities. The IPRA statistic from that period that sticks in my mind is "IPRA findings of fault in police shootings: 1" (“officer inattentive to duty” because he fired his gun accidentally. He argued he had shot the person intentionally but IPRA didn’t believe him). (See Chicago’s IPRA: Indiscriminate Police Rampage Authorization? )

Cop placed on desk duty in connection with raid at massage parlor
The lived experience of a vast number of people in Chicago is that the police operate from a position of unassailable power: the authority of the police comes from their guns and ordinary people have no recourse against police crimes. And we question why people think violence is the way to get results?

Here's how researchers have put it:

Why do people believe that violence is acceptable? In this article, the authors study people’s normative beliefs about the acceptability of violence to achieve social control (as a substitute for the police, for self-protection and the resolution of disputes) and social change (through violent protests and acts to achieve political goals). Addressing attitudes toward violence among young men from various ethnic minority communities in London, the authors find that procedural justice is strongly correlated with police legitimacy, and that positive judgments about police legitimacy are associated with more negative views about the use of violence. They conclude with the idea that police legitimacy has an additional, hitherto unrecognized, empirical property—by constituting the belief that the police monopolise rightful force in society, legitimacy has a “crowding out” effect on positive views of private violence.

(See "Monopolizing force? Police legitimacy and public attitudes toward the acceptability of violence." Jackson, Jonathan; Huq, Aziz Z.; Bradford, Ben; Tyler, Tom R. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol 19(4), Nov 2013, 479-497.)

In other words, as another U.S. Attorney for the Chicago area -- Thomas Sullivan -- said in a recent Tribune editorial, "[W]hen those we entrust to enforce the law have engaged in misconduct, action has to be taken. Otherwise, an official green light is flashed, and a silent message of approval is sent." (See "Seeking punishment for errant police and prosecutors")

The Tribune, itself, says that the solution lies ultimately not with the professionals but with the people:

There is much that many of us cannot do to combat Chicago's violence. For that we have a mayor, our police officers, our prosecutors, our judges and all of the other professionals who try to keep everyone safe.

But there also is much that any one of us can do. To help a child, to help a mother, to help a street, to help a neighborhood.

A campaign exists to bring about a democratically-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in Chicago. The campaign would involve the people in electing the watchers of the police, and put the ultimate control of (and responsibility for) the police in the hands of the citizens of Chicago.

People will be taking to the streets this summer to gather signatures and build support for CPAC.  The people will see CPAC enacted.

It would be a good thing if the Chicago Tribune saw fit to back CPAC as an essential element of a  "new plan of Chicago."


The Chicago Campaign for an Elected
Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC)

9 More Ideas You Won't Hear

at Chicago Ideas Week . . .

Related posts

#BlackLivesMatter: When all is said and done, how many career politicians in Chicago will have crashed and burned along the way because they couldn't or wouldn't step up and lead on this issue?

(See #PeopleOverPolice: Is This What Democracy Looks Like? )

As reported in the June 25 Chicago Sun-Times, "Hauad said police during an interrogation cut off the fronts of his gym shoes with a paper cutter and threatened to cut off his toes next if he didn’t confess. Police photos show Hauad’s gym shoes at first were in normal condition but later had their toe sections severed, just as Hauad said. Hauad also said he was slapped and beaten while in custody."

(See CHICAGO: Home of the Original "Air Jaime" Athletic Shoe )

In the city where I live, "normal" or "right" or "acceptable" has been given a brutal construction by the power structure:

Police encounter black man on street
Police shoot black man
Black man dies
(Business as usual in Chicago.)

 (See We need to get the police off the streets of Chicago. QED.)

The State's Attorney for the Chicago area finally got around to bringing a charge against a police officer who shot and killed a citizen. Why, I wondered, didn't Anita Alvarez charge him with murder?

Then I remembered my Chicago vocabulary lesson.

(See Chicago Vocabulary Lesson: "Overcharging" and "Undercharging" )

The Chicago Tribune editorial page today featured the words of Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn in a case of police lying on the witness stand: "Obviously, this is very outrageous conduct. All officers lied on the stand today. ... Many, many, many, many times they all lied."

(See CHICAGO COPS: "Many, many, many, many times" they lied )

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Why focus on drone attacks?"

Drones: serving man. (Or . . . ?)

The months of April and May saw a large number of protests against the U.S. program of targeted killing with drones, and progress in challenging that program in Congress.

An interesting question was raised on a listserve:  "Why focus on drone attacks?" The questioner -- a dedicated peace activist with an inquiring mind -- explained that he felt a bit perplexed:

As far as I understand, these drone attacks cause damage similar to that caused by other kinds of weapons – cruise missiles, air-to-surface missiles fired by planes or helicopters, gravity bombs, artillery.

I don’t think that the anti-drone campaign would be pleased if the drone attacks stopped, but the same level of U.S. attacks were carried out by other weapons – say manned flights carrying missiles. Would that be better in some way? If it would be better, I ask you to explain to me how or why it would be better.

Here's how I responded:

In my opinion, the reason to focus on drones is this: when we focus on drones, the general public is able to "get," to an unusual extent, the degree to which popular consent has been banished from the process of carrying out state violence. (Sure, it was banished long ago, but the absence of a human in the cockpit of a drone suddenly makes a light bulb go off in people's heads.) It takes some prodding, but people can sense that drone use somehow crosses a line. And that opens up the discussion about how our consent has been eliminated from the vast range of US militarism.

I'm curious to know if other people agree with me.  What is your experience? Is the movement against drones helping to build consciousness about the deeper issues of consent?  Or are we being sidetracked by paying too much attention to other aspects of drone warfare?

Please join the conversation.

Related posts

Operating drones and other robotic killing machines still requires some human operators. And despite all their hopes to the contrary, the military establishment has discovered that human operators have consciences.

(See THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Drone Pilots Speaking Out)

Today we live in a different world. Without the draft, the people have "checked out." It is like Rome ... the legions do the work of empire and the people are kept happy with bread and circus. (Or Starbucks and "Dancing With the Stars," if you prefer.)

(See Not Your Father's Antiwar Movement )

Year after year, hundreds of thousands of people from Chicago and the surrounding area gather on the lakeshore to watch aerial displays by an array of planes. Most don't suspect that they are being subjected to an intense propaganda effort by multiple branches of the U.S. military.  The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo views this as a perfect opportunity to engage with the public and enlist them in the growing movement against U.S. war, torture, surveillance, and other crimes.  We will join activists from many other peace and justice groups who have had a growing presence at this event in recent years.

(See August 16-17: Protest U.S. Kidnapping, Torture, and Drone Assassinations at the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show Protest )

If the public will join us in asking the question "Who decides?" about drone executions, I believe they will rapidly come to realize that they are utterly dissatisfied with what the government is saying.

(See Who Decides? (When Drones are Judge, Jury, and Executioner) )

Now comes the messy part. We need many more people to engage with with the emotions aroused by drones. This is going to involve many different groups of people, engaging with this topic in many different ways: churches and faith groups . . . young people . . . . The point is: the discourse on drones is going to get out of our hands. It isn't always going to go the way we want. But the important thing is that many, many people are going to be talking about it in the ways that feel appropriate to them.

 (See Democracy vs. Drones)

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry)

GUANTANAMO: "Is that who we are?"

One year ago, Barack Obama gave a speech purporting to describe a sort of "new face" on U.S. national security.

Millions of people have learned what force-feeding is really about
by watching this video of Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) voluntarily
undergoing force-feeding using the methods employed at Guantanamo.
Notable for those who have been advocating for justice for those wrongfully detained at Guantanamo, President Obama made extended comments on the American practice of indefinite detention and torture:

I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?

(See White House website, Remarks of President Barack Obama, May 23, 2013)

Recently, I have been thinking hard about this question -- "Is that who we are?" -- as have many other people.

I have come to the conclusion that, yes, that is who we are.

The year that has passed since Obama's May 23 speech has been remarkable in part because of the unprecedented growth of a movement against mass incarceration.  A year ago, people were just beginning to talk about a book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Today, people everywhere are reading the book, telling others about it, and getting involved in projects at the local and national level to fight back against the racist and authoritarian structures that American life is built on.

Just this past weekend in Chicago, people gathered from around the country to launch a national movement to put a stop to crimes committed by police officers against ordinary civilians. We face a national epidemic of police crimes with deep roots in racism -- affecting the African-American community as well as all people of color, with harsh treatment dealt out to undocumented people, LGBT people, women, Muslims, and people involved in the labor, peace, and solidarity movements. As Angela Davis said at the rally concluding the National Forum on Police Crimes, “We are experiencing an epidemic of police violence and police shootings.” (See The Chicago Reporter, Davis: Police violence has hit a 'crisis' point)

The campaign to support Rasmea Odeh
is a current focus of opponents of
persecution of Muslims in the U.S.
One of the most incisive statements made at the Forum came from Muhammad Sankari, of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. Sankari talked about the FBI's single-minded focus on manufacturing an uninterrupted stream of cases against Muslims, using an elaborate modus operandi of preemptive prosecution, amounting to what Trevor Aaronson has documented as a "terror factory." (The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism) As Sankari explained, when people everywhere unite to fight back against the illegitimate prosecution and persecution of Muslims, they are making an important contribution to the leading edge of resistance against the racist and political repression that affects the African-American community as well as all people of color, with harsh treatment dealt out to undocumented people, LGBT people, women, Muslims, and people involved in the labor, peace, and solidarity movements; and when Muslims join in the broad movement against racist and political repression that affects all these groups, they are contributing to the resistance against prosecution and persecution of Muslims.

So . . . as we prepare in Chicago and over 60 other cities around the world to protest the unending stain of Guantanamo detention, I am thinking,

"Yes, unfortunately, this is who we are."

"It can be different."

"It will take a mass movement."

Related posts

Cook County Jail is the perfect example of the nationwide injustice that Michelle Alexander described in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration, focused principally one people of color, in which "crimes" (often related to drug possession or other low-level offenses) become the mechanism for entrapping people in a cycle of incarceration that is brutalizing and often begins a downward spiral of lifetime discrimination.

(See Free Them All )

Naturally, the jury in the NATO3 case has no reason to buy into Anita Alvarez's narrative about the threat of terrorism from ordinary citizens and how it justifies a culture of fear and a militarized, all-seeing, secret-driven police state. Which is not to say that they're not concerned about terrorism.

(See In Chi-town USA: got terrorism?)

For the next three months, people will be talking about the film 12 Years a Slave and its Oscar prospects. And well they should. The film is about the experiences of the free man, Solomon Northrup, who was seized and enslaved for twelve years, and it may be the best thing ever to come along for enabling us to confront the true meaning of our history of oppression and racism in America. But it's not just about history. 

(See 12 Years a Detainee)

Monday, May 19, 2014

EXTRA! Climate Economics Confound U of C Profs!

Not everyone at the University of Chicago is an economic genius.

At least that's my conclusion after listening to four professors on a panel about divestment related to climate change tonight. One of the panelists was an economist, two were physical scientists, and one was a political scientist. They seemed united in their determination to tell the assembled crowd of polite (mostly) students that divestment of fossil fuel stocks didn't make sense.

What was striking to me was that, despite the U of C's reputation as a center of economic research and thinking and teaching, all four of the panelists appeared singularly uninterested in the central economic problem of the climate crisis: how will the supply and demand of goods and services change as a result of society's understanding of the climate crisis? and how will the market react to signals about such changes?

Crescat scientia; vita excolatur.
Let knowledge grow from more to more;
and so be human life enriched
Notably, when asked about the possibility of a carbon bubble -- i.e. overvaluation of stocks dependent on fossil fuel consumption -- they all pooh-poohed the possibility.  "It's not as if the market isn't already aware!" Unfortunately, this is tantamount to saying there is no such thing as a bubble -- an assertion that is demonstrably untrue.  By definition, a bubble is a mistake by the market that occurs when, in fact, the market hasn't already taken all the necessary factors into account.

Within minutes they were agreeing that, while it may not be possible for atmospheric warming to be held below 2 degrees, known world fossil fuel reserves couldn't all be commercialized (burned) without resulting in temperature changes of 10 times that -- a result that would be catastrophic. So . . . what, the market's already "taken into account" all of this? The market already reflects the equilibrium point where it's all going to end up? Where, pray tell, might that be?

No, far from being the case that the investment arm of the University of Chicago has nothing to bring to the table in all this, I submit that the University is in a position to assert an investment thesis that maximizes its advantage in light of projected future developments, and that by articulating its thesis, it can bring the market better into line with reality -- and, not incidentally, enjoy a near-term windfall as market values are adjusted.

(Contrary to the view hazarded by the economist on the panel, it is not the case that the U of C's action is somehow "less" valuable if it is the 3rd or 13th or 30th university to do so.  Diminishing returns is not the issue here. The issue is whose investment thesis is articulated in a way that moves the market.)

The specifics of that investment thesis are fairly self-evident -- they go beyond short positions in fossil fuels and long positions renewables to include favoring public transit in favor of personal transportation, passive buildings, and low-energy food production.

My advice to the student activists at the University of Chicago: persist.  Someday your alma mater will thank you.

Related posts

Oil companies are valued by the market based on their reserves. The problem with this approach is that the total reserves claimed by the oil companies is FIVE TIMES what can possibly be burned without driving up the temperature of the atmosphere up by a catastrophic amount and, as McKibben puts it, "breaking the planet." How can the value of oil companies be a function of reserves that can never be used?

(See The REALLY Big Short: The Jig is Up with Oil Companies)

"Although we know the end from the very beginning," says Walker, "the story is no less compelling to watch." A man, gloriously alone (except for his own reflection) on an ice-covered lake; the soothing pastel colors of the distant sky; and what seems surely to be a circle he is digging around himself with a pick-axe. A perfect parable for our headlong rush toward climate crisis?

(See How Do You Say "Suicide Narcissus" in Chinese?)

I have begun writing about how the fate of the Earth is intertwined with the ability of BOTH China AND the U.S. to reverse their addiction to carbon. I think this linkage is so critical that it deserves its own word: "chinaEARTHusa".

(See China + USA = Planetocide)

Other related links

I remember a day several years ago when David Swenson came to Chicago to give a talk. People swarmed to hear him, because they thought this director of the Yale endowment was in a class by himself when it came to smart investing. Now I see he is directing his managers to take a hard look at whether Yale's investments were adequately accounting for the risk related to climate change, and "avoid companies that do not take sensible 'steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.'". (September 7, 2014, "Yale Fund Takes Aim at Climate Change" by Geraldine Fabrikant in The New York Times) Another sign to me that the jig is up . . . .

 November 1, 2014 - "The Missing Campus Climate Debate" by Evan J. Mandery in The New York Times: "[W]hat better forum than the university could there be for distinguishing among competing moral claims? Knowing students and professors, these debates would be prolonged, but it’s easy enough to structure the questions that would be asked and how they’d be answered regarding fossil fuels . . . . "

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

GODZILLA! and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves . . .

I saw the film Godzilla -- the original one, from 1954 -- last night at the Music Box Theater in Chicago.

I wanted to see the ur-Godzilla before going to see the new, American version that opens May 16.

The thing that struck me most about the 1954 Godzilla was the fidelity with which the filmmakers recreated the terror that the Japanese experienced during WWII, specifically during the fire bombings of their cities, and ultimately by the atomic bombings.

I was mystified that people who had been through such hell would seek to recreate it in art, and that the public would flock to see it.  How did this painful Godzilla narrative become a franchise that spawned dozens of sequels?

The spectre of cities on fire was a particularly Japanese reality in 1954.  What will a Godzilla produced in the U.S. in 2013 zero in on? Will the American Godzilla evoke a particularly American pain? To what end?

Of course, the original Godzilla was a morality play about the danger of knowledge that has gotten out of control -- scientific knowledge in general, and hydrogen bomb technology in general. "[I]f mankind continues to test nuclear weapons, another Godzilla may appear again one day." (Wikipedia, Godzilla (1954 film))

It was startling to see the 1954 Godzilla within days of returning from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Prepcom sessions in New York City.  I was struck during my time in New York to see person after person after person articulating the reasons nuclear weapons must be abolished and the U.S. must eliminate its stockpiles. This has been going on for decades. How many different ways can we send the message that nuclear weapons need to be stopped?  What will it take to finally bring about a successful mass movement against nuclear weapons?

Related posts

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

Eventually, in large part due to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the United States was converted from a country in which a small number of people thought slavery needed to be ended into a country determined to act to end slavery. This literary work took the movement wide, and it took it deep.

Why is a novel an important tool for creative resistance?

(See Creative Resistance 101: Uncle Tom's Cabin )

I often refer to how important the films of Iran have been in helping me open my mind to the possibilities of a peaceful relationship with that country.  I have been fortunate to be able to go see some of the best films from Iran every year at the wonderful Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The will be another Festival of Films From Iran showing there in February, 2014.

(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)

Friday, May 9, 2014

What Kind of Future Comes From Worshiping Speed, Machines, Flight, War?

By coincidence, the weekend I found myself in New York pondering a movement to construct a new future, I had the chance to spend some time at the Guggenheim Museum and see an exhibition that had aroused my curiosity several months previous: the art of a group of Italians who called themselves "Futurists."

Gerardo Dottori, Aerial Battle over the Gulf of Naples or
Infernal Battle over the Paradise of the Gulf
(Battaglia aerea sul Golfo di Napoli
or Inferno di battaglia sul paradiso del golfo), 1942 (detail)
(more on the Guggenheim Futurists exhibition website)

The Futurists burst on the scene in Italy in 1909. The works in the exhibit are fascinating, full of energy and color, and the movement had a strong iconoclastic and inventive bent. Strangely -- and unfortunately -- is also glorified war and violence, and was unapologetically misogynist. It fed right into Mussolini's Fascism.

I noticed, in particular, that the Futurists loved airplanes, and other fast machines. Considering how we, in the U.S. today have been seduced by drones and drone warfare, we would perhaps do well to reflect on why people find these things so appealing.

Ivo Pannaggi, Speeding Train

More broadly, the Futurists were fascinated with energy, velocity, power, and lots of other dimensions of physics -- color, sound, etc.

The manifesto of the Futurists included statements like . . .

We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit. 

Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character.  

We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman. 

And this led me to think: "Well, of course, no one knows for sure what the 'right' set of things are that characterize the future . . . that's what makes it 'the future' . . . but clearly if you focus on a few of the wrong things (like speed and power), of course you're going to end up way off course."

So . . . what should we focus on? What shall lie at the core of our futurism?

More about the Futurists.

Listen to "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" by John Adams.

Related posts

More than anything, I have a visceral memory of lying in the grass in Lincoln Park as a jet streaked east towards the lake, and the thought occurred to me, "This would be terrifying if I were a rice farmer in a paddy somewhere and I didn't know what this is all about." Yes, I confess, up until that moment, I had approached the Chicago Air & Water Show with very little perspective, or awareness, or empathy for others.

(See I { love | hate } the Chicago Air and Water Show)

I'm trying to understand: "What was Hayao Miyazaki thinking (when he made his latest animated film, The Wind Rises)?" How can this most humane (and antiwar) of artists created an homage to the creator of the Japanese Zero fighter plane?

(See Boys and Their Toys (Trying to Understand "The Wind Rises"))

"What are the unseen possibilities and risks associated with drones?" We need the insights of lots of people -- including the work of thinkers who are no longer living -- that are good at imagining the future and considering previously unimagined possibilities.

(See DRONES: Build a Foundation for Our 3-D Future )

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )