The wisdom of keeping an open mind…

Another Friday has rolled around & another busy week comes to an end. This weekend finds us heading off on Sunday to see the Moody Blues a couple of hours away – the tour is for the 50th anniversary of the release of Days of Future Past – hard to believe. So I’m holding off on a more topical political post for a few more days in order to stay in a better frame of mind (and I’ll save the Moody Blues music post until after the concert).

Enjoy your weekend & the following post from last July.

“What is important is that one utilizes one’s intellect and not to be 100 percent sure about one’s convictions. One should always leave room for doubt.”

— Shirin Ebadi

Winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace prize, Shirin Ebadi also has the distinction being the first Iranian to be given the prize. She was a lawyer and judge, and has been noted for her involvement in human rights causes, founded the Defenders of Human Rights Center, but has been in exile in the UK since 2009 since her views on the Iranian government exceeded the government’s very limited tolerance for dissent.

This particular quotes resonates with me quite a bit. I get frustrated with those that think that there is something noble about never changing their opinions in the face of new evidence. Forcing ourselves to look beyond our own bubbles – to see what others see – is so important both for ourselves, and for our ability to communicate with those outside of our bubbles. It isn’t always easy, but it is necessary.

To borrow a quote from Albert Camus –

“If absolute truth belongs to anyone in this world, it certainly does not belong to the man or party that claims to possess it”

Photo of the sloop Clearwater on the Hudson River between the Mid-Hudson Bridge & The Walkway Over the Hudson – April 17, 2015.

This post was originally published on July 21, 2015

Variations on a theme

I spent 4 hours today overheating at an annual village fair helping out at a First Amendment booth. Besides literature to hand out, the main attraction was thought bubbles that people could fill in wth whatever thoughts or ideas they wanted to share – no assigned topics, no judgements – and the completed bubbles were hung up around the booth. The plan, as I understand it, is to display the thoughts at a local library in the near future. Some people, unsurprisingling, just walked on by, some actively scoffed, and there were political commenters from all views, but many used the opportunity to offer words of hope, empowerment, peace. The messages, including the political ones, were overwhelmingly positive, and the contributors came in all ages and genders. It was a good thing, and I hope that the importance of the freedom of speech was reinforced in a  fun way,

But, of course, the First Amendment to the US Consitution covers a bit more than free speech. It also covers freedoms of religion, and freedom of the press, and the right to sue the government for the redress of grievances.

But, it is freedom of the press that often, especially recently, needs to be reinforced.

“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” — Albert Camus

 

Freedom of the press was explicitly guaranteed by our founders. And along with it the right of free expression and the right to dissent. This was such a strong foundational principle that it was codified within the first 10 amendments to our constitution – what we refer to as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, adopted in 1791, states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The press is so critical to the functioning of our Democratic Republic, that it is frequently referred to as the 4th Estate, or 4th branch of government. It is an important piece in the checks and balances that were built into our system. In the words of Harry S Truman, 33rd President of the United States:

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

I’d like to hope that we haven’t begun following that path, but I fear that we may have. It is up to all of us to help make sure that we stay on the path of freedom and openness by paying attention and speaking out (and writing).

 

True Patriotism

As we head into another weekend, and approach the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I find myself thinking, not of our founders, but of Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President, and wonder what he would make of the threats to the national park system that he championed. I also wonder what he would make of today’s Republican Party (I suspect Ronald Reagan would find it nearly unrecognizable). And I thought I’d share this quote as reminder that true patriotism, as Clarence Darrow noted, hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.

In that vein, I offer this quote of Theodore Roosevelt’s as something we need to keep in mind as we ride the rollercoaster that is Donald Trump’s presidency:

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

Image of Theodore Roosevelt was borrowed from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Tuesday’s Quotes – June 20, 2017 – reminders

“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”  — John F. Kennedy, 1961 Inagural Address

As I work on focusing myself for this month’s #1000Speak post, I came across this line from JFK’s inaugural address, and it seems to me that this is a concept we seem to have forgotten in the intervening 66 years.

Pax.

Photo of John F. Kennedy courtesy of  Whitehouse.gov

Tuesday’s Quotes – June 13, 2017

“The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

— Frances Perkins

France Perkins is probably not a name most of us recognize. Few Cabinet members, excluding Hamilton and Franklin (& they are remembered primarily for not being Cabinet members), can be named by most of us while they are still in office – never mind decades, or centuries, later.

Very long life story made very short – Frances Perkins was Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt. She has the distinction of being the longest-serving Secretary of Labor, 12 years, and the first female appointed to a Cabinet level position. Already active in lobbying efforts for better working conditions in New York in 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire pushed her to leave her teaching position to pursue a career in politics. In her capacity as Labor Secretary, she was instrumental to the success of most of the policies enacted during FDR’s tenure – many of which we still benefit from today.

On this, the 151st anniversary of the founding of the Department of Labor, it seemed reasonable to dust this quote off (my first Tuesday’s quote, in fact) because it is particularly apropos given our current climate in Washington. So many politicians seem to be jumping over themselves to prove that they are better than the next guy at slashing & burning government. They seem to have forgotten that in order to be a government ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People’, we have to actually support the PEOPLE. The average workers. Not the large corporations that have proven trickle-down economics to be a failure, not the mega-wealthy campaign donors who would like to have themselves, their corporations, and their trusts, pay an ever decreasing share of the expenses of running the society under which they’ve thrived.

A society is a construct that exists to benefit and support its members. A government exists to codify that support (because human beings have largely proven that anarchy is unworkable). So yes, even in a capitalist based economic system, the government has the obligation to put in place controls – such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, environmental protection – and also to levy taxes to maintain the infrastructure that we all take for granted – roads, bridges, public use lands. And to provide assistance to those in need – disability income, basic healthcare.

It seems that we, as a nation, have forgotten basic Civics, and missed or mis-read most of the Constitution, and have allowed ourselves to be swayed by those that that have exploited our fears (of ‘Big Brother’, of having our beliefs trampled by people who believe differently, of our lost jobs being given to – or taken by – ‘foreigners’) into ceding power to those who have already proven themselves capable of all of the above on both the national & state levels.

We seem to have lost sight of the purpose government.

This is common sense. It’s our civic duty. It’s about being a responsible member of society, and demanding no less of our elected representatives.

But most of all, it is about being a good human.

 

Sunrise over the Hudson, July 2013.

Tuesday’s Quotes – June 6, 2017 – Kennedy

“To say that the future will be different from the present is, to scientists, hopelessly self-evident. I observe regretfully that in politics, however, it can be heresy. It can be denounced as radicalism, or branded as subversion. There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.”
— Robert Kennedy, 1964

I think those people are in power now.

In the early hours of this day in 1968, Robert Kennedy died from a gunshot wound received the evening before – he was 42 years old and, like his brother before him, he was assassinated.

The lines below were spoken in support of the Civil Rights movement, but hardly seem less important now.

“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”

View of the Hudson River looking north from the Walkway Over the Hudson, circa November 2015.