Penn State Sexual Assault Verdict: Victory of the Homophobes?

Jerry Sandusky

You have to wonder how much of the hoop-la over the Penn State sanctions can be attributed to simple homophobia.

Is it because the NCAA was totally grossed out at the thought of a football coach making out with a boy in the showers that they were moved to actually impose a sanction with some teeth?

After all, how many cases have we had nationwide of football and other athletic teams being involved with sexual assault of young women?  Can you think of any such cases where the top dogs actually took the victims’ side?

Penn State is different because it was a coach preying on underage boys. But how different is that, really, from team athletes preying on young women?

Certainly in both cases we have had many scenarios where administrators chose to turn a blind eye rather than discipline the offenders.

Generally speaking, sexual assault of young women is just boys being boys or men being men.

But sexual assault of boys by men is unmanly, and therefore deserving of major fines and sanctions.

What does it mean that the slide show published by The Huffington Post focuses especially on the horrified reactions of young women to the news that Penn State will be fined and have to forego its wins for more than the past decade?

Is the silent subtext that if women think this is over-the-top reaction to Sandusky’s sodomy, then it really is?

The truth is that American sports culture celebrates the cult of the male at the same time as it is rife with homophobia.

Clearly, Jerry Sandusky crossed the line and committed an unforgiveable crime against boys who trusted him.

Clearly no coach should be allowed to abuse his position of authority with either boys or girls.

But why is it that when girls are abused at the hands of sports teams, they face a tremendously difficult, uphill battle to get their claims recognized as legitimate in court, while when boys are victims, it’s really a crisis?

At its most basic, sexual assault is about the domination of the weak by the strong.  It really doesn’t matter so much what gender the underdog is.  I am as disgusted by the sexual assault of boys as I am by the sexual assault of girls.

I just wish I could say the same for our nation’s sports leadership.

It’s past time to clean up our act.

Taking the Leap into a Better World

Lately I’ve been feeling like I am straddling two banks that are rapidly moving away from each other, leaving me performing ever more of a balancing act in the middle of a rushing stream.

One foot is still hanging on to the familiar dry land on which I was born and bred: the safe, predictable world of a privileged existence within the capitalist empire, where every problem has a technological solution, all needs are met, and there is nothing really to worry about, beyond what to have for dinner, or where to go on the next vacation.

This is the world in which I am a true-blue Democrat, I pay my taxes without question, and I work hard in expectation of an eventual pleasant retirement.

But I also have a foot in quite another realm, one that is still quite foreign to most of my peers.

In this other, parallel universe, security and predictability are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as the weather turns ever more erratic, leading to food shortages and a survivalist mentality.  Clashes between unarmed protesters and heavily armed police are common, with the protests mainly concerning lack of basic food and supplies.

No one knows where this is all heading, but it does not appear to be anywhere positive. The elites have hidden themselves away in their own privately funded strongholds, and other than the military folks it does not seem that anyone is really in charge.

Most people I know are clinging to the first bank, even though it’s beginning to seem ever more unstable, as if beset by internal tremors that are slowly but surely breaking it up. They are positioned like Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, looking resolutely backward, away from the chaos of the future.

I don’t know why I am unable to join them in their denialist party.  It sure looks like a good time.

But having become aware of the crisis through which we’re living, I can’t just turn a switch and pretend I don’t know what’s going on. The second bank is like a mirage that is slowly coming into focus, no matter how much I try to turn away and not look.

I’ve spent long enough studying narratives of social upheaval and moments of violent crisis to know one when I see it coming.

A recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review provided an unusual window into the curious calm before the storm of all-out societal dissolution—in this case, the unfolding Syrian civil war.

The author, Janine di Giovanni, begins with a series of questions: “What does it feel like when a war begins? When does life as you know it implode? How do you know when it is time to pack up your home and your family and leave your country? Or if you decide not to, why?”

When does life as you know it implode?

When is it time to pack up and leave?

Where can we go to find safety?

Eastern European immigrants entering New York

These are questions that my ancestors asked, back in the 19th century Europe of ever-narrowing restrictions and ever-more-violent pogroms.  I am here because they had the courage and the foresight to get away to safety before it was too late.

But now the safely cushioned existence that so many of us have enjoyed here in the U.S. and other privileged enclaves on the planet is threatened by a crisis of our own making.

We didn’t realize that everything about our lifestyle, politics and ideology would contribute to the downfall not just of American empire, but of human civilization itself.

We didn’t realize what a deadly game we were playing.

But we can no longer plead ignorance.

Unlike our predecessors, we 21st century folk are going to have a very hard time finding any place to go that is safe, where we can ride out the climate shocks unscathed.

We can’t run, we can’t hide from the environmental shocks that are only just beginning to hit. 

We have to stay and see this through.

What that will mean I am not sure.  In part it depends on how many of us wake up now and begin to take some proactive steps towards reorganizing our society, before we’re reduced to reactive crisis control.

Our political system is locked in a kind of stasis from which there does not seem to be any forward movement possible—just endless round and round and round.

We must move forward—grow, evolve, adapt—if we are to survive.

Today I caught a glimmer of something new that may be the early stages of the kind of change we need to successfully weather the coming storms.

The International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS) is an emergent (or is it insurgent?) movement to create a decentralized, highly participatory catalyst for urgent social change.

It’s not clear yet whether it will be a flash in the pan or an idea whose time has come.

So far it has just over 2,000 members worldwide.

Including me.

Maybe it’s time to stop straddling both banks.  Time to take the leap and jump fully into new territory, both feet on the ground.

Time to show some backbone on gun control!

Another summer, another mass shooting of innocent civilians.

Another round of media feeding frenzy on the tragedy, another collective outpouring of sympathy and outrage from the public, another set of poses and postures from politicians for and against increased regulation of weapons in this country.

It’s gotten to be so predictable, it’s hard to get that engaged, although of course one has to pause and reflect on the horror of being mowed down in one’s seat in a suburban movie theater.

The truth is, it’s amazing that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often in America.

After all, we are the largest gun manufacturer in the world.  We’re also the largest producer of violent entertainment in the world, from BATMAN to video games to pornography.

Barring countries actively engaged in civil war—Syria, anyone?  Israel/Palestine? Congo?—we sport the most heavily armed civilian population in the world.

As the pundits have been saying repeatedly all day, states like Colorado have no regulation at all over who can buy assault weapons.  Any Joe can walk in to a gunshop and walk out with an AK-47, no questions asked.

With policies like that, is it any wonder lethal weapons end up in the hands of loonies and psychopaths?

Everyone knows what needs to be done: we need to make it much harder to obtain weapons, especially assault weapons.

After all, we don’t let kids get into cars and drive them without training and licensing, because we know cars can be easily turned into lethal weapons.

But actual guns, whose sole purpose is killing, we sell over the counter without screening or comment.

Back in the 1980s, it took a coalition of furious mothers to start the movement that eventually led to much stricter punishments for driving drunk, as well as greatly improved education for teens on the dangers of drunk driving.

Remember MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving?

Candy Lightner, founder of MADD

Those grieving mothers had lost their children to our nation’s lax drunk driving enforcement, coupled with a permissive, boys-will-be-boys culture, and they weren’t going to take their personal tragedies lying down.

Neither should we.

I want to see rallies in every state capital, demanding gun control legislation effective immediately!

I want to see Gabrielle Giffords at the head of a march on Washington, insisting that our nation’s leaders do more than put the flags at half-mast and shed some crocodile tears over the loss of innocent lives today.

Gabrielle Giffords


Gabrielle Giffords after being shot in the head

I want our society to show some backbone!

Not just on this issue, but on all the difficult issues that face us nationally and internationally today.

Enough sitting back and waiting for the next tragedy to strike.  Time to put down the remote, get off the couch, and get down to the business of making ourselves a better world.

Climate Change: What do we tell our children?

This has been a big week for change agents in the U.S.

First Annie Leonard came out with her new movie, The Story of Change.

Annie Leonard

Then David Brancaccio released his new movie, “ Fixing the Future,” with a two-day nationwide roll-out starting on July 18.

David Brancaccio

And today Bill McKibben made the cover of Rolling Stone, confirming him, at least in my eyes, as the true rock star of the environmental movement.

In the same week, radical economist Gar Alperovitz gave a historic keynote address to the Green Party National Convention, arguing that you can’t have a democratic society unless you democratize the ownership of wealth as well.

The big question is, will the best efforts of all these good folks make a difference in what is happening to our precious planet?

Or is it just so much more hot air, to add to an already too-hot summer?

This week I am teaching a class in media studies for middle schoolers.  While I’m amazed and delighted at the facility of the students with the technology of digital communications, I am also struck by the narrow focus of their concerns.

Three of the students have started blogs about fashion trends.  Another has started a blog about anime and manga characters.  Of the three others in the class, one is using her blog to do movie reviews, another is talking about hard science issues (the Higgs Boson discovery), and the third is writing about the stock market and the technological age we live in.

Absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.

Except that if we don’t solve the climate crisis, it will all be completely moot.

Runway fashions, movie stars, cartoons and stocks will all be swept away before the onslaught of food insecurity, economic instability and violently unpredictable storms.

No, this is not the stuff of Hollywood fantasy.  It is real, and as McKibben points out in the intro to his Rolling Stone article, it’s already happening.

As a teacher, what am I supposed to do?  If I remind my students (and my own children, for that matter) just how grave and portentous a time we are living through, aren’t I placing an enormous burden on them?  And isn’t it true that it is my generation, not theirs, that bears the brunt of the responsibility for where we are now?

And yet, if I say nothing and let them proceed as if fashion and anime were the most compelling topics of the moment, am I not being dishonest?

It really is quite a dilemma, for any parent and every teacher who is aware of what is really at stake in the times we live in.

I imagine it must have been similar for principled people in other times of crisis.  Do we try to shelter the children, keep their lives as normal as possible, for as long as we can?  Or do we let them know what is going on, and enlist them in the urgent struggle for positive change?

I don’t believe in lying to young people, and I have never been very good at lying, anyway.

The truth is that we are living through times unlike any faced by human beings before, in the 10,000 years of our history on the planet.

What we do in the next decade will make the difference between our continued existence on the planet, or the extinction or radical reduction of human civilizations on Earth.

I love Bill McKibben because so far, at least, he never gives up.

He’s got a true fighting spirit that refuses to take no for an answer.

Still, eventually even Bill may have to concede that the fossil fuel industry, with the politicians in their back pockets, is simply not going to give.

When that moment occurs, it will be game over for human beings on the planet, and so many other of our fellow Holocene travelers too—birds, fish, plants, and mammals.

But it’s not over til it’s over.    And I, at least, will never give up hope that people of all ages, from every corner of the world, will see the crucial urgency of this moment; that they will act upon their new awareness;  that the politicians will be compelled to listen; and that we will be able to turn this great climate change juggernaut around.

Across the Gonad Divide

I’m getting tired of seeing the gender card being played as a veiled excuse for ideological dominance.

David Brooks

Conservative critic David Brooks predictably pines for the good ol’ days when boys were boys and men were men, and schools catered exclusively to the values and needs of these scions of masculinity.

The problem, as Brooks sees it, is that our schools have become feminized and namby-pamby, with anyone who isn’t able to play by the rules liable to be rushed to the school nurse’s office for ADD drugs.

In a recent column, he calls for “more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.”

Feminist pundit Caryl Rivers retorts that schools are appropriately training kids—both male and female—to “succeed in the new workplace in which communication, focus, determination and teamwork are key ingredients.”

Brooks wants to see teachers celebrate and honor “competition” and  “military virtues” in a “boot camp” type of school environment.

I would hope that “communication, focus, determination and teamwork are key ingredients” of military training as well as ordinary schooling.

So what’s the real difference here?

There have always been men who communicated well, who enjoyed sitting in classrooms and paying attention to the teacher without the need for psychotropic medications, just as there have always been women who enjoyed competitive sports and the top-down hierarchical approach of the military.

The problem comes when we view gender difference as a black-and-white either/or issue, rather than more properly as a spectrum of behaviors and characteristics.

Rivers is right that the past decade of funded research on brain physiology and neuroscience has largely come up with nothing: “The alleged great differences between the brains of boys and girls are a myth.”

That’s because boys and girls are not Martians and Venusians—they’re humans, and the human brain of girls and boys is more alike than it is dissimilar.

We should not impose our out-dated gender stereotypes on either boys or girls.  Instead, we should learn to see our children as humans first, and then—somewhat incidentally–as gendered.

We don’t have time to be tilting at the windmills of gender stereotypes right now.

We need all hands on deck—boys and girls, teachers and school administrators, and media pundits too—to focus on the most important challenge of our time: transitioning to a sustainable society.

If gender is a spectrum from female to male, on which we each locate ourselves somewhere, we will need the entire spectrum’s wisdom and strengths to carry us into the next great era of human existence on the planet, the Anthropocene.

The question to be asking ourselves as we move forward is: what do we want the Anthropocene to be known for?

Bloodthirsty violence and competition, military-style?  Or mutual aid and cooperation, diplomacy-style?

I know what I prefer.  And I don’t think the fact that I have ovaries instead of testicles has a damned thing to do with it.

Love in the end times

The political horserace in American politics has begun, with both Presidential candidates running full-tilt but ponderously towards each other like armored knights on horseback, wielding the lances of millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads and backed up by slick, smart campaign pages.

Meanwhile, it continues to be hot, hotter and unbearably hot here in the Northeast.  It was a blessing to wake up this morning to a brief soaking rain, breaking weeks of drought.

But there is no way to fool myself into hoping that things will go back to normal, weather-wise.

As many people have been saying lately, this is the new normal.

Just as we’ve gotten used to a political climate in which it’s normal for a Presidential candidate to hide his tax returns, refuse to comment on moving his millions into off-shore tax havens, and totally repudiate everything he once stood for in order to lick the shoes of his political bosses, we’re going to have to get used to a climate that lurches from one extreme to another–from blizzards to heat waves, from floods to droughts.

Those extremes also characterize the new economic normal.  These days, I’m having trouble convincing myself that the global economy that has been built up over my lifetime, since the end of World War II, is ever going to be able to function in such a way as to provide security and prosperity for the majority of the world’s people.

Maybe it never did.  There has always been a vast underclass of the disenfranchised, for whom globalization was just another name for displacement, oppression and exploitation.

The difference is that now we’re seeing a huge spike in the ranks of the poor right in the heart of what used to be called the First World—right in our backyards.

For a middle-class earner like me, it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet, and there are no substantial raises or bonuses in sight.

For the millions who are unemployed or under-employed or scraping by with under-the-table jobs in the informal economy, this new normal has got a distinctly  Dust Bowl feel to it.

Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala

The Occupy encampments have faded away, victims perhaps of effective police surveillance, infiltration and undermining.  The only Presidential candidate who has any new ideas to offer about improving the economy is the one we never see or hear on prime time, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, along with her running mate Cheri Honkala.

Most people aren’t saying much about the panic that runs like a live wire through their interior lives.

We are trying to enjoy this hot summer in the usual ways: going to the beach, having barbecues with friends and family, taking in a nice air-conditioned movie now and then.

But every once in a while a voice will break through our heat-addled stupor, crying to us to Wake up, wake up, before it’s too late!!

So, for example, we hear marine scientist Roger Bradbury shouting out from the Opinion Pages of the New York Times today, telling us to pay attention now, in these crucial last years before the planet’s entire coral reef ecosystem collapses, setting off a chain reaction of events that may very well include the starvation of millions of people, particularly in the tropics, who depend on the ocean for food.

Bleached coral

“Overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution are pushing coral reefs into oblivion,” Bradbury says. “What we will be left with is an algal-dominated hard ocean bottom, as the remains of the limestone reefs slowly break up, with lots of microbial life soaking up the sun’s energy by photosynthesis, few fish but lots of jellyfish grazing on the microbes. It will be slimy and look a lot like the ecosystems of the Precambrian era, which ended more than 500 million years ago and well before fish evolved.”

Bradbury advocates “an enormous reallocation of research, government and environmental effort” towards the “ecological engineering” necessary “to make the economic structural adjustment that communities and industries that depend on coral reefs urgently need.”

Even though Bradbury aims to be pragmatic and forward-thinking with his wake-up call, I still wonder if he’s living in a dream world.

Governments and the United Nations can’t even agree on basic protocols to begin to cut carbon emissions and pump up our renewable energy industries.  They don’t appear to give a damn about the hundreds of millions of poor, hand-to-mouth folk who are already being hard hit by climate change pressures, and they are not even willing to act when it comes to trying to assure the safe passage of the elites into the Anthropocene, air conditioners and all.

What should we be doing in these end times?  Where should we be putting our energies?

Not in the political side show of the Presidential race.

Not in the mindless distractions of our media-saturated cultural environment.

No, I believe we need to do two things above all as the world warms and our precious days of “normal” existence come to a close.

One: stay close to friends and family; strengthen the bonds of community.  We will be needing each other more than ever in the times ahead.

Two: Try to stay in the present moment as much as possible.  We humans are very good at casting our minds forward into the future, but in this case, the scenarios are only going to be pushing our panic buttons.  It’s important to stay calm and focused.

Tend the parts of the earth you can reach.  Keep your love flowing.

Floods, drought: the Earth needs us now

floods in southern Russia

I could hardly believe it when I read in the paper today that major floods in Russia have caused nearly 200 deaths this week.


It is bone dry here in the hills of western Massachusetts.  It is so dry that if I did not water my vegetable garden every day, all my beautiful plants would be drying up in the merciless drought.

When I walk by the half-dry river in the afternoons, I am struck by all the yellow and brown leaves on the path—the forest has the golden cast of September now, the dry spell fast-forwarding us from mid-summer to fall.

The first veiled hints of trouble have made their way into the mainstream media, with crop losses due to drought expected to push up the prices of food in the U.S.

Barely a mention of shortages yet.  No rationing.  Just higher prices, which will make it harder for those of us on fixed incomes—not to mention all the unemployed—to afford to buy what we want to eat.

Clearly there is a shocking imbalance between the torrential rains in Europe and the parched drought here in the US.

Clearly it’s anthropogenic climate change rearing its scary hydra head.

I have heard tell of Native Americans calling on the rain gods to bring rain clouds to a dry landscape.

Our own techno-engineers talk about seeding the clouds to provide rain.

In both cases, it’s a matter of human beings applying our great brain power to find solutions to problems that threaten our existence.

Each of us has some gift to contribute to the common cause of survival—remembering that the survival of human beings is entirely intertwined with the survival of every other life form on the planet, from plankton to trees to bees.

Truly, this is no time to wait shyly on the sidelines to be invited, or to wait for others to take the lead.

As the saying goes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. If ever a time called for brilliant and dramatic solutions, that time is now.

Looking Forward with Orion Magazine

The spirit of Henry David Thoreau was in the air last week at a gathering at his old stomping grounds at the top of Mount Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts, hosted by Orion Magazine to celebrate the launch of its new anthology, The Thirty Year Plan.

Keynote speakers at the event were Orion contributing writers Ginger Strand, Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill McKibben, all of whom seemed to have a common concern on their minds as they looked into the future: climate change.

Thoreau’s legacy of using writing as a vehicle for civil disobedience is a mantle that all three writers have already assumed, particularly McKibben, who is very much following in Thoreau’s footsteps in going beyond simply writing about activism to actually standing at the forefront of a growing activist movement.

Characteristically, McKibben wasted no time in reminding his listeners that it’s high time for decisive action in the quest to transition our global economy off fossil fuels.

“It’s not enough to go around changing lightbulbs or even buying hybrid vehicles,” he said.  “Individual change won’t do it, the math doesn’t add up.  We have to change the price of carbon to reflect its true cost to our environment.

“We will never be able to match ExxonMobil and the other fossil fuel corporations in money, but we do have people power, and we have to use it.  A lot of you are going to have to come down to Washington DC and get arrested with me!” he said to applause.

McKibben also suggested using the shareholder pressure that was successfully applied against apartheid in South Africa back in the 1980s, but this time putting pressure on the fossil fuel industry to reinvent itself as a renewable energy industry based on wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal.

Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill McKibben speaking at Bascom Lodge, Mount Greylock, mA

The Beauty of Renewable Power

 From the top of Mount Greylock there is a striking view of eight huge spinning wind turbines on a ridge not far away, over by Jiminy Peak.  Wind power has become controversial in New England, with some towns and neighborhoods arguing vociferously against the location of wind turbines in their backyards.

In Massachusetts there has been great opposition to the proposal to build a windfarm out in Nantucket Sound, and here in the Berkshire hills we have also had many people of the NIMBY mindset.

When asked to comment on the prospect of wind turbines being set up on mountaintops in wilderness areas, Bill McKibben was unequivocal.

“I love the wilderness as much as anyone, and I’ve spent a lot of time out in the Adirondacks, as far away from it all as you can get.  But I’d have absolutely no problem with a wind turbine being set up overlooking my favorite patch of forest,” he said.

“The real threat to the places we love is fossil fuels, not wind towers,” McKibben said, adding that he has little sympathy for Americans who complain about wind towers being unattractive.

“Our sense of what’s beautiful is going to have to change,” he said.  Wind turbines located in Vermont or Massachusetts force people living in these exclusive areas to see the results of our impact on the climate, McKibben said, unlike our usual practice of making people in other parts of the planet—the Maldives, or Bangladesh, or the mountaintops of Virginia, for example—do all the suffering.

Emphasizing that the technology already exists to shift to renewable energy, McKibben pointed to the fact that Germany is already breaking records with its distributed solar energy model.

In May, German solar plants produced a record 22 gigawatts of electricity in two days, equal to the output of 20 nuclear power plants.

According to a recent Reuters article, “Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.”

Solar panels sprout on roofs in Heidelberg, Germany

The Challenge of Getting People’s Attention

The contributors to the Orion Thirty Year Plan vision agree that the challenges we face in getting off fossil fuels are much more socio-political than they are technical.

One of the questions that remains intractable is how to get the public fully engaged with the issue of climate change, so that more people are willing to try Thoreau-style civil disobedience to force the politicians to do the right thing when it comes to regulating Big Oil—ending the subsidies on fossil fuels and giving incentives for the shift to renewable energy sources.

Elizabeth Kolbert said she was perplexed at the fact that she got a far greater response to a recent New Yorker article on child rearing than she generally gets on her much longer, more meticulously researched pieces on global heating.

“It’s something I think about a lot,” Kolbert said; “how to get people as interested in climate change as they are in raising their kids.”

Kolbert agreed with writers like Mark Hertsgaard, who suggested in his book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth that it’s pathological to do the kind of intensive parenting Americans are known for while at the same time ignoring the biggest danger of all looming over our kids and grandkids: anthropogenic global warming.

Sunset from Mount Greylock

As the sun began its spectacular descent towards the west side of the Greylock summit, and the assembled group went in to dinner and animated discussion at Bascom Lodge, it seemed to me that our charge was clear: to join leaders like Kolbert and McKibben in becoming change agents in our own spheres and out in the public eye.  We need to build a movement with a broad enough base of committed supporters to seriously challenge the entrenched power of the fossil fuel industry, as well as the massive inertia of the American public, which still has a tendency to imagine that life as we knew it growing up can go on for the next thirty years virtually unchanged.

Life will go on, with or without us humans.  But the story of our species does not have to end in disaster.  There is still time to write a new ending to our 10,000-year adventure on this planet, if we get up the courage and the dedication to get moving now.

Governor Deval Patrick of MA Gives Exclusive Interview on WBCR-LP

How cool is it to have the Governor of Massachusetts stop by the small offices of WBCR-LP, Berkshire Community Radio in Great Barrington to give a one-on-two interview with local amateur radio show hosts Graham and Barbara Dean?

Governor Deval Patrick takes questions from Graham and Barbara Dean in the studio of WBCR-LP FM on July 3, 2012

It was citizen journalism at its finest.  Barbara, having met Governor Deval Patrick at another event, simply asked him if he would be a guest on her radio show.

He said sure, she followed up with his staff, and the rest is history!

The half-hour interview will be rebroadcast and streamed on July 11 on the Deans’ show, Common Sense Songs, between 8 and 10 p.m.

The Governor had a lot to say about the hot topics of health care affordability, education, and labor relations.

Calling himself a “labor man,” because of his childhood experience of how his mother’s life improved dramatically when she got a job at the U.S. Postal Service and joined the union, the Governor was also positive about teachers and their union, saying that the secret to an effective partnership with teachers is “respect.”

Lots of politicians talk about respecting teachers, but their actions say otherwise.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick at WBCR-LP, Great Barrington

Governor Patrick seems to be different.

Under his leadership, new emphasis has been put on “bringing a culture of innovation into every school” by empowering and supporting teachers who have new ideas about how best to meet the needs of their students.

“The question is, how do we tailor education to meet kids where they are,” the Governor said, recalling his own “great public education on the South Side of Chicago.  I had inspiring teachers, who loved me and loved teaching and were thinking about educating the whole child.”

He also talked about the importance of focusing on the “whole person” when it comes to health care, and he was justifiably proud of his record in making Massachusetts one of the most progressive states in the country in terms of health care reform.

“Rather than limiting ourselves to the usual choice between doing nothing and going all the way to a single payer system, we made a decision here in Massachusetts to pick a third option, a hybrid, private, market-focused solution in which we require everyone to buy insurance, but we subsidize them if they can’t afford it,” he said.

Under the Governor’s leadership, premium growth in the state has gone from 16% per year to less than 1% increase in the past year.

It made me proud to be a citizen of Massachusetts to watch Governor Deval Patrick taking the time to give a serious, thoughtful interview on our hometown low-power radio station.

As Barbara Dean reminded the Governor at the outset of the interview, he is only the fourth African American to be elected Governor of an American state.

I am glad to be among the many who gave him my vote, and I rest easier knowing he is on the job in Boston, working for ordinary people like me.

Deval Patrick just published a memoir, Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life, and an e-book, Faith in the Dream: A Call to the Nation to Reclaim American Values.  Youthful politicians who publish memoirs often have their eye on moving up the political ladder.

I hope that Patrick has the stamina and courage to keep moving on and up in American politics.  We need more strong men like him to come forward and stand for integrity and social justice in American politics.


What Good is a Higgs Boson When the Planet is Burning?

Call me sour, but I really can’t find much to get excited about by the news that physicists have moved one step closer to figuring out how the universe began.

Yes, the Higgs Boson is an amazing phenomenon.  “Without it,” writes Dennis Overbye in The New York Times, “all the elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life.”

Yes, it’s an amazing feat, to which hundreds of scientists have dedicated their lives, to have actually nailed the elusive Higgs Boson in the giant particle accelerator built for that purpose.

But while the champagne corks are popping at the physicists’ convention in Melbourne Australia today, all the myriad problems confronting us physical beings still fester unchecked.

What good will it do us to understand how matter formed back at the beginning of the universe while we are succumbing to drought, wildfires, violent storms and floods?

What good will that marvelous particle accelerator do us when the climate is so disrupted that we can no longer rely on a steady stream of electricity, or a steady food supply to keep us going?

We really need all those super-smart people to pull their heads out of the air and start focusing much closer to our own time and place.

We need more scientists like Lonnie Thompson, who has spent the past forty years traveling to remote glaciers and mountain peaks all over the world to collect ice core samples that give us insight into climate change in the much more recent past—the last 10,000 years or so.

“Dr. Thompson,” writes Justin Gillis in The New York Times, “became one of the first scientists to witness and record a broad global melting of land ice. And his ice cores proved that this sudden, coordinated melting had no parallel, at least not in the last several thousand years.

“To some climate scientists, the Thompson ice core record became the most convincing piece of evidence that the rapid planetary warming now going on was a result of a rise in greenhouse gases caused by human activity.”

Do we really need any more convincing?

The latest storms to hit the U.S. struck the wealthy suburbs of Washington D.C., and surprise surprise, those Beltway folks were just as susceptible to power loss as the rest of us out in the hinterlands.  Forced to cope with triple-digit heat with no air conditioners, their sweat smells no sweeter than ours.

Likewise, the wildfires out West are burning up the homes of the wealthy as fast as they’re burning the millions of acres of dead trees decimated by the surge in the pine bark beetle population, another gift of warmer weather.

Wealth is not going to protect us from climate change.

Abstract particle physics is not going to mean a damn once the extreme weather really sets in, just a few short years from now at our current pace of greenhouse gas emissions.

We have the technology now to engineer a rapid shift to renewable energy sources that will immediately curb the pace of global heating to keep our planet livable.

If the greatest minds of our time trained their attention on this fundamental issue, I have absolutely no doubt that we could solve it.

And if the rest of us not only went along with the technological changes, but actively pressured our political representatives to enact policies that would force big business to do the same, worldwide, we could make sure that the new technology was broadly implemented, quickly.

Hell, it will be good for business! We are potentially at the start of a whole new age, where demand for brand new products like solar panels and geothermal pumps could keep factories running for decades.

We don’t need any more oil rigs or gas wells.  That way lies suicide, on a species-wide scale.

We cannot afford to waste any more time, or to allow ourselves to be distracted by anything less important than the urgent question of survival—our own, and that of all the beautiful life forms on this planet we love.

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