Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thanksgiving is dissent

Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday in 1863 in an attempt to point out the cultural unity of the nation. It’s date was fixed as the third Thursday in November in 1941 by FDR. The holiday fit neatly into the idea of the Four Freedoms campaign against the forces of fascism. The horrific news coming from South Dakota’s oil spill sobers us on the national day of unity, but remember the spirit of the holiday was officially memorialized in the wake of the Gettysburg address, which promised that government of, by, and for the people “shall not perish from the Earth,” and in the wake of FDR’s promise that the spirit of American freedom, no matter how un-inclusive it was in 1941, eternally meant an oasis from fear and want and freedom of speech and religion.

The origins of the holiday are relevant because irony is strong and our country is in the hands of the enemies of the likes of Lincoln and FDR, but let us try to remember who we can be this Thanksgiving.

In 2017, Thanksgiving is a holiday of dissent from fascism, slavery, and the police state. Lincoln declared in the Gettysburg Address that all American freedoms were one, and the 14th Amendment attempted to bring that into being. FDR waved it in the faces of the Nazis. Try to remember THAT Thanksgiving message.

Native Americans saved the lives of the first European settlers in New England. Euro-Americans should return the favor this holiday. Donate: http://standingrock.org/news/standing-rock-sioux-tribe–dakota-access-pipeline-donation-fund/

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Filed under American history, good things, poster art

Word Salad for Berniestan

Bernie sent me an email asking for my opinions on the Democratic platform. 

_____________________________

Please, make room for support of the arts. Expand grants to individuals, make an Americorps but for gifted art students. Help Americans make art, write, dance, sing. Issue in a new Federal One, Great Society. Hire artists to work in every community to help everyone, from the young to the old, make art.

Deregulate schools. Let teachers teach. Get rid of standardized testing. Put art, recess, music, science, beauty, and wonder back into schools.

Let doctors make medical decisions, not insurance companies or legislatures. Decriminalize all drugs. Legalize marijuana. Be Portugal on this. End the war on drugs completely. End the war on terrorism. You can’t wage war against a tactic. Didn’t Vietnam teach us anything?

*****Pass legislation that requires any institution of higher education that receives federal funds to maintain 75% full time faculty and at maximum 1:10 administrator:faculty ratio. We need to take back our institutions of higher ed. Fund programs to increase literacy and creative thinking. Fund history departments.******

Reduce the size of the military. Cut wasteful programs and stupid, expensive airplanes. Extend citizenship to military translators and anyone who puts him or herself in harm’s way for our nation. Accept a million Syrian refugees. Repopulate the rust belt with refugees. Help them build a better, fairer, more diverse America.

Address longstanding neglect of and malice to Native American populations. For the love of all that’s sacred. This is past due.

Nationalize the Internet. Provide free high speed, fiber optic Internet to every person on the planet.

Stop measuring economic growth in terms of new housing starts. Stop building new housing. Invest in mass transit and encourage movement of people into cities rather than sprawling across the countryside.

I would like to live in a world where it is illegal to cut down trees, where mold injection factories replace sawmills to produce building materials. Replace logging jobs with solar power or sustainable building materials jobs. Take plastic waste and repurpose it to inject into molds to make internal structures for houses ad other buildings. Put no more land to plow; cut down no more trees.

Stop the navy from conducting sonar experiments in waters frequented by marine mammals. Expand wild spaces. If the US rents land to ranchers, charge 21st century prices.

I support all of the choices on your ballot above but have only checked the most important, giving leeway to negotiate.
1. Money out of politics
2. Climate change
3. GUNS

Eliminate corporate welfare, raise taxes dramatically on those with gross incomes over $500,000. Tax the crap out of the rich and redistribute income.

On November 9, I hope you form a new party, call it labor or green or progressive. I would like to see two Amendments to the Constitution:

1: ERA including a woman’s right to choose
2. Clarify the second amendment to allow the federal government to regulate the purchase of weapons and ban categories altogether.

If you wanted to introduce a new separation of powers idea, that would be great. In this case the separation of powers would be between finance and politics, providing for federally financed elections. You can get rid of the electoral college too. It should go the way of the appointed Senate.

This country should do everything and anything to promote democracy. End gerrymandering, pass a voting rights act, allow anyone who pays taxes to vote. Get the wizards of silicon valley to figure out a way to count votes. How can I convince young people to vote when the parties don’t even bother counting the votes?!? Expand the civil service and make election monitoring a non-partisan issue, observed by the UN if need be.

If a person dies in state custody of any kind, open a federal investigation.

SPEND!!!

Make postal banks. Build mass transit. Fix infrastructure. JAIL BANKERS. Release from jail all those convicted on drug offenses. Put them in charge of dispensaries. Tax the hell out of it. Find expertise in more general places. Reduce the corporatization of everyday life. Celebrate individuality not individualism.

Demand an IQ test and screening for psychopathology for all candidates for national office. Apply earmarks nationally. If one state gets a grant, make sure all the States get grants. Build good, union jobs for all Americans.

*****Insert into the oath of office a line about preserving the separation of church and state. If a member of Congress or a judge or any official in any jurisdiction cannot legislate or lead or perform the duties of office without openly advocating one religion over another, he or she should be removed from office.****

Extend Civil Rights protections based on gender, sexual orientation, and national origin. Craft a great ERA.

Create cabinet level positions on climate change/science/population.

Create national societies (like the Royal Societies) for historians, for artists, for creative types and critical thinkers. Identify the best minds in the country and nourish them, protect them, EMPLOY THEM! Be a patron for the smart people. Give us jobs. Let us help.

Keep doing this, asking for ideas. Beyond voting, this also feels like a participatory democracy. There are a lot of smart people in the nation. Why do only the small minds get the airtime?

Find some place for Wolf Blitzer to spend his retirement away from the TV. Hire Jon Stewart to do something very important.

#BlackLivesMatter

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Time to Rally

Yes, I have a friend who is a Republican. I was party to a conversation on his Facebook feed about what Republicans shall do should HRC get the Democratic nomination. He loathes Trump, and according to his circle, HRC does not share the same principles, so no votes would be going her way either. Everyone is talking about writing a name in. To do so when faced with potentially the biggest threat to our Republic is selfish at best. I won’t say what it is at worst.

No, many of use cannot have it exactly the way we want it. I wonder how many of my fellow Democrats really, really wanted John Kerry (or Michael Dukakis) for president. We on the left have had to face many disappointments over these years, yet, for the most part, we go on trying to govern civilly even in the face of brutal racism and near-treasonous obstructionism from the Teabags. We soldier on. I told those Republicans (who happen to be soldiers) that in the face of the threat to our nation, complaining about not getting what one WANTS is childish and cowardly.

Well people, there are 2 threats to our Republic. We in this nation, whether we accept it or not, have an opportunity to change the path our nation takes. If for no other reason, Bernie Sanders’s remarkable success should show each person how every single citizen has power. We need to take these threats seriously, or the consequences will be dire. We can’t ask soldiers to fight this battle. We all have a part to play. We must stop Trump, and we must kick the Tea Party out of Congress.

Our divided nation is unique in one very important way; in the election of 1800 power transferred, for the first time in the West in 2000 years, from the party in office to the opposition without violent upheaval. In much of the world, such smooth functioning of government is rare. As Thomas Jefferson said upon his ascension to the presidency in 1801, “We are all Federalists; we are all Republicans.” Well, we are all Democrats; we are all Republicans. We cannot ask our  fellow citizens in the GOP to vote for someone they do not like without doing it ourselves.

I’ve been guilty of a bit of public complaining, OK whining, about how things have shaken out. It’s out of my system. Although I am genuinely sorry that a serious left-wing did not emerge victorious in the here and now, a movement has been born. This was never to be a revolution. Revolutions are bloody and swift. History has shown us that substantial and permanent political change takes more than one election cycle.

So let us make sure that sustained and progressive political change is what we will have. Commit to having a wider attention span than a primary election cycle. Identify and support every single Progressive candidate running for Congress and donate, phone bank, or knock on doors. Support the long shots; put all that passion to work to vote OUT every obstructionist who will hold our nation hostage to the tantrums of a few. Fill the Congress with responsible legislators.

Of equal importance is the need to defeat Donald Trump. His threat to America is real. Commit to swallow your need to get what you want; commit to skip the symbolism this time around; commit to be selfless and brave and unswerving. Commit to vote for whomever is the Democratic nominee for president on July 25. The enemy we face is far more serious than any single personal preference. W was bad enough; what Trump will do to this country, to our economy, to our foreign policy, to our culture is unthinkable. Don’t vote for someone this time; vote against Trump.

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Women’s Work

We are moving all our belongings to the States next week. After a continuous ten years abroad, we have accumulated a rather large amount of art and other stuff. I went thorough and discarded much in the way of knick knacks and teaching materials, but ars longa, vita brevis. Some things are more important than others. I took the job at the United Arab Emirates University in 2004, long before iPhones, ebooks, and Kindle; if I was going to teach and research American history, I had to carry some core essential texts. Also, I mailed 4 large boxes to myself in Al Ain, UAE. When I took the job in Qatar, I had even more books shipped. We took extended vacations in amazing places like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman, Turkey, France, and Germany and picked up beautiful artwork, ceramics, and lots of old metal. Starting with 2 suitcases apiece and four boxes of books, we last moved 1200 kg. of possessions, from Turkey to Bishkek in 2011. The art collecting continued. Nonetheless, it is time to downsize. When we move abroad again, I will not to need so many books, and most of our art has not seen a wall since Qatar, so it will be happy in storage. Like a fellow bibliophile once said, moving books is like moving wet sand. We have also been moving dry sand.

Carpets, kilims, and shyrdaks make up a substantial amount of our shipping weight. Neither the Kyrgyz felted shyrdaks nor the kilims are heavy in themselves (even considering volume), but the wool carpets are difficult to lift, especially after lying on a floor for any length of time. The air in all of the places we’ve lived in the last decade has carried particulate matter: desert sand in the UAE and Qatar, pollen in Germany and France, Anatolian topsoil, and greasy miasmic coal effluvium in Kyrgyzstan. Our lungs and our floor coverings have absorbed much of this matter. The gunk that settled into our rugs just about doubled their weight. Since we are paying by the kilo for shipping to Seattle, I wanted to shed some of that international dirt. First-worlders would go out and rent a steam cleaner; I headed into the courtyard to find some place to beat my carpets.

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Beating carpets is women’s work in non-industrial societies. It makes sense. Women generally have care of the children. Carpet beating means staying in one place for an extended period of time. Since the task is communal, someone can always have her eyes on the kids. It also makes sense because the task requires physical strength and stamina and patience rather than only water buffalo killing strength. For example, the Lewis Hine photograph below shows the communal nature of doing the washing in a pre-industrial society, Tennessee in 1933 [Hine worked a month for the TVA. See Lewis Hine As Social Critic, chapter 6 for a complete analysis of the photograph]. Note the child next to the house. I say non-industrial rather than pre-industrial because Kyrgyzstan, as a former Soviet republic, is not industrialized, although it once had been. In this sense, I think of it as a Roman province, sometime around 600 CE. More on that later.

 

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I did not have a proper mattenklopper, a carpet beater, so my task was made more difficult. “Right tool for the right job,” Dad always said. I tried an aluminum cane, but parts kept falling off and it wasn’t flat (see the picture at the bottom). I had better luck with my next implement of beating, but I had to be careful using it because it also was not flat, it didn’t bend, and it was much too short. I used the billy club my grandmother stole from a policeman. He stepped into a speakeasy in the 1920s to use the loo. With my mother in tow, granny secreted the club under her dress and headed out into the street. I loved that woman. I wielded the cane like a baseball bat, which was awkward, but at least I now know how to lay down a bunt with my left hand. It was necessary to switch sides every few strokes. Otherwise my right arm might have fallen off completely. The club was easier, but it had its own drawbacks; it was too short, and I was in danger of leaving marks on some very expensive floor coverings.

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The correct implements for rug savagery.

I had absolutely no idea of the laboriousness of the task. I had difficulty lifting the sand sodden carpets over the only bars available, so Doug, my husband, came out to help me. Wow. When I started with the small carpets which I could woman-handle over my head, I actually disappeared from view. Even after living in this Soviet flat block for 3 years, people still stop and gawk when I walk through. I’m taller than most Kyrgyz men and chose to dye my very short hair fire engine red. Remarkably, the minute I started swinging at the rugs, I was no longer an object of any interest at all. I was just another woman doing the spring cleaning; the most ordinary thing in the world. However, when Doug came out to help me, you could’ve heard a chin drop (phrase stolen from Phil Vassar). Men.Do.Not.Beat.Carpets. I’m sure the men questioned my husband’s masculinity and the women thought I was completely unfeminine (by needing a man’s help lifting a 50 kilo carpet—culture, it’s a funny thing).

You know, women’s work is HARD. I pride myself on being strong and physically resilient. I spent hours with my purloined night stick pounding the sand and dirt and coal smoke out of my rugs. The Subaru parked next to my carpet beating bar ended up covered in dust, as was I. The weather here is very dry and in late May very warm. After a few hours of the most boring and difficult labor one can imagine, everything hurt and I looked like I ran a marathon. My hands were bleeding from blisters and rug burns. Still, when Doug came out to help me pound, I shooed him right back in. While I was working, several women came by to inspect my work and examine my Turkish carpets. I’ve seen these women around for three years, but none—until that day—ever acknowledged my existence. One actually spoke English to me. She assessed the (very nice) carpet and asked “How much?” Assuming she meant “How much did you pay for it?” I tried to answer in a combination of Russian, Kyrgyz, and Turkish. Glorious clucking ensued. I am not very feminine by many standards, but standing there in my shorts and Tevas, sweating and bleeding, wielding my grandmother’s stolen billy club, I was the girliest I’ve ever been.

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Everything is reused here. My beater-cane is propped against the tree, eclipsed by my wonderful neighbors.

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Filed under #bishkek, Autobiography, Cultural differences, Expat life, Feminism, good things, Kygyzstan, Lewis Hine, Women, Work

One Possible Outline for Reexamining Positive and Negative Liberty

If you're not lead cow, the view never changes.

If you’re not lead cow, the view never changes.

I am in the process of writing a new definition of positive and negative liberty as it applies to the the U.S.

I teach Kant every year. This time I decided to write a paper for my own assignment. Blame the broken foot for such pedantry. Kate

“Virtue never tested is no virtue at all.”
Billy Bragg

Thoughts on Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”

According to Kant, enlightenment and competence equate in the individual to the same thing. Following the age of majority, when one examines with inborn reason ideas previously imposed, one becomes competent. This is release from self-incurred tutelage, Kant’s definition of individual enlightenment. In his essay “What is Enlightenment?” the philosopher explains that a society can become enlightened when all barriers to individual competence are removed.

Despite the fact that it is human nature to think for oneself, people choose to think as they are told to out of fear and laziness. In essence, they happily accept their status as sheep under the guardianship of a shepherd. The most absurd situation occurs when such a guardian is him- or herself incompetent and unenlightened, simply mimicking the ideas of others. Ritual is passed down from high, and liturgy becomes mere repetition of words, devoid of any real meaning and exciting no passion or faith. Unchallenged faith is not worthy of its name.

Certain social conditions must exist before one can become competent; one cannot and should not dissent in every situation. A society needs rules in order to function. (Even kings are subject to the rules of grammar, e.g.) The enforcement of regulatory rules equitably creates a stable society in which a person has room to question all authority, even the logical basis of said rules. Strong centralized government is required to preserve external freedom so one can concentrate on exercising internal freedom of thought. One thinks only of security if security is not otherwise guaranteed.

Kant thus explains the difference between the use of private and public reason. In one’s daily discharge of duties and engagement in social coexistence, individuals must obey even if obedience conflicts with one’s own opinions. This is private reason. When one is not performing a social, cultural, occupational or other standardized duty and answers to no one, then the individual has a duty to question all authority and speak publicly about objections to doctrine. Obey, but disagree. Such disagreement on one’s own time is public reason. The scholar-teacher is obviously the exception; in her, the source of public and private reason occupies the same space and creates a duty to question all authority. This is called academic freedom.

Public reason presumes an a priori guarantee of freedom of speech maintained by a strong centralized government, what I call positive liberty or state enforced egalitarianism. Weak centralized government with a minimum of enforced rules, what I call negative liberty, fails to protect equitable freedom of speech. Rather, it encourages licentious behavior, the growth of petty dictatorships, and trampling of others’ rights. It is rule by the loudest or the biggest. Taken too far, negative liberty can devolve into anarchy just as positive liberty can devolve into dictatorship.

When addressing “What is Enlightenment?” Kant explains how individuals become enlightened and offers a calculus to determine whether a state is currently in an enlightened age or in an age of enlightenment. An Enlightened Age exists if all external barriers to critical thought are absent and each individual is capable of challenging and digesting for oneself all information on which he or she has previously been fed. It is the death of the intellectual fait accompli.

Kant concludes that that his society had the perfect government in the monarch Frederick for the enlightenment process to proceed. Frederick asked external obedience but not total control over internal thought. No monarch would tolerate consolidation of power in the hands of any other than the ruler’s. Conversely, in a republic, with its permissive growth of petty dictatorships, institutions may evolve that prevent the individual from rejecting tutelage. Kant did not, however, examine the historical likelihood of malevolent monarchs.

In essence, Kant describes a positive liberty society that refuses to foster consolidation of power in the hands of the few but is powerless to proscribe social dictatorship. When such conditions exist, even though their influence wanes, a society can be described only as an Age of Enlightenment, a transitional period moving toward the universal exercise of individual reason.

Kate Sampsell-Willmann

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Filed under Higher Education, Intellectual History, teach writing, teaching, Theory, Uncategorized

Kyrgyzstan’s Cornucopia

 

Left to right: rhubarb, garlic, oregano, thyme and rosemary, mint

Left to right: rhubarb, garlic, oregano, thyme and rosemary, mint

Yesterday, Doug and I went for a walk in the Issyk Ata gorge, about one hour’s drive from Bishkek. I had forgotten that we had just spent 16 days at sea level and that my body greatly prefers generous amounts of oxygen, so we did not get far into our hike. As always, the scenery was magnificent, the sun warm, the breeze cooling, and the company fine. Add to that cold beer at the end, and it was a near perfect day.

Giving the option of a do-over in life decisions, I would have liked to pick up a degree in botany along the way. If I hadn’t been convinced that girls cannot do math, I would have probably become a doctor rather than a lawyer. But, as I constantly remind my students, the physical sciences are indeed part of the liberal arts. I’m a sucker for plants.

One of my great loves whilst living in the US was wildflower and edible plant identification. Travelling through Nova Scotia one visit, I met a Parks Canada ranger who was from the M’icmaq people. He and I gabbed for hours over edibles and medicinals on that amazing island. We each parted with a book neither had, an exchange of like minds.

A colleague of mine, Valeri Hardin, is an encyclopedia of the natural world. If I could go hiking with him, I’m sure my brain would be overwhelmed with raw data on what one can eat and what one can cure from the natural bounty of this place. I cannot hike with Valeri, however, because he is just so damned fit. My seal level-bred oxygen needs just will not allow me to follow his mountain goat speed. Luckily, Doug will let me set the wheezing pace, so I can spend a lot of time looking at plants.

Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel

So far as I can determine, there is no book published in English, French, or German to assist one in identifying wildflowers in this country of such rich flora. There is one book on medicinal plants of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (and it’s available in a Kindle version!), but even the e-book is $150. Luckily, many of the plants in the Tien Shan and Altai regions are similar to other alpine regions around the world, and I have been able to pick up some tips from Valeri and from what I see in markets.

Yesterday’s walk turned into a foraging expedition for our tea. I have a deal with Doug: when we go camping, he’s responsible for catching and cleaning the fish; I’ll do the cooking and gather the rest. If yesterday’s uniformed forage (I only eat what I’m sure I can identify) is any inclination, we’ll eat quite well.

The path lines with mint and wild sage

The path lines with mint and wild sage

On my first gasping stop, I sat down in a grove of wild sage. It has a much more delicate flavor than the European sage that Americans use for their poultry, Turks for their çay, and Brits for their pork. The first thought that leapt to mind: “pork chops wrapped in wild sage and baked in wine with a savory strawberry glaze.” Yum. As I looked around, I realized that I had stumbled (literally) into a wild herborium. I found three distinct varieties of mint and thought “mojitos!”

At this point, I was crawling through the low growth wrinkling leaves and sniffing my fingers. I can only imagine how I would have appeared to any passers-by on the trail, much like truffle-hunting boar, I suspect. Doug has the patience of a saint.

Wild oregano grew in vast patches, as did wild rosemary with its lovely lavender flowers; wild thyme grew nearby. In addition to various potherb vegetables, I stumbled upon clumps of wild garlic (no ramps alas). I managed to dig two clumps while Doug liberated ten. At that elevation, we were just on the cusp of collecting bulbs over the strongly flavored and woody stalks (great for cutting into sections and storing in olive oil). Since the tomatoes are coming in from the Fergana Valley, I decided on a foraged spaghetti fresca (molta fresca!) for our evening meal.

Doug convinced me that perhaps we had rushed into the land-without-air and should turn back before I developed cerebral edema or something. My hiking boots were getting tight from my swollen feet. I’m much happier at depth than at altitude, but I love the mountains. Slow acclimation is the key.

On the way back down, I continued to rub leaves, sniffing for essential oils, when Doug stopped and looked at a plant. He doesn’t usually do that. He usually has hunting on his mind in the outdoors. Next thing I know, he’s pulling this waist-high plant out root and stem. Only then did I see the delightful purple on the stalk. He found our dessert. Although I had seen strawberry plants, we were too high for ripe berries. But, the lowland collection had begun, and our local souk had freshly picked mountain berries by the kilo.

Our evening meal was quite delicious, finished off with a strawberry rhubarb crumble served right out of the oven. Given more time, say on a camping trip, I could have made everything from what we were able to scavenge, including flour made from dried angelica and cattail roots (very labor intensive). Olive oils and wine would be a problem, but if we camped up there, we’d have horses, so I could travel with those and other bare necessities.

Fields of poppies, without the slaughter

Fields of poppies, without the slaughter

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Filed under Expat life, good things, Gustatory Delights, Kyrgyzstan, Travel