Past Blog Posts
- March 20, 2020
Ask Americans who’s commander-in-chief, most will respond: our president. Citizens only think about this just before a presidential election every four years when their final, ‘supreme criteria’ of U.S. leadership is raised: “Does she or he have it:-- namely the wisdom (or courage, or resolve) to control the nuclear (war) button?”
It’s a vague term whose specifics are not publicly explored; but I think we can agree it’s singularly associated with military conflict.
I haven’t heard the term commander-in-chief applied to other heads of state, but some variety of it doubtless exists, where a military officer heads a government as Egypt and formerly Pakistan today. Notwithstanding Americans’ first president was a general-- one among 12 who became president https://www.theglobalist.com/generals-and-the-u-s-presidency/ (of 26 American presidents who’d served in the military).
(Joe Biden, although never a military officer, is clearly projecting this ‘commander-in-chief image’ in debates, invoking his presence in ‘the situation room’, etc. He understands war, he assures the public.)
Leadership was an underlying issue during recent primary debates. They’re essentially over now, eclipsed by the growing pandemic where the focus of leadership has rightly turned to management and moral vision.
Surely our current unprecedented crisis reveals it is time to reconsider the concept. My point here is not Trump’s capacity, but the general underlying American criteria for the nation’s person-in-charge.
Crisis strategists admit this pandemic is a ‘war’, even invoking 911 when Americans perceived they were under siege. (Although-- with the exception of immigrants who’ve fled conflicts, by-and-large generated by American bombardments and sanctions on their homelands—most really don’t grasp the realities of siege: economic, diplomatic, medical, cultural or military.)
Now a major health, social and economic crisis—a catastrophe, not to be too alarmist—has arrived in the name of COVID-19.
Whether or not we had doubts about the moral character and management ability of Trump, today we can testify to the gravity of his silliness, racism, ignorance, ugliness, meanness and misplaced priorities. It is far, far more serious that we could possibly have imagined. It forces us to scan the horizon for leadership.
A resident of New York State I’m most closely following the response to this crisis by our governor. (I fervently hope other governors are acting similarly to Andrew Cuomo.) https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/20/watch-live-ny-gov-cuomo-holds-press-conference-on-the-coronavirus.html. Because, the more I hear from Cuomo day-after-day, the more I feel (along with neighbors, family and friends overseas as well as in the U.S.), we have a profound example of the kind of leadership needed at this moment.
In his presentations Governor Cuomo exhibits no commander-in-chief attitude, but rather that of a capable manager, also someone with –dare I say?—emotion and compassion, approaching that of a ‘father figure’. Perhaps his presence reminds us of President Roosevelt’s legendary fireside chats https://www.britannica.com/event/fireside-chats.
Post-pandemic changes are inevitable. Friends talk about their offices and companies, their universities and hospitals rethinking long-term goals to offer different and better service; one talks about perceiving her neighborhood differently, seeking a new family dynamic, rethinking how we educate our children.
Likewise we need to seriously rethink the concept of commander-in-chief. America’s criterion for presidency is redundant. It is neither a humane concept, nor a relevant one in times of nationwide social crisis. Also absent from this concept is emotion, compassion and morality.
Although not hitherto a particular admirer of Andrew Cuomo, I now perceive him not only as a brilliant manager but also a person with the apparent morality required at this moment. Maybe other governors whose work I am not following are acting likewise. (And please don’t cynically rejoin that Cuomo is working with his eye on the White House in 2024. We’ll talk about that later.)[ Rethinking Commander-in-Chief in American Leadership ]
- March 04, 2020
Handcuffed and Arrested at 6—How Many More, and for How Long is This America?
While fretting over refugee children in freezing tents along Turkey’s border, or Nargis Fazili’s family fleeing Afghanistan across Asia to Europe (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/sep/24/midnight-traveler-refugee-documentary-afghanistan, or lone migrant children caged in U.S. detention centers, we may barely register what happens to American children like Kaia Rolle; she’s a 6-year-old student at a not unusual neighborhood school in Florida.
I suppose we should feel grateful for the body cameras which most American police are now required to wear to document their on-the-job encounters. Some police videos are made available to the public; some are lost. One recently released https://abcnews.go.com/wnt/video/officer-fired-video-shows-arresting-year-69213056 records an incident last September https://nypost.com/2019/09/22/florida-6-year-old-arrested-handcuffed-for-elementary-school-tantrum/ :—the handcuffing of Kaia Rolle by policemen at her school. The manacled child was led to a squad car and, unaccompanied by any school official or relative, and taken to a detention center to be finger-printed and photographed. The video was likely edited to hide the child’s face, probably in compliance with a ‘civil-rights’ law that protects minors—thank you. But it illustrates enough for us to witness an all-too-common injustice.
It’s not the pleas of the weeping child that I find most disturbing; it’s the school staff’s passive witness to the child’s torture. None of the three women in the camera’s scope makes any attempt to protest, or to question the decision by we-don’t-known-whom, to subject the child to this unconscionable treatment.
To further emphasize the egregious behavior by the police, we hear one man –likely the school resource officer --chatting with the staff members without any hint of regret or hesitation about how he regularly arrests children. Arrests are a source of pride for him, it seems. “Six thousand arrests over 28 years”, he boasts, “the youngest, 7-years-old.” When informed that the latest victim is six, he quips: “She’s six; now that’s a record.” Dennis Turner is a policeman who, like many in his position, are hired after retirement as “school resource officers”.
These resource officers constitute a new class of law enforcement personnel employed by schools across America— they’re in my New York neighborhood schools too-- our solution to school shootings, a nationwide policy to protect our children from gun wielding maniacs. While they wait for anything that threatens the school from outside, these officers are engaged in student discipline inside. Parents and school administrators, out of fear of armed assailants, are empowering these unsupervised, armed retirees and veterans of foreign conflict --men accustomed to manhandling mostly adult male suspects-- to discipline troublesome children.
(In addition to their school salary, a wage often higher than teachers’, many of them enjoy a generous pension from their police or military service. What a boon for the profession of law enforcement!)
Attorney John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute’s warning https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/the_illusion_of_freedom_the_police_state_is_alive_and_well about our expanding police presence is so alarming that we are either too disturbed to register the details or we think he’s exaggerating. He is not.
Viewing this single video of an on-duty school guardian entrusted to protect children, one has to question how much more goes on that we are not privy to? And this in inside U.S.A. with its celebrated freedoms! (I cannot bear to imagine the experience of countless Iraqi and Afghan families subject to abuse by American military personnel.)
We are told Kaia was released and isn’t facing any charges. This doesn’t mollify me; nor am I gratified by the firing of that officer.)
The video of the child’s arrest is revealing about how the child is handled too. A school staff member calmly tells Kaia to “Go with them, baby girl.” As Kaia is handcuffed, we hear one officer gently say: “Come over here honey”; then “It’s not going to hurt”.
Later news clips of Kaia with her grandmother report that she is doing fine. That’s today. What about in the coming years?
This experience may embolden little Kaia to become an attorney or a civic leader, perhaps a policewoman to protect others from the cruelty she would never forget. Can we fault her, though, if she chooses violence as a way to defend herself when gentle people nearby fail her or if they’re better informed about child victims of foreign aggression?[ Kaia Rolle, Handcuffed and Arrested at 6; at Her American School ]
- February 09, 2020
It’s a rough time to be a Democrat.
Notwithstanding the impotent Senate Minority. Not those ill-fated bills championed as victories by House Democrats only to be spurned by the upper chamber; not smug, elitist party fundraisers; not funding strategists and millionaire celebrity donors; not even bumbling Iowa Democratic party officials.
I mean this forlorn orphaned democrat—me. A registered party member who every two years pens as few op-eds, who sends a check to a favorite candidate, who puts in volunteer hours to GOTV (Get Out The Vote), and wholeheartedly campaigns for any Democratic candidate whom she believes is honest and competent.
I don’t need to add to today’s punditry and partisan analyses spinning through media, much of it self-serving. And I eschewed the wondrous humor of SLN or Stephen Colbert following last week’s dizzying post-impeachment-trial-post-State-of-the-Union-post-Iowa-caucus.
Put aside the shortsightedness of our overrated “founding fathers” and the ugliness of America’s current president. Put aside the deepening cultural war.
I have a simple personal question: What am I, voter and local activist, to do now? By June, county committees and ad hoc citizen groups will begin training to prepare for the canvassing and fundraising that’s precedes every November election. A lot is at stake; even at county and state levels, enthusiasm and commitment are essential.
For the first time in decades I’m not sure I want to continue. How can I go to college events to urge our young voters to engage in American democracy by embracing this party? How can I solicit funds for a candidate? How can I try to persuade the “undecided”-- that burgeoning population of marginalized and disenchanted voters-- to commit to a Democratic candidate? These unaffiliated citizens, we are told, are critical to an election’s outcome. One friend, who when I shared my dismay over last week’s events, replied simply: “In this era, democracy requires repose.”
Oh dear. If repose is the answer, democracy’s not working.
Forget about the disgusting, shamelessly victorious Trump and his gloating Republican party for a moment. Don't mollify us by theorizing who’ll be on history’s side. (Let history take care of that.) What are we going to do about a corrupt mealy-mouthed Democratic party? Why did Mrs. Pelosi extend her hand to Trump before his address to the nation? Would you have? And tearing up the speech after she’d applauded Trump’s statements several times? Better to walk out. Decorum be damned-- Trump’s words themselves demonstrate that.
What about our other congressional leader, the Senate Democratic minority guy? Where was Charles Schumer’s wisdom, daring and political acumen during that flawed and pompous process of impeachment? I hear not a whisper about his ineptness. Surely his failings contribute to Mitch McConnell’s brilliance and victory.
While the gross incompetence of our so-called progressive (left, moderate or center) party is in the spotlight, on the sidelines we have newly exposed corruption within the DNC:-- its attempts to delegitimize (as it did in 2016) the formidable old Socialist from Vermont; its shifting rules for who may and may not participate in the once-proud American process of public political debates; its shady business interests and ineptitude exposed in the recent Iowa caucus-election.
America’s Democratic Party is not the place for anyone who calls herself progressive today. It was easier to blame it on Russian hackers, wasn’t it?[ Being a Democrat—Ugh ]
- July 25, 2019
If you think you’ve seen enough of conflict, especially the war in Syria, you haven’t. From love of nation and loathing of military rule, from inchoate hope of redemption and improbable determination, indebted to lost friends and seeded in the birth of your child, comes an intimate demonstration of how war happens to you and how it tests humanity.
In the case of Syria, even as news of chaos and battles recede, it takes an exceptional story to return us outsiders to that battlefront. One headstrong woman’s remarkable work has actually managed this. So out of Syria, rising from the smashed pearl of the nation—beloved, stately, diligent Aleppo-- comes the film “For Sama”.
“For Sama” is arguably a belated story, although even now when filmmaker and family are settled abroad, it feels very, very present. It’s a young mother’s diary to her baby girl whose innocent, sometimes sleepy, sometimes searching, wondering eyes reappear intermittently, even confidently. From a scratchy sonogram in her mother’s womb Sama emerges a swaddled newborn, then a toddler crawling over bedclothes to grope the lens of her mother’s camera, now stealing through a frontline bound tightly against her father’s chest to reenter their besieged home, then entertained by staff medics as they huddle together in a basement bomb shelter, later seated on a hospital attendant’s lap while nearby her father’s colleagues wrap the not-yet-cold body of a boy for delivery into the arms of a mother calling to his soul as she determinedly carries him off.
News headlines stopped reporting Syria’s death toll; only an occasional photo revisits the country’s collapsed neighborhoods. Experts’ pretense at disentangling the web of warring factions-- Christian-this and Shi’ia-that, Hizbollah or Iranian, Kurd or Arab or Turkmen militants—are silent. Pronouncements of areas liberated or occupied, emptied or reclaimed seem as immaterial as US-sponsored or Russia-convened talks with opposition leaders.
The Free Syrian Army, an early American-backed operation now appears subsumed into ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’, an assemblage of America-supplied (probably U.S.-directed too) rebel groups removed to a protectet territory—not unlike what was created in Iraq in 1991-- dominated by Kurdish Syrians. (Elements of Israel and Iran are doubtless lurking in the shadow of U.S. and Russian lines.)
Millions of citizens who fled haven’t returned. They may never. Destroyed cities, fields, marketplaces and factories lie vacant. While government-secured areas allow some stability, a return to normal life is impossible to imagine. Opportunities for corruption are greater than ever. How comforting is renewed agricultural production if prices are beyond a household’s reach? Families whose young people fled, died, are imprisoned, incapacitated or remain missing move in a kind of stupor, unable to rebuild dwellings or restart their studies or their businesses.
As for the infamous, vilified jihadist-ISIS fighters:— have they been corralled and massacred, transferred to Turkey to regroup, ferried to camps for processing as refugees to Canada or rearmed to bolster rebel ranks in the secured Kurdish territory?
Five years earlier, after Waad Al-Kateab’s studies at Aleppo University were interrupted by he eruption of protests on campuses there as across the nation, she and countless others joined the so-called Arab Spring. Some areas of opposition were swiftly and ruthlessly subdued. Neighborhoods that resist are viewed as rebel strongholds and thus face the full force of government shelling and siege. Al-Kateab metamorphoses into a citizen journalist, allying herself with others who refuse to leave and, camera in hand, joins a medical team of young doctors rushing to bombed sites to clear debris and attend the wounded.
Emboldened by the deaths of their comrades and by massacres they witness, this medical crew resolves to remain in a makeshift hospital even as the neighborhood is subjected to a vise-like siege-- perhaps targeted because of the arrival of jihadist fighters there. Wisely, Waad (and a British Channel 4 News team who helped compose this film) doesn’t address internal political distinctions. For her, government forces and Russian jets are the enemy: “Whatever jihadis do, it’s nothing compared to the brutality of the regime”, she declares
Al-Kateab keeps her camera rolling as she fearlessly and resolutely moves into the carnage, never so unhinged that she neglects tender moments of passion and pathos among medical staff, neighbors and wounded arriving at the clinic. They are a community exhibiting all that life offers: a fresh snowfall in the garden; a crushed tree tenderly replanted; her sandbagged bedroom; a rush (camera-in-hand) to the shelter; a room of lifeless bodies near medics attending those still breathing; a man’s gift to his wife of a rare fresh fruit; dust-stained faces of two lads caressing and kissing the head of their newly dead brother wrapped in his shroud in the clinic corridor; a young woman filming how she’ll announce her new found pregnancy to her husband.
I resist a temptation to narrate more intimacies from “For Sama”. Simply, this is a rare document, one I can only summarize not as heroic but as the intimacy of war. These words may seem incompatible; they’re not really, not as felt and recorded by Ms. Al-Kateab, co-edited by fellow filmmaker Edward Watts, and narrated to baby Sama by filmmaker mother.
While war creates hatred and despair and loss, perhaps because at the same time life becomes more precious and ethereal, war compels this kind of chronicle. Myself, while I’ve witnessed war firsthand and recorded it for others, nothing I’ve written, seen on screen or read approaches the intimacy and impact of Al-Kateab’s diary to her daughter.
It would be pointless to decipher the role of supplementary editors and foreign producers or to speculate on when the narration was written, and from where all the elements were drawn. One feels proud of this woman for her compassionate eye, her determination, her steady-hand and her tender questions.
“What would you like to say to your friends who left?” she inquires of a shy nine year-old neighbor.
“May Allah forgive you for leaving me here alone” is his unequivocal reply.
- July 15, 2019
Heard “Trader Joe’s” podcast yet? I don’t know who might listen to a 22-minute corporate ad. But, given how cool podcasts have become: hey, that sounds inviting. The idea is also an implicit endorsement for radio-- because that’s where podcasting originated. Yes.
I don’t want to disenchant young progressives for whom podcasts are their go-to listening medium today. It likely wouldn’t concern them in any case that in fact these phone-friendly popular audio items are little more than archived radio productions. They follow basic principles developed by radio hosts and editors over the years-- many years.
I’m not here to knock podcasting; not at all’; podcasts are a welcome advance, a real boon for radio broadcasting. Still evolving, radio has conscripted a generation who twenty-five years ago listened to sound productions only in a car, or (as teenagers) from a boom box at the beach.
Today’s listeners don’t dial into 99.5 FM or 800 AM. Through iTunes or another app, they locate an amusing podcast among a list of hundreds (thousands?) of podcast subjects or sites. Many of those are original radio productions adapted to a podcast format, packaged into serials that can be subscribed to, listened to for a while then picked up later. Everything’s portable—not only in your car, but in your pocket phone while traveling to work by train or subway car.
So the medium of radio not only survives; it’s evolving too, using the latest technology to reach into every phone.
How has radio’s appeal endured? Simply because radio builds on its quintessential feature-- intimacy. Besides its proven versatility, radio invites us in. Yes, it may stimulate us with flute solos, sitar ragas, blues and R&B, Brahms sonatas or inventive hip-hop poetry. More poignantly, radio taps our deep human need for the voices of others. It’s often a very private experience, attested by the ubiquity of slinky earbuds and chunky wireless headphones that envelope each wearer in his and her personal world.
Many are unfamiliar with a piece of household furniture known as an FM radio receiver -- like the Jackson Bell 1930s ‘cathedral’ style countertop item . You’ll find other classics such as Bakelite radios and transistors on vintage radio sites for broadcasting aficionados from the era bypassed by the current generation-- like the dial-up phone that was plugged into a wall!
I learned about the dispensability of these FM home receivers when visiting the apartment of a fellow producer thirteen years ago. She quietly answered my challenge-- How can a radio producer not possess a radio, the medium we work in?-- by opening her computer and tuning into our station’s webpage! “It’s called streaming”, she informed this old-timer.
Today every station live-streams and offers a phone app through which you can subscribe to listen live and search archived shows and podcasts. Thanks to phone apps radio’s reach extends far beyond the kitchen table model or the car receiver. For a few intervening years when television dominated home entertainment, the car was where most radio programs reached listeners. Then cars acquired SiriusXM (launching 22 podcasts soon, I’m informed) whose plethora of channels competes with television.
Sixty years ago, apart from the toaster, a radio was the only electronic device in regular use in a home. When television came along, oh the woes and warnings: radio was finished. How would it complete with live picture transmissions? Chatty comedians like Arthur Godfrey eschewed radio for TV, as did sportscasters. (Imagine fans gathering around a sitting room audio receiver cheering on their team! But they did.) Then there’s drama; drama was once a mainstay of radio, offering employment for writers, actors and sound effects specialists. “The Lone Ranger” and “The Shadow” were two serialized shows I recall hearing as a child. (One can still find those early dramas on programs like “The Golden Age of Radio” which my WBAI colleague Max Schmid began producing in 1976.)
Radio dramas provided evening family entertainment and were adapted for children too. I belong to the generation of schoolchildren who walked home for lunch where we heard a daily episode of some short children’s drama airing at 12:30. This was in Canada where radio always had a special status. Maybe it still does.
The still popular broadcast “Selected Shorts” [Image result for selected shorts radio] based on recorded performances began in 1985. Today radio drama is enlivened by productions like “The Moth Radio Hour” launched in 2010 (from Woods Hole, MA) inspired by Atlantic Media’s www.atlantic.org commitment to “the art of the story, in the power of sound and spoken word”. (Atlantic Media introduced a fresh ambiance into radio broadcasting.)
For decades after television was a household fixture, in defiance of expectations, radio held his own. Television sets were initially one per household, dominating the sitting room, with the radio receiver consigned to the kitchen for morning news and weather.
Radio’s role in the music industry was advanced by “American Top 40 Countdown” introduced in 1970 by Casey Kassem.
And what about political radio? Perhaps as a corollary to growing opposition to the Vietnam War, alternative voices carved out their space on the FM dial. The Pacifica Network surged in popularity during the 1960s (giving birth in 1996 to “Democracy Now” which has largely eclipsed the mother network). Pacifica’s early commitment to vigorous debate and a space for dissenting voices fostered the talk-radio format where lively hosts brought listeners on-air by phone. Talk radio’s widening influence is now associated with extreme conservative advocates Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Mark Levin. Their radical views may appear risible to some, but their deep impact into American politics is unarguable. One of the founders of talk-radio lies at the other end of the political spectrum--“RadioUnnamable”’s Bob Fass who originated “free form” radio which also revolutionized late night FM listening.
The podcast revolution notwithstanding, regular FM broadcasting is attracting print news sources to the air, from “Counterpunch” to “The New Yorker Radio” and New York Times’ “The Daily”. Stay tuned for more.
Remember me when the truth becomes alone and sad.
Hussain was a 7th century revolutionary leader who made the ultimate stand for social justice in the face of corruption and tyranny. Grandson of Prophet Mohammad, his martyrdom inspired the rise of Shi’ia thought and community.
Hussain Ibn Ali
- a poem.. a song..
- "In The Heart of the Heart of Another Country"; Interview 2
"In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country"; a passage, recorded in 2006 Flash
- Qur'an Surat Al-Laila
from 'Approaching the Qur'an' CD, male reciter
- Book review
- Khaled Hosseini's
And The Mountains Echoed
reviewed by BN Aziz.
- Tahrir Team
- Read about Reem Nasr in the team page.