By Al Martinich and Tom Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman
The Task Force on Historical Representation of Statuary presented University of Texas President Gregory Fenves this week with five options for the controversial statues of Confederate leaders.
One option is to keep the statues but to add “explanatory plaques that would enhance the educational value of the six statues and provide historical context.” We think this is the best option. But it can be improved.
Al Martinich and Tom Palaima are professors at University of Texas at Austin.
Austin American-Statesman July 5, 2013http://www.statesman.com/news/news/opinion/palaima-the-future-is-now/nYbsB/
Have you ever seen the movie “Idiocracy”? The comedy came out in 2006, directed by Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis & Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill.” In “Idiocracy,” a completely average (in intelligence, talent, ambition, personal appeal) Army clerk (Luke Wilson) and a prostitute (Maya Rudolph), who has bargained her way out of charges, are guinea pigs in an experiment to send human beings a year into the future.
Instead this odd couple is sent 500 years into a broken-down future. In the year 2505, consumerism and know-nothingism have brought society to ruins after five centuries of satirically depicted “reverse Darwinism.”
People with lower IQs, talents and personal motivation have out-bred people who have natural abilities to serve society. However, the future is also in ruins because the so-called high-IQ educated class cares for no one but themselves.
“Idiocracy” is a horror film, too, if you are worried about where our hyper-materialistic culture is heading with our problems in government, education, health care, public services, political leadership and neglect of the common good.
What scared me, when I watched a recorded version, was fast-forwarding on mute through commercial breaks. The commercials blend seamlessly with scenes in the movie. It was hard to tell when today’s valueless, mind-numbing commercials ended and the movie about our whole society become terminally bored, self-centered and addicted to mindless consumerism started again.
Returning to the here and now offers little comfort. Let me give one recent example of idiocracy writ large and put up in lights.
This May, I was part of the high faculty turnout for the general spring commencement ceremony at the University of Texas at Austin. While graduates at other universities were being addressed by J.K. Rowling, Bill Cosby, Stephen Colbert, President Barack Obama and Denzel Washington, we listened to Olympic sprint champion and Texas Ex Sanya Richards-Ross, who attended UT for two years a decade ago, talk about herself for 23 of the 25›½ minutes her commencement address lasted.
Richards-Ross congratulated graduating students for “fighting the urge to go to Sixth Street every night.” We were told that other schools are pretty cool, but the 40 Acres has “one of the best business schools, a national champion football team and the mascot with the most swag.” Graduates learned, “It’s all about you. The world is your oyster. Failure is temporary. Giving up is permanent.” And for 23 minutes, we were given examples of this me-centered, succeed-at-all-costs philosophy. We heard about her training habits, health problems and a few setbacks from grade school onward. She thanked briefly her father, her husband, her family and a nameless ninth- grade teacher, but did not talk about a single coach, teacher or teammate who helped or inspired her along the way.
As for intellectual or cultural content, besides Bevo, the night life on Sixth Street and the 2005 national champion, naturally, version of Longhorns football, we heard one online quote from Aristotle about practicing making perfect and another from Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, about never giving up.
One person, besides President Bill Powers, was mentioned by name, but only by first name. Both Powers and Richards-Ross made reference to “Vince,” as if everyone in the world should know who Vince is.
Powers explicitly congratulated Vince at the start of the evening for completing his degree. This turned out to be Vince Young, a poster child for lots that is wrong with NCAA and professional sports in our country.
It is good that Young, like other student athletes who get far off track, has persevered to get his degree. But I also thought of all the graduating seniors who struggled unsung to get their degrees on-time in education or social work or engineering, those with UTeach degrees who are already giving back or those headed for Teach for America to give back. I thought of graduates who admire the beauties of calculus, a Faulkner short story, a Maya Angelou poem, a speech by Martin Luther King, a rap song by Lil Wayne.
Our flagship institution of higher education should single out those who will never know fame and fortune, but will win many successes working with people who need what they have worked hard to learn.
True idiocracy may be 500 years away, but a sample was right here, up close, looking at itself in the mirror, at UT commencement this year.
And we politely applauded.
Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
(Posted for Palaima by dygo)
Palaima: For veterans, every day is Memorial Day
Austin American-Statesman http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/for-veterans-every-day-is-memorial-day/nX6zR/
Posted: 10:54 a.m. Thursday, May 30, 2013 PRINT May 31, 2103
By Tom Palaima – Regular Contributor
Memorial Day is now behind us, but not for many soldiers and veterans of our country.
My friend Charles E. Patterson is now senior counsel with Morrison Foerster law firm in Los Angeles. His online biography tells us that he served “as an officer in the United States Marine Corps at various duty stations, including the Republic of Vietnam, 1966-1969.” What that matter-of-fact description and Chuck’s extensive legal résumé do not reveal is the memorial that he, like other veterans, carries in his heart to those who served alongside him.
Two fellow soldiers Patterson remembers vividly are Lance Cpl. Manuel Pina “Manny” Babbit and 1st Lt. Henry Marion Norman. Both served with Patterson among the Marines besieged for 77 hellish days at Khe Sanh in 1968.
Norman died at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968, at age 28, “due to a mortar, rocket, or artillery incident.” Manny Babbitt died on May 4, 1999, one day after his 50th birthday. He was executed by the state of California by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison.
During the long siege at Khe Sanh, Babbitt received a head wound from rocket shrapnel. He was under frequent artillery fire from the enemy. He felt the thunderous force of 100,000 tons of bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force around the Marine base. He later fought in five other major campaigns in Vietnam.
Babbitt grew up in an environment of poverty and physical abuse. He was 17 when he quit school in the seventh grade. When he came back from Vietnam, he would have been a poster child for post-traumatic stress disorder, only at that time there were no posters for PTSD. Its severity and prevalence among veterans were not yet recognized.
Still, Babbitt was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, dissociative reactions and periods of amnesia. He became a street person, “the town crazy.” On a foggy night in December 1980, Babbitt killed a 78-year-old woman in whose house he had sought shelter. Patterson believes Babbitt acted in a flashback, thinking he was under siege.
At Babbit’s trial in 1982, according to a New York Times report, his court-appointed lawyer “never called witnesses who had served with Mr. Babbitt in Vietnam, never documented his family history of mental illness, an aggravating factor in the post-traumatic stress, and never sought Mr. Babbitt’s Vietnam medical records.” The lawyer later admitted that he ”failed completely in the death penalty phase” of the trial. On May 14, 1982, the jury imposed the penalty of death on Manny Babbitt.
In March 1998, Babbitt, on death row, received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered at Khe Sanh. Four fellow veterans of the siege stood by. Patterson filed the forms that made sure Babbitt received the medal he had earned in service of his country. Patterson and his firm also put in thousands of hours pro bono from 1997 to 1999 in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to have Babbitt’s sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
At the time, Patterson said, “Manny’s a Marine. He was in Khe Sanh. I know I could depend on him to do what he could to save my life. He should be able to depend on me to do the same thing. There’s that obligation.” He and Babbitt both had scars from exploding shrapnel.
Patterson expressed the deep injustice done to Babbitt in his legal writing. He expressed the injustice done to Norman in his poetic writing.
“Marion Henry Norman Khe Sanh, 1968”
They took your life
As if it belonged to them.
If only they had told me
They needed a life,
I would have given them mine.
What they did with your life?
If they don’t need it now,
They’d give it back.
—Ca Lu, March 1968
I saw you dead
But never buried.
In my heart you’ve lived,
Laughing, smiling Hank.
I would keep you there forever,
In a memorial more perfect
Than hands could build.
Finding an end to my war
I can mourn you now.
And, in sadness, leave
This loving, painful,
So I may live
To celebrate your death,
To elevate your life,
And its conclusion,
Which was neither sweet,
Nor fitting, Duty’s harshest price
For which the consideration
Should have been honor.
—The World, 1983
For veterans, every day is Memorial Day.
Palaima is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Posted for Palaima by dygo)
Austin American-Statesman Posted: 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, 2013 Print Edition April 17, 2013
Palaima: Finding the courage to confront wrong
By Tom Palaima, Regular Contributor
On June 5, 1989, we witnessed one of the bravest acts in modern history. We saw the man who acted bravely. We have not seen him since. Have you ever wondered why even small acts of personal moral courage like his are so rare?
I have all year while teaching my Undergraduate Studies class on ethics and leadership and my mythology class at the University of Texas at Austin. In mythology this past week, we discussed Euripides’ “Medea,” Jules Dassin’s film “A Dream of Passion” that is based on the “Medea,” and the Andrea Yates case. We pondered what led fictional and real women, who were good mothers and had strong religious values, to kill their own children. Factors included abandonment, social isolation, skewed religious beliefs and narcissistic men lacking in empathy for their children and the women who loved them.
At nearly every step in Euripides’ play, Dassin’s film and Andrea Yates’ marriage, the persons involved and others who looked on could have prevented bad things from happening.
Why don’t we act when we see things going wrong with others where we live and work, in our country, in our world?
I think we delude ourselves into thinking things are not that bad, that we can suspend our values and get back to them later, that we are acting no differently than everyone else, that the little we can do will make little difference. We speak in euphemisms and generalities. We downsize and outsource while we are firing people. We say we are reducing social security benefits and raising co-payments in health plans, not making it harder for many retirees to pay for food and shelter and many parents to afford health care for their children. We say we are waging war to bring peace.
Fortunately, we do have role models who let us know we can do better. In my class, we discussed Martin Luther King’s last speech “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” (April 3, 1968). King was killed the next day. He was in Memphis tending to those who were weak and in need, striking sanitation workers.
A remark by King is often cited, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” King was murdered in large part because he was living that motto fearlessly.
We also have role models who are more like us. In the early ’60s, Bob Zellner was a student at Huntington College in Montgomery, Ala. He began attending black civil rights meetings. The Ku Klux Klan burned crosses on his campus.
He explains his awakening: “I grew up in Alabama. Many people don’t realize that … apartheid was the system in the South. Everything was segregated. It was just the way things were. You didn’t think about it. Sometimes when you’re inside a system, you can’t see it very well. But children are not born racists. They are taught to have racial attitudes.”
Zellner then explains how he was instructed by the owner of the country store where he worked, a kindly and good man, that if other white people were in the store, you don’t say “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir” to a colored person. Zellner could not and would not accept that he should disrespect an elder because of skin color. He knew it was wrong and he acted. He joined in peaceful civil rights demonstrations. He was beaten and almost blinded in McComb, Miss., by locals who had been taught hateful racial attitudes.
In his last speech, King thanked God that he lived in the troubled times of the 1960s because “we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them.”
Common individuals can act when problems don’t force everyone to. Marshall Laughead, a freshman in the UTeach program, talked to me with glowing enthusiasm about “Tank Man,’ the solitary Chinese man whose very name and fate are still unknown. On June 5, 1989, he stood with two shopping bags in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. He showed the world that we can even stop giant mechanized monsters of war by taking a few steps in the right direction and standing our ground. His picture is worth 750 words.
Palaima is professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin. email@example.com.
(Posted for Palaima by dygo)
Posted: 12:00 a.m. Thursday, March 14, 2013 Austin American-Statesman
Palaima: Listen to the stories contained in a song
By Tom Palaima
Our city proclaims that we are the “live music capital of the world.” We may then be live storytelling capital of the world, too.
The songs played and sung in Austin’s many live music venues throughout the year and during our annual music festivals reach into our hearts and souls. The words and music make us feel happy and sad, sometimes at the same time. They take us outside of ourselves and to places deep inside we never reached before. They make us see how big small things are. They tell us we are not alone in our joys and miseries, that good or bad times don’t last always.
We can think of songs and music purely as entertainment and of musicians and songwriters as the entertainment industry. We can also view the stories we read, listen to, or watch on screens or stages as diversions from our real lives. More and more we are conditioned to view songs, music and stories as products.
This is not surprising. Books often come to our attention when they become New York Times or amazon.com bestsellers. Austin’s cultural treasure, BookPeople, which represents itself as “a community bound by books,” compiles monthly bestseller lists by categories. Movies succeed or fail as measured by box office tracking. And we can follow the fate of CDs on the Billboard 200, the Waterloo Records Top 50 or the Shiner TX Top 10.
Still, it is more than nostalgia to feel a loss when the stories embedded in songs, poems, books, plays and movies are promoted primarily as commercial products. We can unthinkingly act like consumers out to satisfy appetites rather than participants in a creative social process. We can forget what BookPeople’s slogan stresses: stories are for, in and of communities.
Consumerism leads to irreverent behavior. As mere consumers, we may fail to appreciate the unique, never-again communal aspects of a live performance. As unthinking consumers we may talk drunkenly through a Blind Boys of Alabama performance or propose that Willie Nelson be engaged to play music during a conference dinner. I have had both experiences, but not passively.
Fortunately, there are ways we can get back in touch with reverence for the art of telling and singing and hearing stories. Last week in the School of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, lecturer David Junker and professor Tracy Dahlby collaborated to bring to campus lifelong master storyteller Gioia Timpanelli. They created spaces where she could tell and talk about stories her grandmother told in Sicily, stories the Inuits, the Japanese and the Irish tell, stories akin to American blues and the folk songs of Woody Guthrie.
The late Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Frank McCourt proclaimed, “No one in the world, yes, in the world, can tell a story better than Gioia Timpanelli.” Timpanelli proved him right for almost three hours in the evening by lamplight. She gave us spoken proof that the art of telling hearth stories was not one-way communication or rote performance. Her stories came forth like jazz variations responding to the collective needs and experiences of us, her audience.
She spoke, like our own grandmothers, to our minds and to our hearts. She stressed, in one aside, that stories were “not useful.” “You cannot buy stories,” she said. “What would you buy?” She made us see how preposterous it was to think we can buy a defiant spirit, a deep feeling, a magical journey into timelessness.
Timpanelli riffed on Yeats and Keats. Stories were made from “memory and hope.” Stories were not utilitarian, but important for “soul-making.” Stories “make community”; tap into “tears, joy, ecstasy, sorrow”; help us to feel compassion and empathy; and get us thinking and talking about the many strange ways we have of being human.
Stories are true, Timpanelli told us. Life is hard. Giants do exist, and they always want more. Fairy tale characters live happily ever after. There is no guarantee we will.
My guitarist friend John Inmon has told me that, whenever he plays, he keeps in mind that music comes into being when it reaches the ears and then the hearts of the human beings who have come to hear him play. As we listen to great musicians in Austin, make sure they know we are there fully to accept and respond to the song gifts they offer.
And be generous at the tip jar.
(Posted for Palaima by dygo)
Posted: 1:22 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013
Palaima: Boy Scouts not prepared for decision on gays
By Tom Palaima Regular Contributor
No matter what the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America eventually decide about the longstanding no-gays policy that the organization reaffirmed just seven months ago, there are good reasons to highlight what their decision will say about us as a society.
Most large social organizations and political entities tend to make haste slowly, even on important issues, unless forced to act quickly in a crisis. Current thinking is that Boy Scout leaders may well leave the decision to individual local sponsoring groups. This means that the debate about permitting non-heterosexuals to participate as members of the Boy Scouts will continue at the local level for a good long time.
Second, what are the consequences when leaders or leadership groups make what we might call “Pontius Pilate” or “pass the buck” or “politically expedient” or “best we can do” decisions that cede their own responsibility for making decisions to others.
To some Americans, in the current political climate, entrusting the decision about whether or not to admit gays to local sponsoring groups has a kind of states-rights appeal. To others, this is why it seems like a bad alternative.
Think of the Jim-Crowism that persisted in Southern states for a century and more after the Emancipation Proclamation. We are still feeling its harmful after-effects.
How many people of good moral, religious or political conscience, looking back, think it was a good idea to leave it up to states and local communities to decide whether to keep people of color at the back of public buses, in separate substandard schools, at their own hotels and restaurants, drinking from separate water fountains and even using different restrooms? In their extreme forms, such white-only practices promoted hatred also of Catholics, Jews, homosexuals and Americans from other regions who spoke out for change.
Between 2001 and 2009, I was an active Cub Scouts den leader and Boy Scouts assistant scout master. I know the positive effects that scouting can have on boys and girls, young men and young women. Throughout that time, I thought the policy excluding gays was wrong and still do. I also was troubled by the atmosphere of bias and stereotyping around issues of gender and sexual orientation that the policy promoted.
Gov. Rick Perry spoke out in favor of the no-gays policy, “Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life lessons. Sexuality never has been, doesn’t need to be.” In my opinion, his viewpoint is as out of step with the times and our way of life as Jim Crowism was. And the American BSA’s anti-gays policy puts it far behind other democratic countries.
Five years ago, Linda Hagberr, director of communications of the Swedish Guide and Scout Council, wrote to me, “(Our) policy is to be open for all young people (defined as under the age of 18) and all adults that adhere to the Scouting principles. Swedish Guiding and Scouting do not exclude anyone due to being gay or lesbian. It is by us regarded a personal issue and does not affect the leaders’ capability of being a good scout leader and role model for young people.”
Already 10 years before that, John Fogg of the Scout Association in the United Kingdom, said: “Our policy is firmly that no young person or adult should receive less favourable treatment because of their sexuality, gender, marital status or ethnic origin.”
Think back to what Perry thinks are the good old days. How many of us would have benefited from age-appropriate discussions about sexuality and gender identity and related life issues? If you are a parent, think of the world your children are growing up in.
We now have openly, as we have always had secretly, gays and lesbians in Congress, in the military, in churches, in classrooms, in locker rooms and in stores and businesses. Would it not be good for all our future political leaders, soldiers, ministers, teachers, athletes and business people, regardless of sexual orientation, to learn life lessons from one another and from adult role models within the time-tested programs of America’s scouting organizations?
Tim Jeal’s definitive biography — published in 1989 — of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the scouting movement, marshals strong evidence that he was in all probability a closeted gay man himself. How would his opinion match up with Rick Perry’s or mine or yours?
(Posted for Palaima by dygo)
—“Kosmos in the Mycenaean Texts: The Response of Mycenaean ‘Scribes’ to the Culture of Kosmos,” M.-L. Nosch and R. Laffineur eds., Kosmos: Jewellery, Adornment and Textile in the Aegean Bronze Age (Aegaeum 33, Leuven – Liège 2012) 697-703 + figures CLIX-CLX.
In this article I discuss the significance of the etymology of the word ‘kosmos’ and the importance of the principle of ‘order’ in Mycenaean palatial culture as understood in the organizational system worked out by the palatial centers and structures, in the aesthetics of the ‘order’ of palatial architecture, and in the texts of the Mycenaean scribes. The very process of recording information was an imposition of order. We discuss passages from Homer and Hesiod and make reference to Continue reading
Palaima: The dangers of rushing through life’s stages
[On-line title: “The dangers of rushing into the working world”]
Posted: 2:04 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012
By Tom Palaima Special to the Austin American-Statesman
PRINT EDITION Friday, September 28, 2012
“There is a time to every purpose under heaven.” But is that time four or five years long and what is it for?
Several years ago, I heard my friend Ira Iscoe, Ashbel Smith Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, give a talk on Erik Erikson’s theories about the developmental stages of man. Iscoe’s talk was typically lucid. His and Erickson’s ideas have rattled around in my brain, heart and soul as I have thought about how what the ancient Greeks called a “teknon,” literally ‘birthed thing,” develops into a socialized adult.
The Greeks were not alone in emphasizing the “thing-ness” of young human beings. Continue reading
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Palaima: Budget woes and our misguided priorities
Thomas G. Palaima, REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR
Austin American-Statesman Saturday, February 12, 2011
In reviewing a book on imperialism, power and identity in the Roman empire, I had a frequent sense of déjà vu derived from reading at the same time about the public values that prevail in our state.