Let Confederate Statues lead charge promoting clear principle, symbolic chains, and open Socratic self-criticism


UT should keep Confederate statues but add context with plaques

Posted on-line: 11:27 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 Austin American-Statesman

Print Edition Wednesday August 12, 2015

Al Martinich and I wrote this public response to the report of the Task Force on Historical Representation of Statuary released to the president and the public yesterday morning (August 10th), arguably one of the deadest days of the year for drawing faculty, student, staff and community response.

The subject phrase summarizes our main points. We explain them more fully in the commentary here below.

We particularly were concerned about direct or indirect notions in the report (1) that our University could not openly be seen to be involved in self-examination and self-criticism and (2) that a clear statement of ethical values on an important social issue might be considered ‘inflammatory’.

Ours is a public university that proclaims on its seal that the education it offers is the guardian genius of democracy.  We should obey always the Socratic principle that “the unexamined life is not worth living”—and certainly not worth paying tuition money for.

TGP and AM


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.

“Educational value” and “historical context” are too vague and evasive. An objection to that option is that it is “difficult to provide contextualizing statements that are strong enough to counteract the powerful message sent by bronze statues on high pedestals on our Main Mall, while not so strong or intemperate as to be simply inflammatory.” We think otherwise.

What if all six statues had a plaque with the same unequivocal message: “The University of Texas condemns slavery and regrets that its history is closely tied with slave owners who never recognized the equality of African-Americans and Hispanics”? Would this message be weak or inflammatory? No, it would forthrightly declare the true values of the university and the state of Texas.

In addition to the plaques, chains should be added at the ankles of the statues. The meaning would be clear and conspicuous. If anyone should be enslaved, even symbolically after the fact, slave owners should be. Slavery shackled the ideal of developing a society that treated all people equally.

The report also objects that adding plaques “would be like engaging in vigorous self-criticism on the university’s homepage.” Yes indeed! And all for the good! This is no objection. It is a strong reason to do so. No human institution is perfect, as the statues themselves show. Self-criticism is crucial for a healthy democracy.

Universities, especially public universities like UT Austin, are special places. The values of the university should be expressed clearly and discussed. UT’s core values are generally cited as marketing tools that establish what in the present discussion is historically ironic, a “brand” that distinguishes UT Austin from other universities competing for students. The core values are learned by rote like the Ten Commandments: Once learned, they are rarely consciously put into practice. The values should be examined again and again in the context of what has happened in our society over time, what is happening now and what is likely to happen under the guidance of those few graduates who become our future leaders — and the many, many other students who become the day-to-day doers and the heart and soul of our country.

We have long been preoccupied at the University of Texas at Austin with maintaining a façade of high achievement. We focus on those who attain high distinction in the classrooms, out in service to the community and on athletic fields. We forget that our university, like our society as a whole, is made up of struggling human beings with varying talents and abilities. To have all passersby, students, their friends and families, and other outside visitors be reminded on a regular basis of the fundamental questions — historical and contemporary — posed by race, ethnicity and other behaviors within society as whole will work to strengthen our democracy.

Socrates in 399 B.C. accepted a death sentence rather than go on living without questioning the moral and ethical values of his society. The one core value of our university that should trump all should be that the unexamined life is truly not worth living. It was a lack of strong commitment to imaginative self-criticism in Texas that enabled slavery and later promoted racial discrimination. Imagine yourself and your children as slaves. Feel the chains around your ankles. Would you support slavery?

The other four options presented to our president involve removing one or more of the statues to some other location. Keeping any of the statues unaltered is offensive. Removing all of the statues is a way of suppressing our history and missing an ongoing teaching opportunity.

Once more: No human institution is perfect. Self-criticism is crucial for a healthy democracy. Universities are special places where the values of our culture need to be discussed in the future much more than they have been. Let the Confederate statues lead the charge in what is always an uphill battle against human ignorance and prejudice and toward examined lives of dignity and respect for all of us and all our children.

Al Martinich and Tom Palaima are professors at University of Texas at Austin.

Failure to reform NCAA is at Root of Cheating Scandal at University of Texas at Austin


Palaima: Failure to reform NCAA is at Root of Cheating Scandal

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Friday, June 19, 2015 Austin American-Statesman
print edition Saturday June 20, 2015


By Tom Palaima – Regular Contributor LINKS TO COIA reports at bottom

As we move through life, we experience moments of revelation when we see clearly what meaning we want our lives to have, how we will spend our time on this earth. Saul, on the road to Damascus, was surrounded by a blinding light, went three days without sight, food or drink, and changed his ways of thinking. He became St. Paul.

Sometimes we realize we have had enough, like world welterweight boxing champion Roberto Durán 35 years ago conceding his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard by telling the referee, “No más, no más.” Durán was widely ridiculed, but he knew it was the right thing to do. He went on to hold titles as a light middleweight and middleweight and is considered the greatest lightweight boxer of the twentieth century.
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Brad Wolverton alleges that three student athletes who played basketball between 2003 and 2014 at the University of Texas were guilty of academic misconduct and “illustrate how the university has appeared to let academically deficient players push the limits on academic integrity as it has sought to improve its teams’ academic records.” Notice how easy it is to blame the victims.

From September 2008 through May 2011, I was the UT and Big XII representative on the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a national organization formed originally to try to make sure that all student athletes in the big-time sports entertainment industry known as the National Collegiate Athletics Association get something we could call an education.

COIA’s members have a bit of St. Paul in them. They are mostly senior professors who have reached a point where the problems that major NCAA sports programs cause for the academic integrity of their institutions obligate them to try to do something.

In my case, the timing seemed right. In 2007 the Austin American-Statesman published a series of front-page stories on the excesses of UT’s NCAA program. Remarks from the UT athletic director and his chief financial officer like “We eat what we kill,” meaning we raise lots of money for sports and are darn sure going to spend it all on sports, and “We are the Joneses,” meaning we kill and eat so much more than most everybody else that they all want to be like us, made me think that someone in a position of power in the UT Tower or the Legislature or the Board of Regents would do something.

I was dead wrong. Likewise, graduation rates for minority athletes were embarrassingly low, and the differentials in standardized exam scores between regular students and basketball and football players were shocking to anyone who prioritized education and intellectual life.

In late January 2011, COIA met at Big Ten headquarters near Chicago. We heard talks from NCAA President Mark Emmert, from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, and then from Graham Spanier, for 15 years president of Penn State University. All stressed the morality and integrity of NCAA sports and the need for independent faculty oversight of NCAA programs. There is still none at UT.
Spanier went further. He assured us that every year he spoke to everyone having anything to do with NCAA sports on his campus and told them if they knew of the smallest infraction, he wanted to be informed so he could correct the matter. Nine months later, in November 2011, came revelations about sexual predator Jerry Sandusky and the “conspiracy of silence” by Spanier and other top officials at Penn State. That was my “no más” moment.

The NCAA mandates that student athletes should devote no more than 20 hours a week to their sport. Their own survey in 2008 proved that football players average 44.8 hours per week. Their Academic Progress Rate requires cumulative GPAs of 1.8, 1.9 and 2.0 at the end of the second, third and fourth years. UT’s average GPA for all students, including athletes, is ca. 3.2. And a satisfactory APR requires completion of only 80 percent of coursework by the end of the fourth year. The NCAA then runs a system in which, in comparison with average students, student athletes have too little time, many make poor grades and many end four years without a degree.
The academic misconduct of the NCAA, countenanced by regents, university presidents, college coaches, season ticket holders, men’s and women’s athletics councils, sports writers and NCAA officials is what needs to be addressed. They should all head toward Damascus before it’s too late.

FOR links to COIA reports 2009 and 2011, see http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2008-2009/reports/COIA_08-09_rpt.pdf


“No intermissions or applause in real stages of war” AAS October 26, 2009

Palaima: “No intermissions or applause in real stages of war”


Austin American-Statesman Monday, October 26, 2009

At the Red River Rivalry, 92,000 fans packed into the Cotton Bowl for an hour of football. Later in Austin, a few dozen veterans of America’s larger-scale shootouts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and their families crowded into a small theater space on Congress Avenue appropriately called the Hideout.

We were there because of VFW Post 856, the ZACH Theatre and Humanities Texas. We were there because of psychologist and documentary film-maker Ricardo Ainslie, because of Daphny Dominguez and Sharon Willis of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, and Don Dorsey, president of the Texas Association of Vietnam Veterans, Austin Chapter. The veterans were there for their own very special reasons.

All these veterans sought further healing. They wanted to share with others, veterans and non-veterans, what they had learned during their long struggles to recover their lives after what psychiatrist, veterans counselor (and champion of veterans issues), and post-traumatic stress expert Jonathan Shay calls the ruin of their good characters. Shay came down, too, from Boston to talk with them.

They were there because playwright Nick Schweitzer of Wisconsin cared enough about these former soldiers to convert Shay’s famous book “Achilles in Vietnam” into a powerful 90-minute play. They were there because director Dante Dominguez crafted the talents of 13 actors who lent their time and skills to two performances.

Michael Amendola played with formidable empathy a young veteran named Achilles, haunted by his memories of what Shay calls “betrayal of what is right” in Vietnam. Other lives intersect with Achilles’ and are affected by the human being he has become.

His wife Brenda’s parents are well-meaning. His father-in-law is a World War II vet who never saw action. His mother-in-law believes that the more enemies Achilles killed, the greater hero he was. They offer church and manly platitudes. But Achilles has lost his faith in God, and he knows he is not a hero as she uses the word. The soldiers with him in Vietnam were ‘just doing their jobs’ and trying to keep themselves and their buddies alive.

Jaime Keener made us feel the near-futility in Brenda’s patient, cautious and persevering love, as she tries to take herself and the virtual stranger her husband has become back home from Vietnam. We see the group therapy counselor and her veterans who talk truthfully and listen and start to heal.

But most of all we heard the vets themselves afterwards. “I came home after 12 months in ’68-’69 and had 30 days to get ready again. Thirty days is not enough. It’s not enough now in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Two years ago I went to see a counselor. It took me almost 40 years.”

“I know what that Afghanistan vet is saying. They are 18-19 years old. Still babies.”

“I put my wife through a hell. Why she married me and stayed with me I don’t know.” His wife stared stoically straight ahead.

“We were infantry men, incredibly skilled at a narrow part of life, at keeping people alive. Then we come back and they say we are only qualified for menial jobs.”

A whole society can betray what’s right by not listening and not caring. Get in touch with any of the people and organizations I named above. Tell them Achilles in America sent you.



Palaima: Pope Francis & Karl Marlantes Tell Us We Need to Feel & See Need


Palaima: Comforts of society make it difficult properly to see need

Austin American-Statesman  Posted: 11:53 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014


By Thomas Palaima – Regular Contributor

Pope Francis, Time magazine’s person of the year for 2013, enjoined us in his Christmas message to “place ourselves at the service of the poor.” His message took me back 50 years to my Jesuit high school days when the Catholic Church and our country were trying to put into action the radical religious and political message of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 25:35-46.

Roman Catholics then were instructed by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and Pope John XXIII to “recognize the essential dignity of every human being.” Governments worldwide were charged with “protecting the rights and equality of all citizens as part of their essential role in promoting the public good.” In response to the courageous actions of Americans in the civil rights movement and the realities brought home by race-related urban riots in Los Angeles (1965), Cleveland (1966), Detroit and Newark (1967), Washington (1968) and elsewhere, our own government developed the Great Society programs.

The Gospel passage that Pope Francis uses begins, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The Gospel writer and the pontiff both make clear how easy it is for us not to see those in need.

In fact, we have to go beyond seeing need. We have to internalize the feeling of need and act upon it. We all belong to groups, organizations and institutions within society, including our own families. Most of these only have the moral conscience we infuse into them.

We need to reach the stage of “consciousness and spiritual maturity” about how we contribute to and tolerate the human suffering of others that United States Marine Corps veteran Karl Marlantes writes about in his recent book, What It is Like to Go to War. Marlantes write profoundly about the debilitating effects that war experiences will continue to have on young men and women unless we all change our ways of thinking.

He makes two key points that we can apply to our civilian lives. The first is that “our young warriors are raised in possibly the only culture on the planet that thinks death is an option.” Indeed, we shy away from looking not only at death, but at the realities of poverty, income disparity and lack of access to essential services like health care.

Marlantes’ second point is that in American culture, we no longer have initiatory rites of a “spiritual nature” that make us aware of hunger, of how easy it is to die, of how small and vulnerable we are. He points out that “we mostly undergo a series of partial initiations and we undergo them unconsciously and without guidance.”

Pope Francis calls for us to place ourselves at the service of fellow human beings who are poor, hungry, homeless and marginalized. I think he means more than writing out a check to Meals on Wheels or working a few weekends a year for Habitat for the Homeless or doing one Eagle Scout project. These are all good and important acts. But the pope means something very akin to what Marlantes understands from his service in the U.S. Marine Corps and his own resulting life problems. We need to initiate or re-initiate ourselves to feel the needs of others in ways that re-focus our own appetites, desires and actions on others.

When I was young, we Catholics fasted during the Lenten season before Easter. We ate no meat on Fridays. We fasted until after we received the Eucharist on Sundays. My father recalled in his teenage years during the Great Depression calling out and claiming “core” when a buddy was lucky enough to have an apple to eat. We reminded ourselves regularly of hunger.

In the last year of the Great Depression, Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind” captured the spirit of the times when she declared, “I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again.” Pope Francis asks us to do more than look to ourselves. He asks us to be so committed to tending to the needy around us that eventually no one will go needy. He asks us to remember that Jesus was a social activist.

Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

UT commencement: A sliver of idiocracy

UT commencement: A sliver of idiocracy
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

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.

I wonder
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,
Magic caretaking,
So I may live
At peace.

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: tpalaima@austin.utexas.edu.

(Posted for Palaima by dygo)

Palaima: Finding the courage to confront wrong

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. tpalaima@sbcglobal.net.

(Posted for Palaima by dygo)

Palaima: Listen to the stories contained in a song

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Thursday, March 14, 2013 Austin American-Statesman

Palaima: Listen to the stories contained in a song

By Tom Palaima

Regular Contributor

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)


Palaima: Boy Scouts not prepared for decision on gays

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)

Palaima: Budget woes and our misguided priorities

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Palaima: Budget woes and our misguided priorities

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.
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