Semester At Sea With Dennis Brutus by Kiley J. Bryant

[The end of the year, the death of every year, is of course connected with its opposite, the rebirth of the year.  The holiday season we celebrate in the northern hemisphere is of course of pagan origin, an origin that depended on recognizing seasonal change.  It’s usually associated with taking stock of accomplishments, gains . . . and losses of the past year.  We all have our individual and personal losses we’ve experienced, and we share them with others to establish a community in order to bear them better.  Some of these losses transcend the personal, the individual.  Maria Dimitriadi, the Greek singer about whom I knew nothing until February last year when she died, called the Red Heart of Greece;  Mercedes Sosa, the Argentine musical voice of Latin America; in the last few days, Dennis Brutus, poet of South Africa.  All these were artists of the world as much as of the particular nation from which they arose and whose spirit they evoked.  And just as the year dies away, but the cycle does not stop; so the season of these artists continues.  Kiley Bryant writes the following remembrance of Dennis Brutus, a wonderful evocation of why even in his passing we can celebrate him and the generation of the spring to follow.  The photo of Dennis Brutus was taken by Kiley on that semester at sea — editor]

Four years ago, I set out on one of my life’s most precious journeys to date,  Semester At Sea. I was amongst 700 college students from across the country, mixed in with a few students from abroad, to take part in a 100 day study abroad program that would take us around the world via the MV Explorer, the world’s largest traveling classroom aka a cruise ship!  The trip started in the Bahamas January 19, 2006 and ended in San Diego, California April 28, 2006, in between there were 10 ports of call on our agenda. Aside from the travel opportunity the program offered, the educational experience at large is what the opportunity presented most. After boarding the ship in Brazil, we were headed to South Africa, which took fourteen long, no land in sight days. Our first day back in class, which we had every day between ports, we were introduced by the Global Studies professor to Dennis Brutus, who was serving as the inter-port lecturer, who would historically be presenting to us an overview of South Africa. I don’t really know where to start, but once he opened his mouth and began speaking, he had captivated my attention. His history, his stories, his passion for life, learning, love, forgiveness and most of all his determination to educate; it was mind blowing, yet he did it all naturally, seeming as if it required no effort.  Dennis Brutus is and will be probably one of the most influential men I have and will ever meet in my life. Once we reached South Africa I was fortunate enough to travel with Dennis to Robben Island, an Island off of Cape Town where he was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela which now serves as a Heritage Site and Museum. Although the trip assigned us a tour guide, Modise Phekonyane, who as well was a prisoner on the Island, Dennis managed to take over the role of a tour guide. In doing so, he exposed us to his experience on the island through story-telling and even through pictures that were on display in which he was able to point himself out in. He took us into a bathroom where he was beaten by prison guards, showed us the barracks where they slept, and even took us to the Limestone Quarry where the prisoners worked hours on end. I quickly learned that his wit, his personality, his sense of humor, was all a part of the real ‘Dennis Brutus Experience.’ In telling us about the brutal experience he endured, he managed to squeeze in that while working in the Quarry while guards weren’t looking he’d sneak into holes and take cat naps. The experience overall I believe had so much more of a strong impact having Dennis there with us step by step as we learned the history of the island as well as his and Modise’s experiences.  After having a few one on one conversations with Dennis he asked where I was from, in telling him Evanston, Illinois, it opened up the door for many more conversations to come; I wasn’t aware that he was even familiar with Evanston, or even that he once lived there, I soon learned he was a professor at Northwestern University for nearly a decade and a half. Looking back at my overall study abroad experience, meeting, listening and talking with Dennis served as one of the most impactful learning experiences of my life. The man was filled with knowledge, his heart was filled with love, his ears were open for whatever, and his story was meant to be told. I was so saddened by his loss, his impact on my educational experience is one I will forever be grateful for.

Mayor Daley: We Want To Use YOUR Internet!

No Community Library, No Community School:


Lew Rosenbaum

As Substance News has reported, (see Jim Vail’s article in the education category here or follow the Substance News link on the right) the Chicago School Board met last week and was confronted by hundreds of people protesting Board policies.  Parents and students from Altgeld Gardens on Chicago’s far south side were joined by members of GEM (Grassroots Education Movement), Teachers for Social Justice, CORE (Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators), Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization and others to demand that CPS place a quality neighborhood public school in the building that houses Carver Military Academy.  The Academy, a selective enrollment school, replaced a community school that at one time served the Gardens and surrounding area;  but the Academy only uses 1/4 of the space in the school. What especially took the Board by surprise, was that the protesters presented the Board with a 38 page proposal for the new school.  Leadership of this protest belongs to the parents and students from the Gardens;  parents have been involved for 30 years in the battle against toxic waste dumping in the area, and the higher disease rates that are consequences.  The new school proposed by the protesters would be called the Hazel Johnson Environmental Justice School, and would exist side-by-side with the current military academy. Many speakers in the public participation part of the program repeated their support of the proposal.

Since then, parents and their supporters have met twice with David Pickens, a leading officer from the Board of Education.  The protesters had demanded a meeting with the Board in the Gardens. The Board officials typically refuse to meet away from their offices.  In this case, they did meet in the Gardens, and agreed to let Cheryl Johnson chair the meeting. She is executive director of the community organization that has spearheaded the fight against the toxics (People for Community Recovery) and one of the founders of the Committee for Safe Passage (safety for the students in the schools).

Wednesday, December 30 the parents and students from Altgeld came to city hall to confront Mayor Daley with their concerns.  The talks, Cheryl Johnson said, are now just talks.  Parents haven’t seen action yet.  Parents are not willing to accept transfers to other schools where the distance may be greater, educational services no better and the safety issue not resolved.  The parents have placed an interim proposal in front of the Board until a fully functioning school can be established in the fall of 2010.  They are asking for 4 or 5 classrooms to be staffed by certified, union teachers (the Board wants these to be associated with another CPS school, acting as a “satellite.”).  But, as Ms. Johnson reiterated, so far this is just words without action.

Last week, after the protests opposed a charter school in the community, the School Board showed their responsiveness . . . by approving the charter school.  On December 30 parents and students again emphasized their desire for a public high school in their community.  They were at Mayor Daley’s office perhaps because the Mayor’s office took control of the schools over 10 years ago and now is ultimately responsible.  But the occasion for coming to Mayor Richard Daley was to show him directly that students do not have a school and do not even have a public library in their community that is accessible, and consequently cannot even use public access internet to keep up on their classes during the holiday break, to do research. A number of students spoke to the issue:  they are behind in their classes and afraid of flunking.  And so in a spirited display, the community residents and their supporters chanted demands to use Daley’s internet access.

It is not surprising that Mayor Daley did not come out to meet the protesters Wednesday.  Nor is it surprising that he didn’t let them in to use his computer.  It is also not surprising the the Board is delaying action as long as it can.

This will be a difficult fight to win, but the people in the community have expressed their willingness to fight this battle.  It is literally a matter of life or death.  But it also raises questions about how much the School Board is willing to concede, and how will they guarantee a quality education when they have proven how adept they are at dismantling public education in the guise of “No Child Left Behind.”  The significance of winning this battle, even this limited one, is that the parents are taking the leadership in taking back from private hands a space that once was public — a school which was a public school, is now a military academy and is slated for charterization next year.

Note that GEM and CORE are planning a big event January 9, an educational summit at Malcolm X College, where the focus will be on school closings and charterization.  The event will take place from 10 AM to 1PM.  Child care will be available, and refreshments will be on hand.

Murals & Poetry in Los Angeles by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

published on the KCET  public television web site


By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
February 12, 2009 8:00 AM

A parking lot a block from MacArthur Park used to be the Vagabond Theater. As a teenager in the late 1960s painter John Valadez spent a lot of time there watching art house films.

The owner had painted scenes from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin on large canvases and draped them on the side walls. John says right on, when I tell him one his newest pastel works, Muertedores Baile would be a great scene in an early Luis Buñuel film. In the pastel three bullfighters in blue, pink and white carry out a cape move in a circle at a dusty cemetery. The capes and bull are absent. A green-suited bullfighter lies on a cloud above, limp like El Greco’s Count Orgaz.

In the 1990s John shifted from Chicano realism to more allegorical, somewhat surreal work. His Broadway Mural, done in the early 1980s stands as a master work in Chicano art. John was one of the first to use superb draftsmanship to depict Chicano urban life in a hyperrealistic style. John’s friend Ruben Guevara – an L.A. poet, musician and concert promoter – said Muertedores Baile took his breath away when he saw John working on it. There’s a lot going on and the dusty cemetery reminded him of one he’s seen in Mexicali. When Kathy Gallegos of Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park asked Ruben to take part in a February 14th reading that pairs up writers with works of art, Ruben said he’d like nothing better than to write a poem based on John Valadez’s painting. For Ruben, the bullfighters in the work of art pay tribute to the hundreds of working-class women killed in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez. The killings remain largely unsolved. Here’s what Ruben will read on Saturday.

Traje de Luces / Suit of Lights
(Por Las Mujeres de Juárez / For the Women of Juárez)
A Xikano Haiku for John Valadez’s Muertedores Baile
By Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara
The warm night calls you
“Tonight, a Dance for Lovers!”
Corrida de luz

Strokes of life and death
Dance in the darkness of light
Dance with destiny

Aztec virgins scream
Hearts explode into fire storms
Souls cut, scarred, bleeding

¡Matador! Say it!
“¡Las mujeres de Juárez!”
“¡Descansen en paz!”

Fury transcended
Ignites the light in terror
Dries God’s bleeding tears

Life, love, ecstasy
A dance for lovers only
Xikan@ heaven

On Seeing “Invictus” the Weekend Dennis Brutus Died — by Matthew Rothschild

On Seeing “Invictus” the Weekend Dennis Brutus Died

By Matthew Rothschild, December 28, 2009 published on the web site of the Progressive Magazine

I saw the Nelson Mandela movie “Invictus” this weekend, the same weekend that the great South African poet Dennis Brutus died.

After being shot in the back in 1963, Brutus was imprisoned on Robben Island in a cell right next to Mandela’s, then exiled to the United States.

He was a leading anti-apartheid activist here, and continued to champion the cause of social justice globally after the fall of the apartheid regime.

I met him a couple times. He was an imposing figure, with a rich and distinctive voice, who bore the scars of apartheid nobly.

Just like Nelson Mandela.

But watching the film, you get the sense that the anti-apartheid struggle was almost all Nelson Mandela.

You don’t get to see the mass movement that led to its overthrow, the movement that Mandela and Brutus were a part of.

You don’t have any hint that Mandela himself and the African National Congress advocated armed struggle, or that a black consciousness movement, led by Stephen Biko, galvanized another generation, or that massive strikes by labor unions threatened to cripple the South African economy.

And, for that matter, you don’t get to see the hideousness of apartheid—the shooting at protesters, the torture of prisoners (like Biko) to death, the daily humiliations of the pass system, and the total economic, social, and political subjugation of blacks.

All you see is Morgan Freeman as Mandela, and every move he makes is glorified. Freeman and the scriptwriter depict him as preternaturally wise in everything he does. At one point, his aide asks him about where South Africa should turn for foreign investment. And he responds, instantly, to the United States.

Yet Mandela’s decision to adopt a free market orientation has had disastrous consequences for South Africa, and Dennis Brutus rightly criticized him and the African National Congress for it.

Speaking on Democracy Now! in September 2008, Brutus characterized the ANC’s economic policy this way. “First we keep the corporations happy. We don’t want them leaving the country. And if the people have to wait—questions of housing, jobs, education—all of that will have to wait.” As a result, he said, people are “living in the shacks and in the shanties, as they were under apartheid, still living under the same conditions.”

Brutus wasn’t the only one to fault Mandela and the ANC for kowtowing to neoliberalism. Naomi Klein in “The Shock Doctrine” writes that South Africa “stands as a living testament to what happens when economic reform is severed from political transformation. Politically, its people have the right to vote, civil liberties and majority rule. Yet economically, South Africa has surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in the world.”

Yes, Mandela is a hero. I have a poster of him up on my office wall. But beware hero worship.

As for Dennis Brutus, a fond farewell, and condolences to his family. At college, I knew his son Tony, a wonderful person in his own right. Tony, I hug you from afar.

Dennis Brutus, in a poem from “Sirens, Knuckles, Boots,” wrote:

“Most cruel, all our land is scarred with terror, / rendered unlovely and unlovable; / sundered are we and all our passionate surrender / but somehow tenderness survives.”

Thank you, Dennis Brutus, for fighting the good fight, and for underscoring the triumph of tenderness.

[Matthew Rothschild is editor of The Progressive Magazine]

Dennis Brutus 1924 – 2009 — by Patrick Bond

[We have a special memory of Dennis Brutus, here in Chicago, from which our own federal government sought to deport him back to certain imprisonment and death in apartheid South Africa.  The battle to keep Dennis from extradition was long, ultimately successful, and brought together a remarkable group of active people who respected his poetry, his politics, his sports.  And Dennis was unstinting in repaying that support with his unique, enthusiastic and intelligent responses to the numerous causes that arose — Lew Rosenbaum]

Dennis Vincent Brutus, 1924-2009

December 27, 2009 By Patrick Bond

Patrick Bond’s ZSpace Page

World-renowned political organizer and one of Africa’s most celebrated poets, Dennis Brutus, died early on December 26 in Cape Town, in his sleep, aged 85.

Even in his last days, Brutus was fully engaged, advocating social protest against those responsible for climate change, and promoting reparations to black South Africans from corporations that benefited from apartheid. He was a leading plaintiff in the Alien Tort Claims Act case against major firms that is now making progress in the US court system.

Brutus was born in Harare in 1924, but his South African parents soon moved to Port Elizabeth where he attended Paterson and Schauderville High Schools. He entered Fort Hare University on a full scholarship in 1940, graduating with a distinction in English and a second major in Psychology. Further studies in law at the University of the Witwatersrand were cut short by imprisonment for anti-apartheid activism.

Brutus’ political activity initially included extensive journalistic reporting, organizing with the Teachers’ League and Congress movement, and leading the new South African Sports Association as an alternative to white sports bodies. After his banning in 1961 under the Suppression of Communism Act, he fled to Mozambique but was captured and deported to Johannesburg. There, in 1963, Brutus was shot in the back while attempting to escape police custody. Memorably, it was in front of Anglo American Corporation headquarters that he nearly died while awaiting an ambulance reserved for blacks.

While recovering, he was held in the Johannesburg Fort Prison cell which more than a half-century earlier housed Mahatma Gandhi. Brutus was transferred to Robben Island where he was jailed in the cell next to Nelson Mandela, and in 1964-65 wrote the collections Sirens Knuckles Boots and Letters to Martha, two of the richest poetic expressions of political incarceration.

Subsequently forced into exile, Brutus resumed simultaneous careers as a poet and anti-apartheid campaigner in London, and while working for the International Defense and Aid Fund, was instrumental in achieving the apartheid regime’s expulsion from the 1968 Mexican Olympics and then in 1970 from the Olympic movement.

Upon moving to the US in 1971, Brutus served as a professor of literature and African studies at Northwestern (Chicago) and Pittsburgh, and defeated high-profile efforts by the Reagan Administration to deport him during the early 1980s. He wrote numerous poems, ninety of which will be published posthumously next year by Worcester State University, and he helped organize major African writers organizations with his colleagues Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.

Following the political transition in South Africa, Brutus resumed activities with grassroots social movements in his home country. In the late 1990s he also became a pivotal figure in the global justice movement and a featured speaker each year at the World Social Forum, as well as at protests against the World Trade Organization, G8, Bretton Woods Institutions and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Brutus continued to serve in the anti-racism, reparations and economic justice movements as a leading strategist until his death, calling in August for the ‘Seattling’ of the recent Copenhagen summit because sufficient greenhouse gas emissions cuts and North-South ‘climate debt’ payments were not on the agenda.

His final academic appointment was as Honorary Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, and for that university’s press and Haymarket Press, he published the autobiographical Poetry and Protest in 2006.

Amongst numerous recent accolades were the US War Resisters League peace award in September, two Doctor of Literature degrees conferred at Rhodes and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in April – following six other honorary doctorates – and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the South African government Department of Arts and Culture in 2008.

Brutus was also awarded membership in the South African Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, but rejected it on grounds that the institution had not confronted the country’s racist history. He also won the Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes awards.

The memory of Dennis Brutus will remain everywhere there is struggle against injustice. Uniquely courageous, consistent and principled, Brutus bridged the global and local, politics and culture, class and race, the old and the young, the red and green. He was an emblem of solidarity with all those peoples oppressed and environments wrecked by the power of capital and state elites – hence some in the African National Congress government labeled him ‘ultraleft’. But given his role as a world-class poet, Brutus showed that social justice advocates can have both bread and roses.

Brutus’s poetry collections are:

* Sirens Knuckles and Boots (Mbari Productions, Ibaden, Nigeria and
Northwestern University Press, Evanston Illinois, 1963).

* Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison
(Heinemann, Oxford, 1968).

* Poems from Algiers (African and Afro-American Studies and Research
Institute, Austin, Texas, 1970).

* A Simple Lust (Heinemann, Oxford, 1973).

* China Poems (African and Afro-American Studies and Research Centre,
Austin, Texas, 1975).

* Strains (Troubador Press, Del Valle, Texas).

* Stubborn Hope (Three Continents Press, Washington, DC and Heinemann,
Oxford, 1978).

* Salutes and Censures (Fourth Dimension, Enugu, Nigeria, 1982).

* Airs and Tributes (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey, 1989).

* Still the Sirens (Pennywhistle Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1993).

* Remembering Soweto, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden,
New Jersey, 2004).

* Leafdrift, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey,

* Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader, ed. Aisha Kareem and Lee
Sustar (Haymarket Books, Chicago and University of KwaZulu-Natal Press,
Pietermaritzburg, 2006).

He is survived by his wife May, his sisters Helen and Dolly, eight children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in Hong Kong, England, the US and Cape Town.

Person of the Year — op ed in NYT by Frank Rich

[Frank Rich has a point.  The real movers and shakers of the year and the decade are in the class whose responsibility is making the rest of us believe they have our best interests at heart.  I just got a letter inviting me to be part of the “Consumer Advisory Council” of Blue Cross, and telling me they have been doing surveys to find out their approval rating.  Not surprisingly, their surveys showed how much people like me love them.  Except it is not true.
True or not, their script defines our era and writes the 2,000 page script that masquerades as a health care bill just passed by the Senate.  Their script defines that fantasy called Renaissance 2010 in Chicago education, No Child Left Behind nationally.  Renaissance and NCLB are marketing phrases.  The substance behind the flim-flam is as real as the substance Frank Rich describes behind Enron.
Rich does point out how cynical people are about the political leadership they have.  And that is a step toward the resolution of the problem.  From Wall Street to Tiger Woods, the con artists require a certain complicity, a suspension of disbelief, from many of us.  They require a belief that we have a common bond with the hucksters who bamboozle us.  But we don’t.  Solomon Burke, in a 2008 album entitled Don’t Count Me Out sings the old refrain, “None of us are free — if one of us is in chains.”  The more we recognize how many of us are in chains, the closer we can be to acting in our common interest.  The sooner we will be asking questions about public ownership of the corporations which continue to play the shell game with us and our lives.
As we approach the New Year, Chicago Labor & Arts Festival wishes all our readers a prosperous new year, when prosperity is measured in how richly we are able to expand our vision of a cooperative future and to expand the recognition that private corporations can no longer be trusted to guide us out of the sand trap into which they have driven us. — Lew Rosenbaum]
Op-Ed Columnist

Tiger Woods, Person of the Year

Published: December 19, 2009   New York Times

AS we say farewell to a dreadful year and decade, this much we can agree upon: The person of the year is not Ben Bernanke, no matter how insistently Time magazine tries to hype him into its pantheon. The Fed chairman was just as big a schnook as every other magical thinker in Washington and on Wall Street who believed that housing prices would go up in perpetuity to support an economy leveraged past the hilt. Unlike most of the others, it was Bernanke’s job to be ahead of the curve. Yet as recently as June of last year he could be found minimizing the possibility of a substantial economic downturn. And now we’re supposed to applaud him for putting his finger in the dike after disaster struck? This is defining American leadership down.

Barry Blitt

If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

As of Friday, the Tiger saga had appeared on 20 consecutive New York Post covers. For The Post, his calamity has become as big a story as 9/11. And the paper may well have it right. We’ve rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, “the day that changed everything,” was the decade’s defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger’s may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating.

Indeed, if we go back to late 2001, the most revealing news story may have been unfolding not in New York but Houston — the site of the Enron scandal. That energy company convinced financial titans, the press and countless investors that it was a business deity. It did so even though very few of its worshipers knew what its business was. Enron is the template for the decade of successful ruses that followed, Tiger’s included.

What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them. His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy. The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.

What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.

People wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. Tiger’s off-the-links elusiveness was no more questioned than Enron’s impenetrable balance sheets, with their “special-purpose entities” named after “Star Wars” characters. Fortune magazine named Enron as America’s “most innovative company” six years in a row. In the January issue of Golf Digest, still on the stands, some of the best and most hardheaded writers in America offer “tips Obama can take from Tiger,” who is typically characterized as so without human frailties that he “never does anything that would make him look ridiculous.”

Perhaps the most conspicuous player in the Tiger hagiography business has been a company called Accenture, one of his lustrous stable of corporate sponsors. In a hilarious Times article, Brian Stelter described the extreme efforts this outfit is now making to erase its six-year association with its prized spokesman. Alas, the many billboards with slogans like “Go On. Be a Tiger” are not so easily dismantled, and collectors’ items like “Accenture Match Play Tiger Woods Caddy Bib” are a growth commodity on eBay.

From what I can tell, Accenture is a solid company. But the Daily News columnist Mike Lupica raised a good point when I spoke with him last week: “If Tiger Woods was so important to Accenture, how come I didn’t know what Accenture did when they fired him?” According to its Web site, Accenture is “a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company,” but who cared about any fine print? It was Tiger, and Tiger was it, and no one was to worry about the details behind the mutually advantageous image-mongering. One would like to assume that Accenture’s failure to see or heed any warning signs about a man appearing in 83 percent of its advertising is an anomalous lapse. One would like to believe that business and government clients didn’t hire Accenture just because it had Tiger’s imprimatur. But in a culture where so many smart people have been taken so often, we can’t assume anything.

As cons go, Woods’s fraudulent image as an immaculate exemplar of superhuman steeliness is benign. His fall will damage his family, closest friends, Accenture and the golf industry much more than the rest of us. But the syndrome it epitomizes is not harmless. We keep being fooled by leaders in all sectors of American life, over and over. A decade that began with the “reality” television craze exemplified by “American Idol” and “Survivor” — both blissfully devoid of any reality whatsoever — spiraled into a wholesale flight from truth.

The most lethal example, of course, were the two illusions marketed to us on the way to Iraq — that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and some link to Al Qaeda. That history has since been rewritten by Bush alumni, Democratic politicians who supported the Iraq invasion and some of the news media that purveyed the White House fictions (especially the television press, which rarely owned up to its failure as print journalists have). It was exclusively “bad intelligence,” we’re now told, that pushed us into the fiasco. But contradictions to that “bad intelligence” were in plain sight during the run-up to the war — even sometimes in the press. Yet we wanted to suspend disbelief. Much of the country, regardless of party, didn’t want to question its leaders, no matter how obviously they were hyping any misleading shred of intelligence that could fit their predetermined march to war. It’s the same impulse that kept many from questioning how Mark McGwire’s and Barry Bonds’s outlandishly cartoonish physiques could possibly be steroid-free.

In the political realm, our bipartisan credulousness has also been on steroids in this decade, even by our national standards. Many Democrats didn’t want to see the snake-oil salesman in John Edwards, blatant as his “Two America” self-contradictions were if you cared merely to look at him on YouTube. Republicans incessantly fell for family values preacher politicians like David Vitter, John Ensign and Larry Craig. Fred Thompson was seen by many, in the press as well as his party, as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Karl Rove was widely hailed as a mastermind who would assemble a permanent Republican majority. Bernie Kerik was considered a plausible secretary of homeland security. Eliot Spitzer was viewed as a crusader of uncompromising principle.

But these scam artists are pikers next to the financial hucksters. I’m not just talking about Bernie Madoff and Enron’s Ken Lay, but about those titans who legally created and sold the securities that gamed and then wrecked the system. You’d think after Enron’s collapse that financial leaders and government overseers would question the contents of “exotic” investments that could not be explained in plain English. But only a few years after Enron’s very public and extensively dissected crimes, the same bankers, federal regulatory agencies and securities-rating companies were giving toxic “assets” a pass. We were only too eager to go along for the lucrative ride until it crashed like Tiger’s Escalade.

After his “indefinite break” from golf, Woods will surely be back on the links once the next celebrity scandal drowns his out. But after a decade in which two true national catastrophes, a wasteful war and a near-ruinous financial collapse, were both in part byproducts of the ease with which our leaders bamboozled us, we can’t so easily move on.

This can be seen in the increasingly urgent political plight of Barack Obama. Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it). The truth may well be neither, but after a decade of being spun silly, Americans can’t be blamed for being cynical about any leader trying to sell anything. As we say goodbye to the year of Tiger Woods, it is the country, sad to say, that is left mired in a sand trap with no obvious way out.

Moratorium on Standardized Tests in Schools — by George Schmidt

[The following report, in Substance News (on line — see link to the right) confirms Substance as one of the most important sources of information and ideas in education today.  The unionized teachers in British Columbia are showing how workers can break out of the limitations that trade unions have often found themselves in. Testing clearly affects not only the working conditions of the teachers but also the expectations we as a society have for learning.

British Columbia teachers call for two-year moratorium on standardized tests… Help organize student boycott of tests in Vancouver

George N. Schmidt – December 26, 2009

Above, former British Columbia Federation of Teachers president Jinny Sims speaks to a group organized by CORE and Teachers for Social Justice at Casa Aztlan in Chicago on June 7, 2008. The Jinny Sims visit helped catalyze CORE, which was organizing itself at the time. Sims led the October 2005 strike that closed the schools of the entire Canadian province of British Columbia for nearly a month. The event was ignored in the media in the USA. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.According to a recent (December 22, 2009) report in the Vancouver Sun, teachers in British Columbia are calling for a two-year moratorium on standardized testing in the entire province and recently won the right to send home with students three union-produced pamphlets making the case against the use of standardized tests.

Unionized teachers in British Columbia, Canada, recently won a victory against school officials when they got an agreement to allow teachers to distribute union pamphlets opposing standardized tests to their students. The teachers are also calling for a two-year moratorium on standardized tests in the entire province.

The British Columbia teachers have led Canada in opposing the abuses of standardized testing and have also been among the most militant in North America since the beginning of the century. In October 2005, they led a lengthy strike against neo-liberal attacks on public education in the province. The strike was reported exclusively in Chicago in Substance. [See More recently, former B.C. teachers union president Jinny Sims spoke in Chicago during a series of meetings that helped launch CORE (Chicago’s Caucus Of Rank and file Educators). [see ].

In June 2009, the BC Federation of Teachers presented the provincial government with their proposal for a two-year moratorium on standardized testing. Available in PDF format at the BC teachers federation website (address in the following paragraph), the lengthy proposal is also reproduced here:

Standardized Testing Moratorium and Task Force Brief 2009 (BC Teachers’ Federation http:// www. AndPositionPapers.aspx)

The BC Teachers’ Federation seeks to foster a constructive discussion on the issue of

standardized testing. To that end, the Federation urges the BC Ministry of Education to adopt a

two-year moratorium on all standardized tests, including the Foundation Skills Assessment

(FSA) and the Grade 10, 11, and 12 provincial examinations.

The BCTF further calls for government to establish a Testing and Assessment Task Force to explore the issues and information about assessment and to make recommendations to government before the conclusion of the moratorium. This task force should have on it a majority of teachers selected by the BCTF on a representative basis.

This is not a call for an end to all testing. Classroom teachers will continue to use tests for diagnostic or instructional purposes, for formative as well as summative evaluation.

Why a moratorium?

The use of standardized tests has been a subject of professional, parental, and public discussion and debate. This has particularly been true of the Foundation Skills Assessment, but teachers in secondary schools are also concerned about negative impacts of Grade 10, 11, and 12 exams. A

moratorium would clear the air for the kind of professional and public debate that should go on

about important educational issues. A moratorium would signal a willingness to have these

policies debated, in place of the imposition in the past that helped to create an environment that

is not healthy for children or for the adults involved in the education of our children and youth. A

moratorium would allow all parties the opportunity to identify policies and practices that would

both address stakeholder objectives and reconcile our differences; it would also signal a desire

for collaboration and engagement over the disrespectful climate of control and confrontation.

Why a Testing and Assessment Task Force?

The creation of a task force would create a venue for the education debate over testing and

assessment that should be focused on developing understanding and consensus. The BCTF believes that the many groups with an interest in public education should be included in the discussions facilitated by the task force. Voices from the classroom—a majority being representative teachers—should play a central role in formulating the questions and the recommendations. However, the task force should be open in its processes to hear the other

voices on these issues, as well.

What are the issues that should be examined by the task force?

1. The drive to standardization that is a direct result of the census application of provincial tests

The census application of the tests and the promotion of high test scores as the objective of

schooling leads to a competition for marks, and the identification of standard practice and

standard curriculum. This competition then sacrifices curriculum breadth and depth, academic rigour, and the ability of the teacher to design instruction to meet individual students’ needs.

Large scale testing compromises sound pedagogy….Although EQAO tests only contain a small subset of [curriculum] expectations, teachers do not know which ones will be assessed in any one year. Accordingly, they are forced to cover all expectations in breadth but do not have time to teach them in depth. (Hilda Watkins, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario)

2. The misuse of test results to create school rankings by the Fraser Institute

All the partners in education in BC — teachers, administrators, parents, and ministers of education — have condemned the way in which these results are used. The current structure of the Foundations Skills Assessment ensures that the Fraser Institute will be able to continue to use these results inappropriately. That can be stopped by moving to another structure for assessment — a random sample.

A random-sample application can be designed to ensure that the objectives of the ministry are met. Such a sample would have to be able to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum and to identify subgroups, such as students with special needs or Aboriginal students, and determine whether or not the system is serving these students appropriately.

3. The need for assessment and evaluation processes that are appropriate for a particular


An assessment that provides information to a teacher about what an individual student needs in order to develop understanding of a subject or topic is different from an assessment of how well an education system is performing according to general goals for education. The researchers who make up the American Education Research Association point out that “in using the same test for multiple high-stakes purposes, policymakers are at odds with the professional standards of the testing and measurement community” (McDonnell, 2005, 45).

A moratorium and task force would provide the opportunity to clarify and support assessments for teaching and learning purposes while also identifying assessments for system evaluation that are appropriate for that purpose. An examination of the value of a randomized assessment for system evaluation purposes should be examined by the task force, with recommendations on appropriateness

4. An analysis of the educational value of existing provincial and local assessments

The existing provincial programs need to be analyzed in relationship to their educational value. Is the FSA being used in conflicting and competing ways that undermine any value it might have? Are the Grade 10, 11, and 12 exams having an impact on curricular flexibility and deep learning?

However, looking at provincial tests is only a part of the task. Local standardized exams are being used, often without a substantial assessment of their value and appropriateness. The task force should assess these assessments and develop recommendations on quality and appropriateness.

5. A look at other models of assessment and the success of Finland which operates without

a standardized testing program

The success of Finland on international, randomized assessments rests in a system that depends not on standardized testing, but on a highly educated and supported community of teachers. In contrast, a number of education systems that have been test-driven are much less successful. Protests against the heavy testing regimes are arising in many countries, including in Britain and the United States.

In Canada, the Alberta legislature passed a motion calling on government to stop the census testing of Grade 3 students on an equivalent to the BC FSA. The Ontario Teachers’ Federation has also called for random assessments and using more than a single test result to evaluate schools.

6. Impact on the joy of learning

Ultimately, the main gift a teacher and a school can give to students is the joy of learning that will carry them throughout their life. Standardized testing produces a negative influence on this.

Standardized tests narrow the curriculum as teachers teach to the test, with implicit and explicit demands that students be prepared for the test rather than supported in exploring the world, whether a topic will be on a test or not.

The greatest educational motivator is intense interest in a topic that leads to exploration and depth of learning. In the test-driven classroom, intense exploration of interest is often lost by

a demand to keep going through the curriculum and covering the topics the testmakers will

likely have included on the standardized exam.

For the marginal student, the focus on preparing for the test becomes another blow to their attempts to get an education. Rather than building on their strengths and interests, the testdriven classroom focuses on someone else’s choices.

These are some of the reasons education researcher Andy Hargreaves says that we are

moving into a “post-standardization” world.

The BCTF believes that a broad and open discussion of testing and assessment during a

moratorium could lead to better public policy, engage teachers in important discussions of

educational practice, produce deeper understanding by parents of the learning process, and,

most importantly, create more opportunities to motivate students toward deep learning.

McDonnell, L. (2005). “Assessment and Accountability from the Policymaker’s Perspective.” In

Herman, J. and Haertel, E. Uses and Misuses of Data for Educational Accountability and

Improvement. Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education.

News reports out of British Columbia show how the B.C. teachers are organizing with a strategic perspective. According to the Vancouver Sun (see below), B.C. teachers’ agitation to encourage students and their families to opt out of the tests has resulted in one-third of the students in Vancouver no longer participating in the testing program. The same thing would happen in Chicago were the Chicago Teachers Union to follow the Canadian example. Parents in Chicago are waiting to have their children freed from the tyranny of the tests.

The following article was distributed by Canwest News Service based on reports in the Vancouver Sun.

Deal lets teachers send anti-test pamphlets home with students; Compromise over controversial FSA exams avoids arbitration (Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 | 9:21 am Canwest News Service)

The agreement marks a surprising compromise between two parties that have been feuding for years over what union materials teachers are allowed to distribute. That battle heats up around this time of the year in the lead-up to the annual Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), which tests Grade 4 and 7 students in reading, writing and math.

Those tests are scheduled for Jan. 18 to Feb. 26.

“Common sense prevailed,” BCTF vice-president Susan Lambert said of the deal with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association. The deal lasts for one year and effectively ends eight union grievances against districts that had tried recently to stop teachers from disseminating BCTF materials because of alleged inaccuracies.

“I think the process of going to fruitless arbitration and losing . . . over and over again was too costly for them,” she added.

The employers’ association, which represents boards of education in labour matters, described the agreement as a practical solution to eliminate conflict in districts and end the grievances. “It’s an attempt to formalize what the rules are,” said chief executive officer Hugh Finlayson, noting there have been many years of litigation over the issue.

Approved for distribution are pamphlets titled What Parents Need to Know, What Parents Need to Know: Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) and Testing? You Bet. Teachers will now decide if they want to distribute them or send them home with students in the required sealed envelopes.

The pamphlets argue that standardized tests force teachers to narrow instruction and “teach to the test,” cause anxiety for students and do little to improve achievement. But the main reason the union objects to the FSA is because the results are used by the Fraser Institute every year to rank elementary schools.

The Education Ministry insists the tests are not optional. But the BCTF campaign has drawn down participation rates in recent years–especially in Vancouver, where one in three students did not write the FSA last year.

The BCTF plans to extend its anti-FSA message in early 2010 with newspaper and radio advertisements in Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin for the first time in order to reach ethnic groups that are believed to be more supportive of standardized tests.

Arbitrators have ruled that teachers have a right to engage in political discussions with parents on educational issues. Lambert said they also have a responsibility to inform parents of their professional concerns about testing.

The BCTF is calling for a two-year moratorium on the FSA and provincial exams to allow stakeholders to discuss better ways of assessment and accountability. 

While Al Ramirez videotaped Jiinny Sims, the audience in June 2008 listened intently as she described the organizing it took for the BC Teachers Federation to successfully do a province-wide strike in October 2005 and continue organizing against attacks on public education in Canada since. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.A campaign against standardized tests in B.C. public schools is expected to intensify in January as a result of a deal between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and school employers that allows teachers to send three union pamphlets home with students and hand them to parents on school grounds.

Robots on the Move: Automation News from Tony Zaragoza

Automation and Robotics News–Dec. 27, 2009


  • Ford Testing Robot,
  • Robot Teachers,
  • Mail Automation in Bangladesh,
  • WarBots,
  • WaterBot,
  • SexBot,
  • Strawberry Inspection Robot,
  • Drones Hacked

From C-Net
#  Neato’s auto vac gets down and dirty with Roomba

by <>David Carno, December 16, 2009

Roomba has been king of the robotic vacuum market for a while, but Neato Robotics, a start-up out of Menlo Park, California, will be trying to usurp the throne in February with a new automated vacuum that will cost $400. While the company expects to have multiple robotic housekeeping products in the future, its debut product is called the Neato XV-11. What makes it better than Roomba vacuums? Neato says it’s smarter because it features a high-tech laser-powered Room Positioning System (RPS) to map your room and avoid most obstacles. And since it’s smarter, it cleans a room in a more efficient manner, allowing it to finish the job more quickly.


#  Ford’s RUTH robot gets touchy-feely with interiors

<>Tim Hornyak, December 16, 2009

Ford has been working with a tactile robot arm to evaluate the feel and appearance of surfaces and controls in its vehicles in a bid to make the testing process less subjective and more scientific. The <>Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics, or RUTH, has been used for several years at the automaker’s <>European Research Center in Aachen, Germany, to check the interiors of the European versions of the new Focus and Fiesta, versions of which are coming to the United States in 2010. Ford says it’s the first carmaker to use a robot like RUTH, which is a modified consumer packaging arm, to scientifically test interiors. Work by the machine is now being seen in production models around the world.


#  Humanoid robot to teach software class

by <>Tim Hornyak, December 22, 2009

Classrooms in Japan may soon welcome a new 4-foot-tall educational humanoid robot unveiled by <>Nippon Institute of Technology and other groups. It will be used to teach software programming and hardware engineering to students, but will also be demonstrated in elementary schools and nursing homes. It will act as a “teacher” in class along with a human teacher.


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# Korea introduces English-teaching robots Korea Herald – Dec 22, 2009


Korea introduced a pilot program using English-teaching robots at local schools Tuesday, hoping to better educate students in provincial cities, the government said and Yonhap News reported. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said two robots were brought into elementary schools in Daejeon, about 160 kilometers south of Seoul, and one robot to an elementary school in the port city of Masan on the southeastern coast. The robot in Masan is an “autonomous” unit that can detect its surrounding and has voice-recognition features. The two at the schools in Daejeon are “tele-presence” robots that are remotely controlled by an English teacher who can speak with students via a microphone and move the machine using a built-in camera.


#  Automation Alley to aid international businesses

JOSEPH SZCZESNY, Of The Oakland Press, December 19, 2009

Automation Alley has secured a grant to construct an international business center at its headquarters in Troy. The organization received $394,800 in federal funding for the project when President Barack Obama signed the Omnibus Appropriations for fiscal 2010. The project will create a soft business landing center for international companies looking to conduct business in Southeast Michigan. “It’s not uncommon to see an international business begin with a small presence here in Southeast Michigan,” said Ken Rogers, Automation Alley’s executive director. “The new expansion will allow those international companies to become familiar with the open business culture, technical workforce and quality of life we have in our community. We anticipate that once they become established, their business will grow and new jobs will be created,” he said.


#  San Miguel Brewery taps Siemens’ automation for Mandaue plant upgrade

December 17, 2009, 3:40pm

Siemens, Inc., Philippines, a ubit of Siemens A.G. of Germany, an electrical engineering conglomerate and global leader in the field of automation systems, has revolutionized San Miguel Brewery, Inc.’s Mandaue brewery with the installation of Braumat process control system, a powerful, technology-oriented process management and information system specifically designed by Siemens for the beer brewing industry. … When it relied heavily on manual processes, the Mandaue brewery’s former production capacity was at one to four brews per day with an average of 600 hectoliters per brew. At present, with its new system the brewery is now producing six to eight brews a day at 1,400 hectoliters per brew. At about 80% automation, the new system minimizes human intervention, thereby allowing greater flexibility in production volume, tremendous cost-savings, and a smoother management of data, which lead to higher quality control of the brewery’s product portfolio.


#  Deal Talk Drives Rockwell Action


Options traders rallied around <>Rockwell Automation after analysts said they thought the company would make a good acquisition target for <>General Electric. As Rockwell shares hovered near their 52-week highs on Tuesday, options traders made a beeline for bullish contracts in the Milwaukee-based company, picking up 10,200 calls that allow them to buy the stock and 400 puts that allow them to sell it, according to Track Data. Traders showed particular interest in Rockwell’s December $50 calls, as well as its January $50 calls, hoping the stock could breach new highs in coming weeks and months. The January calls are priced at 85 cents and make money if the company’s stock climbs above $50.85 before Jan. 15. The shares closed trading at $46.62, losing 3.1%. The activity followed a research note from J.P. Morgan Chase, which said that GE should make a bid to buy Rockwell Automation for $60 a share, calling such a deal a “potential strategic win/win for both companies.”


#  Honeywell Forecasts Sales Rise in 2010

by <>Emily-Sue Sloane, MA Editorial Staff, December 16, 2009

Honeywell today provided revenue and earnings guidance for 2010 based on a kernel of optimism that recent signs of global economic improvement will strengthen over the year. The automation technology vendor anticipates sales in the range of $31.3 billion to $32.2 billion, up 1% to 4% from 2009 levels, and net income ranging from $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion, a decline of 13% to 21%. The company predicted earnings per share at $2.20 to $2.40, down 16% to 23%. … Throughout the downturn, Honeywell continued to invest in new products and services, as well as expanding its global footprint, he said. Half of the company’s sales are now outside the United States, compared with 30% in 2003. And of those overseas sales, about one-third come from emerging regions. The Automation and Control Systems group, in particular, is expected to reap the benefits of expanding into emerging markets, Anderson said, as well as rising demand for energy efficiency, safety, and security products. ACS’ revenue is anticipated to rise 1% to 3% in 2010, to a range of $12.7 billion to $13 billion. More than 60% of ACS’ revenue is tied to energy-efficiency programs, he noted.


#  Postal Dept to undergo Automation

UNB, Dhaka, 12/16/09
The government has decided to install automation system in post offices across the country for modernizing the postal department and providing better services. At initial phase, the automation system will be installed in 84 post offices at a cost of Tk 32 crore within next 15 months, said Bangladesh Post Office sources. Later, rest of post offices will be brought under this system.


#  Jobs have to get done, even at Christmas
Jean Lundquist, The Free Press , 12/23/09
MANKATO — A holiday isn’t a day off for everyone. In a 24/7 world many people will be making plans for Christmas around their work schedules. If emergencies arise, especially with the winter storm forecast, people who can help will be available.  If we are alone on Christmas because of the storm, or for any reason, there is help for that, too. Barry Wortel will be behind the microphone at KTOE Radio on Christmas morning, bright and early at 5 a.m. He has hosted every Christmas morning show on KTOE for the last 30 years. “When I started doing this, I was program director, and I had to do it because no one else wanted to be here on Christmas. Now, I look forward to it.” Automation for radio stations has become very advanced, and Wortel says, “You can make it sound like you’re there, but you’re not.” Wortel believes it is important to be live on the radio on Christmas. “A lot of people are with friends and family, but many are not. But they can turn on their radio and hear a friendly voice, and get current news, weather and sports reports.”


#  Rutgers glider robot a sleek ocean explorer

By Sandy Bauers, Inquirer Staff Writer, 12/21/09

The sea was heaving, the skies gray. The captain of the research ship was worried about the weather. About 120 miles off the coast of Spain, three Rutgers University scientists had a narrow window of opportunity to find and retrieve their prize – an 8-foot, torpedo-shaped yellow robot that they had launched seven months earlier off the coast of New Jersey. They could grab it and learn from it, or in the rough seas accidentally ram it and sink it. After an hour of pitching in the 20-foot waves, the shipmates let out a cheer. Having spent 221 days at sea on a voyage of 4,604 miles, the robot dubbed Scarlet Knight was safely aboard. With that came the completion of a mission that made oceanographic history.


#  <Robot-Cam: Partying Without a Photographer,8599,1949453,00.html?iid=tsmodule>Sony’s

TIME – <>Adam Rose – Dec 22, 2009

American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams once said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” He didn’t say anything about robots. But Adams, who died in 1984, could not have anticipated a new device from Sony designed to replace human shutterbugs by making its own decisions about when to take a photo. Called the Party-shot, Sony’s $150 accessory is a camera dock — not much bigger than a palm-sized paperweight — that enables users to enjoy themselves at gatherings without worrying about who is documenting the event. Attach a compatible camera (sorry, Sony only), and the Party-shot will take over, panning and tilting, zooming in and out, and snapping shots of any people who pause in front of it long enough to be detected. The Party-shot was released in September without much fanfare, even though it’s the first robo-cam on the market aimed at consumers. The obvious question is, have digital cameras, nowadays equipped with a considerable amount of artificial intelligence, come so far that they make human photographers obsolete? We tried out the Party-shot at a recent office potluck, and came away thinking it’s less a substitute for a human photographer, and more a supplement.


# Battlefield robot had security hole: Insurgents could steal video before local firm made fix

By <>Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe Staff / December 19, 2009

The same security weakness that allowed Iraqi insurgents to record video from unmanned US surveillance aircraft might also have let them spy on American battlefield robots produced by a local firm. For years, Talon robots, made by Qinetiq North America Operations LLC in Waltham, transmitted analog video images without the encryption that scrambles signals to prevent them from being intercepted. As a result, videos from the robots could have been viewed and recorded by anybody with a laptop and a television receiver, including adversaries. The US military has purchased more than 3,000 Talon robots. Many are used for video surveillance patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan.


#  Special Ops robots now do psychological warfare

By <>Lewis Page, 18th December 2009

US arms globocorp Boeing has announced yet another military robot demonstration – but this time, one with a difference. Rather than spying on meatsacks or mowing them down with the traditional array of automated weaponry, the war-bots in this trial sought to win over their fleshy opponents using psychological warfare. The demo was carried out for the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), the organisation which runs the noted Green Berets, Rangers etc. “Working with USASOC, we were able to pull together a team to demonstrate this integrated, multimodal operation in just 45 days,” says Boeing bigwig Vic Sweberg. “We brought together hardware and software from five different contractors into a single system that allowed the control of different unmanned systems capabilities to accomplish a particular mission.” Apart from its legions of hardy throatcutters, USASOC is also in charge of the US Army’s active psychological-warfare troops. It seems that a small robot helicopter and an unmanned R-Gator jeep/buggy affair from John Deere were selected to deliver a blistering onslaught of pro-US propaganda. Boeing says the two machine warriors carried out an “electro-optical/infrared, audio, and leaflet drop mission”. Translated, that means that infrared nightsight video of the target area was taken, propaganda announcements were played through speakers (probably on the R-Gator) and leaflets were dropped (probably from the copter). Actually, robots of a sort have already carried out leaflet drops in Afghanistan – <>SnowGoose robo-paramotor rigs, to be specific. So there’s nothing terribly new going on here.


# Robots to Replace Human Soldiers in the field

<>Robots to shape wars of the future – <>Kathleen Curthoys, <>Matthew Cox, 12/27/09

Robots may one day be more effective than human soldiers on the battlefield and they may have a sense of ethics — even a sense of guilt, says a robotics expert who has done a study with the support of the Army’s research office. Ethical robots that can use lethal force on the battlefield would adhere to international law and rules of engagement, Ronald C. Arkin told Army Times on Dec. 15. Arkin describes how this could work in his 2009 book “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots.” He is with the Mobile Robot Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Here’s what the future of robots may hold: Human soldiers eventually may not be up to speed compared to “humane-oids” in the battle space, Arkin says. Future developments may lead to robotic sensors better equipped than soldiers to maintain situational awareness and process information quickly about situations in which lethal force might be used.


#  Israel’s military avatar: Robots on the battlefield

<>Ora Coren <>Israel news, 12/27/09

With self-detonating grenades, thinking bullets and robot warriors, humans on the frontline could soon be a thing of the past.   When armies clash in the not-too-distant future, remotely-operated robotic weapons will fight the enemy on land, in the air and at sea, without a human soldier anywhere on the battlefield. The first robotic systems are already being used by the Israel Defense Forces and other armies across the world, and only budgetary constraints seem to be keeping science fiction from becoming reality. In places where there is no choice but to send in troops, constantly improving broadband technologies, developed from the civilian communications industry, will serve as an essential part of the infrastructure for all modern military forces. A helicopter that spots suspicious movement on the ground will, for instance, be able to relay a command to a drone aircraft to photograph the site and transmit the picture in real time to troops on the ground and to the command posts in the rear.


Russia To Send Monkeys, Robots To Mars


Air America, 12/22/09 <>Megan Carpentier

Russian scientists today unveiled a plan to send the first earthlings to Mars: monkeys. The round-trip to the Red Planet would take about a year and a half, and scientists have no intention of cleaning up a 520 days worth of monkey mess when the spaceship returns, so <>Urmee Khan reports that they plan to build robots to do it for them. The Institute said a robot would accompany the first primate to Mars to feed and look after the ape.


#Robots Could Repair Nation’s Water Mains, Save $245 Billion
Treehugger – <>Jaymi Heimbuch – Dec 21, 2009


Thanks to seed money granted by the US Department of Commerce’s Technology Innovation Program for small businesses, two companies – Fibrwrap Construction, Inc. and FYFE Company – and robotics experts at the University of California are creating a team of robots that will help the US keep a handle on its +2 million miles of aging water pipes and infrastructure. By deploying robots, the team hopes that the country can both boost its water conservation efforts as well as minimize the expense of maintaining and upgrading mains systems. The team figures it could mean a massive savings for taxpayers. <>The Robotic Rehabilitation of Aging Water Pipelines project received nearly $8.5 million to go towards the $17.5 million project cost. The project duration is 5 years, during which the team hopes that they’ll develop a prototype robot to apply carbon fiber reinforcement inside water transmission pipes.


# Alexis is first in the world with a robot ‘play date’


Pilot News – <>Rusty Nixon – Dec 24, 2009

ARGOS — Alexis Hicks has a unique distinction of being the first in the world.
The little girl from Argos was invited to be part of a groundbreaking new therapy for those with cerebral palsy at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. The program is in the planning stages and involves the use of space-age robotics to help patients. MIT developed the robots for use in therapy for victims of strokes and doctors have now adapted the ro-bots to help cerebral palsy patients.


# First Female Sex Robot

<–in-Vegas–Jan-710>First female sex robot to be unveiled at the Adult Entertainment Expo 2010 in … – Dec 22, 2009

True Companion is set to   unveil   the first female sex robot  at the  upcoming Adult Entertainment Expo at the Sands Convention Center Jan 7-10,2010. This female robot  from True Companion is described as an artificial intelligence robot which was been specifically engineered to completely gratify the owner.  The  robot is said to  be fully equipped with the capabilities to carry on a conversation or to have an intimate encounter. I told my husband about this new artificial intelligence  female sex robot and all he could say was, “they made one mistake when they equipped it to talk.” <>


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#Aussie Hovering Drone is Straight Outta Avatar


David Hambling, December 17, 2009

Jamers Cameron’s <>Avatar opens this week, with trailers featuring some funny-looking <>aircraft that resemble helicopters, but with ducted fans instead of the traditional rotor blades. While there are no full-size aircraft employing this technology, it’s already in use on small unmanned drones. And it has distinct advantages over the older approach. Last month, an Australian company, <>Cyber Technology (WA) Pty Ltd, used a drone with ducted fans in an actual operation. Their <>Cyber Quad vertical take-off drone carried out an extended survey of an offshore drilling platform and an oil rig damaged by fire. The drone flew around, under and inside the two structures, which are joined by a gantry, as well as landing on them for a better look.


# Army Tests ‘Universal Remote’ for Future Troopers

<>Nathan Hodge, December 16, 2009

On future battlefields, the Army wants to have an all-seeing array of drones, robots and sensors that will be tied together over a common network. But the real challenge will be bringing all that digital information down to the lowest level: the individual soldier. That’s the idea behind a recent series of tests pairing Land Warrior, a <>controversial array of infantry gadgets the service has trialed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the <>Common Controller device, a developmental system that functions something like a “universal remote” for different robotic devices.The Common Controller controls the Class I Unmanned Aerial System (aka the “<>flying beer keg“), the <>Multifunctional Utility/Logistics Equipment vehicle (a robotic cart) and the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (a portable, tracked bot). It can also connect to Urban Unattended Ground Sensors (U-UGS), which are a fancy, networked version of the intrusion detection sensors you might find in your household alarm system. Problem is, this networked central controller works only at the battalion level and above. This new experiment — called the <>Common Controller & Man packable Network Interoperability and Network Evaluation Experiment — is supposed to bring sensor data from these unmanned systems to smaller units equipped with Land Warrior gear.


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#  Carnegie Mellon Engineers Develop Machine That Visually Inspects and Sorts Strawberry Plants

Machines exceed throughput of human workers and have comparable error rates.

12.20.2009 — CMU researchers combine machine vision and intelligence to develop agricultural solution that formally could only be accomplished manually. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) have developed a plant-sorting machine that uses computer vision and machine learning to inspect and grade harvested strawberry plants and then mechanically sort them by quality — tasks that until now could only be done manually. In a successful field test this fall, the machine classified and sorted harvested plants more consistently and faster than workers could, with a comparable error rate.


* * * * * *


#  Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones: $26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing


WASHINGTON — Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations. Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.


IWW Interviews Noam Chomsky: Worker Occupations and the Future of Radical Labor

[Note especially that Chomsky refuses to dismiss with ridicule the people who follow the propaganda initiated by the likes of the Limbaughs, Becks etc.  In fact, he points quite convincingly at the inadequacy of the pap served up by liberal democrats.  The emphasis on worker occupation as a tactic perhaps comes from the interviewer herself; it is questionable whether a Walmart can be brought to its knees simply by an industrial approach.  My own guess is that the changes taking place in the economy can only be challenged by tactics that are new and connected to the radically new global and electronic environment we face.  Therefore, his advice in his last answer is also worth considering.  The entire interview can be found on the IWW website.  This text comes from Noam Chomsky’s pages on Znet ].

Worker Occupations And The Future Of Radical Labor

An Interview With Noam Chomsky

November 20, 2009 By Noam Chomsky
and Diane Krauthamer

Noam Chomsky’s ZSpace Page

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This interview was conducted on Oct. 9, 2009, at Professor Noam Chomsky’s office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

DK: I would like to start this interview with a discussion of the economic crisis and how workers can deal with the issues which we face. In your recent piece titled “Crisis and Hope: Theirs and Ours,” which was published in the Boston Review, you state that the “the financial crisis will presumably be patched up somehow, while leaving the institutions that created it pretty much in place.” Following on that, there has been a recent upsurge of militant industrial action in workplaces, primarily throughout Europe, and also in North America. As you know, the Republic Windows and Doors Factory in Chicago was the first factory occupation in the U.S. since the 1930s.

NC: No, not quite, because the 1979 strike against U.S. Steel in Youngstown, Ohio was an occupation—and actually, that’s a model that really should be pursued now. They went on from striking to trying to have the workforce and the communities take over the abandoned factories that U.S. Steel was dismantling. The legal effort that followed was led by the radical labor lawyer Staughton Lynd. They didn’t win in the courts, but they could have won, and they would have had enough support. It could have meant a lot.

DK: That leads me to my question about how workers are responding to mass layoffs. I feel what they are aiming for are parochial gains without thinking more long-term of how they can move towards workers’ self-management.

NC: That’s what the IWW should be doing: providing that spark. You’re right, it’s reactive. But the same was true of the sit-down strikes in the 1930s. I mean the reason the sit-down strikes struck such fear in the hearts of management was that they knew that a sit-down strike was just one step short of taking over the factory.

DK: I feel at the moment we’re gaining numbers and we’re gaining a lot of strength and power, but the rest of the American labor movement does not perceive that we are very serious.  It is a very difficult feat to go from what we’re doing now to really being a part of the broader labor movement in the U.S., which is important if we are to provide that spark.

NC: The U.S. is different from Europe and other industrial countries in this respect. The U.S. is, to a very unusual extent, a business-run society. There are all kinds of reasons for that—it has no feudal background, so institutions that remained in place in Europe did not remain in place here. There are a lot of reasons. But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. is run by an unusually class-conscious, dedicated business class that has a very violent labor history, much worse than in Europe. The attack on unions has been far more extreme here, and it has been much more successful. Also, the business propaganda has been far more successful. Anti-union propaganda has been considerably more successful here than in Europe, even among working people who would benefit [from] unions. In fact, a rather striking aspect of business propaganda in the United States is the demonization of government, starting after the Second World War.

The Second World War ended with a radicalization of the population in the United States and everywhere else, and called for all kinds of things like popular takeovers, government intervention, and worker takeovers of factories. Business propagated a tremendous propaganda offensive. The scale surprised me when I read the scholarship—it’s enormous, and it’s been very effective. There were two major targets: one is unions, the other is democracy. Well, [to them] democracy means getting people to regard government as an alien force that’s robbing them and oppressing them, not as their government. In a democracy it would be your government. For example, in a democracy the day when you pay your taxes, April 15, would be a day of celebration, because you’re getting together to provide resources for the programs you decided on. In the United States, it’s a day of mourning because this alien force—the government—is coming to rob you of your hard-earned money. That’s the general attitude, and it’s a tremendous victory for the opponents of democracy, and, of course, any privileged sector is going to hate democracy. You can see it in the healthcare debate.

The majority of the population thinks that if the government runs healthcare, they’re going to take away your freedom. At the same time, the public favors a national healthcare program. The contradiction is somehow unresolved. In the case of the business propaganda, it’s particularly ironic because while business wants the population to hate the government, they want the population to love the government. Namely, they’re in favor of a very powerful state which works in their interest. So you have to love that government, but hate the government that might work in your interest and that you could control. That’s an interesting propaganda task, but it’s been carried out very well. You can see it in the worship of Reagan, which portrays him as somebody who saved us from government. Actually he was an apostle of big government. Government grew under Reagan. He was the strongest opponent of free markets in the post-war history among presidents. But it doesn’t matter what the reality is; they concocted an image that you worship. It’s hard to achieve that, especially in a free society, but it’s been done, and that’s the kind of thing that activists in the IWW have to work against, right on the shop floor. It’s not so simple, but it’s been done before.

DK: You mentioned that business is very class conscious. Can you elaborate on that statement?

NC: Well, all you have to do is read the business literature. In the 1930s they were very frightened and they were concerned about how the rising power of the masses was hazardous to industrialists. They used straight Marxist rhetoric—just the values were changed. The literature is like that—they are constantly talking about the masses, the danger they pose, and how to control them. They understand what they’re doing, and they’re very class conscious. They press policies which work for their interests. For example, the insurance industries and the big banks are absolutely euphoric now—on the business pages they don’t even conceal it—because they’ve succeeded in coming out of the crisis even stronger than they were before, and in a better position to lay the basis for the next crisis. But they don’t care, because they’ll get bailed out again. That’s class consciousness with a vengeance.

DK: On the topic of how businesses use propaganda. I would say now they use propaganda more so for union-busting than they use the violent tactics. Would you agree?

NC: For a while, after the Second World War, when there was strong support for labor, this was done subtly. But since Reagan, it has been done openly. I mean Reagan bitterly hated unions and wanted them destroyed. This began with the air controllers’ strike and went on from there. The Reagan administration told the business world that they were not going to enforce the labor laws. The number of illegal firings tripled during the Reagan years. It was at that time that you started getting these companies that specialized in how to destroy unions. They don’t make it a secret, and they have all sorts of techniques for management to destroy unions. Well, when Clinton came along, it sort of moderated a little bit, but Clinton had a different device for breaking unions called NAFTA [North America Free Trade Agreement]. Because the government was entirely lawless, employers could exploit NAFTA to threaten union organizers with transfer. It’s illegal, but when you’ve got a lawless government, it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal. I think the number of union drives blocked increased by about 50 percent. Part of the NAFTA legislation required studies of labor practices, and there was quite a good study that came out by a labor historian on the use of NAFTA to undermine and destroy unions. Well, that was going on in the Clinton years, then, of course Bush…who we don’t need to even talk about. But starting with Regan it became quite open, the attack on unions. It wasn’t the Pinkertons anymore, but it was just not applying the laws.

DK: We’re seeing that very much in the IWW, especially in the Starbucks Workers Union, whereby Starbucks will put out all kinds of anti-union propaganda both internally, within the company, and externally. A lot of what they do is tell workers that they don’t need a union.

NC: They’re better off without it, that’s the Whole Foods line.

DK: Right, they use the line of Corporate Social Responsibility, and a lot of it is very effective.

NC: It is.

DK: So how could we, as a small, independent labor union, work to fight against that kind of propaganda?

NC: You’ve just got to get people organized and tell them the truth. There aren’t any magic tricks to it. You know, sometimes it’s pretty amazing. Actually, I mentioned a pretty striking case of this in “Crisis and Hope,” which was the Caterpillar case in the early 1990s. Caterpillar was quite important because that was the first manufacturing industry that used Reaganite strike-breaking techniques. They illegally called in scabs to break a major strike. It was reported pretty well in the Chicago Tribune, who pointed out something very interesting. They said that the workers got very little support in Peoria when scabs illegally broke the strike, and that was particularly striking because that whole community had been built up by the union—it was a union-based community. But when it came to the crunch, the community itself didn’t support the union. Now that’s kind of interesting about Obama, because Obama was supposedly a community organizer in Chicago at that time. Now I’m sure he read the Chicago Tribune, so he knew about it, but when he went to show his solidarity with the workforce, the first place he went was Caterpillar. I don’t think he’s forgotten, and the labor movement didn’t react. Even radical labor historians didn’t remember. It was only 15 years ago, after all, but that’s a real triumph of propaganda in many ways.

It’s a lot of work to reconstruct a strong labor offensive, but it’s happened before. I mean in the 1920s the labor movement was almost completely destroyed. Well, in the 1930s it really revived and became pretty radical. Things can happen, but not by themselves. I mean, then you had the Communist Party, who was right at the heart of civil rights activism and labor activism and so on, but something else has to provide it. You don’t want to have their Russia worship, but domestically they had a pretty good record. I can remember it pretty well from childhood, because my family was mostly union people.

DK: Your father was in the IWW, right?

NC: He was in the IWW… but do you want to know the truth? [laughs]

DK: Yes I do.

NC: He came over as an immigrant and didn’t know any English. He went to work at a sweat shop in Baltimore. He told me later that this guy was coming around, and the guy seemed to be for the workers, so he signed up. It turned out that guy was an IWW organizer [laughs]. My father didn’t regret signing up; he just really didn’t know what was going on.

DK: What industry was he in?

NC: I don’t even know if I ever knew [laughing]—some sweatshop in Baltimore. I knew with my other relatives—some of the women were in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and men were shop boys and things like that. I happened to be in Philadelphia, but the family was in New York. I could see what the union was doing for them. It really saved their lives. I had two spinster aunts who were seamstresses, and of course unemployed in the 1930s, but the union gave them a life. They had a couple of weeks in the country for a union installation and they had educational programs and all sorts of things. There was a life, you know, a real community. And they were members of the Communist Party—they didn’t care one way or another about Russia, they just cared about the United States.

DK: On that note, I’m also looking to think ahead with what’s in the future for the labor movement and the IWW.  More generally, if you had one piece of advice to offer future generations of Wobblies—especially in light of the tough financial times that we are facing and will probably continue to face for a long time in the Western world—what would it be?

NC: Well, I get a lot of letters from people. When I go home tonight I’ll have 15 letters today from mostly young kids who don’t like what’s going on and want to do something about it, and [they ask me] if I can give them some advice as to what they should do, or can I tell them what to read or something. It doesn’t work like that. I mean, everything depends very much on who you are, what your values are, what your commitments are, what circumstances you live in and what options you’re willing to undertake, and that determines what you ought to be doing. There are some very general ideas that people can keep in mind; they’re kind of truisms. It’s only worth mentioning them because they’re always denied.

First of all, don’t believe anything you hear from power systems. So if Obama or the boss or the newspapers or anyone else tells you they’re doing this, that, or the other thing, dismiss it or assume the opposite is true, which it often is. You have to rely on yourself and your associates—gifts don’t come from above; you’re going to win them, or you won’t have them, and you win by struggle, and that requires understanding and serious analysis of the options and the circumstances, and then you can do a lot. So take right now, for example, there is a right-wing populist uprising. It’s very common, even on the left, to just ridicule them, but that’s not the right reaction. If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances. I listen to talk radio a lot and it’s kind of interesting. If you can sort of suspend your knowledge of the world and just enter into the world of the people who are calling in, you can understand them. I’ve never seen a study, but my sense is that these are people who feel really aggrieved. These people think, “I’ve done everything right all my life, I’m a god-fearing Christian, I’m white, I’m male, I’ve worked hard, and I carry a gun. I do everything I’m supposed to do. And I’m getting shafted.” And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened, the children are going crazy, there are no schools, there’s nothing, so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want to know who it is. Well Rush Limbaugh has answered – it’s the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and of course run the media, and they don’t care about you—they just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.

Well, you know, the reaction we should be having to them is not ridicule, but rather self-criticism. Why aren’t we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh. There are historical analogs, which are not exact, of course, but are close enough to be worrisome. This is a whiff of early Nazi Germany. Hitler was appealing to groups with similar grievances, and giving them crazy answers, but at least they were answers; these groups weren’t getting them anywhere else. It was the Jews and the Bolsheviks [that were the problem].

I mean, the liberal democrats aren’t going to tell the average American, “Yeah, you’re being shafted because of the policies that we’ve established over the years that we’re maintaining now.” That’s not going to be an answer. And they’re not getting answers from the left. So, there’s an internal coherence and logic to what they get from Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of these guys. And they sound very convincing, they’re very self-confident, and they have an answer to everything—a crazy answer, but it’s an answer. And it’s our fault if that goes on. So one thing to be done is don’t ridicule these people, join them, and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer, like, “Take over your factories.”

This interview was edited for length and clarity. To listen to the full interview, please email or visit Thanks to Charngchi Way and the Authority Smashing Hour radio show.

Two Poems by Jack Hirschman


for Sarah Menefee

A woman gives food to a hungry hand.
The law says that it is contraband.
That law must fall, must lose its teeth,
must gum along the desolate streets
and come to the line where blessed soup
is smuggled in between the lips,
and know subversion for what it really is
and how this mean-lawed land is dead without it.

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)


When I saw in the council chambers of the big city
the mouths of the council members
opening and coming down
on the fat sandwiches
that’d been delivered to their places,
coming down and chewing and leaning over talking
with half-stuffed mouths, or heads thrown back
laughing, their bellies chortling,
and all the while
one after another homeless person
stood not far from them
but far enough from them
before a microphone
requesting help for their most basic human wounds,
protesting against a syndrome without alternatives
except for skid-row hotels or a concentration
camp in the downtown desert; –

when I saw the indifference of this system
physically manifested
by those pigs of local government,
I thought: it can’t be quick enough
that they’re led to the sty they belong in;
it can’t be quick enough
that they’re forcibly removed
from the people’s chambers
and replaced by human animals who, at least,
can smell the heartbreak
and the enduring dignity of the American people.
Those pigs are worse than the rottenest
blue pork at the bottom of garbage-can Los Angeles.
Hungry men and women never should have to be
subjected to their poisonously filthy mold.

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)

[Dubbed “Red Poet” in a new documentary about his life, Jack Hirschman has been translator, poet, teacher, activist and revolutionary.  These poems give a small sample of his many published books, in this case from Curbstone Press’s Endless Threshold.]