Opportunities and Dangers: 10 Questions for Ray Kurzweil — from Time Magazine

10 Questions for Ray Kurzweil

Monday, Dec. 06, 2010
Rick Friedman[MDASH]Corbis

Is it a mistake to use the events of the recent past as a method of predicting the future?

Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion.

You predict we’ll reach a point with artificial intelligence that you call the singularity. How will that affect us?

By the time we get to the 2040s, we’ll be able to multiply human intelligence a billionfold. That will be a profound change that’s singular in nature. Computers are going to keep getting smaller and smaller. Ultimately, they will go inside our bodies and brains and make us healthier, make us smarter. We’ll be online all the time. Search engines won’t wait to be asked.

Will this make it more difficult for us to focus?

We’ve always been responsible for the triage of our time. I actually think these technologies enable us to focus better. My father was a musician, and he had to hire an orchestra and raise money just to hear his compositions. Now a kid in her dorm room can do that with her synthesizer and computer.

How exactly will technology make us healthier?

We will reprogram our biology. My cell phone’s probably updating itself as we speak, but I’m walking around with 1,000-year-old software that was for a different era. One gene, the fat insulin receptor gene, says, “Hold on to every calorie, because the next hunting season may not work out so well.” I’d like to be able to tell my fat insulin receptor gene, “You don’t need to do that. I’m confident I’ll have food tomorrow.”

Will we be eating differently?

We’ll grow in vitro cloned meats in factories that are computerized and run by artificial intelligence. You can just grow the part of the animal that you’re eating. Some people say, “Oh, that sounds yucky.” I say, “Well, why don’t you go visit a factory-farming installation? You’ll find that getting meat from living animals is yucky.” But we’ll need a marketing genius to sell the idea.

Speaking of marketing, what idea about the future do you have the hardest time selling?

People are most resistant to the idea of dramatic extensions to life expectancy, because it affects every decision they make. They have this cycle of life in mind. People sort of wax philosophical–“Oh, I don’t want to live past 100.” I’d like to see them say that when they’re 100.

Do you think we’ll find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?

The consensus in the field is that there’s somewhere between a thousand and a million technologically advanced civilizations just in our own galaxy. But once you get to a point where we are, within a few centuries at most, these civilizations would be doing galaxy-wide engineering. It’s impossible we wouldn’t be noticing that. So my conclusion is that we may be the first.

What are the dangers of technological innovation?

Technology is a double-edged sword. New technologies can be used for destructive purposes. The answer is to develop rapid-response systems for new dangers like a bioterrorist creating a new biological virus. We don’t have to just sit back and wait.

How will science affect the religious and ethnic differences in the world?

I think we are evolving rapidly into one world culture. It’s certainly one world economy. With billions of people online, I think we’ll appreciate the wisdom in many different traditions as we learn more about them. People were very isolated and didn’t know anything about other religions 100 years ago.

How will our technological progress make us feel about God?

I believe our civilization is going to be vastly more intelligent and more spiritual in the decades ahead. You can argue how we got here, but we are the species that goes beyond our limitations. We didn’t stay on the ground. We didn’t stay on the planet. Our species always transcends.


[Be sure to click this link to hear an interview with Ray Kurzweil time.com/10questions ]

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2033076,00.html#ixzz16hO06gBq

Getting Organized in Hard Times

Hard Times was a novel by Charles Dickens.  Hard times is the phrase that has come to mean how bad our economy is, emphasis on our.  Meaning, can we survive until tomorrow or the next day?  The advertising slogan for the trade union movement has been, for years, “the people who brought you the weekend.”  Now we find the trade union movement at its nadir, with fewer than 10% of public and private workers organized into unions.  There is no surprise for this really.  The United States remains one of the last industrial bastions that legally inhibits unions.  Walmart has become the poster boy for defying unionization; but Starbucks and Whole Foods tout their progressivism while breaking union movements in their workplaces.  This has prompted some unorthodox methods of organization among non-union workers, and the Chicago Center for Working Class Studies is holding a panel to discuss and evaluate these activities.

Hold the date:

December 10, 3-5 pm

Roosevelt University

Gage Gallery  —  18 S. Michigan Ave.

Here is a pdf-flyer ( Getting Organized 2 ) for an event that promises some insights into new forms of organization for workers not now in unions.

Bob Herbert on the Unabated Class War — NYT

Op-Ed Columnist

Winning the Class War

Published: November 26, 2010

The class war that no one wants to talk about continues unabated.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Bob Herbert

Even as millions of out-of-work and otherwise struggling Americans are tightening their belts for the holidays, the nation’s elite are lacing up their dancing shoes and partying like royalty as the millions and billions keep rolling in.

Recessions are for the little people, not for the corporate chiefs and the titans of Wall Street who are at the heart of the American aristocracy. They have waged economic warfare against everybody else and are winning big time.

The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever. As The Times reported this week, U.S. firms earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter — the highest total since the government began keeping track more than six decades ago.

The corporate fat cats are becoming alarmingly rotund. Their profits have surged over the past seven quarters at a pace that is among the fastest ever seen, and they can barely contain their glee. On the same day that The Times ran its article about the third-quarter surge in profits, it ran a piece on the front page that carried the headline: “With a Swagger, Wallets Out, Wall Street Dares to Celebrate.” Click here to read the rest of the article.

Paul Krugman Wants to Bring Back Jonathan Swift to Solve the Irish Crisis

New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Columnist

Eating the Irish

Published: November 25, 2010

What we need now is another Jonathan Swift.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman

Most people know Swift as the author of “Gulliver’s Travels.” But recent events have me thinking of his 1729 essay “A Modest Proposal,” in which he observed the dire poverty of the Irish, and offered a solution: sell the children as food. “I grant this food will be somewhat dear,” he admitted, but this would make it “very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

O.K., these days it’s not the landlords, it’s the bankers — and they’re just impoverishing the populace, not eating it. But only a satirist — and one with a very savage pen — could do justice to what’s happening to Ireland now.

The Irish story began with a genuine economic miracle. But eventually this gave way to a speculative frenzy driven by runaway banks and real estate developers, all in a cozy relationship with leading politicians. The frenzy was financed with huge borrowing on the part of Irish banks, largely from banks in other European nations.

Then the bubble burst, and those banks faced huge losses. You might have expected those who lent money to the banks to share in the losses. After all, they were consenting adults, and if they failed to understand the risks they were taking that was nobody’s fault but their own. But, no, the Irish government stepped in to guarantee the banks’ debt, turning private losses into public obligations.

Before the bank bust, Ireland had little public debt. But with taxpayers suddenly on the hook for gigantic bank losses, even as revenues plunged, the nation’s creditworthiness was put in doubt. So Ireland tried to reassure the markets with a harsh program of spending cuts.

Step back for a minute and think about that. These debts were incurred, not to pay for public programs, but by private wheeler-dealers seeking nothing but their own profit. Yet ordinary Irish citizens are now bearing the burden of those debts.

Or to be more accurate, they’re bearing a burden much larger than the debt — because those spending cuts have caused a severe recession so that in addition to taking on the banks’ debts, the Irish are suffering from plunging incomes and high unemployment.

But there is no alternative, say the serious people: all of this is necessary to restore confidence.

Strange to say, however, confidence is not improving. On the contrary: investors have noticed that all those austerity measures are depressing the Irish economy — and are fleeing Irish debt because of that economic weakness.

Now what? Last weekend Ireland and its neighbors put together what has been widely described as a “bailout.” But what really happened was that the Irish government promised to impose even more pain, in return for a credit line — a credit line that would presumably give Ireland more time to, um, restore confidence. Markets, understandably, were not impressed: interest rates on Irish bonds have risen even further.

Does it really have to be this way?

In early 2009, a joke was making the rounds: “What’s the difference between Iceland and Ireland? Answer: One letter and about six months.” This was supposed to be gallows humor. No matter how bad the Irish situation, it couldn’t be compared with the utter disaster that was Iceland.

But at this point Iceland seems, if anything, to be doing better than its near-namesake. Its economic slump was no deeper than Ireland’s, its job losses were less severe and it seems better positioned for recovery. In fact, investors now appear to consider Iceland’s debt safer than Ireland’s. How is that possible?

Part of the answer is that Iceland let foreign lenders to its runaway banks pay the price of their poor judgment, rather than putting its own taxpayers on the line to guarantee bad private debts. As the International Monetary Fund notes — approvingly! — “private sector bankruptcies have led to a marked decline in external debt.” Meanwhile, Iceland helped avoid a financial panic in part by imposing temporary capital controls — that is, by limiting the ability of residents to pull funds out of the country.

And Iceland has also benefited from the fact that, unlike Ireland, it still has its own currency; devaluation of the krona, which has made Iceland’s exports more competitive, has been an important factor in limiting the depth of Iceland’s slump.

None of these heterodox options are available to Ireland, say the wise heads. Ireland, they say, must continue to inflict pain on its citizens — because to do anything else would fatally undermine confidence.

But Ireland is now in its third year of austerity, and confidence just keeps draining away. And you have to wonder what it will take for serious people to realize that punishing the populace for the bankers’ sins is worse than a crime; it’s a mistake.

Buffy St. Marie

“Good mother nature on a luncheon plate/ They carve her up and call it real estate.”

As the person who sent this to us said: “this kicks some butt! Disco/tribal/protest.”

Watch and listen here.

Automation & Robotics News — November 21, 2010 — Tony Zaragoza

[The biweekly feature that documents changes in the electronics revolution,  military and productive applications of robotics, and the replacement of labor-power]
Automation and Robotics News–Nov, 21 2010

Highlights: Japanese Surveillance Robot, Robo-troops, Robot Orders Up 34%, Robotic Milker, Nurses replaced, Recesssion Pushes

A shuttle cart dumps almonds onto a conveyor belt that loads them into a trailer for transport to a sheller. Mike Young switched to almonds and harvesting technology at his orchard in Buttonwillow, Calif., to reduce the need for workers. At seasonal peaks, he employs 70 percent fewer, he said.

Replacement of Workers by Tech, and more…

Click here for past issues: Archives:

Click here to view the current issue as a web page:


Japan unveils flying surveillance robot

Monday, November 08, 2010 Posted by Tim Hornyak

Japan’s military is working on a compact spy drone that can fly like a helicopter.

This Design will KILL you

14 Nov 2010, Rog-a-matic,

Yanko Design is featuring a Chris Rogers concept called the “Mega Hurtz Tactical Robot”. The remote-controlled robot works in conjunction with a virtual reality headset and sports a turrent-mounted non-lethal automatic weapon. The 280 pound machine can tow a Hummer, smash through a concrete wall, and run over your foot with ease. Mega Hurtz is suitable for SWAT teams, First Responders, and Search and Rescue operations. Gun-toting model and batteries not included.

Phantom Ray robot Stealth combat jet looks forward to trials

UberGizmo – 11/22/10

The Phantom Ray robot Stealth combat jet intends to place the US army ahead of the other nations, where trials of said jet are slated to begin.

Rise of the robots and the future of war

The Guardian – Nov 20, 2010

For some military tasks, armed robots can already take care of themselves. The sides of many allied warships sport a Gatling gun as part of the Phalanx …

>Robot snake is one enemy not to be trifled with

UberGizmo (blog) – Nov 17, 2010

Trust the military to come up with high tech weapons that brings the world to its knees – this newest robotic snake from Israel already looks menacing on …

Army’s Newest Bomb-Stopping Idea: ‘Intelligent’ Robo-Cart (with Arms)

Spencer Ackerman, November 16, 2010

The Army’s remote-controlled, bomb-finding robots aren’t finding enough bombs in Afghanistan. So the military is toying with a new notion: Let the robot drive itself; and make it bigger, like the size of a golf cart. In a recent solicitation for small businesses, the Army expresses interest in a remote-controlled vehicle that’s bigger than most robots but (way) smaller than its fleet of tactical vehicles. Really, it’s a software system outfitted with sensors for detecting a variety of bombs —. . .

Will Robo-Copters Carry Wounded Troops to Safety?

Spencer Ackerman, November 12, 2010

The next time Marines find themselves in a tight spot in any clime or place, they might make a quick call to a drone to ferry them out. And the Navy wants that communication to occur like David Hasselhof summoning Kitt:. . .

Air Force Eyeing Microwave ‘E-Ray’ for Stealth Drones?

David Axe, November 11, 2010

Taking down an enemy’s air defenses — his radars, missile launchers and command centers — is a prerequisite for large-scale air campaigns. Today, jet fighters packing radar-seeking missiles do the heavy-lifting in the so-called “Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses” mission. In the future, that dangerous task might fall on stealthy drones armed with electronics-frying microwave weapons. That is, if the Air Force can ever get the combination to work. The drones are coming along just fine. The microwave weapons … not so much.

Bombs Away: Afghan Air War Peaks With 1,000 Strikes in October

Noah Shachtman, November 10, 2010

The U.S. and its allies have unleashed a massive air campaign in Afghanistan, launching missiles and bombs from the sky at a rate rarely seen since the war’s earliest days. In October alone, NATO planes fired their weapons on 1,000 separate missions, . . . Since Gen. David Petraeus took command of the war effort in late June, coalition aircraft have flown 2,600 attack sorties. That’s 50% more than they did during the same period in 2009. Not surprisingly, civilian casualties are on the rise, as well.

Robot Troops Will Follow Orders, Beat You at Rock, Paper, Scissors

Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman, November 9, 2010

The military has a ton of ground robots scurrying around Afghanistan. Too bad they’re dumb as puppets, unable to make the slightest move without a human pulling the strings. But if the U.S. Navy has its way, all that will change. Robots will be able to obey a pointed finger or a verbal command, and then tackle a job without flesh-and-blood micromanagement. Which will free up the hundreds, if not thousands, of troops who today have to spend their time twiddling robot joysticks.


ABB expands industrial robot range

Manufacturing Talk – 11/22/10

ABB Robotics has introduced three models in its range of multipurpose robots designed to increase productivity in machine tending, material handling, …

North American Robot Orders Up 34%

Appliance Magazine – Nov 15, 2010

RIA said 9628 robots, valued at $618.4 million, were ordered through September by North American manufacturing companies. This represents a gain of 34%



Robotic Milker Offers Cow Freedom

A-4 Automatic Milker

8 Nov 2010, Rog-a-matic, robots.net

The new A4 robotic cow milker by Lely offers the cow a simple walk-through design reducing unnecessary stress and maximizing output. Size and motion of the cow and its vital parts are monitored by a 3D camera system which provides precise data to control the robot arm and cleaning devices. Various sensors and specialized software monitor the milk flow and provide real-time data about the fluid content so optimum milk quality and cow health are maintained. The modular system can serve both family farms and larger producers. Video, Brochure PDF.



Meet Cody, the robot that gives sponge baths

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 Posted by Matt Hickey

It’s not as sexy as Nurse Nancy, but Cody, the robot who gives baths, might be more effective and cheaper in the future.

Adept Technology Robotics Selected to Participate in Advanced Cancer Treatment Program

November 18, 2010

Adept Technology, Inc. (Nasdaq:ADEP), the leading provider of intelligent vision-guided robotics and global robotics services, today announced it is participating in the CLARA (Lyon Auvergne Rhone-Alpes Cancer cluster) program with Lyon Civil Hospitals as the robotics component in a method for treating small cancer tumors.

Second Robot to Be Sent Into New Zealand Mine


The first robot broke down two hours after it was sent into the mine in an effort to locate 29 miners missing since Friday…

A Robot Actress Stars In A Play

Casey Chan, 11/13/10

Gemenoid-F, a robot, is co-starring in a Japanese play where she plays the role of a caretaker. It’s a director’s dream: the robot has no ego and does what is told. Here’s a video of her in action, or “acting”.

Rescue robots not effective – experts

Radio New Zealand – 11/22/10

Sean Dessureault, a mine automation expert from the University of Arizona, says underground conditions are cold, wet and rough on the ground, …

>Why US IT jobs aren’t coming back

Galen Gruman, InfoWorld, November 18, 2010

The recession may be technically over and IT spending may rise slightly in 2011 and beyond (per Gartner and IDC projections), but U.S. and European IT workers won’t benefit. The technology jobs created and reinstated by the economic recovery will be in India, China, and other countries witth cheaper workers. In fact, an additional 600,000 American and European jobs in IT will disappear in the five years from 2010 through 2014, on top of the 500,000 lost in the 2008-09 period. That’s according to bleak research released today by the Hackett Group, a consultancy specializing in helping companies save costs through techniques that, ironically, include outsourcing. “There’s no end in sight for the jobless recovery in business functions, such as IT and corporate finance, in large part due to the accelerated movement of work to India and other offshore locations,” the report says.

Teaching Medical Robots

U.S. News & World Report – Marlene Cimons – 19 hours ago

“Right now, these robots are dumb,” said M. Cenk Cavusoglu, associate professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer sciences at Case …

Love robots will end loneliness

AsiaOne – Nov 21, 2010

A robot which can fall in love with its owner could help those suffering from loneliness, the Sun reported. Funktionide, a pillow-like robot invented by …

US sex robots headed to UK

Times of India – Nov 17, 2010

LONDON: Sex robots developed in the US could be heading to Britain following a demand from robot fetishists. With a fixed stare but having movable limbs, …



Amazon gets Kiva robots via Zappos, Diapers buys News Thursday, November 11, 2010, Rafe Needleman

Kiva Systems’ inventory robots are invading Amazon.com-owned warehouses via the e-commerce powerhouse’s recent acquisitions.

‘Uplifting’ Outlook for Pallet-Handling Robotics Technologies in 2011

By Geoffrey Oldmixon – Filed Nov 11, 2010

The coming year is poised to be another one in which operations managers will be tasked with further reducing costs. According to Boston-based research firm The Aberdeen Group, that could mean big things for warehouse robotics. Automated pallet-handling equipment solutions, such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and other pallet-moving technologies, are relatively low-cost, high-ROI technology investments that warehouse operations will likely consider in the coming months, says the analyst firm.



Automation in Siberian field provides more stable operations

Oil & Gas Journal – Ron Cramer – Nov 1, 2010

Automation in Salym field of western Siberia has reduced operator travel and hazard exposure, reduced interruption in electric submersible pump operations, …



Replacing Nurses With Robots

ADVANCE for LPNs (blog) -Linda Jones – Nov 22, 2010

As a nurse, if you were to create a robot to perform part of your job, what would you have it do? Are there tasks you do that do not require critical …

Recession spurs faster replacement of workers with technology

An automated tree-shaker causes almonds to fall; another machine will collect and sort them. "Labor is so expensive," Young said. "There's their wages, truck, insurance, workers' comp and the safety regulations."

Columbus Dispatch – Alana Semuels – Nov 1, 2010

Automation means Young no longer needs large crews of farmworkers to plant or harvest – and no more worrying about immigration status, pay or benefits.


New robotics study published by the European Commission

November 2010

The Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry (DG ENTR) and the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (JRC-IPTS) have launched a series of studies to analyze prospects of success for European ICT industries in the face of technological and market innovation. These studies under the common acronym “COMPLETE” aim to gain a better understanding of the ICT areas in which it would be important for the EU industry to remain or become competitive in the near future, and to assess the likely conditions for success. This particular report “A Helping Hand for Europe: The Competitive Outlook for the EU Robotics Industry” reflects the findings of the JRC-IPTS COMPLETE study on robotics applications in general, and in two specific areas selected because of potential market and EU capability in these areas: robotics applications in SMEs and robotics safety. The report starts by introducing the state of the art in robotics, their applications, market size, value chains, and disruptive potential of emerging robotics technologies. For each of the two specific area the report describes the EU landscape, potential market, benefits, difficulties and how these might be overcome. The last chapter draws together the findings of the study to consider EU competitiveness in robotics, opportunities and policy implications.


Mexico uses robot to explore ancient tunnel

The Associated Press – Nov 10, 2010

The one-foot (30-cm) wide robot was called “Tlaloque 1” after the Aztec rain god. The grainy footage shot by the robot was presented Wednesday by Mexico’s …

Henry Giroux / Paulo Freire in an era of Banking on Schools

Tuesday 23 November 2010

by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Paulo Freire. (Photo: Slobodan Dimitrov)

(This is a much expanded version of “Lessons From Paulo Freire,” which appeared in a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

At a time when memory is being erased and the political relevance of education is dismissed in the language of measurement and quantification, it is all the more important to remember the legacy and work of Paulo Freire. Freire is one of the most important educators of the 20th century and is considered one of the most important theorists of “critical pedagogy” – the educational movement guided by both passion and principle to help students develop a consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, empower the imagination, connect knowledge and truth to power and learn to read both the word and the world as part of a broader struggle for agency, justice and democracy. His groundbreaking book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” has sold more than a million copies and is deservedly being commemorated this year – the 40th anniversary of its appearance in English translation – after having exerted its influence over generations of teachers and intellectuals in the Americas and abroad.

Since the 1980s, there have been too few intellectuals on the North American educational scene who have matched Freire’s theoretical rigor, civic courage and sense of moral responsibility. And his example is more important now than ever before: with institutions of public and higher education increasingly under siege by a host of neoliberal and conservative forces, it is imperative for educators to acknowledge Freire’s understanding of the empowering and democratic potential of education. Critical pedagogy currently offers the very best, perhaps the only, chance for young people to develop and assert a sense of their rights and responsibilities to participate in governing, and not simply being governed by prevailing ideological and material forces.

When we survey the current state of education in the United States, we see that most universities are now dominated by instrumentalist and conservative ideologies, hooked on methods, slavishly wedded to accountability measures and run by administrators who often lack a broader vision of education as a force for strengthening civic imagination and expanding democratic public life. One consequence is that a concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while higher education – once conceptualized as a fundamental public good – has been reduced to a private good, now available almost exclusively to those with the financial means. Universities are increasingly defined through the corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge and credentials in building a workforce that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in China and other southeast Asian markets, while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power. There is little interest in understanding the pedagogical foundation of higher education as a deeply civic and political project that provides the conditions for individual autonomy and takes liberation and the practice of freedom as a collective goal.

Public education fares even worse. Dominated by pedagogies that are utterly instrumental, geared toward memorization, conformity and high-stakes test taking, public schools have become intellectual dead zones . . . CLICK HERE FOR THE ENTIRE  “TRUTHOUT” ARTICLE.

Artist Margaret Burroughs, DuSable Museum Founder, RIP — from Chicago Sun Times

DuSable Museum founder, cultural leader Margaret Burroughs dead at 95

November 22, 2010

Talk with the many fans of Margaret Burroughs and the phrase “institution builder” is mentioned over and over.

Two of Chicago’s black cultural institutions — the 70-year-old South Side Community Art Center and the nearly 50-year-old DuSable Museum of African American History — can thank her for their existence.

Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History, and Mayor Daley look at her collection of artwork at the Feb. 22 dedication of the Dr. Margaret Burroughs Gallery at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Shore Dr. Burroughs died Sunday at age 93.
(John H. White/Sun-Times)


DuSable Museum’s Margaret Burroughs (Click this link and then the link under this picture in the Sun Times site to see a photo gallery)

But there also is a human side to her accomplishments — the generations of children who have benefited from her work. She dedicated her life to serving her community, and when she felt African-American children weren’t being taught about their background, she went to work.

“Instead of complaining, she did something about it,” said Faheem Majeed, executive director of the South Side Community Art Center. “She felt art and history should be accessible to the masses.”

Mrs. Burroughs, an artist, poet and educator, died early Sunday morning surrounded by her family. She was 95.

The influence of Mrs. Burroughs’ legacy, a distinctive contribution to black culture, reaches across the spectrum, from schoolchildren to presidents.

“Michelle and I are saddened by the passing of Dr. Margaret Burroughs, who was widely admired for her contributions to American culture as an esteemed artist, historian, educator, and mentor,” President Obama said in a statement. “She was admired for her generosity and commitment to underserved communities through her children’s books, art workshops and community centers that both inspired and educated young people about African-American culture.”

Mrs. Burroughs was born in St. Rose, La. She moved north to Chicago with her family.

Mrs. Burroughs had a lifelong passion for learning. She attended Englewood High School and went on to Chicago Normal College, Chicago Teachers College and the School of the Art Institute.

She married her first husband, Bernard Goss, in 1939 (they later divorced), and had a daughter, Gayle.

In the 1940s, while teaching elementary school, she began to work more intently on her own artwork.

She worked in sculpture and painting but ultimately she became best known for her skill as a printmaker. Her linoleum block prints feature stunning images relevant to African-American history and culture.

For more than 20 years, until the late ’60s, Mrs. Burroughs taught art at Du Sable High School in Bronzeville, and from 1969-79 she was a professor of humanities at Kennedy-King College.

While teaching and using textbooks that ignored black history, she began to see the need for institutions that told the African-American story in words and art.

In the 1940s, Mrs. Burroughs helped co-found the South Side Community Art Center, an organization that continues to assist in the development of emerging and established artists.

The DuSable Museum got its start in 1961, when Mrs. Burroughs and her second husband, Charles, founded it on the first floor of their home on South Michigan.

Originally called the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art, it was relocated in 1971 to Washington Park and renamed for Haitian trader Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, Chicago’s first permanent settler.

“She understood the role of a museum like this in the lives of all people, especially children who she felt needed heroes in their lives,” said Cheryl Blackwell Bryson, chairman of the DuSable board of trustees. “To the end, she was sharp, passionate and a critical thinker.”

She had served as a commissioner for the Chicago Park District since 1986.

“Chicago is a better place because of Dr. Burroughs,” Mayor Daley said in a statement. “Through her artistic talent and wide breadth of knowledge, she gave us a cultural gem. But she herself was a cultural institution. She spent a lifetime instilling a love of arts and culture in people young and old.”

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said Mrs. Burroughs was “an artist with a conscience.”

Mrs. Burroughs was the author of children’s books and volumes of poetry that spoke to the African-American experience, including What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? and Africa, My Africa.

Mrs. Burroughs also served as mentor to many young artists. Sculptor Doug Williams was a student at the School of the Art Institute where he says she “guided me through the art world.”

“She was a lady, a teacher, a confidant, an idol and an artist,” he said. “Even today, when I needed professional advice I would go to her.”

Mrs. Burroughs received many awards and honors, the latest of which was the Legends and Legacy Award from the Art Institute of Chicago for her contributions to the worlds of art, education and history.

“She constantly encouraged people to focus on what their legacy would be,” said Lester McCarroll Jr., co-chair of the event. “She enjoyed life but also knew her time here was important.”

Mrs. Burroughs is survived by her son, Paul; four grandsons, Eric Toller, Matthew Toller, Manaseh Wade and Jonathan Hutchinson, and three nieces, Nina Jones, Lyneth Nesbith and Caroline Harris.

At Mrs. Burroughs’ request, there will be no funeral service. A public memorial will be held after the holidays.

Additional information and graphics showing prints by Margaret Burroughs, click here.

The Wikipedia entry for Margaret Burroughs is here.

A Thanksgiving Note: People of Watsonville Picking the Colonizers Vegetable – David Bacon

The People of Watsonville 1 — Picking the Colonizers’ Vegetable
By David Bacon
Watsonville, CA  11/19/10

The California coast, from Davenport south through Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Castroville, is brussels sprouts country.  Most of this vegetable in north America comes from these fields, although a growing harvest now takes place in Baja California, in northern Mexico.

In both California and Baja California, the vast majority of the people who harvest brussels sprouts, like those who pick other crops, are Mexican.  In Baja they’re migrants from the states of southern Mexico.  In California, they’re immigrant workers who’ve crossed the border to labor in these fields.  On a cold November day, this crew of Mexican migrant workers picks brussels sprouts on a ranch outside of Watsonville.

Many people love this vegetable, and serve it for dinner on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.  Native people in the U.S. point out that Thanksgiving celebrates the beginning of the European colonization of north America, which drove them from the lands where they lived historically.  The brussels sprouts came with the colonizers.  While the Romans probably grew and ate them, the first plants came to this continent with the French to the colonies of Quebec and the Atlantic seaboard.

Today the people picking in this field may be immigrants to the U.S., but in a longer historical view, they are the descendents of indigenous people whose presence in north America predated Columbus and the arrival of the brussels sprouts by thousands of years.  Now they cross the border between Mexico and the U.S. as migrant workers, many speaking indigenous languages as old, or even older, than those of the colonizers – Mixteco, Triqui or Nahuatl.  In the soft conversations among the workers of this picking crew, and other crews harvesting the sprouts, you can hear those languages mixed with that of the Spaniards.

Brussels sprouts may be a colonizers’ vegetable, but it has many healthy properties.  It contains  sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, both of which are believed to play a role in blocking the growth of cancer.  In yet another irony, in non-organic fields, picking crews often get exposed to the agricultural chemicals that are one important cause of the explosion of cancer in the U.S.  Farm workers get much higher doses than the supermarket patrons who buy the produce they pick.

But it’s a job.  Putting the food on the table is really one of the most important jobs people do, and one that gets the least acknowledgement and respect.  So the next time you decide on brussels sprouts for dinner, first, don’t boil them.  It removes those healthy anti-cancer chemicals.  And don’t overcook them either – that’s what produces the sulfur taste many people don’t like.  But then, when they’re out there on the table, remember who got them there.

Of FBI Raids, Grand Juries and Star Chambers — Bernardine Dohrn in Huffington Post

Bernardine Dohrn

Bernardine Dohrn

Founding Director, Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic

Posted: November 16, 2010 12:43 PM

I was subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in May of 1982 in New York City.  It has left me as something of a specialist in an arcane, secretive, and obsolete area of the law — one that reappeared this September with FBI raids, seizures of private papers, computers, and subpoenas to compel testimony in Chicago, Minneapolis, and other cities across the country. After all those subpoenaed refused to cooperate, three residents of Minneapolis were just re-issued subpoenas.

At the time of my subpoena, our sons were just five, two, and one.  My five year old accompanied me to federal court the day of the subpoena date and waved goodbye when the judge rejected my arguments, declared me in civil contempt, and sent me directly to federal jail.  My sons visited weekly, brought separately by steady friends.  With the oldest, he sat on my lap while we did crossword puzzles, made calendars and read books, and then he hugged goodbye after each visit, went outside and stood on the street corner downstairs signaling until I flashed the lights from my cell.  My middle child came into the visiting room, jumped up and cuddled in my arms, and directly went to sleep during his weekly visits, while I breathed in the sweetness of his breath, his hair, his skin.  I tried to send him homemade, hopeful weekly cards.  The youngest was struggling to make nonverbal sense of his losses.  I tried not to ask him for anything, but to play toddler games and to be fully present to him as much as I could in those cold circumstances.

My decision not to provide samples of my handwriting to the grand jury — even though the FBI and federal government admittedly had possession of boxes of my handwriting — was the most difficult decision of my life.  I spent more than seven months in the federal correctional facility, not charged with any crime, allegedly not being punished (according to the judge), but rather being compelled to testify, and not knowing when, if ever, I would be released or if I might even be indicted.  When the same judge who had held me in contempt released me, he instructed the federal prosecutor to utilize the handwritten letters I was repeatedly submitting to him about dangerous jail conditions.  He ruled that I was exceedingly stubborn, and that further incarceration would not change my recalcitrant mind and therefore holding me any longer had moved from coercion to punishment.

The federal grand jury is a secret, coercive, fishing expedition, a rubber stamp and tool solely of the prosecutor.  Although it was once (at the time of the Magna Carta) a check on the singular and arbitrary power of the king, it has become its opposite: a greatly enhanced power of the executive. It has been abolished in England, virtually everywhere else in the world, and in more than half of the states in the U.S. It embodies fundamental violations of basic rights, and it is not necessary to the investigation and prosecution of crime. 

The grand jury is mentioned in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

Inside the grand jury room, there is no judge.  The person compelled to appear cannot testify with her or his lawyer present, and cannot have a transcript of the proceedings. The grand jurors are sworn to secrecy.  The prosecutor alone decides who and what to subpoena (testimony, records, computers, letters, photos), what possible crimes to investigate, who will testify, who gets immunity, and what charges to bring.  It is famously said that any competent prosecutor can “get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.” Here are ten key and surprising elements of the federal grand jury:

  • It grants sweeping subpoena powers to prosecutors alone, with no safeguards or checks and balances.
  • Prosecutors can use a grand jury to conduct an inquisitorial investigation or fishing expedition where there is not sufficient evidence of a crime.
  • Defense counsel is barred from the grand jury, and no judge is present.
  • It is not open to outsiders.
  • Grand jurors hear one side only; prosecutors draft and read the charges to the grand jurors who are not instructed on the law, or screened for bias.
  • Grand jury proceedings are secret.
  • A grand jury subpoena compels a witness to testify under threat of an indefinite jail sentence until compliance; this coercion promotes unreliable evidence.
  • There is no way to know what the grand jury investigation is about or who is considered a target. In this way, subpoenas have a “chilling effect” on criticism and opposition to government policies, a core pillar of democracy.
  • Grand Juries subvert the 4thhAmendment to the US Constitution (ban on unreasonable state seizure of private property).
  • Grand Juries subvert the 5th Amendment to the Constitution (ban on compulsory examination under oath).

It is no wonder that former judges and prosecutors, as well as legal scholars and organizations, call for reforms or abolition of the federal grand jury system.  

Some will recall that during the Clinton administration, Monica Lewinsky’s mother was subpoenaed to a federal grand jury and compelled to testify about her daughter’s sexual relationships.  Some remember the wave of resistance to federal grand juries during the Nixon administration under Attorney General John Mitchell, against the antiwar movement, anti-racist solidarity activists, and the organizing work of Vietnam veterans who returned to tell the truth.  A smaller number recall its use during the McCarthy era witch hunts of the 1950s. Recently, the environmental movement has been targeted by grand juries.

Today’s raids and subpoenas allegedly concern investigations into the sweeping and vague prohibitions of “material aid” to entities that the US has deemed terrorist organizations.  Federal legislation has been interpreted so broadly by the Supreme Court as to amount to a ban on peaceful opposition to US wars, occupations, aerial bombings, and state terror. 

Popular education about the realities and curiosities of federal grand juries is, again, urgently on the agenda.