Clues to social reality: part 2
G. S.  <georgeisalzman@yahoo.com>
initial posting 10 Sept 2010 - last update 12 Oct 2010

URL: http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/t/2010-09-10.htm
[This posting is in progress – still incomplete]

      In the first of these posts, Clues to social reality: part 1, [0], I began to introduce people whose insights, knowledgeability, and commitment to saying honestly what they think have made them valuable to me. This page continues, with the addition of both people and organizations. In every case my contact was through an individual who I came to trust. Real trust has to start between two individuals — living, breathing human beings. There is no other way. I largely rely on several dozen people for my understanding of current global reality. I try to follow their thinking on the internet on a fairly regular basis.

      The most formidable intellectual challenge I ever faced was/is that of finding out what is really going on in the world. So here I am, just turned 85, and more certain than ever that I’m still unbelievably ignorant. Ignorant not in the sense that I don’t have a marvelous memory full of factual information (which unfortunately is also true), but rather in the sense that I am very uncertain about the factors that actually determine the evolution of human social structures. On a day-to-day basis my experience with people is totally reassuring. That was true when I lived in the U.S., until 1999, and also since then when Nancy and I decided to live together here in Oaxaca and essentially gave up our U.S. homes in Cambridge, Mass and Boston, respectively. Of course I’ve encountered nasty, angry and hateful individuals on occasion, but they are an almost vanishingly small percentage of the people I experience. It is this fact that provides the basis for my anarchism, my belief that fundamentally human beings are not normally intentionally destructive but rather, as Kropotkin argues in his Mutual Aid: A factor in evolution, naturally helpful and loving towards our fellow humans.

      With today’s additions, there’s now – or soon will be information about the following good sources — individuals and groups.

            Alan Hart intro  note
            Alliance for Democracy — AfD intro  note
            Antony Loewenstein intro  note
            Bikes Not Bombs — BNB intro  note
            Carmelo Ruiz intro  note
            Denis Rancourt intro  note
            Erosion, Technology, Concentration Group — ETC intro  note
            Global Justice Ecology Project — GJEP intro  note
            Immanuel Wallerstein intro  note
            Israel Shamir intro   note
            Jeffrey Blankfort intro  note
            Joe Bageant intro  note
            John Ross intro  note
            Julian Assange intro  note
            Mazin Qumsiyeh intro  note
            Oaxaca Study-Action Group — OSAG intro  note
            Robert Fisk intro  note
            Sacco andVanzetti Commemoration Society — SVCS intro  note
            Tony Sutton intro  note


      Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a long-time friend who I came to know when we were both active in the Science for the People SftP discussion list, a listserv I began in Spring 1998. When the bourgeois character of SftP became evident to Carmelo he quit, and subsequently I also gave it up. A Puerto Rican activist, [1]

      The Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society located in Boston, Massachusetts but with wide-ranging international contacts, is an exemplary group


BartolomeoVanzetti (left) and Nicola Sacco (right)

of people committed to continuing the struggle for social justice in which BartolomeoVanzetti and Nicola Sacco were murdered by, and for the maintenance of, capitalism. On 3 August 1927 I was almost 2 years old when Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted at the old Charlestown prison in Boston. If you are too young to remember that awful day, the best book I know of to initiate you is the historical novel, Boston, by Upton Sinclair. Also, the internet is rich with information about the saga of their many years of imprisonment and, against world wide opposition, their ultimate martyrdom. The Sacco and Vanzetti Comemoration Society (SVCS) website is at http://www.saccoandvanzetti.org/ . The Society address is: SVCS, 33 Harrison Av., 5th. Floor, Boston, MA 02111. Its postal address is P.O. Box 381323, Cambridge, MA 02238-1323 [2] .

      The Erosion, Technology, Concentration Group - ETC is, despite its cutesy impish acronym, a serious international ecological organization. Based in North America: Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, it maintains offices in Ottawa and Montreal, Canada; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Mexico City, Mexico; and also has an office in Davao City, Philippines. Its activities take it across the globe. It has some kind of observer, consultancy or advisory status with the United Nations.[3]

      Global Justice Ecology Project — GJEP. Like the ETC Group, the GJEP is a “nano-sized ecological group with global reach. It ’s largely the creation of Anne Petermann of Hinesberg, Vermont, who with her compañero Orin Langelle


Mother and child of the threatened Ayoreo people, Chaco region
of Paraguay, photo by Orin Langelle of the GJEP, March 2009

has developed this dynamic group.They started GJEP in 2003. Anne, an indefatigable heavy-duty organizer/thinker, is the executive director, and Orin, with his passion, visual sensitivity and technical photographic skill, is co-director. A pair of strugglers for ecological survival right here on planet Earth. I first met Anne and Orin in November 1999 when they led an environmental justice delegation to southern Mexico for the Mexico Solidarity Network and the ACERCA group, their precursor of the GJEP.[4]

      John Ross lives and breathes, and loves and writes about the drama of Mexico from the vantage point of his rented room in the heart of Mexico City, his home for many years. But he ranges far from his home base, all over Mexico — and has never hesitated to put himself in risky spots elsewhere. He was one of the Americans in Baghdad in a vain attempt to discourage the U.S. from the intended bombing assault in 1992. He was beaten by Israeli Zionist settlers when walking with the group Rabbis for Human Rights in the occupied part of the West Bank. And years earlier he was more than once beaten and jailed by the guardians of law-'n-order in California. I first got to know (about) him through his books, and then had the fun of getting to meet him personally in Oaxaca and in “his” hotel in Mexico City. The only “trouble” with John is that he doesn’t seem to know the difference between English, Español und Yiddish, which get mixed up in his zesty accounts. A real mensch. [5]

      Robert Fisk is one of the most ruggedly honest, penetrating and humane journalists — really a journalist/historian — whose “beat” is centered on the so-called ‘Middle East’, but he ranges over much of the world. My introduction to Fisk was through his book, Pity the Nation: The abduction of Lebanon, which I got at the Lucy Parsons Center in Boston during a visit to the U.S. sometime around 2002 or 2003. An absolutely rivetting account of human horrors visited on mostly innocent civilian people distinguishable only by their supposed ethnicity from any other group of ordinary civilians. Fisk’s life has been heroic, even, I would say, charmed, as he persistently ignored the danger inherent in his kind of reporting, always in the midst of the lethal conflicts he tracked. [6]

      Bikes Not Bombs (BNB) began, if I remember correctly, in a small bicycle shop, Ferris Wheel on South Street (or was it Centre Street?) in Jamaica Plain, Boston. One of the people working there, Carl Kurz, had a vision of an organization that would encompass far more than the usual activities of a commercial bicycle store and repair shop. He started, in line with his dreams, a group Bikes Not Bombs for Nicaragua, the first outreach to combine his love of bicycles — machines engineered for the human body — with his commitment to human liberation everywhere. Part of that envisioned liberation was for us to live with much greater use of our metabolic energy and less reliance on “mechanical” energy, with its invariable ecological damage. That was more than a quarter century ago. Carl and I have become good friends. His commitment to working with young people has been inspirational. Bikes Not Bombs invariably develops close ties with people in the neighborhoods where they start projects, whether in Boston, Nicaragua, Ghana, . . . Carl is now on a two-year leave of absence from his usual responsibiities in Jamaica Plain, travelling in various countries where BNB is active.

      Recently I had the pleasure of a visit here in Oaxaca from the current BNB Executive Director Samantha (Sam) Wechsler and the International Programs Director David Branigan. David, if I understood correctly, came to BNB as a volunteer, not as a paid staff member. He, and I think this is characteristic of all the people in BNB, is committed to constructive social activism — not to making money. [7]

      Jeffrey Blankfort has been invaluable to me for his criticisms of Noam Chomsky’s role in the formation of American public opinion regarding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I had long been a devotee of Chomsky and accepted nearly all his pronouncements having to do with international affairs. My introduction to the Middle East conflict in some depth began with Noam’s Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians, Updated Edition, 1999, which I bought at the Lucy Parsons Center in Boston in 2003. Jeffrey was, it seemed to me at first, very critical, believing both that Chomsky was irrationally swayed to favor the State of Israel because of his Zionist sympathies, and also was highly selective in his use of historical data to favor his prejudice.

      My own prejudice at the time was against “lowering” the level of the dispute by discussing Chomsky’s psychological bias, which Blankfort did and for which I criticized him. I said that his work was valuable for pointing out factual errors in Chomsky’s writings, and advised him to focus on that and not to try to psychoanalyze Noam. Jeffrey of course disagreed. To appreciate his direct style, which Noam could not accept, here is a note I got earlier this week, datemarked Mon, 20 Sep 2010 18:08:20 -0700 (GMT-07:00):
      Between you and me, George, we have another nutcase in Chardet which is why I had blocked him from my email list. Please exclude me from further communications involving him. Our movement for justice has enough problems without being saddled with the Chardets of this world. My sister has a friend who is anti-Zionist and anti-Israel and who survived the camps and he says there were gas chambers, and the number 273,000 that he [Chardet] cites as total deaths is beneath contempt. I suspect the number was closer to 3 million Jews, the number of names they have in Yad Vashem. Anyone who keeps bringing up the names of the Rothschilds blaming all the ills of the world on them is also an insufferable ignoramus. He [Chardet] admits he doesn’t check his facts. I do. So count me out. Personally, George, you disappoint me. First, Bailee and now Chardet. I think you need to get a new judgment filter because the one you’re now using is clearly not working. --Jeff
      Jeff may want to be “counted out” of this exchange, but just because he thinks (and says!) that my judgment is flawed is no reason for me to deprive myself of his insights and extensive detailed knowledge. I have enormous respect for Jeff as one of the only persons I know of Jewish-American ethnicity who openly calls for the dissolution of the Jewish state. I’m unclear whether he agrees with me that the Israeli Jews who live in Israel as participants in the Zionist project of conquest should then be forced to leave — to emigrate and live elsewhere, except for the small number who are welcomed to remain by their Palestinian neighbors. [8]

      Alliance for Democracy. I first heard about the Alliance for Democracy from the local pastor of the bedraggled landmark First Baptist Church in Central Square, Cambridge, at the angular intersection of River and Magazine streets.


First Baptist Church in Central Square, Cambridge, Mass. River
Street angles off to the right, going to the River St. bridge over
the Charles River, to Boston. On the steeple side of the church
Magazine Street angles off to the left towards the Charles River.

      The pastor, with volunteer help from some good folks, collected used clothing and other still-serviceable things for everyday living and gave them to unfortunate neighborhood people who needed them. No doubt he was a true believer in his Christianity. Still, it’s clear that he and his predecessors, despite their devotion and their belief in God, nevertheless took the additional precaution of maintaining a sturdy, well-grounded lightning rod affixed atop the steeple. After all, why take chances? [9]

      Oaxaca Study-Action Group (OSAG). In December 2005 I was in the Oaxaca Lending Library, which was a popuar hangout for many English-language expatriates, from the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc. Nancy, my compañera, was a member and a volunteer who spent several hours a week there helping to keep the library operating. [10]

      Immanuel Wallerstein is one of the people whose work I was introduced to by James Herod, my most important teacher for pointing me towards fundamental understanding of global social problems. It was Wallerstein, then at Columbia University, who made the strongest impact on James from James’ time as a student there, which included the 1968 student strike. On a visit to James soon after the 9/11 attack I read Wallerstein’s Historical Capitalism with Capitalist Civilization. He speaks of the ethnicization of the work force — “a rather high correlation betweeen ethnicity and occupation/economic role [in] historical capitalism” and points to three main consequences for the functioning of the global economy, the third of which “has formed one of the most significant pillars of historical capitalism, institutional racism.” And, he might have added, institutional sexism. I’ve not read his other books, but am addicted to his bimonthy commentaries. [11]


NOTES
[0] Clues to reality: Part 1 is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/t/
2010-09-06.htm
.

[1] Carmelo Ruiz Morero <ruizcarmelo@gmail.com> led me out of the privileged middle-class environment of the Science for the People (SftP) discussion group, which I left somewhat reluctantly after having put so much effort into establishing it as an on-line continuation of the lapsed SftP activist group that had played a strong role in my own gradual radicalization over the years. He describes himself as “an independent environmental journalist and an environmental analyst for the CIP [Center for International Policy] Americas Program [CIP], a Fellow of the Oakland Institute and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program. In addition, he is founder and director of the Puerto Rico Biosafety Project [PRBP]. His bilingual web page [C.Ruiz blogspot] is dedicated to global environmental and development concerns.” See his most recent posting on the Latin America Energy and Environment Monitor. intro

[2] The Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society. Upton Sinclair’s monumental work on the Sacco-Vanzetti travesty, his historical novel Boston was done in a “white heat” — he completed it in less than one year after the 23 August 1927 execution. The best edition is that of Robert Bentley in 1978, with a fine section of historic photographs and a first-rate introduction by historian Howard Zinn. It contains also the proclamation by Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis on 13 July 1977 affirming that Sacco and Vanzetti were denied a fair trial. That mildest of proclamations nevertheless was strongly attacked by the guardians of capitalism, who cannot bear any questioning of the “justice” of their social system.
    Robert Bentley was a fine old Catholic man whose profitable publishing business was based on the industry-standard Bentley automobile maintenance manuals. He used part of that income to subsidize publication of a series of classic volumes, under the label Extending Horizons Books http://www.portersargent.com/fps.php, the first of which was Peotr Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid. The address is Robert Bentley, Inc., 1734 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139. Tel. (617)-547-4170. http://www.bentleypublishers.com/. intro

[3] The Erosion, Technology, Concentration Group - ETC is much more than simply another non-profit “environmental” goup. It is straddling a difficult fence — trying to influence the contemporary dominant institutions to take seriously the peril to humanity (and all life) while its unending experiences show it that these institutions are controlled by the capitalist system. The ETC website, at http://www.etcgroup.org/ is full of vital information. On the page about the executive director, Patrick (Pat) Roy Mooney, he says in part, “Although much of ETC’s work continues to emphasize plant genetic resources and agricultural biodiversity, the work expanded in the early 1980s to include biotechnology.
    “In the late 1990s, the work expanded more to encompass a succession of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology, geoengineering, and new developments in genomics and neurosciences”. Contact info: Telephone: 1-613-241-2267, Email: etc@etcgroup.org. I think their work is first rate. An example: see the recent release on the danger of synthetically creating live organisms that can reproduce and evolve — “Synthia is Alive ... and Breeding: Panacea or Pandora's Box? As Craig Venter announces lab-made life, ”. News release on 20 May 2010, at ETC Group calls for Global Moratorium on Synthetic Biology. intro

[4] Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America (ACERCA). http://www.globaljusticeecology.org/about_us.php. intro

[5] John Ross. An introduction to John that conveys his dynamism and straightforward manner is the U-tube recording at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IswoDVEWtYQ. The first of his books I read was Rebellion from the Roots: Indian Uprising in Chiapas, Common Courage Press, 1995. He’s not to be confused with a gun-toting advocate with the same moniker, John Ross, who dominates the Google listing if you google “John Ross author”. And if you just google John Ross you’ll get a host of other people. The entry John Ross Mexico is the key to getting info about “my” John Ross. You can get on his e-mail distribution list by just writing him at <johnross@igc.org>. But his writing shows up a day or two later on the Counterpunch website, and sometimes elsewhere. intro

[6] Robert Fisk. When I learned of the publication of Fisk’s The Great War for Civilization: The conquest of the Middle East, I ordered it at once. The mammoth volume came by special post on 21 October 2005, and I dove right into Chapter 10, The First Holocaust. Fisk is blunt: “[the Turkish regime] chose 24 April 1915 — for ever afterwards commemorated as the day of Armenian genocide — to arrest and murder all the leading Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople. They followed this pogrom with the wholesale and systematic destruction of the Armenian race in Turkey.” (p.394)
      And, following substantial documentation, Fisk states his thoughts: “What was at once apparent about this ethnic atrocity was not just its scale . . . but the systematic nature of the Holocaust. A policy of race murder had been devised in wartime by senior statesmen who controlled, as one historian phrased it, the ‘machinery of violence, both formal and informal’. Like the Jews of Europe, many Armenians were highly educated; they were lawyers, civil servants, businessmen, journalists. Unlike the Jewish Holocaust, however, the world knew of the Turkish genocide almost as soon as it began.” (p.399) [emphasis added by G.S.], intro

[7] Bikes Not Bombs held a 25th Anniversary Fundraising Party and Sendoff for Carl Kurz! on 25 September 2009. http://bikesnotbombs.org/ intro

[8] Jeffrey Blankfort’s three essays, published at one-year intervals, provide the strongest, most documented case I know of demonstrating the power of the so-called Israel Lobby as a determinant factor in wedding U.S. policy in the Middle East to the Zionist conquest of Palestine. First published by Left Curve, a San Francisco-based magazine. They are:
   1. Jan 2003, “The Israel Lobby and the Left: Uneasy Questions”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-04-10.htm , originally at http://www.leftcurve.org/LC27WebPages/IsraelLobby.html ;
   2. Jan 2004, “War for Israel”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-04-14.htm , originally at http://www.leftcurve.org/LC28WebPages/WarForIsrael.html
   3. Dec 2004, "Damage Control: Noam Chomsky and the Israel-Palestine Conflict", at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-04-30.htm , originally at http://www.leftcurve.org/LC29WebPages/Chomsky.html . intro

[9] Alliance for Democracy — AFD. The page of the AFD website at http://www.thealliancefordemocracy.org/about.html says in part, “How did the Alliance begin? IN AUGUST 1995, The Nation published Ronnie Dugger’s “A Call to Citizens: Will Real Populists Please Stand Up.” Over 6000 people responded, 2500 joined, and more than 55 local Alliances were formed nationwide. In late 1996 delegates from 30 states convened in Texas hill country and the Alliance for Democracy was founded.
    THE POPULISTS of the 1880s arose in those same Texas hills to challenge banks and corporate trusts for control of the national wealth and spirit. Uniting farm and factory workers for the first time, they set up cooperatives, educated each other, published newspapers and books, and fielded 20,000 speakers to show the way to cooperation, self-respect, and hope. intro

[10] Oaxaca Study-Action Group (OSAG), intro

[11] Immanuel Wallerstein. One of the striking differences between the United States and Mexico is the esteem generally accorded to true intellectuals. I am reasonably certain that among “serious” newspaper readers in Mexico, by which I mean to include, for example, the substantial readership of the national left-leaning mainstream daily La Jornada, prominent American thinkers such as Immanuel Wallerstein and Noam Chomsky are better known than they are by the American counterpart — “serious” newspaper readers in the U.S. Today’s La Jornada (21 Sept 2010) by chance has on the front cover the photograph and caption


México, DF. El lingüista estadunidense Noam Chomsky durante la conferencia
en la sala Miguel Covarrubias del Centro Cultural Universitario de la má-
xima casa de estudios. Cristina Rodríguez/La Jornada [see Article]

My experience in the city of Oaxaca is that Chomsky’s name is well known. Not infrequently, when I’m asked the inevitable question, “Well, where did you live before coming to Oaxaca” and I reply, Cambridge, Massachusetts, the next question is, “Do you know Noam Chomsky?” Everyone seems to know that M.I.T. is in Cambridge, and that Chomsky is at M.I.T. Articles by Wallerstein and by Chomsky analyzing contemporary social/political events are in La Jornada fairly often. And I'm willing to bet that Wallerstein is better known in France among the politically aware than in the U.S. His website is at http://www.iwallerstein.com. intro
George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.


All comments and criticisms are welcome.  <georgeisalzman@yahoo.com>

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Initial posting of this page: 10 September 2010.
Last update: 25 January 2011