Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

We’ll Take A Cup of Kindness

The year which is just wrapping up now has had its good bits, and its ghastly bits. If you’re a follower of the news, you might feel overwhelmed by the ghastly.

Myself, I have this habit of visiting current affairs-related websites which feature daily writings by several of my favorite political writers – not necessarily a bad habit, but not always a productive one. It leads to wallowing: my Lord, the world is full of yahoos, and some of them are actually in charge.

Rather than dwell on the ghastly bits, though … in this moment, I choose instead to raise my glass to one good bit. In the spirit of “it’s gotta start somewhere”.

It’s something that I’ve been noticing in the last few months, and to my mind, it may go nicely toward countering the onslaught of online posts that boil down to “2014: The Year That Just Plain [insert faintly off-color verb, meaning ‘failed to live up to expectations’, here]”.

Pollyanna-ish to suppose that this small thing can spread throughout the whole wide world and make everything right again, … but it can’t hurt. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” and all that.

It goes back to a couple of things which I’ve written about in this space, previously. In short, this year more people than usual took me up on my suggestion, at the end of summer Drum Major Academy sessions, that DMA students would be welcome to keep in touch with the staff. Let us know how things are going. Jump and shout and point to your successes! And let us help with the more challenging moments, if we can.

As noted previously, usually that yields a handful of eMails over the course of the ensuing fall semester. Now that social media is a thing, that also can yield a couple of new Facebook Friend connections each August. This year, for me, it yielded an unusual number of those. By the time Veterans Day had rolled around: two dozen.

That by itself got my attention. I tried to figure out what was different. Something in the air? Just the right alchemy during the DMA week? A particular funny joke? Something.

I thought maybe that’d be the end of the story. … Not really.

At the beginning of the fall marching season, I noted the posts from newly-minted high school drum majors that noted the completion of stellar band camps, looked forward to first performances, celebrated successful first shows, and, in particular, noted the influence on their lives of DMA’s founder. Eloquently, in many cases. If these are the future leaders of America, maybe we’re not in such bad shape after all.

I thought maybe that’d be the end of the story. … Again, no.

Before the onset of social media, DMA instructors would suggest to DMA students that they were probably meeting the drum majors of their heated-rival bands; and wouldn’t it be something if, when those bands met, the two (sets of) drum majors might be seen meeting and shaking hands and being friendly? What great message would that send to their bands?

But unless snail-mail or eMail addresses were exchanged, rather on purpose, that mid-game meeting was going to be the extent of the keeping-in-touch.

Now, though … lots more opportunity for that. As many unfortunate qualities as social media has … this is one of the good ones.

End of story?

Yes and no.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed, and I doubt I’m the only DMA staff type who has: as summer became fall, and fall became winter, DMA students posted those band-related notes, and then began to post other things like brief tales of college applications, college acceptances, and other items not specific to band but definitely important in their lives – including moments in which DMA Starred Thoughts were relevant, and applicable, and helpful.

And without fail, the lists of people who “Liked” the posts, and the comment sections below the posts, all practically began and ended with fellow DMA students. And not, I would judge, just the drum majors of the rival band, but their drum major friends from hundreds of miles away in completely other states, from Maine to New Jersey and beyond.

Please: I haven’t been creeping. I haven’t been going looking for this stuff. It’s popped up in my Facebook News Feed, though, and over the course of the fall, it’s been nearly impossible to miss. It’s a little community of people who have spent the last four months urging each other on, congratulating each other, bucking each other up when necessary.

Regardless of what band they belong to.

The world could use a little more of that.

News pundits might scoff at this admittedly Pollyanna-ish idea. Such a little tiny idea, accomplished by little tiny people, away from the big important places and people in the world.

Yeah, well … two words:

Ice buckets.

As the great philosopher Max Bialystock noted, “Worlds are turned on such thoughts.”

It’s gotta start somewhere.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

December 31, 2014 Posted by | band, DMA, drum major, Facebook, GNP, Internet, marching band, social media, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sweeping Statements

Since the summer, observers of American current events have been treated to instance after instance of violent confrontations between police officers and members of the public.

There are lots of issues to be debated, and resolved. Race relations, police behavior, the militarization of police departments, “living while black” … plenty of issues to work on, and sadly, plenty of people who are either reacting or bloviating out of fear, or prejudice, or lack of information besides their own upbringing, or (to me, most awful) the genuine need to capitalize on these issues for their own political or personal self-aggrandizement.

Today, I’m not going to try to tackle any of those issues here, … well, except one.

One of the challenges of the recent national strife concerning police behavior, for me, has been this: while I’m not sure it’s just a very tiny few “bad apples” amongst our nation’s legion of law enforcement personnel, I certainly can’t bring myself to whitewash ALL police.

At one time, I could have said something like, “all my interactions with police – the occasional getting-pulled-over for traffic-violations, or my conversations with the resident police officer in the public schools in which I’ve worked, or my interactions with police officers on duty at football games wherein I’ve been the band director, or whatever – have featured officers who have been polite and decent, even if sometimes they’d needed to be tough and enforce the law, etc etc.”

Forgive me, but for my entire life, I’ve been white and suburban. Forgive me, but I’ve never been a person of color during these encounters. I don’t know what that’s like, and therefore it’s never been a factor in my life. I admit this freely.

So I can’t as easily say, “well, my experience tells me that only a tiny fraction of the police community suffers from whatever it is that makes people mistreat other people.” My sample size is too small to constitute a statistically viable survey.

Meantime, I can’t whitewash all police, for the same reason that I’d love to ask certain people (in my life and in the mass media) if they know any gay persons, Muslim persons, etc., personally? Because if they did, they might not make so many blanket statements about them, and might sound more informed and perhaps sound (be?) more empathetic. You’re talking like you know everything you need to know, and I don’t think you do.

So here’s why I can’t whitewash: I can think, right off the top of my head, of four people I knew personally before they were various forms of police officer (campus-, city-, and state-).

One of them, I marched with in college. We were both reed players. Our band director was pretty big on suggesting (and modeling) positive traits. “Band is a place for everyone,” and all that.

Two of them, I got to work with when they each were members of the Drum Major Academy “Impact team”, the group of collegiate band members who assisted DMA staff with instruction and logistical support. A place wherein they, too, were called upon to suggest and model. And they were both drum majors at the University of Delaware, as it happens; so they learned from the DMA’s founder and from one of his very most effective students.

And the fourth one, who just very recently joined a major metropolitan police force, grew up in the church wherein I gig (he’d played drums for us since he was 13) and is the son of one of our choir singers, himself one of the finest people with whom I’ve had the good fortune of making music.

Each of them were “raised” by quality people in quality environments, environments which emphasized “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and Starred Thoughts, and other such concepts that help to turn them, I would posit, into decent people who are now doing a very difficult job.

So I thought of them this week, when two New York City police officers were shot to death in their squad car. And when two Las Vegas police officers were murdered as they ate lunch in an outdoor restaurant, last spring. And whenever I see a State Police officer pull someone over on the interstate, not knowing who he or she might find in the driver’s seat, or what that driver might be carrying, or what state of mind that driver might be in. I sure as hell thought of them when those bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, nearly two years ago. For these people, their job is to run toward trouble – and, all too often, trouble can run toward them.

And I thought of their family members, who absolutely all the time live with the sense that today might be *that awful day*.

And I’ve thought of all of them as I’ve watched news coverage of the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, and now Berkeley, Missouri – and as I’ve watched news coverage of the protests that have ensued, violent or not.

This is not to say that there isn’t one hell of a problem out there, not merely brewing but in full bloom. Not easy to know just what to do … do we just stand by and let it happen without raising a lot of questions? How, and how loudly, do we raise those questions? Where necessary, do we raise a lot of hell? And how might we do that, while still acknowledging that there are good and decent people “on the force” who don’t deserve the abuse that some protestors are heaping upon them?

But these particular friends of mine in blue have relatively recently entered a profession which is a challenge to begin with. For the most part, police deal with members of the public who are having really bad days. Of all the people who have to be “at their best when things are at their worst” …!

And right now, they may have much more intense opportunities to see whether in fact those Starred Thoughts and scriptural admonitions can be put to good use.

Not an easy job, either.

December 24, 2014 Posted by | civil rights, current events, DMA, news, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

By What Small Men

This is by no means an essay about politics. My political leanings have nothing to do with this. Nothing.

Today, the US Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 torture program. Actually what the Committee released was a summary of its actual report. The summary was 528 pages long. The report itself is more than 6,000 pages long.

I’m trying to decide if I have six thousand pages’ worth of details in my whole life. Verbose as I may be.

Five years of investigation have yielded a report that condemns CIA personnel who ran the torture program during the George W. Bush presidential administration. (That program has been called the “enhanced interrogation program” by many; but in one of his columns (to be found at esquire.com/blogs/politics/) today, political writer Charlie Pierce wrote, “[a]nyone who still calls this ‘enhanced interrogation’ is an idiot and a coward and I have no time for them.” He’s right, and that phrase will not be used here, not that I’d planned on it.)

True, the CIA has a reputation for carrying out intelligence endeavors without checking in with any of the actual branches of American government; but it was specifically authorized to carry out this program by Justice Department lawyers David Addington and John Yoo, among others.

[T]he Justice Department drafted memos providing the brutal program with a veneer of legality,” said the Senate report. And by this time, many articles and books have been written which identify the people within the Bush administration who fully supported the various legal memoranda which were created to justify all this genuine awfulness, this inhuman activity to be carried out by humans against other humans.

On the one hand, during the Nuremburg trials after World War II, no quarter was given to Nazi personnel who claimed to be “merely following orders”. Sorry, said the prosecutors; that doesn’t cut it. That won’t get you off the hook. Perhaps we can’t know what kind of pressure was exerted upon Nazis who ranked anywhere below Hitler (it may have been difficult to just resign), or upon American intelligence personnel who were authorized to do this, this, and this to prisoners in order to interrogate them fully.

As Charlie Pierce also noted today, there are plenty of CIA agents who have been properly excoriated for what they actually did, but who may also be feeling thrown under the bus somewhat – at the very least because the people, the leaders, whose orders they were carrying out appear to have largely escaped the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ire, at least within their report. Many CIA personnel are done; meanwhile, their superiors of that time are still being interviewed on CNN, are still giving speeches, and astonishingly are still being asked for their opinions about what American foreign policy should be and how it should be carried out.

Great. Thanks to them, the United States of America has ceded the moral high ground in international relations for a good long while.

There are a number of writers, whose work I have read in the last 48 hours, who suggest that all this was not merely done “in our name” … which is bad enough … but that it was done by us, the United States of America, and we all bear responsibility.

Sorry, but I reject this idea. I didn’t authorize such miserable things, and you likely didn’t. My friends wouldn’t have, and I bet your friends wouldn’t have either. Most decently-adjusted people wouldn’t.

Sound a little naïve? Perhaps.

But beyond such lofty, American-history-class thoughts as “our representative government has failed us”, and “if we can only muster 30 percent turnout in an election, then we get the government we deserve”, and such … I can’t think of a single person that I know personally, in any of my spheres of life – family, personal, professional – who would consider any of the torture techniques of the Bush years as remotely okay, never mind actually participate in them.

I’m willing to bet that even some of the people who jump on the Internet and post genuinely awful comments in the comment sections … even some of the people who make chest-thumping noises about taking people they don’t agree with and doing horrible things to them just because they believe something different … even some of the Ted Nugents of the world … … if push came to shove, I’d still bet that the vast, vast, VAST majority of those people would still physically buckle if given the instruction to actually commit the acts that the Senate report detailed, themselves, with their own hands.

(I know, I know, there are all those intriguing science experiments wherein people were instructed to administer electric shocks to other people who gave wrong quiz answers and those shock-administering people’s behavior seemed to suggest that the veneer of civilization can be thin indeed. My delicate mind would prefer that those didn’t exist, this moment. And the book Lord of the Flies, as well.)

I’ve written previously in this space about empathy, or the lack thereof. There are those, assuredly, who do lack. But I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of American citizens still possess some … enough, at least, to recoil from orders like those that the CIA agents were given. I’d be willing to hope so, at least. Again, this probably brands me as naïve.

The people in the higher echelons of the Bush Administration – knowing that they wouldn’t ever have to be the ones to use their own hands in this effort – didn’t flinch. They figuratively pulled the trigger. According to a lot of articles and books that I’ve read in the past few years, they did so enthusiastically.

Which brings me to yesterday’s New York Times editorial page.

In it, there’s an op-ed piece (found at nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/pardon-bush-and-those-who-tortured.html?_r=0) by Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union; an essay which makes a remarkable suggestion (for an ACLU leader; and for anyone who has been supportive of any effort to prosecute the bastards):

Before President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.”

The way to establish this, Mr. Romero said, is indeed to pardon these people for authorizing and ordering the torture. After all, the only way anyone can merit a pardon … is if they’ve committed a crime, yes?

Clever, these natives.

I am hugely conflicted about this idea.

At first, I recoiled as much as Mr. Romero did. A pardon, to some, might imply exoneration … might suppose a lifting of guilt … and, in extreme interpretations, might even suggest forgiveness.

No. No, damn it.

The current President, whom I admire, and who upon his inauguration immediately instructed the CIA to knock off the torture … nonetheless feared political fallout too greatly to put into action the means of holding the proper people accountable for the policies they justified and the orders they gave. And now, for many (although not all) of these people, the statute of limitations has run out. That’s one of the things that I can not appreciate Mr. Obama for. Maybe there were backroom Beltway highest-levels-of-government so-secret-even-the-Prez-knows-little-of-them reasons why it was a fool’s errand to even think that such holding-accountable would ever happen. I’m not a conspiracy theorist; but my God, there are days …

He hasn’t – or, all right, we haven’t – even been able to properly try and convict the Addingtons and Yoos and Rumsfelds and Rices yet. A pardon could give them the idea that they’ve dodged the biggest bullet of their lives. Unless they don’t require that idea. Unless, as former Vice President Dick Cheney takes every possible televised opportunity to insist, they feel that if they had it to do all over again they’d not change a thing because it was justified and correct and right and so am I.

This interpretation of a pardon strikes me, at least, as unfair: because those who might be pardoned don’t deserve this peace of mind – not after what they put other people through. Not just the other people who were on the receiving end of the torture, but the other people who went to fight wars (utilizing intelligence, gathered from tortured prisoners, which has been shown to be inaccurate and useless and therefore actively unhelpful to them), and to die, and to leave behind families to grieve and never get their loved ones back (or just return physically and psychologically damaged) and wonder what in the hell it was any good for.

Then I got thinking … maybe, just maybe the pardon really would do what President Obama has not: label these people, unequivocally, once and for all, as criminals. “An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted,” wrote Mr. Romero.

And after all, the only way anyone can merit a pardon … is if they’ve committed a crime, yes?

The jury inside my head is still out.

But what makes me certain that at the end of this particular figurative day, the label of “criminal” needs to be assigned, and made to stick, is this:

Former President George W. Bush approved these measures. Captain goes down with the ship. Fish rots from the head. Name your aphorism; it’s all there.

Nations would be terrified if they knew by what small men they are in reality ruled.”  -Charles de Gaulle

Oh! …That’s a good one, too.

In his remarkable book, “Bush on the Couch”, professor of clinical psychology Dr. Justin A. Frank created a psychoanalyst’s profile of Mr. Bush, tracing his character from childhood through presidency. He utilized a startling amount of circumstantial evidence to identify and analyze Bush’s patterns of thought, action, and communication.

Two of Frank’s cited anecdotes stand out, to me:

First, this. In May 2000, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof quoted Bush’s childhood friend Terry Throckmorton: “’We were terrible to animals,’ recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush home turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out. ‘Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,’ Mr. Throckmorton said. ‘Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.’”

As Baltimore Sun reporter Miriam Miedzian subsequently wrote in September 2000: “So when he was a kid, George W. enjoyed putting firecrackers into frogs, throwing them in the air, and then watching them blow up. Should this be cause for alarm? How relevant is a man’s childhood behavior to what he is like as an adult? And in this case, to what he would be like as president of the United States?” Dr. Frank lays out why he thinks it’s very relevant indeed.

And second, this. Dr. Frank references commentator Tucker Carlson’s interview with then-Texas Governor Bush about how his state’s Board of Pardons had arrived at the determination of the clemency plea of convicted murderer Karla Faye Tucker. During the interview, Bush alluded to a TV interview which Tucker had given to Larry King. Carlson wrote:

In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, ‘A number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker.’

‘Did you meet with any of them?’ I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. “No, I didn’t meet with any of them,” he snaps, as though I’ve just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. “I didn’t meet with Larry King either when he came down for [the interview]. I watched his interview with [Karla Faye] Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, ‘What would you say to Governor Bush?’”

What was her answer?” I wonder.

‘Please,’” Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “’don’t kill me.’”

I must look shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.”

The former President was interviewed this past Sunday on CNN, as news of the Senate torture report’s impending release was spreading. He said this:

We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots, and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”

Their contributions to this country, Mr. Bush, were both inhumane acts on a personal level and also disastrous acts on a foreign-policy level, on an international-relations level, and on a less-intellectually-driven, patriotic-music-laden “what this great nation stands for” level.

And since you (and your Administration colleagues) gave the orders, gave the okay, pulled the trigger … that means that those contributions are your contributions.

And if you think that this means that, via the commutative property, you are a patriot? …

I beg your pardon.

December 9, 2014 Posted by | books, civil rights, current events, Famous Persons, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment