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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Library as Community - The Importance of Libraries and Librarians in our Everyday Life

April 14-20, 2013 is National Library Week during which the American Library Association and libraries across the nation will celebrate the love of books and knowledge. Consequently, the author has dedicated this edition of “Renaissance Man – Open Access and Social Justice Advocacy Blog to National Library Week.

Last year at this time the author headed to Washington DC to serve as a Legislative Advocate for the Association of College and Research Libraries and to participate in the annual National Library Legislative Day activities. The mission involves an ongoing battle to defend the public’s right to open access from proposed repressive intellectual property legislation backed by the publishing industry. Presently the Federal Research Public Access Act is under discussion in the U.S. Congress and the stakes for individual freedom are high.

In today’s discussion, we will explore the concept of the library as the pillar of civilization and community; the relevance of libraries and librarians to our modern culture and society and how we can use teachable moments to engage today’s youth in the love of reading and knowledge and more importantly, the formation a social consciousness and engagement of the citizen in society.

In a recent blog article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, How do we want students to feel about the library?, Brian Matthews, Associate Dean for Learning and Outreach at Virginia Tech, looks to the corporate world of marketing for inspiration on how to effectively reach out to college and university students in promoting their academic library resources. “Consumer magnets like Target, Amazon, Panera’s and others know how to make their customers come back for more”, Matthews stated in his observations of the arrival of their newborn child.
In talking about student’s first experiences with academic Libraries, Matthews acknowledged,

“My mission right now is to transform our library into a preferred destination for academic work. A place that students feel enables or empowers them to succeed better than other locations on campus.”

However, maintaining that traditionally respected ideal of the ‘library as authority’ and as the ‘keepers of knowledge’ has posed a tremendous challenge in an increasingly wired world and indeed has proven to be a detriment to the profession. Matthews goes on to explain that we need to help students to form good habits at the prime time, when they first arrive at the University, not as an afterthought, but even before they arrive on campus. Matthews insisted with passion,

“Let’s link the library to feelings of accomplishment rather than to collections. Let’s play the empathetic card, rather than the info lit one. Let’s build upon mystery and serendipity to counter intimidation and anxiety. Let’s employ engagement practices rather than a purely task-oriented appeal.”

So we are left with the uncomfortable question, as Matthews puts it - “How does the library become a positive habit? A positive idea?” Lord knows librarians have tried in vain to compete with Wikipedia. Matthews recommends “The relationship [with students] has to begin months before they move in.”

More to the point, Matthews asks the profession, “The question isn’t what do we want them to know about the library, but rather, how do we want them to feel about the library?”

Clip from Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation."
View the entire documentary on Hulu
There are no easy answers to this question of how do we engage students, however, there are many challenges facing our world today. This author would like to suggest that by engaging today’s students in the real-world issues and dilemmas that real people face everyday, the learning college experience would be enhanced exponentially. The so-called ‘Greatest Generation’ – people who grew up during the post-Depression and World War II era faced tremendous challenges and odds to survive, yet, despite adversity, they rose to the challenge of the day, united as one people in a common cause for the greater good. Successive generations reaped the rewards of the struggles their parents and grandparents fought so hard to win, but they have lost the connection to that past, thus, they have been longing to find a sense of deeper meaning in life in the midst of tremendous economic growth, tendencies towards “keeping up with the Jones’”, which has breed an attitude of self-indulgence and a growing arrogance devoid of intellectual pursuit. As academic leaders, we need to foster that natural hunger for inquiry, learning, knowledge and devotion to a common cause in our youth by bringing a wider sense of community to the individual.

Model programs and best practices have proven to make an impact. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and other key stakeholders recently completed a major study of doctoral students at 29 U.S. and Canadian universities, which reported that only 57 percent of PhD candidates complete their programs within a decade. The study focused on producing data on attrition from doctoral study and completion of PhD programs and identifying promising practices.  Recommendations included revamping the program environment with informal social activities, interdisciplinary interactions (academic and social) and establishing networks of support and outreach.  Additionally curricular processes were identified as key to success such as writing assistance programs, dissertation retreat/boot camps and collaborative doctoral student writing rooms. CGS has recently published the 4th in a series of monographs outlining Policies and Practices to Promote Student Success.

There are also many promising practices focused on the engagement of undergraduate (and graduate) students as well as providing interaction with the larger off-campus community. Some examples within this author’s region (West Virginia University) include programs and events such as the Center for Civic Engagement – for student volunteer involvement in the region; Festival of Ideas – bringing nationally renowned inspirational and provocative speakers to campus; the West Virginia Uncovered digital journalism project to preserve history and bring reporting engagement resources to the Appalachian frontier; the Science and Technology in Society Symposium  engaging citizens’ interest in scientific inquiry; the Peace Corps international master’s program – providing ecological management expertise worldwide; Extended Learning – covering the gamut of educational needs throughout the life spans, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship Education – revitalizing the historic American Civic Education through research and outreach as in Project Citizen; and the National Youth Sports Program – offering physical developmental educational opportunities in a summer camp setting to disadvantaged youth. There are a myriad of other volunteer and community-oriented activities providing excellent engagement and leadership opportunities for today’s youth.

Library Director at The University of Pittsburgh, Rush Miller, recently discussed the future of libraries, books and reading in his Association of Research Libraries paper, The End of Reading (as We knew it) OR The Devil Danced for Days and Days and Days. In his presentation, Miller told the audience “what it is” – the current state of the library world, in very straightforward terms…

“Too many librarians today are focused on a defense of the print book as a format for knowledge, fearful that as these books go, so go libraries”…

…”I have been preaching for some time that libraries are NOT about books, but about people and connections”…

… “[The reality is that] publishers can no longer afford to publish only in print.”

The University of Pittsburgh Press (under the University Library System) has already embraced this market shift by investing in electronic publishing, which is becoming a model for future trends. They have developed a robust institutional repository on the Eprints platform. They produce over 20 electronic faculty-produced peer-reviewed publications under their scholar publishing division. They have a required submission policy for electronic theses and dissertations and repository portals and virtual communities to embrace faculty publication submission and scholarly communications networking. Most recently they have invested in rapid print-on-demand “Espresso Book Machine” and services to easily provide print copies at low cost from a selection of over one million titles in the digital collections. They have benefited by making a much larger volume of titles available to a greater number of the academic community in both electronic and print format but without the huge overhead and wasteful investment in the acquisition of physical media. Pitt also promotes the notion of “library as community” by regularly hosting lectures, exhibitions and cultural functions in the library facilities; for example, their popular weekly “Emerging Legends” music concert series – free and open to the public. Such forward-looking models have proven the most successful in validating the library experience for their academic patrons as well as effectively reaching out to the wider community.

In a recent corporate civic engagement campaign, Starbucks launched its “Community Service” program to engage their customer base to create change in our communities and around the world, with a goal of reaching over one million service hours by 2015. To date over 100,000 service hours have been logged around the world. If marketing social consciousness is profitable to corporations, then we all benefit for the sake of humanity. Perhaps if libraries and librarians could embrace and harness this same level of effective outreach instead of clinging to their old ways - continuing to dust off the old books on the shelves, the world might be a far better place and the mere existence and purpose of libraries would not be under fire.

ALA Read poster featuring
"The Hunger Games"
The ‘Net-Generations’, at least in the Western world, don’t comprehend the harsh realities of life – they’ve always had computers and were born into a digital world – it all might as well be a reality show on MTV or “The Truman Show” for all they are concerned. From the time of birth we have immersed our children in an overly indulgent educational sea of mush where important lessons like self-respect, dignity, empathy and respect and tolerance for others is sacrificed to the selfish intentions of the “ethics of capitalism”. We are oblivious to the fact that the privileged and careless life we live is at the expense of the quality of life of others we’ll never know who live half way around the world. On the other hand, if sufficiently stimulated, educated and motivated, as history has demonstrated, most students would rise to the occasion to get involved.

Former 1st Lady and librarian Laura Bush reads "Duck for President"
to Children at a White House event to promote reading.
Libraries can and do foster that feeling of excitement and engagement with the world. But it must to start from the earliest years, perhaps even within the womb. This author recalls many happy days spent at “Story Hour” each week at the local public library during pre-school years; looking forward to the Weekly Reader arriving in the mailbox each week; going to the public library, browsing the shelves for interesting titles and checking out books, so excited to read them you couldn’t wait to get home before cracking open the latest Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery. All children should know the love of books, of the wonderful universes that exist in text; the way reading expands one’s mind and engages the brain in new and different ways to create one’s personal universe. There is a certain growth in intellectual capacity that is sparked in reading that is lost in more passive and intellectually regressive activities. We are losing our war on ignorance and poverty to our collective obsession with distractions -  mindless TV programming, endless Wii, Xbox, Warcraft and other online gaming sessions – even more endless hours spent online in front of the computer searching the Web or on mobile devices sending hundreds of text messages daily. Today’s youth are alien from the author’s childhood experience.
"Curious George" loves reading

But the real questions we should ask are - How many libraries still offer children’s programs with Story Hours or other community programs? How many people participate in these programs? How many public libraries even remain today after budget cuts and mismanaged priorities on education? How many libraries engage their audiences in the latest social media and digital communication experiences? From Kindergarten through higher education and beyond, Libraries must make every effort possible to help guide students back to reality, to explore the depths of knowledge, to learn to become critical thinkers and to pave the way for a more informed and progressive future. Modern democracies depend on unfettered access to information to create informed citizens who will further reinforce the values of an enlightened society.

Encyclopaedia Brittanica - Note the
bowed shelf due to the sheer
weight of the volumes.
The book as a medium may likely never go away completely; however, even today it is increasingly becoming an arcane relic of the past. Take for example the fact that 2012 is the last year that Encyclopaedia Britannica was produced and distributed in print. By now of course Britannica provides excellent online free and fee-based service resources, but the impressive array of 32 bound antique volumes and annual yearbooks in my father’s library is now going to be a thing of the past - forever. Gulp…

However, today with the advances and advantages of networked technology, the very tools and resources to which our children have grown attached, we can again utilize these and other tools to engage youth to become involved, to see their importance and relevance in the world, and to return our civilization from the approaching brink of disaster and extinction. Even this author finds himself incentivized by charms of technology into reading a greater volume of works on a wider variety of topics - all instantaneously and randomly available via online electronic mobile devices than ever would have been possible in the print era.

Libraries provide a sense of community by offering a window to the world of ideas. We need to engage not only our youth, but also adults and families by providing community and family events featuring story telling, book signings, poetry, music concerts, art exhibitions as well as classes offering skill-building opportunities in areas such as computer and information literacy, civic engagement and social justice issues.

The Flint Public Library in Michigan (this author’s birthplace), offers a comprehensive array of inclusive model-programs covering the life spans. In collaboration with the CS Mott Foundation, the Flint Institute of Arts, the Sloane Museum of Science and the University of Michigan–Flint, the Public Library participates with the community in providing excellent and enriching cultural activities to engage every segment of society.

"Iron Man" - Marvel Comics superhero
Tony Stark flies through the library
In each of our communities, at each of our institutions of higher learning, we need to ask the burning question - Are libraries, librarians and library supporters ready and willing to stand up to the challenge? We have to be able to see what is possible and use that opportunity to seize the moment for change. To do nothing would be criminal. We are much more than just the purveyors of information and the guardians of knowledge – the vision of the 20th Century library. Granted, these are important tasks, yet we have the potential to do so much more – to be the 21st Century superheroes of the world and lead us to a better future by providing not only access to knowledge but making the process fun and sexy for our constituents. We need to guide our youth to some sense of greater purpose and being – to awaken them from their sleepy overdose of spectacle-induced intellectual coma. If we could learn to engage our youth by speaking their language on their terms, there is much potential to awaken their collective conscience.
A recent Pew Center Internet and American Life study revealed that overall, 75% of American youth text daily, with 77% of teens owning cell phones, sending a median of 60 text messages sent per day.  Further, the study reports,

“63% of all teens say they exchange text messages every day with people in their lives. This far surpasses the frequency with which they pick other forms of daily communication, including phone calling by cell phone (39% do that with others every day), face-to-face socializing outside of school (35%), social network site messaging (29%), instant messaging (22%), talking on landlines (19%) and emailing (6%).”

Only 39% said they call those who are important to them every day. Landlines are considered for people born in the 20th Century (i.e. birth year 19xx). Only 35% reported seeing their friends face-to-face daily. Only 6% used email daily.

The ‘generation text’ is immersed in a world of media content created in their own image, with the natural flow and spontaneity of a conversation, rich with its own language of acronyms, abbreviations, pictograms and emoticons adopted from the previous net-savvy generations to express their own cultural identity and sense of belonging through the use of their own unique slang.

In order to get into the heads of ‘generation text’, we need to understand the context of where today’s youth is coming from. Summed up in a related Philadelphia Inquirer news story,

“For teens and their families all across the social spectrum, says Lenhart, the mobile phone "allows you to remain in robust, constant contact with the people you care about." And one in four teens now texts assiduously on the smartphone: "It's mine, it's me, I can take it with me all the time, and I don't have to share it with family." The teen life in only a few words.”

What this means for the working library professionals of today is that we were born in a year starting with “19” – part of Generation X, which already sets us at a disadvantage in effectively reaching out to ‘Generation Text’. We need to keep up with latest trends and learn technologies to avoid obsolescence. Libraries are no longer places where books are stored but have evolved into extensions of social spaces embracing the heart of academia.

Next we’ll explore an interesting and useful application in the area of educational pedagogy developed to interact with ‘generation text’ students. One example utilizes technology through an oral stories approach to engage students with ‘Voki’, digitally enabled avatars which interact in a human-like ways with the end-user. In Nielsen and Webb’s book Teaching Generation Text, they explain,

Voki App
"[The app] enables students to call in with a code on their phones and use their own voice for the avatar.  Students of all ages enjoy creating their character and watching it speak with their voice.  Voki allows students to re-record by calling in as many times as needed to get their report just right.  Students can also comment on one another’s avatar with their own original Voki, which is a great way to give peer feedback."

We can also utilize technologies such as Voki to our advantage to interact with our ‘generation text’ and other constituencies and draw them into the library domain in interesting, relevant and engaging ways. Embracing new technologies and understanding cultural trends will be a key strategy in efficiently and effectively delivering our message. We must strive above all to avoid repeating the same mistakes of Gen-X by imposing our world view on an audience who finds us increasingly passé, irrelevant and antiquated. Now go forth and become champions for open access to information and knowledge. Engage your “customers” to get them involved for the sake of the future of humanity!

For further reading on this topic, Matthews recommends the book, The Power of Habit. See also Adam Dachis’ blog article “If You Want Good Feedback, Don’t Ask Anyone To Think.” Additionally, for more extensive reading on the engagement process, visit this author’s latest blog article The Unexamined Life is not worth Living – which has particular relevance to why our world is rapidly spinning out of control and where we go from here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning
to breathe free...
As we draw to a close the annual celebration of Black History month in the U.S., it’s an appropriate time to reflect on lessons learnt past and present from our heroes of color. In this article the central theme will explore our notions on education, access, social inequality, economics, politics, sociology, psychology, freedom and justice. From the connections established between these broad and seemingly unrelated cross-sections of the human experience shall emerge an integral thread which links everything inexorably to our past, present and future. As we shall see, although the news about our present and future is rather dismal, sad and defies all notions of reality; there is hope for the resilience of the human spirit to overcome all odds to survive.

Before we begin, let’s review a few fun facts to put the phenomenon of the being human into context and to prepare for the wider discussion to come. Scientists estimate that our species (Homo sapiens) emerged a mere 1.3 million years or 7,500 generations ago - civilization started only 500 generations ago. Our presence here is minuscule compared to the age of the earth (4.6 billion years), not to mention the age of the universe (15+ billion years). Countless millions of species have come and gone over the evolutionary past of this rare blue planet we call earth.

About 10,000 years ago humans began to increase their numbers in a few parts of the world, an increase that continued gradually until 300 years ago. By 1700 AD, there were about 600 million people around the world. The population has multiplied to six billion people during the 12 generations since 1700. This time period also coincides with the rise of the industrial revolution which changed the face of the world forever. At no point in previous history did humans collectively have the capacity to impact the earth and its inhabitants on a global scale in terms of overpopulation, resource exploitation, pollution, economies and ideologies.

"Rome Burning" (AKA Treasure Island, Las Vegas, NV)
Whether we move forward as a civilization or we watch Rome burn while playing our Nero’s fiddle, the future of humanity is largely up to us and the action or inaction we take today, drawing from lessons of the past and applying those lessons with the utmost of urgency. It would be a pity that man would go extinct in the dawn of their existence when there was so much hope. We have no choice but to keep faith alive. Faith, as we shall see, is a matter of state of being, and has nothing to do with what we thought we knew.

Political rhetoric
We live in strange times when semiotics is turned upside down so that we no longer live in a reality common meaning. A world of Orwellian double-speak and dishonesty where things no longer represent what they should but rather what is manipulated and mitigated as a projected reality of common experience – a reality controlled by the hands of a few for their own self-interest, which draws each of us in inexorably in our own blind self-interest to the light like the moth to the flame. Everything else becomes a mere distraction to better manipulate and control.

As you read on, if you find this discussion incredibly passionate, informative, and shocking, if it drives you to tears, grabs your heart, makes you angry and calls you to action, then the author has succeeded in his humble mission to pay it forward and make a difference. We need some tough-love to cure what ills us. So hold tight my Dear reader, this will be a rough ride, not without interesting twists and turns, and will hopefully become a journey that will inform you and enlist you to hear my desperate plea for each of us to take personal responsibility to help save our future, our planet and our humanity through our collective capacity.

Please note that the author humbly apologizes in advance for his ignorance, and he begs not only forgiveness from the reader but also encourages commentary and criticism from readers. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” One sign of intelligence is admitting that you do not know nor can you ever know everything. Further, the author realizes like Socrates that the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. With that in mind, let us begin.

Let's give a shout-out to our man Jimmy McMillan in New York – founder of “The Rent is Too Damn High” Party. Also love to Brother Michael Moore of FlintMichigan, advocate extraordinaire of the public good and this author’s hometown hero. So please join us coming to you -  live from the other “Motown”, Morgantown West Virginia - where the mountaineers are always free. The author would like to introduce our first guest for this article, so please help me to give a warm welcome to a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual and former professor at Harvard, Yale and University of ParisDr. Cornel West.

Jimmy McMillan
Michael Moore

Cornel West
In 2009, Cornel West opened West Virginia University's “Festival of Ideas”, a lecture circuit of notable national and international speakers that WVU organizes each year on a variety of contemporary and academically relevant topics. West’s fierce talk on education, politics, hip hop and culture in his lesson on the Greek concept of “Paideia”  is one from which we can all learn about self-reflection, improving one’s self and not only participating in but contributing productively to culture and society. His passionate words have certainly had an impact on this author’s life. In 2009 Time Magazine named West one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In this article it is an honor to share the video clip as well as a transcription, the most impressive excerpt of West’s powerful message, with a much wider, global audience. In addition to the critical content in West’s message, his captivating sing-song preacher-like delivery style and his rhythmically poetic evangelism for education is simply amazing to witness and it is impossible to replicate by text alone. The following passage is a transcription from West’s presentation to the WVU students, faculty and staff that cold February evening in 2009.
Cornel West
“I want to say to young people, especially my brothers and sisters of all colors at this grand university that I hope and pray that you will have moments when you leave the classroom when you recognize your world view rests on pudding. That’s called education.” “The assumptions you’ve been holding onto for so long radically call into question the world view that you came in with - a little bit too parochial, too provincial, radically called into question. How do you broaden your horizons? How do you interrogate yourself in such a way that you’re willing to be pushed against the wall?”   “Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ will do it tll? It’s too much – that’s called ‘Paideia’ – that’s called education. Tony Morris’ ‘Beloved’ will do it too you. All those corpses at the end – can you take it, take the text at the end and throw it against the wall. Darwin’s ‘Origins’ will do it. Nietzsche’s ‘Genealogy of Morals’ will do it. Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’  will do it. Listen to some John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme’ will do it. Listen to Jay-Z on a high moment will do it.”

“Paideia – singing paideia, textual paideia, and various ways in which trying to get you to engage in what Simone Weill called the ‘formation of attention’. That’s the first moment of paideia. How do you convince people to move from the superficial to the substantial? To move from the frivolous to the serious. To move from bling to wrestling with truth and justice and sorrow and sadness and joy. That’s that turning of the soul. The relation of that formation of attention to the cultivation of a self that respects reality.” “The unexamined life is not worth living. And Charles Darwin and Biggie [The Notorious B.I.G.], would agree when they say the examined life is painful.”

Reality as illusion
When we consider the pernicious influence of mass media and its ill effects upon the individual and society we begin to understand this process and thus effectively and rationally deal with it. This phenomenon was initially illustrated by Ludwig Feuerbach in the late 19th Century in the preface to the 2nd edition of his book Essence of Christianity,

“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”

Society of the Spectacle
Over 100 years later Guy Debord opens his book Society of the Spectacle with this very same passage from Fuerbach. This seminal perspective remains today one of the great theoretical works on modern-day capital, cultural imperialism, and the role of mediation in social relationships. In Chapter 9, “Ideology Materialized”, Debord states,

“The spectacle is ideology par excellence, because it exposes and manifests in its fullness the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, servitude and negation of real life. The spectacle is materially "the expression of the separation and estrangement between man and man." Through the "new power of fraud," concentrated at the base of the spectacle in this production, "the new domain of alien beings to whom man is subservient... grows coextensively with the mass of objects." It is the highest stage of an expansion which has turned need against life. "The need for money is thus the real need produced by political economy, and the only need it produces" (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts). The spectacle extends to all social life the principle which Hegel (in the Real philosophie of Jena) conceives as the principle of money: it is "the life of what is dead, moving within itself.”

Threats to open access in scholarly communications
Taking West’s message a step further, we shall explore  the connections between “Paideia” and open access in scholarly communications. We’re all familiar with the old adage that knowledge is power. Even more critical, and what the author so passionately defends - the simple premise that people everywhere need have access to knowledge and information to make the world a better place. Inequality is the root of many evils in society. Impoverishment is a preventable disease. We are speaking of impoverishment of the mind, body and the soul. One’s level of access to information, resources, food, shelter, economic, political and social power are all determinants in the individual as well – the same can be said in regard to a society’s state of wellness or pathology. We have all been witnesses to the global economic bubble and subsequent crash – many have lost jobs, homes and their lives to economic ruin, all at the hands of Wall Street speculators, bankers, lawyers and legislators – hedging bets on mortgage foreclosure insurance derivative bundles – commodities bought and sold like so many puts and calls in these poker-style futures markets.

We have never been in a more critical period in history where access to information has been more necessary. As we have seen from the last article in this series on “SOPA and PIPA”, the fight pitted the individual freedom to access information against intellectual property protections largely serving corporate interests. Recent U.S. Congressional efforts to pass sweeping draconian limitations on access to information including SOPA, PIPA have been put on hold until after the fall elections. Further, Congress then fought to pass the Research Works Act, which would have would impeded public access to valuable research results from work funded by federal agencies. Scientists saw the law benefiting only major scholarly publishers – ultimately one of the major publishers Elsevier dropped their support and the Bill flopped. Score another victory for the people! Presently support is being gathered to sponsor the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) which would require articles resulting from federally funded research be made freely available within six months of publication. By supporting this Bill, the government will create opportunities for unprecedented access and use of research - accelerating scientific discovery, improving students' educations, benefiting businesses, and serving the general public - while providing flexible safeguards to protect the interests of those who contribute to ensuring the validity and quality of research results. The public dissemination of this research is a crucial part of our collective investment in scientific and scholarly research and plays a central role in maximizing our return on that investment.

Now, even the U.S. election process faces perhaps its greatest challenge with the recent Supreme Court’s decision to grant person-hood to corporations, thus allowing unlimited campaign donations (aka Super PACs) in the name of free speech. The political corruption has reached absurd levels, with the average citizen left out in the cold.

Unsustainability – myth of perpetual growth
NASA map of desertification in the equatorial zone in Africa.
Blue Planet Scientists (equivalent to the Nobel Prize for the environment) around the world have recently stated that abuse of the environment has created an 'absolutely unprecedented' emergency. As reported in the Guardian, civilization faces 'perfect storm of ecological and social problems'. Their joint findings concluded that the myth of the perpetual market is unsustainable.

“The rapidly deteriorating biophysical situation is more than bad enough, but it is barely recognised by a global society infected by the irrational belief that physical economies can grow forever and disregarding the facts that the rich in developed and developing countries get richer and the poor are left behind.

Dow Jones Industrial Average 1900-2012
"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices", they say.

The group warns against over-reliance on markets but instead urges politicians to listen and learn from how poor communities all over the world see the problems of energy, water, food and livelihoods as interdependent and integrated as part of a living ecosystem.

"The long-term answer is not a centralised system but a demystified and decentralised system where the management, control and ownership of the technology lie in the hands of the communities themselves and not dependent on paper-qualified professionals from outside the villages," they say.

"Community-based groups in the poorer most inaccessible rural areas around the world have demonstrated the power of grassroot action to change policy at regional and national levels... There is an urgency now to bring them into mainstream thinking, convey the belief all is not lost, and the planet can still be saved."

The answer to addressing the critical issues of poverty and climate change is not primarily technical but social, say the group. "The problems of corruption, wastage of funds, poor technology choices and absent transparency or accountability are social problems for which they are innovative solutions are emerging from the grassroots."

To transition to a more sustainable future will require simultaneously redesigning the economic system, a technological revolution, and, above all, behavioural change.”

Growing economic disparity
Children with no future -  exploitation
in Nairobi, Kenya
Further, according to a 2006 United Nations report, “World's richest 1% own 40% of all wealth.” Further, “The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth.” The imbalance of wealth and power, global warming, over-population, over-production and over-consumption all have contributed to this situation.  Global levels of inequality are “grotesque”, Oxfam says. Such a concentration of riches at the expense of the rest of the world is inexcusable, unsustainable and only fuels a desire in developing regions to attain the same level of waste and over-consumption that has ruled the Western world since the industrial revolution with roots going back the exploitive colonial empires of the earliest times. The “ethics of capitalism” have allowed this unsustainable system has grown exponentially out of control.

Spanish Inquisition wheel
Some 20 years ago the author during a heated discussion with his father about ever expanding Dow Jones Industrial Average in the midst of GM factory closings in Flint, Michigan, your dear author coined the term the “ethics of capitalism” as a way to describe, differentiate, understand and come to terms with the strange logic of unbridled greed of capitalism merged with hypocritical Christian notions of serving thy Lord and thy brother. We think of the classic notion of the term “ethics” as supporting the common good, as opposed to a distorted and dishonest hybrid notion of “ethics of capitalism” in which the Protestant Ethic is morphed into a justification for blind greed and exploitation in the name of manifest destiny. This distorted view of reality has justified slavery, the subjugation of women and sexual minorities, war, mass genocide and all kinds of other horrible atrocities committed against innocent people during the course of humanity. What kind of depraved society would eat its own children? Some things never change in terms of the dynamics of the in interaction between the concentration of wealth, power and influence, but today we are ever more conscious of the class divide and have a growing capacity for change through the collective voice.

Leo Gerard
In a recent PBS interview of United Steel Workers Union President, Leo Gerard commented on the current economic situation in the U.S. with respect to the growing income disparity. Dr. Cornel West asked him if he believed we have an oligarchy in America, to which Gerard responded,

“Absolutely, and I think part of why I want to have our union participate in events of the 99% this summer so that we can expose that. Doc, when the top 400 families control more wealth than the bottom 155 million people; When ordinary workers wages in 2012 are less in real terms than they were in 1977. We got a problem in this society when the gap between the rich and the rest of us is higher than almost every other country of advanced democracies, we got a problem.”

“Let me give you a fact that I found out not long ago. Youth unemployment of young people between the age of 17 and 24 last summer was higher than higher than youth unemployment in Egypt in the Arab Spring. And we’ve been divided – we’ve been fragmented by all of this silliness that goes on about everybody’s different rights. They’ve split us on guns, they’ve split us on gays, they’ve split us on God, they’ve split us all the way – they make us believe that teachers and firemen and policemen were the problem when Wall Street and corporate greed is the problem. When 400 families have more wealth than the bottom 155 million people – that’s the problem.” That’s what we need to take on.”

Cornel West and Barack Obama
“If we mobilize those 155 million people for equity, I don’t expect my kid to grow up to be a billionaire, I want my kid to grow up and have a good solid job where he or she can work make a living, have some dignity, spend time with their kids and retire with a comfortable retirement after they’ve worked for 40 years. That’s all workers want.”

Together, collectively can we make a difference by marching in non-violent protest against the corporate interests marinating our political process and make our voices heard. Yesterday, the AFL-CIO also joined the ranks supporting Obama for a 2nd term. For further reading, Cornel West and Tavis Smiley have a forthcoming book coming out, The Rich and the Rest of Us: a Poverty Manifesto, which this author highly recommends.

Occupy Movement / Social consciousness
What has changed since Debord’s time is the emerging social consciousness and ability to convey that message on a global scale. The convergence and synergies of technology and culture in the modern era have delivered media, Internet and networking applications which has brought everyone in the world much closer together – the world is suddenly a much smaller place now.

As we have seen in recent years through the “power of the people” movements, whether the solidarity movement of Poland, the crumbling of the former Soviet empire, the apartheid struggles in South Africa, the Arab Spring, the global Occupy Wall Street message of the 99%, or hackers Anonymous who have crashed the servers at the Department of Justice Sony, and other influential entities in the cog. However, there are perils to this new Web of networked technology in which we find ourselves immersed, particularly the ability to manipulate access to information as well as to manipulate the content of that information for nefarious or commercial exploitation. The best we can hope for is the belief that the truth shall prevail no matter what and rest more easily knowing that the truth will be exposed by hackers united everywhere As we shall explore, reality is not always what it is chalked up to be.

Kony 2012
Joseph Kony
The most recent example of media gone wild is the Kony 2012 -  Kony 2012 meme based on the film documentary by the non-profit group “The Invisible Children.”

According to the Times of India,

“Filmmaker Jason Russell's nonprofit group, Invisible Children, tapped 12 influential policy makers and 20 celebrities with popular Twitter accounts, including Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie, to spread the video. Since then, the company owned by powerful producer Harvey Weinstein has contacted Russell to buy the film.”

Ben Keesey, CEO; Jason Russell, Producer
Not without its own controversy, critics accused the producer of presenting distorted perspectives portrayed in the documentary, hyper-commercialism and lack of transparency in motives as well as fraud and manipulation of the public and promoting "slacktivism" or "clicktavism," with a willingly gullible public. Critics also say that release of the documentary may be more harmful than helpful because it presents Kony as a celebrity at the expense of the voice of the victims and also seeks a military solution to a problem which completely ignores the fact that the Ugandan government has long been working to defeat Kony. The film also focuses on the perpetrators rather than the victims. To date, the video has gone viral, having been viewed over 100 million times in the first 6 days since release - it has become the most viral video in history and it has raised millions of dollars in this short time merely by the marketing and exploiting the emotional appeal of the situation and counting on viewers behaving like sheep. For the purposes of this discussion, both aspects are important in examining the effects of the “spectacle.”
  • Story Update (3/16/12): Further adding fuel to the meta-spectacle, one day following this blog post, TMZ reported, "The mastermind behind the now-famous "Kony 2012" video was detained by police in San Diego yesterday for allegedly being drunk in public and masturbating." 
So now we have a spectacle within the spectacle. One may speculate that this most recent incident was a planned episode designed for publicity, much like stunts pulled in the American reality MTV series, "Jackass", in which ridiculous, crude and often dangerous pranks are featured.

According to, U.S. News Weekly

“Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children and the narrator of KONY 2012, studied cinema production at the University of Southern California's film school. After graduating in 2002, he took a trip with two friends to southern Sudan to document war-ravaged Darfur.

Spielberg, it turns out, helped finance that trip.

"Out of film school, Jason sold a script to Spielberg for a dance movie … and he took some of the money and went on—in his own words—'a filmmaking adventure,' " says Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey.

"While he was out there, they encountered the story of the Lord's Resistance Army and they met Jacob, the boy you see in [the YouTube video], and they made him a promise," Keesey explains. "And they thought that it would be a six month or a year commitment, and here we are nine years later."

That promise, described in the film in great detail, is that Joseph Kony will be captured and brought to justice for his crimes.”

Joseph Kony’s bloody regime, "The Lord's Resistance Army" has been know to exist for over 30 years, accused of abducting and enslaving over 60,000 children - little boys to form networks of armies and little girls for organized prostitution; raping and pillaging villages across the central African continent, including Uganda, and leaving the people, those unlucky enough to survive, with hacked limbs and faces with lives destroyed, allegedly guided by the “Holy Spirit.” In the span of just a few days this Hollywood blockbuster has become the most viewed documentary online, and has brought millions of dollars in donations toward the cause of bringing Kony (and others) to justice. Why for over 30 years, has the world remained largely silent about this and many other seemingly isolated tragic events, why they have not reported on this or chosen to focus on something else - is baffling to say the least.

After having made this latest of a series of 12 documentaries about Kony since 2002, the issue has only now caught mainstream attention because of the commercialism, the Hollywood presentation and the entertainment value in terms of advertising revenues. The only reality that exists for most people is what is portrayed through the lens of the media machine. The news, information and reality, the priority and urgency with which we receive that information, shapes the reconstituted commercial reality we perceive. The spectacle is irresistible as it continues to dazzle and bamboozle the spectators.

"Luxury and Sexploitation" - Scene from nightlife in Las Vegas.
Note the irony of the Neiman Marcus luxury department store on the left
and "Hot Babes" ad on the truck at right.
Further, the phenomenon of child abduction and child laundering (laundering being the abduction for illicit adoption, exported to Europe, the U.S and Canada) is not limited to the African continent; indeed this practice has gone largely uncontrolled in many countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Now this child-bondage has proliferated in U.S. cities and suburbs. Each year over 300,000 children are abducted and sold into sexual slavery. According to an MSNBC investigation, “With the Internet, it makes buying a child as easy as buying a pizza…It’s better than dealing drugs.” According to the KlassKids Foundation it is estimated that 14,500–17,500 individuals are trafficked into the U.S. each year. Further, 1.6–2.8 million children run away annually in the U.S., half of which are girls – and most of whom end up enslaved to prostitution rings.

Acid violence
Any extremes born out of the spectacle seem to dominate the political and social landscape, with the loudest and most outrageous representations shaping the mindset of the masses. The voice for women's rights, particularly in developing regions, often takes a back seat to other political issues. Consider the Academy Award winning documentary short “Saving Face.” According to the Huffington Post,

“…the film exposes the horrible practice of “Acid Violence,” common not only in Pakistan but also in UgandaBangladeshNepalCambodia and 15 other countries worldwide. It is symptomatic of a widespread societal problem - the pervasive subjugation of women in economic, social, cultural and political spheres of life.” “… [It] raises larger issues about this global human rights atrocity - and how simple endings are seldom that easy.”

Rush Limbaugh - Fascist America meme
Simultaneously, as we celebrated International Women’s Day; the U.S. Congress was debating control over women’s bodies with endless discussions on whether women had the right to family planning services and contraceptives paid for by health insurance. Further, the bigoted and ignoramus entertainer Rush Limbaugh’s comments calling a young woman testifying on the behalf of women’s rights a slut and a whore simply added fuel to the fire to this bizarre spectacle of fear, domination and hate. Although in the Western world the women’s struggle has come a long way, the continued subjugation of women by patriarchal systems of power is still enormously pervasive and entrenched in the fabric of our society. Why are not women’s voices dictating how women’s bodies be treated? We still have miles to go in terms of truly fixing gender equality. The absurdity of it all is that as appalling as this would appear to an outside observer, most of us can’t help but see this as normal our out of our sphere of importance. We are more interested in the spectacle than in the content itself. A global movement is needed – at least the dialogue in injustices and knowledge of other’s circumstances should give us common cause to make change, if it is not drowned out by the constant assault of the media barrage.

The “spectacle” may spell the end of us all. However, what did not exist at the time of Debord’s writing, which has subsequently evolved is the masses capacity to interact with each other, largely through the advent of modern networking technologies – that in itself has its own host of social perils, yet, has proven to be an effective means of promoting a particular cause from the grass-roots level. When people have increased access to information and communications, the people will always ultimately prevail. There is so much opportunity, if we don’t fail ourselves in the process.

Art as a disposable commodity
George Michael
Additionally we must consider the pernicious influences of mass media marketing on the arts, artists and the public’s taste for immediate consumption of artificially created markets. In the modern digital era art has become a disposable commodity. Artists’ careers are subject to the whims of investors, bankers, lawyers and the fickle nature of the public interest; most of whom have the least notion or concern for artistic integrity. George Michael lost over 5 years of his artistic career tied up on litigation against Sony – and he lost his fight to retain artistic integrity. Subsequently the man has not been doing well, having been arrested for soliciting a cop for sex in a public bathroom; and more recently Michael has been involved in a series of automobile accidents and a near-death health crisis. The beautiful angelic voice and passionate poet and advocate that George Michael was - has been chewed up by the system and ejected into the cesspool of corporate greed. It is a crime to rob such sensitive soul of his capacity to share his amazing talents with the world. In an age of manufactured news and sensationalistic tendencies toward yellow journalism to gain ratings, the spectacle feeds upon itself, neither distinguishing nor prioritizing reality in its proper context, and the public’s lustful desire to live in this fake universe.

Michael Jackson
In 2009, the world has lost some great talent – the likes of which we’ll never see again. Michael Jackson died from an overdose of massive amounts of prescription sedatives mixed with his deadly “milk” concoction, normally reserved as an anesthetic during surgery. Jackson’s life and his own self-identity was obscured by past of practical child-abuse and loss of his own childhood - at the mercy of an over-bearing father driven to find fame for his own children through the music industry, to being accused of being a child molester in his later years and having gone through a lifetime of plastic surgeries to change his facial appearance and increasing drug dependencies. Gone at 50 years old, he was much too young and still had much to give the world. What was wrong with this picture? Was it Jackson’s irresistible hunger to go under every night, like in the hospital? Why did no one close to him care to explain to him that “going to sleep” under propofol was not the same as getting a natural good night’s sleep? Was the greed or ego of his doctor and so-called friends and colleagues the cause of Michael’s demise? I would say most of all, ignorance was to blame here. If people were more intelligent and less self-serving, they wouldn’t have destroyed the one thing (in this case, a person treated like a commodity) that sustained them and nourished their souls.

Sidewalk memorial for Whitney Houston
Now let’s jump to the present for another example. In February 2012 we lost Whitney Houston to an apparent overdose from her drugs of choice – too many counter-reacting sedatives mixed with alcohol and Lord knows what else – the toxicology reports are still forthcoming. In both cases the public loved them, their music and talents. The ghoulish publish also loved the spectacle of watching celebrity lives falling apart. It makes one feel better about one’s self, that one’s own problems are not so bad, a kind of catharsis. Unfortunately young people also identify with celebrity types, for better or worse. Whitney’s marriage to rap artist Bobby Brown ended up as a sad spectacle on reality TV just prior to her death. Even in death it was the ultimate irony – according the New Jersey Times, an apparent drowning in the tub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, the day before the music industry gathered for the annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Houston's Funeral procession

If each of these celebrities had better instilled the notion of Paideia, and indeed if those in the midst (family, friends, physicians, business associates etc.), the victims would have had more defenses and may not have become so susceptible to the ravages of the media abuse, the life of easy-money and the subsequent drug abuse that brought them down. Their loss is such a waste and sends a terrible message to our youth, many of who aspire to be just like Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson when they grow up. It seems there was an utter failure at every level to prevent such tragedies, and indeed, there were in fact enabling factors within the system which contributed to these outcomes.

The disposable society

The pharmaceutical, health care and insurance industries make strange bed fellows, yet they are another massive driver of our economy – a system which manipulates and controls our social outlook on the legal, political, economic and social landscape. Access to health care and the quality of health care that a society provides its people is a direct measure of societal priorities as well as the level of a society’s concern for the well-being of each citizen. What is wrong with the medical profession and state / federal agencies that they look the other way? Profit is an incredible incentive. Today we have pandemics of Oxycontin addicts, (synthetic heroin) throughout many American communities, particularly in economically depressed rural Appalachia. For these addicts, when the money or access to the expensive “legal” pharmaceutical pills, the addict often turns to even more dangerous drugs, such as the stronger yet cheaper heroin as a narcotic substitute, launching them on a non-stop trajectory towards the beginning of the end of their lives, committing other crimes (i.e. robbery, prostitution, etc.) to make money, and ultimately posing a tragic toll on the families of addicts and indeed to society. Recent attempts at installation of universal health care coverage have failed. The logic of saving money and lives by emphasizing financing of preventive treatment over staggering costs of emergency room visits for chronic conditions which could have been prevented in the first place lost out over fears over the evils of so-called socialism. Where are society’s priorities? Who will care for the many people who are uninsured? Who will care for the growing elder population of the currently retiring baby boomer generation? The powers that be would have the status quo remain the standard operating procedure for continued increased profits for stockholders. In this mixed up world, anything can be justified for no rational reason. Take America’s use of Eugenics in selective sterilization of “undesirable” people in the 1930s which became the envy of Hitler’s New Reich practices. No one has stood up for the rights of these innocent victims, and until recently has been denied to have ever happened.

War on drugs
Another casualty of our modern era is the so-called “war on drugs”, which is neither. It is a known fact that U.S. and global demand for drugs fuels under-developed economies in Latin America to turn to the most profitable solutions to survive. Arms manufactured and distributed from the U.S. fuel the drug gang violence along the border and throughout Latin American countries. Yet in the U.S., gun rights and lobbying for them is at an all time high. The NRA would put a gun in every home and that would be their solution to the violence, to beget that with more 

violence. Further, the debate over intolerance vs. indulgence goes on without any sensible practical perspectives. Presently 16 states in the U.S. have approved medically prescribed distribution and use of marijuana; and 17 states currently have legislation pending. As we shall see, the War on Drugs, the prison industry and border control are all integrally related perpetuating various underground and legitimate economies and industries.

Prison industry
The other related tragedy is that through drug law enforcement, we have effectively incarcerated over 3.2% of the U.S. population, with blacks and other minorities being disproportionately affected. The growth of the privately-owned corporate prison industry in the U.S. has become hugely profitable for investors, at the hands of the public taxpayer’s expense. We should learn from the European and Canadian experience that in the long-run, legalization, prevention and treatment rather than incarceration and prohibition are preferable for societal, political and economic reasons.

According to PBS’ Bill Moyers,

“The United States is the number one jailer on the planet, and by a wide margin: with 5% of the world population, the U.S. holds 25% of its total prisoners, 2.3 million people. If you include those on parole or probation, the number grows to 7.3 million Americans, one in every 31 adults. Incarceration is not cheap. The U.S. spends $60 billion dollars every year maintaining its ever-growing prison system. It is the second-fastest growing state budget item, after Medicaid.”

In his Senate floor speech introducing the legislation, Senator Jim Webb tackles another thorny political issue, U.S. drug policy, "The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%.

It has been 37 years since President Nixon first declared a "War on Drugs" and Senator Webb is not its only critic. The U.S. now spends close to $40 billion a year at home and abroad trying to stop the flow and use of drugs. At home, youth drug use has declined, but hard drugs are cheaper than ever. Abroad, drug profits fund terrorists, drug lords and other dangerous non-state actors.”

Why do we continue to waste our money on a draconian, inequitable, unenforceable and unaffordable policy that makes it look like we’re doing something for the effort, while on the other hand, the situation does not improve. The war on drugs is simply unethical, untenable.

Illegal immigration / Border Control
Even our border problems with immigration are absurd. Industries demand cheap labor fueled by migrant labor coming from Latin America. However, after 40 years of attempts to seal-off the human trafficking, we still live in denial that a problem even exists because no attempts have been made to deal with the growing undocumented worker problem. These are real people with real lives, who are exploited in our very midst. At present, an estimated 12 to 20 million “illegal immigrants” live and work in the U.S., with countless numbers more being smuggled across the U.S. border every day. Most work in the agricultural sector to provide Americans with cheap produce year-round in the local grocery store. Many people die in the long arduous and dangerous process of crossing the U.S. border, usually in the desert lands of the border, facing almost certain death, just because there are no opportunities other than working for drug lords and facing the daily violence. Lack of economic opportunity, lack of infrastructure development and political corruption continue to be the leading factors contributing to America’s neighboring Latin countries. With a long history of colonial exploitation by Europe and the U.S., in many ways Latin America will never be able to lift itself out of the mono-culture production and political corruption we have helped breed there for the past century and a half. Surely there must be more rational, cost-effective and humane ways to deal with the border situation than living in denial so we can enjoy under-ripe strawberries and produce year-round, trucked in from long distances, consuming enormous amounts of energy and pollution from hot-houses in California direct to your supermarket shelf. What is the price we are willing to pay for our life of luxury and convenience? Do we care that someone’s life has been exploited for our own selfish purposes? Do we think of the cycle of poverty we help perpetuate in neighboring countries won’t come back to roost at home? We should help lift our neighbors out of poverty – to enable people to help themselves –that benefits everyone enormously.

Myth of Perpetual Terrorism
Parody of Osama Bin Laden
Since the tragic events of 911, the Western world has never been the same. Much of the groundwork for this “mission” had been laid well in advance with a number of unlikely partners to conclude negotiations on the trans-Afghan oil pipeline. We don’t need any conspiracy theory to know that parties from the Bush administration, the petroleum industry and the Taliban were up to something when all Hell broke loose that early September morning. The outright lies that lackey Colin Powell presented to allegedly “document” to the U.N. the existence Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction capability and with that lie, subsequently lead the world to a very dark place and helped to bankrupt the U.S. economy. This set up the perfect pretext for the U.S. government to cleverly use the notion of “perpetual terrorism” to accomplish a number of goals, including securing strategic military base placement in the Middle East and securing the oil-rich resources of the region for their own (corporate) exploitation. This led to America’s loss of many individual privacy rights (surveillance capability with liberal court order requirements) as well as restricted the free flow of access to information (technology export restrictions) via the Patriot Act. Further, as the reader knows, the U.S. eventually ended up in two simultaneous war fronts in Afghanistan, then Iraq, fighting the perpetual “war on terror” against the unseen enemy without borders – Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.

The preemptive war strategy and perpetual war machine was out of the box and in full swing, allegedly protecting the rights of democracy through manifest destiny everywhere. The growing Xenophobia and intolerance in the U.S., as irrational as it would seem for a supposed pillar of democracy, has blemished American’s “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” reputation - the Statue of Liberty’s shining image of hope and acceptance is stained from the tears of her grief over those less fortunate and America’s promise of the land of opportunity for all that has been lost.
It should also be said that the lack of will to get off the oil kick (i.e. “Who Killed the Electric Car”, global warming denial syndrome, etc.) combined with the known diminishing returns on petroleum deposit discovery worldwide (this coveted information was shared among industry executives and legislators the peak supply would be reached in the year 2000) and increased global petroleum demands from places like China and India led the U.S. government to sign a pact with the devil.

Despite the recent political evolution in Muslim countries such as Egypt and Libya, the situation in the Middle East is becoming untenable. Presently Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is ruthless in his genocidal slaughtering of his own people while the world watches silently, afraid to walk to quickly across this delicate quagmire of politics and destruction. Israel is itching to militarily strike Iran in fear of the alleged nukes they may have developed and supposedly ready to use to obliterate Israel. President Obama has at least tried to buy some time through sanctions and other peaceful means to calm the situation.
The Last Judgement (Hieronymus Bosch)

There is a growing tension and excitement, particularly among more conservative right-wing fanatical types. The End-Timers, growing militias survivalist maniacs and Mayan calendar freaks are all chomping-at-the-bit, biding their time in their self-fulfilling prophecy awaiting the coming of their Armageddon and Apocalypse. Everybody’s ready to go to Hell in a hand basket rather than to do anything to prevent it, so caught up in the spectacle, as if life were one huge Nintendo or X-box game. If we don’t end up in another global war from this it will be a minor miracle.
Mayan calendar

Indifference to reality
While the Western world was steeped in Whitney Houston saga, the indigenous Kayapo Indians of Brazil were getting evicted from their tribal homelands just so the government can flood the Amazon basin for hydro-electric power. Really, was there no alternative to dislocating the poor innocent indigenous people who through no fault of their own are getting the shaft? Their very livelihood depends on life in the Amazon. They and their culture will not possibly survive outside the jungle, especially in the superficiality of the modern world.

Kayapo tribe chief learning of
his people's fate
"While newspapers and television talk about the lives of celebrities, the chief of the Kayapo tribe received the worst news of his life: Dilemma, "The new president of Brazil, has given approval to build a huge hydroelectric plant (the third largest in the world). It is the death sentence for all the people near the river because the dam will flood 400,000 hectares of forest. More than 40,000 Indians will have to find another place to live. The natural habitat destruction, deforestation and the disappearance of many species is a fact."

What moves me in my very bowels, making me ashamed of being part of Western culture, is the reaction of the chief of the Kayapo community when he learned of the decision—his gesture of dignity and helplessness before the advance of capitalist progress, modern predatory civilization that does not respect the differences…
Kayapo protest in Brazilian Congress
But we know that a picture is worth a thousand words, showing the reality of the true price of our bourgeois "quality of life.”

- Anonymous - Facebook

According to PBS, the Kayapo have been fighting the installation of the dam and hydroelectric plant every step of the way, but in mid-February, the Brazilian government approved the plans to go ahead anyway, leaving their own people destitute.

This sounds so familiar to the Native American story in the U.S.A., or the Bangladesh fleeing persecution from India or the apartheid misery suffered by the blacks in South Africa or countless similar situations throughout history. Would it be possible one day that if everyone in the world had sufficient access to information, the world might be a better place? Even the regimes of the worst dictators suffer from the ignorance (and/or insanity) of their political leaders, not to mention the greed factor. Even greed, though, is irrational. Envy is a more motivating factor to be greedy. Mass media and commercial advertising play on this very premise that people want more when they see their neighbors have something they do not yet posses. Further, they market mere things as if your life would end immediately if you did not immediately go out and consume some money to get something that you don’t really need, nor are you really sure what you are going to do with.

Grave of John C. Clark (Nevada)
The choice is should be obvious. We make some changes now in preparation for the future as good stewards of this solitary blue planet we know, or we can face and watch an uncertain and increasingly dismal death swirl as our miracle planet and indeed our technologically enslaved civilization as they crumble, crash and burn before our very eyes.

In a recent trip to Las Vegas, the vision of the grave of John C. Clark, a military officer of the civil war and later an unfortunate pioneer in the West, lost his life to the destitute and lonely desert lands while seeking gold in California. This image could be us in a few decades. Mother Nature doesn’t care anymore; we killed her off when we discovered God was dead, left to fend for ourselves a long time ago.

Zombies at the helm
In post-modern times, we have the ability and resources to break out of the mold that had kept us in bondage for so long. But it has to start with taking individual responsibility for oneself and for serving our fellow brothers and sisters in the fellowship of common humanity. Not because the good book directs you to do so, but because it is each human beings personal responsibility to give back for the miracle of being human. The arrogance of modern humanity is not only foolish but deadly. Why do we waste our lives on such emptiness, living in denial when there is so much beauty in reality to appreciate? As we have seen, examining reality beyond the surface can also be painful and challenging, yet to live otherwise is a terrible waste of the opportunities and lack of respect for what it means to be human. To not question and probe one’s reality is like being the living dead. Beware; there are zombies in our midst everywhere and they want to eat your brain too!

The unexamined life is not worth living
Death Valley
Without a doubt we can clearly see that access to knowledge empowers the individual, strengthens society, and has the potential to bring transparency, fight injustices and reduce inequalities. This capacity to bring forth social justice through access to knowledge will help ensure the proliferation of democratic and peaceful values for the common good.

As we have discovered, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We should open our minds to criticism and sharpen our minds with critical thinking. That is the only way we can engage ourselves as individuals and productively participate in society - to do otherwise makes us not only uncivilized, it is a waste of one’s life and talent and contributes nothing but to the decline of society. The life of the superficial reveals nothing new or unique. Such is not a real life and denies us of our humanity. Yet that is the life so many choose, without reflection. It is no wonder we are doomed by our own viscous cycle of the slacker mentality with nothing to which to aspire beyond mediocrity and boredom.

By any means necessary
Malcolm X
The severity of the situation calls for serious immediate action - in the words initially of Jean Paul Sartre and later by Malcolm X, “By any means necessary.” In the former context, Sartre said in his play “Dirty Hands,”

“I was not the one to invent lies: they were created in a society divided by class and each of us inherited lies when we were born. It is not by refusing to lie that we will abolish lies: it is by eradicating class by any means necessary.”

In the latter context, Malcolm X said “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” We cannot afford to simply wait for the future to come to us – that would be much too late. On the urgency of this matter, Malcolm X commented,

“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”

And of the growing social tensions between the oppressed and the oppressors, Malcolm X said,

“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.”

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, the great civil rights leader and first black President of South Africa once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” On political engagement, Mandela said, “We need to exert ourselves that much more, and break out of the vicious cycle of dependence imposed on us by the financially powerful: those in command of immense market power and those who dare to fashion the world in their own image.” An on the examined life, Mandela said “There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Robben Island - Penile colony for South African
political prisoners run by the Apartheid regime.
For over 20 years Mandela lived in a prison cell on Robben Island as a political prisoner. His determination to find truth and reconciliation out of the process in shutting down the old Apartheid regime shows us that in spite of any adversity there can be hope and with sufficient determination all things are possible.

The irony of Jeebus freaks

The Drum Major Instinct
Martin Luther King Jr.
We will close with an excerpt from the good Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, given on February 4, 1968. It was an adaptation of the 1952 homily ‘‘Drum-Major Instincts’’ by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known, liberal, white Methodist preacher. King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love, not through allegiance to the consumerism and greed of the modern world. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements and emphasizing his dream to overcome impossible odds through non-violent reasoning and truth.

“…And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life…

And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you're just buying that stuff. (Yes) That's the way the advertisers do it.

You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of five thousand dollars, your car shouldn't cost more than about twenty-five hundred. That's just good economics. And if it's a family of two, and both members of the family make ten thousand dollars, they would have to make out with one car. That would be good economics, although it's often inconvenient. But so often, haven't you seen people making five thousand dollars a year and driving a car that costs six thousand? And they wonder why their ends never meet. [laughter] That's a fact.

Now the economists also say that your house shouldn't cost—if you're buying a house, it shouldn't cost more than twice your income. That's based on the economy and how you would make ends meet. So, if you have an income of five thousand dollars, it's kind of difficult in this society. But say it's a family with an income of ten thousand dollars, the house shouldn't cost much more than twenty thousand. Well, I've seen folk making ten thousand dollars, living in a forty- and fifty-thousand-dollar house. And you know they just barely make it. They get a check every month somewhere, and they owe all of that out before it comes in. Never have anything to put away for rainy days.

But now the problem is, it is the drum major instinct. And you know, you see people over and over again with the drum major instinct taking them over. And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. (Amen) They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary's coat. And I got to drive this car because it's something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor's car. (Amen) I know a man who used to live in a thirty-five-thousand-dollar house. And other people started building thirty-five-thousand-dollar houses, so he built a seventy-five-thousand-dollar house. And then somebody else built a seventy-five-thousand-dollar house, and he built a hundred-thousand-dollar house. And I don't know where he's going to end up if he's going to live his life trying to keep up with the Joneses.

There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. (Make it plain) And that's where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one's personality to become distorted. I guess that's the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality. If it isn't harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I'm sure you've met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves. (Amen) And they just boast and boast and boast, and that's the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.

And then it does other things to the personality. It causes you to lie about who you know sometimes. (Amen, Make it plain) There are some people who are influence peddlers. And in their attempt to deal with the drum major instinct, they have to try to identify with the so-called big-name people. (Yeah, Make it plain) And if you're not careful, they will make you think they know somebody that they don't really know. (Amen) They know them well, they sip tea with them, and they this-and-that. That happens to people.

And the other thing is that it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention. Criminologists tell us that some people are driven to crime because of this drum major instinct. They don't feel that they are getting enough attention through the normal channels of social behavior, and so they turn to anti-social behavior in order to get attention, in order to feel important. (Yeah) And so they get that gun, and before they know it they robbed a bank in a quest for recognition, in a quest for importance.

And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, (Glory to God) he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. (Amen) And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up. (Make it plain) And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct.

Now the other problem is, when you don't harness the drum major instinct—this uncontrolled aspect of it—is that it leads to snobbish exclusivism. It leads to snobbish exclusivism. (Make it plain) And you know, this is the danger of social clubs and fraternities—I'm in a fraternity; I'm in two or three—for sororities and all of these, I'm not talking against them. I'm saying it's the danger. The danger is that they can become forces of classism and exclusivism where somehow you get a degree of satisfaction because you are in something exclusive. And that's fulfilling something, you know—that I'm in this fraternity, and it's the best fraternity in the world, and everybody can't get in this fraternity. So it ends up, you know, a very exclusive kind of thing.

…The drum major instinct can lead to exclusivism in one's thinking and can lead one to feel that because he has some training, he's a little better than that person who doesn't have it. Or because he has some economic security, that he's a little better than that person who doesn't have it. And that's the uncontrolled, perverted use of the drum major instinct.

Now the other thing is, that it leads to tragic—and we've seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. (Make it plain, today, ‘cause I’m against it, so help me God) And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who's in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man's inhumanity to man.

The other day I was saying, I always try to do a little converting when I'm in jail. And when we were in jail in Birmingham the other day, the white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell to talk about the race problem. And they were showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. And they were showing us where intermarriage was so wrong. So I would get to preaching, and we would get to talking—calmly, because they wanted to talk about it. And then we got down one day to the point—that was the second or third day—to talk about where they lived, and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, "Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. [laughter] You're just as poor as Negroes." And I said, "You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. (Yes) And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you're so poor you can't send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march."

Now that's a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, (Make it plain) he is forced to support his oppressors. And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white—and can't hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out. (Amen)

Martin Luther King Jr. 
And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn't happen to stop this trend, I'm sorely afraid that we won't be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. (Yeah) If somebody doesn't bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody's going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don't let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. (Amen) They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China.

But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. "I must be first." "I must be supreme." "Our nation must rule the world." (Preach it) And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.

God didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.

But God has a way of even putting nations in their place. (Amen) The God that I worship has a way of saying, "Don't play with me." (Yes) He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, "Don’t play with me, Israel. Don't play with me, Babylon. (Yes) Be still and know that I'm God. And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power." (Yes) And that can happen to America. (Yes) Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.

But let me rush on to my conclusion, because I want you to see what Jesus was really saying. What was the answer that Jesus gave these men? It's very interesting. One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned them. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, "You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?"

But that isn't what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, "Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you're going to be my disciple, you must be." But he reordered priorities. And he said, "Yes, don't give up this instinct. It's a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It's a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do."

And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, "Now brethren, I can't give you greatness. And really, I can't make you first." This is what Jesus said to James and John. "You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared." (Amen)

And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That's a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don't have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I'm talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn't have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. (Jesus) But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, "He's King of Kings." (Yes) And again I can hear somebody saying, "He's Lord of Lords." Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, "In Christ there is no East nor West." (Yes) And then they go on and talk about, "In Him there's no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world." He didn't have anything. (Amen) He just went around serving and doing good.

This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It's the only way in.

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
Martin Luther King Jr. 
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain…”

King’s remarkable message provided a means for the average person to seek greatness, not through self-indulgence, but through servitude to humanity and a higher cause. His transcendent perspective rings even more true today.

It's a Small World / Walt Disney World
All of the dolls in the finale wear white
to reinforce the theme of world peace. 
Life was very different when the author was growing up in the 60s – 70s. Just like the Walt Disney-based dream that this little boy believed in when he emceed his kindergarten play “It’s a Small World” However, that luster of magic faded over time into disillusionment when he saw the real Walt Disney characters in the park were all automatons and everything was in fact fake. There was nothing real - absolutely every single detail of the outside (real) world had been replicated with careful attention to detail - even the "wild" animals were cleverly disguised robots. From that tender age this author realized there was something very wrong happening in this world. Back then we also thought people really cared about each other and took life just a little more responsibly, or at least that’s illusion we’d like to recall.

Rodney King
Since then, the world has indeed become a smaller place, with all of the challenges and promises of this global-local societal phenomenon and the benefits to the individual and society that open access to networked information brings. We will always have the hope that each day we can continue the struggle to wake up from this dreadful nightmare and to realize a transformation and metamorphosis the world. It doesn't take that much effort to love thy neighbor as you would love yourself, and most of all to appreciate the miracle that it is to be alive. Most people in the world are not as fortunate as the majority of our gentle readers. Is that asking too much of the world? In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

At the heart of this article, the notion of Paideia can engage and empower the people, but each of us must take individual responsibility and take the necessary steps to ensure access to the collective commons for the 99%   voice to be heard as well as to invest in our future by providing this promise to our children and beyond. Do something positive with your life and get engaged and care before its too late.

Join The 99% Spring – April 9-15; over 100,000 strong – for a better future. Folks across America will gather -100,000 strong, in homes, places of worship, campuses and the streets to train ourselves in non-violent action and join together in the work of reclaiming our country. History is calling; it’s time to step up.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Be the change you want to see in the world!

Lorne Herrlich and granddaughter Margo
The author has dedicated this blog article to the memories of his grandfather and namesake, John “Jack” H. Herrlich (1909–1991) and his great-grandfather, Lorne E. Herrlich (1881–1952) - civil rights pioneers and humanitarians of their time and in whose giant steps we have all followed.

Lorne Herrlich grew up in Toronto, Ontario and moved to Alpena, Michigan at the turn of the Century. A pharmacist by trade, in 1915 Loren moved his family to Flint, Michigan where he was naturalized as an American citizen and shortly thereafter he opened their first pharmacy.

Lorne was an unabashed socialist and an avid reader (the author is in possession of nearly 1,000 of his great-grandfather’s books in the collection, some quite rare and eclectic in topics ranging from late 18th century literature (in English, German and Esperanto) through the 1950s including political and scientific works by Darwin, Einstein, Marx, etc. Lorne rode his bicycle to work every day, preferring the fresh air and exercise, even after his son Jack bought a car as a teenager. Eleanor “Nell” Devlin, Lorne’s his wife, was very involved local cultural activities and she was an avid supporter of the Flint Institute of Arts.

Jack Herrlich
Herrlich’s Drugstore was the first pharmacy in Flint to remain open 24 hours a day, well ahead of its time, which provided emergency pharmacy services for the local hospitals and community. The Court St. store was rumored to have been part of the Underground Railroad from the civil war era – with a trap door in the back of the store behind the pharmacy, which when opened, was used to throw empty boxes into the vast vaulted basement area underneath the building. Inside the basement there was a secret side-door entrance as well as a tunnel entrance leading to an adjacent building.

A child prodigy at 6 years old, Jack became the youngest coronet player ever to participate in the Michigan State Bugle Corps. Jack was often in his father’s drugstore while growing up, helping his father from a young age. After graduating from High School in 1928, Jack took business courses at Flint Junior College and soon joined his father, Lorne, to become a partner in the family business. Together father and son ran the original Herrlich's Rexall Drugstore on Court St. and they opened their 2nd drugstore on Detroit St. in the mid 1940’s.

Cadillac Square strikes
During the early Flint Federated Vehicle Workers labor union strikes of 1930-31 as well as the nation’s first sit-down strikes in U.S. history by UAW-CIO union members in 1937, in which General Motors was peacefully unionized only after 44 grueling days of sit-down strikes, Loren Herrlich and his son Jack gave respite to United Auto Workers union leaders and strikers in the safe haven of their pharmacy. The times were dangerous – corporate leaders hired police and union-busting goons who would violently assault the sit-down strikers and their allies picketing at the Fisher Body (GM division) plants. Herrlich’s Drugstore became a known safe haven for labor union supporters. Jack and his father served many free meals from their drugstore lunch counter and they provided first aid, emergency supplies and a secure meeting space for union leaders and strikers in need, including the likes of union leader Walter Reuther. Jack and his father would also eat lunch daily at the Masonic temple across the street from their pharmacy, where they would meet with local magnets of the community to discuss local politics and share latest news from the grapevine. Lorne would often hand out small amounts of cash or food from the lunch counter to those less fortunate who would frequent the store, much the chagrin of his more shrewd-minded wife Nell.

Well ahead of his time, their son Jack Herrlich began to reform the local business practices through affirmative action style hiring in the 1960’s. He was the first among local pharmacies to hire a black cashier, not to clean the floors as would be par for the day, but he trusted her to greet customers and handle their cash purchases. Further, Herrlich was the first in the area to hire black (and female) pharmacist, Rose Wright, who also served as their store manager. Jack treated all people with the dignity and respect they deserved, no matter their background.

By the 1970’s Jack had successfully established dozens of Herrlich’s Drugstores in the Flint area. However, by the mid-1980’s,  in a declining economy as General Motors was pulling out of Flint - Herrlich retired from the business and he sold the remaining 6 drugstores to the Rite Aid Corporation, several of which are still in operation today.

Although he was a devout atheist, Herrlich was big a supporter of the local Unitarian Church. On Sunday mornings you could often find him listening to lectures on art, poem recitations, gospel, blues and jazz performances – and engaging in lively conversations friends. His sense of spirituality was much larger than the confines of any institutionalized religion. Like his father, Jack fulfilled his larger sense of belonging and purpose by giving back to the Flint community and its people because of his deep sense of empathy – to pay it forward and help others less fortunate.

Jack was also a great sponsor of the arts and cultural events. Above all, he grew up with the birth of jazz and he became an avid aficionado of jazz music and artists. He experienced the evolution of jazz ranging from Dixieland, Big Band, BeBop, fusion, Latin, free jazz, funk, acid-jazz, hard-bop, smooth jazz and cool jazz. Herrlich sponsored and attended many great jazz performances and met many artists of the time. One of many house parties he planned, he once hosted the legendary Jack Teagarden and his big band at a gathering at his home in Flint. He would take local jazz musicians on tour to Acapulco every year where he held hotel interests. He would fly his musician friends down to Mexico for mini-tours, taking care of all of their food, beverage and lodging expenses – all in return simply for playing jazz in various ensembles at the local clubs while down there. Herrlich also did the same in Flint, Michigan, often hiring bands for local restaurants when local club owners had dwindling funds with the decline of Flint after GM left town. If you could find jazz played in local venues, it was usually thanks to Jack Herrlich. In 1985, Jack was dubbed “Grandfather of Jazz” at the Flint Jazz Festival to recognize his lifetime of achievements in supporting jazz and the arts.

Among other charitable causes, Jack Herrlich endowed a scholarship fund to support the Mott Community College and University of Michigan-Flint Inner-City Youth Jazz Ensemble program. Even in his passing, Jack is keeping the spirit of jazz alive. Jack Herrlich and his father Loren will always be remembered as great champions of civil rights and fairness for the underdog, passionate patrons and supporters of the arts, loyal friends as well as intelligent and progressive leaders - much ahead of their time.
- John Henry (Herrlich) Hagen