General Motors won’t be criminally prosecuted

Conservatives claim and, sadly, many recent courts agree, that corporations are like persons, with many of the same attendant rights. But here is a case where a corporation, General Motors, engaged in criminal behavior and it ought to be criminally prosecuted. GM’s defense? It says it shouldn’t be prosecuted because its management is all new. In effect it’s saying you can’t charge us because we’re no longer the same person that committed those crimes. How convenient. This is the very definition of wanting to have it both ways. We’re a “person,” one and the same, with the rights of a person, when that’s helpful to us, but when it’s not helpful, like a chameleon, we become a completely “new” person washed as white as snow.

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Valentina Rodríguez in Patricio Guzmán’s film Nostalgia for the Light

Subtitles, by Katie Henfrey, from the end of Patricio Guzmán’s film Nostalgia for the Light:

Voice-over narration:
“Valentina works for the leading astronomy organisation in Chile. Her grandfather taught her to observe the sky when she was a child. She is married with two children. In 1975, when she was one year old, she was detained with her grandparents by Pinochet’s police.”

Valentina Rodríguez:
“I am the daughter of detained and disappeared parents. First they detained my grandparents. They were held for several hours. They threatened them relentlessly to make them reveal where my parents were, or else I, too, would disappear. With this threat, my grandparents took them to where we lived. After detaining my parents, they returned me to my grandparents who brought me up.

“Astronomy has somehow helped me to give another dimension to the pain, to the absence, to the loss. Sometimes, when one is alone with that pain, and these moments are necessary, the pain becomes oppressive. I tell myself it’s all part of a cycle which didn’t begin and won’t end with me, nor with my parents, nor with my children. I tell myself we are all part of a current, of an energy, a recyclable matter. Like the stars which must die so that other stars can be born, other planets, a new life. In this context, what happened to my parents and their absence takes on another dimension. It takes on another meaning and frees me a little from this great suffering, as I feel that nothing really comes to an end.

“My grandparents are the happiness in my life. Thanks to them, I’ve been able to write my own story. Not merely from a painful perspective but also a joyful one, optimistic, driven by this strength and the desire to progress. My grandparents were wise realising they had a double responsibility. They found a way to make my parents important reference points for me. They passed on my parents’ values and their strength. What is more, my grandparents were able to overcome their pain so that I could have a happy and healthy childhood.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a product with a manufacturing defect which is invisible. I find it funny when people tell me that it doesn’t show that I’m the daughter of disappeared prisoners. I realise that my children don’t have this defect. Nor does my husband and that makes me happy. I am surrounded by people who have no manufacturing defect. I am happy that my son is growing up like this.”

Voice-over narration:
“Compared to the immensity of the cosmos, the problems of the Chilean people might seem insignificant. But if we laid them out on a table, they would be as vast as a galaxy. Whilst making this film, looking back, I found in these marbles the innocence of the Chile of my childhood. Back then, each of us could carry the entire universe in the depths of our pockets. I am convinced that memory has a gravitational force. It is constantly attracting us. Those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none don’t live anywhere. Each night, slowly, impassively, the centre of the galaxy passes over Santiago.”

Portions of an interview, by Nerina Moris, with the film’s director Patricio Guzmán:

NM: How much of the final version of Nostalgia For The Light matches the original script? For example, Valentina Rodríguez’s testimonial is an essential part of the film but her story was unknown even to her colleagues.[7]

PG: One of the qualities of a documentary filmmaker is the ability to use deductive reasoning. If you film on an island you’ve never been to before, you can still infer many things about the life in this place. I inferred that there had to be more than one person connected with astronomy who had a disappeared relative. Astronomy is a very wide discipline. There are technicians who maintain the optical equipment. There are astronomers, astrophysicists, academics, mathematicians. So I thought that someone had to be affected by this. That’s how Valentina appeared. She didn’t want to let people know about her case, because it was very difficult for her. She had been receiving psychological treatment for quite some time. She was going to talk at the right time, and that time came with the film. It was the same with Gaspar [Galaz]. There had to be an astronomer who could not only talk about mathematics, formulas and technical questions, but who could also tell me that he lives in Chile, a country where people had disappeared. Gaspar was that person. I had interviewed around 12 or 15 astronomers. They were conscious about what had happened but didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t ask. That can be difficult, because the audience notices that you are forcing the subject. The right person has to be found. Nothing that Gaspar says had been discussed with me before, it came from him.

NM: How did you actually find Valentina?

PG: My assistant director located her at the Chilean site of the European Southern Observatory. He heard that there was someone there with a disappeared relative. We started to look for that person and we came across Valentina. We found her because we knew about a case that had been recorded in the Vicarage of Solidarity. We knew about a baby who had been saved by her grandparents, because they had testified. Valentina’s parents belonged to the MIR and their case had been published in a report about torture in Chile. We thought that Valentina could be that person and we wrote to her. She confirmed our guess, but she said that it was a private matter. I went to see her at her home and she told me her story. I filmed the interview with her back to the camera. I constructed a whole sequence without showing her, in case she didn’t want to appear on camera. When she saw the finished film, she immediately agreed to it. Then I threw away that sequence with her back to the camera, which looked like one of those TV interviews with criminals. I don’t like that, but I didn’t have any other alternative until she accepted. With Gaspar it was something similar. We got to him after we interviewed the director of the Chilean Observatory in Santiago. She talked a lot about one of her students called Gaspar and about three or four more. We went to see all of them and Gaspar was the one who seemed more appropriate for the film, because of the way he talks. We arranged to meet up in Las Campanas Observatory. There, he gave me that interview, prior to the actual shooting. I shot this interview with my low definition camera. I also knew about Lautaro [Núñez], that he was the best person who could talk about the mummies as well as the differences and similarities between an astronomer and an archaeologist. He went even further by pointing out that not only do we not know anything about the people who disappeared under Pinochet’s regime, but we don’t know anything about 19th century history in Chile either.

[7] Valentina Rodríguez is an astronomer who works for the European Southern Observatory in Chile. In Guzman’s film, she talks about how her grandparents were detained and threatened to give up the location of her parents. After threatening to hurt Valentina, her grandparents complied and her parents were taken away. She was then brought up by her grandparents, and after studying astronomy she comes to terms with what happened by believing that we, just like the stars, are all part of a cycle in which matter and energy is continuously recycled, but never lost. This idea leaves her strong and optimistic. Guzmán ends the documentary affirming the value of memory because, as he states, “those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moments. Those who have none don’t live anywhere.” – from Guzman, Patricio. Nostalgia for the Light. Documentary. Icarus Films. Retrieved 25 January 2012. (access date 15 December 2012).

Posted in Film (uncategorized) | Leave a comment

My Uncle Jack’s letter to me when I was very young

My uncle, Dr. John H. “Jack” Daugherty (1941-1984), wrote me this letter when I was very young. The setting, Harms Woods (, is in northern Cook County, Illinois. I also mentioned Jack in my second-ever post on this blog ( He was remarkably gentle and kind and loving.  I miss him so much.

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Here’s an old photo that includes me, standing, with my hand resting on Jack’s shoulder.


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“Keep Your Flowers Off My Grave”

Dean and I are still writing songs, and having demos of them made.  I don’t want to post every song we write here, but since this is one that we feel is particularly good, I will mention it here.  It’s our first attempt at a 12-bar blues song, and it’s in a minor key, which may also be a first for us.  Link: Keep Your Flowers Off My Grave.

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Connecting the dots

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (August 28th), Michelle Alexander (whose book, The New Jim Crow, I mentioned and quoted from here) posted the following Facebook status update:

For the past several years, I have spent virtually all my working hours writing about or speaking about the immorality, cruelty, racism, and insanity of our nation’s latest caste system: mass incarceration.  On this Facebook page I have written and posted about little else.  But as I pause today to reflect on the meaning and significance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I realize that my focus has been too narrow. Five years after the March, Dr. King was speaking out against the Vietnam War, condemning America’s militarism and imperialism  famously stating that our nation was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”  He saw the connections between the wars we wage abroad, and the utter indifference we have for poor people, and people of color at home.  He saw the necessity of openly critiquing an economic system that will fund war and will reward greed, hand over fist, but will not pay workers a living wage.  Five years after the March on Washington, Dr. King was ignoring all those who told him to just stay in his lane, just stick to talking about civil rights. Yet here I am decades later, staying in my lane.  I have not been speaking publicly about the relationship between drones abroad and the War on Drugs at home.  I have not been talking about the connections between the corrupt capitalism that bails out Wall Street bankers, moves jobs overseas, and forecloses on homes with zeal, all while private prisons yield high returns and expand operations into a new market: caging immigrants.  I have not been connecting the dots between the NSA spying on millions of Americans, the labeling of mosques as “terrorist organizations,” and the spy programs of the 1960s and 70s – specifically the FBI and COINTELPRO programs that placed civil rights advocates under constant surveillance, infiltrated civil rights organizations, and assassinated racial justice leaders. I have been staying in my lane.  But no more.  In my view, the most important lesson we can learn from Dr. King is not what he said at the March on Washington, but what he said and did after.  In the years that followed, he did not play politics to see what crumbs a fundamentally corrupt system might toss to the beggars of justice.  Instead he connected the dots and committed himself to building a movement that would shake the foundations of our economic and social order, so that the dream he preached in 1963 might one day be a reality for all.  He said that nothing less than “a radical restructuring of society” could possibly ensure justice and dignity for all.  He was right.  I am still committed to building a movement to end mass incarceration, but I will not do it with blinders on.  If all we do is end mass incarceration, this movement will not have gone nearly far enough.  A new system of racial and social control will be born again, all because we did not do what King demanded we do: connect the dots between poverty, racism, militarism and materialism.  I’m getting out of my lane.  I hope you’re already out of yours.

Amen, sister.  The side of Dr. King that challenged America by calling it the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world” is the side of him we conveniently look past, ignore, or forget.  It sure as hell was never going to be the quote that we’d put on his monument in Washington, was it?  But non-violence was part and parcel of what he was all about.  As Americans we’ve always justified our violence by claiming that whatever historical bogeyman was current at the time required it.  In Dr. King’s time it was communism.  Now it’s terrorism.  Of course there are real threats in the world  there always have been and always will be  and some degree of self-defense against them is necessary.  But amplifying these threats beyond what they actually are is a cynical ploy by those with their hands on the levers of power (both in government and in corporations  which are increasingly indistinguishable from each other).  These hands are banking, quite literally, on our continued fear, which they proceed to ratchet up at every opportunity.  Don’t let them do it anymore.  Be clear-eyed, but unafraid.  And refuse to stay in your lane.  And start connecting the dots.

Posted in Alexander, Michelle, Civil liberties, Current events, Ethics, Quakerism | Leave a comment

“Mom! He’s looking at me. Make him stop!”

What sibling doesn’t have memories from childhood of saying something like that to his/her mother?  Most moms know how to handle such episodes without resorting to throwing the offending kid down to the ground and choking him out.  Most moms, in other words, are smarter and much more mature than the Miami-Dade police officers who tackled and choked out a 14-year-old kid who was BOTTLE-FEEDING A PUPPY (!) for LOOKING AT THEM THE WRONG WAY.  The cops said later that the kid was giving them “a dehumanizing stare” and then refused to stop doing it when asked to do so.  The poor, put-upon cops.  Imagine having to endure that!  Basically, then, the cops said, “See that kid!  He’s looking at me.  I’ll make him stop!”  And so they did.  And now the kid has been charged with a felony count of resisting arrest with violence and disorderly conduct. In other words, if convicted as charged, this kid’s life is basically ruined.

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To Hear Us Talk

Robert Frost (from New Hampshire):

On a Tree Fallen Across the Road
(To Hear Us Talk)

The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down in front of us is not to bar
Our passage to our journey’s end for good,
But just to ask us who we think we are

Insisting always on our own way so.
She likes to halt us in our runner tracks,
And make us get down in a foot of snow
Debating what to do without an ax.

And yet she knows obstruction is in vain:
We will not be put off the final goal
We have it hidden in us to attain,
Not though we have to seize the earth by the pole

And, tired of aimless circling in one place,
Steer straight off after something into space.

§        §        §

Johann Georg Hamann (from Golgotha and Sheblimini; translated by Kenneth Haynes):

However, suppose that there is a social contract: then there is also a natural one, older and more genuine, and the conditions of the natural contract must be the basis of the social one. Through it all natural property becomes conventional again, and man in the state of nature becomes dependent on its laws, i.e., positively obliged to act in accordance with the very same laws which all of nature and especially the nature of man has to thank for the preservation of existence and the use of all means and goods contributing to it.  Since man bears duties to nature, he accordingly has least of all an exclusive right to and hateful monopoly over his abilities, neither to the products thereof, nor to the sterile mule of his industry and the sadder bastards of his usurping acts of violence over the creature made subject, against its will, to his vanity.

Not to him, not to him alone, is the moral capacity to make use of things as a means subordinated, but rather to those laws of wisdom and goodness which light our way in the immense kingdom of nature.  All the conditions under which the predicate “felicity” may belong to the subject “duty-bearer” are invested in him as such and not as one who holds a right through the law of nature and the law of natural justice and of his own reason.  He therefore has neither a physical nor a moral capacity for any other felicity than the one intended for him and to which he is called.  All the means which he makes use of to attain a felicity not given to him as a blessing are a heap of natural offenses and decided injustice. All lust to improve one’s existence is the spark of a hellish turmoil.

Posted in Animal theology, Frost, Robert, Hamann, Johann Georg | Leave a comment