Something Good for Goodness Sake

Honoring Seymour Papert and Helping the World, Too

Some ideas and the efforts resulting from them deserve encouragement and, when possible, tangible support. But all too often even effective, efficient, and good-hearted organizations receive little or no recognition and sensible funding. Without a major family-brand name obscurity, ineffectiveness, and, ultimately, dissolution typically result. With that in mind, I’m noting two organizations with good intentions and viable approaches to helping some kids and their mentors make the world a little better.

On Wednesday, December 4, One Planet Education Network (OPEN) and Small Solutions, Big Ideas (SSBI) hosted an event honoring education and classroom technology pioneer Seymour Papert. Experts and innovators shared their experience and insight about current developments in educational gaming and related products and approaches.

Sandra Thaxter, Executive Director of SSBI, and OPEN Executive Director George Newman opened the night’s presentations, discussions, and demonstrations. SSBI provides computing technology that enables better communication and children’s education in Africa. OPEN has established a system of educational games and media approaches that facilitate a broad, hands-on education about such problems as poaching of endangered species, environmental degradation, and hurdles to effect and enforce progressive, humane policy change.

Constructionist and former MIT Professor Seymour Papert was honored for his prescience and contributions to children’s education, including his promotion of technology use in classrooms. Speakers included Mitch Resnick of the MIT Media Lab; artificial intelligence and education expert Cynthia Solomon; Brian Silverman; publisher and author Meredith Hamilton of BumpBump Books; Artemis Papert; and Gary Stager.

The night’s event underscored cooperative problem solving: The technology available and provided by such non-profits as SSBI helps OPEN connect students worldwide, students who not only learn about math, science, and basic humanities, but also about the world and its ways in politics and business and the role of cultural difference in both causing problems and finding solutions to them.

Inspired by Papert’s thought and work, the organizations promote collaborative projects to improve educational, environmental, and human rights conditions, particularly by developing effective education systems in the world’s deeply impoverished areas. SSBI’s unique access to emerging market economies and its partners for development and field use of products and programs enables it to both provide students with necessary items and teach them skills that will enable them to work in the global milieu even if they continue to address global conservation or human rights challenges. OPEN’s series of educational programs encourages students to learn of real-world challenges, communicate and partner with others wherever they may be, and pragmatically address the problems. OPEN’s boots on the ground, cross-cultural games-based learning is exemplified by New York City elementary schoolteacher Johnny Ronelus, whose pupils are working with others in Africa to end poaching and save the Black Rhino from extinction. OPEN is currently in the second phase of Kids Worldwide Unite: Save the Black Rhino and is preparing a major undertaking to further education about and address the depletion and degradation of the ocean environment.

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In the Land of Surveillance and Drones, Shit Happens

by Brian D. Sadie

As the proverbial saying indicates, shit happens, and I wonder why it does so often and for no good reason. How is it that so much shit occurs that really shouldn’t in a free, openly democratic nation that advertises the promotion and protection of the rights and privacy of all individuals equally through ethically responsible, morally sound governance – governance that is supposed to include the honest, just application of law according to the case at hand and with the understanding that all human beings are due equal rights with equal access to liberty (a word with a big meaning) and to being left alone? Although the founders of this nation indicated a right to due legal process, it must be noted yet again that due process and the rule of law ensure little more than a life-draining drag to the depths of hell with no guarantee of goodness and right, especially for those not politically or financially connected, secure, or rich. Bad things often – typically – happen to good people in due process according to law.

So – with apologies to A-categoricals, which just can’t always hold – shit happens when or because

People being silly do stupid things
Frightened people do irresponsible things.
Those in politics and law depend on the above.

Uncritical voters permit others to assume authority or power over their lives to gain a feeling of being protected, safe, secure, but it’s irresponsible to ask, allow, or expect others to control society with increased surveillance, police, and military tactics and authority, and especially so by watching and recording other people’s everyday movements and conversations, even under the guise or with a promise of protection. No fear, no feeling of incapacity or general insecurity, warrants calls for notional security against political terror or randomly-occurring violence by the exercise of gross violations of privacy and otherwise circumscribing personal and social freedom and civil rights.

Dissent arising from surveillance and other excessive policing is appropriate. After all, the United States developed the idea that a person’s privacy and liberty trumps all civil authority and governance except when a person violates the freedom and rights of another. Institutional or governmental control in the private realm and social sphere were deemed inappropriate and even immoral by those bewigged conspirators and revolutionaries.

Shit does indeed happen: The universe, even existence itself, doesn’t seem to recognize or care about fairness. Bad people exist and they do bad things. Fairness and equality are worldly ideas.

Even those intending to protect someone they care about are corrupted when party to supporting authoritarian behavior and helping a police state, however locally or small the operation. State, city, or town, it’s all the same – people and entities that ask for voter permission to spy and surveille, and those that otherwise assume authority or exercise power over the information and lives of others, even in the name of national security – want, seek, and enjoy having power and control over others to begin with.

The United States used to know itself. It presented a pretty solid idea of what it stood for and how to maintain at least some of the principles lauded as revolutionary and assuring privacy, individual liberty, and the pursuit of life and happiness unless one sought to violate the rights of, or harm, another.

Since 9/11, though, American society and most of its media have appeared increasingly angst-ridden and weak, unwilling to think and speak critically at length or act with an ethical backbone to maintain, or regain, the reality of individual privacy. This matters, whether you know and like it or not, because privacy is the basis of all civil society. Fundamentally, and for better or worse according to the degree to which it is assured, privacy affects the reality of our world because it is an intellectual and emotional milestone and base of childhood development and, ultimately, thought and behavior.

Life is fraught with uncertainty and any viable, morally sound social contract requires personal responsibility. Ethical governance operates without violating the human right of individual privacy and liberty. This is the basis of a more democratic polity and truly diverse, freer society.

Not much to expect or ask for, I know, but maybe we can all keep some boots handy for those days when shit hits the fan and drops, biblically, from the sky.

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Some Good Things for Teaching and Improving Literacy: Summer Fun That Keeps the Mind Sharp

by Brian D. Sadie

Summer isn’t just a name. It’s also a fun time for kids and teens, but they can pay for not keeping sharp when school begins again. The cumulative loss of academic skill over vacation called summer slide waits for many unable to enjoy themselves and keep pace at the same time, but the dog days don’t have to leave a student howling at the moon or feeling zombie-like when crisp air and leaves take wind because even learning can be fun during summertime. So take a bight out of brain-loss by engaging in a few enjoyable activities while the sun rides high and nights are short. Some great ways to enjoy summer vacation and keep prepared for school include playing games, reading, drawing, and watching movies. You’ll all be happy you did and the kids’ll be ahead in class.

Teaching and enabling kids to enjoy themselves with engaging material and activities typically results in some inspirational moments and work. Technical innovation has provided things that, when used with a range of other materials and varying formats and styles, hold kids’ interest.

Pencils (and brushes and clay) are lovely. The change from digital and typing to holding these historically and developmentally significant tools has immediate effect, both conscious and unconscious. The feel and texture are unique and vary according to manufacture. The less-colorful abstract palette of pure graphite and charcoal pencils helps kids develop or formulate ideas that cross easily into the literary world. Both writing and drawing with hand-held implements facilitate improved memory function and overall performance by engaging multiple areas of the brain. Writing, especially using cursive letters, reinforces memory on all fronts with more highly developed motor activity and creative impulse. Full memory, inspired critical thinking, and improved control often result. Actors rehearse their lines and movements for similar reasons. Other fine art activity, including painting or playing with clay, stimulates the mind and, during vacations, keeps brain loss at bay. These activities not only fire imagination, playfulness, and experimentation, and often with great emotion, but they also strengthen and assist logical functions.

Reading does, too. Reading for pleasure is marvelous. Reading for school – well, it can be fun but is often more like work. So how can your children enjoy the summer while not losing their recently gained intellectual edge? Suggest they read a varied range, from low-level potboilers, political thrillers, and detective stories to great classic literature. Have them read a real newspaper, too, but thoughtfully: The different types of information presentation, storytelling, language, perception, and meaning will come to light while, for those inclined, developing emotional awareness and stirring creativity.

This approach to reading keeps the mind flexible and up on both historical and current events. It also helps your children learn to appreciate and like history by showing them a use and application for their knowledge of it. Just think of the worst school history books and how they presented information: famous or significant people and events were dully indicated and seldom more. Now think of a letter, story, or novel that fleshes out the human. Most of us are made for more than simply memorizing facts – it is the emotional and intellectual connections that bring us to life.

Remember, too, that holding and reading a book is a fundamental organic activity and therefore irreplaceable. The experience and act itself demands greater attention from the participant than many might be used to today. Reading a printed book has an effect similar to that of writing by hand and should be respected, promoted, and treasured. Flickering images on any screen are perceived differently by the brain: we don’t respond the same to online reading as we do to material read from a printed book. We also tend to spend more time becoming involved with physically tangible items, even those we read. Memory and thought work differently with these things and nicely augment film and online experiences.

This brings us to another wonderful activity: watching movies. Films are historical treasure-chests, cultural stores of images, sound, and story. They keep you going, too, whether they’re old black-and-white classics with fast-talking proto-feminists and cynical toughs sparring and flirting in deep, subtle shots or something for a suburban multiplex or college town art-house. The language of film requires attention and observant, thoughtful viewers are often rewarded on multiple levels and in different ways. After viewing, and less as a teacher or parent than a lover of films and life, talk with your kids and listen to them: know where they’re coming from and what they’re thinking about what they’ve just experienced. You’ll enjoy yourselves and the experience can lead to far-ranging and far-reaching discussion about anything and everything that will remain in your children’s minds, inspiring and helping them later, if they, and you, are lucky. The films and your discussion may even lead to your doing something together that you might otherwise not have thought of or done.

Don’t dismiss all goofy or limited movies, though! A great bad movie can be perfect, and serious laughter is fantastic. Sometimes it’s the best thing. Generally, though, better films are best. Don’t believe me? Although feelings about it will vary over time, watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s probably the thinnest screenplay in recent film history. There are few words and limited dialogue spoken between the characters, especially for a two hour, twenty-minute film, but every word was deliberately included and relates, directly and indirectly, to a suggested meaning underlying the film’s structure and images used throughout. And don’t forget the music: Kubrick cued every phrase of it himself. He wanted you to hear it at that moment. As my then-fifteen-year-old son said after watching it for the first time, “I liked it. It’s slow for today, but beautiful, and there’s a lot there. You don’t forget it.”

So it is that preparing intellectually and technically for tomorrow’s world is fun, and there are different ways to do it. Just as audio-visual material reinforces learning and excites students, web-based literacy programs can also engage kids as they navigate the highly sophisticated world of language arts. As with foreign language instruction, the best online platforms provide comprehensive tools for instruction in the finer points of language, writing, and editing. Remember, though, that editing on the printed page results in better correction than only doing so online and in a hurry. Like it or not and despite the ability to disseminate things almost immediately, reality continues to prove that, while inspiration might seem to strike suddenly, time is essential for refinement. Stepping away from one’s work makes for better development and results in clearer, more enjoyable communication later. When online or with a computer, people tend to feel they must hurry. Even if they needn’t they demonstrate far less focus and discrete attention to detail than otherwise. So do yourself and everyone else a favor: Take a break! Writers, even those who blog, and those who read will – subconsciously, at least – be thankful.

Creating and viewing both relax and stimulate and the summer may provide sufficient time for many unfamiliar or unable to work at either the time to do so. Drawing, painting, sculpting, or any other fine art activity can fire imagination, stir playfulness, and lead to enlightening experimentation. Painting, akin to drawing, is a phenomenal experience, the effects of which remain little understood but are universally acknowledged as invaluable for many reasons and on many levels. Camera work is enlightening and relaxing, too.

Asked by an interviewer how he maintained creativity and found new inspiration, the hugely-successful commercial photographer Peter Turner answered, “Plane tickets.” Well, for those without reservations, something else suffices. For another change, go outside and do something, or even nothing, but do even nothing outside sometimes. Sport does wonders, as will a walk in the nearest copse of trees or, if you’re lucky, woods – that uniquely clears one’s head and helps every aspect of memory, understanding, comprehension, and problem-solving. If woods, fields, water or a beach aren’t around, a walk somewhere different or new will do.


After months of hard work, help your kids avoid the fall in summer by mixing these things into your break. Some of you might also find something helpful at, the National Summer Learning Association’s site promoting Friday, June 21, 2013 as Summer Learning Day. It’s their national day of awareness about the importance of summer learning in helping close the achievement gap. You might meet others at NSLA events and share ways to help young learners enjoy themselves while learning during the vacation months.

For more information about online resources and platforms see Summer Learning, Happens So Fast posted May 29, 2013 by Alison Anderson, at EdTech, Learning, Online & Blended, Partners, PreK-12, Also visit for ways to work on writing with younger children.

Hope this helps and that you all experience a wonderful summer. Enjoy!

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Helping Teenagers Improve Their Literacy in a Media Saturated Age

by Brian D. Sadie / 10 April 2013

Reading and writing are difficult tasks for many, even those who excel at them. Writing is especially trying because it draws on more parts of the brain than just about any other activity. Yet, over the last decade, popular demand for published books has increased even though publishers and educators have noted a sharp decline in good, proficient writing: far more errors appear, even in published books, than ever before. Despite the difficulty of writing and, for a significant portion of the country, mature reading comprehension, blogging and internet publications have sprung up by the thousands over the same period. With the apparent decline in language arts knowledge, an increase of bad editorial practice in news and publishing, and great public emphasis on instruction of maths and discrete science procedures at the expense of language instruction in school, how can we help teenagers become truly literate?

That depends on expectation and what literacy is deemed to be. Literacy means the ability to read and write competently. Not half-way, not poorly. Understanding what is read and knowing how to write correctly and well are assumed. Unfortunately, many today promote notions heedless of critical thinking, comprehension, and clear communication, and literate means to some groups that an employee can throw images and a few words into a PowerPoint report or post an amateur video. In that world, language – spoken, written, and implied – is frequently hackneyed at best, garbled as the lack of thought or comprehension giving rise to it.

That can cause difficulty for teenagers because, for all they might otherwise say, they take their cues from adults. Parents can have a great advantage and opportunity to lend a deft but influential hand during this pivotal time. A judicious use of technology may help, but remember that fun triggers the spark of inspiration. When teens are happy, enjoying themselves and those around them, they are both receptive and giving. With friendly parental guidance, improved literacy and critical thinking may often follow.

Great literature and fun stories are still at the top for improving literacy, but don’t overlook the newspaper. I know that loads of people no longer bother reading news, or even what passes for it online, but I experienced something wonderful one day while reading a quality newspaper and it has proven valuable in the long term. My then-eleven and fourteen year olds were talking about American political parties and some prominent politicians. They saw a headline in the New York Times on the table and laughed at a cover of The Economist. A few moments later, they commented and joked that today’s better comedic talent and late-night hosts were more intelligent and articulate than nearly every politician and provided better analysis and commentary than all but the best of professional news people, at least the ones on television.

Figuring they’d responded according to an adult-like skepticism and basic assumptions about the people and situation mentioned, I asked if they’d understood the full meaning of what they’d read. They admitted they hadn’t, and a wonderfully engaging, multi-disciplinary yet tightly focused discussion followed. Among other things, we spoke about culture, politics, language, meaning, reading methods, and critical thought. We covered judging other people, even prominent public figures, especially when one has little knowledge or understanding of them or the circumstance in which they operate. I let them know that, no matter the type of writing or reporting, there is always space between lines and much, sometimes important, falls through or is kept from the non-critical or even best-intentioned but still mostly-uninformed reader.

So I explained implication and reading between the lines. We delved into context, vocabulary and nuance, the roles and types of sources, personalities, history, and political thought. After a little guided line-by-line critical reading and a few more questions, they realized that they hadn’t understood the background to the headline and opening when they’d first mentioned the article. So it is that knowledge of several things enables greater understanding of many other things, and that leads to literacy. Language is more than words strung together: it represents thought, or the lack of it, but it always emerges from a cultural, quite human, place. There are often multiple levels to even simple prose, as thoughtful readers of the best work of Hemingway know. Sometimes a writer might not have thought what the reader takes from the work but that’s part of the process, too. Awareness, experience, and erudition inform critical inquiry and facilitate the understanding we may consider fluency. Nuance, shade of meaning, is king but such things as heartache, irony, sarcasm, and derision aren’t typically or readily identified with formatting or other markings: they are understood according to the literacy of the reader or listener.

These lessons apply to everything and can be reinforced daily, even with banter. Reading is marvelous, including aloud in a private or family performance, and helps with writing, too. Discussion of a piece can inspire a lifelong love of such activity and learning, of language, inquiry, and expression. Writing often emerges as an enjoyable means for teenagers to think and express themselves and can lead to performance art. A touch of correction during a story revision stays in the mind because, when enjoying themselves, teens are quite receptive. The same is true of learning different voices: reading aloud a letter from another era invites questions about the way of speaking, of dialect, accent, culture, history. These paths for enlightenment open easily when relaxed and happy.

Learning, inspiration, creativity: They go together and lead to real literacy, which allows independent thought. Combining a deft personal touch to parental, educational aims helps one’s rapidly-developing teens become well-informed, intellectually capable adults. Just having good things around is often enough: no need to push! One day a book comes off the shelf and voila! A new path appears, or perhaps a previously blocked one opens. Parents should feel free to inspire with great works and performances. They should provide a breadth of quality material and personal insight to help their teens make sense of today’s ubiquitous media bombardment. The questions, discussions, and activities that result become something magical: treasured memories. Those moments can be wonderful for you both and, among other, quite important, things, will help your young ones become truly literate through understanding, or at least appreciating, the human condition.

A version of this article appeared on 12 April, 2013 in TeenLife at

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Digital Libraries and the Idea of Literacy

Brian D. Sadie / Tuesday, 14 May 2013

This abridged version posted at

The Digital Public Library of America launched April 18th with the goal of linking America’s libraries, archives, and museums and making them freely available to everyone. This platform will enable new and transformative uses of our newly-digitized cultural heritage. From an historical standpoint and for preservation and accessibility it’s wonderful, similar to the idea of restoring films and preserving both newly-mastered film and digital copies.

Collecting and scanning all the world’s printed publications is good, not least because it could enable more students, teachers, scholars, and the public to see the change in the meaning of words they think they understand, the shifts in political and legal thought and practice, the development of hard scientific knowledge and the preservation of methods, practices, and tools no longer widely understood. Real democratic availability without restriction is a worthy goal, but it’s only part of the plan.

To help disseminate this store of knowledge and art we need librarians: they are essential guides to the world’s collected literature, books, art, and written knowledge. Truly great librarians have real understanding of multiple languages, cultures, and disciplines and are versed in the methods and notions of knowledge, history, and the ways people catalogue and refer to ideas and information. A great librarian not only can direct a patron almost immediately to precisely where they wish or need to be but can also provide additional, wonderful, and relevant information.

Librarians are sleuths, and not because they’re masters of the arcane: all that I’ve mentioned about libraries and librarians is rudimentarily practical to human society and endeavor. We should digitize the world’s written works but also insure that today’s children and young adults are truly literate. We should teach them the ways of thinking and what things really mean so that, regardless of how they choose to act or think or behave, they’ll at least know the what and maybe even why. The hope is that some of the next generations will know and care enough to continue the preservation and dissemination of knowledge and art and all the rest that is our history.

It is essential to maintain the stores of knowledge and ways of thinking that, in printed form, always, at some point, go out of print and cease to be available. Libraries exist to get and keep editions for reference and preservation. Digitizing the world’s works increases the need for a librarian’s understanding of cataloging, so we should make sure people know how to use libraries. Then the fullness and beauty of the digital project and the works it preserves can be better appreciated.


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Technology and Teachers: The Human Touch and Understanding

by Brian D. Sadie / Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Many educators and school administrators could learn a valuable lesson from former CIA Director Stansfield Turner and the intelligence world. In 1979, Mr. Turner authorized the elimination of more than 800 operational positions but increased technical and signal intelligence. He, and those who demanded the action, regretted it immediately. Mr. Turner and the world’s intelligence agencies learned then and still admit that enough people, and a variety of them, are necessary for things to work well, even to benefit from increased or improved technology. It’s no surprise that relying too heavily on tech-heavy systems and automation fails: It has been found that people interacting with others and using the tools at hand work best, after all, as much for espionage, analysis, and assessment as for helping and inspiring children and teenagers on their way to intellectual and personal independence. Despite this awareness, both communities still share ardent support for more technology and dependence on it at the expense of key personnel. In the education arena, enough policy-makers and administrators continue to favor extreme Ed Tech evangelism and calls for less teacher-directed formal instruction that educational policy and practice are sorely compromised: with reference to those inchoate notions they even sometimes justify repeated and drastic cuts in public school funding, such as the three-year, forty-five percent suffered in Philadelphia.

The way I see Wendy Kopp’s piece in CNN (Computers can’t replace real teachers, Monday, April 8, 2013 (, she feels the human touch is essential for real education. She responded to Sugata Mitra’s notions that self-directed learning, without teachers but lots of computers, works best with children. Ms. Kopp included a Steve Jobs’ remark that computers can’t solve society’s problems: only people can by attacking the source of the problems. Despite Mr. Jobs’ awareness and statement, many still promote the idea that technical development and gadgetry are more important and capable of ending social inequality, injustice, and strife than sympathetic, better-educated people. Ms. Kopp emphasizes something that I also believe and have long insisted: that technological development is cool and helpful but a great teacher makes for great teaching, for engaging students, for awakening in others a sense of wonder and empowerment at pivotal times so that they may better prepare for life with or without new tools or toys.

The goal of education is to attain understanding and, ideally, hone one’s ability to cope and succeed in life. Basic instruction provides what might be called a technically proficient or merely satisfactory level of learning. As the Oxford dictionary indicates, one learns with awareness and memorization. Learning means that knowledge or skill increases through study, experience, or from being taught.

For example, how important, or influential, as some might prefer, in shaping our world was Henry VIII’s formal separation from the Catholic Church? Learning about his decision is one thing: generally speaking, remembering the blip and relevant dates is often enough to pass and off you go, but understanding that history, or at least appreciating it, requires emotional consideration and intellectual thought, a reflection indicative of fuller cognitive activity that is a significant part of what makes us human. Critical reading and thought are necessary, and articulate discussion certainly helps. Innate intellectual ability notwithstanding, understanding something, the comprehension of thought and things, abstract or not, even the ability to recognize that something remains to be asked and formulate the next question, comes with learning and the inspiration found in quality education.

An holistic approach to learning, one requiring broad and deep knowledge of intellectual and technical fields and methods – for example, fine arts and social sciences as well as mathematics and natural sciences – benefits everyone. Knowing to focus intently on one single thing, knowing why, how, and when to do so, and how to use the question, equation, and answer for an even greater understanding is better than not recognizing or caring that there is more to the question, the problem, or the answer. An inability or unwillingness to demonstrate care, concern, or understanding of underlying issues, overarching principles, and the effects of simplistic, rote decisions and actions by anyone whose role affects others is destructive and unethical. Technical proficiency alone is not enough for the advancement of knowledge or social betterment. When technological innovation occurs as rapidly as it now typically does, greater care and understanding are necessary for appropriate cultural and political integration. Different people, their limitations, strengths, and inclinations, and a variety of approaches to inquiry and work mean that respect and collaboration are called for and, simply put, improve our world. Understanding, being also subject to personal judgment and sympathy, is what ultimately shows our humanity most fully, and it is better served by inspirational, well-rounded people teaching with whatever resources they have to illuminate our shared histories and possible futures.

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Dignity and Negotiation: Palestine and Peace

by Brian D. Sadie / 21 March 2013

Shortly after the formal end of Gulf War hostilities in 1991, during the Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein, I wrote a feature about the US and Middle East. Inspired by discussions with Wahbé Tamari, a naturalized American citizen of Palestinian heritage from Jordan who had lived most of his life in Beirut and Washington, DC, the article examined the ethics and human cost of decision-making and regional policies.

Nearly twenty-two years later the article is still relevant. Why? Not only because the political and negotiation procedures have remained constant since the early twentieth century but also because trauma, deprivation, and other wounds and wrongs leave psychological and socio-economic devastation that requires several generations to overcome. The effects of bad policy and violence are generational: Americans need only think of the Civil War, Civil Rights movement, or Vietnam to comprehend this.

War can reinforce one’s belief in human brotherhood because everyone is subject to suffering, but it can also spark the urge for justice or revenge or a desire for national identity and statehood. The Levantine conflict began about a century ago when European immigrants to Palestine began fighting for a Jewish state on Palestinian soil. Judaism is a religion and Jewish identity a personal choice, but declaring a nation state in another country is something else. When statehood is the goal, international stress and collateral damage typically occurs, and collateral damage is always personal: Where justice fails revenge often applies. More people today seem aware of this and are tired of unethical politics and business that ruins, harms, or kills, so, with political help, positive change might soon occur.

Mr. Obama knows this and reaffirmed on March twenty-first that a Palestinian state is long overdue and necessary for at least regional peace: statehood precedes greater stability that the international community relies upon for more secure borders and beneficial functioning of daily life.

Despite heightened global awareness of the Middle East, many of the underlying issues causing deprivation and violence, especially involving the Levant, remain effectively untended even by international organizations, not least because of the unwillingness of leaders to acknowledge or address the prejudice or purely economic rationale for policies implemented with little understanding of their effects or intended to humiliate and break particular people and their identities. These include illicit settlement building, mismanagement of water, the dismantling of infrastructure, and the separation of individual people and isolation of communities by militarized walls.

To succeed at providing equal access to satisfactory living conditions and protecting generally accepted human rights, those responsible for settlement negotiations and relief actions must heed the human factor. That requires a willingness to curtail the implicit prejudice, often expressed in nuanced language and assumptions, and institutionalized greed and violence that undermine even the most sincere peacemaking and re-building efforts. Hopefully, and despite attempts by those whose malevolence seems unbearable and others who profit from unrest and war, Mr. Obama’s aims, combined with a popular weariness of conflict and desire for normal life, will lead to an honorable peace.

That’s the catch. Those subjugated or otherwise oppressed face the dilemma that forcing an aggressor to negotiate requires dramatic, even violent, action. Regardless of the course taken, those wishing to avoid war or seeking peaceful resolution find that, once diplomatically engaged, much of the world’s political structure and legal process supports a prevalent opinion that to attain binding resolution moral compromise is necessary. Mediators often enforce the notion that there are always two legitimate, ethically right sides in a conflict, thus assuring that negotiations break down or result in untenable conditions. This compromise, of defining fair and unbiased so as to force a victim to accede to an aggressor’s demands, rewards morally corrupt powers. Economics and bureaucracy have long assured this norm, with daily operations maintained by prejudiced, petty officers and the enforcement of ill-formed or unjust law.

Mr. Tamari once said that despite everything he’d been subjected to he still maintained that diplomacy founded on moral rectitude and compassion would eventually lead to a new Palestinian national state. He added, “My heritage is Palestinian, my religion Christian, my nationality American, and I do not support violence. What does that make me? Superman? Now I believe that all the Europeans, Arabs, Africans, and Americans who hold Israeli passports, serve in the Israeli military, or practice Judaism faithfully, can understand those like me when we speak of human dignity. It is to those people that I appeal, and through whom peace will come.”

I hope that Mr. Obama inspires those and others, too, and that he is strong enough to handle more than hecklers at a press conference or speech. How great if the preeminent leader of the world’s identifiable powers facilitated a political resolution initiating a period of sustained normalcy and growth? The entire world would benefit: a nation is accountable in ways that groups living under occupation or in refugee camps aren’t and can’t be. Life in a formally recognized nation helps individuals build, or rebuild, a stable society because family, community, and nation-building are interwoven.

Ultimately, most people want peace. Remove the causes and arguments for terrorist or militia groups by granting statehood and establishing regular social life for these generations and the outliers – those bent on instigating terror – will be more easily seen and more readily stopped. If the adults in charge behave as they ought, then today’s children and teenagers will be able to live without, or at least with less, exceptional cause for prejudice, fear, and rage. Give the young generations the infrastructure every major state assumes or claims is granted and we’ll all have as fine a chance for peaceful living as ever. To do the right thing is the way of a better world, and this world should finally do just that.


The Economist, 21 March, 2013, Barack Obama in Israel: A Corker of a Speech

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