Monday, May 31, 2010

To my high school alumni association

The alumni association of university school, my high-school alma mater, meets in the faculty lounge of the former school building July 10 for the annual alumni meeting. On this Memorial Day, I honor these memories:

This July 10 will be my first alumni meeting since I retired and moved back to Worthington, where I moved in 1951. Now, Steff, I see that the theme for this year’s meeting is sports.
How ironic. I won a letter in wrestling in 1961. The sweater shrunk in the wash while I spent my senior year in Norway, too small for me to wear, small as my deserts for the sports letter.
By the time I finished one year in the ninth grade on the football team, I was on the bench primarily afraid that in the huddle or on the field, someone would step on my foot. By the time I went off to Norway with my parents in lieu of being at uhs, I had spent three years of agony as a wrestling team member. In practice, I could take down a champion several weight classes above me. In a meet, I mastered the art of being strong enough not to be pinned most of the time. When I wrestled a champion from another school I simply imagined that I didn’t want to give him any reason to take losing out on me should we meet in a city alley. My coach was frustrated. Why did I wrestle so well in practice and freeze in meets?
A decade later, I got let go from my first teaching job after I walked into my first criminology class of 200 in January 1971, telling them I was giving them all A’s because I don’t believe in grades. University School gave me the courage to renounce competition in education--to acknowledge that I am loath to win at others' expense. University School gave me space to recognize and live my own political deviance.
Last year. in retirement. I moved back to Worthington with my wife, Jill Bystydzienski. We live here because she was hired four years ago as outside chair of women’s studies at Ohio State. We have been married 36 years. Jill has been to Worthington since we met. She will of course be with me July 10.
I am aware that 2012 will be my class’s 50th anniversary; I’d like to help organize a reunion. Meanwhile, in the spirit of John Dewey and democratic foundation at which u-school was built, I want to acknowledge that University School gave me the courage to acknowledge that I am unsuited to manhood and competition as we know it. U-High, you gave me space to form my own identity, and helped me land in a place where I could honestly live. What a gift, thanks!
Hal Pepinsky, ‘62

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hal's Law of Social Control

Violence=[human growth>(waste/entropy/chaos/disorder)]=human anti-matter=human force)Xtime=power

Monday, May 10, 2010

mother earth calling

Hal Pepinsky, ,
May 10, 2010
Iceland beside Ireland was the economic darling of Europe at the dawn of the twenty-first century. News of Icelandic financial collapse preceded deposit of Icelandic volcanic ash over northern Europe by just a couple of years.
Haiti is known to be the poorest most desperate country in the Western Hemisphere. They were struck by the mother of all Caribbean earthquakes.
Several months passed. When early this month President Obama approved expanded offshore oil drilling, one of the deepest oil wells in the world blew an offshore well to smithereens a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico, and it just won’t stop defecating on the earth’s surface.
I know that correlation is not causation, but damn! Might not gaia, aka mother earth, be trying to tell us something? Love and peace--hal

Sunday, May 9, 2010

to mother earth on mother's day

Hal Pepinsky,,
May 9, 2010
Today is Mother’s Day. Yesterday, on the 65th anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender, British Petroleum lowered a hundred-ton box onto a hemhorraging oil well 880 fathoms below on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, a never-before act of desperation.
When the box was lowered and the gushing hot “crude” oil emerged from the bowels of mother earth into the depths of the surface of the earth, the oil had frozen by the time it reached the top of the box. BP has set the box aside to figure out how to send enough heat a mile down in water to keep oil inside the box heated enough to flow into a pipe inside a larger, water heated pipe warm enough to sustain the flow to waiting tankers above. The most promising approach to stemming the 200,000 gallon per day flow of raw coal tar into the Gulf is that in two months or so, a relief hole will have been drilled to stem the uncontrolled oil flow. This raises the prospect that a good deal of “black gold” will make it to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, and perhaps run into volcanic ash from Iceland by the time it reaches Northern Europe.
As karma works within species including humanity, so it works in human food chains. In times of environmental crisis, the lowest members of food chains tend to die fastest. Ultimately, those at the top of the food change suffer too, although one way or another, the rich among the richer species, too, get richer while the poor bear the brunt. At best for the wealthiest human survivors, their security and stability is increasingly threatened by rebels and predators. It occurs to me that this dynamic of response to human crisis explains the rise of the state. Once families or other groups had enough wealth in hard times to survive comfortably as long as they didn’t have to share what they “owned,” security forces began to grow, and pools of ownership, as in “nations” had to grow alongside to hold onto accumulated, hoarded wealth. Superhuman attempts to solve the oil spill today in the gulf will not change results of civilized human behavior to date. I consider this human syndrome of response to adversity a law of human nature. Still, I believe all laws are meant to be broken, this way or that. My longtime friend and teacher Bill Breeden calls this law-breaking approach to sober human reality “guerrilla peacefare.” I’m a wannabe.
Natural catastrophes keep reminding me of my image of the relationship humanity has persistently, growingly has forged with mother earth. Here, I don’t mean to account for the many occasions that have come to shape my image. Here, in celebration of Mother’s Day, I simply lay out an image that I have of our relations with our planet.
I don’t hug trees, but I do stand and sit against them, feeling a pleasant, quiet energy they radiate. As I sat in my backyard looking up at the hardwood canopy 40 feet or so over my head, I envisioned trees as pooping oxygen and life into my world aboveground, while getting their meals from rain and decomposition of vegetable and animal corpses below my feet. For a period when I thought I might die in Bloomington, I fantasized of being wrapped, unembalmed, in a sheet and buried on our wooded corner lot, where my body could give life back to the trees that had supported me, so that more surely than a covenant on a deed, our “unimproved” corner city lot would never be “developed.” I believe that we live in the underworld of our trees’ living existence; we are their parasites, the feeders at their earthly waste.
Instead of settling for cultivating life on our mother’s surface, we humans have the chutzbah to invest in taking heat and energy from our mother’s hot bowels. We excise entire mountains from her skin to produce coal. In mother earth’s life, Newton’s law of entropy applies: Concentration of energy, let alone concentration of power, kills; it creates friction, disorder, heat. This applies even to surface concentrations of energy production on earth’s surface, such as the size of recent dams along the Ganges and Yangtze Rivers. Current events strengthen my belief that humanity is a metastasizing cancer on mother earth’s life-giving capacity. When her surface tumors erupt as in Haiti or Greece or Wall Street or the Gulf of Mexico as I write, they become bigger and bigger human catastrophes.
If subterranean feeding and composting of solar energy for as long ago before humankind as coal and oil is presumptuous, consider the chutzbah in thinking that we can get so much more energy out of a lump of earth, as out of uranium. Who on earth can plan how to contain nuclear waste for our offspring for hundreds of thousands of years to come? I offer a law of energy productivity: The more productive the energy source (as in nuclear), the greater the human disasters that result. In nuclear waste piles as in the Gulf of Mexico, we are laying waste on our mother.
I arrived at this image of the tragic course of human greed and audacity decades ago. On this Mother’s Day, I apologize for human greed and destruction, including that wrought by my own energy consumption. I just keep on hoping that our lives and hers matter enough for bends to be taken in destructive growth in that consumption.
On the bright side, I also don’t think any human beings, Hitler and James Jones included, have ever had the capacity to wipe out life on earth’s surface, including our own. The part of humanity that loves life may by our awareness of our own disrespect for our mother earth alleviate human suffering in generations to come. Speaking for myself, that’s the highest religious purpose I can embrace. Love and peace and happy mother’s day--hal

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Surveillance and Immigration

Hal Pepinsky,,
May 8, 2010
The immigration bill now working its way through the US senate requires that biometric national identity cards be produced by all US employees. I am reminded of apocalyptic prophecies I heard from survivors of intergenerational satanic cults as the twentieth century was about to end: Eventually, in order even to work, you would be required to carry a mark of the beast. Already, personal information was being accumulated (as someone told me she understood it, in a Stockholm suburban center). In the late sixties, I had already learned never to say anything on the phone that I would not want overheard. When I heard worries expressed about progressive state intrusions into privacy, I joked that since the government had at least two security clearances’ worth of information on me, I was protected by their information overload.
What is information overload protection for this native-born older white man become further pretexts for detaining, criminalizing, deporting and economically marginalizing poor young people of color, in this case known or suspected immigrants. For one thing, biometric national identity cards would become a lucrative new crime control industry. At what point would state or private employers of what size be required to hook their own readers up to a national data base? At what point would employers be prosecuted for not having kept records of id checks? What sort of industry would grow in the new market for identity fraud? This is Arizona’s law carried to a whole new level.
As a schoolchild I memorized Emma Lazarus’s poem at the base of the US Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shores.
Send these, the homeless tempest tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.
These days, “enlightened” politicians in the White House and Congress have come to recognize dangers of giving way to protectionism in hard times. Some blame free trade agreements. In a truly free global market, those who were unemployed in the US could freely move to foreign labor markets, and Latin Americans could re-colonize the nation that has colonized them since the Monroe Doctrine in 1815. With truly conservative belief in personal freedom, there would be no drug war, hence a major drop in murders along the US-Mexican border.
Next month I will be at the International Conference on Penal Abolition in Belfast. The conference will never again come to the US, because even in 1991, the one time the conference was held in the country, people with long-gone felony convictions were turned away at the Canadian border. International boycotts of the US started long before the current boycott of Arizona. And US senate sponsors of “immigration reform” have the gall to criticize Arizona. These days, it’s hard to tell our domestic enemies from our foreign ones. I wish Lady Liberty were allowed to do her magic. Love and peace--hal

Friday, May 7, 2010

Research methods 101: David Isay's vision of

Motherhood and Story Corps
Hal Pepinsky,,
May 6, 2010

Amy Goodman starts a segment today on at 36 minutes into the daily news broadcast, featuring her interview of founder David Isay on his newly released texts of interviews with mothers. At 46 minutes into the broadcast, Isay lays out peacemaking research methods concisely, focusing on listening where we encounter difference. Beautiful! Check it out--love and peace, hal

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Taking Time: a tribute to criminal justice at IU

Hal Pepinsky,,
May 5, 2010

In Small is Beautiful, written in the early seventies, E.F. Shumacher notes that in the United States, the world’s richest people have the least leisure time of any people on the planet. In 1986 in Oslo, Norwegian criminologist and personal inspiration Nils Christie taught me a lesson in taking time that time and again reminds how crucial taking free moments is in times of crisis.
Jill and I wanted to take our 9-year-old Katy back to Jill’s Warsaw birthplace. Jill was Canadian and didn’t require a visa. Children required no passports. I alone required a Polish visa. I got off the tram stop at the Polish Embassy in Oslo. The gate was locked; I met no human. As a sign instructed, I deposited my application and passport into a box under a sign that told me to come back to collect my documents in a couple of weeks. I had deposited passports at hotel desks in Europe—in Leningrad in 1968 at the moment of the Soviet invasion of Prague for instance--in the past, but never had surrendered my passport to the hands of an anonymous, impersonal, formally cold-war enemy.
When I got back to the criminology institute I was shaken. It is not easy for me, 24 years later, to acknowledge how scared I was of losing my international identity, even as one who had been an intern with a top security clearance in the us state dept. When I got back to the loft at the University of Oslo where the criminology then existed, I went straight to Nils’s office to tell him what had happened. Nils smiled and reassured me that he knew people in the Polish Embassy, since for one thing he regularly traveled there. I left his office and returned shortly, asking him whether he might not call someone he knew at the Polish embassy to find out the status of my application.
Smiling, he gently advised me: just wait Hal…let me know if you don’t get the visa.
Needless to say, I got the passport back with the visa. As luck would have it, Jill, Katy and I were in Warsaw when Chernobyl melted. In Warsaw, Katy was given a priority dose of iodine to defend against radiation poisoning of her young thyroid. Ironically, the Chernobyl cloud swept through Norway as a northeaster before it wafted through Poland.
“Just wait Hal…”

Twenty years ago today, Jill and Katy were just about to join me for the last five weeks of my spring semester sabbatical, where I was the only white person living in Magomeni Makuti, a district in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
My first Swahili teacher, Alwiya Omar, now directs the African languages program at Indiana University. Her dissertation for her IU Ph.D. in linguistics was a comparison of greetings in Tanzania and in the United States. As I prepared in 1989 to go to Dar, I vividly recall Alwiya’s introducing our class to the importance of Swahili greetings. Swahili greetings begin by asking a series of how are things questions, beginning with asking how things are generally, progressing through specifics from asking about family, work…, where the stock answer is either “fine” or “well.” The conversation turns to specifics. If someone has a problem, s/he eventually answers, “Fine, but…”
Alwiya would have us pair off and practice greeting each other. None of us, including me, could sustain the conversation.
I haven’t been back to Tanzania since 1990. When I was in Dar there was no broadcast television (families of means watched videos), let alone internet or mobile phones. The house I lived in had the only phone on the block. I lived for every Saturday when Jill would call me. I still have a stack of long letters I wrote Jill every evening after supper. I had lots of time.
The father of Tanzanian statehood, Mwalimu (the Teacher) Nyerere, was alive and well living quietly in a house outside Dar which the state had provided him. Nyerere had kept Tanzania fiercely non-aligned during the Cold War and independent of the IMF and World Bank. As the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1990, the Tanzanian government was only beginning to buckle to begging and borrowing “investment in infrastructure.” Already, there were many girls in my neighborhood whose families could not afford school uniforms. Granted, there were potholes bigger than cars on the way to the airport. The fact remained that Tanzanians were the most literate, least blatantly unequal, most politically independent, stable nation in Africa (the most serious unrest having been two or student takeovers of classrooms at the university; at one point during the takeover while I was there, the prime minister resigned and my sometime roommate--my hosts’ cousin--principal secretary to the Zanzabari Tanzanian vice president, stayed in Magomeni for three days as acting prime minister).
Under these conditions, when someone in Tanzania showed up at your door or ran into you in the street, time spent catching up was precious. Only in unusual circumstances would you excuse yourself for having to take care of something urgent. Paying attention in the moment meant more than keeping a schedule. Under these circumstances, it bordered on rude to show up for an appointment on time, let alone to check in early. At a post office or other government office, you might be the next in line while an official was locked in what seemed to me to be endless personal conversation. It took me a couple of times interrupting to be rebuked: “Subiri tu!” (just be patient). In Dar, my sense of time was turned upside down. It has never fully turned back.
I have been persuaded, notably by my students, that the key to gaining social security is balancing one’s attention between taking care of business and taking time off for whatever or whoever shows up. I came to recognize that even after I had become tenured and promoted, I was obsessing over the closest deadlines I had not met, up to six months away. How Ironic. On one hand, practically speaking, all I needed to do to draw a paycheck was to show up for class six hours a week and pay serious and respectful attention to students. I had a lot of free time. On the other hand, I kept on aspiring to publish and get cited and formally recognized. “Hi,” “how’re you doing?,” “fine” were second-nature greetings to me. I had business to attend to…
On one hand, I remain part of the problem simply because I remain human. I see no solution, no prescription even for myself, let alone for anyone else, as to how to use time well, truly, and beautifully. But as I have taken more time for myself and my daily relations, in order to balance more evenly with business I need to take care of, I have noticed personal and social benefits. I notice for instance that when things need fixing for me and Jill or my mom, things get fixed faster, better and with more mutual appreciation when I don’t rush people whom I ask to get the work done. I try to restrain my impulse to check on how things are going…to wait a little…to be patient.
Socially, restraint has given me two benefits in particular. For one, when I hold off questioning people who indicate that they have problems, I have become a minimalist, resist the impulse to find out what is going on, try to sit still and shut up and listen. As a result, my impression is that people open up and tell me about themselves more readily. I learn a lot. For another benefit, I more readily get honest feedback from people about myself, the good and the bad. That gives me a chance to do something about the bad and to affirm mutual appreciation. On one hand I have less reason to fear personal criticism, let alone attack; on the other I am continually reassured that I am of value in my relations.
Last week, I returned to Bloomington for a graduate exam. Simeon, thanks for inviting me. I lived in Bloomington 33 years before retirement last year. When I took leave from IU to return to Oslo in 1986, I had already turned down my last offer, aspiring to work nowhere else until retirement, unless perhaps to follow Jill once she got a job out of state.
Last week’s stay in Bloomington triggered this essay. Before I post it to blogspot, I have sent it to students and staff in criminal justice at IU. I unabashedly recruited and thrived on working with undergraduate and graduate students in a department where faculty, including me, allowed each another the time to define ourselves. Many thanks to staff and students in criminal justice at IU who have shared their time with me. Love and peace--hal

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wall Street gambling

I'm back to blogging after a hiatus drafting the handbook article on peacemaking. Pardon my impetuousness at posting this polemic without the editing readers might deserve. This just came out of me:-)
Here I hark back my Hoosier roots:

Hal Pepinsky,,
May 2, 2010

In 1851, Hoosiers added section 8 to article 15 of the Indiana Constitution, forbidding authorization of a “lottery” and the sale of “lottery tickets.” Over the years, this came to be taken as a prohibition of gambling. In 1988, the Constitution was amended to repeal art. 15, sec. 8. I recall this as the major issue in the 1988 election campaign. Once the repeal was in effect, it was conceded by proponents and opponents of legalized gambling that any legalization had to be “authorized” by the General Assembly. In 1993, legalization began with the establishment of a “lottery and gaming” commission empowered to regulate riverboat casino gambling.
Six years before the repeal, my Indiana University criminal justice colleague Paul Jesilow had persuaded me to move the pension money I had invested in the stock market to my annuities fund, where all my pension has rested since. That fund (TIAA’s first pension fund, classically an investment in bonds for municipal infrastructure) promised a return of at least 3 percent a year and has over the past 38 years in fact accrued 5 percent interest. Paul argued that I should divest from Wall Street on moral grounds, citing Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations, 1776) for the idea that the amorality of for-profit incorporation was the primary threat to free-market operation of the “invisible hand” of seller competition to offer honest value for product. Smith argued that the natural result of incorporation is market oligopoly, or worse, monopoly (known these days as “too big to fail,” formerly recognized as an illegal “trust,” a “combination in restraint of trade.”
For my part, for all the addictions I may have had, gambling is not one of them. Like an observant Muslim, I have always felt it immoral to make money simply from having money. Personally, I am a dedicated fiscal conservative. All during the 1988 gambling debate in Indiana, I kept asking myself and fellow Hoosiers: If gambling is prohibited in Indiana, how come we license stockbrokers to do business in this state?
I’m in favor of investing, as Jill and I have for instance in lives of our parents, children and grandchildren. My problem is with investing in enterprises in which I have no personal stake simply for the sake of increasing my personal wealth. When for instance I hear the anger and shock of people who lost everything investing with Bernie Medoff, I ask myself: What on earth makes any human being feel s/he is entitled to a 14 percent annual return on investment? It has to be at someone’s expense. As surely as a growing tension among earth plates sometime results in an earthquake, economic bubbles inevitably burst. This results in the death of corporate entities like Lehman Brothers as well as in personal tragedy of those who have invested life savings in a Citicorp. When I am offered “investment opportunities,” I feel a fiduciary responsibility to my family to decline.
There was considerable human drama when Goldman Sachs executives appeared last week on Capitol Hill. As I listened to comments by members of Congress and other commentators, I kept hearing the message that Goldman Sachs executives had crossed the line between ethical investment and “gambling” with their clients’ money. To me, the blame game is just a way to avoid the major issue: a magical thinking that leads us so widely to gamble our financial futures so recklessly, period. Back to Pogo: We have met our enemy and the enemy is us.
Face it: Wall Street is a gambling center pure and simple. In 1988, I recall that trading on the New York Exchange was just pushing past a million trades a day. Now trades number in billions. How’s that for growth in personal , corporate and governmental fiscal irresponsibility—a post WWII mega-gold rush?
We have a lot of historical amnesia. Does anyone but me remember President George W. Bush’s first legislative initiative in 2001, aborted by 9/11? It was to kill what was deemed by some Republicans to be the last hated bastion of the New Deal: Social Security. Bush proposed that people be allowed to divert their social security taxes into Wall Street pension funds. One good thing to come of 9/11 is that social security pensions remained secure when Wall Street collapsed. Every cloud has a silver lining. Love and peace--hal