Blog

  • Death of a Warbler

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    I was sitting at the kitchen table reading Elizabeth Kolbert's article in The New Yorker (May 20, 2019) about species extinction. Such a litany of loss overfills the reservoir of one’s grief while its calm, ordered prose provides a dam to hold it back. Suddenly there was a soft thud on the window behind me. I jumped. Two pale down feathers were stuck to the glass.
  • On Getting Arrested at Bath Iron Works, April 27, 2019

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    A couple of weeks ago I chose to get arrested at a demonstration at Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Bath, Maine. The day was cold, windy, and wet. A huge new battleship, the USS Lyndon Baines Johnson, was being launched. BIW is one of two shipyards in the U.S. capable of building these mammoth, deadly ships. Maine’s Congresspeople and Senators were there along with the top executives of BIW and General Dynamics, the parent company of BIW - as well as hundreds of other guests - to extol our military might.
  • How to Think about Frederick Douglass’s Feet of Clay 

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    Not saints, flawed human beings. I’ve told people ever since I began painting the Americans Who Tell the Truth portraits: I don’t paint saints. They’re all real people. No heroes on pedestals. Just like us. Not religious saints, not secular saints. A few icons, maybe, but all real people. That means any one of us can lead the life of a portrait subject. What they all share is a common determination to bend the long moral arc of the universe toward justice.
  • Fairness. A Sparrow. A Robin.

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    I was driving home from the Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor where I had spent the day with three first grade andone fourth grade class.For reasons I’m not sure of,I began thinking of this Bible verse: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (King James Bible) That’s unusual for me. I rarely remember Bible verses. In each class of ten kids we had sat in a circle on a rug andtalked about fairness.
  • Every Cog and Wheel

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    “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” --- Aldo Leopold On reading Jill Lepore’s masterful new history of the United States, These Truths, one cannot overstate the importance of telling a country’s story honestly --for how else, but for all the triumphs, the failures, the ideals, the hypocrisies, the myths and denials do we know who we really are? Ms.
  • Some Reflections on the Portrait Exhibit at Syracuse University

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    Before coming to Syracuse University for the opening of the Americans Who Tell the Truth portrait exhibit, a number of people asked me what it was going to feel like to see all the portraits at once. In retrospect, this question seems like asking a thirteen year old how it will feel to be married, or a medical student how it will feel to save a life.
  • Accountability, History, Identity & the Liberty Medal

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    Recently the Texas board of education decided to remove slavery from its school textbooks. When a story isn't told, or its truth is altered, it slips from memory, slips from the accumulated identity people internalize by knowing their common history. As strong as the desire is for all of us to deny the worst we do, if we eradicate the worst, we have no idea who we are. All the social facts, customs, conditions, injustices, ramifications still deriving from that past are now free-floating, causeless.
  • On the Supreme Court Putting a Stay on Juliana v. U.S.

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    "Government actions knowingly and willfully created the climate crisis. From this crisis young and future generations face increasing dangers. As courageous, creative change-makers we have the opportunity and moral authority to change the social, political, and economic structures that cause injustice and climate chaos. Youth are standing up for our fundamental right to inherit a stable and survivable planet.
  • 17 Years of Getting Afghanistan Completely Wrong

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    While many of us forget, David Swanson urges us to remember. And to do something about it. Swanson reminds us that the war in Afghanistan drags on, even as Americans ignore its ongoing tragedies.
  • The Accusation That Wouldn't Go Away

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    RobertKoehler from Chicago is one of my favorite observers of our complicated culture. What I like so much about him is his clear-eyed compassion for all people and honest assessment of hypocrisy when we fail to live up to our professed ideals. I know of no one who writes more eloquently and economically about social justice - particularly our many varieties of racism, about the insidiousness of militarism, about wealth disparity, and now particularly about the crisis of climate change.