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Archive for the ‘Robert C. Koehler’

Wealth vs. Money

March 30, 2015 By: NCVeditor Category: Economy, Politics, Robert C. Koehler

Resisting the Forces of Privatization and Commodification

by Robert C. Koehler

“There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Salk_Thank_YouThe words are those of Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, speaking to Edward R. Murrow in 1955, as quoted recently in an essay by Paul Buchheit. What was he thinking? Six decades later, the words have such a counter-resonance with prevailing thought. They exude an old-fashioned humility and innocence, like . . . striking it rich isn’t necessarily the ultimate point of life?

I read these words and sense so much spilled wisdom in them, so much wasted hope. The world we’ve created is governed these days by two unquestioned principles: commodify and dominate. And it’s chewing up the resources that used to belong to every occupant of the planet.

“Eighty people hold the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to an analysis just released from Oxfam,” Mona Chalabi wrote in January at FiveThirtyEight.com. “The report from the global anti-poverty organization finds that since 2009, the wealth of those 80 richest has doubled in nominal terms — while the wealth of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population has fallen.” (more…)

Inside Peace

February 26, 2015 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Current Events, Robert C. Koehler

Film Festival Highlights Struggles, Possibilities for Prisoners

by Robert C. Koehler

As media ownership converges and technology “unites” us, the concept of national identity grows ever easier to exploit — and therefore, I fear, increasingly, and dangerously, simplistic.

POEfilmThis is the war on terror. This is the war on crime. They march on, despite the magnitude of their failures. They march on . . . because America is tough. America is exceptional.

If our news and mass-entertainment outlets valued complexity and expansion of the national IQ, we wouldn’t go to war. We’d be building our lives on the far side of fear and the far side of cynicism, which is the only place where peace is possible.

It’s not like we aren’t doing that anyway, to a certain extent. But it only becomes news when visionary journalists — peace journalists –declare that it is, which is why, every year for the last seven years now, I have written about and celebrated Chicago’s Peace on Earth Film Festival, which showcases extraordinary films that step beyond the simplistic myth of good vs. evil, us vs. them.

This year the festival is scheduled for March 19-22 at the Chicago Cultural Center; as always, it’s free of charge. (more…)

Common Cause

January 29, 2015 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Politics, Robert C. Koehler

Healing the Criminal Justice System

by Robert C. Koehler

“It’d be really hard to have a higher recidivism rate than we have in Cook County.” Maybe this is the place to start a brief meditation on changing the world, or at least Chicago . . . known to some of its residents as “Chiraq.”

commoncauseThe speaker is Elena Quintana, executive director of the Adler Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice, which, in partnership with Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, recently completed a study on Cook County’s dysfunctional juvenile justice system.

What we’re doing isn’t working, justice-wise, order-wise, sanity-wise. The state of Illinois is bankrupt and yet its jails are full to bursting, at a cost, per occupant, equal to or greater than the cost of luxury suites at its ritziest hotels. And 90 percent of the teenagers who enter the system come back within three years of their release. This is no surprise: The system is a spiral of entrapment, especially for young men of color. (more…)

Losing Another Decade

April 30, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Economy, Robert C. Koehler

Can We Turn the Tide While There’s Still Time?

by Robert C. Koehler

“We cannot afford to lose another decade.”

My God. There’s more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined “Running Out of Time.”

Suddenly, ten years felt vital, alive with possibility. Edenhofer wasn’t referring to some abstract decade embedded in the history of the human race, or the history of the planet, but ten years gouged out of our own lifetimes and certainly out of our children’s lifetimes. We can’t afford to lose … ten years of breath and heartbeat. (more…)

Growing Up

April 21, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Robert C. Koehler

Living in Partnership with Mother Earth

by Robert C. Koehler

Okay, humankind, it’s time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26. Change one word.

I recently quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change: “And God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,” etc. Dominion! Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don’t know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we’re wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life. (more…)

Will We Ever Learn?

April 07, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Politics, Robert C. Koehler

High-Stakes Testing Undermines the Essence of Teaching

by Robert C. Koehler

A mind is a terrible thing to test, especially a child’s mind — if, in so doing, you reduce it to a number and proceed to worship that number, ignoring the extraordinary complexity and near-infinite potential of what you have just tested.

“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” What if?

What if the American education bureaucracy understood these words of Ralph Waldo Emerson and honored the latent genius of every student? What if it funded teachers and schools with as much enthusiasm as it did corporate vendors? What if, in some official way, we loved kids and their potential more than the job slots we envisioned for them and judged them only in relationship to their realization of that potential? What if standardized testing, especially the obsessive, punitive form that has evolved in this country, went the way of the dunce cap and the stool in the corner? (more…)

Voices of Pain and Peace

March 12, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Politics, Robert C. Koehler

Film Festival Highlights Anguish … and Hope

by Robert C. Koehler

No matter how bad it gets, we can look inside ourselves and find hope, possibility … the future. And when we find that, we know what it means to build peace.

“It’s like I’m in a never-ending battle with my brain,” Kayla said. “They called me Crazy Kayla. I have anger problems. Someone messes with me, I lose it. I was molested, raped, physically and mentally abused. I was in 127 different homes. I have a 3-month-old baby…”

Peace isn’t the avoidance of difficult topics but their thorough, unstinting examination, not with cynicism and despair but with the certainty that salvation is mixed into the pain. All we have to do is find it.

This is precisely what a good documentary film does for us, and there are so many of them out there these days. Thirty-one such films were showcased at Chicago’s sixth annual Peace on Earth Film Festival, an event I’ve been associated with since its beginning. The four-day festival, which was held March 6-9 (free of charge, as always) at the Chicago Cultural Center, takes on a mélange of provocative subjects: Fukushima, agribusiness, gun violence, forgiveness in the wake of violence, hospice care for prisoners, childhood mental illness, and much more. (more…)