Category Archives: Quakers

How the Queen Rained on My Parade

Like a lot of people you haven’t heard of, I had other plans for September 8. In fact, I was going to have a parade. For me.

Okay, it was going to be an imaginary parade, down the Main Street of my mind; such fetes  have many advantages: cheaper; much easier to clean up after the confetti-tossers and the horses; and it never rains.

The occasion and date kind of crept up on me, though I’d long been looking forward to the occasion, which was my reaching the status of being a half-millionaire.

Not, alas, a half-millionaire in dollars, or any other financial instrument. Rather, I was within sight of — wait for it — accumulating half a million hits on this blog.

Go ahead, chuckle if you want. Or even nod toward a site like the Drudge Report, which brags credibly about how it gets like 26 million hits every [g*dd*m] day.

I know, I know. This blog is, at best, a tiny cork bobbing on the great swirling swells of the internet ocean.

Yet I’ve pecked away at it for more than a decade (the start date is hazy), increasingly in recent years. People have read it, too. The occasional post reached over a thousand, a handful north of two. There have been lots of comments, only a few of which have descended into internet trollery.

The blog has delivered a number of Quaker scoops, upset a few applecarts, comforted a handful of the afflicted, got me canceled here and there, shown lots of pretty flowers, cute grandkids, cats, and reportedly even evoked some laughs.

Further, over time, the average daily hit numbers have slowly grown.

The web hosting service maintains a chart which shows hits in real time, and a running grand total. Some months back I noticed that the “all time” number was over 400,000.

That was when I decided on a parade at the half-million mark. In a time of pandemic and ebbing energy, it would show at least a certain stamina.

And two weeks ago, the countdown was at the wire, and Thursday around sundown I actually saw the tally flip over from 499,995 to 500,005 (bother that they didn’t pause right on the 500K button for a screen shot, but that’s algorithms for you, a rum lot.)

But, what the hey — now was the time to pull the cord on the parade, and I knew just how it should look . . .

. . . But on the way to setting it up, my blogger’s reflex kicked in long enough to check on any late-breaking headlines —and there it was, the news equivalent of a sudden earthquake or a two-week severe thunderstorm —

And I knew it was all over for my puny plans. The next days, or weeks would be shot for anything else but clop, clop, clop, “thru Jesus Christ our Lord,” 73 years, fifteen prime ministers, poor Diana and how many times was Harry snubbed this morning?

Whatever. Despite my firmly (small r) republican outlook, the seemingly endless foofaraw had a certain stolid appeal. And there was a tad of consolation in pointing out that the new king was named after me.

Besides, I now know that even if Her Late Majesty had muddled through for a few more weeks, there was no real hope for my parade, because September 8 was also the day of this other, long-feverishly awaited news photo, that of a certain three-shirted insurrectionist, insufferable in his defiant air of pardoned impunity, actually doing the perp walk adorned with the federal bracelets. . . .

“I say, half a million? Jolly good, old chap. Oh — there’s Camilla, er, the Queen. Must toddle . . .”

(Can’t deny it: I would have skipped my own parade to watch that )

 

Deja Vu All Over Again! Draft Exiles Streaming Out of Russia

[NOTE: the article below opens the doors of memory. The draft resistance exodus from Russia is the third such episode I’ve witnessed.

The first two I played a bit part in: during the 1960s Vietnam War, many U. S. Quakers “aided and abetted” (technically a federal crime) many young men who left the country to avoid being swept up in the military draft: I encouraged a few myself.
Others, such as Friend Ken Maher, helped many more, and Ken recounts his adventures on the new underground railroad of those years in this post, Then 35 years later, as the U. S. Invasion of Iraq wreaked its  vast destruction, I worked with dissident soldiers who left the country to refuse participation in an illegal, immoral war. The story, “Money for College,” here, grew out of that work.
This time, I’m but a spectator and cheerleader, from a seemingly safe distance. But while Putin’s cronies jeer at them, and his minions arrest as many as they can catch, I know their refusal is important. Many may languish in prison, others have to start over in exile, and there will be no parades or medals for either. But widespread draft resistance has an impact: it helps blunt the drive for war, saps the public compliance needed even in a Putin-style tyranny. To paraphrase, “They also serve, who refuse to serve at all.”]

The Guardian —  22 September 2022

‘I will cross the border tonight’: Russians flee after news of draft

Border guards cite ‘exceptional’ number of people leaving the country after ‘partial mobilisation’ announcement

Hours after Vladimir Putin shocked Russia by announcing the first mobilisation since the second world war, Oleg received his draft papers in the mailbox, ordering him to make his way to the local recruitment centre in Kazan, the capital of the ​​Tatarstan republic.

As a 29-year-old sergeant in the Russian reserves, Oleg said he always knew that he would be the first in line if a mobilisation was declared, but held out hope that he would not be forced to fight in the war in Ukraine.

“My heart sank when I got the call-up,” he said. “But I knew I had no time to despair.”

 

He quickly packed all his belongings and booked a one-way ticket to Orenburg, a southern Russian city close to the border with Kazakhstan.

“I will be driving across the border tonight,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday from the airport in Orenburg. “I have no idea when I’ll step foot in Russia again,” he added, referring to the jail sentence Russian men face for avoiding the draft.

Backup at the Russian border with Finland.

Oleg said he will leave behind his wife, who is due to give birth next week. “I will miss the most important day of my life. But I am simply not letting Putin turn me into a killer in a war that I want no part in.”

The Kremlin’s decision to announce a partial mobilisation has led to a rush among men of military age to leave the country, likely sparking a new, possibly unprecedented brain drain in the coming days and weeks.

The Guardian spoke to over a dozen men and women who had left Russia since Putin announced the so-called partial mobilisation, or who are planning to do so in the next few days.

Options to flee are limited, they say. Earlier this week, four of the five EU countries bordering Russia announced they would no longer allow Russians to enter on tourist visas.

Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul, Yerevan, Tashkent and Baku, the capitals of countries allowing Russians visa-free entry, were sold out for the next week, while the cheapest one-way flight from Moscow to Dubai cost about 370,000 rubles (£5,000) – a fee too steep for most.

And so many, like Oleg, were forced to get creative and drive to some of the few land borders still open to Russians.

Border guards in Finland, the last EU country that still allows entry to Russians with tourist visas, said that they have noticed an “exceptional number” of Russian nationals seeking to cross the border overnight, while eyewitnesses also said the Russian-Georgian and Russian-Mongolian borders were “collapsing” with overwhelming traffic.

“We are seeing an even bigger exodus than when the war started,” said Ira Lobanovskaya, who started the “Guide to the free World”NGO, which helps Russians against the war leave the country.

She said her website had received over one and half million visits since Putin’s speech on Wednesday. According to Lobanovkaya’s estimates, over 70,000 Russians that used the group’s services have already left or made concrete plans to leave.

“These are people who are buying one-way tickets. They won’t be coming back as long as mobilisation is ongoing,” she said.

Many of those who are still in Russia will feel that time is running out. At least three regions have already announced they will close their borders to men eligible for the draft.

Border agents at Russian airports have also reportedly started interrogating departing male passengers about their military service status and checking return tickets.

After thousands of Russians rallied against the war and mobilisation on Wednesday, some took to social media to criticise protesters for not speaking out earlier, when their country’s troops were committing human rights abuses in Bucha, Irpin and countless of other towns across Ukraine.

Policemen detaining protesters in central St. Petersburg
Policemen move in to detain participants of an unauthorised protest against partial mobilisation in central St Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday. Photograph: Anatoly Maltsev/EPA

“I understand people’s frustration,” said Igor, a 26-year-old IT professional from St Petersburg, who is planning to fly to Vladikavkaz and drive to Georgia, another popular fleeing route used by Russians, next week. “I attended the anti-war protest when Putin launched his invasion, but the authorities just jail everyone.”

Some of the protesters detained in Moscow have subsequently been given draft notices while locked up, according to the monitoring group OVD, further underlying the dangers average Russians face when taking to the streets.

“I think the only way I can personally help Ukraine right now is by not fighting there,” Igor said.

There have also been calls for the EU to support Russians who are looking for a way out of the draft.

The EU Commission spokesperson on home affairs, Anitta Hipper, said that the bloc would meet to discuss the issuance of humanitarian visas to Russians fleeing mobilisation. The three Baltic states said on Thursday, however, that they are not prepared to automatically offer asylum to Russians fleeing the draft.

Even those without any military experience – men who Putin vowed not to call up – are packing their bags.

Russian police detaining a protester
Russian police detaining a protester against the partial mobilisation. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

They point to the ambiguity of Putin’s mobilisation law and point to previous broken promises that he would not call for one.

“Putin lied that there will be no mobilisation,” said 23-year-old Anton, a student in Moscow, referring to the president’s International Women’s Day address on 8 March, when he insisted that no reservists would be called up to fight in Ukraine. “Why would he not lie again about this partial mobilisation?”

Fears have grown after independent website Novaya Gazeta Europe reported, based on its government sources, that the mobilistation decrees allow the Ministry of Defence to call up 1,000,000 people, instead of the 300,000 announced by the country’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, on Wednesday.

For now, Lobanovskaya said, the majority of Russians leaving are men.

The Guardian also spoke to a number of women, mostly medics, who similarly decided to leave the country after reports started to trickle out that Russia was calling up health professionals to the front.

“I know medics are supposed to treat people, that is our duty,” said Tatayana, a doctor from Irkutsk, who bought a plane ticket to Baku for next week. “But I believe the sooner this horrible war stops, the fewer people will die.”

The mobilisation also appears to have spooked some of the very people on whom the regime relies to sustain its war efforts.

“For me, mobilisation is the red line,” said Ilya, 29, a mid-level official working for the Moscow government. “Tomorrow I will be in Kazakhstan.”

One man, the son of a west-sanctioned oligarch due to come back to Russia after his studies abroad to work for his family business, said he no longer planned to do so.

“Well, one thing is clear,” he said, in a brief interview by text message. “I won’t be coming back to Russia anytime soon.”

 

The Hidden Quaker Role in a Famous Catholic Monastery Cookbook “Empire”

How a solitary monk, known for his soup, united a community
[And how a Quaker helped him start]

Washington Post — September 20, 2022

By Kristen Hartke

As dusk began to fall on Jan. 10, 2001, Ray Patchey just wanted to get home to his family for his birthday dinner.

A lineman with Verizon, Patchey had been sent out to repair telephone lines following a snowstorm in rural Dutchess County, N.Y. Chilled to the bone, Patchey and another technician were just packing up to leave when the door to the nearby farmhouse swung open and a voice called out, “Don’t go, I’ve made some soup for you!”

Looking up, Patchey saw a Benedictine monk, clothed in traditional habit and sandals, standing in the doorway, and thought, “How can I say no?”

Little did he know that the monk was a best-selling cookbook author with legions of fans around the world. That bowl of soup, like so many others that Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette has shared with friends and strangers alike over the course of several decades while living mostly alone at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, was just the beginning.

Now 82, Brother Victor is the author of some 18 books, half of which are cookbooks that have collectively sold in the millions and been translated into multiple languages, including French, Japanese and Dutch. Born in Lées-Athas, a village in southwestern France’s Pyrenees mountains, Brother Victor grew up eating food that was cooked in rhythm with the seasons, saying now: “There is nothing like the French way of cooking, and everyone I knew cooked well — my mother, my grandmother. Everything we ate, vegetables, cheese,
bread, was fresh and local.” Continue reading The Hidden Quaker Role in a Famous Catholic Monastery Cookbook “Empire”

Loss of A Landmark: 200 Year-Old Arizona Cactus Collapses

[NOTE: I guess there are no coincidences. Thursday Sept. 1 I took part in a final Zoom call with some friends in Arizona, who are part of an experimental community east of Tucson called Saguaro-Juniper, or S-J for short.  S-J is named after the famous Saguaro cacti that grow around there.

Then this morning, Friday, I read that one of the most iconic, venerable and largest saguaro cacti, aged at least 200 years old, had suddenly collapsed in a state park not far away.

The S-J community was started by Jim and Pat Corbett, remarkable Arizona Quakers who were seeking a way to live more simply and harmoniously with nature in the desert. Thirty-plus years later, their experiment continues in the swirl of punishing climate change and continued social-cultural struggles.

Jim Corbett was truly one of a kind: a Harvard philosophy grad who was also a cowboy with Indian heritage, a Sanctuary activist, a desert wanderer, a cantankerous Quaker mystic, and a writer.

Jim published two books: Goatwalking (1990; 2021), which described his religious journey, desert wanderings, organizing to aid desperate Central American war refugees, and a prophetic understanding of how human eco-damage was careening toward a crisis. He followed it with Sanctuary ofor All Life, which explored many dimensions of  the new S-J experiment, and which he finished on his deathbed in 2001. Jim’s ashes were scattered in the hills of his beloved desert.

It was the books, especially Goatwalking,  which put me in touch with the Arizona group. I was part of a project to bring Goatwalking back into print after 30 years, which we did just over a year ago. Our two-year round of biweekly Zoom calls began amid the republication effort, then continued as some of us explored the two books, which we found appealing in seemingly endless ways.

There’s no end to this exploration, but with the second August, we were ready for a change. S-J itself faces major transition, as a founding generation ages out, the climate crunch Jim Corbett foresaw arrives, and new blood is needed.  So maybe it’s fitting, at least symbolically, that news of the bicentennial saguaro giant’s fall reaches us now. And as this Washington Post report points out, even the decay of the cactus feeds more desert life.]

Washington Post — August 31, 2022
A centuries-old cactus survived everything. Then summer rains came.

Derek Hawkins

A massive saguaro cactus stood for 200 years in Arizona’s Catalina State Park until it collapsed after fierce monsoons. (Arizona State Parks)

The saguaro cactus towered over the hilltop outside Tucson like a massive hand rising out of the earth.
Generations of hikers posed for pictures at the base of the hulking, treelike plant, whose longest arms stretched almost 30 feet into the air above Catalina State Park.

Artists painted it. Scores of animal species relied on it for food and shelter.

Older than Arizona itself by nearly a century, it weathered droughts and monsoons, searing heat and cold snaps, that worsened with climate change. It outlasted the ranchers who grazed cattle and built dwellings near its roots. It survived wildfires and invasive grasses.

But at some point this month, after fierce rains swept through the park, the cactus split at the trunk and toppled to ground, removing one of the area’s most cherished landmarks from the skyline.

The collapse of the iconic plant, estimated to be 200 years old, prompted an outpouring of tributes and remembrances from its many admirers following an announcement from Arizona State Parks and Trails this week.

“It’s sort of like if the Mona Lisa had been impaled somehow,” Neil Myers, a landscape artist who painted a 24-by-30-inch portrait of the cactus in 2007, told The Washington Post. “The way it loomed over you, like an emblem of old creation, was just beautiful.”

The cactus’s death also rekindled concerns about the environmental threats facing saguaros, which are highly valued among some Native American tribes and whose blossom is the Arizona state wildflower.

It’s difficult to blame human-caused climate change for the destruction of any individual plant, particularly one as old and top-heavy as this one. But scientists who study saguaros say extreme weather is a growing menace that could drive down their overall numbers.

Years of drought and inconsistent monsoon rains in the region can starve the cactuses of water, according to biologists from Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. This can threaten the survival of young plants, which because of their significantly smaller size and capacity can’t store water as efficiently as older plants. A 2018 report from the park found that prolonged drought may be increasing the mortality rate of young saguaros and reducing the growth of new ones.

“At the same time, increasingly intense storms can harm even the hardiest cacti,” said Cam Juarez, engagement coordinator at Saguaro National Park. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

In addition to climate-related perils, saguaros face competition from buffelgrass, an invasive species introduced by ranchers to feed cattle. The dense grass grows rapidly across the desert, hogging moisture from the soil that saguaros and other plants need to thrive. It’s also extraordinarily flammable, burning several times hotter than other vegetation, making wildfires more destructive.

The saguaro in Catalina State Park withstood those challenges for many decades.
It sprouted from the desert floor in the early 1800s, long before Arizona became the 48th state in 1912, on the site of an ancient Hohokam settlement. It emerged slowly in the beginning, growing no more than 1.5 inches in its first eight years. In that fragile period, it likely would have been sheltered by a “nurse tree ” — typically a paloverde, ironwood or mesquite — that protected it from animals and harsh weather.

In the mid-1800s, a ranching family, the Romeros, moved into the area and built a compound within feet of the cactus. At this point the plant still would have been small, armless, nondescript. The family grazed cattle in its midst for more than a decade before they moved elsewhere, likely driven out by repeated raids from the Apache tribe that were common in the region at the time. The remains of their settlement are still there, and the trail leading up to the site is now known as the Romero Ruin trail.

At around 50 to 70 years old, the cactus would have started sprouting arms. At 125 years old, it would finally reach what scientists consider saguaro “adulthood.”

Throughout its life span, it provided a habitat for all kinds of desert creatures.

“Many birds, including cactus wren, woodpeckers and owls use saguaros for nesting. Larger birds of prey will use a tall saguaro for a hunting platform,” said Michelle Thompson, a spokesperson for Arizona State Parks and Trails. “Bats may use the pollen and nectar from cactus blooms. Birds, bats, mammals, reptiles and insects can all use the fruits for moisture and nourishment.”

Though the rains are the most likely culprit, it’s not clear what exactly brought down this giant. “It could have been the extremely moist monsoon season,” Thompson said. She noted that the park has experienced higher-than-average rainfall during this season after a historically wet year in 2021 and the second-driest season on record in 2020. It also could have simply been the end of the cactus’s life cycle, she said.

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the 200-year-old saguaro at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona, will soon begin rotting. (Arizona State Parks and Trails/AFP) (Handout/Arizona State Parks And Trails/A)

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the saguaro will soon begin rotting. Insects will flock to it. That, in turn, will attract birds and small mammals, as well as reptile predators such as snakes and lizards.

“It’s a consolation that this beloved cactus will remain there,” read a post from the Catalina State Park’s Instagram page, “providing habitat and food for many creatures as it decomposes.”

Myers, the landscape artist, said he was inspired to paint saguaros after he relocated to the Southwest and fell in love with the scenery. This one was special, he said, because of the way it rose over the hill where it lived, with the desert sky and Santa Catalina Mountains as a backdrop.

“This one stood atop in that place like a sentinel,” Myers said.
“They’re the most anthropomorphic plants that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I know it’s part of a larger natural process, but I hope that when people see that one laying on the ground that they take some concern for the ones still standing.”

 

Derek Hawkins is a reporter covering national and breaking news.

 

God Save Us from the Supreme Court Theocrats!

NOTE: Kennedy v. Bremerton is the short name for this case, but it would be better dubbed the “Blow Another Big Hole In the Freedom from Religion & the First Amendment!” Case.

As the respected SCOTUS blog noted,

Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the school district, took a different view. She called the decision “the greatest loss of religious freedom in our country in generations” and she warned that Kennedy’s supporters would “try to expand this dangerous precedent – further undermining everyone’s right to live as ourselves and believe as we choose.”

In a stinging dissent, justice Sotomayor wrote (and showed) that the bulldozer majority had “misconstrue[d]” — more plainly, falsified & lied about — the facts” of the case, depicting Kennedy’s prayers as “private and quiet” when the prayers had actually caused “severe disruption to school events.”

I’m not an atheist; in fact I’ll be attending worship in a couple of hours, in a very small, but doughty, minority sect (aka Quakers) and may well even pray there. Our group had to struggle & suffer to gain religious freedom, for ourselves and others, and that experience remains unforgotten. So whatever is columnist Pamela Paul’s faith or unfaith, (her private business), I nod in gratitude as she spotlights some of the many ominous implications of this precedent, especially for those associated with minority faiths, or the steadily growing population of “Nones.” Added up, to paraphrase a stanza from The Music Man,  they spell

Trouble with a Capital T,

And that rhymes with P

And that stands for

Pushing private prayer on a progressively more p*ssed off public.

New York Times For This Supreme Court, Justice Isn’t Blind. Faith Is.

Opinion Columnist

Imagine your boss fervently proclaiming his religious beliefs at the end of a companywide meeting, inviting everyone on the team who shares those beliefs to join in. You’re surrounded by colleagues and other higher-ups. Everyone is watching to see who participates and who holds back, knowing that whatever each of you does could make or break your job and even your career, whether you share his convictions or not. But hey, totally up to you!

That’s what Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant coach in Kitsap County, Wash., did with his team — only he did it with public-school students at a high-school football game. When the superintendent made clear that by actively inviting players to join him at the 50-yard line for postgame Christian prayers, he was violating school policy and, by the way, the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, Kennedy took to the media, turning a small town’s school sporting event into a three-ring circus and ugly social media sideshow, with students effectively forced to perform or suffer the consequences.

Naming the single worst decision of the Supreme Court’s disgraceful 2021-22 term is a tough call. But the one that best captures the majority’s brazen efforts to inflict its political and religious agenda on the rest of the country may well be Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which ruled that the coach had a constitutional right to pray on the field. Overturning precedent and in a cynical elision of fact, Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for a 6-to-3 majority, affirmed Kennedy’s assertion that his proselytizing on government property during a public-school function was “private,” “personal” and “quiet.”

It was nothing of the kind. In easily observable fact, Kennedy’s religious display was public, vocal and coercive, as demonstrated by testimony from football players and other community members and by video and photographs of the coach surrounded by crowds of people on bent knee. According to an amicus brief filed by one of Kennedy’s football players and seven other members of the community on behalf of the school district, participation in Kennedy’s prayers was “expected.” Students were explicitly encouraged by him to ask the other teams’ coaches and players to join in, something Kennedy himself boasted about.

AFSC Restructure Update: Hurry Up — And Wait

AFSC & Restructuring, Cont.:

A quick recap: In early January 2022, we posted a report on an attempted uprising at AFSC, led by former staffer Lucy Duncan, intended to torpedo a proposed 2021 restructuring. The restructure  was meant to carry out a strategic plan adopted in October 2020, and a draft had been debated and stalled for over a year. We were told the restructure was set to be presented for final approval to the national AFSC Board in April 2022.

There was much apocalyptic talk about the restructuring scheme as portending widespread layoffs, the imposition of an iron fist top-down corporate style of governance, etc. The wringing of hands produced some long Zoom calls, and Duncan was fired.

As a delaying tactic, though, the kerfuffle succeeded: April passed with no action by the Board.  We reported then that the updated target for Board consideration was its meeting scheduled for June 10-12 2022.

Late in June,  AFSC senior staffer Hector Cortez advised us that the June Board meeting did happen on schedule, and the Board did approve an initial piece of the latest revised Restructure plan.

But the Board action was a rather small bite out of a big restructuring apple. It approved creation of a single, grandiloquently titled new executive post, that of an Associate General Secretary to head a new Division for Global Cohesion. Here’s the official ask:

A proposal for the creation of a new Global Cohesion Division [revolving around several specialized “hubs,” was to be presented] to the Board of Directors in June, as well as the framework for its leadership. We are proposing the creation of an Associate General Secretary role to head the Division for Global Cohesion. This will be the only item requiring Board approval. This proposal was developed by the Working Group on Global Collaboration – a diverse group of twenty-one staff from across the organization who have met weekly since November 2021.

The new executive will deal with the international work. The rest of the restructuring plan — involving the U.S.-based offices and programs, the bulk of AFSC’s labors and most of its staff, remains very much “under discussion.”

And when AFSC talks about discussion, they mean discussion. A twenty-page Leadership Team update about it is full of such jargon, e.g. (emphasis added):

–We are particularly grateful to the many working groups that convened throughout winter and spring 2022, and their tireless efforts to ensure that the proposals and recommendations contained here and below reflect the best ideas from the full spectrum of staff perspectives.

–On Wednesday, June 1st, the General Secretary met with the US W[orking] G[roup] to begin exploring a path forward for continued work on the US Proposal. [T]he group looked at holding regular consultations between the USWG, General Secretary, and additional members of the Leadership Team. The central theme of the meeting was to come to agreement on next steps for discussion, so the opportunity to substantively discuss specific elements of the US restructure will occur in upcoming conversations.

— It is important that these [new] hubs not be perceived as “Philadelphia”, but be seen as global AFSC structures that are in place to give equal voice and support to all parts of the organization and to build connections/provide support across divisions. . . .

— Organizing and facilitating regular conferences, issue-based convenings, and other events (both internal and external) to enhance learning and shared impact.

— Supporting and encouraging staff and program exchanges/learning, site visits, delegations, etc. to build understanding, cross program fertilization, and shared identity.

— These hubs should be built through a participatory process led by collaborative teams of key stakeholders including program staff from across the organization, rooted in their needs and experience. At least six months should be allowed for the hub building process.

And so forth. Further, this is focused only on the international programs.

As for the U. S.-based projects, the leadership memo is very vague, except for a repeated emphasis on more discussion/consultation. Here’s one summary chart:

 

This chart is already outdated; the calendar of discussion is now pushed out to October, and the track record suggests it could well extend beyond that. What the 20-page outline quaintly calls the “new Strategic Plan” will be two years old by then, with most of it still waiting to be unwrapped. The initial phase of the new Global Cohesion “hub-building,” is expected to take at least “six months.” (Six months from, when?)

Will the new Associate General Secretary for Global Coherence (whose salary, by the way, is set at $135,000) be named by October? And will any revamp of the U.S. programs and structures be yet in sight? The memo is equivocal, except about the need for discussion:

— As proposal development advances, there are elements of the US structure that require more and deeper consultation, to ensure the proposal results in a truly collaborative co-design. . . .

— [Leadership supports] The creation of a US Programs Council (composed of thematic group leads, regional leadership, AGS US, US Programs Director, and representatives from OPPA, PMEL and administrative staff) that serves as a decision-making, consultative and information-sharing body focused on the integration, support and resourcing of work within the US Programs Portfolio.

— Over the next several weeks, the group will continue to refine and further develop the proposal, and begin deeper exploration and discernment around issues related to program-based (thematic) planning and budgeting, budget sustainability, roles and responsibilities of thematic and regional leadership, reporting relationships and decision making. . . .

–We recognize the importance of ensuring that essential voices are at the table to participate in decision-making. It is likely that new leadership groups and subgroups will need to be created to inform and support organizational functions. . . . Restructuring conversations are never without their difficulties, and we recognize that this process has not been easy. At the same time, we recognize this moment as one rich with opportunity . . . .

Difficulties? Which to my ears, means more plainly that any hard decisions have yet to be made. Are they any closer? Further, the restructuring “moment” described here seems to be most richly endowed with opportunities for more conversation, consultation, convenings, discernment, exploration, feedback, and yada yada, all of which equal more delay. The January uprising raised the specter that internal AFSC practices could be shaken up and maybe even –good grief — changed, and Duncan’s appeal was determined to squash that. It said

We call on other Quakers to call for a cessation of the planned restructure, an external evaluation of the Senior Leadership Team and a searching, well facilitated internal conversation about how this process proceeded so far despite widespread opposition and how the organization can heal and move forward collectively, honoring all voices especially those most impacted by the issues upon which AFSC focuses.

So the January uprising has succeeded in delaying any actual major changes for half year, with many more months of the same on the horizon. Lucy Duncan lost her personal battle, but she and her supporters appear to be winning the war.

By contrast, one section of the June  leadership memo, which seemed to ring with the voice of General Secretary Joyce Aljouny, talked turkey about money:

COSTING TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY: . . . For the past four years we have worked diligently to break the cycle of deficit spending and depleting our reserves. We have not only produced balanced budgets, but have achieved surpluses that have rebuilt our reserves to a healthy level. . . .

The Leadership Team remains committed to all of the above, and to collaboration with the Board Treasurer and the Stewardship Committee to ensure sustainability. The costs of additional positions due to restructuring will be slowly incorporated as we continue the careful budgeting process that ensures our strategic vision is implemented and programs are strengthened. . . .

As we build budgets, we are committed to implementing multi-year budgets with realistic assumptions and projections, and monitoring strategies for economic conditions, including downturns in the economy, and monitoring program, organizational and staff spending to ensure continued sustainability. . . .

Here I detect echoes of the hard years of AFSC, when it was forced into several rounds of painful layoffs, which appear to have been due in part to sloppy and improvident financial management. Maintaining such no-nonsense fiscal discipline is likely AFSC’s best chance for long-term survival. The memo even promises no layoffs, and continued COLA raises.

But while these job and pay pledges are doubtless sincere, one hopes the staff realizes they are also unavoidably contingent. For instance, however much of AFSC’s surpluses were invested in stocks, their value has likely diminished by more than 20 per cent this spring, with no end in sight to the market turmoil. Such deep declines could eventually make a hash of leadership promises to avoid layoffs or salary freezes, no matter how fervently made. Just sayin’.

Finally, two other items went almost entirely unmentioned in the 20 page leadership memo: the first was the war in Ukraine. One would not  know from this 20-page document whether AFSC had even noticed that since its little uprising in January, and the subsequent marathon of internal parleys and rigmarole, the biggest war in Europe since 1945 had made refugees of 14 million Ukrainians, pushed the U. S. and Russia to the edge of nuclear confrontation, ballooned the Pentagon war budget, expanded NATO and resurrected the Cold War. The Ukraine war was referred to only in a brief passing reference to its possible impact on AFSC’s fundraising from European sources.

The other missing item was Quakerism. The Leadership Team would doubtless object, pointing out that it was indeed included in their June Memo. Yes; and here is the nub of what was said:

Finally, we are committed to bolstering AFSC’s relationship with the Quaker community explicitly in many places of this structure; but all our initiatives are encouraged to keep Quaker engagement in mind. . . .

There was a bit more to it; but placement, and the word “Finally” were giveaways: this was the very last specific item mentioned in the 17 pages of the memo’s main text; it made clear that “Quaker relations” will continue to dangle at the very bottom of the priority list, tucked into AFSC’s work for “Advancement,” which deals with promotion and fundraising. That may sound like “engagement” to the authors; but it looks like more empty hype from outside.

Indeed, much the same can be said of this whole interminable restructuring enterprise. What difference will it make to the world? What difference will it make to actual Quakers? My answer: very little.

In fact, those are questions on which there’s very little interest remaining for even superficial discussion/consultation/feedback, etc.

And maybe that’s just as well.

Another Holiday Story: Playing the Lottery

Playing the Lottery

Winter 1969, Boston. I was driving a cab at night, while attending Harvard Divinity School. I had run through some scholarship and loan money, and needed cash. But I also thought it would be a good experience for a wannabe writer.

When I turned my cab onto St. James Street downtown and saw the kid in front of the Greyhound Bus depot signaling for a taxi, I knew my time had come.

It was nighttime in Boston, the winter of 1969. Cold. Icy. I was a Harvard graduate student with a pregnant wife. We needed money, and the cab companies always needed drivers. The cabs were junk heaps, the pay was lousy, the darkened city was a jungle. But the jobs were there, and so was I. And so, at that moment, was the kid, turning up the collar of a thin jacket against the bitter wind.

It was only about two-thirds of a block from the corner to the bus station, but in the few seconds it took to drive that distance, I went through a whole internal dialogue, something like this:

Go ahead, pick him up.

I don’t want to. Continue reading Another Holiday Story: Playing the Lottery

They Proved Me Wrong

The one newspaper headline I wrote that I don’t have a copy of (but wish I did) hit the streets of Boston in midsummer of 1972, just after the Democratic National Convention. It read:

“Why McGovern Can’t Lose.”

[For those not of a certain age, Senator George McGovern had just been nominated for president. He would go on to lose 49 states in the 1972 election, winning only Massachusetts (and the District of Columbia).]

If I still had it, that headline would be in a frame, placed in a spot where I would see it often. But just the memory is still a useful reminder, of something I repeated here on June 12:

I don’t know the future.

Specifically, I didn‘t know if Congress would pass the proposed gun reform package.

But I was doubtful; very doubtful. To quote:

I’m also a Quaker, and we aren’t supposed to gamble. But if I was going to break that rule, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on any of that “outline/framework/unbaked loaf.”

For that matter, I wouldn’t even bet the ranch dressing.
Go ahead, Congress, prove me wrong.
“I’m keeping it.”

Today, June 24, Congress passed it. They proved me wrong.

It feels good to be wrong about that.

I still don’t think the package amounts to much. But luckily I didn’t bet, so I’m keeping the ranch dressing.

And I still wish I had a copy of that 1972 headline.

Guilford Is In “The Times” Again— Yes, With Ayn Rand

Most folks who speak often in public tend to have a collection of anecdotes they repeat to illustrate familiar points. Dr. King, for instance, had a whole stack of sermon passages, which he shuffled like a deck of cards, to fill out various addresses. (Yes, “I have a dream” was one.)

Wendy Brown, academic doyenne, is another, still very much alive. She also has her go-to stories. Not being an academic, I only know one of hers: the tale of the near-broke little Carolina Quaker college which sold its soul to an Ayn Rand-obsessed mega-donor, for half a million dollars and a ten-year supply of her doorstop clunker screed, Atlas Shrugged.

Brown dropped this nugget into a lengthy Times interview early last month, which we duly noted here.

But that wasn’t enough for The Paper of Record. Continue reading Guilford Is In “The Times” Again— Yes, With Ayn Rand