October 31, 2011

Flight 93: American Heroes

by Nathan Hershey

[Evie’s article on this topic: Flight 93: Acknowledging Diversity ]

I am very interested in recording my thoughts about Flight 93.  It was a response by thirty-three airline passengers and seven crew members to one of the terrorist attacks made on September 11, 2001.  The 9/11 hijackings were conducted by terrorists targeting American aircrafts.  I want to focus on the attack made on United Airlines Flight 93.  Unlike the other three 9/11 stories, the behavior of this flight’s forty passengers and crew thwarted these terrorists’ ultimate goals from being accomplished.  These goals were the destruction of a major building in Washington, DC, and the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans.

The resistance by the flight’s passengers and crew should be viewed as a story of American heroism.  The passengers included two individuals of other nationalities, but all of the passengers and crew banded together in an act of unusual bravery.  It was an unplanned engagement between ordinary people and enemy forces that evolved into a fierce struggle for control of the aircraft.  After learning of the attacks made on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and discussing their options for about half an hour, the passengers and crew reached a unanimous consensus that they should confront the hijackers and attempt to regain control of the flight.  The passengers and crew were victorious, and brought down the plane in a field near the small town of Shanksville in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, about eighty miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  It is not known with absolute certainty where the terrorists intended to fly the plane, but many suspect they would have tried to fly it into either the White House or the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Our knowledge of their bravery is based on cockpit voice recordings and phone calls made by passengers and crew shortly before the plane crash, while they were debating whether to engage with the hijackers, and during the engagement itself.  One of the passengers, Todd Beamer, has become famous for his statement, “Let’s roll,” before the men and women stormed into the cockpit and overpowered the hijackers.  We have no way of knowing how many more lives would have been lost that day if these brave individuals had not thus intervened in the hijackers’ plans to fly the plane into their targeted building.

The story attests to the human capacity for courage and compassion, in this case the courage and compassion of the passengers and crew who fought and were successful in averting a greater disaster, even though they all lost their lives.  If they had not regained control of the flight, they were doomed, but their actions suggest the possibility of compassion that extended beyond self-interest.  Sandy Dahl, the wife of Flight 93’s Captain Jason Dahl, called their actions a “selfless sacrifice.”  The story plays a substantial role in demonstrating how ordinary people can rise to the level of achieving an important success in a larger battle, even at the cost of their lives.

A national memorial has been constructed near the area where the plane went down.  The family members of the passengers and crew, as well as emergency first responders, community members who lived nearby the crash site, and other concerned Americans have left tens of thousands of personal tributes at this location.  These items include pictures, flowers, hats, patches, stickers, poems, medals, and other memorabilia.  A film tribute was released in 2006, called United 93, which is a fact-based historical drama that relates the events that took place that fateful day on Flight 93.  Books have also been written on the subject, including Jere Longman’s Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back.

Looking back on this event, I wonder how many Americans believe they would have behaved with the same vigor and valor as did the heroes of Flight 93.  Surely no one on the plane that day entertained the illusion that they would emerge from the situation alive if they made no attempt to gain control of the flight.  In the interest of possibly saving their own lives as well as others’, they had to take action.

But it requires a good deal of strength to confront terrorists who are willing to die for their cause.  As it turned out, the passengers and crew were willing to risk death for their own cause.  Although that risk became a reality, and everyone aboard the plane died, the hijackers’ targeted Americans in DC were saved.  Who among us would have done the same?  Perhaps anyone who has learned the story of Flight 93 should consider how he or she would have behaved if they had been on Flight 93 that day.


Contributions have been made in the honor of those who lost their lives in the Flight 93 battle.  This has been done through various funds and other memorials, including the Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund and LeRoy Homer Foundation, which provide scholarships to students interested in pursuing careers in aviation.  There also exists a peer support network called the September 11th Families’ Association.  This organization unites the families of 9/11 victims through newsletters, events, tours, and volunteer work.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man

October 31, 2011

Flight 93: Acknowledging Diversity

by eviev

[Nat’s article on this topic: Flight 93: American Heroes ]

Several years after the September 11th attacks, I visited the national memorial for Flight 93.  I found the story of the passengers’ and crew’s resistance against the hijackers touching, but I could not identify with the patriotism that was reflected in many of the tributes left at the memorial.  It seemed to me to be a disservice to the bravery of those women and men whose resistance spared many lives in Washington, DC to label their actions as American heroism, as if they had only done it because they were Americans or because they were saving Americans.  This was human heroism, plain and simple.  As mentioned in Nat’s piece on the subject of Flight 93, two of the passengers were not even American: they were Toshiya Kuge, a twenty-year-old Japanese student, and Christian Adams, a thirty-seven-year-old German businessman.  (Additionally, there were others who had strong ties with or had been born in other countries, even if they had since become Americans.)  It is believed, based on phone calls and cockpit voice recordings, that all the passengers and crew, including these two, agreed that attempting to regain control of the flight was the best possible course of action.  So, applauding the remarkable courage that day of the collective group as an American achievement is disrespectful to these two individuals’ contributions.

Two women, Debbie and Kristen, who met Toshiya Kuge, Flight 93’s Japanese passenger, during a rafting trip in the Canadian Rockies, ten days before the flight’s crash, mention that “not many Americans are talking about the non-U.S. people who were killed.  Toshiya’s death was tragic and no less grievous than any others” ( http://www.unitedheroes.com/Toshiya-Kuge.html ).

Furthermore, in the tribute film United 93 (released in 2006), German passenger Christian Adams is portrayed as something of a traitor, suggesting to the other passengers and the crew that they do not follow through with plans to regain control of the flight, and should instead obey the hijackers’ orders ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2006/jun/07/news.xanbrooks ).  Friends knew him as a cautious individual, but there is no evidence pointing toward his making such a suggestion.  This film that is supposed to be a fact-based historical drama may be more just a historical drama.  Additionally, a generally cautious personality should not be equated with foolishness.  The passengers and crew learned of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon via phone calls; it was clear that everyone aboard the planes in those situations had died, and that Flight 93 was headed toward a similar fate.  Surely Adams did not presume that quiet obedience to the terrorists would allow for his survival or, for that matter, do anyone any good?  Interestingly enough, as mentioned in the Guardian article linked to above, “Adams’ widow, Silke Adams, is believed to have refused to cooperate on the film . . .  This has left the film open to charges that Adams has been set up as the story’s fall guy, the token cowardly German amid a band of brave Americans.”

If I were to leave a tribute at the memorial, it would not be red, white, and blue.  It would not be patriotic or nationalistic.  I would honor every passenger and crew member aboard that plane with a symbol of human courage and a gratitude in my heart that reaches across all borders.  And if I had many millions of dollars to spend in their honor, I would not contribute it, as has been done thus far by the government and many citizens, largely to the construction of the memorial.  I would instead offer it as support to the families of those who died as heroes, not just on Flight 93, but everywhere.  No matter how sophisticated or beautiful the memorial may become, it is just a symbol, while the intense feelings of loss and grief in these families are ongoing and deserve to be comforted by offerings from their communities.  Organizations like 93 Cents for Flight 93 and Friends of Flight 93 are throwing the bulk of their resources into the symbol and ignoring the greater problem at hand.  Will we stand and salute a multi-million-dollar memorial and meanwhile allow bereaved families to struggle to pay their bills and sign for loans for their children’s education?  We should not forget to honor the dead, but our first duty is to the living.

In response to Nat’s question at the conclusion of his piece, I have contemplated what I would have done if I had been a passenger on Flight 93 that day.  I think I would have stood in solidarity with the others in determining that we needed to fight back against the hijackers.  While I might have been too afraid to lead the charge and be the first to come into direct physical contact with the hijackers, I would have been in their midst, and prepared and willing to join the fight if necessary.  I would know that if we didn’t fight, not only would we die, but so would hundreds or possibly thousands of other people.  It is a frightening situation to consider, but there comes a point for everyone where survival instincts and common sense must override fear.  I can only speculate how much of my motivation to fight back would be based on my own desire to survive and how much on the desire to save others.  What I can say for sure is that I would not just sit back and let the hijackers have their way with all of us.

– Evie Varisanmya

Guest 21st Century Woman

October 3, 2011

Obama: “Peacemaker” at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts

by Nathan Hershey

[Alicia’s article on this topic: Peacemaking: Consensus or Submission?]

One of the things that caught my eye when first reading about Barack Obama was a story about how Obama behaved when he was a student at Harvard Law School.  The story, published when Obama was candidate for president, in the HLS newspaper, The Harvard Law Record, said that he was a “peacemaker” at the basketball courts there. 

I was and am interested in this trait Obama has for several reasons.  I have followed politics closely since my youth and have run in at least one primary.  Today, my interests in the Democratic Party, in particular, continue, as I hold a position on the board of the 14th Ward Democratic Club of Pittsburgh.  I also have a perspective on Obama’s on-court “peacemaking” from the basketball end.  When I was a student at Harvard Law School in the early 50s, I was quite active in basketball, both in the intramurals and in pickup games.  I am proud to say that my team, in my first year, reached the finals, where we lost; in my third year, I put together a team that won the intramural championships. 

What I read indicated that Obama was a skilled basketball player at Harvard Law School and was, from all accounts, far superior to me at my best, in addition to being noted as a peacemaker on the court.  Many people know that there is a considerable amount of physical contact in the playing of basketball games, particularly when there’s no official.  If a couple of people were “duking it out,” Obama was active in bringing hostilities to a close.

I have no opposition to bringing pushing, shoving, punching to a close on the basketball court but at the same time, I know that some of it is friction that develops from physical contact during a play and that the disputes that arise rarely last long or become dangerous.  It struck me that I couldn’t picture any of the people I knew at Harvard playing such a peacemaker role as has been depicted in descriptions of President Obama as a student there.

 It occurred to me that Obama, then still only a candidate for the presidency, might not have the capacity to be as tough or decisive on matters in the political sphere.  Frankly, I would have preferred Hillary Clinton to have been nominated because many voters acknowledge her ability to deal with problems in her personal life and see her as scrappy.  I can’t picture Barrack Obama being much of a scrapper, from what I have learned about him. 

I think that other presidents, such as Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, among other famous Democratic politicians, have been scrappers.  While President Roosevelt couldn’t be a physical scrapper, he certainly knew when to scrap, and how to fight politically for his agenda.  Certainly, Harry Truman had built a reputation as being feisty.  He cast a bigger shadow over the political world than he was expected to do when he was elected in 1948, after having succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as vice president.  In fact, in the 1948 campaign, it was a four-way contest for the presidency but there were only two serious candidates – Truman among them, opposite the Republican Dewey.

When I was at Harvard Law School, the idea of being scrappy was accepted as part of the atmosphere.  I see President Obama, the “peacemaker,” not scrapping on many political issues that he should act on more seriously as President.  He has given greater sway or acceptance to some of the Republicans with whom he has been contesting on matters since he was elected and to a much greater extent since the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election.  As the Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for the 2012 election, we see the Republicans making a very aggressive push to make Obama a one-term president and seeming to interfere with or block almost anything that Obama seeks.  I believe they will oppose him on any issue just because they want to drive him from the White House.  There is only a little more than a year until the 2012 presidential election and the potential Republican candidates have already surfaced, while it is the expectation that Obama will be the Democratic presidential candidate.

My personal view is that it would be better for the Democrats to substitute an individual with an evident fighting spirit.  While I can’t say very much about Joe Biden, it strikes me that he has a background that makes him appear scrappier than many other Democrats who might be considered as potential substitutes for Obama.  Perhaps it would be good for the president to say, “I will be a one-term president and I will hold the party together while Joe Biden and two or three other people seek the presidential nomination from the Democratic Party.”  I am curious as to how many Democrats feel as I do, wanting to have a fighting president rather than a “peacemaker” who appears to yield to and cooperate with the opposition in order to end contention.

In raising this issue, there may be many Democratic operatives whom I may not be pleasing, but I am sure I am not alone in my sentiment.  When Truman attacked the Republicans, people in the audience used to say, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!”  I think “Give ‘em hell, Barack!” does not have the same ring, but we should be using that language anyway.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man

October 3, 2011

Peacemaking: Consensus or Submission?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Obama: ‘Peacemaker’ at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts“]

The 2008 Presidential Election was the first national and presidential election in which I voted.  I remember that, when Barack Obama’s victory was announced, I was filled with painful emotions.  On one hand, I was glad about what it said about the public in regard to George Bush Jr’s performance: I believe it said the public was not pleased and needed a break from being under a Republican administration.  On the other hand, I also knew that much of the population saw Barack Obama as their saving grace – salvation from being a warring nation, from being a racist nation, from having a failing economy slumping further down the global ladder of national success.  And I knew, in the sense that I believed it as fact, that Obama was none of these things.  I knew he was another American president – another well-to-do man from an upper economic and social class who would not fight for the needs of the general populace.

Throughout the past three years, I have not been surprised.  The sadness and dread and heartbreak I felt that night, feeling the weight of what my vote had contributed to, have numbed somewhat but have grown into an acceptance that Obama represents the trained American desire for the McDonald’s version of a hamburger, for the “banana flavored” candy instead of the banana, for the thoroughly marketed and manufactured version of the real thing.

Obama is said to have been a peacemaker on the Harvard Law School basketball courts.  I see parallels between that history and his political behavior.  He regularly attempts to appease the absurd demands of the Republican political class.  He compromises the success of his initiatives to satisfy politicians who desire to maintain the power of the economic oligarchy.  He does not appear to fight for the needs of the general populace, let alone for what he believes their needs to be.

I feel somewhat divided about his efforts toward diplomacy.  I am a big advocate of consent: personal consent, physical consent, social consent.  Consent on a larger scale translates to consensus – if everyone’s consent is to be respected, we must reach and maintain consensus.  Consensus is not everybody being of one mind, consensus must be formed through discussion, it is an idea that all members of a group develop together and which all members can accept without blocking it.  Yet I see Obama achieving no success in mutual development of a health system that the Republican politicians would tolerate, which is just one area in which this failure seems evident.  Consensus does not appear to be occurring in this United States government.  I’m kicking myself for resenting Obama’s unsuccessful attempts to reach consensus between the Democrat and Republican parties, because as much as I prefer consensus, he’s being too submissive and the result isn’t getting the populace it’s comprehensive healthcare.

Even while Barack Obama is submissive in U.S. internal politics, he contributes to the continuation of war overseas even though, in his campaign for the presidency, he presented himself as desiring the end to the war in Iraq.  The war in Iraq is not over, having lasted eight years as of March 20, 2011.  Additionally, U.S. troops have been pushed into other Middle-Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, under “police actions” during Obama’s presidency.

How far does Obama’s peacemaking extend ?  I believe it does not extend past his attempts to cooperate with the Republicans, or past the desires of America’s oligarchs to maintain a globalized industrial economy – not past that to the rights of those native to the lands we draw oil from in the Middle-East, or to the lives of those Americans sent to fight to prolong that exploitation.  It looks to me as though his peacemaking does not extend past his ego, his need to be seen as a cooperative politician.  Obama does not appear to fight for the needs of the vast majority of the American public.

I would like to have leaders who seek consensus when it’s actually possible, yet know when to alter that tactic because some jerks are throwing temper tantrums and aren’t actually cooperating with the consensus process.

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Woman

August 5, 2011

Truth May Not be the Whole Truth, But that Kind of Truth May be Best

by Nathan Hershey

[Alicia’s article on this topic: “Is it Safe to be Honest?“]

Truth and honesty are essential to individuals successfully interacting with others, where they have mutual involvement and recognizing that they may not necessarily agree on everything, or a good bit, or an important element or set of elements within their interaction or relationship. The fact is that there’s often a difference in a sense of empowerment between people, where one individual assumes that he or she has, and deserves to have, greater power than others in the particular area of interaction.

Truth is something that people see or behold. That which one may see as a truth, everlasting or limited, others may see as just the opposite of the truth, or as just a variation of the truth. Examples would be helpful. Sometimes a person’s perception of the truth is based on value judgments that arise from the experiences of the individual, including parental influences and influences of institutions such as schools. In other instances, people’s views and opinions and desires have been brought about by other kinds of experiences, such as a serious medical condition or service in the military. In short, there are many influences upon us in our relationship to the world, as well as our relationship in a close family situation.

The question of what constitutes truth involves a concept of accuracy, but also it suggests that sometimes it is better, in a particular situation, not to expect or attempt to force another to be completely truthful. Consider a very simple example.

Assume that a couple is dressing to go out for a period of time, with another couple – perhaps for a meal or to attend some kind of performance. One asks the other how he or she looks. If you were giving an answer to that, as an individual, you may have concern that your expressions might turn out to be a little bit hurtful if you say to the individual that he or she would look better in another attire, or that the individual perhaps should make some other alteration in the manner in which they appear. People put considerable stock in how they are appraised by people with whom they have a close relationship. While this is not to say that people should not tell the truth, there is a question as to how much truth or accuracy is necessary in a social situation.

I think that some people may feel that they have the responsibility, and the ability, to go further in being critical, assuming that they are objective individuals and therefore they must give the truth as they perceive it or be very close to the absolute truth. Others may be sensitive to the thoughts or feelings of the people with whom they interact, and therefore moderate their language and actions in view of the personality or interests of others, and others’ ability to accept certain kinds of critical comments. It certainly is true, in my opinion, in my experience, that women and men adjust their views partly in view of the gender of the other person. Sometimes, a person may express their self more critically than they need to, other times they may be more forgiving. The person requesting the statement or information may be seeking to hear something critical so that they may feel that they can trust the individual – their partner, perhaps – to answer a question honestly.

When individuals are asked to give their opinions, with regard to some behavior, the question comes up – how frank should people be? Do they have to be concerned with upsetting the individual, if they are very frank? Does it lay the basis for injury or destruction of a particular relationship because one is speaking very forthrightly and critically? Do we have, as individuals, the responsibility to tell others what they should do and say? It may be good to have a relationship with each other where both persons can feel that they can be frank and relatively explicit with each other. With people who are more in the realm of strangers, it may be considered discreet or tactful not to say too much about the other’s conduct as long as there is no danger or threat created by the behavior of the other individual.

Now, one other thing related to this is, if a fellow and a young woman break up, how much of the reasons for this change should be shared with the friends of the members of the couple? My view would be that one should not pass on information that has been guarded in a personal relationship, unless there is a potential for threat or danger to another individual. One might say the Hershey Rule would be: “If the fellow or the woman is going to interact with another person in the general social group, let the new member of the group find out for himself or herself the information that may be relevant to why the change occurred – if they want to explore it.” I think that there’s a great deal of information that would be kept between two of a couple and not shared with others unless there is a danger to life, finances or other things that would be considered very important. I might say that, looking at my own situation over the course of my life, I didn’t feel that it was anybody’s business what I learned about a person of the opposite sex, and if someone wanted to learn something about that person they should get to know that person their self.

There is personal life and there is broader life. I think people should be pretty restrained in the information that they pass out, and if they do pass information to others it should be shared with the understanding, or at least the firm belief that there’s an understanding, that the information won’t be shared with third or fourth, or 58th, parties.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man

August 5, 2011

Is it Safe to be Honest?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Truth May Not be the Whole Truth, But that Kind of Truth May be Best“]

Why don’t tenants always present their complaints to their landlords?  Why don’t landlords tell their potential tenants everything they know to be wrong with the property?  Why don’t politicians do during their terms what they promise during their campaigns to do, often deliberately and unapologetically doing the exactly opposite?

Sometimes people tell the truth.  Sometimes people tell lies.  Sometimes people tell nothing.  The amount they tell of each reflects on their levels of honesty and communication.  Some believe that the truth is fixed and unchangeable by our perception.  Others believe that the truth is completely determined by our perception.  A huge number of us (maybe all) have no idea what is truth and what is not.  We don’t have a set definition of truth that everyone agrees on.  There is the truth of reality and then there’s each person’s perspective.

Rather than delving into a metaphysical discussion here and now, I’d like to focus on what determines whether people tell the truth.

By my observations, people only tell the truth if they feel safe doing so and they feel it will benefit them – or, at least, again, do them no harm or less harm than lying or being silent would do.

If a landlord perpetually denies the tenant any maintenance services, regularly increases the rent and ultimately doesn’t communicate unless the rent is late, why doesn’t the tenant file a lawsuit?  The answer may be that the tenant can’t afford court fees after paying their food expenses and rent each month, and suing may yield no improvement and therefore be a waste of resources.  In such a situation, why bother?

Why doesn’t the tenant move?  The answer may be the tenant knows there is little chance of finding a decent landlord in the same price range.  The tenant may move into a new apartment with a new landlord just as negligent as the previous one.

Why doesn’t the tenant, after eventually getting fed up and moving, tell the whole world about the landlord’s irresponsible behavior?  The answer may be that there is no widely accepted forum for disclosing that information.  The tenant may tell a few friends, but that doesn’t get the message to the broader tenant population.  If the tenant speaks up publicly, he or she runs the risk that future landlords will learn of the tenant’s boldness and refuse to rent to them.

And yet, if the tenant does not tell the world the truth, the landlord certainly never will.  There is no imperative for the landlord to change their behavior if there is zero accountability, which means that continuing to lie gives the landlord the most benefit.

We can’t force people to start telling the truth when it could be dangerous for them (i.e. the tenants who truly cannot afford to move or pay higher rent, so have no power to tell the truth).  However, what we can do is to endeavor to create safe forums for truth-telling, in as many places as we have sway.  We can tell each other, “It’s okay for you to tell me the truth.  I understand that it’s your opinion.  We can work to understand each other, work together and compromise.”  This may be far more important a skill to develop than forcing ourselves to always tell the truth even in situations which feel scary for us.

We can tell our landlords, “It’s okay for you to tell me the truth.  We can work together.”  We can tell our politicians, “You can tell me the truth.  If you can’t ‘solve the economy’ by yourself in a single 4-year term, we need to know so we can know how much we need to do.”  We can tell our employees, “I’ll listen to the truth you tell.  If you believe I’m mistreating you, I need to know that if I am ever to know how to treat you well.”

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Innie Person

July 6, 2011

What’s in a name?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Identity?“]

One day, Nathan and I were reading a news article, linked to in a comment on our blog.  The subject of the article was a group of athletes of the Haudenosaunee nation.  While discussing these athlete’s nation, culture and origins, we repeatedly stumbled over the words to describe their nationality and racial identity.

Nathan asked, “What does the phrase ‘Native American’ mean?”  I’m glad that Nathan raised this question to me.  As we continued to discuss the the words “native” and “American,” I realized that not only does “Native American” seem to be an inept description of the peoples indigenous to this land prior to European colonization, but I couldn’t think of any more accurate description currently in common useage.  I don’t feel comfortable using the terms that are currently widely recognized to indicate these peoples; I find them problematic.

This is a very interesting issue, and one which does not receive much general attention, due to the peoples concerned being, by far, a minority (1.5% of U.S. population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census).  The late historian Howard Zinn, on page 16 in his A People’s History of the United States, explained that, through English raids and the introduction of European diseases, “The Indian population of 10 million that lived north of Mexico when Columbus came would ultimately be reduced to less than a million [by the mid 1700s].”  Please take the time to read the first chapter of this work by Zinn, to better understand both the deliberate and inadvertent methods used by the colonists to wipe out the natives of this land, to put into perspective the interactions between natives to this land and European colonists.

Native people’s lands, as well as their populations, are greatly limited, as they do not enjoy the full extent of land they did before the European occupation of this land but their autonomy is rather limited to “reservations.”  Additionally, even their nations’ limited autonomy continues to be disregarded to this day, as is evidenced in the very article that sparked this conversation, which describes the refusal, by Great Britain, to affirm the validity of Haudenosaunee (Iroqouis) passports.

“America” is the name given to this land by the European nations who occupied the natives’ lands in the first place.  I thought to myself, it does not make sense to call a people by the name of their invaders.  “American” is derived from the name the Europeans gave this land, which they named after one of the people who paved the way for the occupation.  Historically, there have been complaints that Amerigo Vespucci stole the naming of continents from Christopher Columbus – in actuality, the naming of these continents was stolen by the Europeans from the people who actually lived on the those continents.  A native person in my life informed me that the word for this land is “Ongwera.”

I believe it’s problematic if I, a European descendant, call a person native to this land an “American.”  It reminds me of how slavers in this country would suppress the slaves’ own names, which the enslaved people had given each other, by forcing them to respond to names from the slaver’s culture, like English names such as “John.”  These slaves, who had been taken from Africa, were also forced to use English and experienced difficulty in maintaining their own languages in secrecy (much like the native youths were compelled to learn English and forbidden to speak their own languages, in colonial “boarding schools”).  Today, some descendents of those Africans enslaved here are working to restore their ancestors’ old names and languages.

As I slowly learn more about the diverse cultures of those many peoples native to this land, I believe more and more that it is unjust of me to lazily lump all of these peoples into one identity.  They are many peoples, with many identities, many names, such as the Haudenosaunee, the Onondowahgah and the Tsalagi (whom you may know as the Iroquois, the Seneca and the Cherokee, respectively).

Nathan posed another question to me, “Can a person who was born in the United States call his or herself a Native American?”

I suppose such a person is an American, since the person grew up in this culture, and I suppose they’re technically “native,” as the word is defined as someone who is of something by birth.  However, even though “Native American” doesn’t seem to me to be a fair title for the peoples who lived with this land long before the Europeans came, I also think it would be inappropriate for immigrants to call themselves native here.  If European descendants call themselves “Native Americans,” they would be sending the message that their ancestors had just as much right to this land as those people whose ancestors lived here sustainably for thousands of years.  This strikes me as wrong.

I would not want those non-native peoples to call themselves “Native Americans.”  I would want those who are truly, ancestrally native to this land to use the names they choose, rather than to be compelled to use the name their invaders put on them.  I believe people should be free to discover their own racial, national, mother land identities, and yet I don’t want people to abuse this.  It would be an abuse for European descendents to call themselves Native Americans.  Yet it should be their freedom to discover the many lines in their genes and cultural lineage.

I do not yet know how I culturally identify.  I know that I am of European ancestry: Irish, Welsh, German, English and probably others.  I personally relate the most with old Irish culture, but I am not prepared to call myself an Irish person because I am still exploring my cultural identity and am not ready to put myself into any cultural boxes.

Racial, national, cultural identities are so convoluted in this globalized, post-imperial, currently imperial world.  And our culture and English language seem to be falling short of grasping this complexity.

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Woman


P.S.  My position on cultures indigenous to this land is one of great appreciation for their methods.  I believe they did little to no harm to the land and practiced advanced equality of womb-ones (“women”).  These peoples developed much of our more egalitarian methods today, including some better aspects of the U.S. governmental structure, as well as the consensus process (of which I am a particular fan).  Much documentation of the ritual statements made in community meetings shows perspectives of love and stewardship for the Earth, above all selfish human priorities, and in considering human priorities, shows superlative consideration of equality.

I encourage you to educate yourself further.  I will post some additional resources.  If you have any further resources to share or refer, please do!

July 6, 2011


by Nathan Hershey

Alicia and I started talking about the term “Native American” – what does that phrase mean?  When the term “Native American” came up and I thought about it, it seemed to me that there could be several possible meanings.

Today, in 2011, instead of using the term “Indians” to refer to descendents of the members of tribes who lived here before the European colonization of what is now the United States, this use of the term has become unpopular, or politically incorrect – one term for these people is “Native Americans.”  That may have been a change for the better or a change for the worse, but it certainly contributes to the confusion, with regard to the meaning of those two words together.  If you look at the first generation who were “native” (born here), you’ll see a very diverse cross-section of people.

A “Native American” can be someone who is born in the United States if you use the word “America” to mean the United States and use the word “native” as a modifier to mean “by place of birth or origin” (according to the American Heritage Dictionary, 1973).  How is “America” distinguished from “the United States?”  You could argue that a Native American would be someone from North or South America because they would be people who could be defined or described as Americans.

Over time, various people have sought to better define who they believe Americans are, by virtue of place of birth, primarily.  A
person who is born on the land which is now the United States would be, presumptively, a citizen of the U.S. and eligible to hold the office of the presidency, under U.S. law.  “American” is used as a modifier for various foods, products and people, and could serve as a descriptor for almost anything (consider American cheese).

Is it "American?" Is it "cheese?"

Now we can take a look at people, for example, who come from central Europe, like Hungaria or Bulgaria.  They came and then they had children who were born in the United States.  Would we look at these children as Native Americans?  If they’re “born in the USA,” as Bruce Springsteen said, could we not refer to them as Native Americans?

Yet some people, for example the Irish, often prefer their original land, in their case Ireland, as their place of identity, based in part on their psyche.  They’re not born in Ireland, but they maintain a strong cultural link.  Even if people would be second or third-generation Americans by birth, some still want to be seen as connected with Ireland, even though the family first left the shores of Ireland a century or more ago.

Because of borders changing in Europe multiple times since the United States was created, some immigrants to the U.S. may have lived in three countries before coming to the U.S.  What term should we use to identify these people?

Also, we find that sometimes a descriptor is adopted by some people, indicating their religion as a modifier in their identity, as well as the nation that their parents left when they came to the United States.  For example, I have heard conversation, from time to time, that some Jews place serious focus on where in Europe, or elsewhere, that their family members came from.  Even though they were born in the United States, they might regard themselves as Hungarian Jews or German Jews
or some other kind of Jews to designate some location in a foreign country to which they link themselves, at least in some psychological sense.

One’s identifier may be, from different people’s views, either positive or negative, or even disparaging in the minds of others.  Two people could have the same identifying background, but choose the words they want to use as their identifiers quite differently.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man

June 6, 2011

Finances Determine Even Educational Choices

by Nathan Hershey

While growing up in the 1930s, it was the goal of many young people to have the opportunity to attend college. Before I started college, my mother started attending college at night in 1940, in her 40s. Higher education became a much more important step in personal development and was considered increasingly necessary to enhance career opportunities.

The idea of college being the target of most young people did not come about, as far as I recall, until after World War II with the returning military personnel, many of whom qualified for higher education financial assistance because of the GI bill. The veterans were reentering civilian life, with the opportunity to have money to support college schooling and some attending living expenses. I was not in that category because I was too young to have served during WWII. By the time World War II ended in 1945, I was fairly advanced in high school.

After high school, my parents had sufficient funds to allow me to attend New York University without having to find full work opportunities (although I did work two summers during my college career). Tuition at NYU was $150 per year. The public colleges, such as Brooklyn, City, Queens and Hunter, were very inexpensive. These were institutions without dormitories – nuts and bolts colleges. They were good colleges with libraries, etc, but most of their students lived in the city.

There were some private religious colleges, such as St. John’s and Fordham, as well as some non-religious private colleges, such as NYU, which were also affordable for many lower-middle-class families.  The religious colleges were more likely to have dorms connected to and administered by the school.

Queens College, created in the late 1930s, was located in an attractive area in the borough of Queens. For young people who lived in Queens or others who could access decent transportation to Queens, it was considered a choice opportunity. Residents of Queens were wealthier, so the girls really wanted to go there. Tuition was the same level as the other city colleges in NYC.

While the amounts of tuition I’m describing may seem very small, the purchasing power of a dollar was almost unimaginable to people today. Bus and subway fare was a nickel, and there was uproar when fare was raised to a dime.

One of the questions that I have is: What is the range of education opportunities that young people have in the 21st century, particularly at this time? My sense is that, because of the high cost of higher education, unlike the situation that I had when I was of college age, many young people must borrow substantial amounts in order to support their college education. Many have more than five-figure debt by the time they leave college. For most parents, the understanding is that they will not be able to fully, or even substantially, finance their childrens’ education because of the cost and their middle-class income limitations.

It should also be noted that college education is not necessarily the end of formal education; therefore we now find young people creating further debt for graduate school and the cost of personal needs while attending school. I received a full tuition scholarship from Harvard for my second year of law school. It was $600. Sixty years later, in 2011, one year’s tuition at Harvard Law School is $45,450. I would like to better understand how many young people confront these potential costs that they would incur if they decide to further their education to the extent that I have mentioned.

Perhaps is it also possible for a young person to delay or avoid following the step-by-step approach of higher education by working to the extent possible, using and developing skills in the work force, instead of in additional school.

Alicia chose to end her college education, partly to avoid incurring massive debt. I wonder, if Alicia had had the finances necessary to continue attending college, whether she would have developed differently in terms of skills, interests and the decision of how to spend her available time. If she was a member of a family that could provide her with a considerable amount of financial assistance, without any obligations to return it at some future time, she may have continued attending college, and she may not have developed the capabilities she now possesses.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man

June 2, 2011

Choosing Higher Education: Institution or Ingenuity?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

Secondary education in America has changed considerably over the past couple hundred years.  Since the earliest colleges and institutions began operating, I believe the demographics and population percentages of those who have participated in collegiate programs have shifted greatly.

I am no accredited historian, and indeed I don’t believe we can take any account at face value, but my impression is that higher education institutions were once places for which a few citizens (among a much lower population) – those financially- and class-privileged, had exclusive access, as a practical matter.  The remainder of the population took apprenticeships or labor employment.

Disparate access to higher education still exists.  However, the disparity is less pronounced in admissions than it once was, and most pronounced in financial burden.  Nearly every college or university student I meet today, in the twenty-teens (2010-2019), relies almost entirely on large loans to finance their access to secondary education.  The few students who do not rely on loans can move on from their higher education with much broader financial options – perhaps using their early wages toward a down-payment on a house or automobile (their spotless credit securing such investments at the lowest interest rates available to a young person).

Those former students who relied on student loans may hit a streak of poor luck – their cheap one-bedroom sublet fell through; they experienced a bout of expensive health problems; the only fair-paying position offered to them was completely against their morals so they took a job in fast food.  All of a sudden, their bills are wildly high.  Then ends the 6-month grace period for their loans (the period after leaving school when they’re not obligated to make monthly payments yet, although interest is still accruing), and their loan provider bills them $5,000 on their massive loan principal and interest.  They attempt to apply for a payment deferment, to save their butt until they’re back on their feet.

“My student loans provider just denied that they received my paperwork, and then they charged me five thousand dollars that I can’t pay.”

My own sentiment is that, upon graduation, with a degree but zero job experience, and large monthly payments toward my debt, I would be a slave to the job market in my field.  I would have no choice regarding which job I took – I would take The One That Was Available.  If I knew the job would be:

A) Boring

Here's the quality job I would be lucky to land.

B) Degrading

C) Un-ethical
D) A Two-Hour Commute

E) In a Basement

F) Require Me to Wear a Suit


G) I Had to Smell Rotten Eggs All Day

I would still be compelled to pounce on that job opportunity before it slipped away to any other desperate sucker with a degree.

This occurred to me while I was studying Photojournalism at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, 2007-2008.  In the short-sightedness of my youth, I had taken loans for two full semesters and one condensed half semester.  I was already committed to over $18,000 of debt.  AIP was grooming me less toward creative documentary photography and more toward advertising.  AIP had lied to me about its accreditation.  I lost my faith in the institution, I lost my faith in the field (seeing so many trained photographers snapping shots in stadiums and wedding halls, which interested me none), and I lost my faith in secondary education.  I certainly lost my faith in paying for it.

Having always been a part of the job market since age 16, I had the job references and the obvious ability and motivation to work.  I decided to become increasingly selective about the job opportunities I took, requiring myself to either truly enjoy the work or at least feel like I was moving toward stability.  It was difficult for a while, with my loans looming over me; they still are, yet now I keep up with the payments.

Over the past three years since I withdrew from secondary education, I have worked as:

* Teachers’ assistant in a youths’ photography studio and lab
* Short-order cook
* Barista and waitress
* Gainfully unemployed
* Bicycle mechanic instructor
* Writer/editor, Memoir assistant and technical assistant

And I have studied, choosing my own instructors and settings and subjects:

* Herbal and nutritional medicine preparation and use
* Wild food and wild medicinal plant identification
* Horticulture, including permaculture and container gardening
* Plumbing, electrical, carpentry and masonry
* Bicycle Mechanics
* Bead working and jewelry making
* Photography
* etc. etc.

I may return to a focus in photography and journalism.  For now, the necessity of nurturing diverse skills in a diverse economy has suited me, happily!  I believe that, if I had continued the academic program I had begun, I would be in a much different position.  I could not afford my own apartment.  I may not have had the time to learn enough bike mechanics to become an instructor.   Certainly, I would not have been able to spend one year unemployed, practicing home repair and gardening, all in order to become more self-sufficient.  And I wouldn’t be starting a jewelry-making business with my mother!

As a young person motivated to always learn more, with a picture in my mind of the person I want to be, with the capacity to teach myself and find teachers in the friends and books and communities around me, I believe I have sculpted my life into my own personal university – one that may be more perfect for me than any institution.

– Alicia

21st Century Woman