How sweet the sound

Longtime readers at Deconstructing Myths know that the arts have been a lifelong refuge for me during many of life’s struggles. Without music, poetry and books, I shudder to think where I might be now. May those of you going through hardship find that place of calm within the storm and may you know that you are not alone. The daily grind of making ends meet can sometimes cause us to forget that life was meant to be savored. So feel free to take a moment to kick back, relax and enjoy the smooth, laid back tones of BF&F’s interpretation of the gospel classic Amazing Grace. Victor Wooten is a virtuoso bass player and longtime member of Béla Fleck & the Flecktones. Amazing bass…how sweet the sound. This is one you want to crank up to 11.

Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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We must still speak

Dr. King’s words are just as prescient today as they were when he first spoke them back in 1967. How many countries could take the place of Vietnam in this speech? How many more countries are yet to come?  -Jeff Nguyen

(Photo credit: Duke University Archives)

(Photo credit: Duke University Archives)

Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence

Delivered April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church, New York City

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, and some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I’m in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

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Are you there God? It’s me, Jeff Nguyen

(Photo credit: mrehan)

(Photo credit: mrehan)

Well, that didn’t take long. Now that the perennial holiday based on the birth of a certain someone’s famous son is over, we can finally get back to The Global War On Terror™. The new year came in with a bang not a whimper as the unkempt masses were inundated with media reports of acts of terrorism in Europe. *The killings at Charlie Hebdo, a French newspaper of questionable integrity, resulted in an orgiastic display of solidarity unlike the world has ever seen. Thanks to the deaths of the journalists who ended up holding the butt end of the unfairness stick, the world was blessed to witness the linking of arms of leaders from Israel to Turkey to Bahrain, to name a few of the bastions of human rights who showed up in Paris. For one brief and glorious moment, it was as if all the shining cities occupied the same damn hill. Meanwhile, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate continued to bomb Muslims in Syria back into the Mesopotamian age. Clearly, it’s socially acceptable to be a raging neocon/neolib extremist douche but a raging Islamic extremist douche, not so much.

(Photo credit: Jake Ratner)

(Photo credit: Jake Ratner)

Speaking of the unfairness stick, a group of laborers that has long been familiar with it’s short side are the immigrant and migrant farmworkers who pick the amber waves of grain all across the fruited plain. A scathing report from the Los Angeles Times laid bare the modern day slavery and brutal conditions faced by Mexican farmworkers whose labors directly benefit major U.S. corporations. Stateside, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has managed to forge important alliances and landmark fair food programs on behalf of Florida tomato pickers with some of these same companies including, most recently, Fresh Market. The irony is not lost that a nation that esteems the Puritan work ethic and “pull yourselves up” bootstrap mentality, somehow is okey dokey with turning it’s back on some of the hardest working people on the planet. Who needs those lost and stolen wages anyway? Those farmworkers would have just spent it on beef jerky and lottery tickets anyway, am I right?

(Photo credit: EFF Photos)

(Photo credit: EFF Photos)

From farming to war, nothing is beyond the reach of globalization. However, it’s the shadow of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that looms largest over every man, woman and child not fortunate enough to be a citizen of a multinational corporation. Wikileaks has been at the forefront of making public the drafts of the top-secret, for your eyes only, double-dog-dare-you document. Somehow, I don’t think this is exactly the ‘world without borders’ that Howard Zinn imagined. Oh well, I guess this “free market” thing was fun while it lasted but real grownups know that neofuedalism is the only game in town. Soon, middle class white people everywhere will understand what every indigenous and minority person in the sweet land of liberty has known for generations. When one hears the words pact, treaty or agreement, someone is about to get legally screwed by burying them under 20,000 words of legalese. I wonder what the Latin is for I came, I saw, I mergered and acquisitioned?

(Photo credit: MTSOfan)

(Photo credit: MTSOfan)

In conclusion, I want to thank you, God, for not making me Muslim lest I think I deserve mass acts of solidarity and resistance on my behalf. Thank you also for not making me a migrant farmworker lest I think I have any of these self-evident and inalienable rights I keep hearing about. Finally, and most importantly, thank you for making me a mere person and not a corporation, lest I think I’ve become too big to fail my britches. One can only hope that the velveteen Muslims, farmworkers and serfs of the world become REALLY Real soon before all of their eyes drop out and their joints get too loose. May God have mercy upon all of our unwashed souls.


*Arthur Silber, a longtime critic of the affairs of the state, anticipated the arguments that would arise on cue following the deaths of the Charlie Hebdo employees. This is a good read if you have the time: The US/NATO powers have demonstrated repeatedly and unequivocally that when provoked, they will react swiftly and with disproportionate force. There is a difference between a tragedy and a genocide.

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Jeffster Awards #38

(Photo credit: skulzstudios)

(Photo credit: skulzstudios)

This is the next installment of an ongoing series at Deconstructing Myths…the Jeffster Awards! This award will be given on an ongoing basis to five outstanding blog posts that caught my wandering eye. There are no strings attached or requirements for reciprocation. I don’t have time to comment on other blogs as much I’d like to so the least I can do is direct readers to some of these outstanding writers, poets, and visual artists. Please direct all feedback (likes, comments, follows) to the blogs themselves. I hope you enjoy these exemplary posts as much as I did. So, without further ado, here are the recipients of this week’s Jeffster Awards…hot off the (Word)presses.

Part One: Interview with Anishinabe Scholar Elder Carol A. Hand at lara

100 Days….Oh Gaza at Abu Yazan

When Beautiful Black Turns To Blue at Of Life and Art

Every Man for Himself at Shenandoah Breakdown

Adoptees are a part of the problem at Land of Gazillion Adoptees


Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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The bluest persuasion

(Photo credit: Jeff Nguyen)

(Photo credit: Jeff Nguyen)

Delve in to the ruins

of a once proud people

and you will find tales

woven in the finest silk

stitched into the very fabric

of their defiant being

for all the world

to gaze in wonderment

at garments cast aside

as if on a lonesome whim.


Wade into the days gone by

steeped in the knowledge

it is more better

to break bones than bread

more prudent to drop bombs

than rub salve on the wounds

of a fractured people

whose spirits rise

like wisps of smoke

above the tiresome fray.

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In gratitude

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In lieu of the Jeffster Awards this week, I would like to share the five most viewed posts of 2014…

1 The state knows what you did last summer
Mic check: Carol A. Hand
A nation at-risk: American hustle
The sequel and the damage done
Mic check: Peter Schreiner

Thank you to all readers and fellow bloggers for making this blog far more than I could make of it on my own. Peace and solidarity to all in the new year.

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Genius take the wheel

(Photo credit: Victoria Pickering)

(Photo credit: Victoria Pickering)

Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.”

-Atticus Finch

As another year unwinds itself, it is a magical time for deep reflection, thoughtful self-analysis and substantive maturation. Nah, who are we kidding? In America, this is the time of year to eat, drink and be merrily telling our children that all of their good fortunes are dependent on a fat, white man in a suit. As the largest, per capitalist Christian nation on the planet filled the pews and hung their stockings around the chimney with care, there was much to celebrate. After all, 2014 has been a banner year for American exceptionalism as the U.S. has done a fine job aligning it’s standing foreign policy of extrajudicial murder with it’s enshrined domestic policy of extrajudicial killing. If it’s permissible and expected that soldiers kill and interrogate with enhancement mostly dark-skinned human beings in foreign lands, then surely it must be good enough for the homeland. So, as the planet prepares to put a fork in the old year, let’s take a moment to remember some of the highlights…

English: Memory Lane

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While other countries were turning their backs on the people of Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, the U.S. called out the aggressors for their brutality and cut off Congressional funding to Israel.

While other countries were turning their backs on the people of West Africa, the U.S. demanded that the World Health Organization and it’s most prominent benefactor, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provide first class healthcare to combat the Ebola virus.

While the NSA made sure that all U.S. citizens were safe from surveillance by prying eyes, a Malaysia Airlines flight made a pit stop in the Bermuda Triangle on it’s way to the twilight zone.

While America continued to make great strides towards racial equality, citizens in Ferguson protested state-sanctioned murder as Governor Nixon and the National Guard of Missouri ensured their civil rights were cherished and safeguarded.

While children in the U.S. grew up free from grinding poverty, the state continued to ensure that their educational futures were so bright and debt-free, they had to wear shades.

While other countries were waging actual face-to-face wars (so 2000 and late), the U.S. was launching state-of-the-art drone strikes (so 3008) on civilian colonies populations.

While the bankers who gambled with taxpayer money and pensions were perp walked to the closest federal detention facility, they did not pass go and they did not collect two hundred dollars.

While Ukraine, Syria, and Libya continued to flourish with the help of American interventionalism, citizens around the globe finally decided to stop being lazy, good-for-nothing debtbeats always waiting for Americans to come to their rescue.

The Golden Knights, the U.S. Army's official p...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clearly, it’s been another landmark year in the sweet land of liberty where bloviating windbags rationalized heinous acts in the pursuit of “terrorists” as necessary evils that inevitably gave way to the mythical slippery slope, home of the elusive Yeti. With luck and a generous sprinkling of the blessed doctrine of manifest destiny, more countries will be decimated, more minorities will be murdered, more schools will be privatized and more Americans will be austeritized in the coming year. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner this year ends, the sooner the state can get started on it’s bucket list. There must be someone out there that Uncle Sam hasn’t reservationed, ghettoed, deported, droned, tortured, detained or renditioned yet. Somehow, in the midst of such prodigious suffering and suffocating austerity, the real takeaway from this year has been the emergence of a virtual army of concerned citizens whose compassion knows no borders. It has been a privilege to be on your side in the struggle…every voice counts and every voice is needed.

Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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Longform: The Disappeared

BY THE FIRST DAYS OF OCTOBER, the outdoor basketball court at the Rural Teachers College in Ayotzinapa, a town in the Mexican state of Guerrero, had become an open-air waiting room of despair. Pain emanated like heat. Under the court’s high, corrugated tin roof, the families of 43 missing students gathered to face the hours between search expeditions, protests, and meetings with government officials, human-rights workers, and forensic anthropologists. Assembled in clumps at the court’s edges, sitting on the concrete floor or in plastic folding chairs formed in semicircles, they spoke in hushed tones and kept to themselves. Most had traveled from small, indigenous, campesino communities in Guerrero’s mountainsides. Many had arrived without a change of clothes. They had all come to look for their sons.

On the night of September 26, 2014, in the city of Iguala, 80 miles away, uniformed police ambushed five buses of students from the college and one bus carrying a professional soccer team. Together with three unidentified gunmen, they shot and killed six people, wounded more than 20, and “disappeared” 43 students. One victim’s body was found in a field the next morning. His killers had cut off his face. Soldiers at the 27th Infantry Battalion army base, located less than two miles away and tasked with fighting organized crime, did not intercede.

News of the attack was met initially with muted outrage, mostly because the reports out of Iguala, a highlands city of 110,000, were confusing. For several days, conflicting counts of the missing students circulated. It wasn’t until October 4, when state prosecutors announced that they had uncovered the first in a series of mass graves on the outskirts of Iguala that the national and international media descended on the region. When forensic workers confirmed that the first of the 30 charred human remains were not the missing students, anger and horror became widespread. Throughout October, marches and vigils took place across the country. In Chilpancingo, the Guerrero state capital, Ayotzinapa students smashed windows and set state government buildings on fire. In Iguala, protesters sacked and burned the municipal palace.

Although it was neither an isolated event nor the largest massacre in recent years, what occurred in Iguala has struck at the core of Mexican society. Perhaps it was the scale of the violence, or the sheer brutality, or that the victims were college students, or that the perpetrators were mostly municipal police, or that the mayor of Iguala, his wife, and the police chief were probably behind the attack, or that the state and federal governments were deceptive in their investigation and callous in their treatment of the mothers and fathers of the murdered, wounded, and disappeared. Whatever the cause — and it was likely a combination of all these reasons — it is impossible to overstate the effect of the attacks on the country. Mexicans speak of Iguala as shorthand for collective trauma. Mexico is now a nation in mourning, and at the heart of that grief are those 43 families on the Ayotzinapa basketball court and their agonizing demand: Bring them back alive.

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‘Solidarity Wall’, Falls Road, Belfast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Solidarity Wall’, Falls Road, Belfast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky—her grand old woods—her fertile fields—her beautiful rivers— her mighty lakes, and star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding, robbery and wrong,— when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean, disregarded and forgotten, and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing, and led to reproach myself that any thing could fall from my lips in praise of such a land. America will not allow her children to love her. She seems bent on compelling those who would be her warmest friends, to be her worst enemies. May God give her repentance before it is too late, is the ardent prayer of my heart. I will continue to pray, labor and wait, believing that she cannot always be insensible to the dictates of justice, or deaf to the voice of humanity.

― Frederick Douglass

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…and the American way

It would be advisable to think of progress in the crudest, most basic terms: that no one should go hungry anymore, that there should be no more torture, no more Auschwitz. Only then will the idea of progress be free from lies.”

― Theodor W. Adorno

There are certain days that stand out for any observer of the human condition in the context of American culture and geopolitics. The morning of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the massacre at Wounded Knee, the arrival of the first slave ships to American shores, the moment when Agent Orange was given the green light by Monsanto and Dow Chemical executives and the day of the assassination of Dr. King, to name a few. This past week marked another watershed day for America the oh-so-beautiful, whose citizen’s consciences must bear the stain of the rivers of blood that have been spilled in their name. The release of the CIA torture report sets a new bar for the intelligence and military apparatus to limbo under. How low can we go? Apparently, ever lower as the report confirmed what many critical thinkers already knew…that, for the past decade, the U.S. has operated with impunity in torturing, assassinating and murdering foreign citizens.

“Under torture you say not only what the inquisitor wants, but also what you imagine might please him, because a bond (this, truly, diabolical) is established between you and him…I also have belonged to those groups of men who believe they can produce the truth with white-hot iron. Well, let me tell you, the white heat of truth comes from another flame.”
― Umberto Eco

The complicity of the American Psychological Association deserves to be a part of the discourse and weighed in the balance when assigning blame for these crimes against our fellow humans. Psychologists have played a crucial role in designing and overseeing the enhanced interrogation techniques and torture regimens that detainees have been subjected to. Two doctors have been identified who helped prescribe the torture program, in 2002, when an alleged Al Qaeda lieutenant was being held at a detention center in Thailand. The Hippocratic swearing psychologists were from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program that trained soldiers to resist torture by exposing them to, you guessed it, torture. If this all sounds strangely familiar, then you must have been paying attention. The involvement of licensed psychologists lends an imprimatur to the horrowshow taking place in clandestine sights around the globe.

The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?
― George Orwell

Following the release of the CIA’s macabre report card, I am deeply ashamed for any contributions I have made, even unwittingly, to feeding this ravenous beast that devours anything in it’s path in the name of power, profits and princedom. Bush seamlessly blended into Obama to give us more than 13 years of nonstop war, torture, and extrajudicial killings. One can only speculate who the next killer-in-chief may be but it’s virtually assured that the policy will be to keep on shocking (and aweing) in the free world. Power that is not wielded is like the Walton family leaving a nickel of profits on the table…it ain’t going to happen.  The flexing of corporate and state power has long been evident to global citizens on the wrong end of a NAFTA Article or downward facing detainees in Guantanamo. It’s the American people, themselves, who are finally waking up to the reality that the government they’ve pledged allegiance to as children is a harsh master.

Resource: Physicians for Human Rights: US Torture


Postscript: I regret that I haven’t been able to visit my fellow bloggers as much as I would like lately. Work and family have taken up my time and energies but I hope to visit soon. Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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