Monday, December 15, 2008


A life in prayer may not be as appreciable as living a life as a form of prayer.

There are problems with the current practice of prayer. It is indicative of a flawed philosophy behind it. This exploration of these issues seeks to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters.

The modern practice of prayer is problematic. Those who pray occasionally, once a week, daily, and many times through out the day have compartmentalized prayer into moments of varying duration. Prayer has been slowly ritualized in our society into a script of words, a taking in of breathes, a coming together of hands, a bending of knees, a studied silence or reflection. Prayer has stopped being a moment that asks everything of us to a moment where we offer the choreography of a small repertoire of gestures, symbols, and acts.

It seems that the way that prayers are used in our society, if and when they occur, appear to dilute their importance. The power of prayer may be called forth to resolve a war or to save a life but more often than not it has been summon forth to handle an array of lesser, more mundane acts including exams, job interviews, wagering, getting an engine to turn, and summoning forth the strength for small physical feats. This final matter can include finding the strength for carrying groceries, batting a softball, dealing with difficult people, and exercise.

This may not be true for all religious people but it is true for many and more importantly this kind of prayer crosses all religions and even affects those who have no religion. Even secular people suddenly burst into prayer for example when they want their favorite team or player to win a game.

There is also for many the non-prayer that is the prayer equivalent including much of the meditation exercises popular with people who have long moved past traditional western mainstream religions. Even the connection from mind, body, and soul to the universe for some practitioners often ironically sidetracks everything else (the actual universe) on its way to the universe as a broad concept. Mediation becomes escapism and a stress releaser. This kind of prayer thus subsumes important matters in service of clearing the mind, bringing calm, and alleviating minor aches and pains. Important matters should be at the center of this meditation and for many who have not corrupted the practice it still is in its own way.

While there are problems with the current practice of prayer, it is indicative of flaws within the philosophy that is behind it which often has little to do with the ideals religions have to offer. It should be said that the issue here is more tinged by the limits of omission than the expansiveness of inclusion. There may be nothing wrong in arguing that one prays for everything no matter how significant or insignificant including an exam. The logic is that everything in one way or another leads to one’s spiritual center. In fact, looking at the way the philosophy of many people deals with insignificant creatures sheds light on the issue. That which brought forth the Earth brought forth the ant too.

Many an animal rights activist has this mentality and refuses to harm a fly and when they do so inadvertently or step on an ant there is the tinge of regret. The life of that creature flashes before them. An unspoken prayer for that spirit and for themselves may move through their consciousness and disappear in a manner of seconds. It is in fact very hard to coexist with many of the smaller creatures of the Earth and that coexistence has to be carefully weighed.

Man rules the kingdom of other creatures whether they want to or not. Even the house that is over run and caters to cats for example is a place where other animals are not allowed. For sanitation and health reasons roaches and mice are subject to a kind of sanctioned genocide in our society. The food bought for that cat along with that bought for the owner often means that another animal was destroyed to create it. If every living thing takes on an equal value than replacing the meat of the murdered animal with the leaves, seeds, flowers and products of dead vegetation can be just as problematic.

Then there is the matter of science and how everything has cells or even tinier organisms that could be alive. There are religious orders who are concerned with this and each day as microscopes and scientific knowledge grow more powerful, the more they have to worry about. One could starve or literally eat dirt like many did in the past but the loss or weakening of one’s self helps preclude one’s self from continuing to help others and thus the societal good is affected. The calculus is clear. One must sacrifice something for the public good. It is about doing so with honor and respect.

The problem is that this kind of reflection to this level is not often made. The sacrifice of the ant is at best discussed by environmentalists defending the ecosystem. The butterfly effect is mentioned when one is doing a formally announced act of service or giving. This reflection is done to illustrate the collective community of humankind. One does not use this reflection on everything done each day and more importantly to everything included in prayer. What is the butterfly effect of praying to win the game? What ecosystem is affected by praying to pass the tough exam? The connection with the collective community of humankind is not made when praying for strength to carry the groceries. Even further, none of these connections and reflections is inferred, assumed, or seemingly necessary to the person praying.

If one were to make a list of everything prayed for over time one would see a list that on balance favors athletics events, personal tests, and trivial matters and not larger issues such as world peace. What is the importance of the answered prayer of a hit in a baseball game or a touchdown in a football game years ago? Church leaders even support this behavior by offering public blessings and invocations before the games. Church leaders may support world peace and offers blessings and invocations and prayers for it too but not only are these prayers not answered but the followers who often did pray for the game did not follow their leaders in praying for peace. The consequences of this unanswered prayer are more important than the course of sports history and academic career history.

The omission of the significant is a statement of what is important to us and perhaps the importance we really give prayer. If we thought prayer was good enough for world peace we would have resolved it collectively long ago. Prayer is often what we do when we are helpless or no longer in control of the situation. All pencils are down. I have done what I can in the time allotted. It is up to the scan tron machine to do the right thing. I would bat it down the middle if I were you but there is no time now for me to begin a baseball career to replace you so I offer this prayer for you and the team.

A good score or hit is possible and once it is done it is done. We can pray against war and peace and that our leaders and soldiers will make a good decision but we know it is not as simple as a person bubbling the right circle or hitting a ball with a bat. We know that peace is neither sudden or everlasting if it should occur. Yet the games stop and all else is put aside in a moment (often in the shadow of an upcoming or present tragedy) when we all realize we can come together and do something and we all pray and we do much more than pray. That is the problem with not praying. Praying may not always be the solution but it can be the start of the solution.

This exploration of these issues has sought to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters. If the power of prayer is such than it can change the course of human events than perhaps it is wiser to use it to change something more than the course of a game or any other concern that is relatively small in nature. One should not call forth prayer because the context like that of a church calls it forth artificially. One should not call forth prayer for any enterprise they could do on their own alone. Praying in the limited form critiqued so far does not really empower anyone but only makes worse the weakness of their position.

Living a life as a form of prayer is a way to make one’s self an agent for social justice. A prayer should be a full visualization and imagining of what could be possible in an adverse situation. People should go further than seeing in their mind’s eye the result of a turn of events. For prayer to be truly effective they must endeavor to eventually explore everything no matter how minor that leads to the act they seek. A prayer this strong not only sends a good feeling in the environment. It guides the person who prays through an imaginary ideal world that is not only parallel to reality but often becomes it.

Some of the work of the early civil rights movement is an example of such an extended prayer. There was an ideal promise land to reach and a dream to make a reality while people linked larger acts such as marching and racial equality to smaller acts such as sitting in a counter at a restaurant, playing on a team, and using and expecting basic manners and respect. This was not prayer at a cotton field to gather the strength to carry another bundle or to bite one’s tongue.

The Florida community is replete with places where prayer could go farther than it goes in the current era. The next time one prays that a child does good at an exam one should question the exam itself and the system that supports it and go beyond the simple bubbling in of circles.

The next time one prays for strength to carry groceries or anything else they have bought they should consider protesting the changing nature of local economic development, the hidden price of large chain stores with cheap products, and how they affect everyone economically and culturally. These are large chain stores that have run out of business smaller stores that did offer better service. Each day employees are replaced in the store with self-check out machines that make service something the customer must do themselves. Self service is a concept that may be effective with matters such as pumping one’s own gasoline but it is slowly creeping its way into other facets of our lives where contact with another human being is necessary. The less people work at a local store the less economic activity there is in a local community. Sometimes walking through a store one can also see clear social lines dividing people in the hierarchy of these stores that mirrors the worst aspects of our society. What happens at the larger retail chain store is happening through out all the institutions of our society.

A prayer for justice can be powerful for a victim or their family but more than that has to be done. Placing stuffed animals, flowers, pictures and signs at the scene of the crime is important. A candle light vigil is important too. Do not however let the light of the candle light vigil simply shine on the streets of the local community but also illuminate the justice system where a variety of obstacles are set up to hinder the pursuit of justice. The lack of court interpreters and quality attorneys who are not overworked are just a few.

These examples are just to name a few. The reader can examine those that occur in their own daily lives. One can scaffold their way to a future they seek. If connecting oneself and your context to your prayer and connecting your prayer to the significant events of the Earth is done for more than a few moments and for a life instead, than little by little one can make the ideal real.

Eddie Hernandez

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Sidewalks circling all over a block makes commerce and activity and crowds of humanity move forth and flower. Energy bursts like a powerful fragrance in the air. The structures and their details are fleshed out with vibrant colors. Beautiful lights, sometimes flashing, reflect off the sidewalk at night. People walk the sidewalks hand in hand. By day, sidewalk cafes put their tables closer to the sidewalk’s edge so that writers can read and others can drink coffee with the company of well dressed strangers who walk by and may even greet them. This is the ideal. An ideal that is not sustainable or even good for the rest of the town.

Sidewalks should grow like vines in our communities to link everyone but they do not always do so. Some neighborhoods have an abundance of sidewalks. In some places it is even hard to tell where the side walk ends and the pavement of the thoroughfare and the pavement of someone’s front lawn begins. People live in seas of asphalt, concrete, and brick. Some of these people even prefer it this way.

The sidewalk Gods though do not distribute their blessings equally. There are neighborhoods where there are sidewalks that are really bike paths that are really jogging paths and sometimes really like electrical cart paths. There are neighborhoods where sidewalks are a potential danger with their dips and valleys, cracks and tilts, and their slippery mold and hateful spray painted speech. There is only a sidewalk on one side of the street in some neighborhoods. Sometimes that sidewalk ends midway through a street. It is cracked apart by a crater of a garbage dump or by a monolithic tree run amok. In some neighborhoods, there are no sidewalks. You walk across someone’s grass. You take a risk by moving so close to the street that traffic could hit you. You better have the right shoes because the heel may catch on the uneven Earth. Weeds may brush across your pant legs leaving bits and pieces of themselves. Litter may offer itself as an obstacle.

A vine can grow wild and unpredictably on a wall leaving spaces and omissions in some places and an abundance of leaves and branches and even flowers elsewhere. It may seem that our sidewalks have grown in that way across the grid of the city but it is the illusion of time and circumstance unknown and therefore unreflected upon. There are reasons why sidewalks have grown through the city the way they have. There is a reason why there is a sidewalk over there and why there is not a sidewalk over here.

How often do people think about sidewalks? Only children without cars and parents with strollers and people with dogs that must be walked and bodies that must be exercised truly understand the sidewalk. These are people with leisure time and this is a commodity others do not have. The value of a sidewalk is hard to get a foothold on for the rest of humanity who do not have leisure time even though its reality can meet the soles of all our shoes.

A sidewalk is a mattress for the manual laborer. The roof worker can make a call on their back with their feet folded up and their eyes admiring the sky in front of someone’s house. The construction worker can lay out their lunch in a makeshift picnic on them. They are a work table for the carpenter. They are a marketplace for the vendor who seeks to work from home to ply their wares. A sidewalk is where a young desperate worker can be cajoled to wear a ridiculous costume or a sandwich like placard to advertise a business to people who drive by.

Sidewalks have cut out curves to allow the handicap to roll off and on them. Skateboarders don’t take that for granted. Bikers don’t take it for granted. Old women who push shopping carts home don’t take it for granted. The handicapped certainly do not take it for granted either but often are the only ones who understand why these cutouts really have to be there. It is not just about convenience.

Sidewalks help children learn to play skip rope and hopscotch. When they fall on a square and miss a crack, they reinforce cautionary tales of superstitions and give victories of free natural delight. When the sidewalk cement is still fresh, they give them a chance to etch their words into immortality. Childhood never ends for these children.

This is all good but what if you don’t have a sidewalk or a quality sidewalk? Bringing a sidewalk into your neighborhood is an ideal that in practice becomes a potential nightmare. To bring a new sidewalk into your neighborhood you need the bait of gentrification. That may mean that the sidewalk does not come to you. It rewards the newcomers in your midst. People you never invited in. They do not seem like bad people at all. What they are doing is good for the neighborhood at times. Perhaps you may free ride on the newcomers for a while even though you never intended to.

Suddenly everything is better. You enjoy the sidewalk. You walk on it. You may even watch an appreciative neighbor sweep it with a broom in the morning.

There are however disadvantages. You can’t always park your car sideways on it without drawing attention. The city may even pave over the grass in the right of way with intricate fancy stonework and gravel. Now the oil spots from your car appear more readily. You are one of those people who has to work on your own car. Dogs can be walked away from staining the sidewalks but what about those chickens of the poor. Evidence of your existence becomes clearer. It contrasts more. It clashes with everything. The newcomers do not have these problems. The newcomers are multiplying. One day you wake up and that neighbor who was sweeping the sidewalk is no longer there. She has been replaced by another newcomer.

Before long your house has the oldest paint on the block. People walk over and ask questions about it. Inspectors show up more recently. You are surrounded.

You look at the huge palms the city workers are putting. You see the temple of a bus stop they are creating nearby.

At some point, you wonder if you are going to be in a neighborhood without a sidewalk like this. You don’t think for long. You can not afford to linger on these musings. You have no time for leisure.

Eddie Hernandez

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


The hand that shelves the books rules the world. They decided the breath of knowledge available. It is true whether you are in the carpeted room of a library with these pages and colored volumes at attention on a shelf or you are in your room, with pictures of familiar faces smiling back at you nearby, a lap top on your laptop, and knowledge tempting you on a screen to unleash it from its cage.

The hand should routinely walk across the aisles escorted by its companion the eye to peruse the volumes. Darwinism forces those books that are tattered, irrelevant, misunderstood, under-appreciated, diseased, damaged, yellowed, old, weak, and/or just plain ugly to leave the community of knowledge. Order must be restored at the library. Knowledge is simply not acknowledged if it doesn’t exists in the best utopia of its format. Knowledge must be tasted and admired from afar in this Eden.

That eye, like the middle class, has two masters. The hand is out in the public but the mind is in the shadows. It tells the eye what it is looking for. It tells the eye what it is seeing. It tells the eye to talk to the hand but every once and a while the hand surprises the mind. A reform today, a revolution tomorrow.

Someone has brought an item to the library. It came out of the box but it doesn’t easily fit into a box, does it? The mind knows what it is but the words escape him. The tongue can not make out the words into a semblance of a sentence. What is it good for except for eating? The eye merely darts back and forth impatiently. The nose may even inhale but it is a human nose, a whiff does not tell it what a hound’s nose would. My kingdom for a canine nose! The hand holds the object. It feels. It is not a book or is it? Maybe it can’t be held but it must be touched somehow and the hand knows the surrogates that can lead him to it. That happens from time to time. Remember? There it is that magical computer that can lead me to the database. I think it was a database. It is so expensive. It must be more than a database. At somepoint, the hand makes a decision. A pen is grasped. A scanner is caught. A key is reached. A card becomes a commandment. The mind must go along because the hand has done this before and there is so many other things to worry about.

Eventually, the mind looks at what the hand has found and done and laughs. It has won again. You can not touch that database it tells the hand. The hand agrees but it can touch many a book the brain can’t. Anything the brain wants it must keep inside of it because the moment it lets it out, it is up to the hand to inspect it. That clever hand who can choose to pass the item once a thought in the brain, now a book on a subject, a picture taken, a drawing jotted down, a realia made, or even a digital bull hidden in the labyrinth of technology, off to another hand with a mind of its own and even a collective mind of its own. That bull in the labyrinth now becomes another part of a larger labyrinth of catalogs, schemes, structures, organizations, discourses, disciplines, categories and other spells that spell doom for the mind that wanted things on its own terms. Mind, there is a whole world beyond you that the hand knows all too well. You where warned to keep that hand busy, it is the devil’s work shop. You let that hand think.

The hand that rules the world can do it one key stroke at a time. The wrong search term can lead to a dead end alley. A misplaced letter can be your downfall. The jealous ear that whispers your words to your hand can misconstrue your intentions. It can send the hand and you on a red herring but that hand once bitten by the ear can choose to ignore it when it wants to. It can even cover it over. The ear begs to be scratch and tugged but the hand ignores it for the longest time and does what it must.

The hand waves to the patrons. The smart patrons wave back. The hand may even shake another hand. The hand has its own magic. It can even flip open a book and it can open to the right page.

The book on the shelf is grateful to the hand. The hand stops and opens it. It guides the eye through every word. It is time for the book to speak. It must sing. Then the hand stops.

There it is that sign of affection. The hand dog ears its pages. It places it back on the shelf. The hand has made a promise to return.

No. There it is that sign of hopelessness. The hand snaps the book shut. Was it the loose page? Was it the twisted spine? Was it the old song it sung? The book falls into a box. The box is closed. It is never to be seen again.

Then another hand appears. There is a new beginning. Somewhere else.

That hand that rules the world remains at the library though. It can hold a card to the light. It can place a slip into your item. It can extend out for money. It can wave a no at you. It can reach to its lips and hush you into silence. It does things at the library when the patrons are away. The patrons never know. This added to that could have led to this but now the chain is broken. A dream is lost before it is started. A piece of research never reaches a student. Poetry is never heard. Images are never seen. History is not offered to History for prosperity. History is lost to history forever. Gates are closed. The patron never knows. Sadly, even the poor librarian doesn’t know what the hand has done.

The hand eventually ends the pursuit of sensation. It is no longer startled by the feel of things. It knows fire. It knows coldness. It knows what to seek and what to avoid. That hand once greasy and slippery from packed lunch, potato chips, and pastries, once revealing its innermost secrets to that distant, uncaring scanner, once soiled by that leaky pen, once tapping on a desk to its own drummer, doing its tango across a mouse pad, once admiring its own fingernails, enjoying the sound of its crunched knuckles, seeks a new purpose.

That hand gestures for your attention. That hand scrolls through booklists. That hand joins with another or many others to lift boxes. That hand seeks to extends itself beyond its reach and grasp to a kind of justice. It begs to do more than just shelve books.

Bad smells from the homeless patrons are merely waved away for the sake of showing them a self help book. A door is opened for someone who can not open it for themselves. The hand does not meet the foreign tongues of lost patrons with a stop sign anymore but that ubiquitous okay sign everyone seems to know. It learns what to do in the United States and anywhere else around the world. It puts on a glove to hold precious history. It high fives a young reader even though it is not necessary. The hand even learns sign language.

The hand learns to work with its community. It coaxes the brain by rubbing its temple. It cups itself around the ear so that it may hear better. It rubs the eye so that it may stay awake and alert. It rubs the other hand in a show of solidarity. Soon it seems as if everything is working together.

Then there are those dark days. The nervous hand offers its fingernails as a sacrifice to the hungry teeth of the mouth. The hand seeks to hide itself in a pocket. The hand is trapped in a sneeze attack instinctively meeting it like a soldier falling on a grenade. It seeks to ball itself up in a fist after a terrible day of bureaucracy. It seeks to flip off this cruel world for the last time. The hand seeks to check out its last book. It seeks to turn its last page. The hand seeks to wash itself of all sins. Then the hand rubs the neck or does the neck rub the hand? It says come now. It is not so bad.

Then there are voices. Some one mentions a book they read. Maybe it was another item they checked out. A burst of knowledge. It is familiar knowledge this hand knows. It let it enter the gates of the library once. That hand held that book once. It described that item. It check it out. The voice continues. There is the testimony of a change life. The ear begins to mumble. Now the mind joins in. Others add to the chorus. Their message is clear. The life transformed is that of the hand too. Familiar images flashed before the hand. Words come to mind. Stories are retold. The hand has done more than shelved books. The hand, yes, that hand that shelved the books realizes that it rules the world.

It counts the people it helped. The books pointed to. The research found. The paintings printed. It counts the fingers and toes and eventually falls into abstract math beyond them. The careers that were started. The goals that were reached. The people that were served.

It is now more dangerous than ever.

Soon the hand is back at work again.

Eddie Hernandez

Sunday, November 30, 2008


The cost of the fare on a bus is at level now that one has to consider obscene. The monetary value is not the full price. There is the price of waiting at the bus stop. There is the price of getting on transportation where it is only practical to bring with you what you can carry with comfort. People do their groceries with a bus. They handle important matters with the bus. They conduct their whole lives with a bus. These are incredible hardened people. They sometimes do this with straggling children in tow. Sometimes they do it alone. Sometimes they have some kind of disability to keep them company. Sometimes it is physical. They are times it is a demon inside of them. Sometimes you can see them talking to that demon as though it were outside of them. You hate it when in mid conversation their eyes lock on you and they speak to you.

There is a schedule to follow. There is a route to understand. There is a course to plot from your route and bus schedule to your appoint time and place to calculate, adjust as the process inevitably changes and develops, and to physically and mentally prepare for. Every whim you may have needs at little over thirty minutes to an hour of leeway.

The transit bus is the site of our democracy that we pass by, tail gate, and watch drive away that many do not seek to enter. It is hidden away. Even the people inside them now are covered over by the garish film on the windows. This is not an original idea. People have known about it and reflected about even essayists. Rosa Parks knew about it. The child outside the window that is the future of this city needs to know about it. Some people who know better need to be reminded. You yourself sometimes forget. Sometime you ignore it. Enter a bus in the city of Miami and as you take the ride you have time to reflect on the development of social justice in our community.

There is an obscene price to pay to drive your car in a city. It doesn’t matter how economical that car of yours is you must feed it. There is that twinge in you, that flicker in your mind, when you hear a momentary sound, a slight apprehension, that sense of whether enough has really been done to service this car, that runs in your mind every time you get into your vehicle. Then there is all the other costs just to get it out of your driveway. Once you are out of the drive way the jackals come to take more of your money away through parking fees, tickets, car washes, and the consequences that await you when you enter traffic with everyone else in the community. On a good day, it is just the flower lady or the fruit vendor who at least provides a service. There is the flyer people and you accept them or keep the window rolled, the face tight and looking forward, and unwelcoming or that man or woman who provides no service and yet begs for your money just the same and this is the truer test. The hardest test of all is the person who asks for a ride when they don’t look like the kind of person who would ask for a ride. If you say, yes, you are of the people, but is your little world in the car ready, can you really make conversation, are you really making a good deed or did you make a terrible mistake? Is this a person from a culture who is used to this and thus you are not providing any important service. Was this something better left to someone else. Some else would have done this. The man in the car behind you. The couple in the van. When they say it is just a few blocks away were they purposely vague. How out of the way are you going to go?

You eventually develop a strategy for these encounters. You have a way of handling these situations. Sometimes it really has to do with whether you are a man or a woman. Sometimes it has to do with whether you are alone or not. Sometimes it has to do with whether you are really in a hurry. You may play dumb and say you are not going in that direction. You may feign that you don’t understand. You may simply drive away. You may only help those who are obviously in trouble. You may help only when it is you asking the victim, that poor person who ran out of gas, the person facing the steaming open hood, the person pushing the car, or sitting in the seat of a car with hazard lights on in the median like an animal in a trap too long. You offer help then and often they don’t really need you. They are okay. Thanks anyway.

There is that person you turned down that you shouldn’t have. You did it automatically. It took you seconds to realize how elderly they were. It took you a while to realize that things were not so bad. You could have pushed all that stuff off the passenger seat. You drove and then you thought about it. You realized that you had failed the test. You drove back. Just like you did other times. There were other times. The conspiracy against you hits you quickly. Of course, this is the way it is, isn’t it? The driver in the way. The turn into an alley to nowhere. A circle around and then you get to the point where the person was and that person is not there. They must think you arrogant. They must think you must get your comeuppance. You must work on your reactions. You must sum up people better. Perhaps it meant nothing. They really were bad. The next person helped them.

If the car breaks down and there is not road side service and there is no way to fix it at that time of day at that place and you decide to get on the bus to get home, you have time to reflect on your own life. That significant other that you could have called for help that in reflection did not see you as significant. You did not even bother to make the call. The people you could count on that you are never going to bother. The fact that getting on the bus is an option and that you have considered that option and that you have taken that option says a lot about you.
The driver is from Haiti. The severe young woman with the attitude who refuses to pay any more than she has already paid despite the warning the driver has made about the cost of the fare, takes her seat. The bemused young man with her does nothing because she has paid for him even though she is the one working at the fast food restaurant. The argument continues because this driver is a man who may not know English that well but he knows what has to be done in a bus. You do not want this blessed man’s job but you envy his resolve. Eventually someone gives the driver the few coins that were needed to make the bus continue in its route and the young lady gives some thanks and the driver makes some kind of joke everyone can understand. It is clear that this driver knows what he is doing. The young man with the young lady does nothing.

There is a man seated next to you. He is young and poor and yet, he has the latest in gadgets. The price of that gadget could have given him more than the chance to use it to kill his time that he has chosen. It is not clear what this small snapshot of a life means. You wonder if he has made the best decisions in our society. You wonder if society has made the best decisions about him.

Eddie Hernandez


There is an argument to be made here that pedagogy has a role in politics. Education is often examined in politics in superficial ways. These are a few of the concepts that routinely appear in this line of discourse: If you study you can become a good president or if you don’t study a bad president. If you know your history you can avoid repeating mistakes. Historically, everyone who has succeeded has had a quality Education whether it is formal or informal. So and so was influenced by these thinkers, they are always intellectually curious, they ask the right questions, or they have the smarts to work with and learn from people who are smarter than themselves.

These lines of thoughts have their merits and flaws but there is a more complex discussion that can be held. There is an interplay between pedagogy and politics that manifests itself in the behavior of its agents. It is not understood by some in the public and many who say they represent the public seem to work with the notion that all of them don’t. If it is understood by the public, then it is not discussed as much at least by those who say they are speaking for the public. The person who puts himself or herself to scrutiny in the public, has a vocabulary beyond words. It is the gesture. It is the image. It is the costume or uniform. The walk. The perception of the context. The cadence and organization of the message. Knowing this and using it can be a tool for social justice if effectively used to promote a cause. Sadly, those who use it do not always do things that promote social justice. It is up to the public to take up the slack.

In politics, particularly in a debate, the quintessential performance of this is put out there that everyone can use as a touchstone. These are skills and dispositions that can be used in your life. These are things that are mixed with your message. This is where society plays itself out. The individual interacting with the other individual. The community that watches it and learns from it consciously and unconsciously things they take on one level and other things they take on another level. These are all issues that are sometimes contradictory.

A historical campaign for the Presidency such as that of 2008 in the United States, with a future and first black president, with the potential for the first female president, with the potential for the first female vice president, with a veteran of a vintage much older than the norm, has enough public interest in it and significance to it, that it is safe to say that it can become a case study for future generations to follow and explore much like those that involved Lincoln, Kennedy, Nixon, or Reagan. One can safely discuss it today and know that tomorrow at some point, it is going to be discussed also somewhere else. It is the subject of future artworks, dissertations, articles, documentaries, scripts, plays, reports and even essays. It is a good case study to use to understand how pedagogy effect politics.

Any political contest is a fight for power. This fight for power is a fight for different visions of social justice. This presidential election in particular was an important event. It was seemingly examined in various ways and yet not everything that could be said about it was said. People noticed the wordings. Some looked at the body language. They discussed tactics. They discussed strategy. There is a lot that can be learned from this campaign and a lot of what can be learned about it has to do with Education. It may not be clear exactly what that is and so it is worth reflecting on when it comes to the power of pedagogy and its physical incarnation.

In this campaign more than many others in recent years, the candidate with the most formal education tended to do better. Part of this was to some extent set up by the narrative that the Bush administration was incompetent, that Bush was prey to people around him who were much smarter. And that further more Bush extolled his anti-intellectualism and his lack of intellectual curiosity. All this was marked into contrast by the narratives of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who both excelled in school and used it to excel personally. In a change year, the voters decided that having gone to school was good after all.

The gestures. The language. The organization of thought. The physical vocabulary of the image each candidate represented was not just a reflection of their personalities, their own innate skills, but also a reflection of the vocabulary of each discipline they followed in their Education. Looking closely at each actor in the campaign, we can argue that some tendencies manifested themselves. Here is an outline of some of them that may make some one reflecting back on the campaign or reviewing the images of it, think again.

Sarah Palin for example was educated in several schools. She had many interests but her focus has been on communication. There is something about the way she presents herself that has some of the best traits we expect from a communicator pushing a message to the masses. Her main talking points are outlined by simple repeatable slogans and concepts such as “Drill, Drill, Drill” and “lipstick on a pitbull.” These slogans give the mind easily accessible images. The lipstick on a pitbull remarks sounds like a turn on a familiar phrase which in turn makes it not surprising that Barack Obama would get into trouble by discussing “Lipstick on a pig” in a passage he may or may not regret and which he may have inadvertently trapped himself in or which he may have purposely followed. Political scientists and language and media experts are awash with research that shows that how you combine worlds can easily trigger responses in a listener that can lead them to think about something, end a sentence, complete an argument, or fall into a Freudian slip. Palin’s “lipstick on a pitbull” idea is also communication savvy because of the way it uses the ploy of linking two contrasting ideas together in a way that is memorable and humorous.

People who found Palin folksy down home language and persistence in sticking to particular conversational paths simplistic or incompetent missed the fact she was also making herself very accessible, and memorable. There is an argument to be made that Palin’s experience with television journalism should have made it easier for her to do better in interviews with people like Katie Couric but the fact is that it could have disadvantaged her. Television news teaches a person to work for the soundbyte in thirty to fifteen second chunks, it tells them to follows certain scripts, and it keeps all discussion to a surface level since there is only so much that can be broadcast. As the person doing the interview, she was also not used to be on the wrong side of the microphone at a moment of national attention to the level she was at. Excerpts of her debates in Alaska do show that she succeeds in a longer drawn out series of debates but this was not possible in the presidential campaign of 2008. It should also be noted that her communication education is not limited to broadcast journalism but to various other publicity intensive ventures. One could argue that the beauty pageant might have taught her less than a broadcast journalism education but she uses as much from it or more than her formal communications education.

It should also be said that Palin has mastered the visual vocabulary of a communicator in the video age with or without the help of people who selected her very expensive wardrobe. Her many quirky accessories are all set to be at the level of the close up camera be it a polar bear pendant she often wore before the presidential campaign, or the square-ish modern glasses she took on. There was no handbag or gloves to crop out of a picture. The dresses may have set an important tone but they had to be panned out into view by a camera to be assessed.
The face is the key to centering all images and most communicator’s know they must work the camera from the chest up because of this. Actors know this and use props and gestures to work the camera. Carol Burnett’s pull on the ear and Clint Eastwood’s small cigar movement are classic examples of how this is used and the ultimate political actor Ronald Reagan used the gesture (a rolling of the eyes) with a repeated slogan (there you go again) to dismiss opponents and support his narrative. It is no surprise that Palin had her assortment of winks and nods to use to augment her words.

A fault of Palin the communicator is her lack of stage craft in a larger sense beyond her. At times it seems to be partly tied to the fact that she has focused only on controlling herself. Other times it seems like a kind of cultural issue. When she held an interview as a man killed a turkey behind her, it seemed like an obvious mistake. Yet to see it as a mistake is in part an acknowledgement of our culture. Many Americans eat meat from slaughterhouses and they support this slaughter by continuing to buy their meat without reflecting on how it came to their kitchen table but the irony is that they do not want to see it killed. Palin goes in the other direction and goes to a place where they are selected and slaughtered in public. She is contrast to decades of political stagecraft where politician spared a turkey with fanfare but have supported a slaughterhouse industry with little publicity. In another time, Palin’s frontier woman attitudes would have been respected by people of the old world who knew what it was like to go hungry in the countryside and have to kill what moves to support a family. In today’s world, it seem anachronistic, bizarrely, and worst of all patently unnecessary.

John McCain has had a primarily military Education of the officer variety with some focus on technical matters such as the flying of a plane. A body ravaged by torture has left him with a physicality that does not help him. Various nervous ticks within camera range such as blinking and grimacing also hurt him. He is repetitive and has some good anecdotes as a communicator in the short terms but the militaristic pedagogy within him overrides most of his talent. It has been the subject of his success and also the point of his down fall politically in the campaign when all other issues are taken off the table.

Steadfastness to a cause and using a principle for decision making highlight a soldier’s career and their ability to draw respect from the people they lead. McCain’s captivity story is persistance to this idea (in this case, the principle that prisoners leave in the order they came) even when he could have been let out of suffering early and it is what earned him respect and a political career. It also marked his early political career when he stuck to ideas and not political expediency. His support for the war even when he knew it could lose him a political career in the campaign was also an example of this.

Formal military education in recent years also provides concepts that do not help in a political campaign and frankly has not helped many of our recent soldiers. The military during the Vietnam era has had a concept of sending soldiers out to pockets of skirmishes and popping them out and sending them to other places. There is no consistency and no holding of ground. It attests to the failures of the war. McCain’s campaign also jumped around a lot jumping from skirmish to skirmish never holding a political ground for long. His discussion about the problems with tactics and strategies was something he himself had to reevaluate. It is interesting that the people in his campaign who gave it order where those with military background. Game changing moves that smacked of desperation also harken back to the psychological games and propaganda messages soldiers played on their enemies even as they were losing wars. The treating of the enemy with some kind of honor is also a concept McCain used and it left him in conflict with his own campaign when there were moment when people on his staff wanted to attack the Obama campaign in ways McCain felt were dishonorable. It should be said that not all of his military education is formal. Informally he learned the art of being hazed to make one self accepted. It may be on one level why his strength lay in dealing with comedy that others would shy away from.

The business school disciples were represented by the likes of Mitt Ronmey and to some extant President Bush. Both men represent two of the possible manifestations of the discipline. Bush was not running for office at the moment but his presence was part of most of the debates. Bush’s business school approach favored a figurehead managerial style with heavy delegation and an emphasis on loyalty and the towing of a company line. Romney’s more hands on approach did appeal to many voters. For Romney, his business mentality made him very successful as an organizer and a spokesperson to an extent before the election but during the election much of his debates and campaigning followed a point by point business presentation pattern that may work in a board room where no one has to like you but did not translate to the popularity contest that is a campaign. Romney also did not seem to stand out in some ways and this again can be part of his business education. Some leaders see it better to be as less ocntroversial as possible so as to not hurt the company. Some leaders like to be as normal and boring as possible to highlight the people they lead and thus let the spotlight shine on them. This might have helped him as governor where he had to count on many underlings to make things happen but could have cost him in a presidency run.

Romney also studied law but he has shaken much of the lawyer like mannerisms other politicians have in a way someone like Rudy Guliani has not. Guliani was uncomfortably the lawyer without a case who continued to go forward hoping for a break. Fred Thompson also took on the southern lawyer motiff and it hurt along with perhaps an actor’ sense of waiting for his scene to happen. His scene did not happen, at least not in a scripted way, and he was not the kind of dynamic actor that could improvise one. An interesting character in an ensemble where the weight is shared on television, he was a less compelling character where he tried to share the stage with opponents who all wanted to be leading men and women.

It is not surprising that ultimately most of the more successful candidates studied law. Lawyers were less effective when they dealt with other lawyers and were more effective when they faced non-lawyers. It seemed that in debate the rhetorical and argumentative skills of a lawyer made them seem more effective in debates and in the campaign stump.
Hillary Clinton brought up a case against Obama with facts that were cleverly shaded. All were geared toward creating doubt. The Resko trial was brought up more than once to darken his character. She argued that he was not a muslim with the caveat that this was as far as she knew which hinted that there could be some dark secret that she did not know. During the primaries, her husband tried to link Obama to a history of black candidate failure with what seems to be racist code wording to some. Her husband then went out of his way at times to endorse him with out ever actually endorsing him after his wife lost the nomination. Then there were attempts to gain the favor of the jury of public opinion with hyperbolized stories of war zone landings, victimhood by a media conspiracy run by the good ole boys club, and moments of showing humanity through tears that some felt were staged.

Joe Biden clearly followed a lawyerly tact in his speeches and arguments. Some of his arguments were literally organized in the three point bursts found commonly in courtroom. He also used words to paint his opponnents. Subject verb 911 attacks literally sunk the Guliani campaign.

Finally Barack Obama seemingly designed his entire campaign into one long trial. The final weeks of the campaign were literally the final arguments he was making. On the campaign stump he would literally repeat what his opponent would say and do a rebuttal or redirect of a witness. One thing that clearly helped him was the fact that when he was asked a question he tended to answer it directly and immediately before moving on to other matters. This is something that lawyers train their witnesses and clients to do and he seems to have taken on his own advice. He also decided when to push a losing issue and when not to often simply conceding a point, This is something he often did with Hillary Clinton effectively negating the power of a continuing conversation on a topic and providing the impetus and freedom to move on to another topic.

So far, the differences in Education amongst the political actors have been highlighted but there is a common educational characteristic to all of them. Formally and informally they are all students of the discipline of political science. Thus they could all be examined for use of skills they learned from the pedagogy of it. Only in political science can the adjective Machiavellian be used in the best sense of the word as a compliment to describe some one. The lesson in the past was to play the idiot or to use the idiot so that those who underestimated you could be exploited. To some extent, it was argued that Bush played the lovable fool to Gore’s super intellectual in the past and that in recent years, Bush has been used by Dick Cheney. The lesson most candidates failed to recognize except Sarah Palin and John McCain in 2008 was the idea of lowering expectations. Both Rudy Guliani and Hillary Clinton painted themselves into acorner where they painted a picture of inevitability that could not be sustained. There are other lessons from Machiavelli that were used in this season. The lesson is to promote idealism and values while on the other hand using a politics of ruthlessness and any means necessary. Almost all who watched the campaign felt that the idealism Obama promoted disguised the fact that he was a politician first and foremost.

It was clear that the victory of Obama was predicated early on when he learned the lessons of current political science thought. Using what was learned from the successful campaigns of Kennedy, Reagan, and President Clinton, Obama wisely chose to grab a positive, up lifting change message early. By taking on this message early, others were forced to go negative to attack it because they could not come up with their own positive message that could be as effective without seeming to validate his initial move and in the process invalidating themselves. Obama was lucky in that he survived long enough so that this message gained value and did not get coopted away with his demise. Learning from the mistakes of John Kerry Obama counteracted immediately whenever something like a swift boat ad emerged. Perhaps most importantly he took the lessons of grass roots organization in the civil rights era he read about, the community organization of his Chicago early career, and the lessons learned from John Dean’s failed campaign in terms of organizing oneself through the internet and used it effectively to make a fundraising juggernaut and self sustaining organizing culture. Obama also understood that in politics the campaign that made the smallest amount of mistakes tended to win. He even learned lessons from the Bush administration such as controlling the information was sent to the media.
The argument that pedagogy has something to do with campaign behavior suggests that campaign success is tied not to just rigidly following the dogma of a selected discipline or two. If this were true, many unsuccessful candidates would be successful. Campaign success is tied to mixing the best of each dicipline together in a metapedagogy of political action. In Education for example, when Obama was the professor explaining something in a flight of rhetorical fancy he was less successful because he seemed to be talking down to voters as though they were his students. When Obama the educator emerged in a softer form to give a simple story or explanation of something in a humbler, more naturalistic tone before answering a question he was much more successful. One example of this is in the debate when he chose to explain the way the economy and the bail out effected everyone. He took a complex issue and made it relatable to everyone instead of taking a complex issue and making it simple to divide people. He divided people for example with his professorial bitterness and clinging to guns and religions speech. Religion and guns were made into a crutch in the logic of his speech which divided the people he was talking to from the people he was talking about and adversely had the effect of diving him from potential voters who do not se these issues as crutches but understandably as part of their lives that are being diminshed by a person who is hoping to represent them. Thus Obama learned to get the best from what he learned from the pedagogy of teaching.
His campaign success overall however was tied to connecting that to other pedagogies. His understanding of sociology, psychology, and history helped him craft narratives that he could play out to imspire people to act socially towards his cause. He did just that by often using his insights into the African American community and civils rights activists to create a campaign that often used events, images, and words to reference and revived older narrative. Obama for example often referenced the struggles of Martin Luther King and as his campaign wore on words like redistribution that King used appeared in his rhetoric. His use of Greek columns in some ways harkened back to old images of Martin Luther King speaking in Washington. In time, people began to work in these narratives with out prodding from cues. Obama himself did not have to create many of these details in the beginning and less once the culture was self sustaining in his campaign.

For example, the silk screen blue red images of Barack Obama profile found in many posters were probably designed by an advertising team or group of artists and not by the candidate himself. The value of the image however is that it is not unlike that of the image of Che Guevara that has been usurped by the youth in recent years and appears in many t-shirts. This parallel of an Obama narrative to a Guevara narrative links the idea of change to revolution to two groups that may want it i.e. the youth vote and some hispanic groups. This image had the polish of professionals hired at the beginning of the campaign. Once the campaign developed a culture that was self sustaining people inspired by Obama could help his campaign with out his direct help. The Obama image appeared in various ways through out the culture. People campaigned for him in their neighborhoods. It could be argued that this culture seeped into the popular media. The early attacks on Sarah Palin and her immediate mockery in comedy sketches effectively dealt with a problem that Obama apparently did not anticipate and did not know how to deal with early on.

Obama during the during campaign and after his victory has effectively used the pedagogy of various disciplines to maintain his success. The seal he developed to mimick the presidential seal gave him the props of an actor in a theatre. After the campaign when he rolled out his economic team to stand behind him during his first press conference, he was effectively doing what he learned in law. In law, you impress the other side by bringing in the major players in a law firm to stand by you as you make the big pitch. His switch from King to Lincoln as heroes in his discussions is a change of historic parallels to meet the change in his status from a potential leader of a divided nation to a leader of a divided nation.

The lesson for anyone reflecting on how pedagogy effects politics is not that one should develop a grab bag of skills from different disciplines to run for office. Instead one should strive to learns broadly from every subject and apply it to what they do. Ultimately one has to make decisions about what to use and when to use it and to what degree. Effective use of all this learning however in one’s own daily life can place a person in a power position to effect change. Some may argue that Barack Obama has put himself in the ultimate power position to effect social change. The fact is that he is less powerful than the millions of people that make social change happens in this country everyday. They do more than just put people in the White House. They could do more with informal and formal education to support them.

That is the ultimate lesson of this line of thought. The idea is not to improve on the mechanics of pedagogy and politics. That is too narrow in scope. For example, it was clear that through out the campaign Obama stuck to a narrow range of topics and that he had scripted out possible responses and arguments in this range. It is also possible that he scripted out possible arguments and responses in the nearer boundaries of this range. This is what lawyers do. They know that you can leave a window or a door open in an argument because an opponent might use and if you do, you must know what lies beyond that door and window. Like your own personal maze you may even trick opponents into using them. It was clear that Obama could handle debates because they were within his range and the doors and windows that were opened he could deal with. He also knew that if the opponents went through them they too risked opening themselves up to attack. Thus the moments of most difficulty for Obama were when outsiders he had ot counted on fully like Joe the Plumber or even Sarah Palin expanded the range. When the range was expanded he had to reveal more of himself. In general, revelation was not a bad thing for Obama since for many voters, the more they learned about him the more they liked him. It was clear however that the more he revealed the more there was to debate about and the more there was the possibility that he would make a mistake. His second election campaign does not have that particular advantage although he may be strengthened by others because he will no longer be a total mystery or clean slate.

The lawyers Obama faced understood this but because they were not new to politics they had too many issues with their own careers to risk opening up the range of issues too much against a person who was relatively a clean slate or a mystery when compared to them. Non-lawyers like McCain also restricted themselves for various other reasons. McCain restricted himself because of a sense of honor when it came to how much dirty politicking could be done and also because he simply could not keep up with the speed of the communication skills and thinking on his feet that Obama was capable of. For Obama to be weakened as a candidate someone with as blank a slate as Obama had to play out this game on a larger range of issues and hope that Obama could stumble or could be perceived to stumble. The entire boxing ring had to be used. The battlefield had to be expanded. Something closer to a total war had to be declared.

This arguably happened in a smaller sense when the public in a debate asked him if he would sit down and talk to our enemies. It could have happened in a more disastrous and more complex way if the range of issues were expanded. Clearly there were many reasons why the range of issues was not expanded beyond the pedagogical thought and personal interests of candidates. It appears for example that part of American political culture has long entered into an agreement not to talk about certain matters in debates watched by the world. The lack of discussion about Latin America is just one example.

The lesson here is not that one should try to defeat Obama or any other politician with the mechanics of pedagogy and politics. It could be argued that if Obama had been defeated in this way it would have been bad for the country. It could be argued that it would have been better for the debate as a whole. It could also be argued that the best outcome actually occurred or that Obama would have won anyway. The issue is that we don’t know because there was inequalities when it came to the manifestations of pedagogy and politics in this form. Furthermore it is not clear what the people saw or voted for because it was not clear they understood how pedagogy and politics was interplaying in this situation.

The important lesson in all of this is that the more Education one has both formally and informally the more people have the wisdom to understand how these mechanics work, to recognize and interpret them, and to decide if what way they should be used or not used and to what degree. Most importantly, for social justice, this must decide to what aim are these talents used. There may be an instance when a person who considers how pedagogy and politics intersects in their live may come to understand how to measure certain situations. The uneducated man for instance who can argue for drinking water from the little he has learned socially from their trade so that his village may survive may have their own level of importance. The educated politician who promises rain through the argumentative skills of their discipline which they learned at the university may have a different value if they put this in the service of their own campaign interests and not the public interest.

Eddie Hernandez




If you are reading this, thank you for time and attention. I hope to have earned the generosity of your intrepid curiosity some day. The Florida Justice Forum was created in November 2008 to explore and reflect on issues of justice, values, equality, human rights, and freedom. It is inspired by the countless acts of generosity and (formal and informal) public service I have seen. I am indebted to too many people to name. In this blog, essays on social justice issues can be found. My name is Eduardo Hernandez (most people call me Eddie) and I am the founder of this forum and I am the sole author of the essays that appear here regularly under my name.
The focus is on issues that effect the Florida community (what I know) and people beyond it (what I am learning about everyday). Wherever you may read this, there are things everyone can relate to in their own way even if it is not coming from the place they are in. Many people write about social justice and it appears in various areas of the media. My hope is to provide some depth and some exploration on topics both large and small. Some are obvious and there are some that are not so obvious. I have no pretensions. I have hope.

I do not use this forum to endorse political candidates, to promote any product, to sell any service, to deal with personal matters, or espouse one religion or world view over another. I simply reflect on issues I see or have read about or heard or imagined or thought about. I may be wrong about something, I may be right. My views might even change over time. I might even learn something.

I welcome comments, responses, feedback, social justice related event announcements, and other points of view. Unfortunately, I can not answer every response to an essay for various reasons and I have to admit that it may be wise not to even if I could. It is a forum but it is a forum for the community and not necessarily for this individual beyond the contribution of an essay (my small act for the sake of social justice).

I am also not responsible for the views or actions of other parties who may respond to this blog and converse electronically or interact with others. Their views and actions are their own. I neither bless, condone, judge, censor, punish, or condemn. I leave that to the rest of you. I simply hope everyone is civil, respectful, and kind and that you may contribute in your own way to social justice in your lives. I simply write essays in my informal way. Nothing less. Nothing more.

The essay is a form to cherish and I ask that you peruse as many from the authors that abound us as you can. It helps if you too add to the treasure by putting forth your own. There are some expectations you may have about the style of essay that may appear in this forum. I am concerned about current events but I try not to be dated and the fact is that most social justice issues are battles from the past, that are fought again in the present and have to continuously be refought in the future. Thus dates, references, personalities, fads, and trends are not at the forefront of my thinking unless they have some clearly historical significance and overriding community interest. I avoid the specific and strive for the metaphoric. I may write a timely essay. I aspire for timelessness.

I know I am in a public forum. Please share these words if you wish. Do not distort them. Honor their intentions even if the quality of their manifestations did not meet them. Make strong their weaknesses with your insight put to action in your own context. Make any humble thought, inspiration, or aspiration you may see in them a better good for a better world in your own special way.

Essays appear on average once for each week of the year but I might write more or even less. They may appear on a shifting schedule. So for example, there is an essay for each week of November but they may not have appeared weekly and several may have even been introduced to the blog on the same day. You may simply look back on previous essays on your own schedule as you await for new ones to appear.

I am an essayist and they have been around since the beginning. Years ago essays were solely in minds and words, and then they moved to parchment, and then paper and now they are in this medium that many did not imagine. It has been said that the medium is the message. Despite this, many ideas have not really changed all that much. It is only the form and the context. In this case, the medium is not the message. Things change. If the medium changes, look for the message elsewhere. Seek the light wherever you can.

Again, thank you for your time and attention.

Eddie Hernandez