Free and Equal Blues

When reading some of the kind comments I received yesterday and today about my email on VE Day, I recalled my dad once introducing me to the songs of folk singer Josh White. White was well known in the 1940s as using his music for human rights ideals and to end segregation in the White south. He was close to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and followed by many of those in my mom and dad’s generation. But in the McCarthy period of strident anti-Communism, White was marginalized and largely forgotten. He was ignored by the folk revival of the 1960s and the growth of audiences keen for the blues.

Josh White’s song “Free and Equal Blues” used the blues genre to reaffirm our common humanity, regardless of race or ethnicity.

His thinking that the body chemistry shared by all persons has moral implications has just been affirmed by the coronavirus, which can reproduce itself without regard for race, religion, ethnicity or class – thanks to the biology we all share.

You can hear White sing this 1940s anthem of global equality here.

The lyrics of the song are:

I went down to that St. James Infirmary and I saw some plasma there,
I ups and asks the doctor man, “Say was the donor dark or fair?”
The doctor laughed a great big laugh and he puffed it right in my face,
He said, “A molecule is a molecule, son, and the damn thing has no race.”
And that was news, yes that was news.
That was very, very, very special news.
‘Cause ever since that day, we’ve had those free and equal blues.

“You mean you heard that doc declare
That the plasma in that test tube there could be
White man, black man, yellow man, red?”
“That’s just what that doctor said.”
The doc put down his doctor book and gave me a very scientific look
And he spoke out plain and clear and rational,
He said, “Metabolism is international.”

Then the doc rigged up his microscope with some Berlin blue blood,
And, by gosh, it was the same as Chun King, Quebechef, Chattanooga, Timbuktoo blood
Why, those men who think they’re noble
Don’t even know that the corpuscle is global
Trying to disunite us with their racial supremacy,
And flying in the face of old man chemistry,
Taking all the facts and trying to twist ‘em,
But you can’t overthrow the circulatory system.

So I stayed at that St. James Infirmary.
(I couldn’t leave that place, it was too interesting)
But I said to the doctor, “Give me some more of that scientific talk talk,” and he did:
He said, “Melt yourself down into a crucible
Pour yourself out into a test tube and what have you got?
Thirty-five hundred cubic feet of gas,
The same for the upper and lower class.”
Well, I let that pass…

“Carbon, 22 pounds, 10 ounces”
“You mean that goes for princes, dukeses and countses?”
“Whatever you are, that’s what the amounts is:
Carbon, 22 pounds, 10 ounces; iron, 57 grains.”
Not enough to keep a man in chains.
“50 ounces of phosphorus, that’s whether you’re poor or prosperous.”
“Say buddy, can you spare a match?”

“Sugar, 60 ordinary lumps, free and equal rations for all nations.
Then you take 20 teaspoons of sodium chloride (that’s salt) and you add 38
Quarts of H2O (that’s water), mix two ounces of lime, a pinch of chloride of
Potash, a drop of magnesium, a bit of sulfur and a soupֱon of hydrochloric
Acid and you stir it all up and what are you?”
“You’re a walking drugstore.”
“It’s an international, metabolistic cartel.”

And that was news, yes that was news,
So listen, you African and Indian and Mexican, Mongolian, Tyrolean and Tartar,
The doctor’s right behind the Atlantic Charter.
The doc’s behind the new brotherhood of man,
As prescribed at Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, Bull Run and Guadalcanal:
Every man, everywhere is the same, when he’s got his skin off.
And that’s news, yes that’s news,
That’s the free and equal blues!

VE Day and Our Global Future

It is VE (Victory in Europe) Day as I write this. I have been watching the news coverage of the end of the war in Europe 75 years ago, a brutal and bloody war to defeat Hitler and his Thousand Year Reich.

The narrative of the news was in the past tense. I wondered if VE Day was covered mostly out of courtesy to the muse of history. Then, thinking of history, I recalled the Atlantic Charter of 1941. In that document, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt set forth a commitment to achieving a more just human community after the war was won.

The Atlantic Charter said:

The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.

First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;

Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;

Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

Fourth, they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;

Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security;

Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;

Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;

Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measure which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Winston S. Churchill

And, after the war, the promises of the Atlantic Charter were kept. We now refer to that Atlantic Charter program in action as the “post-World War II international order.”

The greatest achievement of what the Atlantic Charter proposed is the United Nations. Its preamble sets forth the norms and rules of a fair international order:

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

AND FOR THESE ENDS

to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples

In recent years, considerable angst has been expressed by many committed to that international order of law, no wars of aggression, growing prosperity for all and human rights that the rise of populist nationalism, small wars, migrations and refugees, growing concentration of economic power and inequality of income and wealth have created a bad inflection point in human history, a turning away from the “post-World War II order.”

The ideals embedded in the Caux Round Table Principles for Business and Principles for Governments cannot be disentangled from those in the Atlantic Charter and the Preamble of the United Nations.

VE Day, therefore, is important today, for us and for the world as the scope of justice which it proposed is still wise and needed.

Please Join Us on Zoom This Friday to Discuss the Coronavirus

Next Friday, the Ides of May, we will be having our first round table over Zoom beginning at 9:00 am.

I suggest discussing the topic of risk and personal responsibility as we plan to re-balance the economy and protection of the vulnerable against the coronavirus.

My thoughts on procedure are:

1) Those who would like to participate register their intention with Jed.

2) We will close participation at 25. If more are interested, we will convene a second session.

3) I most likely will be host. Participants will stay on mute until recognized. I will keep a list of people in the queue as usual by noting who raises their hand on the screen or who send me a note on the chat function that they would like to contribute. Participants should signal a one-finger or a two-finger intervention as usual.

From recent Zoom meetings, I expect a high quality discussion from our participants. Certainly, the times have given us enough to think about and to offer in response our best suggestions for constructive action.

Please RSVP your interest in participation with Jed at jed@cauxroundtable.net

Livestream Broadcast: Finding Beauty

Devry Boughner Vorwerk, a member of our board of directors and a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum, is involved in their “#FindingBeauty in Quarantine Times: A 24-Hour Livestream of Art, Culture & Sport” taking place today and tomorrow.

What their program reminds us of is art – beauty, a deeply moral emotion actually open to all of us. We so often let our attention and concerns get wrapped up in organizations, hierarchies, contests of will and power, technologies, money and cold, hard laws of science that we overlook beauty as a source of meaning and hope.

Was it not philosophers who sought to center our lives on truth, goodness and beauty, each one supporting the other?

You can learn about the live streaming here.

I hope you might have a moment to listen in.

Working Together to Find a Way Forward

Just now in the U.S. and I presume in many other countries struggling to contain the coronavirus, there are differences of expert opinion on how fast to remove restrictions on our personal lives and the economy. There are also conflicting demands from citizens as to what governments should do. Some give priority to getting back to work, while others prefer longer periods of quarantine, just to be sure the virus is in full retreat. Experts differ over the facts, while people have different levels of risk tolerance and different situations – some needing work immediately.

What to do?

Our Principles for Business balance economic goods, narrowly understood, with the non-economic needs of customers, employees and communities, believing that what employment, commerce and finance make possible supports our lives in many important, intangible ways. Our Principles for Government advocate discourse to resolve differences and to mediate conflicting views and priorities on the proper use of public power.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, a small caucus of both Democrats and Republicans, the Problem Solvers Caucus, has proposed a common sense program for returning the U.S. to more normal ways.

You may find their recommendations here.

It is always gratifying when those in positions of authority and influence align their actions with good principles.

Podcast with Ven. Anil Sakya – Are Predicaments the Norm of Life?

Our podcast this week is a conversation with Ven. Anil Sakya, the Honorary Rector of the World Buddhist University in Bangkok, Thailand. He and I have collaborated in writing commentaries on the first sermons of the Buddha on the Dharma and how we should live well in the reality surrounding us in every dimension, material and spiritual, as providing us with reliable guidance on achieving sustainability in our time.

Ven. Anil was born in Nepal into the Sakya Clan, the family of the Buddha. He came to Thailand where he has been a Theravada monk. He graduated with a M.Phil from Cambridge University and later with a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology at Brunel University in the U.K. He served as Secretary to the late Supreme Patriarch of Thailand.

Currently, he is residing at the royal monastery of Wat Bovoranives Vihara in Bangkok where he is an Assistant Abbot. He is the Honorary Rector of the World Buddhist University under the World Fellowship of Buddhists and Deputy Rector of the Mahamakut Buddhist University.

Some years ago, I found in St. Louis a little plaque with the words “All Crises Pass.” Believing that we have many crises in our life but, in the end, they do pass, I bought it and have it in my office as a reminder to “keep calm and carry on” to do our best with hope and fortitude.

Our podcast with Ven. Anil talks about resilience and living in and through crisis, whether caused by a virus or by our own wayward thoughts and emotions.

His lively wisdom and succinctly presented insights will impress and reassure you.

New Office Address and Round Tables via Zoom

We have moved our office to the Landmark Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Landmark Center was built in 1902 as a federal courthouse.  The exterior is pink granite ashlar with a hipped red tile roof, steeply pitched to shed St. Paul’s snows and enlivened by numerous turrets, gables and dormers with steeply peaked roofs; cylindrical corner towers with conical turrets occupy almost every change of projection.  There are two massive towers, one of which houses a clock.

The interior features a five-story courtyard with skylight and rooms with 20-foot ceilings, appointed with marble and carved mahogany finishes.  Its Richardsonian Romanesque is similar to the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C.

In 1972, a group of determined citizens saved the building from the wrecking ball and restored it to its previous grandeur.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and reopened to the public as Landmark Center in 1978.  Today, it serves as a cultural center for music, dance, theater, exhibitions, public forums and hosts countless special events.  Owned by Ramsey County, it is managed by Minnesota Landmarks, a not-for-profit organization.

Landmark Center also houses Anita’s Cafe, Landmarket Gift Shop, five gallery spaces and a number of St. Paul’s premier arts and culture organizations.

Our new address is: 75 West Fifth Street, Suite 219, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102.

Secondly, as around the world we are getting accustomed to using Zoom and other internet platforms for meetings, we would like to convene round tables using such technology.

Zoom and similar technologies are particularly well designed for a global network like ours.  At minimal expense, we can convene thoughtful leaders from around the world.  The internet, sadly, does not permit the personal exchanges, formal and informal, of gathering in a place, such as Mountain House in Caux, and which lead to new friendships and deeper learning from one another at tea breaks and during meals.

Our plan for these round tables is to propose topics and set reasonable dates and times for the discussions.  At first, I think we should open them to a limited number of participants.  We would ask those interested in participating to RSVP, with the first 25 to register to be admitted to the session.  We will send invitations to those so registered.  If a larger number would like to participate in that discussion, we would then consider convening a separate session later to accommodate their interest.

We now are thinking about a series of round tables on 1) the most important lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic and 2) on the application of our principles going forward, as we adjust our global community to living with the virus and its potential mutations for some years to come.

We would like to have our round tables facilitate the drafting of proceedings on the topics discussed for subsequent distribution.

Please send us your suggestions regarding how best to structure such events and what topics you believe should be tabled for consideration by participants.

Ethical Precepts in a Global Perspective

Our global community, in some unexpected ways, is more coherently united today thanks to the coronavirus than before. But what do we share in common, other than fear, a perceived priority to be given to self-protection and the need to work?

Several years ago, John Dalla Costa proposed using a Talmudic format from the Jewish tradition to assemble thoughts and reflections from across wisdom traditions which would stimulate deeper perceptions into selected ethical objectives. We turned to rabbi Naftali Brawer of London to help us.

Our Talmudic or Midrashic layout and format of these objectives and commentaries related to them can be read here.

I believe from recent Zoom meetings and other conversations that such a compilation of wisdom is far more relevant to our lives today than it was when John first suggested it.