We are poorer because Farley Mowat is dead

May 9, 2014

Farley Mowat died May 7.  He was 92.

The man was such a champion of the environment that he was, at one time in the 1980s, prevented from traveling to the U.S., because he was listed with Immigration as a potential terrorist.  He may be the only person so listed, simply for urging that we stop killing animals.

Mowat was unsurpassed as a pure curmudgeon in favor of the wild, wild animals, wilderness, and environmental protection.  He was a story teller above all, understanding completely the powerful role that stories play in moving government policies — which his books frequently did.  His first works, on indigenous peoples in Canada’s far north, wrought significant changes in Canada’s policies towards those now known as First Nations.  When his signature book, Never Cry Wolf, was translated into Russian, Russia prohibited hunting wolves.

Victim of virus arcticus, Farley Mowat, probably in the 1970s; image from Econet.ca

Victim of virus arcticus, Farley Mowat, probably in the 1970s; image from Econet.ca

From the Washington Post obit notice:

“I keep my optimism alive and revitalized by accepting the fact that we are a bad species, and probably haven’t got much time here,” he told The Washington Post in 1994, “and it’s not going to break my heart when Homo sap wanders offstage.”

Then he added, “Wanna get some more coffee?”

Barry Goldwater might say that extremism in pursuit of noble conservation is no vice.  Mowat wouldn’t care what Goldwater thought.

So long, Farley Mowat.

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Typewriter of the moment: Thomas Merton

April 16, 2014

Thomas Merton's typewriter, at Bellarmine University

Thomas Merton’s typewriter, at Bellarmine University; image from Spiritual Travels blog. Photo by Lori Erickson

One of Thomas Merton’s typewriters sits on display at the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Who? You remember, the guy who wrote The Seven Storey Mountain.

Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968) was an American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis.[1][2][3]

Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews, including his best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which sent scores of World War II veterans, students, and even teenagers flocking to monasteries across the US,[4][5] and was also featured in National Reviews list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century.[6] Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Merton has also been the subject of several biographies.

It’s a French typewriter, by Royal, with French characters available for use.

Closeup of Thomas Merton's Royal Typewriter; The Thomas Merton Center

Closeup of Thomas Merton’s Royal typewriter, showing some of the special characters available for French; The Thomas Merton Center

 

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Another typewriter displayed by the Thomas Merton Center. One of Merton's?

Another typewriter displayed by the Thomas Merton Center. One of Merton’s?


February 18, 1885: Twain’s novel Huck Finn, published in the U.S.

February 18, 2014

Today is the 129th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another installment in the novelization with great embellishment of the childhood of Samuel Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri, before the Civil War.  Earlier installments included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Cover and binding of the first U.S. edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, pen name of Samuel Clemens. Gutenberg Project image

Cover and binding of the first U.S. edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, pen name of Samuel Clemens. Gutenberg Project image

It is  THE great American novel.  It is the novel in which America faces its coming-of-age, in the metaphysical ramblings of a 13-year-old boy in the dark, on a raft in the Mississippi River, with an escaped slave who is a good friend, and has saved his life.  Huck Finn confronts reality:  Should he do what the preachers say to do, or should he do the moral thing instead?

America, most of it, grew up with that realization, coming even as it did, a generation after the Emancipation Proclamation.

In a good school, one probably unaffected by the damage done to learning by George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” nor more recent purges of quality in the classroom such as “value-added teaching,” “Racing to the Top,” or Common Core State Standards or the folderol conservative backlash against education in general, Tom Sawyer is often a child’s introduction to Twain, and to book-length literature.

In my youth, Tom Sawyer was so popular with teachers, and reading aloud by teachers was considered such a great idea, I think I heard the book three times.  I know Mrs. Eva Hedberg, in my third grade class in Burley, Idaho, read parts of it.  My recollection is that Mrs. Elizabeth Driggs and Mr. Herbert Gilbert both read it to us, in fourth and fifth grade, in Pleasant Grove, Utah.  (There were other books; I think I heard five of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books between those three teachers.  Reading was golden to them.  Mrs. Hedberg even gave me credit for reading encyclopedia, cover to cover, with each letter of the alphabet counted as a book.  Our World Book volume for the letter S had disappeared; I’ve never been good at snakes.)

Twain once remarked that he didn’t think a youth could read the Bible and ever draw a clean, fresh breath of air again.  Tom Sawyer can similarly haunt the life of a person, though generally to higher moral standards.

I had hoped they’d continue to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  When they didn’t, I borrowed it from the Pleasant Grove Junior High Library and read it through.  I read it in the middle of the modern civil rights struggle, between 1963’s horrors and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, just as our Vietnam tragedy was really ramping up.

Wait.  I remember Mr. Gilbert being stopped by a question on Huck’s father, Pap.  This was in Deep Mormonia, in Utah County.  Pap drank a bit.  Well, that’s not accurate.  Pap drank to excess, often.  Most of my fellow students had no knowledge of the drinking of alcohol.  Their parents didn’t drink, not in front of the children if they did, since imbibing alcohol was a violation of the LDS Church’s Word of Wisdom, a commandment that they treat their bodies as temples, not as amusement parks.  That bodily purity rule put alcohol, tobacco and caffeine off-limits.  Most of the parents simply didn’t drink.   It would have put sugar off-limits, too, had there been enough sugar to abuse as late-20th century America did.  Also, there was the issue of the LDS Church having significant holdings in the U & I Sugar Company (Utah and Idaho), which made sugar from beets, and blessed the church with a significant stream of income, from the Coca-Cola bottlers alone.  But I digress.

Maybe we did hear some of Huck Finn.  I didn’t hear all of it — mumps, or something.  And I checked it out on my own later.

One line jumped out at me from the start.  It is a powerful lesson in government and democracy.

In the course of the novel, Huck falls in with a couple of crooks, the Duke and the King.  They make their swindles in land deals on lands to which they don’t have title.

In Chapter XXVI (26), Huck accompanies the two swindlers to an orphanage of sorts.  The duke and the king decide to sell the orphanage, and leave town before their purchasers discover the sales are frauds.  Early on in their hustings they collect a bag of gold. Then Huck sits down to dinner with one of the girls at the place, and he meets a few others who all treat him rather kindly, and in the course of an hour or two he begins to have second thoughts, fearing for the fate of the orphans.

Meanwhile with investments coming in so fast, the duke and the king ponder leaving town earlier than planned, with at least the bag of gold, fearing they might be discovered.   In the course of their conversation, overheard by Huck hiding in the room, the king works to convince the duke that most of the town’s people remain bamboozled:

Well, the king he talked him blind; so at last he give in, and said all right, but said he believed it was blamed foolishness to stay, and that doctor hanging over them.  But the king says:

“Cuss the doctor!  What do we k’yer for him?  Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side?  And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

Savor that one, and let it sink in for a bit.  “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side?  And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson trafficked in democratic institutions at a metaphysical level, understanding men were no angels, as Madison put it, but with a bit of education a people should be able to rule themselves as well as, or better than, a tiny elite, even if that elite were educated.  But they understood at the wholesale political level that a check was necessary on the people; in 1822 Madison defended free public education in a letter:

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.  And a people who mean to be their own governours,
must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

In Huck Finn, just over a half-century later, Twain was writing about applied politics, the theory, not the hypothesis, on a retail level.  Without education for the masses, the group who cynically bamboozles for money or power wins once they’ve got every fool in town on their side.

We have a political system that is more subject to corruption due to lack of education than lack of money.

To an honest politician, this is a huge burden.  You won the election?  You got the vote of every fool in town?  Then it’s up to you to act wisely, despite their foolishness.  Robert Redford’s character in “The Candidate” pulls an upset win in a U.S. Senate race — the film closes with the candidate, rather scared, sitting down with the party-provided campaign advisor, and asking in all earnestness:  “What do we do now?”

Happy anniversary, Huck Finn.  Perhaps we should fly the flag today in honor of the publication of the book.  We would fly it a bit nervously, perhaps.

Illustration from Chapter XXVI of Huckleberry Finn.  Illustrations by Kemble.

Illustration from Chapter XXVI of Huckleberry Finn. Illustrations by E. W. Kemble.

Twain himself hired E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition.


Letter from Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 20, 2014

If you do nothing else today in commemoration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., please read through this missive, his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

King was sentenced to jail for demonstrating for civil rights, in Birmingham.  His aides and organization, the former Montgomery Improvement Association, grown to be the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 and 1957, argued that King should not submit himself to be jailed.  It was Easter weekend, after all, and King’s voice from some pulpit would be vital.

Photograph of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Birmingham City Jail, April 1963.

Photograph of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Birmingham City Jail, April 1963.

But King argued that the essence of non-violent protest is to accept some jail time, from time to time, to further expose the injustice.

The issue boiled over into local newspapers.  A group of Birmingham clergyman wrote a letter, published in a local newspaper, urging King to end the protests altogether, as they were disruptive — evidenced by King’s own jail sentence.

King wrote back.  His answer established the case for civil rights justice, and is regarded by many as one of the greatest explanations of human rights, ever.  This document weighed greatly with the committee that decided the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

This text comes from the Bates College 2001 celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day:

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: This response to a published statement by eight fellow clergymen from Alabama (Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B. Harmon, the Reverend George M. Murray. the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend Earl Stallings) was composed under somewhat constricting circumstance. Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me. Although the text remains in substance unaltered, I have indulged in the author’s prerogative of polishing it for publication.

LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL
April 16, 1963

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants — for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken .in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor. will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression ‘of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this ‘hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides–and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some—such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle—have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative .critics who can always find. something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious. irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it vi lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, ham and all over the nation, because the goal of America k freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Ashes to ashes, airplanes to spread them, Damon Runyon and silver bells: December 18

December 18, 2013

On December 17, Orville and Wilbur Wright got their heavier-than-air flying contraption to actually fly with motor driving it along.

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 1...

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip. Photo from Wikipedia

On December 18, Damon Runyon, Jr., got Eddie Rickenbacker to fly over Broadway to scatter the ashes of his father, Damon Runyon.

First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 9...

First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, American ace, standing up in his Spad plane. Near Rembercourt, France. Photo from Wikipedia. This photo dates near World War I; Rickenbacker remained a hero for a couple of decades. In 1946, he flew a DC-3 over New York City, and illegally scattered the ashes of raconteur Damon Runyon over his beloved Broadwary.

Not exactly the next day. 43 years and one day apart.  The Wrights first flew in 1903; Runyon died in 1946.

Today in Literature, for December 18:

On this day in 1946 Damon Runyon’s ashes were scattered over Broadway by his son, in a plane flown by Eddie Rickenbacker. Runyon was born in Manhattan, Kansas; he arrived at the bigger apple at the age of thirty, to be a sportswriter and to try out at Mindy’s and the Stork Club and any betting window available his crap-shoot worldview: “All of life is six to five against.” Broadway became his special beat, and in story collections like Guys and Dolls he developed the colorful characters — Harry the Horse, the Lemon Drop Kid, Last Card Louie — and the gangster patois that would swept America throughout the thirties and forties.

A lot of history packed in there.  Runyon’s early reportorial career included a lot of that history — he wrote the lead story for United Press on the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, for one example.  Runyon found a uniquely American vein of literary ore on Broadway in New York City, and in the ne’er-do-wells, swells, tarts and reformers who flocked to the City that Never Sleeps to seek fame, or fortune, or swindle that fortune from someone else.

As a reporter and essayist, he smoked a lot.  Throat cancer robbed him of his voice, then his life at 56.

Runyon’s ashes were spread illegally over Broadway, from a DC-3 piloted by Rickenbacker. Runyon would have liked that.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Factoids of history:

  • Twenty movies got crafted from Runyon stories, including “The Lemon Drop Kid” — in two versions, 1934 and 1951. Appropriate to the Christmas season, the 1951 version introduced the song, “Silver Bells” composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (Great explanation of the movie, and song, here.)
  • Runyon got fame first as a sports writer.  He was inducted into the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.
  • According to Wikipedia, Jerry Lewis and others owe a great debt to Damon Runyon:  “The first ever telethon was hosted by Milton Berle in 1949 to raise funds for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.”
  • One might salivate over the varied fare offered in the theaters of Broadway in 1946, Runyon’s final year, “Annie, Get Your Gun” through Shakespeare, and everything in between and on either side
  • Runyon and H. L. Mencken both covered the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, the accused (then convicted) kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh’s baby son
  • Yes, of course, “Guys and Dolls.” Frank Loesser created it, but not of whole cloth, but from the stories of Damon Runyon; it is a masterpiece, perhaps in several realms.  In homage to Runyon, Adam Gopnik wrote:

    Just as Chandler fans must be grateful for Bogart, Runyon fans have to be perpetually happy that the pure idea of Runyon, almost independent of his actual writings, produced the best of all New York musicals: Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls,” which made its début in 1950 and is just now reopening on Broadway in a lavish and energetic new production. But then “Guys and Dolls” is so good that it can triumph over amateur players and high-school longueurs and could probably be a hit put on by a company of trained dolphins in checked suits with a chorus of girl penguins.

    Your author here, Dear Reader, was once one of those trained dolphins. It was magnificent.

“Silver Bells,” from “The Lemon Drop Kid,” with William Frawley, Virginia Maxwell and Bob Hope (1951 version):

More:

A view of New York City in 1946:

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975)

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) “The Artist’s Show, Washington Square,” painted in 1946

Times Square, showing part of Broadway, in November 1946, from the magnificent archives of Life Magazine:

Brownout Time Square.November 1946.© Time Inc.Herbert Gehr - See more at: http://kcmeesha.com/2011/11/29/old-photos-times-square-through-the-years/#sthash.ru9W0F9h.dpuf

Brownout Time Square.November 1946.© Time Inc.Herbert Gehr – See more at: http://kcmeesha.com/2011/11/29/old-photos-times-square-through-the-years/#sthash.ru9W0F9h.dpuf


Whiskey and Cigar Day, November 30, 2013: We toast Mark Twain’s and Winston Churchill’s births

November 30, 2013

Mark Twain, afloat

Mark Twain aboard a ship, on his way to Hawaii. Young Samuel Clemens apprenticed to be a Mississippi river boat pilot, and held a fascination for water-going vessels his entire life. His pilot years are documented, and analyzed, in Life on the Mississippi.
This photo of Twain remains one of my favorites.

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (1835), and Winston Churchill (1874).

This is the traditional Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub post to remind you. Both were lovers of good whiskey, and good cigars. Surely they would have toasted themselves with a drink and a smoke.

Even if we don’t, we can pretend we did.

In 2013, we have the benefit of having had a couple of years to digest Twain’s Autobiography, as we await our copies of Volume II, and we have the benefit of new scholarship and year to read a great book on Churchill, William Manchester’s and Paul Reid’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.

Twain had a comment on the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.

- Following the Equator; Pudd’nhead Wilson‘s New Calendar

The Nobel literature committees were slow; Twain did not win a Nobel in Literature; he died in 1910. Churchill did win, in 1953.

Both men were aficionados of good whiskey and good cigars. Both men suffered from depression in old age.

Both men made a living writing, early in their careers as newspaper correspondents. One waged wars of a kind the other campaigned against. Both were sustained by their hope for the human race, against overwhelming evidence that such hope was sadly misplaced.

churchill-time-cover-man-of-the-year-1941.jpg

Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine. Churchill’s career was built much on his work as First Lord of the Admiralty, a position he took in 1911.  While he was the goat of the Battle of the Dardanelles (and had to resign as a result), his earlier work to switch Britain’s Navy to oil power from coal, and to use airplanes in combat, kept the British Navy as an important and modern military organization through World War II.

Both endured fantastic failures that would have killed other people, and both rebounded.

Each possessed a great facility with words, and wit, and frequently said or wrote things that people like to remember and repeat again.

Both of them rank near the top of the list of people to whom almost any quote will be attributed if the quote is witty and the speaker can’t remember, or doesn’t know, who actually said it.

Both men are worth study. And wouldn’t you really love to have had them over to dinner?

Twain, on prisons versus education:

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” – Speech, November 23, 1900

Churchill on the evil men and nations do:

“No One Would Do Such Things”

“So now the Admiralty wireless whispers through the ether to the tall masts of ships, and captains pace their decks absorbed in thought. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. It is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the twentieth century. Or is it fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats, torpedoes ripping the bellies of half-awakened ships, a sunrise on a vanished naval supremacy, and an island well-guarded hitherto, at last defenceless? No, it is nothing. No one would do such things. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong. Such a mistake could only be made once—once for all.”

—1923, recalling the possibility of war between France and Germany after the Agadir Crisis of 1911, in The World Crisis,vol. 1, 1911-1914, pp. 48-49. (Obviously, and sadly, Churchill was wrong — twice wrong.)

Image of Twain aboard ship – origin unknown. Image of Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine.

More on Mark Twain

More on Winston Churchill

Orson Welles, with Dick Cavett, on Churchill, his wit, humor and grace (tip of the old scrub brush to the Churchill Centre):

Yeah, mostly this is an encore post from past years.

More, contemporary reports from 2012:

And in 2013:

Should you fly your flag today?  Congress doesn’t list this dual birthday as an event for flying the U.S. flag.  But you’re welcome to fly the flag any day.  Go ahead, if you want to.


November 30, Whiskey and Cigar Day: How will you celebrate Twain and Churchill?

November 25, 2013

The Author, painting the fence next to Mark Twain's home in Hannibal, Missouri, in 2012.  Had to trade some marbles and a yo-yo for the privilege . . .

The Author, painting the fence next to Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal, Missouri, in 2012. Had to trade some marbles and a yo-yo for the privilege . . .

This Saturday, November 30, is Whiskey and Cigar Day, the day we celebrate the births of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill.

Whiskey and cigars are appropriate, even before noon (good thing it’s a Saturday, eh?)

What do you plan to celebrate?

How do you celebrate, if you don’t plan to use cigars or whiskey?  Readings from the men?

Comments are open for your ideas.

A cigar of Winston Churchill's, on display in Fulton, Missouri

A cigar of Winston Churchill’s, on display in Fulton, Missouri

More:


Banned Books Week is coming, September 22-28, 2013

September 18, 2013

Got a stack of banned books ready?

Banned Books Week is September 22-28 for 2013.

Banner for Banned Books Week 2013

So THAT’s what Lady Liberty holds in her left hand. (Reading the Declaration of Indpendence can still get you into trouble in a few places — mostly not in the U.S., but even in the U.S.)

We still have banned books?  Is that bad?

Consider, first, that on September 17, 2013, the Texas State Board of Education opened hearings on science textbooks to be “adopted” for Texas schoolsRadical elements of the SBOE furiously organized to stack rating panels with people who want to censor science, to stop the teaching of Darwin’s work on evolution.  (No, I’m not kidding.)

This comes in the middle of a rancorous fight in Texas over CSCOPE, a cooperative lesson-plan exchange set up by 800 Texas school districts to help teachers meet new Texas education standards adopted years ago (without new books!).  Critics labeled reading lists and any reading on religions other than Christianity “socialist” or “Marxist,” and complained that Texas social studies books do not slander Islam.

Then there is the flap over Persepolis, in Chicago.  With all the other trouble Chicago’s schools have several bluenoses worked to get this graphic “novel” banned (it’s not really a novel; it’s a memoir).  They complained about graphic violence in what is a comic book.  Persepolis tells the story of a young woman growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution.

The autobiographical graphic memoir Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was pulled from Chicago classrooms this past May by Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett due to “inappropriate” graphic language and images, specifically, scenes of torture and rebellion. Parents, teachers, and First Amendment advocates protested the ban, and as a result — while still pulled from 7th grade — Persepolis is currently under review for use in grades 8-10. (For details, see CBLDF Rises to Defense of Persepolis.)

Persepolis is an important classroom tool for a number of reasons. First, it is a primary source detailing life in Iran during the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War . Readers of all ages get a glimpse of what life is like under repressive regimes and relive this period in history from a different perspective. It also begs detailed discussion of the separation of church and state. Furthermore, this is a poignant coming-of-age story that all teens will be able to relate to and serves as a testament to the power of family, education, and sacrifice.

In America, textbooks get attacked for telling the truth about Islam and not claiming it is a violence-based faith; and supplemental reading gets attacked when it presents the violence the critics complain was left out of the texts.

We need to think this through.

What banned books have you read lately?

More:

Cover of "Persepolis"

Persepolis has been made into a movie.


Quote of the moment: Mark Twain, “death was an exaggeration”

September 3, 2013

Words of encouragement in tough times, from Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain:

” . . . the report of my death was an exaggeration.” Mark Twain

The note was published in the New York Journal, June 2, 1897.  While it’s true that Twain wrote this, most popular citations have added and rearranged words.

Text of the note:

James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now.  The report of my illness grew out of his illness, the report of my death was an exaggeration.

Mark Twain with kitten, in 1907 - Wikipedia image

Mark Twain with kitten, in 1907 – Wikipedia image


Lost history: Groucho Marx died on August 19, 1977

August 19, 2013

1958 Publicity photo of Groucho Marx from the television program You Bet Your Life.  NBC Television-NBC Photo/Photographer:  Elmer Holloway

1958 Publicity photo of Groucho Marx from the television program You Bet Your Life. NBC Television-NBC Photo/Photographer: Elmer Holloway

36 years ago?  Grouch Marx died on August 19, 1977? 

cropped version of Image:Grouchoicon.jpg - &qu...

The man became an icon, though too few know the great history behind the icon. “Self-made caricature of Groucho Marx” Wikipedia image

 

That means that not only have your high school history students probably never seen much, or anything, of Groucho Marx and his comic genius; it means their parents don’t know him, either.

What a great tragedy.

Groucho Marx brought genius to American comedy films, to radio, and then to television.  His genius was of a sort that does not age, but remains fresh to audiences of today — get a group of teenagers to view Duck Soup or A Day at the Races and you’ll find them laughing heartily at even some of Marx’s more cerebral jokes.  It is symbolic that the films that brought writer Norman Cousins to laughter, and a lack of pain, were Marx Brothers movies (in the day when one had to rent a projector to show the film, long before VCR).  Cousins went on to a grand second career talking about hope in healing, starting with the book, Head First: The Biology of Hope and the Healing Power of the Human Spirit.  I recommend these films to anyone seriously injured or ill, or recovering.  We got VHS, and then DVD copies of several of the films when our kids were ill, with great effect.

Groucho Marx should be in the pantheon of great Americans, of the 20th century, if not all time, studied by children in high school, for history and for literature purposes.

Groucho’s been gone for 36 years, and we are much poorer for his passing.

More:

Groucho grills Ray Bradbury and a woman named Leticia on You Bet Your Life in a 1955 episode:

English: Groucho Marx & anonymous blogging

“I intend to live forever, or die trying.” ― Groucho Marx (Wikipedia image)


Mark Twain in Fort Worth

July 29, 2013

Mark Twain statue, Trinity Park, Fort Worth, Texas Photo by Barbara Schmidt © 2010

Mark Twain statue, Trinity Park, Fort Worth, Texas Photo by Barbara Schmidt © 2010

I’m falling down in my Mark Twain fandom, obviously.  Barbara Schmidt, who keeps the fine site, TwainQuotes (www.twainquotes.com), features this photo of Mark Twain holding an open copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, on one of the main pages at her site.

I did not know such a statue of Twain existed in Texas, let alone within an hour’s travel from my home.  I’ll have to track it down.

Why is it there?  Twain never set foot in Fort Worth, that I know.

What other great statues hide around Dallas and Fort Worth?

More:

Mark Twain in Fort Worth's Trinity Park, by Amy Moore, at Everything Everywhere

Mark Twain in Fort Worth’s Trinity Park, by Amy Moore, at Everything Everywhere.  The statue was created by Gary Lee Price.


July 26: Happy birthday, George Bernard Shaw

July 26, 2013

George Bernard Shaw standing in the snow. (Actually, at Niagara-on-the-Lake, site of an annual Shaw festival) Wikipedia image

George Bernard Shaw standing in the snow. (Actually, at Niagara-on-the-Lake, site of an annual Shaw theater festival) Wikipedia image

Rather like a ghost of a ghost of Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw occupies one of those uncomfortable seats in history:  Everybody knows the name, few people know anything about him, and though his work shapes our culture, probably fewer can tell you how, or why.

George Bernard Shaw shaking his head while looking at his bust, done by Sigismund de Strobl (Today in Literature)

Caption from Today in Literature: Shaw shaking his head while looking at his bust, done by Sigismund de Strobl (Photo from TinL, too)

Today in Literature sent out a note:

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin on this day in 1856 — “fifty years to soon,” according to his calculations, and as if from another planet: “Whether it be that I was born mad or a little too sane, my kingdom was not of this world.”

Shaw portrays his parents as wildly divergent oddballs, their only shared emotion being a feeling of disinterested neutrality towards their offspring: “We as children had to find our own way in a household where there was neither hate nor love.” Mother’s habit of “lavishing indifference” upon him granted Shaw objectivity, and taught him to keep people at arm’s length — close enough to be moved by them, distant enough to be moved only to a quip, a quarrel, or a cause. And Dad was “a model father” because his ruinous enthusiasms for alcohol and tobacco inspired the son to abstain from both.

If, as Shaw claimed, “drink and lunacy were minor specialities” in his clan, then perhaps the spirit of detachment ran in the family too. Shaw seemed to think so: “Fortunately I have a heart of stone,” he wrote in 1939, “else my relations would have broken it long ago.” Biographer Michael Holroyd, concurring that the Shaws were an odd bunch, tells the final years and moments of one madcap uncle this way:

Uncle Barney was an inordinate smoker as well as a drunkard. Frequently drunk by dawn, he lived a largely fuddled life until he was past fifty. Then, relinquishing alcohol and tobacco simultaneously, he passed the next ten years of his life as a teetotaler, playing an obsolete wind instrument called an ophicleide. Towards the end of this period, renouncing the ophicleide* and all its works, he married a lady of great piety, took off his boots and fell completely silent. He was carried off to the family asylum where, “impatient for heaven,” he discovered an absolutely original method of committing suicide … involving as it did an empty carpet bag. However, in the act of placing this bag on his head, Uncle Barney jammed the mechanism of his heart in a paroxysm of laughter, which the merest hint of his suicidal technique never failed to provoke among the Shaws — and the result was that he died a second before he succeeded in killing himself.

Can you name any of Shaw’s works?  Which of them have you read, or seen performed?

What’s your favorite Shaw story?  Which of your favorite Shaw stories are untrue, or hoaxes?

______________

* The ophicleide is not well known today; it’s similar to the sudophone.

More:

George Bernard Shaw in 1899, at 43.

George Bernard Shaw in 1899, at 43. Most photos show Shaw as an old man — he should, perhaps, be remembered more as a young rake. Wikimedia image.  Shaw said, “The liar’s punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.” Quintessence of Ibsenism, 1891, “The Two Pioneers.”


Animated Maurice Sendak: How do you keep from being eaten and mauled by a monster?

June 17, 2013

Maurice Sendak, to his death, held on to some of his childhood concerns; and he worried about how we teach our children to deal with the world, and those scary things.

From Blank on Blank, PBS Digital Studios.

How do kids make it?  “They want to survive,” Sendak said.  “They Want To Survive.”

More:

 


Quote of the moment: Rachel Carson, on why her nature writing sounds so much like poetry

June 14, 2013

Rachel Carson said:

“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”

Cover of The Gentle Subversive, by Mark Hamilton Lytle, for Oxford University Press.

Cover of The Gentle Subversive, by Mark Hamilton Lytle, for Oxford University Press.

Bug Girl wrote a fine review last year of an often over-looked book on Carson, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement  (Mark Hamilton Lytle, 2007. Oxford Univ. Press.)  It’s worth your click over there to read a nice piece on Carson, on women in science, and on nature writing.

Bug Girl spends the necessary time and space answering critics of Carson, of Silent Spring, and those few odd but incredibly active and loud advocates who claim we can conquer disease if we can only spread enough DDT poison around the Earth.  Go see.

I find it impossible to stand in a place like Yosemite and not hear John Muir‘s voice — and it’s probably that John Muir found that, too.  Or stand on the shores of Waldon Pond and not hear Henry David Thoreau, or stand on sandy soil in Wisconsin and not hear Aldo Leopold, or sit on a redrock outcropping in southern Utah and not hear Ed Abbey.  They probably heard similar voices.  But they had the presence of mind to write down what they heard.

Writing wonderful prose, or poetry, must be easier when the subject sings of itself in your ears, and paints itself in glory for your eyes.

If Carson’s prose borders on poetry, does that add to, or subtract from its science value?

More:

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and n...

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and nature preservationist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club , on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. In the background: Upper and lower Yosemite Falls. Wikipedia image


‘Twas the 18th of April in ’75 . . . (Paul Revere’s Ride, 243rd anniversary)

April 18, 2013

The annual reminder:

Paul Reveretonight’s the anniversary of his famous ride.

John Copley's painting of Paul Revere

Paul Revere, 1768, by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

John Copley painted all the bigwigs of revolutionary Boston, including this portrait of the famous horse-mounted alarm before he turned older and grayer.

And as April 18 is the anniversary of Revere’s ride, April 19 is the anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world.”

Both events are celebrated in poetry; April is National Poetry Month. This could be a happy marriage for history and English classrooms.

Teachers, this is your cue to break out the Longfellow and Emerson and Whitman, and tie them together in the thread that runs from the French and Indian War clearly through the American Civil War, and we might hope, to today.  Give the kids some culture to get their mental juices flowing for the tests.

National Poetry Month 2013 poster

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