Books to Educate and Outrage


If you want to be outraged by something you read this year, you have far too large a choice of new books to accomplish this for you.

Both in nonfiction and novels, a lot of little-known and better-known American history has been revealed that will fuel your moral outrage. You will also meet, though, characters both real and imagined who will capture your heart and soul and help to focus your outrage and perhaps turn it into action. Continue reading


Let Them Rest in Peace, But We Must Not


I am sick, sick, sick of having to pray for the families of black victims of police What are we white people going to do about it? How the hell can we feel patriotic about a country that values life so little?

I would like to suggest that all white policemen in the United States be pulled from duty immediately and given this test, Project Implicit, as well as a psychiatric evaluation before being allowed back on duty or yanked off the force.

You can’t fudge this Harvard-based test for prejudices. It’s not intuitive, and even if you think you’re giving the “correct” answers, it doesn’t work that way. I took it a few years ago, and I’m pretty good at spotting how to “play” a test.

Both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were said to be carrying guns. So? Both of the states they died in allow anyone to carry a gun. Louisiana probably allows 3 year olds to carry guns. They were not using the guns, they were not aiming the guns, they were doing nothing that could ever justify the kangaroo court of idiotic, racist policemen who took their lives.

I hope that no white person ever says in front of me that they couldn’t bear to watch the videos of their murders. We MUST watch them; we MUST bear witness to what white policemen are doing – and probably think they’re doing in our names.

On Saturday, I attended a symposium on the subject of “Driving While Black.” Two black men narrated their experiences of being stopped and the heavy-handedness of the police involved. Thank God Jerome and Jermaine are alive. It broke my heart to listen to them talk about the steps they have to take to try NOT to be killed by a policeman. They talked about their mothers’ fears whenever they left the house. Now they have children, and they talked about their fear for them.

What century is this again? As my friend and activist Maximo Anguiano posted today, don’t forget to set your clocks back 300 years tonight. And tomorrow you’d damn well better start speaking out or you are as complicit as the police in these murders.





Candidate Trump,

I guess your mother never played Connect-the-Dots games with you. Do you not understand that the number of hate crimes in the United States has increased since you began spewing your vile racist rhetoric?

Do you not understand that there is a direct link to increased numbers of innocent people being killed and the do-nothing Republican Congress that has somehow been mesmerized into supporting you?

Do you not get that semiautomatic rifles are not used for self-defense, but for offense? For offense against human beings who have mothers and fathers and children and sisters and brothers and who have never done anything to deserve being shot to death?

Do you not get that the majority of these acts are perpetrated by AMERICAN CITIZENS with LEGALLY PURCHASED RIFLES?

Do you not get that there are murderers out there who cannot board an airplane because they’re on the no-fly list but who can purchase a rifle whenever and wherever they want?

Do you not understand that, despite the fringe element that votes for you, this country does not need you and does not want you?

Are you completely lacking in the human qualities of empathy and compassion? Are you completely lacking in the ability to learn from experience? Are you completely lacking in the knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil?

You must be. How else could you continue to say the things you say? To disgorge your idiotic rationalizations.

You are destroying this country, perhaps irreparably. How will we clean up the mess you make day after day?

To misquote the beautiful Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is a much better person than I am, “SHUT UP IS SHUT UP IS SHUT UP IS SHUT UP!”

American Pieta


As we approach the commemoration of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, I can’t help but think of all the people betrayed by the forces of evil in this country that do not believe in the either the Constitution or the words in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. May the hope of resurrection and reunion bring some small measure of comfort to all the mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers and friends of the betrayed.







The Beast is Loose


I’m sure I’m not the only person who screams at the television, but Friday night I should have been heard from very far away.

To paraphrase the great Al Franken, Donald Trump is a lying liar, and Chris Matthews of MSNBC let him get away with it.

Fortunately, Rachel Maddow did not.

The beast is not Donald Trump in fact; he is the ringmaster. The beast is his voting bloc, and he has officially let it out of its cage to wreak its damage. For the umpteenth time in a row, protesters against Trump have been assaulted by his fans, verbally and physically. While he egged them on, he then told Matthews that the protesters were trouncing on his bloc’s first amendment rights.

In fact, Trump and his supporters have gone beyond the bounds of first amendment rights to the point of treason and insurrection.

Then he had to go and schedule a rally in downtown Chicago, an already racially troubled city, knowing full well that protesters would come out and a conflagration could ensue.

Yet he bragged to Matthews that he was the reasonable one who called off the rally, leaving Chicago police to deal with the mess.

And then he had the nerve to tweet later in the night that “an organized group of thugs” had disrupted his rally.

And yesterday Trump held two rallies in Ohio, including one in Cleveland, home of the family of Tamir Rice. The people of that city are already going to have to deal with the Republican Convention being held there summer. I envision another Chicago in 1968.

I have read analyses of the majority of Trump supporters, endorsed by Trump himself, that they are people who are angry at the government, they are making less than they did before President Obama took office, and they feel their rights are being taken away.

Which is all bollocks. If anything to do with wages is true, it has more to do with the states they live in and the corrupt Republican governors who have bankrupted their states.

Rights? Which rights have been taken away? Can they not vote? Can they not bear arms? Can they not walk down a street without fear of being murdered by a policeman? Can they not go about their lives without being called rapists and thugs?

The right they need to exercise, and can, is the right to mental health therapy to figure out where that anger comes from and how to learn to get along with their fellow human beings.

A Journey Toward Light

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
. . . and what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Continue reading

The Moral Universe – More About Selma


I’m assuming most people who are interested have now seen “Selma,” and I don’t think this will have any spoilers if you haven’t.

Any movie about a historical event must of necessity conflate events in order to fit into a certain amount of time. “Selma” is no exception; the following is not meant to be criticism, but some background on the history that wasn’t shown.

Bernard Lafayette after a Freedom Ride beating

Bernard Lafayette after a Freedom Ride beating

Most important, to me, is that Bernard Lafayette is not even a minor character. Lafayette was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC [called Snick]) who, in 1963, established in Selma and its environs voting clinics where African-Americans were taught what they needed to know to register voters. Lafayette’s nickname was “Little Gandhi” because of his dedication to the nonviolent ideal. He and his fellow field workers faced a lot of threats, up to and including death, doing what they did, but they did it quietly and without fanfare.

So there was a major effort to register voters in Selma long before the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. King set their sights on it. I revere Dr. King, don’t get me wrong, but there was a long-standing feeling on the part of SNCC that it started the work that got them beaten and killed and then the SCLC rode in as if a project was its idea alone. True, there was a need for the high-profile Dr. King in order to get television news stations to pay attention, but it was SNCC that integrated lunch counters and SNCC members who risked their lives as Freedom Riders and SNCC that had organized Freedom Summer in Mississippi the year before Selma, when three workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.

When Lafayette left Selma, he left the voting clinics in the capable hands of Amelia Boynton, a black businesswoman. She is portrayed in the movie by Lorraine Toussaint and only speaks in a scene that is probably invented with Coretta Scott King. In fact she had been on the front lines for some time as well. (You may have noted that she was honored during the State of the Union address this week.) In one of the marches to the courthouse, a photographer got a picture that has become iconic of her being hustled along the sidewalk by Sheriff Clark. At the Bloody Sunday march, she was beaten so severely that she was left for dead; in the movie, John Lewis rescues her. He did not actually do that, suffering as he was from a fractured skull. He and Hosea Williams were the first to feel the posse’s batons. An unknown person rescued Mrs. Boynton, and thanks to that person, she has now reached the age of 107.

The antagonism between SNCC and SCLC is addressed in one short scene that makes SNCC chairman John Lewis and executive director James Forman look like sullen kids. In the scene, SCLC leaders such as Dr. King, Andrew Young, and Hosea Williams confront Lewis (remarkable look-alike Stephan James) and James Forman to try to talk it out. In real life, Lewis revered (and still does) Dr. King and made a painful decision to go along with the SCLC’s plans for a march from Selma to Montgomery; this cost him the respect of colleagues in SNCC because many were fed up with the nonviolent approach and in fact were founding the Black Panther right about the same time.

James Forman and Dr. King

James Forman and Dr. King

Forman did not join the Black Panther movement, but he was fed up with what he saw as the SCLC’s grandstanding. It would have been a nice touch, I think, had the actor who played Forman been dressed in the SNCC field uniform of bibbed overalls and white shirt. He was rarely seen out of those clothes. Bob Moses had started dressing that way when he was the first SNCC field worker to go into dangerous territory to try to register black voters; the feeling was that rural blacks who were poor would be afraid to talk to someone dressed in a suit and tie, which was the uniform for integrating lunch counters and bus stations.

Jimmy Lee Jackson died several days after he was shot twice by a state trooper in a diner while trying to protect his mother. It is unclear whether he was involved in the protests at all, but his death is what pushed James Bevel of the SCLC to suggest the march.

Bevel, played by Common, had been at Fisk University with John Lewis, where SNCC was created but had not been involved in the early days, preferring to enjoy the good life of dating pretty girls in his spare time. The most beautiful girl in the world, Diane Nash, joined SNCC and it may be that her influence brought Bevel in. After the couple married, they worked for the SCLC rather than SNCC. They were married at the time that the movie covers, though the movie suggests that they didn’t know each other well. In fact, the marriage was not going well, and they would eventually divorce.

I mentioned last week the important role played by New York Times reporter Roy Reed in bringing the eyes of the world to Selma. A piece of movie trivia: Reed is in the film as a sort of Greek chorus/moral compass of all that is going on, shown at various times on the phone relaying stories to the NYT.

Martin Sheen in "Gandhi"

Martin Sheen in “Gandhi”

Martin Sheen played a very similar role in “Gandhi,” though his character was a composite of reporters. But he is shown in the same circumstances, on telephones letting the rest of the world know that Gandhi’s nonviolent followers were being beaten by the Raj.

And Martin Sheen plays a pivotal role in “Selma” as Judge Johnson, who had to approve a permit for the march to take place. While the real Judge Johnson was no fan of integration, he was a fair jurist and granted the permit.

I also recommended last week three sources of information (I know there’s a lot more out there) about the history of Bloody Sunday: Taylor Branch’s Pillar of Fire, John Lewis’s Walking with the Wind and March the most excellent PBS series by Henry Hampton, “Eyes on the Prize.” Since last week, the imminent release of March 2, Lewis’ second graphic novel about the civil rights movement, was announced. I think we can’t know too much about the history of the movement; even with what we do know, tragic history has repeated itself. That loop has to be broken.