Still thinking about the movie, Hidden Figures, which we saw a couple of days ago. It's an important story and deserves the widest audience. Most important, of course, is the belated recognition of the achievements of some truly remarkable black women. Then there are the circumstances they had to overcome, especially the generally ignored and scandalous fact that huge programs of the federal government were run according to the rules and practices of Jim Crow. Also, it's worth thinking about the cold war culture that fueled the space "race". For now, I find myself thinking about what we take from the fact that rare individuals can overcome the most incredible obstacles. Surely that's a source of wonder and pride and deserves celebration, particularly when it's the "norms" of society itself that individuals have to overcome. In addition to the "hidden" heroes of this story, I think of others throughout history who rose to rare heights of human achievement despite their circumstances, despite slavery, poverty, or being condemned by cruel institutions of government and church. I think of current examples. Who can fathom a B. J. Miller, a triple amputee due to a ghastly accident as a teen-ager, who went on to become an outstanding MD andinnovator in palliative care? When I read Charles Blow's book, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, I marveled at how a black kid born and raised in the rural Jim Crow South could in his early twenties become a widely read and admired columnist for the NY Times. We rightly glory in the marvels of human achievement against all odds. But all the achievers and the rare genius are never the whole story. Hidden Figures should raise hopes and expectations for all young people, those of color most of all. It should also enhance our social conscience, our refusal to bow to those elements of our social order that crush hopes and opportunity for the millions.
have a strong preference for Mozart performed with the modern piano and
orchestra rather than early instruments, so the joy I felt today was genuine surprise. The concerto is sandwiched in
between two other concert pieces. The setting in Freiburg is old and gorgeous.
But the biggest thrill is in the sheer joy of the performers. They absolutely
love what they’re doing; the first violinist is irresistible, playing
beautifully while bouncing almost out of her chair.
I the only one who often “thinks” and engages in political encounters in my
dreams? Bizarre. Another weird one last night, near morning: I talked with an
old man. (I was not old in the dream.) He told me that he had the solution for
Israel/Palestine: just declare that everyone throughout the land is both an
Arab and a Jew. On the spot, it sounded good to me, but then I woke up.
Seems the problems of the world can’t be solved in dreams; I wish they’d stop
interrupting my sleep.
book Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson
was presented to every new student at UC Berkeley in 2016. If it were to be
read by every young adult across the country, it would change America profoundly.
comments appearing on the book’s back cover, Isobel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, describes
Stevenson as “a real-life, modern-day Atticus Finch”;and Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, writes that he “is one of my personal heroes,
perhaps the most inspiring and influential crusader for justice alive today…” And
if that can be topped, Desmond Tutu calls Stevenson “America’s young Nelson
Stevenson went to Alabama as a young lawyer in1983 even as he
was still earning his law degree at Harvard. There he went on to establish the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). To this
day, that project has challenged an incredibly cruel and pervasively racist
“justice system” at its very heart in the deep South, as well as before the US
Supreme Court. (It’s that system from which Jeff Sessions emerges as Donald
Trump’s Attorney General-select.)
and EJI focused on death penalty
cases, of which there are so many in Alabama and other southern states. Death
rows are loaded with victims who never stood a chance before Jim Crow courts
and customary “legal” procedures. Thousands were condemned to years of cruel
and destructive punishment as they faced eventual execution.
the odds, Stevenson and his EJI coworkers
made significant headway, saving some victims from prison and death, winning
Supreme Court judgments against application of the death penalty to juveniles
and to mentally disabled. They continually broadened their legal battle, for
example successfully defending poor women charged astoundingly with “murder”
after a miscarriage.
my son liked to say when he gave a book report in grade school: "if you want to
know more, read the book."
I still want to say what struck me most about Brian Stevenson himself.
in awe. I’ve known many people selflessly devoted to a just cause. But from his
very first case, Brian was completely engaged with the human being he was
defending. However important the cause or the issue at stake, it was the human
connection that would never be diminished for him. He was as one with the
person in trouble; he sought out and linked up with the family, sensed and
responded to changing health and emotional problems.
I’ve known people as active and devoted to a just cause as Brian Stevenson —
not very many. Also. a few of these good people might be less than exemplary in
their relationships and attitudes toward others. But, although I’ve never met
Brian, I think I may never have known anyone with a deeper sense of humanity.
time to shift this blog away from almost exclusive commentary on current
political issues. That’s despite the fact that our country is at a turning
point that may prove more fateful than any since the Civil War.
the focus of this little blog of mine is a personal need, not a political
statement. It has to do with being 95, staying engaged without ignoring the
realities, minus and plus, of aging. I could go on about the negatives of old
age, but perhaps there are some positives that I can call on exactly because
I’m a lucky old man. I’m in relatively good health, with lots of time these
days for musing and many exciting years to look back on.
intentions are tentative and not ambitious: comments on books and movies, more
sharing of responses to music; reflections on experiences I’ve had and choices
I’ve made. I’ll continue to think about politics (the “big picture”) and won’t
be able to resist an occasional essay on a hot political issue. My practice has
been to email a list of interested people when I post a new blog. I’ll do less
of that now so as not to attach undue importance to casual musings. I imagine
some of my readers will look in on my blog from time to time without frequent
email prompts. I hope some of you will stay in touch, emailing me comments,
questions and suggestions.
suppose what I have in mind lends itself to Face Book, but I’m more comfortable
with this familiar setting. Tomorrow,
or in the next couple of days, I’ll start the shift with a few musings about
the movie, “Hidden Figures”, and a great book, “Just Mercy”.