You are either on the bus or off the bus. Rosa Parks 65 years ago today.

Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama
Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Courtesy UPI, 1956

Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the city’s segregation on the bus system illegal. Behind her is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter covering the event.

It’s the 1st of December 1955, late afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama. A seamstress, going home after a long day of labor, takes a seat toward the front of the bus’s ‘Colored Section’. The bus begins to fill with passengers as it moves along its route. Eventually, the driver, James F. Blake, tells the seamstress to move further to the rear so a white man can take her seat. His demand is just one of the many, ‘ordinary’ actions Black Americans have had to endure throughout most of American history.

But on this day the seamstress, 42-year-old Rosa Parks (who was also the Secretary of the local NAACP), decides she is fed up, or, as she put is, “was tired of giving in.”

You know the type of day I’m writing about: it’s just one of those days when you simply don’t give a f—. Whatever happens, as a result of your obstinacy, happens. ‘Bring it on!’

On this day, 1 December 1955, 65 years ago, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat. The police are called. Rosa is arrested. Mrs. Rosa Parks is convicted of disorderly conduct four days later and pays a fine.

We know the rest of the story but, as a refresher:

A 26-year-old Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), spearheaded a Black American, 381-day boycott of Montgomery’s bus system. Workers made do with makeshift transport scraped together using peoples’ cars as taxis to get to and from their workplaces. Rev. King had only recently moved to Montgomery and it was this that led him to being picked to lead the MIA: he was too new and unknown to have any enemies in the city.

Finally, in the autumn of 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a district court’s ruling that segregation on Alabama’s public transport deprived Blacks of equal protection under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and was, therefore, illegal. But, that was only for Alabama. It was not until 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, a son of the South, signed the Civil Rights Act that ALL public transportation in The United States was desegregated.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) lived a full life and took a step requiring the utmost in bravery (somewhat difficult for us to recognize now with the superior legal protections many – tho not all, of us enjoy.)

She was honored by the U.S. Congress: her coffin was placed on view in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC. While Mrs. Parks was the 30th person to lie in state there, she was the first woman! Her coffin was placed on the same catafalque (the decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state) that was built for Abraham Lincoln.

Five Bighorn Sheep Above the Rio Grande

Five Bighorn Sheep on the Cliffs of the Rio Grande
Five Bighorn Sheep on the Cliffs of the Rio Grande

The photo above was taken with a Leica-R 280mm f4 telephoto manual lens, with a 1.4x Extender and an R-to-M adapter, all mounted on a Leica M10-R.

It was such a beautiful day I took off from a Zoom meeting and drove the 50 miles to look for bighorn sheep head butting during the rut. No battles found, just a quiet small group.

One youngster is very hard to see unless you know he is laying down with only his head showing. In the photo above I have circled him. He has rudimentary horns, unlike the youngster at upper left.

Sighting Bighorn Sheep with the Naked Eye
Sighting Bighorn Sheep with the Naked Eye

This second photo, above, is what the area looks like with a lens that mimics the field-of-view of human eyes (that is, a 40mm lens) versus the 280mm telephoto setup used for photo #1. Believe it or not, three of the sheep (within the circle) are visible to the naked eye because of their white butts. Admittedly, I have 20-10 corrected eyesight but most people with normal vision ought to be able to do as well.

For those out looking for sheep on your own I think the most helpful advice I can offer is to look for the white butts of the sheep. I just use my eyesight as I always forget to take binoculars with which to glass the slopes.

64 Journalists Missing in 2020

And circa 248 in prison for doing their jobs

Journalists Missing Around the World in 2020. Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists
Journalists Missing Around the World in 2020. Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Missing
Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists

Name Organization Date Location
Acquitté Kisembo Agence France-Presse June 26, 2003 Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ahmed Al-Dulami Al-Sharqiya TV June 1, 2014 Iraq
Alfredo Jiménez Mota El Imparcial April 2, 2005 Mexico
Ali Astamirov Agence France-Presse July 4, 2003 Russia
Andrei Bazvluk Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Austin Tice Freelance August 13, 2012 Syria
Aziz Bouabdallah Al-Alam al-Siyassi April 12, 1997 Algeria
Azory Gwanda Mwanachi, The Citizen November 21, 2017 Tanzania
Bashar Fahmi Al-Hurra August 20, 2012 Syria
Belmonde Magloire Missinhoun Le Point Congo October 3, 1998 Democratic Republic of the Congo
Djamel Eddine Fahassi Alger Chaîne III May 6, 1995 Algeria
Djuro Slavuj Radio Pristina August 21, 1998 Serbia & Montenegro
Elyuddin Telaumbanua Berita Sore August 17, 2005 Indonesia
Emmanuel Munyemanzi Rwandan National Television May 2, 1998 Rwanda
Farhad Hamo Rudaw TV March 9, 2015 Syria
Feliks Titov Nevskoye Vremya February 1, 1995 Russia
Fred Nérac ITV News March 22, 2003 Iraq
Gamaliel López Candanosa TV Azteca Noreste May 10, 2007 Mexico
Gerardo Paredes Pérez TV Azteca Noreste May 10, 2007 Mexico
Guy-André Kieffer Freelance April 16, 2004 Ivory Coast
Ham Jin Woo Daily NK May 29, 2017 China
Isam al-Shumari Sudost Media August 15, 2004 Iraq
Ishzak Ould Mokhtar Sky New Arabia October 15, 2013 Syria
Jamal Sobhy Al-Mosuliya TV July 1, 2014 Iraq
Jean Bigirimana Iwacu July 22, 2016 Burundi
Jean-Pascal Couraud Les Nouvelles December 15, 1997 French Polynesia
John Cantlie Freelance November 22, 2012 Syria
José Antonio García Apac Ecos de la Cuenca en Tepalcatepec November 20, 2006 Mexico
Kamaran Najm Metrography June 12, 2014 Iraq
Kazem Akhavan IRNA July 4, 1982 Lebanon
Maisloon al-Jawady Al-Mosuliya TV June 29, 2014 Iraq
Maksim Shabalin Nevskoye Vremya February 1, 1995 Russia
Manasse Mugabo UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda Radio August 19, 1995 Rwanda
Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández El Mañanero September 17, 2011 Mexico
Marco Antonio López Ortiz Novedades Acapulco June 7, 2011 Mexico
María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe El Diario de Zamora Cambio de Michoacán November 11, 2009 Mexico
Miguel Angel Domínguez Zamora El Mañana March 1, 2010 Mexico
Miguel Morales Estrada Diario de Poza Rica, Tribuna Papanteca July 19, 2012 Mexico
Mohamed al-Saeed Syrian State TV July 19, 2012 Syria
Mohamed Hassaine Alger Républicain March 1, 1994 Algeria
Mohammed Galal Okasha Al Barqa TV August 1, 2014 Libya
Muayad Saloum Orient TV November 1, 2013 Syria
Muhannad al-Okaidi Al-Mosuliya TV August 1, 2014 Iraq
Nadhir Guetari First TV September 8, 2014 Libya
Omar Younis al-Ghaafiqi Sama Mosul October 12, 2014 Iraq
Oralgaisha Omarshanova (Zhabagtaikyzy) Zakon i Pravosudiye March 30, 2007 Kazakhstan
Pedro Argüello El Mañana, La Tarde March 1, 2010 Mexico
Prageeth Eknelygoda Lanka eNews January 24, 2010 Sri Lanka
Qais Talal Sama Mosul August or October 2014 Iraq
Rafael Ortiz Martínez Zócalo, XHCCG July 8, 2006 Mexico
Ramón Ángeles Zalpa Cambio de Michoacán April 6, 2010 Mexico
Reda Helal Al-Ahram August 11, 2003 Egypt
Salvador Adame Pardo 6TV May 18, 2017 Mexico
Samir Kassab Sky News Arabia October 15, 2013 Syria
Sergei Ivanov Nevskoye Vremya June 1, 1995 Russia
Sergio Landa Rosado Diario Cardel January 23, 2013 Mexico
Sofiene Chourabi First TV September 8, 2014 Libya
Vasyl Klymentyev Novyi Stil August 11, 2010 Ukraine
Vitaly Shevchenko Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Vladjimir Legagneur Freelance March 14, 2018 Haiti
Waheed Mohammed Naji Haider (Waheed al-Sufi) al-Arabiya April 6, 2015 Yemen
Walid al-Qasim Aleppo News Network October 12, 2014 Syria
Yelena Petrova Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Younis al-Mabrok al-Moghazy Al Barqa TV August 1, 2014 Libya

Words Have Meaning

knowledge prudence insight sensitivity appreciation wisdom compassion mindfulness consciousness patience regard integrity understanding science respect intelligence wit sense expertise patriotism recognition sagacity thanks experience esteem acumen reason ability stability examine conviction praise discernment foresight cognizance judgement poise thought sophistication learning critique sanity caution deference faculty observation comprehension logic gratefulness perspicacity attention soul brilliance thoughtfulness care judiciousness discretion astuteness brains clarity tact forgiveness sensibility review information sympathy erudition profundity equitable vigilance feel circumspection empathy subtlety acknowledgement obligation gratitude behavior credit reciprocity support veneration perception realization laud sentiment approval admiration contemplation blessing warm evaluation community deliberation muse plan conception notice representation envisage design imagination study commune impression ideas assess inform elucidate taste heed concord rapport warmth belief refinement intuition spirit capacity concern merit analyze conviction research devotion extol value remembrance courage

leadership  honor truth

Today’s Birthday: Benjamin Banneker – An 11th Generation Ancestor

A manuscript page from Benjamin Banneker's almanac (courtesy American Antiquarian Society)
A manuscript page from Benjamin Banneker’s almanac (courtesy American Antiquarian Society)

On this day in 1731 Benjamin Banneker (died 19 October 1806), free African-American man of science, author, surveyor and grandson of Bannaka, an African prince, was born in Baltimore County, Maryland. He produced commercially successful almanacs in the 1790s, and his knowledge of astronomy helped him be a part of Andrew Ellicott’s team that Thomas Jefferson ordered to survey land for the young nation’s capital city, Washington, DC.

Banneker, an older contemporary of my 6th generation grandfather, Bazil Norman (who fought in six military campaigns of the American Revolution) never married or had children. But, I am an 11th generation descendant of his sister Jemima. (In 11 generations of Banneker descendants the long-lived Normans only had 6; we marry late and, usually, live long!)

And Jemima begat Meslach who begat Mary who begat Sophia who begat Mary Elizabeth who begat George who begat James ‘Blind Jim’ who begat Mary ‘Polly’ who begat William Franklin who begat my father who begat ME!

Alas, on the day of Banneker’s funeral his cabin burned to the ground destroying almost all his papers and belongings. One journal and some rescued furniture were kept until recently by the Ellicott family, descendants of those original DC surveyors and also founders of Ellicott City, Maryland. A few items are at The Maryland Historical Society tho a Virginia collector bought most of the extant material at a 1996 auction.

I make a valiant attempt to honor my great grandmother Mary Polly’s dictum written on the sheet of paper holding her portrait: “If you don’t remember us grandchild. Who Will?” Polly was Jemima Banneker’s 8th generation grand daughter.

Mary Polly Norris-Norman (1 May 1844 - 12 March 1941)
Mary Polly Norris-Norman

Photo Credits: a page from Benjamin Banneker’s journal (courtesy American Antiquarian Society) and Mary Polly Norris-Norman (1 May 1844 – 12 March 1941) (courtesy Norman Family Archive).

RIP: Baron Wolman, Photographer Extraordinary

“Mixing business with pleasure since 1965.” – Baron Wolman, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Photo © 1969 Baron Wolman. Jerry Garcia revealing to the public, for the first time, his missing finger.
Photo © 1969 Baron Wolman. Jerry Garcia revealing to the public, for the first time, his missing finger.

Small in stature and large in heart, Baron Wolman (25 June 1937 – 2 November 2020) died yesterday, 3 November 2000, at the age of 83.

Tho born years apart we both hailed from “The Great Midwest” and were born near each other. Lest you wonder if you ever saw his pictures let me write – ‘Yes! You most certainly have – even tho you may not have known it!’ He was at Woodstock with cameras in hand and was the first photographer at Rolling Stone Magazine (1967-1970) where Jan Wenner has said Baron set the look for the magazine. Photographing The Grateful Dead band was Baron’s job for the first issue of the magazine. Not too shabby!

Baron sold his first photo, the construction of the Berlin Wall, to The Columbus Dispatch Newspaper for $50, a pic from a gig not many probably knew he had: counterintelligence in Berlin for Uncle Sam as a volunteer in the U.S. Army!

His last post to Facebook in October was typically self-effacing:

“Just as the sun sets over the Pacific, so, too, is it about to set over my life. A few of you know that a year ago I was give[n] the formal diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a disease for which there is no cure. Sad to say I’m now in the final sprint to the end. I go forward with a huge amount of gratitude for the many blessings bestowed upon me (family, friends, travels and more), with no regrets and appreciation for how my photographs – my life’s work – have been received. Leave comments if you wish, but please don’t ask any questions or expect any further words from me – I am very, very weak. Because of Covid, like thousands of others, I will pass quietly and with very few people around me. It’s been a great life, with Love being my salvation always… #fotobaron#thefotobaron#vote#voteblue2020

Baron was a class act to the end and I trust he will be surrounded by the same sentiments he wrote to me in one of his books: “Peace, Love & Music!”

Six North American River Otters

River Otters on the Rio Grande
River Otters on the Rio Grande

Between 2008 and 2010 Taos Pueblo released 33 North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis) on the banks of the Rio Pueblo de Taos near its confluence with the Rio Grande. Otters were driven to extinction here thru trapping, pollution and habitat destruction. The last ones were seen in 1953.

Road Looking North Along the River in the Rio Grande Gorge
Road Looking North Along the River in the Rio Grande Gorge

We went out today to find out if the bighorn sheep rut had begun in the canyon of the Rio Grande. Big rams facing off, rearing up and charging at full speed to butt heads for the privilege of mating with females is an all-time big thrill. Another photographer heard one head butt echoing down the canyon but saw no sheep. It’s still a bit early in the season.

'Mackerel' Clouds West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge
‘Mackerel’ Clouds Above the West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge (Bighorn Sheep Habitat)

But!… we accidentally found a bevy of otters and followed them up-river as best we could. A group of otters is also called a “romp” and adequately describes the behavior of this most mischievous member of the weasel family!

Cliffs & Clouds - East Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge
Cliffs & Clouds – East Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge

The photo is not great but I was happy to even get it. I use a manual-everything Leica-M camera, in this case mated to a Leica-R 280mm f4 lens with an R-to-M adapter and an Apo 1.4x extender. This was shot wide-open so the depth-of-field was only a few feet deep.

Santa Fe Plaza Obelisk Pulled Down by Protesters

Santa Fe Plaza Civil War Obelisk-Monument Before Its Destruction
Santa Fe Plaza Civil War Obelisk-Monument Before Its Destruction ©2020 Wilbur Norman

After a 3-day occupation of the Santa Fe Plaza in observance of Indigenous Peoples Day (we no longer celebrate October 12 as Columbus Day here in New Mexico) the monument holding center stage on the Plaza has been brought down by a largely-white mob of protestors as police backed off and vacated the Plaza.

The obelisk was originally put up in 1867 to honor Civil War Union soldiers who stopped the advance of the Confederacy in the West but had a plaque added later, on one side, that read, ‘To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.’ The word ‘savages’ was chiseled off in 1974.

The mayor earlier this year had announced there would be a decision on the future of the monument but he and the city have dragged their feet on any decision-making, in part, no doubt, over causing offense to the large population of people of Spanish descent here who revere their conquistador roots and feel theirs is THE heritage that matters in this state.

It would be great if the city decided now to have an international competition to replace the obelisk with something that embraces all New Mexicans in this the oldest capital city in the United States.

I actually liked the obelisk and thought the addition of the plaque (done a few generations ago) was itself a defacing of the monument’s original Civil War reason for being. But, there is and was, no denying that many of the northern heroes of that war went on to become principal actors in the genocide enacted upon the Indians.

Chief among this group were generals Sherman and Sheridan, both born in 1831 and who both grew up not too far from where I was born; as local heroes they were valorized with prominent statues. Both were also capable of incredible brutality to the ‘enemy’. (Sheridan was one of the first men to use what we call ‘scorched-earth’ tactics when he razed the Shenandoah Valley and Sherman is well-noted for his March Through Georgia).

It is easy for the mob to forget (if it ever knew), that history is not changed by smashing the signposts of history. Rather, it is amplified and extended by its wider unveiling from the shadows – something that was not undertaken on a large scale until universities began graduating those who would research and write our stories from a far different perspective from that which we learned in our 5th grade reader in the early 1960s. That formal and institutionalized history was one of the consequences of promoting a national identity linked to an ignorance and purposeful ‘white-washing’ of our treatment of Indigenous people and all other people of color in the United States.

Many argue this was all in the past and it is time to move on. It is, of course, easy to move on when one is part of the dominant social structure; as far as such people are concerned, there has never been any noticeable problem.

Despite being born in the second half of the 20th century I actually traveled from Philadelphia to Florida to interview a man who had been born in Africa, captured by slavers as a child with other children (lured to a ship by corn fritters dipped in honey) and sold into slavery in the American South. To know that I met and spoke to a man who lived under the regimen of the United States’ ‘peculiar institution ‘ shows how recent, in historical terms, the wide disenfranchisement of a large swath of our countrymen really has been.

The destruction of our local Plaza monument shows that not every crowd chanting ‘progressive’ slogans and carrying placards with the ‘right’ words is necessarily going to do the ‘right’ thing. Nor does being on the wrong side of the law in civil disobedience necessarily mean one is on the right side of moral history.

I don’t have answers, only questions. Like all human interaction – it’s complicated.

Vote… AS… IF… YOUR… LIFE… DEPENDED ON IT!

On this National Voter Registration Day let’s register, if we are not already, and think about the people and things we all love.

NOTE: there is audio with this incredible, zillion photos, 1 minute video from my friends at AVAAZ.

https://secure.avaaz.org/imagine1minute?emailid=17626127477

A Champion for Justice

The Notorious R.B.G. (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020)

I have sent three Tweets in my life and one of them was to Justice Ginsburg. It was an inquiry asking if she was going to make the season at our great Opera here in Santa Fe. She visited in the summers and could be seen with her omnipresent Secret Service detail headed to her seat in the lower central section of the open air house.

The first time we met her, however, was a big surprise. It was September 27, 2000 and we were at a conference in Ottawa, Canada with a group from The World Bank Ethics Office. Being interested in circumpolar artifacts, Donna and I took some time to visit a shop that specialized in Inuit art. While browsing the great wares a guy with an ear bud attached to a spiraling line came in, stopped and gave a slow survey to the store. He reminded me of the Secret Service executive protection guys we would always see around Washington, DC and it made sense as we were in the capital of Canada. Just the day before I had taken a really atmospheric portrait of Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien, 20th Prime Minister of Canada.

Suddenly a second ear-bud guy came in. Then in walked a diminutive woman who was unmistakably Ruth Bader Ginsburg followed by yet another agent. My first impulse was to go to her and simply say how I admired her and the work she had always done. So, of course, I stepped toward her. Immediately the Secret Service guys took alert positions and the front one moved to block my advance. I quickly realized how stupid I was to make such a sudden move so made an apology and had my say from where I stood. She graciously acknowledged my fandom and we all went about looking at the art in the shop.

“She had this uncanny ability to be very much in the weeds, if you will, of the intellectual legal arguments and yet never lose sight of the human impact of her decisions,” was a description Former President Clinton used to describe Ginsburg.

No doubt part of her common-sense nature came from being a mother before she went to law school and having a difficult time getting a job with a top-flight firm even after graduating first (shared with another graduate) in her class. My wife has reminded me that when she was a young woman she needed a man’s signature to open a bank account and it was also impossible for most unmarried women to get a home mortgage. The Dean of Harvard Law reportedly invited the female law students (only 9 in a class of nearly 500) to dinner at his family home and asked the female law students, including Ginsburg, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?

We have Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with a host of other talented and determined women, to thank for leading the way to necessary and long-overdue changes in the way we men handle affairs that affect everyone. Alas, we are just not that good at sharing.

Glass pendant by Jodie McDougall using the ancient technique of fusing glass 'canes'.
Glass pendant by Jodie McDougall using the ancient technique of fusing glass ‘canes’.

The Notorious R.G.B.* will be sorely missed.


* a law student bestowed this moniker on Ginsburg that is take-off on the nickname of the late (also) Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

Can A Good Result Come From A Bad Platform? A Rant

Last autumn I posted a photograph on Facebook of two adult women from a Sing-Sing in Papua New Guinea. They were wearing grass skirts and necklaces. Within a couple hours it disappeared and I received a notice that the photograph “violated community standards”. Evidently, Facebook trolls their platform with algorithms looking for the breasts that half (or more) of homo sapiens sapiens possess and that many display as part of either ordinary living or reenactments and continuation of traditions dating back millennia.

Two Sing-Sing Dancers
Hmm…Hmm…Hmmm. Now That’s One I’d Go Out With! Two Women Dancers Admiring A Male Dancer

If I had, instead, posted some vitriolic, racist bullshit about exterminating people of color, starting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, all would have been hunky-dory. No problema, I would have been simply a righteous asshole expressing my First Amendment rights and espousing violence like many another red-blooded white man with below-average self-esteem; poor work skills; poorer general social skills; a skepticism of science and book-learnin’; a knack for receiving a world view from Fox ‘News’ and, if I am a teen, an inability to get laid (young girls have radar that, almost immediately with few mistakes, can spot weirdos.)

In other words, a white guy who, along with his white male ancestors has enjoyed the prosperity and unearned status that has been their lot for the last few hundred years. When such a status is jeopardized by anyone, including their ‘natural’ soul mates, white women, it is time to pull the plug on the veneer of ‘live and let live’ and fight to keep – and extend, the privilege that exists. So what I dropped out of school in the 8th grade and would love to have lived in Roman times. I could have gone to those gladiatorial contests to give the thumbs down on the barbarians from the provinces? Yeh, I would have loved to join the military to bear arms if I could have passed the rudimentary skills test. And doin’ it for the USA would have been a bonus ‘cause I love this country, especially back when it enforced racial separation. Hoo-rah!

But, carrying a semi-automatic gun… er… weapon, in public is the next best thing. Hell, better: I don’t have to follow orders from some jerk with a ‘high & tight’. (And, too, it really makes me feel like a man, you know. A whole lot. I know the chicks dig it!)

Who you callin’ deplorable!

To be more fair, there are fellow travelers who are not functionally stupid. As I have no known close acquaintances in this category I have not been able to ask whether such individuals actually believe all the clap-trap of white supremacists or whether they are just along for the ride because they stand to benefit from any extension of ole’ white boy power.

So… what this rant is really about is whether I will continue to use Facebook for posts or dump it and return to just writing on my Blog. As Facebook is 110% dollar driven I don’t think it will change much, despite Zucker-face buying time by mouthing the right code words at congressional hearings about the company having to do better.

What WILL amend Facebook’s corporate behavior is when they are sued and saddled with billions of dollars in legal claims similar to those that were faced by Big Tobacco. When a corporation knows it operates in an area that is a detriment to society it is culpable. I’m sure they will holler they are a news outlet letting their users enjoy the full extent of their First Amendments rights but we all know that, in truth, Facebook is a private business that is, in fact, in business to make money, not engage in the public good.

I have two more postings I am contemplating. One on evolutionary biology and one on Trumpism and capital. Then, I think I will bow out. It’s been a good, if uneasy, ride!

RIP: Olivia de Havilland (1916-2020)

The oldest living, and earliest surviving, Academy Award winner (until her death July 26, 2020).

Below: Daniel Martinez Owns One of Errol Flynn’s 1930s Tunics (From a Movie With De Havilland) and Wears It With Panache! Photo Copyright Wilbur Norman 2017.

Daniel Martinez Wearing One of Errol Flynn's 1930s Tunics

[NOTE: I thought I had published this at the same time as I posted it on Facebook, but it did not… So, herewith… a little late!]

Some people really do lead storied lives – long ones at that. When I read the de Havilland died three weeks ago at the age of 104 I began to recall those eight great movies she did with Errol Flynn in the 1930s and 40s. And, she was perfectly cogent the last time we saw her when she was interviewed at her 100 mark.

I thought about writing something when she passed but did not. Then today I was reminded that her daughter has a home here, as does her niece – the daughter of another legend: the actress Joan Fontaine. De Havilland and Fontaine were the only sisters to win Best Actress Academy Awards.

The de Havillands were quite a family: cousin Captain Sir Geoffrey was an aviation pioneer along with his brothers Hereward and Ivon. Some of my favorite aircraft were/are de Havillands and I have flown in many over the years, especially the Beaver and Twin Otter. Take-off and landing on water is such a thrill! And, I’ve always thought the Comet one of the most beautiful planes ever, tho I’ve not had the pleasure of flying in one.

When I was a kid I was totally enthralled by those early swashbuckling movies she did with that Tasmanian devil of an actor, Errol Flynn, especially 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, the most expensive film Warner Bros. had made at the time (it took a lot of 25-cents-per-entry movie-goers to re-coup the budget of $2 million – altho my father was pretty sure it was only 10 cents in his hometown in Malta!) The ensemble cast were great actors all: Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, Sr. and, yes! the horse ‘Golden Cloud’ who so impressed Roy Rogers (born Leonard Franklin Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio) that he bought him and renamed him ‘Trigger’!

I still remember the initial meeting between Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone) and SIr Robin of Locksley (Flynn) in Sherwood Forest. It went something like,

Sir Guy: “You know the penalty for poaching deer in the King’s forest is death!”

Sir Robin (mounting an arrow and aiming at Sir Guy’s chest): “Are there are no exceptions?” (As one of Norman descent I suppose I ought to have been on the side of smarmy Prince John (Claude Rains) but the Saxon underdogs were more sympathetic!)

In real life South African born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone was one of the best, if not the best, swordsman in Hollywood, having twice been the British Army Fencing Champion in WWI where he served in the London Scottish Regiment with Claude Rains and Ronald Colman. Those sword-fighting scenes are terrific, tho Rathbone, as a superior fencer, had to tone it down.

In 1940 de Havilland and Flynn made their sixth movie together, ‘Santa Fe Trail’, also starring Ronald Reagan. The world premier was here at our beautifully restored Lensic Theater and saw 60,000 fans hanging out around the theater striving to catch a look at the stars. I cannot imagine the chaos: even today we have less than 85,000 folks in this, the oldest and highest (2,194 meters/7,199 feet) state capital city in the U.S. (Founded by the Spanish in 1610 as ‘La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís’ but occupied for at least the last several thousand years by indigenous Tanoan peoples.)

One of de Havilland’s most significant coups was her successful 1943 lawsuit against Warner Bros., known now as the ‘De Havilland Law’, a challenge to actor’s labor contracts with studios (it had been previously challenged by Bette Davis who lost.) When de Havilland won her suit it freed up actors tied to the Hollywood studio system but got her blackballed from any studio’s roles for two years (but allowed her to do WWII USO tours, including to the South Pacific.)

Despite having been cast with many leading men and having relationships with some: Howard Hughes, Jimmy Stewart and John Huston, she never, she said, had an affair with leading man Errol, ‘in like Flynn’!

De Havilland’s achievements and honors were many: her role in the classic ‘Gone With the Wind’, bestselling author, first female president of the Cannes Film Festival, Academy awards, National Medal of Arts, Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (lived outside Paris since 1953(?), Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (she was born in the UK) and many others.

What I will always remember her for, however, are her roles in those classic movies of Hollywood’s Golden Years that brought entertainment and joy to people of my parent’s generation during The Great Depression and WWII and then, later, Boomers like me!

Why Not An Extension of Financial Support to Individual Citizens

(but, instead, to big companies)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Limiting View from a Cave
Viewing life from a tunnel provides a very limited view.

There has always been Big Money in U.S. politics. It is just that, now, it is Huge Money.

You do not have to consider the needs and desires of working people if your power base is Huge Money. Especially if that worker base is composed largely of one-issue voters you can keep in the fold by spouting code words every now and then: guns, abortion, immigration, etc. Besides, the poor will just spend federal largesse on groceries, rents and mortgages, car payments, church tithes, etc. Few, if any, are giving money to political causes. And you can still tout Free Speech, even if you do not countenance it, because those one-issue voters are mostly concerned with free speech in their own lanes, those particular, narrow issues. (But do not forget, if you ever knew it, you one-issue revolutionaries: over time most revolutions tend to eat their own.)

A ton of the money given to large business for Covid-19 relief will end up in the coffers of the Republican Party as donations and funding for PACs. Why not dole out those dollars if some eventually comes back to assist your campaign? The decision is eazy-peazy, no?

A comparison one could use of the change from an individuals-based outlook to a grifting, corporatized one is the example of the National Rifle Association. The NRA was once powered by individual gun owners sending in their membership monies. Throw in the manufacturers and you had a tidy sum to use for lobbying. Now the NRA has morphed, essentially, into an extension of the manufacturers’ lobby, it’s just based in northern Virginia instead of on ‘K’ Street in DC. The NRA Board has been pliable enough that in 2018 CEO Wayne LaPierre (2015 compensation $5,110,985 and $2.15 million in 2018) was said to be involved with the NRA’s ad agency, Ackerman McQueen (they have since separated acrimoniously) in the non-profit, tax-exempt NRA (501(c)(4)) being asked to buy him and his wife a $6 million gated-community, lakefront mansion near Dallas, Texas because… if you can believe it, LaPierre – with little expressed concern over school shootings, was reportedly worried about his own security after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida! The request was not fulfilled, perhaps because then-president Oliver North and LaPierre had a tiff combined with the fact that the home-buying scheme came to light and that in 2018 the organization ended the year with a $2.7 million shortfall, a $17.8 million shortfall in 2017 and a $45.8 million one in 2016. None of this stopped LaPierre from reportedly spending $500,000 on ‘luxury clothes and travel’. This style of executive compensation when companies are running deficits or performing poorly is not a rare one these days.

Another example. People have complained about U.S. Foreign Aid but the reason it persists is because the money sent out always stipulates the work be performed by American companies with American products, the food from American farmers, the transport on America transport (even if ‘flagged’ under another nation) and so on. A whopping amount of those government dollars – or, rather, our tax dollars, ends up back in American pockets. Deep pockets. Illegal immigration is similar. Big industries like building, service (lodging and food) and manufacturing have enormous labor needs – and cheap labor, at that. Who you gonna call? Are you, dear reader, hiring low-wage, relatively ‘unskilled’ Mexicans? Where do all these folks crossing the border look for work? Are they knocking on the doors of our homes?

These examples of self-dealing are visible to anyone with an eighth grade education who will take a moment to read newspapers and think critically about their lives, the lives of their fellows and their country. Such comprehension is one, maybe, THE, essential element of a functioning democracy (along with exercising one’s franchise.) Apparently, the numbers of such citizens are getting fewer and fewer. It’s easier to get our ‘important’ news via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other Internet-only sources and to shrug off voting as ‘not making a difference”.

I think a big reason McConnell and bedfellows don’t want an extension of the $600 per week is that he and his cronies realize the only way, today, to force people to work in dicey, dangerous, unhealthy workplaces is to cut off federal support money so that many people are forced to return to work, ignoring safety issues because, oddly enough, most of us have a priority of putting food on the table.

Forcing people to work in unhealthy, dangerous jobs has always been a problem for rulers. Slavery is the obvious example. But, others have found superbly ingenious ways to make people work. Great Britain’s colonial administration in East Africa used a tax on salt. When native workers would earn enough money for their immediate needs they simply stopped showing up until they needed money again. How to force them to continue coming to work? Ah…. levy a burdensome tax on salt, a necessary ingredient for a healthy life in a climate where one sweats it out and needs to daily replenish. (Salt tax earned early Chinese civilization half its tax revenue and remember it was the righteous purpose of The Salt March that made Mohandas Gandhi famous outside his immediate circle.)

Obviously, people working is what keeps a country’s economy bumping along and accounts for whatever level of financial prosperity a nation enjoys. But, must we force people, before the proper time, to return to jobs that are very likely going to be nurseries for Covid-19?? When is the proper time?

Personal prejudice is a powerful guide to action – or inaction. We have all heard or read phrases that come from nebulous, unsubstantiated beliefs: ‘the undeserving poor’, ‘the idle rich’, etc.

When Jeffrey Epstein was arrested his story was covered extensively locally because he owned a large property here. One interesting tidbit I saw was an incident that took place at a symposium on his private island in the Caribbean. Epstein told one attendee he was voting Harvard professor Steven Pinker ‘off the island’ because Pinker openly disagreed (using fact-based science) with a comment Epstein had made. At a round-table Epstein had said he would never fund projects for the alleviation of poverty because the poor would just go out and breed, making more children. Pinker spoke up, differing with this assessment, saying this belief has been shown to be untrue: the more solid people become in their personal economies, the fewer children they have.

We all need to do our research, think creatively and not cast aside an open mind and the scientific method when acting on ‘facts’. Following a ‘party line’ is one of the surest roads toward a poverty of imagination and the narrowing of choices.

The rule of money or the rule of democracy? Like a garden, Democracy must be tended and nurtured, its soil must be tilled and overturned to keep it alive, active and strong. It is not a given that it will always prevail after only a couple hundred years of existence.

Keep the Faith

And

Act on it!

cancel the USA November 2020 elections?

a ballot box
A Ballot Box

OK, the innermost desires of the current occupant of the White House are never secret too long. He has an innate inability to contain himself in any manner whatsoever. Kind of like little boys in their ‘terrible teens’.

I recently heard someone use the word “Fascism” and it reminded me that just like the word ‘racist’, it does have a specific meaning, tho it has been prefixed to many modifiers in its historically short, modern history.

(To be a racist, by the by, is to also have the position and societal power to enact and enforce your beliefs. Otherwise you are, simply, ‘prejudiced’. I dislike pineapple on pizza is a prejudice, for example. If I wrote that I do not like folks of the Caucasian persuasion that would be a prejudice, as well: as a person of color I have no societal power over them. All I could do is on a personal level, like not hiring them, not publishing their photography, etc. As such, my actions would be prejudicial ones, not racist ones.)

So, to fascism.

The great novelist and thinker in semiotics, Umberto Eco, was born into fascist Italy. To help clarify people’s thinking on just what the word means, he published an essay in 1995 for The New York Review of Books titled “Ur-Fascism“. While I am not certain his list is the last word, he offers 14 typical features that, like a tiny speck of atmospheric ice crystal that permits the formation of hail, allows fascism to coalesce into a state we can identify.

*****

Openculture.com (via a refinment from someone named “Kottke” and then blogger Paul Bausch) published these as the following comprehensible list:

1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”

2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”

5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”

8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”

10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”

11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”

12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

RIP: Representative John Lewis (21 February 1940 – 17 July 2020)

“Oh Freedom” sung by Earl R. Nance and group

Thoughts on watching the body of Civil Rights and Justice Warrior, Representative John Lewis, being ferried in a horse-drawn wagon across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

*******

“And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried to my grave”

‘Oh Freedom’, an African American freedom song associated with the U.S. Civil Rights movement but actually written after the U.S. Civil War (12 April 1860 – 9 April 1865). A version was first recorded by Earl R. Nance (with Clarence Dooley, Tenor Vocal & Guitar; Madie Nance, Soprano Vocal; Helen Nance, Alto Vocal & Mandolin) August 26, 1931 in Richmond, Indiana. (video, above)

Most of us are more familiar with the Odetta (1957), Harry Belafonte (1960) or Joan Baez (1963 March on Washington) versions but the original recording takes me to an earlier place in our country’s history.

*****

“get out there and get in the way, get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and be yourself.”
– John Lewis, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 1, 2020 (a motivator to the end!)

John Lewis also spoke similar words to young people at the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools National Training in June 2014. Marion Wright Edelman, founder of the Fund wrote, “As he spoke to today’s young Freedom Schools leaders John Lewis told them that when he was their age getting into “necessary trouble” shaped his life’s mission. As he explained, he grew up poor in rural Troy, Alabama, where his father, a former tenant farmer, had saved enough money to buy his own land. He worked on the farm alongside the rest of his family but was always desperate to get an education. A teacher encouraged him over and over to read all he could. Although he wasn’t allowed in his segregated county library like so many of our generation, he did his best: “I tried to read everything, the few books we had at home, the magazines. We were too poor to have a subscription to the local newspaper, but my grandfather had one, and when he would finish reading his newspaper each day, I would get that newspaper and read it.” He also listened to the radio to learn more about the news outside his small community, and eventually started hearing about new events that would change his life: “In 1955, 15 years old in the 10th grade, I heard of Rosa Parks. I heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. I heard his voice on an old radio, and it seemed like he was saying, “John Lewis, you, too, can do something . . . You can make a contribution.”

John Lewis decided then that was exactly what he would do. He started with the library: “So in 1956, 16 years old, some of my brothers and sisters and cousins, we went down to the public library in the little town of Troy, Alabama, trying to get a library card, trying to check out some books, and we were told by the librarian that the library is for Whites only and not for coloreds.” A year later, as a high school senior he decided to apply to Troy State College (now Troy University), a White college close to his home—but his application was ignored and unanswered. John Lewis was stopped temporarily—but he was not finished.

He told the very rapt audience that getting into necessary trouble in order to stand up for what is right is required of us all: “If we fail to do it, history will not be kind to us.” And he reminded us that this is true even when there is a terrible cost, as with the murders of the three Freedom Summer volunteers in Philadelphia, Mississippi: “Andy Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. I knew these three young men. On the night of June 21st, 1964, almost 50 years ago, these three young men were detained, taken to jail, taken out, turned over to the Klan, where they were beaten and shot and killed. They didn’t die in the Middle East or Eastern Europe or Vietnam or in Central or South America. They died right here in our own country, and they must be looked upon as the founding fathers of the new America, a new way of doing things, a new way of life.””

*****

Looking across the aisle, I also found this interesting scene on the morning TV show The View (transcript from The Decider):

“[Meghan] McCain offered her own reflection on Lewis’ legacy with a personal story about meeting him at her father’s office when she was 14. “It was important to [her father] that I heard this man’s story and knew who he was,” said the co-host. “I can remember when I was 14 not really ever seeing my dad deferential or in awe of anyone, and that was one of the first times.”

McCain added that while Lewis and her father “ended up having a political disagreement” when Sen. McCain ran for president — “I have no interest in rehashing it right now,” she said — but they were able to squash it. “When my dad passed, John Lewis put out one of the more beautiful statements of anyone,” she recalled.”

John Lewis – a great American humanist.

One Ring to Rule Them All – America Gets Its Interior Ministry

James Madison at the College of New Jersey in Princeton. Portrait by British Painter James Sharples
James Madison (1751-1836) at the College of New Jersey (Class of 1771) in Princeton. Portrait by James Sharples (British, 1752-1811)

The Executive Branch current morphing of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security into what some other countries call their Interior Ministry has been, in a way, a no-brainer. Of the 80-odd federal law enforcement agencies in the United States, Customs and Border Protection Agents may be the most ‘physical’ with apprehended suspects as they conduct operations along a largely deserted southern border without the prying eyes of the greater public. They routinely hold people who they suspect are entering the country illegally without offering up specific charges. (Separate and incarcerate children apart from their parents? OK, no problem! They have also arrested U.S. citizens who leave gallon jugs of water in the desert for immigrants because such actions are seen as aiding those attempting to enter the U.S. without papers.)

In many countries Interior Ministries are anything but people-friendly: these departments are not populated by employees guiding their populace on ranger-led interpretive nature hikes through spectacular natural scenery. They are heads-of-state directed agencies who operate as a secret police, whose employees are feared by their own people and rightly so. The tactics employed by such ministries include warrantless search and seizures, arrests without stated cause, indeterminate detention, torture and other popular acts of authoritarian governments. They are internal police forces answering to the whims of the supreme leader, not the directives of local officials. Portland was simply a warm-up exercise incorporating agents from Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Chicago is slated to be next as what we in the past called Gestapo Tactics is rolled out across the country’s big cities using whatever federal manpower is available. The Trump administration has learned another valuable lesson from Russia’s playbook by customizing its own anonymous armed officers, our version of the “Little Green Men” who invaded and occupied eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century. Tim Duggan Books; 2017) spoke with Michelle Goldberg for her New York Times July 21st column, “This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire. The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.” “

Typical of right-winger’s flip-flops, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was rabid in 1995 with a flip warning of the seizure of American’s guns under Congress’s ‘Assault Weapons Ban’: “In Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” Now, however, the NRA endorses Trump for a second term (July 16 announcement) and, with a thudding flop, lauds his actions in Portland for “stand[ing] tall for the constitutional freedoms in which our members believe.” Where o’ where are my conservative friends who used to uphold the rights of individuals at all costs against Big Government? Perhaps they are all busy praising the powers of plutocracy and the all-controlling Spy State: all citizens are equal but some are more equal than others.

In an article in today’s The Atlantic magazine David A. Graham writes, “Chad Wolf, the [acting head of] DHS amid the crackdown, is also accountable only to the president: Trump, who loves circumventing the Constitution’s requirement of Senate confirmation for some positions, has often chosen to leave acting heads in charge of agencies so that they are more pliable and dependent on him.”

As if anonymous federal police throwing people into unmarked rental cars is not enough, Trump has bought in John Yoo, seeking advice from the lawyer who wrote Bush 43’s 2002 legal justification for Guantanamo ‘enhanced interrogations’, the so-called ‘torture memos’. Yoo has publicly confirmed he’s helping the Trump administration find ways to skirt Congress and impose his (Trump’s) own policies without congressional approval, even if such policies violate laws – that is, the democratic principles of citizen protection upon which this country was founded.

Yoo’s thinking on this was detailed in an article in the magazine National Review (June 22) arguing the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provides a back door to implement policies by the Chief Executive without regard to legality: the ruling “makes it easy for presidents to violate the law, but reversing such violations difficult — especially for their successors.” In Yoo’s recent interview with the British newspaper The Guardian he says, “And why can’t the Trump administration do something similar with immigration – create its own … program, but it could do it in areas beyond that, like healthcare, tax policy, criminal justice, inner city policy. I talked to them a fair amount about cities, because of the disorder.” And with regard to Portland’s unidentified, masked agents: “It has to be really reasonably related to protecting federal buildings … If it’s just graffiti, that’s not enough. It really depends on what the facts are.”

But… facts, of course, never get in the way of life in Trump-ville.

I am again and again struck by our country’s Founders who were so often uncannily prescient in setting up roadblocks for undesirable outcomes and on-ramps for desirable ones. They could not possibly plan for every exigency but certainly covered a lot of ground in their attempt. For all its social faults the Age of Enlightenment bred people – men and women – of brilliance and forethought to whom expertise, science and knowledge were things of beauty to combat ignorance, popular befuddlement and the rule of the rabble.

I end here with a small quote from the transcript of the James Madison Debates of the Constitutional Convention, delivered by the man himself, on Friday, June 29, 1787. As was usual, the written record contains abbreviations commonly used in such recorded work in the 18th century (the italics are mine).

“In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of war, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people. It is perhaps questionable, whether the best concerted system of absolute power in Europe cd. maintain itself, in a situation, where no alarms of external danger cd. tame the people to the domestic yoke.” Further, “He [Madison] entreated the gentlemen representing the small States to renounce a principle [the rank of the States as political societies, for example] wch. was confessedly unjust, which cd. never be admitted, & if admitted must infuse mortality into a Constitution which we wished to last forever.

The Pursuit of Justice

Life in balance.
Life in balance.

There are myriad qualities that make us human but few, other than the wide bailiwick of ‘culture’, have tentacles that reach – or should reach, as far into our psyches as the pursuit of justice.

All the qualities are evolutionarily useful, of course, and some are shared with other species: tool use for example. Plus we have the category of emotions – but we have no lock on exclusivity there, either; witness your dog jumping for joy when you return to your home (even after being gone for only 10 minutes!) or elephants grieving their dead. Then there is the neurological brain and unfathomed mind terrain of morality, ethics, mutuality, competition and the like.

I, and millions of others on this hunk of rock speeding through the universe, think the historical Buddha was onto something when he hit upon desire as a main cause of human misery. And, again, when he taught that wisdom and compassion were two primary keys to the alleviation of much that passes for our distress in this world. Notice that I used the past-tense ‘taught’ (teach) and not ‘preach’, a signal difference between Eastern and Western approaches to the divine. Preaching is an activity wherein someone with a supposed special insight and connection to the spiritual expounds to a (mostly) passive audience. Other than the “call-and-response” in traditional black churches there is precious little two-way communication going on.

Teaching in the active sense is a whole other endeavor altogether. It is what Doris Lessing (“Introduction” to the Grove Press edition of Ecclesiastes) identifies as the “experiential Path” vs. the “passive” one. When we hear and learn of concepts like “Justice” in our schools and places of worship we internalize, if we do at all, an intellectual concept. When we grow up in an environment with parents and a community that teaches us about “Justice” we internalize it in our hearts. It is closely linked to compassion for the Other. To see a black citizen beaten or killed on an anonymous video stream causes every right-thinking person unease. To walk out of the house knowing that this treatment might be your own lot brings on another level of apprehension altogether.

In many ways ordinary, middle-class white people in our society are privileged not so much by what has happened in their lives as by what has not happened.

The last time I drove cross-country from Ohio, then to Chicago for a Leica meeting and then home to New Mexico I was stopped not once, but twice by states highway patrol. In Illinois the trooper was right behind me as we drove 70+ mph along the Interstate. I decided to move back to the right lanes after passing a car and in a few seconds saw the flashing lights go on in the patrol car. I dutifully pulled over and awaited the standard visit from the cop at my Mercedes Sprinter van window.

When he finally came up I asked what was the problem. He said that in Illinois there is a law that a driver cannot change lanes on an Interstate within 275 feet of signaling a lane change. I asked him to repeat the statement as I was trying to internalize his comment (which was not as succinct as my version of it.) Then I did a quick calculation and said that at the speeds we were driving, 275 feet go by in less than three seconds. I added that I did not have a stop-watch but was pretty certain the legal time had transpired and I had, after all, signaled my intentions. He said, yes, I had signaled but he was pretty certain I had moved into the right lane too early. When I let out an exasperated breath (I was trying to get to my meeting hotel before nightfall) he added that he was not going to give me a ticket, only a ‘Warning’, and that I should leave my van and get into his patrol car. I responded with, “Really!” He said, “Yes, you need to comply, sir.” As I opened the door and stepped out he suddenly said, “Are you armed?” I looked at him with incredulity and said, “Are you serious? No, of course not!”m

As I approached his car I reached for the back door handle but he said, “No, get in the front passenger seat.”

“Okay, cool, I can look at all the toys!”

I did not get much done by way of inspection because there was a police major in the back seat who grilled me on fly-fishing in New Mexico when he saw the Catch & Release sticker in my rear window. I got the idea he was trying to ferret out whether I knew anything about the great art of casting with a fly or had stolen an expensive vehicle.

After several days in Chicago I headed back to the Interstate toward New Mexico. That evening late, just west of St. Louis, a car kept tail-gating me closely for miles. Rather than hit the brakes, which I would have done in my youth, I simply slowed down. Who wants to get the driver behind alarmed and pissed-off enough that he/she pulls up and sends a bullet thru the driver side window?

As I slowed those flashing lights came on! He kept me waiting for a long time before coming up to the window. Tired and (again) exasperated as I was trying to reach my usual hotel, I asked what took so damn long. He said he saw I had an old arrest record at the White House but could not find that it had ever been settled. It took him a long time to find it had been adjudicated (‘don’t return to DC and cause trouble for at least 6 months.’)

Then, I got the only laugh I have ever received from a state cop during the many times I have been stopped: “Officer, first things first. I am very proud of that arrest. It is a sterling moment of civil disobedience from my youth. I made national TV and got a televised comment from my state senator, John Glenn! Second, why did you stop me in the first place?”

“I could not read your license plate or see a sticker to see if it is current.“

“My date sticker is right there for all to see.”

“Yes, I see it now, but in Missouri it is illegal to drive with a license plate that is hard for an officer to read. Now, I’m not going to give you a ticket, but….”

Another ‘Warning’ ticket in my pocket after a stop that lasted ninety minutes.

Many of you will laugh at these stories, and I can, too, now. But, the significance of them is that any ‘untoward’ action or displayed anger on my part could have ended badly for me. Driving while brown can be a risky practice in many places in the United States. What proved to be remarkable was that the very next week the NAACP issued a notice that read, “if you are black you should avoid driving through Missouri if at all possible.” This is an incredible piece of advice in 21st century America.

These examples of state police action would be simply idiosyncratic stories if not for the fact that they are repeated across this nation every day. I am lucky in that I am sure the officers’ calculus of behavior was influenced by my educated flat, mid-Western speech, my demeanor and my expensive set of wheels (both officers were impressed by my great Mercedes vehicle), i.e. ‘he can probably afford an expensive lawyer’.

To sum, dear Reader, do not assume that your peaceful and secure daily existence is the norm for everyone in this country. Do not assume that those who are executed with impunity by state actors had it coming. Do not assume that after we have conquered Covid-19 everyone will return to a life of beauty and personal empowerment. Do not assume we must all color within the lines as dictated by the mandates of the 1%. Yes, applaud those officers who “take a knee” in solidarity with the people they have sworn to serve and protect but remember that real change is not a cosmetic application of soothing words and easy actions. True justice requires vigilance and perseverance – the hard work of all people of good will.

“History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.” – Justice Thurgood Marshall

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” – John Stuart Mill, 1867

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” ― Frederick Douglass

RIP: Little Richard – (Richard Wayne Penniman)(5 Dec 1932 – 9 May 2020)

Poster for a Little Richard Concert in Baltimore, circa 1956
Poster for a Little Richard Concert in Baltimore, circa 1956.
Photograph of poster from liveauctioneers.

Almost 70 years on it is difficult, unless you possessed young ears in the middle of the 1950s, to understand the enormous impact a song like Tutti Frutti had on its listeners.

Everything about Little Richard shouted ‘DIFFERENT!’ Just look at that hairdo – remember this is the staid hung-up 1950s. Our parents, our schools and the ‘establishment’ were still decrying our hair in the last years of the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. Imagine the public outrage (not too strong a word) in the 50s. Of course, the disapprobation of our elders only made sporting the coiffures more fun!

Although I have not looked at the stats I cannot imagine anyone (other than, perhaps, the Beatles – who actually opened some European concerts for Little Richard in 1962), besting his record of 17 hit singles in about four years circa 1955-1959. The man rocked and everyone into the new rock and roll knew it!

Penniman learned his chops in a manner similar to how many African American polymath performers learned theirs in the first half of the 20th century: first in church, then in vaudeville or traveling troups of performers. In his case it was Dr. Hudson’s Medicine Show. He joined in 1949 rather than enter 10th grade. Here he performed a variety of skits, sometimes in drag as Princess LaVonne, and learned to play what church-folk called ‘devil music’. He once said that Louis Jordan’s Caldonia was the first secular piece he ever played (“Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?”) HISTORIC NOTE: The second(?) recording of this song was where the term “Rock and Roll” originated. It appeared in a Billboard Magazine review of Erskine Hawkins 1945 record: “right rhythmic rock and roll music”.) A year later Penniman joined Buster Brown’s Orchestra where his childhood nickname of Lil’ Richard was modified (he was quite small and had one leg shorter than the other.)

After a couple recording contracts with his records becoming popular in Georgia but not reaching a larger audience, Little Richard returned to his hometown of Macon, Georgia doing menial labor and performing on the side. In 1955 the musician Lloyd Price (with whom my father worked) recommended Specialty Records, the label he recorded for, and Little Richard sent them a demo tape. Months passed with no call. Eventually Specialty’s producer heard Richard sing Tutti Fruiti during an impromtu set at a club – but had to hire another songwriter to clean up the sexual lyrics Little Richard had put to the song. Three takes in September led to a November release and the rest, as they say, is history!In June of 2007 the British music magazine Mojo, based on a survey of music artists (Björk, Tori Amos, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Pete Wentz, Steve Earle and others), listed Tutti Frutti as Number 1 in their “The Top 100 Records That Changed The World”.

SIDE NOTE: I almost did not include this mention as a decade ago Mojo moved to take over ownership of copyright of their writers and photographers work AND, at the same time, laid liability for libel and copyright infringement onto those same writers and photographers.


RIP: Denis Theodore Goldberg (1933-2020)

Artist's Open Air House in Rivonia
An Artist Friend’s Open Air House in Rivonia, © Wilbur Norman
Artist's Open Air Library in Rivonia
The Open Air Library, ©Wilbur Norman

I just learned that Denis Goldberg, one of the last two survivors of South Africa’s infamous Rivonia Trial (1963-1964), died on April 29th of cancer with Covid-19 complications.

Denis Goldberg, a civil engineer and an anti-apartheid activist, spent 22 years in prison. He was arrested during a meeting of activists and commanders of the MK (uMkhonto we Sizwe) the armed wing of the ANC (African Nation Congress) on a farm in Rivonia. The defendants in the sabotage and treason trial were Nelson Mandela (already in prison under a “citing workers to strike” charge), Walter Sisulu, Lionel Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Arthur Goldreich, Bob Hepple, Abdulhay Jassat, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Moosa Moolla, Elias Motsoaledi and Harold Wolpe. (Goldreich and Wolpe escaped from prison, after beatings and torture, before beginning their sentence; Hepple fled the country when charges were withdrawn; and Lionel Bernstein was acquitted, rearrested and placed under house arrest before escaping from the country.) The rest beat a de facto death sentence thru what was probably a private treaty with the judge. Goldberg received release in 1985 largely through the work of his daughter and members of her kibbutz and the U.S. and Israeli governments (for many years both close allies of apartheid South Africa.)

Many Americans think the fight for democracy in South Africa was a monolithic black vs. white struggle. This arrest list shows how wrong this view is: those arrested were English, Indian Muslim, Jewish, Xhosa, Pedi and Coloured.

The Rivonia Trial (Rivonia is a suburb of Johannesburg) contained what is considered a founding moment in the attempts to create a democracy in South Africa – 31 years before it became a reality. The ‘moment’ was , in fact, a three hour defense opening statement by Nelson Mandela, his famous “I Am Prepared To Die” speech. Here is the closing paragraph:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

As the only remaining white found guilty, Denis Goldberg was taken to Pretoria Central Prison to serve 22 years. The others served in various prisons with most doing extended time on Robben Island off the coast. Mandela served almost 28 years (18 of which were at Robben), Walter Sisulu served 26 years (most at Robben), Ahmed Kathrada served 26 years (18 at Robben) with the balance at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison (along with Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter Sisulu.) Many, perhaps all, of those convicted worked on interesting college degrees while incarcerated. Some may remember that it was Ahmed Kathrada who showed President Obama and the First Family around Robben Island in 2013.

In 2017 the three remaining survivors of the Rivonia trial – Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Kathrada, along with the three surviving defense attorneys, Joel Joffe, George Bizos and Denis Kuny – appeared in a documentary film entitled “Life is Wonderful”, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen. These were the words Goldberg’s mother, Annie, is said to have uttered when she learned that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence. (Annie must have been quite a mom: in 1960 she was arrested with him for supporting strikers after the Sharpeville massacre and they both spent four months in jail.)

Here is an interview with Sir Nicholas about the film: https://vimeo.com/284713545

Kent State May 4, 1970

Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller. Photo by John Filo, copyright © 1970 Valley News-Dispatch
Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller. Photo by John Filo, copyright © 1970 Valley News-Dispatch


“Mary Ann Vecchio [a 14-year old runaway, as the world later learned] gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. On publication, the image was retouched to remove the fence post above Vecchio’s head.” The protest was against President Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Reacting to mass demonstrations on May 1st, Nixon he had called anti-war protestors ‘bums’.

Four students were killed and 9 wounded by the 67 shots fired by the Ohio National Guard that day. Two of the four killed were bystanders and none of the four was closer to the Guard than about a football field in distance. The Guard had been dispatched to Kent State by Governor James Rhodes, at the request of the town of Kent’s mayor, after an arson attack burned down the ROTC building on May 2.

Four million students (college and high school) went out on strike after the news of the shootings became public.

In New Mexico, where I now live, eleven people were bayonetted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard in a confrontation with student protesters on May 8th. The demonstrations in Washington, DC were so combative that Nixon was removed to Camp David for his safety and the 82nd Airborne was lodged in the basement of the Executive Office Building next to the White House. At Jackson State University, a historically black college, in Jackson, Mississippi, two students were killed (and 12 wounded) by police during a demonstration on May 14 – an event that did not receive the same attention as the shootings at Kent State.

I was in high school in Ohio and vividly remember those times – especially when my Draft Number turned out to be 99. For many years thereafter I never ate at Wendy’s because Ohio Governor Big Jim Rhodes (“part P.T. Barnum, part Elmer Gantry, part Norman Vincent Peale” – Dayton Daily News) was one of Wendy’s investors. There are memorial events at Kent State on May 4th every year and I have managed to make it to one (the 30th, I believe.)

There are still unanswered questions about the timing and personnel involved in the Kent State massacre. A prominent one involves the university- and FBI-informant Terrence Brooks Norman (no relation!), a student who appeared to be the only non-Guardsman individual who was armed at the demonstration.

meandering & idle speculations on nothing & everything                                          

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