(Cleveland, Ohio, 17 February 1925 – 23 January 2021, Beverly Hills, CA.)
“the man who has done more to keep Mark Twain on people’s minds than anyone else.” – HuffPost
I wondered how I had missed Mr. Holbrook’s death a week ago
but it was not announced until today.
I remember we had to pay office rent as the student union was going thru financial turmoil but the building was still a haven from academics on the campus. It had even stayed open when the whole university closed due to riots over the Kent State killings in 1970.
As an undergraduate I had the use of a state car to drive
back and forth to the capital, Columbus, Ohio for meetings. It was a big white
Chevrolet that looked exactly like a state highway patrol car so I zoomed along
Interstate-70 with other autos usually making way for me. If I stayed overnight
in Columbus I would always go to my favorite restaurant, SeVa Longevity Cookery
(Indian vegetarian on the northwest corner of N. High Street & W. Northwood
Avenue) and then to a concert or other event; there was always something going
on at The Ohio State University with its 45,000 students.
One evening I saw that Hal Holbrook was performing his ‘Mark
Twain Tonight!’ next to the Union so I bought a ticket. It was riveting! As
well it should: Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr. had started this role in 1954 while a
student at not-too-far-away Denison University. And, he had won a Tony for Best
Actor in a Play in 1966 for the role. He did the solo performances for about 60
years. In 2007, at the age of 82, Holbrook became the oldest nominee for Best
Supporting Actor for his work in the movie ‘Into the Wild’.
As with so many buildings at OSU, there is a now a new Ohio Union and the auditorium I saw Holbrook perform in is no more. The space is now the Wexner Center for the Arts. And, yes, that is the same Wexner (Victoria’s Secret, The Limited, Pink, and Bath & Body Works) whose millions Jeffrey E. Epstein supposedly siphoned, when he was Wexner’s only client, in order to finance a lifestyle that included a New York mansion, a private plane, a luxury estate in Ohio and a large ranch here in New Mexico.
John Joyce Gilligan’s (March 22, 1921 –
August 26, 2013) was a liberal Democrat. I had never before – and have never
since, met a man who had such a completely unreadable demeanor as Gov.
Gilligan. It was all the more remarkable because he was also the palest human I
had ever met. He must have been a great lawyer – and poker player.
Gilligan’s claim to fame as an Ohio
governor was the institution of Ohio’s first corporate and personal income tax.
He said it was necessary to cover the state’s inadequate methods to fund public
schools. That move came back to haunt him when he lost against James ‘Big Jim’
Allen Rhodes (13 September
1909 – 4 March 2001) who twice before had been governor and
had to sit out in 1970 because of term limits. Rhodes, of course, was governor
during the 1907 Kent State University shootings by the Ohio National Guard.
Gilligan’s other claim to fame is being one-half of the first
father/daughter U.S. governor duo. His daughter, Kathleen Sebelius, was Governor
of Kansas (2003-2009) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (2009-2014)
under President Barack Obama.
While we can argue about the truth of this statement in an age when anyone can create videos, there is no denying the power of the still image.
The most shocking photo – and about the most shocking thing I had ever seen as a teenager, happened on this day, February 1, 1968. It was Adams’ photograph of the killing of Nguyễn Văn Lém (code name: Bảy Lốp) on a street in Saigon. Lém, a Viet Cong captain suspected of murdering South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan and his family, was made to stand before brigadier general Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, chief of the national police, who summarily executed him with a swift shot to the the head using his personal Smith & Wesson .38 Special. (Gen. Loan later said, “If you hesitate, if you didn’t do your duty, the men won’t follow you.”)
In 2019 I was fortunate to meet and talk to Adams’ widow, Alyssa Adkins, Deputy Editor of TV Guide, and buy the great photo book she had helped put together with a large number of Adams’ images.
Edward Thomas Adams (12 June 1933 – 19 September 2004) was a combat photographer in the Korean War while serving in the United States Marine Corps. From 1962 to 1980 he worked two stints for AP (Associated Press). His photographs made more than 350 covers for TIME and Parade magazines.
On that fated day in February 1968, just a couple days after the beginning of the Tet Offensive, he and NBC News television cameraman Võ Sửu were walking the streets of Saigon and saw what they thought might be a street interrogation as a prisoner was pulled out of a building. Both raised their cameras and began to photograph and film. As they did, Gen. Loan walked up, raised his pistol and summarily fired a bullet into Lem’s head.
Both the resulting photograph and Võ Sửu’s film coverage became indelibly linked to the brutal truth of a war that had become staple evening fare on television sets throughout the United States: our South Vietnamese ally engaged in the same terrible behaviors as the North Vietnamese they fought. It was something I thought of often as I approached my 18th birthday with an impending, subsequent draft lottery. The stills photo went on to win the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography and the pronouncement from TIME magazine declaring it, “one of history’s 100 most influential photos.”
Was this the photograph of which Adams’ was most proud? No. That honor goes to his photograph “Boat of No Smiles” (1979) showing a 30-foot fishing boat loaded with Vietnamese fleeing their homeland. Like the photo subject of this post, it was influential: it eventually led Congress and President Jimmy Carter to open immigration to more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees.
Over time Adams became sorry the Saigon shot came to be known as his most famous image:
“Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. … What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?”…. This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. … I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, “I’m sorry. There are tears in my eyes.”
– Eddie Adams. “Eulogy: General Nguyen Ngoc Loan”. Time Magazine; July 27, 1998.
There are so many interesting side notes to this story.
Similar to the idea in science that the very act of an individual viewing an event affects the event itself, Susan Sontag wrote about Gen. Loan, “he would not have carried out the summary execution there had they [journalists] not been available to witness it.” In 1978 there was an attempt to revoke Loan’s permanent residence ‘green card’ and Adams’ spoke in his defense with President Jimmy Carter halting the deportation, writing, “such historical revisionism was folly”.
Proving that no matter where you live it’s who you know that can shape your life, Loan studied pharmacy at university before entering the army where he was a classmate of Nguyễn Cao Kỳ. Kỳ became head of the air force (where Loan flew as his wing-man) and then, after a coup, the Prime Minister. Loan opened a pizzeria in Burke, Virginia outside Washington, DC. from the late 1970s until 1991.
Elements of connection in this story keep coming right up to the present. South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan who, along with his family, had been killed by Nguyễn Văn Lém, had a 10-year old son, Huan Nguyen. Huan did not die in that 1968 attack despite being shot three times and laying for hours next to his dying mother. Huan came to the United States and in 2019 became the first Vietnamese American to reach the rank of U.S Navy Rear Admiral.
I have tried to track down the NBC cameraman Võ Sửu without success. I will update this post if I ever find out more about him (tho the NBC site on the footage does not add more information.)
A few minutes ago, a breath of much-needed fresh air: the swearing into office of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph Robinett Biden, Jr.
And, the installation of the first woman Vice-President of the United States, who hails from a lineage of Africa and South Asia, Kamala Devi Harris.
Let’s hope we can finally work to beat the Covid-19 pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 400,000 of our compatriots in this country, and millions around the world, and begin to right our precariously listing ship of state.
In these dire times it feels a little more than self-indulgent to canter on about the minor joys in life; a desire to expound upon the little things when the world is on fire seems a private and guilty pleasure. But, while pondering standing down and standing by, I remembered a quote posted last year by an old friend in India:
I’ve no idea who Cleo Wade is but this paragraph was/is a powerful reminder to stop and breathe – with a deep breath, at that, and gather your joy. And so I will expand upon my joy in re-living the excitement I felt when first reading of the research being done by William Donald Hamilton, FRS (1 August 1936 – 7 March 2000) and Robert Ludlow Trivers (b. February 19, 1943); especially Bob Trivers, one of the bad boys of science, and his work on the troubling existence of altruism in a world where survival appears to solely depends upon self-interest.
Some weeks ago I was looking for something I had written in one of my old journals and, in doing a fast sweep through one, I saw notes I had written on the work in evolutionary biology by Hamilton and Trivers. To have someone like Steven Pinker write, as he has of Trivers, that he is “one of the great thinkers in the history of Western thought” is not too shabby.
There is a profound beauty and deep pleasure in a life lived exploring the interests of the mind – or, rather, in the mysteries of the universe – of all things great and small. We imagine those who lead such lives rarely descend from the realm of theory and quick-firing neurons to spend time amongst the dross that daily surrounds those of us beetling away in the more mundane trenches of life. Or so it seems.
But there are exceptions. (I remember a great photograph of Stephen Hawking looking up from his motorized chair at the bottles of wine in a Pasadena supermarket. He could not reach the fruit of the vine on any but the lower third row of shelves. I’ve often wondered if the person who asked if he needed assistance ever knew who was being helped.)
The evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has led a life that is anything but ordinary, both in the ivory tower and out. In a handful of ‘simple’ theoretical papers in the 1970s, seeking to lay a foundation of questions into the links between genetics and behavior, he spawned research into whole galaxies of new suppositions and questions. I remember these ideas were pervasive in university, and not just in biology departments. Two very influential books, in part spurred on by the kind of research he was doing, were published in the mid-1970s dealing with just the questions Trivers had grappled with: Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology. Both stirred controversy that spilled out into general publications and the consciousness of lay people. At the time I would often think it must have been a little like this in Darwin & Wallace’s mid-19th century day with their theories on evolution.
Trivers studied evolutionary theory at Harvard from 1968 to 1972 with Ernst Mayr, a man of many talents. But it is Mayr’s genius with work on speciation that broadened Darwin and Wallace’s dissection of Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being that most fascinates those of us who studied anthropology. Trivers had first gotten the biology bug from his paying work (writing science books for children) with the ornithologist William Drury who was, Trivers says, “the man who taught me how to think.” Critical consciousness: it is the most important intellectual skill a human can possess as far as I am concerned.
a mental breakdown (bi-polar disorder) in his Harvard junior year Trivers considered
a major in psychology (not a real science but, rather,’ a joke’) or law (“I
thought I would do poverty law work” but was turned down by both Yale and the
Univ of Virginia). In any case, his childhood interests in astronomy (a look
into both the infinitesimally small and the ginormous) and mathematics have stood
him well in his work with animal behavior. And, yes, ‘animal’, here, includes homo sapiens sapiens.
Curiosity is THE great driver of human intellectual, cultural and physical advance and Trivers has it and has had, so far, a life of the utmost divergence and a knack for criticizing what we generally think of as both the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ political sphere. His resume includes being a white guy member of The Black Panthers and friend of Huey P. Newton (together they published a scholarly paper analyzing the role of self-deception by the flight crew of Air Florida Flight 90 that crashed into the 14th Street bridge over the Potomac River in Washington, DC in 1982); a proposer of questions and principals in evolutionary biology papers that, pretty much alone, spawned totally new sub-disciplines in behavioral psychology, sociobiology, evolutionary this & that and more; a subject of a gun-point encounter near his home in Jamaica; academic suspension at Rutgers and academics attacks on a few of my clients and friends.
If you are now intrigued you might start with reading his 2015 autobiography that I am reading now: Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist.
This isn’t their Republican Party anymore,’ Donald Trump Jr. says of GOP lawmakers who don’t back his father. – Wednesday morning, January 6, 2021“
The people [Republicans] who did nothing to stop the steal — this gathering [the agitators outside the White House this morning] should send a message to them,” Baby Trump said at a rally outside the White House. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
The Washington Post reports that ‘Trump Jr. also pledged to work against the reelection of any Republican who doesn’t try to overturn the results, echoing his father’s threats against officials who have rebuffed his efforts’… “These guys better fight for Trump, because if they’re not, guess what?” he said. “I’m going to be in your backyard in a couple of months! … If you’re going to be the zero and not the hero, we’re coming for you, and we’re going to have a good time doing it.”
You must give credit to the evidently persuasive agit-prop of the Trumpers. Anytime you can take wages (vs. dividends), food security, education and health care from those most in need – and still have them worship the ground you walk on, you are a master illusionist.
Monkeying around with democracy, we have well & truly gunned our country into high gear toward becoming what we used to call a ‘banana republic’.
UPDATE to my morning post:
6 January 2021, 2:35pm
Of all the ‘sacred’ symbols of these United States of America – the flag, the white House, the Statue of Liberty, etc. none are more important – or potent, than the U.S. Capitol Building, the edifice where The Peoples’ Business is daily transacted. I think if we do a little research, we might have to go back to 1814 to find a time when the Capitol fell into the hands of an enemy of our democracy.
Interestingly, during these hours of a seditious, Trumpian mob’s breach and control of the building, the Senate has changed political party hands with the state of Georgia declaring Mr. Jon Ossoff (D) as the winner of the senate race there between him and David Perdue (R).
Both Democratic Party winners make this an historic contest: Ossoff is the first Jewish senator from Georgia and the other seat’s winner, Raphael Warnock (D) is the first Black American to win a Georgia senate seat. Two important moments of our history, a high and a low, braided into the same day. Let’s hope our democracy is not as fragile as the security of the building where its aims are carried out.
First Full Moon of the Third Decade of the 21st Century, 29 December 2020
(Some, in error, might call it the last full moon of the second decade.)
Regardless… however you want to call it… it’s Beautiful!
Somewhere in my slides I have a pic of this full moon north of the Arctic Circle. Since, in December, it is directly opposite the sun, it ‘bookends’ the polar June sun, bearing a resemblance of sorts to the famous mid-summer midnight sun.
Video: A pure celebration of joy compliments of funk band Scary Pockets, led by Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte. This version of “I Say A Little Prayer” features a fantastic fey performance by Kenton Chen.
I cannot imagine a life without music and the ability to hear it.
Listening to Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick, 1966) always creates more than a little frisson in my love for life. It is difficult for me to think of a song more perfectly crafted – and then delivered, by one of the stellar voices in the history of humankind (despite the song being a bigger hit for Warwick.)
“While combing my hair, now,And wondering what dress to wear, now”
What’s more it was written for the war of my generation: lyricist Hal David wrote it about a “woman’s concern for her man who’s serving in the Vietnam War”, portraying how someone you love can be an intense part of the fabric of your everyday routine with thoughts bought forth by even the smallest things we do. One of the great hooks of the song is that “you are always made to feel as if you’re either about to be loved or about to be left.” (“Burt Bacharach Song by Song” by Serene Dominic)
“I run for the bus, dear,While riding I think of us, dear.”
In February 1987, ‘New Musical Express’, a UK music weekly, published its critics’ top 150 singles of all time, with Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” ranked at No. 1, but the song slipped and did not appear in their in-house critics’ top 100 singles poll in November 2002. Still, for many of us it remains
“Forever, and ever, / (You’ll stay in my heart and I will love you)”
The song became Franklin’s (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018) ninth and last consecutive Top 10 Atlantic label hit on the Hot 100 chart. Her version – may I say, THE version of this tune, makes a listener truly believe she is solo dancing around the house singing to her beloved, though we outsiders can be privy to her intense emotions of care, love and longing.
“My darling, believe me / For me there is no one but you / Please love me too”
‘I Say a Little Prayer’ moves from reverie to rousing joy and possesses elements of soul, gospel call & response, rock, jazz, balladry, you name it – but it’s sections of driving beat lends itself to multiple interpretations, even electronica and, dare I write it – The Ray Coniff Singers, whose version also sets a frisson in motion in me but of fear – lordy, lordy don’t subject me to listening to their whole rendition (perhaps rendition of another kind would bring the same feelings.) There is even a not-bad version with an accordion by Mary Black.
Burt Bachrach has said, “It’s [Aretha’s] a better record than the record we made… It’s just more natural,…We were talking about our changes and time changes on the chorus of ‘forever and forever, you stay in my heart, and I will’ — you know, that’s going 4-4, 3-4, 4-4, 3-4. Then regard the way it was treated by Aretha, because Aretha just makes it seamless, the transition going from one change to another change. You never notice it.”
“Mmhmm. We did, yeah. And we did a great record, but she topped it,” Hal David added during a joint Bachrach-David interview in 2010 with Terry Gross on her Philadelphia Fresh Air Public Radio program. (For my money I think Terry is the best interviewer of all time, by the by, and am sorry I never said as much when I used to run into her in the City of Brotherly Love).
But it is the clear-as-a-bell soul quality of Aretha’s voice that sends me and I’ve been fortunate to see the song performed by Aretha as well as the jazz horn player Rahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977).
“My darling, believe me / For me there is no one but you / Please love me too / Answer my prayer / Answer my prayer now babe / Say you love me too / Answer it right now babe / Answer my prayer”
Video: A pure celebration of joy compliments of funk band Scary Pockets, led by Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte. This version of “I Say A Little Prayer” features a fantastic fey performance by Kenton Chen.
DO NOT FORGET to go out tonight, Winter Solstice evening Monday the 21st, and see the much-talked-about conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. They have not been in this alignment (that is visible to us Earthlings) for 800 years! This treat will be visible in the Southwest for a couple hours after sunset. It might take a little time identify these two with the naked eye as they will be very close together and may look like ONE star instead of two close together planets! Binoculars will be a big help.
In my photos from the previous two nights Jupiter is on the bottom of its pairing but will switch positions with Saturn after tonight.
Jupiter’s four largest moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, in order of distance from Jupiter. They are faintly visible in my top photo stretching out from the 11:00 o’clock position (Io and Europa are almost on top of each other.) At latest count Jupiter has 67 moons but the big four were discovered by Galileo in 1610 and are called, fittingly, the Galilean moons.
A Letter from Mary Robinette Kowal, President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America:
Have you written anything for Disney or its subsidiaries and stopped receiving royalties? SFWA has become aware of several members in this position.
Last year, Alan Dean Foster came to SFWA’s Grievance Committee because he had written novels and was not being paid the royalties that were specified in his contract. With his permission, we have made this dispute public because the core of it affects more than just Mr. Foster.
It has the potential to affect every writer. Disney made the argument that they had purchased the rights but not the obligations of his contract. In other words, they believe they have the right to publish work, but are not obligated to pay the writer no matter what the contract says.
If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.
We are currently in talks with Disney about Mr. Foster’s royalties and are looking forward to a speedy resolution. They have told us that they want to talk to any writers who have a belief that they are owed money.
Disney seems to believe that he is a unique example. We know that he is not. We have heard from enough authors to see a pattern.
If you are a writer experiencing non-payment of royalties, or missing royalty statements, with Disney or its subsidiaries, please report your circumstances to us via this form. We guarantee your anonymity.
If you are not directly affected but wish to help, please use the hashtag #DisneyMustPay to discuss the value of writers and the problems with their position on contracts. You may also donate to SFWA’s legal fund, which helps authors with legal fees in situations like this.
We are committed to continuing conversations with Disney until these contractual issues are satisfactorily resolved.
Mary Robinette Kowal, President, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
Anti-Social Media Platforms & The Erosion of Democracy and Social Justice
(Or, why surveillance capitalism is bad for you and the world)
Part 1 of 3
“Social media, once an enabler, is now the destroyer, building division—‘us against them’ thinking— into the design of their platforms…. It’s time to end the whack-a-mole approach of the technology platforms to fix what they have broken,” – Rappler CEO Maria Ressa
“The past years have offered a wake-up call for those who needed it….Without explicit and enforceable safeguards, the technologies promised to advance democracy will prove to be the ones that undermine it. It is now vital that democracy is made more resilient,” – Marietje Schaake. former EU parliamentarian
Most people, historically, have been
alarmed by intrusions of government and its spying into the lives of ordinary
citizens. But, while our attentions have been fixated on this, we ‘dropped the
ball’ on the far more invasive mining and use of personal data by the large
companies we, all of us, have connections to, however deep and pervasive or fleeting
In 2014, based upon the rising amount of captured data large
companies, led by “social media”
companies, were beginning to harvest and utilize, Shoshana Zubroff coined the
term “surveillance capitalism”
to describe this mountain of personal data accumulating in staggering quantity
each year. It is a business model predicated on harvesting the online user experience and
then manipulating human behavior for monetization, that is, a basic move from processing
internal to mining external data, a handy and lucrative convergence of
enterprise and consumer IT. Now, many of these
mega-companies generate more revenue and exercise more power that all but a
handful of the world’s nations.
In 2016 the World Economic Forum (the
group that meets in Davos every year) reported that of the world’s top 100
global economic entities, (measuring revenue, not GDP) 69 were corporations –
meaning only 31 were countries. Here, in order, were the top 10 entries:
This list might strike the sobering
thought that economic powerhouses like South Korea, Russia, Switzerland and
others were, in fact, further down the list. The trend continues so that by 2018
157 of the top 200 world economic entities by revenue were corporations, not
Here were the top 10 companies in 2016
with their world economic ranking by revenue in parenthesis:
State Grid (14) [a Chinese company]
China National Petroleum (15)
Sinopec Group (16)
Royal Dutch Shell (18)
Exxon Mobil (221)
Toyota Motor (23)
Now, for a 2020 country update, using International Monetary
Fund data: USA and China are still top dogs, Japan and Germany switched
positions, India made an appearance at spot #5, UK and France swapped lanes,
followed by the same three, Italy, Brazil Canada, as in 2016. Rounding out the
next ten countries – but not revenue generation when companies are tossed into
the mix, are Russia, South Korea, Spain, Australia, Mexico, Indonesia,
Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Switzerland.
Showing it is difficult to break into the top 20 countries is
the fact that 17 of these top 20 were also on the list in 1980, that is, 40
For a 2020 update on companies (from Fortune 500 data) we have:
China National Petroleum
Royal Dutch Shell
So why are these figures important? Ah… I am pleased you
For one, it means that many sovereign nations cannot rein in
companies engaging in bad behaviour within their borders – even if and when
they have the desire. Chevron in the Peruvian Amazon comes to mind. Oil
exploration is a dirty business and when little recoverable amounts are found
there is still a mess to clean up – or not. In a place like the Amazon who is going
to see the contamination other than indigenous locals?
But the issues I am getting to here are more about the
so-called ‘social media’ giants, companies we used to think of as having a
In the early years of the internet revolution early adopters of the technology bought into services billed as connecting/informing us at the speed of the electron, prepping us for our lives in the 21st century. These services were, in the main, offered for free as companies, including newsrooms, tried to figure out how to monetize their products. The few ads we would see were bothersome but easy to ignore, especially as they lacked personal focus and sophisticated tracking technology. It reminds me of the early hype of the energy companies with their mascot Ready Kilowatt and the 1954 statement of Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, with his alluring, sloganeering promise to the National Association of Science Writers: “electrical energy too cheap to meter!” – a good example of what we now know as “overpromising & underdelivering.”
In less than twenty years internet coding wizards have made
stratospheric leaps and small startups have combined, morphed and advanced into
extremely sophisticated entities. At the same time we have come to recognize
there is a dark underbelly bolstering the magical kingdom of all-connection,
all-the-time. A 24/7 existence, like so much of life’s general intrusions, is a
I think of surveillance capitalism as a natural outgrowth of a technology and life forewarned in 1956 by the brilliant, if troubled, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. In his novella (made famous by the Spielberg movie) “The Minority Report” three mutants foresee a person’s propensity for committing a ‘future crime’. Their prescience determines the future and freedom, or lack thereof, of ordinary citizen’s based upon criminal actions before they happen. In the same way, surveillance capitalism attempts to predict our future voting, movie-going, book-reading, food shopping, sexual preference… well… all behavior and, subsequently, influence that behavior in a semi-predictable manner, that is, move us toward a specific purchase.
not a purchase exactly, then other economic considerations come into play. A
good example is the selling of ‘spit’ data from the genealogical work performed
by the company 23 & Me, a noted seller of DNA info to ‘third parties’. They
caused a minor tremor in 2018 when they announced the sharing of consumers’
anonymized genetic data with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Sharing is,
of course, a euphemism for ‘selling’; in this case GSK shared $300-million.
While it is hopeful that people with inheritable genetic diseases may well
benefit from this deal in the form of future medicines, data security is never
distant from my mind, especially as data security is, it appears, never in all
ways, secure all the time. Do you really want your health insurance company (who
has always been a gatherer of data that could be used in health/mortality
actuarial practice) rescinding your coverage because you have a 35% chance of
getting motor neuron disease or some other ailment?
Two years ago I was sitting with a friend talking about his new Maserati. An hour later an ad for Maserati popped up on my mobile phone browser during a search for something totally unrelated to cars. That is when I discovered that Google has a division with a huge number of employees developing, listening in and then tweaking their speech and voice components for their algorithms. Turn off your microphones! Siri and Alexa are you listening? (Being highly open to suggestion, I inquired as to whether Google was assisting with monthly car payments but received no answer.)
So, how is all this related to Democracy and Social Justice?
Commercial connections have forever had tentacles entwined
with, and embedded into, governmental components. While governments are often
slow on the uptake of the new (and, to grant and uphold citizen rights) their
bureaucratic nature and love of big data do eventually move the organs of
governance to utilize the lessons of commerce. This learning often first makes
an appearance to ‘improve’ focus on the big picture of where ‘trouble’ among
the rank and file may begin, never mind the trouble may only be citizens
engaging in their constitutionally guaranteed rights of assembly and protest.
But, before we go into more detail here let’s sidestep and read
a little about the
Big Picture & Big Data
That big picture is assisted by ‘big data‘, a term coined in a 1997 scientific paper by NASA. ‘Big data’ is, by definition, unwieldy. It is defined by Wikipedia (even before the Oxford English Dictionary added it to their list) as “an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand data management tools or traditional data processing applications.”
There is a pervasive belief that it is true the more data one accumulates the more answers one has available; that is, quantity is in itself a necessary and sufficient parameter for accurate research. But AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information, one of the leading lights in data and its management, writes that, “We want students and consumers of our research to understand that volume isn’t sufficient to getting good answers… [the] School challenges students in the online Master of Information and Data Science program to approach data with intentionality, beginning with the way they talk about data. They learn to dig deeper by asking basic questions: Where does the data come from? How was it collected and was the process ethical? What kinds of questions can this data set answer, and which can it not?… We run the risk of forgetting why we collect data in the first place: to make our world better through granular details,… The way we talk about data matters, because it shapes the way we think about data. And the ways we apply, fund, and support data today will shape the future of our society.”
The school says this process is part of ‘data science’. A more useful shorthand than big data, the words imply a rigorous approach to analytics and data mining. This view espouses that, “a data set is not so much a painting to be admired but a window to be utilized; scientists use data to see the world and our society’s problems more clearly.”
Another definition of big data, from the McKinsey Global Institute, is “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.” This has been tackled in the past two decades by trimming big data down to size. Data scientists have created new tools for collecting, storing, and analyzing these vast amounts of information. “In some sense, the ‘big’ part has become less compelling,” according to Berkeley’s Saxenian.
A Quick Lesson in Data Volumes: The volume of data in a single file or file system can be described by a unit called a byte. However, data volumes can become very large when dealing with, say, Earth satellite data. Below is a table to explain data volume units (credit Roy Williams, Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology).
Kilo- means 1,000; a Kilobyte is one thousand bytes.
Mega- means 1,000,000; a Megabyte is a million bytes.
Giga- means 1,000,000,000; a Gigabyte is a billion bytes.
Tera- means 1,000,000,000,000; a Terabyte is a trillion bytes.
Peta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000; a Petabyte is 1,000 Terabytes.
Exa- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000; an Exabyte is 1,000 Petabytes.
Zetta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000; a Zettabyte is 1,000 Exabytes.
Yotta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000; a Yottabyte is 1,000 Zettabytes
We will return to this later
in a discussion of social media algorithms.
Governments have always been nervous about protest of any
kind. The validity of such jitters was brought home with the ability of mass
movements’ non-violent action in bringing down governments of Warsaw Pact
countries and the Soviet Union itself, felling them like phantom dominoes in Southeast
Asia. Similar events shook the Islamic countries with the ‘Arab Spring’
Governments like using a scattershot approach to try and corral the proverbial needle in a haystack. Certainly we all want the authorities to catch terrorists seeking to do our country harm. But, is a record of all the telephone calls in the country, in real time, going to assist that endeavor? The ubiquitous use of cellular communications lends itself to lax control even for bad actors. So, as listening to U.S. citizen’s phone calls without a judge’s warrant is illegal, perhaps simply getting a list of all the outgoing and incoming numbers being called by people in the U.S., and the duration of the calls, might be helpful? It is that word ‘might’ that bothers me. I’ve no problem with law enforcement requesting and receiving records after an arrest, or the request for a wiretap with probable cause, but the uncontrolled amassing of the 3Vs (volume, variety, velocity – see graph, below) is troubling. A few years ago I was happy to read that when the administration wanted to monitor the mobile phone records of everyone in the United States all the big companies, except for my carrier, T-Mobile, rolled over without requiring probable cause warrants or even administrative subpoenas.
Less than an hour ago I ended one of the most informative and entertaining Zoom sessions I have ever had: Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward speaking as part of the ending ceremony of our 2020 ‘Journalism Under Fire’ conference in Santa Fe.
The president would not talk to Woodward for his book titled “Fear” released in 2018. After publication White House staff told the president the information in the book was basically true and accurate, so he agreed to talk to Woodward for the latest book “Rage”.
Woodward observed that one way of getting an interview is just to show up. Many today use email or telephones or texts to conduct interviews but do not go that extra mile to show up in person. Covid-19 put a stop to most in-person interviews so he and Trump talked by phone, usually at night which suited Woodward because of an adage he holds dear: “Lies in the Day, Truth at Night.”
During the nine months they talked on the phone President Trump did not let anyone at the White House know he was talking with Woodward and, upon publication, lashed out at the book but has since said he read the book and is pleased that he got many of his points out there in its pages.
A topic of current interest was touched upon in our Zoom meeting: presidential pardons. In 1998 Woodward interview Gerald Ford and asked him why he never pressed Nixon for an admission of guilt. Ford pulled out his wallet. He went thru the wallet and found a small, folded old newspaper clipping and showed it to Woodward. It had an article about a US Supreme Court decision from 1915 reading, in part, “Acceptance, as well as delivery, of a pardon is essential to its validity”, that is, an acceptance of a pardon is admission of guilt. [Note: The case was Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79. Quaere – whether the President of the United States may exercise the pardoning power before conviction. “The facts, which involve the effect of a pardon of the President of the United States tendered to one who has not been convicted of a crime nor admitted the commission thereof, and also the necessity of acceptance of a pardon in order to make it effective, are stated in the opinion.”]
Woodward ended our Zoom with a story he has told before. After Nixon resigned Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham sent a note she had written on a yellow legal pad to Woodward & Bernstein. On it she had written a statement mentioning that their work had been important in bringing down a president and ending with a warning that all of us may take to heart: “Beware the demon pomposity”.
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.
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.
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).
“Mixing business with pleasure since 1965.” – Baron Wolman, Santa Fe, New Mexico
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!”
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.
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.
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!
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.
[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!
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,”