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I enjoyed learning this chapter of Omaha's history in this morning's paper. Father Flanagan of Boystown helped hundreds of Japanese leave internment camps and come live on the farm here in Omaha. Flanagan objected to the internment. “I see no disaster threatening us because of any particular race, creed or color,” Flanagan said around this time. “But I do see danger for all in an ideology which discriminates against anyone politically or economically because he or she was born into the ‘wrong’ race, has skin of the ‘wrong’ color or worships at the ‘wrong’ altar.” Another example of Flanagan's Christian... Continue reading
In this CNN article about today's SCOTUS decision on the (immoral) travel ban, the key paragraph is this one: "That's going to be an extreme headache. Think about how the people at the border, at airports are going to make that decision," said Page Pate, CNN legal analyst. "Who is going to make this decision? If we leave it to the folks on the front line, that's just going to lead to more litigation." SCOTUS often seems unaware of the real world implications of their decisions. This could sow unnecessary chaos. They should have maintained the hold until they ruled... Continue reading
A beautiful essay on the life of the mind by philosopher Roger Scruton engaged me as I drank coffee this morning. Continue reading
Missing Person by Patrick Modiano My rating: 2 of 5 stars The story improved as I read, but it all hangs on such an improbable series of developments at the beginning that I couldn't suspend my disbelief and go along. I did appreciate the haunting mood created by loss of memory and identity during the Nazi occupation of France. View all my reviews Continue reading
This interesting article points out that the memo is a weapon Trump doesn't understand because he's never worked within an institution with a bureaucracy that checked his personal power. Continue reading
David Brooks reminds us to not get carried away about the Russia investigation, that there are many more and more important reasons that Trump is a danger. There’s just something worrisome every time we find ourselves replacing politics of democracy with the politics of scandal. In democracy, the issues count, and you try to win by persuasion. You recognize that your opponents are legitimate, that they will always be there and that some form of compromise is inevitable. In the politics of scandal, at least since Watergate, you don’t have to engage in persuasion or even talk about issues. Political... Continue reading
Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o My rating: 2 of 5 stars This novel was written on toilet paper while the author was in prison and is the first modern novel written in Gikuyu. Ngũgĩ is often mentioned as a likely Nobel winner plus I had read about this novel in a work of postcolonial theology. So I was looking forward to it and was disappointed. The story critiques capitalism and colonialist exploitation but it does so in a heavy handed way that reminded me of The Man Who Was Thursday or The Great Divorce--novels that get too... Continue reading
The New Abolition: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel by Gary Dorrien My rating: 4 of 5 stars After emancipation leaders in the Black church had to cope with new realities--segregation and lynching. This is the story of the generation that developed the Black Social Gospel and laid the groundwork for the liberation efforts of the Civil Rights generation of the middle twentieth century. Besides DuBois, many of the people covered in this volume are mostly unknown. And the stories of political struggles and personal relationships equal the stories of the early centuries of Christianity as... Continue reading
Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns by John P. Avlon My rating: 4 of 5 stars Off and on for the last three years this has been my downstairs-bathroom-reading. A delightful and informative collection of great newspaper columns that illustrates the artistry of this genre. Two I have remembered most. One by Charles McDowell in which he wrote about the day that Nixon resigned and how normal it was for most people. That column is a powerful statement of the strength of our Republic. And the other is Jimmy Breslin's column about Parkland Hospital on the day that JFK was... Continue reading
Well, this is cool news. Scientists have discovered that the brain works by creating multi-dimensional structures. Read the article in Newsweek here (though I puzzled by a few places where their nouns and verbs don't agree. Come on Newsweek). I loved this description--"The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates." Continue reading
I was puzzled by the Jeff Sessions hearing yesterday, primarily at a number of questions that weren't asked, questions that seemed obvious to me. Instead a lot of time was spent circling around some topics that I didn't think were all that interesting. No, I don't think Jeff Sessions openly colluded with the Russian government to steal the election, but he may have been unwittingly played by them. But here were the questions I wanted answers to and while some Senators got close to these, none of them asked these: What was the purpose of your meetings with Ambassador Kislyak?... Continue reading
George Washington Woodbey, was a black minister who ran for lieutenant governor of Nebraska in 1896. He later became a Socialist speaker and according to Gary Dorrien's The New Abolition, "He got a movement going in Omaha, speaking every night in the streets and parks. A Nebraska comrade later told Socialist organizer A. W. Ricker, 'Omaha had never had the crowds that attended Woodbey's meetings.'" I'm intrigued to learn more about this chapter of Omaha history. The Bible is loaded with normative ethical statements bearing on politics, Woodbey stressed. More precisely, the Bible is loaded with Socialism. Woodbey marshaled biblical... Continue reading
A column in the Times explores how Trump is representative of the original meaning of the word idiot--"a prepubescent, parasitic solipsist who talks only to himself." It became clear to me during his inaugural speech that he is a pathetic little man. The idiot is a danger to public life, as the Greeks understood: The idiot cares nothing about public life, much less public service. The idiot cares only about his own name. The idiot, by way of his actions, can destroy the social body. Eventually, the idiot destroys himself, but in so doing, potentially annihilates everyone along with him.... Continue reading
Walter Francis White led the NAACP from 1931-1955. He could pass for white and exploited that as an investigator. As Gary Dorrien writes, he "undertook assignments in the South, passing for white to investigate lynchings. Risking his life repeatedly, White investigated forty-one lynchings and eight race riots." In 1929 he published Rope and Faggot: An Interview with Judge Lynch in which he concluded that "lynching mania could only have occurred in a Christian society." He "equated racist terrorism with fundamentalism." He wrote: It is the Christian South, boasting of its imperviousness to the heretical doctrines of modernism, that mutilates and... Continue reading
This morning I read the profile of Dan Dennett in the March 27 New Yorker. It is a delightful portrait, but I found myself surprised in a few places as I was agreeing with Dennett. I've never felt agreement with Dennett other than on the basic point that I'm a physicalist and not a dualist, though I characterize the physical in a way that is pan-experientialist and he doesn't. But reading here his view seems closer to mine than I had ever thought before. Particularly at this point: He told Chalmers that there didn't have to be a hard boundary... Continue reading
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie My rating: 1 of 5 stars This novel did do two things I found interesting: 1) Provide some interesting social commentary on the United States from the perspective of a black African immigrant and 2) Give some perspective on contemporary life in urban Nigeria. However, I did not think it was a good book, in either sense of that term. I believe most good books--the classics that persist through time--are those which have moral depth and wrestle in some meaningful way with the profound issues of life. I thought this book skated across the surface.... Continue reading
"Until he started school at the age of seven," Gary Dorrien writes about Adam Clayton Powell, Senior, who was born in in 1865, "he had one piece of clothing, a shirt made of a bleached flour sack. His bed was a bag filled with cornhusks. In decent crop years he ate corn and wheat; at other times he had to subsist on dried apples and black-eyed peas." But he was whip smart. On his first day of school, he memorized the alphabet. He soon memorized the Gospel of John. Powell characterized himself as a Progressive and not as a Fundamentalist... Continue reading
It is a fresh, crisp spring morning with just enough coolness in the air, cool that's been missing the last few days, cool that has refreshingly returned. I brewed some tea and sat on the back patio and listened to Bob Dylan's Nobel lecture for a second time today: Then, I read some stanzas from Desire Moving Through Maps of Matter by Adonis and encountered this great question: "How can I convince al-Ghazzali to see his soul with Nietzsche's light?" Indeed! The next line: "I'll remind him: You've been traveling toward the world since its creation but you have not... Continue reading
In an, at times, beautiful column, David Brooks writes that People have moral emotions. They feel rage at injustice, disgust toward greed, reverence for excellence, awe before the sacred and elevation in the face of goodness. People yearn for righteousness. They want to feel meaning and purpose in their lives, that their lives are oriented toward the good. People are attracted by goodness and repelled by selfishness. Yet, the Trump administration "dismiss [es] this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.... Continue reading
"Preachers, teachers, leaders , welfare workers ought to address themselves to the supreme task of teaching the entire [African-American] race to glorify what it has--its face (its color); its place (its homes and communities); its grace (its spiritual endowment)," wrote Nannie H. Burroughs the founding leader of the Women's Convention Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention and one of the founders of the Black Social Gospel in Gary Dorrien's The New Abolition. I'm glad to have discovered Burroughs through this book. Of her Dorrien writes, "Burroughs brushed off conservative male constraints and middle-class family conventions, stressing something that made her... Continue reading
Conservative Jennifer Rubin writes about how embarrassing Trump's tweets were after the London attack and how they reveal his complete lack of moral character. Here are the choice excerpts: One is prompted to ask if he is off his rocker. But this is vintage Trump — impulsive and cruel, without an ounce of class or human decency. His behavior no longer surprises us, but it should offend and disturb us, first, that he remains the face and voice of America in the world and, second, that his fans hoot and holler, seeing this as inconsequential or acceptable conduct. We wound... Continue reading
Astrophysicist Adam Frank takes the very long view in response to Trump's anti-climate decision and the view is not pretty. On Thursday, folly won — and now we face the consequences. Under even the most charitable assessments, climate change is going to stress the deeply interconnected world we've built. There is a great deal of fragility in the multiple overlapping networks on which our project of civilization depends (food, energy, economic, communication). If things fall on the "really hard" side of the spectrum, then consequences like a collapse of those systems is not unimaginable. That's why Thursday, the day a... Continue reading