Yak Yak Yak

I am writing this under subpar, and subzero conditions. There’s no heat. I’m wearing more layers than an onion. Perhaps this will put me in the right mind frame as last night I went to a Nepalese restaurant to hear Nepalese music. As the feels-like temperature was below 0°F I dressed appropriately; that included the aforementioned mittens, and a hat, both from Nepal My theory is that if you dress for extreme weather dress like the people who live in extreme weather. I was positively toasty.

What brought me to Jackson Heights on a night like that, Amy’s band. It has a name. Sunday is in the name. I’m just going to call it Amy’s band. Everyone else in it is Nepalese. Every person in the restaurant other than Amy and I was from Nepal. We were the only ones speaking English. This was authentic. The restaurant is the Himalayan Yak. Guess what I ate; yak sausage. I also had a wonderful shish-kabob that had spices on it I never tasted before. I like Nepalese food.

How did Amy, a Jersey girl trained in classical viola that moved on to Celtic fiddling find herself in a Nepalese Rock band? She visited Nepal and fell in love with the Nepalese fiddle, the sarangi. She found out that one of the best Sarangi players, Shayam, lived in Boston. She met him, moved to Boston with him, and this is his band. She’s the only American and only woman in the band. They sing in Nepalese. I did not follow the lyrics.

People don’t appreciate America’s soft power. Here was a band of people from Nepal playing American Rock and Roll, with a Nepalese twist. In addition to the standard electric guitar, bass, and drums, Shayam played his Sarangi and Nepalese drums. Amy played the violin. Some songs could be American translated into another language, others showed more Himalayan influence. It was a blending of cultures. That’s not appropriation, it’s civilization.

I was not just the only person of western descent in the audience, I was also the oldest. This was a young club crowd. There was dancing. The band that followed Amy’s reminded me of Great Big Sea. Watching the kids dance was like watching Canadians. Some things are universal.

I got to talk to Amy for the first time since she moved. That was as important as the music. She’s one of those people that just makes me happy.

The ride home did not go smoothly. I got on the F train, planning on switching to the D at Rockefeller Center. I got involved in reading and didn’t notice that it was running on the E like. There were no announcements made. So I missed the easy transfer at 7th Avenue and didn’t notice the change till I got to 50th street on 8th Ave. I had to walk over to 6th to get the D. It gave me appreciation just how warm my jacket is. I didn’t put on my hat, just used the hood, and stayed warm. Under the jacket I had on my alpaca sweater from Ecuador, As the name implies, Ecuador is on the equator, so you wouldn’t expect it to be cold, but the Andes run through it and the high Andes, like the Himalayas get cold. There were major delays on the D train for reasons that were not explained. The trip home which should have taken about an hour took an hour and 45 minutes.

Hey, the apartment is warming up. I can take my Ecuadorian mittens off. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was cold in here. Some other layers are coming off as soon as I’m done with this. I took them off. I’m regretting it. I might have to move into the kitchen. I have the oven on and it’s keeping it warm.

My plan was to go out tonight to see Andrea Asprelli but as I got in late I didn’t get much sleep. I’ll have to play this by ear. I have music plans the next two nights.

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The Conscience of the King

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Why do we have holidays? It isn’t just so we can have three-day-weekend getaways, important as that is. We have holidays to remind us of things we need to never forget, the struggle for Independence, those that died in war, the things we are thankful for, the struggles of the working person. Today is more specific, it’s to remember one man, Martin Luther King. King was not a president, he was not a founding father. He had no official position in America, but he had an unofficial position of great importance, the conscience of a nation.

He was a man and thus imperfect. That does not diminish his accomplishments. Imperfect people can accomplish great things. It is the great things we honor, not the man. It is the great things that we hope will inspire we imperfect humans to greatness, or at least to goodness. We celebrate Dr. King not to revel in the past but to improve the future. Dead these 52 years he still has things to teach us; we can still learn his gospel.

So I’m going to ask you to do something today to make the world better, to make America better, to make yourself better. I’m going to post here his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It’s not short. It’s not stirring like I Had a Dream; it is thoughtful, it is analytical, and it is persuasive. So read it and expose yourself to what are still new ideas. Dr. King could keep many competing ideas in his head and heart at the same time; a skill we can all learn. The letter is addressed to the “moderates” in the clergy. King accepts the mantle of extremist but in ways that are too often ignored. He was an extremist without hate. He called and believe that all men are brothers and sisters. He rejected not just the violence but the nihilism of Elijah Mohammed. He understood that we can reject the monstrosity of segregation without rejecting American ideals. He didn’t want to trample his opponents but convert them. This is a no less radical agenda than violent revolution. He didn’t want to win, he wanted to make the world better. We should all do the same.

So now I’ll end my words and leave you with those of Martin Luther King. Read them, read all of them. Read them and don’t just think how others should change but how you should. These words were directed at the moderate clergy but they now belong to all of us.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr.

You Probably Haven’t Heard Volume 3

I’m forcing myself to do a homework assignment today, add ten more acts to my You Probably Haven’t Heard List. I love to write about music and I love to make lists, but somehow it takes an effort to do this. I was happy to discover that I made things somewhat easier for myself by making a list of artists to add as I went along for a while. Too bad I didn’t continue with that. I have to start again. When I see an artist that belongs just add them to the list of bands to write about. If I were really good I’d right the blurb then. It’s much easier to write about musicians that I had just heard. I am dropping two acts from my list as I had only seen them once and now can’t remember what I loved, just that I loved them.

I gave myself this assignment because I stayed in last night and don’t have much to write about. I was supposed to see Joshua Garcia but between a bad night’s sleep and threats of a snowstorm I stayed home. The meteorologists got the temperature wrong by a few degrees, the snow became rain. The venue was right near the subway. I should have gone. On the bright side this left me time to make a proper dinner and eat it without rushing. There’s a lot to be said for sitting home, watching Netflix, and sipping hot chocolate. There is not a lot to write about.

Now I’m going to put on my blurb writing hat. Hey, think I could get paid to write blurbs and press releases? That would be very nice. Enough putting it off, here are ten musical acts that you probably haven’t heard but need to know. This is required reading for people booking concert series and festivals. Three is no disputing tastes, what I love is objectively good, everyone else is wrong The order is alphabetical as otherwise I’d spend 29 hours trying to figure out the “right” order.

  • B: I’ve known B for six years but their music has undergone such a transformation that they count as a new discovery. B has gone from being virtuoso mandolin player to be a brilliant and unique songwriter. How did an 18-year-old acquire such depth? The songs are deeply personal without being self-involved. One mark of great songwriting is making the personal, universal. Your issues are not the same as B’s but you’ll recognize the feelings they generate. The musical virtuosity did not disappear, the playing is often not as showy, so as to put the lyrics in the foreground, but the quality is still exceptional. B’s voice is beautiful but more importantly the singing comes straight from the soul.
  • Barnaby Bright: I feel like I’ve always known Barnaby Bright, but it has only been eight years. They were the first band I discovered at my first NERFA, 2010. Though their music is not similar, I always think of them as the Kennedys the next generation. Becky and Nathan Bliss are a married couple. He is a brilliant instrumentalist, originally on saxophone but now guitar, and Becky sings like an angel, a spooky angel. Though they are upbeat and cheerful their music often, but not always, has a haunted feel. Becky plays guitar, keyboard, harmonium, and kalimba. The last two give the music a non-western tone. They are simultaneously accessible and exotic.
  • Emerald Rae: I first saw Emerald in July but she has rapidly become part of my world. Since then she’s played Budgiedome and John Platt’s On Your Radar. She has not yet played any of the coffeehouses or house concerts hosted by my friends. I’m writing this in the hopes that won’t be true in a year. Her background is in Celtic Fiddling but moved into the singer/songwriter sphere. Nobody can sing and simultaneously fiddle as well as her. She can sing, she can play, she can entertain, she hits all the marks. Nobody wins me over by sending me an unsolicited recording, but she did. Emerald went from 0 to favorite in 5 seconds.
  • Emily Elbert: Emily played Budgiedome as an 18-year-old folky girl with an acoustic guitar. She was not just another sensitive chick with guitar. If she remained that way she’d still make this list. But she didn’t, she became a jazz dynamo on electric guitar. In a perfect world she’d have the money to tour with a band. I’m lucky, she can usually find a band in New York so can play the songs as she hears them in her head. It’s jazz, with rock energy, and folk lyrics.
  • Eric Lee: Like many people I discovered Eric as the brilliant violinist in the Strangelings. He is a part of the Falcon Ridge House band. He’s a master of many styles and can pick up a fiddle and join with anyone. He could have a great career as a sideman, but wanted more. Living in the folk milieu, surrounded by people like the Kennedys and Tracy Grammer he wanted to write. He has always written but now it’s coming to the fore. It’s difficult to sing and play violin at the same time, at least if you’re not Emerald Rae, and picked up the guitar. He became a virtuoso on six strings in addition to four. And he can write. Not just one style, but many, he can be poetic like Dave Carter, folk anthemic like Pete Seeger, and quirky weird like, well, Eric Lee. In the last year he’s taken it to a new level. If you have not seen him then, then you don’t know what he has to offer.
  • Heather Pierson: Where had Heather been hiding all my life? Good thing she did a gig with Carolann Solebello and I discovered her glory. She’s a wide-ranging genre defying artist. She plays banjo and guitar, and solo or with a trio, but I always think of her home as at the piano, and of course the queen of instruments, the melodica. She can go trad, she can go jazz, and she can go blues. She can sound like someone from the Appalachians, which she technically is, the part in New Hampshire, or Nawlins. She has both dynamism and musicianship. You’ll love her.
  • Joshua Garcia: If you follow the link you’ll find that Joshua aka Jr doesn’t have a webpage. He doesn’t have an album. What he has in an outsized talent. He’s not a good, but a great songwriter. His songs are good enough that he could get by with merely functional guitar playing but it’s not. It’s excellent. And the man can sing. He might write like Dylan but his voice is beautiful, and like Dylan the singing comes from the heart. When he makes that album. Watch out. It’s going to make waves.
  • Kaia Kater: Kaia is another artist that transformed. I met her as a 21-year-old old-type banjo player that did seated foot percussion. She’s a Canadian that went to West Virginia to study the music. Now she sings soulful songs that you might expect from Nina Simone. She still usually plays banjo and can still play banjo and in a longer set than I recently saw might bring back the old-time. She blew me away on the old-time and blows me away on the ballads. Is there anything she can’t do? What’s next opera? Rock? Whatever she chooses she can do it.
  • Steph Jenkins: I met Steph as a member of the old-time band, The Calamity Janes. She’s someone that I would often see as part of the Brooklyn music scene, as often in the audience as on the stage. She too got the songwriting bug and made an EP, End to End. It was brilliant. She’s another polymath, she can play, sing, write, and in real life is a documentary producer who works with Ken Burns? How do I not hate her? Oh right, she’s also a delightful person.
  • TAARKA: TAARKA is the married duo of Enion and David Pelter-Tiller. I’d like to think that if you saw TAARKA without hearing about them you’d think, “Gordon would love them.” They are a band designed with me in mind. They don’t do just one thing, They do progressive folk, gypsy jazz, string band, and whatever else they want to. The are bursting with creativity. You know why you go to see TAARKA as you won’t hear what they play anywhere else. They are artists, not craftsmen. They have a connection with another artist on the list, Enion taught B fiddle when B was 11.

As I wrote these blurbs I saw the common thread of transformation, B, Emily, Eric, Emerald, Kaia, and Steph have all changed genres. Heather and TAARKA play multiple genres within a show. When people think “folk music” or the music that I like, they think of a solo artist on acoustic guitar. The only one on this list that describes is Joshua. Any of these artists, including Joshua, will be a change from the usual fare at coffeehouses and house concerts.

This took me most of the afternoon to write. I bet many of you will be surprised what I’m going to watch on Netflix after this is posted, The Punisher. I love that stuff.

(The Sea)²

I’m listening to the complete Beethoven String Quartets as I write this. That’s over 8 hours of music. I could listen to it straight through. There’s not a lot of music I can say that about. I could do the complete Coltrane too. For now I’ll just for as long as it takes me to write this.

That was not a good introductory paragraph. I learned in school that you should establish the main ideas in the introduction. We’ll consider that paragraph and this, the preface and the forward. The entry starts after this.

Yesterday was a busy day, therapy, my first time at an old restaurant, and seeing The Sea The Sea at City Vineyard. It was my first time at the venue. The thing that makes it a long day is that therapy is in Harrison, quite a bit north of New York City, and City Vineyard is in Tribeca, far south Manhattan.

Therapy was interesting as I told her about scheduling my cataract surgery. It’s amazing how happy people get when I tell them about it. I think it’s because they’re tired of hearing my Mr. Magoo jokes. After the surgery I’ll go back to comparing myself to Perry the Platypus. My role models have always been animated. Is it sad that saying things like that is one of the things I like most about myself? Even if it is, it’s good for my mental health. I’m being free to be me.

The exciting thing about the trip into the city is that I got to use the MetroNorth ticket I had left over from when I went to Fairfield to see Caravan of Thieves. It expires next month and I find it very unlikely I’ll be traveling up there before then.

City Vineyard is owned by City Winery, the food is expensive; so I didn’t want to eat there. I asked the all-knowing Google for a restaurant suggestion in the area. It came up with Walker’s on N. Moore and Varick. That is exactly where the 1 train leaves me off, the location was perfect. The review said it had the best bar food in the city. I didn’t have anything exciting, a burger and fries, but they were both made perfectly. Is it the best? Probably not, is it very good? Yes.

The Vineyard is on Pier 26, which as you might guess is on the Hudson River. That means walking all the way west. It was a not long but weird walk. There was hardly anybody on the streets on the way there. That neighborhood becomes a ghost town at night. Part of me likes that, I love the bustle of New York Streets but there’s always something peaceful about being alone in public places.

I got to the venue and asked for a seat down front. I was alone but I knew Ellen was coming so I told the host so they’d save a seat for her near me. It ended up that she was with her friend, Bob? Bill? One of those, but after playing musical chairs we all had seats together. The problem was that the other person at the table was saving seats but did not tell the hostess that or put anything on them. Pro tip, when saving seats don’t keep it a secret.

A little while later, Gene and Isabel came in. I thought I’d see them. They had been to the Vineyard before and sat in their usual seats. If I weren’t blind might like them. But I am Magoo. While I went over to talk to them Gidge came in. He was by myself and as there was one more seat at our table, I asked him to join us. A night I went out solo ended up being quite social.

Do you know what else happened yesterday, other than socializing, commuting, and eating? There was music at the concert! Imagine that. The Sea the Sea, are there supposed to be commas? Spent the last year performing as a quartet. Last night it was back to the original duo, Chuck and Mira. I don’t think there’s another band that I’ve been with closer to the beginning than them. They sang in Budgiedome before they ever did a gig or had a name. I was immediately enraptured. They are one of my favorite bands to write about because there are reasons that I like them, reasons I can identify, reasons that I’ve discussed with them. They are pretty much the best musicians to talk music with. They have equals but no superiors. It was clearest when I heard Mira talking to Gene so I could see it from the outside. There was no talking down to the layman. Mira got exciting about things and it gushed forth. That makes it sound emotional, but it’s also analytical. They are my people. Mira loves math! She just said that out of the blue.

I’m still not talking about music, I’m talking about talking about music. Now to focus. What makes them great is that the phone nothing in, they are never on autopilot. Every note, every word, every harmony, has a purpose in advancing the song. The first thing everyone notices is how well their voices blend. It’s what caught my ear that first time. But now I hear so much more. Even in a section of simple harmony where they stay a third or a fifth from each other they vary things. Before I’ve noticed how one will get a little or ahead of the other. Last night I caught how even on a held note they change things up slightly changing their volume so now one, then the other is louder. You don’t have to hear that to appreciate it. I never did before. What your mind hears is “that harmony is perfect.”

I used to love Bob Ross, watching him paint was fascinating. My favorite part was that to me a painting would look complete, then he’d had a little line, or a little shading, and all of a sudden the picture dramatically changed for the better. That’s what Chuck and Mira do, they put in the details that turn the good into the great.

After the show I sold merch and schmoozed. Chuck is local and had family there. His mother remembered me and came over to say hello. I told her that she did a great job. He said that he’s a great kid. I had trouble figuring out her accent. Later I was talking to Chuck and the subject of accents came up and he told me that she grew up in Norway and moved to New York as an adult. You would never guess that she was not a native speaker. She has picked up New Yorkerisms. I was thinking the south? The Midwest? I heard something layered under the New York but couldn’t pin it down.

I found Chuck talking to two friends, Erin and JJ. Erin is Mira’s childhood friend, they grew up in West Virginia. Both speak English, not West Virginiaese. This is where the accent discussion came from. The one place where Chuck’s mother’s accent comes out is she reverses W and V and so will say Vest Wirginia. It’s difficult, try it, but it’s how I want to say it for now on. I’m talking to the three of them and mention Deni, I know that Chuck knows Deni as Deni was a regular on Mountain Stage and Mira’s father words on the show. He’s the bandleader now. As soon as I said, “Deni;” Erin goes, Deni Bonet? It’s a tiny world and her father was in a band with Deni. I’m mad that I’m blanking on their name. They sounded amazing, prog folk and performance art. They’d mix in comedy. I never heard them and they are already my favorite band.

I ended up being the last to leave, not my plan. The walk on the subway home was a bit longer, I had to walk to the E train. It was nice to walk alone, after all that time socializing and sitting then standing. It was a nice transition.

It’s late now but I won’t tell you about today as I need things to write about tomorrow. No I will tell you. I want to force myself to remember to add ten more acts to my You Probably Haven’t Heard list.

I was going to go out tonight and see the amazing Joshua Garcia but between the weather turning bad and my spending half the day sleeping I probably won’t. As I write that I realized that I’m no longer sleepy and I’m tempted. I’ll have to make sure it hasn’t been canceled.

I didn’t have a great night’s sleep. If the breath right strip is not properly placed my breathing problems interfere with my sleep. At least now, most nights I wake up rested. I used up my last eggs for breakfast. The question was, is it worth getting dressed and going out when there’s a good chance the store will be out of eggs. As I’m sure you know, if there is a hint of snow people worry that there will never be deliveries again and empty the shelves of perishables. I hate when I need milk or eggs before a snowstorm. I was still up in the air when I noticed that I had a text from CVS, I had prescriptions waiting for me. That mean I was going out anyway so of course I went for eggs. I was shocked to find that the dollar store where I buy my eggs was fully stocked. Are people in this area of the Bronx more intelligent than others and know that snow doesn’t mean the end of civilization? I am proud of my neighborhood. The store is in Norwood, the other side of Mosholu parkway. I live in Bedford Park.

I have a feeling that tonight, and maybe quite a bit over the next few days I’ll be sitting home drinking hot chocolate. Damn! I should have bought mini-marshmallows. I’m not going out just for them.

Live and Let Dilate

I’m getting cataract surgery! Yesterday I had my first appointment with Dr. Schultz. Unlike the last time I attempted this, one visit was enough. As of February 4, I should no longer be blind.

What a relief. I haven’t been able to see well in years. First I didn’t have insurance. Then I had insurance but was anxious about using it. Then I finally got up the nerve and set things up. Then my insurance ran out. Now I’m finally getting it done. I’ll have a lot to discuss in therapy today.

Dr. Schultz’s office is in the main Montefiore campus, just a short walk from home. The appointment was for 1:45 but they told me to be there at 1:00. I didn’t get there till 1:15 because of a series of delays; the most serious is that I forgot my sunglasses. I was told to bring them because my eyes were to be dilated. I had to go back and get them.

It was all academic. When I got there I put my name on a sign-in sheet. That’s what they go by, not your appointment time. After 20 minutes my name was called. That didn’t mean I went in to see the doctor. It meant I got to go to a second waiting room and sign in there. I had similar issues at Mt. Sinai, they were worse. I waited for hours there.

While I was in the second room Dan joined me. I had asked him to come as it’s best to have someone with you when you leave because they dilate your eyes and that impairs your already impaired vision. I was Mr. Magoo.

Once I went in things not only ran efficiently but I very much liked the people I deal with. First I saw Winston. As I call him by his first name you know he’s not a doctor. He’s a technician. He was great, we were able to joke around. His job was testing my vision then taking pictures of my eyes. I’ve had my vision checked countless times but this was the first time that I looked at an eye chart in a mirror. I figured out why. It means they needed only half the space. The chart was behind me and the mirror on the far wall. So I was looking at something twice the room length away. He didn’t tell me my vision, just that it was awful. I knew that.

Then he put me in the machine where with the chin holder and forehead rest. He shined a light in my eyes and I looked at his ear. He took pictures. Next came the dilation. He put the drops in. Anyone know how those work? How does a drop on the outside of your cornea affect the iris inside it? What does it do? Make the muscle contract?

After the drops were in I had to go back to the waiting room for them to take effect. I had fun talking to Dan and noticing him and the TV getting blurrier and blurrier. I’m easily amused. As I have often pointed out I do well in medical situations. Everything gives me anxiety but a hospital setting just piques my interest.

With my eyes dilated Winston took more pictures. Then the doctor came in and looked at my eyes. At first I though him cold, but he wasn’t. He just gets businesslike when taking his notes which he voice records. The examination looks weird as he examines my eyes though multiple lenses. No more those little ophthalmoscopes they used most of my eyes. He doesn’t put his head inches from mine. He shined a bright blue light into my eyes. That was a bit painful. I had a red after-image that lasted minutes.

After the examination we talked. He explained that he can’t tell me that I need surgery, I have to tell him that I want it. He explained the risks. I didn’t have to think. I have wanted this surgery for years. He asked if I would rather be able to walk around without glasses but need reading glasses or need glasses to walk around but not for reading. I thought about it and chose reading glasses. I came up with an invention. Flip up reading glasses, like the flip up sunglasses ballplayers used to use. That would be far easier than taking my glasses on and off as I teach. Anyone want to go into business with me and make them? We’ll become zillionaires.

Then came even more tests. I saw this wonderful technician, the best of the lot, and I forgot her name. Her job was to measure my cataracts. First it was done with a camera that looks like what Winston used but the light was much brighter. I stared at a red dot of light, it looked like HAL from 2001. Then a bright light would go on. I couldn’t blink. That takes some effort. It was repeated with me blinking between measurements. She did my right eye than my left. My left is worse, that has made me right-eyed. I kept both eyes open during the procedure. With the right eye I saw the red light in a dark tunnel. With my left eye the light appeared to come from the tech’s face. I tried to change my focus to what my left eye saw but I couldn’t hold it. If you ever used a telescope or a microscope you were taught to keep both eyes open and just concentrate on what the eye in the scope saw. It’s the same skill.

Then came an ultrasound of my eye. A nurse came and put drops in to numb my eyes. Then the tech touched my eye with what looked like a pen with a light in it. I couldn’t feel anything. I would not know she was touching me if she didn’t tell me. After that I could schedule my appointment for surgery.

The appointment person, what would her title be? Was also great. She started saying, “The earliest appointment we have is … “ I was afraid I’d hear April. But no, it was February 4, two and a half weeks away. I was so relieved. They are going to do my left eye first; makes sense as that’s the worse one. Will I need new glasses? A clear lens on the left eye and a coke bottle on the right? Or is it not worth it as the other surgery will soon follow so I can get by in the mean time with one working eye?

The day was a lesson in modern medical economics. Medical technician is one of the fastest growing fields. I saw one doctor but two techs, a nurse, the scheduler, that sounds like the right title, and one woman who never introduced herself that guided me around. Then there were the two receptionists. That’s a lot of jobs, and for the most part skilled well-paying jobs. Factories are not the only places for people to work.

Dan guided me home. He said he was going to walk me into trees, take video of it, and post it on YouTube. Even though everything was very blurry I could still navigate. I could see the trees. I walked into one, but that was for Dan’s amusement. I also talked to a water cooler and acted like I thought it was Dan. I watched a lot of Mr. Magoo as a kid. Classic humor holds up.

When I got home I couldn’t use my computer or watch TV. I was still blind. I did something I never do, I listened to a podcast on my phone, radio-lab. I used to listen to that on the radio. It was not as good as I remember it.

I could cook before I could use a computer so I made dinner, my first Buffalo chicken wings in ages. My wings are better than most restaurants in New York. They are real Buffalo wings, no breading. By the time they were done I could see well enough to watch Gotham. The dilation wore off and I’m now back to my usual terrible vision.

Now to make breakfast and go to therapy. I’m feeling good; I’m taking care of my health needs.

Does Anybody See What I See?

My life was boring yesterday. I went to my PO box and found junk mail. I went to Aldi. I should do that combination more often as I can take one train from PO box to the store. The most exciting thing yesterday was dinner. I tried something new, a bacon-wrapped pork loin medallion. It bought it because it was on sale. Pork loin is not a regular part of my dinner rotation. I’ve had mixed luck with it; when Gary made it, it was magnificent, when I tried, so so. Those were roasts, this was a medallion that I grilled. There were instructions right on the package. It counts as magnificent. I have never had more tender meat. The only thing I added to it was barbecue sauce, so it was simple. It’s now in my rotation, I’ll buy it when it’s on sale. The mashed potatoes also came out extra good. I thought I put in too much half & half and butter, perhaps I did, but I loved how creamy they were.

I hope everyone enjoys good food as much as I do. How would I know? How do we compare subjective experiences? I can’t begin to guess. Perhaps I’m just more verbal about it than others. That barrier between our minds has always intrigued me. As a kid I asked my mother, “how do I know that green I see is the same as the green you see?” She had no idea what I meant. Do you? We can usually agree on what color to call things and when we disagree it is probably more about language than perception. But then there’s the dress of many colors. I enjoyed that debate as it reflects on the mystery that has puzzled me all my life. Without telepathy I don’t know how to resolve this. Maybe my subjective experience of sights and sounds are different than yours. Maybe we all integrate the raw data our senses provide in different ways, or maybe in just a few ways, but not all the same.

Perhaps taste is where the differences are clearest. If you put a pea in my mouth it will generate a gag reflex. Other people love them. It seems like we are clearly perceiving the same chemical clues differently. My own perceptions have changed. As a kid coffee with two sugars was great. Now I all I taste is the sugar. What changed? My taste buds or the way my brain processed the information? I grew up hating eggs, now I eat them almost every day. I just finished a bacon and egg breakfast and thought it divine. I even like my eggs runny. This feels different that changes in my musical taste. My growing love of jazz came by learning more about it. I learned how to listen to it. It was not a gut reaction.

When I started today’s blog I thought I was going to write about Brexit. As so often happens, food distracted me. Some things never change. I have always loved chocolate. I have always loved peanut butter. I might write more about other things but those are my two greatest comfort foods. They bring not only pleasure but peace of mind. Before I was on meds and when my anxiety was raging I would calm myself with chocolate. It got me through the hardest part of my life. It’s how I self-medicated.

I better get going. I have an appointment with the ophthalmologist in 45 minutes. I’m not sure what he’s going to do, how much he will accept the previous tests I’ve had. I want to schedule my cataract surgery as soon as possible. I want to be able to see. I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Baseball Has Been Berry Berry Good To Me

I finished watching Ken Burns’ Baseball and that gives me an excuse to write about the greatest game in January. But first a word from my life.

On the bus ride home from the supermarket yesterday my phone rang; it was my gastroenterologist. She got the results of my MRI. She wants to move up my next appointment with her from April to ASAP. That’s not a good sign. They didn’t find anything new, my Crohn’s disease is quiescent. What concerns her is the amount of previous damage to my intestines. I could have told her that. When 45 centimeters of my small intestine were removed the surgeon said that it was as bad as he’d ever seen. Of course, that part is gone but damage had been done to the rest in the last 18 years. Thanks to Montefiore excellent IT website I got to see the report on the MRI myself. I couldn’t see the pictures. That was disappointing. I have more than the two hernias the surgeon saw when he examined me. I will eventually have surgery to fix those, I suppose that while he’s in there he’ll fix everything. The GI is going to put me on meds. That’s why she wants to see me. I expected that she would. I was surprised that she thought I didn’t need them after the colonoscope. She had to see for herself the extent of the damage. Don’t worry about me. I’m not sick. I feel fine. This is all just precautionary. I feel good about this. I’m getting things taken care of.

The real exciting news happened when I was shopping; the Stop & Shop now has shaved beef; that means I can make cheesesteaks! Guess what I had for dinner. This as my first cheesesteak in ages. I’m a heretic. I didn’t make it with Cheez-whiz. I used pepper jack. It was so good, one of my favorite meals. I bought the baby potato medley from Trader Joe’s my last visit so I got to have extra good roasted potatoes with it. I know it’s all in my head but blue potatoes are the best.

OK, now for Baseball. Amazon has the complete series including the 10th inning. There are 11 parts, as the 10th inning is broken down into the top and then the bottom of the 10th. We are talking 22 hours of material. Can you imagine a documentary about any other sport where you’d find 22 hours riveting? Where you wish there were more? That is the overriding message of the documentary, that baseball is not just about the present, it’s about the past, present, and the future. No other game has such a sense of history. It’s over a century ago but people still remember Merkle’s Boner. They know the trio of bear cubs, Tinkers, to Evers, to Chance. You don’t have to be a deep fan to know that Cy Young won 511 games. Best way to put that in perspective. Imagine a pitcher winning 30 games 17 years in a row. That would leave him one win short of Denton True Young’s total.

Say, “the Babe” to anyone, not just a baseball fan and they will know you mean, George Herman Ruth. They’ll know he’s the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat. They’ll know what he looks like. They’ll know not only that Ty Cobb batted .367 (really .366) but that he was a bastard. Bobby Thompson’s home run, the “Shot heard round the world” is not just the greatest moment in sports history and the greatest call of a play, it’s a great moment in American history. The Dodgers moved to LA the year I was born, but da Bums forever belong to Brooklyn. I bet you know that the Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first all professional team and that they were founded in 1869, just four years after the Civil War ended. Cooperstown is named for James Fenimore Cooper who lived there but its first association is the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall is there because of a lie, Abner Doubleday did NOT invent baseball, he might have never seen a game of baseball. But that’s where the Hall is and they aren’t going to move it to Hoboken where it belongs. That’s fine because baseball is not just history, it’s myth, it’s Jungian archetypes, it’s in the mind of the beholder.

Before there was Martin Luther King, before there was Brown v The Board of Education, before there was Rosa Parks; there was Jackie Robinson fighting hard to not fight back. Showing the world that he was a gentleman, a mensch, and a helluva ballplayer. As much as anyone he willed his teams to win. He stole home 19 times, in his short career, One of only two players to do it as many as 10 times since World War II.

The Red Sox could be the protagonist of a novel. The went from the heights, to the depths, then once more to the heights, never losing the devotion of their fans. The have won 9 world championships, every one in a decade that started with a 0 or a 1. They won 5 between 1903 and 1918, sold Babe Ruth in 1919. Then won none until 2004. They’ve won 4 between 2004 and 2018 and reign now as champions of the world.

Baseball wasn’t perfect, I wish it had gone into Dwight Gooden’s epic 1985 season, and Chris Von der Ahe’s St. Louis Browns of the 1880s. It told the story of the 86 world series from the point of view of the BoSox not the Mets, but it was a no-hitter. That’s good enough. It went out of its way to make the players more human, and in the process made the game more mythic. It’s played and run by flawed human beings yet can exalt our spirit. Baseball makes no presence to moral authority but it can feel like a religion, it can feel like patriotism. In 1969 we learned nothing is impossible, we walked on the moon and the Mets won the World Series.

Ty Cobb was a racist, Ruth a prodigal, and Rose a gambler and liar, and Bonds took steroids but Heracles, Achilles, Sigurd, and Samson, were flawed too. Homer could have written epics about baseball instead of Troy.
Shakespeare would see Bonds as a hero with a fatal flaw.

I love basketball, the City Game, it’s as tied to New York as baseball is to America. But it’s not timeless. It doesn’t live in the past, present, and future. More than anything baseball is about that half second between a pitcher releasing the ball and the batter swinging. All the rest of what happens is set by that half second. It’s the best half second in the world.