If the Roman Catholic church needs spending money – and what religion doesn’t? – I have a modest proposal: brand the tolerant words of Pope Francis about gays and sell t-shirts and ball caps with the revolutionary phrase, which sounds like the sayings of the Jewish preacher of two millennia ago.
The new Pope’s words on his trip home from Brazil suggest an inclusivity not always seen in the era of the various hand hand-choppers of modern religions. You’re not like me? Whack!
Speaking of judging, how about the interview by Lauren Green of Fox, apparently the occupier of the Glenn Beck Chair of Philosophy at the network of fair-and-balanced?
Green was interviewing Reza Aslan, author of a new book about Jesus, called Zealot. She asked how he, as an American of Iranian descent, who is Muslim, could possibly write a book about Christianity. (He had been Christian for a time, but she did not seem to know that.)
In the official Fox judgment, this rule would disqualify Hindus from writing about Islam, Christians from writing about Judaism, and so on. Academic research and opinion, be damned. The academic was forced on the defense, to stress his degrees and past work. In Beck-ish, O’Reilly-ish tones, the Foxite asserted her position: Stick to your own kind.
The good news is that Zealot is selling very well. In appearances with Chris Hayes and others, Aslan has come off as wry, complicated and earnest. Perhaps he should have done the Fox interview with a t-shirt quoting this new Pope.
He seemed to dwell in the crevices of the Capitol Building, like the phantom of some loopy opera. He gravitated to the glare of the spotlight, revving up his dudgeon from zero to 100 in seconds, expressing outrage at all perfidies. He was the House attack pit bull for MSNBC.
“He loves this,” I used to think about Anthony Weiner when he emerged at full decibels for the latest media crisis. He loved the attention. Sometimes I wondered why he wasn’t back in his Congressional office, reading a bill, or something.
I had the same thought in the last few days watching Weiner perform for the cameras. He loves this. He loves the attention, loves explaining the inexplicable of his phone-sex scandal. This is his core. There appears to be nothing behind it.
He has reached the skin-crawling persona of a Jim Cramer, babbling about stocks in sing-song tones, or Rush Limbaugh, making up vile accusations with the assurance of a man on the street corner who thinks he is Napoleon. Anthony Weiner is out of control, in public, and he seems quite likely to force New Yorkers to be tempted to see him as an alternative to a large cluster of Democratic mayoral candidates.
He has persuaded his wife to stand by his side in public view, and by extension he has included her mentor, Hillary Clinton, who cannot profit from these concentric circles of memory.
I don’t think Weiner has enough sense to go away on his own. What we need now is the wisdom of the Polish rabbi, as played by Gene Wilder in the movie The Frisco Kid.
At the end of a perilous trip across the continent, the rabbi subdues a vengeful outlaw who has pursued him. The rabbi, weary of violence, turns to the crowd and says (and here you must imagine the lush Wilderish-Yiddish pronunciations):
“Would somebody please show this poor a------ the way out of town.”
* * *
The great Christine Lavin has added a topical Carlos Danger minute to her ever-relevant song, "What Were You Thinking?"
The national treasure Stevie Wonder says he is not going to perform in Florida or any other state with a right-to-blow-away-the-other-guy-if-you-don’t-like-the-look-on-his-face law.
With all due respect, I think Stevie ought to sing one song in Florida and other trigger-happy states.
That would be “Saturn,” released in 1976 in his “Songs in the Key of Life” album, about an interplanetary visitor who is going back home “where the people smile.”
The singer is boggled by the ecological waste and wars of this alien planet. In this version, Stevie describes earthlings “with a gun and Bible in your hand.” In some lyrics on the Web, that line is absent. Guess it cuts too close to the bone.
There is a lovely youtube version by Panoply – they could splice in some facial photos of Rick Perry, Jan Brewer, Rick Scott and that thoroughly character-less smirk of Gov. Ultrasound of Virginia.
The key sentence is, “Tell me why are you people so cold.”
Sing it, Stevie:
Packing my bags -- going away
To a place where the air is clean
There's no sense to sit and watch the people die
We don't fight our wars the way you do
We put back all the things we use
There's no sense to keep on doing such crimes
There's no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can't be bought-or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold
Going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
People live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don't need cars cause we've learned to fly
Just to live to us is our natural high
We have come here many times before
To find your strategy to peace is war
Killing helpless men, women and children
That don't even know what they are dying for
We can't trust you when you take a stand
With a gun and Bible in your hand
And a cold expression on your face
Saying give us what we want or we'll destroy
Going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
People live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don't need cars cause we've learn to fly
Just to live to us is our natural high.....
My extended family includes children the same color as Trayvon Martin, only slightly younger.
Two of them are young men who could easily be walking around their neighborhood outside a major southern city, with a bag of candy in their hands.
Their lives became a little more jeopardized Saturday night when the jury ruled George Zimmerman not guilty for starting trouble with a gun on him, courtesy of our gun culture.
I understand the legal concept of reasonable doubt, but I have trouble with it when the oh-so-reasonable defense attorney (with his Queens accent) is willing to do his own racial profiling of a teen-age witness as a Haitian. Got that. Haitian. Kenyan. Outsiders. Not "us."
That’s where we are going in this country – brave vigilantes walking around loose, plus long voting lines in poor districts, and the cuts in food stamps and planned parenthood, and other blatantly malicious acts.
I firmly believe that Zimmerman acquired his courage not only from the big iron he was packing but from the message from the yowlers on the talk radio and the Murdochite channels, plus members of Congress – the Boehners and McConnells, the Cantors and Pauls -- who rule with a smirk, letting everybody know they are not cooperating with that Kenyan Socialist. That’s been going on for more than four years. The tone is set.
Zimmerman is just a symptom.
*-- Walking With Skittles
My friend Hassan from Yorkshire keeps in touch about music as diverse as Nina Simone and Dolly Parton. I know him via the e-mail as a writer and photographer and thinker.
I wrote about him in 2012.
The other day Hassan reminded me of the eighth anniversary of the horrific bombings in the London transport system on July 7, 2005. My wife and I were driving across France to re-join the Tour that day when I deciphered the news from French radio. Fifty-two people died all over London, including on the No. 30 bus line. We have taken that double-decker, with a jolly Jamaican driver, back to town after a great dinner at my relatives’ flat.
What I did not know was that in 2005 Hassan wrote a letter which the Guardian printed on July 14 – and that a priest in Cornwall responded. Their words still ring.
A letter to the terrorists
Hassan, a young Muslim born and raised in Yorkshire, offers a heartfelt response to last week's attacks on London
Friday July 15, 2005
Dear dead or alive terrorists (As Salaam Alaikum doesn't apply to you),
Just wanted you to know I'm a young Muslim and I heard about you on the news again today. We all did. It's so painful to know I've grown up so close to the same Leeds streets as you. I was born in the same hospital as one of you, St Luke's, but we took different routes in life. Somehow ... life will go on. And in my heart, I really believe that one day London and all of us will be stronger. But never because of you and what you have done.
I can confirm that since that morning of Thursday July 7, you have not saved one single Muslim's life in your phoney war for freedom. A war which targets innocent people whose biggest crime was to have a job to go to on a Thursday morning. With so many people committed to peacefully fighting hatred against Muslims all over the world, why bring us more suffering by killing innocent people in London? You are not martyrs for Islam. You don't even represent your own hard-working mums and dads. I'm glad to know that so many Muslims across this country will march against you. And I pray that millions more people, millions and millions, across the entire world, will march against you and your evil. Because you are not now, and never will be, Muslims to me. You're confused, over-sized boys, who will never know the magnitude of what you have done to so many innocent people, people that you never even knew.
I was 15 when I first visited London alone. I doubt you've ever seen the wonderful sights I've seen there over the years. I'm not even talking about the guided tour of Women's Achievements in Science at the Science Museum, or reading the actual words of real freedom fighters in the British Library. I'm talking about the simple joy of sitting upstairs at the front of a double-decker London bus, and gliding effortlessly back and forth over the bridges of the River Thames. It takes less than a minute to do this by bus, but the journey to success takes several generations for some people. And some of us still haven't quite made it, but we will. I will.
In April of this year, I took a business student from Afghanistan to visit London. Sitting on a Northern Line tube train my jaw suddenly dropped when Ian Brown, the singer from The Stone Roses, came and sat opposite us. Ian and I exchanged nods and I went and sat next to him and told him how much I respected his music. We talked on the platform, swapped emails, and Ian embraced us and said As Salaam Alaikum (Peace Be Unto You), before we even said it to him. I keep playing I Am The Resurrection by The Stone Roses. I used to cheer during the chorus, now it brings me to tears.
Last Thursday morning July 7, I had an appointment at the Royal London Homeopathic hospital in Great Ormond Street. It's very close to Tavistock Square and Russell Square tube station. A short time before I was to travel, the doctor cancelled my appointment against my wishes. A lot of Londoners are silently repeating to themselves again and again that they might be dead now, were it not for whatever small miracle it was that stopped them from getting on to a bus or tube train with you last Thursday morning. I was so overjoyed to have met a northern soul like Ian Brown on the tube train one morning in April. I'm so sorry that so many people met your sorry selves one morning in July, and for the memories you have resurrected within me.
On May 11 2005, I stood at a memorial service for 56 people who were killed in the Bradford City fire 20 years before. Football was my whole life back then. At the memorial service for that terrible, terrible tragedy, I suddenly realised for the first time that what I saw happen in less than five minutes on May 11 1985, had destroyed my ambitions of wanting to become the greatest Muslim footballer the world has ever seen. I wonder just how many young Muslims will one day look back on their lives and think that what you tried to do in their name last Thursday morning stopped them from achieving their dreams?
When I visit London now I go to an Aston Martin dealer and stare through the window at my gleaming ambition. I've never been that materialistic, but I need something, some kind of tool to improve my self-esteem. A lot of young Muslims are going to need something to keep them going through all this now, because of what you've done. In my own way, I hope they just innocently get on a London bus and sit upstairs at the front with me. And dream. Just dream ... that hundreds and hundreds more miracles, meant that it all never happened last Thursday.
I don't care where you've been or what you plan to do ...
I am the resurrection and I am the life
I couldn't ever bring myself to hate you as I'd like
(from I Am The Resurrection by The Stone Roses)
Hassan [his only name] Bradford, July 14 2005
Sharing an amazing letter:
From: Father Doug Robins
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2005 11:32 PM
God moves in a mysterious way...
I had prepared a sermon for the Sunday morning service here at Gerrans, in Cornwall, although I wasn't too happy with it. Finding myself with a few minutes on hand before the service this morning I decided to check my e mails. There was just one. A friend had sent me a copy of Hassan's letter in last Friday's Guardian addressed to the 'dead or alive terrorists'. I was very moved by it and immediately decided (was prompted) to dump my sermon and read the letter. In fact I had difficulty in controlling my emotions while reading it. The members of my congregation, probably categorised as mainly right of centre, were visibly moved by what Hassan had written. One of our visitors told me as he was leaving that before hearing the letter he would just have said that he came from Yorkshire, but after hearing it he felt he needed to say he lived in the same street as one of the bombers. I thank God for Hassan and for what he wrote and your newspaper for printing it.
Father Doug Robins.
Hassan is still writing and growing and living. He says his northern identity from Yorkshire and his origins “are a fundamental part of my being.” GV.
I was in awe of Sam Toperoff days into my freshman year at Hofstra College. From my workship with the athletic department, I knew he was a transfer basketball player, out of the service, waiting to play the following season.
Then he turned up in a sociology class, and he stood out. He was 5-6 years older than me and knew how to talk in class.
I still remember Professor Nelson explaining the sociological concept of brothers and others – the circles of life, people we care about, people we don’t necessarily care about.
“You, Toperoff, are my brother,” Professor Nelson said, “and the rest are others.”
A hundred people in this huge lecture hall, and the professor knew Sam’s name.
Toperoff started for a couple of seasons of varsity ball. My strongest memory of him is singing – maybe a Belafonte song? – in the locker room before a road game, nervous energy, channeled into song.
He was a force. Stephen Dunn, the shooting guard, now a Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet, tells about listening to Sam and another teammate in a hotel room, talking about Moby Dick. Imagine. Not women or zone defenses, but words, concepts.
(That was quite a team -- a novelist and a poet, starting.)
Sam taught at Hofstra for 20 years and has written 13 books on extremely varied subjects, including the gripping Pilgrim of the Sun and Stars, about a Basque peasant who makes a pilgrimage to the Vatican. Sam also wrote sports for magazines and for 15 years worked for public television, most notably a travelogue series. My wife bought all of them.
Now Sam lives in the French Alps (in a house he built) with his wife and daughter and grandson. He is a hero to his pals because he has continued to write. Lillian & Dash, his novel about the long affair between Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, is being published by Other Press in July of 2013.
Sam has gotten good advance attention, including a Kirkus review. The novel is available via Amazon and other sources. I've read it, and I love the dialogue and insight into two talented people from another time and place.
It’s been a lot of decades; Toperoff still scores.
I’ve been asking that question since Edward Snowden arrived in our lives.
Generally, I’m all for leakers. I mean, I’m a journalist. I like it when people tell me stuff.
When I was living in Kentucky and covering Appalachia back in the early ‘70’s, I was introduced to somebody ensconced in the permanent government in Washington, D.C. the kind of official who often has concerns about whoever is purporting to run the country.
In those simple pre-electronic days, the official would forego the note under the flower pot, the tactic used by Deep Throat. He would ring me on his government phone and fulminate.
“You wouldn’t believe what this gang of thugs is doing,” he would begin. He told me about a couple of Nixonites assigned to dismantle the anti-poverty programs of the Johnson administration. Then I would drive a few hours into the mountains, where school lunches or medical transportation or legal aid were in jeopardy.
One demolisher in the O.E.O. was named Rumsfeld and the other was named Cheney. I often wonder what became of them.
Now we have gone from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate to Julian Assange and on to Edward Snowden. The first time I heard his name, Jeffrey Toobin was calling him a narcissist on television. Interesting choice of words from somebody I respect, I thought.
Now I have come to think Toobin was on to something. From reading about Snowden, he has come to remind me of Maxwell the Pig on the Geico commercials, with his youthful self-involvement (“My name is Maxwell and my life is kind of awesome”) who likes to go fast downhill and scream “Wheeee!!!” at the top of his voice.
At the moment, Snowden appears to be residing in a transit zone of the Moscow airport with government laptops. What was his plan? Why did he run?
Should I be angered at learning the U.S. had access to zillions of telephone records? I always figured they did. These days, we all have chips embedded in us. Look at me, voluntarily spewing off. Every time I go over a bridge around New York, E-Z Pass has a record of which borough I was in, and at what time.
In the days after 9/11, I kept reassuring people (maybe myself) that the Bush administration would know how to go after bad guys. Of course, I over-rated the competence of those people, but eventually another administration tracked down Osama. Did they use electronic surveillance? Do you think?
I tend to trust Barack Obama quite a bit, but I can recall some administrations I trusted not at all. I can understand why people worry about a government that collects phone records. Far from any authority or real information, I think govern-ments and newspapers are discrete about some parts of national security, but I also love learning stuff. On a case-by-case basis I cannot help thinking this leaker has done some damage.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.