...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, June 26, 2017

Isaac Asimov

"Naturally, the theories we now have might be considered wrong in the simplistic sense of my English Lit correspondent, but in a much truer and subtler sense, they need only be considered incomplete."


One can dream

I hope that Vince Staples has heard Mitch Hedberg's bit about Sprite.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Obama, Russians, Trump

'']There’s plenty to second-guess in Obama’s management of this episode. But the idea that he failed because Trump won is wrong. Obama’s job wasn’t to prevent the election of a particular person, even one as awful as Trump. Obama’s job was to preserve the country. That meant protecting the integrity of our elections and public faith in them, which he did, to the extent possible after Russia had already hacked into the Democratic National Committee and spread misinformation. The next task—exposing the full extent of Russia’s interference, punishing it, and deterring future attacks—is up to Trump. If he fails, the responsibility to hold him accountable falls to Congress. And if Congress fails, the job of electing a new, more patriotic legislature falls to voters.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

[UPDATE] A review of James McMichael's most recent book of poems

In the just released issue of Christianity and Literature, I review James McMichael's excellent book If You Can Tell. (I'm not an unbiased reviewer. McMichael is a former teacher of mine and a friend.) You can click here to get the flavor of the review, although I don't think you can read the whole thing unless linked through an academic portal of some sort. One warning: The publisher messed up some of the typography of the passages from the book I quote. I think they're mostly correct, but there are still a couple of mistakes, despite a lengthy e-mail correspondence trying to fix the issue. This is too bad, since much of the poetry's effectiveness comes from the relationship between McMichael's line breaks and his plain-spoken yet complex sentences.

UPDATE 6/24: The electronic version of the article takes the line breaks out completely, so that the quoted passages from the book appear as prose. The PDF is probably better. Best, though, is to simply go and buy the book yourself.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Carlos Delgado on Philando Castile

[The following is a Facebook post and response my friend Carlos Delgado posted yesterday and today. It's so clear and succinct about the situation regarding Castile and others like him, that I asked if I could share it, and he said yes.]
If we are trained—for a job apparently framed by protection of others, by service to the community—that fearing for our lives justifies killing someone, then we are trained to be afraid: we trust our fear to illuminate the most dangerous, most important moment of the person's life we are about to choke, beat, shoot, take, steal, sacrifice. Our training, then, has nothing to do with service or protection, and it keeps us from being anything like "the good guy." We have no courage then; then, we are cowards who trust fear—and the state taught us this. The state supports our fear, and funds it, and defends it, and hides it, and sustains it. Our training looks more like shame than courage. What would it look like, though, to train toward courage, toward service, toward love? The state has never imagined that possibility.
[A FB friend of Carlos’s responds to say that this is a ridiculous argument, that the state doesn’t train police in this way, to act in fear, that instead the dangerousness of policing is legitimate and that the fear police have is taught by the crime and bodily threats they are faced with—not by the state.]

Thank you for your willingness to respond. I’m grateful. I know that we’re on different sides of this matter, and that we hold our beliefs deeply. So, in the end, if this conversation continues past a few comments, I prefer to take it into private messages or wait to have the conversation in person (by the way: let’s try again to find a time to get together…), because I want to be as connected and understanding as we go, but comments sections aren’t exactly helpful facilitators of that kind of understanding. 
Anyhow, what I’m arguing is not that people don’t feel fear, nor that police shouldn’t feel fear. I believe many people do fear. (There’s an amazingly poignant bit—and interview he gives about the bit—that Dave Chappell did about driving through the “ghetto” in a limo, then locking the doors, revealing/confessing his own internalized fears of Black people by picking on stereotypes he himself believed, an image which might help us here.) Fear is real, I know. Many feel it. And, according to Harvard’s implicit bias test—which I have all my students take at the beginning of each semester—about 75% of Americans have the same anti-Black bias. Even Black people often have an anti-Black bias, revealing that internalized racism is also a factor in the fear people feel. According to the famous doll test, anti-Black bias is clear in very young children who are Black. Yes, I agree with you. Fear exists. 
And because of a mythic history of white supremacy, sustained by things like Jim Crow, media representation, school segregation (worse today than it was in the 1970s), racist housing policies (that have made white people wealthy and kept Black people poor), and so on that continued (legally) for a long, long time, we still have a very segregated society—a very ignorant-of-Black-America culture, and by extension a very anti-Black culture. As James Baldwin points out, not only does white America not know about Black America, they don’t want to know—which sustains this fear. 
I agree, then, that many fear Black people. My argument isn’t about whether people feel fear, though; it’s about what training says about feeling fear. Training says that fear justifies killing someone, and this fear is held up in court time and again. This *legal* fear is wrong, unjust, dangerous to people who are unjustly feared, and, in the end, acts as a kind of terrorism to Black people. 
(This fear and injustice is addressed in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; this isn’t an invention; Black people have been terrorized by law enforcement, who have acted on fear, since law enforcement was invented. And police—the history of police—was invented during the slavery era, back when whiteness was invented in the 1600s. They were called slave patrols back then—and eventually came to be called police; their job was to surveil, and keep in line, and arrest Black people, which legally makes them slaves again. Within a decade of the slaves being free, the jails went from 90% white to 90% Black. Police have been the enemy of Black people since both “Black people” and police/slave patrols were invented. They have feared each other. And police have been legally allowed to act on that fear.) 
But the problem is bigger than individual officers, who I believe are, for the most part, well intentioned. The problem is systemic. The problem is American mythology that sustains anti-Black bias. The problem is that, rather than become a country that supports Black people economically as it supported white people economically (e.g., Oklahoma was evacuated of Native Americans, military action funded by the wealth acquired through slavery, then it was given away to white people), we are a country that refuses resources to those we oppressed—their neighborhoods have poor food, education, housing, etc.—then we create the contingency force, as you call it, to fear-yet-surveil these neighborhoods on the notion that the contingency is keeping people safe. 
The fear, then, its mythic roots, isn’t being addressed. The state isn’t making amends for its brutality. It doesn’t offer resources to the poverty it created. Instead, it installs a fearful-but-deadly force in poor Black neighborhoods, and convinces everyone (except the terrorized) that the contingency is necessary. The state continues to make a “them” out of Black people, and an “us” through propaganda like the “thin Blue line” flags I see everywhere, which sustains the mythic fear everyone feels in the first place. The state, then, teaches us and sustains everyone’s fears—and police are still allowed to act on that fear by killing people. 
There are ways out, though. I think if we were to come together creatively, as vulnerable brothers and sisters, willing to buck the system that sustains “us vs. them” thinking, things could change. Until then, though, people who believe they’re doing good by surveilling Black neighborhoods that they don’t live in and are afraid of, will continue to act on an unjust, unreasonable, going-nowhere fear that apparently justifies the deaths of anyone they are afraid of. 
So today, I stand by my argument, which is that if we are trained to act on our fear by killing someone, we cannot be considered “the good guy.” Acting on fear by sacrificing the life of another is wrong, and we shouldn’t stand for it. Anyone who would be trained to trust their fear like this should not be given the legal right to take someone’s life. Even if lethal force is necessary sometimes (and I’m not convinced it is, but even so, for the sake of the argument here—), then it should be given only to those with a posture of self-sacrifice, who understand the value of human life, who know deeply in their bones that Black lives matter even though historically our country has shown the opposite, who are trained to have real courage, who are willing to give up their own lives so that another can live, and who can use lethal force only as a service, a protection, of those they’re sworn to serve and protect. But this isn’t how lethal force is used. And Philando Castile’s death (and the hundreds like him every year) is rationalized. And I feel compelled to stand in opposition to those policies. 
Thanks again for responding.... I look forward to our conversations.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017


"Sometimes I feel like I believe almost everything the church teaches and sometimes I feel like I believe almost nothing, but if I’m anywhere from one to 99 percent on the belief scale, my response is the same. If it’s more than zero, I should go to church."

- Dorothy Fortenberry, in the L.A. Review of Books (which has been killing it, lately, btw)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Please listen to this

This, right here. Listen. Tell your friends.

It probably won't make any difference, just as reading/watching The Big Short, which you should do, probably won't make any difference. It feels hopeless, but the show on Reveal touches on what The Big Short (movie version, anyway) doesn't: Race.

Regulations exist to help slow down rich people from abusing others and the greater good that their wealth almost necessarily entails. "All have fallen short"(I know and believe it), but why is it always rich people and people in power who wish for fewer rules on their freedom to do what they want in order to increase their wealth and power?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Kerry James Marshall

If you live in L.A., go to this show before it closes.

Revisiting Hannah Arendt

in dangerous times. It's a remarkable piece. Give yourself time and read it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017