“Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tua da gloriam.”
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.” — Psalm 115, from the King James Version of the Bible.
As Thanksgiving approaches and family gatherings appear to be limited for the holiday on account of COVID-19, it’s easy to lose sight of the greater problems weighing down many unfortunate people this year, such as hunger and homelessness. People of sufficient means can afford to fret over not seeing friends and relatives in person, or over temporary shortages of goods and services inconveniencing them, but they at least have a warm, secure place to live, and enough food and other necessities to go around. Should they become sick, they have access to quality medical attention.
The cover of a pamphlet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reminding Americans of the need in a country with plentiful food to be mindful of not eating too much.
What about the people without all those good things to be thankful for this year? The economic disruption of COVID-19 has pushed millions of people into desperate straits this year, most of them workers in the service sector who could least afford to miss a paycheck. While professionals could work from home using a computer and an internet connection, that option has not been available to most service workers, for whom the choice has been to work and thereby expose themselves to the coronavirus or stay home as long as they had a home to stay in and money to buy food. Some have been able to sustain themselves on financial assistance, others have not.
As bad as prolonged isolation can be, poverty is worse. As inconvenient as it can be to have money and not always have goods available in stores to buy, or restaurants to visit for some time out of the house, it is worse to work in those stores and restaurants for low wages and be exposed eight hours or more a day to coronavirus, and yet have to endure the abuse of entitled, spoiled, petulant customers, or to not have a job at all. For all that, there are still ways to say “thanks” this holiday season, and to help someone else along the way.
Food banks are experiencing greater demand now than at any time in recent memory. The same goes for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other charities helping the recently displaced as well as the chronically underemployed. There are safe ways to volunteer, but if that doesn’t seem possible, then help out by making a donation. Hospital staffs around the country are overworked, and they could use the assistance even of people without medical training. Farmers are reporting reduced demand for turkeys over 20 pounds because fewer large groups will be gathering for holiday dinners in their homes. The hungry who can’t afford to buy those larger turkeys could surely benefit by having them bought for them. Help carry the burden of this pandemic by picking up the fallen, and say grace in thanks to whatever faith sees you through another day.
Patrick Doyle composed this version of the traditional Catholic hymn “Non Nobis, Domine” for the 1989 film Henry V, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. Mr. Doyle appears as the soldier singing at the beginning of the scene, which depicts the aftermath of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt in the Hundred Years’ War.
“The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” — John 3:8, from the American Standard Version of the Bible.
The wind blows pollen from male trees in towns and cities across the country, and because there are far fewer female trees planted due to the perceived messiness of their fruits and seeds, much of the pollen lands instead in the breathing passages of people and animals, provoking allergic reactions. For trees, it’s an isolating and nearly sterile environment. Rain washes the pollen away from the streets and the houses and the cars eventually, but the people and animals have already inhaled more than some can tolerate.
A person can stand alone a very long time and be at peace, not feeling lonely, and until the wind whispers in their ear about the possibility of someone’s loving companionship they might stay alone, happily, for many years more. The wind has blown good news in that case, but it may as well have stayed calm and quiet. It is impossible to ignore the wind’s news, however, and in altered circumstances the person now realizes, oddly, how lonely life can be.
Boreas, a 1903 painting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).
Love scene from Vertigo, a 1958 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Kim Novak and James Stewart. Bernard Herrmann wrote the haunting score.
Would it have been better not to listen? Better to shut the windows against the noise, the pollution, the pollen, and everything else carried by the wind? Everyone has to make up their own mind about it, and things change and therefore minds change as well. Even a person who rarely feels lonely can suddenly understand what it means when experiencing the loss of a loved one, or when falling in love with someone whose absences leave a void filled only with reveries of times spent together and dreams of future unions.
Dutch harpist Lavinia Meijer performs “Metamorphosis Two”, by American composer Philip Glass. Mr. Glass wrote the piece in 1988 and recorded it in 1989, and in 2002 he incorporated it into his score for the film The Hours.
Patience with those gaps means as much as patience with one another in the times spent together. Being patient demonstrates trust in the other person and acknowledges vulnerability to them. There’s no use in rushing; haste will only create a shaky foundation. You don’t know where love came from, and much as you would like an end to anxiety by knowing where it is going, you can’t. A person might say, imploringly, to the wind if not to one’s beloved, “I didn’t know I was lonely until I met you, and now that I have fallen in love and experienced loneliness when we are apart, I wish an end to loneliness. Please comfort me by returning my love!” But all you can wisely do is listen, and open yourself up, and give generously without demanding a return. “Love is a thing full of anxious fears.” — Ovid
Linda Ronstadt sings lead, with harmonies by Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, for their rendition of “Feels Like Home”, written by Randy Newman.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
— Matthew 6:5, from the New International Version of the Bible.
When state and local governments include churches, mosques, and synagogues in their lockdown orders due to coronavirus, it might at first glance seem to be an infringement on religious freedom, but such is not the case. It would be an infringement if government singled out particular institutions which were in almost every way like other institutions except for their religious character. In this public health emergency, however, the only concern government officials have with religious institutions is the one characteristic they share with some other institutions, which is how they typically gather together large groups of people, a characteristic more conducive to spreading coronavirus than to tamping it down.
Congregating for the purpose of religious worship is no more under attack in these coronavirus lockdown orders than assembly for the political purpose of voting. This hasn’t stopped some religious leaders from loudly claiming they and their congregants are being persecuted by government in general and by the Democratic Party in particular. It hasn’t taken long for the coronavirus to become politically as polarized as everything else in our society. The virus itself has not expressed a political preference and, like past viruses, attacks everyone equally.
No one is denying religious freedom to churchgoers, only the freedom to go to church in large numbers at one time. Congregating has always been an important element of religious ritual for many people in many religions, but a public health emergency supersedes the wish of some to carry on as always at the expense of and to the detriment of the many. People can still pray, and in most places they can still gather to pray in groups of less than ten or thereabouts.
Replica of Jesus Christ’s tomb at Easter 2017 in the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, in Paris, France. Photo by Tangopaso.
Some pastorsdon’t see it that way. They are pastors of Southern Baptist churches, by and large. They are led in their right wing political views and gullible belief in hoaxes concocted by their devilish foes in the center and left of American politics by people like Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. For these people, churchgoing is perhaps even more a social bond than it is a religious experience. They go to see and be seen.
Church is also a place where they reaffirm to each other their political bond, which is conservative at least, and right wing more often with each passing year. Taking away their church gatherings of dozens or hundreds of people in close proximity to each other is seen by them as prying apart the social and political bonds which are more important to them than the religious bonds affirmed in regular churchgoing. Their pastors can grandstand about supposed government and leftist persecution of their religious institutions, but their real worry is loosening the social and political bonds cemented regularly in seeing and being seen by their fellow congregants.
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
— Luke 14:12-14, from the New International Version of the Bible.
It’s puzzling to watch poor and working class people watch rich people on television, such as on shows about house hunters looking at multi-million dollar properties. Many of these rich people are frivolous twits who obsess about things like granite countertops and bathroom saunas. Why don’t many of the poor folks watching these excesses feel anger and revulsion at money being thrown away on luxuries, things they themselves could never afford as they struggle to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck? Instead they watch these programs with a kind of detached envy, commenting critically on the relative niceness of various unnecessary features.
As for the rich, they mostly have contempt for the poor people window watching on their lifestyles. They usually try to mask their contempt, of course, since it’s considered bad form among their peers to make a show of kicking the downtrodden. Mostly they ignore the poor, which is easy to do living in gated communities and surrounding oneself with all the accoutrements of wealth and security they can buy. It doesn’t occur to them to question the envy of their lifestyles by the poor, since it is based on the fabulous nature of material things they themselves exalt above all else. What troubles them is the contempt wafting toward them from some in the middle class.
Nancy Wilson, foreground, Meals on Wheels program manager, works along with other volunteers at the Great Falls Community Food Bank in Great Falls, Montana, preparing gravy on November 23, 2011 to be used the next day for the Thanksgiving meal. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen.
Historically, it has always been elements from the middle class which have led revolutions. The poor are too wrapped up in trying to survive and in slavish envy of those who have more, even when wealth is waved in their faces, but always out of reach. The middle class have the education to understand how the rich are playing them for suckers, and they have the leisure time to organize against them. They have only to inform the poor how the rich have used and manipulated them in order to gain strength from numbers. That’s easier said than done, however, and it’s a task made more difficult by the popularity among the poor of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type entertainment in movies and television.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet staff and volunteers prior to a Thanksgiving service project at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., on November 27, 2013. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, it is unlikely a high percentage of the rich and famous will be helping feed the poor and homeless. Giving and volunteering are largely activities engaged in by the middle class, and even the poor and working class. Strange then that the poor and working class should continue to ally themselves with the rich, to envy them their wealth and privilege and, when they vote, to often as not vote to the rich person’s tune.
It tries one’s patience and understanding to refrain from feeling contempt for a group of people who can witness the casual disregard of a leader who tosses rolls of paper towels at them after a horrific natural disaster, and who nevertheless still support that leader. Such a leader would never volunteer to feed the poor at a food bank or homeless shelter, at least not sincerely. For him, it would be nothing more than a photo opportunity he would be eager to get over with. But a division between the middle class and the working class and poor only benefits the rich, the oligarchy. Better to reach out and to serve, even when the people on the other end can often be ignorant, mean-spirited, and hateful.
Morality with an asterisk differs from hypocrisy in that people engaging in it apply double standards to third parties, and not necessarily to themselves. For instance, when the Reverend Franklin Graham recently called on Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg to repent for his homosexuality, which the Rev. Graham claims is a sin according to the Bible, he appears to have ignored sinning on the part of his favored politician, the current president, who numbers serial adultery among his transgressions. That is asterisk morality.
Overlooking sin or defective character when it comes from a political favorite is nothing new for the Rev. Graham, his late father, or white evangelical Christians generally. They do not apply the same standards of forgiveness to their political opponents. When their politician stands accused of misdeeds in the forum of public opinion, the charges are fictional, a smear; but when they have the slightest opportunity, white evangelical Christians do not hesitate smear their political opponents, usually citing the Bible. Where is that Bible when examining the character of Their Guy (almost always a man, and certainly an avowed heterosexual man)? That is asterisk morality.
President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office with the Reverend Billy Graham, father of Franklin Graham, on August 10, 1971. Hobnobbing with presidents who perceive themselves as above the law appears to be a family tradition. Photo from the National Archives.
It would be interesting to see if the Rev. Graham might withhold criticism of Mr. Buttigieg’s personal life if their political views aligned. In reference to the character of the current president, the Rev. Graham appears to have no publicly stated misgivings, and is enthusiastic about him in every respect. All this politicking by the Rev. Graham and other white evangelical Christians is clearly in violation of the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the United States tax code, which was intended to restrict the ability of tax exempt organizations such as churches to engage in partisan politics. It has been laxly enforced. The current president has pledged to abolish the Johnson Amendment. Maybe if Mr. Buttigieg did the same, he too could be without sin* in the eyes of the Rev. Graham and his flock.
* As long as he advocates political policies favored by white evangelical Christians. Amen.
“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:”
— Jeremiah 5:21, from the King James Version of the Bible.
With the release of the redacted Mueller Report last week by the presidential administration’s stooge at the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr, Democrats should finally let go of one of the beliefs they have clung to since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, namely that the other campaign colluded with the Russians in meddling with the election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team found it was not through lack of trying on the part of Republican campaign officials that collusion did not occur, but due to their bumbling incompetence.
Ms. Clinton is apparently still in denial about her loss in 2016. As we move further away from 2016 and closer to 2020, she becomes increasingly irrelevant unless – please no! – she throws her hat in the ring again. Mainstream Democrats have to get over the loss by first admitting one undeniable fact: The Republican candidate didn’t win the election as much as Ms. Clinton lost it, largely due to the arrogance and hubris that infected her campaign. The Russians didn’t help him win; she lost. The Democratic National Committee didn’t obstruct her progress; far from it, since the Committee colluded with her to obstruct the progress of her rival in the primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sexism undoubtedly worked against Ms. Clinton, though possibly only among those who weren’t going to vote for her anyway for other reasons.
The Pharisee and the Publican, a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by James Tissot (1836-1902), based on a parable in the Gospel of Luke.
There are many things that would improve elections in this country, among them reforming the system of primaries and abolishing the Electoral College. Those two major improvements are unlikely to happen before 2020. What can and should happen this year and going into 2020 are impeachment proceedings against the president in the House of Representatives. There is enough even in the redacted version of the Mueller Report, as well as in other ongoing investigations, to start impeachment proceedings against this president. While impeachment is an indictment only, and not the entire procedure to eject a president from office, the public proceedings can lay before the public all the president’s misdeeds. If impeachment succeeds, will he be convicted at trial in the Republican controlled Senate? No.
It is important to proceed with impeachment of the president because it is the right thing to do, because the evidence against him mounts every day and the House is therefore obligated by law to proceed, and because no matter what Old Guard Democrats like California Representative Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer advise about waiting the president out until November 2020, they are wrong since they underestimate the value of the impeachment proceedings aside from the futility of achieving conviction. The Oval Office Blowhard wants to always make everything about him? Very well, let him have it, with day after day airing of dirty laundry.
One third of the American people are never going to be dissuaded from following this president no matter what comes out in an impeachment. Those people are lost to reason, as the president acknowledged in his notoriously accurate assessment of them when as a candidate he boasted he could shoot somebody in broad daylight and they would let him get away with it. The people who need to have the case against the president laid before them in a way they can’t ignore are the third of the people between the hard core MAGA brigade and the other third of the population, mainstream Democrats.
Then see clearly enough to put before the voters a Democratic candidate who generates more widespread enthusiasm than a neoliberal hack such as Hillary Clinton. Give them someone who genuinely speaks for all of them, not just Wall Street while hypocritically mouthing old platitudes about helping the middle and working classes. People don’t want to be sold down the river again, as they were in the Bankers’ Bailouts of 2008 and 2009, and the only ones who could blame them are mainstream, corporatist Democrats who haven’t learned a thing from that time or from the Debacle of 2016.
“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” — Genesis 4:9, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Imagine a television game show in which the announcer calls four contestants from the studio audience to the foot of the stage, a stage that is a mock up of a pharmacy, with a counter behind which stands the host, looking like a pharmacist in a white smock. The host directs everyone’s attention to one side of the stage, where an assistant – also in a white smock – presents a year’s worth of a popular prescription drug, let’s say insulin. The host then asks the four contestants to guess the price of the insulin without going over the amount, and the contestant with the closest guess gets to come up on stage for the opportunity to win prizes.
A lithograph promoting James Morison’s alternative medicines, showing a skeletal figure surveying three doctors around a cauldron in a parody of Macbeth and the three witches. From the Wellcome Collection gallery, London, England.
The remaining contestants try again on the next round, and some of them go home empty handed. Almost all the studio audience in attendance go home without even having been invited to participate. The few winners in each episode get to take home expensive prizes such as the year’s worth of insulin, valued at thousands of dollars, but the majority of those attending a taping of the game show go home with nothing or with a cheap consolation prize, such as a bottle of gummy vitamins. This game show analogy is not far off how Americans seem to prefer having their health care system operate, particularly drug pricing.
If you’re lucky, if you win the lottery (another gamed system Americans seem to prefer over taxing the rich), then you’re good as gold. The majority, however, may run into problems and tough choices, such as paying the rent or buying insulin; paying utility bills or buying any of the number of the life preserving medications people depend on, particularly as they get older. Prescription drugs are every bit as crucial to survival for some people as food and shelter, and yet Americans seem to prefer to let the drug industry operate like any other capitalist endeavor. Profits for drug manufacturers are more important than a decent life for an unfortunate number of citizens who can’t afford the high prices those manufacturers demand simply because they can, and the people principally to blame for this awful situation are some cretins in Congress.
“Someday Never Comes”, by Creedence Clearwater Revival from their 1972 album Mardi Gras.
Who are the people responsible for putting those cretins in Congress and in positions where they can run cover for the drug companies? Why, they are in large part the same people who struggle to buy overpriced prescription drugs. Why do they do this to themselves? Ah, that is the question bedeviling America’s sickness today. The unfortunate part is that while some voters are caught up in Congressional posturing and not paying attention to substance, there are many voters who don’t share their ignorant love of machismo and capitalist lotteries and yet are forced to share the results of the bad policies ensuing from all that greed and childishness. They have to scramble for the scraps left over from the game, while a few wealthy grifters laugh at how they have duped enough voters to go along with their rigged game to keep it going, dangling prizes before the willing saps. Instead of gambling on a rigged capitalist lottery, sensible adults take measures, even – horrors! – socialist measures, to ensure decent results everyday for everybody when it comes to matters of survival like food, shelter, education, and medical care, including drugs.
Mr. Vonnegut was most of all a Humanist, as he himself proclaimed, and the last thing any Humanist would claim is to also be a Saint. On looking back at Vonnegut’s work, the one feature that stands out as discordant from our modern perspective is his treatment of female characters, whom he usually portrayed without much depth, and sometimes unsympathetically for no good reason. That again is viewed from our perch 50 years in the future. Mr. Vonnegut was not out of step with his times in regard to men’s views about women, sad and embarrassing as that may seem to us now. 50 years from now, who can say how people will view us for opinions and attitudes we hold in keeping with our own time?
An anonymous painting, possibly by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712-1774), of a fire at Dresden Castle.
We must remember that until Slaughterhouse-Five came out in 1969, nearly every book and movie in Western culture depicted the Allies in World War II as the good guys, and the Axis as the bad guys, with little shading of gray to add any moral nuance. The Humanist in Mr. Vonnegut could not abide that state of affairs, particularly since he had been present as a prisoner of war at the Allied fire bombing of the German city of Dresden, a target which had virtually no military or political value. The primary reason Allied command ordered the fire bombing was to terrorize the civilian population. In doing so, the Allies sought to deal out righteous retribution for German bombing of English cities earlier in the war. Atrocities, in other words, were perpetrated to one degree or another by both sides, and that is the nature of war and part of human nature and cannot be avoided, no matter how much books and movies gloss it over and glamorize one side over the other. And so it goes – to borrow a phrase from Mr. Vonnegut.
Slaughterhouse-Five was not revisionist history, but a necessary corrective to over two decades of mostly superficial accounts of World War II, at least in the popular media. It joined John Hersey’s 1946 non-fiction book Hiroshima in telling of war’s cost in suffering and the capacity for cruelty, alongside acts of kindness. In 1970, a non-fiction book written by Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, was published and changed the national discourse about relations with Native Americans, a discourse which had been dominated for over a century by white people of European descent demonizing them.
American prisoners caught in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 march to their quarters in Dresden, Germany. In February 1945, Allied air forces fire bombed the city, killing as many as 25,000 Germans, mostly women and children. The 1972 film, directed by George Roy Hill, starred Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, the character based on Kurt Vonnegut, and Eugene Roche as his friend Edgar Derby, the ranking soldier among the prisoners.
Important works by great writers and historians come along infrequently and, while nothing and no one is ever perfect, their overall worth to humanity becomes even more apparent over time than at initial publication. Mark Twain’s 1885 novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another great work that has stood the test of time, has also been subjected to periodic bouts of righteous indignation and banishment by different groups for divergent reasons over the years. Certainly we cringe today at some of its language and at the attitudes Mr. Twain portrayed, but many readers, perhaps most, understand that at the heart of the novel is the growing respect and friendship between a white boy and a black man, which in its day was a radical idea that undermined social conventions. We are all prisoners of our time and cannot, like Billy Pilgrim, the central character of Slaughterhouse-Five, become unstuck in time. But we can be charitable and preserve and cherish the greater Humanist vision given us by Kurt Vonnegut and other writers whose works have stood outside of time, imperfect as the writers and their works, like we and our works, will always be.
In 1947, as Jews leaving Europe were working toward establishing their independent state of Israel in Palestine, an anti-communist scare was gaining momentum in the United States, leading President Harry Truman to sign an executive order requiring loyalty oaths from federal workers suspected of communist sympathies and possibly conflicted allegiance. Over 70 years later, the state of Israel is well established with economic and military help from the United States, and the idea of a loyalty oath as an assurance that a government employee owes allegiance to America only, and not to any foreign power, has been turned on its head by state and federal laws assuring loyalty to Israel as well, or at least not to engage in criticism of that nation’s increasingly aggressive policies toward Palestinians within and without its disputed borders.
2015 release of the 100 dollar bill, showing the design measures taken to foil counterfeiting. The portrait of Benjamin Franklin remains. Presentation by Sar Maroof.
These laws, which require a state employee or government contractor to sign a pledge not to engage in Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) actions against Israel, are so blatantly unconstitutional that it beggars belief they have not been challenged and struck down in the courts already. They are a return to the old days of anti-communist loyalty oaths, but with a bizarre twist. And it’s that twist which complicates matters, because any criticism of the pledges or of Israel bypasses reason and plain reading of the Constitution and goes straight to emotional howls of anti-Semitism. Most people know that’s coming, and since they don’t want to withstand it, they don’t speak up in the first place. The lobbyists for Israel then have their own way.
What has also complicated the relationship between the United States and Israel since the late 1940s is how support for Israel has taken on a polyglot nature in the intervening years, particularly with the rise of white evangelical Christians in American politics since the 1980s. In the 1940s, American support for Israel came largely from American Jews and from the large numbers of people who sympathized with the plight of European Jews after the tragedy of the Holocaust. There are other reasons having to do with the labyrinth of Middle Eastern politics and, of course, oil, but those are beyond the scope of this post.
Since the 1980s, as support for Israel’s increasingly hard line toward Palestinians and relations with its Arab neighbors dwindled among some American Jews, the slack was taken up by white evangelical Christians who looked at the modern state of Israel and saw the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. They cared little about the multitude of practical complications, and they had an interested ear in the White House with Ronald Reagan. By the 1990s, a litmus test for election to political office in some parts of the country was support for Israel, right or wrong, and the test was administered not by American Jews, but by white evangelical Christians and, increasingly, by lobbying groups supported by the right wing in Israeli politics.
Lobbying in Congress by foreign powers is supposedly regulated by law, though in practice it goes on mostly unimpeded. In the 1980s, when Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime gained steam in this country and around the world, the South African government did not have anywhere near the lobbying clout in American politics of the Israeli lobby then, and certainly not as powerful as it has become since. South Africa did not have millions of Christian soldiers in this country who were willing to go onward for it no matter what. About all South Africa had were diamonds, and it turned out they were not enough to resist pressure from the rest of the world to reform its immoral system.
A scene early in the 1960 film Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger, with Sal Mineo and Jill Haworth arguing their different world views in 1947 aboard a refugee ship from Europe bound for Palestine. Paul Newman looks on. Indeed, those were the days.
Now times have changed for Israel, and it’s no longer the plucky underdog deserving sympathy; its policies of the last 40 to 50 years have tainted that image, turning it into a kind of South African apartheid regime, and if people in this country want to criticize it for that, or for anything else, then it’s none of this government’s business, no matter how many “Benjamins” change hands in the halls of Congress, or how many white evangelical Christians with fever dreams of a picturesque Holy Land as they imagine it from their family Bibles, a place for fulfillment of the Gospel that they probably suppose would be nicer if it weren’t inhabited by all those dusky modern Jews, no matter how many of those people angrily pull away their support from any politician who dares criticize Israel, and with it their fantasy.
“So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”
— Ezekiel 33:7, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Amid all the furiously backpedaling confusion promulgated by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over whether he was in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook picture of two male party goers, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) outfit, there appears to be no acknowledgment from the governor or his staff of why they seem to think blackface is less racist than wearing KKK garb. They appear to assume that it is racism lite, and therefore perhaps excusable, choosing to ignore that even in 1984 such behavior was not acceptable in general society, and certainly not seen as good clean fun. The governor professes confusion over whether he was one of the two men in the photo, but nowhere does he allow the possibility he could have been the one in the KKK outfit. He claims he was either the one in blackface or he was not in the picture at all.
This song and dance is understandable given the feelings of the greater society about the KKK. Apparently Northam feels if he needs to equivocate about his participation in racist costuming, he is safer with blackface than with the utterly out of the fold KKK. But why? Besides the ludicrous assertion that he somehow doesn’t remember participating in the activity depicted in the photo, why does he hide behind blackface as the lesser of two evils? Is ridiculing, mocking, and denigrating black people any less evil than intimidating and threatening them? They are two sides of the same coin. And no, taking the good ol’ frat boy defense that he personally meant no harm doesn’t fly.
Ralph Northam’s 1981 VMI yearbook photo showing his nicknames “Goose” and “Coonman”.
Lost in the national coverage of Northam’s foolish, insensitive, and casually hateful youthful behavior is reporting about his less foolish, equally insensitive, and more consciously hateful behavior regarding the Dominion Energy natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As always with things like pipelines, the planned route took it through less populous countryside, avoiding the estates of rich folks, of which there are many in Virginia’s horse country surrounding Charlottesville in central Virginia. Instead the route is planned to take it well south of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, through far poorer and far blacker Buckingham County, with a compressor station near Union Hill, a community noted historically for its population of freed black slaves.
View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia, into rural Buckingham County. Photo by Famartin. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would roughly parallel Route 56, intersecting several miles down the road at Union Hill for the compressor station.
Late last year, Governor Northam dismissed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board who disagreed about the pipeline route and placement of the compressor station, thereby assuring a yea vote from the Board. In Virginia, it should be noted, the biggest utility player, Dominion Energy, is also the largest single donor from the energy sector to political campaigns, regardless of party affiliation. Dominion Energy is pushing the pipeline through Buckingham County and its compressor station in Union Hill. Just north of Buckingham County is Albemarle County and its plethora of country estates owned by wealthy white people. South of Buckingham County would apparently be too far out of the way, making the pipeline more expensive.
In lightly populated Buckingham County,Dominion Energy could expect easily overpowered opposition to its pipeline and compressor station from poor, mostly black communities. The only remaining obstacle was two obstinate members of the state Air Pollution Control Board, and with the help of their man in the Governor’s office, they were removed. Like the 1984 yearbook photo, Governor Northam and his friends thought they could dismiss the racism implicit in it all by taking the position that he didn’t mean it that way. How insulting! It matters not at all how these people intend their actions, as if that somehow magically exonerates them, but how their actions ultimately affect the people on the receiving end, and professed ignorance of the effects on those on the receiving end is no excuse, any more than it was for the German people when their leaders packed Jews into cattle cars and sent them to concentration camps.