Jerusalem and Birmingham

I recently read (more of less at the same time) two historical books which I would highly recommend.  Each is flawed, but each gives a picture of a tragic time of which I knew too little.

eichmannThe first was Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), about Nazi middle-manager Adolph Eichmann, captured in Argentina in 1960, and tried in Jerusalem in 1961. Arendt’s famous account of the trial is idiosyncratic, and oft-criticized, mainly for being thought too soft on Eichmann and too hard on the victims, the prosecutors and David Ben-Gurion, who Arendt portrays as the political choreographer of the trial.

She blames the many Nazis who wielded greater power and had greater capacity for evil, but she does not remotely excuse Eichmann.  Nor does she blame those who died, except in the sense that she is troubled by the unwillingness of some victims to resist totally and violently early enough that they (might?) have made a difference.

As a trial account, the book is fairly weak, in the sense that she is telling the back story as much as she is summarizing the evidence presented.  This may have been due to the length of the trial and her sense that Eichmann was too slender a reed to support the weight of the crimes he facilitated. I would have liked more reporting and less musing.

But her musings are fascinating!*

MLKThe second book, Martin Luther King, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King (1998), is equally well-known, a compilation of writings, speeches and sermons stitched together with narrative sections cast in the first person by the historian Claiborne Carson.

If what you know of Dr. King is entirely from the perspective of 2017, or MLK-as-political-signifier for one party or another, then this is a nice opportunity to delve back into primary sources.

In any case, you know Dr. King was a master orator and the audiobook takes advantage of the available recordings — that man could preach!**

Each of these two books is narrow, and it will be necessary to read more to have a well-rounded comprehension of the times and the issues, but both are well worth your investment.


NOTES

*From Eichmann in Jerusalem:

  • “The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.” p. 47
  • “These habits of Eichmann’s created considerable difficulty during the trial—less for Eichmann himself than for those who had come to prosecute him, to defend him, to judge him, and to report on him. For all this, it was essential that one take him seriously, and this was very hard to do, unless one sought the easiest way out of the dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them, and declared him a clever, calculating liar—which he obviously was not. . . .
    Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a ‘monster,’ but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown.” p. 52
  • “The facts of the case, of what Eichmann had done—though not of everything the prosecution wished he had done—were never in dispute; they had been established long before the trial started, and had been confessed to by him over and over again. There was more than enough, as he occasionally pointed out, to hang him. (‘Don’t you have enough on me?’ he objected, when the police examiner tried to ascribe to him powers he never possessed.) p. 88.
  • “And the question of individual guilt or innocence, the act of meting out justice to both the defendant and the victim, are the only things at stake in a criminal court. The Eichmann trial was no exception, even though the court here was confronted with a crime it could not find in the lawbooks and with a criminal whose like was unknown in any court, at least prior to the Nuremberg Trials. The present report deals with nothing but the extent to which the court in Jerusalem succeeded in fulfilling the demands of justice.” p. 296.

**From The Autobiography of Martin Luther King:

  • I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”
  • “As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
  • “I have always felt that ultimately along the way of life an individual must stand up and be counted and be willing to face the consequences whatever they are. And if he is filled with fear he cannot do it. My great prayer is always for God to save me from the paralysis of crippling fear, because I think when a person lives with the fears of the consequences for his personal life he can never do anything in terms of lifting the whole of humanity and solving many of the social problems which we confront in every age and every generation.”
  • “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.”

 

“Unshackled”

ScreenShot164I understand that this is long, but there may not be anything better you can do with the next five minutes of your life.  You can read the commentaries later.  Remember that this man is writing out of the context of just being fired from a job he held for twenty years.


Open Letter from Zachary Fardon, March 13, 2017

Today I submitted my resignation, effective immediately, as United States Attorney in Chicago. As I walk out the door, there are a few things I’d like to say.

I am not a political person. I belong to no political party; never have. I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I am not a liberal. I am not a conservative. I never found a need or interest in associating myself politically. I have no interest in political office.

For the past three and a half years, I’ve been lucky to be in a position of power as the US Attorney in Chicago. That means I’ve gotten to lead what I think is the best prosecutors’ office and maybe the best public office this country has to offer.

During those three and a half years, by my own choice, I focused my greatest attention on violent crime. I came into office in 2013 not long after Hadiya Pendleton was killed by an errant bullet in a public park. Like most folks, I was horrified and confused by Hadiya’s death and the constant drumbeat of seemingly random deaths of so many others, including kids, on the south and west sides of Chicago.

Continue reading “Unshackled”

Side reading

ScreenShot164The Oscars and beer, not my usual interests . . .

Benjamin Bannister, “Why Typography Matters — Especially At The Oscars,” Life from a Different Perspective (through Medium) (Feb. 27, 2017) [link].  This is exactly right, and should be the final word on this silly (though amusing) story.

Sam Riches, “The Story of Heady Topper, America’s Most Loved Craft Beer,” Food & Wine Magazine (via Longreads) (March 2017) [link].  Nicely written article about how disaster can be liberating (not that we are going to go searching for disaster).

Red Sea Road

We buried dreamsredsea-roadjpg
Laid them deep into the earth behind us
Said our goodbyes
At the grave but everything reminds us . . .
God knows, we ache
When He asks us to go on
How do we go on?

We will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road

When we can’t see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road . . . .

How can we trust
When You say You will deliver us from
All of this pain that threatens to take over us
Well, this desert’s dry
But the ocean may consume
And we’re scared, to follow You

So we’ll sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road

When we can’t see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road . . . .

Bridge
Oh help us believe
You are faithful, You’re faithful
When our hearts are breaking
You are faithful, You’re faithful
Oh grant us eyes to see
You are faithful, You’re faithful
Teach us to sing
You are faithful, You’re faithful, You’re faithful

And we’ll sing, to our souls
    We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
    There’s a red sea road

When we can’t see the way
    He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
    Down a red sea road . . . .

No, we’ll never walk alone
    Down a red sea road
No, we’ll never, walk alone
    Down a red sea road ….

Ellie Holcomb, “Red Sea Road,” Red Sea Road (2017).

It’s nice when your opponents praise you…

More support for Neil gorsuchGorsuch, from someone who served as Acting Solicitor General under President Obama:

Right about now, the public could use some reassurance that no matter how chaotic our politics become, the members of the Supreme Court will uphold the oath they must take: to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.” I am confident Neil Gorsuch will live up to that promise.

Neal K. Katyal, “Why Liberals should back Neil Gorsuch,” New York Times (Jan. 31, 2017) [link].

Judges and partisans

ScreenShot164This is certainly on point:

It has long been frustrating to me that the only criterion by which Americans — almost without exception — evaluate judges is: Did he or she make decisions that produce results I’d like to see? Virtually no one asks whether the judge has rightly interpreted existing law, which is of course what the judge is formally required to do. Americans — again, almost without exception — want judges to be politicians and advocates. The idea that a judge should strive to interpret existing law regardless of whether it does or doesn’t promote politically desirable ends never crosses anyone’s mind, and if by some strange chance it did, the person whose mind was so crossed would reject the proposal indignantly. Americans in this respect resemble toddlers and their own President: they evaluate everything in terms of whether it helps or hinders them in getting what they want.

This devaluation of interpretation amounts to a dismissal of the task of understanding: everything that matters is already understood, so the person who would strive to understand is not only useless, but an impediment to the realization of my political vision. To the partisan, the absence of partisanship is always a sin, and perhaps the gravest of sins.

Alan Jacobs, “Judging Judges,” Snakes and Ladders (Jan 31, 2017) [link].

Doom

Some very interesting designs for a Holocaust Museum in London.  This one is my favorite — the sense of something vastly dangerous and beyond individual control*:

akzh-holocaust

Rory Stott, “10 Shortlisted Designs for London Holocaust Memorial Revealed,” Arch Daily (Jan. 17, 2017) [link].

Though not, of course beyond individual action: “…and yet, in the end, did Klara Hitler’s sickly son ever fire a gun? One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he ever did was done for him by others.” Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (2005).

Selling yourself

ScreenShot164A short piece on selling your attention span from the CTO of Basecamp, suggesting that there should be a warning for many things you are ostensibly getting for “free”:

[WARNING:] Everything you say and do on Facebook will be used against you by advertisers for targeting that’s most likely to catch you at your most vulnerable, needy moment. Your consumption of the echo chamber timeline will lead to a narrower field of vision of the world. We may try to tinker with your mental well-being at any time, if we determine that a depressed state increases engagement on the A/B by any margin.

He goes on to say:

It wouldn’t surprise me if twenty years from now we view the likes of Facebook with the same incredulity we do now to smoking: How could they not know it did this to their health?

David Hansson, “The Price of Monetizing Schemes,” Signal v. Noise [link].