Beloved M(X)LK, Raggedy WaPo

Two giants. Two martyrs. One so sanctified he’s made it to Paradise Porn. The other mixedbagged and boutiqued into Niche Noesis. Maybe, for each of them, a second martyrdom.

Now comes the Washington Post with a very, very fine “Malcolm X Redux”. But it’s the Washington Post, so the pretext for publication is another 50th anniversary. But it’s the Washington Post, so it dominates the Style section. But it’s the new, beleaguered with all its print siblings, Wapo, so it has about as much graphics as text.

And what, you may ask, is the problem?

The only photo of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X together was a photo op  taken outside of Congress, March 26, 1964. (Henry Griffin/AP)

It is that we need the ancestors, and we very much need these two precious, dead, thinkers and activists. Krissah Thompson’s article is a valuable contribution, but it is so desperately necessary because the mainstream assumptions reflected by the Post and other “leading” media for these 50 and more years have as a whole served to attack, obscure, misrepresent and sanitize the images of these two men.

Let’s take a whirlwind tour of the borderlands between three gigantic domains: citizenship, journalism, and schools. I’ve hopped on my blog-scooter, so I beg you to hold on tight and forgive me my shortcuts. What for some will be harder to forgive is the overall perspective: what does any citizen or kid-potential-citizen need, to “mature” into an at-risk world that dearly needs his or her input. I.e., where is the groundwork for being/becoming – if one so chooses – an intelligent activist.

Okay, so kids of all ages learn about Saint Martin. With precious exceptions, teachers peddled that in 1980, and still do, in classrooms elementary and otherwise. But from where do they get it, these dutiful ones who don’t get it? Above all, they get it from the dishonest “American Dream” culture that has only a small, sanitized place for minorities. (And denial or worse for those of God’s creatures who were here before Europeans and their slaves). Top-tier newspapers such as the Post are essential elements of this culture, and especially of its transmission to teachers and middle-class parents, who are the main infecters of children.

This remains true (with beloved exceptions) despite all of the intelligent pluralism of editors. They got to be editors because of their ability to present the richest and most literate versions of mainstream assumptions of reality. Otherwise they land on the “fringes,” like Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky.

Where they belong, you interject, and have ample opportunity to address their following.

Naw. But I am not going to do what I would prescribe for every journalism teacher and media critic. Google Malcolm and Martin for the past year (or 10 or 40 if you have the time) and “Washington Post”.

Then tabulate relative frequencies. And if you want a PhD or something as a media critic, assemble a composite picture of each of these leaders, based on what you find. Or limit yourself to coverage for the year or two preceding each of these precious individual’s assassination.

I’ve done none of that. But once, while driving to Baltimore (where my friends the Women in Black march in the MLK parade) I listened to WPFW reading New York Times contemporaneous coverage of Martin. Makes you wonder what the Jerusalem Post would have thought of Jeremiah.

And I suspect that Malcolm-the-pimp-turned-rabble-rouser (vs.-Saint Martin) was a more prominent tale 1963-1970 than Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X. Another challenge would be to see what – if anything – primary school administrators and their employees have made of Malcolm all these years.

It has taken 50 years, but maybe Krissah Thompson’s insightful and comprehensive Post piece would be a good starting point. And yes, your humble servant the present author, who became a ghetto schoolteacher in the 1990s when he was 47, should add Manning Marable’s biography of Malcolm to his already hopelessly long reading list.

I only wish that too much to read was our biggest problem. And when I say ‘our” I mean simultaneously some public intellectuals and academics, all teachers at all levels, and really, all the citizens of these United States – whether they have “stepped up” to what citizen means or not.

From Ferguson: Dark Blessing


An attempt to respond to more murder, more injust, more misery. With something other than a thrown verbal rock.

If you read it at all, read it slowly.  For Tamir, even in the last few weeks, you could substitute the names of maybe a dozen others:  many of them, like Tamir, children.


Lament for Darren Wilson and Tamir Rice

(Thanksgiving, 2014)

Precious, precious, precious.
The lives of killers are precious;
they are prisms of truth.
The lives of killers are as those sacred books
we ignore at our peril. And when we read,
woe to those who indifferent read,
or live athwart the words.
Killers, listeners, I said killers.
The lives of killers are precious
whatever you think you have heard
about the image of God,
our murderous imperfections,
or that voice saying in Hebrew
Ehyeh asher ehyeh.
They are because they are.
They are as all lives are
precious, sanctus, precious,
the lives of killers –
and the lives ended,
oh listeners in whom they must live.
Precious the armored humans.
Precious the shaking children,
as ashes in wavering ranks, precious,
from smokestacks once ascended.

Flowers of War



 22 July, 2014….. The Wahington Post:


Gaza deaths: ‘ Women and children first’.

For this Ameican Jew, a nightmare…  from which I am trying to make something.

This is a transformation of a well-known Israeli song:




Evening of Warflowers (A Hebrew Melody)


Evening and flowers of fire:
Let us go out to the fields,
far from the scent of tank-treads,
metal and burning flesh.

Night is slowly falling
over my glowing heart.
Let me whisper you a song
of lovers that never part.

Dawn and the mourning dove:
your hair alight like phosphorus.
If I cannot lie with you, my love,
then I will lie to both of us.





For echoes of other struggles, you can watch performances of the song I disfigured:

Miriam Makeba    

and  Harry Belafonte 

were both dedicated political activists as well as great popular performers.



That The Washington Post features the ‘kiiled breakdown’ graphic may be a sign of a sea change in “mainstream” perceptions of this calamity. If you want the whole WaPo thing from today, it’s  HERE

  But remember the graphic when you read about Hamas’s intransigence (first paragraph) and Israeli claims that the goal of their assault is “the return of the quiet in the whole of Israel”  (5th paragrap, right after Gaza deaths.). And “weep, for you may touch them not”  as Wilfred Owen wrote just before he, too, was killed in the Great War.




Crimea and I

My  “commentary”  on today’s news:  Crimean war and rumours.




Krim i Moi

             2 March, 2014



I’m scared. Again.

Not as usual, but again.


I want to write “September 1, 1939,”

but really don’t even want to think that.

I’d like to hold a candle to Auden,

but not sit in some dive reflecting

on a newish, dishonest jackbooted cybersnooping

Hellfire droning millennium.


Do Putin’s crewcut minions wear jackboots? Overcoats?

(Gogol’s usually there when you need him.)

Does it matter that I’m Jewish

and haven’t made a minyan since before

our Iraq war.


I sit in a dive my own dining room.

On the table, by tart coincidence:

Inferno…1939-1945 (My dad was there,

barely got singed, unlike mom’s family —  ashes.)

The Collapse of Complex Societies (Do we have time

to fall apart, for global anaphylactic carbon, or will it be

we dinosaurs, monster asteroid, Sakharov cocktail?)

and This Is Your Brain on Music ( O tempora! O B-flat sonata,

Oh neuroscience and Mercedes Sosa.)


Munich Potsdam Yalta (There it is: Stalin-Churchill-

Roosevelt in their Black Sea overcoats, Sochi

Olympics just ended another resort. The human race

courting of last resort but for us and our exceptional

President “endangered species” means the middle class.

How quaint. How fatal. An angle

to make the lovely First Lady obtuse.)


Budapest, 1956.


Forgive me e.e. Cummings and Allen Ginsberg.

I presume to sit in a dive with you and Auden

crying in my beer for Wilfred Owen.


Forgive me, my fellow- humans,

one way or another



Forgive us our trespasses

as we have forgotten how to forgive

those who have institutionalized

their fear, avarice and violence.

Give us this day our vision within

the translucent scrim of lies.


For if we can forgive the unforgivable,

we may also forgive ourselves

for the fathomless wound we have made

and allowed fashionable in our name.

Amen. God freaking damn.

World without end

or otherwise.








To Life, Music… and Difficult Memory




There was a man who kissed me the day we met. He was already 90; his musician wife stood smiling beside him.

 There was a woman whom I never met. One day I saw the words “Music saved my life,” and I knew that we were connected, close. That was this winter. Last week I found a DVD on my disorderly desk, and got to know “The Lady in Number 6” a bit better.

 Harry Jagoda, 100, and Alice Herz-Sommer, 110, both died this week.









 Although it visits us all, grief is a strange, strange bird – different at each appearance. Perhaps because I knew neither of them intimately, perhaps because of the Holocaust, I am grieving publicly. Certainly because of music.

 In Italy a lifetime or two ago (few years before I was born) Sgt. Harry Jagoda had an employee named Flory. Her mother, her first music teacher, put her on a train saying Don’t talk with anyone; just play your accordion.

Flory Accordion Her mother’s last words were like a charm. No one asked the charming accordionist if she was Jewish. She made it to Italy. Soon the Gis were presenting their sergeant  with wedding dress, made from a parachute, for his new bride.

 Meanwhile Alice, already a concert pianist, was sent with her son Raphael to the showcase Nazi camp at Terezin. Her husband was put on another train, and disappeared into Dachau. “Every day in life is beautiful,” said Alice a few years ago, in Malcolm Clarke’s beautiful and modest documentary about her life. [ ] She had earned the right to say that,  in a way we would wish on no one. Yet her voice rings more true for that.

 My grandmother, no musician, sang songs like the ones Flory Jagoda still sings and writes. One day I will ask Flory if Harry fell in love with her songs, when he fell in love with her. Sixty years later I was fortunate to become a minor voice in that counterpoint of love. Even now, in grief that the rest of us can barely guess at, Harry and Flory are circled’ round with love.

 My grandmother sang “Los Bibilicos” and the other songs because she, like Flory, grew up singing and speaking Ladino, Djudeo-Espanol, the language of those Jews who thrived in Al Andalus (Muslim Spain) and fled the Inquisition at the end of the 15th century. Their descendents were, like my grandmother’s family, thriving in Greece in the 1930s. And in Bosnia like Flory’s family. (When Their Catholic Majesties declared the Expulsion in 1492, the Ottoman Sultan welcomed Jews into his North African and Mediterranean empire.)

 As I said, I am writing this because grief is a strange bird. My grandmother survived a stillborn child, her entire family from Salonika swallowed by the Holocaust, and years later her only granddaughter. But after a minor accident she told me, her only grandson, that she had had enough. She died two days later.

 In 1955, I think, we all shared her one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. We shared it with a couple from grandma’s home town. I was eight, and I didn’t know what the blue numbers on their arms were for, the tatooes that enrolled them at Auschwitz.

 While my father– another sergeant –served in t North Africa and Italy, the world of European Jews ( like his fathers Polish parents and his wife’s Greek ones) came to an end. Although blissfully or willfully ignorant of that fate, other Americans in 1941 were looking at the possibility that Hitler’s war of conquest would succeed – and maybe that the world as they knew it would also end.

 “You don’t have to be Jewish” to believe in 2014 that are entire world, our planet itself, is in deep danger. Political violence and climate change are both products of human arrogance and domination, that now appear in the clothing of corporatist transnational Power.

 Some will say that to mix politics and personal grief is a sin, a desecration, or at best a sad delusion.

 But I reject all pious complacency, all denial – however sympathetic and understandable –- of the magnitude of our danger. Harry and Alice both lived long, beautiful, life-affirming lives. They chose affirmation as does Flory, in her life and her music. They know at what cost the preciousness of life is maintained.

 They knew and know (I imagine Alice Herz Sommer nodding here) what Franz Schubert somehow composed  before dying at 31. What the young officer and poet Wilfred Owen left us before the last guns of World War I stopped his mouth.

 Goodbye Harry whom I knew for a few mere hugs and kisses. Goodbye Alice whom I knew only as a voice, an image, a smile. Who said we should thank Bach and Beethoven and Schubert for making us happy.

 Through my tears I say thank you Harry Jagoda and Alice Herz Sommer. You are gone and you remain, while we remain.


Waste/ Water


When I graduated junior high school in 1961, the tag under my yearbook photo read “at home on the launching pad”. And indeed, both my imagination and my then career-goal had been formed by a combination of NASA, The Hayden Planetarium… and science fiction.

The specialized public high school I started later that year was considered part of the USA response to Sputnik, and to close “the missile gap”.

Neither my boyhood dream, nor those of visionary scientists and engineers –never mind the geopoliticians— came to pass. You could say that was because a 14-year-old’s techno-utopia was always improbable. It would be equally true, however, to say that the prevailing optimism about science, progress and our country – rested on shaky foundations.

We are marvelous imaginers and builders. We are also a society that quantifies the value of life into a number of dollars. We call the ability to increase that number “freedom,” and believe that (in democratic principle at least) each person’s honest, free effort will be reflected in some amalgam of net worth and family security.

But we have always cheated in that calculation. Capitalism banishes as “externalities” many of the greatest costs of industrialization and the construction of the American Dream: Short shrift as we displaced and decimated the peoples who lived in North America before Europeans arrived. Short shrift for our darker brothers and sisters who were legal property. Short shrift for miners and countless others, who paid for the transcontinental behemoth with their health, immiseration, and stunted futures.

Are you worried about the national debt? Probably the shortest shrift – the biggest unpaid bill – is to our sustaining Mother Earth. But just as with indigenous people, human chattel and exploited workers, the “reckoning” is a matter of life and death. To put it baldly — it is a matter of empirical as well as moral interest to know how many times you can rape your mother – before she dies.

(Transition. Deep breath.)

Sunday’s Washington Post brings us in-depth journalism about a remarkable piece of engineering: a 4.5 mile-long, 23-foot-wide tunnel currently being dug under Washington, DC. It’s supposed to be complete in 2025 – to remedy the current ancient system, that disposes of human waste and storm runoff together, often into local waqterways, and so into the Cheasapeake Bay and the ocean.


Do we like this? Ashley Halsey’s extensive piece

does a great job – with really useful graphics – of explaining what its for, how it will work, and especially the the massive, slow, hi-and lo-tech construction process featuring an engineering prodigy “longer than a footbal field”. Towards the end she gets into the conomics – which reminds us that DC’s sewage mess is part of a much larger picture. Public Infrastructure in the land of the free – roads, utilities, euipment etc. – had been under-maintained for decades, or longer. Even here, the free market has disinvested in the long run. Or, you could say, cheated the future. (Whether one agrees with a carbon-spewing industrial future – catastrophic, I think—or not.)

Halsey also does a good, if too-cute, job of explaining how we got here. It seems that in the 19th-century “combined systems” that carried both waste andf rainwater we “all the rage”– and still used especially in large East Coast cities. The bottom line for such systems is that when there is a high flow of wasftewater (snowmelt or a rainstorm, for example) the overflow is – by design – sent to ou rivers and other waterways. Happens “hundreds of times a year”. Swallow that, consumer. But do not try to drink it.

And it sure sounds like the original problem was not an engineering mistake, but rather the assumption that just as the earth is a free source of wood, ores etc., our waters make a great garbage can.

So: What’s Love got to do with it?  Love nature — or at least respect our planet. Figure our what makes sustainable economic sense and more beautiful light into our world. Or else you can exploit it, benefit from corporations and governments that do, and huddle in the “big , mainstream tent” with the other abusers.


In Praise of Our Torturers

In these troubled times, a crazy-superficial balance can be constructed by marrying two unlikely elements.

Such as the pretext-inspiring Washington Post newspaper and the deeply inspiring poet-songster Leonard Cohen.

Wherefore I offer you the following, provoked by




In Praise of Our Torturers

Am I nuts?

Of course I’m nuts.
I live in the greatest democracy in the history of the known world.
I live in the shadow of the Holocaust, slavery, and those who lived here before us.

I live in the shadow of Franz Schubert and Wilfred Owen.

Wanna come live with me, and be my love?
Or with the folks who got wash boards and surfboards and waterboarding confused?
Who told the soldiers and patriotic geeks that the world was our oyster,
and we’d better crack the goddam shell before bad actors got there,
before it is too late.

It is too late for KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
the “self-declared mastermind” of 911, waterboarded 183 times,
and it is too late for you and I, whether
we want to extract intelligence,
send a message,
crush his soul,
or none of the above.

As I’ve heard,
and Leonard Cohen sang:
Democracy is coming
to the USA.



            -- David Almaleck Wolinsky



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