Martin Luther King the Man

Martin Luther King JrIt’s kind of shocking, really. Today is, in a concrete way, Martin Luther King day, yet there is almost no mention of it. I’ll come back to it, but it seems very strange to me. And offensive.

On this day in 1622, Moliere was born. He was such a great French playwright that I actually know who he was and have read about him. I have to admit, I know him mostly as a counter-example to people who claim that Shakespeare was the greatest playwright ever because he was both a playwright and an actor. Well, first: who cares? Second, Shakespeare was a minor actor—certainly no star. But Moliere was a star and perhaps the the greatest comedic playwright in western literature. And remember: Shakespeare wrote terrible comedies. (Of course, it doesn’t matter to the Shakespeare apologists; they will just argue that tragedies are what really matter; you see: I don’t hate Shakespeare at all—as anyone who reads me knows, I’m actually very fond of him; it’s a Shakespeare apologists that I just can’t take.)

But there are a couple of other great playwrights who were born today that I have never heard of. For example, there is the great German playwright Franz Grillparzer who was born in 1791. He was exactly the kind of sullen and bitter man you would think romanticism would produce in a German. Also, the Russian playwright Aleksander Griboyedov who was born in 1795 and died just 34 years later.

The great Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya was born in 1850. She is known for her work in differential equations and mechanics. It was only when I read that, that it occurred to me that the reason that I’ve always loved classical mechanics more than any other kind of physics: it is basically pure math. And it doesn’t matter how much you add “realism” to it. For example, the simplest mechanics assumes no resisting forces. But you can add resisting forces. For example, you could add a constant resistance or one dependent upon velocity. That, as I recall, is solvable with pure mathematics. It is indicative of an object moving slowly in a viscous fluid. An object moving through air is generally dependent upon the square of the velocity. That, in general, is not solvable. Anyway, if I totally confused you, you should have some idea of how much more brilliant Kovalevskaya is than you are. (Or I am; I make no claims for myself!) As always for women even today: they have to be better than a man does to reach the same level in the profession. It’s sad, but it doesn’t help to pretend it isn’t true.

The great zydeco musician Queen Ida is 85 today. Here she is doing “Jambalya.” It is music that makes continuing to live seem like a rational decision:

Other birthdays: probable celebrity murderer Marie Lafarge (1816); Freud’s teacher Josef Breuer (1842); writer Mazo de la Roche (1879); the father of the hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller (1908); actor Lloyd Bridges (1913); musician Captain Beefheart (1941); the man Hillary Rodham Clinton murdered, Vince Foster (1945) [Note: it is an outrage that this man’s tragic suicide was used by conservatives for years to make political points. If you really think that the Republican Party is worse now than it was 20 years ago, all you have to do is look at what the conservative movement said about his death. None of those people should be allowed in polite society without a profound apology. But of course, nothing has happened them. They are evil people. They are destroying my culture. And they are thriving.]; comedian Andrea Martin (67); actor who I only bring up because I missed his father’s birthday, Mario Van Peebles (57); and actor Regina King (43).

The day, however, belongs to the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King who was born on this day in 1929. Now, there are two MLKs: the man and the symbol. Mostly, we cherish the symbol. Even conservatives who are absolutely against the continuing civil rights struggle say nice things about King the symbol. According to them, he would even be in favor of their “free” market, kill the poor economic policies, even though he died during a trip to support a labor strike. But none of that especially matters right now. A man was born on this day—a man who transcended this mortal coil. And on this day, at the very least, we celebrate that man who would be 85 today.

Happy birthday Martin Luther King!


See also:

King on Poverty
Contents of Character
In Memoriam: 4 April 1968
Our Failed Copyright System In Not MLK’s Fault
Conservatives Behind Every Curve

Jerry Brown’s Indictment of the US

Jerry BrownThe two news organizations that I turn to now are Al Jazeera America and the Los Angeles Times. Why? Because the former is really good. And the latter is good and has not yet started charging me to read it. (Although I feel certain that this is coming.) But even more, over the last six months, I’ve found myself feeling more and more estranged from the dominance of “national” politics, which is defined as whatever is going on in Washington and New York. Don’t get me wrong. I really like both New York and Washington. I have very fond memories of them both. But they are not nor would they ever be home. It isn’t quite right to say that I’m a California boy, though. I’m a left coaster as defined by American Nations. And that means that I’m not really at home down in Los Angeles. But the Times covers my section of the world. (The San Francisco Chronicle still kind of sucks online, unless you’re really into sports.)

One of my heroes is Jerry Brown. This doesn’t mean that I agree with him about everything. But as far as politics goes, there is no one better and I tend to think there is one one who is even equal. We had a great experiment here in California. You see, one of my most hated canards is that politics is easy and if we just got rid of the professional politicians, we could solve all our problems. We here in California got a chance to try that. We elected (and I am not proud of this) Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of the truly great state of California. (Really, what is with all this “great state of…”? Is Wyoming really a “great state”? I don’t think so. If it were part of California, we might call it the “great congressional district” but that’s about it!)

Arnold SchwarzeneggerLook: I have lots of problems with Schwarzenegger, but I fully admit that he is a very smart and capable man. But he was a political amateur. You could see this when he spoke at the 2004 RNC. He spoke in glowing terms about Nixon. Well, as you know, I’m a big fan of Nixon. But Schwarzenegger made two mistakes. First, he mistook political rhetoric for political policy. Hey: listen to what Paul Ryan talks about! It’s all about leveling the playing field and getting rid of crony capitalism. Then look at his budget. It’s all about unleveling the playing field and taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. This is the most elementary political error one can make, and it is primarily a mistake made by conservatives—especially immigrants. His second mistake was to believe that the Republican Party of George Bush the Younger was the same as the Republican Party of Richard Nixon the Only. Hell, at that time, the Republican Party was mostly pro-choice! Now the only choice that the Republican Party believes in is the choice of the rich to do whatever they want and the choice of the poor to try to make ends meet with the crumbs that the rich leave on the table.

So it was no surprise that Mr I’m Gonna Take Charge was a complete failure as governor. But who knew? Maybe no one could fix California. And then, the 73-year-old former governor Jerry Brown came into office and showed what a professional can do in the job. He did many things that I was none too happy about. But hell, what was he going to do? I’m none too happy that I can’t afford season tickets to the San Francisco Opera. Life sucks some times and when a state is billions of dollars in the red, there is going to be pain. (NOTE: this is not true of the federal government!) And he managed the situation in the best way that any man reasonably could.

Now that California’s budget problem is solved, the question is what are we going to do with the money. Brown has some very good ideas, including $1.6-billion addition to the state’s “rainy day fund.” Of course, not everyone is happy. The courts think they ought to get more money. The court system thinks it’s getting the shaft (defined as $105 million more per year), but the Brown administration has said that other parts of the government—most especially education—have suffered more and thus deserve more. Again, I don’t agree with him completely, but he does his job well—probably better than any other politician.

Bearing this in mind, consider the news from yesterday, Brown Rules Out Presidential Bid. There has been a lot of talk about him running. After all, you could cite the “California Miracle.” But he said no. What’s important is how he said it. According to the article:

“No, that’s not in the cards. Unfortunately,” he told reporters at a news conference before brightening about his current job: “Actually, California is a lot more governable.

That should make us all pause. Legislatively, California is a mess. It is almost impossible to raise taxes. Every two years there is up to a score of really bad ballot initiatives that the corporatocracy has gotten the people to ignorantly put there. Statue of LibertyAnd then we have all the other problems of Washington including a Republican Party committed to destroying the government. So if Brown thinks that California is more governable and he is the best executive of the last two generations, what does that say about the state of governance in the United States?

I absolutely do not believe in revolution. I am committed to pacifism. I think that violence always makes things worse for the people (Like me!) who just want to live their lives. But today, at least, I am very pessimistic. The only possibility for a more just society may be to destroy it and start over. Because day by day, the United States is becoming a less perfect union. And the fact that a great man like Jerry Brown would rather stay in California than deal with the country as a whole is a perfect example of this.