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It Is Immoral to Misquote Yogi Berra

It Is Immoral to Misquote Yogi Berra

The one thing that I absolutely believe is: it is immoral to misquote Yogi Berra even if you don’t know who he was

Yesterday, in response to the rioting arising from the death of another black man by white police officers, a liberal friend of mine shook his head and said: “It’s just like déjà vu all over again.”

That quote is not applicable to these killings and protests, even though it may bring to light, unintentionally, our national nightmare.

In July of 1967, Cambridge Maryland was burned and Maryland’s Republican governor, Spiro Agnew, got national attention for blaming the demonstrators for burning down their homes, neighborhoods and destroying property. I know something about this because I was a young boy visiting the Eastern Shore that summer. The experience frightened me out of my youth so much so that years later I wrote a play about it.

President Nixon liked Agnew’s toughness. He needed a “law and order” guy to polarize support for his 1968 election. He chose him as his VP to whip up the masses against the “liberals” in order to rally the “silent majority”. It worked. Nixon won a plurality of the popular vote by a narrow margin but won by a large margin in the electoral college.

Sounds familiar… but still no déjà vu.

Maybe this will help:

Yesterday Fox News reported, “… crews on the scene in SoHo reported hundreds of people stealing from luxury stores —including Chanel and Dior — for hours on Sunday night going into the early hours of Monday morning. The looters were seen piling shoplifted merchandise into vehicles while others rode off with the merchandise in black garbage bags balanced on Citi Bikes.”

Many of the African-Americans who had organized the protests in Cambridge repeatedly said the whites lit the black neighborhoods on fire in Cambridge and then refused to put them out since they controlled the fire trucks. The white press never reported that. Nonetheless, the disturbance was defined as the destruction of “property.”

So maybe we have it wrong and it is about “property” and not “lives.”

Let’s refocus and see if we have a way to save human life by protecting property.

America became rich when it helped to rebuild Europe’s economy after WWII. It wasn’t a “giveaway!” Out of the rubble, we built a trading partner and Europe and the United States have prospered for almost 80 years.

So why can’t we create a 15-year state-sponsored municipal bond to rebuild Baltimore city? Not a “giveaway,” but designed to lower the tax burden on the state as re-development occurs? A long-term commitment to rebuild the city would instantly increase the property values, both commercial and residential and bring in national and international investors.

What a perfect time for Maryland’s present Republican governor to make Baltimore into a trading partner with the rest of the state. It certainly will be easier than unifying nation states that have been at endless war for the previous thousand years.

All he has to do is sell it to white Americans. The rebuilding could be entirely about eliminating the cost to the state of “giveaways” to Baltimore city.

It’s not a “giveaway” or, even better, about “Black Lives Matter” — it’s about property! Wow what a great selfish idea!

Hey! Let’s make Maryland great again! Baltimore was once one of America’s three most prosperous cities.

… But it won’t happen, because the rebuilding of post-war Europe had no black countries or black cities and that was our foreign policy, not our domestic policy.

The Constitution, at a minimum, sidestepped slavery or at worst supported it with the Electoral College. And after all slaves were “property.” Maybe racism is in the American DNA.

So in this case, Yogi Berra and my friend were wrong. You can’t have “Déjà vu all over again.” The situation is not repeating because it has never ended.

 
Photo by Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun

History Lesson from an Amnesiac

History Lesson from an Amnesiac

I distinctly remember being taught in high school that what made America great was its big heart and a commitment to democracy and freedom throughout the world. The country of opportunity met you with the words of the Statue of Liberty.

However, with America’s commitment to the IMF and the World Bank after COVID-19 still in question at the White House, I have gone back to when I thought we protected free trade as essential to the spread of democracy and freedom for the world.

Imagine if there had been no Marshall Plan and America had not aggressively led the way to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. That allowed us to create trading partners and free trade and made America and Europe free and able to prosper for the last 80 years.

In college, I was taught that free trade is necessary to build civilization. Free trade is like the blood flow through a healthy body.

I may have gotten it wrong, but I think without free trade there would be no America to “Make Great Again.”

Ten years ago, I visited Syria. The Syria that no longer exists. Entire cities have been wiped out since I was there.

Back then, I fell in love with the beauty of a pre-Roman city of Palmyra and its history.

Northeast of Damascus, it survived because it was at an oasis at the crossroads of trade routes in the desert.

Years ago, it was a burgeoning metropolis of peoples and civilizations. There were times when it was a nation-state and times when it was a city within the ever-changing powers of the region. Its independence depended largely on the prosperity opened to it by free trade.

From the beginning, America has been an oasis of natural resources, protected by our two oceans from the dictators or monarchies of the rest of the world.

As a new nation, I was taught, we became an oasis of constitutional freedom with trade between the states, to became a force in the world. Have our oceans and self-confidence become a curse now? We hear only the voice of the growing isolationism, of “America first.”

Over the last three years, it seems we have not been able to admit or see that we are falling behind and doing everything but making America great again.

I am certain I can still remember when America’s foreign policy was about keeping our oasis safe and the world safe for freedom and democracy.

Anyway, I attach these 10-year-old pictures of Palmyra. You can ride a camel there.

Don’t Settle for a Low Paying Job. Be a Poet Laureate — You’re Qualified!

Don’t Settle for a Low Paying Job. Be a Poet Laureate — You’re Qualified!

If you loved your education or even if you didn’t, but love the people, the culture — and you are pretty certain you should have never been admitted — you are a born Poet Laureate.

If you are worried about qualifications, no license is required. And what is really great is that there are endless jobs available because in most institutions this job has not even been created — so you can fill it by volunteering and hold it endlessly as long as you are keeping the alumni laughing.

And if you are worried about keeping your integrity this is absolutely the job for you! You can test this:

Call a restaurant and tell them you are a Poet Laureate. You will get a table next to the kitchen. You can insist on no favoritism and be certain that your request will be honored.

And it is not “a low paying job”! It is a no paying job, so you pay no taxes! And there are other hidden benefits:

I have found that as long as I have been a Poet Laureate they have not revoked my degree. In my case, that’s important.

I have been the Poet Laureate of the Harvard Alumni Association for the last eight years and I am living proof that no talent is richly rewarded for the pure pleasure of just doing this job.

Yes, I have proof:

The job requires that I present my “ode” at the Annual Spring Meetings of the Alumni Association and, for the last two years, for different reasons, it has been videoed.

Have fun with it. Two weeks ago, because of the coronavirus, I bemoaned the cancellation of our graduation and celebrated our student athletes and our football team:

The year before, I celebrated the Harvard Magazine and my former father-in-law:

For the text of the rest see the HAA website.

In truth, this is not a labor of love. It is more than that. I owe this school more than I can ever pay back. For me, it is my foolish way to say thank you. It is worth doing this for that alone.

If your institution does not have a Poet Laureate, volunteer. You will make a fool of yourself but you will open door for others to be free to do the same.

But if you are a graduate of Harvard, the job is taken.

For Everything There Is a Seasoning

For Everything There Is a Seasoning

What is so great about Classical Christian art is it is like getting morality training delivered in a horror movie.

You have to see it to believe it.

Consider Ugolino.

He is in quarantine for life and starving and has to either starve with his family or take care of his own bad self and eat his children.

His quandary is the classic question which pits self-interest against the rights of others.

He ended up at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno.

We have no vaccine or reliable testing that will allow us to determine who can go back to work without putting others in harm’s way.

We don’t have the equipment to make the correct decisions without all the information and we running out of time.

This is a horror movie scenario.

Maybe we have been kidding ourselves all along that our humanity is our ability to reason and think.

Maybe there are sometimes when you have to think with your feelings.

You have to see it to believe it.

In Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s sculpture of Ugolino and his children, you can feel the pain of Ugolino at the moment he is the making that decision. His children trust him.

It is that same decision which confronts the caregivers in emergency rooms and elected representatives as they reopen the country, decision by decision and case by case.

Look at all the expressions in that sculpture.

Quarantine Journal Entry

Quarantine Journal Entry

Quarantine Journal Entry #*@!%😱!

On Friday, March 6th, I headed home on a mid-morning train from NYC. We had been busy. The day before, we had finished a third table reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine. The atmosphere had been wonderful and the actors had greeted each other with hugs and kisses, celebrating the act of making theater.

Other than my wife, this was the last time I have been within six feet of anybody for almost two months. Everyone in the world I know is in quarantine.

I have tracked my friends in New York and elsewhere, as some of them have gotten the virus, gone dark, and returned to report they are better but have lost friends to the disease.

The realization that this will not end easily for anybody has been made clear every morning as I’ve watched a cold spring come to Maryland under iron gray skies. I have been waiting for good news or some sign of change. I want the everyday life that I will always remember but will not see again.

Today, I decided to gather the little things that I might have taken for granted before, and make them into an exciting life that must be coming.

My social media manager Katie Marinello has already posted the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal article written by Michael Millemann about the law school class that we taught with Eliot Rauh. We have been notified that it continues to be one of the most downloaded current articles. I read it, and instead of taking it for granted I celebrated it as part of a new beginning, a new opportunity.

A year ago this week, I recited my 7th annual Harvard Alumni Association poet laureate poem (a “serious” bit of frivolity which I dearly love). This year, because the alumni meetings will be held virtually, I was asked to write it and have it videoed for presentation tomorrow. Instead of being disappointed I will not see my friends and fellow alumni and present it to a live audience, I reviewed the video and found myself laughing.

Finally, the play I was afraid would die in New York City after that great reading, we have just been informed is a finalist for the New York Rave Theater Festival and is being considered for perforce in NYC in October.

A different world is evolving now, but at least personally it is starting to feel like we are starting to wake up from a sleepless night to a coming spring.