Letter from Birmingham Jail

I read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail every year around this time, but I was struck by its truth and eloquence and importance even more this year, in this age of Trump. I wonder if the President has ever considered just and unjust laws or read Augustine or Aquinas. Has he ever concerned himself with the underlying causes of oppression in America? Would he scoff at the notion of creative extremism? All we know of late is that he's obsessed with cable news, that he questions U.S. policy on immigration from "shithole countries," and that he pigeonholes staff based on ethnicity. I urge you to read MLK's letter in full -- this excerpt is one of my favorites:

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity."

Gettysburg Address

I was reminded yesterday via twitter that Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, arguably the greatest and most consequential speech in American history, 153 years ago on November 19, 1863. As I read it again I was overwhelmed with sadness; I think I hardly have to say why (though I will soon, at length). But I also felt a glimmer of hope, because maybe those of us who believe in the great American project will work harder than ever before to ensure that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

A Century of General Relativity

A century ago, Einstein expounded on his general theory of relativity, an idea that transformed our understanding of space and time. Physicists have always held a certain allure for me, and over the years I've endeavored to understand their theories. If you're interested in reading about the development of physical theory, this book by a former professor of mine is very good. And this article in the NYTimes is a nice tribute to Einstein's genius, excerpted below:

"By the fall of 1915, Albert Einstein was a bit grumpy. And why not? Cheered on, to his disgust, by most of his Berlin colleagues, Germany had started a ruinous world war. He had split up with his wife, and she had decamped to Switzerland with his sons.

He was living alone. A friend, Janos Plesch, once said, 'He sleeps until he is awakened; he stays awake until he is told to go to bed; he will go hungry until he is given something to eat; and then he eats until he is stopped.'

Worse, he had discovered a fatal flaw in his new theory of gravity, propounded with great fanfare only a couple of years before. And now he no longer had the field to himself. The German mathematician David Hilbert was breathing down his neck.

So Einstein went back to the blackboard. And on Nov. 25, 1915, he set down the equation that rules the universe. As compact and mysterious as a Viking rune, it describes space-time as a kind of sagging mattress where matter and energy, like a heavy sleeper, distort the geometry of the cosmos to produce the effect we call gravity, obliging light beams as well as marbles and falling apples to follow curved paths through space."

Centenary of the Armenian Genocide

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the massacre of approximately 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman government. On this date in 1915, the Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and leaders in Constantinople (now Istanbul). A short time later, groups of Armenians were led on death marches into the Syrian desert.

Read More

From The Holy Mountain

In recent years, considerable attention has been paid to the many, multidimensional conflicts in the Middle East, with a particular focus on the influence of radical Islam. Many are inclined to see a conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations, a “clash” that divides East from West. Perhaps this is why some do not know and others have forgotten that Christianity is an eastern religion, firmly rooted in the intellectual ferment of the Middle East.

Read More

Woman In Gold

I'm looking forward to this movie about one of the great legal battles in art history. Listen to the NPR story about Maria Altmann here. And if you're in New York, you can view the "woman in gold," also known as the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, at the Neue Gallerie. I've seen it and it is dazzling.