Wednesday, July 17, 2013

George Zimmerman, Giving Town Watch a Bad Name

I served on a Town Watch in my neighborhood years ago.  We were having a hooker problem.  I don't wish to be overly judgmental, but I and many of the neighbors felt the area was not an appropriate place for an open-air sex bazaar.  The people I'm talking about were rather uninhibited.  When Paul McCartney shouted, "Why don't we do it in the road?" they said, "Yeah, why not."

So we organized a local Town Watch under the supervision of the Philadelphia Police Department.

I was a bit surprised at how strict they were.  First, we had to wear identifying clothing.  Several Watch volunteers were graphic designers, and there was a competition for the logo that went on our caps.  The losers were very brave, and the winner was ecstatic.

Next there was the issue of guns.  The Philadelphia Police Department said we couldn't have any.  They did give us these huge mag lights that we all thought might make decent billy clubs in a pinch.  In the end we used them to shine light in dark places, and I saw things I wish I had not seen.

We always went in a group.  I forget what our minimum number was, but we usually had four or five people.

Finally, we were told never to confront.  I don't think pursuit even came up.  We were supposed to call it in, and that's what we did.

So, on the basis of my experience, I would say that George Zimmerman was not acting as a legitimate Town Watch volunteer on the night he shot Trayvon Martin.  Mr. Zimmerman carried a gun, he did not wear a hat with a silly logo, he acted alone, and he pursued.   Very un-Town Watchly.  Perhaps a better word for Mr. Zimmerman would be vigilante.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bastille Day for Trayvon Martin

I wonder if it's entirely coincidental that our Day of Vigil for Trayvon Martin -- today, July 14 -- is also Bastille Day in France, the day during the French Revolution when the people stormed the Bastille prison and released the prisoners.

France had been a conservative monarchy where the people at the top controlled everything and the people at the bottom starved. Now it is a liberal democracy where the people at the top control everything and the people at the bottom do not, by and large, starve. This is progress.

In 1955, a young black man named Emmett Till was beaten and shot to death in Mississippi. His crime was that he may or may not have whistled at a white woman.

In 2012, a young black man named Trayvon Martin was shot to death in Florida. His crime was that he refused to be intimidated by a white man. Trayvon stood up for himself.

And now I think we should all stand up for Trayvon Martin, and keep standing up until it is no longer open season on young black men in America.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Memphis Belle

Back in World War II our bomber crews would give their aircraft names.  Along with an appropriate picture, the name would be painted near the nose of the plane.

One of the more famous B-17s of the war was the Memphis Belle.  Air crews needed to fly 25 missions, and then they could go home.  The crew of the Memphis Belle flew their 25th and final mission on May 17, 1943.  That was the day my brother was born.

There's a movie.  It's a good movie, but my response to it is deeper than that.  Generally speaking I don't cry in movies.  I cry for the Memphis Belle.

Children tend to accept things the way they are.  I was born in 1947.  I had a mother and a father.  For the first several years of his life, my brother had a mother.  And, of course, she was a single mom.  What was that like?

Aerial combat is beautiful until it's not.  W. Eugene Smith, who became a famous Life magazine photographer, started out shooting the air war in the Pacific.  His photographs were gorgeous.  Then he switched to the ground war.  His photographs changed.  He changed.

The movie does a good job of juxtaposing the beauty and the mayhem in the air.  And then there's the yearning of young men who, having done their duty, just want to go home.

My father was a doctor, and he didn't get shot at a whole lot.  Mainly he patched up other people.  Still, I see a piece of him in this movie that I didn't see when I was growing up.  I'm very glad Daddy got home.

What if Romeo and Juliet Had a Baby?

David Brooks' article on mutts in the Times (June 27) really bothers me.  I have a few questions.

If an Episcopalian marries a Presbyterian, are the products of their union to be called mutts?  (My parents.  Me.  And my brother.)

If a Welshman marries an Englishwoman, shall we call their issue mutts?

If a Hungarian marries a Dane, do we call their kids mutts?  (My mother's parents.)

If an Irishman marries an Italian, do we get mutts?

If an Ashkenazi Jew marries a Sephardic Jew -- mutts?

If an Episcopalian marries a Jew, are their children mutts?  (Me.  And my wife.  And our children.)

If a Christian marries a Muslim?

If a white woman from Kansas marries a black man from Kenya?

I could go on.  In fact, I will.

William the Conqueror's father was from a Scandinavian family.  He was duke of Normandy in France.  William's mother was a townie from Falaise in Normandy.  William became king of England -- hence the Conqueror name.  What do you say?  A mutt?

Julius Caesar and Cleopatra had a baby.  Julius was Italian.  Cleopatra was Egyptian.  Was Caesarion a mutt?  Would you be willing to say that to his parents?

The concept of a mutt, or mongrel, derives from the idea of racial purity, which is pursued these days mainly by the likes of the American Kennel Club.  Race as a scientific concept has been exploded -- although many still quietly adhere to the old learning.  I think the attraction is the corollary concept of a master race.

I was attending a service in St. Thomas on Fifth Avenue years ago.  Wedding, baptism, funeral, something else?  I actually forget.  The minister touched briefly on sin, so it may have been a baptism.

He suggested that many of us probably didn't feel particularly sinful (we were Episcopalians after all).  But he said we also probably thought we were better than most other people.  And that, he gently reminded us, is a sin.