The stirring letter read in part by Senator Chuck Schumer written by Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife a week before he was killed at the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War can be found here.
The first stop President-elect Donald Trump made on Inauguration Day was at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic venue that opened in 1816 and nicknamed “The Church of the Presidents”, for a private family prayer service. This brings to mind the state of mind of the first Orthodox Jewish Couple – Jared & Ivanka Kushner – to be the daughter and son of a U.S. President, as they sat listened to a sermon under the watchful eyes of Jesus on the cross. Not since Senator Joe Lieberman was the VP candidate in 2000 has a Jew had to do such fancy footwork to rationalize hobnobbing with the holy ghost.
There Jared Kushner stands, back and center, having reportedly once broke up with Ivanka over the religion issue, ranging in his travels from pre-election blessings from the spirit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the private service at St. John’s this morning.
As Jared Kushner prepares to take on a prominent role in the shadows of the White House, Reince Priebus will have to work on getting Jared’s last name right.
Look at any list of well-known individuals from Hampton, Virigina, and it’ll be dominated by people form the performing arts and sporting worlds. The Answer as a Hamptonite comes to mind, and his appearance at the Garden the other day in a Rebel Alliance hat brought speculation that he might be a closet Star Wars Nerd.
But there is a new Hamptonite on the scene who has given voice to a heroic group of black women integral to building the United States aeronautical program before LBJ and other Texans influenced NASA to move from “Spacetown USA” to Houston. It is mind-boggling to think that “Hidden Figures” is Margot Lee Shetterly’s first effort as an author, because she writes with the flair of a polished veteran. She has done more for “STEM Sell” among women in general, and within the African-American community in particular, than most efforts to date in the popular culture. Aiding this is the movie now out by the same name, which debuted last weekend to nice critical acclaim.
We saw the movie last night and it is well done, though it shortchanges the wealth of research and style of substance in the book. Kevin Costner plays the role of a civil rights champion in the movie, a foil to the the women who fought for respect and recognition. There was no such figure in the book, which accords the story of these courageous women and their upbringing its proper due. Katherine Johnson, the main subject of Hidden Figures, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015 and last year NASA Langley’s new Computational Research Facility was formally dedicated in her name. At the 30:00 minute mark of the ceremony, Ms. Shetterly pays tribute to the story she wrote about Hidden Figures, but I’d encourage you to watch the entire uplifting presentation.
In her book, Ms. Shetterly speculates along with Katherine as to why there was a disconnect in the black community about the opportunities available through STEM education. Part of it may have stemmed from the perception that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics were a luxury to think about that remained elusive when the community at large was occupied day-to-day necessities.
Toward the end of Hidden Figures, Ms. Shetterly relates that the actress Nichelle Nichols tendered her resignation of her role as Lieutenant Uhura after the first season of Star Trek in 1967. She was attending a celebrity NAACP fundraiser in LA when an attendee who declared himself to be one of her greatest fans asked to be introduced to her, noting that Star Trek was the only show that he and his wife allowed their children to watch. He never missed an episode, and urged her not to leave the show because her role was groundbreaking. He considered it immensely important in helping black people imagine a brighter future for themselves in a multicultural society. On Monday morning, Nichelle returned to Gene Roddenberry’s office and asked him to tear up her letter of resignation. The name of the persuasive fan? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yesterday I referenced a refreshing book by Omar Saif Gohbash, ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Russia. One of his primary messages is that the violence perpetrated in the name of radical, fundamentalist Islam can be traced to the self-limting fantasies of deeply unhappy people, and that fellow Muslims should hold these individuals accountable for the havoc they have wrought. Ambassador Ghobash counts himself among those children raised with a rigid worldview that loses its validity with maturation.
I noted the hidden gem of a chapter on Ambassador Ghobash’s personal library and his passion for books, and its universalism begs to be quoted:
“Whenever friends or guests come over to our house, I like to show them the library. I am not entirely sure why. In some ways it is a very private place. It is like a window to my mind. If you look at the books on the shelves, and piled up on the table, you can get an idea of what I like to think about … I have all kinds of books there, from the Talmud in Hebrew and Arabic to the Quran in many languages; from books on Western philosophy to the advance mathematics textbooks I bought in the hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of all those wonderful squiggles that add up to to mathematical knowledge.
… Private libraries are a luxury. My library is a true luxury and privilege. I know that the world’s information is now available online. This was an argument people used and continue to use against physical libraries with physical books … There is also an important aspect to the presence of a book which you can feel and smell and write notes all over. The physical book can, if you spend enough time with it, becomes a physical-intellectual extension of yourself.
I like few things better than to mark my books with ink. I love to scribble in the margins. I review these notes over the years, and from the style in which I wrote, I can tell if I was excited or tired, angry or calm. These are important signals for the memory. It places the page in a context of emotion and ideas.”
There have been many books written over the past decade or two dispensing advice to youth from wizened mentors, many of them titled “Letters To A Young …..” and you can fill in the blank. For example, Letters To A Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson. A welcome addition to this genre is Letters To A Young Muslim, authored by Omar Saif Ghobash, in the form of messages to his 16 year old son, Saif. Mr. Ghobash’s voice is a breath of fresh air in calling for moderation and balance among young Muslims, and he is mindful that he is sticking his neck out in his role as Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Russia. Aside from moderate religious and political views, there are some nifty insights he offers about his love of books.
Mr. Whammy, also known as Bruce Reznick, must be in seventh heaven. Being featured in the Canarsie Courier as the Brooklyn Nets #1 fan is one thing. But making it to the sports pages of the New York Times? Oy, his mother must be knelling in heaven, as her 80 year-old retired dentist son has become an icon. All right, so maybe he’s not a retired dentist like the Times wrote but rather, a retired attorney. At least he’s a professional, right? And even though the Nets are uch un vey in last place behind the Sixers, mine Vameleh has sponsorship from JetBlue for his signature hex!
One of the geriatric fan set who never got over the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, Reznick adopted the Nets while they were playing in New Jersey. To say he’s exuberant is an understatement – one could say that he’s even a bit of a basket case as he waves he delivers his hex in the opposing players’ line of sight enticing them to clank foul shots off the rim. Gerald Henderson told a Philly Comcast broadcaster that he wished he had as much energy as the 80 year-old uber fan.
Whammy really seems to be enjoying the spotlight, and even his less-than-exuberant wife, Mrs. Whammy (aka Judy) has learned to bask in his notoriety. He has a YouTube presence, and a cult fan following. His son counts his “mentions” in the media, and frankly it’s a great escape from some of the serious problems on the world scene.
Not that I want to stir up any legal controversy over a retired attorney’s antics, but after watching Whammy’s signature hex I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be some copycat infringement on the Phillies Phanatic’s move from the dugout roof to psych out opposing pitchers. I’ll let you be the judge …