My brother Mike picked up the ringing phone: “Nonantum Times,” he said, listened a moment, then handed me the receiver.
I put my hand over it and raised an eyebrow at Mike. “Ted Epstein,” he whispered.
Ted Epstein was a lawyer in downtown Boston. He was also a board member for the Nonantum Times. It was a new low-budget suburban weekly newspaper; I was the founding editor. That is to say, he was one of my bosses.
“Ted!” I said into the phone. “Got any good news for me?”
There was an awkward pause on the other end. Then, ”l’m afraid not, Chuck,” he said.
“Oh no,” I said, “don’t tell me our first big investigative scoop isn’t gonna happen.”
Friend William Bartram traveled, mainly alone, through much of the American southeast, between 1773 and 1777, looking for collecting, and drawing plants, wildlife, and the occasional Indian. His book based on these journeys was published in 1791. Here is another excerpt:
IT may be proper to observe, that I had now passed the utmost frontier of the white settlements on that border.
It was drawing on towards the close of day, the skies serene and calm, the air temperately cool, and gentle zephyrs breathing through the fragrant pines; the prospect around enchantingly varied and beautiful; endless green savannas, checquered with coppices of fragrant shrubs, filled the air with the richest perfume.
The gaily attired plants which enamelled the green had begun to imbibe the pearly dew of evening; nature seemed silent, and nothing appeared to ruffle the happy moments of evening contemplation: when, on a sudden, an Indian appeared crossing the path, at a considerable distance before me.Continue reading Dog Days Meditation: Bartram Faces a Murderer→
Yet they usually are not prefaced by what I think is the store of ancient Chinese wisdom that explains them all, namely, these quotes from Sun Tzu, in his classic text, The Art of War. (As it’s more than 2000 years old, it’s easy to find The Art of War online, complete & free. Here’s one edition.
I’m told Chinese strategists & planners treat it like the Bible, and I believe it. But good news for interested newcomers: it’s a whole lot shorter than the Western Bible.) Here’s a key quote:
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. . . . In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. . . .
Now to the New York Times:
“Fears are growing that China is using its overseas spending spree to gain footholds in some of the world’s most strategic places, and perhaps even deliberately luring vulnerable nations into debt traps to increase China’s dominion as the United States’ influence fades in the developing world.
“The Chinese must have been thinking, ‘We can pick things up for cheap here,’” said Khor Yu Leng, a Malaysian political economist who has been researching China’s investments in Southeast Asia. “They’ve got enough patient capital to play the long game, wait for the local boys to overextend and then come in and take all that equity for China.”
NOTE: “The long game.”Such campaigns take awhile, But it sure looks to me like this one is working: bit by bit, billion (yuan) by billion, without “war,” but to the same end. Yet why have I not seen the pundits and the poohbahs taking account of these concepts? Sun Tzu said that such understanding makes a crucial difference:
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. . . .
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.This is the method of attacking by stratagem . . . .”
Back to The Times:
KUANTAN, Malaysia — In the world’s most vital maritime chokepoint, through which much of Asian trade passes, a Chinese power company is investing in a deepwater port large enough to host an aircraft carrier. Another state-owned Chinese company is revamping a harbor along the fiercely contested South China Sea.
Nearby, a rail network mostly financed by a Chinese government bank is being built to speed Chinese goods along a new Silk Road. And a Chinese developer is creating four artificial islands that could become home to nearly three-quarters of a million people and are being heavily marketed to Chinese citizens.
Each of these projects is being built in Malaysia, a Southeast Asian democracy at the heart of China’s effort to gain global influence.
But where Malaysia once led the pack in courting Chinese investment, it is now on the front edge of a new phenomenon: a pushback against Beijing as nations fear becoming overly indebted for projects that are neither viable nor necessary — except in their strategic value to China or use in propping up friendly strongmen. . . .”
NOTE: Malaysia is far away from me, here in North Carolina. So let’s add one more example, closer to home, and down home in initial ambiance:
The Smithfield Packing Company has its main meat processing plant in Tar Heel NC, a hamlet just off Interstate 95 near Fayetteville.
This photo hardly does justice to the ginormous megascale of the operation. The plant covers 973,000 square feet. Inside it approximately 32,000 hogs per day are slaughtered and processed, more than 3-million plus per year. It’s credibly reputed to be the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world.
That’s a heck of a lot of bacon. And it’s owned by a Chinese company, the WH Group, which snapped it up in 2013 for a mere $4-plus billion.
There could be many more examples, inside & outside the U.S.
Now, I admit I’m not an expert on China, or big time strategy, or even Sun Tzu. But I know what I know, and see what I see.
And I see, too many Americans are lost in their social media underbrush, or haggling over a narcissist’s ignorant tweets. Also in the meantime, a longtime pork belly fan like myself is blithely crunching the crispy rashers. And even I hardly ever remember these punch line paragraphs from this old wise guy:
Sun Tzu: Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.
There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.
There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.
And when the showdown suddenly comes (either in the Oval Office or at my favorite diner), I figure it will happen like this: “Your bacon, or your Bill of Rights. (Oh, by the way, your grandchildren will now be required to learn Chinese).”
Then, what am I (or they) going to say?
I’d say, “But wait; aren’t we supposed to have a war about this first?”
The reply will come with a condescending smile: “We already did. And you lost.
Here’s your new flag.”
Bartram & The Seminole King From Bartram’s Travels, published 1791 Alachua Indians
AFTER crossing over this point or branch of the marshes, we entered a noble forest, the land level, and the soil fertile, being a loose, dark brown, coarse sandy loam, on a clay or marley foundation; the forests were Orange groves, overtoped by grand Magnolias, Palms, Live Oaks . . . with various kinds of shrubs and herbacious plants . . . .
We were chearfully received in this hospitable shade, by various tribes of birds,
Another Eminent Pacifist leader Is Gone: David McReynolds
I only sort of knew David McReynolds, but he hovered significantly in the background of peace work during my apprenticeship in the Vietnam years.
My most vivid memory of David was not a personal encounter, but in the pages of WIN Magazine, a “radical pacifist” journal published by the War Resisters League. In 1969 he joined several other elder eminences in coming out there. These were the first confrontations I had had with homosexuals as sympathetic figures and colleagues.
His article was more personal than political, often embarrassed about how much his struggles in and out of the closet had cut into his driving impulse to organize nonviolent action against war and imperialism. Its candor and humility cut right through my unthinking, reflexive homophobia, pointing a way forward from it which I have worked ever since to follow.
Where did Aretha Franklin’s unforgettable vocal power come from?
I glimpsed a big part of the answer one summer night in 1968.
It was Friday, June 21, in Washington DC: Leaders of the Poor Peoples Campaign, trying to fulfill Dr. King’s last dream, had built a shantytown, called Resurrection City, on the national mall. But the camp, and the campaign, were mired in various difficulties. Yet on that Friday evening, some participants got a welcome, memorable spell of relief. I was there with a tape recorder, and this is the heart of what I saw and heard:
From Uncertain Resurrection, the Poor Peoples Washington Campaign;
Friday night a Campaign mass meeting was held at St. Stephen’s Baptist Church, where the church was full and the crowd unusually boisterous. The featured preacher of the evening was Rev. C. L. Franklin of Detroit. Rev. Franklin is the father of Miss Aretha Franklin, a very successful soul singer, and he was an old friend of Dr. King.
Watching Spike Lee’s new film BlackkKlansman yesterday, it was evident that the director/provocateur has skillfully exploited a current of widespread cultural anxiety, which the Klan once embodied on a mass scale. The cinematic result is a timely, skillful and often gripping entertainment.
[It’s not easy to keep up with my fellow-traveler/Spirit Guide, Friend William Bartram. He just can’t stay on the beaten path. . . .]
But here he is again, talking about plants, and especially trees. And one kind of tree jumped out at me from his list, the Live Oak. That’s because I’ve seen and been captivated by some magnificent specimens thereof, in a cemetery in Alabama.
There’s lots of human history in that graveyard. But we’re gonna skip all that here, and just dwell on the chlorophyllic history. The place is only a few acres, but I think I could wander in it for hours, maybe days.]
Some Folks aren’t satisfied with killing people of color; they want to kill the memory of these murders too.
Take Emmett Till, Kidnapped & murdered in Mississippi in 1955, after someone said the 14 year-old may have whistled at a white woman. His tortured and body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River days later; it took a jury one hour to acquit the men charged with the killing. Outrage generated by the case gave a boost to civil rights struggles.
In 2007, county leaders established the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to memorialize Till and remember the case and what it represented. The center erected a sign in a rural area near the bank of the river where Till’s body was recovered. But that sign was soon stolen and never recovered.
A second sign was put up. before long, it was full of bullet holes.
This sign was eventually moved inside the Center, itself becoming an object for reflection. And not long ago, a new sign was put up.
The new sign is now collecting bullet holes. This image is only a few days old.
Such posthumous assaults are not limited to Mississippi. In February, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was unarmed, was shot by a state trooper in an attack on a night march during the historic voting rights campaign based in nearby Selma,.
Jackson was buried in a small cemetery near Alabama Highway 14 on the outskirts of Marion. His large headstone is impressively carved with a figure of Jesus keeping vigil.
It too has been hit by numerous bullets. One knocked a chunk off the top, and seven or eight more are visible on close examination, in this 2015 photo.
Emmett Till’s killers walked completely free. The Alabama trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Fowler, shot and killed a second unarmed young black man in 1966. But forty-five years later, Fowler was convicted of manslaughter, and served several months in jail, before being released due to ill health.
The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, has plans to expand its facility and programs, and upgrade security.
Memories aren’t bulletproof. But they don’t die easily.
I’ve taken a fancy to do some traveling for the dog Days this year. I plan to join William Bartram, an independent-minded Quaker naturalist and artist, in a journey through much of the southeast U.S.
This is not the Southeast of today, but that of 1773, so technically there wasn’t a U.S. yet; whatever. Bartram spent four years wandering the Southeast, drawing plants and animals, maps, and doing sketch portraits of Indians he visited with, and he visited with many.
I first noticed Bartram a few years ago, and prepared a series of posts about him & his solitary exploring journeys for times of reflection. I call him a “Divergent Friend”because he went his own way, following his own leading. He was not a “rebel” or a troublemaker; yet he was hardly typical or “normal” either.
Consider: at home, a revolution was brewing; slavery was a spreading plague; many diseases threatened. But Bartram was drawn away from all that, the “activism” and the debates, into the natural world: seeking out creatures without voices, and territories not yet claimed by his ancestral “civilization.” He’s remembered today (by those who remember him) as a pioneer. Leadings are like that: not always driven by the “news of the day,” with significance that may not be discernible until many years after they were followed.