Post Date Jan 20

MLK

The following is a letter that was written to an elementary school class. It was part of a letter writing project where the students would write letters to historical figures and a parent would be tagged as the person to reply, pretending to be the historical figure. Naturally given what day it is, this reply was written pretending to be Martin Luther King. When reading it, one must remember that the parent was replying to letters written by the kids and also addressing the class theme of attitude, attention and commitment.

January 22, 2012

Good Day Children,

Sincere thanks for your many kind words and curious questions. The qualities of attitude,

attention and commitment which brought my life into your classroom, must be considered carefully

by every human being as they decide how they want to approach their lives. Many of you

mentioned your gratitude for my actions and your hope that more like me will emerge from the

great ocean of humanity to work for justice.  But, may I remind you children, that you are the

heroes you wish for…your power, your potential is as great as any others. I too sat in a schoolroom

as a little boy, Rosa Parks sat in a schoolroom as a little girl, granted much different schoolrooms

in very different times and places, but we too looked out the window and pondered the great world

outside.

The injustices which I fought with every fiber of my being, were in some ways specific to my

time and the history of America, but were fundamentally products of the same age old opposing

forces of love and hate rather than issues of black and white. The idea that skin color has any

bearing on the nature of the spirit, the real person that moves the body, can only gain purchase

because of an overriding superficiality of thought which still informs our world. The choice to

love or hate is one that each individual makes for themselves and shows itself in ways both small

and large. The people that threw the bomb in my house were completely entranced by the power

of hate but their way was paved by the many less extreme, but still significant, hateful thoughts

and actions of others.

The reason that civil disobedience is effective is because, though it requires tremendous courage

and commitment, it appeals to the most basic seed which lives within all human beings. Everyone

desires to love and be loved, to be happy and fulfilled. The practitioner of civil disobedience is able

to recognize with single minded, focused attention that the individuals who do harm and enforce

unjust and hateful laws do so because at root, the hate they are projecting outward also lives within

them. They hate themselves and distract themselves by pointing all that hate outward, but the

protester, refusing to engage in the cycle of violence, insists on seeing that kernel of humanity

within them that suffers as well, in spite of the dogs, the water cannons, the police batons, shoes

and whatever else they throw at them. It is a supremely courageous act and I salute my fellow

marchers in my and all times who have struggled on behalf of our better nature.

The reason our protests were ultimately successful also depended on the reactions of others who

witnessed events from far away in the news and were perhaps neutral toward our cause at first,

being consumed more with what new toothpaste to buy, but were awakened deep within

themselves by the unjust violence being perpetrated on peaceful demonstrators. They could not

turn away from attack dogs being unleashed on peaceful people and because of their heartfelt

understanding gained from a time before they knew of laws and skin color, they just knew that this

was plain wrong and could no longer support it. And sometimes it takes many years before the

seeds of love and forgiveness can finally blossom. The governor of Alabama during much of the

Civil Rights movement was a one-time racist gentleman by the name of George Wallace.  Many

years later, on a number of occasions, he apologized for his actions against us and even told my

associate Joe Lowery just months before he died, “I love you. I was wrong in 1965.” As I have said

before, “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only

love can do that.”

So I return to your own struggles with how best to approach the qualities of attitude, attention

and commitment. Each of us has a unique calling in this life and each one has value. The

cultivation of these qualities helps to get the homework done at first and later helps light the

path through life. To truly develop these attributes, one must absolutely decide for themselves.

It is only through the recognition that you truly have the power to shape your attitude, to focus

your attention on what you feel is important, to sharpen your commitment, that these qualities

will be meaningful because you will have decided where to direct them. Of course you cannot

control all of the circumstances that life will present you, but you can determine how you will

apply yourself and react to them. You have my life as one example, and obviously I would

encourage you to focus on issues like making yourself and your world a better place, but that is

for you to decide. I will mention though, that it is the lazy and convenient road to sit back and be

cynical, making fun of everything but contributing little. It takes courage to stand boldly for love

and I hope you do so. Thank you again for your time and kind words.

 

Your companion on the journey to the promised land,

 

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Post Date Jan 20

New Year

Well here it is January 20 again so HAPPY CHINESE BOOKSTORE NEW YEAR! Excitingly this year is the year of the book, as it was last year and will be again next year since that is the nature of Chinese Bookstore New Year. I have many plans for how I would like to utilize the website moving forward but the ever present bugbear of time shortage causes me to hesitate before making too many commitments. There will be change though, of that I am certain. Thank you for all of your support, peace and love from Downtown Books.new year 5

Post Date Nov 17

An Apology to Marvin Kitman

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Upon reflection, I don’t think I was entirely fair to Marvin Kitman in my last post.  The book is thoroughly dated in every respect so it seemed natural to try and ride it for some cheap guffaws, which is of course what I said he was doing. I would like to set the record straight and discuss a couple of other items.

So quickly, Kitman was in fact criticizing news coverage of the Viet Nam war based on an NBC prime time special that ran in 1972 confessing their mistakes in Viet Nam coverage. He felt these mistakes could have been corrected far earlier, but they were in fact doing so then because of pressure from the publication of the Pentagon Papers and general public sentiment. His casual use of Women Libbers sounds so odd today, but he was in fact addressing them as a group to complain about his inability to find female executives at the big TV networks, especially in the area of daytime TV programming where women were the primary audience….so there’s a secondary dig at schlocky daytime soaps. And finally, his statement that “the commercial is the message” was well meaning since he was pointing out that the point of TV was to sell stuff.  So, if Marvin Kitman happens to run across this website I hope he feels vindicated.

But it is still jaw dropping to me that as a syndicated columnist focused on TV, he referred to Marshall McLuhan and his famous statement that “the medium is the message”.  The idea that McLuhan’s ideas were widely enough known for him to refer to and expect to be understood by the general public is sort of amazing. In case you are unaware, McLuhan first put forth the idea that “the medium is the message” in a book titled, “Understanding Media” and followed it up with a truly unusual book called “The Medium is the Massage” which appears to be more of an avante garde art piece then a standard book. In case you are unaware let me show you what it looks like…

medium massage20131117_223150The whole book, which you don’t really read, is full of pictures and images that try to capture the experience of viewing television and its effect on people individually and the world. In fact, in that one picture the caption is discussing how the world is becoming a global village because of TV…hmm, that sounds current.

When I first encountered this book as a young adult, I confess that it left me baffled. Coincidentally, I had only recently started to think of it again and it began to make some sense. I would say that the concept, “the medium is the message” is a sort of zen koan designed to provoke us into understanding a paradoxical truth of the sort that usually causes our rational mind to bristle. When we watch television all of those images and sound pile into our heads and tend to run wild, without any qualification. But really, the experience of television by itself, regardless of the program, is a message of sorts.  Television is an invention of man, whereby electrons (at least back then) get shot at a screen and are divided into various combinations of the primary colors and create images which are able to fool the human eye into believing that the action is continuous and 3D.  We find the pretty pictures so mesmerizing that we run out and purchase huge television sets (again 60s technology) and give them places of honor in our family room. We share time staring at it, talk about what commercials and programs we like and don’t, enjoy the mahogany finish on our new Zenith and on and on.

What we don’t generally consider is that we are (sometimes blindly) choosing a particular media diet and the images and so forth that we consume do then live inside and influence us.  I think the essence of his point is that any medium is not necessarily good or bad, but we should understand the full nature of what it is so that we can more accurately compare our options and retain a little control over the situation. I mean, if we just consume the media and never consider how it is affecting and shaping us then little by little we might become nothing but a herd of consuming … uh, well, uh, anywho.

I had a little something to say about Network and Convoy but I’ll leave that for later.

Read at whim! Read at whim!

Randall Jarrell

Post Date Nov 16

Recent Arrivals

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A small selection of our recent arrivals. Feel free to inquire about any of the books shown for more information.  To stem the flood of emails which inevitably follow the arrival of a new Kitman title, I will provide a few details about this little treasure that may preemptively answer your questions.  Yes, it really is a hardcover first edition in F/F condition.  Kitman describes himself as the second most influential TV critic behind Spiro Agnew, who was at this time, I believe, pinning the decline of Western Civilization on such sleazy TV programs as Love, American Style and the base humor of Nipsy Russell.  Kitman pontificates on such varied subjects as the Women’s Libbers and TV coverage of the Viet Nam war.  He even gets in an infantile dig at Marshall Mcluhan and his famous book of the time, The Media is the Message.  Kitman insists that Mcluhan had it wrong and the commercial is the message, yuk yuk. It is a really weird glimpse of a time when TV and the big three networks seemed to be establishing an unassailable position as the dominant influence in American culture.