A Reading Program (from 2010)

I often go to dinner alone at my favorite restaurant, the Casa di Calabria, in Haledon, NJ. On those occasions, I do a lot of reading – but I do it slowly. For the past couple of months, I’ve been reading two books on American history: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United Statesand William J. Bennett’s America: the Last Best Hope. Zinn’s a famous leftist (perhaps even communist) account and Bennett’s a rightist (conservative) account. Both books are very stimulating (to me) because of the ways in which they are similar and the ways in which they are different. Zinn’s famous book – which I am reading now only after he is dead (1/27/10) – is both jolting and, ultimately, unconvincing. He includes an awful lot of leftist BS along with much very interesting stuff about class conflict (sometimes warfare) in American history. But he’s pushing it, finding more there than there is there. Bennett is pretty good for a conservative, whitewashes things only here and there, is pretty honest (as far as I can tell), and – surprisingly  – agrees with Zinn on lots of things.

I’ve been noticing an interesting (puzzling) convergence of Left and Right in various areas lately. E.g., Nader and Napolitano. Chomsky being adopted by the Right because he is – really – an anarchist (extreme libertarian) – even though he tries the impossible synthesis of anarchism and socialism (my old impossible dream: anarcho-syndicalism).

By the way, if you are interested in more conventional studies of American history, see Carl Degler’s Out of Our Past (moderate-centrist, but still liberal, bias) and William Appleman Williams The Contours of American History (leftist). Both really good books (I think). There are, most likely, more recent works from both (various?) sides.

I don’t know how widely it is known, but I was a history major in college and went on to earn an MA in history (modern Europe and Renaissance & Reformation – there was no such thing as the Renaissance!) and was ABD (Tudor-Stuart England) at Rutgers University/New Brunswick before my inescapable love of Philosophy took me away to a Ph.D. in the latter field. I have continued to read history (mostly European) ever since. I have, most of the time, found American history to be pedestrian and boring, but I’m sure that I am wrong about that. One of many things I am wrong about. (On the Renaissance bit, read Lynn Thorndike and J. Huizinga. Huizinga’s book, The Waning of the Middle Ages is one of the greatest books of all time.)

Something based on Zinn: When I was a child, a long time ago now, my grandparents, dye-house workers in Paterson, used to say from time to time, “We’re gonna end up in the poorhouse.” I didn’t know what that meant, and I don’t really know all that much about it now. It scared me. I thought we were going to get put out of our apartment on North 11th Street and get put into something like – I did not know what – something awful. In later years, when I grew more and became more educated, I read Charles Dickens and learned of the workhouses in England (Oliver Twist and all that). Then, thinking back, I thought that that was what my Sadie (my maternal grandmother) and my Gramp (my maternal grandfather) must have been talking about.

Later, my family (parents, sister, and I) fell badly. Were really evicted. Thrown out into the streets of Paterson. Homeless, living in a doorway/hallway – forty years before the TV cameras showed up. Sherry and I into (different) foster homes. A series of them. But we never went into a poorhouse. By then, the 1950s, there were no more poorhouses in the US. Zinn goes into this. Arouses my class antipathies. Pisses me off exceedingly. No wonder I became a Trotskyist later on.

To this day, although I am now (incomprehensibly) a conservative of a sort, with libertarian sympathies, I still hate the rich with rather a passion. I can’t stand them. The Rockefellers, the Kennedys, the Kerrys, even the Buckleys, all the rest – they make me puke. I am most definitely not a Republican. If only Communism had worked out…! But….

By the way, when I do this reading bit at the Calabria, I drink either Martinis or Gimlets. Tonight, it was a 4.5 ounce Bombay Sapphire Martini (no Vermouth) followed by a B&B straight-up. So….

To me, the entire history of the United States is summed up in the following song by Bessie Smiff (I know it’s spelled “Smith” – that was my mother’s maiden name):


Check out the Loosiana version – including Creole French – by Lizzie Miles (if you can find it). It’s a great version.

I love the Blues.



Long, long ago, in a universe far far away, I was an Orthodox pop star, traveling all over the USA, lecturing, running seminars on things like “The Spiritual Warfare of the Church,” etc. One time, I was invited to do a week-long series in Cleveland. Arriving in the airport in Cleveland (can’t remember which airport that might be), debarking from the plane, in a waiting area or something, a middle-aged man collapsed right in front of me. He dropped on the floor at my feet. He looked dead.

From somewhere, two uniformed men (cops? security officers? EMT? what?) appeared. They began, in tandem, working on the man. One would press on his chest, the other would blow into his mouth. No response. They kept it up. On it went, push-blow, push-blow, push-blow. No response.
Then, after at least 15 or 20 minutes, maybe longer, the man jumped and became alive again! I was standing right there, sort of frozen, watching what was going on. The man’s family members were standing there, trembling, full of anxiety and then relief. The man was taken away, probably to an ambulance. I hope he survived.

I was totally taken with the efforts of those two officers. They did a good work, a mitzvah.
Later, after Father Alexander had picked me up and we went for dinner, where he very demonstrably figured a huge cross over the table, and we began to eat, I told him my airport story. We both praised God (and the two officers).

(I’ve been told that, in situations like that, it is no longer necessary to do the blowing bit.)


Was Jesus Poor as the Pious Like to Say?

Was Jesus poor? Probably not.

I think that the evidence shows that he was at least middle class and not one of “the poor” (although he was an advocate for the poor). The New Testament makes clear that Joseph (J’s foster father) was a “carpenter” who owned properties in both Nazareth and in Bethlehem. He was, in fact, probably what we would call a “general contractor.” On the way to Bethlehem, Joseph was quite ready to pay for lodging, but there was “no room in the inn.” It was crowding in the inn, not lack of $$$, that required Joseph and Mary to stop in a stable for the birth of Jesus.

Further, Jesus (also a “carpenter”) received the kind of upbringing, education, and training that gained him easy recognition as a Rabbi and caused many of his contemporaries – even his enemies – to hear him “speaking with authority.” He was not poor at all, and he was very well educated. Thus, it is most likely that he knew all of the languages, both spoken and written, that were current at that time, although he may have had less of a grasp on Latin than of the others.

On the question of whether Jesus was poor: There are those who argue in the affirmative on this question, but I think that – taking the entire New Testament record into account – it is much more probable that he was not poor (which, of course, does not necessarily mean that he was rich either).

I can’t go into all the details on this right now; but here are just three points:

1. The NT presents JC as a descendant of King David, i.e., a member of the royal house of Judah. One of his regular titles was “Son of David.” The genealogies in Matthew and Luke, if researched carefully, are both (apparently) intended to show (among other things) that JC is descended from David on both Joseph’s side and on Mary’s side. It seems also that there were many who were ready to see him as the rightful king of Israel. The theme of his kingship comes up quite a bit throughout the NT. Again, that requires a lot of research.

2. The NT never states that JC was poor. It presents him as a champion of the poor, but he is not described as poor himself.

3. When the “Three Wise Men” visit the holy family in Bethlehem (probably more than a year after JC’s birh) they are residing in a house (not in the stable/manger). In addition to this there are other evidences that the family had properties in Nazareth as well as in Bethlehem. (See Matthew 2:9-11)

All for now….

Jersey Joe Walcott

Jersey Joe Walcott and Joe Louis fought twice. (Actually three times: Walcott was a sparring partner for Louis for the Schmelling fight in 1937. Walcott dropped Louis as they began sparring, and Louis’s handlers then fired Walcott.)

The first official Walcott-Louis fight took place on December 5, 1947. Walcott knocked Louis down twice and generally kicked his ass. The referee, the crowd, and Louis himself judged Walcott the winner; but the two judges gave the 15-round decision to Louis, the reigning champion.

They met for the 2d time on June 25, 1948. Again, Walcott floored Louis, and the fight was pretty close – until Louis knocked Walcott out in the 11th round. Louis then retired (for the first time – his later comeback in the early ’50s was very unsuccessful).

Louis was a great champion. His record is 69 wins and 3 losses (to Max Schmelling, Ezzard Charles, and Rocky Marciano). Louis had 55 wins by knockout.

Jersey Joe Walcott was also a great fighter. He finally (after 5 or more tries) won the world heavyweight title on July 18, 1951, knocking out then-champion Ezzard Charles. Walcott was then 37 years old – the oldest man to win the heavyweight championship until George Foreman did it (over Michael Moorer) at the age of 45 in 1994. (1994 was also the year of Jersey Joe Walcott’s death.)

Walcott retained the title in another fight with Charles in late ’51 or early ’52 (a 15 round decision). Then, on September 23, 1952, Walcott fought Rocky Marciano. Walcott put Marciano down in the 1st round and was well ahead of Marciano up to the 13th round. At that point, Marciano threw a punch from nowhere and knocked Walcott out. The punch has been called the hardest punch ever thrown in a prize-fighting ring. Many boxing experts consider this Walcott-Marciano bout one of the greatest fights of all time.

In a rematch on May 15, 1953, Marciano knocked Walcott out in the 1st round. That sent Jersey Joe into retirement.

Footnote: George Foreman was once asked in an interview what he would do differently if he could live his life over again. He said “I would not have fought Muhammad Ali.”

Another footnote: Jersey Joe’s real name was Arnold Raymond Cream. He was from Merchantville, NJ.