Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In Brief: MLK, Bobby Fischer, and China

--First, three Martin Luther King, Jr. Day pieces that I found particularly relevant:

1) As Paul mentioned in his post on Monday, AP reporter Deepti Hajela’s article on King’s forgotten legacy reminds us of an absolutely critical point: in the last forty years, America has created a historical memory of King that is comfortable to our sensibilities, but avoids the complexity of actual truth. Hajela also relies on strong sources (particularly Melissa Harris-Lacewell). And although the article is brief…

2) …historian Ari Kelman’s blog essay fills in the blanks. Kelman is pitch-perfect throughout: the fact that King’s criticisms and vision in his speech “The Other America” was neither “moderate” nor “safe”; Ronald Reagan’s failure to support the legislation on the King holiday until faced with a certain veto override (part of his troubling political strategy with regard to race); the “painful irony that corporate sponsorship proved key in passing the law marking his birthday”; and even the momentum of Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” which sparked a fairly significant controversy at the time. Just a fantastic piece of writing that challenges how we should think about King.

3) Finally, Pam Spaulding of the blog Pandagon links to clips of two Vietnam-related King speeches. Compare “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” to “I Have a Dream,” and consider theologian James Cone’s argument in Martin and Malcolm and America: “His outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam…isolated him from many former supporters [including Lyndon Johnson]. Amid much controversy and criticism, Martin held fast to his convictions and refused to compromise his fierce opposition to evil in high places” (306-307).

--It’s probably not coincidental that when you type “Bobby Fischer” into both Google and Yahoo!, Rene Chun’s 2002 essay “Bobby Fischer’s Pathetic Endgame” appears eighth and fourth, respectively, in the search results. In the wake of Fischer’s recent death, media coverage has rightly focused on both Fischer’s incredible brilliance as a chess player and the sad, unhinged behavior and anti-Semitism that consumed much of his adult life. Yet Chun is able to capture the incredible cost of “Fischer's paranoia, rage, and hubris”:

“[T]hey have been enough to transform him into an enemy of the state; they have been enough to sabotage a brilliant career and turn a confident, charismatic figure into a dithering recluse; and, sadly, they have been enough to make us forget that when Bobby Fischer played chess, it was absolutely riveting theater, even for those who didn't play the game.”

This is why even though the Atlantic published it over five years ago, the essay is as fitting a summary of the former world champion’s life than anything from the last several days.

--With less than eight months to go before the Summer Olympics, the current trial of Lü Gengsong, a Chinese dissident writer facing charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” is another example of how human rights conditions in China have yet to significantly improve. Of note besides Benjamin Kang’s summary of the trial is mention of the organization Human Rights in China (HRIC), a group with which I was previously unfamiliar. HRIC is currently hosting a separate website, Incorporating Responsibility 2008, which will feature a specific Chinese political prisoner every month this year as a means of accountability.


Ari said...

Wow, you're far too kind. Really. (But thanks.)

Chris Martin said...

You're quite welcome, and thanks for stopping by to comment. I just learned about your blog from the King essay, and I'm looking forward to reading through the rest of your (and Eric's) posts.

Chris Martin said...

By the way, a two-sentence story
(which I originally read in Rolling Stone, I think) concerning "By the Time I Get to Arizona":

Around the time that MTV banned the video, there was a viewing of it in an Arizona classroom with Chuck D in attendance. After the video ended, Chuck exclaimed something along the lines of, "No, that was not directed by Oliver Stone!"