Bob Schwartz

Jonah and the New Year

Jonah

“Like Jonas himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”
Thomas Merton
The Sign of Jonas

The Jewish High Holy Days begins this evening, starting with Rosh Hashanah (New Year 5775) and ending on the tenth day with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). So it is a good time to talk about Jonah.

On Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is read at services. It is supposedly so simple a story that we tell it to the youngest children. It isn’t that simple.

Prof. Barry Bandstra writes:

The book of Jonah has been interpreted in many different ways: as a satire on prophetic calling and the refusal of prophets to follow God’s call; as a criticism of Israelite prophets who were insincere in preaching repentance (because they really wanted to see destruction); as a criticism of the Jewish community’s unwillingness to respond to prophetic calls to repentance (in contrast with Nineveh); as a criticism of an exclusive view of divine election (God only cares about “chosen people”); as an assertion of God’s freedom to change God’s mind over and against prophets who would limit that freedom; as emphasizing the problem with true and false prophecy (even true prophets have words that do not come true); or as an allegory of Israel in exile (both Jonah and Judah look to God for destruction of an evil empire). De La Torre argues for an interpretation of the book that views Jonah as a marginalized person frustrated with God for not punishing those who have brutally oppressed people. Person reads the book of Jonah as a conversation between author and reader, focusing on the implied verbal rejection of God’s command by Jonah in 1:3.

The entire very brief Book of Jonah is at the end of this post. It goes something like this:

God tells Jonah to preach to the wicked city of Nineveh.
Jonah runs away from this assignment and gets on a ship.
A storm batters the ship and the sailors figure out Jonah is the cause.
The sailors say they don’t want to throw him overboard to appease God, but then they do anyway.
Jonah is swallowed by a big fish.
After three days, the fish disgorges Jonah on land.
Jonah finally preaches repentance to Nineveh.
Nineveh does repent.
God has mercy and doesn’t destroy Nineveh.
Jonah complains that he went through a lot of trouble, so God should have destroyed Nineveh.
God gives Jonah a special plant and then destroys it, as an example of how a prophet has nothing to do with what happens and shouldn’t care how God ultimately deals with things. God explains:

“You are concerned for the castor-oil plant which has not cost you any effort and which you did not grow, which came up in a night and has perished in a night. So why should I not be concerned for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?”

So for the New Year, among the many things you may ask yourself:

Was God too lenient? Was Jonah not compassionate enough, taking joy in the misfortune of others? Am I or should I be more like God? Like Jonah? Like the sailors on the ship? Like the people of Nineveh? Like the fish? Can I tell my right hand from my left?

Whatever your faith or no-faith, you can never have enough New Years and new starts. Please have a happy one.


Book of Jonah from the Jerusalem Bible (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Selecting a Catholic translation of the Book of Jonah on Rosh Hashanah may seem odd. There are two reasons. The Jerusalem Bible is the best English-language combination of literary style and scholarship. And this particular book has a very special translator/editor: J.R.R. Tolkien.

The original Jerusalem Bible, published in English in 1966, was conceived as a very modern Catholic Bible—modern in terms of both language and scholarship. A French edition had already been published, and for the English version, a number of English-language scholars and writers were enlisted. Some texts were translated from original languages (Hebrew, Greek) while other texts were re-translations of the French. Tolkien was brought on as an editor, but he did create one book in English, taken from the French: The Book of Jonah.

Jonah 1

1. The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah son of Amittai:
2. ‘Up!’ he said, ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to them that their wickedness has forced itself upon me.’
3. Jonah set about running away from Yahweh, and going to Tarshish. He went down to Jaffa and found a ship bound for Tarshish; he paid his fare and boarded it, to go with them to Tarshish, to get away from Yahweh.
4. But Yahweh threw a hurricane at the sea, and there was such a great storm at sea that the ship threatened to break up.
5. The sailors took fright, and each of them called on his own god, and to lighten the ship they threw the cargo overboard. Jonah, however, had gone below, had lain down in the hold and was fast asleep,
6. when the boatswain went up to him and said, ‘What do you mean by sleeping? Get up! Call on your god! Perhaps he will spare us a thought and not leave us to die.’
7. Then they said to each other, ‘Come on, let us draw lots to find out who is to blame for bringing us this bad luck.’ So they cast lots, and the lot pointed to Jonah.
8. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us, what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country? What is your nationality?’
9. He replied, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I worship Yahweh, God of Heaven, who made both sea and dry land.’
10. The sailors were seized with terror at this and said, ‘Why ever did you do this?’ since they knew that he was trying to escape from Yahweh, because he had told them so.
11. They then said, ‘What are we to do with you, to make the sea calm down for us?’ For the sea was growing rougher and rougher.
12. He replied, ‘Take me and throw me into the sea, and then it will calm down for you. I know it is my fault that this great storm has struck you.’
13. The sailors rowed hard in an effort to reach the shore, but in vain, since the sea was growing rougher and rougher.
14. So at last they called on Yahweh and said, ‘O, Yahweh, do not let us perish for the sake of this man’s life, and do not hold us responsible for causing an innocent man’s death; for you, Yahweh, have acted as you saw fit.’
15. And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea stopped raging.
16. At this, the men were seized with dread of Yahweh; they offered a sacrifice to Yahweh and made vows to him.

Jonah 2

1. Now Yahweh ordained that a great fish should swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
2. From the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to Yahweh, his God; he said:
3. Out of my distress I cried to Yahweh and he answered me, from the belly of Sheol I cried out; you heard my voice!
4. For you threw me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods closed round me. All your waves and billows passed over me;
5. then I thought, ‘I am banished from your sight; how shall I ever see your holy Temple again?’
6. The waters round me rose to my neck, the deep was closing round me, seaweed twining round my head.
7. To the roots of the mountains, I sank into the underworld, and its bars closed round me for ever. But you raised my life from the Pit, Yahweh my God!
8. When my soul was growing ever weaker, Yahweh, I remembered you, and my prayer reached you in your holy Temple.
9. Some abandon their faithful love by worshipping false gods,
10. but I shall sacrifice to you with songs of praise. The vow I have made I shall fulfil! Salvation comes from Yahweh!
11. Yahweh spoke to the fish, which then vomited Jonah onto the dry land.

Jonah 3

1. The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah a second time.
2. ‘Up!’ he said, ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to it as I shall tell you.’
3. Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare; to cross it took three days.
4. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city and then proclaimed, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.’
5. And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.
6. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes.
7. He then had it proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles, as follows: ‘No person or animal, herd or flock, may eat anything; they may not graze, they may not drink any water.
8. All must put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil ways and violent behaviour.
9. Who knows? Perhaps God will change his mind and relent and renounce his burning wrath, so that we shall not perish.’
10. God saw their efforts to renounce their evil ways. And God relented about the disaster which he had threatened to bring on them, and did not bring it.

Jonah 4

1. This made Jonah very indignant; he fell into a rage.
2. He prayed to Yahweh and said, ‘Please, Yahweh, isn’t this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? That was why I first tried to flee to Tarshish, since I knew you were a tender, compassionate God, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, who relents about inflicting disaster.
3. So now, Yahweh, please take my life, for I might as well be dead as go on living.’
4. Yahweh replied, ‘Are you right to be angry?’
5. Jonah then left the city and sat down to the east of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.
6. Yahweh God then ordained that a castor-oil plant should grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and soothe his ill-humour; Jonah was delighted with the castor-oil plant.
7. But at dawn the next day, God ordained that a worm should attack the castor-oil plant — and it withered.
8. Next, when the sun rose, God ordained that there should be a scorching east wind; the sun beat down so hard on Jonah’s head that he was overcome and begged for death, saying, ‘I might as well be dead as go on living.’
9. God said to Jonah, ‘Are you right to be angry about the castor-oil plant?’ He replied, ‘I have every right to be angry, mortally angry!’
10. Yahweh replied, ‘You are concerned for the castor-oil plant which has not cost you any effort and which you did not grow, which came up in a night and has perished in a night.
11. So why should I not be concerned for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?’

Islamic State: Using Arithmetic to Solve Complex Equations

Riemann - Zeta Function

We are not playing three-dimensional chess in the Middle East—partly because all of us will go crazy if we hear that clichéd term one more time.

Instead, we are using arithmetic to solve very complex equations.

The Clay Mathematics Institute offers the famous Millennium Prizes, $1,000,000 each for solving their current list of unsolved mathematical problems.

Here is description of the Riemann Hypothesis (a manuscript by Riemann of the Zeta function is pictured above):

Some numbers have the special property that they cannot be expressed as the product of two smaller numbers, e.g., 2, 3, 5, 7, etc. Such numbers are called prime numbers, and they play an important role, both in pure mathematics and its applications.

The distribution of such prime numbers among all natural numbers does not follow any regular pattern. However, the German mathematician G.F.B. Riemann (1826 – 1866) observed that the frequency of prime numbers is very closely related to the behavior of an elaborate function

ζ(s) = 1 + 1/2s + 1/3s + 1/4s + …

called the Riemann Zeta function. The Riemann hypothesis asserts that all interesting solutions of the equation

ζ(s) = 0

lie on a certain vertical straight line.

This has been checked for the first 10,000,000,000 solutions. A proof that it is true for every interesting solution would shed light on many of the mysteries surrounding the distribution of prime numbers.

Right now, in the early days of the campaign against the Islamic State, we are using arithmetic that goes something like this:

1 (U.S.) + x (number of participating nations with wildly different involvement and interests) – IS = conditional victory

The truth is much closer to complex mathematics, as complex as any we may have ever seen on the world stage. There are probably behind-the-scenes discussions that are more subtle, but here in the public we are somehow not supposed to bother our heads about that. The question of why we publicly don’t deal with it this way may be because our leaders can’t handle the truth or because they believe citizen/voters can’t handle the truth or, because of politics and wanting to be seen as doing something, a little of both.

Solving the problem is worth much more than a million dollars. But solving it will take more than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. There was a time when the world was like that, susceptible to those simple solutions. But those days and that world are gone. Our leaders don’t have to be able to attempt a solution to the Riemann Hypothesis. But they do have to recognize when grade school, old school strategies—when simple arithmetic—will no longer work.

The Sabbath: To Have and To Do Without

Abraham Joshua Heschel

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature—is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?

“The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it.

“In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude—to have them and to be able to do without them. On the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space. Man’s royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.”

The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel

The News and the Wheel

The Wheel - Jerry Garcia

The wheel is turning
and you can’t slow down
You can’t let go
and you can’t hold on
You can’t go back
and you can’t stand still
If the thunder don’t get you
then the lightning will

The Wheel
Jerry Garcia

If you are still listening to, watching, or reading the news, oh boy. If the world seems out of balance, that’s not just the news talking. That’s the way it is.

Thousands of U.S. troops sent to fight Ebola. No troops but planes and bombs to fight thuggish madmen disguised as religious fanatics whose organizational name we can’t keep straight. Honored gladiators beating their wives and children. Police shooting the people they are sworn to protect. The most powerful legislature in the world doing nothing when something is called for, something when nothing is called for, and blabbering on when silence is golden. Rampant use of destructive drugs, demonizing of less destructive drugs. Speaking of drugs, powerful pharmaceuticals interrupting your entertainment with the news that they can cure you, but may also kill you, harshly and slowly. And that’s just for starters.

Every time that wheel turn round
bound to cover just a little more ground

Won’t you try just a little bit harder
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?
Won’t you try just a little bit harder?
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

Breathe. If it seems like madness, that’s because it is. But it’s our madness and we just have to live with it. Being strong and smart will move us forward, but it’s never enough. Being strong and smart will not, for example, cure our madness, and like those very high-tech pharmaceutical drugs, can do more harm than good. Misplaced confidence in our strength and our brains is like putting a thumb on the scale. Which is no way to get in balance.

We Are at War with ISIL but Not at War with ISIS

We are at war with ISIL, the White House has just announced. But only yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said we are not at war with ISIS.

As mentioned previously there seems to be some confusion about what to call this entity: ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State.

And that explains it. President Obama is talking about one enemy. John Kerry is talking about another. That is, we are at war with one but not the other.

Seriously, not being able to decide on what to call an enemy is not unimportant. But it pales beside not being clear, within the administration, about whether this is war. And then trying to reconcile it by saying that whether you call it war or not is splitting semantic and legal hairs.

The White House would have been better off pleading confusion about which names the President and the Secretary of State were using.

There is something deeper in this talk about war. The explanation by the White House is that it is just like the “war” against al-Qaeda. There is no mention of the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, or other quasi-metaphorical wars. It isn’t that we haven’t had military conflicts with non-state actors. And Obama was clear in his big speech about the maybe-war: “ISIL is certainly not a state.” It’s just that whenever we do have stateless enemies, things get very confused and confusing.

If you don’t believe me, read our history. Or just watch and wait.

Obama Speech: Is It ISIS, ISIL or IS, and What is a True Religion?

Obama ISIS Speech

This is not a comprehensive review of last night’s speech by President Obama about ISIS/ISIL/IS. But if you asked me to join the millions of reviewers, descriptors that come to mind are lukewarm, vague, uninspiring, insufficiently informative, tactical (the speech, not the plan), and blah-blah-blah.

Here is one paragraph that stuck out, because it reflects two issues that may not get enough attention:

And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

What Is the Name of This Enterprise That We Are at War Against?

Is it ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State? This is much more significant than whether the English transliteration of the name of the Egyptian President was Morsy, Morsi, or Mursi or the Libyan dictator was Gadhafi, Qaddafi, Kadafi, Gaddafi, or Gadafy. This is our new mortal enemy, and besides, all these IS names are in English.

Different nations and different news media have different approaches to this. The BBC, for example, has settled on Islamic State, apparently opting for whatever the organization chooses to call itself. What is totally strange about the “official” U.S. nomenclature is that at the highest levels, there is no consistency. The President prefers ISIL, while those in his cabinet regularly use ISIS.

One small matter about ISIL does deserve note. The full name is the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. I challenge many in the administration, and many in Congress, and many in the media, to explain—without Google or cheat sheet—what the Levant is. For five hundred years or so it has described the land of the eastern Mediterranean, now roughly comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and contiguous countries. The word comes from the French word for “rising”, as in the east where the sun rises. It isn’t much in use any more, outside of scholarly circles and, of course, in our latest war.

So please, President Obama, if you are gathering the support of dozens of nations and hundreds of millions of Americans, let’s all decide on what to call this organization that, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, we will pursue to the Gates of Hell.

What is a True Religion?

“No religion condones the killing of innocents,” the President said. Without going into historic and contemporary detail, this is patently false. I believe the President knows better, but he didn’t want to get into a deep discussion, and instead just wanted to make a rhetorical flourish. If he doesn’t know, there are thousands of histories he can read and scholars he can consult, or even easier, news reports from the past few weeks, months, and years he can read.

If, however, he really did mean it, he has disqualified the majority of world religions from being classified as such. Which, by the way, plenty of critics of religion would applaud.

The President doesn’t have to be the Teacher in Chief, the Scholar in Chief, the Explainer in Chief, etc. Being Communicator in Chief is enough of a job, but if he just wants to say stuff for effect, without regard to its making sense or being true, we’ve already had plenty of that in years past, from those less smart or thoughtful than you. We get enough nonsense from many in Congress. Speak as if some of us are actually thinking about what you say. Because some of us are.

The Abstract Perpetual War Is Real

Rome

Consider this: If you have a child or grandchild age 12 or younger, they have lived their lives with America at war.

And this: In six years that child will be old enough for military service, but will not necessarily have to serve because we have no mandatory universal service. So even if we are still at war, that child is probably not at risk.

And this: Why don’t we have mandatory universal service, especially if we are in perpetual war? Do we have perpetual war because we don’t have mandatory universal service?

Michael Auslin, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has a fascinating piece in Politico about the prospect of a perpetual war footing, Don’t Do As the Romans Did… His politics may not be yours, but his analysis is compelling and worth reading in its entirety:

For Washington, which has already spent at least $2 trillion on relatively limited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospect of decades more competition, deterrence and fighting at an unknown cost represents the greatest security challenge since the Cold War, and perhaps since World War II. It is just as much a domestic political issue, and will figure as prominently in the debates over the future direction of the country, as do the battles over Obamacare, the regulatory burden or the transformation of the economy. Yet so far, it does not seem that either the country’s political elites or ordinary citizens have fully appreciated both the scope and, more importantly, the nature of America’s new two-front conflict. They soon will, as the country’s economic health and domestic political stability will be directly affected by rising global risk. To quote Leon Trotsky, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Americans must accept the fact that, while their country may not be engaged in daily fighting, neither will it know peace for the foreseeable future. The world will become far more insecure and unstable over the next decades, and the amorphous yet crucial idea of global “order” will be strained, perhaps to the breaking point.

America’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The spirit of can-do, roll up your sleeves, and in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, “get ‘er done” is a model for the world. But a related failure to think things through, apply broad and deep vision, and act deliberately and more slowly, can neutralize or outweigh the benefits of that spirit.

Living in the moment, in the now, is a great way for people to not be mired in the mistakes of the past and not be intimidated by the hypothetical misfortunes of the future. That is, unfortunately, not a luxury that nations, particularly super powerful ones, have. When you can spend trillions of dollars of your citizens’ money, send thousands of citizens to their deaths, and have the potential to blow up cities and the whole world, we expect you to think twice or more before you roll up those sleeves and get ‘er done.

The iBrain and gBrain Devices

My Favorite Martian

With the release of the iWatch, both Apple and Google realize a challenge they face. There has been a bit of pushback to Google Glass, and there will no doubt be a similar issue for the iWatch. Even the most avant garde people may have second thoughts about just how cool they don’t look wearing and using those devices.

Which is why Apple and Google are working on devices that are innovatively powerful but completely inconspicuous. These are brain implants that will function as smartphones—and more. Working names for these devices might be iBrain and gBrain. No one will know you are wearing them. No more pulling your smartphone out of your pocket, or putting on a pair of glasses, or bringing your wrist up to your face.

Ironically, the problem that Apple and Google have is precisely that: nobody will know you are using it. That is, there is no badge. Which is why, on a parallel track, marketers are working on an actual badge that tells the world that you are wearing an iBrain or gBrain. Another thought that marketers have is to encourage jewelry or tattoos that bring attention to the implant site. One product manager has even suggested a non-working antenna that could attach to the implant, giving the user the look of an old-fashioned Martian. Futuristic glasses and watches might not be cool, but that sure would be.

The NFL and Ferguson

Roger Goodell NFL

NFL player Ray Rice beat his then-fiancée/now-wife unconscious inside an elevator in Atlantic City. Police officer Darren Wilson shot dead an unarmed teenager in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Missouri.

(To Rice’s credit, he had the courtesy to drag her body out of the elevator, while the Ferguson police left Michael Brown’s body on that street for hours.)

These two incidents are so much the same and so different. They tell us things we don’t want to hear, know, or think about. They also tell us one surprisingly good thing. The establishment interests can be just as committed to privileging a black American as killing him ruthlessly, under the right circumstances. Especially if there’s big money at stake. So we learn that ignominy is race neutral at last.

Until yesterday there was no publicly available video of the beating, though it was apparently available and seen by various authorities. The only public video until then was from the outside of the elevator, merely showing Rice dragging the body, not beating it. As one journalist now explains his defense of Rice’s mere two-game NFL suspension and not being charged with a felony:

The inside-the-elevator video shows Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, provoking, brutally assaulting and then casually and callously standing over his knocked-out fiancée (who is now his wife). His actions are sickening in their depravity and confirm a worst-case-scenario narrative I was reluctant to believe after seeing only the previously released, outside-the-elevator video.

I thought the full video would explain why: Why police originally charged Ray and Janay with simple assault. Why the prosecutor allowed Ray to enter a diversion program. Why Janay apologized for her role. Why Janay chose to marry Ray. Why the Ravens enthusiastically supported Rice and used their facilities in helping him rehabilitate his image. Why Goodell suspended Rice for only two games.

I wrongly and naively thought that she was the aggressor in the attack, that Rice reflexively shoved her to fend her off and she slipped, fell and hit her head [emphasis added]. I did not think a man could sucker-punch a woman on tape and have the police, a prosecutor, the victim and the image-conscious NFL all work to treat the assaulter in a sympathetic fashion.

Fell and hit her head. That reminds us of nothing so much as the stories reported by battered children (and wives and girlfriends) who “run into doors.” Except this is a journalist using his best investigative and inferential skills to draw an “obvious” circumstantial conclusion. He could be forgiven for drawing the same ridiculous conclusion as law enforcement, the NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens. Except that some or all of them had the inside the elevator video or at least more detail, and still came to the same conclusion, at least publicly.

There is no video of exactly what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, though there are witnesses to pieces of it, an audio recording, and more than one autopsy. There the instinct on the part of vested interests and the establishment was to wait and see, but really to stonewall, cover up, and put the best light on the situation. That turned out to be a disastrous approach, but at least it got people talking about former unmentionables. Small consolation.

How is this any different than what is going on with Ray Rice? The vested interests tried to put the best light on his situation, and despite outrage, almost got away with it. How are the people who up until yesterday circled the wagons around Ray Rice, giving him the benefit of the doubt and a slap on the wrist, any different than those who have been circling the wagons around Darren Wilson, giving him the benefit of the doubt?

One difference is that Ferguson is a small predominantly black town with a small almost entirely white police force that appears to have some race issues, while the NFL is a huge enterprise predominantly owned and run by white people with a pro game substantially played by black men that appears to have some race issues. It’s those issues, along with other social, legal and moral ones, that have us all talking. About policing. About the NFL. About race.

The victims were both black, one a kid possibly involved in petty crime (there’s a video of that), the other a woman engaged to a professional warrior who could have easily killed her, rather than just beating her senseless after she “provoked” him (there’s now video of that).

Maybe from the first, Ray Rice should have taken the approach that will certainly be at the center of Darren Wilson’s defense, assuming he is charged: I was in fear for my life. Up until yesterday, lots of people would apparently have been willing to accept a story like that, if it served their interests. Thankfully, they now all have to stop pretending, and we can start asking what it all means.

Jack Cristil: The Voice of God is Gone

Jack Cristil Biography

There are two ways you might know Jack Cristil, who died this weekend at the age of 88. But maybe not.

If you’re from Mississippi, or an SEC sports fan, you know him as the The Voice of Mississippi State football and basketball for almost sixty years, until his retirement in 2011.

If you are a member of the Tupelo Jewish community, where Jack was an essential part of Temple B’nai Israel for almost that long, you know him, more or less, as The Voice of God. In addition to his leadership roles in the congregation, Jack frequently led services. Most of us have heard clergy and lay people at the pulpit with some memorable voices and presences. Jack stood above them all. That perfectly modulated baritone, driven by his deep and unshakable faith, gave us all the play-by-play for a different sort of game, season after season.

That extraordinary voice would mean nothing without the man behind it—just a trick of vocal cords and breath. But Jack’s mind and heart were even bigger than that voice. Which is why when he spoke on the radio or at services, or in the more intimate setting of a meeting or conversation, you listened. Some people get our attention by the way they say things, and Jack could get anybody’s attention. But others keep our attention because of what they say, and even more, who they are.

In case you still think that Jack was not so well-known or important, see the above book cover from a biography of him. You may not have heard of Jack or of the author, veteran Mississippi journalist Sid Salter. But the man who wrote the Foreword to Jack’s biography is a little more familiar—a Memphis-based writer named John Grisham.

And if that’s not famous enough, here’s a photo of Jack interviewing Elvis:

Jack Cristil and Elvis

Jack is gone, but anyone who has heard that voice, even once, will hear it forever. One of Jack’s favorite bits in services was to ask the congregation to turn to a particular page in the prayer book and to indicate having done so by being seated. Today, we indicate our love and respect by standing up. We hear you, Jack.