The Bixby Letter


In September 1864, as the Civil War raged, a widow named Lydia Parker Bixby approached Massachusetts Adjunct General William Schouler and informed him that five of her sons, all serving in the Union Army, had been killed. Schouler was touched by the loss suffered by the widow, and asked Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew to notify the President of Mrs. Bixby’s story and requested that the President send a letter of condolence to her.

Governor Andrew relayed the request to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War. The Secretary asked Andrew to provide him with the names of Bixby’s sons and the units in which they served. Schouler retrieved the information from Mrs. Bixby and sent it to Secretary Stanton, who then passed the request on to the President.

In addition to requesting the letter, Schouler made an appeal for contributions for the families of soldiers at Thanksgiving. The appeal was published in both the Boston Evening Traveller and the Boston Evening Transcript, and it included information about Mrs. Bixby and the five sons she had lost in the war. A portion of the proceeds from the appeal were delivered to Mrs. Bixby on Thanksgiving Day. The following day, she received the letter of condolence from the President.

A copy of Lincoln’s letter was published in the Boston Evening Transcript. Lincoln’s sincere condolences struck a chord with readers of the letter, and it served to increase his popularity and strengthen the war effort among the people of Boston, and throughout Massachusetts.


It’s true that Lydia Parker Bixby spoke to Adjunct General Schouler. What was said between the two is a matter of controversy. Schouler was clear that Bixby claimed her five sons had been killed in the war. Some time later, after receiving the President’s letter, Bixby claimed she never told Schouler five of her sons had died in the war. The truth was, Bixby had lost two sons, not five.

Of the five Bixby sons that served during the war:

  • Sargent Charles N. Bixby was killed in action near Fredricksburg, Virginia on May 3, 1863,
  • Private Oliver Cromwell Bixby was killed in action on July 30, 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia,
  • Private Arthur Edward Bixby deserted his post at Fort Richardson, Virginia on May 28, 1862. He hid out until after the war, then returned to Boston,
  • Private George Way Bixby was captured at Petersburg on July 30, 1864 and was held as a POW at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. Reports differ as to what happened to him after his confinement. One report indicates that he died while in custody at Salisbury. Another indicates he joined Confederate forces and re-joined the fight.
  • Corporal Henry Cromwell Bixby was captured by Confederate troops at Gettysburg and was sent to Richmond, Virginia. He was released on March 7, 1864 and subsequently received an honorable discharge.

Astonishingly, the War Department had records for all five Bixby boys, but ignored them, instead relying on Mrs. Bixby’s claims.

The letter from the President that received so much praise throughout Massachusetts seemed not to impress the widow Bixby. In fact, Elizabeth Towers, a granddaughter of Mrs. Bixby, reported that her grandmother was a southern sympathizer who was indignant over the letter. She claimed that Mrs. Bixby had “little good to say about President Lincoln.” It was reported that Mrs. Bixby destroyed the letter after reading it.

The copy of the letter that was given to the Boston Evening Transcript was also destroyed by the newspaper’s editor after it was printed in the paper. Since then, several people have claimed they have copies of the original letter, but the claims have always proved to be forgeries.

Along with the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, the Bixby Letter is considered one of Lincoln’s finest written works. It has been quoted in memorials, included on epitaphs, and was even used in the popular film, Saving Private Ryan.

However, many scholars believe that the letter was not written by Lincoln. They instead attribute the letter’s authorship to John Hay, Lincoln’s assistant private secretary.

Lincoln was incredibly busy during the last few months of 1864, executing the war and trying to keep his cabinet together. It’s very possible that he delegated the task of writing the letter to Hay. However, there is no definitive evidence to support the contention that Hay was the author.


Here is the letter of condolence that President Lincoln sent to the widow Bixby:

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,–

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln


A True Abomination

A conservative Christian friend recently wrote a Facebook post saying how much she enjoyed and appreciated the book Single Gay Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity by Gregory Coles. In the book, Coles describes his life growing up as a Christian, but never being attracted to girls. When he hits puberty, he realizes that he is attracted exclusively to other guys. He loves Jesus with all his heart, but he is sexually attracted to boys.

As Coles’ story unfolds, he explains how he came to the conclusion that he was not a mistake. God created him just the way he was. Even so, in order to live by God’s word, he has to forego any gay relationships. He can’t be in a loving relationship with another man, and, to remain true to his Christian beliefs, he must remain chaste.

My friend said Coles’ story opened her eyes to the struggles LGBTQ Christians live with and the book made her appreciate how much faith and “love for the Lord”  it took for Coles to make the decision to deny his earthly urges in exchange for eternal life in Heaven.

As someone who is not a conservative Christian, I initially felt good about my friend’s admission that she had gone from believing a person couldn’t be both a LGBTQ and a Christian, to understanding that even LGBTQ people can be part of the Christian family, provided they live a life worthy of God. It was a small step, but at least it was in the right direction.

My good feelings quickly disappeared when I began reading the comments to my friend’s post. One person wrote:

“Could you show me in the Bible where it is ok to live this way and be a Christian? The Bible says it is an abomination. People who are unbelievers love, but their eternal destiny is also hell without Jesus. I can give you all the verses in the Bible that say what the end result is. Love is telling people the truth about what God’s Word says! No one likes to hear the truth because it is hard to swallow. But when you show them, and they sincerely want truth, the Holy Spirit will convict them. It is our job to speak the hard truths in love. The greatest love we can show-is by telling sinners to repent and OBEY GOD!. Especially if they profess to believe in Jesus! It is a matter of life and death! 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 7, Revelation 21:27, Ephesians 4:9-16, 2 Peter 2, 2 Peter 3:14-18”

Another person wrote:

“Agreed. And as this review by Denny [B]urk states, there are some significant theological issues with [C]oles conclusions on quite a few things, first and foremost, the celebate gay identify genre…Haven’t read the book but have seen enough of the same kind of talks and even some debates with those who advocate the same perspective and even though they try to support their case, the identity genre and resultant mindset that is presented cannot be aligned or supported at all with the clear reading of scripture. And that was the emphasis of Burks review. I just would encourage you to not be so taken by the emotion of the struggle and conclusion presented in the book. It might be compelling, but we also need to be making [sure] it can be supported by scripture. That’s what Burk and others are trying to convey.”

As I read these comments–which to me, are filled with hate disguised as Christian love–I was reminded of the letter that circulated several years ago to Dr. Laura Schlessinger. If you’re not familiar, Dr. Laura was a conservative Christian talk show host who often railed at the depravity and sinfulness of a LGBTQ lifestyle.

Here’s the letter:

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.


Christians like my friend and those in her comments tend to be very selective in the Bible passages they chose to follow and those they don’t. To me, that’s the real abomination. They judge people harshly for what they see as a violation of one of God’s laws (homosexuality), but they fail to hold others, including themselves, to God’s other laws. Seems a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it?

As long as we’re recommending Bible verses, let me recommend Matthew 7:1-3 (NKJV) to my friend and those that commented on her post:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”

I’m not nearly the Christian my friends are, but I do recall Jesus commanding us to love one another, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and house the poor. I think I’ll stick with that.


How to Make Your Soul Grow: A Life Lesson from the Great Kurt Vonnegut

In 2006, an English teacher at Xavier High School in New York gave her students an unusual assignment. The teacher, Ms. Lockwood, instructed her students to write to their favorite author and ask for the author’s advice. The assignment was designed to help build the student’s persuasive writing skills.

Five students chose to write to Kurt Vonnegut, author of several novels and short stories, including his most famous work, Slaughterhouse Five. As it turned out, Vonnegut was the only author to answer any of the letters sent by the class. Here’s what he had to say:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut


How to Respond to Bad Faith Accusations

Politics in the United States has gone completely off the rails. In fact, if you were alive in 1980 (or even 1990) and you were magically transported to 2022 to hear a political debate, you’d likely think that people went crazy in the intervening years. To hear politicians making wild claims about voting machines controlled by a dead Venezuelan president or Jewish space lasers that start forest fires or calling a murderous Russian dictator “smart” and “genius” would convince you that something in politics had gone horribly wrong.

One example of this craziness is the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that was passed into law in Florida. In essence, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibits “classroom instruction” on “sexual orientation and gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade and in a manner that isn’t “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” in all grades, K–12. In addition, the law creates a cause of action that allows parents to sue school districts if they feel the new law has been violated.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican colleagues defend the law, claiming it is inappropriate for public school teachers to discuss sexual orientation or behavior with young students. They especially oppose any effort by public school teachers to tell their young students that “they can be anything they want to be” from a sexual orientation perspective.

Opponents of the law say that it is an attempt to erase LBGTQ students and deny them support services schools currently provide. They also say that it is an effort to damage public schools and instead drive parents toward private, religious-based schools.

Other states have followed in Florida’s footsteps. More than a dozen other states have proposed similar laws to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. One of those states is Michigan, where the legislature is also pushing a bill to prohibit “Critical Race Theory,” which they define as any discussion of race or how race impacted history.

State Senator Lana Theis, a supporter of both bills, called fellow State Senator, Mallory McMorrow, an opponent of the bills, a “groomer” for pedophiles. She also claimed that talk of race in public schools works to hurt white students and make them feel guilty.

Whether you support or oppose this type of law (this really applies to any law), it is beyond the pale to ascribe such vulgar, evil intent to a political opponent. Not everyone agrees on policy. That’s nothing new. But to launch such a bad faith attack on a fellow senator goes beyond acceptable political discourse. Making such hateful, ugly charges not only helps to normalize such charges, but it can, and has, led to threats of violence. It should have no place it our body politic and it should be called out whenever and wherever it happens.

That’s why I am so pleased to see how Senator McMorrow responded to her colleague’s ugly, hateful, bad faith contentions. She pushed back, not only on Theis’ charge of being a “groomer,” but also the implied claim Theis made that she and her ilk had cornered the market on Christianity, patriotism, and love for our children.

Here’s what she had to say on the floor of the Michigan State Senate:

“Senator Lana Theis accused me by name of grooming and sexualizing children in an attempt to marginalize me for standing up against her marginalizing the LGBTQ community…in a fundraising email, for herself. Hate wins when people like me stand by and let it happen. I won’t.

“I sat on it for a while wondering why me? Then I realized… I’m the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme. Because you can’t claim that you’re targeting marginalized kids in the name of “parental rights” if another parent is standing up and saying no.

“So you dehumanize and marginalize ME. You say I’m one of THEM. You say she’s a groomer, she supports pedophilia, she wants children to believe they were responsible for slavery and to feel bad about themselves because they’re white. Here’s a little background on who I really am.

“Growing up my family was active in our church. I sang in choir. My mom taught CCD. One day, our priest called a meeting with my mom and told her that she was not living up to the church’s expectations, b/c she was divorced, and because he didn’t see her w us at mass every Sunday.

“Where was my mom on Sunday? She was at a soup kitchen. With me. My mom taught me at a young age that Christianity and faith was about being a part of a community, about recognizing our privilege and blessings and doing what we could to be of service to others -especially people who were marginalized, targeted, who had less…often unfairly.

“I learned that SERVICE was far more important than performative nonsense like being seen in the same pew every Sunday or writing “Christian” in your Twitter bio and using it as a shield to target and marginalize already-marginalized people.

“I also stand on the shoulders of people like Father Ted Hesburgh, the longtime president of the University of Notre Dame who was active in the civil rights movement, who recognized his power and privilege as a white man, a faith leader, and the head of an influential and well-respected institution – and who saw Black people in this country being targeted and discriminated against and beaten, and reached out and locked arms with Dr. Martin Luther King when he was alive, when it was unpopular and risky, and marching with them to say, “We got you.” To offer protection and service and allyship, to try to right wrongs and fix the injustice in the world.

“So who am I? I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom who knows that the very notion that learning about slavery or redlining or systemic racism means that children are being taught to feel bad or hate themselves because they are white is absolute nonsense.

“No child alive today is responsible for slavery. No one is this room is responsible for slavery. But each and every single one of us bears responsibility for writing the next chapter of history. We decide what happens next, and how WE respond to history and the world around us.

“We are not responsible for the past. We also cannot change the past. We can’t pretend that it didn’t happen, or deny people their very right to exist.

“I want my daughter to know that she is loved, supported, and seen for whoever she becomes. I want her to be curious, empathetic, and kind. I want every child to feel seen, heard, and supported, not marginalized and targeted if they are not straight, white, and Christian.

“People who are different are not the reason our roads are in bad shape, or healthcare costs are too high, or teachers are leaving the profession. We cannot let hateful people tell you otherwise to scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they’re not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact peoples lives.

I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen. And I want to be very clear right now: Call me whatever you want. I know who I am. I know what faith and service mean, and what it calls for in this moment.”



Letter From Birmingham Jail

In early April 1963, the civil rights movement, led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and it’s co-founder, Martin Luther King, Jr, seemed to be stalled. Despite non-violent protests across the nation, the Kennedy Administration, which had come to power promising civil rights legislation, had seemingly turned a blind eye. They were still supportive, or so it seemed, but they weren’t doing much to fulfill their promise.

The SCLC, along with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, had planned to stage demonstrations in Birmingham, known as one of the nation’s most racist cities. But on April 10, Circuit Judge W.A. Jenkins issued an order prohibiting “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.” Leaders of the movement quickly decided they would disobey the judge’s order, and King decided that he would put himself in position to be arrested, a move he hoped would garner the attention of President John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

King was arrested and spent eight days in a dark and dank Birmingham jail cell. Early in his stay, King was given a local newspaper that contained a letter written by eight white local clergymen taking King to task for his methods. In the letter, the men agreed that things needed to change. They indicated that the nation needed to treat blacks more fairly and with more respect, but they felt King and his followers needed to be more patient. They said that blacks should wait and allow the nation to come around in its own time. They blamed King and his protests for creating tension and backlash among whites, and they complained that the protests and sit-ins that King was leading were illegal.

As King read the letter in the newspaper, he began writing a response in the margins of the story. When he ran out of space in the margins, he wrote on small note pads his attorney had left behind. Finally, he was able to get his hands on a legal pad. What he wrote became known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Although King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. is more well known, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” may be King’s most important, most powerful work.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” was first published on May 19, 1963 in the New York Post (after the New York Times Magazine decided against publishing it), and was subsequently published in the June issue of Liberation Magazine, the June 12, 1963 edition of The Christian Century, and the June 24, 1963 edition of The New Leader. It later was reprinted in The Progressive and The Atlantic Monthly, and was part of King’s 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait.

Although it is long, I encourage you to read “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” It is one of the most important documents in our country’s history, and it is a classic publication on civil disobedience by a man who was being held, in essence, as a political prisoner.

Letter from Birmingham Jail


Martin Luther King Jr.

Birmingham City Jail

April 16, 1963


Bishop C.C. J. Carpenter
Bishop Joseph A. Durick
Rabbi Milton L. Grafman
Bishop Paul Harmon
The Rev. George M. Murray
The Rev. Edward V. Ramage
The Rev. Earl Stalings


My Dear Fellow Clergymen,

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliate organizations all across the South, one being the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Whenever necessary and possible, we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am here because I have basic organizational ties here.

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.

You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants, such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises, Reverend Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstration. As the weeks and months unfolded, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained. As in so many experiences of the past, we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” and “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?” We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter season, realizing that, with exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the merchants for the needed changes. Then it occurred to us that the March election was ahead, and so we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that Mr. Conner was in the runoff, we decided again to postpone action so that the demonstration could not be used to cloud the issues. At this time we agreed to begin our nonviolent witness the day after the runoff.

This reveals that we did not move irresponsibly into direct action. We, too, wanted to see Mr. Conner defeated, so we went through postponement after postponement to aid in this community need. After this we felt that direct action could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask, “Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. We therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that our acts are untimely. Some have asked, “Why didn’t you give the new administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this inquiry is that the new administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one before it acts. We will be sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is much more articulate and gentle than Mr. Conner, they are both segregationists, dedicated to the task of maintaining the status quo. The hope I see in Mr. Boutwell is that he will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from the devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes an “I – it” relationship for the “I – thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically structured?

These are just a few examples of unjust and just laws. There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate  is obeying these anti-religious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn’t this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to make him drink the hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because His unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to His will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said, “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodyness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, on the other hand, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable devil. I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need not follow the do-nothingism of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. There is a more excellent way, of love and nonviolent protest. I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, I am convinced that by now many streets of the South would be flowing with floods of blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who are working through the channels of nonviolent direct action and refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes, out of frustration and despair, will seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it. Consciously and unconsciously, he has been swept in by what the Germans call the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, he is moving with a sense of cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand public demonstrations. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sitins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, “Get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized.

But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? — “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the  question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this. Maybe I was too optimistic. Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too small in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some, like Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, and James Dabbs, have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic, and understanding terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They sat in with us at lunch counters and rode in with us on the freedom rides. They have languished in filthy roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of angry policemen who see them as “dirty nigger lovers.” They, unlike many of their moderate brothers, have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me rush on to mention my other disappointment. I have been disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand this past Sunday in welcoming Negroes to your Baptist Church worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Springhill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its Spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago that we would have the support of the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and with deep moral concern serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson scratched across the pages of history the majestic word of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. For more than two centuries our foreparents labored here without wages; they made cotton king; and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of brutal injustice and shameful humiliation — and yet out of a bottomless vitality our people continue to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

I must close now. But before closing I am impelled to mention one other point in your statement that troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I don’t believe you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its angry violent dogs literally biting six unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I don’t believe you would so quickly commend the policemen if you would observe their ugly and inhuman treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you would watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you would see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys, if you would observe them, as they did on two occasions, refusing to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I’m sorry that I can’t join you in your praise for the police department. It is true that they have been rather disciplined in their public handling of the demonstrators. In this sense they have been publicly “nonviolent.” But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the last few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.

I wish you had commended the Negro demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” They will be young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Never before have I written a letter this long — or should I say a book? I’m afraid that it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,



Goodbye Baseball. I’ll Miss You.

I started playing organized baseball when I was five-years-old. As I grew up, I competed in a lot of other sports, but baseball was always my favorite.

As a kid, I watched as many Cubs games on WGN as my dad would allow, had my heart broken in 1969 when the Cubs fell short of going to the World Series (Damned Mets!), watched the greatest game in Cubs history (in my opinion) in 1984 in what became known as the Sandberg game, suffered through many years and many bad teams, celebrated the 2016 World Series along with millions of other long-suffering fans, and for the past several years, have been a loyal subscriber to MLB.TV, which allows me to stream hundreds of games a year with streaming quality that has yet to hit 1980 Soviet-era standards.

I love baseball. Sadly, baseball doesn’t love me (or any of their other fans). Earlier this week, it was announced that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association had failed to reach a deal on a collective bargaining agreement. As a result, Commissioner Rob Manfred postponed spring training indefinitely and cancelled the first two series of the season.

Watching all of this unfold has been like watching a disaster movie in slow motion. MLB owners, who are represented by Manfred, have been completely unrealistic in the way they have approached the negotiations. They locked out the players from MLB facilities last year, claiming the lockout would help spur negotiations, then proceeded to completely ignore the MLBPA for 43 days, never contacting them or making them an offer.

Ken Rosenthal, writing in The Athletic, didn’t pull any punches when describing the behavior of the owners:

“How dare they. That’s all I keep thinking. How dare commissioner Rob Manfred and the baseball owners treat their players and their fans like this. Don’t they recognize the impact of canceling games, the damage it will do to the sport, the idea that baseball is more than simply an industry, bigger than anyone lucky enough to be a part of it?

“Oh, Manfred and the owners will object to that very premise, tell you all about their love for the game and how the other side is more to blame. Manfred said it himself Tuesday, ‘If it was solely within my ability or the ability of the clubs to get an agreement, we’d have an agreement.’ Yep, if not for those damn players that fans pay to see — if only Manfred and Co. could remove them from these negotiations the way they scrubbed them from the league’s website — then everything would be all right.”

ESPN’s Jeff Passan also offered a tough-eyed observation:

“Major League Baseball is in a crisis of its own making, a self-inflicted wound borne of equal parts hubris, short-sightedness and stubbornness from a class of owners who run the teams and seemingly have designs on running the game into the ground…That baseball finds itself on the precipice of such an ugly denouement is no accident. It is a study in the consequences of bad behavior — of indignities big and small, of abiding by the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit and, worst of all, of alienating those who make the sport great.”

The owners—who cry poor, even as they rake in more and more money from larger TV contracts, sports gambling proceeds, and soon-to-come uniform advertising patches—are doing their best to cut player salaries. They’re not going at it directly, though. They are using the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) to limit their obligations.

The CBT operates basically as a salary cap. It limits how much teams can spend on player salaries (lest an onerous penalty kicks in), but it doesn’t include a salary floor, which would require teams to spend a minimum amount on player salaries. The result has been several teams each year that, at the beginning of the season, decide to severely limit player salaries, giving up on being competitive.

This lack of spending is called tanking, and, at least in theory, gives teams a chance to spend money on the draft and on building up the quality of their farm system. The Cubs and the Astros are two prime examples of teams that used temporary tanking to their advantage. On the other hand, the Pirates, and to a lesser extent, the Reds and the Marlins, are examples of teams that tank year after year, never loosening the purse strings enough to be competitive.

“Baseball’s luxury tax (CBT) — which, essentially, has become a salary cap as even the richest teams strain to stay below it — has grown by just 7.6% over the last five years, which is absurd even against simple inflation but particularly so when judged against the huge rise in baseball revenues,” Joe Posnanski writes. “Player salaries on the whole have actually gone down since 2017. The owners did not want to share any of their newfound riches (billionaires never do, I guess), and unsurprisingly they did not.”

Did you catch that line there near the end of Posnanski’s quote? “Player salaries on the whole have actually gone down since 2017.” That’s right. While team revenues were increasing, player salaries were decreasing. That might be hard to believe since the best players often make tens of millions of dollars each year. But there’s another side to that story.

As a general rule, players don’t have much to gain by complaining in public about the way they are treated by ownership. For example, Dodgers’ pitcher, Walker Buehler, recently tweeted this:

“PLEASE tell me how what we, the players, are asking for is crazy? Inflation happens. Markets rise. Money grows. Ask our owners. They know. Why would we agree to less than even inflation level income rises? Would you take that?”

As you might imagine, a lot of people responded negatively to Buehler’s tweet. I get it. The minimum MLB salary was $600,000/year in the last CBA, and many players are making much more than that. For a guy making $15/hour, it’s hard to understand why Buehler is complaining. Even so, he makes a good point.

The way the system in MLB is set up, players are at the mercy of the team to pay what they want for their first three years in the league (subject to league minimums). For the next three years, if players and their teams can’t reach an agreement on salary, they go to binding arbitration. It isn’t until after their sixth year in the league that players finally reach free agency, where they can negotiate their salary with other teams. It isn’t until free agency that players enter the free market and have an opportunity to make what the market says they are worth.

But there’s a problem. It used to be that players made less than they were worth in their early years, but then made more than they were worth in their later years. There was a kind of equilibrium. But teams didn’t like overpaying older players. Who could blame them? Discontinuing overpaying players late in their career would make sense if those same teams didn’t benefit from underpaying players in their early years. I mean, fair is fair. Owners didn’t care. The system allowed them to underpay younger players, but there was nothing that said they had to overpay older players, so they stopped.

So, when fans scream that players are spoiled and ungrateful, they have to remember that a lot of players never end up making their market value during their playing career. They receive less than they are worth in their early years, then in their declining years, when they are subject to the free market, they receive generally what they are worth, or less, never making up for the money they lost during their early years.

Let’s take Walker Buehler as an example. During Buehler’s first three years in the league, his performance was worth:

  • 2018 — $25 million
  • 2019 — $41 million
  • 2020 — $43.7 million

These values are provided by FanGraphs, a baseball think tank that has calculated the value of a player’s performance.

Here’s what Buehler was actually paid:

  • 2018 — $600,000
  • 2019 — $600,000
  • 2020 — $3.75 million

Is that fair? Would you work for such a tiny fraction of your value? I’ll bet not.

Let’s go a little deeper. Let’s look at the ten most valuable players of 2021 (based on FanGraphs values) and the ten highest paid players of 2021 to see how player salaries compare to their true value.

2021 Most Valuable Players*

  1. Corbin Burnes – Value: $59.8 million  Actually Paid: $600,000
  2. Zach Wheeler – Value: $58.1 million  Actually Paid: $22.5 million
  3. Trea Turner – Value: $54.9 million  Actually Paid: $13 million
  4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Value: $53.5 million  Actually Paid: $605,000
  5. Bryce Harper – Value: $53.0 million  Actually Paid: $26 million
  6. Marcus Semien – Value $53.0 million  Actually Paid: $18 million
  7. Juan Soto — $53.0 million  Actually Paid: $8.5 million
  8. Jose Ramirez — $50.4 million  Actually Paid: $9 million
  9. Fernando Tatis Jr. — $49.1 million  Actually Paid: $1 million
  10. Carlos Correa — $46.2 million  Actually Paid: $11.7 million

Highest Paid Players*

  1. Trevor Bauer – Value: $14.0 Million  Actually Paid: $40.0 million
  2. Mike Trout: — Value: $18.2 million  Actually Paid: $37.1 million
  3. Gerrit Cole – Value: $42.1 million  Actually Paid: $36 million
  4. Jacob deGrom – Value: $39 million  Actually Paid: $36.0 million
  5. Nolan Arenado – Value: $32.1 million  Actually Paid: $35.0 million
  6. Stephen Strasburg – Value: -$0.2 million  Actually Paid: $35 million
  7. Max Scherzer – Value: $42.9 million  Actually Paid: $34.5 million
  8. Manny Machado – Value $35.2 million  Actually Paid: $34 million
  9. Justin Verlander – Value: $0.0 million (DNP)  Actually Paid: $33 million
  10. Zack Grienke – Value: $10.3 million  Actually Paid: $32.9 million

The numbers don’t lie. Of the ten best players in the league in 2021, every single one is underpaid. Even those that are making tens of millions of dollars per year are still making less than they are worth.

And what about the ten highest paid players? Some of them are making less than they are worth, but that’s not the case with all of them. In fact, there are five outliers in this group that made significantly more than they were worth. Zack Grienke is the most straight forward case. His performance just wasn’t worth what he was paid. But the other four are a bit different.

Trevor Bauer missed most of the season while MLB investigated sexual assault charges against him. Although he sat out during the investigation (which is still on-going), the team still paid him.

Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, and Justin Verlander’s cases are a bit different. All were injured for part (Trout), most (Strasburg), or all (Verlander) of the year. Missing games decreases a player’s value. But teams usually (but not always) insure against such injuries, recouping some or all of the money they paid to the player. For these three players, although they received their full salary, some or all of it was paid for by insurance, not by the team.

The point is, the system is skewed heavily toward the owners. It does happen where a player is paid more than they are worth, but those cases are somewhat rare. When it comes to signing players, most general managers are known to be conservative, erring on the side of caution rather than taking a big risk on a player. Much more often, players are paid about what they are worth or less. Sometimes, far less.

Sadly, the owners hold most of the cards. Players should be paid what they are worth, and the CBT should increase at least at the rate of inflation, but the owners don’t have to do anything they don’t want. They are in a much better position than the players to weather the storm of a long lockout. And the owners know that the longer the lockout drags on and the more the players resist their petty offers, the more public sentiment will turn on the players. MLB can hide behind Manfred, but as the faces of the game, there is no where for the players to hide.

This is all to say that I’m done with baseball. There are too many other things to spend my time on that are not so frustrating. I’ve already cancelled my MLB.TV subscription, and I’m done actively following the labor negotiations. When MLB and the players work thigs out—if they work things out—we’ll see what happens. I may fall back into my old fandom, but I doubt it. I’m tired of asking baseball to love me.

*Salary information provided by the great Joe Posnanski.


Search for the Truth: The Unsupported Prosecution of Juan Catalan

This is an incredible true crime story with lots of unexpected twists and turns. It’s also an infuriating and disheartening story involving otherwise innocent people that were treated unfairly and with complete disregard by police and prosecutors, the very people tasked with uncovering the truth, not simply prosecuting the most convenient suspect.

Much has been written about this case, but usually, only in bits and pieces. I wanted to bring all of the information together in one spot, from the original murder, the unethical police behavior that led to a young woman’s death, the overzealous prosecutor who disregarded the weakness of her case, and the wrongly charged suspect who, if not for a bit of good fortunate, would likely be sitting on death row right now.

Without further ado, here’s “Search for the Truth, the Unsupported Prosecution of Juan Catalan:”


Jose Ledesma is a bad man.

In November 2002, nineteen-year-old Ledesma, along with two other men—all members of the Vineland Boyz street gang—opened fire on an SUV containing members of a rival gang. They fired seven shots into the vehicle, killing twenty-six-year-old Enrique Acosta.

Four nights later, Ledesma approached eighteen-year-old Christian Vargas, as Vargas waited for his girlfriend near her home in North Hollywood. Without warning or conversation, Ledesma shot Vargas, killing him with one shot.

Los Angeles police detectives from the North Hollywood Division quickly solved the first murder. There were several witnesses that pinned the murder on Ledesma and Mario Catalan. Ledesma was arrested in North Hollywood, while Catalan was apprehended near the Mexican border after his girlfriend told police of his involvement in the Acosta murder.

The Vargas murder was not as easy to solve. Police couldn’t find any witnesses to the murder, although they recovered a shell casing that, through ballistics testing, matched the same 9mm semiautomatic pistol used in the Acosta murder.

Detectives Pinner and Rodriguez from the North Hollywood division were assigned to the case. Ledesma was already in custody from the Acosta murder, but when questioned by Pinner and Rodriguez, denied being involved in the Vargas murder. So, police hit the street looking for witnesses.

They spoke to sixteen-year-old Martha Puebla, an on-again, off-again girlfriend of Ledesma. On the night of the murder, Puebla and her friend Maribel were at Puebla’s house waiting for Ledesma. Vargas was waiting outside. They heard a gunshot, and when they went outside, they found Vargas slumped over the wheel of his car, dead. There are conflicting stories about what Puebla told police. Her family says that Puebla told them that she had not seen the murder of Vargas. Police contend Puebla saw the murder but refused to cooperate with them. In either case, Puebla did not name Ledesma as the shooter.

Even so, Detectives Pinner and Rodriguez returned to Ledesma and told him that Puebla had implicated him in the murder. They even produced a “six pack,” a group of six photographs of potential suspects, including Ledesma. Someone had circled Ledesma’s photograph, and at the bottom had written, “Those is the guy that shot my friends boyfriend.” The photograph was signed “MP,” supposedly for Martha Puebla.

The detectives told Ledesma that Puebla had identified him and, if he wanted a lighter sentence, he should confess. Ledesma claimed he didn’t know Puebla and refused to confess. He was returned to his cell.

The next night, Ledesma called his friend, Javier Covarrubias, known as “Cokester,” from jail and put out a hit on Puebla. “I need her to disappear,” Ledesma said. “She is dropping dimes.” Because Ledesma called from jail, the conversation was recorded. Sadly, at the time, no one bothered listening to the call.

Cokester was not very prompt. Five months later, Puebla was still alive. She was called to testify at Ledesma and Catalan’s preliminary hearing. Puebla testified that she did not know why she was there. She didn’t know anything about the Vargas murder. Los Angeles County prosecutor Beth Silverman had called Puebla to attend the preliminary hearing. She fired questions at Puebla, but the answer was always the same. Did Puebla see anyone? Did anyone say anything? Did anyone yell anything? “No. No. No.”

Also in the courtroom that day was Mario Catalan’s brother, Juan. He had once been in the Vineland Boyz street gang with his brother and Ledesma. He’d even confessed to drug possession to spare his brother jail time. But that had all changed years earlier with the birth of Juan’s daughter. After her birth, Juan left the gang, went to work at his father’s auto repair shop, and was living life as a law-abiding citizen.

Eleven days after the hearing, Cokester finally got around to doing what he had been directed to do five months earlier. According to Puebla’s father, he was sitting at home when he heard gunshots, He rushed outside to find his daughter dead. No one else was in the area, but there was a cell phone belonging to Juan Ibanez laying next to her body.

Ibanez told police that he and a group of friends were visiting Puebla outside her house when a car circled the block and parked at the end of the street. Ibanez’s friends left when they saw the car, but Ibanez stayed with Puebla. A man got out of the car and walked toward them. When he got to Puebla, he stopped. She asked the guy if he knew her. “No,” he replied, then shot her twice.

Ibanez claimed he fled, and that the killer shot at him as he ran. Police showed Ibanez a “six pack” of photos, and Ibanez picked out two photos. One of the people he picked out was already in prison. The other had an airtight alibi. Ibanez then helped police develop an artist’s sketch.

LA Magazine writes what happened next:

“Three days later the ex-girlfriend of a Vineland member went to the station and told Detective Pinner that the gang was responsible for Martha’s murder. It should’ve been obvious: Martha, a Vineland associate who had dated Vineland members, had testified in a preliminary hearing of a Vineland member, and had been falsely identified by Pinner and Rodriguez as a witness against a Vineland member, had died at the hands of a Vineland Boy.

“Despite this, detectives made no progress. The recording of Ledesma ordering Martha’s murder still sat in Pinner’s desk.”

A few nights later, police stopped a man riding a bicycle after the man gave them a suspicious look. The police frisked him but did not find anything incriminating. LAPD Officer Guiral asked the man if he was willing to talk to them, and he agreed, provided they could talk inside the squad car. The police agreed.

The man, Francisco Saldivar, admitted to being a member of the Vineland Boyz, and the police asked him about Puebla’s murder. Saldivar told the police that the shooter’s name was “Juan,” he had a girlfriend named “Alma,” he drove a white Ford F150 pickup, had a brother named “Mario,” and had just returned from hiding out in Mexico.

Police ran with the new information. They quickly arrested Juan Catalan, the brother of Mario Catalan, for the murder of Martha Puebla. Juan’s wife’s name was “Alma,” but It didn’t seem to matter to police that he had never owned a white Ford F150 and had never been to Mexico. The artist’s sketch Juan Ibanez helped the police develop looked nothing like Juan Catalan. It didn’t matter.

Juan had no idea why he had been arrested. He was stopped at gunpoint outside his father’s auto shop, his wife and four-year-old daughter in the car with him.

At the jail, Detective Pinner questioned him and accused him of the murder of Martha Puebla. Juan denied knowing Puebla or having anything to do with the murder.

“That’s you,” Detective Pinner said, pointing at a copy of the drawing the sketch artist prepared. It looked nothing like Juan.

Juan again denied being involved. “Please, that’s not me. That’s not me.”

Pinner told Juan several witnesses had identified him. This was a lie.

Juan was panicking. “Can I take a lie detector test or something?”

“No,” Pinner said.

It was then Juan realized that the detectives didn’t really care if he had committed the murder or not. If they could pin it on him, they would.

LA Magazine picks up the story again:

“Juan spent three days in the Van Nuys jail before he could see a judge, who transferred him to Los Angeles County. The cell was built for fifty men and must’ve held twice that number. Tensions behind bars run along racial lines, and whites, Latinos, and blacks managed an uneasy coexistence. Each group was led by a “shot caller.”

As soon as Juan arrived a trustee—an inmate with freedom to move around the jail—approached the bars to talk to the Latino shot caller.

“Hey man, we’ve got somebody that’s no good in here.’

“County jail, crowded as it was with killers and rapists, seemed an unlikely spot for moral judgments, but even the worst criminals feel entitled to punish certain offenders. It clicked for Juan: Martha was sixteen. He would be treated as a child murderer.

“I’ll get you the name after dinner,’ said the trustee.

“The shot caller salivated at the prospect of hurting or killing the man responsible.

“Juan stared at his food over dinner and couldn’t eat. Walking back to the cell he saw deputies wrestling with the trustee, whose face was pinned to the wall.  A deputy had caught the trustee searching inmate files to find the child killer’s name. He was taken to solitary confinement without being able to share what he’d learned.”

After the incident at LA County Jail, Juan was transferred to Wayside Maximum Security Prison, one of several, unannounced, unexplained transfers. It was at Wayside that his attorney, Todd Melnik finally caught up with him.

Melnik is a bit of a trope. He is a former assistant district attorney who saw firsthand some of the things prosecutors do to get convictions, and decided he’d rather be a defense attorney. After meeting with Juan, Melnik hit the street, tracking down the friends who had been with Puebla prior to her murder. After talking to them, he realized that things weren’t exactly as Ibanez had made them out to be. He found out that Puebla had taken a phone call shortly before they left, and after pulling the phone records, realized that she was still on the phone while the shooter was on-scene.

More importantly, he learned from Juan’s wife that the day of Puebla’s murder, Juan had attended a Dodgers baseball game with his friend, a cousin, and the cousin’s daughter. They all confirmed the story.

Melnik pulled video from Dodger Stadium’s “Dodger Vision” camera that sweeps the stands looking for fans to highlight. He searched a ton of VHS tapes, and finally found a tape that had scanned the section where Juan’s group was sitting. Unfortunately, the images were blurry and didn’t prove Juan was at the game.

When Melnik delivered the bad news, Juan was despondent. He swore he was at the game at the time of the murder. He even remembered a film crew at the game that night. “I saw “Super” Dave Osborn in my section.”

“Super” Dave Osborn was a character on Super Dave, an old HBO show. The main character, an overly-optimistic stuntman inspired by Evil Knievel, who often gets gravely injured while doing his stunts, was played by comedian Bob Einstein. But Super Dave hadn’t aired since 1991. Who had Juan really seen?

The Dodgers directed Melnik to HBO, but not because of Super Dave. Instead, Melnik learned that Curb Your Enthusiasm had been filming the night of Puebla’s murder. Melnik was unfamiliar with the show. He called, and was told they could not release pre-production footage until the show aired the following February. It was only May and Melnik needed that footage.

“My client is facing the death penalty for something he didn’t do,” Melnik said.

“Let me talk to Larry David. Hold on.” the voice on the other end of the phone said. Melnik had no idea who Larry David was. When the person returned to the phone, he said, “Larry says we can show you the footage. When do you want to come?”

Again, LA Magazine:

“The next morning Todd and the Curb Your Enthusiasm crew sat in an editing room. The episode featured Larry picking up a prostitute, so that he could use the carpool lane on the way to Dodger Stadium. A crew member fed tapes into a machine, one after another, each 5-7 minutes long. No sign of Juan.

“Then Todd jumped out of his chair and ran to the screen. ‘That’s him, that’s him, roll it back.’ Larry David and Juan Catalan walked right passed one another in the aisle in full view of the camera. The room went nuts.

“I’ll be damned,’ said Larry, putting his hand on his chin. ‘Maybe I should make an episode about this.’ The time code on the tape indicated it was filmed between 8:58pm and 9:10pm. Martha’s killer drove down Lull Street, fifteen miles away, shortly after 10:00pm. Todd would need something more to get the judge to dismiss.”

Meanwhile, Juan was wasting away in jail. He witnessed one man get beaten until he was unconscious. Another time, he found himself in the middle of a riot between Latino and black inmates. “That place is for animals,” Juan said, referring to LA County jail. “It’s not for human beings.”

Without Juan there to help his father, he almost lost his auto repair business. Even so, his dad found a way to financially support Alma and the kids while Juan was wrongly imprisoned.

Juan was in jail in part because Detectives Pinner and Rodriguez claimed that Juan Ibanez had identified him in a “six pack” lineup. However, there was no documentation to prove that Ibanez had actually picked out Juan. The judge ordered the prosecution to re-do the lineup and videotape the whole thing.

Melnik wanted to stop the prosecution at the preliminary hearing stage. He had promised Juan’s daughter that he would have her dad home before Christmas. The preliminary hearing was held December 17. California has one of the lowest thresholds to move past the preliminary hearing in a murder case, only having to find that there is a “strong suspicion” that the defendant is guilty  Melnick also knew that the prosecutor, Beth Silverman, who’s nickname is “Sniper,” had never lost a murder case. It wasn’t going to be easy.

Melnik ran into Detective Pinner the day before Juan’s preliminary hearing, and the detective told him that Juan Ibanez would not be testifying at trial. That didn’t make sense to Melnik. Ibanez was the prosecution’s only eye witness. California law allowed the police to give hearsay testimony in such cases, but if Ibanez was available, his testimony would be much more credible.

The next day in court, Ibanez was the prosecution’s very first witness. Melnik was ready. He threw his coat over Juan, hiding his face,  and proceeded to question Ibanez about the appearance of the shooter. Ibanez, who had never seen Juan in person before, described him as dark skinned and stocky, and said he was slightly taller than Ibanez himself, who was 5’5”.

Melnik revealed Juan, who was light-skinned, thin, and approximately 6’1”. Melnik even borrowed a tape measure from the court reporter and measured Juan for the court. Even so, Ibanez identified Juan as Martha Puebla’s killer.

The court then viewed the video that the police had recorded of Ibanez picking Juan out of a “six pack” lineup. It was obvious that Ibanez was not at all confident in which photo to point to. He sat quietly for a long time not making a choice while looking over the photos. Indecipherable whispering is heard in the background before Ibanez finally points to the photo of Juan.

Next, Detective Pinner testified. He admitted that he had been given Juan’s alibi of being at a Dodger’s game at the time of the shooting, but he never really checked it out. He claimed to have spoken to people familiar with the Dodger’s schedule and learned that the game ended before the shooting took place, so Pinner didn’t think Juan had much of an alibi.

Next, Melnik questioned the Detective about the car the shooter was driving. It was variously described as a dark blue or black Honda, Toyota, or Chevy, with all five windows tinted. Juan was driving a Chevy Tahoe SUV, not a car, and none of the windows were tinted.

Pinner dismissed Melnik’s contention that the car didn’t match the description given by saying that Juan had once received a traffic ticket while driving a relative’s black Nissan Maxima. Melnik asked if the detective had looked into whether or not the Maxima was available to Juan the night of the murder or if the car had tinted windows. Pinner admitted he had not checked.

When asked about Juan’s motive for killing Puebla, Pinner testified that Juan’s motive was that Puebla had testified against Juan’s brother, Mario, at his murder trial. However, Martha hadn’t testified against Mario or anyone else. She was called to testify against Ledesma for the murder of Christian Vargas, in which Mario Catalan was not charged, but said she hadn’t seen Ledesma or anyone else shoot Vargas. Puebla was no threat to Mario, had not testified against him, and posed him no harm. Pinner even admitted that at no time, either during the investigation or in testimony in court, did Martha Puebla say Mario Catalan’s name. In fact, Mario Catalan’s attorney stood behind Mario in court and asked Puebla if she had ever seen Mario before. She said she hadn’t. Even so, Pinner and DA Silverman clung to the belief that the killing of Martha Puebla was motivated by revenge.

Normally, the defense does not offer evidence at this stage of the proceeding. The preliminary hearing is designed for the court to have an opportunity to examine the prosecution’s evidence to see if the case should proceed. However, there are exceptions, and Melnik thought Juan’s case was one of them. They had evidence of Juan being at the game. They had cell photo records that tended to exonerate him. They had witness who were at the game with Juan. Melnik wanted to present the evidence to the court so he could get Juan home before Christmas.

DA Silverman objected to the defense offering evidence to the court, claiming that she had not been provided with the evidence. However, California law is clear that the prosecution is not entitled to see the defense’s evidence at this stage of the proceedings. The court was reluctant to allow the evidence in at the preliminary hearing but agreed when Juan waived his right to an uninterrupted hearing. Juan agreed, and the preliminary hearing was continued until January 9. Juan wouldn’t be home for Christmas, but he would get a chance to offer evidence to exonerate himself without having to wait for a full hearing.

At the next hearing, Melnik presented the video evidence from Curb Your Enthusiasm, he offered cell phone records indicating that Juan’s cell phone had pinged off a cell tower located at the police academy at 10:11 pm indicating he was within a mile of the tower at the time of the murder. Juan’s friend, cousin, and cousin’s daughter all testified that Juan was with them the entire night, that he never left the game, and that they rode home together.

In Melnik’s summation, he said, “I think it’s unconscionable the district attorney’s office has proceeded on this case with the evidence that they have presented. This man would be facing the death penalty if he hadn’t, by the grace of God, gotten Dodger tickets from someone the day before and invited these people, and got caught on video from that HBO show. He’s a lucky man.

“He sits here before this court innocent of the charges that have been placed before him. They are very serious charges, and somebody is still walking around the San Fernando Valley that’s responsible.”

Silverman was defiant. In her closing argument she stressed how credible Juan Ibanez had been on the stand, and returned to her contention that Juan Catalan had killed Martha Puebla as revenge for testifying against Juan’s brother, Mario.

At the end of closing arguments, the judge didn’t hesitate to issue his ruling. “I do not have any suspicion that the defendant committed this crime, and this case is dismissed.”

Melnik embraced his client, but Juan’s troubles weren’t over yet. Following the trial, Silverman went on TV promising to continue the investigation and ultimately convict Juan.

For a few days, Juan was a free man, but he had to return to jail to serve time on the drug charge he had confessed to previously. Melnik tried to cut a deal with Silverman, contending that Juan had already spent six months in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. That should be enough. Silverman was unmoved. She said Juan would have to serve two more weeks, or risk going to court and facing the possibility of five years in prison. Juan returned to jail.

On his first day back in jail, Juan was placed in a cell with three members of a black street gang that was feuding with the Latinos in jail. He was certain this was done on purpose and that he was going to end up dead. For his own protection, he stayed awake day and night. When a jail trustee delivered some blankets to his cellmates, he knew he was in trouble. His experience told him that knives were often delivered in blankets.

That night, a guard checked on him and asked if everything was alright. Juan knew that if he said “no” and the guard ignored him, his cellmates would surely kill him. So, he said “yes,” but the guard wasn’t buying it. He took Juan out of the cell and put him in with a group of Latino inmates for the duration of his stay.

Once he was out of jail, Juan sued the City of Los Angeles for violating his civil rights. Melnik thought they had a strong case, especially if Ibanez testified that he was pressured to lie about Juan being Martha Puebla’s murderer. Melnik was anxious to depose Ibanez, but he couldn’t get the city to tell him where Ibanez was located. Finally, a court intervened, ordering the city to reveal Ibanez’s location. As it turned out, Ibanez was in a federal immigration holding facility. Melnik made arrangements to depose Ibanez at the federal facility, but the day before the scheduled deposition, Ibanez was mysteriously deported to Mexico.

At the trial, Officer Guiral could not explain why he thought Francisco Salvidar’s tip was so credible or why they acted so quickly on the information when so much of it didn’t point to Juan Catalan as a suspect.

Detective Rodriguez was asked if he found Juan Ibanez’s testimony credible. “He was the only witness we had,” Rodriguez confessed.

Detective Pinner’s testimony was most surprising. He testified that he had never been trained as a homicide detective, and admitted that he had lost count of how many public complaints had been filed against him. At one point he flew into a rage because Todd Melnik was tapping his coffee cup on the table. He continued to contend that Juan Catalan was Martha Puebla’s killer.

Beth Silverman remained defiant in her deposition. She maintained that the court released a guilty man when they released Juan Catalan, showing no remorse for her questionable prosecution of him.

Despite the testimony from Silverman and the three officers, the case wasn’t nearly as strong without the testimony of Juan Ibanez. Juan’s civil rights attorney, Gary Casselman, feared that they were about to lose the case. When the city offered Juan $80,000, he took it.

In 2017, Netflix debuted a documentary called Long Shot that highlighted the Juan Catalan case. Because of the Larry David/Curb You Enthusiasm connection, the documentary is more lighthearted than it otherwise would have been, avoiding some of the more controversial aspects of the case. The truth is that the police and prosecution dropped the ball at several points throughout the case. They had a single-minded purpose to prosecute and convict Juan Catalan, with no regard for the truth or the rights of any of the people involved.

Even so, the documentary is very good and worth watching. It really is an incredible story that Juan Catalan’s alibi was discovered because of a crazy HBO comedy. Had they not been at the ballpark the night of the murder, and if Juan hadn’t shown up on the pre-production tapes, he’d likely be sitting in jail today, serving time for the murder of Martha Puebla.

Here’s a trailer for the Netflix documentary, Long Shot:



“Let’s Go Brandon” and the Dumbing Down of Freedom of Speech

This post is much more political than most of the stuff I write. That’s a warning more than an apology, but it’s kind of an apology too. This story struck a nerve with me and I had to vent a bit to get it off my chest and out of my head. I’ll be back to writing about unimportant nonsense soon.


In the days leading up to Christmas, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden answered calls from children calling into the NORAD Santa Tracking Center. One of those calls was from a child in Oregon, who was on a speaker phone with his dad, Jason Schmeck. At the end of the call, Schmeck said to the Bidens—with his young son listening in—”Merry Christmas and Let’s Go, Brandon.”

As you probably know, “Let’s Go, Brandon” has become a rallying cry for Trump-loving MAGA-heads because syllabically, it sounds like “F*ck Joe Biden.” To be certain, the “Let’s Go, Brandon” phenomenon is a juvenile approach to political speech, lacking as much in substance as it is in cleverness. When MAGA world says “Let’s go, Brandon” they might just as well announce themselves as politically illiterate, completely unoriginal, cult-following dolts who willingly hitch their wagons to the loudest, most hateful, most uninformed voices around them, desperate to be patriotic and to sound intelligent, but failing miserably on both counts.

After Schmeck showed his true colors on the phone call with the Bidens, he received quite a bit of backlash. Commenters on TV and across social media took him to task for being rude, crude, insensitive, and disrespectful. Schmeck was caught off guard by the backlash, and as a true member of the MAGA cult, assumed the position of victim. He claimed that he was being attacked for exercising “my God-given right to express my frustrations in a joking manner.” (Now, he’s talking about running for Congress.)

There are two problems with Schmeck’s sentiments. First, the right he is talking about is contained in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It prevents the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.” It doesn’t prohibit TV or social media commenters from reacting to that speech. That seems to be forgotten by a lot of freedom of speech hawks on the right.

The second problem with Schmeck’s complaint is something that is happening with increased frequency, particularly with right-leaning speakers. They seem to think that “freedom of speech” means they can say anything, no matter how vile, rude, or misinformed, and no one should be allowed to respond. They want freedom of speech as well as freedom from the consequences of that speech. To them, criticism is paramount to censorship.

Of course, that’s not how freedom of speech works. No one is censoring their speech. They are free to say whatever they would like. What they are not free to do is avoid reactions to their speech. The thing most of these people forget (or never realized) is that, if they have freedom of speech, so does everyone else. They want to have their say, but they want others to be prevented from having theirs. This is a hallmark of autocratic regimes where “the rules apply to thee, but not to me.”

This dumbing down of the First Amendment’s grant of freedom of speech is just one area where our Constitution and democratic institutions are being attacked by the far right. The Right’s move toward authoritarianism in recent years has been accompanied by attempts to alter long-recognized rights (such as those contained in the First Amendment) and sowing doubts in traditional democratic institutions, such as elections. Tweaking our rights and weakening our democratic institutions make it much easier for anyone with autocratic intentions to sweep into office, destroying our democracy in the process.

So, when you hear MAGA foot soldiers like Jason Schmeck complain that his rights are being violated because people reacted strongly to his idiotic comment, just remember that 1) the First Amendment only applies to the government abridging speech, not to you, and 2) just like Jason, you have freedom of speech too. Use it liberally. Our democracy depends on it.


The Best Books I Read in 2021

In a lot of different ways, this past year was an odd one for me. One way it was odd was in the books I read. I read fewer works of fiction in 2021 than I have in several years. Instead, I found myself reading a lot of nonfiction. Part of the reason for this is the political times we are living in. There’s so much going on, and it takes time and effort to understand it all. Also, I’ve been working on a project that required reading a lot of nonfiction books. I enjoy most of the nonfiction books I read, but I miss spending more time with fiction.

Despite not reading a lot of fiction, I did read several really terrific works of fiction. In fact, I read one book this year that might be the most well written book I’ve ever read. Trust me, that’s saying a lot.

Once again this year, I had trouble deciding what kind of “books” to include in my list. I decided to include traditional books in print as well as audio-only books and Audible Original “Words & Music” books, which are audio books about musicians which include music. I didn’t include limited series podcasts, which are basically books split up into segments.

I also decided not to include audio lecturers, such as those in the Great Courses series. I’ve listened to dozens of these audio lectures over the years, mostly dealing with various religions, history, and biographies. This year, I listened to a history of the Supreme Court. They’re almost always terrific. Even so, I’ve decided not to include them in my top ten list. I’m not sure I can defend the decision to exclude these limited series podcasts or Great Courses audio lectures, but at least for this year, I’m not including them.

With these caveats out of the way, here are the ten best books I read in 2021:

10. It Was All a Lie by Stuart Stevens – Author Stuart Stevens is a former Republican political consultant who became disillusioned with the Republican party following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. Over the next few years, Stevens watched the Republicans become a political party he no longer recognized. They did things and said things with Trump in the White House that were contrary to the values—the American values—he thought the Republican Party stood for. And, as the title suggests, Stevens came to the conclusion that all of the things the Republicans said they stood for before Trump were nothing more than lies. The book is a stark rebuke of Republican politicians and the Republican Party, including candidates that Stevens worked for and, in some cases, helped elect. Personally, I don’t buy everything Stevens says in the book. I knew too many Republicans who truly believed what they were saying and what they were working for prior to 2016. Even so, Stevens makes a strong case that Republicans weren’t practicing much of what they were preaching. And its clear that in some instances, many Republican politicians were simply ambitious opportunists who changed their tune in order to ride Trump’s coattails and take advantage of his base.

9. Playing to Win by Michael Lewis – If there’s a better nonfiction writer than Michael Lewis, I don’t know who it is. Lewis, the writer of such classics as The Blindside and Moneyball, never fails to impress. Playing to Win, while a smaller, more personal book, is no exception. In the book, Lewis chronicles the extent parents go to to prepare their kids for big-time college athletics. From running kids around for travel ball teams to attending expensive, high-pressure camps, to hiring private coaches, Lewis details the grind on both parents and players, and he does it using his own daughter, Dixie, who is a talented softball player, as an example. Lewis took a rather mundane story, something a lot of people experience, and turned it into an interesting read with characters that we come to really care about. That’s what a good writer does. Sadly, just a few months after reading Lewis’ book, his daughter, Dixie, was killed in a car accident.

 8. To Balance on Bridges by Rhiannon Giddens and The Moment in 1965 When Rock ‘n Roll Became Art by Steve Earle – Both of these books are part of Audible Originals “Words & Music” series. In To Balance on Bridges, Giddens talks about growing up in North Carolina, the daughter of a black mother and white father, about how her parent’s different cultures influenced her musical tastes, about her time in the Carolina Chocolate Drops bluegrass band, and about her partnership, in both music and in life, with Francesco Turrisi. Steve Earle takes the reader (listener) on a journey through his, at times, chaotic life, growing up in Texas, living as a singer-songwriter in Nashville, and ending up in New York City. In particular, Earle discusses the world in 1965 and how it impacted his life and his music. For music lovers, and lovers of great stories, I highly recommend both books.

7. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – I’ve wanted to read Colson Whitehead for some time. This year (2021), I got to read two of his books, The Nickle Boys and The Underground Railroad. I thought The Underground Railroad was better than The Nickle Boys, but The Nickle Boys was really good too. In The Underground Railroad, Whitehead tells the story of several slaves, either escaped from or released by their owners in the South, making their way to freedom  in the North via the underground railroad. The main character, Cora, encounters new worlds on her journey to freedom. She can never be sure who to trust, who to believe, or who to fear. Along the way, she meets other former slaves who face challenges of their own. Some get captured, some are killed, and some make it to freedom. Whitehead does an admirable job of weaving their stories together.

6. The Devil May Dance by Jake Tapper – Did you know that Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and host of “State of the Union” is an author? This past year, I had the opportunity to read both of his books of fiction, The Devil May Dance, as well as The Hellfire Club. Of the two, I thought his second novel, The Devil May Dance, was the better read. In Tapper’s book, Congressman Charlie Marder, along with his wife, Margaret, go to California at the behest of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to look into a potential threat, not only against the president, but against the security of the United States. In the process, the couple endears themselves to Frank Sinatra, and become honorary members of the Rat Pack. But does Sinatra have a connection to the threat the Congressman and his wife are there to investigate? Through plenty of twists and turns and famous faces, Charlie and Margaret get ever closer to the truth, but will it cost them their reputations, or even their lives?

5. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – Every decision we make has an impact on the direction of our lives. Imagine if there was a place, a library out on the edge of the universe, where there were books that chronicled every decision we make, and tells the story of how our lives would have been changed if we had made a different decision. This is the concept behind The Midnight Library. Protagonist Nora Seed, existing somewhere between life and death, has access to the Midnight Library. She must decide if she should change her life by changing her career, her relationships, her dreams, and her desires. By making these changes—or not—Nora learns what makes life worth living.

4. Falling by T.J. Newman – Imagine you’re a pilot of a commercial airliner. As you take off from Los Angeles enroute to New York, you learn that your family has been kidnapped and the only way to save them is to crash your plane, killing all one-hundred-forty-three souls onboard. There’s one person on your plane aiding the kidnapper, but you don’t know who it is. If you don’t crash the plane, your family will die. If you do crash the plane, you’ll die along with everyone else on the plane. What would you do? That’s the conceit behind Falling, a suspenseful thriller by debut novelist and former flight attendant, T.J. Newman. The plot is fast-paced, and at times, a little unbelievable, but Newman pulls it off. Warning: I would suggest not reading this book on an airplane.

3. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow may be the most well written novel I have ever read. That’s not just hyperbole. The writing is beautiful. So, why isn’t A Gentleman in Moscow the number one book of the year? Fair question. The problem with the book is that, while the writing is spectacular, the plot is just so-so. A more cynical critic might say A Gentleman in Moscow is the epitome of literary fiction. I’m not that cynical, but I’d understand the criticism. The book tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, an aristocrat in Moscow just after the Bolshevik Revolution. Rostov is deemed unrepentant by a government tribunal and sentenced to house arrest at the hotel across the street from the Kremlin that he calls home. He is exiled to a small room on one of the upper, less desirable floors in the hotel where he establishes a routine for himself. Rostov loses the freedom he once enjoyed in the outside world, but his confinement in the hotel opens up a world of emotional discovery and freedom previously unknown by the Count.

2. The Sum of Us by Heather McGee – This is from the description of The Sum of Us: “Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy–and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out?” I couldn’t have said it better myself (That’s why I quoted so liberally). If you want to really understand how racism effects people of color, and how often, it also effects lower- and middle-class whites, you need to read The Sum of Us. It was the best nonfiction book I read this year, and one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read.

1. Bearskin by James A McLaughlin – This book was a real surprise to me. I’m not sure where I even heard about it, but when I first cracked open the book, I wasn’t expecting much. From the first chapter of the book, I was hooked. I like this kind of surprise. The book tells the story of Rice Moore, a former drug smuggler who thinks he’s put his troubled life behind him. He moves to Virginia to take over caretaker duties at a remote private forest preserve, owned by a mysterious and eclectic widow. But Rice doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into. When bears begin turning up dead in the preserve, Rice stumbles into a world of poaching, with a dose of rape and murder thrown in. Rice fights back against the poachers. But by fighting back, he runs the risk of revealing his whereabouts to the drug smugglers he worked for–and stole from–who are still looking for him.


Believing the Unbelievable

For some time, I have been trying to understand people who support former President Donald Trump. To me, Trump is a lying, conniving, corrupt politician who leads a movement dedicated to destroying American democracy. Yet, I have friends and family members—people I like and respect—who not only supported Trump as president, but continue to support him even after the revelations of corruption and illegal activities came to light (and continue to come to light) following his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, a defeat that many of these people still don’t believe.

My attempt to understand these people has less to do with Trump than it does with the phenomenon of good people believing and spreading lies and misinformation. I see Trump for who he is. He is not a mystery to me. What is a mystery is how people I know—intelligent, successful, well-meaning people—can fall for his lies, excuse his bad behavior, and continue to support him no matter what he says or does. That’s the thing I have never been able to understand.

I recently came across a term from the field of psychology that helps to explain the confusing behavior of my friends and family members. The term is “motivated reasoning,” and it’s a real eye-opener.

Motivated reasoning is a phenomenon that uses emotionally biased reasoning to produce justifications and make decisions that are most desirable rather than those that accurately reflect the evidence.

Psychology Today says this about motivated reasoning:

“One of the most significant ways information processing and decision-making becomes warped is through motivated reasoning, when biased reasoning leads to a particular conclusion or decision, a process that often occurs outside of conscious awareness.”

In applying this concept to politics, Psychology Today goes on to say:

“Studies by political psychologists highlight denial of climate change or discrediting its science as important examples of motivated reasoning; people process scientific information about climate shifts to conform to pre-existing feelings and beliefs. After all, accepting that climate change is real portends unpleasant environmental consequences and would require most people to head them off by making significant changes in lifestyle. Changing one’s mind and changing one’s lifestyle are hard work; people prefer mental shortcuts—in this case, having the goal fit their ready-made conclusions…[Motivated reasoning] is seen as a mechanism people commonly use to preserve a favorable identity, particularly in Western cultures. To maintain positive self-regard, people (unwittingly) discount unflattering or troubling information that contradicts their self-image. Individuals engage in motivated reasoning as a way to avoid or lessen cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort people experience when confronted by contradictory information, especially on matters that directly relate to their comfort, happiness, and mental health. Rather than re-examining a contradiction, it’s much easier to dismiss it.”

This is exactly the behavior I’ve witnessed with my friends and family members. They see the same things that I see when it comes to Trump and his anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian behavior, but they dismiss anything he does that goes against their values and beliefs. For them, Trump didn’t encourage and provoke the January 6 insurrection (despite loads of evidence to the contrary). He didn’t sexually assault any women (despite his own confession). He won the 2020 presidential election and had it stolen from him (despite not a shred of evidence to support this belief).

Julia Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, does a great job of explaining motivated reasoning in this Ted Talk (see below) from 2016. She uses the idea of soldiers and scouts to make her point. Soldiers accept their orders to kill the enemy and are motivated to carry out those orders without questioning the truth that led to the orders. Scouts are more concerned with gathering information. In order to do their jobs effectively, they have to question all of the data they are gathering in order to get to the truth. Their motivation is different than soldiers.

Here’s Julia Galef’s Ted Talk:

Many of these same people who dismiss Trump’s bad behavior also fall into the “anti-vaxx” category: those who dismiss and disbelieve the best scientific opinions on COVID-19. Recently, podcaster Joe Rogan interviewed Dr. Peter McCullough, MD about COVID. McCullough is a well-respected doctor who has consistently been opposed to vaccines as a way to immunize the country from COVID. The podcast gained a great deal of traction, primarily because McCullough parroted much of the misinformation the anti-vaxx community already believes.

Dr. Zubin Damania, MD, did an excellent job of breaking down McCullough’s biased, misinformed beliefs in the attached video (It’s long but very informative). One of the strongest parts of the video involved the tools Damania used to analyze McCullough’s arguments to determine if they were based on facts and evidence or bias and misinformation. These very same tools are useful when dealing with any argument or controversial position.

The first thing to look for is, is a conspiracy being alleged? If the argument is based on a conspiracy rather than hard facts or scientific evidence, it almost certainly is misinformation. It’s not that conspiracies don’t exist. But most claims of conspiracy, especially widespread conspiracies involving large groups of individuals, governments, and corporations, designed to nefariously hide the truth, are extremely, extremely unlikely. The larger the conspiracy, the less likely it is real.

A good example of this is the anti-vaxxers appeal to a “New World Order” being behind the push to force people to get vaccinated so this NWO government can control and enslave us. Anti-vaxxers portray themselves as a persecuted minority fighting to spread the truth to the rest of us, who they view as misinformed sheep, in an effort to save the world. This is an unfouded conspiracy.

The second tool or indication that someone is dealing in misinformation is if they set up impossible to meet expectations, and every time evidence is presented to debunk their claim, they move the goalposts. They refuse to consider any viewpoint other than their own, and they constantly make excuses when facts or evidence are presented that weaken or destroy their argument.

The next tool is cherry picking facts or data to support an argument. Anti-vaxxers consistently support groups like America’s Front Line Doctors even though the doctors involved are not experts when it comes to COVID, and are an outlier group, far outside the mainstream of the medical community.

Likewise, they often point to research studies that are badly flawed and often repudiated by other, more well run studies. They dismiss the more credentialed doctors or the more relevant studies in order to not have to abandon their arguments.

As Dr. Damania says, “You can always find something to confirm your bias.” However, if the argument requires cherry picking data and dismissing better, more relevant facts, you’re likely dealing with misinformation.

Appeals to fake experts (or false authority) is another indication that the person making the appeal is dealing in misinformation. What is a fake expert? It’s usually someone (or a group of people) who is not qualified to make the arguments they are making.

For instance, a few times during his interview with Joe Rogan, Dr. McCullough used Dr. Pam Popper and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as support for his arguments. What he didn’t say is that Popper is a naturopath, not a medical doctor, and Kennedy is a lawyer and a long-time anti-vaxxer who’s vaccine conspiracies were discredited by the medical community long before we ever heard of COVID. Popper and Kennedy are fake experts, and represent a fringe minority that is at odds with the vast majority of true experts.

Finally, people dealing in misinformation often set up logical fallacies involving internal contradictions. In a previous post, I wrote about a conversation I had with Adam Gaertner, an independent virology researcher. One of Adam’s arguments was that a conspiracy between world governments and “mega-corporations” was designed to enslave humankind, keeping us sick and replacing us in factories with automation, so the “mega-corporations” could maximize their profits. Of course, this argument falls apart the minute logic is applied. If humankind is too sick to work, and we are replaced by automation, who are the “mega corporations” going to sell their goods to? The claim falls apart due to it’s own internal logical contradictions.

Here’s Dr. Damania’s full video:

So, that brings us back to my Trump-loving friends and family members. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for these people. Other than their support for Trump, everything I know about them tells me that they are good, genuine, well-meaning people. So, I tend to be a bit defensive toward them.

Think about it this way: Every day, they are being lied to. During Trump’s term in the White House, he lied incessantly. According to the Washington Post, by the time Trump left office, he had told 30,573 documented lies.  That’s an average of 21 lies told by Trump each day during his presidency. That’s amazing! As Trump supporters, my friends and family members were prone to believe what he was saying.

Also, as Trump supporters, most of these people turn to Fox News or other right-wing media outlets to get their news. And every day, these outlets misinform their viewers, spinning news to favor Trump, and at times fabricating stories, telling outright lies designed to confuse and incense the very people who turn to them to be informed.

Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic, took Fox News to task for lying to their viewers. He wrote that, although Fox News hosts were blaming Antifa and BLM for the January 6 insurrection, claiming it was being overly dramatized by the media, and contending that those arrested  following the insurrection were “political prisoners,” behind the scenes,  those same hosts were texting Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, with language making it clear that they knew Trump encouraged the insurrection, and those that carried it out were not Antifa or BLM, but Trump supporters. In private, they reacted to what they knew to be the truth, but in public, on the air, they purposely lied to their viewers. According to Serwer, this type of two-faced behavior by Fox News is par for the course.

“The [text] messages also highlight Fox News’s unusual relationship with its audience, which involves the conservative media’s most trusted figures consciously lying to their viewers. The texts between Meadows and the Fox News hosts are hardly the only example of the network’s personalities deliberately misleading their audience: From downplaying the deadliness of COVID to making misleading assertions about the effectiveness of the vaccines, to advancing the false claims of voter fraud that helped motivate the riot in the first place, Fox and its satellites have shown little hesitation in exploiting the confidence of conservative viewers who are convinced that the network is one of the few trustworthy outlets in a media landscape they regard with fierce hostility.”

Of course, I can’t in good faith blame just Trump or the right-wing media cartel for these lies. My friends and family who supported Trump and tuned into Fox News and the other misinformation factories have to take some responsibility. After all, they have personal agency and possess critical thinking skills. If they want to know the truth, it’s out there, and it doesn’t take all that much effort to find it. Why don’t they? Motivated reasoning. It’s not a complete excuse for my friends’ and family members’ belief in the unbelievable, but it does help explain how they have been able to fool themselves.

I may be a cock-eyed optimist, but I still hold out hope that people will come to their senses and will turn their backs on Trumpism and the authoritarian future it is pushing us toward. Even so, I’m not holding my breath. Motivated reasoning is a powerful phenomenon, and many of these people simply don’t want to know the truth.