Monday, January 31, 2005

Don't know much about history

Hats off to Eric Muller for actually reading--and writing a terrific post about--Thomas E. Woods' Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. The book is a NYT best-seller, is No. 60 on Amazon's list, and, I'm told, was the No. 2 Amazon best seller in the purple city of Cleveland in December, just behind Jon Stewart's America. In the author's own words,

the book, unlike the typical American history textbook, has a real sympathy for the free market economy and does not make the free market the scapegoat for every ill in America. To the contrary, it shows how central market economics has been to American prosperity. It doesn't go after businessmen as the source of all evil and portray government as the repository of people who are just disinterested crusaders for justice, for example.

Helpfully, Eric connects the dots that align Woods with the League of the South, of which he is a founding member. We've pondered the League of the South on these virtual pages recently before: another founding member is Steven Wilkins, co-author, with Douglas Wilson, of Southern Slavery As it Was.

Picking back up on Woods' own description of the book:

Secondly, it's sort of Jeffersonian. It has sympathy for the idea of local self-governance. Unlike the typical treatment of American history, it does not portray the centralization in Washington as an unambiguously progressive development--that the more power gets centralized, the better the country is.

This thesis is being pursued in not so subtle commentary to Eric's post and the cross-post at ACS Blog. "Deoxy" writes, for example, "'the constitution was never understood to be a permanent union' - as evidenced profusely by many writings of the founding fathers and their references to seceding from England."

Now, I don't know much about history, but this much I know. At least among the political elite of North Carolina prior to the Civil War, there was a strong belief that the Constitution contained no such thing as a "right to secede." Judge Thomas Ruffin was the most senior of the state's delegates to a peace conference held in Washington in 1861. He worked as hard as he possibly could to reach an agreement that would both preserve slavery and preserve the union, for he was convinced, as were other leading southerners, that no right of secession existed. "I was born before the Constitution was adopted," he said from the floor of the conference. "May God grant that I do not outlive it."

The conference was unsuccessful in producing compromise, and Ruffin went on to cast his vote in Hillsborough in favor of secession. But as one historian put it,

He later described this position as a belief in the "sacred right of revolution"--"the right of a whole people to change their form of Government by annulling one Constitution and forming another for themselves." Thus he endorsed secession not because he believed in a constitutional right to separate from the Union but only as a revolutionary act against an oppressive federal government that he believed had already destroyed the existing Constitution.

(Timothy S. Huebner, The Southern Judicial Tradition: State Judges and Sectional Distinctiveness, 1790-1890 [Georgia Univ. Press, 1999].)

A curious thing happened next. Judge Ruffin lost a lot in the war; the Yankees just about destroyed his farm in Alamance County. This is from a letter from C.S. Wooten to Judge Walter Clark written in 1915, remembering the beloved judge (by then long dead):

I saw Judge Ruffin several times. I remember coming down on the cars from the up country in the fall of 1865 & he put out on the train at Hillsboro & went to Raleigh. I heard him talking on the cars & he said I defended the ordinance of secession. I would do it again if the halter was around my neck. He said the Yanks burnt over 14 miles of fence & carried off over 20 horses from him.

(Walter Clark collection, N.C. Archives.)

It appears that the judge may have revised in his own mind, after the war was over, how he thought about secession. It seems at least possible that the strength of the claims for the weakness of Union ties rose considerably after those ties were so violently broken.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

"It's going to get very bad, folks."

Via Majikthise, the transcript of a recent speech by Seymour Hirsch.

For me, it's just another story, but out of this comes a core of--you know, we all deal in “macro” in Washington. On the macro, we're hopeless. We're nowhere. The press is nowhere. The congress is nowhere. The military is nowhere. Every four-star General I know is saying, “Who is going to tell them we have no clothes?” Nobody is going to do it. Everybody is afraid to tell Rumsfeld anything. That's just the way it is. It's a system built on fear. It's not lack of integrity, it's more profound than that. Because there is individual integrity. It's a system that's completely been taken over--by cultists. Anyway, what's going to happen, I think, as the casualties mount and these stories get around, and the mothers see the cost and the fathers see the cost, as the kids come home. And the wounded ones come back, and there's wards that you will never hear about. That's wards--you know about the terrible catastrophic injuries, but you don't know about the vegetables. There's ward after ward of vegetables because the brain injuries are so enormous. As you maybe read last week, there was a new study in one of the medical journals that the number of survivors are greater with catastrophic injuries because of their better medical treatment and the better armor they have. So you get more extreme injuries to extremities. We're going to learn more and I think you're going to see, it's going to--it's--I'm trying to be optimistic. We're going to see a bottom swelling from inside the ranks. You're beginning to see it. What happened with the soldiers asking those questions, you may see more of that. I'm not suggesting we're going to have mutinies, but I'm going to suggest you're going to see more dissatisfaction being expressed. Maybe that will do it. Another salvation may be the economy. It's going to go very bad, folks. . . .

Read (as they say) the whole thing.

Building it up, slowing it down

In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honoré

I had an interesting conversation the other day with René Campbell, director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau. She's interested in the "Slow Cities" movement. Begun in Italy and spreading (slowly) across western Europe, it hasn't made much of an impact yet in the United States--unlike the related "Slow Food" movement, which has. Both are responses to globalization, which "proposes median models which belong to no one and inevitably generate mediocrity." Quoting further from the Slow Cities charter: cities are asked to

1- implement an environmental policy designed to maintain and develop the characteristics of their surrounding area and urban fabric, placing the onus on recovery and reuse techniques
2- implement an infrastructural policy which is functional for the improvement, not the occupation, of the land
3- promote the use of technologies to improve the quality of the environment and the urban fabric
4- encourage the production and use of foodstuffs produced using natural, eco-compatible techniques, excluding transgenic products, and setting up, where necessary, presidia to safeguard and develop typical products currently in difficulty, in close collaboration with the Slow Food Ark project and wine and food Presidia
5- safeguard autocthonous production, rooted in culture and tradition, which contributes to the typification of an area, maintaining its modes and mores and promoting preferential occasions and spaces for direct contacts between consumers and quality producers and purveyors
6- promote the quality of hospitality as a real bond with the local community and its specific features, removing the physical and cultural obstacles which may jeopardize the complete, widespread use of a city's resources
7- promote awareness among all citizens, and not only among inside operators, that they live in a Slow City, with special attention to the of young people and schools through the systematic introduction of taste education.

Like the Green Cities movement, the Slow Cities movement emphasizes environmental sustainability.

Could Chapel Hill be a Slow City? We share many of the goals, at least when it comes to the environment. These are important goals to keep in mind as we move forward with the development of Parking Lots 2 and 5 and the Wallace Parking Deck. We're planning for a phased mixed-use development to the tune of $82 million. An "improvement," or an "occupation" of our downtown? I think it can be a genuine improvement if we are careful.

We're trying to be careful with the architecture, particularly the design of the public space. On February 10--timed to be before we go through our first round of evaluation of potential developers--the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Chapel Hill are hosting a session with Ronald Lee Fleming of the Townscape Institute. We will want his help in identifying what kinds of design work best to get people to slow down and interact, "to promote the quality of hospitality."

The odds are against slow cities, as I've suggested before. Wish us luck.

UPDATE on Ronald Lee Fleming's visit here.

North Carolina scenes

Scenes across the state from the North Carolina League of Municipalities. I'm partial to the Chowan County Courthouse (so is Wendell Berry). Paul likes the municipal building in Matthews because it is both Town Hall and Library. We've seen the Big Chair (Thomasville), but not the World's Largest Frying Pan (Rose Hill).

Friday, January 28, 2005

Environmental justice

William G. Meyers III, if appointed to the 9th Circuit, could, along with other Bush appointees, "shake the foundations of environmental law."

Democrats aggressively blocked Myers' appointment with a filibuster in 2004. So when his nomination lapsed at the end of this past congressional session, many legal experts assumed it was dead, along with the nominations of nine other judicial candidates that were blocked by Senate Democrats for their extremist ideology, industry ties, and/or ethical problems. But on Dec. 23, while Americans were distracted by the holidays, the president gave his corporate backers (especially those in the energy and mining industries) a Christmas present: He announced his intent to renominate seven of the filibustered candidates, including Myers. (The other three were given the option of being renominated, but withdrew themselves from consideration.)

"Renomination on this scope and scale of so many judges who the Senate has refused to confirm has never happened before," says Glenn Sugameli, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice, a nonprofit public-interest law firm. Noting that Congress has already confirmed 204 of Bush's appointees, Sugameli asserts, "President Bush is trying to convert the Senate into a rubber stamp that will confirm 100 percent of his judicial nominees. That is what is really at stake here."

The fox and the henhouse

Marty Lederman is on the case of an evasive president who won't give a straightforward answer to questions about torture.

In a press conference on December 20, he did give an answer: "We are a nation of laws."

Question: "[H]ow concerned are you by the reports of torture--to use your word, the 'interminable' delays to justice, for the detainees held in Guantanamo, and how much that damages America's reputation as a nation which stands for liberty and justice internationally?"


Look, we are a nation of laws and to the extent that people say, well, America is no longer a nation of laws--that does hurt our reputation. But I think it's an unfair criticism. As you might remember, our courts have made a ruling, they looked at the jurisdiction, the right of people in Guantanamo to have habeas review, and so we're now complying with the court's decisions. We want to fully vet the court decision, because I believe I have the right to set up military tribunals. And so the law is working to determine what Presidential powers are available and what's not available.

Not long after, Bush abruptly renominated 20 failed judicial candidates. This attempt at "total victory," said the Washington Post, "will only ensure that the war goes on." (The political war, not the other one, though the line isn't all that clear.) Sen. Schumer said, "This opening shot shows he will only be happy if every judge is approved, which is not what the Founding Fathers intended."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

People in glass houses

are sometimes experiencing the work of a great architect.

Design blogs ("or Web journals")

I thought it had happened: that the NY Times had broken its own precedent and used the term "blog" without apology or explanation.

On a recent day, the cyberdesign world was buzzing. Bloggers at had discovered the mystery manufacturer of a hot paint color called Fresh Melon Green. Over at, bamboo coffins were the talk of the moment. A post at Design Sponge, meanwhile, praised ceramic bowls that double as wall sconces.

But no. "Blogs" are promptly identified as "Web journals" in the next graf.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Justice delayed

The State of North Carolina's fight to reclaim a stolen Bill of Rights suffers another setback.

Taking His message on the road

When President Bush speaks of ending tyranny around the world, former Alabama judge Roy Moore sees a local issue. "The real issue in this country is not terrorism, it's tyranny," Moore said. "Tyranny is putting ourselves above God, and our federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have done exactly that."

Last summer, the American Veterans in Domestic Defense "remove[d]" Justice Moore's "beautiful monument from a dark room of the Alabama Supreme Court building" to take it on educational tour into the heartland, then on to Washington. By November it was in Bossier City, La. This week they were in Austin, at the Capitol grounds, the site of contention in an upcoming Supreme Court case on the subject. (The plaintiff is a lawyer who is homeless.)

There's a case from Kentucky on the docket, too. In both cases, there's an argument that the display was in a secular context. For Moore, a win would not be good enough. "The difference between those cases and my case is the acknowledgement of a sovereign God. It's that simple," he said.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Worth a thousand words, they say

McSweeney's Quarterly Concern No. 13 won Time magazine's "Best Comix" award for 2004. Paul loves this book. Like one of my favorite bloggers, I don't get it about graphic fiction. But ever selfless, I gave Paul an autographed copy of Chris Ware's award-winning cover for the book, a redundancy since he had the book already, but suitable for framing. I had to call McSweeney's, though, to make sure it was autographed. I couldn't find it the signature! It is tiny and in pencil, the artist's way, to avoid accusations of the signing machine.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Durham in black and white

"A cafe near the tobacco market," Durham, May 1940

Photos of Jim Crow Durham c. 1939-40 are part of the Library of Congress' collection of such photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration. "Although no documentation has been found to indicate that photographers were explicitly encouraged to photograph racial discrimination signs, the collection includes a significant number of this type of image, which is rarely found in other Prints and Photographs Division collections." At first I thought the photo above, by Jack Delano, was Fishmonger's, below.

Fishmonger's, 806 W. Main Street, Durham

It isn't, obviously, but the style is the same (the door on the right is unused now). It will be hard now to look at this building with innocent eyes.

Can anyone identify the other building? Marion Post Wolcott was taken with it, too. (The reflection gives a hint of the location: where is it, or was it?)

Delano captured a couple of shots of the bus station, a dose of reality to underscore Matt Robinson's art.

bus station

But the real reality check--to shift out of Durham and away from Jim Crow for the moment--is this photo in Wolcott's North Carolina collection of a "log house" in Carrboro, 1939.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

How blogging is like a cocktail party

Jeff Pomerantz wonders what it means for him (as an academic) to blog, and he has some interesting ideas.

. . . it occurs to me that the fact that my readers know who I am but I don’t know who they are, makes writing this blog pretty much like all of the writing I do professionally. I publish a paper, the reader knows who I am, but I don’t know who they are or even if they’re reading it. And there’s less chance that I’ll get comments, making the reader even more of a stranger to me. Plus I know many of the people personally who may be reading my stuff; LIS just isn’t that large a field. So I have people I know personally sneaking around reading my writing, & not telling me, & I have no way to know they’re doing it. Jeez, when I put it that way… how weird does that sound? (Or at least I don’t know they’re reading my stuff until I read their stuff and I’m cited in it, inshallah.)

So what’s the big deal? I ask myself. Why do I feel differently about this form of writing than I do about any of my other forms of writing? . . .

The resilience and persistence of cities

On February 11, 2002, just five months after disaster struck in the form of four hijacked airplanes, scholars at MIT launched a remarkable series of discussions on "trauma, recovery, and remembrance." For many it was too soon to think about recovery from the devastation in the heart of New York City, but for urban planners and historians, there was a long view to be taken.

The conference reached beyond the campus walls via live streaming video (the videos are still available). And the book that came out of it, The Resilient City, has just been published. "The process of organizing and producing this book," write editors Lawrence Vale and Thomas Campanella, "was, in the end, both a scholarly and a therapeutic exercise."*

It is heartening, in a way, to learn that "only forty-two cities worldwide were permanently abandoned following destruction between the years 1100 and 1800." Latter-day examples of dramatic recovery include Atlanta and Richmond, Dresden and Coventry and Berlin. What I'm especially interested in, though, is what the recovery looks like, how a city remembers and tells future audiences what happened: the issue of memorialization.

At the time of the conference, the memorializing process in New York City was not nearly as far along as it was by the time the book was published. Vale offered these cautionary words: "The process of post-disaster recovery is a window into the power structure of the society that has been stricken. . . . Who decides what will be rebuilt where, and which voices carry forth the dominant narratives that interpret what transpires? . . . To analyze remembrance is to look at how what is remembered gets selected, when, and by whom."

The conference videos, especially Vale's talk, were useful to me two years ago as I finished a talk for a conference on "commemoration and the city."

Sgt. William Jasper monument, Savannah

My subject was the history of a statue in Raleigh of Judge Thomas Ruffin, a man revered in official North Carolina history for having been one of the best-respected judges of the 19th century, a man better known by legal historians as the author of an infamous case in the law of slavery. On the one hand I find it therapeutic and deeply necessary to tell the truth about Ruffin's part in solidifying the "absolute" power of the master over the slave. On the other, I worry about my own small place in a sorry history, about the flip side of judging the memorial narratives of the past. There's plenty we might want to ask Judge Ruffin if we were to bring his statue out from the shadow of the court building where it stands today, I concluded, but "the jury is still out on all of us. Before we become too comfortable with our satisfying revisions of a troubling history, as we grapple with the choices we make, the stories we tell, in a new time of war, we might ask how we think we ourselves can avoid the snares of myth and memory."

The jury is still out on the process of memorialization in New York City, too. By the time The Resilient City was going to press, there was more to say about it: architects David Childs and Daniel Libeskind were, as Max Page put it in his contribution to the book, "thrown together in a shotgun marriage," out of which they designed their Freedom Tower; while Michael Arad and Peter Walker's "Reflecting Absence" won the memorial competition.

"Reflecting Absence"

Writing in 2004, Page found New York "poised between two kinds of resilience." One embodied a "renewed vitality," a spirit "that led, in the months after 9/11, to an unprecedented outpouring of radical ideas for rebuilding commercial hubs, public housing, and parks across the entire city." It seemed to him, though, that this was giving way to another kind of resilience: "elasticity--that is, like a rubber band, things return back to normal, to life before the event."

Everything, we were told, would change. With office towers ringing a beautiful, clean park and an elegant, clean memorial, we have returned to a vision of New York--including its political and economic state--before 9/11. If all that the rebuilding comes to is a memorial garden with some reconnected streets, a thicket of office towers, and a million-plus square feet for a hotel and shopping mall, then we will have failed to invest in a more vibrant, more just new York, our national jewel, what E.B. White called "the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions."

But this end is not necessarily the end, in New York or anywhere where the past, through conscious process, becomes present: in every urban landscape, there remains the space to reflect upon what is remembered and what will persist.

*An instructor at MIT at the time of the conference, Campanella is now on faculty at UNC. Vale spoke at UNC in 2003 at a conference on affordable housing. Among the speakers at MIT was Edward Linenthal, who spoke here last fall at the conference on "Remembering Reconstruction at Carolina."

UPDATE: Newsweek reviews The Resilient City.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Why Kennedy's inaugural speech can't be beat

John F. Kennedy understood chiasmus, anaphora, and anastrophe, but rhetorical skill was not really what made his inaugural speech so great. He was simply a different kind of speaker, and we are now a different kind of audience.

On Susan Sontag (again)

Scott McLemee in The American Prospect has the best tribute I've read yet to Susan Sontag. He discovered her, as I did, at a young age in Texas:

My first recollection of reading her goes back a quarter-century, to the moment when (determined to get an education, despite the best efforts of the Texas public-school system to the contrary) I got hold of a copy of Against Interpretation and Other Essays from the Carnegie-funded public library in the next county. It was the original hardback, from 1966, its dust jacket wrapped in Mylar. Before opening the book itself, I sat looking at the photo on the back. It showed a woman looking down, so lost in thought that she could not possibly be aware of her own beauty.

At the end of the title essay, Sontag wrote, “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” For me, this sentence meant, for one thing, an appointment with the dictionary. . . .

Inauguration Day

Bah! Humbug! says my neighbor (distinguished presidential scholar) Bill Leuchtenburg about a $40 million inauguration.

The event today is "by far the most ostentatious wartime inauguration," another historian says.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I'm OK, you're OK, plastic's a tough call

Hurrying to beat the flurry of snow, this afternoon at the store I had to pause to answer the timeless question: "Is plastic OK?" An environmental reporter at Grist magazine seems unclear on the details, but she's basically convinced me that no, it probably isn't: "The mysterious world of plastics: convenient, yet filled with vague and shadowy dangers."

The winner is . . .

Blood Done Sign My Name is the selection for this year's UNC Summer Reading Program. Said Holden Thorp, chair of the selection committee, in an email announcement,

Our committee members felt that Tyson's story was engaging and fearlessly shared his own emotions and insights about how a white person was touched by the racial tension that permeated the Jim Crow South. In recommending the book, we hope that Tyson's candor will inspire readers to confront the fears and emotions that often attend discussions of race and to engage in a secure and energizing dialogue informed by historical clarity.

Excellent choice. (You don't have to be a UNC summer reader to read this really great book.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

If only they'd had email

Anyone who's spent time in nineteenth-century manuscripts could wonder, as I have, exactly when it was that people quit signing their letters "Your obedient servant" (sometimes abbreviated: "Yrobtsvt"). Someone at McSweeney's has looked at this question from the other direction.

Monday, January 17, 2005

MLK Day in Chapel Hill

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP's 28th annual rally, march, and church service in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. got off to a brisk start at 9:30 this morning. (It was a bad time to have lost my gloves.) I was honored to be one of the speakers at the Old Post Office. This is what I said:

About a year ago, you set out on a journey, and I joined you. It was a rough road, a bumpy road, with a couple of switchbacks along the way. The road was called Martin Luther King Boulevard. May 8 will be a great day in Chapel Hill.

But here we are in January, celebrating the birthday of Dr. King. Janus was the god of beginnings, of fresh starts. He was also the god of passageways, of comings and goings. When you see pictures of him, he has two heads, one looking forward and one looking backward.

In this past year, you have asked us to look backward and forward.

You've asked us to take a hard look backward at our own history. You've reminded us that Dr. King visited Chapel Hill in May 1960, and that's something that we needed to remember. It was a very important time for the movement in Chapel Hill, and we can't let it be forgotten.

You've also asked us to look forward. Later when we get to the church, Rev. Barber is going to remind us that "the work has just begun." When we look to the future to end homelessness in Orange County, we are doing the work of Dr. King. When we work to get bargaining power for public employees in North Carolina, we are doing the work of Dr. King.

But when we talk about the longer span of history, I’m here to tell you that Dr. King's place is not secure. We do not know how he will be remembered in 50, 100, 200 years. Will he be remembered as a great American, the winner of the Nobel prize for peace, a gift to the world? Or will he be thought of as a provincial southern activist?

History is always in flux.

Professor Jacqueline Hall gave a talk the other night on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Southern Historical Collection at UNC. She talked about the archives, about how the words on those old pieces of paper stay the same, it's just the interpretation that changes. And not all of the pieces of paper are even read. Some documents aren't even there. Some things never get written down; they have to be kept "in lively memory," as Frederick Douglass would say.

You've asked us to be part of a great memorial to Dr. King, the tapestry of roads in his honor. There are over 700 in this country now and some overseas. On May 8, there will be one more.

And by insisting that it not just be any street, but that it be a major street, in the white part of Chapel Hill, you have cast your vote in favor of the great historical Martin Luther King, the great American, the beacon of peace (audacious word!), our gift to the world.

I'm grateful you've taken me with you this far on your journey. I'm with you today. I'll be with you on May 8, and the day after.

Others spoke more eloquently about Dr. King's message and its crucial importance today. But none of us could come close to the power of the message delivered at the First Baptist Church by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of Goldsboro. Anyone with remaining doubts on the relevance of the symbolism of naming a road for Dr. King, rather than a monument or a building, should have heard this testimonial. For his text he took Isaiah 40, especially this verse:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

He called it a highway "to walk out the discomfort of a people that had long been denied. Tiredness brings a new kind of strength, a kind that makes you want to get out in the road and say you aren't going to take it any more." In one context after another--school equity, economic justice, national politics, international relations--he urged us to "get on the right road," the roads that Dr. King had traveled on but left unfinished. Claiming the prophetic tradition of Dr. King himself, Dr. Barber challenged us all to keep on trying.

Orange County Commissioner Valerie Foushee received the NAACP Community Service Award. Eva Caldwell received the Rebecca Clark Award. Al McSurely received a special award for his long career of service and particularly in Chatham County--he was called "a brother wrapped in white skin." Congratulations to all.

UPDATE: Renaming of road lauded as symbol

UPDATE 2: Resources for Black History Month

MLK sat here

MLK Eames chair
Eames chair that Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in, Chapel Hill, 1960

N&O reporter Anne Blythe went on the trail of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s visit to Chapel Hill in May 1960. Turns out the chair he sat in is an icon of modern design, well loved by its owner, retired pastor DeWitt Myers.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Paul Jones on open source

"We're better if we share," says a sharing, caring guy.

Down to two

It's time to select a book for the UNC summer reading program for incoming students. The top contenders are both great books: Tim Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name and Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. Both are passionate witnesses to dramatic injustices. One strikes closer to home.

Tyson begins his tale of of the 1970 murder of a black man in Oxford, N.C., by calling it

the story of a nation torn apart by racial, political, social, and cultural clashes so deep that they echo in our lives to this day. The cheerful and cherished lies we tell ourselves about those years—that the black freedom movement was largely a nonviolent call on America’s conscience, which America answered, to cite the most glaring fiction—do little to repair the breach. There are many things we never learned about the civil rights struggle, and many other things we have tried hard to forget. . . .

Blood Done Sign My Name takes its place alongside other recent works addressing historical memory in the American South: the collection edited by UNC's Fitz Brundage Where These Memories Grow comes to mind, as well as David Blight's Race and Reunion, among others. We await Brundage's full-length study of the subject due out soon from Harvard. The myth of the "Lost Cause" has at last fallen, and we're left to pick up and reassemble the pieces.

Kidder's book is about a brilliant and heroic doctor, Paul Farmer, "a man who would cure the world." A physician and an anthropologist, a MacAarthur Fellow, Farmer has devoted his life to bringing modern medicine to those most in need. Though his foundation's work has a global reach, it began in Haiti, and Haiti continues to fuel his commitment. His politics are aligned with Noam Chomsky's. Writes Chomsky on Haiti,

Functioning democracy has preconditions. One is that the population should have some way to learn what is happening in the world. The real world, not the self-serving portrait offered by the "establishment press," which is disfigured by its "subservience to state power" and "the usual hostility to popular movements"--the accurate words of Paul Farmer, whose work on Haiti is, in its own way, perhaps even as remarkable as what he has accomplished within the country. Farmer was writing in 1993, reviewing mainstream commentary and reporting on Haiti, a disgraceful record that goes back to the days of Wilson's vicious and destructive invasion in 1915 and on to the present. The facts are extensively documented, appalling, and shameful. They are deemed irrelevant for the usual reasons: they do not conform to the required self-image, and so are efficiently dispatched deep into the memory hole, though they can be unearthed by those who have some interest in the real world.

The two have even written a book together highly critical of American policy in Haiti.

This radical Dr. Farmer is not disguised in Kidder's book, but neither is he sharply drawn. Though the Paul Farmer who spoke last fall in Chapel Hill is definitely the same person the book describes, there's something about the book, as I wrote at the time, that puts him at a distance, on a pedestal, on a mountaintop somewhere far away, on a mountaintop mission.

I think it would be challenging for a discusison leader to teach Mountains Beyond Mountains in a way that gets to the heart of Farmer's message--that is, through the filter of Kidder's message, which is somewhat different. It strikes me that it would be a bit easier, and more directly relevant to Carolina students, to take Tyson's work, which is both a history and an engaging, highly readable first-person memoir. In fact, when I first heard that Tyson's book was being considered, it seemed to me the perfect choice.

But I was wrong. Within the selection committee, according to the Daily Tar Heel, there is resistance:

[S]ome were hesitant about how discussion groups would react to the potentially heavy subject matter when they meet in August.

Some predicted the issues raised in the book would stir up controversy, while others feared they would cause student to clam up altogether.

The representative from student goverment "pointed out that dialogue about race can be intimidating in the classroom." A distinguished professor of political science has doubts about--of all things--whether all faculty discussion leaders would be up to it.

Either of these books would fit the objectives of the summer reading program, which include "stimulating discussion and critical thinking around a current topic." But for some, Tyson's book is too close to home.

Committee member Reg Hildebrand is making the case for Blood Done Sign My Name and the frank discussion of race that it would invite. He thinks "[t]his is the kind of thing we ought to be talking about," that it is "certainly worth the risk." I hope the committee comes around to his conclusion.

Oy gevalt! See Dick and Jane sue.

What kind of mishigas is this? Language Hat has the dope on the copyright infringement suit the creators of the Dick and Jane series are bringing against their Yiddish imitators.

Yiddish with Dick and Jane sure struck me as parody when I saw it on Eric Muller's site, and I believe that was before they added the warning tag at the beginning of the video.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Fellow travelers

The rewards of public service are hard to quantify, and sometimes they come from surprising places.

The other night I was thrilled to get a phone call from Jonathan Tilove. Tilove is author of Along Martin Luther King: Travels along Black America's Main Street (excerpt). Through the magic of the internet, he had caught on that I had relied heavily on this book in making the arguments for changing the name of Airport Road.

Exactly a year ago this weekend, the King holiday weekend, I heard a radio interview with Tilove about his then-new book. It was the first time I started to really absorb the message that having many roads named after King across the country was the strength of our local NAACP's request, not its weakness. Beautifully illustrated with color photos by Michael Falco, the book reflects their two-year journey across the country on the trail of hundreds of MLK's. Along Martin Luther King weaves these streets, and their stories, together into a larger narrative of longing and struggle, of dreams and compromise--a narrative firmly grounded in the realities of particular places, yet each episode a commentary on the dynamics of the freedom movement.

Each King street tells a story: Where it begins. Where it ends. What's on it. What's not on it. Who was in favor of renaming the street. Who was against it. Like all the best battles, the struggle to name a street after King is a fight over turf, pride, and power, and often it does not come easy, if it comes at all. It is the story of streets named, streets not named, streets named and then unnamed, streets given the new name while still keeping the old name, and other things named as consolation prizes for streets not being named (in 2001 it was the train station in Toledo, Ohio).

Business don't like the bother and expense of changing their addresses. There are always some folks devoted to the history and significance of the old name. But in the scores of skirmishes one also catches a glimpse--or an eyeful--of deeper white resistance and, in the intensity of the reaction, a bracing reminder of the real King, the man with the edge and meaning, and not simply the dreamy King of grammar-school coloring contests.

As they finished their travels, there were some 500 streets named for King. Last year, the number reported was 650. By now, according to Derek Alderman (an ECU geography professor who I have had the pleasure of getting to know through all of this), there are around 730. On May 8 of this year, the number will increase by one.

Tilove is an award-winning journalist for the Newhouse News Service who has been covering race in the United States since 1991.

He told me that his next major adventure will probably be a return trip to the Kings Point retirement center in Florida. After covering a Kerry rally there last year, he became interested in the individual and collective stories of the large Jewish population there, how they may have grown up in Jewish communities, then spent their adult lives dispersed, and now here they are, 8,000 strong, "more than the Jewish population of 13 states."

I suggested he get in touch with the National Yiddish Book Center and see if he could manage to do double duty as a zamler.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Bright idea

An idea from across the pond that could be useful in Town Hall. I'm in negotiations with Tucker.

One state, two state, red state, blue state

The American Dialect Society has announced its 2004 words of the year. My favorite is in the category of "most unnecessary": carb-friendly. The new cheese, look, no carbs! Eggs, no carbs! Kind of like the old campaign for "caffeine-free 7-Up."

In local news

After a nice holiday break, the Town Council is back in business. On Monday night, we set the date for the renaming of Airport Road as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. We decided on May 8. Forty-five years ago on that date, Dr. King came to Chapel Hill to lend his encouragement to the the work of civil rights activists here. This in itself was a story that was in danger of being lost to history. (Good reporting by Kirk Ross in 1996 and Daily Tar Heel reporter Emily Vasquez last year has helped to preserve the memories. Unfortunately, no pictures of his visit have ever surfaced.) It will be a great day of celebration.

The details of the celebration will be worked out in the coming weeks and months.

Yesterday, the Council took a big leap forward in the development of our two downtown parking lots; we held a pre-proposal conference in advance of the January 31 deadline for developer teams to respond to the request for qualifications.

All Council members present spoke about their particular interests in the project. My special interest has always been in seeing that the design of the buildings, and the design of the public space, is first-rate architecture--and that succeeds as a place where people will come together or just hang out (Ray Oldenberg's "third place"). I cited, among other things, the Project for Public Spaces for examples of good conscious efforts to design successful urban space.

It's really exciting to have made it this far. Now we'll see what response we get.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Professor Balkin's question

With the trial of the first Abu Ghraib prison guard under way, while the astonishing testimony of Alberto Gonzalez lingers in my mind, I keep thinking about the question Jack Balkin raised last week: "Is American still a successful society?"

On Balkin's blog, former Office of Legal Counsel attorney Marty Lederman analyzes the new "torture memo" of December 2004 against the infamous one of 2002 and argues that the new one, while a great improvement, does not go far enough. This is a four-part essay (1, 2, 3, 4), more demanding on your attention span than the usual post, but if you're interested, it's a great help. And it too is very disturbing. One of the key points is this:

[T]he new memo does not repudiate one of the most disturbing features of the (now withdrawn) 2002 OLC Opinion—namely, its conclusion that it would be unconstitutional for Congress to prohibit torture undertaken at the behest of the President, and that indeed Congress is entirely powerless to restrict the President’s decisions concerning “what methods to use to best prevail against the enemy.” There is no indication that the Administration has stepped back from this constitutional understanding—notwithstanding the fact that all nine Justices of the Supreme Court in effect repudiated OLC’s Commander-in-Chief theory in the Court’s Hamdi decision last summer.

Lederman is one of 19 former OLC attorneys who offered a set of recommended "Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Council" (.pdf) in December. Walter Dellinger is another.

UPDATE: Lederman's important series of posts continues.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Your neighbor, yourself

A novelist beautifully recalls a lost adolescence in North Carolina. (One of Michael Parker's high-achieving siblings is our neighbor in Chapel Hill.)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Babeling back to the future

Fascinated with the pictures, but frustrated with the text, I turned, naturally, to Babelfish to tell me what was up with this Italian retrofuture site.* Ah, now we're in business!

"The Future Approval of the Past" consists of thirty amazing pages of futures that never were (a favorite subject of mine). On this first page, we learn that "the first great technological visionario" was "Norman Beautiful Geddes."

On another, some great scenes of the Futuro house (see one yourself on Hatteras). Scroll to the bottom, past Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House and the Disney Monsanto House, etc. I'm not sure, but the text seems to want to imagine a future in which the very roof of the house would be unnecessary, for wind currents would be adjusted to keep untoward elements out.

Then there's the original EPCOT Center ("we are convinced that it will not be enough to cure the old evils of the old cities. We think that there is need to build up from the null one, on earth vergine, a special type of community"). EPCOT's Horizons pavilion has been destroyed. And Disney's Tomorrowland is almost beyond recognition now.

But what about New York City, the new New York, in an imagined year 2000, as much like the old as the old was like a Moroccan village? The Empire State, the UN, Rockefeller Center, all "pulled down." "Cancelled" are "the Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue, Madison Avenue, it eliminates you the beautifulst bridges on the Hudson and the East River, to their place raised fantascientifiche towers of three hundred plans, automatic roads, objects that I did not succeed to understand, between which flew but woman-rocket and man-rocket."

What a travesty! (Except for the personal rockets.) This would be like Le Corbusier's Paris.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure which is more alienating--the Italian version of this web site or the one in mangled English. The future that has become our present reality is light years shy of any of these "utopias." Our reality has little to recommend itself, and in fundamental ways it comes from the same place ("EPCOT will always exhibit to the world the ingenuity and the imagination of the free enterprise American"), but we are, for better or worse, still basically down to earth.

*Via kottke, of course.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Mississippi turning

It was the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's publication, in 1999, of parts of a sealed interview given by a KKK wizard that prompted the case of the State of Mississippi against Edgar Ray Killen for the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964.* Killen was arraigned yesterday.

The Clarion-Ledger's investigation into this story since 1999 has been incredible. Here are examples of what reporters found:

Killen, a Baptist preacher, escaped federal conviction in 1967 because one juror said she could never convict a preacher.

Mickey Schwerner's widow received a death certificate saying her husband died of an unknown cause.

While the two white men, Schwerner and Goodman, were killed by gunshot, Chaney suffered a fate more typical for the likes of him.

Says today's editorial, "It is a reckoning of blood and justice that is long overdue."

An UPDATE from the Amen Corner.

*UPDATE 2: It wasn't just the paper. It was also the Philadelphia Coalition, an activist group made up of blacks, whites, and native Americans. Hear about it and more on the January 11 edition of NPR's On Point.

The dreaded b-word

The other day I opined to Ed Cone that it would be a watershed day when newspapers (the example at hand was the Times) decided they could use the word "blog" ("word of the year" last year, after all) without the patient explanation that it is short for "weblog." It is a most unfortunate excuse for a word, but a real word it is.

Now the truth comes out: there are other reasons why journalists can't bring themselves to say "blog."

Friday, January 07, 2005

Bowled over

bowling alley
AMF Durham, January 2005

I love the design of the AMF Durham bowling alley. It's one of a vanishing type. It apparently had a makeover at one point (maybe somebody around here remembers?), but the new design is cool like the old one, with nice modern lines.

old bowling alley
AMF Durham, date unknown

Something else is interesting when you compare these pictures. Much of the success of mid-century modern design depended on setting, scale, and landscape. Note the clean lines in the old photo. In the new, note the difference the trees and shrubbery make! Also, if you're familiar with this stretch of 15-501, you know that the whole prospect of setting and scale is hopeless by now.

Not so much so back when the Travel Time Inn was still next door, which, though it descended to a ratty motel, at least did not dwarf its surroundings.

The Travel Time Inn--which I, usually not dyslexic, for the longest time called the "Time Travel Inn"--recently gave way to a huge Toyota dealership. Mark Jacobson of Mark Jacobson Toyota is probably wishing he could do some time traveling, for he currently faces steep fines plus the wrath of many in Durham.

The building doesn't just seem too much for the site: it is too much. The Durham Planning Department is after it for extensive, "flagrant" violations. As detailed in the Durham Herald-Sun (and at News 11), the site has 60 light poles that are too tall, it has concrete where there were supposed to be trees, and more, evidencing "a basic disregard for the site plan approved."

UPDATE: Kudos to the Durham planning director for insisting on real fixes to "the single most egregious failure to comply with a site plan that I have seen in my career."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Irony, or ignorance?

The title Southern Slavery As it Was seemed awfully familiar. Finally I remembered: American Slavery At it Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (1839), by William Weld, served as a powerful witness for the cause of abolitionism.

READER, you are empannelled as a juror to try a plain case and bring in an honest verdict. The question at issue is not one of law, but of fact--“What is the actual condition of the slaves in the United States?” A plainer case never went to a jury. Look at it. TWENTY-SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND PERSONS in this country, men, women, and children, are in SLAVERY. Is slavery, as a condition for human beings, good, bad, or indifferent? We submit the question without argument. You have common sense, and conscience, and a human heart;--pronounce upon it. You have a wife, or a husband, a child, a father, a mother, a brother or a sister--make the case your own, make it theirs, and bring in your verdict. The case of Human Rights against Slavery has been adjudicated in the court of conscience times innumerable. The same verdict has always been rendered--“Guilty;” the same sentence has always been pronounced, “Let it be accursed;” and human nature, with her million echoes, has rung it round the world in every language under heaven, “Let it be accursed. Let it be accursed.” . . .

The gap between "as it is" and "as it was" is enormous. Did Wilkins and Wilson know what they were alluding to, or was it lost on them?



Rijnveld's Early Sensation

Delightfully, alarmingly early.

Putting the brakes on red light cameras

My Town Council colleague Mark Kleinschmidt is quoted in today's New York Times in a story about red light cameras. A year ago this month, he and I were part of a council majority that terminated Chapel Hill's contract with Affiliated Computer Services. (Though ACS is a major player in the red light camera industry, you'll find surprisingly little about cameras on their web pages. You can, however, learn a few things from their astroturf organization, the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running.) Here is what Mark had to say:

"I disapprove of the privatization of a police function," said Mark Kleinschmidt, a city councilman in Chapel Hill, N.C., where a private contractor not only installed the camera system but also carried out the initial screening of potential violations. Last year Mr. Kleinschmidt persuaded a slim majority of his colleagues to end the program after four months.

"I don't think we should bid it out to a corporation; it's strictly a police function," he said. "Then there's this distaste in the minds of many, that the whole concept is a corporate moneymaking scheme."

If the Times reporter had called me, I would have made similar points. This is one area where commercial enterprise and a core government function just don't mix.

The other day, a superior court judge in Greensboro agreed with a High Point resident's argument that in North Carolina the red light camera project is unconstitutional because the state constitution requires that the money collected go to the public schools.

In Texas, last year the legislature voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the use of red light cameras for criminal enforcement, but in what has been called a "sneaky" move, a legislator added a provision to a different bill that would allow the cameras for civil enforcement. So now Houston is planning to use the cameras by making the violation a civil violation. But the legislature may have the last word on that too. A Harris County (Houston) representative has already filed a bill to repeal the city's authority even to use cameras for civil violations.

The enabling legislation in North Carolina (the law that the Greensboro judge has a problem with) makes the offense civil not criminal. Most places do it that way, because the camera takes a picture of the license plate not the driver: you wouldn't know for sure if you had the right criminal defendant. But that raises another problem. The "ticket" goes to the owner of the car. No points on the driver's record, no insurance points. No way to get a habitual red light runner off the road. Nothing but a $50 fine.

I'm glad that at least a few places are seeing the light.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I'll take that with fries, please.


A New York diner finds a home in Texas.

The perfect opportunity is waiting for you at the American Diner Museum.

The Claus that refreshes

OK, maybe Coca-Cola did invent Santa Claus.

(100 Years of Illustration and Design via Majikthise.)

More on slavery and revisionism

In early December, a Christian academy in Cary made headlines for adopting, and quickly backpedaling on, a little book called Southern Slavery As it Was. A history professor at the University of Idaho puts this incident in its disturbing perspective.

As Professor Ramsey tells it, the university town of Moscow, Idaho, is the home base for the Douglas Wilson's steady attacks on the received history of the Civil War. Wilson is co-author, with Steve Wilkins, of Southern Slavery As it Was. Wilson is a Moscow preacher; Wilkins is co-founder of The League of the South. What was a skirmish in Cary was an all-out culture war in Moscow.

So much could be said about this group's tactics. Note how they use the rhetoric of the freedom movement to advance their agenda, while at the same time framing the argument as (an exclusive and monolithic) Christianity vs. "enlightened secularism," so that, in the end, the issue isn't slavery at all.

In prominent advertisements in several local newspapers, Wilson and his supporters argued that “slavery isn’t the issue.” “Establishment secularism,” they claimed, “can’t stand real criticism. It can’t bear real differences.” The advertisements suggested that the real goal of local critics of Wilson’s defense of racial slavery was “silencing dissent.”

The Cary Christian School is one of more than 165 private academies in Wilson's empire. Writes Ramsey, the incident in Moscow

made it clear that Douglas Wilson was more than just a local troublemaker and southern partisan. He had established two “Reformed” evangelical churches in town whose congregations, thanks to nationwide recruitment efforts, now represented 10 percent of Moscow’s entire population. He had founded a k-12 school called “Logos” that taught history from a “Biblical Worldview” and an unaccredited college called “New Saint Andrews,” where he had installed himself as “Senior Fellow of Theology.” Other faculty members at the college included Wilson’s son Nate, his brother Gordon, and son-in-law Ben. Wilson, it turned out, had cultivated an empire of “classical” schools based on a biblical worldview that included over 165 private academies around the country, all of which purchased educational materials published by his personal “Canon Press” in Moscow, Idaho, or affiliated “Veritas Press” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His empire of private academies paled, however, in comparison to his real passion for home-schooling. Wilson’s view of slavery currently services thousands of home-school families around the country with materials published by Canon and Veritas Presses.

It's tempting to want to ignore this story, to leave it quietly on the fringe where it belongs. But what needs to be noted--for future reference--is a particular element of Wilson's strategy. He is picking on "small college towns with major research universities," for the reason that they are both "strategic" and "feasible" (New York City for example would be strategic but not feasible). Professor Ramsey concludes that
"[i]t may be worthwhile . . . for educators elsewhere to take notice of this tempest while it is still contained in a distant teacup and remember that our country’s commitment to civil rights and equality are in truth only a generation old."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Purple Hearts

Images from photojournalist Nina Berman's book Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq.

Her motivation for photographing some severely damaged people came from a sense of responsibility that she felt the mainstream media had abrogated at that point. She explains, "I felt a responsibility to show the other side and so in the most basic way it's just, 'Okay, look at this guy. This is what happens in war. It's not this clean, easy thing; it's not a bloodless enterprise. There are casualties.' I thought that the American public would only take this feeling to heart if they saw American soldiers; if they saw Iraqi civilians wounded I don't think they'd really care."

Monday, January 03, 2005

This site is popular at "my" house.

I hope it isn't too "distracting."

The container and the contained

Via wood s lot, a meditation on language as word, idea, holding place.

Language, said Heidegger, is the house of being, and he may be right, but whatever the case, it is certainly true to call language a house of memory, which is to say a house of oblivion, a house in which things of every sort can be called to mind or allowed to lapse into nothingness. Language is, in other words, an archive, a word as well as a concept that English borrowed from French, which borrowed it from Latin, which borrowed it from Greek, where it originally referred to the public building that housed records and documents. Words in use never stay still, and in a typical metonymic shift—reinforced by a telling grammatical drift into the plural—the word archive has come to refer also to the building’s contents. Archives, that is, are both the container and the contained; like languages, they are the houses of what we recall and what we forget, and the things themselves. What they do not hold, or cannot, is no less important than what they do or can hold. If possession is nine points of the law, then forgetting is nine points of the archive.

We cannot live except by forgetting, any more than we can sense some stimuli except by ignoring others; just imagine if you could sense every thing in its own thisness all the time, from the smallest flutter in your lungs to every single point of light entering your eyes. History—a word whose journey into English followed the same path as archive, only earlier, and which originally meant inquiry—works like our perceptual apparatus, whose seeing is enabled by our blindnesses, by focussing on one thing or set of things to the exclusion of others. That is why there can be no one history, only histories, and these can never be complete, ever.

Between getting it all in and leaving it all out, the possibilities are endless.

Written by Iain Higgins for the quarterly Canadian Literature.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Mother Nature, Father Power

TalkLeft got creamed for picking up on these comparisons:

  • Number of deaths due to four Florida hurricanes in 2004: 117
  • Number of deaths due to Aceh earthquake and tsunami in 2004: 120,000+
  • Homeless due to Florida hurricanes: 11,000
  • Homeless due to Aceh earthquake/tsunami: 5,000,000
  • US government aid to help Florida hurricane victims: $2.04 billion
  • US government aid to help Aceh earthquake/tsunami victims: $35 million [later increased to $350 million]
  • Estimated cost of George Bush's upcoming inaguration celebration, not including security costs: $40 million
  • US government direct cost, per hour, of the US war in Iraq: $9 million
Yet it's the same point Dr. Paul Farmer made when he compared the 2,000+ deaths in Haiti from Hurricane Jeanne to the six in Florida.

It's the same point made in prophetic detail by scientists quoted in the New York Times today:

"We're at a period in Earth's history where we're living on an edge where things can go terribly wrong if we're not attentive," Dr. Sachs [director of Columbia University's Earth Institute] said. "But we also have magnificent knowledge and technologies that could make the outcomes far better than they are now."

The tsunami assault, he said, could be a call to action. But he and Dr. Seih [Cal Tech seismologist] agreed that it could also end up just another in a series of distant disasters, a disturbing distraction for the world's more fortunate nations.

These pictures from U.S. spy satellites reduce the distance a little.

On the Eno: a good news story

Eno River

The temperature on New Years Eve didn't quite make it to 70 degrees as it did yesterday, but it was still quite pleasant to be on the Eno River investigating the aquatic life. We joined Sylvia Garrard on her stretch of the river to help her with stream monitoring. Four times a year she measures air and water temperature, makes visual observations, and documents the types of macroinvertebrates found in the water. We found a good number of caddisflys, river pennies, and gill snails, all of which are sensitive to pollution. On a scale that says a score of 22 indicates excellent water quality, Sylvia came up with a 25. The traces of industrious beavers were a bonus (though Sylvia was not amused).