Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Rene Campbell will be missed.

I'm stunned by this morning's news that René Campbell has died. She was found dead, apparently of natural causes, in her mother's home in Lexington, where she had gone for the weekend to help her mother settle into a retirement home. An autopsy is planned. She was 51.

René was not long into a job as director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau. She had great ideas for Chapel Hill. She hoped that she could help it to become the first American "slow city."

She was serving with me on the "celebrations committee" planning for the renaming of Airport Road as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on May 8; she had volunteered to head up the food subcommittee.

René was full of energy, good ideas, good spirit, and life.

UPDATE from the Visitors Bureau: "A memorial service for René Campbell will take place in Chapel Hill at The Carolina Inn, 211 Pittsboro Street at 5:30 pm on Monday, April 11th. The service will be followed by a reception at The Inn also.

"Reverend Tammie Lee from the Chapel of the Cross Church will officiate at the service. René had served as Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau since May 2004. She had attended the Chapel of the Cross since that time."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Smart City

Could there be a public radio talk show that WUNC doesn't carry? Yes! There is. Smart City is a radio show dedicated to cities and urban life. Here's a couple of episodes I think are interesting and relevant to Chapel Hill's urban renewal:

The Creative City Movement

Downtown Revitalization and the Arts

and there's lots more there for the listening.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

This figures.

A Burlington resident comments in response to Dan Gillmor's link to the post below:

The Alamance News is a small weekly paper, but intensely local. It is dwarfed in size and circulation by the Times-News, owned by California-based Freedom Communications. As far as I can tell (disclaimer: I'm not a subscriber or frequent reader of either the Times-News or Alamance News) the non-locally-owned Times-News hasn't taken a strong stand on this issue one way or the other, but the very local Alamance News has been a bulldog on this issue for several years. The power of truly local media.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The presumption of openness in North Carolina

At IsThatLegal I've reported on historian Dan Carter's disheartening speech on the federal clampdown on the free flow of public records. Here I want to focus in on the North Carolina story that came out on the same day, yesterday, ironically just as "National Sunshine Week" had ended.

A number of North Carolina cities, the story says, joined by UNC and with the support of the N.C. League of Municipalities, want the legislature to overturn sound and settled law.

The North Carolina law of public records and open meetings employs a presumption of openness. "By enacting the Public Records Law, 'the legislature intended to provide that, as a general rule, the public would have liberal access to public records,'" the N.C. Supreme Court said in 1992 (N&O v. Poole, 1992). "It is the policy of this State, as announced by the General Assembly, to conduct the public's business in public," the Court of Appeals said in Boney v. Burlington City Council in 2002.

Boney v. Burlington City Council was a case that the publisher of the Alamance News brought against the city alleging violations of both laws in the way it proceeded to discuss a pending land deal. Boney won that case, getting a ruling that said the city was obligated to disclose who owned the land in question, the location of the land, the purpose of the purchase--everything but the proposed purchase price. The court said that he should have a copy of the full minutes of the closed session, except for the excludable purchase price information.

Not long after, Boney & Burlington met up again--only this time, the city sued first. The city had held a closed session to discuss a pending litigation matter. The newspaper voiced its objection more than once. Rather than wait to be sued, the city filed a declaratory judgment action--forcing the paper into litigation. Although the trial court allowed the case to go forward (and found for the city), the Court of Appeals, citing precedent, interpreted both the public meetings and open records laws to hold that the city had no right to bring a declaratory judgment. The right to sue under these statutes belongs to persons only, the court said, for the following reason:

Allowing a governmental agency to bring a declaratory judgment action against someone who has not initiated litigation will have a chilling effect on the public, in essence eliminating the protection offered them under the statute by requiring them "'to defend civil actions they otherwise might not have commenced, . . . thus frustrating the Legislature's purpose of furthering the fundamental right of every person . . . to have prompt access to information in the possession of public agencies.'"

The city's appeal of this decision will be heard by the state Supreme Court on April 19. I sure hope the newspaper wins. I'm sorry that the League of Municipalities can't be content to let these good sensible laws work the way they're supposed to work: to ensure that the public's business is done in public.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Gone fishin'

I've just had an intense day and a half at the "Southern Sources" conference celebrating 75 years of UNC's Southern Historical Collection. I'll be blogging about it, and other things, over at IsThatLegal?

I'll be more there than here till April 8 when Eric returns.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

It's not easy being a news source

By now I've been involved in many a news event, but never till yesterday in a press conference over at the Legislature in Raleigh. It was well organized and fairly well attended (but how would I know?), all set up by the unflappable Ashaki Binta. Little did I know how little it all would come to.

Ashaki Binta

Ashaki is spearheading a quixotic campaign to get North Carolina's law against public-sector collective bargaining overturned. One by one we spoke: first the Rev. Dr. William Barber of Goldsboro (he preached in Chapel Hill on MLK Day). Barber was born in 1963 two days after Dr. King spoke on the Washington Mall; all his life he's understood that he was, for his family, the very embodiment of that dream that is still unfinished. Rev. Nelson Johnson of Greensboro took up the MLK theme and reminded us that when he met his fate in Memphis he was advocating for public employees.

Following him, I talked about how the Chapel Hill Town Council had unanimously agreed to ask our legislative delegates to propose legislation that would overturn the bad law and replace it with one affirmatively allowing public sector collective bargaining. And I said that in Chapel Hill, where we're about to honor Dr. King with the name of our "Main Street," we understand that by the time he got to Memphis he had broadened his sights from civil rights for African Americans to human rights for all, and that included economic justice.

All of us, and others, spoke about the powerful testimony we had heard directly from workers and how it had convinced us that this law should be changed.

Here's how it was reported in the Raleigh paper (see "Never-ending news conferences").

Join me over at IsThatLegal?

When people ask me why I started blogging, the real answer is that Eric Muller asked me to. Last summer he talked me into a stint of guest-posting at his most interesting site, IsThatLegal?. Since then, Eric has established himself as a primary authority on any number of subjects legal and historical, while never losing his aimiable cool or blunting his rapier wit.

Now he's left the country again--he's in London at last notice, on his way to France for a few weeks. He hasn't abandoned the site to me entirely, thank goodness, but he has turned me loose again.

We'll see how I manage two sites . . . but if it seems lonely here, just come on over.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Spice of life (for Donna Munroe)

Much to report today--a drive to Raleigh in the chilly rain to speak at a press conference on behalf of Chapel Hill's part in the effort to overturn North Carolina's law forbidding collective bargaining by public sector employees; co-chairing an exciting meeting to start to plan the celebration on May 8 of the change of Airport Road to MLK Boulevard. My preoccupation the past several weeks, however, has been a project to get the kitchen repainted. Painting can be stressful, especially when it involves the color red. But colors aside, painting a kitchen requires a lot of moving stuff around.

I opened an old tin that said spiced tea mix. But inside was a large plastic bag of paprika from the Oregon Spice Company. This sent me back.

In the early 1980s, Donna Munroe and I were working for the same corporation, she through a corporate buyout, me for reasons it would take awhile to explain. I went out from Washington to Portland on a project on which she was also working. Later she came to Washington for the same project. (Since you asked, it was an ADP contract for the Bonneville Power Administration.) Did she spend the night at my house? I am not sure, though I remember I did cook dinner for her, and I ran out of paprika. Soon after, in the mail I received this wonderful hostess gift, a joke really, for who could use one pound of Hungarian paprika? Not me, evidently.

In those days before email, we became great correspondents. Almost to the month Donna was 10 years older. When I turned 30, she gave me the view from 40. When I turned 40, she did the same from 50. Donna was (is, I trust) a great reader: she sent me books by Margaret Laurence, the Canadian writer; an anthology of native American literature; and more, not all of which I got around to reading. What impressed me was this one thing she had said: she was after the truth. Either she was sure the truth was out there or she was desperate for the illusion, I couldn't have told you for certain. Anyway, she was convinced that the very next book she read was going to bring her that much closer to the truth.

We lost touch, in the way of things. I think one of the great untold stories of the way we live now is the way we lose touch. Opening a desk drawer just now I find a letter from her, one of the last I remember, dated 1998. At 52 she had "more or less retired" in favor of the occasional consulting contract. Her husband Pete was in full tilt of a public-sector career heading the Clark County Community Development Block Grant program. Their daughter, diagnosed as a mildly retarded child who would never hold a full-time job, had at that point held a full-time job for six years. "We took stock of our life and realized we own everything anyone could ever need or want and then some," Donna wrote explaining her retirement.

The stamp on the envelope was a stamp honoring Alexander Calder, one of a sheet of stamps that, as it happens, I bought also and saved all this time until lately, when I had it framed to hang in my red, black, and white kitchen.

Calder stamps

A note to Donna: I'm closing in on 50 now, and I sure could use your wise counsel. I'm still looking for the truth myself.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Almost ran into Chuck Stone

Turning left this morning off the bypass onto Willow, I had to hang in traffic to wait for a bicyclist to cross. My fault for not paying more attention. But when I did pay attention, I saw--first by the Burberry plaid hat--that it was Chuck Stone. Professor Stone, at 80, is in his last semester before retiring from the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. A man of tremendous energy who keeps on pumpin'.

The Ides of March

Unseasonably cold around here on this fateful day. Bundle up and beware!

Between history and memory: the legacy of Reconstruction

At long last--I don't even remember how long--I've finished, or abandoned, an essay I promised to write on The Voice at the Back Door, a novel by Elizabeth Spencer written and set in the 1950s, and the historical event at the heart of it, the mass murder of 10 or more black men in the courthouse of her home town of Carrollton, Mississippi. In the novel, that event happened in 1919, but in reality, Spencer didn't know exactly when it happened until she was writing her memoir about 10 years ago.

It happened in 1886, during the unrestful period between 1875, when the state was "redeemed" from the evils of Reconstruction, and 1890, when a new state constitution effectively disenfranchised black voters through poll taxes and the infamous "understanding" clause.

"Of course he wants to vote the Democratic ticket!"
Harper's 1876, reprinted in Plessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History with Documents, ed. Brook Thomas (1997)

In official history, the Carrollton Massacre disappeared. Even the Carrollton newspapers of the time disappeared. In the novel, the memory lingers. A white man of good will runs for sheriff on a platform of equality for black and white. He loses, of course--loses more than the election.

Voice cover

The novel came out in 1956 but was written earlier, before Brown v. Board of Education catapulted civil rights into a national crisis; before the still unresolved murder of Emmett Till, which happened in 1955 in Leflore County, adjacent to Carroll County, the same place from which, in 1886, scores of white men rode in on horseback to commit murder in a court of law. The Voice at the Back Door was nominated for a Pulitzer but none was given that year, perhaps because it would have won.

I offered to write this essay for the French journal Profils Américains, for a planned special issue on Spencer. The special issue hasn't happened yet, and I'm afraid I'm one of the reasons. I said I would do it because the idea intrigued me, not having any idea whether I'd be able to find the source material, not having much of an understanding of the historical issues at all. So it did take time. It's been a fascinating project, with more contemporary resonance than I would have preferred.

UPDATE 6/30: The essay has been accepted for dual publication in the Mississippi Quarterly and Profils Américains.

UPDATE 8/11: Visit to Carrollton.

UPDATE 12/02/07: Here is the essay, which was published in the Winter/Spring 2005-06 issue of the Mississippi Quarterly (Vol. 59, Nos. 1-2); the volume appeared in print in summer 2007.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Stop the presses! Fake news.

It's a sad day when a story like this is not shocking. Really, it just shows that David Niewert ("The Rise of Pseudo Fascism") is not paranoid.

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

But there is something we can do about it, says TalkLeft.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Mrs. Spencer and the cultural defense

When Judge Frank Johnson held that the rights of the Selma marchers would be commensurate with the constitutional wrongs that had been inflicted, he was taking a legal theory more often used in criminal cases--proportionality--and applying it in a new context.

Impeccably fair-minded legal scholar Eric Muller proposes to take a different theory from the criminal law and apply it even more creatively, taking it out of the courtroom altogether. When it comes to "judging our ancestors," he suggests that we consider the "cultural defense," a latter-day doctrine "in which an accused from a foreign culture contends that he should not be held accountable here for an act that was permissible, or at least tolerated, under his foreign cultural's legal, ethical, or social norms." Just as the law has evolved to take cultural defenses into account when judging the culpability of a person who has come from another place, Eric asks us to take them into account when we judge actors from another time.

Contrary to some of the comments generated here, the point of Eric's project is to deepen the complexities involved in such an analysis, not to simplify or flatten them out. Once you recognize the difference between your own moral standard and that of the world in which the historical actor lived, you look to the facts to try to figure out how much real choice the actor had. And then even if you decide that there were alternative ways of thinking to which the actor had access, you still might dig deeper to see if there was something particular to the person's circumstance that would reasonably explain why they acted as they did.

This kind of analysis is helpful in thinking about that woman who's caused so much trouble of late at UNC, Cornelia Phillips Spencer.


The argument that she was "simply a product of her time" rings hollow when you consider her brother, Samuel Field Phillips. Phillips was a distinguished Chapel Hill attorney and public servant who prosecuted the KKK and, for his pains, was run out of the state. He served for 12 years as solicitor general under successive Republican presidents. Later, he worked with Albion Tourgée on Homer Plessy's case.

Phillips house

So to Eric's question of the chosenness of Spencer's actions in so vigorously defending the conserative establishment, she certainly was aware of alternative responses; she had a choice, and she made it. But that's not the end of the story. Eric next asks us to look at "the position of the wrongdoer." "Those who seek out or inherit positions of influence and prominence bear special responsibility for those practices because they set an example for others and are in a position to effect change." Spencer was part of the ruling class, and thus you might say she is in this category of the especially guilty. But she was a woman, a widow and a mother who for cultural reasons was dependent upon the men around her for her comfort and livelihood. Was she one of a long line of upper-class women who've accommodated patriarchal desires because it was in their immediate best interest? And if so, does that excuse her?

These are difficult questions, but compared to the usual questions they yield much richer and more interesting responses. Eric has done us a service by proposing such a subtle, dare I say nuanced (all scholarship aspires to nuance, and sometimes it succeeds), way of approaching the work of judging our ancestors.

Friday, March 11, 2005

New irritating cliche

The train wreck that is our education system. (More of the same.)
. . . the disaster that is federal emergency management. (Ditto.)
The nightmare that is John Negroponte. (Yet more.)
the "balance" that is WIPO (Larry Lessig.)

Harvard MBA tells all

Executive advice on how to handle your email. One CEO charges $5 for each email message received from underlings.

(Via kottke.)

Update on Medellin

In December I noted that a criminal defendant in Durham had invoked an old treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, as a defense in his murder trial. The treaty requires that detained foreign nationals be informed promptly of their right to communicate with officials from their government's consulate. Which was not done in his case. His case apprently went on hold until the pending resolution of the same issue by the Supreme Court in Medellin v. Dretke, a case out of Texas involving over 50 Mexican nationals on death row. (The case will be heard March 28; briefs available here.)

About a year ago, Mexico got a judgment in the International Court of Justice declaring that the treatment of the defendants involved in the Medellin case was a treaty violation. Not impressed, the 5th Circuit Court refused to apply this ruling. The appeal of that case is what is about to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has done two interesting things. One, it has essentially rolled over in Medellin: it has informed the Suprme Court that it will order the lower courts to review the claims of the 51 defendants to hear their treaty defenses. (Mexico is happy; Texas Republicans are not.)

Now here's she second thing. Aiming to avoid such annoying procedural hassles in the future, the United States announces its withdrawal from the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Michael Froomkin has the lowdown:

The US’s decision to withdraw from the mandatory jurisdiction of the ICJ over violations of the consular convention is a poke in the eye to the ICJ. It adds its mite to the US’s increasing isolation among the civilized and cooperative nations of the world. It – quite intentionally – sets back the cause of the rule of law in the international system.

See more at SCOTUS Blog.

Over in Durham, Mr. Manacer-Hererra's case is still on hold I suppose, at least until the Supreme Court rules.

News from the piney woods

My brother feels betrayed by the Southern Baptist Church.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Person to person

In an interview, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik recalls that when he was writing his series from France (which he reworked into a very nice book, Paris to the Moon), he would do two third-person essays for every one in the first person.

Somehow I don't imagine that kind of writerly thought process explains why Rep. Sue Myrick's recently launched blog shifts from first person to third after the first two entries.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Only 128 days to wait

until the next Harry Potter book. The cover designs were released this week--one for children and one for adults. This is the first I'd heard of separate covers, but apparently it started with Book 5. That is, except in the U.S. where one take fits all. Even in best-seller book covers, we go it alone.

Who was Dred Scott?

Dred Scott

By the time Dred Scott's case made it all the way to the final outcome at the Supreme Court, it gave about as clear an example as can be of what's wrong with the "original intent" school of constitutional interpretation:

It then proceeds to say: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.'

The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration; for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.

Yet the men who framed this declaration were great men-high in literary acquirements-high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting. They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery. They spoke and acted according to the then established doctrines and principles, and in the ordinary language of the day, and no one misunderstood them. The unhappy black race were separated from the white by indelible marks, and laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.

This state of public opinion had undergone no change when the Constitution was adopted, as is equally evident from its provisions and language.

But how did the case get there exactly? And who was Dred Scott anyway?

For the first question, see the excellent web work done by Washington University at St. Louis and the Missouri State Archives.

Dred Scott

For the second, you could try this new book, I, Dred Scott, a young adult book written in the form of a first-person slave narrative. I saw it at Branch's Bookshop last night and almost bought it--I may yet.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Chapel Hill values

It was gratifying to see so many Chapel Hill folks come out to the council meeting last night to support our proposal to ask our state legislators to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment defining marraige as a union of one man and one woman, and to include sexual orientation as a protected category under the hate crimes law.

The spirited debate was live-blogged at Orange Politics.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Where worlds collide (politics v. aesthetics)

It might have made sense to me to hyphenate my married name. But as it happened, it was a non-starter: Greene-Jones sounds like Capt. Kangaroo's sidekick.

Here are some even better examples (via Ed Cone).

Selma 40 years out


Today is the 40th anniversary of the Selma March, which was actually three. The first one, on March 7, 1965, ended on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in "Bloody Sunday." Intending to try again right away, the organizers turned to federal court for protection. With Judge Frank Johnson choosing to issue an injunction against the march altogether while he took the time to figure it out, on March 9 Dr. King led a second, "symbolic" march to the edge of the bridge.

Pettus bridge

In his March 17 opinion crafting the rules for the march to Montgomery--for granting the protesters their right to peaceably assemble and petition their government for the redress of grievances (in this case the wholesale denial of their voting rights), while also not totally disrupting traffic on the 54-mile stretch of a four-lane highway--Judge Johnson came up with a pretty remarkable formula: the protester's rights would be proportionate with the extent of the wrongs they had suffered.

It is recognized that the plan as proposed and as allowed reaches, under the particular circumstances of this case, to the outer limits of what is constitutionally allowed. However, the wrongs and injustices inflicted upon these plaintiffs and the members of their class (part of which have been herein documented) have clearly exceeded--and continue to exceed--the outer limits of what is constitutionally permissible. As stated earlier in this opinion, the extent of a group's constitutional right to protest peaceably and petition one's government for redress of grievances must be, if our American Constitution is to be a flexible and "living" document, found and held to be commensurate with the enormity of the wrongs being protested and petitioned against. This is particularly true when the usual, basic and constitutionally-provided means of protesting in our American way--voting--have been deprived. It must never be forgotten that our Constitution is "intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs." With an application of these principles to the facts of this case, plaintiffs' proposed plan of march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, for its intended purposes, is clearly a reasonable exercise of a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. (Williams v. Wallace, M.D. Ala. 1965.)

On March 21, two weeks after "Bloody Sunday," some 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery. On March 25 they reached the state capitol, 25,000 strong.

I'm taking this date as symbolic reminder that I need to start preparing for the seminar in the law and rhetoric of the civil rights movement that I'll be teaching in the fall at UNC Law School.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Fact and science fiction

Tucker is reading Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two. Early on, there's a passing reference to "the '05 tsunami." Well, they are in Hawaii not Sri Lanka (where Clarke actually lives and works). Still, as Tucker points out, he was only six days off.

Writing about "once and future tsunamis" on his foundation web site, Clarke downplays the prophetic aspect of science fiction. "Contrary to popular belief, we science fiction writers don’t predict the future--we try to prevent undesirable futures."

Julius Shulman, ambassador of an era, still going strong

Julius Shulman's elegant photographs of West Coat modernism helped to translate the movement to the uninitiated. Who could forget this photo of Pierre Koenig's 1959 Case Study house? At 94, he is still clicking away.

He returns to L.A., wraps up a daylong photography session on location, then retreats to his studio early one evening to read mail and return calls under a sign that reads, "Old Age & Treachery Will Overcome Youth & Skill."

"At this stage in life, normal people die," he likes to say. "But I look in the obituaries every day, and my name isn't there yet."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Red clay

This photo of excavation work at the Town Operations Center site reminds me of one of my favorite albums (yes, albums).

The town square

In our downtown project, lessons we can learn from European cities: make it open, make it accommodating, make a marketplace.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

More (and more!) Creighton-mania

Great feature story about Creighton Irons' upcoming musical in the Chapel Hill News. The only thing missing was a link to his web site.


Meanwhile, with Creighton in mind, Jonathan Tilove emails to share a story he wrote on Eddie Klep, "who crossed baseball's color line a year earlier" than Jackie Robinson, "in the opposite direction." Klep's son lives in North Carolina.

Asheville's Chuck Brodsky, a notable player in the "baseball folk music" game (a category that had escaped me), wrote "The Ballad of Eddie Klep."

So while Jackie played for Brooklyn and wore the Dodger blue, Eddie crossed the color line, the one without a cue.

But as Jonathan's story shows, things weren't all that easy for him either.

Gutenberg Elegies revisited

Sven Birkerts, meet your match: librarians over at OCLC have scored a revealing interview with an abbot on the front lines of the first mass media revolution.

BE: Abbot Michael, can you please tell us what you discovered?
AM: This upstart Gutenberg claims he has created a device to allow ink to be directly applied to paper, without the intervention of a scribe! He has adopted a wine press, of all things, and places tiny pieces of wood on the face of the press, slathers ink all over the wood, and then presses the letters to the paper. He claims he can turn out dozens of pages a day this way.
BE: But you do not seem to be impressed.
AM: It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. This is not a dignified scriptorium, where monks illuminate manuscripts with leaf and ink. No, this is brute force work, simply dedicated to speedily turning out books. Can you tell me what civilized person would want this?

Imprimatur indeed! sez Language Hat.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Interesting, but unpersuasive

Today's the day the Supreme Court hears the two Ten Commandments cases, one from Texas and one from Kentucky. Duke constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky is on the case for Van Orden, the Texas appellant. (These links and more found at How Appealing.)

Both sides come armed with stacks of amicus briefs. The one from the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center uses an unusual rhetorical strategy for legal writing: pictures, like this,

Moses presiding over Library of Congress reading room

--the point being that "[t]he traditional incorporation of the Ten Commandments and similar symbols into America’s public architecture is a reflection and recognition of our cultural heritage and history."

But there's a difference between religious iconography--symbolic representations, especially when woven into larger tableaux--and the actual text displayed in a way that commands authority.

The Texas monument (The 5th Circuit opinion being appealed does not pause to notice that the first two lines are in extra large type.)

Chemerinsky will even argue that since there is not one definitive version of the Ten Commandments, the government's sanction of one version could heighten tensions among different faith communities.

The State of Texas will make much of the fact that the monument had stood for 42 years--in Austin, of all places!--without challenge, using this supposed veneration as an argument for correctness. Maybe it took Judge Roy Moore's antics to get somebody to pay attention. Maybe it's a legitimate reaction to an unprecedented effort by the Christian right to rewrite American history.

The argument from the photos doesn't work. It's an interesting idea, but not even original. Many years ago, George Daly for the N.C. ACLU wrote an amazing brief in a flag desecration case. A hippie type had been stoped on the highway near Charlotte. He had an American flag pasted to the roof of his car. He got in trouble for messing with the flag.

Daly's brief was peppered with illustrations (black and white, cut and paste through the wonder of Xerography) of flags in various misuses, including (actually the only one I remember) Raquel Welch in a flag bathing suit. Unlike the writers of the Ten Commandments brief, Daly didn't say a word in his text about the pictures. He didn't have to. That was a powerful brief, and, as I recall, it carried the day.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Infrastructure beautiful

As reported today, last night the Town Council solidified its commitment to go ahead on with the new Town Operations Center as a necessary project, even though it is going to have a sharp impact on this year's tax rate.

[Town Manager Cal] Horton and Assistant Town Manager Bruce Heflin described the key issues Monday, pointing to factors such as rising construction costs and interest rates, and the need to pay several million dollars in costs in the coming year, even if the public-works features were delayed.

"We have examined this very carefully, and I'm convinced that the most prudent course for the council to take is to move ahead with [the center]," Horton said.

The question of whether to delay the project is one that's been raised in our citizen budget review advisory committee, which was formed to try to help us figure out ways to economize in the next year and beyond.

Another question that's come up is about the one percent for art program, particularly as applied to the multi-million-dollar TOC budget. Why spend so much money on a building that isn't even public? asked Aaron Nelson, committee member and executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce--a question he said his members were asking.

Larry Kirkland, the artist selected for the project, gave a presentation to the Council last night outlining what he plans to do. I wish his sketches were available online. For the transportation building he plans an outdoor bench made of white marble with two black granite stools on either end that will look a little like giant bus tires lying flat. Kirkland writes,

I located the carved marble and granite bench between the entrance to the building and the parking lot so as to integrate the art work with the planned sustainability and greenways trails. Transit employees and drivers work long days, with the heaviest workloads during the morning and evening hours. Between shifts, drivers gather and talk, sit and read, or get some exercise. It also seemed fitting that the art work be a place to gather and talk, sit alone and enjoy the quiet of the landscape, or to wait safely for the commute home at the end of the day.

For the public works part of the site, Kirkland plans a semicircular stone wall to be built by a local stone mason, Judson Daniel. Some of the stones will jut out from the wall and on them will be cast bronze objects that represent public works functions. The structure will be both sound barrier (the interstate is nearby) and what Kirkland calls an "outdoor room."

The Administration Building will have a conference and training space that can be used for public meetings. This facility opens out onto a landscaped plaza that looks into the hardwood forest with a variety of old specimen trees. I placed the art work at this far end of the plaza so as to serve as an important connection among the department, the landscape, and the planned greenways and sustainability trails. It will also be visible through the glass entrance of the building.

A number answers to Aaron's question come to mind, the first being the obvious point that it is a public site. I suppose the meaning was that nobody goes to public works or transportation facilities unless you work there or you need a new recycling bucket. But this building will have public meeting space, and, with its location at the far north end of town, it's designed to be the beginning (or end) point of a rich system of greenway trails. And even if all that weren't true, creating an attractive and environmentally responsible workplace for town employees is a worthy goal.

According to a story in Sunday's Times, we're in the vanguard of the "infrastructure beautiful" movement, in which even sewage treatment plants can be works of art.

"Soul Notes": a musical this weekend


Creighton Irons, a most talented UNC senior, Morehead Scholar, and Chapel Hill native, is finishing an interdisciplinary degree in race relations. His senior thesis is a musical that he has written: "Soul Notes." I saw it in a trial run last fall and was just bowled over by the music, the message, the breadth and depth of it. And that wasn't even with costumes or sets.

From my notes, snippets of lyrics.

"Then say that you walk into a bank. You want to get a loan but your credit record’s black. Turns out your parents know the clerk and he winks to let you know he’s gonna make it work. As you leave a brown man shuffles in. He’s shown the door before he can begin. You can’t let this get you, can’t let it upset you, because it’s not your fault you’re white--and besides everybody gets a raw deal sometimes."

"I haven’t added all that much to the rhythm of the world . . . Those whose shaped my music are for the most part dead and gone . . . jazz and funk and classical. And the last thing I want to do is take away anything from anyone that I respect so much, but I cannot think that Beethoven should be reserved for Germans or Madonna for women or Sinatra for white men . . . Music flows from my soul, from some . . . that I can’t know."

"Somehow this history has seeped inside of me and I may find that I'll never be free."

Here's what Creighton has to say about the show:

This show is the musical result of scores of personal interviews that I conducted in Jamaica, South Africa, and the American South. These interviews, most of them with black and white musicians, explore the big issues surrounding race in intimate and vulnerable ways. Backed by a full rock band, a talented cast of 20 from all corners of UNC’s campus brings these interviews to life with the sounds of reggae, blues, rock, gospel, and bluegrass.

I grew up in Chapel Hill always knowing that ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ were different in certain ways, but never knowing exactly why or how. My first semester at UNC challenged not just these notions of inherent difference, but of race altogether. Now, after a few years of going at the issues surrounding race relations in America head on, I find myself with new perspectives and convictions, as well as new questions to go with some of the old ones. I dove into racial issues to better understand why our common humanity is so often trumped by seemingly arbitrary distinctions and divisions, and although I haven’t found all the answers, so many of my stereotypes and prejudices have evaporated along the way.

My greatest hope for Soul Notes is that it will inspire in its audience some kind of new thought and soul-searching on race, culture, faith, rationality, love, and other big concepts…. Even in liberal Chapel Hill, a culture of racism works its way into our hearts and minds from when we’re young, and it seems that the ways we’ve tried to attack it aren’t working all that well. If the answer were purely intellectual or structural, we’d have figured it out by now. I can’t help but feel that if we let ourselves have a true and honest dialogue about race, from the bottoms of our hearts instead of the tops of our heads, if we really dig into our souls, then we’ll step closer to the harmony that the singers in this show embody.

Performances of "Soul Notes" will be in the Kenan Theater in the Center for Dramatic Arts on the UNC campus.

March 4 at 8:15
March 5 at 8:15
March 6 at 8:15
March 7 at 4:00 and 8:15
March 8 at 5:00 p.m.

To reserve tickets ($5 each), email the following address:

Tickets (open seating) are to be picked up at least 15 minutes before the show begins.

There's a teaser performance at noon on Thursday, March 3, at the Johnston Center.

Creighton was a strong presence on our Airport Road-MLK committee. At last night's council meeting he was selected to be on the committee to organize the celebration of the name change on May 8. I look forward to working with him again. Meanwhile, I'm really looking forward to "Soul Notes." Don't miss it!

UPDATED here and here.

Cold comfort

Majikthise says The Gates are better in pictures than they are in person.