Thursday, June 30, 2005

All pictures are true.

Someone wrote me today to ask permission to use a photo from my blog on a CD cover. (Yes, of course.) The CD is a fundraising project for Marie Curie Cancer Care. The CD will be called "Hope Springs." Now, it's just a picture of a daffodil, but it does happen to be a daffodil blooming in early January, unlikely hope against the bleak midwinter.


What I didn't say at the time--please keep this to yourself--is that I think this flower is a freak. It's one of a couple of dozen bulbs of this type that I planted years ago. Mostly, they never came up at all. Not at once anyway. Every year a few of them show some greenery with no flower, even fewer (different ones each year) with the flower. And when they do bloom, it's always way out of season, even for a variety called "Early Sensation." So there's no way you should try it yourself at home. It's a freak, a fluke of nature.

In a short story by John Edgar Wideman, a man goes to visit his brother in prison. The brother, looking to the day when he will get out, recalls a story he has told many times. Once when his girlfriend was visiting, out in a courtyard by the prison wall they watched a leaf as it fell slowly, gently out of a tree. After much suspense about which way it would go, it wafted out to freedom. "Couldn't help taking the leaf as a sign." But this time, he slyly tells his brother "something I don't tell nobody when I tell about the leaf. The dumb thing blew back in here again."

The story is called "All Stories Are True."

On the other hand, I note that the daffodil is a symbol that Marie Curie Cancer Care uses all the time. Maybe they were just looking for another picture of one.

Mexico honors black Sambo

Mexico issues a series of stamps depicting a Sambo-like cartoon character. The news comes to me via the Afro-Am listserv. A subscriber living in Brazil says, "This kind of thing is common in Latin America."

New world order

Mayor sends the Devil packing, clearing a space for the new Christian urbanism.

Pixelated Elvis

Office workers flaunt it with Post-Its.

(Via Kottke.)

Lot 5 design update

Yesterday for two hours the Council met again in a work session with members of the Ram Development team for more discussion about the architecture we want to see on the Lot 5 development. As promised, they presented us with a series of photos of various styles of urban mixed-use developments as a way of trying to get a sense of what we liked. I was not sure this process was going to be very productive--it seemed like a was a good way to ensure that we went down the road of generic, derivative architecture--but I think it was good in that the Ram team now has a clearer sense of our collective aesthetic sense.

We don't agree on everything, but we mainly do agree on the following: we don't want neotraditional, we don't want postmodern, either of which style ends up in fakery. Thumbs down on a building designed to look as if it were once an old warehouse. Many cities have old warehouses that are morphing into condos--Chicago is full of them, so for that matter is Durham--but that's not us. What we do want is design that is real: exposed steel beams are fine, for example (whereas nonfunctional columns making statements in the neat postmodern way are not). We like texture (wood is a nice complement) and warm colors. As I said to the Ram folks, trying to synthesize what we were hearing, I think that we have a basically modernist sensibility.

Nothing is anywhere near settled yet, but for now we seem to be headed in the right direction. The team that will be negotiating the development agreement with Ram--which I'm on--will meet over the rest of the summer. The Ram folks will be back in September to the full Council with design sketches for consideration.

It makes sense that the same kind of tension going on here--a desire for real, non-generic architecture set against uninspired marketplace realities--might be going on elsewhere. Some of the photos we saw were so far off the mark that I wondered they bothered; and one, I swear, was on one of the "magnificent malls" of Chicago's North Michigan Avenue.

In Chicago, planning and superior design are on parallel paths that seldom converge. Regional planning has largely lost interest in the quality of the built environment, while municipal regulation, by its charge, is less a force for extending Chicago's legacy of architectural innovation than a machine for maximizing development by taming the most egregious design features of the market economy. As a result, seldom in Chicago's history has the will to create superior architecture been as marginalized as it is today.

But more about Chicago later. Because I want to post some pictures I took on our trip, I've been holding off till my webmaster is back in town. (Tucker gets home today from a trip to Scotland, England, and Wales with the North Carolina Boys Choir.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Congratulations, Al!

Attorney Al McSurely, Chapel Hill's own, has won the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, the highest honor given by the NAACP to an attorney. The article in the Herald identifies some of the reasons why. We're lucky to have him in our community.

See also OrangePolitics.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Monumental decisions

I predicted the results in the two Ten Commandments cases, McCrary v. ACLU, up from Kentucky; and Van Orden v. Perry, from Texas. (I didn't write it down, but I have a witness.) It wasn't rocket science. In the Kentucky case, county officials behaved the way Roy Moore did in Alabama only more so. After they put up framed Decalogues in their courthouses, after a lawsuit was filed in complaint, they put window-dressing around the displays to claim a secular purpose. Neither of the lower courts was fooled, so it was not a surprise (though a disappointment to many) how this one came out.

In the Texas case, it was easier see that the court would accept the argument that since the monument was just one of many dotting the lawn of the Capitol, it did not advance a particular religion. But though I predicted the outcome, I didn't say it was right.

Eric Muller's critique of Justice Breyer's concurrence in Van Orden makes a lot of sense. As he points out, for Breyer the determinative factor is that the monument has stood unchallenged for 40 years. That's it, that's what persuaded him. Clearly put there to stay, the monument has some kind of squatter's right. Breyer seems worried about the practical impact of declaring this one out of bounds:

To reach a contrary conclusion here, based upon the religious nature of the tablet's text, would, I fear, lead the law to exhibit a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions. Such a holding might well encourage disputes concerning the removal of longstanding depictions of the Ten Commandments from public buildings across the nation. And it could thereby create the kind of divisiveness that the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid.

A jurisprudence of prudence? But as I've said before, it just might be that the hallowed stone marker had been left to rest in peace for 40 years because until lately, there was no real reason to fear the tyranny of the Christian right majority.

And again, though I predicted the outcome I did not imagine what a truly bad precedent Van Orden would set. Chief Justice Rhenquist, writing for the majority, has bought the whole revisionist historical argument. ("'There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.'") Justice Thomas' concurrence revives his argument (from Elk Grove v. Newdow last year) that the Establishment Clause was never intended to apply to the states in the first place. (This decision appears harder than it has to be, says he.)

So if you want to argue a case like this, you're in a bind: yes, there are plenty of breaches in the wall, plenty of things to complain about. (Don't get me started on "Team Jesus Christ.") But the real jurisprudence of prudence might be to not bring the cases at all, for fear of making the law even worse than it is, if that's possible, which it probably is.

POSTSCRIPT: Christian groups plan more monuments. The goal is 100 in a year.

UPDATE: Very interesting discussion of both cases at SCOTUSblog.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Killen's trial: further perspectives

Among the hundreds of correspondents at last week's trial of Edgar Ray Killen in Philadelphia, Miss., was Chicago Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton (registration req.). An African American from the South who identifies with one of the girls who was killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, a reporter who has covered a number of latter-day trials of southern white men for old racial crimes, she has a point of view worth hearing. None of the defendants, she said--not Edgar Ray Kilen, not Thomas Blanton Jr. (convicted in 2001 in the Birmingham case), not one of them--has appeared remorseful. Only George Wallace seemed to change his stripes. "In a gesture I still don't understand," Glanton writes, "the former governor handed me an autographed picture of himself during his heyday in the 1960s. Then he blew me a kiss as I turned to leave." She concludes,

The fact that America is revisiting its sordid past points to how far the South has come in 40 years. And each time someone like Killen is forced to pay for his sins, no matter how slow justice is in coming, a piece of historical baggage is lifted from my shoulders.

Also in the Tribune is a reflection on the 1967 federal civil rights trial in the Philadelphia case by William Neikirk, the reporter who covered it then for the paper. Seven men were found guilty; eight were acquitted; two went free as a result of deadlocks. One was Killen. (The lone holdout said she could not convict a preacher.) That any white man was convicted of any crime related to blacks in the South was a major turning point, Neikirk writes.

The stunning outcome of the trial in 1967 showed that truth is a powerful instrument in combating racism and violence against minorities. The trial in 2005 fhows that justice has a long, long memory.

My mother reminds me that we were in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1964. We had a tea with Lady Bird Johnson in the family quarters of the White House, possibly on the day the three bodies were found (a moment she reacted to with shame, as she still remembers). We were disappointed that the President couldn't join us, but it's obvious now that he had other things on his mind.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

From steel beams to android dreams

Paul has been blogging away about our Chicago experience, which has been wonderful and we still have Oak Park ahead. To think about this city that pulled itself up out of the ashes, dared to turn a whole river around to salvage its drinking water (not worrying about downriver consequences), and out of a peculiar necessity of marshy topography invented the skyscraper, giving us names like Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham to make places and spaces for names like Montgomery Ward and Marshall Field--to think about these layers and accretions of American capitalism gone boom and bust and boom (perhaps) again, as abandoned warehouses are serially converted to condominiums--all of that would be dizzying enough. But there's more: at Navy Pier, robots of alarming realism.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Paul and I are in Chicago for a few days of vacation. With Blair Kamin as my Baedeker, I'm trying to get us to as much of the city's architectural treasure as possible. We're also, by the way, doing a little technology-festing. More (for now) from Paul.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Swear it isn't so

N.C. District Judge James Honeycutt was on the right track. Last year, he decided that in his Davidson and Iredell County courts, everybody would "affirm": everybody would just promise to tell the truth. It seemed to him that when some witnesses choose to "affirm" while most others choose to "swear" on the Bible, then those who take the oath less traveled might come across to a jury as a little less credible. He wanted a level playing field.

Watch your step! said the N.C. Supreme Court. In an unusually swift and procedurally interesting move, which pleased some people very much, they took the case up on mandamus and issued an order forthwith (as I blogged about at the time). The judge was ordered to comply with the General Statutes' instructions on oaths: it was back to the Bible for him.

The question of swearing in court has come up again, with a different twist. Ed Cone points to a nice discussion at Sue's Place of the recent action of a Guilford County Superior Court judge, Doug Albright. The judge denied a witness' request to swear upon the Koran. The good news is that a lawyer for the Administrative Office of the Courts in Raleigh has taken the position that state law does indeed allow the use of the Koran in place of the Bible. The possibly bad news is that the issue will be taken up this week with the state judges themselves at conferences in Asheville and Wrightsville Beach. Said Dick Ellis for the AOC,

"We'll take the input of the judges and bring it together and try to come up with an answer that pleases most people and follows the law."

Now, here are the relevant sections of the N.C. General Statutes:

§ 11-1. Oaths and affirmations to be administered with solemnity

Whereas, lawful oaths for discovery of truth and establishing right are necessary and highly conducive to the important end of good government; and being most solemn appeals to Almighty God, as the omniscient witness of truth and the just and omnipotent avenger of falsehood, and whereas, lawful affirmations for the discovery of truth and establishing right are necessary and highly conducive to the important end of good government, therefore, such oaths and affirmations ought to be taken and administered with the utmost solemnity.

§ 11-2. Administration of oaths

Judges and other persons who may be empowered to administer oaths, shall (except in the cases in this Chapter excepted) require the party to be sworn to lay his hand upon the Holy Scriptures, in token of his engagement to speak the truth and in further token that, if he should swerve from the truth, he may be justly deprived of all the blessings of that holy book and made liable to that vengeance which he has imprecated on his own head.

§ 11-3. Administration of oath with uplifted hand

When the person to be sworn shall be conscientiously scrupulous of taking a book oath in manner aforesaid, he shall be excused from laying hands upon, or touching the Holy Gospel; and the oath required shall be administered in the following manner, namely: He shall stand with his right hand lifted up towards heaven, in token of his solemn appeal to the Supreme God, and also in token that if he should swerve from the truth he would draw down the vengeance of heaven upon his head, and shall introduce the intended oath with these words, namely:

I, A.B., do appeal to God, as a witness of the truth and the avenger of falsehood, as I shall answer the same at the great day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be known (etc., as the words of the oath may be).

§ 11-7. Oath or affirmation to support Constitutions; all officers to take

Every member of the General Assembly and every person elected or appointed to hold any office of trust or profit in the State shall, before taking office or entering upon the execution of the office, take and subscribe to the following oath:

"I, , do solemnly and sincerely swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States; that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina, and to the constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; and that I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of said State, not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, to the best of my knowledge and ability; so help me God."

§ 11-4. Affirmation in lieu of oath

When a person to be sworn shall have conscientious scruples against taking an oath in the manner prescribed by G.S. 11-2, 11-3, or 11-7, he shall be permitted to be affirmed. In all cases the words of the affirmation shall be the same as the words of the prescribed oath, except that the word "affirm" shall be substituted for the word "swear" and the words "so help me God" shall be deleted.

These laws go back to 1777. The "affirmation" alternative did not exist until 1985.

The question now is, what would a new approach look like that "pleases most people" and conformst to the First Amendment? Mind the gap.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Pushing harder for good design

The Town Council met yesterday with the Ram Development team to talk seriously about our expectations for the design of the downtown project. When we had a pre-bidders conference on January 11, I made my own wishes clear: The last thing we want, I said, is a bunch of facades that imitate a shopping mall that imitate a real downtown. Prior to that, as we drafted the request for qualifications document, we went out of our way to take out references to the "historic character" of downtown--we wanted to signal that we were ready to break away from that. I was far from alone in hoping for a distinctive design that looks forward, not backward. I thought this message was heard by the bidders.

But such is the strength of the neotraditional movement that that's what we got anyway from both teams who bid on the project. I preferred the Ram proposal because of its understanding of the importance of the public space--for the basic way the space is laid out and for the team's enthusiastic indication of interest in making it work for us. But there isn't much to like about what, at yesterday's meeting, Ram president Casey Cummings admitted was a "safe" architectural style.

It's kind of remarkable that the Council is in 100 percent agreement on this. We're not interested in faux-Colonial or faux anything else. The planning principles of new urban design are great, but it ought to be possible to separate the planning from the architecture, as I've argued here.

In yesterday's meeting, another point I made was that I hope they will incorporate principles of "green urbanism." This morning in a note to the Council I explained what I meant:



When I suggested to the Ram team yesterday that their project should reflect the principles of "green urbanism," I was bringing up the concept talked about here:

"Just, Green and Beautiful Cities," Yes! magazine, Summer 2005

This article is talking about a movement that recognizes that while urban development has contributed a great deal to environmental problems, urban development can also provide opportunities to intervene with strategies for improvement:

"It [the environmental movement's negative view of cities] started with John Muir’s celebration of nature in reaction to the ugliness of industrial development, urban pollution, congestion, and noise. But this bias against cities is changing. Environmental groups now acknowledge that the way we live in cities is at the nexus of many environmental challenges."

The byproduct of this kind of thinking is a new emphasis on incorporating the natural environment into urban spaces.

Please pass this link on to the Ram team and encourage them to pick up on these ideas as much as they can.

We meet with Ram again next Wednesday afternoon.

History on trial

Today is the 41st anniversary of the disappearance of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. The jury in Edgar Ray Killen's trial will go into a second day of deliberations today, after ending up yesterday split down the middle.

There can't be anything easy about the trial of a murder that's 41 years cold. I'm not offering an opinion on the evidence. But even from this remove of time and space it's hard to miss the familiar rhetorical patterns coming out of that Mississippi courtroom.

Recalling that the dead men consisted of one local black and two Yankee Jews, at the outset the district attorney asked the jury one thing: "Tell me you'll treat them like they were from here and were our neighbors." (Tell me you'll forget, for the moment, your resentment of "outside agitators.")

Don't you dare forget it, says defense attorney James McIntyre, speaking in well-recognized code: the trial "has done nothing but agitate the state of Mississippi."

The prosecution emphasized to the jury that their verdict would be a judgment not just on the defendant but also on Neshoba County and Mississippi itself: "Is the Neshoba County jury going to tell the rest of the world that we are not going to let Edgar Ray Killen get away with murder any more?" (The source here, which may require registration, is a South African publication. How many hundreds of reporters are covering this trial, I wonder, and from how far have they come.) The defense attorney in turn, and rightly, reminded the jury that only one man is on trial--but also tried hard to dissociate his client from the KKK: "He's not charged with being a member of the Klan, he's charged with murder." Besides, according to a defense witness, former mayor Harlan Majure, the Klan "did a lot of good too. As far as I know, they're a peaceful organization."

It's this kind of doublespeak that accounts, surely, for the "underlying current of fear" felt by Ben Chaney, James Chaney's brother. "Forty-one years is not a long time," he observes.

One of the most persistent tropes goes something like this: Everything is fine in the South, or was, until you good but meddlesome folks tried to mess with it. We know "our nigrahs" and we know what they need. If you find Mr. Killen guilty, you are only going to cause trouble down here, trouble we don't need. Everying is fine. Leave it alone. Leave us in peace. Defense attorney McIntyre: "This is a complete distraction for the citizens of the state of Mississippi. Is this going to help the cultural differences again? This old crime is not a threat to the state of Mississippi."

It reminded me, sadly, of a response I got not quite a year ago to a speech I made on the Airport Road-MLK Blvd. issue: Not the same stakes, certainly, but the same argument, the same indulgence in a "negative peace."

It reminded me of Dan Carter's story from the Alabama Supreme Court archives when he was researching the Scottsboro case for his dissertation.

It reminded me of Erskine Caldwell's In Search of Bisco (1965). Bisco was his childhood best friend, who happened to be black--and therefore was unsuitable, according to his parents, for friendship at all. In searching for Bisco, Caldwell seeks larger answers. Here is one answer he found from a white Alabamian:

I'll tell you what the whole trouble is. It's all because people in the rest of the country just don't understand the racial situation down here. They're ignorant about it and we've got to educate them by showing them how to manage it. People up North think the blacks ought to be treated like anybody else and they criticize us for the way we handle them. They'll learn some day that we know more about it than they do.

. . .

It's just like I said. We know how to handle the blacks. We've been raised up with them and we know what's good for them better than they do themselves.

It's the same old story: an old, old story.

UPDATE: Killen guilty of manslaughter.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Hog Day afternoon

in Hillsborough, N.C.

Chapel Hill's own Keith Henderson (in Carolina blue) has been keeping Elvis alive for 26 years. He and his band--which now includes his talented daughter, vocalist Lauren Henderson (right), a 2005 graduate of Chapel Hill High--serve up a powerful illusion.

Modern Chapel Hill: vintage example

Chapel Hill Museum, 523 E. Franklin Street

The Chapel Hill Museum is housed in space owned by the Town of Chapel Hill. This building was the town Library from the time it was built in 1966 until 1994, when a new, larger library was opened. During recent deliberations on the town's budget, a citizen committee recommended selling this "underperforming asset." The Council resists the notion of selling any of its real estate, although we have embraced one citizen's idea of performing a study of the town's current and future space needs.

I'm glad that the budget committee focused our attention on this building, because it caused me to think about it from another angle--preservation. This building is a wonderful example of mid-century modern architecture in a town that, thanks to a building boom prompted by the GI Bill, has quite a nice collection of the architecture of this important period. At Wednesday night's meeting I presented a petition requesting the Council to consider granting a historic preservation easement on this property to Preservation North Carolina.

My petition, which Mayor Foy co-sponsored, included an excerpt from a manuscript on Chapel Hill architecture by M. Ruth Little--a work in progress funded by the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill and the N.C. Office of Archives and History.

Architect Don Stewart designed the library on a prominent location at the northwest corner of East Franklin Street and Boundary Street. The old frame Hendon House was demolished to make way for the library. Naturally, some citizens opposed the introduction of modern architecture into the heart of the Chapel Hill Historic District, but the building has become a beloved landmark. The building’s natural insinuation into its sloping site and use of native materials continue the organic modernist tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright, exhibited in such buildings as the Fallingwater residence in Pennsylvania. The rectangular building features a fieldstone lower level supporting a wood shingled main level with angled walls capped by a metal Mansard roof with a wide roof overhang. The entrance and windows are deeply recessed into the walls. Stone walkways, planters, and retaining walls inegrate the building into the site.

Stewart's work in Chapel Hill includes other public buildings (including the Totten Center at the Botanical Garden) and several private residences.

Don Stewart’s early work, such as the 1953 Kai Jurgenson House, 410 Whitehead Circle, fused the organic modernism of the Bay area style with the regional modernism of Gropius and his students at Harvard University. Around 1960 Stewart’s design took a strong Asian turn. The house he designed for Robert Mace, a physicist, and his wife Ruth at 222 Hillcrest Circle, a small subdivision off East Franklin Street, has an open floor plan on one level, with small changes in level according to zone. A tall porch extends across the south, rear elevation to shield the living areas from the sun. The wide roof overhang and privacy screen beside the front entrance have a Japanese character. Stewart says of his trademark wide overhanging roof, “I always tried to put a hat on a house.”

According to my colleague Cam Hill, who admires Stewart's houses particularly because he has worked on some of them, Stewart in old age lost his eyesight.

Myrick Howard, executive director of Preservation NC, has told me he's delighted at the prospect of holding an easment to this building, calling it "a landmark of its vintage." Catherine Frank, director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill, spoke on Wednesday night in favor of the idea. I believe it would be the first public building in Chapel Hill to have such an easement.

A preservation easement would ensure that the building is not torn down no matter who owns it.

The easement would also protect the large trees on the property.

East entrance to lower level, home of Chapel Hill Historical Society.

MORE on mid-century modern in Chapel Hill.

UPDATE April 2007: The easement agreement between the Town of Chapel Hill and Preservation North Carolina has been signed, sealed and delivered to the Orange County Deeds office.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Philadelphia story

The trial of 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen in Philadelphia, Miss., has begun, but yesterday's proceedings were cut short when Killen was rushed to the hospital. In the peculiar way in which trials are run--in the court's attempt to keep the jury focused on the case and not extraneous events--the jury was not told that the defendant was hospitalized.

Just before the incident, Killen had lost an argument that would have kept the transcript of the 1967 trial against him out of this trial.

On NPR yesterday (hear the two-part episode on the web site), Walter Cronkite remembers the story of the murders of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner in the context of that summer of 1964. A sympathetic President Johnson conferred frequently with J. Edgar Hoover's office and seemed very much to want to see justice done--but Vietnam was a distraction. Cronkite reminds us that Vietnam became a distraction to the movement in general.

Killen is expected to be back in the courtroom this morning.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Googler's dilemma

As Eric Muller has pointed out, I gave an interview to the local Durham Herald-Sun on my involvement in the LeBeau incident. The story accurately reflects what I had to say: I've taken no joy in the duty to report an ethical violation that I was on no mission to discover. Of all the options--and I did consider several--going to the press made the most sense by far. This is the kind of work that we look to the press to do. I'm not one who longs for the day when the mainstream media crumbles before the power of the blogosphere. There's a place for both. I believed that this case was serious enough to be newsworthy, but it certainly was reassuring to find that Tom Bartlett, an experienced Chronicle reporter who specializes in plagiarism cases (a sad thing in itself), thought so too. He capably did his job, other journalists picked it up, and then a blog reader did further investigative work and added to the findings.

As the Herald-Sun story noted, I did find myself confronted (thanks to the power of Google) with a moral dilemma. And as Eric notes, there is no clear direction for what someone who discovers an instance of plagiarism by a university professor is supposed to do about it, or how. After the fact, it appears that my response was consistent with the American Historical Association's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. I quoted from these guidelines earlier in discussing what plagiarism is. From the same document:

All who participate in the community of inquiry, as amateurs or as professionals, as students or as established historians, have an obligation to oppose deception. . . . After leaving graduate school, every historian will have to depend primarily on vigilant self-criticism. Throughout our lives none of us can cease to question the claims our work makes and the sort of credit it grants to others.

Now, that's a very sensible guideline.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Daring to choose against choice

Duke law professor Laura Underkuffler, better known in my Chapel Hill circles as spouse of Thatcher Freund, has a nice response to Clint Bolick on the question of school vouchers (she's again' 'em).

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

What is plagiarism?

So, why isn't it a plagiarism of Lincoln's First Inaugural to invoke the better angels of our nature? Because when we do that, we expect our audience to get the trick: we're maybe even showing off. Primarily, we are not pretending it's a phrase of our own making. It's an allusion. Allusions are fun. We are playing with language, playing with our audience. We can bend an allusion into a thousand points of light: nothing, not Lincoln not nobody, can stop us from calling upon the worser angels of our nature if that is our bent. When we play with language we are a little like jazz musicians--a nod here, a riff there, and suddenly it's a jam session in which Miles and Dizzy and Lester and Coltrane have come home to roost. Everybody is acknowledged and appreciated.

It's a matter of intent.

Plagiarism is intending to pass off someone else's work as your own.

Usefully, the History News Network has gathered together the definitions of plagiarism offered by three organizations: the American Historical Association, the Modern Language Association, and the American Psychological Association. All of them speak to intent. Since the example at hand involves a historian, let's start there.

The word plagiarism derives from Latin roots: plagiarius, an abductor, and plagiare, to steal. The expropriation of another author's text, and the presentation of it as one's own, constitutes plagiarism and is a serious violation of the ethics of scholarship.

And further,

Plagiarism includes more subtle and perhaps more pernicious abuses than simply expropriating the exact wording of another author without attribution. Plagiarism also includes the limited borrowing, without attribution, of another person's distinctive and significant research findings, hypotheses, theories, rhetorical strategies, or interpretations, or an extended borrowing even with attribution. Of course, historical knowledge is cumulative, and thus in some contexts--such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, or broad syntheses--the form of attribution, and the permissible extent of dependence on prior scholarship, citation and other forms of attribution will differ from what is expected in more limited monographs. What belongs to whom becomes less distinct. But even in textbooks a historian should acknowledge the sources of recent or distinctive findings and interpretations, those not yet a part of the common understanding of the profession, and should never simply borrow and rephrase the findings of other scholars.

Plagiarism is a broader concept than that of a legally protected property right or copyright, the AHA notes. Plagiarism works "harm . . . to the pursuit of truth." Accordingly, "All who participate in the community of inquiry, as amateurs or as professionals, as students or as established historians, have an obligation to oppose deception."

The MLA also focuses on intent:

"In short, to plagiarize is to give the impression that you have written or thought something that you have in fact borrowed from someone else."

And so does the APA:

The key element of this principle is that an author does not present the work of another as if it were his or her own work.

Historians of all people should understand the obligation to the fidelity of one's sources, and yet there exists something of "a crisis of confidence in those who are stewards of our national history." So writes Ralph E. Luker in reviewing three books on the subject. Maybe within their covers lies the answer to why this problem persists. I don't know.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"Striking similarities" . . . and differences

A headline in today's Chronicle of Higher Education: "Missouri Dean Appears to Have Plagiarized Commencement Speech by Cornel West" (subscription req.).

Google is a remarkable tool. Without it, I probably wouldn't have bothered to try to track down the original quote from Hegel that Sydney Schanberg had alluded to in a story that I blogged about on May 17. But I was curious, and Google is curiosity's friend.

I found more than I bargained for. I found Hegel's quote cited, or alluded to, in two commencement speeches--one in May 1993 by Cornel West, the other in Dec. 2003 by a professor less well known: Bryan LeBeau of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Indeed, these speeches bore many "striking similarities," as noted by reporter Tom Bartlett, who has admirably followed up on my tip with today's story. The story begins like this:

Plagiarists, take note: Google will get you.

If anyone needs further proof of that, consider the case of Bryan LeBeau. In December 2003 Mr. LeBeau, a professor of history and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, gave the university's commencement address. Mr. LeBeau spoke to graduates about the "rich notion of citizenship" and a sense of history in which "no culture and no civilization and no society has ever had a monopoly on wisdom or virtue."

This would be perfectly fine except that those words also appeared in a commencement speech delivered a decade earlier by Cornel West, now a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University and one of the country's best-known academics.

What went on here? LeBeau has no credible excuse. He suggests that speech-making follows different standards than scholarly publication. For a response to that, Bartlett turned to Peter Charles Hoffer, author of Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, and Fraud in the Writing of American History, who was not so forgiving: "'Even when using the same quotes,' he said, 'you start to smell smoke.'" And besides, even if you credit the "it's only a speech" excuse, it goes only so far: LeBeau published the speech--without attributing West--in one of his newsletters from his office as dean.

To study the texts side by side is a fascinating exercise. What's remarkable is not just the sameness: there's a remarkable difference as well. West's speech comes from a position of authority as a black American intellectual. This is a position LeBeau, who is white, cannot claim, nor does he attempt to. Rather, he drains the color out of West's speech so that, in the end, it is not so much an appropriation--though it is that--as a misappropriation, a watering down and a flattening out of a message that had its own particular power and edge.

As West speaks, the year is 1993: early Clinton administration. In the midst of a culture that "tries to convince us that we are vital and vibrant only when we're consuming," he suggests "that maybe public institutions no longer have the wherewithal to respond to the deep problems." He challenges his audience to think about what he sees as an "unprecedented lethal linkage of economic decline and cultural decay and political malaise." From his position as both an American and a black American, he asks his listeners to "cut against the grain" by "having a deep and abiding sense of history." He calls it (here's where Hegel comes in) "a tragic sense of history." But

[w]e ought not to confuse the tragic with the pathetic. The tragic is about the exploration of human possibilities for freedom. That's what Sophocles' Antigone is about. That's what Shakespeare's King Lear is about. That's what Tony Morrison's* Beloved is about: the exploration of the human possibilities of freedom, but hitting up against limits sooner or later.

Now for LeBeau. The post-September 11 environment is the urgent context against which he invokes the "rich notion of citizenship" that West had called for a decade before. LeBeau also appears to recommend a "tragic sense of history"--but not exactly. He isn't completely willing to go that far: "I believe that it is essential to have a realistic, if not somewhat tragic, sense of history, if it motivates and causes us to act." Then he goes through the same litany of Hegel and Gibbon and Sophocles and Shakespare and Morrison, but note what he does to the sentence that concludes West's passage:

It is about the exploration of the human possibilities of freedom, hitting up against its limits, but then realizing that it is in our response to those limits that lies our destiny.

"[I]t is in our response to those limits that lies our destiny." Whatever that means--and I'm not exactly sure--it has the effect of taming the message, suggesting that all will be fine in the end.

West tells us pointedly that what he calls "hope" is different from optimism:

[T]here is a need for audacious hope. And it's not optimism. I'm in no way an optimist. I've been black in America for 39 years. No ground for optimism here, given the progress and regress and three steps forward and four steps backward. Optimism is a notion that there's sufficient evidence that would allow us to infer that if we keep doing what we're doing, things will get better. I don't believe that. I'm a prisoner of hope, and that's something else.

LeBeau, while skipping the disavowal of optimism, does concur that there is not "sufficient evidence that would allow us to infer from the past that if we keep doing what we're doing, things will get better." But as he winds up to West's conclusion he makes another revision that is, I think, revealing.


Of course I come from a tradition, a black church tradition, in which we defined faith as stepping out on nothing and landing on something. That's the history of black folk in this country. Hope against hope. And yet still trying to sustain the notion that we world-weary and tired peoples, all peoples in this society, can be energized and galvanized around causes and principles and ideals that are bigger than us, that can appeal to the better angels of our nature, so that we, in fact, can reach the conclusion that the world is incomplete--that history i[s] unfinished, that the future is open-ended, that what we think and what we do does make a difference.


History suggests that we are a world-weary and tired people, but not a people destined to failure. History also suggests that we have been, and can be, energized and galvanized around causes and principles and ideals that are bigger than us, that can appeal to the better angels of our nature, so that we can reach the conclusion that the world is not entirely a tragic place after all, but incomplete--that our lives are not simply a source of despair, but rather unfinished, and that the future is open-ended, that what we think and what we do does make a difference.

Of course, LeBeau cannot lay claim to a "black church tradition." But instead of alluding to it, as he could have (by for example citing West), he assimilates it. The tradition that West comes from maintains that our national culture is made up of multiple "peoples": "we world-weary and tired peoples, all peoples in this society." (Cf. Toni Cade Bambara, 1986: "The wealth of this country, I would argue . . . is its peoples. That's plural.") For LeBeau, "we are a world-weary and tired people, but not a people destined to failure." Moreover, "the world is not entirely a tragic place at all."

Now, it would be entirely fair for LeBeau to disagree with West over whether we are many "peoples" or one "people." He doesn't have to agree with West over whether a "tragic sense of history" is called for, or over subtle disinctions between "optimism" and "hope." An interesting talk could have been written in which he took on West's ideas and challenged them, asking his audience to think along with him in new ways. That would have been a strategy that acknowledged and respected West's ideas for what they are--and for the distinct African American historical tradition from which they come.

But that is not the speech that LeBeau gave to the graduating class at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in December 2003. Those graduates, sad to say, got much less than they bargained for.

Astute readers will have noted that both LeBeau and West owe a debt to Lincoln's first inaugural address ("the better angels of our nature"). Exactly when does the taking of someone else's words pass from theft to trope, from appropriation to allusion? It's an interesting question, one I've been discussing with Eric Muller, whose good sense I knew I could rely on in helping me figure out how to handle this story. I'll have more to say about that in a later post.

*Bartlett notes that both LeBeau and West misspell Toni Morrison's name.

UPDATE: Eric wonders about the consequences. Ralph E. Luker of Cliopatra chimes in "with considerable sadness."

UPDATE 6/14: Beth, a reader at Eric Muller's site (the same Beth who makes good observations in a comment here?), figured out that the first part of LeBeau's speech bears "striking similarities" to a commencement speech by Russell Baker. This second lapse is not mentioned by LeBeau in the statement he issued today on HNN. Interestingly, both West's and Baker's speeches are found in a collection of commencement speeches at

UPDATE 6/15: See Muller and Luker for more.

UPDATE 6/17: The interim chancellor at UMKC has placed LeBeau on administrative leave from his deanship through December 2005, I've learned from several readers; more here. Meanwhile Joan Aitken, a communications professor at UMKC, writes, "Many scholars believe a higher level of integrity of public speaking is necessary--higher than the written word--because of the emotional power of the spoken word."

Sunday, June 12, 2005

More "Light"

"Light in the Piazza" is held over a second time--through Jan. 1--and it may go to London.

The award-winning costumes continue to dazzle.

McGowan: Out with a bang

John McGowan has finished his guest-blogging for Michael Bérubé with a wonderful three-part series on "The Republican Assault on Democracy." Don't miss it.

The official Bush Administration line in foreign policy is the promotion of democracy. Yet the Republicans have launched a full-scale assault upon democracy at home. Setting aside (for the moment) the simple fact that this assault is about grabbing and using power, it also reflects an impoverished view of democracy, basically one that limits democracy to free elections. In this view, the people ratify a set of leaders—a government—in an election, and, in so doing, gives those leaders a blank check. If the government uses the power given to it unwisely, the people can vote it out next time around. Power rests solely in the hands of the people and in its delegated agent, the government.

This understanding of democracy tends toward the plebiscite—and toward the establishment of a strong leader, usually one who promises to sweep aside the complexities, compromises, frustrations, and inefficiencies introduced by parliamentary janglings and an independent judiciary. From Napoleon III and Bismarck in the 19th century to the Governator in the late 20th century, the plebiscite has almost always favored right wing leaders impatient with legal and institutional impediments to forceful action. In other words, the plebiscite is perfect for establishing the tyranny of the majority that Tocqueville and Mill feared.

more . . .

Part 2

Part 3

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Friday, June 10, 2005

Sticking it to the (camera)man

"It's sold as a must-have accessory to give urban SUVs a whiff of the outback. But U.K. officials say drivers who use spray-on mud to avoid identification by police speed cams face hefty fines for obscuring their license plates."

Do note that the company that makes Sprayonmud does not condone the illegal use of its product.


The Wachovia apology and its aftermath is laden with ironies. In order to qualify to lend financial support to an affordable housing project up north, a southern bank founded after the Civil War is required to own up to having benefited from its predecessor banks' profits in slavery. Since it failed to the first time around (and it must be sorry for that too now), it may be out of the deal. Surely, though, there's no real surprise in this scenario. Writes Gary Ashwill for the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies:

One striking element of this story is how it keeps coming back to capitalism’s cannibalistic lineages: few current firms dabbled in slavery themselves, but many have at one time or another swallowed older companies that had swallowed still older companies that may have held slaves or owned slave ships or accepted slaves as collateral or whatever. Slavery is indelibly imprinted on the DNA of western capital, which tells you something about the historical processes that led to the hegemony of the U.S. and western Europe.

In other words, everything is related. Let's take a look at the affordable housing need that generated the redevelopment project that Charlotte-based Wachovia got involved in that triggered the Chicago ordinance that required the disclosure of the long-ago involvement in slavery.

It's in the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood, a once affluent area with classic inner-city problems:

During the first wave of the Great Migration between 1916 and 1920 many African Americans settled in Oakland. During the 1930s Oakland experienced its greatest diversity, with a mixture of African Americans, Germans, Jews, English, Irish, Canadians, and Japanese. Racial tensions escalated as the African American population increased. Some white residents resorted to violence and restrictive covenants to prevent blacks from moving into Oakland, but such efforts proved unsuccessful, and by 1950 Oakland was 77 percent African American.

In the 1970s, Oakland experienced a declining economic base. Public housing projects such as Ida B. Wells, once the pride of the community, became crime-infested. The former Oakland Theatre located in the heart of Oakland near 39th and Cottage Grove became the headquarters of the notorious El Rukn street gang. The city of Chicago demolished dilapidated buildings, and vacant lots were left scattered throughout the community. Oakland's average income fell below the poverty level as middle-class residents moved further south.

In the 1990s the neighborhood struggled to pull itself back together. Meanwhile by 1999, as part of a campaign launched by Mayor Daley to address Cabrini Green-type problems, the Chicago Housing Authority had demolished all but two of its high-rise apartment buildings along the lakefront in North Kenwood-Oakland.* "Today," says the CHA web site, "this neighborhood is experiencing redevelopment resurgence, with the CHA’s former Lakefront property positioned as the leader in this redevelopment movement." The relocation of hundreds thousands of dislocated residents has not gone smoothly; but we are assured that "The CHA has worked diligently with local neighborhood organizations to ensure that the design of the new Lakefront site would correspond with the aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood."

North Kenwood-Oakland is just north of the prestigious Hyde Park neighborhood. Pressure on housing prices now is tremendous. "The lure . . . for developers is certainly understandable. Land is still available and affordable. . . . The neighborhoods are within walking distance of the lakefront, the most sought-after amenity in Chicago."

The project that the Wachovia Affordable Housing Community Development Corporation is involved in is a $9 million project to create 162 affordable housing units spread in a number of buildings throughout Kenwood and Oakland. Wachovia is the "tax syndicator" in the provision of 10 years' worth of tax credits, a service another bank could provide if it loses the right to participate.

Chicago's ordinance, enacted in 2003, aims "to promote full and accurate disclosure to the public about any slavery policies sold by any companies, or profits from slavery by other industries (or their predecessors) who are doing business with the city." Like similar ordinances in Philadelphia, Richmond, and Los Angeles--like one proposed this term, apparently unsuccessfully, for the state of North Carolina--it raises the issue of reparations.

Reparations for slavery is something that strikes me as morally just (as Eric Muller argues) but practically and politically fraught. On the other hand, as Gary Ashwill rightly points out, it ought not be that hard to atone for more recent wrongs. But that, too, turns out to be a lot to ask. Writes Ashwill,

[W]hat about the long post-slavery era of oppression under Jim Crow? That happened within living memory, and certainly involved economic exploitation along with infringement of political rights. The moment for slave reparations may have passed when Reconstruction died; but we're still barely 40 years past the Civil Rights Act, 50 years past Brown v. Board of Education. There's plenty of ongoing, present-day economic hardship, among communities and individuals that can be traced directly, unproblematically, and (pretty much) uncontroversially, to legal segregation of all sorts. But I suppose reparations for Jim Crow would be tantamount to reviving the Great Society (itself a sort of social reparations project), which ain't happening anytime soon.

Not much to add to that but a couple of footnotes. The first is about a word. According to a history of GIS mapping, "redlining" was born this way:

Searching through archives and old cartography publications, Cloud found several overlay maps from the 1930s and 1940s. They were, he says, "the most complex and accomplished uses of overlays yet found." One set, prepared by federal officials during the New Deal, depicted American cities and showed, with different translucent layers, data about problems such as high concentrations of decrepit buildings. Later maps, concealed for many years from public view, carried fateful red lines that enclosed blocks occupied mainly "by any distinct racial, national, or income group that would be considered an undesirable element if introduced into other parts of the city," in the words of a 1936 document cited by Cloud. Thus was born the term "redlining" (say, charging residents of targeted areas more for loans or insurance).

The second is a story told by Alice Walker ("Beyond the Peacock," 1975). At a reading of her work, someone let her know that Walker's childhood home was just down the highway from Flannnery O'Connor's. This was news. She later came to love O'Connor's writing, and she remembered a particular field she used to pass and admire, but she didn't know they were connected. She took her mother on a trip to Georgia to revisit the place where they lived and to visit the O'Connor site.

The house they had lived in was a sharecropper tenement. They walk past "posted" signs to find that the house is still there, at least half of it is: two of the four rooms had disintegrated and are put to use as barns. Then they go to Andalusia, as the O'Connor home is called. No one lives there, but the house has a caretaker. Walker approaches and knocks.

What I feel at the moment of knocking is fury that someone is paid to take care of her house, though no one lives in it, and that her house still, in fact, stands, while mine--which of course we never owned anyway--is slowly rotting into dust. Her house becomes--in an instant--the symbol of my own disinheritance, and for that instant I hate her guts. All that she has meant to me is diminished, though her diminishment within me is against my will. . . .

Standing there knocking on Flannery O'Connor's door, I do not think of her illness, her magnificent work in spite of it; I think: it all comes back to houses. To how people live. There are rich people who own houses to live in and poor people who do not. And this is wrong. Literary separatism, fashionable now among blacks as it has always been among whites, is easier to practice than to change a fact like this. I think: I would level this country with the sweep of my hand, if I could.

Apologize for slavery? Sure. No problem. We are all very, very sorry.

*"The 1990s saw both continuity and change for black Chicagoans. Racial issues still flared, with several cases of police brutality toward African Americans, controversy over inequitable promotions for African American police officers, and allegations of racial profiling in the affluent suburb of Highland Park. Mayor Richard M. Daley attempted to remedy the problems created by the housing projects built by his father in the 1960s with a $1.5 billion plan to remove the city's 51 high-rise projects and replace them with 'mixed income' housing. This policy, implemented in the opening years of the twenty-first century, has evoked a mixed reaction from community activists, who have argued that mixed income is but a 'euphemism for removal of the poor.'" --"African Americans," Encyclopedia of Chicago

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Developing a vision for downtown: beyond nostalgia

Last week the Chapel Hill Town Council committee on our downtown economic development initiative, which I'm on, met with our consultant John Stainback to recommend the developer we want to negotiate with. Although the selection will not be official until the full council takes a vote on it, the five council members on the committee who attended the meeting all voted for Ram Development Co., so it's a safe bet that that it'll get the nod.

This project is the realization of many years of collective thinking about the shape and form of downtown Chapel Hill. The scale of what we are planning is huge, and so the stakes are high. We have to get it right. We now have a developer (most likely), but many details remain to be worked out.

I'm on record as being something of a broken record: the architecture needs to be distinctive, and the public spaces need to work. I don't think we're there yet. I look forward to additional discussions with the Ram team about the architecture, the public space, the public art.

Both bidders brought us what I called "an architecture of nostalgia." Where I'm coming from is a persistent criticism of one aspect of New Urbanism: not the promotion of urban (more to the point, pre-suburban) styles of development per se, but the insistence that the new look like the old. The lack of originality, the lack of authenticity. The failure of imagination. The building of a row of structures all at once but making them look like they were built at different times. The fake bricking-in of Palladian windows that never existed--and other false creations of the impression of age. (Over at the American Tobacco Project, which authentically is the old made new, they've imported new "old" billboards!) What I mean is well stated in a recent article in Metropolis magazine:

Honestly the New Urbanists--the Duanys, the Plater-Zyberks, the Calthorpes--make good places. I can't fault their planning skills, but there is something about their need to use the past as a sort of architectural tranquilizer that gives me the willies. I see it as a form of cultural brainwashing, a strategy that doesn't solve the problems we've created so much as teaches us to forget them.

The architects on the Ram team include a representative from the famed DPZ firm, designers of Seaside and authors of Suburban Nation. The principles of compact urban design serve important goals for community-making and the environment. But there is no reason why the architecture itself has to look like the past. DPZ has shown that it can break out of this mold: see Prospect, Colorado. We need to challenge the Ram team create great places and spaces for Chapel Hill that respond creatively to our present and look daringly to our future.

David Sedaris, distracted

Cross words in the air on the way to Raleigh.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A certain slant of light in the Piazza

Interesting discussion at on whether "Light in the Piazza" is a musical or "a play with music." The answer seems to be yes, it is a musical, though perhaps a "chamber musical." There is some suggestion of a gap between the songs and the story--which could explain why it won so many Tonys but not "best musical." In addition, the question is raised whether a "musical," to fit the bill, has to be a musical comedy, preferably with dancing.

Adam Guettel's concern from the beginning (we've heard) was that the production would be a bit too precious, refined, subtle, or something to make it on Broadway. That's why he went on the regional circuit first--to test it, to build it up. It was a good move.

Reviewing the Chicago production for the New Yorker last year, John Lahr practically dared Broadway to take it on: "'The Light in the Piazza' doesn’t want to make theatregoers feel good; it wants to make them feel deeply. This it does, and that is why, despite the show’s quality, I suspect that the swamis of the rialto will pass on bringing it to Broadway. Still, Guettel’s kind of talent cannot be denied. He shouldn’t change for Broadway; Broadway, if it is to survive as a creative theatrical force, should change for him."

Happy birthday, Frank Lloyd Wright

google wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was born June 8, 1867, but he lied about the year, advancing it by two. Writes Ada Louise Huxtable, "it had the desired effect--it made a case for a precocious talent with an impressively youthful, early success in Chicago in the 1890s, and it kept him shy of the dreaded 90-mark during his brilliant late work in the 1950s." But "it annoyed his sister Jane all during her lifetime, since it was her birth year that Wright usurped." There's also evidence of a changed middle name--from Lincoln to Lloyd, to honor his Welsh ancestors. Happy birthday Mr. Wright, architect and performance artist.

Zoo story: opening tomorrow

An open letter about a disturbing exhibit in a German zoo, June 9-July 12:

May 30, 2005
STOP the exhibition of AFRICANS in the Augsburg ZOO
Send your protest letters to the adresses listed below!

From: Norbert Finzsch

I am a German scholar of African American History and member of H-Net Afro-Am.

Today I would like to direct your attention to something that is going on in Germany which, in my opinion, requires the consideration of the international scholarly community.

It is with utmost indignation that the African German community has taken notice of the plans to open an "African Village" within the zoo of Augsburg, Germany. The opening of this exhibit is scheduled for July 9 - July 12. 2005.

"Artisans, silversmiths, basket makers and traditional hairdressers are situated in an unique African steppe landscape" according to the leaflets handed out by the organizers of the show. The conveners obviously are oblivious of the fact that exhibits like the one planned in Augsburg are organized within the German tradition of racist "ethnographic shows" (Völkerschauen).

more . . .

Subscribers to the Afro-Am list (including me) at first thought this had to be an urban legend. And then one writes: "When hundreds of thousands may have died in Darfur and millions are at risk; when 10,000,000 Africans have died as the result of the diamond wars in just four countries (Angola, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone) in the past ten years; when the ecological deterioration of the island of Hispaniola has caused first Haitians, and now Dominicans to drown trying to get to anyplace where they can work or eat: why is our priority of the day this clown show in Germany?"

To which the editor responds, "Rather than see these as alternative issues, maybe we can reflect on all of this as part of the new 'zeitgeist.'"

Szygenda: Ross Perot's clean-up guy (Detroit's another story)

One of the big awards at the Computerworld ceremony on Monday night--the Information Leadership Award--went to Ralph Szygenda of General Motors. An impressive video showed how, under his IT leadership, the corporation has made dramatic improvements in the smart and efficient use of automated systems.

Now, I was working for EDS when it was bought by GM to do precisely that. I only stuck around long enough to see the Corvettes arriving in the corporate parking garage. What happened next evidently wasn't what was hoped for. Here's what Szygenda says in his oral history (.pdf):

[GM] also had an interesting history in information technology, where the company had acquired EDS Corporation. It had a history that was sordid at times with issues between boards of directors and Ross Perot. All of a sudden EDS was splitting off from General Motors and now the company had no information technology expertise at all. It's the world's largest company, and it's recovering from almost going bankrupt. So now they are looking for a CIO--and they never had one at the company before. In 1996, there was no one leading information technology, which is almost amazing when you think about it.

So he goes for an interview. He finds out how bad the mess with EDS is, and suddenly it becomes an opportunity.

And how interesting it was to think about the transition with EDS, a major provider of technology. In fact, while EDS was a part of GM, all the GM folks were transferred to EDS, so there was hardly anyone in GM working in IT left. So I had the opportunity to take a clean sheet of paper and create how you implement technology at the world's largest corporation. That's pretty special!

He took the challenge and managed to turn the auto company whose IT expenses were the highest percentage of sales cost into the one where they were the lowest.

It's a success story, but it does have a context. No one mentioned what was to be this morning's headline: the layoff of 25,000 GM employees, nor was it pointed out that the company just experienced its worst financial reporting period in 13 years.

For a big-picture view (including dramatic demolition photos), see "The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit" (via wood s lot).

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Heroes all

Although Paul is still my hero, ibiblio was an also-ran in last night's Computerworld honors. The winner in his category--education and academia--was the Australian Government, Department of Defence for its Defence Online Campus. Another UNC project, Gary Marchionini's Open Video Digital Library, was a finalist in the arts, media and entertainment category. That one lost out to Turner Broadcasting.

building museum
Looking up in the National Bulding Museum before night and the weather set in.

The gala event was an excuse for many speeches, the best of which was by Dan Morrow. Morrow was retiring after having founded the honors program. He accepted a medallion just like the laureates get, which he said he would never wear because his grandfather had taught him not to wear another man's medals. Morrow is a historian (also a former WCHL radio announcer) who prides himself on having launched this project to preserve and archive the technology revolution.

Reporters from Kid Witness News, Brooklyn PS 41, were on hand to interview Paul and other honorees.

Kid Witness News staff wraps up with honoree Matthew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat.

paul & gary
Paul Jones and Gary Marchionini, fine finalists.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The fickle finger of Tony

It's hard to imagine how "Light in the Piazza" could win five six Tonys, including best original score and best musical actress, and not win best musical. I'm also amazed that Kathleen Turner in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" didn't win best actress though her partner, Bill Irwin, won best actor. But mostly, I'm thrilled that I was able to see both shows, and I'm really thrilled for our friend Elizabeth Spencer.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Quiz time

Michael Froomkin thinks this test is meaningless, but I'm not so sure. How I did:

You scored as a Cultural Creative.

Cultural creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative 100%

Postmodernist 88%

Existentialist 69%

Romanticist 56%

Idealist 50%

Modernist 50%

Materialist 25%

Fundamentalist 13%

Your turn!

Friday, June 03, 2005

"When tomorrow is today"

Fast cars, fashion, fun, and the future! Don't miss (via The Real Paul Jones) the best Manhattan dream sequence since Mickey's trip to the Night Kitchen. Oh wait, it's a lot earlier (1956).

I'm still waiting for that killer kitchen.

The state's response in anti-cohabitaiton suit

Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper calls the ACLU's challenge to North Carolina's law against cohabitation "baseless." It's a criminal statute, he points out, and there is no criminal charge threatened in this case. True enough: the case is a constitutional challenge coming out of an incident in which a woman who lives with her boyfriend was compelled to quit her job. Her boss told her that if she didn't go looking elsewhere she ought to get married or move out of her boyfriend's house.

Her (now former) boss is a county sheriff. No threat of criminal enforcement? Evidently not: he says it's a law he doesn't enforce. It's more of a "moral" issue with him; he prefers not to employ pathetic reprobates people who flout this law.

So it's a 200-year-old law that's rarely and unevenly enforced,* it's on dubious ground since Lawrence v. Texas, and it touches the lives of some 144,000 North Carolina couples. Doesn't seem like a baseless claim to me.

* According to one report, a federal magistrate judge in Charlotte "regularly asks defendants whether their living arrangements violate the cohabitation ban. [The judge] has refused to release violators unless they promise to comply."

But "no immediate plans" to cut the sodas

No more free pretzels on Northwest Airlines. As Kottke says, "They'll save 10s of dollars!"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Music to remember Watergate by

Sounds of Steely Dan: "Rare, live, and unreleased" in MP3 format including early demos. (More about the Marian McPartland show featured--it's available on CD.)

Steely Dan timeline and expanded history from their official web site.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Reconstructing history: Emmett Till exhumed today

Today's the day. Emmett Till's casket was removed from its grave on the outskirts of Chicago in order for the body to be autopsied. I noted the recovery of the long-missing trial transcript, but it took a columnist for the Anniston, Ala., Star, Bruce Lowry, to pick up on a particularly nice detail. The way that Steve Whitaker, who wrote his master's thesis on the Till murder many years ago, got his hands on a copy of a transcript (later destroyed by water damage) was by plying a defense attorney with liquor:

“Mr. Whitaker says he obtained his copy of the transcript, a thick sheaf of onionskin with a binder clip, from the lead defense lawyer, J.J. Breland, after interviewing him for hours over a fifth of Jack Daniels.”

Lowry's take is right--this (the fact of it and the Times reporter's narrative excess) is Faulknerian. "This is the sort of mythic tale-telling that still fascinates the rest of the country with the South, that still yells out for the rest of the world to want to come and look into our closets and attics and dust away our cobwebs to see what else Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty and Walker Percy and Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor forgot to tell them about us."

Even today, even voiced by someone like Lowry, who favors getting to the truth of this matter "because it is the right thing to do," in the South there is no small amount of defensiveness over race. "[H]ow many Emmett Tills," Lowry asks, "will we have to dig up before the story concludes? Will we ever find an end to it, find peace?"

Southern defensiveness is a powerful thing. It colored all historical memory since the Civil War, especially that of Reconstruction. At a conference here last fall, historian Thomas Holt put it squarely before us that what passed for civil rights legislation in the 1950s was woefully lacking on enforcement because of the dominant memory of Reconstruction. The "pervasive image of injustice done to southern whites" during that awful time resulted, almost 100 years later, in laws that had no teeth. Only now, as part of an ongoing reevaluation of southern history and memory, are we able to see the contours of what was really attempted with a little more objectivity. (Jim Leloudis' telling of the Reconstruction history of UNC is useful in this regard.)

Recently Ed Ayers has gone so far as to suggest that Reconstruction, when viewed not through Scarlett O'Hara's eyes but as "America's first attempt to transform a defeated society through a sustained military occupation," has useful lessons for our involvement in Iraq. I guess it's never too late to learn.

UPDATE: on the Afro-Am listserv there's a discussion about why the FBI didn't more aggressively get involved in the Till murder. The toothless civil rights legislation of the 1950s may have been part of the problem.

Bad timing

From the police blotter in today's Chapel Hill News:

A Chapel Hill police officer working plainclothes security in A Southern Season sees a man take away a wine bottle wrapped in an Independent Weekly. The officer asks to see a receipt. The man says wait, let me call my wife on her cell phone, she has it, she's still here shopping. Ten minutes later, here she comes with said receipt. But then, a shopping bag is found near check-out containing the same kind of wine, sans receipt. The officer now notes that the receipt's time-stamp is a bit later than the time it was when he'd stopped the husband.

How technology rules our lives! Just when it almost saves us, it foils us again.