Saturday, December 31, 2005
Here's what I had to say about it last year. No, I haven't been. Maybe next year.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Santa brought me something I didn't think to ask for: The complete New Yorker DVD. Yes it's a pain not to be able to download the discs to your own hard drive. Yes it's a challenge to navigate. Nevertheless.
I'm reminded of something Bob Bain used to say to his freshman composition students. Dr. Robert Bain was a wonderful UNC English professor. He would say to his students, You are about to go from being consumers (of writing) to producers. But enough already. Being a consumer is enough. More than 4,000 issues, half a million pages of The New Yorker! What more is there to say, and not lamely?
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Speaking of NSA, the GWU National Security Archive is full of informing information. I expect it's been all over the blogosphere by now, but it's worth noting that the NSA actually warned the Bush II administration that advances in technology were making it harder to ensure 4th Amendment protections. Looks like that bit of well-intentioned advice just gave them ideas.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Who said that? Burke, wasn't it? Probably not, according to one Martin Porter, who in 2002 made an extensive web-based study. He could find no source for this quotation in any of its variants.
I'm all for animal-friendly roads, by the way.
Monday, December 19, 2005
The Wilmington report gets a nice write-up in today's Times. And the News and Observer expresses remorse for founder Josephus Daniels' role in it. What's striking, but not surprising, is how such a horrendous event was almost wiped from memory. One member of the commission that produced the report, a 68-year-old black native, said to the Times, "I didn't even know it happened until I was a grandmother."
Also striking, but not surprising, is the difference between the way the story of the "Wilmington Race Riot" had been told--"oft-repeated local claims that the insurrection was a frantic response to a corrupt and ineffective post-Reconstruction government"--and the stubborn facts that the record reveals. Not content to have won the election of 1898 by stuffing the ballot boxes, a white mob demanded an immediate turnover of power. That's when "Hell jolted loose." Further from the Times:
"The ultimate goal was the resurgence of white rule of the city and state for a handful of men through whatever means necessary," the historian LeRae Umfleet wrote in the report's introduction.
The report concludes that the rioting and coup fully ended black participation in local government until the civil rights era, and was a catalyst for the development of Jim Crow laws in North Carolina.
"Because Wilmington rioters were able to murder blacks in daylight and overthrow Republican government without penalty or federal intervention, everyone in the state, regardless of race, knew that the white supremacy campaign was victorious on all fronts," the report said.
The Wilmington report contributes significantly to a larger effort by historians to come to a more honest reckoning with Reconstruction and its aftermath. It joins recent reappraisals of racial violence in Rosewood, Florida, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it adds interesting overtones to my own work on a brutal event in Carrollton, Mississippi.
Eric Foner has been at the forefront of this movement. You can get a taste of his work in this neat digital exhibit/essay.
Foner's new book, which includes illustrated essays by Joshua Brown, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, stresses that the failure of Reconstruction was not because it was misguided and corrupt (though corruption did happen), but because white southerners could not tolerate the thought of blacks in the voting booth. The "what ifs" continue to haunt:
What if the brief flowering of equality in the war's immediate aftermath had been allowed to flourish rather than being brutally suppressed? What if the federal government had upheld the Constitution and upheld the rights of all its citizens? The story is at once poignant and urgent. The complex legacy of Reconstruction is lived every day in America. Until Americans understand that history, we are, as the saying goes, condemned to repeat it.
The North Carolina legislature did a brave and wise thing in setting up the Wilmington commission. Back to the Times: a white member "said he had questions initially about whether the report should have been done at all." Why go there? And yet, he said, "'My opinion changed, and I was surprised to learn the depth of feeling that existed and that it was not that long ago."
Saturday, December 17, 2005
So this is the way to win the war on terror. The terrorists hate us because of our freedoms. Get rid of our freedoms. Then they won't hate us any more.
It's a sad and scary time to be an American. It would be nice to find solace in our own history and literature, to predict happier times. Harold Bloom tries it, clinging to Whitman in an effort to understand "what seems our national self-destructiveness." His little essay that might have moved toward a misty hope for the United States as "the greatest of poems" rises, in the end, no higher than the grim realities of the present moment.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Sometime about now (11 a.m. today), the draft report is being issued. It's online too, which is wonderful. From the news release (.pdf),
The riot took place in an era when similar violent attacks on black communities by white mobs occurred in Atlanta, Tulsa and Rosewood, Fla. In Wilmington, in a move unparalleled in U.S. history, a coup d'etat replaced the city's duly elected officeholders with white supremacists. . . .
"This research demonstrates unequivocally that the Wilmington Race Riot was not a spontaneous event, but was directed by white businessmen and Democratic leaders to regain control of Wilmington," says Dr. Jeffrey Crow, deputy secretary of the N.C. Office of Archives and History.
Surely this study will confirm that to call it a "riot" was, itself, a rhetorical attempt to deny reality. A "riot" suggests an emotional outburst: what happened in Wilmington was coldly calculated.
UPDATE: NYT report.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Monday, December 12, 2005
A few weeks ago, Nick Spitzer, host of the "American Routes" radio show out of New Orleans, gave a talk here at UNC. "Many things are intact visually, but we are decentered in many ways," he said. From the time the storm hit, his show became a site of remembrance and community, a place where those exiled from the city could go to hear the music they needed to hear. And those songs included songs already about floods and disaster--like Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." Disaster has always been just around the corner in New Orleans, so when it really happened, there was an oddly comforting body of music to be found.
It struck me that Spitzer, who seemed so insistent that the cultural recovery of New Orleans had to come first, almost before red beans, rice, or housing, was just the right person to be there on the scene making it happen. But what I heard on the way out of the talk was that he was being wooed to relocate at UNC.
Meanwhile Ed Cone get a nod from Romenesko for speculating on the future of newspapers.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
One of several versions (including lithograph), it's smaller than the one in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery or at the IBM building in New York.
If you're reading this blog, you're probably old enough to remember typewriter erasers. (Or are you? Remember typewriters?) They weren't wholly successful--typewriter ink being what it was, any success you had in erasing your mistakes was probably offset by a certain loss in the thickness of the paper. With electric typewriters and "correcting" ribbons and the great breakthrough of Liquid Paper, all of that was gladly left behind. But if you grew up around old manual typewriters, as I did, typewriter erasers were always around. I think this was part of the artist's statement--to take a common utilitarian object and defamiliarize it.
Our son Tucker, who is 12, had no idea what it was, of course. What does a giant steel and fiberglass typewriter eraser say to someone who has never seen an everyday one? He can't experience the space of play between the huge permanent fixture and the small insignificant thing itself. Without the familiar, defamiliarizing cannot happen. (Perhaps, in that case, something entirely different happens.)
But if the sculpture has to have a message--and maybe it doesn't, especially one that's this much fun--there's another one that slides into view as the obsolete referent recedes. Something about the ephemerality of technology--and, by extension, well, everything.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
The building, which is really five rectangular structures arranged in an irregular circle connected by an atrium, is a little smaller than we expected. It is nicely nestled in the woods there along Campus Drive, but once you're inside, there's not enough taking advantage of the views out. Granted, we didn't make the drive from Chapel Hill to look out the window, but we felt that better views could have been had. Although there's lots of natural light from the windows that do exist between the five "pods" and in the ceiling, the building feels massive--Janet sald "cavernous"--rather than light.
David Dillon, architecture critic of the Dallas News, calls the ceiling "clunky."
Compared to the sublime lightness of Renzo Piano's vaults in Dallas [he designed the Nasher Sculpture Center], it has all the elegance of a train wreck, with massive intersecting beams and thick mullions, like a floating Mark di Suvero sculpture. It may be the price of a columnless public space below, but the solution lacks precision and refinement.
Dillon is just not a fan of the design at all. About the arrangement of the five rectangular structures, he says they "reach out into the landscape like clenched fists." But unless you arrive by helicopter, I don't really see that. I think that within the constraints of the terrain and probably budget, the architect, Rafael Viñoly, came up with a design that serves quite well. Not as successful as his University of Chicago business school project perhaps, where he met the challenge of standing up to Frank Lloyd Wright, but distinctive and functional.
There is only one entrance, via a gently sloping sidewalk, and for now at least, it is graced by one of Patrick Doherty's delightful "environmental sculptures."
The arrangement of the gallery structures around an atrium has one advantage: you don't get lost. This is a manageable museum. Actually only three of the five "pods" are galleries: one is an auditorium, and another, with the gift shop in the front, is I suppose meeting and office space. One gallery tells the story of the Nasher collection, well illustrated with some of their best modern treasures, including Andy Warhol portraits of Mrs. Nasher and the three daughters. Another highlights Duke's permanent collection.
Janet and I found the third exhibit the most interesting. A temporary exhibit, it's called "The Forest: Politics, Poetics and Practice." A whole lot of it--ironically, Janet thought--is photographs of the forest, but they are incredible photographs, some of them enormous cibachrome prints. (Exception: two black-and-whites. They look like the war in Vietnam. In fact, the photos were taken by a Vietnamese woman who was born in 1960; the scene is a Vietnam War reenactment somewhere in the southeastern United States.)
When you walk up to Janet Cardiff's wooden box, seen in this picture, you behold a diorama, an unsophisticated rendering of a small house in the woods. (You've seen better dioramas, which is part of the point.) If you put on the headphones, you hear familiar noises of the night woods, and then you start to hear faint voices as your attention is drawn to the house. You can't make out what's going on through the windows, but you sense that these are voices you would rather not be hearing. A drama unfolds, and in unnerving ways, you are implicated.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
The 1985 interview with Joe Herzenberg is especially interesting to those of us local folks who now benefit from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. "His belief in the necessity of Cane Creek seems to frustrate the interviewer. . . ."
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
In the days before "photo-ops," this one was a photo-op. The man, Nicholas C. Chriss, was a UPI reporter. The picture was taken the day after a court order put the Supreme Court's order in the bus desegregation case into effect. Chriss, who died in 1990, wrote in the one brief account he gave,
It was a historic occasion. I was then with the United Press International wire service. A UPI photographer took a picture of Mrs. Parks on the bus. It shows a somber Mrs. Parks seated on the bus looking calmly out the window. Seated just behind her is a hard-eyed white man.
Each anniversary of that day, this photograph is brought out of musty files and used in various publications around the world. But to this day no one has ever made clear that it was a reporter, I, covering this event and sitting behind Mrs. Parks, not some sullen white segregationist! It was a great scoop for me, but Mrs. Parks had little to say. She seemed to want to savor the event alone.
According to historian Douglas Brinkley (writes Applebome), Mrs. Parks was a "reluctant" subject, "but both the journalists and members of the civil rights community wanted an image that would dramatize what had occurred." Dr. King and others took part in photo opportunities on that day as well.
Applebome's story is important because it gets so much right about what really happened. He interviewed 74-year-old Fred Gray, the lawyer who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. We're reminded, among other things, that Mrs. Parks' refusal to give up her seat was not unprecedented in Montgomery. But as Applebome puts it,
None of that diminishes the achievement of her life, just as, perhaps, the true story of the picture need not detract from its power. It's just a reminder that history is almost always more complicated and surprising than the images that most effectively tell its story.
It's too bad that this story-behind-a-story is so well hidden behind a paywall.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Today's Chapel Hill news includes the fact that the town has completed its first on-line auction of surplus goods--and it was a tremendous success! Everything sold for higher than expected: a 1998 Chevy Blazer, valued at $4,350, went for $6,600. A 1988 John Deere Dozer, valued at $10,000, sold for almost twice that, $19,600. And more.
And here are lots of pictures from the Rosa Parks memorial bus ride and rally.
[R]elying on a close examination of recent Texas elections, it concluded that the plan would reduce the ability of minority voters to effectively participate in the political process, the test for discriminatory effect under Section 5 [the "preclearance" requirement of the Voting Rights Act, to which Texas among other southern states is subject].
More specifically, according to the memorandum, the plan failed to pass muster under each and every factor the Supreme Court has established for gauging whether or not a redistricting plan will reduce minority electoral opportunity. This was not a close case.
A unanimous recommendation like this would ordinarily have been affirmed by the DOJ's politically appointed higher-ups. But this one wasn't. "The Texas case provides another example of conflict between political appointees and many of the division's career employees," according to the Washington Post. Indeed. As a better Texas politician said to George Wallace in 1965 for his part in the oppressive violence that led to the Voting Rights Act in the first place, "Shame on you," Tom DeLay.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Over at The Morning News, Harvey Tulcensky and Laetitia Wolff introduce us to Kodak's 1907 innovation, "real photo postcards" (from their book of the same name). In an interview Tulcensky notes the comparison to flickr.com. But I think he's right about the difference: "The difference is that we are so inundated with images today, that there is no more naïveté in the image-making or choosing. The images that surround us are more often than not tired clichés."
Friday, December 02, 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
This book would make a great holiday gift for anyone on your list interested in American history and food.
Thanks again to Brenda Brown for organizing this event.
And remember that this is Blog Against Racism Day.