Saturday, April 29, 2006

Edible culture society

The last meeting of the semester of the Working Group in Feminism and History was a blast. We met at Laura Edwards' house, with Marcie Ferris as guest speaker. I really wanted to hear Marcie, but I was tricked by the price of admission--a homemade dish with a story about the recipe. Or, this being academics, it was OK to bring nothing but a story about how, as an academic, you have left your cooking ways behind you, etc. etc., which is true enough for me. But it wasn't that much of a challenge, really, so I followed a more abiding academic principle: do your homework. Lots of us did. There was an amazing spread of enchiladas, cornbread stuffing, cheesecake, German chocolate cake, roasted chicken, much more including my "Mexican fudge" (which isn't what you think). Jacquelyn Hall brought her first publication: a self-published cookbook for her feminist food coop c. 1972. A grad student brought homemade white bread from her grandmother's recipe, which turned out I thought very well considering the difficulty: the grandmother's instructions said to bake for "30 min. to an hour" at "350 or 400 degrees."

Marcie grew up Jewish in rural Arkansas, among delicious but quite diverse culinary traditions. The mixture (sometimes collision) of southern and Jewish foodways ultimately inspired her dissertation, now the book Matzoh Ball Gumbo.

From the introduction:

Food is a bridge between southern culture and the Jewish experience. Their small numbers, their geographic isolation, their close ties to white and black Protestant culture, their participation in a history shaped by racial and class divisions, and the role of women in creating their culture profoundly influence the lives of American Jews in the South. The foods southern Jews eat define who they are. By choosing either to enjoy or to reject traditional southern foods like fried chicken and pork barbecue and Jewish foods like kugel and kreplach, southern Jews establish their ethnic identity. Some dishes, like peach kugel and pecan mandel bread, mix ethnic and regional flavors, while others, like chopped liver and matzoh balls, carefully follow directions from "Bubbe's" original recipe. These dishes are all familiar on southern Jewish tables, and together they evoke the multilayered, deeply flavored worlds of the Jewish South.

Earlier this month, the book won the 2006 Jane Grigson Award, and it is nominated for a James Beard award. Congratulations to Marcie, "daughter of the Dixie diaspora."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Jane Jacobs

The Talking Moose used to say (among other things) "I had a dream last night, and you were in it."

Night before last, I had a vivid dream involving a good friend who lives in Toronto. The next morning, which was yesterday, I noticed the obit a well-known Toronto resident, Jane Jacobs. Though she is best known, and rightly, for The Death and Life of Great American Cities, somehow Paul and I came to her first through her Systems of Survival, where she pits the "guardian syndrome" against the "commercial syndrome," warning against the "monstrous hybrid."

UPDATE: An interesting take on Jacobs and her legacy. It's true that not every new urban development is turning out as she would have hoped. Front porches, without more, do not a vibrant, diverse neighborhood make.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Haiku Holiday

Morgan Creek Walk

Warm April breezes
winnowing chaff from tree buds
littering the road.

--by our neighbor Marsha Jepsen

More poems.

Something there is that doesn't love a Mac.

This will sound like betrayal. It isn't. Really. I love my Mac. I have loved all four of my Macs. My first was an SE circa 1990. Before that, a Magnavox word processor, and before that, a Smith-Corona electric that got me through one round of grad school and most of law school. Always, for schoolwork I wrote out first drafts in longhand. Around 1990, with a new Mac SE (powered by the Talking Moose), and with a Ph.D. seminar deadline of weekly book reviews, I took the plunge: straight to the keyboard! It seemed too easy. It seemed like cheating.

My first laptop, a chunky gray PowerBook work processing machine, c. 1994, still with floppy drive, still not internet-capable, made writing a dissertation simple and fun. Switching from moose to dog, the "Retrieve It!" function enabled searching on any word or phrase in any file (something I didn't have again reliably until Spotlight). When you have a jillion ideas jumbling in your head and you know you've written them down somewhere but you don't for the life of you know where, there is nothing like a help like that. I still pull this computer out to consult old files.

Then, c. 1998, a sleek black PowerBook with internet USB card and ethernet, both floppy and CD-ready. A decent transitional computer. It worked fine, but it seemed out of date almost as soon as I got it. It served. No moose or dog, but there was a voice reader that did crazy things with texts.

In 2002, from black to white! an iBook G3, small and powerful, built-in wireless, extra memory, how wonderful. Then, trouble. Fall 2004, taking notes at a conference, the screen disintegrates: broken logic board. Fixed quickly and for free though out of warranty. Mac's error. A minor inconvenience. Fine again till early 2006, when after slowness had set in (too many applications open? but why should I not be able to use Word and Firefox and Preview and iTunes and QuickTime at the same time?), the dreaded question mark. A trip to the Mac store: disk utilities fixed it. But it wasn't, really. It got slower and slower till the truth was unavoidable: the hard drive was going. Back to the Mac store. Where it has been for a week and a day and five hours. If it weren't for a generous child and his iBook G4, I'd be completely out of luck.

Life goes on without my blog, without my listserv council updates. No thoughts on Apple Chill and why we had to kill it, no report on the interesting "Housing First" conference in RTP I went to last week (but do note the Orange County homelessness forum tomorrow night at Stanback Middle School), no update on our inclusionary zoning task force, etc. etc. (Paul, meanwhile, is in Granada, with a working PowerBook G5.)

I see from my chronology that I'm on about a 4-year replacement schedule. But I wasn't ready to get a new computer. Not yet. I love my Mac. Really.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


To my five or six readers: my computer is in the shop getting a new hard drive. It won't be back till early next week. I'm going to take the time off from blogging, not that I've been that great at it lately. After that, we'll see.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Hitherto impossible photography"

san francisco

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake, my blog entry of 12/14/04:

THE YEAR was 1906, and the citizens of San Francisco must have found it a wildly incongruous sight--grown men at child's play in the midst of tragedy. Less than three weeks before, the earth had shaken and the city had burned. . . .

The man in charge, George R. Lawrence, was anything but mad. As soon as news of the disaster had reached Chicago, he made plans to go to San Francisco with his Captive Airship and crew. With the Captive Airship he knew he could take aerial photographs of the prostrate city that no one else in the world could take. . . .

Dr. Simon Baker, professor of photography emeritus from East Carolina University, shows and tells more about these amazing photos and the man behind the camera.

ACLU to Chatham: You don't have a prayer.

The trouble is, the Chatham County Commissioners think they do have the right to pray to Jesus. By letter, the ACLU of North Carolina reminded them of the Establishment Clause and, in particular, of a recent 4th Circuit case making it very clear that they are out of line.

"No one is going to tell me how to pray," said Chairman Bunkey Morgan. Said Commissioner Tommy Emerson, incredibly: "I talked to a Jewish person about it, and he had no problem with the Lord's Prayer."

Commisisoner Carl Outz: "I always thought if they didn't like [the prayer], they could step outside."

No, commissioner, that's now how it works. Outside is not where the meeting is. Did you read the case the ACLU sent you? It happened in Great Falls, South Carolina. A non-Christian woman had reason to attend Town Council meetings. (She happened to be a Wiccan.) She played along for a few meetings, bowing her head, then got tired of faking it. Once she came in late to avoid the prayer. She was not allowed to speak even though she had signed up in advance.

The 4th Circuit could not have been more clear that the goverenment body was improperly advancing one religion "in preference to others." What's so hard to understand?

Well, down in Great Falls thay had some trouble understanding it too.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Laura Moore and I went on the Chapel Hill Spring Garden Tour yesterday. We got to our first stop promptly, at 10 a.m. We were so early, somehow, that we found the lovely garden at 109 Oak Park Drive stone quiet, nobody home. So this is what it's like to be early! we said. A small, beautiful back yard patio garden; we noted the lovely tulips and daffodils and went on. The second garden too, at 101 Hayworth Drive, seemed empty, but there were voices coming from the screened porch. Soon we were greeted by the lady of the house, Gus St. John, who happens to be president of the Chapel Hill Garden Club. "You know, the tour is next weekend," she said with a garden club smile.

Oops! Neither of us had caught the other's stupid mistake. The fact is that we thought this weekend was a fine weekend for a garden tour. Never mind that it was Saturday-Sunday and the Sunday was Easter. That was just the first clue we missed. We thought nothing of the fact that there were no signs saying "turn here for garden tour," none saying "here's the house," nobody at the garden gate validating our $15 tickets. In other words there was every sign trying to tell us something was wrong, yet we probably would have kept visiting empty gardens until somebody called our trespass. We were biased in favor of the wrong date.

The will to believe is a powerful, scary thing.

Happy Easter

Peeps on Earth.

Bonus: an interview with a pontiff who does not pontificate.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Death comes to a preacher

Naturally, I read every word of the Times' lengthy obit on William Sloane Coffin, Jr., reflecting on his long life of conscientious resistance. I learned that a son predeceased him in 1983. Looking at a picture of Coffin preaching in 1982, I thought about what he didn't know.

His son Alex, age 24, died on a stormy night when his car slipped into the Boston Harbor. Ten days later Coffin stood in the pulpit of Riverside Church to preach about it.

The one thing he would not have was the thought that his son's death was part of God's plan.

For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn't go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness. Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths — I can think of many right here in this parish in the five years I've been here — deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions, and even the specter of a Cosmic Sadist — yes, even an Eternal Vivisector. But violent deaths, such as the one Alex died — to understand those is a piece of cake. As his younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket at the Boston funeral, "You blew it, buddy. You blew it." The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is "It is the will of God." Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

For the father, the only way forward was through the grief, unmediated, unconsoled, wherever it might take him.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fast forward: summer

I don't even think about them till June, but tonight, somewhere just before or after our herd of deer could be heard moving across the back yard, we saw fireflies! We both did. It was not an illusion. Earlier in the day, a bluebird at the bluebird house.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Diversity matters

A new study from Tufts University suggests that mixed-race juries in criminal trials do a more careful and thorough job of deliberating than all-white juries. But not for the reason you might think. It wasn't so much because the voices of "the other" were heard: it was because the white people changed their behavior.

Whites on diverse juries cited more case facts, made fewer mistakes in recalling facts and evidence, and pointed out missing evidence more frequently than did those on all-white juries.

Why is this? Did the whites have something to prove, or something to learn? For the study's test case involving a black defendant and a white victim, the presence of non-whites in the jury room seems to have had the effect of getting the white jurors to let go of some of their stereotypes and really look at the facts. As the report says, the implications are go way beyond the courthouse.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Geography lesson

We've had many conversations in our house about North Carolina's peculiar naming conventions. Ed Cone issues the definitive statement.

Gurganus gets a Guggenheim

Congratulations to Allan Gurganus of Hillsborough for his 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship--awarded on promise of a novel in the works.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Roger Hannay: a life in music

We never really knew our neighbor Roger Hannay, who died in January. It was our loss, but some compensation was to be had this afternoon. Former students, colleagues, and UNC music students came together in Hill Hall for a memorial concert of compositions of his spanning a rich and productive lifetime. Selections ranged from a period recording of a 1947 composition for Schoharie High School, Schoharie, New York, to a quintet arrangement of a full orchestra composition he finished just before he went into the hospital in December for heart surgery. His daughter Dawn, a violist who has been with the New York Philharmonic since 1979, performed in that last piece, as well as performing a solo her father wrote for her in 1976.

Hannay was an avant-garde composer, an early experimenter in electronic music. His colleague Michael Kallstrom talked a bit about what it was like in the 1960s and '70s, to be working at the very forefront of music and believing that it mattered--to have audiences that cared. Thanks to the miracle of electronics--not just the crude kind that captured the march of 1947--we were treated to a duet of a live clarinetist against a 1975 recording, as well as a 1980 performance of Hannay himself on piano against a prerecorded electronic tape.

Dawn Hannay said it gives her chills to think about the title her dad gave his last composition, "Farewell, be well." What a comfort it must be to her to know that his music lives on--as it must have been to him to know that she and others would keep it alive.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The genius of the place

When Barrie Oblinger bought a run-down, almost-hundred-year-old house near his own home in Mebane to restore and resell, he didn't know what he was in for. As he started to poke around, he found that the pieces of lumber were numbered, as if there were some order to them or something.

There was. It was a "kit house." With a little research, he found out exactly which kit house it was: "The Standard," from the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan, as seen in their 1917 catalogue.

aladdin standard house

Though the Sears & Roebuck kit houses may be better remembered today, Aladdin was in business longer: till 1981. Around 1996, a lucky thing happened. Someone bought a warehouse full of thousands of Aladdin documents, 15,000 drawings, the catalogues, business records, and made an anonymous gift of them to Central Michigan University.

Barrie visited the archives. With all of that history in mind, he and his partner proceeded to take the house apart and put it together again for the 21st century. They returned the color schemes, outside and in, to the muted earth tones of the original designs, reflective of the arts and crafts movement of the early 20th century. Prior owners had added a room off to the left of the front, nicely done with a fireplace. Barrie and Kevin knocked out the back wall, turned the pantry space into a spacious kitchen, and turned the kitchen into a dining room.

aladdin 1
The "new" room with fireplace.

aladdin 2
Barrie in the new kitchen. The light fixture is made from a heating grate on the floor of the foyer.

aladdin 3
Going up.

aladdin 4
The view from the old kitchen.

Kit houses were houses for average Americans: not everyone could afford or even wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright production. Still, they reflected the quality and craftsmanship of their time. Aladdin offered $1 for every knot that was found in a piece of exposed lumber. Almost a hundred years later, there was no rotten wood in the Mebane house.

dollar a knot

The sales tag was that an Aladdin home could be "built in a day." Maybe not, but happy customers testified to the ease and economies of its construction.

Aladdin's plans were ambitious. By 1920, they were offering to build whole towns. While not making a go of those diversified efforts, or their home furnishings line, they did manage to keep their core market for a very long time. The Standard model in Mebane has a new lease on life. It should be good for another hundred years or so.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Plant Delights

We know Tony Avent's Plant Delights as a delightful nursery well worth the drive out to southeastern Wake County (even at the risk of getting lost, which we have). Its major status as a trend-setting plant boutique is noted in today's New York Times.

One thing the story doesn't mention is Mr. Avent's wacky catalogues. I don't remember getting the latest, which probably means another trip is in order.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Big wigs

I had no idea. In England, barristers and judges still wear wigs!

"Some people think it gives them more authority," Baldwin said of his traditional horsehair headpiece, which trial lawyers are required to wear in British courtrooms. "But most of us just think they're itchy."

So many issues to consider, according to this article. Do wigs level the playing field for the young against the old? Do they set up an artificial hierarchy between barristers and solicitors? Do they support healthy anonymity in criminal trials? Does there come a point when they're so yellow and smelly that they have to go? But my thoughts on the matter were biased long ago by Virginia Woolf:

There they go, our brothers who have been educated at public schools and universities, mounting those steps, passing in and out of those doors, ascending those pulpits, preaching, teaching, administering justice, practising medicine, transacting business, making money. It is a solemn sight always—a procession, like a caravanserai crossing a desert. Great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers, uncles—they all went that way, wearing their gowns, wearing their wigs, some with ribbons across their breasts, others without. One was a bishop. Another a judge. One was an admiral. Another a general. One was a professor. Another a doctor. And some left the procession and were last heard of doing nothing in Tasmania; were seen, rather shabbily dressed, selling newspapers at Charing Cross. But most of them kept in step, walked according to rule, and by hook or by crook made enough to keep the family house, somewhere, roughly speaking, in the West End, supplied with beef and mutton for all, and with education for Arthur. It is a solemn sight, this procession, a sight that has often caused us, you may remember, looking at it sidelong from an upper window, to ask ourselves certain questions. . . . And they are very important questions; and we have very little time in which to answer them. The questions that we have to ask and to answer about that procession during this moment of transition are so important that they may well change the lives of all men and women for ever. For we have to ask ourselves, here and now, do we wish to join that procession, or don’t we? On what terms shall we join that procession? Above all, where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?

Chapel Hill: not so special after all.

I had this idea that there was something special about the level of scrutiny that Chapel Hillians give to development projects--the amount of time citizens spend giving input to town boards and the council before a project breaks ground. According to this survey, "One in five American families have actively opposed new developments by forming neighborhood groups, calling or writing elected officials, signing or disseminating petitions, attending and speaking out at local hearings, fundraising, or hiring attorneys or engineering experts."

Also: "
The degree of importance voters place on a political candidate’s position on growth issues increases with the age of the voter." I guess that's no surprise.

Landfills and other LULUs

The Chapel Hill News this Sunday reported a conversation at the local assembly of county governments meeting about the problem of waste disposal in Orange County. Some years ago, political leaders decided as a matter of policy that no more landfills would be sited in the county--that once the current landfill reached its limit, our trash would be shipped to some place "off." Like Jim Ward of Chapel Hill and Joal Broun of Carrboro, who said so at the meeting, I'm not comfortable with that decision.

A landfill is a LULU--a locally undesirable land use. The trouble with sending your trash elsewhere is that elsewhere, too, is somewhere. A few years ago, the commissioners down east in Greene County decided that hosting a regional landfill would be a good way to pull their decaying economy out of the dumpster. So they hastily approved one. The trouble is that they cut a few corners--rules meant to ensure that if you do site a new landfill, you don't put it right next to the old one, burdening the same community, unless there really is no other choice. I was part of the legal team that helped Greene County citizens fight their elected officials all the way to the Court of Appeals, where they won.

Later, under questionable circumstances, Greene County became the site of a new state prison. Yup, that's another LULU.

UPDATE via Frank Warren of Greene County: Peaceful demonstration opposing the siting of landfills in North Carolina scheduled for 3 p.m. May 16 in Sandyfield, Columbus County. "Estimates show that North Carolina could become the nation's fourth largest trash importer if five large landfills proposed in the rural eastern and piedmont counties of Brunswick, Camden, Columbus, Hyde, and Richmond are built." The attractions to landfill operators are low-priced land, the central East Coast location, and North Carolina's lack of a surcharge on garbage. "We must ask ourselves are we ready for trash to become one of North Carolina's biggest import commodities."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Blooker madness

A few weeks ago, a big box of books arrived in the mail for Paul. He went on a reading frenzy to judge these worthy contestants for the Blooker Prize. The past week or so it has been hard to keep up with him, what with one BBC/Guardian/Marketplace/USA Today interview after another. The prizes were announced this morning.

I'm glad it's over, because now I can settle in with the winner, Julie and Julia.

Runner-up in the nonfiction category is Chatham County's own Lyle Estill for Biodiesel Power.