Friday, March 31, 2006

Appalachian spring

We're off to Boone & Appalachian State for the weekend. Tucker's Odyssey of the Mind team from Smith Middle School is competing for state!

Here are a couple of great photo blogs for your pleasure . . .

Southern Highlands Cam

Blue Ridge blog

UPDATE 4/2: The Smith team advances to the world competition in May, along with teams from Glenwood Elementary, Chapel Hill High, and East Chapel Hill High

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Against tribalism

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribes live on Texas' oldest Indian reservation. On a grade school field trip there, I remember learning an odd thing: the ceremonial dances we saw the Indians perform were not the tribe's native dances, because none were remembered. They had to learn these dances from Oklahoma Indians. The tribe's web site confirms that the performances were created as a response to a "boom in tourism" in the early 1960s.

alabama-coushatta indian
Performer in "authentic Tribal Dance Square," Alabama-Coushatta reservation, c. 1965.

A persistent critic of heritage tourism, David Lowenthal has recently written,

Each group claims its 'own' history and heritage, insisting that only a Native American can know what it was like to have been Indian, only an African American to have been black, only a Jew an ancient Israelite. Ancestral mystique determines how legacies are divided, whose legends are heard, how and to whom heritage is displayed. This is politically correct, but practically wrong - wrong because we are all multiply mixed, wrong because ancestral pasts cannot be possessed anyway. To say 'my ancestors, the Gauls', or 'my forebears, the Athenians', or 'my people, the Africans', makes a statement not about them but about us; these Gauls, Athenians, Africans are not actual progenitors but presentist emblems of ancestry. 'Claims that "we have always been a people" actually are appeals to become a people, appeals not grounded in history but rather, attempts to create history.'

Creating history is a fraught enterprise. 'Who has the right to frame and interpret the past of others?' The implication is that no one has such a right. But we all have a stake in each other's history. No 'past of others' is truly distinct from our own. All pasts are those of others and ourselves. Nobody 'owns' a past whose interpretation is their exclusive privilege. The real question is 'not which past should count as ours but why any past should count as ours', since most past events and actions did not happen to and were not done by us. 'The history we study is never our own; it is always the history of people who were in some respects like us and in others different.'

Thanks to Ralph Luker for the link.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

You go, Justin

Justin Watt, a Tar Heel living in California (and regular reader of GreeneSpace), saw this billboard and created this blog entry. He got a big-foot letter from Liberty Counsel on behalf of the billboard's sponsors. Jason persuaded the ACLU to write a powerful letter defending his right of fair use in the form of parody for social comment. Liberty Counsel has apparently backed off. This is wonderful--but how many big-foot letters end up intimidating the recipient and silencing lawful speech? Congratulations to Justin for knowing his rights and acting on them.

More from Paul.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The people, yes

Carl Sandburg lives! Inspired by a presentation by Bruce Sterling at the South by Southwest conference (see video), some folks in Greensboro have created a wiki for the use of the homeless and poor--people without access to the webbed world.

Sandburg was a creature of the establishment by the end of his career, but in his early days he was engaged in radical politics, even writing for the International Socialist Review. As a young man he was a hobo. The internet would amaze Sandburg, and I have no doubt he'd be thrilled with the Greensboro project.

"Hobo" is an old-fashioned word, one of those we don't use any more, like "vagabond," "bum," "gipsy," "tramp," "drifter," "derelict," you fill in the blank, all of them bad. I don't know how the term "homeless" caught on or when. I'm sure it was intended to avoid the sad connnotations of all of the above. It's descriptive enough, maybe too much so: it points to a lack. The lack of a home. These are people defined by what they do not have.

Labels are tricky things, and surely it matters which categories we choose. The whole idea of labeling, even, can lead to trouble. Ed Cone, who tipped me off to the Greensboro site, wonders if the label chosen by the site's creators--"anyone living at or below the poverty line in Greensboro"-- will be "off-putting or limiting." He caught it for that from the site's creators, Sean Coon and Cara Michele. Still Ed wonders: "if you give people who are typed by society according to their economic status a forum, and you label that forum according to economic status, aren't you locking them into the economic labeling?"

This conversation calls to mind another one. Around the early 1990s there arose a feminist critique of "rights theory."

[R]ights provide the opportunity for the replication and reiteration of power relationships. . . . [F]eminists cannot then turn to rights as an umproblematic strategy for legal subjectivity.

The very concept of rights as we know them in western democracy, so these white American women said, arose out of the Enlightenment, itself the creation of patriarchy. Better to throw the whole thing out and start over. Not so fast, was the response from other quarters. We've marched and gone to jail for those rights. African Amerian legal scholar Patricia Williams wrote,

Rights feel so new in the mouths of most black people. It is still so deliciously empowering to say. It is a sign for and gift of selfhood that is very hard to contemplate restructuring ... at this point in history. It is the magic wand of visibility and invisibility, of inclusion and exclusion, of power and no power ...

When you have the tools that built the master's house, it's easy to criticize and intellectualize. When you're outside looking in, maybe the labels are not the point; maybe you don't see the labels and categories as barriers, given the more substantial barriers you face. The People, Yes! is just getting off the ground. Its organizers seem remarkably committed. I'm betting it soars.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lost and found in Chapel Hill

The third annual Chapel Hill community art project debuts tomorrow night. This year's theme is "lost and found." Organizers were braced for an outpouring of "found objects," like this or this, but what they got was a lot of something else, equally interesting.

lost & found

Monday, March 20, 2006

Technically, spring

In exactly one hour, spring is officially sprung. Still a little nippy in these parts, but it's hard to complain after such a non-winter.

crabapple tree

Every year I think this old crabapple, fighting to escape the shade of a big old maple tree, ought to be dying. There's an optimist for you.

Categorical imperatives

Merely in order to write one or two transitional paragraphs in an essay that happens to span about 150 years of legal history, I’m trying to understand a fundamental shift in legal reasoning from the “classical” period of 19th century American law to the progressive era of the early 20th century. This is the kind of thing they don’t typically teach in law school. Law school as I knew it was a trade school: got a broken contract? here’s how you fix it. Maybe that’s changed some. But I digress.

Morton Horwitz’ Transformation of American Law, 1870-1960 is a place to start. The hallmark of the classical period, he writes, was the distinction between public law and private law. Public law engaged the coercive power of the state; private law guarded the sacred American space of private life, where the individual is free to act without the interference of government regulation. Private law principles underwrote the notion of “liberty of contract” that was upheld by the Supreme Court in Lochner v. New York (1905). But that opinion, which struck down a law regulating the hours that bakery employees could be required to work on the theory that the employment contract was a voluntary agreement, dramatically illustrated the fallacy of the “will” theory of contract law in an industrializing society.

With the reaction to Lochner, then, the 20th century progressive critique of the nice categories of private and public law began in earnest. Within the courts themselves the distinction began to fall, as judges and juries reacted to the demands of business and industry. More and more, contracts (and even noncontractual relationships) between private parties were subjected to uniform standards of objective reasonableness—at the expense, if necessary, of the subjective intentions of the parties. Now if private contracts are to be interpreted in the light of business conventions and public policy quite apart from the individual intentions of the parties, what happens to “private” law? And if there is no more private law—no more neutral, “night watchman” theory of the benign operation of the law over private parties—then the whole operation of the law is open to question. Exactly what social policies were the courts pursuing, and to what ends?

These are fascinating questions, and I’m only halfway through the book, and nowhere close to tackling my troublesome paragraphs, but my thoughts are interrupted by another fascinating issue of categorization: Michael Bérubé’s updated blogroll. Michael has been much troubled himself:

This was the moment I’d been dreading for months. Categorizing the blogs! I feared that every step I took would kill a living thing. What if I classified someone’s blog as anarcho-syndicalist when in fact many of its posts were crypto-Maoist? What if I designated “Sivacracy” as post-Impressionist when in fact its studied pointillism owes a great deal to Scott McLemee’s experiments with color and line? And (this last question bedevils all of us literature professors) what was I to do with those damned medievalists? Especially the ones whose blogs are full of thorns?

I’m delighted that GreeneSpace made the list (category: “Fabulous Ones”). That's definitive, isn't it?

Three years in Iraq

Reviewing a book for the Virginia Woolf Miscellany puts me in mind of an entry in Woolf's diary of Aug. 27, 1918:

Now I confess that I have half forgotten what I meant to say about the German prisoners; Milton & life. I think it was that ? all I can remember now (Friday, Aug. 30th) is that the existence of life in another human being is as difficult to realise as a play of Shakespeare when the book is shut. This occurred to me when I saw Adrian talking to the tall German prisoner. By rights they should have been killing each other. The reason why it is easy to kill another person must be that one’s imagination is too sluggish to conceive what his life means to him--the infinite possibilities of a succession of days which are furled in him, & have already been spent. However, I forget how this was to go on . . .

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Rev. Bill Moyers

Listening on the radio to the powerful talk that Bill Moyers gave in Greensboro the other night (online at WUNC), I thought how preacherly he sounded, the cadences, the calm authority, the call to conscience. I had forgotten, till my mother reminded me, that there's a good reason: he's a graduate of Southwestern Theological Seminary.

Moyers is included, along with Hal Crowther, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Walt Whitman, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, Robert Kennedy, Zora Neale Hurston, Wendell Berry, and others, in Robert Shetterly's portrait gallery of Americans Who Tell the Truth. Amen.

Friday, March 17, 2006

C.S.A.: The Movie

There's an interesting discusson on the H-Net Afro-Am listerv about "The C.S.A.," a movie directed by Kevin Willmott with an assist from Spike Lee--an alternative history both strange and familiar. The trailer, evidently, caused quite a stir. You can see it on the web site, which is frame-heavy and hard to navigate; however the blog is accessible.

Timely info

Slate magazine reviews the best (and worst) alarm clocks.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Getting real about homelessness

Seattle, like Orange County and a couple hundred other cities and counties, has signed on to project of ending homelessness in 10 years. They adopted their plan last summer; ours is still in the making. The report from Seattle is not promising.

"The intent here is to end homelessness," says [Philip] Mangano [the Bush Administration's point man for the 10-year plans].
Such talk is now accompanied by $4.1 billion in the 2007 federal budget for homeless programs. But these programs don't cover medical needs or fund much housing. And in the same budget, the Bush administration cut about $3 billion from Medicaid, which provides much of the health care for America's homeless, and cut federal housing dollars by $600 million.
"You can't fill a $52 billion hole with $4.1 billion," says Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a San Francisco–based group, referring to the generation-long gap in federal public-housing spending.
And local governments like the city of Seattle and King County will be left to deal with the inevitable result.
"The feds are making our job much harder," says Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. "We are getting doublespeak from the Bush administration."

The news is no better in North Carolina, where the state is "divesting" itself of mental health services.

The steering committee for the Orange County process meets next week. They're going to be reading Malcolm Gladwell's good New Yorker article on strategies to deal with homelessness. Sooner or later, they will need to read this grim report from the front lines in Seattle.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sunrise, sunset

Seems like only yesterday that the idea of having a baby was only a wonderful, exciting possibility. (Glad I didn't know about this theory, or see this video.) Today, he has braces.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

MLK: Same old same old

The arguments against naming roads after Martin Luther King, Jr. in Greenville and Carteret County are depressingly familiar.

In Greenville, part of Fifth Street is already renamed for MLK. It's the other part that the fight is about. Strong allegiance in some quarters to "historic" Fifth Street.

Before the Civil War, down in Charleston they renamed the prerevolutionary Boundary Street after John C. Calhoun. I wonder about the hue and cry for "historic" Boundary Street.

UPDATE: Historic Airport Road. Bidding is open.

On the subject of violence and "terrorism"

If you're up for wasting some time and not feeling too bad about it, browse a few of the Koufax nominees for best blog post. I did--mainly to confirm that my vote goes to John McGowan's July 7 guest post for Michael Bérubé, "The Rhetorics of Violence." (Runner-up: "Skin and the color of money" by Pam Spaulding.)

I was moved enough at the time by John's efforts to come to terms with violence as a rhetorical act, giving rise to a range of rhetorical responses, most of them unproductive, that I blogged about it myself, connecting his tentative move toward pacifism to the longstanding, principled pacifism of my favorite Christian theologian, Stanley Hauerwas.

Since the incredible act committed on the UNC campus on March 3 by Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, the question of how to respond to an act of violence that the actor himself describes as political has taken on a local urgency. Commenting on Eric Muller's first foray into the subject, I pointed out the obvious: that since 9/11 the word "terrorist" itself has become contaminated. The field of language is polarized. If the actor happens to be Middle Eastern, assuming he is not mentally ill (and we don't yet know that he isn't), he must be a terrorist, with all of the extreme baggage that the word implies. On Orange Politics, and within the UNC community, empassioned discussions are going on about what to call this act, what it means, what the consequences are. As Eric later points out, the community itself is the victim, and so it is right and healthy for this discussion to go on.

I'd like to bring the community voices of John McGowan (of UNC) and Stanley Hauerwas (of Duke) into the conversation. John, writing in the wake of the London subway bombings, concedes that a pacifist response strikes him as "intellectually and emotionally incoherent." Yet he continues,

But my response to today’s bombings in London is a sickening: “Here we go again.” So I am casting about for some alternative narrative to replace the all too predictable one we are about to reenact.

The rhetoric of response to violence is predicated on understanding violence itself as rhetorical. The terrorists are trying to “send us a message.” Their message is: give up your way of life or we will destroy you. Once their actions are interpreted in this way, the tenor of the response is pre-scripted. As Tony Blair said it today: “We will not allow violence to change our societies and our values.” How we will send our message? By imposing our will on theirs. “We shall prevail and they shall not.” Their initiatory act of violence calls forth our responding acts of violence.

The advantage to the pacifist response, he finds, is that it shows that the alternatives are worse. It challenges our ideas about "good" violence and "bad" violence. "Pacifism asks us to cast a cold eye on this human capacity to take joy in violence, irrespective of its consequences or its legitimacy. We need to devise ways to push a leash on or divert such capacities—and we should be wary of the high-minded or instrumental rhetorics that often mask a love of violence for its simplicity and the heady sense of vitality it affords."

Hauerwas, similarly, turns to pacifism for pragmatic purposes. Pacifism provides a discipline for avoiding the ready label of "terrorism":

Explanation domesticates terror, making it part of "our" world. I believe attempts to explain must be resisted. Rather, we should learn to wait before what we know not, hoping to gain time and space sufficient to learn how to speak without lying. I should like to think that pacifism names the habits and community necessary to gain the time and place that is an alternative to revenge.

"But," he continues, "I do not pretend that I know how that is accomplished."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A surprising honor!

It looks like GreeneSpace is nominated for a Koufax Award this year in a new category, "best state and local blog." There's no way I could ask you to vote for me given the competition. Worthy local nominees include OrangePolitics, Blue NC, Dent, Facing South. In the same category just down the road are Ed Cone, Greensboro 101, Hogg's Blog, Pam's House Blend, BlogAsheville. Plus my Texas fave, Grits for Breakfast. See what I mean? With that kind of company, I'm kind of blown away to be in the running.

Maybe the best thing about the nomination is that it tells me what GreeneSpace is: a "state and local blog." To be sure, I've just about given up on the national scene. It's too depressing, and besides, others deal with it so much better. If, as a local public official or just an observer, I can offer occasional insight into issues close to home, that might be good enough. The other topics I blog about are unpredictable and purely follow my own scattered interests--not a great way to go if the goal is to become the go-to blog on one particular thing or another. But I don't seem to be motivated toward that kind of focus. After going on two years of blogging, "law, life, literature and a little politics" still sounds about right.

It was fun to meet up with local bloggers--and one visiting celebrity--the other night at 3 Cups. The internet is well known for bring far-flung people together, but we shouldn't discount how it can create new communities right here under our noses.


Paul and I watched the first half of last night's game at the Flying Burrito. In the booth behind me, a mother was explaining how the tournament works to her daughter, who looked to be about six: If you win you get to keep going, but if you lose, "you're over." The game started, and soon it looked like it might be all over for the Heels, but then they pulled ahead. "Now they're playing like our Tar Heels," beamed the mother.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Triumph of American Man

Continuing my fascination* with the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, here's the full recording of the Travelers Insurance Companies' exhibit, translated from the RCA red vinyl edition.

*This is one of my guest posts on IsThatLegal? from about a year ago.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Finding your wayfinding

OK, it's like this: I prefer signs to "signage." Like "footprint," "signage" is a term of urban planning (the planning of the "built environment") that has crept into everyday life. I guess it's supposed to mean a system of signs, a way of finding your way around. But wait: evidently it isn't enough to have signage. Now we need "wayfinding."

The Chapel Hill "streetscape" committee tells us the downtown needs "'way-finding' signage."

No doubt it does need something. On my first trip down here from points north, almost 20 years ago, I ended up at the UNC Hospital complex rather than downtown on the main campus as I intended. That's because the sign at the point where you veer off 15-501 to the right to get on Franklin Street said "Downtown." It didn't say UNC. (The first sign mentioning UNC was at Manning Drive, which is why I ended up at the hospitals.) I don't think the situation has changed. Signage would have been nice, but I would have settled for a decent sign.

But this wayfinding thing goes beyond signage. In fact, wayfinding is not signage. A concept that's been around since 1960, it encompasses much more than signs. To create successful "wayfinding," you need to

  • Clearly identify arrival points.
  • Provide convenient parking and accessible walkways located adjacent to each public entry.
  • Locate information desks within each public entry visible from the front door.
  • Place elevator lobbies so they can be seen upon entering the building.
  • Use consistent lighting, floor coverings and architectural finishes in primary public corridor systems.
  • Situate memorable landmarks along corridors and at key decision points.
  • Design public waiting areas that are visually open to corridors.
  • Distinguish public from non-public corridors by using varied finishes, colors and lighting
  • Harmonize floor numbers between connecting buildings.

All of which would be good for for our downtown Chapel Hill development and streetscape projects--no matter what you call it.

Arrests in Alabama church burnings

Three Alabama college students were arrested today as a result of the investigation into the burning of 10 churches in the state. Was there a terrorist element to those crimes or were they "merely pointless destruction"? (The accused say it was a joke gone wrong.)

Spam poetry

Or, spoetry.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Missing the marker, missing the mark

It's no great mystery what happened to this historical marker outside of Gilmer, Texas. The original was damaged or destroyed during a highway improvement project, and it hasn't been properly replaced.

Meshack RobertsMeshack, a faithful slave, came to Gilmer with his master, O.E. Roberts before 1850. While Mr. Roberts was away in the Civil War, Meshack ran the farm and looked after the family. To get money to finance farm costs, Meshack shod horses for soldiers and others and sold ginger cakes. Meshack was an example of the sincere loyalty found all over the South.

At war's end, his master gave him freedom, land and material to build a home. Meshack later moved to Marshall where he served in the Texas legislature. In 1882 [1872], Meshack helped establish Wiley College for negroes.

The state appears in no hurry to replace the temporary marker with a new one. Since they're taking their time, I would like to suggest some modest changes in the text. Meshack Roberts did not just up and move to Marshall. In 1867, he was beaten by the KKK and left for dead on a road outside of Gilmer, whereupon his former master, O.E. Roberts, did help him relocate in Marshall where he would have federal protection.

According to James Smallwood in Time of Hope, Time of Despair: Black Texans During Reconstruction (1981), 1867 was a period of racial turmoil: during that year "[v]iolence occurred in more than one-half of the organized counties." The reason? The jig was up. President Andrew Johnson's anemic Reconstruction, under which a status quo Texas legislature had gotten away with refusing to ratify the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments and had enacted "black codes" to keep the formerly enslaved under tight control, was over. Congressional Reconstruction had begun under military occupation. In order to be readmitted to the Union, the state had to draft a new constitution that would grant universal male suffrage. During the interim, violence and intimidation ruled. The Cincinnati Commercial reported that "hell has transferred its capital from pandemonium to Jefferson, and the devil is holding high carnival in Gilmer, Tyler, Canton, Quitman, Boston, Marshall, and other places in Texas" (Smallwood 143). In January 1870, after a deeply contested election the prior November, the new constitution was declared ratified. In March, President Grant readmitted Texas into the Union, and in April, civil authority was returned to newly elected Republican governor, Richard J. Davis. Congressional Reconstruction was over.

Even under the new government the Democrats quickly gained control. (Davis was defeated by the "redeemer" candidate Richard Coke in 1873.) But not so in Marshall and Harrison County, with its strong Freedmen's Bureau and large black population. (See Randolph B. Campbell, A Southern Community in Crisis: Harrison County, Texas, 1850-1880 (1983).) In 1873, "Shack" Roberts, now established in Marshall as a blacksmith and Methodist minister, was elected to the Thirteenth Legislature, representing Harrison and Rusk Counties.

Roberts, who was illiterate, was an advocate for black education. Even before his election he was working to establish Wiley College in Marshall, the first black college west of the Mississippi. (Civil rights leader James Farmer graduated from Wiley, where his father, one of the few African American Ph.D.s of his time, had a distinguished career.) Roberts went on to serve in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Legislatures. His service came to an end in 1878, however, when "redemption" finally claimed Harrison County.

Was Meshack Roberts a "faithful slave," as the marker claims? I think he probably was, in the same sense that the historical Uncle Tom was, and for similar reasons, including enlightened self-interest. But in my project to rewrite the marker, those words would be the first to go. Even today the idea of the "faithful slave" fuels the argument that the war was not about slavery.

A new book, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War, by Bruce Levine, aims to put this fiction to rest. Writes David Blight in a Washington Post review,

Slaves' fidelity to their masters' cause -- a falsehood constructed to support claims that the war was not about slavery -- has long formed one of the staple arguments in Lost Cause ideology. . . .

Levine demonstrates, in one crisp, convincing quotation after another, that to Confederates the war was all about preserving their "property" in slaves. For example, plantation mistress Catherine Edmondston condemned any attempt to arm slaves because it would "destroy at one blow the highest jewel in the Crown." "Our independence," chimed in North Carolina Gov. Zebulon Vance, "is chiefly desirable for the preservation of our political institutions, the principal of which is slavery." And Brig. Gen. Clement H. Stevens spoke for most Confederate officers when he announced, "If slavery is to be abolished then I take no more interest in our fight." While many other historians have gamely mustered the same argument in this struggle between scholarship and public memory, Levine delivers what ought to be a death blow to the still-popular refrain in Lost Cause rhetoric that the war had never been fought for slavery.

Not surprisingly, very little beyond what I've reported is known about Meshack Roberts--neither the particulars of his birth nor the time and place of his death. We get a sense, perhaps, of his personality in this statement: "One observer noted that his use of humor and sarcasm when addressing the House elicited the laughter and favor of his fellow legislators." Surely Roberts was a faithful slave, freedman, and public servant: faithful to the promise of emancipation.

UPDATE April 2007: I have an essay on Roberts forthcoming in the African American National Biography.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Civic Center Breakdown

Every week,, a news aggregator for planning and development, publishes a "Friday Funny"--a Dilbert cartoon or something from the Onion, that sort of thing. Yesterday, the Friday Funny was the anticlimactic implosion of the old Raleigh civic center, as reported in the Independent Weekly.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Invisible homelessness

For a period of months a year or so ago, an old blue van was parked in our neighborhood at regular intervals. It seemed to show up before 10 a.m., and then sometime late at night it disappeared. (Except on weekends, when it didn't show.) Occasionally you could glimpse the driver as he walked up a gravel road back toward the van from, presumably, some place down on Morgan Creek. A homeless man working a night shift? So I would have been willing to guess, but we didn't know. Then he was gone.

His usual parking spot was just around the corner from this house (which is still on the market, if you're interested).

A person living out of a car and holding a job might well not show up on an annual count of the homeless. Indeed, he or she might take great pains to disguise the fact. How similar, I wonder, is the story of the man in the van to this one offered by William Alford, a homeless man in Northern Virginia?

During the day, I am among you, taking special care to seem no different. I bathe, shave, wear clean clothes daily, and otherwise keep a low profile. That requires effort. The suburban homeless quickly learn to make no offensive, intrusive, or otherwise attention-drawing manifestations of any kind. Tom Star-King, a 30-year off-and-on homeless “veteran” from Fairfax County explained it on a 2002 segment on PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly titled “Homeless in America”: “You’re gonna get discriminated against if you appear to be homeless. That’s why you have to keep up a façade.”
Indeed, you’re not going to see the urban variety of homeless here in the ’burbs. If you make a nuisance of yourself, you’ll end up locked away in a jail cell or doped up in a psych ward. We don’t want to live indoors that badly.

Alford hates shelters. (He's not the only homeless person I've heard to say this.)
Of the nice, clean shelters where the truly offensive are screened out—such as the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston—most are likely dormitories clustered with guys of varying standards of hygiene snoring, farting, yammering, and thrashing in their bunks. If you can deal with that, bully for you.

He prefers to take his chances in his car, exposing himself to "a certain cadre—mostly young males—who simply cannot abide leaving unmolested those who seem vulnerable."

Alford's remarkable story relates his fall from a CAD drafter for a defense-related corporation to a cab driver not quite making it on his own, his putting himself through college where he was able to polish his considerable writing skills, and a marriage that fails for lack of money. Degree in hand, he looks for work but faces blatant age discrimination. Graduate school tantalizes but is not an option. Finally he is back on the streets, or rather the unwelcoming shoulders of suburban roads.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Birmingham: new takes on an old story

"Keep. Do not sell," said the label on the box tucked away in a closet at the Birmingham News. The box of thousands of negatives from the civil rights era was found more than a year ago by Alexander Cohn, a photo intern at the paper. With the paper's cooperation, he tracked down dozens of the photographs' subjects and eyewitnesses to the events, as well as a few of the photographers themselves, in order to build a record around this remarkable find. Thirty of the photos were published this past Sunday in the News' print edition, with many more published online. (Note: registration required, but well worth it.)

Listen to John Lewis narrate the 1961 Freedom Rides.

A picture of a 1956 Birmingham City Council meeting at which integrating the buses is discussed is especially revealing. The motto on the wall says, "Cities are what men make them." The rows of seats are filled with white people hiding behind newspapers, lowering their heads--anything to avoid being caught on camera.

Embarrassment, in fact, is what kept most of these pictures from the light of day. From this week's Washington Post report:

"The editors thought if you didn't publish it, much of this would go away," said Ed Jones, 81, a photographer at the newspaper from 1942 to 1987. "Associated Press kept on wanting pictures, and the News would be slow on letting them have them, so they flooded the town with photographers. The AP started sending pictures all over, and it mushroomed."

Robert Adams, 84, a photographer who joined the newspaper in 1940 and retired in 1985, said, "I think the News as an institution did not try to inflame the situation by use of photographs or stories."

They didn't print the embarrassing pictures, but something kept them from throwing away the negatives. And so now, coming at us out of time, these pictures have a different impact: they suggest that even when we think we've heard all about what happened in Alabama forty or fifty years ago, there's still more to the story.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The right to remain ignorant

Americans can rattle off the name of the judges on "American Idol," but can't identify the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Daffodils on Morgan Creek

Morgan Creek daffodils=

Happy St. David's Day. Pluck a daffodil and wear it to work.