Wednesday, May 31, 2006
An unexpected pleasure of our trip to Iowa, on the way back to the Minneapolis airport, was a side trip off I-35: to the Spam Museum near the Hormel headquarters in Austin, Minnesota.
Have Spam with a Viking at the Green Midget Cafe.
In the Cyber Diner, you can find links to . . . Spam sites!
You'll flip for what's next . . .
. . . as you're conveyed into the gift shop.
Which is largely what it's all about. (Patak's is a Hormel label. Who knew?)
Monday, May 22, 2006
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Friday, May 19, 2006
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Town council to hold forum on wireless networking tomorrow night. (Companion piece: a factual correction on Orange Politics.) I'm looking forward to listening and learning. See you there?
Jeffrey Beam writes in the aftermath of the West House decision. He points out, importantly, that it is not true that West House is ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places. A correct but misleading statement by university officials got way too much mileage in the press. To say the house is "not eligible" for listing, as the university has, is true only in that a nomination for listing has never been filed. A nomination is a narrative document, an argument for why the building deserves to be listed. It takes work to create. The university has never made the effort. As Jeffrey writes, preservations familiar with West House have no doubt that the effort of writing a nomination would have gotten the building placed on the National Register.
Roses to four Chapel Hill Odyssey of the Mind teams, including Tucker's, for advancing to the world competition. Woo woo! This time next week we'll be headed for Ames, Iowa.
Hillsborough friend Julia Workman is Orange County Teacher of the Year. Congratulations, Julia.
Today's best shot is from Michael Czeiszperger.
Farther afield: decision on disposition of proceeds from North Carolina red light cameras upheld by the Court of Appeals. High Point plans to appeal. It's a unanimous decision, though, and well reasoned. The law says 90 percent of "all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the state, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.” The city argued that the revenues collected were for breach of civil law, not penal. Pointing out that municipalities do not have the power to create criminal offenses through town ordinances, the court looked past this technical difference. When you're fined locally for running a red light it's as if you're fined for violating the corresponding state law that is a criminal offense. Interestingly, one of the cases cited as precedent is the one that UNC-Chapel Hill recently lost in the Supreme Court regarding the application of the same law to the fines collected for violations of campus traffic ordinances. Even though the Board of Trustees called these "civil penalties," the court found them "mostly penal in nature."
Many of you know that this decision is not a great disappointment to me.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
One of your constituents has contacted me and other members of the Chapel Hill Town Council to ask us to encourage you to join us in speaking out as a local political body in favor of impeaching the President. I am happy to do so.
On May 8, we responded to a petition from a group of our citizens, Elders for Peace from a retirement center named Carol Woods, calling for President Bush's impeachment. We acted on it in real time and unanimously. It's not the first time the Council has taken a stand on issues of national concern over which we in fact have no direct control, and I expect it won't be the last.
Why? Because in the words of one of our Elders, "You are the closest governmental body to the people." Who else can they turn to if not us? Washington is very, very far away.
The Chapel Hill Herald thinks we did the right thing:
They believed -- as we do -- that it is wholly appropriate for local officials, for a local community, to take a stand on an issue as important as impeachment and the conduct of a president. They believed -- as we do -- that even small communities far away from the centers of power have not just the right, but the obligation to stand up when they believe there is injustice.
Our distinguished constitutional law professor-emeritus Dan Pollitt, writing in this week's Independent Weekly, offers a valuable history lesson on prior impeachment proceedings. He too believes that we in the grass roots are "obligated to speak out":
The greatest danger to democracy lies in an inert populace. One person throwing pebbles can make ripples. But if a second and third person join in, the pond is full of waves, maybe breakers. That is the theory and hope of democracy.
I encourage you to listen to your constituents, consult your own conscience, and, if you are so moved, to join us in roiling the waters.
A Southern community is thus seen to have it in its power to choose its Negro inhabitants. If it is afraid of ambition and enterprise on the part of black folk, if it believes that "education spoils a nigger," then it will get the shiftless, happy-go-lucky semi-criminal black man; and the ambitious and enterprising ones will either sink or migrate. On the other hand, many honest Southerners fear to encourage the pushing, enterprising Negro. Durham has not feared. It has distinctly encouraged the best type of black man by active aid and passive tolerance.
At the same time, Du Bois recognized that this "solution" was less than perfect: "To be sure, the future still has its problems, for the significance of the rise of a group of black people to the Durham height and higher, means not a disappearance but, in some respects, an accentuation of the race problem."
A less than perfect future unfolded in Durham, with, among other things, the destruction of the Hayti community at the hands of urban renewal, recently well told by Fitz Brundage. Du Bois witnessed the proudly renovated White Rock Baptist Church ("They are rebuilding their churches on a scale almost luxurious"). Martin Luther King spoke there in 1960. In 1967, it was demolished.
But in 1912, Du Bois kept the faith. Most of all, he believed in Trinity College and its leaders and benefactors, especially the Duke family who would soon claim its name: "The influence of a Southern institution of learning of high ideals; with a president and professors who have dared to speak out for justice toward black men; with a quarterly journal, the learning and catholicism of which is well known -- this has made white Durham willing to see black Durham rise without organizing mobs or secret societies to 'keep the niggers down.'"
Sunday, May 14, 2006
His speech was brief, wise and unsentimental. According to Thornton and Lensing's preface to the monograph of the speech (which I treasure), it was only the second commencement address he'd ever made. Drawing on old connections between Ireland and North Carolina, he established common bonds between these two storytelling cultures and proceeded to tell a story. It was about his childhood. Asked to write a report on his "Day at the Seaside," he improvised. He had been to the seaside, as it happened, but it wasn't a particularly luxurious experience. So he made something up, with the "chief lyrical effort . . . reserved for the description of the bucket and spade I'd used at the beach, the sky-blue enamelled inside of the bucket and its technicolour outside, its canary yellows and cardinal scarlets and greenfinch greens, a spectrum of dazzle and desire that gladdened the heart; and then the little spade, so trimly shafted and youngster-friendly, all fitted and edged and scaled down to perfection."
Fine phrases, but the reality was that the beach tools his mother had bought for her children were an ordinary tin milk can and wooden spoons--practical, "durable" items that would repay their investment not only at the beach but also back home. The moral?
I want to avoid preaching at you but I do want to convince you that the true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to the actual givens of your own lives. True to your own solitude, your own secret knowledge. Because oddly enough, it is that intimate, deeply personal knowledge that links us most vitally to reality and keeps us most reliably connected to one another. Calling a spade a spade may be a bit reductive at times but calling a wooden spoon a wooden spoon is the beginning of wisdom, and you will be sure to keep going in life on a far steadier psychic keel and with far more radiant individuality if you navigate by that principle. Doing so may entail self-doubt, some divergence from the accepted wisdom, yet whenever the unconventional decision or the unusual move issues from a freedom that has been earned rather than a desire for notice, it has the force of revelation.
As he spoke these words on that beautiful Sunday morning in Kenan Stadium, few if any of us understood the scale of the tragedy that had unfolded the night before in a fraternity house on Cameron Avenue. Ten years later, officials suggest it could happen again. "It requires constant vigilance on our part, because if we let up it would slip back immediately," [fire chief Dan] Jones said. "Eighteen to 22-year-olds believe they're bullet proof."
Friday, May 12, 2006
I could spend the rest of my days enjoying the accomplishments of people I know.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
I don't know how Mark does what he does.
Monday, May 08, 2006
It was brought to us by the Elders for Peace of Carol Woods, with dozens and dozens of signatures. We respect our elders, of course. More than that, they made compelling arguments. One of their arguments is that the Council is the closest elected board that they have. Who else can they turn to for leadership and a voice if not us?
I've been reading April 1865, a book about the last month of the Civil War, how touch and go it all was. In the "Epilogue" an interesting point is made:
Among other things, the Founders were convinced by historical example that for a republican government to last, it could not function over a large area. As the dominant political philosopher of his time, Montesquieu, wrote in 1748, "it is natural for a republic to have only a small territory." This notion became as axiomatic in American popular thought as in its doctrine. Both John Adams and Alexander Hamilton drew the lesson that the vast expanse of the United States--not as it is today, but as they knew it then--made it likely that a durable central government would have to verge on monarchy. For his part, Patrick Henry was hardly alone when, in 1788, he warned, "Our government cannot reign over so extensive a country as this, without absolute despotism."
The most impressive thing about the place is that - unlike many other schemes where developers have been obliged to include social housing - there is no aesthetic difference between the different types of tenure. It's all one kind of architecture, in one cohesive scheme. There is no class divide. Instead, it just oozes class.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Dear Mr. Connor: I learned yesterday that your “Makers of North Carolina History” is a text-book in our village school, and I borrowed a copy from one of the pupils; and I found what I expected. On p. 203 you misrepresent the purposes of the Southern people and the disposition of Lincoln, as you must have discovered if you have read the indisputable evidence contained in the pamphlet I recently sent you. But you have been reading the books which insulting Northerners have been spreading over the country; and you agree with them that the Southern people had no motive for secession but a fear that Lincoln would set their slaves free.
I have not gone carefully over the book; but, so far as I have examined it, I find no reference to the shameful robbery of the Southern people by the sneaking New Englanders whose robber-tariff system was the cause of South Carolina’s “Nullification”, the word “tariff” not appearing in the index; nor do I find any reference to the real cause why the Nathan Dane “Ordinance” was passed: to prevent an expansion of the South. No; “slavery” is the only reason why Southerners seceded; and this is an insult to every old Confederate soldier. But, as I said, you have read insulting books written by the slandering enemies of the South; and you must be pitied; but my grandson who is studying your book shall not have his heart embittered against me and my comrades.
Clinton, N.C., Jan 31, ’14.
Begging pardon for exposing
your errors, I am yours, &c.,
P.S. Let me impress on your mind the truth about Lincoln’s being “bitterly opposed to slavery”. Gen. Donn Piatt, of Ohio, who canvassed a part of Illinois for the radical ticket in 1860, and spent some time after the election at the home of Lincoln, says in Rice’s “Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln” (p. 482): “He knew, and saw clearly, that the people of the free States had, not only, no sympathy with the abolition of slavery, but held fanatics, as Abolitionists were called, in utter abhorrence. . . ." On the previous page Piatt says of Lincoln: “Descended from poor whites of a slave State through many generations, he inherited the contempt, if not the hatred, held by that class for the negro. . . . He could no more feel a sympathy for that wretched race than he could for the horse he worked or the hog he killed”.
But the children of the South are being taught that Lincoln “was bitterly opposed to slavery”, and that the Southern States seceded to prevent him from liberating the slaves, as if he had any more right to free them than Louis Napoleon had.
The "pamphlet" the author "recently sent" might well have been Mr. Benjamin Franklin Grady's own The South's Burden, published in 1906. The book he was criticizing, Makers of North Carolina History, was a standard North Carolina textbook of the period.
Grady is buried in Clinton (he died not long after writing this letter), but he had relatives in Duplin County, where an elementary school is named after him. Two of his books have had a longer life than Mr. Connor's history: The South's Burden as well as The Case of the North Against the South have been reprinted in recent years by the Confederate Reprint Company, and the latter has been adopted as part of a highly selective educational curriculum.
But I wouldn't trust his research very far. He sent his letter to federal judge Henry G. Connor, when the author was his son, R.D.W. Connor (who went on to become the first secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission and the first Archivist of the United States).
Charlotte is doing beautifully. She has a beautiful name, too.
But Whitlynn Battle, whose 11-year-old daughter sang in the program, said the letters [including the teacher's apology] saddened her because they showed the school didn't grasp why black parents would be offended.
"I wasn't really looking for an apology," she said Wednesday. "I was looking for them to understand what was wrong with what they did and they went in the opposite direction. They don't get it and the sad thing is, I don't think they ever will."
Battle, who already planned to remove her child from the school at the end of this academic year, said no amount of balance would make up for her child singing a song that includes the lyrics "Hurrah! Hurrah! For Southern Rights!" and "here's to our Confederacy."
"There's nothing they could have sung after that song short of `We Shall Overcome' and I think I'd still be angry," she said. "Those words should not have come out of my daughter's mouth."
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Friday, May 05, 2006
For our 13-year-old son Tucker, science is so basic that it promises a lifetime of fascination. Asked at age 8 what fueled his passion, he said to a reporter,
"Well, ever since I was a kid, I've been interested in life," Tucker says in a matter-of-fact manner. "Then I heard about DNA, and I got real interested."
I have a sense that most people who pursue an academic or professional passion do it because they think what they are doing is basic: that practically everything else follows from it. As an English Ph.D. I come from the assumption that language is basic. And so it troubled me when the UNC Ph.D. program ceased to require students to study the history of the language or Old English--how can you profess to be an expert in English language and literature when you don't know the basic thing about how the language started? For I apparently also think that history is basic.
Indeed historians who are passionate about their work betray a conviction that understanding history is key to human understanding and growth. The same for law or religion or economics, or even engineering or architecture or land planning or public health.
From a psychologist interested in getting down to basics, a thoughtful appreciation of Jane Jacobs.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
A new federal courthouse in Oregon shows that it doesn't have to be this way. "'We need public spaces for a new era, and they cannot be fortresses,' says federal judge Michael Hogan, whose new home, the Wayne Lyman Morse United States Courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, is not a fortress. It is an open, glassy, brilliantly lit reimagination of the public square for a new century . . . .'"
Here's what they did together. More at the project's web site.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Meanwhile up in Manhattan, a MacArthur fellow has designs on permanent supportive housing for the homeless.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
A nineteenth-century UNC trustee named Thomas Ruffin was chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1833 to 1853. In 1829-30, at the beginning of his career on the court, he wrote State v. Mann, a decision that sanctions the "absolute" power of a master over a slave, a case that came to be probably the most-studied case in the history of slave law. As you might guess, official histories of the university to date have not chosen to dwell on that case or even to mention it. See, for example, the documentation on Ruffin Dormitory:
Thomas Ruffin (1787-1870) was a native of Virginia. He graduated at Princeton in 1805, and read law with Judge May in Petersburg, Virginia, in whose office as a law student was General Winfield Scott. He read the Statute of Laws of North Carolina in the office of Judge Murphy, of Orange, where he began the practice of law. He was UNC-Chapel Hill trustee for 24 years, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for 19 years, President of State Agricultural Society, member of the Peace Convention, and a member of the convention of 1861. In 1830 as a member of the Board of Trustees he drafted a report on the financial crisis of the University and made an eloquent plea to the General Assembly for aid to the University. Mr. Frank Nash of Hillsboro wrote in 1905 in a piece for the News and Observer "he was great as a lawyer, great as a judge, great as a financier, great as a farmer - rugged, indomitable soul in a frame of iron, made to conquer, and conquering every difficulty on every side."
I had coffee with Annette last week to talk with her about Thomas Ruffin. She was most interested to incorporate a fuller version of his story into her history. I left her with a draft copy of an essay I wrote that is set to be published in the selected papers from an architectural history conference in Savannah in 2003. It's about Ruffin, and a statue of him over in Raleigh, and the whole tangled subject of historical memory here "at the South." Since it still may be a long time before the book is out, here (sans notes) is how it starts.
Judge Thomas Ruffin and the Shadows of Southern History
Historical criticism of the American South has become deepened and enriched by a movement, well established in other fields, to study the central role of collective memory in shaping received notions of the past. The work of interrogating the nature and sources of cultural authority has proven especially fruitful in southern studies, perhaps because of the sheer tenacity with which the dominant interpretations of the past have managed to persist. In the era following the Civil War and Reconstruction, the ranks of memory were closed. The broken South sought valiantly to grieve its dead, heal its wounds, reaffirm its cherished sense of honor and duty, and return, as best it could, to life as it used to be. Look away, indeed. Look no farther, in fact, than the square of any southern city to find tangible evidence of a story that, if unable to claim victory, at least holds out for redemption. The fallen heroes of the Civil War live on, united with the legendary figures of the American Revolution—all, in turn, imbued with the virtues of classical republican democracy. The most divisive of national calamities—a civil war—is refigured as the long unbroken march of history. The story told through monuments in public squares across the South is as sure, as inevitable as solid stone itself.
These monuments are often also memorials, which is different, strictly speaking: a monument marks a victory, a memorial commemorates a defeat. “We erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that we shall never forget,” writes Arthur Danto. Tellingly, in the South the two concepts are not easily separated. Moreover, the explicitly funereal memorials—the soldier statues erected out of love and grief—participate in a grammar of mourning that follows its own rules, independent of partisan loyalties. The southern soldiers are virtually indistinguishable from the northern ones. Together, they strengthened the cultural narrative of healing and forgetting. At the same time, the invocation of large themes of American history in southern commemorative practice suggests a hopeful, providential end: the stories of the postwar South share with other nineteenth-century disaster narratives, such as those of the great Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquake, the theme of adversity overcome. Christian tropes of trial and redemption informed the secular “panorama of Progress” that was unfolding across the country in the late nineteenth century. Many types of narratives, in other words, coalesced to form the strikingly coherent official story of the Lost Cause. In its service, in repositories of stone and bronze, the past is recollected, solidified, and celebrated. A cohesive tale is told of pride and patriotism and loyalty to abiding principles; future generations are advised to take heed. But in order to be remembered, a thing first has to be forgotten. And “[i]n the end,” as Louis Menand writes, “the only way to make the past usable is to misinterpret it.” With this realization, we begin to understand what a tricky business it is to sustain pubic memory.
The southern Civil War monuments stood largely unchallenged (even unremarked) through two world wars. As the civil rights revolution forced a change in the cultural landscape, however, the very presence of these monuments began to suggest untold stories. Today they are more likely to be viewed as sites of disputed memory, of what Fitz Brundage describes as “a dialectic . . . between the willfully recalled and the deliberately forgotten.” The Raleigh statue of Thomas Ruffin (1787-1870), the most highly acclaimed judge of nineteenth-century North Carolina, is a product of the rhetorical excesses of the champions of the Lost Cause. For almost a century it has quietly presided over anxious lawyers as they come to plead their causes to the highest tribunals in the state. But though the statue remains the same, an exploration of the history that it embodies can lead to a renewed appreciation of the uneven dynamics at play in the historical struggle of African Americans for justice.
A single opinion Judge Ruffin wrote early in his career on the North Carolina Supreme Court gave masters almost unbridled physical power over their slaves—in language so candidly descriptive of the brutal reality of the lives of the enslaved that it became the most talked about opinion in the public discourse on the law of slavery. A slender body of criticism that began with the abolitionists has been fully embraced, more than a century later, by contemporary legal historians, for whom Ruffin has become emblematic of all that was wrong with the antebellum South. Yet, at least formally, none of this criticism has had an impact on Ruffin’s reputation in the halls of power in North Carolina. In considering the history of his statue in Raleigh, my intent is not so much to upset its foundation as to enlarge our understanding of what it represents. It marks one brief chapter in the history of the reassertion of white dominance in the South after the Civil War—a story that, through the very strength of its imagery, rendered alternative versions almost incomprehensible. Even so, within the contours of this narrative of Anglo-Saxon triumph can be found another one of resistance and refusal. This counternarrative has the potential to change the way we view Ruffin’s statue: the statement of the fixed and immutable power of law that it was no doubt intended to make unfolds into a conversation about the uses of law by the powerful. Such a shift of perspective, in turn, invites us into a broader reconsideration of our ways of navigating the contested terrain of public commemorative art.