Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Superheros young and old
Meanwhile in Columbia, S.C., a 63-year-old comic book illustrator died wearing Superman pajamas.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Go take a hike.
The $1.95 death sentence, and other neglected stories
This is a story about a case long forgotten. It was a case that needed to be forgotten, to safeguard the meaning of American justice. The case of "Death for a Dollar Ninety-Five" began one July night in Marion, Alabama, in 1957, and soon captured the attention of the world. It involved an African American man, a white woman, and the robbery of a small amount of change late in the evening. The conviction was swift and the penalty was death. International criticism soon rained down on the Alabama Governor and the American Secretary of State, leading to clemency and a life sentence. For $1.95. And the case was forgotten. This story helps us to see the way narratives of American justice and injustice are managed. The United States identifies itself with the rule of law, and so miscarriages of justice are often perceived as breaches in that identity, violations of the nation's own core principles. Resolutions of miscarriages of injustice, this paper will argue, are often about repairing a breach in American identity, making America whole again. What happens to the person at the center of the story is, at best, secondary. For the story to turn out right, the nation is restored, and the person is forgotten.
Sounds a little like John Grisham's new book, a nonfiction story that came out of a New York Times obit he read of a man who faced a combination of negligent prosecution and incompetent defense counsel, then thanks to better lawyers and DNA evidence was spared the death penalty and walked out of prison a free man. After that, he drank himself to death.
Related, as Dudziak notes: the Triangle Legal History Seminar. Eric is speaking this Friday.
Monday, November 27, 2006
A test of trust
European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren -- by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.
. . .
Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow.
. . .
The new traffic model's advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. They demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion. The new model's proponents envision today's drivers and pedestrians blending into a colorful and peaceful traffic stream.
Airport to MLK: one for the books
In representing the street-naming issue as divisive, some whites have suggested that King--because of his legacy as a peacemaker--would not have wanted his commemoration characterized by racial conflict. For example, street-naming opponents in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, argued this point when they called on black leaders to rename a park, library, or school for King rather than the controversial Airport Road. Black supporters such as Michele Laws countered with King's own words: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." These attempts by some whites to represent the civil rights leader's image as nonconfrontational is, according to Michael Eric Dyson, part of a larger national amnesia about King's true legacy. According to Dyson, most of America chooses to remember King as the "moral guardian of racial harmony" rather than as a radical challenger of the racial and economic order. In this respect, the politics of street naming are not just about black Americans establishing the legitimacy and resonancy of King's achievements but also about wrestling away control of his historical legacy from conservative whites, who have appropriated his image to maintain the status quo rather than redefine it.
Later in discussing specifically why the King commemoration has come to focus on roads, and not, say, libraries or parks or schools, Alderman quotes yours truly:
Under Jim Crow laws, blacks had a hard time just making a road trip. They had to pack their own food, even their own toilet paper, for they didn't know if they would find a restaurant that would serve them or even a gas station where they could use the bathroom. . . . Mobility, the freedom to travel the public roads without fear and with assurance that you got what you needed--these were the basic goals for King. Thus I can't think of a better way to honor Dr. King than with a road naming.
It's been a year and a half since we dedicated our own Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It's going to be longer than that before we see his values thoroughly reflected in Chapel Hill. But it was a significant step with more than token meaning.
Speaking of King, the sixth volume of his collected papers will be out this spring. Writes Ralph Luker, "This volume is of special interest because it includes material – many sermons and speeches, some letters -- that Coretta Scott King long delayed making available to the King Project. It is a large part of what was recently purchased for $32 million by an Atlanta trust. . . . Until now, much of the material in this volume has never been closely read by King scholars."
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
On this day
When we think of him, he is without a hat, standing in the wind and the weather. He was impatient of topcoats and hats, preferring to be exposed, and he was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the cold and the wind of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger. He died of exposure, but in a way that he would have settled for--in the line of duty, and with his friends and enemies all around, supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in a like position, that he did not fear the weather, and did not trim his sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and to cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the world and its people.
E.B. White, The New Yorker, November 30, 1963
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
UPDATE 11/23: Landfall at noon today. Happy Thanksgiving.
Hindsight beyond 20/20. "Rewind" traces the steps and missteps that led an enthusiastic cheerleader and talented ballerina to life as North Carolina prison inmate #0423358. Recently released from prison, this former member of the N.C. Women's Prison Repertory Ensemble was incarcerated for 12 years. Now Regina looks frankly at the personal traumas and choices that landed her at 17 in an alley beside a man with a gun and at the challenges and uncertainties of her new life outside.
The question that the 2005 performance raised for me was this: what are prisons for, punishment or rehabilitation? It seemed that the state was not so interested in rehabilitation. Yet these women, dreadfully sorry for dreadful things they had done, were searching desperately for a way back: to wholeness, to some promise of life after they had paid their proverbial dues. The state was not offering that; but at least this program was. Still I wonder what the state has to offer to Regina Walters and others on their return to society. One of the issues that keeps surfacing in our discussions about homelessness in Orange County is the critical lack of planning and transitional services available to people discharged from prison. (Ex-cons aren't exactly welcomed by employers either.)
Regina Walters will be at the performance for discussion afterward. I hope to be there too.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The march of the mantises
Since this one was hanging out in the North Carolina Botanical Garden, we assume it was a Carolina mantid.
AE caught a cool one earlier in the season.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
:-) / :-(
Stumbling on Happiness, by Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert (son of Larry Gilbert of Chapel Hill), explores the phenomenon of happiness, with results that promise to be surprising. From the excerpt at Amazon:
Yours [your brain] is nexting right now. For example, at this moment you may be consciously thinking about the sentence you just read, or about the key ring in your pocket that is jammed uncomfortably against your thigh, or about whether the War of 1812 really deserves its own overture. Whatever you are thinking, your thoughts are surely about something other than the word with which this sentence will end. But even as you hear these very words echoing in your very head, and think whatever thoughts they inspire, your brain is using the word it is reading right now and the words it read just before to make a reasonable guess about the identity of the word it will read next, which is what allows you to read so fluently. Any brain that has been raised on a steady diet of film noir and cheap detective novels fully expects the word night to follow the phrase It was a dark and stormy, and thus when it does encounter the word night, it is especially well prepared to digest it. As long as your brain’s guess about the next word turns out to be right, you cruise along happily, left to right, left to right, turning black squiggles into ideas, scenes, characters, and concepts, blissfully unaware that your nexting brain is predicting the future of the sentence at a fantastic rate. It is only when your brain predicts badly that you suddenly feel avocado.
So happiness and optimism are more complicated than we might think. Turns out, so is pessimism, we learn in Scott McLemee's review of Pessimism: Philsophy, Ethic, Spirit, by Joshua Foa Dienstag.
"Optimism," writes Dienstag, "makes us perpetual enemies of those future moments that do not meet our expectations, which means all future moments. It is when we expect nothing from the future that we are free to experience it as it will be, rather than as a disappointment.
Related: Paul comes down in favor of happiness, while Kristina in the comments demonstrates that a good gripe can help you get a grip.
Friday, November 17, 2006
"The ghosts of 1898"
The commission recommended that several newspapers - including the Star-News - which reported on the event as it happened, to work with the North Carolina black press association to prepare a summary of the commission report, study the effects of 1898 and impact of Jim Crow on the state's black press and endow scholarships for black journalists.
The Star-News itself pledged to "work with other state media to address the commission's recommendations."
The special section published today jointly by the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer, and included in today's Wilmington Star-News, responds to this recommendation by bringing the highlights of the report to a broad audience. Wisely, the two papers chose Tim Tyson to write the narrative--not only because he's a great writer and ideally qualified, but also because, as editor Melanie Sill points out, the Raleigh and Charlotte papers were active participants in this sorry history.
UPDATE 11/19: Today's N&O includes interviews with four descendants of players in the event, two white and two black: George Rountree III, Anne Russell, Lewin Manly, and Faye Chaplin. These are important contributions to the story.
Lot 5 plans go public
The scope and terms of the proposal have changed over the course of the negotiations--largely due to rising costs to the developer, a real concern not unique to this developer. We are disappointed that the Wallace Deck component is no longer part of the proposal (though we hope that the addition of residential units above the deck can happen someday). We are also disappointed that the Town's initial proposed outlay of $500,000 to pay for underground parking for the affordable condos has grown to a maximum of $7.2 million to buy one entire level--the public level--of the two-level underground parking garage. This money would not be due until the certificate of occupancy for the garage is issued; in other words it would not be advanced with risk that the facility would somehow not be built. Within the context of a development totalling some $75 million, we believe this is a justifiable public investment in a public good.
The redevelopment of this town-owned property (which will continue to be town-owned) in a way that will contribute substantially to the revitalization of the downtown business district has been a Council priority for a number of years. We've been actively working on it for the three years that I've been on the Council. It's an accomplishment to be able to bring the project this far, and all of us look forward to hearing the public's response.
Not unrelated: Also on Monday night the Council will receive the final report of the Inclusionary Zoning Task Force, which I have chaired for the past year, with help from colleagues Cam Hill and Mark Kleinschmidt.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The onetime future of flight
Commentary from Boing Boing.
High Fashion Quick Change
"Braniff International airline hostesses are outfitted in a couture collection by Emilio Pucci. They can make four changes in a single flight." (From the Greene collection of vintage post cards.)
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
November: focus on homelessness
Photo by Lisa Scheer of a homeless woman's camp in Greensboro.
At a downtown safety forum yesterday morning, sponsored by the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, I gave an overview of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness. I cited data from the National City Network indicating the broad diversity of the estimated 600,000 people who are homeless in the richest country on the planet:
34 percent of homeless service users are members of homeless families
28 percent of homeless persons state that they sometimes or often do not get enough to eat
66 percent of homeless report indicators of alcohol, drug abuse and mental health problems
44 percent of homeless individuals did paid work in the last month
49 percent of homeless individuals are in their first episode of homelessness
As I always try to do, I encouraged folks at the forum to think about homelessness from the point of view of being homeless--for I myself find it really a challenge to imagine. When you don't have a home, you essentially don't have a position from which to be heard in the civic sphere, I pointed out, citing, as I have before, the philosopher David Schrader. For Aristotle, the state was made up of households (not roving individuals). The home affords privacy, which is essential to autonomy: "autonomy against the authority of society." The homeless have no defenses and few advocates.
But what people wanted to talk about was not homelessness but its near cousin, panhandling, and the blight it contributes to downtown. Can't we outlaw it even further? some asked. Legally we probably could was my reponse, but that would not make it right. Glad to see the that downtown outreach committee agrees and is choosing instead to work on education and . . . outreach.
UPDATE 11/21: Editorials in the Chapel Hill Herald and the Daily Tar Heel register concern about overregulation of panhandling.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Shearon Harris: NRC hearing
The only encouraging moment was when they said they would consider holding an information meeting here in the Triangle.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
The Kelo backlash and the poor
In a new online legal journal/weblog, Northwestern Colloquy (noticed via Balkinization), I find an article that addresses this question in very smart ways:
This Essay provides a review of the changes in state law following Kelo v. City of New London, and in particular focuses on the dominant reform: the prohibition of economic development condemnations in non-poor areas (which Kelo allows, as a matter of federal constitutional law) coupled with continued allowance for blight condemnations in poor areas. This dominant reform, the Essay argues, privileges the stability of middle-class households over the stability of poor ones, and thus expressively devalues poor people and poor communities in legal and political discourse.
On UNC Homecoming weekend, evidence that Clyde Jones was here.
Many more examples of Jones' art. Still more.
The Jonesfest continues at Crook's Corner, where for the month of November his one-dimensional art is on display (along with the few critters that remain in the restaurant's permanent collection).
Last night Paul, Tucker, and I took Dan Gillmor to Crook's. Director of the Center for Citizen Media and author of We the Media, he's in town to speak tomorrow on citizen journalism (sponsored by ibiblio).
Dan and I snagged the last two helpings of Bill Smith's Green Tabasco Chicken, which is included in Food & Wine magazine's 2006 Best of the Best: The Best Recipes from the Best 25 Cookbooks of the Year. (From Smith's Seasoned in the South.) Topped it off with persimmon pudding.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
"Bob" (and other tricky words)
Friday, November 10, 2006
FEMA: "temporary" insanity
But its original mission was foiled. According to FEMA, it's "semi-permanent" housing, and they'll only pay for "temporary" shelter.
Wasn't it also FEMA's position that they wouldn't pay for "temporary" hotel/motel stays because they wanted to transition folks to more stable, indeed "permanent," housing?
UPDATE: Tucker, while doing webmaster duty, noted that this is my 1,000th blog post! Oh dear.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Two heartbeats away
James Boyle unplugged
But the truth is that he's missed his calling. He's simply a brilliant satirist. Others will note his use of Lulu and the Creative Commons license as a way to practice what he teaches--but that's not the real news. Skip straight to chapter one of his novel-in-progress, The Shakespeare Chronicles, and meet Professor Stanley Quandary.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Good bridges make good neighbors.
Hence the Fordham Boulevard Safety Committee, which made its final report to the Town Council last night. These folks deserve a lot of thanks for such a thoughtful and thorough set of recommendations. I don't have a copy of Nancy Tripoli's collection of images of beautiful pedestrian bridges in university towns across the country, but if you take a peek here you'll get a sense of what is possible. Not easy, especially not when the road in question is controlled by the state DOT, but: not impossible. Says Nancy: "The bridge is for pedestrians. Nothing else about it needs to be pedestrian."
UPDATE: Nancy's presentation.
Civil war memory
Related: You are there at an interdisciplinary conference on October 13 at Arizona State University, captured on video: "Slavery and Antislavery: A New Research and Teaching Workshop." Aren't the internets great? (Useful quote from Timothy McCarthy: "To be interdisciplinary is to be thorough.")
Monday, November 06, 2006
I met Jacy Farrow.
My mother played the patriarchal game, as did the girls of Jacy's era, because it was the only game in town. Some of us are still playing it. I finally got fed up with it after a few decades, caused pain and angst to everyone who loved me, and turned my life around.
How ghastly that was; how sweet it is.
Perhaps it is, as author and scholar Carolyn Heilbrun has suggested, that only women who played the men's game and won a self anyway have the courage to face the pain bought by telling their own stories straight. And maybe only women of a certain age, say, in their fifties, can stop being what she calls "female impersonators" and can now do what they might have done much earlier had they not been born hostages to their gender.
In 1997 when the book was published she was vice president for university affairs at SUNY Stony Brook.
It was a thrill to meet her at a book reading at the Regulator in Durham yesterday, not to mention a surprise. We both were there to hear journalist Maya McPherson talk about her book All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone, which was fascinating. But I would have driven at least to Durham to meet Ceil Cleveland. She and her husband moved to Durham a couple of years ago.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
"Inland Sea," by Virginia Gibbons, North Carolina Botanical Garden, Sculpture Show 2006
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Jeff Sharlet: Haggard reconsidered
If [Mike Jones'] story is true, Ted is a hypocrite of the worst kind; then again, he's also another victim of the very closet over which he publicly stands guard, as are all the New Life church members he's led into it. That story may not make the mainstream media. Indeed, it seems unlikely that Ted's downfall will be reported with any more nuance than that of Mark Foley's political collapse. Sex, it seems, blinds the press to politics.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Sound the alarums
Tough Week for Progress Nuclear Plants
Monday: Sirens at Shearon Harris: All 81 emergency sirens in the Harris 10-mile emergency zone were reported to NRC as being inoperable for at least two hours. Progress Energy says the cause was failure of a device that signals the sirens via a communications tower. Progress said that in an emergency, operators could manually override the device and activate the sirens.
Tuesday: Harris siren system fails again – all sirens were inoperable for several hours due to the same equipment failure. The tower, located on the Owner Controlled Area, is apparently the same one that an intruder hung a large flag on a year ago, when Progress downplayed the tower's importance.
Wednesday: Emergency declared at Brunswick Unit II due to an “unusual event” caused by a transformer failure that caused loss of offsite power and primary cooling to the reactor, located south of Wilmington. Most safety systems responded correctly (two required operator help), including the emergency diesel generators.
Thursday: Brunswick Unit I powers down. When one of the emergency generators malfunctioned, the Unit I reactor was required by regulations to be powered down for 12 hours until another generator was connected to the backup cooling system.
NOTE: Although this week’s siren malfunctions apparently happened for a different reason, Harris and Brunswick have suffered multiple siren failures in recent years due to loss of power associated with severe weather – higher risk occasions when sirens could be needed. Sometimes a large number of sirens have been inoperable for many hours. Since mid-2005, Progress has been saying it plans to install backup power for the sirens. After a quarter of the Harris sirens failed in June, the company said it will be late 2007 before backup power is installed at the plant.
Posted: Progress Energy, Oak Island (near the lighthouse), Brunswick County
Homefront: quantifying the obvious
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average new single-family home was 983 square feet in 1950, 1,500 square feet in 1970, and 2,434 square feet in 2005. This occurred even as the average household shrunk from 3.4 to 2.6 people.
The Energy Information Administration reports that "households with 3,000 or more square feet use 40 percent more energy than those with 2,000 to 2,400 square feet."
A McMansion with an Energy Star rating is still a McMansion.
Rosie the Riveter: Isaiah, with lipstick
For the Library of Congress, Sheridan Harvey examines the myth of Rose the Riveter as it played out across various media and in real life. By the time Rockwell got around to his task, she notes, "Rosie" had been popularized in song:
All the day long,
Whether rain or shine,
She's a part of the assembly line.
She's making history,
Working for victory,
Rosie the Riveter.
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage,
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little girl will do more than a male will do.
Interpreting Rockwell's image, Harvey writes,
I was first struck by the fact that she is big and dirty. She's oversized, with working-class brawn. She wears goggles and a shield. In reality, it's unlikely that she would have worn both.
The leather arm-band provides protection on the job.
She has no wedding ring.
On her lapel you can see various pins--for blood donation, victory, her security badge.
She's wearing overalls. Women didn't wear pants in public much before World War II; but during the war it became common to see women on the way to and from work in overalls or trousers.
She's wearing loafers. Only after July 1943 were safety shoes with metal toes produced for women. There had been no need to manufacture these shoes in women's sizes before because women didn't customarily work in dangerous jobs where such shoes were needed. Most women wore their own shoes.
She cradles a very large riveting gun in her lap, and it links visually to Adolf Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, beneath her feet. The implication is clear: through her defense job, she will help to crush Hitler.
The American flag background, red, white, and blue, adds to the patriotism of the cover.
Rosie is powerful, competent, and womanly.
Womanly and manly, Harvey continues: Rosie has huge arms, a heavy gun, and she's wearing overalls. But she's also wearing makeup, which was "essential to women's mental health, according to some articles of the time."
At the time, Harvey notes, people caught the resemblance of this Rosie to Michaelangelo's Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel. She applauds the way Rockwell gives this this Isaiah a ham sandwich. Read more about Rosie in myth and reality at the Library of Congress site. What a different time it was.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Sophie ceased looking at the pictures - all became a blur - and her eyes sought instead the window flung open against the October sky where the evening star hung, astonishingly, as bright as a blob of crystal. An agitation in the air, a sudden thickening of the light around the planet, heralded the onset of smoke, borne earthward by the circulation of cool night wind. For the first time since the morning Sophie smelled, ineluctable as a smotherer's hand, the odor of burning human beings.
--Sophie's Choice (1979)
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Spring and fall
Maybe there's a good reason why we find their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely look at a flower in bloom without thinking ahead, whether in hope or regret. We might share with certain insects a tropism inclining us toward flowers, but presumably insects can look at a blossom without entertaining thoughts of the past and future--complicated human thoughts that may once have been anything but idle. Flowers have always had important things to teach us about time.
The poets, of course, tend to dwell on spring and the fleeting nature of time, none more movingly than Housman in "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now." It wasn't until I was living in Washington, with its annual glory of cherry trees, that I understood viscerally what the poem was saying: Among the many questions you can ask about your life, ponder this one: How many more spring flowerings will it be your luck to see? And so, for a time, my "favorite season" (a ridiculous idea) became spring.
But fall has its poetry and its poets too. On this All Souls Day it seems fitting to repost this post from a couple of years ago. (Please don't neglect the links.)
Fall Morning, Pisgah National Forest
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.