Friday, December 31, 2004

You could get pickled tonight

at the Mt. Olive Pickle Company's annual pickle drop.

Or if that's not your cup of tea, maybe by later tonight you can make it up to Cherokee County for the possum drop. Here is what Randall Williams wrote about it for Salon three years ago.

The Possum drop officially began when a fire engine driving along State Road 64 turned on its sirens and red lights. Mike Logan, [son of Clay Logan, the organizer], followed closely in his red semi. The attendees stood at attention and watched the procession. When the vehicles were directly in front of the gas station, the semi's doors swung open and about six hillbillies--Clay's friends wearing straw hats, Billy Bob fake teeth and overalls--jumped out and ran around crazily.

Then, from out of a small door in the semi, one hillbilly passed something to another. It was a Plexiglas pyramid, about a foot square at its base, adorned with gold tinsel. Inside, an opossum, alive but playing dead, lay surrounded by its own feces.

The crowd parted to let the hillbillies and their opossum through. Camera bulbs flashed as the hillbillies tied the cage to a string dangling beneath the metal Citgo canopy. They attached a glass disco ball to the bottom of the cage and hoisted the whole thing about three feet above the crowd. They tied the connecting string to a nearby post.

Last year's event was different, though. Threatened by PETA with a lawsuit, Clay Logan rolled over. He used roadkill.

What'll it be this year, dead or alive? Looks like you'll have to be there to find out.

The poet of the Paris of the Piedmont

Dan Coleman has a nice column on Patrick Herron, poet laureate of Carrboro.

Com-pound it!

"Compound noun" is a self-executing construction; like "oxymoron" or "a little alliteration," it is what it says it is. But when did it become the rage?

A tug of war goes on in language between logic (saying exactly what you mean) and gracefulness (saying it with style). I fear that gracefulness is losing.

Compound nouns are clunky and graceless. Any good grammar book counsels their judicious use--especially when it comes to a lot of them in a row.

Compound Noun Phrases

Avoid long strings of noun that may be unfamiliar to the reader. Break up the string by using prepositional phrases or infinitives.

The plant safety standards committee discussed recent air quality regulation announcements.

Revised. The committee for regulating safety standards discussed announcements about regulation of air quality.

Long noun phrases are the worst offenders, but lesser offenses abound.

Remember "Legal Departments"? One day sometime during the Reagan administration, someone noticed a logical flaw. Legal Departments were not necessarily "legal." All kinds of activity might be authorized or condoned by corporate lawyers. Hence the birth of the "Law Department."

Scientific issues are now science issues.

Ethical dilemmas are now ethics dilemmas.

Logical fallacies are now logic fallacies.

Logistical problems are now logistics problems.

Our Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970, before this nonsense started, but in Australia, an agency founded more recently is called the Environment Protection Authority.

On September 11, 2001, I thought we experienced terrorist attacks, but the media called them terror attacks.

Sometimes this new habit turns something logical into something illogical. How many deserted islands are actually deserts? Yet "deserted island" is now interchangeable with "desert island." At least one careful writer knows the difference.

Maybe I'm too fussy. Maybe these coinages make perfect sense in the natural progression of our utilitarian native tongue. But it sure is hard to come across phrases like this (from a review of Tom Wolfe's new novel):

I Am Charlotte Simmons, however, has not invited Dickens comparisons.

Is that not the cake-taker? What would Dickens think? You know, Dickens: author of A Two-Cities Tale.

UPDATE: I stand corrected by language hat on "desert" v. "deserted." It seems that in ancient times, "desert" was an adjective. I knew that adjectival and adverbial endings in English were often latecomers, so that (as language hat points out) "slow" is as good as "slowly" (the -ly coming from "lich," which means "like," in other words "slow-like" or, like (you know), slow), but this one was news to me. Still, I don't really think that people who say "desert island" are consciously tapping into 13th c. English. It's nice that what goes around has come around I guess, but I think the reason has to do with this weird fad favoring compound nouns.

UPDATE 2: Correcting myself this time. I did a couple of word searches, hoping to find it verified that "desert island" went into hibernation sometime around the 17th c. only to come out in the past twenty years. Not so! Since 1980 in the New York Times "desert island" has run well ahead of "deserted island" (even subtracting the "Mount Desert Islands"--I've always wondered about how that name came about). More to the point, "desert island" turns up twice in 19th c. manuscripts in the holdings of Documenting the American South. So it looks as if this is a relic, a phrase that refused to modernize. Thanks again language hat for sending me on this expedition.

UPDATE 3: I rest my case.

. . . A global commodity chain analysis approach is combined with insights from economic sociology embeddedness theory to explore the social, cultural and organizational factors shaping the initiatives’ governance structures. Both initiatives are seen to move along opposite organizational trajectories, but face similar pressures from conventional market logics, practices and dominant actors. . . .

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The tsunami next time

The eventual Atlantic mega-tsunami.

What if Leandro had gone the other way?

No, not what if the state had won. What if the plaintiffs had gotten what they asked for. What if Justice Robert Orr's dissent in the first Leandro opinion, in 1997, had carried the day.

Justice Orr had the privilege of writing the second Leandro opinion (see below) this summer just before his retirement. In the opinion an odd phrase is used at crucial points: "the equal opportunity to receive a sound basic education." What does that mean?

Here is what it doesn't mean. Chief Justice Burley Mitchell made very clear in the first Leandro opinion that the law does not require equalized funding. The North Carolina Constitution does require a "general and uniform system" in which "equal opportunities shall be provided for all students," he conceded; but such language does not "mandate[] equality in the educational programs and resources offered the children in all school districts in North Carolina."

The plaintiffs--representing five impoverished rural school districts--argued that the "great variations in per-pupil expenditures from district to district" were a large part of the problem, that "inequalities in the facilities, equipment, student-teacher ratios, and test results between their poor districts and the wealthy districts compel the conclusion that students in their poor districts are denied equal opportunities for education."

Justice Mitchell engaged in some constitutional history. In 1868, he noted, language requiring a "general and uniform system" was in the constitution, but (naturally enough) the "equal opportunites" clause was not. In 1970, as Jim Crow languished on his deathbed, the constitution was overhauled. That's when the phrase requiring "equal opportunities . . . for all students" was added.

But then his opinion does an interesting thing. It confines the phrase to its narrow historical moment. The era of segregation came to an end. The problem the language was meant to fix is solved. What's left is a dead letter.

Justice Orr--who by the way, like Judge Manning, is a Republican--begged to differ (scroll down for his partial dissent). To him, the plain language meant what it said.

. . . [T]he 1971 constitutional framers removed existing language from the 1877 Constitution which mandated that "the children of the white race and the children of the colored race shall be taught in separate public schools; but there shall be no discrimination in favor of, or to the prejudice of, either race.". . . The framers did not choose simply to remove the initial racially discriminatory language, but instead rewrote the constitutional language to provide for "equal opportunities . . . for all students."

. . . [I]n regard to education, our Constitution displays a deep concern for "'ensur[ing] every child a fair and full opportunity to reach his full potential.'" . . . The Constitution, by its literal reading, means all students. It does not discriminate as to race, gender, handicap, economic status, or geography. Thus, students residing in a poorer district are still entitled to substantially equal educational opportunities as students in wealthier districts.

But this view did not prevail. What the majority settled on instead was the "equal opportunity to receive a sound basic education." This turns out to mean a right to certain minimum standards. As it stands, Leandro is potentially a major achievement. But it will not turn the Hoke County school system into a Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

What if Justice Orr's opinion had prevailed? So many things would have started to look different, not the least being the lay of the land in wealthy districts like our own.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Susan Sontag, rest in peace

Almost thirty years ago at a PEN conference, I heard a talk by Susan Sontag. Perhaps I even talked to her. A college student barely introduced to the world of ideas, but pedaling as fast as I could, by myself I had flown to Houston to hear what I could hear. There were Sontag, Grace Paley, Donald Barthelme, Max Apple, Shelby Hearon, and others talking about poetry and prose as if they involved things that mattered.

The following is the entry on Sontag that I wrote for the Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). She had much to say in the decade that followed, especially after September 11. Her searing, searching voice will be missed.

Sontag, Susan (b. 1933), essayist, fiction writer, filmmaker, screenwriter, philosopher of culture. Sontag belongs to what Russell Jacoby defines in The Last Intellectuals (1987) as a rare class: the public intellectual. At North Hollywood High she shunned Reader's Digest assignments for the headier world of ideas in the Partisan Review. At twenty-six, she became a contributing editor of Commentary, entering the New York liberal intelligentsia that had already captured her imagination. Fascination with the ethics and aesthetics of modernism, especially its European forms, has inspired Sontag's prolific, often controversial, career.

Against Interpretation (1966), she departed from the older New York liberalism, particularly its resistance to popular culture; "Notes on 'Camp'" drew criticism for its trendiness. To the contrary, this essay illustrates Sontag's ability to sense the intellectual roots of social movements. Constructing the essay in numbered sections, she connects "camp" with the European postmodernist trend toward fragmentation--a trend more familiar to her in 1966 than to her American critics. Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes she considers kindred spirits.

On Phography (1977; National Book Critics' Circle Award) continues Sontag's exploration of the modernist aesthetic as modified and eventually molded by photographic imagery. Its power is insidious, she complains: "The camera doesn't rape, or even possess, though it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate--all activities that . . . can be conducted from a distance." Sontag's assertion that "[t]here is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera" anticipates feminist film critics' reactions against the aggressive masculine "gaze" of the camera eye.

Illness as Metaphor (1978), written after Sontag's breast cancer, breaks out of the abstraction marking her earlier essays. Yet it revisits a critical issue: the need to distrust totalizing schemes offered to explain complex realities (a need that modernism, for Sontag, promises and repeatedly fails to answer). She critiques the treatment of cancer as metaphor for moral fault. Shrouding the disease in mystery and theorizing "cancer personalities" is more than cruel, she asserts; it impedes recovery. Sontag's antidote, here as elsewhere, is demystification. The same theme informs AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989).

Sontag's politics defy labeling; she writes, she has said, out of grief. This impulse, she observes, is both radical, in wanting to right fundamental wrongs, and conservative, "because we know that . . . so much is being destroyed" ("Nadine Gordimer and Susan Sontag: In Conversation,"
Listener, 23 May 1985, 16-17). Her restless, surprising career exemplifies the paradoxes of modernism itself.


The Wikipedia's real-time coverage of this tragedy is pretty amazing.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Tar Heel of the Year--and then some

The N&O's award of 2004 Tar Heel of the Year to Judge Howard Manning is a modest recognition for a man who has spent the past six years forcing the state legislature's feet to the fire on the funding of public education.

In its first Leandro opinion, in 1997, the N.C. Supreme Court left it to the trial court to work out the details of what it meant to provide a constitutionally mandated "sound basic education" to all North Carolina students, and Judge Manning was handed the job. He took it seriously--as you can see by scanning this list of documents pertaining to years of hearings and findings.

Manning's Judgment (.pdf) of April 2002 gave no doubt how serious he was. He noted that a "shell game" was being played in which the blame for a sorry situation was passed from the state to the local districts and back. Both are responsible, he said, but the buck stops in Raleigh.

Intervening plaintiffs, wealthy school districts, complained that to do what Manning was asking would require them to divert resources from academically gifted programs. On their behalf, State Board of Education chairman Phil Kirk argued that Manning's mandate would "drive more of the brighter students away from public schools into private education." To which Manning responded,

It has become clear to the Court that it was the state's "minimalist" vision of what the North Carolina Supreme Court expected a student to obtain that caused the educational and political leadership to fail to appreciate the fact that Leandro's guarantee of a sound basic education applies to all students, including the "best and brightest."

Manning's judgment of April 2002 was almost entirely upheld on appeal this summer. The only part that was rejected was his requirement for pre-kindergarten education. That, the Supreme Court said, could be required only by a legislative decision. On all other points, Manning's opinion was upheld. His "restraint," in fact, was complimented:

[W]e note that the trial court also demonstrated admirable restraint by refusing to dictate how existing problems should be approached and resolved. Recognizing that education concerns were the shared province of the legislative and executive branches, the trial court instead afforded the two branches an unimpeded chance, “initially at least,” . . . to correct constitutional deficiencies revealed at trial.

Oh, one more thing. Incredibly, the state actually argued that a grade of Level II (a C) was enough to meet the "sound basic education" standard. Don't be ridiculous, said Judge Manning.

The State's position that the equal opportunity to receive a sound education has been provided when a child performs at a level of minimal mediocrity (Level II-below grade level) and is barely scraping by to obtain a high school diploma is just plain wrong.

That too was upheld on appeal.

There's too much to say about Leandro, which is why I've refrained from blogging about it till now. You'd be better off reading Jack Boger's article "Education's 'Perfect Storm'? Racial Resegregation, High-Stakes Testing, and School Resource Inequities: The Case of North Carolina," 81 N.C. L. Rev. 1375 (2003), but unfortunately you'll need Lexis or WestLaw access to get it.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Recommended reading

Paul writes a nice review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which he gave me for Christmas and we have both read already. What a great story of a strangely believable young man. You can read the opening pages here, but be forewarned that you might have to go out and find the rest of it.

George W. Bush, builder's friend

Only Alan Greenspan and the head of Fannie Mae edge out George Bush on the list of the 50 most influential people in home building.

An honorable mention goes to the North Carolina Home Builders Association:

Not one bill this group opposed—including a controversial public campaign finance proposal and three promoting local impact fees—made it into law during the 2003—2004 legislative session. Meanwhile, lawmakers passed all of the HBA's proposed legislation. The North Carolina Center for Public Policy has named Mike Carpenter, the association's executive vice president, one of the state's top 50 lobbyists every year since 1993.

UPDATE: Oops! The Fannie Mae man, Franklin Raines, has been ousted in an accounting scandal, so I guess that bumps Bush up a notch.

An unconventional defense

For apparently the first time in North Carolina, the state's violation of a 1963 international treaty has been raised as a defense in a criminal trial, invoking an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court has already agreed to hear.

Franklin Manacer-Herrera, a Honduran citizen, is on trial in Durham for murder. His lawyer, Mark Edwards, says he was arrested in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. (Durham Herald-Sun 12/16/04.)

The adoption of the Vienna Convention, says an ACLU source (.pdf), was "'undoubtedly the single most important event in the entire history of the consular institution.'" Even so, it has not been consistently enforced in this country. But in more recent years, "foreign nationals have increasingly referenced violations of the Vienna Convention in criminal litigation."

Art. 36 of the Vienna Convention requires that when foreign nationals are criminally detained, they be informed of their right to communicate with consular officials.

When Manacer-Herrera was arrested, no one informed him of his right under the convention. But the question is: so what? Does this mean that evidence against him has to be suppressed? Is it an exclusionary rule like Miranda? Is this "a new form of attack on the death penalty," as Durham judge Orlando Hudson asserted? The cases cited in the ACLU .pdf above tend to say no. Over vigorous dissents, the courts either dened that there is a private right of action or said that even if there is, Art. 36 was never meant to operate as an exclusionary rule. But those cases go only through the year 2000.

In March 2004 something very interesting happened. Mexico took the United States to court. In a case involving over 50 Mexican citizens arrested on capital charges, the International Court of Justice ruled that indeed Art. 36 of the Vienna Convention has teeth. The court

said that it was "for the courts" of the United States to provide "effective" review of the convictions to determine whether the violations caused "actual prejudice" to each defendant. It rejected the U.S. argument that failure to respect the right to consular notification could be rectified by simply raising that fact in a petition for clemency.

In Oklahoma, as a result of this decision, the court stayed an execution and the govenor issued a clemency order. But down in the rights-hostile 5th Circuit, it was a different story. In May 2004, in Medellin v. Dretke, 371 F.3d 270, that court held that the issue of the Vienna Convention was "procedurally defaulted" because the defendant had not raised it in Texas court at the trial stage (and, further flouting the international court's opinion, it said there was no private right of action).

This is the case the Supreme Court will hear in the spring. As Tony Mauro wrote in advance of the court's decision to hear the case, it arises admidst an "already intense debate over the role of international law in Supreme Court decision making."

Justice Stephen Breyer in a recent talk before the Paris Bar Association meeting in Washington, D.C., said his job has "changed tremendously" in 10 years because an increasing portion of the Court's docket involves international law. But whereas justices have cited foreign law in recent years to give a global context to their decisions, Medellin poses a direct conflict between a ruling by a U.S.-endorsed international court and a lower federal appeals court, with Oklahoma's contrary state court decision thrown in for good measure. All the rulings interpret a treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, that was actively embraced and advocated by the United States in the early 1960s.

Much is at stake, including the fate of one
Franklin Manacer-Herrera of Honduras, lately of Durham.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Dashing through the whatever

The author of "Jingle Bells" was a Savannah music minister and Confederate loyalist, but a Yankee claim on the song lives on.

Triangle blog conference in February

Following soft on the heels of the successful Piedmont Blog Conference in Greensboro, here's one being organized in Chapel Hill. Ed Cone, who along with David Hoggard organized that one, gives a nice mention of my favorite blogger, who promises to be there. Join us!

UPDATE: The "Chapel Hill" link to the conference is updated and should work now.

Santa not a Coca-Cola product

No matter what you may have heard, Santa Claus did not originate in Coca-Cola ads. I know, he wears the same colors, so it is confusing. And it doesn't help that on the NORAD tracking site, the oldest photo of him is dated 1959.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


In his 1919 history of the North Carolina Supreme Court (177 N.C. 617), Chief Justice Walter Clark gave the religious affiliation of all 40 former and current members of the court that he could recall. (Twenty-three, since you asked, were Episcopalian.) But the three who were "freethinkers" he declined to identify by name--perhaps he thought he was doing them a favor. Now Susan Jacoby tells their story.

Some men are an island.

What could be more emblematic of our sad time than this trend among the very rich.

The trial of being a modern southern belle

Jacqueline Duty's prom dress led inadvertently to other duties (thanks Eric).

Looks like she's getting help from a North Carolina group that we've seen before.

Santa pause

The strangest pictures you've never seen of Santa and his charges.

Found via Jason Kottke, whose "Best Links of 2004" and "Favorite Weblogs of 2004" could keep you occupied for hours.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Long nights

When Edmund Spenser got married one summer solstice, he joked (if you can call the Epithalamion a joke) that he had the bad luck to marry on the longest day and the shortest night. The winter solstice, on the other hand, is no laughing matter. We have it all nicely explained now, even down to the precise moment it happens (7:42 a.m. EST this year). For the ancients it wasn't so clear. For several days the sun seemed to stand still at its lowest point in the sky (Lat. "sol" sun + "sistere" to cause to stand still), and its return was not guaranteed.

Gordon Lathrop, a Lutheran theologian, meditates on the somber solstice roots of the Christmas celebration.

The immense popularity of Christmas among us is probably due to the dominance in North America of people whose ethnic origins are in northern latitudes where the solstice is an impressive and still powerful event, as it is in much of North America as well. Most of what has been added to Christmas over the ages can be interpreted as solstice phenomena: feasting and greetings and greens and the light-tree and lights against the darkness and the yule-log and nostalgia for the recovery of old memories and, for us especially, gift-giving and consumer over-spending--all are attempts to secure the return of light and summertime wholeness, are mid-winter protest.

These solstice phenomena are powerful metaphors for us. The darkness does stand for our fears and the feast does awaken--perhaps more than we would have them awakened--our hopes. These metaphors ought not be easily maligned. The pastoral intention of the origin of the feast may be recalled. The human feast of Christmas needs a good deal of sympathetic interpretation and loving support.

Here in Chapel Hill the long nights before Christmas have been cold, a near record, down in the teens. On Sunday night the power went out, and, in the midst of our unknowing how long it would take to return, we worried about, among other things, how long a desert reptile could last without a heat lamp. All was recovered within couple of hours, leaving us with a bracing reminder of the luck we do have.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Cheers to the home team!

The Gilmer Buckeyes pulled it off. Last night they won their first ever state football championship, defeating Jasper 49-47. They were ahead 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. Jasper almost pulled it out, but the Buckeyes prevailed in what must have been a thriller of a game.

Victory parade on the courthouse square tomorrow night. Nothing like this ever happened in my day. Congratulations, Buckeyes!

He knew not what he said.

Minneapolis Start Tribune columnist Nick Coleman must be used to criticism, but even he was stunned by the reaction he got from a comparison he made in a column on homelessness (subscription only).

They all had names and they all had gifts, the homeless Minnesotans who died in 2004. There may have been 100 who died alone, without homes, without care, without a safety net. But they represent more than just the dead.

They also represent the living: The thousands of Minnesotans--many of them women and children--who remain homeless and hidden amid the plenty of the holidays.

And further,

It would be easier on our conscience, maybe, if the homeless were all loners or losers, alcoholics or misfits. If you think labels can tell a human story, perhaps you can take satisfaction in the fact that many of the dead fit those descriptions. But, sorry: There aren't any easy outs.

But he didn't stop there. If we can't attend to the needy during the holidays, he concluded,

you have to wonder what we're celebrating this Christmas. After all, once upon a time, a homeless couple came to Bethlehem, looking for shelter.

Whoops! Coleman had quit preaching and gone to meddling. His next column (ditto) describes the reaction he got from his "fellow Christians" who "took time from worship to criticize":

They didn't write to tell me about their concern for the 8,000 homeless in Minnesota or the fact that half of them are women and kids or that 100 of them died this year.
No, they wrote to say that even though we will always have the poor with us, as Jesus said, that doesn't mean those poor buggers shouldn't get out of the way of our SUVs.
"These homeless are bums, nothing but leeches on society," wrote a guy who signed himself Trav. "If we could push a button and make the homeless die and disappear without repercussions, nearly everybody would do it. I would. Good riddance."

Moreover, he had his facts wrong:

"Your allegation that Mary and Joseph were homeless is just a plain lie," wrote Jerry. "They were no more homeless than you would be if you showed up at a posh hotel without a reservation and were turned away."

"All I was trying to do," Coleman explains, "was draw a timely connection between the poor and the Christmas story. This was a connection the nuns drew sharply for me in my formative years." But then on second thought,

I guess the point these compassionate Christians are trying to make is that Jesus wouldn't give the homeless a second glance if he came back. And you know what? They might be right. Jesus might walk right past the homeless, the poor and the sick, and march straight into our churches.

Because he'd have a lot of tables to overturn.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

More retreads

Every year the classic songs of the Christmas season get a year older. Every year I wonder where are the new ones. Elvis' Christmas album is almost fifty years old. I always thought "Celebrate Me Home" was a great Christmas song, but it didn't really stick. "This Christmas" has earned Muzak/mall music status. That's about it.

An essay in today's Times suggests that it's not just nostalgia at work.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Give someone on your list a retread.

Wired embraces the tired with its green holiday gift ideas:

Address books and planners made from recycled inner tubes
Sandals made of recycled race car tires and bicycle inner tubes
Guitar straps made of recycled tires

An alloyed honor

One surprising thing about the symposium held this fall on UNC's Reconstruction history in general and Cornelia Phillips Spencer's part in it in particular was that at least one woman who had won the pretigious Bell Award no longer felt good about it. Too many questions, too much uneasiness.

As Chancellor Moeser said last week in announcing the discontinuation of the award,

A universitywide award ought to be an unalloyed honor and joy. With our current understanding of Mrs. Spencer, the Bell Award is no longer that. As someone said, we now have an award with an asterisk beside its name.

Roses to the chancellor for making this difficult decision. Roses and laurels to Yonni Chapman for forcing his hand. But in the end, I suspect it was the strength of university women themselves that tipped the scale.
"Some esteemed women on our campus--women who I think could be considered for the Bell Award--were asked whether they would accept it if it were offered," Moeser explained in a Dec. 8 letter announcing the retiring of the award. "Their answer was 'no.'"

Getting serious about downtown

This notice describes the request for quotations that went out this week to developers and architects nationwide as the Town of Chapel Hill gets serious about turning two key pieces of real estate into mixed-use developments. "The Town’s intent is to select a qualified firm with the capacity to complete the development projects that transform the sites into an active, productive, and vibrant part of the Town."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Where roads diverged: Natchez, Mississippi

Reinterpreting the site of second-largest market for the sale and purchase of human beings in the United States.

Pentagon opts out of environment

"New policy drops public health, cleanup and resource conservation duties."

Parallel times

As promised, Geoffrey Stone, author of Perilous Times, is making great connections over at Lessig Blog, demonstrating that the slippage from "person" to "citizen" has to be resisted (as Peggy Misch did yesterday) over and over. His succinct history of the Alien and Sediton Acts of 1798 is especially read-worthy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bill of Rights Day in Chapel Hill

Raging Grannies
Raging Grannies in front of Old Chapel Hill Post Office

It got off to an ironic start, what with the newspaper calling it "Unconstitutional Day," but in most respects it was much like last year (without the Hare Krishnas). Joe Herzenberg gave out the reading assignments. He tried to save the First Amendment for me, but I ended up taking the Fifth.

The Raging Grannies, dolled up as Lady Liberties, raged on, singing familiar tunes with catchy lyrics in protest of Mr. Ashcroft's laws.

Mayor Foy read the following proclamation (later corrected by the ever-vigilant Peggy Misch):


WHEREAS, the necessary states ratified the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, on December 15, 1791; and

WHEREAS, the Bill of Rights protects every citizen of person in this state and nation from infringement of basic human and civil rights; and

WHEREAS, the freedoms of speech and association and the right to due process and equal protection of the law, as embodied in the Bill of Rights, are a model for democratic institutions and laws all over the world; and

WHEREAS, our democratic society proves the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution to be indispensable; and

WHEREAS, the people of North Carolina stood strong in withholding ratification of the Constitution until the Bill of Rights was added to ensure their inalienable rights;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Kevin C. Foy, Mayor of the Town of Chapel Hill, do hereby proclaim December 15, 2004, as


in the Town of Chapel Hill, and commend this observance to all our citizens.


Kevin C. Foy, Mayor

As I headed for my car in the Wallace Parking Deck, I saw a young man, at least one, there were six in all, haul off and kick the tires of somebody's poor car. Soon I saw why. It was plastered with bumper stickers, the one for Dennis Kucinich being on the moderate end. Maybe it belonged to a Raging Granny? I guess the young men had the right to express themselves, as long as they did no harm. They piled into a Suburban with an Arkansas tag.

Tale of two bridges

In southern France, the world's tallest bridge is awe-inspiring.

Already, as many as 500,000 visitors have come to stare at this wonder of the world from panoramic sites in the mountains, created by order of the city council.

(That's one powerful city council.)

In San Francisco, the proposed new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, a suspension bridge, which, while not the Golden Gate, seemed pretty nice, looks to be abandoned in favor of a simple causeway or skyway, a plan that when it was proposed the first time was called "a freeway on stilts," "an insult to the East Bay residents and commuters." The fault lines of California politics are clearly drawn:

In August, [Business, Transporation and Housing Secretary] McPeak and Caltrans told the Bay Area to drop the elegant, unique and vastly over-budget self-anchored suspension bridge and to pay for the overruns with $4 bridge tolls. The move angered Bay Area lawmakers and led to a stalemate as the session ended.

On Friday McPeak told lawmakers again that the administration still considers the Bay Bridge a Gray Davis legacy headache and is committed only to paying to demolish the existing 1936 span, which carries 282,000 cars a day.

The new thinking was based on a series of secret meetings of advisory panels involving industry leaders and federal highway officials from five states.

"All options have risks," McPeak told them. "The self-anchored suspension tower is clearly the most complex technology."

She announced that the skyway is the way "to build a safe bridge in an acceptable period of time for the most reasonable cost."

Her assertion is a matter of debate.

A gift of love (or something)


King Ken finds a home. "I am still trying to understand why I feel like I should own a designer vinyl toy," says Paul, "but here I am with one and delighted to have him."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pretty much all you need to know.

I was trying to figure out what to say about this astonishing case (brought by a group based in Black Mountain) when I found this headline, which pretty much says it all.

There is probably more to be said, though, about one question: whether "Confederate Southern-Americans" could constitute a "national origin class" under Title VII. In other words, are they from another country? This court said no, understandably. The sectional reunion after the war swept a lot under the rug. But if the Confederate States of America had been treated as a conquered nation at the end of the Civil War, the old planters wouldn't have been pardoned, and former slaves might have had a chance for that 40 acres and a mule.

Embroidered justice

Another Alabama judge takes his stand.

Parsing the "nanny problem"

"It sure beats 'I want to spend more time with my family,'" says Mickey Kaus.

UPDATE: Sure enough, there may be a reason why Kerik was uncomfortable being nominated to maintain domestic security.

Watch out

The legal establishment embraces the business of blogging.

Aerial photos of a city in ruins

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.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Timely perils

Starting Wednesday, Geoffrey Stone will be guest-blogging at Larry Lessig's site on his new book Perilous Times.

Geoffrey Stone's Perilous Times incisively investigates how the First Amendment and other civil liberties have been compromised in America during wartime. Stone delineates the consistent suppression of free speech in six historical periods from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the Vietnam War, and ends with a coda that examines the state of civil liberties in the Bush era.

With the Denver Post being denied access to an Army base in retaliation for a story (the Army later changed its mind), with the Baltimore Sun suing for the ability to interview Maryland state government employees, with editors apologizing for offending their sensitive readers, when even a leading public radio station in a liberal college town is cowed by the FCC, it might not be stretching things to talk about a perilous trend.

They're hearing things down east

Mysterious S.C. booms now heard in N.C.

A happy moment

Being a member of the D.C. Bar does not offer much daily benefit when you live outside the beltway. By far the best perk is the back page of the Washington Lawyer, the "Legal Spectator" column by Jacob Stein. (If you think you've never heard of him, you could be wrong. He was Monica Lewinsky's lawyer.) For years I've thought these essays should be collected in a book.

And so they have! Not only that: many of the essays are online (scroll down). Heck, you can download the entire contents of The Legal Spectator and More as a .pdf.

Stein on Stein:

One of these days a tired lawyer, in retreat from the quickly running statue of limitations, and hiding out in a bookstore as I have done, will discover this book. And it may just happen that one or two of the remarks that follow will remind the tired counselor that the ungrateful client, the unresponsive judge, the damnation of deadlines are all common to those of us who must extract a living from the contention of others.

So nice to be able to revisit the defendant who should have looked, the powerful Madam Rosa, Stein's take on the Holmesian gloss on legal reasoning.

It is a happy moment.

P.S. The Washington Lawyer used to have a short story contest every year. The winners were sometimes incredibly good, like the one on a day in the life of Wallace Stevens as he found the perfect word for a poem while solving a tricky problem of insurance law. I thought these should be collected in a book too and even made a phone call to offer my services as editor (my working title: "Courting Fiction"). But by then they had already decided to cancel the whole enterprise, reasoning, I could only guess, that there's enough fiction in a lawyer's life already.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

'Tis the season

. . . to remember The Nightmare Before Christmas and the genius of Tim Burton. Can't wait for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp.

Here's the trailer.

And here's something endearing about Burton. Like most of us, he has projects that he's never finished! A Tim Burton Sweeney Todd just might have been too much.

Buckeyes' winning streak continues

Congratulations to my home team, the Gilmer Buckeyes, for winning the state semifinals game in Texas high school Class 3A Division II football. On Saturday they defeated the Snyder Tigers 53-20 in Texas Stadium. Now on to win the championship!

Raspberries to the Chapel Hill News

In a pretty amazing slip, the "Daybook" section of today's Chapel Hill News bills this Wednesday's annual "Bill of Rights Day" as "Unconstitutional Day."

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Peggy Misch for catching it long before breakfast.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Words, words, words

My book club's latest choice was Outwitting History, by Aaron Lansky (published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). It's the personal story of the mission that Lansky claimed as a college student and has been pursuing ever since: "rescuing a million Yiddish books" (and more) from literal dustbins of history.

Yiddish was the main language of Ashkenazi Jews for hundreds of years, but it was not widely captured in print until the advent of affordable print technology in the 19th century. But when six million Jews (most of the world's Yiddish speakers) lost their lives in the Holocaust, the language itself almost died.

"Between 1864 . . . and 1939," writes Lansky, "nearly thirty thousand separate Yiddish titles appeared, constituting one of the most concentrated periods of literary creativity in all of Jewish history." After the war, Yiddish served a very different purpose: it became a language of exile, of refuge in unfamiliar new places (notably New York). But it was not universally loved even among Jews. When measured against Hebrew, the language of God, for many it was just as well forgotten.

Acknowledging the tragedy of the Holocaust, one reader in the book group asked: "But why books?" Why not some other objects as object of Lansky's desire? "It's the shoes," said one whose great-uncle was among the victims. It's a tangible thing, the only thing that survives. This is true, said I, for language, while not strictly tangible, is a container (no less than a shoe)--a medium that holds and conveys the very culture of those who speak it.

My sixth-grade son is taking Latin. He a young scientist, I an old English major, have common ground here. "Latin unlocks a lot of secrets," says Tucker. Indeed. Just as the history of every word from whatever source bears traces of the history of the people who have used, misused, and abused it over time.

We know that language is power. Lately, thanks to George Lakoff, we know all about "framing" arguments (even if that particular knowledge does not always translate to the power to persuade). But Lakoff wrote an early book, Metaphors We Live By, which makes a more basic point. What we think is structured by the language we use in ways that we are not even conscious of.

To have your language stolen from you is something I can't really imagine.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Picture this

I sometimes think photo blogs are the way to go. Here are two nice ones in North Carolina:

Southern Highlands Cam

Blue Ridge blog

Commissioners to newspaper: That's not funny.

The Statesville Record & Landmark ran a syndicated cartoon depicting flag-draped coffins. The caption said, "I'll be home for Christmas."

The Iredell County Commissioners were not amused.

The paper (owned by Media General of Richmond) apologized.

Who knew?

Today is Human Rights Day.

(Via TalkLeft.)

It was a false analogy after all

The mighty Amazon lets us peek into the contents of Southern Slavery, As it Was. Published eight years ago, it spells out what George Bush was up to with his allusion to Dred Scott. The terrible case that said black Americans were not citizens was likened to the terrible case that legalized abortion. The unborn and the enslaved became powerful metaphors for each other among the Christian right. It's just the rest of us who were clueless at first.

But according to this book,

The only problem was . . . [the comparison] wasn't true. For the sake of a convenient argument against the monstrosity of abortion, we abandoned the clear teaching of the Bible on another subject--how slavery was to be understood.

Today, if a doctor who performed abortions "presented himself for admission to your church," of course you would turn him away. But if "this same church was moved back in time, and a man presented himself for membership along with three of his slaves," it would be a different story.

So there we have it. Abortion is less forgivable than slavery.

UPDATE: See Paul and commentary on "The Friendly Face of Slavery in Cary."

Both sides, still

Over in Cary, students are reading a little book about slavery.

Leaders at Cary Christian School say they are not condoning slavery by using "Southern Slavery, As It Was," a booklet that attempts to provide a biblical justification for slavery and asserts that slaves weren't treated as badly as people think.

It's only the cultural Marxists who have a problem with this.

UPDATE: The book has been pulled for faulty footnotes, etc.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Arkansas travelers

Sidney Blumenthal reports on the separate tours of the Clinton library that Karl Rove and President Bush got.

Rove had shown keen interest in everything he saw, asked questions, including about costs, obviously thinking about a future George W. Bush library and legacy. "You're not such a scary guy," joked his guide. "Yes, I am," Rove replied. Walking away, he muttered deliberately and loudly: "I change constitutions, I put churches in schools . . ."


Bush appeared distracted, and glanced repeatedly at his watch. When he stopped to gaze at the river, where secret service agents were stationed in boats, the guide said: "Usually, you might see some bass fishermen out there." Bush replied: "A submarine could take this place out."

They stayed for lunch but didn't linger.

Blogger ethics

Martin Kuhn, a journalism student at UNC, has created a metablog: a blog where bloggers can blog about blogging. What motivates us? What do we think we are doing? What ethical constraints do we acknowledge? He invites our answers.

This topic came up at the Piedmont Blog Conference. Ed Cone wanted to note that the strict rules of journalists (for example, a journalists would never show a draft of a story to a source) might be relaxed for bloggers. But it seems to me that important things like integrity and accountability are key to both.

A minimum level of amusement value seems important, too. Wait, is there an ethical responsibility to be funny? I guess it's an ethical responsibility to keep your blog interesting enough to keep coming back to. I've been falling down on that one lately.

I still stumble over the word "blog." It's ugly. I don't care if is "word of the year."

Sunday, December 05, 2004

"The delusional is no longer marginal"

In 2002, Bill Moyers attended the Earth Summit in Johannesburg. Despite all the "serious talk by serious people who've come here from the world over to see if we humans can treat the Earth as if we intend to stay," he found little encouragement. "I can't help wondering if the Earth won't one day return to the silence of the cradle where it all began," he said in an NPR commentary. "I don't fancy that. I have four grandchildren who deserve a future, but it could happen to all nine billion of us if all the talk is just talk."

Two years and one grandchild later, Moyers won the Global Environment Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. His acceptance speech was mostly no less depressing:

One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the oval office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

. . .

I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer--pictures of my grandchildren. . . . I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do." And then I am stopped short by the thought: "That's not right. We do know what we are doing."

From both sides now

The more I think about this sweet little essay by Ed Cone, the more I find to think about.

We watched ourselves as children and thought about the things we didn't know.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tom Wolfe on the liberal arts

Promoting his latest book I am Charlotte Simmons, which takes place at a fictionalized Duke University, Tom Wolfe was on The State of Things today. Somehow his thoughts turned to trade school versus the liberal arts. He worries that colleges have turned into trade schools:

You’re not getting what was always known as a liberal arts education. I . . . had no idea what liberal arts meant. Finally I looked it up. It’s from the Latin “liber” which means “free.” In Roman times slaves could learn any type of schooling as long as it was only practical. They could take engineering, which was complicated but practical. They couldn’t take philosophy, theology, history, rhetoric. These were all the arts of persuasion. They didn’t want slaves to be able to deal with concepts that would lead them to say, We should be free. This is an immoral state that we are being kept in.

I wish I could tell every student: The arts of persuasion are the most powerful that you will ever have in your life. The student who takes computer sciences will make more money when you get out of college in the first five or six years, but when you get to be about age 30 and it’s time to move up . . . there are going to be people who have the arts of persuasion. They can do conversation on all sorts of subject matter, they can perform salesmanship and negotiations with fluency. It’s a big trap in college to be aimed for particular career.

The long(leaf) view of history

Of all the ways to tell the history of the American southeast, conveying it through the lens of the longleaf pine has to be one of the most interesting and revealing. Looking for Longleaf, by Lawrence Early, tells a riveting tale of discovery and exploitation, capitalist expansion and unintended consequences, and, finally, environmental awakening and modest hope. From a review in the Wilson Quarterly,

Longleaf pines once covered 92 million acres of sand dunes, savannas, and foothills from southeastern Virginia to eastern Texas: “a continuous, measureless forest, an ocean of trees,” German traveler Johann David Schoepf wrote in the 1780s. Today, less than three million acres of longleaf forest remain, mostly fragmented into isolated stands near the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The former range of this long-needled, giant-coned species is now dominated by loblolly and slash pines—and, of course, by civilization.

The decline of the longleaf pine is a complex story, well and thoroughly told by journalist Law­rence Earley. Human exploitation of the longleaf forest began in the 18th century, when settlers loosed millions of grazing cattle and foraging hogs beneath the canopy. Later in the century, the tar industry rose in the Southeast to satisfy worldwide demand for naval stores; it was followed in the early 19th century by the rapid expansion of the turpentine industry. Turpentine “chippers,” Earley writes in one of his charming detours, hacked into the trees to draw out the resin, while crews of “dippers” collected the gum for the distillers—“outlaw work carried on by outlaws,” in the words of one worker. Though these practices didn’t always kill the trees, “cutting into a living tree with an ax . . . was not conducive to its health,” Earley writes. Slapdash chipping and dipping exhausted hundreds of thousands of acres of longleaf forest each year.

Next came the "cut and run" era: beginning around 1875, impatient clearcutting by the timber industry took a devastating toll, leaving behind fields too barren to regenerate. The timber companies operated as itinerant camps, pressing men into conditions almost as bad as slavery, yet at the same time foreshadowing the company mill towns soon to come. (When William Safire looked for the sources of this familiar campaign expression--"we're not going to cut and run"--he neglected this one.)

What followed in its wake were the now-familiar loblolly and slash pine, easier to grow yet in the end not as useful a wood. Too late did people realize the difference in the marketplace, for example, between heart pine floors made out of longleaf and their those cut from their weaker substitutes. Earley writes of a trip down a Florida river with George Goodwin, a latter-day heart pine floor manufacturer who claims as his best material the longleaf logs that slipped off the rafts 100 years ago in the days of abundant harvest.

The loss of sinkers, or "deadheads," as they were called, was common from rafts, with estimates running from 25 to 30 percent of the total. With great decay-resistant heartwood centers, the trees could stay incorruptible for hundreds of years at the bottom of the river.

"This stuff is absolutely perfect," Goodwin says. "If I had my choice between a beautiful board made from a beam and a beautiful board from a river log, I'd take the river log every time."

Earley is measured and diplomatic in his criticism of the federal land management policy that in the twentieth century did the most harm to the longleaf: the failure to perform controlled burns, the way the Native Americans were careful to do. Smokey Bear's advice might have been good for the white pine region of the northeast--which is what Earley stresses--but it seems that it hung on for far too long in the longleaf region.

Finally what had once been obvious became widely understood again: fire is a crucial element of the longleaf forest ecosystem, keeping the underbrush down so that seeds can germinate and dependent species can thrive.

We next entered a vast forest of the most stately Pine trees that can be imagined, planted by nature, at a moderate distance, on a level, grassy plain, enamelled with a variety of flowering shrubs, viz. Viola, Ruella infundibuliforma, Amaryllis atamasco, Mimosa sensitiva, Mimosa intsia and many others new to me. . . .

William Bartram, Travels (1791)

In a properly managed longleaf forest, Earley points out, the species diversity rivals that of the rain forest:
In the early 1980s Joan Walker, then a graduate student at the University of North Carolina working with Robert Peet, began to study the species diversity in a number of longleaf pine savannas in the Green Swamp, a 15,552-acre preserve in southeastern North Carolina owned by The Nature Conservancy. She counted the species at scales ranging from the very small to the very large. In her one-square-meter plots, she found an average of thirty-five species, with a high of more than forty. Longleaf pine seedlings grew next to numerous grass species and joined orchids, lilies, asters, carnivorous plants, and sedges.

These counts were off the charts, "a level of small-scale species diversity higher than any previously reported for North America and roughly equivalent to the highest values reported in world literature," as she and Peet announced in 1983.

This week it was announced that The Nature Conservancy is about to buy another 5,900 acres of longleaf pineland in southeastern North Carolina. Alan Weakley of the UNC Herbarium "thinks this acreage could be the most naturally significant long-leaf pine ecosystem in the Atlantic coastal plain between Virginia and Florida." It is home to three endangered species plus the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, whose symbiotic relationship with the longleaf pine environment (it is the only woodpecker to make its home in living trees) is a wonder to comprehend.

"We will never be able to experience an open, parklike forest stretching for hundreds of miles, as Bartram did, nor will we ever be bored [as some of the first Europeans were] by the endless monotony of a landscape of pines," Earley concludes. But happily, all is not lost.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Flippin' out

Here's a talented springer spaniel puppy named Abby, one of many dashing dogs featured at Modern Pooch.

(Via kottke.)

On the internet, possibly somebody does know you're a dog.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Tomorrow came and went.

From a site called Save Disney, "devoted to those concerned about the welfare of The Walt Disney Company and its future direction," a sad photo-essay on Tomorrowland then and now.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Remembering the last bus out

While the old Chapel Hill bus station waits for the wrecking crew before a new hotel takes its place, it is a provisional space for some interesting art. (Maybe someone can tell me why the blogger software insists on so much space above a table; scroll down.)

UPDATE: Mystery unveiled! Brian Russell has a fascinating interview with Matt Robinson, one of the creators of this work called "Seven Windows, Seven Doors." He talks about motivations and meanings in the post-election climate in which the work was generated. Thanks, Ruby.

By the way, I wish my photos were better, but they were taken through a chain link fence with an unsteady zoom.

More examples of "stencil graffiti."

we saw something

We saw something different here

We almost lost each other here

almost lost each other

here to there

11 hours from here to there?!

[Three shadows]


hoping to escape

I left here hoping to escape

I was discriminated against here

discriminated against

enforced the law

I enforced the law here

I looked away here

looked away

Many shadows

[Many shadows]

You're catching the last bus out of here, son

Last bus out of here


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Mixed blessings

It's almost the end of the semester for me and the Chinese law student I'm tutoring. On Thanksging Day, she is hard at work. Unlike other immigrants, she can't bring herself to care about Thanksgiving. She isn't even sure what it is for. Is it religious? she asks. She didn't think so, but she remembers a Muslim friend who wouldn't go to celebrate Thanksgiving with an American family because he thought it was Christian.

What Thanksgiving is is a hodgepodge, a cornucopia of ritual and myth. Texans near El Paso claim that their ancestors beat the Pilgrims by many years with a celebratory feast of fish, "many cranes, ducks and geese." The "first Thanksgiving" story and other claims about the Pilgrims (and what they ate) are debunked regularly by serious historians.

Charles E. Mann writes that it was a 1914 painting, "The First Thanksgiving," by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, that fixed in childhood our images of the historical event. Not only is the presence of turkey on the table wrong, he suggests: the painting masks the real picture of what European colonization was already doing to the North American ecology.

Until the arrival of the Mayflower, continental drift had kept apart North America and Europe for hundreds of millions of years. Plymouth Colony (and its less successful predecessor in Jamestown) reunited the continents. Ecosystems that had evolved separately for millennia collided. The ensuing biological tumult--plants exploding over the landscape, animal species spiking in population or going extinct--had consequences as profound as those from the cultural encounter at the center of Brownscombe's painting.

In a phenomenon known as "ecological release," imported species can run wild because their natural predators have not come along with them. Clover and bluegrass, tame as accountants at home, transformed themselves into biological Attilas in the Americas, sweeping through vast areas so fast that the first English colonists who pushed into Kentucky found both species waiting for them. The peach proliferated in the Southeast with such fervor that by the 18th century, the historian Alfred Crosby writes, farmers feared that the Carolinas would become a wilderness of peach trees.

South America was just as badly hit. Endive and spinach escaped from colonial gardens and grew into impassable, six-foot thickets on the Peruvian coast; thousands of feet higher, mint overwhelmed Andean valleys. In the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay, the voyaging Charles Darwin discovered hundreds of square miles strangled by feral artichoke. "Over the undulating plains, where these great beds occur, nothing else can live," he observed.

Today in these parts it is English ivy, microstegium, kudzu, multiflora rose.

Intercontinental cross-fertilization of law students and other human types is a wonderful thing. But it's no secret that our European ancestors badly mismanaged their new environment. For one thing, they failed to use the Indians' primary land-management technique: controlled burning. "When disease carried away native societies," Mann observes,

the torches went out. Trees and underbrush erupted in ways that had not been seen for millennia, filling in areas kept open by Indian axes and Indian fire. "Almost wherever the European went, forests followed," wrote the ecological historian Stephen Pyne. Far from destroying wilderness, in other words, European settlers created it--only it was a peculiar, unprecedented kind of wilderness, shot through with European invaders and characterized by population outbreaks from species that had formerly been uncommon.

"What was being created that first Thanksgiving," he concludes, "was nothing less than the American landscape itself."

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Media alert

Paul & co. will appear live on WUNC's The State of Things today at noon to talk about ten years of webcasting focusing on WXYC, of Jeopardy fame.

UPDATE: The lowdown.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The dream of a common language

Long ago, on a college campus far away, I first heard of Esperanto. To a newly minted English major in the wild and relatively hopeful 1970s, it seemed a grand idea with just a chance of success: a common language consciously constructed, out of goodwill not political force, sampling from many languages, made logical and regular, intended not to replace native tongues but to respect them, to supplement them for ease of cross-cultural conversation.

Alas, it was a grand idea, one that I mostly forgot about, for the reason that it is mostly forgotten.

If you look around today, you'll still read, as I'm sure I did, that Esperanto was "introduced in 1887 by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof after years of development." But I didn't know till I read in Aaron Lansky's fascinating book Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books that Dr. Zamenhof was a Jew--a Russian Jew.

Esperanto has been recently taught at Rice University by Neal Parker, who has a nice history of the man and the language.

In Warsaw as a teenager, Zamenhof applied his prodigious capacity for languages (and the emerging field of linguistics) toward solving the contentious problem of communication across ethnic lines.

In Tsarist Russia, his father had good reason to worry about stray papers lying about in a foreign language. The father, though recognizing his talent, discouraged and dissauded. The son promised to go to Moscow and study medicine (that being one of the few professions open to Jews in Russia), in exchange for his father's promise not to destroy his work. The son kept his promise, but the father did not.

The son became a doctor, but he "found it difficult to cope with the suffering of his patients." He turned to ophthamology.

The father of the woman he married financed the publication of his renewed linguistic work.

Zamenhof decided to publish in Russian partly because books in Russian were viewed with less suspicion by the government censors, and he decided to use a pseudonym lest suspicions of eccentricity cause damage to his professional career. . . . He intended for his language to be called lingva internacia but the pseudonym that he chose, Dr. Esperanto, soon came to designate the language as well as the author.

Esperanto means (in Esperanto) "one who is hoping."

Despite a crisis or two, Esperanto lives on. As one might imagine, it doesn't do so well during times of war. "World War I was very damaging to the movement. After slaughter on such a large scale it was difficult to recreate the spirit of hope and optimism that had flourished before the war."

The French are steadfast supporters of Esperanto.

The 90th annual Congress on Esperanto will take place next year in Vilnius. Czeslaw Milosz, who was once fired from a Vilnius radio station for his leftist politics, might have been amused.

What the cameraman saw

Here is war correspondent Kevin Sites' open letter to the "Devil Dog" Marines about what he saw and recorded in a mosque in Falluja.

I interviewed your Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl, before the battle for Falluja began. He said something very powerful at the time-something that now seems prophetic. It was this:

"We're the good guys. We are Americans. We are fighting a gentleman's war here--because we don't behead people, we don't come down to the same level of the people we're combating. That's a very difficult thing for a young 18-year-old Marine who's been trained to locate, close with and destroy the enemy with fire and close combat. That's a very difficult thing for a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel with 23 years experience in the service who was trained to do the same thing once upon a time, and who now has a thousand-plus men to lead, guide, coach, mentor--and ensure we remain the good guys and keep the moral high ground."

I listened carefully when he said those words. I believed them.

So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera--the story of his death became my responsibility.

The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.

I pray for your soon and safe return.

Images against war

"Thinking is my fighting," wrote Virginia Woolf in 1940. These images against war offer plenty to think about.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Blah blah blog

Not feeling very blogful, even though life is eventful. Maybe later. Meanwhile, Paul gives an amusing account of an artful weekend.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Lost and found

The Bottle House, Pioneertown, Wimberley, Texas
"Built of over 9500 sodawater bottles and lighted from the inside, it glows brilliantly at night."

"Small miracles" department: Half of my long-lost postcard collection has been found, and a hopeful search continues. About this and other losses I once wrote,*

For reasons large and small, I've been thinking about losing things--about how much loss a person has to bear up against in the course of just one ordinary lifetime.

Like my postcard collection: two bulging file draws of them, a pictorial diary, glossy and idealized, of a well-traveled childhood. It was organized geographically. Texas loomed largest, of course: the San Antonio river walk, the Fort Worth Zoo, the Humble Building on the Houston skyline, a house made of bottles at a Wimberley dude ranch, the HemisFair.

And in other categories, the 1964 World's Fair, the White House, Niagara Falls. Novelty postcards, such as a copper-coated one from Utah to which was attached a tiny bag of salt from the Great Salt Lake. Antique cards bought in Jefferson, bearing traces of the lives, and losses, of strangers.

Cards sent to me from places I thought I might never see, some of which I still may not: London, Paris, Jerusalem, Constantinople (to call it by its lovelier name).

There was even a postcard with my picture on it. Barely recognizable, Nancy Harrison and I sat on the pier in a long shot of the lake at Camp Nottawa. We were in Camp Fire uniforms. Were bathing suits unsuitable on fourth grade girls? This was one of a handful of local cards that for a while could be bought at the Dairy Queen, though I noticed that they never seemed to disappear.

All are lost now.

A poem by Elizabeth Bishop, which I have memorized so as not to lose, is some consolation.

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
. . .


1968 World's Fair HemisFair, San Antonio
Institute of Texan Cultures

The End of the Plain Plane
"You can fly with our airline seven times and never fly the same color airplane twice."

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."

Seeing Niagara Falls from "Maid of the Mist"
"The voyagers are swathed in oilskins as a defense from the saturating spray and the spectacle of the mighty volume of water, passing over the precipice 160 feet above, to fall in thunder on the rocks below, is as magnificent as it is impressive."

Statue of Liberty at Night
"Standing on Bedloe's Island, 1 3/4 miles from the Battery, it symbolizes 'Liberty Enlightening the World.'"

Recruiting poster, 1917, James Montgomery Flagg

*"Views from Carolina," The Gilmer Mirror, July 1998.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The first thing we do . . .

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," said Dick the Butcher, a follower of the rebellious Jack Cade, in Shakespeare's Henry VI, as they sought to overthrow the established order.*

This week, federal district judge James Robertson ruled that a Guantanamo prisoner could not be tried by military commission until "a competent tribunal determines that [he] is not entitled to protections afforded prisoners of war under Article 4 of the Geneva Convention ... of Aug. 12, 1949." And the President--who has declared all Guantanamo detainees "enemy combatants" exempt from the Geneva Conventions--"is not a 'tribunal,'" Judge Robertson wrote.

For every action, there is a swift and opposite reaction. At a gleeful meeting of the Federalist Society on Thursday and Friday, John Ashcroft minced no words:

Mr. Ashcroft had many in the crowd rapturous when he criticized judges who, he said, refused to recognize that they did not have the power to limit the president's authority to conduct a war against terrorists.

"The danger I see here," he said, "is that intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war."

The hostility to judicial review that Ashcroft shares with the Bush Administration was echoed even more plainly at this meeting by Justice Scalia:

"It is blindingly clear,'' he said, "that judges have no greater aptitude than the average person to determine moral issues."

The first thing to be done by the new Bush Administration is to take care of all the judges. Lawyers with dissenting readings of the Constitution are put on notice.

*I'm using this tired old line in a lawyerly way, but I can't help it.

UPDATE: Eric Muller is on the case, and Jack Balkin has some advice.