Saturday, December 31, 2005

Not playing possum: the real thing

Maybe you're within striking distance to make it up to Cherokee County by 10 p.m. tonight--in time for the 11th annual possum drop. It's a real possum this time, but don't worry, "The opossum is not actually 'dropped,' it is lowered with great care. We treat our little friend with respect, hold him in awe, and do not inflict any injury or traumatize God's creature of the night."

Here's what I had to say about it last year. No, I haven't been. Maybe next year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Slow reentry (production v. consumption)

We were in Texas for Christmas. Paul flew back on Tuesday; Tucker and I drove back yesterday and today, stopping over in Birmingham, which is halfway. The weather was lovely--wished we'd had our sandals--and thanks to the interstate, there's really nothing to the drive. Especially with 11 hours of Ender's Game on CD.

Santa brought me something I didn't think to ask for: The complete New Yorker DVD. Yes it's a pain not to be able to download the discs to your own hard drive. Yes it's a challenge to navigate. Nevertheless.

I'm reminded of something Bob Bain used to say to his freshman composition students. Dr. Robert Bain was a wonderful UNC English professor. He would say to his students, You are about to go from being consumers (of writing) to producers. But enough already. Being a consumer is enough. More than 4,000 issues, half a million pages of The New Yorker! What more is there to say, and not lamely?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Jesus in the schools: Texas showdown

Unfazed by the Dover decision, the school board in Odessa, Texas has followed through on plans to adopt the curriculum of the Greensboro-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. Among other advantages, this curriculum uses the Saint King James version.

Santa tracking

NORAD does it again.

Fifty years of this remarkable service began with a wrong number.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Away from home for the holidays

We're traveling south; little or no blogging till new year's. In addition to the great locations on my blogroll (Balkinization is essential reading on the NSA scandal), I recommend that you check out the guest-bloggers at IsThatLegal? --especially the locally famous blogger and talented law student Lance McCord.

Speaking of NSA, the GWU National Security Archive is full of informing information. I expect it's been all over the blogosphere by now, but it's worth noting that the NSA actually warned the Bush II administration that advances in technology were making it harder to ensure 4th Amendment protections. Looks like that bit of well-intentioned advice just gave them ideas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Well, whoever said it, it fits.

A friend told me about a trip to the mall today--said he went mainly for the spectacle, to experience the vast disconnect between the news about our government and the behavior of the governed. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men go shopping," was the thought that occurred to him. Or something like that.

Who said that? Burke, wasn't it? Probably not, according to one Martin Porter, who in 2002 made an extensive web-based study. He could find no source for this quotation in any of its variants.

A wild college town

I've heard there are foxes right in my back yard here on Morgan Creek, but I'd never seen one in the wild till last night: in Durham, on Campus Drive, somewhere near the Nasher Museum. We were on our way to the boys choir concert. We saw it cross the road, then we slowed down to watch it on the grassy bank. The car at the T intersection was probably waiting for me to go forward, more so than watching the animal--at least, that's how I took the honk of its horn--but the effect was that this car's headlights put the fox in a freeze, and so we all got to admire each other for a little while.

I'm all for animal-friendly roads, by the way.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Boys Choir at Duke Chapel tonight

This is Tucker's fourth year in the North Carolina Boys Choir. The choir is always wonderful, but never so wonderful as at the annual Christmas concert. For a small-town mom it's purely amazing to have a child that has the gift of being able to perform such beautiful music in such a space as Duke Chapel. If you're in the area and need a boost to your Christmas Holiday spirits, treat yourself to this terrific performance.

Wilmington revisited

Wilmington Nov. 10, 1898

The Wilmington report gets a nice write-up in today's Times. And the News and Observer expresses remorse for founder Josephus Daniels' role in it. What's striking, but not surprising, is how such a horrendous event was almost wiped from memory. One member of the commission that produced the report, a 68-year-old black native, said to the Times, "I didn't even know it happened until I was a grandmother."

Also striking, but not surprising, is the difference between the way the story of the "Wilmington Race Riot" had been told--"oft-repeated local claims that the insurrection was a frantic response to a corrupt and ineffective post-Reconstruction government"--and the stubborn facts that the record reveals. Not content to have won the election of 1898 by stuffing the ballot boxes, a white mob demanded an immediate turnover of power. That's when "Hell jolted loose." Further from the Times:

"The ultimate goal was the resurgence of white rule of the city and state for a handful of men through whatever means necessary," the historian LeRae Umfleet wrote in the report's introduction.

The report concludes that the rioting and coup fully ended black participation in local government until the civil rights era, and was a catalyst for the development of Jim Crow laws in North Carolina.

"Because Wilmington rioters were able to murder blacks in daylight and overthrow Republican government without penalty or federal intervention, everyone in the state, regardless of race, knew that the white supremacy campaign was victorious on all fronts," the report said.

The Wilmington report contributes significantly to a larger effort by historians to come to a more honest reckoning with Reconstruction and its aftermath. It joins recent reappraisals of racial violence in Rosewood, Florida, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it adds interesting overtones to my own work on a brutal event in Carrollton, Mississippi.

Eric Foner has been at the forefront of this movement. You can get a taste of his work in this neat digital exhibit/essay.

Foner's new book, which includes illustrated essays by Joshua Brown, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, stresses that the failure of Reconstruction was not because it was misguided and corrupt (though corruption did happen), but because white southerners could not tolerate the thought of blacks in the voting booth. The "what ifs" continue to haunt:

What if the brief flowering of equality in the war's immediate aftermath had been allowed to flourish rather than being brutally suppressed? What if the federal government had upheld the Constitution and upheld the rights of all its citizens? The story is at once poignant and urgent. The complex legacy of Reconstruction is lived every day in America. Until Americans understand that history, we are, as the saying goes, condemned to repeat it.

The North Carolina legislature did a brave and wise thing in setting up the Wilmington commission. Back to the Times: a white member "said he had questions initially about whether the report should have been done at all." Why go there? And yet, he said, "'My opinion changed, and I was surprised to learn the depth of feeling that existed and that it was not that long ago."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The colorful Depression

Via Jeff Pomerantz, a fascinating Library of Congress exhibition of color photographs taken by photographers for the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information.

Seeking the long view

President Bush said on TV yesterday that the national security bombshell--the NSA wiretappings, a headline of national and international import--was "not the main story of the day." Only in his dreams.

So this is the way to win the war on terror. The terrorists hate us because of our freedoms. Get rid of our freedoms. Then they won't hate us any more.

It's a sad and scary time to be an American. It would be nice to find solace in our own history and literature, to predict happier times. Harold Bloom tries it, clinging to Whitman in an effort to understand "what seems our national self-destructiveness." His little essay that might have moved toward a misty hope for the United States as "the greatest of poems" rises, in the end, no higher than the grim realities of the present moment.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gift ideas

Hot chocolate:

Vosges Oaxaca Bar, dark chocolate with guajillo and pasilla chiles

Dolfin chocolat, milk chocolate with hot masala

Indescribably good.

Going up

Annie Leibovitz documents the construction of Renzo Piano's New York Times office building.

(Via kottke, not boing boing.)

Wilmington report published today

The hundredth anniversary of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riots sparked an interest in coming to terms with what really happened. In 2000, the legislature appointed a commission "to develop a historical record" through detailed examination of source materials as well as interviews of descendants of people involved.

Sometime about now (11 a.m. today), the draft report is being issued. It's online too, which is wonderful. From the news release (.pdf),

The riot took place in an era when similar violent attacks on black communities by white mobs occurred in Atlanta, Tulsa and Rosewood, Fla. In Wilmington, in a move unparalleled in U.S. history, a coup d'etat replaced the city's duly elected officeholders with white supremacists. . . .

"This research demonstrates unequivocally that the Wilmington Race Riot was not a spontaneous event, but was directed by white businessmen and Democratic leaders to regain control of Wilmington," says Dr. Jeffrey Crow, deputy secretary of the N.C. Office of Archives and History.

Surely this study will confirm that to call it a "riot" was, itself, a rhetorical attempt to deny reality. A "riot" suggests an emotional outburst: what happened in Wilmington was coldly calculated.

UPDATE: NYT report.

Another city tries "housing first"

Santa Monica, California, is embarking on a housing first program to deal with its homelessness problem. That's one more example I hope we in Orange County can learn from.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Goodbye . . . and good luck.

To the person who found my blog by googling "civil rights term papers," you might try another kind of strategy. It may not be too late to do your own work. It's probably cheaper, too.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Land of the dreamy scenes

I'm worried about New Orleans. Despite what the experts say about modern cities returning from disaster, this one seems unprecedented. For one thing, the barrier islands are gone. For another, yesterday's NYT editorial says "the reconstruction is a rudderless ship."

A few weeks ago, Nick Spitzer, host of the "American Routes" radio show out of New Orleans, gave a talk here at UNC. "Many things are intact visually, but we are decentered in many ways," he said. From the time the storm hit, his show became a site of remembrance and community, a place where those exiled from the city could go to hear the music they needed to hear. And those songs included songs already about floods and disaster--like Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." Disaster has always been just around the corner in New Orleans, so when it really happened, there was an oddly comforting body of music to be found.

It struck me that Spitzer, who seemed so insistent that the cultural recovery of New Orleans had to come first, almost before red beans, rice, or housing, was just the right person to be there on the scene making it happen. But what I heard on the way out of the talk was that he was being wooed to relocate at UNC.

Editorials, ink

Romenesko reports that today is "Black Ink Monday," a day of expressive protest by editorial cartoonists upset about the way so many of them are losing their jobs. The News & Observer's own Ted Vaden is linked for his column praising the N&O for keeping its cartoonist on: "the next time [Dwayne] Powell makes you mad, be glad. Love him or hate him, there are not enough of his breed around."

Meanwhile Ed Cone get a nod from Romenesko for speculating on the future of newspapers.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Under erasure

A nice surprise in the atrium of the Nasher Museum is a typewriter eraser by Claes Oldenburg.

nasher museum

One of several versions (including lithograph), it's smaller than the one in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery or at the IBM building in New York.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably old enough to remember typewriter erasers. (Or are you? Remember typewriters?) They weren't wholly successful--typewriter ink being what it was, any success you had in erasing your mistakes was probably offset by a certain loss in the thickness of the paper. With electric typewriters and "correcting" ribbons and the great breakthrough of Liquid Paper, all of that was gladly left behind. But if you grew up around old manual typewriters, as I did, typewriter erasers were always around. I think this was part of the artist's statement--to take a common utilitarian object and defamiliarize it.

Our son Tucker, who is 12, had no idea what it was, of course. What does a giant steel and fiberglass typewriter eraser say to someone who has never seen an everyday one? He can't experience the space of play between the huge permanent fixture and the small insignificant thing itself. Without the familiar, defamiliarizing cannot happen. (Perhaps, in that case, something entirely different happens.)

But if the sculpture has to have a message--and maybe it doesn't, especially one that's this much fun--there's another one that slides into view as the obsolete referent recedes. Something about the ephemerality of technology--and, by extension, well, everything.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A dash through the Nasher

Janet Kagan and I went to the new Nasher Museum of Modern Art up at Duke yesterday, and here's what we thought.

nasher museum

The building, which is really five rectangular structures arranged in an irregular circle connected by an atrium, is a little smaller than we expected. It is nicely nestled in the woods there along Campus Drive, but once you're inside, there's not enough taking advantage of the views out. Granted, we didn't make the drive from Chapel Hill to look out the window, but we felt that better views could have been had. Although there's lots of natural light from the windows that do exist between the five "pods" and in the ceiling, the building feels massive--Janet sald "cavernous"--rather than light.

springer's point

David Dillon, architecture critic of the Dallas News, calls the ceiling "clunky."

Compared to the sublime lightness of Renzo Piano's vaults in Dallas [he designed the Nasher Sculpture Center], it has all the elegance of a train wreck, with massive intersecting beams and thick mullions, like a floating Mark di Suvero sculpture. It may be the price of a columnless public space below, but the solution lacks precision and refinement.

Dillon is just not a fan of the design at all. About the arrangement of the five rectangular structures, he says they "reach[] out into the landscape like clenched fists." But unless you arrive by helicopter, I don't really see that. I think that within the constraints of the terrain and probably budget, the architect, Rafael Viñoly, came up with a design that serves quite well. Not as successful as his University of Chicago business school project perhaps, where he met the challenge of standing up to Frank Lloyd Wright, but distinctive and functional.

There is only one entrance, via a gently sloping sidewalk, and for now at least, it is graced by one of Patrick Doherty's delightful "environmental sculptures."

The arrangement of the gallery structures around an atrium has one advantage: you don't get lost. This is a manageable museum. Actually only three of the five "pods" are galleries: one is an auditorium, and another, with the gift shop in the front, is I suppose meeting and office space. One gallery tells the story of the Nasher collection, well illustrated with some of their best modern treasures, including Andy Warhol portraits of Mrs. Nasher and the three daughters. Another highlights Duke's permanent collection.

Janet and I found the third exhibit the most interesting. A temporary exhibit, it's called "The Forest: Politics, Poetics and Practice." A whole lot of it--ironically, Janet thought--is photographs of the forest, but they are incredible photographs, some of them enormous cibachrome prints. (Exception: two black-and-whites. They look like the war in Vietnam. In fact, the photos were taken by a Vietnamese woman who was born in 1960; the scene is a Vietnam War reenactment somewhere in the southeastern United States.)

When you walk up to Janet Cardiff's wooden box, seen in this picture, you behold a diorama, an unsophisticated rendering of a small house in the woods. (You've seen better dioramas, which is part of the point.) If you put on the headphones, you hear familiar noises of the night woods, and then you start to hear faint voices as your attention is drawn to the house. You can't make out what's going on through the windows, but you sense that these are voices you would rather not be hearing. A drama unfolds, and in unnerving ways, you are implicated.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Oral histories online

Paul announces the launching, on Documenting the American South, of the first set of digitally archived oral histories from the Southern Oral History Program.

The 1985 interview with Joe Herzenberg is especially interesting to those of us local folks who now benefit from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. "His belief in the necessity of Cane Creek seems to frustrate the interviewer. . . ."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Brubeck: Take 85

Yesterday, AnonyMoses noted, was Dave Brubeck's 85th birthday. Here are a few free downloads--enough to make you want to dust off your old "Time Out" album (or CD, as the case may be).

The page behind the man behind Rosa Parks

Not being as addicted as some to the NYT opinion pages, I haven't mustered the outrage of some over its decision to designate all of that and much else as a "select" option. Until now. Unless you pay one way or another, you won't be able to see today's important article by Peter Applebome on the story behind that iconic picture of Rosa Parks on the front seat of the bus with an angry-looking white man in the seat behind her.

In the days before "photo-ops," this one was a photo-op. The man, Nicholas C. Chriss, was a UPI reporter. The picture was taken the day after a court order put the Supreme Court's order in the bus desegregation case into effect. Chriss, who died in 1990, wrote in the one brief account he gave,

It was a historic occasion. I was then with the United Press International wire service. A UPI photographer took a picture of Mrs. Parks on the bus. It shows a somber Mrs. Parks seated on the bus looking calmly out the window. Seated just behind her is a hard-eyed white man.

Each anniversary of that day, this photograph is brought out of musty files and used in various publications around the world. But to this day no one has ever made clear that it was a reporter, I, covering this event and sitting behind Mrs. Parks, not some sullen white segregationist! It was a great scoop for me, but Mrs. Parks had little to say. She seemed to want to savor the event alone.

According to historian Douglas Brinkley (writes Applebome), Mrs. Parks was a "reluctant" subject, "but both the journalists and members of the civil rights community wanted an image that would dramatize what had occurred." Dr. King and others took part in photo opportunities on that day as well.

Applebome's story is important because it gets so much right about what really happened. He interviewed 74-year-old Fred Gray, the lawyer who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. We're reminded, among other things, that Mrs. Parks' refusal to give up her seat was not unprecedented in Montgomery. But as Applebome puts it,

None of that diminishes the achievement of her life, just as, perhaps, the true story of the picture need not detract from its power. It's just a reminder that history is almost always more complicated and surprising than the images that most effectively tell its story.

It's too bad that this story-behind-a-story is so well hidden behind a paywall.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Happy New Year

Last night we had the ceremonial meeting marking the transition to a new Town Council. For me it was a time to stop and remember what an honor it is to serve the people of this great place.

Today's Chapel Hill news includes the fact that the town has completed its first on-line auction of surplus goods--and it was a tremendous success! Everything sold for higher than expected: a 1998 Chevy Blazer, valued at $4,350, went for $6,600. A 1988 John Deere Dozer, valued at $10,000, sold for almost twice that, $19,600. And more.

And here are lots of pictures from the Rosa Parks memorial bus ride and rally.

The real shame of Tom DeLay

While Tom DeLay defends himself from charges of money-laundering, he's behind another scandal with distressing and far-reaching implications. The Texas redistricting plan that he orchestrated was deemed by career Justice Department lawyers to violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The unanimous opinion of the team of lawyers was very clear about what it found:

[R]elying on a close examination of recent Texas elections, it concluded that the plan would reduce the ability of minority voters to effectively participate in the political process, the test for discriminatory effect under Section 5 [the "preclearance" requirement of the Voting Rights Act, to which Texas among other southern states is subject].

More specifically, according to the memorandum, the plan failed to pass muster under each and every factor the Supreme Court has established for gauging whether or not a redistricting plan will reduce minority electoral opportunity. This was not a close case.

A unanimous recommendation like this would ordinarily have been affirmed by the DOJ's politically appointed higher-ups. But this one wasn't. "The Texas case provides another example of conflict between political appointees and many of the division's career employees," according to the Washington Post. Indeed. As a better Texas politician said to George Wallace in 1965 for his part in the oppressive violence that led to the Voting Rights Act in the first place, "Shame on you," Tom DeLay.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Yes, Virginia . . .

A newspaper editor was challenged to tell the truth. And so he did.

Blog Against Racism Day

Admittedly I took the easy way out on December 1 by blogging about witnessing against racism by taking a bus ride. On the theory that I often find myself blogging against racism one way or another, I didn't go out of my way. And I'm still not, except by way of directing you to Michael Berube's great post for the occasion.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

When photography was new: DIY postcards

In The Devil in the White City, a dramatically told true story of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and, at its margins, a shadowy psychopath for whom many young women had a fatal attraction, we see the dawn of the American century: the first apperances of the Ferris wheel, the electric chair, Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit gum, and the Kodak camera. The psychopath, Dr. H. H. Holmes, ran a hotel that had a "Kodak room" where you could develop your film. That must have been about as cool as free wireless internet.

Over at The Morning News, Harvey Tulcensky and Laetitia Wolff introduce us to Kodak's 1907 innovation, "real photo postcards" (from their book of the same name). In an interview Tulcensky notes the comparison to But I think he's right about the difference: "The difference is that we are so inundated with images today, that there is no more naïveté in the image-making or choosing. The images that surround us are more often than not tired clichés."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Be well and happy always.

That is the wish of the Shiwa Monks from the Sera Jay Buddhist Monastery who could be found today in, of all places, University Mall. They'd spent many hours creating a beautiful ritual sand mandala. Today at 5 p.m., to beautiful chanting, they ritually destroyed it and gave the sand back to the earth, via Booker Creek.

mandala 1

mandala 2

mandala 3

mandala 4

mandala 5

mandala 6

Unsung hero: Georgia Gilmore

As I join the bus riders here in Chapel Hill in a little bit, I'm going to be thinking about food, specifically Georgia Gilmore's pound cake. Gilmore and her "Club from Nowhere" helped to keep the Montgomery boycotters well fed for the fight. Gilmore, in fact, was a fighter. She lost her job in a Montgomery restaurant for testifying on behalf of Dr. King in a trial against him during the boycott. That's when her cooking went underground. In a new cookbook called Hidden Kitchens you'll find her story--and her recipe for pound cake. I tried it out for my civil rights seminar students. Delicious.

This book would make a great holiday gift for anyone on your list interested in American history and food.

Rosa Parks rally today

In tribute to Rosa Parks, who was arrested in Montgomery 50 years ago today, the Chapel Hill area NAACP is hosting a bus ride down MLK Boulevard followed by a rally at the old Post Office building. The ride begins at 11 and the rally at noon. Details here. See you there?

Thanks again to Brenda Brown for organizing this event.

And remember that this is Blog Against Racism Day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Somewhere under the rainbow

A nice picture from Ed Cone documenting recent welcome rainy days.

PATHs home

The 2005 North Carolina Conference on Homelessness, sponsored by the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness, is taking place through tomorrow in Raleigh. I went to today's luncheon, where Mayor Foy and County Commission Chair Cary accepted an award for leadership in establishing a partnership to create a 10-year plan for ending homelessness in Orange County; and I attended the afternoon session for elected officials.

I learned a lot at that session--for one thing, that Gastonia has a great mayor. Jennifer Stulz is making things happen. Last year, the Gastonia police department won an award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police for community police work with their homeless population.

The community policing unit has worked closely with faith-based organizations to help address the problem of homelessness. Though on a small scale—only about 30 people in the downtown area are chronically homeless and 3 people successfully went through detox and halfway house programs—the project demonstrates how to share information and build partnerships.

Mayor Stultz talked about what the police actually do: they will talk to a homeless person, ask where their family is, what their problems are, and finally, whether they could use some help. Next thing, the police officer may be escorting the person to the detox center and, eventually, driving the person to distant places to be with loved ones.

Like Chapel Hill, Gastonia has a central business district where the homeless population has been considered a serious problem. Mayor Stultz' achievement was to convince the business community that the homeless were an economic development problem: that was the key step in enlisting their support.

Another great idea I learned about was the "one-stop" model of providing services to the homeless. Kay Ferguson and David Harris of Wake County talked about their experience with Katrina victims. In a span of 24 hours, 385 people were evacuated to Raleigh. Some didn't even know where they were. (When told he was in North Carolina, one man commented that at least the barbeque was good.) Quickly the county leased a space, an unused Nortel facility, and set up shop. In one location these people could sleep and eat, but also they could talk to HUD folks, and FEMA, and get medical attention, and more. We learned that this was the intuitive way in which Katrina relief sites were being set up all over the country: it just made sense, and it worked.

So why not do something like that with permanent homeless populations? It is being done: see the PATHMall in Los Angeles. Take the tour, dig the colors! I'd like to see our IFC evolve into something like this. IFC director Chris Moran, who was at the conference but not at this session, said he liked the idea too.

Even without having a "one stop" facility in place, communities are figuring out ways to approximate the result, if only for one day every couple of months or so. Last year San Francisco pioneered Project Homeless Connect, a day-long event in which volunteers go out into the community, find homeless people, and direct them to the services they need. This year, December 8 is National Project Homeless Connect Day. There's not enough time to organize one for Chapel Hill, but it's something to think about.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Wild Ocracoke

Spending Thanksgiving on Ocracoke Island was a family tradition for Paul when he was a boy, and it's a wonderful gift he's been giving his own son (and me). We missed last year, so it was really nice to be there this time. Despite the New York Times' promotion of our favorite perch on Silver Lake, the island didn't seem overcrowded; in fact, we thought it might have been a little bit down compared to other years.

Happily, everything was much the same (but note the startling news about Albert Styron's store, now a commercial print shop). New to us this time was the Springer's Point Nature Preserve, 31 acres of wilderness along the sound side of the south end of the island--a relic of what the whole island must have looked like once upon a time.

springer's point

The purchase was made possible by a $2 million grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. It's managed by the N.C. Coastal Land Trust, which plans to buy an adjacent 91 acres in coming years.

springer's point live oak
Ancient live oak.

springer's point soundside
Soundside, somewhere near Teach's Hole. (Blackbeard's treasure is said to be buried on Springer's Point.)

The trail is delightfully unimproved as yet, leaving much to the imagination. You can't miss Sam Jones' grave, though. He's buried here beside his horse, Ikey D.

springer's point sam jones grave
Sam Jones, who purchased Springer's Point in 1941, died in 1977.

The best history of Springer's Point, including episodes involving pirates and ghosts, is told by Philip Howard, whose ancestor William Howard Sr. once owned the whole island. Little did we know, when we heard Roy Parsons perform at the Okrafolk fundraiser on Friday night, that we were in the presence of a man who had been shaken to the very core by the ghostly apparition of his former employer, Sam Jones.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Because you don't have the time

One of Erma Bombeck's great lines: "Some women read the magazines in the grocery checkout line and never buy them; I buy them and never read them."

And then some of us only look at the covers and wonder about the answers to the urgent questions calling out to us. But there's never time to get a good enough look inside to find out--not without buying, that is.

Voila. It's not everything, but it's a start. Maybe it's enough.

Birth of a movement

Though the death of Rosa Parks was celebrated, her birth, unsurprisingly, was not. She was born in Tuskegee, but nobody knows exactly where. The search is on.

December 1 will be the 50th anniversary of her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. The boycott began on the 5th, the day of her trial, and lasted 381 days, until the Supreme Court affirmed an Alabama federal court's conclusion that the logic of Brown v. Board of Education applied to public bus lines as well.

In the blogosphere, Creek Running North is calling for December 1 to be Blog Against Racism Day. Bloggers and readers, take note!

In Chapel Hill, at Monday night's Town Council meeting Brenda Brown (who served with us on the MLK road naming committee) enlisted the town's support for a December 1 celebration. It will consist of a bus ride from the north end of MLK Boulevard to Town Hall, followed by a march to Lincoln Center, the school administration building and until 1962 the all-black high school. I'll post more details as I learn of them.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Austin is not so weird after all.

Austin and Chapel Hill are often compared as cool university towns, "creative class" enclaves, isles of blue in swirling seas of red. But as I wind down from a four-hour Town Council meeting, I note one difference: we don't start our meetings off with prayers, but in Austin, they do. (Not that this one's a bad prayer. Just badly situated.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Voting rights: "sea dragon" roused from slumber

When the white state of Alabama gerrymandered the boundaries of Tuskegee in such a way that not even the Tuskegee Institute remained in the city, attorney Fred Gray went into action. To his colleagues who said this was at most a 14th Amendment violation because the disenfranchised black citizens could still vote in county, state, and national elections, he said no: for his clients, who were shut out from voting in the city where they lived, this was a 15th Amendment case. He prevailed with his colleagues. He lost in Frank Johnson's court in the Middle District of Alabama, and he lost in the 5th Circuit, but he won a unanimous opinion from the Supreme Court. Gray said after the opinion came down in Gomillion v. Lightfoot that he believed it was Justice Frankfurter's shock that the Tuskegee Institute was drawn out of the city boundaries that won the case.

When the case went back to Judge Johnson for a remedy, in the face of voter registration requirements that had been systematically manipulated to keep blacks away from the polls, he issued a sweeping order stating that the requirements for black citizens should be no more restrictive than they were for the least qualified white citizen. This idea, which the 5th Circuit adopted and called the "freezing" doctrine, was codified into the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Judge Johnson saw that legislation as even more important than the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

It carried some new law with it. The Fifteenth Amendment had said that a person's right to vote could not be abridged because of race, color or creed or because of a person's history of having been a slave. That's all it said. . . . Thus, you had Southern states like Alabama applying tests and grandfather clauses and so on to thwart the rights of blacks to vote. But the Voting Rights Act brought the process of voting registration to a uniform style and made it abundantly clear that there were to be no literacy testst and poll taxes and so forth to abridge the right of blacks and poor whites to be a part of the election process. The Voting Rights Act, therefore, was some new law.

According to David Garrow, the Voting Rights Act is what made Jimmy Carter's presidency possible.

When Fred Gray argued his case, he used an illustration of the redefined, gerrymandered Tuskegee. He called it a "28-sided sea dragon."

sea lion

He thought he had slain that dragon--but maybe not.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

If Thurgood Marshall were up for confirmation

Pragmatic advice.

Remember that you joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund only because of their great dental plan and the opportunities to travel to the rural south that were not being offered by more prestigious firms. As a junior staffer, any memo you may have written or case you may have litigated was at the behest of your superiors, so you should not be held personally responsible for any views you may have expressed. . . .

In the matter of espionage

A man is conceited. A woman is vain. There is a difference.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Afro-Celts and other cultural cross-currents

"Celtic heritage is not reserved exclusively for 'white' people," argued Michael Newton in a fascinating lecture yesterday sponsored by the Center for the Study of the American South: "it is an important element in the history of our nation and belongs to people of all colors."

Newton's interest is in the Highland Scots, many of whom ended up settling along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Having come here as a result of the Highland clearances--harsh forced migrations as their lands were claimed by the British crown--they settled into lives that looked a lot like that of other white European southerners, including, sometimes, ownership of slaves. But white culture had its hierarchies too, and so the Highland Scots, like the Irish, were often considered by the Anglo-Saxon establishment (including lowland Scots) as no better than blacks or Indians.

Newton's talk focused on the broad cultural exchange that he calls the "Afro-Celt" experience, which includes the common use (historically, anyway) of the Gaelic language. For Newton, culture is highly bound up in language--and that was a claim that led to fascinating discussion after the talk. Does culture not have to do with who your ancestors were? asked one man. Not necessarily, said Newton; witness the contemporary Gaelic language revival. People are attracted to the Gaelic language/culture for multiple reasons, not always their ancestry.

The notion of African American Celts today was one interesting topic, raised for example by an African American woman who teaches at NCCU; she has a Scottish name, she doesn't speak like a typical African American, and she's from the South Carolina side of the Cape Fear basin. The issue of cultural identity she cited involves her students, who are reluctant to break out of their native African American dialect for fear of seeming "white." An African American sociolinguist who claimed also Scottish and Catawba identities talked about how we all engage in dialectical "code-switching." A woman of proudly indeterminate ethnicity, Rhiannon Giddens (who sang a beautiful duet with Newton), echoed Newton's belief that all categories of race reflect a failure of imagination. And yet, as a blind anthropologist pointed out ("I could never pass as a sighted person"), sometimes ignoring the labels is not possible.

Newton's understanding of Gaelic as more of an adopted than an inherited cultural identity is elaborated in an essay about the Gaelic language revival movement. The virtual community that he discovered through surveying language learners is one that is diverse, generally open to multiculturalism and alternative religions (if they care about religion, which many do not), and fluid. The reasons for their attraction may include family heritage but do not seem to be dependent on it:

A few see Gaelic language and tradition as essential ingredients of their spiritual life, wishing to bypass the later accretions of Protestantism, Catholicism, or Christianity itself to connect to more primal wellsprings. This is one of a number of indications that the Gaelic learners' movement in North America is a post-modern phenomenon. By "post-modern" I mean in this case the conscious recognition that all traditions are ultimately socially constructed and valid from some perspective, and that, to a considerable extent, an individual can choose which group to identify with and which traditions to adapt, adopt, or follow.

The rise of interest in Scots Gaelic is surely realted to the whole post-1960s interest in diversity and cultural roots. What's just as interesting--though it wasn't talked about directly--is that this same "multicultural" impetus is used in support of white supremacy in the new American South. A recent issue of Cultural Geographies (April 2005) includes an essay on "Whiteness, multiculturalism and nationalist appropriation of Celtic culture." The case studies include the League of the South: out of dubious claims to Celtic identity (a claim no self-respecting southerner would have made a generation ago), the League works to create a distinctive and racially exclusive "Anglo-Celtic" southernness--a move that rests, ultimately, upon the strength of multiculturalism itself.

But it seems that ironies abound. "Frederick Douglass" was not his real name. Out of slavery he took "Douglas(s)" from "The Lady of the Lake," by a great lowland Scott. In Rochester in 1849 (.pdf) he said,

Though I'm not a Scotchman, and have colored skin, I am proud to be among you this evening. And if any think me out of my place on this occasion (pointing to [a] picture of Burns), I beg that the blame may be laid at the door of him who taught me that 'a man's a man for a' that.'"

Douglass, who pointed out that "Genealogical trees do not flourish among slaves," in freedom took liberty with his own lineage, doing pretty much what Michael Newton celebrates in his study of the new Gaelic speakers: among those not of his kin(d), he improvises an identity well calculated to get them to acknowledge him as, fundamentally, one of their own.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Two views of marriage

Postmodern (charmingly conventional when you get down to it).

Not modern (good advice, though! it would just ruin my day to hear one of the other wives complimented in front of me).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


From the American Memory project of the Library of Congress, 19th century self-help and self-improvement documents. Two in particular seem worth noting.

How to Be a Lady: A Book for Girls, Containing Useful Hints on the Formation of Character (1850).

To be a lady, one must always behave with propriety; and be civil, courteous, and kind to all. To treat any human being with rudeness, would show a want of breeding of which no lady would be guilty. But the romping, roisterous miss, who pays no regard to propriety of conduct, will never be a lady. You will not, however, misunderstand me. Do not suppose that I would have you dull and mopish, never manifesting any gayety of spirit or playfulness of conduct; but, in all these things, I would have you behave with strict regard to propriety. (p. 10)

The author is not a lady: his name is Harvey Newcomb.

Plain Talk and Friendly Advice to Domestics: With Counsel on Home Matters (1855).

The author of this book, who describes herself as a married women neither too young nor too old to dispense such advice, chose to remain anonymous.

Sorry I missed it.

I was unable to join the rest of my family at the Triangle Bloggers Blast. Sounds like a good time was had by all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Raleigh's in Fast Company.

Fast Company magazine lists Raleigh as one of "15 up-and-coming hubs for creative workers." Mentioned is a software company that's moving from RTP to a converted tobacco factory in Durham (most likely here, where bloggers will gather tomorrow) so that employees can "work in a place where they feel inspired." Says the magazine: "The creative-class community--nearly 40% of the population, the highest among all our cities--is fueling downtown renaissances in both Raleigh and Durham." The downside? slow traffic.

You don't say.

The trope of the day for words that can't be said (except that they can).

Word re-upped

Looks like it was a bit of a rough start, but the indispensible Ed Cone ("Word up," smart posts in short order) is now sporting a typepad format, easy on the eyes and more usable for everyone. Congratulations, Ed. My blogroll is updated accordingly.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

When "No" is not enough

The Liberty Counsel ("Restoring the culture one case at a time by advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family") has announced that McCreary and Pulaski Counties in Kentucky plan to continue to defend their courthouse displays of the Ten Commandments. This despite the Supreme Court's opinion this past June in McCreary County v. ACLU.

How's that? The Supreme Court's opinion affirmed the Sixth Circuit's decision upholding the trial court's preliminary injunction against the courthouse displays. By order of the court, the displays--each of which had been broadened once before the trial court's opinion was issued in an attempt to make them seem more secular--were taken down post haste in advance of a potential trial on the merits seeking a permanent injunction.

The counties initiated an appeal of this decision but withdrew in order to regroup and hire new lawyers. Instead of appealing, they changed up the displays yet again, cushioning the commandments with "framed copies of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner, the Mayflower Compact, the National Motto, the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, and a picture of Lady Justice." As if the point were not clear--and, clearly, it wasn't--they added insistent commentary on how "The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition."

The ACLU succeeded in getting the initial injunction modified to apply to these latest exhibits. This is the decision the Sixth Circuit, by a 2-1 vote, upheld, and then the Supreme Court affirmed 5-4, in a decision written by Justice Souter.

Justice Souter's opinion fairly comprehensively deals with the merits of the case, focusing much of its attention on whether the displays had a "secular purpose." The counties wanted the Court to ignore the history of the displays (their original intent, if you will) and to look narrowly at the latest version. This the Court would not do.

The Counties would read the cases as if the purpose enquiry were so naive that any transparent claim to secularity would satisfy it, and they would cut context out of the enquiry, to the point of ignoring history, no matter what bearing it actually had on the significance of current circumstances. There is no precedent for the Counties’ arguments, or reason supporting them.

Although the Court was careful to say "we do not decide that the Counties’ past actions forever taint any effort on their part to deal with the subject matter," it indicated that context mattered a great deal: "an implausible claim that governmental purpose has changed should not carry the day in a court of law any more than in a head with common sense. It is enough to say here that district courts are fully capable of adjusting preliminary relief to take account of genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions."

So now the counties are aiming to try the issue on the merits in federal district court, hoping once again to take it all the way up. What dramatic shift in context are they going to be able to show? What "genuine change" in a "constitutionally significant condition"?

Only one. His name is Samuel Alito. He authored, for the Third Circuit, the opinion in ACLU v. Schundler (1999), which the counties had used--unsuccessfully--to support their argument. The issue was whether a "holiday" crèche and menorah in front of the city hall in Jersey City was constitutional. The city had "modified" the initial display to include "not only a crèche, a menorah, and Christmas tree, but also large plastic figures of Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman, a red sled, and Kwanzaa symbols on the tree." Similarly to what the Kentucky counties would do, to make assurance double sure they added interpretive text "stating that the display was one of a series of displays put up by the City throughout the year to celebrate its residents' cultural and ethnic diversity." Judge Alito held that the "modified" display was constitutional: "The mere fact that Jersey City's first display was held to violate the Establishment Clause is plainly insufficient to show that the second display lacked 'a secular legislative purpose.'"

But there's more to the history of this case than meets the eye. The 1999 Schundler case was the second Third Circuit opinion in the same proceeding. (Alito was not on the first panel of judges.) In a 1997 opinion, an appeal at the preliminary injunction stage, the court had held precisely the opposite: that even the addition of Santa, Frosty, etc. did not "demystify" the display. Specifically the court said,

We reiterate that Jersey City's display of the crèche at the seat of City government power impermissibly conveyed a message of government endorsement of religion. And, in our view, the City's addition of Santa, Frosty, and a red sled did little to secularize that message.

Judge Alito proclaimed this prior assertion of his own court to be "dicta."

I'm grateful to Eric Muller for analyzing this little wrinkle by way of asking how a future Justice Alito might be expected to deal with precedent.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

Against a Wal-Mart

When the big meeting happened in July at the Dockside in Chatham County to strategize about a possibly potentially coming Wal-Mart near the Orange County line, I was away. I was in Texas, where I noticed in a newspaper trade publication that the keynote speaker at the upcoming National Newspaper Association was going to be Wal-Mart's vice-president of corporate communications, Mona Williams. This wasn't long after the president of the NNA, Mike Buffington, had gotten into a bit of PR trouble himself for seeming to suggest that there was a tit-for-tat between Wal-Mart advertising and Wal-Mart news coverage.

But with reports of what happened at the NNA now in, it seems pretty clear that the point wasn't that the newspapers were in a hurry to do Wal-Mart's bidding:

Williams faced a tough crowd during NNA’s convention [in Milwaukee] Sept. 30—a room full of agitated newspaper publishers and editors who felt insulted by Wal-Mart’s refusal to advertise in their papers while at the same time expecting them to cover public relations “events” of marginal news value.

No, the newspaper folks are simply as put out with Wal-Mart as a lot of us are:

Buffington noted at the convention that an NNA survey this spring showed that fully 81% of responding newspapers believe Wal-Mart has had a negative impact on their community's retailers. More than two-thirds, 67%, said the retailer had had a negative impact on their papers.

Nicely timed with the local release of the film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," the Independent Weekly has a great cover story by Dan Coleman on "What's Wrong with Wal-Mart?" "Even the most self-interested Americans should be concerned about Wal-Mart's employment practices," he writes, for "someday, someone you love may have no option other than a Wal-Mart style job."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Circles of memory

Louise Stone, longtime Chapel Hillian and wife of Chuck Stone, isn't very happy with the Unsung Founders memorial. Reprinting her letter, Ruby Sinreich confesses that she isn't either. The "enormous contributions of black workers" are "midgetized," Ms. Stone says. And the small figures have no faces, Ruby says (that's not exactly true, but you do have to look hard for them). They're dwarfed by a shiny granite tablet that, because it's round and black, looks a bit too much like another civil rights memorial, Ms. Stone points out: it isn't even original.

Maya Lin Montgomery
Maya Lin, circular water table, Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Ala.
Photo by Jeanne Goldman via Mary Ann Sullivan.

She's right about that much. Maya Lin's Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery also incorporates a circular piece of black granite. Water "rolls like justice" across the names and dates of key players and events in the movement. Nearby is the "Wall of Tolerance," where you too can have your name placed (in exchange for a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center). Click on the "online" box on the right side of this page and you can experience some of this very textual (and tactile) memorial for yourself.

"Why do contemporary monuments talk so much?" asked Dell Upton in a talk at an architectural history conference at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2003. We are living in a particularly active period for the creation of public memorials, he noted. Reflecting the times we live in, they are typically not statues of "great men" on pedestals; rather, they celebrate the collective efforts or sacrifices of individuals (the Oklahoma City memorial being one example), and they tend to tell multiple stories, not just one story.

The Unsung Founders memorial is in this contemporary tradition. Not as "noisy" as the one in Montgomery, still its attention is on the collective (the circle itself symbolizing a wholeness made of multiple parts), the many enslaved and free blacks whose labor built the university. In this light, the difficulty of reading the faces on the figures holding up the granite tabletop becomes meaningful. In her dedicatory remarks last Saturday, Dean Bernadette Gray-Little reminded us of the poverty of genealogy that African Americans suffer: these are faces that can't be clearly drawn because their names are not all known.

Are they about to be crushed by the weight of the stone? wonders Eric Muller. Time will tell, but it looks doubtful. It's not a bad question, though. If the possibility occurs to someone, then it seems to me that the message of their sacrifice has gotten through. What comes through to me, as I have said, is their strength.

The only other period of American history that has rivaled our own for the erection of public monuments, according to Upton, is the turn of the last century. Monuments were very different then; they tended to reflect singular narratives of the dominant culture: like that of the Lost Cause, for example. Silent Sam is a product of that time. Although he has his back to the Unsung Founders (his wary eye fixed northward), it's not hard to imagine them in conversation. What goes around comes around.

Time capsule in Montgomery

The mug shot of Rosa Parks that was widely circulated after her death was part of a collection discovered just last year by a deputy sheriff in Montgomery County, Alabama, as he was cleaning out a storage room. See more of them from the bus boycott here, as well as a few mug shots from the 1961 Freedom Riders arrests in Montgomery.


Congratulations to Laurin Easthom, Mark Kleinschmidt, Ed Harrison, Bill Thorpe, and Mayor Kevin Foy, all winners in yesterday's Chapel Hill Town Council election. Congratulations also to Will Raymond, who came short of winning but ran an energetic and innovative campaign. I hope he'll stay involved.

Halfway through my own term, I'm reminded what an honor and a privilege it is to be elected to serve the people of Chapel Hill. I look forward to working with my new colleagues on furthering our current agendas--especially those that are important to me such as inclusionary zoning, homelessness, our downtown development initiative, environmental protection--and to listening to their new ideas.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The thing about cassettes

I never understood the attraction of cassette tapes. I guess I still don't.

In search of Erskine Caldwell

Last week my seminar class read In Search of Bisco by Erskine Caldwell, a candid, reckless, lyrical tour of the deep South in 1965, just after Selma. Bisco, a black boy, was Caldwell's childhood friend, but we are given to understand that even had Caldwell not moved away (his father was a Presbyterian minister), the wall of the Solid South would have come down between them. On pretext of searching for some clue of where Bisco ended up, while asking other questions about the region he calls "Bisco Country," Caldwell mixes it up with folks black and white, young and old, rich and poor.

Inspired by the "gumbo" culture of New Orleans, he ends the book confident that the city offers the best hope for a true emancipation:

As a result of generations of racial commingling and assimilation, New Orleans is the one place in Bisco Country where social conflict has the best opportunity of being adjudged by intelligence and sympathy rather than by the agony of physical force and vioilence. New Orleans has had its share of racial disturbances in the apst and, like other American cities in the Racial Sixties, it will be subjected to more in the future. Nevertheless, because of the sympathy and sophistication of its population, a mutually satisfactory adjustment of social and civil rights is likely to be achieved with more ease and quickness in New Orleans than elsewhere in the United States.

Thankfully in some ways, Caldwell did not live to see how wrong he was. It's an open question how accommodating the planning process for the new New Orleans is going to be toward gumbo-style mixtures.

Only two students had even heard of Caldwell, and they weren't exactly sure why. And yet Tobacco Road is on the Modern Library's list of 100 best novels of the 20th century. That's a pretty amazing fall for a man thought by William Faulkner to be one of the country's five best novelists.

Monday, November 07, 2005

C.P. Ellis, unlikely friend, dies at 78

Diane Bloom, producer of An Unlikely Friendship, reports the death of C.P. Ellis, the Durham KKK leader who was thrown unwillingly into an association with Ann Atwater, an African American activist, all for the cause of the education of their children.

Civil rights papers online

Here's a great resource for civil rights research: the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland School of Law has put its entire collection of papers from the United States Commission on Civil Rights online. Against all odds, the Commisison still exists.

Alito, up or down

Hendrik Hertzberg cracks the secret: what is "Samuel Alito" an anagram of? (But that's not really the point.)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The custom of the country

Wednesday at the law school, a panel discussion was held in advance of Thursday night's hearing in Raleigh focusing on the state law that prohibits collective bargaining by public employees. TV vans were parked outside. But they were there for something else. The room where the four members of the International Commission for Labor Rights was meeting was practically empty. Best I could tell, the people there were labor law students, some public workers from Durham, and a few local labor activists (of which I count myself one).

Enacted in 1959, when the custom of the country was still racial apartheid, N.C.G.S. sec. 95-98 says,

Any agreement, or contract, between the governing authority of any city, town, county, or other municipality, or between any agency, unit, or instrumentality thereof, or between any agency, instrumentality, or institution of the State of North Carolina, and any labor union, trade union, or labor organization, as bargaining agent for any public employees of such city, town, county or other municipality, or agency or instrumentality of government, is hereby declared to be against the public policy of the State, illegal, unlawful, void and of no effect.

Although a number of states states in fact do not honor public-sector bargaining rights, North Carolina shares with Virginia the distinction of being the only states with an explicit statutory ban. In this regard, we are way out of step with international law. That is the message that these distinguished fact-finders had to bring, while aiming also to gather testimony that will help North Carolina workers plead their cause in an international forum. The hearings were arranged by the Durham-based Local 150 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. The union plans to incorporate the panel's findings into a complaint against North Carolina in the International Court of Justice.

The Commisison members were representing the International Labour Organization. Founded in 1919, the ILO was a product of the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. Its purpose was to set minimum international labor standards for member nations. The United States joined in 1934 but has not ratified many of the basic conventions. According to one scholar, Edward E. Potter, "The Growing Significance of International Labor Standards on the Global Economy," 28 Suffolk Transnational Law Review 243 (2004):

Even for the most widely ratified conventions, primarily concerning fundamental worker rights-freedom of association, right to organize, collective bargaining, forced and child labor, and equal opportunity-it remains the case that over half of the world's workers do not work in countries that have ratified these conventions. This is because three large countries, China, India and the United States, have ratified few of the fundamental labor standards.

Nevertheless, according to our panelists, so many civilized countries have ratified the right to public-sector collective bargaining that an argument can be made that this is a right that has achieved the status of "customary international law" and thus is enforceable in an American court as a matter of common law. Looking at the two ILO conventions that grant the rights to organize and bargain collectively, a federal district court in Alabama held in 2003 in a case involving the Alien Tort Claims Act, Rodriquez v. Drummond, 245 F. Supp. 1250 (N. D. Ala.), that such rights were enforceable fundamental rights:

Although this court recognizes that the United States has not ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98, the ratification of these conventions is not necessary to make the rights to associate and organize norms of customary international law. As stated above, norms of international law are established by general state practice and the understanding that the practice is required by law.

That seems enlightened, especially given the horrible facts of this case (scroll down to no. 4): three Colombian union organizers were killed by paramilitary agents of an American company. All the same, it raises a larger question. Just what is, or ought to be, the relationship between law and social norms? Is this a particularly European way to think? (I ask because I once heard a British commentator on the radio say, The social policies of today are the laws of tomorrow, as if it were a truism and a good thing.) When I tell you that I've spent much of my time lately immersed in the history of the "massive resistance" to Brown v. Board of Education, you might understand why the notion that laws should follow customary practices sounds to me, at the least, problematic.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sinus infection from Mars

The other day I saw a commercial for some kind of help for a sinus infection. It was illustrated by this cute little Archie McPhee character (which I have one of, a cherished gift). When he is miserable, his ears and eyes and mouth bug out. Then he gets all better. I know I've felt like that. But I can't remember the name of the drug.

Halloween leftovers


Singing the unsung

A little over a year ago, at a conference about Reconstruction at UNC, Yonni Chapman asked us to join him on a trip around campus:

Imagine, if you will, a campus transformed by a sense of social justice. Let’s walk across Franklin Street and enter the campus by Battle-Vance-Pettigrew. The first thing we would see is a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King reaching out to us to help “save the soul of America.” As we walk on, past Silent Sam, we would come to the statue in front of the Alumni Building honoring UNC’s unsung founders, the black workers, slave and free, who built Old East and other university buildings. . . .

Most of the stops on his tour live only in the imagination (so far), but the memorial to the unsung founders is for real. Tomorrow at 10 a.m. it will be dedicated.

unsung founders

It's been installed since May. I've hardly ever walked past it when no one was sitting there talking, or eating. You rarely see public art this successful at drawing the public in. In homage to the people whose enforced service it honors and attempts in some way to atone for, it is unassuming and serviceable. And yet, look closely: it also honors their strength.

unsung founders 2

UPDATE: More here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Intellectual property conference at UNC

Today and tomorrow.

The Information Revolution has brought into question the wisdom of intellectual property regimes and their relationship to society, culture, jurisprudence, commerce, and government. Intellectual property law is built upon historical notions of tangible property ownership—with the basic premise of restricting access by others. By contrast, the Information Revolution is grounded in concepts of enhanced access and a more universal sense of ownership. Cultural, social, intellectual, and economic growth must be driven by creativity and innovation, and successful growth increasingly depends upon the dissemination of information and application of knowledge. The University Of North Carolina Symposium on Intellectual Property, Creativity, and the Innovation Process will invite 100 participants to question whether creativity and innovation can fully flourish under the current intellectual property regimes. By making the inquiry intellectual property regimes, rather than just intellectual property law, the Symposium can examine business, political, and cultural practices as well as jurisprudence.

Paul has been working hard to help organize this conference for a long time. The rest of us will eventually have access to telecast, podcast, and an online journal to come out of it.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Saint Rosa (and a sinner)

Rosa Parks

If the Constitution is our sacred text, then Rosa Parks is being canonized.

But it takes nothing away from the achievement of the "mother of the civil rights movement," I trust, to remember that she wasn't the first woman in Montgomery to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat. That honor belongs to Claudette Colvin, who as a 15-year-old girl had a nightmarish experience on the same Montgomery bus system before being hauled off and arrested.

Like Parks, she, too, pleaded not guilty to breaking the law. And, like Parks, the local black establishment started to rally support for her cause. But, unlike Parks, Colvin never made it into the civil rights hall of fame. Just as her case was beginning to catch the nation's imagination, she became pregnant. To this exclusively male and predominantly middle-class, church-dominated, local black leadership in Montgomery, she was a fallen woman. She fell out of history altogether.

It wasn't just that she was pregnant. She happened to have very dark skin. She was decidedly working-class. After a long history of carefully chosen plaintiffs as well as issues--the NAACP's pre-Brown strategy comes to mind--activists in Montgomery were not inclined to take a chance on Colvin. Said one of them, "She lived in a little shack. It was a case of 'bourgey' blacks looking down on the working-class blacks."

Although the dominant line on Colvin (for she usually does get a footnote) is that she was foul-mouthed and immature, hardly one for political prime time, that wasn't exactly true. And besides, once the Montgomery Improvement Association was formed to conduct the boycott and file a constitutional class action in federal court, they chose her as one of the named plaintiffs.

She credits the lawsuit for ensuring the success of the boycott. She herself wasn't active in the boycott or the marches, she recalled the other day while reflecting on Parks' death. She was a poor single mother. "I didn't have the support to continue. If I went to jail, who would support my family?"

Rosa Parks is an American icon, but with images of a ruined New Orleans fresh in our minds, we needn't feel too triumphalist about what was accomplished in her name.

Nyro and other heros

So as I'm reading Kurt Vonnegut's Man Without a Country and I come upon this passage,

But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What had happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'etat imaginable.

I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale."

I start to think, you know, Vonnegut is Bill Moyers with a sense of humor.

Then I get to the end of the book, which is a "Requiem" that begins,

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
"Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do."

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

And that, in fact, is something Bill Moyers had already said:

I see the future looking back at me from these photographs [of his grandchildren] and I say, "Father, forgive us, for we know now what we do." And then I am stopped short by the thought: "That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world."

Anyway the upshot is that Vonnegut/Moyers left me with a longing for Laura Nyro, who died too young and too soon. "Save the Country!" (If you're lucky or patient, you can hear a snippet of it here.) I'm not the only one to try to channel her lately.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

North Carolina news

Amid depressing stories of scandal and incompetence in high places, Todd Morman notes two items of local interest:

Did Martha Stewart's prison friendship with Meg Scott Phipps have anything to do with Stewart's decision to start her line of branded homes in Cary, NC? Rumor has it (well, I thought the source was reliable) that Stewart's next development will be in Burlington, on Phipps' family land. Let's see if my sources are any good, eh?


The official site of Loggerheads, a movie about adoption [just opened] that's based on a true North Carolina story. The birth mother is actually living in Chapel Hill right now. Watch the trailer here [.mov]

The spelling Jones

In an unusually Safire mood, Paul has decided to work it out over "alright" v. "all right." Which is right already? He's right to suggest I am showing my age by sticking with the fussy "all right." "Alright" is an illiterate corruption. I hold to the 1975 American Heritage Dictionary and the 2nd edition Fowler's Modern English Usage (1965), which tell us, as Paul noted, that "alright" is either a misspelling or it's vulgar.

Fowler's 3d ed. came out in 1996--a much revised version, Fowler being long gone. (He was gone for the 2nd ed. too, but the editing was lighter.) I remember John Updike's review in the New Yorker as being not generally positive. I'm wondering what that edition does with "all right" and if Updike had anything to say about it. But I need the complete New Yorker CD-ROM to find out.

Sure "the kids are alright." Kids are kids and need instruction, and so do their teen idols. Bob Dylan (writing during earlier days of this transitional time) seems to have been conflicted, but I find more uses of "all right" than "alright." Don't think twice: it's all right.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers: the other shoe falls.

Harriet Miers says it's all about executive privilege?

This story, for one, suggests otherwise.

I guess Slate will update its Miers-o-Meter soon (confirmation chances at 60 percent as of Wed.).

"Lone Star Statements"

I thought this item was going to be about Texas, but really it's much more amusing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

History turns a corner

Constance Baker Motley, Vivian Malone Jones, and Rosa Parks have passed from the scene within the space of a month.

"As people get older and people pass, it becomes more and more difficult to have that sort of firsthand knowledge" of the fight for integration, said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who met Parks as a 17-year-old student and activist. "It becomes a little more difficult to pass it on."

In my seminar, as we studied the Montgomery bus boycott and Browder v. Gayle, the federal lawsuit that resulted, we came up against a question: could the boycott have succeeded in changing the law without the court's involvement? Or flip it around: would a lawsuit without the public pressure, in the deeply resistant South just shortly after Brown, have achieved any lasting practical result?

In an important new book, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, Michael Klarman argues that Browder v. Gayle was virtually irrelevant:

[T]o focus on Gayle's contribution to desegregating Montgomery buses is to risk fundamentally misunderstanding the significance of the boycott to the modern civil rights movement. The boycott revealed the power of nonviolent protest, deprived southern whites of their illusions that blacks were satisfied with the racial status quo, challenged other southern blacks to match the efforts of those in Montgomery, and enlightened millions of whites around the nation and the world about Jim Crow. A less satisfactory outcome would have been disappointing to Montgomery blacks, but it hardly would have negated, or even greatly tarnished, the momentous accomplishments of the movement.

Jack Bass--biographer of Judge Frank Johnson, who along with Judge Richard Rives voted in favor of the the plaintiffs on a three-judge federal panel--sees it differently: "Only the federal courts and a deeply ingrained and abiding, if sometimes grudging, respect for the law achieved [the result of desegregating the buses]. These forces also provided a channel through which an essentially nonviolent revolution could flow."

Just possibly, both claims have some truth to them.