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.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Chapel Hill to Bush: End war now.

Tonight the Town Council enthusiastically and unanimously passed a resolution brought to us by Dan Coleman, Jim Protzman, and Mark Marcopolis: "A Resolution Calling for New Federal Priorities." Listing a long train of abuses and omissions in public policy priorities, all of which have direct and sustained impact on local government, the resolution concludes,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Mayor and Town Council that the Council hereby petitions the Bush Administration and Congress to immediately end the war in Iraq, re-establish a progressive tax code, curtail end favoritism toward corporate interests, develop responsible policies focused on renewable energy, and commit to priorities that reflect the common good.

(The editorial changes were suggested by Mayor Foy.)

Is this an exercise in frustration? I don't think so. Local government is the front lines. If we can't register the complaints of the people to the powerful in Washington, who can?

Shortly later into the meeting we received another similar petition on ending the war, signed by many citizens. We endorsed it unanimously too.

UPDATE: Somebody at Kos stole my tagline! (Just kidding. It was pretty obvious. Glad for the attention.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Quilting in code? unraveling a myth

In South Carolina an African American woman, Ozella Williams, made quilts in patterns that, so her mother said, formed a code for navigating out of slavery on the Underground Railroad. The theory of the threaded language got a boost with the 1998 book Hidden in Plain Sight: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. The trouble is that respectable historians of slavery, including David Blight and Paul Finkelman, can find no evidence for it.

Says Blight, who has edited an essay collection in honor of the opening of the National Underground Railroad Center in Cincinnati, "This is 'myth' of the softest kind that serves the needs of the present for people who prefer their history as lore and little else."

Finkelman says that in his extensive research of antebellum court papers and other documents, he has never come across the slightest reference to a code in quilts. To his mind the interesting question is "why people are so desperate to create" this myth.

UPDATE: Another scholar on the H-Slavery list says, if you believe the quilt story he has a lawn jockey to sell you.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Friedman on Miers

Our friend Myles Friedman explains "Why Miers worries me so much" in today's N&O. He didn't even mention her inexplicable failure to pay her bar dues.

In other Friedman news, Kinky is still trying like crazy to get on the ballot in Texas. Wish him luck.

Seasonal tutorial

Check it out, pumpkin.

Downtown Chapel Hill redevelopment: one step closer

As reported today, on Monday the Chapel Hill Town Council will be voting on a memorandum of understanding with Ram Development for our downtown redevelopment project. For those of us on the negotiating team, it has been a fascinating and educating experience. We were capably assised in this complex negotiation by Charlotte real estate attorney Glen Hardymon.

The town web site has a nice set of documents (scroll down) that lay out the process and what the parties asked for and what we agreed on. The most significant thing that the town got was a fixed price for our own investment. It's going to be quite an interesting process to get from here through the final design stages to the point of seeing it rise up out of the ground.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Strunk & White, illustrated

Why didn't anybody do it before? is what Maria Kalman wanted to know. And if an illustrated Elements of Style is not enough, it's been set to music: opening tonight at the New York Public Library.

I hope they touch upon the "however" rule (one of my favorites).

UPDATE: How bloggy! Reader Terri-Lynn Sykes saw this info and urged a friend in NYC to go see the performance. That person did go and blogged a beautiful report, calling it "one of the most magical, hysterical, sincere, ironic, silly, glorious, hip, nerdy and just plain cool concerts ever performed."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

West House: new lease on life

West House will not be demolished in Fall 2006 after all. The planned parking deck that it was standing in the way of has been taken off the drawing board. Surely the West House Coalition, headed by the indefatigable Jeffrey Beam with strategic assists from Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, deserves some of the credit.

University officials caution that it would be "premature" to assume West House will never fall to new development. But this news is certainly good news. At the least, it buys time for some creative thinking about alternatives (including relocation to another campus site).

Please consider adding your name to the Coalition's petition in support of West House's continued existence as part of UNC's future Arts Common.

Monday, October 17, 2005

One man's trash . . .

In a straightforward opinion rehearsing the law of search and seizure and that of abandonment, the Montana Supreme Court decides that a man who had thrown out evidence of the manufacture of methamphetamines had no reasonable expectation of privacy when the police came along and did a "trash dive."

Concurring justice James C. Nelson agrees that the law is in the state's favor. But he doesn't like it one little bit:

I don't like living in Orwell's 1984; but I do. And, absent the next extinction event or civil libertarians taking charge of the government (the former being more likely than the latter), the best we can do is try to keep [Uncle] Sam and the sub-Sams on a short leash.

And he holds open the possibility of reconsidering next time, "even if I have to think outside the garbage can to get there."

Speaker ban film wins award

Gorham "Hap" Kindem, professor in the communication studies department at UNC, will receive an award at a Berkeley film festival for his film on the UNC speaker ban. The late and beloved Joe Straley is interviewed for his part in it. Amazingly, Kindem found footage of the offending speeches in a London TV archive.

I do hope it'll come to Chapel Hill audiences soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Harper's Ferry, 1859

On October 16, 1959, John Brown launched a rebellion to free the slaves in Harper's Ferry. It didn't succeed. But neither did he die in the effort. Rather, he lived to be tried and sentenced to death, all the while writing himself into American history as a romantic martyr to the abolitionist cause.

John Brown

In Robert Ferguson's analysis, John Brown

roused visions in the American psyche of both cultural fulfillment and purification. These visions in turn competed with nightmares of armed invasion and racial warfare in simultaneous and compelled narratives that made Brown both hero and villain. None of these narratives had much to do with the facts of Harper's Ferry. The narratives conflated political, religious, legal, and racial perceptions in formulaic patterns that, in turn, exaggerated every possibility--and especially exaggerated the character of Brown. This strategy of exaggeration transfigured Brown from lifelong bungler, bankrupt, narrow extremist, murderer, and border fugitive into a cultural icon.

John Brown's capture
Marines storming the engine-house. (Historic photo collection, Harper's Ferry NHP.)

Such was the staying power of the romantic narrative of John Brown's life that the true origin of the famous song about him has been lost. It was actually written as a joke on a Union soldier who happened to share Brown's name.

"Lost entirely is the low humor and comic incongruity, hero against anti-hero, that gave birth to the jingle," writes Ferguson. "[This John Brown] would, in fact, die pathetically rather than in pathos, drowning by accident while crossing the Rappahannock River with his regiment on June 6, 1862."

Meanwhile in December 1861, Julia Ward Howe took history by the hands: she grabbed hold of this undignified ditty and turned it into "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Friday, October 14, 2005

In a different voice

I'm blogging live from rehearsal of the North Carolina Boys Choir. The sopranos are lovely, but something is missing: my son's voice. Over the summer, Tucker shifted to a lower register. It was bound to happen, but it's a strange and unexpected thing to mourn.

The house of the Lord

The concept of "thin space" was imported into Christianity from the Celts:

The early Celts believed in "thin places": geographical locations scattered throughout Ireland where a person experiences only a very thin divide between past, present, and future times; places where a person is somehow able, possibly only for a moment, to encounter a more ancient reality within present time; or places where perhaps only in a glance we are somehow transported into the future.

After September 11, St. Paul's Chapel functioned for many as a "thin space" of refuge and hope--as memorialized in Peter Ostroushko's "Meditation of the Thin Space from St. Paul's Chapel." In the Celtic tradition these spaces where the line between heaven and earth seemed close to vanishing were, as I imagine it, quite distinctly set apart from the spaces of ordinary life.

The point of the megachurch seems to be quite the opposite, the object of the architecture being to make the worshippers feel as if they're in some larger version of their living room, or rather their media center. From the outside they look like a corporate headquarters. The cavernous insides seem more like sports arenas, with the broadcast technology to match.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

They'd love to turn you on.

Meet new friends in New York.

1st Ave Machine "creates high end design work by employing 3D in ways that blur the line between what we perceive as real and impossible."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lawyers: traffickers in greed

Jacob Stein's columns in the Washington Lawyer magazine are not to be missed. The latest, which I shared with my class because it hits very close to the mark when you're studying law and rhetoric, discloses a great secret. If law, like literature, is really based on a limited set of plots, what are the key plots in the genre of trial practice?

To get the answer I called a friend who spent the last 30 years trying high-intensity cases of all kinds. He took a detached and, I would say, amusing cynical stance. He came up with this evaluation of the basic legal plots, the reasons why people involve themselves in lawsuits: greed, 60 percent; vindictiveness, 15 percent; irrationality, 10 percent; desperation, 10 percent; and an honest misunderstanding, 5 percent.

Greed, said this expert, even "lurks in the subjects taught in law school." It's why it takes 30 volumes to spell out the law of contracts. The greed of their clients is why so many lawyers tend to have a distorted view of the world. They tend to think it's about money.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thelonious Monk birthday fest

Today is the 88th anniversary of Theolonious Monk's birth. WNCU was playing him all day long. You can still catch him on WKCR (via wood s lot). Well, they needn't--but it's nice they did.

Check the new release of Monk and Coltrane at Carenegie Hall.

Southerners know a civil war when they see one.

From the Anniston Star:

We are seeing another civil war under way right now, without fully realizing it. This one is in Iraq. What started as a low-level fight against the American occupation, with roadside bombs every few days, has mushroomed into a full-scale conflict against not only the Americans and their allies but also Iraqis. And as usual, the Bush administration and the Pentagon are behaving as if this was unexpected.

Katrina wrecks Camille memorial

In her memoir Elizabeth Spencer wrote, "If I could have one part of the world back the way it used to be . . . I want the Mississippi Gulf Coast back as it was before Hurricane Camille, that wretched killer which struck in August 1969."

No one on the Mississippi Gulf thought they'd ever see worse than Camille. It "destroyed 100 years of growth in progress in just three hours," writes the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. But Katrina wouldn't settle for second place. She destroyed Jefferson Davis' home, which had stood since 1854. She gutted historic districts from Mobile to New Orleans. As far inland as Jackson, she tore the roof off of the state Department of Archives and History, damaging the building and valuable artifacts.

She even left her calling card on the black granite memorial to Camille.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tyson/Helms book review update

The Independent Weekly investigates the News & Observer's decision to overrule book editor Peder Zane and print two "reviews" (for one, the word must be used advisedly) of Jesse Helms' memoir. Apparently it was a Mr. or Ms. Paperwide who actually made the decision.

Sculpture in the Garden

"It's Like This." By Steve Cote.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden's annual sculpture show is on until November 18. Despite my pledge to go early this year (it started on September 17), by the time we made it, the one or two that I might not have been able to resist had already been sold. (Delivered from temptation.) Many are still looking for homes, though they seem quite happy where they are.

ginger plant

Any excuse to go to the Garden will do. Above is a fragrant white ginger flower, also admired by Mister Sugar. You can see one in the lovely garden in front of Crook's Corner as well (past peak now).

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Hamilton to Bush: For shame!

I see that Todd Morman has turned, as Justice O'Connor does, to Alexander Hamilton for some back-to-basics guidance. From The Federalist #76:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration.

It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entier branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

So in Hamilton's mind, the Senate confirmation process exists precisely to stop a Harriet Miers. Bush should be "ashamed and afraid"! But let's think about it. Shame doesn't seem to register with the Bush crowd. Fear might, but only if there were real reason to fear. Hamilton goes on to say that he's counting on the presence of "independent and public-spirited" senators to stand against such a brazen power play. Was he too hopeful?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Once upon of time there were three branches.

It is appalling to think about Harriet Miers, presidential puppet, crony of the highest order, taking the place of anyone on the Supreme Court. But the thought of her replacing O'Connor is particularly galling. Whether you thought she was right on the issues or not, O'Connor has consistently been a passionate advocate for an independent judiciary. She believes in its importance for the way our government works--and for what it says to the rest of the world about how we govern ourselves. She spoke on the subject in 2003 at the Arab Judicial Forum in Bahrain.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, one of the Framers of the United States Constitution, wrote in The Federalist No. 78 to defend the role of the judiciary in the constitutional structure. He emphasized that "'there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.' … [L]iberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have every thing to fear from its union with either of the other departments." Hamilton's insight transcends the differences between nations' judicial systems. For only with independence can the reality and the appearance of zealous adherence to the Rule of Law be guaranteed to the people.

More recently she has said, "The concept of retaliation against the courts for past federal court decisions is very troublesome."

If you're not outraged . . .

There is no way the nomination of Harriet Miers should stand following the disclosure of a recording of yesterday's conference call, sponsored by the White House, among party loyaltists nationwide. This is true for all the reasons Eric Muller has begun to articulate and more. But you don't really need to get beyond RNC chair Ken Mehlman's opening statement, a part of which went something like this:

Harriet Miers has served with distinction at a time when she was the top legal adviser to the president on some critically important issues, whether the issue was whether to renominate Janice Rogers brown, Priscilla Owen, Bill Pryor, whether the question was where the administration ought to come out on key policy matters that affect the judiciary, that affect family, that affect other issues. The president’s positions have been very strong, and we know his top adviser has been Harriet Miers. So when people say, well, we know the president’s got the right approach but how do we know Harriet Miers does, it’s like someone saying the president has the right position on the war on terror but we don’t know if Donald Rumsfeld does. The fact is she is his key adviser on these issues.

One of the most important and I think troubling areas where we’ve seen judicial activism recently is in the ability of any administration in the future to carry out its leaderhip in the global war on terror. I think having someone who has real world experience when future issues come up who will be able to say here are the real world practical implications of when, for instance, the courts hamstring the ability of the administration, the defense department, or somebody else to deal with the terrorist threat we face, I think that’s an important and unique perspective that someone who has spent her whole life on the courts doesn’t have, but someone who has served in the White House particularly this White House does have.

So much for the independent judiciary. "Crony" is far too weak a word for this relationship. And if it's "judicial activism" to refuse to grant a president powers that he has never had, the arguments for which stretch the outer limits of the conceivable meaning of the Constitution, then so much for the hope of a court that tries in good faith to discern what that Contitution means.

UPDATE: Complete transcript of the call (via Crooks and Liars).

MORE: O'Connor and Hamilton weigh in.

A peek at peak performance

Twice in the last week I've seen "peak" used where the user meant "peek." That's right, you "take a peek" at something, you don't "take a peak." I thought it might be because the usage of "peak" is at its peak now (or at least is peaking). So I googled peek and peak and found the theory supported.

Habits of thought: when we think the sound that's made by the word "peek" or "peak" we first think pitch and pinnacle, the top of the game. "Peak" is part of the vocabulary of the technologized corporate workplace: "peak performance," for example, is a precise term of art with a powerful analogical afterlife.

"Peek," on the other hand, is modest and unassuming, sometimes clandestine, usually timid. At best, it is not a thorough inquiry. You don't make your numbers by taking a peek at the competition.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Teacher, what did you say that assignment was about?

At Currituck County High School, a lesson in "freedom" taught a student about irony and probably scared him to death in the process.

The assignment was "to take photographs to illustrate [your] rights in the Bill of Rights." A student, who for reasons soon apparent remains unnamed, found a photo of George Bush, tacked it up with a thumb tack through the head, and put his own "thumbs down" beside it.

He took his own picture of this and then took the film to Wal-Mart for processing. Bad move. A direct line runs from Wal-Mart to the Secret Service. Wham, bam, no more picture.

In Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court said, "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." Mary Beth Tinker herself is still on the stump with this message.

How pretty to think so.

Roy Moore on the run running for governor

In an entirely expected move, Alabama's outlaw judge Roy Moore has filed to challenge Gov. Bob Riley in the Republican primary. Last heard from on tour with his handsome running mate, Moore faces certain questions from voters. For example these from the Anniston Star:

You have indicated that you feel the state’s budget problems can be eased by cutting waste and fraud, but if that isn’t enough, what else do you propose to cut from the budget so that we can live within our means? As we re-call, when you were chief justice and you found your department short of funds, rather than eliminate waste and root out fraud, you ordered an end to civil jury trials to force the Legislature and the governor to give you more money. What will you do if you are governor?

But in other quarters, his righteous contempt for authority has earned him favorable comparison with another successful Alabama populist: George Wallace.

Eye wide open

open eye
The new and improved Open Eye Cafe in Carrboro.

But something's missing: Kimberli Matin's wonderful "Java man" metal sculpture. Despite what you might think, he hasn't taken a hike. We're told he just hasn't made the move from nextdoor yet.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The confirmation gamble

Everybody's freaked about Harriet Miers. The hard right feels especially betrayed (via Eric Muller). My brother has a Texas take:

She is from a big Dallas law firm. Dallas is a city with no soul. It is nothing but glass and steel towers erected on a bleak prairie and dedicated to the worship of Mammon in spite of the presence of quite a few megachurches . . .

But how history consoles! Consider John J. Parker, who sat on the 4th Circuit from 1925 till his death in 1958. In 1930 Hoover nominated him to the Supreme Court, but the nomination faltered. He became the only nominee to fail in the Senate since 1894, and he stood alone until 1968 when Abe Fortas' own troubles did him in.

With Parker it was the AFL who lashed out at him--for being anti-union generally and, more particularly, for a decision denying the UMW the right to organize--and if that were not enough, the NAACP, which had never opposed a nominee before, joined the chorus. They pointed out that Parker had run for governor of North Carolina in 1920 promising to restrict the voting rights of blacks.

So he never got out of Richmond. Just as well, right? Not exactly. After Brown, which had seemed to want to undo all of Jim Crow but on its face hewed narrowly to "the field of public education," there was great uncertainty in the courts below. It was up to judges like Parker to deal with the consequences.

When District Judge Rives of Alabama ruled in Browder v. Gayle (1956), the Montgomery bus boycott case, that Plessy v. Ferguson had been "impliedly, if not explicitly" overruled, he glanced over to the 4th circuit opinions of the "distinguished" and "learned" John J. Parker. In a 1955 opinion declaring South Carolina's segregated bus system unconstitutional (Flemming v. South Carolina Electric & Gas), Judge Parker had written that Brown "[left] no doubt that that the separate but equal doctrine approved in Plessy v. Ferguson has been repudiated," a conclusion the Supreme Court did not disturb.

Another, more philosophical opinion was also helpful to Judge Rives. In Barnette v. West Virginia State Board of Education (1942), Judge Parker had to deal with a Supreme Court precedent that seemed to stand in the way: "Ordinarily we would feel constrained to follow an unreversed decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, whether we agreed with it or not," he wrote, but given that most members of the Court itself had since questioned their own decision, he plunged right ahead.

Barnette vindicated the religious rights of Jehovah's Witness students to refuse to salute the flag. Judge Parker's opinion was upheld in an opinion written by Justice Jackson that still stands as one of the great expressions of First Amendment rights. Judge Rives' opinion vindicating the Montgomery bus boycott was upheld too.

So the lesson is, you never know.

UPDATE: Never mind. The NAACP had the right instincts. Judge Parker, the one and the same, was responsible for language in a post-Brown proceeding in which he declared that Brown "does not require integration. It merely forbids discrimination" (Briggs v. Elliott, Eastern Dist. of S.C. 1955). That pernicious misreading is something John Wisdom of the 5th Circuit, for one, had to expend a lot of time and energy refuting.

Apparent suicide in Chapel Hill

While many of us were enjoying a street fair yesterday afternoon, a beautiful day on West Franklin Street, police were investigating the discovery of a body of a young woman hanging from a play structure in Jones Park. "A woman in her early 20s," not so long out of the playground herself. According to the announcement by Kathryn Spatz, Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation director,

About 5:00 p.m. yesterday while I was in the Command operation for Festifall, I was notified that Police were responding to reports of a body found in Jones Park. It is currently classified as a death investigation but the Police state that it appears to be suicide. A woman in her early 20s was found by a park user hanging from the deck of the playground structure. No names have been released but the family has been notified. Police have given us the okay to remove several words etched into the play structure by her body. We will work with Public Works to have this done immediately. The park is currently open for use.

Spatz said the words that the police were to be removing were "freedom," "terror," "rape," "goodbye," "peace."

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Big Sweep 2005

As Paul reported, yesterday he and Tucker and I participated in the "Big Sweep" on Morgan Creek. This is the fifth year in a row that the Morgan Creek Valley Alliance has sponsored the event as part of the North Carolina Big Sweep. It was an opportunity for nine Chapel Hill high school students to earn credits for community service.

Big Sweep

We did indeed pull some interesting things out of the creek. More pictures here. (Sorry, no pic of the baffling buoy.)

Here's what I wrote about my experience dredging Morgan Creek two years ago.