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.