Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Poor America

According to a recent report, "The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's 'haves' and 'have-nots' continues to widen."

Tonight at a Council budget work session we heard about our public housing program's predicted funding shortfall for this year and the major reason behind it:

The Public Housing Program is funded solely through the federal government and rent from the public housing residents.

Not only has the funding from the federal government declined, but there has been a major shift in the way HUD wants these programs to be administered.

The federal government is no longer adequately funding any of the overhead and administration costs that are vital to the management and success of the program.

Instead, the feds are forcing housing programs to seek funding from outside sources.

The source of income that is being encouraged is to select tenants who can pay more rent. For example, giving preference to the family who is in the 50 percent of median income as opposed to the family making 20 percent.

In other words, the bottom of the safety net is about to break for some folks as HUD moves toward a profit-based model.

And so it falls to the Council to fill the gap. From what I heard my colleagues say tonight, it's looking like this is another perspective we share with leaders in Madison, Wisconsin: "Madison's progressive tradition of providing quality public housing may depend upon Madison's ability to resist the federal government's efforts." At least I hope so.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Monopoly" was invented by a woman.

Lizzie Magie, a Maryland Quaker, called it The Landlord's Game, and she patented it in 1904.

Early attempts at publication of The Landlord’s Game yielded mixed results. Landlord was published in 1906 by the Economic Game Company of New York, in which Magie herself was principal shareholder. In 1913 it appeared in Scotland under the title Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. (Don’t ask.) George Parker rejected it in 1909 as being too complicated and unengagingly political, and did so again in 1924 when Magie revised the game and renewed her patent.
It did, however, achieve success in an entirely different direction. To understand why, we need to note that our inventive Quaker, far from devoting a game to the praise of Mammon, actually devised it as a moral tale showing how unfair rents could be charged by unscrupulous landlords, for which, if there is any justice in the world, they will—in the game world, at least—rightly fetch up in jail.

From a review of Monopoly: The World's Most Famous Game and How It Got That Way, by Philip E. Orbanes. The review goes on to explain the difference between "war games" (e.g. chess, checkers) and "race games"--and to describe some of the innovative ways in which Lizzie Magie changed the face of the "race games" for good.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Darkness visible

In my hole in the basement there are exactly 1,369 lights. I've wired the entire ceiling, every inch of it. And not with fluorescent bulbs, but with the older, more-expensive-to-operate kind, the filament type. An act of sabotage, you know. I've already begun to wire the wall. A junk man I know, a man of vision, has supplied me with wire and sockets. Nothing, storm or flood, must get in the way of our need for light and ever more and brighter light. The truth is the light and light is the truth. When I finish all four walls, then I'll start on the floor. Just how that will go, I don't know. Yet when you have lived invisible as long as I have you develop a certain ingenuity. I'll solve the problem. And maybe I'll invent a gadget to place my coffee pot on the fire while I lie in bed, and even invent a gadget to warm my bed--like the fellow I saw in one of the picture magazines who made himself a gadget to warm his shoes! Though invisible, I am in the great American tradition of tinkers. That makes me kin to Ford, Edison and Franklin. Call me, since I have a theory and a concept, a "thinker-tinker." Yes, I'll warm my shoes; they need it, they're usually full of holes. I'll do that and more.

Ralph Ellison, "Prologue," Invisible Man (1952).

Boldly interpreted by photographer Jeff Wall.

UPDATE: More on Wall in the Sunday Times magazine.

MORE: New Yorker review.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Raleigh Modern: Catalano House

Not all mid-century modern houses in Raleigh have fared as well as the Fadum House. Without a doubt, the most serious loss has been the Catalano House, demolished six years ago.

patio view

How could that have happened? Mid-century modern fan George Smart of Durham wanted to know, and so he investigated. Here's his report.

1954 - Eduardo Catalano House, perhaps the coolest house ever designed in North Carolina. 1467 Ridge Road, Raleigh.

Catalano, an Argentinian architect who taught at NCSU's School of Design, drew this 1700 sf home for himself but only lived there a few years. The design was highly publicized as the "House of the Decade" by House and Home magazine in the 1950s and was praised by the rarely praising Frank Lloyd Wright. As with most modernist houses in Raleigh, it was built by Frank Walser. The Catalano House was sometimes referred to as the "Potato Chip" house because of the swooping hyperbolic paraboloid roof.

Catalano sold it to engineer Ezra Meir and his wife Violet in September of 1957. The Meirs sold it to William and Bettie Hinnant in December of 1966. The Hinnants sold it to Raleigh attorney Arch E. Lynch, Jr. in May of 1978. Lynch lived there until approximately 1996. From 1996 to 2001, the house was unoccupied. Vandals, storms, lack of heat, and neglect made the house rapidly deteriorate. The roof rotted in sections over time. It would have taken tens of thousands of dollars to repair, if repair were even possible. Eventually the damage was too extensive to repair.

Preservation North Carolina bought an option on the house and tried unsuccessfully to sell it for $360,000 to anyone who would rebuild the same design. Lynch sold it to JBar Associates in March of 2001. The house was destroyed later that year. JBar, owned by Andrew Rothschild and Jonathan Bluestone, have since built two large houses on the property.

Shortly after its destruction, Catalano lobbied to have just the roof rebuilt on the grounds of the NC Museum of Art, which they declined. In early 2005, he proposed a gift of $1.5M rebuild the roof as part of a central campus Pavilion plan but strong faculty opposition caused him to withdraw, despite the fact NCSU hired an architectural firm to evaluate seven other alternative sites.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Auden at 100

February 21 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of W.H. Auden. wood s lot has a nice roundup of tributes, including photos by Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon. Since September 11, much has been written about the poem "September 1, 1939" and Auden's attempt to repudiate it, especially one particular line; but I didn't know till I heard Wednesday's NPR interview with editor Edward Mendelson that it was specifically in reaction to LBJ's "Daisy" TV spot that he did so.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Beloved (belated)

Toni Morrison's masterpiece, the best American novel of the past 25 years according to a New York Times survey, came out 20 years ago. For that long, through its rapid canonization in college English departments and its popular acceptance as a classic, I avoided it. A slave mother would rather kill her children than see them into the life she'd known? I didn't care to suffer the details.

This semester, thanks to Minrose Gwin's seminar in southern literature, history, memory, and trauma, which she has generously allowed me to audit, I put myself to the task.

Morrison has said that she started writing because she couldn't find the kind of novel that she wanted to read. "I want to write for people like me, which is to say black people, curious people, demanding--people who can't be faked, people who don't need to be patronized, people who have very, very high criteria," she has said.

It's one thing to know that enslaved families had no legal protection, that on whims of others they were broken up, split apart, auctioned, bartered and traded away. From the point of view of the master class, it was economics: "most commonly the articles [the enslaved] sell best, singly; and therefore they ought, in general, to be so offered," wrote North Carolina judge Thomas Ruffin (Cannon v. Jenkins, 1830). And it's one thing to know that attempted flight from slavery was perilous and just as likely to result in families broken, unable to reunite or even to know who survived and who didn't. Morrison plumbs the depths of these stories.

Beloved carries the reader toward trauma, shattering and irrevocable. The form, inseparable from the content, conveys as much: "124 was spiteful" reads the alienating first line. With time and patience you discover that 124 is a house number, that the house is not just filled with spite but is the very source of spite, owing to the presence of an agitated baby ghost; that the ghost is capable of being run out of the house, only to return, palpably and insistently, as a young woman offering some potential for healing. But no one emerges whole in the end. These lives are unable to gain the consistency or coherence that could anchor them in wholeness, though there's plenty of effort and longing.

It's one thing to know that babies were separated early from their mothers. It's another to learn that the only thing Baby Suggs can remember about her firstborn is the way she liked the acrid taste of burned bread.

"We could move," [Sethe] suggested once to her mother-in-law.
"What'd be the point?" asked Baby Suggs. "Not a house in the country ain't packed to its rafters with some dead Negro's grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby. My husband's spirit was to come back in here? or yours? Don't talk to me. You lucky. You got three left. Three pulling at your skirts and just one raising hell from the other side. Be thankful, why don't you? I had eight. Every one of them gone away from me. Four taken, four chased, and all, I expect, worrying somebody's house into evil." Baby Suggs rubbed her eyebrows. "My firstborn. All I can remember of her is how she loved the burned bottom of bread. Can you beat that? Eight children and that's all I remember."
"That's all you let yourself remember," Sethe had told her, but she was down to one herself--one alive, that is--the boys chased off by the dead one, and her memory of Buglar was fading fast. Howard at least had a head shape nobody could forget. As for the rest, she worked hard to remember as close to nothing as was safe. . . .

Sethe tries not to remember, yet she can't not remember. "The undoing of the self in trauma involves a radical disruption of memory," writes Susan J. Brison,* "a severing of past from present and, typically, an inability to envision a future." Time contracts to the present moment. Having been reduced to objects ("articles" as Judge Ruffin called them), having lost faith that the world holds any safety, victims of trauma are abandoned to a primal searching for a self.

Beloved has a basis in fact, the story of Margaret Garner, a fugutive slave from Kentucky. Writes Morrison in an introduction to the novel, "The historical Margaret Garner is fascinating, but, to a novelist, confining. Too little imaginative space for my purposes."

Last fall when I spoke on Elizabeth Spencer's novel The Voice at the Back Door and its reinscription of an actual event, the Carrollton Massacre of 1886, I was asked a great question: what is the relationship of the novel to the history? It's a question that deserves a long answer, because the relationship of history to fiction is deep and tangled; but the short answer is this: History can tell us what happened and, to an extent, why. But it takes a skilled novelist to tell us how it felt. A suspicion of this truth--or, perhaps, in Brison's words, "an active fear of empathizing with those whose terrifying fate forces us to acknowledge that we are not in control of our own"--is what kept me from approaching this powerful, essential American novel for so long.

*Susan J. Brison, "Trauma Narratives and the Remaking of the Self," in Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present (Univ. Press of New England, 1999).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It can happen here.

Via Feminist Law Professors: In the U.S. territory of the Marianas, an Asian woman might pay up to $7,000 to get a job in a garment factory. Since (thanks to the efforts of Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay) the territory remains exempt from wage and hour laws, she has a hard time paying back the loan. So she turns to work in the sex-"tourism" industry.

Think something like that can't happen in North Carolina?

Think again.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Raleigh Modern: Fadum House transformed

Last June, I blogged about the Fadum House as one stop on Preservation North Carolina's tour of modernist architecture in Raleigh. It was in the midst of an expansive, sympathetic addition/renovation. Here's what it looked like then, from the rear. (More pics.)

Fadum house rear

Now finished, it's featured in today's N&O. (More pics.) "The original house, along with the handful of other modernist residences left in the city, is one of the last vestiges of a promising post-war Raleigh that bloomed but never flourished," writes Richard Butner. Being not so big houses, even very fine examples of the houses of this period can end up as teardowns.

They are small houses, and yet there are those who love them. Largely because of my June blog series, I hear right along from folks who do (including Richard Butner, who I hope will keep on writing about Raleigh's mid-century treasures). One woman wrote from Washington, N.C. to say she was looking for a mid-century modern house anywhere in the state, or the country. She said she'd called a Chapel Hill real estate agent who promptly tried to talk her out of the "ranch house," the only term in her vocabulary for what she interpreted to be this woman's interest. We experienced a similar bias when we were looking for our own house. What will it take for the agents to get a clue? (They're clued in Charlotte.)

Ruth Little's book on Chapel Hill architecture has a whole chapter on mid-century design in Chapel Hill. Will that advance the conversation?

Meanwhile over in Raleigh, the new owners of the Fadum House are setting an example for preservation, in both senses. The pine trees that were cut for the expansion were put to work as flooring and paneling.

Save the country.

Laura Nyro had fury in her soul.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Wonders large and small

Two leading structural engineers name their picks for the top 10 engineering feats in the world.

Meanwhile, others think small.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lot 5 decision

The Town Council took a momentous step on Monday night in approving a contract with Ram Development for the Lot 5 project. I have been involved with this project since the beginning of my term in December 2003; and with Bill Strom and Cam Hill I represented the Council on the negotiating team. I believe the final result is something that will make the town proud: a development combining first-story retail with 137 residential units (21 of them permanently affordable); a large public plaza; art, through our percent for art initiative, designed and directed by accomplished public artist Mikyoung Kim; architecture designed with the advice of Marvin Malecha, dean of the College of Design at North Carolina State University. Good design, significant and well-designed public space, new retail opportunities, enough residential density to put "eyes on the street" and enliven downtown, the retention of the existing public parking, these are goals that this council and several before it have had for the redevelopment of this site.

In response to concerns raised by Council members Jim Ward and Laurin Easthom, we made one significant change to the contract that was before us Monday night. We directed the manager to require that Ram achieve a 20 percent improvement in the energy efficiency of the project beyond the standards set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. We authorized him to achieve that commitment by negotiating, as necessary, minor changes to the contract.

The manager has the flexibility to find the negotiation points wherever he can, but the suggestion that I put on the table at the meeting was that he look to the LEED certification process and see if savings could be made by not strictly following it. It may be time to reconsider our thinking on the best way to ensure true energy efficiency. We are requiring Ram to go through the process of LEED certification and commissioning. In recent months, however, citizens have come forward to suggest that LEED standards alone do not guarantee an efficient building. I have come to suspect they are right: The certification process may wind up costing Ram money that could be better spent on physical aspects of the building that would, in fact, achieve energy efficiency.

Prior to Monday's meeting I had brought to the Council's attention a report published in October by two experts in constructing energy-efficient buildings. Auden Schendler and Randay Udall have, in a real sense, "written the book" on LEED. By now thay have concluded, "LEED is Broken; Let's Fix It."

Between the two authors, we've built a passive solar home, designed the world's first renewable energy mitigation program, participated in the pioneer program that developed LEED 1.0, built two LEED-rated buildings (with half a dozen more planned) and played a consulting role on numerous other green building projects, including a high performance affordable housing project. We're concerned that LEED has become costly, slow, brutal, confusing, and unwieldly, a death march for applicants administered by a soviet-style bureaucracy that makes green building more difficult than it needs to be, yet has everyone genuflecting at the door to prove their credentials. The result: mediocre "green" buildings where certification, not environmental responsibility, is the primary goal; a few super-high level eco-structures built by ultra-motivated (and wealthy) owners that stand like the Taj Mahal as beacons of impossibility; an explosion of LEED-accredited architects and engineers chasing lots of money but designing few buildings; and a discouraged cadre of professionals who want to build green, but can't afford to certify their buildings. A growing number of LEED veterans have, or soon will, throw in the towel. LEED is broken. . . .

And further,

The danger is that LEED certification will cannibalize funds that otherwise could be used to improve the building. At today's price point, developers face a choice: pursue LEED--or purchase a photovoltaic system, daylighting, or efficiency upgrades.

About the LEED point system they have pointed observations:

"LEED brain" is a term for what happens when the potential PR benefits of certification begin driving the design process. LEED can be a way to facilitate regulatory approvals, appease the public, and get free press. There's also a powerful incentive for mechanical engineers, architects and contractors to gain LEED expertise. It labels their firm as "green," increasingly a prerequisite on requests for proposals. Unfortunately, if you know how to scam LEED points, you can get the PR benefits without doing much of anything for the environment. . . . The dirty little secret is that you can certify a building without doing much at all (other than mountains of paperwork) to make it green.

An example: A project got one LEED point for spending $1,300,000 for a heat recovery system that would save about $500,000 a year. The same project got one point for installing a $395 bike rack. If you were simply after points and you needed only one more for your project to make the grade, what would you do? Another example: on a project in Colorado, a reflective roof counted toward the LEED rating. Reflective roofs are preferred over black roofs because the black tends to create a "heat island" effect. But this project was 8,000 ft. above sea level, where the heat island effect did not apply. So it got a credit without any measurable benefit. "In truth," the authors write, "LEED is based less on scientific analysis than on committee consensus."

The intent of LEED is great. So is the momentum it's generated. But aren't energy-efficient results what we want? "In the final analysis," write Schendler and Udall, "LEED is just a tool." There may be better, more straightforward ways to measure whether the building Ram is designing is going to achieve energy efficiency. As long as they can demonstrate the 20 percent savings in measurable ways, I think a compromise on LEED is worth investigating. Ram told the Council that they were looking at around $200,000 for LEED certification and commissioning. I simply suggested to the manager that the LEED process might be one place to look to find the trade-off needed to achieve the 20 percent improvement in actual energy performance.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Elihu Yale: what's wrong with this picture?

Since 1910, presiding over meetings of the trustees of Yale University has been a portrait of Elihu Yale, attended by a slave. Word about it got out in a major way after a student slipped into the board room and took a digital photo. "Elihu Yale apparently did not own slaves but critics over the years have objected to the painting's racist overtones and the significant place it is displayed at the university named for him," the Hartford Courant reports.

Although Elihu Yale was not himself a slave owner, over the past several decades students have spoken out about the portrait’s implication of slavery. There are two other portraits of Elihu with black servants in the Yale collection.

“Since the portrait is confusing without the explanation [that Elihu Yale did not own slaves], I have decided it would be prudent to exchange that portrait of Elihu to another one in the University’s collection,” [University Vice President and Secretary Linda] Lorimer said.

But even if Elihu Yale owned no slaves, it remains that eight of Yale's 12 residential colleges bear the names of slaveholders, including John C. Calhoun: In Calhoun College, "
[s]ome of the stained-glass windows in the . . . dining hall depict slaves picking cotton," according to the Yale Daily News. Picking the remnants of slavery out of Yale, or Brown, or New York City or just about any place on the eastern seaboard with any history at all is pretty impossible. Plucking a picture off a wall is easy, in some ways too easy. Yale's history might be better acknowledged and dealt with if that troublesome portrait were to hang around a bit longer.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Black History Month trivia question

Who was the first black student at UNC?

  • Pauli Murray
  • George Moses Horton
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • None of the above

It was not George Moses Horton, for whom a residence hall was named last fall. Horton, who famously penned poems for students at all-male UNC to send to their girl friends, was a Chatham County slave. He's believed to be the first black to publish a book in the South. As I've recently heard Tim McMillan tell it, his master allowed him to hire himself out on weekends, to come up to Chapel Hill and market his poetic skills; probably because his temperament wasn't all that suited to physical labor. He wasn't universally loved at the time. There's evidence that the students "ridiculed" him. UPDATE 2/13: Yesterday's dedication of the George Moses Horton Residence Hall.

It was not Pauli Murray, descendant of Orange County slaves and at least one white master, graduate of Hunter College who wanted to enter graduate school at UNC. According to Glenda Gilmore's profile of her in today's N&O, "On Nov. 10, 1938, the day after the Supreme Court heard arguments that state universities had to offer graduate education to African-Americans, Pauli Murray requested an application to the graduate shool of the University of North Carolina." In violation of the Supreme Court decision in that case, UNC denied her application. Murray's path took her in other directions, ultimately to ordination as an Episcopal priest. In 1977, she celebrated her first Eucharist here at Chapel of the Cross. "She looked up at the balcony where her grandmother had worshipped as a slave and gripped a lectern engraved with the name of her white great-aunt. To Murray, 'it was as if all the strands of my life had come together.'"

In 1939, Zora Neale Hurston was hired as a professor at North Carolina College, Durham (later North Carolina Central University). She wanted to take a class at UNC with Paul Green; according to Tim McMillan, she was interested in getting him to work with her on a play that would be based on some of her folklore research. She was allowed to enroll, and so she did attend classes on campus for a brief period. But her presence was too much: they soon moved the class sessions to Green's home.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Woolf hunting

From 1996 through 1999, I was the bibliographer for the International Virginia Woolf Society. I took it online (where it has remained) at what was called SunSITE, then MetaLab, now ibiblio. For fun, I added a feature I called "passing glances"--a place to record other works of fiction or nonfiction in which Woolf plays a bit part. As I recall, the inspiration in part came from the work Brenda Silver was doing, culminating in her 1999 book Virginia Woolf Icon,

a book about "Virginia Woolf": the face that sells more postcards than any other at Britain's National Portrait Gallery, the name that Edward Albee's play linked with fear, the cultural icon so rich in meanings that it has been used to market everything from the New York Review of Books to Bass Ale.

Enlisting the help of Woolfians everywhere, I tried to call attention to these literary Woolf sightings. And I challenged readers to help me try to understand what these references were all about:

In these and other books making up our reading at random, Woolf is there--a testament to her genius and, further, to several decades of her readers' passionate and public scholarship. But she is not just there--she is being used. She is "passing" for (or against) something . . .

Even a decade ago, just to try to follow Woolf's tracks through contemporary writing was overwhelming. No grand theories, well really not any theories, emerged about what this phenomenon meant, although, then and now, it seems clear that there is Virginia Woolf and there is the idea of Virginia Woolf. Brenda Silver approached a theory; choosing to focus on Woolf's recurring image in popular culture, she asked why it was that Woolf seemed so often to be associated with dis-ease:

We cannot stop the proliferation of Virginia Woolfs or the claims to "truth" or authenticity that accompany each refashioning of her image; nor would I want to, however much I might disagree with or be scared by the effect produced by any particular representation. Instead, I have focused on those places where Virginia Woolf becomes symptomatic of embedded layers of cultural anxiety, in an effort to formulate as precisely as I can the issues--and the stakes.

And yet there was always more to write about. As her book was going to press, Silver was already trying to identify Woolf sightings on the web.

Woolfian friend Anne Fernald, now a professor of English at Fordham University-Lincoln Center and author of Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader, is threatening to pick up the challenge in her blog, even though it is more daunting than ever now, with the internets to contend with.

One of Anne's recent sightings is a great one for these cold winter days, Amardeep Singh's post "Virginia Woolf, In Winter," a brief meditation on Woolf's wonderful, rambling London essay "Street Haunting."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"Light in the Piazza" comes to Raleigh

Byron Woods of the Independent Weekly interviews Elizabeth Spencer on the award-winning musical "The Light in the Piazza" and its upcoming performance in Raleigh. It'll be at Progress Energy Theater, February 13-18. If you haven't seen it, you shouldn't miss it. I'm enjoying the CD right now, remembering how magical it was. Again congratulations and thanks to our friend Elizabeth for writing such an inspiring, enduring story.

UPDATE: A review of the Raleigh performance.

Evolution of Clocky

When the Clocky prototype was announced, in April 2005, it looked like a small furry animal. The MIT Media Lab graduate student who designed this traveling alarm clock was inspired by the kittens who nibbled her toes to wake her.

The version ready for prime time is plastic. But it looks like it'd get the job done. They say the furry one will be rolling out soon.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Death Penalty in NC: conflict of laws

Mark Kleinschmidt, head of the Fair Trial Initiative, which trains young lawyers to represent capital defendants (also my Council colleague), has the go-to blog for the amazing story unfolding within the courts and the halls of state about the North Carolina death penalty. For a capsule summary, this morning's N&O tells the story up to press time. As of this morning, the Council of State was about to meet, per Judge Stephens' order, to reconsider the protocol for executions. The N.C. Medical Board had recently announced an ethics policy saying that doctors cannot assist in an execution in any way, not even by monitoring medical devices attached to the defendant's body. To the state's argument before Judge Stephens that the equipment would be monitored by nurses and EMTs, he responded that that would constitute a change in the protocol. Citing a statute that neither side had raised, he ruled that the change in protocol had not been approved by the Council of State, as was required. (The monitoring equipment was required in response to a federal court opinion demanding more certainty in the administration of lethal drugs.) Effectively this opinion put all executions on hold, making North Carolina the eleventh state to halt lethal injections.

What did the Council of State do this morning? They affirmed a problematic protocol requiring a doctor's participation, in effect returning the issue to the courts. Mark has more:

During this morning's Council of State meeting, NC's state-wide elected officials approved on what appeared to be a 6-3 vote, a protocol for executions that requires the participation of a doctor. The Council's decision, in the words of Sec. of State Elaine Marshall just "shoves this back to the Medical Society." Two weeks ago, the NC Medical Board voted unanimously to declare it a violation of professional ethics to participate in executions.

Counsel for the Council and the Attorney General promise to take this decision back to Wake Co. Superior Ct. Judge Stephens and to work with the Medical Board.

Voting against the protocol were School Superintendent June Atkinson, Sec. of State Elaine Marshall and Insurance Commissioner Jim Long. A motion was unanimously approved -- made by Marshall and seconded by State Treasurer Richard Moore -- to refer this matter to the General Assembly for further consideration.

Marshall and Long both fought hard to kill approval. Marshall referenced the "off-label" use of the BIS monitor that was added just last year to the protocol. The BIS monitor monitors the vital signs of the death row inmate. Ostensibly to make sure the inmate is completely unconscious before the final poisons are injected. Manufacturers of the machine have protested the use of the monitor for this purpose and have made it clear in court papers that they would never have sold the machine to NC if they knew it would be used for this purpose.

Meanwhile as the N&O reports, yesterday the House Select Committee on Capital Punishment "gave up a chance to weigh in on the issue that has derailed three executions."

Nobody wants this issue.

Analogies are risky to be sure, so I wouldn't press this one farther than my intent. But in a conversation I had with Mark this morning it struck me that there are certain parallels between the death penalty and slavery. Mark pointed out that the conflict is between two arms of the state: the Council of State, which defines the protocol for executions, and the Board of Medical Examiners, whose members are appointed by the governor, which has its own standard of ethics. One is carrying out the will of the people, through the legislature, to put certain criminal defendants to death. The other is working out in concrete terms a body of ethical practices to ensure that a doctor "does no harm." These missions are bound to clash.

By the 1830s, slavery was a robust enough system to have its own body of case law. But these cases were riddled with contradictions, contradictions at the heart of which was the conflicted position of the slave body itself: is it a piece of property, or does the enslaved person have human rights that must be recognized in court? If the slave does have certain rights, how are those rights to be adjudicated differently from the rights of the free?

Just within the line of North Carolina cases involving quarrels between a white man and a slave, the results are all over the map. A white man may be guilty of a crime of battery against a slave that belongs to somebody else. (State v. Hale, 1823.) But a master may with impunity commit assault and battery upon his own slave, or even one he has leased, as a form of correction; his powers are "absolute," wrote Judge Thomas Ruffin. (State v. Mann, 1829.) But then, if a slave lashes out violently against a master in self-defense, held Judge William Gaston, the crime may be mitigated from murder to "felonious homicide," just as it would in the case of two white actors; the logic of Mann was "never intended to cover the entire relation between master and slave." (State v. Will, 1834.) And even though a master has virtually unlimited powers of physical "correction," he may be guilty of murder if he goes too far, Ruffin held. (State v. Hoover, 1839.) Further, the court will look sympathetically even upon a slave, reducing murder to manslaughter, if he kills a white man in a fit of passion brought on by that man's attack upon another slave, held Gaston, over Ruffin's vigorous dissent. (State v. Caesar, 1849.)

These difficult cases--even, at one level, the quarrel they represent between two judges who were great friends, Ruffin and Gaston--are, in James Oakes' analysis in Slavery and Freedom, "emblematic demonstrations of the problem of slave resistance in a liberal society." Placed, as they were from time to time, in the position of criminal defendants or victims, slaves forced the courts to address them as human beings. Indeed, as Oakes argues, although in one way the slavery opinions rallied the master class to solidify its defense of the institution, in another way the very slipperiness of the slave's legal position underscored the moral conundrum. Contradictory in outcome, the cases if anything tended to extend the rights of slaves as criminal defendants--intimations of liberty. Slavery was in some danger of breaking down under force of law, even before the war started.

When we judge the moral actions of those who came before us, such as slaveholders--when it seems so clear to us that what they participated in was wrong--we're sometimes led to wonder what moral failings future generations will accuse us of. It's my prediction, or at least a hope, that the death penalty will be one.

UPDATE 2/8: Richard Hart in the Independent Weekly on the "contradictions that simply can't be resolved."

UPDATE 2/9: NC nurses oppose requirement to participate in executions.

UPDATE 2/11: Today's N&O on the origin of the current, troublesome procedures for lethal injection. They were conceived by a Davidson College graduate, an Oklahoma legislator, who now regrets it. The rationale for this "three-drug cocktail," which starts with a sedative then moves to a paralytic and then a drug to stop the heart, has to do with the spectators: with us. It has to do with not wanting to watch a person die, with the shame of putting someone to death. The troublesome issue is that it's possible that the dose of sedative isn't enough for the person not to feel the paralysis or the heart drug. It is known that a person can be killed with a high dose of the sedative alone. But there's a problem. The person's body will react with physical movement. And it might take up to 30 minutes.

As Elizabeth Kuniholm, one of the lawyers for the defendants in the North Carolina case, said, "We don't want to feel like barbarians, and so we want it to look like a peaceful death.

It's about us.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Daffy daffodils

There's probably nothing to this early daffodil season, nothing alarming about the weather or anything. Still it's worth pointing out that Bill Hunt's stand of daffodils, a remarkable field of green that has been blooming, now in the shade, for many years down on Morgan Creek, came out very early this year.

Early March, 2006

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Chimney Rock

For awhile, it looked like it wouldn't happen. As recently as six months ago, the family that had owned Chimney Rock for more than 100 years was asking $55 million. At that point the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation had been negotiating with them for a year. According to the News & Observer of July 19, "Parks officials said they would continue trying to buy the park, but they would not say Tuesday whether they were willing to fork over $55 million."

Let's be grateful for whatever breakthroughs enabled the state to buy the property for $24 million, $2.35 million of which will come from an anonymous private donor.

More info and photos. Some photos may take time to load, but they are breathtaking.

UPDATE: Jack Betts of the Charlotte Observer writes about the negotiations, as well as how the governor's office was scooped on the announcement.

Friday, February 02, 2007

On blogging

In this morning's N&O is a story by Jesse DeConto on local political bloggers, three of whom--Mark Kleinschmidt, Laurin Easthom, and I--are on the Chapel Hill Town Council. If you're visiting this site for the first time via his article, welcome!

On this blog I'm likely to write about whatever interests me, from local issues such as homelessness or the Lot 5 development to university happenings like the civil rights panel I recently moderated to mid-century modern architecture. But the blog is not the only way in which I communicate with citizens. I also have a listserv that I use to report on recent council decisions and activities. If you would like to sign up for the listserv, please go to and follow the link on the left. On that page you will also find more direct links to town government sites.

Pick of the week

While working on last night's posting, I noticed that the picture of the week at "The State of Things" is by Lisa Scheer. I liked this one the first time around--glad they do too. Congratulations, Lisa.

Hillsborough's homeless

When the temperatures dip and the weather threatens, it's time to think about the homeless. The county's annual "point in time" count was taken last week. (Results will be published on February 13.) Under HUD's guidelines, January is the time the count must be taken, because that's when the homeless are most likely to be visible. Even those who prefer the anonymity of the woods will come in out of the cold if they can. Shelters fill up.

This story is first of a series in The New of Orange County on homelessness in Hillsborough. It highlights the work of Vanessa Neustrom of the Orange-Person-Chatham Area Program mental health agency, for her good work on the count; Vanessa is also a member of the work group for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessnes.

Does it seem odd to think that there could be many homeless people in Hillsborough? Neighbor House, Inc.'s "Food for All" program serves 300-350 meals a week.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The educational divide

A poignant moment in the other night's panel discussion among civil rights veterans came when Braxton Foushee talked about what he imagined, while in the thick of those protests more than 40 years ago, that the future would bring. He talked about education. With only a high school diploma himself, he was determined that his own children would go to college. Three out of four did; the fourth went to technical school and did find a career. So, that's a success story. But it is a fragile one.

This week, The State of Things is hosting a series called "Considering College":

More Americans are going to college than ever before. But a closer look at the numbers reveals some troubling realities. Low-income students are even less likely to go to college today than high income students were 30 years ago. In other words, while more low income students go to college now, they have yet to "catch up" to the parents of their high income peers. And while college enrollment has increased significantly among African-Americans and Latinos, minority students are still less likely than white students to go to college, and less likely to complete their degree. Put another way, access to college has expanded significantly in the past generation, but it has expanded much more for white and high-income students than for other groups.

In Tuesday's episode, Graig Meyer, coordinator of the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program in Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools, talked about how difficult it can be to get low-income, primarily African American and Latino students to see that going to a four-year college is in their interest, as opposed to a two-year program that will get them to a paycheck faster. Or even to imagine going to college at all, with no family example to look to.

An article at Inside Higher Ed describes research that documents "educational segregation": the way in which educated people tend to flock together, leaving concentrations of the uneducated. This research "suggests that educationally selective migration is fundamentally altering America’s social geography, and that this change has consequences that we are only beginning to understand." If you're, say, an educated person in Chapel Hill, you can experience the benefits of this self-selection by walking down the hall of your office or up to a coffee shop and having a great conversation with a colleague: "When smart people cluster together, innovation occurs, productivity rises, and growth occurs." But the flip side of the this picture is bleak.

For every booming human capital hub, there are dozens of brain drain communities, and for these communities educational segregation can be disastrous. While brain drain is not exclusively a rural phenomenon, the picture is particularly bleak for rural America. In any given year, more than 6 percent of America’s non-metropolitan B.A. holders migrate to a metropolitan area. Economic growth has stalled in these brain drain communities. In the worst cases, communities are left with insufficient medical care and limited educational opportunities, as they find themselves unable to replace retiring small-town doctors and teachers. There’s no reason why college graduates need to be distributed equally across the United States. But deepening educational segregation closes off opportunities for people born into brain drain communities, creating new social and economic inequalities.

Breaking this self-perpetuating cycle is what Judge Howard Manning has been seeking to do in the long-standing Leandro case. When some school districts have far fewer resources than others, and with test scores to reflect it, who wants to teach there? who wants to live there?

Short of equalized state funding, which isn't likely to happen, I don't see a solution to this problem.