Monday, April 30, 2007

Shearon Harris update

Last Friday, my Council colleague Mark Kleinschmidt and other local officials met with Rep. David Price about the situation at Shearon Harris. "After a frank and robust discussion, Congressman Price agreed to encourage a Government Accountability Office study of fire safety enforcement by the NRC." Let's wish him luck.

Adventures in marketing (not exactly by the book)

The back page of yesterday's Times Book Review takes on "quote doctoring"--the transformation of a nuanced or even, sometimes, a negative book review into a blockbuster blurb.

It happened to the Time magazine book critic Lev Grossman last October. Grossman says he was “quite taken aback” when he saw a full-page newspaper advertisement for Charles Frazier’s novel “Thirteen Moons” that included a one-word quotation — “Genius” — attributed to Time. Grossman was confused because his review “certainly didn’t have that word.” Eventually, he found it in a preview item he had written a few months earlier, which included the sentence “Frazier works on an epic scale, but his genius is in the details.” As Grossman put it, “They plucked out the G-word.”

Scott McLemee's review of Freakonomics for Time was not exactly positive. Yet a paperback edition of the book calls his review "largely positive."

Related: The Hollywoodization of restaurant reviews.

And since when did the publication of a book become a "release"? Just asking.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vocal locals

Woke up this morning to find Lee Smith on the op-ed page of the New York Times writing about life in Hillsborough.

Spent a great afternoon at a CD launch for our favorite jazz band, Equinox, at the Community Church. The CD, "The Peace of Wild Things," takes its name from a poem by Wendell Berry. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Triangle Land Conservancy. That's one reason to buy it. Another is for a version of "God Bless the Child" that would make Billie Holiday sit up and take notice.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cosmopolitan Carrboro High

carrboro high

Who would have guessed that the design of the new Carrboro High School is inspired by Giorgio de Chirico, Italian painter of the early 20th century "metaphysical school," precursor to surrealism?

carrboro high
De Chirico (more or less), marketing a high-end Russian "housing estate."

The international focus of Carrboro High is off to a good start.

The roots of failure

Misplaced in the kitchen gadget section of A Southern Season, I found an odd little thing: a large pink leather luggage badge with one word etched in white: “FAILURE.” (Misplaced also is the modifier in that sentence, making it sound as if I was misplaced in the gadget section of A Southern Season, which, no doubt, I was.) I guess someone had picked it up in another part of the store and thought better of it. In a world of black bags and endless streams of them on the airport carousel, it is a good idea to mark your own, not that I’ve gotten around to it. But there could be understandable ambivalence about labeling yourself a failure, even if it’s obviously a joke.

How interesting to learn, in a review of Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (Harvard 2005), that "[b]efore the Civil War 'failure' described a business in peril, not a person." From the prologue,

Businessmen dominate this story because their loss of money and manhood drove legislative, commercial, and cultural solutions that redefined failure: from the lost capital of a bankruptcy to the lost chances of a wasted life. This shift from ordeal to identity expanded the constituency of failure. Women, workers, and African Americans were put on notice: ruin was no longer just for white businessmen. As the twentieth century dawned, popular magazines were enlivened by "Frank Confessions from Men and Women who Missed Success." The Cosmopolitan named "The Fear of Failure" as the bane of "many a young man and woman." Correspondence schools taunted laborers to escape "the treadmill positions of life." Upon founding the National Negro Business League, Booker T. Washington urged that "more attention . . . be directed to [Negroes] who have succeeded, and less to those who have failed." By 1900, anybody could end up "a 'Nobody,'" plodding down the "many paths leading to the Land of 'Nowhere.'" Failure had become what it remains in the new millennium: the most damning incarnation of the connection between achievement and personal identity. "I feel like a failure." The expression comes so naturally that we forget it is a figure of speech: the language of business applied to the soul.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Modern technology / owes ecology / an apology.

That's the little poem in today's A Word A Day posting.

Apologies to planet Earth are in order from the state of North Carolina, as we learn the following:

Nearly 2 million acres of forest and farmland in North Carolina will disappear over the next 20 years if development continues at the current rate, says a new report by Environment North Carolina, a conservation advocacy group.

"North Carolina's signature woodlands, farmlands and open spaces are disappearing at an alarming rate," said Elizabeth Outz, state director of Environment North Carolina.

In the Triangle alone, since 1987 the amount of developed land has more than doubled, with no end in sight. There's a proposal in the General Assembly for a bond referendum to allocate $1 million over the next five years to purchase and protect open space, particularly around watersheds. Read more about it at Land for Tomorrow, an organization the Town of Chapel Hill is happy to support.

Apologies keep coming

The governing board of the University of Virginia has expressed its "particular regret" for its engagement with the peculiar institution, and it "recommits itself to the principles of equal opportunity and to the principle that human freedom and learning are and must be inextricably linked." This move comes two months after the Commonwealth of Virginia issued its apology for slavery.

The institution believes this is the first such resolution passed by a university governing board. In 2004, the University of Alabama’s faculty apologized for its historical role during slavery, and last year Brown University released a report summarizing several years of research into its ties to the slave trade. In recent months, other state legislatures have passed or begun debate on resolutions similar to Virginia’s, leading to what Alfred L. Brophy, a professor of law at the University of Alabama who led the apology effort in the faculty senate there, called a “domino effect.

North Carolina has followed suit.

John Hope Franklin tells the Independent Weekly what he thinks about apologies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thinking about blogs

A couple of days ago I was delighted to find that I'd been tagged with a "Thinking Blogger Award." I don't even know who the author of My Blue Puzzle Piece is, but he/she has a beautiful, thoughtful blog that I'd seriously consider passing the award on to--but that would be redundant.

So what I've had to think about is which five blogs to recognize in turn. Originally it was called "5 Blogs that Make Me Think." Lots of blogs give me information. And to be sure, way more than five of Technorati's 71 million blogs offer more thoughts than anybody could possibly think about. But in no particular order, here are five that I regularly count on to make me think, sometimes about things I know something about, often about things that I don't, but always in surprising ways.

Arse Poetica. Not shy about letting you know what she thinks, ae often manages to find the time to blog about issues that are important to me as well, yet I've let the bloggable moment pass. Like her recent post on Blaming Poor Women for the Ills of Poverty.

wood s lot. An amazing constant flow of literature, art, and photography, somehow always relevant. I don't know how Mark Woods does it (is it because he's Canadian?), but I'm glad he does.

Is That Legal? Eric Muller's musings as a law professor, historian and more are consistently thought-provoking. A major historian of the Japanese internment, he saw his blog catapult to fame when he and fellow historian Greg Robinson took on Michelle Malkin on that subject. Most recently, he has been sharing his experiences tracing the life and tragic death of his great-uncle Leopold Muller, a victim of the Holocaust.

Blue Gal (in a Red state). Down in Birmingham, Blue Gal keeps an engaging, spunky blog thoughtfully tuned to the political moment. She has a salon. She was involved with the 2007 Blog Against Theocracy, "a blogswarm dedicated to the separation of church and state," which she kindly invited me to participate in (but I sadly forgot).

Blue Girl in a Red State. A recent discovery. Blue Girl, who shares with her fellow-traveler Blue Gal a married-with-carpool perspective, has a deliberative, distinctive voice that resonates. This week she has a thoughtful take "on needing analysis."

Bonus #6: Learning to See. Michael Czeizsperger's photoblog. Because not all thinking is verbal. UPDATE 4/25: He's got today's best shot in the Chapel Hill News.


Eric Muller's great-uncle lost, or "forgot," his Jewish identity card on his way from Germany to Poland in 1942. Like his World War I medals, it floats up into Eric's hands, identifying him indelibly for the rest of us.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Real toads, imaginary gardens

With apologies to Marianne Moore.

Paul imagines growing his own tea. I pluck weeds from half empty beds and imagine them full of big healthy flowering plants in perfect complement to each other and the house. If it weren't for imaginary gardens, we would barely have gardens at all.

Catalogs go a long way for the imaginative gardener.

In 1958, Katharine White published an essay in The New Yorker about gardening catalogs. Among other things, she wrote that she believed the writers of each were as distinctive “as any Faulkner or Hemingway.” In 1959 she reviewed the catalogs again, and now, having warmed to the topic, she confessed, “Reading this literature is unlike any other reading experience. Too much goes on at once. I read for news, for driblets of knowledge, for aesthetic pleasure, and at the same time I am planning the future, and so I read in dream.” . . .

Friday, April 20, 2007

Naming rights and the public domain

Congratulations to Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors on her publication in the UC Davis Law Review of the article "Trademarks of Privilege: Naming Rights and the Physical Public Domain." She raises fascinating questions about the roles and responsibilities of government in allowing public assets to be appropriated by private interests. During the conversations she and I have had on this subject, she has caused me to think hard about naming decisions that I--as member of the Chapel Hill Town Council naming committee, no less--am confronted with from time to time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"The State of Things" today on human trafficking

Today's "The State of Things," at noon on WUNC, will feature a discussion of human trafficking in North Carolina. Participants will include Donna Bickford, director of the Carolina Women's Center at UNC; David Munday, retired from the North Carolina Highway Patrol; Mark Kadel of World Relief; and Kate Woomer-Deters, a Legal Aid attorney who is also on the task force of RIPPLE (Recognition, Identification, Protection, Prosecution, Liberation and Empowerment), a state organization that concentrates its efforts on this issue.

How can sex slavery exist in 21st century North Carolina? Here's a report from Charlotte:

At night, men, mostly immigrants, lined up outside to wait their turn with young Latino women held as sex slaves. A typical session lasted 15 minutes, police say, and cost each customer about $30. Some women had sex with dozens of men a night.

Police shut down the brothel in July 2004. But authorities say many more dot the city.

In neighborhoods along North Tryon Street, The Plaza and South Boulevard, criminals have turned small, unassuming homes into illegal houses of prostitution, holding women against their will. Police shut down two last week, but declined to give details because of ongoing investigations.

Hundreds of Latina women are brought in and out of Charlotte every week to work at more than a dozen brothels connected to sex-trafficking rings on the East Coast, according to FBI and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigators.

Most of the women are in the country illegally and are reluctant to report the crimes. Often locked in rooms with few clothes and no telephone, they fear being beaten if they try to escape.

"No one thinks of Charlotte and human trafficking," said Capt. Bruce Bellamy, head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police vice and narcotics unit. "But it's a far greater issue than people realize."

A year ago, around the time the Carolina Women's Center held its first conference on the subject, Ruth Sheehan wrote about it from Raleigh:

The federal government estimates 14,500 to 17,500 victims are brought into the United States for forced labor each year, many of whom are sexually exploited women and children. They come, or are brought here, from Asia, Central America, South America, Russia and Eastern Europe.
It is often a fine line that distinguishes sex trafficking from prostitution. Trafficking victims are coerced into their roles, literally sold like pieces of equipment. (Average price, according to the U.S. State Department: $2,500.) Most victims have no idea they are entering the sex trade.
Many are lured out of poverty by wily operators who promise them lucrative jobs in factories, department stores and hotels.
When the women arrive, their passports or travel documents are taken, and they are soon forced into having sex for pay, sometimes with as many as 50 men a night.
At another brothel busted in Raleigh last fall, women and young teenagers were allegedly held under lock and key.
Many can't speak English. They are often afraid of the police. Sometimes they don't even know where they are.
Men are victimized in North Carolina too.

The Carolina Women's Center is hosting another conference on April 21. Tune in at noon if you can to learn more.

UPDATE: Via Ed Cone, more and more and more.

And further: On May 7 I will be proposing a resolution to the Town Council on this topic. In addition to directing our own police department to watch vigilantly for this problem, the resolution will lend support to a bill pending in the state Generaly Assembly, proposed by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (see also House version) to provide support and civil remedies for victims of human trafficking.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech vigil at UNC tonight

A note from Chancellor Moeser: There will be a vigil in the Pit tonight at 8:00.

For some of you, the tragedy strikes especially close. Many of you know students in Blacksburg. Some of you earned degrees there. And although we do not yet know the names of all of the victims, we do know that one of them, Christopher James "Jamie" Bishop, Virginia Tech instructor of German, worked here at Carolina from 2000 to 2005. His wife, Stefanie Hofer, obtained her Ph.D. in Germanic languages from Carolina and also is on the faculty at Virginia Tech. Our hearts go out to her and to all of you who worked with Jamie while he was here.

Related: Thoughtful reflections at the Legal History Blog.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Branding fundamentals

The Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau believes that Chapel Hill will do better in the national tourism market if we can be packaged and branded in a way that's attractive, authentic, and easily recognizable. This past Wednesday they came to the Council to try out their proposed new motto:

"The feeling never leaves you."

What? some of us responded. Don't we have a good slogan already? What's wrong with "The southern part of heaven?"

Glad you asked, said Laurie Paolicelli, the Bureau's director. We tried that one on, but our research suggested it was not a good match for how we see ourselves.

So that's interesting. But aside from the religious confusion, my complaint was that this slogan touches so much on "intangibles" that it doesn't touch the ground at any point.

Laurie said they'd consider our comments.

UPDATE, via my mother, who comments below about another city's interesting identity discussion. There's whole blog on branding.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Honoring the earth" at the N.C. Botanical Garden

A Carolina blue sky fell generously on the North Carolina Botanical Garden yesterday at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Visitor Education Center. Long in the making, this building, designed by Frank Harmon, promises to be the state's first Platinum LEED-certified building.


One of the major investors in this landmark project is the UNC student body. They are contributing $210,000 toward construction of the center's geothermal well system.

Introduced by Chancellor James Moeser, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue gave the dedicatory address. She was followed by Peter White, director of the Garden.

Peter regularly bikes to work. Some of us had never seen him in a suit. So it didn't seem all that strange to notice, as he talked, a tent caterpillar crawling up his neatly pressed left pant leg. Then on to the jacket, then disappearing under the arm for a time, to emerge on the upper arm. On to the shoulder, lifting its head up like a periscope, then back down the arm a bit, then up and--would it happen?--yes! on to the collar of Peter's nice blue shirt, headed for paydirt. At which time comes Lily, daughter of Carol Ann McCormick, assistant curator of the Herbarium, to coax the critter away with a billcap. It was a proud moment of animal rescue--either way you look at it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Unexpected outcomes"

“Don’t judge my mother,” said Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach several times yesterday at North Carolina’s Conference on Homelessness 2007 as she told the story of her life as a child of poverty, domestic abuse, and homelessness. Her mother had ten children by five men. “I have very few memories of my childhood, especially before age 5,” Sheryl said, “except that due to Sputnik I was identified as gifted at age 4.” After a first marriage ended in violent divorce, the mother “spiraled down. She drew male attention really well, and she moved very well. She was really good at it,” Sheryl remembered. “I’m really good at it. I enjoy it a lot now because I like the change. We moved relentlessly, most often when rent was overdue or in the middle of the night when we needed to run. Mother’s solution to a failed relationship was to run.”

To an audience largely of public school teachers she talked about how disappointing, even destructive, her school experiences were. Highly transient, moving from tent to foster care and back (even once living on a boat), she wasn’t in one place long enough for her teachers to understand her. “The gaps in my education became so noticeable that most educators were at a loss and so did nothing with me." In turn, "The more they treated me like I wasn’t capable, the more I believed it.”

And so today, as a teacher herself, 2002 Teacher of the Year in Virginia Beach, she is on a mission to educate the educators: “Often the most unreachable adults are the ones who have lost hope and confidence. Just one or two well-placed words will inspire and empower.”

When her mother told her “the only way I’ve let you stay this long is you’re a tax deduction,” she wasn’t encouraged to stick around. At 14 she ran away from home, hitting four states, taking care of herself, enrolling in school and even signing her own (not a fake) name to notes to excuse herself from class (no one cared). She graduated from high school with “minimal” SAT scores. Scholarships? Those were for people who deserved to go to college.

In her early 20s, after assorted living experiences in a commune, a tent, a van, and a log cabin, she married “an artistic, soft, wonderful guy”--who committed suicide on the first birthday of the youngest of their two daughters.

She decided to home-school. She started reading everything she could find about early childhood education. At age 26, for the first time she read a book all the way through. In large part to inoculate herself against people who told her she didn’t know what she was doing with her kids, she enrolled in college to get an education degree. Going to college was an act of “total rebellion” she thought, but something happened. A professor believed that she could succeed. And so for the audience, another lesson: “Don’t you dare make any child wait till they are 26 to know they have potential.”

“With this passion to change the world through knowledge,” she began to teach. She’s taught in public and private schools, home education and corporate work. Now she’s a full-time adjunct at the College of William and Mary. She’s getting a Ph.D. in educational planning, policy and leadership. “I’m telling you this to show the potential. I’m the child of an alcoholic parent, an at-risk parent. I am the face of homelessness. The difference is that I discovered a secret, and through my tough circumstance gained valuable skills that ended in unexpected outcomes.”

More words of advice: “Don’t assume that the homeless know how to play, or have manners, or know their strengths. Know that I have poor ability to conceptualize. It’s hard to conceptualize what you’ve never seen. That’s why technology is so fabulous. I can live vicariously through other people’s experiences and see things I might never get to see. Whatever my learning style is, I’m able to engage, to go through the machine to the other side to connect and collaborate with real people who can give me more instruction to move along that development continuum.”

“I have poor organizational skills. How organized can you be when you move all the time? Also try to understand that I do best working in cooperative groups. Technology really will level the playing field for me.” (She created a wiki for this talk as well as her other one, on technology for the homeless.)

“I need you to stress the usefulness of the task in front of me, because to be honest? I’m tired.”

“Please don’t misunderstand my survival decisions. Don’t judge me. Back up and realize you can’t judge my situation with your middle-class values.”

“Understand that I love my kids.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Elizabeth Spencer wins PEN/Malamud

From today's New York Times:

Elizabeth Spencer has been named the winner of the 20th annual PEN/Malamud Award. The accolade recognizes a body of work that demonstrates excellence in short fiction. Ms. Spencer, who teaches writing at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, is the author of seven collections of short fiction, nine novels, a memoir and a play. Reviewing Ms. Spencer’s 2001 collection “The Southern Woman,” Molly Haskell wrote: “Her light touch, cool ironies and subtle class distinctions have enough in common with Henry James or British writers like Elizabeth Bowen and Muriel Spark to unsettle readers expecting the danker moss-laden landscape of deep-Southern fiction. Eudora Welty once compared her to Katherine Mansfield, and the great Canadian short story writer Alice Munro is perhaps a sister under the skin.” The PEN/Malamud Award includes a reading in the PEN/Faulkner reading series at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington and $5,000.

Haskell's critique is right on: there's definitely something un-moonlight & magnolias about Elizabeth Spencer's characters, especially her women. Congratulations, Elizabeth!

(Small correction: Although she did teach creative writing at UNC, she hasn't in many years.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dilsey's Easter Conversion

The last section of The Sound and the Fury takes place on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1928. Dilsey, matriarch of the black family that serves the Compsons, takes Benjy to church with her, interested in his salvation. But what transpires has more to do with her.

The church had been decorated, with sparse flowers from kitchen gardens and hedgerows, and with streamers of coloured crepe paper. Above the pulpit hung a battered Christmas bell, the accordion sort that collapses. The pulpit was empty, though the choir was already in place, fanning themselves although it was not warm.

Most of the women were gathered on one side of the room. They were talking. Then the bell struck one time and they dispersed to their seats and the congregation sat for an instant, expectant. The bell struck again one time. The choir rose and began to sing and the congregation turned its head as one, as six small children--four girls with tight pigtails bound with small scraps of cloth like butterflies, and two boys with close napped heads,--entered and marched up the aisle, strung together in a harness of white ribbons and flowers, and followed by two men in single file. The second man was huge, of a light coffee colour, imposing in a frock coat and white tie. His head was magisterial and profound, his neck rolled above his collar in rich folds. But he was familiar to them, and so the heads were still reverted when he had passed, and it was not until the choir ceased singing that they realized that the visiting clergyman had already entered, and when they saw the man who had preceded their minister enter the pulpit still ahead of him an indescribable sound went up, a sigh, a sound of astonishment and disappointment.

The visitor was undersized, in a shabby alpaca coat. He had a wizened black face like a small, aged monkey. And all the while that the choir sang again and while the six children rose and sang in thin, frightened, tuneless whispers, they watched the insignificant looking man sitting dwarfed and countrified by the minister's imposing bulk, with something like consternation. They were still looking at him with consternation and unbelief when the minister rose and introduced him in rich rolling tones whose very unction served to increase the visitor's insignificance.

"En dey brung that all de way from Saint Looey," Frony whispered.

"I've knowed de Lawd to use cuiser tools dan dat," Dilsey said. "Hush, now," she said to Ben. "Dey fixin to sing again in a minute."

When the visitor rose to speak he sounded like a white man. His voice was level and cold. It sounded too big to have come from him and they listened at first through curiosity, as they would have to a monkey talking. They began to watch him as they would a man on a tight rope. They even forgot his insignificant appearance in the virtuosity with which he ran and poised and swooped upon the cold inflexionless wire of his voice, so that at last, when with a sort of swooping glide he came to rest again beside the reading desk with one arm resting upon it at shoulder height and his monkey body as reft of all motion as a mummy or an emptied vessel, the congregation sighed as if it waked from a collective dream and moved a little in its seats. Behind the pulpit the choir fanned steadily. Dilsey whispered, "Hush, now. Dey fixin to sing in a minute."

Then a voice said, "Brethren."

The preacher had not moved. His arm lay yet across the desk, and he still held that pose while the voice died in sonorous echoes between the walls. It was as different as day and dark from his former tone with a sad, timbrous quality like an alto horn, sinking into their hearts and speaking there again when it had ceased in fading and cumulate echoes.

"Brethren and sisteren," it said again. The preacher removed his arm and he began to walk back and forth before the desk, his hands clasped behind him, a meagre figure, hunched over upon itself like that of one long immured in striving with the implacable earth, "I got the recollection and the blood of the Lamb!" He tramped steadily back and forth beneath the twisted paper and the Christmas bell, hunched, his hands clasped behind him. He was like a worn small rock whelmed by the successive waves of his voice. With this body he seemed to feed the voice that, succubus like, has fleshed its teeth in him. And the congregation seemed to watch with its own eyes while the voice consumed him, until he was nothing and they were nothing and there was not even a voice but instead their hearts were speaking to one another in changing measures beyond the need for words, so that when he came to rest against the reading desk, his monkey face lifted and his whole attitude that of a serene, tortured crucifix that transcended its shabbiness and insignificance and made it of no moment, a long moaning expulsion of breath rose from them, and a woman's single soprano: "Yes, Jesus!"

As the scudding day passed overhead the dingy windows glowed and faded in ghostly retrograde. A car passed along the road outside, labouring in the sand, died away. Dilsey sat bolt upright, her hand on Ben's knee. Two tears slid down her fallen cheeks, in and out of the myriad coruscations of immolation and abnegation and time.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bill Ferris wins Guggenheim

A hearty congratulations to Bill Ferris for earning a Guggenheim Fellowship for his important work on the Mississippi Blues.

Ferris, who chaired the NEH from 1997 to 2001, is associate director for the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC. A folklorist specializing in the work and culture of blues musicians, he has interviewed thousands of musicians, written or edited 10 books, and created 15 documentary films.

Last fall, he received a lifetime achievement award at an international film festival in Prague.

You can sample some of Ferris' documentary filmmaking at Folkstreams (hosted by ibiblio).

UN panel condemns NC collective bargaining law

In December 2004, I participated on a panel in Chapel Hill to hear the grievances of public-sector workers--employees of UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill. As Dan Coleman reported on Orange Politics, the hearing was held to underscore the need for public workers to have collective bargaining rights. It was sponsored by U.E. 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, an organization that has a constitutional right to exist, but, under North Carolina law, has no right to enter into collective bargaining agreements with its members' public employers. North Carolina is one of only two states with outright legislative bans against public workers bargaining with their employers. These hearings, held in Chapel Hill and elsewhere across the state, kicked off a concerted campaign to get the law overturned.

Following that hearing, the Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of getting the law against public-sector collective bargaining overturned.

In March 2005, I participated with U.E. 150 in a news conference at the General Assembly in a direct appeal to our legislators to take action. This term, Sen. Larry Shaw of Cumberland County has introduced a bill that would permit public-sector collective bargaining and establish a public employee labor relations commission. The bill has been referred to the rules committee.

On another track, through the national U.E. organization the North Carolina chapter lodged a complaint with the International Labour Organization, the United Nations' workers rights watchdog agency (born out of the Treaty of Versailles). Upon investigation, after hearing the responses of the U.S. government, the ILO, through its Committee on Freedom of Association, has issued its ruling.
The Committee[CFA] requests the [United States] Government to promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the public sector in North Carolina – with the participation of representatives of the state and local administration and public employees’ trade unions, and the technical assistance of the [ILO] Office if so desired – and to take steps aimed at bringing the state legislation, in particular through the repeal of NCGS §95-98, into conformity with the freedom of association principles, thus ensuring the effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining throughout the country’s territory. The Committee requests to be kept informed of developments in this respect.

Said Bob Kingsley, U.E.'s national director of organization, "This decision is an international wake-up call to state lawmakers in North Carolina. The world is watching. It's time to change the law and erase the disgraceful human rights deficit in the state today."

This campaign has benefited tremendously from the leadership of Ashaki Binta. Other organizations that are supporting U.E. 150's efforts include the North Carolina NAACP, Hear Our Public Employees (HOPE) Coalition, and the Southern Faith-Labor Community Alliance.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

NC Senate and House propose apologies for slavery

Following the leads of Virginia and Maryland, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand on Wednesday filed a bill apologizing for slavery. On Thursday, four members of the House, including our own Verla Insko, followed suit. From today's editorial in the Greensboro News-Record:

Some may contend these statements are empty gestures with no tangible actions or policies behind them. But there's still something to be said for a collective statement of conscience -- an official acknowledgment that this state, as an enduring institution, protected, preserved and profited from a practice that was morally indefensible.

The Senate resolution, introduced by Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat, issues an "apology for the practice of slavery in North Carolina and expresses its profound contrition for the official acts that sanctioned and perpetuated the denial of basic human rights and dignity to fellow humans."

The House resolution uses similar language, formally apologizing "for the injustice, cruelty and brutality of slavery."

However, the House version goes one step further and mentions "the many hardships suffered, past and present, on account of slavery."

North Carolina was not a home to as many plantations as other slaveholding states, but as Rand's bill notes, fully one-third of the state's population, or 330,000 of its residents, were slaves at the time of the Civil War.

Significantly, both the House and Senate resolutions rightly reach beyond the abolition of slavery and cite the harsh and repressive segregationist practices in the decades that followed.

Both bills also specifically mention state laws that barred black people from learning to read or write and that denied black residents the right to vote.

It is true that, as the editorial further says, an apology alone "wouldn't improve race relations or provide new jobs." And it's also true that none of us was alive during those benighted times. But we all live with the consequences. To deny that, and to deny the need to continue to work for racial justice, is to take a pretty narrow view of history.

A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Thomas Wright of Wilmington and others filed a bill to implement the Wilmington 1898 Commission Report: "An act to implement recommendations of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission by establishing a commission to develop legislation for a restructuring and development authority, provide incentives for business development of areas impacted by the 1898 Wilmington race riot, and to increase minority home ownership in impacted areas."

These are constructive steps to deal honestly and straightforwardly with a racist past that, in the past, had been dealt with in ways that were neither.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A friend of the court

Eric Muller is one of the nation's leading scholars on the Japanese internment. When he noticed what had gone down in Judge John Gleeson's federal district court in Turkmen v. Ashcroft, he saw some disturbing parallels.

In April 2002, CCR [the Center for Constitutional Rights] filed a civil rights lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Ziglar, and officials of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York, on behalf of a class of male Muslim non-citizens from Arab and South Asian countries who were swept up by the INS and FBI in the dragnet that followed the September 11th attacks. The suit, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, charges that on the pretext of minor immigration violations, the INS held them in detention for the weeks and months that the FBI took to clear them of terrorism. Instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, hundreds of post-9/11 detainees were presumed guilty of terrorism until proven innocent to the satisfaction of law enforcement authorities.

[. . .]

The Turkmen complaint has been amended as more and more details about the "special interest" detentions have emerged. The Third Amended Complaint, filed on June 18, 2003, incorporates disturbing revelations in two reports of the U.S. Justice Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reports entitled, The first OIG report describes the government's secret round up of more than 700 Muslim and Arab non-citizens after September 11 on the pretext of immigration violations, its application of a blanket policy of denying them release on bond, even when the government lacked evidence that they posed a danger or a flight risk, and of blanket policy of continuing to hold them for criminal investigatory purposes even after they could have been deported. The second OIG Report documents in graphic detail the physical and verbal abuse that INS detainees held at the MDC suffered at the hands of MDC officials and the inhumane conditions in which they were confined.

In his ruling on June 14, 2006, Judge Gleeson upheld some of the claims but dismissed the claims related to racial profiling and extended detention.

Reacting to this ruling--which, according to an attorney for the Center for Civil Rights, "gives a green light to racial profiling and prolonged detention of non-citizens at the whim of the President"--Eric did what probably no one else could (or would) have done: he contacted the grandchildren of three Japanese immigrants who were detained in World War II--wrongfully, it was deemed in the court of history, though the courts upheld their detentions--and asked if they were interested in his help on an amicus brief in the appeal to the Supreme Court. Yes, they were interested.

Their interest in the Turkmen appeal is in avoiding the repetition of a tragic episode in American history that is also, for them, painful family history. That history is not the ordeal suffered by their famous fathers and other American citizens of Japanese ancestry, but rather that suffered by their grandparents Japanese aliens in the United States at the outbreak of war in December 1941.
Their claim is that the district court's broad endorsement of an executive power to single out aliens for prolonged detention on the basis of race, religion, and national origin is a revival of the long-discredited legal theory that supported the mass and prolonged detention of Japanese aliens during World War II.

The brief was filed on Tuesday. Nina Bernstein reports on it in the New York Times. The brief is a powerful argument, worth reading (.pdf).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Global fallout

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on yesterday's Supreme Court decision affirming the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases and to put teeth in the regulation of power plants:

The Bush Administration is becoming increasingly isolated in its refusal to take action to prevent global warming. The scientific consensus on global warming is rock solid. The House and Senate are moving ahead. The Administration insisted that the Environmental Protection Agency’s hands were tied, but the Supreme Court today debunked that argument. It’s time for the Administration to join the search for solutions to climate change.

Regarding pollutants from power plants and factories, the Administration has used the regulatory process as a backdoor way to rewrite clean air laws so that the President’s corporate allies don’t have to upgrade their air pollution controls when they upgrade their plants. The Supreme Court put a stop to this practice today. We will all breathe more freely—literally—as a result.

Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works:

This decision puts the wind at our back. It takes away the excuse the administration has been using for not taking action to deal with global warming pollution. We will be calling the EPA before the committee later this month to ask them how they plan to use their authority under the Clean Air Act to begin to address the challenge of global warming. We now have a two-track process for addressing global warming – comprehensive legislation and administrative action.

More reactions to Massachusetts v. EPA.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sky's no limit for ibiblio

Ibiblio announces successful launch of spacecraft to troll the universe for ever more diverse collections.