Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Eight random facts meme

Oh dear, I pay a not so random visit to Feminist Law Professors and find I've been random-tagged! Well, here goes.

1. I met my husband in a poetry class. I, a new Ph.D. student, was so terrified of the teacher I was auditing it. He, a staff employee computer geek, was taking it for credit.

2. I've never read anything by Kafka except "Metamorphosis," even though I've taught law and literature. So go ahead, call me a cockroach.

3. I had a great Freshman English professor who asked me if I was an English major. I was so flattered, I said yes and never looked back.

4. My first car was a beautiful maroon 1969 (used) Karmann Ghia. I wouldn't mind my next car being the same, but it seems too dangerous and I doubt it's fuel-efficient. (I didn't realize till I Googled it just now that it was born the same year I was.)

5. I have Prius envy.

6. I can't understand how I have a child who likes licorice. I blame his father.

7. I'm a big Django Haskins fan. (Catch him August 11 at Saxapahaw!)

8. I prefer not to touch reptiles, although I know this disappoints my family.

I tag: ae, Ruby, Paul, Mark, Jeff, Blue Gal, Tom, and Ed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mullein it over

Ken Moore's columns in the Carrboro Citizen are always a delight. This week's is about one of those great, ordinary, but not so ordinary weeds you see along the interstate: Wooly Mullein. Who knew that Quaker women rubbed it on their face to work up a blush--wearing "makeup" without breaking the rules?

Other fine reads are two columns by Ed Cone, one on the joys of being (temporarily) alone, another on Dave Weinberger on virtual catalogues and other intersections of the internet, categorical thinking, and philosophy.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rock the vote--don't rock the boat.

"One-stop" voting--the early voting option that we've had for a number of years in Chapel Hill on the UNC campus--was an idea whose time, I thought, had come. This could be the year when it has come and gone. Barry Garner, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, is proposing to move the location to the new Robert and Pearl Seymour Senior Center. Ideally, it should be at both places. Ideally, voting should be convenient to everybody--students, seniors, and everyone in between. It doesn't seem right to have to choose.

But Garner says he can't justify both. This year, the Morehead Planetarium, where the voting has been in the past, is going to be unavailable because of a construction project. But according to Mike Tarrant, vice president of the UNC student body, UNC is offering alternatives, including the Student Union, which would be a fine location.

Every election year, the Town makes an effort to get out the student vote. All I have to do is think about my own undergraduate days to realize that voting in your adopted town is not something that comes automatically. Students need all the reasons they can find to vote in municipal elections. Again, I wish the choice didn't have to be made. I'd like to see "one stop" voting on campus and at the Senior Center. But if there has to be a choice, I think the better one is to keep it on campus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Slice of life

At a party up in Hillsborough on September 8, 2001, I said to someone, "The world is a mess, but food has never been better." It's a thought that became embarrassingly trivial a few days later, when it was suddenly obvious that the world was far more of a mess than most of us could possibly have imagined. Going on six years later, though, with the mess even bigger, the notion lingers.

When, a couple of weeks ago, I took Paul on a sentimental tour of places I used to live--Capitol Hill, Old Town Alexandria--it occurred to me that I was telling my life in food: there was a Greek restaurant along about here where I discovered white pizza, but that place in Alexandria, where as a tribute to John Fowles I tried ouzo (what a mistake), was the best Greek restaurant of all; here is where I had Scotch eggs, there is where I first tasted powdery muesli and yogurt, at the European Bakery on King Street (amazingly, still there). I can still smell the little Indian restaurant just off Dupont Circle that I would walk to for dinner when I lived on 19th Street. There was Ethiopian food up in nearby Adams Morgan, tuna Nicoise in Georgetown (served by waits on skates), Turkish (with belly dancers!) on Capitol Hill. Northern Italian was everywhere, as was the new American cuisine (large plates, small portions). Quality fresh bagels were welcome news to me; so were French croissants (Vie de France). Freshly ground French roast coffee beans set a standard for a lifetime.

My son will never experience such an awakening, for his own started with his first solid foods. He takes Harris Teeter sushi to day camp for lunch. He will never know culinary surprise on the magnitude that I did, coming out of the chicken-fried South where, even after a few years in an urban college setting, my idea of an exotic meal was Joe T. Garcia's. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) All of that's just as well I suppose. His world will serve up its own surprises.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

HB 1587: sent to study committee

It was gratifying to be in the audience today, with Catherine Rice and other advocates of municipal broadband, for the House Finance Committee's vote to recommend that HB 1587 be given more study. Though not a defeat of the proposed bill, which would make it prohibitively difficult for municipalities to enter the broadband business, to get it channeled into a study committee was a victory of no small kind. Rep. Paul Lubke noted that it was a "tremendous grassroots effort" that "brought this bill to a halt."

More from Brian and Mark.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Update on me, myself, and my nice blog

Whoops! How could I forget? Yesterday was the third anniversary of GreeneSpace! Words, words, words. But oh yeah, maybe not that many different words, as it turns out. Does blogging dumb down your vocabulary?

See the top 15 most frequently used words and give it some thought.


Via Legal History Blog.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Trip to Yanceyville

This morning I joined fellow members of the Board of Advisors for Preservation North Carolina for an annual meeting at the Yancey House Restaurant.

Paul joined me. We'd never been into Yanceyville, though we'd skirted the edges many times going back and forth to Charlottesville. Bartlett Yancey built the house in 1806-14. A Greek Revival addition was done in 1856, and later in the 19th century it was gussied up with Victorian touches.

I'd heard of Thomas Day, the free black woodworker, for years, but this was the first time I'd ever seen any of his work. He created each of the curved stair rails out of one piece of wood! This staircase is in the Greek Revival portion of the house, the grand front entrance--built after Yancey's untimely death in 1828.

Yancey studied law with Archibald Murphey of Hillsborough c. 1807. According to one source, "Yancey possessed a rare personal magnetism, and that combined with his great legal skill, common sense, and powers of persuasion within a short time made him one of the most successful lawyers in the state. Soon he was able to pay off his debts and build a fine home, where he dispensed a generous hospitality. In 1813 he decisively defeated his former teacher, Archibald D. Murphey, in a race for Congress, receiving all but three of the votes cast in Caswell County. Elected as a Republican and a War Hawk, Yancey took his seat on 3 June 1813 and shortly became one of the House's leading members." He was later in the North Carolina Senate, where he served as Speaker.

I wonder what he or Thomas Day would think of the house now, in its purple glory. Its owners, Mike and Lucindy Willis, insist that it is not purple, it is Nashville gray, and that the roof is the authentic color of poke berries. I believe them that the colors are authentically Victorian. But I think what they're more after is the effect that they get: people slow down, turn around, and come back to take a second look.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Homeless: the word on the street

I met some interesting people at the homelessness conference in DC last week. One of them was Koki Smith, editor-in-chief of Street Sense. Street Sense is a newspaper written by and for the poor and homeless of Washington. It is sold on the streets by poor and homeless men and women. They buy the papers for 25 cents each and sell them for $1. Jesse Smith is this week's featured vendor:

Jesse Smith, 57, was born on Feb. 24, 1950, in the Gallagher Hospital (now D.C. General) in Washington, D.C. He spent most of his life in the D.C. area. He attended Dunbar High School, graduating in 1968. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the Federal City College (now the University of the District of Columbia) in 1974 before entering graduate school at the University of Maryland in 1984.
Married in 1969, he moved to Clinton, Md. in 1974, where he owned a house with his wife and two children until 2002.
He was employed as a technician for many of the companies under the parent Bell System, the C&P Telephone Company, AT&T and Lucent Technologies for 27 years, and a major consulting firm employed him for one year. He served as president of the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter. He is now employed as the vendor manager for Street Sense and is a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless Speakers Bureau.
How did you become Homeless?
My becoming homeless was the result of a divorce. When I went through that process as far as I was concerned the world had ended. I was one of those persons who believed in marriage until death do you part. Unfortunately my ex–wife didn’t see things that way. During the proceedings, I relinquished all claims to property and financial remunerations and just walked away with the clothes on my back, which resulted in my being left without a place to go.
Why do you sell Street Sense?
I sell the paper because it serves a real need for this community, speaking of the condition of the disenfranchised, the homeless and the general population that is ignored by the mainstream media.
Other vendors tell their stories.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Escape to Fallingwater

Guest post by George Smart, who shares my passion for mid-century modern architecture. He recently made a pilgrimage to Fallingwater.

This extraordinary house, also known as the Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. Residence, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. It was built partly over a waterfall for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh.

The house is world-famous for its connection to nature. The fireplace hearth in the living room is composed of site boulders, and the stream can be heard throughout the house.

Via a bridge and covered walkway, above the house is a garage, servants' quarters, and a guest bedroom--now the Fallingwater administrative offices. As of summer 2006, over 4 million people have visited since it opened as a museum in the 1960s. In December, celebrity architecture enthusiast Brad Pitt and his wife Angelina Jolie took a private tour and added their names to the list.

My name isn't as famous as Brad Pitt's, but I did get a fairly private tour: eight people for about 2.5 hours first thing in the morning. I had seen Fallingwater in pictures for decades and even viewed the 3D virtual model. But nothing compares to seeing this masterpiece in person. From its stark modern appearance and use of materials, one would never guess it was a house designed in the 1930s. Frank Lloyd Wright wasn't just ahead of his time, he was way way way ahead. Geniuses don't always make good businessmen, however, and one can read many biographies of his economic and professional rises and falls.

There are many types of tours, all guided: Some let you take pictures, others don't. Some are very short, some last half a day. If you're going in summer, go early. The top levels of the house take intese direct hits of sunlight that get quite hot mid to late day. Flights to Pittsburg on USAir take two hours and run $150-$250. Stay in local Donegal, Pa. (19 miles away) the night before so you can get the early morning tour.

Land for Tomorrow

Springer's Point Nature Preserve, Ocracoke Island, purchased with grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

Land for Tomorrow is a broad partnership organized to protect North Carolina's natural and cultural resources: land, water, historic places. Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County are among the many cities, counties, and towns that have signed on to support its mission. The Fayetteville Observer calls Land for Tomorrow "a coalition representing just about everybody who drinks water, breathes air and enjoys looking at things other than brick and concrete."

This term, Land for Tomorrow is backing an ambitious, forward-thinking bill in the General Assembly: the Land and Water Conservation Act of 2007. This legislation would authorize a statewide bond referendum on spending $1 billion over the next five years to protect the state’s land and water resources. The House and Senate versions have been filed, but no action has been taken yet as the session draws to an end.

According to Land for Tomorrow, "Between 1987 and 1997 North Carolina lost more prime farmland than any other state except Ohio and Texas. And for the first time since the 1930's, the state is experiencing falling forest acreage." Moreover, the state's existing conservation trust funds (including the Clean Water Management Trust Fund) are unable to keep up with the need: only a little over a third of the grant applications can be funded.

Here's how to write your legislators to support this important bill.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Two beers for democracy

How wonderful to be in a theater full of Chapel Hillians to watch Sicko this afternoon, then to walk over to Pepper's Pizza to talk about it over dinner--"a night on the town" organized by Robert Peterson and the folks at Blue NC.

A particularly great moment was when old Labour Party leader, former Member of Parliament Tony Benn began to wax eloquent on the connection between universal health care and democracy. Far from calling it a socialist idea, he claimed that it arises out of the power of the people to demand what they need, a power that wasn't available before the rise of democracy.

As it turns out, Tony Benn has said a great deal about the history of democracy. He narrated a documentary called "Big Ideas that Changed the World: Democracy," parts of which you can see on Daily Kos.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Capitol Hill, a patch of Chapel Hill

The United States Botanic Garden, near the Capitol building and near the hotel where I just was for a conference, has a display going on called "Celebrating America's Public Gardens." A total of 20 gardens are featured, 12 of them with outdoor displays. After hours, as dark was falling, Paul showed me what he had discovered by accident earlier in his wanderings: the North Carolina Botanical Garden's outdoor display featuring its signature carnivorous plants, longleaf pines, and other native plants of eastern North Carolina.

pitcher plant

Here's the NCBG's story, with pictures, about the building of the boardwalk, etc. to create the garden exhibit. "Celebrating America's Public Gardens" extends through October 8.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Chapel Hill gets public financing legislation

It doesn't come in time for the 2007 elections, but the rest of this story is all good news.

Rhetoric check: Bush's relentless Wilsonian refrain

Guest post by Jonathan Riehl.

At the beginning of his remarks in Ohio last week President Bush declared he was going to be paying closer attention to his war rhetoric: “We’ve got to be careful about our language here--and I am.” What followed, however, revealed a severe disconnect.

Even as he went out of his way to semi-acknowledge letdowns over the course of the Iraq conflict, Bush repeatedly returned to the utopian refrains that marked his controversial 2005 inaugural address. In fact, his Ohio remarks reveal that Bush considers political or military context irrelevant to his ideological convictions. Whatever has happened “on the ground” since the 2005 swearing-in, Bush still talks of the situation in the same absolute terms.

The 2005 speech was so brazen that it led old-guard conservatives like former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and National Review’s founding publisher William Rusher to suggest Bush had succumbed to Wilsonian, and/or neo-conservative, delusions of grandeur.

In 2005 Bush said this: “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” The echo from Wilson’s justification for World War I was unmistakable—the War To End All Wars, so on forth.

Bush had out-Wilsoned Wilson. “In proclaiming it America's mission to spread democracy all over the world, President Bush has gone far beyond the traditional policy of the Republican Party,” Rusher wrote, “and even beyond the ambitious goal of Woodrow Wilson, which was (you will recall) to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’”

Other conservatives returned to this Wilsonian critique of Bush in light of the failure of the democratic election in Palestine to produce an outcome favorable to the United States.

“Hamas’ victory should force Republicans here to ask themselves: Do they really want to become the party of Wilson's foreign policy,” wrote Human Events editor Terry Jeffrey.

Last week Bush was still at it. Whatever may have changed “on the ground” over the past two and a half years—facts Bush interjected at times into his town hall-style forum in Ohio—his ironclad ideological perspective has not been affected. Bush clings to his universalisms regardless of context, with explicit faith-based claims. His rhetoric reveals as much without question. Some comparisons:

Last week, discussing Iraq:

“I've got great faith in the power of liberty to transform the world for the sake of peace. And the fundamental question facing our country is, will we keep that faith?”

“I believe in the universality of freedom.”

“Most Muslim mothers want their children to grow up in peace; they’re just like mothers in the United States. There’s some universal characteristics of people.”

“I'm such a strong believer in advocating the march of democracy in the Middle East.”

Liberty prevails every time . . . it’s in our interest not to lose faith in certain fundamental values.”

And in 2005:

“There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.”

“Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul.”

“We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.”

“Ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Or, as Woodrow W. Wilson said 90 years ago:

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. . . . We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Shearon Harris update

In April, public officials representing Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Chatham County, and Pittsboro met with Rep. David Price to ask his help in getting an investigation started of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's enforcement actions (or lack thereof) at the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant. (Mark Kleinschmidt represented the Town Council.) Yesterday brought this news from NC WARN:

GAO Will Study Enforcement of Nuclear Plant Fire Regulations

Statement from NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren:

Today, Congressman David Price announced that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has accepted his request to study the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s enforcement of fire safety standards at U.S. nuclear power plants.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, will now assemble a team for the study, which is expected to begin in September. This is a very important juncture in the years-long campaign by public interest groups to force nuclear power plant owners to stop cutting corners on vital safety issues. Fire represents a leading risk factor for meltdown at nuclear plants.

NC WARN encourages the people of North Carolina to thank Representative Price, and the many local and state officials who sought his involvement in this issue due to particular concerns about violations at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in Wake County.

Since last fall, the regional public has increasingly voiced concern to public officials and Progress Energy management based on reports by NC WARN and others about 14 years of violation at Harris, and the company’s plans to delay compliance for years longer.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More advocates on the Hill

Rep. Waters of the 35th District of California

The homelessness conference ended today with a luncheon that included remarks by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

Sen. Reed is co-sponsor, with Sen. Burr of North Carolina, of the proposed Services to End Long-Term Homelessness Act. This piece of legislation is critically needed in order to make "housing first" programs work. As Sen. Reed said, "We all understand that it's one thing to have shelter, but without supportive services, people can't effectively use that shelter." He also spoke to the need for legislation to prevent homelessness, encouraging those communities that have created 10-year plans. "We want to reward communities that are taking charge of their programs, that actually have a program to end homelessness. We want to streamline the process for you who are doing that."

Rep. Walters was a little late in arriving because she had to be present for a vote, but the audience found her well worth the wait. She's the chair of the Housing and Community Opportunity subcommittee of the Financial Services committee. With her city of Los Angeles "compet[ing] for the dubious distinction of the homeless capital of the nation," with 80,000 people homeless on a given night, she has a great deal invested in this issue. Echoing Rep. Frank, she said, "It's time to get the federal government back in the affordable housing creation business." She's on board with Rep. Frank in proposing HR 2895, the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007. She is also interested in issues of coordination and collaboration: how does the Section 8 voucher program work to combat homelessness? What is the real impact of the Community Development Block Grants on homelessness?

And she wants to draw the connections between homelessness and more visible issues such as health and education. She said her subcommittee will also hold a hearing on the impact of housing on these areas. "As one of those who has long championed the cause of HIV/AIDS," she said, "I'm well aware of the data linking access to affordable housing to improved T-cell counts. I would like to make sure more members [of the House] know these and other important facts, including the importance of housing stability to school performance, so they can understand that this is truly an investment in people."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Frank talk on homelessness

Rep. Barney Frank gave a riveting speech to an appreciative crowd at today's conference luncheon. "The notion that the richest society in the world cannot provide decent housing for every one of the people who live here is simply unacceptable," he said. Frank is sponsoring a bill to create a national affordable housing trust fund, and he's very hopeful about getting it through.

"What we’re determined to do is to get the federal government back in the business of helping build housing that people of low income can afford," he said, criticizing 12 years of housing policy that has kept the federal government out of building housing for families.

Frank made it clear that when he said "housing" he didn't necessarily mean home ownership. "We have this notion that denigrates rental," he said. "I believe that’s one of the contributing factors to the sub-prime problem. People are owning homes that they could not afford. They'd be better off with decent rental." He called the notion that renters do not keep their homes maintained "an outrageous insult."

He hopes to get the housing trust fund bill passed by this fall. It has the potential to inject $900 million a year into affordable housing. Frank's approach is straightforward: "There will be no significant improvement to homelessness unless there are more homes available."

Next on the agenda: a meeting of the North Carolina conference delegation with Rep. David Price and his staff.

UPDATE: Storm delays kept Rep. Price from flying up from Raleigh in time to make the reception his office hosted for the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness, but his staff was there. All North Carolina members of the House of Representatives were invited. Howard Coble made a brief appearance, and Sue Myrick spoke at some length on her commitment to the homeless.

This meeting was my first chance to meet Terry Allebaugh, executive director of Housing for New Hope in Durham. A committed advocate, in May, at Sen. Richard Burr's invitation, he testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in support of the Services for Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Employing the chronically homeless

At the first session of the National Alliance to End Homelessness' conference, I had one of my assumptions about the chronically homeless completely turned around. By definition, at least by the operative federal definition, the chronically homeless are people with severe disabilities of some kind--mental health or substance abuse problems or both, often. My assumption was that these people need housing and support services, but that it would be very unlikely that they could hold a job.

We heard about two cities, Indianapolis and Los Angeles, that are putting the chronically homeless to work. They're finding that employment actually helps people with mental illness or substance abuse problems to find their way back: like the rest of us, they find satisfaction in productive work. Not necessarily 40 hours a week. At their own pace they are offered the chance to work as a way to put some structure to their days, to afford them a sense of self-worth.

Grant money for these two programs plus similar ones in Portland, Boston, and San Francisco comes from the Department of Labor.

In Los Angeles, these workers are paid a living wage (currently around $10.80/hr.).

Imagine that.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Homelessness conference in DC

Tomorrow through Wednesday I'll be at the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The time is marked by opportunity to make substantial new progress. New programmatic solutions are moving individuals out of homelessness and into housing faster every day. More communities are committing to achieve progress and show results in the form of fewer people without a place to live. People who work with Congress speak of a new day, including a new interest in housing the poorest Americans.

The time is coming for a new sense of accountability, for everyone involved to accomplish the goals they’ve set out – ending the scourge of homelessness. Hundreds of communities have committed to do so. The federal government has expressed it as a policy priority. Public, private, and nonprofit sectors have embraced the call.
Increasingly, all involved in this struggle are discovering what to do and how to make progress.
It’s time for a new push.
It’s time for communities to put to work the practices they know work.
It’s time for policymakers to know what their part is.

Chapel Hill and Orange County are stepping up to the plate. It's exciting to be part of this national movement.
For me, it's interesting that the conference is in Washington. My first venture into public service was when I was living in Alexandria, Virginia, just out of law school. I got appointed to Alexandria's Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services Board. It was the mid-1980s, just as the consequences of Reagan-era deinstitutionalization were setting in. The streets of our nation's capital were scandalized by the appearance of the homeless. There was too much to do and not enough money. Faced with inevitable budget cuts, our Board contemplated "shutting down the Washington Monument" (code for denying money to the most visible programs as a cry for help) versus making cuts with less obvious impact. There were no good options.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Filing time for Chapel Hill Town Council!

Tomorrow I'll be filing to seek reelection to the Chapel Hill Town Council. Four years of service on the Council have flown by. I'm proud of what the community, through Council's work, has accomplished in that time, and grateful to have had the opportunity to serve. It would be a privilege to be able to continue the work for another term. Please see sallygreene.org for my formal announcement.

When I ran in 2003 I was not yet blogging, but I did begin a campaign listserv, which I have maintained ever since. You are welcome to sign up for the listserv--and to volunteer to help with the campaign in any way. I'd appreciate your help! To volunteer your support, please get in touch with me at sally at sallygreene dot org or print out and mail this form.

I expect that GreeneSpace will remain, as it has been for almost three years now, a mixture of political and community news and my own various interests. Thank you for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Conservatives and the rhetoric of equality

Guest post by Jonathan Riehl, J.D., Ph.D., a former reporter for Congressional Quarterly, and, I'm proud to say, a recent student of mine. His UNC dissertation, "The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Are Changing the Meaning of Constitutional Law," is under review for publication.

I’ve recently developed the feeling that I was in limited company, at least among the more liberal-minded, in not being shocked in the least by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the school desegregation case. I’ve spent the past four years studying legal conservatism—the Federalist Society in particular—from a rhetorical as well as a legal perspective. Thus my focus was as much on the ways conservatives have formulated and articulated their arguments as it has been on the underlying substantive legal (and social) questions. Rhetoric in this sense is not “mere”; it shapes the public discourse and can be politically determinative. Nowhere is this observation more clear than in the area of race. Conservatives have not only captured a 5-4 court. They have captured the discourse, and with it the public meaning of “equality.”

It is absolutely vital to understand that for fifty years “movement conservatives” have seen a wide array of social and political issues, including race and Affirmative Action, as part of a much broader struggle between two Enlightenment ideals: Liberté and Egalité. For William F. Buckley Jr. and the Cold War conservatives the contrast was apposite to the struggle against what they perceived to be an equality-obsessed Communist Menace. The socialist/communist trope was vital to the glue that held the early conservative coalition together. Social conservatives resented Godless Communism. Economic conservatives resented impositions on “liberty” by government regulation—a project carried on by self-described “classical liberals” such as Chicago law professor Richard Epstein of Takings fame.

To understand how American conservatives have talked about equality in the context of civil rights we need to understand the meaning of equality in the conservative mind. Hence we must go all the way back to Edmund Burke and his reaction to the revolution in France. “Equality is the product of art, not of nature,” is how conservative intellectual historian Russell Kirk interpreted Burke’s key insight. “If social leveling is carried so far as to obliterate order and class,” he wrote in The Conservative Mind (1953), “art will have been employed to deface God’s design.” Particularly in its socialist guise, state-enforced egalitarianism is “the death of progress,” stifling innovation, competition, and creativity. It is destructive of civilization, of the heritage and traditions which hold society together. As the Southern rhetorical critic Richard Weaver wrote, “Where equality obtains, no one knows where he belongs.” In a recent law review article on American Exceptionalism, Federalist Society co-founder professor Steven Calabresi, of Northwestern Law, writes that the “golden door” of Ellis Island is home to a statue of liberty, “and not a statue of ‘equality’ or ‘fraternity.’ That is,” he writes, “after all, what this country stands for.”

Conservatives moved to reshape the legal discourse of equality during the Nixon presidency. In particular, Supreme Court nominee William Rehnquist, who made clear he accepted Brown, was thereby largely inoculated against racially tinged accusations deriving from a notorious memorandum he wrote while clerking for Justice Robert Jackson. Support for Brown—with its vague, though inspirational language and ambiguous holding—became a trump-card defense and an opportunity for conservatives to redefine its meaning. And in doing so they managed a return, of sorts, to the bad old days of Plessy v. Ferguson.

In Washington v. Davis (1976) the Nixon Court essentially read the first Justice Harlan’s dissent and its ideal of “colorblindness” into the common law, creating what liberal Yale Law School professor Reva Siegel has described as a tense relationship between the core principles of anticlassification and antisubordination. “Talking about the wrongs of classification was not merely a cooler way of justifying Brown, it was simultaneously an effective way of limiting Brown,” she concludes. As a frustrated Justice William Brennan wrote in his dissent in University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978), “[C]laims that law must be ‘color-blind’ or that the datum of race is no longer relevant to public policy must be seen as aspiration rather than as description of reality.”

Conservatives continued to shape the debate over “equality” and racial issues throughout the 1970s. As George W. Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum wrote in a fascinating social history of that crucial decade, “Busing to achieve racial balance was reduced to busing, a ‘revolution imposed from above.’” In his comprehensive study of the Reagan administration’s civil rights policies, history professor Raymond Wolters, of the University of Delaware, astutely observes that Reagan “knew that the yellow school bus had become a symbol of intrusive social engineering and sensed that, for many people, the buses might have been emblazoned with words like liberal or Democrat.” By the end of the ’70s, statistics do show that white public opinion had turned decisively against “busing.” Busing and Affirmative Action were rearticulated as “quotas” and the game was up. Conservatives captured the language; the eventual outcome of this sea change was realized last week. There was nothing surprising about it.

As American University law professor Jamin Raskin has written, “conservatives gathered excitedly around the mantra of ‘colorblindness,’ a magical turn of phrase that justified not only the dismantling of affirmative action programs . . . but judicial disengagement from the project of active school desegregation.” Another magical turn of phrase comes, of course, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King’s vision of an America where people are not “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” has been smoothly absorbed into the conservative rhetoric of colorblindness.

“Well, Dr. King, we’re not going to make it with your children, maybe your grandchildren maybe your great-grandchildren,” commentator and former education secretary William Bennett said at a 1993 Heritage Foundation panel discussion on “The Conservative Virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King.” “We are further away from being colorblind today than we were when Dr. King [gave his speech], because race-norming, counting by race, reverse discrimination, racial identification, talking about oneself and one identity in terms of race is much more popular and much more a part of the intellectual and political mainstream than it ever was,” Bennett said.

Brennan’s Bakke dissent was echoed last week by Justice Breyer. Segregation, Breyer wrote, “perpetuated a caste system rooted in the institutions of slavery and 80 years of legalized subordination.” The “promise” of Brown, Breyer wrote, was to undo that system. The problem is that not everyone understands the “promise” in the same way—the rhetorical work by conservatives has made it so: They articulated Brown into their existing narrative of the struggle between individual liberty and forced socialized norms. Racist segregation was an example of the latter, and as such Brown was right to attack it. But social re-organization through Affirmative Action and busing schemes were of a wholly different cast. Thus Roberts wrote:

Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again—even for very different reasons.

Motive is thus written out of the law—a crucial legacy of the conservative legal movement’s increased influence.

The broad philosophical question of equality remains the linchpin. In this way I agree with Maryland law professor Deborah Hellman, guest-blogging at Balkinization: “The more sensible reading of Justice Roberts’ claim is as a moral claim: the way to stop wrongful discrimination on the basis of race is to stop drawing distinctions on the basis of race. As such, this claim rests on the dubious proposition that any instance of drawing distinctions on the basis of race is wrongful.”

But—aha! “Dubious” or not, this claim is central to conservatives’ political and legal project. Liberals, including Breyer, have not yet risen to the challenge of vigorously answering conservatives’ moral claims—claims made legally viable, in this case, by Brown’s vagueness and convoluted progeny up to and including the Michigan cases decided by O’Connor’s vote a few years ago. Rather than chastising Roberts and Alito for “not following precedent” (which garners a collective yawn from most of the non-lawyer public), liberals must take up the challenge of reclaiming Brown and the popular understanding of equality.

In a way, we have seen a return to Plessy—not in some cheap racist sense, but in terms of the colorblind standard of Harlan’s dissent and the “self-inflicted psychology” rationale nested deep in the majority opinion. In 1896 the Court held that any harms produced by segregation were the result of a willful self-perception, a “construction” that “the colored race chooses.” This is the second half of the modern conservative view, holding that the civil rights era is over; the first being the foundational conflict between liberty and equality. The perpetuation of civil rights litigation and political contestation is at best misguided, at worst a fraud. “Memories of aggressive discrimination and oppression do not fade so quickly,” writes Robert Bork. “But in another way, the intensely unsatisfactory state of race relations is a mystery. The opportunities for blacks to advance in the United States have never been greater.”

And what is to blame for this mysterious disquiet, this continued agitation? Liberalism, of course, and its faith in the possibility of absolute equality. Charles Murray, co-author of the much-maligned Bell Curve, put it this way in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in 1994: “That people are unequal is not in doubt, now as ever before . . . but we have been deeply indoctrinated throughout the twentieth century that they shouldn’t be.” Ultimately, ideology is to blame, and equality is just one more ideological formation. “The perversions of the egalitarian ideal.” Murray reminds his audience, “began with the French Revolution.”

Movement conservatives have taken the long view, both intellectually and legally. It’s high time liberals came to grips with this fact and developed rhetorical, political, and legal strategies to match. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP team did precisely this in the lead-up to Brown, in conjunction with Dr. King and the leaders of the broader civil rights social movement. They've had no modern successors.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Regional usage note

Barbeque is "not something you do, it's something you eat."

Modern living

Yesterday Paul and I went up to the Vietri warehouse in Hillsborough to catch a shuttle bus out Route 70 to the east to see the Dwell Model Home. This beautiful house is prefabricated, which has many advantages, although cost is not one. It's about $250/sq. ft., and we think it's around 4,000 sq. ft. (You can do the math.) The architect claims many environmental advantages--natural light, shading, etc. Earth-conscious products are used, including bamboo flooring and "plyboo."

Rather apologetically, the architect points out that they were "required by the local covenants to build a rather large house," going on to say that they "decided to build the smallest home permissible on the site and to keep a very open floor plan to have the house feel very spacious."

Our goal is to show that a home doesn’t always have to conform to the status quo – even though it may be legally required to be a certain size or height - rules which we find to be contrary to sound design principle and any kind of environmentally-conscious thinking.

Which leaves me to wonder why they chose this subdivision to build this house in in the first place. It is beautiful, the siting is beautiful, the possibilities go on and on. But Paul and I figured we could do with about a third of it--say the main level alone, give or take.

video tour (scroll down) from the Dwell folks.