Thursday, August 29, 2013

Our Sainted Founders

Mr. Charlie Pierce posts a paragraph from the great James Madison, written in 1789. Supposedly the words of Madison and the rest of the founders are little less than pure gold to the conservatives of our mighty land. Perhaps if we simply read some of the things they said and committed to the ages, we'll have a deeper understanding of why the destruction of the Voting Rights Act by our current Supreme Court is such an abomination. Fox News prattles daily that our civil rights leaders are but charlatans, than America's issues with race are somewhere back there, that everything is hunkydory and people who say otherwise ought to just shut up. And maybe not get to vote either. That's what North Carolina is saying these days, and it's a national trend: Mrs. Schafly said the same thing yesterday, and Ms. Ingraham ended a clip of John Lewis's great speech in '63 in mid-sentence, with a gunshot sound effect. Haw haw. Here's the right honorable Mr. Madison:

It only remains then that some proper external receptacle be provided for the slaves who obtain their liberty. The interior wilderness of America, and the Coast of Africa seem to present the most obvious alternative. The former is liable to great if not invincible objections. If the settlement were attempted at a considerable distance from the White frontier, it would be destroyed by the Savages who have a peculiar antipathy to the blacks: If the attempt were made in the neighbourhood of the White Settlements, peace would not long be expected to remain between Societies, distinguished by such characteristic marks, and retaining the feelings inspired by their former relation of oppressors & oppressed. The result then is that an experiment for providing such an external establishment for the blacks as might induce the humanity of Masters, and by degrees both the humanity & policy of the Governments, to forward the abolition of slavery in America, ought to be pursued on the Coast of Africa or in some other foreign situation. -- James Madison, Memorandum On An African Colony For Freed Slaves, October, 1789.

It is worthwhile to read Mr. Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural--the part engraved on the Memorial, the part which floated like a cloud behind all those speakers in '63, and yesterday. Before the ink was dry on the coverage of the '63 March on Washington, the counter-revolution was underway. I glimpsed a flicker of it when those Klansters minced past me on that park bench at the Old NC State Capitol in December, '63. Grown rednecks in dresses: it was as funny as a Southern Baptist drama of the Easter Story, except of course for the fact that the Klanies were and are packing heat, these days quite legally of course.

There was a good interview with Taylor Branch last night on MSNBC, which the current New Yorker reports is failing in its ratings battle. What will happen when the waters close over us and all we can find to listen to is the right wing myths. That's their goal. Mr. Branch said that America seldom confronts it's racial problem headon--the March on Washington in '63 being the exception that proves the rule. They got the laws passed (a fact I maintain had more to do with the Kennedy assassination than with the March--the country was simply in shock for about the length of a Congressional term). Then the forces of denial and revision and outright bigotry and class privilege took up their implements and began to dig. And in 1980 the country elected Ronald Reagan.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How I Got to the March

(The author as a nice young Christian boy, circa 1958 or so, Raleigh, NC)

I grew up in a neighborhood in west Raleigh, across from the NC State campus, where my father taught philosophy and religion. He'd build the house in the mid-30s, one of the first in the neighborhood, which had once been part of the old State Fair Grounds. Now and then we'd dig up a big chunk of concrete from that earlier era. Dad's first wife had died of pneumonia in 1940, and, still full of grief, he married my mother, a primary school teacher and friend of his younger sister, also a primary teacher, shortly thereafter. I was born in early 1943. My first memory is of my dad coming into the room and exclaiming, "The war's over." There was a bottom drawer in mom and dad's bedroom full of his first wife's things, under glass. She'd been a teacher and administrator at the high school I eventually went to, in the late '50s.

Adjacent to our neighborhood was a black neighborhood called "Oberlin." Oberlin Road was one of its borders, and across Oberlin Road was a black school. When I was attending Josephus Daniels Junior High, in the mid'50s, I'd either walk or ride the bus past that school. Josephus Daniels had been Secretary of the Navy, and was the founder of the Raleigh News and Observer, which was operated by the Daniels family until late into the '80s. Josephus was of the World War I era, and I think served under Wilson. He was a noted segregationist, but also a noted Democrat. When a Democrat won the Presidency, the News and Observer ran a red rooster the size of the front page under all the stories on the front page. I worked at the News and Observer for two years while I was in high school, on weekends, as a "copy boy" and general office flunky. I got to write some columns for Charlie Craven, who was the Damon Runyon of Raleigh and liked to write pieces on the pool hall characters he'd run across. Now and then Charlie would excerpt some chunk of Hemingway that he thought all of Raleigh should take note of. (For a substantial historical description of the history of the black town of Oberlin, which evolved on Raleigh's outskirts after the Civil War, see pgs. 10-13.)

Mom and dad were not segregationists and they were not activists. My mom was a dedicated church-goer, attending the Fairmont Methodist Church on Clark Avenue, which was about two blocks to the south of the start of Oberlin. Fairmont was of course all white. I went to Fairmont and was active in its youth programs. I was a Boy Scout, and then an Explorer scout, both affiliated with a Presbyterian church that occupied the rest of the block past our house. When I was in the first grade I was sick a lot with ear infections, and watched the church being built by black masons who could toss several bricks at a time up to men on the scaffold two stories high. My window was facing the construction. When I first saw the bricks flying past I thought they were birds, cardinals. You could build a brick church where an old wood one had been, maybe, but you couldn't kick over the whites only water fountain in front of the courthouse. We could drive down to the Seaboard Station on Peace Street and watch the trains come and go for family entertainment. We could not remark on the "colored only" waiting room, beyond perhaps a sad shake of the head. And if I had no idea, in the '50s, that anything could change, I did at least one dark night drink my first can of very cold Budweiser on the steps of West Raleigh Presbyterian, and no Bud has ever tasted better.

My dad didn't favor team sports and did not encourage me to play on teams. Like most boys, I wanted to play on teams, particularly in my case baseball. There were often pickup games around the neighborhood, at little parks. One summer day I got into one which was mostly being played by black kids from Oberlin. I vaguely recall being floored by the kid playing first base on a close play at first. I didn't really know these kids, or even their names, but you need a certain number of kids to make a team, and we all wanted to play. On another day at another park, this one really a kind of wooded median in another neighborhood adjacent to NC State and Oberlin, I played in a long game of touch football. Afterwards everyone was thirsty and we walked over to Hillsboro Street, which was a street of shops across from State. When we got to a small grocery store the black kids asked me to go in and buy sodas, because they weren't allowed in the store. This was my first, indelible, experience with what segregation really meant. It stayed with me, and still does. We were all thirsty, and we'd all just had a good time playing together. I might have been 12 or so at the time. I think I must have been still in grammar school.

While I was working at the News and Observer a Freedom Rider came through Raleigh. He was not "officially" a Freedom Rider at that point. He was riding the bus to Atlanta or somewhere like that, further south, to meet up with others. At that later point they were going to execute a Freedom Ride. I don't remember what the man's name was, or, for that matter, his race. He was articulate. The paper sent me over to the bus station, which was only a couple of blocks away, to talk to him. We sat in the segregated snack shop and had a cup of coffee together, and apparently offended several local people to the extent that someone from the paper showed up and suggested I leave. I didn't write a story using the interview; I wasn't that much of a reporter at that point. Probably that's a blessing. I was that boy in the picture.

(This is what Freedom Rides sometimes ended with.)

When I got to the University of North Carolina, in the fall of '61, the Red Rooster had flown on the N&O to mark John F. Kennedy's election. That same year the Dixie Classic basketball tournament, which was held at NC State and which I had attended every time, was cancelled due to a point shaving scandal which involved one of State's star players, Stan Nierowski, who might have otherwise had a pro career. A UNC player, Doug Moe, was also entangled, although he did end up with a pro career. UNC also ended up with a new coach in my freshman year, Dean Smith. That year, because he struggled his first couple of years, the students at UNC burned him in effigy.

After keeping my head down and my nose to the academic grindstone for my freshman year, I encounter in the fall of '62 an assortment of folks who had political and artistic views. I joined the Student Peace Union, which was headed by a grad student and Korean War vet named Pat Cusick. He subscribed to the little newspaper, The Catholic Worker. We passed out leaflets suggesting that the Bomb be Banned. When the civil rights campaign came to the south in the spring of 1963, the Student Peace Union decided that trying to get the shops and restaurants of Chapel Hill integrated was well within our mission, and we began picketing various segregated establishments up and down Franklin Street. At some point in the fall of '62 I'd been invited back to Fairmont Methodist, in Raleigh, to give a youth sermon (just to show you how engaged I was at the church business at that point in my life). I spoke on integrating Fairmont Church, since after all Oberlin was a natural part of Fairmont's constituency, being a stone's throw away. I received an extremely chilly reception, and this marked the end of my engagement with Fairmont.

As the civil rights campaign heated up, I spent more and more time with the Chapel Hill part of it. I also went over to Raleigh a few times to picket during the early summer. One night I picketed the State Theatre, a downtown movie theater, and walking back to Shaw University with the other picketers, mostly black people, an old school mate of mine tried to run us down by cutting into a gas station entrance just as we were about to cross into it. (I was sorry he didn't make it to my 50th Class Reunion a couple of years ago.) While we'd been picketing a few of my old high school teachers crossed the line to attend a movie. During one of these trips to my home town I set foot in a home in Oberlin for the very first time in my life, invited there by a co-picketer for a sandwich. Deeper into the summer the Chapel Hill movement decided to sit-in at the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce, an effective tactic which at least for the moment caused the city fathers to promise to jawbone the segregated shop owners into integrating their stores, if only we'd stop marching and sitting in for s while. The Movement agreed. Nothing happened.

Taking a trip up to New York City to see some friends who were staying in the East Village, I was asked to stop by Bayard Rustin's offices and talk to him about what he might expect from Chapel Hill's Movement re attendance at the March on Washington, of which he was a central planner. I recall a nice conversation, and I assured him we would have a contingent. And, indeed, buses were rented, and I was on one of them, and that's how I got to the March on Washington. My memory of the event is blurred by the fact that over the 50 years since I've seen much of it on television, over and over again. The most vivid memory I have is of our walk to the Lincoln Memorial, past and through a throng of thousands of folks who were all, or mostly all, on our side. There was a huge organized labor contingent at the March--something rare in North Carolina, which had a history of anti-union efforts at the government level. There was a general sense of solidarity and common purpose, and I felt I was actually living the words of one of the songs we'd sing as we marched through Chapel Hill with our picket signs:

We are soldiers in the Army
We've got to fight, although we've got to cry,
We've got to hold on to Freedom's banner,
We've got to hold it up until we die.

When we got back to Chapel Hill we tried to start up the movement. The Moratorium had killed the momentum, the restaurants and shops were still segregated, and the fall semester was about to start. I was physically exhausted, and had a serious case of pneumonia. My parents came and got me and I went home to Raleigh and spent a month in bed. In early November the Diems of Vietnam were assassinated. Kennedy was assassinated later that month of course. Oswald was assassinated three days later. One day in December I went downtown and was sitting on a park bench at the old State Capitol building amongst the Civil War soldier statuary when a Klan march in full regalia came around the corner and past me. I got back to Chapel Hill for the spring semester and reengaged in my studies. I graduated a semester "late," went straight into graduate school, and kept my draft deferment until I drew the number 310 a couple of years into Kant, Plato, and Wittgenstein. Then I struggled through my orals and caught a ride to San Francisco with a couple of buddies, escaping school life and a messed up marriage, and spent the winter of '69-'70 amongst the ragged remains of the Summer of Love-ists, where I began to get serious about playing fiddle, which is possibly an oxymoron. Dr. King had been assassinated by then of course, along with Robert Kennedy.

It is dizzying, really, all this mythologizing of Martin Luther King. Not that he doesn't "deserve" veneration. But the sad truth is, Dr. King didn't manage to succeed in his deepest goal, which was to heal the cancer of white privilege that infects America's central culture and warps nearly all that we try in our best moments to accomplish. As a nice little Christian white boy, I'd imagined that all it would take to really change things was to just show everyone what it felt like to be those kids who sent me into that store to buy drinks. While there have been significant strides made with regard to civil rights for black people in the United States, cultural racism remains, and has, indeed, captured one of our major political parties. Dr. King's message was in the largest sense that we'd all be much much better without racism--not just the oppressed who suffer its most obvious incarnation, but the oppressors as well, who never see themselves as they really are.

While Dr. King was giving the speech regarded by scholars as the "most significant" speech of the entire 20th Century, this is what white oppression was doing for its hosts:

Five years after the March on Washington, Richard Nixon was elected President. Nixon devised the "southern strategy," which invited racism into the Republican Party and eventually has remade the party into its own, more virulent than the benighted Dixicrats of 1948 and their laughable Strom Thurman candidate, because marketing geniuses have in the meantime realized that the best way to utilize racism is to soothe its victims--the perpetrators--into believing it doesn't exist at all, that racism died back in the '60s, perhaps even that Dr. King had to be sacrificed like some Jesus to rid the country of its scourge. The out and out racists mostly can't face the truth about themselves; the manipulators, some of whom quite well understand the levers they ply, can't bear to give up a chance at power, no matter what its cost. As George Wallace said upon losing an early election in Alabama as a moderate, "I'll never be out-niggered again." Lee Atwater said much the same thing twenty-five years later, on his death-bed. And of course 50 years after the Speech, the Supreme Court has demolished the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is often viewed as Dr. King's greatest achievement.

I continue to believe what I've believed for a long time. With the murder of Martin Luther King we lost our last best chance. Putting up a statue of him doesn't change that. On the other hand, for what it's worth, I'm proud that I was there, a soldier in the army, at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Et Tu?

I am informed today by Driftglass that Tbogg has decided to retire from blogging. As Driftglass notes, this shocking news, coming just on the heels of the death of Doghouse Riley, feels like the opening of a black hole. I can only console myself with a Charles Bukowski reflection which he summoned many years back upon the suicide of some noted poet, who'd jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge I think it was. I can't remember the poet who jumped, nor find Bukowski's elegy. Such is life in this misty universe. I guess I could summon the oracle of the Google, if I could think of just the right question.

Whatever. I will sorely miss Tbogg, whose insights were numerous and valuable. He seems to have decided that the intimations of mortality he's been given by the sudden loss of Doug Case and others spur him to go do something different and somehow more life-worthy. This is the existential question, always present, asked over and over and over by the reflective mind. It's a question Dick Cheney never seems to think up. Quelle Fromage.

I kinda liked Bukowski's answer though. It went along the lines of this:

I hear so-and-so jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday.
Damn that's a shame.
I guess this makes me 71st on the list of
Greatest Living Poets.

It's time for a new chapter in the chronicle of the Houdahenians. I'll be getting to that next. There's also some stuff coming about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963. I was there.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Propaganda 101; Or the 2013 "Leni" Riefenstahl Memorial Palme d'Ore

It's really a shame that we do not teach a serious senior high school course on recognizing propaganda. I vaguely recall taking such a course, possibly part of a larger course, either in high school or as a freshman or sophomore. I know there are some fine books on the subject. And of course any study of the Second World War would likely include at least some mention of the propaganda efforts of the Nazis and Japanese--which are instructive beyond their immediate context, because they show how propaganda works.

A second level of understanding of propaganda comes to most of us when we grasp that propaganda is at work in advertising, and in some ways even in our most trusted news media. This appreciation has, in scholarship over the past 50 years (if not prior), been burnished and refined. Post-modernists have over and over again made the correct observation that there is always, in reporting as in fiction, a point of view. The omniscient 3rd person does not "really" exist. This observation is in some ways ancient: Archimedes said "I could lift the world had I the lever and the fulcrum." (I paraphrase.) When we look into the electron microscope, we actually bump the atoms around in the act of observing them.

But this profound truth should not be allowed to obscure other truths, or to ground the cynical idea that nothing is true, and that everyone is forever at their workbench, abrasive wheel a-spin, sparks flying. There is indeed point of view, and unexamined premise. And then there's the conscious construction of a false narrative aimed consciously and precisely at determining a desired outcome. The car manufacturer wants you to buy their car--so he puts a beautiful couple on the way to a beautiful weekend moment possibly culminating off screen in connubial bliss beyond mortal imaginings precisely because of that shiny red rocket we watched them park at the beach, before the screen faded to sunset. This is science, as is the precise concoction shunted into the veins of the murderer on the gurney.

So it is that Fox "News" grinds its double-bits to a razor's edge. They toil in the service of a grander goal, which is the utter defeat of the Democrat now serving as our President. Last night, having bumped up against the weird prison-reality weekend that is MSNBC, we looked for a moment at what was on Fox. We found this:

This, children, is a fantastically perfect example of propaganda. It's as good as Lord Haw Haw. For "jew" substitute druggy dirty hippy, continue taking until boil of rage bursts and pus is expelled at next election. Result: more Tea Party Congress critters. I'd love to know how they got this wonderfully filmed vignette, or if the lead (protagonist, in classical lingo) was paid, and in what coin. I'd guess the calculation on the part of the employers of the "reporter" was simple--more voters will absorb this as the gawdsawful truth, than cut off the channel in utter disgust. This is how the hourglass has filled I'm afraid. People with some discernment have become a discountable minority, grain by grain.

All in all, just another brick in the wall.


Note: here's a companion piece:

Monday update: There aren't enough fingers for the dike:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

About Time

The following is happening up in Chi-town, where ALEC is having a convention:

I have been hoping for some of these dots to be connected for some time now. Like about four years. When Wisconsin suffered a counter-revolution so severe it's jawbone split in two, and couldn't even expel the rotting tooth with a recall election and Ed Schultz's undivided attention, I was pretty sure things were serious. This was prior to the counter-revolution that hit North Carolina.

The people who started ALEC are long-term thinkers aiming at returning the United States to a time when ordinary working people had zero leverage. They are utterly opposed to unions, to civil rights, and to women's rights. They see no point in making people's elderly lives better. Once ordinary working people stop being able to work, they are exactly what Mitt Romney said they were in an unguarded moment on the campaign trail--"takers." There is little room in the ALEC universe for anyone who does not "produce." There is little room for any aspect of human life not connected to work--if you're an ordinary working person that is. Up there in the lofty heights, there's plenty of elbow room, at least 50 miles of it. That's why Mitt has four mansions. And Mitt is really only on the lower rungs of the elite.

Judging by the first paragraph, this protest is being driven by some of the same folks who have been going to jail every Monday the NC legislature was in session. Good for them. Their sacrifice has begun to matter, at least a little.

The right wing has taken a long time to build their campaign. Along the way they've built whole universities, complete with whole law schools, dedicated to an alternative view of what, in fact, is pretty much reality. As even the Romans knew, good lawyers can successfully argue any side of a dispute. See, e.g., the acquittal of George Zimmerman, official loose cannon of the Shawn Hannity Show. This appalling cancer on the body politic is long advanced.

At least some folks, at this moment, are taking some action.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Watch Lives!

For a long time there's been this quite innocuous program running on UNC-TV around here. It's called "Book Watch," and is hosted by one D.G. Martin. Mr. Martin, who does the show gratis, features writers of books that have some North Carolina content, some fiction, some non-. He offers writers the opportunity to introduce their book or books to whatever viewing audience happens to show up on late Sunday afternoons. You'll note that on late Sunday afternoon there are frequently big deal sporting events on other channels, and that the weekend is generally about to end, with not nearly enough accomplished, whether one likes it or not. I'm a very infrequent viewer of Mr. Martin's "show," but when I've watched it, I've been impressed with his tact and fairness to the author of the moment. He isn't out to demolish anyone, but simply to provide information about a book; which to the author has been a work of possibly years, and which matters a great deal.

Mr. Martin also writes opinion columns for some state newspapers. Here's what happened when our juggernaut state Republicans got wind of one of his recent columns:

Nice, huh. Goes right along with the cookies thing Governor McCrory pulled on Monday last. There were some women out in front of his rented mansion protesting the fact that he had just signed into law one of the most draconian anti-women's choice laws in the whole country, and after promising in his campaign to change nothing in NC law concerning women's rights. Protected by a phalanx of security McCrory hand-delivered a plate of cookies, and offered a "god bless you" to the surprised recipient. Nothing like hiding behind Jesus's skirt.

Meanwhile, on the national level, Paul Krugman, Nobel-prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist has pretty much agreed with the content of Mr. Martin's piece:

Right now, if inherent importance were all that mattered, I wouldn’t be writing about the effects of sprawl, or the Fed succession, or even, probably, about China’s brick-wall problem. I would instead be writing all the time about the looming chaos in U.S. governance.

The trouble is that it’s hard to give this issue anything like the amount of coverage it deserves on substantive grounds without repeating oneself. So I do try to mix it up. But neither you nor I should forget that the madness of the GOP is the central issue of our time.

No doubt most of our NC Republicans will write off anything in the New York Times as predictable left-wing gibberish. They've already brushed aside various pieces, in the NY Times, the Washington Post, and other national publications, remarking with some astonishment that our state is rapidly ratcheting itself back into the good old '50s. The list of appalling acts by our just adjourned Legislature and signed by our appalling Governor is too long to list here, but I'll bet you can google it and find hundreds of links. The bookends tell the tale pretty well: back in the winter these good ole boys repealed the "racial justice act." Last week they removed any teacher pay incentive for getting a Masters, expanded places where one can carry one's pistol to pretty much anywheres, even against the appeal of the President of the University of North Carolina that allowing weapons on campus would probably make campus a more dangerous place. Of course there was the new anti-women's health law, and odd little deals like the effort to remove control of the Charlotte International Airport from Charlotte, and the reneging of a done deal to develop a decrepit state mental hospital and grounds situated in the heart of downtown Raleigh.

Like I said. It's too much to list, but the work of this Legislature is breathtaking, a veritable blitzkrieg of legislative activity.

And I hope Mr. Martin feels better standing in the sparkling company of Nobel-prize-winning Dr. Paul Krugman. A tip of the Hatlo Hat to them both, and to Charles Pierce as well, Pierce having remarked a few weeks back that North Carolina seems to have gone insane.

Possibly there's a real quibble of note between Martin and Krugman, over whether Republican governance is more akin to fascism, or to Nazism. I'd personally go more for Benito, the man Ezra Pound called the Thomas Jefferson of Italy.

You go, Mr. Martin!

Here's a link to Martin's column:

Wonder what the NCGOP would be hollering if some government entity somewheres went after some right-wing ranter's job on account of something he said in print? Reckon we'd hear a lot of Kenyan Usurper mumbo-jumbo right off the bat?

Update--after visiting the UNC-TV website I discovered that Mr. Martin's fine show, North Carolina Book Watch, now airs Sundays at 12 Noon, and again on Thursdays at 5 pm. You can find out more about his show at:

Friday, August 2, 2013

RIP Doug Case

I started nearly every day for the past few years, since whenever it was I first clicked some link and found him, with Doghouse Riley. I was so amazed that after the first or second post of his that I read, I sent him a mash note as though he was actually someone I knew. Because, like the Dylan song, every one of them words rang true. Doug was nice enough to reply. I might have sent him a CD, I can't recall now. I know we talked movies once or twice. At some point fairly early I realized he was busy and didn't really need a lot of correspondence. He had writing to do, and write he did. I've quoted him here extensively. I'm hoping his "poor wife" will be able to at least keep his blog up on line, for the archives. One really couldn't go far wrong simply going back through what he said on life in the US over the past several years.

Doug was also funny, in the best sense. His "labels" were funny. His blog title, "Bat's Left, Throws Right," was profound. He was acute at sniffing out bullshit. He could eat Limbaugh for breakfast, Hannity for lunch, and use David Brooks as a biscuit to sop up the gravy.

I was shocked, yesterday, to read via Alicublog (Roy Edroso), that Doug had died suddenly last Saturday. It was the first time I even knew his name. To his readers, he was Doghouse Riley. (It was a nice surprise to be watching The Big Sleep a while back and realize that's where the moniker came from--yet another brilliance.) Riley was never off his game.

Here's his last post, in entirety. It's wry elegance is a fitting epitaph:

Thursday, July 25
Fun With Monogamy, Vol. MMCDLXXXI

TELEVISION Blitherer: The baby's name will be George Alexander Louis.

My Poor Wife: Damn! I was hoping for “Dakota”!

I'll leave my link in place here, so you can go archive-surfing.