As always on this date, I find nothing to say that Sarah Bunting hasn’t already said better.
Friday, September 11, 2015 8:48 am
Sunday, August 30, 2015 6:35 am
When you need an elegy, always hire an Irish poet.
All archaeology is about layers, one city laid atop the others, as though civilization were coming from deep in the earth and piling itself up toward the sky. In the late nineteenth century, when the German adventurer and archaeologist—and part-time fantast—Heinrich Schliemann went looking for the city of Troy, he found eleven of them, one atop another. At one level, Schliemann found a cache of gold and jewelry that he pronounced to be the treasure of Priam, the king of Troy at the time of the events of the Iliad. He was wrong. The gold had been found at what later was determined to be only Troy II. It is popularly believed now that Troy VII was the site of the war about which Homer wrote. There are bronze arrowheads there, and skeletons bearing the marks of hor-rendous injuries, and there is evidence of a great fire. What Schliemann wrote when he first made his discoveries there has held remarkably true for all the layers of Troy that have been unearthed since then:
“I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the Plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hissarlik only its Acropolis, with its temples and a few other large edifices, whilst its lower city extended in an easterly, southerly, and westerly direction, on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”
There is an archaeology to human lives, too, and it is very much the same. Human lives have layers, one atop the other, as though the individual were rising from the dust of creation toward the stars. Some of the layers show nothing much at all. Some of them, like the dark layers at Troy that indicate a vast fire, show that something very important happened to the lives in question. Hurricane Katrina, and all of the myriad events surrounding it, both good and bad, is that vast, sweeping layer within the lives of the people of New Orleans. Almost fifteen hundred people died. There was $100 billion in damage. The levees failed. The city flooded. The city, state, and federal governments failed even worse than the levees did. It was estimated in 2006 that four hundred thousand people were displaced from the city; an estimated one hundred thousand of them never returned. Parts of the city recovered. Parts of the city were rebuilt. Parts of the city gleam now brighter than they ever did. There will be parades on the anniversary of the storm because there are things in the city to celebrate, but it is the tradition in this city that the music doesn’t lively up and the parade really doesn’t start until the departed has been laid to rest, until what is lost is counted, and until the memories are stored away. Only then does the music swing the way the music is supposed to sound. Only then do they begin to parade.
There will be some joy in the tenth-anniversary celebration because of this, but the storm is there in everyone, a dark layer in the archaeology of their lives. For some people, it is buried deeply enough to be forgotten. For others, the people who live in the places that do not gleam and that are not new, it is closer to the surface. A lot of the recovery is due to what author Naomi Klein refers to as “disaster capitalism.” The city has been reconfigured according to radically different political imperatives—in its schools and its housing and the general relationship of the people to their city and state governments. Many of them felt their lives taken over by anonymous forces as implacable as the storm was. There will be some sadness in the tenth anniversary because of this, fresh memories of old wounds, a sense of looming and ongoing loss. The storm is the dark layer in all the lives. And because it is, the storm is what unites them still, like that burned layer of Troy.
It is what connects the memory of [New Orleans police officer] Daryle Holloway to that of [Dr.] Bennett deBoisblanc, both of whom worked to save lives at Charity Hospital, which is now closed, never to reopen. It connects them all, this dark layer in the deep strata of their lives. It connects Charity Hospital to the Lower Ninth Ward in the life of Irma Mosley, who was born at Charity fifty-four years ago and who now works at a community center in the Lower Ninth. It is on St. Claude Avenue, not far from where Daryle Holloway, whose mother worked at Charity, was shot and killed.
Thursday, August 27, 2015 9:44 pm
Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:30 pm
Thirty years ago today, what is still the weirdest true-crime story you’ll ever read concluded horrifically. My friend and former colleague Margaret Moffett checks in with some of the survivors. (EDITED to add: My friend Chris Knight, who grew up near some of the characters in this drama, adds his perspective.)
Perv, meet thief: Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, the insufferable pecksniff whose most recent pronouncement was that he wishes he’d “felt like a girl” in high school so that he could have gotten to watch girls shower naked, makes it clear he’ll do anything to get close to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s donors. Scott, of course, led the company that committed history’s largest Medicaid fraud.
No links with this one, just a thought: What if the Obama Justice Department had put as much effort into investigating banksters as it has into investigating FIFA?
Relatedly, no, South Africa, I’m sure your 2008 payment of $10 million had nothing to do with your getting the 2010 World Cup and was in no way a bribe. Perish the thought.
Every so-called “gay-conversion” operation in this country needs to be sued. Saying you can “convert” someone who’s gay is like saying drinking motor oil can cure cancer.
This week’s revamp of U.S. national security laws was a sorely needed first step — and never would have happened without Edward Snowden. So why is Snowden still a wanted criminal?
The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit that we have a problem with killer cops.
After seeing her in “Easy A,” I would watch Emma Stone in just about anything. But even I thought casting her as part-Asian in “Aloha” was boneheaded. Better late than never, director Cameron Crowe agrees.
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory is staking his re-election effort in 2016 on $2.8 billion in transportation and infrastructure bonds. The only reason I’m not saying that the legislature is throwing McCrory under the bus by refusing to put them on the November ballot is that legislative Republicans don’t believe in mass transit.
Speaking of morons, the legislature has overridden McCrory’s veto of HB 465, the “ag-gag” law. A court will toss it out eventually, but a lot of animals, and quite possibly some people as well, are likely to suffer before that happens. So much for McCrory’s attempt to position himself politically as a moderate keeping the Visigoth right at bay. I would say that the legislature threw McCrory under the bus on this one, but that would imply that legislative Republicans favor mass transit.
And the Lege has given committee approval to a bill that will gut background checks on private in-state pistol sales by 2021, a bill so bad that many of the state’s sheriffs opposed it.
And lastly, my local paper and former employer, Greensboro’s News & Record, has laid off a bunch more people, including some true stalwarts, one of whom was just months from retiring. At this point, I think it’s fair to conclude that BH Media is no longer even trying to cut its way to profitability. It is now simply milking what it can for as long as it can, at which point it will shut down the papers one by one and sell off the real estate, some of it quite valuable, that those papers sit on. And it’s past time we in Greensboro start thinking about who or what will be able to provide the journalistic firepower to truly hold the powerful accountable in this community.
Thursday, May 28, 2015 8:33 pm
UPDATE: This post was originally published 5/27/2015 but was truncated during publication. I’ve attempted to reconstruct the missing portion in this version.
The headline is the short version. If you haven’t already heard all you want to hear about this toxic mix of crime, coverup, corruption, ISIS Christianity, misogyny (but I repeat myself), and bullshit — and if you have, I certainly don’t blame you — by all means read on.
First the background: There’s this Arkansas family, the Duggars. The parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, decided long ago that their weird perversion of Christianity, the Quiverfull movement (more on which anon), called on them to turn Michelle’s uterus into a clown car. As a result, they have 19 kids and became the subject of a “reality” series on TLC, “19 Kids and Counting.”
Which, well, as we here in basketball-crazy North Carolina know, any more than two and you have to switch from a man-to-man defense to zone, and that almost never works out. (Just ask my cousin Jay, whose second child was triplets.) But, hey, it is still a free country (despite the best efforts of the Duggars and their ilk; see below), so whaddayagonnado?
So, in addition to really warped notions of what constitutes responsible reproduction, the Duggars also have used their TV platform to try to make life miserable for people different from themselves. Eldest son Josh, now married with three kids (and another on the way, natch), became executive director of the Family Research Council‘s lobbying arm. That group is a fundamentalist “think” tank that has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center; its primary occupations are fitting government inside your vagina, harassing gay people, and whipping up enough Christianist butthurt to try to convince those of us who aren’t Shiite Christians that Shiite Christians are, somehow, “persecuted” in the United States of America and not, say, Mongolia. (As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.) And Michelle Duggar recorded a robocall last year in opposition to a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Ark.; in it, she likened gay people to sexual predators and child molesters.
This was bad enough inasmuch as there’s zero evidence that gay people are any more likely to be sexual molesters than are straight people. Now, however, it appears that every time she used the phrase “molester” or “sexual predator,” she should have added the modifier, “like my son.”
Because a police report has been located by In Touch Weekly that appears to document that the aforementioned Josh Duggar molested at least five young girls. The report was filed in December 2006 and pertained to events beginning back in 2002, when Josh was 14. Although the report is heavily redacted, additional information suggests that at least some of the five victims were his younger sisters. Since that report became public, Jim Bob, Michelle, Josh, and Josh’s wife, Anna, posted a statement on Facebook that appeared to acknowledge the truth of the report.
And it has been both fascinating and sickening to watch the outpouring of support for Josh from a bunch of so-called Christians who wouldn’t give a gay non-molester the time of day. How ridiculous has their defense of him been? Let us count the lies.
Josh just made a mistake. No, sweetie, spilling your milk is a mistake. Josh committed multiple felonies with multiple victims over an extended period of time.
All kids experiment when they’re young. A lot do, but not all; moreover, we’re not talking about youthful experimentation. We’re talking about an adolescent male — 14 and 15 when these events are reported to have happend — touching the vaginas of 4-year-olds.
All Josh did was touch them. He didn’t rape them. What, and “touching” them isn’t bad enough? We’re talking about 4-year-old victims here. Moreover, given ISIS Christianity’s attitude toward sexuality, it’s entirely possible that he had no idea that what he was doing was bad because he hadn’t had more comprehensive sex education, which might have prevented this.
Josh confessed to his parents. Well, yes — after one of his victims told his parents. He didn’t come forward on his own.
His parents told the cops. No, they told one copy, a family friend, an Arkansas state trooper named Joe Hutchens. And according to Hutchens, they only told him about a single, isolated incident, not about Josh’s pattern of behavior. (Of course, we might call Hutchens’s veracity into question, inasmuch as he’s serving 56 years on child-porn charges at the moment.) Hutchens gave Josh “a stern talk” but did not alert other authorities, even though he was legally required to do so. Unfortunately, that “report” started the clock ticking on Arkansas’s three-year statute of limitations on crimes of this type: The three years begins when the incident is “first reported to police,” even if the officer to whom it was reported, as was the case with Hutchens, didn’t do his legal duty and launch an investigation. Moreover, when a formal police investigation was opened years after the fact, in 2006, Jim Bob Duggar refused to let police interview Josh.
His parents got him counseling. Not true. They report having sent him to live for a few months with a friend who builds houses. There is conflicting information regarding whether he received “counseling” from a Christian center founded by Bob Gothard, who, years later, would be booted out of his own organization by his board after allegations from at least 34 women that he had sexually harassed them and from another five, one of whom was 16 at the time, that he had molested them.
If that description of Gothard doesn’t give you confidence in his teaching, this diagram from his organization will give you even less. Keep in mind, though, that ISIS Christianity is riddled with this kind of hyperpatriarchy, misogyny, shaming, and victim blaming, from insisting that the body of an abuse victim is “least important” to offering the conditional, “IF abused was not at fault” and the false dichotomy of “no physical abuse or mighty in Spirit” — and that the Duggars were and remain huge devotees of Gothard:
In short, there is no evidence in the record that Josh was ever seen by a competent, licensed mental-health professional. And that’s important, because we know that for many if not most pedophiliacs, the urge to molest never goes away; all such people can do is try to learn not to act on the urges.
The victims received counseling and forgave Josh. There’s even less evidence in the public record that Josh’s victims got counseling than there is that he did. As for forgiveness, given the misogynism and victim-blaming of this family’s culture, I’d be stunned if the “forgiveness” wasn’t coerced, particularly from the youngest victims.
Jim Bob and Michelle did everything they could. Some of these other items already give this notion the lie. I would add that at least one of the victims wasn’t an immediate family member. Did Jim Bob and Michelle fully disclose to that child’s parents or guardians what had happened? We have no evidence of that. Moreover, his parents failed to separate Josh from the younger children upon the first sign of trouble, thereby allowing him to continue to victimize them. And they failed to report evidence of a crime to a real cop, not a horribly compromised badge-wearer like Hutchens, who they knew would keep everything quiet. They’re guilty, at the least, of aiding and abetting Josh’s crimes and of criminally endangering the other children in the home (plus any friends or young relatives who might visit). They should go to prison, too.
It’s all over with, now, isn’t it, so why is everyone still talking about it? I can think of one very important reason why we need to keep talking about it. Roughly one in three male child molesters was molested himself as a youth. That means that there is a nontrivial chance that Josh was molested, by one or both of his parents and/or by some other adult they felt comfortable having around Josh. Whoever might have molested Josh presumably still has access to the children remaining in the home. So molestation might still be going on. Besides, Josh has three kids himself. Are they being protected from him? His wife seems to think this is “all in the past,” when it might not be at all.
Well, “19 Kids” has been TLC’s most successful series, but all that ickiness was too much for the network, which has pulled reruns from its schedule (but hasn’t said whether it will cancel the show outright), and for advertisers, who are fleeing in droves.
It would be nice to think that Josh Duggar will suffer earthly consequences for his actions, but the truth is that other than losing his job, it’s unlikely. It would be nice to think that Jim Bob and Michelle will learn enough from this experience to stop trying to hold up clown-car procreation as a model lifestyle, but that won’t happen either. For one thing, they crave the attention. For another, the Duggars and others in the Quiverfull movement really do believe that the way to defeat the heathen is to outbreed them. It’s a war, and the women are being drafted.
And what can we say about the Duggars’ hypocrisy on the subject of … well, pretty much everything, but especially their habit of likening gay people to molesters while harboring a molester of their own? That would require a whole ‘nother blog post, but I’ll just leave you with this: During Jim Bob’s 2002 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas, during the last two months of which he was hiding Josh’s secret, he said that incest should be punishable by death. Wonder if he still feels that way.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015 8:14 pm
Tuesday, April 14, 2015 7:30 pm
We have seen our enemies, and they are weak. Seriously. Relative to us, weak on a world-historical scale.
In Idaho, the batshittery of the right-wing nut jobs carries an eight-digit price tag.
New Mexico has become the second state to ban the civil forfeiture of innocent people’s property. This needs to happen nationwide.
When cops misbehave, body cams are not, by themselves, helpful. The video must be publicly available. D.C. appears headed in the opposite direction. (That issue is still up in the air here in Greensboro.)
Speaking of misbehaving cops, The Baltimorie Sun proves that there are still a few reporters out there kicking ass and taking names.
Researchers have found patterns in then-President Ronald Reagan’s speech that indicated Alzheimer’s disease years before Reagan received his diagnosis in 1994. I mention this not to take a dig at Reagan but to point out that this approach may be a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s in people sooner than has been possible up ’til now.
My friend Louis Bekoe is running for president, and I’ve got to say that right now he’s the best choice out there.
Speaking of running for president, supposed contender Chris Christie apparently will be campaigning on a platform to cut Social Security and Medicare. Unlike Bush 43, at least he’s being upfront about it.
Non-local folks, this is particularly for you: The National Folk Festival will be here in Greensboro this year and for the next two years as well. Here’s info. This is a big deal.
Damn. Percy Sledge is dead at 73.
Monday, April 13, 2015 9:52 pm
Gunter Grass, the
Pulitzer Nobel Prize-winning author (and, ironically, former Waffen SS soldier) whose work forced German culture to confront the horror of Naziism, is dead at 87.
Sigh. One more example of out-of-control cops. At least no one died this time.
Duke Energy’s contributions to the Republican Governors’ Association increased by an order of magnitude after the Dan River spill. Duke says that’s just coincidence. Yeah. Sure. Right.
The former executive director of the State Employees Association of N.C., Dana Cope, appears to have spent close to half a million bucks that wasn’t his.
Why make North Carolina workers safer when you can just rig the numbers?
How bad has this legislative session been for North Carolinians? Let us count the ways.
It’s a uterus, not a clown car: A 65-year-old German woman who has 13 kids and seven grandkids is pregnant with quadruplets.
The Lost Colony? Maybe not so lost after all.
Friday, March 6, 2015 8:11 pm
America has a cop violence problem. And, as is so often the case with America, we have to admit we have a problem before we can fix it.
One of the reasons you don’t order people to commit war crimes is because of the damage it does to those who must carry out those orders … as Israel is now finding out.
The Republican National Committee is only allowing “conservative” news outlets and personalities to cover the 2012 GOP primary debates. Of course, with that clown car, “conservative” probably means “batshit.”
Arkansas State Rep. Justin Harris might just be the worst person you’ll read about all year.
When the UNC Board of Governors met in closed session to fire Tom Ross, they voted for a resolution that they wouldn’t talk about the firing and would refer all questions to board chair John Fennebresque, who appears to have gotten his P.R. degree from the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Only one board member voted against the resolution: Greensboro’s Marty Kotis. Thank you, Marty.
As the GOP Klown Kar of batshit presidential candidates barrels down the road, one of the Klowns, Ben Carson, is named to speak at the Pope-Civitas Institute’s Conservative Leadership Conference. You may know Carson from such hits as “People go into prison straight and come out gay” and, “No, really, fellow Republicans, I am NOT crazy.”
Not content with screwing with Greensboro’s City Council districts, state Senate Republicans are now mucking with the Wake County Commissioners’ districts in the wake of a throw-the-bums-out election in November in which a Democratic slate sent a bunch of GOP incumbents packing. Coincidence? Like Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidence. (Full disclosure: One of those Dems, John Burns, is an online friend of mine and fellow Davidson grad to whom I have given campaign contributions, and I’ve got two sibs who live and pay taxes in Wake County.)
State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin recently told the legislature that the state’s courts are in very bad shape and need $30 million to fix. (Hell, their computer system was antiquated back when I was still a reporter, and that was six years ago.) So Gov. Pat McCrory’s new budget? Provides only $6 million in new money.
Former UNC offensive lineman Ryan Hoffman is living on the street, plagued by problems that might well be the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — brain injuries — from playing football. Ironically, some of the most cutting-edge research on CTE and brain injuries is being carried out at UNC. Here’s hoping they can help the player they once exploited.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:28 pm
Terrorists are winning the war on terror, primarily because, more than a decade after 9/11 and despite all the costly lessons we’ve learned since then, the U.S. persists in playing the terrorists’ game instead of its own.
Dean Smith‘s public memorial will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Smith Center. Which leads me to wonder: Where will they hold Billy Graham‘s, once he passes on? Bank of America Stadium? Charlotte Motor Speedway? The National Mall?
There’s just one teeny-weeny little problem with the four plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the case now before the Supreme Court that could, perhaps, lead to the Affordable Care Act’s being struck down: None of the four appears to have standing to be suing in the first place.
Could the hammer at long last be coming down on rogue Swiss(-ish) bank HSBC? I’ll believe it when/if it happens, but the Honorable Senator Professor Warren is on this like white on rice. (And just how rogue? Check this out.)
Jim Crow lynchings: significantly more common than previously reported.
I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but I could tell in 11th grade U.S. history that “right-to-work” was Orwellian doublespeak. Unfortunately, that ain’t all it is.
Debtors’ jail, ostensibly illegal in the U.S., apparently is alive and well in Ferguson, Missouri. A lawsuit seeks to change that.
If you’ve never worked in newspapers, you probably thought newspaper executive editors couldn’t get any stupider, and that if they did, it wasn’t your fault as a reader. You were wrong, as Robert Price of the Bakersfield Californian is pleased to demonstrate:
Several weeks ago, [director of audience development] Louis [Amestoy] and I introduced a set of new expectations for reporters and editors. Chief among them was that reporters and editors shall write publishable content every single day. Not blow-out, eight-source 30-inchers (although they have their place), but quick-hit 4-inchers based on as few as a one source or even personal observation — “what I saw driving in to work” stories. So far I have seen almost none of these.
These are required and will be measured on your annual reviews (which are coming up). Please think about how you might start creating these. If you’re like me, you may think some stories (weather related, seen on a business marquee, etc) just don’t clear the bar of importance. Not true, in most cases. Readers gobble this stuff up. [emphasis added; along with the unmistakable sound of Our Lord and Savior weeping bitterly]
#StealAlltheGrammys According to Google, Annie Lennox, Kristen Wiig, Prince (“almost”), Kanye West, Sam Smith, Frank Ocean, and Pharrell Williams’s funky park ranger hat, among others, “stole the Grammys.” Thought you’d want to know.
Sunday, February 8, 2015 10:30 pm
A Fox News guest, Jonathan Hoenig, tells viewers Saturday that mandatory vaccinations will lead to forced abortions. Host Eric Bolling says nothing (of course), leaving it to guest Nomiki Konst to say, “Oh, my God,” and inform Hoenig that 48 of 50 states mandate vaccinations for schoolchildren.
The biggest American labor strike in 34 years is widening. The United Steel Workers are striking, and their membership includes the work forces at some oil refineries, so this could hit you right smack in the wallet. What’s that, you say? First you’re hearing about it? Well, go figure; it’s labor news. Charlie Pierce offered some perspective a few days ago.
As Andrew “objectively pro-terrorist” Sullivan rides off into the blogging sunset to, sadly, sickening and near-universal applause, Driftglass does us all a favor by recalling for us a far worthier blogger who didn’t retire but died … and who never got his due.
I’ve little to say about the passing of Dean Smith, but only because you’ll find much more and much better stuff if you go look for it. While I think it’s all but certain that he either knew or should have known about the academic shenanigans that apparently were taking off as his career neared its end, his stand for integration at a time when his job might not have been the only thing at stake will secure his reputation.
Just my opinion, so no link, but: No way do the Carolina Panthers re-sign Greg Hardy, even if a jury exonerates him (which I also don’t think will happen). Someone will sign him, but not the Panthers. Their front office has moved on, and fans should, too.
RIP Joe B. Mauldin, bassist for Buddy Holly’s band, The Crickets. (h/t: Fred)
Friday, February 6, 2015 8:03 pm
Climate change: It’s a matter of national security.
Obama might be a socialist, but the country just completed its best three-month period of job growth in 17 years, bitchez. Still a long way to go — unemployment actually went up in January as more people resumed looking for work — but it’s definitely looking better.
Boko Haram is opening a branch office in neighboring Niger. Bloodshed and misery follow. World does little.
The annual silliness known as the National Prayer Breakfast was this week. And this year we got more proof, were more needed, about just how impossible it is for
Americans conservatives to have an honest conversation about race.
NBC’s Brian Williams lied about being in a helicopter that got shot down in Iraq (which is a firing offense where I’m concerned), but did he also lie about seeing a body floating outside his New Orleans hotel after Hurricane Katrina? Quite possibly not.
Relatedly, why is it such a bad thing for Brian Williams to lie when Fox News personnel do it day-in and day-out, constantly? That’s neither a rhetorical question nor an exaggeration of the network’s mendacity.
Hey, anti-vaxxers? When Autism Speaks says you should vaccinate your kids, you’ve pretty much lost the vaccination argument.
I love it when they throw each other under the bus. This time, it’s Bibi and Boehner, who both deserve all the tire tracks.
One would think that maternal health would be a human right. Sadly, the U.S. has not gotten the word.
Yes, health insurance premiums have gone up an average of $4,154 under Obama — but that’s less than half as fast as they went up under Bush.
Is police reform impossible? Could be.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea (the state university system should benefit the entire state), then got busted for it, then lied about it, then got busted for lying about it. Great start to your presidential campaign, there, goob.
If there’s no war on women, it ain’t for lack of trying.
Intuit’s TurboTax, though not hacked itself, may be being used by scammers to file fraudulently for tax refunds.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership might be the most dangerous, and depressing, trade agreement you’ve never heard of.
The oldest living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona has died at age 100.
The movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened today. Theater operators requested that patrons not dress up, or down, for the showings.
This is how the apocalypse will begin.
Or this, as a single penguin holds the entire crew of a Coast Guard vessel hostage. I, for one, welcome our new spheniscidaean overlords.
Y’all have a good weekend.
Thursday, October 9, 2014 8:40 pm
The single most important reason why we cannot elect another conservative president in my lifetime …
… is the federal bench in general and also, in particular, federal judges’ attitude toward the most precious and fundamental of our rights: the franchise. Charlie Pierce on SCOTUS’s recent stay of the 4th Circuit’s reinstating same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting in North Carolina:
There is a long, blue river of sadness running through the words of that dissent. It runs under the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. It pools into a lagoon of sadness behind an earthen dam in Mississippi. The survivors of the generation that fought and bled for the right to vote are getting old and dying off right now. John Lewis is 74. Soon, there won’t be any of them left. But it always was thought that the victories they won would survive them. That the real monument to their cause would be lines of the historically disenfranchised suddenly empowered, swamping the system, and realizing that elections in this country are meant to be the most powerful form of civil disobedience there is. And now, it looks very much as though powerful interests are in combination to make sure their victories die with them, here as we celebrate John Roberts’s Day of Jubilee. There is a long blue river of sadness running through those words, and a darkness spreading across its surface, and a long night is falling on the face of the water.
Conspiring to deny your fellow citizens their civil rights is a felony under federal law. But when a majority of the Supreme Court is among the co-conspirators, to whom do we turn?
Tuesday, September 30, 2014 7:12 am
Thursday, September 25, 2014 6:19 pm
I don’t agree with everything she asserts, but I get why she thinks as she does. I wish more people did.
Thursday, September 11, 2014 6:48 am
As always on this date, I recommend you read Sarah Bunting’s first-person account of 9/11 ,”For Thou Art With Us.” I’ll talk to you later.
Thursday, August 28, 2014 7:27 pm
Our terror is delivered to the wretched of the earth with industrial weapons. It is, to us, invisible. We do not stand over the decapitated and eviscerated bodies left behind on city and village streets by our missiles, drones and fighter jets. We do not listen to the wails and shrieks of parents embracing the shattered bodies of their children. We do not see the survivors of air attacks bury their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. We are not conscious of the long night of collective humiliation, repression and powerlessness that characterizes existence in Israel’s occupied territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not see the boiling anger that war and injustice turn into a caldron of hate over time. We are not aware of the very natural lust for revenge against those who carry out or symbolize this oppression. We see only the final pyrotechnics of terror, the shocking moment when the rage erupts into an inchoate fury and the murder of innocents. And, willfully ignorant, we do not understand our own complicity. We self-righteously condemn the killers as subhuman savages who deserve more of the violence that created them. This is a recipe for endless terror.
Chaim Engel, who took part in the uprising at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp in Poland, described what happened when he obtained a knife and confronted a German in an office. The act he carried out was no less brutal than the beheading of Foley or the executions in Gaza. Isolated from the reality he and the other inmates endured at the camp, his act was savage. Set against the backdrop of the extermination camp it was understandable.
“It’s not a decision,” Engel said. “You just react, instinctively you react to that, and I figured, ‘Let us to do, and go and do it.’ And I went. I went with the man in the office, and we killed this German. With every jab, I said, ‘That is for my father, for my mother, for all these people, all the Jews you killed.’ ”
Any good cop, like any good reporter, knows that every criminal has a story. No one, except for perhaps a few psychopaths, wakes up wanting to cut off another person’s head. Murder and other violent crimes almost always grow out of years of abuse of some kind suffered by the perpetrator. Even the most “civilized” among us are not immune to dehumanization.
Sociopathic neocons to the contrary, “Kill ’em all!” is never the answer, not only because it’s wrong, not only because it’s impossible, not only because it dehumanizes those who take part in it, but also because it doesn’t work. Indeed, not only does it not work, it blows back on us in ways that we see, in our mindless hubris, only as mindless barbarism.
(h/t: Carolina Under Seige)
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 8:42 pm
To the extent I’ve gotten any respone to my postings here and on Facebook about Ferguson, it has mostly been private (which is fine), and a common theme has emerged: I need to listen to the cops’ side because I know nothing about being a cop.
And as I’ve pointed out, although I don’t, in fact, know what it’s like to be a cop, I have an idea, based on having spent several years of my career around them, often in cases in which the threat of deadly force was justified and at least once when deadly force had to be used.
It’s only been a few years but seems like a lifetime ago. I would come in to work and feel like I could make a difference in this world. Back then when I lined up for roll call, I would look around me and see a squad room full of diverse personalities and experiences that I knew made us all more effective. I trusted these men and women because I believed in the good we could do and the bond of brotherhood we shared. But a little over a year ago something happened that forced me to take a hard look at the realities of the system that I had been a part of. When I did I learned a lot about myself and finally had to accept some hard facts.
I learned that justice is not blind and there is a very thin blue line that unifies cops. I learned that Americans are not just divided by red and blue, when it comes to the law we are divided by black and white. I accepted that sometimes we have a justice system with two sets of rules. I had to accept that no matter how well I raise my son he will grow up in a world where I still have to be afraid for him. Not just from criminals, but from my brothers and sisters in blue. For most of his young life all my son has ever seen is me in a uniform with a gun and a badge. He doesn’t know to fear the police because I have always told him he didn’t have to. The police are the good guys and he is a good kid, so no worries. I guess I was naive. I never thought that I would have to explain to him that despite my years in law enforcement, I’m still a second class citizen in the eyes of the law.
For his sake I have to tell him no matter how professional he looks, no matter how well he carries himself, no matter how much education he obtains, as a black male he has to meet a higher standard of submission to authority or his life is at risk. Even if he chooses to raise his right hand and swear to protect and serve this country with his life it doesn’t change that fact. It hurts to know that I’m going to have to give my son that talk. I tell myself that things are still like this because of ignorance and fear. I blame it on politicians who turn fear in to resentment and the wealthy elites who exploit those resentments to satisfy their own agenda. The hopeful part of me thinks that our differences are not really as bad as they seem. My head tells me that time will change things. Time. But my heart tells me that right now I just need to protect my son.
This is one of the saddest damn things I’ve read in years — years that have not lacked in sadness.
But Sean Hannity will open his big thug mouth to argue, and a good 30% of the country doesn’t give a damn about this guy’s problems anyway. And it’s not About Race, because as Charlie Pierce has pointed out, in this country, Nothing Is Ever About Race.
I know that diversity makes an organization more efficient and more credible. The fact that the Ferguson Police Department cannot recruit or retain more than 3 black officers in a city that is almost 3/4 black speaks volumes. It takes a lot of effort to maintain that kind of imbalance.
Oh, sure, it might be coincidence. But, like Jethro Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidences.
And yet that young man, Michael Brown, he stole some cigars from a store, didn’t he?
As a cop I learned that it’s usually best to wait until you know as much information as possible before you go on the record so I’ll be completely honest;
I don’t know why an unarmed 18 year old was shot multiple times.
I don’t know what that police officer felt in the seconds before he pulled the trigger.
I don’t know why the Ferguson Police chose to withhold details about this shooting.
I don’t know why this police chief decided to have SWAT teams on foot patrols.
I don’t know why this police chief deployed Armored Vehicles and Snipers to this area.
I don’t know why police officers were locking up reporters.
I don’t know how a community that is 67% black has a police department that is 96% white.
But here are a few things that I do know. … I know that a robbery in any jurisdiction is a felony. That means when that call comes in to 911 it should be dispatched as a high priority call. That dispatcher should alert everybody that the crime has just happened and give a BOLO with a detailed description of the suspect, and what direction they were last seen headed. If an officer sees a person fitting the description of the suspect that officer should advise dispatch what they have, THEN make a FELONY stop. If that is what happened the day that Brown was killed then there should be a dispatch recording of the robbery call and of the officer stopping Brown.
Now I know this having never set foot in Ferguson Missouri. Whatever their intent was, the way that the Ferguson Police department has handled this situation has seemed incompetent, petty, and disrespectful to the community that they are supposed to serve. I don’t even live there and I feel insulted. You can’t just drop into black churches during the day and then drop the hammer on black people at night. It’s ridiculous to believe you can withhold details about an officer involved shooting victim then release a video of that person committing a crime and believe nobody will figure out what you are doing. Even from an investigative standpoint the decision to release that video served no logical purpose. If it was Brown, the robbery case was solved the minute they positively ID’d him. You don’t prosecute a crime when the suspect is deceased, you just close the case. Other than just sheer vindictiveness I can’t see the legal purpose in releasing that video. So either this chief has no clue, no control of his command staff or he doesn’t care.
But he was 6 feet 4 and resisted arrest! At least, that’s what I heard!
If I saw two guys walking in the road when there was a perfectly good sidewalk, I would probably have told them to get out of the street. If they were knuckleheads they might tell me to [expletive] off. Now I could choose to either ignore it or I could engage them. At this point I’ve got enough probable cause to charge them with pedestrian in the roadway but that’s pretty much it. If I decided I wanted to make that charge I could give them each a ticket and a court date or I could put handcuffs on them and take them to jail. Either way I would have had to physically get out of my patrol car and make contact with them. Once an officer decides to make contact in a situation like that things can go from OK to very bad in seconds. Right now we don’t know what happened once that officer got out of his patrol car. We don’t know what Brown did or what the officer thought he was about to do, but going from a pedestrian traffic charge to lethal force is a very steep climb. Once that officer’s gun comes out it’s hard to climb back down from that. Officer Wilson has to be able to articulate how he got to that level of force with an unarmed person. If not he’s in trouble. There is no way around it.
It doesn’t matter if your subject looks like the Hulk, is talking [expletive] and refusing verbal commands, that’s not enough for deadly force. Even if you are trying to put the hand cuffs on him, he jerks back and pushes you off to get away, that’s not enough. It doesn’t matter how angry the guy makes you. It doesn’t matter if he embarrassed you. It doesn’t matter if he told you what he was going to do to your wife and kids. All that matters is at that moment: was the suspect armed? Did he have the ability to seriously hurt you? Did he pose an imminent threat to use that ability? Were you convinced that you were in immediate mortal danger?
Just resisting the police does not meet the standard for deadly force.
Even when a suspect has gone from simply resisting you to actively fighting you, once he complies with your commands and can be taken into custody he should be taken into custody. Once the threat has stopped, then your need to use force stops too. Even if you respond to a call and a suspect has just shot and killed dozens of people in a movie theater, once he throws down his weapons and puts up his hands, and you can safely take him into custody, then you take him into custody. You don’t execute him because he’s a mass murderer.
But … but … but … RIOTS!
I know what it’s like to walk around in a Kevlar helmet, gas mask, shield, and baton dressed in riot control gear. It’s hot, it’s frustrating, and most of the time you are just standing around waiting. I know that Protests and Riots are not the same thing and just because someone is protesting the police does not make them a “thug“. I know that the criminals that are using this situation to loot and cause havoc should be arrested and prosecuted period. I know that whether you are a rapper, a teacher, a nun, or a congressman you should have the same rights. I know that if your police department continues to let the community’s questions go unanswered for days while you post armored vehicles and snipers in their neighborhoods you might not get a very positive outcome. I know that if your unofficial departmental policy is to ignore the underlying problems in a community and never address their actual issues don’t be surprised if protests become riots.
Yeah, but those people didn’t get treated any differently from how anyone else would have been treated!
Just contrast what has happened in Ferguson Missouri to what happened last spring in Bunkerville Nevada. In Ferguson we had the police reaction to protesters. In Bunkerville we had the protesters reaction to police. Two different groups of citizens with ostensibly the same 1st amendment issues but two drastically different reactions by the citizens and law enforcement. Based on what I saw of the operation on TV it looked like a tactical nightmare. I lost count of the problems that the agents faced when they went in to enforce a court order there. Mostly I believe they gave this guy Bundy too many chances for too long. When the BLM cops finally decided to go in there they weren’t committed to whatever the plan was. That indicates a major leadership issue.
I was completely stunned to see those officers surrounded by screaming people with assault rifles, a police dog getting kicked, and open defiance of verbal commands. But when I saw that those officers had sniper rifles pointed at them I could not believe my eyes. Snipers. On live TV. Let me repeat that:
On the Bundy Ranch, armed protesters were violently obstructing law enforcement from performing their duties. Sniper rifles were pointed at those law enforcement officers. Then those “snipers” openly gloated about how they had the agents in their sights the entire time. And what was the police response? All out retreat. Nobody was arrested. No tear gas deployed. No tanks were called in. No Snipers posted in the neighborhood. No rubber bullets fired. Nothing. Police officers in mortal danger met with heavily armed resistance and no one had to answer for it. Could any reasonable person look at scenes coming out of Nevada and say they looked peaceful?
Nobody called the armed protesters at the Bundy Ranch who threatened police thugs.
Nobody told them the government was supreme so they should just let the system work it out.
Nobody told them to just shut up and do what they were told. …
The press didn’t call what those people did to those officers in Nevada a riot. But I haven’t seen any protesters in Ferguson hanging the American flag upside down, or renouncing their citizenship. I haven’t heard of any protest leaders on the street in Ferguson Missouri calling for the overthrow of the city council or the removal of the mayor by force. What about those “2nd amendment remedies” that politicians were hinting at 5 years ago? Just imagine if there were 150 black folks walking around Ferguson with assault rifles right now. Imagine if a couple of them took up sniper positions on the tops of buildings with their rifles pointed at the police officers. Take a quick guess at how that story ends.
Oh. Um. Well.
So, there, I listened to another cop. And so, by way of reading this piece, did you.
Pop quiz: Did you hear him?
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 7:14 pm
In light of the assertion today by James Knowles, the white mayor of 67% African American Ferguson, Mo., that there aren’t any racial divides in his city and that the entire city, black and white alike, would agree with him, my fortuitous stumbling across this passage from Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August*, about the beginning of World War I a century ago, seems apropos:
[German] General von Hausen, commanding the Third Army… could not get over the “hostility of the Belgian people.” To discover “how we are hated” was a constant amazement to him. He complained bitterly of the attitude of the D’Eggremont family in whose luxurious château of forty rooms, with green-houses, gardens, and stable for fifty horses, he was billeted for one night. The elderly Count went around “with his fists clenched in his pockets”; the two sons absented themselves from the dinner table; the father came late to dinner and refused to talk or even respond to questions, and continued in this unpleasant attitude in spite of Hausen’s gracious forbearance in ordering his military police not to confiscate the Chinese and Japanese weapons collected by Count D’Eggremont during his diplomatic service in the Orient. It was a most distressing experience.
I love the snark in that last sentence.
Because here’s the thing, Mr. Mayor: Three independent witnesses have proclaimed that a white officer, Darren Wilson, shot a black man, Michael Brown, six times without provocation; many more witnesses know that Brown’s body was left in the street for hours. An autopsy report not only corroborates witness accounts, it also impeaches the police version of events. Given that, the least you could have done was to have called for an immediate, outside, transparent investigation and seen to it that Wilson was suspended from duty without pay pending the outcome. Instead, you reflexively defended your cops without having had the slightest idea what actually went down (or else knowing and not caring), then denied today that the racial element of this incident even exists. That so many people have gotten so upset, and that your town’s behavior has drawn critical attention from around the globe now, seems “a constant amazement” to you.
And I’m sure it’s “a most distressing experience” for you that people aren’t holding still for your racist blinders, your utter lack of connection with your own community, and the apparent lies you and the police department are telling. But you know what? Some people need to be distressed, and right now you’re approaching the top of that list. The demographic tidal wave of your community is inexorable. But rather than showing leadership, you double down on a vision and a policing approach that are decades past their sell-by date and expect people to appreciate your gracious forbearance in not allowing the police, so far, to mow down with automatic weapons the civilians peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights of speech, press, assembly, and petitioning government for redress of grievances.
That’s mighty white of you, sir.
*h/t: J. Bradford DeLong
Friday, August 8, 2014 7:15 pm
Forty years ago today, and far too late, Richard Milhous Nixon resigned from the presidency of the United States. He became the first president to do so, and he did so because House Republican leaders had come to tell him that articles of impeachment were likely to be approved by the House. Even then, Nixon worked the angles: If he were convicted and impeached, he’d lose all his tax-paid federal benefits. If he resigned, he could spend the rest of his life on the taxpayer’s tit. So he resigned.
It is tempting for people who weren’t there, which is a majority of the country, and for people who were there but are dishonest, to say that Nixon wasn’t that bad, especially in comparison with who came later. That argument is wrong on its face — Nixon was stone evil, driven by resentment and paranoia to become America’s most thug-like president. Yeah, some nice domestic things like the EPA happened on his watch, but he himself had never given a rat’s ass about domestic policy. He basically told aides handling domestic policy to do as they liked as long as it didn’t hurt him politically, and unlike today, people were still ready, willing, and able to vote against polluters.
That argument also is wrong in that it is difficult to imagine the evil that would come after Nixon having happened had Nixon himself not happened. Had Humphrey taken him (and it was very close, remember), or, dear God, if Robert Kennedy had lived to claim the Democratic nomination (he’d have destroyed Nixon in the general), a whole different group of people with a very different mindset would have been in government then, both in leadership positions at the time or in junior positions that would have qualified them for leadership positions in subsequent administrations.
The Vietnam War would have ended much more quickly and there would have been no Ford pardon of Nixon — two things that hugely increased bipartisan cynicism and distrust of government. The Southern Strategy might have worked in the South, but not so much anywhere else. Reagan is inconceivable as a politician without Nixon, and Jesse Helms, with all the evil appertaining unto him, is almost as unimaginable. And Reagan’s minions foisted the Bush dynasty, with all its corruption and lies and crimes, upon us as well.
Still, Nixon was quite as evil in his own right as anyone who has come before or since. He was a racist, an anti-Semite, a proto-fascist (and quite willing to help real fascists, as with Pinochet in Chile, even at the cost of thousands of innocent lives).
And he didn’t engage in all this evil in service of some larger issue, however infernal. No, Richard Nixon did what he did for Richard Nixon and for Richard Nixon alone.
I’ve said it before here, but it bears repeating: It is impossible to understand Nixon in both the breadth of his complexity and the depth of his immorality without having read Hunter S. Thompson’s writings on Nixon. The worst in Nixon brought out the best in Thompson, a writer I love but who, even I must admit, was capable of inconsistent performance on other subjects. Here is Thompson’s piece on the occasion of Nixon’s death 20 years ago, which still gleams like a newly cut and polished diamond. But an arguably better Thompson epitaph appeared in Rolling Stone just weeks before before Nixon’s re-election and almost two years before Nixon would be driven in disgrace from Washington:
If the current polls are reliable … Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam. The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states … This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes … understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose … Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?
Thompson’s question was rhetorical, but we have gotten real-life answers, consistently bad and consistently worsening, in the 40 years since Nixon’s resignation. That evil, too, must be laid at his putrid, cloven feet.
Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:40 am
I see now that bloody-handed GOP foreign-policy apparatchik John Bolton has leaped into the fray as well, joining the Cheneys, Lindsay Graham, Paul Wolfowitz and all the other bloody-minded neocons in arguing that we need to KILL KILL KILL in Iraq because MURCA!
And news-media outlets of all political stripes are giving these effups a platform.
Yo, media: Stop. Just. Stop.
Every one of these people was wrong, wrong, WRONG about Iraq. They lied us into a war, they lied to us about how much it would cost in blood AND treasure, they lied to us about how we would be received, they killed thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops and civilians for a lie, and in the process they mismanaged the whole thing to the point at which it would have been impossible to mess it up worse if they had been trying, if in fact they were not. ANY news outlet giving ANY of these people a platform anymore is committing journalistic malpractice, full stop.
(As I’ve said before, I, too, was wrong about Iraq. I supported the invasion because I believed the lies about a possible nuclear program and not for any other reason. I knew damn well that the case was far from conclusive, but the idea of Saddam with a nuke combined with my belief that no administration would deliberately lie this country into a war to overcome my misgivings. To borrow from “Animal House,” I fucked up. I trusted them. But my mistake, however naive, at least was honest. These people, with far more information, fabricated a casus belli, which is a war crime by definition.)
Media, if you truly want to help your readers/viewers understand Iraq rather than just beating the drum for MOAR WAR, you might do well to consult some of the people who were right about Iraq. Just for starters, here’s Athenae, who predicted in 2006 what’s happening today:
It occurred to me this weekend, listening to family and others talk about the war, that really what we’re doing now as a country is looking for some answer that doesn’t make us wrong, doesn’t make us [expletive]s, doesn’t make us the people who screwed this up so catastrophically that there’s no way out.
You see that with McCain and his troop plans, you see it with various Bush officials and their whole “we have to give it time, just like Vietnam” schtick (which, way to lose the five people you still had on this issue, Genius McMensa), and you see that with every single person around the Thanksgiving table that talks about how “we can’t leave now, it’ll just turn into chaos.” And I think the liberal war supporters are most swayed by the last argument, because c’mon, they clung so desperately to their hope that Bush wouldn’t cock this up, plus they were the ones screaming about US sanctions and repression in the Middle East long before we needed those excuses to blow some stuff up.
Things will be horrible if we leave. The answer to that last is always, unequivocably yes, yes, it will. Iraq will continue to be chaos, civil war, a breeding ground for hatred of America and a place of misery for those who live there. When the bough breaks, the cradle of civilization will fall. It’s time to stop dancing around that and just admit it. If we leave, it will be awful. For us, for them, for everyone.
BUT THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO TO STOP IT ANYMORE.
We lost this war three weeks after the invasion; we lost this war two and a half years ago at least. Those of you who read this blog just to be pissed off and think I take some pleasure in that can just go [expletive] off, you don’t know how much I wanted to be wrong about the sick feeling in my gut at seeing the looting start. We lost this war before it even began, with the piss-poor excuses for planning that gave us the Ballad of Dougie Feith and His Sidekick Ahmed Chalabi, that gave us Curveball and WMDs and letting libraries burn. We lost this war when we marched in with our own ideas about how to run Iraq and as much as said to the locals, [expletive] off now, let us play with our new toy. We lost this war long ago, while the majority of Americans were still waving flags and singing “we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” The only way to fix it, the only way to win, is to build ourselves a time machine and go back and not invade in the first place.
What’s more, I think the people saying we can’t abandon the Iraqi people, I think they know it, too. I think deep down they know there’s no way this is going to end well, considering how it began. I think deep down they know there’s no way to turn this around, but they don’t want to look at it yet, stare themselves in the face, see how completely and utterly taken they got. Take responsibility for the collective American failure. Take the weight of that on their souls.
I do get it: It’s not wrong to want the best. But it is selfish and small and downright immoral to allow your wanting the best to put others in danger when you know your delusions are just that. You have the right to pretend. You don’t have the right to ask someone to die for your puppet show. You don’t have the right to keep thinking it’ll get better, not when you know it won’t.
And so the answer to the statement, the desperate excuse, the Hail Mary: “We can’t just leave, it’ll be chaos.”
Yes. Yes, it will.
But American news media still insist on dividing their potential sources into the Very Serious People like Cheney and Bolton and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and so on, and those of us who disagree with them, who are dismissed as “unserious” or, in Internet parlance, Dirty [Expletive]ing Hippies. And those media ignore the fact that the “unserious” people, the DFHs, have been right all along.
Sadly, this phenomenon of providing platforms to people who have been proved wrong repeatedly isn’t limited to the subject of Iraq. It also applies to the economy and jobs, global warming, and just about every other major public-policy issue. I believe Driftglass said it best:
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 11:21 pm
Thursday, May 1, 2014 7:54 pm
My friend Robert Bell once worked with me at the News & Record before becoming a middle-school teacher. He was, and remains, one hell of a writer. But he’s no longer a teacher. He posted on Facebook to that effect earlier today, and with his gracious permission I’m republishing his post in its entirety. I’ll add nothing except to say that when a teacher of this caliber walks away, our children lose, and too many teachers of this caliber — some of whom teach or have taught my own kids — are walking away.
* * *
It is odd, surrounded by all this quiet. Oh sure, if you listen – I mean really listen – there’s noise. The hum of the air conditioner, the muted taps of a keyboard outside my office, the distant laugh down the hall. But for the most part there is nothing but quiet, and that is new to me.
There is no Elijah in my face, laughing so hard milk explodes from his nose. There is no Destiny or Tyra to ask me what a boy likes in a girl. I haven’t seen Ben or Brooke in three days. Who will I tell to pull up his drooping pants if there is no Wade? Where is Kevin to politely remind him to keep his feet to himself?
I resigned from my middle school job last month. Looking back, the only thing more difficult than leaving my students was the job itself. On my first day of teaching – an exhilarating, uplifting nine-hour whirlwind of joy – I wondered where this job had been all my life. On my last day, I sat fell into my chair wondering how I lasted so long.
This is not a rant against how teachers are treated like lepers by our governor. His actions and inactions speak for themselves. This is not a screed against our legislators. They are perfectly capable of explaining how, in one session, they cut funding to our children’s education and gave precious tax money to for-profit charter schools while my students are using science textbooks that claim Pluto as the ninth planet.
Instead, this is an elegy to the folks I left behind, the hardest working and least understood professionals I know – your child’s teacher.
Like most jobs, teaching has two versions: The chestnut Hollywood portrays and reality. I fell hard for the Hollywood version. You know, the one where the teacher walks in and instantly a hush falls over the classroom. This is followed by students dutifully pulling out their notebooks and, pencils in hand, wait for those pearls to tumble from my mouth.
Oh, the places we’ll go! The stories we’ll read. There will be lively discussions of Whitman and O. Henry and Poe. Hands will shimmy in the air, their owners eager to share their own wisdom and connections.
Then there’s the other version of teaching I like to call reality. On my first day at my middle school, a father choked his son for leaving his lunch at home. Another student whispered to me she wasn’t wearing any underwear – and that she didn’t have any for the new school year. A third raised his hand and asked me to pronounce the word on the whiteboard: Welcome!
Welcome, indeed. After that first day I realize Whitman and his friends might want to come back in a few months.
Someone a lot smarter than me once described teaching better than I ever could. Imagine a lawyer (or banker or accountant or doctor) showing up for work one morning and finding 32 clients in need of their services. Each client had a different problem and was unable to articulate it. Some were angry they had to be there. Others were thrilled to get away from their homes if only for eight hours a day. Some were quick to explain their needs and desires, but became frustrated when it took so long to get to them. Others were easily distracted. Ready? Learn!
Don’t get me wrong, teaching is not an impossible job, just an incredibly difficult one. I’ve worked with many wonderful teachers who meet the needs of their students every day. And while the high test scores and rookie-of-the-year award were nice, my heart told me I wasn’t one of those teachers.
I dreaded telling my students I was leaving. At the start of the school year I brought in a cake and candles for each class. We closed the blinds and turned off the lights and made a pact around the flickering candles: For better or worse, we were in this school year together. I told them some might grasp the lesson that day and were welcome to move forward. I told them others might need more time – and that was fine, too. But one thing was certain: We were in this together. Nobody was being left behind.
After hearing that I was leaving, Elijah tearfully told me I was breaking up our secret club. I told him he was right. I told him I was sorry. I told him the only reason I would ever leave him was for Kate (a fixture during my after-school tutoring) and the rest of my family.
At the end of the day, Rion scribbled a note and put it on my desk before hurrying out the door to her bus: “Please don’t go, Mr. Bell. I know this letter is not fancy, but it was made with care. You were once like my white father to me. Now you’re like my father. I wish my mom had met you.”
CJ, who never met a lesson that couldn’t be put on pause so he could sketch, drew me a comic strip. I am swinging an oversized pencil at a dragon named Stupid. By the end, Stupid is sprawled out on the ground. Mr. Bell and his full head of hair are smiling and the children are cheering. “Do you get it? Do you get it? Mr. Bell! Met-a-phooor!”
I’m staring at his metaphor right now. It is in my office, my incredibly quiet office, next to the picture of the two of us at a school dance. CJ was nervous about going to the dance. He said the only way he would go was if I went with him. He clung by my side the first 15 minutes. Never saw him the rest of the night.
I knew I would miss CJ and the rest of the kids. I just didn’t think I would miss them this much.
When people asked me what I did for a living I gave them what they wanted to hear: “I’m a teacher,” I’d say.
What I wanted to say is, “What do I do for a living? Every day I walk into a classroom and discover worlds I never knew existed.”
Like CJ’s world, in which his mother keeps him home whenever she’s feeling lonely and depressed. Like Remy’s world, in which he came to this country after watching a warlord shoot his father to death back in Africa. Like Tyra’s world, in which she writes letters every week in class to her father in jail. She’s still waiting on him to write back. Like Angel’s world, in which he has a perfect attendance and regularly stays after school for tutoring – if only to escape going home to Mom and Dad’s arguing. Like Justin’s world, in which he and his two brothers and cousin take turns sleeping on a single bed each night.
A teacher is more than just someone who fills your child with knowledge and makes them “globally competitive,” whatever in the hell that means. They make many of their students happy, well-adjusted human beings and instill in them the audacity to believe they can be more then what they ever dreamed they could be.
Maya Angelou, whose stories we read in class this year, once wrote “of all the needs a lonely child has … the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God.”
I’ll count those 19 months in a classroom a success if just one of my students thought I was their Kingdom Come.
Sunday, April 27, 2014 11:02 pm
Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:30 pm
In March, for the first time in 11 years, no U.S. service members died in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
That’s good. Hell, that’s GREAT.
On average, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
To commemorate them and raise awareness, 32 veterans from the group flew to Washington, D.C., to plant 1,892 flags on the National Mall today, one for each of the veterans that the group says took his or her own life in 2014. IAVA extrapolated that number from a 2012 Veterans Administration report finding that 22 veterans took their lives each day in 2009 and 2010, only a slight increase from years past, and a number that includes all veterans, not just those who served in America’s more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The event was part of IAVA’s 2014 Storm the Hill campaign, an annual week of action in which organization vets meet with lawmakers to push a veterans’ agenda picked for that year. In 2013, it was the Veterans Affairs benefits-claim backlog; this year, it’s veteran suicides.
“I know several individuals that have died by suicide,” Sara Poquette of Dallas, a video journalist who served in Iraq, said, adding that she herself considered suicide while experiencing the hardships of reintegrating into civilian life. “For me personally, it was more just getting through until I was really ready to get help, just realizing that my life was going down a path that I never really wanted it to go down.”
In Joining IAVA, Poquette said, she found a “new unit.”
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is pushing a bill, the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, which Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., plans to introduce. Walsh commanded a Montana National Guard battalion in Iraq.
“When we returned home, one of my young sergeants died by suicide, so this is very personal to me,” Walsh told reporters on the Mall today, calling veteran suicides “an epidemic we cannot allow to continue.”
The bill would extend eligibility for Veterans Administration health care, create a pilot program for student-loan repayment if health care professionals work for the VA, instigate a review of certain behavioral discharges, and mandate a review of mental health care programs at the VA, IAVA said.
The group is calling on Congress to pass the bill by Memorial Day.
OK, so the numbers are extrapolations, not exact counts. But even if they’re off a good bit, they’re still intolerably high. God bless Sen. John Walsh for planning to introduce this bill.
But you know who else could do something about veterans’ suicides and other problems, particularly with disability payments, that veterans are experiencing and have been for years?
That would be the ranking minority member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
That would be the guy from Winston-Salem, home of the VA regional office with one of the nation’s worst backlog of disability claims cases and a record of illegally destroying claim files.
That would be my senior senator, Richard Burr.
How ’bout it, Senator? Time to saddle up, ya think?
Saturday, March 29, 2014 7:25 pm
We’ll never know for sure, but it’s quite possible that the Boston Marathon bombing wouldn’t have happened if local police there had investigated a previous triple homicide a little more diligently.
Monday, February 3, 2014 8:05 pm
So if you even glance at the headlines, you probably know that there is something somewhere between civil unrest and civil war going on in, um, let’s see, Egypt, Syria, Somalia, and Ukraine. (And those are just the ones getting the most headlines.) You probably also didn’t know that there is civil strife in the Central African Republic. The Central African Republic has, literally, a wealth of resources, namely gold and diamonds. And yet most of its people live in poverty.
That fact alone tells me two things: 1) The government is corrupt, and 2) the government is corrupt. Because those diamonds and gold aren’t just sitting there in the ground, they’re being extracted, so someone, somewhere, is making a ton of money.
The people are, predictably, upset about this. The government and some media have tried to paint this as a conflict between Christians and Muslims, and indeed, at street level, some of those conflicts have been just that. But as the Archbishop of Bangui and the imam who serves as president of the Islamic Central African community work together both to ease religious tension and to get help from other nations in peacekeeping, the bigger picture becomes clear: Most of the country is poor because the country is being robbed blind.
The UN has warned of genocide in the country, where almost a quarter of the population has become refugees. My guess is that this story will get worse before it gets better, and even if I surpass my biblically-allotted threescore and 10 years, they won’t get substantially better in my remaining lifetime. The UN already is warning that genocide will take place.
I don’t have any solutions. I just thought more people ought to know.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 10:27 pm
“Pete was an angry man. He did something great with his anger.” — writer Jeff Sharlett
Monday, January 27, 2014 10:19 pm
Today is observed internationally as Holocaust Remembrance Day (it’s the anniversary of the day Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz death camp in 1945). Earlier this evening, I attended a screening of the movie “Jakob the Liar,” about the lives of Jews in Poland’s Lodz ghetto in 1944, followed by recitations of the Male HaRachamim and the Kaddish.
The event also included a reading of a meditation, “The Price of Experience,” written by Adrian Mitchell and Kate Westbrook. Two lines in particular struck me:
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted/To speak the laws of prudence to the homeless wanderer
It must be, because we do so much of it in America today. We have one major party (and, frankly, some members of the other) actively working against universal access to health care. We accuse the poor of deserving to be poor because of moral flaws or failure to exert sufficient effort to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, never mind the fact that increasing numbers of Americans have no boots and no immediate prospects of being able to find a job that pays well enough to buy them.
What is going on in America today is by no means, of course, morally equivalent to the Holocaust, and I do not mean to imply otherwise. But it is bad nonetheless: For more than 30 years the wealthy have waged war on the middle class, and that war has only accelerated with and since the Crash of ’08. Meanwhile, the hyperwealthy who attend Davos moan about the bad things the less fortunate say about them. One moron, venture capitalist Tom Perkins, writing in The Wall Street Journal — and you can’t make this crap up — even compared complaints about the wealthy to attitudes of Nazi Germany toward Jews. On a slightly less offensive level, neither Congress nor the Beltway media talk much about this problem, let alone consult with some of the people who know how to fix it. One can only assume that things are this way because the wealthy and powerful want them this way. That’s bad enough. But the victim blaming is a sign of advanced moral rot. And when moral rot in a society’s leadership expands to this point, perhaps a Holocaust is not inevitable. But a French Revolution certainly isn’t out of the question — nor should it be.
Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:57 pm
Esquire’s Charlie Pierce with a thought experiment:
Imagine if there were three terrorist events in two weeks. First, terrorists poison a state’s water supply. Then, they rig a building to collapse and rig another one hundreds of miles away to explode. Nervous politicians would be blue-pencilling the Bill of Rights by daybreak. The NSA would throw a parade for itself. Edward Snowden would be hung in effigy, if we couldn’t do it in person. Somebody’s ass would get droned in Waziristan.
Sounds about right.
But in the past two weeks, we have seen West Virginia’s water supply be poisoned by a
Koch Bros.-owned chemical plant (CORRECTION: As Roch notes below, the Kochs sold the plant Dec. 31, nine days before the leak), which promptly filed for bankruptcy protection so that the families who are harmed will have to be compensated by the state if they get compensated at all. Then we have the building collapse in Nebraska and the explosion in Oklahoma. And those events happened in the wake of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 160 others and damaged or destroyed more than 150 buildings. What do these things have in common? Freedom! The dead hand of government regulation has been removed, by fiat or via lack of enforcement, so that these companies could kill Americans without significantly harming their owners’ bottom lines.
At Cogitamus.com, the Low-Tech Cyclist says:
I keep on waiting for the Democratic Party to get a clue about this: to say after the latest such disaster, “This is why we regulate, [expletive] — this is why we need the regulations, and why we need enough Federal inspectors out in the field to make sure they’re followed. Because otherwise, they’ll poison our food, dump chemicals in our rivers, steal your wages, and make you work in places that could blow up.”
But Dems at the state and federal levels seem almost as in thrall to industry as their GOP brethren and sistren, so we’re all screwed. Pierce concludes:
(Forklift operator) Kendrick Houston was brave enough to go back into the fire (in Omaha). Yet too many of our politicians, local and national, don’t have the simple stones to stand up to a corporate class that has come to represent nothing but death and pillage. But they will show up at the funerals, boy. They will do that, and they will talk about the indomitable spirit of American individualism, through which people will run back into the fire, and then they will go out onto the stump next fall and talk about how the dead hand of government regulation is stifling that same spirit, and that freedom demands more victims. The American Dream becomes the province of the dead, Moloch with stock options, and that is the country today, where things fall down and things blow up and almost nothing ever changes.
The Republicans got the Congress back in 1994 in part by using language to frame the terms of the debate and even to describe their opponents as outlined in the now-famous document “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” So is it excessive to, as Low-Tech Cyclist does, call our plutocrat class “terrorists”? I think not — if the poison-tipped jackboot fits, wear it — but even then, they do what they do because we allow our legislators to let them. This, among many, many other reasons, is why voting matters and why electing people to office who believe that government can and should do its job, not those who are bent on dismantling what remains of government, is so important.
Some of our most vicious terrorists are home-grown, and it’s time they did time. But in addition, and better, it’s time we prevented them from getting in the way of what’s needed to keep our food, water, drugs, cosmetics, workplaces, and so on, safe. Because the free market doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you live or die. If you doubt me, you can just go to West, Texas, or even just down to Hamlet and ask.