Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Naming Things

Bookmarking Masha Gessen.

The big disconnect in this blog is that I have hardly written a word about Donald Trump, who has been dominating my consciousness, as well as the country's, for the last 18 months.

I look forward to the day sometime in the future when the country reaches some kind of consensus about what the Trump Ascendancy meant.  What's difficult right now is the heightened sense of anxiety and confusion, of cognitive dissonance, that so many of us feel.  It's been barely a month since Trump's inauguration, but it feels like years.

Even Trump supporters, I imagine, must be confused about the wave of resistance that has swelled SINCE the election. It certainly says something not-so-good about the American left-liberal side, that it appears we really got motivated only after the votes were cast.  We were complacent, and now we're full of recriminations and denial.

The Democratic Party is still groping for unity.  It's still divided along the roughly the battle lines that formed between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during the primaries.  We just had a race for DNC Chair, something I don't think is worth much worry, given the tiny ideological distance between the two leading candidates.  But Bernie people became invested in Keith Ellison, and Hillary people gave some degree of behind-the-scenes institutional oomph to Tom Perez.  Perez won, and instantly anointed Ellison as his Vice Chair (it seems by advance agreement, whoever had lost would have joined sides in this way).  But many Bernie people feel slighted nonetheless.

Today I want to note something.  I hope that, eventually, it will be hard to remember this.  It's still unclear how much credit for Trump's election is due to the clandestine efforts of business and government forces in Russia.  Plainly, Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to be elected.  Whether Putin and his collaborators really pulled it off--I hope history will rule decisively on that question.
Right now this is a point of contention between "the Left" (Bernie people, The Nation magazine, Glenn Greenwald) and "liberals" (Hillary people, Lawyers Guns & Money).  To some on the Left, invoking Putin's name as an anti-Trump epithet is an act of red-baiting, reminiscent of Joe McCarthy. 

I find this condescending in the extreme.  I've paid enough attention in my lifetime to have noticed that the Soviet Empire crumbled, and Russia pivoted from a socialist state to a right-wing authoritarian state.  There's a big difference between Putin and the oligarchs, and the old Soviet leaders and state structures.  It would be stupid not to notice the difference.  It would be highly disingenuous to pretend not to notice.  I strive to be neither stupid nor disingenuous.  PUTIN IS ON THE RIGHT.  Surely the Democratic Socialists of America and The Nation can agree to this.  Glenn Greenwald may be beyond hope.

We need brave and steady voices to help us cut through the chaos and tension of the moment. Indivisible, an organization founded by Democratic Hill staffers, is one; its mission is to give smart tactical advice to the anti-Trump resistance without blunting the urgency of that resistance.  Masha Gessen, Russian emigre journalist, is another.  Here she is talking about Trump and Putin, and about a conspiratorial view of world events versus a chaos-theory view that I incline toward.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Bookmarking: The Raleigh N&O has an investigative piece today by Joseph Neff, about a 28-year-old death investigation.  Civil rights lawyer Julian Pierce was murdered in 1988, in the midst of an election campaign for a judgeship.  The chief suspect in his shooting conveniently turned up dead himself, in what was ruled, incredibly, a suicide.  Pierce, a Lumbee Indian, was promising to push for school desegregation and other legal reforms in the corruption-filled swamps of Robeson County, NC.  Pierce's opponent in the judicial race was Joe Freeman Britt, notorious as the World's Deadliest Prosecutor, seemingly able to get a capital conviction against a ham sandwich.  There are whispers of law enforcement and drug dealers being involved in Pierce's murder.  His daughter is pressing to get the case reopened, and is meeting a lot of resistance.

I've long been fascinated by Robeson County, a lawless place, racially divided almost into thirds among white, black, and Lumbee residents.  (It is the center of gravity for the Lumbee band, a caste of gypsies among gypsies, which has strived futilely for decades to get federal tribal recognition.) But more than that, my historical consciousness has been heightened by the dizzying reality of the Trump presidency.  It feels like the most awful political twist ever.  Of course, Americans of color will quickly set me straight about that.   In the South especially, it was hair-raising, the racist violence that small-town sheriffs and prosecutors could get away with.

So I'm fixing on these facts of our civic life, that seem horrific by my lights today, but were accepted as thoroughly "normalized" not so long ago.  A candidate for judge was shot dead!  In 1988, when I was of voting age and registered here!  I don't remember being aware of the case at the time.

Another example: A Facebook friend in Raleigh got his hands on a sales flyer for his neighborhood, which was developed in the 1950s.  A nice leafy neighborhood now, in a voting precinct that probably went for Hillary last fall.  The brochure has a bullet point reading, "RESTRICTED FOR YOUR PROTECTION."  It clearly refers to a No Blacks covenant in the real estate sales contracts.  There are lots of people still around for whom that is a living memory.  The realtor is still in business.

Today, for a political campaign in a rural corner of the state to end in an assassination -- that would beggar belief.  In 1988, however, it was plausible.  And what remains today is an unwillingness to confront the wrongdoing and its implications.  We blanch at actual violence or brute statutory discrimination such as our parents or grandparents engaged in.  But we generally refuse to confront the consequences of our recent history responsibly.  It's very uncomfortable for officials to publish the truth and administer justice, be it financial reparations to victims or criminal convictions against the culpable people who are now honored dead or respected elders, therefore "harmless".

Here's a great dramatic detail.  Julia Pierce, struggling to get her late father's case reopened, finally got a meeting last year with the State Bureau of Investigation.  Without warning her, they invited the retired SBI agent who'd originally handled the case to the meeting, and let him do most of the talking.  He came off as a tad defensive: 

“If your theory is true, I’m either incompetent or dishonest,” Bowman said on an audio recording of the meeting. “So which is it?”

Well, sir, you don't appear to be incompetent. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Winter 1988, Pennsburg, PA

One morning last winter, I got in the car and turned on the windshield wipers when they were frozen tight to the glass.  Which glitched the little motor on one side, so now the wiper arms are cattywompus, moving out of sync.  After several minutes of wild waving, they get jammed together, then I have to pull over, step out in the rain and free them.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Banality of Evil, Groundhog Day Edition

I'm sitting in Sola coffee shop in north Raleigh.  At a table near me are two semi-stylish business-casual white guys.

I catch a mention of church, this or that church with X thousand worshipers.  So I figure these guys are preachers or evangelists, church planters.

Then I hear a reference to crisis pregnancy centers. 

In other words, these are misogynist rat bastards.  Warlocks in shepherds' clothing.  Their business is to browbeat young women into not having abortions. 

It was probably about two years ago that I was sitting in Helios coffee shop, downtown, near the state capitol.  I was overhearing a group of suit-wearing types discussing lobbying strategy.  Eventually I realized they were out-of-state operatives who'd flown in on behalf of the charter school industry.  I.e. infiltrators, saboteurs, dedicated to destroying public education, to hollowing out the schools my children attend. 

Different flavors of poison in different parts of town.

Election 2016: The Hokey-Pokey

They caucused their asses off in Iowa yesterday.  Whatever that means -- bundling up and trudging out to the local VFW hall to play some amalgam of Red Rover and the Hokey-Pokey.  There's probably some arcane system of hand signals adapted from livestock auctions.  I don't quite understand it, but the pundits assure me, the Iowa Caucuses are essential to America's greatness and to our presidential politics being a true test of leadership.

For my job I've been moving to a new office the last few days, a.k.a. filling boxes with unsorted scraps of my notes, work-related and not.  Numerous blog posts that died a-borning.  I spied one yesterday in which I was expecting Hillary Clinton to have a smooth ride to the nomination.  This time around, unlike Hillary v. Barack in 2008, it would not be a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.  (I guess I jotted these notes about the time Bernie Sanders announced for the presidential race.)

Whoops!  I guess the soul of the Dems is always up for grabs.  A new crop of youngsters has emerged to fill the leftier-than-thou wing where I used to sit.  It's Bernie Sanders or nothing for them.  Better Donald Trump should win the White House than let DINO Hillary take us back to the days when AOL was riding high and Bill Cosby was America's Dad.

It really never is easy where Hillary is concerned.  She's cursed.  Maybe not fatally cursed, to the extent of being unelectable in the general.  But eternally haunted. 

Listen, I like Bernie.  I expect I'll be voting for him when our state's primary comes around.  But the imperative is for the Democratic candidate to win in November, whoever that candidate is.  I figured a Bernie vote would be a message vote, intended to pull Hillary to the left.  Now, is it simply a Bernie vote?  I'm not sure what to root for in the primary; a number of bad scenarios present themselves. 

The shit on the Republican side is so crazy, I don't see how they get their act together by fall.  But I fear their knack for ignoring inconvenient realities, joined to their sharklike sense for blood in the water. 

So the forecast is for nine months of anxiety, distrusting the media, and distrusting my own instincts.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reviews I Read, Books I Want

Noted in last Sunday's paper: In conjunction with the Civil War sesquicentennial, our state Archives engaged a writer/cartographer to do a coffee-table book treatment of the Civil War in North Carolina.  It's here.  It's real and it's spectacular.

Here we have a confluence of three things that have become of distinct interest to me in recent years: (1) maps, (2) the Civil War, and (3) acquiring the major works of N.C. history and geography.  So I think I'd like to get my hands on this.  Being that it's $85, though, I think I need to remember to ask for Christmas or my birthday...

The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas
By Mark Anderson Moore with Jessica A. Bandel and Michael Hill
Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 190 pages, $85

Read more here:

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie, 1947-2016

Well, today has been given over to feeling sad about the passing of David Bowie. 

Several friends are crying this morning.  My daughters are bummed out as well, whereas they are indifferent to a lot of classic rock era figures.  My sense is that LGBT kids and their allies still look to Bowie as a pioneer in crossing and blurring gender lines.

My late uncle Palmer was closer to a big brother to me than a father figure, being nine years younger than my mom, his sister. Palmer had a good album collection when I was a kid, and he used to give me listening advice.  When I was 10 or so, Palmer told me the king of rock music was David Bowie.  I took this as solid-gold gospel truth!  In later years Palmer’s advice was not always so good, but in 1974 or ’75, he was right on target.  His favorite Bowie album was Ziggy Stardust, and that remains the one I know best. 

Let’s Dance was featured in the soundtrack of my college days.  My friend Will and I saw Bowie in concert at the Scope, Norfolk, VA, on the Serious Moonlight tour in August 1983.  This was probably the most straightforward play-the-hits tour he ever did.  Serious fans would say that was not Bowie’s creative peak, but if you could only see him once in your life, that might have been a good time.  He and that band (I can hear Bowie bellowing the name CAHLOS ALOMAH) were utter pros. 

He had just released an album which by all accounts is very good.  I assumed he was in top form.  He really kept a lid on the news of his cancer, so everybody is shocked.  Actually, it’s more than that: He was so vital and so protean, it’s shocking to learn that he was mortal.

Not too long after I started working here at the seminary, folks in my office learned we would be entertaining a guest for several days -- a bishop from the Church of Norway.   (He was studying the likely fallout if the C of N was disestablished.)  In my mind's eye, a bishop of Norway was a stern creature, someone like Gandalf, tall, unsmiling, white haired and about a thousand years old.  When Harald turned up, he was this sprite of a guy, a little older than I, with modish long hair, a black denim jacket, and a hoop earring in each ear.  He was smart, funny, utterly charming, and made me feel about 200% cooler in his presence.  He was a delight, and the way I summed him up to people was: "He reminds me of David Bowie!"

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

All time basketball team

On drive-time sports talk radio today, they were debating whether Kobe is one of the top 10 players of all time.  I'd say yes, probably -- this is my list of the top 12.

hakeem olajuwon
kareem abdul-jabbar
bill russell
wilt chamberlain
shaquille o'neal
michael jordan
kobe bryant
larry bird
magic johnson
lebron james
dwyane wade
tim duncan

Criteria: (1) Huge alll-time numbers, (2) starred on more than one NBA title team, (3) score high on the advanced stats at -- Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares -- even though I don't completely understand those. 

Bill Russell, I take on faith a little bit.  His offensive stats are not that great, of course, but he has the highest career Defensive Win Shares total, plus all those rings.