Monday, November 02, 2015

Charles Thomson to Jefferson: Slavery "is a cancer that we must get rid of."

Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress, to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 2, 1785: “I have received your several favours of Feb y 8 June 21 and July 14 and also a copy of your Notes by M r Houdon, for which I am much obliged. It grieves me to the soul that there should be such just grounds for your apprehensions respecting the irritation that will be produced in the southern states by what you have said of slavery. However I would not have you discouraged. This is a cancer that we must get rid of. It is a blot in our character that must be wiped out. If it cannot be done by religion reason & philosophy, confident I am that it will one day be by blood. I confess I am more afraid of this than of the Algerine piracies or the jealousy entertained of us by European powers of which we hear so much of late. However I have the satisfaction to find that philosophy is gaining ground of selfishness in this respect: If this can be rooted out, & our land filled with freemen, union preserved & the spirit of liberty maintained and cherished I think in 25 or 30 years we shall have nothing to fear from the rest of the world . . .” [Papers of Thomas Jefferson 9:9]

Friday, October 16, 2015

Lost poetry of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper discovered

Congratulations to Johanna Ortner, Ph.D. candidate at UMass-Amherst, for rediscovering the first collection of poetry of the 19th-century activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. (By the way, Johanna, I think it's acceptable to scream when making a find of this magnitude.)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

America's deadliest, longest war

It's time to put US gun deaths in perspective.

  • The attacks of 9/11/01 killed 2,996 people. Guns do that every 4.8 weeks.
  • Syria had 76,000 deaths in 2014. We do that every 30 months.
  • The  US has 6000 more gun deaths per year than ALL THE ISRAELI-PALESTINE DEATHS SINCE 1948.
  • Two months of gun deaths in US top the total conflict deaths in the Ukraine.
  • As many people are killed by guns in US in 26 months as in 11 years of the Salvadoran civil war (70,000).
  • The Kashmir conflict has  been going since 1947, with 47,000 killed. We do that with gun deaths in less than 19 months.
  • Japan has experienced less than half the number of gun related crimes in the 70 years since World War II than the US experiences gun-related deaths in an average year.
Make of this what you will. What I make of it is:

By far the deadliest conflict in the world today is the U.S. Gun War. More people have died by guns since 1968 (1.5 million) than from all other U.S. wars combined (1.4 million) (Politifact.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Florida forebear

The Churchman's Year Book, with Kalendar for the Year of Grace 1870. Hartford, 1870.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The One-Amendment Constitution

According to many Second Amendment devotees, all other rights ultimately derive from "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." As columnist Sandy Froman puts it, "The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is a civil right. And what’s more, it’s the right that protects all the others."

Implicitly, then--and sometimes explicitly--they believe that it is the right and responsibility of the individual to provide for his own defense, and to employ the credible threat of lethal force to secure the right to free speech, religion, property, security from unreasonable search and seizure, etc. Second Amendment extremists are refreshingly frank about the basic reason they need guns, especially military-grade weapons with high-capacity magazines and other ultra-lethal arms: to defend their liberty against their government. 

Just so we're clear: According to classical political theory, people give up some liberty to "put on the bonds of civil society" and "unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another." A society in which the individual has to defend every basic right with arms is not a society; it is Locke's state of nature, or Hobbes' "war of all against all."

Does anyone see the inconsistency here? If the RKBA folk are so convinced that the American social compact is so attenuated that it can only be protected by violence or the threat of violence, how hypocritical and disingenuous it is to invoke the Constitution in defense of their disdain for government! It is a contemptuous self-contradiction that exploits the larger society's respect for law to cordon off their own lawless domain.

This state-of-nature theory of "government" fits perfectly with those interests who view society as an obstacle to their ability to impose their will without restraint. It's not really about guns; those are just a potent symbol for the exercise of unchecked power. Yeats described our situation: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity." Society needs to assert itself, or we will start to slip backwards from Stephen Pinsker's apogee of decreasing violence.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Obama Presidency (so far)

With age comes perspective and a certain realism, so I knew--even on that unforgettable November night in 2008--that I would be disappointed in Obama. Indeed, I was elated to have the opportunity to be disappointed.

And of course, I was: just like Clinton, Obama inaugurated his presidency by making a pledge he couldn't keep (closing Guantanamo; Clinton's was opening the military to gays). The billions doled out to banks may have saved the economy, but they corroded the democracy. Viewed by Rahm Emanuel's formula, the president failed to convert a once-in-a-century crisis into an FDR-style opportunity. As I wrote here at the time, Obama made a bold attempt to form essentially a coalition government with the GOP, and reached out effusively to Republicans in Congress, not realizing until after almost everyone else in the country that the Republicans had no higher goal than to make him fail. In defense and civil liberties, it was difficult to see any daylight between the Obama administration and his execrable predecessor. All very disappointing.

However, I never despaired. After all, on his worst day, Obama as President beat his predecessor. And outweighing the disappointments were real accomplishments, many of them under-reported or barely noted by the press at all. Most important, he had an agenda, a long-term vision, and would not be knocked off his game. He kept his eye on the ball, and was willing to trade the inessential, even when painful, to hold onto the core goals. He has been playing the long game.

And now here we are. Seemingly defying the laws of physics, the lame-duck president, with decisive majorities against him in both houses of Congress and a majority-Republican Supreme Court, is picking up steam rather than running out of gas. One can already see the outlines of a long-term evaluation of his presidency, and it stacks up well with any in the last half-century.

Above all, this president is comfortable in his own skin, not stalked by inner demons. This comes across clearly in his interview with Marc Maron (itself a sign of confidence and nonchalance). He knows what he's doing, and he does it well. He's a good fit for the job. The backlash will continue, but we will come out of the Obama years a better country than when we went into it. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

No Compromise

I had a revelation the other day about negotiations, while listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. For some people (personalities, groups), "I Won't Back Down" is a philosophy of life, independent of any external content or context.

Scalia on the lack of diversity on the Supreme Court: he has a point!

 "[T]he Federal Judiciary is hardly a cross-section of America. Take, for example, this Court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination." (Dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

President Obama's eulogy for Clementa Pinckney

My sister-in-law sent me the transcript of the President's speech on Friday.

Dear friends,

I was so moved by the president's eulogy I am going to frame it and hang it in my house. Only he can say the right words in a way that makes so much sense and can move so many. He is truly extraordinary in that way, and damn is he brilliant. Amazing. I copied the transcript so that I could keep it always. You can read it below, I have read it several times.

Here is a copy for you.  

My friend said that this eulogy ranks right up there with the Gettysburg Address.

This eulogy is for people who have hearts.

On Friday, June 26, President Obama delivered a powerful eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was murdered in the Charleston shootings. In the emotional, wide-ranging speech, Obama connected the mass killing to "a long history" of violence meant to intimidate and terrorize African Americans, and warned that it would be "a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for" if America let itself "go back to business as usual."
The full text of Obama's remarks follows.
The Bible calls us to hope. To persevere, and have faith in things not seen.
"They were still living by faith when they died," Scripture tells us. "They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on Earth."
We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith. A man who believed in things not seen. A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance. A man of service who persevered, knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed.
To Jennifer, his beloved wife; to Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters; to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.

I cannot claim to have the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well. But I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina, back when we were both a little bit younger. (Laughter.) Back when I didn't have visible grey hair. (Laughter.) The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor -- all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.
Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived; that even from a young age, folks knew he was special. Anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful -- a family of preachers who spread God's word, a family of protesters who sowed change to expand voting rights and desegregate the South. Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching.

He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth, nor youth's insecurities; instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years, in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith, and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swath of the Lowcountry, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America. A place still wracked by poverty and inadequate schools; a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment. A place that needed somebody like Clem. (Applause.)

His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long. His calls for greater equity were too often unheeded, the votes he cast were sometimes lonely. But he never gave up. He stayed true to his convictions. He would not grow discouraged. After a full day at the capitol, he'd climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him. There he would fortify his faith, and imagine what might be.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean, nor small. He conducted himself quietly, and kindly, and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone, but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes. No wonder one of his senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as "the most gentle of the 46 of us -- the best of the 46 of us."

Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn't know the history of the AME church. (Applause.) As our brothers and sisters in the AME church know, we don't make those distinctions. "Our calling," Clem once said, "is not just within the walls of the congregation, but...the life and community in which our congregation resides." (Applause.)

He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words; that the "sweet hour of prayer" actually lasts the whole week long -- (applause) -- that to put our faith in action is more than individual salvation, it's about our collective salvation; that to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.

What a good man. Sometimes I think that's the best thing to hope for when you're eulogized -- after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say someone was a good man. (Applause.)

You don't have to be of high station to be a good man. Preacher by 13. Pastor by 18. Public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith. And then to lose him at 41 -- slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.

Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. DePayne Middleton-Doctor. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel L. Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson. Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people. (Applause.) People so full of life and so full of kindness. People who ran the race, who persevered. People of great faith.

To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African-American life -- (applause) -- a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as "hush harbors" where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah -- (applause) -- rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm's way, and told that they are beautiful and smart -- (applause) -- and taught that they matter. (Applause.) That's what happens in church.

That's what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate. When there's no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel -- (applause) -- a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes. (Applause.)

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps. A sacred place, this church. Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion -- (applause) -- of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all. That's what the church meant. (Applause.)

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. (Applause.) An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation's original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. (Applause.) God has different ideas. (Applause.)

He didn't know he was being used by God. (Applause.) Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn't imagine that. (Applause.)

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- (applause) -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood -- the power of God's grace. (Applause.)

This whole week, I've been reflecting on this idea of grace. (Applause.) The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals -- the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. (Applause.) I once was lost, but now I'm found; was blind but now I see. (Applause.)

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It's not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God -- (applause) -- as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we've been blind. (Applause.) He has given us the chance, where we've been lost, to find our best selves. (Applause.) We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other -- but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He's once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. (Applause.) It's true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge -- including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise -- (applause) -- as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. (Applause.) For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state's capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought -- the cause of slavery -- was wrong -- (applause) -- the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America's history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God's grace. (Applause.)

But I don't think God wants us to stop there. (Applause.) For too long, we've been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. (Applause.)

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we're doing to cause some of our children to hate. (Applause.) Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system -- (applause) -- and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure. (Applause.)

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don't realize it, so that we're guarding against not just racial slurs, but we're also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. (Applause.) So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. (Applause.) By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what's necessary to make opportunity real for every American -- by doing that, we express God's grace. (Applause.)

For too long --

AUDIENCE: For too long!

THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we've been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. (Applause.) Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed -- the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife's warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans -- the majority of gun owners -- want to do something about this. We see that now. (Applause.) And I'm convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country -- by making the moral choice to change, we express God's grace. (Applause.)

We don't earn grace. We're all sinners. We don't deserve it. (Applause.) But God gives it to us anyway. (Applause.) And we choose how to receive it. It's our decision how to honor it.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There's no shortcut. And we don't need more talk. (Applause.) None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy. It will not. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires -- this is a big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete.

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. (Applause.) Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual -- that's what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. (Applause.) To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change -- that's how we lose our way again.

It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Reverend Pinckney once said, "Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history -- we haven't always had a deep appreciation of each other's history." (Applause.) What is true in the South is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. That my liberty depends on you being free, too. (Applause.) That history can't be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past -- how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind -- but, more importantly, an open heart.

That's what I've felt this week -- an open heart. That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what's called upon right now, I think -- what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls "that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things."

That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. (Applause.) If we can tap that grace, everything can change. (Applause.)

Amazing grace. Amazing grace.

(Begins to sing) -- Amazing grace -- (applause) -- how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I'm found; was blind but now I see. (Applause.)

Clementa Pinckney found that grace.

Cynthia Hurd found that grace.

Susie Jackson found that grace.

Ethel Lance found that grace.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace.

Tywanza Sanders found that grace.

Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.

Myra Thompson found that grace.

Through the example of their lives, they've now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America. (Applause.)

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Southern Heroes for the National Statuary Hall Collection

Southern history--even before and during the Civil War--is replete with superb role models who would make excellent replacements for some of the outdated choices some states have chosen to represent them in the Capitol.  Herewith is a proposed list to get the discussion started:
John C. Calhoun in
National Statuary Hall

Georgia: Rev. Hosea Williams for Alexander Stephens
Kentucky: Cassius Marcellus Clay for Henry Clay
Louisiana: Homer Plessy for Edward D. White
Mississippi: Medgar Evers for Jefferson Davis
North Carolina: William Gaston for Zebulon Vance
North Carolina: John Chavis for Charles Aycock
South Carolina: John Laurens for John C. Calhoun
South Carolina: Robert Smalls for Wade Hampton
Virginia: Winfield Scott for Robert E. Lee

But I'd hold off on South Carolina. It's just possible that a decade or two from now, we might want to install a statue of Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Excellent essay on the Rachel Dolezal controversy

Thought-provoking and insightful piece on Vox by Jenée Desmond-Harris:

We shouldn't be surprised that someone whose parents say she is white was able to present herself as black, with a few little tweaks to her appearance — like her hairstyles and what looks like a fake tan— that served as hints about her identity to people who saw her. (Marcia Dawkins, the author of Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identitytold me in a tweet that we should think of her art background combined with her use of cosmetics as "the technology of passing.")After all, race — the division of people into groups based on general geographical origins of their ancestors or descriptions of the way they look — isn't, contrary to popular opinion, some official, biological fact. It was invented part of a man-made strategy for making sense of treating some people better than others. Because it is an imperfect, messy system that wasn't thought through in great detail in the first place, there's often disagreement about who fits into any particular category, based on the way they look.
Read the rest here.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tomorrowland: the real thing?

Interesting in the days of the final episode of Mad Men to have another epic Coke commercial. I was actually surprised at the end when the United Colors of Benneton collection of geniuses and believers in the wheat field didn't burst into a rendition of "It's the Real Thing." George Clooney has teleported in from Syriana and Hugh Laurie is a Bunyanesque allegorical figure of Cynic (who looks like House in the uniform of The Little Prince). And why are all those robots from the future trying to kill people whose efforts to save the world are irrelevant anyway? All of that said, I actually enjoyed it, especially the two great kid female leads.EW: Tomorrowland--The Reviews are In

Monday, May 18, 2015

Plus ça change

"The time is fast approaching when Christianity will be almost as openly disavowed in the language as in fact it is already supposed to have disappeared from the conduct of men; when infidelity will be held to be the necessary appendage of a man of fashion, and to believe will be deemed the indication of a feeble mind and a contracted understanding." William Wilberforce, A Practical View... (1797), 375.