Category Archives: Signs of the Times

McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

I have to start here by repeating a caveat, best stated by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce:

“It has been fashionable for a while now to place McCain somehow above politics; the “maverick” thing was based on a sparse list of examples. There was the campaign finance law that he championed with Russ Feingold, a law that lies now in ruins because of judges for whom John McCain loyally voted. He campaigned vigorously to give the president a line-item veto until a Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist explained forcefully that such a measure was hilariously unconstitutional. He thoroughly supported Reagan’s adventurism in Central America, was a protege of Henry Kissinger, got snagged in the Keating 5 corruption and became a campaign-finance reformer only after skating on that episode more cleanly than the other four miscreants, one of whom was John Glenn. He was a reliable Republican vote on every nomination and every policy that evidenced the Republican Party’s slow slide into madness and chaos and he was unable and not a talented enough politician to stop it.

All true, sadly. Yet Pierce, who differed sharply with McCain on Continue reading McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

John Jeffress Remembrance Day: August 25, 1920

We don’t have a picture of John Jeffress, at least I haven’t found one.  Same for personal background: where he was from, when he was born. We only have a report about his end, which came on this date, august 25,  98 years ago.

This report was published in several papers on August 26, 2018:

Sheriff Storey and Jeffress were in Graham NC, the seat of Alamance County. When they turned toward the courthouse, they passed near this Confederate memorial, 30 feet high including the statue on the top, which had already been standing for six years.

On the monument’s south face: “ON FAME’S ETERNAL CAMPING GROUND, THEIR SILENT TENTS ARE SPREAD, AND GLORY GUARDS, WITH SOLEMN ROUND, THE BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD.”

At this point, the crowd made its move:

In the version of this report published in the Charlotte NC News, additional details were included:

Sheriff Story [sic] and his six assistants started with Jeffress to the courthouse one block away. Arriving at the spot where Ray was killed, a mob formed around the Officers and their prisoner. There was a sudden surge forward and in the twinkling of an eye, according to the sheriff, the prisoner had been taken from the officers and was placed in an automobile and rushed away. There was not a shot fired: not even a gun drawn during the minute scuffle between the mob and officers. 

A photo published in 1964, when Storey died.

Sheriff Story said tonight that resistance would have been folly as the mob was made up of between 25 and 50 determined men. There were at least 150 additional men nearby whose sympathies were with the mob, he stated tonight. Answering a. direct question, Sheriff Story declared that he did not know anyone in the mob. The man who led the mob and took the prisoner away, the sheriff said, must have just moved into the county and was not known to him. 

There were no arrests or prosecutions after this killing. And there is no memorial to John Jeffress in Alamance County. There was none anywhere — until this spring. In Montgomery, Alabama, the Equal Justice Initiative opened what it called the National Memorial for Peace & Justice.

In this unique structure, there are 800 pillars, one for each county where the founders could verify a lynching. Names of the know victims are engraved on the pillars.

That, of course, includes Alamance County, NC. and on the Alamance pillar, there is one name:

The fact that we know this much (or this little) about John Jeffress is because in those years, a century and more ago, the young (and often denounced as “radical”) NAACP was compiling a record. It often hung this flag outside its New York office:

The Equal Justice Initiative, sponsors of the Montgomery Memorial, is encouraging persons elsewhere to remember these “erased” crimes.

The Charlotte News editor, whoever it was, gets a bit of credit with their account:

“The crime for which the young negro was put to death is, alleged to have been committed at 10 o’clock yesterday morning, near the child’s home. Cries of her mother, it is said, caused the negro to run, leaving the little girl without serious injury.”

At least he said “alleged.” This entire affair began about 10 AM, and was over by shortly after 3 PM. Jeffress was on his way to be arraigned, formally charged, when he was snatched and then killed. No arraignment, no trial, no evidence, no defense, nothing.

Is all this far in the past, better left alone? I snapped the photo below outside a McDonalds in Graham a few months ago.

I don’t have a bumpersticker for John Jeffress. But I can contribute this remembrance.

A sculpture at the National Memorial for Peace & Justice, Montgomery, Alabama.

Dog Days True Tales: Vietnam & the Secret Life of Pizza

In the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary, there’s an episode which is called “Things Fall Apart.” It appears to center on an incident of violence during the January, 1968 Tet Offensive that produced one of the most unforgettable images of the war. This image still produces intense reactions.  Indeed, this photo was back on the front pages after that Ken Burns episode.

And I have something to say about that.

Not commentary, exactly, or film criticism. More of a footnote. A real-life footnote. It’s not in Burns’s documentary, and I’ve changed a name or two. But what follows is as true as when I lived it. I’ve called it “The Secret Life of Pizza,” and the connection to Vietnam will be clear enough in short order.

Continue reading Dog Days True Tales: Vietnam & the Secret Life of Pizza

Dog Days Meditation: Bartram Faces a Murderer

Friend William Bartram traveled, mainly alone, through much of the American southeast, between 1773 and 1777, looking for collecting, and drawing plants, wildlife, and the occasional Indian. His book based on these journeys was published in 1791. Here is another excerpt:

IT may be proper to observe, that I had now passed the utmost frontier of the white settlements on that border.

It was drawing on towards the close of day, the skies serene and calm, the air temperately cool, and gentle zephyrs breathing through the fragrant pines; the prospect around enchantingly varied and beautiful; endless green savannas, checquered with coppices of fragrant shrubs, filled the air with the richest perfume.

The gaily attired plants which enamelled the green had begun to imbibe the pearly dew of evening; nature seemed silent, and nothing appeared to ruffle the happy moments of evening contemplation: when, on a sudden, an Indian appeared crossing the path, at a considerable distance before me. Continue reading Dog Days Meditation: Bartram Faces a Murderer

Who Will Save Our Bacon? China Is Winning Its War With The U.S.

I’m reading more & more pieces like this one from the August 21, 2018 NY Times.

Yet they usually are not prefaced by what I think is the store of ancient Chinese wisdom that explains them all, namely, these quotes from Sun Tzu, in his classic text, The Art of War. (As it’s more than 2000 years old, it’s easy to find The Art of War online, complete & free. Here’s one edition.
I’m told Chinese strategists & planners treat it like the Bible, and I believe it. But good news for interested newcomers: it’s a whole lot shorter than the Western Bible.) Here’s a key quote:
 
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. . . . In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. . . .
Now to the New York Times:
“Fears are growing that China is using its overseas spending spree to gain footholds in some of the world’s most strategic places, and perhaps even deliberately luring vulnerable nations into debt traps to increase China’s dominion as the United States’ influence fades in the developing world.
“The Chinese must have been thinking, ‘We can pick things up for cheap here,’” said Khor Yu Leng, a Malaysian political economist who has been researching China’s investments in Southeast Asia. “They’ve got enough patient capital to play the long game, wait for the local boys to overextend and then come in and take all that equity for China.”
NOTE: “The long game.” Such campaigns take awhile, But it sure looks to me like this one is working: bit by bit, billion (yuan) by billion, without “war,” but to the same end. Yet why have I not seen the pundits and the poohbahs taking account of these concepts? Sun Tzu said that such understanding makes a crucial difference:
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. . . .
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.This is the method of attacking by stratagem . . . .”
Back to The Times:
 
KUANTAN, Malaysia — In the world’s most vital maritime chokepoint, through which much of Asian trade passes, a Chinese power company is investing in a deepwater port large enough to host an aircraft carrier. Another state-owned Chinese company is revamping a harbor along the fiercely contested South China Sea.

Nearby, a rail network mostly financed by a Chinese government bank is being built to speed Chinese goods along a new Silk Road. And a Chinese developer is creating four artificial islands that could become home to nearly three-quarters of a million people and are being heavily marketed to Chinese citizens.

Each of these projects is being built in Malaysia, a Southeast Asian democracy at the heart of China’s effort to gain global influence.

But where Malaysia once led the pack in courting Chinese investment, it is now on the front edge of a new phenomenon: a pushback against Beijing as nations fear becoming overly indebted for projects that are neither viable nor necessary — except in their strategic value to China or use in propping up friendly strongmen. . . .”

NOTE: Malaysia is far away from me, here in North Carolina. So let’s add one more example, closer to home, and down home in initial ambiance:
The Smithfield Packing Company has its main meat processing plant in Tar Heel NC, a hamlet just off Interstate 95 near Fayetteville.

This photo hardly does justice to the ginormous megascale of the operation. The plant covers 973,000 square feet. Inside it approximately 32,000 hogs per day are slaughtered and processed, more than 3-million plus per year. It’s credibly reputed to be the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world.

That’s a heck of a lot of bacon. And it’s owned by a Chinese company, the WH Group, which snapped it up in 2013 for a mere $4-plus billion.

There could be many more examples, inside & outside the U.S.

Now, I admit I’m not an expert on China, or big time strategy, or even Sun Tzu.  But I know what I know, and see what I see.

And I see, too many Americans are lost in their social media underbrush, or haggling over a narcissist’s ignorant tweets. Also in the  meantime, a longtime pork belly fan like myself is blithely crunching the crispy rashers. And even I hardly ever remember these punch line paragraphs from this old wise guy:

Sun Tzu:  Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

 In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.

And when the showdown suddenly comes (either in the Oval Office or at my favorite diner), I figure it will happen like this: “Your bacon, or your Bill of Rights. (Oh, by the way, your grandchildren will now be required to learn Chinese).”

Then, what am I (or they) going to say?

I’d say, “But wait; aren’t we supposed to have a war about this first?”

The reply will come with a condescending smile: “We already did. And you lost.
Here’s your new flag.”

David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

Another Eminent Pacifist leader Is Gone: David McReynolds
 
I only sort of knew David McReynolds, but he hovered significantly in the background of peace work during my apprenticeship in the Vietnam years.
David McReynolds, pacifist organizer stalwart, October 25, 1929- August 17, 2018.

My most vivid memory of David was not a personal encounter, but in the pages of WIN Magazine, a “radical pacifist” journal published by the War Resisters League. In 1969 he joined several other elder eminences in coming out there. These were the first confrontations I had had with homosexuals as sympathetic figures and colleagues.

 His article was more personal than political, often embarrassed about how much his struggles in and out of the closet had cut into his driving impulse to organize nonviolent action against war and imperialism. Its candor and humility cut right through my unthinking, reflexive homophobia, pointing a way forward from it which I have worked ever since to follow.

Continue reading David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

Shooting Holes In Justice: Emmett Till & Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorials

Some Folks aren’t satisfied with killing people of color; they want to kill the memory of these murders too.

Take Emmett Till, Kidnapped & murdered in Mississippi in 1955,  after someone said the 14 year-old may have whistled at a white woman. His tortured and body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River days later; it took a jury one hour to acquit the men charged with the killing.  Outrage generated by the case gave a boost to civil rights struggles.

In 2007, county leaders established the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to memorialize Till and remember the case and what it represented. The center erected a sign in a rural area near the bank of the river where Till’s body was recovered. But that sign was soon stolen and never recovered.

A second sign was put up. before long, it was full of bullet holes.

This sign was eventually moved inside the Center, itself becoming an object for reflection. And not long ago, a new sign was put up.

The new sign is now collecting bullet holes. This image is only a few days old.

Such posthumous assaults are not limited to Mississippi. In February, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was unarmed, was shot by a state trooper in an attack on a night march during the  historic voting rights campaign based in nearby Selma,.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s funeral service, March 3, 1965. His death sparked the Selma-Montgomery march, which helped win the Voting Rights act.

Jackson was buried in a small cemetery near Alabama Highway 14 on the outskirts of Marion. His large headstone is impressively carved with a figure of Jesus keeping vigil.

It too has been hit  by numerous bullets. One knocked a chunk off the top, and seven or eight more are visible on close examination, in this 2015 photo.

Emmett Till’s killers walked completely free. The Alabama trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Fowler, shot and killed a second unarmed young black man in 1966. But forty-five years later, Fowler was convicted of manslaughter, and served several months in jail, before being released due to ill health.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, left. James Fowler, right.

The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, has plans to expand its facility and programs, and upgrade security.

Memories aren’t bulletproof. But they don’t die easily.

 

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.

In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.

Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:

 here,  here,  here , here & here.

Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court  become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial. Continue reading Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

New Split, Old Issue: Same Sex Marriage Rends Wilmington YM

An Interview with Stephen Angell. Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion.

NOTE: Wilmington Yearly Meeting comprises three Quarterly Meetings, two in southwest Ohio, and a third in eastern Tennessee, three hundred miles south. The group is mostly pastoral and programmed, and has been affiliated with Friends United Meeting.

A Friendly Letter (AFL):  Steve Angell (SA), thanks for doing this. So give us the scoop: has there been yet another yearly meeting split? Which one, when, and about what?

SA: The topic today is Wilmington Yearly Meeting, one of the smallest North American yearly meetings in Friends United Meeting. Its congregations are located in southwestern Ohio and Tennessee. ( A history of WYM to 1940 is online here.) The controversy is longstanding, and the background to the current difficulties is covered in Quaker Theology #30-31.

But the current intense phase arose in September 2016, when Cincinnati Friends Meeting, a semi-programmed meeting, held a wedding under its care for two women.

This event stirred up controversy over a set of issues that we’ve seen before, including Biblical interpretation, the authority of the yearly meeting, and the autonomy of monthly meetings.

Continue reading New Split, Old Issue: Same Sex Marriage Rends Wilmington YM

Dandruff on the Boss’s shoulder: Friends Central School Strikes Back

The boss has landed the key appointment with the Big Man. He’s almost ready, wearing his special suit.

Just before the Big Man’s secretary opens the office door, the Boss’s assistant notices a tiny white speck on the Boss’s shoulder. The assistant moves fast, raising a hand, ready to brush–

But the Boss is already walking through the door. The assistant sees him reach out to shake the hand of the Big Man–

Dominance behavior: flicking dandruff of an inferior’s clothing.

And then–OMG!–the Big Man is raising his hand, and flicking the speck of dandruff off the Boss’s suit himself.

Oh, the shame. the humiliation. The assistant stands frozen. Of course the instant has been recorded by cameras that will flash it all over the world in minutes. The assistant imagines his career crumbing right before his eyes.

Yeah, this is a clumsy parable of the next round in the Friends Central School (FCS) discrimination lawsuit. Continue reading Dandruff on the Boss’s shoulder: Friends Central School Strikes Back