Category Archives: Current Affairs

My 2021 Booklist is a Big Bust, But Don’t Blame Frederick Douglass

For several years I’ve been keeping track of the books I read. In 2020, I did pretty well, kicking it off with an enormous biography of Beethoven, byJan Swafford.

I don’t look for takedowns in biographies; but spare me the hagiography. I’m an American who lived through the second half of the twentieth century; I’m used to flawed real-life heroes.

Thus I didn’t mind learning more about what a flop Ludwig was with women and, as I suspected, that he couldn’t manage money. It was actually amusing to find that, amid penning all the masterpieces, Beethoven found time (& need) to do plenty of hack work, like arranging a hundred-plus Scottish folksongs, just to keep up with those Vienna rents.

My book reading has slowed a lot this year; not sure why overall.
But I know when. In early December,  I started David Blight’s excellent biography of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom.

It won the Pulitzer for biography, and deserved it. Unfortunately, the book’s very excellence has worked against my finishing it. Continue reading My 2021 Booklist is a Big Bust, But Don’t Blame Frederick Douglass

Learning How Today’s World Works (& Doesn’t) Without Leaving Home

The truth is out there. But so are lies. This week, some pieces of the truth were emerging in a Minnesota courtroom. Here we pass that by with bowed head.

Other pieces, one being an enormous cargo ship, were emerging, or not, from the Suez Canal, and I can’t elide them. Or one piece in particular.

What I can’t avoid is that somewhere out there, but closer to the canal, I still believe —  is my bushing.

My what? Bushing. A small piece of machined metal. I think it would fit in my hands, maybe one hand. The cost should be between ten to thirty bucks.

It’s not really “my” bushing, though. It’s destined for our washing machine.

The device is a compact Haier washer/dryer combo, worked fine for eight years, til last December. Then it started making clanging noises, rocking back & forth, and finally the Fair Wendy shut it off before something melted down.

Okay, stuff happens. We called an appliance repair place; they’d come before, to fix the fridge. It took two visits: they had to order a part. But a few days later, as promised, they returned & got it done.

With the washer, it started the same: they tinkered & replaced something. But to finish, they needed a part. A bushing, for the tub inside.

They tapped a tablet, checked their shelves. It needed to be ordered.

No problem they said. A few days: they were in direct touch with the factory.

I knew this story: the “Just in time” system. Saves money in inventory & storage costs, and moves fast. Usually.

It had worked the first time. So okay.

But after two weeks, there was still no bushing, and the truth started to leak out. Continue reading Learning How Today’s World Works (& Doesn’t) Without Leaving Home

Drowning In Our Own Dirty Water

This is personal for me.

Also religious. The Quaker Meeting I attend is in the country between Burlington & Pittsboro NC. Those cities and my home town, Durham, is served by the contaminated Haw river. And I lived/worked in Fayetteville (near Fort Bragg) for more than a decade, where the Haw (called there the Cape Fear River) flows through the city, and water safety issues were continuous.

Spring Friends Meeting

The Quaker Meeting is called Spring. That’s because a small spring runs across part of its property.

A running spring is rich with quiet and reassuring spiritual symbolism (“living  water”). But we don’t drink from it. The spring may be picturesque —and there’s a good chance it’s not safe.

Water issues are not daily headlines here, but water anxiety is widespread. Every time I’m at the big box market, I see folks pushing carts loaded with the smaller plastic water bottles that the cognoscenti so despise. I don’t judge them.

Drinking water for my house comes from the reverse osmosis purifier at our nearby co-op market, in recycled gallon jugs

We can afford our jugfuls. What about those who can’t? Continue reading Drowning In Our Own Dirty Water

My Opening Day Confession

It’s Opening Day, and I have a confession to make.

Where has it gone? Will it ever come back?

It’s not an April Fool.

Here it is:

it’s Opening Day, and I don’t care.

And I’m not sure why.

Is it part of the pandemic hangover, part of the “Old Normal” that was ripped away from us a year ago, now lost somewhere amid the endless charts and graphs of debility and deaths? The exhaustion of these masked months continues, and has left me no spare “disk space” for wondering about trades and predictions and highlight reels.

Or is it another side effect of surviving the long brutal years of 45? That could be a big part of it. As the renegade Republican sage Rick Wilson put it in his first best-seller, Everything T—— Touches Dies. His reign certainly sucked the pleasure out of so many other things.  The toxicity of this anti-Midas touch was clearly in evidence by October 2019. That’s when the White House Occupant paid his sole visit to a game. Sports Illustrated told it plainly:

President Donald T—— was greeted with loud boos from the crowd at Game 5 of the World Series between the Nationals and Astros on Sunday.

T——was shown on the big screen at Nationals Park during the team’s salute to veterans after the third inning. Fans in attendance loudly yelled “lock him up,” a chant T—— supporters began in 2016 directed at his opponent and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. . . .

T——  did not sit with the Lerner family, the principal owners of the Nationals. According to WUSA, a representative for the Lerner family requested that MLB not put the family in a position to turn down a request from the White House to sit with Trump.

Except T——, every president since William Taft in 1910 has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch, either for Opening Day, the All-Star Game or the World Series. In 2010, President Obama threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Presidential Opening Day first pitches.
According to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, T——  decided not to throw out the ceremonial first pitch “in order to make the fan experience as positive as possible.”

Sunday marked T——‘s first [and last] major league game since he took office in 2017. [Note: Trigger word emended as a public health measure.]

Continue reading My Opening Day Confession

A Guest Post: Preserving the Work of a Photographer Who Documented Native Americans

This remarkable tribute is by Mark Schwartz, an attorney from Bryn Mawr PA. It is a remarkable tribute to the work and memory of a photographer friend, Christopher Cardozo, who in turn had made a career of preserving and paying tribute to the work of an earlier pioneering photographer-ethnographer. It was so striking i am posting it here, with Schwartz’s permission:

Christopher Cardozo: Foremost Authority on American Indian Ethnographer and Photographer Edward S. Curtis, died on February 21, 2021 in Minneapolis at age 72

Despite a family lineage in the law going back to Justice Benjamin Cardozo, Christopher Cardozo serendipitously took a very different path, candidly observing  that “I would probably be a walking malpractice suit”.

Born February 27, 1948, after graduating with a degree in photography and film from the University of Minnesota, a professor invited him to Oaxaca, Mexico to help make a film.  After taking five months to save up to buy a 10-year-old VW Beetle, camera lenses and film, Cardozo made the trek across the continent,  finally arriving only to be informed that his professor had  decided not to make the film. The curt apology was,  “I should have written.”

Notwithstanding, Cardozo stayed on in the remote Mexican village of  San Andres Chicahuzxla, Oaxaca, Mexico.

He spent six sometimes dangerous months in 1972 documenting a place and people who were losing their way. Chris’ sepia-toned images of the villagers prompted a friend to observe that his photos were remarkably similar to Edward Curtis’ work.

Christopher Cardozo with a portrait

His curiosity piqued, Cardozo furiously studied, acquired, exhibited and  replicated Curtis’ work. This became the making of a career spanning more than fifty years.

He thus became the foremost authority on Curtis. Cardozo came to realize,  “I was led to this. This was my soul’s purpose. Why I ended up on Earth at this particular time was to make this  work available to people.”

Edward Curtis’s exposure to Native American culture came some seventy years earlier than Cardozo’s parallel experience.   In the summer of 1900 , Curtis (1868-1952) witnessed one of the last performances of the  Blackfoot Indian Tribe’s “Sun Dance” ceremony. Ushered in to the lives of Native Americans , Edward Sheriff Curtis wrote “It’s such a big dream. I can’t see it all.” This became Cardozo’s catch phrase in sharing and perpetuating Curtis’ dream of preserving the history and legacy of these magnificent people.

Curtis had left a promising career as a society photographer to photograph Native Americans in their home lands. He spent three decades at this.

Smithsonian Magazine said:

At the beginning of the 20th century, Edward S. Curtis worked in the belief that he was in a desperate race against time to document, with film, sound and scholarship, the North American Indian before white expansion and the federal government destroyed what remained of their natives’ way of life.  For thirty years, with the backing of men like J. Pierpont Morgan and former president Theodore Roosevelt, but at great expense to his family life and his health, Curtis lived among dozens of native tribes, devoting his life to his calling.

Over the course of thirty years Curtis had compiled a photo-ethnographic study: The North American Indian. In 1911 the New York Herald characterized it as the most gigantic undertaking since the publication of the King James Edition of the Bible.

Consisting of  twenty leather-bound volumes,  twenty portfolios containing more than 2,200 original photogravures, and  4,000 pages of anthropological text. His attention to detail included transcriptions of tribal language and music,  and the work involved the active participation of  over 10,000 Native Americans.

Finalized in 1930, in the depth of the Great Depression, less than three hundred sets were actually produced with only two hundred actually sold. This published work was in addition to some  45,000 to 50,000 negatives (many on glass) , ten thousand wax cylinders of ceremonial music and language recordings, and motion picture footage, all taken by Curtis.

The magnum opus completed, having driven himself to the limit, Curtis lost everything,  suffering a physical and nervous breakdown in 1930. He died in 1952 essentially unknown and penniless.

“Northern Plains Brave 1905,” a portrait by Edward Curtis.

It was in the seventies, in large part owing to Cardozo’s activities, that Curtis’ work enjoyed a resurgence.

Summing up his own contribution, Cardozo told the Minneapolis Star & Tribune (12/18/18),

“I believe I was instrumental in changing the conversation about Curtis. He’d been thought of as an ethnographer….. But I got people to see his work as the artistic achievement that it was. The platinum prints, the gold tones, the cyanographs—they leave me speechless at times.”

Cardozo is the author of nine monographs on Edward Curtis, and has created and curated one-person Curtis exhibitions that have been seen in nearly one hundred venues in over forty countries, and on every continent, but Antarctica. Why? He summed up his vision in a Forbes interview:

Edward Curtis created the most valuable and sought-after set of rare books in US history and left the world a legacy of inestimable importance. It is a deeply human story which, at its essence, is imbued with beauty, heart, and spirit. I believe that in no small part, this is why these iconic images have endured for over a century. It also helps explain why Curtis is the most widely collected photographer in the 170 year history of the medium, and why his photographs have been exhibited to rave reviews all over the world, from Papua, New Guinea to Paris.

Having collected Curtis’s artwork for decades, Cardozo created the world’s largest and most broad-ranging Curtis collection. His personal collection has been exhibited in major museums internationally, and was the subject of his widely heralded monograph on Curtis: Sacred Legacy; Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian, and a new monograph on his personal collection titled Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks, in which Cardozo said

“Curtis’ work changed the way our nation viewed Native Americans and generated a broad-ranging dialogue for greater compassion, understanding, and inclusion. For more than a century, his images have moved and inspired diverse audiences, transcending economic, cultural, social, educational , and national boundaries. He accomplished this at a time when Native Americans were commonly viewed with disdain or hatred and some individuals were still actively advocating for the extinction of all Native peoples on the North American continent. Contributing to that work was Minnesota writer Louise Erdrich who wrote that Curtis’ images of women were “ as disquieting as they are profoundly beautiful.”

With the few remaining 160 sets of Curtis “The North American Indian”  financially and physically out of reach  of new generations of  scholars and students, Cardozo undertook the three-year painstaking task of artisan republication of  the 20-volume work and accompanying portfolios, so as to coincide with the 2018 sesquicentennial of Curtis’ birth.

With the republication accomplished, Cardozo, long bothered by the fact that he was a white man owning so much of Native America’s legacy, launched the “10,000 Print Repatriation Project”  to connect the descendants of those photographed with their ancestors’ images.

As the founder of Cardozo Fine Art in Minneapolis, he has pioneered techniques for preserving and revitalizing  historic photographs, as well as developing cutting edge techniques for contemporary photography. He was also the founder and board chair of the Edward S. Curtis Foundation,  dedicated to preserving and exhibiting the work of Edward Curtis. No one has done more to increase the awareness, understanding, and appreciation for Curtis’ work than Cardozo. Friends and family are committed to continuing his work.

Author Mark Schwartz.

Upon reaching the age of 70, he wanted to return full circle to his own photography which launched this incredible journey.

Christopher Cardozo is survived by his beloved Mother Patricia, Sisters Julie and Claudia, Brother Jeffrey, his Niece Brittany Lease (Lewis) and their children Alden, Ben and Milo.  Chris also has ten Goddaughters and Godsons with whom he shared many years of companionship and mentoring.  His network of friends, scholars and artistic colleagues knew him as a man with a lovely zest for life lived with no estimated time of arrival . . . .

 

 

Going Postal

One day, deep in the pit of my midlife angst, I saw a job notice on a bulletin board at the Merrifield postal facility. It was for a part-time EEO Investigator.

It was 1990, and for five years I had been moving mail in this enormous mail processing  center in the DC Virginia suburbs.

I was told, and I believe it, that every day six million pieces of mail came in at one end of the block-long-hangarlike facility, and that same day six million pieces needed to go out the other end. There were seasons of the mail, but like the nearby Potomac River, it never stopped.

The post office was good money and honest work, but I was desperate to get out. I wanted to write stuff about and for Quakers,  organize events, stir the pot. It was a harmless enough ambition, assuredly obscure; but it was mine.  Unfortunately, nobody was hiring for that.

The EEO gig would be a step up. At least it called on my civil rights experience from the Sixties. This would not be marches or jail, rather  the humdrum nitty gritty of their aftermath, making the legal progress work. (If it did.) Continue reading Going Postal

An Apology (not quite) to Senator Richard Burr

Yes, I admit it. I have often called North Carolina Senator Richard Burr a lazy & unresponsive legislator.

I mean, don’t you remember the landmark Burr Act to clean up hog waste & coal pollution in the state?

Me neither. Because there is no such thing.

I used to think that Burr’s main ”landmark” on Capitol Hill, from which he says he’s retiring next year, would be his effort to prevent the Senate Intelligence Committee from investigating the shameful & illegal U. S. torture program from the “War on Terror” years. When he failed in that, he later exerted himself to kill the finished report: no luck there either, though he did delay its full release.

Otherwise, I thought, Burr’s “career” would be remembered mainly for avoiding town hall meetings with actual citizens (as distinct from private  & profitable huddles with lobbyists). That and diligently growing his personal stock portfolio while in office in ways that hinted broadly of misuse of inside information.

If there’s ever a historic marker put up in Burr’s memory, the curious will have to search for it, and it will have plentiful blank space.

But despite all my “elite” blogger’s disdain, I have now been shown up as having grossly underestimated Burr’s legislative work ethic and its impact. The crushing exposé came in a report in  the New York Times on March 22, 2021.  

It turns out that Burr is quite capable of working like a dog, by golly a determined attack dog at that. The Times even has the paperwork covered with bite marks to prove it.

I apologize for the error.

Of course, it had to be just the right burning, moral, lives-are-at-stake issue to get Burr to jump the leash and put down the stock market reports.

But three years ago, he found  it, sho nuff. Continue reading An Apology (not quite) to Senator Richard Burr

The Island Ponies & The Real Mustangs

First, from the Raleigh NC News & Observer:

A wild horse that roamed North Carolina’s Outer Banks has died, a group that manages her herd says.

The mare, nicknamed Dusty, died at age 25, the Foundation for Shackleford Horses wrote Saturday on Facebook. She was “one of the grand dames of the wild herd” that lives on the Shackleford Banks, which is the southernmost island on Cape Lookout National Seashore. . . .

“Rest well, run free, old girl,” the group said of Dusty’s death.

More than 100 wild horses live on Shackleford Banks, according to the National Park Service, which co-manages the herd with the foundation. . . . .”

I once visited another “wild” band, on Assateague Island, another link in the same outer banks chain with its own band of “wild” horses.

A “wild” pony on Assateague.

I remember it well. The horses stood around, lounged really, under the watchful gaze of uniformed park rangers. They let my kids walk up and stroke their long necks. Numerous signs told us what to do and not do around them, especially not feed them. The feds made sure they got proper nutrition. About the only thing they had to fear was hurricanes.

When we left, the kids were puzzled at my dismissive comment: “They’re not ‘wild horses,’” I snorted. “They’re Welfare Ponies.”

This disdain reflected memories of my other previous visit with such a band, which happened in 1977, almost 3000 miles west, under starkly different conditions: not the cosseted, beach-surrounded, foundation-protected eight square mile sliver of Shackleford. Instead they roamed a vast chunk of windswept & sunburnt high desert, almost 900 times as large. There was more wilderness in all directions beyond it. No upscale shorefront condos over the next rise; instead threats of death on every side.

Starvation and thirst stalk them relentlessly,  as do hunters with battered cowboy hats, well-oiled rifles, and utter contempt for any government beyond (maybe) a distant county sheriff. Most of the land is federally-owned, and land management agents were scattered across the region, but they kept a low profile, and were not from the National Park Service.

Recalling  the expedition into these other horses’ domain,  the phrase that comes to mind  is from the gospel, of John, The Wind Bloweth Where It Will.   Let me explain why. Continue reading The Island Ponies & The Real Mustangs

That N-Word. I’m Going to Say It. Right Now. It’s time.

Negro.

There. I said it.

You were expecting that other N-word? The unspeakable?

Nope. But it’s timely to take note of this one.

Over time, words change meaning & status. Ninety-one years ago, on March 7, 1930, Negro became a thing. Or rather, a proper noun.

Such changes are often mysterious.  Supreme Court rulings don’t make them. Congress doesn’t pass them. They don’t come down from Sinai on stone tablets.

Though in the case of Negro, almost.

How do I know Negro arrived today in 1930? Easy:
The New York Times told me so.

There was a lot going on in 1930. The “Great” Depression had thrown millions out of work. Its impact fed labor unrest and political radicalism, some violent. Herbert Hoover was under siege in the White House. In India, the British Empire was too.

In the U. S. that year, there was a sudden increase in lynchings, which had previously been in decline: 21 were recorded, and 20  of the victims were black.  Late that year 26 southern white women created the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, which they kept segregated because, “only white women could persuade other white women” to join them . . . .”

Withal, the Times nevertheless took a moment to update its style book.

The notice is right there, in the March 7 issue, on page 20. In the fifth column of a six-column layout, halfway down. Not exactly a ticker tape parade with elaborate floats and ranks of blaring trumpets. But official enough.

The notice continues: “certain popular and social traditions have resisted this tendency. Races have their capitalized distinction, as have nationalities, sects and cults, tribes and clans. It therefore seems reasonable that a people who had once a proud designation, such as Ethiopians, reaching back into the dawn of history, having come up out of the slavery to which men of English speech subjected them, should now have such recognition as the lifting of the name from the lower case into the upper can give them. Major

Of course, there’s a back story here.

Pauli Murray, who is just now gaining some long overdue recognition for her amazing career and life, was then a militant advocate of the change. She wrote later:

I was born during the era when “Colored” was the prevalent usage, along with the ignominious lowercase “negro,” which I passionately hated because the absence of capitalization conveyed the status of a thing and not a person.

During my  college days in the early 1930s I routinely went through my textbooks, using a fountain pen to change the small n to capital N wherever I  encountered the  term “negro.”

Pauli Murray (1910-1985), from a public mural in her hometown of Durham NC.

My generation of activists was part of a long struggle  to  elevate the designation to its  capitalized  form, so that “Negro” became a mark  of dignity  and  respect.

The Times didn’t notice or heed Murray, who in 1930, was an unknown, impoverished, but brilliant student at Hunter College. But the paper did notice the man who was regarded (by elite whites) as the official spokesman of “his people”. That was Major:

All this is very high-minded; but I suspect there is more to the back story. Consider:

In those days, black voters were few, especially in the South, but in a national election they were not irrelevant. In 1928, Moton had supported Republican Herbert Hoover for president; most black voters, remembering Lincoln and emancipation, were Republicans.

Hoover had promised to include more blacks in his administration, and in particular to bring aid to black flood refugees trapped in a levee camp after disastrous 1927 floods in Mississippi. But once elected, Hoover double-crossed Moton and the refugees.

Moton got even, though. In 1932 he switched parties and backed Franklin Roosevelt, who beat Hoover decisively. Moton’s biographer asserts his switch marked the beginning of a move by back voters en masse into the Democratic camp, where they remain pillars today.

The Times had long backed Democratic presidential candidates. Was their openness to Moton’s request part of the courtship that drew him away from the old GOP allegiance?

In any event the Times was ready  to do what Moton recommended:

Pauli Murray was among those who was gratified:

“That struggle was finally won when textbook writers and newspapers adopted uppercase “Negro” in the late 1930s, and official government publications followed suit in the middle and late 1940s.”

“Negro”with a capital N had a pretty good run, about thirty years. Another “Negro leader” who considered it an advance was Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who proudly used it until his death in 1968.

Not only that, even many white southern politicians, including the notorious George Wallace of Alabama, learned (with obvious effort) to pronounce “Knee-grow” clearly enough to make linguistic space between it and the cognate slurs they had been repeating for decades.

But as we said at the beginning, language and usages change, and not by any orderly or fair, process. By the time Dr. King was buried, “Negro” was under pressure, not from segregationists, but from a new generation of militants for whom it was a term for fuddy-duddies and an over-the-hill black establishment.

One of the many targets of this younger impatient militance was a now older militant, who had overcome many obstacles to make it through law school, and then do outstanding work on the historic 1954 Brown school desegregation case, and raised pioneering hell on many other issues (too many to do justice to here), who was now teaching civil rights courses at Brandeis University, Pauli Murray:

Symbolic of the heightened racial consciousness that invaded the class­ room was an exchange with one of the . . . students which threatened to disrupt my class on my first day of teaching. I was outlining the content of the course when a young man interrupted me with the question, “Why do you keep saying ‘Knee-grows’ when you’re talking about black peo­ple?”

The young man’s querulous inquiry caught me off guard. I was having my usual first-day jitters, meeting a strange class in a new setting, and in a combative manner embarrassed me. I explained that “Negro” was a legitimate usage, a proper noun adopted by scholars and official government publications, and was preferred by many people, including me.

The young militant was unmoved. Pauli Murray stuck to her convictions, but she was clearly on the losing side of that usage struggle. She died in 1985, content, it’s reported, but not for that reason. And she was preserved thereby from reading releases like this one, from January 2008:

UNCF Adopts New Brand Identity, Without the Word ‘Negro’

In its new logo unveiled Thursday, the United Negro College Fund has dropped its full name, opting to go as UNCF as part of a branding strategy that conveys the organization as a contemporary and progressive advocate of Blacks in higher education while also maintaining its heritage.

During the four-year effort to update its logo, UNCF officials heard suggestions that it change its name, Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF president and CEO, said during a press conference at Spelman College to announce the new brand identity.

“One of the issues in the full name, African-Americans don’t view themselves as Negros,” Lomax said, recounting a conversation in which editors and writers at VIBE magazine told him the name is not “speaking to the hip-hop generation.”

“For most young people, it is a barrier,” Lomax said. “We’ve found the happy medium.”

About the only consolation Pauli Murray and the other champions of “Negro with a Capital N” can take is that history shows that the wheel of language usage keeps on turning, so who knows if or when it might be back.

Oh, and by the way, it’s good thing the Times acknowledged it was late to the “Negro” party, even in 1930.

The issue shows elsewhere that the paper was hardly a pioneer. Indeed, the Times didn’t hire a Negro/Black/African American reporter until 1966. His name was Thomas Johnson.

Do You Speak legislativ-ese? Me Neither.

Waiting for Spring in Washington, 2021.

Quote of the Weekend: Here’s the part of the COVID Relief Bill we’ve all been waiting for (in case you nodded off listening to it being read aloud in the Senate):

“subsection (a)(1) of such section 314 shall be applied by substituting ‘91 percent’ for ‘89 percent’” and “without regard to requirements in sections 658E(c)(3)(E) or 658G of such Act (42 U.S.C. 9858c(c)(3), 9858e).”


Those are actual excerpts from the Covid relief bill.

Ok, I’m kidding. Continue reading Do You Speak legislativ-ese? Me Neither.