Friday, December 4, 2015

'The Last Fight'

Rest in peace, Scott Weiland.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


"When we finally find what we have been looking for in the darkness, we nearly always discover that it was exactly that. Darkness."  
- C.G. Reinhart, Police Officer (h/t Hakan Nesser, Mind's Eye)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

TDIH: Rosa Parks, 60 Years

A message from President Obama on the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks' arrest:

Office of the Press Secretary
December 1, 2015

Statement by the President

Rosa Parks held no elected office.  She was not born into wealth or power.  Yet sixty years ago today, Rosa Parks changed America.  Refusing to give up a seat on a segregated bus was the simplest of gestures, but her grace, dignity, and refusal to tolerate injustice helped spark a Civil Rights Movement that spread across America.  Just a few days after Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, a little-known, 26 year-old pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. stood by her side, along with thousands of her fellow citizens.  Together, they began a boycott.  Three-hundred and eighty-five days later, the Montgomery buses were desegregated, and the entire foundation of Jim Crow began to crumble. 

Like so many giants of her age, Rosa Parks is no longer with us.  But her lifetime of activism – and her singular moment of courage – continue to inspire us today.  Rosa Parks reminds us that there is always something we can do.  It is always within our power to make America better.  Because Rosa Parks kept her seat, thousands of ordinary commuters walked instead of rode.  Because they walked, countless other quiet heroes marched.  Because they marched, our union is more perfect.  Today, we remember their heroism.  Most of all, we recommit ourselves to continuing their march. 
While 60 years and the story of Rosa Parks seems but a 20th century wonder, a time in which we have moved irrevocably past, there are similarities between that day and the Montgomery bus boycott and now.

NPR did a recent story on the state of public transit in Montgomery, Alabama in 2015 which revealed disturbing details of a system underfunded and poorly thought of by those holding the state purse. Bus fare is $2, discounted by half for seniors and students. Annual fares bring in less than $1 million a year and the Montgomery transit system costs approximately $6 million. Reliance on the government, whether local, state or national, has left the system running in the red.

When President Obama says "we recommit ourselves to continuing their march," he isn't speaking just of the work of those who ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he is speaking of the larger end to Jim Crow and the segregated South. However, that end is less a set point on a timeline of history as its blurry edges are seen in the South today. Both in the ways the NPR piece portrayed, but also in the devastating blow the Supreme Court leveled against the Voting Rights Act in 2014 that caused several states to react abhorrently.

60 years on and the battle for racial equality rages on.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ranae Stallings, 1943-2015

If, as Henry James said, the three most important things in life are to be kind, be kind and be kind, Ranae Stallings had life mastered.

There was no kinder soul than Ranae. As a politician's wife she must have greeted thousands of people over the years, some she agreed with, some she didn't, but never did ideology stand in the way of her innate kindness. On the campaign trail with her husband, four-term former Idaho Rep. Richard Stallings, constituents would eagerly tell the story of how Richard helped them get their Social Security checks or nominated them to one of the service academies. As they spoke of his helpfulness, they almost always remarked on the kindness of his wife who also happened to be his scheduling secretary. She is remembered as being as pivotal to the success of their cases as he was.

In Idaho politics there has been no more respected and powerful political partnership than that of Frank and Bethine Church. Behind everything Frank did was his supportive wife who, with her family's political clout and causes of her own, not so quietly pushed him forward. The partnership of Richard and Ranae Stallings may never have been as flashy or memorable as that of Frank and Bethine, but it has been just as admirable. Nearly fifty-two years of marriage, twelve years in Congress, twelve political campaigns, three children and many grandchildren--all extremely respectable for two humble people who met in an LDS Institute class at Weber State College.

While so many people knew Ranae as the quiet supporter of a political husband, the kind handshake and warm smile that accompanied them both everywhere, they don't always know enough to appreciate the sacrifices she made to be by Richard's side. From leaving college so that her young, ambitious other half could complete a graduate degree while teaching high school in Odgen to uprooting her life and the life of her youngest child to follow her newly-elected husband to Washington, D.C., Ranae sacrificed much and never complained. Even during the 2014 campaign when Richard threw himself into a congressional race that was doomed from the start, disagreeing with the decision to run, she still stood beside him and only ever commented on how much easier it was to run a congressional race when they were in their 40s.

There are married couples who, after years together, cannot be thought of separately in the minds of those who know them. As her husband alluded to in his touching tribute to her, this was the case for them as much as it has been for those who know them. Imagining Richard without Ranae is a heartbreaking task left to those of us who loved her and loved the two of them together. It is difficult, yes, but in no way comparable to the struggle of Richard himself as he goes forward in this world without the love of his life by his side.

Each person touched by Ranae will forever remember her kindness, intellect and unwavering support of Richard. And Idaho will remember her for the devotion and sacrifice she offered her state and for the love she gave unconditionally to the man who served us so well.

Ranae Garner Stallings
1943 - 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015

'Heritage Not Hate' and Other Fallacies

In 1909, my great-great-great grandfather began a journal entry that would outlive him by many generations. At the age of seventy-seven, J.N. Taylor described for his children and theirs his experience in the Civil War as a soldier for the Confederacy. Those experiences included one in particular that took place on the day of April 9, 1865. That event was the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House.

Having enlisted in 1861, Taylor served for two years before going on furlough. He would then return to the war and serve until the surrender at war's end. He fought in the Battle of Appomattox Court House on the morning of the surrender. Born and raised in Georgia, the thirty-three year old would walk home following the surrender and the end of what were the most important years of his adult life.

Google Maps approximation
Writing about the walk home, Taylor said: "I walked from Appomattox Courthouse to Milledgeville I road [sic] from there to Stevens Pottery two miles home." Imagine walking 438 miles in tattered clothing, your weapons having been surrendered, no money to your name and no idea what your life would be with the war behind you. Google Maps says that distance would take 145 hours.

That walk home found itself portrayed with as many words, if not more, as the surrender itself. I have often wondered if he had written his memories down nearer to the end of the war if he wouldn't have voiced his disappointment in the outcome. He had fought valiantly for the Confederate States of America and they had been defeated by the the great Union Army, an outcome that would begin the uniting of a fractured country, a uniting that current events proves we are still working toward today.

About the surrender, Taylor wrote:
"In my seeing I saw General Lee surrender at Appomattox I saw him walk a few paces in front of a squad of men took out his sword and stuck it in the ground and walked back and talked to the men whom I thought was General Grant and staff I saw them get on their horses and road [sic] off towards Richmond then after that I saw the end of the war I saw about 500 men a fiting [sic] fist and skull of Yanks and Rebels and after we started for home without a mouthful to eat for about 120 miles we went about 3 or 4 miles and then we came to a mill and we pressed 2 bushels of mint we went into the woods and cooked and don’t  you forget we had something to eat."
Journal entry of J.N. Taylor
What he didn't write in his journal was what, like the paper he put pen to, would outlive him by many generations: A deep-seated prejudice. 

This man, born in 1838, never stepped foot north of the Mason-Dixon line. His kin would not leave Georgia for two more generations. And with them to eastern Idaho they took the prejudice that had been instilled in their ancestor since even before his time of service as a Confederate solider.

In the news cycle centering on the Confederate battle flag, I have often thought of my ancestor and wondered if those who continue to espouse the belief that there is no hatred attached to the flag they proudly fly would extend their so-called right to display it to a northerner like myself who, like them, had an ancestor fighting for the Confederacy. Isn't it my heritage, too? And if so, why do I, and presumably many Americans who likely have some connection in their lineage to southern soldiers, find the sight of that flag so jarring and offensive?

The answer to why I find the flag offensive is complex, perhaps made more complex by my understanding of American history. Sometimes it is visceral. But also, as is the case for many with this issue, it is quite personal. Obviously, I didn't live through the Civil War. I never saw my country attempt to heal as the Reconstruction was rife with hostility and bitterness. I have only read about the African-Americans who had to endure the Klu Klux Klan marching through the streets of their towns and neighborhoods, setting fire to crosses, waving that flag as they terrorized a community and often turned to lynchings. I never saw the menacing red and blue flag carried by children as I marched through Selma and other cities of the former Confederacy. My own life has been blessed with a distance from that level of hatred, but not completely distant. I was a child during the rise of neo-Nazis in the Pacific Northwest in the 90s. My childhood saw a scattering of right-wing domestic terrorism that often cloaked itself in the colors of that flag. That flag was not a relic in a museum as far as I was concerned. It was completely obvious to me what it stood for.

Even as a young child in the vast white population of Idaho, I knew what racism was. My earliest encounters with individual racism (rather than that of hate groups or institutions) could be traced back to the man who wrote in his diary about the day his service in the Confederate army ended. 

Journal entry of J.N. Taylor,
My great-grandmother, the granddaughter of J.N. Taylor, was a racist. I say that without any hesitation because I grew up knowing this to be true. The first time I realized this was as a child, no older than ten. I had been watching boxing with my grandfather fairly often and knew that he got his love of the sport from his mother. What I didn't know until watching it with both of them was why she loved the sport. To paraphrase a disgusting and highly disturbing statement she often made, she loved watching black men beat the hell out of each other. Of course, she didn't offer them the courtesy of calling them black or men. As disturbing as what she had said with my young ears present was that my grandfather didn't admonish her or later take me aside for a teaching moment. 

This wasn't the only time that one of them said something particularly racist in my presence and while words can be overcome, actions often cannot. In addition to speaking her racist beliefs, my great-grandmother lived her life by them. In her later years, she was one of those grandmothers who prided herself on the number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren she had. Despite that personal pride, her underlying belief in the supremacy of the white race could not be overcome. My younger brother and I, both adopted, were not included in her tally of great-grandchildren because we were not blood. Not only were we not blood, there was no way to determine what kind of blood we did have. While we were obviously Caucasian, we could have had Asian, Native American or some "other" tainted DNA. Whatever bitterness I might have carried both before and after I understood why I was singled out in this way was at times lessened by knowing she had been as terrible to her own son. Her son married a Hispanic woman, having met her in Mexico, and they had children together. Imagine my great-grandmother's response to that abomination.

To my grandfather's credit, he allowed the influence of his liberal, tolerant wife to curb his own racism. She might have threatened him with his life if he spoke a racist word in front of the grandchildren for all I know, but it worked. In my childhood I can count on one hand the times he voiced something untoward. As it tends to happen, the generation between he and his mother was useful in changing the words he spoke, if not his heart.

Gone With the Wind, 1939
My great-grandmother's ties to Georgia and her husband's ties to North Carolina may not live inside me in the way someone born and raised in the south today might experience. I do not feel attached to southern heritage, despite my lineage. But like a child of the south, I am daily reminded of a period in our history that is now being both romanticized and defended by those who mistakenly believe the rebel flag represents only that time (to further understand why I say mistakenly: see Ta-nehisi Coates). Why? Because of a movie that was released in 1939.

Yes, every day I am reminded of what is one of the most romanticized and yet controversial films in American cinematic history. I was named after the fictional plantation created by writer Margaret Mitchell and brought to life on film by David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming in Gone With the Wind. A fictional plantation that subsisted on the backs of slaves. The film itself is riddled with historical inaccuracies and the bigger issue of romanticizing slavery, the treasonous act that fractured our nation leading us to civil war, and a reverence for Reconstruction and the perseverance of the South. This doesn't even begin to address the horrendous way that black actors were treated during the filming and production of the film decades after the events being depicted.

Did the lineage of my mother lead her to obsession with the film? Of course not. However, the things she must have grown up hearing from the mouth of her own father and grandmother must have made her far less sensitive to the atrocities the film viewed with rose-colored lens. Take a moment to consider this: Mitchell told the story of General Sherman's march to the Atlantic with the humanity of evacuating the white characters prior to brutal scorched earth warfare arriving at the plantation, but left the nearly 100 slaves of the plantation unprotected. They were nothing more than cattle. Facts like this, largely ignored by its fans, continue to be why historians argue about the film today.

I am not willing to ignore the revisionist history in a film any more than I am willing to ignore it in a conversation about a flag that flies tonight over the statehouse in South Carolina. It does not make a difference that my ancestor fought for an ideal attached to that flag. It does not make me romantic about a time in the south simply because of my name, either. Nor should it any other American. If we ever hope to heal the racial wounds of our country, we can't allow the lie of what a flag stood for or what it means today to persist. If we think we can live a non-violent existence in country where a flag is both the latter-day representation of hate toward all non-white groups and the symbol of our proud heritage, we're fooling ourselves.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Comments at TPG

While I realize I am not writing regularly here anymore, not with my side projects and the outlet I've found on Twitter, I acknowledge that people continue to read and leave comments on pieces I have written previously. What I didn't realize was that the comment process here at TPG has been problematic for some time.

Readers commenting on pieces that were 14+ days old were subject to moderation, something I had intended due to the amount of spam that gets attached to long-forgotten posts, but somehow readers commenting on pieces 14+ days weren't actually being placed in the moderation section. For those of you who have commented on older pieces, I apologize if you came back to see if your comment was posted following moderation and then hoped for a response only to find your comment never appeared. I wish I knew for certain where these comments had gone, but I suspect the answer is one of my own doing. What I do know is I have been sporadically deleting all comments awaiting moderation. Assuming they were spam because I wasn't notified to choose whether they could be posted or not, I deleted them all. Every last comment that had been left and never posted was due to my own mistake.

I apologize for this screwup and would like everyone to know that your comments will post now. If you left a comment that you hoped I would see and I didn't, feel free to leave a comment again or you are always welcome to email me at the address attached to my complete profile.